THEN DO THAT OVER: SHE TALKS TO RAINBOWS
'I don't think that it's hopeless
I don't feel that I'm useless
I can't throw it all away
I need some courage to fight my weakness
And with your love
I know with all my heart I can win.'
Nyssaias seldom flew to school. Much as she loved flying, it left
her hair a complete mess and her wing feathers all out of line. But
this morning she was running late and flying was _way_ quicker
than walking to school. Plus, she was a mess anyway, so what
difference would a little wind-ruffling make?
Slowly but surely, Nyssaias was becoming conscious of a fact
about herself that she'd never suspected, that she'd never had
the chance to suspect. And that was that she was, when you got
right down to it, a very fragile person. Living in the City of Dreams,
life had never been anything but happy. She had never known
anything but love, success, acceptance and the tranquil beauty
inherent in everything she encountered there. Things always
worked out. People were good and decent and kind to her. There
were no rough edges. No pain. No darkness.
But now darkness had entered her life, and she had no idea how to
handle it. The nightmares. The churning in her guts from knowing
that someone out there was angry at her. And she'd been afraid.
She'd never been afraid in the City of Dreams, but here in Outside...
...'Here be Monsters'...
She'd always _known_, of course, that awful things sometimes
happened to people, but it was abstract knowledge. Nothing
awful had happened to _her_ or anyone she'd known. What they
had called 'evil' were whimsical things, like working for an officious
and grouchy Goddess First Class who had no fashion sense. But
here, the awfulness was real. The edges could be sharp -- and
One of those jagged edges was Embericles, maybe even the main
one. But she couldn't help but think that the key to understanding
the darkness, the key to learning how to live with and in it, lay with
that girl. She walked in the darkness, like Kassiandra had said, but
was she lost?
Maybe, actually. With the wind in her face to settle her down and
a bit of time to take the edge off their last encounter, it seemed to
her that Embericles might very well be, if not lost, certainly
wandering in a dangerous direction. She was strong, granted. No
one could endure what she did and not be. But there had been a
flash of raw pain there, of something that was slowly but surely
poisoning her. Something to do with her mother, that Liselda the
"In the darkest night there must be stars, and in the brightest day
shadows, though we see them not."
Those words had been etched on a plaque that sat on the desk of
her old grade-school tutor, Koturias, back in the City of Dreams.
She'd seen it every single school-day for three years and in all that
time had scarcely given the old adage ten seconds' thought.
Koturias had been a kindly woman with a dry wit and the manners
of a Victorian matron, but hadn't there always been a little hint of
shadow in her eyes? She was old even by Divine standards and
had seen many things. She had never said what the plaque meant
to her and no one had ever asked, as far as Nyssaias knew, but
now she couldn't help but wonder at the truth in that old homily.
Darkness needed the light. She _knew_ that. Everybody knew
that. But... did that mean that light needed the darkness, too?
More than that. If it were wholly true -- and Nyssaias's orderly,
logical mind immediately began extrapolating as if it were a theorem
or mathematical proof -- then darkness always _had_ some light,
and light always had some darkness, even if a person couldn't see
it right away. How else could you define either except by its
Could that be it? Could it be that she couldn't face and accept the
world's darkness because she couldn't find the darkness within
herself? And would the reverse hold true for Embericles, that she
couldn't reach out to the light because she could find no light
The sound of screaming from down below jarred Nyssaias out of
her reverie. Frowning in worry, she banked to the left and began
spiralling down toward where a knot of people were gathering on
Cain grinned at the sight on his laptop screen and high-fived
Babydoll. "Three down, one to go, babe!" he laughed, then mimed
a punch. "Come on, little she-devil! Kick her ass!"
Jubal scowled at him and pointed at the image of Embericles. "She
looks hurt, Cain. Maybe bad."
"It'll be our fault if she is."
Cain's grin got nastier. "_Ours_? However so? Did any of _us_
throw a punch here? Did _I_ tell Kali to go try and beat her up?
By no means. I'm as pure as the driven snow."
"Driven-in snow, you mean."
The Time Lad shook a finger in his face, which Jubal had to
struggle to keep from slapping aside. "Nobody can prove a
thing, Jubes. Our little paws are clean."
Jubal was about to respond rather cuttingly when he spotted Mr.
Maxil barging out of the building. "Heads up," he muttered
instead. "Maxil's headed our way."
"Shaktanith!" The word was a particularly vile curse in the
Trinnian dialect -- something to do with putting one's own sisters
up for prostitution and then not giving them a cut of the money --
and Cain spat it with as much venom as he could muster. With
surprisingly natural casualness, he flipped the computer shut, but
didn't turn it off. A few sharp looks sent most of his hangers-on
ambling away, faking urgent business elsewhere.
Maxil was just a few paces away, a 'vee-haf-vays-of-making-you-
talk' look on his face, when a student came running breathlessly
into the yard. "Big fight down the block!" he gasped out. "Kali
and Embericles! Blood's flying!"
Maxil's expression tightened as he turned and followed the outrush
of students through the gate. No one, it seemed, wanted to miss
seeing the two meanest girls in school duke it out, and the
Assistant Headmaster had a time navigating through the press.
Cain flipped open the laptop again, then stuck out an arm for
babydoll to hook hers through. "Shall we go get some front-row
seats for the grand finale?"
"I'm there, boss," she laughed as they strolled off.
Jubal Jackson followed, mumbling darkly under his breath.
"Can't touch this!" Kali called out crazily as she jumped back from
Embericles's outstretched hand. She took the chance to hit the girl
a punishing blow on the forearm, leaving a livid red welt. The steel
rod was giving her just the reach she needed to keep the girl at bay
while she thrashed her. Apparently, whatever it was she did to
people required a touch and if she couldn't get close enough to use
A shopkeeper started toward them to break it up, but a swing of the
blood-dappled metal rod sent him scurrying back. "Stay out of
this!" Kali bellowed at their burgeoning audience. "This is
between me and the freak!" Embericles lunged for her and got
hit hard in the ribs for her efforts as Kali danced back out of range.
A second blow on the shoulder was rewarded with the crackle of a
snapping collarbone. "Yeah! Take that, bitch!"
Embericles stepped back a pace, breathing hard, then looked up at
her and smiled. _Smiled_! A big, wicked, and entirely sincere one.
"Why are you grinning, skank?" Kali demanded.
The winged girl kept smiling. "Because I know something you
"This isn't my real body."
There was no preamble to it, no warning. There was no shower of
sparkles like a magical-girl transformation, no blur of focus, no flash
of fire and smoke. It happened in the space of one eyeblink. One
moment, Embericles stood there, a small, battered girl in a school
uniform, coolly beautiful even with one broken, bleeding wing
trailing on the ground. Then...
It stood in a fog of black nightmares, a mist of not-quite-silently
screaming ghosts that only obscured enough of the beast to
emphasize the horrors of what _was_ visible. Eight feet tall in its
hunched, slouching stance, it dripped a slime of curdled blood and
soured tears from claw and fang. Its rear legs were those of a
famished horse, with sunken flesh stretched tautly over the bones,
while its front set were splayed and reptilian, with peeling scales
and torn webbing between its hooked and grimy claws. In the
manner of a centaur, its quadrupedal body tapered into a
humanlike torso, the flesh the puffy white of a drowned corpse,
while the head was almost canine in form, with only a rotted glow
where the eyes should have been and long, wild red hair topped
by twisted, assymetrical horns. It had arms, long and almost
skeletally bony, and with these it reached out for Kali, who stood
dumbstruck and nearly mindless with terror before it.
Then it spoke, and the voice was the most horrible of all. It was at
once the shriek of the damned and the whisper of evil counsel, the
rattle of a dying breath and howl of the slayer's madness, a growl
and a hiss and the bubbling of slime in the depths. The voice of
all nightmares. And it spoke to Kali, but also _at_ those watching,
who stood numb and paralyzed with fright. "Are you scared?" it
asked as it wrapped its fleshless taloned fingers around Kali's
throat. "I'm going to scare you worse, girl. I'm going to scare you...
And as the visions started to come, Kali found the voice to scream.
Maxil was pushing his way through the thickening crowd of
students and other onlookers when he became conscious of the
terrible stillness that had settled over everyone. Looking up from
the press of bodies, his eyes went wide with shock at the sight of
the beast looming over them. And like everyone else, the sight
riveted him to the spot. So awful, so horrifying was the creature
that all he could do was gasp out, "By Rassilon..."
He wasn't even conscious of Cain and his mates coming up beside
him. The criminal Time Lad's single eye was twitching as he stood
trembling in place. "Didn't... expect... that..." he whispered.
And just as the paralysis of terror began to loosen enough for the
crowd to start edging backwards, a strange feeling swept through
them all, a sudden brightness that made the horror of the beast
seem somehow less, as though someone were whispering
reminders of better things in their ears, or an angel had passed
them by. An angel with wings of soothing white and a voice like
a mother, a friend, a lover, singing to their hearts.
With a rapid flutter barely audible over Kali's hoarse shrieks and
pleas, Nyssaias the Light Muse settled to the ground before the
monster that Embericles had become.
She could _feel_ it. She could _feel_ the darkness as she
descended toward the evil tableau on the street below. It was
coming from the beast -- from Embericles -- in streams of raw
nightmare. Fear, primal and blind. Murderous, unquenchable
hate. Hungers that would destroy anything in quest of satiation.
Lust and jealousy and violence and pain and unending despair.
The beast poured it all into Kali, but Kali was too small a vessel to
contain it all and the overspill infected the onlookers, whether by
design or by accident freezing them in their tracks with the
crushing horror of its black purity.
Nyssaias _knew_ the feeling, _knew_ what was happening now,
even as her own powers began building in reflexive response.
Pouring the substance of mind and heart directly into others like
that, there was only one power that performed in that fashion.
The power of the Muses.
It was what Muses did, the imparting of a notion, a feeling, an
image, the impulse to spur an act of creation. A Muse channeled
the essence of these things to others. The beast below was doing
this, but as a raging torrent rather than a Muse's subtle, filtered
radiance. She was literally drowning Kali's mind and soul in
No wonder the girl was screaming.
Nyssaias touched down in front of the creature, a warm, pale glow
outlining her body. "Embericles! Stop this! Please! You're killing
"That's the point," the beast replied in its awful voice, the voice of
a devil spitting Hell and ghosts and cobwebs in her ears.
"Don't do this, Embericles!" Nyssaias pleaded, taking a step toward
her. "I know what you are, now! I can't let you do this to her or to
The Embericles-creature peeled back its blood-flecked jowls,
flashing twisted fangs at her. "You don't know anything!" it
snarled. "But if you want a fight, Light Muse, you'll have it."
Nyssaias shook her head. "I don't want to fight you. I want to
"Help by staying out of my way."
The glow around Nyssaias began to strengthen as she said this.
"No," she repeated, "I'm going to get in your way and stay there
until I make you see the truth."
The creature made a hideous noise that it took Nyssaias a moment
to interpret as a chuckle. "What do _you_ know of truth,
pampered brat?" it spat.
Nyssaias was still walking toward her and Kali. "I know enough to
know that I don't know all of it, but I know the parts that you don't,
just as you know the parts I don't." Nyssaias stood proudly,
defiant before the monster, ablaze with a warm and gentle light,
beautiful as the Angel of Dawn. "Will you let her go?"
"Only to Hell," Embericles hissed back.
"Then I must _make_ you." And with that, she laid her hands
upon Kali's fevered body and let her spirit flow.
She ran as fast as she could, but it wasn't fast enough. She
stumbled over the broken stones that had been a city, bare feet
bleeding, seeking some place, any place to hide, even if just for
The dead shuffled after in pursuit. She could hear their voices,
mushy through rotted mouths and the maggots and worms nested
therein. "Kaaaaali," they moaned. "Your faaaault."
The ground grabbed at her feet, hundreds of tiny leech-mouths
fastening to her flesh, sucking hungrily at her oozing blood. She
tripped, the slimy leech-flesh clutching at her, but she tore herself
loose and tried to clamber away over the stones. But she was too
slow and felt clammy fleshless hands at her back.
"Kaaaaliiii!" groaned the corpse of Shanka as it sought to pull her
into its embrace. It clutched her to the raw bones of its breast,
twining rotting fingers in her hair as a snake slithered out of its
gaping eye-sockets. "Looove me, Kaaaali!"
The sky split with thunder and it began to rain, a rain of reeking,
boiling blood that burned her skin like hot irons as it poured upon
her. She screamed and beat at the Shanka-corpse, but it only held
her the tighter, smothering her with its decaying stench. "Looove
me," it moaned over and over. And now the other dead were
surrounding her: Rhanda and Vanir groaning their accusations; the
tattered, shambling body of Cain, his eye freshly clawed out; her
mother, bemoaning her daughter's uselessness. They were dead
and they hated her and she couldn't get away. She was
suffocating, couldn't get a breath, the miasma filling her mouth and
nose with its stench and the leeches just kept sucking and slurping
and the rain -- oh! how it scalded -- and it wouldn't and wouldn't
A butterfly flew past.
Something growled in the sky, something huge and powerful and
angry beyond all imagining. Serpents boiled up out of the ground,
snapping at the butterfly and spitting their poison, but they
couldn't catch it. It lit upon one of the thrashing viper-heads and
the snake changed into a rosebush, ablaze with color and blossoms
so sweet that their scent cut through even the stink of blood and
"Stop this!" roared the voice in the sky, black lightning scarring
the clouds in its rage. "Get out of here!"
But the butterfly stayed. It fluttered away from the newly-made
rosebush and landed on the Shanka-zombie's oozing back.
"There, there, Kali," Shanka soothed, her face wreathed in
uncharacteristic smiles, a twinkle in her eye. "It's okay. We're
friends, right? I won't let them hurt you." She held the sobbing
Time Lass tightly, stroking her hair and humming softly. The
bloody downpour changed to a light, cooling mist of rain as
it fell upon them.
The sucker-mouths grabbed at Shanka's feet, but when they
touched her, the leeches turned to green grass and dandelions.
Somewhere in the tormented sky, Kali thought she could see the
sun peeking through the clouds. It was a bright, golden warmth
that had to be the sun, but to her reeling mind looked like the light
of a halo.
"Enough of this!" snarled the sky-voice, and everything went to a
peaceful and dreamless gray.
As one, Nyssaias and the Embericles-beast released their holds on
Kali. The redhead tumbled to the pavement, breathing deeply and
shuddering, but completely comatose.
"Won't get out of my way, huh?" the beast said in its hissing,
growling, whisper-shriek. "Let's settle this right, then. Let's do it
"By all means," Nyssaias replied, her own voice clear and strong
and musical. She locked her hands in the monster's claws and
The beast's power slammed into her and she cried out and went
nearly to her knees. It poured into her mind in a tidal wave of
evil. Every twisted horror that ever was snapped and clawed at
her, every ache and stab of pain conceivable tore through her,
every hunger, every humiliation, every betrayal. And she opened
herself to it, letting it suffuse her.
Nyssaias burned. She cried. She cringed and hid and struck blows
and received them. She felt hate and envy and lust and fear. There
was no resistance. She let it all wash over her, soaking it in,
isolating and examining this fragment and that.
At last, starting to really _know_.
"What are you doing?!" roared the beast, breaking off the flow of
horrors. "Fight me!"
"No." There were tears pouring down Nyssaias's cheeks, but she
was still smiling. "I'm not here to fight. I'm here to help, and to
"What the Hell are you talking about?"
"Light and Dark," the Light Muse said. "Dark and Light. It all
makes sense, now. One must have the other, to exist. To really
live. We're opposite halves, Light Muse and... Dark Muse."
"I'm no Muse," the Embericles-thing snarled. It raised a fist as if to
strike her, but didn't. "I'm nothing!"
"You _are_ a Muse," Nyssaias insisted. "I don't know how or
why, but it's what you are. And you've given me some of your
Darkness. Enough to know what I must know. Enough to live and
be whole. And now, I'll give you what you need."
"You don't know anything!" Embericles roared, but there was an
undercurrent of uncertainty in that awful living-dead voice. "I
don't need anything! I don't have anything!" The beast tried to
pull loose the bony hand Nyssaias was still holding, but the white-
winged girl enfolded it in both her own and, though her grip was
neither tight nor strong, Embericles was powerless to free herself
"Here," Nyssaias said gently, and pushed her powers and her mind
outward, into the monster.
"Almost, but not good enough. Do it again!"
"Liselda," Father warned. "Let her alone. She's doing all she can."
"Hush, Howie." He didn't like that nickname, which was why
Mother called him that when she was angry. "It isn't good enough.
Not nearly anthropomorphic enough. Just look at these wings."
She held up one of little Embericles's leathery bat-wings for
inspection. "How prosaically demonic. It's an improvement over
that tres-gauche shape she was born with, but where is the style?"
Mother thought a lot about style. Even now, just around the
house, she was wearing a business dress-suit of the latest Italian
cut and had taken on a suitable form -- that of a tall, slim brunette --
to fill it out.
"Actually, right now she looks a lot like you do when you're in
_your_ natural shape," Father retorted slyly, pushing his glasses
up a bit. Father wasn't so concerned with style. Since it was just
the three of them around, he wasn't bothering with his coat and
"She does _not_," Mother shot back. "For starters, she has no
horns in this shape and these wings are _entirely_ without luster.
But that's not the point. She should be shifting into a humanoid
form, _not_ another demonic one."
Father shrugged. "She's only three."
"Yes, Howie. And a _true_ succubus or cambion would be able to
shapeshift at _birth_, into human form. It's _your_ blood that
"So you remind me. Often."
(Fade to black.)
"How many times do I have to tell you, don't call me that! It makes
me feel old! Call me Liselda. And change into your other form right
now! That nightmare-centaur body may be practical, but it's just
too garish. Don't you have any sense of aesthetics? You're almost
_five_, for Moloch's sake! When _I_ was five, I was already
stringing along human boys!"
(Fade to black.)
"So, you're just going to up and leave us, are you?"
Liselda sighed, carefully folding her clothes and fitting them into
her suitcase. "You _know_ my vacation time for this century is
almost used up. It's been a fun decade, Hausakliufr, but now it's
time to get back to the City of Dreams and back to work. Yours
will be up before long, too, anyway."
"Fun." Hausakliufr spat the word, muscles clenching. "That's how
you describe it."
"Yes, it is." Liselda was completely nonchalant. "I've had a good
time, for the most part, doing the little domestic thing with you and
the kid. It's been a great vacation, but now it's time to get back to
Hausakliufr wouldn't look at her. "And so, you're just leaving us
here? Leaving me?"
"That's what I _said_." She pointed at herself. "Hel-lo! Succubus
here. Lust demon, you know. I'm not a wife, I'm not a bloody
Cherub of Love. Fun is fun and the last few years have been, but
commitment is not my bag. Hells, you're a demon, too! You know
how it goes, just as well as I do."
"But... I love you, Liselda."
She threw her hands up. "Oh Gods of Hell, spare me such
Hausakliufr's eyes narrowed behind his glasses and his muscles
clenched again, his teeth grinding, but he made no move toward
her, or their daughter.
"Look, Howie," Liselda went on, "I'm flattered by that and all, but
come on. We're demons. And, what's more, this whole...
relationship, if you want to call it that, was inappropriate from the
beginning. Succubi simply do _not_ mate beneath their station.
It simply isn't _done_ in proper society. Plus, the Guild considers it
a serious waste of our talents and reprimands us accordingly."
"And what about our daughter? Is _she_ just a 'waste' to be left
The succubus regarded him unflinchingly. "Do you really want
me to answer that honestly?" She sighed. "The fact is that having
a child like that who is neither a succubus nor a half-human
cambion serves absolutely no useful purpose for the Succubus
Guild. Even if she has other talents, the Guild won't care about
"So, who cares what the thrice-damned Guild thinks?!" Hausakliufr
"I do. You can get as angry at me as you want, Hausakliufr. You
can rage and destroy all day and it still won't change that. I have a
future there, a darn good one at the top of the organization, and I'm
not letting anything get in the way of that. If I took Embericles
back home with me, I'd never hear the end of it. My record would
be blotted beyond repair -- seventeen hundred years of perfect
work down the drain. No. I'm sorry for you, truly, but this is just
how it is."
(Fade to black.)
"I have to stay here, Father? By myself?"
Hausakliufr knelt and put his hands on his daughter's shoulders,
trying and just failing to give her a smile. She looked too much like
her mother in this form, which didn't make it any easier. And she
knew this, young as she was. "Yes. I'm sorry, sorrier than you'll
ever know, but there's no other way. I have to go back to work
Raw agony flashed across the demon's face for a moment. "I'd...
like to think not," he answered lamely. "I'd take you with me if I
could, I really would, but where I work is no place for a child."
He sighed, looking into her eyes. "I can feel your power," he
whispered. "When you're angry, when you're sad, it just rolls off
you in waves. You'd make a great Dark Muse, if only I had some
way to get you to the City of Dreams for Registration."
"But you won't do that, either, right Father?"
"I _can't_," he insisted. "I don't have the power to get us in there
and I don't have any contacts there besides your mother." He
swallowed something back, reaching out to tousle her hair. "I've
made arrangements for you here, in Outside. I'll drop by when I can
to check on you and your mother says she will, too. You're a
strong girl, Embericles, and I know you'll do just fine here."
"If I can't be a Muse or a demon, what am I supposed to be here?"
Hausakliufr took off his glasses and wiped at his eyes. "I honestly
don't know, Embericles. I honestly don't."
(Fade to black.)
"Hello, mon chere! Liselda is here with your rent money and a little
present." She tossed an envelope and a tiny wrapped package
onto the apartment's lone table, blowing a kiss at her.
"Please, darling, you _know_ I detest being called that."
"I know, Mother."
"Hmmph. The insolence of youth. Ah, well. Did you get the
postcard I sent you?"
Embericles's stony expression softened just a little as she plucked
the postcard off the counter. It showed a long view of the High
Collegium at night, starlight dancing off its polished minarets and
all its twoscore thousand windows ablaze with light. "I did," she
answered, tracing a finger over the picture. "It's a grand place."
"That it is. Grandest in a grand city."
"I wish I could see it someday."
Liselda sniffed. "Don't talk nonsense, darling. Now, would you
like for me to call for some takeout food?"
(Fade to black.)
The warder stepped out, locking the door behind her, leaving
Hausakliufr alone with his daughter in the Reformatory's Visiting
"Embericles," he sighed, "you have _got_ to learn to control this
power of yours."
"You're a fine one to talk, _berserking demon_," she retorted,
"We're not talking about me, we're talking about you. Powers have
to be used for a _purpose_ and in the proper dosages. You can't
just be pouring them into any mortal who touches you."
"I couldn't help it. They grabbed me and it just happened, whether
I wanted it to or not." She shrugged. "Not that I really minded."
Hausakliufr slipped off his gloves, revealing knobby yellow claw-
tipped hands, and took his daughter's hands in his. "Powers are
grounded in emotion, Embericles, and the stronger and more
uncontrolled the emotion, the stronger and more uncontrolled the
power. That's why this is happening."
She gave him a flat look. "How wildly emotional do I seem,
"'Seem' and 'are' are two different things. I know how you must feel
about our... situation and--"
She snatched her hands out of his. "How could you know
_anything_ about what I feel or who I am? You'd have to _be_
there to know any of that." She rose stiffly and turned her back
on him, then walked over to the door and tapped on the steel-mesh
window. "Warder. I'm ready to go back to my cell."
(Fade to black.)
On a vast and empty plain they met, the butterfly and the serpent.
The serpent was girded for war, every black scale hard as brass,
fangs dripping with smoldering venom. She lay tightly-coiled,
impregnable, eyes alert and mouth agape, ready to strike at any
moment. The butterfly had neither scale nor fang, but fluttered
on the breeze just out of the serpent's reach.
"What a strong serpent you are," quoth the butterfly. "Coiled
so tight, nothing can get past your scales, and so much poison,
none can pass you unscathed.
"If you know this," hissed the serpent, "then go away, little
butterfly. None can challenge me."
But the butterfly didn't listen. She just flitted closer, until she was
just out of the serpent's reach. "It can be a sad world for
butterflies, sometimes, because we are so weak," she said, "but I
think it must be sad to be a serpent, too."
"What do you know?" scoffed the serpent. "A serpent has no
fear. As you yourself said, nothing can get past my scales when
I'm coiled and nothing dares risk the bite of my poison fangs."
"But what happens when you uncoil or when your poison runs
The serpent laughed. "Foolish! I never uncoil, for to do so would
make me vulnerable. And I never run low of poison, for all my time
is spent making more."
The butterfly nodded. "And that is why it's sad to be a serpent,
wound tight in your coil all day, drowning in your own poison."
The serpent glared at the butterfly for the longest time. After a
while, she said, "A serpent is all I am. What could I do but that? It
is better than being eaten up."
"I saw a thing yesterday," said the butterfly, as though the serpent
hadn't spoken. "A beautiful rose in a garden over the hills. I've
seen lakes, too, and trees, and a flock of birds in the sunset."
"The birds will eat you," declared the serpent.
"Maybe. But I will have gone to see the rose and the lakes and the
trees before they do. It will have been worth it."
"Ridiculous!" spat the serpent. "_I_ won't be eaten."
"I don't doubt it," answered the butterfly. "And where have you
been and what have you seen in the time you've spent not being
The serpent had no reply.
"I've heard that there is a rainbow beyond the lakes," said the
butterfly, "and I would like to go and see it. It's a dangerous path
for butterflies, though. It would be safer if I had a strong serpent
at my side."
The serpent shook her head. "I would have to uncoil and then
I could be hurt," she hissed. "That would be foolish." But then
she looked thoughful. "But I wonder what it would be like to see
"I'm going to find out," said the butterfly. "The rose and the lakes
and the trees were all so wonderful, I can only imagine what the
rainbow will be like." She fluttered lower, well within the serpent's
striking range now, but the serpent didn't try to bite. "I have
memories of the rose and the lakes and the trees," she whispered,
as if sharing a secret. "I could show them to you and then you
could decide if you want to uncoil and come see the rainbow with
me or not."
"Welllll..." mused the serpent. "Okay. It would be okay to see, I
guess. Just a little bit, so I can argue the better against going."
And the black serpent raised her nose into the air, letting the
butterfly land on it. When she did, the warm, bright colors of the
butterfly's wings began to trickle down into the serpent's
"Oh!" said the serpent.
Nyssaias stood rock-steady, holding the monster's hand in her
own. The beast had stopped struggling to get away and was just
standing, jackalish mouth open in surprise, the ghost-fog around
its body quiescent. A soft white glow surrounded them both
driving some of the clinging shadows away.
The onlookers, freed of the paralyzing terror that had seized them,
had drawn back, but there was something about that glow,
something about the girl with the white angel-wings that kept them
there. There was a feeling in the air, an anticipation, as though
there was something important that needed witnessing.
Nyssaias opened her eyes and stared evenly into the monster's
palely glowing eye-sockets. "Embericles," she whispered. "Light
needs Darkness and Darkness needs Light. Neither can be
complete without the other. I am the Light that has reached out to
your Darkness. The decision is now yours to make. You say you
are nothing, that you have nothing and are fated to nothing. Well,
I am offering you something. If you refuse it, then there will be no
one to blame but yourself." She took a deep breath. "I know you
now and I offer myself in friendship to you. True friendship. I will
stand by you. I will care about you. I will be there when you need
me, to light your way. What do you say?"
The monster said nothing, but a shiver ran up its arm.
"I know you now," Nyssaias repeated, "and I understand things
that I couldn't, before. Because of you. And I will still hold love
for you in my heart, no matter how you answer."
Again, it was less than the blink of an eye. No lights, no smoke, no
Embericles, her school uniform scuffed and dirty, but her pale skin
whole and unmarked, both bat-wings standing straight out from her
back, placed her other hand on Nyssaias's and nodded once. And
though her face was as expressionless as always, her icy blue eyes
seemed to have more of a glisten to them than normal.
"Let's start over," said Nyssaias around a big smile. "Hi. My name
is Nyssaias. Would you like to be friends?"
"Embericles," the redhead said curtly. "I... think I'd like that..."
Maxil shook off the stupor he'd fallen into and began shouldering
his way through the crowd again. He didn't know what had just
happened, exactly, but one thing was perfectly clear-- Embericles
had gone over the line again and now was the chance to do
something about the Red-Head Menace, once and for all.
"Embericles! Don't you move!" he hollered. He pointed to a
student at random. "You! Go back to the school and fetch Mr.
Magnus!" He turned to the nearest adult, a grocer by the look of
him. "And you, call an ambulance and the police, now!" He
thought for a second about what he'd seen Embericles change into
and amended that with, "Call out the City Militia, too, if you have
"Er, Mr. Maxil? Sir?"
He turned to see young Jubal Jackson tugging at his coat. "What
is it, Mr. Jackson?"
"This... It wasn't her fault."
"It wasn't her fault," the black boy repeated. "Kali started it. They
jumped her and beat her up."
"I know what I saw--" Maxil began.
"There's proof." He pointed at the laptop computer Cain was
holding. "The whole thing's recorded on there. We got it on
Cain sent his subordinate an evil look, but as Maxil came toward
him he just shrugged and put on a big fake grin. "Yes sir, Jubes is
right. Got the whole sorry episode recorded on here. You want me
to make you a copy of the CD later?"
"I'll have a look at the _original_, Mr. Cain, and I will see it now."
"Don't you trust me, sir?"
"Not an iota. Hand it over."
Babydoll whispered urgently, "But boss, that's got records of all
Cain pulled his elbow out of Babydoll's ribs and passed the
computer over. "Here you are," he said, grin looking particularly
strained around the edges.
"Why were you recording Kali and Embericles, anyway?" the
Assistant Headmaster demanded.
"Er..." The Time Lad rubbed absently at his eyepatch, thinking.
"Because... they're redheads." He grabbed Babydoll, who was
still holding onto her ribs, by the collar and dragged her over.
"I didn't want to say, but... Babydoll here has a thing for them."
"I _what_?!" the blonde shouted.
"Yes," Cain went on, smarming to his topic, "I've been trying to talk
her out of this perverted stalking she's been doing, but you know
how girls are these days, sir..."
EPILOGUE: The Next Morning
There was something different about today, the landlord of the
Wild Rose Arms decided.
He moved his old plastic chair over by the rose trellis and sat
regarding it for a long time. Maybe he should have a go at
neatening the rosebush up, trim it a bit and pull some of the weeds
loose. It was a nice enough day for it and it wasn't like he had
much else to do.
Strange. He couldn't say exactly why today felt any different
from the ones before, but it did. Maybe it was just him. He'd been
in a rare good cheer for a couple of days now, but this morning
felt even better, like a weight had come off his back.
He'd slept better than he had in years, the first night he could
remember that he hadn't had a single bad dream.
He heard footsteps coming out the door and sighed, knowing his
good mood was about to beat a disorderly retreat. Determined to
get the most out of it while it lasted, he slipped out his old whittling
knife and started to cut back some of the tangled vines.
The footsteps stopped and he looked over to see the Brat standing
on the doorstep just a few feet away, looking at the roses. Funny,
but she looked different, too. Different clothes? No, it was the
same school uniform as always. Maybe it was just the sunshine
that made them look brighter.
He started to turn away before he had to lock eyes with her --
always hated doing that; made him feel like he was looking down
a gun barrel, but stopped when she spoke to him.
He sighed resignedly. "Aye?"
She pointed to the big white rose that was nearest the doorway.
"You said I could... have one of these?"
He nodded, curious now. This wasn't like the Brat at all. Maybe
even _she_ couldn't fail to see what a fine day it was. "Take all ye
like. 'Tis not as though we've a lack." He passed her the knife.
Ordinarily, he'd not have done such a thing for fear of touching
her, something he had no desire to do, and for fear she'd use the
knife on _him_.
She did neither. Taking what struck him as excessive care not to
touch his hand, she used the knife to slice off the white rose and
then strip the thorns from it. She started to hand the blade back,
but stopped, considering, then sliced off another blossom, this one
a blazing orange. She then passed the knife back to him and, with
great solemnity, placed the white rose in her hair and the orange
one in her satchel.
A part of him wanted to ask who she was and what she had done
with the real tenant of #13-E, but he didn't, quite frankly for fear
that he'd get her back. Instead, he just turned his eyes to the sky
and said, "Lookin' to be a fine mornin'."
She nodded gravely. "I think it might be, too."
And with a quick run and a beat of black wings, she was off into
A grumbling roar shattered the morning stillness, loud even over
the crowd-chatter of the students assembling in the schoolyard.
Xeffy looked at Ayna. More specifically, she looked at Ayna's
stomach. "Jeez, Sis," she laughed, "the Bottomless Pit is
demanding a sacrifice again!"
Ayna, flushing the approximate color of a Moscow Supreme Soviet
banner, put both hands over her middle to try and stifle the noise.
"Shut up, Xeffy. It's not my fault I have a fast metabolism." She
groaned, but not so loudly as her stomach had. "Whose turn was
it to bring breakfast today, anyway?"
"Nyss's. She should be here in a-- Oh, here she comes."
"Thank the gods," mumbled Ayna. "I'm about ten minutes away
from needing Bob Geldof to do me up a charity concert."
"To drown out your stomach, you mean?"
Ayna just growled at her. Her stomach did, too.
"Sorry I'm a bit late!" the Light Muse called as she ran up. "But I
have goodies here to make up for it!" She opened up the box she
was carrying and held it out. "I brought cinnamon rolls my
stepmom made! Two each!"
"Yum! Give!" Ayna grabbed a pair of the sticky confections out
of the box and stuffed a whole one into her mouth. "Zif iv gug!"
she more-or-less said, flashing Nyssaias an 'OK' with her free hand.
Xeffy reached in to get hers and noticed something. "Hey, you
brought _eight_ of these."
"That's right. I thought Embericles might want some, too."
"Oh." Xeffy was none too sure how she felt about having the ill-
omened redhead anywhere around, but since Nyss seemed to feel
pretty strongly about it, she decided not to say anything. For now.
Something else grabbed her attention, anyway. Those cinnamon
She held up the two she'd taken, putting one of the spiral cakes
beside each ear. "Hey, look! I'm Princess Leia!"
They were all laughing about that when Embericles touched down
just a few steps behind Nyssaias. She walked up to them slowly,
Xeffy noting the flower in the girl's hair. The redhead raked them
with those cold, merciless eyes that seemed to judge everything
they saw and Xeffy suddenly felt small and ridiculous, holding rolls
up to her head and laughing like a silly fool. Embericles spoke
before she could take them down, though.
"The bun," said the Dark Muse flatly, "is the lowest form of
humor." As the three girls regarded her with varying levels of
gobsmackedness, she dug something out of her satchel and
handed it to Nyssaias. "Here. I brought this for you, if you want
It was a single rose, bright as a summer sunrise.
"Why... thank you." Nyssaias blinked at it, then smiled and placed
it in her hair just as Embericles had done. "Would you like some
breakfast? I brought plenty."
"I-- Yes." She took one of the cinnamon rolls as well and then, as
though suddenly remembering, added tentatively, "Thanks."
"We're going to class, now," Nyssaias told the sisters, giving them
a wave as she and Embericles walked off. She grinned at the Dark
Muse, shaking her head. "Look at you," she told her. "Picking
flowers, making bad jokes. Why, we'll have you mooning over
boys before too much longer!"
Embericles looked suddenly uncomfortable, her cold facade
slipping just a little around the edges. "About that," Xeffy
heard her say. "There's... something _else_ you should probably
know about me..."
'Doctor Who' is property of the BBC.
'Then Do That Over' concept created by Paul Gadzikowski.
Opening quote is from the song 'Something to Believe In', by the Ramones.
Xeffy and Ayna are property of Imran Inayat.
'Desert of Fear' characters created by Filippone, May, Young, and Willis.
Story and original characters are property of BKWillis.