Lord of the Mysteries - Chrysalis - CrowningBlunder - 诡秘之主 - 爱潜水的乌贼 | Lord of the Mysteries (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: A Breathless Pursuit Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 2: In Orthos Wood Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3: Moth, Hemlock, and Holly Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4: Backlund's Back Tonight Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5: Mr Edward Barton, Barber Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6: Pounds and Principles Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7: Shearing Away Unnecessary Things Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8: Incarnadine Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 9: They Made Ready For War Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: There Is No Vice But Beggary Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11: Smooth Runs the Water Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12: Shadow On The Docks Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: And Send To Darkness All That Stop Me Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: A Conversation With A Friend Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: Needs No Accuser Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16: A Loving Transformation Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17: Rewards From Suffering Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18: Burgeoning Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19: Spoon Lane Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20: Winged Doll Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21: Into The Belly Of The Beast Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22: Across The Table Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 23: Knowledge and Introspection Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24: Glimmering Dreams Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25: Repayment Plan Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26: Delights Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 27: Seasons Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 28: Labours In The Dark Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 29: The Silence of Forman House Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 30: The Fretful Dead Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 31: The Worm Museum Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 32: O Hour Of Midnight Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 33: Tongues Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 34: Calling Card Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 35: Sap, Bone, and Madness Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 36: A Trip to the Pub Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 37: The Shield and the War Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 38: Revenge - Part One Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 39: Revenge - Part Two Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 40: Revenge - Part Three Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 41: Revenge - Part Four Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 42: Revenge - Part Five Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 43: Revenge - Part Six Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 44: Revenge - Finale Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 45: Lemon & Ginger Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 46: On The Rainy Dock Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 47: Eye of Wisdom Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 48: Like The Hunting Of Man Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 49: Notice Chapter Text

Chapter 1: A Breathless Pursuit


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Volume One – A Buzzing in the Brain

An echo, a resonance, an alignment. Something that will fade soon.

June 14th, 1349, the Backlund Outskirts

Although summer had begun in Backlund, the grand capital of the Loen Kingdom, the sun had not managed to burn through the grey clouds and pale smog that hung above the City of Cities. Now, as the sun set, it did not seem likely that such a thing would occur. Instead, the clouds seemed to press ever closer to the tops of the buildings and the faint sheen of perspiration on the cobbled streets had begun to glow as the streetlamps were steadily lit.

Any tourist still out on the streets might have commented that such a sight was very evocative of the city’s charm – no doubt as they pressed a handkerchief or a scented posy to their noses in order to mask the odour wafting from the Tussock River. Indeed, an easterly wind had sprung up with the cooler evening air and had carried the smell of the river and sewage along its way. Over Backlund Bridge, it entered East Borough and acquired the scent of the unwashed before skirting the smoky airs of St George and continuing on with its journey to the outskirts of Backlund.

However, an unpleasant smell was not the only thing that was travelling eastwards as night fell on the Loen capital. As the streets in the quiet suburb quickly emptied in the face of the latening evening, the impact of a pair of feet on hard cobbles began to echo against the facades of the houses. Soon, multiple pairs – the frequency of the sounds speaking to a pursuit and, from the gasping breaths and occasional wheezes accompanying the footfalls, one that had been ongoing for quite some time.

From the smog at the western end of one particular street emerged a young man, scrawny in a way that signalled one too many lean winters. His shoes were scuffed, his ragged grey trousers a couple of inches too short, and held up by a length of rope disguised as a belt. Above a shirt that could have been called cream at some point was a brown jacket to keep out the night’s chill. The ends of the sleeves had been frayed by the constant attention of worrying fingers. A flat cap was pressed down on a head of messy dark brown hair. The only thing that made the scruffy teenager stand out was a pair of strikingly pale blue eyes that seemed to hide beneath dark brows scrunched with exertion. The beads of sweat rolling down from his hairline despite the rapidly cooling temperatures showed how much effort had been expended up to this point.

Only a few seconds after this swift entrance appeared two men who could only be called thugs. Heavyset with thick meaty hands curled into fists, knuckles callused, the two thugs charged through the gloom after their target. Their faces were red and ugly, dripping with sweat. As the pair chased the thin teenager, they occasionally would turn their heads and spit; getting rid of the phlegm and dust accumulated with their long chase. Naturally, chases of such length do not develop for the sake of sport. The young man had, in walking his usual rounds scavenging by the banks of the Tussock River, spotted men from a local criminal outfit named the Parliament Street Gang (a fancy name for an unfancy bunch). Normally this would not be an issue, except for the fact that the gang was dumping the body of a local Member of Parliament’s nephew in the murky waters. No doubt the nephew, a renowned profligate gambler, had taken a loan from one of the shadier East Borough lenders and failed his repayments. Such a secret could not be leaked, lest political pressure force Sivellaus Yard to turn their eye towards the gang. An unlucky street urchin was an easy sacrifice to make in such a circ*mstance. By this time the chase had gone on for over forty minutes and both the urchin and the thugs were at their limits.

“Eddy you brat! Get back ‘ere or I’ll gut you!” One of the thugs gasped out. Eddy (for that was his name), realising he was known to the thugs, only sped up at the shout. Feeling like his lungs were on fire and his heart was about to burst from his chest, Eddy ran towards the eastern end of the street; cursing that he’d decided to search alongside that particular stretch of the river for washed-up scraps to sell. His skill at unearthing goods fallen from merchant barges, loose change and river-borne trash from the waters had earned him the moniker ‘Riverside Eddy’, but at the moment he wished he’d just decided instead to work in a factory and eventually choke his lungs out from the coal dust or break his back every day at the docks (like any respectable resident of East Borough). Anything was better than being slowly and painfully beaten to death by two thugs from the Parliament Street Gang.

At this point, Eddy knew that at least a third of the Borough was off-limits to him – even if he survived the night. The Parliament Street Gang was led by a strict boss. Blue-haired Mitch, a man with a reputation for making sure that loose ends were tied up and, if you believed the rumours, someone with mysterious powers. So, legs screaming for rest, Eddy coaxed another burst of speed from his aching body in an attempt to put some distance between him and his pursuers. However, his chronic malnutrition was beginning to show and the two better-fed thugs were starting to gain – clawing closer inch by blasted inch. Breath hitching as panic rose in his throat, Eddy dashed towards the end of the street where the Backlund outskirts gave way to countryside. Seeing that it was a T-junction bookended by an old stone wall (most likely the remnant of some old, enclosed pasture), Eddy made the decision to put an obstacle between himself and his chasers in order to disrupt them before they caught up to him.

As the junction approached, instead of pivoting right or left, Eddy decided to leap over the wall and into the open land beyond. However, his body refused to fully obey him and, instead of a graceful leap, Eddy caught his shins on the top of the wall and tumbled over messily. Stones, twigs, and old thorns dug into his outstretched hands and drew blood along with the sharp stinging of his battered shins. Cursing, Eddy stumbled forwards, hoping to put some distance between himself and the goons. Ahead was a wood, thick and dark. The spaces between the trees were snared with bushes and brackens. A perfect place for someone to hide.

By this point the thugs had started to climb over the wall, taking more care than Eddy had. There was no choice for the teenager but to trust his safety to the gloom of the foreboding forest. Hopefully, he could lose the men in its depths before finding a place to hide and recover. It was certainly too late to return to his usual sleeping spots in East Borough.

Eddy practically flew into the wood, arms in front of his face to defend against lashing branches; heedless of the one that tore the cap from his head. He ran for a couple of minutes, losing himself in the undergrowth. Head turning back to make sure he had broken line of sight with the thugs, he continued on briefly before abruptly turning and diving off his previous route. Making his lithe form as small as possible, Eddy stayed low and crept forwards; taking care to disturb the undergrowth as little as possible. Finding a hollow trunk and crawling within, Eddy finally managed to rest his complaining legs. He withdrew the old nicked knife from his jacket pocket and clasped it in both hands. Just in case.

His newly found hiding spot was not exactly comfortable. The rotting wood inside the trunk had splintered, the tight fit inside the trunk helping some slivers find his flesh. The enclosed space seemed to amplify the sound of Eddy's heart in his ears, allowing him to hear his rushing blood as his chest expanded rapidly against the surrounding wood. His rapidly cooling sweat had mixed with dust and dirt and coated his stiffening muscles. Within this cosy new home, Eddy listened to the outside - the crashing of the thugs in the forest. An exhausted smile appeared on his face when he heard one gangster shout some rather inventive punishments before cursing him by the Storm. It made sense. The Parliament Street Gang was a violent lot so of course they favoured the Lord of Storms.

Eddy stayed within the log for what seemed like ages, as the sounds outside began to fade and he felt the crawling of centipedes and woodlice on his skin as they once again emerged after the disturbance of his sudden entrance. The smell of rotting wood and rich earth was thick in his nostrils. A silent laugh shook his body slightly. It really had been a miserable evening. With the Gang on the lookout for him, his days on the riverside were over. It was too well-known as his haunt. His best bet would be to stay in the woods for a couple of days and forage for food before finding a new area of the city to scratch a living within. Of course, he would have to find or build a proper shelter. At this point, a night of rain could kill him just as easily as any thug.

Eddy's first thought was to go and find shelter. However, he quickly reined himself back in. The thugs were still in the wood. Although the chase was over, they were still searching. However, as time went by it would become more likely that they would believe he had given them the slip. Not to mention, with the only light being the glimmers from Backlund beyond the thick trees, it was almost entirely dark. Soon, the thugs would have no choice but to return to their boss empty-handed. Then, Eddy would be free to move. Calming his breathing, Eddy realised that the game had transitioned from one of speed and stamina to one of stealth and patience.

Even though his stiff muscles and cramped posture were becoming more and more painful, Eddy persisted.

"One Bill Augustus, Two Bill Augustus, Three Bill Augustus…"

Eddy counted the seconds under his breath, using the folk method of saying the nickname of the Loen Kingdom's Founder. After 2000 Bill Augustuses, voice hoarse and mouth dry with wood dust, Eddy finally wormed his way from the hollow tree trunk. He hissed as his neck and shoulders popped and pins-and-needles started in his right arm. Eddy's legs initially buckled as he stood up, but he caught his balance and began brushing his clothes off. His face set in an annoyed expression as he took in the many tears in his already-worn clothes. The shirt was salvageable, but the jacket and trousers were pretty much ruined. Not to mention he had lost his cap!

"I liked that cap…" he muttered to himself - confident that he was now alone in the wood. Orthos Wood, Eddy recalling the name from somewhere. A small forest, but surely big enough to conceal one teenager.

Now it was time to explore. A safe and sheltered place to sleep would be invaluable.


AN: Ok, hello. This is a complete experiment that I started writing after literally one afternoon of planning. I recently binged LotM and absolutely fell in love with it. So, naturally, being the degenerate I am, I immediately began looking for fanfiction. Having read a few, I came to some conclusions.

LotM fanfiction tends to come in basically two categories. The first category is that of short stories based around unexplored character interactions, new or expanded PoVs, or (most often) some Amon/Klein shipping. Generally, this is probably the highest quality stuff being written. Not only is it nicely self-contained, but it's also fun as a study of the novel's characters - some of which are criminally underutilized.

The second category is more difficult. These are long-form stories based around an SI or maybe OC transmigrators (mostly with meta-knowledge) who interfere in the plot. This comes with problems. No matter how well they are written or how engaging the OC is, the issue is that the core of LotM has been compromised. The mystery. The mystery of the series is a huge part of what makes it so engaging - all the questions we have about gods and Beyonders and Roselle and transmigration and the grey fog etc etc etc. It's certainly what made it so engaging for me.

Ok, so here’s the problem. We, the readers, have already read LotM. We know about the Original Creator and the Lord of the Mysteries. We know about the Sefirot and the Great Old Ones. All the mysteries have been solved (leaving alone the fact that a meta-knowledge OC also knows these things and therefore needs a power to protect them from cosmic corruption - therefore devaluing the horror of the Great Old Ones and making the MC immediately overpowered - I’m getting off-track). A LotM with no… uh… M is, well, a bit hollow. Therefore the writer needs to insert new questions into the story. Something to add the Mystery back into Lord of the Mysteries. I don’t know if I’ll manage that. But I’ll give it a go. So, be warned, this will get AU…

My plan is to post a chapter once a week. Hopefully with smaller and less rambling author’s notes. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 2: In Orthos Wood


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Long ago, the primal trees marched from sea to sea. Some traces of their reign still survive – like this dense and choking territory of root and thorn. The practicalities of Forge, or the mysteries of Moth, may see us through.

Orthos Wood was one of those forests that wasn’t particularly nice, Eddy couldn’t help but think. The coniferous trees were all slightly too close together, blocking out the sun with their interlocking canopy of needles. This meant that the forest floor saw little light. Here, as Eddy walked on a bed of dead brown pine needles, the slim trunks of the trees stretched up slim and bare towards the midnight sky. The thick undergrowth of the outer edges had given way to a dead and lightless heart. With the night, it became utterly eerie; the silence of the wood only broken by the buzzing of flies, moths, and the sound of Eddy’s footfalls. There were no signs of the forest animals he might have expected. Perhaps the deer and the birds were all asleep? Maybe the owls were taking a night off? Eddy’s internal lampoon did not bring him much comfort.

The night seemed clear of rain so far, but Eddy could not find anywhere with decent shelter. Hunger and sleep were starting to rear their heads. The run had taken a lot out of him. Nevertheless, Eddy trudged on – wincing whenever he broke a twig and heard the sharp snap echo out between the trees.

Eddy’s eyes were darting around, straining to see in the dark forest. Despite the emptiness around him, he couldn’t help but feel a rising sense of paranoia starting to take over. This was not a forest where gentlemen would gather their hounds for the hunt, or where ladies might spread a blanket and have a picnic while attended by their maids and servants. This was an old, unfriendly wood. Something in the atmosphere spoke of watchful aeons and endless forests that once blanketed the world. Now, even in this small remnant, this bastion of the true wild on the outskirts of Loen’s metropolis, it retained that air of mystery.

Trekking further towards the heart of the forest, a clearing in the pines suddenly opened up. At its centre was a great oak tree – completely out of place compared to the ubiquitous conifers elsewhere. Its trunk was wide, it must have been well over 30 feet across and 150 feet tall. Its branches were thick, snaring out in all directions from its body. Eddy could tell that it was ancient, roots breaking through the earth even at the edges of the clearing. This was, certainly, the oldest tree in the wood. However, in the past some catastrophic lightning strike had split the tree from head to heart, the bark around it charred and blackened. It seemed incongruous that the otherwise thriving oak had been marred by such a wound. The power of that strike must have been immense.

Eddy couldn’t help but move closer. Perhaps the large roots closer to the trunk might hold shelter for him? Regardless, there was something exciting about finding this ancient tree in the middle of Orthos Wood. It was the same feeling he got when he found a real gold pound in the river mud a few years back. That pound had bought him food for days (not to mention the ripped jacket he was wearing right now). Except, this time, he’d found not a gold coin, but instead a place that could only be described as magical. As he walked closer, he couldn’t help but admire the way the moonlight played on the dark leaves of the oak.

Isn’t it the new moon? The sky should be dark.

Nestled in the roots at the very base of the tree was an old stone bowl. It was wide and shallow, the edges overtaken by the wooden growths around it. It must have been placed a very long time ago and the tree had simply expanded about it. Crystal-clear water had gathered in the bottom of the bowl – shining silver in the light of the moon.

Silver? The moon is crimson. Moonlight is crimson. I know that.

Now Eddy was above it – kneeling. On a small spur of wood over the bowl was an amulet. Previously hidden by a quirk of the shadows, it hung from an old leather strap. The stone amulet itself was in a diamond shape with a hole drilled in one of the long ends for the strap to pass through. It was malachite, Eddy thought, green-black and shining. A mark had been carved in it. A stylistic depiction of a moth with outstretched wings. The lines were broad and simple but clearly carved by a steady hand. There was a sort of stark beauty to it that drew the eye. Eddy wanted it. It was a treasure. That’s what he did, wasn’t it? He found treasures.

No. Something’s wrong.

There was a noise. The rustling of paper-dry wings rubbing against each other. The sound of carapace clacking against itself. Something inside him was screaming now. Insistent. He stretched out a hand. The amulet was around his neck.

Buzzing. Agony. Eddy woke slowly, wincing as pain lanced through his head. He was curled up on the ground in front of the oak, a gnarled root digging into his back. Eyes cracking open, Eddy reached his hands up to his head, feeling a wetness on his brow. Blood, no doubt. He must have fainted. Adrenaline could not sustain a man forever, the hardships of his exertions and lack of sleep must have caught up to him. He’d fainted. Hopefully, he hadn’t hurt his head too badly. Eddy’s memories were spotty. He could remember the bowl of water and reaching out for the amulet. Yes, that’s when he must have fainted. Although, he did not know when he had travelled so far from the trunk. He’d moved at least 15 feet from where he remembered himself being last. It must have been a bad fall. The buzzing in his brain had not subsided. Still, rest was rest and Eddy felt a lot better. In fact, the gnawing in his belly had even ceased.

“All I needed was a nap, huh?” Eddy chuckled.

[Curiosity] Visitor? [Amusem*nt]

Eddy spun around – looking for the source of the voice (and emotions?) that felt like it had come from just over his shoulder. “Who’s there? Where are you?” The clearing was empty. Just Eddy and that same ancient oak. He calmed his hastened breathing and relaxed shoulders that had tensed in fright. His hand loosened around the hilt of the knife that he had not realised he’d drawn.

[Amusem*nt] Me. Here.

His hand tightened again. The voice was like the whisper of the wind in the trees. Like the beat of blood in his skull. Like the rustle of a moth's wings. The dark of the night and the eeriness of the wood only heightened the panic rising in him. The voice was not from behind him. It was in his head. “What are you? Why are you in my head?” His voice cracked with panic as his palms grew sweaty.

[Concern] Problem?

“Yes, there’s a blasted problem! I’ve been hunted by thugs, chased into a bloody creepy wood, cracked my head open and now there’s a voice in my head! I’m going mad!”

[Understanding] Not yet.

A choked laugh burst through Eddy’s lips. “Oh, well, that’s good to know.”

[Concern] Problem? Thugs? Help? [Sincerity]

“How could you help? You’re a voice in the head of a madman?”

A pause.


Eddy closed his mouth. Power. He was already mad, hearing a voice in his head. He was like those addicts and old men beneath Backlund bridge. Like the opium smokers in their hidden dens. Listening to voices, screaming at the crimson moon. Then again, he was now a man wanted by the Parliament Street Gang – a group led by a brute rumoured to have the strength of several men. Maybe he should listen to that voice that didn’t seem quite human.

“What’s in it for you?” In East Borough, the cautious survived.

[Grief] Trapped. You. Freedom [Sincerity]

“How were you trapped here? How long?”

Amulet. Long.

The amulet. Of course. A strange amulet hanging over a strange bowl sunken into an ancient tree in a creepy wood. Why would it not be magical? Did that mean that taking off the amulet would stop this nonsense?

Yes. But no Power.

Eddy thought for a time. Naturally, this was all absolutely insane but following the advice of the amulet-spirit-thing might not be a terrible idea. Worst case scenario he would just not follow its advice and throw it away (or, hopefully, wake up from this possible dream instead).

[Amusem*nt] Agreement? [Expectation]

Eddy straightened his posture, drew in a deep breath, and nodded. “I’m ready.”



AN: Chapter lengths might be inconsistent for a while. This is the first thing I’m writing for my own enjoyment in… well… ever. Beyond one-shots, that is. Yep, first time writing in four years that isn’t a history essay or a university dissertation. Anyway, I’m still finding my stride so I’ll definitely be reading the comments in case anyone has advice for me.

Chapter 3: Moth, Hemlock, and Holly


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

'In the midst of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood without paths. It is difficult to express how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was...' I don't recall exactly what occurred, last night, in the beating black between the trunks of the trees, where winged things moved beneath my hands. But now this morning my brain fizzes with fragments.

The preparations for this 'power' soon began. The Voice directed Eddy in clusters of single words and bursts of emotions - the more complex ideas translated in flashes of images that rose behind his eyes. Those were more painful than the now constant soft buzz that had taken root in his skull.

First was the bowl - apparently, the water in it was necessary. 'Purified', according to the Voice. Then came sprigs of tiny purple berries. Hemlock they were named. The Voice told him when it was enough. Pointed leaves from a holly growing on the edge of the clearing. A lock of hair, sawn from his head with his scratched knife. All of this went into the bowl and muddied the water within. So far it was not exactly filling Eddy with optimism.

Moths. Wings.

"How many?" No answer. "I suppose I'll just start catching them then…"

Thankfully, gathering moths was quite easy. Once Eddy started looking he found a frankly inordinate number of them. Insects really were everywhere. There seemed to be two main types: tan ones with spots and pale silver ones. Wings from both species went into the bowl. Finally, after perhaps 50 moths had been sacrificed to the bowl, the Voice signalled an end to the insectoid slaughter.

The Voice next sent an image. The lightning-split oak right in front of Eddy.

Bark. Wound. Charred.

On tiptoes, Eddy reached up to the lower end of the place where the lightning had splintered the heart of the tree. There the bark was blackened and a fair amount came off in his hands. This was the last ingredient. The Voice seemed to hum.


[Approval] Yes.

Eddy dropped the bark into the bowl. Suddenly, some strange reaction seemed to occur. The berries, leaves, and loose hair quickly melted like ice in boiling water; mixing with the liquid in the bowl to form a blackish-green suspension. So too did the bark and the moth's wings. The wings, floating on the surface of the water, rendered down into far more liquid than should have been possible. The water turned from a blackish-green to a shining silver. The charred bark disappeared into the mixture. Quicksilver. That was the thought in Eddy's head. It was like the bowl had become filled with pure liquid silver - mirrored and still. This was astounding. Had a collection of insect carcasses, leaves, and hair really turned into a mystical potion? Was magic real? In Eddy's eyes, either he had completely gone off the deep end, or, as seemed increasingly more likely, he really had stumbled on the means to gain real power. The power to shield himself from anyone who would hurt him.

[Indulgence] Drink. [Insistence]

Eddy kneeled over the bowl and lowered his lips to the potion. A flash of amusem*nt passed through him. The silver surface made it look like he was kissing his own reflection. His lips touched the liquid and the potion rushed into him.

The silver potion seemed to spread tendrils throughout his body, coiling around his brain, sneaking into his lungs, his heart. It shot down his spine and through his limbs. His hands felt like cold needles had pricked them. The night sky, obscured by clouds, seemed to turn pale and ghostly in front of Eddy’s eyes. The oak before him looked like a void. The absence of light. Objects within Eddy’s gaze seemed to shift. The now-empty bowl before him, the roots of the tree. A pebble by his right hand. They undulated like they were about to moult and give flight. The buzzing. It was so loud.

Something was happening to his skin, flaking away - as if a new ‘him’ was emerging from a carapace now too small to contain him. Then, it all fell away. That ever-present buzzing suddenly quieted to the lowest level so far. The pale sky and void-black tree, the shifting world all snapped away and Eddy was left kneeling on the slightly damp soil, panting.

He could tell. Straight away he knew that he was not the Riverside Eddy that had first walked into that clearing. The most immediate change was his eyes. The shadows of the trees on the far side of the clearing were now easy to see. He could see each leaf when before the night had turned them into indistinct shades. Undergrowth rustled in the distance and Eddy’s head snapped towards the sound, immediately zeroing in on a well-camouflaged owl flying up from the bushes with some type of rodent trapped in its claws.

Not only that, Eddy felt alive . Stronger, the movement of his muscles smoother. Just the motion of his arms and the turning of his head seemed more graceful - as if he were a trained dancer. He didn’t feel like it was a supernatural strength or grace, more like how he could have been if he had been well-fed from birth or if he had been trained by a gentleman’s tutor. Raising his stained shirt, Eddy could see a hint of abdominal muscles, sliding his fingers over their slight ridges in a daze. Fingers that felt far more dexterous than they had before.

Pulling his knife from his pocket swiftly, Eddy was shocked by how it moved in his palm, weaved between his fingers like it belonged there. Beneath the gaze of his new eyes, it danced and glimmered - mesmerising him.

It worked. It had really worked. Eddy threw back his head and laughed, the noise booming out into the silent wood. Goddess Above! It wasn’t like he’d become a deity (night vision and clever fingers wouldn’t hand him the world). But it proved it all. He wasn’t insane, the world of Beyonders; legendary people spoken of in children’s stories and by performers on street corners. It was real. And he was one of them. He was a Beyonder. Eddy couldn’t help but grin. This all meant he could become more powerful. This meant that he, little Riverside Eddy, could become powerful enough - one day - to defend against Blue Mitch and the Parliament Street Gang and any other person who tried to bring him down. He could do it. Him and the Voice.

“You there, Voice?” Eddy asked to the empty air, still smiling.

[Indulgence] Yes. [Happiness]

The Voice seemed clearer now, less faint.

“Thank you. Thank you.”


Eddy laughed again. “What happens next? How do I become stronger?”

[Solemnity] Not ready. Digest . [Sternness]

The Voice had not even taken half a second to reply. Eddy gulped as the foreign emotions pushed against his mind. “How do I … uh … ‘digest’ this potion”. Eddy felt a sense of frustration from the Voice, an inability to put its thoughts into the short phrases and single words it favoured.

Play your role. Name of potion.

Playing your role? What kind of role suited Eddy? He was a street-urchin, independent, wary of authority. He had eyes that were always darting - looking to find loose change in a gutter or a fallen handkerchief that could be sold to a tailor or a scrap-peddler. Was that his role? No. No that wasn’t right. That was just… him. Logically, a 'role' should be separate from reality. The Voice had mentioned the ‘name of the potion’. It had a name? Did he have to play the role of whatever his potion was suited towards? As far as he was aware, it didn’t have a name. The Voice hadn’t told him one at least.



“What’s the name of my potion?” That similar sense of frustration rose again before falling away. Perhaps he was asking too many questions. Pissing off the mystical Voice that had made him a Beyonder might not be the smartest of ideas. In the future he should be warier, and, Eddy added, more polite to The Voice - no - Mr. Voice. Sir Voice? Mr. Voice. Sir sounded weird in his head. Was it even male? Eddy wasn’t entirely sure.

Without warning a barrage of concepts and feelings bludgeoned into Eddy’s mind - overwhelming his train of thought.

Knives flashing. No. Twin blades, scissors?

Scissors dancing in skilled hands.

Unnecessary things falling away.

The shearing of wool - no - hair. Human hair.

Understanding bloomed in Eddy and he could feel Mr. Voice grasping the word just as he did.

Barber. “Barber.”

The sun was rising.


AN: Yeah, I know. ‘Barber’ doesn’t exactly sound impressive. Not like ‘Sleepless’ or ‘Assassin’. Edgy. Nor are the powers exactly impressive. Again, I know. Eddy hasn’t seen the extent of his Sequence 9 arsenal just yet, but I don’t want him to power-scale too quickly. He’s at the bottom of the ladder. There’s a long way to climb. A lot of concepts around his Path yet to build. So why have I introduced a non-canonical 23rd Pathway? That’s a consequence of the AU and one of the mysteries I mentioned in Chapter One’s author’s note. This isn’t the original LotM we know and love. Things have changed.

Chapter 4: Backlund's Back Tonight


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

On certain nights before the audience, there is a wing-lift of something more. What more could I become?

Bustle had returned to the streets of Backlund, the clanking sound of machinery booming from the factories, the rattle of carriage wheels, and the cracks of horsewhips cutting through the air. So too had Riverside Eddy returned from Orthos Wood to the streets of East Borough. Eddy walked down one of the filth-strewn roads, slipping between the people crowding the way in front of him. He quickly noticed something different from usual.

In East Borough, people saw plenty of unusual things. Still, a young man dressed in ripped clothes and, no doubt, covered in dried blood and looking as if he had been scratched half to death by a feral cat would normally attract some attention. However, Eddy couldn’t help but notice that the people he passed by seemed more ambivalent than he might have expected.

Eddy watched as a gentleman - a fine top hat, waistcoat, and an elegant cane - walked down the side of the street in Eddy’s direction. The gentleman’s eyes moved over Eddy. Instead of revulsion or a bit of shock at the teenager’s state, the gentleman’s eyes seemed to glaze over slightly and his gaze moved on. Was this part of the Barber’s abilities? It didn’t seem to Eddy like he was invisible. People could see him, they just… didn’t seem to care too much. He wasn’t invisible. Perhaps beneath notice would be more apt. Yes, their gaze would slip from his face as he passed by. Most likely, it wasn’t too powerful. Eddy was sure that he couldn’t get away with somersaulting down East Borough while singing at the top of his voice, but this was useful - very useful. Staying beneath notice would keep him alive.

A thought occurred to Eddy. A profitable thought; one that might help him in the dilemma with which he was currently faced. In order to ‘play his role’ as a Barber, Eddy would have to get a job at a barbershop. That would mean nicer clothes, enough to make him presentable to customers, along with a pair of scissors for good measure. A boy with a knife was suspicious, but a known barber with a pair of scissors couldn’t be more usual. Well, it could be explained away at least. All these things cost money though and, as Eddy moved gracefully around a rotund man who didn’t seem to have noticed him at all, he dwelled on the fact that urchins didn’t often come into contact with larger amounts of money. However, as Eddy ran his fingers over a fine leather wallet now hiding in his pocket, he concluded that he wasn’t like other urchins now.

Eddy wasn't normally a pickpocket. Some found it immoral, but not Eddy. No, it was more a matter of risk. Pickpockets could get rich pretty fast but they often got forced into giving a cut to the local gangs and, eventually, they'd be caught with their fingers in the wrong pockets. No, in the past Eddy had been safer searching for riverside scrap. Now though, with his deft fingers and lowered visibility, pickpocketing was a far less risky and far more enticing proposition. As he ducked into a nearby alley and checked his spoils, his new 5 soli put a smile on his face. Time to get some food and fill his empty stomach.

An hour later, Eddy was seated in a cafe - hands resting on a sated belly. A plate of lamb with peas, a small loaf of bread with butter, and a large cup of tea had set him back one whole soli. One soli was 12 pennies. That was a day’s wages for an East Borough dockworker. Only a day ago such extravagance would have disgusted him. Eddy wasn’t particularly heartbroken though. That was more food than he’d eaten in one sitting for most likely years - and he'd loved every second of it. As he covered a burp with his first, he swore to have at least one hearty meal every day. Anyway, it wasn’t like it was his money. Easy come, easy go. He’d… ahem… ‘earn’ more soon enough.

Eyes half closed, Eddy leaned back in his chair and looked out of the cafe’s window into the street. He caressed the malachite bead around his neck. Softly, so that nobody would overhear, he whispered. “Mr Voice? Are there many Beyonders in the world?”


“Can I trust them?”

[Insistence] No. Enemies. Careful.

Eddy nodded. Caution was just good sense.

“Are they like me?” He paused before rephrasing his question. “What are their powers?”

[Insistence] Many powers. Many Paths. None like you. Do not tell them. Unique. [Sincerity]

Eddy marvelled at the longest string of phrases he’d ever heard from Mr Voice. “Why am I unique? Why shouldn’t I tell them?”

My Path. My Sequence. They walk other Paths.

For another half an hour, Eddy questioned Mr Voice, hiding his questions behind his cooling cup of tea. He learned that there were 22 Pathways and that his Pathway was another one - a 23rd created by Mr Voice. ‘ Inspired by the others ’ is how Mr Voice described it. The most important thing was that, after ‘digesting’ his potion, Eddy could take a new potion in his Sequence but never one from another Sequence. Mr Voice was clear that such a thing would kill him or worse (Eddy didn’t want to find out what that meant). Each successive potion in his Sequence would make him more and more powerful and give him new abilities. All he had to do was act his part and find the ingredients to make his new potions. Mr Voice stressed that later ingredients would not be so simple as leaves, hair, and common moth’s wings. Soon, alongside his job as a barber, Eddy would have to join the world of Beyonders if he wanted to advance.

Mr Voice also stressed the need to be careful of the Churches. The God of Steam and Machinery, the God of Storms, and the Evernight Goddess (Eddy’s nominal deity) all had significant presences in the Loen Kingdom. St Samuel Cathedral in North Borough, Holy Wind Cathedral in Cherwood and St Hierländ in St George were all apparently Beyonder headquarters for the Backlund branches of Loen’s three national religions. The mention of the God of Storms made Eddy wary. That deity was the one worshipped by the people hunting him. While he was not a pious person by any stretch of the imagination, Eddy could not help but feel a certain level of animosity toward the Holy Wind Cathedral as a result.

Aside from the Churches, there were likely lots of other Beyonder groups in the city, but the Beyonders affiliated with the three deities were the only ones that Mr Voice was sure about. Eddy got the impression that Mr Voice was mainly working off conjecture and not actual knowledge. He must have been trapped in Orthos Wood for a while.

First, however, came clothes. Eddy was still in the muddy rags from last night’s forest excursion and only his ability to stay below general notice and an unsubtle flash of his wallet was stopping the cafe’s owner from kicking him out. A clean set of smart but cheap clothes would go a long way to keeping his presence discreet. Clean and normal clothes would serve as camouflage - both social and real. Doubly, the Parliament Street Gang (whose territory Eddy was conspicuously avoiding) would be on the lookout for a dirty urchin by the river, not a smartly-dressed barber in a shop. Plus, it would be nice to get paid for a proper job for once. A change of pace.

By late afternoon, Eddy had spent the rest of his new ‘earnings’. A trip to the local baths, and a shearing of his messy locks by a barber (Eddy had noted the flaws in his scissor technique) were first. Next, the tailor. A new set of shined black shoes, black trousers, a proper belt, shirt, and tie along with a dark grey waistcoat and jacket. A new flat cap topped off the look. All of these were of rather low-quality fabric and perhaps had some shoddy stitching but were leagues nicer than any clothes Eddy had owned before. Looking in the tailor’s mirror, Eddy was amazed by his transformation.

Compared to the lanky and undernourished guttersnipe of yesterday the difference was night and day. Tangled and knotted dark brown hair had been replaced by a short and fashionable haircut. His face was cleaner and his skin looked healthier. His pale blue eyes now looked more alive somehow - shining where before they had seemed flat and dull. The potion must have improved his height. He felt maybe an inch taller, and he looked less lanky too as he filled out his clothes with a healthier weight (still thinner than he would like though). And what clothes they were. With his new garb, Eddy looked like a member of the lower middle class. Perhaps on the poorer end of the lower middle class, with enough money to buy one set of somewhat decent clothes but nothing more. Regardless, he looked… good . Eddy might even say he looked a little handsome; even if the more discerning eye would notice and criticise the quality of his attire and so discount him.

Eddy straightened his spine. He should try and stop slouching. He wasn’t Riverside Eddy anymore. He cast his mind back to his childhood at his old orphanage and remembered the name by which the matrons had called him when he was rude or naughty. His name was Edward. Mr Edward Barton.


AN: Clothes make the man. Eddy’s still a bit rough around the ages, but he’s trying to make something of himself. Perhaps gaining some respectability along the way? We’ll see how that goes. Less of Mr Voice in this chapter - I don’t want this to degenerate into info dumps. We all know how the Sequences work in general so that can be skipped over. Eddy can learn the juicy stuff later in a more natural way. After all, Klein wasn’t handed all the info on Day One.

Also, I’m annoyed that the currency is made up of pennies, pounds, and soli. I’m sticking with it for the sake of consistency, but the original LotM translator really should have called them shillings instead.

Chapter 5: Mr Edward Barton, Barber


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

I knew a man who captured moths in a bell-jar. On nights like this, he would release them one by one to die in the candle.

Another few liberated wallets saw Edward Barton snag just over ten soli for his efforts. Pickpocketing as Edward Barton was far easier than as Riverside Eddy. Riverside Eddy was subtle and sneaky, but still suspicious for the keen eye. Edward Barton, on the other hand, in his cheap but neat jacket and pressed-down flat cap was indistinguishable from any other Backlunder who worked outside of a factory. His new bounty allowed him to put down rent for a room in a cheap and dirty tenement. For the short notice, he had to cough up a five-soli deposit to the landlord (a too-tall greasy man with disdainful eyes), but he wouldn’t have to pay rent for the first week. After that, the rent would be 3 soli and sixpence a week.

The room itself justified the cheap rent. It was small and dingy, light only coming from a window that could only open a couple of inches. From the third floor of the seedy tenement, it looked onto an alleyway. The furniture in the room was a low bed, a small table with its rickety wooden chair along with a wardrobe. The wood of the wardrobe had been stained by damp that was seeping through the walls in one corner of the room. A small fireplace acted as heating for the room. There was a slight hint of mildew in the air. Eddy didn’t mind though. The door had a lock and it was legal - it was his . It was miles better than sleeping in a corner of some abandoned house on the verge of collapse, or in the rafters of a warehouse. In those places, people had to sleep with one eye open. Eddy might still do that, it wasn’t a bad habit for an East Borough resident after all, but it still felt more secure. 3-and-a-half soli also wasn’t bad for rent. After food, he could probably manage a couple of weeks of living here before needing new income. He could definitely get a job that didn’t involve other people’s wallets by then.

After a solid night’s sleep, Eddy was in his new clothes and out the door around eight o'clock. He’d already marked three separate barbershops that weren’t in Parliament Street Gang territory and looked like they were large enough to accommodate a new worker. Most barbershops in East Borough catered to lower-paid individuals who just needed short hair in order to avoid getting it caught in machinery, or who just needed to look presentable for their low-paying clerical or service work. The first shop Eddy entered was called Marillon Barbershop - the painted sign outside proclaiming the name.

Walking into the barbershop, Eddy heard the bell above the door ring and straightened his jacket. A bearded man with a walrus moustache walked out of the back of the shop at the sound. Eddy doffed his cap.

“Good morning, sir. My name is Edwa-”

“We’re closed for customers.” The owner interrupted.

Eddy smiled in a friendly manner. “Of course, sir. I was actually here for another matter. You see, I was a barber in Pritz Harbour but I recently moved-”

“We’re not hiring any new barbers. Get out.” The owner’s voice was flat and he showed no emotions on his face.

“If you give me a chance, sir, I will prove tha-”

“No. Out.”

Eddy bristled at the rudeness of the barber, but again doffed his cap and smartly turned toward the door and left. He hadn’t expected such an unfavourable response on his first attempt. That’s not to say Eddy hadn’t expected a rejection, but he would have thought that a barber would have a better sense of proper customer service. He'd even had his backstory planned out just for the occasion.

Eddy shook his head. “Shopkeepers these days, why, when I was a young lad, people were far more respectful - ungrateful whippersnappers!” A laundry girl passing by with a basket of linens gave him an amused glance as she overheard his impression of an elderly man. Eddy smiled back before deciding to move on to his next opportunity.

A couple of streets away was Emerson's. Eddy had made it his second option because it gave an impression of being slightly more lower class than Marillon Barbershop. However, there was not much difference between the two. Between a tailor and a butcher, Emerson's was on Whiterose Street and fronted onto the street with a facade of dark green paint. The name of the place, above the shop's window, was painted nicely in gold letters. Eddy steeled himself and walked inside.

Once again, Eddy heard the ring of a bell as he entered the shop. The owner was already in sight, sweeping the floor with a broom. "Hello, young man! Here for a cut, are we?"

Eddy was already more optimistic at the friendly attitude of the portly man who had greeted him. He doffed his cap. "My apologies, sir. As you can see, I have had my hair cut recently."

"Ah, so you have lad. I don't recall you being one of mine though so you must not be here to complain!" He barked out a laugh.

Eddy couldn't help but smile. "No sir, I'm actually here to inquire about a job. You see, I worked as a barber in Pritz Harbour but the owner of the shop died and I had to move back home here to Backlund. I have the skills, and I was hoping that you'd give me a chance to prove them to you." He was glad to be able to deliver his deceitful spiel this time.

The owner, no doubt Emerson, leaned on his broom. "Confident aren't you, eh?" His face became serious before he abruptly turned and started preparing a chair. "Fine then, I'll give you a chance like you said. Cut my hair."

"Excuse me, sir?"

Emerson had already sat down and was looking at Eddy expectantly. "Scissors are behind the counter, grab 'em and get cutting. I want it short on the sides. Half-inch. Cut the top and style in the Conant manner. Sweep it to the right." Eddy just about knew what that meant and quickly moved behind the counter after a brief pause of surprise. He hadn't expected such a sudden practical test.

He grabbed a pair of silver scissors and flipped them in his hand before spinning them around his fingers. Emerson whistled, looking at Eddy in the mirror in front of him. "Fancy are we? Shall we try using those on hair?" Eddy snatched a comb and walked over to him and positioned himself behind Emerson's chair.

The sides were the easiest. The man had said half an inch and so Eddy measured it out with the comb and his fingers before starting his first cut. His first cut was perhaps too shallow, but Eddy quickly got into the process - deriving a sense of satisfaction as Emerson's light brown hair fell to the barbershop floor.

After the sides came the top. Conant style was a style that had come into fashion about a decade ago and was characterised by a tidy coiffe that curved back and to the side from the hairline. Emerson had wanted it moving rightwards. Eddy got to work, cutting, combing, and styling; taking care to make his cuts uniform and precise. After some minutes (he wasn't quite sure how long) he finished.

Emerson had been sitting quietly the whole time, watching Eddy's hands like a hawk. He stood up and smiled. "Not bad lad. You were a bit shaky at the start, but I can tell you've had experience with this before.” Eddy kept his face straight as he sent internal thanks to Mr Voice and the Barber potion. Emerson continued, unaware of Eddy’s thoughts. “Naturally, you could have done the job quicker. That'll be important during the after-work and weekend rushes. When you're with real customers you'll want to talk too and not just stand there frowning."

Eddy grinned. "Does that mean I have a job?"

"Yes lad," replied Emerson. "I'll have you five days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays off. Those are our slow days. You'll come in at nine in the morning and leave at six in the evening. I'll provide lunch." Eddy nodded at these conditions. Factory workers worked between 10 and 14 hours a day depending on how much of a slave driver their overseers were or if they had quotas to fill. Nine hours a day was great by those standards - the work being far less physically demanding too.

"We'll start you off on a pound a week until I have the full measure of you. Maybe that'll go up a few soli eventually if your presence allows me to take on more customers." Eddy nodded eagerly (a pound a week!). "Alright, that's the official stuff out the way, my name's John Emerson."

"Edward Barton, please call me Eddy, Mr Emerson." Eddy stretched out his hand and Emerson shook it firmly.

"Congratulations Eddy on becoming a Backlund barber! I hope you can start work immediately, it's about time we got our first customers."

Eddy found nothing wrong with this arrangement, especially given that, when he had finished Emerson’s cut and again when he had received confirmation of his weekly wage, he had felt something within shift . It was like a barrier inside him was slowly dissolving and a presence within him was merging into a more seamless state. He felt Mr Voice stir.

[Approval] Digestion.


AN: Well done on getting a job Eddy! John Emerson is way nicer than that rude Mr Marillon. As we can see, Eddy now has a legal job (baby steps) and is beginning to work out what causes his potion digestion to speed up. It won’t be long before he works out some solid Barber principles.

Chapter 6: Pounds and Principles


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

I tremble when the wind comes. The veins beneath my surface are apparent. I always carry a bead of malachite next to my skin.

Two weeks had passed since Eddy had started working at Emerson’s, and he was the happiest he had ever been. Emerson was a good boss with a sense of humour and lunchtimes would often find them sitting in the back of the shop eating their sandwiches and making jokes. Eddy had found out that Emerson was a widower. He’d lost his wife three years prior and his only son had joined the army and gone off to fight in East Balam. Despite this, he’d maintained his shop and had kept a positive outlook on life. Eddy felt that perhaps Emerson might have been lonely before he’d hired Eddy as an assistant, but was just good at hiding it.

On the financial front too, things were looking up. Eddy’s wage had quickly risen to 1 pound 5 soli as his speed and technique improved. According to Emerson, the shop had been making far more money since Eddy had joined so it was only fair. Rent was still 3 soli and sixpence and Eddy was spending around 8 soli a week on food. That left savings of 13 soli and sixpence a week. Eddy had spent another few soli on a second pair of clothes to wear and on some more money on a personal pair of scissors. They were made of good Conant Steel and shone in Eddy’s hands when he used them.

Working at Emerson’s had also helped with the digestion of his potion, his progress pleasing Mr Voice (who hummed whenever Eddy felt his digestion increase). He’d begun to work out a set of guiding principles that seemed to encapsulate how he should ‘act’ as a barber.

The simplest was to play the role of the barber - being an employed, official, barber was an excellent way to satisfy this requirement. After noticing that his digestion advanced both when cutting hair and receiving payment for his work, Eddy had formulated his second principle: take pride in your work. This meant performing to the highest level of skill possible and charging for your time at a suitable rate. These were the two principles that Eddy was most sure about.

The next two were the principles that Eddy had formulated but still felt unsure about. Eddy had felt, but was not certain, that larger and more time-consuming haircuts seemed to result in more digestion progress. It was hard to tell for sure given how vague the feeling was, however. Therefore, Eddy had tentatively formulated his third principle: help others transform or change themselves or the way in which they think of themselves. The second half of this principle had come about when he had sheared the matted locks of a dockworker. Afterwards, the dockworker had remarked laughingly that he felt like a new man - surprising Eddy as he felt his potion digest a little extra.

The last principle was the one that Eddy was most unsure about. He was hesitant but had thought that he’d felt his digestion increase after buying his second set of clothes and again after buying a razor and a comb with which to take care of his appearance. Therefore, the fourth principle: through changing others, change yourself.

These four principles had led to increasing the speed of his digestion rapidly. Mr Voice had previously commented that Beyonders without the acting method took a long time to digest their potions, but Eddy already felt as if he was almost halfway there after only two weeks.

As a result, Eddy felt that he soon needed to properly enter the world of Beyonders and attempt to find a place in which mystical ingredients and artefacts were sold. These things would help his advancement and allow him to protect himself. He wasn’t really sure if he had the money to buy anything, however, so he needed to scout out the state of the Beyonder markets to get an idea.

After subtly asking around in local pubs for about a week, Eddy had worked out that Beyonder gatherings were almost impossible to enter without a contact to introduce you beforehand. His best bet would be to search the black markets of Backlund for his Sequence 8 potion ingredients. This would suffice for Sequence 8, where Eddy assumed that the ingredients might be rare but not altogether mystical, but later Sequences would definitely require a presence in a real Beyonder gathering.

The largest black market in Backlund was in an area of the sewers that had, several decades ago, been closed off for repairs. A shift in the silt under East Borough had collapsed several tunnels, however, and the section was ignored due to the costs of re-excavating and reconnecting the tunnels. Eventually, it became home to a new black market. Eddy was sure that the police knew about the Sewer Market, but let it be. Better that they know the location of the black market than shut it down and see it reconstitute somewhere out of their reach.

That night, Eddy dressed up in his second pair of clothes and made his way toward the north end of East Borough, where the entrance to the old sewer system was. He made sure to place his Conant Steel scissors in the inside pocket of his jacket along with his old knife in his trouser pocket. After about ten minutes he was near the St Amalia Embankment (a set of raised flood defences in case the Tussock River overflowed). Ducking into a nearby alley and checking for anyone who might be watching with his enhanced night vision, Eddy put on a white mask that covered all of his face except his mouth. It had cost him one soli at a novelty shop. Having done this, he walked out of the alleyway and made his way beneath the embankment to where the stone wall gave way to a rounded tunnel entrance. It had originally been blocked with iron bars, but someone had removed them at one point. Two men were leaning next to the entrance, smoking rolled cigarettes.

“Evening.” Eddy greeted them curtly.

“Looks like a clear one.” The thug on the right of the tunnel responded in a flat tone.

“We can only hope.” Eddy returned. The thug on the right nodded, before gesturing for him to continue on into the tunnel. Eddy moved past them and entered the old sewers, relaxing as he realised the information he had received on the passphrase was correct. The tunnel was completely dry. It had been years since anyone had used it for its intended purpose. Nevertheless, there was a residual smell, like the stones of the tunnel had somehow absorbed some foul essence. However, after a couple of minutes, the tunnel opened up into an underground cavern that had been carved out from the network. There were lanterns hanging from the cavern roof that let a low light that suffused the market. The furthest corners of the cavern were still, however, shadowy. People, hooded, masked, or faces covered by scarves, walked between the stalls and peddlers.

There was, Eddy noted, an entire quarter of the market dedicated to narcotics. In the far end, shady stalls and makeshift huts housed opium dens where gentlemen could relax in a laudanum daze under the protection of anonymity. So too were there sellers of hallucinogens and some of the more potent herbal narcotics smuggled in from illegal plantations in West Balam. The sound of giggles and half-mad laughter from that end of the market was quite unnerving.

However, Eddy ignored the drugs and the occasional low-class prostitute and approached the section of the market that seemed more unusual. To the uninitiated, this section would seem out of place in a black market - full of useless-looking herbs and strange knick knacks. Silver charms and strange wooden carvings hung from every stall. Eddy, though, knew that this was the area that sold ingredients with mystical usages. He was actually shocked by the number of people buying and selling items there; from bales of dried herbs to what looked like powders and large animal bones. Stranger items too that he couldn't identify. Still, when he thought about it, he realised that Backlund was the largest city of one of the most powerful nations on the planet. It was only natural it had a thriving mystical population. Also, he rationalised, it was impossible to tell how many were true Beyonders and how many were simply mysticism enthusiasts.

Eddy spent the next half-hour walking around the market looking at mystical ingredients and comparing prices. He wasn’t able to buy anything. This was for two reasons. Firstly, prices were quite high. Eddy had seen some ingredients with price tags measured in pounds. This meant that he and his dozen or so soli wouldn’t be able to stretch far beyond a couple of items. After all, he still needed to eat and pay his rent. Secondly, he had no idea what he needed to buy for his Sequence 8 potion. Mr Voice had refused to tell him, citing that fresher ingredients closer to the time would be more effective and that he should wait until his digestion was closer anyway so as not to cause temptation to brew and take his potion early.

Eddy felt that this was quite unfair. Of course, he was keen to increase in power, but he wasn’t so stupid as to regard the warnings of Mr Voice. Naturally, during his hunt for the location of Beyonder gatherings, he had heard rumours about those who had lost control and turned into madmen and monsters. Such a fate terrified Eddy. He valued control over himself very highly and the idea of losing his identity to insanity was repulsive to him. He had resolved to keep a tight lid on his emotions so as not to tempt fate.

After some more time, he felt as if he had sufficiently scouted the black market below St Amalia Embankment and so left, making his way back through the tunnel and then out by the river. Breathing in deeply the cool air from the river, Eddy nodded at the tunnel guards before walking away and ducking back into the valley in order to take off his mask so he could head home. He may not have bought anything, but it was still a valuable evening. Scouting ahead of yourself could never be a bad idea.

However, as he took off the white mask and tucked it inside his jacket pocket, Eddy heard the sound of multiple footsteps as a voice rang out. “You there!” a harsh voice sounded. “There’s a toll to be paid ‘round these parts. People gotta pay up. After all, this is now the territory of the Parliament Street Gang.”


AN: Nothing good can last without strife. Eddy is making good progress but is realising that the Beyonder economy is harsh these days. He needs some quick cash. But before solving that problem, our barber friend has another pressing issue to settle.

Chapter 7: Shearing Away Unnecessary Things


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Certain acts are not quickly forgotten. They remember what I’ve done.

As soon as he heard the last thing the thug said, Eddy was filled with a sense of cold dread. His mouth turned dry and he felt sweat break out on his forehead. Goddess Above! This was the worst scenario he could think of! He’d only come to St Amalia Embankment because he knew it wasn’t Parliament Street Gang territory. How could he have known that the territories had shifted? Had they shifted? Or was the Gang overreaching in their patrols? What were the bloody chances of running into some of Blue Mitch’s goons? He’d already taken off his mask as well, so all that was protecting his identity was his flat cap and the fact that he bore little surface resemblance to the street urchin they were probably looking for. He was taller, cleaner, and better dressed than that unfortunate orphan. It could be enough. The dark of the night was also helping him, but anyone familiar with him would not take long to work out his identity. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down.

Back still facing the gangsters, Eddy pressed his cap down, lowered his head, and turned around. There were three thugs. Two were standing further back, half-hidden by the shadows in the alleyway. They were tall and broad - arms thick with muscle. The other was further in front. He actually had quite a handsome visage and might be called elegant, if not for the ugly sneer on his face. His dark hair was slicked back and Eddy could see the crimson moonlight reflect off the oil on it.

“Y-yes of course. Let me just get my wallet out. A toll is a toll y’know.” He let out a nervous laugh. High pitched. Slightly hysterical. Eddy wasn’t going to be a hero. If he could get out of this situation by handing over his wallet then he would. This was the smart thing to do. Make no enemies and have no problems. His affected stutter and apparent nerves would help sell the impression he wanted to put across. This acting could help him, just like his ‘backstory’ about being a Pritz Harbour barber that had helped him out a couple of weeks prior. However, his act was not entirely false. He could still fill bile rising up in his throat as panic gripped him. He tamped down on it. Barely.

“Good. Good. Let’s see it then. Hand it over quickly now, you wouldn’t want to waste our time would ya’?” The frontmost thug replied. Looking back over his shoulder at his backup and laughing. The other two returned his humour with a low chuckle. Eddy reached into his jacket and brought out his wallet, shuffling forward with his arm stretched out - wallet in his hand like an offering. He let himself flinch when the man-made to frighten him by faking a punch at his face; stumbling back after the wallet was grabbed from his wand. The thugs laughed raucously at his show of fear. Bastards.

The lead crook leisurely thumbed through Eddy’s wallet before looking up, a sneer on his face. “What? Only 8 soli. You mockin’ us or something?”

“N-no, of course not - I’d never! That’s… that’s just all I have!” Eddy let panic slip into his tone, stretching out his hands in supplication to the three. Of course, Eddy had more money at home, enough to pay a week or two of rent, but 8 soli was honestly the majority of his savings.

“Really? Because it looks to me like you’re saying that we’re only worth 8 soli to you. I think that’s disrespectful.” The thug was openly grinning now, turning around to ask his two friends if they felt the same. Despite the shadows, Eddy’s night vision could see that they were grinning too. This was bad. They weren’t out for his money, they wanted to mess with him, maybe even rough him up. That would be too dangerous, if they saw his face he would be at risk. One last throw of the dice. The cautious survive. No enemies, no problems. He repeated the mantra in his head, tamping down his anger and humiliation.

Eddy quickly kneeled down on the dirty cobbles of the alleyway. “Please. Please, I’m not disrespectful, it’s all I have. It’s yours!” Eddy, however, was soon disappointed. The thug who had caused this scene in the first place stalked forward, as he did so, throwing Eddy’s wallet on the ground in contempt.

“I don’t think you're being sincere with me…” Eddy was speechless. Internally he was shouting. Why are you so upset, did someone spit in your porridge this morning? How is this not sincere enough? I’m literally kneeling in front of you. Well, I suppose I am being insincere - but this criminal doesn’t know that.

While he was silently mocking the situation, the lead thug kicked Eddy in his sternum - knocking him to the ground in a heap. Eddy stayed still, muscles clenching. He would have run at that moment, but, under his cap, his pale eyes saw the other two thugs move around him and close off his escape. The lead thug crouched down and sat on his heels, peering in to look at Eddy. “Don’t worry mate, we’ll make sure to teach you some respect.” He casually reached his hand forward and ripped the cap from Eddy’s head, tossing it further down the alley. He leaned in, about to deliver another insult, when he paused - a look of recognition passing over his face. sh*t . That expression quickly changed, however, when Eddy lunged forward and in one smooth motion buried the long blades of his scissors in the man’s right eye socket.

A scream of agony split the air as the bleeding thug reeled back, clawing at his face. Eddy immediately moved.

He whirled around, spinning on an axis around his right knee to face the second gangster. He reached into his pocket, drawing his old knife and, with his Beyonder-enhanced dexterity, sent it spinning into the throat of the gangster. The man had been frozen in shock as their previously timid target seemingly turned into a brutal and frenzied animal. But, as the knife pierced his windpipe, he collapsed to the cobbles with blood starting to leak from his neck in a rapidly increasing flow.

The third thug was more level-headed. He wasn’t letting himself become shocked into stillness by the sudden violence. By the time his friend had hit the ground, he had already started moving forwards. He had withdrawn a sturdy baton and was attempting to close in on Eddy - aware that he had thrown away one of his weapons. Seeing this, Eddy reached back across to the lead gangster and violently ripped the scissors out of his eye with a twist. The piercing screams cut off as the gangster convulsed once and lay still. He had probably fainted from shock. The thought passed through Eddy’s head almost serenely.

His scissors were stained red and covered in some sort of lumpy matter, but Eddy had no time to focus on that as he closed with the last thug. Immediately they started exchanging attacks. The tight alley made it difficult to dodge, so Eddy just charged the man. He tanked a hit from the gangster’s baton on his right ribs and hissed as the pain washed over him. However, his sacrifice had allowed him to sink his scissors into the man’s stomach - causing him to hunch over with a gasp. Quick as he could, Eddy pulled out his scissors before driving them back into the man’s gut over and over again. A wild hit from the wounded man impacted his ribs again where the baton had landed before. Pain . It rang in his head. He gritted his teeth and pushed through it. After a few stabs he stepped back before jamming his blades right into his jugular - leading to a spurt of hot blood that sprayed onto him. His shirt was speckled with red.

Eddy hunched over, gasping for breath, hands on knees. The fight had probably lasted ten seconds, no more than fifteen, but it had felt like far more. He stayed like that for a few short moments before straightening up and moving over to the instigator of the conflict. Bending down and checking his pulse, he found that the man was still alive. Shock and blood loss would most likely deal with him, but Eddy decided not to risk it and cut his throat like the other man. He wiped his scissors on the man’s jacket before patting him down and taking the thug’s wallet. Then he retrieved his own from the cobbles - taking care not to overly stain either of the items. He also scavenged the corpse of the man he had repeatedly stabbed and took the money he found as well.

Finally, he headed toward the end of the alley. There he found the last of the Parliament Street Gang’s men. The gangster had, by the looks of it, dragged himself along the ground as if to escape the fight. There was a trail of blood that led up to the corpse of the man. He had bled out. The wound in his throat was too deep. Eddy must have hit a major blood vessel for him to die so quickly. He too was looted - although Eddy had to pause as his ribs protested him bending down to grab the man’s belongings before pulling his old knife loose from the cadaver. It came away with a wet sucking noise.

Eddy looked around the alleyway, face pale at the bloody carnage that occurred only a few short moments before. He turned and stumbled away. Home. He had to get home.


AN: First time writing an action scene. I always get annoyed when I’m reading a fight scene and they write something like “they fought for another 15 minutes” Like, unless it’s an epic duel between champions, fights are quick, dirty, and super tiring. It’s literally people going all out to try and murder each other - it’s hard work. Anyway, we’ll see the emotional consequences of this next chapter. Eddy might have grown up rough, but murdering three dudes in an alley will ruin anyone’s night (unless you’re on the Abyss Pathway - then you’ll probably find it relaxing). He's no psycho.

Chapter 8: Incarnadine


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Mother pierces, the Witch demands, the Sister dissolves. And so my skin is as thin as rain.

Eddy stumbled through the door of his apartment, unknowing of how he got home, or the route he took. Instead, he half-collapsed on the wooden floor of his single room. He had killed three men tonight. He was a murderer.

It had been easy . So easy.

The fight could not have lasted more than 10 seconds. 15 at a stretch. In that short span of time he had brutally snuffed out three lives. He had stabbed people, repeatedly. He had cut throats. Their blood was still on him. He could feel it, already dried to his skin - viscous between his fingers. He could feel the hot pulses of pain in his side, where the thug had got him with the baton. No. Not the thug. The man . He probably had a family - would they mourn for him soon?

Suddenly he felt disgusted by his clothes, by the red speckles on his shirt, by the way his sleeves were soaked and heavy with blood. His shoes were filthy - mud and gore mixing on their soles. Eddy began to rip off his clothes. They were thrown in the corner of the room furthest from him, heedless of damage, as he curled up by the door. He shook as the adrenaline left his system and left him cold. His vision was blurring and his head was spinning. It was all his fault. It was all his fault.

[Insistence] No. [Comfort]

Not your fault.

“Mr Voice?” Eddy shakily replied.

Not your fault. You tried. They saw you.

“I killed them.”

No choice. They saw you. Think. Remember.

Eddy instinctively tried to deny it, but the unpanicked part of him protested. He had tried to give them his money. When they’d gone further he’d knelt. Abased himself. He’d begged. He’d begged like some base cur. It was only when the lead gangster had recognised his face that he’d responded. By that point, it had been too late. He’d had no choice. The Parliament Street Gang must have some sort of picture of him - a way of identifying him. Otherwise, there was no way the man would have found him familiar. Perhaps this whole situation was worse than he’d imagined if they’d put so much work into identifying him. Just what had he stumbled into?

Eddy began to draw himself back together, piece by piece, running through the events of the evening. He analysed every choice he made, checking to see if he would have chosen differently if he could live it all again. Sure, he could have run when the thug first called out, but by then they were too close. There was no guarantee that he could escape from them without being heavily injured or even dying. No, the choices he made were distasteful ones - but the only ones that prioritised his survival. It was not his fault that they had chosen to torment him. They had backed him into a corner, it was not his fault that he reacted violently. They had chosen crime, and crime had chosen them. He may not be innocent, but he was justified.

Good. Adapt. Learn.

Eddy let out a breath and muttered his thanks to Mr Voice. It was time to deal with the consequences of that night’s encounter. First, Eddy grabbed the towel hanging from his door and went to wash himself in the communal shower on his floor of the apartment building. Due to the late hour - now past midnight - the corridor was empty. Eddy made sure to scrub every hint of blood from his body; rubbing until his skin was reddened and raw. The warm water was calming.

Afterwards, he made his way back toward his room, getting changed into a set of sleeping clothes and slippers. This done, he crouched over his blood-soiled clothing and removed the wallets he had taken from the dead thugs. The clothes were bundled up for washing. Of course, Eddy could not give these clothes to a laundry woman - the sheer amount of blood would be extremely suspicious and might link him to the murders. No, it was best that he handle the washing himself. In the worst case, he would simply burn his new suit and buy a new one with his savings. It would only be a minor sacrifice.

On the subject of savings, Eddy moved his attention back over to the wallets. He did not like the idea of looting the dead, but it was an undeniable fact that he could do with all the money he could get. He rationalised; how was it worse to take money from a corpse with now no use for it than to pickpocket someone who might need it? Justifying his actions, he picked through the three wallets. He quickly became shocked before a small smile worked its way onto his face. Together, the three thugs had just over 4 pounds of cash on them. The bills were crisp and clean - the face of William Augustus VI staring out at him from three rectangular pieces of paper. The rest of the money was in soli. One wallet contained the majority of the cash. Eddy reasoned that it must have belonged to the lead gangster. He could not recall which wallet had belonged to which corpse.

Eddy paused. In one night his savings had reached 5 pounds and 4 soli - certainly enough to buy his Sequence 8 ingredients when the time came. He let out a bitter laugh. It was almost funny how fortune came from such trauma. Eddy sobered himself. Besides, it was not like the money would last. He might well require a new suit, and he’d always need money for rent and food. Nevertheless, Eddy could not deny that the three deaths had benefited him in some respects and that he needed to accept that fact.

It was time to sleep. His exhaustion was quickly catching up with him, so Eddy crawled into bed after hiding away his new money in a wallet under his floorboard. He turned off the gas lamp by his bed that was illuminating the room and closed his eyes. Sleep did not take long to claim him.

When he woke up, Eddy realised that he’d overslept. Despite the traumatic events of the previous night, reality could not be denied. He was late for work. He scrambled out of bed, wetting a cloth and wiping himself clean, before dressing in his singular clean suit. He cast a glance at the pile of blood-stained clothes still sitting in the corner of his room. He’d deal with that after work.

Eddy made his way toward Emerson’s. The day was clear - the kind of blue sky that heralds a cold morning. However, even in the early part of the day, Eddy could feel the heat of the sun warming up the air around him. By mid-morning it would get hot out on the streets of Backlund. Such was a Loen summer. People would sometimes joke that it felt like the weather couldn’t quite make up its mind about the temperature it wished to be.

Soon, Eddy reached the shop and ducked inside, making his way through the still-empty shop to the back room. He doffed his flat cap briefly. “Good morning Mr Emerson.” Emerson was sitting at the table in the back room where he and Eddy normally ate lunch. He was reading a paper - the East Borough Tribune.

Emerson looked up. “Oh, good morning Eddy. Was the walk agreeable?” Eddy gave him a somewhat puzzled look.

“Yes, sir. It was brisk, but I believe the weather should warm up by midday.”

“Ah, that is good to hear, but I was not particularly speaking of that.”

“Then what, sir?” Eddy answered with his back to Emerson as he hung his jacket up on a hook.

“Why, the murders of course. Did you not hear?”

Eddy’s mouth dried up. He gulped. “Murders?” He paused. “No, sir. I don’t believe I did.” He kept his back to his boss, not trusting his face to look normal.

“Nasty business - happened last night apparently. Stabbed and brutalised most dreadfully they say.”

“How awful. Where did this crime occur?” Eddy tried to force some curiosity into his voice, but winced when his question came out sounding flat.

“Down by St Amalia Embankment. Bad area, I say.”

Eddy nodded his head rigidly. “I couldn’t agree more, sir. Not the sort of area I frequent. I hear it’s filled with violent hoodlums.”

Emerson looked up. “Not that Sivellaus Yard would concern itself with such things, eh?” There was a hint of humour in his voice.

Eddy injected faux-shock into his voice. This time, he performed better in his act. “Why, that would require proper policemen! Perhaps Sivellaus Yard should hire some?” Emerson laughed at that, before folding the paper and getting up. He passed Eddy, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Enough of the morbid! We have hair to cut! I’ll open up for the day, you should sweep the floor.” Eddy gladly let him leave with just a nod. He cast his eyes toward the headline of the paper that was still lying on the table.


Eddy’s gaze hardened as he stared at the headline. He stood still for perhaps a minute; a frown on his face, eyes hard. Abruptly, he turned on his heel and walked out of the back room. Let them write. He had no need to make justifications. He was the only person he needed to convince.


AN: Eddy was never an innocent child, but such things take a toll nonetheless. It seems he has come to some sort of balance. We will see if it is a good one.

Chapter 9: They Made Ready For War


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

When our ancestors forged swords, taught the arts of martial movement, spoke curses on the eve of battle - all these things shared certain patterns.

Since the fight around St Amalia Embankment, Eddy had been reevaluating his plan regarding the Parliament Street Gang. Previously, he had planned to avoid them altogether, skirting their territory within East Borough and sticking to Zmanger or Raker turf. He had hoped that he would be able to slowly build up power and keep himself safe until the gang had largely forgotten about him, or until he could show he wasn’t someone they could provoke.

However, Wednesday evening’s events had shown the flaws in that plan. By the looks of things, the Parliament Street Gang didn’t seem to be letting go of the issue of ‘Riverside Eddy’. In fact, the recognition by the thug in that alleyway (even seeing past Eddy’s new clothes) showed that they had made sure that their members could recognise him on sight. Additionally, the presence of patrols outside their usual territory meant that Eddy could no longer guarantee his safety in the rest of East Borough. If they were pushing through the alleys near the Embankment, then how long until they wrested control of the Black Market from the Rakers and cut off his access to ingredients? How long until Blue Mitch’s goons were walking patrols outside Emerson’s? How long could his luck last? No. He had to stop being passive. It was time for a new plan.

The priority was reaching Sequence 8 as soon as possible. He wasn’t sure what would happen when he drank the next potion in his Path, but strengthening his current powers or gaining new ones could never be a bad thing. Mr Voice wasn’t too helpful in this regard. He was almost constantly ‘sleeping’ (for lack of a better word to describe the silence of the mystical entity that lived inside his head). Even when he was ‘awake’, his natural reticence and inability to speak in full sentences made things difficult. All Eddy knew was that Sequence 8 would not harm his chances.

A week passed in this manner. His ribs had healed quickly, far quicker than he expected. Whether this was due to his Sequence 9 body or simply due to having adequate nutrition for the first time in his life, Eddy was not sure. Either way, he was back in good condition. He did have to burn his old clothes though. Some stains, he had learned, do not come out.

His work, however, had suffered in the meantime. He was less dextrous for a few days as sudden movements had caused pain in his side. It was only a minor thing, but he was sure that Emerson had noticed it after he had winced one too many times. Fortunately, the man had not mentioned it to Eddy - showing once more that he was the kind of person that respected others. Friendly, but not intrusive.

However, as Eddy healed from his ordeal, the neighbourhood had not. A certain level of brief hysteria born from the alarmist headlines had settled into a grim acceptance. Nobody said anything publicly, but everyone knew that the dead men were from the Parliament Street Gang and - crucially - far outside of their usual territory. The ever-present gang warfare had stepped up a gear. Blue Mitch blamed the Rakers and the Zmanger Gang and had started pushing into their territories. The gangs in question had not taken this kindly.

Two days after Eddy’s fight, bodies had been found by St Amalia Embankment with slit throats and chests almost opened from the number of times they had been stabbed. Once Rakers, now just cadaverous tools for the Parliament Street Gang to sow fear among their rivals. That night, fires had been lit on the docks and warehouses blazed as the local residents formed bucket lines down to the Tussock River. Eddy had not helped. He had not dared.

Not too long after, a running battle had broken out on Mirminsk Lane. It was rumoured that Blue Mitch had tried to push into Zmanger territory and take over the tenements on the corner of Mirminsk Lane and Carolus Street, but that he had been met by the tall Highlanders that made up the Zmanger Gang. The more obscure rumours, the kind that you might hear down by Backlund Bridge, said that in that fight Beyonders had fought Beyonders and their struggle had collapsed the wall of one of the tenement blocks. In the chaos, smaller gangs on the periphery had raised their heads and made plays against their rivals - leading to a dozen little skirmishes across the Borough. In any case, dozens of people had died - including some of the families inside the poor-quality apartments.

Overnight, the atmosphere had changed. Everyone knew that the gangs ran East Borough. Everyone knew there would be bloodshed when they clashed over land, goods, or pride. Everyone accepted this. What people did not accept was the death of innocents. On Parliament Street and in the stronghold of the Zmangers they might describe it as unfortunate collateral damage, but the residents of East Borough would not brush it aside so easily.

People who were normally bystanders, outside the world of gangs, were now prepared for more violence. Men walked with darting eyes, hands tucked into trouser pockets or patting their jackets where they had hidden knives and batons. Women held tightly to their children and did not let them play in the street.

Sivellaus Yard was silent, the patrols fewer. They knew not to fight for a lost cause.

By the time a full week had passed, East Borough had settled into an uneasy stalemate. The running battles and murders had lessened in intensity, returning to the night and the alleyways rather than out in the open as before. However, it was clear that the conflicts that erupted out of the Embankment stabbings had not been resolved. Everyone was just waiting for the next phase of the gang’s war to erupt.

Eddy did not intend to wait so long. He was, perhaps, no more than a week away from completing his digestion and needed to find the ingredients that Mr Voice, after so much time spent begging, had deigned to tell him. Orthos Wood would be his first stop. After all, he had little more than five pounds to his name - not enough to buy true Beyonders ingredients. He would have to scavenge for as much as he could.

When he had first entered Orthos Wood, breathless and panicked from his long pursuit, it had seemed a dark and daunting place - lifeless and eerie. Now though, with the blessing of the Barber, his eyes could see through the shadows and he could move gracefully over the snared roots and around the thorns that had stymied him on his last visit.

On his way into the heart of the bleak forest, where before he had seen no evidence of life, his sharp eyes noticed the hidden nests of birds in high branches, the silent flight of owls hunting rodents, and the flitting of the ever-present insects that almost seemed to be drawn to him.

His path into the wood garnered him three feathers of a crow, plucked from the headless corpse of the bird - a victim of some skulking predator.

On his way he also pinched moths out of the air with his unnatural dexterity; dropping them into a handkerchief in his left hand. He had gathered the twenty required by the time he reached his destination. The moths made sense in a way. His first potion had required the wings of moths, and now his second needed their entire bodies - there was a certain progression, a kind of pattern there. The crow feathers were a bit stranger, however. In the end, Eddy decided not to waste time on the specifics of potion ingredients. They did the job and, frankly, he didn’t want to inquire any further. He had been a bit put out when he realised that the berries in his Barber potion had actually been very poisonous. Apparently logic didn’t quite apply to Beyonders.

Soon, he once again reached the great oak that dominated the centre of Orthos Wood. It was still vast and ancient-looking - somehow giving off a sense of nobility despite the lightning-scar marring its trunk. The clearing did not seem as eerie as it had on his first visit though. The red light of the full moon shone on the bowl in which his Sequence 9 potion had been made. Somehow, despite the recent hot and dry weather, the bowl had refilled with crystal-clear water. Eddy started to collect some in a leather skin.

“Mr Voice, do I really need this particular water? I can buy pure water down at the Market, surely?”

[Insistence] No. This water. [Steadfast]

Well, that answered that. He wouldn’t dispute the spirit-thing’s words. At least, not when he still had so much to gain. Eddy winced at that thought. He was coming off as ungrateful and far too callous for his liking. Besides, he didn’t know if Mr Voice could access his thoughts. He’d given no indication of any such ability (although it would make sense to hide any power like that). No. Mr Voice had helped him beyond anything he could have imagined in his previous existence. He could, at the very least, give him (it?) the benefit of the doubt.

Finishing up with collecting the water, Eddy stood up and, giving a last look to the clearing where he had started on his Beyonder journey, began to make his way back into East Borough. With the water, moths, and crow feathers, he had gathered half the necessary ingredients for his Sequence 8 potion and - most crucially - the ones that required no expenditure from his already lacking funds. The next phase of his plan would take advantage of the situation in East Borough in order to gather the more expensive ingredients and, hopefully, deal a blow against the ever-present threat of the Parliament Street Gang. It was time for Eddy to get a little more… involved.


AN: Eddy's actions have rippled out into East Borough. There are consequences to every action.

Chapter 10: There Is No Vice But Beggary


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

There is a dark Wood that presses against the windows of the sleeping mind. There is a nest in the branches woven of black silk and white hair.

Crow feathers, moths, and pure water from the heart of Orthos Wood. These were the cheap ingredients. Three more remained, each more expensive than the last. 10 pence had bought him a bottle of Lanti Proof, an ingredient that had frankly baffled him. Mr Voice had said it was appropriate, however - amusem*nt leaking through with his words. Eddy was somewhat mollified though with the fact that he only needed ten drops. He’d save the rest for after the weekend rush at Emerson’s.

The night saw Eddy once again make his way to St Amalia Embankment. This time, he was not taking any chances. Along with his Barber’s ability to stay beneath notice, he stuck to the shadows and stayed out of sight. His white half-mask was waiting in his jacket pocket. Along with these precautions, Eddy had also armed himself. His usual pair of scissors and old knife had been joined by two more knives - one in a hidden sleeve pocket, and the other tucked inside a boot. Nobody would accuse Eddy of a lack of caution. Plus, multiple weapons would allow him to utilise his knife-throwing skills without leaving himself weaponless (a valuable lesson from his last fight). Nonetheless, even with all these precautions, Eddy was still nervous. It would, after all, be a long night ahead.

He couldn’t help but notice, as he made his way closer to the market’s entrance, the heightened presence of Raker thugs. When he had first visited, only a week ago, only two guards had guarded the tunnel - leaning casually against the wall of the Embankment. Now, after open warfare had erupted between the criminal powers-that-be, the Rakers were clearly not so relaxed. Six men stood at the tunnel entrance, all openly showing batons or big butchering knives. As Eddy’s eyes moved over them, he could see the telltale bulge of a pistol in the pockets of more than one. Normally such a detail would be naturally hidden by the dark, but there was nothing natural about Eddy's enhanced eyes. Looking further, he thought that he would not be surprised if there was a Raker with a rifle posted up in a nearby building or even a tree. Maybe even more than one. They were probably watching him now. Admirable caution in these troubled times, Eddy thought, as he brushed past the fact that all of this was his fault.

He had relaxed his powers (something he had recently learned to do) on his way toward the tunnel entrance so that his appearance would not cause alarm. It would not do, after all, to suddenly pop up in the middle of a group of twitchy and highly armed gang members. Even still, he was stiffly questioned by the gate guards and had to give the new passphrase under the stares of the hostile men. When he finally got through them, he shuddered from the adrenaline. It wasn’t like he was doing anything wrong (he had no problem with the Rakers), but he still had not got used to interacting so closely with such dangerous people. He was getting better, but these things took time.

Fortunately, the black market was a bit more relaxed. Of course, it was still an illegal gathering of criminal filth, but it was at least still vibrant and bustling. A bit of gang warfare would not stop illegal commerce. To be honest, it might even help it along a little. The prostitutes were still prostituting, the opium dens still full of empty-eyed addicts. It was, however, to the more mystical quarter of the market that Eddy made his way toward.

He ignored people hawking purifying bullets and protection charms in favour of those selling herbs and medicines. Eventually, he found what he was looking for. One stall, run by a diminutive old woman swathed in a hooded robe, held a tiny little vial of autumn crocus essence, pale lavender with fine particulates swirling inside the liquid like a mist. It was made from the oil of the autumn crocus' stamens. These stamens were tiny and hard to pick (as well as only yielding a drop or so of precious oil) - making the creation of a single vial an arduous process. After a bit of haggling, he managed to get the price down to an eye-watering three pounds. Three pounds! That was just under three weeks of income gone in a flash. For what? A tiny little vial of nothing? Eddy sighed. It could have been worse. He might have managed to get a fairer price if he’d bought in bulk, but the little vial already contained more than he needed. Of course, three pounds was nothing to secure himself more power, but wiping out 60 percent of his savings on a single purchase was always going to leave a wound.

Eddy moved on to his last potential purchase. The stall he approached stood out in more ways than one. Most of the market stalls were drab, the true value tied up in the goods they were selling. This also served as a valid self-defence tactic. Although the Rakers enforced a semblance of law and order in the Black Market, it was still sensible not to stand out too much. The particular stall in which Eddy was interested, however, bucked this trend.

The stall was absolutely swathed in ornate textiles - multicoloured in a glorious array of bright clashing colours and conflicting patterns. Twisting patterns from Azshara met roaring bears and flying eagles from Feysac. Golden moths and feathered serpents adorned the heavy black drapes that framed the stall. The counter was covered in samples of textiles, the back of the stall shrouded by bales and bundles of cloth and silk. In a chair behind the counter slouched a man in a very fine black suit embellished with elegant gold thread around the lapels and cuffs. Disturbingly, however, his face was covered with an uncomfortably realistic insect mask. Harsh mandibles dropped down from the bottom of the mask and bulging compound eyes stuck out above them - shining and mirrored. The whole thing was… eerie. Eddy imagined that the compound eyes must be very frustrating to see through. Nonetheless, he drew closer. He needed answers to some questions.

[Unease] Dangerous. Be careful. Be polite. [Insistence]

Eddy started slightly in shock. Mr Voice had never warned him like that before. He had visited the market and never heard anything like that - even though he must have been surrounded by Beyonders. Just how strong was the man in front of him? Sequence 7? Sequence 6? He was sweating under the half-mask. Be polite? He could do that. No wonder nobody was eyeing up the stall. Who would want to mess with someone like that?

As he approached, Eddy couldn’t help but feel the temperature around the stall dropping. As a Barber, he didn’t have much spirituality or spiritual sense (something he was more than a little disappointed about), but even he could feel a palpable, tangible, presence from the man in front of him. It would be best to be courteous, but straightforward. He doubted a powerful Beyonder would enjoy having his time wasted.

“Good evening, sir.” Eddy winced as his voice came out slightly too high-pitched. He cleared his throat.

“Good evening.” The voice that echoed out of the insect mask was deep. Perhaps Eddy only thought it because of Mr Voice’s warning, but he felt that it was a voice that rippled with power.

“I was wondering if you have a particular textile. I’m looking for a bale of silk from an Azshara worm that has not yet been dyed. Do you have such a thing in stock?”

The insect mask tilted. “Yes. I believe I do have such a thing.”

Eddy let out a breath of relief, but the man continued.

“However, it is quite expensive. Lenburg does not produce much silk and the Azshara worm is rare. It is even rarer to find such silk outside of Lenburg, given the substantial tariffs both Feynapotter and Masin place on the route through the Central Highlands.”

Ah. There was the catch, and, most likely, the reason why the silk was being sold under the Embankment. The Feynapotter Kingdom often imposed high tolls on Lenburgian goods - the result of a grudge ever since the small state broke away from the kingdom in 738 after the Battle of the Violated Oath. Masin, on the other hand, was more than likely just being greedy for income given their unfortunate landlocked status. The silk that the stall was selling then had certainly been smuggled across the border to avoid such impositions.

“How much would you sell it for?” The moment of truth.

“65 pounds for a bale.”

Goddess Above. Eddy’s grasp on his emotions slipped and his breath hissed between his suddenly clenched teeth. If this were a normal stall-keeper he’d haggle. If this were a normal stall-keeper he might even steal what he needed - if he could even pick it out from the rest of the man’s wares. That was his initial plan. Buy the final ingredient if he could, if not then steal it before covering his tracks and staying low for a few weeks. He wouldn’t have to visit the Embankment for a while after promoting to Sequence 8, after all. But this wasn’t a normal stall-keeper. This man might even be a mid-Sequence Beyonder. He’d have to pay. 65 pounds. Eddy thought he could muster two pounds and six soli if he didn’t want to eat or pay rent anytime in the near future. Oh, and two pence. Can’t forget the two pence.

Of course, he could pickpocket for the sum. He’d have to pickpocket a lot . That would be difficult with the current state of East Borough. With the recent hostilities, the rich factory owners and managers were only rarely entering the district - and then only with hired guards. He wouldn’t make much from stealing off factory workers and laundry maids (not that he wanted to rob the poor). Subtly looking around himself, Eddy supposed that he could steal from visitors in the Black Market, but he didn’t know which were Beyonders or those who had connections to forces he couldn’t provoke. Another gang, perhaps, or even an actual Beyonder organisation. After all, he already had a nemesis in the Parliament Street Gang. He didn’t need to make enemies with anyone else.

Conscious that he’d been quiet for a little too long, Eddy quickly gave his apologies to the owner of the stall.

“I’m sorry sir, I did not bring that amount of money with me tonight. Perhaps I shall return another night for the purchase. I hope that it would not be too much trouble to reserve me a bale until that time?” That’s right, give the impression he could pay, just that he was not prepared. He hoped he was convincing enough (although he had the feeling that the seated man could see right through him). He prayed to the Goddess that he was being polite enough.

The man gave a casual nod and gave off a sense of… amusem*nt? “No trouble at all. The silk will keep.”

Eddy gave a respectful nod. “Many thanks, sir.”

A reply came. “Good luck.” Eddy stiffened before jerkily nodding his thanks. What did the man mean by that? Did he know what Eddy was planning?

Beyonders were scary.

In any case, as he made his way from the market, he contemplated his next move. He was averse to making new enemies, but provoking existing ones did not faze him nearly as much. If he could not steal from the rich and would not steal from the poor, then he’d have to pick a different target. And, luckily for him, Blue Mitch and the Parliament Street Gang were targets he would have great pleasure in robbing absolutely blind.


AN: Oh, the things men do for money. Eddy is going to strike the first blow. He’s already at war with the Parliament Street Gang - it’s time for them to find out.

Chapter 11: Smooth Runs the Water


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The rafters are rank with rats. Their smell is almost lost beneath the reek of the river. It’s a long way from anywhere anyone would want to go. All these things are, in their way, advantages.

Friday had passed quickly for Eddy. The glut of customers had seemed endless, the cutting monotonous. The same few styles again and again without variation. How he wished he could let loose and shave a man's balding head completely, or style two devil's horns from a businessman's hair. He restrained himself. It would only be funny briefly, after all. A forfeited payday would be a poor end to a joke.

By the end of the day's work, when the last customers had left and he and Mr Emerson had swept the floor and closed up shop, Eddy's skin was itching and his eyes twitching. With the last customer, his foot had been beating rapidly against the wooden floor with nerves until Mr Emerson stilled him with a solid hand on Eddy's shoulder. Apprehension. Expectation.

As dusk gave way to night, he donned his mask and disappeared into the dark streets. Making his way silently through the alleyways, slipping unseen around drunkards and whor*s, Eddy found a route down to the river. Down to his old territory. It was like home.

When he came back to his rented room, sun rising in the east - cresting over the tenements and clustered chimney pots - his hands were raw and barnacle-scraped, his jacket sodden, and the legs of his trousers crusted with thick Tussock mud. But, any observer, if their gaze did not slip from his face, would have seen pale blue eyes bright with glee - and a dangerous smirk.

Saturday was much the same as Friday, but busier. Many workers took the day as one of rest - a time for them to spend with family, complete petty chores, or get their hair cut. As opposed to the day before, Eddy completed his work calmly and with professionalism. His cuts were clean, his movements smooth and practised. He could feel the approving gaze of Mr Emerson on him.

Of course he was calmer, Eddy thought - he knew his path now. He was prepared. Nerves were natural when a man was unprepared. Orthos Wood had unnerved him because he did not know what it held. Because it was different and shadowed and strange . Now it was his forest and could not scare him. Yesterday he had a goal and no well-lit path to reach it. Today the path was mapped. Tonight, he would walk it.

[Approval] And gain power.

Yes. Another step to never having to run or cower or beg again. He clutched at his shirt, above where the malachite bead pressed against his skin. Power is freedom.


Wharf Five of the Kolain Docks was quiet under the clouded night sky. During the day, it was bustling as ships steamed in from the northern coast of Balam - bringing exotic goods from the colonial cities and raw resources from the Paz Highlands. Luxury woods, silks, spices, and relics of the old Balam Empire flowed from Kolain Docks into the beating heart of the Loen economy - and Wharf Five was the gateway. A gateway ‘protected’ and ‘supervised’ by the kind gentlemen of the Parliament Street Gang.

If one were generous, it could be described as a mutually beneficial relationship. Ships docking at Wharf Five would gain the protection of the Gang, and, in return, the Gang might overlook certain things. The dockmasters in the pocket of the Gang might ignore that the ship’s cargo did not exactly match its manifest. They might ignore if some cargo went missing before it was moved from the dock’s storage. All for a fee, of course. Still, less expensive than an official fine and far less expensive than having to hide less than legal cargo. After all, a fifth of Backlund’s narcotics (and Goddess knows what else) flowed through Wharf Five alongside those luxury goods. Opiates, hallucinogens, and all sorts of strange and forbidden concoctions stemmed from these docks. Naturally, Sivellaus Yard would not be unaware of this, but Eddy imagined some of them would be paid very well indeed to ignore it by the selfsame Gang. Such is the way of things in East Borough.

Despite the nighttime quiet, Eddy was still cautious. Men in long coats and flat caps moved silently along the docks, walking patrols. There would be more - out of sight. He was sure of it. He was also not fooled by the looming dark shapes of the docked ships. True, most of the ship’s crews were probably off drinking and whoring in the city, but no captain would ever leave their cargo without protection. The dock was quiet - yes - but it was not the quiet of sleep. It was a guarded quiet, a watchful quiet. Luckily for Eddy though, he was harder to spot than most.

The river was low and sat below the usual high water mark, rain having eluded the city for some time. This left the wharf standing tall above the river and exposed the barnacles encrusted along the stone. The summer heat, the exposed seaweed, and the general stench of the polluted Tussock river gave a distinctive scent to the Kolain Docks. Women in East Borough would sometimes joke that you could smell a dockworker before you saw them. It was not too much of an exaggeration. The water was foul. It had not been so long ago that noses had wrinkled when Eddy had passed people in the street. After all, he had spent more of his days than most along the banks of the Tussock. Therefore, the smell did not bother him any longer. He acknowledged it, yes, but in more of a detached way. After so long, he had grown used to the reek.

Eddy knew he couldn’t approach the wharf from the front. He would be seen. He also knew that it was not sensible for him to swim to the wharf and then climb up. He was meant to be sneaking in - splashing through the river and then leaving a dripping trail of water all over the docks was probably not helpful for completing a stealth mission. Therefore, Eddy had resolved to climb down the side of the docks to just above the water line and traverse along the steep-sided stone-walled banks to where it met the wharf at a 90-degree angle. From that point, he would continue his traversal for a way, before scaling the wall - thereby bypassing the perimeter guards.

This way, his approach would be in the deep shadows of the stone wall that the river lapped against and his clothes would not be waterlogged. The downside was the physicality of the matter. Traversing in the dark along a stone wall was hard - especially for such a distance. After a few minutes, he had not made as much progress as he might like and was beginning to feel the burn in his arms and legs as he scrabbled for purchase in the barely-noticeable cracks in the stone. At one point, his foot slipped on some seaweed and he almost fell flailing into the water. Luckily, his fingers clenched almost instinctively onto a slightly jutting stone and halted his tumble until he regained his footing. Barnacles also cut and scraped at his hands (as he had proven the night before in his ‘test-run’). Eddy was sure he was leaving blood along the path of his traversal.

He became conscious of every noise. Was his breath too loud? Surely, someone must have heard the scrape of his shoes on stone? His heart pounded loudly in his ears. The need for total silence forced his attention onto the buzzing within his skull. He had learned to ignore it since it first appeared after that night in Orthos Wood, but in the dark and the quiet, it seemed deafening. Eventually, though, his stubborn persistence, night vision, and the wiry strength of his muscles saw him through. He made it to the place where the wharf met the main dockside and managed to bridge the corner to the next leg of his journey. After ten more minutes of achingly slow progress, he had traversed far enough to be well inside the wharf’s perimeter and began to climb up towards the lip of the wall - thankful that his now-screaming arms would soon find some modicum of rest.

Finally, Eddy got close enough to the top that his left hand could just about stretch up to reach the top of the wharf. He sighed in relief, putting more of his weight on that limb and levering himself up until his right hand also joined the left. Slowly, he began to pull himself up.

Footsteps. Goddess Above , footsteps! Both his arms were already over onto the top of the wharf, his head beginning to rise above the stone lip. This was bad - they were getting closer, the sound of heavy boots echoing on stone. sh*t. He ducked his head back down below the level of the wharf and let gravity take its course - allowing himself to slip down until only his fingers were keeping him attached to the top of the wall. He began to pray, with increasing fervour, as the footsteps grew louder. A guard? Was it a guard? Would they spot through the night his pale fingers creeping over the edge of the dock? Evernight Goddess save me. He prayed to her as he had done before the nuns in the orphanage. He prayed to her in her form as the Mother of Concealment. Conceal me now, I beg you. The volume of the footsteps reached its peak. His heart was pounding, arms screaming. He could almost feel the vibration of those footfalls through his dexterous fingers. The footsteps continued. They grew quieter. They faded.

Eddy almost wept.

He counted under his breath to 30. Initially, he’d wanted to count for longer, but his arms were about to give way, so Eddy hauled himself onto the top of the wall. He immediately snuck behind a wooden crate and lay on the ground in its shadow, gasping for breath and curling up around his hands. He had been right, the harsh stone and occasional sharp barnacles had made a wreckage of his skin - blood beading on his fingers, skin ripped where it had abraded against the rock of the wharf.

Eventually, the pain in his hands faded as he hid behind the crate. He had made sure to flex them continually to stop stiffness from setting in. He would need his hands swift and nimble. Another guard had walked past at one point (or maybe the same one?) and Eddy had stilled behind his cover - holding his breath until the patrolling man had left. However, after he had shaken out the aches in his limbs and stilled his heart, it was time to continue with the plan.


AN: This part of the story is taking longer than I thought. If you’re put out by all the sneaking then I can’t really do anything. Eddy is on a sneaky Path, it’s what he knows best so it’s what he does. Don’t worry, he’ll get to Sequence 8 soon - and then he’ll need to make some choices.

Chapter 12: Shadow On The Docks


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

A barred door, a cramped space, a hidden cargo.

Halfway down the wharf’s length, under a pool of yellow light from a hanging lamp, was the wharf office. It was rather simple, the base of rough cut stone, the walls constructed from weathered wooden planks, and an old shingled roof. The door was locked, but a glass window had been left slightly ajar. It did not take much to wrench it open, and for a shadow to slip inside the office.

Eddy found the interior silent and still, the gas lamps that would light it up during the day doused and covered. This was not a place for the dock’s guards, but a place for bureaucrats - therefore there was no chance of a man being stationed here at night. After all, there were no riches contained within these walls. Just paper. But paper had its uses too, sometimes.

Eddy was literate. The nuns had taught him that much. He was, however, never going to be a particularly avid reader - not beyond the odd newspaper or pamphlet. Nevertheless, he had no difficulty in locating the cabinet labelled ‘Current’ and rifling through the folders inside it. The metal cabinet contained details on all the ships currently berthed on Wharf Five - including details on the captains, first mates, travel logs, insurance records, and - vitally - cargo manifests. From this unguarded, nondescript shack, he could identify the perfect target for his nocturnal robbery. Eddy chuckled silently. And people thought that bureaucracy made things harder. Clearly, they just haven’t learned how to use it to their advantage.

Five folders. Five potential targets. One had travelled from Alethe to Backlund via Ekelson Island. Not good enough. With a route like that, most of the illegal goods would have been unloaded on Ekelson Island for shipping to the mainland later. The manifest was probably then, by the time of berthing at Wharf Five, mostly accurate. Dried fruits. Some spices. Not exactly the most alluring prize. Eddy decided not to pursue the - he rechecked the name - The Velvet . He blinked. It sounded more like the name of a brothel than the name of a ship. Best not to wonder about that too much. Sailors were strange.

The next three folders were much the same. Despite more direct routes (less time to offload illegal goods prior to Wharf Five), they also didn’t declare much in the way of valuable items. This meant that they probably were smuggling items into Backlund - but Eddy couldn’t predict what they would be - or if he could even make his way out with them. Too risky. He grudgingly placed those folders back into the cabinet. One more.

The last folder belonged to a ship that had been, rather grandly, named The Splendid Sun . Eddy opened the file, fingers shuffling through the papers until he found the manifest.

Oh. Oh yes. This was perfect. Terrifying, but perfect.

The manifest had been amended with a red ‘priority cargo’ stamp courtesy of the Dock Authority of Kolain City in the Southern Continent. Eddy skimmed the manifest.

By order of His Imperial Majesty’s Armed Forces, the ship named ‘The Splendid Sun’ is hereby charged to deliver defective armaments to Wharf Five, Kolain Docks, Backlund. Items are to be handed over to approved military officials (see manifest addendum) for transportation to the Ministry of War.


Elmard Islesly, Assistant Quartermaster of the Kolain Commissariat

Right. This was suspicious as all hell. Eddy snorted, ‘defective armaments’ indeed. A mere assistant quartermaster sending apparently broken guns across an entire ocean for no well-explained reason that could only be picked up by pre-approved officers. A likely story, Eddy lampooned. He could read between the lines here.

Translation: ‘I, a junior quartermaster down on his luck, have stolen some perfectly functional guns from an army commissariat warehouse and am smuggling them on this ship to be sold illegally for a quick buck. My buddies who also need some cash will be along to pick them up - don’t give them to anyone else.’

It wasn’t exactly subtle, to be fair. No mention of where the guns had specifically come from, how many there were, and (he checked the addendum) no names for the receiving officers - just details on the paperwork they’d be carrying. Eddy had no doubt that, if he really checked, he’d find that ‘Elmard Islesly’ had actually retired two years ago or had died from some horrible Balamese fever. No crooked quartermaster would be stupid enough to actually use their own name.

The vague nature necessitated by ‘Islesly’s’ fraud actually worked in his favour, though. With no clear numbers on how many ‘defective armaments’ had been smuggled in, Eddy could take a few without attracting much notice. Not to mention, he could easily sling three or four rifles across his back without overly encumbering himself. He was assuming they’d be rifles. He hoped so. Revolvers made their way onto the black market often - going for around four pounds. Not so profitable for smugglers. A military-grade cutting-edge rifle, though? Those would go for a lot. The new rifles used by the Army boasted both a far greater range and stunning accuracy (at least compared to a musket). He had noticed one or two among the Rakers. No doubt they’d paid through the nose for them. Four rifles, then, might be able to net him 70 pounds - just based on the scarcity. 75? It was possible. More than enough. The Splendid Sun . Splendid, indeed. As a bonus, he’d be depriving the Gang - they’d certainly be getting a cut of the spoils. They were most likely relying on ‘Elmard Islesly’ to provide them with a few rifles of their own. A tax in kind, so to speak.

Peering out of one of the office’s windows, Eddy relied on his night vision to spot the ship in question. Yes, it was still at the wharf - the paperwork was correct. It was hard not to spot the gaudy prow figurehead depicting a white-robed maiden with flowing blue hair clutching a golden sun in her hands. Eddy rolled his eyes. He did not think it gave off the effect the captain might have wished. Frankly, the overly large gilded sun made it look a little tacky.

Eddy turned his stealth ability up to its maximum and slipped back out through the window by which he had entered the office. Slipping along the docks like a shadow, Eddy moved from crate to crate, hiding spot to hiding spot. One, two, and three guards were all bypassed - utterly unaware that a thief was so close to them. It was exhilarating in a way, Eddy thought, fooling others so thoroughly. If he pulled this off correctly, nobody would ever be able to prove he had even been here.

From a pool of shadow nearby, Eddy watched The Splendid Sun . His night vision had revealed the location of the guards. There were two stationary, one by the gangplank linking the ship and the dock, as well as another sitting inside what could be a navigator’s office on deck (Eddy didn’t know enough about the running of ships to determine the veracity of his guess). Regardless, the second man was sitting inside, looking out onto the rest of the ship from behind glass. He was reading a newspaper, although Eddy couldn’t make out the title. The other two were patrolling, moving in routes from the back of the ship to the front, and then back again to repeat the cycle. One was walking on the right side of the ship (starboard?) closest to the dock, and the other on the left side (port?) facing the river. None of the four visible guards looked particularly alert, but Eddy was aware that there were almost certainly more men below the decks. He could not allow himself to get careless.

This was where the limitations of his power started to show. If his power was invisibility, he could simply walk up the gangplank and onto the ship. But, his power was not invisibility - it was lowered visibility . Passing a distracted man on the street unseen was no problem, but passing a guard (no matter if he was a little sleepy or not) whose job it was to look out for potential thieves? No, that was never going to work. He’d be spotted almost immediately - even with his powers utilised to their maximum.

A few minutes later, finding himself hanging by his fingers and toes under the gangplank, Eddy could only curse the limitations of his abilities. If this was how he was forced to enter places, then he’d have to cut back on robbery on the grounds of it being too painful for his poor strained fingers. A (relatively) quick traversal to the hull of the ship and then a shimmy along the side of the ship led him to a spot where neither seated guard would be likely to see him making his way over the railing onto the deck. He just had to wait for the patrols to head down to the further end of the ship. A short wait… and he was on. Lovely.

Getting into the bowels of the ship was actually very easy. Eddy had worked out the logic of it. Logically, it would be hellish to manoeuvre cargo from the hold up through the ship’s interior passages up to the deck. It would be a massive bother. Therefore, a ship must require an easy way to deliver cargo from the bottom of the ship to the top for unloading. Therefore, there should be some sort of vertical drop from which a dockside crane can lift and lower crates into the hold.

Lo and behold, Eddy quickly located such an entrance - a wide wooden hatch raised above the level of the deck that covered a hole certainly large enough to accommodate a hypothetical large crate of goods. Perfect. The lock keeping it shut wasn’t even one of the ones that was difficult to pick. It was of a design that Eddy had… ahem… come across before, where you could actually open it by giving it a sharp smack opposite the locking pins. This would dislodge the bolt and let the lock just fall open. A major design flaw (proof that the captain had hired the services of a lazy locksmith). All Eddy had to do was wait until a gap in the patrols before smacking the lock with the pommel of his knife - hoping that the sound would not carry too much. He moved the hatch door just far enough to let him in, before slipping inside. A few seconds later, the door moved back to its original position - so that nobody would find anything amiss. Eddy was in.

From that point it was easy, Eddy descended down the cargo entrance, noting just how many similar descents he had performed just this night alone. Nobody had told him that robbery involved so much climbing. He wasn’t complaining, though - with his dexterous hands, he was more than capable. The whole operation was moving like a dream. Eddy could hardly believe how well it was going. Naturally, it would not have been possible without his previous reconnaissance and planning. Going in blind would have been a disaster. Thankfully, he was not so foolhardy.

It wasn’t long before he found himself in the pitch-black hold of the ship. Of course, Eddy could see very well in such a dark space. Silence. No guards. Why would there be - after all - how could a thief get into the cargo without first encountering the ones on deck? That would be ridiculous. Eddy smiled at his humorous thoughts.

The hold was full, crates stacked up on either side of the space - leaving a gap between the aisles. It actually took longer to locate the crates he was looking for than Eddy might have expected. The manifest hadn’t given any clue as to the layout of the hold, so Eddy had to walk up and down the bowels of the ship peering at labels until he found what he was searching for. A red Military Commissariat stamp gave away his prize. The top had been nailed shut, so Eddy used the blade of a knife to slowly ease out the nails so he could get into the crate. The lid of the crate was eventually moved aside and Eddy’s eyes lit up with glee. He had been right. In front of him was a box full of rifles - new, shiny rifles. Expensive rifles. Irmyle-Ellison 1347s, to be precise. The cutting-edge in Loen infantry armaments. Hailed as the decisive move away from unreliable and slow-reloading muzzleloading muskets to reliable, fast, breechloaders. Sequence 8 had never felt so close.


AN: Eddy sure loves those rifles. Well, he loves the idea of crisp Loen pounds. Now all he needs to do is do everything he just did to get here all over again - but carrying several guns. What could go wrong?

Chapter 13: And Send To Darkness All That Stop Me


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

When the Lionsmith turned against the Colonel, he crushed his own sword in his fist. Each tiniest fragment of that weapon still thrills with rage.

Eddy moved fast. As much as he would like to spend the rest of the night admiring the deadly, beautiful weapons in front of him, he really had to get moving. He had a few hours until dawn, but he didn’t know when the guards on deck would be replaced - or if they would switch up their patrols. The longer he waited, the more he procrastinated, the higher the chance of things going wrong. In his opinion, things going wrong would be bad. Best get moving.

Eddy reached into the crate - grabbed the nearest rifle and picked it up. Dull steel and polished wood met his eye. It was heavier than he had expected. Not so heavy that he’d be unable to do the job, but weightier than he’d imagined. Somehow, it made it seem more real. He moved it over his right shoulder, fingers running down the fine leather strap that swung below the barrel. A second one followed over the same shoulder. Two more on the other side. He felt a little ridiculous now, and more than a little burdened by the rifles on his back. He bent his legs a little, straightened up - swung his arms left and right. Yes, his movement had become a little restricted by the guns on his back. The outermost ones were swinging too much when he moved. A little more searching in the hold resulted in some spare rope being discovered and - not long after - the rifles on his back had been secured by a loop of rope tied around his chest. Much better. Now, time to get out.

Eddy began to work his way back up the cargo shaft. This time it was far more difficult. Modern ships were tall , and he couldn’t rely on gravity to help him out as it had during his prior descent. He, for all his good nutrition and recent improvement, was not a specimen of peak physical fitness. He was good enough, but, after this, he really needed to make sure that he bettered himself in this regard. He must have made for quite a sight, he thought, climbing monkeylike with a small armoury on his back and a knife between his teeth. Like a swashbuckling pirate boarding a fat merchant vessel. He snorted. That was far too romantic an image for him. Reality was rarely so kind.

The hatch was how he had left it, just a hairsbreadth from being shut - enough to give the illusion of it still being closed (as long as nobody noticed the missing lock). Eddy got a good handhold with his left hand, planted his feet on a metal bracket securing the wall of the shaft, and reached up with his right hand. Taking the knife from his mouth, he used it to slowly lever open the door - wiggling it back and forth. A crowbar would be far more useful, but Eddy didn’t have the luxury of a full set of tools. Anything he wanted to use, he would have to carry himself. A couple of knives, his scissors, and four increasingly heavy rifles were already approaching his absolute limit. Besides, a knife is a very multi-purpose tool. You can’t go wrong with a knife.

Soon enough, Eddy had levered the hatch open enough to climb back out. As soon as he was on solid ground again, he crouched and looked around - wincing as the stocks of the rifles smacked against the wood of the deck. Damn it . He didn’t know where the guards were in their patrols. Had they been close enough to hear his blunder? His stupid blunder. He had no time. If someone was coming to investigate, he had to move quickly. His initial plan, back when he’d been planning this, was to simply dive into the murky water and swim away. That was before he’d found out about the guns, though. He wasn’t willing to risk the value of the rifles by ruining them with water. There was a near-immediate Sequence 8 promotion riding on their continued quality. Besides, would he even be able to swim with them weighing him down? Unlikely.

Eddy started moving swiftly and quietly towards the rear of the ship - where he had climbed on initially. He tried to keep the creak of the planks beneath his feet to an absolute minimum, but the extra weight he was carrying meant that he could not avoid some sound leaking out. Hopefully, it would not reveal him. It was a good thing the cargo hatch was near the end of the ship, otherwise, his escape would be completely impossible. His mouth was dry. An ache was starting in his back from his strange half-crouched movement.

He turned slightly, hoping to spot where the guards were positioned. It would be just his luck if they had changed their routes. He looked over his shoulder, back at the windowed office where the seated man had been reading a newspaper. Normally, the office was shielded from his view by the smoke stacks along the centre-line of the deck, but - in the particular spot he was in - there was a gap through which it could be seen. He looked and made direct eye contact with the man in the office, gazes locking onto each other like magnets.

A moment passed. Neither blinked. Then chaos .

Eddy turned and started sprinting to the starboard side of the ship, legs pounding on the deck just as the guard lunged for a pull cord next to him. An almighty blast of sound rang out like the cry of some beast - deafening Eddy and causing him to stumble in shock. The ship’s horn. He’d sounded the ship’s horn. Eddy could hear shouting all around him. Everybody on Wharf Five (and a fair way beyond it) would have heard that sound. Everyone knew that there was an intruder. Subtlety had been wonderful. He missed it already.

He was sprinting towards the gangplank. Traversing the dock wall again would be a stupid idea. His route would be cut off before he knew it. Instead, he’d have to break the perimeter with sheer speed and aggression - hoping that the element of surprise would aid him. Otherwise, he was dead .

He burst out from behind the last smokestack and charged toward the gangplank. One of the patrolling guards was already next to it - a length of rusty metal already raised in one hand. Eddy flung his hand forward and a knife shot at speed straight into the man’s throat. He didn’t even have time to react. He fell to the deck instantly, choking on the blood already staining the wood. Just like in the alleyway . Murderer . Eddy shoved the traitorous thoughts back to wherever they came from, leaping over the body and barrelling down the gangplank of The Splendid Sun . He tugged his second knife from his sleeve as he did so. He’d have to leave the first in the throat of the guard. No time to retrieve it. How much would a replacement cost? He hated that his first thought had been about money. It felt cold - cruel .

Perhaps being cruel was necessary.

The dock was long. Goddess knows that Eddy had felt every foot when he’d been traversing it. It was, perhaps, 1200 feet long - enough to fit three steamships on each side of the wharf. Now, that length hindered rather than helped Eddy. He’d have to move as quickly as possible to reach the end of the dock and escape into the city. He readied himself mentally for the upcoming chase. It was like that night in Orthos Wood all over again. Hopefully, it would end just as well.

Eddy began running. The men on the boat would likely not pursue him, staying put to continue guarding their ship. The same would go for the compliments of guards on the other ships on the wharf. The issue, then, would be the men patrolling the wharf itself. They would have no trouble chasing him - especially given that he’d have to break through their perimeter to escape Wharf Five. Already he could see lamps swinging in the dark as guards ran toward him. The ship’s horn had really stirred the hornet’s nest.

His feet were pounding on the stone, legs desperately pumping to pick up the pace. He rapidly approached the office where he had looked through the manifests. A guard appeared, running out from behind it - a pistol raised towards Eddy. sh*t . A loud bang echoed out into the night and Eddy jerked backward, almost falling as he felt something graze his scalp - the impact cracking his head back despite not directly hitting it. Something wet ran down his forehead and obscured vision in his right eye. Half-blind, Eddy tossed out his second knife and kept running. He heard a shriek as his knife hit the armed man. He continued running, not looking back to see where his knife had hit. He was down both knives now and felt the loss, pulling his scissors from his jacket pocket. They would have to make do. They had done so before, after all.

His take-down of the gunman had bought him some distance, but two more guards had intercepted him - using their number to corral him. One, tall and broad, stepped into his path with arms spread wide, while the second moved around him to strike with a heavy baton. Eddy did not flinch, running straight at the big man as if to take him on. However, just before he hit him, Eddy dropped to his knees and slid below his reach - scissors blades ripping at the man’s thighs as he passed - before stumbling to his feet and continuing his run. He’d definitely torn the skin on his knees. He’d pay for it later. There was a bellow behind him and Eddy grinned, secure in the knowledge that the man wouldn’t be chasing.

He’d gained a couple of seconds on the pair before he heard the second man start sprinting to chase after him. Looking back briefly, Eddy spotted the guard behind him - a snarl on his face as he pushed his body to catch up with the thief. Normally, Eddy would have easily outpaced him but, with his previous exertions and the weight of the guns on his back, he could hear the man get closer and closer - clawing ever nearer toward Eddy.

He was barely 500 feet from escape now. The only reason he hadn’t encountered more guards was the obscuring darkness and general confusion. Besides, the priority for most of the security forces on Wharf Five was the safety of their ships - not chasing a teenager. As he was running, a gasp of effort from behind him made him instinctively push off the ground with his feet. As a result, the desperate flail of a baton from his pursuer cracked into his shin instead of his knee. Regardless, Eddy tumbled to the ground, hitting the hard surface of the wharf and skidding slightly. Immediately, the guard was on him. A flurry of punches and kicks landed on him. His ribs, stomach, and face were rocked by the impacts. Eddy retched as the breath was knocked out of him. To gain space, he flung his arm out - hoping that his scissor blades would hit something . An impact shook his arm and the punches stopped with a hiss from the guard. Success. Not willing to waste a moment, Eddy scrambled to his feet and kept running. He was so close .

His shin ached like all hell, but he forced himself to run despite the pain. 400 feet. 300. A shot rang out from up ahead. Chips of stone flew up from the ground and scraped Eddy across the face. Crap . He couldn’t see the shooter. The area before him was empty of adversaries. That meant that it had been a long-distance shot. sh*t sh*t sh*t . That meant it wasn’t a pistol, but a rifle. Time slowed down as thoughts raced through Eddy’s head. A rifle. He was up against a proper gunman. Most likely posted up in a building overlooking the docks. Eddy’s heart sank. There were two options. Either he was up against a musket - a regular muzzle-loader. That would give him 20 to 30 seconds before the next shot. That was possible. Just about. If he was lucky.

The second option was what made his heart sink. If the gunman did not have a musket, if he had a gun like the ones on Eddy’s back, then he’d be dead. A breach-loading rifle took a fraction of the time to reload. Two options. If it was the first, he might live. If it was the second, he was already dead.

Eddy ran .

He pushed his body to the absolute limit. Muscles screaming and injuries crying out in pain, but Eddy gritted his teeth, swallowed his screams, and sprinted forward with all his remaining energy. 250 feet, 200, 150. Eddy flinched as he waited for the shot to ring out and end his life. He kept running. No shot.

Option one. Thank the Goddess.

He kept moving as the end of the dockyard approached, buildings looming up in front of him. 50 feet. 25. He ran out of the dockyard, across a wide street and between two large brick buildings. Offices for shipping companies, no doubt. The gunman had a musket. A musket. Thanks be for small merices. He darted into an alleyway and barrelled through it before taking a sharp turn into the warren of tiny East Borough streets. He’d done it. He’d escaped. With blood covering one side of his face, and lips drawn back during his final sprint, Eddy’s smile looked feral.


AN: Oh boy, the Wharf Five arc took a little longer than I anticipated. Anyway, a little bit of violence, a little bit of luck. Sequence 8 coming up in a bit - although I suppose Eddy will need to clean himself up. I doubt Mr Emerson would take kindly to a blood-soaked barber turning up to work the next morning. I'm basing the size and weight of the rifles off an antique musket I own. I'm guessing mine is almost five feet long (Four feet ten inches maybe?) and it's heavier than you'd expect. Four was the absolute maximum I could imagine Eddy getting away with.

Chapter 14: A Conversation With A Friend


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Certain knowledge, it is said, can be expressed only through the particular quality of a silence. It has been suggested that one can only read such knowledge with one’s eyes closed, but only by mischievous commentators

Eddy was only a couple of streets away from home, limping from shadow to shadow when they came for him. If he had been in a better condition he might have heard them approaching, but, exhausted and shaking as the adrenaline fled his body he was oblivious to them until large hands grabbed him by the arms and shoulders. Before he could start struggling in panic, a bag was slipped over his head - cutting off his sight. He was about to grab his scissors and start stabbing wildly at whoever had stopped him when something cold pressed against the small of his back and he heard the click of a pistol. Eddy stilled instantly. This was no mugging. He’d been followed. He’d been caught.

Someone behind him chuckled, the sound echoing slightly in the alleyway they were in. “Looks like the lad has some sense.” There was a pause, the surroundings quiet. Eddy did not breathe. He was desperately trying to work out what was happening, where he had gone wrong. The man spoke again. “Time to move. Let’s make it quick.” There was a rustle of clothing and a hand reached up into the bag covering Eddy’s head. The pungent smell of something chemical stung Eddy’s nostrils and he lost his balance, feeling like the world was spinning. His sight went dark, and Eddy knew no more.

When Eddy awoke, his head was pounding and his muscles were stiff and cramping. Blearily, he realised was sitting in a chair. It was, he mused, quite a nice chair. Most likely leather, by the feel. His hands moved over the smooth surface - enjoying the luxury. His hands. He was not bound. At that realisation, Eddy surged into wakefulness, eyes opening to take in his surroundings. He was sitting in front of a desk, a solid wooden thing with simple patterns carved into its surface. The top of the desk was tidy and organised with only a few papers and pens taking up space. However, it was the man behind the desk that occupied Eddy’s focus.

Sitting in a high-backed leather chair was a tall, dark-skinned man in a finely tailored suit. His eye sockets were recessed, leaving deep shadows through which piercing eyes keenly appraised Eddy. The man was lean but clearly fit and, despite seeming utterly relaxed, gave off an impression of latent physical power. The only word that fitted him, in Eddy’s mind, was coiled . Like a viper, muscles tensed, ready to strike at the first sign of hostility. This was a killer. A good one.

[Agreement] Beyonder. Dangerous.

Eddy did not react to the sudden interference of Mr Voice, not requiring his warning to understand the danger he was in. Not just from the killer before him, in fact. From the brief flicker of the man’s eyes to a spot just behind Eddy’s chair, he was sure that there was also at least one guard in the room. Whatever this was, whatever was happening, he would have to be careful if he wanted to survive and get his rifles back. Eddy’s train of thought derailed at that. His rifles. They were obviously no longer on his back - their absence glaring. They’d taken his ticket to Sequence 8. The tall man must have noticed the anger in Eddy’s eyes because that was when he chose to start speaking.

“It’s been an interesting night, Eddy.” His voice was soft, accent polished with a hint of something foreign, but Eddy couldn’t help but stiffen as the man said his name.

Somehow, he managed to open his mouth and respond. “I find that it’s polite to introduce yourself before speaking to someone in such a familiar manner.” He flinched as he finished the sentence, both at the rasping sound of his voice, but also at his stupidity for saying something antagonistic to the very dangerous man who’d just had him kidnapped. Fortunately, the man did not seem to take offence, smiling slightly. It did not reassure Eddy.

“Of course,” he replied in amusem*nt. “We cannot forget our manners. I am Meursault.” Eddy did not recognise the name. “In truth, I had not expected to meet with you, but the events of this night piqued my interest.”

“What do you mean?” Eddy rasped out.

Meursault smiled, looking at Eddy in a somewhat condescending manner. “I had heard of you, naturally. When the Parliament Street Gang wants someone, it always gets back to us.” Eddy tensed. “However, it was your stunt tonight that brought my attention to you. You were remarkably bold - stealing weapons from the Gang so boldly.”

“How did you get to me so quickly,” Eddy shifted. “I thought I was quite sneaky.”

Eddy caught a flash of some emotion crossing Meursault’s face. It looked a little bit like disappointment. Understanding flashed into Eddy’s mind. It hadn’t mattered that he was sneaky. It hadn’t mattered that he was fast. Neither of those things would matter if he’d been watched and followed as soon as he left Wharf Five.

Eddy met Meursault’s eyes. “You’re part of another gang. You had men watching Wharf Five and they followed me after I escaped.” This time, Meursault smiled properly, showing a hint of white teeth behind his lips. He nodded. His gaze was kinder this time.

“There’s the sharp mind for which I was hoping. Yes, you’re correct, Eddy. We always have men watching our rivals,” His smile turned into a smirk. “Every gang does. And your exit was not exactly discrete.” Eddy stayed silent. In truth, he was actually mortified. He’d triggered the guard’s alarm, ran through Wharf Five killing and maiming before charging into the city. No wonder others had noticed him. In his focus on the Parliament Street Gang, he’d completely discounted the presence of other gangs - his vendetta blinding him. He felt like a fool. He looked again at Meursault’s tall frame and thought about that hint of an accent he’d heard when the man had first spoken.


“Just so.” He sounded pleased.

“So you won’t hand me over to Blue Mitch then. Your gangs are fighting at the moment.”

“You’re wondering why I’m talking to you. Why I took the trouble to have you brought here.”

Eddy shrugged. “You could have grabbed the rifles and left me for dead. Is it so strange that I’m curious?”

Meursault leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk and his hands clasped together. His eyes were sharp. “As I mentioned earlier, our men saw you leave Wharf Five laden with firearms. Quite brazen. Quite amateurish.” He moved his hand, pointing a long finger at Eddy. “However, what we did not see, was you entering. Our watchers are good. I trained them myself. Somehow, you managed to sneak into Kolain Docks, avoid the guards, board a ship, and retrieve valuable cargo without being spotted until the last minute.” He shook his finger at Eddy. “That,” he emphasised “is impressive. Especially so, when I know for a fact that, until recently, you were no more than a scrap peddler.”

Eddy could feel that the highlander was getting to the point. “So, you’re a Beyonder.” At that Eddy jerked backward into his chair, about to lose his cool. Mr Voice had warned him not to reveal his Path to anyone, that it was too dangerous. Once again, the coldness of a gun barrel against the back of his head calmed him. He stilled - stamping down on his panic. After a few seconds of silence, the gun was withdrawn. Eddy did not relax.

“Try not to be so easily panicked. In the future, you will be well served by keeping a tighter grip on your emotions.” Meursault’s voice was even softer than before. Almost crooning. A hint of amusem*nt entered his eyes. “Don’t worry. I won’t pry, I hear it's somewhat of a social faux pas in our circles.” Eddy calmed more at the reminder that Meursault too was part of the hidden world. “I can guess you’re new to all this and I do not know if your Sequence helps you in such matters, but you have a talent. One that will be honed with time. I would like to invest in it.”

“It would be easier for me to invest in it if I could have my guns back. I need the money.” Eddy almost growled out the last sentence - instantly regretting the weakness that such a response portrayed. His lack of control was getting to him. The night had been a whirlwind of emotions and he was not thinking as sharply as he might have been. However, he was sharp enough to still retain some wariness at Meursault’s speech. Words like ‘talent’ and ‘invest’ sounded pretty, sounded profitable, but when it came to the gangs such things were often tainted. He knew, however, that he may not have much of a choice in whatever was coming. He already had one powerful enemy in East Borough. He could not afford to make a second.

At Eddy’s words, Meursault reached down and opened a desk drawer. As he did so, Eddy speculated on his position. Meursault had an office, had the authority to make decisions, and hold interrogations. He dressed well. The office was not opulent though, there were no displays of wealth or extravagance. It was simple and functional. A place to work rather than to show off power and might. He was most likely a lieutenant of some sort - a leader, but not at the top. Eddy was not worthy of that much attention.

The lieutenant (Eddy was sticking with that theory) straightened with an envelope in hand. “You wished to sell the guns, yes?” Eddy nodded. “You would find such a task difficult without backing. Many would be more likely to kill you and take the weapons, or unwilling to handle such… volatile… goods. Better that we take care of them ourselves.”

Eddy bristled, but the man silenced him by pushing forward the envelope. “90 pounds. Well over market price. Remarkably generous of me, I assure you. Normally you could get 70 pounds if you were able to find a seller who wouldn’t take too much of a cut.” Eddy glanced warily at the man. Meursault shrugged. Even that was elegant, Eddy mused. “Call the extra the first part of our investment. A bonus for amusing me with your earlier antics.” Eddy nodded slowly and reached out for the envelope, pausing just as the tips of his fingers were about to touch it.

“What do I have to do in return for this… investment from you?”

The reply came quickly. “Nothing for now, but we would appreciate it if you made yourself available when we need someone of your talents. It might be infiltration, theft, or sabotage. Whatever is required at the time. Nothing too onerous.”

Eddy leaned back, away from the envelope. “That doesn’t sound so bad, but I know that jobs that seem like ‘nothing too onerous’ often find themselves escalating. Take tonight as an example.” He forced a smile onto his face, trying to exude a sense of confidence. “Perhaps I should take 70 pounds from you and leave your investment behind and we can go our separate ways.”

At that, the amiability that Meursault had given off throughout the conversation instantly disappeared. His smile dropped and the hairs on Eddy’s neck stood up on end and a shiver ran up his spine. The gangster rested his hands on the edge of his desk and straightened, his height giving off an air of intimidation. Eddy could only focus on Meursault’s hands. He had the undeniable feeling that those hands could kill him in seconds. He’d got co*cky, just like he had earlier. Just because he was Sequence 9 he thought he was special. He wasn’t . He wasn’t sh*t. He wasn’t strong enough to be confident. Meursault didn’t need him. He couldn’t afford to be stupid. Yet, he so often was. He needed to change. Eddy ignored the shifting sensation inside himself as he regretted his words.

Meursault spoke. Gently, almost like a whisper. “Edward. I’m not sure you understand the consequences of your actions. Tonight, a cargo of weapons was stolen from the Parliament Street Gang. Men were killed. Men were maimed. Blue Mitch’s men. He will respond in the only way he knows how.” His gaze pierced Eddy like a sword. “The streets will run red with blood. People will die. Some of them will be mine, and I will send them to their deaths for the Zmangers. Because of you. Because of what you’ve done tonight. I could kill you for that, I could slit your throat and dump your corpse in the river that you know so well. It would be fitting.”

Eddy was pale now.

“But,” He paused. Fingers drummed on a desk. There was sweat on Eddy’s brow. “But, I am a man who recognises talent, who recognises contributions. Whether you meant to or not, you have brought me powerful weapons, ones which may tip the scales in our favour. And, importantly, you have brought me the possibility of more ‘gifts’ in the future.” He reached out and slid the envelope across the desk until it was almost falling off the edge.

“Your actions tonight have killed my men. Not directly, but they’ll die because of you. So you’ll take the money. You’ll take the money and you’ll use it however you want, but you’ll remember Edward. You are mine .”

The envelope began to fall from the desk, unbalanced by the shifting pound bills inside of it. Before it hit the carpeted floor of Meursault’s office, Eddy caught it in his hands. He did not break eye contact with the gangster.

“Listen for our call Edward. The next time you steal, you’ll steal for the Zmanger Gang.”


AN: I get tired of OCs or SIs (Eddy is absolutely not an SI by the way - just to be clear) where they are always perfect and make the right moves or somehow improbably land on their feet in difficult situations and get away without consequences. Yeah, Eddy got his guns and got paid - but now he’s been sucked even further into the politics of East Borough’s darker side. He’s smart, sure, but at the end of the day, he’s an orphan kid who’s waaay out of his depth. Technically he’s achieved what he wanted, but in reality, he’s f*cked up big time in the last couple of chapters and I want there to be consequences for that kind of mistake.

Chapter 15: Needs No Accuser


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Secret histories are layered beneath the ones we know, like the notes in rare wine. This is a detail from one of those histories.

The night was near its end when Eddy finally made his way through his door. The exertion of the past few hours - both physical and emotional - had exhausted him as he’d never experienced before. Staggering into his rented room, Eddy’s mind was hazy and confused. Not bothering to undress, he’d fallen already fallen asleep before his body hit the bed.

It was past midday by the time Eddy woke up again. He’d missed the start of work. Mr Emerson was no doubt worried about his absence - especially as Eddy had never missed a day of work so far in his employment. However, after everything that occurred, Eddy could not face spending a day of work with the cheerful barber (even if it were truncated by his tardiness). He quickly sat down at his small desk and drafted a letter before signing it and placing it inside an envelope. A few minutes later, an enterprising young orphan boy was running to the barbershop on Whiterose Street with a letter apologising to Mr Emerson for his absence. Eddy had blamed an illness and taken two days off. Sunday and Monday (as well as his usual Tuesday) should now all be free. He’d only lose 10 soli from missing his shifts on those days. A small sacrifice. He was pretty wealthy now, after all.

He felt a surge of both anger and shame at the thought. Yes, he had earned 90 pounds. The thick envelope poked out of the jacket he must have carelessly thrown on the floor when he got home. Eddy picked it up, feeling the paper of the envelope in his hands. He sat down on his messy bed. Even subtracting the 65 pounds for the bale of Azshara worm’s silk, he’d made 25 pounds in profit the night before. That was 20 weeks of wages for him - a vast boon by anyone’s judgment. He should be happy.

He could, however, only hang his head. Yes, he’d profited hugely, but he’d also lost his freedom. He’d blundered and, what was worse, he’d blundered after he’d so carefully planned the start of his heist. He’d worked out a way in, done a test run, picked out a suitable target, and then he went and charged in like an idiot - alerting half the people in East Borough that someone was stealing from Blue Mitch. Like a fool. If he didn’t have an exit strategy, he shouldn’t have tried to rob Wharf Five in the first place. He could have stuck to pickpocketing or tried breaking into wealthier homes outside of the Borough, but he’d derided those methods as too slow , or too immoral - instead choosing to put his life on the line for a quick payday. Where was his patience? Where was his common sense? He should have put his morality aside and stolen the money from people who were not bloodthirsty criminals. Instead, his so-called ‘morality’ had led to him willingly picking the toughest target, killing men once again, and placing scores of others in the firing line of the vicious and imminent gang war he’d now reignited. He wouldn’t be surprised if the gangs weren’t marshalling their forces as he spoke. Looking out the window at the sun - high in the sky - Eddy reflected that its dusk would surely be met with slaughter.

Meursault’s parting words hovered over him like the sword in that fable written by Emperor Roselle. The Sword of Damocles.

“You’ll take the money and you’ll use it however you want, but you’ll remember Edward. You are mine.

He had the money, but now that damnable sword hung over his neck - and its name was Meursault.

Eddy spent the remainder of the day resting. When he felt able enough, he went to clean the scrapes and cuts on his body. His hands were worst affected. His way into the Kolain Docks had taken a toll on him - the cuts deep and red. Blood from the wounds had dried on his hands and he had to free two of his fingers from the blood gumming them together. He did not think a Beyonder would so easily succumb to illness, but nevertheless, he was conscientious in cleaning and bandaging himself. It was best not to take a chance in such matters. By the time he was done, his hands and knees were swathed in strips of white cloth. Visible marks of his stupidity. Hopefully, he’d remember the lesson.

When he wanted food, he once again paid the street urchin to buy him some cheese and bread from the nearby shops. It was a waste of money, to be sure, but Eddy didn’t want to leave his tenement. Not only was it too dangerous, but he also felt a sense of guilt at the idea - like walking the streets nonchalantly was somehow shameful given his role in what was about to occur. It was stupid. It was cowardly. Eddy felt it anyway. He did not leave the building, instead eating silently in his room.

As the afternoon wore on, he made the decision not to seek out the cloth merchant at St Amalia Embankment after night fell. He was down two knives and injured - he could not guarantee his safety. In addition, who knew if the black market would even be safe? It would be bold for any gang to contest the Raker’s control of the tunnel entrance, but Eddy knew that Blue Mitch did not lack courage. Or, for that matter, anger. As much as he wanted to reach Sequence 8, he refused to act so carelessly again - not to mention the fact that he had not quite reached full digestion. He had, by his estimation, a couple of days left to go. Besides, the merchant would be fine. The likely mid-level Beyonder could take care of himself.

Eddy did not sleep. It was not simply a matter of lacking restfulness. True, sleeping past midday had made it so that he was not so tired as dusk came, but it was more a sick sense of dreadful anticipation that kept his eyes open - watching through the gap in his curtains. There was no view. His window looked out onto an alleyway, but Eddy looked out all the same as if his gaze could pierce through the red bricks and see the whole of East Borough.

[Worry] You are sad.

Eddy snorted. “Something like that.” His voice was quiet and bitter.

[Inquiry] Why? [Confusion]

Eddy started, mouth hanging open slightly in uncomprehending surprise. “Why? Because I was an idiot! Because I killed people again - this time not out of necessity, but due to my own arrogance! Because now I’m shackled to the whims of the Zmangers just as I am to the hostility of the Parliament Street Gang! How do you not understand this?”

[Confusion] Sad over killing? Why? It is just Change. [Certainty]


[Surety] Life turns to Death. That is a Change. You brought the Change. It is natural. Easy. You say you are an idiot. Say you are arrogant. You wish to Change. You have Changed others. Now you Change yourself. This is not sad. This is Correct. [Approval]

“So I should celebrate the murders I committed not a full day ago? Is that what you’re saying? What of the men I killed?” Eddy’s voice was coloured by anger - halfway to shouting.

[Surety] They are nothing. They do not matter. They Served as part of Our Path. That suffices. Do not be weak. Do not be foolish. I Chose you. I can Choose another. You were nothing before, now you are More. You wanted Power, now you have a Path to it. Do you deny this Change? Do you deny Me? [Derision]

Eddy reeled back like he had been punched. How could Mr Voice be so heartless, so cruel? Eddy was a murderer - that much was true - but he at least felt remorse. At least he felt regret. He was horrified by the brutal apathy towards life that Mr Voice exhibited. Was this the being to which he had bound himself? A cold and merciless entity?

Eddy paused at that last thought. He’d bound himself. Willingly . He’d chosen this. The reasons for why he sought power were still the same as they had been that black night in Orthos Wood. The power to shield himself from any who would harm him. That’s what he’d asked for, that’s what he’d been promised. Had Mr Voice not fulfilled his end of the bargain - his power had saved him in the alleyway when he’d killed those three thugs? Everything else was simply his own fault - danger he’d willingly sought out. Mr Voice had saved him. He couldn’t blame Mr Voice for his reckless actions. He’d chosen to bind himself so. He’d promised Mr Voice freedom, how could he deliver on that if he couldn’t protect himself, if he continued wallowing in his weakness ?

“Would… would you really leave? If I disappointed you? Would you do it?” Eddy’s voice was small again, like a child that had been scolded by a parent.

I would not want to. You Freed me. But I would. If I have to. If you are too weak.

Panic rose in Eddy, if Mr Voice left him he wouldn’t be able to advance along his Path, wouldn’t be able to gain power. He would be alone again. Like he was before when he’d been a victim . No. He couldn’t be a victim again. Blue Mitch, the Zmangers, Backlund - they wouldn’t turn him into a victim. He would do what Meursault wanted. He would pay the price for his mistakes. He would play their game. But, he swore, one day, they’d be playing his . Something inside him shifted once again. Something clicked into place like it was always meant to have been there.

[Approval] Good.

Eddy basked in approval of Mr Voice, pleased that he had settled the roiling turmoil of emotions that had so troubled him before. He changed into his sleepwear and moved beneath the covers of his bed as his previously restrained tiredness caught up to him. As he slipped away, he lent little attention to the distant pops and cracks of gunfire and far-off screams that had started as the sun set, and, by the time the orange glow of spreading fires illuminated the bricks of the alleyway, his eyes were already closed.

The next morning, Eddy rose from his bed, got ready, and left the house to find some breakfast. There was a place at the end of the street that served good helpings of food that were of decent quality (for Eddy’s uneducated East Borough palate that is). However, when he left his tenement, East Borough was not as he had last seen it.

There were hints of smoke in the air, an acrid taste collecting in Eddy’s mouth, causing him to spit on the cobbles. Several shops on his street had had their windows smashed in and shards of glass crunched under his feet as he examined the damage. People were already cleaning up their shops, rebuilding with the typical determination and focus of an East Borough resident that comes only from the acceptance that gang violence is a force as unstoppable as the tides or the seasons.

Eddy located his usual (and thankfully unscathed) cafe and soon learned what had happened. After the robbery of Wharf Five (the rumours about that had spread quickly around the Borough) Blue Mitch moved full force against the Zmangers. The assumption was that they had stolen some goods of his and drawn his ire. Eddy stayed quiet at that. Just as the last time fighting had broken out, the whole Borough descended into chaos as opportunists crawled out of the woodwork. Eddy found out that Whiterose Street was mainly unscathed but a cannery by the docks rumoured to be owned by associates of Blue Mitch had gone up in smoke. The market under St Amalia Embankment had been assaulted by masked gunmen, but the Rakers had fought them off and regained control of the tunnel entrance. Eddy sighed in relief at that news. He needed the market to be stable and the Rakers were his best bet for that to remain true.

Meanwhile, the Parliament Street Gang and the Zmangers had fought openly on Mirminsk Street. Eddy recalled that it was also the site of their last battle. Apparently, Blue Mitch had arrived himself flanked by 50 armed men. They had advanced into Zmanger territory, looting and killing as they went. It sounded like a punitive attack rather than a real attempt at taking territory. Blue Mitch must have wanted to sow terror, Eddy mused. The tide was only turned when the Zmangers ambushed the hostile force around Stratford Bend. Over a dozen members of the Gang had been cut down by rifle fire and many more had been wounded - forcing a retreat. Eddy couldn’t help but give a grim smile at that news.

The violence had only stopped with the first light of dawn. Soon after, armed police had been dispatched from Sivellaus Yard to guard key locations in the Borough. According to the gossipers in the cafe, His Imperial Majesty’s Second Battalion of the East Tucker Rifles had been moved from their barracks outside Backlund into the city in anticipation of further violence. Eddy snorted at that. Typical of the elites that they only responded when the fighting was already over. Eddy was certain that the soldiers were only transferred when the wealthy ministers became worried that the gang war might spill out into the rest of the city. It wasn’t like they cared about East Borough, but Goddess forbid if their mansions in Empress or West Borough were threatened. Hypocrites. Eddy left the cafe informed of the chaos of the night.

At least the rifles he’d stolen had been used to hurt the Parliament Street Gang. It didn’t change much in the grand scheme though, Eddy was still bound to Meursault and the Zmangers. The losses on the Zmanger’s side would only exacerbate that debt’s collection. Eddy needed to reach Sequence 8. A visit to the Embankment was in order.


AN: A little bit of insight into Mr Voice and his… views. This chapter jumped about a bit, but it was necessary to deal with Eddy’s character development - as well as the consequences of his actions. I promise (for real this time!) that Eddy will reach Sequence 8 next chapter.

Chapter 16: A Loving Transformation


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

In a silent house beside the sea, in a borrowed skin, we will seek the second change. I must find a place of power at the water’s edge.

Eddy made his way down to the Embankment, face covered with his mask and fully restocked on knives. They had not cost much, so he had actually bought three. Now, he had his scissors in his jacket pocket, a knife up his sleeve, and one in each boot. He might have felt it was a little ridiculous, but, in East Borough’s current state, there was no such thing as being too careful. He’d only decided to make this trip when he felt that his hands had recovered enough to wield his weapons properly. Otherwise, he could have only spent the night holed up in his room. On his way to the black market, Eddy had to dodge a police patrol - six uniformed men walking down one of the main streets that had been emptied by the night. Clearly, Sivellaus Yard had been ordered to take law and order in the Borough seriously. The heavy truncheons and pistols at the policemen’s sides spoke to that. Eddy had no doubt that the patrols would continue for at least a few days before being called off. As he made his way closer to the Tussock River, it was noticeable though that he encountered no more patrols. This was Raker territory, and the authorities knew it.

After the usual questions, Eddy got through the tense tunnel guards and into the market. He disliked their interrogation, but he understood that it was less an attempt to dissuade people from entering the underground bazaar, and more a means by which the Rakers showed their control over the area. A performance to prove their ‘ownership’. In reality, they couldn’t (and wouldn't) stop people from carrying concealed weapons and they would never force people to reveal their identities. That would bring too much wrath down on their heads from the unsavoury elements of the city. This was something Eddy had come to realise after entering the market a few times.

The stall of the insect-masked man was still as gaudy and cloth-swathed as before. It seems as if a mere spot of gang warfare was not enough to disturb a powerful Beyonder. Eddy swallowed his nerves, squared his shoulders, and set a course to his destination, weaving through the market crowds fluidly. The merchant was not facing him directly, but Eddy still thought that his gaze was locked on his approach - staring out at him from behind the mirrored surface of his compound-eyed mask. Goddess Above, it unnerved him! Surely the man couldn’t get many customers looking like that? What was wrong with a normal mask? Eddy gave a mental shrug as the frigid aura of the merchant settled around him as he drew closer. He couldn’t understand the mind of a potential mid-Sequencer. He reflected that he didn’t particularly want to.

Finding himself in front of the stall, Eddy doffed his cap respectfully - careful not to dislodge his white mask. “Good evening, sir.”

“A good evening to you, too.” The reply rippled out, deep and powerful. Eddy had forgotten the sound of that voice. He could feel Mr Voice stirring in warning.

“I believe that I made a reservation for a bale of undyed silk from an Azshara worm. Do you still have the item?” The man did not respond, standing up (Eddy certainly did not flinch at that) before melting into the darkened area behind the counter. Only a short time passed before the insect-masked merchant returned with a surprisingly small package wrapped in brown paper.

“It’s quite small…” ventured Eddy.

“So are the worms”. Eddy couldn’t say much to that. He did feel a little cheated by the size of the bale for the price he was paying, but it wasn’t like he was selling on the goods for a profit. Regardless of the amount, they would all be consumed either way. The man held out the package, gesturing lazily with the other hand. “The agreed price.”

Eddy nodded and fished out the envelope from a secret pocket in the lining of his jacket. Before leaving his room, he’d triple-checked to make sure it contained the full 65 pounds. No more, no less. It would be a humiliating death if he inadvertently cheated a powerful Beyonder due to being careless. The envelope felt heavier than it really was when he handed it over. His grief at losing more money than he’d ever had was only offset by his sheer excitement at gathering the last of his Sequence 8 potion ingredients. Eddy’s eyes, however, could not help but track the envelope as it disappeared within the other man’s suit.

The price having been paid, Eddy reached out and took the proffered item. For such an important (such an expensive ) item, it was actually rather light. Eddy went to slip it inside his jacket but was surprised as his arm was halted by the iron grip of the Beyonder on his wrist. Eddy instinctively tried to wrench himself away but the man did not budge even a hairsbreadth. Eddy froze, eyes wide behind his mask as he stared at the mid-Sequencer who had restrained him with such an awful unnatural strength.

Eddy noticed, suddenly, that their area of the market had somehow emptied in an instant - the bustle of the crowd receding like the low tide before the onrush of a tsunami. People here had a sixth sense.

The deep voice of the merchant echoed out from beyond his mandibled mask, glassy eyes shining in the low lamplight. “You may wish to change yourself. You may believe that it is the Path to your survival. Perhaps, even your ascension.” The grip on his wrist loosened slightly, before tightening again. “But, you must also remember that change can be just another word for death.” Eddy nodded in a panicked manner - willing to appease the man if that meant that he would release him. Sighing, the man did so to Eddy’s great relief. Eddy moved backward, out of the man’s reach.

“Thank you, sir, for the item.” Eddy paused. “And for your advice.” Even if it was cryptic nonsense. The man sank back into his chair behind the stall’s counter, once again looking perfectly composed. The masked head tilted slightly in acknowledgment of Eddy’s words.

“It is no trouble, young man. I’m always glad to offer advice to those who require it. I, for one, search for it in the works of wiser men. Emperor Roselle, for all his faults, was blessed with a remarkable intellect and skill for telling stories. Personally, I find that there is much to discover in his Ship of Theseus .”

Eddy was confused. First, he almost wrenched his arm off, and now he’s giving book reviews? Is this the madness and eccentricity of a powerful man? Eddy could only offer a response in order to maintain his politeness. He had not been given the chance to read much from the works of the prolific and mysterious Roselle - the ‘wonder and terror of his age’ - but many of his fables had been read out loud by the matrons at his orphanage in order to entertain the children. “I always liked the Sword of Damocles.” Eddy responded lamely, only remembering it from his thoughts on Meursault.

“Yes,” replied the seated man. “I imagine you would.” Silence fell between the two for a while before Eddy took the opportunity to make a swift exit. A bruise was forming on his wrist. He did not linger in the market.

Back at home, Eddy sat on the floor above a burnished copper bowl. He had, upon reflection, realised that his digestion had reached completion a day before he expected. Looking back, he realised that something in him had clicked after his emotional conversation with Mr Voice. Before, it was like the character of ‘the Barber’ had been inextricably linked but still somehow separated by some metaphysical delineation. After the conversation, the join was seamless, the flexing of his powers somehow more fluid. Mr Voice had given his assent to brewing the Sequence 8 potion. It was time to advance.

Eddy started with the supplementary ingredients. He poured in the crystal water taken from the stone bowl in Orthos Wood. It shimmered in the low blue-tinged gas light. A hint of red light from the moon sneaking through the curtains also played across the water. Ten drops of Lanti Proof followed. The strong drink added a slight sepia hint to the water. Eddy was half-tempted to down a gulp of burning spirit for courage but decided against it. Best not to consume anything that could interfere with the process - if that was how it worked. Eddy wasn’t sure if it conformed to any logic. He could not deny the pure mysticism of his first potion brewing.

Eddy continued on to the next ingredient. Five drops of autumn crocus essence depleted the majority of his vial of the substance. The swirling lavender fluid was depleted by over a third, but Eddy had no need for it beyond tonight so he wasn’t too aggrieved. The addition seemed to impart the same swirling nature to the liquid in the bowl. The surface was surely mirror-still, but Eddy had the distinct impression that there were vast, oceanic, currents flowing beneath the surface - or, perhaps, the memory of them.

Three crow feathers. He had found them in Orthos Wood and brought them home, wrapped carefully in cloth and hidden. Now he brought them out and added them to the bowl. They floated on the surface. Inert. Next followed the moths. His Barber potion had required the wings of the insects, now this one demanded their full bodies. Eddy supposed that there was a progression there. The pretence of some logic gave him a form of shallow comfort. The small bodies of the moths collected along the edges of the bowl like the corpses that washed up by the marshy banks of the Tussock River downstream of Backlund.

One ingredient left. Eddy carefully unwrapped the package by his side. When Mr Voice had told him what to buy for the potion, Eddy had not understood how they were in any way special. Crow feathers and oil made from the crushed stamens of an autumn flower. Not the stuff of legends. This silk, though, was special. It sat in a neat bundle in the centre of the unwrapped paper - tied together to keep it orderly. The strands were impossibly thin, but, when put together, shone darkly in the light. They almost looked luminescent. Eddy swore there were minuscule sparkles at points in the bale. Overall, it looked as if someone had crossed silk with a night sky. No wonder it was so pricey.

It was with great reluctance that Eddy moved the beautiful silken bale above the bowl. He had never seen something so visually appealing before and was loathe to let go of it - a byproduct of his years of acquisitive scavenging along the river banks. Nevertheless, he forced his hand to relax and let the silken bundle drop limply into the bowl.

It was then that the Beyonder nature of the Beyonder potion truly showed. Instead of splashing into the liquid, the silk simply seemed to drop through the surface without disturbance, without so much as a ripple, and gathered at the bottom of the bowl. Before Eddy’s eyes, it slowly dissolved, the liquid turning a deep matte black. Eddy was transfixed. He could see the pinpricks of stars inside the potion like he was staring out at the endless cosmos. He saw a corona bursting forth and the vast sweep of a nebula. He saw the glowing embers of creation forge themselves into shining suns. He looked further and saw it all, all the way into the deepest depths of the cosmos and all the glory of the universe was before his eyes and it was wonderful it was beautiful and he saw it and it saw him it was looking at him–

– the crow feathers and moth carcasses sublimated to heavy black smoke and covered that terrible ( glorious glorious glorious ) view, allowing a panting Eddy to wrench himself back. He gathered himself there, piece by piece, lying against the hard wooden boards.

[Amusem*nt] Did you have fun?

“What was that?” Eddy whispered.

A taste.

Eddy righted himself, looking warily at the bowl. A cloud of thick black smog hung over its surface, not a single wisp reaching beyond its lip. The presence of that cloud both reassured him and scared him. It both hid that terrifying view (oh how he longed for it) and reminded Eddy that it existed in the first place. He had invited something awful, something other into his home - into his mind . The buzzing in his brain, the sound he always ignored, became louder. He was going to drink the potion. He knew he was going to do it. He understood the necessity of it, but a part of Eddy screamed at him to overturn the bowl and run as far as he could. Eddy let out a bitter laugh. There were some things from which you could not run.

He picked up the bowl. The copper was cold beneath his fingers.

He drank.

The potion rushed into him, just as it had before. It was less a matter of drinking the potion and more a matter of being invaded by the potion. It tasted of ice and deep waters that had never seen the sun. It spread like a tide through his body. It penetrated his brain, ran beneath the skin of his face, pooled in his fingers. It clutched his heart. He felt something crawling in his throat. His spine arched. It hurt. Oh, it hurt so much. Eddy tried to scream but nothing left his mouth but a mass of writhing centipedes that fled into the corners of his darkened room. The buzzing. The endless buzzing. It was so loud that it drowned out the berserk beating of his heart. A sense opened up inside him like a flower, engulfing his body. This was, Eddy knew, spirituality. It roiled within him - driven by his emotions. It was boiling , the buzzing driving it on.

Eddy was losing himself, some level of control slipping away as his panic overtook him. He felt his antennae twitch, sensing the air. He could smell the fumes from Mrs Amsen smoking a cigarette two floors below him. He could feel the air moving as she walked to the window to throw away the butt. His stunted wings were wrenching their way out of the skin of his back. Blood spattered across the floor. He tried to whimper in pain, but all he heard were the chitterings of his mandibles and the clacking of his chitinous skin. His thrashing knocked the small mirror from his desk and it shattered on the floor. In the shards, he saw a thing . He could not relate it to himself. He refused to. That mass of bloodied flesh and chitin could not be him .

[Love] You are beautiful. [Assurance]

That was what saved him. The refusal to associate that half-insect creature with Riverside Eddy, Eddy the Orphan, Edward Barton the Barber, forced him to delineate his identity - to shore up the boundaries of his self. Slowly, over the course of perhaps an hour, Eddy constructed fortifications, marked out boundaries. He searched for the pieces of himself and worked out what was Eddy and what was insect/thing/monstrosity. Then, when he had decided, he brought the Eddy-pieces/shards within his boundary and exiled what remained. Banished. Dissolved. It became easier as he went on. He became quicker, his mind stronger and walls firmer. Wings dissolved to smoke, mandibles retracted into teeth and chitin grudgingly turned back into skin as if it had never existed in the first place. Eventually, Eddy lay on the wooden floor - covered in red blood and yellow haemolymph. Messy, but whole.

[Approval] Congratulations. You have learned control. [Sincerity]

Eddy wept.


AN: ‘We are guardians, but also a bunch of miserable wretches that are constantly fighting against danger and madness.’

This is a truth that Eddy is beginning to learn. I wanted to show some of the horrors of Beyonder Paths in this chapter. Those of you that read LotM know that characters like Frank show the potential for body horror in the novel. RIP to Old Neil too. That particular chapter of his (you know the one) scarred me. Vomiting up centipedes and briefly turning into Kafka’s wet dream seemed apt. I suppose Eddy bore the brunt of that desire in this chapter. Poor guy. At least Mr Voice thought he looked pretty. We’ll see his new powers in the next chapter.

Chapter 17: Rewards From Suffering


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

My skin is peeling in patches, and beneath it I am darker, but my eyes are brighter. I carry a sea-pearl in a secret place. Sometimes at night I hear the sea; sometimes in the morning my sheets are marked with blood.

John Emerson was not a clever man. It was not an insult, he knew it to be true. He’d survived over five decades in East Borough. The delusional rarely lasted as long as that. Sure, he knew his letters well and read the newspaper every morning. He had no issues with counting and had run his shop well in that regard for over two decades himself (and had worked there almost another two before that when his father still ran the place). His taxes were paid properly and every penny was accounted for. Nevertheless, John Emerson would never claim his mind was knife-sharp or agile like some people he met. He’d never be the sort to invent a new steam engine or write academic papers. He couldn’t debate the philosophies of Roselle or argue about the poetry of the old Trunsoest Empire. Those things were not for him. But, he did not have to be a clever man to realise that there was something off about his assistant.

When young Eddy had turned up a month before, John had been struck by him. He was young and lanky - eyes bright and eager - all the hallmarks of an inexperienced youth. However, if there was one thing that young Edward Barton had, it was confidence - and the skill to back it up. When he’d forced the lad to give him a haircut, Eddy had started out somewhat nervous, but he’d clearly used scissors before and John had been impressed enough to offer him the job. Besides, loathe as he was to admit it, he’d been a bit lonely since little Myles had gone off to join the army. It didn’t hurt that there was a resemblance between the two boys (at least in his mind).

So, John Emerson didn’t mind his new assistant barber. He didn’t mind when the lad’s eyes would occasionally glaze over as if he was focusing on something beyond normal sight. He didn’t mind when he’d get startled by a sudden movement from the boy (he was just so damn quiet ). Really, who minded a little bit of strangeness? The lad was friendly, polite, and always came to work on time. He never complained and was always up for a chat during lunch. John didn’t even mind that he was a liar. Oh yes. John wasn’t smart, but he could always spot a liar and young Eddy Barton was indeed one. A Pritz Harbour native who had moved to Backlund for work, a Pritz Harbour native who would occasionally let slip a rough East Borough accent when he got animated over some joke John told or over a humorous story. John didn’t judge. Everyone had parts of their past that they wanted to leave behind. Let Eddy keep his lie.

But, as the month went by, John became more and more concerned about the lad he’d taken in. Eddy came to work as usual, skill undiminished, but there were shadows under his eyes. After the violence between those awful gangs broke out the first time he started to laugh less and brood more. John caught him staring at the newspaper headlines with something hard and cold in his gaze. He didn’t think much of it at first, but soon he noticed that Eddy would sometimes jolt mid-step and move a hand to his side.

Bags under the eyes. Cracked ribs. Raw knuckles.

John could see the signs. Eddy was caught up in something, something bad - and it was changing him. The little lying boy with a gleam in his eye was becoming colder, hiding under what John increasingly realised was a cool mask of politeness and affability. So, when the violence broke out again and John watched from the window as the Borough burned, all he could do was pray that the lad survived. The fact that he’d received a letter, brought by a street urchin that same day, informing him that Eddy was sick and couldn’t come in to work, only confirmed what John knew. The boy was in deep with the worst of the Borough, and, sometimes, there’s no getting out from something like that.

It was Wednesday when John next saw Eddy (he’d last seen him at the end of Saturday’s work). Again he was struck by the sight of him, but this time it was from the changes that he noticed (surely too much for only three days of absence?). Eddy seemed taller, more filled out. His trousers didn’t reach down to the tops of his shoes as they had before. Perhaps an inch of growth? He wasn’t quite sure. Maybe he was being taken in by the new confidence in Eddy’s step as he walked into the shop. Eddy had always been confident, but this seemed more assured - the stride of a man who knew he was worth something.

That wasn’t the main thing though. It was his eyes that seized John’s attention. They were the same, the same bright blue. But looking back at them, he couldn’t help but feel that where they had been eager and excited before, they now seemed piercing, predatory. Like Eddy was calculating how much he was worth. Whether he was useful or not.

The conversation was short. Eddy apologised for his absence and for any inconvenience he might have caused before resigning from his work. The excuse was a family emergency. Some sick cousin apparently. It wasn’t even a particularly good lie. John didn’t protest, instead handing over the partial wages that he would have given Eddy on Monday if not for his ‘illness’. He extended his regards to the boy and took care to tell him to be safe. The boy probably needed someone to remind him. It seemed all very sudden, the conversation short and perfunctory. It made John sad. He’d come to like the lad and seeing this cold thing that was growing in his place left him aggrieved.

Eddy left, the bell above the door ringing a goodbye as he put on his cap and walked away with a confident stride. John watched him go before closing the shop early and catching a carriage to St Samuel Cathedral. He hadn’t gone since his wife died, but now he knelt before the altar and lit two candles. One for his son in the far-off jungles of Balam, and one for young Eddy Barton - who surely had a hard path ahead of him. John Emerson could only hope that it would not change him too much.

Walking away from Emerson’s shop, Eddy felt no regrets about his resignation. His boss hadn’t been a bad sort. John had been friendly and uncurious, but five days of work a week now took up far too much of Eddy’s time in proportion to what he would earn from it. Now, with over 27 pounds to his name, Eddy could not justify working for the man anymore. Besides, being a barber would no longer directly aid in his digestion progress now that he had advanced to Sequence 8. Things were different now.

On the subject of differences, Eddy could only marvel at the changes that had occurred. He felt stronger now and taller, appearing like someone of his age should if they had eaten well from birth. Eddy could say without doubt that he was now a physically normal and healthy young man with no signs of malnourishment. If that was the limit of his advancement, then Eddy would be satisfied, but the admittedly… traumatic… experience of his advancement (Eddy desperately tried to ignore the rising memories of pain and carapace) had at least come with the reward of power. Peddlers and hawkers along the roadside, normally sharp-eyed and ready to call out to passersby in order to sell their trinkets or street food, now seemed to disregard him. Before with his Sequence 9 powers, they had still been able to perceive him (Eddy had wondered at the time if they were part bloodhound and could smell him), but now their eyes glazed over and moved past him to the next likely customer. Eddy was sure that his power to exist beneath the notice of others had improved markedly. He wondered what the limits would be. Would he one day achieve true invisibility? He chuckled. How much would he be able to steal then?

His hands too had become more agile and dexterous. His fingers seemed lighter and several times Eddy had caught them wiggling and writhing like little snakes. It was, he thought, more than a little disconcerting. Physically, they looked normal, but when they moved it seemed like Eddy had grown a couple of extra joints on each one. He was sure that his sleight-of-hand skills would now be reaching the limits of what was possible to a non-Beyonder human. The increase in these old abilities of his comforted him. The Sequences were a clear progression. If he kept going, if he had the strength of will to continue, then he was sure he could become truly powerful.

However, despite all of this, Eddy couldn’t help but be disconcerted by his new powers. They had appeared immediately after his progression, blooming like flowers from his soul. That seemed like a weird way to put it, but Eddy truly believed that it was the most apt description. A manifestation that had grown under the influence of that strange potion. He wasn’t quite sure about the use of them though. They didn’t quite seem to… match. Now, the first power was at least useful. As soon as he had recovered from his ascension, he’d noticed it working. Immediately, he had understood that underneath the loose floorboard was a terrible place to hide his money and had come up with a rather ingenious solution involving a secret pocket inside the lining of his curtains. He’d sewn it so professionally and swiftly that it had surprised him. Even now, walking down the street, he was internally criticising himself for the sloppy workmanship of his hidden jacket pocket - the one that contained a knife. It was frustrating to see the shoddy work, like an itch in his brain. When he got home, he’d have to fix it - make it both harder to spot and easier to access. Was this his new Sequence 8 skill? The ability to sew secret pockets. What a pathetic superpower!

That did at least seem to match with his stealth/thief-suited Sequence 9 powers. His other power, however, appeared to be completely divorced from that theme. He sniffed the air. He could smell all the usual scents of East Borough. Coal smoke, tobacco, and sewage. Nothing different from usual. However, he could also smell that the wind was coming from the West and that it would shift to the usual South-Westerly within two hours. He could smell that there would be a light rain tonight and that the lower and wider reaches of the Tussock River would get choppy. He could sense the tides faintly pulling at the distant sea. It was strange, but it also felt correct - like this was a power that he ought to have. He had been moulded for it.

Eddy turned onto another street, still wanting to test out his improved stealth power. So, that was his new Sequence 8 arsenal. He was good at sewing and could smell out whether he needed an umbrella when he left the house. Wonderful. It was still an improvement though. Eddy guessed he couldn’t be too upset.

[Derision] Fool. [Disappointment]

Eddy paused, almost bumping into a man coming the other way. The man didn’t notice that he’d almost collided with Eddy. “What do you mean, Mr Voice?” he asked. Eddy was not concerned about speaking to Mr Voice out loud. It wasn’t like anyone would notice him having a conversation with thin air.

[Exasperation] Your true weapon is the spirit.

Eddy moved to the side of the pavement and leaned against the wall. Like this, he wouldn’t be in anybody’s way. “My spirit?” Eddy asked. “Are you talking about my new spiritual sense?”


“What does it allow me to do?”

You are now more sensitive to the spiritual world. There will be more danger, but more opportunity. There are rituals.

Eddy’s eyes went wide. “Rituals? As in magic rituals?” For all that he had seen, for all that he had done, Eddy was still a young man who had, as a child, dreamed of magic powers. Being a Beyonder was not all that glamorous in comparison to his childhood dreams, but magic rituals sounded so exciting that those old hopes were instantly revived.

Rituals of sacrifice. Other rituals. My rituals. I can teach you. If you desire.

Eddy’s mouth was dry. “Yes, yes, please. Tell me what I need to do.”

[Satisfaction] You will need to visit the market again.

Eddy pushed lightly off the wall he had been leaning against and turned towards the direction of the river. The wind was changing, and he had a path forward. His time as a Beyonder had been as stressful as it had been rewarding and Eddy was tired of grime and gore. Ritual magic seemed mysterious and exciting. He couldn’t wait to do some Beyonder work that occurred safely indoors rather than in an alleyway or on a hostile dock. He set off for the Embankment.


AN: So at this point Eddy is now a bonafide Sequence 8, but he hasn’t been able to work out the name of his Sequence yet. Weird powers, huh? I wonder if anyone can make a guess as to what I’m going for? Trying to stop him from being too OP. I’ve read some fanfics where OCs have become pretty much invincible by Sequence 7 lol. Anyway, time for Eddy to explore spiritualism and ritual magic. I’m sure it will be just as glamorous as he’s expecting.

In the coming chapters I want to explore some of the ‘mystery’ aspects of LotM - so expect Eddy to get caught up in some spiritual shenanigans. As much as I like advancing his plot, I want to retain the atmosphere of LotM too, so there’ll be a few chapters of that maybe before advancing to the next ‘arc’ of the story.

Chapter 18: Burgeoning


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The growths of The Wood have encompassed the corpse’s organs, swelled its skull like a gourd, twined around its heart. Its eyes are moist with cunning, and it moves with jerky puppet grace. Its bones are rotten wood, and soon it will take root, but until then it will be a swift and subtle servant.

“Mysterious and exciting my ass,” said Eddy to the empty air. “This is the furthest thing from what I imagined.”

Then you lack imagination.

Eddy sneered at the flat response from Mr Voice. To think, he had been so eager just a couple of hours before. Of course, it had started off well. A couple of soli had bought him a ride in a public carriage down to the riverbank and some specialist candles suited for ritualism. A stick of pale chalk followed. The seller had informed him with disturbing enthusiasm that it was made from powdered skulls. Eddy had hoped that he had been speaking about animal skulls. A couple of pounds and some soli had also purchased him a tome on mystical symbols. Mr Voice had explained that much of aptly named Explorations into Arcane Symbology and Meditations on the Gospel of Zacchaeus was flawed, but that there was enough value within its pages to merit purchase. He’d promised to help Eddy sort through the work later and correct some of its blunders so that it might be made more useful.

He’d swiftly returned to his room and begun preparations for his first foray into the world of spiritualism. The building was quiet, most of the inhabitants out at their various labours. Only the tread of Mrs Amsen walking to the balcony to throw away her cigarette butt disturbed the quiet. He frowned. Did the woman do nothing but smoke? Shaking his head, Eddy had begun his work.

First, Eddy had worked his way through the relevant chapters of Arcane Symbology . The book, written by one Neville Atherton, was actually very interesting - containing all sorts of analyses on ritual and mystical symbols. Over the course of a couple of hours, Eddy learned all about the correct runes and languages for protective rites and minor boons. However, Mr Voice had to warn him to discount the section on ritual curses and offensive runes. Apparently, it was worse than nonsense. After some chapters, the book began to worsen in its written quality and Mr Voice had to interject more often to correct or outright deny portions of the work. Eventually, a final chapter on ancient dream rituals devolved into a long and ranting monologue on the opening of doors and self-mutilation. By the last page, the author had begun recording his forays into discerning the ‘divinity of ants’. Clearly, the man had lost himself to madness as he had written the book. Nevertheless, despite the sour feeling that the end of the tome had left him, Eddy felt confident enough to begin his ritual.

A bowl of water was laid out on the wooden floor, with four candles surrounding it on each of the cardinal points. A chalk circle was carefully outlined around the bowl. Another tiny circle around each of the candles. Finally, the five total circles were enclosed within another larger one. Eddy had found this whole process easier than he might have imagined. He’d thought that drawing six perfect circles would be difficult, but his supernaturally steady hands gave him a natural predisposition to the work. After the circles had been drawn, Eddy filled in the gaps with some modified symbols from the frontmost chapters of Atherton’s work. Some of them seemed to twist like earthworms. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and lit the candles. Immediately, the room was filled with the scent of pine and mulch. The air was thick. Quickly, Eddy plucked three hairs from his head and dropped them in the water, before beginning to chant the words that Mr Voice fed him.

“O Hour of Midnight, God-who-is-Blood,

You who wing between primeval trees,

Notice this humble servant and receive my offering.

Water to slake thy Thirst and hair to bind thy Blessings,

Grant unto me the protections of thy Kingdom.”

That was the rough translation of what he said. The words themselves were archaic, the dialect obscure - a relic of times when Backlund had been nothing but a collection of swampy fishing villages along the banks of an unnamed river. They tasted strange in Eddy’s mouth. They felt like mud on his tongue. Normally, as Atherton had explained in his more lucid writings, rituals were conducted in ancient languages such as Old Hermes, or Jotun. However, Mr Voice had specified that this ritual was to be done in that corrupted version of Loenese.

As soon as he had spoken the last line of the prayer, Eddy felt the effects of the ritual. When the last word contorted itself out from his lips the candles snuffed out - four streams of scented smoke rising up in twisting helixes from their wicks. Eddy felt his spirituality stir and roil. Something, something beyond human sight and sense, shifted. The water in the bowl drained away like it was flowing out from a hole in the bottom of the vessel. There was no hole, yet it still drained. Soon enough, there was no water. Eddy noticed that there were no traces of the hairs he had plucked. The sacrifice had been accepted.

There, in the small room, Eddy had felt a vast stirring in his spiritual sense. He could not see what caused it, but he could feel it - like deducing the route of a mighty ship by feeling the wake of its passage. He could feel its papery surface settling just below his skin. He closed his eyes and focused on it. A shield. Immaterial, but a shield nonetheless. At that moment Eddy also heard immaterial whispers and felt the shadows of the room shifting in the corners of his visions. Symptoms of his recent advancement. They should start to lessen as he digests his Sequence 8 potion he reflected. That was easier said than done though. He didn’t know the name of his potion or its principles. Hidden pockets and weather sensing? He had a sense that there was a link there - a connection - but he couldn’t quite place his finger on why. He could only work it out through experience. Such was the price for his unique power. Other Beyonders would know their Paths as they advanced, but he had to work it out as he went along.

He shook his head, banishing both the spectres and his errant thought, and reached out to Mr Voice. “What was that ritual about?”

[Approval] You are now hidden from those who might use their powers to pry. It will not last forever. The ritual must be redone in time. [Certainty]

Eddy nodded, satisfied by the answer. “Are there many Paths that might try to use spirituality to spy on me?”

All things are possible. The ritual will not fend off mid-Sequencers, but it will defend from low-level divination. Seers and Mystery Pryers, to a lesser degree, have such powers. Now you are shrouded from them.

Eddy frowned. To him, Beyonders were men like Blue Mitch and Meursault - brawlers and killers empowered by their Paths. The existence of hidden dangers, Beyonders with abilities he could not imagine, scared him. He frowned. “Mr Voice,” he said cautiously, “are there any dangers I should guard against? Dangers similar to these Seers and Mystery Pryers?”

There was a short silence before Mr Voice responded.

[Thoughtful] There are so many beyond you. Some things are out of your control.

A pause.

Do not trust in dreams. Answer no questions in them. Beware the Evernight Church.

Eddy swallowed nervously. That sounded ominous. He knew that the three Great Faiths of Loen had teams of Beyonders, Mr Voice had mentioned that before. However, having details on them felt different. Did the Evernight Church have Beyonders that could invade dreams? That was terrifying. Eddy decided to take Mr Voice’s advice to heart.

“Is there any more ritual magic you can teach me?”

Thinking back on that question, Eddy regretted asking it. A few hours after he had first begun his delving into ritual magic, Eddy found himself standing in a graveyard on the outskirts of Backlund. Crumbling and deserted, it was seldom visited and poorly maintained - a plot for paupers and unidentified bodies. Funnily enough, it was busier at night than in the day. At night, it was a home for scoundrels and criminals. By day, it was just a forgotten plot for corpses. Of course, that was why he was here.

Eddy had dressed in the somber garb of a gravedigger, all the better to fool someone if they spotted him. After all, what kind of person would exhume a corpse in broad daylight? Yes, that was his goal. His pursuit of ritual magic had brought him to the point of digging up a dead body in a graveyard. Glamorous indeed. Eddy had only hesitated briefly, however. In his mind, murder was worse than vandalism and desecration of the dead and he had already committed the former so he might as well commit the latter two. The logic was faulty, but at least it helped.

A recent grave was soon uncovered - the bare earth indicating a recent burial. The plot was larger than it should be and Eddy quickly realised it was a mass grave. The final home of paupers and murder victims. At least no grieving family would miss what he was going to take. As time passed, the shovel Eddy had found in an abandoned grave keeper’s shack (the man had died years ago - no doubt taking up a plot in the cemetery) unearthed a simple wooden casket. In all honesty, it was more like a crate than a coffin. It did not take long for Eddy to clear the surface completely. Hopping down into the hole he had dug, Eddy pried the top off the casket. He retched. Despite the recent burial, the body inside was already unrecognisable - rot eating away at pale and sticky flesh. The face was the worst. Perhaps that was a blessing. Eddy had no wish to see the face of the body he was about to desecrate. Goddess Above, the smell was awful.

Despite being filled with regret at starting this whole mess, Eddy was determined to finish the job. He pulled his trusty pair of scissors from his jacket and quickly cut a lock of dark hair from the back of his head. See? He was desecrating his own body too. His internal joke landed flat. Tough crowd.

Holding the lock of hair in his left hand, he reached out with his right and sliced the stomach of the corpse with his scissors. The flesh parted too easily, sloughing open like a rotted maw. Gingerly, Eddy dropped the lock of hair inside the wound - avoiding looking too closely. Despite the gore he’d seen in the past, this really crossed the line. The seeds followed next. He’d eaten an apple on the way over and had kept the pips. Now he dropped them in the right locations. One in each socket of the eyes. One where the tongue should be - Eddy thought he could see the half-decayed remnant of it. One in the wound he himself had caused. The hair for binding, the seeds for rebirth. Next came the chant.

The words Eddy spoke were not a dialect of Loenese. They were not Jotun or Hermes. There were no sounds of Ancient Feysac, or any of the other classical languages. He was not sure if it was a language at all. The words were frigid and cruel and when he spoke them, frost formed over his lips and bit at his flesh. He could not recall the sounds he was making, only that they were correct . Only that he was calling for the intercession of something . It did not take long, perhaps a score of seconds, but when he had finished he felt as if he had survived a blizzard. It was exhausting.

He watched as the apple seeds sprouted. Branches tunneled through flesh alongside bones, securing and strengthening. Green tendrils closed up rotten patches like surgeon’s thread. Eddy stared as the wound he had made sewed itself shut. A gasp rattled from the corpse’s mouldering mouth as it jerked and twisted. Eddy stumbled back in horror, back against the loose earth of the pit he had dug. He had known the purpose of this ritual, Mr Voice had explained it thoroughly, but seeing it was another matter. It was terrifying and awful but, at the same time, a part of Eddy couldn’t help but feel giddy at the thought that he had done this - raised a corpse into undeath. It was… exhilarating. The roots continued the spread throughout the cadaver, invading every inch.

It rose. Standing in the wreckage of its casket, it loomed over Eddy. Eddy clambered out of the pit to admire his work. A branch had burst out of the right eye and small leaves were growing along its length. Vibrant shoots webbed across pallid flesh. Its jaw hung loosely, exposing the rot within. A perfect juxtaposition of rot and new growth, the human and the natural. Such was the Rite of the Burgeoning Risen.

“Climb out” Eddy commanded it. The Risen jerked forwards, limbs grasping at the earth to pull itself upwards even as flesh sloughed off bone. It maintained its strength, however, as dense wood worked alongside tendons and muscle. Eddy analysed its progress. The motions of its limbs were jittery, hampered by its condition and the unbending wood that kept it structurally sound, but it made progress. Eddy could see that it was strong, beyond human in physical might. It would never be fast though, it took time to complete his order.

He decided to confirm. “Move as fast as possible to that gravestone over there.” He pointed to his target - an old and weathered tomb. The writing on it was illegible. The Risen shambled over to the specified site. Yes, speed was a problem, its maximum pace was only slightly faster than normal walking speed. Eddy noticed another problem. More flesh was falling off the cadaver - rotting at a visible pace. Such a thing wasn’t normal. The Rite had granted power and motion to the corpse, but now that same Rite was sapping its vitality. It would not last long - Eddy estimated that a couple of hours at most would be the limit before it fell apart completely. He furrowed his brow. He would not be able to use the Risen on a long-term basis. They seemed annoyingly situational.

[Assurance] True. But, your squeamishness did you no favours and your White Ceremony was lacking. Both in emotion and fluency. After improving, they will last longer.

Mr Voice, Eddy noted, spoke more nowadays; increasing in fluency from his previously terse style. Aside from this matter, his words were reassuring, perhaps the Risen could still be of use. One last test, though. “Punch that tombstone.” The stone shattered and chips of stone flew through the air - one hitting Eddy’s arm. The top half of the tombstone had been completely destroyed, snapping off a huge chunk from the top. Where the corpse’s punch had landed directly, the stone had turned to dust. Eddy grinned. The Risen, as servants, were perfect for melee combat. They could never chase down an enemy, but if one landed a hit the victim would have to be a physically strong Beyonder to survive. Relinquishing control over the Risen, the grin on Eddy’s face widened. It was, for now, just a fantasy but in his mind’s eye, he saw the image of a rotted and branch-infested corpse land a punishing blow on a muscular blue-haired man. A fitting end for a vile thug. Eddy could not wait to see that day come to pass.

By the time he left the graveyard, a new apple tree had sprouted.


AN: Shorter than I would like, but with that all of Eddy’s Sequence 8 powers have been introduced. Hiding things, knowledge of weather conditions, and the benefits of ritual magic (including anti-divination and undead helpers). What an eclectic collection (yes, the anti-divination is a get-out-of-jail-free-card for me to ignore the implications of Klein’s seer powers from interfering too much in the story - just in case). Trust me, there is an overall logic here to his grab-bag of powers but it will take some time for it to all weave together. Now, all Eddy has to do is sort out his principles and find the name of his Sequence. I guess it will be trial and error.

Chapter 19: Spoon Lane


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

I have a disease. My blood is wrong. My bones are sick. I’ll die. But perhaps I can preserve myself, long enough, with the holy blood of our Delight.

A couple of days had passed since Eddy had performed the Rite of the Burgeoning Risen, and he still had not entirely calmed down. Being a Beyonder was wondrous, there was no argument about that. He had gained unnatural stealth and dexterity, he could see in the dark, hide his weapons and money easily, and smell the weather itself. All of this would have been unthinkable before that night in Orthos Wood. But, despite all of this, his introduction to mysticism and ritual magic had awoken a passion in him. It was all so interesting, so arcane and exotic. When he had drawn ancient symbols in bone-chalk and planted apple seeds in the eye-sockets of a corpse, he had truly felt like a part of the supernatural world. It was… thrilling. He knew that all of this was a childish response, but he didn’t particularly care. Ritual magic was wonderful. It made him grateful for Mr Voice’s help. Neville Atherton had clearly been very gifted, but his work was flawed. Some of his symbols were misattributed or slightly warped, and his draining sanity had affected his analysis heavily (especially in the rambling latter half of the book). Mr Voice’s knowledge allowed him to correct these mistakes and sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. He had such an advantage over other dabblers in the mystical arts.

Since Wednesday, he had performed the simple protective rite twice more - once that very morning. Both times had been successful and he had grown more used to the ritual. He still heard distant whispers and saw disturbing sights in the periphery of his vision, but repeated exposure had made the manifestations less frightening to him. However, he still hoped that he could start properly digesting his yet unnamed Sequence 8 potion soon so as to rid himself of the anomalies.

When it came to his new Sequence, the days had not given Eddy much aid. He had spent most of his time wandering the streets of East Borough, hoping that something might happen to give him a clue into his new powers. He had even worked up the courage to interrogate Mr Voice, but the entity had not been much help. Despite his increasing ease of communication, Mr Voice often had to fall back on bursts of images and feelings whenever he ‘spoke’ in order to portray more complex concepts. He had not been able to come up with a name for the latest form of his Path. Instead of a name, Eddy had received a taste of salt on his tongue and mud on his skin, the feeling of curling up in the dark, the allure of something hidden. It was helpful in a way, Eddy could feel the connection, but working out a name and a set of principles from that was easier said than done.

In order to pass the time, Eddy had tested out his improved dexterity, pickpocketing his way through the Borough. Of course, he had avoided Parliament Street Gang territory as well as Zmanger turf. The former was just good sense, the latter was because he hadn’t heard from Meursault since that night and didn’t want to remind the man of his existence. There was no doubt that the dangerous man was simply biding his time, but Eddy took solace in the self-deception that there was a minuscule chance that maybe the Zmangers had just forgotten about him. Blind hope is a wonderful thing.

His flexible fingers had liberated the contents of enough wallets and coin pouches to pay his rent and food easily. In all honesty, he could have stolen more, but he was mainly interested in testing his limits than making a load of cash. He had targeted the most alert-looking men - the kind who almost always kept a hand over their wallets or the ones who had hidden them well. Eddy took great pride in robbing them regardless. His stealth and unnaturally nimble fingers made short work of such folk.

Initially, he’d wanted to try pickpocketing the pickpockets, but that goal was complicated by two problems. The first was that they were alert and sharp-eyed enough to see through his ‘veil’ (as he had begun to put it). Their perception, naturally trained by their method of sourcing income and distrust of rivals combined to make them some of the only people that could perceive his presence when he was fully veiled. It would be a different matter at night of course, but then they wouldn’t be out on the streets. A man could not always work in ideal conditions, after all. The second problem was that they were poor. Despite the epidemic of pickpockets, most of them had to give the lion’s share of their winnings to the gangs that controlled them. Often, there were left with barely enough to eat and had to shelter in the rafters of warehouses and abandoned homes. Stealing from them felt wrong. Eddy had compromised on his morality greatly, but robbing malnourished children for the sake of honing his skills seemed too callous. Therefore, he had not persisted in his efforts for long.

The afternoon found Eddy strolling along the charmingly titled Spoon Lane. Despite the quaint name, the actual place was probably one of the worst areas in East Borough. Perched just below the top of a low ridge near the Tussock River, Spoon Lane was perfectly placed to catch both the foul breeze from the polluted river and industrial fumes from a collection of paint factories adjacent to the docks. The unfortunate olfactory situation was not helped by a burst sewage pipe that spilled human waste onto the surface of the street. There were always rumours that the ‘Spoon Lane Pipe’ was about to be fixed by local authorities, but somehow the work was always interrupted by poor weather, problems elsewhere in the Borough, or lack of funding. This had caused Spoon Lane to become a general health hazard. Here, cholera, scarlet fever, typhus, typhoid, and tuberculosis still reigned over the lives of the denizens with an iron grip. The sound of wet coughing was always heard. It was the place where the poorest gathered, the most downtrodden. The cobbles were slick with filth and Goddess knows what else. Needless to say, Eddy was not wearing his best pair of shoes.

He would not have come along Spoon Lane, but part of the docks had been closed off over some kind of police investigation over a massacre on a passenger liner from the Southern Continent and Spoon Lane was the next fastest route through to his next location. If not for that turn of events, he would never have braved the Lane.

As Eddy walked along Spoon Lane, he was ignored by the residents. At the best of times, they had lifeless eyes that stared out from their crumbling hovels. In other poor neighbourhoods, people were hungry and fought for every scrap, but those who came to Spoon Lane were already too far gone and had lost hope. So, normally Eddy would be ignored by them, but with his Veil in effect, he was totally unnoticeable to them. Invisible. It was quite unnerving, he thought. Normally he could spot someone's eyes glazing over as they looked past him, but these people couldn’t even get that far. He might as well not exist to them. There was something awful in that realisation that he couldn’t articulate. If the breeze blew a little stronger, would he fade away into the air like drifting smoke? What was the difference between him and a ghost? His melancholy emotions started to affect his spirituality and immaterial whispers began invading his ears. He hurried his steps in an attempt to leave the Lane. It was a mistake to have come here.

Suddenly, Eddy’s sharp eyes noticed something that caused him to start. In a shadowed gap between two hovels, a man was staring out at Eddy. It was a scrawny fellow, clothes tattered and loose on a thin frame - spine bowed and skin stretched over a gaunt face. He was pale and anemic, sweating slightly as if standing upright was a great burden. He was holding tightly onto a package of bread wrapped in paper, thin arms clutching possessively at it. His dark and bushy brows were drawn closely over brown eyes that nonetheless seemed to pierce Eddy’s veil. There was a sneer on his face that turned Eddy’s stomach; something cruel and full of hatred like the man had seen in him his nemesis, his greatest enemy. The watching man noticed that Eddy was looking at him and withdrew sharply into the shadows - panic on his face. With his night vision, Eddy saw him scuttle into the depths of the Lane, often looking back over his shoulder as if fearful of being followed.

Eddy could not help but feel a little shocked. He had theorised that only the most perceptive people or low-Sequence Beyonders with sensory powers could hope to spot him. Even if the man was in the former category and not the latter, his perceptive power was frightening. Such a thing was worth investigating. He decided to follow the man. Immediately, Mr Voice began listing the names of Beyonders with such powers.

Criminals, Marauders, Students of Ratiocination, Hunters, Assassins, and Beast Tamers among the low Sequences. You will not be hidden from any of the more powerful Beyonders.

Eddy grimaced slightly. That was a more sizeable list than he had expected. It seemed as if powers of perception were high among many Beyonders. He’d have to be careful. He doubted that the man was anything more than a low Sequence Beyonder (especially given his apparent material circ*mstances), but if the gaunt man were a Beyonder, then several of the names listed by Mr Voice were enough to instill a level of caution in him. Criminal. Assassin. Hunter (his thoughts jumped to Meursault). Such names showed clearly their danger. Eddy moved to the side of the street and pushed his Veil to its limit. Time to hunt.

Leveraging his now more healthy body, Eddy pulled himself up on top of a low hovel and crouched there. Peering into the shadows of the alleyways off Spoon Lane, his eyes followed the gaunt man’s path deeper into the warren of slum dwellings. Eddy followed his twisting path from above, hopping between rooftops. He was aided by the illegal construction of the slum. Here, where there was no legal building, proper street widths were not abided by, causing houses to crowd together and the alleyways to sometimes become barely passable. Therefore, it was no great ordeal to pass over the top of the slum - sometimes he only had to step over alleyways (such was their narrowness).

The rag-clothed man was still looking over his shoulder but clearly did not have the sense to attempt looking upwards. Eddy was reminded of his route into Wharf Five. The whole means by which he entered that heavily guarded place was predicated on the theory that guards would not think to look downwards . He had been correct in that assumption, so too was he concealed by his target’s narrow mind.

Eddy watched for several minutes as the man walked around in varying circles - as if attempting to lose a tail. Sometimes he would stop and press himself against a corner, peering back along his path as if waiting to see if he could catch Eddy following him. Eddy found great amusem*nt in observing this from almost directly above the man. He was coming to the conclusion that either his target was an absolute genius Beyonder luring him in with a false sense of security, or he was a normal man with a sense of paranoia so exaggerated that he was able to pierce Eddy’s Veil without any sort of supernatural aid. The former seemed unlikely, but the latter was interesting enough that Eddy still felt it worthwhile to follow the man. What kind of life, what kind of experience, could create a mind twisted to ignore the most foundational aspect of Eddy’s set of powers? He had to find out, if not for the sake of his curiosity, then for the sake of research. Understanding the limits of his powers could never be a bad thing.

Eventually, the gaunt man appeared to be satisfied that he was no longer being followed and swiftly made his way to a nondescript shack in the heart of the slums off Spoon Lane. As he followed the labyrinthine route from above, Eddy reflected that he might well have lost the man if he had simply headed straight home rather than engaging in such needless looping. He shrugged mentally - nobody ever said that paranoia equated to common sense. The man brought out a key from under his rags and twisted it in the lock of the shack’s door before entering the structure. From the decrepit look of the place, Eddy doubted that a key was necessary. It looked as if a light kick would knock the rickety wooden door off its hinges.

Stealthily, Eddy used his arms to let himself down from the top of the roof on which he was perched and dropped down to the ground. He made sure to make his landing as quiet as possible, so as not to alert his paranoid target. The shutters across the windows of the hovel were cracked and loose - perfect for a certain sneaky person to peek inside.

Through the slats of the window shutters, Eddy could see the situation inside. There was little furniture - only a table and chair as well as a small pile of dirty blankets in one corner that no doubt served as a bed. The majority of the floor space was taken up by what could only be described as an altar.

A large table had been draped with a grey cloth that spilled down onto the floor. The table was festooned with objects, plates of fruit, meat, and bread. Closer to the middle of the table were candles that Eddy recognised from the Embankment market - wax imprinted with spiritual herbs like fingered citron and night vanilla. Eddy spotted chamomile incense and bound sprigs of gold-leaf mint. It was no wonder that the man was forced to live off Spoon Lane; he had clearly spent all his earnings on this eclectic altar. At the centre of the altar was a circle of slate tablets on which chalk symbols had been drawn. Eddy frowned. They were misshapen and ugly. He recognised a few of them from Arcane Symbology , but they were poorly drawn and from different sections of the book. Some of the other symbols were clearly made up. The whole ensemble screamed of ignorance in the field of mysticism.

However, the most unusual object on the altar stood at the centre of the circle of slates. Upon a wooden stand stood a doll. It was ragged and worn - diminutive and cheap-looking. It was seemingly made out of stuffed cloth. Its face was featureless except for two black beads for eyes. They seemed to shine with a dark and forbidding light. Atop its head was a mess of sparse hair that looked far too real for a doll. It was greasy in the light of the candles and hints of sunlight that came in from outside the hovel. Its strangest feature, however, was a pair of highly detailed and leathery wings that sprung from its back like those of a bat. The whole combination made the doll seem incredibly ominous and disgusting to a normal person’s sensibilities.

The gaunt man, however, was by no means a normal person. Holding his package of bread out in supplication, the man approached the altar and placed the food on a waiting plate before kneeling in supplication. Then, as Eddy watched from his hiding place, the man began chanting. Eddy recognised some sounds of Hermes and Ancient Feysac, but they were appearing together - occasionally interspersed with words in Loenese and bits of dialect. It was a butchery of a normal ritual. Eddy frowned. On top of building the least effective altar he had ever seen, had this man also created an utterly useless linguistic pidgin for rituals?

Despite his disdain, though, Eddy’s eyes widened as he saw the man suddenly pull out a knife and - still chanting - slice across his palm savagely. Eddy winced as blood spattered across the altar and covered the food. An especially large drop landed straight onto the doll’s body. However, it was at this point that the strangest thing occurred. The droplets of blood soaking into the altar cloth and the items on it suddenly seemed to shudder and were drawn towards the centre of the altar - the red stains moving along the weave of cloth like blood in veins. The blood reached the doll and abruptly sank into it. There was an awful wailing noise that came from the doll which persisted for several seconds until all the blood disappeared. There was a silence for a span of time, and then a blast of energy rippled out and pitched the kneeling man onto the floor of his hovel.

Eddy stood still. How had this chimeric imitation of a ritual actually succeeded in doing anything? He was still a novice in ritual matters, but even he understood that what he had witnessed was the furthest thing from orthodox - the mystic equivalent of a blind man’s fumblings. His thoughts raced until he settled on an answer. It must have been the doll! Clearly, the ritual was useless - made up by the insane owner of the doll - but the doll itself must be a Beyonder artifact. A Beyonder artifact keyed to blood. The man, still lying on the floor, had started to laugh madly. It was a wet and bubbling cackle that spoke of lung diseases and infirmity, but Eddy only had eyes for the doll. He needed to get his hands on that artifact.


AN: Eddy is having some adventures - featuring crippling pseudo-Victorian poverty and an item from CultSim (not our first and not our last). In the game, the Winged Doll is just a tool that gives you a tiny boost in Rites. I have expanded it a little here to fit the rules of LotM. We will see the details of that next chapter. On another note, we’ve passed 1000 hits! Very happy to cross that milestone! I knew this would never be popular (crossover between a translated chinese webnovel and a VERY niche game), but it’s still nice to see.

Chapter 20: Winged Doll


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

In an attic above a skeleton house there was a window. Beside the window there was a box. Inside the box there was a bandage. In the bandage was a twist of clotted hair. In the hair was wound a doll, because the window had never been opened.

Still watching the insane man writhing and cackling on the ground, Eddy thought about how he would snatch the doll. Normally, he was a proponent of subtlety and indirect confrontation - he’d rather rob his enemies blind than fight them upfront. However, the situation this time wasn’t particularly complex. The owner of the doll was no Blue Mitch, not in any capacity. He wasn’t a Beyonder. He wasn’t blessed with supernatural power or the ability to perform exotic rituals that might hurt Eddy in the future. He once again cast his eye over the altar in the shack. Absolutely no ritual capability. He also wasn’t physically imposing. Eddy could immediately diagnose him, despite lacking medical knowledge, with a whole host of health issues and diseases. Chronic malnutrition and possible tuberculosis were likely at the very least. Eddy was not a specimen of physical perfection, but at least his potions had rectified his childhood lack of food. He could handle a starving lunatic.

Eddy supposed that he could wait until the man had started sleeping to steal the artifact, but, frankly, he didn’t want to wait. The artifact was right in front of him and ready for the taking. What did it benefit him to let it go? Perhaps someone else might snatch it from the incompetent hands of its current owner if he delayed. The man wasn’t exactly subtle with his blatant paranoia and mad laughter. It practically screamed: “Look at me I have something to hide!”. Besides, he was only sneaky and indirect in his work because his enemies were imposing and strong. This enemy was not. He needed to have flexibility in his operations. A scalpel was fine, but sometimes a person needed to know when it was more efficient to use a hammer. Thinking about it for a few more moments, Eddy nodded before pulling out his mask and placing it over his face. He might as well get some practice in.

Immediately Eddy moved from his spot by the shuttered window to before the door and promptly launched a swift kick at it. In his mind, Eddy had imagined the door flying off its hinges into the house, but instead it just sort of shattered around his foot. Rotten wood - it may have fallen apart on its own within a couple of months. Instantly, Eddy began choking on the cloud of wood dust that had sprung up and barrelled forwards into the shack. Best not to dwell on silly mistakes.

Vision obscured by the cloud, Eddy ran straight into the target of his theft, who had quickly sprung up in shock when the door had been destroyed. An indignant shriek was rudely cut off by Eddy’s elbow catching him in the stomach and the top of his head ramming into his throat. There was a disgusting gasping choke and the man directly flew back and slammed into a wall - shaking the structure of the hovel. As this happened, Eddy’s only thought was that the man was seriously too light. Internally, Eddy nodded sagely. Malnutrition was no joke. He decided that one of his mantras going forwards would be that food should be prioritised over evil blood rituals.

While the soon-to-be former owner of the doll was winded and choking in the corner, Eddy moved quickly towards the altar. If he wanted to be as fast as possible then he would simply knock down the ritual paraphernalia to get to the doll, but Eddy was still wary of disturbing a potential ritual site so instead moved around the clusters of candles and plates of rotten offerings with grace before plucking the doll from its stand. Without pause, the man in the corner, who had recovered by that time, let out a piercing wail that caused Eddy to flinch.

“No! Let her go! She’s mine! My darling belongs to me! Nobody else can have her! I knew this would happen, I saw you watching me, I saw you, I saw you! You followed me so that you could take her from me! I knew you were watching! You’ve always been following me! I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!”

The man leapt up with surprising grace, no doubt buoyed by his terror at losing the precious artifact. He charged at Eddy, arms swinging wildly and hands outstretched. The uncut and ragged nails on his hands looked like claws. Eddy’s only response to the paranoid ranting and subsequent attack was to raise a leg and kick the man in the chest as he got within range. Again, the wretch flew backward and hit the wall. This time, however, his head impacted the wooden wall and knocked him out.

Eddy quickly looked over at the still figure lying on the floor and let out a breath when he saw the man’s chest rising and falling. With his state of health and living conditions, the man was most likely already on the edge of dying but even so, Eddy still did not want to have such a pitiful man’s death on his conscience. Better to let him live what little time he had left. The doll was placed inside Eddy’s jacket pocket and he darted out the door. First, he’d make for the rooftops and dart around a little to lose anyone who might have come to investigate the noise, and then he’d head home. He was very interested to learn more about his new Beyonder artifact.

By the time Eddy came home, the evening had started to cover Backlund and his stomach was rumbling. Caught up in the excitement of the day and having walked around much of the Borough, Eddy really needed some filling food. He ended up paying for a hearty meal in the cafe at the corner of his street. A bowl of parsnip soup and a dish of mutton and peas satisfied his hunger very well. Eddy sighed. This would have been unimaginable a few months ago. So much had changed. He polished off the last of his peas and tipped his cap to the waitress before leaving.

Back in his room, Eddy took out the doll. It was just as disturbing as when he had first seen it. Looking closer, it seemed as if the black eyes were actually made out of some sort of polished stone. It looked oily. The overall texture was that of sackcloth. Smoke residue and grime had worked their way into the fabric. Overall, it looked like a poorly made doll for a factory worker’s child - if not for the leathery wings sprouting from its back and the greasy hair falling down from its head. A shiver ran down Eddy’s spine. The combination was simply foul.

Nevertheless, despite his distaste for the thing, Eddy was resolved to test out its capabilities. Taking out a steel needle he had used to sew some of his secret pockets, Eddy stuck the end of the needle in a candle flame for some time before piercing the tip of one of his fingers. A bead of dark blood welled up, shining darkly in the room’s light. Eddy daubed the bead of blood directly onto the doll and aimed it at the table. He kept his eyes on the doll, watching as the blood sank into the fabric. The expected awful wailing began to resonate around the small room. Before, at Spoon Lane, it had been grating, but now that Eddy was the one in possession of the doll, it seemed to ring in his ears - piercing into his brain. He stumbled backward slightly, an arm moving behind him to steady himself against the wall.

A blast rippled out from the front of the doll (perhaps from where its mouth might have been if it had one) and collided with the table. It was caught in the wave of force and shuddered - rocking back but not quite falling. Eddy watched this keenly. The artifact lived up to what he had expected, but he felt as if the strength of the concussive force was not as overbearing as when he had first watched it tip over the gaunt man. Was the doll tired? Did it have specified working hours?

A few thoughts flashed through Eddy’s mind until he settled on two main hypotheses. The first was based on what he had jokingly thought earlier. It was possible that the doll possessed a certain amount of stored ‘power’ and that repeated use would draw from this store until there was little left. It would then, presumably, need time to replenish the reserve of its energy. The second hypothesis was different. Eddy had established that the doll’s power was transactional in nature (for want of a better term). Blood was offered and absorbed, and a directed concussive blast was delivered in return. Therefore, it might stand to reason that the size and strength of the delivered force was proportional to the volume of blood offered. Eddy felt rather clever, like a scientist or learned scholar of mathematics. He resolved to promptly test this quandary through rigorous experimentation - in other words, he was going to poke himself with a needle a few times.

He was mainly working in the dark. There might be mysticism books relevant to the topic of Beyonder artifacts, but if there were then Eddy did not possess them. He knew that Neville Atherton had not spoken of any such things in his work. He resolved to buy more books as soon as he was able. Reading Arcane Symbology had made his reading more fluent and he felt as if he could be trusted to appreciate a small collection of mysticism tomes. How nice would it be to own such a collection? What a scholar he would be then…

Waking from this brief daydream, Eddy pricked his finger a couple more times and squeezed at the punctures until blood ran over his fingers and his palm. There was more blood than he had expected. His pain tolerance was quite high, so Eddy did not show much indication of discomfort. As an urchin on the streets, he’d been beaten by thugs for their own amusem*nt. A needle was nothing in comparison. He roughly smeared the blood on the doll and held it tightly in his hand. Once again, he was aiming at the table. If the first hypothesis was correct, then the blast should be very weak - showing the ‘exhaustion’ of the artifact. But, if the second hypothesis were to be the true one, then the force should be much stronger. Of course, it was possible that both hypotheses were incorrect and a third option was the case - or that Eddy had misremembered his first sight of the doll’s power and it always had a constant output. He waited to find out.

The wailing started as expected. It sounded like multiple voices crying out in grief and pain. Eddy’s stomach roiled and he even felt his spirituality tremble and threaten to burst out. He quickly marshalled his emotions and reinforced his internal barriers. The noise of the doll was really too terrible. Suddenly, a wall of force ripped out of the doll - visibly shaking the air as it thundered around the room. The table Eddy had been aiming at was easily picked up and slammed against the wall. It burst apart and stray table legs bounced over the floor madly. Eddy himself was pitched backward by the recoil from the doll and found himself half-fallen against a wall - arms angled strangely to protect himself.

Looking at the mess of his room, pieces of table scattered around, blanket thrown off his bed, and curtains all snared up with each other, Eddy felt a wave of panic rising up within him. What had he been thinking? He didn’t know the power of the doll, so why had he decided to test it in his own room of all places? Was he mentally impaired? Had he taken too many deep breaths of Spoon Lane air and developed lead poisoning? If his neighbours hadn’t heard the awful wailing, then they must have heard the sound of smashing furniture. Was his door about to be knocked upon? Had anyone gone to call the police over? That thought stilled Eddy’s mind for a moment before the panic returned greater than ever. If the police came, then they would find the doll. Eddy didn’t know much, but he did know that the police cooperated with the Churches for ‘special operations’. A mysterious supernatural wailing, a smashed-up room, and a creepy doll would scream ‘Beyonder’ to those officers in the know. How long would it take before an official Church Beyonder team took over the scene? What would happen to the idiot caught in the middle? Eddy didn’t want to find out.

He needed to leave. He needed his money from the hidden pocket in the curtains. He’d have to take Arcane Symbology along of course, and his spare clothes - but apart from that he could travel light. Yes. He’d move to another apartment. The Churches would expect him to flee the city, but if he moved just a few streets away they’d be hard-pressed to find him. That way, he could keep the doll safe. He could keep it for himself. With no direct evidence of Beyonder activity, they would have to give up sooner or later. He’d have to watch them, though. Naturally. That way he would be able to make sure that they weren’t onto him, that they weren’t coming for the doll. His doll. His.

[Concern] You are not yourself. Something is wrong. Calm. Cease. [Severity]

Eddy did not have time to pay attention to the quibblings of Mr Voice. He had to leave - now. In fact, he could leave the clothes, it wouldn’t cost much to replace them. He could switch identities, take up a low-level clerical job and hide out. It would be a good cover and would give him more time to spend studying the doll. Yes, that was good. He’d start by working out whether the force of the blast was directly corre-


Mr Voice assailed Eddy’s mind with a surge of pure emotive force. It was not only loud but struck Eddy with images, scents, and feelings. He was hit by concern and anger, by the smell of pines and carapace. The touch of rain-laden wind in the night. He clutched his head in agony as that Goddess-damned buzzing broke through his barriers and wormed its way into his mind again. He almost vomited, retching slightly. His spirituality was slipping. Were his eyes compounding or was that just his head spinning? He could not tell.

The loss of control reminded him of that . That night he took the Sequence 8 potion. The latent fear that had been implanted in him that night broke out again and Eddy forced himself to gain a basic level of composure. As he did so, ordering his mind and spirit again, Eddy felt a layer of something oily slipping off his spirituality. It reminded him of the beady eyes of the winged doll. The doll. He really had been acting strangely. For a bit, it was like the most important thing in his life was protecting the doll, studying the doll, venerating the doll. Eddy gulped.

You have realised.

“Yes,” Eddy whispered.

Artifacts are always strange. They can grant great advantages, but they always extract a price. Can you imagine the price of this one?

Eddy lowered his head in thought. “The man. He was so paranoid that he could see through my Veil. That wasn’t a coincidence, was it?”

It was not.

“It fosters feelings of paranoia and protective, possessive, behaviour.”

Most likely.

“I can’t keep it. It will consume me.”

Mr Voice stayed silent.

Eddy shuddered. Once again, the world of Beyonders had humbled him. He had not expected that the artifact would be so insidious. Without the intervention of Mr Voice, who knew where its influence might have led him? Would he become another mad worshipper hiding out in the decrepit slums off Spoon Lane - giving every spare penny in offerings? Would he have died, gaunt and choking on his own rotten phlegm, staring up in worship at a sackcloth doll? He knew the answer. Once again, he was too weak. Too naive. This had been a failure of knowledge. He needed books, he needed teachers. He had no doubt that something like this could happen again. When it did, he would not let himself be killed by his scavenger’s instinct for acquisition.

He needed to get rid of the doll. Eddy started speaking out loud, giving Mr Voice tacit permission to examine his train of thought.

“I can’t throw the doll in the river. That’s what I want to do, but I can’t. Knowing my luck it’ll wash up somewhere and someone will pick it up. If that person ends up being a Beyonder then we’re all in trouble. We were lucky that it was previously in the hands of a mundane person. Unending paranoia and Beyonder powers don’t sound like a palatable combination…”

“I could leave it here and run away…” Eddy shook his head briefly after saying that.

“No, if the Church Beyonders don’t come then it’ll fall into the grasp of the landlord or a nosy neighbour. That’s equally bad as before. Who knows what damage it’ll do?”

Eddy paled at a sudden thought.

“The power of the blast scales with the amount of blood sacrificed. If an evil sect were to get their hands on it, then they could gather a huge amount of blood. A few drops were enough to splinter a wooden table.” Eddy had a sudden image flash into his head. A winged doll was dropping into a large barrel of blood. Seconds later, a vast explosion ripped through Backlund and directly destroyed a swath of the city.

Eddy slowly slipped down the wall until he reached the floor and brought his knees up to his chest.

“I have to hand it in, don’t I? I have to go to the Church…”


AN: A bit of a whimsical tone in the first part of this chapter. It wasn’t like it was a serious fight or anything and Eddy ain’t a trained special forces soldier. In this situation, he could afford to be not entirely serious. Anyway, Eddy has realised that Beyonder artifacts aren’t like the little trinkets he used to pick up by the riverbanks. I didn’t initially intend to make the winged doll so dangerous (and, to be honest, maybe it isn’t - Eddy doesn’t know if it has a cap on the size of its explosion but he can’t risk it). He’s less moral than he used to be, but letting a dangerous item enter the public is not sensible in any interpretation of his character, regardless if it ends up in mundane or Beyonder hands. Enter the Churches. Place your bets, Church of the Evernight Goddess, Church of the Lord of Storms, or Church of the God of Steam and Machinery? We’ll find out next week (I mean I already wrote it but cut me some slack - it’s called building audience interest).

Chapter 21: Into The Belly Of The Beast


Definitely not me logging into my work Wifi to upload the two chapters I owe you...


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Last night in the Mansus I visited the Malleary, from whose engines and avenues one does not emerge unchanged. I watched the processes of sunset and I entered the amber joy and the white joy and the blue joy and I was subjected to the enlightenments of calcination and the Forge of Days touched me with her burnished fingers and I rise from my bed with the utter knowledge that all nights, all nights, all nights must end.

Eddy had made his decision. Mr Voice had managed to snap him out of the winged doll’s influence on this occasion, but there was no guarantee that such a respite would last. Was the doll’s influence solely dependent on it being used, or did it have a passive effect? Eddy did not know but had no desire to find out. The memory of the doll’s previous owner was vivid in his imagination. He refused to turn out like that wretch of a man.

Eddy felt Mr Voice stir.

[Solemnity] Going to the Churches will be dangerous. You must be prepared. [Severity]

There was no doubt that Mr Voice was correct. With his unusual 23rd Pathway, Eddy was an anomaly - an aberration. Any interaction with the Churches, let alone one as high-profile as introducing himself as a rogue Beyonder and handing over a dangerous artifact, was full of risk. Yes, Mr Voice was right. Preparations must be made.

At that moment, Eddy’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. He tensed but quickly noticed that his spirituality was calm. No great danger. It was safe to open the door. A short moment later, the doorway was taken up by the sight of Eddy’s tall and greasy-looking landlord. The man had, as Eddy had previously predicted, come to investigate the significant noises coming from Eddy’s room. The landlord was not at all subtle in his intentions. Although he, on the surface, expressed concerns over his good tenant’s safety, it was clear that he was a hairsbreadth from calling the police. In fact, he had been so ‘concerned’ about him that he had been accompanied by a very muscular man. How kind. There was also most likely someone downstairs ready to run to the station. Eddy could not fault the man. If he had heard wailing and the breaking of furniture in a tenant’s room, then he too would be greatly suspicious. He could only let the man in to assuage his doubts.

Luckily, Eddy had nothing much to hide. As far as the mundane eyes of the landlord were concerned, there was nothing suspicious in the room apart from a broken table. No bodies, no signs of a crime. The man did, to Eddy’s annoyance, check the wardrobe in case he had hidden a corpse inside but found nothing. Eddy noted that the landlord never turned his back on him during this period. The muscular man stood in the doorway, arms crossed and eyes fixed on Eddy. Eventually, the landlord’s curiosity was satisfied. As there was clearly no crime or problem, there would be no call to the police. Naturally, Eddy - under the gaze of the thug - had to hand over some money to replace the table. This was acceptable and, more importantly, ended the matter so that Eddy could get back to planning. He handed over eight pennies. Too many for a mere low-quality wooden table, but it doubled as an apology for the damage as well as a bribe for the landlord to forget about the issue. The money was exchanged and, once again, Eddy was alone in his room. There was work to be done.

Early the next morning, Eddy stood in the main square of St George Borough, in the Southeast of Backlund. St George Borough was much like East Borough but of better quality and class. There were many large factories in the district, however, they were normally more artisanal in character and far less polluting and noisy. Rather than canneries, paint factories, cotton mills, and coal processing, St George was filled with workshops for fine ceramics, makers of luxury furniture, and craftsmen of higher-class goods. It was a hive of industry without the stench and poverty of its neighbouring borough. As a result, many businesses had their headquarters in this district. Eddy could see the difference from his home borough clearly. The streets were generally clean, there were no open sewers and few peddlers. It was quite a culture shock.

He’d caught a public carriage into the area for a mere couple of pennies. It was an expense that, normally, he’d decry as frivolous but on this occasion, it meant that he was in a better mental and physical condition prior to the coming encounter with the world of orthodox Beyonders. That imminent encounter now loomed before him in physical form. St Hierländ Square was lively, filled with the bustle of passersby and worshippers going about their business. There were many musicians playing violins, accordions, flutes, and a whole host of other instruments - the God of Steam and Machinery was, of course, a patron of all skilled people (including musicians). However, above them all was St Hierländ Cathedral in its full glory. It held an aesthetic difference from other cathedrals Eddy had seen. The only way it could be described would be half cathedral and half factory. Its proximity to the great manufactories of St George only heightened the comparison. Its gothic spires and stained glass windows were accompanied by smoke stacks belching holy incense and branching steel girders engraved with catechisms. It was, Eddy thought, quite a unique style.

Nonetheless, he didn’t have much time to waste admiring the view. Judging yesterday that it was already too late in the evening, he’d already taken the risk of spending the night in the presence of the doll. He did not believe that he’d been affected, but Eddy still wished to rid himself of the object. Besides, he’d needed the extra time in order to complete some very specific preparations for the day’s coming troubles.

Eddy, along with hundreds of believers and pilgrims, entered the cathedral through the great engraved-steel doors that were always open. Their faces bore the symbol of the Church - a great triangle filled with images of cogs and levers. Eddy made the sign of the Church on his chest as he entered. He was not a believer, but it was best to remain respectful when entering a den of potentially unfriendly Beyonders. Basic manners never hurt anyone, after all.

The interior was just as impressive as the exterior. Great stone pillars rose up to the cathedral’s vaulted roof. The walls were filled with images of labour and innovation. Eddy saw plenty of murals and statues of great inventors and craftsmen along those walls. Roselle featured prominently among them. There was little doubt, Eddy reflected, that he was the greatest inventor to have ever lived and the man who had received the Industrial Revelations from the God of Craftsmanship (before his name had changed to match the trend of the times) - but it was a risk to so publicly glorify him. In the Loen Kingdom, he was disliked as the man who had inflicted several humiliating defeats on the Kingdom, but also greatly admired as a genius beyond compare. Therefore, it was just about possible for the Church to venerate him in their Loen cathedrals. However, such a display would be impossible in Intis, where he was known more as the man who had toppled the Republic and reigned as Emperor over an era of war and bloodshed. Eddy did not doubt that the Cathedral in the Intis capital of Trier had no such statues and murals. Maybe they kept some in their more hidden vaults.

As Eddy took a seat on a wooden pew and waited for the current sermon to end, he looked over the decorations of the cathedral. Somehow, it disgusted him a little. It was strange to him and, for a while, Eddy struggled to articulate his thoughts in a way that made sense. He supposed it was a matter of hypocrisy. Together, Roselle and the Church of the God of Steam and Machinery had received the God’s Industrial Revelations (so the story went) and ushered in the new age of steel and coal. Life had been transformed and the world and entered an era of progress and modernity.

However, Eddy had grown up surrounded by the material consequences of these ‘divine’ revelations. East Borough was built off the back of industrial progress - ‘progress’ that had brought grinding urban poverty, disease, crime, and all manners of depravity. Industry caused novel diseases and ailments unique to its processes. Weavers in the textile mills were deafened by the noise of the new machines, and workers in paint factories died coughing up blood. Children employed to fit into tiny gaps and replaced broken industrial parts in the machines of all these East Borough factories were crushed by those very same machines. Matchstick makers held the prize for the most gruesome afflictions - many suffering from ‘phossy jaw’ - a horrendous disease in which the flesh around the jaw necrotised and rotted away into putrid abscesses. It almost always led to death as the blood itself became poisoned. Industry had a price and Eddy witnessed it every day.

This was what annoyed him about the Cathedral. They lauded and praised themselves for bringing about the Industrial Era, but distanced themselves from the true sight of what they had wrought. They wanted the glory but did not want to be associated with the grime and the filth resulting from it. Frankly, it pissed Eddy off. Was he being unfair though? Maybe? There were many churches belonging to the faith in East Borough and many of their worshippers lived and worked there. It was a faith of workers after all - it wasn’t like they were being ignored. Eddy also supposed that no high-ranking deacon or cardinal would wish to build their pre-eminent cathedral amidst dirt and filth. St George allowed them to be among their factories while avoiding tainting their dignity by having to put up with neighbouring streets being covered in layers of years-old crusted sewage. It only made sense. Perhaps he was being too harsh, but, nevertheless, the whole thing made him feel uncomfortable. This train of thought took a long time for Eddy to sort out and, by the time he had finished, the sermon was over - it was time for him to act.

At the end of a sermon, it was customary for people to attend confession - in which they privately admitted their sins to priests in order to obtain absolution. This, Eddy had decided, was his point of contact. There were several booths opened for this purpose in small annexes along the edges of the cathedral. Eddy made for one near the altar, just beating an older lady in an ornate hat (he received a poisonous glare in return). Pushing aside the thick curtain over the entrance, Eddy walked inside and took a seat. The interior was dark and cosy - the priest in the compartment next to him was only separated by a fine mesh screen. Turning his head, Eddy could only see the vague outline of a person in holy vestments - even with the aid of his night vision.

“My child, be at peace, for you are within the embrace of God. The embodiment of essence, the guardian of innovation, he who watches over all our works. If you are contrite and accept penance with a full heart, then your sins will be absolved.” The voice of the priest was gentle and calm. Soothing.

Eddy chose to ignore the clearly well-rehearsed speech.

“Sir,” Eddy began respectfully. It felt strange, as an orphan, calling a man ‘father’ so he chose not to. Besides, he wasn’t even a real believer. Best to be polite, but direct. He continued. “I have become, by certain circ*mstances, the owner of a mystical object. It may be very dangerous. I hope that the Church of the God of Steam and Machinery has the knowledge and means to contain it and protect the safety of the public.” Yes, he’d decided to frame it in terms of public safety. This would hopefully communicate his good intentions.

Even without a clear view of the priest next to him, Eddy could feel the tension in the confessional booth ratchet up drastically. The priest responded. His voice was less gentle now. “My son, do not place your trust in unproven mysticism. Instead, spend your time in prayer to God. There is no benefit in such unorthodox practices.” The disbelief was obvious in his tone.

Eddy gritted his teeth in annoyance. Had the priest not listened to him? This was serious. “Sir, this is important. I am in possession of a dangerous Beyonder artifact. It might be contained for now, but it needs to be examined and sealed properly as soon as possible. Inform your superiors. Now.” Mentioning the word ‘Beyonder’ seemed to break through the priest’s disbelief. There were perhaps five seconds of dead silence. Eddy thought he felt a flicker at the periphery of his spirituality. The priest spoke again, but this time his voice was hard as iron.

“My superiors have been informed. Do not move. Do not speak further. Do not take any actions that could be seen as suspicious. You must co-operate with the relevant authorities absolutely. Any breach of this will be punished with trial by a Church Court. Serious breaches will result in elimination.” Eddy stayed completely still. He hadn’t heard the man inform his colleagues. Had he activated some kind of mechanism? No, there had been some kind of spiritual emanation. An artifact? It looked as if one of Eddy’s guesses about St Hierländ had been correct.

Eddy did not have to wait long before he heard rapidly approaching footsteps. It seemed as if he had really riled up the Church authorities. The curtain was parted rapidly and two figures blocked off the door. They were both swathed in thick full-body aprons that looked as if they were made of leather. The material was weaved with hundreds of tiny mystical symbols in some sort of iridescent thread. The apron rose up to their necks, where their heads and faces were covered by black masks that looked like glass. They also wore pairs of gloves that were reinforced by rune-inscribed steel plates. It made sense. They didn’t know the nature of Eddy’s alleged artifact, and so came in what could only be full protective gear. The whole ensemble was clearly spiritually potent - Eddy could feel the feedback sparking off his sixth sense.

A series of instructions were barked out and Eddy followed them to the letter over a few tense moments. Slowly and carefully, he took the winged doll out from his pocket and handed it over to the cloth-swathed men. He had wrapped it in several layers of thick cloth in case that could insulate its effects, so the men could only see its outline. It was moved gingerly out of Eddy’s hands and immediately confined within a heavy lead box. The walls were thick and, from what he could see, the insides were absolutely covered in protective and isolating symbols. The box was closed and, with a grunt of effort, the two men picked it up and moved off out of sight. Eddy continued to sit still - hands placed openly on his knees. In place of the two men dressed for dealing with the doll, another two priests showed up. A man and a woman. They both stood at the entrance of the booth. The man was standing closest, blatantly holding a revolver. It was pointed at the floor, but still in Eddy’s general direction. The woman stood further back. She was dressed in similar vestments to the male priest and-

Eddy’s eyes widened slightly. The priestess seemed to be holding a flamethrower. Wonderful. Eddy almost said something, but mentally clamped down on his tongue. He had been told not to speak and did not intend to invite more trouble on himself than was absolutely necessary. From the warning look of the male priest, that was a good idea.

Eddy could not hear the sound of other worshippers beyond his confessional booth. Had they shut off his area of the cathedral? How could they not? In such a situation, they couldn’t risk any member of the public coming into contact with a potentially unsealed artifact. They must have been very efficient. As expected of the Church of the God of Steam and Machinery. Eddy wondered as to the excuse they used to move people away. Maybe they used an artifact? Would that be allowed? He admitted that he did not know how orthodox Beyonders operated. Did they have a code of ethics? It wasn’t like they could be tried in public courts. Come to think of it, his confessor had mentioned Church Courts. A separate judicial system. It only went to show how much power the three sanctioned religions held. How many Beyonders did they really have? What Sequences had they reached? Despite his nerves, Eddy could not restrain his curiosity.

The nervous standoff continued for another ten minutes, over which the back of Eddy’s shirt had become soaked with sweat. He must look a mess. His two ‘guards’ did not relax during this period. Soon, however, they stepped back at the behest of some silent signal and a new figure came into view. He was tall and broad-shouldered, dressed in a fine suit. His jaw was sharp and his facial features were defined with frizzled and messy brown hair that spilled a little past his collar. He stopped and took a long look at Eddy, who was still seated. Eventually, he spoke in a cold but professional tone.

“Sir, please stand up slowly and make your way out of the confessional in a calm manner. We have a few questions to ask you - on behalf of His Holiness’ Machinery Hivemind.”

Eddy smiled wanly. Now was the hard part.


AN: So this seems like Eddy is really putting himself in the worst situation possible beyond delivering himself gift-wrapped to Blue Mitch, but trust me - he has a plan. St Hierländ Cathedral is not really described much in LotM, nor is the Machinery Hivemind or its methods of operating. As is one of the goals for this fanfic, we’ll be exploring some of this unexplored territory. It’ll be fun. Also, having him talk to the Nighthawks seemed too cliched. He may be ‘officially’ a worshipper of the Evernight Goddess, but Eddy isn’t religious at all. He chose St Hierländ for a reason - we’ll learn his logic soon.

Chapter 22: Across The Table


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

His eyes glow like smithy windows in fog. His voice is the rattle of coal in the chute. His arm is long.

The next few minutes were a blur to Eddy. He was cuffed with heavy metal bands, blindfolded with a thick black cloth, and guided in a path that - Eddy assumed - led into the labyrinthine complex under St Hierländ Cathedral. As he was directed blindly around countless twists and turns, Eddy pondered whether his cuffs and blindfold were Beyonder artifacts in their own right. He couldn’t feel anything from them, but it was a safe bet. That was part of the reason as to why he chose the Church of Steam and Machinery. Mr Voice had informed him that they primarily controlled the Path of the Savant. It was a Path that specialised in craftsmanship, invention, and (most importantly) Beyonder artifacts. By the end of his explanation, Mr Voice had devolved into indistinct mutterings about ‘The Forge’, but Eddy knew that if there was any Church that had the capability to deal with the Winged Doll, it was this one.

Eventually, Eddy heard the grinding of a metal door and was shuffled into a hard chair. The door slammed shut and Eddy felt hands fumbling around his wrists. First, his cuffs were released, then his blindfold was lifted from his eyes. He squinted slightly as the light pricked his eyes. He was in a windowless room - the walls plated with more inscribed metal. It seemed they really didn’t take chances in St Hierländ. The whole place was most likely mystically inert. In front of him was a heavy steel table. It did not escape Eddy’s notice that there was an object on the table. It looked like two rings, linked by a long and delicate silver chain. It was coiled up in the centre of the table neatly.

At the other end of the table sat the man who had spoken to him last. His hair was still remarkably frizzy. Eddy idly wondered if its sheer volume and wildness precluded him from wearing a proper hat. He stopped himself. It was most likely not the time for such thoughts. He always had this problem in the face of authority figures. The same had happened with Meursault. A form of nerves? Most likely.

His introspection was interrupted.

“Mr Barton,”

Brilliant. They knew his name. Of course, they did. Was such information so easy to find out nowadays? It seemed that hiding one’s identity was almost impossible in the face of Beyonder powers. The man continued.

“You are now permitted to move and speak in ways conducive to the progress of this conversation. Please act responsibly and comply with our questions. Understand that you are still under the rule of the Church. Nod if you understand.”

Eddy nodded.

“Good.” The man paused and relaxed slightly, smiling apologetically at Eddy. “Now that we’ve got the formal business out of the way, we can have a proper conversation. Would that be fine with you, Mr Barton?”

Hmm, this was good - probably. They were acting cautious but not hostile. That meant that he could still get out of this. The Machinery Hivemind was an orthodox Beyonder organisation, but they didn’t have the poor reputation of the Church of the Lord of Storm’s Mandated Punishers. True to their name and their creed, they were renowned as violent and ill-tempered. In Eddy’s wanderings around Backlund Bridge, he had heard that people accused of ‘heresy’ and ‘proscribed activities’ (code words for unsanctioned Beyonders if he had ever heard them) entered the Cathedrals and never left. Whether that meant imprisonment or execution, it was needless to say that such rumours disqualified them from the list.

There were no such stories about the Machinery Hivemind or the Nighthawks. Perhaps they were simply better at hiding their culling but Eddy doubted it. It didn’t fit their image. Not a foolproof argument by any stretch of the imagination, but he trusted in his instincts. In the end, Eddy had chosen the Hivemind. Not only did they have experience with artifacts beyond the other Churches, but Eddy was still scared of the idea of people infiltrating his dreams. Despite his official status as an Evernight believer, that fear had been enough to sway him toward St Hierländ. So, here he was. He turned his attention back to his interrogator and replied - making sure to come off as calm and friendly.

“That would be perfectly agreeable, Mr …?”

“Bernard. Ikanser Bernard.”

Eddy smiled. “A pleasure. Please, ask away.” He had to remember, to repeat as his mantra: he had done nothing wrong. He had helped them. They wouldn’t be too harsh. It helped keep him sane. He was bad in enclosed spaces. It was the lack of freedom.

The man - Ikanser Bernard - shifted slightly, leaning forwards so as to engage Eddy’s attention.

“Let’s start then. Please place one of the rings on the table onto your left index finger.”

Eddy promptly did so. The metal was smooth and cool against his flesh. When it settled in place, he felt a flicker of spirituality race over his skin. An artifact. It seemed as if his preparations had not been in vain. The coming conversation would test their efficacy. He was not an enemy of the Machinery Hivemind, but there were some secrets that could not be spoken. It was up to them if they wanted to push further than they should. He could only place his trust in Mr Voice. After he had confirmed that Eddy had worn the ring correctly, Mr Bernard did the same - slipping the metal band onto his own left index finger. Is this marriage? Eddy could not help but joke in the sanctity of his own mind.

The most important thing, however, was the artifact. Eddy did not know the full capabilities of the Church. That ignorance was why Mr Voice had been entirely silent so far. Eddy doubted they could perceive him, but why risk it? Therefore, he did not know what the artifact he had put on could do. Was it a mind-reader? That would be the worst-case scenario. Immediately, Eddy began thinking about violently voiding his bowels right where he was - all while smiling gently at Mr Bernard. He focused entirely on the concept, trying to get the notion across to the exclusion of all other thought. No reaction. Probably not a mind-reader. That, or his interrogator was uniquely unfazed by the thought of a lavatorial emergency. Probably the former.

After Eddy had satisfied himself that his mind wasn’t being perused by his interrogator, the questions started coming. How did he first become aware of the artifact? How did it come into his possession? Eddy answered candidly, hiding little.

“I spotted a man performing an unorthodox ritual in a hovel near Spoon Lane. I decided to observe and noticed that the centerpiece of the altar was a Beyonder artifact. I concluded that he was not a Beyonder and decided to take the item into my own possession.”

Goddess, he sounded so formal and stuffy but the staid language worked well to disguise the truth. Technically, he had spoken no lies. He had spotted a man performing an unorthodox ritual, but his explanation concealed the fact that his interest had been piqued by the man’s ability to see through his Veil. That was a power that he would try and conceal (he had made sure to lower his Veil all the way before arriving at the cathedral). His formality also stopped him from outright stating that he’d robbed the man. It was obvious that he had done so, but it was at least couched in the language of public safety. Plausible deniability. Or something like that at least. Eddy wasn’t clear on the terminology.

“And why did you decide to bring the artifact to the Church? You could have kept it for yourself.”

Eddy did not plan to obfuscate the truth here. After all, beyond his own safety, he did want the doll to end up in hands that would not abuse its powers.

“I determined that the artifact was too dangerous to be left in my possession. I do not have the ability to consistently overcome its effects.”

The admission felt somewhat shameful, but Eddy quashed his feelings. Naturally, he would have kept it if not for its corruptive influence, but he simply had no experience with Beyonder items. He wanted to come off as reliable, but not too knowledgeable. Competent and collected, but somewhat ignorant. It helped that the latter part was somewhat true. Eddy noted that he had not felt anything from the artifact yet. Was it because he had not spoken a lie? He had assumed that it was some form of lie detector - like Roselle’s polygraph. That would make sense.

Ikanser Bernard seemed satisfied with his answers. Well, he didn’t appear displeased with them. The man had quite a good poker face. In any case, the two of them entered the next phase of the ‘conversation’. Eddy tried to explain, to the best of his ability, how the doll worked, how he believed it could work, and what he had observed of its effects on the user. As he did so, he felt increasingly aware that he was trying to explain artifacts to someone who was certainly a mid-Sequence Beyonder at the minimum. What’s more, he was in a Sequence that specialised in the very thing that Eddy was attempting to bumble his way through. Perhaps he was too self-conscious about the whole thing, but he couldn’t dismiss his embarrassment.

He soon ran out of things to say. There was only so much speculation one could do. However, Mr Bernard still nodded his head and smiled.

“Thank you for your information Mr Barton. Every detail helps us when containing a new artifact. Your words shall be conveyed to the containment detail.”

Eddy appreciated his polite demeanour. Despite the initial tension of his visit to the cathedral (and the presence of an unknown artifact being hooked up to him), he was actually being treated quite amicably. In comparison to Blue Mitch and Meursault, it was rather disarming.

Ikanser Bernard may have picked up on some of Eddy’s thoughts (in a mundane sense rather than via mind-reading artifact) because his lips twitched slightly in amusem*nt.

“We don’t automatically treat unaffiliated Beyonders as enemies, Mr Barton. We must, of course, uphold proper caution, but we do repay goodwill with goodwill.”

That, more than anything so far, eased Eddy’s mind. Coming here had been a risk, an informed risk, but a risk nonetheless. Mr Bernard’s words were, in a way, a tacit admission that Eddy would not be punished for outing himself as a rogue Beyonder due to his contribution. He relaxed somewhat. He was still being interrogated, but as long as nothing unexpected happened, he should emerge at the end of this tribulation safely.

“Only a few questions left now, Mr Barton. Is that agreeable?”

Eddy nodded. “Quite so, Mr Bernard.”

“Very well. Yes or no answers only, please. Any other answer will be disregarded.” He raised an eyebrow at Eddy’s reaction to the change of pace. “Upholding proper caution,” he added in explanation.

“Is your full name Edward Barton?”


“Are you the resident at Room 7, Number 18 Grey Palm Alley, East Borough?”

“Yes,” stated Eddy, recognising his address. Grey Palm Alley, just off Black Palm Street. He was impressed that they had already tracked down his address. Truly, a clever man must never underestimate the power of the three Great Faiths.

“Are you a Beyonder?”


“Are you a low-Sequence Beyonder? For your information, that is classed as Sequence 9 or Sequence 8.”

“Yes.” No reason to lie about any of these answers. However, the direct ‘yes or no’ format and the lack of follow-up questions lent further weight to Eddy’s theory that the rings-and-chain detected lies.

“What is the name of your current Sequence?”


This is what Eddy had feared. If there were two things that Eddy was compelled to hide from the forces of orthodoxy, then they were the existence of Mr Voice, and that his was a unique, aberrant, Pathway. Such a thing would, at best, see his immediate execution. Eddy did not want to think about what was worse than that outcome. Eddy had imagined that this was a question that might come up. Meursault had conformed to the convention that one did not enquire about another’s Sequence or Pathway, but the Churches had a duty to make sure that their parishes and flocks were not in danger. Some Pathways, after all, were inherently dangerous to the public. Therefore, he had predicted that he might have to answer the question.

Another prediction, one that Mr Voice had contributed greatly to, was that whichever Church he chose to go to would have a method of verifying his claims and information. Whether by intimidation, torture, holy oaths, secret rituals, or by the use of Beyonder artifacts, they would have a reliable method of distinguishing truth from falsehood. This was a certainty. The Great Faiths had legacies stretching back epochs. It was inconceivable that they were vulnerable to a little fibbing. Therefore Eddy had taken precautions.

It had taken most of the night, leaving Eddy with less sleep than he might have liked, but he and Mr Voice had come up with a likely solution to the problem - one that was ritual in nature.

The basis of Mr Voice’s idea was a modification of the Rite of Protection that Eddy normally performed daily. Originally, the Rite created an illusory and spiritual membrane that would protect from low-Sequence spiritual probes and minor divination. The idea was to utilise the structure and intent of the ritual to interfere with an attempt to compel the truth or detect a lie. Given the potential breadth of this requirement, it was a difficult task for Mr Voice, even with his apparently vast mystical knowledge. Eddy, who had only performed two types of ritual in total, did not know where to begin. However, several hours of work eventually led to the creation of an improved protective rite.

The form was mainly the same, the same chants, the same arrangement of candles. However, the arcane symbols had to be redone in a far more complex and mysterious combination. Eddy did not have a clue as to the mechanics of those changes but trusted in Mr Voice. It was not as simple as drawing different symbols, however. A rapid trip to the Embankment had to be made - Eddy picking up rare and expensive ingredients. Powdered turquoise, rare herbs. The bark of an illusory chime tree. The ink of a particularly uncommon squid. By the time his emergency shopping spree had ended, Eddy was down by over eight pounds. Eight pounds for a single ritual! Almost a third of his current wealth! What’s more, it was an unproven ritual that existed on a time limit. Like the previous iteration, it lasted only a day. All in all, it was not a rite that he would repeat often. Nevertheless, he had completed the ritual and had felt the invisible shield settle firmly beneath his skin. This time it felt stronger - taut and somehow slick as if the world might slide off it. He hoped it would be enough. This was the test.

He answered.

“Sequence 9, Mystery Pryer.”

He had chosen this lie after careful consultation with Mr Voice. Mystery Pryers were unthreatening and usually orthodox. Their mantra was ‘do as you wish, but do no harm’ and they were rarely dangerous to the operations of the Churches. Additionally, their abilities were mostly invisible. They possessed spiritual sight, but such a thing could not be perceived by others so Eddy’s claim to possess it could not be disproven. Their skill in rituals was also not hard to emulate. If it came to it, Eddy could throw together a simple ceremony to ‘prove’ his credentials. It was the perfect claim.

However, the effect of this lie was immediate. Eddy could feel spiritual power flicker around the ring on his left index finger. It detected the blatant untruth and tried to spear into his spirituality, his body of heart and mind. In a flash, he figured out the mechanics of the artifact - feeling dread at his conclusion. The civility of Mr Bernard was more sinister when he realised that the artifact was designed to ‘punish’ lies with a major spiritual attack. A mundane person would be instantly crippled by such an attack. A low-Sequence Beyonder would likely be heavily injured - needing time to recover. It would make lying very visible to an interrogator.

However, Mr Voice’s ritual intervened. As the attack attempted to connect, a shining membrane welled up from his soul and collided with the crude spear. There was a moment in which the shield flexed, showing the sheer force of the artifact’s assault, but then it stabilised and held until the threat dissipated naturally. From the perspective of the ring, a lie had been detected and punishment delivered - it had no way of telling that the attack had been dissolved by an original and innovative ritual defence. Task completed, Eddy felt the illusory defence crumble away. It served its purpose, and now his soul was without defence. As this happened, Eddy kept his eyes on Ikanser Bernard; trying to look natural. No sign of alarm.

Seemingly unaware of all the complexity, work, and danger that had gone into the last few seconds, Mr Bernard asked one last question.

“Do you consider yourself hostile to the Church of the God of Steam and Machinery, or do you plan to act with hostility against the personnel, property, or faith of the Church?”

Eddy’s shield was gone, but he had no cause to lie here. “No.” His answer was short and direct, just as Mr Bernard had wanted. It had not been a difficult question. He had no reason to pit himself against one of the most powerful institutions in the Loen Kingdom. He wasn’t suicidal.

From there, the interrogation wrapped up quickly, with Mr Bernard visibly relaxing before disconnecting Eddy from the artifact. “Don’t worry, Mr Barton. If the artifact isn’t already sealed, then it soon will be.”

“That comforts me, Mr Bernard. It was a dreadful thing.” Eddy clutched his hands to his chest and shuddered slightly. It was a little affected, but Mr Bernard didn’t seem to mind.

“Good. Mr Barton, if you ever come across similar situations, please do not feel inhibited about attending confession again at any of our churches. You may also deliver a letter to Number 2 King’s Avenue in West Borough - just by the Royal Museum. There will always be someone there willing to read your letter.” There it was, an induction into the outer part of Church’s network. And so the web of informants grew. Eddy was not surprised.

Eddy doffed his cap. “I will remember that, Mr Bernard.” He put on his cap again and the blindfold went back over his eyes.

A few minutes later, Eddy found himself striding out of St Hierländ Cathedral and into the morning sun. He had survived the attention of orthodox Beyonders, made a good impression on one of the Great Faiths, and removed a source of danger from the public sphere - all while concealing his true Path. He felt rather accomplished.

At that moment, he felt his potion digest a little. Interesting. Very Interesting. The sudden progress in his digestion made him ponder. He sniffed the air and felt the tides receding many miles to the south. Yes, he had some ideas worth looking into.


AN: Yes, I’m adding to canon the idea that Roselle ‘invented’ the polygraph. It is stated that he ‘invented’ police fingerprint records so it’s not too much of a stretch. In any case, Eddy has come out of his confrontation with the Church alright. The Machinery Hivemind is best placed to deal with artifacts and they have a record of tolerating rogue Beyonders. One example that comes to mind is a certain Detective Sherlock Moriarty during the Devil Dog/Jason Beria case. Another is Isengard Stanton. In the case of the former, the Church didn’t even ask about his Sequence or Pathway. However, this was most likely due to him being recommended by Stanton. Eddy has no such recommendation and so I thought that the Church would be slightly warier. I think the Mandated Punishers would have just imprisoned Eddy. Not sure how the Nighthawks would deal with it. Ikanser Bernard pops up here in a role outside of comic relief/Arrodes fodder. Poor guy. See you next week for working out Eddy’s current Sequence!

Chapter 23: Knowledge and Introspection


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Nameless Name of the Velvet has passed this way. This mist is the hem of her grey garment. It’ll be hell to find a way through.

As Eddy made his way home to East Borough from St George's, he decided to walk back rather than take the carriage again. This was less about saving money and more about giving him time to think.

Previously, his focus had been taken up by his plan to deal with the Machinery Hivemind and to get the Winged Doll off the streets, but the completion of that task and the subsequent digestion of his potion had brought the issue back to the forefront of his mind.

When he had left the Cathedral, he had distinctly felt that immaterial barrier between himself and the potion break down just a little. He was certain of it. It, if anything, confused him a little. What had he done to encourage such a reaction? Yes, leaving St Hierländ alive was an achievement, but so was raising the dead, so was completing his upgraded Rite of Protection and seeing it work. What was the difference in these matters? Why had one ‘mattered’ to his potion more than the others?

Of course, it wasn't merely an arbitrary signifier of 'importance'. Something in his recent actions had resonated with his potion. Some core value in his deeds had aligned with his potion and allowed his slight progression. When he was a Sequence 9 Barber, cutting hair professionally had mirrored his potion's requirements well enough to allow steady digestion.

Take pride in your skill with the blade - charge for your time.

Help others to transform themselves, or in the way they think of themselves.

In changing others, change yourself.

These principles had seen him through Sequence 9 - there must be equivalents for Sequence 8. It was just a matter of deducing them. Deducing the name . Easier said than done.

If Eddy was being fair, which he didn't want to be, then this impasse was most likely his fault. He had dabbled gleefully in his new ritual skills but had basically ignored the core of his latest powers. Perhaps he might have learned some clues if he had. Was it childish that he had been somewhat… underwhelmed by these abilities. Yes. Yes, undoubtedly. It was understandable though - if a little silly.

In any case, a bit of introspection was required. It might, Eddy thought, strolling past a workshop for a maker of luxury leather armchairs, be a good start to think about how Mr Voice had described Sequence 8 - in his own special and decidedly non-verbal way (in case things weren't hard enough). In fact, there is no time like the present. Eddy turned his Veil up to full in preparation.

"Mr Voice, could you describe your understanding of Sequence 8 again?"


The taste of salt in the back of his throat. The lapping of waves along a riverbank. Mud, thick and deep, heavy on his limbs. The bands of a hull, covered in pitch. The glint of knives concealed by soot. Something precious. Something hidden. Eddy gasped as he broke out of the barrage of foreign sensations. He half-expected to cough up a lungful of seawater - that was how real it felt.

[Curious] Are you satisfied?

“Yes, Mr Voice. That was fine.” Eddy gasped out his response, still his throat still feeling the burn of salt that didn’t exist. Luckily, nobody around him thought anything of his antics. They were blind to him, after all. Eddy gathered himself and moved on.

The trick was, in his mind, to take what he had just felt and attempt to apply it to his recent actions. On the face of it, he was stumped by the seeming lack of connection to his previous ‘role’ as a Barber, but perhaps that was the wrong approach. He had been viewing the Sequences as a direct progression, but had Mr Voice ever implied that? Did there have to be a clear link between the different stages of his Path? Perhaps there was something overarching, but it could well be folly to assume such progression would be so merely superficial. What was he expecting? To advance from Barber to Barber-Surgeon? Barber to Cosmeticist? It seemed a little silly when he framed it like that. No, forget assumptions. His path would be to think only of the facts. What was the link?

His digestion had increased when he had left the Cathedral, not when he was inside it. Why was this? Safety? The completion of a mission? A groan of effort. The ship moves off the shore and back into the current. Away. Eddy blinked. “Mr Voice?”


Eddy smiled a little. Mr Voice was guiding him. He had been onto something there. What was it about getting out of St Hierländ specifically that warranted such a reaction? He’d already mentioned that his other achievements had brought no such reward. A false plank is pulled away. Secrets hidden in plain sight. Was that it? The deception? The fact that he had lied to the Church and got away with it? Had getting out of the cathedral and reaching the street - safety - triggered this principle? That must be it. Was there an emphasis on secrets hiding behind a facade of honesty? From what Eddy had felt, had seen flashes of, that might fit.

A thought occurred, at that realisation. Hidden pockets. His Sequence 8 powers included unnatural skill at spotting and creating hidden pockets, concealed compartments. Yes, this resonated - this was correct . He had given up minor secrets and, in doing so, hidden the truths which would have harmed him. The truth that he was not a Mystery Pryer, that he was on a heretical 23rd Path. That he harboured a thing in his head. Hide that which must be hidden. Let truths conceal lies.

Gold spilling between fingers. The laughter of the crew.

He had come out of the cathedral not as a rogue Beyonder, scared of the sight of his orthodox brethren - cowering from attention - but as an acknowledged informant of the Church of Steam and Machinery. Someone who had aided them with no (apparent) benefit. Perhaps not a friend, but not an enemy either. Someone who had the benefit of the doubt. Someone for whom they could vouch. Ikanser Bernard had said it. Goodwill is repaid with goodwill. His lies had brought him rewards. Profit by your secrets.

The grips of knives are clutched beneath jackets. They move forwards, eyes daring. Do not stand in their way.

His lie had been tested, his defences probed. The Hivemind had used their artifact against him, confident in its abilities - but he had overcome it with preparation and knowledge. Failure would have led to disaster, injury - perhaps death. But he had not failed. His lie had held secure. His secret had been safeguarded, his cargo protected. Defend your secrets with all your might.

Yes. Yes, it all made sense. Salt and mud. Hidden treasures. Buried secrets. The smell of the tides, the pockets disguised in the lining of his suit. Quick fingers. Sharp knives. The images, the visions were coming thick and fast now, Mr Voice desperately trying to aid his revelation as much as he could. Eddy stumbled, his fingers dragging along the bricks of a building. His spirituality was coming undone. He could see lights filled with endless knowledge surrounding his vision. He couldn’t close his eyes. They were peeling back his eyelids.

Hide that which must be hidden. Let truths conceal lies. Profit by your secrets. Defend them with all your might.

Sequence 8.


When Eddy finally got home, he was starving. A brief detour to buy a Desi pie solved that issue. Thick pastry met oil and meat and chunks of sweet apple - causing Eddy to salivate. He was still getting used to eating more than stale bread and scraps. Even with all the danger around him, with Blue Mitch breathing down his neck, with the Zmangers waiting in the wings, with the Machinery Hivemind looking over his shoulder, Eddy was still - in a material sense at least - living better than he ever had before. The subject made Eddy think of his next steps.

He had overcome this latest emergency and now had to take stock. He’d lost his artifact (and good riddance), and the only thing of mystical value that he owned was his copy of Explorations into Arcane Symbology and Meditations on the Gospel of Zacchaeus by Neville Atherton. Without a doubt, his most prized possession. Even reciting the title made him want to read it again - to get lost in the sheer maddened stream of consciousness that was Atherton’s work.

Beyond that, he owned a room in a tenement, a good pair of scissors, some knives, clothing (including a mask), and a wallet containing just over sixteen-and-a-half pounds. It didn’t sound like much, but Eddy knew what it took to keep a man alive, fed, and under a roof. Sixteen pounds? He could live on that until the end of the year with room to spare. Bear in mind that this was accounting for his current budget. He could eat as he was now accustomed to and continue living in his small, damp, tenement room. A bed was a bed. It was July now - so five months. He could stretch that to six or seven if he really had to. Basically, Eddy thought, he’d made it.


Except Eddy wasn’t quite happy with ‘getting by’, with just surviving. He wanted to thrive. He wanted to get Meursault and the Zmangers off his back. He’d pay off his ‘debt’ to them and then make sure they wouldn’t bother him again. He wanted to hurt Blue Mitch for pushing him into this whole Beyonder mess. Sure, he could also thank him for it (in many ways life had never been better after all), but he still wanted to hurt the Parliament Street Gang and their brutish leader. So, it was decided. He needed more power. For power, he needed knowledge. For knowledge, he needed books. Books cost money. Books on mysticism cost a lot of money. He had some money, but that would dry up pretty quickly once he started amassing a small literary collection. Time to start with that.

Eddy made his way back into his room on Grey Palm Alley, collapsing onto the low bed as soon as he had locked the door securely. The cheap frame of the bed groaned as his body hit the covers. He was spiritually and mentally exhausted - illusions and immaterial whispers playing with his senses. Despite it only being a little past noon, he was bone-tired. The interrogation and its uncertainty had taken a lot out of him. The revelation of his new Sequence had finished the job. Even though he had lots to do, Eddy ended up drifting into an unwilling nap. As he lay on the bed, still fully clothed, Eddy let out a sigh and let himself start to doze off. He deserved a nap. He could give himself that much.

Evening found Eddy back down by the Embankment. It was starting to become a habit. He now knew the route off by heart. Passing through Proscrito territory openly (they only cared about street girls), into Black Skeleton Gang turf, and then down to where the Rakers controlled the tunnel entrance. As long as you didn’t stand out, the gangs wouldn’t make trouble with you. Good advice - not that Eddy needed to worry about that with his Veil up for most of the journey. He followed the usual routine, dropping the Veil before he reached the tunnel entrance, enduring the cursory questions by the Rakers at the gate, and then walking through into the underground market.

The market was bustling as usual. It didn’t seem to matter which hour of the day or night it was, or what was going on in the city. The market was always moving. Eddy was sure that Backlund could burn down above their heads and the Embankment’s visitors, masked and cloaked, would continue to haggle over herbs and carved splinters of bone. It was simply a fact. There was something particularly Backlund about it all. It amused Eddy, in a way that was hard to describe. It just did.

Eddy’s enhanced eyes roamed the market. A certain cloth merchant's stall seemed to be absent. At the very least, Eddy’s eyes were not graced by the gold-rimed aesthetic monstrosity that the insect-masked man called a shop. He was rather glad of the absence. The last interaction with the man had been… strange.

Eddy weaved his way through the crowds and stalls until he reached the cavern's wall. The walls were usually the worst places in the Embankment market. Their low lights harboured the opium dens and drug peddlers - along with some flesh merchants who targeted the more unusual tastes. Eddy didn’t like to think about that. However, this part of the wall had been carved out to include something rather different. An almost proper shop had been excavated into the stone of the cavern.

Naturally, there was no glass in the window, no bell above the door - but it at least had a good curtain over the entrance and a wooden sign overhead. It had letters painted onto it in a fine burgundy. Eddy was not a good judge of such things, but the shop's name had been written with rather elegant calligraphy. Morland’s. This was Eddy’s goal for the day. He brushed the curtain aside and entered the shop.

Inside, Eddy was met with books. Lots of books. The interior of Morland’s was absolutely filled with piles of tomes, and towers of boxed manuscripts. In a corner, Eddy could even spot a shelf filled with wooden cylinders. Housing for scrolls? By the door was a makeshift desk at which perched the proprietor - Miss Morland. Miss Morland was a diminutive old lady. Her grey hair was styled neatly and her eyes were surrounded by an elegant pair of half-moon reading glasses. Overall, she perfectly gave off the impression of a sweet old librarian (if one ignored that she exclusively worked in the black market).

When Eddy walked inside, she raised her head from a thick and dusty tome resting on a reading stand and nodded politely. She added a small smile. Eddy returned her nod, doffing his cap. From what he had learned, Miss Morland rarely spoke to her customers. A good thing. It was best not to be too gregarious when under the Embankment. Eddy noted the book she was reading. As he walked further into the shop, between the piles of old works, his angle improved and he spotted the title: The Voyages of Ferninshun of Oreol . He did not recognise the language in which it was written. From what he could see, the text was spindly and unwilling to conform to neat lines - wending over the page. His eyes almost drawn to it, Eddy felt the scratching of rats and tasted something dry and musty on his tongue. He wrenched his head away. Morland’s books were not always safe.

Eddy picked his way through Morland’s collection for what seemed like hours. Thankfully, the woman was more than happy to allow customers to linger in her shop. Eddy thought that was only fair. If she had wanted efficient service then she should have laid out her shop better, or at all. Perhaps a product catalogue wouldn’t go amiss. Setting his joke aside, Eddy continued his search - taking care not to disturb the books too much. Who knew if there was a particularly malicious mystical tome somewhere in the labyrinth? Perhaps that was why Morland refused to sort out her shop. Was it a matter of self-preservation?

After some more time passed, Eddy found his way back to the counter with two books. He’d toyed with getting a third - simply based on the beautifully decorated cover - but had decided against it when he realised that neither he nor Mr Voice could read a word of the text. That was slightly concerning. Eddy did not like to feel as if Mr Voice had limitations. After all, Mr Voice’s knowledge translated directly into Eddy’s power. In any case, Eddy purchased two books before packing them away carefully in cloth and tucking them under his jacket. He was hopeful about them, but their study would have to wait until he got home. They’d better be worth it. Miss Morland had taken one glance at them and demanded three pounds and ten soli each . Seven pounds total. It was like he’d been stabbed. He’d handed over the money. The realisation had truly settled in that mysticism was going to be an expensive hobby.

As soon as Eddy was out of the shop he threw up his Veil and raced home. He was certainly a little giddy. Truly, mysticism was his new hobby. The fact that Miss Morland’s shop was almost gambling didn’t help. In that maze of papers, one had to rely on skill and a fair bit of luck to sort the gold from the dross, the wheat from the chaff, the blood from the water. He couldn’t wait to find out what he had won with his seven pounds.

When he reached home he made sure to once again lock the door securely (no nosy landlords allowed) and unwrapped his two new books. One had a grey cover, a woodcut on the front depicting some sort of cat-thing eating the innards of a still-living anthropomorphised mole man. Kitling Ripe and the Moldywarp’s Grave (and Other Stories) . It purported to be written by one ‘N.K. Field’. Apparently, it was a volume of children’s stories, although the gory cover art belied that claim slightly. Eddy was sure there were secrets within.

The second book had been Mr Voice’s choice. In Morland’s, he had assured the doubtful Eddy that it was worth buying. Supposedly, it ‘smelled like a crumbling dream’ - whatever that meant. Regardless, the pale purple cover was marked only by a scrawled ‘3’ near the top. That was one of the reasons why Eddy had been wary of buying it. Why would one wish to start with the third volume of a series? It felt wrong, but Eddy trusted Mr Voice enough to push past his doubts. The spine of the book was more informative. The Locksmith’s Dream: Trespasses . The name Teresa Galmier had been written inside the cover. Eddy guessed that she was either the author or the previous owner. He was not sure.

Either way, he knew how he was spending the rest of his weekend.


AN: This is a shout-out to reader GoMagikarp, who seemingly guessed immediately that Eddy was a Sequence 8 Smuggler. Congratulations! There isn’t a prize, but I was impressed. This chapter mostly happened inside Eddy’s head. I’m sorry about that, but we need Eddy’s mentality and priorities to be set up for the next story arc - including him getting sorted on his Sequence, etc. Also, new books - both from CultSim of course. We’ll see those next week. God, I love that game. Can’t wait for Book of Hours to come out in August (fingers crossed). Finally, we’ve breached 50k words. An arbitrary goal, but one I was happy to reach nonetheless. A combination of work and my own lack of creative stamina means that I’m never going to be one of those authors that pumps out thousands of words a day, but this is my first big project and I suppose I’m just happy to get this far. Thanks for sticking around for it!

Chapter 24: Glimmering Dreams


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

My emotions run higher than usual. There are things I’ll never understand, and those things will always be precious, but just now I am closer to them.

Eddy opened Kitling Ripe and the Moldywarp’s Grave (and Other Stories) , removing the disturbing cover from his sight. It was not the gore that bothered Eddy’s sensibilities. He was no stranger to such things - both the bloated bodies he had often spotted along the sides of the Tussock River and what he himself had caused in that alleyway that still sometimes haunted him. No, it was not the depiction of blood and guts that sent a shiver down his spine, but rather the fact that the creature on the cover seemed to have an almost ecstatic look on its face as its entrails were devoured by what Eddy could only guess was Kitling Ripe itself. A collection of children’s stories indeed. Were authors of a mystical variety all insane? It would not surprise him. Eddy began reading - from the start. It was usually a good place to begin.

Eddy worked through the book for several hours, afternoon giving way to evening. He did not take any breaks. The book demanded to be read in a single sitting. Eventually, he lifted tired and bleary eyes from the last page and leaned backward - closing his eyes and sighing.

[Curiosity] Useful? [Amusem*nt]

Eddy smiled and nodded tiredly. He had been right. Whoever N.K. Field had been, he was most certainly not an author of children’s stories. At least, not a good one. None of the morbid anthology’s entries were remotely suitable for younger readers. In fact, even Eddy felt somewhat nauseous having gone through all of them in one go.

Kitling Ripe , on the surface, followed the ‘adventures’ of a speechless cat-thing by the same name as she went on a journey to rescue members of her large extended family from a series of dangerous (and sometimes metaphorical) threats. These ‘rescue’ attempts were consistently in the form of elaborate rituals. Each story in the anthology would invariably end with Kitling Ripe performing one of many disturbing ceremonies. Their outcome seemed to vary. Sometimes the cat-thing would be successful, sometimes the ritual would deliver an outcome that could only be considered a victory by technicality.

In one example, Kitling Ripe attempted to rescue ‘Uncle’ from an entity only described as a memory of the ‘mating’ of the ‘Ring-Yew’ and the ‘Mare-in-the-Tree’. Eddy noted that no explanation as to the meaning of that was provided. After a game of riddles in which the entity did not speak (although apparently this did not impede the game), Kitling Ripe performed a ritual to extricate Uncle from the entity’s grasp but only succeeded in rescuing his body - in pieces. The story ended with Kitling Ripe eating Uncle’s heart “so that he might yet remain”, before moving on to her next adventure.

The anthology finally culminated in Kitling Ripe and her family (those that had survived her rituals, that is) resurrecting her “other grandmother” - Moldywarp. Naturally, consistent with the theme, this resurrection involved copious and unwilling bloodletting by members of the family as well as the disembowelment of “Father” - a being who, Field explained in a furious footnote (a footnote in a children’s story?), had far too many secrets. So many that they needed to “drip out”. In the end, Moldywarp is resurrected, the family blinds themselves so as to not see her face, and Kitling Ripe feasts upon her flesh before…

Well, Eddy was not sure what happened next as the last story seemed to cut off in the last sentence, the printed text simply stopping. All in all, an unsatisfying ending. However, Eddy was not exactly reading it for its entertainment value. Aside from the frankly baffling ending, he was certain that Kitling Ripe held more than met the eye.

However, any such feeling was complicated by a lot of the book being genuinely incomprehensible (most likely to anyone except N.K. Field himself). Sure, the text was written in regular Loenese, but in such a way as to divorce the writing from any easy sense of meaning. Eddy looked at a certain passage. “When the Snake-Witch killed the stag, Kitling snatched one of its eyes. When the Dry-Witch killed the sow, Kitling stole a cup of its blood. Then she took them to the place Moldywarp lay buried, and she shook out her hair, and she began to dance…” . All well-written Loenese, but Eddy had absolutely no clue as to what was actually occurring. What was a Snake-Witch? Dry-Witch? When did a stag appear? When did the sow? Kitling Ripe didn’t really conform to proper narrative structure or basic consistency. Eddy decided that a glossary might help Field for his next book (Goddess protect us all).

Nevertheless, despite his admittedly shallow knowledge (by way of Atherton and Mr Voice’s advice), Eddy knew enough of ritual mysticism to recognise signs of authenticity in some of the rituals Field had put to paper. Certain phrases, certain symbologies, and resonances seemed familiar with the Rite of Protection, the Rite of the Burgeoning Risen, with some of Atherton’s stranger chapters. There were similarities. They were not always obvious, but they were always there. Field may have been a madman, but he was a madman with knowledge.

Some of the rituals Eddy ignored, the ones that had… strange… outcomes (he skipped one in which “Little Cousin” had been ‘rescued’ - note the sarcasm - from the old well by somehow being fused into it). He also ignored the ones that seemed to rely on the intercession of beings that he was not sure existed. Omitting those was obvious. Even if they worked, and he was not sure that they would, then he still wouldn’t want to risk praying to any unorthodox entities. Mr Voice was more than enough for him. He’d rely on his advice alone when it came to mystical safety measures.

What was left, after these removals, were a series of rituals dealing with escape and trickery - something that greatly appealed to Eddy’s sensibilities. Despite his skill at stealth, Eddy had no active methods of escape. If someone managed to see through his Veil - either because of Beyonder powers or because of a general state of alert - then he had no actual ability to once again regain his hidden status. Rituals might, he hoped, offer a method of bridging that gap, of repairing the hole in his defence. He had no doubt that it would be difficult to use in the field (as it were). After all, rituals were usually tricky to set up and time-consuming, but some hope was better than none.

There was another problem. Being in the form of prose, Kitling Ripe could not accurately portray the totality of a ritual. There were no diagrams, no accurate pictorial depictions of symbols. Some descriptions, more than Eddy would like, were obfuscated by Field’s complex writing style, or the psychedelic nature of the narrative. Sometimes the herbs were not given names - just descriptions like “a leaf that spoke of broken little bones”. Poetic, if nonsensical, and of no use to someone attempting to reconstruct a mystical rite through something akin to the scientific method.

It was clear that forging the nuggets of information in Kitling Ripe into something of use would be a long-term project - one that would require the combined and strenuous efforts of both Eddy and Mr Voice. Nevertheless, it was something worth contemplating. Eddy was not so foolish to deny another string to his bow, another weapon in his arsenal, over something as trivial as a bit of hard work. He’d make something out of the grim tome. His pride and tenacity would not let him do otherwise.

Breaking out of his thoughts, Eddy heard his stomach growl. He hadn’t eaten anything since that greasy Desi pie earlier in the day and that had only been enough to satisfy his hunger at the time. With no kitchen in his room, he’d have to venture back into the streets of Backlund for his evening meal. It was, however, no great matter. Eddy would simply have to visit his usual cafe for a hearty meal. Perhaps, one day, he’d get tired of their admittedly low-quality fare, but the amount made up for its calibre. Besides, he was becoming rather fond of being seen as a regular. The staff knew his name and preferences. The brief human interaction was a bonus for him - especially since he had left the employment of Mr Emerson.

That realisation gave Eddy pause. He supposed that he did live a rather lonely life. In the orphanage, he had been surrounded by people constantly. Children his age, the nuns. His childhood had been one filled with people . Eating together, sleeping in the bunks, and taking lessons. Prayers. He had grown used to it. Then he had grown, left behind the gates of the orphanage, and entered the seedy world of East Borough’s streets. That had been a solitary time - one out of necessity. On the streets, you couldn’t trust others. His fellows would have robbed him if he had given them the chance, slipped a thin knife between his ribs if they could. That was fair, he’d have done the same to them. It wasn’t exactly conducive to friendship though. It wasn’t like the orphanage had been all fun and games - children could be cruel after all - but there were lines there that would never be crossed. No such lines existed among the worst of East Borough. If they ever had, they had been crossed long ago. He shook off his melancholy. He didn’t have to worry about such things anymore. He would never be alone again. He had Mr Voice now. That was enough for him.

Eddy spent some time in the cafe, enjoying a cup of black tea after his meal, before heading back to his tenement. He spent some time in the evening practicing with his knives. This was something that Eddy had started doing recently. He knew that he had remarkable and supernatural dexterity, but he also understood that practicing his skills to match his talent could not hurt. He had considered cutting practice short in order to start his long-term project of reconstructing the rituals in Kitling Ripe , but, frankly, he was already mentally drained from reading the anthology and had no desire to jump straight into such a daunting task until his thoughts were feeling much sharper. Curbing his impatience was necessary. A long-term task meant long-term. He couldn’t just pull an all-nighter and come up with a few powerful rituals off the top of his head. No, it simply didn’t work like that. The rejuvenating power of a good night’s sleep was a far more important use of his time.

Eddy woke with the dawn. After grabbing a quick breakfast and drinking some tea to start the day, he sat down at his desk and prepared himself mentally. His eyes strayed to the purple book sitting on its surface. Reading Kitling Ripe had been an experience, but Eddy was warier of Trespasses , despite it not looking at all disturbing. In the entirety of Morland’s vast bibliographic collection of the exotic and potentially lethal, Mr Voice had picked out one book. One. This one. Whatever was between those covers was not going to be simple or easy. There was a reason why Eddy had not made any plans for the day. He wasn’t scared. Just wary. Whatever Mr Voice wanted him to see, he was ready for it.

His hand moved. He opened the book.

The Locksmith’s Dream: Trespasses was, indeed, written by a woman named Teresa Galmier. The prose was informal and often seemed more like a one-sided conversation than a treatise. Eddy thought he could hear the elegant and cultured voice of Galmier coming through the page.

Ostensibly, the book was an examination of parallels in the dreams of carpenters, masons, and locksmiths - artisans of all types. The initial chapters were full of symbological analyses, comparative studies, and interviews with some of the more addled artificers. It took some time for Eddy to get his head around the work. Atherton and Field had not written quite so academically. This was compounded by Eddy jumping straight into the third volume. However, it was not incomprehensible, and Galmier was comprehensive enough that basic concepts were not left unexplained.

However, just like Atherton, the writing slowly became more deranged and, as he read on, it was slowly harder to tell where one dream ended and the next began. Some dreams were clearly recorded, some might have been Galmier’s herself. It was impenetrable. It began making less and less sense - breaking off into tangential monologues.

“The woman in the sand-coloured robe has told me: the stairways of the Mansus go ever up. Death is down. The Mother of Ants guards both directions with each of her heads, and so the passage must always be through a wound. I think the White Door might be a wound. That's one reason the Dead sometimes pass it. I think I have the other half of the Secret now, and I hope my reader can put both halves together.”

The passage baffled Eddy. None of what was written correlated with any understanding of mysticism he knew. Atherton had been insane, but he at least had spoken of the astral plane, the spiritual world, as well as orthodox and unorthodox deities. Galmier had departed utterly from that paradigm - it might as well be a foreign language. The Mansus, the Mother of Ants. The White Door. All foreign concepts. Death was familiar to Eddy. The old god of the Balam Empire, who had ruled in the Southern Continent and was known as the Underworld Empire. But Eddy was not convinced that he and Teresa Galmier shared the same understanding of Death. To his eyes, it looked as if Galmier regarded Death as more of a place than a person. Inexplicable. Eddy had no frame of reference to understand it. Mr Voice’s choice of literature was utterly confusing.

However, despite his frustration (three-and-a-half pounds!), one thing did repeatedly catch Eddy’s eye. Although it was most often mentioned only in passing (often followed by a footnote saying “see Vol. I”), it was enough to draw his attention. The Wood. Galmier mentioned it often. Apparently, it was some sort of subliminal dream-space. But, also… not? Perhaps? It was either a shared dream or a very real and tangible place - or perhaps both. It was unclear. It made Eddy wish that he had access to this first volume. Again, glossaries - had no author of mysticism heard of them? However, that was not the main point. The main point was that every time he saw the book mention this “Wood”, Eddy felt a resonance - like something stirring in the depths of his memories. A tangled darkness of some forgotten dream. The ever-present buzzing in the back of Eddy’s mind grew louder at this line of thought.

Do you remember?

Eddy twitched at the intrusion. “Mr Voice?” he queried.

[Curiosity] Do you remember The Wood? [Solemnity]

Eddy was confused, brow furrowing. What was Mr Voice talking about? Was he speaking of Orthos Wood? That didn’t make sense. Of course, Eddy remembered Orthos Wood - how could he not? That night was the most important of his life. It wasn’t even that long ago. No, Mr Voice meant something different. It was just a matter of finding out what.

“I don’t understand what you mean. Is this why you wanted me to read this book? What is The Wood? Why is it important?”

[Disappointment] You do not recall. No matter. I shall help - this once. [Determination]

And then something broke inside Eddy’s mind, a barrier that came undone. Part of his defences simply shattered like a stone through a window. He had built walls around his mind in the wake of his latest advancement, walls to keep himself sane, walls to keep himself human - but Mr Voice reached out and tore one down. It broke open a door in Eddy’s consciousness. And something came through.

A host of memories flooded Eddy’s mind. Were they his memories? Were they Mr Voice’s? He was not sure. The line between them had blurred slightly in the instance since the breach in his mind had been made (how long ago had it been? Half a second? Eons?). He could feel Mr Voice’s connection to his own self. Like a chain. No . Like a vast sea hovering above his head. Eddy winced in pain. The flow of memories increased. He dived into them or perhaps was driven into them. It was hard to tell.

He remembered dozens of dreams. His own dreams. Dream he had forgotte- purged -forgotten. He saw himself walking curiously between scar-barked trees. The moon behind branches, her fingers in his hair. He saw himself stumble over roots.

Another time, he fell and dropped to all fours to bound like a wolf amid the low bows of the forest. He forgot fire and steel and words.

In one dream he found secrets on tree-bark beneath the moss. He traced them with the tips of his fingers and screamed .

One time, he met another - but his mouth was sown shut and his face was covered. They shared a look but did not speak. Would he recognise him in the waking world?

In one dark journey, Eddy came across a well that heaved with crawling roots. There was blood in the water and he choked as he joined the pool.

One night, he drowned in pulsing moss and felt a soft breath on his neck.

In a turbid vision, he found the corpse of a long-dead giant and ran his hands along the lichen growing on its bones. He felt the power thrumming deep within. Not yet forgotten.

Sometimes he was pursued by something jealous. Sometimes he found secret marks and scratched histories on protruding rocks.

Eddy came back to himself, muscles twitching and eyes burning. How had he forgotten? How could he not remember The Wood, his nightly odysseys in the dark? From the first night he had drunk that moth-brew in Orthos Wood he had been voyaging in that primordial forest as he slept. When he was a Sequence 9, his mind had sealed away the memories of those dreams. Some recollections are as sharp as knives. It would not be safe to remember them. Then, after he had advanced, his barriers had kept them outside. They had protected his sanity, his humanity, but cut him off from The Wood.

He knew now though, sanity could never be absolute. Knowledge was power in the world of Beyonders. And, for the sake of knowledge, he would have to flirt with insanity. Already his exposure to his sealed memories brought fragments with them. Shards of understanding. The writing on the bark told him that Sanguines yet lived in Backlund. The ancient bones spoke of small graves in a Waning Forest. The histories carved on moss-covered boulders whispered that, at his peak, Alista Tudor had switched from the Black Emperor Path to the Red Priest Path and fallen to insanity. He did not know Sanguines or Waning Forests. He did not know those Paths, did not know that you could switch from one to another - but he would find out what those secrets meant. Knowledge was power, and The Wood was made of secrets.

Now you remember. Now you can see the Wood.

Eddy reached out, recalling how he had sensed the endless weight of Mr Voice hovering above his soul. “My mind will not survive. It’s too much.” He pleaded. Desperate.

Perhaps, but do not worry. I will protect you, for I am always with you. And one day, you will climb higher.

Eddy smiled at that. Mr Voice would be with him. He would always be with him. His teacher, his guide, his friend. And, when it came for the sun to fall and night to come, Eddy knew that they would dream of The Wood together. For it was now a part of him, and he a part of it.

It was several hours later in the day when a haggard Eddy stumbled out of his room, sweat stains marking an untucked shirt - hair messy. He made his unsteady way downstairs in search of food. Once again, the day had been draining and he desperately needed something to fill his belly. However, as he headed out the door he was stopped by the landlord.

The tall man looked at him from where he leaned, smoking a cigarette, against the tenement’s exit. “Man came this mornin’. Lookin’ for you,” He took the cigarette from his lips and spat a tobacco-brown gobbet of phlegm out the door - exposing stained teeth. The sight made Eddy’s empty stomach churn. “Tall f*cker. Left a letter.” A hand reached out and pressed an envelope toward Eddy. He took it automatically and left, eager to leave behind the disgusting man.

Later, after he’d eaten, Eddy opened the letter in a corner of his usual cafe. The envelope had no name or marking on it. There was a single sheet of paper inside it. The message inside was simple, but still made Eddy’s stomach sink:

Edward Barton,

It is time to pay your debt.


AN: Wow, this chapter ended up being waaay more psychedelic than I expected when I started (and long - longest chapter yet). Eddy now has some long-term projects. He has some rituals to reconstruct. Then came Teresa Galmier and his dreams of The Wood. For the CultSim fans, you can take this as Eddy now having his ‘Way: The Wood’ card. One day he may climb higher. It made sense that a guy literally hosting the Moth in his head would gain access to The Wood. I didn’t want to avoid its introduction any longer. Again, this will be a long-term plot point. Finally, the mysterious letter heralds the start of a new arc. Eddy is much changed from a few chapters ago, and now he will be thrust into a difficult situation. Let’s see how well he does in the face of this new test. See you next week.

Chapter 25: Repayment Plan


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Lie awake, and listen. The wind speaks in the branches. The house cries out in its sleep. These are the roads that chaos ride.

As soon as Eddy read the words of the letter, he felt a sense of resignation come over him. He’d just been exposed to a whole new aspect of the supernatural, a liminal dreamworld that hid aeons of secrets and hidden knowledge. So, naturally, now was the perfect time for the thing that he had been dreading to occur. Meursault, and it had to be Meursault, had decided to call on the debt that Eddy owed him. This debt was not just for the purchase (albeit a forcible purchase) of the rifles above market rate. It was also for the Zmangers who had died fighting the Parliament Street Gang at Stratford Bend and across the Borough. Sure, his rifles had turned the tide of the battle and led to a decisive Zmanger victory, but people had still died on both sides. Additionally, by deploying the Irmyle-Ellison 1347s so blatantly, the Zmangers had essentially taken credit for the heist at Wharf Five - taking the pressure off Eddy.

He could not refuse the summons, if he did so, nothing would stop the Zmangers from telling Blue Mitch exactly what Eddy had done to his goods. Then, there would be two gangs actively hunting him down. The noose would start closing in on him. Eddy nodded, certain in making the only decision that he could. He’d go home, clean himself up and change into more presentable clothing, and then he’d go and meet Meursault. He had no other choice. He doffed his cap at the cafe’s proprietor and walked out the door - a grim smile on his face.

“Time to walk the plank…”

It was not long later that Eddy was in Zmanger territory. It didn’t look all too different to any other gang’s territory. East Borough was decrepit and filthy all over, so outsiders often found it hard to tell where each faction’s turf began and ended. However, Eddy was an East Borough native. He knew the signs. The streets were still cobbled and filthy, the shops run-down but busy, but a keen eye would spot the signs of Zmanger hegemony in the neighbourhood. Signs and banners, a ribbon tied around a street lamp. Little flutters of grey and green - the colours of the gang. In alleyways, Eddy spotted brick walls scrawled with graffiti. The head of a mountain lion. The unofficial heraldry of the highlanders. Eddy passed by a pub named The Grey Lion. Even the shops showed their allegiance, in one way or the other. No doubt the owner was attempting to curry favour. Not that it would free him from his protection money payments.

As he walked, Eddy dwelled on the changes he was experiencing. After the day he’d had, he wasn’t in the best condition, but he had noticed some alterations in the way he perceived the world. Normally, he was haunted by flashes of movement at the edges of his vision, or inaudible whispers taunting his ears. But, after Mr Voice had gifted him the memories of The Wood, things had changed. The hallucinations had not grown more frequent (thankfully), but now they were clearer somehow. More easily understood. Now he saw immaterial moths flitting around him, passing through walls, and glass, and people alike. When he looked at the man reading a newspaper outside of a dingy bar, he now saw roots twining through his eye sockets and out onto his face. Did he too forget his dreams? Eddy giggled. He wondered what Meursault would look like with a whorling bouquet of Lamier bursting from his throat. He choked down his giggle. People were strange, but that was fine. The world was strange too.

Soon Eddy came to Red Brick Alley, the heart of the Zmanger’s operations in the Borough. It looked as one might imagine, the buildings made out of fired red bricks, squat and close together - built with all the lack of care you might expect in East Borough. Over time, the Zmangers had bought up properties along the alley, knocking through walls and turning the place into a huge labyrinthine complex. From the outside, there was no way of telling which parts were gang-affiliated and which were just regular houses. It would certainly end up being a nightmare for anyone foolhardy enough to try and assault the place, Eddy mused. The highlanders had arrived in East Borough and now they had dug in deep. In this neighbourhood, they were a fact. This alley was their citadel, and he had to walk through the gate.

To that end, Eddy approached a nondescript door along the alley that was flanked by two tall and lean men. They were leaning against the wall, but their eyes scanned the crowd passing through the alley. As he got nearer, Eddy smoothly put on his mask while simultaneously dropping his Veil. He’d got used to the manoeuvre from his time at the Embankment.

The guards spotted him quickly, hands straying inside their jackets. Eddy’s eyes latched onto one of them. Hidden pocket. Revolver. He blinked. He wasn’t aware that his power could tell him about the concealed items that other people had. It made sense though, a supernatural sense for hidden things meeting with supernatural vision. He wagered that such a skill would be of use in the future. Aside from that, however, he had to calm the guards.

Pitching his voice to avoid eavesdroppers, Eddy called out to them. “I’m here for a meeting. Meursault wants to meet me.” Best to be direct with this lot. Niceties and superfluous words would be useless in front of them.

“Name?” One of the guards grunted the question out, accent thick despite having spoken only a single word.

“Barton.” Eddy volunteered. The guard nodded at that before gesturing at Eddy with one palm facing him.

“Wait.” Eddy nodded politely, making sure to maintain his distance. What a monosyllabic fellow. Monosyllabic. It was a word that he’d learnt recently and he was glad to find a context in which it could be used. It was apropos. Yes, that was also another word he’d come across. He had been reading a lot lately. It was only natural that his vocabulary would increase.

Meanwhile, the thug, seeing that Eddy was obeying his instructions, turned to knock on the door behind him. A panel slid open and a whispered conversation ensued. Eddy could not hear what was being said, but it at least seemed to satisfy the guard, because he was allowed to approach before being searched and blindfolded. They confiscated a knife from his boot but missed the thin blade hidden in the lining of his jacket. That made Eddy happy, he’d attempted to smuggle the knife through less out of need and more just to see if he could. His potion seemed to like it too - something in his soul relaxing. It felt good. It felt right.

He was blindfolded and then led through the maze-like Zmanger complex. Frankly, Eddy was not certain that the blindfold was necessary. From the number of twists and turns, he would definitely get lost even with the benefit of sight. Getting lost might even be enjoyable. In The Wood, everyone was lost.

Eventually, the cloth was lifted from his eyes, and Eddy found himself in front of a wooden door. His guide, a different thug, politely knocked on the door and said something rapidly in the language of the highlands. Eddy only recognised the word ‘Barton’. He didn’t know any words of the language. They didn’t tend to teach it to outsiders. The door opened and Eddy was ushered into the room.

When he had stood before the door, Eddy had expected to enter the room in which he had met Meursault before. That room was sparse and barely decorated. The room of a lieutenant, but not a highly ranked one. This was not that room. The walls were panelled with dark wood, the floor covered by a fine Balamese rug depicting quetzals weaving amid geometric patterns. There were decorations on the walls, a portrait of a wide mountain landscape (did gangsters get homesick?). The taxidermied head of a mountain lion matched it on the other side of the room. To the side was a table flanked by two armchairs. Each chair was occupied by a Zmanger, both looking at Eddy with piercing eyes. They had been playing cards, by the looks of it. This was a much nicer office than the one that Eddy had visited previously. It seemed as if Meursault had moved up in the world. It couldn’t have happened to a worse person.

However, whilst Eddy had briefly taken in the surroundings, his eyes had been fixed on one part of the room. At the end of the office was a large wooden desk. Solid and carved, it looked imposing. Behind it, of course, was Meursault - tall and lithe as ever, his shadowed eyes peering out at Eddy as he froze a little way into the room. Far enough into the room for the door to close behind him.

Meursault’s deep voice boomed out into the room. “Mr Barton, how wonderful to see you again! You came so promptly!”

Eddy gritted his teeth. The smug bastard was flaunting the fact that he held his leash. He’d shouted ‘come here’ and Eddy had run his way as quickly as he could. What a good little dog. Bastard.

“The pleasure is mine, Meursault. I admire your new office,” Eddy gestured to the portrait on the wall. “Is that a view of the highlands?”

Meursault nodded amicably. “Why, Eddy, yes it is. I think it’s good to have a reminder of where we come from.”


The man continued. “The new office is lovely, isn’t it? I have been showing my value lately. Your rifles aided admirably with that. I am truly grateful to you, Eddy.” The men at the side shifted slightly as Meursault was speaking. Interesting. Was that discomfort that Eddy was picking up from them? It seemed as if Meursault’s ‘promotion’ might not have been entirely uncontested. Had the play with the rifles allowed him to get rid of a higher-placed rival? How much blood was shed in the ensuing power struggle? How high up in the Zmangers was Meursault now? Surely Beyonders couldn’t be that common. Next time he visited, would he see the highlander in a bigger office? He had to wonder.

In any case, Eddy responded to Meursault’s ‘compliment’ with a smile; nodding as he did. He did not trust himself to speak. He really did have to rein in his emotions, but there was just something about Meursault that really aggravated him. The way he spoke, the way he needled at the fact that he had Eddy by the balls. ‘ It’s good to have a reminder of where we come from ’. Eddy wasn’t stupid, he could read between the lines. Remember your place, street rat. We own you.

Despite his anger and shame, Eddy didn’t react though. He stayed still, locking his facial muscles through sheer force of will in order to hide his anger. He couldn't afford to lose control. He may have been on the other side of the room from Meursault, keeping his distance, but that didn’t mean he was safe. He had heard of the capabilities of a Hunter. As strong as a bear, as agile as a cat. Even disregarding the two thugs sitting in their armchairs, Meursault could easily vault over his desk, cross the distance between them in the blink of an eye, and stove in his chest in a single punch. Eddy might have the technical advantage of being Sequence 8, but he wasn’t built for combat. Meursault, however, was his perfect counter, with sharp senses able to pierce Eddy’s Veil and physical power great enough to simply ignore any flashy knife tricks he could pull. The predator to his prey - and Eddy had walked into his lair.

Meursault did not seem to pay much attention to the clear power dynamics at work in the room - instead leaning forward and resting his chin on clasped hands. The niceties had been observed, Meursault had decided it was time for business.

“I brought you here today Eddy because it is time for you to pay your debt.”

“Twenty pounds?” Eddy replied, “I can get you the money. With interest, if you want.”

Meursault laughed slightly. Of course, it would never be that easy. Eddy knew that.

“I’m sure we can find a way for you to pay back the value of our investment, Eddy. But, that’s not the only debt you owe us, Eddy. We fought back the Parliament Street Gang at Stratford Bend, but we still lost a great deal to purchase that victory. Property damage, arson, injuries.”

He was counting the list off on his fingers.

“Deaths, Eddy. We lost good men that day and in the days since. Of course, we’re giving better than we get, but someone needs to take responsibility for our losses.” It went unsaid, of course, that ‘someone’ was certainly Eddy.

He couldn’t help but respond. “Blue Mitch was always going to go on a rampage. Some of your men were going to get hurt anyway, and some of your property damaged. I gave you the means to fight back reliably.”

Meursault tutted at that (of course he did) before his tone became harsher. “I don’t deal in hypotheticals, Eddy. Just in what is . Just in the facts. My men are dead, our businesses vandalised. You owe us, and I intend to collect. The only negotiation here is how you will make up the money.”

“And how much is this debt?”

“Five hundred pounds.”

Eddy almost choked, almost shouted out before he stopped himself. Bullsh*t. Absolute bullsh*t. There was no way on earth that the Parliament Street Gang had caused that amount of damage to the Zmangers. It wasn’t like they had many businesses that had been destroyed. The Zmangers mainly funded themselves off protection rackets and drugs. No, Meursault was playing with him, taunting him, wanting him to bite back so that he could show him who the boss was. So that he could drag Eddy even further into his shadow. He untensed his jaw, forcing himself to slowly relax as Meursault watched on, smirking. For a moment there, he’d been on the verge of losing control. Meursault didn’t know how close he was. If he’d turned into a rampager - eyes compounding and mandibles bursting from his jaw - then that would wipe the smirk off Meursault’s face, wouldn’t it? A daydream to savour later. Anyway, he wouldn’t react. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

He let his mouth form into a savage grin, unable to stop it. “What an impressive number. It sounds like you’re trying to have me work for you forever.”

“I have confidence that you can pay back the amount.”

“I’m flattered by your trust in my skills.”

Meursault shifted at that comment. “And what, Edward Barton, are your skills, exactly? We never quite got around to having that conversation.”

Eddy met his gaze. “I’m good at staying hidden. I’m good at hiding things. I can see in the dark. I’m good with a knife. Is that enough for you?”

The Zmanger lieutenant chuckled. “No need to be hostile, Eddy. That’s quite an interesting set of skills. Good at hiding things, you said? Yes, I think we can make use of you indeed.”

Eddy watched as the man visibly marshalled his thoughts. “Eddy, I believe we can start working on reducing your debt straight away. How does that sound to you?”

Eddy simply looked at him flatly, goading him wordlessly to continue. He had neither the time nor the patience for the man’s grandstanding.

“We have an associate who usually takes care of importing exotic goods from Balam to our holdings here in Backlund. Usually, he is also in charge of getting the goods from their drop-off point to our own distribution centres. Unfortunately, he has had a run-in with Sivellaus Yard. An officer of the law, most likely on the payroll of another gang, has been investigating him.”

Meursault waved a hand dismissively. Eddy could hear the scorn in his voice when he talked about the policeman. As much as he disliked it, Eddy couldn’t help but agree. It figured that the law would only get involved after they had been bribed by other criminals. Pathetic.

“I doubt that much will come of it, but he is having to keep his head down for a bit. We can still get the goods onto the docks, but I need you to take over transport within the city. I’m sure your skill at hiding items will be tremendously useful here. You’ll start tomorrow. I’ll let someone else give you the details - including about your payment - on your way out. Of course, you may wish to forfeit a portion of your cut to speed up the repayment of your debt.” How kind of them. A nod at one of the thugs had them leave the room - no doubt to find someone to draw up some notes for Eddy to read.

Eddy contemplated. The ‘goods’ were undoubtedly drugs. Of what type, Eddy had no clue, but the fact that they were from Balam meant that they were probably highly expensive (and highly illegal). That meant that his cut would be quite high. This had the potential to make a good start on reducing his debt - which, of course, was the attitude that Meursault wanted him to have. The thought of skipping town did cross Eddy’s mind, but Backlund was his home and he wasn’t going to give it up in fear of the gangs. In any case, why in the name of the Goddess would he refuse the opportunity to become a smuggler for the Zmagners? Meursault was practically handing him the means for his own progression, and he didn’t even know it! He’d race through Sequence 8 with this job! It was perfect for the ‘profit by your secrets’ principle that he’d formulated.

Yes, he’d smuggle for the Zmangers, he’d run their drugs, pay back his debt bit by bit, and all the while he’d get stronger and more experienced. And, when it was time, he’d love to see how Meursault was going to stop him from leaving the gang. A Hunter was dangerous to him now, but Eddy was crafty - Eddy was sneaky. Besides, what use would a mere Sequence 9 be against a Sequence 7, or a Sequence 6? Only time would tell how far Eddy would rise. Who knew what powers he would have at his fingertips by then?

He smiled at the thought and nodded firmly at Meursault. His mind was made up.

“I look forward to working with you.”


AN: Lamiers are a type of flower that grows in moss. They look a bit like nettles, but with a small purple flower. After I had added it in, I found out that it’s actually the favoured food of an awful lot of moth species. Coincidences can be freaky sometimes. You might be able to tell that Eddy isn’t entirely mentally stable in this chapter (bear in mind this is happening on the same day as last chapter). So, please forgive him. Anyway, Eddy now has had his confrontation with Big M (as his friends call him) and knows what he has to do. Yes, the £500 debt is ridiculously exorbitant (Meursault pulled that number out of his arse), but I'm certain that Meursault would never let a useful Beyonder out of his grasp. Don’t worry, I’m sure Eddy will find a way to turn this to his advantage.

Chapter 26: Delights


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Birth occurs at the conjunction of pleasure and torment. So the first Forbidden Acts of the Forge birthed sparks of delight which took root in the Glory or in Nowhere: who can say? So the seeds of the Flowermaker were planted, though for long years he was nothing but an unfulfilled ache.

The dawn found Eddy by the docks, this time not to visit the Embankment, or steal from the Parliament Street Gang. No, today Eddy was deep in the Zmanger docklands. It was generally secure. Eddy had heard that recently the Black Skeleton Gang had probed around the area, but the Zmangers were strong enough to hold their ground for now. Did his rifles guard these wharves? Eddy wondered if that corrupt weapon-smuggling quartermaster got as much money as he had wanted in the end. After all, Eddy did take a chunk out of his profits by stealing from him. It was strange to think that his actions in Backlund had affected people as far away as Balam. In any case, it was Monday morning and, for the first time in a while, Eddy had to go to work.

It didn’t help that he had dreamt of The Wood last night. Dreamt and remembered. He shivered, still feeling the cold of that ancient forest. He had wandered for hours last night until he had become utterly lost. At times he had stumbled and fallen, skinning his knees and scoring his hands on thirsty brambles. He had not accomplished much, come to think of it, but Eddy did not particularly mind that. For, in the morning, he could spot the red hints of bramble-scratches across his knuckles. To him, it was a promise of things to come. The Wood was a dream, but in The Wood dreams were sometimes more real than the waking world.

He put aside his thoughts of The Wood. It was not something that should be thought of in the light of the sun. Yes, he had things to do. He had work to do. Today’s work, however, was a little different to cutting hair with Mr Emerson.

Yesterday, as he was leaving the Zmanger compound at Red Brick Alley, he’d received the details of his new assignment. A shipment of ‘goods’ had come in at the West Balam Docks, near Backlund Bridge. Dutt, an addictive stimulant grown in parts of East Balam (normally in the more isolated areas where the Loen Kingdom had less oversight). It was made by drying the root of a certain flowering plant and treating it in chemicals. Eddy did not know the process in detail. It was normally chewed or smoked and was quite popular among those working long hours as it kept them awake, alert and gave a pleasurable rush upon consumption. It wasn’t the most dangerous drug on the market, but it made the Zmangers a good sum on the streets due to its popularity.

Unlike normal though, the Dutt had not been transported out to the Zmanger’s usual distribution network of shops and dealers due to the attention of Sivellaus Yard. Policemen were openly watching the entrances to the docks and the Zmangers had it on good authority that plain-clothes officers were present too. Therefore, it was Eddy’s job to sneak the drugs out of the West Balam Docks without being noticed by the law. Given Eddy’s abilities, this was actually very easy. However, looking below the surface, the situation seemed designed to deliberately frustrate him - for multiple reasons.

Firstly, the West Balam Docks were officially abandoned, the colonial disputes in the Southern Continent having blocked off that market to normal commerce. After all, the constant spats between Loen, Intis and Feynapotter were not conducive to regular and legal profit. Instead, the Kolain and East Balam Docks had flourished due to Loen’s higher control over those areas of the continent. This abandonment meant that the West Balam Docks were the perfect place for smuggling goods into the city. Security was lax and activity was low, meaning that the gangs could use the docks as their personal playground. Every empty wharf was a door into the city. Naturally, the Zmangers used took advantage of this situation a lot.

However, this only acted as an advantage when the gangs were left alone. Now that there was an investigation from the police, any activity in the abandoned docks was extremely obvious. Obviously, if the Zmangers tried to move a large amount of drugs out of the area in a large convoy, or moved a lot of people (each smuggling a small amount) back and forth, the police would notice this heightened activity and would catch them - confiscating the drugs in the process and incurring a huge loss for the Zmangers. Eddy theorised that the confiscated drugs would no doubt go missing in short order and end up in the hands of the corrupt police’s paymasters before ending back up on the streets. How infuriated would the Zmangers be then? Therefore, Eddy’s task was actually more difficult than it initially appeared.

Initially, Eddy wanted to simply strap the drugs onto his body and walk out of the docks in plain sight until he got to the Zmangers distribution centre near Red Brick Alley. Under the power of his Veil, who would be able to spot him? Frankly, it completely bypassed the severity of his assignment. However, Eddy quickly discarded this option due to one reason.

This reason, the second complication, was not due to external factors - such as the police presence or some other factor - but because of Eddy’s own goals and aspirations. Using the Veil would be easy. It would certainly allow him to finish his mission easily in a few trips at most. However, doing so would negate one of the advantages that had persuaded him to work for Meursault in the first place. In essence: the principles of his Sequence.

Smuggling the drugs using his Veil would uphold the first principle of ‘hiding what out to be hidden’ and, after being paid, would also satisfy ‘profit by your secrets’. However, as far as Eddy saw it, invisibility was not the essence of smuggling and in fact negated it. The essence of smuggling (and by extension Eddy’s Sequence 8) was in ‘letting truth conceal lies’. Hiding in plain sight. The secret compartment in the ship’s hull. The false base in a merchant’s crate. The Veil was, with this understanding, actually harmful to the ongoing digestion of Eddy’s Smuggler potion. At least, this was the hypothesis Eddy had come to while planning his extraction of the gang’s illegal cargo. He couldn’t be entirely sure, but it was his sincere hope that refraining from using the Veil would lead to a greater effect on his future development.

After all, what was the use of being the Zmanger’s dog if he couldn’t get stronger while doing so?

With all of this running through his mind, Eddy got up from where he had been sitting and thinking while looking across at the boat traffic on the river, and walked toward the entrance to the West Balam Docks. He did not forget to turn on his Veil and walked straight through the entrance to the old shipping area without being stopped. Of course, he had considered that the police might have Beyonders able to see through his ability, but he discounted this idea after some thought. After all, even if the police possessed such a person, why would they be assigned to a stakeout when there was no suspicion of Beyonder activity? It made no sense to waste such a resource on such a minor task. Besides, even if they did, then what was the problem in him entering the docks? It wasn’t illegal to do so, and a search would find nothing wrong with him (hidden pockets were a true marvel). No, he wasn’t actively smuggling yet, so using his Veil gave him no disadvantage. He passed between two watchers in black and white uniforms like smoke in the wind.

Soon enough, Eddy found his way to the warehouse that had been specified in Meursault’s instructions. It was in the middle of the docklands and, from the outside, looked abandoned. However, as Eddy looked closely, he noticed signs of artificiality in its look. Yes, one could see paint peeling from the wooden walls of the warehouse, and cobwebs over the dusty windows, but the actual structure was sound. A closer look might reveal that some of the ‘old’ wooden walls had actually been replaced and then scraped and abraded so as to look older than they actually were. After all, the Zmangers couldn’t have a secret warehouse with rotten walls filled with holes. The whole pretence made Eddy wonder about just how many of the other warehouses in the West Balam Docks were in a similar state of ‘abandonment’. Casting such thoughts aside, Eddy walked through the slightly ajar door of the building.

He immediately took in the interior of the warehouse. Contrary to what he expected, the inside was actually very clean and tidy. The gas lamps were working perfectly, providing a steady flicker of yellow light. Clothes covered the high-up windows - not fully stopping natural light, but denying anyone who would spy on the interior. In the centre of the warehouse was a pile of crates. The Dutt. Eddy noted that the crates were all marked with stamps reading ‘Naval Supplies’. Was that just a cover, or were corrupt quartermasters an endemic issue in the kingdom’s military?

Around the crates were four wild-haired Zmanger thugs. Not so many for guarding such a valuable cargo, but Eddy supposed that too many guards would alert the police, or rival gangs. Besides, there were most likely hidden thugs watching the warehouse from nearby. At least, that’s what Eddy would do if he were organising the Zmangers.

As soon as the men spotted Eddy, they immediately scrambled to their feet - hands reaching for pipes and knives. Before they could do much though, Eddy called out.

“Calm down lads, I’m expected. Barton. Meursault sent me.”

This calmed most of the men down enough, but Eddy noticed one of the thugs - a hook-nosed fellow - sneer at the mention of Meursault. Hmmm. It only lent credence to Eddy’s idea that Meursault’s rise to power had not been unopposed. The Zmangers, historically discriminated against due to their ‘barbarous’ origins, presented a united front in public, but Eddy was beginning to see past the facade. How deep did the factional splits run? Was there a serious conflict brewing in the gang, or was it simply that Meursault was a self-important prick that got on people’s nerves? Even after only two conversations with the Beyonder in question, Eddy wouldn’t be against betting money on the second option. The first, though, would be much more interesting…

One of the thugs stepped forward before spitting on the ground. His spit was red and frothy. A sign of Dutt chewing. These highlanders had been sampling their own stock.

“We got ten pounds of root ‘ere. I’d like to see how ya meant to move that past the black and white dogs.” The man grinned nastily at Eddy after saying his piece in a thick highlander accent. He clearly didn’t like the idea of leaving the job to an outsider.

Eddy replied. “You leave that to me, I’m a specialist,” He gestured at the crates. “The sooner we get this stuff out of here, the sooner you can go home.”

The man shot a glance at his fellows before they broke into a discussion in the rapid language of the highlands. Eddy couldn’t speak the language, but he was clever enough to know that some of the things said about him probably weren’t entirely charitable. However, after a round of shrugs, the man turned back to Eddy.

“Fine by us then. No skin off our noses if ya get done in. All’s ya to do is ken thi sen and we’ll follow you, Mr Specialist.” The last part was said mockingly.

Ken thi sen. Eddy knew that much of Zmanger slang. Watch yourself. A warning. An unfriendly bunch, for sure, but Eddy wagered that they’d appreciate him a bit more when he snuck out ten pounds of Dutt under the noses of the ‘black and white dogs’ (as they called the police). Ten pounds. That amount had to be worth over £250. No wonder the Zmangers were willing to stand hiring outside help - with so much money on the line, biases tend to evaporate in favour of pragmatism.

Eddy looked over the crates - pondering his strategy for five minutes. He came up with several plans over that period, discarding options and redrafting aspects until he was happy with his options. Eventually, Eddy settled on one plan and turned to the waiting thugs. It was a little theatrical, but why shouldn’t he enjoy his work as long as he got the job done? The thugs, meanwhile, looked bored; one of them tapping their foot. Eddy smiled at them.

“I know how we’re going to move this lot. It’ll take a couple of hours to set up, but I’m certain it will work. First though, help me hide some of these crates a little better…”

The policemen assigned to stakeout duty around the West Balam Docks were utterly bored. They had been watching people coming and going for a few days and, so far, there had been no sign of the supposedly large shipment of narcotics that was meant to be transported out to gang distribution centres. In fact, the docks had been remarkably quiet. So, they felt only momentary interest when a small covered cart - similar to those of many peddlers - was dragged into the cobbled square adjacent to the docks.

It was rickety, seemingly cobbled together with spare bits of mismatched wood. However, the dark haired and blue eyed young man dragging it seemed in high spirits despite the apparent poverty to which his patched clothing spoke. Nevertheless, attention was drawn when he started hawking his services.

“Haircuts, haircuts! Get your hair cut! Best scissors this side of Backlund Bridge!”

He didn’t get much attention at that. If he was actually any good, then he’d have his own shop rather than working out of a rickety cart. Therefore, most of the people passing by did not give him a second look. However, the young man began to get more attention when he took out a pair of silvery scissors and began flipping them from fingers to finger. Gradually, still shouting out his services, he escalated his tricks - making the blades dance over his hands, tossing them up in the air and catching them showily. He even drew a small crowd of spectators. Some of them cheered when he made a particularly difficult trick, although it seemed as if others were a bit disappointed when he didn’t lose a finger.

This show of skill was enough to win the young fellow some patrons and, over the next hour, he cut several people’s hair - charging a couple of pennies each time. This was, in the eyes of the hidden watchers, enough to discount the man. He was just a barber. Technically, he needed a permit to run a street side stall, but no policeman was zealous enough to actually go over and demand proof of his right to be there. Besides, it wasn’t like he had enough money to pay a bribe…

Therefore, the plain-clothes officers were not alarmed when a tall and wild-haired man walked casually out of the Docks and joined the crowd watching the young barber playing tricks with his scissors. They were not alarmed when he asked for a haircut. They did not notice that, as the barber placed one hand on the man’s shoulder to guide him down onto a wooden stool, another supernaturally dexterous hand reached out and untied a half-pound package that had been secured to the man’s waist and moved it under his own jacket in a single swift movement. They did not notice that, as the barber moved back to his cart to grab a basin of water and a towel, the package slipped out from under his jacket and through a convenient gap in the wooden slats of the cart - falling quietly into its darkened interior. They did not notice as, throughout the rest of the afternoon, the man repeated this process another three times. After all, he was just a barber.

As evening approached, the young barber finished with his last customer, packed up his cart and dragged it away from the docks on stiff wheels. The hidden watchers stayed in their positions. The shipment had to be on its way. Any day now.

Eddy took the cart back into the heart of East Borough, other pedestrians making way for him as he manoeuvred through the streets. Finally, he made his way onto Bacardi Street before turning and dragging the cart into a dead-end alley. As he got the cart into the alley, the entrance was quickly blocked by the sudden appearance of Zmangers. Some of them lit cigarettes, others squatted down to play cards on the cobbles. Either way, they incidentally stopped anyone from entering the alley. They also stopped anyone from seeing one wall of the cart being disassembled and two pounds of packaged Dutt being extracted and handed over to a distributor for the Zmanger Gang.

The distributor, a highlander by the name of Anouilh - nicknamed Slow-worm - grinned at Eddy and whistled as he saw the drugs.

“I suppose you did what you promised, Barton. Good work. There’s still eight pounds of product left in that warehouse, though.”

Eddy nodded. “I cut around twenty people’s hair today. Four of them were carrying Dutt under their jackets. Any more than half a pound and they would have been too obvious. Any more than four, and the black and white dogs may have noticed a pattern. We’ll do the same tomorrow. Two pounds a day, every day, until it’s done. They’ll be less wary if I become a regular sight outside the docks.”

At that he paused.

“Make sure that you change out the guards for tomorrow. I can’t give the same person a haircut five times in a week.”

Anouilh laughed at that. “I’ll make sure to get you the thugs with messiest hair then, Barton! I look forward to seeing similar results tomorrow. You are an excellent smuggler.”

Eddy smiled at that - his eyes unfocusing as if he were looking at something not quite in the real world.

“Thank you Anouilh, that means more to me than you know.”


AN: Eddy is smuggling and is having fun with it by going back to his roots! Edward Barton the Barber and Edward Barton the Smuggler don’t always have to be different people. I don’t want to dwell on the other days of Eddy’s smuggling. He’s going to pull the same trick another four times. Next chapter will summarise this, deal with his pay, and what else he gets up to over that time, etc. A short time-skip. As a side-note, if you’re wondering, we’re between chapters 112-116 in the canon story. Klein is still in Tingen and is just under a month away from digesting his Seer potion. The Tarot Club has just held its fifth meeting.

Chapter 27: Seasons


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

These are the days of anticipation.

Eddy continued his ‘barber-stall scam’ for the rest of the week. Every day, he turned up in Colston Square outside of the West Balam Docks and made a spectacle of himself - hawking his services, cutting hair, and gathering crowds on occasion with his flashy scissor tricks. It was actually quite useful, in a way. Not only was he drawing attention away from his colleagues, but he was also practising his dexterity. On Wednesday he was spinning and snatching the scissors from the air. By Friday, he had learned to ‘walk’ the silvery blades across his knuckles in a display of incredible balance and control. It eased the boredom.

That was not to say that his time cutting hair was a waste. Aside from being part of his plan, he also charged for his time. During a full day, he cut maybe thirty people’s hair on average. He charged each two pennies - a fair price from a young man in a public stall. Of course, he didn’t charge the Zmangers smuggling the drugs to him. Sure, they’d hand over two pennies for the sake of the act, but by the end of the haircut, he’d already managed to slip the money back into their pockets. Nevertheless, by the end of the week, he’d actually managed to make a whole one pound. Was he going to complain? Of course not. Every little bit of money counted.

The desire for money made Eddy very happy when, at the end of the week, all ten pounds of Dutt had been moved from the warehouse. This meant, besides the successful completion of his first mission, that he was to be paid. Anouilh handed over a whole 10 pounds for his work. That was a fantastic payday for a single week's work. To put it in perspective, an average factory worker made a tenth of what Eddy had made in a week. A tenth. Of course, an average factory worker didn’t tangle with the law at great risk, while leading the smuggling of over £250 of narcotics from under Sivellaus Yard’s nose. When phrased like that, it seemed like a fair wage.

Unfortunately, some of Eddy’s joy was reduced when he handed back 5 pounds of his hard-earned cash right back to Anouilh. Debt repayment. Had Meursault specifically asked Anouilh to play this game with him? Give him the money and then force him to hand half of it back? It seemed a little petty if so. Maybe Slow-worm had genuinely forgotten (that seemed more likely), but it still stung. Five pounds repaid, four hundred and ninety-five pounds to go. Eddy found it daunting when he thought of it like that - the debt looming and monolithic in his imagination - but he had to remember that among a gang as large as the Zmangers there would be plenty of opportunities to earn money. Besides, if the gang were ever weakened enough, then Eddy would have no qualms about slipping from their grip. Nothing was forever.

That mantra was especially present in Eddy’s mind as he surveyed his gains. Carrying out the mission had led to a slow, but noticeable, increase in his digestion. His powers felt smoother , somehow. Less rigid, less brittle. It was hard to explain with words, but Eddy could feel the difference. Getting paid on Friday had led to a more impressive digestion, cementing ‘profit by your secrets’ as a worthy principle in Eddy’s conception of a Smuggler. He still wasn’t sure if the whole charade with the barber-stall was necessary (it did seem overly theatrical), but he didn’t want to risk using the Veil and missing out on valuable digestion. In any case, if he had used the Veil and it hadn’t had the effect he’d wanted, then the Zmangers would expect that level of efficiency from him every time - even if it caused him to miss out on progressing his Sequence. This way, he got the job done, improved himself, and hid the true scope of his abilities. Yes, he was happy with his current strategy.

Each night, when he dragged himself home after a draining day of acting and sleight of hand, he slept and dreamt of The Wood. For two nights he had wandered lost, much as before. For another two, some ravenous thing had hunted him; skittering and clawing at his fleeing heels - but the guidance of Mr Voice had led him true until he had lost that nameless pursuer. Those nights were the most difficult. Even after he had left the beast behind, he still felt eyes gaze at him from the trees, from the roots, from beneath his skin. When he woke, his heart pounded and his lungs burned. Finally, in one dream where he had not been stalked by the horrors of The Wood, he had found himself in the broken and weathered ruins of a temple - half-reclaimed by grasping sheets of vivid moss. In twisted basalt corridors, he had seen the carvings which depicted the days in which a warrior and a priestess scarred themselves for battle and slew a coiling snake-god. They drank his blood. It was always blood. The carvings made his eyes hurt.

In some ways, his nights took more of a toll on him than his days. The coming weekend was a blessing, then. It had surprised him, initially, that the Zmangers allowed him to take the weekend off. He’d assumed that he’d be working for them day-in and day-out like a dog, but instead, he wasn’t given any tasks and was allowed a two-day respite. It might have been that they simply didn’t have any urgent work for him, rather than allowing him a civilised holiday, but either way, he appreciated the break. He hoped that it would last.

Instead of vegetating in his room, Eddy decided to spend the weekend on a minor project. The Kitling Ripe rituals were waiting for him, but Eddy wanted to try his hand at a short-term project first. Atherton had, in one of the more lucid chapters of Arcane Symbology , speculated on the operations and methodology of possible precognitive rituals. Most of these theories were highly theoretical, but Eddy wanted to try out some of the more feasible (and low-budget) options.

A few soli and a trip to one of the less reputable stalls under the Embankment found Eddy coming home with a grisly prize. Knucklebones. In particular, human knucklebones. Eddy had half-expected the stall to be filled with the rotting parts of dismembered carcasses, but actually, it hadn’t looked too different from any of the other peddlers selling scraps of bone. The items on sale were not gory, but stripped of flesh, cleaned, and clearly polished to an attractive shine. Only an expert in anatomy would be able to tell that the ‘goods’ on sale were actually sourced from humans instead of lesser animals. Did the old woman running the stall keep the more grisly items hidden - safe for more discerning customers? Was there a rack of tanned human skin somewhere in the back? A shelf of skulls? A jar of staring eyeballs? It was always a source of astonishment for Eddy as to what people were willing to buy in the pursuit of the mystical. Such a thing would not surprise him if it were true.

At least the old woman hadn’t claimed, like other peddlers, that her goods were the remains of mythical beasts. The Embankment was filled with shards of ‘dragon bone’ and vials of blood purportedly belonging to an entire menagerie of mythical creatures. One particularly annoying fellow was renowned for constantly hawking elf’s blood. He claimed that it was quite an effective aphrodisiac. Eddy would bet good money on the blood in question (remarkably well-preserved for an extinct creature) actually coming from a local pig.

Nevertheless, Eddy got down to work with his newly-purchased knucklebones. He had planned out his project before he had bought his ingredients, and so was ready straight away once he got home. First, he washed the knucklebones in purified water before wafting over them the smoke from a candle infused with amantha extract. Not only did this clean his new purchases physically, but it also was meant to cleanse them on a spiritual level - removing previous metaphysical entanglements. After all, it would be bad if his new project was influenced and disrupted by the restless spirits of the knucklebones’ previous owners. Eddy found this process quite peaceful, the amantha-infused smoke allowing him to slip into a shallow trance as he worked. It made the buzzing quieter. As he had digested his potion a little more, the images and visions had receded somewhat, but the buzzing remained. He had started to accept that he might never escape it.

Next, after the ritual cleansing, Eddy got out his knife and began carving. He wasn’t much for scrimshaw. He’d seen it done by old sailors down by the docks, needles in hand as they chipped away at yellowed whalebone until they held works of art. Nevertheless, he knew that a knife was a crude tool for such delicate work. However, Eddy was confident that his dexterity would allow him to wield his knife as accurately as any scriber. Besides, he wasn’t going to fork out good money for a specialised tool when this was just a side project - a flight of fancy.

In his speculations on precognitive ritualism, Atherton had laid out the designs for the runes that he would use. Mr Voice did not raise any objections when Eddy looked over the work (in fact, he was completely silent). Therefore, he decided that Atherton’s conjecture seemed sound, and so Eddy had no problems plotting out the mystical symbols precisely on paper before attempting to carve them into the knucklebones. The goal was to create a set of twenty-two knucklebones (aping Roselle’s tarot cards), each carved with runes designed to align them to the resonances of surrounding fate. The mystical theory behind this was quite complex and Eddy only understood it on a surface level. He was an enthusiast, not an academic. He had a ‘full set’ of knucklebones - twenty-eight in all. There was room for failure. He didn’t have to be perfect.

As it happened, perfection was far outside of Eddy’s reach. It turned out that, despite his confidence in his abilities, drawing runes in chalk on a flat and stable surface was far different from carving them into small bones with a knife. Several times, Eddy’s knife slipped and ruined a key symbol. Several times, a bone skittered out from under his grip when he applied just a little too much force with the tip of his blade. It was infuriating. Nevertheless, Eddy ended up - several frustrating hours later - with a full set of twenty-two rune-inscribed human knucklebones. The remains of six others lay scattered around the room. Eddy was slightly ashamed of the tantrum he’d had when he’d ruined yet another bone. He’d even crushed one beneath his boot by stamping on it repeatedly. What an awful start to the weekend. He should have just settled down and read a book instead.

Eventually, Eddy finished checking and rechecking his work before nodding in tentative approval. The runes were solid and the depth of the carving was even enough. A success. Probably.

He gathered the finished products between his hands and stood up, shaking them in order to mix them up. Technically, it wasn’t necessary - the bones were guided by fate (hypothetically) - but Eddy did it anyway. It felt like the right thing to do.

He finished shaking and released the bones forward onto the table. They bounced and scattered over the wooden surface, light from the gaslamp glinting off the white. They seemed to bounce longer than should be possible, unwilling to settle as Eddy watched them. They bounced. They burned .

Eddy watched in horror as the scattering knucklebones suddenly froze in mid-air - hanging for a split second that seemed to last far too long. As Eddy stared at them ( this wasn’t how it was meant to go ), they began to blacken and crack as if under some invisible flame before flaking off into ashes and disappearing. Twenty-one of the bones crumbled into nothingness like that simultaneously, but one took a couple of seconds longer - persisting just long enough for Eddy’s eyes to latch onto it. Eddy saw it, saw the numeral he had etched on it to identify its place in the major arcana.

The High Priestess.

Somewhere inside the corridors of his mind, Eddy thought he heard Mr Voice laughing.

After the failures of the weekend, Monday came again with work for Eddy. Another shipment of Dutt had come into the West Balam Docks, a low and shadowy river barge unloading its cargo in the dead of night. A different wharf and warehouse, of course, but essentially the same task once again. Ten pounds of narcotics, five days to get the product to Anouilh under the eyes of the ever-present watchers. From what he had heard from the Zmangers, the higher-ups in Sivellaus Yard were starting to get impatient with the stake-out, claiming that it was a waste of resources. The gang instigating the police against the Zmangers would most likely not be able to hold out for long. Corrupt officers were easily bribed, but they were cowardly. Nobody would stick their neck out for the sake of what appeared to be a wild-goose chase (especially once they began noticing Dutt hitting the streets again). As long as Eddy wasn’t caught, then the stakeout would inevitably end soon.

With that knowledge in mind, Eddy did not take risks. He had been planning to switch around his strategy for the week’s smuggling - partly to keep the police from spotting any pattern, but also for a change of pace - but he eventually decided against it. He had begun working on an idea involving a touring crowd of fake investors smuggling Dutt out of the docks under their tophats but discarded the idea quite early on. A bit of theatricality in his operations was acceptable, but some things entered the realm of ridicule. He had a reputation to cultivate, after all.

Therefore, Eddy ran the same trick as the previous week. Every day before dawn, Anouilh would send four long-haired Zmangers into the docks. Eddy would set up shop in Colston Square and run his business, occasionally depositing a half-pound of addictive root into the hidden interior of his cart. Frankly, only smuggling two pounds a day meant that the vast majority of his day was spent in a sort of leisure - cutting the odd person’s hair, playing tricks with his scissors, and amusing the crowds. He drew fewer people than the previous week (the curse of familiarity striking him), but he still enjoyed his time. It was almost therapeutic.

There was, much to his surprise, no dramatic showdown with a suspicious officer of the law. In fact, he had even cut the hair of a couple of policemen. Now, that was more nerve-wracking - especially when the man whose hair he was cutting was seated only a few feet from perhaps forty or fifty Loenese pounds worth of drugs. Not his normal idea of fun, but it did have a certain charm, Eddy reflected. He would try not to make a habit of it, though. He had expected something to occur. It would have been in theme with his luck, but apparently, he was doomed to a peaceful week.

Again, he made about a pound from his barbering. Actually, just a little less. Novelty had advantaged his business in the first week, and so he drew fewer people in over the following week. It didn’t bother him. Money was money. He had enough to eat. The rest would go toward a book. He wouldn’t complain. He also didn’t complain when Anouilh handed over five pounds and kept the same amount back for his debt repayment. What was that - two percent of his debt squared away in total? Thrilling. Before his encounter with Mr Voice, he would never have guessed that the life of a Beyonder revolved so much around the Loen pound. Perhaps that was naive of him. For all his adult life, existence had revolved around those pieces of paper. Why would it be different now?

In any case, he was happy to see his wallet expanding once more. He now had over twenty pounds hidden in his room and on his person. A veritable fortune for someone like him. In fact, he treated himself on Friday evening to a steak with black pepper and a selection of side dishes. It cost him two soli, but he persuaded himself that he deserved the treat for being such a good smuggler. Really, if Eddy thought about it, he was investing in his own health and well-being. How perceptive of him. A true paragon of the industrial age.

The week had, once again, seen steady digestion from his potion - adding to his happiness. To him, tangible progress was as much of a high as any amount of Dutt. Much healthier, too. He still had a long way to go (he wasn’t sure of how long it would take yet to complete his Sequence), but he was making noticeable progress. At some point in the future, he’d have to start pestering Mr Voice to get a headstart on his next potion ingredients.

[Solemnity] Not Yet. Not Ready. [Severity]

Eddy smiled. “I know, Mr Voice. One day, though. In the future.”

[Acceptance] Yes. One day.



AN: I felt that the narrative was slowing down, so here is a time skip of almost two weeks. Eddy is getting into the rhythm of working for the Zmangers. Smuggling fun, digestion, and some massive failure during his side-project shenanigans. Bonus points if you can tell me what Mr Voice found so amusing.

Chapter 28: Labours In The Dark


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

A creeping horror filters in through the skin. Come closer, says the night. Come closer.

There was no Dutt on Monday. At least, not for Eddy. As he had predicted, the ongoing failure of Sivellaus Yard’s stakeout had caused the entire operation to be withdrawn. The West Balam Docks were open for business again. This was good news for the Gang, but less so for Eddy. No police meant no need for an ‘expert’ smuggler. An easy route for digestion, for progression, had been closed off.

He’d been scouting Colston Square on Saturday - looking for a new approach to his smuggling routine - when he’d noticed the patrols withdrawing. By the time he’d worked out what was going on, there were once again no more hints of the law’s presence in the area. It upset him - which was worthy of thought in itself. Before Orthos Wood, he would have been overjoyed at the lack of attention. At the lack of danger. Now, he felt as if he needed opposition and opponents to test him - to act as the forge to his steel. His whetstone and his tempering. Does the blade long for the hammer?

[Solemnity] Yes. Such is the passion of The Forge.

Eddy caught himself at that. Had he said that last part out loud? He must have done so. Eddy looked around him instinctively to see if anyone had been paying attention to him but quickly caught himself. His Veil was up. There was no need, even if old habits took a long time to die (not that they should - such instincts were rewarded in East Borough). So, ignoring Mr Voice’s addition to his musings, he had headed home.

It made him wonder though; did all Beyonders feel the same way?

So, when Monday came, Eddy was summoned not to Anouilh, but to Red Brick Alley for another meeting with Meursault. He had expected to be called back. The Gang would not let a valuable tool escape their grasp for long. It would not be prudent to let him stay idle.

He entered by a different door this time, but he still recognised one of the guards from his last visit. Apparently, they recognised him too, as they didn’t ask his name. Eddy still got searched though, his hidden knife once again making its way through the inspection unnoticed. He’d get in trouble for that one day, Eddy mused as he felt his potion digest so slightly it might as well have been nothing. Blindfolded and led into the maze of the Zmanger’s Red Brick Alley complex, Eddy quickly lost his sense of direction.

That didn’t stop him from trying to sense his surroundings though. He could still hear. Harsh voices speaking the highlander tongue. Both men and women. Was that the sound of a child? It wouldn’t surprise him if many families lived in the complex. The clatter of tools. The muffled sound of shouts and flesh striking flesh. Muted cheers. Training? Hard to tell.

He could still smell. He could still taste. Sawdust on his tongue. Gunpowder in his nose. Was that blood? Probably. The Zmangers were well-armed. How perceptive of him, Eddy joked internally. The Zmangers had been well-armed before Eddy had arrived, and they were even more well-armed once he had done so. After all, revolvers and handguns were easy to find on the black market when you had money - and the muscle to back it up.

Soon, his eyesight was restored and he once more found himself in front of Meursault’s office. He was shown inside, immediately locking eyes with the dead gaze of the taxidermied lion’s head. Ugly thing.

“Eddy, come in! Don’t be shy!”

Eddy felt his hackles rise as he heard Meursault’s voice. Did the fake overdone jollity ever work on people, or did it just annoy them? Knowing Meursault, the latter possibility was probably why he injected so much cheer into his greetings. Why, it was like Meursault was his long-time friend, rather than someone only a shade away from an out-and-out blackmailer. It was, truly, a very special relationship.

“You did well with our little Dutt problem,” Meursault continued. “But, as you are aware, the… tense… situation there is now over.”

He splayed his hands, a silent (and insincere) apology on his face. “We could still use a man of your talents, though.”

He paused.

“Eddy, an organisation as large as ours has a lot of connections.” Eddy had noted how Meursault never described himself as a member of a gang. He always said ‘organisation’, or some other euphemism. It was amusing, in a way. A man trying to distance himself from the ‘uncivilised’ nature of his background, while also revelling in the power that it gave him. A dichotomy.

Meursault carried on speaking. “You don’t get powerful in this city without owing people some favours - and, now, one of those favours is being called in.”

He leaned forward.

“There’s a lot going on here that’s too big for you Eddy. We’re helping to put pressure on some people and you need to play your part. Can you do that for me, Eddy?”

Eddy sighed. “Tell me about the job and I’ll tell you if I can do it.” Patronising bastard.

“There’s a man. Baron Phillip Forman. A bit of an unusual fellow, a helminthologist and antiquarian. Politically irrelevant, but he heads quite a fortune - mainly tied up in properties and shares. However, this allows him to leverage good loans from the seven major banks in Hillston Borough.”

Helminthologist? Some sort of amateur in some scientific field, Eddy was guessing. Meursault was right. This was going over his head - in terms of both vocabulary and politics. The Zmanger lieutenant continued his spiel.

“He has few friends, but he’s generous to the ones that he does have. We’ve been asked to… get him out of the game. He’s a collector. Ruin his collection and he’ll spend his time and money - worrying about that rather than bankrolling his friends.”

Eddy retorted. “In other words, break in and ransack his possessions.” So, the man was friends with the wrong people and kept on giving them money. The problems of the wealthy and influential.

Meursault nodded, smiling slightly. “Just so. It does not bother me if you burn him out, destroy his antiques and experiments, or steal them wholesale. Simply disrupt him.”

“How much will I be paid?”

Meursault tutted, shaking his head in fake disappointment. “My my, such a mercenary attitude saddens me, Eddy. You’ll get a nominal fee. Ten pounds, but I won’t ask you to turn out your pockets after this job.”

Fine - he could work with that. An isolated scion of a noble family, consumed by his amateur hobbyism would not be such a threat. Eddy knew that many lesser noble houses had large debts nowadays, but surely Baron Foreman had some cash on hand, some items of value in his home. Naturally, he’d need a fence to sell those safely - but even in the worst-case scenario, he could rely on Meursault to provide that surface. He’d prefer to avoid that though. The man was sure to gouge him on the price.

Having got what he wanted out of the conversation, Meursault was already waving him away. Eddy took the hint, not wanting to spend unnecessary time around the man either. As he left the office, the door clicking shut behind him, he was handed a paper containing Baron Forman’s details. He disliked the Zmangers, but he did appreciate their efficiency. Besides, he’d never robbed a noble before. This could be fun.

The sun was setting as Eddy stood against the decorated metal railing surrounding Grimm Cemetery. He was dressed in his better jacket and cap. Both of them were dark, greys a shade away from black. Grimm Cemetery was run by the Church of the Evernight Goddess, and a funeral was going on. Most believers in the Goddess were buried at sunset, as the realm of the sun gave way to the realm of the moon and stars. The mourners were gathered around the burial, heads bowed and hands clasped as the priest chanted the Litanies of the Last Slumber. He had learned it off by heart once, years ago in the orphanage. The sound was familiar to him - nostalgic.

He wasn’t really watching the funeral service, though. Instead, he was looking past the cemetery, between the crowded tombstones, monuments, and mausoleums, and toward his target. Forman House, also known as 133 Grimm Street. Home of the Right Honourable Phillip Forman, the 18th Baron of Hadsley and the last scion of that ancient family.

Despite being Baron of Hadsley, Eddy’s information from the Zmangers noted that he had only visited the small Awwa County village briefly on a few occasions, instead preferring to be hosted by his few friends, or - most of the time - locking himself away reclusively in his Backlund residence. In fact, it was apparently quite a scandal in certain circles that Forman only had a few servants, and that most of them only visited once a week to clean the rooms in which he allowed them entrance. Many had theorised that it was due to a poor financial situation, but his generous loans to his friends put paid to those rumours.

Now, it seemed that everyone accepted that Phillip Forman was an inveterate loner - quite happy to shut himself away from the world and lose himself in experiments. Even chatter over his marriage had subsided as few heiresses wished to tie themselves to a man with a reputation for oddity and reclusion. In fact, Forman had not attended any social events this season. From his profile, Eddy pondered if he had even left the house in that span of time. Eddy did have to wonder just where Meursault got his information. He would not have expected an East Borough thug to have such a good read on the pulse of high society. It was a mystery that was worthy of investigation.

All of this, however, suited Eddy greatly. He only had to worry about Forman, his personal butler (the only live-in member of staff), and a guard patrolling the grounds with a well-trained dog. The parlour maids, laundry maids, cooks, gardeners, footmen, and all the human trappings of a noble house only came in the mornings. No parties, no wife, no frequent and unexpected visits from friends. Forman, in his splendid isolation, was uniquely suited to be robbed by a man of Eddy’s talents. Even the location favoured him. West Borough, despite also being the home of many upper-class residents, was far less strictly guarded than Empress Borough - where the truly rich and important lived. No, the Formans were old, but they were no Hall or Negan family.

It was obvious that Baron Forman was not on the same level as other nobles. Without a full-time staff, Forman House was starting to show its age. Ivy had crawled up one of the walls, some of the manor’s plaster was discoloured, and there were some missing roof tiles. The place would look abandoned, if not for the odd light shining from behind certain windows. If anything, the scarcity of those lights only heightened the sense of eeriness. Eddy watched as one faint and flickering light moved along a row of windows. A man carrying a candle? As it moved, the light winked in and out of view as the pine trees that crowded the grounds of the property blocked Eddy’s line of sight. It was, in a word, bleak. Utterly bleak. It was not a place that Eddy could ever describe as a home - it seemed utterly cold.

Pushing himself off the cemetery’s metal railing, Eddy decided to get the evening’s task over with. Normally, his plan would have been to wait until dark, but the combination of his Veil and his impatience persuaded him to make his move early. It was a big house and the sun would disappear long before he was done with his work. Besides, there was only a single guard and a dog about which to worry. The butler was old, and Forman himself was a non-entity - suffering as he was from a chronically poor constitution. Eddy had full confidence in himself.

Eddy spiritually flexed his Veil, pulling it tight around him - watching as he altogether faded from the notice of the few people still walking the streets. Darting around an oblivious horse and carriage (his powers did have some downsides when considering traffic safety), Eddy made his way to the wall of Forman House’s grounds that abutted onto Grimm Street. The walls were weathered sandstone, about 8 feet tall. Tall enough to slow down a normal person, but not Eddy.

Hastened by the dexterity of his hands, Eddy found it easy to secure handholds on the stone - easily hoisting himself up the climb and onto the flat top of the wall. He lay still, on his belly, eyes pointed toward the guard patrolling the grounds. The man was facing away from him for the time being, but Eddy wanted to watch his route. It would be best to make his run for the house when he was at his furthest point. As a Sequence 8 Smuggler, Eddy trusted his Veil to hide him from a single man, but he was wary of the dog. He had not yet tested whether his power hid him from the sense of animals, let alone a trained hound.

With caution in mind, Eddy waited on the top of the wall for a few minutes, watching the guard. The unexpected leisure time also allowed him to simply relax - watching the sun setting between the pines. The air was cleaner in West Borough, he realised. Of course, he could still taste pollutants and see a hint of brownish haze on the horizon, but West Borough was built away from the factory districts and the wind carried most of the miasma away from the area. It was no doubt the same in Empress Borough. Money bought opulence, bought security, but it also bought health. How many nobles would hack out their lungs, or cough up phlegm blackened by coal dust?

The guard was at his furthest point from Eddy, prompting him to shimmy down the other side of the wall and into the grounds, partially nestling into a bush as the man turned and came walking back. As the man drew closer, East Chester Shepherd at his side, its head swivelling and ears perked up, Eddy tensed and stilled his breathing. This was his test.

The dog drew closer. Eddy had worked out his position precisely. He was close enough to the patrol to test his Veil against the hound, but far enough away to escape by getting over the wall. In that case, he’d have to abort the mission for the day, but it wouldn’t even harm his prospects for robbing Forman in the future. Worst case scenario, they’d see that someone was on their grounds and they’d hire some extra guards for a while. If that happened, he’d just avoid them properly instead of testing his abilities in an improvised experiment.

The East Chester Shepherd was only twelve feet away from him now. Eddy held his breath, trying to calm the movements of his muscles. The dog’s handler noticed nothing, turning around and getting ready to start back on his route. The dog did not follow him, only shifting slightly when the leash pulled against his neck. At that, the guard turned again.

“You got something, princess? Come on, talk to me.”

Eddy would have laughed if he could. Unfortunately, he was more focused on staring out at ‘princess’ from behind the bush. The hound was not moving, ears laid flat against her skull - looking into the quickly growing dark. It sniffed the air a few times, head turning. The guard walked closer, curiosity evident in his body language. Eddy tried to slow his heartbeat, willing it to slow down. He was relaxed. He was relaxed. He wasn’t sure if it was working, but at least his heart didn’t feel like it was attempting to pulse its way out of his chest.

The dog shook her head like she was trying to rid herself of a particularly persistent fly. The man gave a soft tug to her leash.

“Come on, darling. Just a little way to go and we’ll get you home. Come on.”

Eddy thanked the Goddess and let out a relieved breath as the guard led the dog away again. It was nerve-wracking, but the results were interesting. It seemed as if something about his Veil had alerted the dog that something wasn’t right, but she wasn’t able to actually pinpoint what in particular was bothering it - eventually giving up and allowing herself to be led away. Essentially, right now, he only had to worry about alerted civilians and Beyonders with enhanced perception. It gave him hope for future Sequences.

Deciding that the guard and his ‘princess’ were far enough away, Eddy rose back to a crouching position before making a quick but quiet dash toward Forman House. It was easy. The grass was short and so didn’t make much noise or leave a trail as Eddy ran over it. In a flash, he was beside a dark wooden door. It wasn’t the main door of the house - just a side door for deliveries and servants most likely. Eddy was by no means an expert, but he managed to pick the lock relatively quickly with the tools he had on hand. He had come prepared, after all. He mused that he was probably aided by not being in a rush due to his Veil. Panic and hurrying were often the banes of precise work.

Nevertheless, the lock clicked, and Eddy slipped inside Forman House. The hard part was over.


AN: For those of you wondering, an East Chester Shepherd is just a renamed German Shepherd. I’m not getting imaginative here. Next chapter, the heist will continue and I’m sure that we’ll continue to see that this Forman fellow is perfectly normal.

In other news: we’ve breached 2000 hits! Yay! This makes LotM: Chrysalis the 4th most popular CultSim fanfic (by hits) on Ao3, and (bear with me here) the 47th most popular (by hits) English-language LotM fanfic on Ao3. The Chinese fics blow the others out of the water so I’m ignoring them haha.

Quite aside from all of those caveats, I’m genuinely really happy about this fic reaching the point that it has. I’m not a natural writer. I’ll never be a prolific author. Frankly, I don’t even have the best track record of staying with my projects. So, despite all of that, sticking with this fic for as long as I have has felt like a real achievement. Thank you for sticking around with me! Hope to see you at the next milestone!

Chapter 29: The Silence of Forman House


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

On a hill above the city where the wind blows keen and fierce, a decaying wooden church stands in a bleak grove of leafless oak trees. Yitzchok tells me there's something in there I'll find useful, but he warns me: 'I looked in all my books for this St Marzanna. Where did I find her? Nowhere.’

Eddy made sure to close the side door behind him, wincing as the hinges squeaked slightly. He had entered into a tiled room, some annex to a kitchen. The chilled atmosphere and the empty hooks on the walls said that this place was once a cooled room for meat. Perhaps it would have been full of food and deliveries when Forman House was a fully-staffed home for a family, rather than a half-abandoned shell on the edge of decay.

It was silent. Not the warm silence of an Evernight Church. This was not the silence of peace. The silence of Forman House was cold - in spirit as in reality. Normally, silence would favour Eddy. It, after all, implied that he was able to go about his business unopposed. But this was a silence that Eddy disliked. It gnawed at him.

He shook himself free of his introspection and moved out of the storage room and further into the house. The door was closed, but not locked and Eddy had no trouble with it. He moved into a bare corridor, the red light of the crescent moon filtering in through the windows and staining the plastered walls crimson. There was dust on the window ledges. From what he had gathered so far, Eddy was starting to believe that he was in a closed-off section of Forman House - an area of the manor that neither staff nor residents entered anymore.

This theory was supported in the first room that Eddy entered. It was a sitting room overlooking part of the grounds, but the windows had been partially boarded up. The furniture had been covered in white sheets that had accrued dust over the years. To his disappointment, the room was bare of any decorations beyond the bulky furniture. A quick scout of two other rooms showed that this was the norm. A shame. It meant that he wouldn’t be able to rob the abandoned wing of the house. Although thinking about it, Eddy realised that he wouldn’t be able to do that anyway. He needed to disrupt Phillip Forman, scare him - not simply rob him without his knowledge. It might be years before someone ventured into this part of the house again. He’d have to find his way into the working part of the manor.

Navigation proved to be a bit of an issue. Eddy did not possess any plans of Forman House, and so simply walked around, opening doors nearly at random, until he found his way out of the eerie wing. Several times, he was spooked by the squeal of a rusty hinge or jumped when turning a corner only to come face-to-face with a suit of armour covered by a clinging dust sheet. In one room, he found a bath in the style of Old Intis - where people bathed in public pools. The tiled depression of the bath was empty of water. The skeleton of a rat was the only thing that occupied the space. From the clean bones, the corpse was years old. It sat, lonely, by the drain in the centre of the pool. On closer inspection, Eddy saw what looked like a desiccated worm wrapped around the bones of its neck. He didn’t get closer.

At times, he could see out of the misted windows into a courtyard, tangling brambles growing over tall, unkempt, grass. Ivy had conquered the pines and a couple had fallen over, crashing through the remains of flowerbeds. No gardener had touched this part of the house in many years.

Eventually, one door opened and Eddy found himself in a corridor clean of dust - portraits in an old style neatly hanging on cut stone walls. He could tell that the personages depicted in the paintings were all of a lineage. The same stretched, dour face persisted in every portrait. The same pale and clammy skin. Centuries of Formans staring out at him with flat eyes. Their blood ran strong, seemingly. He didn’t want to steal them. Their value was uncertain, their size unwieldy, and - frankly - they unsettled him.

Nevertheless, Eddy now knew that he was in the main part of the house. He reached out with his spirituality and wrapped himself tightly in his Veil, feeling it roil across his skin. It was time to get to work. Unfortunately, the search through the abandoned wing of Forman House had turned him around a little, so Eddy wasn’t quite sure of where he was. He hadn’t realised that the manor was so expansive. Therefore, he picked a direction at random and began creeping down the corridor.

The first room that Eddy came to was another sitting room (how many did a single house need?). More portraits, most likely another host of nobles. Ignored. The centrepiece of the room was a large porcelain vase from Balam - quetzals weaving through the eyes of flower-festooned skulls. A riot of black and gold and blue. All the furniture in the room was facing the vase. No doubt it was worth a huge amount, but unfortunately it was also about five feet tall, the top sealed and covered with aged wrappings. Ah. Eddy understood what he was seeing - realisation hitting him. It was not just a vase.

Filled with embalming fluid, the vase - the funerary urn - held a long-dead corpse wrapped in the foetal position. The famous Last Womb. A relic of the old Balam Empire. Eddy had seen a description in a pamphlet once. People loved to eat up gory stories from the mysterious fallen empire of the Southern Continent - even if they were often shot through with sensationalism and diluted with hearsay. Eddy did know, however, that it had been the burial method of choice for those citizens of that empire who did not have the status for a mausoleum but still had enough money for an elaborate funeral. It must have cost a vast fortune to transport a rare intact funeral urn all the way to Backlund - all for the sake of a grisly centrepiece for a redundant room in a half-abandoned manor house.

Eddy left the room swiftly. When he hadn’t realised what the urn was he had been planning on smashing it as part of his ‘disruption’, but now he had decided against it. In his mind’s eye, he could already see the wash of corpse-infused millennial fluid that would have accompanied such a breakage. He shuddered. Forman could keep his urn.

The next two rooms along the corridor were similar. Either the items of value were too bulky, or just not easy to sell. Portraits, he had quickly decided, were off-limits. Selling paintings of Forman ancestors would be blindingly obvious. Plus, it wasn’t even certain if they had any real value beyond the sentimental. For all he knew they could well have been painted by a well-known master, but it was more likely that they were not such valuable masterpieces. It wasn’t worth the gamble.

He did, however, find a plain (but high-quality) dagger from the time of the Twenty-Year War. It was in the Feysac style. A trophy of battle, passed down from a martial ancestor? It was an antique, but likely not a valuable one. He’d keep it anyway. You could never go wrong with a good knife. It went in the bag.

However, the fourth room was different. A copper plate on the door announced that it was the ‘Gargas Room’, and it was most certainly that. By the looks of it, the room was set out for intimate dining - but had been decorated with the theme of the world’s easternmost settled islands. Carved whalebone covered the walls, depicting scenes of sailors struggling with leviathans and krakens. They were matched with walls painted blue and heavy Feysac tapestries of schools of fish and seascapes. Eddy actually quite liked it - especially as many of the pieces were small enough for him to take.

Eddy decided to be quite picky as to his choice of plunder. He was tempted to take everything he could carry, but he wanted to leave space for potential future loot. Therefore, he eschewed both the largest items and the pieces that were the plainest and only ended up taking five items. All five were small (a good thing - ivory was heavier than he expected), but intricately carved - a step above the rest in quality of workmanship. Three of them, though, were also set with fine bits of Feysac amber. The last piece he picked up was a ring of whalebone carved with leaves and flowers. The centre had been hollowed through and set with a large sphere of amber - at the centre of which was a perfectly preserved fly. Trapped for all eternity. Eddy had no idea how much each piece was worth, but he wagered they would fetch a very good amount. He might even keep one, perhaps. A memento.

He pulled a cloth sack from one of his pockets and shook it out before wrapping each piece and placing them inside. He couldn’t stop a smile from breaking out on his face. There was a joy in this, not just a thrill of adrenaline but also a bone-deep happiness. He could live for this if he wanted to.

Having left the room, Eddy made his way further along the corridor. As he went, he worked out exactly where he was. By the light of the moon, he deduced that the abandoned wing of Forman House was on the western side of the estate. He was now on the eastern side of the estate. Looking out the windows on his right, Eddy saw into an enclosed garden courtyard filled with pines and statues atop neatly trimmed grass. Beds of flowers, petals closed for the night, surrounded the garden. Something similar had been true in the abandoned wing too, but, this time, the garden had clearly been cared for.

It seemed as if Forman House was built around two enclosed courtyards, the House surrounding them. The part of the manor around the western courtyard had been boarded up and closed off but was still operating in the area around its eastern counterpart. Eddy was glad to work it out. His lack of knowledge concerning the layout of the large house had been his greatest weakness, but now that was ameliorated a little. It wasn’t perfect, but a general sense of direction would help him nonetheless.

With the mostly empty bag swinging at his side, Eddy progressed down the corridor. From what he’d worked out of the layout, there’d be a door at the end that would lead him to the ‘back’ of the eastern courtyard. That was an area more likely to contain Forman’s ‘collection’. Perhaps he’d have to go up a floor or two, but Eddy was certain he’d find it in the end. After all, collections were meant to be visible.

As Eddy walked quietly down the corridor, he spotted a wooden door at the end. It was different in design from the others of its kind that Eddy had seen so far. Instead of rectangular, tall, and flat-topped, this door was lower and set into the wall - arching at the top. Below the handle was a heavy metal lock. No doubt, it was opened by an equally sturdy key. It looked older. The architecture supported this, with the door being set into a stone wall that looked thicker and less orderly. Was this an entrance into a comparably older part of the house? Had he been walking through an extension that had been built as the wealth and influence of the Forman family grew?

If that were the case, Eddy mused, there would be a certain poetry in it. The Formans started off in their original manor and, as they grew in might, their home grew in size and opulence - until they reached their pinnacle and declined, closing down the peripheries of the house until they receded like the tide behind their original walls. Of course, it was not a fully apt analogy. The Formans still had the whole of the east courtyard by the looks of things, but Eddy could imagine them closing down parts of it as the Baron grew more isolated. After all, fewer rooms needed fewer staff.

Suddenly, Eddy heard a noise. In the silence of the corridor, the alien sound cut through the air and froze Eddy where he stood - breath hitching in his throat. Shuffling fabric on stone, a repeated clacking. Metal on metal. Some mechanism turning. As if the passage of time had been slowed to a crawl, Eddy’s eyes turned toward the old door. The door handle shuddered and began to depress.

Eddy’s legs began moving before he had time to finish thinking, already moving at a near-sprint toward the closest room leading off the corridor. He caught the gaze of a long-dead Forman on the wall. Now, those flat eyes looked spiteful. He did not stop.

The door was already slightly open when Eddy slipped into a reading room. The walls were covered in bookshelves - each holding many volumes of the long-running and annually updated Burne’s Peerage and Burne’s Landed Gentry . One whole bookshelf was dedicated to books of heraldry. But, Eddy had no time to survey Forman’s room for keeping up to date on high society and the nobility.

He had no time to think, quickly moving the reading room’s door back to its original position - just slightly ajar. Closing it would be more secure, but Eddy couldn’t risk that now. Too loud.

The shuffle of feet echoed out in the corridor and Eddy froze behind the reading room door. The sound didn’t seem like normal shoes, there wasn’t the clack of heels on the stone floor of the corridor. Instead, it was more like cloth scraping against rock. Behind the door, Eddy frowned and, motivated by his curiosity, peeked through the gap in order to see into the corridor.

The shuffling sound grew closer, and, as it did so, more sounds emerged with it. The clack of a cane and the jangling of keys. However, these noises were accompanied by another. A wet wheezing noise was in the background. An oozing rattle, like viscous bubbles rising and popping in a gulping throat. Rot filled Eddy’s nose and he gagged, desperately trying to do so in silence.

Into the thin slice of the corridor he could see came a shape. First, Eddy saw a cane tapping at the floor. Then, his eyes landed on feet bound in strips of once-white cloth stained by grime that led up to dirtied black trousers. On the hip of the trousers was a ring full of jangling keys. Eddy looked further up, noting the spine hunched unnaturally in the tattered waistcoat and jacket, a shirt spattered with dots of something dark and liquid. A tie that glistened in the dim light with the same. The butler? What kind of butler was this?

That question was answered as Eddy’s gaze reached the face. The face of the butler (for that is who Eddy assumed this was) had been swathed in bands of cloth. The white bandages completely covered the man’s face, but a wet, black, stain had covered the mouth and, as Eddy watched the man pass, he saw some of that viscous residue leak out and drip onto the already ruined shirt. Beneath the bandages, something writhed .

The man (the creature ) was now in full view of Eddy, staggering down the hall. He instinctively shrank back, one hand over his mouth and nose - just as much to halt the stench as to quiet his breathing. It seemed like minutes as the butler-thing moved on at its slow and uneven pace. The smell of decay lessened and the moist rasping grew fainter in Eddy’s ears. He stayed still, even then - half-crouching in the reading room.

What had he just seen? What was that thing? Half-panicking, Eddy’s gaze moved back and forth. This wasn’t what he had signed up for! He’d expected a quiet night - a burglary without complications. An easy payday. From what he had seen so far, that was well within expectations. Instead, some shambling thing had put paid to that notion. The rotting creature (was it even alive?) in the twisted shape of Baron Forman’s butler had refuted that fantasy in the span of a couple of minutes.

All of a sudden, so many of the details of Forman House were recontextualised in Eddy’s mind. So many things now looked different in Eddy’s new and darker view of the place. The isolation, the fact that only Forman and his butler lived in the house full-time. The fact that the other staff only worked in the mornings before being sent home. The lack of visitors. The dearth of social events. All of it seemed more sinister now. A thought occurred to Eddy at that point. Forman was a collector, but what did he collect?

Satisfied that the butler had moved far enough along on his patrol, Eddy left the reading room and moved toward the door to the old part of Forman House - taking care to avoid the drops of black liquid congealing on the wooden floorboards. It took a bit of work to pick the old lock, but Eddy eventually managed it. He opened the door and stepped through. He had entered the original house.

And then a wail split the air.


AN: Again, forgive my lack of imagination. Burne’s Peerage and Burne’s Landed Gentry are just blatant stand-ins for the very real Burke’s Peerage and Burke’s Landed Gentry. They were regularly updated books that served as a who’s who for Victorian high society. They were oft-maligned for containing rather mythical origins for the most important families in the country. Apparently, everyone and their grandmother came over with William the Conqueror. Even Oscar Wilde made fun of it once.

And, as everyone guessed, Forman House will not be the easy job that Eddy expected. Something is very much wrong at 133 Grimm Street (something something nominative determinism something something).

Chapter 30: The Fretful Dead


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Dead clot in the air around us like stale corpse-light. Without Edge or Winter, we have no chance against them.

A series of inhuman shrieks pierced Eddy’s ears as soon as he entered the old section of the house - causing Eddy to clutch his head and stumble with disorientation and pain. The sound bounced around the stone corridor in which Eddy found himself, extending his agony. Half-blind with pain, it took him a few seconds to overcome the sudden auditory attack.

This cost him valuable time, and Eddy regained his faculties just in time to see the doors along the corridor open and dozens of half-rotted cadavers spilled out with stiff and jerking motions - all staring at him with shrunken eyes in desiccated faces.

Ah. It seemed that this part of the house was rather better defended.

Eddy went stock still. The closest cadaver was only a dozen feet away. It, like the others, was dressed in a simple grey funerary gown - the type that paupers were often dressed in at the morgues prior to their entombment in mass graves. From the tufts of grey hair on the corpse’s leathery scalp, the body had once belonged to an old man. Now it belonged to something else.

As Eddy watched, the old man’s mouth opened to reveal a handful of yellow teeth - a wet tongue lying behind them like a worm. No. Not like a worm - It was a worm. Pushing sinuously out from the depths of his throat, its pale body glistened with glutinous fluid. A pursed circle at what Eddy imagined was its head opened up and revealed a complete ring of needle-sharp teeth. Eddy took a step back in utter disgust. The sight of that pale and alien body lying limply in a corpse’s mouth triggered a feeling of complete revulsion in him.

He immediately resolved to flee, but, as the thought entered his mind, he heard the wheezing of the butler growing louder in the corridor behind him - still faint, but not for too much longer. Whatever that thing, that butler-shape, was, he had sensed a profound wrongness when it had passed him. He certainly did not want to fight it. Not when he didn’t know its capabilities. It had opened the door through which he had just passed. That implied a certain level of manual dexterity and, more importantly, a certain level of intelligence. That made it more dangerous than any mindless thrall.

Therefore, discounting retreat, Eddy drew his scissors from his jacket with his left hand, letting a knife drop into his right with a flick of his sleeve. The sharpened steel was cold in his hand. If he could not go back, he’d go forward. From the slow and lurching gait of the worm-infested undead before him, he might be able to cut a path through. Seemingly at this thought, a score of worms oozed slightly further out of dead mouths - pallid bodies pulsing in the night air.

He’d have to avoid the worms. They obviously weren’t natural. Joints. Ligaments. He didn’t know if he could ‘kill’ the undead again, so he’d go for the joints. They might be dead, but they still relied on their muscles and tendons. If he sliced those, they’d be unable to chase him - except on their bellies. Yes. That’s what he’d do. It wasn’t much of a plan, but he didn’t exactly have the time to settle on anything better.

Eddy tensed. However, before he could spring into action, the buzzing rose in his head and he heard Mr Voice.

[Urgency] You need not fight. Remember what I taught you. Speak the White Ceremony. [Insistence]

Eddy blinked as he understood what Mr Voice had said. The White Ceremony had been part of the Rite of the Burgeoning Risen with which Eddy had experimented a while back. He’d used it to raise a corpse and turn it into a temporary thrall. The technical use of the Ceremony was to calm the dead through the mystical operations of silence - acting as a dampener to rebellious spirits. Mr Voice was right, Eddy realised. The White Ceremony might just be able to calm the dead long enough for Eddy to slip past them. If he did not waste time.

Immediately, as if the sounds had sprung fully formed from his mind and onto his tongue, Eddy’s spirituality boiled up and he began to chant the icy words. Once again, Eddy was struck by the distinct feeling that he was not speaking any real language, or if he was sure that he was speaking at all. Frigid waves of purest silence rippled out between his lips - frost rimed on his face and vapour plumed as he breathed.

Eddy raised his arms in supplication to some unknown existence as he continued the chant, feeling the waves of spirituality that emanated from his silences roiling against the parasite-ridden dead. The cadavers steamed and rattled, but drew back - just enough for Eddy to pass. Mouths clicked shut as the overgrown worms drew back into throats. They flinched from the cold. A path had been made, between the dead. Their faces were flat. Emotionless. Watchful. But, as Eddy continued in his chant (the ice burned against his skin now), he knew that they would refrain from troubling him.

The butler was getting louder behind him as he brushed past the shrivelled limbs of infested cadavers, but Eddy was already away. If he was forced by circ*mstances to go deeper into the house, then he’d attempt to complete his mission either way. He’d find Forman’s collection, rob it if it was valuable, destroy it if it was obscene - and, on the way, steal as much of value as he could.

Still clutching his weapons in half-frozen hands, Eddy broke into a sprint - racing down the corridor as he tried to put some distance between himself and Forman’s guardians. He was right to do so. Only a span of seconds after he had started running, the screeching of the dead began again. He tried his best to shut out the noise and instead focused on his other senses. A hint of rot in the air was masked by the sweetness of carbolic acid. An antiseptic. The breath burning in his lungs. The bag with his loot impacting against his thigh as he ran. This time, Eddy did not lose his balance. The screams shut off again. The chase had started.

Eddy’s eyes darted from side to side as he moved swiftly through the house - looking for indications of the Baron’s collection. He didn’t spot anything, adding to his growing anxiety. He needed to wreck the man’s possessions and then get out. He was quickly beginning to no longer care about exiting the heist with a great amount of money. The longer the search took, the more Eddy was in favour of just completing the mission as swiftly as possible. Besides, he couldn’t leave the way he came in, so he’d have to try and find a different way out - looking for the collection as he did so was simply common sense. As he reached the middle of the old wing, he passed a large staircase. He ignored it. He’d check the ground floor first.

Slamming open a door and finding nothing but a drawing room, Eddy cursed under his breath and continued running. He’d left the shambling dead behind, but somehow he could still hear the echo of the butler in his ears. It sounded closer than it truly was. Several times, he had glanced over his shoulder in fright and found nothing but an empty corridor. Damn Meursault. Damn him and all his Zmangers - and damn Baron Forman and his Beyonder nonsense too.

[Amusem*nt] There are no Beyonders here. Just knowledge, and those seeking to use it. [Mirth]

Eddy would have asked Mr Voice a question at that, but he was too out of breath. No Beyonders? Then what, pray tell, was the deal with the resurrected corpses piloted by giant parasitic organisms? Was the writhing bandage-swathed flesh of the butler a magician’s trick? Was it all a jape? Not likely. Just knowledge, apparently. Well, it was a twisted knowledge then, and Eddy wanted no part in it.


Eddy’s flight had taken him to the other end of the old wing of the house. He’d checked almost every promising door on the way but had found nothing. The last door he came to was just the same as the one that had allowed him to enter the section of the house in the first place. It was also locked, a heavyset block on his path. He didn’t have time to pick it. Already, the flickering lamps revealed twisted shadows on the walls. The dead were about to enter the far end of the corridor. His path to the staircase was blocked off. His path to the collection. It must be on the upper floors.

Not wanting to fight his way through the horde of walking corpses (he wasn’t sure that the White Ceremony would work a second time), Eddy cast about in a panic before finding a small hallway that he had discounted before. It led primarily to a kitchen, but a small passage led further back. He darted down it and finally found what he was looking for. A servant’s staircase. Narrow and twisting - coiled in on itself - it was meant for servants to carry about the house food and drink, messages, and all the tools of maintaining a manor. All without being seen, of course. It would not do for guests to see such unsightly things.

Now, the staircase served as Eddy’s escape to the upper floors of Forman House. He would like to see the shambling dead attempt the spiral stairs. They would struggle to pursue him. Not that he would relax, however. He was not so foolish.

His search of the next floor was swift and brutal. Doors were wrenched open and cabinets were broken into - all in search of the collection. All in all, the ransacking only took a few minutes. Eddy ignored valuable items, family heirlooms, and all the things that (prior to his encounter with the butler) he would have been so eager to acquire. Speed, and speed alone, was of the essence. In the interest of survival, greed would have to retire for the time being. Every second he wasted was another opportunity for Forman House’s guardians to draw closer to him.

Unable to find anything of note, Eddy returned to the servant’s staircase and decided to continue up to the top floor. One last chance. He could hear the shuffle of bandaged feet at the bottom of the staircase, but - evidently - the dead seemed disinclined to attempt the coiling stairs. He forced himself not to relax at that. If the collection was indeed on the top floor, then only the Goddess knew what might guard it. Eddy steeled himself and began climbing the stairs.

The last floor was different from the other floors. Although the same in architecture with the same stone walls adorned with the same eerie portraiture (how many Formans were there?), there was a palpable difference in the atmosphere. The air was still and cold. Not cold to the same extent as the aftermath of the White Ceremony (all the running had warmed Eddy up a little), but a more existential, spiritual, cold. The hairs on the back of Eddy’s neck were standing on end as he spun the knife in his right hand.

Looking around, one door stood out to him. Whereas all the other doors in the old wing of the house were made of plain and undecorated wood, the one that drew Eddy’s gaze stood apart. Halfway along the corridor, it was (by Eddy’s guess) right at the middle of the original part of the manor. It had been painted a pale blue - standing out amid the dark grey stone of the rest of the floor. Moving closer, Eddy spotted a small wooden plaque that had been nailed to the door.

‘Experiment Room and Collection’

‘Please Do Not Disturb’


Apparently, Forman wasn’t around. Well, Eddy didn’t know that for sure, but, if he was, then he wasn’t making a noise. Eddy doubted that he was still asleep, what with the shrieking racket of the recently deceased, but he might well be in a different part of the house. That, or he was hiding. Either way, the top floor was still enough for Eddy to believe that nobody was lurking nearby, and there were no sounds coming from the ‘Experiment Room’. Eddy took a deep breath. He was ready.

Hand closing around the door handle and depressing it, Eddy quickly pushed the door open and stepped back at the same time - brandishing his blades in case of a threat.

The door swung open. The hinges creaked slightly.


Eddy peered into the experiment room. A medical screen was the only thing he could see, the off-white partition set up a few feet away from the door - effectively blocking the rest of the room from sight. He sighed. Nothing for it. Eddy started moving forward purposefully.

[Disquiet] Wait. [Urgency]

But Eddy’s foot had already crossed the threshold of the door. As it breached the boundary, a ring of tiny interlinked runes lit up. Carved onto the inside of the doorframe, they perfectly encircled the entrance to the room. Immediately, Eddy noticed that something was wrong and tried to jump back - attempting to put some space between him and whatever was occurring at the door. However, before he could complete the motion, he felt a wave of utter exhaustion overcome him. There was no final guard. One was not needed. A trap. Oh Goddess.

Before he could complete his thoughts, the strength drained from his limbs and his vision flickered and darkened at the edges. Panicked and falling to one knee, Eddy gasped for breath, feeling as if his neck was being constricted by some spectral hand. A sheen of spirituality settled over his skin and, as he watched helplessly, it sank into him. With it came a bone-deep sense of frailty - as if several decades of life had been laid upon him in a single instance. A premature ageing. A withering shroud. He was on his belly now, cheek pressed into the floor. He could not lift his leaden limbs. Even the twitch of a finger was enough to exhaust him.

He drifted between wakefulness and sleep there for an unknowable length of time. His mind, sapped of vigour, could not count the seconds. It was cold. His breath misted in the air. Eventually, a stench of rot filled the air and a bubbling wheeze grew louder and louder in Eddy’s ears.

The butler had arrived.

Black liquid dripped onto Eddy’s back as the butler bent over him. Hands moved under his body and, through the haze, Eddy felt himself lifted into the air until he was settled on the butler’s shoulders. Being so close, the smell was near unbearable - so thick that Eddy felt he could sink his teeth into it. Another wave of tiredness hit him and, this time, Eddy did not have the will to resist. He began to slip into sleep. As he did so, he felt the butler’s flesh writhe and pulsate beneath his tattered jacket. He dreamt of a sea of worms.


AN: The Fretful Dead is a reference to the first Obstacle in CultSim’s Forman House. The Winter lore that Eddy used is quite weak and only has a 30% chance to succeed against them. I decided to trust in RNG and Eddy actually succeeded. I was a little disappointed at that, but I won’t begrudge the boy a small victory. I’ll just have to get him back later. I also changed the Fretful Dead to be more in line with the parasitey/wormy/maggoty theme of Forman House’s lore. I was looking for a basis for the parasite and ended up finding a 6-inch long behaviour-manipulating beauty called Paragordius Tricuspidatus. Again, just like that Lamier coincidence in a previous chapter. Life is funny like that.

Of course, Eddy didn’t get so lucky with the Dry Soul Curse. That requires some Heart or Lantern lore - which Eddy doesn’t have. Well, it’s not like he could have known. Shame.

Chapter 31: The Worm Museum


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

‘The Worms have always been eager to inhabit us. Here are the practices that make us inhospitable to them.’ There are diagrams. The diagrams are not good to look upon, and none of the practices they depict would allow the subject to survive.

The first sensation Eddy felt was the feeling of constriction. It felt as if he was choked in a straightjacket of his own skin; like it was a size too small for him. He was still bound by exhaustion, leaden weights in his bones, in his skull. His head hurt, a headache collaborating with the endless buzzing in order to make his life hell.

As he tried to ignore the pain, he began to realise about the other contractions that bound him. Hardened bands of leather encircled his ankles and his wrists. Two went around his thighs, a thick one went over his chest and upper arms together. One went over his forehead - half-obscuring his vision as he opened his eyes. Another went under his chin. It seemed that he had been strapped to a medical bed, staring up at a white plaster ceiling. He could not turn his head.

Suddenly, memory returned to Eddy and he remembered what had happened before. He’d triggered some sort of mystical curse that drained his vitality until he could no longer move.

Then… then he’d been captured. The butler. He’d been captured by the butler. The butler had tied him to a medical bed. The kind of bed used for patients .

Eddy became agitated at this, bucking as much as he could against his bindings - causing the bed’s metal fittings to rattle slightly. The bindings were tight. His legs were barely able to move, his head completely fixed. There was only a little give in the arms. The thick band that went over both his chest and arms meant that there was a small enough gap to wiggle his arms slightly - but the restraints at his wrists made it impossible to free himself.

Eddy paused, trying to think. He had a strong suspicion that it was in his best interests to escape his binds before he could be… dealt with by the Baron or his butler. If his hunch was correct, he was now inside the Baron’s ‘Experiment Room’.

Eddy had no intention of becoming one of the man’s ‘experiments’. He thought back to the undead that had ambushed him on the ground floor. No intention at all. However, all Eddy could end up doing was to lie on the bed. He felt utterly powerless. He had underestimated Forman. It had never occurred to him that the Baron might have constructed such a formidable protection for his sanctum. The man, Eddy realised, must be an extremely knowledgeable mystic. Perhaps, he mused, the Forman family possessed a legacy of such things. He hesitated to come to conclusions based on appearance, but the frail and sallow complexion of the Forman family seemed to lend itself more to mysticism than it did to martial valour. Maybe his supposition was correct. It would certainly soothe his ego if it were.

It was then that it occurred to Eddy that he was not dressed in a hospital gown, like the walking corpses he had seen before, but in his regular clothes. He was still wearing his jacket. The jacket with a hidden knife in its right sleeve.

Immediately, Eddy began trying to move his arm in such a way that he might slowly shift the knife in his sleeve into his hand. If he did that, then he could slowly slice his way through the leather band holding his wrist in place. From there, his upper arm would still be bound - but he might at least have a chance at freeing himself.

However, Eddy’s exhaustion made his task difficult - battling against his own sluggish body. After many minutes of shuffling and excruciatingly slow progress, Eddy finally felt the tip of the knife shift a little. His head tied down as it was, Eddy could not get a visual indication of his progress, but he could just about feel the cold metal point of the knife slightly pressing into the flesh of his wrist. At last. He was getting somewhere.

As if he were cursed by ill luck, that was when Eddy heard a door creak open behind him. The shuffling of cloth-bound footsteps. The stench of decay. Oh Goddess, the butler had arrived. Still trapped looking straight up, Eddy watched as the bandage-swathed entity moved around him at the periphery of his vision. The wheezing, gasping breath was loud in his ears. He could hear the thick bubbling of that black liquid in the butler’s throat.

Eddy did not think of himself as a coward. He felt fear, as did any normal person - only fools claimed to never be afraid. He had, however, always persisted through his fear. He had always managed to keep his wits about him. The butler, though, that man-shape that prowled the stone corridors of Forman House, made Eddy feel fear in a way that struck him to the core. There was something so utterly wrong about him - it . He did not know where this feeling came from, but something behind those bandages was so twisted, so alien, that it set Eddy’s nerves alight with a primal terror. An ancestral part of his brain, forgotten by most in modern society, took one look at that gasping, hunched form and screamed .

The arrival of the butler spurred Eddy on in his goal. He kept moving his right arm in jolting, spasmodic motions. The knife inched further down. He felt more of the blade against his skin. He winced as one unwise motion caused the edge to slice him a little. Warm blood met cold steel.

Eddy was not worried about the butler stopping him. The blade was hidden under his right hand, so it just looked as if he was struggling against his bindings. He was given cause to struggle, however, when the butler moved back into view.

As it shuffled into Eddy’s vision, Eddy’s eyes locked on to the butler - widening as he saw what the thing was holding.

Grasped in both of the butler’s hands was a monstrously long worm. So thick that Eddy would have to use both his hands to encircle it, it writhed and twisted in the butler’s grip. Around four feet long, its mucus-laden body glistened wetly in the dim light of the room’s gas lamps. Its smooth, grey skin led up to a circular mouth that pulsed in the cold air of the Baron’s laboratory. Eddy watched as the worm’s maw opened up to reveal a set of thin, knife-sharp teeth. It was just like the worms that had inhabited the corpses that had raised their shrieking alarm earlier. Eddy’s eyes widened in realisation as the butler slowly shuffled closer.

No. No, no, no.

Eyes fixed on the pulsing parasite, Eddy began to desperately buck against his restraints - trying with all his might to shift his knife a few inches. Jaw clenching shut reflexively, Eddy swore that he would not let that worm anywhere near him. He refused to become one of those shrivelled and empty-eyed homes for one of Forman’s parasites.

His violent motions sped up the progress of his knife, but it was still excruciatingly slow. The knife was cutting into the heel of his hand with every movement and Eddy knew that it would scar, but he didn’t care. What was a mere scar against the horror approaching him?

The butler was only a few feet away - approaching from Eddy’s right side - when Eddy got the cutting edge of the knife to catch against the leather of his restraints. Thankfully, Eddy was picky about his knives and had chosen good, sharp, steel. The leather began to part under his sawing motion. The angle was awkward, the knife lodged between the heel of his hand and the blood-slicked material of the bindings, but Eddy persevered with an almost manic determination.

The butler was looming above him at this point, one hand reaching out for Eddy’s jaw so as to make an easy entrance for the overgrown parasite that would invade him. Just looking at it, Eddy felt the phantom pressure of an imaginary worm forcing its way down his throat. He almost gagged at the thought, sawing harder in response. Not today. Not ever.

Eddy’s heart soared as the restraint on his right wrist broke. His lower arm came free, bending at the elbow. His upper arm was still held in place by the thick band that went across his chest, so he did not have a full range of motion, but this did not stop Eddy. Without hesitation, he shunted the knife forward and clasped his fingers around the handle before driving it ruthlessly into the butler’s thigh. Not waiting for the entity’s reaction, he twisted the blade and ripped it free - cutting a large gash in the butler’s clothes.

Against a normal man, such a deep and extensive wound would be fatal. Even a Beyonder might struggle to survive after such an attack. Instead, the thing merely dropped to one knee with a wet bubble. Eddy could hear something spilling from the wound, but he couldn’t turn his head to confirm. It did not sound like blood. As the butler stumbled, the parasite's tail slapped damply across Eddy’s cheek - forcing a shudder from him. He heard the wet impact as the worm hit the floor. He had to get free.

Knife in hand, Eddy tried to both brandish his knife toward where he thought the butler was and try to undo the buckle on the main restraint. His inability to see really hampered his hurried progress. The remnants of the curse were still affecting him, hindering his physical movements. Only his supernatural manual dexterity allowed him to compensate for his temporary disability.

With one last scrabble of his fingers, the strap’s buckle came undone and Eddy’s right arm was free. Shaking it free, he quickly reached up to undo the straps around his head. With the full range of motion back in his arm, the straps were quick work, and Eddy was free. After that, he could look at what he was doing, and the wrist strap on his left arm was released in a matter of seconds. Now, all that restrained him were the bands around his thighs and ankles.

Eddy sat up, using his arms to help him. He did so slightly too quickly, and his head spun - vision blurring. It cleared a little just in time for Eddy to spot the butler standing up and reaching for him - bandaged hands outstretched into grasping claws.

Still disoriented, Eddy wrenched his arm into motion, sending the blade of his knife rending up until it bit into the butler’s jaw - drawing a vicious gash across their face. The stained bandages parted easily under the edge of Eddy’s knife, bringing him some satisfaction, but he quickly frowned as he realised that something felt off about his attack. He knew, unfortunately, how it felt when steel met flesh and blood. This did not feel that way. He pulled the knife away as the butler reeled back.

As the butler moved, the split bandages parted, and from the wound fell a small waterfall of little worms. As Eddy watched on in horror, the inch-long worms almost spewed from the gash that Eddy had scored across the butler’s face. They looked like mealworms, light brown and slightly segmented with little jaws. Mealworms. Tens upon tens of thousands of mealworms.

Was this the true nature of the butler? Instead of the near-mindless parasitised husks that guarded the ground floor, had Forman created a more intelligent servant? A thrall composed of countless worms, bound into a butler-shape by bandages and twisted knowledge. Had the butler existed before this, or had Forman created him from nothing? Did a human skeleton hide within those clothes as mealworms passed between its ribs, over its fingers, through the empty sockets of its eyes? Was it just empty space - worms all the way down?

Eddy did not let these thoughts slow him. As fast as he could, he undid the bindings on his legs and ankles. His legs pained him as he moved, the stiffness hurting his momentum as he rolled off the left side of the bed and into a crouch. He stumbled a little but managed to correct - keeping a wary eye on the butler.

Already seemingly recovered from its facial wound, the butler was again slumping toward Eddy. Eddy’s eyes turned cold. The creature had got the better of him while he was debilitated by the curse, but this time he was not catatonic on the floor. He could take him. He could beat him.

Steeling himself, Eddy tensed his muscles and launched into an explosive kick with as much force as he could muster. His foot hit the top of the medical bed, lifting it off its legs and sending it straight into the butler. The sturdy construction and heavy metal fittings sent the butler to the ground for the third time (the worm conglomerate really needed to work on its balance). The table struck the butler directly in the stomach - hard enough that its ‘flesh’ (if it could be called that) was noticeably depressed by the impact. Hundreds of worms spilled out of both the gap in the facial bandages and where Eddy had stabbed it in the leg.

In the meantime, the table had flipped over and fell directly on the floor - placed just perfectly to squash the four-foot-long worm that had been squirming in a pool of clear-ish mucus for the last couple of minutes. There was a disgusting noise like ripe fruit bursting and what might have been a tortured squeak, and then silence. Eddy shrugged mentally. He hadn’t planned that particular effect, but he wouldn’t complain. It wasn’t like he was about to mourn the death of the parasite that would have piloted his corpse if it was able to.

Not wasting any time, Eddy gathered his strength and jumped over the overturned table - colliding with the butler. As he did so, he palmed a second knife from his left boot and began slicing in a flurry of blades. He cut at everything he could reach and only jumped back when the butler managed to stabilise on one knee and reach out for Eddy. He didn’t want to stay in range of those arms. He didn’t know how strong the creature was (logic dictated that a pile of worms was probably not too brawny), but the events of the night had persuaded him to try a modicum of caution. He swayed out of the butler’s attempt to grasp him before slicing the entity’s hands in response.

Looking at the butler’s state now, Eddy thought it was much more pitiful than it had appeared a few moments ago. Standing in an ankle-deep and wriggling pool of little worms, the creature could only be described as looking a little deflated . It had lost a lot of the mass of its form and now looked less full under its dirty clothing. Every movement led to more worms spilling from the gaps in its clothes and, as Eddy watched, its left arm almost entirely went limp as worms spilled from a major cut around its wrist. Perhaps he had been right to be wary of it before, but now - losing mass by the second - it was increasingly becoming far less of a threat.

Eddy concluded that the entity was a poor match-up against him. The creature’s advantages were most likely strength (it had, after all, been able to pick him up rather easily). Eddy, on the other hand, was able to rely on his speed to outpace the clumsy brute - effectively dancing around him. Ignoring the crunching under his feet as he moved, he darted forward again and, in a series of smooth movements, sliced both his knives through the creature’s neck. Its head began to deflate at rapid speed and it began to lose cohesion - one leg no longer having enough worms to hold itself up.

Eddy didn’t stop slicing and, within the span of a dozen seconds, the butler was unable to stand up and collapsed into a pile of clothes atop a greater pile of undulating worms. Frowning at the pile, Eddy realised that he hadn’t actually killed the thrall. He’d crushed a few worms underfoot, but all he’d actually done was dismantle the creature’s mobile form. Brows furrowed further until Eddy’s eyes lit up as he got a good idea. Well, it might work - it would depend on his findings.

Finally able to focus on his surroundings, Eddy looked around. He was, indeed, inside Forman’s experiment room. He recognised the medical screen at one end of the room. That was where the entrance was. The rest of the room was laid out as one might expect. The walls had been painted white and were strewn with pencilled diagrams of both human and worm anatomy. Some of the drawings made Eddy’s stomach churn. He took special notice of some diagrams that contained quite complex symbols and runes of the type commonly used in mystic rituals but did not dwell on them. Such things would take hours at least to decipher. There simply wasn’t the time.

Beneath the diagrams was a workbench. There were tools on it. Some of them were… stained. Eddy looked away. The other side of the room was no better. Dozens of glass jars were situated on shelves - each containing specimens of frankly freakishly large worms of all varieties. Some were so long that they had been coiled up in order to fit into the jars. The good Baron had done some experimenting, no doubt. Each jar had been labelled in Ancient Feysac. The language of scholars and intellectuals.

Next to the jars were a series of plaster casts. Human heads, the shapes of torsos. One of them was clearly a cat. There were a few dogs. Eddy was not sure why Forman had made such casts, but he noted that, in each and every one of them, they had been marred by a series of holes that seemed to be almost drilled into the casts. Entrance wounds. Or, perhaps, exit wounds. Eddy sneered at the casts. Forman had been doing this for a long time.

At the far end were more worms. These, however, were live. This was where the butler had sourced the worm that had almost become the newest tenant of Eddy’s body. Three monstrous parasites coiled in a large glass terrarium. Their heads swung toward Eddy as he approached despite their lack of eyes. Needled teeth were exposed to the air. Eddy glared at them. This whole room, live worms, and dead worms included, appeared to be Forman’s so-called collection. His gaze toward the worms turned gleeful. After all, he was getting paid to destroy the collection. He had a grudge against those worms.

Eddy’s gaze turned back to the jars. Was formaldehyde flammable? Yes, Eddy concluded - it was. A few of the jars were quickly thrown around the room - the pungent liquid splashing across the diagrams, over the shelves, and (with an extra helping) over the worm’s terrarium. Eddy made sure to pour out a couple of jars over the writhing remains of the butler. Perhaps this would be enough to finish the job.

Grabbing a handful of bandages from the remnants of the butler and shaking them free of worms, Eddy opened up one of the gas lamps illuminating the laboratory. However, he paused for a moment when he saw a tray placed on the workbench that contained his scissors and one of his knives. They rested on a cloth bag. His loot bag. Ah, he had almost forgotten them. He’d be upset if he lost some of his best steel. The loot bag got a quick check, and Eddy let out a breath as he saw the wrapped outlines of his previous loot. At least he’d get something out of the night (besides a phobia of worms).

Pocketing the blades and retying the bag to his waist, Eddy gave the room one last look for anything else he might take. He had no interest in Forman’s work, but that didn’t mean there was nothing of value. Spotting four books piled up on the workbench, Eddy shoved them into his bag. He didn’t know if they were useful, but he could check later. In the best case, they were useful books of mysticism. In the worst case, he could just sell them to Miss Morland or burn them if they were too obscene.

Nodding in satisfaction, Eddy picked up the bandages again and watched them catch alight in the gas flame. He dropped them on the pile of worms that had once been the butcher and watched as it immediately burst into flames. The pungent smell was making his head spin, so Eddy ran to the other side of the room - covering his mouth as he did so - and opened the window before climbing out. Luckily, there was a lead drain pipe and Eddy began to shimmy down it as the fire spread to the rest of the room.

Eddy smiled as he descended. The night hadn’t gone exactly to plan, but he’d at least torched the bastard's laboratory. Hopefully, nobody else would end up as the man’s ‘experiment’ for a while. Reaching the ground, Eddy began sprinting for the edge of the Forman House’s grounds. He was around the back of the House, but once he’d reached the trees at the edge of the grounds he’d be able to use them to scale the wall and escape back into the streets of Backlund.

Already, a flickering orange glow was beginning to illuminate the grounds. Eddy could hear a dog barking in the distance and the shouting of a man. He hoped that the fire department was delayed. Soon, pushing through his latent exhaustion, Eddy reached the treeline. He looked back at the house. Flames were licking through a window on the top floor and Eddy smiled. His mission had been accomplished.

However, as he caught his breath, looking on as he did so in glee, his eyes latched onto another top-floor window.

He was far enough away that details had begun to be obscured by distance, but the sallow and pale shade of skin and the long face behind that glass stirred memories of the countless portraits that Eddy had seen that night. It was a face of the type that had become intensely familiar to Eddy over the last few hours.

As he retreated into the treeline, Eddy did not break eye contact with that distant face. Eventually, the needled branches of the pines obscured his line of sight, and Eddy disappeared back into Backlund’s streets.

At the window, a pale figure stared out at where a thief had melted into the conifers, before turning away. He would have to find a new butler.


AN: My longest chapter yet at almost 4k words (just in time to breach 2.5k hits!). Eddy has escaped Forman House. I actually loved writing this mini-arc. Perhaps we shall see more Vaults in the future? Perhaps means yes in this instance, by the way. For the sake of accountability, the Victorians did not call it formaldehyde (instead naming it formalin), but I’ll just use the modern name. Less confusion that way. My apologies, I will accept your complaints in the comments below.

For fellow CultSim nerds: the worms in this chapter are not the ‘Worms’ from the game. These are just nasty mutated parasites, not the nigh-unkillable eldritch abominations from Nowhere. Forman is not at that level. The name for this chapter was simply chosen because it matched the situation.

Chapter 32: O Hour Of Midnight


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

We cast Matthias out, and we pronounced a curse upon the Amethyst Imago, but we watched them in dreams. We saw them pledge themselves to the Forge, to change themselves and ascend anew. Into the fire they fly.

Eddy slept deeply that night and, when he woke, his exhaustion woke with him. Limbs leaden and mind slow, he dragged himself out for breakfast. His usual cafe was serving Feynapotter noodles. He went somewhere else.

When he got home, Eddy collapsed back onto his bed, perspiration beading on his forehead and heart pounding with the exertion that came from ascending the stairs to his room. Soon though, he began to recover - the food in his belly banishing his debilitation. Partially. A hot shower helped too. The constant impact of steaming water on his shoulders aided Eddy in relaxing; washing away the unrelenting tension of the previous night.

A Curse is a terrible thing.

The arrival of his landlord to collect the weekly rent was, humorously enough, something that also relaxed Eddy. The sheer mundanity, the utter normalcy of the interaction, was enough to put a relieved smile on Eddy’s face. When he left Eddy’s door, the landlord seemed a little confused at his reaction. Perhaps the man enjoyed the reluctance of his tenants. A good-natured one seemed to upset the order of nature.

Eddy allowed himself the rest of the day off, not permitting himself to leave his room. He did not even give himself leave to open his books of mysticism. As much as he could use a day to delve into Kitling Ripe , such things were too mentally draining. He felt bad for once again delaying the start of his project, but he honestly could not face the idea of reading that book again. Not in the state that he was in now, at least.

Instead, he contemplated his digestion. He had not realised it at the time, but his progress toward the completion of Sequence 8 had actually advanced quite noticeably. On top of his previous accomplishments, he was now maybe a quarter of the way through his digestion. Perhaps it was a little less. It was hard to put an exact figure on it, but that’s the impression Eddy reached after examining his spirituality for a while.

His advancement must have been something to do with grabbing the carved whalebone and escaping from Forman House through great hardship. He supposed it fulfilled the principle of ‘defending your cargo with all your power’. If he had been more in line with the ‘role’ of the smuggler, then it would surely have been more. As it was, he had been more like a thief (or an arsonist), and so his gains had been lesser than they might have been.

It was evening when he passed through the increasingly familiar door of Meursault’s office and locked eyes with the stuffed lion’s head on the far wall.

“Eddy! Lovely to see you so soon!”

“Meursault.” His response was flat.

The Zmanger leaned forward, a conspiratorial smirk on his lips. “I don’t know if you’re one for gossip, Eddy, but I heard that there was the most dreadful fire last night on Grimm Street.”

Eddy stared at him, but Meursault continued with unabated enthusiasm. “Apparently, Baron Forman has gone to spend some time with his friends in Awwa County. The capital is darker for his absence.” He dropped his head slightly in faux sorrow.

Eddy did not stop staring at him.

Finally, the growing atmosphere of awkwardness seemed to get to Meursault a little and his ever-present smirk dropped somewhat. “Ah. Of course. Don’t worry Eddy, I have the ten pounds that was promised to you. I’m a man who stands by his wor-”

“Did you know?” Eddy’s voice cut through Meursault’s words sharply. The Zmanger’s eyes narrowed at the interruption, but he quickly schooled his features and smiled gently at Eddy.

“What is it that you mean, Eddy? I must admit to some confusion.” The thugs playing cards at a table to the side were now looking over, hands reaching toward weapons. They could feel the tension in the air. Eddy hated Meursault at the best of times, but now he was truly angry at the man.

“Don’t tell me that you weren’t aware,” Eddy hissed out. His eyes flicked over to the thugs. He didn’t know how much he could say. Did the Zmanger rank-and-file know about Beyonders? It was hard to say. There were always rumours of Beyonders, but it was another thing to simply come out and speak of them openly. “Forman has… talents. The house was filled with his protectors! If not for sheer luck, then I would not be standing here!”

His voice rose in volume as he spoke. Meursault was watching him closely. The man opened his mouth.

“The Baron lives alone. At night there is just him and his butler.”

Eddy sneered. “I’m not sure if you could call his butler something that lives.” He paused. “And they are certainly not alone.”

Realisation flashed across Meursault’s face. Something had connected for him, and his lips twisted like he had tasted something sour. “I assure you, Eddy, I had no idea that the Baron was so… protected. My sources assured me tha-”

“Damn your sources then!” The shout burst out of Eddy before he knew it. The thugs stood up as the volume peaked. It was unwise to disrespect a high-ranking lieutenant of the Gang. Meursault, however, waved them down and leaned forward - locking shadowed eyes with Eddy.

“I promise you, Eddy, I would not have sent you to that place if I had known all the details we know now. By all appearances, Forman was isolated and vulnerable. There were no hints of any such… talents.”

“Then your sources are either incompetent, Meursault, or they are lying to you.” Eddy hissed out. “You should find out which. After all, you can hardly recoup your investment in me if I end up dead due to faulty information.” He put a special emphasis on ‘investment’ - as if that was the truth, rather than a form of blackmail.

Meursault’s smile was cold now - his voice low and quiet. Almost a whisper. “Thank you, Edward, for your advice. I shall bear it in mind. It would be a terrible thing if you were to die before your time.”

Eddy turned at that, not wanting to spend any more of his day in the man’s presence. Meursault did not stop him when he opened the office door, but his voice rang out as Eddy was passing through.

“You will receive twenty-five pounds for last night’s work. A bonus, in light of your difficult experience.”

Eddy stopped briefly and spoke without turning.

“Put it toward my debt.”

Then he left, leaving the office behind. Meursault, still seated at his desk, adopted a thoughtful expression as he gazed at the still-open door. As Eddy’s footsteps echoed in the corridor, his long fingers tapped out a rhythm on the wood.

Eddy fumed with anger as he left Red Brick Alley, emotions spiking when he stumbled slightly as a brief wave of tiredness hit him. He’d meant what had said. He did not think that Meursault had led him into danger at Forman House deliberately, but at the very least it meant that the man’s sources - the sources upon which Eddy’s life and safety depended - had been wrong. They’d either missed the (in hindsight) blatantly suspicious circ*mstances of Baron Forman, or they weren’t as loyal to Meursault as the man might have previously thought. What kind of noble lives in such an isolated manner if he has nothing to hide?

Truly, the cloak of nobility allowed people to hide problems and secrets under the act of being ‘an eccentric’. Men overlooked much when titles were flaunted and money was thrown their way. Forman gave dutifully to charity and occasionally visited friends, and that was enough to turn the gazes of society away from him.

Thinking about the whole matter further, Eddy realised that he knew almost nothing about how Meursault was gaining his information. Was it his own network, or was someone else feeding him intelligence? If so, who? If so, was it a network that reported generally to the Zmangers, or did such information pass only through Meursault? Eddy had no clue about the answers to any of these questions - but he could not help but wonder. Meursault struck him as a man of ambition, after all.

In any case, Eddy had swallowed his pride and submitted to working with Meursault partially because the man seemed competent. Eddy had been confident (emphasis on the had ) that the man would not send him to his death. He believed that Meursault would be more careful from now on, but his trust in the man’s reliability had been badly shaken.

For the sake of his future, Eddy resolved to trust nothing that the man said - not without first confirming it himself. Perhaps he was foolish, he thought, for not having fostered this attitude from the start. Perhaps he was. It would not be the first time. It might not be the last. Nothing was forever, though. In the span of only two weeks, he had reduced his ‘debt’ by thirty-five pounds. At this rate, it would only take six months to pay off Meursault. How strong would he be by then?

By that time, maybe it would be the moment for him to… renegotiate… his deal with the Zmangers. Anything, Eddy mused, both good and bad, was possible. All he could do was steel himself to do whatever was necessary for his own survival.

Getting home, Eddy calmed himself in ritualism. While he had completed his habitual anti-divinatory ritual before his heist at Forman House, it had been long enough that he had let its protection lapse. Therefore, to soothe his nerves, Eddy immersed himself in the repeated movements of the rite. The laying out of candles, the sound of chalk scraping softly on the floor as he drew his circles and symbols.

After the candles had been lit and the hairs plucked from his head, Eddy began the chant.

“O Hour of Midnight, God-who-is-Blood,

You who wing between primaeval trees,

Notice this humble servant and receive my offering.

Water to slake thy Thirst and hair to bind thy Blessings,

Grant unto me the protections of thy Kingdom.”

The Old Loenese dropped like heavy peat from his tongue. It tasted of bogs and fens, and corpses mummified in mud for millennia. As the spirituality in the room twisted and the offering was accepted, Eddy pondered the details of the ritual.

To whom was he praying? The so-called ‘Hour of Midnight’ and ‘God-who-is-blood’ (and didn’t that sound delightful?) did not correspond to any orthodox deity of which Eddy was aware. Eddy put a hand to his chin in thought. Midnight might indicate a link to the Evernight Goddess. Wasn’t Feysac’s God of Combat often described as the ‘Twilight of All Things’? That sounded more metaphorical than actual , however. A reference to loss of life rather than a specific time of day. Besides, whatever Mr Voice had persuaded Eddy to pray to, it was certainly not the Evernight Goddess. He was sure of that.

That brought up another issue - another line in the ritual that made Eddy take notice.

“You who wing between primaeval trees…” Eddy muttered under his breath. Before, when he had first completed the ritual after reading Atherton’s Symbology and Meditations , that phrase meant nothing to him.

Now, however, those words meant more to Eddy than they did before. Any mention of ‘primaeval trees’ were linked inextricably with his dreams of The Wood. The crunch of pine needles beneath his feet. The flutter of paper-thin wings behind him. Was the Hour of Midnight a spirit of The Wood? Was that the being to whom he prayed?

“Mr Voice?”

[Curiosity] Yes?

“Is the Hour of Midnight linked to The Wood? Does it live in the forest in my dreams?”

[Amusem*nt] It did. Not any more. But it still has a measure of power.

Eddy nodded at that. He had been correct - there was a connection between his rituals and the landscape of his dreams. It made him think more about his Path. Perhaps his progression was based around interaction with The Wood. It was a place of secrets and hidden things, so his current powers worked with those concepts. Yes, it was a theory, but there was a certain amount of logic behind it.

In any case, he had little time for philosophising. At least, not when he still had tasks to complete. Grabbing his mask, Eddy got himself ready for another trip to the Embankment. He had to find a fence to sell his stolen goods.

It was not hard to find a fence, a dealer in stolen goods, in the shadows of the Embankment. In fact, there were many such people that offered that service. However, the trick was to find the correct one. Some fences were fronts for armed gangs, just waiting to rob and kill whoever used their services. They normally didn’t last too long, but when the lethal scam was found out they would just set up a new service with a fresh face. Other fences would try and cheat their customers. Some would not, but they would sell information on their customers to the highest bidder - even the original owner of the goods (once they had tracked them down).

Eddy did not want to come to the attention of the Baron more than he already was. The man had left Backlund, but that did not mean the matter was done. Eddy was reasonably sure that the noble had not seen enough of his face to identify him, but there had been a stretch of time where was unconscious. Additionally, Eddy had resolved not to underestimate the breadth of abilities at the disposal of students of the arcane. In other words, the fewer leads the better. A trustworthy fence was a necessity.

Watching from a shadowed alcove, Veil raised, Eddy eventually settled on a fence. The man, his mask patterned with a subtle criss-cross design (was that some sort of pun?), seemed professional. Each customer Eddy saw had been ushered quickly and efficiently into the back of the stall and left out the back after a few minutes. Eddy did not see anyone else leave the stall apart from the customers. This implied that the owner wasn’t feeding any information to a third party (at least not immediately). That was good enough.

When he approached the stall, Veil down and fully visible to those around him, he was ushered inside quickly by the fence.

A hoarse voice came out from the cross-hatched mask. “So,” it said, “show me what you have to offer, and I’ll give you a price. If you disagree, you can leave, but I won’t accept haggling. This is a fence, not a fruit seller’s stall. I need to make a profit, but my prices are fair. You don’t last long here if you scam people.” The man (Eddy was pretty sure he was a man) gestured at a table. “Please.”

Eddy nodded, pulling out a wrapped package from inside his jacket and placing it down on the small circular table. The man’s terms were fair. Eddy liked the direct and no-nonsense attitude of the fence. Obsequiousness and flattery would have only made him suspicious, but the blunt terms actually made him relax slightly. Fences always took a cut of the profit, but Eddy was fine with that. He just wanted Forman’s goods out of his hands.

The man quickly sat down on a small stool and unwrapped the package, exposing the small whalebone carvings to the air. He let out a low whistle. “Roselle said that good things come in small packages. I think he was right.” His fingers traced over the finest piece - the flower-carved ring with a large piece of amber in the centre. “Yes, these are quite lovely.”

His fingers played over the two less ornate pieces. These ones had no amber, but the carving was still very beautiful. The man tapped one and then the other before thinking for a moment. “Lovely carving on these two, very fine. I would say that they were done by an expert in the craft - this is not the work of your average sailor. No, these were done by an artisan.”

There was another pause before the man spoke again. “However, their size works against them. They could be repurposed as broaches, but that affects their value too. One-and-a-half pounds each.” Eddy nodded at that, not willing to speak. Honestly, he would take whatever he could get. Money was money and he would accept as long as the other pieces got a better price. Obviously, he wanted to profit from Forman House, but mainly he wanted to put it all behind him.

Next, the man moved over to the next two pieces - their amber embellishments luminous in the candlelight. “These are very fine indeed. Amber is not so precious on its own, semi-precious at best, but together with the whalebone it works very well.” He looked up at Eddy from his appraisal table. “Gargas?”

Eddy nodded in confirmation. He’d found it in the ‘Gargas Room’ after all, so it was a good bet as to its origins. The fact that the man had identified it also lent credence to the idea that he knew what he was doing. The fence continued speaking. “Yes, these are quite desirable in the right circles. Three pounds each.”

Something of Eddy’s surprise must have shown through in his body language because the man chuckled. “I said that amber is not that valuable, but Gargas is in fashion this season. duch*ess Georgina Augustus was spotted wearing it at a function. Sell to the right people, and you could make quite a profit.”

Fine luck, Eddy mused to himself. It seemed this fence knew his business and was able to sell his wares in certain higher circles. Buyers should be careful, Eddy joked to himself. It would be awfully embarrassing if the good Baron met a lady wearing his stolen antique jewellery. Not that such a thing would happen. Forman didn’t like formal social events. Once again, the man’s isolation benefitted him. He was also quite pleased with the price. He was looking to make nine pounds total so far.

Finally, the man moved over to the last piece - touching it almost lovingly. There was silence in the stall for a while, and Eddy could hear the muffled sounds of the market beyond the canvas walls. He fixed his eyes on the fly trapped in the centre of the fossilised tree resin. An amber world.

“Five pounds. A particularly exquisite piece. The design is flawless. It’s worth more, but any more expensive and I’d need to wait for a much more affluent buyer.” The man shrugged. “It’d take time that I can’t afford, so this is what I will offer.”

Eddy nodded slowly in response, not wanting to give away his thoughts so soon. He had already formed an opinion, but he still wanted to take his time and not rush matters. Frankly, he was happy with the valuation - he just didn’t want to appear too enthusiastic. Impressions mattered. On the other hand, fourteen pounds (and it was fourteen pounds) would give him a total wealth of almost thirty-five pounds. That was enough for him to buy many books, tools, and mystical ingredients. He could make real progress with that amount of money. Reconstructing the Kitling Ripe rituals would be expensive, after all.

When he left the Embankment tunnel and entered the streets of Backlund, Eddy was fourteen pounds richer.


AN: This was a chapter dealing with the aftermath of Forman House. A fractious conversation with Meursault leads to a further deterioration in their relationship, Eddy almost gets to the meat of the issue with Mr Voice but manages to just miss the mark, and our boy is a little richer. I know we haven’t talked about the books yet. Don’t worry. We’ll get to the books.

As an aside, there was a big meeting at work today. One of the big bosses came down and gave a short speech about how we’re changing some of the ways we do things. Fine, whatever. But the way he spoke was so menacing. He talked about how people didn’t tend to leave the company and then said that because of this (and I quote): “Change is slow, but inevitable. It happens, one death at a time.” wtf wtf wtf i am scared of my boss help…

Chapter 33: Tongues


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

‘I knew her in the Wake. Her arms were fewer; her arms were warmer; but her mouth was always cold. Call me a liar. I dare you. Or come here, and I will kiss the Fifth History deep into you, where no one will see it, not even you -’

In the morning, when Eddy woke, he remembered stumbling half-blind through choking brambles and grasping undergrowth. He had been, he thought, searching The Wood for traces of the Hour of Midnight - the elusive God-who-is-Blood. No such traces had been found in that obscuring dream, and Eddy was only left with the memory of thorns raking across his eyes.

The Wood both compelled and frustrated Eddy. It was a tangible, visible, example of so much of what he had come to associate with his new life as a Beyonder. Something he could point at and see and know that it surpassed the mundane. It was his weakness, Eddy admitted, that he craved such performative shows of the supernatural - it was the same reason why he was so enthralled by ritualism. He doubted that the novelty would ever fade because it was a reminder, and a constant one, that he had been… elevated. That he could be elevated further.

His frustration, on the other hand, came from the nature of The Wood itself. He could access it, walk below its gnarled and twisted boughs, but the memories of these wanderings only came to him the next morning. He could recall the dreams, recall the knowledge he had learned in them, but he could not direct himself in those dreams. He was not lucid in The Wood, half a hair from dropping to all fours and running like a beast until his heart burst in his chest. It was not Eddy who walked The Wood - it was a distillation, or perhaps a dilution. A distorted essence of Edward Barton that verged on something primal and afraid.

How could he learn its secrets, how could he use The Wood when he was barely himself within it? It gnawed at him. He had been given a tool - a precious gift - and he could not grasp it fully with his hands. Mr Voice had lovingly torn open a gate in his mind and he could peer through it, but he could not open the door entirely.

There was hope though, Eddy thought. At Sequence 9, he had dreamt, but he had not remembered. Now, at Sequence 8, he dreamt and remembered. Perhaps, he theorised, at Sequence 7 it would no longer be a dream. Then, he would be able to grasp the gift of The Wood with both hands.

Putting his thoughts of The Wood and its mysteries aside, Eddy decided to get on with the business of the day. After fencing his stolen goods the night before, he had decided to reserve the rest of the day for investigating the books he had grabbed from Forman’s experiment room just before it had caught alight. After reading Kitling Ripe and The Locksmith’s Dream: Trespasses, he realised that delving into works of mysticism was a trying affair. It was best to be cautious with such things.

Eddy reached for the first of the books - a thick volume with a lightly decorated orange cover. A label on the front read ‘On Matthias and the Amethyst Imago: Transformations’. It sounded promising, Eddy thought. He opened it at the first page, eager to investigate its secrets.

A few minutes later, he closed the book - a frown on his face. Eddy rubbed at his temples with his thumbs, trying to ease a building headache. The book was in Dragonese. He did not know Dragonese. He wanted to read the book, to learn its contents and grow stronger, but learning an entirely new language - one renowned for its complexity and difficulty - was simply not something he had time for.

Eddy sighed. The first book was not a success. He’d keep it for the time being (perhaps one day he’d gain enough skill in Dragonese to read it), but he decided to move on to the next book. He sincerely hoped that Baron Forman’s literature was not entirely written in the ancient language.

A short while later, a bystander might have seen Eddy storming out of the tenement building at 18 Grey Palm Alley - cap pressed down tightly on his head to protect him from the light summer rains of Backlund.

The next book he had looked at after Matthias was called ‘The World Does Not Weep’ . It was, much to Eddy’s frustration, also written in Dragonese. The twisting calligraphic style of that highly complex language had almost seemed to taunt him. Eddy had nearly thrown the book at the wall before he restrained his emotions. To gain something of such value after such hardship and be stymied at the final hurdle was heartbreaking.

The third of the works he had looted was actually a scroll rather than a book. Eddy perhaps had chosen it next in the hope that it would break the quickly emerging pattern. In a way, the pattern had broken. In a way. The ominously named ‘Devoured Tantra’ was indeed not written in Dragonese. Instead, it had been written in a script that Eddy had recognised from the covers of penny dreadfuls sold on the streets of East Borough for entertainment. Old High Dutanese. The language of the imperial courts of the ancient Balam Empire that had ruled over the Southern Continent for thousands of years. Unsurprisingly, as an East Borough orphan and former street urchin, Eddy did not have a good grasp on his Old High Dutanese.

Frankly, it was not even a language that nobles learned with any frequency. Nobody spoke the language anymore. If one was to learn a Southern Continent language, then the modern form of Dutanese would be far more useful. If one wanted to learn an ancient language or a language of academia, then Ancient Feysac, Ancient Hermes and its varieties, Jotun, or even Dragonese were seen as far more respectable and practical choices. The ‘Devoured Tantra’ might not have been written in Dragonese, but the imperial dialect of Dutanese might have been worse.

This contributed to Eddy’s bad mood as he stormed out onto Black Palm Street and into the busy crowds moving back and forth through the Borough. The last book was, at least, in Ancient Hermes. Eddy did not know Ancient Hermes either, but meaningful resources existed to learn it. There was literature about such things, textbooks, and two-way dictionaries. He could learn Ancient Hermes - even if it would take a while. Yet another thing to add to his list. Eddy supposed that it might be his own fault for expecting every book to be immediately digestible. Books of mysticism were never so easy.

It helped that, out of the four, the evocatively-named ‘Deeds of the Scarred Captain’ was the one that he had the greatest likelihood of deciphering in the future. He could only hope that the value of the contents matched the difficulty of translating them.

Tired of thinking about the books, Eddy decided to put his action of storming outside to practical use. Instead of wandering around aimlessly, he should instead direct himself toward something useful. He searched his mind for something to do. If he went to Red Brick Alley he might be able to get a job from Meursault, but he did not want to see the man so soon after their last conversation. The Zmangers would contact him when they had something for him to do - he’d wait until they did.

At that point, a thought flashed through Eddy’s mind. He had been thinking about The Wood after he woke up, so perhaps he could do some research based on that. Not about The Wood itself, per se, but instead into some of the ‘secrets’ he had discovered during his nightly odysseys.

He had found scratchings on tree bark that spoke of Sanguines, bones that whispered of a Waning Forest’s graves, and moss-draped boulders carved with the story of Alista Tudor’s madness. He knew these secrets, but he did not understand their meanings. He could take this opportunity to rectify this shortcoming.

His arm raised to flag down a public carriage. He would have to make a trip to West Borough.

The Royal Library (formally the William VI Augustus Royal Library of Backlund) was located at 3 King’s Avenue of Backlund’s West Borough - just opposite the Royal Museum. It had been funded by the Royal Family, a few prominent donors, and interests from the Evernight Church - all in the name of expanding national literacy (and national prestige). The Loen Kingdom claimed that it was the largest library in the world, although there was some debate as to that. Intis argued that its own Grand Library of the Republic in its capital of Trier was larger. Eddy doubted both these claims. Having seen the labyrinth beneath St Hierländ though, Eddy was sure that the Churches held far greater collections. Well, he did not doubt that their mystical collections were the largest. He did not think, however, that the Royal Library would stock such unorthodox literature.

In any case, together, the marbled edifices of the Museum and the Library formed a nexus of learning and academia in Backlund. The proximity of the city’s universities only contributed to this. Eddy, getting off his carriage after paying the fee, tidied his clothes and began walking up the stone steps that led up to the library. As he did so, he noted the smart clothes of many of the people around him. This was a different tribe compared to those of his home borough.

That became more apparent when he reached the large doors of the library. As he approached, one of the doormen standing there stepped forward into his path. His smile was polite but brittle.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning to you too.” Eddy greeted the doorman back. Again, the doorman smiled. Such good service.

“Are you looking for directions, sir? Perhaps I could guide you to where you are supposed to be.” Eddy frowned, a small look of confusion on his face.

“No, I believe I am in the right place. I am visiting the library.”

“Sir,” the doorman insisted. “I think you are mistaken.” The man’s eyes raked up and down Eddy’s figure - taking in his flat cap, his low-quality jacket, and his shoes that still had East Borough dirt on them. “You should visit a library closer to your… station.”

Eddy broke eye contact with the doorman, looking at the type of person that was entering the library as they spoke. He saw gold-capped canes and top hats. He saw fine jackets and the gold and silver chains of pocket watches. A few men were accompanied by a butler, some women had maids. Eddy’s eyes turned back toward the doorman, gaze flatter and harder than before. A small, tired, smile made its way onto his face.

“Of course. Of course. I… shall find my own way.” He doffed his cap. “Thank you for your help.” Not waiting for the doorman’s reply, Eddy turned away and slowly made his way back down the steps of the Royal Library. The doorman went back to his normal position - ready to welcome more respected visitors to the prestigious library with Eddy already dismissed from his mind.

A few minutes later, the doorman opened the door for a guest, smiled politely, and ushered them inside. It was only when they returned outside that their brow furrowed, confused by the fact that they, for the life of them, could not remember what the guest looked like, what they were wearing, or even their gender. However, the confusion lasted for only a few seconds before they noticed a new visitor and stepped forth, a new polite smile plastered over their face. They quickly forgot all about the strange lacuna in their memory and got on with their work. After all, who could remember every visitor to the library?

Meanwhile, within the stacks of books and protected by his Veil, Eddy wandered from place to place - absolutely enthralled by the sheer scale of the knowledge held in the building. He didn’t know how many books there were, but they must have to number in the hundreds of thousands.

Eventually, Eddy snapped out of his book-based daydreams and decided to get down to work. The three things he was looking for were ‘Alista Tudor’, ‘Sanguine’, and ‘Waning Forest’. By dropping the Veil partially, Eddy found that he could ask questions to the librarians and that they would answer without picking up on his lower social station. He did have to keep reminding them of what he wanted though. The Veil made people quite forgetful, it seemed.

It turned out that Alista Tudor was very easy to find. Eddy had been expecting more of a search, but it seemed that they were actually rather famous. He had been a consul of the Tudor-Trunsoest United Empire. Named rather threateningly as the ‘Blood Emperor’, he had ruled alongside the ‘Night Emperor’ Trunsoest until that Empire split into different factions under a true imperial system. Poring over a few different histories pointed out by a slightly amnesiac librarian, Eddy realised that the modern understanding of the period was quite confused, but that most authorities agreed that Alista Tudor founded his own Empire, but then later perished in the War of the Four Emperors. For one, there was no agreed timeline, but Eddy had some ideas about that.

Another detail that Eddy found was that Alista Tudor was often characterised as suffering from madness or some other disruptive mental disorder in the latter part of his life - becoming renowned as a cruel and sad*stic tyrant. This was enough for Eddy to confirm the whispers of The Wood. The secret he had uncovered stated that Alista Tudor had switched Pathways and so fell to madness. This would explain the change in his mental state; he had switched Paths. This left the question of why he would do such a thing, but Eddy did not know enough to even theorise about that. In any case, he decided that it was most likely that Alista Tudor was in the High Sequences and was a very powerful Beyonder.

Such a theory would also explain the confusing timeline of the period. Academics found the era difficult to parse because they were unable to imagine the fact that Alista Tudor was long-lived beyond the mundane. It was simply inconceivable to them. It was perfectly possible that the man had reigned for centuries as an imperial consul and (later) a true emperor.

Eddy smiled as he looked up from his books. The Wood had not lied - it was confirmed. Alista Tudor had been a powerful Beyonder. This was something that a street urchin like him could never know without the help of Mr Voice and his powers.

Sanguines had also featured in some of the books that Eddy had read. During the Tudor-Trunsoest schism, supporters of the Blood Emperor accused the Night Emperor Trunsoest of consorting with blood-drinking Sanguines. In other words, vampires. One might discount such tall tales as propaganda designed to prey on the superstitious nature of the era’s peasantry (many historians agreed with this interpretation). However, Eddy - knowing what he did - was less keen to jump to conclusions. Had Trunsoest truly allied with vampires? The mythical night-stalkers of horror stories?

Well, Eddy corrected, perhaps not so mythical given that the whisper of The Wood had revealed that they still lived in Backlund. It seemed unlikely (why would the Churches tolerate such a thing?), but Eddy was willing to believe. He had no reason not to. It seemed the world was larger and more strange than he had thought.

He found more details on vampires in the library’s section on religion. The creation story of the Orthodox Churches stated, in some versions, that the Sanguine rose from the intestines of the Creator - the implication being that they were unclean compared to humanity (who naturally were created from his wisdom). Eddy took this as a tacit acknowledgment of their existence by the Churches. This was, of course, concerning. The same creation myth mentioned devils, demonic wolves, and sea monsters. Eddy resolved to be more careful at night.

The Waning Forest was the only thing that eluded Eddy. No such place existed within the bounds of the Royal Library’s knowledge. The closest Eddy could get was the astronomy section and books on the religious symbolism of the waning moon in the Evernight faith. He stopped searching after a while - he’d got what he’d come for. The Wood had been confirmed as a source of generally unknown information. He would value it more in the future.

Leaving the library, Eddy almost skipped down the steps with his Veil up - dancing around the afternoon’s visitors. He had spent a couple of hours in the library and considered it time well spent. He resolved to come back for leisure when he was less busy. He could also use it for learning Ancient Hermes he realised; eyes lighting up. Backlund’s main library would be sure to have countless works on the language. Yes, he nodded, the Royal Library was an invaluable resource for a man beneath notice.

Eddy decided to walk home, enjoy the sights of West Borough, and stop for lunch along the way. He chuckled. Only this morning he had been furious, and now he was almost giddy. Was he always so whimsical and mercurial in his emotions? Perhaps it was just a result of his new, unusual, life. His life was simply more in so many aspects, how could that not reflect in his emotions? He put the matter out of his mind and continued walking - whistling as he went.


AN: Another slow chapter. Featuring more speculation on The Wood, history lessons, classist bigotry, and… books! Eddy loves them! Unfortunately, he isn’t Klein and can’t speak multiple languages. For CultSim fans, I have switched Aramaic with Dragonese, Sanskrit with Imperial Dutanese (I made that one up), and Ancient Greek with Ancient Hermes (makes sense).

Come back next week to join Eddy in his lovely walk home!

Chapter 34: Calling Card


TW: Implication of SA. Discussion of sex trafficking.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The laws of civilisation are younger than the Laws of the Hours, but they, too, sometimes require a sacrifice.

Eddy, still buoyed by the triumphs of the morning, had lunch at a wonderful little Intis restaurant on the edge of West Borough. It was pricier than his normal fare, but he had decided to treat himself. The seafood paella was particularly delicious. He was used to the Desi Bay version of the dish, but the variation found in Intis cuisine was also lovely. The difference was mainly in the spices as Intis cuisine tended to utilise more ingredients found in West Balam - giving it a unique character.

After his meal, Eddy decided to aid his digestion by continuing his slow walk back to East Borough. The light rains of the morning had given way to sunshine, and the day was - in Eddy’s estimation - a pleasant one. His weather-sense informed him that the sunshine would continue for the rest of the day. At least that specific power was useful for something , he joked. Additionally, he could tell that the wind had picked up during the night because the smog was light on Backlund that afternoon. Eddy could even see the silhouette of the Houses of Parliament in the far distance. An unusual sight, given the generally abysmal air quality of the city.

Soon enough, he had made his way back to East Borough. The shift in atmosphere was quite apparent - especially as he had spent the morning in one of the wealthiest parts of the city. Everything was just… worse. The streets and buildings were dirtier and more decrepit. The same went for the people. There were no gold-tipped canes here and entourages of butlers here.

Eddy sighed. In a way, he loved East Borough. It was his home, where he grew up. He knew it like the scars on his hands. He knew the web of its streets like he knew his own heart. He also hated it. He doubted he was alone in such a sentiment. Anyone born in the Borough was of the Borough. People here did not describe themselves as Backlunders - they described themselves as being from East Borough. It was unique in that regard. It was a community. A cutthroat, evil, backstabbing, brutal, disease-ridden, and sometimes outright sad*stic community, but they all shared a common identity.

At the same time, however, all of them had plans and schemes - hopes and dreams - that would allow them to escape the Borough and move on to better things in better places. Most of those dreams were futile. Anyone could get up and walk out of the Borough physically, but they would never have the chance to truly leave. Poverty would draw them back in. The leash around their neck. A noose for many.

Eddy, however, could move now, if he wanted. Already today he had encountered how the taint of East Borough affected his dealings in the rest of the city. His dirtied clothes of low quality that were a shield in his usual territory, were a detriment outside of the Borough’s bounds. Even a public library (apparently open to all) was too great a hurdle for someone without his… blessings.

He had the money - over thirty pounds. Nearly thirty-five. That wasn’t the problem. He could buy a suit, get a good cane (although not gold-tipped), rent a house, get a maid to cook his meals, and live a modest but perfectly respectful life in Cherwood Borough or South Borough for a few months on that sum without earning a penny more. He could do that, and he would be so very vulnerable - without knowledge of his surroundings, detached from his home territory. A man playing a role, desperately trying to fit in with a strange new habitat. Perhaps he would learn and thrive. Perhaps he would not. But could a fish live out of water? Could a rat live among people? Eddy snorted. That was a particularly poor example. He was East Borough, born and bred - he should know. Rats lived among people all the time.

On the subject of rats, as Eddy walked further into the Borough, he heard a muffled cry from a shadowed alley. The houses around it leaned drunkenly toward each other as they went higher up, and so the passage between them was swathed in darkness. Ragtooth Alley, the locals had named it. Mundane eyes would have been unable to see too far into it, but Eddy’s eyes were sharpened by his Path.

Three men had cornered a girl - a laundry maid by the looks of it - and had pressed her against the brick wall of the alley. They were tying her hands behind her back. Sharp eyes peered in closer as Eddy ramped up his Veil. Green and purple armbands. These men were members of the Proscrito Gang. it made sense, this was Proscrito territory.

The Proscritos were one of the better gangs in the Borough. At least, they were for most people. Many gangs, like the Zmangers, not only extorted protection money but also ran drugs (often opium) and smuggled illicit goods. This was immensely harmful to local communities. There were far too many hollow-eyed addicts in East Borough. Other gangs, like the Black Skeletons or the Parliament Street Gang, were renowned for their violence and brutality. They ran their neighbourhoods like dictatorships and would attack people merely for fun. The Proscritos, on the other hand, did very few of these things. True, they asked for protection money, but their rates were less than most gangs and they did not sell narcotics. Apparently, their leader had lost a brother to drugs and despised the trade. No drugs were allowed in Proscrito territory.

However, the gang still had to make a profit. Hence, the Proscritos controlled a large number of brothels and ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. It was good being a man in Proscrito territory - that was why Eddy had decided to live there. It was, generally, safe. It was less good being a woman. Less safe. The gang needed warm bodies for their brothels, and unlucky women paid the price every day.

They had secured her now, one of the men helping to lift her onto another man’s shoulders. She’d be taken to one of their hidden houses, where she’d be trained for her new work. It was slavery, no doubt about it. Everybody knew about it. Few talked.

Eddy grimaced, hand itching for a knife. He could stop them, easily in fact. Three men, unaware with their guard down would not pose an issue. He was justified, they were about to force a young woman into a hellish life. His knife dropped into his hand, but he did not move from the mouth of Ragtooth Alley.

What was his plan, if he really thought about it? Kill the men, rescue the girl? And what then? His Veil could protect him from sight, but it would not conceal the sounds of murder. It would not stop people from witnessing three men get cut down with his knife. At that moment, any onlooker would be able to properly see him. Eddy cursed internally. He hadn’t brought his mask. His anonymity was at risk. A counterpoint. The alley was dark - he could just rely on that to hide his identity.

Again, however, Eddy did not move. The girl was fully on one of the men’s shoulders now. They were laughing. He could see their teeth flashing. He probably would not be seen, but probably wasn’t certainly . What if they were meeting up with other members of the gang? What if someone in the buildings above the alley saw him? They would not hesitate to earn some money by selling him out.

Blue Mitch was a Beyonder and so was Meursault. The Parliament Street Gang and the Zmangers both had Beyonders in their upper echelons. What were the chances that the Proscritos held so much territory without supernatural aid? How could they be an exception to the apparent rule?

Eddy thought about the list of Beyonder types that Mr Voice had given him. Criminals, Marauders, Students of Ratiocination, Hunters, Assassins, and Beast Tamers. All of them low-Sequence, all of them able to see through his Veil. All of them were a danger to him. A longer list than he would like.

He lived in Proscrito territory. It was somewhere he felt safe. If he killed those three men, then he might have to flee. He was already hostile to Blue Mitch and subordinated to Meursault. Could he afford another enemy, another entanglement with the gangs? He could not. The men had started moving away from Eddy, laughing as a kick from the bound woman made her captor stumble slightly.

He was, he realised, looking for an excuse. An excuse not to help. An excuse to ignore a woman being forced into slavery. Because helping would be inconvenient . He sneered in disgust at himself. As a malnourished street rat, he would have run in the opposite direction without a second thought. What could he do? But now, he was a Beyonder. Now, he had power, and yet he was still hiding like a cur. For the sake of practicality. For the sake of an easier life. He snarled, the ridges of his knife’s handle digging into his fingers. He could feel that it would leave marks on his hand.

He wasn’t going to help. He knew it. He knew it and he hated himself for it. He hated that a part of him was crying out that he was right. That he couldn’t help everyone. What would three dead Proscritos truly accomplish? They would just be replaced and another girl would be captured. One man could not change the world. It cried out that caring wasn’t his responsibility. That he didn’t know the girl and that it wasn’t his duty to be responsible for her. Wasn’t it hypocritical and stupid to believe that a deft knife hand would truly change the way things worked? That it could change who he truly was? Still a street rat. Still a bystander.

He hated how much that voice made sense.

The gang members turned a corner. Eddy turned away.

The day didn’t feel so good anymore.

The day seemed to pass in a blur. Instead of accomplishing anything particularly productive, Eddy instead spent his afternoon down by the river. He walked through his old haunts and strolled along the banks of the Tussock. The water on the edges of the river bore a thick crust. Tussock cake, the locals joked.

There were other people around, some of them passing by, others scavenging - like Eddy used to not so long ago. Eddy ignored them, uninterested in their lives. In any case, his Veil was up strong enough that nobody bothered him. Just a ghost on the riverbank.

Afternoon was turning into evening when Eddy was finally disturbed in his wanderings. The sound of rough laughter jolted him from his thoughts as he looked up. Three men were leaning against a brick wall and smoking. They wore flat caps and thick jackets. The heavy gloves on their hands, even in the summer, indicated that they were dockworkers. The gloves of dockworkers and longshoremen often had strips of boiled leather sown inside them - apparently meant to defend their hands from being injured. It wouldn’t stop them from being crushed by a falling crate though.

What truly arrested Eddy’s attention, however, was the bands that each of them wore around their right arms. Blue and black. The Parliament Street Gang - Eddy’s oldest friends.

Immediately, Eddy slipped a knife out of a hidden pocket in his jacket’s sleeve and started moving toward the smoking men. As he did so, his mind was racing with thoughts of what he was about to do. About his hypocrisy. His eyes darted around. The evening was getting closer, but people had not yet started to leave work. This part of the river was enclosed by dock buildings, windowless and imposing - designed to hold goods rather than people. His keen eyes looked for potential witnesses. He could see none. Few wished to walk beside the polluted river. Those that did stuck to the embankments and tree-shaded boulevards further upstream (where the river was cleaner). It was the perfect spot for three men shirking work to come and have a smoke. Could someone see him from across the river? Unlikely. They'd need to both breach his Veil and have some sort of telescope or magnifying lens. He tapped his foot. There was always a risk, but it was small. Small enough. Was he really going to do this?

It was true, these men were with the Parliament Street Gang. They were his enemies. But, that was the most surface-level way of looking at it. The three men, still oblivious to his approach, were not committing a crime. Unlike their fellow gang members in that alley on that fateful night, they were not attacking him. They were just standing around. Smoking. Talking. They probably worked on the docks most days and did jobs for the gang when there was no other work. Maybe their dock was run by Blue Mitch, and wearing his colours was just part of the deal. Eddy was starting to realise that he didn’t care.

Since when was he a paragon of justice? Since when was his goal to tear down brothels and save the innocent? That was never his path. No. His path was only ever about one thing.


The power to defend himself. The power to survive. The power to hurt those who tried to hurt him. Revenge.

Maybe these men didn’t deserve to die. But, at this point, after all he had seen, after all the conclusions he had come to, Eddy didn’t particularly care. They were Parliament Street Gang and he wanted to hurt them - because that’s what it all boiled down to in the end. Want. The power to pursue his own desires. His whims. Eddy sighed. He was not a good person. Maybe he had been, at some point - perhaps back in the orphanage before that seed had withered. Now, he was spiteful and every day saw him become more and more callous. If anything about that realisation upset him, it was over how little he cared about it.

With his Veil at its full capacity, Eddy managed to get only a couple of steps away and pull back his knife before one of the men seemed to notice him. Eddy could see the man struggle for a split-second - battling the fog invading his mind as his subconscious attempted to warn him of the man standing so close to him with knife drawn. He did not have time to complete that battle before Eddy’s blade drew across his throat.

Hot blood sprayed over where Eddy had been but a moment earlier, but he had already moved on. Even the Veil at Sequence 8 was not powerful enough to make the other two gang members ignore the murder of their friend. To them, it must have seemed as if their friend’s throat suddenly sprayed blood as a man appeared out of thin air.

The first man was halfway to the ground by the time Eddy reached his friend. A shout was halfway to the man’s lips when a silver flash left a gash in yet another throat. Gasping and choking on his own blood, the second man started falling too.

The third and last man was the quickest. His reactions were quite good and a knife of his own was halfway out of his belt when Eddy turned to him. Rather than wasting time, Eddy instead sent his knife flying straight into the man’s neck like an arrow. Normally, such a maneouvre would be foolish, but Eddy knew exactly what he was doing when it came to knives. Two seconds later, Eddy’s hand seized on the handle and ripped it from the man’s throat as he tumbled to the floor. The thug’s hands scrabbled at the vicious wound as if he could somehow grasp it closer, but it was too late. Before a minute was over, the rattling chokes of the three men had ended, and Eddy knew that they were dead.

He was less messy than he expected. There were only a few drops of blood staining his clothes. Nothing he couldn’t handle himself.

He paused, looking over the corpses and the quickly spreading pool of blood beneath them. The sight reminded him of one of the rituals in Kitling Ripe . He had been meaning to get around to doing some research, hadn’t he? He could think of at least one rite that required some harder-to-acquire ingredients. Didn’t Roselle have a saying? Waste not, want not?

He stepped closer to the bodies, baring his knife once again. Some practical use might as well come out of this whole bloody mess.

He did not take long with his work before leaving the scene - his Veil cloaking him from sight.

In the morning, the newspapers screamed of three tongueless corpses by the river. Their eyes had been removed.


AN: This chapter fought me. Please rest assured, sex trafficking and all that horrific stuff will not be part of this story - we exclusively stick to nicer things (like murder, madness, and eldritch gods).

Eddy has been placed in opposition to some really horrible people and forces, but that does not make him de facto a good person. He grew up on the streets of the nastiest place in the Loen Kingdom. He’s never been kind. He’s certainly not kind now. Maybe he had the fantasy that power could allow him the breathing room necessary so that he could afford to be kind. He’s not that lucky. LotM is not a nice world. Eddy knows this better than anyone.

See you next week.

Chapter 35: Sap, Bone, and Madness


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Moth's Hour is midnight. It is the first God-Who-Was-Blood. It seeks among the trees of the Wood; it beats within the skull; it is dappled.

It was surprising, Eddy thought, how easy it was to buy a jar of formaldehyde. What was harder, however, was finding a place to hide a jar of human tongues and eyeballs in case your landlord made a surprise visit. After the winged doll incident, Eddy felt that the man had become more suspicious of him. He needed to look normal, and being stared at on entrance by six loose eyeballs sitting on Eddy’s table was not a recipe for success in that regard.

In the end, he just hid them under his bed. Not exactly a brilliant solution, but he wouldn’t need to conceal them for long. Hopefully.

After performing his normal anti-divination ritual and feeling the slick spiritual shield settle under his skin, Eddy got down to work and opened his copy of Kitling Ripe . The section he had been contemplating was from the substory named ‘ The Liberation of the Second Sister ’. In it, Kitling Ripe had encountered an ethereal being holding the mind of ‘Second Sister’ hostage. Second Sister could not escape the entity while it had its hooks in her thoughts, and so had become trapped. Kitling Ripe solved this issue by gathering the eyes and tongues of several local lunatics and performing a ritual with Second Sister as a target so that “she might see the horrors that bind her, and speak the words that should not be spoken.”

The ritual drives Second Sister insane and, in so doing, makes the entity recoil in disgust - freeing her. Eddy was hoping that he could recreate a form of this ritual and use it in more of an… offensive… capacity. After all, sitting down on the ground and meticulously drawing chalk circles for an hour or so was probably of little use in a violent brawl.

The reason that Eddy had gravitated to this ritual, even before he had taken the opportunity to acquire the necessary resources, was that N. K. Field’s writing was unusually lucid and understandable in that particular section of his anthology. Compared to some other examples of his writing, it was frankly a miracle that Eddy had been able to identify tongues and eyes as the main ingredients.

It was his best shot at wrenching a quick win out of the pages of that awful and intriguing book.

Still, it would not be easy. The ritual itself was poorly described, and Eddy would have to convert a form other than a traditional ritual. Mr Voice’s aid would be invaluable - if he could rouse the normally-silent passenger in his head.

He grasped the jar in his hands, three pairs of eyes staring at him from cloudy formaldehyde. He could still smell it in the air. The tongues, strangely, reminded him of his childhood. Once, in the orphanage, they had eaten ox-tongue soup. He had seen the nuns dicing the thick muscular ox-tongues with heavy knives. He looked back at the jar. These tongues were smaller. Not good for soup. He spoke.

“Mr Voice?”

[Amusem*nt] What lovely toys. What games shall we play with them? [Interest]

Eddy smiled. Mr Voice might not speak often, but at least he had a sense of humour. He appreciated the being breaking his usual silence for him.

“I want to try a version of the ritual from The Liberation of the Second Sister , but I’ll need some help adapting it. Atherton can only take me so far…”

Eddy felt Mr Voice hum slightly in the back of his head before he felt the being’s presence press closer to him.

[Interest] I will help. [Curiosity]

“Thank you for helping me, Mr Voice.”

There was a feeling which might have been laughter.

[Amusem*nt] Of course. How could I not? [Delight]

It took several hours to make progress. A major issue that Eddy quickly discovered (beyond the intricacies of ritual adaptation) was that the rite - no matter its form - did not require just human tongues and eyes, but specifically the tongues and eyes of the insane. This was a problem, as the gang members he had killed quite possibly may have been scum, but he doubted that they were madmen.

However, Mr Voice comforted him. He had not taken his trophies for nothing. All that was needed was to use a second (and thankfully very simple) ritual to shift the metaphysical concepts around his ingredients toward the idea of madness. In essence, he would be using a ritual to make the world treat the body-parts as if they came from the insane for just long enough for Eddy to use them in the main ritual. It took a bit of time for him to understand Mr Voice’s train of thought, but he got it in the end. He was using magic to temporarily trick reality into thinking he was holding a madman’s tongue instead of a random person’s tongue. Mr Voice was a genius. Next time though, he should probably just break into an asylum and mutilate someone instead of going through the trouble.

Eventually, however, Eddy and Mr Voice (but mainly Mr Voice) had worked out what they needed to do and Eddy headed down to the Embankment to find the necessary ingredients. He was becoming a regular he reflected as he passed through the entrance tunnel. The Rakers at the gate probably knew his mask on sight by now.

In the end, Eddy had to traipse around the market, stopping at several stalls before he found exactly what he wanted. On two occasions, he almost bought ingredients but stopped after Mr Voice informed him that they were fakes. Mr Voice was being very helpful today - probably due to his interest in Eddy’s project. Fakes were simply part of the Embankment market. It was filled with unusual and valuable things due to a lack of regulation and legal oversight, but that lack also meant that one needed to keep their eyes open for scams and forgeries. Eventually, however, Eddy found what he needed - at quite the cost to his wallet. The price of even low-level mystical ingredients was high. He was not looking forward to buying the items he would need at the higher Sequences.

It would probably be cheaper just to steal at that point. In any case, it was what he was good at. In fact, part of him now wanted to steal the goods in order to avoid paying. Besides, smuggling stolen goods out of the black market would help his digestion - something which he had not had the chance to progress since the debacle at Forman House. He had decided against it though when the urge hit him. The memory of the insect-masked man was still heavy in his mind. The market was home to monsters. Who knew how many stalls they indirectly owned or protected? Such guardians would not take kindly to his theft. It was better not to chance it. He was a thief, but he liked to think he had a sense of self-preservation.

Back at home after his little shopping trip, Eddy set up the first ritual. Building a small altar and surrounding it in concentric chalk circles, Eddy began to draw out the symbols associated with imbuement that he had found in Atherton’s book. He had to wipe the floor clean and retry several times due to the difficulty of the runic shapes, but his manual dexterity got him there in the end.

After this was done, he set out the ingredients. He had laid down a plank of simple wood for his altar (it didn’t need to be fancy) and upon it he placed down the three tongues and six eyes. This was where the ritual would focus. Around them he placed the items he had bought at the black market. Powdered bone from mutants surrounded the grisly trophies. Mutants were Beyonders who had lost their minds and changed into frightful monsters. Their bones had a strong conceptual tie with monsters and loss of control.

Next, the altar was daubed with a sticky red sap that stained the wood around it crimson. Eddy wore gloves for this part. The Leuxd Palm grew in the shrouded valleys of the very southernmost parts of Balam and was hard to acquire. The tree’s sap, however, was known for its hallucinogenic and ecstatic properties. In the past, it had been used in shamanic rituals. It was also slightly poisonous. Shamans in those parts never tended to live long.

The altar was now completed. According to Mr Voice, the next step was to light the usual ritual candles (Eddy still had a stock of them) and chant in Ancient Hermes. The symbols of imbuement would do the rest - transferring the conceptual ties to insanity from the ingredients to the tongues and eyes. The effect would not last long, but it would hold for enough time that Eddy could complete the next step.

Of course, Eddy did not know Ancient Hermes, but Mr Voice had coached him through the pronunciations in the preceding hours. This was not a solution that satisfied him, however - certainly not in the long term. He could not rely on Mr Voice always aiding him in his rituals. It was clear that the entity - helpful as it was - was normally motivated only by an occasional interest in Eddy’s actions. Such a thing was not reliable. In order to guarantee his ability to conduct basic rituals as he wished, he’d have to learn Ancient Hermes soon.

In any case, Eddy lit the candles and began the chant - words spilling from his lips. To the mundane eye, nothing would appear different as the ritual continued, but such a person might feel the hair on the back of their neck bristling slightly. Those more naturally sensitive to the spiritual world might even feel as if the temperature of the room had dropped by a degree or two.

To Eddy, however, the ritual appeared very differently. As he chanted, he could see the tendrils of candle smoke begin to twirl in the way that heralded a spiritual upheaval. Upon the altar, he felt spirituality boil from the sap and leak from the powdered bones. The closest thing to which he could liken it was to the shimmer in the air on a hot day, but if it was felt in your bones instead of seeing it in the distance with your eyes. He knew it didn’t make much sense, but things in the world of Beyonders rarely did.

Then came the peak of the ritual. Eddy neither saw it nor felt it, but he knew - somehow - that it was occurring. The metaphysical weight of madness was transferring from the ingredients to the focus of the ritual. To the tongues and eyes.

He was insulated from the effects. The symbols he had drawn were for the imbuement, the altar for focusing, but the chalk circles were for his own protection. Even still, with the ritual shielded by strong concentric wards, Eddy could still feel the effects leaking through. In his mind’s eye, he saw sickening fractal curves that lanced through his thoughts and twisted angles that mocked him. He groaned in pain as he tried to cogitate in order to restrain his spirituality. He had no desire to lose control.

He could see why this ritual was rarely done. Any flaw in his protections would lead to his mind shattering. Even with them in place, he was still under threat of mutation. Rituals were, he realised, never easy. There was always a toll - a price to pay.

It did not take long, however, for the feeling to dissipate. Eddy looked at the altar. All the items were still there, but Eddy somehow knew that the sap was now inert and that the powdered bone was now simply just that - just the bones of a random, ordinary person.

On the other hand, he could tell that the tongues and eyes had changed. They didn’t look any different, but he could sense a sick aura that hung over them. In the eyes of the world, these body parts now came from those who were truly insane - the kind of person that medical professionals would lock up in the most secure asylum. Eddy smiled. Just what he wanted.

It was now safe for Eddy to clear the ritual circle. The next part, despite being the main ritual, was surprisingly far easier. He was proudest of this part because it was actually his full idea. The concept of a battle ritual was great, but it ran into significant issues. Rituals were time-consuming and intricate - exactly the opposite of what was needed in a fight. Therefore, Eddy had come up with the idea of not using a ritual at all, and instead adapting the rite found in The Liberation of the Second Sister into a charm. Charms, unlike rituals, were easily deployed in battle and could be stored for later use. Once they had been made, no further preparation was needed prior to their use.

It wasn’t a ridiculous idea. Field’s book was already light on details, so it was probably the same amount of work to come up with a charm as it was to reconstruct the ritual in the first place. Now, theoretically, charms were very difficult to make, but almost everyone in the world of Beyonders got around this issue with a simple shortcut. Instead of making it themselves, they simply assembled the ingredients and beseeched a deity to intervene - filling the charm with their power in return for offerings.

This would be an issue for Eddy. He did not want to draw attention to himself by praying to an orthodox deity. However, he was in luck. The Hour of Midnight would serve very well as a focus for his prayers. After all, he’d used it before without issue. He took out three slivers of pale metal and placed them on the altar so that each one stood in the middle of a triangle (the points of each made up of a tongue and two eyes). He began to pray.

“O Hour of Midnight, God-who-is-Blood,

You who wing between primaeval trees,

Notice this humble servant and receive my offering.

Sap to wet thy Tongue and bone to feed thy Body,

Grant unto me the blessings of thy Kingdom.”

That was a clever touch, he thought. By using the inert sap and bone powder as sacrifices, he didn’t have to buy more ingredients. It also meant he didn’t have to clean them up. A lazy part of him rejoiced.

A few seconds later, after the sap had boiled away and the bone powder had swirled into nothingness, Eddy held three pieces of metal. They had once been blank, but now they had been carved with arcing fractals and twisting shapes that made Eddy’s head spin. He finally had a mystical item he could use as a weapon. He had his Madness Charms.


AN: Eddy finally uses his copy of Kitling Ripe to do something productive! Featuring Mr Voice’s great sense of humour (...), bad pseudo-Victorian attitudes toward mental health (stick ‘em in an asylum), and rituals. Eddy now has weapons beyond just using daggers.

The coming chapters will have a bit more going on, we’re working up toward some stuff. See you next week!

Edit: Yes, the Madness Charms serve an identical purpose to Klein’s Language of Foulness Charms - but the latter’s madness is linked to the True Creator, whereas Eddy’s are linked to madness as a general concept. Same outcome, different method.

Chapter 36: A Trip to the Pub


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

On those nights when we drink from the chalice, we are not certain, afterwards, what we have done. But, we may be assured, it is what always has been done, and if we do not remember, our children will, in their redmost dreams.

After he had finished making his Madness Charms, Eddy cleared up the ritual site. A wet rag mopped the chalk from the floor and the candles went back under a floorboard with the rest of the mystical paraphernalia. Soon, aside from a generally chalky scent to the air, there was no sign of anything supernatural having occurred.

Eddy put the charms in one of his jacket pockets. He promised himself that he wouldn’t leave the house without them - such a weapon was too valuable to leave at home. An ace up his sleeve.

His decision to promptly clear the room was soon rewarded when he heard knocking against his door. Checking the position of one of the knives up his sleeve, Eddy unlocked and opened the door a crack with his body behind the door. A greasy face looked down at him. The landlord.

“Barton.” The man said flatly.

“Mr Sanders.” Eddy responded in the same tone. Saying his name was strange - he’d always thought of him simply as ‘landlord’. Pushing slightly at the door until it opened wider, the landlord moved into Eddy’s room. Eddy kept a slight distance between himself and the man, moving backwards as his landlord advanced. Sanders looked around the room, eyes roaming over Eddy’s bed, his desk, and his wardrobe. Suspicious bastard.

Eventually, the man turned back to Eddy - seemingly satisfied that no heinous crime was occurring in the cramped tenement room. He reached into his jacket and pulled a letter from it.

“This was left for you downstairs.” He said curtly.

“Thank you, Mr Sanders.” Eddy responded. He didn’t like the man, but he wouldn’t be unnecessarily rude to him either. Moving house would be a great bother. After all, he’d spent a lot of time sewing secret pockets into those curtains.

Sanders grunted, sneering slightly. “I’m not your mailman, boy.” With the delivery of that pithy one-liner, the man turned around and stalked out of Eddy’s room, ducking slightly under the door frame as he went. He didn’t close the door behind him. Rolling his eyes, Eddy shut and relocked the door before sitting down at his desk. Who had written to him? Was it Meursault, once again calling for his dog to come to heel? Eddy sighed. He’d hoped that he would have more time than that. Well, he’d find out. A quick slash from one of his knives opened up the top of the envelope perfectly.

The paper within was smooth and white. High quality. Eddy’s eyes, however, were drawn over the text to the bottom of the page where an ink symbol had been pressed into the paper. A triangle - filled with cogs and levers. The symbol of the Church of the God of Steam and Machinery.

Dear Mr Barton,

The Church requests your aid with a matter of some importance.

It would be appreciated if you met with our representative at your earliest convenience at Bravehearts Bar, Backlund Bridge. Our representative will greet you upon entering. We assure you that you will be compensated for your time and effort.


Deacon Ikanser Bernard

Eddy contemplated the letter for a moment. He had been wondering when the Church might finally decide to make use of his presence. He had said under the compulsion of their truth artefact - to the same Deacon that had signed the letter - that he was not an enemy, and had been implicitly inducted into their wider network of informers. He supposed that the deal was now coming due. Looking at the letter in his hand, he mentally shrugged. Already they were making a better impression than the Zmangers. Such a polite letter! The promise of compensation was not to be sniffed at either.

Eddy noted that the letter mentioned neither Beyonders nor the Machinery Hivemind by name. Very discreet. Naturally, it would be bad form if the Church let knowledge of Beyonders fall into the hands of the public - especially if their official seal had been affixed to that knowledge.

Eddy decided that he would, in fact, take them up on their invitation. Even if he was unable to help, the perception that he was willing to offer his aid would only lead to a bettering of relations between him and the Church. The goodwill of such a powerful orthodox organisation was nothing to disregard. Therefore, Eddy started to get dressed for a trip to the Backlund Bridge area of the city. He might as well be prompt.

It was not too much further into the afternoon when Eddy arrived at Bravehearts Bar. He didn’t often venture into the Backlund Bridge area, but he knew his way around well enough - just not with the familiarity of his usual haunts. After all, the place had a reputation even worse than East Borough. The poverty was similar in both cases, as was the frequency of crime, but Backlund Bridge was surrounded by… rumours. It was a place where strange things happened - the setting for every rumour of evil spirits and abnormal phenomena. Of course, Eddy now knew that such rumours were the result of Beyonders. Backlund Bridge was a centre for independent Beyonders. The mystical capital of the Loen Kingdom.

Making his way onto Iron Gate Street, Eddy walked toward the heavy black wooden door that barred the entrance to the infamous Bravehearts Bar. A huge man was standing next to the door, arms crossed and leaning against the wall of the building. As he approached, Eddy could feel the man’s gaze on him. As Eddy got closer, the man seemed to loom larger. However, the man didn’t say or do anything as Eddy reached the door. He guessed that the brawny fellow was just there for the sake of intimidation (and making customers feel like tiny children). Besides, it wasn’t like Eddy looked particularly threatening. Eddy did not linger outside the bar. He pushed open the door.

Despite it only being the early afternoon, Eddy was hit by a wall of hot moist air as he entered the pub. The stench of sour beer and malt was thick in his nostrils. It wasn’t heaving inside, but there were still a surprising number of people given the time of day. They mostly sat at the bar or huddled around tables. The two stages in the middle of the bar were empty. Eddy had heard that they were often used for boxing matches or dog-fighting events, but apparently, those were evening activities. The Backlund Bridge crowd was apparently not the sort to enjoy a matinee performance.

Eddy’s gaze, however, quickly shifted when he saw someone waving at him from one of the tables. The person in question looked rather unassuming, with short brown hair and brown eyes covered with thick glasses. He was nursing a mug of beer. All in all, he looked like someone very unmemorable. However, Eddy knew that he was most likely a Beyonder of the Machinery Hivemind - the Church’s supernatural wing. As to his Sequence, Eddy did believe it was too high (he didn’t warrant the attention of anyone too powerful), but he was still an unknown factor. Eddy would be polite.

He gave a slight wave back and smiled, walking over as if he and the man were friends who had arranged to meet for a drink. The Machinery Hivemind representative stood up as Eddy approached, stretching out a hand for Eddy to shake.

“Mr Barton, it’s a pleasure to meet you! I’m George Carlson, but please call me George. Can I get you a drink?” He leaned toward Eddy, head tilted conspiratorially. “It’s rather expected here.” Eddy took his hand and shook it.

“Good to meet you, George. You can call me Eddy. A drink would be lovely - I'll have whatever you’re having.” He nodded at the mug at Carlson’s end of the table.

The man nodded. “A mug of Southville, then. I’ll be right back.” At that, he smiled at Eddy and walked off to the bar. As he did so, Eddy took a seat. Thankfully, Carlson had been clever enough to pick a table where Eddy could sit with his back to the wall. Considerate. Eddy guessed that this was a job that Carlson did a lot - a regular contact for the Hivemind’s informants.

It didn’t take long for Carlson to return from the bar holding a mug of Southville beer. Eddy had watched him at the bar, his enhanced eyes peering through the dim light to watch the man’s hands. Nothing had been done to the beer. Eddy knew he was being paranoid, but he had the power to assure himself of his safety - he’d be a fool not to use it during a first meeting.

Eddy smiled as he accepted the mug from Carlson. He took a sip as the man took a seat. The bitter and fragrant taste of the beer filled his mouth and fizzed pleasantly. He wiped a touch of foam from his lips with the back of his hand and smiled at Carlson. “Lovely. Thank you.”

“Not a problem,” Carlson responded. “I’m glad you decided to accept our invitation.”

“It was more polite than some invitations I’ve received before.”

Carlson - George - laughed. “What can I say? We aren’t brutes. Goodwill is repaid with goodwill.”

Eddy smiled. “A saying of which I thoroughly approve.” They clinked their mugs together in a mock toast and drank - letting a silence descend for a few moments. Eddy was the one to break the quiet (well, as quiet as Bravehearts Bar could be).

“So,” he began. “Thank you for the beer, but let’s get down to business. Why have I been invited here?” He paused for a little. “Your letter was a little… vague.”

“Yes, of course.” Carlson leaned back into his chair, bobbing his head slightly as he took another sip from his mug. “This is your first time doing this, so it’s natural that you have questions.”

Eddy raised an eyebrow. Carlson cleared his throat and leaned forward - his voice getting quieter. “My people have a lot of resources, but we often find that we lack… insight… into certain areas of the city.” He gestured at Eddy. “That’s where people like you come in.”

“People like me?” Eddy questioned in a dry tone. Carlson barked out a laugh.

“I’m not insulting you. Independents. People who can move in circles that we can’t.” He grimaced. “Well, not officially, at least.”

“You want information, then. On what?”

“You’ve heard of the killings down by the river.”

The statement broke the rhythm that Eddy had been getting into. He didn’t like where this was going. “Hard not to. It’s all the papers have been talking about today.” He’d seen the tabloids screaming about them on the way down to Backlund Bridge. They loved a sensationalist story to whip up the gore-loving mob. Anything to sell more copies.

“Then you’ve seen that their tongues were cut out.”

Eddy hid his reaction behind his mug of Southville, but nodded as he drank. He needed the time to compose himself. There was no reason as to why they’d suspect him. According to his own interrogation records, he was just a harmless Sequence 9 Mystery Pryer with no intention to disrupt the peace. Carlson had no idea that he was inviting the murderer in on the investigation.

He set the mug down. “Yes.” He responded simply.

Carlson’s voice got even quieter, causing Eddy to have to lean forward in order to hear him.

“We at the Church are concerned that this is the start of something… dangerous. There’s no real proof of anything related to Beyonders. After all, the men were all gang members - such things are common among them. The cutting out of tongues, however - that’s not normal. We’re worried that this is related to a certain type of Beyonder. A Sequence 7 Serial Killer. Very dangerous. Not the kind of person you want to meet. They tend to go on killing sprees whenever they appear. Taking trophies for dark and heretical rituals is often one of their tells.” Carlson explained all of this with a grim look on his face.

Eddy’s eyes widened. He’d only harvested their bodies for ritual ingredients, and now the Church thought that a murderous mid-Sequencer was about to start a killing spree across the Borough. On the other hand, he realised, he had used their body parts for dark and possibly heretical rituals - so they were half right.

“So if I hear anything…?”

“Anything at all. Even if it’s a bullsh*t rumour from the town idiot, come and tell me. We can’t afford to let a single lead escape. Many lives are at stake.”

Eddy gave Carlson a firm look and nodded, mustering his acting ability as he did so. “Of course. I don’t know much about mid-Sequence Beyonders, but I know enough to not want them prowling around near my house. If I learn anything, I’ll let you know.” He felt bad, in a way. His actions had caused a massive manhunt at the top level of the orthodox organisations. There’d be a lot of sleepless nights over this ‘serial killer’.

Carlson gave him a relieved smile. “Thank you, Eddy. I wouldn’t blame you for staying away from this.”

“How could I?” His smile turned conspiratorial. “Besides, you did offer compensation…”

Carlson shook his head in good humour, lips twitching. “Naturally.” He glanced over toward the bar as if pondering something before his eyes turned back to Eddy. “Are you familiar with Kaspars Kalinin?”

Eddy frowned. The name was unknown to him. “I can’t say I am.”

Carlson’s eyes lit up. “Then I have the perfect payment for you, Eddy.” He pointed at the bar, which was being manned by a gruff-looking fellow with thick arms. His scars spoke of a rough life. The army, perhaps. Or something less savoury.

Eddy looked back at Carlson, eyes wide. “I like women.”

Carlson sighed and began to massage his forehead with one of his hands. “Thank you for the information, Eddy. I’ll add it to the file…” The last part was muttered in a low voice - Eddy might not have heard it if not for his naturally good sense of hearing. After a pause, Carlson continued. “If you go to the bar and ask to meet Kaspars Kalinin, then he can introduce you to a… gathering… of sorts. If you don’t attend one already, it might be very useful to you. Mention my name if you have to, that should smooth your path.”

“A Beyonder gathering?”

“That’s right.”

Eddy couldn’t help but gulp at the confirmation. The Hivemind was truly his favourite employer so far - they gave the most wonderful gifts! Just for a promise of cooperation, Carlson was handing out the secret of exclusive access to a real meeting of Beyonders. Before, Eddy had just been prowling around the edges of the supernatural world, but Carlson was opening the door to the real world of Beyonders.

It was strange, at first glance, that Carlson - a member of the Machinery Hivemind - had such influence over who got to attend this secretive gathering of independent Beyonders. However, when Eddy thought about it, it made perfect sense. The Machinery Hivemind seemed willing to cooperate with friendly independent Beyonders, so it wasn’t impossible for Eddy to believe that they might monitor their gatherings in order to root out anyone truly dangerous (like the fictitious Sequence 7 Serial Killer for instance). Perhaps they had made deals with the leaders of these gatherings in return for not breaking them up. Better the devil you know, after all. If the Hivemind cracked down on all Beyonder gatherings, then they would lose access to a valuable source of information.

Therefore, Eddy came to the conclusion that he would be joining a Beyonder circle that, while independent, was led by someone who reported to or worked with the Machinery Hivemind. He wasn’t bothered by that. He’d just have to make sure he didn’t buy or sell anything too… eye-catching.

Not wishing to be impolite, Eddy made conversation with Carlson for a few minutes. However, the Beyonder was clearly perceptive, because he picked up that Eddy wanted to speak to the bartender about Kalinin as soon as possible.

Carlson shook Eddy’s hand farewell. “It was good to meet you, Eddy. Deacon Ikanser said that you were a good-tempered sort, and I’m glad to say that he was correct. I’ll let you talk to Kalinin. Good day!”

“It was good to meet you too George.”

At that, Carlson put on his hat and jacket and left the bar - certainly returning to his headquarters to report. Eddy watched him leave. Despite their different affiliations, he seemed like a nice man. Eddy did not doubt, however, that the man was highly trained in combat and very dangerous - especially as he did not know his abilities. He shook his head. He did not have to worry about the Machinery Hivemind. As long as he wasn’t stupid, they would continue to be more of a friend than any other group he knew right now. Hopefully, this would be the start of a long and fruitful relationship.

Downing the last of his beer, Eddy made his way toward the bar. It was time to get invited to a proper Beyonder gathering.


AN: Oopsie - the Orthodox Beyonders think there’s a big serial killer on the loose when it’s actually just tongue-stealer Eddy. Naturally, it’s fine when he does it.

Eddy is being a little paranoid about the influence of the Church on independent Beyonder Gatherings, but he has a point. If you think about Eye of Wisdom’s civilian identity, you realise that he would probably not be averse to alerting the Hivemind if someone super suspicious came along and started doing obvious Aurora Order business or buying up materials needed for demonic rituals. Based on this, I'm fine with Carlson being Eddy's 'in' to Eye of Wisdom's gathering.

We shall continue next week!

Chapter 37: The Shield and the War


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

My scars are weapons. Through striving I rise to victory. There is no defeat but annihilation. In the light of the Bright Edge we know ourselves. I pledge myself to the service of the strongest.

Eddy walked over to the bar, hiding the excitement bubbling away inside him. The chance at attending an actual Beyonder gathering was one that he really hadn’t expected to acquire. This was a golden opportunity. He might not need the support of one now, but attendance would allow him to scout the true Beyonder economy, meet valuable contacts, as well as buying and selling goods and information. There was so much to learn, so much to gain. The Church of the God of Steam and Machinery was obviously trying to buy his favour, and - if this worked - they will have succeeded tremendously. They were blatantly bribing him - but who ever said that Eddy did not like bribes?

Getting the attention of the barkeep, Eddy nodded to him in greeting. He would get right down to business. He slid over a six-pence coin to get his attention. That was half a soli - the man would not ignore him after that proclamation of intent. Indeed, he did not, and the coin disappeared swiftly into the barkeep’s large hand. Softly, Eddy spoke. He leaned closer to ensure that he was not overheard. “I’m here to meet with Kaspars Kalinin. I heard he could put me in touch with some people.”

The bartender gave him a piercing look but nodded after a while. He gestured to a door at the back of the bar with a sharp jerk of his head before moving off to serve a customer. Eddy shrugged. A man of few words, apparently. Not that it mattered, of course. He could appreciate the efficiency.

The door was wooden and short. Bravehearts Bar was old and the height of the doorway was a relic of those times. Apparently, people used to be shorter - a result of better nutrition. Eddy wasn’t sure if he believed that. People in East Borough ate far too many pies (himself included). Perhaps people were taller in other parts of the city. Casting aside his frivolous thoughts, Eddy knocked on the door and let himself in.

Inside, sitting at a table and playing a game of solitaire, was a… distinctive-looking man. He was perhaps, by Eddy’s reckoning, about fifty years of age, but he looked older due to his greater-than-average weight and a tried face crowned with a brandy-reddened nose that looked as if it had been broken a few too many times. A nasty scar ran down the right side of his face, the flesh twisted and raised in a welt of scar flesh from his eye to his mouth. All in all, he was a very unusual-looking fellow.

As Eddy entered, he looked up with cold eyes. Eddy noted that his hand had moved beneath the table as soon as he had noticed his new visitor. A gun, no doubt. Such a cautious fellow. Eddy slowly doffed his cap. “Good afternoon, Mr Kalinin. I was hoping to make use of your services. Mr Carlson said that you might be able to help me.”

Kalinin’s expression changed slightly at the mention of Carlson. “John Carlson sent you?”

Eddy smiled at the unsubtle attempt. “George Carlson, Mr Kalinin. He just left - heading back to King’s Avenue I believe.” He included the last bit as further confirmation. Deacon Ikanser had told him that the Hivemind had offices on that street, and so Eddy was wagering that Kalinin knew that as well. If he did, that should be enough to prove that he was in cooperation with the orthodox organisation. Apparently, it was enough. Kalinin pulled a clearly fake expression of realisation.

“Of course! George, not John!” He shook his head and tutted. “I’ve never had a good memory for names.” Eddy sincerely doubted that. A broker (for that was surely what Mr Kalinin was) would never get far without an excellent memory for names, faces, and rumours. He just smiled though.

“It happens to the best of us.” He replied politely. “George mentioned that you might be able to put me in touch with a certain gathering. One made up of… people with unusual talents.” As he spoke, he saw something that looked like a hint of fear pass across the broker's scarred face. Was the man afraid of Beyonders? In Backlund Bridge no less? Perhaps he had seen more than most. Who knew what horrors existed in the higher Sequences?

Nevertheless, the deal went quickly and without obstacles. Eddy forked over a couple of pounds as a ‘fee’ and was given the proper information. He had gained an invitation to a gathering led by a mid-Sequence Beyonder called ‘Eye of Wisdom’. That made him raise an eyebrow. Of course, strength was needed to ensure civility in a setting with so many Beyonders, but a mid-Sequencer was no joke. If Eddy’s theory was correct, however, it probably helped that this so-called Eye of Wisdom was backed by the Church.

Apparently, the gathering was held in the same location on Iron Gate Street at 8 pm. Whether it was held on a particular night or not would be indicated by in the Backlund Morning Post. If the day’s issue contained an advert from the Ernst Firm of Hillston Borough, then the gathering would take place the next evening. The passcode would be contained in the advert. Kalinin explained the system patiently. An elegant solution, Eddy thought - although it did imply that Eye of Wisdom had money to spare. Last-minute advertisem*nts in a major paper probably cost a pretty penny. He wouldn’t expect a mid-Sequencer to be poor though.

He frowned. He’d have to get a subscription to the Backlund Morning Post. What a bother. Another expense. Once he bought some more books, he’d probably have to start steal-ahem… earning… again.

Nevertheless, having got what he wanted, Eddy doffed his cap once again and excused himself - leaving the bar. However, he was only a few steps outside of the building when he stumbled - immediately raising his Veil on instinct as a huge spiritual force slammed into him. He staggered, slumping against a wall as a mystical pressure akin to the weight of the sea stole his breath and made his bones creak.

He gasped for air, feeling questing tendrils of something reach out and try and grasp him. They failed, however. A frighteningly fragile-looking membrane stood between him and the spiritual force, and all attempts to grasp him simply slid off its ethereal shield. Eddy remained against the wall, legs weak and eyes staring into the spiritual as he watched what was happening with bated breath. The tendrils curled and struck with increasing force - almost desperation - but the barrier above Eddy’s kin held. Stalwart.

Eventually, after what seemed like minutes, the feeling of the tendrils retreated and withdrew from his senses like eels retreating into holes. A scent , for want of a better word, was left behind. Oil. Rusted iron. The clank of machinery and the roar of the fire. The rhythmic song of clockwork.

Eddy’s mind raced. Air once again entered his lungs and he sucked it down like a drowning man. What had happened? Why had he been attacked? How had it been stopped? It didn't make sense.

As his mind calmed, though, Eddy began to piece together the events that had just transpired. The barrier, the shimmering shield that had saved him was the key. He’d seen it before. It was the result of his anti-divination ritual, the one he had done just that morning. Every time he completed it, he felt a second shimmering skin sink below his own. Was that what had happened? Had the assault been a divination that was blocked by his preparation?

[Approval] Cautious preparation is most wise. [Amusem*nt]

Eddy jolted. He must have said that last part out loud. He licked his dry lips. “Mr Voice? Was that indeed a divination targeting me?”

[Confirmation] It seems so .

Eddy was confused. “But why was it so violent? People don’t normally feel divinations - at least I don’t believe so…”

[Approval] They don’t. Normally. You blocked the attempt. The… pain… you felt was the backlash.

That made sense. Divination wasn’t meant to be blocked - especially not artificially. Perhaps the barrier was less about blocking the divination and more about shielding his spirit and body from the resultant spiritual fallout.

Have you troubled anyone lately? [Amusem*nt]

Eddy went to shake his head in denial. He knew nobody that would want to set a Seer or a Mystery Pryer on him. There was no reason. Except. His heart stopped. The scent of oil and iron. The Machinery Hivemind. The murders. The bloody murders. The Church was hunting for their Sequence 7 Serial Killer. They were hunting him - they just didn’t know it.

“Mr Voice, will they know something is wrong now that their divination has been blocked?”

[Confirmation] Serial Killers can block divination. The Church will now be certain that they are facing one. [Amusem*nt]

Eddy sighed in relief. As long as the Church continued on its wild goose chase, he would happily endure the backlash of their divination attempts. He hoped that they would not persist once they had realised that they were facing (to their minds) a Sequence 7 Serial Killer. Thank the Goddess for that anti-divination ritual. The Hour of Midnight had saved him once again.

By the time Eddy got back to his room on Grey Palm Alley, two more attempted divinations had been unleashed upon him - both sending him stumbling to the cobbles under the protection of his Veil. He had coped with the backlash far better than the first time, but it still stalled him. The first attempt had the same scent as the one before, but the second was different. In its retreat, it tasted of parchment and the scent of lilies. The smoke from evening candles. The Nighthawks. More than one Church was on the tail of the Docklands Tonguesnatcher (the newspapers had the most inventive naming sense).

Nevertheless, the ritual held and, despite it only being early evening, Eddy fell onto his bed and dropped into sleep almost instantly. The repeated backlashes had tired him greatly. Before slumber took him though, he reminded himself that he would need to reapply his anti-divination shield in the morning before it ran out. One slip-up in his routine would leave him open to divination and - worst of all - if one occurred while he was unshielded, then he would not even know before the Hivemind arrived to take him down. He doubted that they would spare him. Negligence would mean death.

Part of him regretted killing those men, for the trouble that their deaths had caused him, but a greater part simply didn’t care. The Parliament Street Gang got what it deserved. In any case, the life of a Beyonder was dangerous. At least the danger he faced as a result of his actions was one that could be controlled and mitigated. He would not waste time on regret.

[Approval] Good. A fine sentiment… [Pride]

Sleep was almost upon him, so Eddy only nodded drowsily at Mr Voice’s words. He really needed to stop speaking out loud.

That night in The Wood, he was chased by an almost human creature that prowled between the trees. It had adorned itself with the severed tongues of its prey and laughed as it chased him between the silent pines.

The sun was just starting to rise when Eddy woke. It was earlier than he would normally wake, but he decided to get up anyway rather than laze around. His room wasn’t exactly comfortable. Not for the first time, Eddy let his thoughts drift to the idea of moving to a nicer borough. It was almost a foreign concept. Having a room to himself was novel enough, he could scarcely imagine owning an entire house.

After setting up and completing an anti-divination ritual, he settled on heading out for an early breakfast. After that, the plan was to head to West Borough and sneak into the Royal Library again. He had nothing urgent to do, so he might as well start getting a grounding in Ancient Hermes.

However, as soon as he stepped outside his tenement building, he realised that something was wrong. He sniffed the air as he left in order to learn how the weather would develop throughout the day, but instead, the scent of smoke dominated. Not factory smoke. Wood smoke. Smoke from a fire. Leaving Grey Palm Alley, Eddy stepped into the city. Immediately, he knew what had happened. He must have slept through it, but there had been fighting in his part of East Borough. He could see police guarding morgue attendants down at the end of Black Palm Street as they wrapped bodies in linen

He had a good guess at what was happening. He’d killed three men on the border of Parliament Street Gang and Proscrito territory and Blue Mitch had lashed out in the only way he knew how - just as he had done when Eddy had killed his men in that alley, or when he had stolen the guns from Wharf Five. With nobody to blame, he had decided that violence would visit Proscrito turf.

Thankfully, property damage was low in Eddy’s immediate earlier - it was just the lives of gang members that had been lost. That was far better than some of Blue Mitch’s previous sorties. Eddy didn’t understand the man. If he continued with this pattern of mass violence, surely the Churches or the state would put him down. Sivellaus Yard accepted a certain level of criminal activity, but Blue Mitch was too arrogant. Too visible in his rampant law-breaking. Was the man on the verge of losing control? Had his potion led him to the brink of sanity?

It looked like the Proscritos had defended themselves pretty well, Eddy thought as he wandered the streets. There were fewer green and purple armbands on the corpses than there were men dressed in dockworker clothing. In his area, at least, the Proscritos had come out on top.

It was on Whiterose Street, however, that things changed. The fighting had been thickest here. Fires had been started, burning out buildings along the road. This was the source of the smoke.

Eddy’s eyes scanned the street. A cafe’s window had been smashed, and a tailor’s shop set alight. There, the fire had spread and consumed its neighbours - gutting the buildings until they were half-collapsed. The fire had been contained now, but Eddy could still see the remnants of a bucket line. People milled around, some merely watching, others picking through the ash and rubble. Some of them would be former residents, others just scavengers - like he was once.

Eddy frowned. He was missing something. Something was absent, but he wasn’t sure what. He looked around, brow furrowed. A doubt, a rising sense of disquiet. The realisation hit him at that point. Emerson’s. Emerson’s was on Whiterose Street. Eddy looked around. The destruction of several buildings had disoriented him. It was next to a butcher. He could remember that. A butcher and a… a tailor. His gaze was drawn back to where the tailor’s shop had been destroyed. Emerson’s had been next to a tailor.

Almost in a daze, Eddy walked over to the ruined area of the street. A policeman was standing there, surveying the site as people gawked at the labourers and morgue attendants at work. “E-excuse me, sir?” Eddy hated how his voice hitched slightly as he spoke. The officer turned toward him. “Emerson’s.” He forced out the word. “I know the owner. Is - is he safe? I only just found out about…” he gestured impotently at the rubbles. The words didn’t quite come.

The policeman’s face, at first cold, softened a little as Eddy spoke. “My condolences, lad. We dug a body out of the rubble. An older gentleman.” He paused. “The fire took to the buildings quickly. It was a miracle that it didn’t spread further.” He winced at the poor wording before giving up. “I’m sorry…”

Eddy nodded dumbly. “He always liked to start work early…” His gaze was fixed on some of the rubble. Under a blackened layer of soot, he could see dark green paint and a hint of gold lettering. The old man had taken pride in that sign. His father had painted it. Eddy turned away and moved through the crowd, pushing past the gawking mob.

John Emerson was dead. The first person to treat him with proper kindness in years was dead. Because of him. No - because of Blue Mitch. Because one of the largest gangs in East Borough was led by someone with the temper of a petulant child and nobody has had the guts to put him down like the animal he is. Because he’s powerful. Scary. Supernatural.

Well, Eddy could be scary too. The time for hiding was over. Blue Mitch had started this all - he’d forced him to run, to hide, to kill. His actions had forced him under the whip of the Zmangers. No more. He’d pay. For everything.

The endless buzzing grew louder in his head, like the tension before the battlecry. It was time for war between Eddy and the Parliament Street Gang. It was time for war between Eddy and Blue Mitch. By the end of the day, one of them was going to win. By the end of the day, one of them was going to die.

This he swore. With a flick of his wrists, a pair of sharpened scissors dropped into one hand, and an antique blade of Feysac steel into the other. He looked toward the docklands.



AN: Ooh. Edgy. Yeah, Blue Mitch messed up and Eddy isn’t willing to hide from him anymore. He isn’t the weak orphan-boy that got chased out of the city not so long ago. Revenge arc started. In other news, thank the Goddess for that anti-div ritual. Came in handy, huh?

Also, yes, Britain’s pre-decimal currency did in fact have a sixpenny coin along with a threepenny, halfpenny, and a quarterpenny. Ugh, the imperial system is so stupid. You know that when the UK decimalised, some older people complained that having 100 pennies to the pound was “too complicated”. Obviously 12 pennies to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound (along with half pennies, farthings, guineas, etc.) was sooooo much more simple. Anyway, rant over - see you next week!

Chapter 38: Revenge - Part One


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Revenge - Part One

‘When the Forge is cold and the Glory is dark and the Wood is dust, perhaps the Wolf Divided will rest, but only until it can devour itself. Hear me now…’

‘There is a power that commemorates and grieves, from whom nothing is taken, but who cannot be deceived. I will tell you that power’s name. Listen to me…’

‘Let’s speak of endings. Let’s speak of the declining sun. Let’s speak of things that aren’t quite dead, and won’t quite die…’

Veil raised, Eddy stalked through the streets, eyes darting and sight piercing down shadowed alleyways. Nothing. In the wake of the pre-dawn violence and the emergence of Sivellaus Yard’s men onto the streets, the gangs had retreated into the shadows for the time being. They’d be in safehouses and headquarters - tending to their wounded, tallying their losses, and speaking to informants. It would be in these hours that each gang would decide if they had suffered victory or defeat, and scout out the situations of their rivals. In such a chaotic battlefield as East Borough, such a thing was not always immediately apparent.

As for himself, Eddy thought that the Proscritos had won the day - based solely on the number of bodies - but it wasn’t so simple as that. The Proscritos were tight-knit and trained. The Parliament Street Gang, on the other hand, mainly utilised hired muscle from the ranks of the dockworkers. They could afford the losses better. The cost of the butcher’s bill was not a simple matter of addition and subtraction. Besides, reputation also mattered. It was anyone’s guess whether the other gangs would sense weakness or strength in either side’s actions. In other words, it was a brief moment of flux - imbalance - in the criminal landscape of East Borough. Eddy intended to take advantage of that.

The first port of call was to find where the Parliament Street Gang was hiding. Down in the heart of their territory, the docklands, certainly, but that was not too helpful in narrowing it down. Backlund was the greatest city in the world with huge docklands and, in that maze of warehouses and yards, Blue Mitch was in his element. They would not be easy to find. Therefore, Eddy did not intend to do the work himself.

As Eddy passed onto Stratford Bend, where the Zmangers had ambushed during his previous rampage, he kept his eyes peeled for suspicious activity. Just because the gangs were staying low didn’t mean that they were absent. Their territory still needed to be patrolled - albeit with a… lighter touch. Their outer guards had most likely been withdrawn closer to the heart of their fief as a matter of security while some of their members were incapacitated. Naturally, their patrols would have to occasionally report to a lieutenant or receive orders - sending a runner or some such thing. That would be Eddy’s ‘in’. The start of a trail that would lead him up the gang’s chain of command until he found Blue Mitch. He sniffed the air. Smog and sewage, with a hint of offal. There would be rain later on in the day. He hoped it would clean the air.

It didn’t take long for Eddy to find a Parliament Street Gang patrol. Of course, they weren’t so blatant as to swagger down the middle of the street proudly wearing blue and black bands on their arms, but why else would six dockworkers be walking the streets before midday with no apparent purpose - a fair distance away from the docklands where they should be employed. They were almost certainly gang members on a ‘subtle’ patrol (for a given value of subtlety). His sense for hidden pockets and compartments altered him as he watched them from a distance. Knives in their boots. Revolvers in their jackets. Rather well-armed for a stroll down the road.

For about half an hour, Eddy followed the men, keeping back far enough that they were just in his sight. There was no reason to get closer, especially given that the men seemed to be quite alert - gazes moving between alleyways and side passages as they moved along their route. Impressive - for hired muscle. Eddy hadn’t expected them to be so conscientious but he accepted that it made some sense. Other gangs might try to take advantage of any perceived weakness in the wake of their losses. In any case, they were almost certainly all mundane, but he still didn’t want to test his Veil against their vigilance for an extended period by staying too close to them.

Eventually, however, Eddy struck gold. As they were turning a corner at Millstone Lane, a malnourished-looking boy ran up to them and whispered something into the lead thug's ear. He was only, by Eddy’s guess, about twelve or thirteen years old and had to stand on tiptoes even as the man bent down slightly. A messenger. A runner, paid pennies by the gangs to send information speedily.

He didn’t know what the runner had said to the patrol leader, but they quickly turned and started walking in another direction with purpose, hands dipping toward the hilts and handles of concealed weapons. Eddy frowned. From the general direction, it looked like they were heading for the border with Black Skeleton territory. It didn’t matter though, he was done with them.

Instead, his attention turned to the boy. While he had been watching the patrol leave, the runner had already started moving, so Eddy had to break into a light run to catch up. He couldn’t let the boy out of his sight. The child was fast - filled with the wiry and lean strength that came with living on the streets of Backlund. Eddy had never been a runner for the gangs, but it was a job that many in his situation aspired toward. Decent pay (for a street urchin) and a chance to get inducted into the gang at some point. That last part had always put Eddy off. He valued his independence too much - perhaps more than was healthy. Some things didn’t change, he chuckled to himself.

The boy was heading further into the Docklands, and Eddy could already smell salt and rotting fish. This had been his plan from the beginning. Follow the patrols, find the messengers, and find who’s giving the messengers their messages. Work your way up. Simple. Ideally, the runner would be reporting directly to Blue Mitch, but Eddy wasn’t holding out hope. He didn’t know how large the Parliament Street Gang was, but he doubted that the brutish savage at the top of the chain was personally coordinating every detail.

After about five minutes the messenger boy suddenly changed behaviour. Instead of running, he slowed down and started to look around himself warily. Eddy got closer, intrigued. He tensed up out of instinct as the boy’s gaze crossed over him, but there was no reason to worry. His Veil was working just as well as ever. The boy might have been looking for people following him, but the streets weren’t empty at this time of day and there was no possibility that he could pick Eddy out from the crowd even without his stealth ability.

Eddy was quite amused as he followed the boy. He was walking in loops, ducking into alleyways, switching directions, and snooping around corners to catch anyone following him. It reminded him of that malnourished lunatic he’d stolen the winged doll from just off Spoon Lane. Of course, it was just as useless. Eddy had once again employed the tactic of following from the rooftops - using his climbing ability where he had to. His dexterity came in handy here, where the density of buildings was slightly less than the ramshackle slums of the Spoon Lane area. His able hands meant that finding handholds was rather easy. He still needed to work on his fitness though. An improved diet had helped him enormously, but he didn’t actually do much exercise - something he’d realised once his arms started burning and his legs started cramping. Another goal for the future.

In the end, though, the boy appeared satisfied that he was not being followed and slipped into a passageway between two decrepit-looking tenement blocks. Eddy moved closer - low to the ground and quiet. He still had his Veil, but old habits died hard. Besides, it couldn’t hurt to be careful. As he approached, the boy knocked on a door that led out into the passageway. He only got close enough to hear the last part of the knocking, but it sounded like a passcode. Some sort of pre-arranged sequence. A slot in the door opened up and, after a couple of seconds, the door was cracked open just enough for the messenger to slip inside before it was closed again. Eddy could hear the click of locks engaging and bolts being thrown.

He’d found his target.

Eddy would have absolutely loved to just barge into the building and start killing gang members, but he held himself back. He was a thief, an assassin - not a Feysac berserker from a previous era. He needed to scout and plan. So, that’s what he did.

For the next couple of hours without interruption (except when he left for ten minutes to grab a pie for lunch), Eddy watched the tenement block. He found out less than he hoped for. The building was five stories of red bricks and he was relatively sure that the whole building was being used as a centre for the Parliament Street Gang. Several times, as he was watching, runners came and left - carrying messages out to the wider territory. He spotted a few thugs too. Anything more than that, however, was difficult. The tenement had windows, but blinds and curtains had covered all of them. The windows on the bottom two floors even had boards across them. A contingency to stop people from sneaking in, perhaps? Inconsiderate.

In the end, Eddy realised that he probably wasn’t going to gain anything from watching further, and got up from the rooftop where he had been lying - feeling something in his spine give out a satisfying pop as he stretched his stiff muscles. He’d listened enough to people knocking on the front door that he’d memorised the code, but that would be a foolish way into the building. Instead, he’d use his dexterity to scale the side of the building and enter from the roof. With his Veil, all he had to do was avoid the windows - an easy task when they were all boarded up or covered.

Eddy found a good place to start and his agile fingertips found holds where brick met mortar. The bricklayer had been sloppy, but this was actually an advantage as it made the sides of the building uneven. It was by no means an easy ascent, but it would have been far harder without relying on the decrepit state of the building. Eddy thanked the Goddess for cost-cutting builders. His fingers quickly began to ache deeply from the strain he was putting them under, but Eddy persisted - shoving the pain into the back of his mind and refusing to acknowledge it. An East Borough man could ignore the gnawing of hunger for days out of sheer will. He could ignore some sore digits.

The window sills were also his allies as he got higher. They were relatively deep-set into the building’s walls and this allowed him to haul himself up by his hands. He couldn’t rest on them, but they acted as good places to temporarily plant his feet and take some of the strain off his arms. For a time, he put aside thoughts of progress and just lost himself in the climb - inch by inch, foot by foot. He shuffled his feet up into cracks, braced himself against a drainpipe, and reached for holds blindly with his hands above his head. He couldn’t look up, otherwise, loose mortar dislodged by his questing hands would get in his eyes. Instead, he just climbed.

It was easier on his body than it had been that night on Wharf Five. There were no barnacles to slice his hands, and he was fitter than he had been then - even if not by much. Confidence helped too. He’d done things like this since, and his increased skill meant that he could move more safely whilst being faster. Therefore, he wasn’t in a terrible condition when his hand met empty air before falling down to find the top, rather than a side, of a brick. He’d reached the roof.

The top of the building was flat and smooth, surrounded by a waist-high wall of bricks. Eddy pitched himself over it and fell onto the floor of the rooftop terrace. It was all rather inelegant, but he wouldn’t complain. He just lay there for a little while until his arms started to recover. He flexed his fingers, wincing slightly. Some of his skin had been abraded away by the rough bricks of the building, but overall his hands were in usable condition. He could still wield a knife.

He looked around the roof. There was a wooden chair placed in one corner. It looked old and worn, and the rain had discoloured the spots that hadn’t been stained by long-term exposure to the Backlund smog. Did gang members sit up here sometimes as lookouts? Or was it just a spot where they could smoke a cigarette in peace? It didn’t matter. A chair meant that there was an easy way up, and Eddy quickly spotted it. A trapdoor - a flimsy-looking hatch made of two pieces of stained wood attached to hinges drilled into the floor. A cheap and rushed job. It probably leaked during heavy rain. Eddy walked over, making sure to be as quiet as possible, and gave one of the handles a soft tug. It moved - opening slightly. He smiled with satisfaction. Unlocked. Perfect. After all, who would scale a five-story building and break in from the roof?

He braced himself and opened the hatch slowly, wary of squealing hinges. A ladder led down into the building and Eddy could hear the mutter of voices below him. He hesitated, panic welling up from within him. This was happening. He was about to go on a pre-meditated spree of murder. He would try and wipe out one of the fixtures of Backlund’s criminal underworld. The buzzing rose in him like a tidal wave.



AN: Book of Hours is really good. I’ve discovered an unhealthy obsession with sorting books and making sure they’re all in a sensible system. I have been spending far too much time playing it though. It really makes me lose track of time! Anyway - next chapter: lots of violence. And some more violence on top, perhaps? See you next week!

Chapter 39: Revenge - Part Two


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Their blood pumps bright, then dark. They should not have opposed us. We move on.

Eddy slipped like a shadow down the ladder, making sure not to let out any noise. As he clambered down the wooden rungs, he worried that one would snap and send him tumbling to the floor with a crash, but no such thing occurred. Instead, Eddy found himself crouched in a small room. A few mattresses were laid out on the floor with messy bedding strewn over the top. A spare bedroom for any gang members needing a place to hide for a while? It certainly wasn’t luxury accommodation. The place did look lived-in, but there was nobody there as Eddy looked around.

He closed his eyes, straining his hearing. The door to the room was closed, but he could hear a muffled conversation beyond it. Two, or three voices? Yes, three. Two had thick East Borough accents and sounded very similar, but the second was slightly deeper and more gravelly. The third voice was more reedy and the higher pitch cut through the air enough for Eddy to already get annoyed at its nasal quality. So, there were three men outside the dormitory door. There were other voices, quieter and more distant - layered beneath the nearer conversation. Men in other rooms and on the floors below.

Eddy didn’t know how many people were in the building - his stakeout hadn’t delivered very much useful information. That meant he had to move quickly and clear the building floor by floor. Five stories above ground with the possibility of a basem*nt. Eddy was optimistic about his stealth skills, but at some point, his inability to scout ahead was going to lead to the alarm being raised. His entry from the roof had allowed him a subtle entrance, but it also meant that the gangsters would be able to flee the building. Once he was forced to go loud, that meant that he would be on a countdown. Someone could flee and get reinforcements, but, even if they didn’t, a messenger arriving at a dead-quiet safehouse would raise questions.

Once he started, he wouldn’t be able to waste time.

All these thoughts had caused Eddy’s pulse to rise and his breath to quicken, but he calmed himself forcefully and relaxed his tensing muscles. He checked his weapons one last time. His scissors, the Feysac knife, and a plethora of hidden blades in his sleeves, pockets, and boots. Four knives, in fact, aside from his Feysac blade and the scissors. He even had a sliver of sharpened metal sown inside the collar of his jacket. A man could never be too prepared. Eddy didn’t know why such a thing would be useful, but it was a precaution. He would not neglect his safety over a failure of imagination.

Taking a knife from his sleeve and holding it at the ready, Eddy sidled up to the door as his other hand curled around the doorknob. The conversation between the three men continued beyond it. Eddy did not listen to their words. It would only distract him. His grip tightened as he prepared to crack the door open and peek through to scout the situation.

He began to pull at the door gently and slowly, only to find it suddenly wrenched away from him as it opened outward. Eddy’s surprised face met the three equally surprised faces of the men who had clearly decided to enter the makeshift dormitory just as Eddy was preparing to leave. In the narrow doorway, they were all arranged in a close line and Eddy was able to see all of them. The one at the front was clearly the reedy-voiced one. He was short and had a narrow face with pale green eyes. The two behind him were taller and bulkier and were clearly brothers of some sort as they shared similar rugged features. The one at the back was likely the younger though as his face still had hints of fat on it. He was probably a year or so younger than Eddy.

For a few seconds, the thugs and Eddy just stared blankly at each other, letting an atmosphere of silence fill the doorway. Then, everything burst into chaos.

Eyes widened in a sudden realisation of panic, Eddy bulled forward and plowed into the leading gang member. For once, the previously malnourished Eddy was actually heavier than the unfortunately short green-eyed man, and the gangster was bowled over. Ignoring him, Eddy instead thrust his arm forward and caught the second gang member in the throat with his outstretched knife. The man had been slow to react and now the nascent shout in his mouth was cut off as the steel pierced his windpipe.

Stumbling over the already flailing leading man, Eddy stomped down ruthlessly with his booted left foot and felt something soft crunch beneath him. A choked gasp of pain emanated from beneath him, but Eddy turned his lunge into a charge - pushing off where he had stomped on the first thug and trusting that the smaller man was incapacitated for the moment. Instead, he kept his focus forward. The second man was already slumping to the side, pupils dilated and hands scrabbling toward the metal lodged in his throat. That left the third.

The youngest one of the three had, thank the Goddess, frozen in panic as he watched his brother receive what was almost certainly a lethal wound, but Eddy knew somehow that the instance of shock would not last. Therefore, he sent all his strength to his legs and launched himself forward. However, the still-falling body of his new target’s older brother slowed him just enough that the thug had started to react to his approach. In the narrow hallway, tripping over the tangled bodies would be a death sentence, so Eddy was not as agile as he would like to be.

Therefore, when Eddy reached him, he was met by a swinging fist from his enemy. Drawing a knife from his jacket with one hand, Eddy tried to knock the incoming fist away with his free arm, but it still glanced off his shoulder. Despite his youth, the third man still had a brawny build - and it showed. Eddy hissed as pain spread out from his shoulder like a wave. The young one had a nasty punch. However, it was too late to worry about that and Eddy was already inside his reach. Recognising that surprise was his greatest ally, Eddy had slowed down as little as possible and the impact sent them both tumbling to the ground. Something hit Eddy’s chin as they fell and he saw stars for a split second.

Luckily, the double impact of Eddy and the floorboards seemed to knock the wind out of the brawny thug. Eddy found himself over the top of him and, finally getting a knife out of his jacket, went to stab him. The man was winded, not immobile though, and blocked Eddy’s arm by crossing both of his. They were face to face now - Eddy’s knife suspended over his eye. His initial stab had been assisted by gravity, but Eddy was already being pushed away by the man’s block. Trying to counter, Eddy put his other hand on the pommel of the knife and leveraged his position to put as much of his weight on it as possible. He winced as his shoulder twinged - the bastard had done a number on it.

Stalemate. The young man - a teenager - despite his inferior position, was still stronger than Eddy. This was not a sustainable contest in the long term. Eddy had to think fast. Pulling on all his knowledge of dirty tricks learnt on the streets of the Borough, Eddy kneed the gang member in the testicl*s as hard as he could. The man seized up, sucking in a gasp, and - in that moment of shock and weakness - his arms lost a bit of strength. Eddy kicked against the floor with his legs, getting as much traction as possible, and put all his strength and weight onto pushing the knife. The effect was swift. The shock and resulting ambush caused the block to fail and the knife fell downward and buried its blade in the man’s eye. Eddy felt it scrape the orbital bone of the eye socket, but it corrected and pierced through.

As fast as he could, Eddy shoved his hand over the wounded man’s mouth - just in time to muffle the scream that ripped out of his throat. Eddy too muffled a hiss of pain as gnashing teeth found the soft flesh of his hand. In response, he raised the hand not smothering the pained shouts, and curled it into a fist before slamming it down on the pommel of the knife. The blade was driven firmly into the teenager’s brain. The body beneath him spasmed and once again teeth met the meat of his palm. Eddy threw himself off the body, clutching his bleeding hand to his chest and glaring at the now-stilling corpse. The ‘fight’ (if it could be called that) had only twenty seconds maximum, but Eddy was already out of breath and panting heavily.

He didn’t have time to relax though, as the sound of movement behind him caused him to turn his head. The first thug had managed to stand, face red and clutching his neck. He stretched out his arm and pointed at Eddy before opening his mouth wide. However, all that came out of his mouth was a quiet rattle of hoarse breath. His eyes widened at his failure to call for help and Eddy winced. He must have crushed the man’s trachea under his boot. That was probably why his face was red. He couldn’t breathe properly.

Dropping to one knee, Eddy used his good arm to retrieve a knife from his boot and flung it at the last enemy still standing. His aim was off, but the knife still hit him just below the collarbone and sent him stumbling with the sudden pain. That gave Eddy enough to time to wearily stand up and step over to the man. The gang member looked up at him, pale green eyes angry, and tried to say something - lips twisting into a sneer. Again, though, all that exited his mouth was a wheezing rattle. Eddy sighed and kicked the man’s leg, sending him to his knee and allowing Eddy to rip his knife out of the man’s shoulder and draw it across his throat. Blood came out of the cut with less pressure behind it than he had expected and only a few drops got on his shirt. Instead, the majority trickled down the man’s chest and stained his jacket a dark shade.

Swaying a bit, Eddy looked around him at the corridor that had so quickly become a butcher’s shop. A green-eyed man with a slit throat and a youth with a blade buried in his eye. Eddy’s eye was drawn to the slumped body of the burly man he had stabbed in the throat right at the start of the fight. He was, Eddy realised, still alive - leaning against the wall, head to the side. Sucking in shallow breaths around the obstruction in his windpipe, he was staring at the body of his brother that was stretched out on the corridor floor - heedless of the blood quickly leaving his throat. An important blood vessel had been knicked somewhere in there, Eddy registered.

For a few seconds, Eddy just watched blankly as the man continued to stare silently at the corpse of his little brother. Eventually, something left the defeated gangster’s eyes and Eddy realised that he was dead.

Eddy sighed and crouched down on the floor, head lowered in exhaustion. He let the now-silent corridor grow still around him. This wasn’t what he had envisaged. It was meant to be smoother than this. Better.

[Approval] You did well. [Joy]

Eddy did not reply to Mr Voice’s endorsem*nt, instead listening to the sounds in the rest of the building. Even if he had muffled the screams of the youngster, surely people on the floor below had heard the sounds of the fight? He had tackled at least two people to the ground. In a cheap and poorly constructed building like the one he was in, sound travelled. The thuds of impact would have been heard.

Seemingly, however, no alarm had been raised - no concerned people rushing up to the fifth floor to check on the strange noises. Eddy listened for about a minute. Muffled conversations, the sound of footfalls as people walked around. The odd burst of laughter. But nobody came upstairs. They must have disregarded the thumps and thuds of the fight. Perhaps the two brothers had a reputation for roughhousing - Eddy didn’t know and he’d never find out. In any case, he’d been handed a lifeline. Despite a near-disaster of a beginning for his dismantling of the Parliament Street Gang safehouse, he’d managed to get away with his initial mess of an infiltration.

Satisfied, Eddy began to retrieve his two… occupied… knives - pulling the two from the respective windpipe and eye socket where he had left them. He tried to clean them on the clothes of his fallen victims. The blood had already started congealing on the blades and Eddy soon gave up any serious attempt at making them pristine again. They’d only get dirty again soon.

Flexing and rolling his shoulder as he tried to massage away the pain of the youth’s punch, Eddy quickly moved from room to room. He was almost entirely certain that nobody else had been on the fifth floor along with the three thugs. If they had been, then he surely would have been outed to the rest of the building. Nevertheless, though, he still searched every room. If someone was hiding, then he needed to know - or he’d have a potential enemy at his back. Thankfully, however, the floor was empty and Eddy only found rooms empty of people. It seemed that the entire top floor was used as dormitories for gang members and, apart from the frankly disgusting toilets, that was the only use that the floor had. It also explained the absence of people. Most gang members were probably out on patrol or were on other floors - preferring to spend time away from the badly ventilated and cramped bedrooms.

Eddy sniffed the air. It did smell of Parliament Street Gang. Fish guts, beer, and sour sweat. Lovely. Having cleared the floor he checked the last door at the end of a corridor. It opened onto a cramped stairwell that seemed to lead down to the floor below. Here, in the stairwell, Eddy could more clearly hear the sound of conversations. He winced. It sounded like the next level of the building would be far more populated.

He took a deep breath. One floor down, four more to go.


AN: So in my head, this chapter was meant to cover the whole safehouse fight. Yeah… that didn’t happen. ‘Revenge’ is looking to have a lot more parts than I was expecting. I suppose it is fitting, though, to have this finale for the arc get the space it deserves. Hope the fight seen wasn’t too confusing - I always wonder how easy they are to visualise. Once again, I looked like an utter fool in my flat trying to time and re-enact sections of the fight to make sure it all made sense haha! Good thing I closed my curtains beforehand - I wouldn’t want my neighbours seeing me!

In other news, I won my first victory in Book of Hours. Did you know it has 101 separate victories? Typical Alexis Kennedy…

See you next week!

Chapter 40: Revenge - Part Three


With this chapter, we have now reached 100k words. Thank you to everyone for sticking with this.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty: Revenge - Part Three

Blood has been spilt.

Eddy moved down the staircase as quietly as he could. He was light on his feet and the stairs did not creak beneath him as he moved. His ears strained. He could still not determine just how many people were on the next floor, but it was definitely more than the three he had faced previously. Eddy flexed his shoulder and frowned slightly. He had mainly recovered from the last fight, but his shoulder was still sore from the punch he’d taken there. Hopefully, it wouldn’t slow him down.

Soon, Eddy reached the bottom of the stairs and found himself up against the door to the rest of the floor. This time, he managed to peek through it without encountering a mob of thugs face-to-face. Much like the floor above, this floor also looked shabby and run-down. Eddy could only see a corridor with doors to other rooms leading off it, but the plaster on the walls was peeling, and Eddy could see damp patches that had given rise to mold. There was a foul smell in the air. A whiff of something sour that was starting to decay. The Parliament Street Gang was not much for hygiene, Eddy reflected.

As he watched, two men wearing gang armbands walked into the corridor and entered one of the rooms, chatting and laughing at some unheard joke. As they opened the door to enter the room, Eddy heard the voices of two others before the door was closed again. There were at least four people in that room, but there could be more - nothing was certain. Therefore, Eddy took some time to continue peeking through the cracked door and watched for a while.

It was, in hindsight, the right call. By listening and watching carefully, Eddy worked out that there were six people on the floor - double what he had faced in his last encounter. Four men were in some sort of sitting room or common room. From the intermittent cheering and groaning, Eddy theorised that they were playing cards. Poker, perhaps - or some other leisure activity. The other two were working, however. They were far quieter than the rowdy group playing cards, but Eddy still managed to pick up bits of their conversation when they left their room to grab something or talk to one of the other thugs. From what he had picked up, they were sharpening their knives and cleaning other weapons. Apparently, they were doing weapon maintenance for their whole squad. From the friendly jeers that erupted when one of them talked to their squadmates, Eddy guessed that it was some sort of punishment.

He didn’t see signs of other rooms being occupied. Theoretically, someone could be sleeping in one of the rooms, but that was highly unlikely. After all, the bedrooms were on the floor that Eddy had just cleared. So, that left six people. Two in one room, four in another. A daunting task. Eddy decided to wait for an opportunity, as he would need every advantage he could take.

Eventually, his chance came. One of the people playing cards left the room and grabbed one of the people doing weapon maintenance before heading to the end of the corridor and disappearing downstairs. Eddy heard the word food mentioned. Four people. One in one room, three in another. An opportunity.

After waiting half a minute for the two people collecting food from a lower floor to leave properly, Eddy slipped into the corridor and made his way to the room where only one person was still maintaining weaponry. Eddy entered the room silently - Veil as high as he could muster. It wouldn’t stop people from noticing that he was somewhere he should not be (it certainly didn’t help with the three men previously), but he was hoping that it would muffle his approach enough to avoid early detection.

Walking into the room, Eddy spotted the Parliament Street Gang thug. He was sitting at a table next to the window and cleaning the knives that littered the surface in front of him. Occasionally, he would look up and peek out from between the curtains which covered most of the outside view. The thug has cabin fever, Eddy joked to himself. Crucially, however, the thug’s back was to the door, so Eddy was able to approach very easily and slide the thin blade of one of his knives between the vertebrae at the base of the man’s skull to kill him almost instantly. Normally, this would be a difficult thing to accomplish, but Eddy’s superhumanly steady hands and the lack of alarm made it possible. There wasn’t even that much blood. It was far too easy - a huge contrast with the previous floor.

It only took a short time for the man to stop his light spasms and die - something about which Eddy was glad. He was very conscious that he was on a time limit. Therefore, with a grunt, he lifted the now-corpse by its underarms and began dragging it to a nearby wardrobe. Opening it up, he roughly shoved aside some clothes and stuffed the body inside. Eddy wiped his brow and sighed. He could easily kill a man in a matter of seconds, but dragging a body was far too exhausting.

Having done this, Eddy realigned the knives on the table that had been knocked by the man’s spasming and covered the signs of the assassination he had just performed. He then hid himself away behind some furniture. Soon enough, he heard the voices of the two men return and, in a bit, one of them entered the room in which Eddy was hiding. From his hiding spot, Eddy saw a squat man holding a sandwich and an apple look around the room and frown before shrugging, sitting down at the table, and beginning to eat. Obviously, the man had wondered as to why his companion was missing but had dismissed it. Surely his friend had just gone to the toilet, or some other small matter? Everything was fine.

It wasn’t long before another body joined the first in the wardrobe. Kicking a foot that was sticking out of it back inside, Eddy took a bite of an apple. Two down, four to go. The second man had been just as easy as the first. The problem now was that there were four men in one single room. He needed to find a way to separate them. Eddy wasn’t too worried, however.

After he once again cleaned up the room, Eddy got into position and then knocked over a pot of water that was being used to wipe down the knives and help get rid of any stains on them. Falling from the table, the pot hit the floorboards and shattered with a loud noise. Immediately, Eddy got his knives ready and darted to the part of the room that would be covered if the door opened.

Within a few seconds, the man who had previously gone downstairs with Eddy’s last victim charged into the room with a red face and an angry expression. The door swung open as he barrelled inside, covering Eddy from the man’s view.

“Duncan, you stupid bastard, this is the last time that I let a clums-”

However, the angry man (a supervisor of some sort, perhaps) was not able to finish his sentence as Eddy moved out from behind the door - kicking it closed as he did so to muffle the subsequent noises - and plunged his knife into the man’s neck. As he did so, he firmly covered the thug’s mouth with his other hand and stuffed a sock in it to block out any noise as it opened reflexively. He’d taken the sock from one of the corpses. This time, the spray of blood was much larger than his previous assassinations and would be impossible to hide, but Eddy did not want to risk the delicate spine-severing attack he had done previously. A moving and alert target was much more difficult, after all. Nevertheless, the angry supervisor was swiftly executed Eddy eased him to the floor as he quickly bled out. Three down, three to go.

After these first three kills, things accelerated quickly. Not hearing from their friend in a while, the three remaining men playing cards sent someone else down the corridor to see what was going on. This one was more cautious - worried that his fellows had got into some sort of brawl or accident - but still generally unwary. And so another person fell to Eddy.

Following his fourth kill, Eddy judged that two mundane people were no match for a Sequence 8 Beyonder and decided to accelerate matters. Walking up to the common room door, Eddy decided to act in a straightforward manner and simply knocked on the door. His fist rapped against the wood with a sharp sound three times.

“Yes?” Came a voice from inside. “Come in.”

Changing his voice to be slightly gruffer and have a thicker East Borough accent than normal, Eddy replied. “Can’t. Got my hands full.”

A weary sigh came from inside and Eddy felt footsteps approaching him. The door opened.


The start of a question was uttered, but Eddy had already charged forward and stabbed the man with both hands - once in the throat and once between the ribs. He felt the flesh part around his knives and felt warmth on his hands. The knife aimed for his chest punched the breath out of the man as it pierced a lung, and any noise except a hitching gasp was choked off.

Eddy did not waste time and ripped his knives back. Pushing past the man at the door, Eddy’s eyes locked onto the last thug - still sitting at the table holding a hand of cards while leaning back on his chair. Almost without thought, Eddy’s hands sent both his knives flying and the twirling blades impacted the man and sent him tumbling along with his chair as he completely unbalanced. With that start to the fight, the injured man lasted a matter of seconds - just as long as it took Eddy to dart over to him and finish the job. He ignored Mr Voice’s laughter at the last man’s performance. Apparently, Mr Voice had a fondness for slapstick humour.

Six down. None to go.

Now that there was some calm, Eddy used the opportunity to gather his wits and think a little. There were still three more floors to go (with the possibility of a basem*nt too), but Eddy did not know if he was capable of clearing them. The lower floors, from what he had intuited, were even busier. People walking from room to room, or floor to floor would be ruinous for him. As skilled as he was, even with his Beyonder powers, he was still a single person and could not contend with a whole floor of thugs. He would have to come up with something… unorthodox.

Walking through the floor and checking each room, Eddy picked up the apple he had been eating previously and took another bite. It was a bit mushy, but Eddy had eaten worse. Evidently, it seemed as if the Parliament Street Gang did not want their members to contract scurvy, because it looked like each thug had received an apple with the meals that had been brought up to them by two of their colleagues. Eddy took another bite, making sure not to crunch down on the apple seeds. He spat them out into his hand.

Apple seeds. Eddy paused and his face blanked for a little while before a smirk slowly grew across his face. He looked around, seeing the apples that his victims had not been able to finish eating. Something unorthodox…

Not so long later, Eddy had shifted the two bodies in the common room to where the other four corpses were and laid them all out in a line. Then, Eddy took out his sharpened scissors and cut off a lock of his hair. Holding the lock in his left hand he, one by one, cut open the stomachs of the corpses - revealing the twisted guts and yellow layers of belly fat inside.

The hair was split into six parts and Eddy placed them inside the bellies of the cadavers, attempting to ignore the foul smell that had filled the room when he sliced them open. This wasn’t as bad as when he had first done it. These bodies, at least, were fresh. Besides, he had grown colder since then.

Then came the apple seeds. Eddy had gathered them by cutting open the fruits that had come with the men’s meals. Now they were a tool in his ritual. One seed in each socket of the eye; so that the spirits animating them might see again. One seed beneath the tongue (it lay swollen in their mouths like bloated worms). One in the wound he had made; a twisted mockery of birth.

Eddy’s mouth opened and the White Ceremony poured out like a chill and freezing wind cresting over a line of peaks and diving into the valley below. Winter syllables dropped from Eddy’s tongue and the water that had spilled on the floor when he broke the pot froze to the floorboards. Arms raised, Eddy felt his silences ripple out as the temperature dropped. His eyes hurt. His skin hurt, but he did not stop the chant. He could not stop. His tongue was not his own. And, in a language so ancient that even the sounds of the words had eroded away, Eddy commanded the corpses to rise .

On the frost-strewn floor before him, six cadavers convulsed as roots burrowed through their organs, twining along bones and weaving through flesh like burrowing worms. Eddy heard things crack inside them as parts were pulled out of old alignments and into new and more brutal ones. The wounds on the corpses were stitched together by green tendrils, and eyes popped out to make way for blooms of little white flowers. Fresh green leaves under their fingernails. The buds of new blossoms poking out from the knife wounds on their necks. The season of spring bound within a corpse.

Before Eddy’s eyes, the once-corpses rose and stood upright - lined before him like soldiers on parade. One of them had their mouth forced open by two branches growing out of their gullet. Another was skewed. Their right side was fruiting. Nevertheless, the tide had been turned. He had been alone in his assault, but now he had six soldiers by his side - each filled with a fell and unnatural strength. Eddy smirked. When he’d first performed this rite, he’d witnessed the strength of the Burgeoning Risen and had wondered how Blue Mitch might fare against it. Now, he had six at his service - in bodies far fresher and more resilient than his first… prototype.

Eddy straightened his posture and addressed the corpses standing before him.

“Wait ten minutes, and then go downstairs… and kill everyone in this building.”


AN: I really enjoy writing ritual scenes. It brings out the pretentious in me…

Eddy did say that he’d like to use the Risen against the Gang, and now he gets to. We’ll see that next chapter as we draw closer to the finale of ‘Revenge’. Not long now…

In other news, a heat wave has hit the UK and I am currently broiling in my flat like a lobster. I had to put on a shirt earlier to attend a video meeting and felt like dying. It’s September ffs (that’s autumn here), and yet it’s almost 30 degrees. This is in the north of England too. George RR Martin based The North off where I live. This is a disgrace to the great Yorkshire traditions of being cold and miserable. I’m not built for this. I will write a strongly worded letter to… God? My local representative? Either or? Until that time, see you next week!

Chapter 41: Revenge - Part Four


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-One: Revenge - Part Four

Who can avert the finality of battle?

Eddy left his line of undead servants behind and made for a window in one of the rooms he had previously searched. He’d noted it earlier for its proximity to one of the building’s drain pipes. He opened the window and, within a span of seconds, was out and shimmying down the side of the building - using the drainpipe as a climbing aid. This was why he had given the Risen an instruction to wait ten minutes before starting their attack. Eddy wanted to be out of the tenement. He wanted to be at the front door. That way, he could catch any enemy with ideas about running. That way, there’d be no survivors.

Far quicker than he had ascended the building, Eddy made his way down. Of course, he tried to be quiet as he passed by windows, but he wasn’t particularly worried. The only thing that might happen was that someone in a nearby building might see him, but he doubted that anyone would make a fuss. This was East Borough, after all - a willingness to run to the police was not an ingrained part of the local character. In fact, it was rather the opposite. Any sensible resident seeing a man suspiciously descending a drainpipe in the middle of the afternoon would turn away instead of paying attention. People tended to live longer when they did not involve themselves in outside matters.

Soon enough, Eddy dropped onto the ground and took a deep breath. He flexed his fingers and shook the mild aches out of his arms. He still had a few minutes left until his Risen began their grisly task. He took the time to circle the building and confirm once again that there was only a single exit. The heavy door in the alleyway between two tenements seemed to be the only regular entrance and exit. That was good for Eddy. Try as he might, covering two doors would be an issue. That would be the norm in most buildings, but East Borough tenements were not renowned for their adherence to principles of fire safety. One door. He could hold one door.

The next few minutes found Eddy skulking, Veil raised, in the shadows of the alleyway. Leaning against the brick wall of the Parliament Street Gang’s hideout, he simply closed his eyes and focused all his attention on the sounds coming from the building at his back. Footsteps, hints of muttered conversations. A clattering of pots and pans. It was all muffled by the walls, but the place was not sturdily built, and Eddy could hear a little if he strained.

Eddy continued to lean there; looking to all the world as if he were at complete leisure. Internally, however, Eddy was counting the seconds - as he had been since he gave orders to his Risen. The ten-minute mark passed. Nothing. The regular noises of the Parliament Street Gang hideout continued unabated. Low laughter. Muffled footsteps. Quite heavy footsteps, in fact. From the third floor of the building, Eddy heard the splintering of wood and a sudden shout - immediately followed by a scream. The scream rang out for half a second but was cut off by what could only be described as a… wet crunch. The noise of the building was silenced for a moment.

Eddy winced. He suddenly had an image in his head of when he first performed the Rite of the Burgeoning Risen. He’d ordered the Risen to punch a gravestone and had watched it shatter under the dreadful strength of the necromantic construct. He really did not want to think about the particulars of what that wet crunching noise had been.

After a short moment of quiet, more screams and shouts rang out on the third floor. Below, Eddy heard the sounds of many feet rushing to the stairways and climbing upwards. He didn’t think such enthusiasm would last. Not in the face of the horrors he had created.

Sure enough, the shouts and screams continued, joined by curses and swears as reinforcements from the lower floors joined their fellows on the upper ones. They did not have the leisure for conversation though, as the crunching impacts started up again. The Risen had closed with the thugs.

Eddy moved into position as the sounds of fighting escalated. Steel bit into uncaring flesh or stone-hard roots. Bones crunched. Eddy peered out of the alleyway. The street near the hideout had cleared in record time with any passersby pressing their caps down, raising their collars, and walking as fast as they could to get away from the area. Eddy nodded appreciatively. Smart folk. Their fast walks escalated into runs as the crack of a pistol rang out. Eddy’s eyes snapped back to the third floor. He didn’t think it wouldn’t help the poor fellows inside. Against the Risen, a woodsman’s axe would probably be of more use than a pistol.

Eddy concentrated, trying to sense the flow of the battle through the cadence of footsteps and the reduction in the noises above him. There were fewer screams now. From his understanding of the layout of the tenement, the thugs had been pushed back to the stairs going down to the second floor. The third floor was on the verge of being lost to the Risen. He hoped that they had not made too much of a mess. Some relatively intact corpses would be… useful.

However, Eddy did not have time to think about such things as the Parliament Street Gang members fighting the Risen seemed to have broken in the face of such horrific foes. He could hear footsteps getting louder as they fled downstairs - as well as the curses and imprecations thrown after those same footsteps. As subordinates of Blue Mitch, it was likely that they knew that people with strange abilities existed - but knowing such a thing on an academic level and seeing six root-infested undead monstrosities made out of your friends and colleagues attack you in your hideout would be quite a shock to the morale of any force. Truthfully, Eddy was impressed that they had not fled immediately.

Nevertheless, although Eddy could not see it, he could imagine the scene. The corridor was painted with blood and strewn with broken bodies. The thug’s line had broken and they were being forced back to the second floor. Gore-decorated Risen advanced as the less brave (or suicidal) gangsters fled in terror. Eddy readied his knives and stalked closer to the tenement door. How could he let his new friends leave before he had finished greeting them?

It took some time for the stumbling footsteps to reach the door, but, as they did, Eddy tensed up and got ready. Behind it, he could hear the cursing and bickering of the thugs as they scrabbled at the locks and bolts that had secured the door in the past. Now, they were obstacles to their freedom. Come to think of it, Eddy was starting an awful lot of fights by hiding behind doors. Was this his secret martial art? Was his hidden weapon not a knife, but actually doors? Eddy hoped not - that would be far too embarrassing.

As soon as the door opened, Eddy darted forward and began cutting with wild abandon. His hands twisted and his knives bit into flesh with ease. Normally he’d be more circ*mspect, but these thugs were in no way prepared for his ambush. Indeed, they were out of breath, injured, and had been broken in spirit by the assault of the Risen. One of them had a broken arm. Another was being supported by their fellow due to a shattered rib. A hint of bloodied froth on their lips indicated that they weren’t long for the world. A punctured lung. Therefore, in the face of a sudden whirl of sharp blades just as they were about to escape they were basically hopeless. Stumbling and cowering as they were, Eddy made short work of the four thugs.

It was amidst this scene that Eddy waited to receive more deserters from the fight up above. However, as a couple of minutes passed, Eddy couldn’t help but frown. No more people arrived on the ground floor. He could still hear shouts and sounds of splintering wood above him. The fight was still going on, but nobody had fled. That didn’t seem likely. In fact, it was strange that the fight was continuing at all - surely the Risen should have made short work of whoever was left? Eddy marshalled himself and decided to go upstairs. That’s where he would get his answers.

Eddy carefully moved through the building as he went up to the second floor. As he went, he gave each room he passed a cursory check but found nothing. This was getting stranger and stranger. He was still hearing the sound of crashing and splintering wood, so the fight was persisting, but he would have expected some people fleeing the fight to at least try and hide. Just what was happening on the second floor?

It didn’t take long to find out what had happened. Ascending the last of the stairs, Eddy entered the second-floor corridor. It was a complete mess. Several bodies lay crumpled against the walls or along the floor - each with parts of them effectively pulverised. One was missing a head, a spray of wet red and lumpy grey higher up on the wall denoting where the gore from the lethal blow had landed. Another corpse looked almost deflated with the right side of their chest half-flattened from the force of some mighty impact. They had not died immediately. Eddy grimaced. If this was the second floor, then the third must be even worse. After all, that was where the bulk of the fighting took place.

Picking his way through the second floor, Eddy found where the fighting continued. Well, if it could be described in that manner. The last of the Parliament Street Gang thugs had barricaded themselves inside a room. To Eddy, the sight before him was as if a great oceanic storm had ripped through a carpenter’s workshop. The thugs had blocked a door with as much furniture as they could, but the Risen kept on splintering them with their powerful fists. This had left the trapped men scrambling to shore up the barricade with whatever they had to hand. It could not last forever, though. Already, their makeshift wall was shaky - more constructed out of debris than real materials. It would surely give way within the next couple of minutes.

That was why nobody aside from the first deserters had managed to flee to the lower floors. They’d trapped themselves. Yes, they had survived longer than the others by avoiding a direct confrontation, but the cost was that they had left themselves no way out. Eddy’s eyes turned to his Risen. They were absolutely drenched in blood and gore. His keen gaze scanned over them intently - looking for signs of their performance. This was his first real use of them in battle, of course. Their flesh had been cut by knives and bones broken by metal pipes. One of them had even lost part of their head (no doubt from that gunshot that Eddy had heard). Their roots, however, were strong and Eddy could see fresh green growth wending through the wounds. They’d survived and the gnarled wooden lattice weaving through their bodies had stayed strong. Sliced flesh and broken bones did not matter to the Risen if their wooden frames remained sturdy.

Eddy did spot some signs of true damage, however. One of them had lost an arm somewhere along the line. Eddy did not see it nearby, so he assumed it was on the floor above. He hoped that the person who took it had paid the price. None of the other five had such major injuries, but they did look less energetic than when he’d created them. These six were better than his first attempt, but still had a limited lifespan. The more he used them, the more strenuous their tasks, the quicker they’d collapse. Thankfully, Eddy estimated that there was more than enough longevity left in them for the task at hand.

Eddy walked up to them as the lead Risen smashed a chest of drawers with a single punch. A series of yells broke out inside the room as the barricade teetered on collapse. Eddy turned to the Risen.


The Risen stopped - one of them mid-punch. Inside the room, there was quiet as they processed that someone was speaking beyond their barricade. “Who’s there? Who the hell is out there? Are you with those freaks?” Someone shouted in a deep voice.

Eddy made to respond, staying out of sight of the barricade. He didn’t know if they still had a gun, but he’d already heard one gunshot today and did not wish to tempt fate.

“Someone who wants to ask you a question.”

A chorus of swears and curses met Eddy - many of them quite creative. Eddy reminded himself that the Parliament Street Gang drew from the dockworkers. Interrupting some instructions on where he could shove his question, Eddy calmly spoke - directing his spirit at his Risen.

“Break that barricade.” Instantly, the Risen surged forward and pulverised parts of the barrier. The top of it directly collapsed and tipped backward into the room. Eddy heard a yell of pain and some shouts.

“Stop! Stop! What do you want to know?” The call filtered through the barrier. Eddy stilled his Risen.

“Where is Blue Mitch?”

There were some mutters. “We ain’t telling you that. He’ll kill us…”

“Is that really your greatest concern right now?”

Silence. “You’ll let us go if we tell you?”

Eddy smiled thinly as he heard that response. “Of course. As you can tell, you’re no threat to me. I don’t lose anything by letting you live. The only person who needs to die today is Blue Mitch.”

Once again, there were mutters behind the barricade. They quickly escalated into an argument - mainly about weighing Blue Mitch’s temper against the literal undead only a few feet away.

“Gentlemen… an answer, please.” Eddy needled them.

“He’s down at the docks. Palmerston Wharf, in the warehouse that had that gas explosion a few years back. Cater & Hero Limited, it’s called.”

Eddy grinned. The man could be lying, of course, but if push came to shove he’d just raid another hideout and start again. He’d find Blue Mitch eventually. A voice interrupted his thoughts. “Can we go now?” The deep voice of the thug sounded almost plaintive at this point.

Eddy turned toward his Risen. “Kill them.”

He turned and walked away as the Risen once again started their assault on the barricade. It was swiftly failing and, as Eddy stepped around a broken body, the first Risen was already treading over the debris into the room beyond. A chorus of screams and horrific crunching noises quickly followed until the air was still. Eddy felt no guilt at lying to the thugs. If they were foolish enough to believe a man who had slaughtered an entire building of them, then they deserved their fate. Besides, he’d sworn to end the Parliament Street Gang today.

Eddy put his knives away. It wasn’t even evening and he’d already killed thirteen men directly and Goddess knows how many with his Risen. He imagined that there’d be more before the day’s end. He hoped that there’d be more.

As it turned out, there was a basem*nt under the tenement. This was important, as it turned out to hold the valve that controlled the building’s gas. An excellent find that put a smile on Eddy’s face. That smile stayed in place even as he walked away and flames began to lick up the sides of the building. The tenement did have very poor fire safety, after all. The locals would mobilise a bucket line, but would undoubtedly be too late. Naturally, the police would arrive, but nobody would come forward to say anything other than ‘it was an accident’. Why would they stick their necks out for the gangs? This was East Borough, after all.


AN: And that concludes the battle at the safe house. Blue Mitch has been located, and the hunt is on. For those wondering why Eddy is not raising the whole building as Risen and marching on Palmerston Wharf - it’s a Friday afternoon. Eddy can get away with a lot due to the neglect of East Borough, but blatantly organising an undead army in broad daylight is probably a bit over the line.

In other news, the heatwave is over, and my flat is now a normal temperature. Hail the rains and see you next week!

Chapter 42: Revenge - Part Five


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-Two: Revenge - Part Five

We’re by the sea, here, and the sea bears gifts: peace, or death, or escape.

The shouts of a quickly forming bucket line were faint as Eddy moved away from the site of the massacre he had just perpetrated. Despite it being mid-afternoon, the streets were emptier than they should be. People had moved inside. In these last few weeks, gang violence had erupted on more than one occasion - sometimes with very little warning. In such a fraught atmosphere, signs of a fire in an area known for Parliament Street Gang activity were enough to send all but the least perceptive scurrying indoors. Violence breeds violence.

Once, Eddy might have agonised about the consequences of his actions. In fact, he had. When he had killed those men in that alleyway, when he had slit their throats, the resulting violence had left many dead or homeless. After he had found out, he had felt such guilt - even as he justified his actions through self-defence. Now, Eddy’s thoughts had changed.

Gang violence would always exist. It was unchanging, unceasing, like the arc of the sun or the shifting tides. It didn’t matter if it boiled up at his hand, or at the hands of another - it would do so regardless in one way or another. Therefore, why waste time quibbling about morality or responsibility? Eddy had killed. Before, he killed in self-defence. Now, he had killed because he chose to; because he wanted to. If violence was a fact, an immovable object, or an unstoppable force, then it might as well be his violence. His violence, at least, was better than the brutal tantrums of the Parliament Street Gang. Better him than Blue Mitch. Eddy’s violence was precise. Surgical. Superior.

He’d had enough of passivity. For too long, Eddy Barton had simply been a target - a creature that simply reacted to the world around him. What choices had he made? He hadn’t chosen to make enemies with Blue Mitch. As thankful as he was to Mr Voice, he hadn’t even chosen to become a Beyonder. Time and time again, he just… reacted. Eddy didn’t want that to continue. What was the use of power, what was the value of his purpose, if he didn’t use it to change his life? To change the world around him. As Mr Voice would say: change is beautiful.

So, Eddy had decided to change things. No place for passivity, no place for accepting the status quo. He’d sworn to kill Blue Mitch by the end of the day and he would do it. He’d show the value of the power he sought. He’d prove that he could change things. That Riverside Eddy could topple an East Borough King.

Palmerston Wharf was a bustling area for shipping. It didn’t have a specialisation like the busy Kolain Docks or abandoned West Balam Docks, but that didn’t stop the traffic. Palmerston Wharf was not only in a prime position along a wide and placid stretch of the Tussock, but it also had excellent links to secure warehousing and distribution centres. All in all, it was a gold mine for whoever controlled it - and, in this case, that was the Parliament Street Gang.

Beyond the afternoon bustle of workers and the patrols of thugs sporting gang colours, was the defunct warehouse formerly belonging to Cater & Hero Limited. The structure had been damaged in a gas explosion a few years before, and, as Eddy had now learned, had quickly fallen into the hands of Blue Mitch for a pittance. Eddy couldn’t see the warehouse in question from his position across the street from the edge of Palmerston Wharf, but he knew it was there. Blue Mitch was close.

Eddy looked at the scene in front of him. The was a part of him (larger than he might like to admit) that was calling for blood. He’d proven he was deadly, so why couldn’t he simply charge into Cater & Hero Limited with his knives flashing - cutting down thugs left and right? But that was idiotic. It was a ridiculous whimsy - as much as it appealed to him. Even if he could kill them, how would he select his targets? On Palmerston Wharf, the line between dockworker and Parliament Street Gang member was blurred indeed. Even if he could kill them, then what about the reinforcements that would come swarming in from the surroundings? And, ignoring all of that, what about Blue Mitch himself?

The man was a Beyonder. There was no doubt on that count. In fact, Eddy was almost certain as to which Path the man walked. Eddy knew that Blue Mitch was freakishly strong. According to the rumours, one of his punches had destroyed a brick wall during a battle around Mirminsk Lane. Eddy knew a few low-Sequence Beyonder types that had such enhanced strength (and Blue Mitch had to be low-Sequence - for mid-Sequencer would not waste themselves as an East Borough gangster). Meursault came to mind as an example. Eddy knew that he was a Hunter - possessing increased strength and speed. However, the characteristics of the Hunter did not match with the explosive force for which Blue Mitch was famous. No, Eddy knew of only one Path with such a description. The Sequence 9 Sailor.

From his investigations into the basic knowledge of the Beyonder world (it was amazing what you could find out by wandering the Black Market with Veil raised), it seemed that Sailors had immense strength paired with some sort of heightened durability. This also came along with great agility and speed underwater. The latter was not of much concern to Eddy. He did not plan to fight Blue Mitch underwater. The former, however, was more concerning. With his monstrous strength paired with years of fighting experience, Blue Mitch was a natural counter to Eddy’s abilities. Without his Veil, all Eddy had was some good skill with knives. One mistake in a fight and Eddy would be dead. A casual punch could knock him down. A heavy blow to the ribs might actually eviscerate him.

If he was correct, and Eddy believed that he was, then Eddy could not let the coming conflict play to Blue Mitch’s strengths. This could not be a duel or a fair fight. Such pride - such arrogance - would get him killed. Eddy had to play to his own strengths. If Blue Mitch was a brawler, then Eddy was an ambush predator. He’d act like one. Taking another look at the wharf in front of him, Eddy narrowed his eyes in thought. He had some preparations to make. He turned away. He needed to catch a carriage over to Backlund Bridge…

It was a few hours later and afternoon had given way to evening when Eddy returned to Palmerston Wharf. The working day was long on the docks and, as a result, many people had not yet left for home, but the streets were emptier and Palmerston Wharf was appreciably quieter than it had been only a few hours before. Eddy was in his usual outfit, but his jacket had the new addition of an armband bearing the blue and black. Not a completely necessary addition, but he could already feel how people moved away from his path as he walked through the streets. However, such reactions faded as he progressively increased the effects of his Veil. He hoped that the two in conjunction would help his infiltration. The Gang was ill-disciplined, so it was unlikely that they’d notice him if he did nothing suspicious, but if they did, then the armband might be enough to dull their wariness just enough for the Veil to bring him beneath notice again.

Keeping his posture relaxed and his walk calm and unhurried, Eddy moved through the docks, only adjusting his course to avoid the paths of heavy trolleys loaded with stacked crates and boxes. At one point, a particularly (and unusually) perceptive guard spotted him, but Eddy watched as his eyes dipped to the black and blue armband and quickly glazed over. In the span of half a second, the man had completely forgotten about Eddy’s existence and went back to glaring at random dockworkers. A hint of a smile played at the corners of Eddy’s lips. He tried not to fall victim to arrogance, but he couldn’t deny that being right was a good feeling. The guard was probably someone high off their own sense of importance and therefore was far more invested than normal in doing their job properly - enough even to pierce the Veil (if only for a fraction of a second).

Putting the interesting phenomenon behind him, Eddy walked further into the docks, slipping past patrols as he went, until he was only a few buildings away from the soot-stained facade of a warehouse that still bore the name ‘Cater & Hero Limited’ in old and peeling paint. A small group of brutish-looking gangsters were leaning up against the doors. This, paired with the more numerous and guarded patrols, was a blunt warning not to stray too close to the large front doors. This was not an area permitted to the average dockworker. Eddy decided to heed the unspoken threat and instead turned away - slipping into a shadowed alleyway that had been formed by the proximity of two other hulking warehouses. There was a thick smell of raw tobacco in the air. One of the warehouses was probably filled with it.

Ignoring the pungent scent, Eddy began to scale the side of the brick warehouse. His hands latched on to the gaps between bricks where the mortar had flaked away. Palmerston Wharf was doing well, but the brick structures had been built a few decades ago and the age was starting to show. He would not have been able to climb so easily on a freshly mortared wall. The shadowed nature of the wall helped too. It (and the Veil) hid him from any observers but did not hinder him in turn as his night vision made spotting handholds and footholds easy. He’d got rather good at scaling brick walls. Experience counted for a lot, apparently. He wasn’t even sore when he reached the sloped roof of the warehouse. He stayed low. The day was dimmer, but the sun wasn’t setting just yet. He had no wish to let himself be outlined against the sky. He wasn’t trying to press the limits of his stealth.

Crouching to lower his profile, and staying away from the edges of the warehouse fronting onto areas with more people, Eddy watched to find a time when as few people as possible were looking in his direction. When it arrived, he used the brief window of opportunity to jump to the next warehouse. Landing as softly as he could, Eddy immediately flattened himself against the sloped roof and stayed as still as he could. He couldn’t be sure that nobody had seen him, but no shout was let out. No cries of alarm. People, especially those trying to earn every penny at the end of a long day of physical labour, were unlikely to spend their time looking up at warehouse roofs. No. They were either working or resting with their heads down in exhaustion. Thank the Goddess for harsh East Borough labour practices.

Eddy repeated this several times. Of course, once he had jumped he had to traverse the warehouse roof to reach his next jumping-off point, but a slow crawl on his belly did the job. It unfortunately left Eddy’s jacket dirty and scraped, but that was not a particular concern in the grand scheme of things. Besides, he’d just bypassed the first line of patrols. He smirked. Guards, especially not Parliament Street Gang guards plucked from the streets, were not trained to perform their duties in three dimensions. He mused that a more professional outfit would account for this, but the Gang acted bluntly and brutally and therefore they expected incursions against them to follow that example. Intruders were expected to charge in en masse, shouting for blood like ancient Feysac Berserkers. Eddy was exaggerating, of course, but there was a kernel of truth in his thoughts. In any case, in very little time he was only a jump away from Cater & Hero Limited.

His last traversal had been slow - almost as slow as the rest combined. This close to the heart of Parliament Street Gang control, Eddy had moved at a snail’s pace; veritably inching along. However, finally, he was mere meters away from the warehouse in which Blue Mitch made his lair. The chatter of thugs was below him, the sound moving as patrols walked around the warehouse in their circling patrols. He was along the side of the warehouse, so he couldn’t see the group at the front door, but he could hear the occasional burst of laughter and noise from where they had gathered. It only made him more conscious of the importance of staying hidden. If he were to be discovered now, he’d almost certainly die. He couldn’t even escape into the water. If Blue Mitch were roused, it would lead to a quick end to Eddy’s life. The only path was forward.

Waiting until the sound of the voices had ebbed to their minimum, Eddy made the final jump and was, at last, on Cater & Hero Limited’s warehouse roof. It was the same as the others he had traversed. Red brick stained and roughened by fumes and smoke and the hints of salt-laden breeze that sometimes followed the river up from the sea. Lichen-covered shingles laid atop dusty wooden beams. Somehow, though, it felt more meaningful than the ones that had come before. Perhaps it was because he was so used to having nothing of his own - no food, no money, no goals, no triumphs - but achievement always tasted sweet to Eddy.

Eddy crept along the side of the warehouse and crawled upward to one of the small skylights that let light down into the cavernous brick storehouse. From his position above it all he could see nearly the whole interior of the warehouse. Inside, lit by the beams of dim sunlight that reached in from the roof and bolstered by gas lamps, he saw the stacked crates still left from the warehouse’s active days and the shoddy partitions that had been set up for some semblance of privacy. He saw the racks of guns and weapons. Daggers, lead pipes, and all the blunt tools of a gang. He saw the lieutenants and their underlings - all engaged in the day-to-day operation of a major East Borough criminal operation. Talking, arguing, and coordinating patrols. He even saw some accountant types in a corner making notes in thick ledger books and tallying up the count from the day’s extortion and protection rackets. It was easy to look at the Parliament Street Gang and assume that they were all brainless muscle, but even gangs had accountants.

Eyes diligently taking in the layout of the warehouse, Eddy looked further and spotted a shape in the warehouse’s dim light. A shape that, in its total recognisability, could only be one man. Blue Mitch.


AN: I’m again sorry for the late upload. Part of why this happened is that I rewrote a major part of this chapter after I realised that Eddy was no longer acting like Eddy. Characters can change and grow - that’s a major part of this fic in fact - but there is a distinction between ‘change’ and ‘complete inconsistency’. I hope to try and keep a grip on this in the future.

I’m aware that the Sequence 9 Warrior from the Twilight Giant Path also has a major strength boost, but Eddy doesn’t know about it. Sailor is the only one he knows that fits the pattern. The Mirminsk Lane incident is mentioned all the way back in Chapter 9. Next week, we shall finally meet Antagonist No. 1 - Blue Mitch himself. I hope to see you then!

Chapter 43: Revenge - Part Six


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

‘Fire,’ I once read, ‘is the winter that warms and the spring that consumes.’

Eddy’s eyes widened. This was the first time he had actually seen the leader of the Parliament Street Gang, and he now understood why he was so feared. Blue Mitch, for want of a better word, loomed in the gloom of the warehouse. Like some hunched monolith, he sat in a wide chair. Sitting down, Eddy couldn’t get a good read on his true height, but he would wager that he was in the upper reaches of six feet. A couple of inches away from seven, perhaps. This height was matched by broad shoulders and a shirt that strained over a body that bulged with muscles. His hands were large. They gave off an aura of brutality. Eddy could sense a bloody spirituality lingering around them. How many had died at these hands? Eddy could picture their sledgehammer punches. He shuddered. Luckily though, from the looks of it, the man was sleeping in his wide armchair, head lowered in slumber.

Eddy, from his vantage point, was unable to get a look at his face. This wasn’t helped by the shoulder-length hair that Blue Mitch had. Unbound, it hung down like strands of dark seaweed, the image only reinforced by its blue tint and oily state. A trait of far-off island dwellers, and those blessed by the sea. Another point toward Blue Mitch being a Sequence 9 Sailor. The confirmation was at once soothing and terrifying. He was almost certainly correct in his theory, but it confirmed that he was up against another Beyonder. Eddy prayed briefly for the Goddess to watch over him. A reflex, but it brought a modicum of comfort.

Looking again at the hulking shape of a man, though, still caused fear to rise in Eddy. He had been right to disregard the idea of a fair fight. Eddy might be a Sequence higher than what he theorised Blue Mitch to be at, but the man would annihilate him in a straight brawl. As far as Eddy was concerned, in the face of those fists, honour could go and die in a ditch.

This wasn’t even taking into consideration that the man was not alone. The warehouse was an active site, filled with high-level members of the gang and its whole administrative apparatus. They had a rack full of pistols. Starting a fight would see him shot full of lead within the span of half a minute - even ignoring all the people who would rush in from outside Cater & Hero to reinforce Blue Mitch. The place was a death trap.

Fortunately, Eddy had not spent the afternoon idly. Preparations had been made. He’d expended a lot of effort on making sure that things would go his way. Eddy grimaced. It had been more… effort… than he’d perhaps like.

Eddy crouched by the window for a few more minutes, waiting for an opportunity to arrive. He didn’t have to wait long. A thug ran into the warehouse, doors squealing as they opened just enough to let him through. His hurried footsteps rang out on the hard floor as he bolted over to a gathering of lieutenants. With the general noise of the Parliament Street Gang operation, Eddy couldn’t hear what the panicked man was saying, but he had a good idea. The anger and surprise twisting the faces of the lieutenants confirmed his theories. The Zmangers had attacked the outskirts of their territories in force.

Earlier, before afternoon had given way to evening, Eddy had found himself in front of Meursault once more. They had not spoken since their argument, since the botched raid on Forman House had almost cost Eddy his life (he still had dreams about worms inside desiccated throats). Eddy had been… unwise in that argument, becoming far too hostile to a man who wielded so much power in the Borough. Meursault had not been happy either. Despite his even tone and affable facade, Eddy was not blind to the man’s cruelty - or his ego. He had picked up on the Zmanger lieutenant’s threat.

“It would be a terrible thing if you were to die before your time.”

That’s what he’d said. Eddy would not forget those words. But, right now, he needed the power that Meursault controlled. He could only hope that tempers had cooled enough that Meursault would be willing to take his offer. Such a thing would, undoubtedly, cost Eddy something - it was wise, therefore, that he had prepared an offering in advance.

In that office, Eddy had begun to speak. Meursault had listened.

After Eddy had finished, Meursault leaned forward over his desk - his eyes had locked on Eddy. “You’re asking for my help, then? I thought you had lost confidence in me. In my judgement…” A cruel smirk was on his lips.

“I’m giving you an opportunity. One from which we can both benefit.”

“You’re asking for my men’s blood for your own schemes. You want me to attack Blue Mitch’s territory - draw his men away. I haven’t heard any opportunity in that.”

Eddy paused, making sure to show Meursault how serious he was. “I know the location of a Parliament Street Gang stash. Money, weapons, and drugs. That’s more than enough of a prize to buy your help.”

Meursault had stilled at that, a smile growing across his face. “Eddy,” he’d said, “that is a fine offering indeed.”

Back atop the warehouse, Eddy smiled grimly as he heard the shouts of marshalling Parliament Street Gang thugs. Just as he and Meursault had arranged earlier, the Zmangers had attacked the location of a stash that Eddy had found earlier in the day. During his preparations, he’d utilised the same approach that had yielded the location of the safe house he’d burnt down. By following a messenger from the rooftops, Eddy had been led straight to a building where it seemed the Gang was storing money and goods. Drugs ready to go out onto the streets and hauls of protection money, mainly. If Eddy had raided it himself, he could have made off with a huge amount of cash, but it was also valuable enough to buy the aid of the Zmangers. Eddy watched as many of the previously idling thugs ran out of the warehouse. With nothing more than some scouting and a well-placed word, he’d emptied the headquarters of many of their guards. A fine step forward.

His smile, however, was interrupted by a frown as he thought back to the end of his conversation with Meursault.

“I’ll thank you for this gift, Eddy, but after this is all done I’ll expect your little tantrum to end. You will return to work for me. Your debt yet remains, Eddy. You should remember that.”

That, however, was a matter for the future. What mattered now was killing Blue Mitch.

With the alarm raised, the warehouse was emptier than it was before. There were still thugs moving around, and the accountants were still in front of their ledgers (although they had raised their nervous heads from their books when the call to arms had gone up). It was, however, a far less formidable sight. Interestingly, nobody woke Blue Mitch. Was he the type of leader to which men feared to bring bad news? That would match with the image of him that Eddy had in his head. He imagined that the gang leader had a terrible temper.

Eyes peeled, Eddy shimmied the narrow window open just enough to squeeze through. His slim build was to his advantage - any larger and he might have become wedged. It was certainly not an approved entrance. He dropped softly onto a wooden beam. They spanned the length of the warehouse - a special walkway just for Eddy. He wasn’t too worried about being spotted now. Those that remained were working, instead of lounging about. They were unlikely to look up. Nevertheless, he moved slowly and cautiously, making sure not to let any dust fall from the beams.

Within a few minutes, Eddy had made his way over to the emptiest corner of the warehouse, where old wooden crates were stacked in a tall pile. This part of the building had not yet been put to use by the Parliament Street Gang, and so they still allowed the remnants of its working past to remain. It was a perfect place to begin.

With the crates stacked so high, it was easy for Eddy to quickly scramble down the wall and onto the pile of crates. They creaked beneath him. He wouldn’t have risked the descent without their presence - the distance would have been far too risky otherwise. Their presence, therefore, meant that his climb-down was not only easier but - more importantly - quicker too. He was at his most vulnerable in such a state. Ironically, the partitions that the Parliament Street Gang had set up around the warehouse for privacy also protected him from hostile gazes. Convenient.

Eddy slipped down the pile of crates like a shadow until he reached the cold floor of the warehouse. Looking over his shoulder and keeping an ear out for approaching footsteps, he pulled a pile of dry tinder from his pocket along with some matches. He’d bought the tinder earlier in the day for just such an occasion - the matches he had already owned for the lighting of candles. He’d bought it with this purpose in mind. He hadn’t known exactly when and where he might use it, but fires were seen as very dangerous in warehousing districts where flammable materials were common and could serve as a great distraction. He had theorised initially that he’d need to use it to sneak into the warehouse, but thankfully he’d got in without it. Now, he would use it to draw even more people away from the still-slumbering Blue Mitch.

Stacking a bit of tinder by the bottom of a crate, Eddy lit a match and, as the sulphurous flame burst into existence, he lit the tinder with it - blowing on it gently to feed the flame. The tinder went up quickly and, for a moment, Eddy was not sure if the crate would catch alight. Perhaps it would not normally - not without Eddy feeding the flame with more bits of fuel - but the wood of the crate was old and bone-dry. The fire began to lick up the side of the crate and a wisp of light smoke hit Eddy’s nostrils. Perfect. He looked up at the large pile of wooden boxes. A fine distraction indeed. Eddy scurried away, running crouched with muffled footfalls. The empty corner would not be empty for long.

Indeed, as Eddy snuck away, a shout went up behind him and, before he knew it, the attention of the whole warehouse had been drawn to the back corner. Its isolated location was keeping the fire contained, but the quickly growing orange-yellow glow behind Eddy still caused panic as people rushed toward it. They all remembered that Cater & Hero had once been destroyed in a fire. History made them wary. Eddy took advantage of the distraction to dart through the warehouse. With his Veil, and the attention of those remaining elsewhere, he had an easy time making his way around partitions and through the now-emptied working areas.

Somehow, nobody had decided to wake Blue Mitch - who was still napping in his chair. It actually impressed Eddy. Did nobody have the guts to wake him up? Did his viciousness extend to his own men just as much as to his enemies? More importantly, just how did a man learn to sleep so soundly? If Eddy weren’t so dead-set on murdering him, he’d take the time to ask. He’d always been a light sleeper.

Pulling back from the partition around which he had been peeking, Eddy circled the area so that he could approach from behind Blue Mitch. He repeated his mantra inside his mind: an assassination, not a duel. His way, not Blue Mitch’s. Eddy’s heart was in his mouth as he approached the back of the chair. For a normal person, the high back would obscure their full body, but Blue Mitch’s height meant that his neck and head were visible from the back. A perfect target.

Eddy practised the strike in his mind again and again as he approached. He drew his Feysac dagger. It was the best steel he had, even with its age. He imagined the blade slip between Blue Mitch’s vertebrae. He felt the pressure on the blade, the force of the strike, the feeling of flesh parting for metal. Precision would be important, but even more vital would be the power behind his strike. No half-measures. Eddy knew that Sailors had a level of heightened durability, but he didn’t know to what extent, so he would have to push the knife into flesh with as much force as he could muster. Wasteful, perhaps, but as long as he could sever the spinal cord he would be fine - free and clear. He could slip away into the coming dusk and the gang members would only work out he’d been present when they finally worked up enough courage to wake Blue Mitch up from his nap. Hopefully, it would take a long time for that to happen.

He was only a few feet away. His hairs were standing on end. Sweat beaded on his forehead. When had he started holding his breath? Fear. He was afraid but also electrified with some sort of primal excitement. Blue Mitch was a behemoth - a titan - and Eddy was about to fell him. He was close enough now to feel the heat radiating off the man’s large body. Eddy readied his knife and drew it up high enough to pierce into Blue Mitch’s neck at just the right spot. The world was slow. Time dripped like molasses.

Eddy put his weight behind the blade and pushed . The knife touched the skin of Blue Mitch’s neck.

The skin broke.

The knife pressed into flesh.

It stopped.

With a sense of rising horror, Eddy watched as a previously dormant spirituality began to rage like a storm beneath Blue Mitch’s skin. To the mundane eye, it would seem as if nothing was occurring, but that was not the case for Eddy. He watched as a wall of spirituality spread over Blue Mitch in the instant after his skin was broken. He felt it in the air, a pressure behind his eyes and a sharpness beneath his tongue. It felt like fish scales. An iridescent armour hiding beneath Blue Mitch’s skin. It held his knife from driving in further, even as Eddy put his weight behind it in protest of what he could no longer deny. His failure.

Eddy’s eyes flicked up from where the knife was stalled and stood, frozen in panic, as a blue-haired head was raised. He took a stumbling step back as Blue Mitch’s head turned just enough for one black and beady eye to peer out from tangled seaweed hair and lock onto him with all the malevolence of a blood-hungry shark.




AN: It’s never going to be that easy, Eddy. For one, you didn’t have access to the wiki page that clearly states that Sailors have subdermal armour that can block shotgun blasts. For Sequence 9, they really are overpowered. Definitely beats Barber. Sucks to be Eddy.

This chapter also sees Eddy using his brain to once more pit the Zmangers against the PSG. He was going to have to go back to Meursault anyway, so he might as well use them. Klein would be proud - if he knew who Eddy was. See you next week for Eddy’s idea of hell: a good old-fashioned punch-up with an angry giant!

Chapter 44: Revenge - Finale


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

These are the arts that ensure an ending.

For a moment, Eddy and Blue Mitch simply looked at each other - the Smuggler’s widened and pale blue eyes meeting the Sailor’s beady and dark ones. Everything was still. Although it could not have lasted more than half a second, to Eddy it seemed like forever. He watched as Blue Mitch’s eyes moved from gazing at his face to focusing on his hand. His hand that held a knife. A knife that held a single drop of blood at its tip from where he had pierced Blue Mitch’s skin. The drop hung at the tip of the blade - captured by surface tension - the low orange-yellow glow from the rest of the warehouse reflecting off it until it looked like a fire opal. Eddy’s hand trembled. The surface tension broke. The droplet of blood fell. Eddy watched as it plummeted, eyes tracking it. It hit the floor in a splatter and, as it did so, Blue Mitch exploded into movement.

In an instant, Blue Mitch went from sitting to launching himself from his chair - pivoting on one leg to turn to face Eddy. All the strength of his body was put into that motion and the sheer speed sent the chair tumbling as he moved. Eddy was already stumbling backwards when the punch came - Blue Mitch placing the momentum of his turn behind an arcing fist. Due to their awkward positioning, the strike was short, and could not reach Eddy, but he felt the air shiver as the punch passed several inches from his face. It ruffled his hair - his face blanching as he instinctually estimated the force needed to stir up such a gust from a single haymaker. Eddy put as much strength as he could into his backpedalling legs. He needed to get out of arm’s reach.

Teeth clenched and mind racing, Eddy silently cursed. The perfect ambush, indeed. Everything had been going so right. He’d made it into Palmerston Wharf, got to Cater & Hero, got rid of most of the guards, and distracted the rest with a fire. But now he’d failed at the last hurdle. Blue Mitch’s life had been in his hands - where had he gone wrong? The answer, of course, was information.

He’d researched the characteristics of a Sequence 9 Sailor as much as he could. He’d listened in on whispered conversations under the St Amalia Embankment or in dimly lit bars around Backlund Bridge. He’d tossed soli at information brokers. He’d paid attention to the accounts of Blue Mitch’s previous fights. Immense strength and increased durability, agility in water, and a superhuman sense of balance. These were all confirmed abilities of a Sailor and Eddy had adjusted his plan accordingly. Fight on dry land. Fight on solid ground. Strike quickly and do not let things devolve into a brawl. It was rather too late on the third count.

It appeared as if Eddy’s information had been incomplete. A Sailor was durable - he had underestimated just how durable. To be able to fully block a knife showed just how formidable this armour actually was. Such defence might have been the result of some sort of defensive artifact, but Eddy did not think so. The structure of fish scales and the sense of salt-laden spirituality were redolent of the sea. It was surely a natural property of a Sailor. Eddy cursed again. It made sense how he’d missed it. People’s information was based on observation, but who ever got close enough to find out that Blue Mitch could not be stabbed? If someone did, they didn’t last long enough to tell anyone about it.

However, Eddy no longer had time for thought. Blue Mitch was already charging him - having kicked the chair side to clear his path to Eddy. He was like a charging bull, barrelling forwards with a face twisted by bloodlust. Blue Mitch had a longing for violence. Eddy, however, managed to dodge. He lunged to the right and escaped the wild punch that flew toward him as he did so. He didn’t stop moving, twisting round to face Blue Mitch whilst stepping back. Space. He needed to maintain space.

Blue Mitch was fast, but no faster than an ordinary person. His strength lent him the ability to run with a powerful start, but he was not at a superhuman level of speed. In fact, with his slim, wiry, frame and lighter weight, Eddy was far faster and more agile. Blue Mitch could bull forwards in a straight line, but, as Eddy watched him skid to a halt, he noted that he had difficulty stopping - or changing direction. Eddy, on the other hand, was able to come to a halt and dart around adeptly. It was reminiscent of that Intis sport. The bull and the bull-baiter trapped together in the ring. There were, however, no cheering crowds. This was a fight to the death.

Before Blue Mitch could turn and charge again, Eddy smoothly pulled out another knife and flung it at the man. He didn’t want to throw his Feysac dagger, it was too high quality to leave his hand. The knife turned through the air before hitting Blue Mitch’s back perfectly. It landed point first with enough force to pierce the body of a lesser man, but, once again, there was an iridescent bloom of fish-scale spirituality and the knife simply bounced off the thug’s back and clattered to the ground. Eddy frowned as a deep growl of anger and annoyance resonated from Blue Mitch’s chest at the ill-fated attack. It appeared as if the man’s ‘armour’ was not a one-time event.

Eddy’s mind raced through the possibilities. In an instant, his most lethal weapons - his knives - had essentially been nullified by Blue Mitch. He would have to improvise and play for time. After all, he did have a fallback plan (after all, as Roselle said, no scheme survives first contact with the enemy), but it was not something upon which he wanted to rely. He’d prefer to end this now by whatever means necessary. He’d already brought in the Zmangers. He didn’t want to entangle himself further with greater powers.

His train of thought was interrupted again as he was forced to dodge a punch from Blue Mitch. Eddy went to dive to the side, but a slightly uneven section of flooring sent him stumbling to the ground. He was stunned for a moment, but quickly threw his body to the side - just in time for a sledgehammer fist to pulverise the ground where he had been just a moment before. A burst of spiritual armour covered Blue Mitch’s fist as it impacted the brick flooring and sent pieces of brick flying everywhere. It was only a hastily raised arm that stopped pieces from blinding Eddy. He scampered to his feet as he locked eyes with Blue Mitch through a cloud of dust resulting from his impromptu demolition. The gang leader’s salt-cracked lips pulled back to reveal yellowed teeth and a cruel grin.

For a time, Eddy and Blue Mitch danced around each other. The leader of the Parliament Street Gang would try to charge, punch, or kick Eddy. Eddy would dodge - jumping, diving, and rolling out of the way each time. He also paid attention to his footing. He’d been lucky to not pay the ultimate price for his carelessness before. Before too long, sweat beaded his brow and his skin turned clammy. The regular bursts of intense movement were beginning to wear on him.

He had not been idly dodging Blue Mitch, however. Twice, Eddy launched knives at Blue Mitch during his charges - leaving his attack to the last moment before he was unable to escape. The second time he did this, he had almost been caught. Blue Mitch’s outstretched fingers had snagged the edge of his thick jacket and - even with such a brief contact - had torn a patch of fabric from his clothes and sent Eddy spinning through the air before he landed on his feet. His strength was terrifying. It had left Eddy looking rather desperate with the right shoulder of his jacket torn open to reveal a crumpled shirt below.

Eddy had not taken this risk for no reason. The armour of Blue Mitch was formidable indeed, but Eddy did not believe that it was impenetrable. It lay beneath his skin and stopped all attempts to penetrate it, but Eddy could not help but wonder at its limitations. Did it protect all of him? Some parts of the body were more vulnerable than others. Eddy had been attempting to throw a knife straight into Blue Mitch’s eye - theoretically bypassing his armour. However, his theory had not been proven either way as he had been unable to make the throw. The first knife had gone wide due to his panic at the danger and had scraped off Blue Mitch’s cheek. The second was closer and skittered off the orbit of his eye. Blue Mitch was not stupid though and now his charges included an arm raised across his face as a guard against any more attempts. Yet another failure for Eddy.

Eddy and Blue Mitch circled one another - the crackling of burning wood and the shouts of people forming a backdrop to their standoff. Nobody had interrupted them in their far corner of the warehouse. Blue Mitch, Eddy thought, could have called for help, but he had chosen not to. Perhaps the man liked testing himself in battle against opponents. He hadn’t even asked who Eddy was, or why he was trying to kill him. In Blue Mitch’s eyes, perhaps, that wasn’t important. He was a brute through and through, after all.

This time, however, it was Eddy who broke the stalemate and charged. The move was surprising and it put Blue Mitch off balance by the widening of his eyes as Eddy darted forwards with as much speed as he could muster. As he and Blue Mitch had been circling, he had been inching closer gradually to make his move easier. He rushed toward Blue Mitch, brandishing his Feysac dagger in his hand. Blue Mitch recovered from his surprise and sent a punch wildly at the oncoming Eddy - straight at his head. Eddy, however, ducked underneath and, before Blue Mitch knew it, was inside his reach. By that point, it was too late. Safe from his punch, Eddy was able to thrust his dagger upward and, without the added difficulty of a precise throw, was able to push the blade right into Blue Mitch’s left eye.

After that, everything seemed to happen very quickly. Blue Mitch let out a fearsome roar that, with Eddy’s proximity, shook the air. Before Eddy could escape or even let go of the knife a knee rocketed up and impacted Eddy’s stomach - sending him hurtling up into the air and backwards. The Feysac dagger, dislodged by their movements was sent off somewhere out of view.

Eddy had been punched in the stomach before, but this was utterly unlike anything he’d experienced previously. Initially, nausea and pain combined to darken his vision and make his head spin. Gasping as the air was forced out of him, he almost blacked out, but his fading consciousness was jolted awake by spikes of sheer agony as he moved. Eddy could tell in that instant that his organs had been damaged by the force of Blue Mitch’s knee and that more than one of his ribs had been broken. It only got worse when Eddy landed hard on his back. He stopped his head from hitting the floor, but he landed hard on his shoulder. Once again, his vision erupted with pain and he was only a hair’s breadth from losing consciousness.

With his swimming vision, as if through a murky sea, Eddy could see Blue Mitch clutching his face with one hand as dark blood leaked down his face like a rotten tear trail. Eddy tried to get up, but a wave of agony from his body sent him back down to the floor with a whimper. That whimper seemed to have broken Blue Mitch out of his stupor because Eddy saw his head snap toward him. He couldn’t see it, but he imagined the last remaining of Blue Mitch’s dark and beady eyes locking onto his collapsed form. He felt the vibrations of his footsteps through the brick floor as his vision shifted and blurred. Maybe he had hit his head.

He tried to gather his wits as a snarling Blue Mitch approached. Half lying on his side, Eddy reached into his jacket. Blue Mitch was only a few feet away now; one hand covering his wounded eye, the other hanging by his side. Eddy let out a shallow breath. If only he could have driven that knife in deeper. When there was only a short distance between them, Blue Mitch began to reach for Eddy with his free hand. He opened his mouth and spat some bloody phlegm onto the ground before speaking the first words Eddy had heard him say so far. His voice was deep and hoarse.

“I’m gonna make this hurt.”

Eddy smiled and croaked out a reply.

“Same to you.”

A look of confusion passed over Blue Mitch’s face just as Eddy mobilised all his remaining strength and whipped his hand from his jacket before sending his scissors of quality Conant steel hurtling toward Blue Mitch. Almost dismissively, Blue Mitch batted them aside with his remaining free hand - stretching it out to meet the scissors. His armour flared as he did so in a welter of opalescent spirituality and Eddy’s trusty scissors went flying into the depths of the warehouse. The thuggish gang leader smirked.

“Good try lad, but you’ll have no lu-”

His sentence cut off as Eddy threw something else. Something that had been tucked into his hand at the same time as he had withdrawn his scissors. A small piece of metal covered in etchings of twisting arcs of fractals and strange geometries arced through the air. With one hand clutching his bleeding eye and the other still stretched out after dealing with the thrown scissors, Blue Mitch was unable to stop the sliver of metal from hitting his chest.

As it did so, Eddy whispered one word in Ancient Hermes.


The effect was immediate. To Eddy, separated by distance, he heard a myriad of whispers clawing at the bounds of his mind. The walls surrounding his psyche started to crumble and he fled into the depths of his thoughts, desperately trying to hold the structure of his sanity together. The door to The Wood howled and Eddy laughed as his vision swirled behind rapidly compounding eyes. Even his laughter changed to a rough, clacking sound as mandibles overtook his jaws. He teetered on the knife’s edge of letting go. For Blue Mitch, it was worse.

As soon as the charm, crafted out of the tongues and eyes of madmen, activated, everything about Blue Mitch warped . The scales that had existed only in a spiritual dimension burst into reality - flaying the skin from his body and replacing it with a new coat. A shrill scream bursting from his mouth was transformed into a medley of wet gasps and cracking noises as his skull reshaped and deformed within his new piscine coating. His teeth were moving behind his lips, but Eddy could not see what was happening there. Fingernails turned to claws and hair fell out in clumps as follicles were paved over with shimmering scales. The thing that used to be Blue Mitch hunched over as its spine cracked and grew - pushing it to nine feet in height and lengthening a previously bulky frame to something stretched and gaunt. Finally, a set of tentacles ruptured out from his skin and surrounded a mouth that now more resembled a beak than anything human.

Blue Mitch was gone, and now only a Rampager remained. The sight of that being, a symbol of a Beyonder who had lost control, allowed Eddy to rebuild himself. Just as the sight of his reflection had saved him during his ascent to Sequence 8, so too did the sight of Blue Mitch save him now. Faced with the alternative and less affected by the spiritual upheaval of the madness charm, Eddy’s eyes returned to normal, his mouth re-emerged from its shifted form, and he managed to shore up the walls of his sanity just enough to allow cogitation - the calming meditation keeping him stable. He had saved his sanity. Now all he had to do was save himself from the enraged Rampager a few feet from him.

As if his thoughts provoked it, the creature let out a haunting shriek. It was not a noise that Eddy would describe as natural. Two-tone, it’s high-pitched wail pierced the ear. Yet, at the same time, it was underlaid with a bassy bellow that rippled through the air. The combination sent a shiver up Eddy’s spine as he lay slumped on the ground. The creature looked down at him from its nine-foot stature. A behemoth before a gnat. The man and the Rampager looked at one another and, in its one black eye, Eddy saw something with altogether too much intelligence. A rattling cry echoed from its throat and it took a step forwards - closing in on Eddy. A clawed hand reached down for him and Eddy braced himself for the end. That was when the golden cannonball hit the Rampager.

It was like a miniature sun slammed into the Rampager right above Eddy. He saw a flash of light, a wave of heat scorched the hair on his arms, and then the Rampager flew back out of sight with a great crash. Turning his head, Eddy saw it get to its feet - revealing a great scorched crater on its chest where its scales had impacted inwards. It let out another awful two-tone cry. Eddy’s eyes widened. What kind of force could cause that much damage when Eddy’s knife could not even scratch it?

His question was interrupted as a hail of golden bullets flew out from behind where Eddy was lying and hit the wailing Rampager. Bursts of golden light lit up on its scaly hide, sending it lurching backwards with each strike. It tried to charge forwards to whoever was hurting it, but the force of the bullets halted it in its tracks like it was trying to swim upstream against a river in spate. He heard the cracking of scales under repeated impacts. It was losing!

From the periphery of his vision emerged figures swathed in heavy clothing that appeared to shimmer with hundreds of tiny runes and symbols weaved in iridescent thread. They advanced, firing great many-barrelled guns with loops of golden bullets. Upon their chests was a Sacred Emblem. The gear-filled triangle. The Machinery Hivemind. The Rampager, under their unceasing volleys, was pulverised into the floor - pushed further and further by each successive bullet until it was slightly buried in shattered brick. That was when the flamethrowers came forwards. Eddy looked away at that point as the two-tone shrieks got evermore desperate. It was then that a familiar frizzy-haired man in a suit stepped into view and looked down at him with a smile. He was holding an opened letter in one hand.

“Mr Barton,” spoke Deacon Ikanser Bernard, “Good evening to you. It seems we got here just in time.”

Eddy may have giggled a little, but he wasn’t sure - because that was when darkness swallowed him.

End of Volume One - A Buzzing in the Brain


AN: Thus ends ‘Revenge’. This chapter is longer than usual, but I really didn’t want to extend this by yet another chapter. So, enjoy this special edition. Blue Mitch is now out of the picture, thanks to Eddy’s Madness Charms and the timely intervention of the Machinery Hivemind. You may be able to piece together what happened, but if you didn’t - don’t worry. There’ll be an epilogue to answer some questions, round out this arc, and properly sign off on Volume One of this fic.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week for the epilogue.

Chapter 45: Lemon & Ginger


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Chapter 45: Lemon and Ginger

The Sun is not what it was, but today he is smiling.

Eddy sat in a chair facing the window - a woolen blanket over his legs. He was not truly cold, but it gave him a sense of comfort that worked to banish the echoes of pain in his body. His dreams had been poor, lately. Three full days had passed since the Machinery Hivemind had rescued him and now it was the afternoon of the fourth day. A bell tolled somewhere above him. Two o’clock.

Those three days had passed in fits and starts for Eddy. He’d slipped in and out of consciousness at first - unheeding as members of the Machinery Hivemind placed him on a stretcher and carried him out of Cater & Hero. He’d briefly awoken in what his bleary mind had recognised as the corridors of St Hierländ Cathedral but had quickly fallen back into slumber as nurses and doctors fussed about him.

True recovery had been slow. Blue Mitch’s last blow had damaged many of his internal organs and pushed shards of rib into his liver and lungs. Normally, such injuries would kill a man, but the Church was certainly not normal. A healing artefact had been brought out. Eddy had not seen the thing, but he’d woken to his own screams as bone wrenched itself mercilessly back into position. The process was far too slow. The pain had sent him spiralling into oblivion several times before waking him back up again in a vicious cycle.

Eventually, that emergency healing artefact was swapped out for another that filled a purpose for longer-term recovery. A nurse had explained that it was meant to soothe his body and promote the natural regeneration of his vitality, but all Eddy could focus on was the chilling cold that came as a side-effect of its use. No amount of blankets or stoking of the fireplace could banish that cold. It had been a difficult few days.

Now his treatment had ended. His injuries had been healed and he was now resting in a cozy sitting room somewhere in the architectural leviathan called St Hierländ Cathedral. The room was panelled with warm-coloured wood and tapestries depicting religious scenes hung on the walls - giving the room a comforting atmosphere. A fire crackled merrily off to one side of Eddy’s padded chair. He had a new appreciation for warmth.

Eddy mused on his dreams. He knew that the injuries he had taken bothered his psyche, because his dreams of The Wood had featured him crawling, crippled, over moss. His legs were dead and he had dragged himself along by his hands. The moss grew spines along its length and plucked at his flesh until his tendons were as violin strings. He always woke sweating.

After a while, the door of the sitting room opened and Ikanser Bernard stepped through. “Good afternoon,” he spoke softly as he entered. Eddy turned his head slightly and saw that he was holding a tray with a teapot and some cups. The cups were porcelain and patterned with little gears and levers. Were there workshops that made fine porcelain teacups for ardent believers in the God of Steam and Machinery?

“Good afternoon, Deacon.” Eddy was making sure to be respectful during his stay. Not only was the Church very powerful, but they had also saved him and treated his injuries. It was only right that he act politely. Besides, he was still in St Hierländ Cathedral. Such an attitude was only sensible. Ikanser Bernard pulled up a small table and placed the tray upon it before sitting in a chair himself.

“I’ve brought some tea. Would you like to share a cup with me?”

“Of course, Deacon.”

Ikanser Bernard smiled and served tea. The liquid gave off steam as it flowed into the delicate cup and carried a lovely scent towards Eddy. He grasped the cup and held it with both hands, enjoying the warmth radiating from it and smelling the aroma.

“Lemon and ginger,” Ikanser Bernard added. “It’ll help warm you after your ordeal.”

Eddy nodded and there was silence for a time. Outside the window, the sun shone between frail wisps of white cloud and Eddy could see smoke rise from the factory chimneys to meet them. He took a sip of the tea. The liquid was not as tart as he had expected and the hint of ginger warmed his throat. Lemon was quite a lovely taste. He’d eaten preserved lemons many years before and had hated the bitterness, but this was not so bad.

Eddy and the Deacon watched the clouds for a while. The room was silent, but it was not an oppressive silence. Instead, it felt rather comfortable. It could not last, however. Eventually, Ikanser Bernard turned his head and looked at Eddy. Eddy felt his movement but continued staring out of the window.

“Have your injuries fully recovered?”

Eddy shuddered slightly and turned to face the Deacon. “I… I’ve never been so close to death before… but I feel better now “ He bowed his head toward the church official. “Thank you for saving my life,” Eddy spoke sincerely. The Rampager would surely have killed him if the Hivemind had not arrived in such a timely fashion.

Ikanser Bernard shook his head. “There’s no need to bow your head, Eddy. Restraining Rampagers is the duty of the Church.” He reached into his jacket and withdrew a folded letter. He placed it softly on the table next to the teapot. “It is indeed fortunate that you warned us of that Beyonder’s condition.”

Eddy put a bitter smile on his face before responding. “It was not so fortunate for me.” The letter, of course, was one that he had sent to the Machinery Hivemind’s offices at 2 King’s Avenue in West Borough during his ‘preparation time’ before he had infiltrated Palmerston Wharf. It had been his backup plan. In the unlikely (so he thought) event that he was unable to assassinate Blue Mitch, his idea had been to alert the Machinery Hivemind to a Rampager at the docks. Of course, this plan had the problem of requiring a Rampager, but Eddy had the means to solve that using his Madness Charms. Naturally, it was a risky proposition. Using the Madness Charms meant being in close proximity to a Rampager, but, as it happened, Eddy had ended up with little choice in the matter. The swift arrival of the Hivemind was a stroke of brilliant luck - something that contributed to Eddy’s current malaise. He’d been a hair’s breadth from death and only a roll of the dice had preserved his life. To a careful schemer like Eddy, that was a horrifying proposition.

While Eddy had been thinking, the Deacon had continued. “It was, however, a surprise to find you in such a dangerous position. I did not think you so careless.” Ah. There it was. The not-so-subtle interrogation. Well, as interrogations went, a friendly conversation over tea was far preferable to sharp knives and hot irons.

Eddy took a sip of tea before speaking. He deliberately put on an embarrassed expression. “It… wasn’t exactly my intention.” He took a deep breath and snuck a look at the Deacon. “I’m sure you know that Blue Mitch wished to kill me. I’ve been scared of him for a long time.” Ikanser Bernard nodded at this. The intelligence-gathering abilities of the Church were not small, so it was not surprising that he knew about Eddy’s background.

“As a Mystery Pryer,” he ignored the laughter of Mr Voice and continued speaking, “I have some skill in divination. It is… was… my habit to divine him now and again to help in avoiding the Parliament Street Gang. The last time I did so, I realised that he was close to losing control. He was always violent, but recently he’d been getting more and more enraged and going on rampages, so I was convinced about the truth of this divination.” Eddy continued lying through his teeth.

“I knew that I should report it, but I needed more proof, so I asked around for information about him.” That should cover him if the Church had found out about his investigations. “I think that someone leaked that I was asking about him because the next thing I knew I had been abducted and brought before him. I managed to escape, but he caught me and was about to kill me when he lost control. Maybe it was the stress or the anger of my escape that did it in the end.” Eddy laughed softly. “That’s the issue with divination. Did my actions cause him to lose control? Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?” He shook his head wryly. Inside, he was quite pleased with himself. It was, in his humble opinion, quite a solid lie. It didn’t have to totally convince the Church but, as long as there was reasonable doubt, they would side with Eddy’s story - the story of their informant - over another explanation.

While Eddy had been speaking, Ikanser Bernard was watching him closely. After Eddy had finished spinning his story, he asked some more questions. Did Eddy spot any other Beyonders? Did Blue Mitch say anything that stood out to him? Eddy answered these questions honestly. There was no reason to lie. The last question was about the fire.

“There was a fire in the warehouse. How did that start?”

Eddy shrugged helplessly. “I’m not sure. It was chaotic in there. Lots of people were rushing around.” Ikanser Bernard nodded. They returned to drinking tea and watching the clouds and the chimney smoke. Once Ikanser had finished his cup, he stood up and smiled down at Eddy.

“Thank you for speaking with me this afternoon, Eddy. You may stay here until you feel able to leave. Just ask anyone for your belongings, and they will be returned to you. We recovered what we could.”

“Thank you, Deacon.”

“Please, call me Ikanser.”

Eddy smiled. “It would be my pleasure.”

The church official began to turn away but halted halfway through his movement. He made eye contact with Eddy - his previous expression replaced by one more pensive. “For certain Paths…” he paused as if he were trying to find the right way to say something. “Some Paths are… special… to the Churches. I was a Savant, once.” Another pause. “Such Paths rarely fall outside of their control.”

Eddy tilted his head. “What are you saying, Ikanser?”

The pensive look on the Deacon’s face remained. “I’m saying that you should be careful - just in case.”

Eddy’s voice was hard when he replied. “Blue Mitch was just a thug. A beast and nothing more.”

Ikanser exhaled slightly. “That he was, Eddy.” That’s all he said before he turned and left - leaving Eddy alone in the room once again. Eddy took a sip of his tea and grimaced. He had changed his mind. The tea was too bitter.


AN: And there’s our epilogue. The Machinery Hivemind saved our boy. How would they react if they knew that he was their so-called serial killer? Lemon and ginger tea is great, by the way. So comforting.

This chapter marks the official end of Volume One: A Buzzing in the Brain. What I’m going to do now is take a break from writing for a while. I’ve been writing this project since before the new year and now it's mid-October, so I’m giving myself a holiday haha. I’ll take this time to read through what I’ve written so far, make notes of any hanging plot threads, and more thoroughly plan the direction of the second volume. I also want to build up a backlog of chapters again - I’ve let that slip over the months. So, I won’t see you next week - but I do hope to see you soon. As always, thank you for reading.


Chapter 46: On The Rainy Dock


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Oh the friends that we made and the skins that we played: still they drive us!

September 9th, 1349 - A short distance downriver from the West Balam Docks, Backlund

Rain lashed at Anouilh as he stood shivering beneath his dun oilskin. The supposedly waterproof clothing was, however, not performing up to standard, and the Zmanger distributor quickly found himself soaked to the bone. His surroundings didn’t help. The half-rotted wooden pier that jutted into the Tussock was not the nicest place in the cold light of day but under the red light of the crescent moon and the lashing rain of the autumn storm striking Backlund, it was downright eerie. His hand patted at the handle of a long knife sheathed at his waist. He’d prefer a pistol, but he’d chosen not to bring it. He didn’t want water getting into the mechanisms. Besides, he was meeting a friend rather than an enemy.

Well, not quite a friend. ‘Ally’ might be a better term - albeit a begrudging one. Anouilh shrugged, wincing as cold water trickled underneath his collar in response. After all, they were bound by mutual benefit… and a little bit of blackmail.

It was a few more minutes and a lot more rain before Anouilh stirred from his shivering. Squinting into the darkness, he saw a low silhouette part the sheet of rain obscuring his vision—a riverboat. Low-hulled and silent, its hull blackened with tar, it slipped slowly along the pier before drawing to a gradual halt.

Anouilh stood there in shock. Riverboats like the one at which he was staring were propelled manually, by pushing off the riverbed with a long pole. In the dark, in the storming rain, on a river as wide and deep as the Tussock… such a pilot would have to stay dangerously close to the riverbanks - at constant risk of being beached and stranded. He shook his head wryly. And, to top it off, all while staying hidden with lamplights smothered.


His thoughts were interrupted by a coil of rope flying out of the gloom and thudding wetly on the wood of the pier. Anouilh was startled into action - scrambling to grasp the rope and swiftly tying the riverboat to a mooring post. It’d been a long time since he’d worked the docks, but his hands still remembered the touch of the rope’s coarse weave. He was done quickly, whistling a dockhand’s call to signal that he was finished. Try as he might though, Anouilh could not spot the boat’s pilot - even though he was now right next to the rear of the vessel where they should be. Instead, all he saw was a deck slick with rainwater and a lonely barge pole abandoned on the wooden boards.

Anouilh’s eyebrows drew down into a frown at the sight. Where was his contact? He turned around to find himself staring into a pair of pale blue eyes.

Anouilh did not scream. He did not.

Some seconds later, after Anouilh had calmed down a little, the man attached to the pair of icy eyes spoke. “Good evening, Anouilh.” The pronunciation was not quite right, but at least he was making an effort - unlike some other Lowlanders. Anouilh took a good look at the man. He was also wearing a dun oilskin and looked just as soaked as Anouilh himself felt. Hair that was brown and messy when dry was now black with rainwater and plastered to his forehead by the rain. Nevertheless, Edward Barton did not shiver. In fact, he looked… solid … somehow. It did not quite make sense, but he couldn’t escape the feeling. Anouilh shuddered internally and tried not to think about it. He was a distributor, a liaison, a Zmanger. It was not his place, not his habit, to dwell on unsavoury… rumours. To dwell on stories of men who were more than men. He forced a smile.

“Evening, Barton. I didn’t think you’d make it - what with the storm and all.”

“The squall made for good cover. We slipped right past His Majesty’s River Squadron.” Barton’s voice was calm. Soft. Yet Anouilh could hear it just fine even with the wind battering him. A sudden gust almost toppled him, but he rebalanced. Barton did not move. A chill raced up Anouilh’s spine.

“Yes, yes. I hope you found the goods without issue? Every stretch of the riverbank looks the same to me!”

“It was not a problem.”

“Good work. I’ll have the men move the packages when the storm dies down - whenever that is.”

“Within the hour.” The soft voice was certain.

“O-oh. I see.” The conversation died out and Anouilh could only hear the beating of the rain against his hood and the groan of wood beneath his feet.

Barton spoke again. “I was not told before I left. Why was the navy patrolling the river for smugglers?”

Anouilh grasped for an answer for a moment, reaching up to scratch his head and wincing as the movement caused rain to once again soak him. “I’m not sure. Something about a Bill being passed in Parliament. An anti-smuggling law. You’d have to ask Meursault about that.” If anything, the night got colder as he spoke the name.

“And… how has Meursault been since I departed? It has been two days, after all.”

Under that pale gaze, Anouilh felt like fidgeting despite his years of experience on the streets of East Borough. “You… you know how he’s been lately…”

“Another hunting trip outside the city?”


Despite the oilskin hood covering his head, Anouilh could still see the slow nod of thought from Barton. “Did you know Meursault before you came to Backlund?”

“We’re from the same village. A small place in the foothills of the Central Hornacis.”

“And was he fond of hunting?”

“He… has always been fond of fine things.” A non-answer, but despite Meurdsault’s recent… changes… Anouilh was still loyal. They held different statuses now, but they were friends once - when they played below the ice-bound peaks of their childhood.

“I see.” A non-response came in return from Barton—another pause. By the spirits, Barton was awkward to talk to. Every conversation with him was curt and stilted - like he didn’t know how to properly speak to people. He wasn’t a bad sort though. He didn’t think so, at least. In any case, they hadn’t hired him for his conversation. He was far more valuable as a smuggler.

From his jacket, Anouilh took out a wallet. He’d wrapped it in two layers of oilskin to stop the water from getting inside. It would be his head that would roll if the pound notes inside got destroyed by water damage. “Your payment. As agreed.” He tossed it lightly at Barton and a pale hand lashed out and nimbly plucked it from the air. If the storm had been less fierce and the moon a little brighter, then Anouilh would have seen the minute shudder that ran through Barton’s body as he caught his payment. He did not, however, and so the peculiarity went unnoticed.

“D-do you wish for me to hold some of the money back? For payment of your debt?”

Those pale eyes found his once again. “No. I don’t believe that will be necessary.” He tilted his head slightly as if he could hear something Anouilh could not. “Please forgive me, but I must leave. I have a meeting to attend.” With those final words, the smuggler turned and walked purposefully into the Backlund night - hand slipping the wallet into his under his oilskin and into the jacket. As Barton walked further along the pier, the rain covered his image in Anouilh’s eyes and made it so his gaze slipped from him as if he were camouflaged. It was not long before the pier was empty and the Zmanger stood alone.

At the same time - Pritz Harbour

The storm ravaging Backlund, capital of the Loen Kingdom, had long since left Pritz Harbour behind as it boiled its way northward. Even still, its furious passage had blown in windows and sent sea spray from the docks flying into the night air. Even the great and sturdy ocean liners that plied the Beserk Sea had been blown off course and forced to stay away from shore until the tempest moved on. Therefore, it was many hours later and much darker than it should have been when the Vine-Crowned Queen limped around the lighthouse at Oak Island and finally lagged into port.

The ocean-going paddle steamer had been damaged out at sea and the masts that bore her auxiliary sails had snapped in the face of the strong winds. For a ship in older days that would be a death sentence, but the Queen sailed mainly on the power of her coal-powered engine - as her still-belching smokestack attested. The sails were only to save power and speed her along when the wind was right. That was why the storm had so delayed them.

No time was wasted, despite the late hour, in unloading the ship of her cargo. At the same time, tired and seasick passengers began to disembark - swaying on the solid ground of the Northern Continent as they tried to regain their land legs. They did not tarry long, eager to find family, friends, or a hotel in which to rest and escape the chilly autumn night. Merchants, soldiers on leave, men and women of high standing, and their accompanying servants all hurried off into the night.

One figure did remain on the docks, however - breathing in the salty harbour air as if they had missed it. Dressed in a black lady’s jacket over a white dress shirt with a long purple skirt, she was taller than most women. With the addition of a fine and fashionable wide-brimmed hat, this all combined to give the impression of a smart and straightforward woman. Conscious of fashion but still professional; perhaps a woman of class who had dedicated herself to anthropological studies, or some other form of academia seen as suitable for the fairer sex.

However, this impression was undermined by her face. Her cheekbones were elegant, but a sharp chin and smirking lips gave her a predatory look. Of greatest significance was the long raised scar that struck vertically through her left eye - stretching up and down around one-and-a-half inches on either side of its milky-white surface. She did not hide it beneath an eyepatch. Her other eye was dark brown and shone with some inexplicable emotion. The cold did not affect her.

With her good eye, she scanned the lights of Pritz Harbour before setting down the luggage she had been holding in her hands. Another contradiction. A woman wealthy enough to afford such fine clothes ought to be accompanied by servants or -at the very least - a chaperone. She certainly should not have been carrying her own bags. Her luggage thumped against the stone of the dock as she set them down. They were heavy and far more so than one might expect for her stature. She had not shown any strain when carrying them previously.

The lady reached into her jacket and withdrew a photograph. From its uneven edges, it clearly had been cut from a larger whole. The sepia hues of the picture showed a young man with dark hair and an honest smile. His bushy eyebrows and a square chin added to the picture of an adventurous young fellow. From out of frame, a slim arm was draped around his shoulders and led to a dainty hand that rested on one of them. The rest of the other person had been cut away by the clipping of the photograph.

A second picture joined the first. This one was a pencil drawing, rather than a photograph, and depicted a middle-aged man. His hair had thinned a little and he’d put on weight that made his cheeks look larger. Indeed, the addition of a thick beard and the cultivation of a fine walrus moustache made him look older than he truly was. But, to anyone comparing the two pictures, it was obvious that it was the same person - just with the introduction of some facial hair and the influence of the passing years. More tired, older, heavier, but still the same man.

There was only one difference that protested the claim that they were the same man. Both images had been annotated with names. The photograph, in small and neat cursive writing, said ‘ Porter Marsden’ and, below it, ‘Alaka Company’ . On the other hand, the drawing was affixed with a different name. ‘Peter Marillon’ . ‘Barber’ .

A gloved hand rose to cover lips that were curling into a smile that was a bit too amused. That blind white eye passed over the city before her.

“My dear Porter,” Her voice was deeper than most and hungry. “It’s been so long. I simply cannot wait to see you again.”

“We shall have such fun.”


AN: The holiday lasted longer than I’d wanted. As it happened, there was a crisis at work and a load of people were accused of incompetence and losing sensitive documents - me included. Turns out there was one lady in a rather senior position who was keeping track of said documents with a collection of post-it notes rather than a spreadsheet. Naturally, I knew I was innocent and so did my colleagues, but it was stressful and emotionally draining and I didn’t have the energy to write for a while. Anyway, all the accused were found innocent, received an apology, and a particular post-it note-using lady got a bollocking.

So, here I am. Bit of a time-skip, but Volume II has begun. I don’t want to bloat the story with other POVs, but I think that an occasional glimpse at how other people see Eddy is good. Meursault has been acting strange… and an enigmatic lady has appeared at Pritz Harbour. Eddy’s life is never easy.

In terms of timeline, September 9th is the date for canon chapters 203-211 and is the day of the True Creator’s Spawn event in Tingen.

Chapter 47: Eye of Wisdom


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

I will dedicate myself to the pursuit of knowledge.

Eddy Barton made his way through the streets of Backlund as the rain lashed at his face - pale blue eyes staring out into the city before him. To another, the sheets of rain and the dark of the moonless night would obscure everything beyond arm’s length, but to Eddy, such things were no obstacle. His stride was long and his footfalls were sure as he made his way towards Backlund Bridge.

His latest job had been his most difficult by far. The Zmanger’s usual contacts had faced increasing difficulty in smuggling narcotics into Backlund. A range of issues, spanning from heightening pressure from the authorities, bad weather, and even simple poor luck had stymied their attempts at delivery on more than one occasion. Eventually, the gang had grown weary of the delays and Eddy was sent to collect the goods at a pre-arranged drop-point and smuggle them into the docks himself.

It was, quite frankly, an impossible task for any ordinary smuggler. Eddy, however, was anything but ordinary. His sixth sense for the shifting patterns of weather and tides along with his perception of hidden things had allowed him to find the goods with ease even in the dark of the night and the storming weather. A shallow-bottomed barge blackened with pitch had served him well, allowing him to move dangerously close to the river bank and slip past the sight of naval patrols until he reached the docks.

The pay - thankfully - had been proportionate to the task. Fifty pounds. Fifty. As he walked, Eddy patted the jacket pocket where the oilskin-wrapped wallet was secured. Eddy had only seen a greater amount of money but once. Fifty pounds. He’d made in one night what a dock worker might take three years to earn. It was only fair, however, He’d smuggled perhaps hundreds of pounds of drugs into the city on his little barge. The Zmangers would make a great deal of money off such a bounty.

He had not counted the money - not with the weather as it was - but Anouilh would not have cheated him. He would not dare. The man was, like many others, fearful of the unknown, and Eddy no longer quite… belonged… within the usual bounds of normalcy. Mr Voice had made certain of that.

At the thought, Eddy’s hand came up and rested on his breastbone. Underneath the slick surface of his oilskin, underneath his jacket and shirt, was a bead of malachite that hung from his neck. Black-green and smooth, it was always warm with his body heat. A memory of Orthos Wood. A gift from Mr Voice.

Veil raised, hidden from prying eyes not just by the dark and the rain but also his ability to slip beneath the notice of all but the most perceptive, Eddy spoke to the empty air.

“I've not felt such rapid digestion in so long, Mr Voice. A couple more jobs like this and we’ll be close - very close. Is it time to start preparing?”

[Amusem*nt] A meaningful Act tonight. The funds are yours. I will allow it. [Ambition]

Eddy shivered as he felt the buzzing swell inside his head as Mr Voice’s words flitted through his mind. The emotions of the foreign entity weaved through his own and stirred his anticipation. He was not there yet, but the threshold of Sequence 7 was approaching and now, with the small fortune hidden within his pockets, he could begin the arrangements for the next stage of his ascension. He had the funds, he had Mr Voice, and he also had the connections. That, in fact, was the endpoint of the night’s journey. The Beyonder gathering of a certain Eye of Wisdom.

It did not take long for Eddy to pass through the streets of the Borough to reach a nondescript house. At the entrance of a darkened alley behind Iron Gate Street, it stood silent - windows dark and curtains still. The sounds of revelry from Bravehearts Bar a short distance away were muffled by a blanket of rain. Eddy reached into his jacket and put on his mask before walking up to the house’s small wooden door and knocking rhythmically on it. He took care to get the sequence correct. The code changed for every meeting, but his memory was good and he had learnt it beforehand.

Seven or eight seconds later, a small wooden board on the door was suddenly pulled open, revealing a pair of brown eyes behind it. After a long moment of scrutiny, Eddy finally saw the door open. A man wearing an iron mask stood there and handed Eddy a hooded robe.

“Get out of the rain and put this on.” The man spoke gruffly but paused. “Take off the oilskin first and I’ll hang it by the fire for you.”

Eddy smiled and pulled the oilskin over his head and handed it over to the doorman, grimacing as the movement pressed wet fabric against his skin. He quickly put on the hooded robe. The doorman sighed as he noticed water dripping onto the floor from the waterproof covering.

“Blasted Backlund weather…” he mumbled before gesturing through a doorway. “Go on through the living room - you can’t miss it.” Eddy nodded again with a smile and hurried through the hallway and the darkened living room until he reached a candle-lit room. The dim light revealed a room that held a ring of sofas and chairs. Several people, all wearing masks and hooded robes sat in relative silence. At the far end of the room was a padded chair in which sat an old man. Although his defining features were hidden by his half-mask, Eddy still noted his lined cheeks and wrinkled skin. Mr Eye of Wisdom, presumably. Their eyes met and Eddy nodded politely in greeting as he found an armchair in which to sit. He let out a breath as he sank into the chair. He’d been on his feet for far too long.

Minutes passed by in silence. Clothes dried in the warmth and the air began to smell in that distinct wet fabric way. Eddy looked relaxed, but in actuality, he was very alert. On a theoretical level, he knew that he was surrounded by Beyonders in the black market, but this was very different from that. In the market, anyone could be a Beyonder. Here, in this room, everyone was a Beyonder. He doubted anything would happen on such neutral ground, but he couldn’t help his wariness. Wariness kept a man alive. A couple more people filtered in before the old man in the armchair cleared his throat and the door to the dimly lit room closed with a soft groan of hinges.

This seemed like the signal to start as a rather portly man began to speak - his face shiny with sweat. “Over the past few days, I’ve been hearing noises in the sewers near where I pick my herbs. It sounds like animals.” He pulled out a handkerchief and mopped a little at the sweat on his cheeks. “I need someone to scout the tunnels for me… just to check. My talents lie elsewhere, as you know.” He chuckled a little. Nobody joined in on his joke - whatever it was. Eddy was new here and had no idea about the Beyonder’s specialty.

“Payment will be with two bottles of my… precious… medicine; one can swiftly halt bleeding and stimulate your natural regeneration. It’s convenient and is far better than limping to a surgeon - let me tell you! It’s effective for up to six months, but please drink it quickly once you’ve opened it!”

Eddy sat in silence. Was this a Beyonder or a salesman? Somehow, he’d expected more dignity from the mysterious society of Beyonders. His impression of the man only declined, however, as he continued to speak.

“The second bottle lasts only a month and a half, but it can certainly… revive… a man - if you know what I mean!” He let out a laugh that could only be described as lecherous and, even though the upper part of his face was covered, Eddy got the distinct impression that his eyebrows were waggling vigorously. The man did not stop. “One sip and you’ll become a Beyonder in the sheets. I guarantee it, ehehe!” Nobody joined in on his laughter and he abruptly stopped chuckling. “Don’t ask me about the side effects. I haven’t ironed those out yet.”

Another masked figure raised a hand to their brows and began to massage away what could only be the start of a headache. “Please stop talking…” they said with a weary feminine voice. “I’ll do it for two healing potions as long as you stop talking.”

“Deal,” spoke the large man swiftly, “as long as Mr Eye of Wisdom witnesses.”

The old man nodded and that, apparently, was enough as the two Beyonders settled down. Eddy eyed the lecherous man. From the sounds of it, he was a Sequence 9 Apothecary. Not a particularly dangerous Beyonder, but certainly a very useful one with their ability to create potions of varying types. Eddy kept an eye on him.

The meeting continued after that with several people asking for items that Eddy had never heard of before. The Apothecary once again spoke during the meeting, shouting that they wanted Spring of Elves marrow crystals. Nobody responded.

Eventually, Eddy decided that it was time to put in his request. Pitching his voice lower and making it hoarser to stymie any attempt at identifying him vocally, he spoke.

“I wish to buy 20 milliliters of Mirror Dragon blood. I have both money and rare books to offer.”

Eddy’s keen eyes cut through the dim candle-lit room and noted the reactions of the other Beyonders. Most did not react at the mention of Mirror Dragon blood, but a couple seemed interested.

[Amusem*nt] They are trying to guess your Path.

Eddy did not react outwardly to Mr Voice’s words, but inwardly he snorted. They could guess, but they’d be wrong. Interestingly enough, the mention of rare books garnered more interest than the mention of Mirror Dragon blood. In particular, Eddy noted the interest of a cloaked woman who had not yet spoken, as well as Mr Eye of Wisdom himself. A pair of collectors? Promising - very promising.

After looking around, the hooded woman spoke. Her voice was quiet and smooth. “I can arrange for the purchase of that quantity of Mirror Dragon blood on your behalf, but I will need more detail on the books.” Eddy nodded at that and prepared to speak, but cut himself off prematurely as Mr Eye of Wisdom stirred.

“I admit to some distress at interrupting a trade under my own roof - and I ask for your forgiveness Miss White Crow - but I am somewhat of a collector myself. Your offer of books appeals to me more than pound notes, and the procurement of Mirror Dragon blood is well within my capabilities.” Under his mask, Eddy raised an eyebrow. A wordy fellow, wasn’t he? The distinguished gentleman continued. “Perhaps the three of us could retire to a separate room and discuss this further?”

If Eddy were honest, he was somewhat taken aback by Mr Eye of Wisdom’s interjection. Based on his assumptions, the old man was more of an arbiter and appraiser than a trader himself. Interrupting Miss White Crow (the nickname implied that she was a known regular) in such a manner was probably a rare occurrence. Eddy hoped his books were up to their collector’s standards. They seemed like a civilised bunch, so disappointing them would probably just lead to his own embarrassment rather than any dangerous consequences.

“I would have no issue with such an arrangement, so long as Miss White Crow is agreeable,” Eddy spoke cooly, deferring to the hooded lady, who nodded in return.

“Lead on, Mr Eye of Wisdom,” she responded.

Looking around the room, Mr Eye of Wisdom gestured and the door swung open once more. “I trust that there are no more pressing trades tonight. The doorman will escort you out in the usual manner. Please, hurry home tonight and do not tarry in such dreadful weather.” Perhaps sensing that their host’s priorities had shifted, there were no protests from the other Beyonders.

Moving past them at his host’s gesture, Eddy followed him and Miss White Crow through a door into a smaller, cosier sitting room. A fire had been started in the fireplace and was crackling away merrily. On the wall was the taxidermied head of an antlered deer. Oh yes, this man was certainly upper class.

After all three of them were seated in comfortable chairs, the negotiation began. “Before we begin,” Mr Eye of Wisdom started, “I should make it clear that 20 milliliters of Mirror Dragon blood can cost around 70 to 80 pounds.”

Eddy did not flinch, but he certainly felt the pain of that proclamation. His total wealth was probably just over £75 currently. He could buy the blood with a minimum of haggling, but it would wipe out all his savings. Of course, he could earn more, but this was for just one of his Sequence 7 ingredients (and not even a main one). He’d have to make more money, and he’d have to make a lot.

“Naturally that’s not a problem,” he responded, “but I have several ingredients to purchase. One should stretch out their savings. Shall I list the books I am willing to sell?”

“Please do,” said the hooded woman - who had not spoken since they entered the small sitting room.

Placing his elbows on his knees and lacing together his fingers, Eddy leaned forwards. “I have four books I am willing to potentially sell.” Technically, he owned seven books but he had gained three of them in Morland’s bookshop and was certain that any collector of mysterious literature in Backlund would know of the place. Most likely, they were regular visitors. No, Eddy was offering the four untranslated volumes he had stolen from the odious Baron Forman. “I have a copy of The Deeds of the Scarred Captain in Ancient Hermes, On Matthias and the Amethyst Imago: Transformations in Dragonese, The World Does Not Weep also in Dragonese, and The Devoured Tantra in Imperial Dutanese.”

Miss White Crow tilted her head. “I have my own copy of The Scarred Captain and a full version of Matthias and the Amethyst Imago . You seem to only possess the third volume.”

“I also own The Scarred Captain . I do not have any of the three volumes of Matthias . Miss White Crow, is that the series on the House of Lethe?”

“Indeed, Mr Eye of Wisdom. A rather esoteric anthology written by members of an unusual hermit community.”

“Ah. It is not my area of interest, I admit. Neither is The World Does Not Weep . I am aware of the book, although I have never read it, and I believe it contains the sort of knowledge I have no wish to learn. I prefer… more orthodox arts.”

Miss White Crow tilted her head again at Mr Eye of Wisdom’s remarks. Now that Eddy thought about it, the name was fitting. There was something rather avian about her mannerisms. “I would not have thought you so squeamish, sir. The Colder Arts are quite fascinating. I shall buy the book. I am willing to pay 15 pounds.” It was not an invitation to haggle. From her clear enunciation and upper-class accent, Eddy was sure that she was a woman of high society and someone used to getting what they wanted. It was probably a fair price, perhaps even a good one. He nodded.

“That is acceptable.”

Mr Eye of Wisdom clapped his hands. “Excellent! On the matter of the final item, I am willing to buy the Devoured Tantra . I have a particular interest in older Dutanese literature and I have not heard of such a work. I am willing to pay £20 if it is indeed a genuine Imperial Dutanese tantra.” Eddy’s eyebrows climbed behind his mask. That was very generous. Given he had… liberated… the books for free, selling them for £35 total was a very good outcome.

“I suppose at a future meeting you will trade me the blood in return for the two volumes and a discounted price in pounds?”

“Indeed, 20 milliliters of Mirror Dragon Blood in return for The Devoured Tantra , The World Does Not Weep , and, say, £35? There will be a meeting next week.”

Eddy lowered his head respectfully to both of them. “Then I shall look forward to it.”

After that, things moved quickly and the three of them wrapped up their conversation. The hooded robe was removed, the doorman retrieved Eddy’s oilskin, and he began to move towards the door. As he did so, Miss White Crow surprised him by sliding her arm through his. He jumped, startled, but was quickly dragged along by her swift pace.

“Why, Mr Grey Moth, thank you for so gallantly escorting me to the door.”

Eddy cleared his throat and steadied himself. She smelled of parchment and rain. “Of course Miss White Crow.”

She smiled beneath her mask and leaned closer to Eddy. She was not much shorter than him and her breath was on his neck. Her teeth were white and straight. “You know, Mr Grey Moth, I have encountered the Devoured Tantra before. At an auction - quite an exclusive event.” Eddy gave her a surprised look as she continued. “I also know who bought it. A vile man with vile interests. It was such a shame when that dreadful fire forced him to return to the countryside temporarily…”

Acting like an automaton, Eddy opened the door for her, mind racing at the fact that she’d connected him to the incident at Forman House. He did not have time to formulate a response, however, as Miss White Crow squeezed his arm. “Do be careful, Mr Grey Moth. The Baron may present a stoic expression to the world, but he is a proud man. It would be a shame if you were to die before you gave me my book. Good night!”

And with that, Miss White Crow disappeared into the rain.

Eddy stared after her. So did the doorman, who was now standing in the doorway. “She didn’t give back her robe…”

Eddy gave him a commiserating look and flipped up the hood of his oilskin before he too braved the night’s weather. He needed to get home. After all, he had two books to copy.


AN: A slightly longer chapter than normal. Eddy can’t read Dragonese or Imperial Dutanese, so stubbornly holding onto his books when he’s so far away from being able to understand them doesn’t make sense. Besides, he can make a copy. I can see Eye of Wisdom being a collector and I dropped in an OC as well to flesh out the gathering with more characters. The world of Beyonders is a playground for the rich (looking at you Miss Audrey Hall…) See you next chapter!

Chapter 48: Like The Hunting Of Man


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Grim Hunters cannot be swayed by the allure of the Glory … but their own despair may destroy them.

Eddy chose not to sleep. It was not too much of a concern. He’d been awake for most of the night anyway, so a few more hours would not hurt. Besides, since his ascension to a Sequence 8 Smuggler, his need for sleep had declined slightly. Perhaps that had less to do with being a Beyonder and more to do with having enough food for once to keep his energy up. Therefore, he spent the rest of the night and the early hours of the morning copying The World Does Not Weep and the Devoured Tantra .

He had to proceed slowly and carefully so as not to make mistakes, and several times had to restart a page after his pen slipped or he made an error. However, his supernatural manual dexterity saved him on innumerable occasions - making the whole chore far faster than he’d imagined. Neither book was particularly long (the Devoured Tantra was especially short), and, by the time the city outside his window began to bustle with life once again, he was perhaps a quarter of the way through his task. If he continued at his current pace, he’d be done in no more than a couple of days. Excellent. He wouldn’t sell the copies, of course - he’d lose all credibility with Mr Eye of Wisdom and Miss White Crow. Instead, the copies were for him - for the far-off day when he could actually read Dragonese and Imperial Dutanese. A very far-off day, most likely.

By this point, his eyes were sore and his vision was blurred by the hours of unrelenting focus, and so Eddy decided to leave his small and darkened room and venture out into Backlund in search of food. It was Monday, and his favourite cafe would be serving lamb. Rubbing bleary eyes, he walked downstairs and left the tenement building - only to be confronted by two tall men in worker’s jackets. A subtle movement of one’s jacket revealed a flash of a grey and green ribbon. Zmanger colours - best kept covered in Proscrito territory. Eddy looked at them and sighed, before tilting his head.

“Is it urgent, gentlemen?” One of them nodded. “Then I shall eat breakfast along the way.”

A while later, Eddy was ushered into the Zmanger compound and was led through the warren of winding corridors and knocked-through tenements until he reached Meursault’s office. He had done enough for the Zmangers that he was no longer blindfolded and so he was better able to sense the atmosphere of the Red Brick Alley complex. It was still bustling, still the heart of the Zmangers in Backlund, but there was a new tension in the air - flickering gazes and flinches at movements in the corners of their eyes. A paranoia. Although ‘paranoia’ would not be quite accurate, Eddy thought. Paranoia implied delusion, and nowadays being a Zmanger was more dangerous than ever.

At Eddy’s approach, the familiar door to Meursault’s office was opened by a grim-faced Zmanger, and Eddy entered. As he walked in, Eddy lowered his head to avoid eye contact. His pace was slow and smooth. No sudden movements. From the corners of his eyes, he surveyed the room. The walls were panelled with dark wood, the fine Balamese rug on the floor. The decorations were different, though. The painting of the mountain landscape was gone and the taxidermied head of the mountain lion had been joined by other beasts. Many others. From the walls stared antlered bucks and wide-eyed does, boars, foxes, and snarling wolves. Their eyes were glass. Unblinking.

At the side were the two guards sitting in armchairs and watching the door. In the past, they had played cards and sprawled in their leather chairs. Now their postures were stiff and their backs straight. One face was known to Eddy, but his eyes held something new - something frail and haunted. The other was unfamiliar. He sat uncomfortably in a seat meant to hold another. His face was pale and his eyes were filled with a nervous energy - looking everywhere but the large desk at the end of the room.

Eddy had no such privilege to ignore that desk. Keeping his eyes lowered, he spoke. “Good morning Meursault. You requested my presence.”

“I did. Some time ago.” Meursault’s voice was curt and low. He growled his words.

“I apologise. I had not realised that your men were waiting for me.”

“Then they should have told you. Nevermind. They will be punished.” In the corner of Eddy’s eye, the new guard shuddered.

Eddy didn’t reply to that directly. The men would face punishment. Although he disliked Meursault’s… increasing… cruelty, he had neither the leverage nor the inclination to intervene. Instead, he decided to move the conversation along. It would be best not to have Meursault dwell on thoughts of punishment.

“I heard you have recently returned from a hunting trip. I must admit to some envy,” Eddy laughed politely (careful not to show his teeth). “I’m sure the scenery was wonderful. Were there any notable trophies this time?” He did not look at the staring heads around him, and so did not witness the face of the haunted-looking Zmanger turn white as his face drained of blood.

Meursault chuckled. It was a low and cruel thing. “No, not quite. As it happened, there was very little good game around for my men and me to find.” The pale-faced guard was shivering now and Meursault’s voice lowered until it was barely above a whisper. “However, we made do with what we had. There’s always something to hunt…”

[Amusem*nt] I doubt his ‘trophies’ are the type you would mount on the wall. [Interest]

A wave of fear ran down Eddy’s spine. Meursault had been… slipping… recently, but he had not realised that the Sequence 9 Hunter had degraded so rapidly. If he was right about the events of the hunting trip (his eyes strayed to the chair in which a new - a replacement - guard sat)... then Meursault was more dangerous than ever.

[Intrigue] When does the Act become Life? [Delight]

Eddy, despite the warning in the back of his brain, despite every instinct telling him not to, looked up - and he saw Meursault.

The Meursault of the past had been a man of contradictions. A well-dressed and soft-spoken man who, nevertheless would happily blackmail, threaten and kill. A man who had ruthlessly clawed himself up from the highlands peaks of his birth to the peaks of the Backlund Zmanger gang, but spoke with an almost perfect Loen accent. A gangster who, despite all of this, refused to name his gang and his thugs what they were, and instead insisted on calling them his ‘organisation’ and his ‘colleagues’. Meursault had always been smartly dressed in an uncreased and spotless suit. Meursault had always been smooth-shaven, his short hair cared for and styled. Meursault had always sat with a perfect posture. Of course, he was still a Beyonder. The man had always given off an air of danger, but it had always been a restrained danger - like a particularly patient viper.

This was not that Meursault.

The dark grey fabric of his suit was creased and stained with the dirt of the forest floor. He must not have changed since his return from the hunt. A short beard had grown along his jaw and its unkempt appearance had turned a once-elegant face into something that looked harsher. In his chair, behind his great desk, Meursault was almost hunched - wolfish. His eyes, always shadowed, now seemed half-feral and stared at Eddy like those of a hawk on the hunt.

His eyes. Eddy was looking at his eyes.

[Hilarity] Never make eye contact with a wild beast [Amusem*nt]

Meursault smiled. It was a thing of teeth.

“Eddy…” His tone was almost polite but for the boiling anger in his eyes. “You haven’t been paying your debts…”

And then the Zmanger boss blurred out from behind his desk - leaping over it in a single savage movement - and, before Eddy knew it, Meursault’s hands were around his neck and he was lifted into the air with a strength utterly unnatural in such a slim frame.

The grip on his neck was like a vice and Eddy’s legs kicked futilely at the air as shock pushed the air from his lungs and his eyes widened in his face. Immediately, Eddy began to move on instinct. First, his hands twitched for Meursault’s grip on his neck to try and pry him off, then thought better of it. Next, they moved half an inch towards his jacket, where a hidden knife lay. That was when Eddy clamped down on his automatic responses, and with a monumental exertion of willpower, let his hands fall limply to his sides.

As every instinct in Eddy’s mind and body warred against him, he simply… relaxed - loosening his tensed muscles and straightening fingers that had only moments curled into claws. He dropped his gaze from Meursault’s face and pointedly fixed his eyes upon the floor. Submission. The metaphorical showing of the belly. He smothered the part of him - admittedly small and newborn - that had grown a modicum of pride. It was not the time. The smuggler is not impetuous. The smuggler is patient. The mantra ran through his head as Meursault’s hands tightened around his neck. Not my time. Not yet, but soon .

Whatever Meursault saw in his face, in his posture, was enough as the vices around his neck loosened just enough to let a sip of air slip into his lungs. It was cold on his lips but burnt as it entered his throat. Meursault brought his face close. “Debt, Eddy. Debt! You haven’t paid your debt !” The last word was a hoarse shout, spittle flying from his mouth and hitting Eddy. He was repeating himself. How far was he from sprouting fur and sinking lengthening canines into flesh? Mr Voice’s words were in his mind. When does Act become Life? How far had Meursault slipped into the role of the Hunter? Too far, that was certain.

The minuscule lessening of pressure on his throat allowed him to rasp out his words slowly. “I… needed… the… money.”

“What for? What for?” The questions came, manic and barking. Did he hear how he sounded?

“Ingredients… potion…” The words were choked out. Only the truth.

A cruel grin was at Meursault’s lips. “Why? Are you scared of your weakness?” All of a sudden, he released Eddy and his limp body tumbled to the floor. Pain shot through him and he gulped in great lungfuls of air - coughing and retching as it flowed over his bruised and rasping trachea. His arms had just enough strength in them to raise his upper body off the floor.

“I… steal… I smuggle. I… can’t fight. Need to… advance.” He broke out into a fit of coughing.

Meursault let out a low laugh. “So you can run? So you can hide?”

Eddy shook his head, eyes still fixed on the floor. “Can’t run, can’t hide.” He paused. This was the important part. A balancing act. “You’re a Hunter. There’s no point, you’d find me.” He stifled a cough. “This way, I can earn more money working for you. More money than I’ve ever earned in my life.”

Meursault laughed again and Eddy almost collapsed to the floor again in relief as he heard a more human edge in it. Back from the brink…

“That’s right Eddy! Little, grasping Eddy. You do still have some brains it seems.” A hand of iron grasped his jaw and squeezed until it felt like his teeth were on the verge of cracking. “The biggest city is the largest dark forest. Here, everyone has two identities. One, the prey, and the other, the hunter.” He let Eddy’s head drop again. “You, Eddy, will always be the prey. Remember that.”

Eddy bowed his head and did not speak, tamping down the indignity of the situation.

Some day, some day. Just wait for me, Meursault .

“Get out.” An order Eddy was very much willing to oblige. As he got his legs beneath him, he made eye contact with one of the guards. The familiar one that had sat in on previous meetings. Eddy did not know what that pale-faced Zmanger saw in his gaze, but, whatever it was, it sparked something dark and vengeful in his own eyes. Eyes locked, the two might as well have had a whole conversation in that brief moment. The guard nodded slightly in a movement so subtle and slight that it might as well have not happened at all.

Stumbling out of Meursault’s office, clutching his throat and wincing at the pain of bruised knees, Eddy’s eyes were not filled with submission, but instead with something cruel and spiteful and patient . Those eyes watched the Zmangers that walked past him with a new certainty. Meursault had gained a great deal of power through his Sequence, but he’d destroyed his own foundation. It was as Roselle said in his later years (Eddy could not remember the book): “Although you may have fortresses, they will not save you if you are hated by the people.” The old Meursault had understood that the Zmangers were his fortress. In Backlund, teeming and dangerous, the men and women of the gang were his walls, his eyes, and his blades. The new Meursault forgot that. The new Meursault hunted them for sport.

As he left Red Brick Alley, Eddy choked again as he breathed in the smog-filled East Borough air, but smiled through the pain. The best enemy was one who would die without your input. Blue Mitch had been a lesson - one from which he had very nearly not had the chance to learn. Do not fight unless it is totally necessary.

Meursault was a mad dog - perhaps the most dangerous mad dog in Backlund. But rabid hounds got put down - either by the hand of their master or by the hand of another. All Eddy would have to do was wait and watch. Coiled and ready, like the viper Meursault had forgotten to be. His true revenge would be in the aftermath. Who would hold his leash then? Would they have the strength to do so, or would he turn the tables on them? He was successful, after all. He knew that the lower-level Zmangers said that a job with Smuggling Eddy was always a good payday. There was a certain level of popularity there, and now, with the bruises quickly forming on his throat, he was a fellow victim of Meursault - rather than a collaborator.

The future was full of possibilities he thought. Mr Voice laughed in the back of his head as the buzzing rose again.

[Joy] Change and change and change again. Rise and rise and rise again. [Anticipation]


AN: I remember when I first introduced Meursault in chapter fourteen (!) someone said that he was very different from the canon version (yeah… about that…). This was always the plan. The Meursault of this volume is much more similar to the Meursault that Klein will meet. You can think of these first three chapters as the intro to Vol. 2. We’ve introduced the post-time-skip situation and the principal characters.

Chapter 49: Notice

Chapter Text

So, recently I've been reading Circle of Inevitability (the sequel to Lord of the Mysteries). I've been enjoying it, but a few future plot points of this fic have now been severely disrupted by some of the things I've read (I won't say which for spoiler reasons). The ending of this fic (which I've had planned out from the start) remains the same, but the path to it now needs to be changed quite a bit. I'm not upset - I'm the one who chose to write a fic about a piece of fiction that's still being written and won't be completed for some time - but I have had to scrap quite a few pre-written chapters. I will also need to replan how this story will go. That is why I've posted the previous three chapters all at once (On The Rainy Dock, Eye of Wisdom, and Like The Hunting Of Man). These are the three chapters that can be salvaged from what I have written so far for Volume 2. I suppose I'm glad I caught this early enough that I hadn't written more, but I admit I'm a bit demoralised. I don't want to write more only to scrap it again as COI continues. Creatively, this whole thing has exhausted me. I've tried to edit the chapters I've written to shift the narrative accordingly, but I've hit a brick wall in my writing and have been unable to make progress. I went on holiday to Istanbul, took a break, walked around some beautiful places, and did not open my laptop once, but now I'm back in the UK the problem persists. I think it's clear I need to walk away from this fic for some time.

I'm very sorry to the people who have been waiting for this fanfic to resume, but you can take this as a notice of hiatus. It's not for forever as I really want to keep writing Eddy's story (I really really do). Frankly, writing this fic has been the most fulfilling creative thing I've ever done, but the wind has sort of been knocked out of me when it comes to this specific project. I won't stop writing though - I'm not tired of writing. So, before LotM-Chrysalis returns, you'll probably see a new fic on my account. I always have ideas for fics in my head, so maybe I'll try and write one of them. I've been on an ASoIaF binge lately, so possibly something in that fandom. It'll probably still involve CultSim elements as there's always more to explore there. Or maybe I'll write some Self-Insert trash. Maybe both. The world is my mollusc.

Again, I'm sorry and I hope to see you soon,


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