the best laid plans of demons and men

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Your name is Kelisade Fio, and you can’t believe what you just heard.

You, Chirenne, and Aunt Zy are all clustered around the TV in the living room, frozen in utter disbelief at the bombshell that was just dropped on air. A shady figure cursing the realm, the land slowly petrifying, MaWa’s main protector having no idea how to stop it… you’d almost mistake it for an anime plot if it didn’t put the sour, rotten taste of dread in the air.

Your phone has been vibrating with Mawalyfe notifs non-stop since before the broadcast ended. You excuse yourself and leave your spot on the living room couch to take a seat at the dining room table a few feet away. As Auntie and Chirenne start worriedly murmuring to each other, you force your trembling fingers to unlock your phone. You pull up the app and there’s… 999+ new posts waiting for you!?

…This should probably be a lesson not to follow 1,398 people and 87 tags. Thankfully, past-you had the foresight to set up your friends-only timeline when you made this account, and you switch to that to face the way-more-manageable-but-still-a-lot 251 new posts. You start scrolling, reading everyone’s shocked reactions and frantic conspiracy theories until you find a username more familiar than the rest. SupaaAwesome932 – Jupiter’s account. Looks like he was reacting to the broadcast as it was airing. You tap his post and scroll up to read the whole thread.

  • float like a butterfly, sting like a ship sinking @SupaaAwesome932
  • the program is on this gon b gud #poppyprogram

  • float like a butterfly, sting like a ship sinking @SupaaAwesome932
  • chief kailong is hot ngl

  • float like a butterfly, sting like a ship sinking @SupaaAwesome932
  • is that what the hallowed forest looks like now???? so creepy

  • float like a butterfly, sting like a ship sinking @SupaaAwesome932
  • what does this bedtime story have 2 do with anything lol
  • float like a butterfly, sting like a ship sinking @SupaaAwesome932
  • whoa wait wtf

  • float like a butterfly, sting like a ship sinking @SupaaAwesome932
  • WHA T

…The thread devolves into angry keysmashing. Looks like Jupiter isn’t taking it well. Worried, you pull up your DMs with him and start typing.

  • xX_firefucker420_Xx: yo jupe just checkin in
  • xX_firefucker420_Xx: i saw ur thread r u ok????

As soon as you send your messages your phone rings – SupaaAwesome932 is requesting a video call, the screen says – and you hit accept. The screen turns black for a second, then Jupiter’s face fills your view. You’ve never seen Jupiter this legitimately angry before. His expression is shuttered, but there's a scowl slowly spreading across his face.

“Hey, dude,” you say a little cautiously. “You doing alright?” 

“No, no I’m not.” Jupiter laughs a little hysterically. “Can you believe this!? What’s the point of selling this place as a safe haven if it wasn’t even safe in the first place!”

You can hear the wind picking up in the background. “Uh, Jupiter? You… you might wanna take a deep breath or two –”

“They’re right, calm down!” someone shouts off-screen.

I’m trying! he yells back. There’s a flash of lightning, a crack of thunder, and the sound of something falling.

Before you can say anything else, your phone rings again – LeovaniR_778 is requesting a video call.

“Yo, Rune’s calling. Mind if I make this a three-way?”

There’s a muted ding! ding! ding! on Jupiter’s end and he sighs. “Polly’s calling, too. I’ll just make a group call, gimme a second.”

It only takes a moment after you both hang up for Jupiter to make the group call and invite you to it. You accept the invite and turn your phone on its side as your screen splits into thirds: Jupiter’s on the left, jelliloid_html is connecting… is in the middle, and Rune’s just-got-done-crying face is on the right.

“Rune, what happened?” you ask, concern bleeding through your tone.

“Yeah, you can tell us,” Jupiter chimes in.

It takes several sniffles for Rune to regain enough composure to talk, and even then it’s in fits and starts. “I saw – I saw the program and – and –” They gulp down a steadying breath and let it out in a pained hiss. “I-I’m terrified. I don’t know what I’m going to do…”

Jupiter runs a hand through his dreads. “Same, Rune, same.”

Whatever device or creacher Polaire is using finally connects, and her part of the screen updates to show her face. While Jupiter’s calmed down but still visibly pissed, and Rune’s a second away from bursting into tears, Polaire has an exhausted, resigned look on her face, like she picked a fight with sleep itself and is paying the price.

“Hey, guys,” she says, her voice shaky and unsure. “How’s everyone feeling?”

“…Awful,” you admit. “Did you see the program?”

Polaire sighs heavily. “I didn’t have to. My parents are freaking out pretty badly over it. They shut themselves in their room and I haven’t heard a peep from them since.”

“My folks reacted pretty badly, too,” Jupiter says. “Mom and Zaza are basically expecting the realm to fall any day now.”

“What about your aunt? Your dragon?” Rune asks you. “Are they alright?”

“I…” You glance back to the living room. Jimi has picked up on the somber mood of the house and floats near the couch, playing a soothing melody. Chirenne is laying on the floor despondently with head in her paws. Auntie has inched off the couch to pet through her mane, looking between you and your dragon with a strange glint in her eyes.

“… I don’t know. I think we’re all still processing it over here.”

The call falls silent as everyone retreats into their own thoughts. You’ve been processing this whole mess for close to three weeks now – you saw that giant Sliimi wall firsthand, saw that gray, lifeless world with your own eyes. It was inevitable that some other shoe would be dropped about it, you just didn’t expect it to be dropped this hard – 

“S-So, uhh…” Polaire’s nervous babbling breaks you out of your ruminating. “I’ve heard a lot of people are planning to leave the realm – my family’s staying pretty much no matter what, but…” Her voice goes small and near-silent. “…are you guys leaving too?”

You think back to your parents on Earth, how wrong of a foot you left them on. Would they even want you back? “I don’t know. I don’t exactly have a warm welcome waiting on me if I do…”

“I can’t,” Rune spits out. “There’s – I can’t – there’s no way I can. My home realm isn’t safe, either.”

Jupiter does that half-hysterical laugh again. “Where would we even go? My folks are having us pack up the house if push comes to shove, but – like, come on! There’s nowhere else to go.”

Another round of silence. You let your head thump the table. “Damn. Guess we’re all going down with the ship, then.”

“Yep,” says Polaire.

“Uh-huh,” says Jupiter.

“Seems that way,” says Rune.

You don’t register your aunt’s footsteps until she’s right behind you, and her hand on your shoulder has you near-rocket out of your seat. She pats you apologetically.

“Sorry for the startle, hun.” She nudges you a little. What she wants doesn’t click until she pulls another chair over. “Can I cut in for a lil’ bit?” 

“Yeah, sure,” you mumble as she sits down. You scoot the phone closer towards her and Auntie plasters on her most reassuring smile…which might not be all that reassuring, you realize. Aunt Zy’s teeth are as sharp as a shark’s.

“Hey there, sweethearts. How all of y’all doin’?”

A chorus of “Hey, Ms. Tione.” and “I’m fine.” filters out of the speakers.

“Good, good. Now, I don’t wanna get y’all’s hopes up, and I’m definitely gonna need to get your parents’ permission for this, but I think I got a place for all of us to go if everything goes bad.”

“Really? Jupiter asks, perking up. “Where?”

“See, that’s why I need to talk to your folks. It’s… not in a great place, let’s say, but it’s pretty secure. It should be safe enough bunker down in for a few months at least.”

“I can give you my dad’s email?” Polaire says. “I don’t think my parents are up for talking right now, but…”

“I’ll send you my folks’ email, too,” Jupiter says.

Auntie nods. “Alright, alright. Rune, honey, what about you?”

Rune noticeably blanches. “I, umm – there’s, well…”

You come to the rescue. “Rune’s parents… aren’t really with us, right now.”

Auntie tilts her head. “Is that right?”

Rune hesitates… then very slowly nods.

Concern and understanding color your aunt’s face. “Well, in that case, you just pack your stuff and move in here, alright? No one should be alone right now.”

Rune shifts nervously. “…Can I move in now?”

“Sure can! Bring your creachers too, if you have any. We got room.”

“Th-thank you,” Rune says. “I’ll be there in an hour or so.” Their part of the screen suddenly goes dark and disappears, and Jupiter’s and Polaire’s parts readjust to fill in the space.

“Now you two, give me your folks’ emails. Tell ‘em to expect a message from this address…”

After reciting emails to each other, there’s a goodbye and “stay safe!” from all sides, then the phone screen goes dark and shuts off. Aunt Zy leans back in her chair and runs her hands through her hair as she gives a long, loud sigh. You cross your arms on the table and bury your head in them, tapping your fingers on the wood. Chirenne’s head rises from its resting place, her paws restlessly kneading the rug under them. Everything is quiet for a moment until the dragon speaks up.

“You never mentioned that you had ‘a place’, Zyril.”

“Eh, for good reason,” Auntie says, sighing again. “It’s my pa’s old manor, in the First Circle of Hell. He gave my sibs and I all rights to it when he kicked it, but no one else bothers with the place, so it’s basically mine by default. Although…”

She leans back in her chair, pensive. “No one’s been in it for a while. Shoulda checked if it was still fit for livin’ in before tellin’ those kids about it. Ah, well, I’ll figure somethin’ out if it’s not. In the meantime…” She jabs the top of your head with a bony finger and you half-heartedly swat her away. “Up and at ‘em, girlie. You got cleaning to do.”

You sigh and stretch, hearing and feeling your back pop. “What am I cleaning, exactly?”

“The storage room upstairs. You’re gonna clear it out while I throw something in the oven and put together that spare mattress and frame. I want everything set up before your friend gets here.”

She none-too-kindly nudges you towards the stairs. “What are you waiting for? Hop to it!”

* * *

Rune had shown up at your door precisely an hour later, with their Shleepy desperately nuzzling their neck, a death-grip on the Darlindo’s leash, and a cab driver hauling their massive pieces of luggage out of the back seat of his car. Aunt Zy had immediately swept them inside and told them to get as comfortable as possible while she and you got everything settled in. Then dinnertime arrived and Auntie had needled Rune into eating their fill, then Rune promptly passed out on the couch about thirty minutes later, but not before wrapping themselves in a fluffy comforter.

You can hear their thunderous snores from the upstairs bathroom, where you’ve showered and thrown on pajamas and brushed your teeth, and now you’re ready to just put this entire day behind you. You leave the bathroom, tip-toe down the stairs, and head to the sliding glass back door where a worn pair of tennis shoes are waiting for you. You slip those on, creep out the door, and turn towards your shed – 

– and Aunt Zy and Chirenne are standing at the shed’s door, both their eyes aglow in the shadows.

You jump out of your skin for the second time today. “What the fuck,” you hiss to keep from screaming. 

“Sorry ‘bout that.” Auntie cringes, but then straightens up and their face turns serious. “But come over here. I need to talk to you.”

It takes just now for you to realize that instead of the ratty band shirts and sleep trunks your aunt regularly wears to bed, she’s fully dressed in a slightly-less-ratty shirt and skinny jeans. You warily eye the full black duffel bag that’s slung her shoulder.

“Where are you going…?”

She sighs. “I’m gonna go check up on the manor. The place needs to be fixed up before I move anyone in there, and if it needs too many repairs I’ll need to stay in Hell to make sure they go smoothly. If all else fails it’ll be a place for us to lay our heads until we can figure something out.

“I’m gonna do my best to pop in once in a while if it comes to that, but in the meantime you’re in charge. All the bills are on autopay, so you don’t need to worry about that. I’m leaving some money in my old electric guitar and it should cover about three months of groceries, and that’s including food for Chirenne and the other creachers – don’t spend it all on pizzas and burgers and you and Rune will be fine. No parties, no shenanigans, no fires, you know the drill.”

You feel a lump in your throat and gulp around it. Chirenne leans against you, a steadying presence. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, there is.” Aunt Zy reaches out – one hand finds itself in Chirenne’s mane, the other falls under your chin, and she tilts your faces to look at hers. Her expression is hard yet seemingly impassive, but there’s a veritable cocktail dancing on your tongue – worry, fear, a pinch of anger… “You still have that Mahou key?”

You nod.

She takes a deep breath. “If shit goes tits up and I’m not here, you and Chirenne need to run.”

“We will, Zyril,” Chirenne says, somber.

That lump turns into a ball of dread in your chest, making it hard to breathe. You open your mouth and try to speak, but sound refuses to come out.

Kelisade Vidalia Fio.” All of Aunt Zy’s attention is focused on you now. Her hands migrate to your shoulders. “I need you to promise that If I’m not here and shit hits the fan, you and Chirenne need to run.” Her fingers grip you hard enough to hurt. “You need to promise me you will.”

Anxiety curls in your lungs. “I… I-I…”

“We will, Zyril.” Chirenne repeats, forcefully. “I will make sure of it.”

Aunt Zy’s eyes flit between you and Chirenne several times, then heaves a great sigh. She trades the grip on your shoulders for wrapping her arms around you and squeezing, and you bully your arms into returning the hug. She pets your still-wet hair once, twice, then slowly lets go. Chirenne gently bunts Aunt Zy in the side as she does, purring insistently. Auntie turns to pet Chirenne’s mane, then gently bunts her back on her forehead, careful of each other’s horns.

Auntie pulls away and she fishes her own Mahou key out of her pocket. She puts in the shed door’s lock, and the keyhole glows as the key twists on its own. The door swings open to reveal a long, dusty, cobweb-filled hallway, and she steps through the threshold, taking the key with her. As she turns your eyes meet again, and hers are brimming with unshed tears. Before she closes the door, she gives you and Chirenne a parting plea.

Please be careful, you two.”

The key’s glow fades as the door clicks shut.

* * *

Your heart is on fire.

While Chirenne is curled around you, dead to the world. Your eyes scream at you to close them, but your mind is spinning, spinning, spinning, replaying the day over and over and over again. The program, the hopelessness, the despairing faces. The space under your ribcage burns and you let out a frustrated growl without realizing it. You can’t shake the feeling that – that – you've got to do something –

Your mind kicks up something it had apparently filed away. Something you first heard about at school but figured you’d never get to do it. Something you had forgotten about until now.

You jerk upright, struck with inspiration.

You can do something.

You get up and stride to the desk, and after you boot up your laptop you get to work. It takes some AskAgatha magic to get what you’re looking for but once you do, you go all wide-eyed and giddy and you pump your fist in celebration.

You hear grumbling and rustling and a huff before Chirenne’s chin makes its home on your shoulder. The dragon reads the page. Reads it again. Groans. Glares at you.

“…You know this is the exact opposite of ‘be careful’, right.”


“And you know Zyril’s going to be pissed, right.”


“… At least find a way for me to join you.”

“Of course. They’d probably let you in with me if I told them you were, like, a summon or something.”

You better not.”

You snicker. Anticipation ignites in your chest, along with something that feels very close to hope. You take one last look at the page before you bookmark it for later…