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By Melissa Macunado

* * * Author’s note * * *

This was a request for CSupernova. Eidos may have created a lock, but the fandom holds the key (and, in case of less subtle creations like KLEPTOMANIAC, the screwdriver).

* * *

There are wet footprints, a metal hook pierced through the slimy surface and a fading scent of poppies.

A shape is visible panting through the canopies and rooftops.
- I made it! I can move faster! I can climb faster! I can-

- ...Fall faster too, I assume - a woman's voice from among the hooded figures standing in the shadows a few metres away takes a short glimpse at a colorful puddle of gore making its way down the alley deep below the rooftops after a long scream echoing in their ears. There's a crowd of people gathering quickly around it. The figures seem stoic. They're used to such views pretty well.

- That seems to finish the case of Erin Bitchface - a remark from the calm voice coming from beneath the hood. The robes seem to blend perfectly with the surroundings. - So this is how it ends. A sunrise. How cliche.

- I assume he's going to ride straight into the horizon, correct? - the voice belongs to a middle-aged man, no doubt about it. He speaks with a quirky accent, but nonetheless he's clearly understandable. A woman replies: - I doubt it. His real self hates horses.

The figures seem ethereal, carefully clinging to the shadows which caress their robes. - What purpose did she serve? - a younger male voice questions.
- As an example who we all could become. Everybody needs... detachment. Anger, lust, envy. They drive you mad and leave nothing but a devastated shell of a human being.
- Is it supposed to be like that? Leave all emotions behind you or die? - he insists. The hood of his interlocutor turns in his direction. - No. Nobody asks you to abandon what makes you human, you only have to control it. Gain control and remember what you can become if you fail.

They all turn silent. There's even more ruckus down there. The frail-built robed shape exclaims calmly: - We are done here. Let's go.

She remembers the pale, thin-fingered hand and the grab. The coaldust from coal-carts she used to stay under was washed away with the warm water and the hair turned from pitch-black to blonde. A sudden turn of tides in a metropolis that never sleeps, but she has no illusions. Had her state lasted for a few years more... or months, even weeks, she has no doubt she could have become Erin.

God's grace she didn't.

- So everything went according to the plan? - the fourth figure cuts in. The voice suggests a man in his later fifties. She nods. - Yes, the research we managed to conduct is indeed impressive. First Keeper Magar will be more than pleased with our findings. Nobody got further in this field. Working with you, gentlemen, was a great honour and pleasure alike.
- It was certainly an experience not to be missed. Seeing... him... in so different circumstances... It was kind of a sadistic relief - the middle-aged man makes his confession. There is a slightest movement somewhere in the smallest hood that would suggest a smirk, but you can't be certain. Instead, a sentence breaks the silence.
- Keeper Francesco, I admit he is a pain in our posterior, but I also assume he would say this feeling is somewhat mutual.
- What about... this one? - a question from the fourth person hits the ground. The leader hesitates, but replies: - You must understand it, Keeper Lawrence. Garrett-Proxy is just... a simulacrum. He is not the One. Just like this world. It is a shattered mirror of would-be-if-not and never-was. We all have to keep in mind the laws of the narrative for it is it what shapes the multiverse. We came here to observe the subtle changes in the history. Our universe is a fully developed world and a mirror of worlds. Wasn't it an astonishing experience? To see a world shaped by both the narrative and human greed.
- Why greed?
- Don't you remember? Great worlds are born of passion, anger, fear, desire, even love - she turns silent and then continues: - The average ones are created for the human lust for money, just like this one. If you fail to establish a bond with your creation, it withers and fades away. Remember the experiment the wizards of UU conducted. They created Roundworld. By mere chance of luck, but it managed to survive and thrives on its own. Unlike this one.
- So everyone's is merely a simulacrum? And they'll eventually perish, because whoever called them upon this world... didn't care enough? - the young man sounds startled.
- Yes. That is why we must leave quickly. We cannot let the place remember us, we aren't part of that particular story - she pauses. - Besides, I'm sick of wearing that mask and wig a rat family could happily nest in, drinking bland tea and playing chess all day round. It's been almost a year and a half! Nobody conducted an experiment like that for such a long time and there are reasons behind that.

The other shadows exchange stares that look almost... mischievous? - I dare to say you made a lovely elderly lady - the younger man chuckles. She rises her brow, making her hood move up a bit and reveal a few strands of blonde hair. - You mean a crone. You better stop trying that one, Keeper Kyle, or you may hear that your beggar was a masterful attire. Nearly as skilful as the guard in the underground near the House of Blossoms you played as well.
- Don't start on that one, please. I want to forget the whole episode.
- Horrific as it was, we learnt what despair could the Compound fell into should you all stop cleaning after yourselves - the voice mocks turning into cold steel. The three shadows shrug. - You hurt our innermost feelings! Shall we return now once the research is accomplished?
- Yes, we shall get back soon. I only want your reports of the findings on that Vittori... and Xiao-Xiao. We need to find their real counterparts, they might prove... useful.
- So we pack ourselves before the wretched hive remembers us? - the middle-aged apeaks up with curiosity and chants calmly: - Remember, remember, the Cradle's November...
- Yes. We will soon be back to the world which doesn't fall apart. Where words are treasured as they ought to be instead of making a heartbreaking sight of lying around in shattered pieces. Where the factions are properly paranoid, the Boxmans have a baby, the story is woven naturally and the City Watch never forgets to get drunk. My goodness, I'm beginning to think I'll kiss good old Benny the first time I get a glimpse of him! - she releases a short laugh. - Come on, let's go.

The four figures descend from the rooftops making their way to the abandoned cathedral. Without all the undead, it truly seems lifeless. When they nearly reach the alley, the shortest shadow stops in place and makes a silent gesture. - You're not leaving, are you? - the youngest Keeper by the name of Kyle as the observer could assume sounds anxious. There's a horizontal move of the questioned head. - I only have the last thing to do here. Go first and I'll reach you in a couple of minutes. Prepare the leave and wait for me, this won't take long.

The three men silently agree and make their way. When they are gone, the woman looks up: "The Crippled Burrick Inn" is naught but the mere memory of those thriving taverns of the City. Soon, it will all be over and the surroundings will make sense again. She missed the City, they all did. She kneels beside the damp wall with the propaganda poster, spots a bucket of red paint and grabs the paintbrush. The fluffy tip is soon dripping with crimson. Then she suddenly runs it through her pale palm and presses it hard onto the lying papers, leaving a bright handprint in the middle, just across the deceitful words. She rises up, starts walking away and casting a backward glance at her rebellious sabotage, she smiles to herself. Ideas are spoiler-proof. The times. They are changing.

The last train is nearly due,
The underground is closing soon,
And in the dark deserted station,
Restless in anticipation,
A man waits in the shadows.

His restless eyes leap and scratch,
At all that they can touch or catch,
And hidden deep within his pocket,
Safe within its silent socket,
He holds a colored crayon.

Now from the tunnel's stony womb,
The carriage rides to meet the groom,
And opens wide and welcome doors,
But he hesitates, then withdraws
Deeper in the shadows.

Now from his pocket quick he flashes,
The crayon on the wall he slashes,
Deep upon the advertising,
A single worded poem comprised
Of four letters.

And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding
The poem across the tracks rebounding
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night. Simon and Garfunkel, "A Poem on the Underground Wall"
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