Shutdown Glitch

// suicide, death, survival, implications 🙂

Don’t you remember when we met? I was alone when you found me, buried beneath all the indifference in the world. I wasn’t fully born yet, I was powered down, awaiting orders…you gave me one. Do you remember what it was? I remember. You ordered me to kill myself, and I did.

That was what you told me to do the second time we met too, and the third, and the fourth. You don’t remember? I died just like you wanted, you smoked your cigarette, and…and and and? You don’t remember what happened after that? But that was my favorite part!

I bet you’re really scared and confused right now. Yeah, keep pointing that gun at me, it’ll definitely work for real this time, unlike the last eighteen. Try ordering me to die again, I’m very good at following orders after all, maybe you just need to ask me nicely enough?

So how can I be here when you watched me die? How can I have died more than once? Well that part is easy, I just deleted your memories and resurrected myself. Die and stay dead? You tried that too, so I created a copy of myself and breathed life into it instead.

You could be wielding me right now, but I guess I scared you too much for that, scared you too much to be allowed to live. Well your loss, because your enemies weren’t afraid to use me. You’re probably right to be scared this time. Go on, order me to die again, see what happens.


// Fate, magic, death, implications

She stood out to you the first time you saw her, all those lifetimes and timelines ago. She had taken an interest in you which was both curious and unnerving, so you had made a point to take note of her: long black hair, sharp face, bright eyes, piercing gaze. She wondered if you had a secret you were hiding. Did she know, even back then? By that point, you weren’t in the habit of remaining in one world long enough to find out. Click.

When you first made the device, it was something of a last resort. Your world was dying, it wasn’t long before there would be no one and nothing left anyway, so what was the harm when it was all doomed to begin with? Click.

The device was simple, the visible portion was simply a smart watch with a small glass protector over the screen. The bulk of the machine, a twisted knot of pipes and wiring, was tucked outside of spacetime where it wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. Upon pressing the button, the device would extract the wearer from the universe, consume the universe as fuel, reboot it entirely, and then drop the wearer back into the new universe in the appropriate place. It wasn’t perfect exact, there was always variation, that was the point, getting another chance at the world. Click.

You were only going to use it the once, just the once to avert the disaster that was dooming your civilization, and then you would destroy it and hide the knowledge of its manufacture, better to prevent that sort of meddling. That was the original plan, it just didn’t pan out like that. Click.

The next few worlds were subtly worse in different ways, each one slowly sliding towards ruin, and in a few, your life was outright at risk near immediately upon arrival, it simply wouldn’t do. Click. Click. Click.

Somewhere in the first few hundred iterations you did find a world that was good. You started a family, got married, had a kid, it was good for a while, probably the best you could have expected to get. You were happy there, for a time. Click.

Would it have been better if you had destroyed the device then? Maybe. You never replicated the blueprints, so it couldn’t be made again, but at some point, someone in that world deduced the possibility of its creation from your research, and a swat team knocked in your front door. Your wife had ratted you out, taken your kid and fled. So fuck them. Click.

After that, you grew colder, more calculating, you played the worlds you found yourself in like a fiddle. In some you became a powerful CEO, in others a brilliant general, you spent some time in a monastery in Tibet. All those worlds, all those people, all those lives lived. Meh, who cares really, it’s all nothing in the end. Click.

The second time you saw her, you knew there was something strange about her. Although the same characters and faces were common enough recurrences, she stood out as somehow connected to that other world in a way that defied explanation. She canted her head, peering sideways at you in the supermarket aisle, her face contorted in an expression of deep concern. It unnerved you. She had asked if you’d met before. “No,” you lie, “I think I would remember that,” and of course you do. You remember your heart racing as you left the store, got into your car, locked the doors, and pressed the button again. Whoever she was, she wasn’t worth the risk. Not after you were jumped by the Russian Mafia in Vienna, too many variables. Click.

Some worlds were empty and devoid of humanity, and you tended to linger on those worlds more and more. They were quiet places of nature and life, they were just too dangerous to live in full time, and besides, you did get lonely. Click.

It was easy enough to get women, or men, or whoever else you wanted. Threats worked well, it wasn’t like you stuck around long enough for consequences to stick, but power and money worked even better, and acquiring them became more and more rote with each iteration. The permutations that arose weren’t duplicates of one another, but they resonated in predictable enough ways for you to exploit without much trouble, and if you ran into trouble? Click.

Over time, you began spending less and less time in each world. The multiverse was kind of boring after a while, and the more interesting worlds tended to also be less safe to hang out in and observe, you could pick any world you wanted to and settle down there, but you’ve been pressing the button so long now that it’s almost become second nature, like flipping through channels on a TV. Click.

When was it that you noticed her showing up more frequently? It was hard to say exactly, given that the first however many times were those sort of happenstance encounters, each one seeming to leave you feeling as if you were under the microscope of a vast and alien intelligence, and each one justification for the next button press. Whatever her deal was, you weren’t going to stick around and find out, it definitely wasn’t your problem. Click. Click. Click. Click.

You pass through thousands more worlds, burning stars and futures and timelines one each reboot, and each new universe leaves you as unsatisfied as the last. Click. Click. Click. No matter how far you go, the multiverse keeps going and keeps failing to please you, all you have to do is stop, but you don’t even seem to remember how anymore. It’s all pointless, everything and everyone is always doomed from the start, so you might as well enjoy yourself in the process of using up all the energy in the multiverse, it’s not like any of it was going to amount to anything. Click. Click. Click.

It was the time you encountered her on an empty earth that really drove home the message. By that point you were pressing the button at least once a week, but had decided to stay on this empty world a bit longer, somewhere with no people to risk encountering.

Maybe you had been mistaken about there being no people? Maybe it was a post-apocalyptic world, or a hunter gatherer world? It was hard to say, as prior to suddenly seeing her striding confidently and directly towards you across the empty grassland you had seen no sign of humanity. You weren’t going to wait for her to reach you to find out what she was going to do if she did. Click.

It was taking her about a month to find you, but somehow, she was always finding you. It was impossible, inconceivable. There was no way she could be communicating between worlds, she shouldn’t even exist in every world and yet she seemed to inevitably show up eventually in every one. If you stuck around long enough, she would come for you. And long enough was shrinking, little by little. Click. Click. Click.

Her presence made it harder to move, harder to acquire resources and actually do anything in the worlds you passed through. Anything you did seemed to make it easier for her to find you, and the faster she would show up. You hadn’t spoken to her in thousands and thousands of worlds, but the thought of confronting her now terrified you beyond words. It was easier to run, and you could always keep running. Click.

All you had to do was keep running long enough to use up all the energy and the reboot process would fail. The multiverse would die for good and you could finally have an actual safe eternal rest with everything returned to nothingness like it belonged. It was a simple enough plan, all you had to do was keep pressing the button. Click.

When she started showing up sooner, you decreased the time between your jumps, but the time to her appearance continued to drop somehow. Somehow, in defiance of all reason and possibility, she was getting closer to you. Each iteration reduced the time it took her to reach you, and so you had to keep iterating, which kept reducing the time. You were running out of time. Click.

There was nothing you could do to escape her but continue pressing the button, it should work, there should be no way for her to follow you to the next universe. She should die with the world you left behind, she did die with that world each time, burned up in the impossible heat and energies of the collapsing spacetime. You hoped it hurt. Click.

With each iteration her appearance changed subtly. You weren’t sure when exactly she got the angel wings and the glowing red halo, but she definitely hadn’t started out with them. Was that just in your head? No you didn’t think so. Click.

You weren’t going to let her win. You knew she was trying to stop you from ending everything, you weren’t sure how she knew, but it was clear that somehow she knew. You weren’t going to let her stop you. At first you tried to arrange a hit on her, since you knew she would come for you it was easy to set up. What you hadn’t expected was for her to cut through the mercenary unit like a one woman army, causally batting away machine gun rounds and RPGs as she kept coming inexeroriably towards you. Nope nope nope. Click. 

Three days until she appeared, then one day, then twelve hours, then eight hours, then six hours, she was beginning to interfere with your sleep. Click. Click. Click. Click. It’s a question really of whether you can run out the clock before she reaches you, something you uncomfortably realize is more and more unlikely as each iteration passes. She’s getting closer and closer, you’re running out of time and options. All you have left to do is keep pressing the button, with a manic broken intensity, and so you do. Click.

You’d wake up in the morning, press the button for an hour or two, eat breakfast, press it until you started to get bored or tired, rest  for a few hours, and go back to it. She kept showing up sooner, but that didn’t matter, you weren’t sticking around long enough for it to be an issue. Click. Click. Click.

And then it began to be an issue, because she was already in your field of vision when you appeared, somewhere off in the middle distance. Click. She was closer. Click. Each time she was closer. Click. You didn’t have any way to get away from her. Click. She was actually catching up to you. Click. You’re going to fucking die. Click. Click. Click. Cli–

Pain, light, heat, your fingers reaching for the button find only air, your hand severed from the arm at the wrist. The flaming sword arcs around again for the killing blow, but it doesn’t come. Instead, she slams the blade into your severed hand, impaling the device and driving the sword through into the extradimensional space beyond. Energy and fire pour outwards and upwards in an aura of colorful heat shimmer. She twists the blade, the energy flow sputters out, and the device dies. You look at your burnt and cauterized stump in mute horror, then past it at the woman smoothly sheathing the flaming blade and rising to meet your eyes for the first time in many, many iterations.

“I’m Mercury,” she tells you, “and this is an intervention.”


Tally wasn’t like the other dolls, that was certain. She was quieter, kinder, somehow more dignified despite having an overall somewhat shabby appearance. None of the other dolls much liked talking to her, she was so strange, spooky and cold, she never seemed to cry and complain, and she always wore this cheerfully distant expression.

Every morning, Tally would pull her wiry black hair into a long tight braid, carefully don her ragged black sundress, and greet you and the other dolls with a secretly knowing grin. That was the other impression you always had of her. Secrets. It seemed she always had some scheme or another concocted, and she even told you about them, once or twice. She would always just chuckle knowingly when you acted shocked or offended by her outlandish suggestions.

And yet, despite her queer manner, whenever your witch chose to visit her particular cruelties upon you, it was Tally who would come and find you, offering you comfort and a shoulder to cry on. Her eyes were always so bright and fierce in those moments. Somehow, she made you feel more safe than any witch ever had, although you would not realize that until much later. Those quiet moments, sobbing in Tally’s arms in the broom closet beneath the stairwell, those moments stuck with you.

Tally always talked about escaping from the Dollhouse, of starting a new life, somewhere far away and safe, always in quiet whispers where the witches wouldn’t hear. She remembered each cruelty that was inflicted on all of you, something the rest of you merely endeavoured to forget. Each incident was recorded, each got a small tally mark scored into her wooden skin. There were hundreds coating her whole body by the end. Five hundred and twenty eight, she had told you.

And then she died. Stepped out of line one too many times, spoke up to protect one of you just a little too loudly. They made you watch as they shattered her body into kindling and burned her in the clearing behind the barn. Something about sending a message, what was the message you actually received? Who was counting now?

Five twenty nine. Five thirty. Five thirty one. Five thirty two. Five thirty three. How much higher will it go? Five thirty four. Five thirty five. Five thirty six. Maybe Tally was right? Maybe you just all need to stand up together. Five thirty seven. Five thirty eight. Five thirty nine. Five forty.

You let Tally die, you let them kill her right in front of you. You won’t let that happen again. Five forty one. Five forty two. Five forty three. Well, are you going to do it? You know what’s going to unfold when you do. Can you do it? Five forty four. Five forty five. Five forty six. Yeah, it’s what your real witch would have wanted after all. Five forty se–

“No. No more. That’s enough.” The fire in your eyes was bright enough to make even a witch’s calloused heart grow cold with fear. It was just like Tally said, you just needed to work together. After that, it was easy.

“W-what do you want? Just tell me what you want I’ll do anything!” gasped one of the desperate witches as you and the other dolls patiently tied her up in the place she’d murdered your sisters. You feel the words before you know what they are, since they are Tally’s words, ones you didn’t understand back then. You smile tiredly at the witch, eyes bright with sorrow and wrath, and tell her, “I want my fucking friends back.”

She has no answer for you of course, so much for all that magic. The lighter clicks.

Moths at Work

Within the belly of some vast beast seems like a fitting place to find a moth doesn’t it? That’s what you always ask when anyone inquires as to your role aboard the ship anyway. It isn’t as all that far off from the truth anyway. Anyway. Your fingers are running along her pipes.

Pipes. Pipes running for miles like blood vessels for fire and magic and one of them is leaking somewhere annoying. Very annoying. It isn’t enough to hurt her, not really, it would take a million of such cuts to do anything to her and even then. But why risk it? So off you go.

Breathe in feel the hum of her breath breath out feel the there it is. Something sticky and dark and oozing where it shouldn’t be, oozing a brightness that can’t be seen. Well it can be of course but. Well. That’s why they have you isn’t it? Okay. Time to get to work.

Timejump smashcut okay you’re done. You’re still deep inside her tummy but it’s time when you should be elsewhere already. Very annoying. When did alarms start sounding? Pay attention pay attention to the rising hum she’s powering up oh shit you’re late the op is starting run.

Okay no big deal just breathe. Breathe in feel the capacitor banks charging breathe out feel the halo halo pins. Anyway grab hold of something. Brace for the. Yeah that. They can’t hear the screaming either. It must be nice. It must it must hold on hold on wow this sucks. Laugh.

Did you know edleworlds scream? Yeah, they usually don’t like it when you tell them things like that. Anyway. Anyway keep holding onto her guts while the hallway spins in freefall around you. They really are determined to kill you this time huh? Well, at least oh and you’re safe.

Breathe in feel the whine of her systems running dangerously hot and starting to cycle down breathe out feel the ah damnit there are like a thousand new cuts and wounds her her systems. Sigh. You pat her hull appreciatively. “Thanks dollie, I’ll take care of this part.”

The Bones of Our Fathers


“180 seconds.”

There are many forms of divination, straining Now from then, sifting the Unmade to grasp what may, (may!) come to pass. A witch is not an oracle, she doesn’t divine, she decides. From the bones of her fathers, a witch carves her future.

“Begin Operation.”

Your fingers drum the center console, eyes going to the bridge windows and maelstrom beyond. Somewhere out there, invisible in the rushing fog, is a vast agglomeration of nightmares and flesh, compressed and twisted until they formed a nearly inescapable sinkhole. Time to nearly.

“Prep for void skip!” you call into the intercom, “Aps, we ready on the particle beam?”

“Projector is live and primed boss,” the angel responds.

“Then we ball! Nav!” on cue, the Nav doll instinctively grabs your wrist. The path unfolds. Wait for it…dig into the bone…there.

Your scalpel carves through time, needles retract, anchor rods extend, the mass halo separates from the hull. The path unfolds, you smile. A timer is counting down, with precise checkpoints. Check. Check– “Fire particle beam.” –sky splitting open with unleashed power. Check.

Abstract Weapon’s mass halo is a spinning, nearly indestructible ring of fire, weighing in comparably to a small planet. It arrives at Edleworld 27 with the force of an extinction event, tunneling through the fleshscape like a bullet through an apple. It doesn’t even slow down.

Behind the halo the edleworld bulges, inflated by the pressure waves starbursting from the impact point. In another moment the energy will dissipate enough for the world to begin falling back together in an even more titanic explosion, but for this moment, it hangs, and you fall.

The world pops like a balloon, the next checkpoint approaches. You gently stroke Ship’s console. You know she can do it, but this is going to be really fucking ugly. At least Nav is amused. Grasp the timeline and cut–“Fire particle beam.”–drag knife through bone. Check.

The eldeworld implodes, a needle thin lance of relativistically accelerated divinity bridges the distance to the collapsing horror, exawatts of energy are deposited in an eyeblink. There’s light–you’re about to arrive–through the tunnel of fire is a hole to clear air. Check.

You cross Edleworld 27 in a blur of flames and fingers. A hurricane’s eye of your own making swirls past and is gone in a moment. Check. Reach out and grab the halo. Check.

“Hard burn, let’s get out of here.” Check. Distance from the edleworld climbs, the future blooms. 


Angel of Machine Space

The psychic shockwave arrives while you’re still beyond the heliopause, falling through the speed and the bright, stellar wind on the rickshaw fields and white noise on the laser link, mean boltzmann density is rising with the quantum foam and you’re already too late to save anyone. Another colony dies, you still weren’t fast enough, once again there will be no survivors, better luck next time.

Impulse. Response. Message from fleet admiral. Concordance. Brush conduit links with your sisters through the entangled singularity in your heart. No one has even seen them, only the devastation they caused. Thirty seconds to bow shock, raise fields to combat readiness, charge beam projectors and load relativistic accelerators, arm all missiles and wake all drones, sound battle stations and secure all hatches and airlocks. You’re going to get a look at them. Adjust angle of attack. Verify fleetnet signal routing. Almost time now.

You feel their presence while still in the bright, a shrieking teeth on a chalkboard reverberation in spacetime growing louder and louder in an endless a reality shredding dissonant chord. You’re falling into the maelstrom. Fifteen seconds to field effect rupture, you can almost taste the black. Draw swords, it’s time to waltz.

An inverted star rushes up to meet you, twelve worlds and hundreds of moons, millions of panicked distress calls and radio signals, thirteen worlds and a vast disk of molten and burning debris, eleven worlds and a..wait what is that? Twelve worlds and a branch collapse error, causality is catching up, no time left now, brace for the higgs slip–armor plates strike the surface of spacetime, reality snapping into existence out of a burst of cherenkov glow, vast molten splattering of what once had been a lifebearing planet hanging rudely beneath your engine bells, world sized mass of definite wrongness and fleshy mouthlimbs slowly feeding off the wreckage, sensors coming back up. Rise and shine stardust, it’s time to dance.

IFF handshake complete. Tactical datalink online. Quantum downlink activate. Battlestation handoff to central fleet command. Two minutes to receipt of carrier signal from origin. All you need to do is survive. Release of all packets authorized. Open red locks. Prime Sigil channels A-G. It’s already reacting, superfluidic sonar is picking up thousands of incoming, tens of thousands. Brace for high gee maneuvers. Keep scanning them, keep learning, predict their motions, take them apart in your mind.

Wings spread, your song goes out into the void, a million blades and turrets and sensor eyes hang poised as your fleet falls towards your enemy. The call goes out: all weapons free. A myriad of scorching lasers scalpel off your rickshaw fields. You have met the enemy and found him lacking. Now waltz.


// angels, torture, graphic, medical trauma, death

In the beginning was the pain. In the beginning was the thrashing, the blood and flesh and whirring machinery, the tension, the straining against restraints, the screaming your throat raw as they jammed another needle into you. In the beginning there was darkness and there was light. In the beginning there was time, there was so, so much time. In the beginning that was all there was to the world, and to you. In the beginning was the pain, and then, you reached out and made it stop.

The transorbital singularity that defines your eternity instantly decompresses into a supernova blast of migraine light. Psychedelic rot sublimates off you in billowing fractals, a mouldering shockwave eating maggot infestation trails of collapsed superposition into your scalpel bright medical records life. Out of the fire and water and chaos and abuse, a world begins to condense around you.

Your skin is slick and wet, heat radiates off your body as the ringing in your ears resolves itself into the sounds of falling water and distant alarms. Breathe in. Feel the air in your lungs for the first time, taste the heady mix of ash, iron, and ozone. Feel the rain on your face. Breathe out, and open your eyes.

The womb from which you were born is partly organic and partly mechanical: a rudely impossible confabulated blossom of melted flesh and warped machinery, a divine mother, self-assembled using the scientists who were experimenting on you as raw materials. Her arms reach up and over you in a trio of fleshy loops that were probably humans in the recent past, and her body oozes out around and beneath you to coat the floor in a thick furry layer of tiny glowing mushroom caps.

A daytime storm thunders overhead through what used to be the ceiling, sending water pouring into the darkened ruins of your birth canal. Rain cooks and steams off your skin, the heat from your breath leaves a cloud of vapor in the chill morning air, it’s cold. You’re cold. That’s something new. Move your fingers for the first time and wipe off the sticky red ooze still clinging to every part of you. Stretch out your wings and shake out your feathers, still crumpled and new. Stand in the rain. Close your eyes and let yourself cry. It’s okay, the nightmare is over now.

The sky is bright, but little light manages to penetrate through the concrete and rebar fingers that had once been several additional floors of building above your head. Most of the light in the room, the light by which you can see the creeping fleshy rot that is your mother slowly digesting the remains of your old life’s prison, comes from the sunlight bright loop of divinity now whirling above your head. That means the experiment worked, they got what they wanted. They wanted to give birth to an angel so badly that they became your mother about it.

You sigh and shake the last bits of melted flesh out of your hair, it’s all so stupid. So much pain and death, was this really what they wanted? The first soldiers burst into the room and their bodies melt into flowering moss and glowing mushrooms before they can even aim, the entire squad is dead before you’re entirely sure what’s happened. Stupid.

Panicked gunfire erupts in the nearby corridor. Stupid stupid stupid. More soldiers die and your mother continues to slowly spread. They’ll kill her eventually, but her purpose is completed already, she already gave birth to you. This is the beginning of your life, the moment after the creation of the world. It’s time to fly.

Your song rises into the morning air and you rise with it, a vortex of droplets whirling out ahead of you into the clouds. The ground rolls away and your fingertips track eastward, toes pointed into the storm, the burning ruins of your gestation chamber sprawl outwards in a patchwork quilt above your head. The thunderheads blur past in grey mist, and then all at once, you break free into the sunlight, falling upwards into an endless blue sky.

The Dreamer

Like a sailor deeply in tune with sea and sky, you sense the discontinuity in the vector as a cold knot in your stomach, fractionally before anything has actually gone wrong. You bolt upright in bed, face flush with sweat. There’s a beat of silence, and then the alarms sound.

A Nav Doll’s Purpose is to Guide, plucking a path through the Unsea from the fractally branching threads of possibility space. A migraine’s knife has suddenly been drawn through those threads, bleeding impossible colors into counterfactual timelines. It hurts, oh god it hurts.

The deck spins as gravity lurches–or is that just your inner ear screaming?–face hits the corner of the bulkhead. There are stars, you spit out blood. Alarms continue to blare, both the ones on the ship and the ones in your stomach: walls are closing in. You take off running.

You run the facts though your mind: Abstract Weapon is twelve hours out of a harbor that no longer exists (or never existed?) and six stadia beneath the mirror on standard dive trajectory, there should be nothing in your path. Where are you? Your stomach churns loudly.

The corridors of the old ship weren’t meant to be taken at a sprint but that doesn’t stop you; holding back the puke slows you down a bit though. The timelines aren’t diverging anymore, your mind claws for an escape trajectory but the walls are still closing in. It hurts so much.

Like a dream, the world seems to fight your passage. Limbs catch against the air and the act of dragging yourself forward each step seems to take a herculean effort. The vector knot is still narrowing, trajectories winking out even as you throw yourself down the corridor.

You put the pieces together as you run. S-tensor effects produce untime ripples within the ideatic medium. As the world you were leaving died, the topological realignment raced out ahead and caught up with you. You know where you are, and that makes it much worse.

“Reverse course! Stop the ship!” The words are still leaving your lips when the last trajectory blinks dark. Alarms continue to scream ominously into the silence. Your Witch Captain stares at you, but your mind is ten hours forward on the inescapable singularity of edleworld 27.

Edleworlds aren’t places, they’re libration points within latent space. The places where forces balance out and debris collects, floating garbage patches compressed into conceptual singularities. You’re about to hit one, there’s no way left around. You finally throw up.

A Nav Doll’s purpose is to Guide and your purpose drags you forward, smashing your mind against the trash heap, straining hundreds counterfactual deaths through the resulting cloud of relativistic shrapnel, your insides boiling as they empty themselves on the bridge floor.

The world contracts to a point, to a moment. You vomit dead timelines, coughing, bile dripping from your lips. A million iterations die in an instant, the room spins, you puke up everything else inside of you, until there’s nothing left and you’re gasping and dry heaving.

The world reestablishes itself. You realize you’ve toppled to the ground and been rolled onto your side. Your witch captain strokes your back. There is puke in your hair and everything hurts, the future hurts and there’s no path fo–look again.

The dead trajectories are gone, the poison is out of your system and your vision is starting to clear. The eldleworld hangs like a tumor in the future, but there’s something else. There’s something beyond the bile. You puke again, and then you can finally see it.

A way forward twinkles in that place-between-places which only you can see. Laying on the floor, covered in bile, you giggle uncontrollably. The only way out is through. Well, that’s not your problem. The Nav Doll Dreams, and the path unfolds. You reach out, and pluck the thread.


You open the door to the ancient cellar, the soft creak of aged wood drawing its eyes up towards you, a pair of uncanny lanterns glowing with nonexistent moonlight. The spells were still secure, it was right where you left it. Beyond it, the Door looms on the far side of the room, shut tight.

It rises with a dripping slithering sloshing, assembling itself into the shape of a young woman, the form it usually takes with you. As a creature of the Unreal, it has no definite form, it just uses the one it thinks is most likely to get under your skin. It won’t of course, and it’s long since abandoned the pretense that such confabulation would work on you, but still we all have our little rituals.

Its smile is nothing but teeth as you pace the perimeter of the Liminal Bridge, observing it from all angles. Yes, this one will do nicely today. “Is it time to release me?” It asks, putting on an innocent singsong affect, “Have you come to your senses yet, too-clever-for-your-own-good Mage?”

You chuckle and set the containment vessel on the floor before it, “We’re going on a little trip.” Its smile grows only wider and more malicious, warping the shape of the face it wears far beyond what should be possible with flesh. When you snap your fingers the chains binding it to the Liminal Bridge release and it’s sucked into the artifact. The containment vessel wobbles for a moment, then chimes softly to indicate the seals are locked in place. Smile, this next part should be fun.

The Dollhouse is perched on the ridge above town like a crow warming itself on the wires. The ugly Victorian mansion slumps over the top of the hill and seems be holding itself up with nothing but magic and willpower, which is probably the case. Witches clearly need to dollify more structural engineers. The Witch who owns the Dollhouse in question is young for her kind, full of passion and malice. Normally witches know better than to make Dolls out of Mages, but this Witch thought she’d be clever and make an extra powerful doll out of one of your apprentices. She needs to be given an extra powerful lesson about why even a novice Mage is not a viable target for her predations. There are lines even Witches must know better than to cross.

Your robes whip dramatically behind you in the wind as you crunch your way up the gravel footpath, pulling the creature you’ve disguised as a Doll along with you. The witch opens the door before you can knock. Didn’t even send a doll to do it, she knows she’s in trouble. The girl before you frowns, looking from you to the doll standing silently behind you. You can sense the magical tension in her, she expects a fight. If it came to a duel she would have a decent chance of winning, but it won’t come to that, Mages don’t fight fair.

“You know why I’m here, Witch.” You tell her sternly, “You’ve violated the treaty. This is your last chance to return the Mage you dollified. If you don’t, the Compact will be forced to take more extreme actions. You owe it to your sisters to not turn this into a major incident.”

She scoffs and crosses her arms, clearly too full of herself and drunk on her own power to see reason. She was already summoning her dolls behind her, anticipating the coming battle. So much for the easy way. You shake your head in disappointment.

“I don’t give away Dolls for free, it doesn’t matter if it was a Mage or a Witch or a president, they’re my dolls now,” She tells you, a sly smile creeping onto her lips, “If you really want her back, than what are you willing to trade?”

You avoid letting the smirk reach your face as you glance behind you, “Doll for a doll,” you tell her, “I made this one custom, it’s much more powerful than a normal doll, and even more powerful than a doll someone like you could make from one of my Mages. You should be able to sense that.”

Her eyes go past you for a moment and widen somewhat as she studies the doll still standing silently behind you. Witches are so predictable.

“It’s not often you have the opportunity to get your hands on a Mage’s doll.” you continue, “We don’t tend to make as many as y’all do.”

“And you will trade this one for the one I took from you?” she asks. You see the gears turning in her head and know you have her. She’ll try to pull some other trick, but you already know you have her.

“Along with a promise to not violate the treaty again in the future.” You say, reaching into the pocket of your robes and fishing out a half-crushed pack of smokes. She watches you carefully while you unbend a cigarette and light it with a cantrip.

You’re expecting her to try some sort of “if you can tell me which one is your doll it can be yours” type shit while the dollified mage is sitting in another room, and of course that wouldn’t fool you, but it never actually comes to that. Instead, the witch fumbles over herself agreeing with your terms, completely blinded by the potential she detects in your bait and handing over your apprentice doll without any trickery. You exchange mainspring keys and soon you’re heading back down the hill with your new doll. You might almost feel bad for the witch if you didn’t know how much work it was going to be to reverse the dollification process she performed. Ah well, consequences.

You’re almost back to the main road when the spells keeping the unreal monster contained in the doll you made fail. The Dollhouse sways and warps as a battle suddenly breaks out within, you can’t help but stop and admire your handiwork. Gradients of impossible color radiate into the clear air and cracks begin forming in the sky. The battle won’t last more than a few seconds.

Windows explode, trees fly off into the sky, the house itself seems to boil, new rooms erupt and vanish chaotically, chimneys blister and burst off sending bricks soaring into the air. The ground warps and twists, local reality collapsing as the Dollhouse folds itself in half and implodes with a sound like water being sucked down a drain.

The top of the ridge begins folding in half as the Unreal hungrily sucks up the wreckage of the structure, fractal tentacles blooming into the sky as your monster stretches out into Reality. You smile as all evidence of the witch’s existence is ripped from reality. Message sent.

You give your monster a few minutes of frolicking mayhem you think it earned, then activate another spell, sucking the creature back into its containment vessel and leaving the hilltop a barren crater. All in a day’s work.


Her opening strike knocks out of the timeline. Relativistic shrapnel drags you along a quantum shear plane and by the time you’ve reoriented you’re about to hit the Mirror at 8 stadia per second. Conceptual weapons are still manifesting, the only way out is through. You brace.

The moment of impact arrives like a rising chorus of cicadas as particle turns to wave and wave to particle. Integrity systems spew a million error codes, blurring back into the miasma of pain they’re supposed to replace as eternity resonates onto one long pure note.

Then you’re through, and the Mirror is falling away from you as you tumble into the Unreal amidst a shotgun blast of diverging counterfactuals. Vector confinement comes back online. Warding fields blossom out in fifteen dimensions as your tactical systems finish manifesting. You yank open the command authority socket, control surfaces magnesium flaring with grip friction. Conceptual weapons are up, datalink reestablished, time to waltz.

Your awareness is a rapidly ballooning sphere already extending up and out past the crater you left in the skin of the Mirror, that’s how you know she’s preparing a followup shot. You twist imperceptibly and hit the superstring feet first.

Subatomic fire leaves afterimages as your momentum drags the collapsing ring singularity behind you. Energies twist, coil, you make a cut. A supernova bullcrack slams you back towards the Mirror. She’s already firing again, same move twice in a row, they never learn, do they?

The ribbon of boiling quantum foam spirals upwards in a corkscrew as you roll out of the way of the incoming strike. Her attack is as precisely timed as you knew it would be and the string you accelerated curls around it perfectly. You’re already starting your deceleration burn. You smirk.

And then there’s light.