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[Panel description: The small green figure of Calliope sits hunched with her knees drawn up and her head resting on them at the center of a bright white swirl cutting through black space.]

[Panel description: Zooming in, we can see that Calliope has her arms hugging her knees, her head resting between them.]

[Panel description: Calliope looks up. Her appearance blurs and then transforms from her true cherub face to her Callie Ophee disguise. Her mouth is open with surprise.]

ROXY: callie.
psst.
callie it’s me.

[Panel description: Roxy stands in front of Calliope, her body half obscured by shadow. She is smiling.]

CALLIOPE: Roxy! oh, I’m so relieved.
jade assured me that you would be alright, but I didn't know if I believed it.
ROXY: yup.
I’m fine.
I mean,
rats.
do you have to be all cute and trusting.
making me feel all SORTS of bad for wanting to cheer you up with a little good news.
vows of honesty oughta go die in a trashcan behind the virtue mart.
sometimes you NEED a few little white lies for seasoning.
CALLIOPE: question mark.
ROXY: ugh.

[Panel description: Calliope, still in her disguise, sits more casually. Roxy crouches down to face her, but she is looking to the side uncomfortably.]

ROXY: I gotta come clean.
I’m so honest these days the witch is gonna wanna gank my tongue because it’s made of solid gold.
the Roxy you saw die wasn’t me.
she was a different one because of all sorts of crazy time biz I can explain to you later.
guess she was one more ghost on your bro’s hit list of bodacious babes he snuffed.
but I’m ok.
and more importantly,
you’re going to be ok.
CALLIOPE: I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't think I’ll cling to even this semblance of existence much longer.
you should go. my brother doesn't deserve to add another Roxy to his bodacious babes list, and I don't want to watch you get hurt again.
ROXY: I’ll go.
but,
(drum roll please),
you’re coming with me.
CALLIOPE: I can see that your powers as a hero of void have grown.
I’m overjoyed that you're growing into your heroic role.
I always believed in you! (smiling face).
but the ability to travel through the realms of the dead does not extend to freeing us from them.
you are not a hero of life.
and Jane, however lovely, could not aid me either without my corpse.
you have to let me go.

[Panel description: Roxy smiles and holds a golden ring up in one hand.]

ROXY: nope.
that’s the new rule were not letting anybody go.
don’t care if someone’s dangling off a cliff and I’ve got them by the fingertips.
everyone’s going through that door even if I have to kick their asses all the way there.
I’ve got a way better idea than u sitting here in the dark.
look at this.
CALLIOPE: a ring?
ROXY: not just any ring.
this is the most special piece of bling ever.
and not just because I got it from a guy who’s totally boyfriend material.
wait till you see him callie he is CHOICE.
a goofy dork wearing a blue windsock but somehow it works for him?
all the dudes runnin around right now wear the most ridiculous outfits, it’s hilarious.
dirks got a tiara now.
he is the princeliest of all princes, he is so regal.
prob gonna start passing ROYAL EDICTS soon.
most of which will involve not looking at his tiara.
bet he hates it.
anyway.
this ring can bring ghosts back to life.
CALLIOPE: really? are you sure?
ROXY: yep.
saw it happen myself.
the ghost who came back was def not as cuddly as you.
I’m surprised you didn’t know about this though.
weren’t u always talking our ears off about all the gadzooks and doohickies in our game.
the legendary scepter of whosiewhatsie and the dread cursed sword the fuck up inator.
haven’t you ever heard of the magic ring of lifey powers.
CALLIOPE: I don't believe I have.
such a solution sounds too good to be true.
ROXY: seeing is believing.
hold out your hand.

[Panel description: Roxy places the ring on Calliope's finger.]

ROXY: I now pronounce you... 100% alive.

[Panel description: Calliope and Roxy both look down at the ring on Calliope’s finger. Calliope's eyes remain blank and white.]

[Panel description: Roxy frowns. Calliope looks over at her.]

CALLIOPE: does it usually take a while?
ROXY: not sure.
do you feel any different.
CALLIOPE: no.
ROXY: I don’t get it.
I know for sure it works.
got my ass sent to slumber town by the not dead troll ghost.
CALLIOPE: its ok, Roxy. Thank you for trying.
ROXY: don’t sound despondent on me.
a million puppies just died from the sads in your voice.
that will not do.
CALLIOPE: even if the ring worked once, it's not working on me. that's clear.

[Panel description: Calliope puts one hand to her cheek.]

ROXY: but,
those aren’t your real eyes right.
CALLIOPE: er,
I suppose not.
ROXY: how do we know the real you doesn’t look alive.
CALLIOPE: I guess we don't. it doesn't matter, though.
if it had worked, I’d have felt something.
I really appreciate your efforts to help me, but they're no Use.
just leave, before my brother finds you.
ROXY: I promise I’ll leave right away if you let me try one more thing.
do you trust me?
CALLIOPE: of course!
ROXY: let me see your face.
your other face.
CALLIOPE: that is a lot to ask.
it isn't that I don't trust you. I know you would not be cruel.
but my true appearance is monstrous, and I do not like what it represents. I prefer this form.
ROXY: I know but we need to know for sure.
you’re not a monster and I won’t laugh or judge you no matter what you look like.
you won’t have to look at yourself or anything and you can change right back.
I’ll never bring it up again or act like I saw you in any way you didn’t want to be seen.
it’ll be like it never happened.
CALLIOPE: promise?
ROXY: cross my heart.
or cross my fancy blue pinwheel thing if crossin hearts aint something a void hero should be doing.
gonna need a dude stuffed in an orange vest keeping guard with all the crossin going on.
point is I promise.
you’re safe with me.
with or without an actual crossing guard on the premises.
CALLIOPE: your word is sufficient.
I do feel safer with you here, neon vest or no.
prepare yourself.

[Panel description: Calliope looks down somberly. Then her appearance blurs, and her true cherub face is revealed.]

ROXY: wow
callie...
CALLIOPE: I know, I’m hideous.
ROXY: no that’s not what I meant.
you look different but I still think you’re cute because you’re my friend and you’re precious.
but more importantly,
your eyes aren’t white.
CALLIOPE: they aren't?
ROXY: nope.
they’re black.
or really there aren’t any eyes at all.
just...
spooky holes I guess.
which fits the whole skull ensemble thing you’ve got going on.
too bad.
I bet your eyes are super cute.
just like the rest of you. (heart emoji).
CALLIOPE: (heart emoji).
ROXY: do you know what black hole eyes mean??
CALLIOPE: no.
I’m afraid my carefully accumulated knowledge is falling short a lot lately.
ROXY: your bro killed your dream self right.
CALLIOPE: yes.
ROXY: but he didn’t kill your awake self did he.
CALLIOPE: no.
that would be impossible.
we shared one physical form.
ROXY: maybe that’s what’s wrong
you’re not dead at all!!
your bodies alive.
you just can’t wake up.
CALLIOPE: did you try calling my name?
ROXY: yes.
I promised.
I called it over and over but nothing ever happened.
CALLIOPE: thank you for trying.
that someone was willing to go to such lengths, or any really, for me is a gift worth treasuring.
but clearly if I am asleep it is a very deep sleep that I cannot be woken from.
I don't see much difference between that and being truly dead.
ROXY: don’t worry.
derse has red miles but they aint got nothing on the lengths I’m willing to go for you.
stick it out here a little bit longer.
I promise I’ll find a way to wake you up sleeping beauty. (smiling face).

[Panel description: Roxy hugs Calliope with her arms around her shoulders. Calliope wraps her arms around Roxy's waist.]

[Panel description: Roxy waves while looking over her shoulder.]

[Panel description: Roxy's form is half obscured by darkness, and then she fades away entirely.]

[Panel description: Roxy fades into view standing on a purple walkway. The purple gothic architecture of Derse spreads out behind her. A speech bubble featuring Rose's squiddle symbol pops up above her head.]

[Panel description: The Courtyard Droll peeks into the scene from the far right side of the panel.]

ROXY: S O S.
or
N D C??
ROSE: N D C?
I'm not familiar with that notation.
ROXY: N D C obviously means not dead cherub.
except not in the way that we were hoping for and expecting.
in a confusing and plan breaking kind of way.

[Panel description: The Courtyard Droll sneaks closer. He is dressed in the outfit reflecting the Beta session's prototyping, including bright colors, an ornate hat involving both jester and princess components, cat ears, and a fake sword strapped to his chest.]

ROXY: the ring didn’t work,
but not because it was broken.
I think callie wasn’t dead enough to bring back.
half dead or stuck dreaming or maybe both of those things at the same time.
is that a thing that can happen.
ROSE: Maybe.
I've been talking to John about her situation.
He's become quite the expert on cherubs somehow.
I'll ask him about this, and I'll do some poking around on my own.
We'll work this out, I promise.
ROXY: you’re so good at this.
delegating and problem solving and being a general badass.
it’s dumb that I ever thought,
um,
never mind.
ROSE: Thought what?

[Panel description: The Courtyard Droll stands right behind Roxy.]

ROXY: er,
so,
when I promised to come clean were you expecting moderately tidy or squeaky clean.
what I’m asking is where am I in relation to a box of hyped up mice.
ROSE: Unleash all the over stimulated rodents. I can take it.
ROXY: k.
if you say so.
I kinda thought you might drink.
since you left all this booze in my house to find.
well not you but my mom in my universe.
you know.
at first I thought it might be a dare so I took you up on it.
like hells yeah I’ll totally spend my time getting wasted.
not like there’s much else to do.
but eventually when I was looking forward to meeting you you,
that didn’t match up to the picture of her you I had in my head.
all nice and elegant and wanting the best for me.
and I thought maybe I’d wanted to see it as a dare so I could be a standard rebellious teen,
even if nothing about my life was standard,
and also have someone else to blame for my own bad choices.
so instead I started to imagine that she had a problem too,
since her life also totally sucked
for different reasons.
pre end of the world vs. very far after it.
and for a while thinking that made me feel closer to her.
later it helped me with quitting because I thought you wouldn’t want me to be that way.
you’d be proud if I beat it.
and maybe I could help you beat it too?
but now you're here and you don’t seem like that at all.

[Panel description: The Courtyard Droll holds his hand near Roxy's waist. The gold ring glints between his fingers.]

ROSE: Appearances can be deceiving.
From your description, we're very similar.
Our trip to this session was a lethal combination of boring and stressful.
I picked up bad habits as a way to distract myself, and I told myself it was a way to become closer to my mother.
Even if what I should have learned from our relationship was that her habits poisoned both her life and mine.
Living with her was...
I've vacillated on where to lay the blame.
I used to think she was completely irrational, less of a caretaker than an erratic force of nature that I had to learn to navigate around.
Later, I suspected I was too young and foolish to understand her.
After all, she knew what was going on, or some of it, so she wasn't the childish drunk I took her for.
But she wasn't completely in control of herself or her habits, and that instability bled through into my life as well.
I'm sure she didn't mean to be a bad parent, but children aren't a good mixer, and effusive gift-giving doesn't make up for a life of confusion and uncertainty.
It wasn't easy, growing up like that.
Trying to be the adult to your own wayward parent.
I imagine it's the reason for... a lot of things about me.

[Panel description: The Courtyard Droll, now facing away from Roxy, begins making his way back across the panel.]

ROSE: I've moved past resenting her, but I didn't learn the lessons I should have.
A better way to honor her memory would have been refusing to start.
I've resolved to stop but...
That's easier said than done.
ROXY: word.
I fell off the wagon yesterday
fuckin tricksters.
shakes fist at all wacky candy magic.
ROSE: The last year has been a montage of me toppling off the same wagon.
I'm not sure I ever really got on.
Maybe I ricocheted off the edge a few times.
ROXY: damn horses are running too fast.
if this is in fact a horse drawn wagon.
ROSE: Why not?
It's nice to imagine our difficulties being due to the whims of some spiteful equines.
Oh, by the way.

[Panel description: Roxy now stands alone on the walkway.]

ROSE: You might want to stay more aware of your surroundings.
ROXY: what do you mean.
wait.

[Panel description: Roxy turns to look in the direction the Courtyard Droll left. Her facial expression changes to one of dismay.]

ROXY: w t f.
some jackass stole my bling that is SO not cool plus embarrassing.
got schooled in being a sneaky thief when I’m a rogue which is kinda the same thing??
except with more robin hood action I think.
damn.
guess I won’t be bringing anyone else back to life.
that list only had one person on it anyway.
necromancy isn’t really my thing.
don’t wanna mess with the DARK FORCES,
even if by definition all my forces are dark?
ROSE: I've seen darker.
And while I sense necromantic forces may in fact be at work in our session, you are not the culprit.
ROXY: really?
guess there sure are a lot of skeletons walking around but that’s a daily thing.
ROSE: Maybe.
I'm sure my suspicions will be verified or debunked at a later time, at some crucial moment where we look back at this conversation and say "Of course!" while clapping ourselves on the foreheads in a show of comic dismay.
That's how these things usually work.
Meanwhile, I'll search for information to save your friend.
And keep your eyes open.
There are still other forces at large in this session.