March 27, 2024 Short Story

So Slowly Goes the Day

So Slowly Goes the Day Artwork by Kyle Miller

Which of the torchless roads calls his name? The Emperor's head of trivia announces the death of choice. An orange bird alights in her third hand of glory and throws Axsylene ashore, cetacean stranding. Axsylene, suspended in prism for a crime he didn't remember committing. Axsylene, forsaken. The Emperor’s punitive head had digested him, tossing salt circles of preservation, stasis, and humiliation. Axsylene, culled out of time. Axsylene, empty brackets. Errorless rainbows chased his eyes drifting from recollection where, beyond, grief wielded amnesia like a scythe, claiming memories good and evil. Blue fire fell from the Tree of Life and the whispering serpent died in the Tree of Knowledge, its skeleton xylophoned between the branches. Not even the trojan hairs listening on the back of his neck knew what remained unspoken in the undifferentiated source within--deep, dark, silent, and undefined, concealed alone in the democracy of our post-private Wyrld. Axsylene, enzooed. Axsylene, dissected and opened by the surgery of eyes. Shame is justice. Gather, watch a man throw his life away, capture it with the Ocean in your eyes to be spilled later as the content of your disgust. The tourism bureau keeps its promises.

The sun kept him breathing. Photons packaged with nutrients and vital liquid, a cornucopia of light and protein, wine and figs delivered to the skin, absorbed, like frogs no one remembered. As long as Axsylene was a citizen of the Wyrld, and in this he had no choice, his sins were appropriated by the All, and he received the sun’s bounty at no cost. Idol and celebrity, demiurge of engineers and urban planners, godhead of the manic artist, candle on the desk of every bureaucrat, the sun spoke rays of rhetoric that shouted: Forget your soul's desire to ensure future freedom! Silence is the antithesis of service! The time was always 10 a.m. on the first of May, a perfect spring morning fresh before the decadence of summer. The velvet horns of sentient flowers woke everyone in a daily call to arms, Press Start. Clothes whispered geometric prayers as you pulled them on: we are one--you are zero. Everyone equally zero. Every pseudograsshopper’s legs were forced to scissor music until the last child spilled out of what shade they had created under the covers in bed. Darkness had been censored. Sombreros and clouds confiscated. The horses of space and time were harnessed for the expansion of all bodies, content, and matter, every resource doubled for the quest, our Psychospatial Destiny. Wake and contribute to the project of perfection, the true city-state-world of the future because it is always incomplete. Tomorrow is already today.

Stasis was a punishment that said you can't, our glory withheld from all villains. There were limits in the Wyrld without limits. Axsylene had leaked out of the bottle, recalling a time before the moment the creator placed a message inside. He watched all the selves selfing equally; he watched them contribute equally. When reading, read; when revolting, revolt. The marquee outside the prism, the plaque within the museum:

Axsylene - - - level 0 Handyman [-44 penalty], age 49.2, level 2 physique (66% organic), class D sociobiological / class C hormonal profile, neural grade 2.2, fidelity score .62, sacred geometry (matrilineal) — dodecahedron, animal ancestry: mole + cockroach, theogony: unknown, verdict: guilty.

Axsylene had or had not murdered the Wyrld’s oldest man, testament to autochthonous origin, the 3,460-year-old patriarch who remembered an era when planets still hung from the boughs of heaven, the last human born naturally before the planets and their moons had been plucked like fruit from a tree and dissected for their nutrients, a man whose memories were succulent and taboo to the ignorant. But Axsylene's memory was sealed in the underworld beneath a black and liquid door. Too clever for fairy tales, he followed the baffled hermit to the underground city where a cleric poured his body between two jars, separating him into 100 solutions. Afterward, they hid him inside the hydra so he would live forever. He suspected there was no exit from that place, every door disguised as a ceiling, the minotaur hungry for crumbs, but he was unable to care: he was guilty of this if not that and glad the Emperor had imprisoned him, and furious the Emperor’s heads were free to mingle with the stars while Serafina’s hung alone from a subterranean lamppost. Axsylene never found her there, failed. When the Emperor destroyed Serafina, a mysterious inertia had prevented him from lifting an eyelash: he and the Emperor had conspired subconsciously against the house of love and brought Eros to his spotless knees. They nailed three seals to the door with lich fingers and left the house in ruin. He pushed her onto the saber. Let the Emperor convince you to deface beauty although ugliness is all you've ever known. Axsylene, you imprisoned yourself. He drank the melancholy, beautiful blood of stars. He walked through the door held open by a snow-covered hand. He learned why the cryptotitans of Beta-ah-dryl punished the sin of despair with infanticide.

And he waited for death, counting the hours and ignoring the watchers, waiting for the cold word unclay. Families on holiday passed his prism in greed, searching for the first symptoms of exposure schizophrenia--oculovorism the most sought after--slavering for the autoexecution that followed, a spectacle they were told wasn't replicable in Ocean. You had to see it outside your own two or more eyes. Empathy missionaries, homeless AIs begging for input, shame hackers, security popes, and unablutioned NPCs who bet on the precise moment Axsylene would lose his mind and devour his own gray eyes. The four-headed woman who lay on her illustrated man blanket and blew him four kisses between the covers of four pulps resurrected in the flesh of sycamore. The algorithm poet who found in him a sad yet stoic muse of social realism. The kids who browned his rainbows with artificial dogshit slathered on the wall. Together, the scopophiliacs ate the bread of his humiliation, but Axsylene was unmoved by this hunger. Other citizens no longer meant what they once did to him; replaced by polymer dolls denied the leylines available to organic bodies, they lived on the other side of an opaque forest, and he couldn't reach them by hand or by light.

Yet one watcher differed. She was often present when he woke, and then quickly past: without a word, she walked across the green until she seemed to vaporize on the far horizon. But the sun refused the work of mirages. On the 963rd day of his stasis, Axsylene woke in her shadow again. She was naked and ageless and covered in a black tattoo, the sclera of her eyes dark with ink. Only a small circle below her left eye had been ignored by the needle, a bright mote in the wine-dark sea of her skin. Did small, winged homunculi perch on her shoulders when Axsylene wasn’t looking directly at her? Did he catch a whiff of dew? Was there a scorpion in the spread sky of her hair? Yet something else about her unnerved him more: her eyes refused to sparkle in the sun. She gave him shivers, a gift to re-enchant the skin, rain on a bubble's back. On that day, she broke their silence with a touch of breath: "What are you looking for?"

A strange thing to ask a man imprisoned, but the wrong answer appeared immediately, though he couldn't speak it: A new narrative. What little of the past he remembered overlapped with a future he refused, and the present was lost in the liquid between. God-whales broke the waters of the undifferentiated. Sirens charmed by their own voices remained bound to the islands of their bodies. The Bureau of Speculative Emotions tried to diagnose him and left with new questions. He was disinterested in freedom, a mere throb of experience. The crucible of desire cracked; the yolk ran out. The abyss looked away. He hadn't spoken a word in 900 days. He wasn't sure he could. He was having trouble getting started.

"You're having trouble getting started," she said. "I'll give you a hint."

She walked away.

From the soundless grotto, a cottonwood baculum rises--drowsy, Axsylene fell and then stood in dream. A huge black bull towered over a city of prisms. The armies of his nemesis the golden ram bleated through the sun-struck prisms and stampeded the bodies of unmilked cows. He sent his ewes among the rainbowed colonnades so his eyes need not touch ground, but the black bull had grown fat on magic and wisdom, peerless warrior--diamond body, diamond mind. He fought lonely and courageous and lost pieces of himself one by one as the sheep fell under the hoof by the thousands: first a hair on his back, and then the ebony gate of his horns, his shit-caked hooves, his tail, ears, teeth, snout, balls. He was a snake who wrapped his dark ribbon around the ram and squeezed, juicing him like an orange...

A full body sneeze woke Axsylene, warmblooded against the transhuman pledge. He was leaking, his palm bleeding down the edge of a sword in the shape of an ax, the blackest shade of black. He looked again, repeat after me: a sword in the shape of an ax. He sniffled and stumbled, his foot still paralyzed with sleep. Two children about to press their butts, tattooed with fine whorls, fingerprints of perverted nephilim, against the wall near his bed saw the sword and ran away, tripping on their dropped pants. A little thrill of power went through Axsylene’s heart, a vibration of the substrate, but it had been so long since he felt anything that he didn't recognize the sound of his name. Sword thoughts intervened. All day he couldn't stop thinking about whether it might be possible for some oneiric blacksmith to forge a sword that might cut through anything. The dwarf uncripples his steel, releases a pliant energy. He was thinking of time, dreams, minds, atomic bonds. Necks of state. Or a prism of Emperor-issued omniglass impervious to everything except the talons of an owl that went extinct in 2033. He waited until only the sun was watching. Wallow for 1000 days and wallow forever. He tested the sword: could it slice the spectrum into properly aligned colors? The tip sank into the omniglass as if into oil. A drop of dew fell into the grotto of his heart and rippled--shaking the receipt of his soul--the beginning of the idea of desire, and its name was Revenge.

Axsylene cut a perfect circle in the glass and stepped through. (The wall became all; the glass a young girl waiting for an explanation.) Only later did he realize he didn’t know the word for what he'd done, dream: the sublingual signified had been dissolved beneath the tongue of a brachiosaurus years ago.


Torch of the witchless roads, the poppy shows Hey,market the way home. Papaver rhoeas, red bones pressed against blue sky, talisman against an interminable playday: 8 hours, 2,400 minutes daily, brief dreamless sleep between. Dear Ocean kept the dreams in her jeweled chest, and dreamed: we become the reality we speculate. Common poppy, deciphering the monad. As far as Hey,market knew, only one remained in the Wyrld, and it belonged to him, an honor he did his best to live up to, an impossibility. Why were there no shadows outside? Corn rose, potpourri of aches and pains. The blossom, no longer connected to the stem that had borne it, was still worth more on the White Market than the corpse of Temp the smartflower, champion of interdimensional chess, assassinated in a freakout of jealousy, shears hidden in the knight. Hey,market often thought of thieves, wingless crafts powered by light, pixies and fey come to take his treasure and return it to the kingdoms of the past. He fell through the black center and entered the stem, swimming between cell walls until he met the membrane of the hand that once handed it to him on a day so long ago it seemed to be registered to a different stratum of time, and when he thought of the hand--he leaped away. He would save that for later. No high thoughts in low places, and there were none lower than this prison of monitors, security popes, and ego debasers: Security Office α, a blue glass tulip on a prehensile stem dangling above the Cabinet of Planets. Hey,market babysat the system while his empress monitored him for infractions against the Law of Action. Her trident browsed his neurons. He imagined a cupboard of plants. He stretched and paced his bubble for 2,400 minutes at a stretch. The New Body repurposed its own waste and fed itself with primordial humors charged with daggers of light. Science outpaced calculation.

The door behind Hey,market shivered with harp tones, too early for his relief, too late for supervision, and no one he knew would visit. He knew no one. He swung around, touching the butt of his falchion-pistol, though he was too timid to use it. He refused to braid their nervous systems together, too afraid to sign the contract and put a name to his merger with the violence of the one in the many. He had yet to be reprimanded: he was but a mote in the eye, after all. Ocean warned him away from indolence--a carping spear barnacled with red citations poked at the retina.

"You're not supposed to be in here," Hey,market said. “I didn’t call for a proxy. I'm sorry." His body required forgiveness.

“Time is an error,” Hibiscinnamous said, level 54 proxy, a post-voided entity who took the form of whatever you most needed to see at that moment. Proxies nannied the nanny’s children and conjured the conjurer’s kobolds. They lubricated the imperial machine, releasing players from their debtless burdens. Hey,market was surprised to see Hibiscinnamous take the form of a tortoiseshell cat with a golden door for a mouth. Relief: love must not enter the dungeon. A cuckoo darted out on a crooked tongue bending under the weight of the bird when Hibiscinnamous spoke: “The jolly mereswine's getting shitmansed on autobrewery gut beer instead of keeping time.”

“Wrong assignment again?” How could his lover not be what he most needed to see?

"Edgeman thinks he’s some kind of wizard-bum, but he’s just a meatboy parasite sucking on the bottom of my shoe. How he got this far unedited is, uh, sorry, no disrespect.”

Hey,market, always mistaken for something he wasn't. He removed his left hand and a scroll of papyrus unrolled from the socket of his wrist, sentient ink writing a poem about wind and wine cups in ancient calligraphy. The last stroke stopped just short of completion. Somewhere, a master sighed. The ink thought only of its own enervation, a regret of ever having left the inkwell. It had run out of ideas. It felt transparent, stripped, cut with water. "It was a gift,” Hey,market said, quickly replacing his hand. Extravagance embarrassed him. (Where is your joy?, a moist starfish smiling against cobalt Ocean, sadness a crime against all.) Humility humiliated him. He was on parole from full citizenship. How someone like Kyo could love--

A tremor shook the soles of his necroshoes, echoes of a disruption somewhere far above or below, a Wyrldquake, the petals of a flower torn from the sepal. Pollen bleeding from the corners of his body. Stigma, style, ovaries bent and dried in the shadowless light. He loves me-- Uncertain of protocol, frozen by decision, Hey,market decided to do nothing until the alarm went off. Alarm looks like: an empress sitting above a storm cloud on a jadeite throne, a trident six times her height crossing her lap. Imperial gnats circled her head. Alarm sounds like: a supervirtual scream. The empress tapped occult knowledge of maintaining human attention and flooded the panels of the security bubble with pornographic images of men anima-mining the beheaded swans of St. Zeus. A message sprung from a caramel-covered man's naval, planting words across the obscene tableau in lotus font: Ultraviolet emergency on Pluto level. Hey,market searched his memory for hints. He had never been here before. All systems were automatic: why did the empress stare at him so? "Send a drone," he said, and the fog lifted. How could he forget? He couldn't: 275 hours of training condensed into a salve applied to the back of his ear.

"Drone system failure," the empress said, plucking the tines of her trident: lass waiting for an explanation; woman swollen with twin citizens; crone keeping the days holy. "In case of drone failure, human intervention is required. Just remember what you learned in training: don't do what a dead drone doesn't do." Hey,market tried to leave. The door was sealed against escape. "Law of Vigilance Error 3.1," the empress repeated.

"Allow me," Hibiscinnamous said. They clapped two paws together and purred. "If you get in trouble, I'll get in trouble instead." Self-destruction is the only radical act remaining when one times itself equals two.

Hey,market paused. One doesn't need to expend effort to contribute to the human project. The decision hung and threatened to hang him upside down, turning the Wyrld like an hourglass, histories and legends, anthropological profiles of far-off tribes and manifestos ground into sand, sand piled into mountains, the technology of time. “Okay, do it.” Hibiscinnamous registered their profile to the console and Hey,market rode a purple glass origami crane down to the cellar of the Wyrld. In a reversal of the truth, most citizens believed the Wyrld was infinite, without top or bottom and had forgotten infinity was on the outside. The Emperor’s sacred geometry was a sphere, self-contained, automated island, all loose ends tucked into a mouth or an anus or cauterized before they could spill the blood of chaos. Everything outside was manifested within. The remnants of Sol whispered infinity and disabsolution. At the Pluto level, the planetoid and its moons sat in a drawer awaiting some esoteric employment. Vastly nitrogen ice, melted and refashioned into cryovolcanic geysers for the National Park, Pluto had been reduced to a few crumbs of a cryptic element, no. 322: Qp. The project of the Wyrld would go on forever and one day its architects and engineers would reopen the drawer, nothing wasted. The Emperor wore the rings of Saturn on his left thumb. Rumor had it that the only thing separating the Wyrld from the non-Wyrld outside was a layer of Jupiter's gasses.

The door blinked wide and Hey,market stepped into a darkness unopened by the radiant spotlights far above. The darkness was roiling and oily, a cauldron’s guts. There should have been more light, even so far down in the basement of the Wyrld. Something was wrong. What was that imaginary color pushing the Pluto drawer open? A banshee mist or vulpine wisp? No, Hey,market thought of plagues, pestilence, a cloud of flies. And something brushed past him, or passed through him like neutrinos, and he thought or was made to think, delivered like a sermon, overheard, or caught as the rider screamed galloping by: I'd better get started. He would forget that thought because it wasn't his to begin with--the pawn awed by the many in the one.

He sneezed, a long one, and he was a little too slow in the recovery. Was there any truth to being in the right place at the right time? The current time approximates noon. The sea evaporated into a wilderness of gasses and left a hundred pillars of salt behind. Hey,market matched one like a blue shadow, but he felt as if a vacuum had opened behind his occipital lobe. He spasmed. The yellow and orange muzzle of a police autoofficer's laughing joygun flashed before his eyes. A sun-colored flag stitched with the word Truce! exited the barrel and bagged him like a gratuitous kitten, no milk to spare. Who could save the game?

On that day he broke the second seal, a hexagon of purple wax crumbled beneath the thumb: Severity.


Axsylene backgammoned across the Wyrld, one step ahead or behind the Emperor's ARGUS eyes, slipping into obscure arteries and maintenance vacuoles he seemed to have some knowledge of, memory to muscles that had escaped the underworld’s scythe. Swarms of ARGUS rode an unfelt wind like bubbles, iridescent disks ripped from a peacock's tail feathers and spun into motion by a sheriff's finger. Axsylene looked upward in the stinking waste corridor beneath the NPC ghetto at a single eye reflecting him in its pupil: he couldn't be unseen. A recording that had begun before he was born continued. He cut a hole in the ceiling and climbed into the labyrinth of Coral Park where photosynthetics gardened convoluted vegetable mansions. The floor of the park was the roof of a mansion; the rest were epiphytes growing sunward. A cyanodryad feeding in a pool of water watched Axsylene cross the promenade, but what was one more pair of eyes against his back? Dragged ashore at the time of his arrest, he had no way of knowing she was a neptune, daughter of Ocean, nymph of the brackish blood, and even her waste filled the water with new colors. Unnamed, do they call attention to new dimensions of shadow, or must they first be named? She had been editing Axsylene's story since the beginning of Act II, The Incarceration. Inspired by a glimpse of the authentic, the neptune dove. She wanted the details precisely mimetic, especially at the climax, her most-viewed scene, honeycombed with interpretation: Axsylene's execution when the police finally catch him after a dramatic flight through the Museum of Plastics: was he a hero or a fool? He had more hair in his nose than she had previously accounted for. She added a mole below his chin. Most citizens couldn't distinguish between Ocean and life above water, the distinction itself a point of contention among sponsored intellectuals. Everyone yearned to have an opinion. In a way, they argued, Axsylene had already died. He was dead. His name wouldn’t live on, and yet viewers debased themselves each minute to be the first to watch the Emperor's head of celebrity react to their reaction: the wounds of progress must be cauterized with amusement, and thus the Emperor grew another head. Welcome to the human family.

An ARGUS collided with the black sword and popped, bleeding a sheep's bleat. These weren't someones: Axsylene swung, wolf's tooth among the herd and wrought .28% blindness against the Emperor. Were they letting him get away, or relying on the hammer of mob justice, ready to smash the goat at the slightest pressure to the overmind? True power never moved. Citizens patrolled the Wyrld in good faith and vigilance, whimpering at the mere sight of an uncomely face. Axsylene cursed the dead-end, an alley plastered with living posters, art deco illustrations of obese blue Tiamat, a draconic entity from deep space who wore Orion as a hairnet and gave birth to NPCs, flecks of dark matter on a red field. She was the mother of these monsters, drop-outs, non-citizens, drainers and lunatics, slugabeds, anyone too small to be seen through the lens of a wormhole. The hero Marduk executed Tiamat the Indolent with a spike of light, and if you stood too close it melted the skin from your bones. By freeing bone from flesh, we connect ourselves to eternity. Axsylene cut the posters to ribbons, watching the cells reform into the tissues and organs of some new propaganda, unbearable detonation of blue imps sitting just inside the skull, gathering cackles from a flight of minced wizards in red caps. He could have sworn his friend lived somewhere nearby, but his memory--where were the old maps and blueprints of the Wyrld's stuffed corners, the knowledge he had gained as a handyman, mercenary jack of all trades? Habitually, he attempted to dive into Ocean for assistance, and it was as if he had thrown himself against granite, the repudiation of denial. Hadn't he seen enough, hadn't he been assigned to install a spy in the ghetto, but it had all been a front, hadn't it, for something much larger? Serafina knew. And Childs, professor of post-rational philosophy at the Free Skool, ghetto'd by choice, an intelligent man who became a genius by implanting the undesired parts of his consciousness into an octopus (Professor Childs injected his students with unforgettable lectures, a momentary prick to the back of the elbow: "an ethical procedure because the octopus, unable to conceive of a technology that might allow such a thing to occur from the outside, blames itself for my abstracted neuroses"). He was the last human Axsylene could remember before his visit to the underworld. The subconscious finds security in repetition. "Do you know Childs?" he asked the NPC in the corner, noticed suddenly as his head bore forth his imago. "I hear the dragon is weak to lightning." And again, this time under pressure: "I hear the dragon is weak to lightning." The imago squeaked and contorted in agony, unable to voice itself. Axsylene cut a hole in the wall of text ahead of him, squeezed through before it could heal itself, and spun the wheel of fortune: the devil’s pointed tail clicked into place beside the image of an angel whose true form was hidden in a mirror.

His door was already open. Childs threw an earthing blanket over the ARGUS. A few would probably make their way inside anyway, but Childs was smart enough to leave his crimes in the open. The Emperor had no reason to spawn his hounds. "Not a good time," Childs said. He was in the middle of a bootleg therapy session buoyed up from Ocean like underwater moonlight across the living room wall. His house was under construction: it would be larger when Axsylene left it than when he arrived. Axsylene tried to make himself at home, but the word had lost all meaning, and he couldn't get comfortable on the sofa stuffed with the blubber of a she-whale, and he wondered if it was a problem of recognition: would he know comfort when it finally came, or would he misidentify it as pain? He lit a dumbing wand and slid it forcefully into his anus, watching Childs play his part as the Dwimmer populated his room with the next scene of decision.

"The old gods are amassing on the crooked hill," the Dwimmer said, speech so rapid it might outrun the Emperor’s ears. "You don't have much time left. The Debauched One is foremost among them. What do you do?"

“I prepare Ionescu's Intestinal Integration.” ... “I don't think I'm ready for this. Can we flee?” ... “My mother, my mother is dancing with another daughter.” ... “This is exactly the time to push forward. Flank them!” ... “Retreat.” ... “Summon the babafiend.” ... “Daddy!”

“Quit playing around.” Axsylene’s dumbing wand dissolved without result. The tree of his revenge awaited fertilization. Who was he without its bark, infested with needle-nosed lice, its leaves dipped in wax? He itched and buzzed. No one had asked him how he was feeling. Politics usurps psychology.

Childs closed the game with an apology, and the Dwimmer screamed in agony at their disconnection. "In the context of genuine play, trauma reveals itself freely. We help each other, we trigger each other, and the Dwimmer unveils our deepest injuries. The game is a secure context. The only security we’re allowed. But you’ve poisoned it, to none of my surprise."

"I need your help, not a fucking lecture," Axsylene said. "I don't have time for games."

“Find a permanent exit then." Childs popped an ARGUS between his thumb and forefinger. “I’m guessing by your perfume here that you didn’t serve your time, which means you’re probably going to die soon, but you’re really in no position to make demands of me. I’m still cleaning up the mess you left the last time you visited.”

“What mess?”

“Willfully forgetting, the donkey scratches his ear.”

“I don’t remember anything. After Serafina died.”

Childs dropped seven murdered doves into the octopus’s tank. The creature's mantle was chalked with self-inflicted scars, obsessions tallied against the skin. "I didn’t know it was this serious. No. This is too big for me. I have my students to think of. The children I never had, which was your fault, I remind you.”

“Help me remember.” Axsylene sharing his grief with friends: bored, they surfed Ocean and spotted a wax seal being clubbed to death with a dirty thumb, the scroll unveiled, a spell added to their inventory, a sensation more immediate than the present: they read the newest news and lamented their lack of foresight. The future was of more interest than the present: Axsylene will die gave them more to live for than had Axsylene died.

“You have no problems that aren't your own. We’ve been preparing. Do you think the Emperor has allowed the NPCs to exist with no benefit to itself? Something's coming, and we’re going to be ready.”

“Do you think they’re hunting me?”

“I don’t think you’re listening.” Childs caught another ARGUS, cracked it between his teeth, and licked his lips. “They taste like sugar floss. Disgusting. You know you’re the first person to escape Prism Garden. They’ll be hunting you. Watching, learning. They’ll want to know about whatever loophole you illuminated. And so do I.”

“I created my own hole and crawled out of it.” Childs snatched the sword’s hilt from Axsylene's hands, his mouth watering, his face red with lust, his fingers reading the blade like braille. He thirsted for the knowledge forged into the sword while the nameless octopus revolved in its tank, absorbing the obsessive circles of Childs' mind. They were ascending an ivory bastion, higher, higher, they would hit the intellectual ceiling, explode. The shrapnel hit the octopus. Clarified, Childs could speak: “Anyone who's taken an introductory course in Futurology and explored the New Tense" (the present raised to the power of a triangle, the ratio of its three sides preserved when the sides themselves inevitably disappear) "knows about the Black Bull. He isΔ a famous hero of independence for the nation of Yalegod about 2,500 years from now. He hasΔ something of a brutal streak, he becomesΔ a little... tyrannical? toward the end, but ultimately he isΔ remembered as a hero who liberatesΔ his people. And his sword isΔ named Onymophage, blacker than black, the most powerful sword ever created in any time. But it comesΔ with a curse, objective proof against pure good. It doesΔ not just carve away the names of the Bull’s enemies from the book of life, it also carvesΔ his own away. So that what the Black Bull will be remembered for isΔ not how he beginsΔ. Every time you kill someone with this sword, you'll lose a piece of yourself. You’ve been warned.”

Axsylene snatched the sword back and Childs fell limp against the psuedochair. His octopus hid under a castle-like rock modeled on a villain's cave from an ancient cartoon. The inscription on the blade, written in a language invented 2,500 years in the future, crackled beneath Axsylene’s finger, and he felt suddenly possessive of the sword, the letters of its name sewn into the skin of his lungs, his heart. He bowed and kissed the black metal. He would never let anyone else touch it again. Would he kill someone? Was he a murderer? Who counted as a subject according to the rules of the blade? The Emperor became a nonbeing the day he bought the crown. If the property of objectivity is denied us, we must be vibrant selves. Once, Axsylene might have hesitated to use the sword against so much as a gadfly, but he had journeyed the underworld, had lost as much as any man could short of his life. He wasn't the same as he once was, but he didn't know who he was, and if he didn't know, then maybe he enjoyed the possibility of murder, opened himself to the letting of someone else's blood. He didn't think about what might happen the day after.

“You can stay tonight,” Childs said, “and then you leaveΔ.”

Axsylene dreamed of struggle and mushrooms that imperial rest period. He carried a bundle of long white mushrooms with red caps, heavy and damp with possibility, so numerous they occulted his view. He couldn't see where he was going between the crossed stalks and the imaginary numbers the mushrooms shed like spores from abacus gills. After crossing an arid waste without knowledge of the path, he heard his father call his name and dropped the mushrooms, tripped and fell into them, breaking the soft stems and inhaling hectic equations that failed to calculate the speed of memory. He woke.

Draped in the shadow of a Belldog, the Emperor's most faithful hound, cathedral collie mix. Childs stood nearby, bashful and aggrieved. The octopus lay breathless in its tank. “You're not a very good person, my friend.”

“I already know how to be good. I’m learning how to be bad.”

“The adolescent urge to destroy the Father resists representation, even conscious acknowledgement. And yet it persists. What do you think you can do against the Emperor, infinite, many-headed, centerless and circumferenceless? We live inside him. I’m sorry, friend, for what it’s worth, but it’s been a long day and it’s only going to get longer.”

Axsylene tightened his grip on Onymophage, unmoved mover. He thought of the curse. Ghosts with unborn qualities. A cancellation of the perception parade. He didn’t believe in curses. He thought of cutting off the Emperor’s heads. He thought of cutting off Childs’ head. High winds, and the church stabs itself with its own steeple. Betrayal is the recourse of prodigal memory. “I'll come back for you." He cut a circle around his feet and fell through 130 stories of NPC housing cobbled together from the Wyrld’s refuse and the imagery of hauntological murals left unfinished when their painters died. No column for trust on the counting board.