Disclaimer: Not mine, and Allison Lightning owns Sam's brother Troy.
Rating: Probably a high PG-13, but with the appropriate warning for Fear/LI and a general read-at-own-risk.


"Not me. This place is full of the creepiest birds I have ever seen! Tomorrow I'm looking for another job."

"And a toast, perhaps? To our—employee of the month?" he asked.

She never could figure out just how his glass would empty, bare crystal appearing where red had been some time after raising it to his skull. Not one of the things to ask about. There were more important things.

"Employee of the month!" The minions' echo was half-hearted, but they reached for various items on the table. Mr (Duff, they called him, by first name because he wasn't strong enough to get a title or codename) Kent shuddered as he watched them eat, going through his candy stocks at impressive pace.

She tried to smile, faintly, in case that was what the Lord wanted or didn't want. Best not to go one direction or the other too obviously. "Thanks," she muttered, in case that was required, but he seemed to have lost interest in her.

"My lady. Quiet again?" She watched him raise a hand to the woman's chin, laying his bony fingers across her body.

"I've already given my congratulations, my lord," she replied, some anxiety deep within her eyes. "What shall I do for you?"

He stroked her cheek. "Relax. Drink. Enjoy the meal. I'll expect you later, perhaps."

The Lady muttered some smooth-voiced answer; whatever their relationship was Sam really didn't want to know. It had been in the game, she knew that much about it even if the day she started playing herself was the day Heather decided to sit down and shut up of her own free will; but she couldn't exactly say the Lady always seemed happy about it.

Lady Illusion had actually been quite nice to her, relative to the other minions. Mostly meaning she usually ignored her. She chewed the wad of fairy floss on her paper plate, trying to convince herself that there was no way it should taste like cold spiderweb.

A stream of Buzz-birds flew across the room, the latest result of one of the amulet's summonings. She couldn't believe now that she'd mistaken Googler's sockpuppets for the creepiest birds she'd ever seen, with these metal-winged things laying grenades and the goreravens' nightmare voices and the half-woman Harpix with bare smooth breasts and slippery hair.

And there were the other shapeshifters; shapestealers, they might be called. Ghostlier than the Lady, skin translucent-green rather than pale-green, sloe-eyed and russet-haired; they talked between themselves in a language she did not know, and faded into the walls as they ran out, shimmering again into existence as their mortal of choice.

One of them was her, now, or more of them; she could tell no difference between them, all equally willow-slim and with a grace she could have envied if they weren't so creepy. The Lady was a half-breed to them, it was said; part human, to their definition of the word at any rate. Sam wouldn't have pegged it. She had little to do with them, and spoke their language slightly haltingly.

She looked out again at the doors, willing the—meal, perhaps you'd call it, candyfloss and corn dogs with a little popcorn on the side, the fare she'd become accustomed to in the Carnival—to be over. They didn't even need to eat, but Pigface and the others were greedy enough. She'd heard them speaking of eating people; nobody came to the Carnival these days. She wondered if they'd heard the rumours.

People's ability to not believe must have been extraordinary, she thought absently, once again. Even for her in the old days, assuming Mark's absences were something perfectly normal if rather interesting, not noticing the flying superheroes and the times she could have nearly gotten attacked and the time the not-birds had scared her at the Carnival—

The time she'd lied to Mark that she was going to quit, and changed her mind to go to the Haunted House to demand answers. She'd found far too many of them, and was held prisoner to tempt Mark and Ace to come to her aid.

They'd tried. Her first glimpse of the superhero had been her last, Mark tugging her through the Haunted House corridors as she tried to get her circulation back from the brightly patterned clown's ties they'd bound her with. They came out on the midway, just near where Googler and Anvil were pummelling him between them—and then she saw the hero Ace Lightning disappear entirely as Lord Fear blasted him, screaming against the Haunted House wall.

Mark cried out, and she saw the Lady running up as well, looking shocked-desperate more than anything else. She'd thought the woman was coming to their aid, at first, but Mark was just looking past her.

"How good of you to join us, mortal," Lord Fear said. "Kill him."


Mark had hold of her. She thought she could see tears on his face. The dunking tank burst open as they ran past it, and she found herself tripping hopelessly on the loose balls.

"Mark. Just go. They said to kill you, not me—"

She couldn't bear it if Mark was murdered by those freaky things, the skeleton who'd laughed as he instructed Mr Kent to secure her in the Haunted House, the horrible side to this Carnival that she'd never noticed before, Mr-Kent-of-Kent-Bros just a minion in an evil plan.


"Run! My ankle, I can't go, I'll be fine—"

She pushed him away. Her ankle did hurt, she noticed. Sprained.

The big one went up to her, his metal fist scraping on the ground.

"Is the mortal a traitor, Lord?"

"Don't let the other Lightning Knight get away!" she heard him yell. "Anvil, you buffoon!"

She saw the skeleton walking towards her, looking down at her trapped among the balls. She tried to stand up, but slipped again. She remembered Mark being held here before, flung into the tank as he started to scream.

"Leave Mark alone! He's not a—a superhero, he's a kid, please let him go—" she pleaded, hearing the sounds of the distant pursuit. Not Mark, not because I was stupid

A scream. Lord Fear nodded. "You're right the mortal matters not at all," he said, and unexpectedly offered her a hand up. "Now, as for you. I don't think we can afford to let such a valuable employee go—my Lady? Your previous opinion on the matter?"

She slowly approached them. "Like I said about Ace, before you killed him. There's no point in destroying her," the Lady said eventually in a voice that sounded as dead as he was, and he released Sam to stumble over the balls a second time as he laughed.


She'd never seen him again, and none of them would tell her the truth about it. Not even the Lady. You should not hope for heroes, she said. He had to still be in Conestoga Hills, if he was alive; though she was trapped in the Carnival (minions are forbidden to leave the Carnival without permission, especially in the earliest levels, and mortals are always below the first level, they laughed), she had heard Lord Fear claiming that he had prevented all humans getting out of the town, at least until he could finally unleash his powers on the world with all the pieces of the amulet. Couldn't have them telling the newscasters what was going on in Conestoga Hills. Couldn't let them know that aliens had invaded until too late—

Sam stopped herself. It wasn't funny. And going into hysterical laughter wouldn't help with avoiding getting noticed, though on the other hand, who knew but it might somehow impress them…

She closed her eyes. Samantha Thompson, random minion of the Carnival, a step below Duff Kent and the only human employee apparently left.

The minions were filing out, now, returning to their holding-spots for the rest of the night. She looked up at the Lady, and made to surreptitiously push out her chair from the cartoon-oak table. How she was actually going to get out, she didn't know; the room looked like it had been somehow bent in space-time to fit the furniture and all the minions inside, and she couldn't see the exits.

Lord Fear raised a hand. "If you're going to have a girl-in-waiting," he said to the Lady, "perhaps you should train her in more courtesies than the common minion."

She started to courtesy on instinct, peeling back the sides of her jeans, and then turned it into a bow after remembering the Carnival always used that. (At least they weren't sexist evil conquerors. She couldn't stand it if they were sexist evil conquerors. Hah.) "I'm sorry, Lord…"

The Lady nodded. "Go and ask Mr Kent—" she was the only one to use his name besides Sam, though she didn't say it with anything resembling respect—"whether he needs any help, Samantha. I'll discuss this with you later.

"When not…otherwise occupied," she continued, flirting with the skeleton sitting beside her.

Sam took the opportunity to flee.


She waited, helping Mr Kent pack boxes and tinker with machines and try futilely to keep the Carnival as though it was still running, even when it so obviously wasn't. He made her learn how to drive the truck, too, even though she was still underage, and she feared having to transport Lord Fear one day.

It was the shapestealers, though, on her first trip back to the town, the Rat observing her to make sure she didn't cry for help. They said nothing she could understand, though she was sure their silvery laughter behind their hands was about her, spilling out of the ice cream truck and frothing into the town as whatever role they had been assigned to fulfil.

None of them was Mark.

"Are you selling ice creams? I wanna ice cream."

She didn't recognize the girl.

"I've got some." Mr Kent always kept a little in there, as though to remind himself to hope that someday things would return to normal, and she hadn't been transporting Pigface. She looked down in the back of the truck. "Vanilla, vanilla or vanilla?"

"What're you saying to the little mortal?" the Rat hissed. "She looks like a tasty one to me…"

"Don't eat her!" Sam whispered back. "Keep the cover!"

"All right, all right. One misstep and I hit you with this, mortal." A crystal ball appeared in the Rat's hand. "And you're giving me the cash!"

"Okay, I get it."

She wouldn't dump all this on a little kid. Especially with the Rat's threat. She was afraid, though she didn't want to be, scared of…dying.

"Chuckie says you're one of Mark's friends," the little girl said.

Sam dropped the ice cream on the ground.

"What?" the girl asked. "I have to stay with Aunt Fiona and Uncle Simon for a long time. Chuckie comes over a lot. Can you get me a new ice cream?"

"Sure," Sam said. "I'm so clumsy, silly me…"

"Stupid human." The Rat gave an elaborate yawn.

"Be right back." She bent down to hand the new ice cream to the kid, not letting go of it. "Have you seen Mark?" she whispered. "Please…"

"Maybe," the girl said, and morphed back into herself. Sam fell back.

"Go away, child," the Lady said, and took a dubious lick at the cone, holding it upside down. "Needs more sprinkles, next time."

She started the truck at top speed, and didn't stop shivering until she was back in the Carnival. Almost-safely, in the trailer she had to share with Mr Kent, where she curled up on the ragged mattress and blanket she had. (It wasn't too bad. Much better him than rooming with a minion, and most of them were even messier than he was.) If…

The door slid open. She sat up; only Mr Kent, thank Zoar. (Thank God. She wasn't that far gone.)

"We got someone turning up. I need you out on the midway manning the Whirler."

"But they…spotted me trying to escape. Can't I stay here? Please?"

He shook his head. "Just do it, kid. It happens, they probably won't kill you."

"No, please—"

He grabbed her, forcing to her feet. "Out now."

It was Chesebrough, wandering vaguely around.

"Miss Thompson," he greeted her. "I was planning to have the class take an excursion here—but I'm not sure why, I don't remember…"

"No. That would be a very bad idea," she said softly, not caring if she was found out. "I mean. You don't want us to have fun, right?"

He nodded. "Yes. Learn and live, live and learn, pass it on and go away—whoever said education was supposed to be fun? Cram it into their brains…their brains…they want my brain…"

He looked about, suddenly, and saw the covered cage standing with the Creature of the Red Lagoon hidden inside it, the thing's purified slime blocked in case of it accidentally eating another zombie.

"They want to probe me…" he gasped, and Sam remembered that he'd been imprisoned in it before, screaming as he jumped up and down as an exhibition to the carnivalgoers. The day when he'd acted so strangely afterwards giving Mark detention, muttering weirdly to himself and ripping desks apart…

She stared up at him, horrified. "You should go," she whispered. "Just go."

"Nobody probe me please don't probe me damn I'm good damn I'm good…"

She watched him stumble away, and then saw Lady Illusion morphing out of the fence.

"You're going to win anyway please just let him go—" she pleaded. "I don't care what you do to me—"

The Lady laughed, harshly. "That is very stupid of you. Unless you are of the mould to die standing above the alternative."

I'd rather die standing than live on my knees...

"I don't know," Sam said. "If you're going to destroy our world, maybe you should kill me now."

"But you don't want to die," Lady Illusion said. It was a statement, not a question, but Sam tried to respond anyway.


"Never mind," she said wearily. "I honestly don't care any more."

Sam bit her lip. She'd risk it. "What does a girl-in-waiting do anyway?" she asked.

"Embroidery, cosmetic organization, corset tying, the odd bit of dusting, bodyguarding…" the Lady shook her head. "I don't need anyone," she said curtly. "Just stay out of my way."

"I can't bodyguard," Sam said.

She frowned. "Do you have powers, child?"

"No, of course not, I'm human, remember?"


"Um, I…had a three-point-two GPA?"

The Lady raised an eyebrow coolly. "Shame."

"I…used to cheerlead?"

"A professional flatterer? Believe me, it's not as easy as it seems."

"No, that's not what it means—you're supposed to be part human, right? Relative to, like, what you'd call human-looking on your world, and you don't understand I'm just a kid—"

She stopped herself from blubbering. She wasn't that childish, damn it—

"Supposedly. And some humans learn." She turned away from her.

"There's not much I can do—and you didn't tell me what I'm supposed to do at the dinners anyway!" Sam dared to call after her as she turned to leave, but she didn't seem to hear.

Ask permission, she supposed. Whatever.


Something appeared almost on top of her as she passed through the Haunted House corridor.

A chest, she realised after noting that nothing had killed her. Strangely enough, it wasn't moving. And she couldn't hear anything inside.

"What is that, little mortal?"

Anvil lumbered up behind her, his arms scraping along the walls.

"I don't know. It just appeared. Does it eat people?" She eyed it nervously; she could imagine ivory teeth suddenly appearing from its flesh-red paint.

"Anvil don't think so."

She ducked out of the way just as his fist came down on it. Mercifully, it didn't explode or suddenly grow legs and chase after them; it simply came apart, spilling rich fabric across the floor.

"Dresses are boring," Anvil said, and lumbered off.

Sam picked one up, carefully, and then thought to wonder if something was implanted in the pale material itself, if the fine gauze would suddenly unravel and seize her neck, poisonous spikes erupting from the material to pierce her through. But she quite frankly stunk after wearing the same things for weeks (Googler had even commented, a humiliating memory if there ever was one), and it was amazing how tempting it was.

She'd ask the Lady; it was probably what she was supposed to be doing anyway. And as if on cue, she appeared, walking through the halls, holding herself sternly upright yet seeming almost to be dreaming on her feet.

"This…appeared," Sam said lamely, holding out the material.

"I see." She bent down to examine the chest. "I recognize it, I think. It's not dangerous, and I doubt anyone else will claim it." She held a section of pale blue fabric in her hand, looking down at it as it slid through her fingers. "Take what you want. Can you sew?"

"Buttons," Sam said lamely.

The Lady sighed. "Then learn more on your own if it's necessary."

"Can you sew?"

"Yes, but I'm not teaching you." Setting the light blue aside almost wistfully ("bad colour", she muttered to herself), she drew a dark red dress to herself, slightly too short for her but otherwise around her size, and morphed it around her form to lengthen it.

She shrugged. "I suppose this is somewhat useful," she said, turning to leave.

"Whose was it?" Sam asked, not that it mattered. Evils weren't supposed to mind a bit of theft.

"My…predecessor's, as it were. I worked for her, for a time."

"What happened to her?"

"Executed for a traitor," Lady lllusion said flatly, and strode away.

Sam looked down at the clothing she held. Belonging to a dead woman—or whatever—

—from something that had been a game, she told herself, a game based on the dead guy Lord Fear couldn't stop himself continuing to gloat over.

She'd dress like them if she had to. And she rather supposed she did, especially judging from the smell.


She listened to the music and turned the pages at the appropriate moments. Good thing he wasn't singing again.

She'd had piano lessons way back. The teacher had been strict, and she'd quit in favour of ballet classes. Heather had done flute. Still did flute, Grade Six and counting.


Her friend would've dealt with this so much better than Sam. She'd liked to imagine herself as a knight, the sort with armour, when she was younger. Or else she'd have gotten herself killed.

Poor Heather.

The note lingered, just slightly, accompanied by a glare starting in the skeleton's eyes; she hastily turned over the page. Fortunate for Lady Illusion, sent off on some task in the town.

"We defeated Ace Lightning in our trap," he mused, still playing. "And yet the amulet is slow to find…"

"How do you find the pieces at all? They're so small," she said, trying to sound impressed (it wasn't at all difficult. They were powerful.).

"The Rat can sniff them out. There are some places more likely to contain them than others—originally the Carnival, but now our influence has spread," he gloated. "Lady Illusion is presently at the school, where my Ink Ghosts have taken up residence."

She felt like the blood had been drained from her face, and tried not to collapse. He had to know, he was probably pleased at her reaction—

He laughed, and didn't stop playing. "Turn the page, m'dear."

"Are you—going to kill everyone? They didn't do anything to you. I could—please, if there's anything I could help with, just please don't kill my friends—"

He seemed to approve of her hysterics. The fear.

"You have nothing to offer me," he said. The music kept going, sound building up around her like the swell of a typhoon. He looked at her in the dress, red eyelids drawing over the green as he scanned her. "Even given a decade or few, child."

She had clenched her left hand, her nails squeezing into the still-soft flesh of her palm, and noticed the pain for the first time.

"I—I'm not—"

"You bore me, mortal," he said peremptorily, and almost too late she realised to look down at the music and see she needed to turn the page again. She reached for it and clumsily flipped it, almost tearing it in her haste.


She made it out, tearing from the room as soon as Lord Fear was done. She needed to—

Stealth, she reminded herself. She grabbed a stick of candyfloss, feeling slightly nauseous at the remembrance that it had been lunch and dinner for the past nine days (it had been corn dogs before that). Pigface was positioned near the eastern exit; she hastened there, wearing a dark cloak she'd gained from the chest that dragged along the ground behind her.

"I see the mortal. What are you doing here?" The minion loomed in front of her.

"Mr—Mr Kent thought you'd be hungry. I brought you this!"

He snapped the candyfloss from the air. "That good! Any more?"

"Over there," she said, pointing in the direction of the caravan used for stores, which she'd helped Mr Kent block so the scent was reduced. "Just don't tell Mr Kent I told you!"

She heard him running to it, ripping through the walls. She probably wouldn't get caught, and she'd probably even be believed above him, harmless mortal's word against minion trying a coverup.

Damn it. She was thinking like one of them.

She ran herself, away from that place.


The…school. She wasn't sure if it was the right idea, if she might better go home (one of them could well be there, in her room with her parents like they belonged there, eating chocolate-chip biscuits below the old My Little Pony wallpaper she'd been grown out of for years), but she might get others into trouble, caught or hurt…

It looked deserted. The Ink Ghosts didn't do much, scary looks and stains on the floor (it'd been hard to clean up after them when they'd departed the Carnival) and if you let lots of them wrap around you they could turn your blood black and kill you that way (she'd seen it happen to a goreraven, flapping desperately as it struggled to escape), but she could escape them. Hopefully.

A single car in the lot, graffitied in runes, lying abandoned. She didn't recognize it, which was probably a good thing.

The back way was open. She went in, keeping the cloak wrapped around herself. Probably the evils had…come here before, made it connected to them, the possibility of another amulet piece. Mark, detention, the days when Chesebrough had been acting so strangely…

If I were…hiding…

She kept the cloak wrapped around her. Maybe since it was from the Sixth Dimension they wouldn't recognize her, or believe her to be one of the Faceless Ones even.

It was more silent than she'd ever experienced before. School was meant to be loud, gossip and boys and sports and friends and homework. It felt colder as well, like it was frozen as well as dead. She heard something like whispering as the cloak swept behind her on the ground, the ink spilt on the walls like blood patterns, a sea of torn paper shifting across the floor like snowfall. A fragment of paper was still pinned to the noticeboard with a red-headed tack.

Student Free Month scheduled to indefinitely extend, 29 March-

The rip cut it off there. She wondered whether Chesebrough or Principal Gilmore had put it up there, trying to be normal in spite of it all…

No sense in…wondering. No point to trying the classroom storerooms, fragments stained with blood-red ink spilling out after the Ghosts' feeding. She tried the gym storeroom, rummaging around hockey sticks and cheerleading pompoms just in case.


She looked up, and heard the clinking of something.


"The sword. Not what I would have recommended," the Lady said calmly, barely bothering to breathe as she fought her opponent.

"It seemed practical. Medium-range. I've got short-range hand-to-hand down, and some things you people really don't want to know about. Not that I know they'd work."


"It's too much like your redhead, isn't it. You see, I did read the manuals. I actually don't mind that this happened."

"How stupid."

"And in any case, I'd need to fight. So I ought to be happy. Her name is Sparx, isn't it? Probably better than you at this, and sent you to prison besides."

"Not better at…anything else, or in general. She's overconfident, impulsive, immature, and got lucky." Emotion actually showed on her face, but the fight was still more than in her favour.

"My kind of girl. I guess I look enough like her. And there was the English blonde we used to know, and if she was older maybe you'd look—"

"I told you I could not answer for her!"

"Got that." A shrug. "I still don't know you. Or what you want from all this, I know what you're supposed to be."

"I don't like waste. That's all."

"Or you have some kind of death wish? Going back home, whatever?"

The fight was intensifying. Still no way the Lady'd anything but win.

"I…dislike this world. But it will be remade into something more like our own." She spoke disdainfully, like she couldn't care less what happened to everyone.

"I think I'm still missing something. You are, too. Look behind you."

Sam froze, ducking down behind the window in the gym doors as the Lady turned her head, and then heard a cry.

"I told you so."

"Yes. Very nice use of distraction, kid. Bear in mind that you're still on your own."

"I may not be."

"We'll see."

Sam looked up helplessly as the Lady flung open the doors, nearly hitting her with them. There was a cut in her outfit just on the shoulder, and some translucent liquid staining the tear—but only clear skin showing.



She shrugged. "And there's nothing I can do about it, child."

Sam looked across. Heather, in the old pair of blue jeans she wore around the house and her pink T-shirt, carrying a stained sword as she faced her.

It was typical, she supposed. Heather had always been the more…enthusiastic of the two of them. The one who fought.

"Can you tell me what's going on?" she asked Lady Illusion, shocking herself with how loudly it came out. "Tell me what you're planning, tell me if you're a traitor to evil or what you're doing with my best friend…"

"Nice seeing you again. Collaborator," Heather added, striding towards her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I truly am glad you're—"

And then Sam saw both their faces draw to complete shock.

It all…happened. The sword through the air passing both of them neatly, a blast of green, the noise like rusting nails scraped across Chesebrough's ancient blackboard as the Ink Ghosts came flooding in, and a crystal ball exploding in front of her face, bright and dizzying. She found herself sitting down braced against the wall when she could open her eyes again, barely conscious.

They were standing together across from her, one of his hands gripping her arm, almost painful to watch. As though they were bound together, evil Lord and Lady…

No sign, she noticed in the endless circles passing through her brain, of Heather.

"What have you done?" she heard him hiss.

"It's a waste. I don't like—"

"You'll do as I say!"

"I know that, my lord. The mortal was nothing, you know that…as are all of them. If I could return to our world in your service, leave this awful dimension…"

"This world is wider. And you have only yourself to blame that I would prefer you by my side."

The staff snickered. "Where we can see what you're doing…"

"That's enough, my loyal staff."

She reached out a hand, grasping the front of his shirt, far too close to him. "The mortal wounded me; you can see that. How may I assure you of my loyalties?"

"I really don't know." His hand parted the tear, cold and slightly roughened fingers stretching the hole in the fabric. Like…vines, tendrils reaching out, something organic and callused that should be inert and smooth.

She nodded, and leaned into him, suddenly looking desperate. "I don't care any more," she said breathlessly, actually kissing him like the world was breaking up around her, her hand twined in his collar and reaching up to his neck as she pulled him towards her. "I hate this world. It makes me—feel things—Zoar—"

Sam saw them…touching. Wrongly, his hand moving up her inner thigh, doing things she didn't want to think about and shouldn't even know about (the magazines her brother Troy kept at the bottom of his closet, the sex ed class where she giggled with Heather and the teacher kept pausing and using the silliest euphemisms), and she looked down and closed her eyes.

She heard the Lady starting to breathe in heavy gasps, mortal's air sucked in. "Please don't stop. I want to feel something, need this—you. It really doesn't matter, I don't care—I just feel."

"So it has changed you," Sam heard him say almost dreamily.

"Yes. Not my—loyalties. I'm bound. You know that. There's nothing else I care for—oh Zoar—"

Sam heard her gasp again in a thick, ragged breath, like she didn't know how to breathe at all.

He laughed dryly. "That's enough. I want you to go back to the Carnival and wait for me there."

She drew in another breath, sharp like a spear piercing her through. "Yes, my lord."

"Your girl has woken up," he added, and Sam looked up in shock that she'd been seen. The Lady was thankfully away from him now, only slightly pink in her cheeks with her clothes a little disarranged. It made her look almost human.

She disappeared in a blink, unearthly once more as light flashed around her.

Sam bowed her head again. "Sorry…" she tried to begin some explanation. Any explanation.

Lord Fear sighed, and pulled her up again. His hand felt painful around her arm, and she looked down at it.

A shard of the crystal ball had stuck into her arm; it hurt, now she was noticing it. Bright red with a streak of equally bright green ran down her skin, staining his hand as well.

"I'm bleeding," she said stupidly.

"Your species does it rather more than ours," he said.

"It's the wrong colour," she said, wrenching out of his grip and pulling the shard free. She read a mildly curious look from him. "It's supposed to be red—just red—because of haemoglobins and iron and stuff—" Hearing Mr Chesebrough yelling, surreptitiously passing notes to Brett while Chuck stuck his hand high in the air

"Insipid mortal," he said.

This was…so wrong. She wrapped her hand around the cut, trying to block it from spilling more on her, too bright on a pale sleeve with only the red fading into the cloak.

"Why did you come here?" he asked. "Were you meeting with the other mortal?"

It wasn't such a complicated question. But he killed betrayers, Lady Illusion saying that to her—

"I followed Lady Illusion," she said. "I was curious."

The line sounded like something they'd say, especially with a dot-dot-dot in there. I was...curious. She tried not to think about the blood soaking her hand.

"Loyal. How suitable for a lady-in-waiting."

"Do I have to be loyal to her?" she asked, travelling on air and thistledown, making it all up as she went along. "I might…rather be loyal to you."

there was the English blonde we used to know, and if she was older maybe you'd look—

She'd dumped Brett days after Mark had come here, because she liked him so much even though he was so weird, because he'd brought someone else new here—

My…predecessor's, as it were. I worked for her, for a time…Executed for a traitor—

"What happened to Lady Illusion's…predecessor?" she blurted out.

"I had her burned," he said calmly.

"She died screaming," Staffhead chimed in. "A lot happens to traitors. A lot you wouldn't like, mortal."

She took a deep breath in. Imagined oxygen on iron wings, blood refreshed the normal way. It didn't feel like it was working. She'd been in the Carnival too long.

"I'm no traitor," she said.

My…predecessor's, as it were. I worked for her, for a time…

I don't care any more, nothing else…

Not much of a choice, if truth be told.

You should not hope for heroes, MarkandAceLightningandHeatherandtheredheadandeverythingelse…

"I could be loyal to you," she repeated. A promise. Could oaths take permanent form among these people, dark birds in flight around her head offering invisible chains?

"I accept your loyalty," Lord Fear said. She felt his cold hand on her arm again, and saw the green streaks form themselves into a bracelet, crushingly tight and then fading away, invisible.

She looked up at him.

"Shouldn't we return to your Lady, my Lord?" she asked meekly.