[Trigger Warnings: Suicidality, existential horror, descriptions of intense pain, a picture of blood and a pen. Phisoxa and Sound both use he/him and she/her pronouns, so Sparrow and I both go back and forth between them. Anything that takes place in the inworld, which is the most of this blog, is depicted in Italics.]
On the theory of life after death, as explored by Marcus Sedgwick: “If you want to prove that not all crows are black, you don’t have to look at every crow in the world. You only have to find one white crow.”
August 3rd, 2020:
The scene in front of me was either a wake, a science experiment, or a party. Or some weird combination of the three. There were clusters of wine bottles everywhere, a fucking wooden slab that was half-taken up by a machine-ridden corpse, and some bleary-eyed people that I’d only seen through Xanthe’s eyes.
It was weird. I’d always heard stories of Phisoxa and admired him. I also felt the same way about wolves all through middle school. Distant fondness was different from being in a locked room with a real live wolf. Somehow the sense of danger doesn’t hit until there’s no escape. Especially when I saw that his lifespan count was also only weeks away.
I still don’t have any confirmation on why that was. Maybe the system, if the entire collective thing was sentient, was planning a bodily suicide. Or, even more existentially terrifying, maybe it meant to scrap as all as a failed project and start anew with a whole new set of alters. Maybe we’d been living in yet another state, with yet another legal name, like we were in the fucking witness protection program. Unrecognizable. Ret-conned.
Phisoxa ordered the room of people away. It was all a blur. I was distracted by the fact that everyone I’d seen, from what I could see of their eyes, all had a lifespan that were weeks at best. The next thing I knew, the count had grabbed my wrist, jerked me to the slab, and clicked an iron cuff around my arm, just over my hoodie sleeve. The cuff was chained to the other end of the slab, the end currently without a corpse. She began to do the same to do the same to my other arm before I caught on and twisted away.
Terror gripped me. I couldn’t even joke about him needing to buy me dinner first, that’s how bad it was. Pain shot through my wrist as I’d tried to wrench it away and I heard the ringing sound of it being pulled taut. Phisoxa huffed in frustration and tried for my other wrist again. “No. Fuck you! No! No! We’re not doing this.”
I took a swing at her face, but the count dodged easily. I went to pulling again, determined to break my fucking wrist if it would let me out of the restraint. Phisoxa caught my other wrist again, which was bare skin after the struggle had made my hoodie sleeve raise up. “This won’t be an easy process and I can’t trust your cooperation.”
“Take this the fuck off of me!” I cried hoarsely.
“No.” Phisoxa had the audacity to look mildly annoyed by this request.
“I won’t–fucking–go anywhere! Take it the fuck off of me! I will literally freak the fuck out if you don’t!”
Phisoxa stared at my wrist and paused. I refused to look at where his eyeline was leading, but I could feel the gaze on the ragged, raw wound encircling my wrist as if his eyes were physical contact. I was shaking so badly that it was rattling the chain. My breath felt like it were trying to escape my fucking lungs. Phisoxa paused for a moment before pulling my hoodie sleeve over my free wrist. “Hold still.” I tried, but I was shaking so badly that it felt like I’d start seizing if it got any worse. Phisoxa reached behind himself and lifted a small key into his hand before unlocking the cuff with it. “My apologies… You’ll need to be in range for the process,” he warned. “Do not leave. And you must stay where I place you.”
“Where the hell am I going to go? It’s a fucking clocktower.” I wiped my eyes with my now-free, albeit sore, arm. “Whatever, man. Just don’t fucking do that again.” I went to sit on one of the nearby chairs. It had a stack of books on the table closest to me, so at least I would be entertained. For however long I was here. “Am I going to survive this process, or–?”
Phisoxa was polishing his glasses. It was only after this point that I saw what looked to be a crate of glittering marbles– a mixture of blue, gold, and black. It was as if the old alchemist had captured space and were going to set them as jewels to an oversized pocket watch. “It depends on how you define survival.”
Great. Comforting. Love that for me.
There was nothing left for me to do other than open up a book and start reading to pass the time. I’d vaguely remembered ‘Clockwork Angel’ and opened that up. Once I settled my traumatized mind, the ability to pass between worlds became an option for me.
And I did.
With the hope that I wouldn’t run into Rowan but, of course, after I blew the lid off of their whole faerie thing and Sage somehow took offense to that, that went historically wrong.
But I wasn’t done yet.
“Hey, is this Sound?”
I’d remembered how to half-front. I never knew that was the term for what I was doing, but I remembered it was like standing in the frame of one’s front door. You could feel the cool air on one side brushing against the heat of the other, you hear the sounds of each side perfectly, able to lean to one side or the other if either is catching your attention. It was a balancing act to contact members of the ‘other world’ while maintaining awareness of this one. I used to do it often.
It was just after Rowan had yelled at Xhax and I that I called someone who had been one of my very dear role-models. She’d coined the term ‘genderqueer’ back when I was yearning to be androgynous but hadn’t come across the term ‘non-binary’ yet. I’d hovered around her, back in the day, not only loving her personality but also wanting to just be in the proximity of her life.
Sound had came from a rough background in Toronto, full of incidents that must have been our traumatized teenaged mind processing something too dark for the host to know. He fell hard into addiction and his own mental illness for years until the house of cards all came crashing down on him. He moved to Ohio, within walking distance to me, and met JaK. It was a twisted Cinderella story for the ages and I had been obsessed with it.
“Yeah? Who’s this?” Sound’s voice was only somewhat alert, but still the sing-songy voice that I always thought was automatically italicized and ending in a tilde.
“The thing is, I don’t really know. I’ve been calling myself ‘Story.’ I remembered you, though. I heard you were still around.” There was a justified pause on the other end of the line. I was on the roof of 324 Crosman Terrace, talking in a low voice. “Do you remember back when you and JaK were having all of those problems? And Kirra was always somehow involved?”
“Yeah… We’re doing a lot better these days, though. Turns out that ten thousand years worth of trauma and no therapist can kind of do that.” Sound’s tone had switched to somewhat more defensive, still wary. “Look, Aberle went on this… really weird rant over here, the other night. About how we might all be Nebula’s–… alter egos, or something. Like Sybil.”
I chewed on my lip. “You don’t have to believe that. I just–… You know that Kirra had a weird amount of influence on JaK, at one point. And I tried to keep it from you. Xanthe and I both did. Do– Do you remember JaK ever dying? As in, having witnessed him die?” Granted, Xanthe has been around for that one. But I knew of it.
I heard a sharp intake of breath. There’d been some background noise initially, but it faded sharply as if Sound had gone into a quiet room. “I thought those were nightmares. Aberle mentioned something about a ‘destroyed timeline.’ You’re saying it happened?”
“Yeah!” I was chewing the loose skin off my fingers– an old habit of Neb’s/mine. “Kirra always–… targeted you. And Xanthe and I tried to help out the best I could– protect all of you. I remember staying up nights and nights just–… apologizing endlessly or doing whatever she said so she might lay off. Sometimes it happened with Calisto and Romeo, but it was also mostly you two.” My words were coming out in a rush now. “And I wanted to let you know. I don’t know how much you remember or how much is good for you to remember, but a lot of those conflicts were not your fault or JaK’s. Kirra was blackmailing me with you and your family.”
There was a pause. I could hear Sound’s breathing, unnaturally steady as if he was trying to keep it that way. “Why–” She sighed, then took a breath to start over. “Why– us, particularly? We weren’t Neb’s only friends. We weren’t even that close with Xanthe.”
I did note the word ‘weren’t.’ News of Xanthe’s death had apparently travelled to just about everyone. “Because– you– were pretty much everything– and had everything that I ever wanted.” My heart was hurting to say it. “You–… always had that androgynous thing going on, you looked gorgeous as a boy or a girl. Prosper always called you his daughter and his son. You were always so confident and you had these great dark jokes about what you’d been through that could always make a room crack up even if they didn’t want to laugh. And you’re talented– and– you’re married to someone who loves the fuck out of you–” My breath hitched. I knew I was on the verge of crying. Sound was silent. I checked my phone to make sure Sound hadn’t hung up on me. She hadn’t. “And you have kids and– I know it’s fucked up to just, you know, live vicariously through a whole other person, but I knew I would never fucking have that. But I couldn’t let anyone take it from you. So…”
Sound was quiet for an agonizingly long time. Finally, she said, “I appreciate you being honest… Who did you say you were again?”
I laughed a little. I couldn’t help it because, really, who are any of us, at this point? “I remember being friends with you, back in the day. But to be honest, I didn’t know who I was back then, either.”
“No mourners. No funerals.”
“Ideas are bulletproof.”
“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
“I’m more of a puckish rogue.”
“And that was without a single drop of rum!”
“While they wait by gates of pearl, we’ll be building palaces in purgatory.”
I think, maybe once, I had a flash of consciousness– of self-awareness. Just a whisper of ‘I am.’ Then that was quickly contradicted with ‘I don’t want to be.’ And I suppose that was the end of that for a while.
You ever see a film wherein towards the end, the title character makes a dubious return with theme music, pomp, and circumstance just in time to save the day? And when you think of the reprise of Xanthe-Fucking-Zeitstück, do you picture a red carpet rolling out? Fireworks? Maybe a catchy comeback that announces, well, my comeback?
If you pictured all of that– thank you, and I’m sorry.
What the fuck did you do?!” I was shrieking at my creator before I’d fully even realised what was happening to me. I knew I was furious at being alive before I knew I was alive. I was tearing at myself, dismayed to find there was a self to tear at. “No!”
It’s hard to describe the sensations of coming back to life. Everything suddenly felt heavy and exceedingly sensory-aware. Imagine the worst autistic meltdown you’d ever had, compounded. My vision was blurred, my lungs contracting, apparently hitting the ground running on the whole breathing thing. Energy was coming off of Phisoxa and I in visible waves of rippling light. My vision was blurred, but I could spot Story in the corner of the workshop that I couldn’t recognise as my clocktower. I could just make out their white-button shirt, the dark-coloured hoodie layered on top, the silver hair.
Their eyes were wide as saucers, staring at me as Phisoxa tried to hold my writhing and newly-animated body down. “Holy fuck, it worked,” Story breathed. They were near the table, hovering as if held by an unseen gravitational point within me, but physically unrestrained.
Fucking Phisoxa. I knew I shouldn’t have left my watch with her. If there were a maestro for bringing a pulse to abominations better off dead, it was the fucking count. “I was never meant to fucking be here!”
“It’s not up to us to decide who is meant to be here!” Phisoxa spat, pushing me down to the slab. I’d apparently been curling upwards, trying to claw at her. “If fate itself had decreed against your existence, I’ll fight it as well as you, Xanthe!”
“No! No, this isn’t fucking happening! That was meant to kill me!” I wasn’t planning what I was saying before I was saying it– it was ripping from me, as if something was off its leash. There was unbelievable, white hot rage within me of the likes of which I’d never felt before. “It was the one thing that could ever destroy me! He was the one person that could have! I didn’t survive this!”
“I know how you feel, my son, but I’m not letting you go,” my author rasped.
“No! There’s no fucking fixing this, do you understand? I am already dead! It’s done!” I lunged again, for her throat this time, maybe even trying to strangle her. I wanted just to make him stop. Make everything fucking stop. The room thrummed with energy. It was all I could do to reach out and take hold of it, send it surging right through my creator– maybe knock him out and halt the process altogether. Narrowing her eyes, Phisoxa sent it right back through me about tenfold.
I shrieked. I thought I heard a whispered ‘Es tut mir leid’ from Phisoxa, but I felt like I’d been scorched from the inside out. Phisoxa’s eyes were glowing, shifting between gold and silver, an indication that he was about to use something to manipulate souls.
This was a nightmare, a never-ending fucking nightmare. I could hear Kirra’s voice in a flashback. ‘You’re not allowed to die.’ “You’re really fucking doing this to me? You went fucking mad when someone you loved abandoned you! I know your entire life story! People begged me not to turn into you. And you’re bringing me back just to go through what BROKE you! Bloody duct-taping your Frankestein’d abomination just to lord it over all who’ve wronged you? Until I’m just as fucking insane as you? I’m already dead! It’s over! I was– I was never alive in the first place, you sadistic FUCK!” Sobs were tearing from me. Phisoxa kept his hand on my shoulder, partially to hold me down, but I did feel a somewhat comforting squeeze.
“Neither of us really had the chance to be, child,” he whispered. I saw his eyes tracing a path between myself and Story, as if mapping a path in midair. “It’s not meant for us. I know how you feel.”
The pain that came after was literally blinding. I was aware, by some other odd sense perhaps left over from being incorporeal, that Story had fallen down and was also crying out in pain. He’d even knocked over a small table, with something fragile on it. I could barely hear the shattering glass above the ringing in my ears.
What happened next also seemed to be within my senses and simultaneously beyond them. There was a heart that was hovering between Story and I, some engorged grotesque thing that looked like a living heart had grown over a clockwork one. I could make out the cobalt of my clock’s face within the machinery that seemed like it was being smothered by the biological material. I was nauseated by the prospect, but something about this seemed familiar. ‘I’ll have to cut it away from you, when the time is right.’ Oh god. Oh fuck.
Slowly, with a cold scientist precision, Phisoxa drew up the end of his staff to point directly at this double heart. Using the tip of the silver staff like a needle’s point, Phisoxa traced the middle where the muscle and machine met.
I shrieked. The pain was truly indescribable. This was all soul work, so there was no deadening of nerves or shock that could have dulled this agony. The slicing could have taken years. It could have taken seconds. I could hear Story’s shrieks mingling with my own. I was choking on my own blood with a gurgling noise.
Ink and blood came down in gratuitous showers over us both, as if in an unholy baptism for our splitting. Above the screaming and wet splattering sounds that might have made God weep, I could somehow hear Phisoxa’s soft, raspy voice. It could’ve even been just in my head, at that point.
“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put you back together again…”
Unbeknownst to me, my arrival had caused permanent peculiarities within the inworld. Chicago and the surrounding area were now time-looped in the 1920’s. Select parts of London, England had been forced back into 1890. Savannah, Georgia would remain at 2013. Various time bubbles had cropped up all over the world, some we haven’t even discovered yet. Perhaps a product of this required torture, perhaps only a reaction of the system to my return.
I suppose I can claim that as my flashy return. If I squint.
Just before the hearts were wrenched apart, I could actually feel the entirety of what I knew to be Story’s emotions. The intensity of them was maddening– the poor thing must’ve felt as if they were on fire constantly, with vice and love as a desperately-needed salve. Searing yearning, a blazing self-hatred, a smoldering rage, and a sense of self that’d only begun to catch.
Interesting that Nebula had named themself after the stars. They’re, too, eternally burning.
Then it was cut away, as if I were losing feeling in an amputated limb. There was only blackness. I lost consciousness, at that point. Stuck in an odd space between the innerworld, the outerworld, and beyond. I could actually feel myself slipping away again. Phisoxa was calling my name, the name he gave me, as if it were a distant echo.
The surgery wasn’t a success. Call it, doctor! This is an unnecessary reboot to a work of fiction that has run its fucking course.
Then, something remarkable happened. See, I’m unsure about Story/Sparrow’s theory that most of the system could’ve/would’ve ret-conned itself if we hadn’t pulled ourselves out of the undeniable nosedive of our lives. I wouldn’t be surprised. But one thing I do know is that I would have stayed dead, were the following not revealed to my faint consciousness:
“Oh, you never lied to me? Um, let’s see!… Aberle, Kaspar, Vex!”
A scene blazed before my shattered being. Kirra and I within Savannah’s ‘Rocks on the River’, sitting at a small two-person table, across from one another. “Real friends?”
“I can do that with Arannan because he exists! Because he’s real! These people that you claim you know– they’re not!”
“I made it all so you wouldn’t be alone.”
The second voice, I knew well. That dialogue with its cutting tone had been haunting my nightmares for five years. The first that overlapped it, I also knew. Condescending with a fevered urgency, standing up for something that had never been the underdog. It was a conversation that I’d never heard before, but the context seemed inescapably clear. I doubt I was hearing this as it happened. I’d no sense of time, but I do know this conversation occurred within the same 12 hours as my resurrection, a repeating and recorded clip meant to make it to me.
I could see it, now. Rowan with their newly-cropped hair, standing in front of my bedroom door, with either Vali or Arkady or both lurking in the room next to it.
You know, Rowan, if you had never pounded on my door that day, if you had never made the bizarre claim that your faeries are real and that my friends weren’t– I likely wouldn’t have made it back.
Without my ego, the Living Fiction system might very well have faded into obscurity. You might have continued to groom systems and people with delusional disorders with impunity. But you just had to flex how many walls had your ears on them, had to prove to all of us that there was no hiding our thought crimes from you. My continued existence is your fault, Rowan, and I’m quite happy to blame you for it. Feel free to blame yourself. You’ve earned it!
On the surface, Xhaxhollari and Story had fended Rowan off. The way that they’d pounded on the door had them both shaken. “But you slept with Aberle? You told me you met him? In person?”
“Yes, because you projected him out in front of me and made me see him!”
It’s hard to describe the odd, blooming clarity that I had– even moreso because I only seemed to possess it for a brief window of time. Scenes flashed before my eyes, some from my life, some from Nebula’s, some even from before her time. Shadow’s obsession and influence on the inworld. The contradiction of Illusion’s existence. Kirra, recognising the half-destroyed spider’s web she could crawl to the middle of and build upon. Jake, being the first bridge between Kirra and my system. Sound, the system’s gender-fluidity and yearning for that fairytale love. JaK, Kirra’s answer to Sound, then her weapon, then her victim– turning that fantasy into a nightmare. Casey, shut out and reached for in cycles but one of the few who ever questioned anything. Myself, who came into being in the ashes of a broken life, who never really felt real. Arkady, who was supposed to change everything. Arkady, who could see it all too. Arkady, whose experiences were all corroborated by Rowan.
Rowan, who began our interaction by ‘channeling’ my deceased girlfriend. Rowan, who had proclaimed that they could feel Aberle was there. Rowan, who had used fucking tarot cards to forsake any future Arkady and I could’ve had. Rowan, who always seemed to intervene right before everything turned nightmarish. Rowan, who had treated each member of my dubiously-real cast, including yours truly, as a novelty until they–
Until it wasn’t convenient for any of us to exist anymore.
This was happening to me.
This had happened to me.
I had access to a cosmic understanding of the situation. You, my beloved audience, both know that I’ve taken over two years to get to this point. To retrace these steps, to dig up the hatchets, to resuscitate what amnesia had drowned. And the insight was agonisingly brief. It was as if I could glimpse into my knowledge two years into the future.
Look back on these initial blog entries. I refused to believe, however blurry the memory was, that it had been anyone but me who had fought with Rowan that day. I thought Rowan only a poor, misled soul who was temporarily compromised by a combination of circumstance and corruption. I thought Vali and Zara were the bloody masterminds!
Gods, forget the in-depth inworld, forget seeing people who aren’t there, forget thinking I was an inter-dimensional traveller. The real delusion was thinking that chucklefuck, Vali Janiszewski, could plot his way to a punchline, much less manipulate a group of loyal friends into vicious betrayal.
But in that moment, I knew. That Rowan was just another Kirra. The surging rage was indescribable but it was matched only with a sense of purpose.
There was a higher self that I felt that I was being reunited with, something that had been hidden, squandered. I theorize, honestly, that it may have been my Narcissism. I felt that ceaseless egotism, that web of social tactics, that desire to either force the world to make room for me or to burn it to the ground. I’d forsaken this defiant survival in the vain hope that there would be no need to build trap doors in case of betrayal or cold wars. But now, it was begging to do as it did best.
As I did best.
This was what I was manufactured for.
April of 2022
“Sixty-five percent, eh?” As it turns out, dying and coming back to life does actually have consequences. I’d been wondering why Xhaxhollari was so insistent on Living Fiction using the Plural App. If you don’t have it, I do recommend it for systems. It keeps track of who’s fronting and when.
After my resurrection, I’d had a hell of a time fronting for the next three months. It wasn’t until November of 2020 that I could front a full day without drinking. Then for the next year, I’d been steadily able to front more. Xhaxhollari had been the main one helping me. He could always front at the hotel, of course, but that had the negative side effect of making him sorely wish for a quick death– for either himself or the guest, he’s usually not picky.
I was starting to get the sense that he was fed up with having to be my crutch. “That’s–… rounding up,” he clarified.
“Oof.” I winced.
“My main concern is that it’s plateaued for the past six months. This isn’t– unusual. Sparrow’s had similar issues since the first time he’s died. He hasn’t been able to make it past 90% since Nebula’s time. On average, he can barely break 45%.” Xhaxhollari looked at me. We were sitting on the roof– I was nursing my glass of wine and he was playing Legends of Arceus on our Switch. “Many systems have co-hosts. I’ve been filling in, of course, but– Xanthe, I’m really not meant for the front.”
“What do you mean?” I said dryly. “You love the general public. Faking my accent, you’re asked where you’re from every time you open your mouth. Great opportunity for small-talk!”
His unamused hazel glare informed me that I wasn’t as funny as I thought I was. I’m certain that means he thinks I’m funnier. “I’m more suited to taking care of everything on the inside… You’ll need a different co-host. Now, I’ve thought of Aberle, but he’s usually quite pre-occupied with everything he has going on in the inworld.”
“An entire crime ring and like, what, five partners at any given time? Yeah, I don’t think he even sleeps.”
Xhaxhollari nodded. “Kaspar has a similar problem, and I know you two value space in your relationship.”
I nodded. My partner lives inside my head and we average two dates a month. Yes, of course I’m well-adjusted, why do you ask?
“There’s– options. Anyone you choose, I can make the front more accessible to… I’ve considered Audric. Ethniu would be a good foil to many of your vices, but he doesn’t believe he’s an alter. He’s also an alcoholic. I would strongly advise against Jasper–“
I had to stop myself from laughing at his pause. Sparrow and I have famously squabbled for the better half of the year and had only recently begun to see eye to eye. Back when he still age-slid, he actually called me a ‘fucking fascist’ for suggesting that I maybe shouldn’t let him drink. When I found out he smoked, I asked if he was trying to kill the body. He’d responded, “Well. Slower than you.”
Worst of all, he’d had a point.
“As much as you two bicker?” The corners of Xhaxhollari’s mouth were tugging into an unwilling but amused smile.
“We haven’t been, lately. And I need someone to fight with me occasionally.” It was true. It’d taken me a long time to remember the fact that I’d died, even more time to remember details of it. Being honest, Sparrow and I were never meant to be one person. But a team? “He has a great intuition. He actually likes Mum, for some reason. He has some actual fire in him. More importantly, he has future plans. Xhaxhollari, you and I both know that, at this point, I’m here to write, be along for the ride, and be drunk half the time doing it. Someone who’s actually invested in keeping the body alive–…” I motioned what I hoped could convey that I found it ideal. “I’d run this body into the literal ground before most have their midlife crisis.”
Xhaxhollari was nodding slowly. “Is it out of spite? At all?”
I was trying hard to hide a smile but I don’t think I succeeded. Someone’s thoughts against Sparrow had been made very clear– and then that someone decided to destroy the last bit of vulnerability I had, just recently. “Partially. But my other reasons still stand.” I shrugged. “He wants a future.”
“Romance has always been a strong motivator for the system. For better or worse.” Xhaxhollari stood. The wine was getting to him and he wanted to escape it. “Well. I’ll tell the brat he has a promotion, then.”
“Yeah? You approve?” I’d honestly expected a bit more pushback. Sparrow wasn’t one for keeping his adventurous side a secret. He frankly has the self-preservation instincts of an adrenaline-seeking hamster, but he has motive to live. He’s not just fucking around and finding out like I am.
Xhaxhollari chuckled and patted my shoulder as he stood up to leave. “Xanthe, I am happy to make you each other’s problem rather than mine.”
August 4th, 2020
If I were fire, feeling Xanthe’s emotions was like being plunged into the ocean. But the very bottom, cold and lightless, where only creatures who’ve adapted to the pressure can live. Just endless fathoms of emptiness that slowly crushed you. One of the few things that broke through the ice was a complex greed to fill the hollow.
I’ve never known such famine, such hunger.
Then, in an instant, I was free from it. I could no longer feel Xanthe’s numbness. I was coated in blood and ink. With shaking arms, I tried to raise myself halfway to see Xanthe. The agony, the desperation not to live, faded from their eyes. Those gold eyes went from frenzied to dull within minutes. My emotions were lost to them, just as theirs were to me.
I looked to Phisoxa. Whereas his numbers had read only weeks before, there was now infinite time in his irises– oh, wait, no, it was jumping back down to weeks again. Then back up infinity. It looked like the numbers were glitching. I didn’t know what to make of it.
I glanced to the mirror, looking for my own lifespan. I cringed. Oh, I only had hours. Great.
Phisoxa was calling Xanthe’s name. The dandy stared straight ahead, eyes unfocused. Catatonic. It lasted for hours, Phisoxa attempting to snap Xanthe out of it, to lure his heir to consciousness.
Had that all been for nothing?
I don’t recall how I ended up in the outerworld. I don’t believe I made the choice to– it was as if I’d woken from a dream. I was in Xanthe’s room, seated at the edge of their chaise, in front of the desk. Vex was just beside me, clicking on the computer with a dull, frustrated look.
I glanced at the date. It was a day later than when I’d last fronted. August 4th, 2020. Vex glanced at me as I started to grasp my bearings. “Oh. It’s you. Hello.” She sounded surprised, but not displeased. “I don’t suppose you know how to work this infernal thing?”
Not going to lie, Facebook would’ve probably been my last guess for Vex to have been on. “What are you trying to do?”
“Send out an SOS. Xanthe’s built this platform for years. I’d regarded it as hollow ego-stroking, but I can’t help but think that this is what they would do.”
I blinked. Vex was in a group called Coping, a private group that Xanthe had created to tell Gallows Humor jokes without being vilified by the masses. “Like WWXD? Rather than What Would Jesus Do?”
Vex grimaced. “I’m not looking forward to their Jesus comparisons…”
I smiled. “I take it you’ve talked to Phisoxa?”
“He’s been in touch.” The tone was a bit cold, there. I would imagine that Vex wasn’t responding to the count. Funny how Xanthe managed to have two sets of estranged parents. “Was… it successful?”
“Ehhhh…” I held my hand out and waved it noncommittally. “Too early to tell. Might be kinda–… more Pet Semetery-ish than Second-Coming vibes for a while, last I saw.” Vex’s lifespan was doing the same thing as Phisoxa’s was– high numbers, or weeks. No in-between. We were really standing on a narrow edge, here.
Vex sighed. “Xhax–… received a series of texts, earlier. From [Arkady.] There’s going to be another interrogation in a few days and I’ll be damned if I let him and his crucify what’s left of Xanthe.”
Oh. Shit. Yeah, that would be bad. Since Vex already happened to be on the Coping page, I figured it was the best place to start.
You might have caught on that Xanthe initially didn’t remember this correctly. And it’s funny, because if you go back to the first post on this event, there were signs.
When I first went Live within that tiny group, I rambled. I didn’t have it in me to mention the Faeries, to be honest. Sage had more or less traumatized me from doing that. I talked about how everyone in the house turned against us, how it all seemed like magic, that we really weren’t doing well and that we needed help. I admitted, somewhat shakily, that I’d been delusional and that’s part of how we’d fallen into this.
I could feel a third presence along with Vex and I. Something watching, something slowly absorbing the situation.
Then our phone received a text.
“Oh, well, I can always elaborate.”
That– That wasn’t me that moved the body’s lips, there. My tongue never simped for consonants like the English insisted on doing. It was a tone that was cool with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, something that promised a war.
Vex caught it too. Her eyes flashed to Xanthe, widening in what I think was the closest she could feel to delight. I was stepping aside, feeling actually fucking giddy for this.
The only thing was, Xanthe was– visibly glitchy. I suppose gluing someone’s brain back together with vague magic and Actual Torture didn’t make for the most stable result, at first. That pervading epiphany of Xanthe’s was like a comet, penetrating the atmosphere in a jaw-dropping blaze but breaking up the more it travelled.
We only had a small window. It was now or fucking never. Vex actually had to push the Live button for Xanthe, in the end. But I figured they’d be alright.
Especially when, on the worst fucking day of their life, Xanthe adjusted their web camera to make sure they had a more flattering angle.
Never fucking change, Xanthe. Never change.
August 4th, 2020
“You want to talk, Xanthe? Come on, let’s talk. Right now. Come out here.”
Two years after the fact, I had a confirmation of what a sadistic cunt Rowan really was. While scrolling on their phones in the basement ‘smoke lounge’, all three of them had witnessed Story trying to reach out one last time. Vali had offered to confront me at first, but Rowan sent Arkady up instead. Why?
I think you know why. To do the most damage to myself. It also had the added bonus of being able to throw Arkady under the bus if they needed to. They knew I’d gone back on Live. They knew Arkady would either make an example out of me, or make an ass of himself. Or both.
I feel like I might have known the depth of this vile act at the time. There was a desperate urgency– I felt the details of the revelation fading away from me like a dream upon waking, everything from my death to Rowan’s culpability falling through the cracks in my psyche.
I know I’ve mentioned it here before, but Arkady and I began flirting by jokingly calling each other our ‘archnemesis.’ We would send each other Sherlock and Moriarty memes, staging our own little ‘enemies to lovers’ trope. And I thought of that, then.
I thought about how it was a poetic irony that we would end up facing off today, our own little Reichenbach, for all the world to see.
And of course, I would be the one taking the Fall.