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Epithet was a bird. Had been for as long as he could remember, which was pretty much as long as he'd been himself. It was a simple life, and a good one, and Epithet was perfectly willing to trade off sapience for the joys of flight. He'd seen the flights of humans, and they tended to be as short-lived as the humans themselves, punctuated with a thud — or, if he was lucky enough and in a particularly 'carrion' mood, a splat. His days were eventful and long, and as he swooped among the chimneypots and spires his little bird brain was filled with happy bird thoughts.

Today, Epithet could see, was a Worm Day. The best of all the days. The ground was wet (though not so wet as the sky), and the tiny wriggling morsels were emerging in their thousands from their earthy domain. He could pluck them out as easy as look at them, and soon his already plump stomach grew fit to burst.

It was while tugging at a particularly large and wriggly specimen that Epithet first noticed the Building. He mentally capitalised it due to the fact that, despite possessing ample shelter and nesting room, it seemed deserted. Utterly deserted. Other corvids swooped in great arcs to avoid it, gaggles of tourists stepped blindly across the street, and even pigeons, the lowest tier of the complex hierarchy of birds, seemed vaguely startled by its presence. Epithet (intelligent even by raven standards) was intrigued by this, and quickly hopped over to investigate — it turned out to be large, spacious and warm; the perfect place to wait while he digested his lunch.

Shaking the rain from his feathers and basking in the joy of hot air against his skin, Epithet settled down in the rafters for an afternoon nap.

Inside the warehouse a man paced back and forth, worn sandals slapping rhythmically against the concrete. His overall appearance was of a wizard on a tight budget, and as he flitted around the room the sunlight illuminated a sad, angled face with wild hair and a veritable street-map of wrinkles. He muttered constantly, strengthening and re-casting the ward he'd set up around the place — any living thing approaching would quickly find itself paralysed with an overwhelming sense of dread, and most likely scarper1. It was an archaic protection, he knew, but an altogether effective one.

The man, whose name was Marius, darted and danced around what appeared to be a gigantic metal silo, almost as tall as the warehouse itself. Valves hissed angrily and dials flicked up and down in time with the sloshes of dark green fluid that pushed against the small viewing window. A large mass hung at the centre but it was causing no difficulties at present, content to revolve slowly in its tube like some museum specimen in a mason jar. Marius ducked to avoid a venting of boiling steam and cried out to the empty room.

Predictably, there was no response.

"Where is that blasted wretch?", he thought, pulling himself to his feet. He could swear that hiring an apprentice had been more trouble than the boy was worth. The lad wasn't here now, in any case, and Marius was going to be damned if he'd let the little snot-nosed git postpone his project any longer.

With a flourish of his cloak seen only by the bird in the rafters and the gods, the dishevelled mage wrenched down a lever as long as his arm. He stood back in wonder, eyes bent upwards to the machine, hands pressed together in silent prayer to whatever deities might be listening.

There was a crunch.

And, after the crunch, a low, sullen grinding.

And following that, a deep whirring that seemed to rise from the depths of the Earth itself, slowly ascending from low to high to ear-splitting shriek.

And, after the pitch had sailed outside the range of human hearing, the sound of a gunshot.

Marius Vandervall turned to the source of the sound just in time to miss a two-storey pipe crash through the warehouse's side and into the street below. Pressure was released, and rivets peppered the roughly plastered wall with a sudden, explosive pointillism. Fluid began to stream down every surface available, like some kind of terrible meat-smelling waterfall, and (with a sickening, gut-wrenching crack) the tank's supports began to buckle.

William Shakespeare had just woken up, and he noticed several things in quick succession. Firstly, it was dark, almost oppressively so. Darker than it had any right to be, in the playwright's esteemed opinion. Whatever the stuff he was floating in seemed to suck the light right out of the air.

Secondly, he was floating in some kind of goo. William opened his mouth and instantly regretted it, gagging as the warm, sticky concoction flooded down his throat. He struggled to gasp for air, before realising that-

-he didn't need to breathe. Air was somehow collecting in his lungs without needing to pass through the intervening tubing, which (while certainly a novel innovation and a great increase in efficiency) was disconcerting to say the least. He tried pumping it up and out of his mouth, but found his trachea uncomfortably full of metal. Strange. He kicked off the wall and floated through the goo to the other side of the- oh. That's exceedingly strange.

He was, it seemed, in some kind of tank, cylindrical for the most part, with all kinds of struts and wires crisscrossing the inside. Was this some kind of afterlife? It didn't feel like heaven, and he had been brought up to conceive of hell as being more unpleasant — this was just peculiar. Purgatory then? the Bard of Avon did a few more lengths of his pool and decided that wherever he was was likely not the domain of any kind of ethereal being. What then, could it possibly be?
William Shakespeare stroked his beard in thought, and in doing so brought his hand into contact with his head.

He was only mildly surprised to find out that it was made of plastic.


"Hello, Marius."

"You… You… Ungrateful wretch! How dare you!"

"Easy does it. You'll break a hip going on like that."

"I'd rather break a hip than fall to you! Oh, how the tables turn; the roles reverse!"

The youth slides another round into his firearm and grins. "Iambic pentameter. Nice."

But the mage had already turned away to scramble over the wreckage. The tank, thankfully, was still upright, leaning like a drunk on its three remaining legs. "So great a thing would it have been to do! But no, I suffer still this noxious curse."

There's a click, and Marius turns away from the twisted metal to see the young man levelling the gun at his head. "Cut the poetry. It's not doing you any favours. Step away from the tank, and put your hands in the air."

Marius complies.

"Good. Now, if I were to-"

"From where did you procure that weaponry?"

"A stolen time machine, a bottle of tequila, a man called Chekhov who turns out to be way worse at poker than he lets on, and I'm asking the questions."

"For what it's worth I-"

"I swear to God if that sentence has five metrical feet I'm gonna knock you dead right here and now."

"I-" The wizard shudders, and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I- I can't… Sometimes I just can't help but speak in- sorry! Sorry. I'll talk… normally."

"Thanks. Now, if I was to open this tank up right this instant, would I find a) historically valuable artifacts given some semblance of life by a combination of poor ethics and bad science, or b) something else."

"The… second one?"

"Weirdly, that's not what I've been told. Are you gonna come quietly?"

"I don't think so."

The man grins, and pulls the trigger. There's a dull click as the barrel jams, and Marius is gone, replaced by a faint sensation of rustling paper and the harsh scent of ink. He blinks.


"I'm Marius Vandervall, Bibliomancer Extraordinaire. I warp the story of reality. I control the very essence of narrative itself. There's nothing you can do to stop me."

"I'm Jacques Darnell. Fuck you."

There's a gunshot and Marius falls from the rafters, landing amidst the debris with a crunch.

"I wasn't joking when I mentioned Chekhov." There's a crackle as he presses the button on his wrist. "Yeah, this is Darnell. Target's neutralised. Bring in the containment team, we'll get this under wraps."

He sniffs the air.

"And be quick about it too. I smell burning."


And, as the Bibliomancer Vandervall slipped between worlds once more, and the immortal bard stewed helplessly in its vat, the Inner London Society for Amateur Dramatics — for centuries a guiding force across the city's many folded, fractal streets — fell prey to the fires that had birthed it out of necessity all those years ago. And as Jacques turned up his collar and ran from the blaze, he couldn't help think how fitting an end it was.

From his place on the windowsill, Epithet (Corvid King of London and defiler of statues everywhere) understood none of what had transpired. The trivial matters of loud, slow humans were none of his concern. With barely a thought for the glowing wood beneath him he took off, wings trailing intricate patterns through the smoke. Somewhere out there was a half-eaten baguette lying discarded in a puddle, and wherever commuters went hungry the birds of London feasted. Deaf to the muffled screams and whirring machinery, he fled the warehouse, mind chock-full of happy bird thoughts and imagined sandwiches.

Worm Days were, after all, the best of all the days.

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