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No, it's not Like the Song

No, it’s Not Like the Song

(or the App)

As the two glanced out the window to observe their new surroundings, a huge grin broke out on Cowell’s face, while Tommy just.. sighed a little.

Of course this is where they had ended up. He didn’t really know what else he’d expected. “Well, coulda been better, but could’ve been a hell of a lot worse,” was his only comment.

It took Cindy and Niko a while longer to recover. Cindy blinked and winked a few times, as if something was wrong with her vision, and Niko kept keening to one side. Within a minute, however, they both seemed to return to normal, and looked to the others, confused.

“Did we make it?” Cindy asked. “And if so, where is ‘it’?”

“I’m assuming you want to do the honors?” Tommy turned to Cowell. “I guess this would kind of be your hometown, huh?”

Cowell somehow managed to broaden his grin even more. “I suppose of a sort, but it is, regardless, one of my favorite spots in the cosmos.”

“Well that just scares me,” Niko muttered.

The daemon didn’t appear to have heard him, for he waltzed over to Mathilda’s door without a hint of dampered enthusiasm, and turned back to the others. “Niko, Cindy, Tommy,” he said. “On behalf of all my kind, it is my greatest pleasure to welcome you to Discord, the city of daemons.”

With a flourish, he popped open the door, and gestured the others through.

It was as if stepping through a portal to another place—even though they’d already done that part—as the first thing Cindy noticed on the other side was that it was very… green. There wasn’t anything in particular that was green about it. In fact, most of the surrounding buildings and the cobblestone street beneath their feet were all varying shades of browns and greys. But it was as if the air itself had a slight green tint to it.

Looking upward revealed the cause. Cindy paused on the wagon’s steps, and Niko bumped into her.

“What’s wrong?” Tommy asked.

Cindy gulped, finally unsticking her throat. “The… the sky…” she choked out. “Uh… where is it?”

She had the right to the question, for it was true that Discord had no sky, no sun, no… well, she supposed the one thing it did have were clouds, of a sort. Instead, arcing around the top and sides of the city was a slightly luminous transparency that for all the world looked like a giant soap bubble. And beyond that was a mess of twisting, twirling greens and purples.

“Is that the… uh, unreality you were talking about?” Niko pointed upwards.

“The Other, you mean?” Cowell chuckled. “That it is. Sorry, mates, I figured since you’d seen it before you’d realize what it is, but yes, that is the pure, unadulterated cosmos twirling about you.”

“Are a lot of realities like this?” Cindy asked.

Cowell laughed out loud at that. “Heavens no!” he said. “Ordinary people aren’t really supposed to know the hidden truth of the cosmos and such. So they’ve got things like lovely little skies to hide behind. No, Discord is a bit of an exception. It’s the only truly artificial reality in the entire cosmos.”

“You can’t just ‘make’ a stable reality,” Tommy tried his best to explain. “They just kind of… form on their own.”

“But against all odds, somebody did,” Cowell winked. “So that’s why there’s… no sky. Doesn’t really need one, does it? Being full of daemons and all.”

Cindy glanced over to Niko, and was met with a near identical expression of utter confusion.

“Uh…” Tommy leaned over to Cowell. “Maybe we shouldn’t start with an explanation of the metaphysics.”

Eyes widening, Cowell’s face adapted a surprisingly apologetic quality for him. “Oh, am I blowing their wee little minds?”

“Just, uh… just a little bit.”

“Right! Sorry ‘bout that! Tour! Of the city! It’s in front of you. It exists. You can touch it. Maybe just try to focus on that for the time being?”

Trying desperately not to be too overwhelmed, Cindy nodded slowly, and took a step down onto the pavement. It almost made her lose her balance, not having a real sky to orient herself around, but she hoped that she would get used to it quickly. It was probably best to not look at it, lest the horror of the infinite cosmos boggle her mind.

Hopefully it was a little better for Niko, who actually had the option of pretending it didn’t exist for a little while. Cindy couldn’t help noticing, however, that as he followed behind her he kept one hand tucked firmly underneath his suit jacket.

The wagon seemed to have plopped them into an alley of some sort, but even from their rather dull surroundings, they noticed a curiosity that would prove to be a pattern. The buildings around them had no set architectural style. Rather, they appeared to be a bizarre combination of bricks, columns, and concrete. One roof featured gothic trimmings, while the one next to it bent upwards in a pagoda-like fashion. It was as if Discord was a city made up of many different cities mashed together.

“I see you’re already noticing the architecture,” Cowell commented as he led them from the alley. “You see, Discord is a city made up of many different cities sort of… mashed together.” Go figure. “It’s a mixed-together pile of older, decayed realities.”

“So we’re standing on one giant graveyard,” Niko frowned.

Cowell grinned mysteriously. “Perhaps, but make no mistake. Discord is very much alive.”

Just then they reached the end of the alley, and Niko nearly got run over by a trolley. Luckily, Tommy pulled him back just in time. It blew its horn as it passed, its stubby wheels trundling along the very sloped tracks dug into the street. Someone at the back of the car flipped Niko off, and he started rolling up his sleeves before Cindy laughed.

“What’s so funny?” he blustered, his cheeks turning red.

“Sorry,” she snorted. “It’s not you. It’s just… Discord: mysterious city of daemons. Public transport of choice: trolley car.”

“Well,” Cowell cut in. “Not enough underground for a subway, and the streets are far too narrow for cars, let alone buses.”

“So trolley it is,” Niko shook his head, suppressing a small chuckle himself.

As funny as it was, Cindy realized that it was true. Outside of the alley, the street was almost diagonal as it curved away from them, up and up and… well, it just kept going. The city was one large hill. It towered above them, crookedly clinging to what little earth must have been supporting it. Gothic buttresses mixed with industrial steel. And at the very top of that hill was the unmistakable shadow of a clock tower, looming a good fifty feet over every other building near it.

Cindy pulled her eyes away from the bizarre silhouette and took a deep breath. “Alright, we’re on a mission,” she said. “Where do you two think is the best place to start looking?”

“Hold on, now,” Tommy cautioned. “You just popped into an entirely different reality for the first time, and frankly, Discord is far from the most inviting one.”

“Well, we’ve gotta find them,” she countered. “That’s the whole reason we came here, right?”

“Take some time to acclimate,” Cowell said sagely, which only succeeded in making her want to punch him. “I doubt they’re in any immediate physical danger here. Probably just laying low for one reason or another.”


“I kind of hate to agree with him, but the bastard’s got a point,” Niko said. “Besides, it’s a whole damn city. It’s gonna take a while to case the whole joint. We should take it slow.”

“Tell you what,” Cowell clapped his hands together. “I’ll take you two around the city, give you a lay of the land, as it were. Then we’ll stop at our new base of operations, and then we can discuss the matter of the Atlanteans.”

After getting Cindy’s tacit agreement, Tommy pulled Cowell a bit to the side. “Hey, I know you said you had a place in mind but, uh, where are we staying?”

“Don’t worry love, it’s all taken care of. It’ll be a fun surprise.”

Shrugging, Tommy resolved himself to follow Cowell’s advice. He’d long since given up trying to wheedle information from him when he wasn’t willing to give any more.

“Alright,” Cowell beamed. “Everybody got your buddy?” He jokingly grabbed Tommy around the waist, the latter rolling his eyes.

“What is this, a class trip?” Niko sighed.

“Now, now, Niko. This is the big city. Everyone needs a buddy. Especially when those precious souls of yours are the number one thing on the menu.” He ignored Cindy and Tommy’s frowns. “Right, then away we go!”

In the end, Cindy was glad that the others had talked her down from the search, because Discord was big. Even with the occasional trolley ride it took them several hours to reach the top of the hill.

Towards the bottom were the seedier areas of the city, and also the most dilapidated. Some of the buildings down here seemed to be carved into the bedrock of Discord itself. The scariest part was that at some point, the city just… ended. There were a few outlying… islands of a sort, connected tentatively to the mainland by large chains. But beyond that, the land sort of fell away into those dizzying greens and purples. The only marker of the city limits seemed to be an enormous rock jutting out past the rest of the edge.

“That’s called Outlook Rock, as in: ‘look out or you might fall off the edge to your doom.’ ‘S great for picnics, but I wouldn’t go out there if I were you. Reality’s a little thin there, though that makes it a fantastic place to talk to folks from outside.”

Cindy wanted to ask him exactly what he meant by that, but ultimately decided that she didn’t really want to know.

A little ways up the road they passed through the Distillery District. Apparently, the distilleries of Discord produced some of the finest spirits in the cosmos. There was definitely something a little funny about that.

“Don’t drink anything local,” Tommy muttered. “They infuse them with real souls. That’s what makes them go down so smooth.”

“Baseless rumors,” Cowell shook his head. “Lies and slander. How would you even do something like that?”

“If there’s a way, you daemons have definitely found it.”

“You know what, on second thought, I’d be careful with the expensive stuff.”

This was also the part of the city where most of the pubs, gambling dens, and restaurants were—at least the affordable ones. Most of these buildings were brick or stone, and all of them seemed to be leaning down the hill somewhat. Only a couple defied the trend, but of those, most of them were simply somehow managing to lean upward instead.

Up until this point, they’d seen some people wandering around, though Cowell commented that the district only got exciting later on in the day. Cindy wondered just how one was supposed to know the time of day in the first place. However, as the street seemed to temporarily even out ahead, that quickly changed.

For a city of daemons, most of the crowd just looked like people. Cindy supposed that made sense. Cowell just looked like people, after all, if a slightly eccentric specimen. What set them apart was the clothes. A good portion of them were normal: jeans, t-shirts, jackets. However, most everyone had something mixed in that was definitely out of the ordinary. Victorian suit coats mingled in the crowd with kimonos and futuristic materials that Cindy couldn’t even identify. It seemed that the daemons of Discord were just as patchwork as the city itself.

As she looked closer, however, she began to notice a few… odd individuals. A person with blue skin here, another with feline ears. “Are all the people here… daemons?” she asked.

“Oh, heavens no,” Cowell chuckled. “All sorts of types find their way here. If you’ve found a way to escape your reality, odds are you’ll end up here at some point. Discord is sort of the… well, the crossroads of the cosmos.”

“Mages and other magic users are pretty common, but there’s a lot of people who just… travel around like Remus and I did. Lot of devices out there that make it possible,” Tommy added.

It took Cindy a minute to realize just what the crowd was gathered for. Over their heads, she barely made out a series of tarps and tents that filled the square, outlined by more permanent shops.

“This here is the pride and joy of Discord,” Cowell beamed. “The Soul Market. That’s what it’s mostly known for, of course, the trading of souls, but it’s said that if you want something, anything at all, you can get it here.”

Cowell was about to dive head-first into the crowd, but Tommy stopped him. “Lets save it for some other time,” he suggested. “The crowd looks more charged than usual today.”

Though he looked a little put out, Cowell shrugged and led the group around the outside. Niko held back just a bit, wondering what had got the crowd into such an odd energy. He tried his hardest to make out some of the conversation, as it seemed there were a lot of hushed, frantic words being exchanged here and there.

In the few seconds he got, he couldn’t hear much, though it seemed like a lot of people were talking about much the same thing. One word in particular kept getting thrown around, and for some reason, it seemed a little familiar to Niko. The word was “Bacchae.”

He wanted to ask Tommy about it, as he had a hunch he wouldn’t get a straight answer out of Cowell, but the others were already talking about something else entirely by the time he caught up.

Further uphill they entered a more upper-crust neighborhood. Here, grand gothic arches and art deco columns soared above the streets, causing Cindy and Niko to feel positively tiny. It was all very domineering. Several awnings advertised swanky clubs and casinos, and on the streets behind them were stately apartment buildings and townhouses.

Cowell seemed to deflate just being here. “This is Sixth Avenue,” he said with derision. “There’s really nothing here worth talking about.”

“I think it looks pretty exciting,” Cindy countered, smiling primly.

“Ugh,” Cowell made an unpleasant face. “It’s just so… sanitized. Where’s the grime? The character!”

“In the alleys behind the clubs, inevitably,” Niko shrugged.

But this seemed to infuriate Cowell more. “That’s exactly where it shouldn’t be. We’re all weird, disgusting little flesh creatures. Er, well, inhabiting the former bodies of them, at least,” he huffed. “All the gross parts are the most interesting.”

“So I take it we’re not staying here then,” Cindy sighed, not a bit disappointed.

Cowell just stared at her, horrified.

“That’s a ‘no’ I take it.”

They must be near the top of the hill now, for the clock tower was getting closer and closer. Oddly enough, no matter how close they came, it still remained very difficult to actually make out the time. Its four faces all seemed to be unnaturally darkened, like there was supposed to be some kind of light behind them.

Finally, with a sigh of relief from everyone, feet aching, they crested the top of the hill and reached the very center of Discord. As Cindy had guessed, the base of the clock tower was here, at the very center of a large plaza. The entire left side of said plaza was dominated by a large, permanent concrete platform, on top of where was an odd construction that Cindy didn’t want to imagine was a gallows. Unfortunately, it proved to be far too late, and she imagined it anyway. On the other side was a fountain, but instead of a round or even square design that fountains tended to be known for, this one featured a large basin in the front, backed by a tall stone slab in the back, through which water flowed. It seemed to have something carved into its surface, but Cindy didn’t get close enough to really make out what it was.

Around the square were several stately looking buildings, fronted by plenty of marble columns that looked slightly out of place with just how… orderly they were.

“I gotta say,” Niko said. “I guess I expected the heart of the city of daemons to be a little more… wild? I mean, besides the gallows, I guess, and the giant fuck-off clock tower. I’m kinda disappointed.”

“Oh it used to be plenty wild. But all that’s really left of the Tea Party now is a commemorative fountain and a broken clock tower.” Cowell shook his head, looking the saddest that Cindy thought she had ever seen him. Which wasn’t much, to be fair. He mostly just looked slightly more contemplative than she was used to.

“So it is broken,” Cindy confirmed. “I’d been wondering why it hadn’t rung this whole time.”

“Well, nobody really knows if it’s truly broken or not, but it certainly hasn’t rung in a very long time.”

It definitely seemed now as if he knew something more than what he was telling them, but before Cindy could ask him about it, Niko interrupted. “Hold on, the “Tea Party”? What’s that, the name of the square?”

Cowell made a very odd, scrunched face. “Yes, and no. It’s the square, but it’s also the institution that rules the city. It all happens here.”

“Like a political party?”

“Noooo? It’s all a bit nebulous, really. Little chaotic. Makes sense, of course, considering who conceived of the damn thing.”

Cindy frowned. “You keep alluding to it, but you still haven’t said yet: who in the world runs this joint?”

Shaking his head, Cowell sighed. “Well, nowadays its a bunch of overly ambitious upstarts who think they can do it better than their elders. They can’t, by the way. Sixth Avenue is proof of that. But before them, Discord was run by the very creator of the city himself.”

“You never told us who that guy was…” Niko prompted.

“Why, he was Bacchae, of course,” Cowell blinked, as if this was obvious. “Spindly bloke with horns, calls himself the ‘God of Chaos and Madness,’ although I’m not too sure how genuine those titles are myself…”

Cindy just looked confused, but Niko’s eyes suddenly widened in recognition. “I knew I knew that word from somewhere. Don’t you remember?” he asked in response to Cindy’s questioning look. “Oh wait, you weren’t there yet. Well, when we were digging around in Servus’ head, we saw that fucker. He was a nutcase.”

“Some might call him that,” Cowell chuckled. “Us daemons tend to think of him more as a visionary. He created this whole city out of nothing, after all. Well, next to nothing anyway. Ruled it well, too, at least by daemon standards; we might not be the best judge of character.” Cowell jerked his head over to the gallows in the corner, before his expression dropped a little. “Then one day he just… up and vanished. Maybe he got bored? Guess we might never know. Although, coincidentally, I have been hearing people whispering for the past hour that they think they might have just seen him…”

“Come on, you know those rumors go around here all the time,” Tommy rolled his eyes. “If he hasn’t come back in fifty years, he’s not coming back at all. People just see what they want to see.”

“I dunno,” Cowell grinned mysteriously. “He’s got a pretty… unmistakable look about him. Oh, wouldn’t it be so fun if the rumors were true this time?”

Tommy scoffed. “For you, maybe. Personally, I’d be worried for both my physical and mental health with that guy back in charge. Now, you’ve had your fun, gave your little tour. Can we get where we’re going? I wanna get off my feet.”

“But we haven’t seen the whole back side yet!”

The others groaned, and eventually Cowell relented. But as they waited for a trolley that would take them back down the hill, they couldn’t help hearing the whispers around them multiplying at a disturbingly rapid rate. Bacchae was back. Bacchae was here in the city.

Of course, they had no way to know just how true those rumors were. Kind of. You see, while it was true that the wayward “monarch” had really been spotted within city limits, his actual name was Doug Bailey.

And he was not happy about it.

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