rating: +47+x

Allison Chao was twelve years old when she realized she wasn't human.

After all, how could she be? When she was happy, she didn't laugh. When she was sad, she didn't cry. No matter what happened to her, her face remained stock-still, like a robot. Like a machine. She'd seen how people were meant to act, and they weren't meant to act like she did. The only logical conclusion was that she wasn't human.

Her father wasn't human either, of course.

His face was always the same, too. A blank mask — the most extravagant expressions possible being the polishing of his glasses with a handkerchief, the most meaningful display of affection being a rigid ruffling of her hair. Still, it meant the world to her, and he knew it. That was why he persisted with such awkward displays.

She'd tried to act human — she'd paid close attention to her mother, to her classmates, to the people on television — but when she had, she just got awkward look and whispered giggles. Eventually, she'd had to be pulled away and be told the faces she was making were frightening the other children. So eventually she had abandoned that effort.

It was her and her father, then. They were the only two inhumans in the world. Allison loved her mother dearly, but she just didn't get it. She could laugh and not have it come out like shattered glass.

It was her and her father against the world.

Then, one day, when she came home from school and her father wasn't there — when all she found was her tearful mother and a lack of explanation — that changed. When Charles Gears disappeared, Allison realized how it really had been all along.

It was her against the world.

"The chef worked quite hard on that, you know," Ernest Simms said, pointing at the untouched food with a fork.

Allison glared at him from across the long, long table. The mansion she'd been brought to was decadent in the extreme. It looked like even the wallpaper, emblazoned with fantastical images of angels and demons, was worth more than her college fund — or at least it would have been, if she'd gone to college.

She had other uses for that money, after all.

Her eyes flicked down to the food in front of her. Roast chicken, with half-a-dozen spices and sides she didn't even know the names of. Poison, maybe? No — if this man had wanted to kill her, he could have simply had her shot in the head. He certainly had the money to get away with it.

Still, though.

"I'm not hungry," she said, voice low, face as blank as it had ever been. "Why have you brought me here?"

Ernest chuckled. The old man was disgusting, drooping body dressed in a bathrobe, a tiny pair of spectacles dancing over his nose with every moment. This was a man who long ago had stopped caring what people thought of him — because there was nobody who would dare say it to his face.

"You're a paranoid young lady, aren't you?" he said, taking a messy sip of wine. Red droplets remained in his moustache as he put the glass down again.

"I prefer careful."

"No, no no no," Ernest shook his head, still chuckling. "You are not careful, my dear. Not careful at all. Quite the opposite, I'm afraid. That word you've been tossing around, in the circles you've been moving through? No, I wouldn't say that's careful at all."

"That word?" Allison said, mentally kicking herself a second later. Stupid questions like that only made her look weak. Better to pretend you already knew everything and get the details later.

Ernest grinned. "Foundation."

As the words left Ernest's lips, a flare of hot anger ran through Allison's body. Her face didn't shift in the slightest, but her grip on the tablecloth tightened — just slightly. Foundation. Foundation.

"What do you want from me?" she said quietly.

The old man looked her up and down. "Tell me, dear. Do you hate?"

"I'm sorry?"

"It's a simple question," Ernest said, steepling his hands before him. As he spoke, the flamboyance seemed to drain away, replaced with a simmering, indecent anger. "Do you hate? Do you resent? I've researched you, I know your story. Your father stolen away, your family splintered, your life destroyed. Your suffering is not the product of circumstance. There are people who have done this to you. To us."

Allison nodded, silently closing her eyes. Now this was beginning to make sense. "You too, then? Who?"

"My granddaughter could turn fire to ice with a glance," Ernest said wistfully, his eyes drifting to somewhere very far away. "Turn life to death with a touch. A miracle girl — now one of their curiosities, rotting away in a cell. Your father's situation is much the same. The time stolen from him, the time stolen from you. So tell me: do you hate?"

She breathed out a sigh that felt like it had building up her entire life.

"Yes," she said, voice cold. "I hate."

The slightest smile spread across Ernest's lips. "Very good," he said. "I have hired fifty men — Phantasmagoria mercenaries. Soldiers of fortune for the kind of world you and I live in. They are quite capable, but untrustworthy, as all of their kind are. I would like for you to be my representative in their midst."

Suspicion opened up inside her once again. "You'd trust me with that?" They'd met barely half an hour ago.

"Of course," he smiled.

Liar. It was in his eyes. This man — perhaps he'd once cared about this granddaughter he mentioned. But that love had long since shriveled away into something uglier, a barbed bitterness that existed only to draw blood from the thing that had hurt it. This was a man who had been hurt in his life, and now lived only to hurt.

Well… Allison couldn't say she was much different. So long as she got what she wanted, she was more than willing to paint the world red.

So long as she got her father back.

Charles Gears, known to the Foundation as SCP-8211, died without any final words, suddenly relieved of his guts by a single swipe of the giggling lizard's tail.

She'd dragged him back to a supply closet, hoping to treat his wounds or — at the very least — say goodbye, but he was already gone. He'd been gone for many minutes. She'd left his half innards strewn on the floor on their way here. Idiot. Idiot.

Silent tears trickled down Allison's blank face as she stared down at his body. What little life he'd ever shown was gone now, too. It was like she was looking at a discarded toy, some limp cold thing that had taken him away. That had stolen him, from her.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair!

It wasn't fair!

Ie … mo'j yuf. Eir mo'j yuf.
Oh … poor child. My poor child.

A sob died stillborn in her throat, coming out only as a hollow cracking noise. She looked up from the body, her face wet, staring uncomprehendingly at the inside of the storage closet. In the distance, she could still hear the sounds of screaming, of tearing, of that damn lizard laughing in glee as it rampaged through the Phantasmagoria mercenaries. The blaring alarms stabbed at her pained ears like knives.

"Hello?" she mumbled — and even as she did, she found herself irritated at just how childish her voice sounded, how plaintive it came out.

Ter'eih, ol yuf. Kur nesh piresh.
Hello, my child. Let us discuss.

There was a sense — just for the briefest moment — a sense of utter weightlessness, and the supply closet melted away from around Allison Chao. The walls fell away, crumbling into dust into atoms into nothing, and the floor she was kneeling on overflowed with dark. In the space of a few seconds, the only things remaining from the former landscape were herself and the body of her father.

The place she had found herself was a void, an utter void, endless darkness in every direction. No stars, no sky. Absolutely nothing.

No — no, that was wrong. It couldn't possibly be nothing. She was kneeling on hard floor, wasn't she? That implied the existence of ground. If she could see blackness, then by definition there wasn't nothing. There was blackness, if nothing else. She was in a place that existed.

As if in response to her reasoning, her eyes began to adjust to the darkness. Everything was still oil-black, but there were definitely objects around her. She and her father were on an obsidian floor, and tiny fragments of black sand floated in the air around her, tickling against her face.

She looked up, and her eyes began to ache.

Before her was a great throne, formed from dark glass, rising up to a height that… a height that her eyes couldn't perceive, not exactly, but it was huge. The kind of throne that kings would sacrifice their kingdoms for. Something was sitting in that throne — not a person exactly, but a mass, a cloud of dancing shadows. It had no face, but Allison swore she could feel the thing smiling at her.

Uor'shef, yuf.
Welcome, child.

The words slithered meekly from her lips. "Where…" she began, before injecting a little more confidence into her words. "Where am I?"

Mor ei'l un eir dioma.
You are in my house.

Her eyes narrowed. She'd heard of things like this before: people using the Ways incorrectly, being snatched away by daemons or imps. She was no fool — she wouldn't fall prey to something like this.

A bundle of hope writhed in her chest. If this was a trick, did that mean her father was still alive…?

Hur. Mul eit ne'er.
No. He is dead.

"You can read my thoughts?"

Hur. Es't kree sho malaer. Tel v'rii mosh varber nesh-pol.
No. But thoughts are predictable. It is not difficult to track the falling of dominoes.

Still holding a hand under her father's head to support its weight, Allison glowered defiantly at the… thing. "If this a trick," she breathed, "I'll kill you. I swear it."

Brin sho'ol ter k'rin. Ei reshi ko braga'sh zet.
There is no trick. I have a proposal for you.

No. She wasn't about to let this thing control the pace of the conversation. She was in control. Even now, especially now, she had to be.

"Who are you?" she said, keeping her voice in its normal, neutral tone. The way she'd spoken before she'd learnt to talk like people.

Ei ju'ge BLACK MOON, yuf.
I am called the Black Moon, child.

"That doesn't mean anything to me."

He't nhis eir hu'shi.
That makes me happy.

She forced a growl out of her throat — a painfully fake display of emotion, but perhaps enough to fool this clearly inhuman thing. "Who are you?" she asked again. "And what do you want from me?"

The shadows shifted slightly, a whispering crescendo building up until it became speech.

Eir vos ter'at tosh, nuf. Eles eir mos nek'ten.
I am a player of games, child. And I wish to help you.

The anger inside her writhed again, slamming itself against the bars of her body. "My father is dead," she said, voice a dead monotone. "There's nothing you can do for me. The thing is done. I failed."

Trun. Ke podra nash necrash. Ton ve-et krish nau'ul Allison.
Yes. A father is dead. But so many still live on, awaiting their Allison.

She blinked, the anger inside her chest fading — but only slightly. For the last few minutes, it had felt as though the world had very suddenly become a very small and sealed room, slowly closing in around her.

A window had just opened, just a crack. Intoxicating hope took root.

"There's still a chance?"

As many chances as you need. There are as many worlds as drops of rain, and I can give you leave to sail them. To find the happy ending your heart desires..

"What would it cost me?" Suspicion had already turned to bargaining. If she'd been in her right mind, Allison knew she'd be disgusted with herself, but… she looked down at her father's dead face.

She owed him. She owed him this.

The words came from her mouth again. "What would it cost me?"

Eir kosh n'va shor. Te'el. Ezheni mos vas ner peit'ru. Basha'l KHAHRAHK velesh te'en. Endes'ves kor nocht mazh ben tedru.
I told you: I am a player of games. My game is called existence, and I seek victory over my adversary. His pieces are many, his children and wives and meat angels, but I seek quality in my pieces. A singular, immutable hatred such as yours is a rare thing indeed. You would be my piece.

My Black Queen.

She gave three responses to this, this offer that would give her life back. That would save her father. That would make everything okay again.

She blinked.
She nodded.
She spoke.


The multiverse would never be the same again.

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