Ex Sol

<< The Simulacrum of Dread

It was the date known thereafter as the Western Sunrise. For those who had such an interest, it metered at approximately eighty four septendecillion local extrafacetary years after the foundation of the Parsed City-State of Rhaagm. For those who had such an interest, it was also the first time in the recorded history of the extrafacetary territories where a movement of their shared chiefest heavenly body sustained a state of irregularity for any observable span.

In the newborn darkness over Rhaagm, there appeared a single woman, matronly if one felt charitable and decrepit otherwise. She did not fold from another section of the city, nor did she cross from a facet via normal means. She did not use magic of any qualified school or genre. Instead, she willed it, and manifested. She was clothed in robes of lavender, wore a thin cowl, carried a chair on her back, and sweated more than she had since time immemorial. Her frame’s shivering arose from amazement that she was still in one piece, of sound mind, under her own control, and that she’d stolen a prize of great price out from under its keepers’ noses.

Oh, how the Oiler’s components had howled. But the plans laid by herself, by Technician West, by Domino and Dice and Poacher and more besides, had borne the gilded fruit of distraction, misdirection, and acquisition. They were not the sorts of plans that would work a second time. If the parties giving chase had caught her, it would have ended poorly – but they had not.

The Oiler’s six piece chorus was one of the more unconventional landmarks amongst the mindscape of the Beings of Old. They didn’t care for the fights or intrigue or puppeteering in which so many of their fellows engaged. Instead, they warred among themselves: two sides of three combatants, whose battlefield always centered upon the thing she now carried, and whose goal always amounted to concentrating possession of said thing in one faction or the other. When it occasionally fled to a new exotic locale under its own power, its penitents soon followed, bringing with them their words and blades and automata, all in the name of what many considered the greatest mechanism to ever exist.

In her withered grasp rested a spherical object, the size of a grapefruit in its current realization. Its construction shone and soaked up light, black and gold-white all over. The features of its exterior had an unpredictable fluidity, save for a small sliding circular shutter, with a trifecta of buttons equidistant around the shutter’s flat lip.

The object, nameless to its true owners and caretakers who fought tooth and nail for its moment-to-moment control, had gained among the Olds who ravenously coveted it a vague and whispered identity as “the Device.”

None, with five possible exceptions (technically ten) – four of whom would never tell and the remaining so insular as to be painful, even by the Olds’ standards of sociability – knew of its origin, or the full truth behind its nature. But with it, one did not merely hold a defining power capable of arbitrating the terms of existence. To hold the Device was to command at the highest level of divinity’s jurisdiction, but, funnily enough, Ms. Nightjar cared relatively little about the full gamut of omnipotence’s promises. Oh, she would happily dictate terms on everything from type nine events to the price of bread.

Her primary aim, though, lay in the Device’s promise of meeting one’s greatest desire.

She felt a hundred thousand different directions pulling on her. The objective she desired was simple enough: bring more souls, countlessly many more souls, into existence so that they might join the unspeakably beautiful order she hoped to create. She wanted more people who might see reason. She wanted more people who might value life.

And so the Device would oblige her: as a conduit for the directed shaping of a totally unprecedented breed of intelligence.

Ms. Nightjar stood in the shadow of the Maker’s vainglorious turret. That was something she would rather have avoided if possible. If the pompous bent-brain learned of it, he’d probably take it as a badge of recognition for his craftsmanship. That galled especially, of course, because that was precisely the reasoning for the Despised’s decision on the final staging area of the day’s great work.

The Maker enjoyed the same baseline package benefits of all Olds: strong immortality, a command of many senses that disdained physical mechanism, the bodily and mental strength to put him on par with any facetary deity of wisdom or vigor or potatoes or whatever. However, his true talents compensated for the fact that he would have been useless in a stand-up bare-knuckled confrontation between himself and any of his peers.

Instead, his creations performed terrible miracles.

His Tower of Rhaagm, through processes that West admitted understanding not at all between his Bennosuke experiments, could utterly prevent outsiders – even Olds – from gaining entrance on a targeted basis. Her colleague might not comprehend either that phenomenon or the few of the Tower’s defensive measures which he’d suborned. However, that didn’t preclude him from putting those features to use in the name of protecting her whilst she worked.

Swaying about the streets, hurling themselves through the air of the Parsed City-State, she saw distant glimpses of Beasts of all kinds between buildings and down alleys. Scuds, stalkers, dalliers, alephs, schlrikts, morphites, dreadnoughts, happies, and many more. They hoped to feed on Rhaagmini. The defenses of the city, skitchers and mannequins, Minutemen and civilians, things belonging to the Tower, things that she didn’t bother trying to name: all these were focused on the protection of their home. The few that noticed her paid no mind to the nice lady with the shard of mechanical divinity.

And so, she plucked Set’s Throne from her back, put it on the redmetal square which supported the Tower’s foundations, and sat herself down. Her hands trembled slightly as the power of her desire went into the Device like a magus’s power into their preferred channel.

An invisible, wonderful process began. Starting at that barrier between self and not-self, Ms. Nightjar felt a change, vibrating the whole world around her as it propagated across avenues not traveled by shoes or wheels or antigrav, but thought.

The Purple mutated, and started to shift its inhabitants likewise.

In the eye of her mind she saw that mutating place, the place with its trees of flesh and the omnidirectional surfaces stretching around and through and around each other again. The porous and dark geology of the Purple quivered and took on new shape. Endless capillaries went from unordered to sorted clusters. Twisted knots became braids. The wild penetrating light of the Purple took on a whole new personality, sharpening like the edge of a broken bone.

Beasts, both those in Ms. Nightjar’s physical proximity and those in their native habitat, changed far more conspicuously. Molecule-sized pupils set in quartz-yellow eyes stopped darting with instinctual madness, and started fixing on subjects. A schlrikt here, a dreadnought there, a flock of scuds everywhere; Beasts stopped being unholy animals, and instead saw fit to slow down, notice, wait. Wait as though they were expecting something, as though they were heirs waiting upon their inheritance.

Beastly heirs upon whom she might bequeath the mode of the sapient, the cogito ergo sum of personhood, and the gratitude owed those who would so exercise themselves.

“You are wonderful, you sweet thing,” she sang to the Device as she might to an infant.

With spine-wrenching force, she flinched unexpectedly.

Her musings went the way of the Earth Standard dodo as a presence made itself known directly behind her. A blank spot which leapt out to her senses as powerfully as a pen in a rack of swords.

She couldn’t turn around.

She had to turn around.

She turned around.

Ms. Nightjar stared in horror at the newly-arrived figure. It wore a humanoid shape, utterly colorless in a way that could have been either white or black. A fluted beaklike visor descended in front of its head, obscuring whatever face it might possess. Long scalloped shapes of some fleshy fabric swept back behind it, stiff yet rippling ever so slightly in an alien wind. It hadn’t a size as much as it had a perspective, a direction in which one looked and saw it constantly translating to ensure no objects came between beheld and beholder. The very act of perceiving the being generated a cognitive dissonance of sorts, a feeling of reason both growing sawtoothed and being wrapped in wool. Its influence directed those nearby to move away, creatures making the discovery that they didn’t in fact want to go precisely where their paths took them.

The Asynchronous Swan considered her intently.

“I haven’t…” she began, and couldn’t think of how to continue. Her; an entity possessed of strong immortality, of the capacity to literally make gods grovel at her feet – she was stuttering. “I didn’t…”

“You have violated no code at this time, Seat-Spinster,” answered the Swan in an unaccented, unemphasized voice. “You shall not be permitted to violate the essential proprieties of that which is. Do not be afraid.”

Well, there was an incredibly reassuring directive.

“What do you want, then?” she snapped, grasping at her back and laying hold of Set’s Throne. Not that it would do her any good against one of the Archaea.

“We are here to witness,” said the Stalwart Mantis from right beside her in exactly the same voice as its comrade.

Eyes wide, she carefully and slowly turned to a nearly identical entity whose mask bore large ova in place of eyes. It had instantiated itself in a fashion similar to that of the Swan, and utterly foreign to her own. It glanced over beyond her, to the Tower’s base.

“We are here to consider,” said the Oracular Fox with similarly matching vocal characteristics, from just in front of the main entrance of the northern face. It had two triangular projections at the top of its mask, and one of them flicked.

“We are here to learn,” said the Swan, stepping out from behind the Fox. A glance behind her showed Ms. Nightjar that the spot it had previously occupied was now occupied by air. A parlor trick she could mimic effortlessly on her worst day.

“We are here to reason,” said the Mantis, stepping out between the Swan and Fox in such a way that the clothing, or skin, or whatever material it was that flowed from them in layered waves slipped up and down and intermingled through each others’ persons. They arranged themselves, consciously or otherwise, in a perfectly straight line.

An extremely unsettling parlor trick, given its participants.

And yet, she had the strong inkling that they really were nothing more than observers in this time and place. To call their thinking impenetrable – assuming what they did could be captured by the meaning of the term “thinking” – was a poor, lacking attempt to convey meaning in a starving unrefined word. They could have any number of motivations, including toying with her before they wiped her from existence like dust from a counter, but that did not have the ring of truth.

If the Swan wanted her to be afraid, it would probably instruct her so – just like it did for Myrtle and Tom Walker, that grim day eternities past.

She didn’t miss the fact that the whole square was now empty of the hundreds of thousands of passers-by, and that no more appeared.

She didn’t miss the fact that no more of them WOULD appear, either.

Before she could ask the things aught further, the Swan murmured.

“We are here on business conditional to the informal subset of the mortals known as the Seat-Spinster, the Gardener of Giants, the Wright, and the Double Triptych,” it enumerated, and those names were not merely spoken.

“We are here on business of life,” added the Mantis. It and the others stared at the Device in her left hand, and for just a moment she felt tempted to drop the thing.

“We are here on business of death,” said the Fox.

All three heads turned in perfect synchronicity to their left – to her right, as a heatless glow began to dominate that entire cardinal direction.

The sun was brightening, yes. The sun was drawing closer, yes. But what made the great orb noteworthy was its transmutation into something else. That something else flatly defied the tangibility of the layers and forests of buildings scattered in every direction save downward. It sank through the upper levels of the city, sank through pohostinlat hives and corner-situated buildings built on articulated axles, sank through empty air, sank until it hit the ground. It was no particularly astounding accomplishment to Ms. Nightjar, but the accomplisher’s identity garnered her attention quite nicely – doubly so considering the entities taking up the remainder.

One way around the active countermeasures of Rhaagm’s metaphysical borders was, of course, being inside when the borders got closed down.

At the edge of the Tower’s square stood a brightly burning man she recognized, but who had remained almost as aloof as the Oiler for long ages. The Sleeping Sun. Morning’s Watcher. The Gardener of Giants.

Yawning Kris made landfall for the first time since the laying of the foundations upon which he stood.

There were many kinds of individuals who qualified – or had the misfortune – to join the Olds’ ranks. Disproportionately many human shapes, including Ms. Nightjar. Sebos contributed a silkal’s form to their number. Whatever Technician West was.

However, Kris would almost certainly remain the only angel among their ranks forever.

“Hello again, dearie!” she called warmly, with a smile smoothing her crinkles. “Haven’t seen you in forever!”

She wasn’t exactly pleased, but she was far from woebegone. Of all the opposition, Kris had always struck her as the most sensible. Oh, it was always a somewhat strange thing in the larger picture, contemplating the similarities of those called the Servants by their detractors, and those that the Servants in turn named the Despised. Even the Olds who didn’t take the one side or the other shared the same end goal after a fashion: the perpetuation of experiential existence.

They simply differed in opinion on the acceptable conditions attached thereto.

The Maker had a respectable (even enviable) capacity to reach out and shape the lives of Rhaagm if he so decided. Instead, he’d come out into the limelight, and proclaimed himself. Look at me! I am great! Don’t bother venerating me, I have no time for it; don’t bother asking my instructions, I just put things together. Do with them what you will, but mind the edges – they’re sharp. Put my face on your coinage if you insist.

Kris, on the other hand, had been simply hanging in his relative orbit, neither instructing nor demanding. And yet he’d become a firmament unto himself. If he’d decided one day that he wanted to rise an hour early or an hour late, then descend upon the people dwelling outside the gem in all his glory… well, there were people who worshiped him anyway, not even knowing he was anything more than a sun himself! The fact that he had done no such thing made him fascinating to Ms. Nightjar in some ways.

Which wasn’t to say she would hesitate a moment in subjugating him if she felt it necessary.

“Ms. Nightjar.” Nothing more. A hallucinatory numb softness, as though a fire had been put to bed one temperature degree at a time over three days.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Objecting,” he answered. He raised an arm, and touched his chest. From it protruded a knife-edged feather the length of his body, the dagger quill emerging a meter out of where a human’s sciatic nerve ran through the lumbar. Iso: his answer to Set’s Throne.

But that was a comparison between obvious unequals. His blessings permitted him to generate, and speak with the spirits residing in, stars and their ilk. A blank check allowing the arbitrary generation of nuclear fusion or its analogue, whenever and however and to whatever absurdity he wished. Among other things.

Even without the throbbing living machine she held, she and her little chair could put him on the ground. True, her great power had the glaring weakness of serial operation: she could only ply a single entity or entity-collective at a time. But that only meant she fell qualitatively short against multiple adversaries. Against any of her fellow Olds in isolation, she could simply will their submission, and it would be so.

“You must be asking yourself why I’m here, now, setting myself against you when you have the answer to any arms I might take up in protest.”

Kris’s almost featureless form stroked Iso’s edge. He turned about. He turned back. He didn’t so much as glance at the Archaea.

“I did wonder that,” replied Ms. Nightjar. She didn’t bother hiding a thin crust of annoyance beginning to harden around her expectations.

“The goal, simply put, is that of any good protective father,” he said. “To turn aside your predations. I have an idea of what you intend for the future of Beasts and the Purple. Many of those who don’t even belong in our sparse clique will know what it is you’re doing.”

“And what is that?” she asked, knowing full well what he would say and curious as to how he would say it.

“Breeding children already broken to your whip hand.” Iso made incredibly fine and resonant chimes as it was stroked. “When your friends chose you to fill this end, it wasn’t merely for your availability.”

Well, obviously.

“You’re busy creating things that profane the very essence of being,” he said. The almost soporific tones he used for the task made him seem like the most honest psychiatrist to ever live.

“Whaaat?” she hooted, pointing at the three entities at the Tower’s foot. “You think that they would let me do something against the natural law? You think that THEY would abide it?”

Even as the words left her mouth, she felt a strange girlish tingle run up her spine where it so often pressed against Set’s Throne. It reminded her of the liminal glinting joy she’d felt in her previous life.

The Device had been put into full operation how many times in total? A score? Twice that? Less than a hundred throughout its existence, of that much she felt sure. In turn, the Archaea surfaced even more rarely. Problematic to the data, of course, was the fact that either of those immovable forces could create causal pockets or dismantle and reassemble circumstances so that they were never in play at all. That was the preferred conduct of the Archaea, based on the few times that the Swan and Mantis and Fox deemed it appropriate to come into the open.

But maybe, just maybe… the Archaea couldn’t stop her!

“I think one thing matters,” proclaimed Kris. Licks of flame ran up and and down his frame like the pulsing chromatophores of many an octopus.

His back straightened as he turned and flicked Iso, and it spun in the trunion of his chest.

“What you’re doing – making backdoors into the minds of these new people, forming them from a mold that is meant to be abused, building a directive to arbitrarily discontinue the free will of any of them when you personally find them bothersome…”

The flames died off. Kris shuddered, and gave Ms. Nightjar a look not of anger, but of contempt.

“Whoever pours new life out of an abusive mold is not guilty of new sin, but on the scope you contemplate – it is a sign of decrepitude as much as depravity.”

Words of insult meant to pierce her heart that skidded off instead.

“Even if you had the right measure of me, dearie, what could you possibly do about it?” She leaned back onto her little chair, its bloodstained feet leaving smears on the square’s redmetal. Her elegant fingers caressed the Device. “Even if I possessed only my comfy seat, what kind of threat do you pose?”

Yawning Kris grasped Iso by the shaft, and with the sound of night falling he drew it free of his torso.

“Threat? To you?” he asked with lethargic grace, holding the gently glowing pinion as any knight ever held a lance. “By myself I’m no threat,” he said softly, almost sadly. “But what’s about to happen… that, Ms. Nightjar, is.”

And Ms. Nightjar destroyed him.

Reaching down into the Device, she drew up the motive to wipe clean the blot of his existence. At one moment he remained standing, Iso’s barb only slightly less radiant than his face. Then the next saw his implement hovering on its lonesome, twirling gently in an alien breeze. It spun about multiple axes, a museum curiosity without its owner, before it winked out of existence.

Not even the Olds were invincibly sacrosanct before the might of one small artifice.

In the undefined distance to the West, as visible as its predecessor despite the intervening infinite forest of Rhaagmini buildings, flickered a light. One final child of Yawning Kris winked into existence: a fitting turquoise-gold replacement for a lost titan.

Just as she began to shake with ecstasy, the Archaea interjected. They didn’t do to her as she’d done to Kris. They didn’t remove from her the Device. They didn’t undo her work.

With that Earth Standard tool named English of all things, they began to sing.

For now the Crone has bound

those feral peasants crowned

by wilderness unwound

and dying Purple flame.

For now the Sun is dead

at hands by tears stained red.

His second life is shed

and third life can he claim.

For now Beasts do amass

and look through darkened glass,

but for the Crone, alas,

awaits a fearful fame.

Relief, being one of the greatest benefactors of positive morale, buoyed the Being of Old at such an altitude that she managed to hear and take note of the proclamation, but for a moment failed to care in the slightest. Even greater than that, though, was the delayed satisfaction of success. The Olds had laid plans, such as those enacted the day of the Western Sunrise, for spans of complex time difficult to communicate to those outside their exclusive little club. Oh, their motives were simple enough at their most heavily deconstructed. Even so, the fact of a longstanding ambition of such proportions being brought to bay brought her to short-lived maxima of happiness and prandial contentment for seven seconds.

So many new beautiful dears to cultivate. So many new places to instill order.

Her beatific smile curdled and clotted at the arrival of yet more unsolicited distraction, announced to her extended senses by the intrusion of any Old’s extraordinary variable mass. The annoyed line became a slashed grimace as she heard the voice. That voice she disliked only slightly less than Technician West did.

“Beautiful verse, though the English seems unnecessary. Twenty three compares. Four of them subjective, three of them future-facing. Seems likely to be largely accurate, and Bayesian modeling supports that theory – both from the standpoint of the providers and the provision. Excellent prophecy, would have prophesy again.”

That voice.

She didn’t bother saying anything. Instead, she turned her little chair, slid onto the front of Set’s Throne, and willed her subject to prostration. Rotating on the seat, she glowered with wrinkled hands clenched. She’d felt a bit skeptical about West’s degree of control over the city gestalt-blacklist network’s protocols, but this was patently unacceptable.

Before her lay a spread-eagle individual with a nose like a cliff face, webbing-like cobalt clothes, flesh whiter than dry bone, and a mutt of an Earth Standard domestic cat sitting nonchalantly on his back. His hair could have been longer if the strands were arranged horizontally instead of coming vertically out of his follicles. On the clothes appeared a stylized symbol at irregular intervals. The crawling design was the Rhaagmini for “Something Into Most.”

“I bid you good morrow, little girl,” said the man. The Father of the Mechanism. The Wright.

The Maker smiled up at her as if he were perfectly comfortable with being flattened against what amounted to the floor of his own house any day of the year.

“If one didn’t know better,” said Ms. Nightjar, “I’d call you a scoundrel.”

“I am that,” admitted the man with a broad smile. “But I’m the most competent scoundrel to ever live.”

“Tell me two things, dearie,” she said with poisonous good cheer. “Two things, and don’t be coy like Kris. He was less than unpleasant, and he’s gone now, the poor soul.”

That smile didn’t change, but the black eyes in that white face burned like coals.

“I considered him a friend, Old Lady Entropy. And the fact that he’s gone is why I’m here now. Your friend West is dirtying up a thousand facets that I’d otherwise be protecting. But when my good boy Clive-”

He stopped for a second, accepting the affections of the cat on his back as it rubbed its face against the hair dust on his scalp. They both had the same heavy-lidded one-sided smiles, one content and one bestial.

“-told me that Kris had left his post in the sky, there wasn’t a question about what had to be done. You’ll pay, in kind or coin. I’m not sure which just yet.”

She almost laughed at him.

“Well,” she eventually allowed, “ambitious of a man in a compromising position. You’ve never lacked for lofty goals, though, have you?”

She looked away from him, watching the Archaea. They didn’t frighten her as much as they disturbed her. Certainly, the man on the ground might as well be so much ashes and dust. She saw no reason to leave him alive, and even if she didn’t have her new toy, she would have subjugated and forced upon him some extremely cruel punishment.

“That plan with using that atypical to steal my favorite blade was ambitious, too,” said the Maker in a wistful tone, looking the same direction and smiling. Ms. Nightjar knew that he was looking at the Tower rather than the creatures standing in silence before it. “A shame it didn’t work, and you can tell West that I honestly think that. I like the results, though. ‘Sebastio the Effulgent’: A man whose greatest personal enemy is an autumn elf engineer, whose greatest victory is survival as an aberration of normal life and supermatter-immersed entity. A magnificent ruler, if already pretentiously-styled – and he has far to go yet. And those who enable magnificent rulers get a tidy sum of reputation for themselves.”

A very proud man for a person whose time to live could be measured in less than a hundred heartbeats.

“I have it on good authority that our strange family could be kept out in the cold, away from this city. Moreover, I believe you made the toy that in turn made that possible.”

She gave a knife of a smile, not mean, not spiteful, not at all. Merely critical of his arrogance.

“Oh, I did. And the Thunder Veil works perfectly.”

“The thunder what?”

The Maker’s mouth smoothed into an eighth-of-a-circle.

“The semi-stateful intrusion prevention system that makes Rhaagm the ivory palace which it is.” His eyes cut sideways. “West did, in fact, manage to pull it out of the city’s central control. I’m actually grateful to the poor derivative workhorse; he highlighted a way to work around a series of checks I was pretty sure he’d need a thousand times more processing to beat. Of course, I built the thing, and I know how to destroy it.”

He gave a sigh.

“So I did. A necessary sacrifice to get myself and my tag-along into the city while you especial barbarians held the gate.”


Her eyes flared, and, panicked animal that she became in that instant, she sent her will into the Device with the express purpose of permanently doing away with the Maker. To her surprise, she found her desires vandalized. No alchemization of want into actuality. Somewhere, in the bosom of the creature called Ms. Nightjar, a sensation called “dread” reared its hooded face as she experienced… complications.

The Device had vacated her grasp in favor of another. The grasp of a man whose hands would now and forever be dripping water in tiny showers, perpetually clean from the wrists down. The grasp in question belonged to a perfectly ordinary man, who carried in his other hand a waist-tall sword called Love, so rusty it found it difficult to properly part air. At the hilt of the weapon rested a hand-wide open ring, an eye’s socket waiting to see again. That man’s perfectly ordinary face belonged to the Six-in-One, the Holy Damned, the Double Triptych.

The Oiler had come to take back what was his.

What made Ms. Nightjar reel inside was that she saw a single individual, not a sextet. Yes, the Oiler’s parts might recombine in the presence of the Device so their actions might be his actions instead. Yes, it was the intermediate goal of the Oiler in virtually every case that one side or the other of his warring personalities’ conflict take the reins of the whole man, and better saddle the Device’s functions. Yes, he alone had the special relationship with his charge which could bid it return to his side. But he hadn’t possessed it! There should be six armored figures vying to be the first to wrest it from her, not a coherent singleton armed with inarguable authority over the apparatus!

“You see,” said the Maker from his place still on the ground, “I had a feeling you lot were going to be more ambitious than you ought – though West was the anticipated tip of the spear, not you. When I went to collect our discontent friend-group recently, imagine my surprise when certain others were already there.”

He looked at the Archaea from the corner of an eye. Ms. Nightjar abruptly found she didn’t want to know what she would see if she looked that direction likewise.

“Imagine my surprise when they had already helped our mutual acquaintances to… put themselves back together.”

The Maker’s lips then showed something far worse than the greatest rage or fulminating vengeance. He looked back at Ms. Nightjar and displayed empathy.

“Such disregard for ownership brings grief to the heart,” came a quiet clangor out of the perfectly ordinary man. The Oiler considered Ms. Nightjar, spun Love sideways, and pushed the Device into the weapon’s vacant hilt. Noiselessly, the object fell into the socket’s gap and stuck there.

“Sadness and happiness and happiness again; you are truly oppressed,” said the Oiler with great sorrow, planting the rust-dulled point of Love on the ground. “To the grief of ourselves, however, even happy monsters are in need of curtailment.”

Ms. Nightjar made one final effort to save herself. Releasing that tiny part of herself dedicated to keeping the Maker bound and toothless, she tried to place the Oiler in his stead. But the moment that her mental vise relaxed, the mansion of her mind warped and ran like wax. Her will retained its substance, but trying to direct it became an effort to thread a needle with a bullet – and she had not Target’s talents. The word “submission” became a symbol with a null pointer attached. She grew mentally and physically rigid, a queen frozen and imprisoned on her throne by an artifact smaller than her head.

In the end she railed against her attackers, a child protesting her parents’ ill treatment.

“What gives you the right?” she practically sobbed at the Oiler in hateful rage and fear, tears running down her leathery face. “What gives you the right!?

The Oiler looked over her with absolutely no expression at all.

Because the world ends at my hands, and our hands must be clean.

She didn’t die. She didn’t forever after exist on some pitiable fringe between sapience and dementia.

Instead, the Oiler moved her to the Purple, bound her to Set’s Throne in chains, and placed her in a ziggurat of exhibition. He put her in a prison where she could both witness and be witnessed, a horror horrified. Thus, Ms. Nightjar found herself a person permanently emplaced in that strange wilderness adjacent to a growing society of thinking feeling Beasts, appreciative of the greatest desire she had ever satisfied.

She found herself reduced, broken, and damaged, and thereafter those passing her whispered and critiqued and knew her as a simulacrum of dread.


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