The Carnival System

Interlude 20A – Robin and the Carnival (Heretical Edge 2)

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In the middle of a small, yet comfortable room, with a cozy fireplace surrounded by bookshelves, and a couple of soft, cushioned chairs that would be incredibly easy to fall asleep in, two figures sat facing one another. One was Robin, the silver-bodied robot. Their eyes were currently green, indicating that the Medical One was active. Their fingers were steepled as they observed their companion in the other chair. That companion, at the moment, looked like a very shabbily-dressed, heavily scarred, and generally unkempt version of Denise Cartland. She was known as Feisty, the werewolf aspect of the recently-born Carnival System. She was also shifting a lot in the apparently too-comfortable seat, sniffing in the air while looking around to take everything in.

“It’s a lot to get used to, isn’t it?” Med asked gently. The rest of their System had agreed that they would be the best representative to start things off. They didn’t have a lot of experience speaking with others like them, those who shared multiple minds and personalities amongst a single physical body, but they did have some. Having Quip or Chat start things off sounded good on paper, but the former could tell a joke at the wrong time, while the latter could be a bit too intense in talking people up right off the bat. Both of which felt like the wrong approach to take with someone who was still so new to all of this, and who had already been through so much as it was. If there was one thing the Carnival didn’t need, it was to be even more overwhelmed.

As soon as they had spoken, Feisty turned her attention that way. Her nostrils flared as she sniffed again before quietly responding, “What’s a lot to get used to? Knowing that monsters and magic exist, that the original versions of ourselves were horrifically murdered and we’re all melded-together aspects of the our dead selves and some part of Denise, living on a space station in the middle of the sun, sharing a single body among all of us, that the good side of the person who killed the original Denise in the first place is also in our head, or something I forgot to include in that list? Because it sure would be easy to leave something out.”

Med offered a slight smile of understanding. “Yes, there certainly is a lot. Personally, I was referring to that last part. From what we understand, you have what amounts to an internal semi-physical space where all of you interact together, rather than simply doing so mentally, as it were. Even to the point where you may pull others in to see and speak with all of you at once.” They paused, clearly considering before adding,”That does seem helpful, in some ways.”

Shifting forward to sit on the very edge of the plush seat, Feisty gave a slow nod. “I guess it is. Besides, when we’re not in charge of the body, we can all play on the rides and games.” She gave a somewhat fierce smile, adding, “I’m really good at the dart game. And the knife throwing. I think–” She stopped, glancing away with a frown. “The original version of me, the werewolf I mean, I’m pretty sure I spent some time with a circus. I keep having memory flashes of that, and  it’s definitely not from the Denise side.” A cough escaped her then before she turned back to the silver figure. “Some of us remember more of ourselves than others, you know. Do you think that’s because some of us were put together from more than one dead person? Maybe our memories have more broken pieces to sort through. Me, I’m pretty sure I’m just the one other person. At least, those circus memories are the only other ones I’m getting.”

“I’m afraid anything I say will only be a slightly educated guess,” Med carefully explained. “In our case, we weren’t created from combinations of other peoples’ memories, we simply… exist. It may be a result of our creators making us this way intentionally, sectioning off parts of our… processes into separate personalities for whatever reason. Or it could have been a result of the damage we took upon our arrival on this world. Or any number of other things. Suffice to say, we lack the specific comparison to your situation. But with that in mind, I believe it is a sound theory. If you are each drawn together from multiple similar… deceased people, it would make sense that having more source-memories to sort through would take longer.” 

Rather than respond immediately, Feisty glanced away as though engaged in internal conversation. Then she focused on him. “Hang on, Loudpound wants–” 

In mid-sentence, she shifted, growing larger as her skin turned rough and greenish into a pseudo-Orc shape. “Me, I got a bunch of different memories. Just flashes, but they’re all one of two things. Either fighting, or getting ready to fight. All the images I get are about being in the battlefield, in a barfight, in a wrestling ring, whatever. That’s all of it. So I was wondering, like…” Her hand waved a bit, face twisting into a frown as she struggled to think of the exact thing she was trying to say before shaking her head. “Fuck it, you do it. You’re better at that shit.” 

She was not addressing Med, or any of the other Robins. Instead, her body shrank and changed into the blonde figure known as Letters. She offered them an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for the confusion, we’re still… working some things out. Tailor is getting a lot of practice though.” 

“Tailor is your shapeshifter?” Med asked, having heard a little bit about that whole situation. 

“That’s right,” Letters confirmed. “Time passes differently inside, so when the message comes that one of us needs her to make an appearance shift, she can take her time to get there but it still seems instantaneous to people on the outside.” Having explained that, she added, “And what Loudpound was trying to ask was whether you think the chicken or the egg came first. Does she only have memories of fighting and violence because she’s intended to be the Aspect who fights a lot, or does having memories of fighting and violence make her more likely to be the Aspect who fights a lot?” 

Med paused to consider, before holding up their hand. “I believe this is a question better suited for one of my other Facets.” 

With that, their eyes shifted from green to red. “Hey, well I ahh, I’m Brawl. Kinda fill the same role as your… is there a term you prefer for your relationship with one another?” 

“Headmate is fine,” Letters replied easily. “Some of us consider one another System siblings, Syslings. Others are closer to friends or roommates. Headmates. You’re the aggressive one?” 

Brawl shrugged, crimson eyes flickering a bit as though he was considering that. “I guess you could put it that way. The point is, when it comes down to it, it’s my job to make sure that whatever’s trying to hurt us or our friends, stops doing that. Sec and me, that’s Security, we sort of… you might call us twins I guess? We used to be more of a single Facet–ahh, that’s what we call ourselves, Facets. We used to be one, then it was like… there was a difference between protection and attack, so we split up. Sec’s the one that focuses on safety. Me, I hit things really hard. Not sure why or… or how we went from being one to two, exactly, but it’s what happened.” 

Letters seemed to consider that before holding up a finger. “Not to be rude, but someone else would like to speak.” 

That time, they grew only a few inches, body shifting into a male-presenting form though their hair remained long. It also darkened from blond to black with a slightly shimmering effect. The new arrival wore a bright pink suit jacket, pants, and tie, with a white silk shirt, a long cape that was black on the outside and pink on the inside, and a black and pink top hat. He immediately sprang out of the seat to stand up, voice filling the small room. “Hi, hello, how are you?!” He took a step back so he would have room to sweep into a bow. “I came with no name to my face, but I opened my mouth and they all said I was ostentatious. So here I am, Austin Tasious. Such a pleasure to meet you, we thought we’d have to wait a long time to find someone who understood.” Even as he said that, Austin was stepping that way, taking the Robins’ hand to shake firmly with both of his. “It really is such–ahh ahh, wait, what’s that behind your ear?” Reaching back slightly behind the robot’s head, Austin snapped his hand back and opened his palm to reveal a small silver egg, which immediately cracked open to allow a flock of colorful butterflies to sail out in every direction. They soared around the room before vanishing. 

Brawl, taking all that in, grunted, “You’re the magician.” 

“That’s right,” Austin confirmed while offering a faint smile that was slightly tinted with something a bit less cheerful. Worry. Despite his outward appearances and showmanship, he was worried. “Look, we’re all basically hanging all over your words in there. You said you and Sec used to be a single personality. Well I’m like… my whole thing is magic, okay? That’s who I am. I’ve got all the memories and skills of all the spells Ammon collected from the people he killed. If the Carnival needs magic, they talk to me. But now, like… are you saying that I’ll start splitting up into smaller versions of me. Not smaller, you know what I mean. Am I gonna stop being me and start turning into three, four, however many other people that aren’t quite exactly me?” 

There was a moment of silence while Brawl considered that before Robin’s eyes shifted from red to brownish as Hood took over. “Speaking as the first of us, at least as far as we can remember, one becoming several isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But we all understand what you mean, and why you’re worried about it. It can be complicated enough to share a body with others, let alone if you think you might be a…” 

Their eyes shifted to light blue for Chat to find the right word. “Placeholder. If you think you’re a placeholder for others to show up. And yeah, we get why you’re worried about that. Since, ahh, your siblings are more about being created from the memories of specific people, and you’re more drawn from a general skillset.”  

The eyes went to green for Med. “I would have phrased that differently, but yes. Sorry.” 

“It’s okay,” Austin muttered, making his cape billow a bit before adding, “Thing is, I like being me. It’s fun. I like standing out, I like my thoughts, my mind, my–me. I don’t wanna… disappear.” 

Eyes shifting to yellow for Sprite, the silver robot rose from the seat and took a step that way before quietly asking, “Uh, can we hug you?” She danced just a little from foot to foot, her reactions and apparent impatience making it clear that it had been one of the others who reminded her to ask for permission first. 

Austin agreed, and the two embraced for a moment, the Sprightly One holding relatively tightly (though not anywhere near as tight as their body was capable of) before adopting a cheerful tone. “I don’t think you’re gonna disappear, and neither does Med. You’re different from us. You were, you know, created differently. And… and even if you do change like Sec and Brawl, you’ll all still be who you are now, just with more of you, right?” 

After hesitating to consider that for a moment, Austin swallowed before giving a short nod. It was clear that not all of his worry was gone, but he did at least feel a little better. The magician boy offered a thanks before adding, “I’m glad you think I won’t just die.” 

With that, their body changed once more. The new arrival looked basically like Denny herself, but a, well, dead version of the girl. Her skin was pale, eyes sunken in, with visible scarring and rope marks around her neck. She offered a toothy smile. “He can’t be the dead one anyway, I’ve got that covered.” 

As Sprite made a squeaking noise of surprise, their eyes shifted from her yellow to the pink of the Quipping One. Quip looked the seemingly dead girl up and down before offering, “Lemme guess, you’re the one who shapeshifts into animals.” 

Then their eyes went back to green for Med, shaking his head. “More seriously, are you… Denise?” He was clearly worried that the girl was presenting herself as dead for more psychological reasons. 

The girl, however, shook her head. The rope marks on her neck vanished, while her skin remained pale but took on a slightly blueish tint. Her hair became soaking wet, dripping onto the floor. She had gone from someone who had been hanged to someone who had drowned. “Nah, that’s not how she died. And neither is this.” Her head shook demonstrably, throwing water around in the process. “I’m like Austin, except that where he’s got all the memories of the magic that all Ammon’s victims knew, I’m all their memories of dying.” Despite her somber words and appearance of a somehow animated dead girl, she offset them with a bright, cheerful smile. “I’m Bucket. As in ‘Kick The.’” Her explanation was followed by an audible giggle. “Every single person Ammon killed, I’ve got the assortment of their memories of the… you know.” She drew a finger across her throat while making a cutting sound effect with her mouth. “But then again, I also have super-powerful regeneration. There was this one time that Asenath chick threw a knife right into Ammon’s heart and he was fine right after. That’s the power I’ve got.” 

Her skin turned red and blustery, as if it had been horrifically burned, while her hair became almost non-existent, what remained sticking out in jagged strands. “Isn’t that funny? I get every memory of every death, but I can’t die. I just heal from everything. It’s like, ironic or something.” 

Med absorbed that, looking her up and down before asking, “Are you afraid you’ll disappear, or grow into multiple people?” 

“Nah,” came the casual response, “like you guys said, we’re not the same as you. Similar idea, but different. And even if we were, my whole job is to hold onto the memories of how the others all died. I mean, it’s a long list, but I don’t exactly need help doing it, you know? It’s all right up here.” Bucket tapped her forehead, even as her body shifted back to being almost normal aside from her too-pale skin and a single bullet hole right next to where she was tapping.   

“Well, if you ever do want to talk about that, or even about any… questions you have about the deaths you remember, feel free to say something.” Med extended his hand once more, as a slot opened up in his palm and a small card appeared. “That goes for all of you, of course. Our personal contact number is there.” 

Their eyes shifted to light pink, as Quip cut in, “And when he says personal contact number, he really means personal.” 

Then the eyes were dark blue, almost black. “I’m Sec. And the card links to a communication device within our own head. You will be able to reach us in virtually any circumstance.” 

As Bucket’s hand reached out to take the card, her body shifted and changed once more. The new figure was, again, slightly taller than the original Denny, though only by a couple inches. Their hair was light brown. Beyond that, the most obvious part of their outward appearance was that it was split in half. The left side of their body was clearly feminine, with longer hair that fell to their shoulder and slightly softer features (though their apparent age made that not quite as obvious as it might’ve been). The right side, meanwhile, had short hair that was somewhat messy and unkempt, with slightly more masculine features despite their young appearance. They wore a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved button-up shirt. The jeans were black, while the shirt was pink on the male side and white on the female side. 

“Hey there,” the new arrival announced in a female voice, “I’m Tick.” As she said that, a small swarm of buzzing bees appeared over her shoulder and hovered there. 

“And I’m Talk.” That time, the voice was male. “Or as they would’ve said in the Yupiltepeque region of Guatemala a century ago…” He repeated the same words, but in a language that was technically considered extinct.

“You’re showing off, Talk,” the female voice pointed out. 

“Like you’re not, Tick,” the male voice retorted before waving toward the hovering bees. “I mean, hello?” He stopped waving and focused on the nearby robot figure. “In case you’re confused…” 

“We’re twins.” Despite only one mouth speaking, both voices emerged in a perfect chorus. 

Eyes shifting to amber-brown once more, Hood lifted his chin while regarding them. “Twins, Tick and Talk. That’s pretty fun. Do… you know why you specifically are twins? Are you linked like this in the Carnival space?” 

“Nope, not usually,” came the response from Tick. “We’re separate in there. But we like to come out together.” 

“Share and share alike,” Talk agreed. “And I think we’re twins because we came from the same source. I communicate with and understand people.” 

“And I communicate with and understand insects,” Tick added. “Well, and control them. But Talk can control people too, in some ways. See, we think that’s why we’re so connected–” 

“And in sync,” their voices chorused together. 

With a faint smile, Hood nodded. “Well, that’s interesting. Wouldn’t you say?” 

His eyes shifted to green once more, as Med agreed, “It certainly is. And it’s somewhat connected to what we were talking about before. If you both originated from the same ‘communication powers’ source, simply diverging into ‘people or insects,’ perhaps that means any diverging, such as what happened with Brawl and Sec, is already done.” 

Hair shifting to blonde as her own choice of clothes (a white shirt and pants) reappeared, Letters carefully asked, “You meant what you said, about being able to call you whenever we want?” She was holding the card with the phone number. “We… we might need to do that a lot. You’re the only people we know like us. But we don’t want to bug you.” 

“Hah!” That was Quip, as the Robin System’s eyes turned pink. “Bug us. Pretty sure that’s Tick’s job.” 

“Ahem.” Their eyes shifted to green as Med took over. “Absolutely. Any of you can call us any time. We cannot promise that the one you wish to speak to won’t be… occupied in the moment, but the benefit of being what amounts to multiple artificial intelligences within the same body is that while one is physically occupied, the others are more than capable of carrying on a conversation.” 

“Which,” Chat put in, eyes shifting to light blue, “is a fancy way of saying, we’ll talk any time you want. About anything. Believe me, some of us love talking.” 

Letters nodded slowly. “Good. I mean, thanks. We could really use someone who can give us advice for… for all of this. I think… I think some people around here think it’s too strange, even for them. Or they think we’re all just Denny acting it out.” 

“They’ll learn,” Med assured her. “Or they won’t, but either way, it is not a problem with any of you. Remember, there is a difference between not understanding and wanting to learn, and not understanding because you don’t want to learn. But either way, it is not your job to educate them unless you want to.”

As Letters slowly nodded, her figure shifted again. Soon, Feisty stood there once more in her shabby clothing. “Okay, but… do you ever wonder about your memories from before you were on Earth? Do you want them back?” 

There was a brief pause, before the silver robot’s eyes shifted to amber-brown, the color for Hood. “If we’re going to talk about that, maybe we should sit down. 

“Because I have a feeling it’s going to be a long conversation.” 

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Calm Before 20-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – The non-canon for this story was posted over the weekend and is able to be read by everyone right here

“Answer her,” Avalon was already pressing, her gaze intent as she stared that way. “Why were you looking for Hajer? And why in an old hotel that was taken over by a gang of Alters?” 

“To answer your questions in reverse order,” Manakel’s ghost informed us, “Hajer moves around quite a lot. Hence her title. I had it on quite good authority that she was there most recently at that time. Why she went to that place, I could not possibly say, only that she was at one point. Unfortunately… for me at the time, she was gone by the time I arrived. Which, as you have already learned, was not something I enjoyed learning.” He paused, giving a slight sigh before pushing on. “As to the first part, I wished to employ her services in removing the protections from Miss Sinclaire here.” His eyes moved to Avalon, who was still staring intently right back at him. “It was a long shot that she would agree to such a thing, but then, we were trying a lot of long shots at the time. And she has been surprising before in what she has agreed to.” 

Squinting, Valley slowly asked, “She’s the ancient human who was bonded to one of those Primals, right? The… whatever they were who created the weapons the King of Canada uses.” 

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Your people would have called her a caveman. Or cavewoman. Bit offensive, but not incorrect. She was born in a time when the majority of your people did live in caves, when most of the Alters who would eventually come to call this planet home had not yet arrived. And those who had were… genuinely more threats than allies. In the early days, there were large portions of this planet which were ruled by incredibly dangerous creatures. Among those ancient inhabitants were very, very few of the beings you call Primals. Their own species was already doomed despite their vast power, and you might say a couple of those who were left… retired here. They stowed large armories of their advanced weaponry, such as what Oberon found.”

“Um, why were they doomed?” I found myself asking uncertainly. “I mean, as a species. What happened to them?” Was it weird that I was asking questions of the guy who had spent so long trying to murder my girlfriend and destroy my entire life, as though he was just another teacher? And did the fact that Avalon was right here with me, also asking him questions, make that whole situation better or worse? I wasn’t sure, but it was definitely a thing. 

“We don’t precisely know, to be honest,” was Manakel’s somewhat disappointing response. “Well, there are theories based on information we do have. I can tell you the one I subscribe to, which is that the beings we know as the Primals performed a spell that was so… dangerous and consuming, it destroyed their ability to procreate. And it did so to such an extent that even cloning would not help, because this spell they created and triggered worked by draining the life force from any iterations of their species who were not alive at the moment it was triggered.” 

I absorbed that for a moment before my eyes widened. “Wait, you mean they effectively destroyed their own ability to continue their species because they made a spell that killed any members of that species who weren’t there at the time? So they could never make any more, and the ones who died just… never got replenished?” 

“That seems like a very bad plan,” Persephone put in, gently rubbing one of Cerberus’s heads. “I don’t know what sort of goal they could have had for that.” 

“What she said,” Avalon noted dryly. She was still watching the man with obvious suspicion despite her curiosity. “What the hell were they trying to do? Are you sure they did it to themselves? That sounds an awful lot like something someone else would have done to them.” 

Mankel’s head bobbed slightly to acknowledge the point. “Yes, well, as I said, we know very little about them for certain. For the most part, they came from a time long before even my people. Certainly before we were an intergalactic civilization. We’re forced to piece things together from old records and stories. But we do know that, within the few records we have found and translated, the Primals repeatedly referred to their situation as something they had done to themselves. They blamed no outsiders, no invading enemy or force. Whatever happened, they were the source of it.” 

“So they couldn’t have any kids or create any clones, or do anything that would carry on their species,” I murmured. “And apparently this spell or whatever it was couldn’t be stopped. They were stuck with just whichever of them happened to be alive when the spell was cast, and once they died, that was it.” The idea made me shudder. What would it be like to live as a people as advanced as these Primals had been (if the weapons Oberon had found were any indication) and then become completely helpless to prevent your entire species from just dying out? 

“A few ‘retired’ to this planet, and this Wandering Woman, or Freyja, or Hajer… whatever she calls herself, she came across one of them way back in the primitive days.” Avalon frowned a bit. “If they lived so long ago that even your people didn’t know anything about them, they must live for a long time for any to have survived long enough for a primitive human to meet them.” 

The man gave a slight nod once more. “Yes, they were incredibly advanced in many ways, to the point of becoming nearly entirely immortal, in some cases. And yet, still, once one died for any particular reason, they were gone forever and the species was one step closer to complete extinction. And even they could only prolong their lives, or protect themselves from outside threats, for so long. Or perhaps some simply… chose to die, after so much of their species was wiped away with no chance to return to their former glory. They could have given up.” 

He was silent for a moment after that, clearly considering how it would feel, before visibly swallowing. Then he went on. “Hajer met one and was bonded to them. Perhaps it was an intentional way for that particular Primal to feel as though they were passing something of themselves on. Whatever the reasoning, she is quite possibly the most powerful being on this planet.” 

“She has the ability to undo things,” I remembered. “Mom said if she focuses on something or someone, she can undo the effect of anything. If you burn a house down, she can wave a hand and put it back to the way it was before the fire. Even if that means bringing everyone who was killed in the fire back to life. But like, she can even undo learning. She can make you forget things, or even erase skills out of your head by removing the fact that you ever learned them.” 

“All of which is correct.” After saying that, Manakel paused, glancing away as though losing himself in thought for a moment before shaking it off as he turned back to us. “As I said, my goal was to find her and convince her that it would be in the best interest of this world for me to succeed in my mission.” His gaze focused on Avalon as he flatly finished with, “My mission, of course, to kill you. Again, for however little it is worth, you have my apologies. Yet I did, absolutely and without question, believe what I was saying at the time. I believed that killing you, eliminating any possibility of Liesje’s spell from ever being put into the world, would maintain the peace here. Because if my people found out that spell was active, I believed they would come here in force.” 

“Yeah, they still might try that,” I muttered under my breath. “But I guess you didn’t find her.” 

“No, I did not. So I returned to other plans.” He looked to Avalon once more. “Plans which failed.” 

“Yeah, we’re all glad about that, believe me,” I noted. “But anyway, to get back to the whole reason I brought that up in the first place, you said you could help me learn to undo that… ‘severscatter’ spell that you used on Grover’s friend so we can bring her back?” 

“As I also said, it will take some time for you to learn enough to do so,” the man reminded me. “But yes, I believe it can be done. Once you have learned how, you will have to go to the spot where it occurred. And you will need to know as much about the girl as possible. That, you will need this… Grover’s aid with. But assuming all goes well enough, you should be able to, ahem, bring her back.” 

My phone buzzed at that point, so I glanced down at it before replying, “Well, I’ll definitely be coming to you for lessons soon. But in the meantime, it sounds like the others are starting to wake up.

“And I really need to get back there in time for my grandparents to meet Theodore.” 

******

Of course, Manakel had no idea what I meant by ‘Theodore,’ and I wasn’t yet to the point where I felt like explaining it. So Avalon and I left him there with Persephone and Cerberus. They had a lot to talk about, and I was pretty sure most of it was pretty private stuff. Still, I made sure Percy knew she could call for us any time she wanted, and that she absolutely did not have to do anything Manakel told her to. And I told Andromeda she should listen in and make sure nothing untoward happened. Even if he was being… well, nice now, I wasn’t going to take any chances. Having a secretly-still-evil Manakel manipulating Persephone into something bad wasn’t quite the worst situation I could think of, but it wasn’t good either. 

Either way, right now wasn’t the time to think about all that. Now was the time to focus on Grandmaria and Popser, who were standing in the kitchen alongside Dad, Mom, and me. And Loudpound, who was wolfing down a very large stack of pancakes at the table. Or rather, pancake and egg sandwiches. She took two pancakes at a time, shoved several spoonfuls of scrambled eggs between them, then ate the result like a sandwich. While sometimes dipping it in syrup. I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to try it like that, but she sure enjoyed it. 

“Uurph, I gotta tell ya, Grandma Chambers, you make some fine flapjacks,” she announced after devouring another of her concoctions. “I mean, I never actually had real ones before, just what I’ve got from borrowed memories, or how they taste inside. But if I had to have anything as my first outside meal, I’m glad it was this.” She took another huge bite then, with a murmur of pleasure, then gulped down half a glass of milk. 

Staring at the greenish-brown, taller Denny in wonder (for more than one reason, I was sure), Grandmaria finally found her voice. “Oh, well, if you think those little things are good, you should try my cookies sometime.” 

Pointing with her latest pancake and egg sandwich clutched in one hand, Loudpound declared, “I’ll hold you to that! Err–what?” She looked to the side as though listening to someone else before muttering under her breath, then turned back. “I mean, thanks. You know, for that and all this food. It’s all ahh, it’s all good.” 

Grandmaria paused before smiling. “Well, I’m just glad you’ve all been enjoying it. Or… is that just you? I’m afraid I’m not quite certain how that works with your… ahh, situation.” 

Taking another gulp of milk to finish off the glass, Loudpound shrugged. “I’m not really the explaining things type, unless you’re talking about explaining just how much it hurts to have my fist in your face. Then I’m more of what you might call an interactive teacher.” She offered a toothy grin that showed off her fangs. Then there was another pause as she listened, before shrugging. “Yeah, well, you do it.” 

With that, her body shrank down half a foot, back to the original Denny’s height. Her skin shifted away from the brownish-green and became a bright fuchsia, while her clothes were a mint and black mix. She even had a matching cape. Her eyes were yellow with no whites to them, and she had short and spiky white hair. 

“Hi!” the new arrival chirped. “I’m Tailor! Letters was gonna come out and talk, but she’s busy right now. I wanted to say I really liked the pancakes too! I probably wouldn’t have put them together with the eggs like that, but it was a new experience. I think new experiences are good! Err, most of the time. Okay, okay, maybe there’s a lot of bad new experiences, but this one was just weird, and weird isn’t bad! I like experiencing things.” 

She looked to my grandmother then. “We can taste what the person on the outside eats, but it’s like… one step removed? It’s not quite like having someone describe something to you, but it’s not exactly the same as experiencing it yourself either. It’s like, uhhhhh… you know when you eat something and then a couple seconds later you can still remember what it tastes like really well? It’s sorta like that.” She thought about her own explanation for a second, then gave a firm nod. “Basically.” 

“Well,” Popser started, “it’s certainly a delight to meet you, Tailor. I hope we didn’t annoy your… sister? I hope we didn’t annoy her too much with all our questions.” 

“Psshh, nah, she’s okay.” Tailor waved that off. “Like she said, she just doesn’t like to explain things. Or listen to things being explained. She gets bored pretty quick.” Her head tilted to look up toward the corner of the ceiling. “What? You do. I didn’t say it was a bad thing.” Looking back to my grandparents, she added, “Anyway, we decided we don’t really like the term sister or brother, because… well, some of us are more connected than others. Letters was reading stuff online earlier when she was out, and she thinks those should be called syslings. Like system siblings. That’s what we are, a System, basically. We didn’t start out the same way they do, but… I mean, it’s close enough. Anyway, we’re the Carnival System. Some of us are syslings, some of us aren’t. Mostly we’re what you call Aspects, or maybe headmates.That’s another word Letters found. Individually, we’re Aspects. When you’re talking about what we are to each other, it’s Headmates. Loudpound and Bijou are syslings because they’re really close, even though they’re pretty different. But just go with headmates for all of us as a whole.”  

Dad, who had been standing in the back corner of the room next to Mom as they watched all this, spoke up. “I had an interview with someone like that awhile back. We were trying to find out what they knew, but the one we needed to talk to was, ahh… gone. I think they said he ‘walked out.’ I ended up talking to their–what did he call himself? Archeologist, that was it. He called himself the System Archeologist. He had this mental museum of all of the pieces of memory the other parts of them left lying around. Ended up being pretty helpful. And ahh, educating.” 

We all talked a little bit more about that, before Grandmaria promised to make cookies soon, and said she would invite any of the Carnival System out to help. Then she and Popser decided they were ready to go in and see Theodore. Apparently the System had already figured out that he couldn’t manifest outside. He wasn’t exactly the same as them. They were all pieces of Denny, at least partially, so they could take over and control the body. But he was more of a separate entity inside her memories, and apparently that wasn’t enough for him to take over. Though, to be honest, I wasn’t sure he even wanted to. He was pretty nervous about interacting with anyone in there, let alone taking over the body in the ‘outside world.’ 

In any case, Tailor swapped with Walker, who grunted her own greetings before waving for us to step together. So, Mom, my grandparents, and I all moved closer. The four of us were going in. Apparently it wasn’t easy for Denny to support too many people inside herself at the same time, and we didn’t want to push things any further than that. 

We arrived in the carnival itself, and my grandparents looked around in wonder. Grandpartie went on a bit about how amazing it would be if they could make a virtual reality video game look this good, while a few of the Aspects cautiously watched from various game booths and rides. They weren’t approaching. 

Then a voice spoke up cautiously from nearby. “I… hello.” It was Theodore, of course. He tentatively stepped out from behind one of the booths, looking nervous. He had dressed up in a cute little black suit with a blue bowtie and matching boots. 

Turning that way, Popser was the first to react. “Aha!” he crowed, making Theodore jump a little. “There’s my grandson!” With a grin, he stepped that way, then paused before lowering himself to one knee. Even then, he still towered over the small boy. “I like your tie. That’s not a clip-on.” 

“No, sir,” Theodore confirmed. “Bang-bang helped me tie it.” 

“Well, he did a bang-up job.” Giving a laugh at his own joke, Popser added, “And it sounds like he’s a good friend. You can call me Popser, or Grandpartie, just like the others.” He offered his hand. “You like Theodore or Theo?” 

After a very brief pause, the boy accepted the shake, his own hand vanishing into our grandfathers’ much bigger one. “I think I usually prefer Theodore, but… Theo sounds okay coming from you, uh, sir.” 

“Theo it is, then,” Popser agreed before waving a hand. “Maria, come meet our grandson.” 

Soon, the three of them were talking animatedly. Well, our grandparents were doing most of the talking. Theodore stayed pretty quiet and just watched. But his eyes were certainly animated, as he stared at them and alternately nodded or shook his head while they asked questions. 

Stepping next to my mother as that went on, I quietly murmured, “I’m pretty sure this is good for all of them.” 

Her head gave a short nod, eyes remaining centered on Theodore while shining with half-shed tears. “Yes. It’s good for them, and for us. And I think it’s good for Denny and the rest of the Carnival as well.” Saying that, she smiled even more at the sight of Popser rising while picking Theodore off the ground so he could hold him up as high as possible, making the boy give a reflexive laugh. Her voice became so quiet, I could barely hear her next words.  

“It’s just plain… good.” 

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Four Deaths Four Killers 19-11 (Heretical Edge 2)

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So, I learned everything Perrsnile knew about the people he had sold those children to. It was going to take a lot of effort and time, but we would track them down and save all the ones we could, the ones who were still alive. I held no illusions that they would all be safe and sound after all these years, but I was going to do everything I could to put them back with their families. I had detailed notes written down, and promised the nasty little man that I would be keeping him with me while checking on the information he gave. Part of me thought I should just get rid of his ghost immediately, but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t screwing with us one last time. He had no chance of hurting any of us anymore, but I really wouldn’t have put it past him to get sick amusement out of telling us a bunch of lies just before I erased his ghost, leaving us with no way of getting the actual information.

Besides, maybe someone like Brom Bones knew a spell that could make him tell the truth. Or maybe Denny would do it if she showed herself at some point. I wasn’t sure. But either way, getting rid of him right then, no matter how much I wanted to, felt like a bad idea. Still, I didn’t have to deal with him at the moment. So, I used my necromancy to take him down to a tiny speck of power so he wasn’t even visible. Then I basically shut him away for the moment so I could move on to the next thing. In this case, the next thing was going with Gliner and the other ghost, Ausesh, up to the auditorium so we could talk to Sesh– hold on, was this really the first time I was noticing the similarities between those two names? There was absolutely no relation between Sesh and Ausesh, as far as I knew, and yet… yeah that was weird. 

Shaking that off, I took the elevator that way, and soon found myself facing a bunch of curious and scared people all looking to me for answers. They were also staring in confusion at Gliner, Archibold, and the ghost of Ausesh, who hovered in the background trying to ignore all of them. Her whole problem with crowds might’ve been lessened by being dead, but it wasn’t gone entirely. When she saw me glancing her way, the woman whispered, “Don’t look at me, you talk to them.” 

“She’s right,” Gliner agreed while folding his arms as he stood next to his partner. His voice was a soft murmur. “They don’t really know us, for the most part.” 

Swallowing hard, I stepped to the middle of the stage and raised my voice. “First, I want all of you to know that the murderer has been caught and stopped. We know what happened here, and you’re all safe.” 

Yeah, that brought on a lot of questions. They were being shouted at me from every direction, until I whistled as loud as I could. That made them stop so I could push on. “I’m going to tell you all the truth, and it’s going to be hard to hear. But we have proof, and we’re going to restore your memories about all of it.” That started even more murmuring about what I meant by restoring memories, so I held up both hands and continued. “Like I said, this is all going to be pretty hard to hear, but I really need all of you to listen.” 

And with that, I gave them the whole explanation. I told them about Perrsnile selling their children and then erasing their memories using the vault’s built-in system for making sure no one could expose this place. Needless to say, hearing that they could have decades-old children running around in the outside world, or rather, enslaved in the outside world, caused even more of a fervor. But they all wanted to hear everything, so they settled down soon enough, now definitely latched onto my every word. 

I continued through the rest of it, telling them about the whole Ausesh, Gliner, and Archibold situation, and about Gliner and Archibold making their mistakes about who the guilty person was. I told them about Perrsnile killing Mophse, and why that happened. I told them all of it. Not really the Denny stuff. That felt personal and not exactly relevant to the situation. But I did tell them that Perrsnile was dead now, and would never threaten them again. I just left out who exactly killed him. 

Obviously, they had a lot of questions about their missing children and the memories related to them. So, I quickly assured the whole crowd that Ausesh knew how to undo the memory eraser system, and that we were going to work on that immediately. “I just wanted you guys to know it was coming so you wouldn’t be so… umm, shocked when you get your memories back,” I explained. “I promise, we’re about to go work on that. But since the bad guy is gone, I think you can all safely go back to your rooms and all that, if you want to. Or to the cafeteria, or whatever. We’ll send out an intercom message when we’re about to restore your memories, and I’ll talk to you again once we figure out what’s going to happen next. I just–yeah.”

Feeling a bit awkward and like I might have been rambling on too much, I stopped myself before taking a breath. “I promised you guys before that we weren’t going to make you leave this place if you don’t want to, and we’re still not. We’ll find someone to help take care of the vault’s system, someone who can learn from Ausesh over here. She might not have programmed the computers, but she did design and build the vault itself, so between that and Sitter, we can keep the place running.” 

For her part, the ghost woman hesitated before straightening a little with a nod. “I will… do everything I can,” she agreed quietly. “Valdean would have wanted that. I am… sorry he is not here to be the face of this any longer. And that I am… not physically equipped to do as good of a job as he would like.” She was mumbling those words by the end, and I could see people in the audience trying to lean forward to hear what she was saying. 

Rather than ask her to repeat herself (figuring that wouldn’t go well), I just spoke up myself. “She’s right, she’s gonna help any way she can. We all will. And that includes helping all of you find your lost family members. If any of you want to help with that when the time comes, you can. But either way, if you have kids out there, or other family, we’ll find out what happened to them, and if possible, bring them back to you. I know you guys don’t have a lot of reason to trust Heretics, but I promise, we’re going to take care of this.” 

All of that was obviously a lot for them to digest, to say the least. I answered a few more questions about what was going on and what we were going to do, then stepped out of the way while waving Sesh up to join us. Once we were closer to the back of the stage and had a little privacy, she stared at me wide-eyed. “Damn, Flick. When you get to the bottom of things, you really get to the bottom of them.” With a quick glance toward Gliner and Ausesh, she looked back to me and added, “What about the others?” 

After a momentary hesitation, I gestured. “They’re okay. There’s just uhh… well, there’s stuff with Denny, but they should tell you that part themselves. Sorry to ask this, but could you stay up here a bit longer while we get the memory thing working right? Just in case those guys need something. I know I said they could head out to their own rooms and stuff, but uhh… they don’t seem to be doing that.” 

Glancing over her shoulder to look that way before turning back to me, Sesh nodded. “Yeah, sure. We’ve uhh…” She reached into her San Jose Sharks jacket and withdrew a large hardcover Dungeons and Dragons handbook, waving it idly. “I’ve sorta got a game going with some of these guys right now, so take your time, you know?” A soft chuckle escaped her before she sobered. “Perrsnile was playing for awhile… fuck!” She punched her own hand. “I can’t believe I never even–”

“Stop,” I interrupted. “None of us realized until–well, yeah. He had everybody fooled, believe me. And there’s no point in playing the what if or should have game. He’s dead. Now we just have to pick up the pieces. 

Sesh nodded once. “Sure, I’m just saying, I never would’ve let him play a paladin if I had any idea. But uhh, just so you know, I’m gonna want to hear everything that happened, cuz I’m pretty sure you’re leaving some stuff out right now. For now though, yeah, I’ll stay in here with these guys some more. Just make sure you let us know before you shove everyone’s memories back in their heads? Most of these people are probably gonna want to be sitting down when that happens. It just, you know, feels like it’s gonna be a lot.” 

Promising that we would absolutely do that, I headed back for the elevator once more. On the way, I casually glanced toward the others., “Is there some sort of record for riding this thing around the vault the most times in a single day? Because I feel like I’m approaching the championship.” 

“You might be in the top ten,” Gliner informed me, “but you’ll never touch Valdean’s record. Not with as much as he went tearing around this place trying to solve everyone’s problems and…” Trailing off, he sighed before looking at the ghost woman nearby. “I am… the words I want to…” His face twisted a little, as all six of his eyes looked off in different directions before he clearly forced himself to focus on her, as the words came out. “I am sorry. I am so very sorry for my–for my assumptions, and my actions. My–I murdered you. You trusted us to protect you, and I not only failed to do that, I took your guilt for granted and didn’t give you any opportunity to defend yourself. I–I can’t–” 

“Stop,” Ausesh interrupted, her voice flat. “You’re right, you killed me, and you can’t undo that. Nothing you say will magically bring me back to life.” She paused, and I could feel the turmoil within her ghost energy before she sighed. “But, I understand why you did what you did. I was an old Heretic. Even if I was never exactly top of my class in combat, if I had been the monster you believed me to be, you never would have gotten a fair shot off.” Her hand rose to point at him. “That does not mean I have forgiven you. But I do understand your reasoning. Let us leave it at that for now. Anything else would be a waste of time and effort.” 

It looked like Gliner still wanted to say something about that, but he acquiesced and gave a short nod. I could tell that he didn’t want to push things too much. No matter how much he felt the need to apologize for, well, killing her, it was better if he let it go for the time being. Otherwise, he’d just be apologizing for his own feelings rather than hers. 

Instead, after letting out a long breath, he turned to me. “Are you really going to go out there and try to find all those missing children? Even though it’s been decades?” 

After grimacing slightly at the reminder of just how long those ‘kids’ (probably mostly adults by now depending on how fast each of their species matured) had been missing, I confirmed, “I mean, there’ll probably be several of us taking turns working on that. We’ll have to trade off whenever one of us has some free time, but yeah. It needs to be done, and something tells me there won’t be a shortage of volunteers to help with it.” 

“I’ll be one of them,” he informed me. 

“As will I,” Archibold noted. “We… have a lot to make up for.” 

A moment later, the elevator door opened, and we moved back into the server room. As soon as we got there, I saw Sitter standing up. He was lifting one foot off the floor, even as De–Letters stood in front of him and requested, “Okay, the other foot, please.” Immediately, the robot lowered that foot and lifted the other one. 

“Hey, Sits! You’re awake.” Waving that way as I approached, I added, “How’re you feeling?” 

“I believe the correct term is ‘annoyed,’” came the response. Sitter’s mouth lights shifted to an amber color before he added, “Mostly at my own failure to identify the trap before it was sprung. I apologize for being unable to assist your investigation.” 

“Oh, Sitter,” Ausesh murmured before hovering closer. “You have always been entirely too concerned with aiding others over your own personal well-being. You nearly died.” 

“And you…. did.” Sitter flatly pointed out, mouth-lights shifting to a soft green as his head tilted that way. “I am told that I should know you, that you aided in my creation, and that of this vault.” 

“Yes, we can restore those memories, I… believe.” Frowning a little, the ghost woman looked toward me. “As I said before, programming is not my strong suit, but I know a little.” 

“Right arm, please,” Letters put in, watching as Sitter lowered his leg and raised the arm. Then she addressed the rest of us. “I think I can help with the memory thing, I just want to make sure his physical responses are working right. Other arm, please.” 

Marina, approaching from the back area of the server room, spoke up. “You managed to get him working pretty quickly, Letters.” 

The blonde girl shifted a little, looking embarrassed by the compliment. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. I just reconnected a few–never mind. He should be okay now. Oh, uh, you can put your arm down. Do you want me to dig deeper and try to fix your memory?” She sounded a little hesitant and unsure of herself. 

Sitter, however, nodded once, mouth lights shifting to a dark blue. “I trust your ability, Lady Letters. And it would certainly be nice to know that my memories are correct. If nothing else, it would be a good idea to have all those memories checked before I trust myself to disengage the locks for this vault. If my memories are still wrong, I shudder to think of what could happen.” 

Taking that as a good shifting point, I looked over to Ausesh. “Speaking of having the correct memories, is there anything else we need to bring down here before we get started on fixing everyone else’s?”

“No,” she replied, “we can start that right now. I may not know a lot about programming but I know how this works. Valdean and I worked on it together. He was always…” She trailed off before giving a soft sigh. “We can do it now. Here, come this way.” 

So, while Letters worked on fixing Sitters’ memory, Archibold, Marina, Gliner, and I did all the physical work on the system itself as Ausesh called out instructions. Shifting the memory-eraser part of the system over to restoring the memories it had changed wasn’t exactly easy. It was possible, but required some rewiring and even physically moving components. Apparently she mainly knew how to do this because Valdean had talked her through it as a just in case sort of measure. Which, well, we had definitely hit ‘just in case’ quite awhile back. 

Either way, while it was time-consuming, and would’ve been impossible if she wasn’t telling us exactly what to do, the actual work itself wasn’t that hard. I was able to zone out just a little and simply focus on moving one piece of the machine somewhere else, or switching the positions of two wires, that sort of thing. Mostly I focused on what was going to happen once we got out of here. Avalon and Shiori were probably going to kill me. Then find a way to resurrect me so Tabbris and my dad could kill me. Then Abigail and Wyatt could take their turn, and– yeah. I probably had a lot of death in front of me. 

Though that sentence could be completely accurate in a few other ways too. 

In any case, after about an hour, we had the whole thing put together. Letters had finished with Sitter about twenty minutes earlier, and had been replaced by Peanut, the pixie Aspect. And yes, that meant that, thanks to Tailor, she shrank down to a positively tiny form. In that body, small as it was, she was able to get into the very tight spaces within the machine, which would’ve required the rest of us to take the thing apart to reach. And boy was Peanut excited to be in the outside world. She kept commenting about how big everything was, even though she’d been in a larger space inside the Carnival. But when I pointed that out, she said this place felt bigger. I could only imagine how she’d react to the actual outside world. 

Between her going into those tiny spaces we couldn’t fit in and (somewhat reluctantly) temporarily shifting into the skittish bunny-like Bijou so she could simply reach through solid material, the Aspects were already incredibly helpful. 

Not that they weren’t already helpful, considering Letters’ ability to fix Sitter. But still. They were definitely making very good first impressions. 

Finally, it was done. Before we activated it, of course, I told Sitter that we needed him to use the intercom to warn everyone it was coming. Which he did, politely reintroducing himself, assuring the guests he was fine, and that they should sit down while their memories were restored. 

From where she was hovering next to one of the computer terminals, Ausesh nodded to me while indicating the enter button. “Press that, and the system will restore all altered memories.” 

My finger rose, then I stopped myself and looked over to Bijou. The pink bunny girl was half-hiding behind Marina, eyes and ears darting in every direction. She might’ve been less afraid of us now, but that didn’t mean she was completely calm. And she was making absolutely certain to keep either Marina or me between her and any of the others. So, I kept my voice low. “You guys wanna do the honors? Since you helped so much.” 

Her head tilted a bit at me, before she abruptly shifted down into the much smaller Peanut. “I’ll do it!” the pixie girl cheerfully called. Flying over, she landed next to the computer. “This is one small step for pixies–which is saying a lot, cuz we’re pretty small to begin with, and one giant leap for Aspect-kind!” With that, she stomped down hard with her foot on the enter button, while making a trumpet sound with her mouth. 

*****

After that, well, a lot of things happened very quickly. The people of the vault had all of their memories back. They knew who their children were, and that caused a lot of emotions. Marina and I did our best to help them through it, as did Sitter and Sesh. Ausesh wasn’t exactly suited for that sort of thing, and the two bodyguards were more about physical action than helping with emotions. 

Obviously, we promised again to help get their families back together. I reassured them once more that we would send more people into the vault to talk to all of them. I knew Abigail would want to come in here, and that she would know exactly who to bring with her. There was a lot that was going to have to be done in order to fix all of this. We were also going to set up a way to get in and out of it more easily, which Ausesh said she had a few ideas for. A way to link this vault both to Wonderland and to the Fusion school. 

There was a lot to be done. I would have to go in and out of this place for quite awhile before we were through fixing everything Perrsnile had done. And I couldn’t even get rid of that piece of shit’s ghost until we knew for certain he’d told us everything. 

But, in the meantime, I could at least get out of here for now. Ausesh was coming with, given the trouble she would have when it came to those orichalcum walls. I was going to set her up with a lab in the Haunted Mansion so she could work on those new vault entrance ideas. Besides, she wanted a bit of time away from Gliner for the time being, which I couldn’t blame her for. 

As for Gliner himself, and Archibold, they would be staying in the vault to help out, in between going out with us to find the missing family members. Sesh was staying there too. Apparently she’d taken a liking to all the vault people, and wanted to stick around for awhile. Besides, they were deep into that D&D game and she didn’t want to abandon her players. 

Which left Marina and me standing back in Valdean’s room, along with Dakota and Jordan, the Denny-Aspect who was blue, with the scales, red hair, and the trident and all that. Apparently she manipulated water and had something to do with marine animals. Even as we stood there, she bounced the trident against the floor, making it give off a steady ringing sound as she called, “I cannot wait to see the outside world! My first order of business shall be to investigate this ‘streaming video.’ I had no idea computers were so protected against being wet.” 

The words actually made Dakota snicker before she poked the blue-scaled figure. “Did Denny make you as the one who likes puns on porpoise?” 

“I do not know,” Jordan shot back, “I shall have to ponder that.” 

Groaning despite myself at their antics, I shook my head. “Well, I can already tell which of my girlfriends you’ll get along with.” Turning to the two bodyguards, who stood nearby, I added, “Take care of things in here until we bring some more people back to help, okay?” 

They promised they would, before I nodded to Sitter. “Okay, hit it.” 

“Very well,” he confirmed. “Be safe, and do not be strangers, Lady Flick, Lady Marina, Lady Dakota, and Lady… Jordan,” he confirmed. “And all the other Sir and Lady Aspects. We will look forward to your return visits. For more than one reason.” 

With that, he did… something, and the air shimmered around us. Suddenly, we were standing on the hillside right above the ghost town of Wonderland. I could see the place stretched out below us. 

“Ahh, that’s better,” I announced while stretching my arms. Then I reached out through my connection to my little sister. Tabs, you there? 

Flick! She sounded both shocked and delighted. You made it! 

Yup, I confirmed. It’s a really long story, but what did we miss? 

Uhhh… There was a pause, then, Hang on, I’ll come to you! Then we can share stories. Cuz this one’s pretty long too. 

That’s great, I sent back. I gotta tell you, what I definitely really need right now is a big surpr–

“Ms. Chambers,” a voice spoke up from behind me, even as my Necromancy started screaming at the power I was feeling. I spun so fast I almost fell over, even as Marina, Dakota, and Jordan did the same around me. We found ourselves facing a single semi-transparent figure. 

“I believe… I owe you… and a great many others… an apology,” Manakel’s ghost announced.

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Four Deaths Four Killers 19-07 (Heretical Edge 2)

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A/N – If you read Summus Proelium and did not notice, there was a commissioned interlude focusing on a look at Civ-Touched in the city posted over the weekend right here

I woke up to the sound of bright, cheerful carnival music and the smell of pretzels and hot dogs. My eyes opened, as I found myself lying on hard cement. Slowly, I sat up while looking around. To one side, I could see a row of booths with various games. There was the one where you would throw rings around bottles, one where you were supposed to use a squirt gun to fill up a duck’s mouth, or another where you threw darts at balloons that were taped to a board. Looking the other way, I saw the food stand where all those delicious smells were coming from, next to a ride where you were supposed to sit in several small cars to get spun around in circles and swung from one side to the other. Near that was a carousel, which was the source of the music I was hearing. 

I was at a carnival, or a fair, or whatever. The point was, I wasn’t in the vault. And how the hell was that possible? What was going on? First, I focused on my distance-finding power, trying to check how far I was from a few different places, like my old home in Laramie Falls, or the current Wonderland place. Nothing. I got no response at all. Which was… weird. Come to think of it, I couldn’t pick up anything through my item sense either. And–no, I couldn’t make a portal. None of my powers were working. 

Turning in a circle, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye. Someone had been poking their head up from inside one of the game booths. Spinning that way, I squinted, but they didn’t appear again. “Hey!” I called out, while starting to walk that way cautiously. I reached for my staff, but it wasn’t there. 

Actually, come to think of it, not only were my powers not working, but none of my weapons were here either. Nor any of my enchanted objects. What the hell? I checked my pockets and all my special containers, but came up empty. I had no weapons and no prepared spells. But at least that didn’t mean I was completely helpless, right? No powers and no weapons, but I still had help I could call in.

With that thought, and without taking my eyes off the booth where I had seen that glimpse of movement, I focused. Tabs, are you there? Hey, can you hear me? But there was nothing. No response. Which made even less sense. If I wasn’t in the vault anymore, I should be able to hear her, right? So what the hell was going on? Where was I? 

I was pretty sure there was at least one person around here who could tell me that, so I started moving closer to the booth. “Hey, can you come out? I’m not going to hurt you. I just need to know what’s going on, and where I am. There’s something really weird going on around…” Trailing off, I peered over the edge of the booth, before my gaze spotted a figure huddled in the corner. A fairly recognizable figure. 

“Denny?” I blurted in surprise. “Wait–” It was her, yet not exactly. The figure huddled there looked like Denny with light pink fur over her whole body, dark blue, almost black eyes that were slightly too large for her face, and rabbit-like ears. She also wore a dark blue tee shirt and baggy cargo shorts. It was like… Denny with a really good costume. Recognizably her, yet different. 

Those eyes widened, just as I felt another presence behind me. A presence I still did not pick up with my entirely non-functioning item sense. 

In mid-turn, I heard a familiar voice snap, “Get the fuck away from her!” Then I was being grabbed and yanked away from the booth before the figure threw me to the ground. I landed hard, blinking up in even more confusion.

It was Denny. Another Denny. This one didn’t have pink fur or bunny ears, but she did have greenish-brown skin that was clearly rough, and her face bulged out slightly, with pronounced fangs. She also stood a good six inches taller than normal Denny, which made her bigger than me by a couple inches. 

“Uhh, Denny?” I managed a bit blankly, my mind spinning out. What the fuck was happening? 

“I prefer Loudpound,” came the snapped retort, even as this version of Denny punched a fist into her palm. “And if you think I’m gonna let you terrorize Bijou–” 

“Wait!” Denny’s voice called out again, as I saw that pink bunny-eared version come through the booth. Her form had turned somewhat translucent, like a ghost, as she stumbled into view while tentatively managing. “Wait, I d-don’t think she wanted to hurt me.” 

My head shook quickly. “Of course I didn’t want to hurt you! I didn’t even…” Trailing off, I looked back-and-forth between them. “Who are the two of you? Why do you look different? Where are we? What’s going on?” 

The two different Dennys looked at one another. Before they could respond, I heard another voice call out from behind me. “Flick!?” 

It was Marina. She was coming around the corner of one of the booths. But as my gaze snapped that way, then turned back, the two Dennys were gone. They’d run away, or… or something. 

Picking myself up just as Marina jogged to me, I blurted, “Did you see them?” 

“See who?” she shot back. “I haven’t seen anyone. And where are we? How did we get out of the vault?” 

My head shook. “I… I don’t know. But Denny was here. I mean, two different Dennys.” To her mounting confusion, I explained what had just happened. Then I offered a shrug. “And I can’t contact Tabbris. There’s no answer. Does that mean we’re not out of the vault? But if we’re not out of the vault, where are we? And why are there two different Dennys who look different? And–” Cutting myself off, I sighed. “I’m really confused right now.” 

“Welcome to the club,” the other girl murmured. “I don’t have any of my powers either.” 

“Yeah, me neith–wait.” Stooping to pluck a small rock off the ground, I gave it a toss before focusing on stopping it. The rock just kept going. Reaching out, I touched the nearby booth and tried to inscribe an image on it. Nothing. Between those tests and the fact that I still couldn’t detect anything with my item sense… “Nope, I definitely don’t have any powers either. Now I’m even more confused.” 

Marina started to say something to that, only to interrupt herself while pointing the other way. “Denny?!” she called out in a clearly uncertain voice.

Pivoting, I found myself looking at a figure who was like Denny, if she was made out of a tree. It looked like a Relukun mixed with Denny. Or something. Needless to say, my confusion didn’t exactly lessen. 

The tree version of Denny stood next to the edge of that carousel, watching us for a moment. Then she turned and started to walk away, disappearing behind the ride. Marina and I glanced at one another before taking off to chase after her. We had no idea what was going on, but obviously she was our best lead. “Wait! Uh, Denny, or whoever, wait!” 

And yet, there was no sign of Relukun-Denny when we got there. But I did hear a loud giggle coming from nearby, and spun just in time to catch sight of something darting around the corner of another booth, into the aisle beyond the one we were in. Without wasting a second, the two of us ran that way together. I didn’t have my phone either, or I would’ve tried to call someone by that point. It was gone on with my weapons, my wallet, everything that should’ve been in my pocket. All of it was gone.

Coming around that corner, we found ourselves facing even more carnival games and rides. Straight ahead of us was the big funhouse. I barely managed to catch a glimpse of what looked like a shape disappearing through the door there. Then that giggle returned, only this time it was coming from behind us. Quite close behind us, in fact.

As one, Marina and I spun on our heels, and found ourselves staring into Denny’s face yet again. A very, incredibly small version of her face. This was a pixie version of Denny. She hovered on wings right in front of us, giggling once more before giving a cheerful wave. “Hi! How’d you guys get in here?” 

“Denny? Wait–how are you–what?” My mouth opened and shut, a whine of confusion escaping me. “Get in where? Where are we? What’s going on? Did you just… duplicate and… and shapeshift and…what?” Yeah, I was mentally flailing a bit. 

The pixie-Denny giggled again, seeming amused by my reaction. “That’s okay, you can stay as long as you like! But you better hurry up, we’re having a meeting! Denny’s in trouble!”

Well, now I was even more lost. My mouth opened to blurt something else, but the pixie was already flying away. She zoomed right past us toward the funhouse. Marina and I looked at one another and shrugged helplessly. What else were we supposed to do? Together, we ran after the pixie. 

This whole place really was a big carnival. To the left, I could see the top of the Ferris wheel, alongside a couple other tall rides. There were more games, more food stands, a restroom to one side with a drinking fountain out front, the works. It was like we were at an ordinary, everyday carnival. Except for the fact that there was no one else around besides these various different versions of Denny, of course. The place was deserted or something. Oh, and I still couldn’t contact Tabbris, so we obviously weren’t in the outside world. In which case… what?

Still feeling completely lost, I continued to follow the pixie version of Denny all the way up to the funhouse alongside Marina. There was a small hole on one side that the tiny winged figure zipped through, leaving us standing in front of the door. I still wasn’t sure this was the best idea, but then, I had absolutely no clue what was going on anyway. So, I started to reach out to open it, just as the sound of someone clearing their throat made me look over my shoulder. Unsurprisingly, and yet still bafflingly, it was yet another version of Denny. This one basically looked just like her, except she had blonde hair instead of black, and she wore glasses, along with a crisp white button-up shirt and white pants. 

Vanessa, I realized belatedly. She looked like Vanessa. Well, still Denny, but Denny dressed up like Vanessa and with matching blonde hair. 

“Sorry,” she immediately apologized while squinting up at us. “But the meeting’s starting soon, so I really need to get in there posthaste. If you don’t mind?” 

“Denny?” Marina started, voice catching a little. “Wha-what’s going on? What meeting?” 

The girl in front of us shook her head quickly. “Oh, no, I’m not Denny. I’m Letters. If you want to find her, you should come to the meeting. She needs our help.” That said, she tried to politely clear her throat again while nodding pointedly to the door. 

Taking her meeting, even if I was still lost, I opened the door and we followed her into the funhouse itself. The front entrance area led to another door where we found ourselves in the hall of mirrors. Except there was a wide-open circular area surrounded by those mirrors, where I could see more than a dozen different versions of Denny waiting. There were all the ones we’d seen already, the pixie, the Relukun, the pink bunny-eared one, the taller brownish-green armored skin one, and, of course, the Vanessa one. But I also saw a version of Denny that had somewhat gray skin and was wearing a cloak and hood skulking in a corner, another with dark blue skin along with what looked like scales along parts of her arms and legs, wearing a one-piece swimming suit and holding a trident, one with red skin and dark red hair who was floating cross-legged in the air while playing with a tiny ball of flame between her hands as she giggled quietly to herself, and yet another who looked basically identical to the real Denny but had visible scars on her face and arms, longer and more scraggly-looking hair, and wore what looked like baggy homeless people clothes. When our gazes met, she smiled and I saw her pronounced canines while a bit of fur appeared along her skin as she partially transformed into a werewolf. 

There were several more, but that was the general idea. They were all different versions of Denny, most seeming to combine her with some Alter or another. 

“Flick,” Marina started after we had taken all that in, “what’s going on?” 

“Ahem,” the blonde, Vanessa-like Denny–Letters, apparently, announced after taking her place in front of one of the mirrors, “I believe I can answer that.” 

“They’re intruders,” the brownish-green, big version of Denny–Loudpound, practically snarled. “They broke into our head without permission. So–” 

“Wait, wait, broke into your head?” I blurted. “Hold on, are you telling me this is–wait.” Absorbing that, I rocked backward on my heels. 

“I asked them to come!” That was the pink, bunny-eared version of Denny. Bijou. She cringed as everyone looked at her. “I went outside and I–and I asked them to come, but I didn’t think they would! I didn’t know they could. I didn’t–I didn’t…” 

“You went outside?” That was the pixie-Denny, sounding excited. “What was it like?” 

“Scary,” came the quiet response as Bijou shrank back a bit more. Her long ears moved to cover her eyes. “Really scary.” 

The werewolf Denny piped up with, “You couldn’t have brought them in by yourself.” She looked around the room, sniffing a couple times. “You don’t have that power.” 

“It was me,” the shadowy, gray-skinned figure I had seen with the hood and cloak announced while looking up. Her eyes were pure black. “I’m the one with the transportation powers. I just transported them inside. I thought they could help. And after Bijou asked them for help anyway, it felt like the right thing to do.” 

“You teleported us inside your mind? I mean, into Denny’s mind? I mean–” I managed, still mentally flailing. “How is that–I mean–who are you–I mean…” 

Letters raised a hand. “Ahem, as I said, I believe I can answer your questions.” She nodded toward the shadowy teleporter, then the pixie. “Walker, Bijou, all of us, we’re what you would likely call aspects of Denny’s mind. Separate personalities who exist within one host. We are each a mixture of some part of Denny herself, and pieces of the people killed by your brother, Ammon. You see, simply put, his version of the Reaper kill power allowed him to take memories from the people he killed, along with their powers. Those pieces of memory and personality combined with separated bits of Denny’s own personality, creating what you see before you. We are each our own separate person, with our own feelings, thoughts, and everything else. We simply share the same headspace. Up till now, our existence wasn’t quite so literal. We were more… quiet voices. We were half-formed, if that.” 

Before Marina or I could respond to that, the red Denny who was floating in the air with that fireball spoke up. “When she did the bad thing, she freaked out. She was afraid the bad one was taking over, so she accidentally… gave full life to all of us. Like Letters said, we existed before, but it wasn’t like this.” 

The trident-wielding blue Denny with scales gave a quick nod. “We were tiny pieces of memory and fragments of thought from the other people Ammon killed. But all of a sudden, after the bad thing, we were here. She screamed out for help inside her head, and she… pushed pieces of us together into what you see here. Pieces of her mind and the shattered personalities of people Ammon had killed, stitched together until we were our own separate personalities and everything. We could talk to each other. And play in this… carnival.” 

“She created it for us,” Letters put in. “We think, anyway. We haven’t exactly been able to talk to her yet. She’s hiding.” 

“Okay, hold on,” Marina managed. “The bad thing?” 

“Perrsnile,” I replied while watching everyone’s reaction. “They’re talking about how she killed Perrsnile to protect Dakota, right?” 

The pixie-Denny hurriedly nodded. “Uh huh! But she didn’t have a choice! She had to protect Dakota! But… but she got angry. She was really mad and she wanted to kill him. She wanted him to suffer for hurting her friend. But only for a second. Then she was umm… scared after that.” 

“She got mad and killed him. Then she was afraid that she was turning into Ammon, so she… retreated into her own head?” I managed, trying to catch up with all this. “And she basically created all of you. Or you were just sort of… given a place, or… something. What about Dakota and Sitter? Why were all three of them invisible?”

“That was me.” A new voice spoke up, as a Denny Aspect I hadn’t seen up till that point made herself visible. Sort of. She looked like a version of Denny that was made out of semi-transparent glass. Or possibly– “Crystal. I’m Crystal,” she informed us. “I have all the hiding powers. When… when Denny freaked out, I was trying to help her, so I made us–all of us, hide. We thought we were going to be in trouble. I made us invisible. Tucker made them go to sleep. Because we panicked.” 

“We all wanted to help her,” Loudpound added with a grunt. “That’s what this meeting is about, so we can figure out who should go find her.” Her eyes narrowed as she glared at me. “Before you two got here, anyway.” 

I was still trying to process everything. Honestly, this whole situation was absurd, but then, what wasn’t absurd about my whole life? Sure, the idea that we had somehow been transported inside of Denny’s head and were now talking to different aspects of her personality, who had been combined with the memories of the people Ammon had killed, was a bit out there, but whatever. We’d just have to roll with that. Especially given the far more important point of–

“Denny needs us,” Marina announced, putting voice to my thoughts. “Whatever else is going on, you guys brought us in here to help find her. You said she’s hiding somewhere, so we just have to find her and talk to her, tell her that everything‘s okay.” 

Moving her bunny ears up off her eyes, where they had been flopped down to cover them through these past moments, Bijou gave a quick nod. “W-would you? She needs someone to talk to her, and we don’t think she’ll listen to us.” 

“Of course we will,” I assured her, and the rest of them. “We might be confused about a lot of this, but if Denny needs help, that’s what she’s getting. But uhh, how do we find her?” 

“We’ll help,” the werewolf-Denny put in, voice sounding firm as she straightened up. “I can try to sniff her out.” 

“And I can fly up high to look for them!” the Pixie put in before flying over to poke the fire-playing aspect. “I mean, we can!” 

“Sure, whatever,” the other floating girl replied flatly. “If it helps Denny, I’ll do it.” 

“I… I can look too,” the small bunny-like Bijou piped up, clearly nervous. “I’m really fast, and I can go through solid things, so I can look around pretty quick.” 

That general feeling was echoed by all the other aspects, as Marina and I looked at one another and shrugged once more. Whatever else was going on, we had to find Denny.

 I just hoped that when that happened, we would be able to convince her that saving Dakota by killing Perrsnile didn’t mean she was turning into a monster. 

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