a/n: just so you know, Imaha is pronounced EEMA-ha. Ye. More importantly, of course, this story is a short taking place in the same universe as one of my novels. I've tried to make it so that you can read this without having read that, but we'll see how that works out. That is all. Thank you.
It was truly Unfortunate that hoop skirts were still in style on Hesterthorne. Gabby had never been fond of them. But one must look her best to visit the president of the galaxy, of course.
Gabby was visiting Irise about a case related to her reaper duties. A new anomaly, a fairly major snag in the AltEther barrier had come up only a few hundred miles from her home in montana, and Gabby needed to ask permission to pass this particular anomaly on to her apprentice and daughter, Cyfillius.
Apprenticeships in the reaper trade were uncommon, so the activities therein had to be overseen by the president herself.
The lobby was grand as ever, and the people within it ranged from stuffy barons to a newspaper boy. Gabby fiddled with the clasp on her purse, when the door opened, and Irise's secretary called in a bored manner,
Gabby got up, following the man through the door, trying not to trip on the bouncy, rose-colored skirt she wore.
The inner room was brilliant, creamy off white with a window taking up the entire wall opposite them. Mostly devoid of furniture other than a desk with two velvet chairs at either end.
"And now presenting," the secretary went on in his monotone, "her ladyship, the grim reaper, protecter of the AltEther barrier, et cetera, et cetera." He gestured to Gabby.
Gesturing to the person sitting in the opposite chair, which was turned to face the window, he continued, "to see her majesty, the president of Imaha."
He left the two alone.
The chair across the table spun around to be facing Gabby, revealing the occupant within. Irise had always reminded Gabby of a character from an Earth cartoon who's name was Double Trouble, except... Blue. And older, with a short, pastel pink bobcut.
"How are you, Gabriola? Please, sit down." She smiled politely, gesturing to the other chair. Gabby sat.
"I'm doing well. And you?"
"As well as one in my line of work can be, thank you. What have you come to talk about today?"
"You're probably aware of the anomaly that recently entered our intelligence, right?"
"I am here to ask permission to allow my apprentice to handle it in my stead, as a learning experience. I will step in if it becomes necessary, of course."
Irise tapped her manicured claws together, deliberating.
"They? Are competent, I presume?"
"More than competent. She shows much potential, as you saw at her assessment."
"Oh, it's Cyfillius. Ah, I forgot her name for a second, thank you. Yes, that would be fine."
After taking a shortcut through the rough fabric of the AltEther barrier and arriving at her front doorstep, Gabby called her daughter to tell her the news.
"Yes... She said you may... Uh huh." She braced herself for the woop of victory from the other end.
Half an hour later, Cyf and Gabby were excitedly discussing the anomaly from Cyf's bedroom as they packed for her trip. Cyf wasn't permitted to use the Barrier for fast travel at this point, so she would be taking a train.
"And it's in North Carolina! North Carolina had all the best anomalies! Like the Cape Fazz incident, or the-"
"One moment, dear," Gabby said, setting down the shirt she was folding. "Isn't Cape Fazz in California?"
Cyf shook her head. "No one knows where it really is. Most people see it in Malaysia actually, but that's besides the point! Reeeee!"
Cyf fluttered off the bed and did the fourteenth happy dance of the day. Gabby giggled. She could watch Cyf be happy all day. When Cyf was happy, it overflowed into everyone around her.
She would depart in three days, in which time Gabby drilled her on all the necessary skills a reaper should have.
On the day the train arrived in New Home, Cyf, Gabby, Julius, Ambrose and Michael said final, excited goodbyes before Cyf climbed onto the train. They had left little Wynn with the Bessemers, since she was a little too young to understand it all right now.
She waved to her family as long as she could see them before bouncing up and down on her seat. Her first real job as an apprentice. Gabby might as well have given her a scythe and grey robe! It was like she was the real reaper.
She was in her fae form, since there were humans on the train, and see didn't feel like having a gaggle of curious people looking at the living skeleton sitting in isle seven. Her hair was still only shoulder length from when she had cut it super short while she was pregnant with Wynn, but it was finally long enough for a ponytail again. She flicker on a pair of those trendy snapchat sunglasses, opened her bookbag and pulled out the first book she came across.
'Gone with the Wind'. How fitting? A book set in the north american south! ...
Within half an hour, Scarlett's incessant inner pity monologue had put Cyf to sleep.
Dark clouds rolled over the hills in a front as dawn rolled around. The wind picked up, not harming the train at all, but tossing leaves and dust about enough to spook the passengers. They had been on the track for about 15 hours now, and were set to arrive in North Carolina at about 10 AM.
Cyf was already awake, and she was observing the odd wind patterns over a breakfast of crushed pop tarts. leaves swirled around the train, occasionally looking like they were hovering in the air. It would rain before the day was done.
The train hissed as it began picking up speed again. Cyf stood on the new wood platform of the bustling station. Large live oaks and dark clouds combined ment there wasn't much light, so the streetlights were still on. Cyf slapped a mosquito on her arm, glad she had worn leggings. As the first drop of rain fell, Cyf hurried under the covered area. The others simply put up hoods or umbrellas as they dispersed, heading to their various destinations.
Well, at least she was alone. Sitting on a bench in a public place with your arms stretched out to touch the barrier, eyes closed, was a rather odd looking practice that she prefered to do in private.
She focused on the unphysical world, allowing the abrasive threads of reality to touch her fingers. It felt like those bags you use for potato sack races, which was weird. One would think the fabric of reality would be more silky to the touch. But she hadn't designed it, so she digressed.
Pushing her thoughts into the fabric, she told it her quest.
"Bring me to the anomaly." She thought. An invisible string tied itself around her finger, pulling her in the direction she needed to go. She opened her eyes, to immediately put her hands on her hips.
A very tall woman stood with her back to Cyf, stretching. Impossibly pale with a bush of ebony black hair adorning her head. It almost hid the white german shepherd ears the woman sported. Nine thin tails wagged.
"Beck." Cyf said, in a tone she would use on an offending kindergartener.
Beck swirled around, a look of comedic horror on her face.
"I'm not following you." She said in her raspy voice.
"I'm not supposed to have help, you know."
"I know, I know, but... I SPENT LIKE A HUNDRED YEARS LOOKING OUT FOR YOUR BUTT IT'S A HARD HABIT TO BREAK OK?"
"Yeesh, no need to scream. You can stay, but you have to not help, alright?"
"Deal!" Beck said, tails wagging furiously. She jumped, shrinking midair and landing back in Cyf's bag.
Cyf chuckled as she put on a poncho against the weather, picked up her bag, and headed off down the deserted street, following the string.
After an hour of walking through the drizzle, they came upon something. A low stone wall that stretched off into the distance in both directions, joining st the road with a wrought iron gate that hung open. The thread pulled Cyf towards it, so she entered. The thread immediately dispersed back into the middle distance.
The gate swung closed behind her of its own accord.
The road ended a few feet from her, a pile of leaves marking the end of the pavement. A trail continued away through the forest, which she followed, keeping her hood up despite the rain beginning to clear up. Houses began to appear, all overgrown with sumac and grape vines. The occasional person sat on a porch, in a chair or porch swing. All the women she saw were wearing dresses. An... Amish community maybe? Or just a coincidence. Likely not related to the anomaly.
She eventually walked straight through the odd town, arriving at the stone wall on the other end. She had attracted a handful of odd stares. Secluded town, odd person, it wasn't unheard of.
After circling the thirty acre town thrice and uncovering nothing but a few nice views and a rocky gulch, she found what she took to be the town's main street, scoped out a person who looked like he'd know stuff, and walked up to him.
"Excuse me, mister, but I'm new here, and I'm looking for a little info. Is there a town hall, or an information pamphlet or something I can read?"
"Can't say I know what an info or an informational pam flet is, but shoot, the town hall is this building right behind us."
"Uh, thanks man." She said.
"I wouldn't go in there in that fancy girl getup. It's a respectable place."
"... Fancy girl... Getup?"
"Not seen a skirt that short since Tom got Cashiered. Fact, that's why he got Cashiered."
"... This isn't a skirt, it's a poncho. It's for keeping rain off. I'm not wearing a skirt."
She left the man on the the sidewalk. What a creep.
The building behind her was, surprisingly, completely overgrown. The porch might as well have been a wicker basket, so many vines interwove it. The screen of the door clung by a few rusty tacks.
She pushed the door open hesitantly, cringing at the horrendous squeak it made. The four or so men inside all looked up from their newspapers, and their eyes didn't leave her for as long as she was within the building. And what a building it was, even from the inside. The leaves across the windows made the light dim but not at all unpleasant. Anywhere that wasn't window were shelves in states of disrepair, holding the type of goods you might find in a roadside museum... But from a couple centuries in a different direction. Cyf couldn't decide if it was a couple centuries in the past or a couple centuries in the future
The only person who didn't look up was the man at the desk. He tapped away on an antique typewriter, hid face obscured by one of those super nerdy hat things that fastened around your head like a headband and had a little brim in the front.
She mulled around, searching through what she assumed were travel brochures. The name of the town was apparently Little Richmond.
Eventually, she walked up to the front desk, tapping on it to get the typist's attention. He jumped in susprise before peering up at her through tiny glasses.
"Oh! My! Hello, miss, what can I do for you?"
"Hello. I'm here to deal with an anomaly of some sort?"
Shoot. You weren't supposed to just walk up to somebody and say, "I'm here to fix your anomaly, yuk yuk!"
"An odd happening. A mystery. Something out of the ordinary."
"Well I can't say you'll have much luck here. We're a pretty typical little town."
"Well, alright, but I'm still getting some readings of something off here. You wouldn't take offense to me staying a while and checking things out?"
"Of course not! Say, may I ask you something?"
"... Most likely."
"Are you a reaper?"
He stood up, taking off his weird pseudohat.
"Well I'll be! One in the reaping business in my humble office! Thanks for dropping by!"
Cyf nodded, unsure of how to politely respond.
"Well, thanks for being friendly. I'll be heading on now. Name's Cyfillius, if you need me."
"Hunky dory. I'm Butler, Pat Butler."
Cyf spent the next few hours covering every inch of the town. She talked to as many people as she could, but got no story other than that this was a perfectly normal town. As night fell, she returned to the inn right next to Pat's office.
It, like every other building, was covered in vines and moss, like an abandoned place. The woman inside surprised her. She was a skeleton. Come to think of it, Cyf had seen no creatures in this town other than humans, so this one was rather out of place.
"Hello, ma'am," she said. The woman, who had been sweeping, now turned to her and smiled.
"What can I help you- oh! You're still flesh and blood!"
"Why, it's past sunset and you've still got flesh on your bones! Doesn't it disappear for you? We might ought to take you to Pat."
"... You always turn into skeleton at night?"
"Yes, of course! Who doesn't?"
"... Can you take me through a normal day in this town?" Cyf asked, shifting to her azral form. The lady balked at the huge, angelic wings Cyf now possessed. Maybe should have stayed faeish. Oh well.
"Well we wake up at five and get on with the morning chores. Whenever the sun rises, we prick ourselves into the ground and continue our household tasks til dark. Again, like any normal town."
"You do what now?"
"Take a pin, prick your finger, and let a drop of blood touch the vines. Everybody knows that."
"She said as she willingly explained anyway..." Cyf joked under her breath.
The lady put her head on one side, looking inquisitive.
"Nothing. Can I have a room for the night?"
"Yes. 75 cents."
"For a hotel room?"
"... Yes. Do you have that much?"
"Well, then... Any of the rooms upstairs are fine. No one else is here right now."
Cyf fiddled in her bag for a brief minute before Beck found the coins, handing them to her. She paid the woman and found a suitable room upstairs. A small room with dark green wallpaper, it looked like it hadn't been used in years. Cyf flopped onto the bed, releasing a massive squeak. A couple dry leaves drifted to the floor.
Beck climbed out of the bag, becoming full sized, and clearly trying to hide laughter.
"What?" Cyf asked.
"It's so obvious."
"Well, at least the first big reveal is."
"About the mystery, dum dum! What a classic macguffin."
"HAH! IT'S A MACGUFFIN!" Cyf jumped up, wings spread.
Beck clapped her hands over her mouth.
"Oh no, I've said too much," It was rather muffled, "would you believe it if I told you I was calling you a macguffin?"
Cyf made an incredulous face.
"That's... Not how you use the word macguffin. So no. But anyway, now I've just gotta figure out which one."
Cyf dug through her bag, retrieving a composition book and her phone.
She typed 'macguffin tropes' into google, reading the wiki article.
"So it's an object causing this narrative to move forward? Something is making the people turn into skeletons at night?"
"No it's a person-" Beck squeaked.
"... Ok, that still technically counts as a macguffin trope."
She jumped off the bed and sat at the desk across the room in a single movement, smacking the composition book onto the table. Realizing she forgot a pencil, she leaned backwards, trying to reach it from her chair, falling onto her back.
"Can you hand me my pencil?" Cyf said, deadpan.
"I'm not supposed to help!"
Eventually, Cyf was able to write down everything she knew so far.
1. The anomaly was causing drag in the barrier, that, if left unchecked, could cause spacetime to crumple up in other places.
2. A very small town surrounded by a mainly visual barrier. This meant that all of the residents were likely aware of... Whatever was up.
3. The people used vastly outdated vernacular. Like, vernacular that her mom, a 152 year old, might use.
4. The people turned into skeletons at night. Big one.
5. The room was super cheap.
6. Vines and crap growing everywhere, even impeding normal life, yet the people didn't do anything about them.
7. The people dripping blood into the ground in the mornings.
8. The macguffin, whoever it was. The person causing this.
"Well, I think the first logical conclusion is that these people think it's American Civil War time, eh?"
"And I have a feeling that the Macguffin knows it's actually 2019. That *is* how it normally proceeds."
"Do you know how convenient you are?"
Cyf leaned back in her chair again, smiling.
"I'd say we've got a pretty solid lead so far. This is shaping up to be a classic time-freeze scheme. The skeleton thing I've not seen before, though. How's say tomorrow we figure out who the Macguffin is?"
"Sounds good to me."
The two got ready for bed. Beck got a second room for herself, since Cyf's room only had one bed, and they went to sleep easily.
It was sunny the next day, the window in Cyf's room was brimming over with southern sun. She had started the night under the quilt, but it got too hot very quickly.
"And of course they wouldn't have air conditioning in the late 19th century." She grumbled.
After getting dressed and meeting Beck in the hallway, they went downstairs. Cyf hadn't seen any restaurants in this town, so she hoped the lady who ran it sold food.
Speaking of the lady, she now sat, human, at the table in the big room, knitting something.
"Excuse me, miss? Do you sell food here?"
The lady looked up, startled.
"You're s-still a skeleton!"
Cyf sighed and became fae.
"So, do you?"
"No, in fact, you won't find food in all of Little Richmond. We don't need it no more."
"Well this is a pretty pickle, isn't it?" Cyf said to the small Beck sitting on her shoulder, "wanna go get Waffle House?"
The women headed out to the next town over, which was about as normal as a Friday morning. After a superb (Beck's words) breakfast, they returned to Little Richmond, and began snooping.
If this was the type of scheme Cyf thought it was, the Macguffin would be someone in charge, or someone important enough to convince the people to drip blood on the ground. A mayor, a medicine man, or an elder. As Cyf voiced these thoughts, Beck's ceaseless giggles increased.
"What?" Cyf said snappishly.
"Not supposed to help!"
There didn't seem to be a clear leader, even after Cyf asked around a bit. She didn't ask too many people though. They gave her the creeps. T didn't take long to notice that everyone was in nearly exactly the same position they had been in yesterday. They seemed annoyed that Cyf broke the silent spell, that she left her respective post. Like she had finally gotten up to stretch her legs after being frozen in place for a century and a half.
One old man, sitting in a rocking chair, had vines growing up his legs. His chair wouldn't rock anymore. He wouldn't even talk to her, and he wasn't the only one, either.
All she gathered was that the closest thing to a leader these people had would be that Butler guy from the day before, who was the town banker. She decided to pay him a visit. This was where she realized what Beck had been giggling about. Pat Butler was a super obvious choice. The way the lady had spoken last night, his more modern viewpoint, it all looked like he was the culprit.
Cyf laughed sarcastically at her guardian, who now wiped a year from her eye.
Stepping onto the wicker porch after ignoring the man in the road, she breathed deeply. Not to get ahead of herself, but this anomaly could possibly be wrapping itself up. Wouldn't that be nice? If things went according to plan? Wouldn't that be convenient? The realist in her knew that real life didn't frequently have plot twists. The homestuck in her was cynical.
She pushed open the doors, shooting finger guns at the men within who, predictably, were reading newspapers. Pat wasn't behind the desk. Sus.
"Hey y'all, where's mr. Butler?"
"He's still asleep, more'n likely. He routinely takes sick." One of the men said, folding his newspaper in half.
"Downstairs." He gestured with the paper to a door behind the desk Cyf hadn't noticed before.
Cyf looked at Beck. Something smelled like rat. She changed into azral skeleton form before pushing the door open.
The bat watched the tall form descend the stairs into his dark home. Was she a little taller than when he last saw her? Probably not?
He liked that kid. He didn't want to hurt that kid. But he'd been at this game too long now to chicken out. He dropped to the floor, regaining his humanlike form. A gift that all nosferatu possessed was silence of movement. She was examining his blood tank now. Half of what let him him stay alive as long as he had. He approached more, until he couldn't possibly miss. The hood of her poncho was down. Her neck clearly exposed. He struck swiftly and surely, but instead of flesh his fangs found bone. They snapped on impact. He reeled, a wave of pain coming over him as he hit the floor.
Cyfillius turned, eyes flowing brilliant yellow, wings spreading from beneath her poncho.
Only thrown for a second, he lunged, depending on superhuman strength to defeat her if poison couldn't. She dodged, lightning quick, only giving him time to grab her boot before they were flying fast around the Cavern. She charged up the passage, through the building and up into the light. 500 years of light exposer insured he wouldn't be harmed, but still she flew up. Then, like some kind of hawk, she dove, whipping him upward and wrenching her boot out of his grip. He freefell, unable to transform in the light, before he hit the ground, she grabbed him, flying him behind the town hall where Beck had an open coffin prepared. She released him, letting the momentum carry him directly into it, before slamming the door. From within it, he felt it fall into its horizontal position and two objects thump onto it.
Cyf wrapped the coffin with threads from the barrier, quite unbreakable. Together, her and Beck carried it back to her hotel room, past the mystified townfolk. In Beck's room, which was slightly bigger, they leaned it against the wall.
"So... Why?" Cyf asked the box.
"Why cause an anomaly? Why risk the spacetime continuum?"
"I don't know what that means."
Cyf pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Your little immortality experiment is making this town drag. "
"Ok, erh, imagine a huge piece of cloth. It's way longer than it is wide, but it's still very wide. Now imagine a comb running down it lengthwise, barely touching the cloth."
A thoughtful sound came from the coffin.
"Now, imagine one of the teeth of the comb catches on a couple threads, and those threads are stuck in one place. At first it doesn't really do anything, but before long, it makes all the fabric around it bunch up, and eventually makes the whole cloth come to a halt. That's essentially what you've done by performing this... Well I assume it was a spell. So, I ask again. Why?"
The coffin was silent for a long moment.
"I'm afraid. I was afraid."
"Of not existing. I don't want to not exist. I don't want my life to have been worth nothing. I don't want to be forgotten."
Ohhhh snap. Existentialism.
Cyf put her hand on the coffin, Empathing understanding to the being within. Being scared of your own existence, or the prospect of the lack thereof, was some of the worst fear you could feel.
"I'm not going to say, 'i get it!'. Because I don't. I can't understand exactly what's going on in your head. But I can say I'm on the other side of a similar crisis. And if you can trust me after what just transpired, it gets better."
They talked for a long time. Pat explained more of his story, and Cyf shared the relevant part of hers.
Pat had lived in a time when the status quo was incredibly important to one's self image, and, as a vampire, he was released of any status quo. This had lead to his feeling like he could do nothing to be remembered, since he wasn't the type of creature who could do any of the things his time considered great.
So, he killed a goat, using the blood the bind his hometown into immortality. A very rudimentary spell, but the only type available at the moment. The side effects included lethargy and transforming into a skeleton at night, but to combat non-existence, Pat had considered it worth it.
Cyf's crisis, at it's worst, had been feeling like she wasn't mean to exist. That she somehow existed outside of normal reality because of her unique knowledge.
"But then, after some events that aren't really relevant, I realized, and I hope I can help you realize as well, that each member of each universe is so interconnected with every other one that being forgotten is statistically impossible. We all make up a million different... Fibers? That make up the fabric of reality and spacetime. A bit of you is stretched in spacetime across every possible place or time your matter has ever existed and will ever exist, touching, weaving through, and combining with millions and millions of other fibers. Part of you might have used to be the starlight that shown as the first earthlings stood on the moon, and part of you might be someday the breeze that blows over a far away planet where your descendants now play. And it's been like that since the fabric was woven, and it'll be like that till it's unwoven, IF it's unwoven at all. So for you to be forgotten the fabric would have to be so drastically different than it is right now that the world might not even be recognizable as the same place. You make up such a crucial part of the world, and it wouldn't be the same without you." Cyf said.
She had been sitting backwards on a chair, but close to the end she had stood up and began pacing the room, wings occasionally fluttering when she stressed certain words.
Pat stayed silent, but within the coffin, he felt a lump in his throat.
"And I think at this point," Cyf finished, "you can start to see why it would be so dire for you to continue messing up spacetime. Even a small snag can warp out world to near unrecognizability."
"I... I understand. Thank you."
Cyf and Beck smiled at each other. Cyf snapped, releasing the threads and letting Pat out of the coffin. After some deliberation, he pulled a small necklace out of his shirt. It was a small, frosted glass pendulum with a bright red disk within it.
"When this is broken, this time bubble will burst, and the people will go back to the 1860s."
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and smashed it against the floor. In an instant, the room devolved, aging a a hundred and fifty years in a matter of seconds. The floor below them gave way, and they fell into a mess of sumac vines.
It was silent for a minute as the three comprehended what had just happened. Cyf stood first, tripping on the sumac as she searched around for her bag.
"Dangit, my phone has a new crack in it."
"What's a phone?" Pat asked.
Cyf broke into semi hysterical laughs.
On the walk back to the train station, the women began explaining modern culture to the fascinated vampire.
Pat would have to serve jail time on Hesterthorne, but it wasn't a bad sentence. Hesterthornian prison was more about making sure the person in question would be able to change for the better, anyway. He managed to impress Irise by how honest he was about his crimes. Cyf silently beamed about how far he'd come in no more than a couple days. He would be given therapy, and him and Cyf would stay in contact. Before parting ways for now, the three of them sat on a bench in the empty court room after the brief trial.
"So I don't think I ever heard your part of the story, Ms. Blue." Pat said.
"Oh me? I don't have a complex enough brain to have existential crisis. I'm a imaginative construct given mass." Beck said cheerily.
Cyf sighed, leaning against the wall.
"Y'know, I know that's true, but when you say it out loud it sounds so messed up."
"What? I'm a dog! I consider myself lucky I don't need to question my existence every two days. Oh, yeah, by the way, I just realized I helped you."
"... Helped me what?"
"Helped you catch Pat. I held up the coffin."
Cyf sighed again.
"So you did, Beck Blue, so you did."
Eventually, the two girls said goodbye.
They found an opening in the AltEther barrier waiting for them outside, looking a bit out of place in the very normal, elegant plaza, with Gabriola within it.
After a quick hug, Gabby held her daughter at arms length, smiling.
"So how was it?"
"... Just really, really flipping weird." Cyf grinned.
Gabby chuckled. "I'm afraid, dear, in this field, bizarrity is quite the norm."