8FOLD: Mighty Medley # 23, November 2015, by Messrs. Brenton, Russell, and Stokes

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat Nov 7 12:52:02 PST 2015

-------------EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS-------------
-------------THE 2014 RACCIE WINNER FOR-------------
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--------------- Editor, Tom Russell ----------------


"Empress of Pages" Part 8
  by Colin Stokes
In which our magical mystery tour makes its long-awaited return. A
quiet, existential moment. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say
that "Let us plan, my library" is the line of the year.

  by Tom Russell
In which a boorish job applicant acquits himself poorly, and loses face.

"Beyond the Fields" Part 22
  by Saxon Brenton
In which angelic reflexes gives Joan the time to weigh her options. On
the appropriateness of fiery swords, and Deidre's continued war on
tropes and cliches.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 21
  by Tom Russell
The mark of the morning-star and the lair of the raven-mocker. An itch
that should not be scratched, and a stolen face.

"Praying Angry"
  by Tom Russell
A mystery explained. A prayer answered, but not by an angel, and a
cruel bargain made, but not by a devil. Six are taken, and six given.

---------------- EMPRESS OF PAGES ------------------
----------------------Part 8------------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Colin Stokes--------------

The Eighth Library had only seen her host cry - this profoundly, at
least - on two other occasions, and neither of those seemed to match
the circumstances here. As was so often the case, she simply waited
for the Librarian to speak, giving her the time and space she needed.
   Two minutes and forty-seven seconds felt like a long time indeed.
   "What have I done?" the Librarian asked out loud, to no one
visible, being the sole occupant of the beachside cave once again. All
of the braziers had been extinguished, likewise the patterned flames
on the floor; the only light now came from diffused reflections from
the cave entrance, the lady's eyes back to their original blue-gray.
"What have /we/ done?"
   -Only what we intended from the outset,- the Library returned
evenly. -Only what was necessary.-
   "Was it? Was it really, I wonder?"
   It seemed an unfinished thought, and so the Library held her
silence as the Librarian wiped her eyes and nose with the sleeve of
her ragged robe.  Sometimes silence was the best option.
   "All our research, our planning, our knowledge - our goals - are
they worth this, my Library? Tell me, is it worth becoming something I
despise in pursuit of something I swore would never drive me to this
point? Even this - /especially/ this?" the lady persisted.
   -You despise authority figures? Leaders, rulers?- It was untrue, and the
Library knew it.
   "I despise /bullies/!" the Librarian spat, with sudden and
surprising venom. "I despise anyone who uses their power to selfishly,
/brutally/ force their own path, and break and trample underfoot
anything and anyone in their way!" She shuddered, and pressed her
hands to her face. "And I fear I am becoming just that, as I continue
down this path. So many daemons to face...  Must I bring them /all/ to
heel? Must this cruel play run over and over, until no more actors
remain to perform the opposing role?"
   -If the script is not to your liking, perhaps it should be rewritten,- the
Library returned after a moment. -I prioritized your safety above all
else, but I never stopped to factor in your feelings on the matter.-
There was another, longer pause, and then: -The last time I made that
mistake was the first time we merged.-
   The Librarian held her silence for a while as well, memories of the
past coming back with sudden vividity. "... That was different," she
murmured softly, darkly. "That was life or death. And you asked my
permission - you offered."
   -This too may be life or death,- the Library returned with a tone
approaching anxiety, -and this time no Maestro, no Pirate Queen will
aid you.  I can depend on naught but myself and my plans, and without
my Legion I fear my plans are imperfect at best. At worst... I fear
much more. Too many variables are yet unknown.-
   "And so out of fear for my safety, you would make me play the part
of a tyrant."
   -I would, and I did,- the Library admitted without hesitation.
-That is your importance, not merely as my host, but as an existence
worthy of protection.- She paused, and then added, -Perhaps I was
overly harsh, and for that I apologize. It simply seemed the most
logical course of action, given the available information. But what
else would you have me do, if not continue what we have begun?-
   Sand crunched softly beneath the Librarian's boots as she made her
way toward the mouth of the cave, the light from outside growing
steadily brighter. "As you said," she began quietly, "I have no allies
as I once did, and that must change if we are to move forward with our
designs. And for both our sakes," she continued a little more evenly,
as she reached the cave entrance, "we must form a new Legion."
   -That will take resources we do not yet have,- the Library noted.
-We can no longer draw on the Collective for material support, which
leaves us bereft of not only technology but also the requisite
biomaterial; that will be more difficult to acquire than anything else
we desire, save perhaps for the Wellspring itself.-
   The Librarian stepped outside into the sunlight, squinting briefly
and taking a deep breath of the briny air, more fragrant than it had
been when she entered this morning. "Then we should look at alternate
solutions," she murmured, continuing up the sandy beach to a pathway
leading up the rocky cliffs. "Something /without/ the biomaterial...
small, agile, cheaply reproducible. Perhaps we will have a limited
Legion, but that will be better than our current state, will it not?"
   -It will be,- the Library agreed. -And if all goes well, perhaps
the daemons themselves may serve us in much the same way.-
   Looking up at the sky for a moment, the Librarian nodded, and
walked on.  "We have time enough to formulate a most thorough plan. So
let us plan, my Library..."

------------------- HEADHUNTING --------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

Sixteen years old, slouches, raggedy sweatshirt with the hood hanging
over his eyes. He's only here because his mother pushed him, that much
is clear.
   "You're probably wondering why we're interested in employing you,"
says Lydia. "I'm afraid it wasn't your... quite artistic resume. It
was your tattoo."
   The boy pulls back his hood and shows her his forehead.
   "Just appeared overnight, yes? Burns a little? You weren't curious?"
   He shrugs.
   "It's called a mancer's mark," says Lydia. "It means you're a
mancer, that you can tap into the mystical energies that bind our
universe together. The mark has other names, too, older names--
usually translated as 'the kiss of Venus'. We used to be a multitude,
in time before time, but there were many who feared Venus and its
children, and so they imprisoned the Old Ones, and magic-- true magic,
deep magic-- died. But now the Lullaby has broken, and the mancers
   She pulls back her sleeve, revealing the mark on her wrist. "Some
of us are more inconspicuous than others, and that's a blessing,
James. Because a mark like yours draws attention. It drew ours,
naturally. But there are others... Magic is not a super-power. It's
something older and darker. There are some who want nothing better
than to wipe us from the face of our Earth. There are even some of our
own kind who seek to put Venus back to sleep. Both think they're doing
the right thing, which makes them dangerous. That's why I'm glad that
we found you the first. The Company is dedicated toward bettering and
protecting mancers from those that would harm or exploit them. Here, I
want to show you something." She pulls the flap of skin out of her
purse. "His name was Donald. A colleague. Someone killed him, then cut
this off the back of his hand, trying to take his power for their
   "His mark's different than mine," says James. "Yours too."
   She nods. "Different types of magic. He was a mnemonomancer. He
could erase painful memories. A gentle soul, Donald."
   "What am I, then? Necromancer? Pyromancer? Fire magic?"
   "Yours is the mark of the bibliomancer."
   "What, book magic?" He screws up his face.
   "Yes," says Lydia. "Anything unusual when you read a book?"
   "Don't read books," he says. "Boring."
   One, counts Lydia. "That's really quite remarkable," she says.
"Usually the gift comes out of one's passion, or, when that's not the
case, it inspires it-- you become drawn to the thing. But you've no
increased desire to read a book, visit the library?"
   "Nah," he says. "Unless magazines count."
   She can guess what kind of magazines from his smile. Two. "Your
gift is exceptionally rare. I've only seen a bibliomancer once
   "What, you about to go on about wasted potential and all that?"
   Three. She gave him a chance. Oh well. "You're obviously not a good
fit. It's not just that you don't read. You have no curiosity. You ask
no questions. For example, you never asked me about my mark." She
touches his face and his body stiffens. "You won't be able to move or
make a sound for what remains of your life, but you will be able to
feel everything that's about to happen. I'd say I was sorry, but
that's not really true."
   She pulls out her knife and gets to work. "Oh, I know, but I'm
afraid that you need to cut it off before you kill the host. Learned
that with Donald!"
   After dropping off the sample and making the usual arrangements for
the boy's family, she washes up. "First time she ever got to actually
scalp somebody," she reflects. "I dare say it was invigorating. That's
what I love about working for The Company. It's always something new!"

-----------------BEYOND THE FIELDS------------------
---------------------Part 22------------------------
-----------Copyright 2015 Saxon Brenton-------------

   The creature bounded forward, howling and slathering, and either
sent startled New Year's Eve revellers ducking for cover or simply
bowled them aside with its weight and momentum. There was screaming,
the first sign of a ripple of panic. Some few who were close enough to
properly see what was going on and could make a guess at what the
monster was started to flee against the press of the crowd. There were
dark rumours about the Hunds created by the Reichsmages and what the
Schutzstaffel used them for.
   None of this sudden sound and fury impressed the angel, Joan Smith.
Her greater than human reflexes kept her from being caught off balance
by the surprise assault, and that gave her the small luxury of a
considered response, albeit a hastily made one. Counterattack, beat
off (or kill?) their assailant and then escape? Or simply run? The
first would mean a public show of force and drawing even more
attention to themselves. And that was assuming that this was just a
random attack. Possibly Deidre's Don't Notice effect would be enough
to keep the two of them from being specifically identified, but Joan
wasn't familiar enough with it to want to take the risk. The second
option would involve being chased through Berlin by a semi-human beast
that was directly attacking them and was therefore obviously
unaffected by any attempts to cloak their presence.
   Joan made her choice and clenched her fists, stepping forward and
striking a knuckle straight into the part-human muzzle of the Hund.
She did not pull her punch, and there was a distinct crunch of bone,
both from the face and the fist. Arrgh! She was going to regret that
later, she as sure, but if she and Deidre were going to be identified
it might be to their advantage to keep the extent of their abilities
under wraps. So, no slicing the creature in half with a flaming sword.
   Deidre wasn't able to take quite so many possibilities into
conscious consideration, but had quick enough reactions that she was
already reaching for her gun when Joan delivered her blow. Then, just
as the beastman was flying backwards and hitting the pavement, Deidre
screamed and pointed back in the general direction from which it had
come. "There's more of them! Run!" she cried in passable German, and
then grabbed Joan by the arm and fled at a diagonal into the crowd.
   Marcus had felt a brief stab of anxiety when the Hund had appeared,
then watched with interest when it became apparent that it had not
been hunting him. Still, he knew that there would be handlers for the
creature - whoever it had once been - and armed backup. By rights he
should get the hell out of here.
   However those two women seemed to know something. Something big.
Marcus had thought that he had the situation worked out and under
control, but unless they were delusional there was some dreadful
aspect to this that he couldn't afford not to investigate. It wasn't
even a snap decision on his part to intervene, just a rapid acceptance
that this was an opportunity that he had to grasp. He jogged forward,
partly wrapped in shadow, and touching just lightly enough upon the
world that he was barely hindered by the thronging crowd that filled
streets. When he reached the two women he briefly ran beside them
before insisting, "This way!"
   Deidre gave him an appraising look that included a hefty dose of
scepticism. Was this a genuine offer to help, brought about by
synchronicity? Or a setup for a double cross and trap? She decided to
play it cool, and replied, "Fine. But don't you dare say, 'Come with
me if you want to live', if you don't want to lose some teeth."

--------------SEVEN 'GAINST THEBES------------------
---------------------Part 21------------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

   Adams stared at the ruin he had made of the injun's borrowed face,
and felt a sorrow in his heart, strange and deep. He kept his eyes on
the carnage as he lowered the gun, then tossed it on the table behind
him in a great show of carelessness. "If I still had my hat, I'd lower
it," he told the corpse.
   "Sentimental fellow," said Peake. "Surprised you've lasted this long."
   Ned Strife cleared his massive wet throat. "You're my man now, Mr. Adams?"
   "I am," said Adams.
   "You know where my brother is, and his posse?"
   "I do."
   Peake broke in. "Tell me where he is. I'll be there and back like
the devil in Nebraska."
   "Well," said Adams, "I know where they are, but not where they are,
if you catch my drift. That is, I know the route, but none of the
names: turn at this funny looking cactus, ride until you can see this
plateau and then a spell longer. So I don't think I can lay it out in
words, though I can surely lead you there."
   "Of course you can," said Ned Strife.
   "Don't trust me, Mr. Strife?"
   "Would you?"
   "Not particularly," admitted Adams. "Though I did just murder a
friend. That must count for something."
   "Not in these circles, Mr. Adams," said Peake. "Don't worry, Ned;
I'll keep an eye on him."
   "As will I," said Strife. "I'm coming with you. With the both of you."
   "I can handle this, sir," protested Peake.
   "What," said Adams, "and have you kill another injun?"
   Strife stepped in. "I mean to see this business with my brother
done. I mean to see it done tonight. Trumpet!"
   Peake's man Trumpet appeared, his lips swollen and puckered.
   "Get Mr. Adams his things," said Strife. "He rides with me
tonight." Trumpet was off. "Jack, you better shut-up my bride-to-be in
the bedroom. Post some of your men as guards. (Not Trumpet.)"
   Adams threw a glance back at the corpse. "We gonna bury him first?"
   "No," said Peake. "I'll put him in my shop. Got a feeling I can
learn quite a bit from a skin-changer."
   Adams shuddered, then went to go find Trumpet.

Skin of Snake woke in wet and bloody darkness, hot and suffocating.
His arms were suspended, bound at the wrists; Peake must've chained
the "corpse" up against a wall. It took but a moment of wriggling and
teeth-gnashing to start a tear between the nose and the mouth, which
became a seam, and then split in two right down the middle like a husk
pulling away. He took half a minute to catch his breath, then stepped
out, naked and raw. He scratched at himself something fierce. He knew
that didn't do nothing but make it worse.
   He did it anyway.
   His whole body was burning, like it always did after he shed a
skin, but it was especially his right ankle that bothered him. He
didn't know why the little circle and the strange little lines inside
it always burned more than the rest. After all, the mark of the
morning-star was the only thing that remained no matter what skin he
   He looked around Peake's workshop, examining the grisly tools with
which the raven-mocker amused itself. He furrowed his brow, creating
several bulging folds. Besides reflecting his disgust, this made it
easier to grab hold of the skin. He yanked hard, pulling his own face
and skin away. He tucked it inside the opened skin hanging from the
   He looked at himself in a dirty, broken mirror, and Jack Peake's
face stared back at him.

------------------ PRAYING ANGRY -------------------
------------Copyright 2015 Tom Russell--------------

Marsha starts praying, soft and humble, but as it always does, it
turns angry. She doesn't mean it to. She knows it's not going to help
her change God's mind if she starts to threaten and curse. But she
can't help herself. She's been praying a hundred times a day for the
last year. Soft and humble has worn her out.
   "You never gave me patience, Lord," she says, easing back into
contrition. "You gave me a lot of things, but patience was never one
of them." Whatever patience she did have had been worn down over this
last year to a raw red little nub. So now the first place she goes to
is anger and rage.
   "My baby girl," she says, over and over again, "my baby girl," as
if those three words were a sort of prayer in miniature. Those three
words were all that mattered any more, all that ever mattered, really.
"Lord, Lord, Lord: my baby girl, please, my baby girl..."
   "How old is she?"
   Marsha turns her head toward the voice. It belongs to a tall white
man dressed in a sort of black suit. His skin is so white it hurts her
eyes, and his suit is so black she can't tell if there are any pockets
or buttons. She is about to say, who the hell are you?, but then she
sees that he has no eyes or mouth. "What the hell are you?"
   "I am not from around here," he says, lifting his eyeless face upwards.
   "From Heaven?"
   "A little farther off than that," he says.
  Marsha feels dizzy for a moment, and when she shakes the haziness
from her head, the hospital is gone. "Where...?"
   "Just stepping outside for a moment," he says. "So that we can
talk. How old is your daughter?"
   "Almost fifteen."
   He waves his white hand over the air. "She doesn't have long. Two
or three..." He pauses for a moment, searching for the word.
   "Oh God."
   "I can offer you something that will extend her life," he says.
"But it has a cost. It's not fair, and it's not right, but it is an
   This is what she gets for praying angry. God didn't hear her
prayers; the devil did, and he's here for her soul. "What is it?"
   "It's in your hand."
   She opens her hand and looks at it. "Is this a...?"
   "It's not a timepiece," says the devil. "It's a time... borrower.
It takes the time from one person, and gives it to another. Potential
chronal energy."
   "You ain't a devil or an angel," says Marsha. "You're an alien."
   "If you like," he shrugs.
   "How much time can I give her?"
   He touches her forehead with his palm, cold as iron. "Six years."
   "The grief," he says gently.
   She nods. "I wish I had more to give her."
   "It's all you have," he says. "I think that's enough, don't you?"
   "She deserves more."
   "Of course she does," he says. "That's why I came. Your daughter..."
   "You don't need to tell me that she's special, space-man. Or that
she's worth it. I've known that. Known it since the day she was born.
I've just been waiting for the rest of the universe to catch up. I
guess today's that day."
   "I guess so," says his voice, and only his voice: he's gone now,
and she's back in the hospital. She doesn't need to ask him what to
do, or how it works; somehow, she knows how it works; somehow, she's
always known.
   She slides the watch over Melody's wrist, and kisses her on the cheek.

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

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