Chapter 5 – Minutes to Midnight
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Chapter 5 – Minutes To Midnight


There was no hand sanitizer left in her bottle. Ada kept her hands in front of her in a slightly paranoid way until she got out of the commuter train. She zigzagged between passengers who all seemed to have forgotten the two-metre safety distance, or had resigned themselves to getting sick after a year and a half of public-health restrictions.

On the 8:30 p.m. bus home, as usual, she stood and let the twists and turns of the road sway her left and right, just to feel something more interesting than just passively waiting for the next stop. In her ears, Cecil Fox was screaming "Lost in the maze, keep your eyes up / Arms in the air, like a holdup / Hear the signal, release your scars / It's the revolution of stars" over a guitar and synth explosion as neon and violent as a murder committed with glowsticks.

In the midst of the pandemic, against all odds, Midnight Blossom had reformed and released a brand new album, Revolution of Stars. Even Ada, who was only taking their music with a pinch of salt since it had become inextricably associated with what had happened to Cyril and Leïla, had listened to the album for old times' sake and had been forced to admit that it was even better than Extinction Event. Instead of persisting in their more mainstream pre-breakup style, the band had taken the melodic songwriting instincts they had acquired on the previous album, and applied them to their Riddle of the Sphinx-era sound, which was now refined, mastered, sublimated. Not only had the songs regained the desperate energy, the sense of dramatic urgency and the terminal screams they used to have, but it was all arranged around very catchy and distinctive melodies, which could easily have been played on the radio. When the critics who had once been so harsh on the band began to praise it and new fans poured in, she was alarmed. When the single The End is a Beginning began to explode in popularity on Tiktok, most often accompanying a rather morbid meme where people were reversing videos of various accidents, she began to get really scared. When the song entered the US mainstream Top 100 at number 95, she knew that this was, literally, the beginning of the end. The Flowers had finally made it out of the Scene's niche. Now their only obstacle to large-scale action was the impossibility of organising public rallies due to health restrictions. Ironic that an anomalous disaster should be momentarily thwarted by a normal disaster, Théo had pointed out.

The worst part of it all, she thought to herself, her shoes tapping on the pavement as she walked briskly back to her appartment building, was that she couldn't stop listening to the album, despite all her negative memories and feelings associated with the band. The new songs were transcendent, and the energy she drew from them was stronger than her guilt - she sometimes felt like she'd fallen back into a toxic relationship with an ex.

Her key opened the lock, and she turned on the light – which was strange, because Théo was usually home at this hour. She put her bag down and took off her coat, looking absentmindedly at the papers taped to one of the walls in the living room, the one where they worked out their plan of action to stop the Flowers from claiming more victims. It had been three years now, but so far, every small victory had been offset by a huge setback, and things had only gotten worse since Astro had stopped helping them.

She paused when she saw an open cardboard box on the floor, which had not been there when she had left that morning. A couple of meters away, some kind of small synthesizer had been thrown against one of their bookcases, and pieces of a torn score sheet littered the floor. She instinctively headed for Théo's room - even after all this time together, they preferred not to share a bedroom, partly because of his very specific phobias that required him to arrange his surroundings to his liking so that he had any chance of falling asleep, but also because his anomalous strength became very problematic whenever he had nightmares.

Ada found him curled up in the space between the wardrobe and the bed, his head against his knees. She sat down next to him in the little space left between him and the furniture. "Sorry to be back so late," she said, as if there was nothing unusual about the situation, "but the trains were stopped for a while. A suicide on the tracks at Gare du Nord."

"I've made some vegetable casserole," he replied without looking up. "We can heat it up in the microwave if you like."

"Yeah, good idea," she said, combing back one of Théo's red curls with her index finger. No matter how long they'd been together, whenever she saw him like this, her memory always sent her back to an alley behind a concert venue, and to the two of them sitting on the pavement between dumpsters, the world spinning and ignoring them. He unfolded himself a little and rested his head on her shoulder, his scar against the softness of her red cotton coat.

"We'll never make it," he murmured.

She should have answered "what are you talking about?", but from the very first day, some kind of silent decoding had existed between them. She understood. They would never get out of the economic crisis. They would never get back to the world from before the pandemic. They would never be able to counter the rise of extremism. They would never stop global warming. They wouldn't be able to stop an anomalous cult from taking their friends away, one after the other. Théo would never get over his anomalous post-traumatic stress disorder. Ada would never be able to get rid of all her anger. They would never be able to be fully functional adults in a fully functional world.

"I know," she replied, "but if we don't try to make things right, we'll regret it. We'll wonder all our lives if we could have made a difference. So we have to try, again and again. And do our best."

"What if our best isn't enough?" he said, looking at some vague point on the opposite wall.

She had no answer. "So you bought yourself a mini synth?" she asked instead.

"The shop got some, so I thought I'd try playing it again like I did before- before- you know. But it's useless. I'm useless."

"Technically, everyone is useless."

He made a little noise, amused and disillusioned at the same time. "This is the biggest cosmic joke of them all, right? We're trying to thwart something anomalous and terrifying, and out of all the useless people on Earth, you've found the most useless of all to help you. Like when you're opening a chest that's supposed to save your ass in a videogame, and it's actually just an empty box, but you're keeping it anyway out of courtesy."

"We've already had this discussion. You're not empty."

"Yeah, and I already told you, even though it doesn't make sense, I can feel it. It's not something I could explain."

She continued to comb his hair with her fingers. Everyone left things behind as life went on, she pondered, thinking back to the day she'd completely disowned her love of Harry Potter and donated all the books in a box because of some horrible tweets from their author, the day she'd realised she'd never again be able to wear most of the clothes she'd been keeping just in case because they weren’t fitting anymore, the day she'd realised she'd probably only see her parents once a year at best, because they'd moved so far away. For him, losing things that defined him had just been much more brutal and radical than for most human beings. "You know how to make great cocktails with syrup," she finally replied, twisting one of his curls. "You love post-rock and when you listen to it and move in rhythm with it, you look like a leaf in the wind. When you look up at the sky, it's like you're seeing it for the first time in your life, and we're rediscovering it along with you. Shit, you know all that stuff I'll never get about anomalies and the world and stuff."

"That's just what I managed to put back in there," he groaned, gesturing to his skull. "There's still way, way too much emptiness. I thought I was getting better, but with everything that's going on right now-"

She sighed. "Nobody can take away everything that makes you you, Théo. You're still here, okay? You may not be whole, or complete, if you say so, but you're here, and you're alive, and there's nobody else like you."

He looked at her, then nodded silently.

She stood up, leaning against the cupboard. "Right, now let's heat this casserole up before I go and smash that mini synth against a wall to punish it for upsetting you like this."


Ada now spent part of her evenings on social networks, trying to warn as many people as possible about the Flowers, attempting to use cancel culture to her advantage, but the results had been very limited so far. The band had no direct connection to the cult, which complicated things; it was easy to say that they were just a bunch of freaks, like all fandoms with a small percentage of ultra-toxic fans, and that they had no impact on the quality of the band’s music. The Flowers were frequently banned from normal fan communities for talking about piercing holes through their shoulders or getting tattoos that would only be revealed during an autopsy, but the curiosity of some people toward the forbidden continued to make their ranks grow. Apparently, they had several active cells now, and even though Ada had been banned multiple times from their main Discord server and no longer had any direct visibility on their activities, rumors had it that their irl meetings now had a good hundred Flowers per cell. Horrific photos were sometimes circulated online, showing Accesses through feet, between ribs, inside an eye socket; there were stories whispered in anomalous subculture circles about some followers who had acquired methods to tattoo their internal organs - the heart, the lungs, everything.

The gang’s research into the cult's connections to the rest of the anomalous world had been nebulous at best; Théo was too afraid of being rejected by the Library because of his old job to accompany her and Astro where all the answers were, as he said, and he also seemed very reluctant to tell them about what he himself suspected about the Flowers. All she'd managed to get out of him was that there was some sort of space cult with five branches that tried to decode stellar signals, that the Flowers were most likely one of the five branches, that it wasn't his area of expertise at the time he was working for the Foundation, and that messing with them would be a huge risk for the gang.

Two years ago, back when Astro was still helping them, they had tried to alert the MIVILUDES1, but whether they had been taken seriously or not, nothing had ever materialised. She had briefly considered asking her family for help, but they had hardly spoken in several years, the geographical distance having worn away for good what little connection they had left. As for Leïla, she had become absolutely unreachable. Ada sincerely hoped that she had given up her neverending quest for body modifications, but all the clues pointed to the opposite, and made her fear the worst.

She had just come across a youtube video that drew some rather accurate parallels between the Flowers and several apocalyptic cults. After a long hesitation, she sent it to Cyril. He had not been quite the same since the day he had passed through that Access. It was almost a repeat of what had happened with Leïla - he had become distant, they hardly saw each other anymore, and he was constantly trying to convince her to join the Flowers when he wasn't being completely indifferent toward her. Since the beginning of the health restrictions, she had not found any opportunity to see him face to face, and his messages were more and more frequently peppered with incomprehensible words.

He replied fifteen minutes later. She immediately grabbed her stress ball.

KyrilliosToday at 09:15 PM

I stopped watching after 5 minutes the guy is saying complete bullshit
Like right at the beginning he says we "worship black smoke" lol wtf

KyrilliosToday at 09:16 PM

The nortal wants to go back to where it came from, to the frontier from above, that's normal
That's why we're doing this to ourselves, to let it out
It’s completely unrelated

A familiar taste of bile emerged.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:16 PM

Do you want me to call you

KyrilliosToday at 09:16 PM

If you're still trying to convince me to leave the Flowers you're wasting your time
I don't need friends encouraging me to fall back into depression

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:17 PM

I'm not encouraging you to fall back into depression and you need to start seeing your shrink again

KyrilliosToday at 09:17 PM

The Flowers are my shrink I don't need another one
I don't need any more of your toxic bullshit okay

She felt so helpless.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:18 PM

We miss you

KyrilliosToday at 09:19 PM

You're just jealous

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:19 PM

We just want to help you and you won't let us help you

KyrilliosToday at 09:19 PM

I don't need you anymore
I saw the truth of the world at the edge of green blue and yellow and the proof of kqive
I would have stayed beyond the pale but they told us we had to come back before the Rapture

The what now?

KyrilliosToday at 09:19 PM

You'll know soon enough
We're just waiting for a concert

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:19 PM

I'll know what?

KyrilliosToday at 09:19 PM

What I've always felt
I'm sure you suspect it too
The world is ffvar it's like me it's irreparably damaged

KyrilliosToday at 09:20 PM

But I've been where you can fix the irreparable and for many people we can do the same
And we're gonna do it soon you'll see

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:22 PM

You're scaring the hell out of me

KyrilliosToday at 09:24 PM

You wouldn't be scared if you joined us

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:24 PM

I don't want to be part of your fucking cult

KyrilliosToday at 09:24 PM

It's not a cult
It's the best thing that ever happened to me
It pisses me off that you can't understand that

The stress ball impacted the wall like a cannonball. She began to type frantically.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:25 PM

We have a survival pact you and I, remember? It may have been just words to you back then because we were kids but it wasn’t just words to me and I won't let you die

KyrilliosToday at 09:25 PM

I've never felt so alive lol
I'm unstoppable now that I'm repaired ok
I've become the 0.01% of bacteria that disinfectant spray can't kill

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:26 PM

That's what Leïla seemed to think too, remember?
Remember how you used to be horrified by everything she did to herself? And now you look at her like she's your messiah or something
You think you're getting better, but you're being completely bamboozled
They know what they're doing and I know it's hard to admit that all this talk about you getting better is just smoke and mirrors while they're destroying you
And like it or not I don't want that to happen to you
I refuse to leave you behind

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:32 PM


KyrilliosToday at 09:35 PM


Da_ChemistryToday at 09:35 PM

What do you mean?

Clyde BotToday at 09:35 PM

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Ada was writing a test results report on some fireworks while drinking her coffee. Over the years, she had found her true professional area of expertise, if not her passion. Her current job was "Test Technician in Explosives and Pyrotechnics Characterisation", which suited her character very well.

She waved to her supervisor as he walked down the corridor, forcing herself to smile before remembering that he couldn't see it with her mask on. She needed to maintain the illusion of normalcy for as long as possible. The Rapture, whatever it was, sounded like something serious, and she had spent several weeks tampering with the lab's inventory to steal enough smoke bombs to simulate a fire outbreak and evacuate a medium-sized concert hall as quickly as possible. It was Théo's idea, and the only real plan they had so far.

Her mobile phone vibrated, and a message from Théo appeared, accompanied by a screenshot of an online ticket sales site. She left her computer and locked herself in the bathroom to read the texts.

We're screwed.

Midnight Blossom concert at Accor Arena, mid-February 2022.

What’s Accor Arena

That's what Bercy has been called ever since the venue was bought by the hotel chain in 2015.

Wait what?? How could Midnight Blossom ever fill Bercy??

What do you mean?

Well… Green Day can fill Bercy. Indochine can fill Bercy. Mylène Farmer can fill Bercy. Not Midnight Blossom

It's their only concert in France.


I think they became even more of a cult band when they were split up, kind of like what happened with that other band, you know the one with I'm not okay, forgot the name.

………………….My Chemical Romance, Théo


I’m not judging

Actually I am

I'm joking but we're completely fucked aren’t we

All the Flowers will want to be there, this will be their best chance to trigger the Rapture.

Our plans only worked for smaller venues, there will never be enough of us to prevent this

I can try to get my first job involved again, but I have no idea how to do it. If I do something too vague like I did three years ago with the paint, they won't come prepared for dimensional bullshit, and if I do something too specific, they'll be able to trace it back to us for sure.

We only have three months left to find a solution

This has been going on for so long, surely they already know something’s wrong, right?

I think so too and I don't understand why they haven't done anything yet.

Shit. Shit Shit Shit.

I think I know why they’re not doing anything.

The best anomalies are self-contained.


We still don't know what the Rapture is, but they must know more than we do, and know that the anomaly will neutralise itself without them having to do anything but erase the band's existence from pop culture.

And I can assure you it wouldn't be hard for them.

They can afford it.


They'd let thousands of people die or go up in smoke or get sucked into space or nuked by a portal or whatever is going to happen?

If it can protect billions more, sure.

It's kind of their specialty.

What do we do

Only one option left.


The curtains in the back room of the Alchemist Adder may only work one way, but over time Théo had kept in touch with some of the customers who regularly used this Way. It had taken him over an entire month to convince one of them to help them, and the concert was only a few weeks away. This was probably their only chance to get back in touch with Astro.

At first Astro had been the leader of their fight against the growing influence of the Flowers, but his sanity had progressively deteriorated as it became clear that Cyril was too entangled in the cult to be saved. Astro had become more and more withdrawn, sabotaging all his remaining friendships, and in the spring of 2020, with his spirits at an all-time low, he had announced that he was leaving "the city, maybe the country, maybe the planet" to go live in the Library. He had been completely unreachable since then.

When Ada walked in the shop, she felt strange, as if she just entered a disaster area. Almost nothing had changed visually apart from the choice of items being sold, and a frog sculpture near the entrance that dispensed hand sanitizer in bubble form - but the shop had long been a meeting spot for their little gang, and the gradual disintegration of their group had tinged the place with melancholy. She greeted the employee who was manning the counter, and walked towards Théo, who was busy setting up some sort of diorama with a telescope in the back of the room. On the way, she passed a new version of the antigravity fountain with its dragonfly LEDs, and she felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

Théo was meticulously arranging luminous star stickers on a night sky background hanging on the wall, his hands running like nervous spiders carrying little lights, swaying to the music (Lights & Motion, she noted) from one foot to the other as if he were in a trance. He wore a smiling facemask, with one tooth coloured in with neon blue highlighter.

"I'm here," she said, hoping he wouldn't flinch. He turned around - he had a little star stuck in his hair. She giggled. "Your contact hasn’t arrived yet?"

"She said to meet her in five minutes by the curtain. The door is unlocked. I'll finish this and I’ll join you," he replied, coming down reluctantly from cloud nine.

She pushed open the back room door and took a few steps into the storage area, which was still filled with spray-painted boxes. A mirror had been hung on the wall among the inventory sheets, and a list of tasks was written on it with a marker. Ada took the opportunity to fix her hair, noticing with resignation that she had a third white hair, and very tired eyes.

"Of course you’re pretty," whispered a female voice.

Ada gasped and turned around. A hand was sticking out of the folds of the curtains. After a few moments, it was followed by head wearing a living chameleon as a hat.

"Uh. Ah. Good evening, Nettle."


"It's not very wise to keep a Way open that long from inside the Library," Nettle explained as the three of them passed through the archway, "but I understand it's an emergency, and if you could take Astro with you at the same time, that would be very nice. He really annoys Errare and the Archivist with all his bullshit."

A few years ago, Ada had gone back to the Library a couple of times to research the Accesses with Astro, but they must have been going about it all wrong because they had always come up empty-handed. Even so, she'd never quite managed to get used to the strangeness of the Library, even though her friend had told her that the area they used to go to was mostly "visited by humans" and "pretty much normal." She never knew whether to feel elation or terror at the existence of such a place.

Théo stopped in front of the archway, clearly gawking even under his facemask, his neon blue rings even brighter in the local chiaroscuro. His gaze swept over the endless shelves, the columns that grew like thousand-year-old redwoods, several staircases that faded into the distance, and up to the ceiling, where a school of lantern carps was lazily gliding along, tinting an archway with a multi-coloured glow.

"I’m in the Library," said Théo, as if to confirm it. "I’m in the Library, and it’s real."

"Yep," said Nettle.

"I didn't think I could have come here," he tried to justify. "I used to work for - I was a Jailer, years ago. The others used to say the Library would never let us in. All this time, I could have - I don't know. It feels very strange."

Nettle stared at him from head to toe, as if she were trying to imagine him wearing a lab coat and a name tag. The chameleon shifted between several shades. "Well, two years ago I'd never read Douglas Adams. To each their own rotten baggage," she concluded with a shrug before starting to walk again. Ada gently took Théo's hand so that he could continue to admire the scenery without having to worry about looking where he was stepping.

They passed someone who looked like a human being wearing a feathered mask but who was crawling on some shelves to grab a book more than six meters up, then veered between huge shelves on top of which a tree seemed to be growing, and had to stop for a moment to let Théo stare at another school of luminous fish, swimming through the air as naturally as possible. After a good ten minutes' walk, they reached the slum-like area that Ada had passed through on the few occasions when she'd jumped through Astro's portable Way with him - lamp posts seemed to have sprouted here and there over the last couple of years, and a staircase had gained an extra spur, under which some of the ramshackle constructions had migrated. As was often the case, someone must have been cooking somewhere between the shacks, for the air was filled with an indefinable smell - an oily, peppery mixture with hints of orange, almond and chicken, perhaps. Someone wearing a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat walked past them with a carved tablet in their hands, and eyed them suspiciously. At least, that's what Ada assumed, given the thickness of their glasses, which made it impossible to see their eyes.

"I believe he was over there the last time I saw him," Nettle said as she veered toward a more secluded spot between a wall and some tall shelves. Eventually they spotted strange coloured paint strokes all over the floor and wall, which led them to a makeshift camp where a very gangly, bearded hobo was sleeping on a mattress next to a camp stove, surrounded by cloth bags, a dozen or so spray-paint cans, two open books and a multitude of circular, tagged drawings. Belatedly, Ada realised with apprehension that the hobo was Astro.

Nettle turned up her nose and the chameleon's colours darkened. "There you go," she said as she turned back, her shoes making the floor sing. "Deal with him however you like, but he's got to stop his little art experiments, it's messing up the whole place. There’s something else I’ve got to do."

Ada's gaze returned to Astro, emaciated, curled up on his mattress, using a coat as a blanket. Considering how long he'd been here, he'd probably lost track of earthly time. Théo leaned over him, trying not to jostle any of the stuff lying around, and, clearly thinking the same thing, whispered, "Do you think he's asleep at this hour?"

"No," Astro muttered before she could open her mouth to reply. "I just don't feel much like talking to you."

The imaginary fuse leading to Ada's inner powder keg was very, very close to a lighter held by a drunk guy. She took a deep breath: "Yeah, good evening to you too, Astro. What a warm welcome." As usual, her least important question came first. "What's with all the paintings around here?"

He stretched and sat down on the mattress. "That's not paint, it's chalk. They make spray cans out of it now, did you know that? You can make temporary street art with it. It washes away with some water."

"You’re tagging the Library?"

"No," he replied, gesturing evasively, "I'm testing stuff. With the Ways and all."

"You… paint Ways?" asked Théo, shaking a green can on which several words had been added with a marker, then crossed out.

Astro snorted mockingly. "I wish. I’ve only made one that works at the moment. The big yellow can there - with that one, I designed a glyph that leads to Earth. You have to draw the thing and burn three strands of your own hair with the same match while singing an "ah" in G major, and boom, everything goes through and the Way closes behind you. But it's completely useless ‘cause it leads to a beet field somewhere in Seine-et-Marne instead of the Library. I don't even know if you can call it a Way."

"Still, not bad," Théo said, fiddling with one of the rings in his ear. Ada forced herself to smile, and tried to talk about what had brought them here: "We're in deep trouble. Midnight Blossom has reformed, the Flowers have more influence than ever, in a few weeks there's a concert at Bercy -"

"How could Midnight Blossom ever fill Bercy?!" interrupted Astro with a shocked look.

"- and Leïla's clique wants to do something big ; they're calling it the Rapture, and we need your help to figure out what it is before it's too late," she finished.

Without hurrying, he slipped on his coat on top of his Pierce The Veil t-shirt. "And where did you get that info from?"

"From Cyril before he blocked me for good."

Astro paused briefly, his arm halfway through the sleeve, as if the name was physically painful for him to hear. He tried to pretend, and returned a smile as forced as the one a sailsman with his leg in a bear trap could make. "Well, you've come to the right place for information, clearly, but you don't need me. Go ask the Palimpsest."

"Who?" asked Ada, holding back with all her might from shaking his shoulders.

"Errare, the Palimpsest," he explained as he struggled to his feet. In addition to his thin beard, his sunken cheeks were aging him prematurely, and now that he was standing up, it was obvious that he hadn't been eating his fill for a while - maybe on purpose, Ada thought darkly. He continued: "They're some kind of unofficial walking Archivist. They've absorbed the contents of every book with at least one error in it. So basically, almost every book. You can't miss them, they-"

"We're not asking this Errare guy, we're asking you," she cut him off.

Something fleeting passed behind his eyes, some kind of hope or inner smile, immediately smothered by something more unpleasant. "Is it really that important to you? The universe never gave a damn about what could happen to Earth and everything on it, me included. I left it all behind me, wars and politics and racism and homophobia and global warming and the damn pandemic and… and the fucking cults, there, I said it. I've decided I don't give a shit anymore, okay? So don't drag me back into this. I've already done my part."

The words hurt, but mostly because it was exactly how she'd felt for almost ten years whenever she felt like giving up. Théo took over, and tried to sound firm and convincing: "We've already lost two friends. We refuse to lose a third one. You’re coming with us, and we will all find a solution together."

Astro gave some sort of mocking half-sneeze. "And you want to convince me with what? The power of friendship?"

"The power of - of - the power of my hand in your fucking face," he stammered, and before Astro could reply, Théo lifted him by the collar a good twenty centimeters in the air despite their height difference. Astro let out an ear-piercing shriek like a startled barn owl.

All of a sudden, a dreadful metallic noise resounded all around them, as if some giant insect was beating its wings against a gong ; the ambient light weakened abruptly, and the words jostled each other to come out of Astro's throat, who was clearly terrified: "Put me down put me down oh shit oh shit quick quick quick put me down before-"

Théo let go of him and shoved his own hands into his pockets hurriedly, a little worried. Astro looked around, breathing as if he'd run a marathon. The sound faded and the light returned to normal, as far as anything could be 'normal' in this place anyway.

"He wasn't really going to hit you, you know," Ada said.

"The library doesn't know that," Astro simply replied. "That could have ended very badly."

"I'm sorry," Théo mumbled, "That felt like seeing myself in a depressive episode and it pissed me off, so I wanted to shake you up."

"And how often do you want to break your own face, exactly?" said Astro, stuffing several of his possessions into his coat pockets. Théo shrugged and simply pointed to his scar.

Ada was about to ask what would have happened if Théo had actually hit him, but she was interrupted by a strange rustling sound, a sort of persistent frou-frou coming from several directions at once. She turned around, found herself face to face with something that looked like a huge vulture covered in ink and paper, and she stifled a scream. The creature had no visible eyes on what was probably its head and beak, completely drenched in black slime that dripped onto an insane amount of stained and scribbled pages arranged like a robe around its body.

Several pages turned, each one with a huge letter in different styles, spelling out "W H A T – H E R E?".

"Just a misunderstanding, Errare, nothing serious," Astro said as Théo hid behind his own hands and Ada retreated until her back was against the wall. "But I’m glad you’re here. My mates would like to know what to do to prevent some impending disaster where they come from."

More page-turning noises. "W H O - D O?"

"Uh, people emitting smoke through-" he began, but Théo spread his fingers slightly and whispered: "A branch of the Fifth Church."

Errare rustled as if the wind had just picked up, and a large clot of ink dripped from their beak. A few lantern kois swimming lazily between the highest shelves retreated to some branches. The entity’s pages rearranged themselves hastily. "L E S S – K N O W – F I V E – I S – O N L Y – W A Y – F I G H T – F I V E."

Her initial shock having faded, Ada had to admit that the entity seemed willing to help them and was not at all hostile, strange as they were. She cleared her throat. "The Flowers, this Fifth Church as Théo calls it, is it… forbidden knowledge?"

"N O – F O R B I D D E N – K N O W L E D G E – O N L Y – D A N G E R O U S – K N O W L E D G E," Errare spelled, turning their beak in her direction. "F I V E – K N O W L E D G E – W O U N D I N G – M I N D – T O – I N P U T – S O M E T H I N G – E L S E."

"We have two friends who are victims of this thing," she insisted, "isn't there a way -"

"N O T – R E P A I R A B L E," visually interrupted the entity with large illuminated letters. "P I E C E S – O F – F R I E N D S – L O S T," added smaller pages around the collar. "A M P U T A T I O N - N E C E S S A R Y," concluded a row of pages near the floor.

Her stomach churned, "Amputation of what?"

"M I N D."

She fell silent. Astro did not want to concede defeat: "Wait, it can't be that irreversible. We've seen where they want to go, through some kind of portal, and we're not crazy. At least, I don't think so."

Another invisible gust of wind. "F I V E – I S – N O – P L A C E," Errare spelled out. "S A W – S O M E T H I N G – E L S E."

"You know, I didn't want to mention it before, but it looked a lot like an imaginary planet that Cyril and I used to invent when we were teenagers. It's as if all the Accesses lead directly to the world of our drawings," Ada admitted - something that was hard for her to acknowledge until now because the idea seemed so preposterous, but on the other hand, she was currently talking to a bunch of pages wandering around in an infinite library behind a one-way curtain.

The lantern kois came down from the branches to play between the shelves, and a leaf from a tree twirled in their direction. "N O – I M A G I N A R Y – W O R L D S," the entity rustled softly before turning to Nettle, who was returning with a large inkwell. "O N L Y – P O S S I B L E – W O R L D S." The dead leaf landed on Errare's head, and was dissolved in a few moments.

The little group exchanged questioning looks.

"S O M E – W O R L D S – N E A R – O T H E R S – F A R," the entity saw fit to explain while Nettle unscrewed the cap from the inkwell. "D R A W I N G S – W O R L D - M O R E – C O N V E N I E N T – T O – J O I N – F I V E," some pages declared as they turned more slowly, as if this information was a bit too close to the edge of the Dangerous Knowledge they had already mentioned for comfort. With that clarification, they leaned their beak towards the inkwell and vomited gallons of ink into it without warning. All the pages rippled and abstract arabesques rose from them to coagulate on their beak, triggering a second discharge of black liquid. Ada thought of a drunk partygoer.

Nettle closed the cap, waved the group goodbye, and nodded in rhythm as if the chameleon on her head was playing her the hit song of the year. The entity began to walk up the aisle after her. "A – C O L D," spelled out a few pages (which this time had far fewer smudges and scribbles) of Errare's back, by way of explanation. "H A V I N G – W O R K – E L S E W H E R E," added their collar.

"Wait!" cried Ada, who recklessly ran to stand in their way. "If you can't help us deal with the Flowers - er, with the Fifth Church - who can?"

Errare swirled in a soft frou-frou of pages and flew over her like a flight of yellowed white starlings. Several pages stayed back just long enough for her to read "N O – H E L P – P O S S I B L E", "G I V E – U P – W H I L E – Y O U – T H R E E – S T I L L – I N T A C T". Five pages turned to conclude "G O O D B Y E", and the entity continued to rustle away.

The Library suddenly seemed very large and very empty.

A hand came to rest on her shoulder, too firmly to be Théo's. "You used to say all the answers were here," she whispered.

"I know," Astro replied. She turned and walked back to Théo, who was still staring at the spot where Errare had been standing a minute before as if he still couldn't believe what he had seen.

The three of them finished gathering Astro's things in a despondent silence.

"How can we stop something that will destroy our brains if we learn more about it?" Théo finally sighed.

"Don't ask me," Astro replied, "I've spent my life trying to make anomalous knowledge more accessible. All that crap about dangerous knowledge that shouldn't be shared is completely counterintuitive to me." He stuffed his chalk cans into a patchwork bag. "But I'm coming with you. It pisses me off, but I won't leave you alone to deal with this. We've already lost too much and too many people. Even Errare realised that, and they only talked to us for like two minutes. I'd rather do some damage control."

Ada, in her head, kept rehashing the same words.

Pieces of friends lost. Amputation necessary.


They were sitting on the carpet around the coffee table, Astro freshly shaved, all wielding their chopsticks in silence, surrounded by all the pages of their old anti-Flower operations, with a playlist their little band had concocted in more favourable times randomly mixed with more recent tracks playing in the background. "Well, I never really thought that you'd come tonight / While the crown hangs heavy on either side / Give me one last kiss while we're far too young to die," sang Brendon Urie.

"See," Astro finally said in the midst of a silence as he grabbed a maki, "after all these years, we're finally eating sushi at your place."

"I wish it was under different circumstances," Ada said after a brief, slightly bitter laugh.

"Anyway, it's nice of you to give me a place to stay," he said, looking at the place where he had put his meagre belongings. A shadow passed behind his eyes again and he sighed, "I… I gave up the flat to Cyril back when all the cult shit and stuff became worse." Théo was about to say something, but he thought better of it. Ada's heart sank as she realised that Astro was the second homeless friend who had landed at her place. She grabbed a tuna sushi and added an unreasonable amount of wasabi on top of it.

The playlist was now playing a slow, almost mournful song. "I fall apart and the snakes start to sing," Oli Sykes whispered. "What about your Serpent's Hand contacts?" suggested Ada, inspired by the lyrics. "Couldn't they help us?"

"I hardly hear anything from them anymore," he admitted. "I was never fully involved in the first place, and since it's very disorganised and nobody really gives orders to anyone, you can find yourself isolated very easily. I can try to reconnect with one or two guys, but you shouldn't count on it."

Théo wielded his chopsticks as if they were tweezers, chewing on one side of his mouth like he always did. "I was thinking we could try to make up a bomb threat before the concert, by sending letters to the media, as a last resort."

"It's like our plan with the smoke bombs," Ada objected, "unless the Rapture can only happen on a specific date because of, uh, a stellar conjunction or something, it's only going to be a temporary measure. They'll try it again at the next gig."

"My mind is going in pointless circles," Théo added. "We don't even know what we're trying to prevent. It doesn't make any sense."

Silence settled once again between two tracks as they finished their tray. One of Chvrches' latest songs came on and Théo smiled. That was something from his own playlist. He swayed to the beat while Lauren Mayberry talked about how to stay conscious while you drown. Astro grabbed the last of the maki, but kept it frozen in the air when Robert Smith, in turn, began to sing about what to do after you've been dug up and learned to hate what you used to love. "What the fuck? That's the lead singer of The Cure, isn't it?" he said, the maki still suspended at the end of his chopsticks.

"Great duet, isn't it?" grinned Théo as he started to fold his napkin.

"Looks like I missed a lot of stuff while I was in the Library," Astro concluded before stuffing the maki into his mouth.

Ada's mobile phone vibrated, and she absentmindedly saw a notification that said something like "hjielmp". She gathered up the cardboard boxes and stuffed them into the recycling bin while the other two stared at their empty pages once again.

She heard the sound of several notifications, swore, and when she came back, her phone's screen was covered with incomprehensible messages. She checked who was the jerk who was probably letting a cat walk across their keyboard, and was about to insult them - and the room's temperature suddenly seemed to drop below zero.

KyrilliosToday at 09:42 PM

id kjnoiw iuts dfotr thge kquibve
bhutr( yoiui lmuysdft hjelmp mlre
io donbtr wqanrt thjis

Her throat tightened, and she must have become very pale because Théo hurriedly got up to read what had put her in such a state, before beckoning Astro to come and see too.

KyrilliosToday at 09:43 PM

il'rm sdortrty

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:43 PM

Cyril? Did you unblock me? Is it still you or did you give your phone to someone?

KyrilliosToday at 09:44 PM

oiu'mù qsortruy
iy'pm soirtry

I'm sorry.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:44 PM

Why are you writing like this?

KyrilliosToday at 09:44 PM

iu canbvg'rty fgerel mluy arfms
oi'mlk scvfzazered

Astro was taking notes at full speed while Théo held Ada close to him to try to ground her. Fear and incomprehension multiplied Ada's inner scream like the vault of a medieval cathedral. "Why is he writing like that? Why the fuck is he writing like that? What have they done to him?" she whimpered.

KyrilliosToday at 09:44 PM

io dobn'(ty wanbdt tyodfo thjids aznhymoprez
poi dfon'(tg wwqazbnht tyo dfop thjuis aznymosred
i dfo,n'ty xwangt tio fdpo tyuhis anyumporez

I don't want to do this anymore.

Her hands had started to shiver.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:45 PM

You don't want to do what you're doing anymore?

KyrilliosToday at 09:45 PM


"I'm going to kill them," she whispered in a voice that was also beginning to tremble.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:45 PM

Did they hurt you?

KyrilliosToday at 09:46 PM

ui shoiuilkld hgavde wqantred thjkisd
buyt iu dfontr wanhgyt iyt aznhymoprez
iut''(s tuioio jharred aznbdf iutr huertsd rtopo muycvh
jherlmp mlre
hjerklp mre

Help me.

She didn't realise she had started crying until a tear fell on her screen. "I'm going to kill them," she repeated, "I'm going to fucking beat the shit out of them, and - and -"

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:46 PM

We want to help you but we don't know how

KyrilliosToday at 09:46 PM

ui dfpon’(rt kjnowxs erityhder
biuyt pldezawse
dfpoibn’rt mlkert mlkre lkezavcxde
sdfgon’rt lmert mlre lkjeavcdse
dfoin’(t lkert mle lezavre

"Don't let me leave," translated Astro, who had stopped writing, clutching a cushion so tightly in his hands that his knuckles were almost white.

KyrilliosToday at 09:47 PM

thgertyt('re ghjoibnhyg tyio trakjer mluy phj,one

They're going to take my phone.

KyrilliosToday at 09:48 PM

oi regrterty ervfertythuinhg

I regret everything.

KyrilliosToday at 09:48 PM

tyhjiosd ius mly lkasdt- chzanbcde tyo trzalkj toi yuoiuy

This is my last chance to talk to you.

Her throat was so tight that no sound could come out anymore. Her hands were shaking too badly to reply and she handed the phone to Théo, who typed a message with the tip of his index finger.

Da_ChemistryToday at 09:49 PM

Cyril, it's Théo. Ada and Astro are here too. We won't let you down, okay? We're here for you.

KyrilliosToday at 09:49 PM

thjaznjkj yoiu
thaznjkl tyoiu

Thank you.

KyrilliosToday at 09:49 PM

ui’ml sdop soptrry

I'm so sorry.

KyrilliosToday at 09:50 PM

uiop mlovfde gyuoui akll
io lpovre gyoiu zallk

I love you all.

A few moments later, his nickname was replaced by [DELETED USER].

Some very pale and nervous fingers gently put the phone back on the table.

Ada couldn't stand it any longer. She buried her head against Théo's neck and began to sob uncontrollably. Astro pressed the cushion against his own face, probably to hide something similar. "I'm gonna kill them. I'm gonna kill them," Ada repeated helplessly, her voice broken.

"I know," Théo answered.

A kettle-like sound whistled somewhere in the room. It took her a moment to realise that the noise was coming from Astro behind his cushion, so unable to cope with the situation that he couldn't even cry normally. He started to get up to leave the room, but Ada grabbed him by the sleeve and forced him to sit down with them instead of running off to who knows where, as he always did in case of emotional overload.

They stood there for a long time, barely moving.

The playlist, which had played two quiet songs in a row and which they had almost forgotten, suddenly played some My Chemical Romance. When Gerard Way got to "Cause you only live forever in the lights you make / When we were young we used to say / That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break / Now we are the kids from yesterday," Théo grabbed the remote to look for a song that wouldn't break their spirits even more. The next track began, absurdly, with an aggressive cello riff and Patrick Stump's compressed voice shouting "Put on your war paint". Ada snorted, then laughed bitterly. Théo huffed: "Yeah, no, it’s not the best time to play that one either, is it?". Astro was still hiding his face and it was hard to tell if he was laughing or crying, but he was twitching either way. Eventually, he tossed the cushion onto the couch, and it turned out he was doing both at the same time.

"I'm gonna change you like a remix / Then I'll raise you like a phoenix," the song continued.

"I don't know what we're gonna do," Astro said, wiping his eyes on his sleeve, "but I swear that if we don't bring Cyril back somehow-"

"And Leïla," Ada added. "I hate to admit it, but even if it's her fault on some level, I think she's in even worse trouble. He was able contact us - she wasn’t."

"We couldn’t save two friends before," sighed Théo. "What makes you think we have any chance of saving ten thousand people plus them this time?"

There was another moment of hesitation.

"Put on your war paint," continued Fall Out Boy in the background.

"Oh," Astro suddenly said.

"Ah," said Ada.

"Did I miss something?" said Théo as they stood up and rummaged through the patchwork bags to get out the chalk cans, before concluding in turn, "OH."


The lights of the huge Bercy, sorry, Accor Arena concert venue had just gone out in a collective howl of joy, and Ada still hadn't found her targets. She had seen about forty members of the Flowers scattered among the crowd in the pit, some of them bearing alarming body modifications, and Théo had counted eighteen more in the bleachers, but it was clear that most of them were not in the audience of the concert, which made it very difficult to find Cyril and Leïla. She frantically tapped on her mobile phone to tell her two accomplices that they should stick to their first plan, and hope that the other two would somehow show up at some point.

The physical proximity of so many people, even masked and vaccinated, did nothing to calm her nerves after so much time spent away from concerts and their usual rush.

A giant screen, half hidden by smoke, gradually lit up to display a 3D flower, blossoming in rhythm with ultra-bright synth layers of overwhelming power. As the electric guitar struck its first chords, Cecil Fox, still silhouetted against the opening fuchsia flower, shouted "IT'S THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX-", and two thousand voices at the front of the pit screamed "- NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE!"

Familiar lyrics which suddenly sounded very threatening.

The band's logo had finished appearing on the screen, and the lasers went wild. At least now she could roughly see where she was going, although the fluorescent atmosphere didn't help, and she had to jostle a lot of people to try and get to the edge of the pit and follow the wall.


"What am I? What am I?" she sang along with all the fans, unable to stop herself.


"What am I? What am I?" It was like a prayer she had tried to forget, but couldn't.


"What am I? What am I?" In a way, she had never been completely immune.


"What am I? What am I?" Had these lyrics always been so strange, and was she just realizing it now?

Her hands finally touched the wall and she turned around, looking at the crowd being completely entranced by the logo on the giant screen and the five tiny humans that served as its vectors; the singer, more theatrical and dynamic than ever, could almost pass for the high priest of this giant mass. "The worst part," Théo shouted into her earpiece, "is that I don't think the band is even aware that they're broadcasting something dangerous and anomalous in their music. It's like something monstrous is adding some kind of ultrasound over what they're doing, and the Flowers are bats that can hear the messages and want to decode them for us."

A very old Simon & Garfunkel song came to her mind - undoubtedly, now the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made.


"I still haven't found them," Théo shouted over the devastating chords of Lotophagia, which Cecil Fox was singing while balancing precariously on the edge of the stage, his sweaty face displayed on the secondary screens while the middle one displayed confusing images of animals morphing into surreal plants.

"Astro, what's up?" said Ada into the cheap microphone attached to the wire. "Do you need help?"

"We're gonna have a problem," he replied, panic perceptible in his voice. "The glyph on the roof won't work. I just tested it."

Ada stopped short. "What do you mean, it won't work?!"

"I thought that anything placed under it would go through, but apparently people would have to be above it."

"What do you mean, above it? On the roof?"


"And you're only now realizing this??"

"I left it in case it would save some security guy or whoever wanted to climb on the roof, but yeah. I'm coming back. I'm going to paint another one in the concert hall."

Ada felt herself growing desperate. "What if they do the Rapture now?"

"They won't do it now. They'll wait until the end of the concert, when the energy is at its peak," objected Astro, a little out of breath - he must have been rushing back down from the roof. She suddenly remembered herself, in the middle of the audience at the end of her first concert, completely electrified, ready to do absolutely anything suggested to her.

"No. Yeah. You're right. We still have time."

Lotophagia ended in a collective scream of joy, and the sticky synthetic layers of Smoke and mirrors followed, like superimposed backgrounds smeared by an anxious painter on a disgusting canvas.

"But you won't be able to circle the whole room with your glyph. You can't go in front of the stage or behind it," Ada observed.

Even with the music blasted through the amps, she could hear him running. "I'll go through the high bleachers, hopefully I won't get caught by security."

"I don't see how a 250 metres wide glyph is going to work without anyone stepping on the chalk in the meantime," remarked Théo.

A familiar light caught Ada's eye. A warm, unnatural light, that filtered through piercings. It only lasted a moment, and she wasn't even sure where it came from, but it was somewhere between her and the band.

"Leïla’s here," she said simply.


A nightmare. It had to be a nightmare.

Firstly, seeing the energy of the audience gradually reaching its peak during the last songs was terribly anxiety-inducing. It was already impressive in a small venue, but the two pits together must have held about five thousand people, not counting the bleachers, and a good half of those five thousand people were pumped up and looked connected by some sort of unifying mental current. Théo had tossed the term "a purely noospheric gestalt, with a risk of restructuring" into her earpiece and she had pretended to get it. She pictured it like a two thousand five hundred head hydra with neon lasers instead of blood.

Secondly, what particularly distressed her was that she was not unaffected by the phenomenon, and that she had interrupted her search for Cyril and Leïla several times to blend into the mass of the audience, notably on Falling Forward, where the impression of constant imbalance in the beat, combined with some confusing lighting effects, had briefly made her forget where she was and what she was doing, chanting the chorus, almost throwing herself into an existential void with abandon. Only the end of the song and the segue into Revolution of Stars, to the enthusiastic screams of the audience, had managed to snap her out of her trance.

But this, again, was fine. Just as Théo had told to her that someone or something had completely locked down the entire concert hall including the emergency exits, and that he was heading toward her to help with the search, and as Astro had shouted that he hadn't managed to circle the whole concert hall and that they would have to make do with a much smaller emergency glyph that he'd rushed to trace in front of the entrance doors, taking advantage of the fact that all security seemed to have disappeared - at the worst possible moment, when her nerves had never been so close to breaking down completely, she located Leïla's group, which had just slipped into the audience right in front of the stage.

There were currently two thousand people between them and her. And the last song of the set began.

The compressed spring of the audience's energy tightened a little more, at the risk of imploding the whole mechanism. Very recognisable chords rang out, followed by an urgent and desperate synth line. A hysterical laugh escaped from Ada's throat. Of course it was. Of course the last song was The End is a Beginning. What else?

She was back in the pit and was pushing a lot of people around, trying to get closer. Normally, getting into Bercy’s "gold" pit would have been impossible, but all the security seemed to have vanished - the lighting changed a little too jerkily, and she realised that the Flowers might have taken control of the technical staff too. That was probably why most of the cult members weren't in the audience. She really had been an idiot.

Théo managed to join her by elbowing his way through, but at that point, the song was at the final bridge before its last chorus - they would never get to the stage in time, and Leïla and her clique had started to climb up there, the audience somehow indifferent to their presence. Paradoxically, the closer they got, the harder it was to get a good view of what was happening - too many people to avoid, too many movements blocking their view. "Right up to the end, I believed I was wrong," Théo shouted at her. "Until the last second, I hoped the Jailers would intervene. I wanted so badly to be wrong about that."

Suddenly, there was a horrendous racket and the instruments all died, except for a persistent synth chord. Trying to turn around to see, Ada fell down, and when Théo helped her up, the whole of Midnight Blossom lay on the stage, one of the members having collapsed on the synth; the hubbub of the audience had replaced the rest of the music, and the Flowers were in the spotlights. Her heart protested with all its might, drumming against her ribcage when she saw that one of the guys who'd gone up first literally had no face left - it stopped at his smiling mouth, and the rest of his head had been replaced by an Access bounded by a large gold ring that started under his cheeks. "I'm ready," Astro stated into her earpiece, and that was the only thing that stopped her from getting sick, for she had just caught sight of Cyril, or rather what was left of Cyril.

He now had a whole row of huge holes through each forearm, exuding some dense, greenish, crackling smoke as he walked, and his hands were shaking frantically. The improbable outfit he wore left his back bare, proudly displaying his old raven tattoo, its colors revived but altered, with a small Access going through his ribcage at the exact location of the eye in the raven's beak, as if his symbolic protector had been removed from his duties by the cult. But what horrified Ada, what made her want to commit an actual massacre, was that despite the fact that he was displaying the now familiar large crazed smile of all high-level Flowers, he looked absolutely terrified.

Maybe he'd sensed she was watching him, or maybe it was something like one of those near-telepathic flashes Leïla used to have from time to time, but their eyes met, and he stared at Ada intensely, like a gagged person screaming with their eyes alone.

Do something. Don't let me do it. Please, stop it. Stop me. Stop all of this.

Leïla stepped up to the microphone.

And Ada's mental scream became a deafening siren.

Since the last time she had seen her, Leïla had lost absolutely all her hair, and the holes in her hands and ears were now spewing a mixture of fuchsia smoke and rays of light as bright as a lighthouse in the dark. But that was almost expected, at this point. Yeah, no, it was expected, unlike the metal rods as thick as concrete rebar that pierced her through and through, exiting Accesses that went from her shoulders to her hips, crossing her body diagonally probably below her sternum, and completed by a fifth point which emerged vertically from her skull.

Ada felt like throwing up, but she couldn't take her eyes off that walking fluorescent crucifixion, who quietly grabbed the microphone stand with a deformed smile that felt almost alien. The hubbub of the crowd became particularly anxious, and shouts could be heard here and there over the infinite synth chord, which seemed to maintain much of the audience's energy all by itself.

Just as Ada was thinking this, some sort of electric shudder ran through the crowd from the back of the Bercy bleachers to the stage. She felt her arms bristle and her hair physically stand up when the wave passed through her. The energy of the audience's battery had been siphoned off by something, the thousand-headed hydra had transmitted its power - Leïla's armatures crackled, and Cyril bent in half as if someone had just punched him in the stomach.

"I'll burn the three hairs on your signal," Astro reminded her into her earpiece, and it seemed as if he was on a different planet.


"Not- not yet, but get ready," Ada stammered into her microphone as Cyril activated something by hitting his own arms, before starting to raise them gently, despite their convulsive movements.


She dropped the microphone, stepped back, grabbed the two rods that were sticking out of her shoulders with the look of someone having the worst nausea of their life - and she pushed them apart, screaming a distorted cry which soon reached notes so inhumanly high that it sounded like a digital effect.

Her whole body unfolded outwards as if some absurd geometric structure had just exploded. In the space of a few seconds, a giant Access opened up before them, encompassing almost the entire Bercy stage. An Access that opened onto a now familiar yet surreal expanse under an orange sky.

An Access that opened right onto some kind of monstrous, gigantic coral polyp, blooming like a demented flower, ready to swallow them all.

That's when the whole concert hall began to tilt.

A good number of the Flowers threw themselves straight through the portal without a second's hesitation, some followed by their own smoke, others with their Accesses shining like glowsticks. The cacophony of screams and noises of falling bodies that ensued in the venue failed to drown out Cyril's voice, amplified by the microphone to saturation, as he raised his trembling arms more and more and shouted "LET’S GO, EVERYONE GET OUT!"

"WHAT DO I DO??" screamed Astro into her earpiece, seeing, as they did, that the glyph he had traced in front of the entrance would never help getting anyone out, especially now that it was uphill. "DON'T OPEN THE GLYPH, DON'T OPEN THE GLYPH!" replied Ada as Théo tried to stop her from sliding toward the Access.

On stage, the faceless guy readjusted Cyril's arms, and the venue tilted further. Could it be-


A good second of silence. "NEVER TRIED IT."

"NOW’S AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY," she added, motioning for Théo to follow her toward the stage, against which quite a few people were beginning to crowd. Access or not, there were at least going to be some deaths by crushing, if it was not already the case. The area was becoming increasingly impassable when they were only about twenty meters away. She wondered if she would have time to reach Cyril before the situation became too critical to test her theory.

The silent decoding worked its magic once again between Théo and her. "I'm going to do something extremely stupid," he declared, barely audible in the surrounding panic. "Ready?"

No need to ask him what he was about to do. She understood. "Go ahead."

Théo grabbed her at arm's length, making all his knuckles crack with the full power of his anomalous strength, and literally catapulted her toward Cyril. "NOW!" she yelled to Astro just before impact. She hit Cyril with full force, and the whole concert venue seemed to spin, thousands of people now in mid-air.

She hadn't exactly foreseen this.

"No-no-no-no-NO-NO-" repeated, somewhere, a distorted voice. Cyril was still smiling and crying at the same time like a madman, his arms flailing. The room was spinning like the inside of a washing machine, everyone now floating in weightlessness, ten thousand voices howling and screeching. The scenery seemed a blur, from the Access and its giant polyp to the titanic Way that had just opened in a glyph on the ceiling of Bercy.

Desperately trying to ignore the screams and the absolute madness all around her, Ada gently grabbed Cyril's perforated arms, which were still spewing green smoke, and gradually turned them in the opposite direction; the concert venue gradually began to slow down, until it was completely upside down. She hugged him with all her strength and closed her eyes. They were almost thirty years old now, but she noticed that he was almost as light as he used to be in high school.

She felt, without seeing it, Cyril's crazed smile morphing into a normal, sincere one against her shoulder, and waited for the impact.


The impact never came.

When she opened her eyes, they were sitting in the middle of the insane metallic structure that constituted the framework of Bercy’s ceiling, and they were only about thirty people in the crushing immensity of the empty and inverted concert hall. Cyril was clinging to her like a lifeline, Théo looked like he had been hurt during the rush and was lying on the floor, catching his breath, and Astro, on his knees, was frantically hitting the ceiling, where his Way had completely disappeared. One of his feet was at an odd angle.

"Why didn't we get through? Why didn't we get through?" he repeated in anguish.

"The rest of the audience-" Ada began.

"-is now in a beet field somewhere in Seine-et-Marne, yeah," he interrupted, still inspecting the metallic chaos that was now the floor.

"Can't wait to see how my former Foundation colleagues will hide all of this from the media," said Théo in a weak voice a few meters away from them.

An inhuman sound echoed through the Access on the stage, and Ada looked up just in time to see, through the giant portal, the strange coral flower close like a radial eyelid, rip itself from the surface of its planet, and ascend to the skies, wherever its destination was. The Access then crumpled up like a ball of scrap paper from a failed artist, folded up along several axes incomprehensible to the naked eye, flew like a large plastic bag in the wind until it landed on the ceiling, and Leïla finally reappeared, white as a ghost. As soon as her form was stabilized, she fell to her knees and vomited a torrent of bile.

The only people who had not disappeared through the Way were the Flowers who had not immediately jumped into the polyp's mouth, and them. What had gone wrong? What did they have in common?

Fragments of heated discussions between members of the cult could be heard - there was something about a "migration", about something which had "gone without them" to the "archons", and that they had been "denied salvation". Many shouted incomprehensible words. Others were crying. Most of them simply looked dazed.

"Hey," Cyril said weakly against her shoulder.

"Hey," was her only answer.

No point in asking if he was okay, she thought. His arms had stopped smoking, but the holes were as gruesome as ever. Fuck, where the hell were his bones?

"Thanks for stopping me," he added.

She almost wanted to tell him that he could have stopped himself, but in light of the events, it was becoming pretty clear that no, he never could have. He continued to cling to her as if letting her go would have sent him straight back into a nightmare. Hold on to me, she thought, Hold on to me, Hold on.

Then she remembered the rest of the lyrics.

The new doorways cannot be opened or passed through by any of us still operating as individual beings of consciousness.

Was the opposite also true? Had the Way, technically an ancient doorway, simply rejected them? Which meant that even without belonging to what Théo called the Fifth Church, their own group had been affected enough to-

She recalled pages turning in the Library's chiaroscuro. Five knowledge wounding mind to input something else. Not repairable. Pieces of friends lost. Amputation necessary. Her heart quickened to a painful pace.

The members of the Flowers had begun to regroup as their heated debate went on, but Leïla remained a bit on the sidelines. Ada wanted to hug her too, but she was still too afraid of what Leïla was potentially capable of, and more importantly, her hands simply refused to let go of Cyril. If the fragments of sentences coming from the rest of the cult were to be trusted, some seemed to see "Passiflora's" failure as proof that she was some sort of false prophetess who had dangled salvation right in front of them just for the sake of denying it.

Astro had started to walk toward Leïla, but the configuration of the ceiling, on top of his injured ankle, complicated his task, and she seemed to be hesitating on what to do next, now that her plan had failed. Her huge, demented eyes kept darting back and forth between the two sides.

To Ada's horror, she began to walk toward the Flowers.

"LEÏLA!" cried Astro.

"It's too late, okay?" replied Leïla, without really clarifying what she was talking about. "I can't. I can't go back anymore. It's gone too far. I have to get this over with." She turned to the faceless guy, looking like someone about to push a big red button, and simply said, "Anthony. Time for plan B."

Several Flowers whispered, some cried even louder than before, others hugged each other. Three of them squealed with joy.

"What do you mean, Plan B?" shouted Astro, clearly fed up with all this bullshit.

"Are you sure?" said the faceless Anthony. "There's no guarantee it's going to work without a Receptacle."

"The kqive doesn't need any Receptacle, it's just more convenient for all of us to congregate. These things only migrate every five hundred years, and I don't know about you, but waiting to find another one is out of the question. We're going to have to go with no parachute."

"I'm not ready," whined a Flower.

"Nobody's ever ready, anyway," Leïla objected. "Anthony. Plan. B."

Anthony raised a hesitant hand toward the metallic circle which delimited the non-existence of his face, and, like Leïla a little earlier, pulled on it with all his might, opening a new Access. For a moment, Ada thought the whole scene on the inverted ceiling of Bercy had been frozen in place ; Cyril in her arms, Théo lying on the floor, Astro walking toward Leïla, the Flowers in panic - and the golden circle of Anthony's face now opening on an inconceivable void, that her brain perceived simultaneously as an absolute inky blackness and as agitated by a vertiginous chaos of fluorescent colors.

In a few seconds, almost all of the members of the Flowers seemed to erupt. Accesses opened wide, monstrous clouds of smoke rose from all sorts of fresh wounds and old scars, bodies turned inside-out, revealing a multitude of internal tattoos, and seemed to vanish on the spot - Anthony seemed to spit himself out of his body in a luminous form, abandoning his own carcass – and all of them, one way or another, rushed into the portal opened on the immense and incomprehensible void.

A strong wind began to blow, and Ada felt herself going toward the Access.

Her body did not move an inch.

But she did.

Panicked, she saw herself slide out of her head, then out of her torso, then start to move up her own arm, as if something had decided to grab the concept of Ada and pull it out of its physical receptacle. She was still holding Cyril, but only his idea, his personality, what made Cyril really Cyril, or rather the piece of him that remained after the influence of the Flowers - nearby, Théo, also out of his body, was clutching one of his own earrings, but he was still sliding toward Astro, who, being closest to the portal, was screaming as he clung to his own broken leg, which looked like it was going to come apart like a Kaplas construction - the shoulder where his anomalous tattoo was located began to ooze colors through his clothes, somehow making the damage worse. Only Leïla was left near the body - the shell - the corpse? - of Anthony. She seemed to be struggling to leave her physical form through her own hands, like someone emptying a tube of toothpaste.

Astro's foot disintegrated and he was thrown onto Leïla. Still screeching like a frightened barn owl, he grabbed her - her identity? - her ectoplasm? - and stopped her from going through the portal with all his might.

★Let me go, Astro!


Flake by flake, the body Leila had just left was being sucked into the void - some pieces glowed with black light, others had tattoos of dozens of surreal flowers, all on the inside of her flesh. Astro's body seemed to want to dissolve into geometric fragments, forming a spiral of colors as impossible as those of the crystal ball of his moving tattoo.The ring ripped from the ear of Théo's physical body, and his ectoplasm started to slide in their direction as well. Ada held her own physical hand and intertwined her fingers together, but her anomalous planet tattoo was also leaking, its colors bleeding into the air, threatening the cohesion. Her material arms finally let go of Cyril's shell, which was also disappearing like a sand castle under the rising tide, the holes that pierced his body dissolving it into a million shining particles.

Two - minds? - beings? - people were obviously too much to be held back by the weight of a single body. They were now slipping into the gravitational pull of the Access too, dragging the physical version of Ada behind them like a ball and chain.

Like a dead weight, she thought, terrified.

Are we all dead?

Ada felt a helpless rage, like never before in her life, explode inside her. After all they had done, after all their efforts, they were still going to get screwed and die like idiots. She wanted to break something. She needed to-

Cyril unfolded himself and held out a hand to Théo, who was hyperventilating even as a pure concept and had more or less floated in front of them. Théo grasped the outstretched hand like a drowning man, but their speed increased again, and they hit Astro, who was only a few meters away from the void and was still holding Leïla as if they were on the edge of a precipice. Théo clutched Astro's legs, forming between them an improbable chain of spectral identities.


☆What do we do? What do we do??

✶I can't hold on forever!

✪We’re still slipping. Ada, we're still slipping! I don't want to. I don't want to go. Ada, I don't want to go!

⍟I'm here, Cyril. I've got you.

"WHO SHOULD I HIT?" yelled Ada's inner voice. "WHAT DO I DO?" She was about to explode with rage. About to scatter into a million helpless, angry fragments. She needed to throw a chair. She needed to throw something.

She really needed to throw something.

Ada screamed at the top of her lungs, with the energy of despair, the kind of energy that can lift cars or make you jump over a six-foot fence. She pulled on her arm with all her might, lifted her own physical body- and threw it right at Anthony's lifeless form, which was supporting the portal to the void.

The violence of the impact sent the corpse reeling backwards, the golden ring shattered against the metal ceiling of Bercy - and in an instant, both bodies folded on themselves like organic origami before disappearing along with the Access.

Everything stopped as if someone had pulled a plug. Like a particularly aggressive song fizzling out.

This time, there was really nothing left, except the inanimate body of Théo and some scattered clothes lying here and there.

The silence lasted for about ten heartbeats.



✶Calm down.


✶I don't think we're dead.

☆We've lost our bodies, what the hell do you think we are?!

✶We're yelling at each other, for a start. Dead people don't yell at each other.

Astro opened his mouth, found nothing to answer, and closed it again. Ada put her hand, or the idea of her hand, on Leïla's shoulder, whose conceptual form was agitated by silent sobs. Her anger seemed to have vanished along with the portal, and she now felt nothing but pity for the woman who had nearly destroyed them all, or God knows what else. Strangely, her form had not retained the memory of the body modifications she had inflicted on herself over the years.

★What should I do now? What's left for me?

☆You've done enough already.


★They all got to leave but me. I worked so hard for that. It's not fair.

⍟For what?


She paused for a long moment, confused.

★I don't know. I don't remember. But it was important. It was essential.

Astro rolled his eyes, but seemed to have given up yelling at Leïla as well. What was the point now, given their condition?

✪I don't remember either.

Their eyes turned to Cyril, who, Ada only realized now, no longer had holes in his arms in this new form either.

✪That's crazy. While it was there, it was this huge, all-consuming thing that I was obsessed with every minute of my life, and would have done anything to reach it. And it's completely gone.

Mind amputation necessary, Ada suddenly remembered.

Leïla sat down on the ground. All fighting spirit had left her too.

★It was so beautiful. So important.

✪I know.

★We went through so much pain just for it. It must have been worth it, right?

✪Maybe not.

She sighed.

★It was probably better than life on Earth.

✪Maybe it was just death by a different name.

She contemplated her spectral hands, whose holes had disappeared as if they had never existed.

★Maybe I wanted to die.

Cyril's voice echoed throughout Bercy, strangely amplified by some kind of conviction transcribed into the physical world even if he was speaking normally.

✪Shut the fuck up, Leïla. Nobody wants to die.


✪You didn't want to die. I didn't want to die. Nobody wants to die, okay? If you wanted to check, you could have just thrown yourself into the Seine, and suicidal or not, you would have fought to avoid drowning until the very last second instead of just letting it happen. It's so impossible to want it that it's a physical reflex to fight for it not to happen. You don't want to die. You never want to die. You want to stop hurting, you want to stop being unhappy, and you just think it's the same thing. But it's not. It's not the same thing at all.


✪I just figured it out way too late, okay? But you know it's true. So yeah. Shut the fuck up.

Leïla stared at him for a few seconds, then nodded silently.


★Don't apologize. I'm the one who should be sorry. I really am. It's my fault. It's all my fault.

Both sat in silence for a moment, a form of mutual understanding and forgiveness seeming to build without the need for more words.

Astro moved closer. He seemed to have calmed down quite a bit, but Ada still dreaded what he was going to say.

☆Besides, I mean, I don't see what the rush is.

⍟Astro, I'm not sure that-

☆You didn't exist for the majority of the universe's existence. You spent BILLIONS of years not existing, and you'll spend billions more after that. There's no rush. Might as well see what happens between the two covers until the end of the book, right?

It was true, in a way. For the first time in years, the five of them seemed to be on the same page.

Ada had a sudden epiphany.

⍟I want us to make a pact.

Cyril smiled from ear to ear. The other three looked a little lost.

⍟I want us to make a pact, all five of us, okay? I want us to make a pact where none of us are allowed to try to off themselves or even hurt themselves in any way as long as the others are alive.

She put her hand out as if to make a bras d’honneur. Cyril clasped it immediately.

✪I'm in.

Théo added his hand enthusiastically. Even his concept had a fluorescent tooth.


Astro looked at them one after the other, seeming, as always, to struggle with his own emotions. He lingered a little longer on Cyril, who gave him a small nod of encouragement - could a concept blush? - and Astro finally joined his hand with theirs, smiling.

☆That's fine with me.

Leïla raised a hesitant hand. It was strange to see her intact again, ectoplasm or not. For several seconds, she looked like she was about to cry again, or run away, or maybe apologize once more for all that she had caused, but she finally added her hand to the pile, looking moved.

★Thank you. Sincerely, thank you.

✶No worries.

A brief silence passed.

☆We look so fucking dumb with our hands like this.


☆Don't we, though?

The pile of conceptual hands unraveled.

The empty venue was still overwhelming, but Ada felt better. Everyone, in fact, seemed to feel much better, despite their current condition.

Théo moved away from them. Astro sat on a metal structure. Ada and Cyril stayed with Leïla, who seemed to never want to leave their side. Ada thought that she should have been much more distressed by their current situation, but strangely enough, she wasn't. Despite everything that had happened, despite all the opportunities they had had to die, here they were, all five of them, together. Spectral or not, she felt alive. She felt like a miracle.

Leïla sighed. Strange to keep doing this kind of thing by reflex when you don't have actual lungs anymore, Ada thought.

★What are we going to do now?

✪What do you mean?

★Have you seen how we are? We can't stay like this.

⍟I'm not sure we have any other option. Our bodies are destroyed.

"Speak for yourself," said a familiar voice, coming from a body lying on the ground, who had just gotten up and was looking at his hands as if trying on new gloves.

A dazed silence answered him.


"I'm as surprised as you are. Maybe being too real has its advantages," he replied, standing up and cracking his knuckles.

He looked at the other four in turn, and his face lit up with a smile, where his signature fluorescent tooth was shinier than ever.

He knocked his index finger against his forehead, as if against a door.

"Hey. Guys. You know there's a lot of room in there?"


Dead leaves swirled around the bench where the collective sat. Each of its members was savoring the end of the afternoon and enjoying a well-deserved moment of contemplation. Some pastel, electronic melody played through the headphones, and Théo was tapping his foot to the beat.
"Look at the sky, I'm still here / I'll be alive next year," Cyril sang along with Porter Robinson.

"What genre of music is this, anyway?" Leïla asked aloud.

"Electronic music, I guess?" replied Ada.

"Synth pop, to be more specific, I think," Astro chimed in, through the exact same mouth as the others.

The redheaded individual sitting on the bench had neon blue rings in their ears, nail polish, an impressive scar on the side of their face, was wearing some sort of leather skirt over jeans, black boots, and a jacket full of patches. On closer inspection, it looked like several jackets that had been sewn together. Leïla had bought the skirt, and they all liked it very much. Astro had spent half an hour painting Cyril's nails the evening before, while they were all watching television together. The idea of the multi-jacket came from Théo, but it was Ada who had assembled it, because he was a bit scared to hurt himself with the sewing tools.

It had taken them quite some time to get used to this… situation, let's say, but it wasn't much more complicated than being flatmates. And above all, between the five of them, they felt able to do everything, see everything, face everything, discover everything. A functional adult.

The bench moved a little, and they realized that some kind of gangly kid with bleached hair was now sitting on the back.

"Hey," he said to the collective, "nice jacket."

"Thanks," Ada answered, flattered. "Where are your parents? You shouldn't be talking to random people in a park like this," Astro added.

"I'm sixteen, I'm not a kid," answered the kid, outraged.

Leïla wanted to laugh. "What do you want?" asked Théo, trying to stiffle her.

"Nothing," said the kid. "It's just that uh, my friends were making fun of me," he admitted, pointing to a group of people far behind him, "and I like your vibe, and it's the first time I've seen someone your age dressed like that. That's cool. So uh, I thought we could chat a bit."

The collective glanced in his direction. He was dressed almost entirely in black, with a t-shirt bearing the logo of an unknown band, fingerless gloves, and some kind of leather collar. A patch on his sleeve proclaimed "No future". Cyril felt a little emotional, and very much hoped this kid would fair better in life than he had. What was that style of dress called again in 2022, anyway? It didn't seem to be called "Emo" or "Scene" that often anymore, even if the aesthetics had remained almost identical. E-boy? Yeah, that was it. E-boy.

"No future?" remarked Cyril. "Very nihilistic," agreed Théo.

"Nihilistic?" asked the kid.

"A philosophy based on not giving a shit about anything, because one day the universe will explode," tried to explain Astro. "It's more complicated than that, really, but it's the general idea," Théo amended. "Usually, you learn that in philosophy class in high school."

He snorted mockingly. "I don't like philosophy."

"I figured," said Ada.

There was a moment of silence, during which a pigeon flew by, and a chestnut burr fell not far from them with a dull sound. At the intersection of the paths, someone could be heard laughing on the phone while walking a dog.

"It’s super hard, really," the kid muttered.

They all turned their single head toward him, united in mutual incomprehension. "What is?"

He looked down at his feet. "Not giving a shit about anything."

A brief hesitation passed among the friends sitting on the bench. The collective stood up by mutual agreement and Cyril dusted off their jacket with the back of his hand. None of them knew exactly who decided what they said next, but the words came easy to them: "That's because you can't. But the good thing when nothing matters in the universe is that you’re completely free to decide what matters to you."

They took a few steps down the path, and when they glanced over their shoulder, the kid was already running back to the rest of his group. The five members of the collective picked up a chestnut from the fallen burr, enjoying its smooth texture, and adjusted their headphones.

It was truly a wonderful late afternoon. Théo looked up at the autumn sky, and felt incredibly alive and complete - it was so nice to be walking together in the park after their work at the shop. Leïla was singing a familiar, hopeful tune, which echoed through them and made their ribs vibrate like the ceiling of a cathedral. Astro especially enjoyed looking at the patches of sunlight filtering through the yellow-orange leaves of the trees, and thought about how that light had traveled millions of kilometers through space just to reach them. Cyril, mentally snuggled up to him, thought of the miracle of their shared existence made possible by that small, fiery star suspended somewhere in the infinity of the cosmos.

Ada thought of the long road the five of them still had to walk together on Earth, threw the chestnut against a tree, and smiled.

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