Issue 3: Action, That's How! (A Caper in Time Part 2)

by Evan Forman and Michael Robertson - One Chapter a Week Starting 27.11.16


Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - King Zaedar is Introduced, He Learns of Our Hero’s Exploits in Issue #2, and A Mysterious Force Awakens™ From The Depths of The Ancient Past
Chapter 2 - John Boss - Incredibly - Escapes from "The White Palace of Death”, Shoots A BUNCH of Dudes, and Makes His Way to The Relative Safety of Dryadora’s Coal District
Chapter 3 - Dhubagèl Escorts Aerin Through The Sewers of Dryadora, But Maybe Also His Subconscious? What I Mean is We Get to Know More About This Previously Mysterious and At Points Unsettling Character, and The Subterranean Setting is Associated - in Jungian Psychoanalysis - With The Subconscious, So That Works
Chapter 4 - That Relatively Sedate Chapter Was Just a Break from The All-Important Action! As John Boss and Chel Make Their Way Through The Coal District In Their Attempt to Find Safe Refuge, But Not Without The Police Giving Chase
Chapter 5 - John Boss, Aerin Liette, Dhubagèl Shaen, Chel Hagar, and More are Finally United, and Ready to Strike Back Against King Zaedar’s Brutal Regime
Chapter 6 - The Past 30 Years of Aerin's Life Are Unlived for the Sake of the Plot, by Which I Mean Primarily the Plot of This Book, but Also the Plot Which the Red Hand Formulate in This Chapter, Which - If That Wasn't Obvious to You, Reader - Is a Clever Bit of Wordplay on the Similarities between The "Diegetic" Rebellion's Plot Which Requires Sacrifice, in a Very Fatalistic, Heroic Sort of Way, and The "Non-Diegetic" Aristotelian Plot Structure Which Requires Sacrifice in a Very Ritualistic “High-Maintenance Volcano God” Sort of Way
Chapter 7 - In a ‘Baroque Formalism’ Power Move, Four Conversations between John Boss the 34th and the Three Members of the Dryadora Red Hand Cell Are Intercut with a Scene of Domestic Mundanity, and a Scene of Great Heroism Which Is Also a Flashback into the past of John Boss the 41st. For the Purposes of Light Genre Parody, a Minor Character Has a Silly Name; A Minor Character Waits for a Bus, Which Doesn't Actually Move the Plot Forward or Contribute to The Themeing in Any Meaningful Way, And a Minor Character Mentions Things from Wurld’s past but Doesn’t Explain Them, Which Gives You That Kind of High-Fantasy Texture without the Bogged-Downedness That Comes with Fields of Exposition: All the Flavour of Fantasy with None of the Nutrition, and I Think That's Beautiful
Chapter 8 - The Night before the Operation, Aerin — Overcome by Insomnia — Hides Away in His Study and Distracts Himself from His Fear of Tomorrow's Events with the Comforting Familiarity of His Self-Loathing. Kreida Tries to Comfort Him and the Two End up Comparing Notes on a Relationship Forged under the Crucible Pressures of Mental Illness. It's Actually Really Nice.
Chapter 9 - There's a Flashback to an Episode from Chel Hagar's past with Revealing Parallels to Another Episode from Chel Hagar's Past: Chapter 7 of Issue #2. You Might Assume This Is Our Only Reason for Jumping Back a Few Years in Time, but Only If You Pay Attention Will You Notice That We're Subtly Reminding You of and Expanding on the Sub-Sub-Plot of Dryadora and / or the Whole Elvin Empire's failing Electricity System, Because That's Going to Be Important Later. We Then Seamlessly Transition into the Red Hand Cell's Infiltration of the DTV Station Where the Tapes of What Actually Happened in the Arena Are Kept. Being the End of Act II / Beginning of Act III, Things Go a Bit Skiwhiff and the Chapter Ends on a Thrilling Cliffhanger That You'll Have to Wait 'Til next Sunday to See Resolved!
Chapter 10 - Aerin and Krieda Spend Most of the Day in Dryadora's Pearl District, a Nice Day out Which Is Actually a Ruse by Aerin to Get near the Arena Where the Prime Minister Is Making His Speech. Krieda Is Conveniently Scheduled to Visit Her Parents in the Afternoon, so This Gives Aerin the Perfect Opportunity for a Heartbreaking Goodbye Scene before He Goes to Infiltrate the Press Crowd and Place Lockswell's Signal Jammer on the DTV Van's Satellite. Aerin and Dhubagèl Engage in Some Breathtakingly Suspenseful Scenes of Social Deception, but Are They Wily Enough to Avoid Detection by the Already On-Edge Members of the Prime Minister's Elite Guard? Also, How Good Was Doctor Who Last Night?
Chapter 11 - The Red Hand Defend the Control Room as Their Broadcast Goes out to the World. They Flee, and after a High-Octane Chase Scene They Escape into the Forests. All Hope Seems Lost, but Then They Are Saved by a Mysterious Character from an Earlier Point in the Story in a Way That Is Surprising but, Crucially, Still Made Inevitable by the Aristotelian Clockwork We've Established up until This Point. I Liked This Week's Doctor Who a Lot More Than Frank Cottrell-Boyce's Last Episode. It's Good That We're Getting More Fully-Realised Alien Planets In The Show Again
Chapter 12 - The Twelfth One

58 HOURS, 30 MINUTES, AND 12 SECONDS

"You see that light, Aerin?"

After at least half an hour of the rushing of sewage rapids and the echo of both elves' footsteps, Aerin and Dhubagèl had reached an obscure maintenance tunnel. The only light source buzzed away from a bulb at the end.

They passed through a heavy iron gate which took up the entire height and width of the stagnant, abandoned old tunnel and stopped at a grubby fuse box that was draped with spider webs. Dhubagèl opened it up, pushed his finger through a hole in the wires and pressed a button at the back of the box. "Lovely weather we’re having today." Something beeped, and a section of the wall clicked open. He shut the box. "...said no one in a sewer ever."

On the other side of the door, the ancient brickwork became newer and more slapdash the further they ventured down the tunnel. Both of them bent down at the low ceiling, which was spotted with tiny stalactites, as they huddled towards a dead end. Dhubagèl knocked on the wall.

The wall swung open. "AAAAAAAYYYYY!" shouted the naked man, his richly tan skin reflecting the warm glow of the room behind him. After the initial shock, Aerin noticed a tattoo on his right arm of an orange minotaur.

Dhubagèl turned off his torch. "Really, Mo?"

The man pulled Dhuabgèl into a hug which was visibly crushing the slender elf. "It’s been too long, Dhubagèl! Who's your friend?"

Dhubagèl receded back upon being released. "This is Aerin. Aerin Liette."

The man grinned at Aerin and shook his hand. "Aerin Liette! Dhubagèl has told me so much about you!"

"Really?"

"No,” said the man, his smile dropping into blank seriousness, still looking Aerin in the eyes and still, continually, shaking his hand. “I'm Maurice Lockswell, brother to Winston and Robert Lockswell, son of Albert Lockswell, great-great-something-or-other of Sir James Lockswell."

Aerin, who had - heroically - resisted glancing at the man's penis for this long, looked up at him in quiet horror. "Well, it's...very nice to finally meet you."

"Come in, come in." Lockswell gestured with lean, muscular arms. The room was low, but wide, with two ornamented arches that sprung from the corners of the roof and intersected in the middle. In the far corner of the room, a television buzzed with broken half-images and static opposite an old sofa below wires spotted with little orange light bulbs that hung from the gothic arches like criss-crossing vines. In the centre was a long stone table - like an altar - that stretched half the length of the room, the light casting shadows of the faded names engraved centuries ago in the stones Aerin stood on; likely the names of the builders, he thought, but that reminded him of graves that had been eroded into anonymity by the rain, as did the walls of richly carved coffins that had been slotted into- "Is this a fucking crypt?" asked Aerin.

Lockswell laughed. "Go on, ask me why the last hope for humanity has settled into a crypt."

"You live here? Right next to the corpses?"

Dhubagèl threw a towel over to Lockswell, which landed on a little wooden stool flanked by chunky radio equipment. He picked it up and pulled it around his waist. "This is the basement of a very old church they built in...around about-"

"The deathly, noxious summer of 1191." Dhubagèl whispered, making his way over to a shelf packed with drinks.

"-in 1191, when they were trying to bring human religion to these swamps. The ground was awful, but they thought this would be a good place to build because it was right in the middle of all the villages that would later form the city above us. They tried to wean in the locals with talk of love and tolerance, but soon they warned against witchery, and communion with the swamp's dark spirit. This was not enough, and so they captured a young woman they claimed to have found at an altar of sticks and mud and declared 'tomorrow, this witch will burn'. That night, the rivalry between the villages was put aside. The mothers and daughters of each one gathered around the church and chanted in old Elvin tongues for the woman's innocence. When the monks awoke the next morning, the woman was gone, and their newly-finished church was sinking into the muck.”

A deeply, darkly thunderous voice spoke from another room off to the side. "The beautiful conceit of that tale being that the elves could put the blame either on the ancient and terrible powers of the sons and daughters of the Stag, or the mere carelessness of imperialist cowboy builders." The speaker stepped carefully into view, a snow-white orc with great tusks rising up from behind his bottom lip, nuzzling into the neck of a fuzzy little mole that was sleeping in his arms. Mo Lockswell stepped in between Aerin and the orc. "Aerin, this is Täikur, he's our doctor and...uhm..."

"Spiritual middle-manager for the soul of humankind."

"That."

A shout from the top of a narrow stone staircase: "IS SOMEONE DOWN THERE?"

"The Collisterrans sent a new boy, he's just in with Dhubagèl!" Bellowed Lockswell.

"COMING!" Bare footsteps clapped against the steps that wound down a narrow passage, what must have once been the tower of the church. Lockswell battered a drum roll on a wooden table. "Ladies and gentlemen of the Red Hand, boys and girls, give a big hand for the leader of this cell, champion of the legendary allies of the Lockswell clan, the saviour of Eusogee, the stalker in the nightmares of Collisterran princes, the whirlwind of blood and fire heralded by the first whisper of dissent…” he finished his drumroll, and gestured towards the doorway, arms and hands outstretched. A few awkward seconds passed as the woman came down to their floor, yawning and running a hand through the black mass of tangled curls she called hair. She saw Aerin and forced a polite smile as she sauntered over to him.

“This is Aerin Liette,” said Lockswell.

“Hi Aerin,” said the woman, shaking his hand. “John Boss. Always nice to meet an elf fighting the good fight.”

Aerin’s face did nothing, for a few moments. Receiving no command from the brain, his hand continued to shake hers, and his organs and nervous system more or less functioned as normal for these six, seven, eight, nine seconds of total independence from thought. He tried to process what he was looking at: she was slightly shorter than he was, barefoot with pale legs that disappeared just above the knees under a puffy white dress, raggedy with elegant lace sleeves that looked like they'd been scavenged from a wedding dress. Her small mouth was half-finished with red lipstick, below a thin, twirly moustache drawn in eyeliner pencil. Despite that, her face was most strikingly dominated by the large circle of black glass where her right eye should have been. In this light, Aerin could just about see the nest of rotating circles and lenses housed inside. The only other distinctive detail Aerin could recount: a pin-prick mole on the apple of her cheek.

"What." Said Aerin.

"Um...maybe Mo oversold it a bit. It’s beneficial to have a reputation, but… I just sort of run things around here: making plans, rescue missions, shopping trips. That sort of thing."

The signal from Aerin's brain that told Aerin's hand to let go finally arrived. "Which one?”

“Sorry?”

“Which John Boss are you?”

"What?"

“John Boss the 34th was 200 years ago,” he thought out loud. “So assume ‘a generation’ lasts 25 years, ish. That’s...eight generations. Which is...four plus eight would be...42. But wait, how old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“Right, so that would make you the 41st?”

“The 41st what?”

“John Boss the 41st, daughter of John Boss the 40th, great-great-something-or-other of John Boss the 34th,” nodded Aerin, satisfied. “Right. That’s fine. Hello.”

“I...didn’t know we had numbers now.”

“He’s a big fan, John!” said Dhubagèl, grinning. “He expected you’d be taller. Hairier. Bear-ier.”

“Oh, right.” John nodded. “The name.”

“The moustache threw me off a bit, to be honest,” said Aerin, gesturing to his upper lip.

John paused, narrowed her eye, and stormed over to a mirror. Lockswell exploded with laughter.

“Oh, fuck off!” She tried to rub it off with a finger, spreading a black smudge over her lip. She sighed, turned around and and sat down at the long stone table in the centre of the room, pulling over a large paper folder. “So Aerin, your old cell sent me over your file two weeks ago. If anyone else in this room had endeavored to read it…” she glanced at Lockswell.

Lockswell interrupted. "-you don't know that I haven’t read his file."

"You don’t read anything, in Language classes you always just skipped to the annotations."

"I had a healthy appetite for academic success!"

"Maurice,” she folded her arms and leaned forward. “The only thing you had an appetite for between the ages of 14 and 19 was this p-"

"-LEASE CHILDREN FOR THE LOVE OF ANY GOD WHO MIGHT HEAR MY CRY, WE HAVE VISITORS!" shouted Täikur. He sighed, noticing the mole in his arms wriggling awake. "Shh, shush now, go back to sleep Aleister. I am so sorry Aerin."

Aerin hadn't moved in minutes, his hands glued to his sides. "That's...fine."

Täikur turned around and left the room. "I'm putting Aleister to bed, he's far too young to be hearing this kind of puerility."

Lockswell leaned back in his chair to look at Täikur as he vanished into his room. “You have no right to complain anymore, holy man!” He raised his left hand and flicked a wedding ring. “We’re legit now! You enabled this!”

Aerin didn't think about his cover before the words were out. "You're married?!"

“ATATATAT! No!” John pointed at him from across the table. "Stop. Don't say it. We know. We know it's amusing and inevitable that a Lockswell and a Boss would eventually get married. Life imitates art. You are not original. Maybe when this is over we'll retire to Ludorena and the peasants will fall to their knees at the sight of us. But in the meantime..." She picked up the file and tossed it over to Aerin's end of the table. The cover read 'Aerin Liette, #9230'.

Aerin Liette sat down at the table, inspecting his name and number, trying to get into the character of Aerin Liette. “You’ve read my file,” he said, pulling a confident smirk. “So I probably don’t need to list my qualifications.” He opened the thick file to a blank page. But you get blank inside pages at the start of books, he thought, so he didn’t let this phase him as he casually flipped over to the second blank page. Would ‘Aerin’ break a sweat as he skimmed through to find the first page unaffected by this obvious printing error? No, so he didn’t, as he skimmed through to the end of the file of fifty blank pages.

He closed the file, and placed it quietly back on the table. “Okay.”

"This came from the ‘Drummers Corner’ cell,” said John Boss. “The same place we got that insane transmission this morning. So tell us, Aerin, who are you and why were you sent here?"

"Ah. Yes. The phone call. Well, you see...my..." His eyes widened as his physical awkwardness snapped into the mode of a storyteller. "My mate Ricky, he had...a plan. An plan to fix..." John Boss leaned forward, interested. "...everything. Ricky called it...Operation Mr. Worldwide. Operation Mr. Worldwide was…” he paused, “...an idea. A plan, designed over many years in total secrecy to turn the rebellion's fortunes around. Getting me here was just step…” he contemplated. “Two.”

"What was step one?” Lockswell asked.

“Step one was faking my death. Aerin Liette died in Collisterra. This?" He picked up the blank file. "This was just a decoy, a patsy, a prop. They burned the real file along with my body."

"Why wouldn't they keep it?” Dhubagèl interjected. “Surely they'd want to-"

Aerin pressed his finger against Dhubagèl's lips and gave him a steely, authoritative look. "Sweetie, this is Collisterra we're talking about. Maybe you have room to hoard your little records, diaries, and photo albums here in the big city. But in Collisterra, you die one day, and the planet just keeps on spinning the next."

Täikur ran into the room, bounding over the sofa. "TV!" In a second he'd thrown himself around the little plastic box, fiddling with the aerial at the back. Inside the box, two old elvin men in suits argued in front of an audience.

"CAN THERE BE ANY DOUBT LEFT THAT EUDDNJWEHIDAHDWNAJDJAWOFICWHEHDDI." The crowd applauded as the fallen aerial swung to a good position for a moment. The other elf pointed angrily at the semi-circular table: "HANG ON, LET'S JUST- LET'S JUST CAST OUR MIND BACK THROUGH FFFREPWPPPSSS RECORD IN OFFICE, HE'HE'HEDSBXNULKSPALQQPSOSJDNDNSSWCLOPSOJAJAVVVV-"

Täikur held the aerial high and hit a button. The image switched to a woman with a large microphone staring out from behind the lit glass. Behind her, there was an anxious crowd with islands of police vans dotted around, and even further back the black smoke rising from the Dryadoran Amphitheatre. "-have been told that the situation is still developing. Claims have been made that the explosion was a technical fault with the unit itself." She looked down at a cue card. "DefCorp, the creators of Siran X-01, have already responded and called these rumours 'nonsense'. The Prime Minister is expected to hold a rally outside the amphitheatre this Sunday."

Cut to an old man sitting in a small chair flanked by huge screens and office workers running behind a frosted glass window. "Is there anything more we know about what was going on inside the theatre just before the explosion, if the machine had exhibited any kind of faults before it combusted?"

Cut back to the woman on the soot-blackened street. "While the live television broadcast had numerous technical difficulties in the final minutes before the disaster, eyewitness accounts agree that the machine was working perfectly, saluting the Dryadoran national anthem and giving a bouquet of flowers to two choirboys before displaying a variety of functions in a 'quick and fluid succession'. Due to the murder of the gladiator Bo Krodah earlier today, the match was rescheduled to include an arena human known as ‘John Boss’-”

“What!?” John Boss shot out of her chair.

The signal cut out as Täikur dropped the aerial. "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!?"

Everyone turned around from the TV, as a woman in rotten jeans and a hoodie was carried into the room and placed on the stone table by a colossal man with an eyepatch and a moustache.

"Hello,” said John Boss the 34th, bluntly. "This must be the safe house. Is there a doctor?"

Aerin knocked his chair back as he stood up. "WHAT!? You're supposed to be dead!"

"Unconscious." Boss declared, lifting up Chel’s hand and holding a thumb against the inside of her wrist. "This woman is unconscious and needs a doctor. Who, and where?"

Täikur snapped back into life and rushed over to Chel's unconscious body. "That would be me. Bring her through to my laboratory, what happened?"

"Shot in the shoulder. She was walking and talking for about 30 minutes before she collapsed."

The human and the orc lifted Chel off the table and carried her through to Täikur's room. A few moments after they'd disappeared, Lockswell was the first to speak up. "So we're just not going to question the strange man that just walked in with-" he paused as he glanced at the entrance tunnel, "-without closing the bloody door! How the fuck did he get through those without…” he trailed off as he stormed out into the tunnel.

Dhubagèl had one arm around his chest, the other supporting his chin. "Well, he IS human. It's not like he has much option to betray us. He'd be killed on sight if he was seen by, well, anyone."

Boss the 41st stalked around the table to Aerin. "Maybe Aerin would like to enlighten us all?"

Aerin was silent for a few more seconds. "Isn't it obvious?"

"What?"

He scoffed dramatically. "Didn't you even listen to Brittany's phone message?”

John Boss, without breaking eye contact, pulled out a knife the size of Aerin’s hand from god-knows-where and impaled his name on the file, about a centimeter from the tip of his pinky finger.

"Jingles,” Aerin murmured. “That man is...Jacques Jingles. Codename: Solvent. And the woman is...Stephi."

“‘Stephi’ being codename for…?”

“In espionage, as in fiction, I like to keep things need-to-know. The Drummers Corner cell feels the same way.”

"So they're the ones who are going to solve all our problems, are they? And how exactly might they do tha-"

"Excuse me, where's the armoury?"

John Boss turned around to face John Boss. "Why should I tell you!?"

"Täikur needs something to cut with and, amazingly, doesn't have anything safe to cut with. Did you just glance at that little side door behind the staircase?"

"No."

"Thanks." John Boss ran across the room and through the little side door behind the staircase.

John Boss got up off the table, her eye burning a hole into John Boss' back. "Why would you look there? You expecting a gallery of swords there you medieval fucker? Well there’s just guns and bombs and the one-”

She was interrupted by a huge gasp from the armoury. "Fancy meeting you here!"

John Boss ran into the room and screamed “THAT’S A FAMILY HEIRLOOM YOU DUMB SHITE!” as John Boss strode out of the room, grinning as he inspected the red scimitar of the Doom Pirate Nazir Al-Zahabi. He picked up the backpack from the floor and momentarily looked up. "Hi, Aerin."

"Hello," said Aerin, as Boss returned to Täikur's room with John screaming at him as she followed, leaving Aerin, Dhubagèl and Maurice alone with eachother.

Words from the laboratory reverberated around the millennia-old crypt walls. "YOU THINK YOU CAN JUST WALK IN HERE AND- HOW DID YOU EVEN FIND THIS PLACE? THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE HEADQUARTERS FOR THE ONLY HOPE LEFT FOR OUR ENTIRE SPECIES! BILLIONS OF LIVES DEPEND ON THIS BUNKER'S SECRECY! YOU COULDN'T HAVE JUST MADE A LUCKY FUCKING GUESS!"

"I didn't have to."

"THEN PLEASE, ENLIGHTEN US ALL! ‘HOW DID HE DO IT?’!?"

John Boss the 34th's head popped out from around the doorframe, an eye trained on Aerin. "Footprints in puddles of gunge, a still-active torch dropped in the water, and the faint yet distinctive hint of rum nipping above the general atmosphere of piss. Eau de toilette, indeed." John vanished behind the door again.

Dhubagèl threw his head back and cackled, "I love it!" Lockswell silently glared at the both of them from across the room, then turned and headed to Taïkur’s lab at the sound of the escalating argume-

"WHO DO YOU EVEN THINK YOU ARE!?"

"My name is Joh-"

"JACQUES FUCKING JINGLES. WE KNOW. WHAT A NICE NAME FOR A GRAVE."

Aerin, Lockswell, and Dhubagèl drifted into the lab. Glassware and cups and bowls of powder were scattered all over the workbenches. Täikur took the sword off John Boss. "With all due respect Professor Jingles, a kitchen knife would have sufficed."

John Boss opened the backpack and gave him the first aid kit. "Men of medicine like us should be nowhere without the necessary supplies."

Boss the 41st interjected. "So who's the elf girl? And why is a qualified surgeon dressed like a homeless person?"

Professor Jacques Jingles, Ph.D straightened Chel out on the floor and put her feet up on a stool. Täikur pulled on the sodden bandage and carefully sliced it open with the scimitar. He prepared a bottle of alcohol and a towel from the first aid kit, and picked up a pair of dull forceps.

John Boss the 41st noticed the backpack as everyone else watched Chel anxiously. "What else have you got in that magic bag?"

John Boss the 34th launched from Chel to the bag, zipped it closed and threw it onto Täikur's bed on the other side of the room. "Official business. Nothing you'd be interested in, kid."

"Kid!?" She stood there for a moment, hands clenched into fists.

"I'm old enough to have died long before you were born,” warned John Boss. “Surely this woman's life is more important than your childlike curiosity?"

Chel weakly drew in a breath. "...what?"

John knelt down beside her as her eyes widened in shock. "Just stay still Chel, okay? These people are our friends, you're going to be fine."

Täikur turned her head to face him as he inspected her eyes with a torch. "You've suffered internal bleeding, you went into shock in a delayed reaction from all that adrenaline, which doesn't help with the bleeding, and there are bacteria coursing through your veins that just hours ago were once in other people's bowels."

Just as Chel was about to muster a reply, a bulletproof vest with a police badge was thrown to the floor. Her eyes rolled back to see John Boss the 41st, pointing a revolver at her head from above. "Explain."

The other Red Hand members stood still. Aerin was glued to the side of the room. Only the older John Boss moved even a breath. "Put the gun down, and let me explain."

She pointed the gun at him. "Why? When a stranger walks into my bunker, completely unknown to all but four living souls, carrying a police officer in his arms and a sob story about a bullet, why shouldn't I keep a gun on you?"

"Would you believe me if I told you I was John Boss the 34th sent 200 years-"

She clicked the hammer back.

"-okay, then what if I let my good friend and colleague Mr. Liette explain?"

"Oh," she pointed the gun at Aerin. "And YOU, the one who just...led these idiots right into my-"

John Boss slammed her down onto the floor. Lockswell and Täikur rushed over to the fight, but pulled back when gunshots started bouncing off the walls. John (34) tried to disarm John (41) but Boss (41) was, amazingly, able to counter his attacks. Lockswell dived into the commotion a second too late.

Gunshot.










Two years, seven weeks, three days, five hours, fourteen minutes, and twenty-six seconds ago, John Boss the 34th had slain a dragon. Thirteen years, thirty six weeks, four days, two hours, fifteen minutes, and seven seconds ago he had waltzed in the court of Duke Tiberius with the- One year, seven seconds, twelve years, six hours, he he stolen the heart of a- Two hundred years, eight hours, fifteen minutes and four seconds he saved the town of Ludorena from- the jewel-encrusted- heart of a- crying- YOU NOT YOU PLEASE GODS STOP IT STOP IT HERE I JUST WANT THIS- gallantly venturing out onto the rolling sand dunes with the vigour of his newfound youth- inspected with morbid fascination the hourglass emptying and filling up again when he reversed it- John Boss lit the fuse, and jumped behind the bed. They ducked, and in the most serious of tones the girl said "If this kills me, I am going to fucking haunt you forever". The fuze sizzled.

"I look forward to the compa- no come on we have to go now- NOW! !WON NONONONO You you you're there and you're I'm a gone bakc here rememmememememememememembbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb twelve hours twelve minutes twelve seconds five for three to dark red wine oceans oceans oceans oceans oceans oceans oceans oceans oceans o L L L L L L

About thirty minutes ago, a gun had gone off by accident. What was once a man called John Boss the 34th was now a small mess of indeterminate red chunks, with a puddle of blood spreading from the remaining half of a skull. Aerin ran through the sewers, completely directionless, his head was numb and heavy and he felt like if he stopped he would scream black bile from his burning stomach. There was nothing down there anymore. Nothing in that bunker but meat. Trapped in a foreign, hostile country with only one person left who knew him, Aerin Liette's life was a black hole from which no hope could escape. Out through a sewer grate and up into the cobbled street, a gray-purple sky lit by the first gold of dawn, a slow and icy breeze biting at his cheeks and the bottoms of his ears. He wandered for hours, clinging to only the vaguest sense of location; half-remembered shop signs and particular buildings. It occurred to him that if John Boss the 41st had just killed John Boss the 34th, and John Boss the 34th hadn't yet become the Red Death and founded the rebellion, not to mention been alive to become John Boss the 41st's ancestor; how could Boss the 41st have been alive to kill him, and how could there have ever been a Red Hand bunker to kill him in? Aerin didn't know. He was too exhausted to care anymore.

Aerin reached the riverside and walked until he found a bridge he recognised. Retracing his drive through familiar territory, he wearily climbed the steps of 10 Cadilay Avenue. Krieda shot up off the sofa and had to cling to the doorframe to stop. "So! How was it?" She grinned. She was grinning. At a time like this. The world was ending, Aerin thought to himself, and Krieda Caishead was smiling because he had come home. She put whatever book she was reading on the hallway table and wrapped herself around him. She wasn't looking into his sullen eyes when he mumbled "fine. How are you?" It was an advantage, sometimes, that anyone who knew him knew not to ask what was wrong with him. At times like this Aerin would throw himself into work, and a usefully insurmountable project was about to emerge from the tectonics: the next day, Krieda’s father was diagnosed with a cancer of the bowels.

It was her younger brother that walked her down the aisle of an ancient and beautiful church outside the city. Aerin still basically hated weddings, where demonic relatives dressed up in their best smiles to infest what was allegedly the best day of Krieda's life. Luckily for the both of them, it wasn't. That day came five years later, and her name was Katrìona Liette. She had her mother's smile, the smile at the end of the universe, whose light could escape a black hole such as that morning seven years, two hundred and five days fifteen hours, and fourteen minutes ago; and she had her father's eyes that looked at the world and this time, this time, saw one thing that didn't feel wretched, fragile, and immediately mortal. Then another. And another, and another: his name was Artair Liette before she changed it to Arabella eighteen years later. But that was still to come, and Aerin had tens of thousands of days to spend in streets and supermarkets and parks and fields and cliffside footpaths and trendy cafés, tacky kids’ restaurants and what were once human lands; the bay that devoured Lieopes and the fields where Magnus once stood; the boring, daily solitude of his bathroom and his house, his garden and his study, his study where he wrote nothing for two years since The Incident, but instead devoured the literature of the centuries he’d skipped: his detractors and the precious few who had laboured under his past self’s shadow. And then he sat bored one afternoon, a rare afternoon stolen away from his raucous children, and there it went. A pen raced across a page and didn't stop for four hours. His handwriting looked like asylum scrawl, atrophied from disuse, which meant he had to learn to use a typewriter. Ever-encouraging and quietly assertive, Krieda politely suggested a daily pagecount. It was a small-press magazine that first published him, and he cringed the moment it reached print, but the experience was novel.

His fortieth birthday started with a noisy six-year-old and a noisier four-year-old invading his bed, was spent in a silent amazement that he was actually having a fortieth birthday, and ended with the four of them half-asleep on a sofa watching, of all things, the shite film adaption of Darian Danger, whose ending cleared the obstacle of Darian's death so he could ride off into the galactic sunset with Lucy Lightning, having miraculously - inexplicably - escaped the jaws of a supermassive black hole. Four years later, Aerin and Krieda brought home a puppy, and through all the lovely chaos of a family life Krieda was still able to steal away to her studio and draw and paint and sculpt work that had inflated over the decades with love and awe without its cerebral edge dulling in the slightest.

Aerin Liette would not escape death forever. But today, just today, for this one glorious moment he sat at his desk and looked down from the second-storey window of 10 Cadilay Avenue, a house they never moved from, whose walls gathered a billion, billion little moments too quiet for memory: laughter whose tiny vibrations would reverberate in the atmosphere forever, which would accumulate over miles and months to one day guide winds and stop hurricanes; whispered bedtime stories of knights and demons and worlds saved through song. He looked out the window and watched Krieda and the children chasing an unruly puppy through the garden in which - in the past, in a foreign, hostile country - he thought this would never happen. He was silly enough to think this would not happen to him, if only he clung to the good.

He felt a golden sense of finality glowing within him. The task of his soul complete, Aerin cracked his knuckles and decided it was time to put this sodding typewriter to use.

And we lived happily ever after.

THE END

 

 

 

 

AERIN LIETTE WILL RETURN

IN

CHRISTMAS ON CADILAY AVENUE

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - King Zaedar is Introduced, He Learns of Our Hero’s Exploits in Issue #2, and A Mysterious Force Awakens™ From The Depths of The Ancient Past
Chapter 2 - John Boss - Incredibly - Escapes from "The White Palace of Death”, Shoots A BUNCH of Dudes, and Makes His Way to The Relative Safety of Dryadora’s Coal District
Chapter 3 - Dhubagèl Escorts Aerin Through The Sewers of Dryadora, But Maybe Also His Subconscious? What I Mean is We Get to Know More About This Previously Mysterious and At Points Unsettling Character, and The Subterranean Setting is Associated - in Jungian Psychoanalysis - With The Subconscious, So That Works
Chapter 4 - That Relatively Sedate Chapter Was Just a Break from The All-Important Action! As John Boss and Chel Make Their Way Through The Coal District In Their Attempt to Find Safe Refuge, But Not Without The Police Giving Chase
Chapter 5 - John Boss, Aerin Liette, Dhubagèl Shaen, Chel Hagar, and More are Finally United, and Ready to Strike Back Against King Zaedar’s Brutal Regime
Chapter 6 - The Past 30 Years of Aerin's Life Are Unlived for the Sake of the Plot, by Which I Mean Primarily the Plot of This Book, but Also the Plot Which the Red Hand Formulate in This Chapter, Which - If That Wasn't Obvious to You, Reader - Is a Clever Bit of Wordplay on the Similarities between The "Diegetic" Rebellion's Plot Which Requires Sacrifice, in a Very Fatalistic, Heroic Sort of Way, and The "Non-Diegetic" Aristotelian Plot Structure Which Requires Sacrifice in a Very Ritualistic “High-Maintenance Volcano God” Sort of Way
Chapter 7 - In a ‘Baroque Formalism’ Power Move, Four Conversations between John Boss the 34th and the Three Members of the Dryadora Red Hand Cell Are Intercut with a Scene of Domestic Mundanity, and a Scene of Great Heroism Which Is Also a Flashback into the past of John Boss the 41st. For the Purposes of Light Genre Parody, a Minor Character Has a Silly Name; A Minor Character Waits for a Bus, Which Doesn't Actually Move the Plot Forward or Contribute to The Themeing in Any Meaningful Way, And a Minor Character Mentions Things from Wurld’s past but Doesn’t Explain Them, Which Gives You That Kind of High-Fantasy Texture without the Bogged-Downedness That Comes with Fields of Exposition: All the Flavour of Fantasy with None of the Nutrition, and I Think That's Beautiful
Chapter 8 - The Night before the Operation, Aerin — Overcome by Insomnia — Hides Away in His Study and Distracts Himself from His Fear of Tomorrow's Events with the Comforting Familiarity of His Self-Loathing. Kreida Tries to Comfort Him and the Two End up Comparing Notes on a Relationship Forged under the Crucible Pressures of Mental Illness. It's Actually Really Nice.
Chapter 9 - There's a Flashback to an Episode from Chel Hagar's past with Revealing Parallels to Another Episode from Chel Hagar's Past: Chapter 7 of Issue #2. You Might Assume This Is Our Only Reason for Jumping Back a Few Years in Time, but Only If You Pay Attention Will You Notice That We're Subtly Reminding You of and Expanding on the Sub-Sub-Plot of Dryadora and / or the Whole Elvin Empire's failing Electricity System, Because That's Going to Be Important Later. We Then Seamlessly Transition into the Red Hand Cell's Infiltration of the DTV Station Where the Tapes of What Actually Happened in the Arena Are Kept. Being the End of Act II / Beginning of Act III, Things Go a Bit Skiwhiff and the Chapter Ends on a Thrilling Cliffhanger That You'll Have to Wait 'Til next Sunday to See Resolved!
Chapter 10 - Aerin and Krieda Spend Most of the Day in Dryadora's Pearl District, a Nice Day out Which Is Actually a Ruse by Aerin to Get near the Arena Where the Prime Minister Is Making His Speech. Krieda Is Conveniently Scheduled to Visit Her Parents in the Afternoon, so This Gives Aerin the Perfect Opportunity for a Heartbreaking Goodbye Scene before He Goes to Infiltrate the Press Crowd and Place Lockswell's Signal Jammer on the DTV Van's Satellite. Aerin and Dhubagèl Engage in Some Breathtakingly Suspenseful Scenes of Social Deception, but Are They Wily Enough to Avoid Detection by the Already On-Edge Members of the Prime Minister's Elite Guard? Also, How Good Was Doctor Who Last Night?
Chapter 11 - The Red Hand Defend the Control Room as Their Broadcast Goes out to the World. They Flee, and after a High-Octane Chase Scene They Escape into the Forests. All Hope Seems Lost, but Then They Are Saved by a Mysterious Character from an Earlier Point in the Story in a Way That Is Surprising but, Crucially, Still Made Inevitable by the Aristotelian Clockwork We've Established up until This Point. I Liked This Week's Doctor Who a Lot More Than Frank Cottrell-Boyce's Last Episode. It's Good That We're Getting More Fully-Realised Alien Planets In The Show Again
Chapter 12 - The Twelfth One