A Farewell To Kings

Sierra Dustin reached into her coat and pulled a handgun out of the small painting titled 'Gun No. 44', which was taped to the inside lining.

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March 22nd, 2017
Backdoor SoHo

Sierra Dustin reached into her coat and pulled a handgun out of the small painting titled Gun No. 44, which was taped to the inside lining. Not bothering to aim, she fired off six shots down the street behind her — in approximately the general direction of her pursuers — then threw the empty revolver after them. Without breaking her stride, she reached into the coat again…

A relatively short distance away, two FBI agents and a chainsmoker were attempting to catch her.

"Since when the hell did anartists use guns in SoHo?" Spencer shouted, keeping his arm raised in the hopes that the ballistic fibers woven into his suit would protect his head.

"Since now!" Green shouted back. The Foundation agent was surprisingly fit for someone whose lungs would likely fail an emissions test. "Better question: Where the fuck are they all coming from?"

"Gotta be an exploit of some kind," Thorne said, voice inappropriately level for the circumstances. A very attentive — and fearless (or bulletproof) — bystander would have noticed that their eyes were half-closed. "I'm not picking up any traces of ARad."

"How delightful," Green muttered.

Some forty meters ahead of them, Sierra Dustin ducked around a corner and disappeared from view. Spotting a local Not Another Fucking Starbucks, she took careful aim at a display advertising literally bottomless coffee and fired.

The three agents turned the corner and ran straight into an onrushing wall of lukewarm espresso.

The cleanup took three hours.

"Three dead — two from gunshots — and fifteen hospitalized so far from coffee related injuries," Thorne reported as they rejoined Spencer and Green. All three of them stood off to the side of the street, smelling strongly of espresso and surveying the wreckage.

"Christ, what a colossal fuckup," Spencer said. He shook his head. "We dropped the ball, this is our fault."

"Your fault," Green said, finishing off his third consecutive cigarette. "If we'd had an MTF like I wanted —"

"You can take your MTF and shove it up your ass," Spencer said, cutting him off. "It's bad enough having you here."

Thorne sighed internally and inserted themself between the two men. Two months of forced collaboration had not done any favors for their clashing egos. "Let's not add any more casualties to that list, hmm? Green, you know we'd never have been able to get a fully geared strike team past the Doorman. And Ken, you can be civil. I've seen you do it."

The two other agents continued to glare at each other, so Thorne continued, "We've still got a rat to catch, so Ken, why don't you take the Randall detector and make a sweep down the nearby streets? See if you can pick up on any recently opened Ways."

Spencer looked away from Green and nodded slowly. "Gods know how many people took a Way out after that flood, but I can try." He looked back at Green suspiciously. "What will he be doing?"

"Green and I will go back to the apartment and make a sweep for anything that can give us a link," Thorne said. "Who knows, maybe we can still salvage this."

Green lit up his fourth cancerstick. "When this is over, Spencer, you and I are gonna have a long talk about where MTFs should and should not go."

"I look forward to hearing it."

Thorne rolled their eyes. Grabbing Green by the shoulder, they started to walk back towards Dustin's apartment. "Come on skipper, let's go."

As they walked around the corner, Green turned his head just in time to see Spencer perform a mock salute with a certain single finger.

"Doesn't look like the door's booby trapped. Not with anything occult, at least."

"Yeah, but didn't you say those guns were non-occult? There could be some awful exploit on the other side waiting to turn our brains inside out."

Inside the apartment, Madrigal stirred at the sound of unfamiliar voices from outside.

"Who would keep something that lethal inside their own apartment? That would be absurd."

"You'd be surprised. Anartists are pretty big on absurdism."

Madrigal was a simple creature with very few needs. Almost none, in fact. Constructs weren't known for being high maintenance pets. It was why they were so common among the more eccentric anartists, many of whom would often forget to feed themselves, much less their pets.

The lock clicked and the door swung open with a creak.

"See? Nothing to worry about."

In the three years of its not-quite-life, the brass wire had known only one person, and that was the Creator. And while it knew many things, it knew one thing above all else: It loved the Creator.

Neither of the two new people who had just entered the apartment were the Creator, and so Madrigal hated them with all the fury that a three-foot-long spool of animated wire could muster.

"Ow, fuck!" Green shouted, which is the natural reaction to being stabbed in the calf by a three-foot-long spool of animated wire.

Reacting purely on instinct, Thorne reached down and grabbed the wire with both hands. The brass construct thrashed violently as they pulled it away from Green, but a shouted word in a dead language stopped it.

Thorne threw the paralyzed construct back into the apartment with one hand, using their other hand to shove the still-swearing Green back out into the hall. Thorne backpedaled after him, pausing only to slam the door shut behind them.

"I fucking told you!" Green hissed through gritted teeth. He slumped against the far wall, clutching his injured leg tightly.

"And does knowing you were right make you feel any better?" Thorne asked. They crouched down next to the wounded agent, scanning the hall for any further dangers.

"No it does not!" Blood was starting to well up beneath his fingers.

"Well then try not to bleed on the carpet too much while I get my first aid kit out." They reached into their jacket and pulled out a box that couldn't possibly have fit inside a pocket.

"Try not to — are you serious? That fucking thing stabbed me in the leg!"

"Which will be appreciated by any wizard who gets a hold of your blood, I'm sure."

After sliding on a pair of latex gloves, Thorne removed a large cloth rag from the box and slid it beneath Green's leg. Drops of crimson began to stain the gray fabric almost immediately.

"I'm gonna need you to move your hand," they said. From the box, they removed a bottle of something that looked like water, but probably wasn't.

Begrudgingly, Green lifted his hand, revealing a nasty gash where Madrigal had stabbed him. Thorne uncapped the bottle and poured the contents over the wound, eliciting another hiss from Green.

"Anti-occult sterilizing rinse," Thorne explained. "Should neutralize any curses that might have been on that thing, along with most mundane pathogens."

Setting the bottle aside, Thorne picked up a vial of brownish-green powder and showed it to Green. "And this is a fast-acting coagulant. Word of warning, this is going to suck really bad."

Working quickly, Thorne poured some of the powder onto a strip of gauze and pressed it firmly against the wound.

To his credit, Green didn't scream.

Thorne pulled off their gloves and shoved them in a biowaste bag, which went back into the box. They handed Green a roll of cloth bandages, then put the first aid kit back into their jacket.

"Stay here and wrap that up tight," they said.

"Don't tell me you're going back in there alone," he said.

Thorne shrugged nonchalantly. "I can handle myself, skipper. Be back soon."

And with that, they disappeared into the apartment.

Thorne returned a few minutes later, a self-satisfied grin on their face and the brass wire held in their hands.

"What's that?" Green asked, eyeing the wire suspiciously.

"It was a construct," Thorne said, emphasizing the past tense. "Bit of wire animated with thaumaturgy. There's no emet inscribed on it anywhere, so it couldn't have been very intelligent. Basically just a dumb animal."

Green pulled himself to his feet, wincing as he put weight on his injured leg. "And it's dead?"

"Can't kill something that wasn't alive to begin with," Thorne said. "But yeah, it's dead."

"So why are you carrying it around?"

"Law of Contagion," they said. "Thaumaturgy goes both ways. Our little friend put a bit of herself into this to animate it — not enough for me to target her with thaumaturgy, but enough that I can use it to track her. She can't hide now."

Still grinning, Thorne slid the length of wire into another impossibly large jacket pocket. "Come on, let's go see how Spencer's doing."

They found Spencer in an alley near the coffee shop, waving the metal wand of the Randall detector slowly through the air. Occasionally, the box it was attached to would beep quietly to indicate the amount of ARad flux.

"Any luck?" Thorne called out.

"Eh, not much. It's like I said, there's too many Ways here to pinpoint the one our rat took." He turned to look at the approaching duo. "What happened to him?"

"There was a trap," Green muttered, stopping to lean against the alley wall for support. Thorne's dressing might have stopped the bleeding, but it hadn't done anything for the underlying tissue damage.

"So I take it that the apartment was a bust then?"

"Not quite," Thorne said. They withdrew the length of wire from their jacket and held it up to the light.

"You got a link?" There was a note of cautious optimism in his voice.

"Indeed I did. Now let's see if we can't find this Way."

Thorne rummaged in their suit pockets for a moment until they withdrew a bit of semi-translucent quartz and length of string, then proceeded to tie the quartz to the wire with the string. The lump of crystal dangled loosely in the air. Thorne closed their eyes and started humming quietly to themself.

After a moment, the crystal abruptly swung upwards and sideways in defiance of gravity, pulling the string taut. The line it formed pointed further down the alley.

Thorne opened their eyes and nodded in satisfaction. "Follow me, gentlemen."

The three agents picked their way through the alley, following the directions of the occult compass Thorne had created. In deference to Green's injury, the two FBI agents kept a slower pace.

They stopped a few minutes later in a different alley when the crystal dropped downwards under the force of gravity again. Wherever the anartist had fled to, her trail ended there.

"There's definitely a Way here," Spencer said, waving the Randall detector through the air experimentally. "Looks like it was opened pretty recently too."

Thorne closed their eyes and nodded. "I can see it."

"Great," Green said. "Now what?"

Thorne opened their eyes and clapped their hands together. "Now we do some real magic."

Thorne had the other two agents clear a space near the Way, moving aside the random detritus of the alley until there was an unobstructed area nearly two meters across.

Once again, Thorne reached into their jacket of holding, removing in turn two energy bars, three large candles, a length of string, a protractor, a stick of chalk, a knife (which Thorne called an athame), several strips of cloth, and a folded sheaf of papers.

"I really wish we'd thought to bring a Resonator with us," they said. "Would make this a lot easier." They unwrapped one of the energy bars — a 'Compact Meal Bar by Prometheus Labs', according to the label — and started eating.

"So what's all this for?" Green asked. "I've seen Navarro in action, and he just kind of waves his hands until something's on fire."

"Well I'm not Daniel Fucking Navarro, am I?" Thorne said. "Thaumaturgy's no cakewalk to begin with, and forcibly tearing open a Way between worlds is even worse. This —" They gestured at the assembled equipment. "— Is all to redirect the backlash so that we don't end up dead. Or worse."

Thorne picked up the chalk and, using the string as a makeshift compass, drew a circle in the middle of the clearing. Then, using the protractor to check the angles, they marked off nine points around the circle, each 40 degrees apart. With the string as a straight edge, Thorne connected them together to form three overlapping triangles, with a nonagon in the center.

Thorne stepped back to survey their work, then nodded.


"Now for the tricky part," they said. "Shame I don't have a sigil machine for this bit, but I think I can freehand it. Hand me those papers please, Ken."

Spencer passed the folded sheaf to Thorne, who unfolded it to reveal a set of pages photocopied from what could only have been a grimoire.

Very slowly, Thorne began inscribing a set of runes inside the circle, taking care to keep the lines straight and the angles precise, erasing the symbols and redoing them if they weren't satisfactory. After several minutes of this, Thorne finished by drawing a diamond in the middle of the nonagon, bisecting it with a single line drawn from the center of the circle.

"There, I think I got the runes right."


Carefully stepping over the chalk lines, Thorne placed the three candles around the circle, next to the runes which they said stood for fire. They left the candles unlit.

"And now for the hard part," they said, picking up the athame and stepping into the center of the circle. "Whatever you do, don't step on the lines. Understand?"

The other two agents nodded, and Green took a cautious step back from the edge of the circle.

Holding the athame tightly, Thorne slowly drew it across the palm of their left hand, just barely breaking the skin. Still moving slowly, they turned the athame over and held the flat against the cut, until the blade was smeared with blood.

Taking a deep breath, Thorne raised the knife into the air and held it there.

Time seemed to slow.

Thorne brought the knife down, slicing through the air.

"Open." The word was barely a whisper, but there was a preternatural power behind it that gave it volume far beyond sound or speech.

The chalk lines of the circle glowed, blindingly bright. The candles burst into flames that stretched three feet into the air. The light flashed off the athame, casting unnatural shadows against the walls.

And in the center of the circle, the air tore open beneath the knife, revealing a Way between worlds.

Thorne stumbled back, gasping for air but still taking care not to step on the lines. They slumped against a pile of cardboard boxes, letting the knife clatter to the ground.

"Power bar," they said, still panting heavily. Spencer handed the remaining energy bar to them, and they devoured it rapidly.

"You okay?" He asked.

Thorne nodded. "Yeah. Just give me a minute, I'll be alright."

They picked up one of the cloth strips and used it to bandage their hand, then used the remaining cloth to clean the athame, which went back into their jacket.

Breathing more regularly now, Thorne stood up and said, "The Way will stay open as long as the candles are burning. That gives us an hour, maybe two tops, to find Dustin and get out. I should be able to open the Way again if it closes while we're still in there, but I don't really want to chance it."

Spencer nodded, then looked at Green. "You up for this, skipper?"

Green smiled fiercely. "Don't you ever doubt it. Let's get this bastard."

Spencer grinned back. "That's what I like to hear."

Then, as one, the three agents stepped through the Way.

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