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The Grand Heterodyne Opera (No.1)

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It didn’t matter how well you planned things, there was always something that didn’t go to plan.

But you had to be philosophical about these things, Anevka thought as she adjusted her hair-piece. Things weren’t past repair yet. They just had to find out where he had disappeared to, and remind him of a few things he had obviously forgotten.

The wheels of her carriage didn’t make so much as a rattle as they turned the corner at high speed. Her horses didn’t make so much as a grunt as their padded horseshoes hit the cobbles. You did not make a sound when you were out in the Viennese night. There were laws against it. Strict and merciless laws with draconian punishments and secret police to enforce them.

She heard it just as they turned a corner. Humming. Strange humming that seemed to dampen all other sounds and come from all directions at once. But her servant’s hearing was beyond such confusions. Bufnita’s head swiveled around towards the source of the sound and they immediately turned the carriage down another street.

Up ahead the streetlights were slowly dimming as a lone figure made his way up the street.

Ah good, Anevka thought. We’ve found him.

——

Thoughts were whirling through Klaus Barry Heterodyne’s head. Plots and plans danced with visions of war, murder, and the seeds of tragedies both great and small. Vienna, City of Shadows and Silence, was inspiring like that.

The sound of his heterodyning reverberated through the empty street, a low vibrating hum that made the streetlights in his vicinity dim and go out. It was one of the disadvantages of powering the street lights through sound he supposed.

“Evening Herr Heterodyne.” One of the secret policemen tipped their hat to him as they passed by. Ambiance was very important in Vienna. You could get away with anything as long as you were improving it.

He was so deep in his whirling thoughts that he never saw the carriage coming until it slid to a silent stop, blocking the road in front of him. The two black horses were completely silent as they reared and pawed the air, the owlbear in the driver's seat made no sound as it tried to get them back under control, and neither did the other owlbear leaping down off the back of the carriage and coming towards him, its amber eyes shining in the light from the nearby windows.

Two taloned paws seized him and shoved him into the open door the carriage in one smooth motion.

The sound-proof door shut behind him with a click.

Anevka Strumvoraus sat across from him, dressed to the nines in a red silk dress embroidered in gold thread and jeweled pins holding her elaborate hairstyle together. She looked like she was ready for a dinner party, or a glittering gala.

...Or a night out at the opera.

Shit. He knew he had forgotten something.

“You know,” Anevka opened her fan with a sharp snap. “Considering all the trouble you went to just to get these opera tickets. I wouldn’t think you’d forget about them so easily.”

—-

Cloudy days made the city of Vienna look grey. A dignified masterful grey. Like a master photographer’s perfect greyscale photograph. The campus of the university was certainly no exception. Students crowded the quadrangle. Some were rushing to class, others were lounging in the shade of trees and throwing bread-crumbs to the bats. The bulk of the crowd however was crowded at the tram loop, trying to find a tram car heading in the general direction of their destination.

“He’s the Heterodyne?” Hans asked, pointing across the street to the blonde man standing at the tram stop.

“Yeah,” Anders confirmed. “I didn’t believe it at first, but then I saw him get into an argument with Professor Gildergast over, I’m not even sure, I think it was psycho-emotional harmonics. I don’t know what he did to that harpsichord or what he played on it, but it made everyone in the lecture hall cry. Literally everyone, I was under my desk sobbing my eyes out and I had no idea why.”

The two men’s gaze drifted back to Kay standing at the tramstop, patiently waiting.

“How does he always know which tram to get on?” Anders finally asked. “I’ve been here for years and I still can’t figure it out.”

“No idea.” Hans admitted. “I’ve lived here my whole life and still don’t know which one to take. Just when I think I’ve got it somewhat figured out, we get a snowfall and suddenly all the trams are going different places. He’s here for a week and just like that he figures it out. I asked him once, and he said something about acoustic engines and then gave me this scroll that was as long as my arm filled with calculations. Couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Took it to everyone I knew and the closest I got to an answer was Gillian saying it looked like something to do with calculating the speed of sound.”

“Bah, sparks,” Anders shrugged. “Gods alone know what goes on in their heads.”

Hans nodded sagely at that remark. “The weirdest thing though,” he added. “Is that the trams always stop right in front of his building, and only when he’s on board.”

Kay wasn’t late this time, but Anevka had always believed that preemptive action was better than reaction. Her carriage silently pulled up to the house Kay was boarding at, a respectable but modest place in a respectable but modest neighbourhood. Bufnita, one of her owlbears, climbed down from the driver’s seat and opened the carriage door for her, while Urs, her other owlbear, removed a large covered tub from the back.

Anevka climbed down from her carriage, walked down the short walkway to the door and rang the doorbell. There was no sound from inside the house, but that was normal. The houses of Vienna all sported excessive, and mandatory, soundproofing. Sure enough, the door opened up to reveal the hunched form of Kay’s landlady.

“Good evening Frau Weshem,” Anevka signed. “Is Kay in?”

“Oh yes,” Kay’s landlady signed back. “Come on in dear. Would you like some tea?”

“Yes please,” Aneka signed as she entered the house. Urs slipped in behind her and quickly hauled the tub up the stairs.

One of the advantages of having a landlady who was completely and utterly stone deaf, at least according to Kay, was that he could stay up all night playing music without worrying about bothering her. Anevka could definitely appreciate that advantage as Frau Weshem tottered back with a tea-tray, utterly oblivious to the splash and shriek that had just emerged from her tenant’s room.

“He’s been very excited these past few days,” she explained, emphasizing the excitement with two large loops of her hand. “He got a letter from the Imperial Opera House saying they were going to be performing one of his operas there.”

“That is exciting news,” Anevka signed back in reply, ignoring the sounds of scuffle coming from upstairs. “I’m sure I’ll hear all about it during our stroll.”

There was a thumping coming from the stairs and Kay came down, with Urs following silently behind him. He was wearing the clothes Tarvek had told Anevka to tell him to wear. Good.

“Your lady friend says you two are going on a stroll,” Frau Weshem signed to Kay.

“Yes,” Kay signed back. “The Garden of the Black Leaves has been opened to the public for the week, and Aneka is very keen to see it.”

“You two have fun,” she signed as Anevka rose from her seat.

“We will,” Kay signed as he offered his arm to Anevka and the two of them exited out onto the street.

“So,” Anevka said, once the door had closed behind them. “The Imperial Opera house itself.”

Kay seemed to swell up with pride. “Indeed. Two months from now they are going to be playing Pirates of the Silent Seas at the Imperial Opera House. Finally a troupe with the talent and financing to do justice to my vision.”

“Well,” Anevka said, as she let Kay help her into her carriage. “You’ll have to tell me everything.”

It had been a most excellent stroll. The Garden of the Black Leaves had been most inspiring. Kay had new ideas for future operas dancing through his head, and Anevka had several new ideas as to how she could perfect the shadow camouflage for her umberines.

After the garden they had strolled along the river, and had been greeted by the unexpected sight of a young man trying to busk by playing a particularly tinny rendition of The Last Stand of the Shadow Brigade. Which was thankfully cut off by the quick intervention of officers from the Music Division of the Imperial Secret Police.

Illegally busking outside of the designated busking spots, and without even a busking license, was a serious offence in Vienna. Playing bad music in public even more so.

The way Anevka figured it, if you didn’t want to get dragged off by humanoid bat-vampires in police uniforms, then you shouldn’t draw their attention with bad music. Kay was a bit more sympathetic to the man’s plight, he was his father's son after all. But he also sympathized with the position of the Shadow Emperor of Vienna.

Ones artistic vision was of the utmost importance after all.

After that, they had swung by the Fountain of Turbulent Reflections and had spent a few moments tossing seeds to the water-bats, before getting into Anevka’s carriage to return home.

“Huh? Looks like the mail came in,” Kay remarked as Bufnita opened the door for him outside his house. “Hm? The imperial opera house?” He absently produced a knife embossed with trilobites and slashed open the letter. His eyes scanned the words on the letter. Then his expression froze. “What? Extraordinary circumstances… rescheduling… CANCELED!?”

“What’s wrong?” Anevka held up a hand to stop Urs from closing the door.

Kay’s hands shook. “Some patron wanted them to put on the Tragedy of the Storm King, so they were forced to reschedule their entire performance lineup...”

Sounded like someone was trying to revive her father’s old Storm King scheme, Anevka thought. Probably hoping they could use Tweedle as the puppet, now that her brother was firmly ensnared with Agatha, Gil and all they represented.

“They decided to cancel the showing of Pirates of the Silent Seas so they could fit in the Tragedy of the Storm King!” The letter tore in Kay’s hands. “Those… those FOOLS! How dare they push aside my work for that… that putrid piece of propagandic tripe! HOW DARE THEY! I… I’ll show them, I’LL SHOW THEM ALL! I’ll write an opera, yes, a grand opera. An opera so grand it’ll make them come crawling to me on their purulent knees and BEG! YES BEG ME TO LET THEM SHOW MY GRAND OPERA IN THEIR PUNY LITTLE OPERA HALL!”

Well, Anevka thought. There went any hope of getting him to attend Lady Astrakov’s recital.

People always tended to forget it, but it bore remembering that for all his fixation on opera and the arts, Kay was still a very strong spark and a Heterodyne on top of that. He may have been friendly, but he was not safe. Especially not when he was worked up like he was.

According to Anveka’s sources, Kay hadn’t shown up for any of his classes since he got the letter. But, he had been busy nonetheless. He was up to something, and waiting around for it to blow up was simply not safe.

Of course, Anevka reminded herself as she climbed out of her carriage. It wasn’t safe to be right there at ground zero when things exploded either. But hopefully a quick visit wouldn’t end with her on stage, singing an aria, while wearing a golden breast-plate and riding a stag, again.

“Hello dear,” Frau Wesham signed as soon as she opened the door. “You heard about his opera being cancelled I take it? Shame that.”

There was music coming from upstairs, and the sound of someone singing in a Mechanisburg accent. “How is he doing?” Anevka asked.

“Well he’s certainly hasn’t let it get him down,” the landlady signed in reply. “He’s been busy as a bee since he got the letter. He’s even had his friends from the South Canal Amature Operatic Society by to help him.”

Kay, Anevka recalled, had been kicked out of the South Canal Amature Operatic Society two years ago. As the head of the society had put it, while the performance Kay had helped them put on had been a resounding success, it had also nearly killed them all.

But when she opened the door to Kay’s room, she did indeed find several people she recognized from the South Canal AOS, along with a scattering of folks from the dozen or so other amateur operatic societies Kay had been kicked out of during his time in Vienna.

They were all organized in a loose orchestra, being directed by an almost manic looking Kay, while one of Kay’s Jager guards was singing something about putting people’s heads on our pikes, and their hats on our heads.

“No, no, no,” Kay muttered to himself as the song wrapped up. “No… it needs something more. Maybe if I increase the tempo and…”

“Um Kay,” one of the musicians piped up. “If you don’t need us, can we maybe go get something to, you know, eat?”

“Hm? Oh, oh right. Yes. Go do that,” Kay waved a dismissive hand towards the door. “Let’s meet tomorrow so we can go over ‘Two is Better than One,’ again.” He then went back to muttering over his sheet music, without even noticing Anevka at the door.

He was deep into the madness already. “Excuse me,” she caught the attention of one of the musicians. “How long has he been like this?”

“I dunno,” she shrugged. “A couple days. Since he recruited me for this at least.”

“I thought you said you’d never touch anything made Klaus Barry Heterodyne ever again?”

“Well…” the woman shifted uncomfortably. “He ambushed me after class and started explaining this idea he had for this grand opera and that he needed my talents to make it work.” She shifted again. “He also had this huge death-ray with him. So I didn’t think it was safe to say no.”

“I’m surprised the rest of you didn’t go into hiding the moment you heard he was looking for you,” Anevka remarked.

“I did,” another musician piped up. “He found me anyway. Melted the lock right off my door.”

“You’re lucky,” another person added. “He had his jagers kidnap me out of my bed! They literally yanked the covers off, and threw me in a sack. Th-they were carrying me down the street, and the secret police didn’t even make a pretense of trying to stop them!”

Viennese ambiance, Anevka thought. You could get away with anything, so long as you were improving it.

---

One advantage of having Kay deep in the madness, was that she now had some free time to work on some of her own projects. Anevka wiped a blood splatter off her lab-coat and got back to sawing open the rib-cage off her latest failed umberine. It had come out of the tube stillborn and she hadn’t gotten the time to actually open it up and figure out what had gone wrong. High society could be a real drain on your time.

She had started slicing through the tough fibrous tissue protecting the internal organs, when one of her owlbears knocked on the door. The complicated series of knocks informed her that Kay had just arrived unannounced and that he wanted to talk with her.

“Tell him I’ll be right down,” she called out, stripping off her blood stained gloves and placing them by the autoclave to be washed and sterilized. Better to deal with it now, then give Kay the time to work it into a big problem.

Kay was pacing back and forth in her sitting room like a caged animal. He was wearing a slick black coat that buttoned up his neck. It actually reminded her of an old picture of Lucrezia she had seen once. A real reminder that he was his mother’s son.

Or maybe that was just the look on his face.

“You have to see this Anevka,” he said, the moment he saw her. “It’s brilliant! No one has done this kind of work in psycho-emotional harmonics since they cast the Doom Bell!”

Well that boded well. “Alright, I’ll tell Bufnita to get the carriage ready.”

“Oh don’t worry about that!” Kay exclaimed. “I’ve got a tram car waiting outside!”

Anevka suppressed a sigh of exasperation. Really, Kay should know by now that a lady of her station could not be caught dead on public transportation.

Wait a minute.

“What do you mean you have a tram car waiting?”

The tram cars of Vienna didn’t wait for anything, ever. They just silently glided through the city on their inscrutable routes, stopping at their stops and continuing on. If you missed you tram, you were out of luck. If your tram changed direction on you and missed your stop, then you were also out of luck. They did not just wait quietly in front of your house for you to get on.

Yet there it was. A tram car sitting their patiently in front of her townhouse, its lanterns casting imperially approved amber light on its polished brass adornments.

“Milady,” Kay said, bowing down and holding out his arm to help her onto the tram-car. He let Bufnita and Urs follow in after her, shut the door with a flourish, then hummed two quick notes.

There was this ripple in the air. The street lights flickered and flashed different colors, and the tram slid forward silently. Kay hummed another few notes and the car abruptly switched directions, heading down a side-street in what Anevka recognized as the direction towards his apartment. As they approached an intersection Kay hummed another two notes, there was the same ripple in the air and flicker in the streetlights, and the tram car turned onto a new street.

There was grand displays of power like giant death-rays, armies of monsters, and gold plated cod-pieces. Then there was the great displays of power done so casually and without a thought that they were all the more powerful for their lack of obstenation. Like say, casually hijacking the city’s mysterious transit system for your personal convenience, right in the face of people who had been trying for decades just to figure out how the damn things even moved.

It was very much like Kay, Anevka thought as the tram slide to a silent stop right in front of Frau Wesham’s house. Kay leaped out of the tram and held out his arm to help her down, before rushing to unlock the door.

The good thing about having a landlady that was completely and utterly stone deaf was that you never had to worry about waking her up in the middle of the night. Which was a very good thing, as Kay was making no attempt to be quiet. Anevka followed after him as he thundered up the stairs to his room, and opened the door for her.

The walls of his room were covered in diagrams and plans.

“An opera house?” She asked as she peered at a collection just by the door.

“Mechanisburg doesn’t have a proper opera house,” Kay explained. “I cannot show my masterpiece for the first time if I do not have a place to show it. If Gardok can build a cathedral, I can build an opera house! And this, this will be the center of it!” He whipped a sheet off a large object in the corner of the room to reveal a large silver bell. “Behold! I call it the Deimos Bell! Those that hear it shall experience the fear in my operas as if it were their own! Observe!”

And before Anveka could stop him, he grabbed a hammer and struck the bell with all his might.

The sound cut like a sharp knife through the silence of Vienna.

*DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEM!*

Throughout the city, everyone felt a shiver of fear slide through their bodies. Visitors to the city merely shivered and wrapped their coats tighter around themselves, while locals all looked at each other in shock, and wondered who would dare to ring a bell in the Viennese night.

In the shadowed depts of the imperial palace, a presence stirred.

“That sound…” the Most Shadowy and Illusive Emperor of Vienna breathed. “It… It’s perfect! I must have it! Find whoever did this! I must have that bell!”

“Klaus,” Barry knocked on the door to his friend’s office. “Have your spies alerted you to anything happening in Vienna?”

Klaus frowned. “Aside from the usual petty plots? No. Why?”

“I got a letter from Kay,” Barry explained, showing Klaus a sheet of paper. “He’s requesting that I send him more Jagers to supplement his usual bodyguard. A lot of them.”

“This is nearly an entire company.” Klaus remarked, his eyebrows climbing higher as he read the list of names. “He wants one of the generals too?”

Barry nodded grimly.

“Does he know General Khrizan was the general who came “dot close” to sacking Vienna?”

Barry grimaced. “I thought he didn’t.”

The two men shared a glance. An understanding passed between them.

“I think we should check on him.” Barry declared.

“Agreed,” Klaus was already getting to his feet.

“I’ll tell the town elders we are changing course.”

The secret police were out in force, Anevka noted. Which meant it was probably a good thing Kay hadn’t come out of his house since he showed her the Deimos bell. She had seen officers from the Music Division, the Fashion Division, the Public Light Division, and Divisions she had never heard of. Something had got them spooked and she had a pretty good idea as to what.

Kay was still busy though. The jagers had been coming and going from Frau Wesham’s house at all hours of the day, slinking and skulking about in the shadows in a way that looked more like deliberate theatrics and thus were completely ignored by the secret police.

Viennese ambiance. Anevka shook her head, and turned back to her dissection.

Another umberine had been stillborn and she had yet to figure out why. It wasn’t any type of developmental malformation, at least not any obvious forms of it. Was their ability to shadowmerge interfering with some important biological system? Or maybe the other way around? There could also be a malfunction with the growth tube, she had had Urs clean it out, but it was still possible that some contamination had gotten inside. There was always of course the ever present possibility of sabotage…

Anevka paused. Goddamnit. Seffie could be so petty sometimes. Time for some toxicology tests. She hummed along to the music as she began preparing the biopsies for testing.

Then she remembered that she hadn’t set the sonophone on before she went to work.

”I hear music.” The Castle reported as Mechanisburg approached Viennese airspace. ”I think that is what is confusing the bats.”

“Good to know!” Barry replied, ducking as a swarm of frightened fruit bats barely missed his head. “Have we managed to get in contact with the Shadow Emperor yet?”

“RED FIRE TAKE THAT CONFOUNDED RIDDLEBOX!” Klaus roared, as the door to the communications rooms swung open with a bang.

That was a yes.

“IF HE CAN’T GIVE US A STRAIGHT ANSWER, THEN WE’LL OCCUPY HIS PRECIOUS CITY AND GET ONE OURSELVES! TELL THE DROP CALVARY TO DEPLOY! I WILL DROP WITH THEM AND ENTER THE CITY MYSELF!”

“What happened?” Barry asked, rushing to catch up with his friend.

“That confounded mess of neurosises is pathologically unable to give us an answer that’s not buried in riddles and double-speak.” Klaus snarled. “I refuse to sit around playing games with some jumped up art spark with a riddle complex. If we want to find out what happened to Kay, we’re going to have to go down there ourselves.

“Damnit,” Barry swore. “I was hoping to avoid that. I’ll go with you then. Tell the Jagers to assemble in the drop bay, and prepare to dive. Boris!” He yelled to one of the underlings following in their wake. “Stay on the line with the Shadow Emperor. Try and see if you can get something useful out of him.”

”I’ll arm the Pinata.”

“NO!”

Most people, when they saw Mechanisburg floating ominously over their city, generally felt a surge of primal dread and overwhelming terror.

Kay was so deep into the madness that all he felt was inspiration.

The 1st Geisterdamen Drop Calvary was new, and not fully trusted. But the geisterdamen defectors that made it up were determined to change that. Therefore they didn’t so much as flinch as their spiders leapt from the edge of the launching platform and plunged towards the ground below with only a single silk line keeping them from falling to their deaths.

They barely heard the sharp sound of the woodwinds over the wind rushing in their ears, and most of them missed the dramatic bass drop when they landed upon the rooftops of Vienna. Most of them even missed the second bass drop that coincided with the landing of the second wave of drop calvary.

None of them missed the third.

They were in trouble. The Society of the Black Hand knew it. Klaus Wulfenbach had found out about their conspiracy and was coming to put a stop to them.

None of their sources had told them this, but the music was suggesting that something dark and ominous was coming right for their door. So it was the logical conclusion.

Society members ran frantically, arming themselves with improvised weapons and barricading furniture against the door. The music was getting deeper and more ominous with every second. Suddenly everything dropped. Everyone tensed. Then the door came down with a crash. A great brass clank with a battering ram charged through the broken doorway, scattering the barricade like a children’s block castle and pushing aside conspirators and furniture alike.

And right behind it was Baron Wulfenbach himself. He was almost as unstoppable as the clank. Furniture, people, he pushed them all aside as he charged through the room. Someone even managed to pull a gun on him, only for him to crush it with his bare hands without even glancing over.

The back door to their hideout came down with another crash. “ALRIGHT!” Klaus roared to the troops who poured in after him. “We’ve found an entrance to the undercity! Delta squad take the west tunnel, Borogo squad back them up! The Devil Dolls will comb the north passages, while the Flash Howlers will take the east! The Rainbow Ravagers with me!”

The Society watched in disbelief as all manner of soldiers and monsters poured into their hideout and out their backdoor into the undercity.

“HEY!” One of them yelled. “Don’t ignore us!”

It was chaos in the city. That was the only thing Barry could think as he and the jagers touched down on one of Vienna’s broad main-avenues. The trams were going crazy, rocketing down the street like out of control velocihorse carriages. One had apparently tried going down a narrow alley and was now wedged between the buildings, its wheels kicking up sparks as it tried to keep going. The street lights were flashing and flaring in different colours into tune to the music. The local bats were going nuts, practically filling the sky with panicked swarms that almost mirrored the panicked crowds of terrified citizens choking the roads.

And overlaying it all was the music. Grand, epic orchestral music that brought to mind a grand Heterodyne army that was on its way to utterly crush its helpless opponents. Barry himself had to fight the urge to check that this was not actually happening.

He glanced up at Mechanisburg floating ominously above the city, its fanged searchlights scouring the city streets.

Bringing the town had been a mistake.

“Right!” General Gkika shouted from her spot on top of a statue. “Vi iz never gon to gets a chance to do diz again!”

The column of jagermonsters marching down Vienna’s main avenue singing an off-key version of ‘Sally Six-tits’ at the top of their lungs was not helping either.

The Unknowable and Most Mysterious Shadow Emperor of Vienna was a powerful art spark, and infamous for their refusal to give anyone a straight answer to anything. Besides the fact that they wouldn’t give a humble secretary like Boris the time of day.

So Boris didn’t even bother. Instead he went around the emperor straight to their personal secretary, who was a lot more forthcoming.

“His Shadowy Majesty wants you to turn off the search-lights,” the Secretary relayed. “He says they are utterly destroying the interplay between the building shadows and the natural moonlight.”

“I’m informing the light-crews they need to shut them off right away,” Boris reported. “Anything else?”

“Your city is not broadcasting light from its windows in the required shades and its clashing with the city color scheme.”

Even then, this was going to take awhile.

Barry dodged out of the way, barely avoiding being run down by a tram car. The chaos was getting worse the deeper they pushed into the city. Panicked running had evolved to outright looting, and there was even flames coming out the windows of one building.

He spotted a secret police officer from the other end of the plaza. The officer’s small beady eyes squinted, then went wide. It let out an unintelligible squeak, and sprinted across the plaza towards them.

And ran straight into a lamp-post.

Barry rushed over to the officer, which was picking itself up off the ground. “Are you alright.”

The officer blinked at him, its large ears were twitching in every direction, but it's squished bat face showed no comprehension.

“Are you alright,” Barry repeated, his hands recalling the extensive Viennese sign language.

“Can’t hear,” the officer signed back. “Can’t hear-see. Only hear music.”

It must get around by echolocation, Barry guessed, and the music had rendered it both blind and deaf. “What’s happening?” He signed.

“Someone rung a bell,” the officer replied. “We all heard it. It made us fear. The Emperor ordered us to find who did it and bring him the bell. We started looking, but then this music started to play. We tried to find where it was coming from but it came from everywhere, blocked our ears until we could not hear and could not hear-see.”

Barry had a pretty good idea where the music was coming from. He could hear the undertones of Heterodyning permeating the music. “Come on,” he yelled to the jagers, we need to push on.”

“Vel, ve can alvays drop de pinyata,” Gkika muttered, looking up at the city. “Hy hef alvays vanted to see vot it vould do.”

“Goddamnit,” Barry snarled. “We’re here to save this city, not destroy it utterly!”

The leader of the Circle of Bone and Blood was currently face-down in their carpet while a man in a garish uniform planted a pink combat boot on their back and pointed a nasty looking repeater rifle at their head.

Baron Wulfenbach himself stood in the center of the room, reading their secret correspondence with an angry scowl on his face.

“No sign of him here Herr Baron,” one of the garishly uniformed soldiers reported.

“Red fire!” The Baron snarled. “Damn this city and its infestation of petty conspiracies! Pull out, we’re searching the next hideout!”

There was a crunch of the back door going down. The boot was removed from his back and the rifle from his head, and there was a rush of footsteps as the soldiers followed their leader out the back door.

“HEY!” The leader of the Circle of Blood and Bone called out. “WHAT ABOUT US!?”

The streets had gone quiet as the approached the townhouse Kay had been renting. The only sign of life was frightened and tired faces peering out of windows, illuminated by the flaring multi-coloured light of the streetlamps. Except, as they approached the townhouse, a pair of owlbears (one carrying a pepper sprayer and the other a tub of water.) emerged from a side-street followed by a young lady.

“Anekva?”

“Ah, Herr Heterodyne, good to see you,” Anevka replied, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face. “I thought that was Mechanisburg hovering ominously over this city. You’re here to check on Kay I take it?”

“We were worried,” Barry replied. “Do you know what’s happened.”

“He is working on a new opera,” Anevka replied dryly as she climbed the stairs and knocked on the townhouse door. “Good evening Frau Wesham.”

“Ah Anevka,” Frau Wesham signed, lowering her triple-barrel shotgun. “Good to see you. Is that another purge going on outside?”

“No, Kay’s uncle just dropped by to visit.”

“Ah yes, that explains it. It was like that when his grandpa came by here too. Come on in. Good to see you again Visk.”

One of the jagers waved back.

“Kay’s just in the garden playing music,” she continued, pointing towards the side door. “It's a good thing I had it sound-proofed. He must be playing very loud. I could feel it in the floorboards.”

“Well, then maybe we’ll go out and take a look,” Anevka signed, as she moved towards the side door, Barry following behind her. They opened the door, and were immediately hit by a wave of sound that seemed to vibrate in their bones and tingle in their teeth.

Every single musician Kay had shanghaied into his production was crammed into the garden, arrayed into a full orchestra. Kay stood before them, his face the very picture of manic focus and his arms danced through the air as he conducted them through a musical score that was writing itself in his head as they played.

“Wait,” Anevka held up an arm to stop Barry from going forward. “Not now. Wait for it.”

The music picked up pace, rising to a towering crescendo, reaching a looming climax, then ending with three loud booms from one of the large drums.

Anevka nodded to the owlbear with the tub. “Now!”

SPLASH

Shriek

Mechanisburg loomed over the city of Vienna, dark and shadowed, with only pricks of amber light showing from windows and street lamps. There were even Viennese bats flying over the streets and perching on the underside of statues. Local residents had a feeling they were here to stay. The Castle was thrilled.

All of which meant the Most Mysterious and Obscure Emperor of Vienna was no longer going into hysterics over how this occupation was ruining the ambiance of his city.

“We’ll also be leaving the 2nd Geisterdamen Drop Calvary and the 1st Geisterdamen Twilight Warriors to occupy the city.” Klaus explained, as him and Barry walked down one of the Castle’s hallways.

Barry gave his friend an odd look. “I thought we weren’t going to occupy the city.”

Klaus’s voice was as dry as Barry had ever heard it. “His royal obscureness insisted on it.”

There was only one more thing to wrap up now. Barry let out a sigh and pushed the door to Kay’s room open.

Kay was sitting hunched up in a chair taking delicate sips of the vile concoction him, Gil, and Tarvek had invented when they were teenagers to deal with fugue hangovers. Barry didn’t know exactly what was in it. He didn’t want to know what was in it. But despite that, he did know the main ingredients were kumquat juice, snail eyeballs, raw eggs, and some strange glowing sludge they had scraped off the bottom of the castle aqueduct.

“Uncle.”

“Kay.”

“How bad was it?”

”One of your finest works yet young master.” The Castle interrupted.

“Shut up.” Barry snapped. “They’re still totalling up the damages from the rioting and the streetcar crashes, but the Shadow Emperor is pushing a list of charges as long as my arm. Including, but not limited to, operating a conspiracy without a license, unlawful busking, noise pollution, unlawful incitement of anarchy, tampering with public lighting, interfering with the duties Secret Police, assaulting the dignity of the Secret Police, assaulting the Secret Police with music, operating an outdoor orchestra without a permit, defying the dignity of municipal soundproofing, and finally the utter destruction of the city ambiance.”

Kay winced. Destroying the ambiance of the city. That was a serious charge. The Emperor must be furious. At least his uncle hadn’t gone and dropped the Pinata, utterly destroying the city’s entire aesthetic in a burst of confetti and joyous noise. (Mind you, that would have been a glorious moment in the history of aesthetic warfare.)

“Plus, and I quote, several dozen minor charges of kidnapping, break-and-enter, and threatening Viennese citizens with a death-ray. There is however, one caveat to the whole thing,” Barry continued, “But before I tell it to you, I want to ask one thing. Why did you need an entire company of jagers?”

His nephew blinked. “How else was I supposed to write music for them without a whole choir to work with?”

“And General Khrizan?”

“He’s got that nice rich baritone. He’s the perfect lead singer for Honor of the Horde.”

“Of course that’s why…” Barry let out a long sigh. “Now for the caveat. The Emperor also mentioned that he was willing to drop all charges against you on one condition.”

“Which is.”

“That you make him his own bell.”

The Mechanisburg Council for “Culture” is proud to announce the grand opening of the Mechansiburg Opera House. To mark the occasion, our very own Klaus Barry Heterodyne will be premiering his newest work: the Grand Heterodyne Opera (No.1) An awe inspiring and terrifying tour of the history of Mechanicsburg and the glorious house of Heterodyne. A once in a lifetime performance not to be missed!

Admission will be free (and mandatory) for all Mechanisburg citizens

“You put him up to this, didn’t you.” Tarvek accused.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” his sister replied, her fan snapping open to hide her smirk. “It’s not you he’s talking about. It says so right in the program.”

Tarvek glared at her, and then back down at the stage where Not-Travek was standing on a balcony, singing a sorrowful lament about his lonely life, which was interrupted by Not-Agatha and Not-Gil bursting onto the scene, singing an energetic burst about how Not-Tarvek was “so pretty” before fighting their way across the stage towards the balcony.

A masterfully coordinated assault upon the senses that takes no prisoners and leaves no survivors. A truly grand opera recommended towards anyone with a working sense of sight and/or hearing, and a low tendency towards fearful delusions of doom.

~The Bern Bellower

True to Kay’s predictions, General Khrizan had the perfect voice for opera.

Agatha was impressed as the general took center stage. She hadn’t even known that any of the generals could sing. But Khrizan went through all the notes without once faltering or breaking, not even when the wall of the set broke down and a large monster with a very large and gaping mouth burst through the backdrop.

“And now!” The general sang. “Ve Hunt!”

“VE HUNT!”

There was a scream from the next box over as the jagers leapt out from behind the chairs, grabbed ropes and swung down to the stage to battle the monster.

“Wait,” Gil peered down at the stage. “Isn't that the…”

“I think it is.” Agatha agreed.

“I thought that was still…”

“I thought so too.”

“You don't think…”

“I think he would.”

“It could kill…”

“It's Kay.”

“Right.” Gil reached over a pulled out a pipe wrench, Agatha pulled a death ray out. Both of them grabbed Tarvek and rushed out of the box.

---

A masterpiece of modern opera. I was especially impressed by the use of lightning bolts as part of the percussion section during Act 5.

However the reappearance of the Ommnomvore at the end of Act 12 was entirely unexpected and a complete non sequitur. It was never explained why it should reappear or why Agatha Heterodyne, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, and Tarvek Strumvoraus should suddenly be played by different actors with a different vocal range.

~The Omniscient Omniglot

“I must say,” Anevka said, “Kay’s depiction of the seduction of Andronicus was certainly exciting.”

“That’s one way of putting it!” Sleipnir replied. “I don’t know how he got that past the censor.”

“It’s Kay, this is Mechanisburg,” Theo pointed out. “He is the censor. He could put a full on peepshow on stage and call it fine art.”

“Don’t give him ideas,” Anevka snapped her fan shut. “I just barely got out of playing the Skull Queen of Skral. Just consider yourselves lucky he couldn’t make the Shining Coalition going up in flames any more realistic or literal.”

“Speaking of which,” Sleipnir asked, “How long is this intermission going to last?”

“Depends on how long it takes to get the fire out,” Anevka replied.

Once again the young prodigy Klaus Barry Heterodyne has taken the performing arts in a new and bold direction, when it would have been better off staying on the main road. To be expected from an “artist” who takes grandiosity and bombast as challenges rather than warnings. The Grand Heterodyne Opera (No.1) is not watched so much as cowered from.

I will concede however, that the decision to arm the audience was a fortuitous one. All in all, casualties were surprisingly light

~The Beetleburg Bayer

“Bring the audience into the story he said!” Agatha yelled as she lay down suppressive fire.

Gil fired off a few potshots from behind his chair. “At least you know the expensive seats are worth it.”

A wild ride of emotional highs and lows. KB Heterodyne’s new opera wrings you out like a dishrag while nonetheless leaves you feeling both awestruck and hopeful. KB Heterodyne is a true master at making his audience feel emotion through a masterful combination of music, acting and script. Especially the music.

We have been informed that they will not be featuring the Doom Bell in performances outside of Mechanisburg however.

~The London Times and Space

*DEEEEEEEEEEEM*

The sound cut through the Viennese night like a knife-blade. Everyone, even the geisterdamen stormtroopers patrolling the streets, felt and shiver of fear go through them and huddled deeper into their coats.

In the depths of the Imperial Place, the Shadow Emperor of Vienna stood back and surveyed their new bell tower, and the bright silver bell hanging in it’s belfry.

Perfect.

The one small piece that makes a masterpiece. A counterpoint of sound to emphasize the silence. A slice a fear to make you treasure warm light and warmer company. The Shadow Emperor basked in the ambiance of the City of Silence and Shadow.

It had all been worth it. All the chaos, noise, and colour Klaus Barry Heterodyne had caused, just for the chance to get that bell for themselves.

Suffering was just part of the artistic journey. Artistic perfection was worth any price.