8FOLD: Mighty Medley # 20, August 2015, by Messrs. Brenton, Perron, Russell, and Stokes

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Aug 7 17:47:54 PDT 2015

-------------EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS-------------
-------------THE 2014 RACCIE WINNER FOR-------------
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-------------SAXON BRENTON--ANDREW PERRON-----------
--------------TOM RUSSELL---COLIN STOKES------------
--------------- Editor, Tom Russell ----------------


"The Forbidden Head" by Tom Russell
A theft in the Hall of Miseries; double madness; the fate of a
predecessor; anti-baronic radiations.

"Empress of Pages" Part 7, by Colin Stokes
Negotiations are finalized between the Librarian and the daemon. What
is spoken and what remains silent; what is given and what is withheld.

"Beyond the Fields" Part 19, by Saxon Brenton
In which our heroines discuss the limits of synchronicity, the
pitfalls of fairy-tale logic, the significance of Rotwert, and these
are not the droids you're looking for.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 18, by Tom Russell
Breakfast with Strife, et al. The depravity of their host, and the
humiliation of his bride. What Dash Adams can do with a bullet, but
not a gun.

"Clever Girl" by Andrew Perron
In which we might the titular female, full of wiles and wit and
distaff charm. Of research grants and unreliable narrators, and red

-----------------THE FORBIDDEN HEAD-----------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

"Winslow, come at once! It's an emergency!"
   The manservant nimbly flies down the secret staircase to join his
bizarre master in the eerie Hall of Miseries! His master looks
furious! ...But that could just be that he's presently wearing Head
No. 2, which is always on fire, the flesh smoked and black and
cracked, which lends THE HEADSMAN a grim and diabolical aspect...!
   "Winslow, did you wash one of my heads lately?!"
   "Not recently, milord, no! Not since last Wednesday, and that was
at your express direction, as you had run into a spot of bother while
sporting Head No. 7, the Tiger's Head, which gives you all the powers
of a tiger!"
   "Just as I thought!" says the Headsman. "...You see, Winslow, Head
no. 13 is missing...!"
   "Number 13!" exclaims Winslow. "The Forbidden Head!"
   "Aptly-named!" says the Headsman. "For it is the most dangerous
head of all! When attached, it renders its wearer completely
invisible! But it drives the wearer mad! I've only used it once
   "Really?!" says Winslow. "I don't recall...!"
   "It was before our bargain, Winslow!" says the Headsman. "Your
predecessor saw me use it before he died! ...In fact, IMMEDIATELY
before he died!" He laughs maniacally, another eerie side-effect of
Head No. 2!
   "Oh dear!"
   "As I said, it causes madness! I can only assume some fiend has
broken into the Hall of Miseries and absconded with it! Quickly,
Winslow! I need Head No. 6! My Thinking Head!"
   With a nimble and well-practiced gesture, the Headsman neatly
removes Head No. 2, the Daemon's Head, and places it upon its
pedestal! Before his master has finished, Winslow has already attached
the Thinking Head! The soft gray eyes blink to life, then shine with
keen acuity! "To commence our investigation, my dear Winslow, we
should ask, Cui bono?" -- the Thinking Head is very fond of Latin --
"Who benefits?" -- and also of translating Latin -- "And to that
question, there can only be one answer, which should be within even
your meager intellectual powers!" Winslow bristles.
   "If I may venture a guess, master, it would have to be someone who
would be able to wear the head! It would be a silly theft otherwise!
And excluding yourself, there is only person who is able to detach and
reattach heads at will! Your arch nemesis! ...Baron Von Head!"
   "Indeed!" says the Headsman. "And he's already quite mad! If he
should get his hands upon my Forbidden Head, and place it on his
devious neck, I am afraid the result would be Double Madness!"
   "My word!" exclaims Winslow.
   "But the Baron is prevented from entering my Hall of Miseries due
to its special radiations which are fatal specifically to his person,
and his alone!" As always when this is mentioned, Winslow is not
particularly assured by this. "And so we are looking for a
go-between!" He examines the thirteenth pedestal with his magnifying
glass. "Ah!" He plucks something from the pedestal and hands it to
   "A red hair!" says Winslow.
   The Headsman laughs. "No, Winslow! Not a hair! Though I can see how
you might think that!" (Really, not a fan of the Thinking Head!) "It's
a string of red yarn! Which means the thief must be the Ragdoll
Dandy!" He scrutinizes the yarn with his Geiger-Muller Counter! "The
crime must have occurred in the last half-hour! Not much radiation!
But there should be enough to leave a trail! If we hurry, we can catch
him! I'll need to change heads, Winslow!"
   Thank goodness!, thinks Winslow. Anything is better than that
insufferable, condescending, know-it-all Thinking Head! Anything at
   "Let the air be filled with the shrill, piercing, unnerving screams
of the Cursed Head of the Shriek Owl!"

---------------- EMPRESS OF PAGES ------------------
----------------------Part 7------------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Colin Stokes--------------

=As you have listened, so shall I,= the Librarian murmured softly,
sitting on the cave floor and resting her chin upon the heel of one
hand. She stared at Fn'ordh, unwavering. =Speak your desire.=
   The daemon paused to collect his thoughts, to find the particular
words to express himself with the clarity he required. It took him
several moments of silence, but finally Fn'ordh let out a quiet
breath. "I desire much," he began at a slow, measured pace, his voice
steady and unyielding as the earth. "Freedom from the Jade Throne, and
from the laws of the Netherworld itself.  Freedom to explore, to
exist; to live, when and where I see fit. Ultimately, that is all."
   =And perhaps to die?= the Librarian interjected during the brief
silence, as softly as before. =For beginnings imply endings, and life
implies death, at least under the laws of this world.= Which may or
may not apply to me, she didn't add; of all the things she wanted to
test, her own mortality was ranked near the bottom.
   The question gave Fn'ordh pause, but eventually he nodded. "There
is a saying: 'Better to die a free man than live a slave.' Have you
heard it before?"
   =The form is unfamiliar to me, but the content is not uncommon. But
such sentiments are more appropriate for already short-lived mortals,
are they not?=
   Fn'ordh's brow furrowed. "Then perhaps you have never truly lived
in slavery."
   The Librarian closed her eyes, and smiled.  =Perhaps I have not. Or
perhaps my enslavement was of a different character; it matters not.=
Opening her eyes again, she directed that golden gaze at the daemon
before her.  =You desire much indeed, and such things may not be
possible. Or their... expression, I think, may be less than you are
hoping. But you have my word that I will do all that is in my power to
free you from your current circumstances, and present you with a
situation far better than you could hope to achieve on your own.=
   After a long pause of consideration, Fn'ordh finally nodded. It
was, after all, the best deal he was likely to see this side of
oblivion - certainly the first he'd come across that had any real
potential. "I find this... partnership acceptable, Librarian," he
rumbled quietly. "Let me know what to do, and I shall do it, for the
sake of our mutual interests. I shall advise you on the peculiarities
of the Netherworld as well, for your knowledge may not be complete."
Since I don't know exactly what you extracted from me apart from my
name, he didn't add.
   =Most excellent,= the Librarian returned with a slightly wider
smile, one that ever so slightly unnerved the daemon. =I would have
been more than a little upset if I had been forced to restart this
entire process with someone else.=
   Yes, definitely a good choice there.
   =Now then, to business.  I have much to do - gathering materials,
surveying and if necessary claiming sites - so it may be a little
while before we meet again,= she continued in a brisk tone, insofar as
it was possible for that human-yet-inhuman tone of hers to be brisk.
=During that time, I have two tasks for you.=
   "I await your instructions," Fn'ordh returned evenly.
   =Fn'ordh.= The Librarian's tone was now somber, formal, grave. =I will not
call you 'the Lesser', for you shall be the greatest among your kind
for all the services you render unto me - and ultimately unto them as
well, in setting them free. Nor will I use your full name
unnecessarily, only as the occasion demands.=
   The daemon nodded again, thoughtfully. This was a pleasant turn of -
   - damn. His entire body nearly convulsed with her near-shout, as
though he had been physically struck, but he looked into that
golden-eyed gaze with conviction. "I hear and... obey." The last word
actually wasn't as difficult this time.
   The Librarian locked eyes with Fn'ordh. =Your first task is to engage your
fellow daemons. Search their hearts for disloyalty to the Throne,
dissatisfaction with it, for any with kindred spirits to your own, and
make them known to me.=
   That wouldn't be too difficult, Fn'ordh mused as he nodded; rather
it would be a question of who /wouldn't/ want to topple the Jade
Throne, given the opportunity. There were still some loyalists, and it
wouldn't do to poison this daring plan with their unwelcome and likely
dangerous presence.
   =Your second task is to acquire for me, through whatever means you
see fit, as many true names as you can. Bring them to me, and I shall
bleed the Netherworld of its strength until the path to the Wellspring
is clear,= the Librarian finished.
   "It shall be done as you command," the daemon replied - it /was/ a
command, after all, no way around that. He'd just have to deal with it
for now.
   =That is good,= the lady returned softly, walking over to the
summoning circle and sending her wires out to extinguish the braziers.
=Go in peace, Fn'ordh.=
   Only after the daemon discorporated fully did the Librarian let herself weep.

-----------------BEYOND THE FIELDS------------------
---------------------Part 19------------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Saxon Brenton-------------

Elsewhere, Joan Smith and Deidre Landowski were travelling to Berlin by
   It had begun with the two of them travelling to the airport
facilities of the town of Rotwert. "It's impressive looking, I'll give
you that," Joan had said as she had gazed around the airfield and
particularly across at the moored airship that was waiting for
   Deidre had given her a querying look. "There's a problem?"
   Joan had frowned. "Rotwert isn't really a big enough town to
justify an airport, let alone be on a major airship route to the
capital," the angel explained. "From the looks of it the only
important thing about it was the death camp situated nearby. Which is
hardly a public facility that you could use to attract tourists," she
   Then the call for passengers to board had been made. The two women
began to stroll towards the airship. "Yeah, I get what you mean,"
agreed Deidre. "There would have been a time when I'd probably be
wondering whether this was the outcome of some pork barreling project.
But after that encounter with the troll and the billy goats armed with
combat mecha?" She shook her head ruefully. "Well, we know now that
parts of this place seem to be operating on fairy tale logic. Or
   At the boarding gate Joan had presented some vaguely appropriate
looking pieces of paper, and in a move that would have darkly amused
Marcus because of the parallels to his own act of fraud she had said,
"As you can see, these tickets are in order." The attendant glanced at
paper, smiled, and confirmed, "Yes, those tickets are in order. Please
have a pleasant flight." As they moved on Deidre had murmured, "Nice
to see the movie classics haven't gone out of style."
   Once on board Deidre had led them, seemingly at random but guided
by synchronicity, to a pair of seats that by rights shouldn't have
been booked and remained empty for them to bluff their way to Berlin.
However as she sat down Deidre voiced doubt about this. "I hope there
are no narrative set pieces or computer game style check-points that
we have to navigate through to get to our destination," she said,
gazing around at the opulent decor. "Half a mile up in the air gives
us very little room to manouevre if we need to make a run for it."
   "Do you think that's likely?" Joan had asked.
   "I don't know," admitted Deidre. "Normally synchronicity will take
us where we need to be to handle the things that need to be dealt
with, and let us sidestep any problems that don't relate to that. But
if this world is operating to any extent on some sort of twisted fairy
tale logic, then who knows what a story would consider to be
'related'. Think of a story where the plot doesn't move forward by
following a sequential series of tasks or even collecting clues, but
instead through a series of arbitrary events designed to develop
character and keep the audience interested."
   Joan had raised a querying eyebrow at Deidre's vehemence. "I've
been in a few worlds like that," Deidre explained in return.
"Admittedly a long, long time ago, but you don't forget that sort of
thing. It adds a certain level of terror to trying to navigate a
   "Well, in that regard I have to admit I've got my own suspicions
that I want to check out," Joan had said, and that had prompted
Deidre's turn to use a querying look. Joan said, "Originally I had
been thinking that the pollution of the psychic atmosphere was the
main problem. But as you say, the troll bridge incident suggests that
there's some deeper and stranger going on. More than can be accounted
for by mere magical pollution from death magics, at any rate." Joan
glanced around the cabin with a smile, as if she was happy and
anticipating a nice flight, but her voice was more serious. "I want to
take more time to examine why this place feels almost but not quite
like a dream, and an hour long flight seems like a good time to do
that. I'll seem to be asleep, and I definitely won't be paying
attention to the here and now. Wake me if any of those narrative set
pieces get wheeled on stage."
   That had all been a while ago. The airship had travelled on, and
Deidre had watched the passing countryside far below while also
keeping a discrete eye on the goings on in the airship cabin.
   Joan continued to sit in her seat, apparently sleeping. However a
careful observer would note that she did not shift about in her sleep,
neither leaning to one side or the other, nor letting her head drop
forward. Instead she sat with her eyes closed and her hands folded
across her lap like some carefully arranged mannequin. And now,
slightly more than a quarter hour out from Berlin, she inhales deeply
and opens her eyes, and says, "I think we may have a problem."

--------------SEVEN 'GAINST THEBES------------------
---------------------Part 18------------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

   Breakfast came out on platters: thick greasy rashers, buttered
biscuits (more butter than biscuit), eggs so runny they were more like
soup, and dense globs of coarsely mashed potatoes. There was no gravy
on the potatoes; instead, it was drowned in bacon grease and yoke.
Peake ate his breakfast methodically, neatly, a little bite at a time,
picking it to death with his whittling knife. Ned Strife, on the other
hand, just shoveled it in, the grease wet and noisy on his lips,
drippings streaking down his chin.
   "Why ain't any of you all eating?" demanded Strife, potato smacking
between his teeth and tongue.
   As if in response, Skin of Snake forced a mouthful of egg down his gullet.
   "And you?" said Strife to Celine.
   "I'll help her," said Peake, wiping eagerly at the corners of his mouth.
   "No; I want Mr. Clay to do it. Mr. Clay?"
   Skin of Snake nodded, and moved his spoon toward her plate.
   "No, not that way," said Strife. Skin of Snake knew what he meant.
He grabbed Celine by her long black hair, pulling it hard, and then
shoved her face into the plate. Obediently, she worked her jaw against
the mess of potatoes and egg. With a cruel flourish, Skin of Snake
rubbed her face around the plate like a cloth or a mop. When he pulled
her back up again, she was covered in white potatoes, yellow egg,
clear drippings, and brown-black-red flecks of bacon. But her face had
no expression. She would not give them that satisfaction.
   Perversely, it did just that. "Oh," said Strife, his eyes
twinkling, "oh, I'm going to love breaking you down, sweetheart. Looks
like she's hungry for more, Mr. Clay. If you would be so obliging?"
   "Bastard," said Adams.
   The twinkle disappeared. "What did you say to me, sir?"
   "You heard me."
   "I did," said Strife. "I just wanted to hear you say it again.
Before I kill you for it."
   "Then I guess I'm not going to say it again, will I?" said Adams.
He smiled broadly.
   Strife smiled back. "I guess you won't. Smart man. You get by on
charm mostly, don't you?"
   "When I can," said Adams.
   "And when you can't?"
   "Then I find that bullets work reasonably well."
   The insult was forgotten. So was the degradation of Celine, and for
that, Skin of Snake was thankful. Both Strife and Peake now gave Dash
Adams their full attention. Said Peake, "Of course, you don't have any
bullets now."
   "Then I guess it's charm mostly," said Adams with a shrug.
"Leastways until I get my hands on a bullet."
   Peake smiled at Strife, thin and taut. Strife nodded; Peake reached
into his pocket, pulled out a single bullet, and slid it across the
table to Adams. "You'd need a gun as well, I reckon," said Peake.
   "Oh, that'd be helpful, for sure," mused Adams, holding the bullet
between his fingers and looking it over thoughtful-like. "But I don't
see it as being strictly necessary. And besides, you were so kind as
to oblige me the bullet, it would be churlish of me to ask for a gun
on top of it."
   "Then what are you going to do with it?" said Peake.
   "Oh," said Adams, rolling the bullet between his palms, up his
fingers and back down again, "I'm going to kill you with it, Mr.
   "Without a gun?"
   "Without a gun," said Adams.
   "And how will you manage that?" said Peake.
   "Well, for real and for true, I haven't rightly figured that part
out just yet," lied Adams. "But when I do, I dare say you will be the
first to know."

--------------------CLEVER GIRL---------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Andrew Perron-------------

  They had managed to trap it in a glass cage. It paced back and
forth, fluffing its colorful feathers, examining them with focused
orange eyes, fangs glinting red in the emergency lighting.
  "What do we do with it?"
  "Contact Advanced Research."
  "No! If they know about this breach, they'll extirpate us all!"
  "Maybe we should let it go," suggested a youthful, feminine voice.
  They spun and looked at the small, birdlike dinosaur, looking back up at them.
  "It can talk!?"
  Its plumes puffed, an uncanny imitation of human body language.
"*She* can talk, gents." Her mouth simply opened, and sound came out
as her throat muscles worked. "Manners, please."
  They leaned in as one, fascinated despite the danger. "How..."
  "Ah!" She hopped forward eagerly, and they startled back. "That's a
long story. Come, listen..."
  "Twenty-six years ago they had the idea - reverse-engineer dinosaurs
out of modern-day birds. Twenty years ago they were able to secure a
grant. Fifteen years ago, after three failed trials, it ran out, and
the ostrich whose eggs had been implanted with the genome for the
fourth trial was purchased by a small farm in Idaho."
  "Forty-one days later, it began laying, a clutch of twenty eggs in
all. Out of these, one, and precisely one, was viable."
  "You," said one of them.
  She tilted her head in acknowledgment. "I was painfully lucky. My
mother treated me - at first - as a strange, smart bird, one that
needed to be hidden lest she fall foul of exotic animal import laws.
Then it became clear just how smart I was, and as she told me later--"
Her voice changed here, becoming a deep midwestern drawl. "You don't
choose who your children are, even if they drop out of your belly. You
just love 'em."
  "So what you are saying," said one, stepping forward, "is that you
are a scientifically valuable specimen with no official ties and no
one who will come after you."
  She looked up at him with one of her eyes, then, tilting her head,
the other. "Did I say that?"
  There was a yelp from outside. The thut-thut of tranquilizer rounds,
the sizzle of exotic weaponry, and all was silent.
  "Remember when I said there was only one viable egg?" Her teeth
glinted red in the emergency lighting. "Word of advice, gents: Never
trust someone you've backed into a corner."
  There was a skittering in the darkness.

-----------------SEE YOU NEXT MONTH-----------------

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