Ruins of Madness, Part 3
rating: +2+x

Last time on Nexus:
Ruins of Madness, Part 2

A Malidramagiuan is a rather strange creature. Tall like a tree, it has a humanoid build. But that's where its resemblance to humans ended. It possessed gray-brown skin, six legs, a kind of huge symbol-covered disk where the head should be and eighteen arms with thirty-six forearms ending in seventy-two hands. The creature had chained golden bracelets with destroyed symbols on them. It hovered in a triple cross-legged position and incessantly performed gestures with its hands. Tied to its head was a naked human who wailed incessantly in pain as he was tormented by the heat of the flashing head symbols. The only sound to be heard here.

Elli knew that it was usually fatal to even look at a Malidramagiuan, but the sight of it, like so many other cognitohazardous agents, had no effect on her. She had only met such beings twice before and found them to be quite the assholes. If one were disrespectful to them, that is.

She read from the creature's hand movements that it formed kinetoglyphs, gestures that could shape the world without any kind of reality bending or magic, if one knew how. Through them, for the moment, all sounds were suppressed except for the tortured wailing of the tortured.

Elli tried to communicate with him in the sign language of the holy Hratak of Azt. This is rather difficult when one has only two arms and two hands, but fortunately the writers of the Hratak had written down in a rarely consulted appendix a simplified form that took longer but allowed the Malidramagiuan to have several conversations at once if he wanted to and had interlocutors who did not immediately drop dead.

"Can you please not kill me?" she signaled.

The Malidramagiuan paused briefly, causing the victim at his head to scream louder before resuming his movements.

However, he put down twelve of his hands for a response.

"Huh, you know my gestures?"

"Been around your kind before," Elli explained, which took about three minutes. "Am I doing it right?"

"You speak very shakily, human," the creature assessed her. "But well enough to understand you. How is it that you are not dead?"

"I read the last chapz in the Hratak, I guess that tempered me," Elli lied.

"Hmm, then you are quite formidable, human. I was on the verge of annihilating you," the Malidramagiuan replied. "It fills me with joy to finally meet someone worthy after so long. What is your name?"

Elli took five minutes for her bare name because the alphabet she had to use was very different from what most people were used to.

"Ah, Elli," the creature repeated, taking just a second to do so with twelve hands. "Excellent."

"You have something on your face, oh Malidramagiuan," Elli remarked, glancing at the haggard man.
Gradually she began to freeze in the cold here.

"This is deliberate. This man is responsible for all the suffering I have endured here. Whoever tries to save him or even wears his crest will be wiped out. Be it by violence or by madness. Will you free him?"

Eli shook her head out of reflex before giving an answer the Malidramagiuan could actually understand.

"No, oh Malidramagiuan. If you show me which way is out of here, I'll be on my way. It is quite cold here. Tell me, have you seen a tall man with black hair or a little girl with white hair anywhere around here? I'm looking for my people. We got separated down here."

The creature's gestures sped up briefly. Elli suddenly warmed up again.

"This I must deny, Elli," signaled the Malidramagiuan.

Elli breathed a sigh of relief. If the Malidramagiuan had seen them, they would have seen the Malidramagiuan, which meant that at least Chloe would be dead. Dean's cameras would probably short-circuited.

"Wonderful that there are still people who know the teachings of sacred Hrtak of Azt," the creature commented. "In return for filling me with such joy, let me give you a gift."

And then he showed Elli a very special kinetoglyph. One that not even the sacred Hratak of Azt knew.

Matheus stumbled through the darkness. Elli had suddenly disappeared in the blink of an eye. He knew that this shadowy creature was still following him, for he could make out its eyes in the darkness.

He had tried to strike at it with his sword, but a wall beside him had blocked his attack. He had to get somewhere where he could see anything if he was going to slay this creature.

He smacked into a wall. Hectically, he fumbled around, but he seemed to have hit a dead end. The creature came closer. Matheus held his sword out to him, but that didn't seem to bother the creature much.

Then light flickered.

It seemed to come from strange glass tubes on the ceiling, creating ghostly snapshots of the corridor before him, with this nightmarish creature in the middle.

He took what he could get…

With a battle cry, he came out of his corner and delivered a blow to the creature.

He hit the arm and left a slight notch. He whirled around and plunged the blade into the creature's stomach.

It growled in annoyance. With horror, Matheus noticed how the wound on its arm began to heal.

He pulled his sword out again as the creature tried to reach for him. In the flickering light, he could see that he had only landed in the corner of a corridor and ran away.

How could he have relied on his sword! If he couldn't even defeat that thing, how was he going to get up against Arbarab?

An open door passed next to him. He dashed through it without thinking.

And found himself standing over a huge hole.

Screaming, he began to roll over as he plunged into the depths…

…and suddenly careened through a massive gate. With stars before his eyes, he came to rest.
He looked around.

Above him, sunlight flooded in through cracks in the far ceiling. The room was absolutely titanic. Metal blocks lined up in front of him, each as large as a castle. Cracks and holes in the floor, walls and ceiling indicated that a massive battle between titans must have raged here, but the containers were strangely intact. He turned toward the entrance. There, on a large, half-melted sign, OLYMPIA-CLASS CONTAINMENT was written. He had no idea what that meant. The language was completely foreign to him.

"What a coincidence to meet you here…" a voice sounded behind him.

A voice that Matheus had learned to hate over the years. He whirled around.
And was startled by the sight that presented itself to him.

Where are we going now?" Reinhardt asked anxiously.

Dean had taken him by the hand so as not to lose him. The boy didn't want to tell him what had happened, probably still in shock.

"We'll get out of here and get you to safety. Then I have to go back and find my friends," Dean explained. "But your safety comes first. If I can just…"

He stopped, for he had passed a hole in the wall. It appeared that someone had broken through from the other side. Behind it was a drainage channel.

That gave Dean an idea. He hated it.

"So, I've sort of ended up in the Middle Ages here?" asked Dr. Thatcher.

Chloe nodded.

The woman she had found here seemed as helpless as she was. Apparently she was from the same place as Site-13.

At the moment, they were sitting near the THRESHER device, as the woman called it. The place seemed to be avoided by other beings because of the corpses at the bottom of the hole, so they were at undisturbed for now.

"Hrm, hopefully I can get back somehow. I don't know if I'd be able to manage here. Speaking of which, how did you end up here?"

Chloe shrugged.

"I was kidnapped, then I broke free and improvised. Do you know how to get out of here?"

"I would have been out of here a long time ago if I knew," the doctor replied. "I've been holding out for ages in the Dimensional Research Department. Always some monster, earthquakes, leeches everywhere. Once you're trapped in here, you can't get out. Thanks to this thing."

She pointed her thumb at the THRESHER device.

"What is that anyway?" asked Chloe.

Dr. Thatcher sighed.


There was a flash of light behind them. When Chloe turned around, she saw Elli groaning as she tried to stay on her feet.

"No more kinetoglyph teleport…" she muttered before taking in her surroundings. "CHLOE!"

She ran to her and hugged her tightly. Chloe tried to do as her, but Elli squeezed the air out of her. She patted her on the back.

"And here I was thinking you had perished in here…" whimpered Elli.

Tears streamed down her cheek. Chloe tried to pull free, but she wouldn't let go.

"Aw…" made Dr. Thatcher touched.

Elli seemed to take notice of her only now, because she let go of Chloe with a steel-cold face and turned to the researcher.

"YOU….," she growled.

"Me?" the woman asked, startled.

"Dr. Yvonne Thatcher, aka Dr. 230, Department of Interreal Anomalies…"

Elli stomped toward her, lunged and hit Thatcher in the face with her fist so hard that she fell over with a cry of pain.

"Well, remember me, bitch?" growled Elli, pulling the felled woman up to her by the hair.

"Please, what… What's wrong?" stammered Dr. Thatcher, confused.

Chloe didn't follow either.

"Object 11705, does that ring a bell?" asked Elli.

The woman looked at her in confusion before her eyes bugged out of her skull in horror.

"Oh no… Look, I'm sorry, but I had my-"

"EXCUSES!" spat Elli, throwing her to the ground. "Because of you, I almost died three times. And you just stood by and scribbled on a clipboard…. Do you have even the slightest idea of what you put me through!"

She lifted her foot to step up.

"Elli, stop it!" cried Chloe in exasperation.

Elli's anger dissipated as quickly as it had come. She lowered her foot again.

"But at least you were looking out for Chloe. I guess I can leave it at this…"

She spat out…

"What did she do to you?" asked Chloe, confused. "And where did you even come from?"

"Had a new friend beam me here," Elli explained. "And as for Thatcher, well, do you know Josef Mengele?"

Chloe thought for a moment, then nodded in confusion.

"She did the same thing to me that he did, only, much, much worse…. Seriously, the Nazis were a kindergarten against you…"

Dr. Thatcher, meanwhile, got back on her feet.

"I… Couldn't help it… Elli…" she gasped, "I had my orders. And if I hadn't obeyed, then… I would have been punished, executed at worst. I know what I did is unforgivable, but… Can you blame us for wanting to protect ourselves?"

"Indeed," Elli growled. "It is an amazing peculiarity of many people to carry out any cruelty as long as they are not blamed for it. It's like you've given away your brains, it's unbelievable. It never occurred to you that you could have just quit your job?"

Thatcher said nothing.

"That's what I thought," Elli said. "Cowardice. If you'd just shown some guts and quit, you never would have gotten into this mess. Well, whatever. What is this thing?"

She stepped up to the machine.

"Uh, this is the THRESHER device," the researcher explained tentatively. "A device that can teleport this entire location between realities. It was our last resort in the event of a catastrophic containment breach.

Elli frowned.

"Interreal travel…"

She looked at the lights, rummaged in her bag, and pulled out some measuring equipment.

"Elli, uh, if it's not too much to ask," Dr. Thatcher began. "Can you take us back? If this site returns, we can hold those responsible accountable. No one at the Foundation is responsible for its condition. The blame lies with the UN. And if we can prove-"

Elli just chuckled and looked up from her measurements. She sounded bitter, but also somewhat enjoying what she said next.

"Mrs. Thatcher, here's the thing…. You've exploited so many phenomena and technology that you didn't have the slightest clue about, stuff that came to you from impossible places, places that are now outside the multiversal time structure. The orators are a good example, as well as the core of your oh-so-great THRESHER device. The problem is, this was not intended by your history at all. Site-13 wasn't even supposed to exist in this form, it was supposed to be destroyed in 2005 because of a containment breach. Millions would have died, the world would have been reordered. But you had to rely on stuff from outside your causality. History can be bent like a rubber band, but you can't change it. Otherwise, something happenens that took place when you removed the trigger of the fateful containment breach from your contemporary history in your boundless arrogance of the unknown. Your historical fabric became too unstable. To protect itself, your universe split, once into the version you know and once into the version that should have been. But with a noticeably weakened spacetime fabric, such as you have created with your endless poking in the impossible, realities fare like soap bubbles…"

"Wh-what do you mean?" asked Thatcher, frightened.

Elli put on a melancholy expression.

"Your universe has ceased to exist. Unraveled like a loop knot, completely erased. I had tried to prevent that when I tried to destroy the Orators and you caught me, I warned you about it so many times, but no, you knew better, of course. The blame is not only on the UN or the GOC. You all contributed to your own demise with your blind fear. Congratulations, Thatcher. Instead of a last-ditch failsafe, you've built the most bamazing self-destruct button ever."

The researcher's mouth dropped open. She began to tremble.

"You mean my family is…. dead?"

That chuckle again.

"Worse. Because to be dead, you need to have existed at some point. No matter what afterlives in the multiverse you look into, you won't find them."

Thatcher sank to her knees with a groan.

"Leave her alone, Chloe," Elli pleaded, turning back to the machine. "Hmm, so this thing is responsible for the reality fluctuations around here, no wonder this thing has become an ever-changing maze. Must be some last-ditch containment measure to keep the critters in here from breaking out."

She stepped up to the control console and started it up. It booted up, but the screen flickered incessantly. It took a while for Elli to get what she wanted.

"Son of a bitch," she cursed, "This thing is completely fucked!"

"Can't it teleport us anymore?" asked Chloe.

"Worse. I give the thing maybe two more hours before it just shuts down. Then we'll have a place that's not even supposed to be here at all, with world-ending monsters that aren't even supposed to be here at all, unleashed on a civilization with the technological level of the late Middle Ages. What will happen to world history then, you can imagine. And this universe is pretty fragile at the moment, too…. Wonderful, Thatcher, you have flattened two realities at once. I hope you're proud of your Foundation."

She steered through some menus.

"Dematerialization still works, but it lacks the power for a transport…. Let's see, maybe I can cook up something…"

She changed a few settings before the lights on the THRESHER device went out with a mechanical stutter. A small earthquake ran through the entire site. Elli punched the console in frustration.

"FUCKING SCRAP HEAP! No, let's not test it, we're going to install the prototype right away, nothing can go wrong…"

She grabbed Chloe by the hand.

"Come on Chloe. Dean is still in here somewhere, but I can't locate him. With any luck, he's with your captor, otherwise we won't be able to find him before everything here goes to hell. Now that the THRESHER is out, at least I can finally navigate the Nexus in here."

She turned to Thatcher.

"Are you coming with me? You can stay here for all I care, but if you have any self-respect left, at least have the balls to live for your mistakes…"

Thatcher awoke from her torpor. She had a determined expression on her face.

Matheus drew his sword, but Arbarab knew that he could not hurt him. Not anymore… He was no longer Reinhardt, he was now the old man with the flesh rotting off his bones.

"What have you done to Reinhardt!" growled Matheus.

The astral creature chuckled.

"Oh, don't worry, he's still alive…" it reassured him. "Or at least he still was when I left him…"

"Where is he…"

Arbarab shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows, somewhere within these walls. Haven't really paid attention because this new body is just phenomenal. I can't actually jump between people, you know? But this mind… So beautifully empty, so beautifully straightforward on sadism and torture, so beautiful… so easy to control. And combined with my power, I can even do something like that."

The ground around the abomination began to crack. The decay was spreading extremely fast. Matheus jumped back before he was caught in it.

"But this is only the beginning," Arbarab continued. "For now I am-"

"Oh, Matheus, have you seen Dean anywhere?" asked a blonde behind the addressed man.

She had stepped out of a black portal that had formed in one of the access gates to the massive blocks. A woman Arbarab did not know and the white-haired girl stepped out behind her.

"Ah, you…" laughed Arbarab, glancing at the brat. "So foolish of you to come back to me again. You will still be a bonus to me."

The girl hid behind the blonde at his bleating giggle.

"Don't you think I still have something to say about that?" the latter asked with her hands clasped behind her back. "After all, I came all this way to see you. Your astral signature is easy to locate."
Arbarab scrutinized her. Then he laughed.

"How cute. You should know that you can't stop me. You don't even have an ounce of magic in you. This is the very first time I've seen that."

"That's right," the woman said seriously, nodding. "There's no way I can survive a contest of strength with you.

Then she began to grin.


Everyone in the room except the woman and Arbarab threw themselves down. He only now realized that she had made finger signs behind her back.

The air above them began to crackle. Lightning flashed through it and a ball of light appeared, growing rapidly. It released one of the most impossible creatures Arbarab had ever seen. The sight of it could kill mortals, and he felt his host waver under the onslaught on his mind as well. He steadied himself to face this being with definitely too many hands. Its hands formed gestures incessantly and on his disk-shaped head a man screamed as if at the stake.

The woman seemed to communicate with him via hand signals.

The strange creature suddenly sped up its movements and swept Arbarab off his feet with an invisible force, right into a web of glowing symbols in the air that Arbarab was unable to read.

He stopped his movement with his magic and fired a blue bolt at the creature with the disk-shaped head.

Its hands blurred from the speed with which it gestured. Arbarab did not register any magic, but his bolt suddenly burst. Instead, the ground beneath him gave way as if it were made of sand.

Arabarab countered this by flying and shooting toward the creature. He used his power to simply separate its head from its shoulders. The monster countered with some sort of green reflector shield.

Arbarab growled as he bounced back and began affecting reality around him to transform the creature.

He only noticed how the woman on the ground suddenly started smirking before his reality bending took a completely different course. A tin tub fell on his head.

He just barely escaped the glowing glyphs that the creature fired at him and exploded on the wall behind him.

Change of plans, then.

He gathered them, focused them, and then released the old man's power as a massive pulse.

The monster seemed to realize too late what was happening before his hands rotted away. This apparently upset its incantations, for it suddenly shocked itself and was hurled against the ceiling. Arbarab caught it with a beam of magic and began absorbing this strange power.

"Um, what did you say?" he asked the blonde.

She nodded reluctantly.

"I admit, it didn't go the way I wanted, but at least it distracted you long enough…"

The astral creature furrowed his foul brow and looked around.

He and the blonde were now the only ones in the room.

Arbarab was only annoyed by this for a moment, until the Malidramagiuan's power suddenly manifested. His back seethed before dozens of arms suddenly emerged from him, giving him the appearance of a sinister Hindu deity. The knowledge of the holy Hratak of Azt flooded through his mind.

Where the creature had been before, the screaming man now fell to the ground. Upon impact, he broke his neck and fell silent.

"Oh boy…" the blonde remarked, beginning to circle the astral being in a wide arc. "What I still don't understand though, what are you doing here? This place doesn't belong here, you should know that. You're consigning your whole world and yourself to oblivion."

Arbarab chuckles as he approaches the crates.

"I want power. And despite your interference, thanks to the powers of this body, I've finally reached my goal."

He pointed to the rows upon rows of titanic prisons.

"Look at it. Thousands of gods and demons, defenseless and ready for consumption."

He spread his arms before the massive structures.

"So…" the woman concluded. "So you want to become some kind of super deity? That would change the history of this world. You'd be the most powerful being ever, but only for a few hours if you decided to make an impact."

"Only if I don't switch realities," Arbarab corrected her, "and that's where you come in."

The blonde froze.

"Oh yes, I know what you are. I've seen into your friend's mind," the astral being explained, laughing. "Go ahead, leave this universe. I will follow you wherever you go, because there is surely someone in here with that power. You will lead me to other worlds where I can become even more powerful until I get you."

He formed kinetoglyphs. Blue beams of pure astral energy shot out of him and entered the containment chambers. He began to grow, to change…

"So you want to destroy countless universes by your very presence, just to satisfy your lust for power?" the blonde assured herself. "You are the lowest life form of them all."

Arbarab realized too late that she had maneuvered herself to one of the holes in the floor. She suddenly opened her portal and jumped in. He did not care. Now he had the power. The absolute power!

In an arc formed by a tree that had fallen on a ditch, a Nexus portal opened. Elli stepped out, dragging a Chloe behind her who tried to pull her back in. Matheus and Thatcher followed her.

"Elli, you said yourself that we don't have the time anymore, so why are you staying here?" asked Chloe.

"Because Arbarab won't stay if he finds out I left. That would be a much bigger loss than if I disappeared," Elli explained, stepping onto a forest path.

In front of them rose the ruins of Site-13.

Deep below theirs in the earth, something massive rumbled as it worked its way up.

An otherworldly laugh rang out as a being as large as a mountain erupted from the ground beneath the facility. It seemed part organic, part machine, and obeyed a geometry so alien that it was impossible to describe its shape or even its color. Even from here, they could all feel the power emanating from this thing.

"What is this?" whispered Thatcher.

"Greed," Elli replied dryly. "Pure, intemperate greed."

Down in Allinges, pure panic had surely set in. But it wouldn't last long…

"Moron, this entrance alone is probably enough to destroy this universe," Elli muttered. "Too bad for Dean. Too bad for Reinhardt…"

"Then why are we still here?" asked Chloe in a panic. "Would Dean want that?"

"Is there no hope?" asked Matheus. "Can't you stop it?"

"What has been set in motion here cannot be stopped, Matheus," was all Elli replied. "You must accept that you have failed in your task to kill it…"

Ahead of them, Arbarab had finally worked his way out of the ground.

"Do you hear me, Elli?" he boomed. "Come to me. Surrender yourself. Give me all your knowledge, all your tricks, all your power! Spare yourself unnecessary suffering. Nothing you do makes a difference now. Nothing can stop me anymore!"

Elli just grinned. And tears rolled down her cheeks.

"And three… two… one…"

Deep down in Site-13, the screen of the THRESHER device flickered to life and began to play the sequence it had been given. The machine behind him groaned and slowly powered up. Lights popped on as the moving parts of the device began to rotate.

The apparatus was aware that it had no capacity for another jump, but orders were orders and it obeyed them with the mechanical stubbornness that is inherent to machines.

The THRESHER device howled. Lightning licked across its surface and the surrounding ground as it did for the third and final time what it had been created to do.

Elli watched with satisfaction as Arbarab and Location-13 blurred as if they were being viewed through a waterfall.

The newly risen god roared in anger and fired a beam of pure energy that simply fizzled out at an invisible boundary. The roar intensified and became panicked. Jets of water, blasts of fire, gusts of wind, electrical lightning, beams of light, boulders, an atomic explosion, and many more attacks pelted the barrier, but none of them could penetrate it.

"What's happening there?" asked Chloe. "Is the universe ending?"

"What?" asked Elli. "No, who's telling you something like that? The THRESHER device just turned back on, now that it's gathered enough energy. Actually, I wanted it to keep running and maintain the maze, but, well, Made in America…"

"But didn't you tell us that Arbarab is now the most powerful of all the gods?" asked Matheus.
"Certainly," Elli confirmed with a memory of a conversation in the Nexus. "But there are laws that even gods can't defy. Look, in order to send itself, this place creates a kind of bubble, its own self-contained world around itself that it compresses to squeeze through dimensions. However, the THRESHER device no longer has the power to maintain its bubble throughout the trip."

"Real space erosion…," Thatcher muttered.

"Exactly," Elli confirmed. "Site-13 and Arbarab are about to hit some kind of wall and get crushed between realities. As will everything else within the ruins…"

Arbarab's roar became deafening as he tried to break free. In his anger, he didn't even seem to notice what was responsible for his plight. Below him, the THRESHER device finally reached full throttle. Location-13 disappeared in a flash of light and a cosmic crunch. Left behind was a massive crater that gradually began to fill with water from underground veins.

Silence fell.

Matheus was the first to speak.

"So Reinhardt is now…"

"Dean, too, I'm afraid," Elli confirmed, sighing with composure.

She put her hand on Chloe's shoulder. Less for comfort, and more to keep from falling over herself as she hid her face with her other hand.

"Don't you have a back-up?" asked Chloe hopefully.

"No. Dean has flat out refused anything like that and so have I," Elli sniffed. "With me, no one is replaceable…"

She rummaged in her pocket and pulled out her flask. She took a long sip.

"Um…" began Thatcher. "I know the timing is inappropriate right now, but how do you understand this man? I don't know his language."

"He speaks Germanic," Dean explained. "If it's any consolation, he probably doesn't understand you either."

"I don't think that's any consolation, Dea-," Elli began, before registering what she was about to say. "DEAN!?"

Everyone turned around. Behind them stood a rather battered and filthy Dean. He looked like he had walked through a swamp and then through the woods. And on his shoulders…

"REINHARDT!", Matheus exclaimed and immediately ran to Dean, who handed him the child with a raised brow.

Matheus hugged his son tightly.

"Father…" whispered Reinhardt. "I have done evil… I have seen it all. Always…"

"It wasn't you, Reinhardt. Never, ever. An evil spirit took possession of you, but now all is well," Matheus comforted him.

Tears of joy streamed from his eyes.

"Aw," Elli made, then turned to Dean questioningly. "How the hell did you guys get out of there?"

"We found the drainage channel," Dean explained. "And then I thought for myself: Drains always lead outside…. Was extremely gross in there…"

"Dean, I thought I threw you under the bus!", Elli reprimanded him with extreme relief.

Dean rolled his eyes.

"I'm sorry, but what was I supposed to do? Smoke signals? Besides, it wasn't the first time I didn't get killed, against all odds. I just remember the thing with the Hindenburg."

Elli didn't know the answer to that, leaving Chloe to cuddle Dean.

"What are you going to do now, Thatcher?" she asked. "If you want a ride from me, forget it. In itself, you shouldn't be anywhere anymore…"

Thatcher shrugged.

"I guess I'll hang with them," she replied, looking at Matheus and Reinhardt. "At least until I can get around here well enough on my own. And you?"

Elli looked at the reunited family. Then she looked at Chloe and Dean. The ones she'd thought she'd almost lost…

"Something I should have done a very long time ago…"

Kassandra Winter liked the nightlife in Dresden. Especially because it was easy here to organize a quickie as a woman. That's why she had dressed up in a stylish red dress today and applied extra rouge. Today she tried one of her favorite night clubs. Upon entering, she briefly had the impression that everything was dark, but that seemed to be just an optical illusion.

Everything inside was as normal, only the bartender she had never seen before. A huge guy with black hair. He eyed her with a cold expression. But in itself, he didn't look so bad…

"What'll it be?" he asked.

"A prosecco."

Cassandra smiled suggestively. The bartender just growled something unintelligible and pulled out a glass.

No luck.

A blonde woman took a seat next to her on a bar stool. Her beige dress, if it could be called that, left much less to the imagination than Cassandra's, given how much had been cut out. For her, that would have been too daring. However, the blonde also looked like she was having trouble spelling her name correctly. And with envy, Cassandra noted that she looked great in those clothes.

"Don't even try," she said, "I know that guy. The woman who can tempt him has yet to be invented."
"You must be here a lot?" asked Cassandra.

"Oh, all the time," said the woman chirpily. "This is the first time I've seen you here, though."
Cassandra shrugged.

"I'm sometimes here and sometimes there. I want variety."

"Oh really?" the woman asked, still cheerful but now much icier. "And have you been home to your daughter for a change?"

Cassandra's heart sank into her pants. She stepped away from the woman.

"Who are you?"

"Mrs. Jäger my name," the blonde introduced herself. "I teach your daughter at school. And you, Mrs. Winter, have ignored my request for parent-teacher conferences seven times now."

"This conversation is over."

Cassandra stood up and walked to the exit. But suddenly she found herself sitting on her stool.
Mrs. Jäger behind her sucked in a sharp breath.

"Perhaps I should point out to you that you are playing by my rules here, Mrs. Winter."

Cassandra jumped up from the stool and this time ran for the exit. But suddenly she was back in the chair.

"Prosecco?" the teacher offered. "Oils your tongue."

Cassandra tried to escape again, but the result remained the same.

"You have no idea how much patience I have," Ms. Jäger said impassively. "I can do this all evening. Or all week…"

In a panic, Cassandra turned to her.


The blonde giggled derisively.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Winter. The two of us are in office hours now. Whether you like it or not. Do you need something stronger? Whiskey? Bourbon? Vodka? Absinthe? I've got undenatured industrial alcohol there, too, if you're into that sort of thing."

Cassandra began to tremble.

"What do you want?"

"To do my job, Ms. Winter," the blonde replied somberly. "I've been trying to get into a conversation with you for a while now, because you're doing anything but taking good care of Chloe."

The woman was getting on Cassandra's nerves. That's what you get for trying to do the right thing…
"She's taken care of, isn't she?" she blubbered indignantly.

The teacher looked at her resignedly.

"She's dying, Mrs. Winter. Haven't you noticed how scrawny she's become? That her hair has lost all color?"

Cassandra stared at her.


"I'm not kidding you, look at this."

She pulled a photo seemingly out of nowhere.

Chloe was pictured in it, but she looked different than Cassandra remembered her. She was emaciated and her hair was white as a sheet.

"Wh-what is that? Did they photoshop that, or-"

"That's from a week ago, you stupid cow," Mrs. Hunter hissed angrily.

Chloe was getting ready for bed after that hectic birthday. After slipping into her pajamas, she heard the apartment door open.

"This can't be happening, Chloe-"

"Chloe is chronically malnourished, lonely, and until recently was a bullying victim. But at least I put a stop to that," the teacher exclaimed. "Seriously, were you even there when she was born?!"

The footsteps didn't belong to her mother, Chloe would have recognized those anywhere. Besides, she would have been way too early. And Elli and Dean always came through her closet….

"I love Chloe!" defended Cassandra. "But being a single mom…. I… I-"

Her heart sank as she realized the footsteps were heading straight for her room.

"Excuses," Ms. Hunter shot down. "You could have turned Chloe over to the authorities when you realized you couldn't handle it. Or call for help, even without her relatives. I know you're out of touch. Love looks different from this."

The door handle of Chloe's room was pushed down from the outside. She backed away, looking for something long that could be used as a weapon..

"The authorities?" echoed Cassandra, startled, and swallowed.

She reached for the glass of prosecco and downed it.

"No, no, no authorities. He would have found Chloe, taken her away."

Ms. Jäger tilted her head.

"You're afraid. Of whom?"

Cassandra smiled sadly.

"You think I'm a terrible mother, don't you? I probably can't even blame you…"

Chloe had chosen her chair, having nothing else. The door opened…

"But believe me, you have yet to meet…"

Chloe wanted to strike, but froze when she recognized the face. The chair flew out of her hand from the force that had already built up. She lost control of her bladder and slumped to the floor, trembling in deadly terror…

"…her father."

"Hello, Angelika…"

Next time on Nexus:
The Worst Gift, Part 1

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License