Having yet to open her eyes, the breeze gave away Eremis’s present location mere moments before an all too familiar weight arrived, and perched himself on her head; “Back here already, am I?” She asked, her mostly rhetorical question going unanswered as Matthew lightly pecked at her temple; “Wait, wait… Wait, just a second…” She put a hand up, index finger raised, knowing exactly what was about to happen. She counted backwards; “Six, five, four…”
“… Three… Two… One…” Ever the witty corvid, he finished counting for her at the precise moment the explosion went off. Half-laughing, half-coughing, the ensuing shockwave knocked Eremis down on her rear end as Matthew fluttered up and over the dust cloud. Picking herself up, she wiped her dress and her hands off as best as she could, carefully rubbed her eyes, and slowly, one at a time, peeled them open. The raven settled on her shoulder, tilting his head at the newly formed crater on the side of a nearby hill; “I wonder who, or what, caused it this time.”
“I could take a guess, but I’m honestly hoping I’m wrong, so I won’t.” Eremis also examined the crater, oddly relieved there was no movement. No movement, no body parts, and no screaming. Whatever it was that had fallen, it had disintegrated on impact; “You’d think they would know better than to crash-land in here.”
“You would… But not thinking, and crash landing in here, seems to be working wonders for Klaus Hargreeves. You can’t blame the rest of them for trying.” Matthew said as she started down her narrow, barely visible path. Only she knew where she’d buried all her bombs. It was a top-level secret she would take with her to her third grave;
“Klaus not getting himself killed was mostly dumb luck. And over Christmas. Not to mention he left me an entire building full of alcohol, a bunch of free furniture, and…”
“You don’t need to say it.” Matthew interjected before she’d gotten carried away. Not that it mattered, as somewhere further down by her crumbling stone walls, another landmine detonated; “How many of those do you have left?”
Eremis’s face split into a grin; “Almost all of them, would you believe?”
“I most certainly would not.” He riposted.
“You sound like your Elders.” She chuckled; “Vivian Clarke destroyed a chunk of Klaus’s bar, but that was his problem, not mine. I know Five has an, “X,” marking his landing spot, and Ben…” Eremis paused to allow a dresser and a vanity table to float by; “Ben died first, he died a long time ago, and he tends to go portal surfing out of boredom.”
“Perhaps we should ask The Horror how his adventuring goes.” Matthew suggested; “Once he returns safely, of course.”
“But of course, my dear.” Eremis parroted as they reached the building; “Say, you don’t have a problem with cats, do you?”
“I honestly don’t remember.” He confessed.
“Because you’ve been spending too much time cooped up with your Elders.” Still grinning, she ignored his; “Endless, not Elders,” to press an ear against the door, listening for her typically vocal orange tabby. Not hearing anything, she pushed it open. Almost immediately, Artemis let out an angry yowl; sending Matthew flying to the top of the liquor shelves while the feisty feline darted outside, and ducked under a bed. Eremis stifled more laughter as she waited for the door to close; “Good thing I asked first,” she moseyed over to the bar, and stood behind it in lieu of the usual juice man; “Come along then, Matthew. We don’t have much time before they pile back in.”
“I very specifically recall you explaining to me time doesn’t exist in the Void,” The raven said, and rather pointedly, as he fluttered down to the counter.
“I did say that, yes. We were discussing the differences between a Void, and a vortex.” Eremis acknowledged, although she couldn’t remember how she remembered having that entire conversation with him.
“And, what ARE the differences between a Void, and a vortex?” He inquired.
“My Void is a subconscious hole, pretending to be a pocket dimension, hidden at the bottom of space-time. Time itself gets sucked up into those portals outside and ceases to exist. A dream vortex is a human being with the ability to cross dreams, destroy them, and eat talking birds like you for breakfast.” Eremis, her head propped between her hands, smiled an all-knowing smile.
“Very apt of you.” Matthew nodded.
“Thank you, it took practice… But that’s not why I summoned you here.” She stuck her thumb out towards the stage.
Matthew turned to face the immaculately white violin, gleaming in its glass case under the spotlights; “Ah, yes. The not-so-metaphorical atomic weapon in the room.” He quipped; “So much better than an elephant, don’t you think?”
“… Atomic wea-… You mean like another bomb?” Eremis was skeptical; “How? Did someone use a violin to blow up a city?”
“Her name was Vanya Hargreeves, and yes, she destroyed the moon with it. The corvid didn’t have much by way of facial expressions, but there was no attempt at humour in his tone.
“I remember Five saying they’d all been assholes to their sister Vanya, but I don’t think I’ve met her… How is Earth surviving without a moon?”
“It’s complicated, it doesn’t apply to you, and you may never. They confiscated her violin because she was already too murderously frustrated to keep it. She’ll be more frustrated now that she’s stopped existing altogether.”
“Excusez-vous. I might have left Earth, but I’m still allowed to ask how it’s doing.” Eremis poked what she assumed were his ribs, ruffling up his feathers; “Tell me what happened to Vanya then.”
“The honest answer involves a suicidal alien, an awful family reunion over his funeral, a demented conductor, and ungodly amounts of social experimentation…” Matthew chose his words carefully;” ‘They broke half their timelines, and turned her into a boy,’ is the much simpler one.”
“And they can’t just fix their timeline, or bring her back from wherever she is, so they left her weapon here for me to babysit?” Eremis, her head still propped between her hands, peered down her nose at him.
“Bomb-sit, more like. And you have to admit, they picked a good spot for it.” She opened her mouth as though to protest, but Matthew kept going; “… Useless without its owner anyway. I’m not overly concerned.”
“Aww, and here I was about to thank Klaus for the extra Christmas present.” Her arms nearly slid off the polished countertop as she doubled over laughing, only stopping to catch her breath at the sound of something crashing outside. Clamping a hand over her mouth, she hiccuped as they both strained to hear what was happening;
“… Think you’d know how to use your feet…”
“… Shut up, you… Fancy mathematics…”
“Hey, I always stick my landings.”
“That’s why you ignored Dad, teleported to the future, and got stuck there for over fifty years?”
“Would you guys PLEASE stop arguing?”
Eremis took advantage of the sudden silence to glance at Matthew, who only kept staring at the trio of boys glaring at each other on the other side of the window; “We’d prefer it if you stayed, but we’ll understand if you’d rather not.”
“I’m a watch bird, not a meddle bird. This is as much help as I can offer.” The raven shook himself out of his daydreams and fluttered back to the top of the shelves.
“Alright, Matthew. Thanks for stopping by. Tell our SIRE, Ghost-Lady looks forward to tea.” But Matthew had long since gone away. Eremis smirked to herself as Ben, Five, and Klaus clamoured into the building. While Ben quietly took a seat at the far end of the bar, and folded his hands, Five teleported behind the counter from his position next to Klaus. Caught off-guard, the Séance tripped himself over, and landed on the ground for the second time that day;
“What the hell is going on?” He rolled over, and grunted, evidently high, and hungover as he slid himself into a seated position.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I think there might be someone blinking somewhere.” Eremis pointed at his bare toes; “You know most restaurants have a, “No Shoes, No Service,” policy, don’t you?” To which Ben snickered, and Five laughed;
“Is coffee not ready yet?” The latter asked when he noticed the empty pot, but moved down to Eremis’ left, and buried his head in the cupboards before she could reply.
“Oh good, it’s not just me then.” Ignoring her comment, Klaus creaked an arm up, grabbed hold of a bar stool, and dragged himself back up; “Here I was thinking I’d eaten too much speed again.”
“You ARE eating too much speed. That’s how you keep bouncing from Earth, to here, to Cirxci, and back… Maybe try the cupboard under the coffee machine, Number Five.” Eremis took a glass from the shelf directly above her, pressing herself against the counter, so he could squeeze past. The Séance, meanwhile, had stretched out, yawned, sat down, and thrown his feet up; “Did you check out what I left you on stage, by the way? I promise it’s not lemons, frogs or more centipedes.” She told him as she filled the glass with cold water. Klaus’ jaw dropped as he gawked… Both at the violin, and at Ben’s tentacles as they reached out for his drink; “What? No big, wet, sloppy kisses this time?” Eremis’ smile was thoroughly sincere.
“…Hey Ben-Ben, want to do me a solid, and hand me one of those?… Thanks…” Still ignoring her comments, Klaus waved a hand towards the liquor bottles. Ben very audibly rolled his eyes, but obliged his adopted sibling before gulping down half his water;
“Thank you.” He said once he’d set the glass down, and his tentacles had slithered back to where they’d come from; “… Um… Out of curiosity, why is Vanya’s violin locked up down here?”
Distracted as he was with his coffee, Five kept quiet. Eremis pursed her lips, and shot Klaus a knowing look; “Because she stopped being Vanya, and I’m a bit of a pyro.” She said, slowly, as they watched Number Four pop open his bottle, and chug down a third of it. Ben’s eyes moved from Eremis to Klaus, to Five, his domino mask doing little to conceal his growing bewilderment;
“What? What’s, “stopped being Vanya,” supposed to mean? I saw her here like half an hour ago.” He blinked.
“Who told you that anyway? Did Five leave you a note?” Klaus’s unexpected over-defensiveness threw Eremis for a loop, but she managed to bite her tongue.
“I did not!” Five decided he was participating after all; “How would have Vanya gotten here? And what did she say?”
“Five actually didn’t tell me anything. A little birdie did.” Eremis explained, mainly to Klaus; “And all he said was you broke your timeline, and your sister.”
Klaus took a drink, and grimaced while Ben kept talking to Five; “I don’t know. She was already on the ground when I came back. When she saw her violin was locked up, she said she deserved it… So, what happened to her?”
The awkward silence that fell over the room let Eremis know there was more to the story than anyone cared to tell her either, but chose to keep biting her tongue. Number Five, his filter full of ground coffee beans, topped the machine up with water, closed the lid, pressed the, “ON,” switch, then asked; “Did she say where she was going when she left?”
Ben shook his head; “No. She didn’t.” He tried asking Eremis instead; “Did your bird tell you anything about it?”
“Sorry. He’s not a gossip, and I’m really only here to make sure my Void holds up. And Artemis gets fed.” Struck by the thought, Eremis spun around, grabbed a pen from the holder next to the cash register, and scribbled herself another note for a later date.
“Don’t worry about it, Ben-Ben. We’ll bring her back. We have a plan.” Klaus’ feigned, drunken enthusiasm convinced no one. Ben, especially, looked as though he desperately needed to say something, but gave up, dropped his head, and mumbled; “… Now, why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” He drank his water.
Eremis stuck her note to the back wall, capped her pen, and put it back, absent-mindedly scratching her left wrist with her right hand. It was Klaus who caught what would’ve otherwise been a meaningless gesture; “Everything alright, Cirxci?”
“… I think…” She barely had the chance to utter as goosebumps rose and raced up her skin, making her hair stand on end; “… My aliens found me.” She whispered, rubbing her arms, and trying not to panic.
“Are you leaving?” He was tactful enough to whisper back. Eremis again raised a finger, closed her eyes, puffed her cheeks, and counted backwards from five. Nothing. No leaving, no pulling, no twisting, no buzzing or humming, and when she re-opened her eyes, it was to her Void… Only now her Void was smelling like freshly brewed coffee.
“I guess not.” She knew her itchy wrist meant Faustus had reached her; Vanya wasn’t the only one who needed a key to keep functioning. Eremis simply couldn’t understand why she wasn’t being forced back to her planet.
“Coffee, Ben?” An oblivious Five with his priorities in order had mugs lined up, and the brimming pot in his hands.
“Nah. I’m good. I’m going to head out. Thanks again for the water.” He stood from his seat.
“Hold on,” Eremis stopped him; “Five, is there a way for you to leave a spare key for the violin? In case Vanya turns up?”
Five poured himself a cup, put the pot back, and took his sweet time sipping at his beverage; “… I’d have to go find it first.”
“You lost it?!” They all exclaimed simultaneously.
“Oh, like you’re really one to talk. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your shoulders.” Unfazed, Five shot back at Klaus.
“Number Five…” Eremis said quietly.
“Sorry. No. I didn’t lose it. I left it with Delores.”
“How is that any better?” Klaus reached into his shirt for his cigarettes, stuck one between his lips and lit it, blowing smoke clear across the bar.
“Yeah, so, I’m leaving now. Come get me when you have Vanya.” Ben choked, coughed, and stepped out before anyone else could say anything.
“Seriously, Klaus?” Five, both hands around his mug, was not impressed in the slightest.
The Séance exhaled more smoke, and shrugged; “He said he’d be back.”
“What’s all this I hear, she turned into a boy anyway?” Eremis dared to pour herself half a cup of coffee as well. Mixing in cream, and sugar, she blew on it, brought it up to her lips, and took a drink, relishing the long forgotten taste of it.
“We heard there’s a bird that likes to tell you things.” Klaus was sounding far more drunk than annoyed.
“And are we going to get to meet this talking bird of yours?” Number Five stared up at her with both eyebrows raised.
“No bueno. Not my bird, or my actual decision to make.” Eremis said bluntly; “I can put in a good word for you if you leave a spare key under the register, though. That’s plenty fair.”
“I’ll think about it.” Five’s super smug, tight-lipped smile gave her chills on top of her goosebumps.
“Don’t mind him. That’s his; “I’m a crazy, psychotic, sixty-year-old assassin,” face.” Sensing her discomfort, the Séance disarmed his other adopted brother.
“Sorry, what?” Eremis almost spat out her coffee.
“Yup. And don’t you go and forget it.” Five raised his mug in a mock toast, and downed the rest of its contents. Klaus improvised an ashtray out of his equally empty bottle, and also got out of his seat.
“… Safe to say, we’re all caught up for now.” He was wobbling as he went from bar stool to bar stool but, to Eremis’ surprise, didn’t fall over again.
“Why? Are you going to chase after Ben?” She joked.
“Of course not. I’m following you back to Cirxci.” He said without a shred of sarcasm or irony in his voice.
“That’s wonderful. You do realize our spaceship exploded, and the Maestro devolved into a swarm, right? He’s a thousand times worse than Viv.” Eremis, beginning to panic for real, didn’t budge; “There’s literally probably over a thousand of him flying around right now.”
Undeterred, Klaus finished rounding the bar, and waited for her to step up; “This is your Void first, Eremis. You know the rules apply to everyone. Even you.”
Speechless, Eremis glared daggers at him until, giving in, she took his outstretched hand; “I hate you. So very, very much.”
“No, you don’t.” Was all he said.
“No. I really don’t.” She waved goodbye to Five, who dumped what coffee was left in the sink, rinsed the pot, and his mug, put them away, switched everything off, and promptly teleported… Presumably to home base; “Alright, ready?” Klaus nodded, grabbing her other hand. In unison, they both opened up their channels; in a matter of seconds, the Void had fractured, and fragmented into millions of multicoloured cubes. Hanging in negative space, the cubes spun around on themselves, and reassembled into the Ezramatheia’s slanted vestibule;
“What a fantastic trip.” Klaus’ smile had widened; “Hallway’s a little cramped, though.”
“Told you the floor wanted to go on a date with the ceiling.” Her stomach in knots, Eremis hoped to make light of the situation; “I should be in there somewhere.” She gestured towards the Maestro’s suites; “I’m going to go reboot. You stay here… Just to be safe.”
“Just to be safe was why I fell into the Void, and followed you here.” Klaus was exaggerating and they both knew it, but he nonetheless turned his back while she crept through both sets of sliding doors, unsure of what she would find. A quick, preliminary examination revealed the Maestro’s dead host, and her unmoving frame… But not much else.
“… Hey… You know that bird you brought up?” The Séance’s voice floated up from behind her.
“Ten minutes ago, why?” She glanced back to find he was standing in front of the elevator.
“You might want to hurry it up, and come see this.”
“… Remember I also said the Maestro is a thousand times worse than Vivian?” Eremis mumbled to herself; “…Suppose I’m there with my key in my wrist because I’m not buggy…”
“I’m… Going.” She called. She hastened towards her frame, sat inside herself, and proceeded to force her eyes open for real; “There isn’t a universe that exists where this wouldn’t suck.” She kept talking to herself. It did suck. Getting up was slow, moving was clunky, and everything above her neck felt stiff and sluggish. After what felt like half an eternity, she found her clothes laying by the fireplace, picked them up, put them on, and walked back out to the vestibule. Klaus did a double-take when he saw her; “You look different.”
“Thanks. Mordred built me how he wanted me to look, not how I actually look.” Her frame was shorter, skinnier, and had no discernible, “female,” attributes. Her chestnut hair was waist-long, her fuchsia eyes glowed red when she was angry, and self-regenerating nanotechnology meant she’d never have a single scar ever again. It was a relatively far cry from the twenty-something-year-old with the shoulder-length red hair, the blue eyes, and the noticeable curves she had while standing in the Void; “What about my bird?” Even taking steps felt heavy, and needlessly tedious.
“Take a look.” He moved away from the broken elevator doors. Eremis stood on the edge of the shaft, and stuck her neck out, choking back her shock when she realized who it was;
“Faustus!” She squeaked instead of screamed; “How the hell did you wind up down there?” But, understandably, received no reply. She turned to face Klaus; “Well, the good news is you have, “Bird,” mixed up with, “Plague Doctor,”…” She said; “That said, I am going to need you to close your channels, and plug your ears for a minute.”
“Because I’m not sending you home with tinnitus. Please? It’s just for a second.” She pleaded. Klaus didn’t seem too particularly pleased, but did as he was asked. Eremis waited until he had his fingers firmly attached to his eardrums. She then tuned into their hivemind, found Faustus’ plug-in, connected to his operating systems, and all but actually yelled; “WAKE UP!!!” The response was instant, with yellow dots appearing in the middle of both his thick lenses… But the microphone feedback loops their otherwise disconnected hivemind caused was more than loud enough to make even the Séance flinch with pain. She pulled his hand away from his face; “I am, really, super sorry, Ghost-Boy. I figured you’d be a little sensitive.” She kissed his cheek by way of an apology as they quietly watched the yellow dots expand until they’d lit up the plague doctor’s copper goggles. Faustus automatically got to his feet, readjusted himself, then swivelled his beak in their direction;
“You’re back.” He worded to Eremis through their hivemind as though Klaus didn’t exist.
“I am. Nice to see our Maestro hasn’t gotten to you either.” She felt genuinely happy he’d gotten through the explosive crash in one piece.
“His swarm is out for human blood. I need to go back for Hyde and Basha. Things are out of hand.”
“Understood. Good luck, and be sure to report back.” She saluted, a gesture that was lost on him as he wordlessly dropped into the hole he’d earlier lasered himself, and slipped out of sight; “I love him. He’s so easy to talk to.” She laughed at Klaus’ dumbfounded expression; “We’re not psychic. We’re androids. Imagine having a walkie-talkie embedded in your brain you can never, ever turn off.”
“I don’t have to imagine it. I heard what you said.” Curious, Klaus wandered over to the Maestro’s rooms; “This is super weird anyway. Why isn’t anything broken? And what’s that smell?”
“Nothing’s broken because our alien overlord has abilities no one understands too, and that smell is his dead host bleeding out behind the sofa. Lucky for you, it looks like you’ll be long gone before you’ll get to meet either of them.” The Séance was growing as thin as his waning superpowers.
“Good point. I might have to go back to Vietnam, and see a baby chimpanzee about televator blueprints. Or get Ben to go for me.”
“… Are you still high?” Eremis knew she’d heard him speaking in English, but the words he’d uttered in the order they were in made absolutely no sense to her. He didn’t get the chance to elaborate either, as their conversation was suddenly cut short by someone… or something… Climbing the elevator shaft.
“Sounds like you have more company coming. Want me to scare them off for you before I’m gone?”
“With your whole half a body, and your nerves of steel? I promise they’ll eat you first.” Eremis giggled; “Thank you for bringing me back, though.”
“Thank you for keeping Vanya’s violin.”
“Definitely. Kindly let me know how that turns out.” It was the last thing she told him. Klaus tipped his imaginary top hat; “Catch you later,” he said, and evaporated without a trace. Eremis quickly slipped into the lavatory, and closed the door behind her, unready and unwilling to deal with whatever was about to make an appearance. Faustus’ plan had worked out well enough, but she figured it wouldn’t hurt to make sure she had nothing crawling at the bottom of her own operating systems. She sat down on the cold tiles, arms wrapped around her legs, and rested her chin on her knees; “Better safe than sorry.” She reiterated from somewhere, firing up her debugging programs.
It had already been one hell of a day.
And little did she know it was only just beginning.
(To Be Continued…)