Symmetry (SH, XI, XZ, KD Collab. July of 2020.)

[Trigger warnings: Social lynching, religious manipulation, molestation, cancellation, splitting, dormancy, fawning alters, alter death, several mentions of suicide, expressions of mourning even though I was gone for Three Weeks mates, conflict, cult dynamics. Reminder that Nebula, Story, and Sparrow are essentially the same person. Everything in Italics takes place exclusively within the inworld.]

Winter of 2012


It might surprise you to know that I was actually deeply spiritual, at one point. Specifically, with the Chaotics religion. I could rattle off each domain of the eight elements, helped research the etymology of some of the inworld-specific terms, could tell what element someone would probably be just by observing them for a while.

Christ who the fuck let me on Myspace

These days, I’m the far side of agnostic. I’m one of the only largely ‘non-magical’ alters there are in this system. Where I live, the time-locked Chicago, is devoid of magic entirely and I like it that way. A lot of people think it’s related to Rowan, and I can tell you the Unseelie Fae King didn’t exactly help. But Rowan wasn’t the first time that magic had taken something from me.

The Thysia myth has been mentioned here before, but I’ll run our readers through it again. Vex, once the Atlantean princess, and Thysia were lovers in a pretty toxic and co-dependent relationship right before Atlantis fell. When Prince Alcaeus died, Vex wrongly blamed Thysia and basically told the girl that Thysia was more valuable to her dead. Well, Thysia took that literally and sacrificed her entire soul to bring Alcaeus back and appease Vex. One of the gods took pity on Thysia and tried to stop her soul from just dissolving into nothingness, but in the process, Thysia’s soul was split into several dozen pieces across time.


So, Vex has spent the past several millennia trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again and it’s a major plotpoint in the inworld. She’s made progress. Thysia exists now as a semi-recognizable shell of her former self, with a child-like grasp on reality but way overpowered. Imagine a god with the cognitive abilities of a deeply traumatized child and that’s Thysia!

Vex harvests these soul fragments from people who are born with a li’l piece of tortured god in them. Being born with it has its own effects. I mean, hey, cool soul-stealing abilities! And Vex follows you around for a few years and might even tolerate you. The bad news is, anyone born with it is expected to get themselves into a toxic relationship just like the original and are destined for some sort of suicide-adjacent death before the age of twenty.

The only one who had managed to beat the curse was Phisoxa. He only managed it because his abusive Vex stand-in, Elodie, had died early and he famously turned all of that self-destruction outward. I remember loving his story– there were rumors that he’d had an heir out of a fictional character he’d written. I remember thinking– wishing, really, that his heir was real and could break that curse.

I certainly couldn’t.

I forget how I first found out that I had that ol’ ticking timebomb within my soul, but I wasn’t surprised. I was already following Kirra around like a lost puppy, at this point, so it made sense. The legend was comforting, in a way. She doesn’t mistreat me because I’m not good enough– it’s just the Thysia curse! Moving just to be with her even though she actively made me miserable? Absolutely, we were destined to be together! This pain is just something everyone like me went through, it’s supposed to happen!

It was a curse that the brain likely made up to make sense of our trauma and repeating patterns, to justify our own eventual suicide. Then it put a backstory to the suddenly veering off-course so that Xanthe Zeitstück could fuck the world just as much as it was going to fuck them, like all of my years with Kirra flipped a switch.

It didn’t help that Kirra bought into it, would use the curse as a line of pressure on me anytime I’d start to resist. I didn’t think I had a fucking choice.

But there’s always a choice. I just wish it didn’t take me most of a decade to realize it.

There’s that concept of a last meal. A last day. People ask each other, ‘What would you do if you knew it was your last day?” I knew what I wanted. Spaghetti with loads of Parmesan cheese and I wanted my best friend.

I put on my favorite blue and black striped shirt from Hot Topic, something that looked shoved in the corner for the past two months. And then, you know, I video-called Them.

I can’t even really remember the specifics of what we were talking about. I know I did a good job at shoving the thought of everything dark and impending to the back of my mind.

Imagine if This was the last photo taken of you for the next near decade. I wouldn’t change it for the world, to be honest.

They made me laugh a lot, as usual. I fixed myself spaghetti while I had my Chromebook laptop balanced above the stove. They took a screen capture of me posing with said spaghetti, shown above. They were showing me things and we were making fun of Kirra. Once, I laughed at something they said and responded, “I fucking love you.”

It was the first time I’d said it, but I made sure to say it as casually as possible.

I do remember how quickly they looked up at the camera. I think they were holding something they wanted to show me and initially looking down at it, but did look up with a flash of a smile. “Aww, thanks, Neb. I love you too.” Their tone existed in that ambiguous space between teasing and genuine, because– well, they themself usually did.

I smiled and changed the subject.

The call went on for hours. I kept finding excuses to stay online with them. We kept just… talking about the usual dumb shit. Video games, movies, music. Making fun of the people we know. They kept me all up-to-date on that small-town Gay-Straight Alliance, with most of the town queers dropping off the rainbow like high school graduation was its own conversion therapy.

By the early hours of the morning, the computer monitor finally turned off. Vex was standing in the room. She always just sort of appeared like that, ever since she started following me around about 2011. The lights go out and there’s suddenly just one spiky-haired silhouette that wasn’t there before, like if the rabbit from Donnie Darko was a petite lesbian instead. “That may have actually been cruel, you know.”

I did like Vex. She seemed to like the fact that I wasn’t scared of her. Believe it or not, to anyone but Xanthe and I, she’s actually one of the more unsettling and dangerous fuckers in the inworld. But I tended to look at this spiky, anti-social, temperamental minor deity and disavowed royalty and say, ‘Awww, fluffy.’

I shrugged. “I needed to say it.”

I could’ve talked to Kirra. I didn’t want to talk to Kirra. The last time we’d spoken, she called my writing ‘drab and simplistic.’ It was hard to face how fucking stupid I’d been to think I’d earn actual respect by uprooting my entire goddamned life to be subservient for her below the Mason-Dixon line. It was after this point that I really felt the noose tighten, started missing time, started to cough up blood in the inworld.

It’s like I could see it, how the dominoes of inattentive parents and manipulative friends and toxic spirituality had all led to this. It could have easily been prevented and just wasn’t.

I was lucky, though, compared to the other Thysias. Suicide, because of the legend, had felt like an inevitability, a force of gravity, an astronomical pull towards fate. But Vex had offered an alternative. “My spirit beast is, in fact, a hellhound. I could usher you to the beyond without the body’s heart stopping. Phisoxa’s heir–… and I suppose my own heir, too, needs a body. It might be specifically engineered to end the curse. Judging by its– well, spiritual donors,” she motioned to herself. “–the heir won’t be much different than those you care for. You’ll die either way, but you won’t have to leave them alone.”

I mean, sure. As far as I knew, that was the best offer I could’ve gotten. At least my life would mean fucking something.

Being alone with Kirra was obviously killing me– well, really, had already killed me and I was just waiting on my consciousness to catch up on that fact. I also had another option. I could have just… gone home. I didn’t know. And I know Vex didn’t either. She’s sort of awkwardly avoided me since I’ve come back and she’s discovered we’re both alters, but, like. Hoe, I know you read this blog. I don’t blame you. You believed it too.

Vex appearing was no coincidence. I was actually pushing my luck by asking for more time. She’d granted it, but with an air of tension, like she thought I’d only have a limited time before I’d go like one of the victims in Bird Box. I walked out to my balcony, knowing she’d follow. “How do you want it done?” She asked. “I can ensure that it’s painless.”

I shrugged. “Surprise me.”

Flames. Just a wall of scarlet flames rushing up to greet me. I felt the heat, but somehow it didn’t hurt.

Then I just saw stars. I eventually stopped perceiving them, but could always see them. Just an endless expanse of sparkling stars.

July 13th, 2020.


FUCK!” Not going to lie, I was also pretty shaken up by what I had just witnessed in kind-of-first-person, but seeing Xhaxhollari’s elegant, ethereal ass yelling that was the highlight of my day. Right after Xanthe calling him, ‘You Enochian fuck.’

I climbed to my feet. I’d really only existed in Xanthe’s reflection for the past year, so it was odd to be able to see myself. I cautiously leaned over and gazed down into the newly-black water, surveying my silver hair and duo-toned eyes. I was alive, not just a phantom that existed as fleeting moves, emotions, and actions. Somehow, Xanthe’s death had solidified my existence.

If I’d remembered I was Neb, I’m sure I would’ve appreciated the irony. The only thing was, this wasn’t going to be for long, judging by those cute little numbers dancing in my eyes. Looks like I had a matter of weeks.

Okay, I lied a little, I do have a small supernatural ability within the inworld. We all think it was leftover from Vex being the one to euthanize me in combination with Kirra force-feeding me Death Note a few times a year, but I could– and still can– see the lifespans of other alters and myself. Everyone has these little numbers in their iris. I can look at other alters and tell if they’re about to split or go dormant.

It’s helpful because these lifespans aren’t set in stone. It was later how I was able to figure out when I needed to be there for Jasper or when I needed to let him just drink and ramble until he passed out.

But in those days when the host just up-and-died, it just seemed to be a nifty little doomsday clock I couldn’t shut off.

This made me chatty. “So, it’s true, then. We have multiple personalities, or schizophrenia, or psychosis. Or some fun combination of the three.” Xhaxhollari glanced over at me. We’d taken refuge in the courtyard, more or less locked in a tense state of ‘What now?’ We were under the covered paths, barely out of the reach of the rain, sitting on slabs of stone. The Big Ben clocktower loomed over us like the world’s most ambitious tombstones since the pyramids. Knowing Xanthe, that was likely part of the point. I motioned to everything around us. “All of this is just… like. A metaphor. Like ‘Shutter Island’ but with a bigger production budget.”

Xhaxhollari was staring at me now, face drawn and exhausted. I got the feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be talking about this, which made me want to talk about it more. “I mean, take Atlantis for example. This was a fantasy kingdom paradise with a vaguely Disney feel until it had dark elements inserted into it, resulting in the most bizarre tonal issues there’s been since the animated ‘Hunchback’ film. Wouldn’t the destruction of Atlantis be like, the premature loss of our childhood? And all that stuff about the gods feeling inhuman and persecuted for how their minds work– autism, right? And I mean, look at you. We were touched as a child, Xhax, of course one of us would have this pure, sexless, holier-than-thou vibe.” Xhaxhollari’s face looked blank. I tried to lighten the tone. “I had an OC like Xanthe, you know.”

Come to think of it, Xhax and I have a lot of Walter and Jesse conversations.

“Hm?” Oh, so maybe he didn’t know everything.

“Yeah. I mean, I’d heard of Phisoxa having an heir, and I spent hours in Saint’s Row character creation trying to figure out what it’d look like. I figure, you know, blonde hair and glasses, like Phisoxa. Androgynous. They didn’t have a German accent as an option in-game, but they did have British, so I started thinking of them as a Brit after a while. I came to really like them when I put the character on the missions. Started to see it with all the snark and stubbornness that’s already written in. I started to figure, hey, if anyone could be a curse-breaker, my Saint could.” I was so close to regaining my memories, remembering who introduced me to that series in the first place. So, so close to realizing who I was. For all the good it’d do me, considering I’d be starting over in a matter of weeks. “Actually, I remember the name I gave it. Zenith. Zenith St. Kronus.”

“Zenith,” Xhaxhollari repeated it softly. When he realized how closely it came to sounding like Xanthe’s name, he gave a small, resigned chuckle.

“I mean, hey, I was 19! It could’ve been worse.” There weren’t too many letters within that name that wouldn’t show up in the final draft. The fact of this all being the product of a tortured, lonely mind seemed inescapable to us both. I felt that I’d somehow won by making him laugh, but that also gave me pause. “The Thysia curse. What was that?” My mind even grazing the concept had my heart aching in a way I couldn’t name.

Xhaxhollari shrugged. “Sometimes it’s comforting to have a reason for the unreasonable.”

“So, Nebula didn’t have to die. And no one fucking told her that.” I feel like he definitely missed the devastation in my voice, here. Funny that I thought this moment was just my having hyper-empathy for the old host.

“Perhaps so.” Xhaxhollari sounded as if he didn’t agree but also didn’t want to argue. He wasn’t looking me in the eye. He stood, wings flexing. “Well. As apparently, this world’s continued existence relies upon a single mortal human body in upstate New York, I might as well feed the thing and put it to bed. And give it some water, for once. I imagine the alcohol dependence will be easier to manage, since–…” Here, he trailed off, then shook his head. “I don’t suppose you’d want to take more of a leadership position, given our sudden shift in power?”

Christ, it was like a floor manager had just resigned rather than our host having died right in front of us. “No, thanks. As it happens, I’m on my way out again.” I motioned to my eyes, not even sure if he could see the numbers within them.

He didn’t look terribly surprised at that. Aelaris and I never were the most stable fusion in the world. He sighed, then nodded. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry.”

I looked up at him, but by then, he was gone. I hadn’t expected us to have a full conversation, even within that context. To be honest, his tone and mannerisms always sort of reminded me of Dad. But the fact that he was willing to apologize, well–… there might be some hope for angel boy after all.

I almost felt bad for failing to inform him that his countdown was just a couple weeks over mine.

July of 2020


The first four of the five stages of grief were on repeat, as if our MP3 player had gotten stuck on one track.

Denial: Xanthe definitely did seem the type to fake their own death. I wouldn’t put it past them. It didn’t explain why I no longer felt any trace of them anywhere, though.

Anger: Right when this world needs you most, you vanish? You’re not the Avatar, you’re an alcoholic with grandiosity issues, you selfish brat.

Bargaining: Hell, who hasn’t died and come back to life once? Kaspar, JaK, Prosper… It happened, I’d just… never seen someone thoroughly dissolve as Xanthe had.

Depression: I failed. I failed you, I failed the other plane. I don’t know a way to get you back but I already miss you. Damn me for it, for you’re a glorified nuisance, but I miss you.

To strain me further, I also had to keep pretending to be Xanthe. It was a blessing that they’d decided to leave Facebook, so at least my audience was greatly diminished.

Avoiding the household was easy enough, since noticing Xanthe’s absence had been a foreign concept for them. In the height of summer, it was a reasonable enough excuse to say, “I’m going to lay down in the air conditioning.” It became my shorthand for saying, “Xanthe is dead and it’s depressing to fake their accent. Let me tell one or two puns so you all can pretend you didn’t kill them, goodnight.”

A couple of times, they’d invite me downstairs to watch a film or two. Xanthe had an iridescent, purple container that was specialized for drinking wine that had lately become a recognizable companion– the most important thing that it wasn’t see-through. Drinking water or, sometimes, tea while pretending to get drunk was a ridiculous necessity.

This ridiculous thing.

Occasionally Story got drunk for me. How kind of them.

Meanwhile, I did succeed in finding AJ and I an apartment, which was no easy feat. “I don’t suppose you’d be open to a one-bedroom situation while you get back on your feet? Maybe setting up in the living room?” I asked, to the person currently camping in the great tinder box known as the Pacific Northwest woodland in summer of 2020.

AJ, miles from this, asking me, ‘Hm… I don’t know, how’s the cabinet space?’

“No, I need my own room,” confirmed the person who would never go on to paying a cent. “And it needs to be somewhere quiet. You know I can’t sleep in a place above a bar or restaurant or some shit. With a driveway. I don’t want my car messed with.”

I didn’t like doing the math between my hotel wage and the average rent. That equation never seemed to end well. “Sure,” I replied.

I eventually did find a place– something that was nothing to brag about, something that would be feasible until about… spring.

“What’s even been happening there? I heard that everyone was going to move to Ithaca, now we’re not, and now we’re getting an apartment just the two of us in Rochester and Rowan’s been pretty tight-lipped on how everything is. I’ll keep sending my stuff up here but I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.”

We’re crazy, AJ, and I’m desperately trying to keep them from finding out how crazy. Take your free room and board for what it is.

I was also not excited about the prospect of living with AJ, especially not without Xanthe as a buffer. I wanted to lock myself in a small studio apartment and lick my wounds for the foreseeable future, but no, pretending to be Xanthe came with a babysitting job. AJ had never been my favorite person. They dropped the R slur as if it were something worth reclaiming (which mildly triggered the majority of us), interrupted speaking people as if it were their job, and their presence was always a ball of stress to Xanthe.

I wasn’t what you would call thrilled.

Though it seemed as if Vali and Rowan wanted their own babysitting job. “Vali can carry it!” Rowan was saying. “I’m sure we can find a sperm donor on Grindr or something.” We were on the porch. I’d honestly forgotten how they’d even gotten on this topic– it feels like something I may have unintentionally interrupted while just trying to read on the porch.

Arkady was even excited. He’d suspected his family was cursed– the men in his family tended to meet their fate shortly after becoming biological fathers. “If Vali’s the one carrying it, then I’ll be able to have a kid without having to worry about that!” He sounded elated.

The three chattered about how raising the child on the farm would be, about what names they were already plotting over.

I was speechless.

Rowan couldn’t even handle having their German Shepard live with them, now they want an entire infant human? I was surprised by the immediate black rage I felt building from Story. “Oh, so you’re kicking one kid out and the replacement’s already been lined up. Let’s just reenact Dear Zachary in real time, shall we?”

Those words damn-near made it to the mouth and it took a considerable force to shove him back down. Shut up shut up shut up shut up child I am begging you to shut up.

Arkady went off somewhere to talk to his mother about it. Still elated, still bubbling over the new possibilities. Rowan was going to go water the plants. Vali was volunteering to fill the water pail for them.

Meanwhile, I was trying to cram Story back into the headspace while they were still raging. I was surprised to find more than fury– there was jealousy, pain, and abandonment. Against most of my best common sense, I pressed further into Story’s psyche. The broken flashes of memories, something that looked like out of a dark Holly Black fanfic meant for sadists, with two familiar faces at the center.

And one of them looked a lot like Rowan’s perception of themself.

I recoiled immediately, effectively losing my grip on Story.

I was desperately trying to make sense of what I’d seen. I felt nauseous.

The body was moving on its own. Rowan was checking on the flowerbed closest to the sidewalk. Even seeing them around plants made me feel sick. Vines– those memories were filled with vines.

Not our picture, but a good visualization.

“Hey, this might be a stupid question.” To my horror, I was hearing the body’s voice. “But don’t you already have kids? A ton of kids?”

Rowan, kneeling beside one of their plants, wasn’t picking up on Story’s tone. I felt frozen. “In the other plane, yeah.” It was only slightly defensive, but I did notice they’d stiffened when they detected a stark lack of a British accent.

Story sounded like they were from Ohio. Because, like myself, they were. “I bet. Kind of adding to the collection, isn’t it? Good for you! I mean, hell, in Faerie, you’ve even had kids you’re not even related to. You know…pets.”

I think it was only when Story said that last word, and the way they said it, that Rowan realized what was being referenced. Rowan lifted their head and stared at them, suddenly uncharacteristically white as a ghost.

I felt Story’s lips pull back in a smile. Or maybe a sneer.

When Vali reappeared with the watering pail seconds later, Story was far from the front. As if having stormed off and slammed the mental door behind them. That may not have been the most tactical move in the world. But I found I couldn’t fault it. “I’m going to hang out in front of the air conditioning,” I muttered. And then I did.

I didn’t know what to do with that. I didn’t know what to do with myself. It all felt so beyond me, like I was dealing with global warming rather than the destruction of the mind I was a resident of.

I hope this doesn’t go to Xanthe’s ego. That hope is in vain; I know it will. There was a definite drop in morale when Xanthe died. I’m still unsure of how quickly the news spread. Kaspar was one of the first to know. I’ve no idea who informed them– I may never know. I felt the surge of shock, that deafening numbness from their spirit. Then as quickly as I’d felt it, they’d closed me out.

These were the times where I didn’t feel all powerful, where I felt the limitations of my mind and body, where I considered myself a failure. For I didn’t have a stronger personality to shove before me– like Nebula or Xanthe. I just had myself. My ineptitude at being a person had never been as clear since my parents had signed me up for basketball.

And I was so thoroughly disappointed with my over-estimations of myself. I felt that I had failed not only myself but those who were all that I was and never could be.

I have to admit to some vague retaliations of my own. I’d read aloud a poem of Xanthe’s about the situation and posted the video of my having done so, which Rowan pointed out as ‘Still seeing yourself as the victim.’

I got a work friend to trade me a shiny Corviknight. It was an odd, tarnished bronze color.

I nicknamed it Xanthe.

July of 2020

Kaspar Blythe Dusek:

One of my favourite literary kerfuffles in history was when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lost custody over Sherlock Holmes. Having grown tired of the fictional detective that had unexpectedly been his defining work, Doyle famously sought to coax the title character into an untimely end.

Given Sherlock’s popularity, you can imagine Doyle’s audience did not take kindly to this. The author faced open ire, desperate pleading, even harassment to beg for the consulting detective’s dubious resurrection.

Doyle, in the end, acquiesced. He wrote one of the least feasible ways for Sherlock to have survived his encounter with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, as if mocking his audience.

Now, take care to note every modern rendition. The character, the stories, are handled with so much more thoughtfulness than the original author had ever deemed his detested creation worthy of receiving.

An audience, a century after, had adopted Sherlock Holmes for their own after Doyle had cast him away.

That being said– Phisoxa was who wrote ‘Zeitstück’ and the one who decided that Xanthe would die at the end of that particular novella.

I knew the story well, how Phisoxa first created Xanthe to entertain Dax, her ward. Then how Phisoxa had suffered an existential breakdown that had Xanthe dying because, and I’d be remiss not to quote, ‘Happy endings don’t exist for people such as us.’

It was Dax, a mere child at the time, who would suggest that Xanthe would live on forever in fiction. If the count had his way, Xanthe may not have lived on in any form.

This was on the forefront of my mind when I interacted with Phisoxa. I thought of it endlessly after learning of what my darling inkspot had done to itself.

I beheld a stack of books, stacking to nearly as tall as I was, as I climbed the fabled clocktower. Behind myself was Marie, burdened by another stack of media– some of which were films. Behind her, Aberle, carrying the same. Then Zakary, then Audric, then Ethniu and Sumire followed with a television, DVD player, and stereo.

That would about do it. It took a respectable amount of time to breach the top of the clocktower.

Phisoxa at work was an unsettling sight. There was what could only be described as an unlikely marriage between cadaver and clockwork, strapped down to a wooden slab near the end of the room. I vaguely wondered if there were a mechanism to raise this slab to the sky to solicit a lightning strike. There were broken clocks, having fallen in some accursed battlefield, strewn around the room. The count didn’t seem surprised at our entrance. “I appreciate your assistance, Baronex, but I do remind you, that I’ve written this child back in 1822. If anyone would know who to put him back together, it’s me.”

The count didn’t even bother looking up from his workstation, in which he apparently sought to carve the entirety of the German version of ‘Zeitstück’ onto the corpse’s skin.

The corpse wasn’t Xanthe’s. Well, not yet. I later found that he’d grave-robbed the bastard bloodline his German aristocrat father established with his Punjabi mistress. This was chosen as the base.

“And I’ve known Xanthe since 2014. It grew into more than you’d written, Count Zeitstück. My love wasn’t just your novella.” I motioned towards my allies of increasingly tenuous connections to me. They’d begun to deposit the various media on one of the few clear desks.

Phisoxa paused to look up at me. I noticed she was soldering a familiar blue and gold watch into a mechanical heart. I was relieved. I’d hoped Phisoxa kept that with her after realising it was broken. Her golden eyes flashed to the piles. “What’s this?”

I took a breath. “The complete works of Oscar Wilde, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Scarred King duology, The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick, all seasons of the Peaky Blinders, Black Books, Vicious, Grand Budapest Hotel, V for Vendetta, Wilde starring Stephen Fry, The Happy Prince, BBC’s Sherlock, the entirety of Pirates of the Caribbean, every single cut-scene from the Saint’s Row series with exclusively the cockney protagonist, The Princess Bride, Darkwing Duck, Code Geass, The Great Gatsby circa 2013, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone , Sweeney Todd, The Bane Chronicles and chain of Gold also by Cassandra Clare, all of Shayfer James’ albums, a collection of Starset songs, Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lin–”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand–” Phisoxa began, predictably losing patience.

“Correct, dear Count, you do not understand,” I said. “All of these creative works have defined Xanthe as a person, helped them relate to the 21st century. In the past six years of being an intimate acquaintance with your heir, I received countless calls of Xanthe using these as tools to describe a facet of its personality. Endless quotes, character studies, 2am phone calls wherein they drunkenly ramble about what they relate to about an episode, in a book, in a video game, a song. I’ve taken note of them all.”

Aberle nodded at my side. “Thing is, what you’re doing, you’re bringing back your Xanthe. Which is fine, but Xanthe lived eight years outside of your influence. Eight years is a long time.”

I lifted my chin. “And I require my Xanthe. Xanthe is more than just one novella, it is fiction itself.”

Phisoxa stared at us, considering. His gold eyes regarded others the way Xanthe’s always did, as if reading. “Well said.” He motioned the sparse seating furniture.

I gave Marie instructions on how to get everyone situated in a more reasonable fashion, though some of this involved re-purposing a smattering of chests and crates.

The next few hours were a marathon of films and songs. Some of those less social opted for reading the books whereas the rest swapped stories about Xanthe.

“Did you ever hear about that time they left Kirra that voicemail? The five cocktails, five glasses of wine, so seven drinks?”

“One time I was venting and they played the beginning of ‘Sound of Silence’ on their violin as their response.”

“I once began an Oscar Wilde quote and they nearly knocked someone over to get to my same side of the room and finish it. I didn’t even know they were listening.”

“Hey, Kaspar, remember when Xanthe went to your wine tasting and no one told them not to swallow?”

“It killed my abuser via fatal fall in Prague. Since then, they’ve told me not to mourn over a ‘bounced Czech.” “I know that story!” “Oh, yes, when they know they have a zinger, they run it into the ground.” Aberle actually burst into tears at this.

For the most part, we kept it together. Alcohol helped. As did less traditional substances. I ordered a near-endless supply to be delivered– mostly champagne, of course.

It was for days that we continued this. We took breaks at intervals. Slowly, but surely, we noticed odd little crows start to appear. These crows were mostly black, but with one white feather. Each time, in a different place.

Photo by June Hunter

Phisoxa would immediately notice, as if his related spirit was calling to him, and steal the bird’s soul. The bird’s body would drop unceremoniously from the window, presumably to become a feathery stain underneath the tower. The count was starting to collect them like glowing little marbles near the slab. I remember feeling surprised by how many there were.

So many little pieces. How were we possibly going to reassemble this daft thing? Not even the count was sure our venture would yield any success.

A few crows became a dozen, that became a few dozen. Just curious birds, always with one white feather someplace else on them.

By Jove, we were onto something!

One day, perhaps more than two weeks into it, Phisoxa rose to his feet. “There’s a piece missing,” he announced. “My progeny had gotten its consciousness blended with something– of flesh and blood.”

Disavowing all other context, the count marched straight into a mirror, disappearing into its reflective surface as if it were water.

I scoffed. The count clearly had no idea how to host a gathering.

May of 2022:


In summer of 2020, there was a mentally ill addict that was being pretty mercilessly turned against by just about everyone they knew– many of were no better than themself– a plot that was led by a single sadist pulling the strings. The result was a life falling apart with little to no support.

It was happening more than three hundred miles away from Rochester.

Awful accusations of abuse– to the point of seeming to highlight a pattern similar to any budding serial killer’s– were being thrown around.

Retracing our steps for the blog, we realised early on that the Living Fiction’s reaction was not ideal. It remained a veritable elephant in the room.

But today, we three main fronters were going to have a talk about it.

Granted, I had a better excuse than most. I was fucking dead at the time. Sparrow, as Story, was watching an hourglass empty out on their life for the second time and discovering as much as they could before amnesia essentially ate them again. In a tragic missed high-five, they’d heard only rumblings of the drama but didn’t recognise Casey’s new name, which had changed in the period of dormancy between Nebula and Story.

And it stood to reason that only Xhaxhollari could’ve been present when the news broke that Casey was just as fucked as Living Fiction had been. And old screenshots and half-remembered memories showed that we missed the mark of being there for them– even worse, that we seemed to believe what was being said and fucking spread it.

DID is really an awful disorder sometimes.

I was at the kitchen table, mediating between Sparrow and Xhaxhollari on this, which was necessary– I had a feeling Sparrow wasn’t going to take kindly to much of what Xhaxhollari had to say.

So, I sat there with my glass of Merlot, Sparrow, with his whiskey and Coke Starlight, and Xhaxhollari with his cup of tea.

The opening statements weren’t encouraging.

Sparrow: “We could’ve helped [Casey.]”

Xhaxhollari: “Sparrow, we couldn’t even help ourselves.”

I sipped my wine. It was kind of psychologically fascinating, how fights between Xhax and Sparrow seemed reminiscent of those between the body’s parents. Xhaxhollari could come off as a pompous, cold, pedantic know-it-all like Dad and Sparrow could come off as over-protective, impulsive, and emotional like Mum. Freud would have a field day in seeing these fuckers argue. I cleared my throat. “Why not just start the beginning, eh, chaps?”

The tone was basically this throughout the entire conversation. -XI

Xhaxhollari sighed. “Less, than a week after Xanthe died, I received a text from [Casey] that their life had fallen apart. Keep in mind, [Casey] is mostly facetious as a rule and had once said their life was ruined about a partner of theirs having a crush on Xanthe, so I didn’t take much note of it. Between Xanthe’s grand exit and my ensuring we weren’t about to be homeless for the second time, you could say that I was rather occupied. Throughout the conversation, I did eventually glean that their friend circle had broken with them, which I thought must have been distressing from their point of view. But I knew of this friend circle and thought it a good riddance. I’d never liked any of who [Casey] used to hang out with.”

“Me neither, honestly,” I agreed. Casey’s former crowd seemed to be a lot like my Savannah crowd– a mixture of distraction and toxicity designed to keep one entertained and to ensure no one would care enough to stop the spiral. Not that I could ever say anything; my most common companion before I moved was bloody Apollo.

Sparrow asked, “How did you react?”

Xhaxhollari sipped his tea. “I expressed sorrow in hearing that they were going through that. They expressed regret at the toxic patterns they’d fallen into that might have led up to this, and I agreed that there was room for improvement. I still had to pretend I was Xanthe, of course. I’d spoken to [Casey] on numerous occasions without them ever knowing it was I, and I intended to keep it that way.” I didn’t bother to let Xhax know that Casey had caught onto the difference between us early on– he likes thinking he’s sneaky. “I also suggested that they move out of their damned midwest hometown, for probably the dozenth time.”

Sparrow leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Well, that’s better than I thought, at least.”

“I’ve never disliked [Casey], Sparrow.” Xhaxhollari said exasperatedly. “Our personalities clash but I always liked their sense of humour.”

“That doesn’t explain why we have texts of us repeating those rumours,” I pointed out. I felt bad. I wasn’t there at the time, no, but something about my system being so far out of my control that it potentially hurt a friend was not something that was easy to stomach.

“That wasn’t me.” The firmness of Xhaxhollari’s voice erased all doubt, for me. If he had been guilty, he would’ve started avoiding, or pointing out excuses before he even admitted to it.

Sparrow narrowed their two-toned eyes. “So, it wasn’t you. It wasn’t me. And it wasn’t Xanthe. Who the fuck was it?”

“You’re not going to believe me.”

“Try me.”


There was a palpable pause after that. As previously mentioned, Thysia is mostly a fixture of the inworld. A near-silent god that occasionally stole people’s souls, this inhuman being with reflective chrome skin and entirely blank eyes.

Sparrow was the first to speak. “That bitch can front?”

I did not like that idea. It was always like a Class A catastrophe whenever Thysia was loose from her metaphysical cage in the inworld. The thought of her having control of my body in the fucking Faerie House was enough to keep me up at night.

Xhaxhollari looked at us both steadily. “She did. I’m under the impression she only fronts when the situation is dire. Just as in the inworld, Thysia is barely sentient. In fact, when fronting, she seemed to act as a mirror to the people around her. The Faerie House famously loved a good scapegoat. And of course, the Faerie House, at this point, knew we were crazy. Had decried us as beyond help. But the last time they’d done that, they conveniently had a scapegoat to unite over. It seemed like Thysia was trying to recreate that situation.”

“With [Casey.]” Sparrow was visibly wincing.

Xhaxhollari nodded. “I’d taken my eyes off of the situation for only a few hours. Within this time, [Casey]’s exes had contacted the Facebook messenger account, which hadn’t been deactivated along with the profile. Thysia happened to be fronting. By the time I understood what was happening, she was… parroting what she was told, by these exes. I don’t even fully think she understood who [Casey] was. Sometimes, she’d add context from the few memories she had access to– those old fights and so forth. Other times, she really seemed like she hadn’t a clue. Once, I heard her referring to [Casey]’s ex as being named Lizzie. Which, of course, was Jane’s ex. Rowan was the one who corrected that one.”

I feel like Sparrow and I reached the conclusion on that one at the same time. “Rowan hated when I’d talk to them about memories with [Casey,]” he murmured. “They’d get all pissy and shut down those conversations and talk shit. Of course, I didn’t know [Casey]’s current name.”

“But I did,” I said. Obviously, us both talking about the same Ohio friend that we used to play Saint’s Row with must’ve been an obvious connection to Rowan, even if we did use different names to refer to Casey. “And Rowan was talking to Apollo at that same time. Apollo, who famously had it out for [Casey.]”

“Very astute,” Xhaxhollari said dryly. “Here we were, losing control of the system when an ally of ours was in substantial tumult, with our most dangerous enemies able to coordinate to take advantage of that. I imagine Sparrow’s brief confrontation with Rowan gave them further motive. With Thysia mindlessly parroting, and Rowan and Apollo encouraging it– it was a perfect storm. Of course, Rowan praising Thysia and showing her attention just exacerbated it. Rowan and the others even took her out for a day at the lake out of nowhere.”

I didn’t like the sound of any of this. “What do we do to keep Thysia from the front again?”

“Live. Breathe. If you can manage, try not to die again.” His tone was matter-of-fact with just a hint of exasperation. “I’ve only seen her front twice. Once after Sparrow died as Nebula, once after Xanthe died. From what I gather, she just mimics her surroundings and tries to be a believable fill-in between gaps in the front.”

Moodboard for Thysia, to add visuals and break up the text. -XZ

“What’d you do to correct it, Xhax?” Sparrow asked, pointedly. “You know, to stop her?”

Here, Xhaxhollari did pause and shift in his seat.

Oh. Oh. Well, fuck.

“Oh, you fucking prick,” Sparrow spat.

Xhaxhollari, to give him credit, was ready. “You ever hear that phraseology about making certain one’s own oxygen mask is on before trying to help someone else?”

“We weren’t on a crashing plane, asshole. We were in a cult.”

I raised my eyebrows, getting myself another glass. “Same difference, really.”

“We could not even save ourselves. And what would that have looked like, Sparrow?” Xhaxhollari challenged. “Recanting everything we’d been rambling about for two days with no explanation as to our mysteriously changed mind?” Xhax ran his hand through his hair. “There’s a quote in Sherlock that I think about a lot… ‘Everyone dies. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage.’”

I had to be honest, I was kind of with his logic up until that last bit. I took a long sip on my last drink as the silence grew louder and louder.

“Yeah, so, if you’re ever wondering,” Sparrow began in a tone that could only be described as ‘haughty’, “this is why Mom never fucking loved you.”

“Sparrow!” I was choking on my wine, hoping the coughing would at least hide my laughter.

Sparrow lit a cigarette– which was significant because Xhaxhollari has asked him not to smoke in the house. Xhaxhollari frowned at him and Sparrow raised his eyebrows right at him, taking a draw. Petty-ass Scorpio Moons.

“Well,” Xhaxhollari began, contempt not entirely absent from his tone, “If you’ll remember, Sparrow, we’d just gotten kicked out and our host had just killed themself.”

I frowned. “You know, I thought one of the better things about snuffing it is that I didn’t have to feel guilty about it afterwards.”

“Amen.” Sparrow clinked his glass with mine at that.

Xhaxhollari continued. “AJ, during their cross-country drive to Rochester, was planning to stay at [Casey]’s house as a stopover. AJ had started talking to Rowan. With AJ, I was desperate to maintain the illusion that we were not crazy. [Casey] has known the system for a decade. They knew Neb. They’d talked to Illusion, Rise, Sound… If AJ had stopped at [Casey]’s, and if they had compared notes–”

“You warned AJ away,” I guessed.

Xhaxhollari was nodding.

“[Casey] should thank you for that, I think,” I said, trying to lighten the mood. “Talk about a dodged bloody bullet.”

Xhaxhollari nodded at me, acknowledging what I tried to do.

Sparrow leaned forward. “So. Out of the three of us, you were the only one that could’ve been there for them. And you’re out there talking shit to save your own neck. You realise how bad it got for [Casey,] right?”

“I didn’t until the month following,” Xhaxhollari snapped. “{Casey]’s not precisely the most forthcoming I’ve ever known. I had only a faint idea. If I had, I would have reacted differently. And when I did know, I felt terribly.”

Sparrow blinked– this was a clear interruption in their plan of attack. “You did?”

“Of course!” Xhaxhollari sounded indignant. “They’ve always been a net positive to the system. I’ve known them throughout both hosts’ friendship with them. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

Sparrow stared at them for a moment, then put out their cigarette, half-smoked. Which was a substantial apology, because cigarettes are worth their weight in gold in New York.

Sparrow finished his whiskey. Whoever was actually in the body was one of the ones who were drinking– I could feel the vague vibrations in my body, the warm and spreading numbness. “What happened next? Did yours and Thysia’s effort buy you any time?”

Xhaxhollari fixed us both with a grim look. “About two weeks.”

July of 2020:


And what a two weeks it was. I was still reeling from the discovery of what went down between Rowan and Story. I was avoiding the housemates more and more. Though, some crossroads were unavoidable.

Like the dresser drawers we had in the hallway. I was fishing a specific night shirt out– I really only sleep in jersey cotton. Any silk or polyester nonsense was likely to frustrate my senses to no end, so it took a bit longer to rummage.

I’d hear Vali, Rowan, and Arkady upstairs in the attic. They were talking about something– of what I hadn’t the faintest clue. Then I heard Arkady, finishing a sentence with increasing volume. “–if someone wasn’t LISTENING IN…”

I paused and thought several non-angelic things.

There was no winning with these people. There was no surviving these people.

It was a stark reminder of why I couldn’t wait to get out of this damned house. This house of horrors and those who allowed it to happen. My system was more thoroughly damaged than it’d ever been. I felt nothing but cold distaste for every single other person who’d occupied it.

Yet, they might have a purpose yet.

What if we maintained some sort of connection and Arkady snapped out of whatever mindset he’d been in? Arkady was– unfortunately, but undeniably a powerful force within Xanthe’s motivations. If there was anyone who might resurrect Xanthe’s consciousness, it might be him.

It would be wise not to burn any bridges in the meantime. But increasingly, frustratingly hard not to.

At the end of July, it was Zara’s birthday. She was to have a weekend-long camping trip in her honor. Just her, that hated us, and our household, who were actively debating on whether we deserved decent humanity.

Of course, we were uninvited. An informal trial without the presence of the defendant. It seemed to be a decree by the monarch herself.

“Do you need me to water the plants while you’re away?” I offered.

Rowan, who I despised utterly by this point, answered. “No, I just watered them. The plants should be fine.”

That weekend beheld an utter heatwave. It felt somewhat like it may be a relief to have the house to myself, but the 324 Crosman Terrace felt haunted and suffocating. My daily routine consisted of journeying down the kitchen to cook myself hard-boiled eggs, feeding the cats, and disappearing back into our room to play Pokemon and watch The Right Opinion most of the day. Maybe even binge a Netflix series.

Thysia kept fronting every other day or so. Most disturbingly, she would occasionally reflect Xanthe’s mindset in their last moments or so– pleading with Arkady or Sage for a bit of humanity, even expressing to Rowan that they thought fictional characters couldn’t get married.

The effect was sickening. It was like a corpse pleading with its murderer not to kill it weeks after it was too late.

I need to get out. I just need to get out.

The other three were back home from their vacation. They were all noticeably colder in their demeanor towards me. Arkady, for example, had within a week gone from, “Yeah, we’ll still hang out!” to “I’d be uncomfortable if you wished me ‘happy birthday’ this year.” Thanks, Zara.

Rowan began their return by griping that most of the plants on the porch were dead. “I thought you told me I didn’t need to do anything with the plants?” I reminded them.

“Yeah, the plants inside. Not the plants outside,” they’d snapped bitterly. “There was a heatwave, Xanthe.”

Contrary to popular opinion, I knew a set-up when I saw it. They expected this to happen.

That wasn’t all. See, I’d hardly interacted with the cats when I was home alone. I’d fed them, made certain their water was full– But I’d seen how Arkady had been about the cat. Even batting with the beast– you know, how one would play with a cat, was decried as ‘abusive.’ I was hesitant to even pet them.

Imagine my resentment when Rowan bent to greet Antari after their long weekend away and said, “Does… Antari look like he’s… flinching away, to you? He’s like, flinching away from my touch, for some reason.” They looked up right at me. Accusatory.

I felt disgusted.

Of course, anytime I had felt angry, I was frozen. Thus, I was frozen in this moment, as well.

I was done with all of them. I’d already signed the lease on the new apartment. I was losing hope in everything else, but I could at least keep us housed for a matter of… months.

Every lie I told, every friend that’s been forgotten at a pivotal moment.

I had a feeling that it all may be for nothing.

August 3rd, 2020.


I went down without a fight once before.

That was soooo eight years ago. I wanted help, goddamnit. The way I saw it, just about everyone around us was a total wash. They don’t get much more vile than Rowan, Arkady and Vali were wrapped around their finger. Fuck all three of them.

Ever read ‘13 Reasons Why’? I mean, both the book and the show sucked, but have you ever gotten morbidly curious and given it a try?

As a high schooler that, again, thought suicide was an inevitability, I gave the book a try. Wasn’t too impressed. I mean, hell, I averaged a book a week. Throw your A-game at me.

But one part of it did stick with me.

It was towards the end where Hannah Baker goes to the counselor. It was this vain but blunt last attempt to save her life. She was going to go in, say what she was considering and why, and leave it up to the counselor as to whether she’d live or not. She had the tapes recorded, she had the method all picked out, but sure, let’s give this One person who might still give a shit a fair chance. It was like flipping a coin.

And the counselor fucking fumbled it. Blamed Hannah for the abuse she went through, downplayed her suffering, and hey bitch have you tried being fucking Happy and Functional once in a while?

This scene was the most realistic goddamned thing about that entire book.

Fucker was the last one she talked to before she did it. Luckily, I had a vastly superior last experience as Nebula, but– this wasn’t going to be a selfish venture, for once.

I was going to try to save us all.

So, I went to Sage. Sage Barber, the last one I had any regard for in this group at all. After all, they were always bragging about how they saved their friends from awful situations. And I knew the household didn’t share anything magic with Sage.

Granted, Sage isn’t a counselor.

They’re what most historians might refer to as a ‘very well-informed bystander.’

I tried, man. I fucking tried. Knowing all of the magic shit was just manipulation, knowing Sage wasn’t in on it at all, I really goddamn tried.

This was the response.

This was it, folks! Almost 20 years of being trapped in the castles of glass others built for us! This was the last chance, the last hope, the grand reveal that’d save us!
Right now, all of my friends are reading this screenshot and is like “Oh, yeah, that IS Sparrow.”
“Moving sucks.” As if we weren’t going to be financially crippled after months of psychological torture, you patronizing cunt.

Yeah, that was my usual bit of fawning there. Sorry to bother you, I’m clearly too crazy to be shown mercy, just thought someone might see me as a goddamn person, carry on.

But that did do something.

Because Sage, the fucking traitor they are, ally to None in abusive situations, sent my messages to Rowan, who was incensed. Probably because I also pulled an equally ballsy move of inviting both Vali and Rowan into the group chat where Xanthe, Zara, Sage, Tony, and Arkady would all talk shit organically a year before, proof that everyone’s reasonable dislike of that bundle of red flags wasn’t just Xanthe’s doing.

And early afternoon on August 3rd, Rowan pounded on my door.

And famously, they informed Xhax and I that all of their made-up people were real. Yep, folks, we’re going full circle!

They yelled at us, putting Nebula’s name in quotation marks, as if she never existed. As if she were one of the made up characters. A catfish. Told Xanthe that anyone they introduced in weren’t real– an echo of April 27th, 2015.

And it’s really fucking funny. I’ll tell you why.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t figure out how to resurrect Xanthe. But Rowan losing their shit at the potential blow to their reputation and deciding to confront us head-on–

Gotta hand it to you, Row, we probably couldn’t have taken you down without you.

After that famous fight, I was switched out.

I wasn’t far from Westminster. In fact, I was busy stealing street food and sleeping in alleys.

I must’ve been kind of easy to find, because here was fucking Phisoxa coming through a broken mirror– yeah, you heard that right, and locking her weirdly luminous eyes on me. My blood was frozen in place. No room to run or climb away.

This bastard.

He wasn’t… unsympathetic. Unempathetic, sure. But I surrounded myself with that sort. “I regret to inform you–” She said in her raspy voice. “That your split from my offspring wasn’t complete. There’s quite a bit of my child left within you. I’m going to need it back.”

I glanced at myself within the broken, thrown-out mirror this fucker had just phased out of.

Lately, my countdown had hovered at about a week or more. Sometimes a day or two was added, sometimes it was subtracted.

I caught my duo-toned eyes and found that this suddenly dropped to about 18 hours.

I looked at Phisoxa, then at the countdown in my eyes, realizing.

This world just hated giving me a happy ending, didn’t it?