How Is Your Name?
rating: +66+x

The Investor moved through the halls of The Factory as if he was a part of it. Each lunging step was stilted, almost forced, like the turning of a rusted cog. The Rust - the horrible, alchemical Rust that was the very essence of The Factory - covered him completely, inside and out. It sloughed from his ragged finery with every movement and exuded from his mouth with each exhalation, word, or cough. Every organ, every blood vessel, every synapse was saturated with the Rust, so much so that a mortal man would have died from it long ago. Nothing that he did or felt or thought was purely his own anymore, for it was all under the sage guidance of the Rust. Only his veiled eyes remained untainted, shocking orbs of white and black and purple against the rusty red barnacles that enveloped his face.

The unending racket of the machines and the soft, desperate, yet hopeless weeping of the workers became more distant as the Investor descended further beneath the main floor; though, no matter where one went in The Factory, these sounds could never be escaped completely. He was underground now, but that made little difference as the entire Factory was bereft of any natural light. Furnace fires and incandescent bulbs behind iron bars were the only light most Factory workers ever saw.

The crying of hungry infants, the dejected sobs of toddlers, and the forlorn silence of their mothers greeted the Investor as he walked through the breeding pits. At one pit a pair of hooded Facilitators hoisted children old enough to work up with a rusted chain around their ankles. Two pits down from that a tall and faceless Eidolonic security guard disciplined one of the breeders for some petty offence, while at another the unbearably inhuman form of a Foreman simply glared down, occasionally jotting something down on a clipboard.

The Investor gave a tacit nod of approval at all of this as he strode past, ducking his tall form to fit into the service elevator. It did not descend smoothly, but rather in rhythmic jolts, gears squealing and sparking as it did so, until it reached the bottom-most level of The Factory; the detention level. The Eidolonic guards posted at the entrance wasted no time on pleasantries, merely hurrying him through the sets of corroded iron bars and taking him to the interrogation chamber. He saw the prisoner, a beaten and bloodied man bound by a chain wrapped around him like an anaconda. Standard operating procedure for an interrogation, of course, but there was one curiosity that stood out to the Investor: though the man was hung upside-down, his face was the right way up.

Calliope music, enticing from afar. The ticking of a punch clock, more enticing still, the Investor ‘spoke'. By this, he meant, more or less, ‘Welcome home, Manny,'.

“Before we start, I need you to answer a very important question; am I a cartoon?” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V asked, staring at a reality-measuring Kant counter with a needle that wobbled erratically whenever she pointed it at herself.

It was, perhaps, a valid question. Physically, she fit the profile of a ‘noodle person’, and her light brown skin tone left her ethnicity completely ambiguous, possibly to maximize her appeal to a growingly diverse audience. That sounded like something the Board of Directors would do. The nature of her relationship with her assistant Emma was equally ambiguous, another likely tactic to expand her target audience to all ideological demographics. She was also wearing a top hat, and she read somewhere that top hats weren’t real but merely anti-capitalist propaganda from IngSoc. Finally, she was surrounded by several corgis (all named Jeremy), which obviously weren’t a real breed of dog. That was not up for debate.

“No. Cartoonish, maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with that,” The Man With The Upside-Down Face assured her. “Some of my best friends pride themselves on being as cartoonish as ontologically possible.”

“So, I’m real?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V glared at the Kant counter suspiciously, tapping the gauge in confusion, but reluctantly set it down on her desk.

"I think I had a dream I was a cartoon. Or, somebody else dreamed I was. It's not important. Not really. The story matters more than the medium, don't you think?"

“Undoubtedly,” Manny nodded. “Dr. Wondertainment -”

“Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V,” she insisted. “A man without a name should know how important they are.”

“Believe me, I do. It’s why I’m here,” he said, taking his hat off and holding it over his chest. “I owe a favour to a pair of Seelie twins, and they’ve asked that I go into The Factory to recover a stolen Fey Name. I can’t infiltrate The Factory again, and breaking in alone would be… I was going to say suicide, but I know they won’t kill me. They’d…”

“I know what happens at The Factory. They’re butts,” she said, scrunching her face up in childish disdain.

“See, that’s why I need you; your inextinguishable Wonderlight,” Manny explained. “Back when you were Reggie -”

“Dr. Reginald Philbert Lionel Archibald Westinghouse Wondertainment III.”

“- You worked at The Factory for three years without ever losing your Wonderlight. I know you've been back there since. You've been to The Darkness Below, and even that couldn't break you. No matter how horrible things get, you never lose your drive to make something Wondrous. I need you if I have any hope of getting out of The Factory with my soul intact."

Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V opened her mouth and raised her finger to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of a shop-vac. Emma was sucking up blobs of self-replicating silly putty that Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V had created and then subsequently lost interest in.

“Emma, can you do that later? I’m actually doing very important business stuff for once,” she shouted over the sound of the vacuum.

“I believe I was very clear when I explained the existential threat of unchecked exponential growth to you,” Emma shouted, solely because she was angry. Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V rolled her twinkling, lavender, vaguely anime-style eyes and turned back to Manny.

"My apologies for my assistant's obsessive cleanliness and safeguarding of human civilization," she yelled. "To save my voice-box I'll get straight to the point. I hate the Factory, and I love your Circus. I would have loved to have done something with you guys sooner, but the Wonder World Tee Emm situation made it kind of confusing. That being said, a full-frontal assault on The Factory is a bit much for a first date. How about instead I do an expo at your Circus? I have dozens of prototypes I know I can get the Board to sign off on if I can just show them there’s a public interest.”

Manny reached into his jacket and pulled out a chrome ray-gun and tossed it onto the desk in front of her. It was bulky, covered in useless blinking lights, with a spinning W on the top. Emma stopped vacuuming at the sight of it, and Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V was nearly rendered speechless.

“Is, is that…?” she stammered.

“Doctor Wondertainment’s Hyper Fun Sun Gun, Tee Emm. One of only seven prototypes you ever made,” Manny nodded. “I was told you no longer have any of your own left.”

Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V shook her head.

“The metal is from a universe that doesn’t exist anymore that had some weird quirks of physics,” she told him. “Plus, the focusing crystal was grown from cane sugar, and the Board will only approve the acquisition of high-fructose corn syrup these days. Where’d you get it?”

“Fuller acquired it from Reggie back in the fifties. It got left behind during his rather abrupt retirement from show business,” Manny explained. “In your hands, that thing’s a weapon of mass destruction against The Factory. You’re welcome to keep it, so long as you help me get that Name first.”

Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V reverently picked up the toy gun. Though she had made it a lifetime ago, part of her still recognized it, and it seemed to recognize her as well. At the slightest brush of her fingers, it charged with so much Wonderlight it began to glow and vibrate, the W spinning so fast it was an indistinguishable blur.

Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V smiled the biggest smile since she had invented thaumo-nuclear Heelys two days prior.

“Jeremy, get the hot air balloon ready!”

A clash of thunder, bold and brash. The swinging of a pendulum, quiet yet constant.

“For the last time, I have no idea what the hell you’re saying!” Manny shouted back at the Investor. The Investor gestured to the Facilitator at the winch, who hoisted Manny up higher so that they were both eye to eye.

A mighty blast furnace drowning out the weeping of children, the cracking of charred bones in the flames.

“That’s a threat, I take it? Well, you’re out of luck. I know you’re never letting me go, and never letting me die either, so I’m stuck in hell either way. And everyone I care about is safe at the Circus, which can’t be found by anyone who’s not supposed to find it. Go on and do whatever you want to me. I’m not telling you anything.”

The Investor made a noise that Manny took to be a mechanical approximation of laughter.

The sounds of a carnival, omnipresent yet unplaceable. The dark child sings to find her way back.

The door to the interrogation chamber was forced open, revealing a figure standing in the shadowed hall. Manny strained to make them out in the dim light, but saw that they were human, a woman. She wasn't a worker though, for she was far too well-kempt and healthy-looking. She was of average height and build with black bobbed hair and a pale complexion, seemingly a perfectly unremarkable young lady. Her presence here baffled Manny, and so he naturally tried to peer into her mind for answers.

‘Wolves asleep amidst the trees
Bats all a swaying in the breeze
But one soul lies anxious wide awake
Fearing all manner of ghouls, hags and wraiths.’

His gaze was instantly deflected by the eerie lullaby, preventing him from looking any deeper than her surface thoughts. Whoever she was, she knew how to safeguard her mind. Forced to rely solely on his mortal senses, Manny took another look at her. It was then that he noticed that her eyes were the same deep purple as the Investor’s, that her left hand was some sort of non-standard Cogwork, and that she was wearing a turtleneck.

“Dark,” he mouthed in horror. Out of sheer survival instinct, he focused all his power into trying to break through her defences.

‘For your dolly, Polly, sleep has flown
Don't dare let her tremble alone
For the Witcher, heartless, cold
Paid in coin of gold
He comes, he'll go, leave naught behind
But heartache and woe
Deep, deep, woe.’

Manny screamed at the backlash from the attack, his convulsing body rattling his chains.

“Excellent. I’ve never tested that in an actual fight before,” Iris smirked as she sauntered into the chamber. “Thank you ever so much. If that works against you, it’ll work against pretty much anything.”

“Why are you here?” Manny asked hoarsely, blood dripping from his nose.

"To be frank, I was starting to get a little offended with how much effort you were putting into avoiding me," she replied, folding her arms across her chest. "Every time I visit your Circus, you're not there. So when my Uncle Black calls me and says that you’ve been caught breaking into his Factory and he wants my help getting some information out of you, I was more than happy to oblige. He’s my Uncle, by the way. Great Uncle, technically. I’ve got a lot of those.”

The Investor gestured to the winch operator once again, and Manny was lowered so that Iris could look down upon him.

“You owe my Family Name your very being. You know where Nameless things end up, and it’s only because of my Grandsire’s skill with Nominative Magic that you’re able to walk the planes freely,” she reminded him. “The least you could do is show a little gratitude.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Manny laughed between bloody coughs.

“I’ve been studying the power of True Names too, you know. Among other things,” Iris boasted with an indifferent tilt of her head. “And you know my Name gives me power over you. So, you can either tell us why you came here of your own volition, or you can be my guinea pig for some Nomenclative spells I’d like to try. What’s it going to be, Manny?”

He convulsed at her speaking of his nickname. It may not have held all of his being, but it held a great deal, enough for anyone named Dark to reduce him to an unrecognizable shell of his full self. He felt Iris pluck the web of thoughts and memories and feelings that made up Manny, sending metaphysical vibrations shaking throughout his ego. He screamed in delirious agony, and out of desperate self-preservation lashed out at Iris’s mind once again.

‘Birds are silent for the night
Cows turned in as daylight dies
But one soul lies anxious wide awake
Fearing all manner of ghouls, hags and wraiths.’

The lullaby reverberated throughout his skull, echoing seemingly without end and drowning out all thought. When it finally died to a dull ringing, Iris gave him a direct order.

“Tell us why you came here, Manny.”

“Say what you will about The Factory (and I do), but at least they had the courtesy to set up somewhere sparsely inhabited,” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V remarked as they looked down upon the monolithic smokestacks and sharply angled roofs of rusted sheet metal from their hot air balloon.

There were thousands of Factories scattered across the Worlds, but this was where it had all began, and remained the central node of their industrial empire. Thirteen storeys tall, and so immense it dwarfed even the fabled Anderson Factory. The smokestacks rose even higher, and yet the soot they let fall had long since turned every brick of the outer walls a deep jet black. The flatlands surrounding The Factory were bloody rust red in contrast, the Rust itself seeping out from The Factory and spreading like a glacier in all directions. Hung above The Factory were three large, red suns, and yet the sky was somehow an impenetrably gloomy black.

The balloon itself was less than inconspicuous, crafted in the likeness of Jeremy wearing a purple Wondertainment tuxedo and top hat.

“Actually Ma’am, I’m pretty sure they’re the reason this World is so barren,” Emma commented as she readied a length of rope for her and Manny’s descent.

“Let’s not turn this into an allegory about Climate Change, everyone’s already burnt out on that,” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V claimed, peering through a telescope at the desolate landscape. “Though honestly, it’s amazing the smog hasn’t suffocated their entire workforce. An asphyxiated worker is not a busy worker.”

She collapsed the telescope and stuck it into her coat, scanning with her naked eye for any sign that they had been detected.

“They really can’t see us, can they?” she asked Manny, who had provided them with their pretermemetic stealth.

“Technically, it’s more that they can’t remember seeing us long enough to be consciously aware of it,” he replied, hoisting a sack of supplies over his back. “Try not to draw any attention to yourself once we’re in though. Some of the things in there are more resistant to my talents than others. Remember: we need to make our way to the treasury. Seventh floor, roughly in the middle. Ideally, I’ll be able to snatch the location of the Fey Names from the mind of someone working there, but if not, the valuables should be fairly well organized and not give us too much trouble. If we get separated, don’t come after me. Just grab the rabbit’s Name, take it to Fata Morgana and ask for the Levainn sisters.”

“I don’t know anything about Nominative Magic. How am I supposed to know what Name is his?” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V asked.

“Arf!” Jeremy barked helpfully in response.

“Oh, you can’t smell a Name Jeremy.”


“I know you know what rabbits smell like, but he wasn’t a rabbit when he lost his Name so that doesn’t help.”


“Yes, quantum biology is involved in scent. That doesn’t mean scent molecules stay entangled with their source for over a hundred years! You’re really making me regret buying you that physics major.”

"I've been told his Name will smell like raspberries, or snapdragons," Manny informed them. "It will be a good Name, a proud Name, or at least would have been once. Hopefully, that's enough for you to go on."

“We’re in position Ma’am,” Emma said as she lowered the rope down the inactive, derelict chimney they had come to rest over. The four of them peered down over the edge of the basket into the blackened, soot-caked, seemingly infinite pit beneath.

"You ready, Doc?" Manny asked, pulling down his hood and balaclava to conceal himself.

“That’s Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V, and now that we’re literally staring into the abyss there’s one thing I want to know,” she replied. “Why are you willing to break into The Factory for these girls?”

“I told you. I owe them a favour.”

“Must be a pretty a big favour. Spill it.”

Manny sighed, but nodded reluctantly.

“There was somebody close to me that Fuller wanted dead,” he explained. “The Levainn sisters changed her Name and smuggled her through Fata Morgana so that Fuller couldn't track her. They saved her life when I couldn't, and in exchange, I promised them anything, even if it meant sacrificing my own life. I’m not about to go back on my word. I may be a man without a Name, but I still have a reputation to think about.”

“Really? That’s it?” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V asked disappointedly. “I like my motivation better.”

"Harbouring a multi-lifetime animosity for The Factory that's become so all-consuming you're willing to risk your life just to deal them the pettiest slight?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Bingo,” she winked, stuffing Jeremy into her coat. With the ray gun in one hand and the rope in the other, she leapt out of the hot air balloon and disappeared into the inky black smokestack. “Workers of the Worlds Unite!”

“I came here to keep a promise,” Manny grunted, obeying the command while still giving her nothing. Iris chuckled respectfully at his resolve, but the Investor seemed to be getting irritated.

Sputters of a dying engine. The searing of a hot branding iron against rotting flesh.

“I disagree. Escalating the interrogation risks killing him before we get what we want,” she claimed, though Manny could swear he detected a hint of dishonesty in her voice. “Attrition is our best tactic. He can’t keep this up much longer. Can you, Manny?”

Manny tensed again at the pull of Nominative Magic, but this time he did not feel so helpless. He may not have had any power over the name Dark, but if she could use a nickname against him, perhaps he could do the same to her.

“Young Lady, while you obviously have no small talent for this, I have what amounts to literally two average human lifetimes at dealing with all the pitfalls and challenges of not having a Name,” he replied, hoping the name would be too generic for her to notice it. “You’re going to tire of this long before I do.”

"Possibly, but unlike you, I have the option of going to replenish my reserves," she answered to the name. "Thirst and hunger and sleep deprivation will drain your strength soon enough. I'm going to get what I want eventually, I always do, so why not make this easier on yourself?"

“As old Charley used to say, ‘because fuck you, that’s why,’ Young Lady,” he said defiantly. Iris seemed pensive for a moment, and he feared that the namedrop may have been too blatant.

drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip every last drop.

“You know, in spite of his advanced age, my Uncle here isn’t as patient as I am,” the Young Lady told him. “He values efficiency too highly. You keep grinding his gears like this, and he might do something we’ll all regret. I don’t want that any more than you do.”

Twice now she had answered to the name, and that made it hers.

“Well, aren’t you a considerate Young Lady,” Manny smiled. The Young Lady’s face went pale at the immediate intrusion into her mind.

“You son of a bitch,” she cursed, and then began singing out loud.

“My dear dolly Polly shut your eyes
Lie still, lie silent, utter no cries
As the Witcher, brave and bold
Paid in coin of gold
He'll chop and slice you
Cut and dice you
Eat you up whole.”

The psionic reverberation grew so intense Manny briefly lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the Young Lady smiling smugly at him.

Eat you whole,” she finished. “Are you done now, or would you prefer an encore?”

"I'm done. I got what I needed," he replied, looking up at the Investor. "She's lying to you, you know. She's not going to let you keep me. Mickey D's wants me all to themselves."

Ear-piercing screeching.

"Uncle, please, stay calm," the Young Lady urged. "He's lying. Obviously, we would rather maintain good relations with The Factory than the Circus."

"Is it obvious?" Manny asked. "Just like The Factory, we've got Eldritch Abominations galore, but unlike them, we never stay in one place for long. The Factory's management can be trusted to be coldly rational and never do anything that might cost them a profit. You can't say the same of Icky. Plus, our deal to let you use our Kaleidoscope has been more profitable than any deal you have right now with The Factory. We're better business partners and would make far more dangerous enemies. Not to mention that Darke liked Fuller, he still likes the Circus, and you - I can't believe I'm saying this - you actually think of Lolly as a friend. She'll be so touched."

The Young Lady carefully considered her response.

“… She’s grown on me, I guess,” she admitted grudgingly. “Alright then Uncle, I admit it. Manny’s vital to the Circus’s operations, we need the Circus operational, and our claim on him long predates yours. You can’t keep him.”

The sound of stained-glass shattering, the screams of those below as they are cut and blinded by the shards.

“I know he broke in here, and we will compensate you for that, but -”

A Young Lady screaming in perpetual childbirth, the clanking of her chains as she uselessly tries to reclaim the life she’s lost.

The two of them stared each other down with rapidly growing animosity.

“I beg your pardon?” she asked in cold defiance. Without warning, his withered and rusted claw of a hand shot forward, grabbing her bionic arm in a vice-like a grip. The Rust immediately spread from his shell of a body to the prosthetic, infecting it within seconds.

The Young Lady screamed in pain, then in anger, and then in horror when she realized what the Rust would do to her. The Rust could not spread to the rest of her body so easily, but the arm now acted as a second brain, flooding her nervous system with commands from The Factory. She collapsed to the floor as the fight for her own body and mind took everything she had.

“You bastard! You bastard!” the Young Lady screamed, hot tears pouring down her face.

“A Young Lady should not use such language,” the Investor mocked, taking advantage of the Rust’s focus on her to speak freely.

“My, my name is Iris Dark. My name is Iris Dark. My name is Iris Dark. My name is Iris Dark. My name is Iris Dark.”

Clutching her infected hand, she looked up in hatred at Manny, as he looked upon her with pity and remorse.

“I know it is, Ms. Dark. I meant no disrespect," he apologized, releasing her from the Nomenclative binding.

Iris sighed in mild relief, having one less problem to deal with. The mental screaming from her arm now faced a little more resistance, which meant she had a little more time.

“You, you didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done in your place,” she admitted. “It’s still your fault I’m here at all. What the bloody hell were you thinking, breaking in here by yourself?”

Her answer came in the form of a ruckus outside, made out of screaming and yelling and ray gun blasting and corgi barking.

“I may not be as smart as you, Ms. Dark, but do you really think I’m dumb enough to break in here alone?” Manny smiled.

The Investor threw open the door to the interrogation chamber, only for Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V to whiz past him on her thaumo-nuclear powered Heelys.

"Manny there you are sorry I lost you but Jeremy and I used a trench coat to pose as a Foreman and found out where the Names are but then Jeremy sneezed and Foremen don't sneeze so our cover was blown so we had to fight our way out and I know you said not to come after you but Jeremy picked up the scent of carnie corndogs on you and corndogs are his favourite so he led me here and why is your face the right-way-up?" she blurted out with a pronounced doppler effect as she zoomed by.

Iris looked up at him dumbfounded for a moment.

“Why her?” she asked in equal parts bewilderment and irritation.

“Wondertainment’s the exact opposite of The Factory, and no one alive is more Wondertainmenty than Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V,” he grinned.

A toyshop’s bell chiming impotently against the dauntless hammering of industry, the Investor screamed as he ran after Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V.

“Can you actually understand what he says?” Manny asked.

“I was largely guessing by his tone,” Iris admitted.

There was a flash of bright light, and they heard the Investor scream; a completely ordinary, human scream, and then nothing but liberated Rust particles wafting in through the open door. They were followed by Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V, a beacon of colour against the monotonous russet brown of The Factory, and her loyal dog Jeremy.

“Good boy, good boy,” she praised her corgi as she casually incinerated the Facilitator by the winch lever. “Manny, I never would have found you without Jeremy, this place is a literal Labyrinth. Who’s the young lady?”

“Iris Dark!” Iris screamed, only for Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V to blink at her in confusion.

“…Am I supposed to know who that is?”

“Her bionic hand’s been infected with Rust. Can you fix it?” Manny asked. Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V knelt to examine Iris's arm while Jeremy jumped up and down at the winch lever.

“Oh yeah, this has barely even set in, nothing the Hyper Fun Sun Gun Tee Emm can’t handle,” she said nonchalantly. “…Hold still.”

“Wait, what are you -” before Iris could finish, Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V blasted her arm with her ray gun, the blinding white beam scouring the Rust instantly. Iris was rendered speechless by the shock, rage, and then relief of being free of The Factory’s influence.


“…It’s still broken,” she murmured, feeling her heart drop as her hand would only open and close sporadically. She was torn out of her self-pity by the sound of Manny thudding against the floor, Jeremy having been successful at releasing him from the chain.

“Good dog!” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V praised him.

“No, bad dog. Bad dog!” Manny growled as he sloughed off the chains and rose to his feet. “Did you find the rabbit’s Name?”

Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V reached into her pocket and pulled out a small parchment scroll bound by a seal with The Factory’s logo on it, labelled in a barcode-like language of rigid lines, dashes, and square dots.

"You tell me," she said, handing it to him. Manny smelled the scroll, the scent of raspberries and snapdragons overwhelming his nostrils. It had some heft to it, like it was a good Name. A proud Name. Memories of the Name's former owner poured into his mind, and he had no doubt it was the Name he had come for.

“It’s the right Name. Good work,” he commended her, shoving it into his pocket.

“Jeremy found it,” she said, gesturing to the dog looking up at him expectantly.

“Alright, fine, good dog. But we need to go,” he said urgently. “Dark, can you walk?”

“I can manage,” she said half-heartedly, forcing herself to her feet.

“Oh, the balloon won’t run with four. She stays behind,” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V said gravely. Manny and Iris glared at her in disbelief, only for her to break down laughing. “Sorry, my attempt at dark humour. The balloon will work fine. Let’s go.”

They rushed out into the hall, now littered with the bodies of Eidolonics and Facilitators, and quickly piled into the still-open service elevator.

“Top floor please,” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V requested politely.

“That’s not how -” Iris began, only for the elevator to chime pleasantly, ascend smoothly, and play some upbeat techno-pop music. “What?”

“Elevators are always nice to me,” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V explained. “I think it’s because I always end up breaking escalators, and they regard escalators as their natural enemies.”

The elevator promptly arrived at the top floor, sliding open to reveal The Factory was in chaos. Machinery laid in ruins from the Hyper Fun Sun Gun™, Facilitators and Gremlins had abandoned their posts, and Eidolonics and Foremen were trying to put down a worker uprising.

“Did you do all of this?” Manny asked in disbelief.

“Jeremy did at least half of it. I'm the one who inspired the revolt though. It wasn't even hard. Thanks to Wonder World Tee Emm, I'm literally the saviour they've been dreaming of.”

“What were you even doing up here?”

“We got lost. It’s hard for a girl and her dog to navigate when they’re sharing a trench coat.”

The conversation was interrupted by the Eldritch shrieking of a Foreman, pointing its vile tentacle at them. Only the Eidolonics seem to heed the command, fighting their way through the pandemonium towards the elevator. Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V shot a blast from her ray gun at the tattling Foreman, reducing him to festering, gelatinous sludge.

“Emma’s waiting for us on the other side of the far wall. Follow me,” she ordered as she skated ahead on her Heelys, leaping over and around and under anything in her path. She decimated any Eidolonic she got a clear shot at and blew up any machines she had missed on her first go through, each of them exploding into showers of yellow pus and burning shrapnel, respectively.

Iris quickly leapt onto Manny’s back, wrapping her remaining functional arm around his neck. He wasn’t exactly in running shape either, and certainly not in fighting shape, but the surrounding chaos combined with Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V’s extremely distracting behaviour was enough to ensure that the two of them remained unnoticed.

“Stop right there, Manny!”

Or so he thought.

Manny turned around to see a shotgun pointed at him. The man holding it was human, but he didn’t look Factory-born. He was also far too old and healthy to be an assembly line worker, and his long frock coat and leather waistcoat indicated he was paid in more than bowls of gruel.

“What in God’s name have you done?”

“What are you going to do, Adam? Shoot me? When The Factory’s already tearing itself apart?” Manny asked.

The man cocked the gun, his answer clear.

“Hands up. Yours too young lady,” he ordered. Manny smiled as he felt the anger coursing through Iris's body.

“My Name is Dark,” she said coldly, a confirmation to herself as much as anything. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she began muttering incantations in the Chaos Tongue. Every corpse on The Factory floor (of which there were more than the usual amount) suddenly imploded into an occult singularity, with non-Euclidean ethereal tendrils whipping out in all directions, tearing down The Factory itself and everything in their way.

The man holding the gun was carelessly knocked aside, and Manny resumed his pursuit of Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V.

She was happily aiding and abetting Dark’s occult tendrils, blasting apart everything she could while giggling like a schoolgirl on cocaine. When she finally reached the far wall, she took aim to destroy it, but before she could pull the trigger it was knocked down for her by the rapidly growing tentacles, along with a good chunk of the roof. For the first time since those walls went up, sunlight beamed into The Factory floor. When the Rust settled, a dangling rope offered them their salvation.

“Let’s go!” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V ordered, using a rocket booster on her Heelys to blast herself to the rope. Manny grabbed hold as tightly as he could, and before he could even start climbing the balloon began moving up and away from The Factory.

When he and Dark climbed into the basket, Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V was looking gleefully through her telescope at the burning, rebelling, collapsing Factory.

“Well, all and all I think that went about as well as could be expected,” she claimed, shooting off the Hyper Fun Sun Gun™ one last time for good measure. “Emma, celebratory sodas for everyone!”

“I don’t like fizzy drinks,” Iris muttered as she sat against the side of the basket, hugging her knees.

“It’s for the Rust,” Emma told her, opening a bottle and handing it to her.

“Can’t you just shoot me with that gun again?” she retorted, reluctantly accepting the drink. “Oh, and who the hell was that bloke with the shotgun?”

Manny shook his head as he chugged down nearly half his soda in one gulp.

“Another time,” he promised. Iris groaned, forcing herself to sip the sickly-sweet cola.

“Well Manny, thanks to you, my company has not only lost the business of The Factory but might end up going to war with them if they ever recover from this, my arm is broken, and I’ll be triggered every time someone calls me young lady. Was it worth it?”

Manny reached into his pocket and pulled out the scroll, rolling it gently in his fingers.

“Yeah. I think it was,” he smiled.

“So, just so that we have our stories straight when we drop you off at the Circus,” Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V said as she poured her soda into a bowl for Jeremy. “What are we telling Icky about what happened?”

Manny froze for a moment, the colour draining from his face.

“Ah, crap.”

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