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INTO THIS WILD ABYSS‌ Zak Frey We crest the line of hills just as the full moon is rising over the distant mountains, huge and orange and dusky through the pall of smoke and ash that blankets the sky and blots out all but a few faint, cold stars. Below us, and as far as the eye can see, straight out to the miles-distant horizon where the mountains stand in stark, black silhouette against the dull glow of the rising moon, the night is on fire. It’s like looking out over hell. The night air is bitterly cold, but even as we draw our coats more tightly around us, hunch our shoulders and turn up our collars against the chill, a burning wind whips up off the battlefield, stinging our eyes, burning our throats raw, and bringing with it the sounds of the tumult below. The deep, droning hum of zeppelins and the whine of low flying aircraft, always followed immediately by the staccato bass thud thud thud of the forty-millimeter anti-air batteries. The grating roar of tank coax guns, the heavy whump of the hundredand-five millimeter artillery cannons that you can feel like a punch to the chest out to a hundred yards. And through it all, sometimes audible, sometimes not, the constant, quiet crackle of small-arms fire. Another blast of wind from below scalds our faces and eyes, and this time the wind carries with it the charnel smells of war. The acrid, cordite stench of gunpowder, the throat-burning reeks of scorched flesh and burning fuel and the strange, sickly sweet tang of magical fallout, all mixed together and carried up to us on the back of that blistering wind. To the north, and several miles distant, a massive flying fortress-city hangs ominously over the rolling hills, nearly invisible against the dark sky save for the occasional illumination provided by star shells and antiair flak. Down from the floating behemoth arcs a long trail of orange fire, a burst from one of the massive thirty-five millimeter gatling cannons, the stream of tracers so dense it looks like a solid, curving beam of light. A moment later, the sound reaches us, a grating, tearing roar like the sky itself is being ripped apart at the seams. We stand for a long moment on the hilltop, silhouetted against the last blood red glow of evening, looking down over the scene stretched out below, our purpose forgotten, our minds amazed in the face of the sheer, awful enormity of the hellscape before us. Then, down the line, someone shouts something, the words indistinct over the clamor, but the meaning all too clear. Mechanically, we check our weapons and for a moment, the night resounds with the clockwork chorus of the tools of war, a brief, discordant hymn to an ancient and insatiable god. More shouted orders, wordless but understood. We descend into hell.

THE TATTOO !"# $#!"# She stared in the mirror at the tattoo above her left breast again for the seventh time that day, but she still could make no sense of it. She bit her lip and squinted her eyes as if that would make things clearer, but she had already tried that. When she spoke before the village tonight she had no idea what she would say about her new tattoo. She had never been unprepared to interpret before. Her tattoos had always been especially clear. Everyone in her village got the prophetic tattoos which spontaneously appeared on one’s body and foretold the future, but her tattoos were so unusually clear and understandable that she had been the de facto leader of the nightly councils since she was young. No one looked to their own tattoos anymore. The people relied on clear interpretations of her tattoos to decide what

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to plant and when, to arrange marriages, to plan trade missions with the other villages—no decision, grave or trivial, was made unless a tattoo told them to make it. Her tattoos where not only lucid but beautiful as well, and this one was no different. She looked at it for the eighth time. It was a labyrinthine mandala with nine concentric rings done in gold, blue, and black. The lines varied between high and low contrast as they traced the path to the center of the labyrinth. In the center was a gold and orange sun. ‘Pretty,’ she thought, ‘but useless unless I can interpret it.’ She considered two choices: she could tell her village that she didn’t know what the sign meant, or she could feign certainty and give them her best guess. Or would it really be guessing? She could look at the state of the village as it was now without certainty about the future. She could make a judgment and simply decide, without certainty, what they should do. She could be a leader to her people. She stared again at the tattoo and focused on the sun in the center. The rays were done in an intricate pattern that seemed to rotate as she passed her eye over them. When she stared fixedly they ceased to move, but then the labyrinth around it started to squirm. The image meant nothing to her, and she was running out of time to do anything about it. ‘Maybe I haven’t lost the gift. Maybe it’s a warning. Maybe the future has become too complicated to read,’ she thought. It seemed to her that this interpretation was no better than her gift having simply left her. She put her blouse back on and stepped outside. She stood in the middle of the circle her neighbors made. She saw her mother among them, her expectant smile deepening the creases in her worn face. ‘What will mother do without me to tell her and father to do it?,’ she thought. She saw her neighbors, the miller and the baker, stare at her with arched eyebrows and upturned mouths. They were all waiting. ‘Will everyone simply go back to trying to read their own tattoos for themselves?’ The thought made her frown. ‘They need,’ she thought, ‘they need me to tell them. To tell them…’ After a deep breath, she told them.

VIRGIN GROUND Jack Farrell In 2087, Plez-Tech broke new ground with its proposal for a new line of sex-bots set for mass production. The market had already been more than saturated with women and men of all conceivable races, builds, and sizes, so with waning stock prices they went for the only option left with an as yet untouched market: Plez-Tech announced its new line of child sized bots and the world caught fire. The Mini line was marketed with the idea that they would fulfill a need society had been trying to fill for millennia: a way to keep pedophiles away from its children. “If we can’t stop the urge,” the marketers said “why don’t we at least focus it away from real children? It’s the safe, responsible decision.” And they were only too happy to profit from it. While media flare ups claiming that these machines would only encourage pedophilic behavior and churches of every denomination denounced the line with their loudest and most virulent caterwauls, millions of private orders started coming in to Plez-Tech through a system that was guaranteed to be efficient and confidential. Paul Donahue, chief programmer for Plez-Tech’s AI department, refused to do the project at first. “I’m telling you now what I told you when you wanted to do that ‘Firm Resistor’ line before it got scrapped: there are things I’m not comfortable programming. A child either enjoying sex or being raped falls pretty well under that heading.”

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James Flemming, his boss, knew this was coming. And he knew exactly what to say to it. “I know how you feel, but this is going through one way or another. And there are people who would be happy to do this sort of thing. If you leave, I have to start working with them. And I really don’t want to.” The sincerity of his voice told Paul he meant it, and he agreed to the project on two conditions: that his involvement would be kept confidential, and that he would get enough of the profits that he would not have to work for the next several lifetimes. He got both without a fight. Allegations of pedophilia were thrown against the CEOs, a few of which turned out to be true, but the project continued on with full steam. Protests were held, factories were bombed, and the unions asked for more than a few concessions because of the emotional strain of what they were creating. They got them in spades, and Plez-Tech got their machines. But so did millions. By 2088, the Mini line was in full manufacture. AI patches were being clamored for on (what the users hoped were) underground message boards. New and exciting additions were being proposed for the line, including the ability to order a model with a specific school uniform, and a map function was being put in place so users could more easily identify the names of local elementary schools. The risky venture appeared to be paying off. The stigma was not washed away, of course. Marriages were ruined when Minis were found. Hundreds lost their lives when Anonymous 2.0 hacked company records and distributed the names of purchasers. A famous child actress committed suicide when she found a model in her image hidden in her father’s closet. But the money kept coming in. The minis kept selling because people wanted them.

WAY DOWN BELOW THE OCEAN, WHERE I WANT TO BE H. P. Legomenon “Viscubacter edo?” murmured Reynard.! !He looked across the table and found that Dr. Solomon's eyes lit up, and in that moment he knew that this job couldn't possibly be good. “What does it do?” he asked wearily, rubbing under his eye.!! “It's an anaerobic flesh-eating bacteria,” she said, “that glows.” “Well,” said Isabelle, “at least we can see it coming.” Professor Lake smiled encouragingly at them from across the table.!!”I hope this doesn't change your interest in the job?” It did.!!Oh, how it did.!!Notwithstanding the doctor, who had stars in her eyes, glowing, flesh-eating bacteria completely changed the game--no one was getting their flesh eaten on Reynard's watch. On the other hand, the mods the ship would require would have to be utterly ingenious, and the money wasn't exactly bad.! !Reynard weighed it in his mind, flesh-eating bacteria against a chance to design more brilliant and more ambitious changes for his ship. Bacteria, design.!!Bacteria...design.!! “Not at all,” he announced.!!“We'll take it.” ~ “This is very, very stupid,” said Isabelle.!! “Can't disagree there,” Charles added.!!“You say this thing eats flesh?” “That doesn't seem like the sort of thing we'd want on the ship,” Amy said in a doubtful tone. “Your arguments are reasonable and shall be taken into consideration,” Reynard nodded.! ! “Now, having considered them, we're still doing this.!!Get in now or clear out your bunk.”!! Nobody moved.

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“Right,” he said, unrolling the blueprints.! ! “This is how we're going to make the Geryon a submarine.” Charles exploded.! !“You can't be serious!” he shouted.! !“There are so many things wrong with this idea!!!The ship is built to withstand one atmosphere or less, not upwards of fifty!!!And we don't have a way of sealing off the interior to make it waterproof, besides the fact that it'll damp the fans and flood the engines and then we'll never get it going--besides the fact that we've got nowhere to put the steam--!” “That's where you're wrong,” Reynard said, tapping the blueprints.! ! “The ship's already waterproof.!!It's airtight, in fact.” “I found a family of squirrels living in the vent last week,” Jules pointed out. “Well that's what happens when you leave a door or window open too long, doesn't it, Doctor?” Reynard said in a tone of mild reproach. “I thought we'd already hashed this out,” she said with a small, sheepish pout. “Moving on,” the captain continued.! ! “As long as we don't open anything unduly, we'll have no troubles--although of course we'll need to rig an air lock for the diving bell.” “And the fans?” “That,” Reynard said with a smile, “is a work of genius.” ~ While Reynard and Charles worked on the ship, the others enjoyed a little bit of shore leave. Amy went to the bookshop to collect what they had in the way of deep-sea biology and underwater exploration.!!A French book about a nameless captain seemed to be the one with the greatest wealth of help in the current endeavor, and she read it cover to cover and took it to the captain with great enthusiasm. Dr. Solomon took Mr. Magihana off to the pharmacist and the medical supply shop to stock up.! !There had been no serious injuries yet, but she was enthusiastic that this would be the one.! !She would pick Jules up and throw her at a shark, if that's what it took to get her a chance at healing bite wounds. Jules and Isabelle shopped, and they shopped hard.! ! It was a foregone conclusion that they were going to be underneath the waves for a bare minimum of a week, and Jules could scarcely stand the idea of suffering both a lack of sunlight and wretched provisions.! ! They purchased a large basket of oranges and enough spice to make whatever creatures of the deep they caught tasty.!! Reynard barred everyone from the cargo hold, claiming that that was 'where the magic was happening.'!!The magic had to do with the fans, was certain--presumably some type of propulsion mechanism was being inserted.!!No one took the time to ask, although they cast him some odd looks. During the!day he partitioned off the mess to work on the floor there.!!Perhaps the mechanism took up more space than they'd originally thought.! ! All that was sensibly clear was that Isabelle had to cook in Dr. Solomon's lab with a bunsen burner and was consequently rather unhappy.!!Reynard soon threw a tarp over it and declared it open for traffic. In a week, the captain assembled his crew in the hold.!!They were already floating out on the water, and to everyone's great surprise they had yet to sink.!!How long this luck could hold, no one knew, but it was impressive enough in its own right.!! “Behold,” Reynard said rather dramatically, and began pulling on the brown tarp that covered most of the floor. Everyone obligingly stepped off, and there came some startled gasps. There was a five-inch glass plate where the floor used to be, and through it they could glimpse down into the shallow depths of the harbor.! ! ! Reynard and Charles grinned hugely, apparently having become

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united in their conception of what was possible--indeed, desirable--in a submarine through the long hours of working on it. Dr. Solomon immediately strode out onto the floor, gazing down and looking for new specimens to add to her collection of monsters-in-formaldehyde.!! Jules squawked and bolted for solid floor.!It wasn't that she didn't trust its thickness, necessarily.!!Her rational mind was quite aware that the glass was perfectly thick enough to keep out the water, but the rest of her was mute with the horrific prospect of walking right into the briny abyss.! !She was gratified to see that Amy stepped back as well, looking a little paler for her trouble. “You made a glass-bottomed submarine?!” cried Isabelle.!!“Why?!” Reynard blinked, as if he hadn't been expecting quite such a ridiculous question.!!“Because it's never been done before.” “Neither has swallowing oneself feet-first in an attempt to turn oneself inside out, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea!” Isabelle despaired.!!!“What if it crumples?!!What if it cracks?” “Then we are in a world of trouble, because whatever is big enough to crack five inches of glass is more than enough to cause us other problems besides that,” Reynard said reasonably.! !He tapped a pleased foot on the glass.! !“Besides which, the glass is caulked on there so well that you'd be hard-pressed to find a beast alive that could pop it.!!It's going to work brilliantly.!!Naturalists will be clamoring for it, and we can sell the patent for a hefty bundle indeed.” Isabelle knew, of course, that there was nothing to be done.! !If the captain was quite sure this was going to work, they were trapped.! !The only other option would be to get back to shore and wait this one out.! !She didn't much fancy that idea, since that would require her to own up to giving a damn about their current situation, and it was a personal rule of hers to avoid giving a damn whenever possible.!!She fidgeted futilely for a cigarette and shrugged her shoulders. “Fine,” she said, oblivious to the two women behind her who were trying to stare anywhere but at the floor.!!“If it will hold, I suppose everything else will be fine.” “Exactly,” Reynard said with enormous cheerfulness.!!“Now then, for our final trick...”!!He gestured to Charles, who took the steps two at a time to reach the second level, and they heard his boots above their heads, in the mess. The tarp was pulled off of the floor, and they found themselves looking at a glass ceiling. “My kitchen!” ~ It was, Reynard explained blithely, pointless to have a glass-bottomed submarine out of which no one could see.! ! How often did they spend their time in the cargo hold, after all?! ! But this way, they got an extraordinary view of their journey without the slightest inconvenience, from the comfort of their highlypopular mess table.!!They kept the glass floor of the cargo bay clear, since they were carrying almost nothing at the moment and could afford the aesthetics.!! The next day they began the descent.!!

THE CHÂTEAU Kurt T. Strom Things had not gone according to plan. True, I had successfully scaled the stone wall surrounding the old manor house, and successfully broken one of the many Gothic windows of the Château. But it was in climbing into the building that I ran

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into some trouble. I snagged my left foot on the windowsill and tripped, slicing my leg on broken glass in the process, and twisted my ankle slightly. I was undeterred, though, in my quest for, what I had heard described as: “The Greatest Hidden Hoard in The Southern Valley.”! ! ! Let me bring you up to speed. I had long been studying the history of Southern France, and in my studies I encountered many varying legends surrounding the family who once owned the Château. !The name of the lord has long been forgotten, but the stories of the fabulous wealth he amassed before his death, a death which occurred at his own hands, were extremely prevalent and, in my mind, most likely true. The legend says that Lord…something or other taxed his subjects mercilessly. This was in the years leading up to the French Revolution, when decadence and greed were unparalleled. !The miserly lord hoarded all the treasures and gold that he had, in all things but name, stolen from the people. Apparently, near to the Revolution, the local populace, by that point very tired and hungry, besieged the Palace to take back what was rightfully theirs. Sensing his demise, the lord murdered all of his servants and killed his wife and son, before plunging a dagger into his own heart. When the people saw the carnage the mad lord had inflicted on his family and the savage look in the eyes of his soulless husk, all of them were at once terrified and relieved. !They plundered what they could from the manor house, but over time many of the peasants who stole items got sick and died, and superstition overcame the villagers. The survivors soon returned any items they could to their rightful places and sealed up the Château. !For nearly two hundred and twenty years the manor house sat derelict, almost forgotten, the stories of the gold dismissed as legend or myth. But I knew better. I knew that the true hoard still remained, a hoard that must have been worth millions in the lord’s own day, and untold amounts today.!! That was why I sought the Château. That was why I broke in. As I trekked through the dense forest, heading towards the setting sun, I began to see the Great Clock Tower of the Château rise from the dark green canopy. The closer I came to the manor house the more I hungered to be inside of it. I came to a clearing and saw the building in all its majesty, as fresh as the day it was abandoned. I was awestruck by the beauty of the exterior, which was adorned with bas-relief carvings and marble statuary, a mixture of Baroque styles and flair with sturdy Gothic masonry. After I had sliced my leg tumbling through one of the windows, I was faced with a contrast. The inside of the manor house was a wreck; the floor was covered in a layer of moss which gave nourishment to vines growing up the walls and any remnants of furniture. As I wandered about the many rooms of the once well-kept domicile I found myself overcome by a stench of rotting flesh and fresh animal droppings. !Yet, I knew my prize was worth any damage to my body, physical or mental. I had no fears of ghosts; I had no superstitions or beliefs in spirits or a hereafter. ! But, needless to say, I was grateful for the rampant superstition of others. ! ! ! !I hobbled about the old maison, certain that the treasure would be in the one place no one would disturb:! the master bedroom, the scene of the murders, and the very bed on which the Lord had committed suicide.!! As the sun set, the manor house became dark, and the full moon was the only source of illumination. I hastened my search for an egress from the ground floor.!I eventually found a very long staircase that spiraled up to the upper levels of the house, where, I knew I would find the treasure I sought. !Slowly, on account of my leg, I ascended the staircase, carefully taking each marble step. I marveled at the beauty of the house, lamenting its current state. “Perhaps,” I thought to myself, “I will buy this building, and the land, when I am wealthy.” I smiled as I came to the landing and saw several doors before me. One of them had an extra board bolted to its front. A crucifix, tarnished but still silver, was nailed to it. I knew I was facing the room of death, the room of treasure. I approached the barricaded door. ! I had come prepared for such an event. I pulled a

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crowbar out of my back-pack and set to work on the barricade. It was not easy work, and my leg was killing me, but I soldiered on. ! ! ! ! As I worked at the plank of wood I thought I heard a noise from the hall. I called out “Who are you?” But then, as quickly as I had said the words, I regretted saying them. I knew better than to suspect any ghosts or ghouls, and I was certain no one was researching the history mythology and folklore of one Château in southern France. As I stated, I was intrepid in my task. I went back to work and after several minutes of pulling, prying and splintering the wood I was faced with the true door of the Master’s Chamber. I fiddled with the door-latch. It was still locked. The door went quicker than the barricade and a warm wind blew out of the room. Two hundred year old air rushed past my face, choking me with its staleness. ! ! ! ! My grandmother has always told me that stale air was “The air of Ghosts, and the stench of Spirits,” but I am sure she would have changed her attitude if she had known what I was soon to find. !At the foot of the bed was a chest. I opened it and saw before me what I had dreamed about, what I had known was there, the gold, the jewels, the secret hoard, the Cache of Lord something-something. I plunged my hand into the gold coins and let them fall into the chest. The *clink-clink-clink* of the coins filled me with a greedy satisfaction, a lustful sense of accomplishment. !I picked up great handfuls of the gold and gems and threw them into my bag. As I did, I once again heard a sound from behind me. Again, I turned; again I saw nothing, and, out of pride and a strange sense of courage, I refused to call out. Instead I went back to the treasure, filling my bag with more gold than I could ever spend in a lifetime. ! ! ! ! As I shoveled the gold into my bag a sudden shadow fell over the box, and over me. I turned ‘round to see myself face to face with a black shade, a formless ghost from the depths of hell. I suddenly felt a new feeling, I felt terror, reader; I felt pure dread. I stood up quickly as the shade reached its hand towards me; I grabbed the backpack and was nearly pulled down by its weight. I slung it over one shoulder, causing a new pain to rise there, and moved as quickly as I could past the ghost and out the door. In the chaos I had forgotten about my wounded foot and brought my left foot down sharply on the marble staircase. It finally snapped under the new weight and awkward step and I tumbled down the staircase. ! ! ! ! When I came to my vision was blurred and my entire body was in pain. I could neither lift my arms nor move my head. My neck must have twisted in the fall, for I was paralyzed. I saw the shadow come near to me, and I braced for my demise. The black being stood directly over my body, put its hand to its head and pulled off a black mask. It was no ghost, it was a man, like me, a greedy adventurer, and, though I loathe admitting to it, this treasure-seeker was far craftier than I. ! ! ! ! “I must thank you. You saved me the trouble of getting into that door by force.” The man said.! ! ! ! I did not respond. I could not speak. ! ! ! “I would share some of the profit with you, but, alas, you seem to be without any need for it.” He smiled and picked up my backpack. “Next time,” he said with a wicked grin “don’t be so superstitious.” He began to walk off. I heard his footsteps grow fainter and my vision became blacker. The blackness surrounded me, and the pain ceased. ! ! ! ! Things had not gone according to plan.

MATCHES Slaya Nemoy Connor blew out a stream of frosted air and glanced at Théoden who was hugging himself for warmth and looking around the street apprehensively.

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“Fuck, where is the old man?” Théoden muttered. “Right here.” The two young soldiers glanced hurriedly behind them. Leaning against the brick wall of the tavern was an elderly man dressed in an old fashioned military tunic. He was completely bald on top, a stark contrast to the yellowing muff that concealed his chin, and even this late at night he wore shaded glasses. The two soldiers snapped to attention and saluted smartly. Even though the old man could not see the gesture, he could hear it. “At ease, gentlemen,” the old man said standing up straight and tapping a slim, silver topped cane on the ground. The soldiers relaxed, slightly. “Begging your pardon, sir, but what took you so long?” Théoden asked. “Things,” the old man said vaguely. He tapped his cane in front of him and moved forward with an ease that suggested he understood the terrain better then he let on, better than most who could see it clearly. “Shall we sojourn?” The old man walked purposefully out of the alley and into the street. Connor and Théoden followed at a respectful distance, until the old man stopped. “Don’t dawdle behind, I do not care for formalities at this time in the night,” the old man said pointedly. The two hurried to catch up and they continued down the street together. Connor walked right next to the man, while Théoden hung back slightly keeping a careful watch on the town. The ruckus of the day was milder at this time of night, but there were still remnants of the fighting being enacted by drunken brutes. The noise level was still high, the taverns all lit, as those who only hours ago had been murdering in the streets sought solace from their crimes in watered down ale. It was repulsive; the more so because Théoden itched to clean up the residue the battle of the day had left behind. But he had strict orders. Instead he watched in disgust as two burly men were hefted out of a tavern in an unruly mess. They landed close to the three military personal and Théoden flinched but the old man made no move. “Ignore your thirst for justice. Let them fight amongst each other. It will make our jobs that much easier,” the old man said wisely. Théoden took one last look at the revelry, and then looked straight ahead to where the old man was leading them. Connor glanced back at Théoden once but only gave him a slight grin and a shrug. They walked several blocks away from the bawdier part of the Gutter to one of the quieter, more residential areas. It was still disgustingly poor and downtrodden, where those who lived in the tenement apartments were no better off than those lying out in the street. One either stifled to death packed tightly together in the few rooms available, or froze to death outside in the bitter cold. Either way they were called destitute for a reason. They did not even own their own lives. The old man navigated his way neatly between the shivering bodies on the ground. Connor and Théoden had more trouble. Connor in particular kept stumbling over piles of rags. He cursed under his breath and gave the prone form a swift kick, turning the figure over. Théoden bit back a curse as he looked down at the man’s dead-eyed stare. Connor noted the dead man with a shrug of indifference. “Such a waste of space. Why doesn’t the king just do away with the Destitute once and for all?” Connor muttered. “Because the king has morals and no money,” the old man said dryly, still moving forward. Connor walked up to him. “He could just burn the Gutter to the ground. Nice and easy, no cost except a stealthy assassin.”

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The old man said nothing. Théoden, coming up behind again, looked at Connor’s back skeptically. It was a good idea, but foolhardy. Théoden sighed and looked away. He noted a burst of flame coming from a small alleyway. The fire burnt bright for a moment then started to fade and was suddenly gone. Unthinkingly, Théoden moved toward where the light had been. Connor glanced over. “Where are you going?” he asked. Théoden ignored him and glanced into the small alley. The alley was strewn with garbage and crap. An alley cat was pawing through the mess and mewing loudly in frustration at the slim pickings. Huddled against one wall was a little girl. She was tiny, dressed in tattered rags that barely covered her arms and legs. Her feet were completely bare and turning blue. Her head was buried in her arms and all he could see was tousled, knotted, curls of a generic dirty color. Not knowing what he was doing exactly, Théoden crouched beside her and touched her arm gently. The girl looked up. Her eyes were glazed over, tired and not registering anything. Close to death and a startling deep brown color. “What the hell?” Connor was looming in the alleyway staring down at Théoden and the girl. Behind him, the old man stood waiting patiently and staring at nothing. “It’s just a stupid girl,” Connor said laughing harshly. “You stopped us for a stupid girl?” Théoden ignored him and gently tucked one of the girl’s stray locks behind her ear. He noticed at the roots the girl’s hair was a reddish brown. Her face was streaked with dirt and tears. Théoden traced the trail of her tears with his fingers all the way down to her throat. His hand rested on the hollow of her collarbone where a thin metal chain rested. “What are you doing?” Connor demanded. “I don’t know,” Théoden admitted. He lifted the chain slightly and got a look at the milky white crystal that hung at the end. A strange piece of jewelry, strange for the girl to be wearing it at all, and probably worthless considering it would have been sold or stolen long ago if it had any value. Connor idly placed his hand on his gun holster. “Let’s kill her,” he said suddenly. Théoden let the chain drop and stared up at his fellow soldier. “What?” “She’s going to die anyway, let’s make it quick and easy.” Connor drew his gun. “Who said she is going to die?” Théoden said, glaring. “Oh, just look at her.” Théoden glanced at the girl who was staring at the gun with little expression, but in her eyes it was clear that she clearly understood what a pointed revolver meant. She was ready for death, but not from a bullet. “Put the fucking gun away,” Théoden growled. In answer Connor aimed. “She is going to die,” he pointed out matter of fact. “And I want to kill her.” Théoden glanced at the old man who had remained uncharacteristically silent during the whole exchange. He stared stoically ahead as if he was not only blind, but deaf and uninterested. “I said put the gun away.” Connor lowered his weapon and shrugged. “Fine by me if you want her to slowly freeze to death rather than take a nice, easy bullet to the brain. Never thought you’d be that cruel.” “She does not have to die,” Théoden said. ���She will,” Connor said simply. The girl was slowly turning an unnatural white, tinted by frosty blue. Théoden suddenly pulled off his regulation military coat and threw it over the girl’s shoulders. He wrapped her tightly in it and pulled her close, rubbing quickly at her legs and arms until he felt the blood flowing again. He tucked her more tightly into his jacket, which was huge for her, making sure all her exposed areas were

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covered. The girl burrowed into the woolen material and curled up tightly. Théoden gently put her down and stood up. “That was thoroughly useless. So she won’t die now but she will soon, probably in the next couple of hours when someone steals that coat,” Connor said sarcastically. “But not tonight.” Théoden gave the woolen form a fond look. Connor rolled his eyes. “She is a destitute, she will die a destitute. Her life is pointless and your actions even less.” Théoden looked straight at Connor. “You don’t know what one life can do. You don’t know.” He walked purposefully out of the alley. The old man suddenly seemed to come to life and moved forward to lead the way. “You read way too much,” Connor muttered under his breath but trailed after the others. There were orders to fulfill that night, some more grisly then killing a harmless girl in an alleyway, but at least the girl slept in a borrowed coat that night and would live to see the morning.

THE SINDRI SAGA Aki O. Chronicled by Jason Abidan, Chief Librarian Magus of the Archive I do apologize for the delay in my chronicling, dear reader. Sadly, I fear the tasks of a Chief Librarian hinder me from doing such work as this in a timely manner. Had it not been for Providence, my second-incommand, I would still find myself in the Ninth Quarter of our archive, patiently instructing the littlest readers that they shouldn’t throw the books from the high shelves on the floor for easy access, and flatly telling our older readers that no matter how many times they look, there are no books on enchanting lovers in our shelves. Yet Providence stepped in, and now I may continue in my work of telling you of Morgan Caron Sindri, of the Day and from the Village Folk, who, having just met his companion the black rabbit Alpin von Lamis while doing nothing in the fields, soon arrived at the clock tower to give people the time of Day.

Chapter 2: There’s a koan in here somewhere “This is a weird clock tower,” said Alpin, looking around from Morgan’s embrace. “I mean, I wouldn’t have called it a tower unless you said so, but you say it is, and so I guess it is.” Alpin von Lamis wasn’t wrong, for the clock tower of the Day was a rather unusual one. To begin with, it was not much of a tower per say. Rather than mark its hours in large numbers, they were marked by two rows of number circles that fanned out, one behind the other, in a semi-circle on the ground. And instead of a large obelisk or a metal triangle whose shadow would track time, there was simple yet eloquent marble stone that had been set at its center that was just large enough for a person of decent size to stand on. It was, in short, a rather large sundial that that seemed to require a human being to run it. The clock was read

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only at sunrise and sunset, as those were the times that Folk had decided to begin the day and night shifts,1 but its shape meant that it had great acoustics, and thus it served a double purpose as an open concert hall when it wasn’t being read. As Morgan approached, a small group of workers had begun to picnic along the edge of the undrawn semi-circle. “Come on Morgan, what time is it?” said one, tapping his boot up and down. “I want to go home to me kids.” “We’ll soon find out Horatio,” said Morgan. “Just let me get in there.” “Get in there?” asked Alpin, his ears twitching. “But-but there’s no door. How can you go into something with no door? I thought you people couldn’t burrow.” “Did you consider by walking?” “I suppose…” Horatio stared. “Did that bunny just talk?” he said at last. “Yes, the rabbit did,” Alpin replied. “My name’s Alpin, and I’m Morgan’s companion.” “ ‘Morgan’s companion’ ?” Horatio said before bursting into laughter. “You’re too small to be a man’s companion,” said Horatio. “Such a tiny little cotton bunny like you is meant for my little girl.” “Oh really? Well, just give me a-” “Alpin-” Morgan warned. “No, no, please, let me at him,” Alpin said, trying to struggle out of Morgan’s arms, “let me at him, I want to-” “He’s with me,” Morgan said, shifting his arms so that his hands muffled the ongoing mutters of the bunny, “and the longer you ask questions, the longer it’ll take for me to get in there.” “Oh fine, fine, take the wee fluffy thing with you,” Horatio said while stepped aside to allow Morgan to walk in. “Serves him right,” Alpin whispered as Morgan stepped onto the platform. “Alpin…” “No, really, he should make way for my great buddy.” “Right.” “I could totally take him,” Alpin said affirmatively. “Just for the record.” “Of course.” “…so, what are we looking for?” “My shadow,” Morgan replied. Glancing off to his right, he saw it lying very neatly on the “number six” circle. “Yep, it’s time!” Morgan. “Alright Day people, time to go home and let the next shift in,” Horatio yelled over the cheers of the other workers. “Well, that was fast,” said Alpin. “Should we-” “Not yet,” Morgan interrupted. And he was correct, for the rabbit had been about to suggest they leave, and had they done so they would have been smashed by the streaming crowd of workers that had flooded across, in rivulets of teenagers and eddies of small children, each clocking in while the other clocked For most people, this would be an extremely bad idea. Sunrise and sunset, after all, are rather mercurial phenomena when it comes to time. However, the village was rather fortuitously situated so that sunrise and sunset always happened at the corresponding six o’clock, all year round, no matter how leisurely the sun moved. Nevertheless, the village Folk had made the clock just on the offchance the sun got the better of them, and further hedged their bets by mandating its unusual habit of being read only twice at sunrise and sunset on the grounds that everyone knew even the most broken of clocks were correct twice a day, and thus would always be correct if read only twice. 1

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out, trying desperately not to clock each other, and changing places with such a dizzying hurry that the whole town had crossed the square in a matter of seconds. Instead of workers, the clock was now surrounded by what appeared to be a group of singers and one very impatient conductor.2 “And now we can leave,” Morgan said, stepping off the square. “All yours, Lightly!” “Wait, that’s it?” Alpin asked Morgan as they left, leaving the choir to settle into their places. “All you had to do was look at your shadow?” “Well, yes.” “But, but, why? I mean, that seems like waste of a person if that’s all you had to do. Why not get a really large puppy or a cat, maybe even a squirrel or some large ground rodent to stand there and look at its shadow? I mean that was-” “Nothing?” “Well, yes.” “That was the theory, that since everyone was busy and I’m supposed to do nothing anyway I could as easily do it here.” “But you have to do something right?” “Doing nothing is my something. Like, it’s my job.” Alpin turned around in Morgan’s arms. “You mean to tell me that you,” he began, his front paw bouncing on Morgan’s chest, “you’re supposed to do nothing all day?” Morgan nodded. “Yes, it’s my job to do nothing,” he told his new furry friend. “Not really the most exciting job, not to mention the part where nobody knows what it really means to be doing nothing. I suppose I’m lucky they’ve kept it to just checking the time and hanging around really, instead long streams of pointless errands.” “But that’s amazing!” Alpin said, hopping out onto the ground. “Doing nothing, I mean. You can do practically anything you want! You can play games, read books, listen to music, travel- why, you can do almost everything!” “Except not really,” Morgan replied. “I mean, those are all doing something.” “What-no it’s not! Having fun is not doing something, it’s strictly doing nothing!” “Oh really?” said Morgan, annoyed. “Who says so?” “Well, we Elfin-Baladi of the Night do, and-” “Wait, you’re from Night?” Alpin stopped hopping and starred at him. “I’m a giant black bunny. Where did you think I was from?” “Well, in all fairness, there could be black bunnies outside the Night.” Morgan said defensively. “I mean, I’ve heard that there are some in Twilight-”

2 Our

archives state that this group would eventually grow into the illustrious Tempo Fugit singers, whose distinctive “lightwaves” style led them to become known for such hits as “Let there be Light,” “Keep Your Lamps Lit,” and “Don’t go quietly (into the night).” Apparently the conductor, one Light House-Beacon, had perfect pitch, much to the dismay of his singers who could hit every overtone but it, and thus the compromised by allowing him to sing one “particle” note every eight measures to keep them vaguely in tune.

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“Those silvery, glittering things are NOT Elfin-Baladi,” Alpin said indignantly. “They are posers.”3 “I’ll take your word for it,” Morgan said, “but— and try to understand— I’ve asked everyone here what they think doing nothing means, and they haven’t been able to give much of an answer.” “Well, the answer is, doing nothing means doing anything unimportant or leisurely,” Alpin replied. “At least, that’s what it means among the Night. No clue what you crazy people think it is. Speaking of which, where are we spending the night?” “Well, at my house, of course,” Morgan said quickly. “But that’s neither here nor there.” “Wait, really? It’s not this way?” “No, it’s behind us,” Morgan said, pointing in the other direction. “Oh good,” Alpin said, turning around. “I can’t wait to have a fluffy bed and a few good carrots. Oh, why did I hop the wrong way? Do-do you mind carrying me some more?” “Not at all,” Morgan said, picking Alpin up. “You should be resting your paws anyway. Now, tell me more about this doing nothing thing you people think.” “What’s to say?” Alpin said, giving something of a bunny shrug. “You just do it. No one has to explain it to you.” “Man, I wish I could go to Night,” Morgan said. “Well, why not?” Alpin asked. “You’re supposed to be able to do nothing anywhere anyway, right?” “I…I suppose,” Morgan said slowly. “I mean, I guess.” “We can ask tomorrow morning,” Alpin said contentedly. “For now, let’s go home.”

THOMAS AQUINAS AND THE SILENCE OF THE IAMBS Leonard Franks It was last Tuesday night when this case began. I was sitting in my office taking in some Divine Revelation. Fortunately, my secretary hadn’t discovered the bottle of it I keep under my desk. I was so tired I could have slept through an Achaean cutting my head off. The name’s Aquinas, by the way. Thomas Aquinas. I’m a private eye. About two weeks before, a dame named Helen walked into my office with a case. Any good story has to have story, thought, characters, language, melody and spectacle, and believe me, that dame’s face was a spectacle. Unfortunately, though, like about fifty percent of the dames I meet, she was out to lay my soul bare of its corporeal fetters. Naturally, I escaped and called the cops on her quicker than you can say “God is pure act without any admixture of potentiality”. But before the thin blue divided line got here she told me something that had haunted me ever since: all organized crime in Annapolis was just a series of emanations from a boss known only as The One. After a week of vainly trying to find him, I was beginning to feel about as stable as an unresolved tritone and I still couldn’t predicate a thing about him. Since then, the closest I had gotten to solving a case was tracking down some road-rager named Oedipus.

Truthfully, this remains a hotly debated issue among dasypodisian scholars, namely, what counts as being either Elfin or Baladi? Indeed, some have suggested that the so called “glittering” Elfin-Baladi is a branch that exhibits their ancestral Elfin heritage more, while others have decried such tactics as colorist, divisive, as well as leading to the Two-Hundred Year Tail-Thumping between ultraconservative Elfin-Baladi and those they call “arrow-shooting pretty bunnies.” My own research has indicated that Alpin von Lampis seems to have been neutral regarding the issue, provided that no one confused which den he sprang from, at which point he’d quickly correct the speaker. 3

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So I was in my office trying to clear my mind of all earthly things and hope that that would put me a little bit closer. And naturally, that was when a new case had to walk in my door. Some things never flux. This time, it came in in the form of someone I knew. A cop. The good kind of cop: the kind who knows when you should take action and when you should just let a being at work stay itself. His name was John Calvin. And it didn’t take much to tell that he was flustered. “Hi, John,” I said. “What can I do for you?”He glared at me. “What can you do for me? Nothing, that’s what. No one can do anything for me. No one can do anything for any one.” “Um…” “The things I’ve seen as a police officer… I’ve seen women fall in love with their own stepchildren. I’ve seen druggies try to hide at the bottom of rivers with giant glass pipes. I’ve fucking seen parallel lines converge. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve been to hell and back, Aquinas, and I haven’t seen Paradise on the way.” This was starting to get more elongated than the omicron in the third person plural subjunctive of !"# and I didn’t have all day. “So it’s a crime, then?” “I’ll say. And the police can’t do a thing about it. I swear, if a single person gets saved in this town, it’s because of arbitrary divine will, not us. We’re all universally wretched.” “Human laws fail in some cases,” I said. “Hence it is possible sometimes to act outside the law, namely, in a case where the law fails; and yet the act will not be evil. If, however, the same reason remains, for which the law was hitherto useful, then it is not the custom that prevails against the law, but the law that overcomes the custom.” He thought for a second, and then poured himself a drink. “Thanks, Thomas. You always did know the right thing to say.” “All right, so tell me about the case.” He downed the drink. “It’s a serial killer, and a brutal serial killer at that. Even Officer Epictetus has suppressed his desire to deal with the case and he’s normally got an iron stomach.” “Just the facts, John. Just the facts.” “Fine. He’s hit four people so far. He doesn’t stick to the same MO, but he marks his victims with little notes beside them. Not much. Just fragments.” “Fragments like what?” “The first victim was a streetwalker hit by a crossbow right through the throat. There was a note attached to it. It said that ‘The name of a bow is life, but its work is death’”. “I see.” “The next was also done with an arrow. It was a two bit con-man by the name of Gorgias. ‘The harmony of the world is a back-bent harmony, like the harmony of a bow and a liar’”. “Strange.” “Then he changed weapon and went after a soldier named Othello. He was knocked out and tied to a lightning pole on the top of a building during a storm. The note said ‘A lightning bolt rules the world’”. “One more.” “This one was an heiress. Practically a queen. Name of Dido. Burnt to death. And the note said that ‘Fire is the exchange for all things and all things for fire just as goods for gold and gold for goods’”. “Obviously a complete madman.” “Yeah, we figured that much out. But that’s about all we’ve figured out. Thomas, do you think you can track this killer down?”

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I had been looking forward to that question about as much as a person looks forward to being asked to preach to the Ninevites, and after four years of friendship with John I had about as much chance of getting away with saying no. I didn’t like serial killer cases. You have to get in their heads; then, as soon you do you feel dirty, like a kid who’s just stolen some peaches he didn’t and you want to make some confessions. But that’s life. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ll see what I can do.” He smiled broadly. “Wonderful. I’m sure you’re predestined to succeed. The latest crime scene is at Carthage place. You might want to get there before the police clean it all up.” I nodded and he left me. When I had more or less gotten myself together, I went outside and climbed into my car, the Created IntelLexus. That was when I learnt that when it rains, it rains for forty days and nights. Sitting next to me was a woman I knew all too well. Her name was Alyson. For a while, she had been a gold-digger, possibly a black widow, before starting up a business as a Madame. In the business, she had taken the name of the “Wife of Bath”. Much to my chagrin, she was one of the dames who wanted me alive rather than dead. “All right, Alyson,” I said trying not to look at her. “What do you want?” The ends of her lips turned up. “Oh, Thomas. Do you really need me to tell you what a woman wants?”

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Issue 5