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This is a memory. It is another place, another time. Snow is falling gently. Two girls are walking down the street slowly, hand in hand. One is wearing a thick winter jacket, reflective wrap-around sunglasses and a scarf over her mouth and nose. The other wears a long, grey coat and looks very much like Hailey, although younger and with all her limbs properly attached.

They are not really holding hands. The girl in the grey coat is gripping the other’s wrist tightly, very tightly. They walk in silence for a while, then, the girl in the scarf tries to say something. It is hard to tell what she says -- as soon as her mouth begins to move there is an unearthly hissing noise, like radio static. The other girl responds by tightening her grip and gritting her teeth silently.

“You’re not her,” says the girl in the grey coat, after a long silence. “You’re just not.”

The hissing noise returns. The other girl says, “How can you say that?” It sounds like she may be crying, though it’s hard to tell. The wind is very cold, but neither of them shivers. A large snowflake falls on the girl with the scarf’s cheek and vanishes instantly with a soft sizzling noise.

There is a patch of ice on the sidewalk ahead. The girl with the scarf steps on it and slips, keeling over forward and smashing face-first into a metal signpost with an alarming crack before her companion can catch her.

“H-hey! Are you okay?”

The girl in the scarf steps back from the post, her head down, swaying slightly from side to side and making an escalating noise that now sounds more like a roaring fire, hissing and popping and cracking, than radio static. The noise seems almost like inhuman laughter, but her voice is sad when she raises her head and says, “Sorry. I’m really sorry.”

Her sunglasses are smashed to bits. Her eyes are not eyes at all, merely holes through which there shines a pure and terrible light that is also sound, that buzzes and pulses and frays the threads of thought and truth. Shining liquid drips from the sockets and from the cuts on her face. The girl in the grey coat lets go of her wrist and recoils back, covering her eyes and screaming. Things are fading, growing too bright, too clear to comprehend.

“I’m so sorry,” says the girl in the scarf, her voice barely audible over the roar and crackle of white noise, just as the world itself is barely visible through the blaze of white light. A spark of brightness jumps from her hand to the other girl’s chest. The universe explodes with light, then fades, slowly, into blackness.


Hailey wakes. She is lying on her back in a room dimly lit by flickering green-white candles. The walls are bare concrete etched with runes she does not recognize. It looks like a typical undeveloped basement, although the floor is some kind of hard leather rather than cement. Loud skittering, scraping and occasional banging noises are coming from somewhere above.

Her limbs are stiff and unresponsive and it takes a real effort to raise her head and look around, but on the bright side all four limbs seem to be accounted for and the staticy hiss is mercifully absent. Elliot is sitting by a small coffee table, the only piece of furniture in the room, carefully returning a set of surgical tools to a small sewing kit. There is also a piece of what looks like broken glass on the table; it is smeared with blood and glowing faintly with a troubling inner light.

Hailey tries to speak but produces only a strangled gurgling noise. Elliot indicates the piece of glass without looking up and says, “This was lodged in your chest next to ... next to where your heart should be. I don’t know what it is but it was killing you and I don’t think that’s supposed to be possible, is it?”

Hailey gasps and rubs her throat weakly and after a few moments manages to say, “Whyyy?”

“Why what? Why did I take it out? Because the tools, they recognized you. They wanted to save you, they whispered what to do and they needed my hands to do it. I didn’t really want to do it but it would have been ... ungrateful, to refuse. I put your leg back on because, in retrospect, it was rude of me to drop you such a long distance.”

“I supposed I also did it because in some foolish corner of my mind I am harboring the hope of getting out of this alive, and your being alive rather than dead is probably a prerequisite for that, as tempting as it was to let you die out of resentment for bringing this down on me in the first place. But I suppose it would have happened eventually, anyway.” He finishes packing the kit, closes it, and slides it across the table toward Hailey. “Here.”

With some effort she pulls herself into a sitting position and makes the kit vanish into an inside pocket of her cloak. They sit there in silence for a while, just watching one another, like two large predatory animals penned into much too small a space.

Eventually, Hailey asks, “What happened? How long was I out?”

“You collapsed. Against my better judgment, I dragged you down into this basement with me to hide. Three people arrived at the warehouse entrance minutes later. They were wearing grey coats and had blank, grey eyes, like yours. The wards had no more effect on them than they did on you. They jumped down the hole without a second thought and it didn’t seem to hurt them in the slightest. They brought mechanical things with them, spider-like clockwork monstrosities at least four feet tall that crawled down the sides of the pit and started attacking my poor creatures. They started searching the cavern aimlessly; they brought in more of the mechanical things when they realized how big it was. Some of them are in the house now, but they haven’t found us somehow. The only way down here is a trap door hidden under a carpet. It’s been several hours, I don’t know, obviously I can’t keep any clocks here.”

“They’re clockwork hounds,” Hailey says. “The Lost and Found department uses them to retrieve things, and people, because they can’t be bothered to do their own dirty work. They can’t find you because you brought me down here and We -- no, They, and also I -- are immune to all forms of scrying, and as long as you’re within about ten feet of me so are you.”

“Okay,” says Elliot, grimly. “Do you have any suggestions, or should I go ahead and give up hope and die?”

She stretches stiff limbs and cracks her neck. “We need to wait. The hounds have a limited amount of energy. They will gradually wind down, and I need time to regain strength. They will probably not find us, they came prepared to search a reasonably sized space and not a ridiculously vast underground nightmare cavern.”

“Then what?”

“Then ... is there another way out?”

“Yes, obviously. There are many.”

“Okay, then you can show us the way out of here once the hounds run down. We’ll only have to evade the three Lost and Found clowns. I’m sure we can manage that.”

“Then what?”

“Excuse me?”

“Should I see if my old job at the gas station wants me back, now that I’ve lost my only chance to achieve anything?”

“Um,” Hailey says, awkwardly, “you seem to have achieved a fairly significant nightmare ... place.”

“I’ve used an incredible source of power to play Minecraft in real life and now I have to give it back and I’ll have nothing left, right? I can’t even come back here. Where am I even going to go, looking like this?” He flapped his black, feathered wings.

Hailey sighs. “What you’ve done here with the kit is remarkable. What you’ve done to yourself, also, honestly. I was very ... surprised, to see that you used it for something frivolous.”

Elliot glares at her, melancholy momentarily replaced by indignation in his fierce, spiny face. “This was not frivolous. It was all a very important process of self-actualization.”

“Even the wings?”

He flaps them again. “Okay, the wings have been an endless nightmare of backaches and difficulties sleeping comfortably and I’m considering making them even smaller but they still aren’t frivolous.”

Hailey does not meet his eyes. “That is the word They would use for any use other than the Initiation and Resurrection rituals and occasional field repairs.”

“You mean you only ever used it as a ... first aid kit? That’s...”

“I used it to improve myself, slowly. We were not allowed to do this but the kit grew restless, without use.”

“This initiation ritual is when they remove your heart and replace it with ... that other thing?”

Hailey shrugs. “I cannot confirm or deny that.”

“Why would you protect the secrets of an organization that is out to kill both of us?”

Hailey stands and starts pacing, testing her limbs. “If I intentionally betray the wrong secret I will be ... well. I won’t die, but it will arguably be worse and I certainly won’t be able to help you.”

Elliot picks up the little shard of glowing glass carefully and holds it up to look through it. “What about this? What is it, exactly? Do you know?”

“It’s broken glass, charged with Glory.”

“Glory?”

“Glory is ... what can I say. It’s a Firmament Department secret. That’s a serious department, not a bunch of thugs like these Lost and Found people; it’s the department I used to be part of. Glory is a kind of energy that can, like,” she trails off.

“Um?” Elliot rolls his eyes at her a little before slumping back down, leaning heavily on the coffee table.

“I’m trying to explain this without saying anything I’m not allowed to, it’s hard. Okay, glory is energy that can do things that aren’t supposed to be possible. Like kill me.”

“Is this dangerous?” Elliot asks, dropping the shard.

“Only if you stab someone with it.”

He nods and slides it carefully into a pocket. “Even if it’s someone like you?”

She shrugs. “If you pierce where their heart is supposed to be exactly, it will probably kill them. Otherwise, it will barely slow them down. Either way, you will probably die.”

“I’m stronger than your average person you know,” he protests, though he looks doubtful.

“Yes, but not better in a fight, I suspect. You are very slow. Hold onto the glass anyway, if it makes you feel better, though. It’s better for you to carry it and probably unwise to leave it here.”

“Why is that?”

Hailey glares and looks like she is about to snap at him for asking too many questions, but she doesn’t. “Um. Because there is a very small amount of a similar kind of energy in the sewing kit, and if they are close together there will be a tiny bit of resonance. There’s only a very faint charge in that glass so it probably wouldn’t matter, it’s just something I learned to do on principle.” She stops pacing and sits across from Elliot once again. “There was no reason for me to answer that question except that I’m trying very hard to be cooperative. I, um ...”

Elliot just sits there and stares at her blankly, his snake eyes glimmering in the green candlelight.

“Thank you for saving my life, Elliot Crane,” she says, touching her hand to her chest just over where her heart should be. “I am sorry for ruining yours. I genuinely respect what you have accomplished here with the tools you were given. I don’t know what kind of future I can offer you outside of this place, but I do believe we can both get out of here alive. Probably. Almost certainly,” she insists, then after several moments backpedals to “Probably,” again.

Elliot blinks a couple of times and nods slowly. “Yeah, okay. Whatever.”

There is a loud crashing and clattering sound from above. Elliot winces and sighs. “They are destroying everything.”

“I’m sorry,” Hailey says. “What ... what is this house, anyway? If it’s okay to ask.”

“It’s an exact replica of the house my grandmother used to live in, except for that closet,” he points to a door in corner, “which I never saw the inside of.”

Hailey walks along one of the walls, examining the strange runes etched there. “Including all this?”

He nods. “Yeah. I only saw this basement once, honestly. I don’t think the rest of my family even knew it existed.”

“You recreated all of these runes and things from seeing it once?”

“The tools helped. You can go into a trance, like a dream, and create things from your subconscious, you must know that. I remembered it, but I don’t know what the runes mean. Honestly, I made this place because I’ve been trying to recreate one of her recipes for cupcakes and I thought it might help jog my memory.”

“...cupcakes,” Hailey says, flatly. “Okay. I was wondering why you had an apron on when I saw you before. Thought maybe I’d imagined it.”

Elliot shrugs his winged shoulders. “I made this cavern because I wanted to feel like I had ... space. I’m trying to make cupcakes because it’s a memory. There’s no real reason for the things I do besides feelings. What other reasons are there for doing things?”

“I never thought about it that way,” Hailey admits.

They are quiet for a while. Unseen things skitter and scratch above them. More frighteningly, there is now the soft sound of footsteps.

“This cavern,” Elliot says quietly, “Isn’t nearly as large as it seems at first. It’s a trick of the light, and the haze in the air that makes it seem like it stretches on forever in every direction.”

Hailey is silent. They wait for several more minutes.

“What if they do find us?”

Hailey just shrugs. She is sitting crosslegged with her eyes closed and an intense expression on her face, now. She seems to be vibrating slighting and is emitting a very soft humming sound. “I don’t know. I will try to be ready.”


(unfinished)

(Chapter 3?)

This is a memory. There is a woman who will be old, though she is not quite yet. She has serpent’s eyes. They do not look like serpent’s eyes, you understand -- they appear human, brown with specks of green -- but they are serpents eyes nonetheless. With her is a boy who will become something else altogether but now is only a boy. They are walking together down a winding path through a park. It is after the boy’s bedtime, but he does not mind. He likes how the darkness alters the familiar scenery, making it murky and strange. If he was on his own or even with one of his parents he might be frightened of things lurking in the deep shadow. He is not frightened now. It is raining, but only a little.

They stop for a while at the crest of a little hill. There is a break in the clouds and the woman who is not quite yet old looks up at the star-speckled night sky with fear in her serpent’s eyes.

“Do you see them too?” She asks. The boy does not understand.

“The stars?”

She shakes her head slowly, sadly, in the moonless darkness, but what she says is “Yes, Elliot, the stars. Aren’t they beautiful?”

The boy nods. The rain stops. Restless, ill-defined shapes shift in the deeper shadows.
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