The Guest

Aug 29, 2021

This story uses characters from Hololive, and is published in accordance with their Derivative Works Guidelines.

Calli sat in front of a scene you could be forgiven for confusing with a Metallica album cover. Death stared at her out of endlessly dark empty eye sockets, grinning in that particular way that skulls were always grinning. Then, as though it were born of long deliberation, a small sigh somehow whispered past his teeth.

“I suppose you’re ready to try working for real.”

Calli beamed. She knew this had been coming. As soon as he’d called her into his office, she’d had a hunch. After all, he couldn’t call her his apprentice but then keep her on the hospital shift forever. At this point it seemed like she’d been stalking the ICU for as long as ICUs had actually been a thing. But not any more. Finally her days of ushering on stab victims and motorcyclists who were still too shocked to realize they were dead was coming to a close.

Death sighed again. “Yes, Calliope, I can see you’re excited. But it’s only on a provisional basis.”

Calli felt some of her nervous energy dissipate. But provisional, she reminded herself, still meant there was the chance it might become permanent. So long as she didn’t screw up.

“Yes boss. Whatever you say. No problem.”

Death’s expressionless skull stared her down, then he creaked slowly to his feet. Standing, he was easily ten feet tall. Calli had always thought he’d have made a killer basketballer, if it wasn’t that looking directly at him would literally kill most people it didn’t drive to insanity.

He wandered over to a long shelf of books that lined one wall of his office. The white bones of his feet pressed into the lush red carpets, and the gentle orange glow of gaslights crept into the folds of his heavy black robe. Reaching up, and running one finger along one row of faded dust jackets, Death found what he was looking for. He plucked a small scuffed notepad from the shelf, and brought it back to his desk. Sitting back down, he slid it across the table to Calli.

“Here. Your first real job.”

Feeling a nervous kind of excitement, Calli took the pocketbook. It was unassuming. A small store-bought notepad, corners scuffed and held closed with an elastic band. “Who is this?”

“He calls himself Dolan Darkwater,” Death replied. Even without eyeballs, Callie could tell he was rolling his eyes.

“So, why is this worth taking care of personally?”

Death motioned to the pocketbook. “Go on, open it.”

Growing more curious, Calli pulled the elastic band off and thumbed through the pages. She knew there was something off as soon as her fingers touched the paper. The pages still felt warm. The contents didn’t seem immediately out of the ordinary, though. The words were all dashed down in cheap blue biro, the handwriting mostly legible. As she let the pages fan underneath her thumb, she realized that there was far more written than the size of the book would suggest. Even though from the outside it looked like there wasn’t more than a few dozen pages, when you started going through it, there were easily thousands. When she finally got to the last page, she read over the last line.

Dolan Darkwater steps out from the shadows, into the blinding circle of light projected on the stage. The sound of electric guitars-

Her red eyes flicked up from the book. “It just stops mid way. What happened, did a stage light fall on his head?”

“Close it,” Death gestured with a bony finger.


Humor me.”

Calli did as she was told.

“Good. Now open it again and take another look.”

Her eyes narrowing, she opened the pocketbook back up to the last page. When she scanned down to the last line again, she felt something tickling the back of her eyeballs.

The sound of electric guitars echos out from the twenty-foot tall speaker stacks. He raises his arms in the air, his eyes closed, and listens to the packed theatre chanting his name.

Calli made a face at the book. “It’s different!”

“It’s longer,” Death subtly corrected. “The previous line should still be there, just a little higher on the page.”

Calli checked, and sure enough, there it was. And in the time she’d been looking away even more had been added to the book. She shook her head. “How’s this happening?”

Death shrugged again, and leaned back in his chair. “If I knew that,” he said, “You’d still be walking around the ICU.”

Calli stood on a maintenance catwalk, leaning against the rail with her scythe propped up beside her. She watched Dolan Darkwater stalk from one end of the stage to the other. He dragged a microphone around with him, whipping the cord out from under his feet. His long black hair streamed back from furrowed temples. He half closed his eyes, and howled along to the sound of gnashing guitars and ponderously reverbed drums.

There was a band, but they all hung back on a riser that extended along the rear of the stage, leaving the entire space up front for Dolan to strut and pose in.

What kind of name was Dolan Darkwater? Not a real one. There were too many pages to pinpoint exactly where it had changed, but according to the first few hundred his real name was Eugene Dimple.

Calli opened the book up again, and flipped to back. Like before, every time she took her eyes off the page, the last sentence changed. She had already seen it go through hundreds of pages in the time she’d been following Dolan. Even now, it was describing in painstaking detail each of his dramatic flourishes.

She had, at this point, suffered through a dozen shows like this. Dolan was on a tour of the UK, which meant so was Calli. She’d been stalking him hoping to pick up some clue as to why his life book kept growing longer, but so far the only thing she’d managed to uncover was that she was absolutely not a fan of prog rock. No matter how many times he swung his head about or thrust his hands meaningfully out towards the audience, Dolan showed no sign of suddenly dying. Nor did he seem to be doing anything out of the ordinary to keep from doing so. At least, nothing so far.

As near as Calli could gather, all Dolan ever did was howl at his audience, drink too much, and shout at any of the band members who were unlucky enough to cross his path.

After a tortuously long second encore, Dolan tossed his empty water bottle into the crowd, and left the stage for the last time.

Picking up her scythe, Calli hopped lightly up onto the rail, then stepped off and floated down to the stage. Her veil and coat flowed out behind her. She made no effort to hide herself. After all, it wasn’t like she had to worry about being seen. Unless there happened to be any cats in the audience, she was practically invisible. Not literally. In fact anybody in the crowd, if they’d really wanted to, could have seen her in all her glory. It was just that nobody ever did really want to see her. Most people were so averse to the idea of their mortality that their brains automatically filtered her out entirely.

As her feet gently touched down on the stage, she glided silently after Dolan. He strode self importantly down a few small steps at the side of the stage, taking only a short pause to look back at the band. Callie saw Dolan’s eyes lock ferociously on a man wearing torn denim jeans and an open leather vest over his bare chest. He was smiling at one of the other band members, and fiddling with the bass guitar strung over his shoulder. This musician was new. He’d only played in one or two shows before this one.

Dolan turned his back on the bass player, and stomped through a dark passageway leading behind the stage. He swiped a new bottle of water from a small plastic forest set up on a table by the door, and pushed his way out into a lobby where a few photographers were waiting.

Before the cameras saw him, the scowl dropped from his face and he fell into a naturally broad smile. He waved at the photographers as they started snapping pictures. “I’m a little tired just now, but thank you so much for coming to the show,” he said with with a deep, velvety voice that somehow always managed to put Calli on edge. She followed a few steps behind as Dolan stepped past some hired muscle into a more private waiting room.

Inside, a man in a slim black suit paced back and forth with his ear glued to his phone, pinching the bridge of his nose over a pair of wire framed spectacles.

“Joel. Joel!” Dolan clicked his fingers as he walked in. Calli had been around long enough to know this was his manager, Joel Levitz.

Joel growled something into his phone and slipped it back into his pocket. He smiled at Dolan. “Great performance tonight, Eugene, great performance.”

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?” Dolan slumped back onto a sofa in the middle of the room, and threw his feet onto the coffee table set in front of it. He drained the last from the water bottle he’d swiped earlier, and tossed it over his shoulder. “Drink!?

Joel tapped his earpiece and, turning slightly, whispered instructions. Moments later a second entrance to the backstage room opened and a nervous looking assistant came in holding a bottle of red wine in one hand and an empty glass in the other. She balanced them on the coffee table, and hurried back out of the room while Dolan busied himself opening the bottle. When he’d filled his glass, he leaned back into the sofa, lip twisting upwards. “And you’re wrong. It was a disaster.”

“You’re being too precious. Your fans loved it, and the live stream was the most popular one yet.”

“Live stream? What the hell even is a live stream?”

“We’ve been over this, Dolan. We’re shooting video of your performances so people can watch it live on their computers.”

Dolan made a disgruntled noise from deep in his throat. “That sounds awful. I’m not out there working magic so some gremlin can watch my show from their mom’s basement.”

“Who cares where they see it?”

“It has to be in person.”

“I don’t see what the difference is.”

“You don’t get it, Jer. It doesn’t work if it’s not in person.”

Joel visibly tried not to roll his eyes. “They’re all your fans, Dolan.”

“My fans are the people who stood in the rain for three hours to try get tickets for Red Rocks.”

“That was the 80s. And nobody’s going to stand in line for tickets three minutes these days. You have to let go of the past.”

“You know what I mean. The people who make the effort to come out and see it for real. What’s left of ’em, anyway. What was the count tonight, anyway?”

“Two hundred fifty, give or take.”

“Two hundred and fifty people?” Dolan’s brow creased into a single dark line. “That’s got to be the lowest ever. We played this city in ’94 or ’95 or something. There must have been ten times that. We sure weren’t playing this shitty venue.”

“Come on, it’s not that bad. People are going to gigs less these days. Can’t be helped. Especially now with…” Joel looked uncomfortably over his shoulder, as though he was expecting something to be standing there. He shook his head. “You should be grateful we got that many people, honestly. And that’s why we’re doing the live streams. Keep interest, yeah? It was a good night.”

“Good night? We were playing to a bloody theatre. A theatre for Christ’s sake! And it wasn’t even full!”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

Dolan held the wine glass to his lips and scowled at Joel. “Nobody cares about the music any more. The scraps we got out there tonight, half of them just wanted an excuse to be out of the house. I could have stood up there shitting on a newspaper for all they cared.” He took a long drink, and closed his eyes for a few moments. “Nobody cares about my music any more,” he muttered again.

“That’s not true, Jet. The world is just… Weirder now.”

“There weren’t enough people out there. Not nearly enough.” Dolan shook his head. “It doesn’t work if there aren’t enough people.”

“You’re being melodramatic.”

Dolan shot his manager an annoyed scowl. “How long we been doing this, Jer?”

Joel’s lips curled down thoughtfully. “Gotta be at least forty years.”

Dolan closed his eyes and his shoulders sagged. “I think this might be the end.”

“Come on, don’t say that. We got plenty left in the tank still. It’s way too early to be calling it quits.”

Dolan pinched the bridge of his nose for a long time. “Maybe. But I’m tired, Jer. And God, I’m so hungry.” He opened his eyes, and suddenly glared up at Joel as though he’d suddenly remembered something distasteful. “That bass player. The new one. Where the hell did you dig him up?”

Joel shrugged.

“Get him in here. Now.”

“Why? What’s the problem? Are you going to fire him too?”

“Just get him in here!”

“Alright, alright.” Joel held his hands up. “Just try to keep in mind how much effort it takes for me to source talent in every new city we visit? Lately you’re losing one or two staff every few cities. Especially when they just stop showing up for work instead of quitting properly. What are you saying to these people? It makes my work difficult. “

“I don’t pay you to do the easy work, Jer. You do you job, I’ll do mine.”

Dolan turned back to brood over his wine, while Joel crinkled his nose in annoyance, and briskly left the room.

Calli narrowed her eyes, and circled Dolan, like a shark circling its prey. She looked down at the pocketbook again.

Dolan Darkwater sits, contemplating the show, waiting for Eddie Hoyle to arrive. He feels no fear as Death circles around him, reading the book of his life. Only the deep, insatiable hunger.

Calli thought that last line was a little weird, but before she could think about it she was distracted as the rear door opened again. The bass player Dolan had been glaring at before stormed into the room. Eddie Hoyle.

“Aight? Joel said you wanted to see me?”

“Poor choice of words. I’d rather I never lay eyes on you again.”

“Huh!?” Eddie, looked taken aback. “What the hell is that supposed to mean!?”

Dolan roughly set his wine back on the table, and got to his feet. He faced Eddie with a cold expression. “What the do you think it’s supposed to mean? Your performance. It was awful.”

“What the hell!?

Calli snapped the pocketbook shut. This was stupid. Everything about Dolan was stupid. All he ever did was whine about how his fans were leaving him, and take out his frustrations on whoever happened to be passing by. And she still had no idea what he was doing to cheat death. At this point the thing that surprised Calli most was that his band hadn’t murdered him. If he didn’t hurry and do something to show her how he was managing to not die, she was going to have to go back to Death empty handed. And she absolutely did not want to do that.

But listening to him tear into the bass player was going to help mich. As far as she was concerned he’d been pretty on point. Not that it seemed to matter to anyone beside Dolan.

Enough. Seriously. Way more than enough.

She didn’t think she could handle any more of this narcissist today. Deciding to come back later, Calli held her scythe out in front of her, and began to muttering an incantation to take her home. As the words began to form on her lips she glared one last time at Dolan. His shadow was falling oddly over cheap carpet that covered the back room floor. She didn’t pick out what bugged her about it until just before she had finished uttering the words that would pull her away from the living realm.

The shadow wasn’t moving.

No matter what Dolan did, his shadow stood perfectly still. Devoid of any expression.

No, not totally…

Calli’s grip tightened around her scythe.

That thing was watching her.

She bit back the end of the incantation. There was the familiar unpleasant feeling of something snapping as the half-finished spell cracked open and burned away.

From inside Dolan’s shadow, she saw a pair of widely spaced, dark black eyes staring unblinkingly at her.

Suddenly, Dolan went silent, and stood staring at the bass player with a wide grin. It was eery how still he had become all of a sudden.

“What the hell are you smiling at?” The bass player growled, then threw their hands up. “Whatever man, I don’t have to listen to this.”

Calli was expecting Dolan to blast out some kind of abusive retort, but instead his shoulders shuddered slightly and a gravelly, awkward barking started to bubble out from deep within him.

“No,” Dolan said. His voice didn’t quite sound the same as it had moments ago. “That’s not how it works.”

“What are you talking about!?”

Dolan’s voice bubbled up wetly, barely recognizable. It practically began to disintegrate as he spoke. “Without enough worshipers… there must be… a sacrifice.”

The look of disgust was apparent on the bass player’s face. He took a step back, then curled his lip and muttered. “Forget this. Find a new bassist you freak.” He took another step back and reached out for the door, fingers curling around the handle. The door handle clattered, but it wouldn’t turn.

It was locked.

There was a brief spark of surprise in Eddie’s eyes. He spun around to look at the door, still trying the handle, looking to see if there wasn’t some kind of latch that he’d accidentally toggled on his way in. He muttered quietly under his breath, then turned back to Dolan, who was still shuddering out an increasingly inhuman choking sound.

“What the-” Eddie turned around to confront Dolan, but his words caught in his throat. Calli watched as the color drained from his face, and his eyes widened as his brain began to frantically process what was happening.

Dolan’s mouth was opening.

Calli’s eyes flicked down at the shadow on the floor. It was beginning to warp and bubble about the edges, as though it were boiling. The eyes in the shadow were still there, crinkling up as though in amusement. She took the pocketbook out again and opened to the last page. The neat, florid handwriting was gone, and the pages were rapidly filing up with a shaky, hurried scrawl.


She snapped the book shut.

There was a popping, squelching sound from Dolan, as his jaw finally opened up so wide that it dislocated away from his skull. His maw kept growing wider. The skin stretched thinner and thinner, revealing the webwork of veins underneath. Rows of small, sharp teeth started to pierce their way through flesh, lining the inside of his mouth. The sound of muscles tearing, of bone cracking and stretching, filled the small waiting room. Dolan’s head slowly stretched outwards, the cavity of his mouth growing wider and larger, his features distorting, eyeballs bulging almost out of their sockets to make room for the shape his head was transforming into.

Eddie stood frozen in place, eyes wide, mouth open. Calli could see he desperately wanted to run, escape, somehow get out of there, but his mind had entirely shut down. She watched as the thing that had been Dolan shambled forward. Short, shuffling steps, fingers stiff and twitching. The distance between it and Eddie closing at a maddeningly slow pace.

With what might have been the last of his sanity, Eddie muttered and shook his head in protest.

Dolan clasped his fingers around Eddie’s shoulders. Slowly, he brought his open mouth down around the bass player’s head. And then, at the same pace that it had opened, Dolan’s jaw began to close. Eddie’s head slowly vanished into the trap of flesh. As his mind understood the inevitability of his death, he suddenly noticed Callie standing in the room.

Eddie looked at her pleadingly. She looked back at him impassively until Dolan’s mouth closed entirely around his whole head. Then a long creaking noise, and finally a crack, and a muffled wet crunch. Dolan’s jaw finished closing. He gripped tighter at Eddie’s shoulders, holding the dead man’s body upright as he began to slowly move his jaw back and forth, grinding the bone and flesh inside.

Without ever stopping that slow, wet grinding, one of Dolan’s bulged out eyes slowly rolled in its socket until it was looking straight at Calli. She felt some kind of emotion running through the back of her mind, that small part of her that was still identifiably human. Revulsion? Terror? No wonder that poor bass player had been glued to the floor.

“Death.” Came a deep, calm voice. Not from Dolan. He was still busy chewing Eddie.

Callie turned to look at the shadow. From inside, unhurriedly, something began to rise.

Callie watched as an enormous head appeared from inside the darkness, much larger than anything that could still be called human. It was hairless, pale grey. A thin, snakelike tongue darted back and forth inside a wide grin filled with hundreds of short, sharp teeth, and the two small black eyes that she’d seen earlier curiously regarded Callie.

The head emerged no more than up to its chin, and Callie could see the floor around where it had exposed itself begin to pucker and bubble. Not from heat, but as though from something far more elemental. Near where it had emerged, the shadow seemed far too dark. As though she were seeing something beyond even the absence of light. Calli wondered what would happen if the creature were to expose itself in its entirety.

“No, not quite Death.” The creature corrected itself. “You’re something new.”

“I’m close enough. Who’re you supposed to be?”

The creature chuckled, and ignored her question. “You just let that poor man die. A little callous, don’t you agree?” The voice that rumbled out of the giant head sounded almost mischievous.

“Maybe the job title wasn’t clear enough, but I’m not in the business of keeping people alive.”

“No, I suppose you’re not. Isn’t that funny. Neither am I.” Then, airily, it changed the topic again. “What happened to the other one? Are you a servant?”

Callie jerked her head at Dolan.

“What’s with him?”

The creature chuckled. “You found me faster this time. Only sixty years. Tell me, Not-Quite-Death, are you as immortal as your master?”

As the head began to slowly sink back into Dolan’s shadow, the lights in the room began to dim. Or maybe that wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t exactly that the lights themselves were dimming, as much as the darkness in the room was growing stronger. Calli became aware of a dull droning sound, washing over her in waves. And then, with a quickness that startled even her, Dolan tossed Eddie’s body to one side, and leaped at Calli.

She moved without thinking, jumping out of the way. Dolan plowed through the space she’d been in, and clawed at the wall with enough strength to cave out a chunk of concrete bigger than Calli’s head. The creature thrashed at the wall for a few more moments before it realized Calli wasn’t there, then turned its distended head to search for her.

Calli clicked her tongue in annoyance, and stepped backwards as it lunged at her again. The creature seemed impressively strong, but not smart, or fast. She swung her scythe in a neat arc that met no resistance as it cut through the Dolan creature’s middle, cleaving the thing neatly in two.

Calli looked down as its legs continued to sway back and forth before collapsing and kicking mindlessly at the blood soaked carpet. The torso landed on its back, and swatted at the air, giant mouth opening and closing over nothing.

The sound of chuckling. She looked over to the shadow, still rooted to the spot, and saw the eyes looking at her, the very edge of a grin peeking through whatever portal it was sticking its head through.

Meanwhile, Dolan had managed to crawl towards her.

“Damn, son! Can’t you take a hin-“

Callie had the wind knocked out of her as she was tackled to the ground. Her scythe fumbled out of her hands. When she hit the ground, she looked up and saw the headless body of Eddie Hoyle pushing her onto the ground, clawing at her with bloodied nails.

Feeling something close to anger, she batted Eddie off, and rolled to her feet. Callie wrinkled her nose, and kicked the headless body as hard as she could. It flew with the velocity of a bullet train. Eddie smashed into the wall of the backstage room and more or less exploded.

“Huh hu hu hu… See you soon…”

An empty, growling laughter echoed about the room. Callie narrowed her eyes at the shadow, still being cast off Dolan. From inside, the top of the same giant head as before looked out at her.

Without taking her eyes off the shadow creature, Calli held her hand out. The scythe trembled, then shot up into her grasp. She took two steps forward, and then swung her blade down, one neat cut, right where the shadow reached Dolan’s still writhing torso.

Almost immediately, the droning sound fell quiet. The shadow seemed to fall backwards over itself, and then it was gone.

Dolan’s torso, his legs, both stopped wriggling. His head had gone back to its original form. The room had been painted red with blood.

For a while, Callie just stood there in silence, until finally she heard a small, somewhat dejected voice.

“Well, I suppose that’s finally over.”

She turned, and there was Dolan Darkwater, looking down at his own butchered body.

“I suppose this means I’m finally dead?”

Callie quietly regarded the ghost. She didn’t have to look to know that he was, but opened the pocketbook anyway. The pages no longer felt warm to the touch.

Dolan Darkwater struggles until Death’s scythe cuts through the shadow. Without the presence of The Guest, he dies.

The entry ended abruptly. “Looks like,” she nodded.

“You, uh, you’re like, Death?”

“I am Death.”

“Right,” Dolan nodded, “man, I was starting to think I’d never meet you. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I kind of thought you’d be more, uh…” Dolan shook his head. “Never mind. I guess you’re going to take me to… to whatever comes next?” He looked up at her cautiously, looking nothing like the hedonist from before. “Is it, you know, is it the bad place?”

Callie tilted her head slightly to one side. “It’s not quite that simple.”

“Oh.” Dolan looked around the room one last time and nodded. “Yeah, OK. Sure.”

Callie looked once more about the room. What the hell had just happened here? Well, hanging around wasn’t going to solve any mysteries. She waved her scythe in an arc ahead of her, and muttered a spell under her breath. The room began to fill with a white fog, so thick it was hard to see much of anything it covered.

“What about him?” Dolan pointed at the red stain on the wall.

“He left at the right time. He’ll find his way on his own.”

“Oh. Is it bad that I… You know, I don’t think I feel any remorse or anything.”

Callie shrugged. “I don’t think you can. When you die, those emotions…”

“Oh.” He looked at the red smear on the wall a while longer. “It doesn’t seem right somehow, you know?”

Calli leaned back on her heel, looking Dolan over. It was hard to believe this meek lamb was the same hedonist she’d seen stalking around on stage less than an hour ago. She looked back up at him and smiled as well as she could manage. She felt like she should say something deep. Something that would leave a lasting impression.

“Well, no sense in worrying over something you can’t change.”

Dolan let out a tired chuckled. “You sound like my dad.”

Calli’s brow knit together, and she felt her cheeks flushing, just a little. She wasn’t sure how to take that.

The fog had mostly clouded around them, blocking out the room. In front of them, a long white tunnel stretched out into infinity. Callie motioned forward, and they began to walk.

“Is it far?” Dolan asked.

“Yes. Very far.”

“Will it take a long time to get there?”

“Yes. A Very long time.”

They walked.

“I already had taxes sorted,” Dolan said, after a while. Callie wasn’t sure how long. His voice had faded almost away.


“That’s why I made the deal. I already had my taxes figured out, right? All income routed through a shell company in the Cayman Islands. I figured, I’ve got taxes sorted, so why not death too? Stupid idea, really.”

The fog closed in around them.

Death tapped his bony index finger on the pocketbook, contemplating Calli’s report. When he finished reading, he looked up at her, skull moving ever so slightly to telegraph the change in his focus.

“Well done,” he said after a pause that was just a little too long. “Maybe you’re not entirely hopeless at this after all.”

“No problem. Walk in the park.”

“We’ll see about that.” Death leaned back, the old leather armchair creaking under his weight. He looked at her silently for what felt like years, then said, “the creature you saw, the one which came out of the shadow.”

“The book called it The Guest. Friend of yours?”

Death was silent again. Calli had realized very early in their relationship that when Death was not talking, she should not talk either. Death not talking meant he was thinking about what to say next.

“We’ve known each other a long time, but I don’t know if that’s how friendship works.”

“Who is he?”

Again Death was silent for a while. “He doesn’t have just one name. Like me, I suppose. People call him whatever makes the most sense to them. The books call him The Guest. He’s been called The Wandering Jew. Sir Gallahad. The Count of Saint Germain. He is none of those people. He is all of them. His real name is Ylgshri, if that matters.”

“He didn’t seem-“

“Calli, listen to me.” Death interrupted her, his words seemed even heavier than usual. He tapped the pocketbook again. “I did not know Ylgshri was involved in this case, but if I had suspected, I would not have sent you. Not yet. He is…” Death paused, motionless, letting the words hang for a short eternity, “He is not from here. If you encounter him again, run.”

“I beat his zombies, I can take care of-“

“No, you cannot. Ylgshri is entirely unlike anything else. This time you were lucky. He was just curious. And his minions were weak. You can’t expect the next time to go so smoothly.”

Death stood. His way of marking the conversation over.

“You did well today. We’ll talk more tomorrow. Now go. Rest. You’ll need it. Lots of work piled up.”

Calli got up, bowed slightly, and walked quickly out of death’s office. After she had closed the giant doors, and stood alone in the eternal corridor outside, she let out a breath.

The details of case buzzed around in her head. What had Death meant when he said that Ylgshri was not from here? She’s assumed he was some kind of demon, but maybe that wasn’t the case? Any time somebody cheated death for that long, there was always something weird involved. Something occult. She’d read enough of Death’s case files to know that much. But somehow, Ylgshri didn’t seem to fit.

What would make somebody strike a deal with a creature like that? And more importantly, how would he even go about doing so? It wasn’t like he could have looked him up in the phone book. Or was the other way around? Maybe so long as there were the Eugene Dimples of the world, there would be creatures like Ylgshri who sought them out.

Vaguely, she felt like that small part of her mind that was still human held the answer, as though she’d seen something like this before. As though maybe if she closed her eyes and thought about it long enough it might make more sense. But the more she tried to curl her fingers around that feeling, the less sure it became. And then, like a fading dream, it was gone. She had been dead a long time after all. She couldn’t be expected to remember everything.

Right now she needed sleep. Calli forced Ylgshri from her mind, and quietly walked along the dimly lit corridor leading away from Death’s office, until her long swaying figure had receded entirely into darkness.