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Strange Town




Strange Town

“I still can’t believe we’re really doing this.”

Doug was beyond disbelief at this point. He wouldn’t describe this scenario as nightmarish. No, there wasn’t enough existential dread and bees for that. But this felt exactly like one of those incredibly odd, off the wall weird dreams that managed to fuck up your entire steez the morning after.


Only problem was that he wouldn’t be waking up from this one.


Here he was, smack-dab in the middle of a city-collage in the void, or wherever the hell Other place they were, accompanied by a total bitch who wanted to set him up as a puppet king. First of all, there had to be at least several thousand candidates better suited for such a role than an off-his-ass-batshit teenager. Second, it was remarkable just how utterly convinced she was that she would get away with it.

“Well, we are,” Kei replied tersely, her eyes darting this way and that about the somewhat quiet streets. “And didn’t I tell you to keep your hood up?”


“It’s not like anyone’s going to look at me and think: ‘there’s our long-absent king,’” Doug said. “I’m just a sadsack wash-out with bad hair.” And yet, even before the words were fully out of his mouth, he couldn’t help but suddenly notice just how many people were staring at him oddly as they passed. Even if Kei hadn’t shot him a glare to melt steel he would have pulled it up anyway.


They were heading vaguely upwards towards the clock tower in the center of the city. At least, that was the only constant landmark Doug really had to work with. He couldn’t even really be sure they were getting closer to it at all, as Kei kept leading him down meandering back-roads. This only served to add to the fever-dream quality of this whole affair, as Doug’s already limited sense of direction struggled to comprehend literally anything at all.

“Okay, okay, hold on,” he grabbed her arm halfway down a particularly curvy alley. “Jesus christ gimme a second to get my bearings. Cuz like holy shit what even is this place?”

Kei wrenched her arm away, but turned and sighed. “I already told you, Doug. This is Discord.”

“City of daemons.”

“City of daemons, that’s right.”

“Okay, but what the hell does that actually mean?”

“Do you know how long it would take me to explain it?”

“I have no idea how you expect me to be the king of a city I know nothing about.”

Closing her eyes, Kei pinched the bridge of her nose and groaned. “I don’t want to do all the exposition. Can’t we just skip to the fun part?”

Doug didn’t even know how to respond to that. But as it was wont to do, his mouth just started going anyway. “Un-fucking-believable. Are all daemons pathological liars, or is that just a you problem?”


“You know, I think that might just be me. Lucky you.”

“Oh good, Cuz I was worried I’d just gotten dropped right smack dab into the horrifyingly obtuse dimension, and lemme tell ya, I was about ready to piss myself.”

Surprisingly, Kei’s frown broke for just a moment, and she actually snorted. It dawned on him then that this might be the first time he’d seen her laugh with anything besides total derision.


“Listen,” he said, a little softer than before. “You’ve been dragging me around by the nose so long that I might as well start barking, I’m not gonna try to deny that. But now you need me to do something for you, right? Well, if you want me to succeed at anything besides falling flat on my fucking ass, you gotta give me something. This is all entirely normal to you, but I’m drowning here, man.”

She took a deep breath. “You know what? Alright, fine, I’ll try. When it comes to Discord you’re just gonna have to learn as you go, but I guess I can try to fill you in on Bacchae.”


Thank you.”

“No promises. I only said I’ll try.”


“What does that mean?” Doug tensed, thinking that she might be screwing with him again.

But Kei struggled, for once, to find the right words. “Bacchae is… hard to quantify.”

“Okay, let’s start with the basics. What exactly is he? A daemon, a person…?”

“Well, see, the thing is… nobody knows.”

Doug just stared at her. This was off to a great start.

“Bacchae is the one who created this whole reality, which frankly shouldn’t be possible by just about anybody. So he can’t be a daemon, or a magus, or anything like that. I’ve never met a single one with that kind of power.”

“So what you’re telling me is all anyone knows about the guy is what he’s not.”


“Pretty much.”

Doug ran a hand through his hair. “How can you be king and yet have no one know anything about you?”

“He’s not a king.”

“What…?”


“I mean, he is,” Kei corrected herself. “But don’t call him a king. No one ever does. Monarch, Regis, Big Boss, even just Bacchae works. Just not king.”


This was getting more frustrating by the minute. So that was just another thing that he wasn’t. So the question remained then: who the hell was he? An enigma wrapped in a question wrapped in another, slightly larger enigma. Well, Doug supposed that that in itself told him something about the man.


It seemed Kei could sense his annoyance, for she glanced up at him with a somewhat apologetic expression. “Like I said: it’s really hard to pin the guy down. But here’s what I do know. There’s a reason people keep staring at you. Bacchae was worshiped like a god in this town. The God of Madness, but the point still stands. He was literally the ideal monarch for us. He kept the city alive, exciting. He always had a new scheme, a new game. There’s a reason why his inner circle was called ‘the Tea Party,’ because Bacchae was the party. He wasn’t a king, he was a rock-star.”

“And you want me to be this guy?”

“Yep.”

Doug laughed out loud. “Yeah, good luck with that.” Even when he did used to party, he was always the awkward guy off to the side. That might have been because he was usually too coked out of mind to really engage properly, but he doubted he’d have even been at the party if he’d be clean. Yeah, this was pretty ridiculous. “I’ve got no idea why you pegged me for a role like that.”


“Bacchae’s been gone a long time,” Kei countered. “I’ve never even met him. That’s a long time for people to forget. Plus, all you’ve gotta do is be better than the fuckheads that are currently in charge. And believe me, that’s not hard.”

“Who is in charge?”

“Once Bacchae disappeared, one of his junior inner circle members just kind of… took over. Name’s Malachi Desault. Formed his own little council. Still call themselves the Tea Party though. Really a bunch of posers.”

“So what’s wrong with em exactly?”


Kei shrugged. “They’re just boring and bureaucratic mostly. Hunkered themselves down right at the top of the hill. Gentrified the entire area around it. Sixth Avenue, they’re calling it. It kinda pissed a lot of people off.”

“That’s it?” Doug asked. “No bribing, no corruption?”


“Well of course there is. That’s just not as noteworthy. Kind of to be expected, really.”

“City of daemons?”

“City of daemons. Out priorities are a little bit… funky. But I will fill you in on all of that at… some point, cuz frankly they’re probably not going to be around for all that long.”

“Alright, I’m almost more confused than I was before. But let’s just pretend that made any kind of sense to me. You still haven’t explained one thing. Boring, bureaucratic assholes aren’t usually the type to just walk away, so how are you gonna make me king? I mean, I can’t just waltz up to their door and say: ‘I’m back, fuckers.’”


“Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

We? Yeah, sure thing. Just one problem. I can swan around all day long claiming I’m this great lord Bacchae, but I’m not. Anyone who gets within five feet of me is gonna know.”


Much to his surprise—and slight chagrin—Kei just smiled. It was one that he’d grown far too used to in the past couple of months. Devious. It was a dramatic word to be sure, but Doug was equally sure it was her face that was under the word in the dictionary.

“Oh, they certainly won’t.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Kei thought about it for a little too long. “I think this is something I have to show you. So have you finally ‘gotten your bearings?’ Can we keep going?”


“No, not at all. But fuck it. Lead the fucking way, I guess.”

“That’s the spirit.”


They continued along as they had before, Kei leading them through the back-streets, front-streets, alleys with absolutely no sense to any of it. Only very gradually did they seem to be approaching the top of the hill.

But now Doug had a thought. It occurred to him when they passed a couple on a side road and despite his hood covering most of his face, they still seemed to do a double-take as he passed. Kei was doing this on purpose. She was trying to get as many people as possible to see him. Of course, she had to be cautious about it. From what he now knew of the man, if he got caught in the middle of a crowd they might mob him. But Kei was carefully targeting quiet streets with just a few people each.

“Okay, I see what you’re doing now,” he muttered as the umpteenth person stared at him for just a little too long.

Kei batted her eyelids at him. “Whatever do you mean?”


“This goddamn run-around you’ve been leading me on. I’m starting to think it might not be for my sight-seeing benefit.”

“Daemons are terrible gossips,” she smiled. “The more people that think they might have maybe seen something, the less time before the whole city knows about it. I think we’re just about done, though.”

Finally, they began traveling in a straight—well, straighter—line than before, up the hill directly towards that huge clock tower. At last in a position to observe his surroundings, Doug had the thought that Kansas this certainly ain’t. Well, no shit, but everything here was so mishmash, so utterly at odds with itself. And yet, it seemed like there was no other way it could be. And inevitability of sorts. It just seemed right.

More than anything, it was simply strange. That was a silly word that really couldn’t get across the depth of the feeling, but it was the only word he had. Strange, this whole place was Strange. If he’d had any hope of ever blending in at all it was a place that he might’ve liked to have a look around.

He wondered if that was the mad bastard god’s goal, and if anything, it was the city itself that might help him to understand this part he was supposed to play.

~~ o ~~


“… Shit.”


“What?”


Doug and Kei were standing in front of the fountain, off to the right side of the Tea Party. This was apparently what Kei had wanted to show him. At first he was a little confused but then she told him to stop being a dumbass and look at the carving behind the fountain.


As she said, it was made to commemorate the founding of the city, and of course depicted the man (?) responsible. And this was what had caused Doug to externalize the expletive that made up the backing track of his life thus far.

The resemblance was uncanny.

Whoever had carved the image had an incredible eye for detail, the bastard. From the somewhat cloud-adjacent hair that stuck up at odd angles, to the nose that was slightly too long for his face, and even the way he was standing.

“If there’s one critique I had to make,” Doug finally responded. “It’s that the color variation on this stone-bas-relief isn’t the greatest. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that this fucker’s hair was a slightly unnatural shade of white?”

“Ding ding, we have a winner.”

“Do I get a chicken dinner?”

“What?”


“Never mind.” Doug scratched absently at his cheek with a shaky hand as he continued to stare, trying desperately to find something, anything, that could count as a discrepancy between them. Literally the only thing that stood out was the pair of goat horns that wrapped around Bacchae’s head and behind his ears.

“… Shit.”

“What is it?” Kei seemed more amused than anything.

“Well, it’s just… I was kinda expecting us to get to whatever it was you wanted to show me, and for you to go: ‘Ah, you know what? I was wrong, you’re nothing like this guy, after all. Go home Doug, I’m gonna find someone else.’”


“And now?”


“Now I’m-I-I’ve got no more excuses.”


“I’m sure you’ll come up with more.”

“Oh, absolutely. But right now I’m…” he gestured wildly to the carving. “Shit!”

“I think that was exactly what I said when I first found you.”

“Your confidence in me is really helping the situation.”

Doug noted with annoyance that she seemed to be deriving a not-insignificant amount of satisfaction from his panic.

“You can count on me any time.”

He sighed, trying to calm his racing heart. His hands were shaking again. “So, what happens now?” he asked, his brain still working at a million miles an hour to try and figure a way out of this.

“Well, I think we’ve given the city long enough to stew,” Kei grinned. “So it’s high time you make your grand entrance.”

“Isn’t there any way to stall just a little longer?”

“Hmm…” Pausing dramatically, Kei stared at him for a second, narrowing her eyes in thought. “There might be one thing.” She stepped away from the fountain, and Doug followed gratefully behind. “If you want to get a little more insight, we could always take a look at where he lived.”


“And that is?”

Kei stopped walking, and pointed upward. Following her finger, Doug’s gaze traveled up and up and up, all the way to the darkened face of the clock tower.

“He lived in a clock?”

Kei nodded.

“What a nutjob.”

Kei nodded again. “You wanna go in?” she asked after Doug paused outside the large wooden doors at its base. What she didn’t know was that to Doug’s eyes, there were three new arrivals to their little party that were now standing beside those doors, staring at Doug with unreadable expressions, as if daring him to approach. He tried his best to ignore them.

“Can we?”

“Oh yeah. It’s not locked. People go in there all the time, thinking they’re gonna find him hiding in there, or at least figure out where he went. Nobody’ll look twice.”

“Okay,” he said, facing the doors as Kei gestured for him to go first.

Doug felt weird. This whole situation was weird. Not just because of the four women from various angles that were staring at him, but because here he was, about to attempt to hijack another person’s entire persona. How would Bacchae have felt to know that some dickhead teenager was about to not only invade his house, but also his life? And how on earth was Doug possibly going to convince a whole city that he was this stuff of legends?


He placed his hands against the rough wood. It felt oddly warm to the touch. It wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter, was it? Doug hoped that opening this door might just become the equivalent of ripping a bandaid off on this whole affair.

That was a really disgustingly obvious metaphor. Doug bet that Bacchae was probably a master at them. Jesus Christ Doug, get over it. It’s just a fucking door.


“Well, here goes nothing,” he sighed. And pushed.


.......

The reverberation of the bells sent vibrations through his bones. Simultaneously, the faces of the clock came to life, glowing a harsh yellow, and an odd wind blew through the doors, pulling Doug’s hood straight off his head.

“Right on time,” Kei muttered, just loud enough to hear over the cacophony. “Well, Doug,” she grinned at his horror, “Congrats on making your grand entrance.”

He turned to her, eyes widening. “You lying bitch.”

Quickly, he yanked the hood back over his face, as he couldn’t help noticing a rather large crowd beginning to gather behind him. Kei just giggled, and yanked him away by his wrist, pushing through the confusion. Right as they reached the steep incline down the hill, she turned to a random looker-on.

“The Soul Market. One hour.”

And they were sprinting down the hill as Doug heard a sudden uproar erupting behind them.


As they dashed into an alley, Doug cursed over and over again under his breath. Kei knew exactly what she had just done, she had to. She had made an entrance that he could never live up to.

“So what did ya think?” Kei slowed down, panting a little.

“What do I think? What do I think? Well, little Miss Pathologic, right at this moment, I’m mostly thinking about how much you suck!”

She just laughed, loud and derisive. There was the bitch he was used to. “Oh, Doug,” she managed in between fits. “If you think that was devious, then you haven’t seen anything yet.”

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