Actions

Work Header

Not Made For Any Man: (the moon's last quarter)

Chapter Text

What with the War and then, a little behind schedule, going away to school, I hadn't lived in Bluff Creek for more than a vacation in years. When I came home that summer with a brand-new diploma from a fancy university Back East to show off, I guess I was expecting everything to be different, and everything to be the same, too.

I was kind of right but it was never the things I was expecting that had changed. All the girls from school were just the same as ever, except of course they were wearing their skirts a lot shorter, and a lot of them were married and had kids now.

One of them that I might have hoped had got married in my absence hadn't changed at all. That was Blossom Culp. She still wore her skirts down halfway past her knees, except when she decided to scandalize Bluff City society by wearing nothing but a long pair of yellow satin bloomers, but that was fine with me, because she still had the skinniest legs I had ever seen. At least her hair looked a little bit less of a mess most days, now that she wore it bobbed.

She had been working at the flour mill during the War, when they didn't have enough men to do the work. I knew this because she had written to me every month when I was away whether I wanted her to or not, and criticized my spelling when I replied. But she was let go with most of the other girl workers afterward. When I came back to Bluff City she was still living with her mother in the old abandoned mill worker's cottage on the other side of the tracks, although she had fixed it up a lot and even replaced the glass in some of the windows. It was more tasteful than the time Blossom's Ma fixed it up, that winter she was famous, although not by much. But this time at least it looked less like it would fall over in a stiff wind and more like an actual house. She had put beaded draperies and things all over the front window too, and a sign in the yard saying that the Prophetess of Iowa told fortunes and contacted spirits from the Other Side, rates negotiable. Blossom has always been one to have a good concept of the value of advertising. She also wrote some kind of column for the Pantograph that was full of all sorts of Spiritualist flim-flam and talking down about other practitioners of the Art, which my brother-in-law Lowell Seaforth admitted he was mostly to blame for her getting paid for, so I suppose she was doing all right, or at least well enough to afford to buy those harem pants.

I had come home from college not entirely sure what I wanted to do next. Luckily for me, my mother couldn't make up her mind what I wanted to do either. She would wander back and forth in the kitchen, trying to decide whether I would rather go back to school to become a lawyer or a doctor, or stay here in Bluff City and become a partner in Dad's construction business.

Dad said he didn't care what I decided to be, as long as it was me who decided it and nobody else, by which he meant Mother, and in the meantime there was no hurry, so I was working part-time in his office, "learning the business" as he said, and spending a lot more of my time loafing around town, which suited me fine. The only downside was that it gave Blossom Culp a lot more opportunity to hassle me.

"Alexander," she said, marching up to me one day right in the middle of Eldorado Street, "There is something strange going to happen in this town."

Now, there are plenty of strange things that have happened in this town, and usually Blossom Culp was right in the middle of them, and usually she dragged me in after her, so I was not in any way anxious to hear any more details about this, but my opinions in the matter were not to make any difference, as it turned out.

Most of the summer I was not subjected to anything more than Blossom cornering me in places and telling me about how this October was going to be some great conjunction of powers or something, and that right here in Bluff City is where the conjunction was going to conjoin, and if we did not do something about it, we would lose our chance to keep the world from turning to evil and destruction. I told her that even if I had been through an easier war than a lot of people, I could tell her that there was plenty of evil and destruction in the world already, and she said "Exactly." But she said it in a way that made me think that somehow I'd lost the argument without noticing.

She had all sorts of other things to say about this conjunction, too, although she wouldn't tell me how she knew them, and mostly I figured it was all brought on by too much thinking up nonsense for her newspaper column. By September she was talking about how the others would already be starting to prepare and she had to use her home ground advantage while she had it.

I did not take any of this serious of course. I have seen enough strange things that I am not going to deny that there are Powers in this world that the average person knows nothing of, and that Blossom knows a little more than that about, but I still know better than to listen to her in general.

Which is why I should also have known better than to go get her out of the police station after she was arrested for breaking into McCulloch's Funeral Home in the middle of September. All she would say when they asked her why was that she needed ingredients, and they would be sorry if they didn't let her go about her business, which was beyond the scope of the small minds of policemen.

This did not sit well with any of them, but as it was she hadn't taken a thing that they could prove, and Jake McCulloch knew about as well as anybody how dealing with Blossom Culp could make anything more trouble than it was worth, so they let her go.

I walked her all the way home mostly just to make sure she didn't get into any more trouble between here and there, and we almost made it, too. But then we were standing in the shadow of the old Dutch Elm tree, which was still alive back then, that stood between my house and the Ghost Barn, when she looked up and commented on how it was the night after the new moon.

I have known that Blossom was sweet on me ever since we were fourteen. That time she tricked me into kissing her for a fraternity initiation would have given it away, if nothing else did. However that did not mean I was going to stand here and gaze at the moon with her, and definitely did not mean I was going to invite her up to the barnloft, and I told her as much, starshine or not.

She rolled her eyes at me. "I am terribly, terribly shocked, Alexander, that you would ever think that I am that kind of girl, and here I was worrying about your safety."

"I am not sure what kind of girl you are supposed to be," I said, "but anyway I am usually perfectly safe as long as you are nowhere in the vicinity, so that worry is easily fixed."

"No-one will be safe until the night of Halloween, Alexander," she said, and I suspect she was trying to sound spooky just like she does with her customers. "And if we do not succeed over the month of October, no-one will be safe after that, either. But there is a spell I just learned, and if you will let me cast it over you, it will give you a certain measure of protection, at least until we get to the most dangerous part of the month."

I asked her if letting her do the spell would mean she would stop trying to talk at me all the time about whatever this thing was that was supposed to happen in October, and she smiled sweetly at me and said that if I said I would to this, she wouldn't have to talk to me about it any more regardless.

Blossom Culp does not lie to me if she can help it, but I before I said yes I should have remembered that she knows all sorts of interesting ways of telling the truth. That is probably where I made my first mistake.

Chapter Text

Today I was walking down Woodlawn Avenue on the way home from Dad's office when a cat said "Hello" to me in the street.

Now, there is no shortage of stray cats in Bluff City, but I don't mean that she said "hello" to me by rubbing up against my legs and begging for fish. She was walking past me, tail up, occupied on some business of her own I guess. Since I didn't remember seeing her before, I stopped and greeted her nicely (I had always wanted a pet, but Mother refused to have them around the house.)

She gave me an amused glance, but replied, "Hello, aren't we polite."

I almost didn't notice why that was strange, because it felt entirely natural, but then I stopped in my tracks and said, "You talk?"

"You understood that?" she answered, and sat down, her tail twitching around. "Well, well."

I folded my arms. "I think you're new here, so I just thought I'd let you know that in Bluff City, cats don't usually talk to people in the street."

"Are you telling me that they only talk to people behind closed doors? How unfair. Besides, I'm not the one being strange. I'm just talking the same way cats always do. You're the one who understood me." She narrowed her eyes at me. "I'm called Graymalk. You're the Armsworth son, aren't you?"

"Yes," I allowed.

"And you're friends with the Gypsy seeress."

Blossom had been keeping out of my way since that night with the new moon. Somehow I knew it would be to do with her anyway.

Chapter Text

It was the day of the first full moon in October. I was out helping Jill gather supplies all morning, and would be out again all night, but after some catnappery and dinner I had time to talk to Snuff about the Armsworth boy.

"You could talk to Larry Talbot last time, couldn't you?" I asked him. Normally we companions can only be understood by our humans after the hour of midnight, but we companions can all understand each other, and Larry Talbot had been an exception to a lot of rules.

"He was a werewolf," Snuff reminded me, only one eye open. He had been dognapping too, but as I have a much busier schedule than he does at the moment, I had woken him up with no compunctions. "He had enough of a canine spirit that he could probably talk to all dogs."

"Maybe Alexander Armstrong turns into a panther at the full moon," I said thoughtfully.

Snuff snorted. "He didn't really strike me as having the vicious instinct to be one of your kind."

Snuff, despite being a dog, is quite generous about cats most of the time, even those who aren't personal friends like myself. But he enjoys it too much when he can be more mysterious than me. "You know something about him," I said.

"I have my suspicions," he answered. "Do you know, they say he's a sensitive just like the gypsy girl is? Except he doesn't practice the skills like she does. Not unless he's working directly with her."

"Do you think she's in the Game?"

"Of course. Among others."

"I thought you and Jack were sitting out the Game this time," I told him pointedly. Jack and Snuff have played in every Game as far back as Jill has heard any rumors, which tells you something about their sympathies, but it is almost impossible to get them to talk about it. We met them the last time the Game was played, but that Game played out very strangely with unusual endings all around, including my Mistress's association with Snuff's Master.

When Jill announced that she wanted to play again this year, only on Jack and Snuff's side this time, Jack decided he was going to take the year off and let Jill take care of it all. (Then Jill had said some remarkably silly things about getting to handle his special wand, and they got distracted the way humans do. I am often glad that, as a cat, I only get distracted like that twice a year or so.)

Jack and Snuff still came along with us to the site of the opening, of course, but so far most of what they had done was be annoying, make unhelpfully vague pronouncements, and take up too much space in the bed, a wide thing with a cotton mattress that filled most of the attic loft.

"I'm not in the Game," Snuff said serenely. "But I'm still a watchdog. I watch things."

Sometimes I really wish I could tell when he is smiling.

Chapter Text

Today I cornered Blossom about the business with the cat.

She frowned, and said "Small gray tabby? Female?"

I allowed that this was about right.

"I've seen her around a few times lately. I think she keeps company with Crazy Jill and her gentleman, down at the other end of the row."

I knew who Crazy Jill was, anyway: she and a large dog and a rangy sort of man who went by "Jack" had moved into one of the other abandoned cottages along the streetcar lines, three weeks or so ago. I was fairly sure that she and her gentleman had never seen the inside of a church together, but one learns that it's impolite to ask about those sorts of questions with people from Blossom's side of the tracks. I knew all of this about them because Blossom had talked about them incessantly the week after they appeared. I thought that this was because Blossom was suffering from professional jealousy - Crazy Jill being something of an uncanny sort herself - but as she didn't appear to be taking clients I had been forced to conclude that there was something else that had gotten Blossom's dander up.

"Yes, but has the cat talked to you?"

"No," she said, and then she grinned at me. "I knew they were players in the Game! Only if he's that Jack, why hasn't he been about, gathering ingredients? I've seen hide nor hair of him or the dog outside the cottage garden."

"Blossom!" I said. "The cat! That talks!"

"Don't speak to me in that tone, Alexander Armsworth," she replied. "I don't know that much more about this than you do, after all. I only know that of which my Second Sight has chosen to inform me. But if you can understand the witch's cat, that makes perfect sense. You see, Alexander, every player in the Game has a companion, who is their assistant in magical workings, and their eyes and ears and voice where they cannot be. Just as the players compete and cooperate with each other, so do their companions, and how could they fulfill their roles if they could not speak with each other? This cat Graymalk must be Jill's companion."

"None of that has anything to do with me," I reminded her.

"But Alexander! I am a player, too, of course. And who else would I choose to be my companion and assistant except you?"

I gaped at her.

"And while we're on the topic," she added, "my Second Sight tells me that you were invited to the Shambaughs' garden fête in honor of their houseguest, day after tomorrow."

"And by your Second Sight, you mean the way that Mother has been screeching about it for the past two days?" Actually I had come to visit Blossom only part way to talk about the cat; it was part way to hide from my mother's fevered preparations. Mrs. Shambaugh is generally quite careful not to invite us unworthy Armsworths around, but I supposed the triumph of their visiting English noblewoman made gloating more important than social snubs.

"The Ways of the Inner Eye are mysterious. You will be bringing me as your guest, of course."

"I will not!" I said.

"Yes you will," she told me. "The fate of the world may depend upon it. I have to get a good look at that Viscountess. Besides, if you go alone, Bess and/or Tess will give you no peace. You can scandalize them all with me instead."

This was true enough, as eminently available young men were in something of a short supply in Bluff City of late, and was one of several things I had been dreading about the party. But I had to make at least a token attempt to resist her. If I gave Blossom any sign of softening I knew I would never be rid of her. "You can see the Viscountess any day, she is always out in their garden in the afternoon. What is the real reason?"

She shrugged. "I also heard it was being catered by that new restaurant that's opening on the Square."

I knew that Blossom had never had quite enough to eat as a child, and while she had filled out some now that she was in charge of her own finances, I guess that sort of thing never leaves you. Besides, I had known short rations a few times myself. "If I let you come with me, you have to let me hide out here tonight until Mother has safely gone to sleep."

She shook her head. "I need to go out and gather some very important herbs by moonlight, and you can't be here alone with Mother. She doesn't get out much any more. You're welcome to come with me and act as my assistant, however."

Graymalk passed by us once, barely visible in the shards of moonlight that fell through the trees. "Alexander. Pleasant evening. Did you find want you needed?" she asked.

"Most of it, I'm told," I answered. "You?"

"Passable," she said, and faded into the night.

Chapter Text

Went patrolling today.

The gypsy seer has finally set up real protections around her cottage. I poked at the edges of them, but decided not to try anything more drastic. They were fairly elegant, if clearly beginner's work. If she tried to keep inviting paid clients inside they were going to give her trouble, though.

The archaeological dig at the old Indian mound had sprouted a few more canopies, like mushrooms. I hadn't decided yet whether the old Professor who was digging there was a player or not, so I took the chance to poke my nose into some of the quieter parts of the encampment.

In one of them I found a young woman asleep on a military-style cot. She looked very young for a human, and might have been pretty if she wasn't so pale and thin-looking. I made a note to keep an eye out for any signs that the Professor was planning an early sacrifice.

"She hasn't been herself lately," said a slow, hissing sort of voice from under the cot. "I'm told she was ill-used in love."

I adjusted my eyes for the darkness and made out a long, narrow shape coiled back in the shadows, with a pattern of pale diamonds down its length. She rattled her tail at me in friendly warning, and I resisted the instinct to jump back.

"Are you planning to bite me in her defense?" I asked.

She laughed a bit, a sound much like her rattle. "Wouldn't that be against the rules of the Game?"

"Not exactly against the rules, but likely to be against your own best interests. I'm Graymalk."

She wove her head sideways. "Yes. You live with Jack and Jill. I am Arizona, and that there is the Mad Professor's Beautiful Daughter."

"I figured that out, thanks," I said, adding the Professor to my list of definite players. "Do you know who else is playing?"

"I'm still getting the lay of the land. I'm new at this myself," she added, eyes glittering.

I didn't say anything.

The old Leverette farmhouse, out beyond Snake Creek, was most definitely occupied again. The garden was still overgrown, but somebody had been gathering up the fruits from the gnarled apple and pear trees, and there was a freshly-painted, foursquare beehive of the most modern kind set behind them, buzzing with activity. I saw a glimpse of a tall, slender man in a wide-brimmed hat moving among the trees, about some business with the hive, so I slipped around to the other side of the house.

The farmyard had been tidied, and the most urgent problems about the house neatly repaired. The doors and windows were all securely locked and curtained. Someone had carefully placed protective talismans in Hebrew at all of the thresholds, and I made a note to tell Jill to brush up on her practical Kabbalah. There are few magical traditions as fond of rule and order as the Kabbalah, however, so I had hope that this latest player, if the beekeeper was in fact in the game, would become an ally of ours.

Bees are also quite fond of order. I turned away from my contemplation of the charms to find a circle of worker-bees hovering around me. "You don't belong here," one of them said, and was echoed one beat behind by the others "Belong here... Belong here... Belong here..."

"I mean you no harm," I told them. "I am Graymalk. I stand with Jill, the witch."

"Spying," said the bees. "Spying... Spying... Spying."

"Greeting," I said firmly. "Not spying. You are welcome to tell your keeper that I was here, if he is, as I suspect, a player in the same Game as I."

"Game... Game... Game..," said the bees. "We are the Hive. We will tell all. You will leave... Leave... Leave..."

I hate bees. Too much talking with a hive mind and I start reconsidering the virtues of chaos.

A pair of them trailed me all the way down the streetcar tracks back to our cottage, and I was debating trying to re-tune the protections around the fence-line so they would be fried on their way in. I was preempted by the long pink tongue of a frog, which snapped out and devoured one of them as it sat by our lopsided gate.

"Thank you," I told it with feeling.

"Anything for a lovely lady like yourself," the frog replied gallantly as he gulped it down. "Though I am afraid the other one has fled."

"The beekeeper would find out where we live soon enough regardless."

"True. Is the beekeeper a player as we are?"

"I think so, but I am not sure."

"Then is it a bad thing that I have eaten the bees? It is not yet the Death of the Moon."

"Worker bees are disposable. I think as long as you leave the Queen alone, they don't count."

"Ah, good. It is only that they are so juicy, you see, and hopping around this cold town is hungry work."

"You seem to know who I am. Will you tell me who you play with?"

He stretched his wide mouth into a grin. "I belong, heart and soul, to my Voodoo Princess."

I ran my mind over the list of possible Voodoo Princesses in town. "It can't be the Culp girl, can it?" I asked Snuff later.

"She's no princess, and she knows it," Snuff answered. "Besides I'm almost sure that the boy is her companion."

"I didn't know other humans could be companions in the game."

He rolled over, and stretched out his long limbs by the fire. "Perhaps she considers him a lesser species."

"And the bees?"

"I see no reason they couldn't be playing. Beehives are good calculators."

I considered this. "Have you run into an old gray wolf lately, by any chance?"

"No," said Snuff. "Not unless you mean Growler. But then, I haven't been looking for one."

Chapter Text

October 5: Alexander

I met Blossom in the lane outside our house, having told her that I would take her to the Shambaughs' party on the condition that we did not ride along with Mother and Pa and my sister Lucille and her family in the Studebaker. This would both save us from Mother's immediate scrutiny, and allow for more expeditious departure later in the evening, should it become necessary.

Anyway, it was a golden late afternoon in autumn and a pleasant walk, although Blossom prognosticated rain tomorrow, a prediction I felt no need to give any heed to, as it was Blossom making it. She had not worn the bright yellow harem pants, to my relief, settling for a dress with simple straight lines and a skirt below the knee that was within a year of being stylish and of a relatively subdued color. I could have done without the spray of peacock feathers in her hat, but she told me that it was necessary for someone of her reputation to keep up appearances, even at exclusive garden parties.

She did not try to talk about this Game while we were walking, and I should have taken that as a warning, but I was too busy enjoying the momentary absence of it.

The party itself was more or less the usual thing, with all the required luminaries of Bluff City society: Mrs. Shambaugh, Mrs. Hochhuth, Mrs. Hackett, Mrs. Breckinridge in the older generation, and Mrs. Letty Dawson holding court over the young married set. Letty had married Les Dawson right out of high school, and they lived in connubial bliss, at least as far as Letty was concerned, for almost half a year. Then he died in the 'flu in 1918, which was probably a great relief for him. Since then Letty's been milking her widowhood for all it's worth, though I suspect she will net herself another husband within a a year or two.

There were a couple of new faces there. There was the Viscountess of course. Mrs. Shambaugh made a point of introducing me and Blossom so as to prove we weren't the only ones with connections in the British nobility. Blossom was unperturbed by Viscountesses, of course, having once had an audience with Queen Mary, but I was somewhat more curious.

The Viscountess of Greystoke was not exactly what I had expected. She was maybe my mother's age, and while she was pretty enough, she was nothing spectacular. And also, she was American, and she told Mrs. Shambaugh to leave off with all the correct ettiquette she was trying to enforce. "'Lady John Clayton' just sounds so silly, doesn't it? And I never did hold with American women marrying for titles. Lady Jane is what I'm used to. I can get all that curtsying nonsense at the Archbishop's dinners anytime."

Which was fortunate, because Blossom immediately went off and said, "So, Jane, how do you know Mrs. Shambaugh?"

It turned out that Lady Jane lived on her husband's estate in West Africa most of the time, and she had met Mrs. Shambaugh through her interest in African art and some mutual acquaintances. "I have heard so much about Mrs. Shambaugh's delightful collection of art and antiques from around the world, while I was in the country I just had to stop by for a few weeks," she gushed, in a way that immediately got my suspicions up. I'd only known her for a few minutes but she didn't seem to be the sort of person who would be impressed by a Shambaugh.

Also, she had a pet monkey. He was wearing a little sailor suit that cried out as being Mrs. Shambaugh's taste, or possibly Letty's. He was sitting decoratively in the arbor vita and most of the party were pretending he wasn't there. The arbor vita was hung with fancy electric lanterns, already lit against the coming of dusk. I scooted under it, claiming what shadow I could, as the monkey's company seemed preferable to that of any of the other attendees, and said, "Nice outfit."

"One endures for the sake of the greater good," he replied, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Then I said some words that one shouldn't use in the company of ladies (even though I learned most of them from Blossom). It suddenly became clear why Blossom was so riled up to meet the Viscountess.

"You speak my language?" the monkey said with delight.

"No. But apparently I've been mixed up in this Game nonsense. Do you know anything about it?"

"Ah!" said the monkey. "You must be the Gypsy seer's boy. I am Manu, the monkey, who has accompanied Lady Jane willingly across the wide ocean and plains in order to fight the battle of the Opening and Closing, as was predicted long ago by the seers of Pal-Ul-Don."

"I'm Alexander," I said. "How many more of us are there?"

"That's not information I should give away freely," Manu, the Monkey, said. "You shouldn't be giving information away freely either, Alexander. But since no-one else is quite sure what your role is yet, I suppose it would be fair enough to give you something in return. There are Lady Jane and I, of course. And do you see the mad Professor and his beautiful daughter, standing near Lady Jane?"

I did. Professor Ravenwood the archaeologist was tall and had probably been strongly built as a young man, but was starting to cultivate a pot-belly, and wore a comical mustache and tweeds that were at least a decade out of date. His daughter couldn't have been older than twenty, and looked to have been recently ill, but was making a valiant effort for the party.

"He's out there digging something up at the ruin you call the Sacred Circle," said the monkey. I had heard vaguely about this, one of my old friends having remembered my connection with the excavation of the tomb of the Egyptian priestess Sat-Hathor.

"Isn't he looking for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel or something?" I said.

"That is what he claims," said Manu. "But of course the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were among the settlers of Atlantis, whose descendants survive now only among the beast-men of the city of Opar, where Lady Jane's husband has visited them many times. He must be looking for something else. There is a rattlesnake who works with him by the name of Arizona."

"I see. What do you think he is looking for?"

Manu leapt up another branch. "Someone has also moved into the old Leverette farmhouse, beyond the wood. It is rumored that this is a beekeeper, assisted by a hive of bees which share one mind and one name, and know all. And there are Jack and Snuff, as always, and Jill and Graymalk, who played last time."

"I've met Graymalk," I told him, trying to keep this list straight in my mind. "Anyone else?"

"Her," said Manu, pointing with one finger.

The monkey was pointing at a late arrival to the party, an elegantly dressed woman of about Blossom's age. "I hope I'm not too late," she drawled in an accent I recognized from a long-ago trip to New Orleans, as Mrs. Shambaugh started fawning over her about how she was honored by this visit.

I found this concept intriguing, as Mrs. Shambaugh has been known to say that blacks are excellent people as long as they stay in their place, but then I heard her address the woman as "Princess".

"Princess?" I asked the monkey. A Viscountess, okay, but a princess in Bluff City was stretching matters a little.

"Shh," he said, "I need to listen."

"Well now, I just had to see how well my food sat with the good people of Bluff City," the princess said in a voice that carried across the whole yard.

"She's the one who's starting that fancy restaurant in the old opera house!" I realized, as she pushed her way toward the serving-table which held the punch and a collection of ritzy canapes.

"Princess Tiana of Maldonia," said the monkey. "Keep an eye out for the frog."

"Frog?" I asked, with a sense of dreadful inevitability. But sure enough, while the princess was distracting all the ladies by inviting comment on the catering, a large green amphibian emerged from the decorative purse she carried and leapt into a hiding place among the cups around the punch-bowl.

Manu began swinging through the shrubberies toward him and I followed, safely enough, as the flock of ladies, Blossom's dark eyes flashing in their midst, had already moved on. There were some bees circling around the punchbowl and I swatted them away with annoyance, but they were undeterred.

The frog looked unhappy, and I have no idea how I knew that. He flicked his tongue up at one of the bees, catching it, and then said, "Hello. Manu, is it?"

"And you're Prince Naveen," said the monkey.

"Wait, Prince Naveen?" I asked.

"It talks!" said the frog, stretching up of his hind legs to get a good look at me.

"Yes, I'm Alexander, I seem to be stuck working with Blossom, howdy, you're a prince?"

He shrugged, which is apparently something that frogs are very good at. "Leave off the titles, hey? Right now, I'm a frog, not a prince. And as for that - here is some good advice for you, Alexander: never marry a woman who is studying conjure work and knows how to turn you into a mucous-covered swamp creature. Or if you do, don't lose an entire week's profits dicing with a man you met in the street."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said faintly.

His tongue flicked out again, but instead of aiming for the bees, he splashed it into the punch-bowl and carefully retrieved a few drops of liquid. "I think that someone has put something into the punch," he announced.

Manu picked up a half-filled cup and sniffed at it. "I don't notice anything."

I pulled up the dipper and did the same. It did smell a little bit off, somehow, but I couldn't tell why. It wasn't technically illegal to serve alcohol at a private party, as long as you could claim you'd bought it before Prohibition, but as Mrs. Shambaugh was lately president of the Ladies' Temperance League that seemed unlikely. And it didn't quite smell like alcohol, either.

"It isn't in the cups, only the bowl," said Naveen. "It must have been added quite recently."

"Which would explain why nobody but Tom Hackett is acting pickled yet."

"I don't think it's alcohol," said Naveen. "That I would have recognized. But it could be anything, from the people who are here - a poisonous herb, a witch's potion, a mushroom to cause visions."

"Do you think it was someone in the Game, aiming at us?" I asked.

"What else?"

"Well, this is Bluff City, and it's the Shambaughs'," I said, preparing to elaborate, but Manu, the Monkey, interrupted me.

"There's one way to know for sure," said Manu, filling a cup directly from the bowl. Then he let out a loud screech - like a cat with its tail caught in a door, only less melodious - which brought the attention of everyone in the party - and tipped the cup down.

Immediately his eyes rolled back in his head, showing only the whites, the way Blossom does when she want to be dramatic, and he let out another loud screech. Then he went berserk: he threw the empty cup aside, shoved over the punchbowl, barely missing Miss Ravenwood, who stood silent as a phantom by the table; and then he rampaged through the canapes, making senseless "EE EE EE" noises has he went.

Naveen and I shared an eloquent glance, and he jumped down into the shelter of floral border as I melted back toward the arbor vita. This would be worth watching, but it might be best to stay out of the way.

Manu did a great job, too - as Bluff City parties go, I would rank it below my sister's coming-out party, but well above Blossom and my Bon Voyage party, which after all had no major property destruction to its name. I suppose monkeys have natural skill at that sort of thing.

I was watching as Manu tried to climb up the back of Mrs. Ledbetter's dress, drooling and with something custard-like dripping off of his tail, when Blossom said beside me, "I wonder how your brother-in-law is going to write this one up."

Blossom was unrumpled, her hair no worse than it had been when we arrived, her peacock feathers as jaunty as ever. "I reckon you've got the right idea, though," she added. "Nice safe place to observe matters from, this is."

It was, too. I am not sure what Blossom was observing, but I was fairly sure she was enjoying herself mightily. It took them a good long time to stop that monkey. Lady Jane was always in the middle of the rumpus, looking like she was trying to calm him down, but somehow she always made it worse, and then at some point the lanterns all came unplugged from the current and it got a lot darker.

I was settling in for the long haul, as Blossom seemed disinclined to move, when we were interrupted by a face out of my worst nightmare. Actually it was literally someone out of my nightmares: Miss Fairweather, my high school history teacher.

"Alexander Armsworth!" she screeched. "What are you doing under the bushes with Miss Culp?"

As Miss Fairweather had been pitching woo with Old Mr. Ledbetter for near on ten years now, and no sign of benefit of clergy, I wasn't sure where she found the nerve to say anything about me and Blossom, especially when we are not even known to be courting, but before I could say anything Blossom pitched in.

"Oh, Miss Fairweather, Alexander was just helping me. I'm afraid in all the confusion I lost my shoe!" she said, holding up the offending item.

"Yes," I added, "I was just about to walk her home. It's been an awfully exciting party, hasn't it?"

As soon as Blossom finished fiddling with her shoe-buckle, we did head down the lane together, toward the relative quiet and electric street-lights of Fairview Avenue. Lady Jane had finally captured Manu, the monkey, from under the skirts of Bess (or Tess), after a particularly wild bit of flailing. He clung to her bosom like a child, his eyes rolling wildly, and it looked as if the fun was mostly over. Just as well to beat the crowd.

We took the long way home, however. I was pretty sure that Mother and Lucille had already cut out, (though of course my brother-in-law Lowell had to record events for the paper), and I would just as soon stay away from home until they were finished having hysterics on each other.

I even offered Blossom my coat, as it was starting to get properly chilly, this far past sundown.

"So why did the monkey go berserk, Alexander?" she asked, as she wrapped it around her shoulders.

"I think there was something in the punch," I told her. "Though he knew that, too, so I don't know why he decided to drink it."

"Hmm," said Blossom. "I wonder who would have thought they had something to gain by that?"

"I don't think it was Princess Tiana," I said. "Her frog was the one who first noticed that something was wrong."

"And it wasn't us. And it seems unlikely that it was Lady Jane."

"I don't know," I said. "The monkey could have been faking it."

"Yes, but why would he poison the punch and then fake it?" she shook her head. "I suppose Tiana could have done it just so Naveen could point it out; she is certainly twisty-minded enough for that sort of thing, but it's still early in the Game. That leaves Ravenwood, and I'm pretty sure I caught a glimpse of the witch's cat on the roof."

"And there's the chance it was somebody in town who has grudge against the Shambaughs, and it had nothing to do with anything supernatural," I added.

"Wonderful, Alexander, we've managed to narrow it down to almost anyone who's in the Game, unless it's someone who isn't."

"There were bees around the punchbowl too," I added, making the connection suddenly.

"What do bees have to do with anything?"

"There's a beekeeper living in the old Leverette house," I told her. "Manu think he's a player."

"Alexander, you really do need to tell me these things."

"I do believe there's some things you could have been telling me, while we're at it," I answered.

She ignored me, and stared into the darkness outside the streetlights. "Look," she said. "There's a light on in Miss Dabney's house."

I followed her pointing. Sure enough, we had wandered far enough from the Shambaughs' that Miss Dabney's lopsided old Victorian pile was silhouetted against the moonlit sky. It had been standing empty since she had gone off to marry her English beau, most buyers being unwilling to live with a ghostly housekeeper, and the ghostly housekeeper being unwilling to move along.

"It could be Minerva putting on a light," I suggested, Minerva being the name of the ghost.

"It's in the front parlor," Blossom pointed out. "Besides, Minerva's never played with lights before. We should pay a call, Alexander. In the spirit of friendship and neighborliness."

"Maybe they just found somebody who doesn't mind Minerva."

"If it's somebody who doesn't mind Minerva," Blossom said, "We most definitely need to meet them."

I sighed. "Couldn't we just walk home, and keep company, and not talk about ghosts or psychic convergences or witches or anything? Look," I added, feeling reckless. "The moon's rising. Any ordinary girl would be thinking about romance right now."

The moon was large and yellow-orange and swollen, just visible among the bare limbs of the trees. It was waning gibbous (that being a word I learned at my fancy college) which left it looking slightly hunchbacked. A dark veil of cloud drifted over it as I watched.

Blossom stared at it for a moment, and then shuddered, and wrapped herself more tightly in my jacket. "Luckily for both of us," she said, "I'm not an ordinary girl."

Chapter Text

Rainy and cold all day. Stayed in.

Jill needed help with spellwork in the morning. After that I engaged in active negotiations with the spiders in the attic, and then put in some useful catnappery curled up with Snuff in front of the stove. The rainy weather gets to his bad leg sometimes.

I woke close on to midnight, to the rain lashing against the rattling window-panes and a knock on the door. Jill startled up from where she had been half-dozing over a spellbook, and touched up the illusion spell that keeps her looking like an old hag. I heard Jack stirring up in the attic where he'd been doing some napping of his own, and I decided that I could stay warm where I was for the time being. Snuff opened one eye and then closed it again. He is really embracing this "vacation" concept.

Jill opened the door onto a tall, slender man wrapped in a heavy, dark Chesterfield coat, whom I shortly recognized as the beekeeper. Rain was sluicing off a battered deerstalker cap, down around his face, as he peered into our cottage.

"You're the one called Crazy Jill," said the beekeeper, taking a step forward out of the rain. The scent of wet wool seeped into the cottage, and with it something else, as I caught the beekeeper's own scent for the first time.

I blinked, slowly, and then sat up and started washing my face. Not a man after all.

"My name is Mary Russell," the beekeeper told Jill. "I believe you've met my husband, the detective?"

Snuff opened an eye toward me again. "I know you're smirking at me," I hissed at him.

"I don't know what you could possibly be talking about."

"Have you seen an old wolf around?"

"No," he said. "I think she's here alone."

"My husband has other matters he's attending to," Mary Russell was telling Jill, as they settled down in the kitchen, "so he's sent me in his place."

"As a full player this time?" Jill asked.

"As a full player. I'm a scholar of religion, so I'm not completely at a loss, but I imagine I'll still be a few steps behind the rest of you. I don't think I'll be giving much away to tell you I'm here as a closer, however. Do you two still have the Wands?"

"Jack has given me the loan of the Closing Wand," Jill said. "He and Snuff, however, being men and indolent by nature, have decided not to bother playing this time around."

"Ah!" said the beekeeper. "That puts several things in a new light."

"Yes. I think most of the other players still assume he's one of us, so I'd appreciate you keeping that quiet for now. As for the Opening Wand," she started, then paused.

"As for the Opening Wand, we had it," Jack said. He was leaning against the ladder to the attic, arms crossed, with a half-grin on his face.

"It disappeared from our custody about a month ago, shortly after we came to Bluff City," Jill said. "No divination nor calculations can locate it; it is as if the thing no longer exists. But the Tools will find their users. I didn't expect a closer to be able to hold onto the other Wand until the final night."

"Who else was here then?"

"As far as I know, we were among the first. Ravenwood was already digging. And the gypsy seer has been here for years, of course. I suspect they're both openers, but I have no evidence."

"Speaking as a closer to a closer, Ravenwood has the mad Arab's icon. Some of my bees spotted it among his books, up at the excavation."

"And I believe Princess Tiana has the bowl, although she's using it to store fresh chicken eggs in, according to Graymalk. Have you any word of the ring?"

Russell shook her head. "I count six players, then: you, me, Ravenwood, the Viscountess, the Princess, and Miss Culp. One of the wands, the bowl, and the icon are accounted for. Does that match your list?"

"So far. But it's early in the game for all of the players to be out in the open, much less the Tools."

"As for Tools, there are a few other things I'd like to ask the two of you about."

"Related to the game?"

Russell considered this. "Possibly. Possibly not. My husband's son recently got himself involved with something of an apocalyptic black magic cult. He has been finding it rather more difficult to get himself extricated, but you can imagine my reaction last year when Holmes told me that he had been skeptical of the Children of Lights not because of the concept of supernatural apocalypses, but because he had deduced that the world would certainly not be in danger of ending until this October, and the danger would be in Iowa, rather than Orkney."

"He had deduced where it would be as long ago as last year?"

Russell gave her a long look under her hat-brim. "We do both read the newspapers." She continued, "The cult leader had an object he referred to as the Tool. Master Jack, I believe you're something of an expert on knives. Do you know anything about one made from the metal of a meteor rock? Ivory handled, about this long?"

Jack tensed up. "Where is it?"

"Thoroughly broken, melted, burnt, and thrown into the Thames," she answered mildly.

He leaned back again, but with more deliberation in his movements. "Likely the best end for it then. It wasn't a Game Tool, but it's been brought into the Game before, and we're all better off leaving it where it lies. How did you come across it?"

"In the hands of the aforementioned cult leader. It was difficult to tell if the Tool drove him to what he did, or if it was simply a convenient symbol for the obsessions he already had."

"Likely both, feeding on each other," Jack said.

"That was rather my opinion," Russell agreed, "presuming there was anything uncanny about the knife to begin with, and now I know there was. Which brings us to this," she added, and pulled a small portfolio from where it had been tucked inside her coat. I jumped up on the table to get a closer look at the papers that spilled from it.

They were a collection of watercolors, mostly done in uneasy shades of green and black. Jill spread them out across the table, and Jack stepped forward as well.

"My stepson is a surrealist painter," Russell explained. "He has always had a thread of the eldritch in his work, and indeed he did a lot of work for the cultist who owned that knife. In the aftermath of the affair, he found himself troubled by a series of ... Not so much dreams, but waking visions, and all of them linked in some way, though he could not tell us in words how they were linked. He felt compelled to paint what he had seen, and my husband found the result... troubling, as well, and not only because he seems to appear in some of the images."

The first picture I inspected closely looked not so much surrealist as abstract: it was wild smears of chartreuse, viridian, and turquoise, painted with abandon across a mathematically regular pattern of yellow curves. A closer look, however, revealed that it was not meant to portray paint, but blood: or rather ichor, which had gushed and sprayed from the mutilated limbs of a creature not-quite-human that just barely protruded into the bottom of the frame. The pattern in yellow - it must have been meant as wallpaper - seemed disquieting on further study the more so the longer I looked, as if it changed whenever I glance away. And in the largest puddle of blood was the reflection of a window, looking out on a city at night, a three-quarters moon in the sky.

"Rache," said Snuff. He had propped his front legs on the table and was peering at the same image I was.

"Rache?" I asked.

He nudged his nose at a smear in the paint, and when I peered at it sideways, I could just make out the letters that spelled a word, though I'm not as good at reading as Snuff is.

He nudged the page over toward Jack and said, "What do you think?"

I looked at the clock on the kitchen shelf and saw that, sure enough, it had ticked over to midnight while we were distracted, which meant that Snuff and I could now be understood by our respective humans.

Jack picked up the painting and looked at it, then shook his head. "Rache. That's a word I haven't heard in a long time. Try putting it together with this one, Snuff."

The painting Jack showed us was of a cliff, looking out onto the sea. A full moon hung over the water, reflected meticulously in every ripple and wave - reflected in directions that its light shouldn't have reached. Under the water was something, something pale and uneasy, that I didn't want to see too closely even through the medium of paint. Around the moon were set the stars of the constellation Canis Major, though they were in entirely the wrong part of the sky. Clouds, in delicate shadings of the paint, suggested the full outline of a dog around the stars: a dog leaping in a blood-rage, his fur spiked around his throat.

"That's you," I told Snuff in surprise. I had seen him in a killing rage only a few times; less often than I'd seen his master so; but it was not a sight to be forgotten.

"That's Innsmouth Harbor," Snuff replied. "When was that, Jack? Almost 700 years ago?"

"1251, I think, unless my count's off again; you're the calculator," Jack said. At the inquisitive looks from the other humans at the table, who hadn't understood Snuff's comment, he went on: "That's near a small coastal town in England called Innsmouth. We played the Game there once, almost seven hundred years ago. It was a tricky one, and we almost lost, but the closers pulled it off in the end. The Dark was closer in those days." He shifted some more of the paintings around. "Rache was an old English word for--"

"For a hunting dog, yes," Russell said. "My husband was working on the assumption that it was the German word - Revenge - but the dog, of course. Snuff is a hunting hound of that kind, isn't he?"

"More or less," said Jack. "He'd been with me only a few cycles then. Rache is what they called him at Innsmouth." He shuffled a few more of the pages around. "Put that together with the rest of these, and it looks like your stepson was painting a world in which the ways had been opened to the Old Ones long ago. Perhaps that 1251 full moon in England, even. Look at the common elements."

Spread out as Jack had them, it was easier to trace an emerald thread of something like narrative between them. They shared the color theme, the uneasy mood, the imagery of the moon that appeared in every painting: they portrayed a place that might have been late Victorian England, though it was never quite the England that I remembered, and around the edges of every image, though never centered, never the focus, were Things that did not belong in our world, creatures of chaos and terror beyond time. The theme of the hound ran through several more of the paintings, too, and there were three human figures which appeared more than once: I recognized two of them, eventually, as the Great Detective and his companion, though their features were subtly wrong for the men I remembered, and their eyes bore the glitter of those who had looked upon that which must not be seen. The third figure was a woman, tall and slender, strong-featured; but she was not Russell. Her face bore the look of one who has seen madness and come through the other side.

"That's Irene Adler," Russell said, pointing out the female figure. "Damien's mother. She died before the War. Holmes and I had, I think, come to more or less the same conclusions you have. But we wondered why - what these paintings mean. Why Damien felt compelled to draw them. Why this world, and now, in the shadow of the new Game. If they are meant to have some role in the Game. You last played in 1888, did you not? The height of my husband's career. And the year he met Irene."

"If the openers had won," I asked, "would the Game still be played? Would there be a chance, every Halloween full moon, to lock the Old Ones away again?"

Jill looked thoughtful, and repeated my question to the table.

"I'd never thought much about the possibility," Jack admitted, folding his hands before him. "It didn't matter much, as I wasn't likely to be around in that circumstance." He looked startled, and added, "I suppose I should start thinking about it now, after all."

"Thanks for having such faith in us, Jack," Jill muttered, and he grinned at her.

"As for why," he continued, then stopped. "I don't know. I don't feel any power coming from them directly, do you, Jill?" She shook her head.

"I don't think I could calculate anything," Snuff put in. "Or at least, not anything useful: not enough data, and too slanted. I could tell you only what the artist himself understood, and not all of that."

"That's about where Holmes and I are," Russell admitted, after Jill had relayed this. "I think we're calculators, in your terminology. But these paintings aren't really built for deduction."

"I could try a divination," Jill said doubtfully. "But objects and images aren't my specialty, and I don't know if I'd get anything from these but nightmares."

"I thought you said you'd read the papers," I had Jill pass on to Russell.

She glared at me a moment, and then said, "Of course! Miss Blossom Culp, the Prophetess of Iowa."

She was said to be able to travel, in her body or outside it, to places or times beyond her own, in something like the same way I can travel in catnappery, but to places beyond the confines of the dream realms. I would bet a silver certificate that she would be able to visit the world of the paintings, if she wanted to.

"I thought you said she was an opener," Russell told Jill.

"It's little more than a guess. Based mostly on the fact that she reminds me of myself when I was her age. Besides, it's early in the game, and it's not too clear which side, if any, this will benefit."

"Whether she's an opener or not, I'm fairly sure her companion isn't," I said. "And I'm developing a rapport with him, I think. Let me talk to him tomorrow and see if he can bring her around."

Chapter Text

The cat talked to me again today.

Blossom had been avoiding me since the Shambaughs' party, and I'd been avoiding her right back. Other than a sudden tendency to see bees everywhere I looked, and needing to glance over at her house every hour last night, just to check that it was still there, I was perfectly happy with this state of affairs.

"Are you an opener, or a closer?" Graymalk asked me.

"What?" I said, intelligently.

"In the Game. An opener, or a closer?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Graymalk circled me slowly. I resisted the temptation to spin to keep an eye on her. "You know, I believe you really don't," she said. "That's entertaining. Listen: my Mistress and Jack, and the beekeeper, want to talk to your Miss Culp. All above-board and friendly, a favor for a favor. Can you pass on the invitation? Tomorrow evening, if that works for both of you."

"I don't know," I said slowly.

"Swear you'll try to talk her into it, and I'll tell you about openers and closers."

This was a difficult temptation. Luckily, I saw no real reason to resist. I sat down on a handy curbstone, and said "I can't promise to talk Blossom into anything. She does what she wants to do. But I can promise I'll pass on the message."

The cat narrowed her eyes at me. "You don't think much of yourself, do you?"

I shrugged. "What are openers and closers?"

"That's what this whole Game is about. On Halloween, at midnight, the conditions will be right for person with the proper skills and preparations to open a way for the Elder Gods to return to Earth. The openers attempt to open the way. The closers attempt to stop them. All the players are either one or the other."

"I knew about the conjunction and the Elder Gods, but I thought the way was just going to open by itself. And the players were just competing against each other because that's what you people do, or something. You mean some of you actually try to open it on purpose? Why would you want do that?"

"You should ask your girl that," said Graymalk.

I didn't ask Blossom about that. Not yet, anyway. I didn't want to think about what it meant. About how she sometimes talked like evil and destruction worse than the Great War was going to come to Earth, brought by human hands. About how she'd never actually said that the conjunction was something she wanted to stop, just that it was her chance to change things for the better.

"Graymalk wanted me to tell you that Jack and Jill and the beekeeper want to have a meeting with you tomorrow evening," I told her instead. "At Jack and Jill's place, I guess."

"They want to meet with me?" she answered. "Really? Oh my - I need to, let's see, do I - and they're working together already? Dammit, I really need to find the time to visit Miss Dabney's--"

"They said it would be friendly. A favor for a favor."

"Oh," she said, and stopped her frantic moving around the room. "A favor for a favor, hm? I wonder what they could possibly want from poor old Blossom? I wonder what I can ask from them?"

"You're going to agree to meet?" I was surprised.

"Only if you'll agree to come out gathering with me again tonight. I have it on good authority that the superintendent of the Baptist graveyard is passed out drunk."

I agreed with relief. That was a lot easier than I expected, I thought, as I passed on our regards via one of the honeybees that was hovering around the front garden.

We will pull a curtain over the rest of my and Blossom's activities that night. It's easier on the stomach. And besides I don't think the statute of limitations has expired on some of it yet.

Chapter Text

Started tracing lines today. Either I was very, very bad at this, which was fairly likely; or there was something deeply queer about Bluff City, which was seeming likelier every day; or there were still factors unknown among those in the Game which were interfering with my calculations, which was almost certain.

It could after all be all three. I decided it was too early in the Game to give in and ask Snuff for help. After the death of the moon, Jill's divinations would work much better.

I stopped by the Shambaughs' and said hello to Manu, the monkey, who was draped over a limb of the old chestnut tree. He seemed fully recovered from his adventure at the garden party.

"Was it truly poison?" I asked him.

He curled his lips in something that was probably not a smile. "Lady Jane saved some samples, if you'd like to try it and see for yourself."

"No thank you," I answered, and then reconsidered. "If that's a serious offer, you might want to talk to the beekeeper. I saw a chemistry set-up in the kitchen. And bees are good at tasting things."

"Really," said the monkey, and swung around the branch. "Of course, it might have been poison honey, the sweet nectar of rhododendron that drives man and beast to madness."

"It might have been," I replied. If I hadn't known that Russell was a closer it would have been worth considering, but it wasn't a closer's sort of trick, and I couldn't see what Russell would have to gain by it.

"By the way," the monkey added. "Stay away from the Princess, unless you can prove it wasn't you. She's in a rage that anyone would dare poison her catering. The Game may be played for the fate of all mankind but business is business, she says."

"How very American of her," I said.

"Isn't it," agreed Manu, the monkey.

I sniffed around the archaeological dig. Professor Ravenwood was waist-deep in a hole in the ground, shouting at some of the local boys he had hired as help, but there was no scent that Arizona had been around within a day, nor the daughter, and no noticeable hint of magic in the air. Curiouser and curiouser. He shooed me away without a second glance when I tried to get a look into the hole, so I pushed my way into the most elaborate of the tents, and verified that the Alhazred Icon was indeed tucked on a shelf between a map of Stonehenge and a book on Egyptian hieroglyphics. He had to be in the Game - but what was he doing?

I made some quick mental calculations but taking the dig site off the map only made matters worse, not better. I growled to myself and set off home.

I only had time for a quick dinner of leftovers, while Mary and Jill strategized at the table. At seven o'clock precisely, Blossom Culp came breezing in our front door. She cast her fur-lined wrap back toward Alexander Armstrong, who was looking slightly dazed as he followed her in, and then stared at Jack with a frown.

"You don't look at all like your figure in Madame Tussaud's," she said finally.

He let out a snort of laughter. "You don't look much like yours either, darlin'."

She ducked her head into her collar, and I could almost swear she blushed. "I've grown up a bit since then."

"My husband doesn't look much like his waxwork figure either, I promise you," Russell put in dryly. She offered Blossom a hand to shake. "Mary Russell. You can't know how glad I am to meet you."

"Mary Russell," Blossom repeated slowly, and then her eyes widened. "You're the great detective's wife!"

Alexander's mouth fell open and he dropped the coats. "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes?"

"Nicely deduced," said Russell. "Which brings me neatly to the reason we wanted to speak to you. Do have a seat. Would you like something to drink? There's cold water fresh from the pump, and there's some remarkable tea and cakes provided by our hostess."

The table only had three chairs, and a short, silent contest of wills resulted in the three women seated at the table, and Alexander and Jack leaning against two separate walls.

"Something was said about an exchange of favors," Blossom began it.

"Yes. We request a consultation, in your professional capacity," Russell replied.

Blossom raised a dark eyebrow. "That will cost you. No discount for fellow players."

"Americans", I muttered to Snuff, and he chuffed out a laugh.

"We can offer you either cash or information," Russell replied, after a moment's deliberation.

"Tell me what exactly you want me to do, first."

The three humans shared a glance, and then Jack stepped forward enough to slide the portfolio onto the table. "We've come into possession of a collection of watercolor sketches which describe a certain city. We'd like you to tell us anything you can about what they portray."

Blossom frowned thoughtfully, and then glanced over the paintings, her face giving nothing away. Finally she shut them back into the portfolio. "Is this related to the Game?"

"That's one of the things we'd like to find out."

"Well, the images are vivid, that's for sure. But I've never done anything quite like this." She folded her hands over the table. "In return, I want to know about the Wands."

Snuff jerked suddenly in his place by the fire. When I turned toward him, he shuffled and rolled over. "Bad leg," he told me shortly. I narrowed my eyes at him, but following the discussion at the table was more urgent.

"There are a lot of stories told about the Wands," Jill was saying, "and our time does have limits. Will three questions satisfy you?"

Blossom considered this, and then said, "Deal. Who holds the Opening Wand and the Closing Wand today?"

Jill shared a glance with Jack. "As for the Opening Wand, I know nothing of its whereabouts. I hold the Closing Wand," she said.

Blossom's eyes widened, and she looked involuntarily at Jack. He winked at her and she stared down at the table, recalculating her next question, I figured.

"I don't understand any of this," Alexander said. He had snaked one of the drawings off the table, and was studying it upside-down.

"Shush, pet, you don't need to," Blossom said. I would have torn open an artery on any Mistress who said that to me, but Alexander only rolled his eyes and turned the painting another ninety degrees.

"Question two," Blossom said, "What is the history of the two Wands between the last time the Game was played and today?"

"Do you know how that Game ended?"

"A little bat told me that an outside factor switched the Wands, so that the Closing Wand was held by an opener, and the Opening Wand by a closer. And the Ways were closed when the closer's dog ripped the Opening Wand from his hand, so that the opener, all unknowing, closed the ways, and they both survived the night."

"That is pretty good," said Jill. "So assume that I was the opener, and Jack was the closer. And we had built something of a friendship during the month, so we decided to stick together afterward. And I had already been pondering a change in orientation--"

"So that is possible," Blossom interrupted.

"Is that your third question?"

Blossom stayed mum.

Jill smiled warmly at her. "I'll give you that one free. Yes, it is possible, although I am told that switching sides after the Death of the Moon can lead to interesting consequences in terms of the metaphysics of the Game.

"At any rate, after that Game Jack and Snuff made a concerted effort bring Gray and I around, because there'd never been a situation like ours before. And they succeeded well enough that I offered to learn how to do what they do and train as their backup. So as I still technically held the Closing Wand, and showed an affinity for it, Jack offered to take the month off--"

"So you and the dog aren't in the Game," Alexander told Jack with satisfaction. "I didn't think so. I haven't seen the dog around much, and all the others have been poking their noses all over the place. But Blossom swore you had to be."

"We're not in formally," Jack told him. "Call us... interested observers."

Alexander pondered this while Jill continued.

"Jack has held the Closing Wand for a very long time. The Opening Wand has traditionally been lost with its holder, and then finds its new wielder in its own way in time for the next Game. But as I wasn't lost, and as Jack and Snuff held that wand on the night of Halloween, it stayed in our possession. We kept it, between us, hidden and unused, until the start of September this year, after we had come to this house in Bluff City. Then, on a day when we both had business elsewhere, it disappeared from its hiding place, from behind two locks, with no disturbances to the protections we'd placed on the house and no traceable evidence of an intruder. None of our collective divinations or calculations since then have given any results; they tell us that it is not anywhere and it is held by no-one. I didn't truly expect an opener to be able to hold that wand until the final night, and perhaps it has simply fled back to the realms beyond; but I had expected that by the start of the month, I would be able to trace it to its new owner. Instead, nothing." She shrugged. "If it is to be in play on the final night - and without it there can be no opening - it must come to an owner by the Death of the Moon. Perhaps its holder has hidden it behind a veil we cannot pierce as yet."

"Show me where it disappeared from," Blossom ordered.

"That wasn't a question," said Jill.

"It ought to be covered under my last one."

Jill and Jack shared a look.

Snuff stood up and padded over to Jack, nudging him in the leg. "Go ahead and show her," he said. Jack scratched him affectionately behind the ear. They can't understand our voices except in the hour after midnight, but when you have been together for as long as those two, there are other ways to speak.

"The dog says you should show us," Alexander piped up.

Well, that works too.

"I got that, thanks," Jack told him. "All right. I can't see what harm it would do at this point."

"May I, as well?" asked Russell. "I do have some experience with crime scenes."

"Only the three of us, then," said Jill. "It's going to be cramped up there as is."

Jill and Blossom scrambled up the ladder with the skill of long practice, and Russell, still in her men's clothes, followed easily.

I stayed downstairs, as I'd seen it all before. Alexander slipped into one of the vacated chairs and started thumbing through the rest of Russell's stepson's paintings. "What do you think of it?" I asked him.

"I think you'd have to be completely off your rocker to want to go here," he answered, "so of course Blossom's going to try it. You don't really believe she wants to open the way for these things, do you?"

"You haven't talked to her about that yet, have you?"

He flushed. "No. What was I supposed to do, just walk up to her and ask her if she was planning to let creatures of primordial terror loose on the population of the Earth? And, by the way, had she roped me into helping without asking me?"

"That would be a place to start," I told him.

Jack was watching us intensely. "So you really are her companion," he said.

Alexander shrugged. "I guess. Whatever that means. I seem to be dealing with the others, anyway."

"I've lost a bet, then; I told Jill it would be spiders with her."

He laughed. "You would not be the first person to jump to that idea."

"This could be uncommonly useful, though," Jack said. "Having someone who can translate for the animals. It's a wonder that no-one else has ever tried it."

"I bet you have never had a player like Blossom before, either."

"No. True enough." He slumped back against the wall. "Have you noticed, yet, what all the players this year seem to have in common? That's never happened before, either. Not since I started playing, at least. I didn't notice until Russell introduced herself. I don't think anyone else has figured it out yet."

Alexander got a thoughtful look on his face and started counting players off on his fingers, but was interrupted by the women coming back downstairs. He moved to vacate the chair for one of the ladies, but was foiled by Blossom pressing firmly down on his shoulders.

"You stay there, Alexander. I'm going to need you along, and it's much better to be seated when we do this."

"Need me along? I'm not going anywhere! One time was enough!"

"But what if something dreadful happens to me and I am injured? There will be nobody to lead me back! Oh, Alexander, you must save me!"

Alexander groaned. "What happened to your third question, anyway?"

"Taken care of," Blossom said with a nod to Jill, and then shuffled through the paintings in a businesslike way. "Tell me what I need to know about these."

Jill and Russell went over the same information we'd discussed two nights ago; more or less, that is, with a few necessary lacuna. Blossom followed along, and finally she nodded, and lifted one of the paintings out of its place. "This one, I think. It calls to me most."

The painting she had selected showed the three figures - the Detective, his Companion, and the woman we had been told was Irene Adler, mother of his child. They looked oddly flat in the painting, as if they were paper cut-outs rather than people, and some bright light in front of them cast their shadows against an emerald-green curtain that might have been a theater drape. The shadows were odd as well: Holmes's was warped to look oddly wolfish, the doctor's was paler, as if he was somewhat transparent, and around Irene's skirts, her shadow faded into a writhing mass of dark tentacles. There were great slits or rips in the curtain behind them, through which shone the watery light of a dozen gibbous moons.

Blossom held it before her in one hand, the other clasping Alexander's, and said, "If this is going to work, it should happen within the next several minutes. I am told that I speak while I travel, giving a narrative of what occurs on the other side. Someone might want to take notes."

Russell produced a notepad and pencil from somewhere in her coat, taking the third seat at the table, and then it began. The lighting in the room went a sickly green, like the air before a tornado, and the table began to rattle violently. There was something at the window: I cannot tell you what it was, but it was there. Blossom and Alexander both went white and stiff, with eyes staring straight through the watercolor she still held, and Blossom began to chant in an ancient and blasphemous tongue.

Then they both relaxed, quite suddenly, without changing the focus of their eyes. "We are in London," Blossom began, "I know the skyline, and some of the buildings, but it is not the London I have visited before...

"We have traveled into the past, I think, for I see no electric lights, and no automobiles on the streets. The smell; the smell is putrid, and foul, though I do not know if it is the mud and effluvia running through the streets as the natural fetid outflow of a city full of horses, or something from beyond our world...

"We are standing outside a theater, and although I do not think it is one of the better theaters, there is a steady stream of well-dressed people entering, in fashions not unlike those of the '80s or '90s... What do you mean, Drury Lane, Alexander? Do you still have the London Guidebook from 1914 memorized? Of course you do. There's a sign out side that says 'Special Midnight Show: Two Classic One-Act Plays: The Hound of Cain and Gloriana Victorious', and from the position of the moon in the sky, it must be near on to midnight. I suppose we had best go in, or we will miss the start of the show.

"What are you complaining about, Alexander, 'no English money'? Tell me you have never snuck into the late film at the Bijou... It's entirely the same thing and I do not see how the lurking threat of extradimensional horrors should make a difference, man up, we must be here for the play, why else?

"There's very obviously a side entrance that is not being watched, it's as if they want us sneak in. So what if it is locked? I have my picks with me of course. Come on, hurry, we need to find a place to sit before we make a spectacle of ourselves...

"The theater is but half-full, and full of odd rustles and glibberings, though no lights are on, even in the aisles. We have found ourselves an empty pair of seats with no other spectators nearby. The smell is strong in here. Yes, Alexander, you can keep holding my hand if you're afraid...

"The show begins. The grand drape, though patched and faded and not very grand, opens. There is a backdrop of a village and sea-cliffs, a moon that is designed to be moved from new to full, and here is our leading man. It is the Great Detective, he looks as he did in the painting, but with a blasphemous character marked on his forehead and costumed from the middle ages. He is accompanied by a shadow-puppet of a dog; this must be Cain.

"And now another: a maiden, beautiful, with long straight hair and a clinging gown; she is wet, all over, and dripping on the stage. She is played by Irene Adler, I think. And another man, dressed like Robin Hood. An old man with a long beard and a robe of gray: he carries a lantern. No-one has spoken: perhaps it is a dumb-show of some kind?

"And now more: a wild man, draped in furs and covered with hair, capering about the stage. A caricature witch, pointed hat and warty nose and all. A man in what I think is some attempt at a priest's garb.

"They are arranging themselves into a pattern on the stage: the man with the dog, the lady, the witch, the wild man and the priest on one side; Robin Hood and the hermit on the other, and now some of them hold tools. This is the Game, isn't it! They're dividing themselves into openers and closers. It's some sort of reenactment of a previous iteration of the Game. Which means the man Holmes plays must be Jack. I wonder why his dog is the only companion in the play?

"Alexander, do be quiet, I'm watching the show! What is happening now? Jack is conferring with the rest of the closers. Now they split up. Jack and the lady walk along the cliffs and hold hands. The moon grows nearer full. The wild man spies on the outlaw and the hermit, and now he tells the witch where they are. He goes to talk to Jack, but Jack and the Lady are too busy with each other. The priest berates him and sends away. The moon gets fuller...

"The witch finds the outlaw, and attacks him with vile sorcery. He tries to fight, but is overcome! But now the hermit appears. He raises his lantern, and in its light the witch shrivels and stumbles. She has fallen. The moon is at three-quarters...

"They leave her where she lies. Jack and the lady ask the other closers what has become of her, and they go out to search, the dog with them. Here the priest has stumbled upon her body. He rolls her over and looks into her face, and he is appalled. Something dreadful, something terrible he sees. He drops her, and he flees. Now he comes upon the hermit, who looks upon him sternly, and he cowers, and bows, and flees again. The moon increases...

"Jack and the Lady stand in the light of a near-full moon. They see nothing but each other. He kisses her, and they tumble together into a haystack. The lights drop.

"Alexander, you're a grown man, that was inappropriate. Besides, Jack is... Now the wildman comes to the haystack, and awakens them, and the three of them and the dog come to where there is a bonfire. Is that a magic lantern slide, or just creative lightwork? I can't tell. It's realistic, anyway. Jack and the lady and the dog and the wild man are on one side of the fire, the outlaw and the hermit on the other. They each throw things they carry into the fire, and there is chanting from backstage. Something begins to form in the air over the fire. I can't tell what it is. I don't want to look very closely. It writhes. Jack pulls out a Wand, and so does the Hermit, and they focus them on the fire. The lady comes up behind Jack, winds her arms around his neck, kisses him on the cheek-- is that a dagger? Oh gods, she's stabbed him. He drops the wand. He's falling. The Lady smiles and walks calmly around the fire to where the other openers stand...

"The thing over the fire is growing rapidly now. The wild man and the dog try to minister to Jack, but he is dead. Now the wild man gives a great cry of despair, and launches himself over the cliff. Something is emerging from the way that has been opened, something with tentacular limbs--

"Aaah! The dog - the dog has leapt over the fire. The shadows make him look huge, and his eyes are like fire. He has leapt upon the lady and torn out her throat, and now the hermit, blood sprays all over the stage. The outlaw wrestles with the dog and the shadow of the dog, and finally he gets his arms around its neck, and chokes it to death just as he too breathes his last...

"Now there is nothing left on stage except the corpses of the dead, and the fire, and that unworldly blasphemous thing which writhes above the fire. It grows, as if the air itself is ripping, and if this is being done entirely with magic lanterns and shadow puppets I'll eat my favorite cloche. Something is emerging, the audience cheers, the colors, the lighting has changed to some color that is not a color and the air is more than air--

"Wha--? Oh. One of the girls who sells oranges has come to tell us that Miss Norton would like to see us backstage. Now. Yes, Alexander, of course we are going, the lady wants to see us, why wouldn't we? Lead the way.

"She is leading us out of the theater, and then up a set of stairs to a back door, into a sort of communal dressing-room. Most of the actors from the play are in the back, hurriedly changing into what must be the costumes for the second play, but the Lady is sitting at a dressing-table, wrapped in a tattered robe, her hair bound in a rough knot at the back of her head.

"'I don't have a part in the next play,' she tells us. 'Only space for one heroine in that one. What in all the realms were the two of you thinking, sneaking into the theater? You know that play is not for public consumption. Azathoth knows what might have happened to you. You're lucky I saw you there and had you escorted out before the rest of them noticed; it's nearly all nobility in there tonight.'

"'I'm sorry," I tell her. 'I didn't know. We're not from around here.'

"'New worlders?' she says with interest. She must have noted the accent.

"'A bit farther than that. Does the word "rache" mean anything to you?'

"She stands up, a flash of fear across her face for a fleeting second. 'You had better come farther in. Jez, shut the outer door. Thank you. Where did you hear that word? Who sent you?'

"'We are from somewhere else, another world entirely. A world where the Game you acted out on that stage ended very differently. A world where the Great Old Ones never returned to Earth.'

"She wants to believe us, I can tell, but she is scared. Scared that it might be a trick or an entrapment; scared that it might be true. What has happened to this woman?

"'In our world,' Alexander tells her, 'You have a son. He had visions of this world, of you in it, of his father and his friend. He is a painter, so he painted what he saw. Blossom can travel psychically through space and time. She used one of the paintings to bring us here.'

"'A ...son? I have a son?'

"'Yes,' I say gently. I am reaching into my bodice, where I tucked the painting that brought us here after I arrived, and I hand it to her. 'Here is a painting he did of you.'

"She takes it, still looking dazed, and runs her finger along the figures, stopping at the Detective. 'That's his father?'

"Alexander and I look at each other. 'Yes,' I say cautiously. 'That's what we were told.'

"She starts to laugh, weakly. 'Now, I think, I truly believe that you are from a different world. But where did you hear the word "Rache"?'

"'It was in some of the paintings. And they are full of imagery of dogs. We thought it might mean the hunting-dog. The one in your play. Snuff. In our world, he is still alive. He's waiting by the fire for us to come back.'

"'He's alive?'

"'He and his master both. And preparing yet again to shut the Elder Gods away from Earth. But what does Rache mean to you?'

"'That play you saw. It is not the version that is usually performed: that one starts after the Great Game is over, with the cowardly priest trying to warn his people against the coming of the Kings and Queens. But some of us still remember the rest of the story. And we remember the wanderer's hound.'

"'As for what else that word means-- not here. Not with a room full of them only a wall away. I do not know why they like to come to these plays. Perhaps it is only to revel in the completeness of their victories and our puny inability to comprehend them. Perhaps it only because--'

"The door we entered by is creaking as it opens. Adler gasps, and says, 'One of them is coming. They always like to visit me afterward, to touch and paw and gaze and rend-- Hide! Hide. He will be angry if he sees you here.'

"Alexander is pulling at my hand. He wants to run. I turn to look toward the door. If we were sitting and watching the play with them, how terrible can they be? He comes in. He has noticed me. He takes off his hat. He-- Aaaaaahh!"

Her voice rose into a horrible scream, and those of us who had been transfixed by her narration, which was all of us, were suddenly jolted back to our present surroundings. If they were our present surroundings. The house shook, violently, as if it were being held by some great creature, and all of the lights, electric and flame, flared up and then went out. In the darkness her scream petered off and I heard the sound of panting breaths from their direction. Then:

"Could somebody light a candle or something?" Alexander's voice, half-terrified, weak and quavery. "I don't know about the electrics, but I need to see if Blossom's all right."

Jack got a match struck and an old oil-lamp lit, and the room resolved itself back into shapes and figures. Blossom was slumped over the table, pale as a ghost and unconscious, and Alexander, still shaky, leaned over her.

He gave a great sigh. "She's alive," he said. "I think she will be okay. Mostly. I got us out of there before--" He stopped and breathed in. "She's exhausted herself, though. She will probably sleep through morning. I need to get her back--" he tried to lift her up, but he clearly wasn't yet thinking straight, either.

Jack pushed him gently aside and lifted Blossom into a bridal carry. She murmured in her sleep and snuggled up to his chest. "I can carry her. Where to?"

Alexander frowned at Jack, then shook his head, "My place, I guess. There's a spare bedroom, and I wouldn't - not her place, not tonight. It's across the tracks, around the other side of the barn--"

"I know where it is," Jack said, and the three of them went out, followed by the soft padding footsteps of Snuff the hunting hound.

Jill and Russell and I looked at each other. Russell put the cap on her pen with a "snap" that sounded loud in the stillness. Then Russell said, "Where's the painting?"

Jill frowned, and shuffled through the paintings that were still spread out on the table. "The one she was holding?"

"Yes. It's gone. Did you notice what became of it?"

"No." Jill tapped her fingers on the table. "But none of us were watching closely. And she must be good at sleight-of-hand and Spiritualist fakery."

"I'm sure she is. But why would she? She made no effort to emphasize the fact that she'd left it behind." Russell stood up from the table and slipped her notebook back into her coat. "Do a divination on the painting, Jill. I suspect it will tell you that that it is nowhere in this world."

Chapter Text

October 9: Last Quarter Moon: Alexander

Blossom slept all night and almost all morning. I had seen her do this to herself before, a few times, and she had mentioned something like it in one of her letters. That she had tried to use her powers to go farther and longer than ever before, and she had been exhausted for a night and a day afterward. Of course, that time she hadn't faced -- she hadn't faced a whatever it was that had come into the dressing room with us and Irene, when we were in that other London.

Unlike Blossom, I had known better than to look at it, which was why I had been able to pull us out of there. But I was still more terrified than I had ever been in my life, and I wasn't thinking properly. If I hadn't been near-on exhausted too, I don't think I could have slept last night.

I had told Jack to leave her to sleep in the downstairs bedroom, which we kept as a guest room and sickroom. Dad and Mother were already asleep, so I'd had time to come up with an explanation for the morning, though it wasn't far from the truth: that Blossom had been taken sick suddenly last evening, and that I didn't want to leave her alone in that drafty old cottage.

Mother gave me a look that I recognized from the time when my sister Lucille was courting Tom Hackett and we were all trying to pretend he wasn't a drunk and wasn't taking advantage of her, but then she went in to the bedroom to see to Blossom and called Sally, the hired girl, in with her.

Dad gave me a manly clap on the back and went in to the office for the day. I could have gone with him, and shuffled papers for awhile, but instead I just exiled myself to the porch, hoping Blossom would survive Mother's attentions.

I sat down on the swing, thinking over last night. Not about what we'd seen in the end; I wasn't going to think about that if I could help it; but about the play we'd watched in that other London. Was that really what is was going to be like, as the Game started to really pick up?

I had asked Jack about it, as we walked back to my house. We went slowly, picking our way through the moonlight, Snuff leading the way. I guess I should have been scared: of Snuff if nothing else, after the play. But somehow I wasn't. Snuff was watching in the night, and Blossom was cradled in Jack's arms as if it was the safest place in the world.

"Would you really have done that?" I asked Snuff suddenly. "Killed those people? Like in the play?"

"If Jack was dead? Probably," he answered. "I was younger then. But probably even now. It's my job."

I shuddered. "And does Jack usually pick up a new woman every time you're in the Game?"

Snuff lolled his tongue out. "Not usually."

Jack looked at me in the dark. "I didn't pick up that one. Even seven hundred years ago I wasn't naive enough to fall for a lake maiden's blandishments. Either we failed in that universe because that version of me was a lot dumber, or there was a lot more going on than they put in the play. Probably it was the play. It would have been a deliberately slanted version of a garbled story anyway - after all, only the Players knew what happened and the players were all dead."

"Oh," I told him.

"And I remember the woodwose being a lot more resourceful, too. He was one of the better allies I've ever worked with."

We went on for a bit in silence, but I was feeling a little better, and we were back on Armsworth property, the other side of the railroad tracks. "I can carry her now, if you want," I offered to Jack.

"Oh, I think I'll manage."

I might have still been showing a little bit of reaction to what we'd done, but I could have carried her across my own front lawn. I knew he wasn't going to let me, though. He wasn't even showing signs of tiring, though I know that Blossom isn't exactly light as a feather.

"It must be nice to have so much experience rescuing damsels in distress that you have your carrying technique that practiced, then."

He stopped. We were at the back door of the house, and while I was getting the latch up he said, "You don't want to have the experience I have in hauling limp bodies around, Alexander." And then, while he was helping me settle her on the guest bed, "Believe me, you have nothing to be jealous of."

I thought about that as I was out on the porch that morning. Why would I be jealous? Certainly I wasn't jealous of how impressed Blossom had been by them. Not that Blossom is easily impressed. I haven't managed it since the first time I saw a ghost, really.

I didn't get left alone to think very long, though. It seemed like everyone in the neighborhood had to stop by to check on us. First it was the bees, doing their creepy unison-echo thing, and I assure Russell, through them, that Blossom would be fine. She had already had a lot more color to her when I checked on her before breakfast.

Graymalk stopped by, to. She offered me a second copy of Russell's notes if we wanted one. I said I'd ask Blossom.

Manu the monkey appeared among the snowball bushes a few minutes later and asked me what had happened.

"Blossom did a psychic reading last night," I told him, deciding to be careful with the details. "She overreached herself a little."

"This early?" Manu said. "That seems rash."

I shrugged. "It was a professional reading. Not in her capacity as a player of the game."

"A professional reading? Who for?"

I decided not to say anything. "Have you found out anything more about what was in the punch?"

"The beekeeper's going to analyze it for us. Did you know she's married to the Great Detective?"

"Yes. Did you know he was in the Game the last time it was played?"

Naveen the frog had even less to say. "Your girl poisoned too?"

"Just overtired."

"Hah. I suppose you could say Tiana's 'overtired' today too."

"Was she doing magic last night?"

He gave a gulp of laughter. "No. She got into a drinking contest with the Professor's daughter. They're both staying in the same hotel on the square, and Miss Ravenwood acquired a bottle somehow, and they got to talking. Tiana's never been one to overindulge, but I've never seen anyone drink her under the table like that, and I think the girl drew it out on purpose. This morning she's moaning and keeping cold cloths on her head and ordered me out of her sight. Well, I hope yours feels better."

"Yours too."

Before lunchtime Sally came out and told me that Blossom was awake and wanted to talk to me, so I went in. She looked all small and fragile in the big bed under the figured velveteen coverlet that Mother bought in Minneapolis.

"You're looking hale," she greeted me.

"I didn't stare right at that thing," I reminded her.

"I had to look at it."

"Why? Dammit, Blossom, they're all saying you're an opener. Do you really want to let those things in here? They hate us!"

"They don't hate us." She picked at the coverlet with one finger and didn't meet my eyes. "I've seen the future, Alexander."

"I know. You told me about it. The boy in Old Man Leverette's farmhouse, and Darth Vader, and all that."

She shook her head. "No, not that. Or maybe that too, but-- I saw the Great War before it happened, Alexander. I saw all the men dying in the trenches, the mud, the gas, the starving peasants. But that is nothing. The Great War will be a footnote compared to what is coming. Bodies stacked up like cordwood and people being slaughtered like livestock, impersonally, behind fences. Famine and disease and so many new kinds of death - they will destroy an entire city and poison the ground it stood upon, in a flash of light. Entire races methodically wiped off the earth. So much death and hate--"

"And you want to let those creatures in?"

"No, Alexander. What I've seen is what is going to happen if we don't let them in. They don't hate us. They don't care enough about us to hate us. Do you hate the ants you step on as you walk across the garden? It takes the hate of man for man to do what I've seen."

"And you think bringing the Elder Gods to Earth will make it better?"

"You saw that other London. People lived there. There wer horses in the streets and lights in the buildings. They were making art and culture. Irene still had the spirit to fight. That's not the future I've been seeing. And I am so tired of seeing it."