This story has been a bit of a gamble.

Envisioned as an Advent Calendar the premise was this:

A photographer, the very talented JoAnn Kneedler, takes a photo. I write a story based on that photo. This continues through advent.

But, unlike the stories of the parent Litrauant site, these stories will form a serial with an obvious plot line and successful conclusion.

We shall see.

For latecomers, or for those who can’t work out which story is next, here’s the story from Part 1 to today’s episode. And, because this is now the archive, they’re listed in reverse order – so go back to the very first entry and read it that way.

For those who prefer paper, look for the collection of this story, complete with DVD style extras and comments, available in the New Year.

Happy Reading.

Hey – why not Drop Us A Line and let us know what you think about it?

We’d love to hear from you.

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The constructs melted away.


No thing remained, and it only defined itself as no thing because it, too, disassociated.


The fragments that were The Third, Mitra and Mark lost themselves in the experience. Mitra spun meeting all herselves, Mark freaked out as he became Alan, became The Third, became Mitra. 


Until he saw that he always was.


Glee spread through No Thing. They had done it. They had won. The Brood were no longer a threat to them. They were them.


The space took edges and formed into Mark’s face. It opened its mouth to speak, but the images were already in all their minds. And Mark had their answers.


“This is it?”


“Yes. This is Resolution. Everything and nothing. You can do anything from here. All you need are the boundaries.”


New voices sounded. They were harsh and jarring.


“So. Now what? You stay here? Where is your victory now?” There was a laugh, but it was entirely mirthless. “You control your own constructs, but you can’t control the entire system. Enjoy your victory, it seems pyrrhic to us.”


***


Mark blinked, stumbled a couple of steps and threw up at the side of the road.


Amanda ran to him. “Mark! Are you alright?”


“No. Get me to the car. I feel like shit.”


***


He lay on the back seat, sweating and mumbling. ‘Manda was in the front, spouting platitudes. “You’re going to be ok. You’ll see. You’ll be just fine. Take your tablets, see your therapist and you’ll be fine. All the voices will stop. It’ll be ok.”


He opened his mouth and a constantly evolving fractal came out. He batted it away before she saw.


He was running out of time. 


He shook his head. No. Not was.


***


Mitra stepped into the corridor. The Mark Brood was right. There was twelve.


“Hello there. I believe you’re looking for me.”


They stared at her.


“Which one of you ladies wants to dance?”


The first punch was thrown.


***


The Third stayed. His moment had not yet arrived.


***


Mark sat opposite himself.


“Very clever,” the Brood Mark said. “You’re better than they thought.” He held his hands up. A repeat gesture from when they first met. “No. No semantics. We don’t have enough time.”


Mark smiled. “I have been telling myself what I needed to know from here.”


“From where ever you’ve needed to be.” The Brood replied.


***


Mark sat up. “Manda. Pull over. I have to drive.”


***


Mitra watched it come, fought Roxanne for control, and disassociated.


The first punch hurt. Her head was knocked sideways, pain flashed through her. Roxanne took control. Blocked the second and third blows.


But then Cody explained it.


“They perceive you as The Other.”


Mitra stopped fighting and accepted. She casually dodged their blows, and embraced them as aspects of herself.


The Brood, having nothing to oppose, stopped fighting.


***


“What I don’t understand is why they do it?”


Mark sat opposite his Brood self watching Mark drive Amanda through a succession of streets.


“The Struggle. That is their all. Through opposition they train small warriors. These they pit against their constructed Other Side. They train people to perpetuate it.”


Mark took a left into a street that ended in a sheer drop.


“Here.” He announced. Both to Amanda and his audience.


Mark turned to Brood Mark. “It’s been fun. We’ll do this again.”


The Brood disappeared.


Then Mark turned towards the no thing.


***


The Third felt Mark pull and knew the time for action had arrived.


“Yes. This would be a terrible shame. You are absolutely right.” The Third pulled shape and form.


As Marked brought the car to a halt, The Third was there.


***


Mark walked into the Cathedral, saw Zero and gave her a hug.


Mitra heard his voice in her head. “Now.”


She Shifted.


***


Amanda got out of the car. “Mark… what are you doing?”


“Sorry, Amanda. I’m not going to be ok. But I will feel fine.”


“Not for much longer, sonny.” Alan’s brogue alerting everyone that their opponents had arrived.


***


Mark turned to them.


“I brought you into here where you sought to trap me. The construct could have held me but it didn’t feel right. However, it will hold you for a while because, to you, this is right.”


Amanda stood to the side. She had no idea what was going on.


The Third continued. “Our victory does not depend on our location. We know the secret, we have felt its truth. Our Language defines our construct. It also defines yours.”


Mitra finished it all. “Here. This is where it ends.”


They all parted. The sign commanded them. The construct accepted that command and started shutting down.


Mark kissed his constructed girlfriend and his team Travelled to the streets outside the Red Door.


***


They sat around a table, drinking coffee.


“We should train people.” Dru announced.


They were at the training house.


The others just looked at her.


“The semantic construct locks people in place. We should show them how to break that hold,” she insisted.


“When did you get so huggy/feely?” Mark laughed.


“We should do it. No one trained us. They
picked us up and dropped us into it just to see what would happen. We can save someone that stress.”


They looked at The Third. “What do you think?”


“Me? I think she has a point. Both sides have taken huge liberties with people for the sake of scoring a couple of points. We can change that.”


Two weeks later they traveled to a location, shed their over riding personalities (Mitra allowing Zero to come forward) and chose their power spot before the sign.


They ingested Sacrament and waited to come up.


And there, at the end, it started. 


Their Quiet Revolution.

 

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Mark and Amanda left the house, he stroked the pig on the landing and trotted down the stairs to the car.

This wasn’t right.

“Do you always have to do that?”

“Hmm? Oh…yeah – he loves it. You know that. You’ve been stroking while I’ve been away, right?”

“Away? Since when, Mark? You mean when you were in the shower?”

The Pig winked at him.

This really wasn’t right.

“How long was I in there for?”

“About 40 minutes. Are you OK? Did you black out again?”

“Again?” Mark thought. This really isn’t right.

“Mark, you’ve had you pills today, right?”

He patted his pocket and pulled out a small bottle of pills. The name on the front was Mark Dee.

The pig smiled.

“Yeah, of course.” He thought. “I love that pig, you know that?”

“Yes,” Amanda laughed. “Yes, I do. I’ll drive.”

***

They were driving through the desert. Brush breaking up the brownish yellow. “We’re making good time. We could stop and eat if you want.”

Mark stared out of the window, not paying attention.

“OK. What’s wrong. You’ve been off since you got out of the shower.”

Mark was crushed with guilt. The last thing he wanted to do was make her sad. She’d been so good to him, put up with the ‘episodes,’ looked after him when everyone else had turned their back on him. He should just buck up and pull himself together.

“There’s something wrong, Manda. I shouldn’t be here.”

“What?” The anger and shock in her voice was unmistakable. “After everything we’ve been through? After last night’s talk? After we set everything straight?”

“I don’t remember any of that, Mand. That’s why it’s wrong.”

“You didn’t take your pills did you. Did you?!” She was yelling at him.

“Pull over, Manda. We’ll crash if you don’t. You’re getting too angry.”

“Crash? Oh God – am I dying?” He checked his face in the mirror. It was whole.

They pulled over. Mark got out the car, and crossed to Amanda’s side.

“Amanda. I love you. I always will. But you shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be here. I don’t even know where Here is. But it’s not Outside. And that’s where I should be.”

She was yelling at him now, tears streaking her face. “Of course it’s outside, Mark. We’re outside – look – we’re in the fucking desert.”

“I’m sorry.”

He closed his eyes. “It’s just a dissociative tool.”

***

He opened his eyes on the concerned faces of The Third and Mitra. His depth perception was messed up.

“I’m back then.” And then. “I can talk?”

“You’re outside.” Mitra said, helping him up. “You don’t look so bad here. Nanites or airborne anti-bodies or something.

“What happened to me?”

It was The Third that answered. “I think someone placed you in a holding path. We have both been way out. They thought they could hold you because you haven’t had the experience.”

Mark looked at him. “You talk funny. There’s no absolutes in what you say.”

The Third smiled.

“I bet you think you’re very clever, huh.” Alan spoke. Behind him were The Three, huge, dark, teeth like the Brood. “You’ve pushed your luck, my friends, and now it’s going to end.”

“Your choices define you paths in hindsight. On choosing where to place a step, that step cannot be unchosen and you step on from that position. A new stop can change a direction. But you choose.” The Third spoke the words of, of all things, a Tree.

“I carry The Brood in me. I always have. When I was far above I saw all things and knew all things. Because I was All Things. And No Thing at all.” Mitra told the first of her secrets.

Mark’s mouth moved. He spoke words that came from nowhere. “I see what happens as it happens. All things happen at once. I see them from all directions, all times. Because I exist in all directions. At…all times?”

He blinked. “Oh my god. Is that it?”

The Third nodded. “This is a dissociative tool, Mark. It cuts you off. Why not see what it’s like without.”

The edges of The Third started to bleed into his surroundings. Mark felt himself expand/dissolve/blur. He opened his mouth and a small figure in a cave, huddled against the noises and the shadows on the wall.

The Third did that. But Mark only saw The Third because that’s how he saw things.

Outside was no longer made up of fields and cathedrals. It was tearing, great, bright white rips appeared in it, bleeding into the colours. Absorbing them.

Soon, all that remained was.

And was not.

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The changes were as fast as the move.

Florin on the floor. “You-”

Dru halfway up. “MUR-”

And Roxanne at the connection. “DERER!”

The Third didn’t have time to react, as the gun was tossed aside, he was pushed into a wrist lock and his legs were kicked from under him.

Roxanne didn’t so much control the descent, as aid it’s speed.

“You killed her.” She hissed. “You’re as bad as them. Worse!”

The Third grunted in pain. “She would have killed Mark.”

Mark didn’t like where this was going, he scrambled on the floor, looking for the gun.

“Don’t,” she stressed the lock just to make sure he got the point. “You use him as an excuse. He’s had combat training. He could have controlled the situation.”

“Oh, and that scar is just an emo-boy affectation?”

That stung him, just as he found the gun. He picked it up.

“He couldn’t handle it, and we don’t have enough time to play niceynicey,” The Third continued. “And you heard her. She had no remorse. Why should she have lived?”

The gun made Mark feel ill. It was slick and heavy with death. There was only one purpose that this was made for, and he wanted no part of it.

Roxanne pushed The Third into the floor and placed her foot at the base of his skull. “You’re not sorry, either. Why should you?”

Mark had to stop this – but he didn’t know how. He couldn’t shoot up or down, that could hit someone. Even out the window ran the risk of it falling out of the sky and terminal velocity.

He heard The Third gurgle. Roxanne must have been applying pressure.

Mark killed his television. It exploded in a shower of sparks. The roar of the gun momentarily deafened them all. Mark dropped the gun.

“-ell me wha tha thuck ith going on?” Is all they heard Mark yell.

***

Downstairs, The Brood waited in the lobby for the lifts. They were going to go in en masse. They were the final team in this wave.

But they didn’t intend to fail.

***

Roxanne and The Third looked from the floor.

“We can’t.” It was Cody who spoke.

Wha?”

“She’s right. It would mean nothing.”

Marked stared at them. The Third continued. “Describe the experience of Traveling, Mark.”

“Well, you focus on where-”

“No, not what you do – how you experience it.”

Mark foundered for words.

“Exactly. If we told you, it would have no meaning.”

“How doth that help me?”

There was a sound like the air being ripped and a voice said “Excuse me, if I might intrude.”

All eyes snapped round and Mark’s Brood double stood in the center of the room.

“I know this is rather impromptu, and probably a little unnerving, but -” He stared at Mark’s battered face. “My God, Mark. You’ve seen better days!”

Ith a theme.” He grinned a bloody grin.

“I hope one that comes to a satisfactory conclusion.”

The lift bell sounded in the distance.

“That will be six of my companions arriving.”

Another bell sounded.

“Oh, my mistake. Twelve. The conclusion to this story will be most unsatisfactory unless you. Well, unless you get the fuck out of dodge. I shall try and hold them back for about 15 seconds. That should give you enough time.”

He walked out the door.

Mark ran to him. “Thankth. I don’t know why you do thith. But thankth.”

The Brood smiled.

Marked turned to, what he now knew was the team. Maybe not his team, but they were a team. “Where to?”

It was Cody who spoke, with more strength than Mark had heard from her before. “We go Beyond the Red Door, and we finish this once and for all.”

The held onto each other and Traveled.

***

Mark rinsed the soap off his body and shut off the shower. He pulled open the curtain and stepped into his bathroom.

“God,” his girlfriend shouted. “I thought you’d died in there. What took you so long?”

He grabbed a towel. He loved the light in this place. It was always warm, no matter what the temperature elsewhere.

His girlfriend walked in. “Come on, we have to get going.”

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One of Alan’s eyes was gummed shut. He put his hand to it and found dried blood caked over it.


He stood, slowly, the room spinning and stumbled to the sink to wash.


The room was cold. He felt a draught and saw a window was broken. He looked out of it, the sun hurting his eyes. 


What the fuck happened here?


He felt his phone vibrate.


“Yeah?”


“You failed.” He wondered how the three managed to speak together into a phone.


“Probably.”


“Things are not going as planned. They are attempting a resolution.”


Alan stared.


“You are still there. You must have an opinion.”


“That has never happened before.”


“It was happened many times.” They contempt in their voices was heavy. “We do not want this to happen. Without The 

Struggle there is not progress.”


Alan shook his head. “Whatever. What do I have to do.”


“Stop them, of course.”


***


The Third stared out the window as the girl went down.


“Shit.” 


The gun. He scrambled across the room, grabbed it and headed back to the window. It looked like the couple were fighting back, but they were completely outnumbered. He smashed the window with the butt of the gun and yelled.


No one even paused.


“Shit.”


He grabbed a jacket, tied it round his waist and ran down the stairs.


“We make out choices and move to that place. We make our choices.”


He hit the street. The girl couple had managed to get to their feet and were trying to hold off the group, one of whom appeared to have a broken ankle.


“We make our choices.” He cocked the gun and called out. “You degenerates had better let my friends go.”


One turned to him, all teeth and anger. “Fuck off.”


The Third fired. The shot was as loud as a cannon.


The bullet passed through, blowing out the back of his leg in a bloody lump. The Brood went down, howling, hand at his leg. 


“Anyone else?”


Another moved towards him, but Roxanne thrust out her arm, grabbing his shoulder blade and pulling him back onto the ground. “You stay down.”


The Third looked at them both. “I think you should get into the car, back up and pick me up.”


Mark was a mess. His dead eye was swelling shut and his lip was spilt. He elbowed one of this attackers in the nose as he went past. “Pick the bones out of that.” 


“Mark!?” Mitra’s voice came through Roxanne’s mouth.


“Oh, please.” Roxanne answered. “The little shit deserved it.”


They got into the car and backed up.


The one on the floor had wet himself and had began to shake.


“Gentlemen. Your associate has gone into shock. You should get him some help.” The Third dove into the car yelling, “GO GO GO!”


They sped away
with the squeal of rubber.


The third was in the back, laughing, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” He composed himself. “You call yourself Mark. You have the role of the Seer? Thanks. You guided me in. Not that I forgive you for giving me away in the first place.”


“Sanks.” Mark lowered the window and spat a mouthful of blood out the window. “Thuck thish.” He pulled into a back street and got out the car.


***


He stood before the wall, and saw beyond the wall. He breathed deeply, slowing his consiousness. Behind him, Mitra was introducing herself to The Third. He floundered a little, determined not to have a personality until he absolutely had to.


Mark saw a doorway, could see the handle move. “em htiw emoC”


Mitra reached for him, and grabbed at The Third as they all slipped sideways.


***


They slipped into his flat. It had been trashed. His furniture had been slashed, his plates smashed.


“Jethuth. It neber thucking thtopth.”


The Girl stepped out. “I’ve come for the other ey- eww. You got beat up.” She moved towards him, knife ready.


She flew backwards, spraying blood over Mark’s wall. The gun exploded behind him.


The Third stepped forward. “Not today.”


The Girl snarled, gasped. “No…no…”


Mark snapped “Wha tha thuck did you do?”


“Saved your life.”


Florin was at The Girls side, holding her hand, looking into her eyes. The Girl was shaking.


“It’s OK,” Florin murmured. “You can come back. Just breathe.”


The Girl’s gasped breaths were becoming laboured. She started keening.


“Let it out. It’s ok. I’m here for you.”


The Girl gasped. “I…” she swallowed loudly. “I’m not sorry.” She coughed, blood speckling her lips. “Not about anything.”


Florin leant in and held her. “You don’t have to be.”


The Girl shook and was finally still.


***


Outside the Tower, two vans moved and pulled up outside the entrance.

 

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