13th of January
Esterberg's Sewer District: Częstochowa, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Queen Mab was dying.

Not all of her, naturally; for such an ancient and god-like being like Mab to even conceive of its own full and genuine death was unthinkable. However, the part of the Queen that was currently occupying the meat puppet strung together by magic and nested in the dead body of Ai'sling Fiadh could very much feel demise crawling on its twisted back.

The thing — as it would be inappropriate to call the mockery of a person the Queen has chosen as its vessel anything but a thing — was surrounded. From every corner of the tight room it had previously thought to be its ally, new enemies emerged one by one. As an army of furious anartists began to surround her, led by two brothers who had ajoined themself to the four who swore to hunt her down, Mab felt truly scared. For the first time since her fall so many millennia ago, the only emotion occupying her nearly endless mind was actual, genuine panic. She couldn't quite decide what she hated more — those four puny mortals for even instilling her with that alien emotion, or herself for allowing her own body to consider said emotion for even a moment.

And soon, that fear turned into anger.

Mab knew she couldn't fight the hundred or so people that stood before her, hellbent on nothing but bringing her down. Not without inadvertently killing this host, at least. A series of impossibly fast thoughts through her soul, she looked deep down into her own psyche. It took a terribly long millisecond for her to find the solution she was looking for. But when she did locate it, a twisted grin slowly entered her dried-up lips. There was only one plan, one card to put all of her money on that could give her enough time to gather the strength that was necessary to take those four hunters down.

And she was going to do anything it took to make that plan a reality.

Knowing what must be done, she made her puppet lift its hands. With a wild flash of green light, desperate power started to run through those twisted fingers, filling them with more and more of Mab's own skills. When the transfer was finished moments later, the Fae monarch simply whispered a few words in a language so ancient as to be almost nonexistent. And the spell was sealed.

As the final syllable of the invocation left the creature's mouth, a sudden sleepiness overtook everyone within the hall. Unable to resist such a divine grasp, all of the anartists alongside Adam Angevin and the Willis Brothers suddenly fell to the ground, blissful snooze in their closing eyes. But the four that dared to lead the hunt against Mab — Marie Surratt, Nobody Damien Nowak, Jessie Rivera, and Magdaleine Cornwell — weren't let off so easily. Instead, she forced a different spell upon their minds. One that would trap them for so long their resistance against Mab would be nothing but useless.

With no power that could rival the Queen at their disposal, the four fell into sleep, too.


Marie woke up to hell.

The world was burning. From every corner of reality, flames burst out, accompanied by the cacophony of clashing steel, rough human screams, and demonic screeches. But the cold, black stone of the twisted castle that encompassed the entirety of reality didn't seem much bothered by it; it has already seen this cycle of violence a million times, witnessing the countless wars between the demons that built the keep and the human souls they tormented. It was more than ready for another repetition.

Realizing where she was, Marie just sighed.

Not even half a year has passed since she climbed out of this hell, and it was already trying to get her back. She couldn't even muster enough surprise to be scared or angry. But then again, what was she supposed to be afraid of? She had already defeated the lord of her own demise, breaking the wheel of violence that ran this particular afterlife. She knew that part of her life had concluded months ago. The thousands of demons and skeletons around her only cemented her knowledge that what she was experiencing was nothing more than a puppet show.

So she sighed once more.

Surratt navigated carefully through the castle in front of her, relying on her vague recollections from her initial encounter with 5572. This time it was different. It was more twisted and uncaring than she remembered it being, as if there was some conscious intent of maliciousness behind its design. Her skeletal hands caressed the cold stones as she tried to make her way past the duels and wars and fears and deaths into the throne room that hosted the demon she needed to kill to get out. Or, at least, the demon she had needed to kill to get out the first time she had been here.

Minutes turned into hours, hours — into days. But Marie wasn't raised a quitter. She walked and she walked and she walked and she walked as she travelled the endless, mind-bending corridors of the keep at the end of reality. She didn't notice the fighting calming and eventually dying out entirely until the silence of it all hit her, and she was left entirely alone. And it was only then — when she got so away from the conflict, from the very essence of this trap — that she found her way before those gigantic doors. Though they were much, much different this time, she didn't need any signs to tell her that she had reached her destination.

With a will filled with nothing but determination, she put her hand on the handle, and entered through.

The hall wasn't like she remembered it being, but after so many changes being done to her own personal hell, she wasn't even all that surprised. The pit of previously dead Foundation personnel was now replaced by a mass grave of corpses that looked like Marie, extending down into infinity. Crossed only by a single translucent bridge, the hole lacked anything that could hide its insides, as if it tried its very best to tell Surratt what sole fate awaited her in here.

At the end of that platform, sat atop a pillar that stood tall in the middle of the pit, a single throne sat. Crafted from wood and gems she barely recognized, it hosted just one, measly figure atop it. A figure so small you could almost miss it, if it wasn't for the intense hatred its mere existence resonated into the area around it. Realizing who it was that replaced the demon that ruled 5572 before, Marie simply tightened the grip on her knife, a twisted smile manifesting her inside will to fight the being in front of her.

From above the seat, Queen Mab grinned back.


As nothing but silence rang in her ears, Magdaleine Cornwell opened her eyes. The white everpresence that immediately filled her vision didn't do even slightly enough to differentiate itself from the surrounding stillness. It took less than three seconds for the fear to settle in.

Her heartbeat doubled within an instant as her eyes feverishly scanned the area around her, desperately trying to find anything that wasn't a flat, white surface within her reach. There was no sky, no sun, no horizon, and no light where she now stood — only an ever-increasing pale plane of blinding monochrome. Cornwell took a step forward, in an attempt to see if it all wasn't just some elaborate illusion, a temporary trap put onto her mind by the Queen's spell. Deep down, she hoped that if she tried hard enough to walk forward and reach beyond this land, she would find the real trap — a place that wasn't like this. That wasn't nonexistent.

Even deeper down, she knew that hope was useless. But she continued to run all the same.

One meter after another she ran, her boots touching a ground she would not feel, a ground she could not feel. As if it wasn't even there, the shoes simply rebalanced off of the flattest surface she could imagine, propelling her forward quickly enough to give her the illusion of progress. But the rest of reality quickly re-assessed these fantasies of advancements as hour after hour passed, and the world remained the same.

Now, there was no longer just fear and confusion that lived inside Cornwell's guts; soon, pure terror joined them as their new roommate. A sudden realization struck her, making her consider only one thing, now; where were the others? Surely, she thought, they could not be here with her. Even if the new world was equally bland to them as it was to her, they could absolutely never share one — it would defeat the point of the torture, would it not? The gears inside her head started turning again, and she felt as if cold rationality knocked on the doors of the previous fear and gave them an eviction order. Now, her brain was solely reason's palace.

She stopped the tread and sat on the ground, ignoring its total lack of any discerning qualities. Putting her hands together, she dived deep into her thoughts, wondering just what else could have happened to Rivera — no thoughts about Nobody or Marie ran through her neurons. Where the hell could she be? she asked herself over and over as paths between thoughts formed inside her brain. If this — whatever the hell the white indifference around her was — was… torture, or at least some version of hell, then surely, Rivera must be in her own version of that, did she not?


Oh. Oh.

As Mag realized where Rivera was and what she needed to do to get her out of it, she let out a prolonged sigh and looked up to the sky. And, among that endless white void, two dots that couldn't be anything but Mab's eyes looked back.


But in that somewhere out there, Jessie Rivera had no such comfort of knowing where the others were. Or even recognizing they were in a different place than the place she found herself in, for that matter.

As her eyes opened again, the first thing she felt was claustrophobia. In every single corner of the world that now existed once more, there were people. People of varying sizes, genders, and nationalities, all pushing together to create one shared, almost black mass of humans. If it wasn't for the fact she'd woken up already standing, Jessie was sure she would have been trampled by their unimpeded movement.

All of them — from the smallest kid to the tallest graybeard — continuously moved forward, their crowd of burying legs treading infinitely into some nonexistent point on the horizon. With a hullaballoo so constant as to be almost deafening, they chattered between each other in languages Rivera didn't understand. She wasn't even sure if the words they spoke were real, or if they were simply some sort of artificially constructed gibberish, crafted by a being that didn't understand the mind of a human being. Either way, she couldn't spare a moment to ponder it, for every time she attempted to think for even a second, someone from behind her pushed her forward as they themselves attempted to continue their march into infinity.

Truly, the only thing that stopped her from suffering a panic attack was the knowledge that none of this was real. Even if it wasn't for the spell she'd seen herself become a victim to before she fell asleep, there was — from a strictly logical point of view — quite frankly no way there were so many people, anywhere. Especially in such a bland and unrecognizable place that surrounded the crowd everywhere it went.

But even the knowledge that it was all fake didn't stop it from being absolutely terrifying.

Rivera had never feared crowds, not really. In her line of work, to be afraid of approaching and talking to people was more than unideal, even if there were quite literally thousands of them around you; it was actively harmful. What made this particular scenario the most terrifying thing she could ever think of however wasn't the most obvious scale of the ever-pushing horde; it was the fact that within this mob, she was utterly and thoroughly alone.

Among her inadvertent colleagues, there was no Asheworth to complain the coffee was too cold from under his baggy eyes. No McCarthy Jr. to fight with over the fact he shouldn't smoke so much, not with his health and family history. No Micheals to awkwardly smile at as you try to get to make conversation with that brilliant yet infinitely tricky little man. And, most importantly, there was no Cornwell anywhere to brighten her day with that warm, warm smile.

All of the others, she could tolerate. Put her in any hell you could think of, strip her of every possession and human connection; she can stand all of that, somewhere deep down. But without the last one, the last and only connection she truly cared for — without something as vital to her soul as oxygen — she could not go on.

She didn't know what surprised her more. That thought, that realization that Cornwell was the only thing she truly needed, or the fact she had never realized it before.


For Nobody, the Hunt was everything.

Every single moment — every waking thought he remembers — was always, always focused on just that one goal, that one motion always running through his nonexistent nerves. The restless nights he'd spent beneath Esterberg's open sky he associated with nothing but his own everchase, always pushing him forward to the ultimate objective he was put on this earth to fulfill: to slay Mab and her horrid offspring.

So, naturally, when the roles of his search had been reverted, Nobody did not like that. Not one fucking bit.

Treading between the dense floor of the forest before him, Nobody swore, the words too quiet for his unstoppable hunters to hear. Or so he'd hoped — he could never be certain what the mounted stalkers were able to pick up with their supernatural talents. He cursed — this time without sound — for allowing himself to slip so fatally, and tightened the grasp on his own weapon. Despite this, he continued his run.

Nobody had never feared death. Not even when he had still been a person — but something deep inside him forced him to run ever since he woke up inside this neverending forest. He didn't even need the constant reminder of the whistles and mocks of his pursuers to make him try to escape. Like a scared animal, he just had to try to get away. There was simply no other option.

As Nobody stopped for just a single moment to try and catch a breath, he noticed his hunters hunting among the tree line. With an almost elven grace they rode their unicorn mounts, bows of pure irrilite aimed directly at Nobody's head. And behind them walked the Queen, her hubris and power emanating from every single fiber as she made it blindingly obvious she could see Nobody no matter where he tried to escape. Though he knew there was no way their weapons could actually hurt him — he was still a skeleton, after all — some alien feeling within his soul made him panic at just the sheer thought of his oppressors catching up to him.

Nobody swallowed hard with irreal saliva going down his equally imaginary throat, and he once again picked up his speed. After all, the rabbit inside him did not want the wolves to get him. Not before he could get to safety, at least.

With the few remaining bits of self-consciousness still inside him, Nobody swore again, realizing how perfectly ironic this whole situation was. He knew the Queen was petty, but that her gripes would go to such degrees came as a surprise, even to him. The thoughts that were still unstained by whatever spell of panic she put on him were too few to formulate a clear plan, though; so Nobody just gave in to the fear of bloodlust forced upon him, unable to resist for even a minute.

And yet, even despite all of that individuality suppressed into almost nonexistence, Nobody's mind still remained livid. Livid just enough to hate his own fate. And livid just enough to accidentally realize how to escape it, too. No matter how much he resented the plan he was about to put into motion.


Where was she? Where in the world could she possibly be?

There was an almost calming quality to the white noise of Mag's personal hell. If not for the thoughts currently running through her head, that lack of sound would be terrifying, only a reminder of the boundless loneliness all around. But it wasn't; instead, it came as a surprisingly good background to bounce her own thoughts off of. She used that universal background to her own advantage the best she could.

Using her finger as a marker, Mag touched the ground. One word, one memory after another she put her thoughts to paper, her eyes still closed. Running her hands through the black canvas, she shaped it with the collective imprint of her recollections of Rivera. As an echo of what she, no, they had once lived through together reverberated through nothingness. There wasn't anything that could stop those thoughts; no sounds, no places, no people. Making the most of that absolute monotony of nothing all around, Mag continued her chore, relentless even after hours of work.

And yet, none of those hours felt like they actually took their time.

The eyes up in the sky could do nothing but watch, terrified at the woman they thought they'd chained down disobeying her own hell. The Queen behind them tried to scream in anger at someone defying her own magic, but she simply could not; all she was able to do now was to observe. Observe as Mag — as a mortal, as a human — formed together a starmap of memories of another man among nothing but loneliness.

In time, that map came complete. Created by pure accident, an expression of love for another human being, the emotions binding it together snapped with energy as the circle closed. It was surging with energy, now; a silent humming of boundless, genuine compassion ran through its veins, burning with heat so warm it could melt the ice that surrounded their hearts.

Mag was never good with spells. Or any magic, for that matter. But as she walked back and witnessed her creation, her cheeks all burning, she now saw that that was simply not true. A small smile entered her face, and she touched the shape that stood before her. From every corner of its infinitely complex structure, memories came, flooding her brain with… not happiness, no; safety. That red hair, always smelling like autumn no matter the weather. Those purple eyes, always so happy in their freedom. And that soft skin, always so warm despite the world's everpresent cold.

Mag inhaled, taking in every single sensation, every single emotion she could gather from that collection of hers, and she took the first step forward into the circle. There was no fear within her — how could there be? She trusted what lay before her too much to even doubt that it would work.

And, as she touched the ground, her hand trembling, she fell through it to the other side of the world.


There wasn't even a second of uncertainty in Surratt's actions. The very moment she saw that stupid goddamned grin, she knew what she had to do.

Grabbing her knife and brass knuckles, she rushed at Mab. The Fae Queen smiled, the expression similar to that of a flycatcher preparing to take its prey. She stood up, superiority visible in her eyes, and took the first step forward. She too knew what was about to transpire. In fact, she had been very, very patiently awaiting it.

As Marie's first attack reached the superficially immaculate cheek of her enemy, Mab simply laughed. She snapped her fingers, and her body reflected the skeleton's arm as if it wasn't even there, a bubble of green energy reverberating around the Queen. The thaumic backlash whirled around in the hellish air for a few seconds before disappearing in a flurry of rainbow sparks, much to the Fae's approval. But even seeing that shit-eating smile, Surratt didn't give up. She just doubled down.

The punches became quicker and quicker until they were nothing but a blur, Mab's shield still withstanding. Though Surratt's resolve was great, the Queen seemed to almost be indifferent to her existence, grinning all the way through the unending barrage of attacks. She then raised a hand, the movement so uncaring as if she was swatting away a fly, and a great wind rushed through the cold, dark hall. It fought against Marie, targetting her and her only, and it made her back one, two, five, no, ten meters. Suddenly, as Mab spanned her fingers once more, it turned into an all-out hurricane, and threw Surratt against the black walls of the castle around her.

As the wind died out, Marie fell to her knees. There was no strength left inside of her, now. Just a chilling exhaustion, as if the breeze fell right through her body and mind and stole all of that heat from her. And in that moment, she felt a cold, cold stab in the middle of her soul.

Within a second, she was no longer the Bone Queen Ruling Hell With Her Iron Fist — she was a small kid, laying beneath a city park tree too large for even the tallest adults. Her knees and cheeks were burning, and there was a tingling sensation within her brain. Whether it was one of embarrassment, fear, or both, she couldn't quite tell, neither then nor all those years later. Her eyes were similarly red, sobbing at the state of her broken leg.

The attack hurt just the same. It struck the same part of her that was that small defenseless child. It—

Within a moment, the tree disappeared. Now, she was seventeen and standing before a mirror, unable to choose whether the suit or the dress would fit the prom her the best. The sheer weakness overtook every part of her mind, not capable of deciding whether she should abide by the rules of her world or be who she was. Some part of her — the part that Mab's magic would suppress, all those years later — yearned to rip apart that awful, awful tuxedo, and make her own rules.

Once upon a time, that memory was one of strength, reminding her of who she truly was; now, though, she didn't even remember what decision she really made that evening. It simply escaped her. Whether by Mab's design or her brain simply letting go of what made Marie Surrat who she was, she wasn't sure.

And, as she felt the lights fade away from her soul, there was one final scene unraveling before her: the moment she died.

Running breathlessly between the trees of the no man's woods, her mind was wandering like it had never done before. Her thoughts almost as quick as her, she traversed the roots and bogs and mists, stranded so far away from the only path forward she was sure she was already done for. The fear that was choking her consciousness almost blinded her.

And then, she heard it.

The cold embrace of her own gun, pointed directly at her.

She didn't even say a word. She already knew the being had taken what it wanted from her colleagues. She just sat there, her spirit entirely destroyed, just waiting with no will to fight for the hunt to end. The being that wore her friend's face and stood above her saw it, and smirked. Knowing the chase was already finished, it did the only thing it should in a situation like this.

It pulled the trigger.

The admittance of loss pulled over Surratt like a tidal wave, and flooded all of her being as she re-emerged back into reality.

She stood there, thinking about what she just saw. Not about the present, not about the mad Fae Queen approaching her with a death sentence, no; just about her own past. About who she had been, the puny human that dared to challenge the nameless. About who is was, now, the skeleton that turned Esterberg into her own playground just because she wanted to. And about who she would be:

She realized didn't really know who she would one day like to be.

But that didn't stop her from realizing something infinitely more important: she just knew she didn't want to be dead.

She turned once more towards all of those experiences Mab showed her as a sign of victory. Towards the tree, which made her feel—

No. It didn't make her feel like the least valuable person in the world. It made her feel like a fighter. It forced her to be one.

She then turned towards the Prom, rethinking it again. And she saw it didn't make her a coward that was unable to decide; it made her a woman.

And the forest — it didn't just kill her. It made her into who she was today, tonight, molding her into an undead fucking mafioso, for god's sake.

All of that mattered. All of that was her. All of that was human. And Mab wasn't. Not in the slightest fucking bit.

Slowly, she looked up. Perhaps if she was somebody else, she would have stayed there, surrendering to the inevitable execution. Perhaps if there wasn't a fire burning inside her, she would have let that goddamned bitch do her bidding. And perhaps if she still wasn't human, she wouldn't have even protested.

But she was Marie Surratt. And Marie Surratt wasn't a goddamn quitter.

She stood up from her kneeling, her weapons ready once more, and she began to walk towards the Queen. She knew she had no chance to win. She had never had any. But at that moment, it did not matter. The only thing that did was getting that monarchist scum out of her sight and escaping this hell one more time. She had already beaten it once. She was ready to do it again.

And now, she knew exactly how to do it.

Seeing what was about to happen, Mab laughed again. She met Marie's gaze with her cold, silver eyes, and skewed her head. "What a pathetic little creature you are," she said with an almost humorous tone. "Prey tell, what are you trying to achieve, exactly?" Her fingertips sparked up with green energy, and a barely visible shadow diadem formed itself above her head. Her smile deepened.

Surratt grimaced. "I'm not scared of you, you bitch." She scoffed, spitting on the ground in her mind.

Mab raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" She reached for Marie's head, the magic between her palms starting to grow more aggressive. "And why would that be?" But there was no curiosity within her voice; just an executioner's call, filling in the awkward silence before a finished job.

Her skull snapped at the Queen. "Because unlike you, I'm real, you faerie piece of shit."

As Surratt's tightened fist threw itself at the Fae's face, it came with such a surprise Mab wasn't even able to duck. She wasn't shocked at the attack, no; she was shocked at the fact her enemy even dared oppose her again. She tried to mutter out a word that would strike her down in just an instant, but that even thought was too slow. With a surgeon's precision, another punch came. Then another. And another.

It was only a matter of a few seconds before that desperate, humanoid manifestation of just a fraction of Mab's power fell down on her knees.

Mab was trembling with fury. The masquerade of composure she had put up was now gone, replaced with a calm realization that she was simply too weak in this form to confront someone as horrid as Marie. And she hated that thought with all her might. Hated it more than her inhuman brain was able to articulate.

The Fae tried to stand up, but was met with another kick and elbow falling on her previously perfect face, revealing the myriad imperfections hidden beneath a glamour she thought to be perfect. She fell on the ground, fake blood spilling down her head, and looked at Surratt, unhidden anger visible from every part of her body. The mafioso simply laughed.

"Get the fuck out of my city, you forest fuck," she shouted, delivering one final kick to the irreal body of the dying monarch. "And never," she grabbed her head, and leveled it with her own. "ever come back."

And then she walked away.


Jessie Rivera's world was full. Full of everything she could imagine — from people through emotion to, eventually, fear. And among that — among that infinite, ever-stretching mass of nothing but the full sum of human experience and life — she herself stood tall. And she stood alone.

There was nothing that could break that prison of loneliness, not ever. Every corner of reality might've been filled with people, but they were not truly human; they were merely puppets, bad imitations of a person that tried so desperately to lie to her with their faces as they continued their never-ending march forward. Rivera followed them bravely — after all, she did not wish to be buried underneath all of that squirming — but deep down, she was scared. Scared like she had never been before.

But the worst thing in the world wasn't that awful, awful feeling — the worst thing in the world was that Rivera knew that there was nothing she could do to ever win against it. Not ever. No matter how hard she tried to beat the pouring waterfall of those semi-humans around her, no matter how hard she tried to blend in with them, and no matter how hard she tried to think about Mag, she would always remain an odd one out, forever doomed to wander this liminal hell. And she would be doing it alone.

And then, just as she was about to give up, just as she was about to accept her fate, she heard a sound.

With a plop so quiet it almost mixed in with the crowd's commotion, a small hole in reality — not in any ceiling or wall, but in the fabric of the world itself — opened up above her. The circle burned with a light so powerful and so compassionate it almost blinded her. Unable to withstand the full might of the emotion that became manifested before her, Rivera squinted, covering her eyes with her arm.

But before she allowed herself to do that, something inside her made her stop halfway through the motion. And how glad she became when she realized why.

Two smiling eyes popped up from the unreality before her, and were soon followed by two equally happy arms and legs. A storm of blonde locks fell through, and as the gate between worlds closed, Magdalaine Cornwell stood up from the cold ground, her warmth radiating against the contrasting world. She looked into Rivera's eyes and smiled. And — even though no words came from either — both of them knew they needed nothing more but themselves.

They didn't speak. They simply embraced each other, happy like they'd never been. For what little it was worth, right now, nothing but the two existed. Neither the crowd on one side nor the white loneliness on the other. For a single infinitely long second, the only thing that was worth even considering as real was Jessie Rivera and Magdalaine Cornwell, brought together by a kiss so needed it felt nothing but natural.

And with that, hell simply became undone.


Nobody didn't want to do it. But right now, negotiation time was over. It was time for action.

He took a silent breath, and immediately stopped in his tracks. It took all of the will he could ever muster to resist the urge to run. It hurt like a motherfucker, but there was nothing else he could ever do; Nobody had simply no other choice. So, clenching his fingers, he forced his feet to cease all movements, looking directly at the three Fae that stood before him.

The imitation of Mab scoffed mockingly. "Worm," it laughed richly, throwing its silver hair to the side. "what are you hoping to achieve? You have already lost," it added, poison dripping down its full lips.

For a split second that lasted infinity, Nobody wanted to continue their chase. The animal inside of him, the void of personality the transformation to Nobody left as a scar in his soul; it wanted to give in to its most basic urge, trying its very best to run away from that overwhelming fear. But, with a heart so heavy it was almost unbearable, Nobody had to admit he wasn't just a nobody. So he reached into that part of himself that was still Damien Nowak.

It hurt almost just as badly. If not worse. Nobody was too lucid now to even be sure.

As a spark of change rushed down the baseline of his essence, Nobody fell to his knees. All three hunters observed as the skeleton before them screamed in indescribable agony, grabbing his head with his two, bony hands. A split, a wound like he'd never felt or seen took its knife and jammed it into his soul, finally breaking apart the wall that kept the beast within caged for so long. His breath was unsteady, now; if hyperventilation was an issue he could still have, he was sure that by now, his lungs would be turning.

The wolf that was buried beneath the six feet of nothingness awoke, its red eyes glowing in the dark of the being that had called itself Nobody for so long. It smiled with its long, white teeth, and shook its shaggy, black fur. There was nothing stopping it from finally breaking free now, it thought as the weapon of surrender smashed at the walls of its prison over and over again, bridging the ravine between the two souls that battled inside of Nobody like some twisted imitation of a bridge.

How terribly human.

As the wolf howled and Nobody called out to the heavens once more, it look a leap of faith forward, and landed directly within the Nobody-shaped hole that sat where his soul should have been.

The Queen gasped silently, and within a moment, Nobody changed. He stood up, but this time, he was no longer a skeleton with a hat and a trench coat. This time, he was a man. A man bearing long, dark hair and a scar burn, his previous crossbow replaced with two eyes burning with so much hatred and determination Mab was almost scared. The transformed Nobody-Nowak looked at her, and she felt his animalistic urge was entirely gone, overridden by the human he had once been. The only thing that stood within his mind now was the consciousness of man, hellbent on doing the only job it was summoned to do; get rid of Mab.

The Queen took a step back. But it was already too late.

Her Hunter put his hand up and pointed a finger at her. Around it, sparks of Nowak's magic and jolts of Nobody's weaponry started to dance, ready to let go at their horrid target at any moment their bearer wished to. He looked at Mab, pure disgust in his face; but instead of getting it out of his system, he simply gathered every single quark of repulsiveness, every bit of anger, and every atom of fear he still had within him. He gathered it up and pointed it to its finger, which furiously challenged Mab and her integrity.

And then, he fired.

For a moment, he let the part of him that was still him mix with the part of Mab that was still Mab, and, with a gaze so furious it was almost blinding, it whispered one quiet word into the pointy ears of the part of the Queen that dared leave her full soul and entered Esterberg.


And so, it did.


15th of January
Site-120: Częstochowa, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

It had been two days, yet the festivities back home at Site-120 were still in full swing. It wasn't every day that you stop the apocalypse, and even rarer that you do so twice within a few decades. A few personnel drunkenly staggered through the near-empty halls, while some senior researcher crooned ABBA off-key over the intercom. For a moment, all was good.

Mag sat in her office, tapping a foot to the muffled rendition of Dancing Queen that barely strained through her closed door. She had partaken in the festivities, of course; lukewarm soda and a half-eaten cookie lay scattered on her desk, but there was work to be done, and she couldn't get distracted by so much fun in one lifetime. Besides, she really needed some quiet, and—

The door suddenly opened, and a certain redhead poked her face inside. "Hey."

Mag finished a signature with a flourish, setting aside a ream of manila folders. "Hey," she smiled.

Jessie invited herself in, sprawling on a couch at the far corner of the room. "So, uh, you doing anything right now?"

"Not really, no. I just got off the phone with King Ragna. Apparently a legion of Droganians just appeared in Wrocław, ready to fight Mab," she gently chuckled. "Only problem is they emerged from some old lady's rose bushes. I mean, the amnestics alone," she rubbed her temples. "God, I forgot that saving the world needed this much paperwork."

Jessie crossed over to the desk, idly tapping her fingers. "You know, you don't have to be on all the time, we defeated the physical manifestation of evil! Or, well, the closest to it we've got. You deserve a night off."

The intercom vocalist hit a particularly high note, and Mag rolled her eyes. "So I can duet with Jeremy on Mamma Mia?"

"Definitely not that." Jessie laughed. Underneath the table, her leg bounced nervously. "We could… get some fresh air? There's this Thai-Yeren fusion in Esterberg that I've been dying to try. What do you think?”

A flicker of something went across Mag's face. "It's a date."


15th of January
The Starless Street: Esterberg, Częstochowa, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

A cold worry strangling ver thoughts, Ailbié Tier'ney nervously paced the warehouse rooftop. No signal. Fiadh promised a signal. Ve knew he had a penchant for the dramatic, but in the name of the Queen, if he didn—

Ve felt the barrel of a gun press against ver back. A gloved hand clasped ver mouth.

"Your bodyguards are dead." A rough voice exclaimed. "Scream, move, try anything stupid, I empty this into you." For just a moment, the press got harder.

Then, the hand moved away. Ailbié gasped, struggling to force air back into ver lungs. "Wh-Who are you?" ve sputtered inbetween coughs.

For a moment, nobody said anything. So ve used that time to try to get an answer verself. From ver periphery ve saw it. Humanoid, crisp black suit, skeletal. Ve sighed. "Marie Surratt."

"Guilty as charged," an almost unnoticeable smirk went through her voice. "Fiadh is dead."

Ve didn't move a muscle. "Shame."

"You don't sound too broken up about it."

"Fiadh was misguided," ve said, just a bit of disgust in the words. "Weak. He lost himself in his insane ramblings more often than not. He was not worthy of Mab's embrace. I assume the ritual failed?"

Ailbié felt the barrel lift from ver back. Surratt crossed over to sit on the ledge, keeping a steady gaze (which was, frankly put, rather impressive given her lack of eyes) and weapon trained on ver the whole time.

"Mab is dead. Foundation killed her."

Ve scoffed with something Marie recognized as almost pitty. "She isn't gone. It'll take more than that to get rid of a god. Especially of a god of that magnitude."

Ver jaw clenched as Surratt reached into her pocket. She pulled out a cigar and a lighter. "Be that as it may, looks like the chain of command of your little Triumviraté cell is gone. That is, except for you."

"…So you've come here to kill me?"

"Similar enough." Marie shrugged. "Job offer. Triumviraté's a headless chicken, now that they cut off Mab. It may run around for a few months, but the Foundation's coming for you, and they're coming down hard." She let herself pause for dramatic effect. "What you helped do back in '85 don't mean jackshit to them, so don't even try it. Heard they've even got a few liaisons out in Geneva to strongarm the Free Ports into taking out every cell you have. Pretty soon you won't be able as much as breathe in a Port without a frisking by the Blue Helmets."

Ver hand dropped ever so slightly down into ver pocket. "Or?"

"Or we consolidate. Join forces, and I smuggle you and yours out of here to one of my safehouses, and you lay low for a few months until the heat dies down. Do a couple odd jobs for me every so often, and I keep the Skippers off your back. Win-win, everybody's happy."

Then, there was a knife. Irrilite. Flashbang with an ISCUT-style illumination spell, and she could pierce the cranium in less than a second.

"What if I say no?"

Surratt lit the cigar, the smoke trailing up into the night sky.

"There's a Gockie Strike Team a hundred meters above us. Three separate Taskforces circling the building. And I hear City Patrol's got an honest-to-god dragon that they're scrambling as we speak. I say the word, and it's go time."

"You're bluffing."

"Could be, but are you willing to take that chance?"

Ve scoffed again. "So what is this, extortion? Bring a damned army, kill my guys, and expect me to submit?"

"This operation was going to go through with or without me. They've had a sniper trained on you — don't bother, antimemetic cloaking — since you stepped into the building. I told them to give me ten minutes, and I could convince you to dissolve your Triumviraté band. You've got brains, and — more importantly — a conscious, which is in ever short supply these days."

She leaned against the wall, cocking her head at the Fae. Then, she continued: "I'm heading south towards the docks. There's a boat captain waiting for me, Eurtec-bound. If you accept the offer, feel free to come along. If not, best of luck."

Without another word, the skeleton somersaulted over the edge and into the night, cigar smoke trailing behind.

Alone in the cold of the Polish winter, Ailbié Tier'ney stood for a moment, and made ver decision.


15th of January
Esterberg's Market District: Częstochowa, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Despite the brisk winter air, the atmosphere of Ambrosia's garden was comfortably warm. Whether it was due to the surges of fire magic running through the heaters around it or the woman that sat across the table, Jessie Rivera could not quite tell.

The two days that had passed since Mab's failed insurgence have passed quickly. A little too quickly, perhaps; during all that rush to get everyone in the best shape and report to Overwatch Command and O4 and god-knows-who-else, Jessie had barely any time to actually plan today. But with everything finally put into motion, knowing there was no cosmic god or equally hellish bureaucrat that could now stop her from doing what she had wanted to do for so long, she smiled.

"The place's pretty," Magdaleine Cornwell commented, the kindness in her voice almost so uncharacteristic to people that didn't know her. Finally off duty, she was wearing her best dress tonight. Its reds contrasted wonderfully with her beautiful hair, which fell down her face. She was so pretty Jessie could barely see the bandages wrapped around her arm. Noticing Jessie's glance, she chuckled, "Hope the food is just as good."

"Yeah," she replied, a slight tone of nervousness entering her voice. She herself was wearing her fanciest — it would feel wrong to pick up anything but that tonight. Yet even then, she was unable to rid herself of all of her anxiety. But then again, would she even be human if she was able to?

Suddenly, Mag's eyes locked with Jessie's. She swallowed, and put her hands together. "Jess, I… We've been… dancing around something for a while, now. What, five years? And… I've been meaning to talk to you about that something."

Jessie could practically feel the sweat start to go down her face. "Yeah, me too."

For a moment, they didn't speak; they just looked at each other, trying their very best to ascertain whether they were both thinking the same thing. Eventually, though, Jessie cleared her throat, and put forward a hand, its fingers almost trembling.

Unsure of what to say, Mag looked at her palm, which now moved slowly as violet sparks ran through it. Jessie snapped her fingers, and a single silver ring appeared between them. A beautiful irrilite crystal sat atop it, a few jolts of magic still trapped inside it, still burning with their rainbow colors. She inhaled, a slow shiver going down her spine.

"Magdaleine Cornwell," Jessie started, her purple eyes looking directly at Mag. "Will you marry me?"

For a horribly long moment, Mag didn't reply. But then, she smiled, and picked up the gift gently. "Yes, Jessie," she replied, tears of joy starting to form in her eyes. "I will."

And, as the two embraced each other once more, everything else stopped being important. No Mab, Triumviraté, and no Foundation; the only thing that mattered now and forever was just Jessie and Mag, brought together by their shared compassion.

In that very moment, both of them were more than sure they were the only thing they could have ever wanted or needed. For all of eternity.


15th of January
Esterberg's Sewer District: Częstochowa, Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Nobody, however, could not say that for himself. The hunger that burned his soul from the inside out was still far from being satisfied.

Somewhere deep inside Esterberg's Sewer District, the bony crossbow-bearer stood, frantically searching through his hideout. He scribbled something down one notebook after another, desperately trying to make sure the knowledge of what happened to Mab wasn't lost. He had banished her from the city, of that he was sure, but everything on heaven and earth pointed to the fact that that was only a part of the dreaded queen. Her rest, he thought, was still somewhere out there, quietly bidding its time until its inevitable return.

And he could not allow it.

Even as the frenzy of the hunt overtook him once more, Nobody could not forget what had transpired inside of Mab's hell. His name hadn't changed — he still felt he was no one else but Nobody — but deep down inside him, something broke. And he was afraid of it. He could feel that a part of him — a part of his soul — was now split, unable to choose between the hunter he was and the Damien Nowak he had once been. And, he feared, it was there forever now. Always waiting for Nobody to make the inevitable choice.

It was tearing him apart from the inside. With every move, every step he took, he felt that split inside him only deepen, but he ignored it all the same. He had a job to do. So he was about to do it well.

Suddenly, Nobody snapped his notebook closed, and picked up his crossbow. With a heavy heart that wasn't a heart, he looked down at his previous lair, and rummaged all the remaining items within it that he could still find useful. After a while, he knew he was ready. He corrected his wide hat, opened the map of Mab's possible locations, and deadlocked on the next position he marked down upon it.

The hunt was far from over.

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