Elsa Lieroinen was getting tired of clowns. Luckily for her, circuses were a deep and multifarious well of opportunities:
Daggers, knives, and chainsaws zoomed about the fairgrounds like upgraded mosquitos. They mostly bounced off invulnerable and concrete skin, or occasionally found themselves teleported randomly across space and time; if not very far. They did however make sure to periodically circle back to the man standing in the middle of the battlefield, lightly grazing his palms as he weighed invisible fruit.
Or, if you were being very charitable, “juggling.”
Hettie Haldor tied serpentine contortionists into human knots. Liam Pittenweem crouched under a honeycomb of light, a fire-breather’s breath turning into autumn leaves as it smashed against his shield. Arnold Barnes stood downwind of a cadaverous tattooed man. Chinese dragons, mermaids, and sword waving skeletons flowed off his illustrated skin, charging at the lightning-clad child.
Arnold’s internal compass was still caught between a dozen magnets, but that didn’t matter. His jagged aura exploded the living tattoos into clouds of pigment dust. He seethed inwardly. The witch-lady was clearly ripping off Mabel.
Allison meanwhile was ripping off Arnold. A contingent of clowns had clustered together like army-ants building a living bridge with their own bodies, forming into a twenty-foot colossus of themselves. A harlequinade fractal stomping about, not caring if its feet came down on friend or foe. A number of clowns had even stripped off and skinned themselves, their naked, dripping red musculture forming the nose. Allison flew around the giant like an absinthe shooting star, chipping away at it with her friend’s lightning. A colonial organism, she could only take out a clown or two at the time, as new components eagerly threw themselves at their greater image.
Elsa and Myles watched all this from atop the calliope, Elsa having lifted it into the sky on the backs of straining pixies. The witch had her servant’s top hat in her lap.
“Hmm,” hummed Myles. “Shuriken?”
Elsa reached into the hat, removing three keen-bladed throwing stars between her fingers. She dropped them into the fray, right above her juggler. He caught them deftly, tossing them into the complex orbit of projectiles.
“Got another one?” asked Elsa.
Elsa cupped her hands and dipped them into the hat. When she raised them again, they were full of some thick, pale liquid. The witch spat into it. The fluid burst into flames, which she quickly tossed down.
The pair laughed together. “Okay,” said Elsa, “one more.”
Myles rubbed his beard. “…Seal pup.”
“Sure! Should confuse them.”
Elsa lifted a wiggling white baby seal from the hat. She kissed it on the nose, throwing it yapping and trilling down.
The pup flew past the Crimson Comet as he faced off against a classic strongman in leopard print briefs; arguably a cousin of sorts to his kind, if only in appearance. His muscles were bowling balls trying to mate beneath his oiled skin, his moustache pronged like a union anchor. He pointed at the Comet, crying in a thick transatlantic accent, “Bully! You dare challenge Megacles the Invincible?”
Honestly, Ralph would rather not. Every time he hit anything, his world was briefly replaced by what he reckoned they called onomatopoeia. It was incredibly jarring, like a record skipping, if the record was him.
The strongman roared and ran at the Comet. Ralph got an idea. He stepped sideway, lightly grabbing his assailant by the tree-trunk ankle. Apparently grappling didn’t count as an impact.
The Crimson Comet kicked off the ground, launching into the air in an arc of red light, dragging the strongman bellowing behind him. He threw the man towards the wire fence that ringed the circus. The brute vanished as he passed over the boundary.
Ralph flipped in the air, soared over the battle and shouting, “Try getting them over the fence! It’ll take them out of the picture!”
Arnold watched the superhero go by, nodding to himself. He threw out his arms, dendrites of lightning lashing out of his bodies. Flashing silhouettes lit the air above the fence. Clowns and carnies in nicotine stained singlets fell from the sky.
Elsa stood up on the flying carpet. “Shit,” she said. “They’re getting clever. Better end this.”
“Good luck, mistress.”
“Thank you, Myles.” Elsa cleared her throat. “Pallida Mors pulsat aequa ala pauperum tabernas regumque turris1!”
Thick, raven dark wings sprouted from the witch’s back. She leapt off the carpet, swooping down towards the circus, snatching Allison like a hawk claiming a dove.
The pair shot up into the lower reaches of clouds. Allison thrashed and bit, flashing with Arnold’s lightning and burning with Gregory’s fire. The wind roared with her.
Elsa’s grip remained a vice. Runes lit up on her skin like sympathetic ink under UV light. “Give up, girl. All Creation answers my call. I draw from the same well as God. Take my offer, and be glad I left you with anything at all!”
A sound like sliding silver echoed through the air. Allison grinned. Elsa scowled. “What are you smiling at?”
Allison didn’t answer. She was too busy taking in the music.
Drina and Chen Liu were fighting together, Drina wildly swinging her stolen enchanted mallet, Chen with gold gauntleted fists. They were distracted by the sound of hundreds of strains of bright, young laughter.
Children were pouring out of the Hall of the Possible. Boys and girls—or maybe boys and girl. The boys came in all colours, but the girls were all clearly the same, just in different strange outfits and haircuts.
The new children fanned amongst the roiling crowd. As Chen watched them, he felt some of his gold birds wrench themselves out of his power’s grip. His attention snapped towards them just in time to see them start bubbling. They began to glow as they lost their shape, exploding into spider webs of gold like rivers of light. The molten metal speared through skulls and guts with a sizzle of blood and bone marrow.
Chen felt a small hand tap him on the side. He flinched, looking down to find a naked boy with his little brother’s face and Fran’s eyes. His body was decorated with gold that looked like it had be pourn directly onto his skin.
The boy grinned, crowing, “Hi Dad!” before running off to find more sport.
Drina laughed, a touch hysterically. “Your son sure is something, Mr. Liu!”
Chen stammered. “I—I don’t have a son…”
High above, Elsa watched aghast as the snow she laid down so artfully (cotton candy contamination aside) turned against her, becoming spike traps and walls of ice, or just plain boiling. Little girls glowing like angels were tearing through her forces like paper dolls.
In her arms, Allison laughed.
Elsa shook the girl. “What are you doing?”
Below them, one last boy stepped out of the Hall of the Possible. He was bare-chested, but wearing a pair of white bell-bottoms that pooled around his ankles. His eyes were the kind of red-violet you only saw in the sea at sunset. David Allworth watched his half-brothers and their faintly familiar female comrades run roughhouse over the weird circus people. He smiled, feet lifting off the ground.
His song was a shadow of what it should’ve been. A shadow made of light, but a shadow still. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t blowing out her ears. It was a tidal wave. It was a white hole spewing stars like sea-spray at the heart of the universe. It was the shore that time crashed again. So much of it was David, but there was more. She’d heard it before. In her dreams. On her birthday, up in the sky.
That last night at the Institute—
Allison broke into a fresh jag of laughter. “He’s alive!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Elsa asked, mostly out of reflex.
Allison pulled the song into herself and rode the thunder:
A shockwave sent Esla spinning across the sky like she was hula-hooping. When she slowed enough to see anything besides blurred stars, the sorceress found Allison floating with a kind of primal serenity behind her. The girl’s costume had changed: no longer a mess of tye-dye rainbows, but the whites and greys of a stormy sea. The only colours were a blue and red diamond crystallizing inside the nine-pointed star on the child’s chest.
Elsa’s eyes widened. She knew this world’s history enough to recognize that symbol:
In the span of a synapse sparking, she was upon her.
In the Hall of the Possible, Therese Fletcher’s heart was a thrumming impeller engine. She felt like she was trying to stand at the bottom of the ocean. She was pretty sure she was crying blood. But she couldn’t stop laughing.
Brit and David stood in the centre of the mirrors, petals of lights passing between them and the polished silver.
“So, um, what’s she laughing about?” asked Brit. She looked at her hands. “Heck, what is she doing?”
“No clue,” replied David, wonderfully dizzy from the dozen odd conflicting sets of memories and sensory input. “Feels fun, though.”
With Allison occupied in the sky, the Brits and the weird Fran eyes handling the bulk of Elsa’s retinue, and everyone struggling to comprehend… whatever Therese was doing in the Hall of the Possible; Arnold had turned his efforts to the recursive clown giant. He chipped away at it man by man, all while dodging its massive footsteps and swinging wrecking ball fists.
A booming, out of tune chorus of laughter.
“And you’re not funny, either!”
A boy danced up to Arnold. He was wearing a dark suit with a red-purple flower pinned to his front pocket. His eyes were, of course, ultramarine blue. In a familiar European mongrel lilt, he said, “Hey zappy!”
“Bit busy—wait, who are you?”
The boy spun around Arnold. It didn’t show on his face, but he was almost offended. Everyone knew him. “Lorenzo Moretti, at your service.”
Arnold was forced to leap to his side. The giant had started throwing excess clowns. It was one way to lose weight.
Lorenzo grinned. “Sure.”
He cracked his knuckles and evaporated out of his suit like Gabriel had blown his trumpet. The mist wafted into the giant, settling on the clowns that comprised his body like dew. The droplets seeped through their costumes and into their skin. Two simple thoughts filled their rudimentary minds:
Arnold watched the giant begin to stagger. Its fat and skinny zoöids were tearing at each other with maenad ferocity, like a baroque reimagining of cancer. It sweat blood and gore into the snow as dead and dying clowns were ejected by their fellows. The boy rolled out of the way as the clown o’ war fell forward on its “face”, writhing and twitching in fragmented death.
A wine-dark fountain spewed out of the pile, forming into a boy covered in an oily red film of blood. Lorenzo Moretti bowed grandly. “I trust that was of use, cloaky?”
Arnold blushed. If he was a little bit older, he might have had a word for how that made him feel.
Myles glided over the crowd owl-shaped, occasionally swooping to claw some little water-brat’s eyes out. He came to a hover over a gaggle of Brits. They were swarming about the clown-mobile, tormenting it like too-young children with a new kitten. One girl in a liquid metal membrane punctured a tire with a fingerpoke. An arterial spray spurted in the girl’s face, the car’s horn howling like a wounded beast. Another Brit in a black floral dress held a redwood staff in one hand, and the driver door shut with the other. Five clowns’ faces pressed against the window glass, the pressure warping their skulls as viscera leaked out the door-frame. The roof of the car started peeling back like an overstuffed can of fish, revealing a red, wet palette for a ceiling.
A Brit in a dress of fluttering tortoiseshell butterflies happily babbled something in alienese2. None of her other selves understood a word, but that was okay. She wrapped her fingers underneath the car’s hood and wrenched it open with a crack of snapping bone.
The Menrvan child let out a shriek. The car’s engine compartment was filled with intestines like volcanic tube worms, writhing around an engorged set of lungs and a panic-beating heart the size of a manhole cover. With great trepidation, she lightly tapped the organ, pulling away as it twitched beneath her finger.
…Then she started pounding it with her fists like a bongo set.
Myles dropped out of the air in human form. Darkness gathered into an obsidian xiphos in his right hand. “You know, girls,” he asked, raising the shadow sword. “That car doesn’t make the clowns out of nothing.”
The girls turned almost as one. They all smiled.
The brood of Brits rushed at Myles like a low-flying meteor shower. Behind them, the car door burst back open, disgorging a pile of twisted, stunted clowns.
Myles swung his sword-arm with all his strength, but the girls drained his momentum like kinetic ticks. He might as well have been trying to brush their hair with a feather-duster. They made him slow. Weak. He could only watch as the chaos-star child abomination lifted the clown car up into the air, shaking out clowns like sand from a shoe. The flying boy threw the car down on top of them in a mess of flesh and metal. The Brits clapped and cheered, Myles taking the chance to slip owl-shaped back into the air.
Everything was going wrong. Myles needed an easy win. Preferably over one of these little shits.
He spotted a lone Brit lying on her back, hugging the conjured seal pup against her chest—its fur and her naked, bloodless skin almost invisible against the snow. She was clearly some sort of sickly. Myles dived.
Laurina Sands wasn’t sure what was going on. The last thing she could remember was running with her cousins across the moonlit desert. Somehow, she was pretty sure she was still doing that. But now she was also in some snowy circus, running around with girls who looked like her, smelled kinda-sorta human, but also had her blood gift? It was weird. Still, she was having fun. She squeezed the seal pup against her chest.
God, it was squishy.
Myles landed in front of the girl, brushing off his tuxedo trousers and smiling as much as he could without revealing any teeth. “Hello, little lady. Aren’t you cold?”
Laurina sat up. “Nope!” She squinted at the man’s top-hat. “Is this your circus?”
Myles clapped, a slight tremor running through his smile. “Yep! I’m the ringmaster, you see.”
Laurina smiled. “I’ve never been to a circus before. Is it a good one?”
Myles looked about the fairgrounds. He saw the Crimson Comet hurling his mistress’s artisanally crafted minions over the fence into oblivion. He saw gusts of sharpened hail rip through Bornean wild-men and human lobsters like bullets. He watched as that Gypsy sow smacked clowns in the head with the magic mallet he and Elsa had conned idiots with back in Northam.
Laurina got to her feet, only for the seal pup to squirm out of her grip. She snatched after the pinniped as it was pulled back into the juggler’s power, scowling when her hands found only empty air. The pale girl huffed. “I wasn’t done hugging…”
Myles chucked. He layered his voice thick with mesmer. “That’s okay, child. I can get you plenty of soft things…”
Laurina turned to look at the ringmaster. “You can?”
“As sure as anything, child.” Myles locked eyes with the girl. They glinted like a cat’s. “Come here, and I’ll show you.”
Laurina walked slowly towards the vampire with a dreamy expression. Soon she was close enough for Miles to lay a hand on her trunk. He didn’t care what this girl said, her skin was ice. Soft, though. Her blood was exotically spiced, even by superhuman standards. The roots of his fangs ached with anticipation—
Laurina leapt up, wrapping her arms around Myles’ head and sinking her teeth into his neck. He screamed, digging his fingernails into the child as he struggled to pry her off. In the end, though, Laurina let go of him.
The young vampiress spat Myles’ blood into the snow, grimacing. “Chalky.”
Myles stumbled backwards, clutching his ice-encrusted wound. For a second, he just stared at the girl. Then he charged madly at her. “Alalḗ!”
Laurina moved like ink in water. The blood of lost Menrva and Mother Lilith mingled in her muscles as petrol and flame. Myles’ ribs popped and shattered almost of their own accord. The softest prod from a big toe bent his leg bow-shaped beneath him—
Myles gathered the darkness and thrust his hand out. His blade buried itself in Laurina’s navel. The vampire gasped and shuddered as her cold blood beaded around the xiphos. Myles grinned. Ancient memory stirred inside him. The way brave, handsome helots looked at him when they learnt the consequence of their merits—
Myles felt his veins burst inside him. Pain flowed like blood through him, pooling into the empty spaces within his body. He wept red. When he tried to scream, all that emerged from his throat was bloody bile.
He turned his head to find a vaguely Indochinese boy smiling behind him. He was dressed in vines and flowering water-lilies. His eyes were bluer than delphinium.
Perhaps unfortunately for Myles, Father Zeus did not let his accursed die so easily.
Laurina screwed her eyes shut and pushed herself off the now brittle shadow-sword. She waved at the new boy. “Thanks! What’s your name?”
If she had to guess, Laurina would’ve guessed the boy was fae—but he didn’t smell lilim at all.
“David Ly,” the other child said, skipping towards the girl. He held out a moss-covered hand, from which a bright poppy bloomed. He picked it from his skin and offered it to Laurina. “Wanna flower?”
She took it eagerly, sniffing it happily. “Yep!”
Ly pointed at the bleeding heap in the snow. “Let’s play with him some more.”
Laurina decided she wouldn’t eat this boy.
Up above, Elsa was faring no better. Allison Kinsey’s fists tore through her wards like icebergs through bulkheads. Every blow brought the promise of pain closer and closer. Elsa tried hardening the air around the girl into orichalcum. She burst free with an arch of her back. She pelted her with marbles the mass of worlds. She caught them between her fingers. Elsa even opened a portal into the heart of the sun.
But, of course, we were talking about star-gods.
Allison punched Elsa square in the chin, solar plasma clinging to her body like bubble bath scrum. Allison was shaking with giddiness. She felt like she was holding her hands against a water jet, but all over and inside her.
Miri trilled within her, “We’re flying!”
Allison giggled. “We can always fly!”
“I know, but twice!”
Elsa had to count herself lucky. At least the child seemed content with pure violence. The things a star-god could do. Even the idiot, half-pagan son of Space Tarzan. The witch flipped around and flew into a cloud-bank, desperate for a moment’s reprieve.
Elsa’s wings beat the black mist like fish-fins in a dark ocean as she refreshed her warding spells under her breath. She would find a way out. She’d killed two variations of Zeus, and personally driven great Cthoolo mad. She was not going to be beaten by a ten year old albino.
Allison floated above the witch’s cloudy sanctuary. Even if the water vapour wasn’t eagerly surrendering Elsa’s location, she could see the detritus of cosmic rays settling on her skin and tacky silk outfit. Manna from Heaven, if manna could give people cancer.
She considered her next move. Blow the cloud away? Vapourise it—and Elsa—with hex-vision?
(She wasn’t sure where she’d gotten “hex vision” from, but it sounded right)
Allison smiled and started rubbing her hands together.
Elsa’s skin started to tingle. She could feel the hairs on her arms standing on end. Her tongue tasted dust. The air around her sparked.
The cloud screamed lightning, with Elsa cowering right in its throat. Her recitations saved her, but the wings she conjured burned to ashes on her back, sending her plummeting through the sky. Elsa let herself scream. It would be a waste of steel not to. The world blurred, the stars becoming tear-trails of icy light all around her. The snowy ground slammed into her back. Before Elsa could move, a pair of ruby-red beams blasted her in the chest, pinning the witch to the snow. Allison floated above her, the contempt in her gaze turned to diamond light.
“Might wanna give up,” the girl said, arms folded. She smiled. “Maybe throw in some of those goodies you were talking about on your way out.”
Elsa looked around her. At the mere possibilities of children tearing apart her handiwork. At the son of a country butcher play-acting Jupiter, with her forces as Salmoneus. At the half-educated housewife pretending to be Thor with a gilded Chinaman. Maybe it was time to cut her losses.
Then Elsa spotted the tree. It was an apple tree, in full fruit despite the bewitched winter. Two children were lounging beneath its branches, happily devouring its bounty. At its base, Myles’ bloodied body lay gasping, the trunk growing out his splayed rib-cage.
Elsa screamed, “What have you done? What have you done to him?”
Laurina Sands and David Ly poked their tongues out at the woman.
Rage always bred ingenuity in Elsa. As Arnold Barnes raised a hand to blast a surviving clown, she raised hers:
“Capiaris vibratus ab aethere fulgor3!”
The chain of lightning that lashed from Arnold’s finger was violet, not green. It bent and arced over the boy’s head, hitting AU and Mrs Kinsey. They didn’t go far, reappearing in the shadow of the Ferris wheel. The two startled, glancing at each other and the structure looming over them.
“Ut pereas rubigine4!”
The Ferris-wheel’s twin-sided supports crumbled to red iron dust: a thousand years at the bottom of the ocean in a single moment. The steel wheel tottered and fell, right over Drina and Chen.
Allison screamed, “Stop!”
The wheel stopped an inch above the mother and supervillain. Everything did. The circus army. The Catalpans. The snowflakes in the air. Chen had reflexively pulled Drina into his side and thrown up an umbrella of gold between them and a steel girder. It most definitely would not have saved them.
Allison flew down to the pair. With strength enough to move an ocean-liner, she tried to pull her mother clear of the wheel. Neither she nor AU budged a micron. They were affixed in time itself.
Elsa took the chance to wiggle out from the frozen eyebeams. She hurried over to the vampire-tree, taking a moment to kick David Ly in the ribs as she passed. The witch knelt next to her servant, stroking his ruddy cheek. “Oh, Myles…”
Myles didn’t respond. He was as frozen as everything else in the fairgrounds, to Elsa’s relief, really. She dared a look inside his chest. His innards were riddled with tree roots. One had pierced his left lung. Another had narrowly missed his heart, but a third was growing right towards it. Nature’s stake.
Allison appeared behind Elsa, wrenching her into the air by the neck. She growled in her ear, “Stop it!”
Elsa hissed, “Fine.” She twirled her finger clockwise.
Allison was suddenly in the air again. Before it could register, her ears were filled with a colossal thud.
She heard her mother’s bones crunch. Allison wailed—
She was back by the tree, clutching Elsa’s neck.
“That was two seconds in the future,” she wheezed. “Myles, for your mother. That a trade you’re willing to make?”
David Allworth’s song still rang in Allison’s ears. She could hear Elsa’s pulse race, smell the stress hormones in her sweat. She was terrified.
That day, Allison Kinsey learned an important lesson. Herbert Lawrence had taught it to Arnold Barnes a Christmas past: some people, you didn’t want to scare.
Allison searched for a solution. Some path for her mother that didn’t involve giving Elsa what she wanted. Some of them were possible, even plausible. Allison could do anything right then. But none of them were certain.
“It’s not worth it,” Miri said. “Your mummy’s nice. And Mr. Chen tried to help us.”
Allison nodded. “Go,” she said quietly.
“You’ll give me what I want?”
“Yes, just go!”
Elsa vanished. Myles vanished. Laurina and David Ly vanished. The whole circus was gone in an instant, taking all the new yet familiar songs with it. The impossible open plane it had stood upon contracted, filling with trees and shrubbery.
The Mirror Mistress pulled her hood back, face glistening with sweat. She smiled shakily. “Well! That was interesting!”
David shook his head. He looked about at the other Catalpans. “Ah, hi. Why’s everyone standing around here? And wasn’t there a circus here?”
Brit pointed at Therese lying in the dirt. “Uh, why is Therese here? And a superhero?”
A newly clear-headed Gregory looked down at his clown costume, before glaring at the other ex-hostages. “Who the hell dressed me—eggh!”
Hettie hugged her son as tight as her concrete frame permitted.
“What happened?” asked Billy. “Did we run the witch-lady off?”
Allison couldn’t bring herself to answer.
Nobody was surprised to find Miri’s new body missing when they got back to Freedom’s Point. The growth tank had been neatly removed from its cradle. Less neaty, Dr. Beaks had been reduced to a smouldering, sparking ruin. Looking at the destroyed robot produced a unique discomfort in Ralph Rivers. His brain couldn’t decide if he was looking at a corpse, or an especially expensive piece of broken furniture. “Maybe he tried to stop them?” he offered.
Maude removed the note pinned to the medical machine’s plague-mask face:
—For my servant.
“I think she’s just a bitch.”
Allison stood with her mother in front of the space her flesh and blood sister should’ve occupied. “…I’m still glad we didn’t take her offer,” she said, mostly to herself. “It would’ve been like those stories with evil genies—”
Drina pulled her daughters into a hug. “Allie. Miri. It’s alright to cry.”
Whatever their founding daughters had lost that night, Libertalia rang in Christmas triumphantly.
“Drinks are on us!” cried Paul Haldor behind the bar.
“Nobody has any bloody money!” retorted Close-Cut, his immaculately tailored arm around his lover. “They’re always on you!”
“You know what we mean!”
Mabel Henderson hopped into Fred Barnes’ lap. “Miss me?”
Fred ruffled the girl’s hair. “Bloody hell we did!”
Gregory Collins nursed a lemonade through a curly straw, watching as Steve got fussed over by his mum and dad.
Sarah Allworth put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Greg, right?”
Greg looked up at the old lady. “Yeah.” Recognition. “You’re the Flying Man’s mum, right?”
Sarah nodded. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry about your son, he sounded cool. Really cool.”
“Thank you. David tells me you two were getting along before all that circus nonsense.”
“Yeah, David’s cool.”
“Well, me and David are having Christmas dinner together tomorrow.” Sarah glanced at the pub clock. “Or this evening, I suppose. We’d be happy to have you.”
Close-Cut waded through the partying crowd to the pair. “Gregory! Glad to have you back.”
“You still up for working out a costume sometime? I’ve got a lot of ideas about aesthetic fire-proofing…”
Gregory nodded eagerly. Sarah called out across the tavern, “David, we’re having Greg over for dinner! I’ll find you another set of clothes.”
David ignored the threat, continuing to dance to the blaring Louis Armstrong record. He was thinking about all those other hims—was “brothers” the word?—Therese invited into the world.
He wondered if his grandfather was ever going to have more kids.
Chen found Angela Barnes standing at the back of the pub with a pint. He’d left his armour outside the door in gold bars. He didn’t expect them to be there when the night was over. He didn’t mind. More where that came from.
Chen took a deep breath. “I didn’t get a chance to say before—back at the Institute… I’m sorry.”
“All in the past.”
Chen shook his head. “It was stupid and cruel.” He sighed. “And it didn’t help anyone in the end.”
Angela looked at the young man. “…Take a walk with me, Chen?”
It wasn’t far to the Barnes family home. Angela opened a kitchen cabinet, removing a gold Grecian helmet.
Chen blinked. “You kept that?”
“Yes. We melted the rest down for cash, but it felt wrong not to keep something.”
“Why are you showing me this?”
“Because that money—and I know you didn’t just leave us that gold on a lark—was what let us drive all the way to Sydney for that protest. That’s where Arnold found us.”
Chen looked away from the woman. “Ah, he would’ve picked you guys up sooner or later.”
“Chen, I like to think I’m a practical woman. I don’t deal with hypotheticals. Besides, you helped us get Mabel and the rest back.”
“But we fucked it up!”
“You still tried.”
Chen looked down at his boots. “…The Institute wasn’t the end of it, Mrs Barnes. I… got into some messes. Bad messes.”
“Oh, Chen.” Angela placed her hand on the nape of Chen’s neck. It covered the pentagram tattoo.
“God forgives all.”
1. “Pale Death knocks with equal wings on the hovels of the poor and the palaces of kings.” ↩
2. Specifically, Arconian, the third most widely spoken language on Menrva. ↩
3. “Be seized, o bolt travelling through the regions of the aether!” ↩
4. “May you fall to rust!” ↩