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(Contains: strong language and ideologically sensitive material)
I wasn't entirely sure where we were.  Jay and Cyrano had been leading us back towards wherever they'd been based (I hoped), but right now we'd stopped.  Cyrano was having a rather pointed conversation with a...  I looked away.  I didn't really want to identify whatever it was Cyrano was talking with.  Jay was perched on a nearby fence, eyes narrowed as she scanned the streets.  I span back to Cyrano as I heard her shotgun being primed.  Given that last I'd looked the conversation had been at the very least amicable, that had gone downhill rapidly.

Jay sprang from her perch and landed beside Cyrano, drawing herself up to her full height and spinning a dagger she'd produced from nowhere around her fingers.  (Alright, so she had to have had it somewhere but still.)

The...thing said something, and I had a horrible feeling that it hadn't been good news.

“Yebat,” Jay hissed as she returned her dagger to the inside of her jacket.

“Hey, we-” Cyrano started, and then stopped, narrowing her eyes at me.  “Shit.  We do have to worry don't we?”

“Would someone mind cluing in the utterly confused person here?” I asked.  “After all, it's only me that seems to be the one who should be worrying?”

“Ballas is...doing something,” Jay said.  “His guys are our sweeping the streets and looking for mortals.”

“Ballas?” I questioned – because, well, they seemed to think I should know the name.

“Nikolaj Ballas,” Cyrano said.  “He...well, he kinda runs the Mob.”

I stared at her, but neither of them seemed like they were screwing with me.  Neither of them were the type to mess around with people about things like this.

I felt the need to sit down.  I looked around, and found nothing suitable, and simply sat down on the ground.  I hooked my earphones into my ears, pressed play on my MP3 player, closed my eyes and wrapped my arms around me knees.  This wasn't happening.  There was no way that I was being hunted down by the Mob of all things.

One of my earphones was pulled out.  Cyrano was watching from a little way away, completely confused.  Jay was knelt next to me, eyes soft (like I'd written when she was dealing with Lainey having a panic attack), one hand rested very lightly on my shoulder.

“You okay?” she asked quietly.

I blinked at her, because this somehow summed up this entire situation.  I was sat, on the verge of a panic attack, with an assassin, a fucking stone-cold killer who I'd created, who I knew in many ways better than I knew myself, comforting me.

“Fine,” I managed eventually.

“Uh-huh,” she didn't sound like she believed me.

“Yeah right,” Cyrano mumbled behind her.

“We should move.  Safest place for you right now'll be back at our hideout.  I'm not going to war with Ballas or his goons today.”

“Or ever if I can help it,” Cyrano added.

Jay pushed herself upright and offered me a hand.  It took me a moment before I accepted it – I needed to remind myself that she wasn't about to kill me or something.

Once on my feet, I curled in on myself, hunching down between Cyrano and Jay's taller forms, not that they would make the best shields given comparative widths.  They didn't comment on it, instead leading the way through the streets, both scanning our surroundings.  (I had to admit, that having these two playing bodyguard was at least somewhat reassuring.)

"How far are we anyway?" I asked quietly after a few minutes of silent walking.

"You haven't been keeping track?" Jay asked absently.

"Unlike some people, I don't have an inbuilt sense of direction, and my phone has no signal."

I waved said device at her. (Which unfortunately lost some of my emotion seeing as I had to find it, dig it out of my pocket, and dig it out.) She looked suitably unimpressed.

"I'm like really not good at keeping track of where I am in relation to things, especially when the place is a fucking maze."

"We're probably about four miles away," Jay supplied eventually.

I nodded. That I could deal with.

Which of course is when things went promptly sideways.


Twitch pirouetted through the door.  “Iscariot, my darling!” she called.

Iscariot looked up and tilted his head, somewhat worried.

“Ballas has offered us a bounty!”

“Us?” Iscariot lifted an eyebrow, somewhat disbelieving.

“Well, perhaps 'us' is not quite the correct phrasing...  It's more that he has declared a bounty on the heads of all those chainless individuals who just...turned up.”

Iscariot grinned, aware of the sharp edges and wicked tint.

“Well,” he drawled, rising to his feet.  “It's been far too long since we hunted.  Shall we?”

“Let's,” Twitch's lips curled into a smirk.


I collapsed against a wall, lungs burning.  I looked around, hoping against hope that I-

I had been separated from Jay and Cyrano.  Great.

So.  Here I was, lost in this Nothing, without my guides, and with no clue where anyone I could trust was.

“Fuck,” I mumbled through harsh, uneven gasps.  “What the hell do I do now?”

I searched through my bag, checking things.  Everything was as it had been, and I was wondering why the hell I'd kept a hold of it in my headlong rush.  The pain in my lungs was slowly starting to ease, and I rested my hands on the back of my head, leaning back and breathing, slowly, steadily.

I needed to get the blueprints in my bag back to Gray.  I needed to figure out where the hell I was.  I needed to figure out where the hell I needed to be.

I slammed my head back into a wall.  “Seriously?  What the hell?” I screamed up at the sky, for no real reason, apart from the fact that it seemed to be the expected thing to do in circumstances like this.  “What have I done to deserve this?  Have I really been that bad a person?!”

“Uh...” a voice to one side had me casting a baleful glance in...the wrong direction.

I turned the glance the other way.

Seriously?  Was there no-one of reasonable size in this place?

The guy was...large.  Looming to the end of the alley I'd run into.

“You alright?” the latest in a long line of giants asked me, in a familiar accent.

I pushed myself more upright, tightening one hand into a fist, just in case.  “Oh, just fine,” I said, well aware that my words had a sharp edge to them.  “Today has just been a long laundry list of things going from bad to worse.  So, what're you?  One of Ballas' men?  Or just some opportunistic spirit out to earn a fast buck?”

“While I won't deny that a 'fast buck' wouldn't be something I'd object to,” he said slowly.  “I can't say that I'm either of the above.”

“Thank goodness for that,” I said.  “On the other hand, I normally know better than to talk to strangers.”

Unless there were pubs involved, and phones needing charging, and Pratchett to be discussed.

“Damnit,” I muttered as I took a few steps and found my ankle shooting pains through my entire leg.  “So, if you're none of the above, what are you?”  And curiosity once again proved to be my main failing.

“Mortal.  You?”

“Also mortal,” I said.  “And apparently being hunted by some Mob boss who had something happen to him because of one of our lot and well...  Here I am.  Lost.  In a city I'm in no way familiar with.  Go me.”

My...companion (for lack of a better word) snorted ever so slightly, and then smoothed his face out again.

“Guilty,” I offered, holding out a hand.

There was a pause, before he took my hand.


We shook.

“And that's Andras,” he pointed.

I followed his finger to where there was another guy slouching against another wall.

“Hi,” I offered, slightly nervously.

I looked around, hoping that perhaps at this point I might have some luck, and that perhaps another one of my characters might...

“What have we here?” a sibilant voice inquired.

“Shit,” I said, staring at the woman who was sauntering along the alleyway.

Her skin was a deep purple and her hair was vibrant green, sparkling gold eyes filled with anticipation – of violence.  There was a knife in one hand, trailing with sparks along the wall, blood spattered up her arms and over her clothes.  A long scar trailed across her forehead and down her cheek.  She might've been pretty if not for that.  She was also Twitch.

“Two mortals,” she said.  “How lucky are we?”

I looked around hurriedly, because Iscariot would be here somewhere, where one was, the other was never far behind.

“Ballas will pay handsomely for this.”

The knife in her hand stopped trailing along the wall and instead span through her fingers.

“And someone for us to play with as well.  How thoughtful.  That said...  Ballas never said I had to hand you over in one, whole, unharmed, piece.”

She measured the last words carefully, licking her lips as though this was quite the thought.

“And I've never had a chance to vivisect a baseline before.  I wonder how you'll differ.”

“Don't we get a say in this?” Andras asked, pushing himself upright.

Twitch tilted her head, pouting thoughtfully.  “No, I don't think so.”

“You're outnumbered,” I tried.

“Only by numbers,” Twitch drawled easily.  “And not by as many as you'd think.  Especially given that you're hardly going to be much of a threat to me.”

Well.  She had that right.  I mean, if it was just your average person on the street, maybe I'd have stood a chance.  But Twitch was a professional torturer.  That was...not something I was likely to be able to go up against.

“Look, ma'am,” James said, frostily now, very polite, too polite in my mind view.  “You couldn't see your way to just...”

Which is when Twitch lunged forwards, knife lashing out.  Which James, didn't so much avoid, as disarm.  He lashed out with a sharp kick and hit her arm – whether by design, or sheer chance, I didn't have the first clue.  I scrambled out of the way as...

“Now that's no way to treat a lady,” a voice that I could only assume was Iscariot's cut in as another purple-skinned figure materialized, grabbing hold of James and dragging him back.

Only to get thrown sideways by the appearance of another woman in the alleyway, and I was rapidly loosing track of who everyone was, and where everyone was.  Which wasn't so great, as that was the moment that Twitch's arm snaked around my neck, dagger pressing into my throat.

“I'd stay quiet and walk,” she instructed softly.  “Iscariot will keep those...three, tied up for a little while.  We're going to see Ballas now.”

I followed her instructions.


James threw a punch at the guy who was currently attacking them.  He seemed to have eschewed the knives that his companion had so favoured as was perfectly happy to go at them with hands and feet and heads and teeth.  (The rows of white teeth bared in a vicious grin were just a little too obvious to miss, and a little too hard to discount.)

The purple-skinned man rolled with the punch instead of avoiding it, and came back to his feet, balanced low.

“You should've taken Twitch's offer,” he said.  “She would've been nice, she would've used knives.”

He danced out of the way from an attack by Andras' projection, and ducked down to slam his fist into Andras' stomach before pirouetting away.

“I won't be that nice, I'll tear you apart with my bare hands if I have to.”

“Surely that won't be necessary?” James said, darting backwards to avoid a blow – he could feel himself getting winded, this fight was going on for too long.

“Well, of course it's necessary,” the man said, his grin morphing into what would've been a charming smile on any other face, under any other eyes.  “However else would I get a look at your insides?  However else would I make you scream?”

Then the grin snapped back into place, and the man threw himself forwards, already moving to dodge an attack from Andras.

Straight into the projections fists.  The man slammed into a wall, and collapsed a the bottom.

James stared at him, waiting for him to get back up.  He didn't seem like the type to be downed by something like that.

“Oh,” a voice behind them said.  “Huh.  Well that's different.  I mean, I know Scim can sometimes turn her skin silver if she's very careful about it, and her hand's kinda silver all the time, well, not silver, steel, but silver-coloured, and Flea's...well, I'm not sure what colour Flea is.  People tell me she's purple, but I've always thought she was more of a maroony colour...”

“Gray!” a female voice snapped.

“What?  What?!”

“We're not here to discuss the colour of the attacker's skin.”

“You couldn't, perhaps, have offered a little help?” James suggested as he turned.

“Eh,” the tall woman in combat fatigues shrugged casually.  “You looked like you had it in hand.”

“Also, it was somewhat fascinating to watch,” the man – 'Gray'? - said, bouncing, almost, over to Andras.  “Who was that woman?  How did you do that?  Was it some kind of-”

“Gray!” the woman massaged her forehead.

“What?  I'm curious!!”

“Please,” the woman said to Andras, her tone almost begging, although her face was set and her eyes didn't waver.  “Put me out of my misery and punch him before I have to myself.  I don't want to have to explain to Cyrano why I came back without him.  She's inexplicably fond of him.”

“Can we help you?” James asked politely.

“Oh, yeah.  We're looking for a girl.  Red-head, 'bout yea high,” the woman held a hand up about a foot below her head.  “Was wearing a hat last I saw, not so sure she's still wearing it now, kinda lost track of her when we were forced to make a run for it.”

“Answered to the name of 'Guilty'?”

“For some utterly obscure reason, yes,” Gray said, brightening visibly.  “You've seen her then?”

“Well, yes.  She was right over there.”

The woman looked over and then back, and then over again, and blinked once, twice.

“Well she's not there now,” she said.

James took a few minutes to review the situation – because the woman's hand had fallen to a handgun on her hip, and she was watching him closely.

“I have a horrible feeling that she might have been taken by that guy's companion,” he said eventually.

“Well that's not helpful,” Gray said.  “Especially if they are professional torturers.”

“Wait, what?”

“It was a guess!” the woman protested.  “You didn't have to agree with me you know!”

“It makes logical sense.  After all, they did remind me of-”

“I don't want to know!  C'mon.  We better go find Cyrano and then see if we can track those two down before they get to Ballas.  Perhaps I should've just declared war on him.  It might have made this a little bit easier.”


I wondered whether Twitch would stop to dissect me...vivisect me before we reached Ballas, or whether she wanted to offer him the chance to watch me get slowly taken to pieces.

It was strange.  If you'd told me a day ago that I would've been walking along a street, with a professional torturer behind me with a knife to my throat, the threat of that knife being used in several more unpleasant manners?  I'd have freaked out – and probably told you you were utterly insane as well, but mostly freaked out.

As it was, all I felt was curiosity.  Curiosity over where she'd start, and whether or not she'd go as far as I knew she had with other sub-  victims.

Now was not the time to slip into her head for writing her.  She was one of my more bizarre characters, or one of the more bizarre twists, she'd started off fairly normal, if not adverse to torture, although she had revealed fifty thousand words into a story that she hadn't said a word aloud the entire time.  Then she'd turned up in something else.  Something where she had purple skin and green hair, where she had a chip implanted in her brain so that psychics couldn't pick the thoughts out of her head.  Somewhere where there was no need for professional interrogators because the psychics just ripped the answers straight from the victim's head.

“How much further?” I asked, mindful of the blade at my throat.

“Not much,” Twitch said.

“It's just I twisted my ankle running earlier, and's kind of getting swore.”

“Soon it'll be the least of your worries.  Soon, Ballas will be doing...whatever it is he wants to you.  Maybe he'll let me watch.”

I just knew her eyes would be dancing with glee at that thought.

“Or you could let her go.”

Never had I been more thankful to hear an only half-familiar British accent.

I wasn't sure how precisely James had ended up managing to get ahead of us, but somehow he had.  With Andras.  And Jay, and Gray.  Jay and Gray both had their guns out and pointing at...well, at me.  Twitch was doing a very good job of keeping herself shielded behind me.  (I had never realized quite how short she was, previously she'd always worn high-heels, but apparently now she preferred more sensible shoes.)

“I'm fairly certain even an assassin wouldn't make this shot,” Twitch said calmly.

Jay didn't respond, eyes narrowing ever so slightly, but otherwise, stock still.

Gray didn't respond either, although I could see his trouser leg moving, ever so slightly.

“Assassin?” James asked, turning to Jay.

Jay just gave a very slight shrug.  “Someone's gotta do it.”

Andras was, by now, giving Jay an almost disgusted look.  I filed that fact away absently for later perusal.  The knife at my throat dug deeper, and I felt liquid drip down my throat.

Well, shit.

It was odd, really, how calm I was about this whole thing.  How little it was really bothering me.  I felt, almost, as if it was happening to someone else.

(And in the back of my mind, that little voice that was always speaking, murmured thoughts to me that I preferred not to give heed to.)

“You are actually outnumbered this time, ma'am,” James pointed out.  “And perhaps you haven't noticed, but your friend isn't around to save you.”

I felt Twitch hesitate, felt her freeze.

“What have you done with him?” she demanded.

The one thing you could rely on her to care about – Iscariot.

“Well, he got thrown into a wall, but if he's anything as resilient as he appeared, he's probably going to have shaken that off by now.  Or at least got himself sat upright.”

A tremor ran through Twitch, and I wondered what she was thinking.

“He could probably do with a hand right about now, and I think most of us would prefer it if Guilty kept her internal organs internal.”

I certainly would, but I didn't say as much, I felt it would rather undermine the point.

Twitch stayed still for a few moments longer before...

“And the money I'm losing because of this?”

“That's one thing we can't re-” Jay started.

“Actually,” Gray bounced slightly.  “I have some suggestions on that, Ms...?”


“I have some suggestions on acquiring funds that you might be interested in, Ms Twitch.  Look me up after you've found your friend.  Oh, and no vivisecting me.  I bite back.”

He smiled pleasantly.

Twitch took another long moment, before slowly releasing me.

“If a single one of you comes for me,” she said as she did so, “I swear, I will end you.”

With that, she disappeared off up the street.

“You alright?” Jay asked, concern, once more, bleeding through, if barely.

“Fine,” I said with a wide smile.  “Completely, and utterly...”

There was a moment when I thought I'd be able to finish that sentence.

Then the moment passed and the floor suddenly wanted to be my friend.

EXIII: R2: Quarter To Doom
So, I had every good intention of submitting this before bed last night.  I fell asleep on the couch and woke up ten minutes ago.

Meet Twitch and Iscariot, who I'll upload a ref sheet for at some point.  And I'll edit this comment later today when my brain is actually functional.

James and Andras belong to JaredSol
Mature Content Filter is On
(Contains: strong language)
Gray led me to a dilapidated block of flats somewhere in the mass of buildings.  (I wasn't ashamed to admit that I was completely lost, this place was a labyrinth!). I also wasn't entirely sure why I was here.  The rambling monologue that Gray had kept up for the entire walk hadn't covered that point.

"And our purpose here is?" I asked as we entered.

Gray blinked at me, and for half a second I wondered whether he'd forgotten I was there - which, I could admit, would not have been difficult given that I hadn't managed to get a single word in edgeways.

"You're really quiet," he said.  "Like Caracal quiet.  Except not, because, well, you can actually speak.  Where was I?"

"About to explain why we were..."

There are many experiences in life (or death, as this seemed to be) that I had no desire to, well, experience.

Coming face to muzzle with a shotgun had been firmly on that list and I couldn't help the startled little shriek.

"Jumpy," the woman behind it commented, flipping her soaking hair to one side, and lowering the shotgun ever so slightly.

Now that my head wasn't in immediate danger, the adrenaline surging through my body made a quick u-turn from 'flight' (or as was in this case: stay still and pray she doesn't shoot you), to 'fight'.

"Well how calm would you be if some bitch greeted you with a gun to the fucking face!"

While I was yelling, there was a small part of my brain jumping up and down, waving its arms for attention and screaming that shouting at the woman with the shotgun was really not my wisest idea in the world.  I ignored it.

The woman chuckled.  "I like her, Gray.  Can we keep her?"

"Not so sure she's dead," Gray said with a shrug.  "But I think we've got her for now."

"Don't I get a say in this?!" I demanded, well aware of the trembling in my hands, clenching them into fists to try and hide it.

"By all means if you think you can deal out there on your own..." By now the woman had the shotgun broken over her arm, and she gave a mocking little bow.

"Uh," I stammered, "on second thoughts..."

"Good plan."

I blinked as the woman's hair seemed to shimmer (and hadn't it been blue a few seconds ago?).

"Cyrano," the woman stuck out her hand bluntly.

I accepted it carefully, shaking firmly before quickly dropping my grip.

"Guilty."  I remembered to introduce myself this time.

(Although at least the hair thing had now been explained, if this was the Cyrano I was thinking of...)

"Now that we're acquainted..." Gray started.

"Oh, hush," Cyrano said.  "I'm not going to let you ramble the poor girl into staying put."

"I wouldn't!" He protested.

"Mhmm.  That's what you said about the last stray.  C'mon," she said, jerking her head.  "Let's go see Coroner."

"Oh, no.  No way, not a chance in-"

"Oh shut up," a new female voice entered the fray as someone swung down from some conveniently placed rafters.  "Big baby.  You don't have to go, we'll take her."

I didn't need introduced to this one.  I knew who she was, and I needed to know how it was that all my characters appeared to have come to life.  (Or death, because that seemed to be a common factor here.)  There before me, in full glory, was Jay Carson, possibly the oldest of my characters – at least in terms of being conceived and written.

“There's rumours Coroner was up to something,” Cyrano said, taking my silence for confusion.

(It was, just not about that.)

(...Not entirely about that.)

“Something about bringing mortals in according to a few people who've managed to have 'chats' with Death,” Jay added while looking me up and down critically.  “You're really small.”

“I know,” I agreed fairly unsurprised by that assessment.  (I remembered writing her meeting Aida.)  “You're really thin.”

It was a slightly petty and pointless retort, as Jay just looked down at herself and shrugged.

“You got everything, 'Seph?” Cyrano asked, almost absently.

“If by 'everything' you mean 'weapons', then yeah,” Jay stated evenly.  “Lesgo.”

I double-checked that I still had my bad – needlessly, it wasn't as though I'd let go of it since I'd stepped off the train.  (Oddly enough, it was still slung over my shoulder.)

Then I followed Jay and Cyrano out into the street, giving Gray a half-apologetic smile as he went back to protesting.

“What's his problem with this?” I asked.

“Coroner's a scientist,” Cyrano said, almost as though she didn't really know what the word meant, but as though that explained everything.

I guessed it did – the scientists in Gray's world, the ones he'd had the most experience with, weren't exactly...nice.

“This way,” Jay said, turning down a side-street abruptly.

It was with a slightly worried heart that I resigned myself to being completely lost again with my life (fate) in the hands of these two.


It turned out Coroner was living in a medium-sized building beside a sprawling building site.  Jay and Cyrano had changed as we got closer, both going on the defensive, bringing their guns out and holding them casually at their sides.  The fact that they both still looked more dangerous that I could ever dream of was neither here nor there.  (It helped, I thought, that Cyrano was dressed in a leather outfit that honestly seemed like something out of the Old West, and Jay was in dark coloured combats, and both moved with the silence of freaking ghosts.)

“Expecting trouble?” I asked quietly.

“Eh,” Cyrano made a slight dismissive gesture with one hand.  “Not really, just...Coroner's kinda...unnerving.”

I didn't query that, too aware that Jay looked slightly annoyed at the conversation.

Five minutes later I really wished I'd queried that.

Looming over me was a rather annoyed looking man with burning red eyes (half-concealed behind glasses) and rather large red horns, teeth curving slightly from his lips.

“Uh...” I stammered.  “Sorry, for, y'know, uh, interrupting?  I was just, uh, wondering if maybe you could...”

He was still staring at me, unblinking, and I really didn't like the feeling of being an insect trapped under a microscope.

“IwashopingyoucouldtellmehowIgothere?” I babbled out eventually, then paused, reconsidering.  “Or maybe how to get back out?  I could really do with getting back out right about now...”

And he was still staring at me.

“Uh, please?”

I wasn't sure why exactly I was saying please.  A huge massive demon (even one dressed as your stereotypical scientist) was unlikely to respond to the niceties.

“Find,” he said, throwing a piece of paper at me.  “You've got competition.”

“Uh, thank you.”

“Get out,” he snarled.

I jumped slightly, but supposed that was as close to a 'your welcome' as I was likely to get, and promptly hurried out, Jay and Cyrano following me.

(It only occurred to me after we'd left that not only had the note been writing itself on the desk beside us while he glared at me, he hadn't actually touched it to throw at me.)

“What's it say?” Cyrano asked curiously.

I looked at the note, taking a long moment to decipher the sprawling handwriting.

“Uh...” I said, rereading the list.  “Vials of toxic sludge, sewers, eight,” I read.  “Ectoplasm, 'H-M', bowl.  Hairs, vampiric, three...”  I stopped, shaking my head and handing the page to Cyrano, who immediately handed it on to Jay.

Jay studied it for a long moment.  “Well, at least he's told us where to find most of it,” she pointed out calmly.

Cyrano ran her fingers through her hair, ruffling them through and combing the wet strands into something resembling neatness.  I blinked, trying to figure out how I'd missed the fact that she was completely soaked through – despite the fact that she'd been wandering around with me for a good hour, probably more.

“I drowned,” she offered, almost coldly – surprising really, I hadn't expected she would.  “...I think.  I'm not entirely sure, and none of the rest of my crew are here, so I'm half hoping that the Shard survived.”

Oh, so that was how that story ended.  I'd been hoping the Shard would pull off an amazing come-back, but apparently that had been a futile hope.  Probably.  Cyrano obviously didn't know one way or the other.  (On the other hand, from what I remembered, at least half the Shard's crew actually had beliefs other than Cyrano's bizarre 'Dead Gods in the Sky'.)

“C'mon,” Cyrano said after the pause stretched from being reasonable to 'just that side of too long where it started being really uncomfortable'.  “We've got work to do.  Where do we start?”

“Well, there's sewer access about three blocks away,” Jay reported calmly.

“How...” I started, then cut myself off.  “Actually, y'know, I don't even want to know.”

“Good decision.”

Jay took the lead, and sure enough, three blocks later there was one of those small, round, metal access panels.

We all stared at it.

“We should've gone and got Gray,” Cyrano said after a moment.  “He'd probably have been best for this.”


We did eventually manage to get the several vials of toxic sludge, and a few more for 'redundancy', because I really didn't want to risk the possibility of not getting whatever help Coroner was willing to provide because one of us had accidentally shattered one of the vials.

“So, ectoplasm next?” I suggested, struggling to get the stench of the sewers out of my nose.  (I had a horrid feeling it was going to linger there for days.

Cyrano considered it.  “Nah, the mansion's on the other side of the river, may as well get the rats tails on route.”

And didn't that just turn out to be as gruesome as it sounded.  With no real skill for shooting (apart from a shotgun, and Cyrano was not giving that up) or throwing weapons (my aim was shit, okay?  And normally my target was bigger than a rat, even if these rats were a bit larger than average), I was relegated to the joy of cutting the tails off.

Still, with a sniper and...well, Cyrano, it didn't take long to gather the dozen tails.

“Why does he want tails anyway?” I asked.  “I'm not seeing what possible use they could be to him!”

“It's not really our business,” Jay said smoothly.  “And it's not like I really want to know why the psychotic demon scientist wants rats tails and sludge and ectoplasm.  I think we'll all sleep easier if we don't know.”

I could...almost agree with that.  But I wanted to know.  (Okay, I'll admit it, I have this bad habit, something can be the most gruesome thing in the world, but, if things aren't obvious, if things are odd I'll want to know how it works, how it's pieced together, what makes it tick.)

“Now the mansion,” Cyrano announced grandly, gesturing towards the mansion that was somehow managing to lurk on top of a hill.

“Now that looks like it's going to be haunted,” I grumbled.

“Well, it's supposed to be, from what I've heard.  C'mon.”

Well, didn't that just make my day?

Still, I followed them up the hill to the twisted and rusted gates.  We stared at them for a second before we all started to squirm through.

This promised to be oh so much fun.


I would've sworn to it that my hair was standing on end and futilely tried to flatten it to my head.  At least, it felt futile, I couldn't be sure, it wasn't like there were any mirrors.  On the bright side, we had a bowl of what we thought was ectoplasm.  (And if we'd still been alive, probably ten years off our lifespan.)

It had almost felt like something straight out of Ghostbusters, and I wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't somehow being shaped by my expectations of a 'haunted mansion'.  Although the presence of a Morticia-Addams-esque woman in the library had been...unnerving.  But helpful, which was something.

Jay was busy wiping the remains of the goopy ectoplasmy stuff off her rifle, grumbling to herself as she did so.

"Well, what does that leave us with?" I asked - I'd never recovered the sheet of paper, I realized.

"Vampire hairs, rusted bolts and half a farthing."

Seriously, what did this guy want with all this junk?

"Well, there's a couple of fire-escapes that'll have the bolts," Cyrano mused.  "And the farthing, well..."

"Half a farthing," Jay corrected.

"Where the hell are we going to find that?!" Cyrano demanded.  "...What the hell even is it?"

"Form of currency," I replied, rooting through my bag in search of my purse.  "C'mon, c'mon," I grumbled, because I could've sworn...  "Ah-ha!" I yelled triumphantly as I pulled my purse out.

"I'm not entirely sure how that'll help us," Jay said blandly, "because judging by your attire, you're definitely not..."

I made another excited sound as I pulled a coin out.  "No, I'm not from the time it was used, but I did get given one in my change today, yesterday, someday, whenever."

"So that leaves bolts and hair," Cyrano surmised.  "Alright, let's get on this."

The bolts, as predicted, were fairly easy, although I felt slightly bad for removing them from a fire-escape, even if Jay didn't seem to have a problem with it - and given Jay's, uh, feelings on fire, and people being possibly trapped in fires, I had a feeling that it was a moot point.

"We should take a break," Cyrano suggested.  "There's a new place just down the road from here that I've been meaning to try.  The Underpass - Bar and Grill.  We can grab a bite to eat and see if any of us can figure out a way to get vampire hairs."

My stomach chose that moment to grumble loudly.

"From the sounds of that, the motion is carried."

Which was how we found ourselves in the dim restaurant just down the road.


Even with the dim twilight-esque light of Nothing, stepping into this was dark.  We managed to get to the counter without incident (mostly, I suspected, because the way was marked by some sort of ribbon or rail...).  Behind the bar was a woman (girl?) who (to my mind) was much too thin to be working in a place that smelled this delicious.  She was pale, whether by make-up or naturally, I couldn't quite tell, and her dark lipstick, hair and glasses (and how was she seeing?!) accentuated that.

She attempted a smile, all pressed lips and forced curving of the lips.  (I knew that expression, I'd worn it one too many times myself, for different reasons, I hoped.)  Then she gestured at the board behind her – clearly the menu.  I squinted up at it, and wondered whether or not my sight had got worse since the last time1.

“Grilled chicken salad,” Jay ordered.

“Uh, same,” I said after a few minutes futile squinting.

“Make it three,” Cyrano agreed.

“And to drink?” she asked, almost sullenly.

“Scotch, chocolate milkshake and absinthe,” a voice from the kitchen called.

In a somewhat clichéd move, all three of us leant to the side at once to see who was speaking.  A tall, well-built blond guy.  A very tall guy.

“Why is everyone so tall?!” I complained petulantly.

“You're just really small,” Cyrano commented.

“He is pretty tall,” Jay put in, looking the man up and down with wary eyes.

“I'm more impressed that he knew at least my drinks order.”

That...was quite impressive, and from the look on Jay's face was only just occurring to Jay now.

“Call it a gift,” the man grinned – and it looked much more natural on his face, like he was someone who smiled a lot.  “Katie?”

“The deal is made,” the girl (Katie?) said, nodding.  “All parties bound.”

She indicated the price on the till and we found ourselves digging through our pockets until we'd scraped together enough to cover it.  I waved off the change, indicating the tip jar.

“TJ!” Katie yelled.  “Table.”

And yet another giant waltzed into view.  (Well, not waltzed, walked, like any normal person would if I'm being completely honest.)  This one though, was scrawny and he was slouching, but even that made Jay pull herself out of her perpetual slump to stand at her full height.  (The guy behind the counter wasn't a threat like this one possibly was, even I could tell that, there was a counter in the way, and she knew that looks could be deceiving when it came to strength.)

“This way,” he gestured.

We followed him, me having to quicken my stride and Cyrano's normally laconic pace being replaced by a quick half-jog.  He paused for half a second frowning.

“Table!” Katie repeated loudly, before muttering a series of not very flattering comments.

TJ nodded and quickly lead us to a table in the corner.  (Which I was mildly thankful for, that meant Jay could keep her back to the wall, and have easy in and out, and I was perfectly willing to deal with the discomfort of having my own back2 to the restaurant so that her and Cyrano weren't craning over their shoulders for the entire meal.)

A few minutes later, TJ came back with our drinks.

“Cheers,” I said, picking up the milkshake (which had made him twist his face for some reason).

Cyrano and Jay took their drinks silently, scanning the restaurant casually.

Cyrano's gaze kept coming back to the kitchen, and she kept frowning.

“Something the matter?” I asked eventually.  “I mean, if you don't mind me asking, you just...don't seem comfortable.”

“Oh, I'm perfectly comfortable,” Cyrano assured me.  “Just...  There's something about the chef that's...”

At which point said chef appeared juggling our plates.

Cyrano and Jay's eyes zeroed in on the stained apron, and they shared a look.

“I hope you enjoy,” the man said as he put down our meals.

He sounded sincere about that, and his smile was almost hopeful.  As he turned away, though, I could've sworn that – just for a second – his eyes glowed red.

I glanced to Cyrano and Jay, both of whom nodded.

“What?” I hissed quietly.

“I think we just found our final piece of the list,” Cyrano said calmly.  “Our cook is a vampire.”

What?!” I repeated.

“I could be wrong, the blood-stains on his apron could've come from somewhere else, it's likely, he is a cook, but...”

“Well, I guess we need to figure out a way to get his hair off him without ending up on the menu ourselves,” Jay said without preamble, checking one of her handguns underneath the table.  (And it was only just occurring to me that there'd been no issue made about the fact that both Cyrano and Jay were visibly armed.)

Of course, that was the moment that we were all forced to duck by a table flying at our heads.

“What the hell?!” I yelled as I ducked under our table for cover.  (Not that it was really going to be much cover.)

Peaking out, I could see Katie from behind the bar grabbing for another table.

“Hey!” I yelled.  “What the hell?  We were trying to eat!”

Apparently, however, the cook put things together much faster.

“Well, your realization of my...uh, state of undeadness combined with the checking of a weapon...  This wouldn't be the first time we've had a lynch mob after us.”

“Do we look like a mob?!” Cyrano protested.  “I've seen mobs, we are not it!”

“Besides, we're not looking for anything much!” I added.  “Just some hair!”

That gained a quick glance at each other from the two of them – and then back to TJ who was behind the counter.

“Vampire hair?” the cook asked.

“Yeah!” I said.  “I just want to go home.”

That, apparently, pinged something for them all.

“I mean, we have everything else we need, we just need the three hairs!”

“You got anything to trade?” Katie demanded harshly.

“ don't happen to need any toxic sludge do you?” I offered, half jokingly.

“Uh, yes!” TJ said from behind the counter, sounding surprised by that fact.  “Yes we do!”

After that, it was a surprisingly short amount of time between us managing to get out from under the table, and Katie declaring “The deal is made, all parties bound.”

Still, we had three hairs folded carefully into a napkin, and we were heading back to Coroner's.

“Do you think he meant for it to be a race?” Cyrano mused.

“Probably?” I hazarded.


Coroner looked us up and down and made a displeased sound in the back of his throat.

“Here,” I said, laying out everything he'd asked us to get.  “As requested.”

He spent a moment looking over each item, before nodding slightly, and going over to a desk.  A few seconds later, he'd produced a few sheets of paper which he handed over, turning his back.

I looked down at the technical diagrams.  “Uh, let's get these back to Gray.  I think he might have more of a chance of understanding them.”
TEXIII R1: Doing The Devil's Work: Treasure Hunt
...Only, not really, because the 'treasures' are kinda...not really that treasury.  Even the money doesn't glitter!!

So, this is nearly complete.  (And I know, so far, my 'opponent' hasn't turned up at all, but I promise!  I have an hour to get it finished when I get up tomorrow morning if I've got my maths right, so it'll be done!!)  It would've been done, but between having been working insane hours, plus everything else I've needed to do, and then being told on Sunday that a family friend had passed away, and being somewhat ill today, things just haven't been going my way =(

It will be finished!!

EDIT: Done!

1) This actually happened to me this week.  i'm blinder, yay!
2) I hate having my back to a crowded room!

Round 1 entry for: :icontheexchangeiii:
TJ, Katie and Roy (when they actually appear) belong to Voice-of-Levity


Bliddy Hell I'm Screwed...
United Kingdom
Current Residence: Scotland
Favourite genre of music: Lots
Operating System: 8 by force and for gaming, Linux Mint for all else
MP3 player of choice: Has escaped Apple and retreated to Sony
Wallpaper of choice: Cat pic with funny caption
Favourite cartoon character: Mieville the cat from QC
Personal Quote: "It is better to be pessimistic and pleasantly surprised, than optimistic and always let down."

It creeps up. You can be having the best day in your life, and then it's there.

It can be the middle of the day, or the dead of night, or somewhere in between all that.

And suddenly you're wondering why you bother, wondering whether anyone cares, wondering whether anyone will miss you.

It's not a new feeling, not really, you spend your time with people, wondering whether they're just putting up with you, or whether they really like you.

It doesn't matter what you know logically, because logic doesn't help when you feel like this.

But something will trigger it, and you'll find yourself curled up, trying to avoid everyone, crying your eyes out and feeling like nothing you do is ever good enough.

You want it to end, you just want to stop hurting, to stop worrying, to stop wondering.

You wish you'd been brave enough to go and see your (great-)Aunt, your Gran, one last time, to tell them you loved them. Even though one didn't want you to see her, and the other didn't know who you were. You hate yourself, that you couldn't, that after everything they did for you, you couldn't pay them that last respect.

You hate even more that it was three years later that you finally visited your Aunt's grave, it wasn't your fault that you weren't in the country when she died, but you still feel guilty over it.

And you think about ending it, you really do. You sit with a knife against your wrist, or with the painkillers a doctor prescribed in your hand, or a bottle of alcohol sat beside you and debate just finishing it, because you think that would be best for everyone.

Then you can't be a disappointment, then you can't hurt your family and friends, then you can't wonder what the hell you did wrong that they're not talking to you anymore.

And then you pause. You think.

If you end it, your Mum will have to bury a daughter, too soon after burying her mother. Your Dad will lose you before he loses his parents, his brother. Your sister will lose a confidant, a sister before losing her parents. Countless Aunts and Uncles will wonder what caused the grief that drove you to it, and will be lost trying to comfort those who knew you best. Your friends will mourn, will try to figure out what they missed, what they could've done better – and one will wish you'd spoken to them, come to them, like they said you could, and yet you failed to do. Your partner will wish he could've been there, to tell you he loved you, and that he could've stopped you from thinking the way you did.

So you stop. You don't do it. But it takes you too long to tell them what's wrong. And even after you have, it takes you too long to talk further, when you're sober you can't, you can barely cry about anything sober, never mind anything else, and your Mam says that to you – that she's frustrated that you haven't spoken to her since you revealed your problems - and worries that she's pushing you too far when you know you deserve the anger she's showing.  

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AbandonedAmbition Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Hey, how's your round3 entry for CPOCT coming along?
Ashana-Correlli Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2013
Considering the fact that I keep doubling my shifts at work, its coming along surprisingly well.  Should be in on time, if not before.  Just struggling with linking stuff together - always a bit of a failing of mine!!

How're you doing??
AbandonedAmbition Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh wow. Can't wait to see it.

Going pretty well. Just need to wrap some stuff up is all.
fancylances Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2013   Writer
Good luck on round two of Delirium! 
Ashana-Correlli Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2013
And to you!!  This prompt promises to be fun!!! =D  And I will complete!  It might be last minute (for me, because I always end up running to GMT rather than PST, but still!), but I won't leave you hanging to a forfeit!!  (Even if that's less nerve-wracking, I know it's as annoying as hell!!)
3face Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2013  Student Digital Artist



any questions, go right ahead.

PonderingArt Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2012  Student Digital Artist
LadyNorthstar Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thank you for watching me~ :heart:
RevanREK Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the :+devwatch: :hug:
jessijordan Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2011  Professional General Artist
Thanks for the fav! :hug:
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