But now, she has learned their secrets. Now, she knows their weaknesses. Now, she is ready to exact her revenge.
But Elizabeth isn’t the only visitor to Strines. Major Webber and his team have tracked her to the four corners of the Empire. In Strines, they are determined that she must meet her destiny, in the name of the Queen.
And something about the upcoming conflict has attracted the attention of someone with their own plans for the chaos to come. No less than the resurrection of that old, doomed, time-travelling voodoo cult, Faction Paradox ...
January 1854, Strines
James Braddock stood on a freezing January night at Strines station, as a train came in. Mrs Howkins departs the train, and Braddock, desperately in need of money, assists her with her bags. Howkins quickly tells him to keep the bags, that she intends to use him as a distraction, climbs aboard a horse, and departs. Inspecting the bags, Braddock finds no money at all, feeling cheated, he decides to follow her, before being stopped by a girl in the uniform of a British Army sergeant with dark black hair. When questioned he admits he wasn’t paid. The girl then calls around for her Captain and new orders, as a pistol shot rings out.
Elizabeth Howkins continues her trip onwards after departing from James Braddock, a vision of her dead husband at her side, before coming across the corpse of a small bird. Consuming one of its eyes and saying a prayer, she casts it up into the wind, and it takes flight, her watching the world through its eyes, Braddock following behind her and clusters of uniforms moving through the white landscape. Not too far off a location where the Loa will break through the world.
She used her spy to avoid the soldiers, sneaking around a factory, as lightning flashed and the wind rippled, Major Webber barks orders at his men. Guard dogs at the building tear into the dead bird, depriving her of her spy. Howkins scratches a vevé into the floor, and a bullet was fired at the vevé, but deflected by some invisible energy.
Major Webber calls on her to surrender, and she pays him no heed. She throws down the last components of her ritual, and asks for an audience with Madam Jenny. Gigantic, monstrous shapes appeared above them, fighting, and Webber became terrified, as Elizabeth announces her intent to kill them.
Sergeant Brierly and her men crept through the factory, the printworks, with Braddock, as it warped around them, soldiers dying as the world came to life in the ever shifting location. They expressed trepidation, as Howkins had never been able to do something on this scale before. A soldier tells James that Howkins was a witch who scarified her own husband to the Loa for power, and they’ve been chasing her across the world to stop her. Brierly continued further in, seeing snow on the ground, looking up into the purple sky and the dark, massive shapes moving above. Previously skeptical that this was supernatural, skeptical of the Loa, waiting for a rational explanation? Now Brierly believed.
The weapons of her and her soldiers were trained on Howkins, but the sight above had rattled her. She asks the Major for orders. None come. A soldier shoots, the bullet flies into the sky. Howkins throws a doll at the ground and dogs devour it, tearing into the flesh of the soldiers, but not Braddock as he turned and ran. As he ran from the factory, a woman in black wearing goggles barged past him. He glanced back and saw that a piece of rubble from the hellscape above had fallen on her. Before he knew what he was doing he ran towards her as if to help her out, the wind driving him towards her and the factory, as the roof collapses on them both.
Time passes, as things have calmed down somewhat. Webber decides that he needs to prove to his superiors that Howkins is dead, so begins to sift through the rubble piles with careful hold of his revolver. James slowly begins to wake, his arm pinned by the rubble as he realized both that the woman was being held in his arms and that she was alive. A voice from above called out to him, asking if he had Howkins. Upon denying it, the voice left, only coming back after it had searched every pile. Webber pulls out three survivors to assist with the search, Howkins, Brierly, and the stranger. Brierly’s arm is pinned, and Howkins and Webber debate going back into town to get a doctor, before being attacked by a living shadow with claws.
Webber goes out to face the creature and hold it off, and Howkins begins to figure out how to deal with the unconscious stranger. Brierly asks him to cut her arm off. Howkins can’t bear the thought until Brierly tells him that she’s not a person like Braddock, but a parliament, six thousand years old, moving from body to body, and this arm is not the arm of Brierly but of Helen Copley, the most recent body. James cuts off the arm, and she cauterizes the flesh.
Webber chases the shadow to an ice wall, before firing at it with bullets, lightning frightening it off as it slashes reality and vanishes through the gap it makes, and lightning strikes Webber himself.
Twilight, The Grey Town
The wildlife falls silent around Elizabeth, and as she reaches up, the falling snow turns to ash. She followed a cobblestone road past decaying machines and factories to a small stream with a mill. Inside she finds an old man working with some gears, and she asks him for an audience with Spinning Jenny. He laughs, as his sanity, which he's worked so hard to lose, returns, and tells her that this is the Loa, they've been swallowed. Realizing the futility of avenging her husband against a landscape, Elizabeth cracks a little. The madman explains how the Loa disrupt reality by swimming, as he assumes she's human, how they killed his other half and left him adrift in causality. He goes back to working on the machine he was building, which Elizabeth understands, shocking him.
She explains that when she was 24, a fire broke out at the calico works she and her Bill used to work at. She followed him deeper into the fire, but instead found a fat old woman in a purple dress striding through the fire unharmed, drinking alcohol, humming to herself. The woman stopped, vanished in a trail of smoke, and a vevé burned in fire where she had stood. Looking up, she saw the Loa, writhing, opening its mouth, and diving at her, as Bill screamed and the world vanished. When she awoke she was nearly a hundred years in the past, but spent the first five just trying to figure out what had happened, trying to survive.
As she finishes her tale, she clicks together two cogs in the machine, the gateway, that the old man was working on, and something changes. The gateway is ready. The old man opens it, and she tells him to hurry. As she's made it so it will not close, and he should move fast if he wants to survive, as everything inside the Loa will be sucked through it. And then the gateway closed. Despairing, Elizabeth looked at where she constantly hallucinated Bill. It becomes more real, as it fills out into a man, and speaks to her.
January 1854, Strines
Braddock and Brierly hurry back to the horse and trap, and use it to travel through the storm, lighting strikes and snowflakes frozen in midair. Upon reaching the local pub, Braddock's main place of employment, they find that all others in the town have vanished, leaving a flickering flame in the fireplace and half eaten meals. Braddock bandages Brierly's arm, as they express conflicting views as to whether or not she'll live out the night. The woman, the stranger, walked inside, introducing herself as Isabella, the only person who knows what's going on, and that the three of them are the last people alive.
She commits violent property damage throughout the pub as she looks for something, before demanding water to put the fire out. Suitably miffed, Braddock refuses until she explains that they're inside a space-time bubble, torn out of the normal universe, that's slowly getting colder, and the only way to survive is to find the way out. She then whispers to the others that something is hiding in the fire.
Two identical characters in purple robes and bronze circlets surrounding their heads, who Isabella identified as Bright and Cobden, emerged from the fire, attempting to kill Isabella and gravely harming Brierly, before the shadow creature from before rushed in and attacked the two. They handily disarm and destroy it, noting that they weren't aware any faction agents were still around, and James began to throw bottles at them, before picking up the wounded Isabella and escaping with her through the window. Cobden-Bright reaches into a small spacetime pocket as they flee into the night and pulls out a small black bat, which slowly unfurled its wings before flying off into the night.
Twilight, The Grey Town
Elizabeth and Bill hesitantly began to talk to each other, to walk with each other, the time spent apart and how it had changed her making things difficult for them both. But as they walked and talked, Bill explained that the fire all those years ahead, all those years ago, was planned, to feed Jenny, and the souls who died there now live inside her, and if Elizabeth kills Jenny, all of them vanish. But he's not worried, because he knows she won't kill Jenny, she'll save Jenny. Elizabeth comes to realize that the other loa is Baron Samedi, and the two have been called here to fight - Jenny is quickly losing.
Elizabeth finally accepts this task and walks with Bill back to the door, walking through it, finding herself on a hill outside of Strines, with more light than she remembered. She saw a train rushing down the tracks, and James Braddock, on his way to meet it. She felt the two Loa over head, rushing down, not yet having met each other, and began to work on a way to hold them off, before hearing a cry from not far away. She heads over to investigate, and sees the old man from before, bleeding both physically and metaphysically, his biodata spilling out, attracting the Loa here. She was ready to kill him, before a clawed shadow attacks her, chasing her away, past a woman in black, as she dashed towards her younger self, hoping she could reset the loop, get back to Bill and try again. Jenny dives down, swallowing the madman, a black figure darts away, Baron Samedi takes a jealous bite out of Jenny, reality shudders as the roof collapses, and silences falls.
Now, Inside the Bubble
Brierly slowly pieced herself together, fading in and out of consciousness, as Cobden-Bright talked amongst themselves, the one thought keeping her together being the possibility of getting orders, of finding something that all the voices in her head would listen to.
James has taken Isabella to a nearby house, and when she comes to, she explains to him that the two men he saved them all from were minor agents of people called the Great Houses, who like there to be order in the universe, so intend to collapse the bubble with or without them inside. She gave him a rough explanation of how she was a Cousin of Faction Paradox, but how they were destroyed, and no help was coming. She suggests that Cobden-Bright, being minor agents, have a tunnel, rather than a ship, so they need to get to the place where the bubble wall is the thinnest, as that will it be where it is.
Webber awakes to find Brierly with him. A massive storm of black wings flies at the barrier, devouring it, and oxygen escapes it, as they accept their death and the vacuum flies in.
Webber opens his eyes, confused, waiting for the darkness. But instead he finds Brierly, less disheveled than before, and not aware of any bats when asked about them by Webber. Brierly briefed him on the situation, and Webber realized quietly that what had happened five minutes ago hadn't yet happened. He told Brierly that they would ignore Isabella for now and focus on escaping the barrier and finding their General.
Isabella and James crept on, Isabella weakening, biodata spilling out from losing her shadow, before some of the bats, the bran-puca, dive down at them, chasing them into a nearby house. The floor above them shook, the bats trying to get in, and Elizabeth Howkins walked in through the kitchen, asking what they were doing in her house.
Howkins and Isabella discussed whether the Loa were still out there, and came to the conclusion that they were not, nobody was listening, so as the bran-puca tore off the floor above them, they joined their strength and reached out to the Loa, and as they did, Elizabeth realized that she knew who Isabella was, but on they pressed. As they neared the Loa together, something yanked them back, and Cobden-Bright appeared before them. Isabella inquired to make sure that they were quantum entangled, one mind, two bodies, before a newfound shadow appeared and killed one of them, leaving the other one twitching, dying on the floor.
Isabella explained that with her shadow she now knew where the tunnel was. James are excited at the prospect of returning home, but Isabella had her shadow stab him in his stomach. His body vanished, replaced with a purple hole, sparking with energy. Isabella picked up the dying man, and told Elizabeth that she'd be staying there - she'd just get in the way, walking through the hole after kicking the body through, that closed behind her, leaving the body of James, unharmed, as the bats descended on Elizabeth.
Weber, Brierly, and some of their men attempt to attack an enemy encampment on a Mediterranean island. The scene shifts around Weber and he returns to the cold English winter, discussing the perilous straights they're in with Brierly, before frantically attacking the barrier, trying to make a dent, and making none.
Inside the purple tunnel, as it twisted and turned, Isabella looked around for Cobden-Bright as a bran-puca flew in behind her. Fighting it off, she left her shadow to slow it down, and went looking for her prisoner. She found him, lying face down, bleeding out in a massive room with space to build a city that could dwarf London. As she headed towards the exit, the entrance of the tunnel began to collapse and unfurl, meaning that the bubble had collapsed. Isabella chanted and prayed as reality frayed, and eventually the collapse reversed itself, Isabella, her shadow, and Cobden-Bright diving through the exit, with the bat attempting to and failing.
Brierly looks through the barrier to see Loa swimming, confirming to her that Isabella was right, the Major wrong. The Major suddenly gasps for her, thrilled to see her. He says that ever since the lightning strike he's come unstuck within his own personal chronology, and hasn't seen her for ten years, but had never gone more than seconds past this point. He expects them to die very soon. Brierly offers him to join with her, so they'll die together, but the bats descend upon them and upon the barrier, eating it, and Weber jumped through the hole, deciding to take his chances there. The bats fell upon Brierly, eating her piece by piece, disappearing as the bubble burst.
October 1853, Strines
A purple hole shuddered in the pub in Strines, as a man and a woman in black fell through. James Braddock fell to the floor. Isabella looked around, seeing a clock but no calendar, and speculated that this was a few months before the bubble, causing the strange behavior in the tunnel. Another Isabella steps out of the shadows, and the first explains that Cobden-Bright makes the perfect bait for the ritual, as he's entangled to a dead person but destined for Spinning Jenny, neither of them will be able to resist. The younger Isabella expressed confusion at the older's shadow, and the older just stated that it's not hers, and she'll find out later.
Elizabeth Howkins resigned herself to the fact that she was dead, sitting in the darkness, before deciding that death wasn't exactly a reason to stop being useful, and began exploring her situation. She determined that she was being held in a bubble created by bats, and a voice emanated from around her, explaining that Brierly had placed her mind inside the bran-puca, a singular being that lives at an angle to normal space-time, and as the bubble looped through time the bran-puca would double itself instead of moving through the loop. As this conversation continued, Brierly decided that she needed to escape the collapsing bubble, so moved some of her bodies to the gateway, but this had not yet happened from the perspective of the conversation had with Elizabeth Howkins.
Brierly offered to Elizabeth the opportunity to join with her, but instead Elizabeth asked to see the Loa fighting one last time. She pushed her way outside of the bat created bubble and swam towards the Loa. Each Brierly darted through the gateway, feeling that saving her was a lost cause. As she swam towards the Loa, Elizabeth ran out of breath before suddenly finding she could breathe again. Baron Samedi, riding in the corpse of Major Weber, had appeared and began to talk to her. Both proclaimed their desire to kill Spinning Jenny, but the Baron said his wife has taken a liking to her, so offers her a shadowy blade, and tells her that if she uses it on Jenny it can pull her husband out of Jenny's belly, but when she does he'll only be able to eat blue flowers growing where they shouldn't. Elizabeth knows that the gifts the Loa offer are always dangerous, but this is her only hope, so accepts, and asks how she'll get close enough to slice open Jenny. But as she looks up, she sees she's drifted closer to the Loa, before being swallowed whole.
January 1854, Strines
James woke up in the pub in the early morning and began to get it ready for the day, Isabella wrapped in his shirt from the previous day as she grabbed water and went to her room. Evening came, and patrons shuffled in. James and Isabella noted that the snow had come in, and Isabella was planning on going up to Mellor Moor tonight, James to pick up a woman who had rented a spare room. Isabella urged him to just stay there, and disappeared. But he followed her. He followed her to the Moor, to a place where a cross was made, in 1917, that echoed forwards and backwards in time, marking it as a place of power.
She says a bubble will be created, and people will come to examine it, needing a tunnel, biodata existing both inside and out at the same time. That biodata is James'. So much rests on the bubble that she can't let them collapse it, so the tunnel has to be collapsed with them inside. Her shadow sliced him open.
June 1931, Manchester
Elizabeth came to land in that grey realm once again, dilapidated factories around her, as the madman and the ghost of Bill kept her company. Bill told her that she could be dropped of again, get things right on this go 'round, it's not ideal, but it's doable. Elizabeth refuses, and takes the knife, cutting through the madman's stomach, and pulls herself and Bill out.
Elizabeth reflects on how she pulled herself and Bill from the wreckage of the Strines factory, went down to the pub, saw everyone there waiting, all safe, all happy to see them, who saw them as they were when they were young, not as she sees them now, her ancient and him as a ghost of his former self. She walked into her apartment with Bill, having fled Strines and the memories of that place, and made his supper, him not having moved for two weeks.
She put on the radio, and a voice flickered through. Brierly explained that she escaped the bubble, but was stuck in the tunnel still. She implores Elizabeth to help save Jenny, the attack is still happening, to look outside at the depressed world, to see a world without industry. Elizabeth says that even if she wanted to help, she couldn't get back to 1854, that Jenny was dying.
As she goes to feed Bill the only meal he will eat, purple flowers that grow from the veins on her arm, Brierly expresses surprise and confusion, saying that surely she knows that Jenny isn't dying.
June 1931, Strines
A man waited for Elizabeth Howkins as the train came into Strines station. James Braddock, perhaps ten years older than when she last remembered him, picked her up and walked her down to the pub. He poured her a drink and they began to discuss things, things like how he had no idea why he lived so long. Or how what happened in the past doesn't matter, what happens tomorrow is what's important. She looks at the table where her and Bill used to sit at, and saw Bill and her younger self there, holding hands. Trying to recall if she ever remembered this night, or if she remembered James being the bartender when she was young, all she gets is a blur.
She walks, drunk to the textile works, trying to get up the courage to do the ritual. Midnight passes. Eventually a young girl appeared, drinking. Elizabeth acknowledges how honored she is by Maman Brigitte's presence, but also notes that her husband didn't truly give Elizabeth her husband back. She felt cheated - her husband is still a part of Jenny and the flowers are a part of the Baron, and she's being used to poison Jenny. Maman's anger abated, and she smiled, happy to see that Elizabeth had some fight in her left.
Elizabeth drew five invisible vevés throughout the site, and as people filed in that morning, she whispered to the newborn God of industry. "Spinning Jenny, please accept my prayer." The fire started, and Maman Brigitte had become a fat old woman in a purple dress striding through the fire, and as she walked around the room, energy flowed into the center, growing into the Loa. Maman disappeared, and Spinning Jenny rushed at Elizabeth, as the world once again disappeared.
January 1854, Strines
James hung in the air from a cross that hadn't yet been made. Isabella drew forth a knife, noting that the agents were in the tunnel now, a single solitary tear running down her face, and the knife jerked out of her hand. Elizabeth Howkins holds in her hand a doll with a head of grey hair, stating that she knows who Isabella is. Isabella and Elizabeth fight over the doll until the shadow takes the doll from them and tosses it gently into a nearby snowbank.
As Isabella told the shadow to kill Elizabeth, Elizabeth asserted her rights over it, influencing it, fighting back. The two contradictory orders caused it to tear in two, two shadows fighting each other as Elizabeth and Isabella fought each other. Elizabeth told James to let Brierly out, as their only chance, and he did, the tunnel rupturing as a bat flew out and into Elizabeth's chest, into her timestream.
Isabella looked up to see that the Loa were no longer fighting, and Elizabeth explained that Loa contain within them every soul ever devoured, slaved to the Loa's will, somewhat like Brierly, except Brierly is democratic, and Brierly is explaining that system to them now, and that Jenny knows Isabella is to blame for this situation. Silhouettes appear around the moor, grabbing Isabella and dragging her into the ground.
Elizabeth pulls James down from the imaginary cross as the two shadows look on curiously. She suggested that they help her, and with Isabella gone, they both did. She looked up, and instead of the Loa fighting, she saw them dancing, swimming in an intricate pattern.
December 1940, Strines
James Braddock walked through the pub as rockets fell in the distance. He heard a voice in the dark, and even though he knew it wasn't, he asked if it was Isabella. Howkins empathized, but did say that she was dead, something James chuckled at, no, Isabella was part of the Loa, the Loa of democracy. A woman steps out of the shadows, explaining that Isabella was naive, but in her way, right, that Faction Paradox did need a home, and told her that she had come to recruit. Elizabeth turns her down, and the shadows rip open a hole in the universe, her stepping inside. The woman sighs, stating that whenever you talk to her she always thinks she knows best. She asks James to open up, and the tunnel to nowhere within him flares, she steps inside and vanishes.
- Elizabeth Howkins
- James Braddock
- Major Webber
- Sergeant Brierly
- Cousin Isabella
- Spinning Jenny
- Baron Samedi
- Maman Brigitte
to be added
- Author Dale Smith finished the story in May 2014.
- The character Elizabeth Howkins was based on Dale Smith's wife's grandmother, who had recently passed and left behind several diaries written to her late husband Bill.
- The novel was released on 25 November 2017, the day after the twentieth anniversary of the novel Alien Bodies. The first 100 physical copies included a numbered commemorative twentieth anniversary stamp.
- Faction Paradox has lost their home. (AUDIO: The Shadow Play) Isabella (incorrectly) considers herself to be all that remains of the Faction.
- There are alternative versions of how Faction Paradox was "wiped out." (PROSE: The Ancestor Cell)
- James Braddock becomes the new "home" for Faction Paradox.
- The final survivor of Faction Paradox is a young woman with a powerful shadow. (AUDIO: The Shadow Play)
- Swimmers exist in the "ocean" between universes. (PROSE: The Taking of Planet 5) Swimmers and Leviathans are considered part of the same intercreational family. (PROSE: The Book of the War)