Lame Bonus Post: Going on another little hiatus

Until I get my editing done and Greyblade released, I’m going to take a break from blogging. I’m fine, just got a busy couple of weeks coming up and I have to let something go.

I’m not finished with the story of Skell and Lotus. Or at least, I’m finished with that story … but like Predericon’s little epic, this looks like one that will extend into a collection of serial tales. So I’ll come back to that soon.

Until then, I’ll post whenever anything Hatstand-shaking occurs.

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Black Lotus, Part 19

Lotus and Çrom didn’t resume at that time, however. Lotus seemed to recognise the distress Çrom was still feeling, even though by now he considered himself to be fairly adept at hiding it. In fact, he reflected sheepishly, if he’d put as much effort into honing his lovemaking as he had to keeping the horrors of undying from showing on his face, he might have been famous for more than just … walking across the urverse and getting killed every time he stopped for a sandwich, as Lotus had so succinctly put it.

“So,” he said, after they’d gotten dressed but settled down comfortably close to one another in Lotus’s little pile of mystic-looking mess. “You’re not just trying to get me on side so you can try for immortality. Your ultimate goal here is to get me to abandon my quest for death, at which point you’ll spring it on me.”

“At no point have I given up on my goal,” Lotus said. “But our goals are interwoven, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph.”

Çrom had always disliked being addressed by his classical title. He was surprised to find that it didn’t hurt so much, coming from Lotus. Surprised, and a little worried. “As interwoven as our bodies in the throes of passion?” he suggested floridly.

“Even more so,” she replied with her usual merciless accuracy. “There is a risk, after all, that I may die before you achieve a state of acceptance. I would be unable to complete my commission.”

“I like to think your professional pride would force you to bend on that,” Çrom said, “if it looked like you were about to die.”

“I am mortal,” Lotus shrugged. “I could die today.”

“Only if you keep killing me and screwing me for the next eight or nine hours,” Çrom said lightly rather than think about that. “But as happy as I am to keep trying it this way, I did already admit to you that my immortality isn’t sexually transmissible.”


“So did you have a plan for gaining immortality?” he asked. “A plan involving me, but preferably not involving trying to steal the Dark Queen’s Chalice, or freeing the dread Ghåålus so we can kick Him in the nads together as a couple?”

“As a matter of fact I do,” she said.

And then she told him her plan, involving him, for gaining immortality.

“Alright,” Çrom said after a long, awestruck pause.

“‘Alright’?” Lotus repeated in surprise.

Çrom drew in a deep breath. “The best sort of boots for kicking a Ghåålus in the crotch is a pair with good ankle support-”


“That load of high-yield irredeemable twaddle you just told me,” Çrom declared, “is without a doubt the stupidest plan for gaining immortality I have ever heard. Why not just shoot straight at glorification? Cut out the middle steps. Which, just to reiterate, are stupid steps?” he added. “I can probably pull a few strings, get you a-”

“No,” Lotus said. “I am a murderer many times over,” she smiled sadly. “Those such as I do not become Angels, Çrom.”

“Get out,” Çrom scoffed. “I didn’t think there was any other way to become an Angel. They’d probably promote you straight to blackwing.”

“You are mistaken,” Lotus said. “And besides, a Demon has greater freedom, and greater power. Would you not consider a Demon to be a worthy companion, if it came to that? A lover that you would not have to lose?”

“Until some determined Demon-slayer … well, slew you.”

“There is another method we might try,” Lotus said, “for ending your life, once I am a Demon. I am not convinced it would work, but it might appeal to you.”

“Oh yes?”

“Were I to gain the power of a Demon,” Lotus said, “and should the information I have collected prove accurate, I could set you adrift in God-space.”

Çrom stared. “What good would that do?”

“As much as dropping you into the Liminal, in terms of robbing the dread Ghåålus of entertainment … except I understand you would not die of thirst or lose your mind,” Lotus said.

“That’s true,” Çrom replied. “Getting broken down and digested by God-space is much worse.”

“Have you tried being absorbed into the underdark?”

“No,” Çrom admitted grudgingly. “But I imagine I’d return to the nearest convenient point of reality, with a precious new death memory to enjoy,” he shuddered. “No. No. No underdark.”

Lotus shrugged. “As you wish. I did tell you I would not conduct any further experiments, after all. No more deaths until your final death,” she promised. “At least by my hand.”

Çrom looked at her in affectionate puzzlement. “You really think you have it,” he said. “Don’t you?”

“No, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph,” the Black Lotus said firmly. “I know I have it.”

“But before you spring it on me,” he summarised, “we’re going to descend into Castle Void and steal the dark gift of diabolisation from the Adversary.”


“And then use that power to leverage your promotion to the Earthly Heralds or the Archangelic court or – what exactly?”

“It hardly matters,” Lotus said. “By the time we are done, my past will be wiped clean by the service I have done. I will not even need to kill you to ensure my legacy,” she smiled. “But I will, nevertheless.”

Çrom shook his head. “Lotus,” he said, and touched her tangled coils of hair. “Nothing so gentle. You’re a thistle, a gympie gympie … no, a stinging nettle, I think.”

The Black Lotus grinned. “And I would have all of Castle Void feel my sting,” she whispered.



– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Black Lotus, Part 18

The smothering darkness drew back to reveal the Black Lotus sitting by his side, still naked except for the soulwatchers wrapped around her head. Her wild, knotted jumble of hair stuck out from the leather bindings every which way.

“Forty-seven seconds,” she said. “Counting the time it took for you to reignite,” she tapped the lenses. “Fifty-four seconds until you breathed, and opened your eyes again.”

“Aag,” Çrom said, raising shaking hands to his eyes.

“You were telling the truth,” Lotus congratulated him.

“Give me a second,” he pleaded, and lay back, closed his eyes, and shivered. It was so loud. How could silence be so loud? He opened his eyes quickly and looked at Lotus suspiciously. She raised her empty hands, looking as innocent as a filthy killer for hire wearing a pair of antique mystic goggles could look. This was not particularly innocent.

“I will not kill you again until the final time,” she said. “I have learned everything I can from this experiment.”

“So glad,” he said weakly. Had he thought he would be willing to let her do that to him? What sort of an idiot had he been? “What did you stick in my eyes?”

Lotus reached down – slowly, but the movement was still enough to make Çrom flinch – and picked up a pair of dull silvery spikes from the trash on the floor.

“Imperium,” she said. “Shaped by … well, there are a lot of stories and only the most laughable chain of provenance. But since only powerful Gods can even scratch Imperium, it’s safe to assume one of Them made these.”

Çrom whistled through dry lips. “That’s a lot of Imperium,” he said, admiring the pair of hand-length, finger-breadth spikes in spite of the creeping horror still filling him. “Darking Mags’s Coffin?”

Lotus lowered the spikes, turned her head and unwound the goggles, before giving him a stare that was only slightly marred by the amusing red marks left behind by straps and lenses. “How did you know that?” she demanded.

“There’s not much Imperium on the market,” Çrom replied, “and not much in handy weapon form. I’ve never been stabbed by a nail from Darking Mags’s Coffin, but I know they were meant to be about that size and shape, and there were … a hundred of them?”

“The story claimed there were ten by ten,” Lotus nodded, and rolled the soulwatchers back into their pouch. “Only thirty-seven have ever been accounted for. The rest are presumably somewhere down in the Castle.”

“Do these make thirty-nine?” Çrom gestured.

Lotus shook her head. “They are two of the thirty-seven,” she said. “They were part of my payment for a previous commission.”

“No wonder you were unimpressed by my princely offer of whatever I happened to have in my pockets when you killed me,” Çrom smiled. “I can’t offer Imperium. Although I should feel honoured to have been killed by such a valuable relic.”

“You have not been killed using Imperium before?”

“Oh, several times,” Çrom said, “along with each of the other so-called Inviolate Metals. Except my inner pedant always makes me add that none of them are technically metals and only a couple of them are even metallic…” he sat up and rubbed his face, trying not to let the darkness show. He forced a smile. “Never been stabbed with these, though,” he concluded. “It was … a little prolonged for my tastes.”

Lotus looked momentarily unhappy. “I held them in your eyes,” she said, her expression returning to its usual calm but intense inquisitiveness. “I was curious to see if your body would heal and push them free, or if the Imperium itself would dissolve, or if you would simply re-form slightly to one side…” she shifted a little uncomfortably. “It was only a matter of seconds. I am sorry.”

“I was actually wondering if you … dismounted before finishing me off,” Çrom said lightly. “Real good way to get sick, right there.”

“I dismounted,” Lotus smiled slightly. “You do not remember?”

“I was pretty numb,” he reminded her, “from the rape drug you surprised me with,” this time she definitely flinched, so he continued, “I’m teasing. For the record, I was perfectly fine with what you did. I could have told you that impaling doesn’t keep me dead any longer than anything else, though – if you’d asked.”

“You have tried?”

“Not by choice, but sure,” Çrom replied. “I usually just sort of wake up next to whatever impaled me. Once,” he reminisced, “I was crushed between two blocks of fusion glass three hundred metres on a side. Long story,” he added when Lotus looked curious, “suffice it to say you’re nowhere near the most creative murderer I’ve contracted, although sex more than makes up for any shortcomings in the props budget.”

“What happened?” Lotus asked.

“I came back to life,” Çrom answered. “What do you think happened?”

She rolled her eyes. “In between the blocks of glass, or outside them?”

“Up in the lifting mechanism,” Çrom said. “Almost got killed again right there. Some pretty big hydraulics needed to lift twenty-seven million cubic metres of fusion glass. So what happened with the spikes?”

“Nothing,” Lotus said, evidently dissatisfied. “I was kneeling with them held firmly in place, you bled and spasmed, and then I had the spikes in my hands and you were intact again.”

“Anticlimactic, isn’t it?”

“The goggles achieved nothing.”

“They rarely do,” Çrom said philosophically.

“You never really answered me,” Lotus said, “about whether or not you are fertile. You said you do not really pay much attention, since to know of your progeny would be to invite pain on yourself…”

“But I’ve had children,” Çrom said quietly. “Of course I have. And I’ve watched them – some of them – for as long as I could bear.”

“But they all died,” Lotus said calmly. Çrom nodded. “When?”

“A couple of hundred years after being born,” Çrom said roughly. “Just like everyone else. My curse, my brand of immortality, isn’t inheritable or sexually transmissible. Don’t ask me if it would be kinder or crueller if it was. I’m still trying to think around two Imperium-spike-sized holes in my head that don’t actually exist but my mind is trying to tell me do. What’s your point?”

“I was just wondering,” Lotus said. “If your dismembered body-parts vanish and reconstitute into you, and the hair and skin and other things you shed throughout your lifetime-”

“Are you wondering if my sperm relocates back into my testicles when I die?” Çrom asked wearily. Lotus shrugged. “Look, I can tell you that kids I’ve had don’t cease to ever have existed when I undie. The clones made from my genetic material didn’t vanish. I guess stuff like that is replenished by my body and so it gets to continue being part of the bioplane of wherever I shed it. They say every cell in our bodies is replaced over a pretty short period, so I’d expect the dread Ghååluss to have thought that through. My separated genetic material doesn’t take on any actual Çrom-Skelliglyph-like properties, though – with the possible exception of messy hair,” he eyed Lotus. “Our kids might be in trouble in that respect.”

“You need not concern yourself,” Lotus said. “I no longer have it in me to breed. Physiologically,” she added, delicately. “The Ice Wall’s Department of Immigration and Pest Control does not have the most proactive stance on preventing the spread of the human species that I have encountered.”

“I’m sorry,” Çrom said awkwardly, after a long pause.

The Black Lotus tilted her head. “Oh? Why?”

Çrom shrugged. “It felt like something I should say,” he said.

She leaned forward. “But the lovespike wore off,” she said, her tone changing abruptly.

“Yeah,” Çrom said, “anything in my system stays behind with my old body – you know, conceptually speaking. Certainly if it was a poison or whatever killed me. Don’t know if this applies.”

“So where is the lovespike residue now?”

“Beats me,” Çrom said, and shifted his legs experimentally. “It’s not smeared on my kungus anymore. I’d guess it’s either rubbed off onto the floor, or its molecules are floating around harmlessly in the air.”


“Don’t mind if I do,” Çrom said, then acknowledged the weak line with an apologetic look. “If I die drunk, I wake up sober,” he said. “But I could very well have a hangover for all I notice at the time. I may still not be making it clear to you how-”

“-awful dying and then undying is,” Lotus said. “Yes.”

Çrom moved his fingers experimentally, then tilted his head back and forth. The darkness rolled queasily with him, and he smiled again to dispel it. At least outwardly. “I do usually wind up with a bit of lingering numbness or some aches and pains,” he said, “but mostly-”

“So … you are no longer spent?” Lotus asked, her eyes flicking downwards.

Çrom shuffled backwards a few theatrical centimetres. “If I answer that, are you going to make killing me a regular part of our … frolicking?”

Lotus laughed at what must have been an amusingly prim expression on his face. “I said I would not kill you again,” she replied, “and the sex was not quite good enough to make me break my word.”


She grinned, and advanced on him.


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while walking to the bus.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Black Lotus, Part 17

They didn’t have long to bask in the memory of shags past, or to worry overly much about their potential distant relative status.

“I will kill you now,” Lotus said, unwinding herself from Çrom’s body and rising to pad away across the stuffy little room. She crouched and opened one of a little collection of boxes against the far wall, and rummaged inside it while Çrom struggled to sit up.

“Hold on,” he said, “that was very enjoyable and all, but it didn’t exactly make me see the wonder and opportunity of my immortality. I wouldn’t be averse to another round at some point, but I’m not about to embrace eternity and find new purpose, so-”

“Of course not,” Lotus turned back around with a couple of antique-looking leather pouches in her hands, and returned to the slightly expanded nest they’d rolled out together.

“Oh,” he said with heavy inevitability. “You mean you’re going to just-making-sure kill me. Because nothing I’ve just told you about how bad it is had the slightest impact on you.”

“On the contrary,” she said softly. “I have the greatest of sympathy for you – unless of course you are simply insane, and have been lying all this time, and will in fact die permanently the moment I kill you. That would be most disappointing … but I suppose you would be dead, thus escaping my ire.”

“That’ll show you,” Çrom said, glancing uneasily up at the pouches. “So…”

“I will observe, using these,” she knelt beside him and pulled out what looked like a pair of old all-seeing goggles from one pouch. The lenses were dusty and scratched, the straps so worn and often-repaired that the script burned into them was no longer legible.

“Are they soulwatchers?” Çrom asked out of archaeological interest. “I thought you didn’t go for gadgets … although I have to admit, they don’t look quite as out of place in this setting as a mica reader would have,” he continued to eye her uncertainly as she coiled the goggles around her head, settled the lenses into her eye sockets, and examined him with a slightly uncomfortable level of scrutiny. “Are they working?”

“As well as they ever have,” she said with a shrug. “You seem entirely normal.”

Çrom couldn’t help glancing down. “I’m not too old to take some comments personally, you know,” he said. Lotus smiled dutifully at the joke, then opened the other pouch with a worrying degree of caution. This pouch was darkly stained, and had a very suspicious smell coming from it. “What are you thinking?” he asked, trying to keep the quaver from his voice.

“First,” she said casually, “I was thinking of having you again.”

“You were?” he brightened. “Well like I said-”

Quick as a flash, she straddled his legs. Still watching him quizzically through the weird old soulwatcher glasses, she pulled a wrinkled black leather object from the pouch and gingerly unfolded it. It was a glove. She donned the glove extremely carefully, then reached inside the pouch with it. Çrom heard something unpleasantly damp being manipulated in its stained depths, and he frowned when she set the pouch aside in another waft of that highly suspicious smell.

“Is that-” he said, but she leaned forward over him, blocking his view. With her un-gloved hand she reached down between their bodies, while the gloved hand – now with a fresh and glistening dollop of something on its first two fingers – went in and wiped his perineum with an almost electric jolt. “Gah it’s lovespike,” he accused through suddenly clenched teeth.

“Mm,” she said, shifting back and carefully removing the glove, rolling it and tucking it back into the pouch. She stood, returned the pouch of thoroughly illegal and altogether merciless narcotic ointment to its box, took something else from the box’s depths, and returned to mount him.

The compound, which had gone by many names over the years, worked fast but also wore off fast unless you followed it up with other, equally illegal chemicals. Lotus didn’t appear interested in doing so – but she didn’t really need to. Çrom was paralysed, his body incapable of movement although the full range of sensation remained … and, as the name of the ointment suggested, his organ had become painfully hard while she was still pacing across the room.

Lotus had her way a final time, studying his face disconcertingly with the dusty grey lenses even as she bounced and ground herself on him. Within another fifteen or twenty minutes, the lovespike began to wear off. It was hard to measure time with any precision given the circumstances, but Çrom knew this was roughly how long lovespike lasted so he guessed that was how long it had been … in any case, he found he was able to move his toes and fingertips, although his speech was still a little slurred.

“Damn it, Lotus,” he half-laughed, half-groaned as she rode him through a climax that was more muscle-clench than ejaculation. “I think you got them all.”

Lotus knelt on his hips, her body going as still and taut as it had been when she’d settled by his side earlier. She looked down on him with the weird glasses, her head tilted to one side in that way that had somehow become so very familiar, and so very endearing, in a very short time.

Then, without breaking eye-contact, she reached into the drifts of litter they were lying in and produced the other things she’d taken from the box on the other side of the room.

Çrom didn’t get a good look at them because she moved faster than a snake. But whatever they were, she hammered them into his skull through his eye sockets where he lay paralysed, killing him instantly.


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while waiting for the bus.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 37 Comments

Black Lotus, Part 16

Çrom and Lotus fornicated in near-silence, with what Çrom considered to be acceptable – perhaps even greater-than-average – athleticism on his part. Still, it was clear from the start that he was outmatched and probably destined to be a disappointment. Not because of any real failings in his own stamina or technique, but because Lotus was practically feral.

Çrom had long since settled for being an adequate lover, insofar as the whole concept even interested him anymore. Oh, he had always and would always enjoy sex – that was more or less a built-in feature, certainly of him and almost universally of his species. And one of the main benefits of his curse seemed to be that he hovered, physiologically and psychologically, around the optimal point for the human male libido.

Nnal may have believed that keeping Çrom alive until recreational sex had worn down into repetitive, tortuous monotony was the greatest act of cruelty He could commit. And that might have been true, but Çrom was fairly confident by now that the life-span of the urverse wasn’t going to be enough time for this to happen. Sex was, in fact, one of the activities about which he had been most obstinate.

He’d made it a point to try most of the generally practiced variants – humans were not, for all their obsession and often downright obnoxious pride, all that creative when it came to pleasuring one another – and quite a few of the variants occupying the shadier ends of the taboo spectrum, as well as a number of human-compatible variants common to assorted other sentient species. He did this at least often enough that the whole thing didn’t fade into forgetfulness for him. Other stuff that he may or may not have done in his life could have been things he was remembering wrong, or things that he’d heard about Çrom Skelliglyph doing but that he had not actually done. This did not apply to the Slumsville Sludgepump.

There were people, he knew, who didn’t consider the act of sex to be all that interesting or exciting, let alone necessary to their general wellbeing. A not-inconsiderable number of humans actually felt that way. Sometimes he envied them, and at other times simply couldn’t understand just what the Hell their deal was. No, he very much enjoyed it. It was just that sometimes, when he was least expecting it, recreational sex became something more serious. And that was when it got painful.

Of course, the same could be said for friendships, long-term professional relationships, even conversations. You could never be too careful. So although he never quite managed to achieve true and lasting celibacy, let alone asexuality, he could sometimes go for lifetimes without indulging, and lifetimes more with a “take it or leave it” sense about it. Especially when he was crawling out of one of those horrible slip-ups when he let himself feel anything serious for his fellow beings.

Maybe, he reflected as Lotus snarled and twisted around him, he should have been more wary of that happening here. But the time to worry about that had probably been before spending half the night talking with her about life and death and everything in between, all while looking through her crazed and filthy exterior and being ever more fascinated by what he saw beneath. And he didn’t mean her naked body, although that was an unexpected bonus.

As always, however, these regrets were rather vague and half-hearted things, a wistful acknowledgement that it was too late. In fact, any misgivings he had about getting too close to the Black Lotus occurred on about the same level as his misgivings about floor-sex in a filthy hovel cluttered with witch props. Maybe he could have planned it all out better … but it would be fine as long as they didn’t knock over the stew pot.

Çrom conceded that he probably wasn’t as phenomenal as he should have been, considering the time he’d had to practice. People always expected him to be a master at pretty much everything, since he could have spent a hundred years doing nothing but that thing. And sex was usually right at the top of that list, because sex was right at the top of most lists that humans made. Still, he liked to think he got the job done. After a while, at least, Lotus dismounted with a happy growl and nestled beside him in the tangled mess of her nest and his clothes, and didn’t seem inclined to complain or try again. Çrom, for his part, lay and enjoyed the unique but not unpleasant combination of scents she’d ground onto his skin, and tried to disguise how out of breath he was.

“Do you ever feel uncomfortable about how much older you are than your sexual partners?” Lotus asked after they’d laid together for a couple of minutes with neither of them – or so Çrom firmly believed – quite daring to drift off to sleep in the other’s presence. Not out of distrust, as such, but they were both quite aware of the nature of their relationship so far and Lotus was probably as interested and wary as he was about what the next stage in its development would be.

He thought about it. Of course he’d expected some sort of questions or commentary regarding sex to follow their little performance, and as far as questions went this was a reasonable one – and, he was pleased to note, didn’t necessarily reflect poorly on his abilities.

“To be honest, I stopped worrying about that after I outlived my first human civilisation,” he replied. “I do my best to stay within the moral and legal frameworks of wherever I happen to be spending the most time, and I find that settles into my behaviour pretty naturally. Same as the shift in language and dialect, really. Xidh remains stable, for the most part, but human languages have long since taught me the futility of getting too attached.”

“Hmm,” she was lying quite still, pressed to him but not clinging or stroking or anything else. There was still, he could tell now that they were in skin-contact, an undercurrent of tension running through her. He strongly suspected that as soon as he showed signs of wanting another go-round, she would take him to school without hesitation. “I was going to drug you,” she told him, “and perform these acts on you before beginning to work through some death experiments. Fortunately, our conversation lent me a certain affection for you, as well as making it clear that I would not need to coerce you.”

“Yay for conversation,” Çrom said feebly.

“Do you reproduce, or has immortality also left you sterile?”

This was also a common enough question he was asked, although – quaint and traditional as he supposed it was – he was more accustomed to having to field it before having sex. “I … haven’t really paid much attention to it,” he admitted honestly. “I know that sounds bad, but-”

“But so is watching your children die.”

“Yes,” there didn’t seem to be much to say after that, so he let the silence extend for a minute or two. “It actually gets a bit awkward when I start thinking about how much of my genetic material might have propagated through the species by now,” he went on lightly.

“You may have just fucked your great-great-great-great-granddaughter,” Lotus concluded with absolutely merciless directness.

That, I generally try not to think about while mid-coitus,” Çrom said.


“Wait,” Çrom pushed himself up on one elbow and eyed her suspiciously. “Were you thinking about it?”

Lotus laughed.


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark. Be gentle with me, it’s my first public attempt at an on-screen sex scene.

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Black Lotus, Part 15

“Some might argue that the best response to such a curse, rather than breaking it, would be to spend eternity thwarting the dread Ghåålus and His minions at every opportunity,” Lotus said, rather than getting to the point. “Continue the good work that earned you the curse in the first place.”

“Good work,” Çrom chuckled. “Thwarting the dread Ghåålus and His minions at every opportunity is a great way to spend eternity being dunked in lava over and over again. One of the simplest and worst ways to go, by the way,” he added. “That’s why it’s so popular in the various Hells. And to make it even better, you don’t really need to do anything to get lava. Most world-types make their own.”

“You continually deflect,” Lotus accused. “You can no longer even conceive of the possibility of enjoying life, of utilising the eternity you have been granted for something – for anything – of value,” she jabbed at him with a dirty, ragged-nailed finger. “You didn’t come here for death, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph, because you already knew I would fail. You came here to cry about how sad it is you get to live forever.”

“If you’d ever experienced death and been forced to continue living with the knowledge-” Çrom said hotly.

“-I wouldn’t be such a little baby about it,” Lotus retorted.

“Maybe not the first time, or the second, or the ten thousandth,” Çrom replied. “How many times would you last, Black Lotus?”

“I don’t know,” she snapped. “But my legend would not be about a sad and hopeless fool walking across the urverse and getting killed every time he stopped for a sandwich.”

Çrom spluttered, did his best to summon up further indignation, and failed with another chuckle. “Alright,” he said. “I’m sorry I can no more grant you immortality than you can grant me death. If there was a way for us to swap places, I’d jump at it,” he waited what he felt was a reasonable length of time for her to suggest there was a way, then went on when she merely sat and watched him. “Can you kill me permanently, or not?”

“I can,” the Black Lotus said. “I believe, through this discussion, that I have discerned a way.”

“I’m all ears.”

Lotus looked at him as if he was the crazy one. “I am not going to tell you,” she replied. “The price you have promised me is insufficient.”

“Let me guess,” Çrom sighed. “You somehow suddenly know how to thwart the dread Ghåålus’ curse and end my life-”

“I have suspected from the start that there is a solution to your problem,” Lotus said. “The questions you have answered, and the stories we have shared, have convinced me I was right all along.”

“Only you’re not going to tell me until I find a way to make you immortal.”

“Oh, no,” Lotus said. “I would not insult you with such a transparent ploy.”

“Oh, good.”

“I am not going to tell you because I think you’re right about one thing,” Lotus said. “The dread Ghåålus has mapped out your eternity and any plan we come up with will fail … or you yourself will kill it in the cradle.”

Çrom blinked. “You think hiding it from me will hide it from Him?” he asked. “That’s … novel, I’ll give you that.”

“I’m just getting started. You might be right about the safeguards protecting your curse, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph, but you are wrong about everything else,” the Black Lotus declared. “You are going to see the wonder and opportunity of your immortality. You are going to embrace eternity and find new purpose. You are going to stop seeking a permanent end.”

“And that’s when you’re going to kill me,” Çrom concluded.

“And that’s when I’m going to kill you,” Lotus smiled.

Çrom stared at her, tried to laugh, failed, and slumped.

“I just … look, I’ve tried, okay? It might be a function of simple organic physics. My brain is only configured to deal with one lifetime. One and done. I haven’t got immortal brain, or even super-long-term project brain. I’ve got a plain old dumb mortal brain, over and over and over again.”

“You are wrong.”

“I’m wrong about being tired?” he blinked. “Look, I’ve been around long enough to see that nothing is really permanent,” he tried again. “Everything eventually dies, or crumbles to dust. Only I go on. Only grief is forever.”

“You are wrong.”

“Grief, and a handful of miserable eternals who I can look at and see my own weariness looking back at me. Yes, even in the ones who are happy. I can see the weariness behind the joy with which they fool themselves, the play they use as a distraction. Why do you think I avoid them?”

“You are wrong.”

“It doesn’t matter if I am,” Çrom snapped. “In another hundred or hundred and fifty years you and your opinion will be gone, and I’ll still be here, and ‘I told you so’ won’t make me feel any better about it. Nothing will make me feel better then, and nothing will make me feel better now.”

“I know something that might,” Lotus said.

“Now now,” Çrom raised his hands. “What was I just saying about my inner monkey?”

“Enough to reveal to me that you still have one,” Lotus’s smile turned sly, and she reached out and grasped his wrists. Her grip was surprisingly firm. “And that will more than suffice – for now.”


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

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Black Lotus, Part 14

It was getting late – or perhaps by this stage it was early.

“Enough of my sad and uninspired story,” Lotus said. “To death. We are not here for my whims, but your needs.”

“Alright,” Çrom said. “So, what are your conclusions? Ghååla, Fweig, Din, the Great Maze – all out. Jumping into the Liminal or trying to get the dread Ghåålus killed, possibilities but not particularly promising ones. Jumping forward in time to the last page and sneaking out with the rest of the crowd, pretty much a non-starter.”

“How long do you spend dead?” Lotus asked. “Each time, when you are killed and then … unkilled?”

Çrom shrugged. “It varies. Sometimes I come back almost immediately. That’s why the neck thing is good. The less time I spend dead, the better – you know, assuming I can’t spend the rest of eternity that way like a normal person, and not have to come back and remember it.”

“Because the flesh brain is not equipped to process its own nonexistence,” Lotus recited dutifully.

“You’re getting it. So yeah, sometimes it’s just a few seconds. Sometimes it’s a couple of minutes,” he frowned. “Is that important?”

“It might be. For example, you mentioned being clinically terminated and then revived.”


“Surely at some point you pass a no-return mark and are unkilled, rather than remaining dead awaiting resuscitation.”

“Well, exactly. And that hang point is kind of like stasis. I can sit there for a while, but then the curse decides I’ve been shut down long enough, and kicks me back into the mortal coil.”

“But it is a considerably shorter time,” Lotus said, “that you can spend clinically dead.”

Çrom nodded. “Stasis isn’t quite the same as clinical termination, so I get a bit more out of the deep sleep than I do out of being mostly-dead. With clinical death and resuscitation, I’d say there’s a window of a few minutes just like there is with cases of ordinary people. After that, there’s too much damage. They might be able to be brought back vegetative, but that’s apparently not an option for me.”

“Hmm,” Lotus studied him, her icy eyes narrowing. “But you can suffer massive bodily damage and survive…”

“Sure,” Çrom replied. “I haven’t really put a lot of effort into finding out how much, but certainly the odd limb here and there, some paralysis, and a lot of joint pain.”

“But damage to your brain that might allow you to spend a lifetime in unconsciousness-”

“Oh, don’t misunderstand me,” Çrom said. “Comas and such, they treat me pretty much like stasis does, just for a normal span of years rather than an extended one. I still die at the end, when my body just stops absorbing the nutrients. And it’s awful, and I get a nice additional gut-punch of … well, something like your life flashing in front of your eyes, only it’s a life of complete sensory deprivation in a coma, and it doesn’t so much flash in front of my eyes as just sort of sit in my brain like a lead weight.”

“Not something to relish.”

“Not even slightly. It’s just that … if I get to a point, as a clinically terminated patient, where I could be brought back – you know, organs all working, but brain gone – then I die and am unkilled instead. And I’m pretty sure it’s actually better that way,” he added, “seeing as how I’m going to die in either case.”

“Better to die with a few minutes of clinical death on your log, rather than years of brain-dead life,” Lotus summarised.

“Pretty much,” Çrom  replied. “With the usual disclaimer about all of them still being deaths, and all of them being way out there on the far side of the unacceptability spectrum.”

“There is conscious, case-by-case will behind your fate,” Lotus said.

“Well, obviously,” Çrom said. “Ghåålus.”

“Indeed,” Lotus said. “He can minister to your punishment, even while imprisoned, on an almost personal level with the use of – quite literally – zero percent of His power.”

“Sure,” Çrom said. “Or, if you don’t like the idea of Him doing stuff even though He’s imprisoned, another way of saying it would be to say He pre-programmed every single incident in my eternal life, from a punch in the face to full body aacturisation, and placed a live-and-heal or die-and-reset condition on every single one of them, at the moment He put the curse in place, effortlessly, using His infinite power and knowledge of the future.”

“There are those who argue that not even the Ghååla can be all-knowing,” Lotus said.

“Most of those happy sons of bitches never tried to kick one in the nads,” Çrom replied curtly. “It might be possible that a Ghåålus doesn’t know everything. Certainly They can all hide shit from one another. But I’m pretty sure tracking every thought process and action a single human will make through the course of the entirety of the urverse’s existence is a pretty simple matter. We might have free will, but as far as an infinite mind is concerned we might as well be completely railroaded by predetermination.”

“Which means He will have foreseen you coming here for my help.”

“Sure,” Çrom said, “but once I start worrying about that, and start giving up on things without trying them, I really will be in a cage of my own devising.”

“You called it a cage of His devising,” Lotus said, an edge of frustration finally sharpening her voice, “and you’ve done nothing but shoot down my suggestions as non-starters and back pocket fallbacks since you arrived here.”

“I know, I can’t help it,” Çrom apologised. “Just … okay, back to the point. There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to how long I stay dead, alright? Except for a few that seem to consistently lead to a quick reset, and a couple that consistently take a little longer to get me back into one piece.”

“You refer to dismemberment,” the Black Lotus recovered from her flash of annoyance, and gave him a smile, “and burying at crossroads, as you mentioned before.”

“You’d never keep me dead long enough to bury all the bits,” Çrom forecast. “I guess you could take off my arms and legs, surgically, and bury them … then with increasingly complex surgeries and replacement parts you could deconstruct the rest of my body and bury it … but sooner or later I’d reach that tripping point and die and now I’m wondering if it’s wise to be putting ideas like this in your head.”

“Those ideas were already there,” Lotus said casually.

“Oh yeah?” Çrom squinted. “Since when, Black Buttercup?”

“Since before you stepped through my door,” Lotus’s smile widened. “I told you I have thought much about this. What about vaporisation?” she added before Çrom could respond. “I would have thought, in terms of fast-and-painless-”

“Awful,” Çrom reiterated quickly. “Yes, it’s all over very quickly, but on reset it’s all there, like every atom of my body is burned to ash. Which, well, is exactly what most types of disintegration amount to. My brain is reassembled with a nasty problem in its most recent set of collated data.”

“Like the Bharriom dust,” the Black Lotus mused.

“Exactly,” Çrom pointed. “Nice way to die, horrible way to come back. And like I said, destroying the nervous system completely just leaves a blank spot. And not one of those fun blank spots where the brain just goes ‘heh, I’ve got nothing, that must have been a fun night’. A blank spot that the brain screams and shits itself into for a while, then builds a great big spiky wall of nightmares around to keep itself from ever looking in there again.”

“No nervous impulses to interpret,” Lotus said.


“And atomisation takes longer to return from than a broken neck?”

Çrom nodded. “Lending a little credence to the idea that I’m made of 100% recycled Çrom Skelliglyph,” he said. “Atomisation doesn’t get rid of the matter, after all. It’s still here in reality in some form or another – or bumped sideways into unreality in more extreme cases – and just needs to be reconstituted into me. I’ve transpersed myself to shooey and still been brought back. But I suppose it takes a little while to track down all the molecules.”

“But no method you have found is so thorough that it takes you more than a few minutes to return?”

“No,” Çrom shook his head. “At least as far as I’ve ever been able to tell. I obviously haven’t measured it every time, and I don’t get a running count while I’m in between. But I’m pretty sure. Even when I was in that imploding universe, I woke up while the crazy bastards on the observation craft were still cheering and hugging each other.”

“And you are truly ready to die,” Lotus said sadly. “You are ready to give up what another might consider a gift, because it has become a burden to you.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Çrom said patiently. “Are we just about ready? Fun though it’s been, it feels like we’ve been talking for two weeks.”

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