May’s musical arrival had luckily adapted him for his beloved. Shy, he mentioned his married son; she started speaking of her late daughter. Rose was her name, and she dwelt solely in the past near where the sun-drenched days of childhood abided. To be graceful with the grief, he tried to elegantly, if moderately, speak of his own brother Edward. Was it vulgar, to see Edward with all his baby fat, playing on the jungle gym just before his death as a peer for poor Rose? The smallest thoughts about that peculiar relation bred a certain nervousness in him despite her smile. As loved ones depart, she said, spirits on stairs to eternity, we either have the wisdom to praise the things they were before, or to forget them. Being a mother doesn’t lend itself to the vanity of forgetting, nor does being a brother favor that same ignorance. Later that night, even before the sex had begun, he felt a powerful joy at thinking of her words, and the same relief he had after walks miles long.

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“They are coming, and the planes will howl with their passage. They will drink your blood as wine and find it wanting.” Rosie the abyssal swallowtail’s voice was muffled but quite audible from within the box.

“Hush, or you’ll spoil the surprise!” Randy the incubus said. He’d done his best to wrap her up as a gift, throwing a handful of edelwood leaves into a fancy white box that had once contained Maximillian XX, his very favorite dongle. A beautifully intricate bow of lacy soulcord finished it off–recycled from a garter that Randy had worn, in his female aspect, to try and seduce his way into a noblewoman’s delightfully decadent all-service sauna.

They were both riding up a brass-framed elevator, run by brimstone and steam from below, to see Nuby, Randy’s succubus number one in the whole wide Abyss. He was dressed in what he imagined to be his best finery: black leather pants and boots, with nothing on above the waist but a luxuriant midnight bow tie and a scoop of Curl Up And Dye pomade. It was, Randy would tall anyone who asked (and many who did not) the perfect combination of dressy and casual, showing off his physique while remaining coy.

“No one agrees with your assessment of that outfit,” Rosie spoke again from within her box. “The man who can pull it off has not yet been born, and none now living will witness when that day arrives.”

“Hush and shush,” Randy whispered, bringing the box up to his face. “Save your mean little prophecies for someone who will love them, ‘kay?”

The elevator shuddered to a halt, and Randy traipsed through the sparks that showered on all sides as it opened. Nuby’s latest abode was just down the hall. He didn’t have a key, but that had never stopped him before; he withdrew a pair of forged steel pins from deep within his pants and deftly picked the lock. As the door silently opened on well-greased hinges, Randy bounded inside.

“Nubes! You’ll never guess what I found for you!” His voice echoed harshly off the magnificence that Nuby preferred to swim in. High-piled Persian rugs, fine-wrought ironwood furnishings, and of course bold red and teal and gold.

Nuby the succubus was perched on a setee, with papers fanned out in front of her. Land registration deeds written in dead languages…detailed building plans…even some scrying crystals impregnated with the last conscious thoughts of sacrificed beings. It was always plans within plans, wheels with bladed gears a-twisting in her mind. The only thing transparent about her, Randy was fond of saying, was her negligee.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What is it now, Randy?” The succubus didn’t look up, instead intently studying a testimonial that appeared to have been written in infernal blood upon a parchment of stretched and sentient skin. “You can’t do anything for me right now. Your skills, such as they are, would be wasted on this.”

“Ah, but there’s where you’re wrong, Nubes,” Randy said with a massive, toothy grin. “This’ll give you an edge.”

Nuby turned to him, her eyes calculating. “My edge,” she said, “is that no one thinks a mere succubus focused enough to really scheme. It’s like a rabbit setting snares to catch a hunter, they think.”

“What about…a moth to a flame?” Randy said. With a flourish, he produced the wrapped satin box from behind his back.

“That idiom doesn’t really work for this particular scheme,” Nuby said, blinking. “Credit for trying, I suppose. What’s that?”

“Open it, open it, open it!” Randy squealed, thrusting the box out. It was such a wonderfully Nubian gift for his best gal, he was sure that, once the wrappings fell away, that Nubes would just die

Setting aside her papers with a grimace, Nuby delicately examined the package before suddenly sand savagely perforating the ribbon with her teeth and tearing it off. The lid flapped to the ground, and Rosie fluttered out.

“Nuuuuuuuby,” the moth squeaked, “when your girl leaves your side she starts hitting on the first available low-hanging fruit that comes her way. She’s a little home wrecker! She has learnt from the best.”

Randy squinted. “Girlfriend? You mean like some gal pal?”

“Remember, Randy, they tell scandalous-sounding lies.” Nuby said with a short, sharp laugh.

The succubus held out her arm, and the insect alighted on it. “The wheels of the planes are turning, and you will be as gristle between them for daring to set yourself above your station,” she continued. “And that negligee is absolutely fake, do you think the tailors of the Demonweb Pits would actually use a suture to stitch something so sheer?”

“I know it’s fake,” Nuby said. “Do you think I’d wear real demonwebbery for doing my homework?”

“In fooling others, you fool only yourself.” Rosie fluttered her wings a bit, and stuck out her tongue to begin feeding on a few flecks of blood on Nuby’s arm, presumably from whatever earlier, sharp action had filled the scryers.

“It’s an abyssal swallowtail, isn’t it?” Nuby said with a wan little grin. “They tell uncomfortable truths, amusing lies, and everything in between.”

“Do you love her?” Randy said eagerly. “Do you want to name her your new child and use her in your plans, or just for fun?”

“Rosie,” Nuby said delicately. “Tell me a secret about Randy here. I don’t care if it’s real or made up.”

“He loves you with a child’s love, and will die for you, and that will eventually push you across a Rubicon from which he can love and die no more,” the moth squeaked. “He also has no functional pockets in pants that tight, so you do not want to know where he is keeping his lockpicks and Stabitha the dagger.”

Nuby chuckled. “Well done, Randy,” she said. “Rosie is a fine gift.” The bug was, after all, good for a laugh, and through thorough cross-referencing, the occasional prophecy too.

Randy clapped his hands, delighted beyond all measure. “You mean it?”

Nuby reached up and gave him a brief pat on the head. “You did good.” Then, all business again, she turned back to her scheme. “If you’re going to be hanging around, there’s a chore list on the kitchen wall. Folks that need interrogating, spying on, or stealing from. If you feel up to it.”

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I see them there, the Japanese beetles
Gorging on my roses, leaving them barren
A lifestyle of consumption, holes pockmarked
Eat all that can be eaten, brown in their wake
No thought for beauty, none for the future
A wasteland for their children, short-sighted
How could anything be so short-sighted
I wonder as I look at their destruction
And wonder, letting them have what they want
Eat to starvation and collapse and extinction
Would be worth the green that would sacrifice

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Pexate
Once a great power and the breadbasket of the Old Empire, now fallen to infighting by its barons and a succession of weak kings. Mountains to its east and oceans to the north and south protect it somewhat from invasion, as do the years of infighting—the barons have experienced troops, by and large. Some baronies have been de facto annexed by Layyia or Cervan, but their nobles still technically swear fealty to Pexate’s king.

Layyia
Another great power, Layyia warred with Pexate for a generation before both turned their gaze inward due to crises. The Layyia Plague devastated the west of the country and hit its nobility especially hard, resulting in a disputed succession and an uneasy truce. In year past, Layyia regarded itself as the foremost champion of the Sepulcher of the Creator, and many grand Sepulchers remain unfinished in the wake of the plague.

Naix
The disorganized city-states across the southern sea. At times they have been dominated by the Old Empire or even earlier states; they tend to be mercantile concerns serving all parties as traders and mercenaries. The primary city, Gizan, has been besieged 17 times in the last 200 years, but has impressive fortifications and economic resources to fall back upon. The majority of the Naix hinterland is an incredibly harsh desert.

The Crimson Empire
A shadow of the Old Empire that once was, the Crimson Empire is now no larger than Pexate or Layyia. While it clings to a few outposts over the sea, its glory had faded and it is in what most believe to be a terminal decline. Nonetheless, the Crimson Emperor is still nominally the first among equals at the Electorate, the body that nominates candidates to lead the Sepulcher. The various petty kings and other nobles of the Empire are independent in all but name, and the line of Emperors, the Fifth House, is a page shadow of those that came before.

Vacij
If the Crimson Empire seems destined to disintegrate, Vacij is what it has to look forward to becoming. Once the most intractable foe of the Empire, it is now a series of small kingdoms. While all of Vacij pledges fealty to the High King, in practice their authority is limited to an arbiter of disputes. The most recent High King of Vacij, Saksa VII, spent the majority of his reign working with the Vacij Academy to produce a dictionary of Old Vacijaen.

Cervan
The small kingdom of Cervan lies west of Pexate and has served as both a steadfast ally and a doughty opponent of the larger kingdom for centuries. Despite being unified several times over the past 500 years, the kingdoms nevertheless have always split due to irreconcilable differences and the difficulty of occupying Cervan’s dry and mountainous terrain. It maintains a strong central authority and exports its mining products with a large fleet, but remains suspicious of outsiders and refuses entry to the majority of travelers.

The Hamurataal
This Orcish-majority state is relatively new, and has expanded at the expense of the Crimson Empire and the city-states of Naix. It is unique in that its ruler, the Alu-Hamur, is elected by a council of notables and that it is officially atheist. The Hamurataal is ruled by the precepts of the Hamurabash, a uniquely Orcish philosophy that stresses tolerance, unity, and strict societal order. Many believe that the Hamurataal is an expansionist threat to the other nations, though it has shown little appetite for footholds on the mainland thus far, preferring diplomacy and veiled threats.

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Les Dents Noires (filmed 1970, released 1971)
Director: Auguste Des Jardins
Producer: Jens Dardis
Writer: Auguste Des Jardins & Jens Dardis
Cast:
Emile – Sid Jendras
Marie – Jess-Sindt Gaudreau
Music: Georges Delerue
Editing: Auguste Des Jardins
Distributor: Union Générale Cinématographique
Running time: 13:32

Synopsis:
The short is one, long unbroken shot, initially starting at the street, looking across the yard toward the small house, finished in a maroon paint that is fading to pink. The narration begins as we see Emile and Marie arriving to look at the house, but their arrival also clarifies something: they are not the focus of the short, and the camera is slowly moving inwards, toward the house–specifically toward a half-window into the basement.

Emile and Marie continue talking, and their conversation is banal. Taxes, moving expenses, Emile’s new job. We eventually learn, through guided imagery from Marie, that she has recently suffered a miscarriage. Around this time, we begin to notice, as the camera draws closer to that basement window, that there is a figure in it. Due to the lighting, at first we can see nothing more than that.

But soon, it becomes clear that it is a small form, childlike. We also begin to resolve that it is grinning widely, and its teeth are framed perfectly by Des Jardins’ lighting. They, and the lips around them, are dead, midnight black. It doesn’t seem possible, especially in 1970, for this to be so without visible makeup, but there is no time to consider this, as the audience: Emile and Marie are entering the house.

They continue their conversation, sometimes becoming heated, as the camera settles on the midnight lips and teeth, framing them in the center of the frame as they pulse and tremble with each breath. This is not the darkness of any human skin, but something altogether alien and sinister. The couple repeatedly beings moving toward the basement, and at this sign the breathing intensifies, the rictus grin grows wider, only to return to its previous state when they move away.

In this way, the tension has been built up to an almost unbearable level by the time the basement door actually opens. We see a flash of light across the being’s face, enough to convince us that every part of it is as dark and dead-looking as the mouth upon which we have been fixated for so long. As Emile begins walking into the basement, arguing loudly with Marie, the thing’s breathing crescendos and it moves out of our view. Nothing takes its place but the back wall of the basement, lit by late-afternoon sunshine.

We hear footsteps slapping on concrete, a surprised noise from Emile, followed by a savage, feral sound and a bloodcurdling scream. The sounds of struggle follow, and the noise continues for a moment before dying away in a death rattle.

More footsteps and we see the teeth and grin return. This time, they are freshly bloodied, dappled with crimson. We hear nothing, and for a moment all is as it was before, but for the addition of blood. Then we hear footsteps approaching, tentative footsteps, and realize that we have no idea what happened to Marie. The creature, whatever it is, turns slightly to face someone or something, and speaks its single line in a surprisingly normal child’s voice:

Maman.

A voice answers. “Mon bébé.” It is impossible to tell if Marie is speaking, or if it is another creature entirely.

We then see a pair of hands, adult-sized but midnight as the child, reaching over to caress it. Some blood is gently wiped from its lips as the screen fades to darkness itself.

Notes:
Despite being completed and filmed during breaks for Les Trois Juliets, Les Dents Noires was not released until the following year, as a double feature with a French dub of Willard. Short subjects were, of course, a totally dead genre by the early 70s aside from experimental or student films, and Des Jardins’ production was considered risky at the time.

The short was a cult hit, and many moviegoers reportedly left the theaters before the main program to see it again. But it also fell afoul of some religious viewers and critics, and several theaters refused to screen it during its 1971 release and 1973 re-release. Prints also tended to be snipped from Willard, making them rather rare today.

Notably, there is no credited actor for the “dark child” and no credited makeup artist. Des Jardins later claimed that union rules and labor laws forced him to pay under the table. He also repeatedly refused to clarify the film’s narrative in the years before his death: “I do not care what I have said, I only care what you have heard.”

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Ambassador Iphigenia looked at the assemblage; Administrator Horton, bruised on one eye where the troops had knocked him about with a rifle butt, and High Xiphos Ovyavu, with his mating tentacle hanging broken and useless at his side.

“I’m not telling Ovyavu anything it doesn’t already know, but when he offered me up as a mediator and communicator between your two peoples, that was a ruse. I was a spy, pure and simple, feeding it information.”

“I knew it,” Horton said between clenched, bloody teeth. “They can engineer you to look as human as they like, but you’re still a bloody alien being. We never told you anything useful, Ovyavu, I hope you know that. Misinformation was all you got, and this betrayal is your reward.”

Iphigenia smiled. It looked a human smile, playing across a face that was that of a beautiful woman in everything but its distinctly teal hue, but the muscle groups and support structure behind it were completely different. “That’s why they gave me the gift of reading thoughts, Mr. Horton,” she said.

Horton scoffed. “Nonsense.”

“And yes, I know your wife always privately thought you and I might be involved,” Iphigenia said. “You can tell her that nothing was further from the truth. Thanks to Ovyavu, I find both your kinds equally repulsive.”

Horton gasped. Ovyavu, for its part, expelled a frothy mass of bubbles from its orifice–the ob’Thu equivalent of laughter. “Is it really a weakness to succeed too well?” it said. “If we had not also nurtured a rather human penchant for betrayal in this thing, the attack would have been completely successful.”

“Perhaps,” Iphigenia said. “But then, I always saved the best pieces of information for myself.”

“The data download made such a thing impossible!” Ovyavu burbled. “We knew all.”

“In making me neither fish nor fowl, neither ob’Thu nor human, you guaranteed the existence of thoughts so alien that half of them were incomprehensible,” Iphigenia laughed.

She nodded at both of them. “Think about your many sins, my friends, in your cells as you await execution. In the meantime, I have two colonies to rescue from the brink of self-destruction at your meddlesome hands, and a new empire to forge with myself at the head.” She tapped one temple, delicately. “Perhaps I’ll start by making a mate.”

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“But…but I saved your life,” Mercer said. “That traitor was going to ambush you and murder you before the fool got murdered himself as a patsy of the Lightfaith.”

“And yet, for all that, the people you killed here were men,” the Aul said sorrowfully. “They were born into this world and cared for, since none of us can live to be men without tender care those first years. There were people, at one time if not now, who loved them and wished them the best. And you took that from them.”

“I took from them what they were going to take from you.” Mercer was confused; he’d expected gratitude or stoicism, but not the tears now streaming down the Aul’s face.

“I would gladly have let them have it.”

“I don’t understand!” the courier cried. “People have paid and risked their life for you, and you’d betray them, and all the Aulites, just so some miserable backstabber could get his blood money?”

“I don’t expect you to understand,” Pyfer said, sadly. “The Aulites believe that all is an eternal cycle. Another Aul will be born, even if there is another name to it, even if it takes a thousand years and all we have done is ground into dust. But for those without enlightenment, death and rebirth is an extinction of the self. So much is lost. This is why we have and ever shall be pacifists.”

Mercer was shaking now, angry and sorrowful. “Maybe you need people like me,” he said. “People who can get things done.”

“I think you had better go,” Pyfer replied. “I cannot trod the path you have laid out for yourself, as grateful as I am for your assistance.”

“I’ll…I’ll find some more Aulites,” Mercer said. “I’ll let them know you’re here. They shouldn’t be too far, not if they were expecting to take you to Naix.”

“Do what you will,” the Aul said. He sat down heavily, raising a cloud of dust. “I will be here, meditating, until a solution presents itself or I am killed. Either way, whatever happens, happens.”

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