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Realistic or Modern ˗ˏˋ TRUST FALL. | ( *starboob & ellarose. )


lover / leaver
Roleplay Availability
Three months.

In three months, the young photographer has managed to do nothing more than capture the glare of their camera flash; each blur a taunt. The longer they stare at the blank photographs, the louder the absent laughter rings.

Miro doesn’t look away. Miro can’t look away. Their eyes burn into the photograph, studying the dark shapes around the glare as if they expect to see a face staring back at them. All they catch is their own faint reflection and the shadow behind it.

It’s going to destroy them.
It’s going to be okay.

The young photographer sighs, dropping the tension from their shoulders as they toss the photograph of nothing into the burning green flames.


The dark circle around their vision seems worse today, but maybe that’s the lack of proper sleep. Sometimes the shadows in their eyes shift and make shapes at the corner – which can be entertaining if one has the right attitude about it – and each time Miro turns to face the figure, they disappear. As does the memory of the shape, only leaving a vague imprint in their imagination much like a dream. ‘Is this a dream?’

That would be preferable to the alternative. This is how Miro knows it’s real. Reality bites too hard to ignore.

They run their fingers through their fresh buzz cut, enjoying the tickle against their palm (another piece of evidence that this is all real) before they pull the beanie back over their head, tucking just the tips of their ears underneath it. They warm their bandaged hands with their breath – not that they need it (the bandages or the warmth); it’s the act of going through the motions of normalcy that helps ease the fugue. Shifting the weight of the bag on their shoulder, they reach over to tap the bell on the counter.

“Agh!” They yelp, taking a half hop back as a figure springs up from behind the counter, as if she had been waiting specifically for the bell to make her presence known.

“Hello, ma – sir,” the innkeep grins, unapologetic if not reveling in the fright. She folds her arms neatly, one over the other, and kicks her feet up behind her on the rolling chair that she's kneeling on. “Welcome to the Sleeping Siren, are you here to stay the night or forever?”


“I’ll put you down for a night,” she nods, pulling up a dusty old book from underneath the desk. It opens itself to a page half full of entries with indecipherable scrawl and the woman dutifully adds to that scrawl. She pauses a few times to look Miro over, mumbling things like, “short,” and, “clueless,” and, “hint of pomegranate with a rising note of sarsaparilla.” Her tongue pokes out from the side of her mouth as she jots down these notes like a scholar studying an ancient tome might. She absently reaches behind her and yanks off a pamphlet from the bulletin board, slamming it down on the counter and pulling her palm away to reveal a set of keys (like, real keys). “Ah, lucky you. Room 13. Be sure to read the pamphlet before going out. It’ll get you all set up for your etern – uh, regular stay in Bellwick Springs! If you need anything, good luck.”

“Oh, uh… Thanks?” Miro rubs the back of their neck, peering over the cover of the pamphlet. “Wait – this says to beware the cottontails?”

“Indeed! Ravenous bunch after sundown.” The innkeep fails to elaborate more than that. She spins on her chair and exaggeratedly shimmies back into hiding underneath the desk. Whistles and bells sound below, followed by dull bumping. “Off you go! Off, off.”


It has not even been a full 24-hours in Bellwick Springs and Miro has already started one fire (accident), made an enemy of the papergirl (misunderstanding), and been detained for the wrongful crossing of the street while chewing gum (???). This is the quietest their life has ever been, especially considering the recent three months.

‘So this is life in the country, huh?’ Bellwick Springs may not, by definition, qualify as the country, but to the newcomer from the Undersky it might as well be. (Even if it doesn’t live up to their imagination where they pictured sprawling green fields and friendly wildlife.)

They rub the butt of their trusty pocket knife against the corner of their head, just below the brim of their well worn beanie. Their eyes rake over the contents of the pamphlet the innkeep gave to them, raising their brow every now and again — though after last night’s disaster run through the forest, little surprises them. One encounter with blinking trees and the discovery of carnivorous cottontails inures a person to the oddities of Bellwick Springs rather quickly. Or it at least inures Miro, who has been cited as a possible source for saving the polar ice caps with their level of chill. (Well, one person in particular thought so.)

Even with the odd encounters of last night’s midnight — the fire being the most normal event of the prior evening — they find it all charming. More than that, the oddity of such a place speaks to the presence of the Seam, a constant in their dreams as of late.

“Will you go?”

Of course. Of course they will go.
It’s not even a choice.

They just need to trackdown Valentine Thorne, local good witch – the would be first witch Miro has ever known, if they ever manage to find her. Thus far, all attempts at locating the witch have been fruitless. Miro is not yet defeated – if anything, they are convinced they must be close, since there can’t possibly be many more places for her to be lurking. They’ve already tried her charming little abode in the outskirts beyond Blueberry Lane (and were chased off the property by particularly aggressive butterflies), the café she’s known to frequent (it’s the only café), and a few shops (the only shops).

Miro has to be close.

They set the pamphlet down, sip on the beer they’ve been nursing for the better part of an hour, and then pull their portable Communication Assistance Transmitter (C.A.T.) from their pocket out of sheer habit. Even if they could reach high – they aren’t particularly tall – they doubt they’d actually be able to scrape together even a nip of service. Bellwick Springs is a certified deadzone.

That has to be the most unnerving aspect of the town.

“Yeah, signal is no good here,” Kehlani sighs, reading the newcomer's disappointment with ease as she comes down to wipe the bar top. “Gonna have to get used to that. I recommend allying yourself with a local pigeon or two. The pink one with spots is pretty reliable. Just stay away from David,” she practically hisses the name. Then her eyebrows rocket up. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Miro would like the record to show that they are not giving Kehlani any look whatsoever – it’s just exceptionally difficult for them to hold any semblance of composure when Mist Terry is glaring at them from behind the beautiful barmaid. Her muscled arms are crossed over her chest, brow raised in a silent dare. While Miro is unclear of the relationship between the bartender and barmaid, it is absolutely crystals that Mist is, at the very least, protective of Kehlani. (With good reason, too. Those fishermen have been leering at the woman since Miro’s been loitering in the establishment.) And just because Miro isn’t some leering fisherman doesn’t mean they get any such special treatment. If anything, they get the sense the bartender is twice as suspicious of them. ‘Her muscles aren’t even that big. I’m not scared.’

They’re a little scared.

“Wh - what? Like what?” They scratch over the bandage covering a good portion of their left cheek; though the second their fingertips touch the gauze, it slides behind their ear, touching the small "V" tattoo instead. “I just. This is my face," they hurriedly explain. "And I've never used a pigeon before." They've only ever run through flocks of them, but they decide against mentioning that. For all they know, that could be a high crime in Bellwick. "Think they could help me deliver a message to Valentine Thorne?"
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“Hasn’t your mother ever told you not to eat singing food?” Valentine Thorne is positively knackered. The blush of dawn streams in through the Plumbridge's kitchen window, shining on a battleground of broken dishes, scattered utensils, and the blender is… they’re gonna have to replace that. “Ah-ah.” The good witch of Bellwick Springs lifts a finger to her lips, cautioning little Sally Plumbridge to keep her mouth closed. If she speaks, her words will swell with song and any remaining food in the pantry will escape to act as her backup dancers. That's what happens when you eat singing food. Everyone knows that! “Don’t answer that. Drink this and you’ll be right as rain.”

Sally nods and carefully lifts the antidote to her lips, dutifully guzzling it down. Or at least Valentine thought everyone knew that. She supposes it has been a couple years now since that cataclysmic production of Into The Woods at Bellwick High. 'That was the night Bradley broke his nose...' Punched in the face by a scrawny, yodeling carrot of all things.

“Thanks for the assist, boss. I didn’t know what else to do.” Dustin, Sally's teenage brother, pulls her from her reverie with a shit-eating grin. His hands are stuffed in the pockets of his baggy pants and his posture is Atrocious with a capital A for emphasis. This kid. Under Valentine’s piercing gaze, the fledgling rebel straightens himself out like a sundress on an ironing board. He gulps. The audacity's cute and all, but if he’s thinking she’ll let him off easy…

Mhm. Good luck with the mess. I sure hope you can get this cleaned up before your mother gets home.” Valentine smiles, summoning a broom to her side with the twirl of her finger. She tosses it to Dustin and pats him on the shoulder. “I’d better mosey.”

“W-wait!” Dustin fumbles with the broom like he’s never held one before in his life, tripping over himself in his dash to follow her out the door. “Can’t you snap the mess away with magic? Poof?” His cheeks turn red. "Baxter Callahan says you can--"

“It’s past my bedtime, kid.” Valentine fans her fingers over her shoulder in a dismissive wave. She lifts her jacket from the coat rack and slings it over her shoulder. “Poof.” She muses airily, vanishing from the doorstep.


"Valentine Thorne." Whenever someone dares to speak her name, her full name, Valentine feels it. It smolders in her chest and the chain of her golden locket blazes hot against her flesh. If she focuses on the sound, 'till everything else fades away, she can momentarily gaze upon any scene where her name is mentioned. It's one of many magical gifts she's imbued with and it totally blows. Essentially, she receives a notification from the universe every time someone talks shit behind her back. (A notification she can't silence, at that.) Took time, but she's learned to live with it, disengaging with the small town gossip that used to consume her life. It's a blessing and a curse, yadda yadda. This is the secret behind the right place, right time thing she has going on. She can discern when someone's in a pinch or if they're being a dramatic bitch. She knows who she can trust, when she's needed most... and she knows when someone's searching for her.

A voice she doesn't recognize calls her name. She can't get the sound out of her head. 'Who are you?'

There's more than that. If Bellwick Springs had a voice, the town would be screaming her name. There's some folly afoot. Restless energy hovers all around her, like gnats in the summertime or imps in hell. Valentine presses her face into her feathery pillow, pulling the sides up over her ears. One second passes. Two. Nope. Like everyone else in her life, sleep ain't coming back for her now. Surrendering to the pull, she reaches for the pendent around her neck and opens a window into the newcomer's conversation.

"You could try Slice of Life in an hour or so. She stops in there for her morning coffee sometimes." Dear old Mable Coggins says. Never mind the fact that this conversation is taking place at one in the afternoon. Everyone in Bellwick knows that one in the afternoon qualifies as morning for Valentine, who toils all night long for them. "Or-- you know what. She's such a darling, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you dropped by her place!" (Oh, she most certainly would mind!) "Let me draw you a map."

When Valentine shifts focus onto the stranger's image, seeking their face, shadows cluster together and block her view. There's a blinding flash, like that of a camera, followed by the imprint of a blurry figure. She flinches. Outsiders who wander into Bellwick Springs by mistake aren't terribly uncommon. They're harmless. Outsiders who come here with purpose, however... those are the ones to watch out for.

'Who the hell are you? What are you doing in my town?'

Valentine sits on her knees in bed, crinkling her nose as a fleck of chocolate falls out of her tousled blonde hair. 'Singing food, remember?' Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she shuffles over to her writing desk and tears yesterday's list from her pad to start anew. First order of business... bubble bath. A butterfly slips in through her open window, hovering around the pen in her hand, and she nods solemnly. 'Yes. Gather the troops.' "Tell that newb to scram for me, will you?"

When she follows the butterfly's exit with her gaze, she notices the tree outside her bedroom window growing red, grenade-shaped fruit. An omen.


Miro Syke. Valentine learns their name from the innkeep. Short. Clueless. Pomegranate-- just like the bulbous red fruits growing in her trees. Coincidence? No, she thinks not! Finding herself in a stabby mood after her bath, she cut one open and decided to make juice when she discovered perfectly normal seeds inside. (It's always a gamble.) The pomegranate juice rests in a cocktail glass on her windowsill. She's not in the mood to drink it. Instead, she's preoccupied with repeating the newcomer's name in her head. Miro Syke. Miro Syke. Miro Syke.

A fly lands in the pomegranate juice, causing a ripple, and it writhes around and drowns. Valentine doesn't notice. Miro Syke. Here in Bellwick Springs to cause trouble, no doubt. They've already started one fire! (Which she had to put out, by the way.) The papergirl vows they'll be enemies for life. For life. Why if she had feathers, they'd be ruffled.

And they continue to yank on her heart with every mention of her name. Someone out there's looking for me.

Miro Syke's image comes in flashes, sharpening the closer they get. There's a worn out beanie. A pocket knife. A camera. The letter... V? If she wants to get a good look at their face, though, it seems as though she'll have to finally make an appearance. 'Fine. Bring it on.'


"Valentine Thorne? Oh. Well..." Kehlani hesitates to say anything more on the subject, glancing over her shoulder at Mist. It's not every day someone comes into Pearl Moon looking for the good witch.

"You can only find her when she wants to be found." Mist explains gruffly, looking Miro up and down, sizing them up all over again. After a moment, she tilts her head and nods at the once empty barstool beside them. "Looks like it's your lucky day. Hey, Tiny."

Without any sort of fanfare or ringing bells, Valentine is perched neatly in the stool as if she'd been there next to Miro the whole time. Her cherry-red lips lift into a knowing smirk.

"Valentine! Perfect timing." Kehlani squeals, drawing the attention of the old goats in the corner. "Shirley Temple?"

"You know it." Valentine beams, fighting to keep her eyes from searing into the person sitting next to her. As if she hasn't been tormenting herself over their existance ever since they stepped foot in Bellwick Springs. "Hello, ladies." Then, at last, she twists to look them dead in the eye. Her eyes bore into them, searching frantically in the span of those few seconds. "Miro Syke. How's the giggle water?"

As if they came all the way to Bellwick Springs for the booze. Valentine pries her attention away from Miro, pivoting to the Shirley Temple Kehlani slides her way. She lifts the cherry by the stem and checks that it isn't going to start singing before popping it into her mouth. Then she shimmies in her seat at the sweetness of it, attempting to shake the nerves crawling all over her skin in the process. Wait. Is she nervous? Why is she nervous? Why is this Miro Syke making her so--

"So... have you two met before?" Kehlani asks sociably, looking between the two of them.

"No, never." Valentine says innocently, taking a sip of her drink. She ignores the fact that they're sitting so close she can feel the warmth from their arm just nearly touching hers. Who are you? "You just arrived in Bellwick Springs, right Miro?"

"Yeah, I figured you must've had your hands full with those Plumbridge kids." Mist Terry observes. "We could hear the music from here."

"Mm. Worst case I've seen in years." Valentine shakes her head, her bouncy ponytail swinging from shoulder to shoulder. She leans over the counter. "Tell me. Did your parents ever tell you not to eat singing food?"

"Of course." Kehlani says the same time Mist says "It's just common knowledge."

"Thank you!" Valentine exclaims with a nod, slapping her hand on the bar for emphasis. She clears her throat when she sees it landed suspiciously close to Miro's. Geez. After a brief discussion regarding the perils of singing food in their community, Kehlani and Mist busy themselves with the other patrons, leaving Valentine and Miro to themselves.

"So, Miro... I see you brought your camera." Valentine glances at them again, resting her chin on the back of her hand. Her blue eyes narrow ever so slightly. 'Play it cool.' Ahem. She's so cool. The coolest of the cool. "You don't strike me as a tourist, though. What's going on here?" 'Why were you looking for me?'
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‘Singing food. Singing food. Do not eat the singing food.’

They roll this mantra over and across the grooves of their brain to ensure that it sticks. They will not eat the singing foods. (Ah, but a small part of the wanderer has already accepted their fate. They will, indeed, eat a singing food. They can only hope that they’ll have successfully forged an alliance with Valentine Thorne and that she will cure them of whatever ailment comes from singing foods.) The quiet repetition occupies much of their attention, to the point they hardly register that Kehlani and Mist have gone off to tend to the other patrons.

It’s not until the heat of Valentine’s hand seeps through their bandages that they pause, blink, and look over at the blonde. First her hand — smaller than theirs — then up her arm, and finally meeting her eye. They’re two shocks of blue that reflect against the flecks of gold in their charcoal irises.

“Er,” they chuckle, pulling their hand closer to themself. Eventually, it lands over their camera that sits in their lap like a small pet. They even stroke it as if it has fur, smoothing over the familiarity of the knobs and dials. “I mean, would you fault a fry cook for carrying a spatula?” Again, they laugh, offering the woman a smile, warm like a hearth. “I’m a photographer.”

This, they know, does not answer the crux of Valentine’s question.

“Well, Holly Pinkett thinks I’m a creep.” She threw five or so newspapers at Miro’s head. It’s a good thing they were a dodgeball champion in high school. “Good arm on that kid… but I swear I didn’t even notice she was in my shot,” they cross their heart, “Scout’s honor.”

Miro has never been a scout of any sort.

Still, it’s not a lie. They barely registered the kid under the green embers over her head and they couldn’t exactly explain what they were trying to capture. She clearly couldn’t see. Or didn’t care. Miro really shouldn’t underestimate what is normal for Bellwick Springs.

“Bellwick is something close to legendary in Undersky.” Not a lie – the town might be small and tourists might be far and few between, but the city knew its reputation and it had been a childhood pastime to tell the weird kids they must’ve been adopted from Bellwick. (Something Miro is privately realizing was quite, uh, fucked up.) “Upside down houses, fairy raves at midnight, the Seam,” Miro counts each attraction on their fingers, keeping their voice even at the mention of the Seam. “Best apple pie west of Cutwater, ravenous cottontails – the list goes on. What’s not to inspire a photographer?” They pause and sip on their giggle water, setting it down gently on the counter as they clear their throat. "I was sorta hoping you could show me around. Folks say you're pretty helpful and your résumé," they point to the pamphlet that features an entire panel honoring the local good witch, "is quite impressive. I sure don't have the guts to go up against not bees." They shiver at the mere thought. "Um, I admittedly can't pay you... But I can work for you, in exchange?"

Okay, the longer they speak the clearer it becomes that Miro Syke is a disaster negotiator. 'Maybe she won't notice...?'
Valentine watches Miro's hand as it slips from the bar to the camera in their lap, following their fingers over the knobs and dials. A photographer, eh? Her eyes flit back up to their face in time to catch their smile. She wishes she hadn't as her heart flutters like one of the angry butterflies she sent chasing them down Blueberry Lane.

Damn, that laugh. There's something tender there, something honest, and they radiate a warmth she's naturally drawn to. It makes her want to ask questions. Not about this town, or about all of the things she's afraid of, but about them. Miro Syke. Why photography? What inspires them? Do their photos reflect the way they see the world? Would they let her see their work? For once, it'd be nice to get lost in another world. Warmed, Valentine finds herself nodding along as they proceed to explain the incident with the papergirl. Makes sense. Someone who holds their camera like that isn't making the perilous journey to Bellwick Springs to take photos of Holly Pinkett.

...But they're armed. Covered in bandages, too.

'Remember what you're here for.' The sound of a sharpening knife echoes in her ears, a cold blade of caution stabs her in the gut. Valentine stirs the ice in her drink, steeling herself against the urge to look over her shoulder. Okay. She might trust this one facet of their story, but that doesn't mean she trusts them. It takes far more than a sweet smile to do her in. There are plenty of mysteries in Bellwick Springs that lure people in. Far more sinister things than the papergirl. Far more sinister than upside down houses, fairy raves, or--

The mention of the Seam has Valentine looking at Miro again, her jaw tightening imperceptibly. Do they think they can just brush over that with apple pie?

"Work for me?" Well, that's new. Valentine breathes a disbelieving laugh in spite of herself. "Do you have any idea what my work entails?" She sits with the suggestion seriously for a moment, warring with a quiet yearning for company in her heart. Not like she was necessarily an expert when she got started. (None of them were. Bunch of foolish kids.) It's a bad idea. She works alone now. Miro would only get in the way. Once they've had their small town adventure, they'll go back to Undersky (provided they don't get themself killed first) and...

Oh, they're totally going to get themself killed. Valentine bites her lower lip and taps her nails against the bar. That or they've got some terrifying ulterior motives that are going to get others killed. A chill slips down her spine. Can she really leave them alone?

"I do what I do to protect this town. I won't help anyone make a spectacle of it." It's not an accusation, but a warning. Valentine finishes her drink and glimpses the clock. The seconds tick closer and closer to midnight. They're running out of time. Perhaps a gentle nudge in the right direction will convince them?

"Listen, Miro. You don't want to stay here." Valentine says matter-of-factly. It's not going to end well. There's a reason why reporters, journalists and those stalkerish crime podcasters never make it out of Bellwick Springs with the town's juicest lore. The town-- the Seam-- won't allow it. If the cottontails don't get them first, the ground will surely open up and swallow them whole. Mentioning the Seam has already painted a big target on their back. "It's like reading on the train tracks because it makes you feel alive. It's wicked for a few seconds, then that train comes a'chuggin' and before you know it--" She claps her hands to imitate the impact. Foolish and dangerous. "I suggest you grab a slice of apple pie-- it really is good-- then pack up your things and go home."
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If it were up to Miro, they would not be in Bellwick Springs. They would not be in search of the Seam. They’d have their little life in Undersky – four roommates in a cramped city apartment; afternoons and evenings spent delivering food across the great city; struggling between photography gigs just to get their name out there; late nights on rooftops with their rowdy bunch.

As it is, that life is no longer an option.
Hasn’t been for the last 3 months.

Valentine Thorne misrepresents why they’re here, and they don’t blame her. She’s the town hero. Of course she’d be skeptical of an outsider who started one fire, made an enemy of the papergirl, and was detained for crossing the street while chewing gum. Miro can't even pretend they've been anything other than coy with their intentions, but to explain themselves would be to expose the mania that has possessed them for the last 3 months and the last thing they need is for someone to question their state of mind. It's perfectly sane. Perfectly stable. It's just a fixation, that's all; that's it. They could let it go if they ever wanted.

Miro rests their chin in their palm, planting themself in their seat. “Sure, sure. I get it – you’re a lone ranger in this and I'll just cramp your style," they roll their wrist around, speaking like they're delivering lines from a well rehearsed script. "I just thought you helped people with supernatural problems.” If they have to do this on their own, then they will.

They have to.
They don’t have a choice.

Green lightning comes for them in their memory, as if they need the reminder of everything they have seen. As if that vision isn’t a constant in their mind, in their dreams, in their imagination. It's a hug, a sweater. It's the air they breathe. The first thought in the morning and the last before sleep. It’s everything to them.

The photographer twists their mouth, pulling it over to the side. If Valentine Thorne has no interest in offering her assistance, they won’t grovel. Miro has their pride, after all, and they are nothing if not resourceful. “I’m not leaving, though – thanks for the warning, but this isn’t something I can give up. A little danger's never scared me off and my subscribers need updates. Not to brag, but –”

The ground rumbles, once then twice. Half of the patrons topple off their stools. Bottles fall off the shelves like dominoes. A screech pierces the air, throwing the door off its hinges. It explodes upon impact with the bar. Screams and shouts fill the air, some confused and most in pain. Mist and Kehlani attempt to calm the crowd with Mist doling out orders.

And for all this commotion, Miro is unfazed. They hardly wince against the screech and neglect to flinch when the debris collides with their back. Rather, they whip around towards the noise, their legs moving like egg beaters as they hop from their perch and scramble outside, camera in hand. 'Valentine Thorne, I hope you're taking notes. I'm a freaking badass.'
Valentine examines her nails as the blast whips through her hair. She lets Miro run towards imminent danger without so much as a glance. In truth, they trouble her more than whatever the hell just exploded out there.

What are you hiding? They didn't approach her with an overtly supernatural problem, now did they? They asked to be shown around. She's not a damned tour guide! With Valentine's track record, one would figure she of all people would have lent a sympathetic ear to the truth-- and have an ear for it, too. And don't even get her started on their reaction just now. (Their lack thereof.) They clearly don't need any briefing on the strange and unusual. Why go to the trouble of seeking her out in the first place if they were going to give up and dive headfirst into danger? It's bonkers.

Cripes. They didn't even try to reassure her that they weren't out to make a spectacle of Bellwick Springs. You don't make one lick of sense, Miro Syke. Miro Syke. Miro Sus.

Then again, nobody likes to admit when they need help from a sweet little angel with doe eyes. Especially the outsiders. All it took was one look to decide they didn't need her after all, hm? "Maybe I need horns..." Valentine muses pettishly, touching her fingertips to the sides of her head. "Or fangs." Or a-- ha. Ha! No. She hasn't changed a thing and won't, because she's got nothing to prove. Especially not to some punk in a beanie.

"Why should I care if they get themself eaten? It's not my problem." Ack. It's midnight. Everything's her problem.

Poof. With the snap of Valentine's fingers, the pub is in shipshape. A cloud of shattered glass whirls about the establishment, reforming into the bottles they once were before arranging themselves tidily on the righted shelves. The door clicks into place. She swivels around in her stool with a flourish and stands, resolutely brushing the creases from her skirt. It only looks effortless because she laid the groundwork years ago, disaster-proofing all the buildings. This is a town where unpredictable chaos unleashes itself every night. 'Course they've got precautions to contend with it.

Mist catches her eye across the room and Valentine nods. Yeah, fine, she's going out there. It's not like she exchanged her dumb, bleeding heart for power. Although maybe she should have.

Within seconds, Valentine is sitting on the roof of the Pearl Moon, spectating the chaos from above. The pub shimmers faintly in the moonlight, veiled with her protection for the night. Below, the midnight witching has commenced. The town hums with it, sending familiar shocks of energy through her. Ambiguous pools of blood litter the sidewalk and parking lot. The mermaid mural painted on the side of the Kracken's Banquet across the street smiles and waves at her. Valentine waves back. They're tight. Off to the side, a zombie hand slowly claws out of one of the flower beds. (She'll take care of that in a minute. They're slow.) Nothing out of the ordinary. Yet. Then she notes their monster of the night-- an insectoid thing slugging color-changing goo all around-- and catches sight of Miro Syke, camera in hand, ready to... what exactly? Take the thing's mug shot?

"Show me what you've got, beanie." Valentine coos, swinging her legs mirthfully as the monster glares at Miro with a thousand buggy eyes.
“What exactly is the plan here, Miro?”

If only there existed a voice of reason that could pierce through Miro’s thick skull. Not even that one has any meaningful effect on the photographer. When they’re in the mother freaking zone, reaching them may as well be the same as trying to jump from earth to outer space.

They skid to a halt just beneath the great beast, crunching gravel as they come to a full stop. They bend until their back is practically parallel with the ground and smush the camera to their face.

‘That’s it… Just a little to the left, big guy.’ The multi-colored loogie forming in its open maw is going to look spectacular – never mind that it’s taking aim at the young photographer. Precarious as their position is, they take their time. They wait. They barely register Valentine’s challenge.


Bright white swallows everything in front of Miro for a brilliant second. All one thousand eyes shine with burning green emblems. All one thousand emblems etch into Miro. The gold in their eyes shines, brightening as they commit each shape and twist to memory, pretending for a second that they could ever forget these.

“Jackpot,” they mutter, apparently oblivious to the renewed ire of the beast. It reels back on its haunches, flailing 6 of its 10 legs in the air as it cries out against the photographer. Miro neglects to take even a step back from the thing, completely mesmerized by the goliath. Even as all 6 legs come back down to earth, creating craters with each landing, they’re locked in place, not even knocked off balance. They only adjust the camera so that it’s hanging behind them and then spread out their arms in invitation. “C’mere, buggy. I got you…”

The beast winds up for another shot, at the same moment that the shadows at the edges of their eyes flicker, gathering to take shape, the same shape they can never catch or commit to memory. For a moment, curiosity peels them from their foe, once again convinced that if they just look fast enough they'll see… Valentine Thorne perched on the rooftop and the shape of a man’s silhouette behind her with two white camera flashes for eyes? Their own eyes widen; they open their mouth and—

A dull thud hits their side, followed by a few concerning crunching sounds, and they’re hurling through the midnight sky like a ragdoll. 'Good grief.'
"Okay. Give 'em the 'ol razzle dazzle..." Valentine narrates Miro's standoff with the monster, her voice soft and low. They're using the flash of their camera to blind the thing. That's the idea, right? And when it's all frazzle-dazzled and dazed, they'll strike, or-- offer it a hug? She blinks. Raises a brow. Yeah. It's for real, it's actually happening. They're offering the hulking, drooling insectoid a hug. "What is this, an episode of Care Bears?"

They've lost the plot. They're going to get ripped to smiling shreds. Valentine has to shout at them, has to tell them to get a clue, but she can't seem to find her voice. She's gone cold, her heart rate accelerating. Behind you. The baby hairs on the back of her neck stand up straight. She reaches for the heart-shaped locket around her neck to check that it hasn't cracked open. It's-- it's closed. But... There's something behind you.

She checks. There's nothing.
No. There's something. There's always something.

"You look like you've seen a ghost, dollface." Marney, a ghost dressed in costumey pirate getup, appears on the rooftop next to her. (...Marney also happens to be her ex. It was a phase. A very short, very questionable phase. They barely lasted two weeks.) Her eyes gleam with amusement in the depths of her mascara, which is applied so thickly that she resembles a racoon. "What's new?" Before she can answer, the ghost cranes her neck at a dramatic angle to look at what Valentine's looking at-- at Miro. "Oho. That's new."

Miro's gazing up at Valentine purposefully, despite having been completely unaware of her existence a few moments prior. She squints.

There's no time to think about it, because they promptly get chucked into space by the monster they were inviting to cuddle. Miro freaking Syke.

Marney snickers. Valentine ignores her, rising to her feet. Gracefully, she leaps from the rooftop like she's a cat leaping down from a shelf. In a flicker, she vanishes and reappears in midair beside Miro.

"That was dumb." Valentine makes sure to let them know. She has a serious look on her face, one with an underlying note of concern. It's the expression a teacher might give a mischievous kindergartner. Holding her arms out, she catches them with the kind of strength that must be superhuman. She skids when they land, kicking up clouds of gravel, and they come to a halt. It's fine. They're fine. Valentine sets Miro down, holding their arms to make sure they're properly balanced before letting go. Now that they're standing face to face, she notes that she's at least an inch taller than the photographer.

A blue-tinted zombie hand grabs hold of Miro's ankle, interrupting her appraisal. It's the one she saw before, still trying to claw out of the ground. "Bad zombie. Stop that." Valentine scolds firmly, pointing her finger at it. Golly. Seems like the whole world is just her class of unruly kindergartners tonight. Then again, that's every night. The zombie whimpers pathetically at her command and slinks back underground.

The insectoid screeches nearby, temporarily distracted now that Miro is out of the picture. It's going for the pub again. This time, the explosive goo it spews bounces off the protective veil and splashes back in its face. The monster cries again, devastated by this development. Only a matter of time before it identifies Valentine as the source.

"I don't know what you were thinking, or if you were thinking... but you can't make friends with them. Trust me, I've tried." Valentine cracks her neck, preparing for a scuffle. Her fingertips are still warm from Miro's arms. "Where's your knife?"
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“Howdidyou — I was — and you were —“ Miro acts out the entire scene of events with their hands, moving them wildly through the air as they look back and forth between the sky and Valentine. They hardly register the zombie at their feet at all. Even as it shyly comes back up to nudge their calf, handing back the beanie that fell off their head. Miro accepts it without recognizing the helping hand as one that belongs to a zombie. “Aw, thanks, dude.”

It’s not even that the newcomer is new to magic — magic exists in Undersky. (After all who or what else could power the great city were it not for the spark fairies?) However, it’s one thing to know of its existence in a passive, mystic sense and another to experience and witness it first hand.

Not to mention for someone like Valentine to leap to save the likes of Miro, they can’t help the way their cheeks burn down to their shoulders. It’s not even the aspect of this seeming sweetheart with witch powers saving them that gets to them — they would have been perfectly fine without her aid — it’s more that she somehow managed to catch and set them down so gently. To possess the superhuman strength and control to accomplish that sends their head spinning. (And maybe even their heart, but that’s not for Miro to investigate.) “Have you ever thought about joining a rugby team? We could seriously use someone like you.” They jab her arm playfully. “You could probably tackle half a team.”

Which is hot, though they don’t mention that out loud. No need to scare off another Bellwick local with accusations that they’re a creep — especially not when they still need this local’s help if they’re to find the Seam. They might not outright beg her and they might be fine pursuing this quest on their own, but it is undeniable that her help would greatly speed things along and get them to their next destination.

Though the second Valentine asks about their knife, their entire posturing changes. They take a few steps away from her, turning to protect the pocket it’s in. “My knife? What do you need with my knife? You have magic!” Miro clutches the knife in their pocket with one hand, the other wiggling through the air as an imitation of magic. “I don’t even have a knife.”

And even if they did, it’d be a pocket knife with a blade no longer than their palm. So basically a letter opener! A witch doesn’t need a letter opener. But she might need... “And I’m not about blood oaths either, if that’s what you were angling for with the knife I don’t have,” they say, pointing the closed fish-shaped pocket knife at Valentine Thorne. Their eyes widen, spotting their fatal error and hurriedly shoving it back into their pants pocket. "You didn't see that."

The bug monster in the background howls, the glowing emblems in its eyes dimming. 'Damnit.'
Valentine doesn't take her eyes off of Miro. She watches them closely, tracing tiny circles over the tingle in her arm where they nudged her. Ahem. As much as she might like to, now's not the time to dillydally in romantic rugby-themed daydreams. 'Tackling half a team sounds like jolly good fun.' Ahem!

"Watch closely, cutiekins." The infamous Rose Thorne had said, slathering every bulletin board on a busy street with posters. 'Keep track of your belongings', they warned, 'Pickpockets'. Valentine wondered why they would out themselves, but mom was the expert. Sure enough, when people spilled out of the restaurants and bars, their first instinct was to pat their valuables. They gave them everything they needed to know. This is one of her first and only city memories before they moved to Bellwick Springs to live with granny. Wonder how those fiddle scams are working out for her...

That said, Valentine pinpoints where Miro keeps their knife as they back away and change their posture to protect the knife in question. Not exactly a mastermind, are they...? It's almost too easy. Or is that what they want her to think? Then they open their mouth to speak and it takes no additional prying on Valentine's part before Miro rambles themself into a corner. When the fish knife comes out, she's convinced that they've got to be committing to a bit. Harmless-- but deadly. Silly-- but stabby. Unless...

"You can't point a knife at me and tell me I didn't see it, beanie-boo." Valentine says, placing her hands on her hips. Though she plays it cool, her heart pounds like a sledgehammer. "I don't want your knife or your blood. I thought you should have something to protect yourself with, that's all."

Valentine starts off towards the insectoid, but turns back around to face Miro at the last second. Her temper simply won't allow her to go another step forward. Miro Syke. They don't make any sense. They've thrown her whole entire day off kilter!

"Cheese and crackers. I can't believe you were going to hug the monster that terrorized the pub and chucked you like a football-- and then-- and then pointed your pointy fishstick at me, the one who caught you. That's so-- so rude! I'd appreciate at least a thank you next time." Valentine vents, flustered. Okay. Maybe she's a bit hurt. They remembered to thank the zombie. "By the way, I could tackle more than half a team. I could tackle the whole dang rugby team if I wanted! And the coach, the ref, and the whole crowd, too!" She coughs awkwardly. "You know, if I wanted. Which I don't, because I'm a delight."

Yes, a delight. Unlike the ten-legged monstrosity that she needs to take care of.

Valentine whirls around, her coiffed ponytail swinging indignantly behind her. She takes three steps forward and promptly vanishes again. The monster's headed for the Eye Scream Shack . Before it can cause any damage or terrorize any of the teens ducking for cover under picnic tables, the good witch reappears in front of the creature. Channeling her rage, she punts the monster, sending it sailing through the air towards the ocean. Splash! And the crowd (the meagre crowd of teens) goes wild! "Show 'em who's boss, boss!" (Geez. Since when did those little punks start calling her boss?) The fight's not finished yet. The monster's head resurfaces and it thrashes around in the water, struggling against the waves to reach the shore.
‘Beanie-boo?’ Did Valentine Thorne seriously just refer to them as beanie-boo?? More than that, has Miro accidentally slighted their almost-ally?

These questions and more knock around the newcomer’s skull as they pump their legs hard, racing back to the site of the action. (Perhaps not the best place for their mind to be, given the circumstance, and yet a distracted mind has yet to cause them any injury! Ignore the 52 other times Miro has sprained, scraped, or otherwise received injuries from mild distractions.) They arrive back at the beach just as Valentine dunks (punts) the child of Mothra into the ocean. ‘Damn. I need to get on that level.’

They also need to get on Valentine’s good side. She clearly was not happy with them trying to hug the thing currently sending waves to shore. (Which isn’t even what they were trying to do, by the way. Not that the town hero cared to ask, but it’s, like, totally whatever.) Miro squints, bringing up two loose fists to their eyes like binoculars. The emblems in the creature's eyes are faint, almost too faint for them to see, but they’re there and if the jock can time this appropriately, they might be able to salvage their shredded reputation with the local good witch.

The monstrosity continues to fight against the waves, screaming and gargling into the dotted night sky as it makes its way back to shore. Globs of colorful saliva drip from its frothing mouth into the ocean, lighting it up in splotches of bioluminescence that are quickly followed by belly-upped fish. It manages its way to the sandbar, close enough that Miro could probably wade towards it if they weren’t carrying their camera. (Or, you know, if they weren't in their day clothes.) So they wait, carefully adjusting themself to jump the second the thing is within range.

As it edges closer it coughs up goo onto the shore, getting near enough to Miro’s shoes that logic should tell them to move, but that would make too much sense. They stay, hold firm to their position, and the second they can get to the thing, they charge.

Water sloshes up to their thighs, they step in the goo, splashing it onto their clothes. It burns holes into the fabric, but if it touches their skin, they don't seem to notice. All their focus is on reaching the child of Mothra. They jump as they bug takes a swing at them, dodging the appendage this time. As the next arm comes for them, they slide back, then propel forward, latching their arms around the leg, clinging fiercely to it. (Not a hug.) Mothra Jr. hisses, shaking the captured arm. Miro holds fast, locking their arms and legs around it. Using their teeth, they pry at the bandages around one arm, tearing some away from the tip of their scarred finger. They press the digit to the leg and the entire length of it – all ten legs and thousand eyes – erupt in a burst of green flames that brighten the boardwalk with its brilliance. The monster doesn't even shriek before its a cloud of ash.

Miro drifts back down to the sand, like they're being carried by an unseen force, while the whorls of green flame fleck onto the ocean, staying on the surface like paper lanterns. The flames on their bandages writhe between the gauze, nestling beneath it. They inspect their arms, still not quite used to this, and, satisfied they haven't burned themself, they spin on their heel in search of Valentine, grinning as bright as the flames of their destruction heroics. "See! I wasn't trying to give that thing a hug – I'm not an idiot. I know what I'm doing." They have no clue what they're doing.
"Do you?" Valentine challenges them tersely. She's still holding her breath. Their display of power was undeniably something. Unexpected. Incredible, yes, but the jury's out on whether she can classify that incredible as wonderful or terrible. It bothers her, the way those green flames slipped beneath their bandages like they possessed a mind of their own. Where do they come from, what do they represent? What do they do when they're absorbed into Miro's skin? Are they swallowing souls, siphoning strength? Instinctively, she wraps her fingers around her heart pendant. "Then shoot straight with me, Miro Syke, because you've been talking in circles all night and I have questions--"

"Dude, that was sick!" The shrill voice of a pubescent boy interrupts her. Okay, maybe it was. But... "Poggers!" What does that even mean? "Let's fucking go!" Language, Johnny! Cripes.

The peanut gallery of teenagers erupts in the background, racing out from their hiding places by the ice cream shack. They barrel towards them like a pack of harmless puppy dogs that think they're wolves, their sneakers kicking up clouds of sand. Johnny trips and lands on his face. He picks himself back up as though nothing happened and rushes to keep up.

"You ducked like a friggin' ninja turtle-- and then you grabbed him-- and then kabloom!" Eloquent. "Are you some kind of wizard?" Oh boy. "Green's my favorite color." The teens talk over each other in their excitement to meet the strange newcomer. Then they're chorusing, "Who are you?" Off to the side, little Greer leans down to inspect a patch of frothing rainbow goo. He's about to touch it.

"Enough! Quiet, you little punks." Valentine says, her voice snapping like a whip that commands respect. And oh, does she command it. The kids shoot upright, they're shuffling little ducks in a row. Greer rises and falls in line with the others before he can burn his fingers off. Whew. She strides down the row of them like their captain, studying the looks on their faces. "Why are you out past curfew on a school night?"

"Sally left her doll at the shack this afternoon. Thought I'd bring the gang with me to get it back before it gets, like, possessed or something." Dustin Plumbridge pipes up, waving a baby-doll in the air to prove it. "I didn't want to call you again, boss. You deserve a break!"

"Mhm. Well, you've got the doll. Now it's time for you fellas to go home." Valentine points at their bikes lined up by the pier. She's too stressed, too tired to properly question them. Besides, there's someone else she needs to question tonight. "Watch out for zombies. Call if you need me-- I'm serious."

"Yes boss!" They run off to do as they're told without further protest, knowing they've already pushed their luck. "See ya, green wizard dude!" Dummies. Sweet little dummies, the lot of them.

"Cake or ice cream?" Valentine asks, wheeling around to face Miro once the kids are out of sight. She crosses her arms. "I'm going to buy you a midnight snack and you're going to tell me exactly what you just did."
Ice cream. If Miro were on death row, their last meal would be ice cream. If Miro were rescued from the arctic, their first meal would be ice cream. If Miro had one wish, it would be to be able to eat as much ice cream as they want without getting a stomach ache. ...Maybe that wouldn’t need to be a wish if they didn’t have a preference for bubblegum ice cream mixed with gummy worms and covered in sprinkles, but Miro isn’t planning on changing any time soon.

They dig the plastic spoon into their cup and shovel about half the contents into their mouth. “So, yeah,” they nod, mouth still full. “Got away with pretending to go to uni for about a year before my parents figured it out.”

This is not the answer to Valentine Thorne’s question, but they honestly don’t remember what it was to begin with. Something about the green flames, that’s for sure. “They were mad.” And still are, Miro imagines. “Cut me off, thinking that’d get me to change my mind about becoming a surgeon, but that obviously didn’t work.” They grin, patting their camera that sits beside the three empty cups of ice cream. “Didn’t really plan on becoming a green wizard or anything like that – do you think I’m a green wizard? Is that how magic works?”

The terrible town teens seemed to think so and Miro is inclined to believe them. It’s nice to hear some praise for a change. They rub the butt of their knife against their temple, pondering over this between bites of their ice cream. The electric blue color of it does remind them of the giant bug from earlier, reminding them also of the original question. (Finally.) “It’s not like I’m casting spells or anything. It's just that lately I’ve been able to, uh, touch things and they burst into flames. Not all the time, just some of the time.”

Some of the time being when they see the emblems, but they don’t mention that. Seeing things is never a good sign. “So far just zombies, giant bugs, and a few poltergeists.” Once a fairy, but they still haven’t come to terms with that one. (Are still in denial about that one.) “Not really sure what’s going on.” They sigh, setting the spoon down and then shifting so that they're sitting on their hands. When they blink, green lightning flashes behind their eyelids. The shadows shift and ripple, but the figure they've been chasing has yet to show up again. "It's cool, I guess. How'd you get your blip-y powers? Are you a blip witch? We could be a duo – the green wizard and the blip witch! No, wait – the blip witch and the green wizard."
The streetlight overhead flickers. Whether there's a connection between the light and Valentine's patience is of no significance.

Valentine is ordinarily all about deep, late-night conversations. Making memories. Swapping stories like trading cards, charting similarities like constellations in the sky. But not tonight. Tonight, she's too preoccupied with Miro Syke's fishiness to think about anything else. It's fishy that they're steering the conversation so far away from her initial question. Fishy as the fish knife they keep waggling in front of her, despite their attempts to deny its existence earlier. Don't they understand that this is serious business? She keeps side-eyeing Miro's beanie to see if they have it pulled over their ears.

Then finally-- finally-- Miro starts spilling relevant intel. Valentine promptly scooches the melted remains of her 'cookies and scream' aside on the park bench, making room to spread her notebook open on her lap. Notebook is an understatement. It's a leather-bound behemoth, practically a textbook, labeled neatly with multi-colored tabs. Years worth of supernatural investigation. She flips to the firestarter section with one hand while magicking a pencil into the other.

Scratch, scratch, scratch. Valentine's pencil rushes across the page, her messy cursive filling line after line as Miro speaks. 'Not a caster (or so they say), green flames triggered by touch.' Briefly, she consults her notebook's sections on zombies, giant bugs and poltergeists, and continues writing. 'Inconsistent results, admit they're not sure what's going on despite claiming to know what they were doing earlier. Vague answers. They're hiding something.' She taps the heart-shaped eraser of her pencil to her lower lip. 'Took photo of insectoid before setting it aflame. Cursed camera?'

"I'm asking the questions here, Syke." Valentine says, the streetlight flickering when her eyebrow twitches. Blip witch. Why, she oughta-- no. Keep it cool. Cool beans. "Have you ever set someone on fire by accident? Or would you describe your fire-starting incidents as intentional-- self defense?" She folds her hands primly over the page she's been writing, covering her entries. "Have you shopped in any sketchy antique shops lately? It could be that you've come into contact with an enchanted item." Her husky-blue eyes are piercing. "Your camera, for example. Where'd you get it?"
Just as Valentine dutifully documents parts of Miro’s story in her leather bound tome, Miro is equally engrossed in the casual displays of magic. They tilt their head. ‘How’s she doing that? Can I do that?’ Tempting as it is to ask, the local good witch pierces their focus with that chilling look of hers. They swallow. 'Stay focused.'

As the questions spill from the witch’s lips like veiled accusations, Miro shifts, turning to face the street instead of Valentine. Their fingers trail down their throat, then brush over the tattoo behind their ear. (Green lightning.) “Cursed artifacts and weird antiques aren’t my thing.” Their fist tightens around their pocket knife, their thumb smoothing over the carved out scales. “Those places give me the creeps.”

They could barely stand talking to the normal twins outside of their shop.

“My camera is from a chain retail store – pretty sure they don’t sell cursed goods.” Though there is undeniably something cursed about the now abandoned electronics store and how it lords over a deserted parking lot that not even skaters touch.

Miro leans back on the park bench, resting their elbows on the backrest as they tilt their head back to stare up into the big blank nothing. “Never set anyone on fire intentionally.” They think of that fairy again and press their eyes shut. They don’t even know how to explain that without explaining everything else, which they aren’t quite so keen on doing. “I mean, I guess when I figured out I could, then it became intentional. But always in self-defense," they clarify.

"My photography wasn’t always about capturing the supernatural. I documented life in Undersky. Mostly just the mundane. I also did the occasional wedding gig when times were tight.” A truly unique torture for Miro. Weddings are just so boring. “Got into the supernatural a few months ago by accident.”

(Green lightning.)

“I had just finished up some deliveries for the night and was just on my way home.” Not entirely untrue, but not entirely truthful either. “I took a shortcut through the old power plant and stopped for a second to catch my breath.” The “V” tattoo tingles, though they’re pretty sure it’s just a phantom thing; just another thing that’s all in their head.

They lurch forward all at once, practically folding themself in half on the bench to stare at their bandaged hands. “There was a storm, a lightning storm. It was green. One of the strikes hit the old reactor and – I swear I’m not insane – I saw something. I’ve been chasing it ever since. The flame powers manifested sometime after that, I guess.” Their brow furrows together, staring hard into their hands. 'Ugh, you're acting weird.' With a sharp breath they pull themself upright, stretching out their legs and clasping their hands behind their head. "So, yep," they nod, making sure to look over at Valentine with a grin. "That's what happened. Think you can teach me your blipping stuff? That'd be, like, so helpful."
"No." Valentine answers, the tip of her tongue peeking out from the corner of her mouth as she commits Miro's story to paper. Unprompted green lightning in Undersky? Hm. Key elements of this tale are shrouded in shadows. I saw something. What, though? What did they see? If Miro had roots in town, she'd offer to travel through their memories to see exactly what happened for herself. Alas, soil beyond Bellwick Springs is beyond her jurisdiction. "I can't. And it's not blipping. I'm not a blip witch. That sounds ridiculous. I already have a title."

Good witch may not have been her first choice either, but it's the one that stuck.

Valentine closes her book, tapping the cover with her pencil to disappear it from sight. With a flourish, she tosses her pencil like a baton and it twirls whimsically before it also vanishes. Okay, maybe she's showing off. A bit. The fun is in the little things. The everyday magic tricks. And this may or may not be an attempt to dissolve the tension she noticed in Miro's shoulders when they pitched forward just now. They've had enough questioning for one night. They might be a fishy character, but she hasn't officially declared them guilty of anything other than occasionally getting on her nerves. It's a peculiar sort of loneliness, learning to live with powers you don't understand.

"I bet you couldn't teach someone to wield green flames if they asked." Valentine points out. She waves her hand towards their empty ice cream cups, levitating them, stacking them, and chucking them into the nearby wastebin like a basketball. "It's kind of the same thing for me."

Kind of, but not exactly. Valentine supposes anyone could do what she can do... a portion of it, anyway. They'd just have to kill her first. They'd have to give up the things she gave up.

Warmth bleeds from Valentine's collarbone, spreading down her body like wildfire. She reaches for her necklace. "Sorry, I can't help you. Valentine Thorne is the only one who knows where the Seam is." A faint voice buzzes in her ears, warbled and warped, arriving through layers of static. Shadows blot her vision like ink. The air is thick with the scent of storm clouds and pomegranates. In the pitch darkness, she sees veins of electricity. Electricity. Electricity.

"I have to go. I-- I'll assign you a bodyguard." Valentine gasps, resurfacing with a jolt. Digging in her skirt pocket, she produces an orange feather and sets it in the palm of her hand. She presses her index finger to the middle of the feather, raising it slowly, and a chicken in a floral hat appears at her bidding. "This is Sharona." She presses the bird into Miro's arms. Sharona the chaperone chicken clucks contentedly. "I'll show you around. Tomorrow. Meet me tomorrow, Slice of Life, nine'o clock. Don't be late." Early for her, she knows. It'll be another sleepless night. She stands and paces, the streetlight flickering above.

"Don't think I'm done questioning you. And don't come to my house uninvited again... yard's littered with bear traps." Valentine nods, as if this is perfectly normal. (It's not. Not even for Bellwick Springs.) "Night, beanie-boo."

Poof. Valentine disappears, darting like a pinball across Bellwick Springs. Her destination? Thorne cottage. To check the hatch in her basement... the one and only entrance to the Seam.
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“You’re just a chicken.”


Sharona has set herself up squarely in the middle of the twin-sized mattress. It should be easy to remove her and place her on the chair, but the last time Miro tried, she pecked at their hand. They suppose that it’s quite rude to touch a lady’s wings without her permission. They cross their arms, staring at the chicken. She stares back. “Bok?”

“It’s nothing. You should go to sleep, Sharona.” They’ll have to compliment Valentine on the name when they catch up with her later. For now, they sit at the edge of the bed and peel off their beanie, setting it down beside them. (Sharona reaches over and snatches it in her beak while they’re distracted.) Carefully, methodically, they take the tucked end of each bandage and unravel them, letting the skin breathe.


“You won’t tell Valentine, will you?” Miro grins like they’re sharing a secret (with a chicken). “It doesn’t hurt or nothing. It’s gonna help.”

It’s going to help.
They’ll get to the Seam.
They'll fix everything.


Miro is late. Miro is beyond what is even considered appropriately late. Even by their own standards. Sharona, to her credit, did try to wake them. (They have the peck marks on their hand to prove it; they’re bleeding through the fresh bandages.) And while they are not the most timely person in general – everyone in their life knows to add 45-90 minutes to all of their ETAs – this was not even intentional.

It’s almost noon by the time they burst through the doors of Slice of Life. They immediately launch themself over to Valentine before they even spot her, pulled to her like a magnet. They tumble into the booth, tripping over their limbs as they do. Sharona clucks in tow with their beanie in her beak. “Sorry – I couldn’t sleep. Wait, no. Sleeping was the problem.” They couldn’t stop sleeping. Even through Sharona’s pecks, they were sunk in their dream, the same dream. “Had a weird dream. What’s up? Ready to show me around? I didn’t even bring my camera today so I can really just, you know, learn."
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"I was worried the Bellwick Bigfoot got ya." Valentine says. She doesn't sound or look the slightest bit worried. She sits cross-legged in the booth, a collection of papers spread out on the table in front of her like a jigsaw puzzle with three-thousand pieces. The steam of freshly poured coffee swirls from her mug. Dressed for small town adventuring, she wears cuffed jeans, worn red sneaks, and a classic white button-down shirt. She fiddles with the loosened tie around her neck, flapping the end of it in Miro's general direction. "Either that or you skipped town... but it looks like you decided to stay. Lucky me."

Sharona strides to her side, head-bobbling, beanie in her beak, and Valentine perks up like a daisy.

"Hey birthday girl!" Valentine says, scooping the chicken into her arms. She dotes on her like she's a newborn baby. "Guess what. Tally and I made you a cake. What've you got there? Did you bring me a present?" The chicken drops the beanie in her lap with a robust cluck. She's so proud of herself. "Thank you, baby. You're so generous." Valentine lifts the beanie between her fingers and slyly tosses it to Miro when Sharona isn't looking.

The Slice of Life is decorated for a party, that's for certain, with rainbow balloons and streamers galore. Chickens roam free like they've replaced all the humans and own the place. Old timey music crackles from the cafe's powder-pink record player.

Valentine sets Sharona down so she can mingle with her peeps. The good witch signals across the cafe to the only human in the vicinity, Talen, who gives her a thumbs up and a goofy grin in return. She collects her papers into a neat pile with a clap. Good. Now the table's clear for the cake.

"Before we mosey, you'll need to fill this out for me." Valentine peels a stapled booklet off top of her stack and slides it to Miro. The questions inside are similar to those she posed the night before-- asking for their experiences with cursed items, whether they've ever accrued an injury of supernatural nature, lived in a haunted house or were tattooed with magical ink. If they've ever killed someone. The basics, basically. A majority of the questions are multiple choice for maximum efficiency. "Settle in. Order something. The chickens will be sad if we leave early. I was gonna hold the party at six-- on the dot-- but someone threw my whole day off schedule. Had to shuffle some things around." She raises her eyebrows and takes a long sip of her coffee. "So. What'd you dream about?"
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It takes Miro about three seconds to accept that they are attending (crashing) a chicken’s birthday party. It’s not so weird when they think about it. A few of their friends back home celebrate their dogs’ birthdays, so why can’t a chicken also celebrate? It’s cute.

They only wish they had known. They would have at least tried to get Sharona a birthday gift. She did guard them all night, after all. And that almost makes taking back their beanie seem cruel. Alas, their buzzed hair is completely out of sorts, some of it sticking up the way they like and about a quarter of it flat from sleep. They tuck the tips of their ears (round) under the worn mustard colored cap, finally taking a glance at the booklet Valentine has slid towards them.

“Ah, you know…” They mutter, taking the booklet and flipping through its contents. ‘Oh, no way am I reading through all of this.’ Even under ordinary circumstance it would have been too great an expectation to ask that they take this questionnaire seriously. As it is, the words aren’t even behaving themselves – they keep sliding around like they’re being carried away by the tide. They reshape themselves into strange shapes and lines not too dissimilar from the emblems they’ve been seeing. The only real difference is that these ones don’t burn, nor are they green. Miro steals a glance at the good witch, wondering if she’s trying to play a prank on them, but Valentine Thorne does not seem to be the pranking type. (At least not right now.)

“Same old, same old,” they finally continue, fishing through their pocket for their multi-barreled pen. They click the red barrel and begin scribbling over the booklet. They don’t even bother to give Valentine the benefit of the doubt by at least circling the ABCD choices – mostly because the questions scrambled themselves before Miro could even register that this is a multiple choice quiz. Instead, they scrawl the lyrics to My Sharona, humming along to the tune as they do so.

And perhaps it would be annoying to receive a booklet full of butchered lyrics, if that’s what was flowing from Miro’s pen. As if their hand has a mind of its own, they unknowingly copy the emblems. A trained eye, however, might recognize the emblems as sigils instead.

When they’ve finished the song, they continue on about their dream. “It’s just this one where everything is nothing except for this thin green slit.” A Seam, the Seam, if they were bold enough to say it aloud. In these dreams it pulses and calls to Miro, beckoning them to slip through to the other side, promising that all they could want is just between that narrow gap that separates reality and paradise. “It’s mesmerizing; kinda like a lava lamp after one too many drinks. I’ve slept through so many alarms because of that dream,” they shrug. Sleeping through alarms isn’t strange or weird. Plenty of people do. “I guess it’s like my sleep paralysis demon, you know?”

As they finish, one of the chickens comes up to Miro, cants her head, then proceeds to nip at their ankle, breaking their concentration from their scribbling. A grin breaks across their features as they reach down to let her peck at their bandaged hand. “Did you dream about anything last night?"
"Mhm, well... you should dream yourself a sewing kit next time. You could've stitched it right up. Sleep paralysis demon, vanquished. Simple as that." Valentine says, shrugging. "Then maybe you'd wake up on time." She supposes it's a rather befitting dream for someone who ingested giggle water and three cups of radioactive blue ice cream the night before. It sounds awfully uneventful, though, and she wonders if they're omitting anything. Magic shiny-- yes, and? Then again, maybe it's a human thing. Like rubbernecking at the site of an accident.

Valentine watches Miro write, openly unimpressed by the erratic manner in which their hand moves across the page. The essay questions aren't till page four. Page four!

"Sure I did. I was wading through the blood of my enemies in a silken nightgown. Stole a tyrant king's sword, beheaded him with it," Valentine says, level as possible, resting her chin on her palm. She simmers, fighting against the urge to pounce and snatch the booklet away before it can endure another second of Miro's red-penned vandalism. "And then I escaped the kingdom on a giant raven's back. The castle crumbled to ruins behind me. Whoosh. It was metal."

My Sharona plays on the record player next, the cue for the cake, and the chickens gather round. Valentine finds Sharona and sets her in her place of honor on the table.

"Fuckin' love a chicken party." Talen says as they deliver the cake, bowing like Sharona's their queen. "Here you are, little lady." The grand cake sits before them, decorated sparingly with blueberries and cream. They only get about halfway through singing 'happy birthday' before Sharona steps in it. She's just a chicken, after all. Squash, squash, squash. She pecks happily at the whipped cream topping. "Oh, she's loving life right now."

Once Sharona's had her fill, they move the oversized cake tray to the floor so all of the chickens can have a taste. They flock right to it. Before long, Jude and Jolene start a fight. Marianne hides behind Miro's legs and eventually gets distracted pecking at their shoes. The chickens spray whipped cream everywhere. It's a riot. A delightful, messy riot. Luckily, it takes no time at all for Valentine to snap it all away.

"Chickens!" Valentine chimes, clapping twice. They gather like woodland animals around a singing princess. "I love you all very much. I'm leaving now. Be good for Tally." She nods at Talen at the same time she takes Miro's wrist, leading them out the door. "Thanks, Tal."

"Anytime, darlin'." Talen says, saluting them on their way out. The bell above the door clangs, it swings shut, and then Valentine turns to face Miro. She finally snatches the booklet from them and pages through it to see what they were scribbling. What the... She swallows. She snaps it shut and disappears it from sight. She'll need to take a closer look at that later. For now...

"What's your deal?" Valentine glares, balling her hands to fists at her sides. Her temper turns her cheeks as pink as the tulips outside the cafe. "Oh, oh-- I'd rather fight you in the parking lot than show you around! You turn up two hours late, completely ignore the instructions in my book... and it's disrespectful, Miro Syke. It's crap. 'Specially after I made time to help you out. I had everything planned. I made a list, lamenated a map, packed us lunches and everything." She summons a newspaper and presses it to their chest. It's an old article covering the mysterious disappearances of journalists. "If you can't take me even remotely serious, then this," She gestures between them, "Isn't going to work. I'll wish you good luck and be on my way."
Store bought whipped cream simply cannot hold a candle to the real stuff. The good good, as they’d say if they were among their friends back home. The stuff they’re sucking off their thumb (never mind that chickens were definitely playing around in that whipped cream colossus) is the perfect balance of vanilla, sugar, and cream. Miro would put money on there being actual fresh vanilla beans in it. This is the stuff bards sing about. This is what the poets—

“What?” Miro takes two steps back from the local good witch, though she has yet to outright threaten them. She might not seem the type, but even they’re wise enough to exercise an appropriate amount of caution around someone who can wield magic. “I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to oversleep and throw the entire tool shed in your plans.” Because they’ve clearly done more than just throw a wrench in them. “Honest, from the sky to earth, I was excited and looking forward to the tour.”

They grunt when the newspaper is shoved in their chest. Miro crushes it in their fist, ignoring it for the time being. “I take you so seriously – you’ve got blip magic and you threw that entire bug into the ocean!” All Miro can do is occasionally light stuff on fire; can’t even control the stuff once it’s ablaze. They reckon Valentine Thorne has control and poise they ought to envy. (Her itinerary is evident of such being the case.) “I don’t know what my deal is. I didn’t ask for what’s happening to me.”

A certain helplessness stings their tone. They look down, inspecting the stains on their white sneakers. Their shoulders droop forward, still carefully balancing what feels like an entire world on them. “It just is and I’m just trying to follow it to the source. Get some answers. Fix it.” They swallow thickly, pressing their eyes shut to keep the memories of that night 3 months ago at bay. Some things cannot be spoken. It's best to bury the past anyway.

“Make her show you.” A voice deeper than thunder that cracks like lightning whispers – roars in their ears. Burning green emblems trace themselves in their vision. All they'd have to do is touch them and the entire world would be ablaze. “She should be afraid of you."

Miro grimaces, clenching their jaw tight as they turn their head away from the intrusive thought. (They've been more persistent recently.) The emblems eventually flicker then die out, the suffocating presence of it dissipating as quickly as it came, as it always does. They relax, letting out a breath as they blink open their eyes and remember the crushed newspaper in their hand. It’s another slippery word one. “And why do you keep giving me things I can’t read? I’m all for pranks – sike is in my name – but you literally can’t blame me for filling out your booklet wrong. These words are just falling right off the page." They hold up the paper, tapping on the headline. The big bold words are firmly in place. "I'm tryna keep up with you, but you're going too fast. Help me out here, Thorne, because clearly I'm missing something."
"Miro." Valentine says carefully, her gaze flicking from their face to the newspaper. The war between her heart and mind may be twisted, complicated, infuriating-- but this she knows to be true. "Those words haven't moved an inch." Their conviction softens her, anger dissipating with every breath she takes. They believe what they're saying, what they're seeing. She knows, because she's been there herself. Oh, for goodness sake. Seems like her heart's winning this battle. "Not for me, anyway."

Valentine crosses her arms and starts to pace, wearing what her gang used to call her 'thinking face' as she sinks into a contemplative silence. It involves pursed lips, gears behind the eyes, and a little crinkle in her brow. Could someone be manipulating Miro's mind? She saw the shadow that passed over them just now. The implications vex her in an entirely different way than before. Those tactics-- mind control-- those are the worst of the worst. She hates, hates, hates--

"I made the booklet myself. Thought of every question, typed every word, printed it, folded and stapled. Too elaborate for a prank, wouldn't you say?" Valentine starts, continuing to pace. Motion. It burns off some of her pent up energy to fight in the parking lot. "And I get it, paperwork is a drag. But it's helpful. It helps me find the root of the problem, helps me rule some things out." She tugs at her tie, glares at the sidewalk. "I use them to customize these cute little survival kits, and-- and that's besides the point. I made it because I want to help you. Seeing you scribble all over it, humming a little ditty no less... what was I supposed to think?"

Valentine stops walking. Turning to Miro, she nods towards the newspaper in their hand. "And that," She sighs, "Is a newspaper covering the frequency in which out of town journalists, researchers, podcasters and photographers such as yourself go missing in Bellwick Springs. I wanted you to read it, to know the reality of what you're getting yourself into. You have the right to know." The outsiders never know. The outsiders who would share their stories and warnings with the rest of the world are the ones who disappear, after all. She wonders if Bellwick Springs itself is warping the words-- playing tricks-- but that doesn't explain her booklet.

"If something was wrong with the booklet, you could have told me. You've seen my resume... hell, this is Bellwick Springs. I would have believed you." Valentine says, holding their gaze with unwavering conviction. "I do believe you."

Call her naive. Call her foolish. What if Miro is telling the truth? Valentine would rather believe them than heartlessly dismiss a person who is experiencing something very real and lonely and terrifying. The fear was barely suppressed from their voice just now. She knows what it's like. She knows. If it turns out they're fooling her, if they're actually dangerous... then they'll end up regretting it in the end. Not her. She's stronger now. She can handle it.

"Come on, then. I'll ask my questions on the drive." Valentine says, reaching in her pocket for her keys. She leads the way to the pale blue beetle in the parking lot, with tires painted to look like daisies. With a chipper 'beep, beep' it unlocks. The inside smells sweet, crisp, like fresh apples. It's an old car, but perfectly pristine. There's not a single speck of dust on the dash. She doesn't drive much. Doesn't have to. "Put your seatbelt on."

Valentine is exceptionally cautious in the car. One would think that would make her a great driver, wonderful even... but that's not quite the case. She takes a few steeling breaths, methodically placing her hands on the steering wheel. Checks her mirrors. Swallows. She used to see things in the mirrors. And the day she actually saw something, someone in the back seat--

"First question... it's a fun one, I'd like to think." Valentine says to distract herself as she starts the car. "Have you ever lived in a haunted house?"
“I do believe you.”

Miro steals glances of Valentine through the corner of their vision; the one spot that seems clear of shadows and doubt. They allow themself to relax in the passenger seat, unaware that they had ever been tense to begin with, and tilt their head back like they’re soaking in sunshine after a long shift. The newspaper is settled in their lap, the pictures and words still warping, and they trust the security the local good witch provides. She believes them.

It’s not that Miro has even tried to tell many people about what happened or what’s been happening, but they know it’d be hard, if not impossible, to explain without sounding like they are experiencing a break with reality. They’ve barely taken a chance with Valentine and she believes them. With only a small sliver of their story, she believes them. She wants to help them.

More than that, she wants to protect them.

They glance down at the newspaper, reflecting briefly on what Valentine said earlier about the journalists and her comments yesterday about not wanting to make a spectacle of Bellwick Springs. “I don’t even get good enough signal to post anything.” They say this almost out of nowhere, temporarily putting the initial question on pause while Valentine slowly starts the car. (Even this seems overly cautious to Miro – there are hardly any drivers out on the road. But they suppose they wouldn’t know. Not like they ever learned how to drive living in Undersky.) “My followers,” all 700 of them, “might be disappointed, but if it means so much to you, I don’t need to post. Wasn’t earning much ad revenue from it anyway.” But they could have been on their way and, at least then, they could finally prove to their parents that choosing the life they have has been worth it all along. If not for the personal happiness, then for the financial security they could have creating content. "Thanks for the heads up. Really, I mean it."

Maybe they’re an idiot for continuing on this mission given the good witch’s warning, but they don’t have the luxury of choice.

“As for haunted houses…” They tap their chin just before reclining the seat all the way back and kicking their feet up on the dash. Might as well get comfortable if she's going to give them an oral exam. “Nah, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in one. The apartment complex I grew up in was old as shit and I think a few old people died there, but it never gave haunted energy.”

The gang would have told them. Vega would have, specifically, obsessed as she is.

“Besides, most of the haunted places in Undersky were exorcized a while back after the poltergeist uprising of ‘07.” They shrug. “Can I – no, may I ask you a question?” Miro doesn’t pause to allow Valentine the opportunity to decline. “Figure since we’re gonna be a duo and all, we should get to know each other. Have you lived in Bellwick Springs your whole life?”
"'Course." Valentine nods, her gaze fixed on the road ahead. This doesn't mean she's unaware of Miro kicking their feet up on the dashboard. Far from it. Yet in the passenger seat of her car, their laid back nature reminds her of Wilder and all the mornings she drove him to school after he totaled his truck. (He swerved into a tree when they were being chased down by a bat man. Not the Batman, but a bat man. Man bat. Dingbat.) Nostalgia saves Miro from a lecture this time... but if they track dirt anywhere they'll be getting an earful, best believe it.

Valentine's about to ask about poltergeist encounters, as Miro mentioned setting some on fire, but they ask her a question of their own before she can protest. 'Your whole life.' The words drench her heart in lead. She thinks of the suitcases gathering dust in gran's closet. It's just a question. A harmless question.

"Yeah, sort of... my mom moved us here from Glorywood when I was five." Valentine says, tapping the steering wheel idly. Her classmates and teachers were perplexed when she showed up at school. In a town full of oddities, she felt like the oddest one there. Because people don't move to Bellwick Springs. They're just born here. And if that wasn't enough, word got around quick that she lived in the witch's cottage past Blueberry Lane. "She grew up in Bellwick. I've been here ever since."

So far so good. Of course, when they pass a certain streetlight-- that streetlight-- Valentine's bracing herself all over again. Unwelcome memories swarm at her, filling in blanks that needn't be filled. The upside down corpse, the tracks of blood all over the street below. For a split second, she sees Miro strung up there in her place. All at once, she remembers why she hates driving around this town. It's too much.

I barely knew her. All we did was talk.
Uh huh. Well, maybe that'll teach you not to talk to anybody.

...It's not an issue anymore. Valentine made sure of it. She's not against the idea of getting to know Miro. It might even be fun. But there's no point to it, is there? (In a twisted way, he got what he wanted.) She drives faster, determined to leave the ghosts behind. In the rearview mirror the streetlight folds in half like a bendy straw.

"Anyway, we're not playing twenty questions. We can chit-chat later, over lunch or something. For now we need to focus on what's going on with you." Valentine says pointedly. They're passing the high school at present, the sign outside the building vandalized to say 'Hellwick High'. It's been like that since she was a sophomore. It's accurate. "Can you describe any relevant supernatural encounters that you've had? You mentioned zombies, giant bugs and poltergeists last night. Furthermore, have you ever been injured by a supernatural entity?" She glances briefly at their bandages. "Scratched, bitten... burned?"
“Glorywood,” Miro snorts, the immature middle schooler in them breaking free of their cringe confines. As much as they’d love to joke and tease, Valentine Thorne is all business. As per usual. 'Keep it together. You just got on her good side.' They deflate into the seat, the brief mirth flitting away like a startled butterfly. Idly, they wonder what it would take to get the local good witch to break, to have a little fun. Aside from when she embraced Sharona and some of the other chickens, they don’t think that they’ve seen her smile and they’re beginning to doubt that she has any sense for the word fun. Not that Miro can really blame her – they read her résumé, practically studied it for hints, and with all those accolades to her young name, they can’t imagine she has a spare minute in her pristine color-coded planner with, like, alphabetized tabs and shit.

(…Miro could take a few notes from her, to be honest.)

“Mmm, and what if I said I’m not answering until you agree to answer at least fifteen questions? See?” They lift their brow with a pleased grin. “I can be reasonable. Not even gonna push for the full twenty. If you want to know about me, I have to know who I’m sharing with, too. Your reputation precedes you, but I’ve every right to vibe check you myself. It’s in the constitution.” Miro has never read the constitution.

“Also, lunch.” They tap their two index fingers together. “You said you packed us lunches? So far I’ve only had coffee and whipped cream – delish, by the way – and I might have more, ah, robust responses with a little food in my belly.” For effect, they slap their stomach a couple of times, jiggling it.

Even with all that said, they know not to test Valentine Thorne and relent. (For now.) “The giant bug was just the one yesterday and we get zombies and poltergeists in Undersky.” True, the odd occurrences are far less in the great city than they are in places like Bellwick Springs, but they still have them. The city was built on the bones of a giant beast not too unlike Godzilla, after all. “So I wouldn’t even say those are out of the ordinary, just annoying. And I accidentally flamed them when they got too close. Well, the first two zombies I accidentally flamed. The third and fourth were on purpose.”

The fairy, however… Well, that’s unfortunately how they figured out the emblems were markers.

“I was never hurt during those encounters.” Miro might be dense at times, but they aren’t stupid. (Some might debate that, and some aren’t present to do so.) They know she’s trying to ask about their bandages and how they came to be. “If anything, it was me causing the supernatural injuries.” Death, more like.

They look out the window, focusing in and out of the blurs of shapes and shadows with eyes. “I got burned by lightning.” They drum their fingers over their stomach. “I wasn’t hit.” Their tone darkens and sobers; their throat bobs. “Just too close to it, enough that I could feel my skin getting tight and crisp.” The shadows encroach on their vision, taking more and more away, though they’ve learned to stay calm during these bouts of blots. “Sometimes my vision goes out, now. And I see things. Emblems. Haven’t actually captured one on camera, but I’ve been fucking trying now for months." They blow out a raspberry, turning to face Valentine, instantly clearing the shadows. "It’s, uh, how I burned the child of Mothra yesterday. Now, my turn," they insist, hurriedly steam rolling over the last topic. "Favorite things to do when you're not being the local good witch. Go."

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