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𝚃𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚐𝚜 𝚊𝚛𝚎 𝚗𝚘𝚝 𝚊𝚕𝚠𝚊𝚢𝚜 𝚠𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚜𝚎𝚎𝚖;  

𝚃𝚑𝚎 𝚏𝚒𝚛𝚜𝚝 𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚗𝚌𝚎 𝚍𝚎𝚌𝚎𝚒𝚟𝚎𝚜 𝚖𝚊𝚗𝚢;  

𝚃𝚑𝚎 𝚒𝚗𝚝𝚎𝚕𝚕𝚒𝚐𝚎𝚗𝚌𝚎 𝚘𝚏 𝚊 𝚏𝚎𝚠 𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚌𝚎𝚒𝚟𝚎𝚜 𝚠𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚑𝚊𝚜 𝚋𝚎𝚎𝚗 𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚎𝚏𝚞𝚕𝚕𝚢 𝚑𝚒𝚍𝚍𝚎𝚗.  

 

~𝙿𝚑𝚊𝚎𝚍𝚛𝚞𝚜

 


If you'd asked any of the residents of Noring what they thought about their town, they’d tell you it was rather mundane with all things considered. True occasionally, the odd werewolf, elf or witch would move in, and then there was that one time when that banshee that had decided to make its home in the town hall (nobody slept at all the week it took to find an actual exorcist to take care of them.) But other than that, the town was fairly peaceful.

 

The way a town should be.

 

Well, it was barely a town at that. Had they had one or two less houses there, the place would’ve been classed as a village. But, as it was, the town had started to grow (slowly but surely), in the past few years much to the surprise of the locals. In the end, they’d accepted this population growth the way one accepts a growth spurt, and had welcomed the new people with bright smiles and gifts ranging from bouquets to actual bags flour (“How was I supposed to know you wanted that kind of flower, Margret?”)

 

One of the first people to move into the town was Mr. Attwood, a nice enough fellow in his late forties that had decided that city life was a tad bit too tiring and he’d needed a well deserved break. He’d gotten on quite well with the locals and had managed to speak with about three quarters of them within his first week of living there, most of which being in the park where he enjoyed to walk his dog (“He’s called Fluffy,” he’d explained when asked the name of his dog. After being given a funny look, he’d told them, “That’s what happens when you let your 4 year-old niece name a dog.)

 

Then came Miss Carlyle (“Oh, no need for all of those formalities, Tiffany is just fine!” ) a woman in her early twenties who was first approached by Claud Nash, the town’s appointed face of the welcoming committee due to his outgoing personality. Between his and Tiffany’s colourful auras, suffice to say, they’d gotten on like a house on fire. Quite literally, considering the two were involved in a house fire (the only casualties being a sad pair of potted plants, and an oven that needed replacing, pronto.)

 

Then came another couple, and then that family and-

 

Well, you get the picture. 

 

As far as the residents were concerned, Noring was that pleasant town which just got on with its business, never attracting the attention of unwanted creatures such as demons (apart from that one banshee.) 

 

Of course, being the kind of inviting town it was, that’s exactly what happened.


Timothy Bradwell (known to his friends simply as ‘Tee’ because Tim is so twentieth century guys really ) was the first person to meet the ‘demon’. 

 

Being the kind of person he was, he hadn’t said no to his mother when she’d asked him to go to the shops and pick up a carton of milk, bread and a few other things which he may or may not have forgotten what they actually were.

 

He’d been so distracted in racking his brain for what exactly it was that he’d been sent to get there, that he’d completely forgotten to look where he was going and ended up walking straight into someone.

 

Embarrassment washed over him with all the force of a tidal wave as he quickly dusted himself off (force of habit, not necessity), hand out to steady himself from his bout of carelessness. He looked up, turning around to apologize to whoever he’d bumped into (hopefully not Mr. Pierce, he’d never let him live it down and would still be giving him lectures on watching where he was going through until his afterlife), before his mouth promptly clamped shut and the apology died in his throat. 

 

He was… not what he was expecting.

 

A snappily dressed man, possibly only a few or more years older than him in his twenties, suited up in what had to be the fanciest outfit he’d ever seen on a person (and he’d watched a lot of victorian era dramas — though that was mainly his mum’s doing, and the lack of T.V stations.) Heck, he even had a top hat on… just where was this man even going?! A funeral? 

 

After standing idly for what must’ve been the best part of a minute, it dawned on Timothy that the stranger was waiting for him to say something. So say something he did, though admittedly it wasn’t the brightest statement he’d ever been caught saying.

 

“You’re… wearing a suit?” And wings and floating tophat, but nevermind all that brain, go straight to the formal wear.

 

The suit guy arched an eyebrow, though the quirk of his mouth showed he was clearly amused. As if he’d unknowingly given this strange man exactly what he wanted. “ Mhm , it would appear so.”

 

 (A small part of him was glad he was amused rather than angry, though he had no idea as to why.)

 

“... Any reason why?” Tee asked, slightly shaken and with all the curiosity a teenage boy had to offer. This was a valid question, no person around here had any need to dress like that. Mr. Pierce always wore tailored clothes like that (though the reason behind it surpassed him since this man was a grocer), and even then the clothing wasn’t so… flawless. It seemed as if not a single speck of dust or dirt had ever touched its impossibly matt black fabric in its lifetime, if it were possible.

 

The man waved an arm in dismissal, chuckling in a way that felt it was missing a certain edge to it that Tee couldn’t quite explain. “Well how else am I meant to lull people into a false sense of security whilst I con them? Well dressed people always seem trustworthy.”

 

Tee blinked, blinked again because there was no way he heard that right, and made a beeline to the exit, spending the rest of the day wondering whether or not the guy had been a mere hallucination. That was, in between the shouts of his mother that he “hadn’t even bothered to go to the shops at all.”

 

The only time he stopped questioning his sanity was when he caught on with his mother’s gossip. Apparently, she’d heard from someone, who’d heard from someone, and regarded it all as complete codswallop.

 

“Can you believe these people Timothy?” She said in passing, taking a sip of coffee from where she sat. “A guy naming himself Alcor? Are people really that deprived of news here that they’re making stuff up? I’ve never heard the likes.”

 

Tee’s mind immediately flashed back to last Tuesday.

 

“Uh, yeah. I can. Told you I ran into a weird guy down the road.”

 

His mother spent that evening washing coffee stains from her shirt.

 


As it had been said, the stranger who’d moved into number 666 Starcroft lane did, indeed go by the name of Alcor T. Dreambender. What’s more was that no one could actually recollect there ever being a house of the number 666, much less were there that many houses on the lane. By any case, this newcomer was a strange soul indeed.

 

But the townsfolk did as they always had, and welcomed this new (if odd) man with open arms. No questions asked. Sure, he had his peculiarities and okay he shared a name with an infamous — but completely irrelevant in given context — demon. Just meant that his parents had a sick taste in humour and should've never had kids in the first place. Barbie Cue could sympathise.

 

And that was that.

 

Until along came two.

 


Alren had led a life in the city ever since the ripe old age of being pulled from his mother’s womb, pixies would absolutely ransack your bins if you’re not careful, and rubbing an old lamp you found at a garage sale is never not a bad idea. These were just facts of life, normal things, the kinds of things you go about your day and think for a second, ‘oh yeah, that exists’ and just carry on as you were. 

 

Except, until one of them was very much not ( and he’s not talking about the lamp one here because he knew a guy who knew a guy, and let him tell you, that mess wasn’t pretty.) Considering now Alren was at the ripe old age of being a supposed functioning adult, it meant he needed his own house now, aka ‘‘you can’t stay cooped up in your parents’ house forever Renny.’’

 

So yeah. That’s a thing. A very, very problematic thing.

 

A very, very problematic thing that, by the luck of chance, may not be all that problematic at all. In fact, Alren would go as far to say “that’s too good to be true.” Mainly for the reason that it absolutely was.

 

Here’s the thing: according to the will of his dearest, recently deceased great aunt Rivika, he’s got a house now. A rather countryish house that’s nothing what he pictured because in what world was a fairytale cottage anything like a rundown apartment with a busted boiler and high tax fees. Now, here’s the other thing: directly after receiving the news, his only response he can give is “ Excuse me, my great aunt who ?” Because up until this point he was hardly even aware of the existence of a great aunt named Rivika, much less was to the knowledge that she’d left a whole entire house to him.

 

(Turned out he’s got some other cousin named Alren, but that guy’s got a house along with a wife and kids to go with it, so he’s sure this guy won’t be missing much. Uh, oops? Snooze you lose?)

 

So. He had a house. In the country. Slightly easier than planned. Result?

 

Well yes, but actually no . There’s a reason he was looking at tacky apartments and it began with an ‘M’, ended in a ‘Y’ and contained the letters ‘o,n and e.’ If someone thought he could afford upkeep on this floral fantasy, they were sorely mistaken. 

 

“Holy chicken pot noodles my guy, you’ve got a what ?” Myles — the sorely mistaken person — said because 1) this guy thought he could create new trends and was absolutely failing and 2) Alren just recounted this exact tale in about two hundred less words.

 

“A house Myles .” He threw out his hands, giving him the most ‘done’ look known to man. “I’ve got a house. Not some sort of — I don’t know — pet dinosaur you’re making it out to be.”

 

Myles shrugged. “Eh, had one of those. Ate the couch. Was a good idea at the time but, eh, last time I’m buying a pet from Daveslist.”

 

(This was very true, and Alren had very vivid memories resurfacing about the whole ordeal. One such involved an exceedingly close shave with death as his head was almost bitten off. Not. Fun.)

 

“Last time you’re buying a pet ever I think. Did you even look up the dietary requirements for that thing?”

 

“Hey, hey!” Myles rebuffed defensively, holding out his hands as if that would prove anything. The only thing it did prove was that the guy had annoyingly long fingers to his own little stubs. “It was never not said Benjy could eat chocolate. And he ate it. Fine.”

 

“Sure, sure,” Alren said, wanting to get off this topic as quick as possible, not because he agreed with feeding dinosaurs chocolate. Don’t do this at home kids! “But my house, Myles! My house! How the everloving heck am I gonna afford that? I can’t just pull up money from my pockets.”

 

“I mean.” Myles leaned forward from his side of the couch, a knowing look twinkling in his eye that spelled nothing but trouble. “You could . Davis did.”

 

“And Davis now has a pair of jeans he can’t use, unless he wants to be crushed by a waterfall of money. No I’m not bringing back that damned genie.

 

“I mean. I’m just saying .”

 

“Saying nothing.” Was this guy crazy? Was this his entire life, surrounded by a bunch of madmen? “You’re not saying anything! Nope, nada. Not hearing it. Or any of your ideas, actually. I’m off to find someone who gives genuinely good advice .” And he’d have gotten away with it too, another reality, another timeline, sipped tea because this was all a thing of the past except-

 

“Aw! Come on man, don’t be like that.” There was the sound of movement as Myles picked himself off the couch, reaching him seconds before Alren could scream ‘Hasta La Vista’ so loud Alren’s neighbours would come around to take up a complaint. “Guess you don’t want me to offer to room with you then.”

 

He froze, not entirely sure he heard him all that right. Was there something in his ears? The connection to his brain going haywire? Just-

 

What?

 

Come on,” Myles stretched out his words, like a child goading you into giving them some ice cream. Except this wasn’t ice cream, it was bigger, far bigger and- damn . He really was in the mood for ice cream now. “Like you said. It’s got, what, two rooms? You, me. It’s perfect!”

 

“Perfectly not happening .” He could have laughed. Pure. Insanity. “Me? And you rooming? You couldn’t even share a house with your father without complaining. What part of this spells ‘good idea’?”

 

He watched on as Myles sighed. Hand on his temples as he adopted what had to be the most serious look he’d ever seen on this man’s face. That and exasperated. “Look, buddy. Pal. Mi amigo. Right now, I’m basically your only option.” Not true. Barbara, for one and- he’s sure he could find help elsewhere. “Go ask the others, sure , but I can guarantee you they won’t offer you a sweeter deal than this. You need to afford this place and, lucky you, you’ve got a guy who just so happens to need a house and wants to help out. I say go for it, but, eh. It’s your call.”

 

The “I’ll think about it” was very reluctant, but a response all the same.

 

Spoiler alert: he did. Long and hard, after the failed attempt with Barbara because she loved her cats too much to part with them, and he loved his sense of smell too much to risk allergies becoming her roommate stroke housemate stroke cottagemate (stroke whatever the heck the correct term was because he’s too stressed out to think.) Thought through the realisation that he’d tried walking out of his parents’ house and leaving Myles there, over the night, into the morning, over breakfast with mum and a plate of pancakes. But he came to a conclusion. A rather, ‘I’m seriously going to regret this’ conclusion.


“I can’t believe we’re roommates!” Came a shout through his phone that night, loud enough to burst his eardrums and loud enough to hide his own noise of disapproval. 

 

It wasn’t that he held anything against Myles (except that one time he poured milk before cereal, the heathen, oh, oh and ate straight off the floor because he can’t forget that ), really, he loved the guy, it’s true. Without him, he wouldn’t be able to afford upkeep, and he’s absolutely grateful for that. It’s just, Myles .

 

End of discussion.

 

“Okay, yes,” Alren admitted once Myles had finished calming down, “I’m kind of excited too. Just no surprise pets. I’m allergic to cats.”

 

“You’re allergic to fun, that’s what.” He did not appreciate the holographic tongue sticking out he received . Plain rude. He should have just stuck to voice call. “This’ll be great.”

 

“No I’m not! What I’m allergic to is getting dragged up into whatever trouble you’re in.”

 

“Wow man, that’s a lot of allergies.” Myles was anything but sympathetic. “So, where’s this place again? Not too far from here, right? Within driving distance?”

 

“Not too far, no.” Alren pulled up the details on his phone and swiped them across. “About an hour out. Noring.”

 

“Noring?” Myles' lip curled up into a smirk, not that it had to travel far when his resting face spelled trouble. Alren had seen criminals less suspicious. “I dunno, sounds pretty… boring .” 

 

Alren’s look was flatter than the bike he had hauled up in the garage. Rolled over a rock and hadn’t bothered replacing the tyre since. A shame considering this was just the type of conversation he wanted to roll out of. “Because they obviously haven’t heard that about a thousand times before.”

 

“I’m snoring .”

 

“Then go to sleep.”

 

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

 

“Then say what you mean .”

 

Myles huffed. “Pfft, fine spoilsport.”

 

“Spoilsport?” Alren blinked, then peered closer at Myles with his eyes all scrunched up. “We’re not doing any sports, though.”

 

“I know, weird term. It’s old.” Myles shrugged, before jumping back to the point. “ What I mean to say is: I’ll get out my car and we’ll go for a road trip. Off to the number one tourist spot in the world: Boring !”

 

Alren coughed. “Noring.”

 

“Eh, I meant what I said.”

 

After a lull in conversation and a goodnight from both ends, Alren was plunged into silence, the brightness of his screen his only thing light as he lay out, flopping back onto his bed, creaks and all. He was in for one hell of a ride, that was for sure. Living with Myles would probably end up turning that cottage into one of those tacky apartments anyway (making a mess, yada, yada, yada, when will you learn to pick up after yourself kind of stuff, I’m not your mum ), but he was willing to take the chances. It’s not like he could just back out now anyway.

 

Bit too late for that. 

 


Fun fact of the day: Myles was a good gardener and Alren, who had known him for the past decade and known none of this, couldn’t fathom how they’d never broached this subject. Maybe their flowers wouldn’t end up wilting like desert plants under him after all?

 

They were in the middle of unpacking when Myles had started obsessing over the floristary — to his great surprise — throwing out just about the name of every single plant they’d passed offhandedly, just like it’s common knowledge or something to know the latin for ‘Catmint’ was ‘Nepeta Longipes’.

 

“Well it’s not exactly a cool new pair of Mike trainers I can show off, right?” Myles eyed him for a curiously long time. “I didn’t think you’d care this much.”

 

“Not really, I guess I’m just surprised you haven’t blabbed yet.” If there was one thing Alrin could say about the guy — of which there were several — secrets with him didn’t stay secrets very long. You could ask Barbara, it was her sweet sixteen that got ruined.

 

“Wow, rude.” Myles sulked, looking for every bit like the child he was. His top lip jutted out like so. “That’s just- wow. I’m cancelling this friendship.”

 

“And getting yourself a new house whilst you're at it?” Alren couldn’t hide the smirk in his voice.

 

“... I’ll renew the subscription. Just this once.”

 

“You’ve been saying that since the very day we met.”

 

“Oh don’t be so smug,” Myles chided, bringing out the bag his favourite comeback, “If I’m out, you can’t afford the house.”

 

“And you don’t have a place to stay… unless you move back in with your dad.” From the way his face fell, Alren knew the card he played was a winner.

 

“Maybe I'll room with Barbara, yeah? You asked her, didn’t you?”

 

“Have fun with cats climbing up your face in the morning,” Alren said as he turned out the doorway, taking his time to savour the creeping annoyance from his cottagemate. Sweet, sweet victory. 

 

Now, he looked around, to work with the unpacking .

 


Did he really only own three pairs of jeans? Was this why his mother told him to go out shopping more?

 

Alren winced. If he wore pyjama bottoms out, would people think to notice?

 


 

The fact that the townsfolk were so welcoming was kind of creeping up uncanny valley here. They’d had the cottage for about three days at that point, and almost half of the neighbourhood had come to give them their welcome, leaving gifts from candles to champaign glasses, to flour ( ????? ) Was this the tight knit country experience, because if so, he didn’t know how he felt to a whole community judging him. At least in a city, if you accidently bumped into a man, you’d walk your separate ways and (hopefully) pray never to encounter them again. He could only rest easy knowing after everyone had forgotten about welcoming him, he could book a date with the empty bottom of a wine glass all the while smelling like ‘hope, dreams and love’ (whatever in the world that candle smelt like. With the dreams he had at night, not very pleasant .)

 

Marza’s the most memorable one. Simply because he made his stress levels skyrocket to about three galaxies out.

 

Alren had previously left Myles to all the talking, adding in a ‘mhm’ here and a ‘yeah totally’ there whenever called for it. Guy could really run his mouth when he wanted to, and for once, Alrin was grateful for it, seeing this being directed at others rather than his poor, unfortunate self.

 

Marza’s the outlier of all this, because why not torture him so? The universe heard his pleas and accidently doubled his troubles rather than halving them, since this woman, oh this woman, as nice as she was, just had to be best buddies with his dearly departed great aunt River. Rivika. 

 

Same difference.

 

“I’m so sorry for the recent departing of Rivika,” She said upon entry, in the most stereotypical old lady voice he’d ever heard someone utter, “Oh, she must have meant so much to you to give you this cottage. And what a beautiful one it is, too.”

 

Alren coughed awkwardly, here being an actual woman who knew his supposed great aunt whilst he, for one, did not. “Ah. Um, yes. I miss her very much.”

 

He cringed at how scripted that sounded. Perhaps Alrin should’ve taken drama club whilst he still had the chance. As it was, he’d filled his freetime with creative writing instead. Not that he regretted it. But.

 

“I know, my dear, I know. If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m always here.” Marza’s voice shook a little, taking a breath so wheezy he idly wondered if the poor soul was about to keel over. Thankfully, she did not, for all appearances stronger than the leaf in the wind she so made herself out to be. “The house on your right.”

 

Gult tugged at his throat, grabbed at those heart strings and tore them right out like they had no business being there in the first place. Alrin swallowed. “Thank you.”

 

(He later had to ask which right. As he was standing facing his house or coming out of it. A story that’s neither here nor there.)

 

Marza’s gaze was then onto him, focused and squint as if she was the hawk and he the prey, an increasingly uncomfortable position to be pinned into. She was looking for something in him — heaven knew what , or hell considering that wasn’t the look of any angel — judging if he was the type to steal sweets from the local shop or something , but whatever it was, he couldn’t quite be sure. What he was sure of, was that he clearly lacked it. Marza scrunched her brow, before shaking off whatever thought had plagued her.

 

“You’re not what I expected,” She admitted at last, no trace of malice in her words, or anything he could put a finger on, but it made him uncomfortable all the same. It wasn’t often people had expectations of him, usually they had none at all, but he always somehow managed to lower them nonetheless.

 

Alren hoped she’d elaborate.

 

And elaborate she did.

 

(To which Alren realised, he was silly to have hoped for that at all.)

 

“She’s told me so much about you! From all those pictures… I assumed you’d be taller. And, hmm , more blonde.”

 

“Oh,” His voice caught, not for the first time for the day. People out there using fishing nets when things caught in his throat just fine. This, this was even worse than keeping up the ruse he knew his great aunt, this was entering territory of impersonating his cousin that’d been left the house. His very, heh, blonde cousin as it would so seem. “More blonde?”

 

“Hmm, black is an odd colour to dye blonde hair to.” Her squint left as her eyes brightened, quite in the way one would with a metaphorical lightbulb flashing over their head. “Unless of course that’s mood dye.” Marza laughed, drifting into a memory lane, rough at the edges, scratchy as heck from used vocal chords, but recognisable enough. “I used to have that, quite the trend back then. Why have hair one colour when you can have them all! Of course, it’s telling considering the dye picks up auras , if you were in front of your crush you had no luck. But, heh, fun stuff… you're also more tan than I expected. Been anywhere hot lately? Heard the Bahamas are nice this time of year.”

 

Between unpacking all of that , and subconsciously running a hand through his hair, Alren could only muster up a nervous chuckle, “The Bahamas are nice any time of year.”

 

Marza scoffed, rolled her eyes and pointed her nose out as if she’d eaten a particularly chewy sandwich — as Alren had often done, just less scoffing and eye rolling involved. Maybe some nose turning. “Not with those sea serpents they’re not.”

 

“Oh, I guess.” Not that he’d know, holidays usually consisted of ‘let’s visit all this family you don’t know’, only for it to be extremely ineffective considering the one member he did need to know about wasn’t someone he was even aware of. A + holidays those. “Uh, what else did she say about me?”

 

Maybe he could get some pointers? Be believable? Lie to an old lady as if that wasn’t the most deceitful thing he’d ever done?

 

(It’s not. Far from it, but hey, wasn’t as if he was gifted in the art of foreshadowing future events. Not like particularly showy demons or authors who knew too much plot for their own good.)

 

“Hmh.” There was a moment, just a moment where Alren thought Marza would put two and two together, point a finger like ‘aha! You imposter’, cart him away to the authorities like the living fake he was. That’s the thing about people taking to darn long, your brain gets ahead of itself, plans a worst case scenario like your one doorstep off an apocalypse. She merely smiled, faintly with those chapped lips of hers that gave him the urge to offer up some lip salve whenever she next reinserted herself into his life. “Like honey cakes.”

 

“Honey cakes?” 

 

“Yes.” Her eyes crinkled with warmth, oozing with a honey-like expression herself. “Honey cakes. These are for you. I know how they’re your favourite.”

 

Alren was immediately drawn to the presence of said honey cakes. The basket in her hands found its way into his, matching about the tens of others that had made temporary home over various countertops and tables. It was enough to fill a bomb shelter for a good five months, really. Six if they put to use all that flour and got around to some baking.

 

“Oh, heh.” Then, because it’s customary to after someone offers up a gift, even if there are a thousand other things you’d rather say: “Thanks.”

 

(Surprise surprise here, he was allergic. Had to leave them all to Myles who was all “what a great neighbor we have! She must really like you!” To which Alren could only groan at, nursing an oncoming headache as he pictured the two talking all flowers and botany. Yeah, sure, liked.)

 


Despite everything, Marza was still a good neighbor. Sure, all this pretence dove him up the wall, sometimes made him want to wrack his hands through his hair and let out a guttural scream sure enough to wake their neighbours ten doors down. And he absolutely was onto him, that he was sure of, some way or another he had to get her off his tail. But. She was good to them. Spoke of her fondest memories shared with great aunt rev- his great aunt . Traced her hands over photos as if they were prized jewels, the pinnacle of her collection, and to her, maybe they were. 

 

Noring, for all its faults, for all its simplicity, was a good town. A nice break from drama, for the hubbub of city drama. It was nice .

 

He should’ve known better. These things don’t last forever.

 


 

Of all the places he saw the guy, it wasn’t at the shops, it wasn’t doing gardening, it wasn’t even during the middle of the day. 

 

All he knew was one minute he was looking out of his window, the street about ten times darker than the bustly ones of home, where looking out your window gained you a front row seat to people watching and a mouthful of exhaust fumes. The next, gold stared back .

 

The window stayed closed from there.

 


 

“Big, gold circles I tell you! No way was it human!” He said over breakfast, waving his spoon around with all the flair of a conductor. Except he was no conductor, his only audience a guy who looked somewhere between half amused and sceptic. 

 

Myles drummed his fingers against the table. “Contacts? I dunno, red ones are pretty popular. The other day I saw-”

 

“That was a vampire, Myles. A vampire. And vampires don’t have gold eyes.” There was also no reason for Margaret to be staring into his window at eleven o’clock, vampire or no. She was strictly a ‘blood packs not blood baths’ kind of woman.

 

“They would if they wore contacts!” Aaaand off he went again.

 

“Look,” Alren sighed, taking a deep breath lest he lose his sanity, “I know what I saw. And what I saw was a pair of impossibly golden eyes glowing at the end of my driveway. No way is it any contact wearing vampire or any other native species to this area. Trust me. I’ve checked. My browser history is full of it. I swear that thing saw into my soul or something. Took ten years right off me.”

 

“Well I can see that. Looking at little grey there, my friend,” Said a guy who was absolutely going to regret that. At Alren’s pointed glare, Myles backed down. “Well I won’t deny you’ve seen something. But you know what will solve your problem?”

 

“What?”

 

“Socialisation,” Myles said, as if it were one of the most obvious answers out there to give, as clear as day, plainer than paper, like having to breathe to survive. Or don’t charge a phone in a microwave lest it explodes. Alren had to socialise (as appointed by Dr. Myles. He made sure to voice his displeasure as such.) “Hey! It’s true! Maybe someone else saw this weirdo creepy lurker stalker creature.”

 

An uncomfortably long pause, not helped by Myles' insistence to take a slurp of milk from his bowl right then and there. Suppressing the creeping temptation to slam his roomate’s head down and give him this new facial routine called ‘a facefull of cereal’, Alren sat, resigned and one hundred percent bitter.

 

“... I hate that you’re right. But not about the name. We’re not calling it that.”

 


As it turned out, towns like this were a hotspot for small talk, meaning that yes, he found more information from two seconds of conversation than two whole hours of frantic internet searching. Go figure.

 

This so dubbed ‘weirdo creepy lurker stalker creature’ was less creature and more resident . So said Mr Attwood — a man Alren remembered meeting at his house not a few days back — anyway as Alren finished up his tale, chuckling with good humour as if it was nothing more than the usual, bird song in the morning, gold eyes at night.

 

“Oh yeah,” The man responded at last, giving a gentle tug on his dog lead. Fluffy was getting a smidge too interested in that squirrel again. Or, at least, Alren assumed it was a squirrel. Critter had a tad too many eyes for that. ”That’s Alcor. He lives just up the street.”

 

Alren choked.

 

Full on, body bent over, ‘ I think I’m kinda dying here’ choke. The kind you get when you swallow water down the wrong way, except here, here, there was no water. Just information. Words that one simply couldn’t swallow unless they were used to battling demons for the norm, not, say, living in a village and talking to an old guy with a dog.

 

At least said guy asked him if he wanted a glass of water. Alren waved him away.

 

“Did… did you just say, you know, what I thought you just said?” Alren asked once he regained composure. Either his ears needed checking or Mr Attwood’s sense of reality. He hoped, stars he hoped, prayed, begged to whatever deity was out there it was the latter. “You know?” His voice cracked, “Alcor?”

 

Instead of the paralysing fear and dread any sane man should have (making Alren wonder if the guy was due a reality check anyway ), Attwood rolled his eyes, more at home on a face who’d listened to a joke one too many times rather than a man who’d announced an actual embodiment of chaos was in their local area. Demonic and evil, ready to mingle!

 

“I’ll admit I had a similar reaction, though less choking and more wheezing, but- Fluffy! Come here boy! Put that down.” Mr Attwood signalled over to his dog, the bundle of fur in possession of something suspiciously squirrel shaped. “As I was saying, guy likes to think he’s Alcor. At this point we’re not even sure if it’s his real name anymore.”

 

Myles processed this, stored the knowledge into his brain and thumbed through it like an archaeologist at a dig sight, with intensive care and extreme caution to detail. He batted it aside for the time being, raising his fingers to his temples as if an act as simple as that could get his thoughts straight. “Soo,” He bit down his words, serious brewing questions had a time and a place, not now , when he had more evidence gathered. “Like… some hardcore cosplayer?” Knowing the word ‘hardcore’ from Myles' flivilous shouts. He always did like his old fashioned words.

 

“Well.” Attwood seemed to run that thought, test it out for a trial spin. He hummed. “Yes, yes. I guess so. Very… ah, hardcore did you say?”

 

Alren nodded.

 

“Mhm, he’s probably into that whole Twin Souls thing — though taking it a stretch too far if you ask me , hah.” There was a very discernible note of displeasure, though masked with a light chuckle from Attwood. “But there’s nothing much you can do about it. Everyone has their hobbies, live and let live and all.”

 

The nodding stopped. “Hobbies?” Alren gasped, withdrawing himself, eyes wide, significantly taken aback by Attwood’s admission to turning a blind eye. “This guy is masquerading as a demon on a daily basis! For all we know, for all he does , this could be the real thing! Shouldn’t we report this?”

 

Wasn’t this the safe, responsible thing to do? Had the town gone mad? Where was an expert on demons when you needed one?

 

Attwood’s shrug accomplished the opposite effect of its purpose — if one presumed he intended to get Alren to lay off and not worry about it — he was, suffice to say, rationally worried . Like a sane person. Like a person who didn’t want to say goodbye to their head in the next month. Not that the town would suffer much,  if this man was any indication, this town was full of a bunch of headless chickens.

 

Alren backed down. Wait, no. No. He didn’t mean that, retracted it even. Not at all. His inner monologue was wandering into the realms of unacceptably and unnecessarily rude. These people. These poor, poor people were under some kind of demon magicy spell, no fault of their own. He couldn’t hold them accountable for that, not in the slightest. Meaning that perhaps — and oh how this heart chilled at the thought, clenched and coiled tightly into a shard of block ice — this was the real Alcor after all. What use would an ordinary, if a bit obsessed, cosplayer have to method acting in the streets, scaring people (such as himself) out of their wits in Noring of all places?

 

With a reputation as the demon had, for taking people unawares with his bizarre and, quite frankly, un-demon-like behaviour in the past, there was an unnervingly high chance this was the real deal. And no one was lifting a finger about it!

 

No one except…

 

He was hit with a vision of clarity. A crystal mirror that shone light down from the very heavens themselves.

 

No one except him. And, with a spark of encouragement, his accomplice Myles .

 


Myles was many things. A cool dude? Heck yes. The embodiment of pure wit? Heck yes again. A little bit immature? Also kinda yes (but hey, with all those serious people out there, the world could use a break.) What he was not, however, was an accomplice to this disaster of a, dare he say it, foolhardy and rather far fetched train wreck of a plan. Yeah. He dare say it.

 

“Alren.”

 

When Alren said nothing, he tried again. Equally as reprimanding and spelling clear that ‘In no way could any scenario such as this end successfully’ as before, in a single name no less. What could he say, it was an acquired skill. “Allllreeeen.”

 

This time, he garnered a response, though it was a little more ‘scowly’ and less ‘hey it’s my buddy Myles, a guy of intellectual reasoning, and a care for my well being’ than he’d have initially liked. At least it was an improvement from blotting him all out together, an insignificant smudge on a window easily ignored.

 

Satisfied Alren was somewhat paying attention, he continued, “Okay, so I know you’re really into this, but think man. I’m telling you. If that guy’s Alcor? We’d be dead. Toast. Burnt crispy bits of human flesh. Cannibals would be having a field day.”

 

“Thanks for that mental image,” Alren said, any drier and Myles would be faced with the verbal approximation of the Sahara desert, sand particles pouring off his tongue. Myles winced, his bad ?

 

“Sorry but… he’s doing no harm? You’ve never even met the guy. Why do you want to report him to the authorities so bad?” Please please please listen to his extremely valid points . Myles knew what chaos and bad ideas looked like. This? This — if Alren did end up stumbling upon some dark tainted secret — was beyond even his depths. And if it was a harmless cosplay? They were getting in trouble with the authorities for wasting their time. An absolute no no. Even Myles had his limits. 

 

 The defiance in Alren’s eyes dimmed, with it coming Myles' sigh of relief he’d been holding out on. Reason at last had been drilled into Alren’s bedrock of a brain! A congratulations was in order as the impossible had just been accomplished.

 

“You’re right. I haven’t seen the guy,” Alren said slowly, unnervingly enough that, if Myles didn’t know any better, he’d say the guy was testing out the waters for the formulation of a plan. One that made his skin crawl and itch with anticipation, a mantra of ‘ no no no ’ so frequent in his brain Myles was starting to tune it out as background static. A buzz. Nothing more. Please- “So that's exactly what I’ll do! And then, and only then, will I give them a call! Brilliant!” 

 

You could’ve dumped a bucket of ice cold water on his head. It would have had the same lasting effects. Myles stuttered on his words, thumbling on something he, in normal circumstances, found himself so eloquent with. Took pride in, even. “You- wha- no! That’s not what I said at all! Bad idea! Nope! Nope! I know from experience poking your head in where it doesn’t belong leads to trouble.”

 

“Then.” There was an unmistakable glint to Alren’s eye, devious, dangerous (and when he said dangerous, he meant for his own sake. He’d be regretting this in no time.) Alren shrugged nonchalantly, though a smidgen too purposeful for that, eyes watchful, meticulous, gauging Myles' reaction. “You must be a bad influence on me.”

 

“You’re over eighteen! And very responsible for your own actions!” The usually was very much implied but there . If there was a voice of reason in this duo, someone who hauled them out of shenanigans with disapproval, it was Alren. Not Myles. This whole thing was topsy turvy in all the ways Myles assumed weren’t possible.

 

His head spun at the mere thought.

 

“Yep, and as the only responsible person here, I’m going to be doing the town a service. You’re welcome .” The metaphorical hammer dropped, case in point, as if Alren was almost daring him to challenge it.    

 

He could, potentially, but realistically? Surefire results where Alren came out on top some way or another. Myles conceded, but only because he was a man with very little effort when it came to changing the minds of the stubborn.

 

At least, when it all came to pass, Alren wouldn’t be saying it was all Myles' fault this time.

 


Alren knew people watching. You’d sit and sip coffee — or whatever the heck counted as inconspicuous these days — staring on watching as daily lives played out. Drama. Oh, that person has issues, nice to know. You tell ‘em Mike! … Do they know they stood in gum? Yes, yes, that’s a gnome hitchhiking in your handbag.

 

Demon watching? Slightly out of his comfort zone. And by slightly, he meant about five thousand metres out. The zones didn’t even touch. He was here and his zone was over there. Oh what in the name of anything and everything was he playing at?

 

“Myles,” Alren hissed through his teeth, beckoning his friend over with the tilt of his head, “Are you seeing this?”

 

His act of discretion proved to all be for a lost cause anyway, Myles sitting out in the open like that on his phone. He couldn’t have been more obvious, leaning over the side of the bench to compromise Alren’s spot in the bush. Alren huffed, pulling the magi-goggles away from his eyes. 

 

“Seeing you being a stalker, yes ,” Myles responded with a teasing lilt, giving Alren a prod in the shoulder. Alren narrowed his gaze, flitting between his poor shoulder and the assailant. “Got something you wanna share with the class, Rin? Some super sketchy hobby perhaps?”

 

“Oh you, shut up.” He rolled his eyes, not unkindly, as he shoved the goggles into Myles' free hand. “Take a look at this.”

 

“I’m not looking through these when I can see him fine where I am.” Myles — as Alren so begrudgingly admitted — had a point. Their target was only on the other side of the park. And if they couldn’t see him, they’d certainly be able to see the amorphous blob Alcor was with. People around had been calling them sheep , Alren? A freak of nature that in no world, pre-transcendence or otherwise, would be recognised as the sort.

 

He hid a laugh as Myles peered through them anyway. Clearly he didn’t do it very well.

 

Myles returned the pair of goggles which, ironically enough, belonged to Myles himself. He’d be sure to tell the guy he raided his shelves later. As for now: “Well?”

 

“Well.” Myles paused for an unnecessarily long period of time. “I see a guy.”

 

Alren felt the need to sarcastically clap. “And is that all?”

 

“And another guy.”

 

Yes ,” Alren pressed on.

 

“That he’s talking to.”

 

“Good.”

 

“And apparently this Alcor guy is a shepherd — why are we doing this again ?” Myles threw the last part out at Alren, the latter having to shush him before anything else, this time making sure his own voice was carefully measured.

 

“Like you said.” Alren then repeated himself, a second time, learning that there’s a thing as ‘ too quiet ’ (elsewhere, all librarians collectively gasped, feeling a strange shift in the force. But that’s neither here nor there.) “Collecting intel.”

 

“I never said the likes! Remind me, dear Alren,” He bit out his name, “When I flippity floppity said that.”

 

“Well you, flippity floppity said that then you told me I had to see him first.” 

 

Myles took a good look at him, then Alcor, then him again — just as (if not, more) disbelieving as he had been when Alren had announced they were going out on a walk for some ‘fresh air’. “If he was the real Alcor,” Myles started, treading lightly, “He’d have seen us by now. So there.”

 

“Shussh, he’ll hear you!” 

 

(And no, of course his hissing wasn’t louder than Myles. Pfft, absolutely not .)

 

“Why do you care so much?”

 

“Because he’s the real one! Just look at the guy .”

 

“I am and I have. What of it?”

 

Alren bit down a million and one things, instead opting to flip the magi-goggles’ settings (albeit rather forcefully) and ram them in front of Myles' face with minimal protest.

 

There’s also another thing Alren should’ve mentioned up with the top three earlier facts of life (which was more like a top two considering one had been rendered obsolete.) He had the sight. Nothing big, not that strong! Not like, the nightmare, nightmare stuff people screamed about having in all those documentaries.

 

It needed to be in a large concentration, enough magic to be seen by him, but not enough for the naked eye of some non-sighted person. He saw what mattered.

 

The shimmers. And there was definitely a dark edge around this guy, something suppressed, something vast, something null. An all consuming void that pulled in all light instead of emitting it out, no colourful bright flares. Nothing.

 

Alren would say it now, that cliche line that existed in sci fi twisty turny books since the dawn of time. He’d never seen something quite like it. Gave him a shiver even as he felt his skin burn with the heat.

 

Alren had brought out the magi-goggles for a reason. They could approximate the sight, give Myles a vision of colour, though more highly saturated than Alren’s own (thankfully) weak dosage. 

 

With those, there was a possibility he’d open Myles' eyes to what was, literally shove the answers in his face. They were in the presence of something so obviously ancient, yet youthful all the same. Not a wrinkle marred that demon’s face, something so many beauty companies wouldn’t be able to help but envy. Immortality, it so seemed, was unattainable to all but the vampiric and demonic. And even then, it had been known for a vampire to succumb to old age, even as long as their years may have been. 

 

There was no mistaking his unquestionable likeness to a certain textbook demon, not with that rippling bruise of an aura.

 

“The hell,” Myles said, pun unintended. Or not, knowing him. “Is he meant to look like that?”

 

“What do you think?” Alren’s stink eye said it all. “Look.”

 

“I’m looking, I'm looking. And I don’t believe it.” Myles lowered the goggles, shaking his head in complete and utter bewilderment, enough that Alren was starting to get queasy just looking at him. Stick an image with someone’s eyes bugging out, wouldn’t make a spot of difference. Myles was, for once, speechless .

 

And Alren was enjoying every second of it. Or, at least, he would have, had Alcor not chosen that very second to turn staring, not at them exactly , but into them. In a fit of panic, Alren pulled Myles into the bush, cringing at his shriek when twiggs snapped and birds squawked. They fell into silence, panting heavily and nursing their fair share of wounds.

 

Engulfed in the shrubbery as they were, twigs and all sorts nesting in amongst his carefully brushed curls, Alren almost missed Myles' breathy “ What do we do ?”

 

It was a shame they were stuck precariously in the bush, as they were, considering Myles ended up missing the hard set of Alren’s eyes, obscured by his facefull of leaves. “It’s simple.” He spat out a clump of dirt. “We move onto phase two.”

 


“And let the authorities handle it” had been Alren’s dramatic, yet reasonsible, reveal later. Followed up by a call to the demon helpline in just the tap of three buttons.

 

Myles sent him a thumbs up as a tinny voice picked up from the other end. 

 

“Hello? Yes, yes, I’d like to report a demon sighting.” Alren nodded along, only pausing to hush Myles when he started sniggering about said nodding over an audio call. Typical . “Mhm, yeah, Noring. Not Snoring. Look, there’s a demon living here and- yeah .” More sniggering, Alren was really tempted to push him into the other room. “I said living. He’s got this house and- hello? No! I’m being serious, I think he’s a demon, no no, I know he is . Not possessed! It’s… hey? Are you still there?” He pulled the phone up closer to his ear, frowning. “ Pranking? Are you serious? I know there’s a fine! Alcor’s- hello? Hello?”

 

Alren flung his hand into his hair, tugging at the strands as he let his other hang loose by his side. His neck rolled back as he wrunched his face up, pinched in a mixture of distaste and disbelief. The nerve

 

Haha, very funny sir,” The operator had said, sounding far from amused. There had been an edge to his voice that didn’t quite sit right, “Remember, this line is for serious sightings only. Goodnight.”

 

The line had dropped dead. And so along with it did his little hope that they’d be receiving any professional help.

 

They were in this. Alone.

 

“Bad connection?” Myles tried, for every bit not looking as if he believed his own tongue. He appreciated the effort, mind, since Noring wasn’t well known for its optimum signal. It wasn’t known for — how did he put this lightly — anything

 

“They asked me if it was a prank, Myles. Because apparently demons don’t ‘ live in houses .” Out popped the air quotes, a perfect match with his rising voice, enough edge to it he could pierce skin. “Well this one does!”

 

“Ah.” There was a slow nod as Myles quietly deliberated. A smile crept onto his face. “Does this mean we’re dropping this now?”

 

An aristocrat would be hard pressed to match a scoff on par with Alren’s, openly offended to a point where he simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Come on . You know what they say! If something can’t be done right, you do it yourself.”

 

It was something his father used to say. Up until a point where it got terribly annoying, the man breaking into their local McRonald’s because he ‘refused anyone else making his burger.’ Alren held his tongue about where the meat came from.

 

The smile slipped from Myles' face, dread settling its home in his features as he blinked. Then again. An emphatic “Oh.

 


Phase three had been to follow Alcor around more, come to grips with his whereabouts and routine, devise a steadier plan and schedule. The problem? Alcor held no qualms with putting a pin in his plans, a spanner in his works, ruining things, scrapping them and stomping upon it all until their only use could be for confetti at a kid’s birthday party.

 

(Alren should state here that this was, in fact, a metaphor. Alcor did no such thing, though he wouldn’t put it past him. It was a very demony thing to do, finalised by the devouring of his soul — also a metaphor. Last he checked, he had that.)

 

Last place he expected to see him was at the checkout with — dear lord, how many cavities could someone (a demon no less) take? That basket was filled with every twelve year old’s dream. Starblursts, gummy pigs, she… and maybe not the last one . He didn’t know about anyone else, but sheep pellets were the last thing (read: didn’t even make it) on his wishlist when he was a kid.

 

Alren froze up, all manner of questions and interrogation methods dying on his tongue like they’d never been there in the first place, a mere hallucination of the mind. Oh man, did he wish this was all a hallucination.

 

All he wanted was some coffee (because even with all that stockpile at home, they’d managed to run out of the number one beverage he based his life around.) Now Alren wasn’t even sure if it was worth risking both life and limb. Which was saying something.

 

Neck hairs stood on end as he noticed his eyes — oh those eyes, as dark as the void and gold as he remembered — pierced through him once more. Arching with a curiosity one would find on a cat, toying with it’s food before devoured, and oh stars Alren was the prey .

 

Alren gulped, more audiably than he’d have liked, though his thoughts were going about a million Myles an hour too fast to dwell on it. He’d figured him out. He’s onto him of course, of course, he knows everything and is totally officially unquestionably screwed and, this is the end-

 

“Are you going to pay for that?” Alcor’s voice wasn’t anything he’d ever expected (if it was good or bad, was still up for debate) much less reverb, less demon cackles and gravelly tones that it left him questioning whether the demon had spoken at all. But he had. And to his right the cashier was giving him the same intent — though particularly more irritated — stare.

 

Ah.

 

He shivered, took a suspiciously long breath before he smiled at the woman, not trusting words to form. Demon may as well have glued his throat shut.

 


"Alren, my dude. My guy. Chill.”

 

Myles had seen earthquakes less shakier that Alren, and let him tell you, that was quite the feat in itself. He was half wondering if it would be more an efficient use to lay him on the floor as a foot massage, Myles was still sore about being dragged into a bush (and he meant that in both a metaphorical and literal sense.) The thought was a joke, kind of, but his inner monologue did have a point.

 

“Excuse you, I’m the very definition of chill!” Alren turned a corner as he paced, movements too fast and tone an octave too high for him to be believable even remotely. “My neck hairs are standing on end! I’m freezing! It was a near death experience, I tell you.”

 

“Well okay then.” Myles leaned forward on the couch, slinging an arm over the side. “You chill with your eye twitching. You do you.”

 

“...Okay.” The pacing paused and with it so did the steady drum of footsteps. Finally . “So maybe I’m a little stressed out about this thing.”

 

Any higher and his right eyebrow would rise past his hairline. “ A little .”

 

“Who can blame me?” Alren continued through his downward spiral, giving Myles a complete dismissal. “We’ve got a demon walking through our streets! Not just any demon, it’s you know who and nobody’s doing anything about this!”

 

“It’s not like you can just shoo Alcor away.” Unless they were up for becoming his next meal of soul soup. With a sprinkling of seasoning.

 

“Hushhh!” Alren gave him a scandalised look, throwing his arms out and retracting them as if it only then occurred to him that he wouldn’t be able to shut him up in time. “Don’t mention his name! He could be onto us.”

 

“Righhht,” Myles drawled, stretching the syllables out like so, “So anyway, Voldewart here isn’t hurting anyone. He’s like-” He shrugged. “A mild inconvenience if anything. Maybe the guy’s bored. Let him have fun.” Let Alren get his nose out of this before he began to regret it.

 

“Not if his fun suddenly turns into the massacre of an entire town of souls.” Alren folded his arms, panic panning out into something considerably more serious. “Look, we could actually save these people. They have no idea what danger they are in.”

 

“Yeah, in danger if they’re a Twin Souls fan. Alren, I hate to break it to you dude but you’re worrying over nothing.” Myles shot him something he desperately hoped looked like the textbook face of a responsible adult, pitiful and the voice of reason. Maybe then his stubborn friend would think things over for a second. Now of all times shouldn’t be when Alren gained a dangerous, thrill seeking spirit. 

 

(Since when had he, Myles, been Alren’s voice of reason?)

 

“Nothing!” Alren stared on in disbelief. His voice hitched as he echoed him. “ Nothing ? How are you so calm? Is it a spell? Are you under his influence too! Am I the only one impervious to this… this… demon magic? Huh?”

 

Myles sucked in a breath. A deep, meaningful, ‘let’s get our stuff together’ kind of breath.

 

“Look, I get this is weird, but maybe this guy wants to live his life too.”

 

“This ‘guy,” Alren hissed, “Destroyed all of California! Who’s to say he won’t do the same here?”

 

“And who’s to say he will. Textbooks don’t exactly recall Alcor living in California before destroying it.”

 

“No.” Alren creased his brow then repeated himself, pointing his nodding finger out at Myles as he did so. Not for the first time did dread bubble in Myles' stomach. “ But Textbooks are a place I can start .”

 


Myles was testing out a set of wards when he heard the distinct sound of a face implanting itself within a keyboard (he knew this because he’d done it a thousand times also. Moving along.)

 

He poked his nose out around the door and located Alren sandwiched between pillows on the couch, as expected, with his face flat on a laptop, absolutely done with the world and as boneless as his grandmother’s snake (Blue was adorable, that both he and the woman could agree on.) Myles slid up next to him, elbowing Alren to the point he mustered up the energy to move and glare at him. There he was .

 

“You sure Alcor hasn’t made a deal for your bones there? Looking awfully floppy.”

 

“Don’t joke about that. And no, here.” Alren moved the screen on his lap so it was angled towards him.

 

𝙰𝚕𝚌𝚘𝚛? 𝙸𝚗 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚝𝚘𝚠𝚗? 𝙼𝚘𝚛𝚎 𝚕𝚒𝚔𝚎𝚕𝚢 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚗 𝚢𝚘𝚞’𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚗𝚔.

 

Below the words, the document had a blown up image of Alcor taken from the web, the demon in all his glory with shadows coalescing in ink black puddles around him, sentient but not quite. Some cult site most likely. Myles couldn’t stop staring at it, right until the point that he was sure the silhouette was burned into his retinas. Somehow it was difficult to merge the guy with a sweet tooth Alren had seen and, well, this . Two and two did not equal four and they appeared exactly the same!

 

“What’s this about?” Myles asked, hesitantly, not all that sure he wanted an answer.

 

“Posters. I'm sticking them around town.”

 

“What?” Myles reached over to scroll up the page, sure he’d missed something. “Like some kind of missing cat? It’s not like we’ve lost him. We know exactly where he is.”

 

Them knowing where he was was precisely the problem.

 

“That’s an odd take but nah.” Alren removed Myles' fingers from the mouse button. “I’m reminding people what’s at stake.”

 

“And getting arrested for vandalising property with the image of a demon.” Pretty illegal, as would bailing him out be. “I thought you were the brainy one here man.”

 

“No I won’t! I won’t get arrested! That would be…” Alren trailed off, giving Myles a look he knew all too well. He’d go as far as calling him old friends.Is it suspicious how much Alcor related stuff I’m searching? We didn’t have any textbooks and…”

 

“The government are gonna knock at your door bro.” He said it as a joke, but the dilation of Alren’s eyes was telling, this was a distinct possibility. Myles hastily added on more, panic tugging at his vocal chords. “If they come up, well, you’re a writer, right? Say it’s for research purposes. Some big upcoming novel. Demons, demons and more demons! I think it could be a bestseller.”

 

(They do email him and, suffice to say, Alren almost passed out from a heart attack. Their only saving grace is that whoever this ‘Karla’ is, they’re part of Alren’s niche fanclub, and now, damn it, he’s gotta actually write something about demons. The heck. Not his day . Myles found it all mildly amusing.)

 


 

Somewhere in between writing his new demon novel and stressing about life, the universe and everything, Alren found the time to plaster up his posters.

 

(When he said found, it was more like ‘dragged time of it’s highorse and repetitively throttled it into submission’. Found’s just easier to say.)

 

Most townsfolk spared him a curious eye, though they said no more, too busy caught up in their lives to bother critiquing the choices of a madman (he also caught one or two discussing why he was putting up pictures of a cosplayer.) It was about an hour into his handiwork — that may have been all for nothing — when a boy of about thirteen or so popped up out of the blue, pointing at one of his posters.

 

“You’re the one doing this?” Asked the redhead (no, he wasn’t ginger, that hair dye was a perfect blood red… tomato red not blood, don’t think-), Alren having half a mind to dismiss the kid then and there. He didn’t fancy someone coming along and tearing this all down, not after his dedication. Alren had very vivid memories of Myles.

 

Speaking of him, Alren nodded, eyeing him through what Myles would call his ‘sceptigoggles’ — scepticism for those not clued in. 

 

“And you really think he’s Alcor? As in Alcor Alcor?” Another nod on his part. “Wow, that wouldn’t surprise me.”

 

Alren’s eyebrows shot right up out of the park. “Really?”

 

The teen made an ‘mhm’ noise. “Said he conned people and stuff.” He shrugged, nonchalantly like a ‘there you go’. “Sounds like a demon. Hey, are you gonna fight him? Have this whole demon brawl where you take him out? I wanna record it on my phone.” 

 

“Ahh, nooo,” Alren dragged out slowly, life flashing before his eyes, “I think not . Hah, I- yeah, don’t have that much of a death wish. I’m taking slow steps, you know, getting the town round to my side first.” As the kid opened his mouth, Alren hurried to continue. “Still no demon brawl. Not even inviting another demon to do it for me. You and I both know who’d win.”

 

The teen side eyed him, leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, eyes with a knowing look. “I mean, do you have any evidence? People gotta believe you if you have that.”

 

Alren fixed him with a deadpan expression. “Guy walks around in a full piece suit and bat wings. What more evidence do we need than that?”

 

“Well yeah.” The teen brought up his arms. “But everyone knows this and don’t say anything-”

 

“Because they’re idiots.” Alren was surprised by his bland attitude, though in hindsight maybe he was just tired of it all, would rather cut straight to the point than dance the flamenco for days around a statement so blatantly obvious it was as if it was plastered all over town (oh wait.) The boy showed surprise too for about all of a second, his lips upturning into a smirk, a cardboard cutout of Myles yanked straight from the old photo album, albeit with more red.

 

“I never said anything.” He looked too smug to have never done so, but Alren bit back the words. “But you need more evidence. Physical evidence. Incriminating evidence. Something these guys can’t overlook because they think he’s a cosplayer. It’s like they can’t think of any other explanation, so they’re just.” The kid mimicked an explosion with his hands. “Diehard fan. End of.”

 

Hmmm… Evidence like a confession?

 


There are about a thousand other things he’d rather do than interrogate a demon — a nice trip to the Bahamas being one of them, sand between his toes and he was really getting ahead here — but he had to remind himself he was doing this for the greater good.

 

Yeah, he thought, eyeing up the demon a few paces in front, asking some poor soul if they wanted to make a deal for a flat tyre, greater good . Alren dutifully ignored his subconsciousness, sirens blaring how much of a bad idea this was louder than the screeches of a lonely banshee (a tale Mr Nash would often recite to boost morale. ‘We can get through a Banshee, nothing can stop us!’) And forcibly willed himself not to fidget, knuckles clenched white where they tightened around the cloth of his shirt.

 

Deep steady breaths. One, two, three. That kid was fine. He’d be fine. Everything would be fine. The voice recorder was going on his phone and he could absolutely do this.

 

A sharp intake as he screwed his eyes shut and willed this to all be over.

 

As in, home for tea over. Not over over. Stars, he hoped he wouldn’t be over .

 

“Are you Alcor?” Alren asked, more timidly and squeaky than he would ever let on. If anyone asked, he was on helium .

 

“Yes.” It was the same voice from the checkout, the one he couldn’t quite put a finger on if it fit the demon or not. The admission stunned him, somehow. Yes, Alren knew he was going with his genuine name (for some reason??) but he was taken off guard all the same when he outright admitted it. 

 

“As in the Dreambender?” He tried again.

 

An indescribable look came over Alcor. “...Yes.”

 

“Lord of Nightmares?”

 

“That too.”

 

“Devourer of souls?”

 

“That’s the one.”

 

“Shepherd of the flock, Infernal Star, Azure Flame, Scourge of All Beings Living and Dead?”

 

“My, someone’s been doing their research.” Was it just him, or did Alcor look genuinely… impressed? No, a demon trick. Rule number one, they were full to the brim with deceit and lies to coax you into their trust. “So, what do you want? You’ve said my name like.” Alcor counted on his- snap , where those claws? They looked sharp enough to slice through his throat, nothing more than butter to pour over his assortment of gummy pigs. “Eight times. Any more and we’ll be stuck in a cycle — I’ve checked, just to make things clear . Chances of you whittling out names all evening are high. But hey, you have my interest. What are you after?”

 

“Uh,” Alren stammered, idly wondering just how many different responses equivalent to ‘yes’ Alcor could go through to fill an evening. Heck, how many names would he go through? “Nothing? Thanks? Bye!”

 

He ran off before he had to deal with the fallout.

 

(If he’d stayed, perhaps he’d have seen Alcor’s blank stare, or the way he frantically flipped through a book on ‘how to human’ he had pulled out of his hat just for the occasion. “I could’ve sworn I did it right.”)

 


Static! Pure static!

 

Alren pocketed his phone, doing his best not to throw it in a fit of rage (phones don’t pay for themselves, you know.) Maybe he should’ve seen this coming. This was Alcor he was dealing with here, he would’ve tampered with it and for all he knew he was clued in on Alren’s plans, always a step ahead. 

 

It wasn’t as if the recording would have been all that useful, anyway. As someone who’d been there at the time, he sounded to be a crazed fanatic who’d researched into all sorts of obscure titles. Even untampered the evidence wouldn’t be usable.

 

Back to the drawing board it was.

 


 

“Sir? Sir?” 

 

Alren peered over his book, the contents, for all their worth, all blurred in thick black smudges as words formed amalgamations rather than sentences. He rubbed his eyes. How long had he spent in the library again?

 

“Sir?” 

 

Alren’s eyes snapped up to a woman, rich mocha skinned with brown eyes, and a kindly yet practiced smile fixed on her face. Her name tag read Tiffany, only just visible through the loose strands of hair that escaped past her ears.

 

“Yeah?” Alren asked, stifling a yawn. Damn, was he tired? He could’ve sworn not two moments ago it was the afternoon.

 

“The library’s shutting. I know what reading a good book is like, but I’m going to have to ask you to put that down, or check it out.” Her tone was gentle yet from her tired expression, Alren was willing to be this was a discussion she’d had before. “What’s that… The Encyclopedia of All Things Demony: A Kids Guide?”

 

Tiffany was far more awake now, as was he.

 

“Ah.” He closed the book and passed it to her outstretched hand. “Well you know how it is. The adult versions are more difficult to get your hands on.”

 

“For good reason.” Tiffany eyed the book with caution as if it might open up and swallow her whole — a very specific look one can have on one’s face — not entirely unlikely and with good reason. Books had been known to do that. Be it hexes or otherwise. Somewhere along the lines the life of a librarian had become distinctly more dangerous (so much so they made a thriller about it — some time in the thirties, perhaps?) “People who are after those books usually want to do summonings. Or start cults.”

 

Somewhere along the lines, his arms had found its way to his neck, rubbing its way across his skin in a way that was sure to leave a mark. 

 

Her lip line thinned. “So, which are you?”

 

“Neither?”

 

Tiffany’s pointed features were only accentuated as her chin jutted out, fine boned, almost aristocratically crafted. With that scrutinising gaze she’d slowly but surely shifted to, well, it was hardly a surprise the woman had dove headfirst into the career choice she had. Tiffany could make a stain on a book scare itself into shrivelling up. Why did all nice seeming people make him nervous at the flick of a switch in this town?

 

“Oh, I see.” Tiffany mulled this information over, then flipped back to interrogation mode. Snap, that’s what this was, wasn’t it? Any wrong move here and this chessboard would become a warzone, the king falling down and the government coming knocking right at his door. Could Myles charm them with his plants? That was if it reached worst case scenario. “Demonologist? Some kind of Twin Souls fan?”

 

“Heck no.” His laughter was light, skittish. How did one acquire social skills again? “Neither. Just a writer looking for some inspiration.” 

 

Afterall, it wasn’t as if it wasn’t the truth anymore.

 

It was during this nervous bout of laughter that his hands fumbled with his coffee to go. The contents (of what little was left, he was an avid consumer) spilled across the small table, forming a brown puddle of caffeine that gradually expanded as it thinned out. With great haste, Alren recapped his cup, though the damage had been done.

 

“Ah! Sorry, I’ll clean that!” Alren rapidly apologised, moving to grab something, anything from his rucksack when he heard a pained hiss. He glanced back, just in time to catch Tiffany’s arm, a blotchy red, a wound one would assume came from contact to acid. Alren internally cursed as she rolled down her sleeve. He’d managed to burn the librarian with his coffee, no way would his library card remain active. He could’ve sworn that drink was cold by now!

 

“Are you-”

 

She merely sighed. “No drinks in the library.”

 


 

“Who does this guy think he’s kidding?” Alren said for about the thousandth time that week. Myles rolled his eyes, knowing exactly where this conversation was headed. “It’s so obvious. They don’t make cosplay like that. And he actively goes around proclaiming he’s Alcor.”

 

“I mean, he’s a demon.” Myles said, as if Alren hadn’t been reminding him constantly of the fact since, like, the moment they set foot in this very town. “Guess it’s kinda funny to him. You know, if I was a demon, I’d pull stuff like this.”

 

Alren was wholly unimpressed, if that look was anything to go by. “If you were a demon, it would be complete chaos.”

 

“Hmmm nah.” Myles waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “But my demonsona right? He could be cool.” Very cool, man , did he have ideas about this floating around. “Oh, oh, we’ll call him… hmm. How about. Oh oh Mylon the Brooder or… or…” It came to him, the perfect name. Rose up from the ashes of his mind like a demon itself. “Solanaceae the Thousand Leafed! Yes! And I’d trick them into saying something weird of Wumblr because that’d be my summoning incantation. And I’d have to not laugh because I know what they just said-”

 

“Wumblr?” Alren stopped him before Solanaceae could take his final form. Rude .

 

“Yeah, Wumblr. It may be an apocalypse, or two, or three, but that hellsite will live on. Perfect place for demons to thrive! Like myself.”

 

“R-ight.” Alren coughed. “But I’m still stuck.”

 

“On your demonsona? Don’t worry, I may have a-”

 

“No! On putting an end to Alcor’s reign of terror.” Alren said it so seriously, so earnest, Myles was quite tempted to laugh.

 

“Ooooh nooo! Alcor! Mowing his lawn! However shall we live?” He leaned back on his chair, hand flat against his forehead as Myles did his best impression at a damsel in distress. “Save me Alren! Oh the grass! The poor grass! What a monsterrrrr.”

 

“That was one time and you know it.” Alren pouted. “I’m going for a walk.”

 

“So what? You can hide in another bush?”

 

The door had already been shut.

 


 

“Alren! It is good to see you.”

 

The same could not be said for him. Why? Because when one is hiding — green to the very tip of their hat — in a bush, it is glaringly obvious they’re not trying to stick out like a saw thumb. Speaking of which, his thumbs were sore from holding up the magigoggles too long.

 

He rose to full height begrudgingly, feeling the weight of a pixie’s eyes burn behind him, judging Alren from head to foot. A group had been pestering him for the last twenty minutes. “Hey Marza. Uh, who’s that?”

 

Alren was, here, referring to one of the two teens standing beside her, sporting a bright pink sweatshirt and orange leggings. The second, he knew. The red kid who actually had a decent amount of common sense.

 

“May I introduce you to my granddaughter Barbie. Means as much to me as you did to dear Rivika.” Marza rested an arm on her shoulder. “And her friend Timothy-”

 

“Tee.”

 

“Right, Tea.”

 

“I can hear the ‘a’ you giving it. It’s Tee. Like with golf.”

 

“Yes. Of course,” Marza’s eye twitched, subtle and you’d miss it, as if to say ‘can you believe this?’ “I’m taking them to the cinema.”

 

Alren smiled at Barbie, taking in the amounting pink. Curiosity got the better of him. “Your name is Barbie? Like that really old antique doll?”

 

Barbie crossed her arms, rolled those eyes as if they were eight balls on a snooker table. “No, like the cue.”

 

“… The cue?” Alren’s mind wandered to pool. When had- “The… oh. Barbie Cue. Gotcha.”

 

“Yeah, unlike some I don’t actively choose to be named after an inanimate object. Right Tee ?”

 

Tee squirmed. “Hey! My name’s fine!”

 

“Ookay… well have fun,” Alren interjected before he had to bear witness to a squabble. No more extra drama. Please . “And nice seeing you again Tee.”

 

Instead of a ‘well you to’ or anything of the polite sort, Tee gave Alren a once over. “Again? I’ve never seen you before. Think I would remember a walking bush. Are you into birdwatching or something?”

 

With Marza muttering out a “goodbye” as she hurried the group along, bringing up how they were “going to be late” and “didn’t have time to argue,” Alren stood, beyond flabbergasted in their wake.

 

Was he really that unmemorable?

 

The pixies snickered.

 


“So how did it go- wha? Why’s your face green? Don’t tell me you’re into cosplay now.”

 

Myles was, as always, a delight to return home to. Put the cheese in the fridge wrong, stole couch cushions for his bed, welcomed him back with sarcastic commentary .

 

“This isn’t working.”

 

“I’ll say. No one can pull off a complete green face. Not even you.” Myles walked up with a dustpan and brush, bringing to attention Alren’s trail of leaves. “Also, you’re shedding.”

 

“No, I mean, this whole thing. Doesn’t work. I finally get people to see reason and they just. Forget.” Alren winced, pressing his fingers to his forehead. A toss up between massaging the day’s shortcomings out of his head, or plain wondering how this became his life in the first place. “He’s got to be wiping memories now too.”

 

“Hold up! Memories?” Myles scooped up the last of the foliage, drawing eye level with him. “He’s wiping memories now?”

 

“See, I told you! This is serious!”

 

“But wouldn’t he need a deal for that?”

 

“Yes? No? Maybe!” He burrowed his head in his hands. “I don’t know,” Alren muffled out, “He defies all demon logic. I just. Don’t know.

 

He immediately tensed up as a hand rested itself on his shoulder, caramel skin so warm and inviting that it didn’t take long for his shoulders to ease up again into something partially relaxed. Myles drew him into a hug.

 

“Hey,” Myles soothed, tone silken and smooth as if dipped in chocolate. Alren leaned into him as he spun his words. “It’s going to be okay? Alright? Take deep breaths and put it to the back of your mind for a while. I know it’s hard, but I know you . And I know you can get through this. If you break down now, then who’s gonna be the winner? Right?”

 

Alren hummed, bringing his arms up around him. “Yeah,” he said at last, a little breathy. Then he patted Myles on the back as he pulled away, seemingly like he had been the one comforting Myles instead of the other way around. “Yeah.”

 

Myles' look was nothing but soft. “You feeling any better?”

 

Well for starters, Alren had let the steam go off in his brain a bit too long, cogs whirring on overdrive as he got himself worked up pursuing a target impossible to defeat. Maybe he had been letting this go to his head instead of taking a well deserved break.

 

He nodded, hesitant, then more sure of himself. There was no point worrying for nothing, if he kept to his business and didn’t summon Alcor-

 

Alren snapped his fingers, jarring Myles as Alren pulled himself from the spout of misery. Genius. Pure unadulterated genius. Thank the stars for that lightbulb.

 

“Alren,” Myles started, “Whatever you say, please don’t-”

 

“I think we should summon Alcor.”

 

“And there, you said it. You went and said it.” Myles backed away slowly as his palm collided with his face, dragging it down so that it revealed his eyes once more. “Somehow, you managed to actually get crazier. Stalk a demon? Check. Integrate a demon? Also check. And now you want to summon a demon ? And then what, huh? Give a demon your soul?”

 

“You know I have more sense than that. I’m just going to get him to either a) leave or b) prove he’s the real Alcor to everyone else. See who’ll be laughing then.” It was as sound a plan as any. Actually, in the split second it took to come up with, he was more than chuffed.

 

Him.” Myles' hand came away from his mouth as he stressed this, eyes darting as if he expected Alren to pop out the chalk and candles any second. Like, hey, surprise demon summoning . “ He will be laughing. At your mangled corpse! And how are you planning on doing that?”

 

Wasn’t it obvious? “I have you.”

 

“I draw the line.”

 

“And I put up with your stuff, followed you through thick and thin.”

 

“Yeah!” And since when Myles gotten so loud, his voice so very near a roar at this point. The crescendo reached peak climax, the instruments of their voices moving fast, desperate. “Because the death risk was lower! I don’t want you to die !”

 

Alren’s voice was so quiet in contrast. “I’m not going to die.”

 

“You don’t know that!”

 

“Then… I’m not saying you have to but. Help me out here. Please. Just like old times?” They’ve done this dance before, what was one more twirl for the grand finale?

 

“You can’t just-” Myles let out what sounded to be the lovechild between a sigh and a groan, both terribly reluctant but partnered up all the same, be it love or mutual distaste for a certain thing. “ Fine . But only because I want to see you walking on both legs tomorrow.”

 

“It’s a deal.”

 

“Don’t.”

 


There was some chalk, there were some candles. Could he make it anymore obvious?

 

Well yes, considering his dear friend Alren over there had the bright idea of doing this in the park in public eye for all to see. “ No point summoning him for ourselves, we know the truth .”

 

This was totally going to go down well. No casualties at all .

 

(If you hadn’t noticed, he was using sarcasm rivalling even his father’s now. Oozed it from the way that he spoke to the very way he held himself.)

 

“So this was your idea Ren. Lead the way.” Myles swept his hand out over all the assortment of goods they’d brought out — all of which extremely incriminating.

 

“You’re a wards specialist! You do it!”

 

Myles tried his best not to gawk.

 

“I do wards! Not summoning circles! Do I look like a cultist to you? ” He didn’t. In fact, Alren with his hood out in summer and baggy sweatshirt looked to be the most cultist appearing one there.

 

“It’s just squiggly lines!” Alren protested.

 

“Just squiggly lines! Just squiggly lines!” Was this guy even listening to himself? “If that’s all they are to you, then do it yourself. Wards are an art. Summoning circles are trouble. We’re so gonna get arrested for this, man.”

 

“But you know latin! That’s kind of sketchy if you ask me.”

 

“There’s nothing sketchy about knowing the latin for flowers . I repeat flo-wer-sss,” Myles dragged out the letters so long it sounded as if he was giving his best snake impression. Alas, the only snake around here was Alren guilt tripping him into committing nefarious acts.

 

Let it be said, Myles was only there, giving in and drawing out the circle because he figured with Alren doing it the circle would resemble more of a squashed pear. Alren and circles, guy couldn’t draw them for the life of him and would openly admit it. At least with Myles' work, they’d actually get the correct demon and not die horrific deaths. Always a plus in his book.



Yeah, he was going to testify that in court (wow, the place his father always joked he’d end up. Never thought things would play out quite like this.) Saving a friend’s ass was a legitimate reason, right?

 

If not, he really felt they should get matching t-shirts ‘I survived an encounter with Alcor and all I got was this shirt and a jail sentence’. It would be apt, afterall. Would really spruce up the prison orange and abysmal decor.

 

“Okay, pass me the chalk.” Myles rolled up his sleeves. “I’ve got work to do.”

 


 

Any moment now and their stroke of good luck would shatter, and all that would be left would be the remnants of his master plan, fatefully never achieving its full potential. Alren could see it all now: the tragedy, the suspense, the horror.

 

As it was, things had been going pretty good. If you ignored Myles' constant moaning, they had the unscented candles, the symbols near enough done and the sweets from their stash as a sacrifice (supplied by the unwitting townsfolk who firmly believed all gifts were to be used solely by the new members of the neighbourhood. That was one way to use a welcome gift.)

 

It crumbled (as predicted) before the summoning could even begin (not predicted.)

 

“I’m done on my end,” Said Myles as he finished up, coming over to him with a faceful of chalk. Was he aware he had it all across his nose, smeared on his face like he’d been up some sort of reverse coal mine? “How’s it going for you?”

 

“The candles won’t light.” Sooner or later, he’d be running out of matches to boot.

 

“Shouldn’t have done this outside then, it’s breezy,” Myles pointed out as Alren flushed red behind the ears. “Maybe this is a sign to stop.”

 

Alren spluttered. “What? No, all of your work will go to waste.”

 

“Oh I’m sure I’ll live. You will to, by the way. Just throwing that out there.”

 

“No, no. It’s no matter.” Alren dropped the matches and grinned up at Myles, all innocent like. “You know the fire sigil, right?”

 

Alren could pinpoint the exact moment all hopes of him backing down died in Myles' eyes, a frown settling in as he picked up a craving tool. Myles fixed him with a dead stare. “You know I do.”

 


The scene was set, the candles in place, and Alren was ready to wing it.

 

“Wing it?” Myles shrieked, “ Our lives are on the line, you can’t be serious !”

 

As he said, the scene was set.

 

“Alcor! Alcor! Alcor!” Alren chanted, holding up a book for dramatic effect. He never actually got his hands on an official demonology book, but, well, it paid to look the part.

 

Myles, to his utter chagrin, didn’t agree. “Oh man, just read the sheet of paper I gave you. He’s not Bloody Mary. If you say his name to a mirror three times, he’s not gonna appear.”

 

“Why, have you tried?” When he failed to gain any response of the sort, Alren pulled up the paper slip, scrawled on it Myles' near illegible handwriting.

 

“Stella splendida, vos invoco. Vos invoco ut faciatis voluntatem meam. Dico nomen tuum vestrum: Alcor!”

 

You know what they say: third time’s the charm.

 

At first, to the naked eye, all looked completely normal and this whole summoning had been doomed a failure from the very dawn of time itself. Big bang, universal decision that this summoning won’t won’t work, Earth comes into being, Earth culminates, Transcendence, boom.

 

That was until the heavy pressing sensation got to a point where Alren’s chest ached, limbs fell heavy, tense, every nerve ever to exist in his body suddenly on fire, active and vibrating to the speed of light. 

 

There was this oppressive darkness that hadn’t been there before, shadow where there was once sunlight. Clouds rolled over, folding in on itself with stormy grey hues. Upon further notice, there was a slight dull tint to the world, as if all that was vibrant had been toned down through multiple filters.

 

Alren sucked in a breath. All expect the candles. One, two at a time flaring up in bursts of azure flame, too tall to be a controllable fire (oh how health and saftey would tremor. That and the whole demon summoning thing.) Wax dripped at an alarming rate, forming tiny pools of molten wax, though far enough from the lines to tanish them in any way, shape or form.

 

With every second lasting a minute and every minute lasting a second, time was distorted enough that Alren could make head nor tails of how long this went on for. All he knew was the fires significantly retracted both too slow and all too soon, the circle coming into action, a beacon for the demon as it glowed, pulsing with a similar unnerving blue. His blood chilled with the realisation of what was on the other side, waiting, lurking…

 

A passerby screamed. “Are you out of goddamned your mind? That’s the Alcor, not some silly cosplayer. You’ve doomed us all, you absolute buffoons!”

 

Then promptly made her leave, shrieking her way down the street with a receding warbling cry (not entirely good considering they were meant to stay darn it but) in time for the casting call. A certain infamous demon made his grand exit.

 

W̨̟̩̜̙͕͆͞͠H̶̬̹̦͔̙̭̎̏̓ͧ̒ͯͣ̕͜O̶ͯͤ̑̑͏̫ ̸̟̠̱̮̜͆́͜D̸̷̰̜̩̦̦̽ͯ͝Ą͖̱̋ͩ̿ͭ̽͡R̩̟̝̳͐͞Ëͭ͐̽ͬͮ̌͘҉̞͙̠͎͈S̶̼̳̠̖̻̫͙ͦ̽ͅ ́̿̑ͤ̎ͭͣ̔҉̴͙͖͍̩S̵̨̰̍ͤ͊̋ͤ̏͘Ṷ͉̜̮͔̪̰͗ͣ̿͘ͅM̋ͮ͑̈́ͫ͝҉̝ͅM̡̰͕̗̟ͨͯ́̎̄͡O̞͈̳͓ͯ̉̑ͩ̃́̈͠N̵̥̟̗͈͍ͨ̑ͣ͗̋͗͗ͬ͊ ̥͖̰̝̻̾̔͒̈́̋ͩ̚͝͝A̛͈̬̘̣͎̳͕͐ͤ͆͑L̢̫̟͚͎̼̙̬̅ͨͬͬ͘C̨̘̼̞̤̟͓̜ͨͤ̆̄ͫ͑O̐ͦͣͬ̆ͣ̉҉̬͔̀̕ͅṞ̵̥̲̩̦̱ͧ͑̀ ̴̧̢͕̬͇ͤ͊̈́̌̾Ṯ̡̨̞̟̖̰̟ͪ̿͗ͭͅHͧͥ̈́͐̑҉͔̟͢E̶̹͔̰̭͒ͦ̔̎̓̾ͤ͌́͘… oh̭͔͎̼̖ ͤͣͣ̎̈͏̝w̷̖̜͙͗͌ͫow, okay, this beats a warehouse.”

 

(Later Alcor would bemoan that he never managed to get his full title out these days. But hey, this was more pleasant a surprise than a stuffy old murder basement adults sent kids to and never returned.)

 

Alren had never seen quite the spectacle. As was with all things paranormal, despite all research, you were never truly prepared for the reality. Be it the Infinity Falls (a magnificent water garden where water would just keep on falling, endless rainbows reflecting off droplets with a scattering of colours) or the endless abyss of Alcor’s wings, as incomprehensible as the void, giving off the feeling that something else may be staring at you back. To Alren, his figure was made all the more shadowy by the tendrils of black in his aura, less subdued than the other day, but by far a vision from what Alcor would look like if he didn’t hold back.

 

Then the darkness receded and all that was left was Alren’s demon for a neighbour, floating high enough to give him the upper hand, that looming posture Alren knew he simply wouldn’t have if his shoes were at ground level. Dude was short as hell.

 

(And one of the most powerful beings on the planet Alren don’t take the mick he could smite you with a breath-)

 

“Sup?” Alren said, knowing — not even from sparing Myles a glance — that his friend was staring at him as if he’d grown a second head. What could he say, he was awkward to a default. Meet demon, immediate reaction ‘sup’. Error: 618.

 

This was taking this casual a step too far over the line.

 

Thankfully, Alcor spared him. Instead opting to return to the same indescribable expression he wore in front of Alren. Guess he kinda had that effect on people.

 

Alren tried again, this time feeling only half as nauseous. “So, heh, I have these sweets. I know you bought loads at the shop the other day but, ah, you know, you’re immortal and all. Can never have too many sweets — I think that’s how it works? And the internet said you liked them. So. Here.”

 

He held out the assorted sugary goodies that could rain cavities from even the slightest of mouthfuls. 

 

“Why?” Alcor paused, then cleared his throat, the sweets all disappearing with gold clouds of dust. When he next spoke, his voice was back in business (mode.) “Ḫ̪̦̹a̸̹̟̦͍ve̶͚̖̬̤ ̗̕y̭̼̠̟̭̖͇o̪͚͖͔̜̙̫͟u͓̥͖͔̬̻ ͕̱͉̩͔̻͇s̘̦̭̺u͉͔mm̡̦̩o̡̖̤͔͔̗̦n̯e̳͙̺͓̭ͅd͙̝̦̕ͅ ̩͇̗͔̱̺̜͡m̖͕̰͎e͔̺̝̻̮?̡̩̲

 

“Well,” His voice squeaked — darn it he’d been doing so well, “I’m sure you’ve noticed the strange goings on in this town.”

 

There was something in Alcor that changed  — the way he held himself perhaps, an odd sparkle buried deep within his eyes — whatever the case, he was positively vibrating with a new positive energy. “So you’ve seen them too! Hey, well this should make things easier!”

 

That… that had been decidedly not what he’d expected of Alcor, though as to what he had been expecting, that was anyone’s guess. 

 

Them? Alren had been talking about him. But he was too stunned into silence to correct Alcor, figuring he’d go along with whatever was being said.

 

Alcor, from within the confines of the circle (though Alren was aware of just how easily he could break it) started doing the demon equivalent of pacing. Floating with a buzzing sort of energy.

 

“At first I came here to take a break, mess with people, that kind of thing. All fun and games.” Alcor started, Alren nodding along as it dawned on him they were slipping into ‘monologue reveal of plot time’. “The flock like it here and I managed to convince the local kids to burn every copy of Twin Souls they could get their hands on.” He chuckled, not all that unpleasantly as Alren had a flashback to the smell of burning the week prior. “Then I started noticing things like people dissolving as they came into contact with liquid. Which, I may be out of touch a bit with you lot but I’m pretty sure you aren’t known for melting — Are you?” 

 

Alren vigorously shook his head, the prospect of a person melting not something he’d rather dwell on. Except he would now, for days at an end, the mental image plaguing his dreams in a way particularly similar to how Tiffany…

 

… How Tiffany had.

 

Melted. That’s what it was, wasn’t it? His coffee had been stone cold and the liquid had bit right through her with the ease of butter. Stars, how had he missed her skin dripping off right before his very own eyes.

 

“I’m assuming you know what I’m talking about.”

 

“So, like, they’re water vampires or something?” Myles was reacquainted with the presence of Myles who, up until now, had opted to keep his mouth shut. Alren kind of wished he had.

 

“Photocopies,” Alcor corrected, “Or clones.”

 

“Wow Alren, what one of your novels have we walked in on?”

 

“I haven’t written about clones or photocopiers for that matter.” Then Alren returned all attention to Alcor who he hadn’t taken a single eye off of. Turning around and throwing salt over his shoulder wouldn’t stop his kind of sort. “But what do you mean ‘photocopies’ ?”

 

Alcor shrugged. “I mean what I said. Someone’s been swapping out people for clones — If no one knows someone is missing in the first place, how are you to report a cult kidnapping? Pfft, as if I wouldn’t notice.” He laid a claw across his chest. “But I’ll hand it to them, they are stepping up their game. Just not good enough to stop me.”

 

Oh great, as if things couldn’t get any worse. First demons, now cultists ? If there was one thing worse than a creature that ate souls for breakfast, it was the people who worshipped the very ground they floated on.

 

By offering up sacrifices.

 

Urgh, especially by offering up sacrifices. He’d lost count on how many school lectures he’d had to sit through on stranger danger. ‘ See those cloaked people kids? Do not engage. They’ll sell you off to the highest bidder .’

 

“Annoying thing is, I can’t seem to locate where they’re taking these people to . Double enforced wards? Makes things harder to trace, completely wipes them from my radar.”

 

He tried not to gulp at the idea that someone who actively kidnapped people had wards that stumped even the Dreambender. Must’ve had an ego like no tomorrow.

 

“Good thing I have you both as my associates now!”

 

This, he had to say, was never anything he’d imagine leaving a demon’s mouth ever. Yes, he knew Alcor had a thing for taking summoners off guard. But like this? 

 

Associates?

 

Alcor’s arms folded over, an impossible tangle, one that, if the guy had bones, would probably dislocate them in five places over. It was trippy to look at. “Unless you would prefer I called you something else?” He didn’t fancy being called anything. “Now, I should raise the stakes now, shouldn’t I? To make things more interesting. We don’t know how much time the kidnapped have got so… Stars, I’ve always wanted to say this: You have twenty four hours .”

 

Alren’s blood chilled, icicles rushing through him as he plummeted way below sub zero.

 

Alcor squinted. “That doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic, does it? Hmm, how about this: F̗̖͟a͖͈͚͠i̖̗̖ĺ̫͉̪͓̬̠ ̬͓̬to͙̝̭̜ ̱̺͕̯̥̮̻d́e̫̹l͖̫͢i̶v̜̳e҉̹r ̴̬̺̱ạ̥͈͓̖̥̭͜n̷͙ḏ̲̺̫̘ͅ ̗̝͍͖͘I̥̗’̞͍́l̻̳̹͡l̩ ͔͍̣͇̜̘̺d̘̹̪̭e̛̺̭͙̖ͅv̱̖͜o̺͈̫͉̬u̵̠̦r̫̪̩̻ ̙͟ý͈̰̹̭̦͉̟o̴u̵̙̫̖͖ͅr͉̠̹̳͇͝ ̘̦̝̗s̨̜̘̳o̙̞̘͍̥͝ͅụ̗̞l͚̥̲̺̣ͅs̞͜.͍̞̥͚̤̲̀ ̴̩Ș̞u̲͉̼cc̖e̛̦͙̭̜̲éd̼̺͠ ͉a͉̣͇̭n̮̙̲̯d ͇̻̩y͇̺̝̪o͓͈̫u̠̘͍̭͔ ̹͕w̪̭̖̺̭̤i̷̠̙͔̙͙l̼̜̻̖͕l͎̬̙̙ ͈b̪̦e͍̝͓̱ ̵re͕̠̼w̸̥̖a̤͙͎̘̼̼̟r̢̰͖̙̱̲̗d͎͕̼ͅe̙͕̩̣̮̫̘d͕̩ ͔̙w҉̮̱̫i̛̱̲t͎̱̗̹͙̤h͉̟̜̼ ̥y̲͕̦̫͖͡o̧̩̼̫̝̫u̮̹r̫̲̠͎̘͕ ̭l͇͢i͓v̸e̬̦̬̺͕̥s̯͎͢.҉͉̝ Now there we go! Good luck!”

 

He promptly left in a shower of gold dispersed by a gentle gust of wind, shadows receding back from the depths of the Earth they came from. The candles smoked.

 

Reality chose that moment to reassert itself, plucked him up with its fine spindly fingers as it stitched Alcor’s last words into his very core. Twenty Four hours. Find the townspeople. Stars , he didn’t even know what Alcor was planning to do with them afterwards.

 

Myles cut through the silence. “That went surprisingly better than I expected. We’re not dead.”

 

“Not dead? We will be in twenty four hours!” Alren could see his gravestone now, ‘ Here lies Alren Yos, curiosity killed the cat .’ There would be flowers of all sorts, left by his poor heartbroken mother he never even managed to say goodbye to, wondering where oh where her sweet son’s soul had gone. Then the moss would grow in time as his memory faded.

 

This. This was peak tragedy.

 

(On the bright side, he wouldn’t have to write that demon story.)

 

“And you only have yourself to blame for that. Makes you kinda wish you thought these things through, huh?” Myles pointed out, voicing what his self-berating thoughts could've done for him, “Now, are you gonna see this through or what?”

 

It wasn’t like he had a choice, now they had the Dreambender hot on their heels. Either that or go through an edition of ‘you have a day to live, what do you do?’ Just the slightly more realistic version. The kind where it’s true. And you’re not super rich.

 


“This sure beats hiding in a bush, right Alren?” Myles momentarily put down his magigoggles (his magigoggles, wasn’t exactly pleased about Alren removing them from his draw), a smirk on his face saved just for Alren. Guy could hide in all the bushes he liked, but at the end of the day, it was the highest vantage point that mattered. His idea by the way, pat on the back for him.

 

The watertower wasn’t ideal, nor did it come anywhere close to safe, but it served its purpose. From here, the town was more or less in view.

 

“I won’t die in a bush. I will falling from here.” Alren was about as green as the time he painted the colour all over his face.

 

“Eh, you will either way if this doesn’t work out. Just keep searching for super sketchy auras and you’ll be fine.”

 

“I have the sight, just not that strong.” Alren slumped against the railing, regretting it not a moment later as the whole structure pierced the air with a harrowing creek, shaking on its last legs. Even Myles jolted at that. “Hey, uh, can you pass me them over? I just want to get this over with.”

 

Myles — most kindly — relinquished possession of his goggles, though it didn’t stop him from asking: “What? Don’t think I’m good enough with these?”

 

Alren paused at that, fingers stilled over the goggles he clasped as his face softened out. “I just think you look ridiculous in them.”

 

“Excuse you! I can pull them off.”

 

“Yeah,” Alren laughed, “Pull them off before someone else sees.”

 

As if someone would just so happen to peer up at an old water tower. Real likely that. “You say that like you look any better in them.”

 

“Maybe I do.”

 

Myles grinned at him, nudging Alren with an elbow. “Nah.”

 

From there conversation petered out, lulled into a steady — not uncomfortable — silence. The odd ‘see anything?’ as they swapped lookout, taking great amusement in the goings on below, for a while being able to forget the overhanging expiration date that plagued them both for the hours to come. But it was more or less them, the trees and the dipping sun that hung overhead, washing a splattering of colour over the sky. Blues faded out into oranges and pinks, tufts of cottony clouds brushed with a light dusting of peach. 

 

And with it the daylight hours gave way to the dark, signalling the utter failure of their mission. 

 

Myles didn’t like it, but staying out here would be nothing short of useless, soon people wouldn’t be more identifiable than the streets and the pair of them would shiver themselves into prunes. They called it off, one at a time staying clear of any rusty bars as they made their descent.

 

Tomorrow was their last chance.

 

They were so screwed.

 


Alren was starting to think Marza had a knack for showing up at the most inopportune times. Walking home like the miserable sacks they were and there stood Marza, just there , deciding that nine o’clock at night was the perfect time for a spot of gardening.

 

Even Myles agreed there was a time and a place for it.

 

“Oh hello there!” She said as she spotted them, waving with a watering can in hand, “Nice evening stroll?”

 

“Uh,” Alren responded intelligently, because the only noise his throat could make these days was the sound of a voicebox utterly failing on him, “Yeah. Enjoying gardening?”

 

“I know what you’re thinking, but I just saw my flowers all droopy like that and couldn’t bear the thought of them drying up. These ones chime when they bloom and I’m ever so excited to hear it.” Marza hummed. “I was just about to head inside and make myself a hot cup of coffee.”

 

Coffee. Yeah. He could do with one of those. A nice steaming mug, dunk some chocolate in and that was him for the night. Wasn’t if he’d ever get to sleep.

 

“Why don’t you two join me inside for some?” And suddenly that coffee fantasy was all too real, though the fact that his inner conspiracist declared Marza to be a mind reader was something he really hoped wasn’t. “I think we have a lot to talk about. Starting with this impromptu summoning I heard someone screaming about.”

 

If not for water towers or demons, Marza may have been the death of him. And not in the good way.

 

(Was there ever a good way?)

 

“Of course, I don’t believe a word of it. Who would be so silly to do such a thing? Summon up a demon in broad daylight,” She added on tutting, completely oblivious to his inner turmoil, “I’m just curious as to whatever gave her the idea. You know myths, there’s always an ounce of truth behind them.”

 

Alren tried to come up with some kind of basis to an excuse, whipped straight out of the air, something he could fabricate as he went along. Between himself and Myles they could sift through all the plot holes and inaccuracies, take a chance here and there. The time never came, however, as he tripped over his tongue like it’d been slipped out from right under his feet.

 

“Oh don’t be so humble, it’s only coffee. You’re not bleeding me dry.” Marza ushered the pair of them in, misreading whatever garbled logic managed to leak past his lips, hiccups of word vomit that wanted to crawl back to whatever crazed lunatic thought it would be a good idea to birth them into this world.

 

From what little time they’d known her, she always did strike him as the type that wouldn’t say no.

 

The home was comfortable enough, furniture a little dated but all things managed to wash up back around in terms of fashion. It was spacious but lived in. Little telltale signs dotted here and there, a kid’s painting, photos rotating across the walls — one projection showing Marza younger, mouse brown instead of the silvery grey. The mess of paper that lay waste around the largest photocopier he’d ever seen, the poor thing looking like it wanted to fall apart any minute as it printed its last sheet.

 

“Sorry for such a mess, you weren’t exactly expected,” She said, slipping off into the kitchen to boil the coffee. Somewhere along the lines Myles ended up asking for two sugars.

 

Marza returned with a tray of biscuits whilst they waited on her couch, beaming with wrinkles forming at the corners of her eyes as she settled it down.

 

“I was hoping you would get around to coming in. Your company — both of your company — it really warms my heart. I see so much of Rivika in you.” Marza’s smile wavered. “A bit too much sometimes.”

 

Myles, either because he noticed Alren’s uncomfortable smile or was captivated by a tray of biscuits, took one and fell into easy conversation with her.

 

“Well your company is great too, I’d love to hear about your chiming flowers.”

 

“That’s about the only thing interesting around here, I’m afraid.” Her sneaking glance at the photos said enough. Even with a granddaughter of her own, this house was a bit big for one.

 

“Not true,” Myles protested, in between swallowing bites. Crumbs settled in the tray. “The flowers and- take that photocopier over there. Looks old.” His eyes danced, the song of mischief starting up with the first few keys. Now there was Myles. “Don’t suppose you’re gonna photocopy some clones with that.”

 

Alren’s face kept steady and polite in the presence of company, but that wasn’t to say his metaphorical hand didn’t fall fast into facepalming on the spot with his inner consciousness. Really , now of all times.

 

He made a move to apologise to Marza, yet the very sight of her had him do a double take. Her jaw was set, eyes hard like flint, and the hollows of her cheeks achingly more prominent, giving him the impression he was in the presence of a walking relic rather than the woman they’d come to accept as their neighbour. 

 

Alren knew Myles' jokes could be bad, but really ? They didn’t warrant a reverse facelift to the extent of that.

 

“So,” Marza said to the silence, hard where her words were once spoken with care. It was quite the shock to the system, leaving Alren with the fighting urge to leave out where he came from. Move back home, even. “You’re smart. Just like Rivika.”

 

Alren locked eyes with Myles, the latter paling just as he expected himself to be. “ What?

 

“I’ll admit, I liked you two.” As opposed to earlier, this carried a haunting sentiment. “But I also liked her. And yet.” Her eyes narrowed, hawklike just as they had been all those weeks back. Had this been why the look made him uneasy? “I killed her anyway.”

 

“You… you what? Why? ” Myles choked out, a verbal shudder as he flexed his fingers, keen to move to the door once they had the all clear. Alren was reminded of the times spent with the pair in the garden, their passion for plants a mutual overlap. Stars, what if she buried bodies there . With all those trowels and petals, you’d never know.

 

Alren’s stomach churned.

 

“It’s like it always is. She knew too much.” Marza shrugged, nonchalant as one would be on discussing the weather. With murder, it’s a little bit different. “Thing is with her, I didn’t have time to get her to the photocopier. And the photocopier . Oh the photocopier. Stumbled upon it at an auction, seller didn’t even know the half of it.”

 

A swift death, possibly some sort of weapon concealed on her person, with them being her next targets. With luck, if he stalled her well enough, their lives would be prolonged. A few extra breaths at most. “And the others? The ones you cloned?” 

 

“Alive and downstairs in the basement, a few wards there to keep out prying eyes. I’m not a monster ,” She continued, sickly saccharine, because in her book kidnapping was an a-okay. Of course, how merciful . “I’m leaving them to my cult’s patron demon — I, an old lady, couldn’t do this alone you see. I have outside help coming in the dead of night. Esornerak the Petalled One will be most pleased. My plan is completely foolproof. People find it difficult to sacrifice any old person off the streets these days. They go missing, people get suspicious. Fingers are pointed Eventually handcuffs are brought out. But with this? I’ve started a future for cults.” Marza’s voice trickled with faux concern as she tilted her head, smile so terribly sad. “But don’t worry, you won’t have time for that.”

 

It was a frenzy, how such a frail old thing could flip a tray of biscuits (the waste), of which may or may not be poisoned, and chase both Myles and himself around the room, fleeing for the exit she managed to block off. She was the cat, and they the mice, agile where she was cunning. 

 

“I suppose this is where I should ask you for any last words?”

 

With his life on the line to a hag whose bones should've been clicking more than his, Alren’s brain to mouth had literally zero filter. It was mostly screaming, but in between the screams he managed to pant out his last words.

 

He was thinking of something poetic, a retelling of his life with only but a few sentences, as easy to make one tear up to as the full fledged story the summed up. The reality: “Alcor! Alcor! Alcor!”

 

That only summed up his past month. But it was as good enough as any.

 

(Part of him, the bit that couldn't recall his summoning chant for the life of him, had his fingers crossed that he’d be in the near vicinity to hear his pleas. They could be associates, they could work this out, he was too young to die- )

 

Somehow the space around them managed to ‘pop’, adjust its atoms to reassemble a demon in between them. 

 

(Somehow it worked? The heck-)


H҉͙̳̱͙̣e̴̫̪͚̫̖̣̦y̧̩̞͓̘. ” Alcor smiled, serrated teeth pointed and vicious, glinting with a source of light that just wasn’t there. “ S҉̩̟͖̫͎ͅo͉̟̗̤͟ ҉̻͓͉w̧̹͇̟͈̭̱h͇̮͙͚̣̗a̹̞̹̰t̖͍̳̖͉ ̤͔̙͉d̻͔̩̺͍i͜d̨͔̗̬̹̖̬̺ ͖̬͇̞I̼̰̭ ͙̤̮͇̟͢m̱̞̲̼ị̰̜̺̼͚͇͝s̫̠̠͖̺s̴͈͈̰̱̤̯̟?͏̫̠


Noring was an experience.

 

Be it good, or bad, no. It was neither. It was a thing that he, Alcor the dreambender and bearer of a thousand titles had yet to decide on.

 

As it had been with the thousands upon thousands of times before, he was swimming in boredom. A whole tank of it. Multiple tanks of it. So many tanks they could be poured out and fill an ocean with his liquid boredom, submerging the globe into a permanent Atlantis ( California. ) Pure and utter unconcentrated boredom. 

 

Lucy Ann had offered up as sage advice as anything. Though the intention of the comment had been sarcastic, yes, a ‘well why don’t you go and play human like always?’ he realised she had a good point. With Mizar off the grid for now, and a Soos reincarnation that barely surpassed the age of two and a half months, playing human was starting to be his only answer. Thing was, that was getting kind of boring too.

 

He needed something to spice it all up. He’d done college, that one time with the band, got a job as a librarian, accidentally joined that one cult dedicated to Gompers and if you ask him how he really couldn’t tell you . What else was he to do, waltz in as Alcor and act as if nothing was odd about that?

 

It was a funny thought. So funny that he ended up doing it.

 

First he made the house (666 because that was his sense of humour), allowed his flock entry into the material world, for them to roam happy and free with their grass and stop traffic in their frollicking. Then he made his entry, was completely frank with a kid for the purpose of his outfit, became a hot topic for discussion. 

 

(And everyone came to the conclusion he was a cosplayer — he got quite the number of compliments on the authenticity of his wings.)

 

Starting up the D,D&MD campaign was ridiculously entertaining, Dipper had missed the old group and, as such, figured he was due another game. He even got kids to burn Twins Souls copies (making him a very good influence on the lives of the impressionable youth. You’re welcome. Do arson.)

 

It was just that, throughout this pleasurable break, he crossed paths with something he hadn’t even thought of for centuries.

 

(That was the thing, though. All these parts of his past never truly stayed buried. The universe delighted in tormenting him, it so seemed.)

 

So the clones had resurfaced again. How? He wasn’t entirely sure. The location of the original copies? That, too, was an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma. 

 

Doing some nosing around, looking into the goings on of the town hadn’t been all that effective. People were melting here, there and everywhere from limbs to foreheads and masquerading them as burns, only to reapply them with paper when they thought no one was looking.

 

(Like Tyrone, his namesake, all those years ago.)

 

The summoning was an unforeseen surprise, as were the summoners. But hey, they could now cover more ground. Dipper made a mental note to keep his eyes (read: stars) out for them. Which was lucky considering one had decided the best way of capturing his attention was shouting his name three times.

 

(But it worked, so, he couldn’t argue with that logic.)

 

“Alcor! I didn’t invite you in!” Shrieked Marza, an old lady with a knife in her hands. Ah, so this was who’s mess he’d been looking into these past weeks. Kind of embarrassing if he put much thought into it.

 

“I̭̪ ̮͟k̩̭̭̺n͈̼̳o̯̭͖w̮̺̦̲̲͠,̛̱ ̫̣I̬ ̱̣̙i̫͓̠͚̟͚n̶̥͇̗̠͈̻̣v̠̻̩͕̼̻͖͘įt͎̘̤̬̱͓̥e̛̙ͅd̡͉̱ ҉̯̼̟͈m͎̮͍͙͚͚̰̀y̖͉̪̠̹͝s͙͍ͅe̘̬͓̣̮ͅl͙̘̪̗͈͔f̱̫.”

 

He snapped his fingers and for Marza, it rained hellfire. Her ashes crumbled along with all the biscuits.

 

Usually at this point his challenger would attempt to bind him, maybe bring out the old true name trick whilst they were at it. There would be drama and suspense and a whole lot of screaming. Alas, she didn’t even bother to do that. All there were was a tray full of dusty biscuits. What a waste.

 

Alcor examined his claws as if a manicure was more interesting than the murder scene currently laid out in front of them. Them. Himself and the two gawking boys who had an apparent knack for stumbling into trouble, their eyes darting to both him and where Marza had once been.

 

Well that was anticlimactic,” He commented, whether it was for him or them. It was a time for pulling out witty one liners, and such a shame if he kept them all hauled up in his brain space. “Oh well, she’s only one of the many part of this cult I can incinerate later. As for now?” Alcor clapped his hands into a clasp, addressing the boys. “Like any classic cultist, Marza’s got people in her basement. You set them all free and you’re all good to go.”

 

One stepped forwards — Myles, his partial omniscience supplied — with the other clinging to his arm like a lifeline. Alren. Oh, oh, OH. AND THEY WERE ROOMMATES.

 

“Hey Al?” Myles asked, his friend hissing into his ear ‘No! Don’t call him that’ as if Alcor wasn’t a demon of unimaginable power, one of which was the ability to listen in on private conversations. Useful. “So you’re not going to kill us?”

 

“Yeesh, no.” They took that seriously? “If I wanted to, I’d have done it then when you summoned me without a deal. But I didn’t .” Alcor threw Myles some keys. “These are for the basement. I get the feeling you’re a pair of friendly friendly faces traumatised victims would rather see than mine.”

 

That was something Dipper had learnt from experience.

 

I’ve got some c͓u̧͕̪ḽ̞̖̻͠t͏̤̱̹͙̱̫ͅi̗̘s̟̠͍͍̙t͎͝s̘̻͉ to locate.

 


“Heyyyyy!” Shouted a recognisable voice as they switched the basement light on, keys jangling. A mop of bright red hair came into view along with other faces they’d been acquainted with. All at varying degrees of being gagged and tied. Wouldn’t make a difference, the silence wards were heavy. “You're the Alcor poster guy!”


When Alren had thought himself to be screwed the next day, he meant the dead kind of screwed. Not the kind where at two o’clock in the morning — in full demonic glory — Alcor burst out of the blue into his room, with Alrin screaming off his ears as the demon said something like “you guys are a riot,” “good job on saving the town” and “we’ll have to do this again sometime” with enough reverb to make the entire cottage quake.

 

What. The hell.


That, he finally decided, raiding the kitchen for headache tablets during those ungodly hours, was the last time he’d be accepting a house from a dead relative.


 

𝚂𝚘𝚖𝚎𝚠𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚘𝚞𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚛𝚎 𝚒𝚜 𝚊 𝚝𝚘𝚠𝚗 𝚏𝚞𝚕𝚕 𝚘𝚏 𝚌𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚜, 𝚙𝚎𝚘𝚙𝚕𝚎 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚗𝚌𝚎𝚜 𝚕𝚘𝚘𝚔 𝚕𝚒𝚔𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚜𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚜𝚑𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍𝚗’𝚝 , 𝚠𝚑𝚘 𝚠𝚊𝚕𝚔 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚊𝚕𝚔 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚊𝚛𝚎𝚗’𝚝 . 𝙰𝚛𝚎𝚗’𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚏𝚊𝚌𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚠𝚎𝚊𝚛 𝚊𝚜 𝚊 𝚖𝚊𝚜𝚔, 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚕𝚒𝚟𝚎𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚋𝚘𝚛𝚛𝚘𝚠, 𝚝𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚕𝚒𝚟𝚎 𝚒𝚗 𝚕𝚒𝚎𝚜. 𝚈𝚘𝚞 𝚠𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍𝚗’𝚝 𝚔𝚗𝚘𝚠. 𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚢 𝚠𝚘𝚞𝚕𝚍. 𝚃𝚠𝚒𝚗𝚜 𝚏𝚘𝚛 𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚎𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚗𝚌𝚎𝚜, 𝚍𝚎𝚌𝚎𝚙𝚝𝚒𝚟𝚎 𝚝𝚘 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚗𝚊𝚔𝚎𝚍 𝚎𝚢𝚎. 𝚄𝚗𝚚𝚞𝚎𝚜𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚍. 𝙸𝚝 𝚓𝚞𝚜𝚝 𝚒𝚜.  

 

𝙰𝚗𝚍 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝’𝚜 𝚝𝚑𝚊𝚝.  

 

𝚄𝚗𝚝𝚒𝚕 𝚊𝚕𝚘𝚗𝚐 𝚌𝚘𝚖𝚎 𝚝𝚠𝚘.

 

 

“19.7k words,” Alren said, slamming his hands down, “How’s that for a story Karla?”