Nobody's Home


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

"Can you hand me that brush over there?"

Philip Willis glanced up from his workbench, setting aside the clay ball he'd been rolling with his thumbs. His eyes flicked over to his supplies, helpfully displayed on a woven mat in front of him. There were around four dozen brushes there, each one with a specific purpose. He scratched his ear.

"Which one?"

"I don't care dude. I'm on a time crunch here, just pick one and gimme, Jesus."

Philip scanned the mat with a trained eye. Picking the rattiest brush he could find — several dog hairs taped to an oddly bent stick with a few runes running through it — he tossed the tool in the general vicinity of his brother's crotch.

"Hey!" He shouted, giving him a wounded look. "That could've hit me, y'know. Bad luck to be injured on the day of an exhibition."

"And even badder luck to be making your piece the day of." Philip sighed. "You know you had three months to come up with something, right?"

Visibly trying to postpone the reply, Lloyd simply retreated under the tarp sheet, which he claimed was concealing his "masterpiece," big emphasis on the quotes. Philip's eyes squinted with a mix of curiosity and frustration, but mostly the latter.

"I've already told you, it wasn't my fault. It was the damn gnomes, they—"

"Really, I can't believe you're going with this story. Gnomes." He sighed again. "Like the little beard guys with the little blue shirt and fuckin' little r—"

Lloyd's head popped out from the tarp. "Little red hat, exactly. They drugged me up, kidnapped me, stole all my stuff, and dumped me halfway across the continent! Just like I said!"

"…In Edinburgh."

"In Edinburgh! They sneak aboard cargo ships, and pay the dock workers gold coins to look the other way. It's been going on for decades, maybe centuries! Who knows how many people—"

"In Edinburgh. Where I found you completely naked at a techno rave."

"They stole my clothes — look, I know how it sounds, but—"

"Hey, whatever makes you sleep at night." Philip just shrugged, the expression bearing literally as little energy as was humanely possible. "It's not my head on the line."

Turning his sight away from his brother, he glanced at his watch. Five til four, nearly showtime.

"Look, people are gonna start arriving, and you're not even half done. The hell are you gonna say, 'Sorry I don't have anything, blame the gnomes'?"

Instead of an answer, he heard a faint snapping from under the tarp. A nervous habit, it seemed. Philip had it too, except for him it was triggered by his brother doing anything stupid instead of reacting to his own mistakes. Suffice to say, he had developed arthritis in his left hand.

"Got it. It's performance art."

"Wow, really sticking to that artistic integrity there."

"Why not, people eat that up." Lloyd shruged, putting a few kicks into whatever the hell was laying before him. "Hey, maybe I'll win a medal."

"The day you win a medal is the day I die and you steal one of my pieces." His brother rolled his eyes. "Duchamp's probably spinning in his grave as we speak."

"Which one?"

"Oh, go f—"


The first thing that hit them was the smell.

Before the questionably existent eyes of the four newcomers could adjust to the blinding light beyond the doors of the dusty warehouse, their noses were quick enough to realize what was going on. Neither of them could quite fully place the scent, but it was a strange mix of dried paint, half-finished energy drinks, and canvases, blended in with just a single tint of insanity-driven brilliance. Although it was only a few seconds later that they saw the place for what it really was, they didn't need that much to pick up the ever-present stench of the Are We Cool Yet?-adjacent desperation. The feelings of madness and hopelessness were more than enough.

Nobody was the first to take action, stepping foot in the warehouse without much hesitation. Soon after, Dr. Jessie Rivera followed, the boney body of Marie Surratt centimeters behind her. And then, much to her own sighs and groans, Dr. Magdaleine Cornwell closed the queue.

Despite all of the differences that shaped up these four so drastically contrasting people, for a split second, they were the same in their reactions. In the moment they all saw what was truly before them, they dared not speak a word, and simply looked forward, taken aback by the sheer insanity of what unraveled before them.

The warehouse was no longer a warehouse. Instead, it was now replaced by a giant location that could only be described as a collection of stands and setpieces that desperately tried to be an art gallery. It was engulfed in a sea of humans, Fae, Yeren, and every single other magical species under the sun, walking and talking around a plethora of displays so peculiar and unique that describing them in simple terms would feel like doing them a great disservice.

Among the multitude of corridors leading out of the gallery's main hall, the four could notice displays accompanied by their own artists, so proudly presenting their exhibitions and pieces to the absurdly wide audience, even if it stopped by to ponder the creations only occasionally. From paintings that could talk through songs that would bite to sculptures that should stay in place, it was mayhem. And yet, despite all of this, everyone aside from the newcomers seemed to find some twisted and incomprehensible logic behind all of it, easily navigating the rarely Euclidian space inside the gallery whilst still having what seemed like a great time.

It all somehow felt important, as art naturally should, but above it all stood something that emanated the aura of something even more important. About ten meters in the air, an extremely large golden balcony hung, carefully crafted with a plethora of contrasting styles Rivera could only guess to be Fae in origin. It was beautifully made, as if it was a piece created by nature itself rather than man; it was a work of a master to such a point that even the spiral stairs that connected it to the bottom of the gallery felt like they just belonged there. The whole thing was guarded by two tall, buff Yeren women. Even though they were all decked up in military attire and had weapons hanging by their side, they were still a little nervous, as if they were waiting for someone to leave the dark corridor terminating behind them.

From some Foundation dossiers and gossips, Jessie had heard ages ago that the plethora of old and run-down warehouses Esterberg's Port District offered were used, for many things, by many people. She always just pictured the whole deal as someone using them as a remote cellar for teenage boys to hang out in or a hotspot for drug dealers or criminals or whatever, but… she didn't think the place they found themselves in could be any further from that mental picture. Because it was no old dusty den, no; in a sense, she found this chaos, this mayhem, this… art to be beautiful.

It took a couple of moments for them to wake up. A couple of comments in which, it felt, an entire life cycle passed before them.

"I…" Rivera carefully began, her eyes still recovering from the previous disbelief. "This… isn't exactly what I pictured when I heard 'tens of feet below'."

Surratt simply crossed her arms without a change in her skull, putting the knife she had previously held back into its casing. "Neither did I."

Cornwell just groaned, wrinkling her nose a little. "Yet somehow, it turned out even worse."

Nobody didn't comment. Instead, realizing they were quite a sight for sore eyes standing in the middle of the gallery's entry, he simply continued his silent stroll, casually making his way toward the exhibitions in front of them. Soon joined by the rest, he stopped, crossing his arms. He didn't skew his head, but something about the way he was looking at the art piece — if you could even call it art or a piece — gave off the feeling he was more than curious about it.

"'The Revolution'." Rivera read from its placard, similarly moving herself closer. "You noticed anything unusual, or…?"

The sculpture wasn't the biggest — hell, it wasn't even all that unique, its shell created of what looked like normal steel. And yet, despite all of this, it was… hypnotizing, for Rivera's lack of a better word. A two-meter pillar of pipes, cogs, and chimneys, constantly moving and exhaling instantly disappearing smoke at a constant rate, held by just four smaller pillars at the bottom. With a curious expression, Jessie knelt, moving towards what appeared to be its foundation, and squinted her eyes.

They looked like four little figures, frantically twisting their tiny faces in pain as the weight of the piece crushed their bleeding shoulders. They weren't alive, obviously, but there was an unsettlingly real quality to them, as if they were truly experiencing real agony in bearing the true mass of the society of man. The only relief was that, from the distance, they just looked like normal pillars. When she looked a little closer, though, she noticed they weren't just any figures — they were clearly trying to mimic the looks of the Fae and Yeren societies, and, even if a few details were wrong here and there, they were a frighteningly real depiction of the originals. She shivered slightly.

"No. It's just…" Nobody began, but, before he could finish, he looked at the little men with an utmost focus, surprising himself that he even cared to do that. As his empty eyesockets gazed into the shoulders and palms of the poor humanoid columns, he felt something even more shocking, though. A sharp expression of anger, rippling through his skull and down his spine, as if it were some reaction to him noticing this… this injustice, this…! All logic and reason he'd ever known screamed to him to look away, but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't. Some magnetic property of whatever was in there made him look and look and look as the remains of his ears were filled with the mirage of angry and passionate chanting from a million of throats oppressed by the world of man, coming from nowhere. He raised his hands, ready to answer their calls, ready to—

"Are you alright?" Surratt suddenly inquired, looking at him with a strange spark of worry in the movement. He quickly shook his head, breaking the trance, and looked away. If there was any shock still left inside of him, he didn't show it; all that the Queen of Bones was presented with was an emotionless gaze, as if he was trying to masquerade something behind those still bones. But even then, she knew it was a lie, a mask to hide whatever the hell that was behind a veil of what he believed a Nobody should be. She could still feel some lingering effect dance around his empty head, unable to let go of what just happened. She ignored it, and nodded.

"I… Yes, I am fine." He responded coldly, turning away from the statue. As if motivated by the gesture, Rivera and Cornwell did the same. "There is no need to worry."

"Well, that's good," she grunted, carefully looking around the gallery, as if she was searching for something. "'Cuz we're not here to look at art, need I remind you. There's a hostile go—"

Cornwell groaned. "Yes, yes, we know. No need to dramatize, your majesty," she put special emphasis on the last word, rolling her eyes. Despite this, though, she joined the mobster in observing their new area, eventually finding an empty stage that tried desperately to feel important in the distance. She pointed at it with her head. "Guess there's as good as any to try to search for… how did she put it? 'A vicious queen of fires'? Jesus Christ." She paused. "Yeah, that. It's obviously some important part of the gallery, so why not? We've got to begin somewhere."

"Fair enough." Rivera shrugged, turning her steps towards the designated area. The three followed shortly after.

The hall leading towards the stage was strange, even by the standards of art gallery, let alone one maintained by the AWCY? folk. Walking through it, they felt like gravity changed direction at least three times as their eyes looked at talking glass shards that invited them to come over to their display while all five of them — including whatever the hell that thing even was — levitated in the air. One step after the other, though, they eventually got through that paint-filled and illogical Beksiński hellhole, emerging into something that made a little more sense — a hall filled with plastic seats focused around the previously seen stage. They all shook their heads, the two living parts of their team holding in the urge to vomit after so many orientation shifts, and looked around themselves.

The opening was larger than most small rooms laying the gallery. Its pristinely white walls were occasionally "stained" by a few blobs of color Jessie could only guess were intentional decorations on behalf of either some artist or a manager thinking it was a good replacement for an art-themed event instead of actual preparations. Where no such horrid little bits and bobs stood, though, the hall was illuminated by a series of yellow light pixie spirits, dancing around in lightbulbs spread sporadically throughout the walls and ceiling. From the distance, Rivera couldn't quite tell if they were having a good time.

The more important part of the room, though, was the stage. Crafted from some dark wood she couldn't recognize, it was host to a lanky black boy wearing a potter's overalls stained with some clay. He was holding a cable microphone in his still-dirty right hand, sorting through some papers with his left one, clearly struggling to not have them fall onto the ground below. Before him, a series of people and anomalous folk alike were joining the crowd sitting atop the plastic chairs. Though clear boredom — or anticipation, if there even is a difference between the two — lay the audience's minds, it was quickly getting filled up by artists and bystanders, clearly trying to not catch whatever the hell was cooking up in front of them.

Instead of commenting, Rivera simply shrugged and took a seat, gently touching Mag's hand in a suggestion to follow her. And, with a barely noticeable smile on her lips, that she did. Surratt silently groaned, but took her seat too. Nobody glanced critically at his chair as if there was invisible grease only he could see upon it. Despite it, though, he joined them soon after. They all turned their sight to the presenter in front of them, really unsure what else to actually look for inside the gallery. It wasn't like the Fae deity really specified what this whole thing had to do with her sister, but what could you do. It was better than nothing, Jessie thought, and crossed her legs.

The boy cleared his throat, though a little too close to the microphone, spawning a large wave of coughs to ripple through the room from the speakers located around it. He closed his eyes in embarrassment, but ignored the mistake, and picked up his speech. "Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary folk, on behalf of the Critic himself," at the mention of the Critic's name, a few dull boos were heard. He coughed. "would like to officially welcome all of you to the tenth annual Esterberg art expo. It is with great honor that I must inform you that he will indeed be joining us later today, but, for now, he has some important business to attempt to before he can…"

The boy checked the next page of the script before his eyes, but, instead of continuing his speech from when he paused, suddenly threw all the papers in the air, toward the audience. "Oh who the hell cares, we're not bureaucrats here, I'm not fuckin' reading that, pals. Either way, yada yada, all that bullshit, point is: pppppppppleeeeeeeeeeease warmly welcome the Willis brothers' exhibition before that asshole can finally arrive, you pesky lot!" He shouted, grinning widely. Before the crowd could react, the presenter jumped off the stage and disappeared in a cloud of paint and clay as his feet touched the ground.

And the crowd did indeed react, perhaps a little more than he expected. A sudden wave of cheers and happiness rippled through the entire audience, causing a few especially eager patrons to throw their pens, cups, and other accessories in the air. Neither of the four newcomers could quite discern whether it was caused by the announcement of the first presenters or the ditching of the surely mind-numbingly boring speech that was about to follow. But then again, that did not make a big difference.

Cornwell similarly crossed her arms, turning her head towards her partner. She raised an eyebrow. "I'm… really starting to get second thoughts here." She pointed to the scene with her head. "Are we really sure this is the best place to waste our time in? Like, I know that… that we probably should follow her instructions, but… I don't know. Just look at these lot."

Rivera cracked a small smile, moving a little closer to the second doctor. "I suppose. But we don't really have another lead, do we?" She looked around herself briefly, then turned towards the stage again. "Either way, let's just wait. That's the best we can do here, I'm afraid."

"Fair enough." Mag shrugged, but, before she turned her sight away, there was… not exactly an awkward, no, but definitely not a fully normal second where their eyes met. It was over in just a moment, but that was more than enough for an invisible spark of nonexistent electricity to travel down the spines of both of them. And, in that single moment, the never-happy face of the blonde Director afforded to move the corners of its lips for just a millimeter.

With the very small parts of humanity that were still left inside of Surratt — who was very much seeing what transpired, sitting next to the two — she pretended to not notice the whole scene, rolling her eyes internally. But, despite this brief moment of kindness, her mind was on full alert. There were two types of people she didn't trust — those that didn't drink and artists, and she very much did not like the fact they were all stuck inside a gigantic gathering of the latter. Even if she deep knew most of these were just kids from around town wanting to show off their new toys in hopes of the Critic noticing them, there was… an almost unnoticeable cloud of uncertainty going around the whole place, as if someone — or something — inside the gallery was lurking beyond the shadows with the stealth of a predator. And the fact they were certain the whole thing was somehow connected to Mab and her sister didn't really help either.

Even if her empty eyesockets made it quite easy to hide the fact she was constantly looking around the whole place, trying to find any sign of a plot or anything that could help them, Surratt was still paranoid somebody would notice it — or, rather, that someone would notice that they weren't just indifferent observers here. She quickly took a deep breath through her open ribcage, corrected the golden crown decorating her otherwise bare skull, and checked her brass knuckles for integrity. With everything in place, she told herself there was nothing to worry about, even with whatever-the-fuck the now-unmoving Nobody next to her had going on with that statue from before. The mobster took on the position expected from someone of her magnitude on the plastic chair — that is, she just fell on it without really caring about proper sitting manners (one of the biggest upsides to being a magical skeleton was the fact you could sit however you liked and didn't really feel the negative side effects) — and yawned theatrically, turning her sight towards the stage.

As expected, the previously-announced Willis brothers soon bumbled from some space near the wooden platform atop it, one of the men visibly angry at the other for reasons the four couldn't start to guess. They were both tall and olive-skinned brunettes with hair so curly Rivera could barely believe it was natural. The only real way to differentiate between the two was the uncut beard the slightly taller and less energetic one — Philip, Jessie read from a placard on his T-shirt — bore. And the fact the smaller and more chaotic one — Lloyd, apparently — had some sort of covered art piece in his hands, proudly walking towards the center of the stage, much to Phillip sighing and rubbing his eyes. Surratt moved a little closer. This could be quite interesting.

Upon noticing who joined them, the crowd's wild cheering suddenly went silent. Be it in anticipation or just plain disappointment, their encouragement was now gone, replaced by their billion eyes drilling into the souls of the two artists. Lloyd swallowed hard, but still maintained his visibly fake smile. Phillip just sighed again, picking up the microphone, which was now laying on the floor. He gently tapped it twice, checking if it worked. Indeed, it did. He handed it to his brother, who was now clearly struggling with maintaining both whatever he wanted to show and the transmitter in his hands. He cleared his throat.

"Ehmm… H-Hello. Hello. I'm… Lloyd W-Willis, and this wonderful little man here is my brother, P-Phillip." He pointed towards the aforementioned figure, which then promptly sighed once more. "As you may a-already know, we are here to, uh…" He glanced at his piece covered in the wraps. "To do exactly that, yeah, you get the g-gist."

Only a lost cough broke the otherwise dead silence of the crowd. Lloyd swallowed again.

"Before I show you, I-I'd like to fully apologize for what I've got prepared, but, you see, the, uh, the gnomes, they, I…" He lost himself to stuttering whilst still trying to quite desperately ensure he wouldn't drop everything he was holding. Before he could finish his obviously unprepared speech or excuse he wanted to share with the audience though, his brother gave him a thunderous look and just took the red cloth in his own hand, rapidly throwing it to the side. Not waiting any longer for Lloyd's eyes to get fully filled with genuine terror, Philip forced the mic out of his hands, and, opening his own eyes, he cracked a chivalrous smile towards the audience in a desperate attempt at saving the situation.

As the curtain fell to the ground, it revealed… nothing. An empty void where something was very clearly supposed to be, sitting there, atop the tired hands of Lloyd Willis. He felt the entire crowd blink in disbelief, and he swallowed once more, putting on an apologetic smile. His brother, though — he stayed on track in playing his role. He simply made his theatrical grin wider.

"This, my friends, is 'A Void of Content', as we'd come to call it," the older of the two began to stroll alongside the borders of the platform, looking at the audience with the face of someone that was exactly where he wanted to be in the exact state he wanted to be in. Nobody could see it was a lie, even if a very good one; but the rest of the crowd, they fell for his trick alright. "Now, now, before you begin to shout your chants of disapproval, look at it closely, if you will." He gesticulated heavily, trying his best to invite the myriad faces before him to listen to his command. They did. "And… just tell me what you see."

Silence lay the room, only to be broken by a single pale and stray voice in the distance moments later. "Nothing! There's nothing in there, you hack!" It shouted, its tone bordering on anger. Phillip snapped and pointed his finger at it, even further widening his smile.

"Exactly!" He exclaimed with excitement, now once again looking at his brother's phantom. It was clear his mind was racing with thoughts, trying his best to come up with something — anything — to save the situation. It was obvious from his eyes, at least to Nobody. "I— we were a little worried the message wouldn't get across quite as much as we wanted."

He closed his eyes, inhaling almost unnoticeably. But when he opened them again three seconds later, they were no longer desperate — they shone with a spark of enlightenment. "See, here's the thing — you're all here not just to observe the art of others. You're here because you're waiting for that asshole," he pointed at the balcony guarded by the two Yeren guards in the distance. "to come in here and pat your heads and tell you you've done good and here's his money and oh how pleased he'll be to support you as an official patron and oh what a special little gem you are. And to that I say:" his index finger launched at the speed of sound towards the ceiling above the audience. "Fuck that!"

Feeling like if he doesn't elaborate hell itself would spawn in front of him, the artist continued: "Fuck selling the things that are nothing less than a part of you molded into a physical shape for money! Fuck surrendering to the capitalist pigs that dare to try to dictate what your life should be! Fuck making emotions into capital! Fuck coming back to what we cut ourselves away from when we became Cool! And, most importantly:" he took a deep breath. "Fuck the Critic!"

Rivera twisted her face in embarrassment, awaiting the inevitable wave of artistic fury. But then, as she opened her eyes, it did not occur. No, something quite different happened: the entire hall exploded.

"FUCK THE CRITIC! FUCK THE CRITIC!" Thundered from a thousand throats, deafening half the hall with their chant. Surratt grabbed her knife with a tighter grip, Rivera's eyes momentarily snapped with purple sparks of reality-bending, and Cornwell reached for her gun, all of them ready to react should the protest turn into a full-on riot. But Nobody; he did not move even a single muscle. His sight was deadlocked on the so-called Void of Content, unable to turn away, unable to even think about anything else. His entire soul was consumed by a feeling of emptiness, as if a null field of existence itself spilled onto his being. But then, as he tried to sweep away the gaping whole inside his mind and look away, Nobody felt something — something that lay beneath all the layers of his nonexistent identity, something buried by the million-tonne weight of his duties as Nobody; something that was erased.

But it wasn't erased well enough.

To the company of a million furious artists he reached into that not-fully-empty grave, and saw what was inside. And then, in an instant, he was no longer inside the gallery; hearing the chats of anger of those around him, he realized he was standing in the middle of an arena built atop a mountain, surrounded by the tens of hundreds of those mankind has wronged. His long black hair waved around, giving into the wind he could feel so gently smoothing his burn-scarred face, and he cleared his throat, and extended his arms. The whole crowd adored him as their new messiah, he could feel, and he smiled. He knew what to do. He joined their chant.

"Fuck the Critic!" Nobody heard himself shout in his rough voice, bringing forward his skeletal hand. "Fuck the Critic! Fuck the Critic!" He practically sang, feeling the crowd picking his speed up. "Fuck the Critic! Fuck the Critic! Fuck the Critic!"

Alerted by Nobody moving so frantically, Surratt gazed at him, worried as hell as to what provoked him. And then he saw it. If she still had eyes, they'd widen in terror; instead, all she could do is grab him by his shoulders and try to shake him, in a desperate attempt to wake him up. But that didn't work; it was as if he was in some different world, unable to see the real stage around him, and chanting that almost mesmerizing phrase over and over and over as the crowd listened and repeated it with him. Surratt backed off. She wasn't someone that was easy to scare. But that — that… that burning passion, blind hatred behind his every action — it scared her.

"Well, at least take me to dinner first, you insolent lot." A thunderous and mocking voice suddenly rippled through the hall, bringing the riot to silence. It came from the previously nearly lonely balcony, which was now occupied by one more figure — a figure that was much, much taller than even the already large guards around him. The newcomer cleared his throat, and corrected his tie.

To say that the Critic was a tall man would be an understatement for what he truly was. He didn't just tower, he loomed. Even from this distance, the crowd immediately fell silent, forced to do so by his aura of pure intimidation. His pastel-red suit contrasted with the graying black fur that surrounded his entire body. It was only occasionally broken up by his face and muscular hands, which now gently grabbed the pair of glasses that barely covered his light blue eyes. He cleared his throat again, and took the first step down the stairs separating him from the audience.

The Critic gazed through the entire audience, pathetic disgust visible in his eyes. That was all it took to make the crowd lose all of its fury. All of its rage against the machine, gone in an instant as they met the sight of the only thing they truly feared — constructive criticism. All gathered artists collectively swallowed hard, daring not to move a single muscle in front of someone that could both destroy their career forever and make them gods, all with just one word. He smirked slightly, satisfied with his own performance, and slowly entered the stage, crossing his hands behind his back. He then leaned forward, squinting his eyes at the "piece" the Willis brothers presented, and raised an eyebrow.

"So… that is what you came to me with, huh?" He scoffed mockingly, forcibly taking the microphone from Philip's hands, much to no resistance whatsoever. He then turned to the seats rowed in front of him. "Really?"

The crowd found no answer. The Critic grinned, finding his intended reaction, and continued walking with a sense of superiority oozing from every movement of his body. He scoffed once more.

"Look, kids, here's a tip, if you ever want to get off your high horse and join us normal people:" His smile vanished immediately, now replaced with cold and calculated anger. "don't waste other people's time." He targeted said scowl at the two trembling artists standing next to him, and, for just a single moment, his eyebrow twitched.

He walked the length of the crowd, idly passing the mic between his hands. "Your piece is camp. It's been done before. It's pretentious. It's high art. It's low art. It's blah. It's bleh. Pick whatever answer you want, kid, but it boils down to money. I got more Monets in my house than you've got lice in your hair. I personally furnish the galleries of thirty-four of the fiftieth richest people in the world — hell, if I wanted to, I could be up there with them. Now tell me, why is this piece worth my time?"

Not a single soul present found an answer, but the Critic just interpreted it as some twisted sign of approval. His smirk appeared once more, and he again turned towards the larger gathering of artists. "Now, tell me why you are worth it, or get the hell out, fast. I've got to get through an unending list of you parasites that want to take my money to make even more dogshit like this."

Suddenly, there was a rapid but nearly silent movement within the audience as a series of people exited their respective plastic chairs. Their heads down, as if in embarrassment, they each went ahead towards their bags or containers or displays or whatever else that held the pieces they intended to show to the man that just broke their hope for seemingly good. They didn't even dare to shoot a glance at the giant Yeren, too afraid he'd say something that would bury them, their art, and their career six feet under.

And yet, despite this seemingly general fear, behind the back of the Critic stood Phillip Willis, his face twisting in rapidly increasing anger. Whether it was because of the general hatred he felt towards the figure, the fact he destroyed his perfectly-going performance, or something entirely else, Rivera couldn't quite tell, but one thing about him she was certain: he was furious. Furious like she'd seen only a few times in her life. And so, he channeled that anger into a nearly unnoticeably slow movement towards the floor, from which he picked up one of the sheets of paper the initial presenter dropped before he disappeared, and then rolled it into a ball. He inhaled, looked at the flock of sheep that didn't even think to resist, and bit his lip in anger. He knew what he had to do.

The wad came towards the back of the Critic's head, before bouncing and hitting the floor.

Too shocked to even react properly, he simply turned slowly towards Phillip, gingerly tucking his glasses in the pocket of his suit. Philip came to the realization that "Bigfoot" was a bit of a misnomer when it came to the Yeren, the rest of their body was too. And yet, despite this, he didn't back off; he bravely put his head up, an expression of a warrior on his face, and then their eyes met.

The whole audience gasped at once, their sight deadlocked on the two.

"Fuck you!" The artist spat out, spitting at the Critic's shiny shoes. "Fuck you and what you do, you miserable pile of horse shit!"

Instead of replying, the Critic just inhaled — both of his eyelids now twitching — and corrected his tie. His entire face started to tremble with anger almost matching his opponent, and he reached towards his inner pocket, clearly trying to find some inevitably fatal object inside of it. Before he got the chance to take it out, though, another stray voice came toward him.

"Yeah, fuck you!" Lloyd Willis backed his brother up, throwing the cloth blanket he previously used to cover his hands towards the Critic's face. He blocked the questionable attack, making it fall to the ground, but now, his attention was divided between the two. And that was all the crowd needed.

"Hard agree, brothers! Fuck the Critic!" Some lanky figure stood up and started to chant once more, throwing its chair at the stage in front of it. This time, the Yeren had no time to dodge, and the attack hit him right in the back of his head. He growled, stumbling awkwardly backwards, before stabilizing once more, and furiously searching for the one that dared to do that.

With his focus no longer bound by the Willis duo, Lloyd didn't wait to make his move. Smiling widely, he made his dirty sneaker fall on the Critic's ass, making him fall on his face. There was a loud and quick crack as his body reached the ground, and shards of glass threw themselves out of his pocket, towards the floor around him. He tried to immediately stand up, but as his bare hand met the deadly bits of his own glasses, he shouted loudly in painful anger, rolling on his back. Before he could drive his fist into the puny little human, though, another chair came flying through the air. Then another. Then another.

Accompanied by a series of grunts of pure fury rippling through his chest, the Critic finally stood up, nothing but pure struggle pumping through his veins. His eyes, now all red, frantically searched for the easiest target to take out and get away from there, but before he could even do that, a vase broke upon his head. He let out a furious roar, and stumbled backwards.

As if their minds connected for a single moment, in a frankly surprising and more than bizarre display of unity, the previously passive artists joined the fight, too. Be it by shouting out some vulgar reinterpretation of the general statement or by throwing whatever they had next to them in random directions, all of them wanted to be a part of what would undoubtedly go down in history as one of the very few cases in which someone dared to do anything that wasn't sulking in front of the Critic. But then, when it looked like the unthinkably different AWCY? bunch had finally come together, something more than horrible happened; a single stray plastic chair mislanded onto the head of another artist. The whole crowd gasped.

"What the fuck, dude?" The victim asked, massaging its now-bruised head as it stood up from the cold floor. "Not cool, man."

"Oh shit, I… uh, sorry, man I didn't, I…" the inadvertent attacker stuttered, looking at his own hands, terrified. The audience around him suddenly tightened, their eyes filled with anger. "It was an accident, I swear, I…"

"That dude's with the Critic!" Someone shouted from the other end of the hall, their rough voice rippling through the now-silent room. "Get his ass!"

And then, all hell went loose.

From every corner of the gallery, chaos came. In all fairness, though, putting it as "chaos" wouldn't quite reflect what happened; the best descriptor was as if the imagination that sat inside the heads of the entire artist crowd manifested in reality, armed with makeshift weapons and shields, crafted from whatever the hell they thought would work. In a single moment, every man, every woman, every person, every Fae, every human, every Yeren, every artist, every bystander, every anomaly, every baseline person, every violence-loving punk, every random civilian, and every single pacifist collectively lost their minds and went ahead and started to think everyone around them — including their previous friend and associate — suddenly became their enemies.

As buckets of paint, brushes, clay, pencils, coal, paper, rolls of silk, canvas, bathrobes (?), erasers, crayons, markers, pants (???), glasses, hats, plastic chairs, scissors, and pianos (??????????) flew through the air, a mayhem of chaotic screams filled the entirety of reality around the four newcomers. Despite this, it took Rivera less than two seconds for her entire body to snap with the electricity of her now-awaken reality-bending, making her eyes burst with a bright purple and for sparks of power to start to dance around her fingers. With one quick move of her palms, she crafted a bubble of protection around her and her blonde partner, backing off towards the wall as quickly as possible. Frantically, she looked around herself, trying her very best to find any glimpse of Nobody of Surratt. And yet, even despite all the power that surged through her veins at that moment, she failed.

Somewhere in the middle of the whole brawl, the two figures she so desperately looked for stood, their backs set against each other. As Nobody's crossbow shot one bolt after the other, successfully neutralizing the horde of claymation golems jerkily shuffling towards the pair, Surratt's brass knuckles eagerly found one anartist jaw after another, as she bobbed and weaved throughout the fray. They tried their best to remain nonlethal (at least Nobody was), but anyone foolhardy enough to take on an undead demigod and mafia boss probably had a death wish anyway. They similarly attempted to see where the hell Jessie and Mag had gone, but curls of red or blonde hair were rather difficult to spot amidst the plumes of colors out of space and pinkest pink1 that now wafted through the air.

On the other side of the room, Rivera was trying her best to keep up the force field from failing as a as a gigantic Yeren body — whether it was the Critic or someone entirely different was entirely unknown, to both her and pretty much everyone around — bounced against the bubble. She looked at Mag, worry in her eye, needing no words to get the message that she didn't think she could manage any longer through. Her partner simply nodded, loaded her gun, and aimed somewhere, her hands shaking.

And then, as a billboard advertising the live tour of a rather obscenely named band ricocheted off the bubble, Rivera's nose started to bleed, badly. She bit her lip and glanced at Mag with an unarticulated scream entering her mouth. But she needed no such thing — Cornwell was more than aware of what was about to happen. With a near-silent bloop, their protection — their only protection against the raging mass of the crowd — burst open. They both swallowed hard.

On the other other side of the room, things were going a lot better or a lot worse, depending on your perspective. At the cling of his trigger, Nobody feverously loaded one bolt after the other into his weapon; and then, in a terrifyingly sudden realization, he found his quiver to be empty. Surratt, on the other hand, was having the time of her life. Dashing here and there, her knuckles met one head after the other, quickly building up a pile of found items and people beneath her as she panted2 with both adrenaline and exhaustion. But, despite this battle fury, she didn't forget what she truly needed to do — and, with the advantage of the added height of the mountain she suddenly found herself to be a queen of, she looked at the horizon.

And there, she caught a momentary glimpse of the people she was looking for.

Rivera rushed through the crowd, blindly looking for the skeletal pair. Mag trailed close behind, one hand tightly (perhaps too tightly) gripping Rivera, the other lamely waving around her weapon. But her partner didn't give up — with a gentle swipe of her hands, she used the few remaining jolts of power inside her to form a small corridor amongst the chaos, trying to follow the smallest glimpse of bare bone she could see somewhere in the distance.

As the crowd dispersed well enough for a single moment, the eyes of the entire four suddenly met.

And then, as four hooded figures with pointy ears emerged from seemingly nowhere, they reached with their hands towards the faces of the newcomers, unidentifiable cloth between their fingers. And then everything went black.

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