The remainder of the trial was an anticlimax. Onion was dead, and Phlox was hospitalized, which was a particularly bad sign for her given that she had access to so much magical healing. With the chair incapacitated and the vice chair dead, the War Council still had to move things along, and their first business of the day was not to deal with the trial, but to do some rearranging of the council’s structure. This took quite a bit of time and a lot of procedure, but eventually Onion’s position of vice chair was filled by Camellia, who I understood, from Amaryllis’ quick signing, to be a relatively impartial compromise who had leaned in our direction even before the realignment. Phlox would have a week to recover enough, and then Camellia would become chair, with the vice chair going to someone else. Once all that was sorted, the trial itself was resumed.
With the two main players removed, there was very little opposition. What was someone like Willow, a distant cousin of Amaryllis, going to do? Take up the attack? I felt a little bit bad for Amaryllis, because she’d wanted this trial to be a legitimizing one, not just in the sense that she would be cleared of the crime, but in the sense that she would demonstrate herself as an upstanding member of the court who could both follow the written and unwritten rules, as well as win within them. A win was a win, naturally, but this was less of a win than it could have been. With the outcome of the trial virtually assured, there were still a few matters left to clear up though.
“Motion to question Juniper Smith a second time,” said Bartholomew.
“Point of information, for what cause?” asked Camellia. She wasn’t as fast on the draw as Phlox had been, and not nearly as confident, but I had to imagine that she hadn’t at all been prepared for filling this role.
“Juniper Smith’s display in the arena yesterday raised a number of questions,” replied Bartholomew. “His marriage to Amaryllis Smith née Penndraig and the nature of their relationship raises more. It is my belief that the declaration and acceptance of trial by combat happened at a pace that did this trial no service, and while I sympathize with the council’s desire to close this matter quickly, it shouldn’t be done without exhausting the lines of inquiry.”
Bartholomew Penndraig was a bit of an odd duck, and I only knew anything about him because he was a relative rarity: someone who had married into the family and actually gotten some measure of political power out of it, through the same system of elevation and joint voting right that I now enjoyed with Amaryllis. When I’d heard that, I’d expected him to be some kind of cutthroat social climber, right at home among the Penndraigs, but it turned out that he was just really into governance, a policy and legal wonk, and his wife was as close as a princess typically got to apolitical. In the here and now, he was reminding me of a kid that raises his hand after class and tells the teacher that they forgot to give out homework.
Only in this case, while it was pretty clear there was nothing more to come from the trial itself, there were plenty of people really wanting some hot gossip about the cool new kid from out of town.
I stood before the War Council in my space plate, sleek armor that revealed my face even though it was solid throughout. I was only a little bit more decked out in entads than I had been the last time, having gone through what Rosemallow could supply, and having acquired the inks that I needed to make a few of my own custom pseudoentads, pushing as hard as I could to make them not be second-rate. I wasn’t expecting shit to go down, but by the gods I would be ready for whatever came my way. The Ring of Upward Bliss was on my finger, not even requiring a switch to a different loadout with Alvion’s Vambrace, and I had a bandolier of bones and fairies as well.
On my hip was a loaner sword from Rosemallow, one of the few investable entads that she didn’t have tied up in contracts or other concerns. It wasn’t anything too special, a sword that had a mild illusory effect, its visual appearance to other people trailing behind its actual position by two seconds. It had a very fancy sheath though, and an impressive hilt. I had an amulet around my neck (short-range bug manipulation) and a cloak (which could light up on a dimmer switch), both of them incredibly minor entads, also loaners, whose purpose was more to look impressive than to actually do anything. The hope was that people would remember what I had done against Onion, then see me in full entad gear and fall in line.
I got a lot of questions about the particulars of my power, and stonewalled almost all of them, trying not to display my contempt for what was supposed to be a trial to determine whether or not Amaryllis was guilty of desertion.
“I’m sorry that I’m electing not to answer so many of these questions,” I eventually replied. “I very much expect my life to be in near constant danger from a variety of sources into the foreseeable future, and revealing too much has the potential to expose weaknesses. Even if it doesn’t, people will try novel methods, some of which I already know about, and others that might have a chance of hurting me or the people I care about.”
That slowed down the questions, but didn’t stop them entirely.
I got questions about my relationship with Amaryllis, which I answered as honestly as possible, and questions about dream-skewering, which I answered mostly with the truth, leaving out the part where there was an alternate of Sporsan back on Earth with a lot of the same people, the part with all the advanced technology, and the part about my complicated relationship with Aerb’s creation.
“And there’s no magic on this ‘Earth’?” asked Lisi, who, if I had to guess, was asking just to help exhaust the council’s desires for questions or eat time.
“No, there’s no magic,” I replied. “On Earth the term ‘magic’ means something other than what it means here. It’s used as a shorthand for things that are unexplained. Before I came here — which is what happened from my perspective, though that’s not the opinion of the Cerebral College — I didn’t have any idea that some of the things I’ve seen on Aerb were actually possible.”
“Including your own impossible feats?” asked Camellia.
“Including those,” I replied. “Like I said, in the months that I’ve been on Aerb, I’ve been picking up a lot, and it’s taken special effort to stay within the laws regarding magic as Amaryllis has outlined them.” That was fucking laughable, and it was a good sign that no one laughed.
“I want to put forward a number of questions about citizenship,” said Bartholomew.
“Motion to close questioning,” said Lisi.
“Point of order,” said Bartholomew, but before he could elaborate, Camellia raised a hand.
“The motion to close questioning is due to our time constraints,” said Camellia. “I’m sure that we would all like to have this ongoing trial closed quickly enough so that we’ll have time this session to speak on the matter of who will replace Onion as the supreme commander of the Host. Bartholomew, do you anticipate that your questions on citizenship will have a large impact on the trial of Amaryllis, especially given that the question of Juniper’s innocence has already been settled?”
“I do,” replied Bartholomew. “Both Juniper and Amaryllis claim dual citizenship, which is only a non-problem insofar as the Republic of Miunun isn’t recognized as a polity by Anglecynn. Their testimony, on the other hand, has been hampered by claims of classification which rest within the authority of Miunun, and prevent us from having the full picture, which is necessary to establish the validity of both the duress and necessity clauses that Amaryllis has put forward.”
“There are things that I could tell you that would instantly kill you,” I said, which was only a little bit of a bluff.
“You’re out of order,” Camellia said to me, but it was only a mild rebuke.
“I would appreciate a clarification on what that means,” said Bartholomew.
“As a point of order, we’re still on the motion to close questioning,” replied Camellia. “Do we have a second?”
“Second,” came one of the council members, one of the ones whose telepresence was a rabbit.
I was thankful that the motion passed and I was able to sit back down, no longer waiting for the next attack on the one hand and trying to give as little out as I could on the other. I’d told a few lies, most of them to paper over the stories we were telling, but nothing that anyone had jumped on, and I definitely did get the sense that this was all pro forma, without the intensity of grilling that I’d gotten two days before.
Amaryllis had to go before the council again, to answer a bevy of questions in the same way that I had, some of them following from my testimony, some from those few council members that had actually read through some of the documentation and evidence provided to prove various claims. She was asked about Sulid Isle and the testimony of the entad prison there, about the non-anima that was claimed to be with us (which had to be handled very carefully to avoid outright perjury, given the evidence that might someday come to light), about the origin of the tuung, and all kinds of things, for which she had largely satisfactory answers. There was some implication from a few members of the council that these other issues would need to be brought up with either the Empire or in closed-door council sessions, but that was all for another day.
On the issue of desertion, it was fairly clear-cut. Did Amaryllis avoid reporting in to the Host for reasons of necessity and duress?
“The nays have it,” announced Camellia. “By the authority of the War Council, Amaryllis Penndraig is declared not guilty of the crime of desertion. Her assets, which were held in trust, will be returned to her. Her term of military service with the Host, which was to be two years, stands, but that matter is beyond the current purview of the War Council.”
I waited for the quest to update, and frowned when it didn’t.
Amaryllis seemed legitimately happy and relieved, with a wave of emotion washing over her. She looked at me with bright eyes and then gave me a kiss on the lips, which was when I began to question whether this was all just a performance for the council and the people watching from the upper tier of the War Room. I kissed her back anyway, deciding that there was no harm in enjoying it.
We left the War Room not long after that, not waiting to see who they ultimately decided was going to be the next head of the Host. The discussion and negotiation wasn’t likely to conclude in a single day anyway: last time this had happened, when Onion had taken the spot, there had been three weeks of intense political argument.
Hyacinth was standing just outside the doors to the War Room, waiting for us. She was wearing black, mourning garb, without any of the entads I had seen her with in either Boastre Vino or Lio. I boosted vibration magic for some warder’s sight, and the only magic I saw on her was the pendant around her neck, not something that had shown up in soul sight, the pure black gem in the center made of obsidian or something like it, the metal of the chain likewise black. It fit in really well, I would give it that, but coordinating entads with outfits seemed dumb to me.
“You won,” she said. Her eyes were red, and her face was puffy. She’d been crying, or arranged it to look like she’d been crying. She wasn’t wearing makeup, which contributed a bit to the effect: I had only seen her a handful of times, but she had always been wearing a fair amount.
“You should have taken the deal,” said Amaryllis. “You could have had ten percent. Onion would still be alive right now.”
“He killed Yarrow and Zinnia,” said Hyacinth, talking about me like I wasn’t there. “He killed Larkspur.”
“These are strong accusations without any proof,” said Amaryllis.
No one else was around us, just the Armateurs. There were bailiffs, but they were inside, and the members of the public who had come to watch the open session were a floor up from us, which had a little more lax security. There was a part of me that just wanted to admit to everything, not necessarily to rub it in her face, but just to have some kind of proper conclusion. The quest wasn’t over, and that meant that there was some kind of dangling thread. I was pretty sure that Hyacinth was it.
“You’re going to get away with it,” said Hyacinth. “You know we would never have done what we did if we’d known what you were. It’s all just so,” she stopped and choked back a sob, putting a delicate hand to her mouth.
“And what did you do?” asked Amaryllis. “Are you willing to admit to your crimes?”
“Not here,” said Hyacinth, shaking her head. “Somewhere else, somewhere private. With Phlox poisoned, I’m the only one left, and I’m willing to throw myself at your feet. But not here.” Phlox being poisoned was news to me, but it might have been more theater.
“I have a policy of never moving to a second location,” I said.
“He’s right,” said Amaryllis. “We’re not going anywhere with you.”
“I lost the baby,” said Hyacinth. Her hand was touching her stomach. Tears had started running down her face. “This morning. Was it your doing?”
“No,” I said. “And whatever happened to Phlox, it was probably more about her age, the shock, the stress, not poison. We don’t poison people.” That was if anything had actually happened to Phlox at all. Faking a sickness wasn’t impossible.
“Juniper,” said Amaryllis, placing a hand on my arm. “Allow me?”
“Sure,” I replied. Hyacinth was looking between us, tears still flowing.
“Hyacinth, this wasn’t a game to be won or lost,” said Amaryllis. “We were never trying to hurt anyone. When we are attacked, we will defend ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be allies in the future, if we can have any kind of assurance that your word means something.”
“When he killed Onion, was that in self-defense?” asked Hyacinth, clutching her hands into fists. “Was that so pure and noble?”
“It was allowed within the laws of this kingdom,” said Amaryllis, eyebrows drawing together. “Our uncle volunteered —”
“Uncle,” spat Hyacinth. “He was nothing to you.”
“He was family,” said Amaryllis. It was sometimes frightening how good she was at lying.
“When my father died, Onion did his part to raise me, to guide me,” said Hyacinth. She had her teeth clenched, the muscles on her neck straining. If this was all an act, then I had no idea what she was trying to get out of us. There was no way that either Amaryllis or I were going to go somewhere with her, no matter how upset she seemed, no matter what she said. I’d been burned in the really, really recent past. “He put me together with Larkspur, he helped me to reach my potential, he cared about us, not as pieces to be moved around, which is all Rosemallow cares for you, but like actual family.”
“I’m sure that his death has hit you hard,” said Amaryllis. “What you need now isn’t to be talking to us, it’s intensive counseling. With everything that’s happened, the recent deaths, it’s no wonder that it’s taken its toll on you.” She was so perfectly calm and understanding that I was getting a knot of tension in my gut. I was sure that I wasn’t doing nearly as good at cloaking how I felt, which was a combination of guilt and anger. Understanding and compassion were there too, buried somewhere, hidden by distrust.
“I will not allow you to take this kingdom,” said Hyacinth. My hand went to my sword, almost involuntarily. Clearly she wasn’t planning to throw herself at our feet. “To have you come in, — there was a time when I would have stood aside and allowed our institutions to crumble, looking out only for myself, too meek to stand against you. I was a shy a la buff, Shia—”
I clamped down on her with vibration magic at the same time I dashed forward and pressed my fingers against her collarbone, stilling her in place. She was trying to move her throat, I could feel it, and I was stopping her. I’d been too late. The summon had gone out, it was just a question of whether it would be answered.
The Armateurs turned on me at once. I might have been married, but I wasn’t a Penndraig by most magical accountings, and I had definitely laid hands on Hyacinth. The automatons attacked, six of them converging on me at once, and more of them running from down the halls. I only had a split second to consider whether I wanted to do this fight pinned in one place by keeping Hyacinth stilled, and decided against it, blasting her with concussive force from vibration magic, and tearing the entad from her neck, which I tossed to the side. The last thing I did, more on impulse than through calculation, was to stab her through the throat so that if she woke up, she wouldn’t be able to get any words out.
And then I was fighting the Armateurs, rather a lot of them at once, using a sword borrowed from Rosemallow and as much magic as I could handle through multithreading. I’d been working on that for some time now, and it was difficult, but I was outputting more offensive power than before, blasting away one Armateur with gem magic, another with a big blast of vibration magic, coordinating my movements burning blood and bone, not quite going all-out, because I had my bandolier, and a few special bones in it that I was hoping I would be able to save for —
I spotted him from the corner of my eye, a fully naked man walking down the hallway. He had a thick beard and a serious expression. He was just walking, but still moving fast, the kind of way you do when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, or just about to break out into a run.
It was Hollywood actor Shia LaBeouf.
Quest Accepted: Where’s the Beef?
Even just fighting the Armateurs was hard enough. The last fight I had been in was the one with Onion, and it had been completely different, my skills hitting the roof of what was possible, my magics locked out so there wasn’t so much to think about. Now it felt like I was moving at a glacier’s pace, and thinking about so many things at once that I needed at least another ten threads to process it all.
The problem with the Armateurs was that most of my attacks were fucking useless against them. As a normal blade-bound, my sword wasn’t sharp enough to cut straight through metal, which meant that it was only good for the parry. Close range gem magic hit hard enough to crumple armor, just from the sheer force of all the projectiles hitting at once, but it still left them in fighting shape, and I couldn’t even do it too many times before being drained.
I tried passion magic, a few varieties in the span of seconds, and the cutting force of anger was clearly the one to go for, but it was hard to force while still trying to parry swords.
And Shia LaBeouf was still coming, almost to me.
Amaryllis had been busy herself, not helping me to fight the Armateurs, but using Sable to slap a breathing mask onto Hyacinth and store her away in extradimensional space. Once that was done, which must have been an agonizingly long ten seconds for her, she began going after the Armateurs, not with violence, but with Sable, ten seconds on each of them. One of the drawbacks to Sable was that anyone put into it could instantly push themselves back out, but that didn’t apply to entads. She had two of them gone at around the time she spotted the Actual Cannibal.
“Horror movie rules,” I called to Amaryllis. I tried to maneuver the fight as she sucked up more of the Armateurs, attempting to position myself so that I had them between the Cannibal and myself. I had no idea whether he would go after them, or if they would buy me some time, but I had no idea what else to do.
“Teleport out?” asked Amaryllis as another Armateur was sucked into Sable.
It was an option. Hyacinth had called down Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf, not us, and he didn’t always kill absolutely everyone when he came, there were sometimes survivors who would walk out of the wreckage in a blood-soaked daze. There were two main problems (that I could not at all focus on), the first being that he might come after us anyway, because that was definitely within his ability to do and in keeping with horror movie rules, and the second being that we were in a big building chock full of people, and if anyone could actually incapacitate the star of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it was us.
“Paper bag,” I called to her.
But as always, she was a step ahead of me, throwing me the brown paper bag even as the words were still leaving my lips.
This one probably takes some explaining.
“What is this line here?” asked Reimer. “Why can we not take a paper bag?”
I had printed off
the rules to Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf
in advance of us playing, using the school’s printer, and Reimer was going over them with a fine-toothed comb, which really wasn’t what a one page roleplaying system needed. The first time we’d been playing without any rules but what I told them, not that the single sheet of rules had that much more. There was, however, a single line that had caught his attention.
The item in your possession can be virtually anything with the exception of the following:
- A working cellphone or other communication device.
- Large quantities of ammo.
- Items that immediately and completely resolve the situation.
- Paper bags with which to trap Shia Labeouf.
“The rules imply that if you have a paper bag, you can trap him,” said Arthur.
“But … why?” asked Reimer.
“Doylist or Watsonian?” asked Arthur. It was a dichotomy that we used with some frequency, though I didn’t really like it. Watsonian was in-character, Doylist was outside it. I had no idea why you would use those terms when diegetic and non-diegetic existed.
“Doylist is easy,” said Craig. “Because it’s funny.”
“Didn’t he wear a bag on his head?” asked Tiff.
“Who?” asked Reimer, smiling a bit.
“Nice try,” said Tiff. For our second session, we’d instituted a rule, a rap on the knuckles if you said his name, which had the obvious consequence of people trying to trick each other. “It was to an awards show or something, a year or two ago. Full suit, paper bag on head.”
“Alright,” said Reimer. “But in terms of the game, does that actually work? And can it be any kind of bag, or does it have to be paper?”
“In theory,” I said, trying to work this out. “In theory, your character wouldn’t know one way or another, so it would be moot, but,” I had recently been reading up on improv theater, and a game of ACSLB was far far more improv than any other kind of roleplaying game we normally played, as I’d learned the first time. “You’ve heard stories. Myths. Some of them true, some obviously not. One of them goes like this: a group of teens had gone to an old, abandoned insane asylum to hang out and get high, as the youths often do. None of them came home. Eventually the police got involved, and it was early in the morning the next day, before sunrise, that the grisly scene was discovered. All the delinquents were dead, their blood painting the walls, but standing in one of the rooms, with corpses surrounding him, was a completely naked man, unmoving except for the rise and fall of his breath, with a paper bag over his head. They tried to arrest him, to put handcuffs on him, but when they took the paper bag off, he attacked, killing them all. That’s part of the legend, anyway.”
Reimer had more questions, naturally, and I told him that all he knew was what his character knew, an urban legend that was purported to be backed up by video, though he would never have actually seen it.
I was on the fence about whether or not it would actually work, but a half hour later, it was just him and Tiff left, and it felt dramatically appropriate.
Yes, you could trap Shia LaBeouf with a paper bag.
We had paper bags in Sable, just like we’d stashed them everywhere we could, that was just sensible prep, given what we’d known. I had no idea whether it would work on this version of the Cannibal, but I was hopeful, because if it couldn’t, then there was a good chance we (and everyone in Greychapel) were fucked.
The first action the Cannibal took, aside from ominously walking toward us, was to punch one of the Armateurs. He did it hard enough that it went flying against one wall of the hallway, hitting hard stone and crumpling enough that it didn’t move. With that, the Armateurs finally acknowledged him, a few of them peeling off of me. I tried to move backward, to manipulate them into fighting him, but it didn’t matter, because he tore through them like they were made of paper. The metal would instantly tear beneath his fingers, and he threw them with gritted teeth, their obvious weight not bothering him at all.
When he got to me, I was ready, the paper bag unfolded and my sword tossed to the ground. I moved forward to slip it onto his head, but he moved like lightning, punching straight through the bag and tearing it open, then grabbing my wrists and head butting me hard enough that I lost consciousness, still magic the only thing that might have slowed him down enough that he didn’t kill me outright.
I came to an indeterminate amount of time later, head spinning, and slammed on the healing as hard as I could, which brought me to a state of clarity.
The Armateurs were all crumpled, sheared apart, or otherwise disassembled, and Amaryllis lay on the ground, unmoving, with blood seeping from her head. Her left arm was missing, with her shoulder a raw and ragged mess. I couldn’t see the Cannibal, but I could hear screams coming from inside the War Room. I lurched to my feet and went to Amaryllis, touching her for just long enough to confirm that she wasn’t dead, that her soul was still firmly attached to her. I gave her healing even as I was making sure she was alive.
“What,” said Amaryllis as she began to stir. She looked me over, then down at her missing arm, which I’d stopped from bleeding. I was sure that my face was smeared with blood. “We lived.” She turned her head toward where the screaming was coming from, then looked back at me. “Time to bail.”
“He could come after us,” I replied, picking my sword up from the floor and sheathing it. “Horror movie rules, you run away from the massacre and put yourself in a bunker, you’re fucked.”
“Juniper,” said Amaryllis. She was weak and woozy, having lost who knew how much blood. I had moved a half-step toward the door of the War Room.
“We’re the only ones,” I replied, before she could even make an argument. The only ones who know what might deal with him, the only ones who will try to stop him, the one ones who can. “I need another paper bag.”
She wordlessly popped a paper bag out from Sable and handed it to me. It was one from Earth, though we had a variety, a plain grocery bag that said ‘SuperOne Foods’ on the side of it. Once she had given me one, she popped one out for herself.
I skipped the conversations we might have had and dashed in through the doors of the War Room, with Amaryllis, missing an arm, following quickly behind me.
There was rather a lot of fighting going on in the War Room. The Cannibal was up among the stadium seating of the council, having worked his way through a fair bit of it already. There were bodies laying on the open floor where people gave their testimonies, and a few people had clearly been thrown, since the fresco on the enormous domed roof was cracked and bloodied at a few places that had suffered obvious impacts. Most of the people had cleared out, or were in the process of running away, out through the back doors that the council came in through. All of the Armateurs were destroyed, and probably had been within the first seconds.
I wasn’t sure whether the Cannibal had ever been unleashed on this scale before. I wasn’t sure who his targets were. I knew at least some of his patterns, the ways that he would kill, how he would eat parts and pieces, leaving people alive until he could circle back, half from how I’d played him, half from what Amaryllis had told me. Most of his targets would die in the first hour, but he would just keep going after the initial strike was done, up to days later, finishing off the people he’d only maimed, chasing them down alleyways or popping out of closets, appearing behind them when they looked in a mirror — like I’d told Amaryllis, horror movie tropes, played to the hilt.
We weren’t the only ones he’d left alive. There were people stumbling around, clearly injured, and others who were screaming on the floor, missing limbs. I saw a woman stumbling around with a bite taken out of her shoulder, and realized with a start that it was Camellia, the vice chair.
I ran for the Cannibal, who was, true to his name, eating someone alive. Most of it was obscured by the Cannibal’s head, but the man was screaming and pounding his fists against the Cannibal, trying to get away. Eventually the man succeeded in getting away, but only because the Cannibal had removed his leg at the hip.
Shia LaBeouf, holding the leg in one hand, turned to look at me.
He was still fully nude, but with lots and lots of blood all over the front of his body, soaking his beard and covering his mouth. He still held an expression of quiet intensity, like he was an athlete about to go for a world record. I really needed to get him away from these people.
He tossed the leg he’d been holding to the side and lunged at me, moving ungodly fast, and as soon as he had grabbed onto my wrist, I tapped the ring on my hand three times, then began burning a unicorn bone.
Almost at once we were a mile in the air, the Ring of Upward Bliss having done its work. Caledwich was below us, splayed out for our view, and beyond it, the rest of Anglecynn. It was a crisp and clear day, the visibility impeccable, and then Shia LaBeouf punched me in the face.
I was woozy, having trouble seeing straight, let along thinking coherent thoughts, but I let him have it with everything I had, a short-range blast of gem magic, a concussive blast of vibration magic that used nearly all my breath, and as much in the way of cutting force as my anger would allow me, which wasn’t very much, because I was mostly scared shitless. He took most of it without flinching, even as his physical body was battered. When I was finished, he punched me in the face a second time, and the loop restarted.
With raw force having failed, I tried antimemetics in the second loop, using a bone from one of the Momenagerie to get that effect. It lasted an incredibly short time, not much longer than the unicorn loop itself, but to my surprise it was effective, and the Cannibal and I fell together, because I couldn’t get his iron grip off of my wrist. I tried desperately to get the bag over his head with only one hand free, but we reached the end of the loop, and I wasn’t willing to die for the chance.
The third time through, I used passion magic to slip away, fear letting me move without having to cover the distance, and his grip on me instantly released, since it wasn’t synced up with my own movement. I burnt the mome bone as I did that, in theory cloaking me. I had no fucking clue what he was going to do about it, given that there was nothing for him to push off of, but what I didn’t expect was what happened, which was that he dropped, leaving me standing there, immobilized by my still magic.
I watched and waiting, wondering what the catch was, whether he was going to start flying, or some other bullshit, because that was part of his thing. If you watched a horror movie, the protagonist could never just fly up ten feet off the ground and be safe. It didn’t work like that.
But as I stood there in the sky, a mile up, breathing thin air, I waited and watched him falling. For a normal person it would be a death sentence, but I fully expected him to survive with no problems, walking out of a crater he would make on crash landing, or bouncing back and forth off buildings to slow his fall, or something equally ridiculous.
The unicorn loop was being strained, and I let it reset, this time with a plan. I slipped from the Cannibal’s grip with passion magic again, but this time I reached for him at the same time I began to burn the mome bone, and stilled him in place rather than letting him fall. He really, truly didn’t seem to realize I was there, even though I was the only thing around. I didn’t waste any of my precious seconds, and slipped the paper bag straight over his head.
I dropped the antimemetic effect and waited to be punched right in my fucking face again. Instead, we just stood there in the air, with him not moving at all, the words ‘SuperOne Foods’ written upside down. I let the unicorn loop end and stood there in mid-air, holding him still, waiting for the other shoe to drop, because he wasn’t moving, or doing anything at all. The tension had gone out of him entirely.
Holy shit, it actually worked.
I wouldn’t have said that it was easy, but fucking Christ I had expected worse. I’d expected that I would literally die and go to the hells, because we knew that was a possibility. It was always in the back of my head as something that could happen. The Cannibal wouldn’t have been a complete blindside, given that we were in Anglecynn, but the fucking arc was supposed to be done, and — and this turned out to be one last complication, a coda to the adventure, not the little horror show that I had expected it would be. People dead, people maimed, Amaryllis maimed, but it was over.
I let out a long sigh of relief.
Then I realized that the quest hadn’t updated.
Then I saw the dragon.