B010.b.2 Canary in the Birdcage

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“You probably don’t want to hear this, Miss, but you look inordinately cute right now,” he said with a smile that was more pleasant than she wanted to admit.

Blushing, she averted her eyes – not that he was likely to be able to tell the difference. “What is going on?” she asked in a small voice. “I can’t… I can’t take this. Just tell me what you want and be done with it.” She felt close to breaking down into tears.

Instead of answering, he reached around her neck with one arm, pulling her in to press his forehead against hers for a moment. His skin was cool, and the gesture was so… human and relaxing and she… for a few moments, she forgot where she was, and why, and with whom.

When he pulled back again, she felt in control once more. Steady. Or at least mostly so. Enough not to break down crying, at least. Now blushing, she stepped back and dried her eyes with the back of her hand, before she looked at Prospero again. He was just standing there, a sympathetic look on his tired face, quiet.

“You want to know what I want, or what the Queen wants, dear?” he asked in what was almost a whisper, his eyes on her face – now sharp and focused, with nothing of the earlier exhaustion and fear.

She opened her mouth as soon as he intoned the ‘Q’ of ‘Queen’ to correct him, but decided against it. Calling her a tyrant in front of what was turning out to be a loyal subject of hers after all would not improve her chances – whatever her chances for anything were.

And besides, it didn’t hurt to be polite. “Yes. Please, tell me why I’m here,” she said, trying to keep her insecurity and antipathy out of her voice. Which wasn’t all that difficult to achieve, since she had perfect control over her voice, when she was paying attention.

“How about we walk while we talk?” he suggested with a sincere-looking smile. “I’m afraid I might have trouble staying awake unless we’re moving.” Then he waited, until she realised that he was actually giving her a choice.

“Oh, sure, sure,” she said, once more surprised. That seems to be a running theme here.

With another smile, he opened the door, quickly checking out the hallway. “Alright, the bloodhound isn’t there. Let’s go in the opposite direction from her – though even she can’t object to me giving you the rundown of your situation, so that might save me if she does track us down.” And with those ominous words, they left the room.

* * *

They walked for a minute or so in silence, through a weirdly plain, homely hallway. The walls were painted in a very faint, natural green colour, with picture frames every few meters to break up the monotony. Mostly pastoral landscapes, and a few photographs of Prospero and his (huge) family. Aside from being quite disconcerted about him letting her see all of them so easily – as if he didn’t think she could ever use this information against him – she was startled to realise that, apparently, the stories actually matched up with the reality; he had a lot of kids. However had his wife managed to give birth to all of them – Jasmine counted at least nine children, ranging in age from Minerva’s apparent sixteen years down to a newborn baby in the most recent picture she’d seen (dated to just a year and a month ago) – and still look that slender?

She’s probably a metahuman, duh. Someone like Prospero would want a metahuman wife, if only to increase the chance of his children manifesting powers.

Though judging by all the sincere smiles she saw on the pictures, he at the very least enjoyed having such a family all by itself.

They’re manipulating me, she realised. Why else would they treat her like that, or show her all this? Trying to break down her image of them, trying to knock her loose from her ideals, probably. But why? She couldn’t see what they stood to gain from that. Her power? The Tyrant could make her do anything she wanted. Besides, it wasn’t that useful to them… or was it?

“I’M GOING TO FUCKING SQUASH YOUR FUCKING CREEPY LITTLE HEADS!!!” a smoky voice screamed so loudly both Prospero and Canary clapped their hands over their ears – Jasmine even doubled over.

When she looked up again, a small swarm of babies came around the nearest corner of the hallway, crawling on the walls and the ceiling.

Wait, what?

The… babys?… rushed towards them, moving far too quickly to be real human babies, and Jasmine got a closer look at them. They certainly were baby-sized, and each was wearing a different onesie – she made out a piglet, a platypus, a flamingo and a snake – with masses of oily black tendrils sticking out of the openings for their faces, wriggling in nauseating ways as they moved on all fours.

“What in God’s name are those!?” she shouted, crouching in the middle of the hallway to put as much distance between herself and the walls and ceiling as possible.

One of the ‘babies’ stopped and looked at her – at least she thought it was looking at her, there was really no way to tell since they had no eyes – and its tendrils opened like a flower, revealing a slimy black beak that snapped a few times before it went on its way.

And that was still not the weirdest thing about them – each and every of these… things… was carrying some piece of female lingerie. Carrying as in, wearing. One had a bra on its head, tied so it looked like two lacy, pink ears. Another had turned a thong inside out and pulled it over its head, with its tendrils wiggling around it.

She didn’t even want to take a closer look at the others.

Prospero sighed in a way that reminded Jasmine a lot of her own father. “I hate these things,” he said and stepped aside, leaning against the wall before he lifted his hands and put them over his eyes.

“What…” Jasmine was just about to ask for some kind of clarification when the source of the earlier scream bounded around the corner and ran towards them at breakneck speeds.

She was young – perhaps a little older than Minerva, but certainly no older than Jasmine – and completely, utterly naked. Her medium length, unkempt red hair was dripping wet as she pursued the little monsters with an outraged look on her face.

Jasmine tried to avert her eyes, embarrassed that a girl would run around like that – though fortunately, Prospero seemed to be decent enough a man to hold his eyes closed – but the girl had made very sure that it was too interesting to look at her – Jasmine saw more piercings on her body than she cared to count (and in places where she hadn’t known girls could or would have piercings) and the most intricate tattoo she had ever seen starting at her left ankle, winding its way up her leg, across her belly, disappearing behind her back to reappear on her right side, hugging her lowermost rib and going on over her right breast and under her right armpit, only to reemerge over her left shoulder and then curve over her breasts to go over her throat up to her right cheek. It formed thorns and roses, black as the night with only faint blue lines added to make them more than mere silhouettes, winding around each other as they wound their way up her body, all of it coordinated with her silver piercings to make it impossible to avert your eyes.

She’d barely managed to take in half of that in before the girl had leapt by the two of them, screaming bloody murder after the little… thiefs. As Jasmine turned, she saw that the tattoo continued on her back, as did the piercings. Whoever had done this had been a true artist, she had to admit, but why was she running around naked!? And then she’d gone around another corner and out of sight, only her promises of brutal murder to be heard.

Perhaps that lingerie was her only underwear?

“Is she gone?” Prospero asked. “Is it safe to look again?”

“I-I think so,” Jasmine gasped, still blushing at the shameless display. She turned around to look at Prospero, just in time to see a shadow run around the corner. It was running on the wall, flat, the shadow of a slender young woman dragging another bigger, wide shadow behind her. Just as it came around the corner and ran towards them, a big bath towel came flying after it, its movements mirroring those of the shadow towel dragged by the girl shadow, which ran past them and after the naked girl and the tentacle babies.

Jasmine sank down onto her knees. “What the hell is going on?”

Her guide (jailor? captor?) came to her and held out a hand to help her get up. She accepted it, feeling numb.

“That was Belle Rose. She’s the Guard’s newest member. And it looks like the gremlins absconded with her underwear… again,” he explained. Or rather, he spoke. Because it didn’t make any sense.

“G-gremlins? What are they?”

He shrugged. “Some kind of… fallout. Whenever Tick-Tock and Totemic heterodyne their powers, some of those Gremlins are spawned. They’re annoying little pests, but harmless. Tend to play really stupid pranks on people.”

“I didn’t know that could happen with superpowers,” she replied. She knew the basics about heterodyning, but it was such a convoluted subject… still, she was sure she’d never heard of this kind of side effect.

“A lot can happen when diverse powers interact. Living in a palace full of metahumans will broaden your horizons a lot, I assure you.”

“I think it’s more likely that it’ll drive me completely insane,” she said with a flat look in his direction.

He threw his head back and laughed brightly. “Oh, that’s for sure! There are only two sane people around here, after all. Three if we count you, but I’m sure you’ll join us soon enough in our insanity!”

Sighing – no one here seemed to really take anything seriously – she just shook her head. He was obviously goading her to ask who the two sane people were, but… she really did want to know. Though she could probably guess as to one of them. “Let me guess, Minerva is one of the two?”

Now his smile turned into a proud grin. “Aye. And our Queenie is the other one.”

* * *

Trying to wrap her head around the mere idea that the Tyrant might be the only remotely sane person around here – it didn’t seem like Prospero was joking or lying – Jasmine followed Prospero quietly down the hallway and soon entered a small atrium that opened into a wide balcony, all built out of white marble, with a fountain in the center of the Atrium and several very comfortable looking leather armchairs standing on the balcony in a loose half-circle. The fountain was spewing clear water up into the air in several artfully arranged arcs.

It was… a very, very peaceful, pleasant scene. Though that was perhaps to be expected – why would the Tyrant and her trusted servants live in anything other than perfect luxury?

Prospero gave her a moment to enjoy the scene, then he walked towards the balcony and she followed him, waiting for him to finally start talking.

When they stepped out onto it through a huge archway, Jasmine’s breath caught for a moment.

They were standing on a marble balcony that looked out onto the Outback and the view was breathtaking. She’d always thought the palace floated over Ayer’s Rock simply as a testament to the Tyrant’s power, but… this view alone might have been reason enough to put a palace up here. The arid waste was breathtaking, despite the deep scars and cracks it bore from nearly a century of war.

As much as Jasmine despised the Tyrant, this sight was pretty effective in reminding her why she had so many legitimate supporters. She’d heard stories of the Outback, from before. Of plants and animals that had adjusted to life in the arid land, of the indigenous people that had once lived here and considered Ayer’s Rock – Uluru in their tongue – a holy place.

All gone, now. Long since wiped out. Instead of brushes, there was sand burned to glass, and ragged jet-black crystal formations left behind by Asag. Cracks in the earth from the Kangaroo King’s futile attempt to break off the Western half of the continent for his mad kingdom. In the distance, the jagged spire of Pazuzu’s throne, touching the sky but not the earth below. Nothing alive was down there. At least nothing natural.

“You know, I was just a child when Pazuzu and Asag took over Australia and split it between them,” Prospero suddenly said, making her jump a little. “I even saw the two of them. Back then, I thought they were angels, the most beautiful women in the world.” His voice was soft, and he seemed to be only partly here, with her. “I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. And then their madness became too obvious to ignore, and we all realised that they were no better than the warlords that came before them; only more powerful and more intelligent. Not that it helped them stave off the madness.”

“How’d they die?” she asked. Few really knew how it ended with those two. One day, they’d just been… gone. But the stories said Prospero had been there.

“They let me kill them,” he said with a sad smile. “A last moment of sanity shared between them. They knew they were lost, so they decided to die together, in peace.” He sighed. “I wonder what might have been, sometimes, if they’d held out long enough for Madeleine to emerge.”

“That’s… too sad. I heard that they weren’t so bad, in the beginning. If they truly were driven insane, somehow, then that’s…” She hung her head. She’d heard this story too often. People with good intentions driven insane by their powers until they became like the monsters they fought.

Story of our country.

“They really did want to save the continent. Though I think they’d be proud of what Madeleine has made of it,” he spoke softly, making her tense up again. Here it came, the propaganda. “I’m not going to pretend like everything she’s done and doing is perfect and for the better, but for the first time since Point Zero, we have had a true period of peace on this ragged, broken continent of ours.”

“A peace bought by ruthlessly oppressing all opposition and conquering the surrounding islands,” she replied with venom in her voice – though not as much as she would’ve liked to put into it.

“Madeleine does not suffer challenges to her authority, that much is true. Once you get to know her, you’ll realise the reasons for that, though,” he said calmly. “And I’d like to mention, for fairness’ sake, that Newfoundland and the Indonesian islands all joined after independent insurrections that resulted in the new governments asking to join the Monarchic Union.”

Insurrections started by you, she thought, but didn’t say. It was obvious Prospero either truly believed these lies or didn’t care that they were lies.

“But that’s not what you were asking, anyway. You were asking what we want with you.”

Finally, something useful.

He stretched out his arm, making an arching motion to indicate the Outback. “We need your help to fix this.”

“F-fix?” she asked, dumbfounded.

“Madeleine calls it the Reclamation Project. We want to turn the Outback into fertile farmland,” he explained calmly. “We’ve been gathering the right powers ever since Madeleine ascended to the throne, and have started some preliminary work in clearing out the more… hostile effects left behind. After the Sovjet Union collapsed, we managed to extract a whole batch of agricultural gadgeteers, and we’ve been taking in every weather manipulator we could find, so we’ll be able to manipulate weather patterns.”

Uhh… not what I was expecting… It sounded like a great plan, actually. Why had no one else thought of it before?

“Me, Madeleine and Quetzalcoatl are obviously the world’s most powerful – sane – weather manipulators, but Quetzalcoatl is unwilling to leave South America for an extended period of time, and even with him, we three would not suffice for this task. Yet the more people we add, the more their powers interfere with each other – that’s not much of a problem for gadgeteers, but weather manipulation is a very delicate process, especially if you want to do it on a large scale and over a long amount of time.”

She nodded. So far, it made sense. So then, her power would be needed for…

“We need you, specifically, because you are the most powerful catalyst that we know of,” he continued, looking her in the eyes.

“Catalyst?” She’d never heard herself described that way.

“The technical term for someone who can facilitate the synchronisation of powers,” he explained. “You are the only living person we know of who can affect an entire group of metahumans. Everyone who hears your song long enough, right?”

She nodded, aghast at how much they’d found out about her power. “H-how do you know all this!? It was supposed to be a secret, a trump to play against the Tyrant!”

He chuckled. “Please. Your organisation is more of an annoyance than a threat. Honestly, the only reason we haven’t swiped them all up yet is because we’re using them to draw out dissents that might otherwise remain hidden from us… people like you.” He winked at her. “In fact, I’m pretty sure they’ve served their purpose in Madeleine’s eyes. I expect her to give Tick-Tock the clear for an all-out attack on what remains of them.”

Jasmine paled. Not Tick-Tock. They had nothing to stop her if she knew where they were. And… “You always knew about us? Our plans?”

He nodded, his face serious.

That… hurt more than having Pale try to kill her. In fact, it made that action hurt even worse. It had all been meaningless. Except he might be lying. Maybe this is all a plot to make me feel weak and defenseless, to make brainwashing me all the more easy.

“So, is this the point where you take me to be brainwashed and turned into a worker drone?” she asked. Let’s just get this over with.

“Oh God, is this the whole mind control spiel again?” He leaned against the railing of the balcony, rubbing his temples with his hands. “When will people get it? Madeleine can’t control minds!”

“You would say that! But why would people even say that unless it was true!?” she shouted back, feeling herself at the edge to cracking and just getting into a screaming fit. In fact, she was tempted to use her power on him – she did have one offensive attack that was sure to hurt him.

“Because she can control powers, dear child,” he replied calmly, without taking any apparent offense at her outbreak.

“What?” That made her deflate.

“Madeleine can manipulate powers. Within certain limits. I guess that’s how the mind control rumors started. But her influence begins and ends with the powers of metahumans. Activating them, blocking them, changing their targets, moving their parameters around – like making them weaker in exchange for making them more precise – and so on. Pretty small stuff, overall, but very, very versatile,” he explained in the voice of someone who’s done this quite often. “Any power that is used within her line of sight, she can control. That’s all there is to it.”

“Wha- but… Then why do you need me?”

He shrugged. “Because her power is not that well-suited to serve as a catalyst. And because you can affect far more people at the same time. The idea is to synchronise at least twenty weather manipulators for the sake of long-term changes to the weather patterns over the Outback. And before you ask, no, you don’t really have a choice in this. You are a terrorist, and your sentence is to support the Reclamation Project.”

“I didn’t get a trial,” she replied half-hearted.

He smiled sadly. “There is no due process here, my dear. Madeleine thinks it is grossly inefficient. She made a decision, and you have to live with it. And don’t tell me you don’t want to turn the Outback into farmland in order to feed the people?”

“I…” That was a good point. The idea sounded really damn good. In fact, it was one of the best ideas for the use of superpowers she’d ever heard of. “And then what? I spend my whole life singing so this project can work?”

He waved his hand in a no-no gesture. “Nah, nothing like that. Just for half a year or so, I suspect. Once the whole thing is set up, Madeleine should be capable of keeping it stable on her own. You’d just have to step in every now and then when adjustments became necessary. Even less for the other projects – converting the ground into farmland and all, setting up roadways and a water supply. You’ll barely be needed on those, since they don’t require large-scale heterodyning.”

“And then what?”

He shrugged. “You’ll be free to go, so long as you promise not to break any laws anymore.”

“Just like that?” No way they are this lenient.

He smiled at her. “You were a member of a terrorist organisation, but you’re young and you didn’t actually cause any harm yet. Madeleine may be strict, but she’s not unreasonable. Besides, we hope that you’ll decide to work normally for us, afterwards.”

Her mouth dropped open. “You’re joking, right? Why would I work for a Tyrant!?”

Again, that maddening, paternal sigh. “You are aware that more than ninety percent of the population absolutely adores Maddi, right?”

“Like those numbers are actually r-“

“Why would I lie?” he asked softly. “I literally have no reason to deceive you, Jasmine. You will work for us, because you are a decent person who wants to help people – and the Reclamation will do just that. As for afterwards, we want you to work for us long-term, of your own free will. Feeding you lies would be completely counterproductive to that.”

She bit her lip, stiffling another outburst. It stung, because he was right. She saw no reason for them to lie to her. Fuck, now even the way they treated her so far made sense – they wanted her to join. If the Tyrant really couldn’t control her mind, then this was really the best thing they could do…

“So, if what you say is true, how come there are resistance groups, huh?”

“There are always malcontents. Madeleine allows for free press and criticism of her rulership, but she doesn’t actually allow the average person to take part in the decisionmaking process at any level. Most people don’t care – she’s turned Australia from a Fourth World country into almost a First World country in less than twelve years. Unemployment is at less than two percent, the economy thrives, there is no war, she’s taken all the orphans off the streets and given them homes – but a few are always unsatisfied.”

Stepping away from the balcony, he walked to the fountain, his arms folded behind his back. “Honestly, I think it won’t be an issue anymore, once the Reclamation Project is through. We’ll basically eliminate hunger in the entire Monarchic Union. No one will be able to turn that on us. The few who try will be shot down by the people who, for the first time in their lives, don’t have to worry about feeding their children.” He turned to her, sitting on the edge of the fountain, his robe’s patterns shifting to match the dancing water. “Look, I get that Madeleine is… difficult for people to understand. Hell, I have trouble understanding her sometimes. And I don’t expect you to just jump into this blindly. But I’d ask you to give her a chance. Give us a chance.” He smiled at her.

“I… uh…” Why the fuck is this so difficult!?

“Prospero, you’re pushing too hard. Again,” a childish voice spoke up.

Jasmine squealed like a little girl, jumping straight in the air. She hadn’t heard anyone come up behind her! She turned around and saw… a cute little moppet, maybe eight years old, with short reddish-brown hair, huge black eyes and wearing a very severe looking, very old-fashioned dark blue dress with shiny black shoes. And she a golden disk in her left hand, attached to a pocket in her dress with a fine golden chain.

She also had an utterly unnaturally severe expression on her cute face.

“Tick-Tock. I didn’t hear you come in,” Prospero spoke calmly from behind Jasmine.

“Eeep?” A meek little sound came out of Jasmine’s throat as she realised the golden disk was a pocket watch. Slowly, she started to edge back from the girl, trying to figure out an escape route that would take her far away from her. Perhaps leaping out of the balcony?

“Oh, goodness, relax child,” the little girl said, looking up at her with the most deadpan expression she’d ever seen on a person. “I’m not going to harm you. If I wanted to, you’d already be a goner.” She leaned to the side, looking at Prospero. “Your daughter-in-law is running around stark naked again. Shouldn’t you do something about that?”

“She is not my daughter in law! They’re just… friends…”


Tick-Tock chuckled, the quirk in her mouth that that produced looking completely wrong. “Yeah, right. Friends. Someday, you’ll have to accept that she and your girl are…”

“I swear to God I’ll blow up this atrium if you finish that sentence. Boss.”

She chuckled again, then turned back to Jasmine, pointing one small finger with a shiny little nail at her. “You, child. With me. Prospero has work to do.” A groan came from behind her. “Get to it, or I’ll tell your wife on you.”

“Alright alright, I’ll go do the damn paperwork!” He stood up. “Jasmine,” he continued in a softer voice. She turned around to face him, even though she didn’t like turning her back to Tick-Tock at all. He looked… very paternal again. “Relax. Don’t be afraid. No one here means you harm.” He put his bony hands on her shoulders, gently squeezing them. “We’re not the enemy. We’re not monsters. You’re not here to be brainwashed or harmed or coerced into anything. You’re here because we need your help to do good work, and we know that it’s the kind of work you’d want to help with. Now go with Tick-Tock and if you want, we can sit down later on and have a more detailed talk over dinner. How’s that sound?”

Pretty nice, actually. They were just too nice. And weirdly quirky. How could she say no? “I think I’d like that,” she replied with a hesitant smile.

He nodded, smiling, and left with a nod towards Tick-Tock.

Jasmine looked after him until he was out of sight, then turned back to face the Time Hag. Though that name seemed utterly inappropriate now. “H-how…” She stuttered and broke off.

“How do I look like an eight-year-old?” the leader of the Queensguard completed her sentence. “It’s a side-effect of my power. I have to stay in this form in order to charge it up.” She turned towards a doorway different from the one Jasmine and Prospero had come through, walking towards it. Jasmine automatically followed her.

“Is that why they say you’re immortal?” she asked. Almost no one really knew anything about Tick-Tock, except that she was unstoppable.

“No, that’s because I can’t be killed and because I was born in the early nineteenth century,” she replied without bothering to look at her.

“You… What? How!?” she almost shouted in reply.

A careless shrug. “I got my powers when I was almost ninety years old. They made me pretty much unkillable, and I can freely age myself up and down – I just need to stay in this childish form to charge my power up.”

“Uhh…” Wow. “So you’re… even older than Lady Light, huh? Wow. I never thought I’d meet someone like that.”

“Now you have. Let’s hurry a bit, you have an appointment.” She sped up her step.

“An appointment with whom?” Please not the Tyrant, please not the Tyrant, please not the Tyrant…

Her thoughts must have been pretty obvious on her face, because Tick-Tock looked up at her and smirked. “With the Royal Babysitter.”

“Who? What!?” she asked, caught completely off-guard by the reply.

“The Royal Babysitter. She should be done in a moment, and then she’ll talk to you.”

“Why does the Ty- the Queen have a babysitter!? Does she have kids!?” Somehow, the idea of her having children was… too scary for words.

“You got it wrong. I mean ‘royal babysitter’ as in, ‘the babysitter is royalty’.”

Jasmine stopped dead. “No. No way. I’m not buying this. No.

The hag stopped, turning to face her with an amused look on her face. “Why not?”

She was getting really fed up with this. “Look, I can buy you people not all being insane monsters! I can buy the Tyrant being well-intentioned. But do you seriously expect me to believe that Madeleine babysits for someone!?”

“Yes,” came the reply with a completely straight voice. Jasmine could make no deception out. “It’s not so strange. Madeleine prefers children to adults. They’re more honest.”

Now she fell down on her butt. “Do I even want to know why?” she asked with a sigh.

“Nothing too complicated. Her powers messed up her ability to relate to people. Reading cues and moods. That’s why she always comes across so rude and inconsiderate – she literally can’t relate to people the normal way,” she explained as if it wasn’t anything special. “She always has to consciously decipher them. So adults strain her. Children are more honest. More… straight. She can understand them better… which doesn’t mean much, but it makes it easier for her. So she takes care of the younger kids around here, whenever necessary and possible.”

And with that, she turned around and walked on. “You better follow, or I guarantee you that you’ll get lost!”

Jasmine jumped up and followed her, moving on autopilot. “Why are you telling me all of this? Don’t you know that I could use it against you all?”

Now she actually laughed, a cackling, scratchy laugh that didn’t go with her apparent age at all. Jasmine watched with wide eyes as her body began to shift, stretch, growing, her clothes changing with her as she… aged… until she was a moderately attractive thirty-year-old woman in a floor-length lilac dress, clutching the gold watch in her slender, perfectly manicured fingers.

The whole process had been incredibly smooth, without even a hint of discomfort. She’d just segued from a laughing eight-year-old to a laughing thirty-year-old.

“I’d like to see that, actually! Ah, what a joke.” She walked on. “Come, let’s hurry. Time for you to get to know your ‘Tyrant’. It’ll change your perspective on a lot of things. As it did for me, once upon a time.”

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B010.b.1 Canary in the Birdcage

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“I’m sorry, Canary. I promise, your death will not have been in vain.”

She opened her mouth, breathless, unable to talk, as he flicked his hand and a spear shot out from the cavern ceiling above, straight at her heart.

Jasmine came awake with a desperate cry, the approaching spear still fresh in her mind.

At first, she had no idea what was going on. She was somewhere dark and pleasantly warm, lying on a comfortable (but not quite luxurious) bed with fresh bedsheets (quite the luxury compared to how she’d lived the last seven months of her life).

Thinking of those last seven months finally brought her fully awake, and it all came rushing back in – the gathering, the fight, the attempt at escaping, people dying and then… the betrayal.

Closing her eyes – not that she could see anything in the first place – the girl known to some as Canary, and to others as Jasmine Hellen, firmly pushed that last memory into the deepest, darkest recesses of her memory, to be dealt with later.

Right now, she needed as clear a head as she could get. Since lying in the horizontal position did not usually help with that, she also sat up.

So, roll call. She’d passed out after Pale had tried to… well, and then Totemic had saved her. Logically, that meant she was in the hands of the Tyrant already, or at least very close.

That thought alone was enough to crush her into her bed again, draining the blood from her face. Canary was pretty powerful, but Jasmine had no delusions regarding her ability (or lack thereof) to stand up to the Tyrant in person.

Yet she did not feel controlled, or enslaved or however it was supposed to be called. That might mean that she had not yet been turned, or that it was so subtle she had no chance of detecting it herself.

I should proceed under the assumption that I am still of free will, otherwise I might as well give up right here and now, she thought resolutely, her hands slowly curling into fists, drawing her nails over the sheets.

So, she had most likely been captured. That meant she was being held somewhere, but where? She’d be screwed if it was the royal palace. She wouldn’t be able to get out of it… not that her prospects for breaking out of any place were all that good. Canary’s power was strong and had some extremely dangerous effects, but unfortunately little in the way of direct combat ability and even less as far as stealth was concerned.

Stop running off on tangents, silly. Take it one step at a time for now!

She’d best listen to herself. Which meant that first, she had to get a sense of her surroundings. And for that, she had to use her power.

By clicking her tongue, she produced a sharp sound that bounced off of her surroundings, returned to and gave her a rough estimate of the size of the room she was in – a one-person bedroom, too big to be a mere prison cell but not big enough to be a proper bedroom. She was lying on an average one-person bed that stood along the long left wall of the room, with its head against the short wall.

Two more clicks revealed details. She could make out a door at other end of the room, a small bedside table with a lamp on top of it, a small vanity and a rack with a few changes of clothes (she couldn’t make out the exact number with her echolocation), as well as a window opposite of the door, above and to the right of her bed. It appeared that she was all alone.

That suited her quite well. Sitting up again, she threw the blanket off her body and ran her hands over her clothes. Someone had put her into a soft, full-length nightgown. If someone had asked her how she expected to be treated by the Tyrant’s men, she would have said ‘waking up bound, gagged and naked’ – though in retrospect, she’d never heard anyone actually claiming to have been abused that way by the Queensguard. Only second- and third-hand accounts.

Exploring further, she found that she had no bruises that hurt or cracked bones – and she was sure that being clipped by Totemic had at least cracked her ribs. Someone must have treated her, most likely with superpowers. That, or she’d been asleep for a long time. Not a very comforting thought.

So, she was alone in a small room, was dressed, unbound and apparently unharmed. Next, she needed light, and to check whether or not she could actually leave the room.

Clicking her tongue, she reached out for the lamp on her bedside table and turned it on. Then she blinked as her eyes got used to the warm light (how they adjusted, she had no idea – or how she was able to see anything in the first place. Her eyes were completely yellow all the way through and yet, her sight was completely normal).

The walls were painted in a neutral white and she could see a brown wooden door that led, presumably, outside. Where- or whatever that may be.

Next, she located the light switch and turned on the proper room lamp. A second look around didn’t reveal anything new, only clarified some things. There was some make up on the vanity, and three knee-length dresses on the rack in three different colours – blue, red and yellow. The makeup turned out to be a yellow that matched both her eyes and her hair.

This was… weird. Why would they pick out her favourite makeup? Nevermind the dresses, which were all in colours that suited her quite well?

Perhaps I’m not with the Tyrant’s people after all! she thought, elated. Perhaps she’d been saved after passing out, by reinforcements from her people or some third party!

Then she came down again. She hoped it had been a third party – if it was from their own group, then she was likely to see Pale again, and soon. And she didn’t think she’d be able to stand being near him yet.

It may still be the Tyrant’s men. They might be trying to put me off balance. Though why they would want to do that was beyond her. The Tyrant’s ability to control the minds of her victims was well-known to anyone who didn’t buy into her propaganda.

Either way, it would be better for her if she was properly dressed and made up. No shower in sight, but then again, her body was rather forgiving regarding that – her hair was very easy to work with, even when unwashed for a week or more, and it took a good long while before she’d even start to smell unpleasantly.

Which might be a good way to determine whether or not she’d been asleep for a long time, actually. But then again, they would probably have washed her if they went through the trouble of treating her and keeping her sedated for long enough to heal completely.

Quickly getting out of the nightgown, she checked her body over in the mirror – not even the slightest discoloration, even from fading bruises.

Next, she opened the drawers beneath the vanity and found a few changes of underwear in one of them (and socks in the other). She put on both and then brushed her hair into order, before putting on the makeup. She liked the effect that had on her monochromatic eyes, making them look huge and just a tad intimidating – something she could not pull off on her own at all.

Of course, the rather cute dresses would ruin that effect. In the interest of not being completely monochromatic, she decided not to put on the yellow one. The blue one, she dismissed because she preferred warmer colours. Leaving her with the red one, which fit quite well, if not perfectly – a little too wide around her waist.

Somehow, the fact that not everything here was perfect did a lot towards making her feel more at ease.

She was just finishing checking herself over in the mirror when she heard running footsteps coming closer. Before she could even react, her door flew open and someone ran inside.

Squealing in surprise – and more fright than she wanted to admit – she looked at the sudden intruder as he closed the door, pressing his back against it, his face looking both tired and on edge.

He was tall. Not unnaturally so, but definitely on the tall side of things, almost two meters, which made him a giant compared to Jasmine’s one meter and seventy centimeters (and change). He was thin, again not unnaturally so, nor in a starved way, but in the lean way of someone born to be thin. His sharp, thin-lipped face, framed by rather big ears and messy brown hair, was not exactly attractive but not unpleasant to look at, either. He looked like he could use some sleep, yet she also saw a lot of laugh lines around his mouth and blue eyes. His clothing consisted of a pair of jeans pants, brown shoes and a dark purple robe that split at the height of his crotch to allow for easier movement.

The robe was covered in shifting patterns of changing colours, a dizzying yet pleasant effect that never held still. If she hadn’t already known his face from the television, that robe would have been all it took to recognise him – and make her heart drop down into the base of her belly.

Prospero, the Grand Conjurer. The Tyrant’s most powerful (though not the most scary) henchman. She could no longer delude herself that she might have been saved.

While he was catching his breath, Jasmine retreated to press her back against the opposite corner, next to the window. Trying to look small, not that there was much of a chance of being overlooked.

After a few moments, the man seemed to finally notice her. “Oh, sorry about this,” he said in a thick voice – not thick like that of a drunk, but just a naturally thick voice – “But could I ask you to maybe pretend that I am not here and neither have you seen me today?” He slid over to stand in the corner next to the door, so that it’d open towards him and keep him hidden. Then he raised his hands, palm to palm, and begged, “Please? I can’t take it anymore!”

Jasmine thought furiously. What was going on here!? Was he a fugitive? If he’d gotten fed up with the Tyrant and was intending to flee… working together with the Grand Conjurer himself would certainly improve her chances. But who was he running away from!? If the Tyrant herself was coming, then…

Then it was finally time for her to stand up for her convictions. Canary looked at Prospero and nodded, trying to simultaneously look more confident and less threatening as she heard another set of footsteps approaching at a fast clip. She swallowed her own spit, preparing herself…

And someone knocked on the door. “Hello? Is anyone there?” asked a female voice with a light British accent.

“N-no!” Jasmine squealed, and immediately hated herself for it.

“That statement makes no sense. Could you open the door, please?” the voice continued, sounding amused.

Jasmine looked at Prospero, and he nodded, though he also put a finger to his lips, begging her not to reveal him, probably.

What kind of monster was that woman, that she scared this man so much?

She approached the door, trying to look more confident than she felt. Why couldn’t she be more Canary and less Jasmine right now?

When she actually opened the door, what she saw was nothing like what she expected – looking at her was a young woman – younger even than herself – in a nicely fitting dark blue power suit that went well with her slender, sharp body. Her face was nothing special by metahuman standards, but just a year ago, Jasmine would have been very envious of her nonetheless – she had rather pouty lips, currently twisted along with the rest of her face into a frown, sharp dark brown eyes and messy brown hair in an untidy ponytail. She was a tad taller than Jasmine, but only because she was wearing medium heels.

As the girl quickly looked her up and down, her frown gave way for a rather mischievous smirk. “So, you’re that girl they dragged in? Canary, right?” she asked, putting her fists on her hips while looking her up and down.

“Y-yes, that’s me,” Jasmine said, not sure how to react to this girl. Everything here kept throwing her off-balance, every time she got close to pulling herself together, something happened to unmake her again. What was a teenager doing here, and why was Prospero afraid of her? “What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for my father. You don’t happen to have seen him, have you?” the girl asked.

“F-father!?” This was Prospero‘s daughter!?

Fortunately, the girl misunderstood her outburst. “Yeah, my dad. Tall guy who looks like he ain’t eating right – because he isn’t – and wearing a silly robe. You probably know him as Prospero,” she explained, waving one hand in a ‘let’s get this over with’ gesture.

This is his daughter?, she thought. Prospero has a daughter!? And he was afraid of her? What the hell were her powers?

“P-prospero? Seriously?” she asked, trying to buy some time.

The girl rolled her eyes. “Yes, seriously. My name’s Minerva, by the way. Nice to meet you. Now, did you see my dad or not? He’s still got paperwork to do, and he has to take his vitamins and he’s going to be late for his appointment with Maddie if he doesn’t hurry up with his work already!”

Who’s Maddie? This was all so surreal.

“I-I haven’t got the foggiest idea of what’s going on,” she replied honestly.

Apparently, that was the right thing to say, because Minerva broke out into laughter for a straight minute.

Her confusion only growing, Jasmine watched as the girl bent over, holding her belly as she laughed. There were tears involved, and spittle flying. All in all, it was the messiest, most carefree laugh Jasmine had heard in… in a long time.

“I-I’m sorry,” Minerva gasped as she slowly regained control. “I guess this has all got to look quite insane for you, huh?”

Understatement of the year. “Very.” Now she floundered, not sure how to proceed.

“Well, I’d like to stay a bit and put you at ease, but I really have to track down my dad. If you see him, remind him to move his ass back to work.”

“W-what am I supposed to do here, anyway? And where am I!?” Jasmine shouted, finally fed up. “Am I a prisoner? Am I free? What is going on!?”

Minerva immediately turned serious, fiddling with her clothing to straighten it out. “I’m sorry about that, really. Here’s what I can tell you – you’re at the royal palace. You’re a prisoner, and you’re not allowed to leave. I don’t know why exactly they want you, but I’m sure there’ll be someone around soon to tell you the whole deal.”

The royal palace. So now she knew that she was lost. In fact, she was not just lost, she was reeling.

The strange girl either didn’t notice or didn’t care about her distress and reached out to squeeze her shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’m sure everything’s going to be alright.” She let go and turned away. “Have a nice day! Don’t let the situation get you down!”

And then she ran off, to hunt her father. Jasmine closed the door to see Prospero let go of his breath.

“Thank God. I swear that girl is part bloodhound,” he whispered. Then he straightened himself up, smiling at her. “Thanks for the save, Miss Hellen.”

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B009.a The Spirit of the Hunt

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“Pale, he’s pretty much on our heels! We have to surrender!”

The man known as Palechuck turned to look at his companions. Only three were left of his group, him included. They’d once been fifteen. Fifteen awakened souls. Just an hour ago, they’d all gathered in their hideout, to plan their next strike against the Tyrant’s regime.

He’d lost twelve good men and women, without even seeing their enemy. They’d known that the Tyrant had some real monsters under her control, but this was just ridiculous.

What was even worse was that they were clearly being played with. He wasn’t taking them seriously, at all. He stalked them, hidden, of course. But he made sounds. Growled, snarled, giggled, laughed. And many others. Always announcing his presence. Worst of all was the clicking. Clicking his tongue, despite the normalcy of the sound, was the most unnerving part of the cacophony he produced. It was nerve-wracking. And humiliating.

So he couldn’t quite blame the young woman – who was bearing the unassuming name Canary – for considering surrender. It was the quick, easy way out.

But their group hadn’t been formed to take that path. It had been formed to fight the Tyrant and her creatures. And he’d rather die than betray that purpose.

Besides, they might manage to get rid of one of her favourite pets, if they played their cards right.

“No way. We can’t give up now – we have to do our best to take him down!” he replied, trying to sound confident. When Canary and Redrocker, the oldest member of their group, gave him unbelieving looks, he took them around a corner of the complex they were running through – an old military bunker that they’d fled into – and into a safe room. The door was thicker than a man and made of solid steel, as it had been built during the Kangaroo Wars to withstand the Kangoroo King’s crazed monster hordes. He and Redrocker turned the wheel on the inside with some difficulty, locking the door.

Then they leaned against it, catching their breath. Palechuck took stock of the room and his teammembers as he did so.

The room was rather small, the walls old but clean – it had been sealed until recently. There was a single lamp illuminating the place, and one exit opposite of the entry. It all smelled rather unpleasant, stale.

His teammates looked worse than the room smelled. Redrocker was already nearly fifty years old, a veteran of fifteen different wars, a man who had faced the Tyrant in her early days and got away – and Palechuck did not think he would survive the next hour. His clothes, a haphazard combination of travel clothes and military fatigues, where torn and bloody, his left arm smashed and mending far too slowly. The man’s face was drawn and tired, his gnarled features twisted even more by pain. A knit cap was hiding his stark white hair, a remnant of being heard by Blackheart. Despite it all, though, there was a determined light in his eyes.

Canary was as much an opposite of him as she could be while still be on the same side. She was young, not even twenty years old, with soft yellow hair – not blonde, real bright yellow – impossibly soft, smooth skin and eyes that were bright yellow all over, no pupils, no white. Some make up turned her eye-lids and lips yellow, too, making her seem even warmer and a little more alien. Her hair fell down to the small of her back, with two thick tresses falling over her front, just barely covering her bare breasts. Her only piece of clothing was a pair of military pants cut off at the knee and a pair of yellow sneakers. The only pieces left, actually. Dustcone’s power had caught her, accidentily, and dissolved her clothing above the waist. Now she was hugging herself, trying to hide her nakedness.

“We have to surrender, Pale,” she whimpered, tears running down her cheeks. Her soft soprano voice only made her seem even younger and more vulnerable now.

“No,” he replied. “No, we need to fight. There’s only one of them, if we can just get the drop-“

“Two,” corrected Redrocker. “They never operate alone. Always two, three, five or all seven at once.”

“So there’s another one out there!?” Canary gasped, falling down to her knees as she hugged herself. “Th-th-that one was enough to kill everyone but us!”

“No, no,” Palechuck tried to reassure her, to regain the momentum here. He threw Redrocker a glare – they didn’t need facts now, they needed hope. “That explains how so many of us got killed – one of them must have been hiding in the shadows, supporting Totemiac.”

“Which one? Not Tick-Tock. We’d know it if she was here – she rarely kills,” Redrocker said, leaning against the nearest wall. “Prospero wouldn’t act subtly and-“

“What does it matter!?” shouted Canary. “We’ve lost! There were fifteen of us, maybe two of them. Less than an hour and there’s three of us left. Please, just… just make it stop, I can’t take it anymore…” She began to sob, bending over.

Palechuck looked down at her, feeling both pity and disgust. She’d been such a promising new recruit, but she was broken now. Even if she could recover, it wouldn’t happen quickly enough.

“Heh-heh, heeeeee,” wheezed a mocking voice. “The girl is smart, smart, smaaaaaart. Listen to her!” The voice almost broke, screaming the last sentence, before it broke out into wheezing laughter. Palechuck couldn’t tell where exactly it came from, it seemed to bounce off of every surface of the room.

“The Coyote…” whispered Redrocker. “That explains why we didn’t see anyone befo-“

He was cut off when the wall behind him twisted, swirled, and a lance of concrete almost pierced his chest – it was only thanks to his supernatural senses that he managed to evade, rolling away from the attack.

“He’s only vulnerable when h-” Redrocker tried to say, but was cut off when another lance emerged from beneath, almost penetrating his throat as he was still on his arm and legs.

“Don’t be a sniiiiiiitch!” mocked the Coyote, as a widely grinning mouth formed in the floor right next to Canary. She shrieked, scrambling away from it. “Now, listen to the pretty boo- I mean, girl, and sur-“

He flicked his hand out and a spear emerged out of the ceiling, made of concrete, and pierced the mouth. “Shut the fuck up, you traitor!” Palechuck snarled.

Another mouth formed next to the previous one, frowning. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to in-” Another spear transfixed it.

“Redrocker, get t-“

A loud noise drowned out his order. He screamed, but didn’t hear as his hands flew to his ears in reflex, covering them even as he threw himself forward and over Canary’s prone form, rolling to get back up on his feet.

Looking back, he saw that his instincts hadn’t disappointed – the screaming noise had been the massive steel door bending violently, a mass of lances filling the space where he’d just stood.

We can’t fight them here, he thought. We need an open space. “Run!” he shouted, pointing towards the other door in case the others didn’t hear him, and he hauled towards it, too.

“Oh no you don’t!” their enemy shouted, and Palechuck thought he saw a kind of transparent shadow glide over the floor, towards the door.

Canary was already moving, almost crawling towards the door, while Redrocker was back on his feet, spending another charge of his power to launch himself towards the door and slam through it. The slimmer steel door shattered as he past through, moments before the shadow on the floor reached it.

Is that where his body is? Palechuck asked himself. They’d never been able to find out how exactly the Coyote’s power worked, but smarter people than him had suggested that he was vulnerable to physical attacks in some way. Provided one could hit him. One way to find out… He flicked his hand, and three spears emerged from the wall to the side, flying towards the barely visible shadow on the ground.

It twisted, evading them by contorting itself into an utterly inhuman shape.

He had to evade! He’s vulnerable! He was just about to tell the others to attack when the Coyote lunged towards Redrocker, who’d just landed on his feet again.

“Redrocker, he’s right under you!” Palechuck shouted, but it was too late. Before Redrocker could recover the use of his power, lances thrust up from the floor below, impaling his legs, transfixing them.

The man screamed breathlessly and Canary gasped, stopping her dash to flee, grabbing his arm as if to pull him away.

“No! Run, Canary!”, the older man shouted, trying to push her away.

Before the Coyote could take her down, too, Palechuck grabbed her arm in turn and tore her away from him. “I’ll avenge you, Redrocker!” Palechuck shouted over his shoulder as he ran into the darker hallway and around a corner.

Canary sobbed, moving mindlessly after him as they heard Redrocker scream in pain behind them.

If only she’d use her power! Palechuck thought, but he knew it was futile. She’d tried to, but Totemiac had blocked her and then proceeded to scare her beyond reason. And her power required concentration and time.

“Canary, listen to me!” he told her as he took a stairway downwards. “This bunker should open to a small dock in a cavern, with a boat for escaping! If we can get there, we can flee – the Coyote’s power doesn’t work on water!”

He didn’t look behind him at her – he couldn’t risk it – but he heard her mouth an affirmation, and took that as his cue to let go of her arm.

They ran down the stairs, several flights, and if he was quite sure that he’d be completely out of breath by now if it wasn’t for his awakened physique. Canary didn’t sound like she was holding up so well – for all her superhuman beauty, her body wasn’t exactly blessed with superhuman endurance.

And yet he had to get away from here with her. She was the last God Tier metahuman left in the rebellion, doubtlessly the reason why the Queensguard was bothering to attack them in person instead of sending in their rank and file.

They never actually attacked her, he realized. Neither Totemiac before, nor the Coyote just now, even though she’d been an easy target. They want her alive.

Which meant they wanted to take her to the tyrant herself, to be turned.

Finally, as they neared the last flight of stairs – the air had gotten noticably colder – he threw a glance back at her. She wasn’t even bothering to cover her chest up anymore – he idly thought that she was lucky not to have the usual endowment that went with superhuman beauty, because that would be quite painful right about now – and her face was a mess, her cheeks read and her eyes streaming tears.

I’ll have to kill her if I can’t get her out of here. Her power would be a catastrophe in the hands of the tyrant, he realized with a sick feeling in his stomach. But the cause was more important than one life, even one as young as hers.

He looked forward again, so she wouldn’t read his facial expression – not that she was likely to in her current state.

They reached another door and he forced it open, and beyond there was the dock…

And Totemiac, standing at the end of it, guarding the boat.

They knew of this place. How? he thought, and then another thought hit him. The Coyote was just distracting us, to give him time to get here!

Dropping into a fighting stance, Palechuck advanced slowly towards their enemy, the frightened Canary right behind him.

Totemiac was… weird was not the right word. Utterly demented in appearance and mind both was better. He looked like nothing but a man-sized brown-golden fur ball, with four two-meter-long gnarled arms emerging from folds of the fur, ending in nine-jointed fingers with wicked claws the length of daggers at the tips. His fur was in constant motion, half-seen faces of… things moving in the shadows, never quite distinguishable, never quite possible to ignore. It looked like he was flowing out of and back into himself, for lack of a better word.

And the noise. It was the worst part. Like countless animals of all kinds, barking, wheezing, chattering, whistling, singing, shouting, laughing, panting and so much noise. It never stopped, never took on a pattern that might make it bearable, it only built on itself to get worse and worse.

“You’re not getting past me,” Palechuck threatened the tyrant’s pet, but it only shook in place, as if laughing. It was hard to tell, with all the noise it made.

Then, something like a warthog’s head, only gnarled and twisted and covered in spikes instead of coarse hair emerged from the front. Its beady black eyes focused on him, it opened its mouth and…

“REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!” It charged at him with the speed of a racing car, and he just barely evaded to the side, rolling out of the way.

Canary was not as successful; she jumped to the side, but a split-second too late. Its “shoulder” hit her side, spinning her around in an almost graceful movement before she dropped to the floor.

Totemiac smashed into the door they’d come in through, making the whole stairway collapse on top of himself. He shouted again like a warthog, only for it to be cut off suddenly.

This is our chance.

He looked at Canary – she was still conscious, amazingly enough, and looking at him with a desperate look, her eyes begging for help.

The rumbling of the collapsing stairway cut off suddenly, and he heard an annoyed voice complain about having to pick up after incompetent co-workers before he heard rubble begin to shift.

I can’t get her out in time, he thought. If he ran to her and picked her up, the Coyote would surely come after them immediately, maybe even attack the boat, if Totemiac hadn’t disabled it beforehand.

If. But Totemiac wasn’t exactly widely known for his intelligence, and he still had a chance to get away and warn the others.

Swallowing, cursing the tyrant for forcing such choices on him, he looked Canary straight in the eye with a resolute expression. “I’m sorry, Canary. I promise, your death will not have been in vain.”

She opened her mouth, breathless, unable to talk, as he flicked his hand and a spear shot out from the cavern ceiling above, straight at her heart.

It stopped, the tip already between her breasts but not touching her skin.


A gnarled, clawed hand faded into sight, holding the spear. It extended to a spherical body with three more limbs and the tattoo-covered head of a chamaeleon with a wide, demonic grin and staring eyes.

Canary looked at him with a broken, betrayed look and fainted.

Totemiac – was it a clone? Had the other one been an illusion? – clicked his tongue, grinning even wider.

Oh no. They’d been herding him, right. Towards this decision. I have to warn the others. Can’t do any more here.

He turned and ran, jumping onto the boat and driving away.

At least we know that Totemiac can clone himself, now.



* * *


“Finally. Took long enough,” the man known by the world as the Coyote said as he shifted the last rubble away from Totemiac’s body, and his compatriot burst out of what remained.


“Yeah, yeah, calm down. We had to draw it out, you know that,” he replied, leaving the mouth he’d just formed behind to glide towards the unconscious girl.

He flowed into her half-naked body, exploring it, taking up residence within. Carefully, so as not to cause any damage before he got used to it, he sat up, brushing some unnaturally soft hair out of her face. Of course, the first thing he saw was the leering face of Totemiac, before it turned around and walked lazily towards the other body. The two met up, walking into each other, merging. The two animal heads vanished and the cacophony of sounds was reduced to mere background noise as it shifted, twisted, the sound of breaking bones briefly breaking the silence as he reconfigured himself to a more elongated, bipedal form.

He turned towards him, his fur extending into a floor-length robe that covered his ‘feet’, the top forming a cowl with eerie lights flickering within. A clucking noise emerged from it.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be sure to tell her that you did most of the work. Now let’s get the girl back to the palace before she wakes up. Her Majesty will be pleased to work her mojo on her,” he spoke with the extremely pleasant voice of the girl. He really hoped she could sing, like her name suggested.

Totemiac nodded, and they left through another hidden exit. He jumped onto his back, so the girl’s body wouldn’t have ot bear the strain of walking up all the way to the extraction point.

Up above, they exited into the bright sun of the Australian South coast, just a few hours away from Sydney. The Queen’s castle could be seen in the distance, floating in the air. Despite its location, it could always be seen, from every point within her realm, always at the same distance. A constant reminder of her presence. It would have looked like a fairy tale palace, if it wasn’t for the foreboding impression it made.

“You think Tick-Tock is actually going to praise our good work?” he asked idly, as they saw the jet approach.

Totemiac clucked and chattered.

“Nah, I don’t think so, either.”

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