I Was the Queen (Before It Was Cool)


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

There were perhaps only two more pleasant things than sleeping.

The experience was just so seamless, so… natural, Dr. Jessie Rivera thought, giving in to the nonsensical logic of her dreamscape without much resistance. Letting herself get carried by whatever narrative was getting woven in her rest this time, she didn't ask it any questions — as long as her body was safe and sound in the Esterbergian motel Surratt paid for yesterday, Rivera let her mind wander wherever it pleased.

Tonight was quite nice, actually, she realized as she half-consciously observed the action unravel before herself. It was some mixture of her and her… close friend, yes, Magdaleine Cornwell, walking down the streets of the City of the East, aimlessly wandering across its sunny alleys. The wind was gentle, the people kind, the temperature just ideal, and her smile just charming enough to make both blush. Rivera shook her head. If she could, she'd look down in repressed embarrassment, but her point of view being deadlocked didn't quite allow that.

Trying to reach for Mag's hand in some sub-intentional gesture, judging it excusable as nobody else was a witness to this but her, Rivera realized she couldn't. Panicked, she tried once more, this time with all of her ontokinetic force, but to no response. The dreamscape remained indifferent to her power, forcing the pair to eventually run out of her vision, laughing and smiling as if nothing ever happened.

No longer allowing Rivera to even blink, the dream forced her down the streets through the cobblestone that laid them into the dirt beneath. She had no mouth, yet still tried to scream in some disillusion of potential success. The increasingly-dense stone and clay the city was built on however made sure to make all attempts at sound nothing but futile, squeezing her immaterial body continuously down to experience all the horror with its own eyes.

She fell and she fell, eventually making her way into… where, exactly, she did not know, she realized as her ears were filled with a silent beating. Confused like never, Rivera looked around the void that made up the entire world now, realizing what she was trying to see was in arm's reach. Because she was what that beating heart stood as.

Pumping its blood into each street, each plaza, each building Esterberg was made up of, the organ beat, relentless to ever stop. It was quiet, as if it didn't want the rest of the city to hear its existence. Regardless of this, it remained alone, forever protecting the Free Port with the shattered magic of the near-dead soul of the being sleeping inside the heart.

Jessie didn't know how she was able to understand all of this, but it seemed this confusion was irrelevant to whatever her mission there was. In every moment, she felt a million shoes step on the pavements of the city — nay, step on the heart's body, step on her. With each day passing, she felt the outer world banging on the haven's doors. And, with each season turning the world around, she could feel her body rot, making the force that made Esterberg be able to protect its people wither away and away.

Dr. Jessie Rivera always expected that death would come with the grace of an elephant in a china store. But she couldn't be more wrong; for tonight, death came to her without a sound.

Seeping like a hungry serpent from the souls of some of her people, the river of blood and evil flowed in a horrid mockery of nature, forming streams down Esterberg's streets. It filled them with hatred, with a particle of nothing but pure anger, tainting the holy ground she once established to keep it at bay. Down from the Ruling District where this waterfall began it sailed, making its way into each corner of the city as its moisture tainted every citizen she once swore to protect.

There was an old Fae legend she once heard, Jessie remembered, that said there was no such thing as true reality-bending. When the Inventor died so many millennia ago in her battle with Mab, they said the essence of her infinitely powerful being scattered throughout space and time, embuing parts of itself into random individuals throughout history, forming those that could directly rip up reality.

Rivera always dismissed it as nonsense, but if it was true, then tonight was the first time since the First Diaspora the two sisters met. Even if just through parts of their once god-like hearts.

She tried to look away as this demon strangled more and more of her children with each passing day, grinning directly into the heart of her sister below. For a single moment in time, their all-seeing eyes met, spawning a spark of pure opposition against everything the other stood for. And, in that moment, Jessie became herself again.

Thrown back up into the now restored previous dream of the sunny streets of Esterberg, Rivera blinked twice, unable to comprehend what just happened. Though Mag extended her hand, trying to get them to run along for just one minute longer, the doctor rejected it, staring directly into the ground from whence she was just banished. As time stopped, reality shattered, forcing her very being, now once again devoid of a body, to look into the eyes of the two Sisters that were buried under Esterberg.

"Hurry," the Inventor barely whispered, her voice disappearing like mutter across wind. "There is little time left."

And just as Rivera was about to ask her what she meant, a Scouse-tinged voice drifted back, "In the town where I was born, lived a man who sailed to sea…"

And then, with a violent force, Rivera woke up.

Recognizing the unmistakable tunes and lyrics of The Beatles' Yellow Submarine vibrating on her nightstand, she struggled to open her eyes. With a blind hand, she turned on the lamp, frantically searching for the device that rang at such a barbarous hour.

Worried like death, Rivera picked up her still-ringing phone, putting it next to her ears. Before she could even ask who it was, however, the rough voice of Marie Surratt burst out, letting a single horrid phrase enter her ears.

"I felt it, too."


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

Very few prisons left out there could still claim the dungeon status these days.

Sure, you could call yourself a dungeon all you want, but the very minute you started talking about "prisoners' rights" and cruel and unusual punishments and blah blah blah, that's when you've lost the essence of what a proper dungeon really was. They don't make 'em like they used to. Not even Paramax, the golden child of prisoner cruelty, could really call itself by that name. It was just too clean and non-magical.

But Esterberg Penitentiary, that was a dungeon alright. Complete with cobblestone floors and walls and rusty chain, they still made use of the cruel, old-fashioned ways to imprison hostile god-mages there.

With his dimly-lit lantern in his extended hand, the warden gingerly walked down the crumbling steps, followed by the two Foundation doctors closely behind. The red-haired one — Jessie, he remembered — was having quite the terrible time. Judging from her eyes, she couldn't catch even a wink of sleep, and was now trapped in the hell that was being too sleepy to function while being too alert to nap. Her partner wasn't better, though, partly because she realized her shoe was now the home of something wet. But mostly because that something was also moving.

With the move of some keys which probably remembered the city's founding, the man opened wide the bottom-most floor, filling the tight staircase with the smell of rotting water, decay, and death.

"Is… Is this really necessary?" Mag said, raising her eyebrow and forcing a groan onto her lips simultaneously. Carefully, she stepped inside the stone corridor in front of them, illuminated only by the few ceiling candles burning with a faint and almost human glow. She shivered.

The Fae scratched his head. "If anyone we have can interpret visions like that, it's those guys." He pointed towards the ancient cells with his head. "And 'No Level-7 prisoners are allowed outside of the bottom-most level'," he recited the final rule with an almost religious adherence and shrugged. "I don't make the rules."

"That's more than fine," Rivera chimed in, separating the two with her hands before Mag said something she very much shouldn't have, gently stabbing her in the ribs and pointing towards the rest of the corridor with her eyes.

"How much time do you need? There's no technical limit, but, uh," He scratched again. "I'd rather two skippers didn't spend too much time with the biggest wolves we got down here, no offense."

Jessie smiled politely. "None taken. And around an hour should be more than enough."

"Great," the guard stated, already starting to climb up the spiral staircase up to the warmth of his office near the surface. "I'll be back in an hour, then. If you need anything, just, uh, shout, I guess?" The final sounds of his voice faded as his body distanced itself further and further from the two.

Mag sighed, and turned her eyes towards the rest of the room.

Extending over the yonder, the corridor was home to many cells, though only ten or so of them contained a still-alive light within. Filled with a dim atmosphere and a wet floor, the anti-magic cobblestone bricks that made up its walls overwhelmed it with a claustrophobic feeling. Even if Jessie knew it was by design, it didn't help one bit.

"Soooo," she began, taking the first step forward, trying her best to ignore the puddle her shoes stepped into. She came closer to the doors to the nearest lit-up cell, near which a stone tablet hung, loudly exclaiming it belonged to a "Jozue Szeòras, Triumviraté member and terrorist, imprisoned forever." "Which one do we begin with?"

Mag joined her partner, opening up the inmate list they were given by the warden on her phone. "I… Well, We're not exactly going to wake up a dormant demigod, neither will we talk to the ones that have gone insane," she stated, going down the list and crossing out each of the people on it in her head. "Which leaves us with… three people. A member of a terrorist group, a medieval seer, and the leader of the aforementioned terrorists." She tapped the sign in front of her. "And the first one's here."

Jessie shrugged. "Guess that doesn't leave us with a choice." She reached for the door handle, closing her eyes briefly. When she opened them again, they were no longer her sky blue, instead replaced with a vibrating purple of fully awakened reality-bending. With a face full of determination, she pulled the handle, and entered through.

Rolling her eyes, Mag soon followed. "Guess it doesn't."

The two didn't think the place could really get any less pleasant, but the cell proper proved them very wrong.

A two by two by two cube with no source of light but a candle in a hole in the ceiling, it was nearly pitch-black. If their entry wasn't accompanied by the sound of shackling chains and a low grunt, they would have never guessed it contained a person within, because it very much shouldn't have. The only thing of note other than the most-likely generation-old bars that separated the room from the main corridor was a single chipped wooden blank, which most likely acted as a bed, and a hole in the corner, thinking about the purpose of which Mag didn't want to entertain.

The twig-thin figure laying on said bench slowly moved upwards, barely capable of doing so through the myriad black, metallic chains binding it to the wall next to it.

"What… do… you… want…?" The deep and guttural voice slowly exclaimed in broken English, gently moving its miserable butterfly-like Fae wings upwards. Slowly, the man's tongue circled his dry lips, forcing them to grin just slightly.

"Your help." Rivera stopped, directly challenging the prisoner by looking into his emerald eyes.

A pause. They laughed, or more accurately coughed several times, wheezes reverberating through the lungs of the malnourished terrorist. Unable to contain the hilarity, he slapped his thigh with a nearly-skeletal hand, choking through rotting teeth. "You?" He met Rivera's gesture. In just a moment, the masquerade of a poor victim fell down, revealing a sneaky devil, capable of striking with full force at any moment, no matter the death-nearing state. "Ha!"

Cornwell massaged her temple. "…Yes."

The Fae proper himself up against the wall behind him, crossing his legs. "And why would that be, oh mighty Foundation?" He barely contained another wave of laughter.

"We…" The blonde Director began, only to be stopped by her partner wordlessly telling her she'll handle it alright.

"I need you to interpret something for me," she exclaimed with a tone accepting no resistance, putting her hands together. "A dream, to be exact."

He smiled again. "A dream? What the hell am I, some two-bit fortune-teller? You'd be far better off—"

"It's related to your little Queen."

His second mask disappeared almost as quickly as the first one, bringing forth a face of curiosity. "That… changes things, yes. What do you need, and — more importantly — what can I gain from it?"

"I'm sure the city council will—"

He waved his hands. "No, no. I don't want promises. I want something real. I'm sick of rotting away in god-knows-where. I want out."

"I…" Rivera started carefully, judging her options here as best as she could. "I have information that could lead to Mab's quicker revival."

He raised his eyebrow.

"The dream has certain… qualities… that can help further the goal of your little band. And you've spent enough time with Mab to know what they mean."

"And how would I know you're not lying?"

Her purple eyes snapped into position, drilling exactly into his soul, sending a march of shivers down his spine. That's all it took for him to understand. He swallowed hard.

"I see. I… Yes, I think I could be of most use. Spill forth your secrets, Jailor."

Jessie took a deep breath, and told him everything, with all the details. He didn't even bat an eye, instead inhaling, too.

"I… If my interpretation is correct, then it's a wake-up call. It's a siren before the storm, raging in the port city before a tsunami comes." He grinned again. "Because it's quite close, all things considered. Closer than those guarding the port thought."

The reality bender sighed, gathering her thoughts. "And why would that be?"

He shrugged. "Reality's falling apart due to hate, as it always has. And through those cracks, the Queen peeks, comprehending more and more until she can fully materialize." With each word spoken, his eyes glimmered more and more with utmost adoration. He licked his lips again. "And once the entire glass shatters, there will be no return."

"What must we do to stop it?"

He chuckled. "Stop it? Stop her? Have you lost your mind? Why would anyone, why would anything want to stop such beauty? Why would you ever try to intercept the rightful ruler, the final god, the utmost obelisk of all the world was ever meant to be, from manifesting? Why? Why? Why?" His eyes were nothing but pure black at this point.

"You're insane."

The Fae ignored her. "Tell me, Jailor," the prisoner practically spat out, grinning unnoticeably from below the shadow of his face. "If you knew a hurricane would inevitably consume your hometown, no matter how hard you tried, would you stay, throwing rocks at the immovable wave of air in hope of delaying it, or would you run, with the dimmest glimpse of hope of getting out?"

"That's not—"

"No, that's exactly what this is. You're the heroes of Valhalla, stupidly postponing an unstoppable Ragnarök instead of seeing the only way out, blinded by your 'honor'. There's a reason these two myths are so similar, y'know."

If Rivera wasn't burning with utter fury, she would have even raised her eyebrow. Her face pale with a mixture of anger, fear, and frustration, she came forward, trying to intimidate the prisoner into talking with sense. He just laughed, forcing even more rage onto Jessie. As she reached forward with a palm trembling with power, she suddenly snapped out as the hand of the other doctor reached her back.

"It's not worth it."

Their sights met.

"Not on him. He'll rot here anyways, and we've got more work to do."

"But I—"

She shushed her.

"It's okay. There's always the second one."

Rivera closed her eyes.

"…Yeah. You're right. It's not worth it."

And, without turning back, they walked out into the corridor, shutting the heavy door behind them, cutting off yet another wave of laughter from manifesting in their ears.


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

When most people try to imagine an oracle's house, they picture some ancient cave located in the middle of some dirty jungle. Full of myths and darkness, it sits at the edge of reality, they'd tell you, afraid of the people with powers beyond their recognition. Yes, that was the general consensus for a farseer's place — old, and evil. Deeply evil.

What most people didn't expect, however, is the modern (and quite frankly boring) truth of those that could see into the future and interpret dreams. Caves seem a lot less appealing when you look a couple of centuries ahead and find out about germ theory. And forget about dream interpretations, look ahead a couple of months for lottery numbers or the best stocks to invest in. Make the right moves, and in a couple of years, the average oracle could be living in a mansion off the shore of their private island. By contrast, Adam Angevin, the most powerful oracle since the one of Delphi herself, seemed perfectly content in stashing away inside some run-down and utterly uncharacteristic alleyway in the backs of Esterberg's Living District, living like he was trying to be a true nobody.

"You know this person?" An actual and true Nobody calmly asked, taking the first step towards the building in front of him. He'd never seen it before during his time in the city nor had he even heard of its inhabitant, but with just a single glance, he could see at least ten structural flaws in the walls holding the small but proud shack together. But he was sure the man that lived inside knew of them better than he ever could.

"Oh yeah, we go waaaay back," Surrat responded, meeting the Hunter's walk. She carefully looked around them, trying to discern whether anybody was following them — it's not often one could see two skeletons walking in the middle of the day, even in such a peculiar place as here. Making sure they were utterly alone on this abandoned and just depressingly-looking street, she continued without worry. "Met him back when I was, y'know."

His skull didn't even twitch. "Alive."

"Yeah. That."

Nobody surveyed the door. It was nice; iron with intricate curves and designs etched into its face, making for one hard protection against the outside world. In its middle was a mail slot and — he bent down slightly — an immaculately carved knocker in the shape of a wounded eye, surrounded by many arms. Vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite place it, trying to mark it in his memory to remember down the line.

"Nadox." Marie forced him out of his trance.

He stood up, throwing dust off his coat and wide hat with an almost mechanical gesture. "What?"

"The door knocker. It's in the shape of Klavigar Nadox. Symbol of good luck, apparently."

At sound's speed, his skull turned towards her, his sight practically shouting at her, if he was capable of such emotions. "He's a Sarkic."

"Nälkä. But only culturally." Surratt crossed her arms. "Is that a problem?"

"You know I hate them," he said without even a trace of emotion within his tone, once more turning to the depiction of Ion's saint.

"Be a bit more open-minded, he's good people. I'd trust him with… well, I wouldn't trust him with my life, but I'd trust him with yours."

Nobody didn't comment. Using the knocker, he instead rapped against the door three times with equal intervals between them. After a moment, there was some shuffling behind the door, and two bloodshot eyes peered from the mail slot, carefully looking around the alley, eventually landing on the two skeletons.

"Look, you lot already came by once, and the answer's still the same: I'm not paying you for any 'protection'. This door's got more wards than the Presidential Palace, so good luck trying to make me."

Surratt sighed, massaging her temples. "Adam, it's me. Marie."

"Nice try, imbecile. She's dead."

She sighed again, this time with much more frustration. "Look, remember that story you told me?" The two almost colorless eyes raised their eyebrows. "You were seven and had been selected to play Ion at the Fall Of Kurst Pageant? The Karcist was sitting in the front row, and you were so nervous that you—"

The brows lowered almost immediately, forcing a happy expression onto the eyes below. "Alright, alright, that's enough." The door swung open, and a lanky man rushed out and wrapped his arms around her before either of the newcomers could react. "I saw the news reports, but couldn't believe it. Welcome back."

"Glad to be back, too." She returned the gesture, patting the pale thirty-something-year-old with messy brown hair on his hunched-over back. "Can you, uh, let go of me? Think you're crushing my ribs."

"Right, because of the— sorry." He let go, and jerked his thumb towards Nobody. "And who's this guy?"


"I mean, I'd like to know his name."

"No, it's— Look, it's a long story." She carefully peeked into the darkness of the rest of the house behind Adam. "Can we come in?"

He clicked his tongue and glanced at Nobody, judging whether he should let someone wearing more paratech than a dozen Eurtec speed junkies into his home. But then again, he had no reason to not trust his mafioso friend next to the Hunter. Deciding he was way too exhausted by the last two days to judge what the better decision there was, he shrugged, and showed the two to follow him inside.

The apartment wasn't the biggest abode, but what it lacked in size it made up for in comfort. Illuminated by nothing but a few dim lightbulbs, it consisted of one living room slash kitchenette and a corridor presumably leading to a bathroom and a bedroom. Surratt and Nobody entered through, stooping under the low doorframe. Whilst the former cleaned her shoes on a mat exclaiming "Ion Bless This Mess" in ancient Adytite, the latter barged just in, tainting the already-dirty carpet covering most of the living room with the mud of his shoes. Adam sighed, but didn't say anything. He was way too tired for that.

"So, uh," he started, extending his arms and smiling slightly. "Welcome to my humble little house. Susan's out right now, so I, uh, I have a bit of a little fella on my h—" he was quickly interrupted by the cries of a child, coming from the bedroom. He sighed again, and massaged his temple. "…Yes, that. I, well, I'll have to excuse the two of you for a moment, make yourselves at home!" The cries got louder, and with a murmured apology, Adam practically sprinted into the other room. This time, Surratt was the one to sigh.

Walking towards the old, most likely wet, and bleakly green cough, Marie took a good look around herself. The wooden walls were covered floor to ceiling in a near-endless series of notes and calendars, each containing some random numbers Surratt guessed to be future dates by the squiggly sentences written next to them. Where no predictions hung, however, a series of beautifully-crafted paintings did.

There were six of them, each held in an overly-detailed golden frame, similar in style to the doorknob they just used a moment ago. Surratt couldn't decide just how old they were, but she knew they were old. Really, really old. Bordering on ancient, they depicted a young and beautiful man, interacting with a series of increasingly bizarre figures. The paintings were untitled, but she couldn't mistake the subjects for anyone else. The Grand Karcist Ion and his Klavigar, in all their long-gone glory, illuminating the room with their presence.

The depictions weren't quite religious, but there was a certain mystical quality to them, like the house owner really respected them. Maybe it was because they were the only ones in the entire room that weren't dusted, or just because the sheer beauty of their imagery didn't feel like it belonged inside such a run-down place. She couldn't quite decide which one it was. Thankfully, this debate with her inner self was cut short by Angevin arriving back to meet his guests, somehow even more tired than before, a small human inside his hands. Surratt smiled subconsciously.

"Sorry," he yawned, putting the kid inside a small chair next to the cooking counter. Reaching toward a strange kitchen machine standing beside the stove, he gently touched it, clicking a few buttons next to its side. As his eyes temporarily turned all black, it munched and it flushed, eventually spitting out some milk into a bottle that stood in a niche inside of it. Adam's nose temporarily started to slightly bleed, before the droplet travelled up once more just a second later.

He took the bottle, gave it to his son, and scooped the little guy up, taking a seat on the couch as a fat oomph reverberated through the room. The two newcomers joined him, resting on two chairs made from an unidentified hide, and leaned in towards the oracle. He cracked his knuckles.

"So," he said, reaching under the table. "How exactly can I help you?"


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

Jessie exhaled, blinking twice. She touched her face, forcing her eyes to once again adapt their blue.

"I… Thank you," she said, panting slightly. "Shouldn't, shouldn't have done that."

Mag touched her shoulder. "Don't mention it."

For a moment that felt like an eternity, the two stood there among the hell-cold corridor, the silence only occasionally broken up by a droplet of melting ice or wax hitting the cobblestone floor. It stunk and it felt claustrophobic, but it was fine. For as long as they were there together, all was calm. As long as they held each other strong, all was safe. And as long as their eyes met, all was good.

Suddenly, Rivera blushed, turning away as two rapid blinks in succession interrupted her vision. She swallowed hard inhaling moments after, and quickly walked towards a cell further down the hallway. Mag didn't roll her eyes, though she very much wanted to; instead, with a slow march, she joined the other doctor in her position in the never-ending corridor, where light still existed, but just barely.

The doors they arrived at were nearly identical to the ones that held the previous inmate. Though their structure and the formation of the walls around were the same at first glance the prison, the unmistakable metallic smell of telekill tainted them quite well. Whoever the "Fionn Aod'han" inside was, he must've been quite the big fish, she thought. Mag wrinkled her nose.

"You sure we want to do this one? Not to be a party popper, but, uh," she gently banged on the doors with her knuckles, forcing them to make a dull sound. "If the last one was any indication, I doubt we want to meet someone here that needs telekill to have them sit in place."

She just shrugged in response. "Not like we really have different options here, do we? Besides," she tapped her head. "I'll trust myself to stay calm this time."

"Fair enough, I guess," Mag said, slowly moving between the door and Rivera, propping herself up against the former. "Just let me come in first to make sure all's well, alright?"

She nodded. Recognizing that as a sign of approval, the blonde scientist inhaled, and opened the door, entering into the blinding darkness that laid within.

The first thing that hit them was the dead silence. It wasn't like the rest of the dungeon was particularly loud, of course, but this was a special case even for this. It felt… wrong, in a sense; the combination of the lack of a light source and water dripping made them both more than uneasy.

With a spark of worry in her eye, Mag glanced around herself desperate to notice anything within the night that befell them. At least the place was roughly in the same shape as the previous one, she thought. Turning her sights towards the corner where the "bed" in the last cell was, she realized that it was empty. Where a mostly healthy Fae hybrid magic warrior should lay, she saw nothing but the underground wall. Its structure lacked exactly one brick.

Before she could think twice, Cornwell took yet another step forward, squinting once more. But when her eyes could not properly adjust and tell her what a horrible idea this was, the world itself did so more than well.

With the force of a mining drill, a shard of cobblestone as sharp as diamond came down from the ceiling, a briefly-visible figure atop it. Pushing it down with his bare foot, what the two women could only presume to be Aod'han grinned widely, making it dig deep into Mag's shoulder.

As blood sprouted forward, accompanied by the sound of shoulder bones cracking, Mag shouted into the aether, falling onto the ground. Though the Fae prisoner no longer had any ground to land on, he fell on two legs alright, quickly retrieving the still-falling dagger. With a shit-eating grin, presumably meant to show the two women he'd already won, he rushed forward, aiming the weapon directly into Rivera's eyes. Unfortunately for him, however, they were already purple.

And then, the entire world stopped existing.

As the violent sparks engulfed more and more of her person, Jessie screamed, throwing the terrorist against the wall at the other end of the room. The place was no longer full of darkness, with each part of the night within now replaced by the fury surging from her body. Like a wet dog that just threw water off its fur, the anger flung into every corner, every piece of matter that previously dared to share a place with this devil.

And then, that anger exploded. Before the Fae's spine could break by coming into contact with the hard wall, the sparks of thunder that travelled between the particles of wrath made contact with it first, snapping it in half. As time stopped, so did everything but Rivera, allowing her to come forward, and snap the dagger in half with just a thought, sending its shards towards the malnourished skin of the perpetrator. She forced the fabric of local reality to once more comfort to normalcy, allowing for the body to fall like a ragdoll, hoping it'd splash on the tough telekill-enforced cobblestone below.

But it did not, because reality did not deform back into its standard state; instead, as something even bigger than the reality bender took control of it, it bent itself even further.

The nearly-dead prisoner flung upwards, as if moved by some strings neither could see. As the world turned gray in just a second, Rivera blinked, realizing she was no longer the one in power there; in fact, as the only subject even capable of seeing this assault on normalcy, she noticed that Mag didn't move, now frozen in an expression of agony Jessie could not help. She subconsciously knew she should shiver, but no such expression came. And so, instead, she looked up at the levitating attacker, realizing his eyes were no longer his own, instead replaced with a blinding white. They shifted with a sickening and unnatural movement, immediately dead-locking on Rivera.

"JESSIE HANNAH RIVERA," the corpse spat out in a flat tone, forcing the doctor to freeze in space as a wet thud travelled down her spine, electrocuting every part of her being. It was no longer whoever Aod'han previously had been, of that Rivera was sure. From each orifice, each surface of the Fae body an alien presence emanated, entangling the past terrorist in a fog of something much, much greater than all three people present in the room. "HEAR MY WORDS."


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

It took a few cups of coffee and a few raised eyebrows, but in a couple of hours, all was explained. From Mab's fall during the Third Diaspora through Surratt's resurrection to the Site-01 heist and the shared dream; it was confusing, but Adam nodded along, catching up better than most people did during their first "we need to stop a being of pure hate from returning to this realm for the sake of all humanity" talk. And so, after what felt like ages of explanations, Angevin put his hands together, and fell silent for a moment, trying to process everything he was just given.

Putting his hand on the table in front of him, Nobody leaned forward and spat out in a dull tone. "So, what do you think?"

Adam leaned back, as if intimidated by the skeleton's closeness. "Truthfully? No idea."

Nobody did not scoff, but if he was fully human, the seer could swear he would. "'No idea'? You're the best oracle on the planet and you have no id—"

"Look," he put his hands up, smiling apologetically. "I'm a sightseer, not some sort of phony street magician. If you want anything better than a tarot card reading, I'll need something more tangible, y'know?" He grabbed some ceramic cup painted with fleshy tentacles that laid on the table and took a sip from it, groaning immediately after.

"Such as?" Surratt asked, gently pushing the Hunter back into his chair.

"Entrail readings are usually reliable, but given your lack of, you know, we'll need to use actual magic." Adam answered, standing up. "And it just so happens…" he exclaimed loudly, grabbing something from one of the shelves above the couch. It was a large leather pad, full of strange teeth and gems on its corners, vibrating with something Marie could swear was excitement. He unrolled it, and sat back in front of the newcomers. "…I've got something just for this situation."

The skeleton mafioso crossed her arms, an unasked question hanging in the air.

"It's a noospherically-connecting—" he put it on the table, realizing his mistake upon meeting Surratt's gaze. "Look, it's a magic mat that connects our consciousnesses into one… shared folder, let's call it. I could explain the magic and jargon behind it and how it was formed, but I think you'd be better off without knowing… certain things." Surratt wasn't sure if she wasn't just too tired for this nonsense, but she was almost certain the mat moved and purred again. He pointed towards the three very visible hand-shaped deformations within it with his sight, putting his palm in the first one. "You just have to touch it, and I'll do the rest."

With an uncertain expression, the two listened to the order, forcing their levitating bones to connect to the artifact. As a single spark of… she wasn't sure of what, actually, came through their bodies, something deep within the three snapped. Like three shapes falling into their respective places, it felt… it felt right, and though neither of the two skeletons could tell if it was a good thing or not, Adam's smile ensured them it very much was.

"So, what now?"

"Right," he replied, blinking ten times rapidly and inhaling just as quickly. "You two, close your eyes."

Nobody, once again, did not sigh. "We don't have any."

"Put your head down on the table then, and stop being a smart-ass." He turned towards Surratt. "Marie, head on the table?"


"Great." He closed his eyes too, tightening the grip on the edge of the table with his second hand. "So, I need you to envision a couch."

"A couch."

"Yes, a couch. One you have some sort of connection to, preferably. Centers us in the dreamplane." He paused. "Picture it in your mind's eye and describe it."

"…And it has to be me?"

"Hey, it's your head."

"Right." She inhaled, and focused on the image slowly forming inside her imagination. "I, uh, I lived in New York as a kid. Grew up in a tiny brownstone around Loisaida. We had a crappy little leather couch from my mom's college days. All black and burnt like hell in the summer. Spilled a milkshake on the cushions once, and no matter how hard we scrubbed you could still smell the vanilla." Surratt inhaled once more, this time through her bony nose. "Can still smell it, if I focus hard enough."

"Good, that's real good." The place was no longer just some long-forgotten memory, but a proper place. She imaged herself sitting on it during cold winter nights, sipping fruit tea and watching the news as snow landed on the windowsill. With each second, she could smell more of her mother's hair, she could see more of the TV, and she could hear more of the ambient around the apartment. Adam began tracing runes in the air, veins pulsing with the magic of Delphi. "Now hold onto that image, because this is some highly sensitive stuff that we can't afford to get wrong."

"And if we do?" She said, half in memory and half in reality.

"We'll end up inside the couch and not on it." With his free palm, Adam tapped something on a few crystals aligned color-wise next to his hand. They made a few sounds that sounded like… like the past, in a sense, drilling themselves into the heads of all three. They reverberated through their souls, forming into a single symphony that took control over their entire consciousness, hugging it tightly.

Though Nobody did not move, something within him, for just a moment, snapped. Angevin's living room he clung to for so long was gone, and, for a split of a split of a split of a millisecond, he could feel something. A dream from two universes ago, of a dark-haired man with a face of determination, burning with anger. But just like a dream, it faded away before he could analyze it well enough, once again feeling the song take over his mind. And so, too afraid to ask what that was, he gave into the harmony.

"Alright." The oracle cleared his throat. "Three, two, one, and away we g—"

Before he could finish the sentence, reality collapsed in in on itself, reforming seconds later on a couch. It was black, and smelled of vanilla — but more importantly, the couch contained all three of them, sitting there as slightly blurred (as all things are on the Dreamplane) expressions of themselves. They were silent.

The surreal Adam reached with his pale and melting hand into Surratt's liquid skull, touching her nonexistent brain and soul with the now french-fried fingers and tickling them to the sound of the universe falling apart. Her bones turned into cream and her clothes into seawater, dirtying the couch even further as it grew legs and three heads, barking loudly in languages she could not understand. And as all that happened, the world squeezed itself back together and mixed and electrocuted all of its insides, sucking them in into a vortex of a mouth beyond the crying sky. And reality died once more, breaking through its ashes like a phoenix just two seconds in the past of the future that was never to come.

And then, there were no longer three of them. Instead, in a place that almost resembled a cell, six people stood, with a levitating and glowing corpse above all of them, glowing with both hatred and love. Before they could react, one of the emotions was cut off, destroying the dead branch as best as it could.

The corpse thrust its voice forward, banishing the snake of her sister out of her host's body. It spat with blood and fury, not wanting to go; but with the now-unshackled power of the Inventor, Mab was nothing. She grabbed her with a furious grasp and tightened her first, smashing the soul shard in half. As it gave up, the Inventor looked at all five of the remaining at the same time, making them hear her thoughts.

Somewhere out there, tens of feet below
Where no man ever was supposed to know
A vicious queen of fires burns
As paint around her forms and turns
Where salt and ships take together toll
The empress of anger takes her control
Below the cool, below the harsh
That is where you five must march
So waste no time, children of crime
For you are almost out of time

And then, as everything fell together into place once more, they all woke up. And they knew exactly where to go.


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

It took two hours to get from one part of the city to another, a journey equally exhausting for both parties, but they were finally there. Esterberg's Port District. Or at least a part of it nobody — lowercase — really cared about, devoid of anything but a series of abandoned storehouses.

Nobody — capital — cared not about that, however, as exhaustion was not something he troubled himself in. With relentless feet he marched forward, leaving the panting and confused Surratt more and more behind with every step he took. All he had in his empty mind was now the vision of Mab, sitting somewhere beneath these endless buildings in front of him. He did not dream, for he wasn't brave enough to embrace that part of himself, but somewhere deep inside his empty soul he dreamed of piercing her disgusting body with his crossbow like nothing else.

But eventually, they arrived at their destination. Two parties, so different yet so similar, both standing in front of rusty doors leading to an equally rusty place. Nobody stopped, looking at his other companions. And, for that very moment, he felt that… that strange spark of thought he experienced during the oracle session for a second time.

As he looked at the red-haired Jessie Rivera, he thought he… he thought they met some time ago. Prior to last night, he'd never heard about her nor seen her, but now… now he wasn't so sure. He skewed his head, trying to drill into her still-young eyes, trying to remember. But before he could realize the truth that perhaps laid before him in plain sight, she put her hand on the door handle.

They all exchanged looks, understanding themselves without a single word spoken. In a moment's notice, they sharpened their knives and they readied their crossbows and minds. Rivera looked around them, each nodding after the other, until everyone confirmed their status. They were ready.

She slammed the doors open and walked through.

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