Me & Mango: A Tale of Tag Wrangling Syns Sins
It was another difficult day in the land of AOOO. Em sometimes regretted being a tag wrangler. Sure the Officers at Abuse had to wade through the sewers of AOOO, where thousands of preternatural creatures left over from errant spells roamed. The abuse workers intervened in all manner of disputes. The Translators had it hard also they dealt with hundreds if not thousands of supernatural languages both audible and not. But having to round up the millions of tiny tags that were constantly created each time a citizen used magic was tedious at best and harmful to health at worst.
Em went home and grabbed her wand and net, before setting out to meet up with her fellow tag wrangler Shadowhunter (It wasn’t their actual name, but tag wranglers tended to go by aliases).
They met on the edge of AOOO, where the tags tended to gather. Some magic users, used tried and true spells which tended to not generate any tags (or at least not as many). But many used spells and incantations that were as far from textbook as possible, the tags they produced were interesting to say the least.
Em, tapped her feet waiting impatiently until Shadowhunter arrived. The sooner they got started the sooner they would be done for the night.
Shadowhunter gritted their teeth. They hated getting partnered with Em. Em tended to play fast and loose as far as tags went. If they looked the same they got paired together and sorted into the proper bin for further tag wrangling by the wranglers at headquarters who were tasked with keeping track of the tags being created.
“14 minutes late.” Were the first words out of Em’s mouth. Her exasperation could be clearly heard in every word. Shadowhunter bit her lip and neglected to point out that Em was dead set on following the rules for some things but was stubbornly against others.
“It won’t happen again.” Shadowhunter said, adding under their breath as Em moved away, “Until next time.”
They both slung their nets over their shoulders and grabbed their wands. Shadowhunter flipped down the goggles they wore while tag hunting that allowed them to clearly see the glowing lights of the tags shining out among the trees spiraling upwards and rock formations that made up the outskirts of AOOO. In the pack slung over their shoulders were ropes, climbing equipment and the various other items they would need to traverse the crevasses and tunnels that dotted the landscape.
As they looked through the pinkish tinted lenses, flickering lights shone in the distance darting from tree to tree. There were hundreds of them if not thousands just within a few feet. Finding a match for a tag they already had at headquarters was difficult, or at least it should have been… some wranglers liked to pair just any ones together.
Shadowhunter flicked their wand through the air, casting an immobilization charm, and then reached out, netting the tag while it remained frozen for a few seconds. The tag started moving again just as the net wrapped around it. Quickly, Shadowhunter grabbed it, holding the tag gently between their fingers so as not to crush its delicate wings. The wings were sheer and a gentle network of glow in the dark veins outlined each wing. Shadowhunter carefully examined the tag, noting its type. It obviously came from a simple incantation, probably a common spell. It wasn’t as intricate or chaotic as many tags were and probably there would be several at headquarters for it to be grouped with.
Em was likewise having luck. They spent several hours combing the forest for tags. Shadowhunter found wrangling to be a relaxing occupation for the most part but they could tell their companion Em was getting irritated as the number of tags they caught grew, but each tag was more and more complex and finding groups was getting harder.
Shadowhunter knew the inevitable would happen. Sure enough as they exited a cave draped with spidery silver webs from a group of particularly vicious spider-like tags (probably left over from some bit of dark magic). Em exploded. “We’re going to have to make at least a hundred new categories for these tags alone, and we never find a grouping for these! They’ll be around, never able to be sorted and indexed and…” Shadowhunter tuned out Em’s rant (long accustomed to their friend’s rants).
Shadowhunter only tuned back in as Em let out a yell of excitement. “I found a match!” Warily, Shadowhunter came over to look. The two tags she was holding had only the barest hints of resemblance on their small faces. They looked around curiously before settling on Em’s hand docilely preening as one sat and crossed its legs and the other peered over the side of her hands, it’s wings beating for balance as it clutched at her thumb.
Em appeared to not have heard. “This is my first today, aren’t they so cute. Perfect little replicas.”
“Em, you can’t possibly think they are the same type.”
“Well, if you…” Em trailed off as she rummaged in her pack and produced a tiny wig.
Shadowhunter, watched with worry as Em placed the wig on one of the tags and then grabbed a small paintbrush from her bags pocket and proceeded to paint the tags face. “A little fixing up and they’re exactly the same.”
“Are you okay?” Em looked up at that, raising an eyebrow that said she clearly didn’t understand why Shadowhunter was looking at her like she was crazy.
Shadowhunter, explained slowly not believing they were having to do this. “This is insane, they’re nothing alike—“
“I’m looking and this is like if I went outside wearing a wig and makeup and faked being my own twin named Mango and you insisted Mango was me!”
Em totally missed the point. “Do you have a twin named Mango?”
Shadowhunter ran a hand over their face. “No, Em, I don’t.”
“Then I’m not understanding this.”
“Clearly you aren’t,” Shadowhunter muttered under their breath. Instead of arguing they spent the next few minutes persuading Em that since their wrangling had been such a success it was time to return to HQ. The entire time Em held her last two tags in her hand and they were quiet except for the pairs of tiny cries, upset when Em was forced to dodge a group of nasty looking tags with pinchers and multiple eyes, laying in wait near the mouth of the forest.
Shadowhunter left Em cooing to her tags in a chair near the division office and went in.
As usual the division office was a mess. There was no nice way to put it. Queenie, the head wrangler, liked things in orderly chaos, or so she liked to call the piles of paper scattered over numerous desks and the book shelves rising fair up almost out of sight and lining the walls of the circular room. Amongst it all some of the more docile tags lived, they chattered and yelled, flitted and chirped and Shadowhunter sighed in annoyance as several flew down to examine them and than settled on their shoulders and in their hair.
Queenie liked the ambience of her office… Shadowhunter hated what passed for ambience in Queenie’s mind.
“Queen!” Shadowhunter had to yell a second time before a petite woman barely 4 feet flew down landing on a desk, her gossamer wings outstretched and her arms full of papers while tags were tangled in her hair. (The office gossip was that Queenie was part Tag, but no one dared say it to her face.)
“Yes, Shadow? Good wrangling today?” Queenie hopped gracefully off her desk, sending papers crashing to the floor. She spared barely a glance at the mess as she settled in an armchair and pulled on a set of dusty spectacles. “I found a set of guidelines for some tag trees, you know we really must work on uprooting some of the less sentient tags and rehoming them somewhere safer before AOOO is entirely overrun with them. It’ll never do…” Queenie trailed on and on, about the dangers of allowing tag trees to go unchecked and Shadow sighed, knowing they would have to wait until Queenie was done to get a word in.
“Actually wrangling was not good today.”
“Oh?” Queenie finally looked up from her stack of papers. She brushed her unruly blue hair back from her face and quirked an eyebrow. “Why ever not?” She didn’t wait for an answer as she rose out of her seat, launching herself into the air and beating her wings vigorously to hold herself in place.
She hovered just at eye level and rather severely glared at Shadow. “This is your fourth partner in two months.”
“I told you I prefer to work alone while tag wrangling.”
“And I told you we need a team clearing out that particular fandom of tags, they’re everywhere for god’s sakes.”
“No buts.” Queenie, had been nervously flitting around the room as she spoke, now she fluttered back over to hover in front of Shadowhunter again. “You’re one of our best wranglers and Em has been with us forever, surely you two can get along.”
“That’s not the problem, Queen. I think I told you before but Em is determined to match up tags even when they clearly shouldn’t be stored together.”
“We all have slightly different interpretations of the rules, but overall I think––”
“She wanted to put a relai’shin’shep tag with a frey’ferm, last week. This week it’s even worse.”
Queenie frowned. “What do you mean worse?”
“Come see.” Shadowhunter opened the door into the hall to find Em still holding her tag pair, this time singing to them.
Em looked up as Shadowhunter and Queenie came near. “Good Wrangling, Queenie.” Em, rushed out the traditional greeting as she rose to her feet. Her tags lurched forward in surprise their tiny hands holding desperately onto her fingers.
“Good Wrangling Em.” Queen examined the tags, bending close to peer at them, even with the pink wig and gold face paint the one tag wore it still didn’t bear more than a passing resemblance to the other tag. “What have we here?”
“That’s Mango.” Em pointed at one tag. “And this other one is Mei.”
“I see.” Queenie clearly did not see but was humoring Em.
Em continued, “They’re a pair.”
Queenie’s eyebrows shot into her blue hair. “Mmmmhmmm.” She gestured to Shadowhunter to follow her and added to Em. “That’s very nice we’ll be back soon.”
Shadowhunter followed Queenie into her office and waited until the thick wooden spell enforced door was shut behind them. “So, do you see what I’m saying.”
“Yes, I do.” Queenie was obviously upset, she fluttered around her office gathering papers up and shoving them on shelves (She only made an attempt at cleaning when she was upset).
“Shadow, Em has had it difficult these last few months. First her old partner was lost in a forest of those tag trees and the only thing we found was their wand and net. Now, we have guidelines for new indexing measures which means tags we previously ignored are having to be rounded up and that’s a massive undertaking… I just think she’s stressed.”
“Stressed? She put a wig and face paint on a tag and claims they’re a pair. And now they have names.”
“Obviously she’s not handling all this well, I’m going to assign her to a job at HQ for a while, maybe indexing. Bringing order to chaos might help her cope, and this way we can watch out for her.”
Shadow sighed. Putting Em in charge of Indexing was a disaster waiting to happen but it was the best they could expect. Before Shadow could leave Queenie called out.
“And Shadow, don’t think this means you’re going solo again.”
Shadow groaned as they walked out the door. Knowing Queenie, she was going to be paired with a newbie wrangler. They were nice, and not as jaded from seeing so many harsh tags, but newbie wranglers were like puppies, eager to the point of being overly eager. It was going to be a long few weeks.
Two weeks later
Shadowhunter yawned and flipped out of their hammock. Time for another night of tag wrangling. Tonight was definitely going to be better than the last. Her latest partner had gotten scared off, after clearing out a smaller fandom of tags, Shadow had suggested they tackle a larger one. Typically the size would have been better for three or four tag wranglers, but Shadow was skilled and confident they could handle it. Their partner had run screaming in terror after spotting two lumbering tags racing towards them at high speed. Wands and spells were forgotten and the poor kid had run. Shadowhunter had tackled the fandom of tags themself before returning to HQ with a sack full of tags and a very disapproving Queenie demanding they come into her office.
Shadowhunter put on their wrangling gear and prepared to step outside, instead they froze staring out a window. The sky was glowing with darting, fluttering lights. Shadowhunter stepped outside warlily and was immediately assaulted by two larger tags bearing down, stingers at the ready. Quickly they casted an immobilization charm, not bothering to waste time going for a wand and hoping it would be focused enough without the device. The large greyish tags fell to the ground stunned. They laid there, metallic bodies glinting in the magical lights.
Everywhere was chaos. Citizens of AOOO, ran the streets searching for shelter or locking themselves in doors. Tags filled the skies and streets, some gleefully pulling pranks, others attempting to attack and still many more darting around joyfully, happy to be free.
Shadowhunter, started running to HQ. When they got there, they were barely out of breath, (running several miles a day had finally paid off). HQ was in similar straits. Tag wranglers filled the halls, quickly donning gear, grabbing nets, casting magical armour upon themselves.
“What’s happening?” Shadowhunter, stopped a tiny wrangler they recognized nicknamed Book. The wrangler, continued strapping on a sword as she talked, adding the weapon to the already impressive array she had strapped to her body. “The tags have escaped the Archive.”
“All of them.” Book dashed off, her cloak flying as she ran and her sword bouncing.
Queenie was likewise prepping. They found the division leader, flying through the halls magically reinforcing the walls, as tags tried to breach the building.
“How did the tags escape?”
“No time to talk unless, you’re helping.”
Shadow pulled out their wand, flourishing it as webs of incantations spiraled into the air landing on the walls . Queenie spoke as she worked. “Em, it was all Em.” Queenie sniffed. “I should have never let Em place Mei and Mango together.”
Shadowhunter shook their head. No one ever listened until it was too late.
“Mei and Mango, were tags of two vastly different types, somehow sorting them together, allowed them to break the Archive enchantments. They collapsed the Archive shielding, the whole interdimensional layer broke and they tags were freed.”
Shadowhunter gasped. “Where’s Em?”
“We don’t know, perhaps lost in what’s left of the Archive. Perhaps dead.”
HQ shook, screaming sounded from outside and flashes of light flared across the walls.
“I need to go.” Shadowhunter, grabbed a set of throwing knives and strapped them on, before adding a magical necklace for healing. As they started to turn away they heard a sob and turned to find Queenie had fluttered down and was perched on a window sill, her wings drooped.
“This is all my fault, if something’s happened to Em, or the other wranglers….” Queenie trailed off and Shadowhunter felt a pang. Queenie was a hard ass sometimes but truly cared about all the wranglers under her care.
Shadowhunter grasped Queenie’s shoulder briefly before saying as they started running towards the battle outside. “We’ll find her, don’t worry.”
They didn’t hear Queenie’s reply, Shadowhunter was already out of ear shot to the sobbed words, but they meant what they had said.
Em would be found and saved if she was alive, but first Shadowhunter would have to save AOOO.