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Death, or, I Always Cry at the Curtain Call


or, I Always Cry at the Curtain Call

It was the most anticipated event that Discord had had in a very long time, and opinions were highly divided on what exactly to think about the whole affair. Some said good riddance that the impostor had been found out and was going to hang. Some said that Kei was a lying bitch and had probably set the whole damn thing up herself. Some others were just upset that the slamming parties were going to end.

Regardless of the opinion, however, everybody had one. Beyond all that, they all just loved a good hanging, and there hadn’t been one of those in Discord for forever. Needless to say, the whole city tried to show up to the execution of Douglas Bailey. Not even remotely everyone fit in the plaza, but they damn well tried.

A lucky few managed to get a view. Cindy stared up at that stage with hair-trigger alertness, ready to ignore Jack’s advice and intervene at any moment. Tommy was only filled with dread as he was confronted by the gallows, and the fact that there was nothing he could do to stop his friend from committing the irredeemable. Niko surprised the other two with just how calm he was. He still hadn’t told them that it was already far too late.

At the edge of the crowd, a wolf skulked in an alley, while far above him the harsh glow of a monitor could be seen through a dusty windowpane.

Kei just wanted this all to be over, so she could shove these stupid little feelings in a box somewhere and get on with the new life she had made for herself. It didn’t help matters that Doug was—of all things—sulking. He’d barely said a word to her since she and her enforcers had pulled him from the labyrinth this morning. She didn’t know why that had ticked her off so much, and she was pissed because she knew that was exactly what he wanted.

As the clock tower rang out its mournful tones, indicating that the hour had arrived, the crowd gradually fell silent. Kei kept them waiting for a minute—to build some tension—but finally emerged onto the stage. Her heels sent stabbing echoes through the silent plaza as they met the rough wood platform. Doug was dragged out behind her by one of Malachi’s former goons. Even if he wasn’t a daemon, his hands were bound in cold iron, as was customary in Discord. Kei hoped it would illustrate her dedication to the true ways of the city. Normally there would be a hangman going through with the actual execution, but that was another tactic Kei had chosen specifically. She would do it herself, and if anyone fucked with her, she would do the same to them.

The crowd listened, enraptured, as she grabbed a microphone and began to speak. Nearly no one actually caught what she was saying. They were all waiting for the main event, whatever that meant to them.

Even Kei wasn’t really listening to herself, at least until she got to the part that was important. The part that she’d practiced. “This is not an ending,” she intoned to the crowd. “It’s a beginning. For too long we have watched our beloved city losing that thing that makes it Discord. But I promise you, that until Bacchae really does return, I will do my best to preserve this very strange town that he loved, that he made. Part of that duty…” and here she took a deep breath, steeling her own nerves. “...Part of that duty involves cleansing it of those that would use our Discord for their own gain.”

She glanced pointedly at Doug, who was standing a short distance behind her, and the gesture was met with a chorus of cheers and jeers.

Kei approached him, abandoning the mic. “Any last words?” she asked him then. She was hoping he’d say something, call her a bitch or a whore, something that would make her angry. Yet for a solid few seconds he refused to even look at her. Just when she was about to give up entirely, his eyes met hers for just a second. Those very, very green eyes.

“Fine then. Have it your way,’ she scoffed, then, with her enforcers behind her, she led him up to the gallows, and placed the noose around his neck. She let the goons remove the iron. Might as well let him struggle. It would make for a better show.

“Funny,” she couldn’t help chuckling. “I’m getting the oddest sense of deja vu right now. Too bad there’s no gorgeous daemon chick to save your ass this time, huh?”

Still, there was no response. What a little bitch.

Kei sighed, taking in his features for the last time. She had to stop hesitating. If she didn’t go through with this she knew she would regret it later.

“Well,” she said, “sorry it had to end like this, Bailey. For what it’s worth, it was fun while it lasted.”

Just as she turned away, Doug let out a singular, derisive puff of air. Thank you, she thought to the cosmos at large. That was exactly what she needed.

Taking up the mic again, she fingered the handle of the large lever that would take Doug’s life. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she called out to her people. “Our new beginning starts right now.”

And before she could stop herself, she pulled.

Kei refused to turn around, but the crowd couldn’t take their eyes off of the spectacle. Cindy tensed, and Niko grabbed her arm. Tommy was the only other person not looking. Instead he stared at the ground, repeatedly clenching his fists and trying not to lose his lunch. A few other people in the crowd were looking a little green as well.

Doug gagged miserably, foam bubbling from his mouth. His legs twitched desperately against the empty air. The drop had probably broken his neck, but he still struggled for life for a solid minute, his fingers clawing at the rope leaving him dangling. The noise from the crowd at first was cacophonous, but as Doug’s struggle first slowed and then stopped, with one final twitch of his extremities, so too did their voices.

For what felt like a very long time, the Tea Party was quiet, all eyes set firmly on Doug’s body swinging gently back and forth. All except Kei, whose eyes were closed. She stayed put for as long as she could, before grabbing the mic once again and taking a deep breath inward.

Not that she actually got any words out. Because before she had a chance, the corpse started giggling.

It was quiet at first, only loud enough for her to hear, constricted as its throat was. But as more and more people noticed, looks of horror and confusion bloomed on their faces, and the laughing got louder and louder in response, until the corpse was practically jiggling around from the force of it.

“I’m sorry, I tried my best, I really did,” a voice came from the gallows, but Kei froze. That didn’t really sound like Doug. “It’s just so funny.”

Kei whipped around. This must be some trick, some deception. Someone was fucking with her. She wasn’t wrong. Doug was still dangling by his neck, but he was somehow still alive. Not only that, but he was smiling down at her, and staring. Staring with eyes that positively glowed. For the life of her, Kei couldn’t tell whether he was ecstatic or furious.

“Hey, Kei, tell me one thing,” he grinned. “Did you really think something like this would actually kill me?”

It wasn’t Doug who was hanging from the gallows.

The man waited a moment for the reaction from the peanut gallery to die down, then raised a hand in the air, his face nearly split in two from how wide his smile had grown. He snapped his fingers, and the rope around his neck had no choice but to also snap in response.

He seemed to have forgotten that the trap door beneath him was still open, and he unceremoniously fell right through. That only prompted him to laugh harder as he pulled himself back up, before rolling over and off the front of the gallows entirely.

“Well, that hurt like a butt-cheek on a stick, that’s for fuckin’ sure,” he stood and dusted himself off. “Now where’s my damn coat? How the hell’s anybody supposed to recognize me without it?” He swiveled around comically. “Ahh, silly me. It’s behind my back. Thanks ladies.” Reaching a hand behind him, he pulled a long black coat out from seemingly nowhere at all.

It wasn’t until he’d finished putting it on that he realized the entire plaza was silent. “Why are you all looking at me like that? Wait, this is what, the third time y’all’ve gotten your chains jerked around in as many weeks? Oh, hold on, this’ll help. Perfect timing.”

As the crowd’s confusion only grew, the man’s face suddenly twitched in pain, before he immediately doubled over, grabbing at his head.

“God fucking dammit,” he mumbled to himself. “Son of a fucking sandwich.”

A small gasp passed through the plaza as blood started to dribble in between his fingers, dying his white hair a disconcerting shade of pink.

He stood there for a few more seconds, making small, pained noises and swearing up a storm, before two hard cracks echoed through the Tea Party. After a series of other concerning noises, the man reared back, and a pair of ribbed goat horns rapidly spiraled out of his head.

With a contented sigh, the man wiped the blood out of his eyes. “That is so much better. I tell ya, felt like my head was gonna float off without ‘em. Aaannd you all still look like someone’s asshole just grew wings and flew away.” He squatted down in front of someone standing right at the edge of the stage. “Here, you wanna touch ‘em? I promise they’re real this time.”

Tilting his head, he allowed the woman to grab one of the horns. She hesitantly obliged, then, feeling how solid it was, she gave it a firm yank, nearly dragging the man off the stage entirely.

“Ow! They’re still sensitive! Jesus christ, you’ve got a firm grip,” he stood, chuckling. “Call me.”

The woman nearly fainted. Her friend turned to her, and she nodded, mumbling: “It’s really him. It’s really…”

As soon as the name left her mouth, a chorus was taken up. First by only a few people around her, but after a few seconds the entire plaza was chanting his name. And he ate it up. It was the best coming home present he ever could have gotten.

“That’s what I like to hear!” he roared. Because finally, Bacchae had come home.

He kicked the microphone that Kei had been using aside—he didn’t need it. All he had to do was raise a singular finger, and he could’ve heard a pin drop all the way down the hill.

“That’s right, motherfuckers. I’m back. I’m sure you’re probably wondering what all these fucking shenanigans have been about. Well, listen, just… just don’t worry about it. It’s all long and complicated and I simply just don’t feel like it. I’m here and that’s what matters.

“We don’t have the time to get into it. Because I have a bone to pick… with all of you.”

His face suddenly fell into a rather serious expression. “I’ve only been gone for fifty years, and you all let some corporate jack-in-the-box bulldoze over this absurd fucking city. What kind of sheeple are you, huh? Punk really is dead, isn’t it? That’s so fucking sad.”

The daemons’ all bowed their heads, each and every one of them looking ashamed.

“Only one of you ever actually did something. And in any other circumstances I’d be smokin’ a toke in her honor. But! There’s just one little thing everyone here can learn from her. If you’re gonna mastermind a plan to nab the whole city for yourself, don’t uh… don’t fuck it up.”

He started cackling, but meanwhile some eyes turned to Kei, who was still standing on the stage. To the crowd, it looked like she had been frozen in fear this entire time. The truth was, if she could’ve, she would’ve run ages ago. But something, some invisible force, was keeping her in place, keeping her arms pinned at her sides. It felt as if clammy, icy-cold hands were holding her there, though she couldn’t see anything.

“That being said, she did fuck it up,” Bacchae eventually recovered enough to speak again. “So that leaves it my disappointing duty to clean up the mess.”

He shot her a look then, and Kei knew that she was screwed.

“But I’m just one guy, so I think it might be time to call in the cavalry. Hey, Jack!” He craned his neck, glancing into the crowd. “Good buddy, where ya at? Come gimme a hand!”

It didn’t take long to get a response. His movement through the crowd could be easily tracked, considering that anyone who came into contact with him tried desperately to get away.

As soon as he arrived at the front of the crowd, a grin nearly as wide as Bacchae’s plastered across his face, the aforementioned reached his left hand down to him, and pulled Jack up onto the stage.

After a good, firm handshake and a pat on the back, the two turned back to Kei. “Now, Jack,” Bacchae intoned. “Would you be so kind as to restrain that ludicrous fucking bitch right there, before she gets away.”

“You don’t know how much of a pleasure that will be.” Jack licked his lips, sauntering across the wood towards her.

“Don’t touch me,” she squirmed, but Jack was already behind her, pinning her arms to her back.

“Oh the things I’m going to do to you…” he growled in her ear.

That only caused her to struggle more. “Get your fucking paws off of me.”

“Ah, ah, ah, don’t go jumping the gun on me, Jack,” Bacchae waggled a finger. “If this was any ordinary bitch I’d pass her off to you no question. But she is ‘the bitch’ after all, and if there’s any person in this room that’s gotta bone to pick with her, it’s me.”

He grabbed her chin, forcing her to look up at him. Doug had been tall, but had he always been this tall? It wasn’t a thought that lasted very long, however. Because the bigger issue immediately crossed her mind: what the hell was he going to do to her?

She didn’t have to wait very long for an answer, as after staring at her with those horrifying eyes, he turned back to the crowd. “I apologize for robbing you all of the hanging that you were so desperately waiting for, but you see, I’m actually really conflicted about this whole thing.” He sighed dramatically. “Because, on the one hand, I should be thanking her. If she wasn’t such a smart cookie, I wouldn’t be here right now. But on the other, she’s also a conniving little cunt.”

That got a big reaction from the crowd.

While the noise was loud enough to drown her out, Kei leaned forward. “Doug,” she asked him earnestly, “how the hell are you doing all of this?” Behind her, Jack chuckled, but logically, this man in front of her, who had effortlessly convinced the crowd that he really was their long lost monarch had to be Doug. There was no other possibility, really.

But at the mention of that name, the affably shark-like expression fell off of his face. For just a second, he looked genuinely angry. “I gotta tell ya, Kei, I’m actually impressed. You pulled off your little plan flawlessly. Maybe a little too flawlessly. Doug’s dead, just like you wanted.”

It was with pained satisfaction that he saw a split second of remorse pass over her features. Yet before either of them could say anything more, the crowd’s caterwauling died down, and he turned away from her.

“You know what?” he asked them. “I’m in a great mood, and death’s too good for her anyway. So I say: let’s give her a chance. Plus, the irony’s too good to pass up. This bitch is going in the labyrinth!”

Her eyes widened. This morning, the labyrinth had been quiet and dead. But if this man grinning down at her was really, truly the real deal, by the time she got down there, it certainly wouldn’t be.

“Cuz unlike the rest of these chucklefucks, I believe in you, Kei. I think you’ll be able to make it out without going completely insane. But just know,” now he leaned in close, “that when you do make it out, you better get out of my city as fast as you fucking can. Because if I ever see you again, I’ll hunt you down like a goddamn dog. And hey, who knows, if I’m still in a good mood, it might even be in the sexy way.”

“Fuck you,” she spat.

“No, don’t be silly,” he shook his head. “That part comes after I catch you.”

She looked like she wanted to say about five different things at once, but none of them made it out before Bacchae started laughing again.

“Now, Jack, get this bitch off my stage. She’s ruining the fucking mood.”

Jack grinned devilishly, but before he went anywhere, he turned back to Bacchae. “It’s good to have you back, mate.”

“Thanks for keeping the lights on while I’ve been gone.” Bacchae grinned back, giving him a smug, two-finger salute.

Turning back to Kei, Jack gripped her wrists far tighter than was necessary. “Alright then, whore, let’s get you on your way to hell.”

“I’ll be back, you know,” she ignored Jack entirely, and stared at Bacchae.

Jack made to get her moving, but Bacchae held up a hand and he stopped.

“Threaten me all you want. I’ll find my way out of your little fucking maze, and when I do: you, and this entire fucking city, and causality itself is gonna regret the day it tried to fuck with me. Hunt me down all you want if you think it’s gonna stop me.”

She wasn’t sure how he would react, but in hindsight, she should have guessed. It started low and quiet, but after a few seconds, Bacchae was laughing so hard that he was shaking. “Fan-fucking-tastic,” he said finally. “That’s what I like to hear. I’m really looking forward to it now, so don’t disappoint me.”

He snapped his fingers, and Jack led her away. Bacchae turned back to the crowd now with a contented sigh. All of their eager faces looked up to him, thrilled to see what he would do next. God he’d missed this.

“Alright, kids,” he clapped his hands together. “Who’s ready for a fucking party?”

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