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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [INTERLUDE] [Mature] Vignettes: Anavasi Rising [COMPLETE]


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Bit of mature content in this one

Some of us do not forgive. Some of us do not forget. We get back up, and then get even.

Scrambler would pay for what he did. Lucrezia swore it to herself and on the love she held for Chang, on the very night of their encounter in the crèche. Since then Lucrezia had put most of herself to the task of figuring out just how to do it. Under other circumstances she might have put all of herself to work, but there was too much afoot.

Several of her threaded their way through four different Pandaimonion parties, two events in the inner depths of the Blackburn, one in Ibiza and one in a secret enclave in Chicago. One of Lucrezia was there in official attendance, but she had slipped in additional copies at each to better get a feel for the flow of conversation and the general mood of the attendees. A dozen of her were spread throughout Ibiza, talking and calling people, lining up all the pieces in a row.

And the rest of her was curled up with her wife, all of them lying on a luxurious bed formed of Chang’s body. Some of her were inside Chang’s belly, wriggling against the flesh and kissing one another to better increase their pleasure; one was impaled on Chang’s shaft, twitching in ecstasy and stretched obscenely, the cock thrust right through her and jutting from her mouth. The rest embraced Chang from the outside, touched her and worshipped her.

My love, she thought, and her whole being resonated with the warmth of that feeling. I’ll keep you safe.

The Pandaimonion were turning against Chang, and rapidly. Narcosis knew that she had begun to seriously consider breaking away from her banner and putting up her own. The divisions between those who followed Chang’s lead and those who followed Narcosis’s were growing more and more intense every day. She had made no official ruling, but Lucrezia knew her wife’s mind, now, and she knew how it worked better than anyone. The gears were turning, and one by one the pins were dropping to lock them in place. Options were being considered, her present state was being compared to the possibilities that a split offered, and her safety was being weighed against the danger. But Chang Zha-Yang was never afraid of danger.

However, Lucrezia knew that sooner or later she would want the topic to be put before them all as a discussion. She did not exalt herself, Lucrezia did. Oh, everyone thought that Shiv was the one who came up with ‘The Mirror Queen’, but it had actually been Lucrezia who whispered the name in her ear and told her to keep saying it until it stuck, and who repeated it herself where needed. Step by step she had nudged Chang into the position of leadership she deserved. And now Chang would take the final step herself, and embrace the role she had filled for years on sufferance.

Well… she would after a couple of careful nudges, anyway.

Really, the decision was made the moment Sin-Eater made her proposal, just nobody knew it. Only, with Scrambler and now Narcosis rallying to dissuade her, the moment could be lost. Lucrezia would not allow that. Her scheme of years was coming to fruition, and she was not going to let anyone stop it. Not even her wife.

Lucrezia caressed Chang with diligence, eager to hear her voice twisted in pleasure. She wriggled inside Chang’s belly and around her shaft, squeezed and sucked and moved up and down its length. At her urging, Chang swelled even thicker, filling the air with the sound of flesh and latex stretching. Lucrezia felt her breasts being pushed so far apart that they were pointing out at right angles from her distorted torso. Slowly, Lucrezia began to urge her towards making love. “I want you,” she whispered with a half dozen throats. “I want you more.”

Those of Lucrezia in the Blackburn were bearing witness to the usual tedious bitching between Narcosis’s hangers-on. Chang herself was becoming the butt of jokes, though of course only behind her back and from miles away where they could be sure she would not overhear. Lucrezia felt angry to hear them talking that way, but she knew to let it lie. Chang did not care about the prattling of fools. What they said was not important. It was what it meant that mattered.

The centre cannot hold, Lucrezia thought with delight, nuzzling against the back of Chang’s neck as they began to make love in earnest. Another of her bodies stretched her mouth slowly around Chang’s shaft and wriggled down until she touched lips with her other body and the two kissed and sucked at once. Before long both would be impaled, and she was eager for it, hungry to be stretched around her wife’s enormity.

Show me what I am, beloved, Lucrezia thought. She touched Chang more insistently than ever, began to lick her all over with her long, flexible tongues and kissed her with passion, as one of her straddled Chang’s huge and writhing belly.

Inside Ibiza, the Pandaimonion party was losing much of its atmosphere. Arguments were breaking out up and down the ballroom, and several Novas had stormed out already. The Alchemist was long gone, and had taken her student with her; a former huge fan of Narcosis that was being seduced away like many others had been over time.

There was one body that Lucrezia kept away from the others. This body sat alone at a makeup table in a darkened room, staring into the mirror at her face. She refused to let it wear the gorgeous dark-haired face that she had decided was her favourite. Rather she wore a face based on that of Jason ‘Bombshell’ Bellefleur. That felt right. It was a failed fake face, unable to live up to the quantum-enhanced beauty of the world’s most desirable woman.

This body was as much the subject of her hate as Scrambler.

Lucrezia had forgotten who she was when she erupted. To date she still wasn’t sure where she grew up or who had birthed her husk. Since her chrysalis, that answer seemed less important than ever, but she still sought it out from time to time.

Meh’Lindi theorized that Lucrezia wiped her own mind as a defence mechanism, suggesting that maybe she could not have adapted to her new state of being without it. Back then there had only been ten of her, and they came and went. It took her chrysalis to reforge her anew, to give her more than two dozen selves that never went away. We’ve all changed so much, she thought. And there’s so much more to come. That made her happy beyond words.

Lucrezia knew she was close to the next change. Chang spoke well when she told her not to let go of how it felt when Scrambler violated her mind and body. Those hideous minutes were a litany of everything she was not.

There was something that needed to be done about that. She would not – could not – bear the idea of an ‘original’, of there being one of her with shadows shaped of flesh and quantum. That was for other Novas, different Novas. The seat of her consciousness was not in any one body. She was in all and none, one mind formed of thirty, with all of their ‘separate’ processing power working in unison on her every thought and plan. Scrambler tried to show her that was a lie.

That lone body punched itself in the face. “There is not one,” she said at the mirror. “There is not.”

Sex with Chang was not the revelation it used to be, insofar as she could no longer use it as the catalyst to harden chrysalis inside her quantum signature. These days it was a beautiful, ecstatic reminder of her true and glorious nature, as well as her food and drink. After Scrambler did what he did, she needed those reminders more than ever. Chang had sanctified much of her now, blessed the bodies with her love.

But she would never be touched by the one in the darkened room. That one was cursed, foul. It is not me.

Far away from the Rainbow Room, one of her melted into latex, puddle on the floor then oozed up a wall before slipping through cracks in the ceiling into the insulation. She heated herself up until she began to boil and burn through the wood panelling, then the concrete and steel until she was able to seep onto the roof and reform.

At that moment, Darion Mograine appeared, climbing up onto the roof with her, his silver hair and eyes glinting in the moonlight. He was clad in tight leathers and a flowing trench-coat, a casual stereotype of cool that he carried off without any effort.

Lucrezia turned into flesh and stood naked for a moment, just to let him salivate, before partly changing so it seemed she was dressed in a PVC halter top. She could not dress herself the way her wife could, but she could make it seem that she was dressed when the mood took her.

“And people say that the beaches are where the real sights are,” Darion muttered as he hopped over the lip and stood before her. He kept his voice down quiet, and his eyes strayed to the noticeable cracks in the roof. “Will we be overheard?”

By my wife, yes, she could have said. Even though Chang was screaming and her ears were filled with Lucrezia’s whispered words of love and moans of pleasure, she would be listening. She always listened. But not by anyone else, I think. “You say that, Darion, but I and Chang do make love on the beach sometimes,” she grinned.

“That is certainly true,” Darion replied, glancing around the rooftop, no doubt seeking spies. His perceptions were keen and his suspicions keener. He was older than Lucrezia though he did not look it, and had been playing these games as a baseline too.

Lucrezia had come by a knock-off noise filter generator; a far weaker variant of the ones sometimes employed by Utopia agents, and pre-installed it on the rooftop. She flicked out a tendril of her body and hit the button to turn it on. “Nobody’s listening now,” she said. “I don’t think the damage has been noticed, either.”

Darion nodded and leaned back against the railing with his arms folded across his chest. The wind played with his gleaming hair. “Given you’ve dressed yourself, I’m going to assume I’m not here for a sexual escapade.”

She gave him a mischievous smile. “Why, Darion, I never thought you were so single-minded.”

“It’s easy to be when I’m around you.”

“Well, then, I’ll keep it in mind for later. One of me is in the middle of stealing your sword from your bike. I’ve planted a little evidence in your apartment that will allow you to blame Kladach.”

Darion frowned, and then turned to peer over the edge of the building. “So you are,” he said, and peered back over at her. “Kladach? Geryon’s pal? What’d he do to you, lately?”

“Nothing at all,” she said, smiling with perfect lips. “That’s why you’re not going to blame him. The evidence will point to Kladach, but you will put the blame on Prudence. You’re far too smart to take things at face value, after all, and we’re all so... treacherous over here.”

“That might be the first truth you’ve uttered in the last month,” Darion said, frowning. “Prudence, eh? Shiv’s student? Do I even need to ask what you’re up to?”

“Obviously you do, but I’m not going to answer,” Lucrezia said, and her tone did not encourage further questions. “The less you know, the less you can give away. And if you want two or three of me for sexual payment later, just ask. You know I’m good for it.” She winked at him.

Darion nodded. “That’ll be nice. None of that freaky Harvester crap though. You can keep Sin-Eater’s ‘lessons’ to yourself and your wife. Sometimes I can hear the noises which come out of your room and that’s quite enough for this Nova, thank you very much. They remind me of some scenes from John Carpenter’s The Thing. How long is my sword going to be missing for?”

“That depends. But it’ll be safe and it’ll turn up.” Once I’ve picked out who best to blame for the crime. “No need to worry. And I’m sure we’re both very sorry for scarring your sensitive soul.” It was only partly mockery. She did like Darion, and so did Chang. He was an exceptional poet and a wonderful performance artist of various types, especially as a dancer and stuntman. He often appeared in music videos for various artists, and sometimes even went on tours as a backing dancer, though he had been focusing on the Teragen over the past few years.

Darion was the best choice for her scheme. His mind was difficult to read and he was a subtle operator. Even now he gained a calculating look as he tried to work out her goal, but he lacked the information. Most people did. Lucrezia had learned how to exploit the few weaknesses of the hyper intelligent by playing games with her wife. It was always about information denial.

Even now at the party on the other side of the island Lucrezia was sowing seeds amongst the Pandaimonion present, ensuring that they would all come down on Prudence heavily for this. The starlet had fallen in favour enormously since she took Shiv as her mentor and she began to change physically and mentally.

These were Lucrezia’s favourite games. She called them art but it was a private art, not to be seen or described or even comprehended. There were four of her at the Ibiza party, one of them there on official invite, the other three shifted into other forms. Of them, two had been discovered and identified, but the fourth was still maintaining her cover as a Terat sympathizer eager to join the Pandaimonion. That one was busy seeding the ground for Prudence to be blamed for this crime.

At the same time, while one of her walked away with Darion’s sword hidden neatly inside her body, two of her were at Darion’s apartment providing all of the necessary evidence to blame Kladach. It was important that someone other than Prudence be implicated. Lucrezia would make sure Kladach heard that he was being dragged into the vapid games of the Pandaimonion, and that would make him wroth. Geryon would hear, and be annoyed. It was a pain that Vigilance did not need. This would put a little pressure on Narcosis, she would no doubt be suspicious of Chang, and in turn Chang would be angry at the implication.

The point of this was to ensure that Prudence would go with them when the split occurred. Lucrezia had never been sure about her, and they would need everyone they could get in the early days. After the bitching and pressure that would be poured on her over this, she would be sure to side with her mentor and Chang.

Darion considered for some time, but finally nodded. “All right,” he said, “I’ll trust you. More fool me, but the sex is worth it.” He reached into the inner pocket of his coat, removed a small data stick from an inner pocket and tossed it to her. “That information you were after. Everyone I know of that is even peripherally associated with Chang within the Pandaimonion, and who might come with her if she splits off. I’ve included my own analysis of each candidate. I won’t pretend it’s not biased.”

Lucrezia caught the USB and nodded at him. She tossed the stick to her right, off the side of the building. Another of her walked out the front door at that moment and snatched it out of the air on the way to her car.

Darion laughed. “Another one of you caught that, didn’t… she?” He shook his head. “You’re confusing to talk to. Even after all this time.”

Lucrezia winked at him. “I know. And yes, I caught it. You better get going. I’ll be missed at the party.”

He nodded, turned and jumped off the roof.

Lucrezia sighed and liquified and poured back down the way she’d come, then hardened and headed back inside.

She pulled up the information on the data stick and began to sift it, adding her own considerations to Darion’s, and name by name, her schemes developed and complicated, growing into a storm front in her mind.

We will break away from Narcosis. And I’m going to make sure as many people as possible come with us. The Anavasi will rise, and Scrambler will fall.

In a private room in the Rainbow Room, one of her separated from the orgy with Chang and went to meet Geth.

The spindly, insectoid Nova gave his strange bow and showered her with compliments on her beauty. She smiled and moaned and twisted into a more… fitting shape, with too many limbs and latex tentacles and teeth. Geth complimented that on its elegance and ghoulish invention, and opened a gate to the Demon’s Den.

It was time to let her newest friend know what Scrambler had done to her. She cackled with many mouths, and disappeared through the warp. You think you’re safe because Chang won’t fight back, Scrambler? She’s never been the problem. It’s me you should be worried about.

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SHIV 13th May

A fair bit of mature content here.

Shiv stood between two pianos, bound as tight as ever, her arms close to dislocated, her spine bent at an angle that should have been uncomfortable but for her felt as natural as walking upright. The warm leather mask over her eyes was tight over the sockets, and her long brown hair was up high on her head in a ponytail. Her world was darkness, as always, but she thought she saw more clearly than many with full use of their eyes.

Her breasts and buttocks were warped into arms, and it was with those fleshy fingers that she played, concentrating on precision and perfection of control. Shiv moved beyond baseline symphonies and sonatas long ago, from there into some lower skilled Nova-level compositions before branching out into her own creations, often based on the wildly morphic nature of the ‘limbs’ she used to perform. Her hands bore five fingers, then six, then eight, however many she needed to make the sounds she wanted.

She felt the music as much as heard it, felt the vibrations running through the floor and up the flesh of her breasts and buttocks into her body, where it thrummed up and down her spine and out into every extremity. She even felt it in her clothes, for they were as much a part of her as the node pulsing away inside her cranium.

The tune was uplifting, composed while she listened to rainfall on a corrugated steel roof and formed out of the many emotions rain stirred in her.

It rained that night, when she was raped and half-murdered, but erupted instead of dying. She felt quite detached about that evening now, like it was a faraway shore from which she was sailing, and it was almost out of view. Shiv remembered being angry, so angry she would carve her own flesh to remind herself of the hate and so angry that the beautiful body granted by her eruption was nothing to her but an engine of vengeance. But she did not quite know how that extremity of emotion felt anymore.

Her eruption gave the rain a new aspect, too. She could feel its percussion now, and hear every drop, distinct in the storm, as it fell and split upon the earth. Shiv’s skin was so sensitive that even the trailing of rain on her skin was an adventure.

Back then she went into the rain to cry. Somehow she missed the beauty of the rain for years, until Chang took her by the hand and led her out into a storm, just to listen.

The music swelled and shrank around her, never quite a crescendo but never quite a whisper. The sound echoed and bounced around her, and she adjusted even as she played to keep the sound reverberating just the way she liked. The echoes were part of the music, and balancing them was her current hurdle.

Her fingers danced and flexed across the ivories, sometimes faster than a baseline hand could ever move and sometimes slower and more steady than the most patient hunter. Shiv’s mind began to strain with the effort of co-ordinating her limbs so accurately.

But before too long it came to an end, and her arms retracted, one set rounding and plumping into her large breasts, the other set tightening into her pert buttocks.

Shiv felt happy. Not elated, or overjoyed, but happy and satisfied. Once, those had seemed like strange sensations.

Back before Chang, the idea of someone taking joy from what they did was a strange thought to her. When she had begun to devour people it was all part of her vendetta against the men of the world, a repayment one hundred times over of the pain a few of them inflicted on her one rainy night. She supposed she took a sort of enjoyment from digesting her victims… but never satisfaction. I was such a child, she thought, bitterly. I wasted those years.

Her efforts to walk Teras were largely failures. Taint had accrued far more than chrysalis. It was not about learning what she was, but about eviscerating baselines as messily as possible. Nobody cared to point out where she was going wrong. But why would they? Failures were an object lesson.

My student will not fail.

Prudence was nearby. Shiv could sense her weight on the floor, pick out her place from the way the air distorted around her and from the soft pulsing that was once a heartbeat. She was sitting just inside the door. “You play well, Shiv,” she said. Her voice was oddly girlish.

She answered with a nod, and closed the pianos with tendrils of flesh. “What do you think of the tune?”

“It’s good! I’ve never really been able to play, though. I always wanted to.”

Shiv led Prudence out of the instrument room into the main floor of her apartment. She kept it clean and sparse. Shiv had no need of furniture, though she kept a table, a few chairs, a bed and a workbench. She spent little time in the apartment, but it was clean and tidy.

“You maintain your human seeming,” Shiv said, turning her head towards Prudence. “Is there a reason for that?”

“No.” She sounded shy. “I just wondered if you’d ever ask.”

Shiv heard the distinctive cracking and popping sounds as her student began her change, mixed with the throaty and duplicating moan as her neck lengthened and she sprouted new necks and heads. She could hear Prudence’s limbs duplicating, her chest rippling and warping violently as five new breasts pushed out of her flesh, straining and then ripping the clothes she was wearing. She had come dressed in silk, from the noise the seams made when they burst. Under it all was the undercurrent of tendrils shifting about under the surface of her skin, betraying another unexpected development.

When changed, Prudence was easy to sense. The extra limbs and heads gave her a unique profile, and she was constantly moving, causing great fluctuations in the still air that Shiv’s sensitive skin detected easily. Prudence had not been like this at first, but had changed swiftly under Shiv’s tutelage. The changes came pouring out of her, in fact, so rapidly that it seemed almost as if she were relaxing a muscle that had been clenched since her eruption.

It reminded her of how she had been under Chang’s tutelage. When first Chang suggested bondage, Shiv had been appalled. Yet the moment she tied her wrists with a length of rope, there had been a sense of profound, almost haunting rectitude. When she found the correct get up and felt it bond with her quantum signature, it was akin to sliding a puzzle piece into place.

“Now that you’re dressed more comfortably,” Shiv said, “what’s bothering you?”

“Well, nothing really,” Prudence answered, in a tone that was full of lies and all but begged for her to be asked to vent. Her voice was strange now, not disturbing in and of itself but she spoke with a random number of mouths. One word might be said with one mouth, the next with two, and the next with all seven. It gave even basic speech a peculiar, enchanting music. Shiv vastly preferred it.

“You are practically moping. Normally you can barely contain your excitement when you transform.”

“Only around you,” she said. “Everyone else is getting catty. They didn’t used to be! Back when I was no-” she caught herself.

Shiv smiled, “Normal?”

Before her new powers surfaced, Prudence’s abilities had centred on emotional manipulation and prediction. It was an unusual form of foresight; she could tell what somebody would be feeling six hours later, even days later sometimes. Shiv was told that Prudence was very beautiful, but she could only feel such things in the smoothness of skin and the cleanness of body lines, the smooth play of muscle on muscle and the texture of flesh.

Now Prudence was taking on an unnatural seeming, and where before she was acclaimed for high level dramatic roles, of late she was turning heads as a new star in the horror industry, playing killers and monsters with the same degree of thoughtfulness and dramatic skill. While before her emotional control was loose, of late she had gained a definite affinity with terror, enough that she could enhance it in a chosen victim to such levels that it could cause their minds to snap.

She is a ‘beautiful monster’. Admittedly, Shiv’s perspective on ‘beautiful’ was warped at the best of times. A beautiful voice meant far more to her than perfection of shape. Prudence is an exemplar of part of what Chang is trying to do here. And she has the chance to be what I should have been from the start, without my miss-spent youth.

“Normal,” Prudence conceded. “Is there something wrong with me if I say that? She says, looking at her own heads. I mean… I feel beautiful. I can see myself, I can kiss myself. I do! And I’m a great kisser.” She let out a long, multi-voiced sigh. “Why should I be conflicted?”

Shiv tracked Prudence’s footsteps across the apartment to her bed, and heard her flop down onto it. “You tread a thin line these days, and will until you have truly found your path. It takes time when you change direction, as well I know. Teras is hard enough without realizing that you made a mistake at first and need to change your approach. Yet you seem more depressed lately.”

“My friends are less friendly.”

There it was. The real issue was the social changes she had not anticipated, the loss of friends she thought were fast, and the uncertainty which came with that discovery. Prudence was abandoning her entire identity, and rebuilding it from the ground up. Chang would have known the right thing to say. Shiv only knew that it was hard. She went through the same feelings when she left the Primacy for the Pandaimonion. Even now, years later, there were former friends who refused to speak to her and one or two who considered her an enemy of the entire Nova race. She thought that something of an over-reaction, all considered.

Shiv approached the bed. She knew where it was partly by instinct, but her own footsteps created small tremors that she could sense and use as a sort of directional sense. Additionally, she emanated systematic pulses of sound to keep a solid grip on her surroundings. Blind she might be, but her eruption and years of practice had granted her every gift she needed to deal with her disability.

“In what way are they ‘less friendly’ of late?”

Prudence sighed with three of her heads. “They keep fucking whining at me about Darion’s fucking sword,” Prudence hissed, her voice playing across her many heads, one word coming from each mouth in a flawless flow back and forth. “Fuck, I’m no thief! I’m a movie star! And they won’t leave me alone about the damn tentacles. Yes, technically, I could have grabbed the sword without stepping inside the apartment. I could have planted evidence, too. But why would I? I mean, yes I was pissed when he turned me down. Who wouldn’t be? He’s gorgeous! And he was a bitch when he did it, too. But why would I steal his damn sword? He’s still a friend. Shiv, answer me this: if Teras is all about individual expression, why am I getting so much shit? It’s not even about the sword is what bothers me. They’re going after me because I look different. It’s like we’re baselines or something. I don’t get it. Shouldn’t they be happy for me?”

“Perhaps not all expressions are born equal,” she replied mildly, well aware of the weaknesses of some of Narcosis’s hangers-on. “And not everyone we permit to call themselves Terat has the faintest understanding of what the Teragen is about. Shall we… talk about things?”

There was meaning behind that word. Prudence responded immediately. Shiv heard the tentacles emerging from her lips and reaching out for her. One snatched the jade key from her necklace and began to unlock her breasts. Others reached around behind her and began to untie her wrists. “Yes,” she said with other mouths, “let’s. I think I need a lesson.”

A shiver ran through her flesh as the strap fell away from her breasts and the scarf slipped from her wrists. She straightened up and felt her shoulders click back into their proper place. Prudence’s tendrils caressed her sides and sought out the laces and ties of her corset.

They began to talk. Even as Shiv was undressed, they discussed the philosophy of Teras, the new path Prudence was on, choices she had made which failed, ones she made which worked. They talked about old friends and new friends, about where she saw herself going and where she wanted to belong.

In time Shiv stood naked before the bed, her leather melting into a dark red mass that crept up her legs and sucked away back inside her body.

With a sigh, Shiv made her breasts swell, increasing their size dramatically. With more flesh came more options. For now she kept the shape, the fullness and softness.

Prudence began to move. Not in the normal way bodies should, but beneath the skin, rippling the tentacles which formed the basis for all her movements now. Shiv could hear them stroking against each other in the cavity inside her, pushing against the skin which contained them. They poured from her mouths and wrapped Shiv’s limbs, pulling her insistently forward, though without the strength needed to force her into action.

Shiv pressed her swollen breasts into Prudence’s wildly warping body, and sighed in delight. She could feel the tentacles writhing under her student’s skin, giving her flesh the feeling of storm-tossed waves at sea.

They still talked, and didn’t stop even as they made love. Chang taught Shiv much about how sex could be used as a teaching tool, to show a Nova in brutal fashion ways in which they were demonstrably no longer human.

It was time to pay those lessons forward.


They finished hours later, with Shiv’s breasts each larger than her body, warped into half a hundred mouths and tentacles and gripping limbs, and her attached body stretched across half the room, suspended on tentacles that penetrated deep into her and pulled her wide like a billowing sail on a ship.

Prudence’s many heads were still distinguishable, her mouths gaped inhumanly wide by the amount of tentacles that had erupted from within, her throats distorted and rippling like fleshy pipes. The rest of her, though, was a swollen bag of flesh, bubbling and rippling liquidly as her tentacles moved inside. They had duplicated once they began in earnest, and kept doing so, the mass of tentacles inside the flesh bag considerably larger than the shapely female body that contained them. Her skin never tore, but it did stretch to where she had to be unrecognizable from where she began. Shiv only had the sounds to go from, and those were alien and beautiful.

Shiv shuddered as she began to contract back to her normal shape. The tentacles slithered out of her throat and cleavage mouth and other orifices, one by one, and bit by bit she snapped back down towards her normal size. She sucked in the mass of mouths and tentacles into her tits and shrank them down, with a sound not unlike balloons twisted in hand.

Before long they were both back to normal. Prudence’s arms and breasts and heads were back in proportion, and the tentacles beneath her skin had merged again and compacted to fit inside her tiny human body. There was a degree of boyishness to her, Shiv thought. She was not curvaceous, certainly.

Shiv sat on the end of the bed, naked and pondering.

Sex always made her thoughtful. Prudence was a more… fitting lover than Chang. Shiv knew she was a lesbian, and in a far purer sense than Chang. What she did with Prudence was woman-sex, just with tentacles. And tentacles were not like cocks. Or they were, but they were not the same.

Even after all these years she felt confused.

The final clicks and cracks echoed out from Prudence’s body, and she let out a delighted groan. “That was amazing. You’ve got the greatest tits in the world, I’m sure.”

“The cleverest, no doubt,” Shiv replied. She parted her full lips and a mass of leather poured from between them, wrapped tightly around her face like a net before hardening into her bondage mask. It tightened over her eyes and trapped her flowing brown hair into a high ponytail.

“Are you okay? Did I hurt you?” Prudence sounded girlish when she said that, almost child-like. She was taking to her new path like a fish to water, but when her instincts subsided she quickly succumbed to doubts.

“I am extremely hard to hurt.” Save for where it counts. “You are a wonderful lover, and that does not seem to have changed. You appear to be more controlled than before. Your tentacles seem to have more rhythm in their movements. They’re less… writhy.”

Prudence giggled. “I work on it all the time. It feels good. Should it?”

“I have no idea. If it does then it does.” Shiv felt awkward in the role of teacher. Most of the time she tried to think ‘what would Chang say’ and then catch herself. What her mentor said bore no relation to what she said to her student. Or did it? The last time she asked Chang about it, she had been adamant in saying that Shiv needed to guide Prudence according to her own ideas. But so many of those were shaped by Chang, so how could she?

She was an exception to many rules, was Chang Zha-Yang, her Mirror Queen. Shiv bedded few men, and allowed male parts little contact with her, but Chang somehow didn’t count. Puck had his way with her once or twice, dancing on knives to get her guard down and coupling with her when the play was done. But he was a man. His bedding her was a victory for him, part of the rules of domination. If they could unlock her breasts and untie her hands, then she was theirs. Doing one was easy enough if she did not resist over much. Doing both was near-impossible without some careful negotiation.

Sometimes she could still hear the screams of men she’d swallowed and digested, or slit open or crushed or torn in two. I was so angry. Yet now she was like Chang. She loved to have her belly full and swollen, and it felt good. Now I scream with orgasm, and I can barely remember what being so angry feels like. In truth, most of her days passed in serene contentment. The clothes helped. And so did Prudence, in a way.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Prudence said, her voice still thrumming with sexual satisfaction, though now it gained a thoughtful edge. Shiv could feel and hear the Terat moving around behind her, caressing her multitude of bared breasts with five of her arms while folding the other two behind one of her heads. “I’m so good at pleasing myself, now. I worry, though. Like, maybe I’m still a Marvel at heart pretending to be a monster. Is this really monstrous?”

Shiv rose. Her large, round breasts squeezed together like pursing lips, and more leather boiled out from her cleavage. It clothed her body in her cropped corset, tightening around her belly and emphasizing her curves. The pearl necklace wrapped around her throat and the jade key came crawling up directly out of her titflesh, as if emerging from some jelly cocoon. She ran her fingers over and through her soft breasts, smiling at the sensations. Her body was suited to self-pleasure, too.

Her lips curved in a smile. “Is it our way to walk around wearing black capes, cackling at our monstrosity? Or should it be the way of others to deem us monsters, while we live out a way that is natural for us and us alone?”

Shiv’s buttocks swelled and tightened, and a mixture of leather, lace and rubber came running down her legs in a liquid slick that formed into thigh high boots, platformed and heeled.

“I love watching you dress yourself,” Prudence said dreamily. “What you said there, is that a quote?”

“From my queen,” Shiv said, very softly.

“She’s not like us, though,” Prudence said, rising from the bed. Shiv heard the soft ‘tic’ of one set of lips parting, and then the great fleshy ripple of tentacles rushing up her elongated neck and emerging from her mouth. They began to snatch up her clothes. She continued with another head. “I mean, I don’t mean any disrespect. But she’s not like us, is she?”

Shiv walked to her OpNet terminal in the corner, jinking around the table she could feel in the centre of the room. “No. Unlike us, she’s successful. Sure. Certain. Brilliant. Evolved.” All of these things and more, she thought. Chang was a beast with more tentacles even than Prudence. Grappling with ‘her’ was impossible. I hope I never meet Mal. I’ll probably humiliate myself. “Monstrousness que monstrousness isn’t our way, as Scrambler used to say.”

Prudence laughed with six heads. “You’d better not let Chang hear you say that.”

“The point is not to be ‘a monster’. It is to better understand the ways in which we are not baseline. For both of us, sex is part of that and perhaps for you more than me. Your path is not as bloody as mine. I can tell you to go forth, to consume and devour as I once did and do from time to time, but I think the only reason to do it is to be sure that it’s not in your nature. But we both know it’s not. For me,” she said, slipping into her chair at the terminal, “sex is still a scary thing. I am not quite comfortable with it. That seems a good reason to focus my attention on the area. Chang is never more monstrous than between the sheets. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with listening to her.”

“Me neither, I guess. And I have body issues, it seems, so that’s an area for me to focus on?”

“That would seem to make sense.” Shiv wondered what Prudence was sensing from her. She was rarely direct about her emotional senses and ability to foretell how they would turn over time.

“Well, I think I’ll be going,” Prudence said, rising from the bed. “Can’t avoid the harpies forever, and I better find out who the fuck stole Darion’s sword before the Terat police come and arrest me.”

Shiv chuckled softly. “The closest to a police force we have is Geryon, and trust me; James isn’t going to judge you for stealing a sword, or for unusual sexual appetites, for that matter.”


“No. Oddly, I’ve always felt that Geryon might succumb to romance if he finds the right Terat. It doesn’t emerge often, but he has a definite desire for a family one day, when his fight is over. The Pandaimonion is uniquely small-minded because of the nature of its leadership and the character of its membership. There’s a reason Narcosis is held in contempt by many other Terats,” Shiv said. Though admittedly almost everyone is held in contempt by someone, and Chang is hated more than most.

She had a feeling that Prudence sensed that little contradiction, too, but she did not vocalize it. She just said goodbye and left, after coming over to give Shiv a little kiss on the lips.

That left her thoughtful again. You’d think she was my girlfriend.

“Speakin’ o’ swords,” came a booming, deeply masculine voice from behind her, “you and me need to talk.”

Shiv started, rose and spun from the chair. She had not tied her hands yet, and flexed her claws for a moment before relaxing. “Kladach,” she said. “Hello.”

“So that’s Prudence, eh?” He said. “Seems nice, should make a better Terat than most o’ the snakes around these parts.”

Kladach was a confidante of Geryon’s, once a member of The Primacy but these days full time Vigilance. Back in the day they were friends. They did not talk anymore. She wondered how long he had been there. Invisibility had always been a favoured trick of his.

“Why are you here, Kladach?” Shiv’s tone was icy. His dismissal hurt back then. She always respected him.

He gave a rumbling sigh that sounded more like a tiger’s growl. “Because I need to talk to someone in the Pandaimonion and I’m sure as fuck not talking to Narcosis, or your ‘Mirror Queen’ for that matter. Everyone around here’s far too clever-clever. You seemed like the best option.”

“I am a servant, in a manner of speaking,” Shiv said. She could feel the dimensional pocket inside her, full of little things she was keeping handy. Without a pause she plunged a hand between her breasts, deep into her cleavage maw, and slipped from the flesh-throat into the pocket. She pulled her hand out a moment later, phone in hand. “You should speak to my queen.”

“You’re not a fucking servant, Shiv. You’re a Terat. You’re free. That’s the whole damn point.”

That made her smile. “Ah, but freedom includes the freedom to submit. And submission is so very addictive.”

Kladach made a spitting sound. “Damn, woman. Chang broke you hard. Look, put the phone away. I just want to talk to you. Or do you need to ask her permission to do that?”

Shiv placed the phone between her breasts and gulped it down, again sliding it into the pocket instead of down into her belly. “You can explain why you’re here. I can use my freedom to ignore you if the mood takes me.”

“Fine. From what I overheard, Pru’s explained this shit with Darion Mograine. Correct?”

“It is.”

“There was evidence linking the crime to me. Fingerprints on the scene, signs of forced entry, and even burn marks fitting the behaviour o’ my fire. Somebody’s in the mood to stich me up.”

Shiv could suddenly feel the heat from Kladach’s body. He always burned hotter when his moods were hot. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” she said.

“I want no part of any of this, Shiv. You tell your Queen that.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Oh, come on, Shiv! You think nobody’s watching? We all know there are some issues between her and Scrambler, and her and Narcosis and pretty much her and everybody else right now. You think I can’t see someone trying to drag me into trouble I want no part of? Vigilance is not a pawn in anybody’s game, Shiv.”

She rotated her neck. “Nor am I a puppet to be made to talk at your behest. Unless you unlock my breasts and untie my hands.”

Kladach was silent for a moment. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means that you’re being disrespectful,” she said, her voice low and quiet and dangerous, “and you know I don’t like it when men are disrespectful to me.”

That earned a little cackle. “I wouldn’t go there, Shiv. You know me better than that. I don’t mean anything like that.”

“Yes you do. You disrespect my queen, my choices, my path, my pursuit of evolution. Which is kind of funny, given your choices, path and pursuit have led you and yours to destruction. The more I think about it, the more I feel like a rat that got away from the ship before it sank.” The words were intended to needle.

They did.

Kladach lurched forward and tried to grab her by the throat. But he had always been stronger than he was fast, and he seemed to believe she had grown weaker in her time away from The Primacy.

Shiv arched backwards, stretched her buttocks out into a pair of supporting tendrils, and then used them to pirouette around as if on a rotary table. Her claws tensed, surged and ripped out of her fingers. She whipped round fast, her hands flickered up and she felt her claws bite flesh as his arm past overhead.

He struck down at her, but she angled sideways onto one foot, spun again and leapt, spinning over Kladach’s arm. Again her hands flicker-flashed, she landed, leapt and flipped away from him, then landed on one knee. Her tendrils retracted and tightened into her buttocks.

Kladach paused. “Did you just… Oh.”

Shiv heard the flesh slide off his arm from wrist to elbow. It sloughed to the floor with a wet slapping sound. She raised her hand, and smiled.

“Oh, it’s on now.”

She heard a sound like gas igniting, and felt the heat that rolled off Kladach’s body in waves. “You’re going to set my apartment on fire.”

“You can get another one, bitch!” And then he swung for her.

Their fight was fought at a Nova pace. Shiv turned, twisted, leapt and spun, demonstrating balletic prowess she had begun to show shortly before abandoning The Primacy. She had transformed her fighting style. Once it had been brutal and straightforward, but now it was a dance and a thing of beauty. She struck to flense and flay, not to gut and eviscerate. Those were gory flourishes for a defeated foe or for moments of true desperation.

Kladach burned and pulsed with heat and threw jackhammer punches, roaring like a buffalo. His was the fury of inferno, he was massive and powerful. Shiv perforated him a dozen times before he made a solid connection, but when he did the blow knocked her through the wall of her apartment, across the street and through another wall.

As masonry came pouring down around her, Shiv rose, her hands burning from contact with Kladach’s body, bones and body reknitting swiftly. Pain was real. She called her fighting style Death’s Illusion. The real was nothing. Or so the spirit went.

Kladach tried to wrap her in his burning embrace, but Shiv leapt upwards and stuck her claws in the ceiling. She performed an aerial split, warped her buttocks into stabbing tendrils and impaled Kladach in both hands. He cried out, but as she retracted the tendrils he wrapped his fist around one and dashed her to the floor.

The foundations buckled. Shiv felt his fire burning all around her now, the room was ablaze. If she needed to breathe the smoke would be killing her now. She punched the ground with such force that it pushed her onto her feet.

“You’re hurt,” Kladach snarled. “Wanna quit?”

Shiv grimaced. “I heal faster than you. How’s the arm?”

“Hurts like hell.”

“Oh good. You’ll love what’s coming up next. When we’re done here, you’re going to Chang.”

Kladach laughed. “Am I, now?”

“A defeated warrior should give a request to his conqueror.” He had a code of honour. He would acquiesce to that.

“Fair enough. And when I beat you, you’ll go to her on my behalf.”

Shiv grinned. “Oh good,” she said. “Now you’ve agreed, I don’t need to play anymore.”

Quantum surged through Shiv’s body. Her muscles tensed and swelled, her shoulders gave a sharp crack and a second pair of arms emerged, new fingers exploring the air even as they hardened into claws that cut tank armour like air. Her buttocks stretched out into a third pair of arms, similarly clawed.

“Huh,” Kladach said. “You got new tricks.”

“And you’re about to get your ass kicked… by a girl’s ass.”


Their fight ended in the sewers, after Shiv dodged a desperate charge from him and at the same time cut a rift in the street. Even Kladach’s fighting spirit diminished a little after a dunk in Ibiza’s sewers.

By then he was missing all the skin from his right arm, the tendons were cut all down his left leg, and she had artfully emasculated him. None were wounds that could kill, but they were agonizing. That was the central idea of Death’s Illusion. Wounds and cuts made to inflict the most pain imaginable, not to kill.

Shiv was left with burns across half her body, over a dozen broken bones and several missing teeth. But she could walk without hobbling, and her womanhood was intact. Kladach decided to admit defeat before they went too far, and finally acquiesced to go to Chang directly.

Both of them went their separate ways in the sewers, avoiding the authorities who would surely want to know which two Novas tore up half of two buildings, burned one to the ground and ripped a twenty foot chunk out of the street, and why.

Shiv retreated to one of the safe houses she maintained in Ibiza. My pianos, was her first thought once the adrenaline stopped flowing. My music.

Two hours after the battle, she sat and meditated on her recent days, while her body restructured and regenerated itself. She let the wounds heal slowly, to feel the pain. Kladach’s fire hurt more than mortal fire ought to. It burned like acid, roasted flesh like crackling, boiled fluids, ate down to the bones and toasted the marrow.

But pain meant nothing to Shiv. She had honed her resistance to pain years ago, and her flesh could reknit almost as fast as it were cut when she wished it. That had come with Chang, with the leather and silk and the fetish-wear. She felt more like herself now than she ever did before.

The safehouse was another apartment, two-room, bare and featureless. Just a place to hide if Utopia came knocking, if everything went wrong. In truth it was a holdover from her Primacy days.

A strange trickling sound caught her ear, and Shiv partly turned her head towards it. There was then a wet splat from the direction of her bathroom, followed by a series of twisting, creaking sounds.

“Hello, Lucrezia,” Shiv said.

“Did you succeed?” Lucrezia opened the door and stepped through into the room.

“He will go to her, yes.”

“I saw that the two of you indulged in a bit of redecorating. I’m not sure fire goes well with your furnishings, though.”

Shiv retracted her claws. They let out a soft wet scrape on their way back in, and she felt them softening and dissolving into the core of her fingers. “I trust I’ll be refurnished.”

“Oh, to say the least,” Lucrezia said. “I have a next step for you.”


“I need you to start bandying the word ‘Anavasi’ around, just like you did for our queen.”

Shiv swelled and warped her buttocks to push herself to her feet and then squeezed them back in. “What game are you playing now?”

“The same game I’ve always been playing, Shiv. I should have thought that was obvious.”

“Nothing is obvious when dealing with you. I distrust this visit from Kladach. It feels like you.”

Lucrezia approached, and traced her fingers over Shiv’s breasts. Her touch was burning pleasure, and the kiss she placed on Shiv’s lips left her quivering. “It feels that good, hmm?” Lucrezia’s voice was pure seduction.

Shiv sucked Lucrezia’s hands into her breasts, softening the flesh to jelly, and wrapped her hand into the Terat’s hair. She tugged, and earned an excited gasp. “I could tear out your throat.”

“Yes,” Lucrezia whispered, fearless, “and it might be I want you to.”

“What do you mean?”

“It doesn’t matter. You’ll find out when it becomes important. I trust that you aren’t about to engage in an exciting sexual game and want me to give you some answers?”

“That would be correct.”

“You could just ask you know.”

“We both know you find this more exciting,” Shiv said, smiling, and suckling on Lucrezia’s hands with her breasts.

“Guilty as charged. Let’s just say I had reason to believe Kladach would pop in on you before long. You have prior history, after all. Kladach is a good and dear friend of Mr. Booth, and once our queen convinces him that she has no idea of what’s going on and that she has nothing to do with the whole business, the word will go to Geryon from someone he trusts and they’ll naturally assume this was an attempt to turn them against her. Narcosis is naturally bitchy and doesn’t have Chang’s ability to be believed, everyone assumes she’s deceitful even when she’s being honest. Especially when she’s being honest, in fact, because the only reason she would ever tell the truth is because it serves her ends better than a lie. In contrast, even Chang’s detractors admit she’s honest, and that’s a quality that Geryon admires in her, even if he disagrees with her politics. In total, this will work in Chang’s favour when she goes to him for help, whenever she gets round to it. In the meantime, Geryon will rightly go to Narcosis and be cross at her. This will have a few convenient knock-on effects. Is that sufficient explanation for you?”

Shiv released Lucrezia’s hands and set her back on her feet. She put her hands behind her back. A leather strap whipped out from her cleavage, coiled about her chest like a snake and then settled across her nipples, with the attached padlock on the right. The white silken scarf emerged next and crept down her right arm like a snake before whipping around both her arms and tying them tight together. She let out a soft sigh, and then said, “It’ll do.”

She sat down, back arched. Properly bound, her spirits calmed. The anger seemed more distant than ever, and the fight with Kladach was old news that might have happened to some other person. She felt closer to chrysalis than ever. Somewhere in the fight, it had hardened in her quantum signature. It was right when she realized that she was fighting without hate. Not even an iota of it. Her words aped the form of her old rage, but none of it was reflected in her thoughts. And she fought well, with skill and precision. Maybe I can enter chrysalis soon, she thought.

Lucrezia sat down beside her. “I’m sorry your apartment got destroyed. I’ll make sure your pianos are replaced. Prudence is worried. She came to me in a panic. I calmed her down, and she’s talking with Chang right now.”

Shiv paused, feeling a momentary flutter. “I… appreciate that. About the pianos, I mean.”

“Of course. What else could you be referring to?” Lucrezia’s tone was mild, conversational, gently poking fun.

“The Anavasi, is it?” Shiv ran the word over her tongue. It sounded good. “What are you plotting next?”

Lucrezia kissed her on the ear. “You’ll find out. Or you won’t. But you’ll benefit either way. You’re precious to me, Shiv, and even more precious to Chang. So don’t worry. Everything I do, I do for you. It’ll all be better soon. I promise.”

“I wonder,” Shiv said. “Sometimes I doubt your sincerity.”

“Don’t. I’m really quite easy to understand, even if the details of my plans are not.”

Shiv cricked her neck left and then right. A few small bone-like chips were sliding back into place. Shiv had a skeleton, sure enough, but it was not made of bone. She had no internal organs, and her bones were flexible beyond logical measure. Even her nervous system worked differently. “Really?”

“Have you ever loved someone so much that you would die for them?”


“Can you imagine it?”

She shook her head. “No. Honestly, I’ve never really understood how love is meant to work for Terats. We are focused on our individual evolution to the sacrifice of all else. Should you not discard her at the first sign of drifting apart? And you have, oh you have. How do you love each other?”

Lucrezia’s answering laugh was warm and playful. “You’ve tasted her cock the same as me. How can I not?

Shiv’s fingers flexed. She could feel the claws just beneath the skin. It was a hard reminder. “Chang is… very special, yes. It is more than sex you want from her.”

“Yes,” Lucrezia said. “Of course, you’re starting to learn what that feels like, too. For all of the rhetoric, all the talk of individualism, we learn a lot from one another, and most of all from those we love. If you want to understand me, Shiv, you’ll need to understand love. And you know what? I think that might be what gets you into chrysalis in the end.”

Shiv turned towards her. “Do you, now?”

“Oh yes. Because you’ve become so hard and so mixed up that you don’t even understand how it works anymore. But I know you better, and always did.”

There was something unsaid in Lucrezia’s tone, something that put Shiv on edge. But after a few moments, she knew, she knew what the Terat was getting at. And oddly, it did not make her angry. “Prudence,” she whispered.

Lucrezia rose. “Well, who else to help the woman who doesn’t understand love than a woman desperately seeking it who has an intuitive understanding of emotions?”

Shiv felt and heard her walking away, back towards the bathroom. She would leave through the drains. A smile slowly spread across Shiv’s lips. “Thank you.”

There was a pause. “No problem. You’ve been… a good friend. And I mean that honestly. You know me and what I do, but you never seem to care. You remind me a little of Chang that way.”

“And when you decided to play matchmaker, you chose someone kind. Why?”

“Because I want you both to be happy, the way I am. Believe me, I spent a long while picking the right student for you. I want you to enter chrysalis, Shiv. I want you to evolve. You are so beautiful, and a walking proof that Chang is not wrong. That’s why I wanted your lips to make the Mirror Queen. And that’s why I want your lips to forge the Anavasi. In a very real sense, it all begins with you.”

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Darrik 14th May

An intense look of focus was on Darrik's face, as he worked to finish off this carving that he'd visualized in a bit of chance inspiration. At Puck's suggestion, Darrik had begun to practice and expand his efforts into the different and physical spheres of artwork, and today, well, a chance remark about Lucrezia's predilection for different schemes and hidden plots had resounded when he perused the OpNet for inspiration.

Games Workshop was still going strong, even if the primary line of wargames that made money for them were eyed towards the allure and might of novas. But, the dedicated minority that supported Warhammer Fantasy and 40,000 ensured there was money to be gained from them, and thus the games still existed to be supported.

And there was something to be said for the symbolic similarity between Tzeentchian daemons and Lucrezia's talents. So Darrik had occupied a section of Puck's personal workshop for the past several hours since before dawn, shaping the pine to his exact detailed vision. The pine wood by now was well and magnificently carved into the statuette he'd wanted... now Darrik tapped and stroked with a brush to add proper color to the image.

It was almost finished- he paused, feeling a slight push of air currents. "Can I help you?" He inquired from where he sat.

"There's a visitor who'd like to see you soon." Marielle's voice came from behind Darrik. She was a dark-haired woman in her very early 30s, a poor ghetto Latina who'd come to the conclusion she'd needed to get out of her rut, and thus had applied successfully to Exalt! as well as divorcing her ineffective husband with the aid of the organization.

Incidentally, like the grand majority of the women in Exalt!, she'd taken well to Darrik and more than certainly desired the intimate attentions of the supernova-handsome male. Given that she was making great strides in painting, Darrik was considering such a reward for her hard work- she did have a nicely curvaceous figure and extra pert flesh in the right places.

"Just a dab on the eyes," Darrik responded, doing so, and looked on it with satisfaction at his production. "Done. I should let the paint dry anyway." He got up, and followed Marielle to his destination, though amusingly, the natural seductive little sway to his walk seemed to draw Marielle's eyes more than actually trying to make sure they were headed the right way.

But eventually they came to the doorway of a private meeting room, unintended detours at a minimum...

Masterpiece Carving
Having purchased Arts and Artistic Genius with XP...

Megas first 3...

Artistic Genius Roll:

Jeremy *rolls* 10d10: 5+10+10+9+3+6+10+7+4+4: 68

Popping Clever Quality

Jeremy *rolls* 1d10: 6: 6

9 sux there to be added onto the main Arts roll:

Jeremy *rolls* 12d10: 1+8+3+6+6+8+4+9+1+7+9+9: 71

Total Arts sux: 9+7= 16 sux.

The carving is ironically of Lucrezia, combining her image with that as a sort of Lord of Change from Warhammer 40k. Rather good, I would say, a definite masterpiece.

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Marielle gave him a shy smile and opened the door for Darrik.

Inside the meeting room was a simple white table and two chairs, with a beautiful painting of a bamboo forest on one wall. It was one of Chang’s, almost realer than real and detailed to a level even Nova painters struggled to match.

Marielle slipped into the chair on the other side of the table, smiled, and changed. She rippled and filled out even more, growing a touch less prominent in the bosom but more in the backside, her features became Caucasian and her long hair shortened to shoulder length. She took on a look of pure Nova beauty, far beyond human conceptions and possibility, and her flawless lips curved in a welcoming smile.

Lucrezia still wore Marielle’s clothes, though now she strained against them in places and they were loose in others. “Hello, Darrik. Nice carving. Though my arse is much better in the flesh, don’t you think?”

He frowned at her. “Lucrezia? Where’s Marielle?”

“She’s me and has been all along. I created her whole cloth a few months ago, with a little assistance of a friend of mine to play my oh-so awful husband. It’s quite funny, really. He’s gay and I’m bi. No wonder the marriage fell apart!” She chuckled. “I’m sure Puck will be annoyed when he finds out but hopefully by then this shape and persona will be of no further use to me. Please, take a seat. We need to talk. The small error I’ve arranged in the camera systems won’t last forever and I don’t want anybody to know I’m here right now.”

Darrik looked uneasy, but Lucrezia gestured for him to sit, and he did. “What’s this about?”

“Treachery. What else, when I’m involved? I need to ask you a question or two. First and most important, how good are you at detecting truths from lies? Don’t worry I don’t hold any of this against you,” she said, gesturing at her ill-fitting clothes. “I’m exceptionally good at pretending to be someone I’m not. The person or persons you’ll be looking for almost certainly aren’t unless they’ve sicced Turncoat on us, but he’s Orzais’s pet and I’ll be stunned if he’s involved. And if you feel you need to ask me any questions, best to get them off your chest quickly. Like I said, we don’t have a terrible amount of time.”

She relaxed. Darrik’s reputation seemed to suggest he’d be perfect for what she had in mind. But did he have the will and the way? It was time to find out.

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Darrik settled down and smiled back at Lucrezia, quickly forgiving her for the role she'd played. "Well, all I will say on the note of Marielle, is that you were about to get a small reward for being so hard-working with the painting." He chuckled lightly, alluding to how Lucrezia considered men to be pitifully endowed in comparison to Chang. Then his expression became more serious as he focused to business. "A traitor in our ranks? In answer to your question, I'll say 'Very good.' As for my own questions, what did they do? And for you, do you mind telling me the whole story?"

He raised a placating hand. "You're hardly lying in the least manner, but I can hear the subtle concealment in your voice. There's more motives behind having me find the spy or sell-out than just the identification, isn't there?"

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My, my. Seems the rumours about the kids are more than that. God knows what their other siblings are like. Between listening to Darrik’s conversations, Coraline’s visit, and a few interactions she had seen at the Rainbow Room, Lucrezia was forming a picture of their little family. They were staying in the shadows for the most part, probably for safety. But it didn’t contribute anything to her trusting of Darrik or his motives for joining the Teragen. It could be a coincidence that two siblings of the same family happened to be courting her at once… or they might have their own agenda. She was inclined towards the latter.

“I do mind, as a matter of fact. Yes I have some oblique intentions behind using you in this regard, but I’ll keep those to myself. A plan unexplained is a plan that can’t be betrayed. In fact I’m specifically approaching you because you’re new and – by all measures and sense – you seem to be profoundly and unfairly powerful. Inexperienced, true, but a good kisser,” she winked. “Consider this your chance to pull one for the team.”

Darrik nodded. “For Chang, right?”

“Well, she’s a team in and of herself, isn’t she? You’re her student. I figured I could rely on you for this much.”

“What exactly do you want, then?”

She had suspected Darrik was a grifter from the moment she saw him, but he didn’t seem like a mega brain. There was no way he could piece together exactly what was going on, and she intended to keep it that way for the time being. “There’s somebody inside the Pandaimonion who’s spying on Chang and putting out information, most likely to The Primacy but maybe to Vigilance. I want you to find out who they are, and tell me. Only me. Not Chang, not Puck, not anyone in your family, just me. Keep it to yourself, as well.”

Via Clarity, Darrik is going to know that Lucrezia is intending to use this both as a test of loyalty for him, and the information itself as a weapon, presumably against whoever the spy works for.

Having beat her on the manipulation roll, Darrik’s going to realize that Lucrezia already knows who it is and has done for a long time.

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Hmm... true words, Lucrezia, if it weren't for the fact that I don't need to hear it explained to know what it is... or at least, roughly what you have planned her for me. Darrik of course, had no such intentions of betraying Chang, or any sort of subversion, but grifters never really trusted one another, did they? Of course, if he passed the loyalty test with flying colors, would Lucrezia raise her suspicions instead of lowering them?

Well, best he proceed as if the thought that Lucrezia knew nothing of the spy was the truth of the matter. "Understood," he confidently stated. "I guess I'd best get cracking."

Darrik 15th May

The problem with determining how to find the spy, was, how would they get the secret's from Chang's Inner Circle? Or to be more precise- how would you find out who talked to The Alchemist when she'd committed another suicide and was filming it on the OpNet for art? Inconvenient, and Darrik's aesthetics never ran towards the necrotic.

Not to suggest Cindi had intentionally betrayed Chang, but as Darrik had reason to deduce, she was heavily influenced most when on a downer and desirous of willing consoling company. And no doubt a spy with the right abilities could ensure he or she had wind of the right information without being considered prying.

It had taken him this long though, in order to be able to spend some sit-down time with Darion in the Rainbow Room, discussing the OpNet video and how it had come on the end of a depressed period for the Alchemist. "Strange, though," Darion had commented, "that Trae was there to comfort her, or so Cindi said."

A name and lead, which Darion casually- or calculatedly, in the event he was aware of the investigation within Chang's faction- identified to be a nominal member, a psychic with some grifter talents, more connected to Narcosis' favorites. There were other caring novas who'd spent time with The Alchemist, but Trae was...

Most interesting and flagging as a suspect, which heightened the likelihood of being Darrik's quarry when later on, Darrik spied him dancing on the floor with Lameea, in a fashion attributable to close friends. Given the verbal smack-downs upon the snake-woman by Puck and Chang, a strong motive had been established.

Next step, was to handle an innocuous way of getting a conversation with the two, effected by simply heading onto the dance floor and letting the pair gravitate towards him. After a bit of the trio's athletics activities, Darrik pondered, as if curious: "I'm surprised you've been dancing this long with me. I thought you'd still be holding a grudge over the... conversation with my mentor."

Lameea looked a little taken aback, focused as she was on the fact that Darrik was someone she wanted to bed far more than that he was indeed Chang's student. But Trae, gratifyingly, smiled politely and shook his head. "It's something we were upset about. But time has smoothed things over and we've put it behind us."

Liar. Darrik let nothing but the carefully overlaid desire on his face show, while he ruminated on the petty retaliation of Trae. You haven't put it behind you, at least not until after you found something with which to pass onto her enemies that would hurt Chang. Whatever it was, you were going for some measure of blood, all for the rejection of a one-night stand and a lecture on 'What Goes Around Comes Around.'

Bored of this, her mind on other things, Lameea brushed in closer and began to move her coils around Darrik, lascivious eyes hooded to lure him and and advertise her lust. "Not tonight, unfortunately." Darrik stated, stepping back with an apologetic expression- though inside he was anything but.

Once he was away, and hopefully away from prying eyes as best one might be, Darrik tapped out a message to 'Marielle' on her Exalt! OpNet address. A message that, though suggestive in language, conveyed really nothing more than the wish to meet. And Lucrezia would really know what it was about.

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PUCK 16th May

Being ‘Marielle’ had been informative. Useful, too, but informative more than anything, and Lucrezia was reminded again of how little use most shapeshifters made of their gifts.

It had been one of those discussions which spun around back when she first met Chang. Even then she was intense, focused, and seemingly obsessed about using her gifts ‘appropriately’. The Lucrezia of years gone by was an altogether less ambitious and less glorious creature. She slipped between shapes at will, yes, but only spent minutes or the bare minimum of time needed to get the job done.

Chang always talked about ‘experiencing’, as the truly super-perceptive tended to. I suppose the new me began back then, she thought, sitting at her desk in the Exalt! building and reading Darrik’s message. And good riddance to the old one methinks. Chang never looked back with disdain, and rarely even admitted to regrets, but Lucrezia did. She had been nothing more than a pathetic hanger-on for Narcosis before being approached to find Chang and bring her home to the Teragen. Talking with the future elder, sharing her bed, and staying with her through her long chrysalis changed Lucrezia forever.

Darrik was a quick worker by the looks of things. That could be good. The important point was that she now had time-stamped and dated evidence of him acting against Narcosis and The Primacy. She could not be sure who would side with Chang when the split came, but she would make it agony for anyone who betrayed her, and incentivise them all to stay.

Her copies were all over the world, now, boarding planes and ships, walking the streets of a dozen different cities and attending events all over Ibiza. The nature of the Teragen meant its members were all over the world. Even Chang’s closest confidantes frequently left Ibiza. Shiv remained in Ibiza constantly because she was a wanted criminal in multiple parts of the world. Almost every other member was frequently busy elsewhere. Meh’Lindi often left the Bar and Grill to baseline management, locked up her lair and went out to do field research, sometimes in very remote locations which took her away from her fellows for months. Most of the rest were in all corners of the globe on media events or working on artistic endeavours. Or at least, they would be without a guiding hand to keep them in one place.

Lucrezia had been preparing for this for a long time, and with a little difficulty had insured that projects were either postponed or completely fell through where it might have dragged Chang’s inner circle away from Ibiza. She needed them to be there to set the groundwork. She could pop in on all the isolated others and ensure the call was heard.

She was being pushed to her limit. It felt good. Lucrezia had added to her growing chrysalis several times already. I wonder if I’ll be ready to join her soon… She wanted that, so much. To be Chang’s equal in Teras, not her student-wife.

‘Marielle’ rose from her seat and left her room. It was time to set the next part of the scheme in motion.

She asked a few people where Puck was and ignored them when they said he was busy upstairs. This he would want to hear. He might be with his sister, but Lucrezia felt she would be fine around Eden. The girl was timid, not troublesome. Besides, she knew ‘Marielle’, and wasn’t likely to comprehend the nature of the deception. Puck would, of course, but he would also understand her reasons. Overall she felt more certain of Puck than any other periphery Nova, which was good, because he had a vital role to play.

Lucrezia reached the top floor and knocked on Puck’s door.

“Who is it?” He sounded as relaxed and comfortable as a Nova ever could, but he usually did these days.

“Marielle,” Lucrezia said.

“Oh, great,” he said, and she heard him approach. Then the door opened, and he grinned at her. “What’s up? You’re not having any more trouble with the family, are you?”

So to speak… “No, it’s fine. Can I come in?”

“By all means,” he said, and poked the door open.

She walked across the room, allowing her body language to shift out of the persona she created and return to her own natural seductive gait. By the time Lucrezia turned and sat down, Puck was already frowning. After a moment or two, he nodded. “Oh.”

Lucrezia flowed back into her natural shape, the one he knew best and which she felt most attached to. She leaned elegantly on the table beside her. “Hello, Puck.”

Puck held up a finger, headed across the room and closed the other door firmly. “Just making sure Eden doesn’t hear anything. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“You know, I’m hearing that far too often these days,” Lucrezia said, her tone mock-peevish. “You’d think I was some sort of herald of the apocalypse.”

Puck was studying her now, frowning. “I’m guessing Marielle’s an assumed identity?”

“I infiltrated Exalt!, yes.”


“Long story. In part to show I could. You may want to consider having a good hard look through your membership soon,” Lucrezia said. “If one of me’s here, you can bet someone else has a deep cover agent in the group soon. Maybe even Turncoat. There’s a lot of eyes on you now, Puck, even more than before. I don’t think I need to say why, hmm? But that’s not the real reason why. I needed to get close to you without anyone realizing I had. Don’t push too hard, the less you know the better for all concerned. So before I go on into gritty details, I need to ask you a couple of things. The first and second are: did you know that Scrambler attacked Chang recently, and do you know what Chang has been working on over the past month or so?”

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Puck pressed his hands together and gave a shallow nod. "I'd heard there was some altercation with Scrambler, but Chang was fine so I didn't much care. I've been...working to keep a bit more of an eye on him, though. He has a tendency to try to destroy anything or anyone associated with her...." His protectiveness of Exalt! was obvious enough to need no verbal explication. "As for what Chang's been doing...I've noticed some purchases and that she's been hanging out with the Japanese fertility nova...uh, Konohanasakuyahime, I think her name is?"

His eyes were unreadable to Lucrezia, an unsettling change from the nova child she had enjoyed playing with only a few months ago. "I would assume that she's creating something akin to a second Nursery, though I don't honestly understand why. Or at least why she hasn't enlisted Scripture and Bounty's help. Scrambler wouldn't have dared to touch her with their backing." The basics of what his mentor had been up to hadn't been hard for him to piece together, not since his Apotheosis, but what and how weren't why and on that account he was obviously still puzzled.

He waited for any more questions, watching Lucrezia with a deep, steady gaze that was a touch disturbing in its stillness. This was a side of Puck that very few had yet seen since his Apotheosis and hinted at the power and depth that the barely three years old being had acquired in so short a time. She fought the urge to shiver under that look.

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My, he’s gone and grown up, hasn’t he? She wondered how much longer he would be with her. The change in Puck was startling, and the waves of power rolling off him were chilling in their intensity. There was nothing playful in his eyes now, though she imagined that might have something to do with her infiltration of his beloved Exalt! Or maybe he knew already and did nothing about it.

Lucrezia knew people underestimated her intellect. She often played stripper and whore, and those were roles most Novas looked on with no more enlightenment than baselines did. Maybe Puck felt that way about her, now. It didn’t bother her much. Before her chrysalis it had, and she felt terribly inferior to her wife, but a Nova never made it into chrysalis without coming to terms with their nature and comprehending it. And Lucrezia had made Novas with minds fifty times greater than hers dance like puppets on a string. Given a choice, she would rather be underestimated any time.

She shifted, a little uncomfortable under his gaze. He was slamming down all the walls to keep her from getting a read from him. That was awkward. Better to play things close to her chest for a little while longer. There was too much at stake to be careless. Lucrezia knew he could probably pick up on all of this and maybe more. Chang could read a ridiculous amount of information out of mere glances at someone’s posture, and there was no reason to believe Puck could not do the same or even better. Chang, after all, was not a ‘people person’.

A mischievous smile crossed Lucrezia’s face. “Why, Puck, I should have thought that much was obvious. She doesn’t trust Scripture or Bounty.”

Puck’s expression didn’t shift one iota. He probably knew that already. He’s turning into one of those Novas. Well, maybe he can get Pedro to start talking again. I’m sure he could do with a friend.

Lucrezia sighed. “At least, she doesn’t trust Scripture. You’re right, though. Chang’s making something we’re referring to as a crèche. You may be able to figure out her reasons yourself. If not,” she shrugged, “you can ask her. They’re not really important. What is important is whether or not you’re willing to help her succeed. Scrambler’s influential in The Primacy, and as you’re well aware he loathes my wife. You are uniquely in a position to take some of the heat off, if you’re willing. She’ll never ask you herself, of course. Asking for help is one of the things Chang does very badly, and she considers it impolite to inconvenience other people with her problems. I’m not so hampered.”

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Puck blinked in a moment of entirely unguarded shock and surprise. "She doesn't trust Scripture?" He blinked several more times, looking utterly baffled. "Why?"

Lucrezia shrugged, "Ask her yourself."

Puck frowned and nodded, "I will."

There was an unsteady silence in the room for several long minutes as Puck thought things out. When he spoke, it was with a careful clarity. "I don't mind helping distract Scrambler. He's a thug and a bastard and I'm pretty much up for anything that pisses him off. And I know she's not asking." He gave his mentor's wife a look, "I'd be curious enough to ask even she even knows, but the point is rather moot. She knows you and she married you; she can decide if she doesn't like your schemes on her own, but she hasn't stopped you so far."

"As for the creche...." he shrugged, still looking a little confused. "It seems redundant, but if it's something she wants to do...." He sighed. "Another secure place for nova children to grow up doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. The Nursery is...I don't know why she would think there was a need for somewhere else, but that's her decision. Belief." He ran a hand through his hair, his particular little nervous tic, "I'm willing to help with Scrambler, and if she needs specific things for this creche...then lets just take that on a case-by-case basis. I've be thinking about what to do with nova children with Exalt! nova parents that aren't Terats. Darrik's lovers, they're not Terats and he'll be a father of three not too many months from now. I asked what their plans were for the children, after a quiet explanation that the Teragen had a safe place for nova children, but....well, Gwen and Agatha don't want to be separated from their infants. Which means we need to figure something out within Exalt!."

His expression darkened for a moment and he closed his eyes, reigning in some strong emotion before continuing, "We've instituted mandatory parenting courses for any pregnant or current parent in Exalt! and...eh, you probably either already know about the plans or don't care. Anyways, case by case on this 'creche', and I want to ask her about her distrust of Scripture first."

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It was gratifying, and a little relaxing, to see and hear a touch of the old Puck. He was still the same boy at heart, just smarter, and more beautiful, and more magnificent by far. But her trust did not rise up, and her defences did not drop.

You’ve grown too much, Puck, she thought, a little sadly. Nothing can be the same again. Now you’re an ally, an equal and a peer… and a potential enemy.

Not yet, though. She supposed much would ride on two little words. I will, she thought, echoing Puck’s words. And what answers might Chang give you? Lucrezia put that out of her mind for now, though. She had more than enough to think about as it stood.

“Chang doesn’t know what I’m up to and it’s better that it stays that way. Some of what I’ve set in motion hinges upon her honesty, and she cannot give the correct answers if she is aware of my activities. And of course I know about your planned parenthood plans. Being Marielle has been very informative.” She winked. “I feel it’s worth warning you about those plans. You know how dangerous the issue of Nova children is, and also how deadly the games of Novas are for baselines. Your not-cultists will suffer badly if you aren’t careful, and if there’s much of the old Puck in you…” she gave an apologetic smile. “Well, you always did seem to leap before you looked. These people love you, and they’ll follow you to the grave. No need to give them an unintentional push, hmm? You know as well as I do how destructive our enemies can be when it comes to preventing Novas from breeding. Hell, that's why the Nursery was put together in the first place, wasn't it?”

Puck ran his hand through his hair again. “I can take care of my people, thanks.”

“And if you need help doing so, maybe I can offer some. These things are always give and take, after all.” Mandatory parenting courses, she thought. I wonder if your sister has something to do with those? Brute was a frequent topic of conversation throughout Exalt!, and Lucrezia had managed to pick up some interesting facts about her by listening to them and to the titbits Chang let slip. “Now, to business, as it were. If you’re willing?”

“Sure thing,” Puck said. He was all business now. “I’ll keep what you said in mind.”

“You have a history with The Primacy and The Harvesters,” Lucrezia said. “I want you to piss them off. You’ve always ignored them before, but I’d like you to, uh, retaliate a little. I wouldn’t dare suggest a means; it’s quite up to you. Just keep ramping up the pressure on them. If their attention is getting split between you and Chang, she’ll be able to complete her goals easily enough. Does that sound reasonable?”

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Puck, 16th May, 2027

Puck grinned at Lucrezia. "No, but I'll do it anyways," he quipped. "I'll leave 'Marielle' on the membership list, if you want. An unofficial channel for you to contact me. And I you're right, I do need to tighten up on security. I'm working on something already. Hopefully I'll have it ready to go by June. Please let Chang know I'd like to talk to her as soon as she has the time, about Scripture and this creche."

Lucrezia nodded and then slipped out of the room and building. Well, let's see what he can do. I really hope I don't have to kill him some day.


17th May, 2027

Puck had thought very carefully after Lucrezia had left on just what to do. There were several easy options of action that would piss off both the Harvesters and the Primacy, but most of those would also catch much of the rest of the Teragen, and Puck wanted to keep the friends he had there. When he finally put all the pieces together for a Goodfellow-worthy plan, about twenty minutes later, he grinned in glee and started making calls. By the end of the next day he had six Nippontai members, two dozen well-known municipal defenders and a score of DeVries Elites lined up, and an appointment with Marissa Clairmont, the PR director for Utopia stationed in New York. Marissa was a Greek-descended nova that had erupted while touring Greece with her high-school choir; she'd been with Utopia for almost eight years now and had been dubbed Aletheia after her appointment to PR director by a journalist that thought she was terribly clever. It had stuck not because most people had any idea what the name meant, but because it sounded Greek and pretty. The raven-haired nova had accepted the moniker with grace, but still primarily went by her baseline name.

Her office was a study in classic minimalism and her dress was prim to the point that Puck was fairly certain she didn't get laid nearly as often as she should. She smiled at him, tension in every line of her posture as she resisted the conflicting urges to order the Terat out of her office or to drag him on to her desk and do several career-ending and possibly illegal activities for the next several hours. Focus, Marissa. You're a nova, you're a high-ranking member of Utopia. He's a Terat and up to something.

Puck smiled pleasantly and asked blandly, "So, what do you think? Is Utopia interested in participating in the charity gala? It seems quite in line with the organization's ideals and certainly a wonderful opportunity to help baselines harmed by nova actions. Not to mention making wonderful soundbites for N! news for the next several weeks."

Marissa clasped her hands in front of her on the desk and watched him closely. He wasn't lying, she could tell that, and he hadn't shift an iota of quantum since he'd entered the building. Not that he needs to. Look at him. Why don't we have more on him? It's like he just popped out of the universe whole-cloth less than a year ago. "I think the idea is lovely," she replied neutrally.

After a heartbeat of silence, Puck allowed his smile to slip into a grin. "But you're wondering why the evil Terat would want to host an event for baselines, most specifically baselines that have been themselves or their family members harmed by novas when there's a good chance that it was other Terats that did the harming?"

She blinked. Well, that was....direct. "Uh, well, yes."

He leaned forward, mirroring her with his own hands just inches from her, "Well, there are a number of reason, like with most things. First, those people could use help. Novas can hurt baselines just by being careless; we're utterly devastating when we decide to deliberately hurt others. And generally being assholes about it." He let her take that in for half a second before moving on, "Second, I run and participate in a public organization that has an unfortunate PR problem with a bunch of loons on the other side of Central Park, so good PR is an asset I'd like to cultivate. As would Nippontai, DeVries, and several dozen cities that would like to show off their municipal defenders and attract tourism dollars. Third," he leaned back, "unlike Utopia, the Teragen are not an organization built on a corporate or military model. We are a confederate of individuals that share a basic philosophy, not a static hierarchy, and I personally think those that run around acting like baselines are chew-toys are immature and probably mentally imbalanced gits. There are always consequences to actions, and this event will show that a diverse and powerful group of novas are willing to stand together, despite ideological and professional differences, to assist those victims. Hopefully they'll take the implication that more than charity gala could be organized if they continue or escalate their behaviour."

"So, Mr. Puck-"

"Just Puck, please."

"Fine." She took a breath and started again, "Puck. You want me to believe that you, a professed member of an organization know for menacing baselines, ignoring the rule of law, and committing acts of terror across the world, that you want to host a charity gala to raise money and support for baseline victims out of the goodness of your heart? And you want Utopia to have a presence at this event because....?"

He shrugged, "It seemed like something you guys would be interested in. I mean, it's not like having you or some other representatives is going to make or break the event. It's just a friendly invitation. As for the goodness of my heart, I'm sure you have some file here somewhere on Exalt!, including membership files." He held up a hand, "Don't insult us both by denying it. It would make you look incompetent if you didn't, and I'm neither naive nor paranoid enough to care. There are a number of Exalt! members that have suffered at the hands of novas or the collateral damage they've caused. We're giants in a playground made of paper and glass, Aletheia. Even those of use that can't bring down a building with a single blow or blast apart entire city blocks with some quantum-fueled bolt of whatever."

Marissa blinked and tried to put this man together with the files of Teragen 'incidents', where entire families had been eaten in Ottawa, Kansas in a three-night terror spree of something calling itself the Devourer, or the village in the mountains of northern California where a Terat by the name of Aqua Mortis had flooded each individual building and drown the entire 2,000 population settlement despite open windows and doors. The water only drained once Nil had disrupted the quantum energies in the area. Marissa still had nightmares from the pictures of the bodies laid out, with so many small figures under white cloths, so many tiny coffins to be made.... She blinked, bringing herself back to the meeting and the room, hoping that he hadn't caught her wandering attention. "You seem very...different...from your...associates, Mr- uh, Puck."

"We're all different," he said simply, catching her maudlin shift in mood if not the details of what had caused it. "Look, I have my reasons for doing this. You've heard a number of them, and there are a number of others that don't really matter or are personal. I've jumped through your hoops for this meeting because the more novas that attend, the more money raised and the more people helped. That should be a good enough reason to agree." He stood up, his clothes falling into perfect lines, "And if that's not enough, then sell it to your superiors as a way to get a look inside Exalt! with an official invitation and to make sure the event and the money goes exactly as I've promised it would."

She stood and brushed out the wrinkles of her own clothes in an unconsciously self-conscious manner. "I'll...consider it, Puck." She swallowed and nodded, "I'll see if anyone wishes to volunteer. If there are enough responses to merit an official presence, then I'll send word to you."

He nodded, "By tomorrow, if you can. The gala will be next Monday, so we'll need the final list of participants as soon as possible." He held out a hand and shook hers, keeping his expression as neutral as possible as the poor woman nearly swooned from the touch. "Thank you, Aletheia. I do hope you'll consider participating. It'll be fun. I promise."


Very early morning, 25th May, 2027

The hate mail had started almost immediately after the afternoon press release on Tuesday that announced the event, and Puck had tightened security on the building just in case. All members were moved to the building, and applicants had had several floors set aside for them until after Puck assessed just how strongly the Primacy and the Harvesters were going to react to his little party. Scrambler specifically was a right bastard and Puck wouldn't put much past him. And the Harvesters....well, were Harvesters. Beautiful and monstrous and very very dangerous.

His other project was almost ready to go, too. The first group was almost there, he could feel it, and if it worked....well, Exalt! would never be the same. The world might never be the same, if they kept growing like they were. Wouldn't that be something?

So far the night had been perfect on each point:

  1. Piss off the Primacy by auctioning off novas as companions for an evening for a baseline-focused charity.
  2. Piss of the Harvesters by targeting families and communities that were favorite hunting/sporting grounds of the faction.
  3. Piss them both off by involving four different factions of (as Rhea had dubbed them) whore-novas, novas that hired themselves out to baselines for money or whatever.
  4. Avoid pissing off the other factions by steering clear of Panda, Casa, Vigilance, Children of Teras territories, while extending polite invitations to any members that wanted to participate and would abide by the rules of evening for their baseline bidders for the few that had decided to come play and participate in the auction.
  5. Generate some good PR for Exalt! and reinforce the idea of the 'open door' policy on applying for membership, hopefully countering some of the Supplicant's attempts to be unwanted and sociopathic gatekeepers.
  6. Cement relations with Nippontai to help with Exalt! Japan.
  7. Throw a party!

He'd been delighted to see Aletheia leading the wedge of Utopian novas as they made their way through the party with a mix of nervous belligerence and utter bewilderment at the open and friendly reception by Exalt! members and Puck in particular. The media had been like little kids in a candy store where everything was marked 'free'; articles had started flying around the 'net after only the first twenty minutes of the gala, and by the time the actual auction began the entire block had been mobbed by baselines hoping to catch even a glimpse of a favorite nova or find some unattended back door into the party. Security had been like a game of Pac Man (so Peter Fars, one of the security personnel had told him, and then insisted that they sit down and find a sim of the ancient game once the party was over when Puck just blinked blankly at him), chasing off clever baselines and herding stray Utopian and DeVries guests back to the party areas. The Nippontai members were too polite to get caught snooping around and the MD's seemed to actually just be there for the party and to raise money for a good cause. All in all, Puck had had a great time and ended up raising several billion dollars in one night from invitation donations and the auction itself. He'd ended up bought for the evening by a brother and sister that were heirs to a multinational agritech empire and were quite...liberated...in their social mores. He'd kept them out of the bedroom by sheer force of will and a mantra that bought for the evening or not, he was still the host of the party and would be missed if he ducked out for several hours. That and a promise to take the two on a proper evening out later, given their eye-popping winning bid.

I should do this more often. It really was a hoot.... Perhaps as an annual event? It did raise an astounding amount of money. Even the couple of Terats that decided to come play seemed to have a good time and no one got eaten or turned into a drooling idiot. Well, intentionally on the latter.

He had had to clear out Supplicants from the crowds - discretely, of course - and had quietly taken Jeramiah out of the building himself early on in the evening, but still. All in all, the evening was winding down into everything Lucrezia had asked for as well as several other cherries on top for himself and Exalt!. It was almost two in the morning now and the crowds were just intoxicated and tired enough to be on the edge of snippy and unhappy morning-after pics floating over the net, so he gathered everyone back to the Grand Salon and hopped up onto stage, champaign flute of fresh sparkling cider in had.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you! This has been a wonderful evening and your generous donations will change the lives of so many individuals and families that have been in need and pain for so long!" He clapped for them, careful to keep his glass from spilling, and grinned as the applause caught on. "One last toast, one last dance, and then bonne nuit, my guests, until the next time!"

Glasses were pulled from trays or refilled from the bottles and elegant punch bowls spread around the room while he spoke, and finely dressed men and women raised them in unison. "To good deeds and bon amies!" The crowd murmured and shouted and slurred their assent, and drank. Puck downed his own glass of amber liquid in one gulp and a slow warmth spread through his body. That isn't right, he thought as the lights in the room seemed to grow impossibly bright and then dim fuzzily. There wasn't any alcohol...his thoughts dimmed just as much and he blinked, trying to take a step but instead pitching forward unsteadily and falling off the front of the stage as the leaden weight of his useless limbs pulled him to the floor. He could faintly hear the cries of alarm, the people rushing forward as he tried to move; he caught the dark curls and worried face of Aletheia kneeling down in front of him, calling his name - and then blackness.

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THE ALCHEMIST 18th May - 1 week earlier

It was nothing but thought, swimming in a sea of sensations. Scents mixed into the feeling of silk on skin, the touch of lover’s hands and a rage of lights, a symphony of sounds. There was no transition, no logic or sense to the progression of input. One moment it tasted cinnamon and cloves, the next it listened to the wind and the waves at sea.

There was peace here, in this place of not-quite memory and not-quite truth. It recognized sensations, but did not know from whence they came. An ecstatic scream echoed through its world, but all it had a feeling for were full black-painted lips, and no conception of the person they belonged to.

Sometimes there was light.

This was no mundane illumination, however. Rather the light was a pulsing heartbeat that defied any description of colour or character. It was only describable in terms of things it was not. It was not bright, nor was it dim, nor was it warm nor was it blue nor white nor green. Perhaps it was not light at all.

Of course, to say ‘sometimes there was light’ suggested there was time. But even that came and went. It sometimes knew that moments passed, and could measure the passage of sensations and not-images. Occasionally it was able to understand the shift of seconds by the presence or lack of the not-light.

At some point in the timeless flow of impressions, order began to impose itself. Sensations had a definite progression to them. It was not a logical progression, but it was there, shaped by awareness of the concept of ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Then came something approaching identity, beginning with the awareness that the light was a concept of light, an artistic rendering of quantum forces in the heart of her being, and with the understanding of gender came a much more rounded comprehension.

She thought she spent a day drifting. It was hard to tell. Her consciousness was still patchy. Her grip of time and place slipped several times, and she plunged back into being ‘It’. Genderless, close to mindless, just a raw existence planed of details.

Light – mundane light – penetrated into her world.

The Alchemist opened her eyes.

Her perceptions were supernaturally sharp, and the sudden clarity of input was like a razor slicing through her brain. Discomfort flooded through her, along with the scent of old blood, the soft reek of rot and wet clothes. She could hear mechanics ticking over, and feel the cold steel that penetrated her body.

Six spears pinned her to the wall. One had been punched through each wrist, one through each ankle, one through her stomach and a final one right through her throat. That one was really uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, she moved, and let out a soft crackling sound, a wheezy death rattle that was born from her first broken and ragged breath. It was a sound of death that signified the first stirrings of life.

Directly across from her, built into the wall, was her OpNet terminal. The camera on the top watched her coldly. She could see herself in an inlaid box on the screen, beautiful and maimed, her naked flesh washed dull red with old blood. Other boxes showed comment feeds from various websites.

She felt her Node pulsing in the back of her mind, and began to channel quantum through her body. Warmth filled her limbs, and she felt the flesh and bones softening. Her eyes tightened and she magnified her vision in on the OpNet screen, to study the comments. They had gone into apoplexy, with shouts of ‘zombie!’ and moral complaints through to people singing her praises and making lewd jokes. Some comments were from her fellow witches, welcoming her back from the place beyond.

The Alchemist stretched her right arm a little, bending her arm impossibly, and slid the limb off the spear. The wound closed up almost instantly. She coiled her arm around in the air like a snake, then pulled her other arm off and did the same before knitting the two together into a double helix above her head.

She gripped the spear in her throat with both hands and yanked it out of the wall and her throat. The Alchemist was stronger than she looked. It was effortless to do this, even though the spear had been driven several feet into the wall behind her.

For a few moments she let her throat gape open, before allowing her body to heal the wound. “Oh,” she said, and her rich, honeyed tones were unmarred.

Her movements were exaggerated, slow, like movements of a play, and each one suggested meaning which might or might not be there. Next she removed the spear from her belly and tossed it aside. Then she stretched her arms upward and gripped the main lighting fixture, before kicking both of her legs off the spears and landing on her feet without even the hint of a pause.

She walked towards the OpNet camera, until her blood-spotted face was filling the screen, her shining eyes, like orbs of liquid crystal, stared deep into the eyes of whoever was watching. Slowly, she smiled.

The Alchemist looked at the rolling counter at the bottom corner of the screen. She wiped blood away from the corner of her mouth. “This has been The Alchemist, turning lead to gold and death to life since two thousand nine,” her smile became a grin. “Live.

She tapped the screen over the flashing button that said ‘disconnect’.

Her feed had been live for seven days, meaning her corpse had lain undisturbed for that long. She ran a hand through her dark hair, and marvelled at how it could remain so silken and soft after that time, even though it always did.

She felt a little disjointed, in truth. Returning from death was always bracing. Things were so different when she was dead. Slowly she slipped into the chair at her terminal and rubbed her eyes. There was a throbbing just behind them, a bit like a migraine. As a baseline she used to get a lot of those.

The Alchemist rolled her neck, then turned it right round two hundred and seventy degrees and stroked it, feeling the twists in the flesh. “It’s good to be back,” she said.

Looking around again, she laced her fingers and cracked her knuckles, then set to typing on the virtual keyboard. The comment threads were still going ballistic over what they just saw. Plenty of people were complaining and saying the stream should have been shut down, and they were turning into an argument about all sorts of things from her being nude to the graphic nature of her death a week ago.

She brought up the recording of the stream which her terminal had been recording, and ran it from the start. The opening was classic horror stuff, working with the angles offered by the fixed-perspective camera to suggest without showing as she moved around the room oblivious, before disappearing from the screen only for a dark figure to go past the camera. It was an hour later when she shrieked off-screen, was dragged into view by her hair and then impaled on the wall through her stomach.

“Bet they didn’t see that coming,” she thought. The Alchemist advertised the event as a simple live stream open to anyone who wanted to come and watch. She had no real timing for the attack. It was meant to be a surprise. Killing her – as usual – was difficult. Even the spear through the throat didn’t finish her off immediately. The Alchemist remembered fading slowly out over an hour, waiting, waiting, waiting.

She missed Hwangsin. That was the OpNet handle of the Nova serial killer who could finish her off with ease and with artistic skill. Those were good deaths. Without him it was back to suicide, which was becoming an increasingly elaborate arrangement. Back in the day she could hang herself when she needed a rest, but now hanging was just plain boring. She tried hanging herself with a long rope and jumping off the Eiffel tower, but her neck just stretched until her feet touched the ground. And she hadn’t intended it too, either. Thanks for that, Chang, she thought, with a mix of fondness and annoyance. Just watch, I’ll come out of chrysalis invincible. Won’t that be a pain in the arse?

Chang. Her Horned God, given flesh.

More than a Nova or a woman or an artist, Chang filled her mind like a concept, a beautiful caress to every artistic desire and spiritual instinct she possessed. Sometimes Chang felt like an incarnation of the Horned God, other times Diana, and often she felt like an expression of other, unnamed spiritual existences. There was desire, too. Lucrezia wasn’t the only Nova who could enjoy the pleasures Chang had to offer.

“Alive for twenty minutes and I’m horny already.” Chang was special that way. She made The Alchemist yearn the way few other people did. That was why she thought of her as an external representation of the Horned God. There were more beautiful Novas for sure, and way more seductive. But there was something more to Chang, and that was the soft link to the spiritual world inside The Alchemist’s soul.

She hit pause on the playback and rose from her chair to look around the room.

It had been set out normally. A simple two room apartment, this one was the bedroom and living area, with the attached bathroom off through an open doorway. The alcove with her altar was built into the wall on the right of the bed. Not that anyone would know that from the OpNet feed, of course. The furnishings were bland enough, all modern domestic niceness, lacking the sort of gothic styling she preferred in her own dwellings. For one thing, this room had strip lights, where she stuck to good old candles in her mansions. Some people, even other Terats, though she was being pretentious, but they probably didn’t realize that she could see perfectly in the dark. Most modern lights were horrible, designed to murder shadows and light at an annoying brightness. Candle flames, though, were warm and alive and beautiful, they cast unique shadows of their own. Every one of them was a little journey.

Okay, maybe a little pretentious, she thought, but it was a joyful thought. She would rather be pretentious than boring any day.

In the struggle which led to her murder there had been some damage done. A table was smashed to splinters where she had been slammed through it, there was a bloody smear on the wall where she went into it face-first and a lovely head-shaped dent, and a patchy blood trail on the floor leading up to where she was speared and pinned. The bed had not been damaged, though, which she found a bit odd. It was quite bare, with no covers, really just a mattress on top of the frame. It was there to control movement when the attack happened, and for no other reason.

“Clean up time,” she said, and rubbed her hands together. She was going to regret this.

The Alchemist pursed her lips, and sucked.

Quantum surged, and her suction gained strength, rapidly growing into a wind tunnel. The dried blood began to lift from the floor and the walls, the pieces of wall and table all swirled up and disappeared into her mouth and down her throat.

It only took a few moments to leave the room spotless of all the trash and ruined junk. But she gagged on the taste of old blood. “Oh, god. Well that didn’t work,” she said. Before she died she had tried to remove some of the chemicals from her blood in an effort to make it stink less and taste better over time. That little project had just been bumped back onto her drawing board.

She rubbed her belly. It was a little rounded now. That felt good. The Alchemist relaxed for a while, just enjoying that feeling of being just pleasantly full, reminding herself of another great thing to live for. Then she flooded her stomach with quantum and melted all the wood and metal trash down into what she generally thought of as ‘primordial glop’. No, not soup, but glop. She’d seen the stuff and run it through her fingers. It was way too thick to be soup, and she doubted it would taste good with onion. She liked onion soup.

The Alchemist considered for a few moments, and then converted the mass into brandy. She pumped that up into her breasts. She was not a busty woman normally, her figure quite slender without being elegant. This let her fix that for a while at least. There was enough brandy to add a couple of cup sizes.

She headed through into her bathroom, stretching one arm ahead to turn on the shower. One of her nipples lengthened and coiled up into her mouth, and she sucked down brandy as she might from a straw, shivering with the completely intentional pleasure of the action. In polite society she usually opened a vein and bled whatever drink was needed, but around her friends or alone… this was just better. Chang taught her that. Why not have pleasure, when you could have it and lose nothing? Not that she needed much teaching. Life had always been a blazing mix of joy and sadness for her, pleasure and pain. Her emotions twisted like leaves on the wind. Death always brought her back on a high.

The Alchemist cleaned off and washed the taste of old death from her mouth. Brandy was a bit of an old man’s drink, but she didn’t feel like wine. Bit too vampiric, really. White wine might have worked, though.

She turned the shower up as hot as it would go and luxuriated in it blazing off her skin, breaking up and washing away the blood. Soon the water ran red around her feet, and she soaped herself up. There was no need to wash her hair, but she did anyway, just because she liked showers and always had. There was something sensual about the feeling of the water pouring down over her, and it had the advantage of being warm. She appreciated rain for its natural beauty, of course, but it wasn’t as much fun as a shower. Except in the right circumstances, of course, where it could be a lot of fun indeed. There was that one time with Chang…

The Alchemist kept washing her body, but stretched out both her nipples, and put them to work easing the tension mounting in her thighs.


Fifteen minutes later she emerged from the bathroom as naked as she went in, with her neck stretched serpentine as she sucked up all the excess water from her skin and body, leaving her dry as a bone. She did get a bit of saliva in her hair while ‘drying’ it, though.

She flicked her nipples over to the wardrobe built into the wall and pulled a clean eufiber dress over to her. She distorted and stretched her limbs and torso to slide into it rather than dress conventionally, and slithered across the floor into her OpNet chair to get back to watching the playback. At the same time she opened up hit data for the Opsite to see how traffic dipped and shifted.

Unsurprisingly, it spiked dramatically in the twenty four hours following her death. After that things normalized and then decreased steadily over the next forty eight hours. All there was to see was a dead woman on a wall, after all. She was willing to guess that her coven made up a good part of the constant traffic.

But then Snow turned up. This was the real key to what they did here. She was as beautiful as ever, with her multi-coloured hair and vivid red and black shirt, and as great a performer as ever, too. “God,” she said, in a perfect imitation of a pouty, irritated teenager, “what a mess.”

And so she began to act out a ‘normal’ life, going back and forth across the camera. OpNet traffic spiked. The Alchemist giggled. She stretched her arm across the room to her wardrobe again and found her silver hand lattice. It was a roughly glove-shaped framework, latched onto a silver disk that was placed in the centre of the palm. Silver threads wrapped the fingers, and a single finger claw tipped her index finger. Most people just thought it a pretty little bit of jewellery. Most people didn’t know it was the single most expensive thing she owned, and cost over five billion yen in total research. Her takings from nine movies almost exclusively went to funding the creation of this lattice.

She drew the claw over the wrist of her left hand, felt it cleave the flesh as easily as it might cut through water, and raised her hand overhead. She swiftly broke down and recombined the makeup of her blood, and even as it came spilling from the cut it formed into red wine that poured into her mouth in a little flood. It was a good vintage, ‘aged’ to be over a century old, rich and fragrant, a delight to her tongue.

The cut closed up after a moment or two, leaving a trickle of wine-blood on the skin, which she licked up while fast forwarding through the footage.

Snow’s appearance and presence made a huge difference. The Alchemist had established her as a star in her movies over the last couple of years, and in fact Snow had appeared in every one of her productions over that time, at least in a guest-starring role. She had also been the model in a half dozen photo shoots. They were very much partners in crime.

Traffic stabilized at a high note, with millions of viewers in every country in the world. Snow was typically brilliant. She acted as if The Alchemist was some peculiar wall-hanging. At one point she actually pretended to find a chair – though actually just stretched her legs so she was taller – and dusted her with a feather duster. In fairness, she did look a bit cleaner afterwards, a real beautiful corpse, on display for the entire world to see.

“That’s fucking brilliant.” The Alchemist grinned and opened up another window so she could check her OpNet accounts. Unsurprisingly there was a build-up of messages. There always was. “For fuck’s sake, guys, why do you wait until I’m dead to send me messages? Do I look like Jesus?”

She wondered sometimes if Jesus of Nazareth – assuming he was a real divine entity – was pissed that people waited until he’d been dead for several hundred years before clogging his inbox up with requests for guidance. Or maybe heaven was the equivalent of God’s e-mail server and being dead was just the smartest career move. For her part, she had never felt the stirrings of that divinity, though there were several he could be an expression of.

Snow came and went, the door was heard to open and close. Traffic tended to stay high even when she wasn’t there. A full day went by without a single thing happening. Oddly, traffic was at a constant high in that time.

About two days ago, Snow appeared again. She was in her ‘ghost girl’ shape, her hair black, her eyes white, with a strip of masking tape across her lips. She just stared into the camera, still as death, occasionally altering the angle of her face, like a bird studying something. This went on for an hour, and The Alchemist was rapt through all of it. There was terror in that dead gaze, a feeling of creeping dread, as if the girl could see her and was studying her. And over her shoulder there was The Alchemist’s corpse, pinned to the wall, framed just so, as if to remind the viewer of what awaited them. There was another viewer spike over that hour.

This shape of Snow’s was a representation of Ereshkigal, death goddess and queen of the underworld. The Alchemist made the connection explicit in ‘Doorway’ the movie which used that shape in the starring role, but only fellow Wiccans picked up on the metaphor both in the ‘monster’ and in the plotline. Snow knew all that, of course, but she mostly wore the shape because she really liked it. She was no Wiccan, and had too much respect for The Alchemist’s faith to pretend.

The Alchemist fast forwarded after that, and stretched one hand over her shoulder and down her back to rub herself between the shoulder blades. That helped relax her some. Snow was really chilling in that form, as she ought to be. She appeared several times after her ghosting, usually in normal, girlish shape, doing as she was told. She moved around the room ignoring The Alchemist completely, once even brought home a lover who was never quite seen and had noisy sex on camera, with her bouncing enthusiastically atop him, long blond hair flying.

Bet the boys all got off to that, she thought, grinning.

The Alchemist was pleased. She wanted to do more than just die this time, and Snow really helped her do that. The occasional appearance of ‘ghost Snow’ helped make, if not a coherent artistic statement, then make a mood and an impression that she hoped would last for the many, many people who had either watched the whole cast or at least recorded it.

“Wonder how long it’ll take before I get sued,” she murmured. Then she stretched her arms out and began to gather some materials and her Book of Shadows and Book of Mirrors, both of them hidden away in a wall cupboard. Not quite a religious text, the Book of Shadows was rather a gathering of spells that she had found to work over the years. The Book of Mirrors, on the other hand, was a collection of her thoughts, feelings and experiences, and how she felt Novas played into the Wiccan godhead pantheon from various angles along with how being one affected her own faith. The answer had been ‘not at all’, but even most Wiccans were doubtful of that. Being a Nova just made her a bit happier, and through Teras she was learning more about herself every day.

Her book was one of the least ostentatious parts of her life, bound with black leather and inscribed with runes, and locked with two engraved iron clasps, it certainly looked impressive. But inside the pages were white and fresh, not the usual faded faux-parchment that one might have expected, nor did she use some of the old tricks to look awesome, by falling back on archaic language and bizarre fonts. She always figured that writing a spell down in a book guarantees that sooner or later someone will read it, and probably try it themselves. If she was writing down a spell designed to bless the foundations of a new house or banish the pain from a place of suffering, the last damn thing she wanted to do was to make the steps so hard to understand that the actual ritual would end up intensifying it. By her own reading, the Threefold Law would bite her in the ass for that.

After getting everything together and putting on her collar and pentacle necklace, The Alchemist reactivated her stream. It only took split seconds to connect.

She set up the beginnings of a spell, drawing the larger pentacle on the floor and setting up the necessary ritual equipment, though the apple she chose was a little off after a week in the cupboard. She hoped that wouldn’t mess the spell up. Biting her lip, she bobbed her head side to side, considering. “Fuck it.”

With a surge of quantum, The Alchemist reknitted her blood into a rejuvenating agent that had been used in agriculture for a few years. It was partly experimental but all the reports on it were good. She had to spend a lot of money to get the formula for that. None of her research had revealed how they made it. Then she slit her wrist and poured the thick, pink stuff out of the cut onto the apple. It began to be absorbed immediately, and she set the apple on a stand in the centre of the pentacle. In an hour or so it would be a little more vital.

Fortunately changing her clothes – all of them spun from natural materials, not eufiber – and making all the remaining preparations for the ritual took about that long. By the time she was done, the apple looked a little healthier. She licked it, and her vastly developed sense of taste detected the changes, the restoration of its flavour and health. Hope it’s not an illusion. That’ll fuck the spell up good and proper. In other circumstances she would go out and buy another one, but she had to use materials from inside the room for this, which was why she bought in everything she would need before getting things rolling.

When she went back to her computer there was a massive spike in her stream, and she saw in the chat a lot of greetings from her coven. The Alchemist smiled. She was now dressed in a pale blue robe, girdled at the waist by a length of rope with leathern pouches hanging from it. The only things remaining from her usual dress were the silver hand brace, her collar, and the pentacle necklace, though the latter would have been worn as part of the ritual anyway.

“Hi, guys. I just want to make a couple of announcements for the coven before I finish things up.” She picked up her book of shadows. “This is my book of shadows. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the spells I use lately, and I know I’ve been a bit mysterious in my answers.” She grinned as the comments flicked by, many of them faithful and kind, others kind and funny, referencing how she had strung them along for years. “Yeah I know. I’ve always been worried that you might take too much of this as wrote, because I’m a Nova, but hey, time to let you decide for yourselves. The usual warning stands. These are my spells, my rituals. That doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. None of them are based on quantum trickery, though, so there’s no exact reason why not. I’m currently working on converting the contents into a transferrable OpNet file, and I’ll make that available to download when it’s done.”

New comments flashed up, so many and so fast that only her vastly enhanced mental processes allowed her to read and process them all. She nodded. “Yeah, I might make my Book of Mirrors available, too. The thing is it doesn’t actually contain much you won’t have read already.” She waited for a few more comments. “No, most of my essays and philosophical writings are based on what I’ve wrote in there. Yeah. Well, I’ve got a hell of a lot written in there about being dead. But you’ve all read Nightmare/Dream, right? Ninety per cent of Nightmare/Dream is just a better edited version of what I wrote in my Book of Mirrors. And the rest of my book is me either being incredibly depressed about politics, poetry to memorialize things, or going ‘yay, Novadom is awesome’ which I think creates a lot of negativity for baselines, Wiccan or otherwise. I mean, we’re still people, and my life experience is of a notably higher quality than most of you. So, I’m not completely certain about that. To be honest if I do convert my Book of Mirrors, I suggest that all of you perform a ritual to banish negative feelings before reading it. Just to be safe. Speaking of which,” she said. “I am about to take a risk.”

She laughed out loud at some of the responses to that comment. “No, Tristan55, it does not involve an exploding semi-truck. This is a far bigger risk. I’m about to perform a ritual to banish any negative emotions remaining in this place after my resurrection, and hopefully that’ll help people see it for what it was rather than what they think it is. However, my version of the cleansing spell involves an apple. My apple has been in a cupboard for a week and it’s looking a bit bad. However, I have to use things from my environment. Accordingly, I’ve used a bit of the Pink Avenger, otherwise known as the very sayable compound three-two-seven-six-five. Utopia – blegh – used a lot of it in Ethiopia.” She crossed her fingers. “I don’t think that using this will damage its essential appleness, but I guess we’re about to find out. I have to do the ritual, and I have to do it now. So, I’d like you all to wish me luck on this one, I’m going to do it live. If any of you want to do a supporting ritual to help me bind this, say now and I’ll give you half an hour to get set up so we can go in unison.”

It warmed her heart to see the number of people who said they would.

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An hour later, The Alchemist finally left the room of her death and resurrection. It was always good to get back in touch with her coven. She had added a few lines of poetry to her Book of Mirrors after all the rituals were done. Later she would have a proper sit down with it and write properly. For now her head was still a little fuzzy.

The spell seemed to go well, though. Most of it was about enhancing the apple’s natural energies via the other ritual objects. She felt a definite energy in the air when she stabbed the apple with her ritual knife and cut it open, and not the sort of black, dread energy she sometimes felt in graveyards or old, angry places of stone and steel. An apple stood for a lot of things, but knowledge and new life were the two strongest, and she wanted people to see the last week with wiser eyes than she knew many of them would. Her coven knew, though, and they mattered more than the rest of the baseline masses. Half of them saw the word ‘Terat’ and assumed it also intrinsically meant ‘Terrorist’.

Her door opened out onto a concrete tunnel, and the door at the end of that opened onto a perfectly normal living room, well-equipped for comfort. There was a massive TV, several games consoles, a large bookshelf, and two separate OpNet Terminals. Snow mostly lived with The Alchemist though she did have her own places to stay when she wanted to.

Snow was watching TV from the couch but talking to Trae, who was lounging about in a chair in the corner. “Ob, you know. Polyamory, triads, partner-swap, and variants depending on individual quirks or possibilities opened up by powers. I just find these ideas interesting. Baselines can almost never make them work but we ought to. We’re meant to be better. Everyone’s so quick to measure ‘better’ by the size of the apocalyptic wasteland we can leave behind if we lose our temper. Why can’t we be better in the depth and breadth of our love for one another?” She turned and beamed up at The Alchemist as she entered. “Oh, hey Cyndi. How’s life?”

Her head still felt a little fogged. She blinked against the lights. They were flaring oddly. That happened at times. “Suits me as well as ever, hon. So what’s this you’re talking about?”

Trae raised his shaggy blond head and waved. “Snow’s going all hippy on us. Been reading again.”

“Don’t I always?” Snow replied.

She did. Many Novas had developed ways to absorb information quicker. Some could drain it right out of a computer and convert the patterns into wave forms that fit on the map of their brain. Some could gain the knowledge from a book by simply looking at it. Snow took a more… straightforward approach to the matter. She could just read fast. Very, very fast. She could finish a standardized novel inside a minute, reading so quickly that it seemed she was just riffling the pages. They all figured she would have read every book ever written inside a few years. She could read something around fourteen million words in an hour, and even faster when she pushed herself. This had the bizarre result of her being one of the best educated Novas in the world despite her apparent youth.

“I think it sounds nice,” The Alchemist said mildly, sliding onto the couch beside Snow and kissing her on the crown of her head. “So who you thinking of getting polyamorous with?” The TV was turned to the N! Network, currently showing a special on the rise of the Teragen, mixed with an opinion piece on the organization’s wide-ranging influence in society. A boxout in the corner said they would be re-running the interview segment between Chang and Count Orzais in an hour.

Snow shrugged. “Whoever, I guess. I’ve got to find other open-minded Terats who interest me before I say for sure. Chang and Lucrezia seem like a good place to start. They might be married but it’s no conventional marriage. They always make encouraging noises when I talk about this stuff with them so why not?”

Why not, indeed? The Alchemist stroked Snow’s hair. It was glorious to look at, a cascade of colour going from the roots outward, blue, purple, red, yellow and purple again, chest length and tied in place by a collar around her neck which pinned it flat before it flared out below. Wish I had that sort of gall.

She had loved Chang from afar for years. Most likely she knew about it. The Mirror Queen was like that. Nine times out of ten when people came to tell her things she already heard it from a random conversation they had an hour ago on the other side of the island. Oh she didn’t say that she knew, she was polite and courteous and usually thanked them for the information unless in a particularly awkward mood. The Alchemist knew better, though. She was one of Chang’s oldest students, and over time had grown very familiar with Chang’s oddities.

Chang rarely made a fuss about what she knew, of course. She just quietly went about her way. The Alchemist often told herself she was a much better fit for a wife than Lucrezia. She was a much better artist, for sure. When Chang got into hardcore muse talk, Lucrezia usually went quiet. The Alchemist didn’t. They spoke the same language, though their choices of expression were different. She worked best with tech, Chang worked best with music and her hands. But they connected there, in that maddening instinct to create, that feeling of being itchy under the skin until they let their feelings out in some concrete form. If there was one power she wished she could express but had yet to, it was one that would allow her to take photographs without needing a camera. Maybe if I could somehow photograph it on my skin and just peel it off, she mused.

Over the years Chang sent the odd signal her way, but The Alchemist wondered if it was wishful thinking. Seeing her with Lucrezia, and the look in her eyes, always made her doubt that she could ever love another woman. Maybe I can get Chang alone and talk about us this time round, she thought, but knew she probably wouldn’t. The sex was still good, and Chang was free enough with it. Maybe if Snow got this Polyamory thing going The Alchemist could slip in like a ninja and nobody would notice.

Trae and Snow were arguing, as it turned out. They often did. Trae had a conservative aspect to his politics. Snow was interested in pretty much everything and entertained even the wildest ideas. They probably disagreed frequently on the colour of the sky.

Still, the talk got her thinking. Maybe it was being a bit selfish to go hunting for monogamy. Both Chang and Lucrezia seemed big on sharing. Or maybe they thought about it some other way, and what she saw as a monogamous love was something other. Both were elevated Terats, moving rapidly away from even the shared experiences of Novas towards some new form of existence. Neither of them shared their innermost thoughts, either, save with each other. Lucrezia often seemed to but was just pretending in order to steal trust, and Chang… well, sometimes it seemed like she preferred to share nothing at all beyond philosophy talk, like emotions didn’t matter to her all that much. The Alchemist never doubted that she loved her dear Mirror Queen, but nonetheless there were many things which motivated her to hold her tongue.

One of those things was her firm belief in the Law of Threefold Return, and her uncertainty over whether expressing her feelings for Chang would be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ action. Under the law, one’s actions came back on them in equal measure on the levels of mind, body, and spirit. The Alchemist had felt its workings and seen them all around her, throughout her own life and in the short, bloody history of The Teragen. If expressing her feelings to Chang was good, then she’d be in for some sort of reward. If bad… well, some people thought Lucrezia was harmless. The Alchemist was not one of those people. It felt like there was so much both to lose and gain by telling Chang how she felt, and in the end, she supposed she was just too scared of how she might respond. And the Threefold Law was a terrifying prospect for her. As far as anybody could tell she was truly immortal, dying and reincarnating in a self-replicating cycle, quite possibly until the end of time whether anyone wanted that or not. That was a hell of a long time to suffer consequences on her mind, body and spirit if she royally fucked up other people’s lives. It wasn’t as if someone getting angry and killing her would help. She would just get better.

That was an issue, too. One of the darkest results of the Threefolk Law was the potential death of the witch in question. She would reincarnate with a – more or less – clean slate, having suffered her consequences. Rage was usually expended with the death of its object. But she broke that fundamental emotional truth. She was like a weeble. She wobbled but she never fell down. Someone angry with her could never expend their rage, instead creating a self-replicating cycle, with The Alchemist returning from death to taunt them over and over again. Being a Nova had changed that crucial Law forever. And hurting the object of one’s love – itself important in the faith – was a terrible crime. Many interpretations of the Threefold Law – hers included – suggested that the level of negative return could indeed result in the death of the witch.

In the end, The Alchemist supposed it was another way she talked her way out of taking the plunge. But it was a good and valid one that could not be ignored. Few Novas took her seriously when she talked about it, though. They trucked out the usual bullshit about ‘human religions’ and ‘needing to grow beyond it’. Yeah, tell that to Jeremiah fucking Scripture and Divis Mal. Angel boy and Jesus, if you look at the painting. If Divis fucking Mal was going to steal Christian iconography, anybody who thought Novas were too cool for Wicca needed a reality check.

“Anyway,” Snow was saying to another of Trae’s objections, “it’s not like I’m stuck on anything. I’d be as happy to see if I could get them to wife swap. But I don’t think that’s appropriate with Chang and Lucrezia since you could only swap Chang. I just think we should try. Give love a chance. That jazz.”

“I’ll let Geryon know,” Trae said. “A lot of us still get freaked out by the fact you’re sixteen you know. You’re jailbait.”

“I’m not fucking sixteen!” Snow hissed, and threw a truly murderous look at him. “I’m at least twenty six. I just look sixteen. And so fucking what? We’re Novas, aren’t we? What exactly is ‘underage’ for us?”

Trae held up his hands defensively. “Just saying, is all.”

“No way are you getting off with that, Trae. Puck’s two and he spends half his time in bed with someone or another. And you’re suggesting I’m underage?”

“Three,” The Alchemist said blithely, watching the TV. They were talking about Terats in the media now, and how they always differed in opinions when asked about the nature of the Teragen up until about ten years ago, when things became a little more consistent.

“Yeah but he looks more… mature than you.”

“Whatev.” Snow refocused on the TV, shaking slightly. Her temper had never been good and she hated to be called a child.

The Alchemist coughed a little. The lights were looking fine again. Death’s haze was fading from her mind, and all the little joys of life were slipping back into her skin. “Ah, arguments. The proof I’m a Terat.”

The doorbell went. “I’ll get it,” Trae said.

Snow leaned in and lay against The Alchemist. “Glad you’re back again, Cyndi.”

“Me too, hon,” The Alchemist said, and continued to stroke her hair. “You did a good job murdering me, by the way.”

“Oh, thanks. I asked Darion for tips. He was all technical and stuff. It’s pretty easy to get myself into that mind-set now. Being a serial killer is easy,” she said. Her tone was bright and relaxed.

There came a little explosion of voices from down below, and then the sound of feet on stairs. The Alchemist recognized the voices and rotated her head as Prudence came in through the doorway. She stretched out her arms and hugged her from across the room. “Pru! My other star! How are you doing?”

Prudence was Shiv’s student, but The Alchemist’s star. They met back when both were hardcore Pandas, and it had largely been The Alchemist going completely over to Chang which slowly dragged in Prudence as well. In a very real sense, Prudence was The Alchemist’s oldest Nova friend.

She was a beautiful woman, almost a classic Nova starlet up until recently. Now she cut a dramatically different figure. She was bald, hairless, and her skin was tattooed head to foot in a myriad of patterns which always shifted and changed based on new designs or ideas. Prudence wore very little show so she could show them off, usually no more than a sports bra and trousers or even less when relaxing. She was wearing military combat trousers and boots with her black top today. And she smiled broadly when she saw The Alchemist, gladly held her hands and did a running jump, flipped in the air, and came down straddling her on the couch.

“Cyndi, you sexy thing! You’re not dead anymore. I’ve had the most unbelievable fucking week and I want to bitch about it. Do you mind?”

The Alchemist wrapped her arms partly around Prudence’s body and gave her breasts a hard squeeze. She could feel the tentacles under the surface. They rippled against her touch, and stroked back through the skin. “Sure. Is Shiv coming up, by the way? I can hear her talking to Trae downstairs.” The Alchemist’s perceptions were pretty formidable, though nothing like Chang’s.

“Yeah, she’ll be up in a bit.” Prudence didn’t step off The Alchemist, she slid, her flesh warping and moving like an elastic bag as her tentacles shifted under the surface. Since her transformations, The Alchemist had begun using her as a monster in her movies, and she was fantastic. She’d always been a superb actress, and it turned out she could be as sadistic and menacing as she could be intense and soulful. It was why they made a good team. Prudence relaxed next to her on the sofa, leaning way back. Snow still watched the TV, but Prudence only had eyes for The Alchemist and this blessing of a friendly ear.

Prudence started filling her in on the week’s events, on the theft of Darion’s sword and how she was being blamed for it, about Shiv fighting with Kladach and him confronting Chang in the Rainbow Room. Apparently since then Geryon had been involved in a royal bitch out session with Narcosis, and everybody was getting angry at everyone else. The fight resulted in two blocks of apartments burning down, and the police were looking for those responsible, while Darion and a few other people pulled tricks with their contacts to bury the issue. By the time Narcosis wanted to get involved, Darion had sorted everything out and Chang was getting credit for fixing things. By the sound of things, Kladach was happy to let the issue drop. Darion’s sword, meanwhile, was still MIA.

“Man, no wonder my inbox is full. I pick the worst times to die, don’t I?” The Alchemist said. “Was Shiv hurt?”

“For a couple of minutes at least,” Prudence said. “They went at each other hammer and tongs, man. I saw the aftermath, though Shiv had cleared out by then.”

They chatted a little more on general matters, about projects that were being proposed and the continuing arguments between them and other members of the Pandaimonion.

“I’m getting sick of this, Cyndi,” Prudence admitted. “I’m in a position where everyone’s looking at me funny, either because I ‘stole’ something I didn’t, or because I’m not begging to get between Narcosis’s legs. I used to love the Pandaimonion. It was fun, and we did awesome things, and all those Utopian lickspittles were getting bent out of shape because the baselines loved us and not them…” she shook her head. “It’s not fun anymore, Cynd.”

The Alchemist put her arms around Prudence’s neck and hugged her. Her friend didn’t move her arms, just the tentacles underneath the surface. Her skin stretched, partly wrapping around The Alchemist in her own version of a hug. “We’ll be here for you, Pru. Me, and Snow, and Chang and the rest. We’re all Pandas, right? We’re not so bad.”

They separated, and Prudence’s flesh slid back into its human proportions. “Maybe.” She finally looked over to the TV. “Or maybe you just call yourselves Pandas, for lack of something better.”

“Such as Anavasi,” came Shiv’s soft, seductive voice from the doorway. She looked as good and weird as ever, blind, bound, bent sharply in the back in such a way that those huge round breasts were at full prominence, especially with the aid of her red leather corset.

The Alchemist leapt up from the couch and ran over to her. She jumped up at Shiv’s chest, and held herself as if she were going to be caught by someone’s arms. Instead she wrapped her arms around Shiv’s neck and stretched her legs to wrap twice around Shiv’s waist to keep her supported.

“I appear to have an oddly-shaped recess monkey attached to my chest,” Shiv murmured.

Wheeeeeee!” The Alchemist cried, feeling entirely girlish and glad and giddy to be alive again. “Spin me.”



“Still no,” Shiv said. Her huge soft breasts rippled, and tendrils extended from the upper and lower swells. They very firmly began to unwind Cindi’s limbs from her body.

“You’re no fun,” she said, and tried vainly to prevent the multiplying fleshy tendrils from unwinding her.

Trae stepped past her and returned to his seat. “Shiv was just telling me about how she kicked Kladach’s head in with her butt. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.”

The Alchemist relaxed in her struggles, and turned towards him. She always possessed a certain feeling for languages, or at least in how they were put into use. It was partly what made her a good actress on her own merits, and why she could always tell a good one when they were in front of her. There was disgust in Trae’s voice.

That’s weird, she thought, while Shiv finished unwinding her and put her down. The Alchemist’s elongated legs coiled underneath her like a makeshift snake’s tail, while the tendrils of flesh whipped back into Shiv’s breasts and they settled back into perfect, full roundness. “So Shiv,” she said, “how have you been?”

“Very well, Cyndi. I’m glad that you’ve returned to us. Things are changing, as Prudence implied.”

The Alchemist rose back up and retracted her legs. “Do tell.”

“The time has come for us to leave Narcosis behind and forge our own path. Our Mirror Queen requires subjects, so to speak. The Pandaimonion are Narcosis’s servants, but we are The Mirror Queen’s subjects. We are the Anavasi, as of about a week ago.” Shiv said that last with a tone of definite amusement, and wore a smile on her full, ruby red lips.

She didn’t know the word, but it spoke to her nonetheless. The Alchemist had no need to hunger for an identity, but she had been chafing against some of the expectations and stereotypes her ‘fellow’ Pandas brought on themselves for years. And the wannabes who flocked to Narcosis’s banner, who barely understood Teras let alone wanted to follow it, drove her crazy. Those who did looked on them as ‘useful’, as potentials in the future but tools in the present. The Alchemist hated that. It was learning from Chang which did it. The Mirror Queen was always so passionate about philosophical purity, about how the Teragen was compromising its principles in the name of necessity. She was an extremist, sure. They all said that when The Alchemist pointed it out to them, but they always said it like that meant Chang’s words didn’t matter.

The Alchemist nodded and grinned. “Anavasi,” she said, tasting the word. “Sounds good to me, though I do have to ask, are we actually doing the whole ‘queen’ thing?”

Prudence laughed behind her. “Only so long as it makes Chang frown. You’ve got to admit, it’s funny seeing a third-stager look so damn uncomfortable. She could probably break our minds into tiny little itty bitty pieces, or something nastier, but all we have to do is get in a line, curtsy and say ‘your grace’ and all of a sudden those glowing eyes get all bit and shiny.”

“She probably thought we were taking the piss,” The Alchemist said. “I guess we were, at first.”

Shiv moved a little more into the room, though she made no effort to sit. “You know your mentor’s feelings, just as I do. The idea of a Nova monarchy is patently absurd and goes against every principle that Chang holds dear and which she promotes. There is more to this than humour value, though.”

“Yeah, I know,” The Alchemist said. “So you just here for social fun?”

“In a way. I have a gift for Snow.” Her breasts rippled, and slowly a tome emerged from between them. “By all means give it to her.”

The Alchemist took it, glanced at the spine. “Shadae,” she read. “Don’t know it.”

“Oh, I do!” Snow jumped up and turned round, knees on the couch and hands outstretched. “Gimme, gimme! Thanks, Shiv.”

The Alchemist handed it over. Immediately, Snow flipped the cover open, put her thumb on the page, and began to read. Her eyes blurred, her lips moved soundlessly, and she flicked the pages by. It was hard to believe she was reading.

“So what do we do when she’s finished?” The Alchemist asked.

Shiv chuckled. “Add it to her library, of course.”

There was a snap of the book being shut. “Wow,” Snow whispered. “That’s really sad. Have any of you read this book?” Nobody had. “Okay, then I won’t talk about it. Read this book. It’s amazing. Holy shit it’s amazing.”

Snow sat down again. Her whole body language was different now. She seemed emotional, almost devastated. The Alchemist took the book from Snow’s hand and placed it on the shelf with the others. The girl had an eidetic memory. She would never need to read the physical copy again, but she was a near-compulsive hoarder.

The apartment was a bit small for five Novas. Trae was quiet in the corner, now, mostly just watching and listening. Prudence relaxed and eventually transformed, extending her seven necks and arms and breasts. That was spectacular to watch, not least because of the way her tattoos extended and wrapped round her additional parts and appendages.

She felt more comfortable being that way, and honestly, The Alchemist liked her better that way. Once she had seven heads, there was always one of them with tentacles pouring from her mouth, and that was the way it ought to be.

Trae, though… there was something odd about his mood, about the way he looked at the four of them and at her in particular. You’d think he wasn’t happy that I came back, or something, she thought. No. It’s Shiv that’s making him uncomfortable.

It became obvious before long. Shiv just stood stock still where she had been, two feet in from the doorway and one foot towards the wall, her back facing it. She stood like some sort of weird bondage statue, saying nothing, not even breathing. And Trae kept looking over his shoulder at her.

Meanwhile, Snow, Prudence and The Alchemist just chattered about nothing in particular, crossing topics as simple as their favourite – and sexiest – shape and all the small ways they could enhance or change their look for different effects, to the best ways to play a certain kind of scene or character through to particular points of Teras which were bothering them of late. They were all used to Shiv just not talking sometimes. She was often like that. Yet for some reason, Trae was uncomfortable.

When Shiv did eventually stir again, the sound of her leather tightening was startling. “Trae,” she said, in that always-sultry voice of hers.

He looked around. “Shiv?”

“I wonder if I might speak with you in private.”


“It concerns a certain lie you told to a certain Frenchman.”

Trae stiffened up slightly. He licked his lips, but rose. “Uh, I’ll be back in a bit, Cynd. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t, eh?” He winked at her.

She gave him a salute.

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Trae was gone for hours. Whoever ‘the certain Frenchman’ was, it seemed like Trae shouldn’t have lied to him. The Alchemist didn’t bother herself to think about it too hard. She was back from the dead, she felt great, and she had no wish to mess with that.

Sadly, Pru left with Shiv and Trae, so it was just her and Snow. Going from five Novas to two was a weird thing. They spent a while speculating on who The Frenchman was, going through possible candidates, before settling down again and watching the re-run of Chang’s interview.

“She sounds so pissed off,” Snow said, and giggled. “Do you think they actually nailed her down so she couldn’t leave?”

She does hate interviews. The Alchemist didn’t. She gave interviews all the time to help promote her movies or her photography projects or her writing or whatever. Chang wasn’t half as personable, though. “You never know. Those N! reporters’ll do anything for a scoop.”

When the door opened, The Alchemist expected it would be Trae. But the step was too light, the way they closed the door behind them too gentle. A few moments later, one of Lucrezia came in through the door.

Seeing that beautiful face stirred up a whole hornet’s nest of emotions, most of them related to Chang. You lucky, lucky woman, she thought. Or maybe ‘women’ would be more appropriate.

“Hello, Cyndi,” she said. But she didn’t smile. She seemed sad.

“Is something wrong?”

“Can I come sit?”

“Sure thing.” The Alchemist moved up a little so Lucrezia could sit down between her and Snow. “Do you know why Trae’s been kidnapped?”

Lucrezia sat down, elegant as ever, but lacking that effortless seductive sway that made her such an amazing dancer. “Yes.”

The Alchemist exchanged a look with Snow. Neither of them liked the sound of that. “Are you going to explain?”

“No. It’s ugly enough. You shouldn’t have to deal with it so soon after your resurrection. He’ll be back in a bit, I suspect. I’ll be gone by then. For good.”

“Lucrezia,” she said, not even pretending not to be worried, “seriously, are you okay? You sound like me when I’m on a downer.”

“I’m depressed, yes,” she said. “This body is,” she raised her hand and regarded it with a critical eye, “defiled. I want rid of it. Before that, though, I want to ask you a question. Shiv mentioned the Anavasi, I presume?”

“Yes, she did. We’re all Anavasi now, unroll the banners, fly the flags, all that stuff.”

“Yeah,” Snow said, “one nation under Chang! Paintings for everybody.”

Lucrezia smiled down at her. “Yes, something like that. Cyndi, I presume you’re well aware that we’re going to be in a spot of bother when we break away from Narcosis. Shiv’s very good at getting what she wants,” she said, smiling. “Shiv wanted a Mirror Queen, we got ourselves a Mirror Queen. Now she wants the Anavasi, and I’m pretty sure we’re all going to jump on the bandwagon eventually. Unless you have some argument with what she’s proposing?”

The Alchemist shook her head. “No. It’s just putting a name on something we all feel already, right?”

Lucrezia turned back to her. “Yes, quite. I was wondering… have you considered going completely independent? I mean, breaking away from Pantheon Productions?”

“Well, I’ve thought about it,” The Alchemist said. “My last contract with Pantheon was not to my liking. I’ve had the feeling Narcosis is getting more out of me than I am out of her for a couple of years. Pantheon’s got great distribution penetration, though.”

“Yes. More than enough to seriously inconvenience us after we’ve broken off,” Lucrezia said. “The Anavasi will have an awful lot of content to produce once we’ve formalized our membership. We can’t be beholden to Narcosis’s whims. The only way that can be avoided is if we have our own distribution company, one that can stake some important talent from the get go. If we can secure a contract for the illusive White Rain, which I think I can arrange,” Lucrezia said, and for a moment she seemed her old seductive, confident self, “and add your own productions to the banner, I think we’ll have a good economic base to get going. But I’m not exactly a business woman. What’s your take?”

It was a good question to ask. Making money was one of The Alchemist’s specialities, and she was one of the richer Novas out there. Not Count Orzais wealthy, mind, but she blew most Novas away. About seventy per cent of her money came from her movie endeavours. “It’s viable, I guess. If you want to talk investors, they’ll respond well to the words ‘White’ and ‘Rain’ and ‘Contract’ in any sort of combination. Chang’s redistribution rights are a massive deal for Pantheon Productions. Pretty much any music company on earth would beg, borrow or steal to have those rights. But if you want to really go for it, what we need is a studio album and the rights. That’d redefine the landscape right there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m awesome, but Chang’s a giant in the art world. You tell investors and distributors we’ve got exclusive rights to basically all of her stuff, and that’ll get things rolling right there. The rest of us can just jump on ship as lots of yummy, yummy icing on top of a Chang-cake.”

Snow giggled in a devilish, but also very girlish kind of way. “Oh, I dunno, Chang seems to have plenty of icing of her own, don’t you think?”

Lucrezia raised one eyebrow and gave Snow a searching look. “You, my girl, have a filthy mind. I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

Snow cackled. The TV was losing interest for her, and she was focusing more and more on their talk. “So this company, what’s it going to produce?”

“Anything it needs to. Independent and studio films, music, art exhibitions, really whatever we need from it. The point is to have our own company, one that doesn’t have to go through Narcosis’s channels. This is our venture, our future, and our statement. She’s not an artist, and she doesn’t care about the work we do. Narcosis cares about how good it makes her look to have us producing stuff under her banner. Shiv thinks it’s time for a change. I agree with her.”

The Alchemist felt an actual upswell of pride in her breast, and maybe a little anger. It was true. Narcosis didn’t care about the work they did, unless she was directly in line to make money off of it. There was no harm in that, of course, there was nothing in her faith which compelled her to dislike Narcosis for her directed focus. But she wanted something more, something she found in Shiv and Chang and the other… well, Anavasi.

There was no name for them before, and now she had that name, it was changing things in her mind. Before, her friends were just those members of the Pandaimonion who ‘got it’. Now they weren’t part of the Pandaimonion at all. They were the Anavasi. They were different.

Snow was the one who spoke first. “If Shiv’s tits say we’re Anavasi, I’m not going to disagree. They’ll beat me up.” Her expression and her voice hardened. “You both know I don’t like Narcosis. She’s taken liberties with me, compelled me to do things I can’t forgive. Well, unless she’s right there in front of me. But I’m smarter than she is. I know what she’s doing and I don’t appreciate it. So yeah, you’ve got me, not that I’ve got much to offer. I’m just an actress.”

Lucrezia put her arm around Snow and kissed her on the head. “You’re probably the world’s best child actress – I know, you’re not a child – but you can still play one better than anyone when the mood suits you. So your support means a great deal. Besides, who’s cleverer than you? Chang values your mind, you know. I’m afraid as much as I love her, I can’t provide her with the most stimulating of conversations. You, though? It’s embarrassing. She won’t shut up about you after you’ve left.” Lucrezia smiled even as she complained, though.

Snow’s expression lit up. “Thanks.”

“Okay,” The Alchemist said, “let’s do it. If you can get Chang to agree, I’ll talk to Shiv, a few of my contacts, and maybe we can get something going.”

Lucrezia nodded happily. “This is great. Shiv’ll be happy, I know it. She’s been visiting loads of people, and putting me up to visiting even more. This is going to happen.” But then she drew herself up and her expression became grimmer once again. “So now I guess, it’s time to put the past behind me, and get ready for the first movement in the Anavasi’s history.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want you to kill me.”

“What?” Snow was looking at Lucrezia with wide eyes. “You can’t be serious?”

Lucrezia smiled at her. “Just this one. Not all of me. Like I said, this one is defiled. I hate it. Scrambler ruined this body. I don’t want it to be part of me. It isn’t part of me, it’s a lie. But I don’t want to just set fire to myself or blow myself up or do something ugly. I want to do something beautiful, to really redeem this waste of skin and latex. I figured you might want to help,” she said, almost shyly, and looked into The Alchemist’s eyes. “I don’t pretend to be a spiritual person, Cyndi, but I know you are. Doesn’t this fit into your beliefs anywhere?”

There was a pleading tone in her voice now, and it cut right to The Alchemist’s heart. “Oh, honey,” she said, and reached out to hold her. Lucrezia let herself be enfolded into an embrace. “It does, sort of. There are spells I do sometimes, to banish negative feelings and pain. A witch I know developed a special one after she was raped. She used it to ‘clean’ herself, physically and spiritually. But I guess that’s no good to you.”

“It isn’t what I want.”

And death doesn’t mean the same thing to her as it does even to me, The Alchemist thought. If anything human remained in Lucrezia, it was a fragment of a woman being purposefully strangled to death. It was no secret that Lucrezia was an amnesiac. Whoever she had been, she wanted nothing to do with her.

“What do you want? How can I help?”

Lucrezia looked her right in the eyes. “I want you to eat me. Like Chang does, but I don’t want you to let me out.”

The Alchemist pursed her lips. “Oh.”

“I want you to melt me down and convert this body into something new. Something tasty, even. Just something better than what it is. A sort of… resurrection, I guess. Like what you go through, but different. You can do that, right? You’ve said you can convert any matter into whatever.”

She shrugged. “Well, in theory. I’ve never tried it with a living person before.” Hello, Threefold Law, I now present you my arse, have fun destroying it for eternity. She drew back a little. “I’m not sure about this, Lucrezia.”

“Why not?”

“Actions have consequences. You’re asking me to commit murder. That’s a big one. I-“

“Will only be killing one of me. There’s another twenty three of me out there. And I’ll replace this one inside a week, with one that’s part of me.

“I know what you’re saying,” she said, her voice full of sympathy, “but this one is a part of you. Getting rid of it won’t get rid of the memories. I-“

Lucrezia put a hand on her cheek. “It’s not the memories I want rid of, Cyndi. It’s the flesh. This can’t be cleansed. It can’t be fixed. Scrambler ruined this body on the quantum level, he raped my node. Believe me, you’ll understand once you’ve been through chrysalis. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, believe me. I want this body gone. All I’m asking from you is… a chance to make this body beautiful again, no matter how briefly. Turn it into liquid metal and give it to Chang to make an engraving out of, maybe? Build me into the foundations of the crèche. Just…” she swallowed, “help me fix this. Please?”

The Alchemist looked around, and bit her lip. Her mind raced, considering the implications of what she was being asked, of what it could mean, of the moral needs of her faith. The way Lucrezia said it, this sounded like a good action. But the whole credo of Wicca was to do as she liked, so long as it harmed nobody. This would quite categorically hurt someone. In fact that was the entire point.

“Awww, shit,” she said, overcome with nerves. “This is putting me on the spot, Lucrezia. It’s a tough one. I don’t know if it’s right.”

“Then that’s all the more reason to do it, and find out,” Lucrezia said. “You can’t reach chrysalis by playing it safe, Cyndi. You need to take risks. We both know that.”

Oh that’s so low, she thought, but didn’t say it. Teras and Wicca were rarely competitors in her mind. She fused the two together, in much the same way she figured Scripture fused his seemingly Christian faith into his new condition. But here… The principles of Teras say ‘fuck you!’ Crone, give me wisdom. But then there were the other calls, of the Horned God and the godhead she named Arrokesh, the female devourer who filled her flesh with fire whenever she put her powers to work at their extremes. Arrokesh was stirring now, at this new, frightening, exciting possibility. And fuck you, too, Arrokesh.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll… do this. For you.”

Snow stood up. “Uh, should I go?”

“No,” Lucrezia said. “I’d like you to stay. You can bear witness.”

The Alchemist nodded. “Three’s a good number in Wicca. In some ways we’ve got the feminine godhead here. You can stand in for the Maiden – you’re the youngest in seeming at least – I can stand in for the Mother, because I’ve been around the block a few times, and Lucrezia… well she is an elder. You get to be the Crone.”

Lucrezia looked up at her, and screwed up her lips. “Now I definitely want this body dead.”

Her nerves were growing all the more intense, but she had said it now. “Look, let me make this part of a spell. Just to be sure.”

“Whatever you need.”

The Alchemist rose from the couch and left the room, returning to the attached room. There were still plenty of ritual components in there, more than enough to adapt one of the spells from her Book of Shadows. But which one?

An idea struck her.

She took the book and ritual components with her and returned to the main room. “Snow,” she said, “will you read this?”

The Terat’s dark eyes brightened up the way it always did when someone gave her something to read. “This is your… spellbook.” To The Alchemist’s surprise, she touched it with hesitation, and reverence. “Are you sure? I mean… I love the theory and the sound of Wicca, and it sounds beautiful when you talk about it… but I’m not a Wiccan. Isn’t this like sacrilegious?”

“Not if I want you to read it. It’s mine, after all.”

Snow took a deep breath. She undid the clasps, and then read The Alchemist’s Book of shadows. A big book, to be sure, the result of over thirty years of faith and practice as a witch and packed with spells on every page. It took Snow three seconds. The pages moved so fast that The Alchemist was scared they’d tear, the paper seemed like it couldn’t handle such speed. Yet no harm was done, not even a crinkle.

The Terat bit her lip and closed the book, put both clasps back on, and handed it back. “Thanks, Cyndi,” she said, her voice low and soft and quiet. “This… means a lot. We should totally try the sex magic. That sounds fun.”

She hit Snow on the shoulder, playfully. “Those are serious rituals you little bitch. Fun indeed,” she said, but couldn’t prevent a smile from forming on her lips. “Look, you’ve got a perfect memory, right?”


“I want to adapt a cleansing ritual for this, to make damn-diddly-certain that this is a purification we’re doing, that no bad spirits come out of this, and no negative energies are birthed from what we’re about to do. I’m torn between a few spells. I don’t think anything I’ve got in there is perfect, but I could maybe alter the ritual of Spring Morning or the Parting spell.”

Snow nodded, her eyes bright and intense as she considered what The Alchemist was saying. Lucrezia observed, curious, but she made no comment.

“Well,” Snow said, “from what I read in there, and cross-referencing with some other things I’ve read about your symbology and other talks we’ve had, I’d say you need to do something brand new. What if you do the Parting spell, use those words, because Lucrezia wants to ‘part’ with this bit of her, right? I mean, the whole point of the Parting spell is that you want to part painlessly, am I right?”

The Alchemist nodded. “Dead right,” she said, and then caught herself. “That was a horrible choice of wording.”

Snow laughed.

They hashed out a ritual in the next ten minutes. Mostly The Alchemist bounced ideas off her, and Snow talked about the various spells in the book, compared them, and helped her decide what elements to add or subtract.

In the end, she was ready.

Snow adjusted the furniture. She was a bit like Shiv; supernaturally strong, but she didn’t look like it at all. She lifted the couch up with one hand like it was nothing.

Once they had enough space, The Alchemist drew a pentagram on the floor in chalk, and lit scented candles at the five points, two of them green, one black, one pink, and one white. While she was doing that, Snow quickly went out to a nearby store and bought some salt and sugar, which The Alchemist sprinkled over the chalk lines with painstaking precision. Everything had its meaning. The salt was referencing the salting of the earth, that this was an irrevocable parting never to be undone. The sugar, though, was to signify that it was not just painless, but actually a sweet parting, something desired and even needed. Each of the candles was intended to incite and strengthen positive emotions and forces, healing for the green candles, positive energies for the white, negative energies for the black, while the pink embodied love, friendship, romance and femininity. The black and white were opposite of each other on the pentagram, with the green candles at the bottom points, balancing them out and focusing both positive and negative energies into healing. The top of the Pentagram’s points housed the pink candle, in the hope that through the healing process Lucrezia would emerge a friend, a lover, maybe even a romantic partner. You said it, Snow, The Alchemist thought. Polyamory. Why not? Love me, Lucrezia, you and your wife. Heal, and love me, and be loved.

Snow watched with fascination. Lucrezia seemed more indulgent than anything else.

That didn’t matter, though. This needed to be done right. It needed to be done her way. And if she had a slight ulterior motive and wanted a touch of her own desires in the ritual, why not? The Alchemist felt a sense of calm blending into the fear. “Lucrezia,” she said, “join me in the pentagram.”

Lucrezia knelt down in front of her, silent. She watched as The Alchemist lit the five candles, the white first, then the black, and then the two green candles in turn, and finally the pink. Then she spoke the ritual words, locking it all in place.

The Alchemist’s nerves faded away. This was always a line she tried to avoid crossing, but she already had. Her spirit was in it now, the candles were charged with energy, the pentagram was aligned with purpose. There was no turning back. A lot of Novas had blood on their hands. Far more than the OpNetizens knew or suspected, and some of the most unlikely ones did, too. From violent eruptions to spontaneous attempts to defend themselves, the ways Novas could end up killing someone directly or otherwise were many and varied. But this… this was where she joined them, in her own special way.

She kissed Lucrezia gently on the lips. She needed to work up to this. But Lucrezia’s returning kiss was almost desperate, pushing hard against her mouth. That long tongue of hers wormed its way down The Alchemist’s throat, rippling her pale and slender neck on its way down. It licked at the base of her oesophagus.

The Alchemist dripped quantum through her flesh, softening it, rendering it pliant. When Lucrezia pushed against her lips this time her mouth stretched open a little. She rolled with it, gaping open and around the beautiful Terat’s head, then widening slowly to engulf her shoulders. She had watched Chang and Shiv do this many times but never done it herself. It was pleasant, but frightening. Arrokesh stormed inside her, hungry, desperate to feed.

Lucrezia began to force herself further down, wriggling into The Alchemist’s throat until gravity had her.

It was easy after that. She just kept her head back and guided Lucrezia’s smooth, lissom legs together and inside. Her belly bulged out huge and round. She remained on her knees in the pentagram, positioning her belly so that it lay in the dead centre, the focus of all the magical energies she was invoking. The mingled scents of the candles tickled her nostrils. The stretched skin of her belly seemed almost to burn with sensation. Inside her, Lucrezia wriggled, the way she had for Chang a hundred times, but only once for The Alchemist.

Snow approached, her mouth slightly open. “Can I… come in?”

The Alchemist whispered a welcoming couplet. “You can now. Just don’t break the outside lines.”

Snow knelt down beside her and gently stroked The Alchemist’s belly, smiling. “That was beautiful, Cyndi. What are you going to turn her into?”

The Alchemist shrugged. “I don’t know yet. Want to pick a wine? You can drink her yourself.”

“Hell yes.” Snow’s chest rose and fell, almost heaving with excitement. “Hell yes. I know this sounds lame… but can you turn her into lemonade for me?”

The Alchemist burst out laughing. It was the sweetest, most innocent thing she could ever have been asked. And it was perfect. “Sure. I’ll make it the best lemonade you’ve ever had. Now, let’s get going.”

She prepared to start, taking deep breaths. In her mind she kept repeating the ritual words. The spell was alive and powerful now. She could feel it coiling through her.

“Wait,” Lucrezia said from inside her. “Turn me into poison. Tailor it to Puck.”

The Alchemist’s eyes widened and she frowned down at her rippling stomach. Snow looked between her face and her belly, and raised one eyebrow. “Something up?”

“Uh… sort of,” The Alchemist said, and gave her a reassuring smile. What the fuckery fucking fuck is she playing at? I can’t do that. You… you… can’t be serious… But before she could really work herself up into a panic, Lucrezia spoke again.

“It’s not to kill him,” Lucrezia said. “Just make it strong enough to really make them think it will. Believe me, this is a good thing. It won’t hurt anyone. It’ll strengthen all of us.” There was a caress on the inside of The Alchemist’s belly, a brush of fingers, and her whole body tingled with delight. That touch was was half an orgasm, and it was so hard to think straight enough to resist the request.

As if to make the point clearer, another of Lucrezia’s bodies entered the room, and nodded firmly at her, just before Snow looked in her direction. Lucrezia’s eyes were dark and intense. Do it, they said. Do it, and don’t question. Then she was smiling and kneeling at the edge of the circle to watch.

The Alchemist settled her heart and set to work. Quantum flooded from her node, down through her flesh and into her stomach. Instantly her belly began to churn, audibly and visibly, moving like waves on the ocean as she began to digest Lucrezia’s copy.

A rush of sensations crept through The Alchemist’s body. It was a little like a drug being injected right into her. Inside her soul, the devourer Arrokesh sang the sweetest of songs, as she did when The Alchemist was processing anything of note, from a dumpster to a tree.

She felt cool and warm at the same time, her skin prickled and felt alive with sensation. Inside her the firm limbs and perfect shape of Lucrezia’s body began to soften, to melt. She had felt this with steel and gold, silver and iron, copper and bronze. The Alchemist had stretched her mouth around dumpsters and even an entire limousine once, and waited for her body to melt it down. But she had never done it to a person before. It was a line she never crossed out of fear, but now she had, it felt good.

She felt wonderful, glorious. A real man-eater, like Shiv often joked she was. Lucrezia softened; she screamed as pain overwhelmed her and her body began to break apart. The Alchemist felt it then, the gathering swirl of taint, flooding through her node. It was easy to take it, reshape it with her mind, and add it to the growing film of chrysalis that was building in her quantum signature.

There was no doubt in her mind that the ritual had worked. The chrysalis formed so easily that it was like dew in the morning, like a natural outgrowth of the ritual itself. This was exactly right, a true fusion of Teras and the Wiccan faith. Epiphany left her shuddering, unable to speak, or even to think for some time. All she could do was bask, and love, and wish the best to everyone.

The Alchemist watched her belly churn, processing Lucrezia. Her stomach became hugely rounded, then swelled as she converted the body into liquid. Using things was always more efficient than using her own body fluids, even though it took time to process them. And it was as true now as ever.

As she put molecules together inside her body, converting parts of the Lucrezia-sludge as it was converted. The living body produced an astonishing amount of raw material. The Alchemist edged backward, and manoeuvred herself into the point of the pentagram which held the pink candle. She even squeezed in her legs to avoid being pushed out of it. Her belly swelled to fill the entire central circle.

Snow stood on the fringe now, watching in amazement. “Holy shit. You’re huge!”

Lucrezia looked happier than ever, somehow, and ran her hands through Snow’s hair. “You should have seen how big she got when she ate the limo.”

“You ate a limo?

The Alchemist laughed. “I’m very stretchy, darling. Maybe not number two after Chang, but I’m sure as hell top five. Didn’t look much like me while that was going on, mind. Would have killed to be able to shapeshift into a big snake or something,” she said wistfully, still piecing the compound together. “Shiv had to pick me up and carry me. It was very unladylike. I sloshed. Fun, though,” she sighed.

And it was. It felt good to be like this. She always forgot, somehow, until she did it again and filled herself up with something or another. It was an addiction, for sure, but not one of those crappy addictions like drugs. Every time felt as good as the last, and sometimes even better. It was Arrokesh, the devourer within. It was as much a part of her spirit as the node was a part of her body.

She rested her head on her gurgling belly, and closed her eyes.

Puck. She focused on Puck, while Snow leaned forward to stroke her groaning stomach. The noises changed as the raw materials percolated, bubbling and shifting around with The Alchemist’s will.

Poison for Puck, coming up. They had kissed many a time, shared a bed on a few occasions. It wasn’t hard to shape something just for him. Making it so that it would debilitate was easy, and all she had to do then was make it incredibly concentrated. She hated the idea of him in pain, though. He was a friend. But maybe he’s not. Maybe she knows something? Lucrezia was clear that this would be good for them all. Puck was Anavasi too, surely.

It took ten minutes to put the compound together. She pumped the liquid up out of her belly and into her right breast, rounding it out and creaking against her eufiber. “All done,” she said to Lucrezia. “Want your brew put somewhere?”

“Yes,” she said, and plunged a hand into her own body. From the latex mass under the flesh, she withdrew a sealed jar, and unscrewed the lid. “In here, if you could.”

The Alchemist bared her breast and stretched her nipple out into a stinger, curled it over to the jar and emptied the poison. It was golden brown, similar to vinegar or other condiment. She’d made enough to half-fill the jar, and once done she whipped her nipple back before covering up. “Well, now. What to do with the rest of you?” She lengthened her arms so she could reach underneath and heft her massive gut.

Snow leaned against the skin, listening. “I don’t care, just make something. The noises are fascinating. Why did you never let me listen before?”

The Alchemist laughed. “It’s not like I have specific times of day when I do this. It’s kind of spur of the moment. Normally I just convert my blood and slit a wrist, which is vampire-rific but not exactly a spectator event.”

“Bet you and the limo was.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll make sure you’re around if I get that hungry again. Okay. First, lemonade. Then we can talk about what to do with the rest of this mass.”

Lucrezia smiled, and looked over at Snow. “Make sure everyone knows what Cyndi did for me, Snow. Trae will be gutted when he finds out he missed this.”

“And really jealous,” Snow said, grinning devilishly. “I’m going to make him so jealous.”

The Alchemist relaxed. It had worked. She knew it. But she should have known that all along. Resurrection days never went badly.

Lucrezia rose. “I have to be going, I’m afraid. I want to enjoy this wine with my wife.” When she said that, there was a hidden message, a ‘tell nobody what this really is’ that The Alchemist knew instinctively. She would obey, too. “But another of me’s on the way over. I want to see just how much stuff you can turn me into. I’m beginning to think you should do a drink for everyone in the Anavasi. A round of me.”

That was a good joke. “Sure thing, Lucrezia,” The Alchemist said. “I’ll just sit here and enjoy being full for a while. We’ll get to work when your other self gets here. Bring bottles. Empty bottles. Lots of them.”

Lucrezia nodded, then turned, and headed out. Her hips swayed, her stride was long and confident. The Alchemist could feel no hint of the ‘defilement’ anymore. Lucrezia was back, and beautiful, and seductive, and better than ever.

She was cleansed.

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Late evening, May 26th, 2027

Exalt! Building

Slowly sounds filtered back in: the beeps and electronic whine of the machines next to him, the voices down the hall, the squeal of tires and rain outside, the birds and fish in the ocean for miles around. The beeps in the room changed, gaining pace and a head-splitting high tone as he sat up and began to peel off the monitor nodes. He could hear the excited babble of voices getting closing, light steps quickly tracing a path to the room he'd been moved to on the Wellness floor. He'd put himself, and the events that had put him here, together before Sara and her team made to his door.

She threw her arms around him, abandoning any pretense of professional distance the moment she saw him sitting up and smiling at her. "Puck! Thank god!"

He hugged her back, cradling her gently; he could feel the tremors through her body as she fought off crying in front of her trainees. Not that most of them were paying her much attention; the hospital bed groaned as the dozen baselines in the room crowded to hug and touch him as well. "Shh, I'm fine. It's okay," he soothed them.

Sara looked up at him, tears in her eyes, "We didn't know...the poison...it...I couldn't heal it. I-I'm sorry."

"Hey," he lifted up her chin and shook his head, "Not. Your. Fault. Okay?"

She nodded mutely but didn't let go of him. He sighed and hugged her closer for a moment. "There are people that don't like me, don't like us. What I did..." he blinked, realizing he didn't know how long he'd been out.

"Almost two days," Sara answered the unasked question.

"Well, two days ago, then; I knew it would make certain people angry. Actions have consequences." He hugged the whole group as well as he could, "But I'm still here and I feel fine now."

Sara laid a hand on him and Puck could feel the flux of quantum around her; she nodded. "It's out of your system now," she said quietly.

"Okay, then let's move on. Why don't you all go let the others know I'm fine? There are some things I need to do, and....I should do them on my own." He stood up and opened the doors for everyone, cutting off any protests just by force of will. "I'll be upstairs for a while, and then I'll come down and we can all have a talk in the Grand Salon. We need to talk, all of us, and decide where we go from here."

The group dispersed, spreading the word throughout the building as Puck made his way to his office. Lucrezia, you are a bitch. Bait them, fine, but you could have at least given me some heads up that you were going to poison me. He mulled over his mentor's wife and what she might be up to - and how his poisoning worked into that. Easy enough to place at the feet of the Harvesters. They're more likely to attack another nova and another Terat than the Primacy, and a number of them could make something poisonous enough to put me in bed for a few days. But it's more subtle than they usually are, and it only hurt me. Harvesters would more likely have attacked the entire gathering, or at least have followed up poisoning me by terrorizing the building and killing the Exalt! baselines they could get their claws on.

He slipped into the leather chair behind his desk and picked up his OpBook, tapping through the news reports that had gone out about the gala and his collapse. Everyone had theories; Aletheia was having a hell of a time trying to convince a number of sources that it wasn't Utopia. Poor woman. I'll have to make a statement. Utopian's are misguided, but I invited her myself and I never intended for this to spill over to make problems in her life. Mmmm.....the Harvesters....it just doesn't feel right. The Primacy, normally they wouldn't attack another nova and Terat so publicly - nor with something as chancy as poison. Which could be perfect. The Confederate is still in Chrysalis, so leadership is less secure and suspicion, especially suspicion that could never be definitively resolved, could drive a nice wide wedge between the radicals and the moderates in the group. A split in the Primacy could be good for the entire Teragen movement; getting them to clean house on their psychopaths and outright serial killers just using the banner of the Primacy to justify their killing sprees. If nothing else, that might lead to an influx to the Harvesters and create some nice tension and bad blood between the two. Yes, better to lay this at the feet of some Primacy member or two than to go after the Harvesters. "Everyone" knows the Harvesters are monsters, this would just be business as usual for one of their members.

Nodding to himself, he wrote up several OpMails to various people he knew within the Teragen, asking where certain Primacy Terats had been for the past several weeks and who'd they'd been seen with. He also set up several anonymous OpMail accounts, sent out messages to a list of reporters - from muckrakers to truly talented baseline investigators - making both pointed and subtly charged inquiries about the details of his own poisoning, then deleted the accounts. After that was a public statement on the Exalt! website about his return to health and his belief that none of the invited guests nor their sponsoring organizations were at all connected to the dastardly deed done that night. He grinned, I like the word dastardly. One of the better ones in English. He added that in the future he hoped that those so vehemently opposed to novas and baselines working together for the good of those in pain and need would have the courage to face him directly, instead of hiding behind poison and the cowardly mask of anonymity.

There. That should get the public where I want them, and start the wheels turning inside the Teragen. He sent one last OpMail, on his private account, to Utopia's New York PR director.


Please accept my apologies for the suspicion that's been cast on you and Utopia for what happened the other night. I did not intend to do you nor Utopia damage and have done what I may so far to allay those accusations. I am still new to being so publicly regarded, so if there is any more I may do to help you and diffuse this situation, please let me know. I bow to your years of experience and training; please feel free to mail me back at this address or call to the Exalt! building. I am at your disposal.



He ran a hand through his hair, sent the message, and then began sifting through the reports that had managed to be made during his convalescence. This better be worth it, Lucrezia. Aletheia might be a Utopian but she was my guest and had no part in our internal squabbles. And I have a distinct dislike of being poisoned now that I know what it feels like.

On the desk his sword flickered in and out of existence. It better be worth it.

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  • 3 weeks later...


Bad dreams are always with us, just the same as good ones. And sometimes, dreams come true. Darion lived with that truth every day of his life. Of late, though, he was being haunted by dreams that he hoped would stay where they belonged, in the land of not-real behind his eyes. Last night he dreamt of his wife sitting on the porch of their old home, playing her zither and watching him with eyes full of heartbreak and sadness. Miya, I miss you.

Mi meant ‘sea’ and ya ‘night’. She had been a traditionalist, a believer in names and language and words. He was a poet back then, and not much else. They came together so easily it was like they were born to be together. He thought of it as true love. Then the bad dreams rang true and his baseline life ended in a mundane nightmare, edged with quantum-laced insanity.

Darion rested his elbows on the desk and leaned forward, arching his fingers before him. He was surrounded by communications and surveillance equipment, powerful computers and a whole array of different interfaces, several of them virtual, flat planes in the air that he interacted with via the metallic sensors built into the fingertips of the gloves he was wearing.

There she was before him on his screen. Her name was Autumn Jade Tomson, though he’d rather it were Mográine. She was his daughter, and she erupted four years ago at age thirteen. Her friends called her ‘Woo’.

Much of his efforts since he learned of her existence seven years back had been expended on keeping her safe from afar and ensuring that she wanted for nothing. By a quirk of fate, he even caught her eruption on tape, listening to one of the first copies of White Rain’s Edge of Infinity, the first album she recorded after emerging from her second chrysalis. You’d think I didn’t have enough to thank Chang for, Darion thought.

Autumn was growing into a beautiful woman, Nova-scale like her dad, but she had gone punk. With her new quantum abilities this allowed her to try out truly dazzling variations of hair and tattoos, and she always seemed to be piercing something new. Under the skin she was a being of liquid metal, which made piercings rather convenient to say the least.

He didn’t quite approve, but his opinion didn’t matter. Besides, half of the people his daughter looked up to were friends and peers of his, and he had the phone numbers of the other half. Admittedly, some of them would be extremely angry if they found out, but that was not the point.

Autumn was watching him watch her, though she didn’t know who was on the other end of the video feed. He could tell that from little twitches in her eyes that betrayed the thoughts in her head.

The tiny camera in her room was supposed to be discreet, but she knew where it was the moment he turned it on. Autumn always knew when someone was watching her. It reminded him of Chang, and had to be a quantum manifestation. She sat on the edge of her bed resting her elbows on her knees and arching her fingers, staring right at him, still as a shadow. She couldn’t know she was mirroring her father’s pose, so exactly as to be eerie.

This happened from time to time. She would stare into whatever viewing device he had arranged to be planted, he would stare back, and wonder if she knew, somehow, that it was the father she never met who was on the other end.

Autumn possessed a piercing in the right eyebrow today, three in her lower lip and one on the left side of her nose and left ear, all small rings. There was a black tribal circle tattooed around her left eye, emphasizing the liquid silver of that eye. She never changed that tattoo. Her other eye was fox green. Her hair was a mix of red and black, cut so short it formed a marbling pattern on both sides of a perfect mohawk. She wore a fishnet top that hid very little, and she had two ‘X’s of black tape over her nipples, and through her immodest top he could see a complex and colourful tattoo all over her upper chest and shoulders. Autumn had used her abilities to make herself into a professional tattoo artist and fashion designer. He liked that, though her chosen subculture was alien to him.

Darion watched, blinking his own liquid silver eyes, wondering what to feel. He received a file update the other day which said Autumn had a girlfriend, after a few failed attempts with boys. He was indifferent about that. The girl in question was a painter. That he liked. Better that than a warrior. Of course, her best friend – also a Nova – was all teeth and poison and claws in multiples. Good-looking, though. She was also a black rights advocate, stripper when the mood suited her, and a passionate dancer. There was blood on that one’s hands, though admittedly all in self-defence. Her name was Grace Stephenson. A painter and a killer, both tugging on a girl with the power to be none, either or both. Which way will you go, Autumn?

In another life he might have been there to advise her and be ignored. He was in no position to father anybody, though. Not after what he’d done. Darion could never forget, either. The eruption, eager to make him hurt, forced an eidetic memory on him. The first ten years of his Nova life were full of things he would rather forget.

Autumn’s room was cramped, showing a lot of lazy hallmarks. Clothes piled up on the floor, posters askew on the wall, bed unmade, and there were few signs of cleaning. Autumn eschewed eufiber, preferring good old fashioned leather, metal, denim and PVC, with a veritable fashion show’s worth of T-Shirts and tanktops. Autumn raised one finger. There was a click from somewhere off-camera. She had picked up a bit of his telekinesis along with the eye.

The rolling, harmonic hum of the title track of Chang’s ‘Edge of Infinity’ echoed out over unseen speakers. Autumn was a massive White Rain fan, almost obsessive. No surprise, given the nature of her eruption. She had even been one of those people who attacked The Muse’s art works.

Darion had to call in a few favours to bury that one.

Being a punk, Autumn was no fan of Utopia. In general those subcultures were the ones most drawn to the Teragen, and least attracted to Utopia. It seemed quite likely Autumn might become a Terat herself one day. She was not yet prominent enough to be on anyone’s shortlist, but if her fashion endeavours really came to fruition she would be in no time.

She rose from the bed and came over, then sat down facing the screen. She leaned in almost to fill his vision. “I want to learn to fight. Me and Gracie both do. Any other time I need something, it turns up out of nowhere. I figure I’ve got you to blame. Call it a test,” she said. The words were rare. Normally these little exchanges were silent. She had never directly asked him for something before. “I’ll find you one day, you know.” Her eyes were distant, her expression cold. Darion could feel her emotions in the way she moved, though, the confusion, the hurt, and the failed attempt to look indifferent.

He lowered his gaze, unable to face her. In his periphery he saw her reach out towards him, and the feed ended.

Darion slumped in his chair.

Autumn was his greatest shame. He fled to Japan to escape the pain of the breakup with his first wife, never knowing the woman was pregnant. He also never thought to check back in, and so Autumn grew up never knowing he existed. Back then he was still a baseline, worried about nothing more than tomorrow’s meal and whether or not someone would buy his poetry. It used to be that he yearned to have those days back, but he managed to put that b