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A Blinking Light Up On The Clouded Mountain

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Night Vale.

A group of masked warriors finds the rescue party, scoops them up in woven baskets the size of swimming pools, and carries them back to Night Vale. Once the giants have stepped through a window leading to the outskirts of town, Tamika calls the hospital and demands a room.

She's not riding in the same basket as Carlsberg and Renée. Nobody is. Partly to give him some privacy, partly because she's —

Tamika swallows a wave of revulsion and throws her arms around Rashi, burying her face in his neck.

Renée is still moving, that's the worst part. The adults who have turned out to be severed were running on pre-programmed routines, and once taken out of Strexcorp's influence and put in a new environment, it isn't long before they stop doing anything without a direct prompt. No will of their own. No desires. But Renée, or what's left of her, wants things. She's cold, she'll say, looking at (through?) her father without a flicker of recognition. She's cold, and she wants Tovi. Where's Tovi?

Her daemon isn't even missing. That has to be the worst part. They recovered him too. They've put him in her arms, little white ferret body shaking, and she holds him like a stuffed toy and says again in that distant little voice, she wants her Tovi. Not recognizing the other half of her own self, that's....

Everything about this is the worst part.

(Her one comfort is that, before leaving Desert Bluffs, Tamika took her Knife and carved their intercision machine into so many ribbons.)

 

-{,(((,">

 

Carlos is still at WZZZ when he's discovered by a mouthless, albino child in rompers, carrying a worm-shaped daemon in its pocket.

"Hi," he says, soft-voiced, knowing too much and too little all at once. "Are you here with a City Council message — is the Council back in town? — or did you just want to say hello?"

The androgynous child holds out its left arm. A long, spiraling message is tattooed on the skin, so Carlos has to keep turning the limb around to read it all: The City Council never left Night Vale. The City Council was certainly not hiding at a bungalow in Maui purchased under a pseudonym with laundered tax money. The City Council has always been at City Hall, ready to receive the concerns of their constituents. If you didn't see them, you probably weren't looking hard enough.

When Carlos finishes reading, the child retrieves a rolled-up piece of paper from its pocket, inked with another message in dots and dashes. Carlos isn't great with printed Morse, so he taps the marks out against his forearm to "hear" the letters: CARLOS PERFECTO SUMMONED TO HOSPITAL, AS PRIMARY OBSERVED EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR CECIL PALMERO.

 

-{,(((,">

 

The hospital staff convince Steve to put Renée on a crash cart so they can wheel her...to the intercision ward. Which is just a long row of curtained-off beds with almost twenty zombie adults lying in them.

"A whole room?" echoes the on-call head nurse, when Tamika confronts her. "Señorita Flynn, I respect your work very much, but the severed patients, they don't need that much space. They barely know where they are, let alone —"

Tamika backs the woman right up against the wall, while Rashi stares down her daemon (a sandpiper, his whole entire body smaller than the buffalo's horns). "Her father knows where she is! Steve Carlsberg just saved thirteen people while losing the most important one in his life, and to honor his grief and his heroism you will give him a room."

"O-of course. Wait here. I'll be right back."

They stay inside the ward to wait. Disturbing as the patients are, at least they won't stare. Carlsberg's got the blanket tucked all the way up to Renée's chin, and the other nurse still keeps fighting the urge to gawk at her face in horrified fascination.

"Tamika...?"

Tamika's spine goes hardcover-straight at the familiar voice. (Carlsberg doesn't even look up from the body on the cart.) "Kevin?"

"I thought it was you." Kevin's voice is dreamy, listless. He's wandered over here from his bed, and wandered is definitely the word, because he looks really vacant and confused. Even when he tries to smile at her, it peters out pretty quick, like he isn't sure he's doing it right. "Hi."

"Hi yourself," says Tamika, while Rashi mutters to this nurse's daemon (a greyhound), "What is he doing here?"

The greyhound wrinkles her nose in confusion. "Being...treated?" she whispers. "Like all the other intercision patients?"

"Are you okay?" asks Kevin. "I remember you getting hurt...? I gave you a scratch. It was just a scratch...wasn't it...?"

"He isn't severed," whispers Rashi.

"That's just the drugs. He was on the heaviest dose we've seen, so we're tapering him off slowly," replies the greyhound. "He'll stop moving and talking once they're gone."

"It wasn't just a scratch," Tamika tells Kevin. "But it was an accident, understand? It wasn't your fault. And you even patched it up afterward. You did real good work."

"Oh," says Kevin, blinking. His eyelids, Tamika notices, aren't sliding smoothly over non-existent eyeballs anymore; they hang wrinkled over the empty sockets. And the sockets have stopped being empty pits of void. Still darker than they should be, but now the darkness looks finite. "Oh, that's good. I work hard...I try to do good work."

While Rashi explains under his breath about Kevin being from a world with internal daemons, and how for his own safety they have got to transfer him to the abandoned mine shaft, Kevin takes a few listless, uneven steps closer, and cocks his head to look at Renée. Tamika shifts on her feet, ready to put herself between him and the Carlsbergs the second anything goes wrong.

"She's...not okay," guesses Kevin.

"No." Tamika's voice catches over the word; she gulps the feeling back. "No, she's not."

"Oh. ...I hope they heal her soon."

Tamika puts a hand on Rashi's side to keep herself steady. "She's never gonna get better, Kevin. It's not possible."

"What...? No, they have great medical programs...in Desert Bluffs. She can be healed." Another of those confused attempts at a smile. "I've seen it done."

For the first time, Carlsberg raises his tear-streaked face from his daughter. "You've seen what?"

"People like...that." Kevin waves a listless hand in Renée's general direction. "When they stop thinking...stop moving...stop doing anything. It's...." His brow furrows, then smooths over as he finds the word. "...sad."

"But you said 'healed'," croaks Carlsberg. "What do you mean?"

"Well...they move again," says Kevin. "And they think...but only company-approved thoughts...! They can even have a replacement daemon if they need one...they smile again...they're productive again. Thanks to Strexcorp, they're...fixed."

Carlsberg shies away in horror.

"We could fix her...?" adds Kevin hopefully.

With a shout that echoes across the ward, Carlsberg lunges.

It takes Tamika plus three orderlies to haul him back. He thrashes in their grip as someone finally herds Kevin out of there, blood on his knuckles, still bellowing in the man's wake: "You will not fix, or touch, or do one more goddamn thing to my little girl!"

 

-{,(((,">

 

There's a sprawling memorial in the hospital lobby. Photos, candles, tokens, books, narrow strips of stationary with names written on them in various non-ink substances. A woman Carlos doesn't recognize is folding a patterned square of paper into the shape of a bird, to add to the other images of lost daemons made of paper, plastic, felt, and...less-identifiable materials.

And there's Cecil, applying the letters INTERN FERDINAND onto a blank bookmark with a paintbrush and red paint.

He looks healthy and whole, so Carlos greets him with a relieved hug. "Cecil! I got summoned to the hospital and they didn't say why — what happened? Are you okay?"

"Mmhmm." Cecil loops his arms around Carlos's torso and tucks his face against Carlos's neck. (Khoshekh isn't with him; the margay must be resting somewhere.) "I'm fine — it's not me, it's — Renée. She's —"

Back. Rescued from Strex's clutches. And not dead, or they wouldn't be meeting at a hospital. "How bad is it?" asks Carlos. "Is she in surgery? Do they think she's going to make it, or...?"

"Carlos, stop!"

Carlos shuts up.

When Cecil finally gets the explanation out, he understands why.

 

-{,(((,">

 

Steve is in the room with Renée's body. Delphine's with him now, and will tag in Cecil soon. Carlos is there so Cecil isn't left sitting alone in the second-floor visitor lounge, staring at the uncaring façade of a vending machine and cursing all the people who failed to save her, himself included.

Turns out Cecil wouldn't have been alone anyway. Janice is already there, along with — of all people — the Man in the Tan Jacket. He's got an arm around the girl's shoulders; she's sobbed a wet patch into his tan lapel. Her daemon is a black kitten in her shirt pocket.

Cecil untwines his own arm from Carlos's and goes to kneel in front of her chair. "Hi, honey. This is pretty awful, huh...?"

"Uh-huh," sniffles Janice, and stretches up her arms like a much younger child looking to be held.

Cecil gets her approval out loud first — Janice's undersized legs mean she's probably in for a lifetime of people thinking it would be hilarious to pick her up without asking — then gathers her into his lap, careful not to disturb the latest intricate braid in her long dark hair.

"Tell her it's okay that she didn't see it coming," says the Man. "I've tried — but I don't think she thinks I'm objective. Tell her that having a little foresight doesn't make you responsible for saving everyone."

"Oh, pequeñita, of course it doesn't," says Cecil. "No one with any sense would think that. No one."

 

-{,(((,">

 

For the first time in months, Tamika sets foot in her parents' foyer.

There's a light on at the far side of the house. She wasn't expecting that. Papi should be at work, while Mamá ought to be out with a PTA cleanup crew. One or both of them must be sick...or injured...or taking the night off to keep a vigil in case she comes to the house.

Tamika could go find out, if she wanted. She could stay here and talk to her parents face-to-face. She could stay the whole night. Sleep in her own bed, surrounded by her own bookshelves and slingshots and guitar case and Catch The Flesh-Eating Reading Bacterium! poster, and be almost sure nobody would track her down and kill the entire Flynn family in their sleep. Logically, she knows this.

Emotionally, narratively, she knows that she needs to be a leader and a hero until this war is over. And she can't do that if she steps back too early into the role of long-lost child running into her parents' arms.

She leaves a copy of The Last Camel Died At Noon on the coffee table, a handwritten note tucked between its pages. The edges need to be lined up, the corners smoothed down; she lets herself stay long enough to straighten it out. But when some piece of furniture in her parents' room creaks, and the hall light flickers on, she darts right back into the next world over and holds her breath until she's pinched the window closed behind her.

 

-{,(((,">

 

When Delphine emerges from consoling Steve, it turns out she has one arm in a sling, apparently to keep from stressing whatever wound is under the bandage going from elbow to shoulder. If that was from Lauren, well, she gave as good as she got. She's also wearing a figure-hugging sheath dress, which color-coordinates with the sling; and whatever crying she's done, it hasn't smudged her flawless makeup.

"Hello, darlings," she says, with a wan but grateful smile. "Cecil, can I trouble you to stay with Janice a moment longer? Carlos, there's a bloodstone circle room down the hall...I would be truly gratified if you'd join me."

"Really...? I mean...of course. If you like." Carlos follows her to the prayer room, now once more equipped with its historic set of brilliant-cut bloodstones, each half the size of Carlos's head.

Instead of making any moves to pray, though, Delphine shuts the door and says flatly, "You owe me, experimental theologian."

Ah. "Yes. I do. One favor."

"I'm calling it in."

Carlos tries to stay calm. Sure, if he can't pull off whatever she's about to ask, she could have him swept off to a nominally-secret prison and beaten half-conscious (again)...or, for that matter, could probably kill him six different ways right here even with one arm almost literally tied behind her back...but that doesn't mean she will. "Go ahead."

Delphine's cat daemon stares down Isaña, claws flexing in that lazy feline way, while Delphine herself says, "Put that little girl back together."

Carlos's heart shatters into a mess of cracks. "I can't."

"Why not? I have read your postgraduate publications. I can't say I understood all the details, but intercision was your thesis topic! This is your field. Your very specific field!"

"Which means I am specifically qualified to tell you it can't be done." If she has him locked up, so be it. He doesn't have it in him to give her false hope, and even if he did, the bluff would only be putting off the inevitable. "I'm sorry, I'm so —"

"You once argued it was possible! Are you recanting that now?"

"I said it was possible in theory!" cries Carlos. "Lots of things are possible in theory. In theory — if we had the equipment and the know-how — we could sever another child and use that Dust to put the first one back together! Who would you have me kill to save Renée, huh? Whose child would you cut?"

It hits home. Eyes shining, Delphine presses her mouth into a thin line and stops pushing it.

"Don't you think I'd heal that girl in a heartbeat if I could?" adds Carlos, more pleading than angry. "She's like a niece to Cecil. If something had happened to Steve, he would've taken her in, and she would have been like a niece to me. How could you think you'd need to call in a favor to make me help her?"

"We can't always do the things we would wish to," says Delphine softly. "Who am I to know what kind of laws and codes theologians are bound by?"

...okay, that's an understandable worry in Night Vale. "Delphine, I swear. The only rules tying my hands here are the laws of physics."

 

-{,(((,">

 

Carlos is on his way back from the hospital café with sandwiches when he spots a woman and a bird-daemon arguing at the reception desk. No, a woman and two bird-daemons. On her shoulder, a velvety-red jay-sized songbird with a silver beak; at her side, a goose, grey-feathered, with a blaze of pure white on his face.

That's Kaisa. That is Serafina Pekkala's very own Kaisa.

And the auburn-haired beauty addressing the receptionist in halting Spanish — that'll be Serafina's daughter, Stella Maris. Barely in her seventies, she's not much more than an adolescent by witch-reckoning, though she's older than Carlos's mother and looks (to his eye) as youthful-but-mature as anyone else in her clan.

(All this, on one of the few days in Carlos's life when the sight can't lift his spirits.)

He thinks about stepping up and offering to help translate, but that's when a white-coated doctor in a blue masquerade mask collects Kaisa and Stella Maris, and leads them down the hall. Carlos and Isaña follow — not trailing the celebrities, it just happens they're going in the same direction. Down the same hall. Into the same stairwell.

In a flap of feathers Kaisa soars up to the next level, perches on the edge of the step. He waits for his daughter and the doctor to catch up, then turns back just as Carlos reaches the landing halfway up. Inclining his long neck down so they're close to eye level, he says in stilted Spanish, "Do you follow me?"

Carlos halts mid-step, shifting his grip on the paper bag of sandwiches, and replies in English. "No, sir. I'm not following you. A friend's daughter is here."

"I see," says Kaisa, also in English. "My apologies." He tilts his head. "You're Ramirez. The experimental theologian with the electrum spyglass."

"That's right."

"...and the action figure."

"Yes," says Carlos, without inflection. He is a distinguished professional with, frankly, an impressive career. He will not be made to feel awkward for having been a fanboy with toys when he was ten. Or twelve. Or...older ages than twelve.

Kaisa's voice softens. "Are you perhaps here because of the Carlsberg child?"

A lump rises in Carlos's throat. He could be strong for Cecil, he managed to be strong for Delphine, and thank the beams he hasn't needed to talk to Steve, but the idea of someone new finding out about this brings back that first wave of raw grief all over again. He nods.

"Come along, then." The goose daemon beckons with his head, and Carlos and Isaña trot back into motion. "My heart goes out to you, and to all those who loved her. It is an abominable thing that has been done."

"Are you...familiar?" asks Carlos, voice cracking on the last word. Of course this kind of thing would have happened during the War.

"I have cared for the daemons of severed children before," says Kaisa, padding along between him and Stella Maris down the hall. "I am here to offer all the knowledge I have, and what little comfort I can. Know that when she passes, her ghost will travel through the world of the dead and be reunited with her daemon like any other."

"That helps," admits Carlos. "More than you know."

 

-{,(((,">

 

Cecil is quiet when he comes out of Steve's room, one hand curled around Steve's house keys. Delphine is working the late shift and doesn't want to leave Janice alone, and it doesn't sound like Steve is going to make it back tonight.

They walk in near-silence to the bus stop. (One of the team's cars is still marooned in the NVCC parking lot; they're going to pick it up and move on from there.)

"Isn't there anything we can do?" asks Cecil in a small voice, leaning against the window as they rumble away from the hospital. "You and I...we generate a lot of Rusakov particles together, right? A theologically remarkable amount...."

Carlos splays both hands around Isaña's shell. Their boyfriend's faith in their love is incredible, but misplaced. "It can't do this."

Cecil lowers his head.

The scenery whisks by.

"I keep thinking...this is silly. I should just look up what to do," says Cecil. "And then I remember."

"...same."

"It feels so petty. Renée's — gone, and here I am, with sadness to spare for a machine," continues Cecil, low and faltering. "But it was the property of Night Vale Community Radio for centuries. Generations of hosts used it. I was so proud when Leonard Burton officially entrusted it to me...and one day I, in turn, looked forward to handing it down to the host that followed...except, now...I won't."

"That isn't petty," says Carlos. He wouldn't bring it up around Steve, but grief is not a contest, or a zero-sum game. "We'll go on without it — Fey is learning more all the time, and most communities are fine with no alethiometers at all — but it was a huge thing to lose. For Night Vale's heritage...for the world...for experimental theology."

Cecil nods. "And I was good at it, right? Maybe not in the league of the kind of professionals you know...but pretty good?"

Before Carlos can answer, the bus drives straight through a pillar of bright black light.

Carlos leans against Cecil to see out the window, watching beams of illuminating darkness descend from the sky all over town. Angels. Hundreds, maybe thousands, golden wings lighting up the night. "Cecil, you were the best. Hands down, no question, you were, theologically speaking, the best in the world."

 

-{,(((,">

 

Sherie is just finishing up her calls, recruiting people to help with tonight's worldwide bloodstone circle formation, when the door opens and she hears her daughter's familiar footsteps downstairs.

Calm as you please. No hi Mom! I'm still alive!, no consideration of the way they haven't even seen each other for days. Honestly.

When Sherie goes down to greet her, though, all the criticisms die in her throat. There's a marbled ribbon of scarring up the side of Su's right forearm. (Both arms are also speckled with band-aids, which she's wearing as proudly as the teal sash of badges over her shoulder.) "Oh, sweetheart...!"

"Hi, Mom." Susannah drops her backpack and comes over for a hug, while her griffon vulture daemon touches noses with Sherie's mongoose. "It's not as bad as it looks, I swear. And I shot down two gyropters! And nobody in my troop died...though I still want to go to the big Scouting memorial service on Saturday. It's a potluck. Can we bring a dessert?"

"We can bring whatever you want," soothes Sherie. "How about now, have you eaten? I'll make you dinner. You like the oat-and-corn-flour pasta, right...?"

"Don't you have stuff to do? Theology stuff? I can cook on my own, I don't want to interrupt."

"She's spent the past hour making unnecessarily long-winded calls and letting me play with her hair," puts in the voice of the Faceless Old Woman. "She has time to make pasta. I put some new spices for it in your cupboard. Also, bricks. The spices are behind the bricks."

 

-{,(((,">

 

They bring a change of clothes, toothbrushes, an extra bar of soap, and some gadgets to the Carlsberg-Cabrera house.

For some reason, there's a DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM DANA* sign on the guest room door (footnoted *April 2014 or later Dana). Steve's old pull-out couch has been parked in the TV room; they'll have to fold it down.

While Cecil takes the first shower, Carlos sets himself up in front of the TV with his laptop, ready to track the worldwide news coverage. The story about rising danger-meter levels has broken into the mainstream by now. ACN has even branded it The Most Dangerous Day In The World, complete with spinning graphic and doom-laden theme tune....

"Señor Carlos?"

Carlos sits up straighter. "Hi, Janice. Is everything okay?"

Janice nods. "Tío Emmanuel has something to tell you."

She rides her daemon (in the shape of a four-horned goat) to the DO NOT ENTER room, a befuddled Carlos and Isaña at her heels. They go right past the sign to find the room occupied by a complete stranger — a man Carlos has never seen before in his life — wearing a cast around one ankle and hurriedly pulling on some kind of tan —

— oh.

"Have a seat," says the Man in the Tan Jacket. He's sitting on the edge of the rumpled bed, a housefly daemon on his jacket collar. "You probably shouldn't be on that leg too long."

"Um, thanks." There's an armchair with an ottoman; Carlos takes the latter, so Janice can have the chair. "Yours doesn't look too good either. What happened?"

The Man sighs.

"...it wasn't my fault, was it?"

"Oh, no, not at all! You actually stopped the guy before he could make it worse."

Janice clears her throat...while Tehom flaps bat-winged over to the bed, turns into a Scottie, and actually yanks on the tan jacket with his teeth. It hits Carlos that Janice, like Dana, must be able to remember the Man from one encounter to the next. A daemon would never feel comfortable getting that close into a stranger's personal space.

"And, ah, speaking of injuries whose causes you don't remember," says Emmanuel. "I was the one who arranged for Tamika to get the Strex Tactical Multi-World Subtle Knife (TM). Patent Pending."

It takes some prompting for Carlos to re-derive the whole story. Like Cecil's mother, Emmanuel has the unpredictable gift of foresight, and had figured out long before Tamika saw the Knife that she would be able to wield it. He even knew Kevin would willingly hand it over, if he could only get them to cross paths. Since he couldn't just explain all this to anyone and expect them to remember it, he had to maneuver people into position any way he could.

So he ended up using Carlos as bait. Manufacturing a Desert Bluffs rescue mission for the Advanced Readers, by nudging Carlos right into one of Strexcorp's traps.

Carlos gathers Isaña into his lap and cups his hands protectively around her. He's seen what the Knife can do; he knows in retrospect that his own death would have been a risk worth taking. But. "Did you talk to anyone about this plan before you went for it? Me? Tamika? Henriette got killed by this scheme — did she ever learn what it was really about?"

"What would be the point?" asks Emmanuel. "Even if you agreed to do it, you wouldn't remember agreeing by the time it happened."

"I might have remembered enough to make it easier!" protests Carlos. "I would be a lot more upset now if I didn't have a vague yet unshakeable idea that you were on the rescue mission. That you put yourself on the front lines to help get me out of there. That you've helped me at other times, too."

"He has," confirms Janice. "He made the healing potion Señor Cecil used on your face."

"Exactly! I don't remember remember that, but it sounds right."

(Vansten's place, after his rescue. The makeshift hospital room. That must have been when Carlos found out, because he remembers feeling an extra level of fear and helplessness after learning something. He remembers Cecil protecting him, too, and how that made him feel safe. Maybe the same lingering memory explains why Cecil gets so suspicious and upset whenever the Man comes up.)

"Knowing we never got a chance to agree...that's not okay," continues Carlos. Especially Henriette, who will never get the chance to forgive it after-the-fact. "But I am happy that Tamika has been able to usher Dana's armies of allies into Night Vale. Relieved that she's been able to save, not every person, but many people. And...she's helped you too, hasn't she? Your daemon was trapped somewhere, and Tamika opened a window for her to come through...?"

"For them to come through," says Emmanuel. He turns up his collar, and another half-dozen housefly daemons come buzzing out from the shelter of the fabric to land on his jacket cuff. "After we accidentally made ourselves unmemorable and then got trapped in separate worlds for twenty years, in case you had any lingering suspicion over whether people with foresight can make everything work out the way they want it to."

"I didn't," says Carlos quickly. Cecil's mother had foresight, and it wasn't enough to prevent the death of her firstborn child. Precognition isn't everything.

Then he frowns.

"Did you say twenty years?"

The Man nods. "Give or take."

"That shouldn't be..."

"...possible, daemons can't live long-term outside their own worlds, the most optimistic outlook is ten years, etcetera, etcetera."

Carlos blushes. "I guess we've had this conversation before."

"Your biologists, up until the point when they lost all the data and forgot they'd been studying it in the first place, figured it was because my father was one of Night Vale's otherworldly residents," says Emmanuel. "They also cleared up the mystery of why Papi died, so thank you again for that. I was born in Night Vale, but my daemon can live long-term in Brazil, too."

Carlos cannot believe he forgot something so theologically fascinating. Even though he doesn't have the Little Theologians' Book on him, his hand instinctively goes for the pocket it would've been in. "Hang on. Brazil?"

"That's right. Papi was Brazilian."

"It's just...Cecil visited a country called Brazil once. Could it have been the same one?"

With a groan, the Man drags his hands through his hair.

"Sorry. Am I getting too personal? I'll drop it."

"No!" Janice leans forward in her chair. "No, it was the same Brazil. Think about what that means!"

"Um." Carlos runs through the details again. Cecil, his mother, and his brother were in Brazil twenty-ish years ago...Emmanuel's daemon got left in Brazil twenty-ish years ago..."Could they have been there at the same time? Maybe they ran into each other?"

"He's not going to get it," sighs the Man.

"Well, he should!" cries Janice, tears welling in her eyes.

"I'm sorry. Whatever it is you want me to see, I'm not seeing it," says Carlos, heart aching. If he can't save Renée, he should at least be smart enough to figure out what Janice wants here, to keep from giving her even more to cry about. "If you could just spell it out for me...?"

Janice starts sniffling, shoulders hitching.

"She's spelled it out twice in the past five minutes," says the Man. "You don't remember. You never remember. All the pieces are right there, and you still can't put them together." To Janice, he adds, "Come on, pajarita, let's get you to your room. I told him everything I promised I'd say, and I have to go soon."

Carlos tags along while the Man shepherds Janice to her bedroom, running through the facts in his mind. Brazil, trepanation, cross-world travel, witches' sons, Emmanuel losing his daemon and his memorability, Cecil losing his brother and (very nearly) his sanity...there could be some kind of connection here, but what?

As Emmanuel is gathering most of his daemon into a deerskin briefcase (no ordinary insect-daemon protective lanyard would be large enough to hold them), Carlos massages his temples — he's giving himself a headache thinking about this — and says, "You're a witch, right? I'm sorry if that word is too gendered...but you know what I mean?"

"I prefer the term 'wizard'," says Emmanuel. "Dana found it for me. It's okay if you don't remember, though."

Carlos nods. "Can I ask what clan you're descended from?"

"Lake -----."

"Didn't catch that."

"Don't worry about it," buzzes the line of flies along Emmanuel's shoulders. "Who needs the clans? We'll start our own clan, us and Janice. Call it the Lake Whatlake Thisisthemiddleofthedesert clan. Maybe she'll have daughters one day, and we can be honorary uncle to all of them."

 

-{,(((,">

 

Tamika watches from the roof of the hospital as people across town begin to pray in their bloodstone circles. All of Night Vale is still speckled with pillars of brilliant black.

One beam of luminescent darkness envelops the hospital, tracing every individual bristle of Rashi's fur, every tiny crease in Tamika's skin. A figure, not angelic, but human, descends out of the night.

The daemon lands first, perching on Rashi's horns. A falcon.

Tamika puts aside her grief. Gotta hold it together long enough to be respectful, especially when Night Vale's oldest resident is concerned. "Welcome back, Señora."

Vieja Josie, wearing a black silk dress and a bowling shirt, swoops down to float in front of her. "It's good to be home."

 

-{,(((,">

 

Cecil and Khoshekh use Steve and Delphine's bloodstone circle to tap into the formation. Carlos, freshly-scrubbed and in pajamas, returns to keeping vigil over the news.

Köhler is on the phone with one of ACN's senior theology correspondents. Another network has Dotan in the studio, calmly (if only partly-accurately) explaining that this is an understood theological phenomenon, and not an attack from a vengeful god in retaliation for declining support for the Magisterium. A third plays a video statement from several physicists at CERN, including Adriana.

Statements from these and other Night Vale alumni are flying around the blogosphere. Including one from Ichiro, which says simply, "oh sweet lord, angels are real, and you would not believe what we know about their hierarchy and the tiered heavens."

After one particular headline rolls across the screen, Carlos spends a frustrating twenty minutes on the phone with the deputy head of New France's National Theology Foundation, imploring the man to get out of bed and go mobilize some theologians to deal with the imminent portals in their territory. Physicists, biologists, linguists, sociologists. The angels will come get them and close the cracks, starting with the most dangerous ones; in the meantime, they cannot let their first line of response to this be scared white men with guns.

Yes, he knows, not all white men with guns. One of his best friends is a white man with a gun! One of his best friends is a white man with a gun who once got scared and pointed it at Carlos, but the unusual thing about this story is that he did not shoot, instead figuring out Carlos's identity and confirming that Carlos was not a threat to Steve's little —

— the point is, he knows. All right?

The house trembles around him for half a second, rattling the dishes in the cupboards. Without being in the bloodstone network or in front of a Rusakov array, Carlos can't tell if the rumbling was an aftershock from Strex, or some unrelated tumultuous Night Vale event, or (rarity of rarities) an actual earthquake.

Then the blurry footage of half-visible angels starts to pour in from cameras and phones all around the world, and he has a theologically probable guess.