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Huddling Around the Fires


When the first winter came, and the first fire was built, men and women gathered around it to stay warm, something that is now and forever an instinct to humankind. As the world of the anomalous enters winter, it is only natural that we gather around the closest thing we have to fires— Nexuses.

Philip Verhoten, The Refuge: The Role of the Nexus after the End of Anomalies.



April 26th

Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin

Katherine Sinclair gave a one-eyed glare to a lock of grey that had appeared in the burning mane atop her head. She brushed it in front of the glass eye she had in her left socket; styling it like this made her feel younger.

The annual jam contest— the "Jam Jam" —was in full swing on Main Street. It was lower energy than most years, and everyone knew why. The town was losing its structure. Gone were the everyday tropes that coursed through a story-rich town, the conveniently vibrant days, atmospheric rainstorms, appropriate cracks of thunder when a sinister phrase was uttered.

Nexuses across the world had been wellsprings of thaumic energy for millennia. Now that it was dying, Sinclair refused to call it anything other than 'magic'. Fuck Foundation terminology, if the anomalous was on life support, they were as well. Sloth's Pit, and magic as a whole, was breathing its last.

She saw it in the population of the town— hundreds of people had vacated, doing more damage than the Great Recession. She had seen it in the trees, which were slow to bloom and always had damp leaves in the fall. Food tasted worse, things went exactly as one expected with no subversion whatsoever. The world had grown cold.

Sinclair knew it was worse outside of Nexuses, but she couldn't comprehend how. She was startled away from her thoughts by a large man with dark skin and greying dreadlocks tapping her on the shoulder.

Montgomery Reynolds—her husband—handed her a hot dog, a concerned smile on his face. "You look dour, Kathrine. What's on your mind?"

"Reminiscing." Sinclair bit down on the hot dog and stalked away from the shop. "Remember when we used to do Pathfinder?"

"You insisted on playing a kitsune sorcerer." Reynolds rolled his eyes with a smirk. "And taking wild magic. But you were effective."

"Remember the one time I had to interrogate a prisoner? Pike wanted to pull out his toenails to get him to talk, but I just walked up and said—"

"Hey, I work for your boss, he's telling me to spring you, I just need to know what happened." Reynolds laughed. "Those exact words, if I remember."

"Yes, but I said them with a Brooklyn accent." Sinclair rolled her shoulders. "God, the look on Mattings's face when I pulled it off…"

"You and I did Pathfinder for a decade, and you never played a wizard. Why?"

"Wizards have to study to do magic. Could never get past that hurdle." As an attempt to demonstrate, Sinclair put up her hand to attempt to weave a spell— it fizzled in her fingertips. She sighed. "Low EVE today. Dammit."

Reynolds chewed his lip. Katherine had spent her whole life studying magic. He still remembered the feeling of her tears on his skin.

"It's not fucking fair." She shook her head. "I joined the Foundation, betrayed the Hand. Thought I could do more good here than there." She gritted her teeth. "I was a fool. I wish…" She paused, considering her husband. "I don't know, Monty. I don't." She crammed half of the hot dog into her mouth and bitterly bit down.

They walked down Main Street. Years ago, it would be packed with hundreds of people, sampling jams synthesized from spider silk and cursed mustard. Now, maybe fifty people congregated loosely, debating on which mundane homemade ketchup to take home. The world felt hollow, and Sinclair was another pocket of hollowness within it.

"I know you want to leave."

Reynolds nearly choked on his hot dog. "What?"

"Let's face it, Monty." Katherine rubbed her face. "Who am I, without magic? What am I? I used to be able to conjure stellar fire and hurl it wherever I wanted, and now I'm lucky if I can throw a paper airplane six feet." She put her hands over her eyes. "Magic is all I am, Monty. Without it… y-you… you won't…"

Reynolds didn't say anything, picking her up in a hug. "Katherine. Please. You know that's not true."

Sinclair didn't say anything until Reynolds let her down. She threw away her hot dog and walked towards the woods. "I… I'm going to go for a walk. Meet you back at the Site?"

"…very well." Reynolds swallowed. Knowing her for over a decade, he had never seen her this distraught. Not after losing an eye, not after losing the use of her hands for almost a year. Magic wasn't all she was.

He didn't know how to make her see that.


Sinclair knew magic was truly dead before she was half a mile into the woods.

At the center of Sloth's Pit— geographical, metaphysical, and thematic —was the titular pit. A bottomless aperture that had swallowed up the home of Jackson Sloth, the founder of the town, over one hundred years ago. It was a pataphysical singularity (one of her colleagues had called it a 'plot hole') that pulled stories in with its sheer mass. Unless you knew 'the trick', you could only find it once.

She stood at the edge of the pit. There was a decrepit set of wooden boards at the front, a sign some feckless agent has put up as a crude joke. 'Bottomless pit and topless girls' or something, it didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was here. She had found it. And she could see the bottom.

It was a very shallow hole, maybe thirty feet deep. At the bottom of it was a massive mound of rotten wood and porous stone— what remained of Jackson Sloth's manor. A thirty-foot sinkhole was all it had taken this story to start, and now, it was ending.

And so, she sat on the side of the pit and looked up at the sky.

When did it get dark?

Sinclair looked at her watch and frowned. It had been only been around 3:00 when she left Monty, and it wasn't supposed to get dark until— "9:31? The hell?" She tapped her watch and frowned. Maybe there was a little bit of oddness left in this town.

"…okay, you've just taken me on a six-hour time slip." She stood up from the pit, addressing the land itself. "Why? This is contrived, even for you. Is this some… last-ditch effort? A cry for help?" She was met with silence. "I can't save you. We could have, but…" She wiped her eyes. "It's too late. I'm sorry." She looked down at the pit. "I'm so sorry."

A crimson light shone in the sky above, brighter than the sun. Sinclair squinted with it and realized with amazement that she could see it with both her extant eye, and the prosthetic one. It seemed to be a meteorite, but no meteorite would travel at such a leisurely trajectory; it was daring her to catch it, as it continued down towards the center of the pit.

"Shit!" Sinclair reached out her hand feebly, feeling her shoulder pop— her body wasn't what it once was. So, she reached out to it with her Will instead. With the right hand extended, she bit down on her left thumb, a motion she had practiced so frequently that she had developed scar tissue. Blood poured into her mouth, and she used it as a sacrifice to power what may very well have been her final spell. Power flowed through her outstretched hand out into the air as she cried, "Galvanus!"

The air thrummed around the meteorite as it was drawn closer to her. Realizing that it would land in her hand, she cut the spell off when it was five feet away from her, and stomped out embers where it struck the grass.

It appeared to be a piece of crystal or glass, about one-seventh of a circle. It looked like it had been hewn at the center, somewhat unevenly. And it shone with the heat of a summer day, and the light of a billion uncast spells.

"Oh, hello." Sinclair knelt by it. "You are… very interesting."

She pulled a sample bag from her pocket, along with a set of tweezers. Light shot from the crystal and knocked the implements away. Next, she reached out with the back of the hand, testing the heat. It was cool to the touch.

She touched it, and the world exploded into the smell of ink and dusty bookshelves, accompanied by the sound of wind howling through autumn leaves, and an odd tingling that one only knew when they were in Sloth's Pit.

Her eyes fluttered shut as she saw the world sevenfold, and felt her lungs fill with hearthfire.


April 27th

"Dr. Sinclair!"


"Katherine Sinclair!"


She awoke to the feeling of dew on her face, the morning sun rising in the east, and the sound of her name from dozens of voices. She recognized some of them— the task force. Had she fallen asleep out here? After the… crystal…

She looked in her hand. It was still there, its glow dimmer. She looked behind her, at the pit. Instead of the ruin at the bottom, she saw a darkness that went on forever, deeper than any natural hole. She gasped in disbelief, and stumbled back, her hands going over her mouth. She had to remember to hold onto the crystal.

"Dr. Sinclair!" The call came from Colonel Robert Tofflemire, who ran over to her. "Ma'am, you've been missing all night! Hold on." He talked into his radio. "All S-10, All S-10, Sinclair has been located, next to the—" He turned to the pit, his eyes widening. "Christ on a Crackerjack! The Pit's back!"

Sinclair looked at the crystal in her hand. In her other, she conjured a ball of cool, red flame. Her heart jumped in her throat as magic flowed through her. "Get me back to my lab. I need to know exactly what the fuck this thing is."


Oriykalkos (or, as it is more commonly known, Orichalcum) is an ill-understood substance originating from Atlantis. Some have conflated it with everything from the 'telekill' alloy to beryllium bronze to plain brass, but Oriykalkos was not an alloy— it was a crystal, with a Mohs hardness of 9, but easily broken, like diamonds.

Crystal-based storage mediums have appeared in science fiction over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, and this is exactly what Oriykalkos originally was: a storage medium, for both data and energy. Recovered samples of Oriykalkos are capable of storing approximately 950 mAH of power, and over twenty petabytes of data.

The object that fell out of the sky above Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin was a fragment of an Oriykalkos Codex. Instead of storing electrical energy or meaningful data, it stored something else: magic.

When I held it in my hands that night, I knew what I had to do: I had to go on a quest.

K. Sinclair, The Oriykalkos Codex: Magic Anew


Before the day was over, Dr. Sinclair had packed her bag. It was as she was heading out the door that she encountered her husband. "Going somewhere?"

"I am going on a quest!" Sinclair grinned, before her face fell. "…okay that sounded better in my head. But…" She held up the crystal she had found. "There are more of these. And I'm going to find them."

"Where would you start?" Reynolds made his way into the apartment, taking off his coat and making his way to the bedroom. Sinclair followed him. "You don't know where they could be."

"Site-43. Dr. Blank owes me a favor, and they have an uplink to the Orbital Anomaly Tracking System." She entered the bedroom once more, grabbing her bug-out bag. "Almost forgot this."

Reynolds grabbed his own, before stuffing items haphazardly into a suitcase. He grinned. "You didn't think I was going to let you go alone, did you?"

Sinclair looked at her husband, and let out a warm laugh. "I hoped you'd get back before I left. Plane leaves from Duluth International in about four hours." She took the crystal from her pocket, and drew energy from it, muttering softly beneath her breath. A chain of gold formed around it, making an impromptu amulet. "Hopefully it doesn't set off the X-rays in the airport."

Reynolds hefted his bag and suitcase. The two of them ran out to the car, leaving two month's rent payment on the kitchen counter.


Excerpts from the personal journal of Philip E. Deering, JM Technician, Site-43, Canada:

28th April

They're telling me I'm not anomalous anymore. Like I was ever anomalous to begin with. Doug was the only thing interesting about me, for nearly nineteen years, and now he's gone.

He was a grey-skinned, mirror-dwelling, gaslighting, belligerent and creepy bastard but at least I was never alone. That's how I feel now, all the time, without a constant companion.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I already know all of that, and nobody else is going to read this. Doug was a bastard, but at least I wasn't ever alone. Amelia's still here, so I'm still not alone, but…

Doug unequivocally made me feel like shit. But without him, I feel like half a person. Like I can't stand on my own two legs some days.

The lake looks different, knowing that the most dangerous things under the surface are some sturgeon. No more panthers, no more Tiamat, no more madman running a waste-treatment facility beneath our feet. It's like there's no more color there.

Well, that's not true. I found a bit of color on my walk today. Looks like some sea glass, bright yellow. Maybe from a beer bottle? It's warm to the touch, though. Might show it to Dr. Okorie.

9:00 PM-ish

Dr. O's gone, away on 'business' with Ibanez. Apparently they left for Sloth's Pit the same day that a pair of schmucks from Site-87 arrived. Wettle gave them death glares at every opportunity, and there's talk of them liquidating the Site. Dr. Blank just says that they're here to use Orbital Anomaly Thingy.

Watched a movie with Amy. Amélie. Good stuff.

29th April

Fucking crazy dream. I think that glass thing is anomalous.

I was in a workshop. It looked like a Foundation Site— I was reminded of 19 for some reason. Probably because it's on everyone's mind after the GOC nuked it. Someone brought a hammer on my head and shattered me.

I exploded into sevenths, and I saw myself from all of them. A temperate rainforest, a rainy island, a mountainous port town, a bayou, a street in Portland, a bottomless pit, and… Lake Huron. I knew where each of me was, and that we must… all/never be joined together.

I don't normally write like this. It… is this stupid thing making me smarter? A better writer? What the hell?

I'm going to find someone— Dr. Reynders is still here. I don't care if it's 3:00 in the goddamn morning. This is huge.


Site-43 Security Camera Footage, 29th April

3:12:23: Philip E. Deering exits his personal quarters. He is carrying an unidentified yellow object in his left hand.

3:17:05: Deering enters Habitation and Sustenance, and uses a terminal to find the personal quarters of Dr. Ilse Reynders.

3:25:19: Deering knocks on Dr. Reynders' door. She emerges, rubbing her eyes, with a disgruntled look on her face. Deering shows Reynders the object in his hand— her eyes widen.

3:29:27: Reynders and Deering are seen walking together. Reynders is drinking coffee from a can. They turn a corner, and come upon Dr. Katherine Sinclair and Montgomery Reynolds, heading from the OATS Monitoring Chamber towards their temporary on-Site quarters.

3:30:32: Conversation ensues, and continues for approximately three minutes. Dr. Sinclair compares an amulet she is wearing to the object that Deering has been holding. The Site begins to shake.


I don't even know how to process what I just saw.

When the Site started to shake, we thought it was an attack by the GOC, at first. They've been going crazy, trying to grab onto straws for any form of control.

A few years ago, there was this woman, Brenda Corbin. She ran off with 5866, which was the literal actual Tiamat, the one from mythology. And… we thought she was dead. We thought she had died alongside Tiamat when the whole collapse started.

But… she was standing there, larger than life, on the shores outside the Site, riding Tiamat's shoulder. Tiamat looked like hell, all skin and bones, and wings that looked like they had been torn to shreds. Covered in oil. She spoke through Corbin.

"You have a piece of the Codex. Give it to me, so that I may return magic to the world, and I will spare this place." Tiamat looked like she was going to eat me if I didn't.

Then, the dreadlocks guy, Reynolds, steps forward and looks at the two of them, holding up the glass thing I had. Until this point, I didn't think he looked all too eloquent, but he addressed them like they were royalty.

"Great Goddess, you know what we hold. This is a means to undo the Crisis, to revive magic. Not just for you, but the whole world. We will not relinquish it—but we shall bargain."

"What have you to give, mageling?" Tiamat asked.

I've seen Dr. Okorie do magic before. It was nothing like this. Reynolds held the crystal in his hand and held it out towards Tiamat, screwed up his face, and yelled out what I think was supposed to be a pun? "Carpe Deus", as opposed to 'Carpe Diem'. It was like honey-colored sunlight shone through it, enveloping her in a coat of golden threads. It wove her back together, cleaned the oil off, restored her skin and wings. He held it up to his ear, and then put it in his pocket.

"That was a fraction of what can be done with this, Great Goddess. You are restored. May we take our leave?"

Corbin spoke for Tiamat again, saying that she would need to "make counsel with each other" (who the fuck talks like that?), but that the Site would be spared for that day. We've been in emergency shelters since then; I took a nap, and woke up to, of all things, applause and cheering. I didn't know why.

And then I saw a belligerent, gaslighting, grey-skinned bastard in my mirror.


Act Tertius Scene Primus

The island of Hy-Brasil, atop Mt. Balor


Lady mage, forgive the tongue we speak here
The land itself has twisted our speech thus—
A celebration, we think, of magic.
Damnable and overly proper, methinks.

Aye, an annoyance this brings 'pon my tongue.
I have been transported back to school times—
Many a day wasted, reading the Bard.

Reading the bard? A waste? You jest!

Sorry, good lord. I dropped an ampersand.
But truth told? Iambs taste foul to mage tongues.

Ah, the land brings wit to you, fair mage!
Not that thou lack'd it before—tis now greater!

Pray, lord, for levity escapes me now.
I feared magic lost forever, for ill.

For ill?

I dare not say 'for good'—how is death good?
How is an era's end a festive time?
Tell, hast thou learned of the attacks 'pon Sites?

Aye, but not by whom.

'tis the Coalition. Mad, they now are.

Now? Were they not before? Book-burning cads! Fie!
Ah, Pardon my French, Sinclair the Mage.

Tis not French, for now in iambs we speak.

But aye, they count down to obsolescence.
They seek control over the thaumic world,
As if they could tame magic! Lord alive,
You'd sooner tame a tarrasque than thaumics!
Aye, 'pon our shores, they have been seen.

Good lord!
'tis luck that I feel some power return.

This Codex, crystal, it gives your rites breath?

And my lungs, as well. Gone are teary nights.
Vigor fills me once more—worry also.
For… if the Codex runs dry, what then?
I shudder to think of magic's final end.

I know your fear, fair mage.
But hark! I bring a warning.

Of what?

Of whom.
A man I once knew— the Cleverest Crow.

Exit all

Act Tertius Scene Secundus

Former Project KEY Facility 23


What manner of mockery be this?

'tis a result of the Codex you seek.
Pray, how much doth thou know of the Codex?

Pah! My King, I am a simple consultant.
The mystic arts escape me much the time.
Pentameter is bad enough to chant,
Thank god I am not compelled to rhyme.

Already, it brings life back to Brasil.
There be more magic here since time's dawn.
Lightning-struck, we all are, energized!

My Katherine feels the same. Alas,
She still hesitates to do rites.

Why for?

Her power has atrophied. She lacks will—
Or she feels she does. Now, the Codex?

I saw it falling onto our shores, and
'pon Mount Balor, it fell. Alas it
Left naught but a crater.

Is it destroyed?

Stolen, I expect. Coalition cads.
All the world's a forest, and they are lumberjacks.

Lumberjacks, my king? Why?

Hy-Brasil, the Pit, the Street, all these
Are bastions of Magic and Life itself.
Like the Amazon, but more endangered.

We've tracked the fragment here.


Oh freakish elf, oh hellish mage! Back!

Zounds! He possesses a fragment! Stay back!

Zounds? Really? Fucking hell, this nexus sucks.

Thou hast nary a single way to stop me!
I shall claim this fragment for the sake of control!

Gods, what is wrong with his speech? It's off-meter.

Ha! Please, you think they read the Books they Burn?
'tis a wonder he could find his way here.

We fractured the Codex in an attempt to control it!
Instead, it split and scattered to the four corners!
You shall not claim it—the Coalition will be born again!
Reforged like a phoenix, the sole mages in the world!

Foul villain, some advice?

DELBÁETH produces a pistol and shoots AGENT BOWE. He falls.

Don't monologue.

A gun? Thou usest a gun? Freakish fairy!

I adapt, while magic decays anon.

AGENT BOWE clutches the CODEX FRAGMENT. He exits stage left.

Now you've done it! King, after the foul fiend!

Nay, we have sev'ral lines still. Now tell me,
How feel you about soliloquies?

Gods, no.

Pardon, but it must be done.
He pauses.
Ah! The next scene, then.

What are you saying?

Exit all

Act Tertius, Scene Terminus
The Shores of Hy-Brasil

Lord Blackwood, this Clever Crow, who is he?

To the Cleverest Crow, we owe our life.
From the seas of chaos, he plucked thirteen
Men and women, all great thinkers, all strong hearts.
He is known as Zero, but I knew him as
Norris Arklay. A mage, stronger than thou.
Thou art strong, Fair Sinclair, a solar storm.
Fair Norris was a supernova, aye—
Heard you of Trinity, the city that
Survived a nuclear strike intact? Oh,
Arklay's aegis was 'pon it. Ah, then there's
Victoria's Venomous Dulvale.
Where denizens eat and live in poison,
And spiders live in the snouts of dogs? Arklay
Did cure and curse it. 'twas he who saw the
Venom spread by Clan Murdoch's minions,
And attempted to expunge it, alas,
Bestowing fangs 'pon all those in Dulvale.
And then there is—

Milord, please, I ken it.
Arklay is an arcane master. But lord?


Why call you him a crow? And cleverest?

When forming this Foundation, I saw
Men who were crows, black cloak-clad, ominous,
And ambitious. Arklay appeared and asked
For membership, offering much to me.
Cleverest? Why, I cannot remember.
Beg pardon, Sinclair.

'tis not mine to give.

ENTER the AGENT BOWE, limping

What on earth?

AGENT BOWE draws a pistol and aims it at the CODEX FRAGMENT.

Back! Back, I say!
My boat is but half a kilometer down a beach!
Either I get there safely, or the fragment gets it!

Ah, wonders never cease. Coalition.
Sinclair draws her two CODEX FRAGMENTS. The third, ORANGE FRAGMENT held by the AGENT, is drawn to it.

For all our flaws, fiend, we tried to preserve.
Thou would have made this world extinct aeons past.

The AGENT BOWE fires and misses. BLACKWOOD draws his rifle and fires. The AGENT falls.

How?! How the fuck did you do that?!
You are a fucking sea slug! And you pulled a fucking gun out of nowhere!

A sea slug! And such foul words! Thy nerve shocks.
And neither doth thou stay in meter. Zounds.

SINCLAIR takes up the CODEX FRAGMENT and joins it with her two.

Well, it's secure, for the time being. Milord?

Yes, mage Sinclair?

Might we stay for a night?
Argentina is a distance away,
And we tire.

Then we shall retire.

And of the agent?

I shall alert the guard. But, fair Sinclair
There be things in the water still, hungry.
Fair fortune, adversary.

Go fu—

Exit All


Chapter 4

My time in Puerto Extraño

From The Refuge: The Role of the Nexus after the End of Anomalies by Philip Verhoten

(Draft Not Final)

1. Introduction

Puerto Extraño, known internally as Nx-572, was one of the last Nexuses discovered and classified before the Crisis began. It is also one of the youngest Nexuses in terms of when its anomalous properties manifested, and did so in a unique way, creating one of the only known Nexuses with an extraterrestrial origin.

Contemporaneous to the Falklands war in 1982, Argentina's Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation was tasked by Leopoldo Galtieri to secretly form a colony on the Antarctic peninsula, under the pretense of a scientific expedition. This was not Argentina's first attempt to do so; in 1978, Argentina went so far as to have a child born in Antarctica in an attempt to claim the Antarctic peninsula as their territory. The colonists made landfall on the peninsula on April 1st, 1982, one day before the war broke out, and were trapped there for the next ten weeks.

What transpired in those ten weeks is largely unknown, but after Galtieri's regime collapsed, their ship and all colonists returned to a port in Argentina that had been commandeered by the Ministry of Science, with a bizarre object in tow.

The object resembled an ovoid pillar, bulging out at either side, with a tapered top and a flat bottom. When the colonists studied it, it began to emit a grey light. This light caused mutations among the colonists that, while easily concealed under Antarctic winterwear, were much more obvious in the warmer climes of Argentina.

Among these mutations were gills, longer and shaggier body hair, grey sclera, and the extension of the first two fingers on the right hand by approximately 5 centimeters. The final mutation is of particular note since it allowed the colonists to activate this ovoid pillar—a terraformer.

Unleashed upon the port was a massive wave of grey light, irreversibly transfiguring the climate and all organisms within into an alien state. The chloroplasts of the plants in the area turned a vibrant blue, compatible with the newly grey sunlight. Animals mutated into bizarre parodies of themselves: cormorants grew a second set of wings around their legs, while Magellanic penguins developed an extended beak containing fully-formed teeth. No human gained mutations as extreme as the colonists, but certain expressions of the traits remained, including more prominent body hair and the grey sclera.

Coming along with these mutations was a sort of empathic hive-mind, a 'neural network' allowing shared emotions, which weakened with distance from the Nexus. Combined with the alien climate and organisms, this led to the voluntary isolation and alienation of those within the town. When it was rediscovered by a joint Argentinian-Foundation expedition in 2009, Argentinian authorities termed it 'Puerto Extraño'.

Today it is overseen by Site-572, with Director Miguel Galvan also acting as the mayor of the city..The conflict of interest here seems obvious; this was an attempt by the Foundation to experiment with integrating Site personnel into the local government, one of the final acts of the Department of Nexology while the organization was at its strongest

2. The Fading Magic

When the Crisis began, two groups were expected to survive: extraterrestrial anomalies, and anomalous wildlife. In hindsight, the latter group largely dying out is not surprising, but all involved were shocked when the likes of the SCPS Solidarity started to corrode, or when the entire civilization of SCP-3003 collapsed overnight. We reasoned that extraterrestrial organisms and technology were simply beyond the scope of Terran science, and not natural laws.

Puerto Extraño was only one of three known Nexuses with an extraterrestrial origin or component (the other two being Socorro, New Mexico, and BackDoorHoozdo in Phoenix, AZ) and the loss of its anomalous components was immediately devastating to its inhabitants. Once the terraformer failed, citizens were left choking on an oxygenated atmosphere, and both plant and animal life experienced a great dying. Small potatoes compared to the geographic alterations to the dark side of the moon or the reinstatement of Pluto's status as a planet, but humanity was faced with a sobering realization that drove many astronomers to drink: humanity was alone, once and for all.

To this end, I decided to dispatch myself to Puerto Extraño. Extraterrestrials were a large blind spot in my study of Nexuses, and I wanted one last chance to rectify that, to see how the universe would go on with only us in it.

3. Redundancy

The worst part of the Crisis is that few if any, people outside of the Foundation noticed it occurring. Several pieces of evidence were put down to climate change, or changes in international relations, or incorrect theories. Above all, it proved to us that we wasted trillions in amnestic production; most people are willing to believe that magic isn't real and settle for a far more mundane explanation if that helps them sleep at night.

For example: in June of last year, an extraterrestrial craft crashed outside of Roswell, New Mexico. The universe handed Earth evidence of extraterrestrial life on a platter, in a city that is famous for being the site of an alleged alien crash, and the world simply shrugged and moved on as we made a half-hearted attempt to categorize the remains before they turned into the same slurry that all anomalous organisms eventually become.

The Foundation is one of many organizations that knew of the existence of extraterrestrial life. Days before the Crisis was officially declared as extant, the O5s had been debating whether or not to release evidence of non-hostile first contact to the public; the delegation from this other planet spontaneously combusted minutes before the resolution could be voted upon, rendering the point moot.

Some extraterrestrial strains survived. Glimpses of this can be seen in the eyes of Puerto Extrano's inhabitants, who still retain many of the mutations. But there's a listlessness to them, hopelessness, which made me question where my loyalties lie.

But in all that hopelessness, a tiny spark fell from the sky.

4. Let the Flames Begin

There was an unscheduled meteor shower on the night of April 26th, and accompanying it, several intense migraines among those who inhabited the town still— myself included. This shower was unprecedented, and had the Arecibo telescope still existed.One of the first causalities of the Crisis, long shall it be missed., all assembled around it would have been gawping at the screens.

This meteor shower had a strange color to it— a green tint over the whole thing, lighting the land below an odd shade. Stars fell over the water, and one of them fell into the terraforming device at the center of the city.

Euphemistically called the 'town square', the land around the terraformer was a dead, wild jungle, with animal carcasses and bizarre plants surrounding a large metallic pillar. It had once been a lush epicenter that the Foundation had been trying to access for years, but now was nothing but a fire hazard. This green spark of light collided with it, and lit a grey fire among the brush.

What happened next felt like a warm shower, sunburn, and a first kiss at the same time. Citizens who had been cut off from Puerto Extraño's hivemind when the anomaly perished found themselves reconnected in ways that are impossible to describe— and I was caught in the crossfire.

Imagine that you share a brain with your best friends, your family, and all of your pets, and you are always happy to see each other. This is roughly what I felt when the network came into my brain with the grey light— joy, and comfort. A hug around your mind.

The world was full of color in a way it had not been since the Crisis began— but somehow, there was a sense that this too would fade.

5. The Interloper

Dr. Katherine Sinclair remains one of the best thaumaturgists in the western hemisphere, and the fact that she arrived not even a week after life in Puerto Extraño had returned to normal gave all pause.

Since the decline of anomalous phenomena, thaumaturges had been near-universally affected by Thaumic Repression Syndrome. Sinclair was no different; I had seen her at a conference six months previous, and she seemed miserable. Now, she seemed far more chipper.Choose different wording for the final draft. and communicative. She was alone, explained that her husband was bound to Louisiana, where she would join him.

She met with Director Galvan. I observed the meeting, with her permission. She told us of her goal, to revive magic as a whole, and told us that she needed help. To be more precise, she needed the item which had caused the terraformer to start up once more.

Puerto Extraño's neural network has a very strong tendency for self-preservation, centered around the terraformer. This was evident in 2009, when three expedition members were mauled by mutated citizens following their attempts to remove the device.

As Galvan showed her the crystal, a creeping fear came over the pair of us, as well as the rest of the town, no doubt influenced by the network. As she touched it, a chill came over the Nexus; she was going to take it, and the network would die once again. We could not allow that.

Galvan drew his service weapon and ordered Sinclair to step away. She looked at us like we'd gone crazy; in a way, we had. The network, and us, saw Sinclair as simultaneously an infestation and a dangerous predator, one we had to get rid of before it destroyed the whole colony. When Sinclair refused to back down, with Galvan distracting her… I hit her on the head with a chair.Find a more civilized way to word this so you don't sound like a thug.. That was when I realized she has a prosthetic eye— it bounced out of her head and fell on the floor.

We put her in custody while we decided what to do with her.

6. The Slumber

Dr. Sinclair was in a holding cell for all of six hours before she took the initiative.

She had explained to us that the green shard was one of seven items like it and that she had three in her possession. She didn't say where or what they were, and we were in such a hurry to put her away that we didn't search her for jewelry. Fear makes you act irrationally, especially if that fear is compelled.

Afterward, I felt sick. I went to see her and apologize, and found her in tears in the corner of her cell. I tried to talk, to apologize, thinking she was upset— but at the same time, from what I had seen, Dr. Sinclair was not one to break down crying under stress.

She turned to face me, the left side of her face covered in blood. As I stepped back, I saw that her prosthetic eye had been replaced with a red, orange and yellow orb, one that thrummed with power as she looked at me. And I know that this new eye saw me. She blinked, and the blood evaporated from her face, the eye assuming a more natural color.

Then, her body brimming with magic, she simply stepped through the plexiglass divider that separated the holding cell from the rest of the world, put a hand on my forehead, and compelled me to "Sleep."

I awoke twelve hours later. The meteorite was gone, the entire Site had been incapacitated, but the town was whole. Sinclair had commandeered a vehicle from our bay and driven to the nearest airport, leaving a note of apology for all involved.

As I write, I am bound for Dulvale in Australia. I did not want to spend one second more in a city that could compel me to such violence for the sake of preserving itself. Dr. Sinclair, last I heard, was bound for Louisiana, and La Rue Macabre.


So, there I was, walking through Nawlins, walking ta same path from Decatur to Mogan, hoping to get into La Rue, like I hope everyday. It never happen before, but that day it did, and La Rue never look better.

It'was warm in there, steamy, like we was tucked up inside a gator's gullet, and I see a party all around the Never 'n Not, like it were Mardi Gras with plenny o'hoodoo showin'. Ol' Man Nancy were there, 'n Papa Legba, 'n the Baron too. Hell, I even saw them Bayou Boys- an' 'twas a right surprise to see 'em.

Bayou Boys, ya see, are 'dation, and the 'dation caused La Rue to jus vanish inna thin air. But now, here they was, drinkin' like nothin' 'ad never happen to La Rue. There were strangers amon' 'em too- girl with fire hair an' her man, with respectable dreads. They both had 'dation seals on 'em, was lookin' like tourists. Girl stank like bug spray from half a mile off.

They was talkin' wit Papa Legba, actin' all proper like, as if tat girl knew what she were dealin' wit. 'twere amazin', t'way she were carryin' herself, givin''em all proper titles and names- too proper, an' I think that's what piss Ol' Man Nancy off, 'cause he look at her like she were a damn annoyin' fly.

"Girl-mage!" 'e spat. "You think you can jus' walk in 'ere an' act like you ain't t'cause o all this? T'were not even a week ago that I were a very smart spider 'gain, like t'fore times. Lost all m'stories, stories tat you stink of."

She look at 'im like he were speakin' a foreign language- t'was Queen's English, an's she look at Nancy like he were from Mars! She try to not respond in Creole, so bad I dare not repeat it 'ere, but 'er 'husband stepped in- here sound like Queens, but more refined, of'n tat makes sense.

"Lord Man Nancy," he say, "Wit due respect, we come t'remake all magic, not jus' La Rue, so if'n ya could be so kind as to let us 'ave t'Codex-" No, I don't know what tis Codex were, I'm just tellin' t'story as I saw it.

Ol' Man Nancy gave 'im a look 'e gave t'all 'dation towards t'end, when La Rue stared closin' down, t'kind of look tat fills your veins wit' the venom of shame. "You smell white," he spat, "You talk white, and you work for the whittest organization in t'world." Tis guy 'bout to start sayin' how the 'dation is all diverse and multi-bullshit, but Nancy jus' say, "I mean the mind of the 'dation is white, t'mighty conquerer, t'savior, t'light in t'dark, hah! How many men in bon'age under the 'dation? Those Class-Dees?"

"All released," tis man say. "No need for 'em no more."

"An I 'spose tat makes t'riginal Class Dees 'kay then? Git outta our street, 'dation."

"Now hol'd up. What 'bout them Bayou Boys?"

"Them ain't 'dation. Dem are part of La Rue." The Ol' Man snorted. "Them knows how t'walk on m'webs witout gettin' tangled. D'you know, 'dation?"

And tat's when Ol' Man Nancy held up tis queer jewel, pure blue, clearer tan any wa'er or sky seen in La Rue in years. T'was like the bayou iself sprung t'life! T'dationers got strun' up in it like it were web, strong as any Ol' Man Nancy e'er make. 'e look at 'em like 'e were gon' 'ave 'em f'r luncheon. Ol' Man Nancy pluck out onna t'girl-mage's eyes an' wore it 'round 'is neck— grisly, if y'ask me.

'e 'ad 'em strung up in front o' t'Never 'n' Not f'r hours, as tey begged t'be let down. Tis girl-mage almost got out once, bu'she forgot that Ol' Man Nancy ain't no hedge witch; e'ry time she talk for t'next hour, she spat out spi'ers.

Then… we hear the stomp-stomp-stompin' of boots. Dozen men an' women, all'n black, wearin' Geo-See insignias. In La Rue! I dunno 'ow they git in 'ere, but when Nancy see 'em, he order ev'ry one outta La Rue.

'course I stayed! Someone 'as to tell t'story.

The Geo-See walk up afore Ol' Man Nancy, an' a man come forward, lookin' right pissed. 'e limp like 'e 'ad a bullit in 'is shoulder, and snarled at 'im, put a gun t'his chest. Says that Ol' Man Nancy 'as to give up t'baubles, or else 'e and alla La Rue's regulars git it. Only, this Geo-See make a mistake: 'e call him 'Anansi'. Very rude.

I'm sure this man, Bowe 'e said 'is name were, thought 'e were all high 'n' mighty. Nancy knew he were. 'e tried makin' a web outta t'bayou isself, tried draggin' t'Geo-See man in— but t'Geo-See man wanted Nancy riled up. Ol' Man Nancy left his blue bauble exposed 'round 'is neck. Bowe ripped it off an' shot Ol' Man Nancy right in t'chest, one, two, ten times!

T'were like the plants and all t'animals started screamin', from the birds in the bayou to the spiders that Ol' Man Nancy takes care of. Spider-slilk come outta his chest, entanglin' the Geo-See's hand an' burnin' him, bu' Geo-See pull away— broke t'bauble, tho. T'husband gets let down an' try to jump at Bowe, but La Rue's goin' crazy, t'street's bulgin' and turning inta blackwater 'n' spiderwebs 'n' grave-dirt. Ain't never seen nothin' the likes of it, 'ts shootin' Nancy were killin' La Rue.

Then, Ol' Man Nancy take of 'is skin. 'e ain't never do that, bu' 'e needed to, jus' so 'e could make 'nuff web t'stop La Rue from' completely fallin' apart. Geo-See man holds t'bauble, opens a Way, an' takes 'is whole kit 'n' kaboodle through it!

Ol' Man Nancy were bleedin, but 'e weren't dyin'. Dinnit stop t'girl-mage an' 'er man from tryin' t'heal 'im. Ol' Man Nancy starts beratin' 'em, sayin' 'e were fine, that they should jus' leave 'im. Ol' Man Nancy were tryin' t'keep alla La Rue t'gether, an' 'e were failin'.

So, t'man with t'dreads, 'e picks up this yellow bauble 'e as, an' gives it to Ol' Man Nancy. Girl-mage scoops up what's left o' the blue one, an' combines it wi' a green one. She look real sad-like, bu' give it to Ol' Man Nancy. 'e use t'baubles t'start undoin' t'damage to La Rue, an' it look like almost a whole rainbow for a while.

When La Rue started t'look solid, I gave 'em some privacy, went t'explore the street 'gain. La Rue were open 'gain, an' 'spite wha t'Geo-See did t'it, it were still m'home. Bu' I knew, as I walked back inta the way, La Rue ain't never closin' down, and magic ain't never dyin'.



The heat emanating from her left eye distracted Katherine Sinclair from the pain in her right side. Unicorn horns were serrated, and it hurt like a mother when she was torn off of it, but it would heal. It wasn't healing quick enough, however, and she hated the way it felt against the hospital gown.

She knew of a Way into Three Portlands within Oregon Health and Science University Hospital—that's why she'd asked to be taken there. She didn't know where it led now, but it used to go to Deer College's primary medical building.

The Way was in a vending machine inside the nurses' lounge. It would have been easy enough to sneak in, weave an illusion with the Codex to make her look like an overly-tired nurse— but the lounge had an armed guard on it. He looked like he was in riot gear. Sinclair recognized the grenades on his belt as chokedust, a beryl-bronze powder that grounded magic.

Sinclair looked around; she hadn't had time to look before, but the sterile halls of the hospital were filled with Coalition agents, both plainclothes and in combat gear. "Coalition? Here? Shit!"


Sinclair spun around, feeling her stitches strain. The disappointment on her husband's face was plain to see. "You should be resting."

"With a Way to Three Portlands and the last shard in the same hospital? And Coalition agents everywhere?" She frowned. "You don't know what they're going to do with the Codex."

"Would it be any worse than what we would do with it?" Reynolds folded his hands together. "Who's to say that the Foundation wouldn't just… use it to keep magic on a leash?"

"I'm not going to let that happen." Sinclair snapped. "Don't care if I have to stare down the Council in person. Magic's going to come back on its own terms, but only if we have all of the Codex." She looked around the corner. "Dammit. We have to get in there. How?"

Reynolds pointed a finger at his head. "Think, Katherine. Think. You think there's only one Way into the city from here? Only one Way to the College, even?"

She frowned, and then tapped the Codex that occupied her left eye. She didn't even need to speak a command; she simply thought it. Seek.

Lines of golden light appeared in her vision, at least a dozen of them. One of them led into the nurses' lounge, that was the closest, but another led into an elevator that had just been vacated by Coalition agents and an uneasy-looking doctor.

Reynolds and Sinclair ran into the elevator. Sinclair's hands, guided by the Codex, performed the Knock on the elevator's buttons, and it descended.


Three Portlands was anything but natural. It was created from semantic and conceptual associations between three different cities named Portland, a purely human phenomenon. And yet, when the elevators opened into the main atrium of Deer College's science campus, they were met with a forest growing inside of the building.

A pine tree as thick as a smokestack had sprouted up from the center of the atrium, growing at such speed that it had blown a hole through the roof, leaving marble and glass scattered on the ground. This, too, had been overgrown by a variety of small shrubs and undergrowth.

"It's like the Pacific Northwest decided to invade." Sinclair stepped around it; on the other side was a door leading out to the rest of the college, which more resembled a temperate rainforest than a college campus. The horizon was above the ground, as was typical of Three Portlands, and exiting the building was a disorienting experience.

"Did the Codex do this?" Reynolds frowned. "How?"

"My guess? It woke up the Mayor, and the Mayor just assumed that everyone left, so…" She ducked under a root that was blocking the exit to the building. "It decided to remake Three Portlands into something that was more… human-free."

"Hmm." Reynolds had to crouch beneath the root. "Where's the Shard, then?"

Seek, Sinclair thought. A focused beam of violet light shot forth from her vision, pointing to the center of the campus. "This way."

They strode into the forest, not noticing the elevator opening behind them.


The final Codex fragment hung suspended over Deer College's campus seal. The seal was composed of stone and steel, jutted about three feet out of the ground and was three feet wide, emblazoned with Deer College's coat of arms. Superstition said if a couple kissed upon it at noon or midnight, they would be together for the rest of their lives. It sat in the middle of a grove of evergreens taller than the horizon.

"Why is it floating there?" Reynolds tilted his head. "None of the others have… hum."

"Maybe it's being kept suspended by the latent EVE that's in the air? Three Portlands was always thick with the stuff." She blinked, and looked up. "Or maybe it has something to do with that nanowire keeping it suspended from that tree branch."


"Clumsy one. Probably a distraction from—"

Sinclair felt a wave of pressure hit her back, and found herself sprawling with her head on the seal, nose bloody from the impact. Boots sounded all around her, and she found a muzzle pressed to the back of her neck.

There was a snap as the nanowire broke, and the violet Codex fragment collided with a blue one, held in the hand of a Coalition agent wearing a neat, black suit. The pale hand that held it was burned in a spiderweb pattern. He sneered at her from behind a pair of sunglasses. "Now, I know what you're thinking—"

"That I haven't seen a villain as cliché as you since the Black Autumn?" She snorted. "Not surprising, though. How are there still more Bowes out there?"

Bowe laughed. "Oh, fuck, that's right. You're from Sloth's Pit. God, we're going to bulldoze that town." He tossed the Codex between his hands. "You remember what I said in Hy-Brasil?"

"Coalition wanted all the magic in the world. Can't imagine why. If you'd found out Narnia was real, you'd roll in as many A-Bombs as possible, press the detonator, and shut the wardrobe behind you."

"It's a bit more complex than that— the way that place was was affectin' the way I speak." Bowe shrugged. "Magic is like iron, Dr. Sinclair. By itself, it doesn't have much use; sure, it keeps the world spinning, keeps the magnetic field magnetized, and you can beat each other to death with just raw iron. But it can be refined by humans, made into butter knives or swords or gun barrels. That's what thaumaturges like you have been doing for centuries— without any control." He looked between the Codex in his hand, and at the one in Sinclair's eye. "That's what we aim to bring— control over magic, under our terms." He held up his two-sevenths of the Codex. "But we don't have the complete package here."

"So, what? Hostage exchange? My eye for my husband? Or maybe you'll offer me a position in your organiz—"

Bowe nodded at the agent holding her down. She was stood up to face Bowe, and she felt two points of heat at her back, heard a pair of pops and a pained wail, and felt warmth run down both sides of her. She looked down in disbelief as blood began to pour into her mouth, and the agent laid her down on the seal. Her vision started to go grey as he began to extract the Codex from her left eyesocket.

"King Delbaeth was right. Never monologue… unless you're going to do something about it."

There were two more gunshots. Montgomery Reynolds landed next to her, body shaking from the shock of the impact.

"This…" Sinclair gurgled. "No… this… this isn't how…"

She heard Bowe walk off, trying to push herself up to look at him. He had the Codex in one hand, trying to recombine it. She could expend the rest of her life in one stroke of hatred and energy, directed at him. Make the Codex be forever lost to the Coalition, teleport it back to Site-87. Or she could save her husband.

"Monty…" She held onto his face. "Monty, you need to promise me you'll stop them. You'll find the… the Codex."

"N-no point." He clasped his hands around hers. "A world without you a-and a world without m-magic are the s-same thing." His eyes fluttered shut, and his breathing turned shallow.

"No, no, no…" Sinclair's eye darted around, looking for any help. The leylines that ran through Three Portlands could maybe put him on life support for a few hours. She needed the Codex if she wanted to save the both of them, but she could feel it exiting this plane through a Way from the sheer power vacuum it left.

The void occupied by her left eye landed on a blue light in her husband's pocket. She reached into it, and found a shard of blue crystal— she remembered now. It had broken off during the scuffle in La Rue Macabre. Monty had picked it up. She wasn't sure how much was left in it, but… maybe enough to sustain them.

"Monty, we're going to be okay." She produced Reynolds's phone and called for Personnel Down at Deer College. Then, she joined hands with him, and put the shard of oriykalkos in between them. "This spell will s-sustain us, until w-we can get medical here. It's g-going to be okay. Just… repeat after me." She took a breath, and exerted her Will. "De tha xethoriáso."

"De… de th…" He coughed. "I-I can't. C-can't make the sounds."

"S-say it in English then!" She held onto his hand tight, and kissed his lips. "It means, 'I will not fade'. Please, Monty, please…"

They continued the chant as noontime passed overhead.

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