(TW: Discussions of mind control, cults, murder, suicide, blackmail, delusion, paranoia, COVID. Just a refresher: Arkady is the name of my partner. Rowan is the name of his fiance. And Vali is the name of Rowan’s boyfriend, who had been a problem earlier in the year. Just a reminder, anything entirely in Italics happened exclusively in the inworld.)
Bit of inworld backstory, here. By the name of Lakshmana.
See, in recent years, I’d grown close with Sumire. We both had a dubious past where we either entirely lost our minds or appeared to. We’ve both stood trial amidst the risk of getting executed. Those sorts of sordid psychological scarring tended to build kinship. Sumire was old– like born sometime in the 9th century old. But back when King Alcaeus’ Thread was in its infancy, there was a Thread member named Lakshmana.
It wasn’t uncommon for people who have been turned into Children of Chaos or vampires to develop their own unique abilities outside of the norm. Probably because that’s a popular trope in fantasy media. Mine was soul-stealing and erratic control of time and Sumire could compel will and emotion with music. Lakshmana could control people’s thoughts just by speaking vocally, which was terrifying.
“I remember Alcaeus was always so short with him. I didn’t realise that he had to battle for his own will any time he spoke to Lakshmana.” Lazuli would recall. “I wasn’t as old or as strong as Alcaeus, so everything Lakshmana told me, I believed. Lakshmana always did it… He couldn’t turn it off. I mean, think about it. None of the relationships he’d had since he was turned could ever be consensual. It gives me chills just to think about it.”
Once Alcaeus had noted the limit of Lakshmana’s ability in the form of his voice, he offered to humanely make Lakshmana mute. Laksh took this as an insult rather than a mercy and staged a coup, taking about half of Alcaeus’ Thread, including Sumire, and started his own Thread. Laksh eventually went the way of most cult leaders, got paranoid, and convinced his followers to stay put while knowing a powerful Chaotics-killer was coming for them. He wanted them all to die together. Lakshmana perished, as did a few others.
Sumire survived. His friend, Zoradysis, also survived, but her mind was permanently damaged by the supernatural manipulation. As she was a danger to herself and others, she had been exiled to live underneath an isolated volcano. Lazuli relayed this all to me while Sumire stared out the window.
Sumire was a more relevant witness, but Lakshmana told him long ago not to say anything bad about him. Centuries after his death, Sumire still tried and failed to vent about his late cult leader. What usually resulted was a failure of this in the form of a choking sound, accompanied by a look I definitely recognised– the utter despair of realising that your abuser was still in your head. Lakshmana’s ability didn’t die with him.
“We believe that his granddaughter, Hemachandra, has a similar ability. She’s a Moon Spirit, which, of course, gives her the ability to share hallucinations. Her spirit beast is feline, but we don’t know the specifics. It has come to light that it may be your responsibility for her appearance.” Long story short, Lazuli may have been correct about that. But about a year ago, Lakshmana’s son had taken Kaspar hostage and demanded I pull Laksh from another timeline.
Sure, I could stop time for brief periods. Sometimes even reverse mere seconds. But destroying a timeline? Reaching through another one? I couldn’t do that.
Or… didn’t have memory that I had done it before. But what do you know? When someone has a pistol aimed at my partner’s head, a partner I already lost but didn’t know I did, I think a switch flipped. I didn’t know what I did before Lakshmana’s son vanished from sight. But apparently, I’d not only changed the location of our assailant, but had fucked with time enough that the bastard had a daughter– Hemachandra.
It seemed somewhere in the vague area of reasonable when Lazuli told me, “Aluciel has declared this your responsibility. She has specified to keep this quiet due to Hemachandra’s effect magnifying in hysteria, but of course, you’re free to contract trusted allies.”
“So, ‘this is all your fault, keep your mouth shut, and you can only ally with people you can count on one hand’?” I surmised dryly. My mouth couldn’t go far, but it could still work, god damn it.
Lazuli shrugged. It was amazing, how quickly his support for the Chaotics regime had strengthened after Alcaeus was dethroned (and um, defleshed) and someone he’d raised as a daughter was in control. “Don’t shoot the messenger.” He gave me a picture of Hemachandra. It was grainy, but the young woman was distinctly West Asian with an effortless androgynous look about her. Hell, if you made her hair blonde and her mouth wider, she would’ve looked a lot like the inworld manifestation of myself. Even more strikingly, she looked like a Facebook friend, that I had heard headed a cult just briefly.
After Lazuli had left, Sumire and I were alone within the room. He’d already said he would lend his forces to what ever I had to do to contain Hemachandra– on the condition that we wouldn’t turn this into a witch hunt based on her abilities and her blood. That we would find out what she was about first.
We discussed possible ways of deflecting her abilities. Finally, I brought it up. “Sumire. In the other plane, there exists a sort of effect that seems… an echo of Lakshmana’s. It has that same cult-like appearance. I had a housemate that just recently stopped being worshipped. And it got… weird. To the point of my loved ones suddenly changing on me and attacking me and claiming not to remember it afterwards. Do you think there’s a connection?”
I’d tried to explain to my headmates about ‘the other plane‘ before. They believe that they’re all in my head just as much as you lot believe they exist outside of it. But Sumire, even if he didn’t believe it, kept an open mind. “If there is an alternate universe, it would make sense that these things could translate differently and could be transferred,” he said thoughtfully. “See what you can find of it happening apart from yourself. This reoccurs like a bitch. You and yours would not have been the only victims.”
So, I got to work.
See, it wasn’t enough to defeat Gaslamp through Vali. I wanted to dissect it. I wanted to see how it ticked. And enough time living with Arkady, it was so easy to believe that everything connected. Not that I didn’t have a bad habit of doing this on my own, but after Sparrow had that podcast with Jane, Arkady’s influence is easy to see.
One possible example of Gaslamp that I was involved with (and obsessively researched) was the Andrew Bagby and Zachary Turner murder case. I believe I mentioned it before on this blog, but I’ll surmise it again. Andrew Bagby (who had my deadname’s initials) was the son of an American father and an English mother who was dating an abusive woman, named Shirley Turner, who would have constant outbursts and threaten to hurt herself when she felt she wasn’t being given enough attention. There’s even video of him being at a friend’s wedding, his phone being blown up because Shirley hadn’t been invited to the wedding. When Andrew tried to break it off with her, she drove to where he lived in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where she shot him to death on November 5th, 2001.
His parents, Dave and Kate Bagby, were obviously devastated. They’d actually had plans to end their lives before they found out that Shirley, their son’s murderer, was pregnant with Andrew’s child. The couple had given up everything, moved to Canada where the Canadian native, Shirley, had fled after the murder, and began to try to extradite her and gain custody of their only grandson. And Canada made it difficult. It was trial after trial, where it kept being delayed because of tedious technicalities. When Shirley gave birth to her son, Zachary, she was still allowed primary custody of him and barred Dave and Kate from even visiting.
While the trials were held, the Bagbys basically had to lay down and learn to fetch for even sparse visitation. What was really fucking sadistic was the fact that Shirley dangled these visitations like a carrot on a string, requesting constant calls. Shirley would babble to Kate, then ask her if Zachary was like Andrew in certain ways. You know, Andrew, who never even met his own son, because Shirley fucking murdered him. Basically rubbing it in Kate’s face, blackmailing her with someone she loved to keep talking to her.
The judge at the time deemed Shirley safe to be in public. Because her crime was ‘one of a specific nature.’ Meaning, she killed the one person she’d wanted to kill, and she did, so I guess she’s fine now?
The Bagbys were given custody in precious, short spurts. They had to remain pleasant to Shirley because their baby grandson, the last piece of their departed only child, was in her grasp. Just like what Kirra had done to me, with just as many people intervening.
Then, one tragic summer day, Shirley was broken up with by someone who had finally heard of the case. Shirley, in a vengeful rage, tried to frame the boyfriend for her murder. Like I’d always thought Kirra would do to me. She succeeded in her suicide, which, honestly, would’ve been a gift to the world… if she hadn’t have taken her son with her.
They died by drowning, seven days before this body’s birthday, in 2002.
Seven days. Like the time between my birthday and Arkady’s.
If you want the full story and enjoy your heart being torn out, Dear Zachary is free on YouTube. Oh, and to the further my delusion, the only version on that website is currently only available with Czech subtitles. I frequently rewatch it when I’m having breakdowns. When Zachary’s death is revealed on the screen, there’s essentially a mental breakdown played out through video editing, complete with this somewhat quiet but bitter, tortured scream.
It was something I’m sure played in my head when I discovered Kaspar’s dead body after doing everything Kirra had said to for months. It’s accompanied by an aggrieved Dave Bagby bitterly cursing Shirley, lamenting that he should have killed her.
The entire case was infuriating. The Canadian law had basically given permission for Shirley to get away with Andrew’s murder, the blackmail of his parents, and the murder of his infant son. I’m honestly getting emotional just writing about it. And of course, those who had been culpable for making these bizarre decisions weren’t to be reached for comment. Almost as if they themselves hadn’t understood what they were doing– like that time in the spring where Arkady had yelled at me and barely even recalled his thought process the next day.
Dedicated to this research, I bought the book, “Dance with the Devil” by David Bagby. Because his dealings with Shirley Turner was like a twisted dance, or a long game.
And holy shit, I nearly dropped the fucking book when he described Shirley’s hold on Andrew as if she were a demented octopus.
This has happened before.
Even looking into Oscar Wilde’s life, how he had nearly gotten free of Bosie once, but had been guilted back into talking to him again by his wife, Constance, and her bizarre and out-of-character ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ stance. The fact that Lord Queensbury had managed to get ahold of the gentlemen’s valets that would testify to having sex with Wilde, which no one bloody expected.
And the disturbing case that happened in Atlantis– when King Alpetrion told the entire of the country that he planned to murder an innocent god, and no one stepped in to stop it.
So, it can repeat itself. Be transferred.
Arkady also agreed that it was happening around us yet again, but his main theory that it had been handed off to Rochester public figure Rauncie Ryan, after Vali had been her supposed right-hand man for so long. His main reasoning was the dark place she was in at this time, as well as close proximity to Vali. I didn’t know much about her, but agreed it was worth looking into.
But I somewhat thought this might have been happening closer to home. Not within the household… More like, an uninvited guest that showed up every single weekend, someone Rowan had dubbed our “elusive 5th roommate” in passing conversation. Could it be possible that maybe, with her proximity to Vali, that–?
No. Couldn’t be.
Zara was pretty, likeable on several fronts. Or at least I thought so, before I found out what a transphobic twat she is. Not like wielding Gaslamp is an insult or even the fault of someone. Hell, the wielders could be as much victims as everyone around them. Take Romeo, for example. But due to the defensiveness Gaslamp tended to inspire, I couldn’t see Arkady taking this well.
Also– I am a Narcissist. It might be the last vestiges of jealousy poking out. And I said as much, when working out my more intimate emotions in front of Arkady.
But there was no denying that this seemed centered on Zara. When I’d griped to Arkady about the time Rowan had entirely forgotten about me just to annex the attic and spend bonding time with her that they’d been promising for me, he responded with, “Rowan is allowed to hang out with friends.”
Damn. I’d have to check to make sure AJ was still alive– Arkady was evidently channeling them to miss the point that hard. It’s like saying Kyle Rittenhouse has the right to bear arms. Yes, technically true, but willfully ignoring the context.
It was a little after mid-December, near solstice.
I had come down with an awful sort of flu. I couldn’t stop coughing. It was, without a doubt, the worst cough I had ever had. I’d gotten to the point where it took too much energy to raise my hand and cover my mouth, so I went ahead and used the aforementioned Oscar Wilde scarf as a mask before, you know, face masks became cool.
I had a fever. I was constantly cold and weak.
“It’s usually just contagious in the first couple of days. I should be fine to hang out in the common areas after that.” I assured my housemates.
I don’t know what the fuck gave me such confidence to make me the authority of such things. Maybe this was common rhetoric two years ago, and I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe it was Story speaking for us. Maybe it was sheer fucking exhaustion fueling my hubris.
Hell, I was coughing enough to keep me up at night. I could barely laugh without collapsing into a coughing fit. It’s nearly ’22 and I still whistle when I gasp, still hack up a lung if I laugh too hard. I’m going to visit my doc soon to test if I have asthma. I’m really pretty sure I must have had COVID during this time.
You remember that brief period when COVID was a distant rumour from China? I worked in a goddamned hotel. In New York.
Whatever it was, I’d been feeling like utter shit for five days straight. It was a Thursday.
“Zara will be here in a half hour!” Arkady announced jubilantly.
I’d paused in the living room. I waited for him to say, ‘Oh, wait, I forgot–‘ or maybe for Vali or Rowan to say, ‘Oh, did you tell her Xanthe was sick? I don’t think this is a good time.’ When that didn’t happen, I’d asked, “Does she know I’m sick?” And never fucking consented to have a friend of yours take over a common area for a few days?
Arkady bafflingly, infuriatingly, obtusely replied with, “Well, yeah, but you said you’re noncontagious, right?”
I’d stared at him.
On Zara’s second day here, we decided to do a gift exchange. Arkady had already prepped me, saying that he was going to give me a vest from Shrine Store, but I may have to wait on it due to funds. He was going to get it, though. It was a promise.
Add it to the stack of broken ones.
Don’t get me wrong, he did actually buy me presents this time. An Oscar Wilde picture book being one of them– I still read it to my birds. But it was framed to me as being my partial haul, to tide me over until he’d be able to match it with the value of Rowan’s gift.
You know, don’t want to make anyone think he was playing favourites.
Then we did a sort of ritual for solstice. I can’t even remember what it was for. What I did feel was the scarce amount of energy I had draining away at an alarming rate. It felt as if I were bleeding out without a wound. I could barely even keep my eyes open.
I heard Vex’s disarming, haunting howl in the distance, alerting me that there was something near that wished to harm me. My eyes snapped open. The air was pulsing with black, fluttering tendrils– shadowy, almost like hair when it’s too close to your eye to seem like anything more than a blur. It was coming from a specific direction.
I texted Arkady. “Do you feel that too?”
I watched him, sat across from me in our little prayer circle in the study, as he checked his phone and regarded me grimly. He texted me back. “Yeah. I do.”
“I don’t feel so good.” Was I fighting something off? Was it like what Lazuli had said about Lakshmana– that it’d taken constant energy for King Alcaeus to resist?
Arkady wrapped up the ritual and explained that he needed to help me up to bed. And– hell, he actually did. Even with him half supporting my weight, my legs were limp noodles. “M’sorry… Something was… struggling with me, I think…” I was mumbling as Arkady set me down on his bed.
Arkady sighed. He was actually pulling my clothes off of me and helping me into my pyjamas, myself meekly holding my arms up to let him. “Yeah. I know. I saw how Vali was looking at us during the ritual. He–”
“I don’t think it was Vali.” I croaked.
Because he hadn’t been the centre of conflict lately. He blended into the background to the point where I usually forgot he even still lived there. (Wishful thinking?) I hadn’t been talking about him when Arkady had screamed at me two weeks ago.
It was centered on Zara.
I forget if Arkady said anything to reply to that. My connection to consciousness was breaking up like a bad signal. “[Arkady], you’ll keep me safe, right? Protect me?” I reached for his hand and found it. He grasped it, fingers entwining.
“Always,” he whispered as he kissed my knuckles.
I fell asleep holding his hand.
I’d have to tell him about Zara. But first, I wanted to be certain.
Flash forward to about a week and a half later, and it was New Year’s Eve, 2019. I’d invited Kaspar and Vex to my home, knowing that only my fae friends who could see through glamour could interact with them, but that was just fine with me. Because I’m insanely creative and not in any way a cliché, I decided to have a Gatsby-themed party. And oh my gods, was it splendid.
Everyone had worn their 1920’s best. A themed party tends to be iffy with the dress code but these people have actually managed it. I’d started The Great Gatsby film at 11:30pm, so that the title character would introduce himself and raise a toast precisely at midnight. We got to show off our home– I even snuck away to give Kaspar the grand tour! I worked my first night as a bartender, making my own Gatsby-themed concoctions and found that, gods, I actually really loved bartending. The night was sparkling with gold and champagne.
Arkady had outdone himself with the snacks. He seemed to my loving, eccentric, darling husband once again.
“Is Apollo here?” Vex asked me as I mixed her a drink. She looked amazing in her white rhinestone-studded flapper dress, complete with a swan feather headband. She usually didn’t bother dressing up, preferring comfort to aesthetic. (Right, I can’t believe she’s related to me, either.) But gods, when she dressed up, she dressed up.
I frowned. “I don’t think so. I did invite him.” Truth be told, I was just a little disappointed. I’d wanted to show off my new life to him, to prove to him that his sister didn’t outright ruin my chances of having a happy life all those years ago. And also, I missed the bastard. Vali made me miss the company of an Aries that had a brain. “Though it might be a planar glitch and I’ll remember him being here later on. Why?”
Vex’s eyes were narrowed, eyes sweeping the room as if she’d caught a whiff of something. “There’s an energy here… It reminded me of Kirra’s, but not quite. I wonder if her twin had decided to attend.” Her green eyes wandered over to the couch, where Zara sat.
I drained my champagne flute. Gaslamp.
Fine. Fine. Obviously, this entity– this fucker was targeting me and those around me. Probably because it thought I wasn’t supposed to exist.
And god damn it, maybe it was right. Maybe my even outliving Neb was too much gall for the universe to handle. But Jay Gatsby was never supposed to outlive James Gatz, either. And there he was, using his ‘perfect imagination’ to carve himself into where he never belonged.
There were quite a few times where I worried that I was not fit or written for domestic, family life. But as I held up my champagne flute, I decided right then and there.
If I didn’t belong here, I would break reality until I did.