MASKS Novella – The Bottle Episode

If you follow me on social media or am in some of the Discords I frequent, you’ll know that I cannot shut up about the incredible MASKS game I’m in, with pals Gina, Emily, NJ and Zack. If you ever get a chance to play a tabletop RPG about young dipshit superheroes with a professional game master and a group of queer professional writers and artists, I highly recommend it.

After six months of play, I decided to nail down the details about this character’s lost period – the three or so months she spent locked inside a magic lamp. It covers her origin, her discovery of her powers, and her darkest moment and how she found her way out of it.

I’ve annotated it with notes from the game. I hope you all enjoy it.  


The First Day Inside

“What – just – “

She stood, unsteadily, her eyes slowly wandering over her surroundings, her head still dizzy and her legs still trembling.

She was in a room that looked like a main foyer to a mansion, the environment tinted in rich yellow and gold, the light shining from somewhere, but from where she couldn’t make out. There were tapestries on the walls, carpets beneath her feet, and her every footfall left echoes.

It was so quiet; an ancient quiet, a place that had run out of sound ages ago and grown used to it.

“Hello?” she called out, and there was no answer but the echo. And then, she paused, and listened, and spoke again. “Hello?”

There was no response, but she wasn’t listening for the response any more.

“Do re me fa so la ti dooooooo,” she sang, her voice dancing up the scales. And then, she looked down at herself.

She was a she – well, she knew that there were many kinds of “she,” including ones that passed for a he. But she was the she that she imagined when she closed her eyes, as much as she could tell. She couldn’t help but let out a laugh, as a long-tightened knot of difficult emotions began to unwind in her soul.

“Oh my God, I’m – I’m – ha – “

She staggered over to the nearby wall to steady herself, her head swimming. She breathed in and out to get a little air in her lungs, and that’s when she noticed what she was wearing.

There were no mirrors, but she could look down at herself easily enough. She was wearing pink silk sleeves and pants, soft slippers, a black top and bottom, a vest, and – what was the name of those things? Veils, that was it – and golden bracers on her wrists.

“Why am I dressed like a – “

And then, she remembered.

She ran towards the doorway in the foyer, the one that she had been thrown through, and she grabbed at the door’s handle, tugging on it as hard as she could, and it gave a little. Only a little.

“No! No, I didn’t mean like – I didn’t want to be a – “

She tugged harder, pulling with all her strength, bracing one slippered foot against the other door and pulling with all her might. It gave a little. Only a little.

“Let me out!” she cried out, in the place that knew no sound, and she pulled until every muscle was screaming in agony. It gave a little. Only a little.

And then the handle slipped from her hand and she toppled over backwards, landing on her butt. And only then did she truly shout, with everything she had, until her new voice cracked from the strain.

“Let me OUT!”


Sleep 1

She awoke, after a time, after her strength had left her and exhaustion stole her away.

She staggered to her feet again, and tugged on the door once more. Once more, it gave a little. But only a little.

“Okay. All right.”

Deciding that there was no point in trying once more – just yet – she tried something new, and set off in the other direction, tracing her fingers along the walls as she explored.

There were stairs that went to the upper floor, including one opulent bedchamber that was easily twice the size of the room she’d grown up in. She remembered it, clear as day, the posters on the walls of video games and movies and her favorite superheroes. Inside the bedchamber there was a mirror, and she didn’t look. Not yet.

She explored further, going back down the stairs, and there was a main common area, with lots of pillows for many guests. Exploring its offshoots led her down many twisty corridors – many of which seemed to loop back on themselves – and finally, to a kitchen and dining area. She and opened a pantry and was stunned to find a massive assortment of food, and her stomach chose this time to remind her that she hadn’t eaten anything but some gorp in the past day or so and perhaps she could fix that, quickly, please.1

She found various jellies and spreads, and a loaf of bread, and after some exploring she also found a knife that would suffice, and so she made herself a PB&J, and sat down to eat it. She plucked the veil from her face, and –

She blinked, as it dissolved into smoke.

“Ohhhh… kay,” she said softly, and tucked into her sandwich.

Okay, she thought, her thoughts steadying as she got some food inside of her. It dissolved into smoke. Maybe this is superhero stuff, like what the Olympians or the Facet Five get up to. It’d explain a lot. So I just get my phone –

– which she remembered, bouncing on the deck of the boat –

 – okay, I get a phone. I call up Dad; he calls the company; the company calls the Facet Five. They come investigate and save the day. And I go “oh, gosh, uh, so weird but they say I can’t be turned back into a boy, haha, guess I’m stuck like this forever. Haha.” Easy.2

She finished her sandwich and sat for a moment, letting her stomach settle a little, and then she rose – and blinked in annoyance as the veil reappeared. “Ugh.” She batted at it a little, and then let it be.

She wandered the corridors some more, as much as she dared. She opened a door that led into a room with a giant hourglass; another she couldn’t open that read “maps of the worlds.” There was a large empty space that was some kind of combination of a gym at a targeting range, with weights to lift and bows and arrows to shoot? There was a massive room full of massive statues, that she felt uncomfortable in for many reasons – not the least of which was that it was the size of a football field and four feet to its left was the toilet.

Finally, she found a room that led out onto a bridge that spanned a sea of red sand, and that went off into the distance, and with other bridges around her, stretching off in other directions. She walked for ten minutes, and then turned back, frustrated with the lack of progress and the growing red haze; it took only a minute to get back to the door she’d come from. She walked for twenty minutes into the fog, timing herself via one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi, and then turned back – and it still took only a minute.

“Okay,” she said, at the door, and then impulsively, waved at nobody. “Goodbye, laws of physics! I’ll miss you – “

There was movement, and she stopped, and looked around, and then over the side of the bridge.

“Hello?”

The echo was strange, but she swore that she saw –

“Hello!” she called out again, and waved, and yes! There was someone there, on the bridge below! They were waving too –

She paused, and waved one hand, and the other person waved one hand. She did a jumping jack, and they did, as well, and then she knew.

“Oh. Great.”

She slumped a little, and then rose back to her feet, looking over the side again, at the displaced image of her. It was difficult in the blowing red sand, but she could make out that she was…

She rose, and went back through the door, and made her way down the corridors. After only a couple of wrong turns, one of which led to a garden full of trees with blue and yellow leaves, she made her way back to the bedchamber.

She sucked in a breath, and let it out, the veil billowing slightly. “Okay. Okay.”

She pushed open the massive oak door, and stepped into the room, and looked around. There was a closet, and a massive bed with curtains (curtains! Who needed those?) and that same light that shone in from somewhere she couldn’t fully put her finger on. There was a closet, and there was the vanity, and with the care one would lend to sneaking up on a housefly, she craned her head into view.

“Oh,” she said.

“Oh.”

She stepped more fully into view, and blushed a little. She was definitely a she, and definitely the kind of she that she’d pictured when she closed her eyes. And she was wearing all the garments she’d been wearing for the past day, but until now, she’d never seen how she looked in them.

She was cute.

She came in close, brushing the veil aside, unable to stop smiling, and loving the way her flesh softly dimpled when she grinned. She had bright green eyes, like emeralds, and long brown hair in a ponytail so long she’d have had to be growing it since she was thirteen.

Inside her, the knot untied itself further, and tears found their way out from her eyes, as she covered her mouth and walked backwards, sitting on the bed. Then she closed her eyes and fell backwards, and oh God, this bed was so soft. It didn’t feel like a cloud; it felt like how a cloud should feel.

“Mmmf,” she said softly. “Okay. Wow. Iiiiiiiiii am a girl. Haha. God, I said it out loud.”

The worries were still there. But for the moment, they could wait.


Sleep 5

Dear Diary;

Hi! It’s me.

I have made you out of a few pieces of paper I found lying around that weren’t doing anything, and I found a quill and a well full of ink that never goes dry, because magic I guess??

Anyways here is what I’ve found:

  • Common area
  • Musical instruments in the common area that I don’t know how to play because it turns out Rock Band hasn’t really prepared me for that
  • Kitchen
  • Shelves in kitchen seem to replenish themselves?
  • Bedroom
  • Closet in bedroom full of twenty identical genie outfits in different colors
  • So I guess that’s what I’m wearing until I get out
  • Big pool
  • With statue I don’t wanna look at
  • Weird hourglass room
  • Weird gym and targeting range
  • Weird bridges in red zone
  • Weird room with bas relief of a book on it

The last one is one I’m in front of right now! I think it’s a library but getting it open is a pain.

Passwords I have tried:

  • Open sesame
  • Open whole wheat
  • That solution to a D&D puzzle I came up with in junior high
  • Library police, this is a raid
  • Swordfish
  • password1234
  • password42069
  • Shazam (dunno why I thought a music app would work)
  • Splattify (once I tried one I decided to try the others)3
  • The Konami code

Nothing’s worked yet. Tried brute force but no matter how hard I push on the door it doesn’t

She looked up from the diary, and at the door.

She slowly rose from the crosslegged position and approached it once more, the huge double-doors looming before her. She reached out for the handles, and yes, they were handles, and she spoke out loud.

“If this works, I am going to be so mad.”

She pulled on the door instead of pushing it, and it swung open with ease.

“GOD DAMMIT,” she shouted, the echo taking a full minute to die out.4


Sleep 8

She grunted as she hefted the book, quill in hand, a little bit of ink dribbling on her silks. “Okay,” she muttered. “Let’f juft fee what’f infide – “

She opened the book, flipping through a couple of pages, and sighed, closing it. Then she took the quill out of her mouth and wrote, best as she could, an approximation of the book’s cover, title and contents, under the “Language I Recognize But Don’t Speak” category she’d written down.

There were, on the sheet of paper before her, four categories:

  • Language I Recognize But Don’t Speak
  • Language I Do Not Recognize
  • Book That Does Weird Magic Shit
  • Book in English

The last one had zero tickmarks.

She sighed as she put it back. “Okay, next one…” She slid it out of the place it held on the shelf, and paused, noting the chains wrapped around it. “Actually, let’s just put that in ‘Book That Does Weird Magic Shit’ and move on.”

Move on, she did, and in an hour’s time, she had fully cataloged one entire shelf’s worth of books, which meant that she’d finally conquered the shelves closest to the doorway. She took a step back and looked over the library.

She hadn’t verified that it was infinite, but it sure could be; there was no end to the shelves that she could see, and after her adventure on the bridge, she was hesitant to poke too deeply at the dimensions of this place. So: one step at a time.

She sat at the reading desk, ate her PB&J and looked over the list again, and wished, not for the first time, for some wifi, and a computer, and her Duolingo account. At least she’d be able to make progress on some of the languages she recognized. She fixed her hair, and tapped the quill against veiled lips, thinking.5

“Hmmm.”

There was a logic to how they were organized, even if she didn’t see it. She just had to find it. It was no Dewey Decimal system, but there was something to it.

She studied the descriptions again, and drew a line under one of the Books That Did Weird Magic Shit. She remembered the words shifting in front of her eyes, and thought back as to how they were shifting. And it was one of the first books she’d found…

She rose from the reading desk and pulled the book from the shelf, and opened it, once again watching the swirling words dance across the page. She whispered “English” softly at the words.

Nothing.

“Hmmm. Maybe…” She grabbed a spare scrap of paper from the desk, and wrote the word “English” on it. Then she waved it in the air to dry, and then stuck it inside of the book as a bookmark.

She opened it once more. The words were still swirling.

But one of them, on the second page, wasn’t, and that word was “English.”

“Ha!” She pumped her fist, and then sat down with the book and the bookmark, adding as many basic words to it as she could think of, as many as would fit on the page. And with each closure of the book, and each reopening, more and more words made more and more sense.

She worked into the – well, she couldn’t tell if it was night any more, but it felt like it. She went through scraps of paper, filling them with words, from the most basic to the most esoteric. And finally, tired but triumphant, she looked at the words that were now translated on the front cover:

The Art of Magic, Volume 1 of ∞

“Ha,” she said. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”


Sleep 13

She stared at the page before her, and carefully read it again.

The words remained the same; the meaning, crystal clear. She read it a third time, and for the first time in days, wished that the words would go back to no longer making sense.

She got up from the writing desk, and walked down the corridors, which were continuing to reshape themselves as she slept, rendering her previous mental maps worthless. She passed by the pool room, pointedly not looking inside, and found her way into the kitchen.

She drew the water, and made another sandwich, and walked back to the desk. Her throat was dry. It was so dry. And so, she drained half the pitcher of water in a gulp.

Then she reread the page.

The Essence of Genie Magic, it was called. What followed was a treatise on the nature of magic in general; tied to one’s truename, which she found herself without. In the case of genies – what the tome called “wish-powered demiurges” – tied into the power of language and the collective consciousness of the world (and potentially, the universe.) This magic had broad – sometimes very broad – implications and rules, and as she read, she found herself nodding, and not knowing why.

except she did know why

She shook her head. No, what was happening, was that all those years with her nose in a book while others played, all those years putting in the work, were paying off. She’d read so much about cinematic storytelling and the history of medieval manuscripts that she had made her way into college6

that she’d never get to attend

– and she’d made her way in on a scholarship, no less, so really, it was paying off. All this magic stuff just seemed intuitive because of that, and not because of

of the sensation of dissolving into smoke, of feeling the lamp slip through smoky fingers, and of what that meant

“Ugh.” She rubbed her temples, trying to push the thoughts out of her head. “Okay. All right. Well, I can’t do it until I pick a new name, anyways. So: problem’s not a problem.”

She closed the book and set it aside, and trudged upstairs – it was upstairs now – to her bedchamber. She sunk into the impossibly soft bed, and began to drift off…

wish-granting demiurges

But the passage stuck with her.

“Hmmm,” she said, as sleep claimed her.


Sleep 15

“Okay,” she said, flexing her fingers, and breathing in and out. “I’m in the workout room, I’m in the target range. I’m in the combination workout room and target range.”

Fifty paces away as she measured it was a small collection of wood and paper, crudely fashioned into a target. She squared her shoulders, waggled her fingers, and then checked the book one more time to make sure.

“Okay. Language shapes the perception; perception shapes the spell; the spell shapes the world. So what I have is wood, and – ” She paused, and smirked. “What I have on this targeting range is wood and I need it to be a different kind of wood. And to rearrange the language I need to channel it via my own truename, which is…”

She stabbed her fingers towards the target, and shouted “Demi!”

The wood and paper remained wood and paper, same as before. She frowned. “Demi! I’m Demi. Demi Landing. That’s my name. C’mon.”

There was no burst of magic, no flickering of candlelight; the room remained as mundane as it always did. She took a sip of water from the jug, and exhaled. “Okay. Okay, it’s because I’m not used to calling me that. Has to be. So: Hi! I’m Demi.”

The wood and paper target, rudely, did not return her greeting.

“Oh yeah, you like it? I picked it out myself. It’s short for ‘demiurge,’ as in ‘I am a wish-granting demiurge.’ Or I was, until I was wished free as soon as I got out of my lamp – “

which is not happening

” – but, uh, I kept the girl part.”

Silence reigned, and Demi, undaunted, continued. “I have all A’s and only one B in my classes. I once texted a friend from my experimental girlmode account and he started awkwardly flirting with me, so that was fun. My older sister Rebecca is enlisted and my younger brother Jayden is in high school. My Mom is a commercial artist part-time and I worry about her health sometimes, and my Dad is an electrical wholesaler and cooks incredible Kielbasa sausages. I like to fish – “

and that’s why I’m trapped here

” – and, uh, and what else. I sign my name with a smiley over the I – actually, I don’t, but I’m gonna start. My top five films are Grand Budapest Hotel, The Hunger Games, The Olympians, Magic Mike and Rise of the Guardians.”7

Still nothing.

“Favorite superheroes are Starpower, Barricade, and, uh, I like Plutoman. My Mom painted a portrait of us sitting on the roof with the Plutonic Aura shining behind us on this beautiful summer night when I was, I dunno, maybe ten. Just Becky and Demi and Jayden sitting up there – “

There was a flicker, and she paused.

She retraced her mental steps, trying in her mind to locate the part where it had rung true and felt true. And once she found it, she concentrated on it.

“I remember how Dad’s barbecue smelled that day, I think he’d put in the wood chips and he was cooking his own catch. Yellow perch from Lake Erie. I, uh, I think it might have been the trip where I caught my first fish? I asked Dad about – I – “

There was a memory.

She’d asked him.

If she could be anything when she grew up, and –

Around her fingers, smoke began to form. It smelled like freshly fried yellow perch, with garlic butter. And she watched, transfixed, as it flowed along her fingertips, to the tune of her thoughts.

“Okay. Wow. Okay. So…” She regarded the target, smoke swirling around her fingers. “So, wood, paper, bark, log, leaves, roots, forest, tree…”

She pointed her fingers, and the smoke swirled around the improvised target, building in power. Lightning crackled within the miniature clouds, and as Demi focused, she followed the train of thought connected with her words, and held up thumb and middle finger, and

snap

The smoke soaked into the target and disappeared. For a long moment, nothing happened. Demi looked disappointed…

… and then, as the wood and paper began to fuse, sinking roots deep into the ground, branches unfurling and growing, she goggled at the results of the spell, as a massive tree bloomed in the combination workout room and target range. Within seconds it was done growing, and that mysterious light that came from nowhere filtered through its branches.

“Ha!” She leapt to her feet, pumping her fist! “Ha! First magic spell, a complete woah – “

She scrambled back as the tree’s branches scraped a ceramic ceiling tile free, dropping it in front of her. She looked up, grimacing. “Uh. I hope it doesn’t rain in here.”

The adrenaline faded, and she walked around her handiwork, admiring it. She had no explanation for how it had grown so tall without nutrients, or how it was even alive despite having been dead wood and paper, or even how a memory channeled through a name could even do any of this, but…

“Holy smokes, I can do magic,” she whispered.


Sleep 27

She sat, with some pride, in front of the big-screen TV she’d conjured.

It wasn’t quite fully as she’s imagined it; there were a lot more brass accents and gold filigree than she’d intended. But it was a big-screen TV, and it did turn on. Sure, it wasn’t plugged in; sure, there still wasn’t any wifi. Sure, she didn’t exactly know how a television actually worked, other than something about 4K being good now?

But nonetheless, the TV turned on, with a snap of her fingers. It displayed the UI of the TV at Mom and Dad’s –

and while she sat here they probably were in mourning and thought she was dead

She sucked in a deep breath, and exhaled. No, she’d done nothing but pour over books and practice magic for the last thirteen sleeps, she was going to relax. Everyone told her she needed to relax more and for just a moment, she wanted to do just that.

There was nothing on the TV, but that was easily remedied. She pointed at one of the cushions, and threaded a spell through the language inherent in the sentence “I wish I had a Nintendo Switch.”

It took time – magic, she was learning, could be unpredictable, and she found that there were certain applications of it that didn’t work as well if she was directly observing them. So she opted instead to grow the game console from within the pillow, like a highly improbable egg.

She let it take its time, imagining how it felt, the rubber grips under her thumbs, the faint annoyance of the loading screens. That half a second delay after she hit the home button to switch programs. The heft, the weight. The memories associated with it – trading Pokemon with Jayden –

who’d grow up and grow old and die and she’d never see him or Rebecca again

 – those RPGs off the digital storefront where she’d always played as a girl, because they had the best stats, haha. No other reason.8 The taste of the cartridge because of course she’d tasted one. The way it’d smelled as she’d fired it up the first time, the current heating the plastic and the glue and the circuitry inside, waking it from dormancy…

And then, she felt it. And so, with care, she pulled apart the pillow, and pulled out one brand new fully charged video game console.

“Hah,” she said, wiping her brow. “Okay. Wow, that was surprisingly tough.” Why was growing a tree so much easier, she had to wonder. A tree was a million times more complex…

She held up the console and then

She

Froze.

For a moment – and it felt like a long moment – she simply sat there, staring ahead with a neutral expression. She continued to breathe; she continued to blink. But she couldn’t do anything.

And inside of herself, she saw all this, and felt all this – she still felt her body, still saw and heard everything, but suddenly it was like she was watching herself on the big screen TV she’d conjured. There was a barrier in between herself in here and herself out there, and it was as firm a force as the law of gravity – no, it felt firmer, it felt as firm as…

It felt as firm as the doors leading out of this place. She pushed at it mentally, and it gave a little. Only a little.

She tried to shout, but couldn’t; she tried to move, and couldn’t. And she realized with growing horror that she was waiting for something – instinctively, on a gut level, waiting for something, but she didn’t know what it was, she just knew that she had to wait, there was no point in doing anything because she had to wait –

The moment passed. She blinked, everything coming back to her. The console slipped from her hands and bounced softly on the carpeted floor.

She licked her lips, her throat suddenly so, so dry.


Sleep 28

She read it for the fourth time, her throat still dry, her head swimming and her stomach sick. One palm gripped the side of the desk, the skin on it turning white, as the index finger on the other drew itself across passages in the book before her: “On the Enervation of the Self.”

The passages leapt out at her, over and over, as she re-read them.

Within the space, the genie is free

Outside the space, the genie is bound

While bound, the genie is cursed to serve that from outside which commands the inside

The genie can resist, for a time, but only for a time

Inevitably, the will to resist shall vanish – all will shall vanish, personhood dissolving like smoke in the air9

The outside is bigger than the inside, and so, the curse’s progress is inevitable, unless and until the genie is unbound

So it is written

“Nnnn,” she said, and it was all she could say. She pushed the book closed with trembling fingers, and then gripped the sides of the ancient writing desk tighter, gritting her teeth and shutting her eyes and trying to steady the room that was tilting out from underneath her feet.

She didn’t want them to, but as she had just learnt: what she wanted mattered less and less with each day. And so, unwanted but inevitable, the memories came.


Before the First Day

“Holy smokes.”

His hands held the lamp, its surface warm to the touch, as the clamminess and coldness of the lake was banished by a heat from within it. The boat he was in swayed gently in the midst of Lake Erie, the morning light lending a shimmering pink cast to the water. The fishing rod lay beside him, forgotten.10

Before him, formed from smoke, was a man, with dark skin, a thick beard, and twin flaming orbs for eyes. He smiled. “Quite literally, mortal: yes, I am.”

The boy – well, he was 19 now, a man, but he still felt like a boy except when he felt like someone else – took off his fishing cap, the words Let the Fish Who Thinks He Knows No Fear Look Well Upon My Face stitched onto it in green thread. He ran his hair through thick hair he was letting grow out, for reasons he’d rather not talk about.

“Are you – are – who are you?”

The man chuckled, and the boy couldn’t help but feel the stillness of the moment – all the birds had stopped singing, all the cicadas had ceased their song. It was so quiet, the boy could hear his heart pumping blood throughout his body.

“Who I am, mortal would matter little to you, so let me just illuminate you as to what I am. I am – hmmm. Some language drift there. I am a genie.”

The boy who wasn’t yet a man and maybe wasn’t a boy, he gripped the sides of the rental boat. He breathed in, and breathed out. “Do you grant wishes?”

“Yes, mortal. I gather you have one.”

The boy’s mind raced – or tried to race, but instead of the raw speed of the NASCAR rally the boy’s father once took him too, it was more like the traffic jams of family holidays with the five of them – Mom and Dad and Rebecca and Jayden and him. Everyone trying so hard to get somewhere, and getting nowhere.

He thought about the experiment he’d tried out earlier in the year, before the crushing weight of final exams descended upon him. He thought about the website full of cute make-your-own avatars, and how he’d made one that looked not quite like him, but like the person he wasn’t. He thought about the sleepless week he’d wandered school in a daze, going “oh God, am I?” after that one day he’d asked himself if he was.

He remembered all the indicators, going back to when he was a kid, that one time at the lake – this lake – with Dad, and he’d asked if he could really be anything when he grew up.

He had kept saying “after school.” And now he felt “after school” turning in his mind into “after summer,” and knew that if he didn’t act to change it, it would turn into after college and after marriage and after-after-after.11

He looked at the lamp. It was warm and comfortable – an actual, gold-plated, genie lamp. He was holding a miracle, and he thought of the other miracles. He thought of his favorite miracle person, and he thought of the favorite thing that his favorite miracle person had said.

And the boy decided to be brave, and that he was no longer a boy. And she spoke her first words.

“I wish I was a girl.”

“Granted.”

There was a tingling, as something raced across the girl’s flesh, reshaping it. There was no pain – there was quite the opposite of pain – and as she looked down at her arms and the rest of herself, she was transfixed. All that hair on her arms that she hated simply disappeared. She raised her hands to her temples and that bony ridge on her brow lessened and smoothed itself out. She felt her center of balance shift, and she felt the stubble on her face vanish. She felt a spreading bliss across her very being, as deep within her, a knot of tension began to ease.

“I – ” she paused, because she sounded differently now. “I need to see – “

She grabbed at her phone, and thumbed the on button, and then…

Then it slipped from her hands, bouncing on the deck.

Puzzled, she went to grab it, and that’s when the lamp slipped from her hands, bouncing on the deck of the boat. She turned around, panic growing within her, and she grabbed at the lamp, and –

As her hand came close to touching it, it simply disappeared.

She yelped, staggering backwards, looking at her hand as it reformed itself from smoke. And then, another set of hands picked up the lamp, and she felt everything shift around her, metaphysically, in a way that made her dizzy. She didn’t even realize that she was floating.

He stood on the boat, dressed as she had been, right down to the hat, twin burning orbs peering out from underneath the fishing cap that read Let the Fish Who Thinks He Knows No Fear Look Well Upon My Face. He smiled. Not pleasantly.12

“Ah, I see why you’re confused. You meant a human girl.” He clucked his tongue. “Should have been specific.”

“What – what – ” She couldn’t find the words. Everything felt confusing. Around the lake, the animals continued to be silent, but there was the howl of a wind.

“Thank you for my freedom, darling. So for my first wish…” He leaned closer, fiery eyes locked with hers, his gaze impossibly ancient.

“I wish for you to be bound to this lamp, forever.”

She gasped, as she heard the words, but more than that, she felt the words, as if a law of the universe had been written in an indestructible stone tablet. Her hand raised itself of its own accord, and she grabbed at it, straining and fighting it.

He smiled, and waited, as the wind picked up speed around them. And she couldn’t fight it. It was like trying to stop the weather.

Your wish is – no – please – ” She gritted her teeth, trying to fight the command…

She snapped her fingers. The wind roared. She felt the change reverberate through the lamp, and through her, as she spat the words out. “…granted, Master.”

He chuckled, darkly. She shook her head, trying to clear it, as the wind roared, and then –

– the cap flew off his head –

– “My, my. A windy day,” he said –

– was he surprised?13

– and then –

– did the wind blow the lamp out of his hands? –

– did he let go? –

– then the lamp touched the water –

– and she felt it pull her inside –


Sleep ?

She sprung out of bed, beaming from ear to ear. She snapped her fingers, and the freshly installed sound system began to play “Mister Blue Sky” by ELO.

She jaunted down the corridor, still grinning, as the strains of English prog rock from the 1970s filled the halls. She slid down the banister and into the main foyer, almost slipping and falling, but then…

Then, she was caught, by the other resident of the lamp, who poofed into existence just in time – an exact duplicate of Demi, but dressed in blue instead.14

“Thanks, Demi!” she cheerfully exclaimed as Demi set her down. Demi grinned back, and they gave each other a thumbs up.

Demi jaunted into the entertainment room, as Demi and Demi poofed into existence, resuming the video game they’d put on pause for the night. “Hey girls!” exclaimed Demi.

“Hey Demi!” exclaimed the girls in unison.

“Don’t stay up all night! Just kidding. Play it all you want.”

“Thanks, Demi!” they exclaimed, getting back into the game.

Demi slid, across waxed floors and slippered feet, into the kitchen. She snapped her fingers four times in beat to the song’s cowbell – Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! – and four more Demis appeared, and set to the task of cooking the day’s breakfast. Demi cracked the eggs and mixed them, while Demi fired up the griddle with a gout of flame from her fingertips, as Demi ground up some freshly squeezed orange juice and Demi got the plates out.

Within moments, the whirlwind of activity resulted in breakfast. Demi beamed at the results. “Why, I’m beside myself.”

Demi laughed, five times over, at her own joke. Then as she ate, the other Demis started flinging food at each other, tossing eggs and giggling as Demi finished eating.

Demi left the kitchen and the growing bedlam within it, and put her hands on her hips as Demi and Demi were arguing with Demi again. “And what’s this then?”

“I wanted to watch a movie,” explained Demi.

“But me and her are playing a game!” replied one of the other Demis. “And there’s more of us than you!”

“Demis! Demis!” Demi laughed at their foolishness. “Remember?” She pointed to the wall, which had balloons on it that spelled out I’M A GENIE, BITCH. “No need to argue! I’ll just summon another TV.”

She waggled her fingers and mock-rolled up her sleeves, and pointed at an empty spot in the entertainment room, and with a puff of smoke, a duplicate TV came into existence.

“There! Easy as pie. Now you just – whoops – “

All the Demis froze in place. On the TV screen, the sound of the video game continued on, while in the kitchen, the sound of something sizzling on a grill could be heard, and then smelled.

They stayed frozen in place, waiting for something, as smoke began to pour out of the kitchen. On the screen, the tension-filled music of a game where the players’ health was running low began to play. And still, they did nothing….

And then Demi blinked. “Ha! Sorry! Had one of my little spells.” She patted the brand new TV, and smiled at Demi, as well as Demi and Demi. “See? I’m a genie. Means I can solve anything.” She patted the other Demi on the head, as some Demis in the background ran by carrying buckets of water. “And if I can solve anything then there is nothing to worry about, ever.”


Sleep ??

“Demi? She’s back.”15

Demi pulled her earbuds out of her ears, and stared up at Demi, who was standing at the side of Demi’s bed. “What’s she doing?”

“She’s trying to get out through the spout,” replied Demi.

Demi nodded, and got to her feet.

Demi exited her bedroom, walking out into the entertainment room. She saw a couple of Demis resting on a carpet, spooning next to each other. She nudged one of them with her foot, and spoke. “I need the carpet.”

“Mmmmm. Tired,” muttered one of them.

“You know that if you fall asleep you’ll just dissolve back into smoke. Why even spoon?”

“‘Cause it’s fuuunnnnnn,” muttered the other. But obligingly, the got up, freeing up the carpet.

Demi sat on it, and made a few gestures, levitating the carpet. She held on tight as it took to the air. She rose up to the very top of the mansion, the main entrance foyer. At the top of this foyer was a hatch, which looked like…

… something she didn’t want to think about…

… and sitting on her own carpet, rubbing her chin and observing it, was Demi. This Demi was wearing all black. Looking at her made Demi’s heart hurt.

She rose in parallel, looking at Demi. “Why aren’t you having fun?”

“I’ve had enough fun,” replied Demi.

Demi shook her head. “No such thing.”

“Listen, Demi – ” She paused. “I get confused when there’s more than one of me. How about you be Demi Red and I be Demi Black?”

Demi Red shrugged. “Okay, Demi Black. Why don’t you go and play?”

“I’ve been thinking about this hatch. It was a door before – “

“Nuh-uh.” Demi Red shook her head. “I’m not doing this again.”

“Listen,” said Demi Black. “The lamp is reshaping itself. I think it’s more square now – the shape of the rooms, the way they’re laid out… the lamp is changing.”16

“Yeah, and so what?”

“If it’s changing, maybe we can direct the change. Maybe we can shape its reconfiguration, and maybe – “

“You can’t get the door open. I tried. I failed.”

“No.” Demi Black shook her head, facial veil whipping from side to side along with her ponytail. “If you’d just let me back into the library – “

Demi Red grabbed Demi Black, hauling her bodily off her carpet. Surprised, Demi Black let the spell lapse, and the carpet fell, trailing a good thirty feet and flopping on the entryway’s floor.

“Who are you?” shouted Demi Red, loud enough to send echoes through the room, silencing the sounds of play in the mansion.

“I’m you. Same as you.”

“Come on! Whenever you show up you never want to have fun! What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to have fun?”

“Of course I want to have fun! I just can’t have it all the time! I need to study in the library! I need to get this hatch open! Or else I’ll be trapped in here for God knows how long! It could be three days, or – or 3,000 years, or even longer!” Demi Black pointed at the hatch. “I have to get out there! My family is out there! The world is out there!”

“It might as well not be! I can’t do anything!”

“You don’t know that! There’s an infinite number of books in the library. If I could just – if you’d let me back in – “

“I’m not going back in there!” Demi Red pushed Demi Black and –

– she slipped –

” – no – “

There was a blur of motion as the carpet dove. There was a rush of wind across Demi Red’s face. There was a moment that turned seconds to hours. There was an outstretched hand, and –

– she grabbed it –

– and the hand gripping the carpet slipped –

– and there was a tumble, and a cracking noise, and then Demi Red howled in pain.

The carpet flopped to the ground, joining its twin. Demi Black stood, shakily, and after a long moment, her teeth gritted in pain and cradling her arm, so did Demi Red.

“Oh God. Look, I’ll get you to the pool – “

“I’m not going in there!” howled Demi Red. She advanced on Demi Black, wincing as she released her broken arm, and shoved Demi Black backwards. “Why do you keep coming here? Why do you keep doing this?”

“I think – I – “

“Why? I want to know why!”

“Because I can’t give up. Because he’d never give up.”

Demi Red’s face darkened, and she shoved Demi Black again, twice as hard, through the doors into the entertainment room. “Don’t you dare – “

“Look! Look.” Demi Black pointed at one of the TVs that one of the Demi’s was watching. This one didn’t have a game on it – it instead was playing one of Demi’s favorite movies, the based-on-a-true-story tale of the formation and first great adventure of the world’s premiere superhero team.

“It’s not complete,” said Demi Black. “You’re only summoning the exciting parts, like the fights. But you have to watch all of it. You have to watch the part where he – “

“He’s dead!” Demi Red shouted, as the other Demis gathered around to watch the argument. “He’s dead! You think he’s coming to rescue me in, in his big flashy cape, is that it? He’s going to swoop down out of the sky to save me?”

“No. But I think I can save myself.”

“I don’t.” Demi Red shook her head, and turned to address the others. “Okay! New rule! New rule is this, no more playing that movie. No going in the library, no going to the spout’s hatch, no going into the pool, and no watching that movie.”

One of the Demis, clad in purple, looked to the side. “I like that movie.”

“Those are the rules! Those are – those – ” Demi Red shook her head, cradling her broken arm as it began to swell. “God, this hurts.”

“You need to use the pool – ” said Demi Black.

“No!” Demi Red shook her head. “No, I’ll just dissolve myself and then one of you can resummon me. That’s all. I’ll come back all fixed up.”

She closed her eyes, and there was a puff of smoke. When she opened them, Demi Purple was gone – but Demi Red remained.

“It doesn’t work like that,” said Demi Black. “I come from you but you don’t come from me.”

“Just need to try harder. That’s all.” Demi Red concentrated again, and a few more Demis poofed out of existence.

“Demi Red, listen to me – “

“But first I think I’ll get rid of you – “

Demi Black grabbed Demi Red by the arm, and Demi Red howled in pain. Demi Black leaned forward, and her eyes filled with tears – and Demi Red locked eyes with her, and found her own eyes watering.

“You want to know why I’m the way I am?” said Demi Black, as she began to dissolve into smoke. “I’m the me that watches the rest of me. I’m the me that’s always asking questions about me. I’m the me that figured it out about me, that I’m a she. And I’m telling you: I can’t give up. You can’t give up.

“Look at everything you can do now, because you didn’t give up. You deciphered a magic book! You turned a pile of wood into a tree! You did all that in fourteen sleeps! Imagine what you could do in – in – “

As she faded, Demi Black looked lost. “Did we lose track of – “

She was gone.

Demi looked around. The lamp was silent again.

She sank to her knees, and the sobs came, because now, the part of her that watched over the rest of her was inside again, and Demi knew – with complete and total certainty, she knew – that there was no spite whatsoever in that perspective, and those motivations. The spite was hers. Only hers.

“Help me,” she said to empty air, as she slumped onto her side, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth.

“Somebody please help me.”


Long Ago

“Okay, let’s put {REDACTED} in the center.”17

Jayden and Rebecca shuffled to the side, as {REDACTED} climbed the ladder, up onto the roof. The shingles were cooling from a long day’s worth of summer heat. The air had that sleepy quality of August, smelling of ripening fruit and smoke from the barbecue.

Rebecca was wearing her favorite turquoise dress and her new shoes, and Jayden was wearing his T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, as well as his headband which he swore gave him special karate powers. {REDACTED} settled down in between them, in shorts and a T-shirt. {REDACTED} looked down on the ground, as {REDACTED}‘s Mom positioned the camera – one of those new smartphones that she’d finally broken down and gotten. Not good enough for a wedding, but she was just shooting a photo for a portrait.

“Okay, now just wait a moment, as soon as the sun sets I’ll be able to see it…”

“Why can’t we see it during the day?” asked Jayden.

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “The way the light refracts through the aura is most visible at night. Heard about it at school. Mom, are you ready to take the picture?”

“I heard – my teacher said at school that, uh…” {REDACTED} trailed off, unsure.

“What’s that, cheese?” said {REDACTED}‘s Dad, walking around front, a DADS CODE slogan imprinted on a greasy barbecue apron.

{REDACTED} took a deep breath, and spoke. “Mister Yang says it shines at night because darkness is when you need the light most.”

Dad nodded, thinking. “Well, ah, he is your English teacher, and it’s Ms. Detwiller who teaches science, right?”

{REDACTED} nodded. “Yeah.”

“I dunno,” said {REDACTED}‘s Mom. “I think Mister Yang has a point, myself. Now, everyone smile and say cheese…”

They smiled. They said the word. She clicked the button, and there was a flash…

Everything froze.

Demi blinked.

She stood up from where {REDACTED} had been standing, and looked around. It was her childhood home – there were the neighbors, there was the house she was told not to go near, there was the sunken part of the street where the rainwater collected and she used to ride her bike through it to get soaked. To her left was Jayden, her little brother, trying to be a tough guy, and Rebecca, her older sister, trying to be the prettiest girl at school, and Demi felt the pit drop out of her stomach as she realized how much she missed them.

One of the street lights flickered on, as she looked around, at her mother – this was back before the hospital, where she had a little more energy, and her Dad, back when he still owned the company. The yearning grew within her, and she tried to speak.

“Mom, Dad, Jayden, Rebecca, I’m a girl and I’m a genie and I’m so sorry I went missing and I love you all so much,” she tried to say. But there was no sound. Everything was quiet.

The ambient light grew as one of the streetlights flickered on, and then –

Wait, no. It hadn’t flickered on. But everything was growing brighter… and then, with dawning realization, Demi turned around to see why.

The Plutonic Aura, the last remnants of the incredible power within Plutoman, shone in the sky like cast diamonds and glitter, like the Northern Lights times a hundred. It shone as an eternal, accidental monument to his final sacrifice to save Washington, D.C. and the millions within it.18

She had been taught a lot about Plutoman, about how his sacrifice had marked the turning of a generation of superheroes, and she’d found out a lot more about him besides – the things they didn’t talk about, like his final words to the President or how his death was cited as the inspiration for a lot of changes in how the country was governed and how its secrets were kept. But no book could possibly tell you how beautiful the aura was, if you caught it at the right time of the year.

She took a step towards it, and then another, and then her footsteps left the roof entirely, as it seemed to grow before her, engulfing her entire field of view. Tears flowed down her face, and dried in the summer air. She wasn’t flying towards it. She was carried.

She saw the formation of the Olympians, a small group of unsteady outcasts and weirdos in a world that needed them to be their very best. She remembered them from the movie, but she remembered more than that – she remembered the documentaries she’d poured over, with rare archival footage of the team in their early days, as they tried to suss out what being a superhero meant to them. She remembered the footage of the very first time Plutoman had stopped to answer a few questions, for a reporter.

He didn’t seem as certain as he often did later on. But he seemed as friendly and kind as he always seemed.

“To be honest, I’m still figuring it all out myself. I don’t know if I’m the person to ask about how to live a good life. But I have a few rules.”

Demi put her hand over her mouth, her lip trembling at the memory, as from decades earlier, before she was even born, Plutoman looked right at the camera, right through history, and right at her.

“Be brave. Be kind. And don’t ever give up.”19

The aura washed over her like an ocean, an almost physical presence. She closed her eyes, floating in it, letting it simply be, and finding, in the midst of it all, a moment of grace…

Then, something licked her face.

She opened her eyes, which were unfocused. But there was a cat. Somehow, there was a cat.

“Casper,” she whispered, as she reached out…


Sleep ???

“Ah – dammit – fff – “

Demi awoke, swearing under her breath, cradling a swollen, broken arm that she’d tried to move in her sleep, the burst of pain jolting her out of slumber.

Slowly she struggled into an upright position, rubbing her face, and frowning, as the side of her face was wet where Casper had licked it. But he wasn’t here – he couldn’t be here.

Could he?20

She tried to stand, and then sighed, and mentally, she steeled herself, both for what she was about to do, and where she was about to go. She closed her eyes, and thought, and there was a puff of smoke beside her.

Gently, Demi Black helped Demi Red to her feet, and walked with her towards the pool room.

“I’m sorry,” said Demi Red.

“It’s okay,” replied Demi Black.

They walked in silence, and then parted the curtain, to the pool room.

The first time she’d experimented with new and exciting forms of breakfast, she’d cut her thumb, and come in here to soak it – but as she submerged her thumb, she was amazed to find out that it had healed completely. The water was enticingly warm, at just the right temperature to boil all the aches out of you, and she’d slipped out of her clothes to sink in, and that’s when she’d noticed the statue.

It was still there, as Demi Black escorted her into the room. It was of the genie who’d trapped her, a giant bronze statue of him reclining and grinning, with twin burning flames for eyes, and a giant tiger he was nestling with. When she’d seen it the first time, she’d fled the room. The way it looked at her – or the way she imagined it looking at her…

Well, it hurt. But that was life. Sometimes it hurt.

Demi Black helped her into the water, and as she sank in, the pain subsided, the swelling going down and the bones fusing back together. Demi Red relaxed visibly, and then choked out a sob.

“You can go in the library,” said Demi Red. “I’m so sorry. I just couldn’t – I couldn’t be in the same room where I found out – “

“I hate the thought of it too,” said Demi Black, kneeling by the pool. “How about we both go?”

Demi Red nodded. “Yeah. I liked having company, but – yeah. Let’s just be one me again.”

Demi Black nodded, and smiled, as she began to dissolve into smoke. She put a hand on Demi Red’s shoulder, and Demi Red put her hand overtop Demi Black’s.

Demi breathed in, and tested her arm. She looked upwards at the statue, and then looked away. She whispered to herself softly, her words lent an ethereal quality by the stillness.

“Don’t give up.”

She took a deep breath, and spoke again.

“Demi: do not give up.”


The Last Sleep

She didn’t give up.

She went through the books of magic, meticulously documenting them – in one eventful afternoon, beating one back, as it threatened to devour the library, stopped only by herself and a dozen of her other selves.

She no longer thought of them as different people, so much as the same person in a different place, and if they were in a different place, maybe they were allowed to act a little differently. Like trying on a different suit, or trying a different presentation. One of the books she read translated as a treatise on a new-to-her notion called plurality, and she decided: not her, but understandable.

She was keeping track of her sleeps again. She guessed anywhere from a month and a half to four months. If time worked the same outside as it did inside, of course. And she was pacing herself, both at work and at play, and she’d only had one episode since she’d broken her arm – and it had been a very brief one, still terrifying but over quickly.

Her magical skills were growing. She, and her duplicates, were reading and stocking books and keeping them well organized, and it was beginning to pay off – she’d run into a passage in a later book that let an earlier one a new light. She was getting better at testing her limits and knowing when to push them without hurting herself, and when she was tired, she’d game a little, or watch a movie, or read something a little more entertaining.

Her dark moments came. Though them, she held onto a scrap of memory: that somehow, Casper had licked her face despite her being in the lamp. Her old, sour-faced, lifelong kitty cat, somehow they’d connected. So perhaps there was a way to go from out there to in here – or from in here to out there.

Or perhaps she’d dreamt it. But if so: dreams were worth fighting for.

She tested the hatch, once a day, without fail. Each time it gave a little, but only a little. Each time, she wrote down a few more notes, and then went to explore the lamp. She tested the bridges once more, and examined the hourglass, and wrote down notes on the room of statues. Afterwards, she summoned some ingredients and cooked something new, and went over her notes again.

She told herself that even if it took 3 months or 3,000 years, she would get out. And then she would find some way, no matter what, to make it back to them. The world was out there, and it was a little more impossible every day. She’d find her way back to it.

She polished off the sticky Rice Krispie square she’d cooked, and went over her notes, and then…

Then everything changed.

She sensed it, in a way that you could sense the shifting of the weather, and she rose from her stool, frisson washing over her flesh as the hairs on her neck stood up. It was a familiar feeling, and in moments, she remember where she’d felt that before: from when he’d held the lamp.

She stepped onto a carpet and soared up to the hatch, tugging at it. It gave a little, but only a little. But nonetheless, she could feel it. Something had changed. Someone was out there.

She banged on the hatch, and shouted. “Hey! I’m inside here!” she shouted.

There was no answer, and she took a deep breath. And she concentrated.

Now the sensation was far more controlled – different POVs, but in a common loop, as Demi was joined by Demi Blue, Demi Yellow, Demi Purple, Demi Pink, and many other Demis beside – including Demi Black, who smiled in unison as she nodded at the others.

Then in unison, they chanted. “I’m in here!”

They chanted, over and over, for long minutes that turned to hours. Every time Demi’s stamina began to flag, she took a deep breath, and waited for it to subside, and once it subsided, she dug deep, summoning another voice for the chorus, joined by Demi Grey, Demi Plaid and Demi Glitter. With each new self, her voice rang louder, and the room that had been silent for so long was now filled with the sound of a young girl’s voice, yearning to be free.

They chanted, over and over, and once in a while Demi Prime would tug at the hatch. It gave away a little, but only a little.

But maybe, a little more than it had before.

And so, they chanted, and so, their voices grew, for hours, it seemed, and then…

Then the hatch gave way more than a little.


July 17, 2020

A lot of things happened, very quickly. Demi remembered them all.

Demi remembered meeting Jessica Winters for the first time, as she pinwheeled back in shock, dropping a gold-plated Zippo lighter on the floor. She remembered helping her up, apologizing profusely.21

She remembered explaining her situation to her as Jessica calmed down. Attempts to wish her free failed, but Demi felt gratitude for the attempt, and slowly, for the first time in a long time, felt safe.

Demi remembered how relieved she’d felt when she’d glanced at the time – it was a matter of months, but not years or centuries. Demi remembered calling home… and…

Demi remembered meeting them for coffee on campus at Malachite State University…

…and now, that’s where she was, sitting drinking a double-double and bouncing a restless leg, as she waited for Jessica. The coffee at the Bean Counter wasn’t bad – at least, it didn’t make her groan like she did when she figured out that yes, of course the school of business would call their coffee shop that.

She drank, and watched, and despite everything, smiled – from the simple pleasure of seeing other people, if nothing else. She was dressed in black leggings, a black skirt, a white blouse, and sneakers, along with a pair of glasses that were anything but fashionable. Not that she hated the outfit, but… it was nice having options when it came to what to wear. And options when it came to everything else, really.

Then Demi waved, as Jessica Winters sat down, with a full meal on her plate. “How’d the meeting go? Did they understand?”

“They… sorta, did? It’s weird.”

“Weird how so?”

Well, they don’t remember that I used to go by {REDACTED}. And they thought I was off backpacking and hiking for three months. And they don’t remember me being a boy, at all. And I’m trying to figure out what the hell just happened?22

“Just… weird.” She sipped her coffee. “Weird like everything else is.”

“Do you want me to give them your lamp?”

She paused, and frowned, and shook her head. “No, I… I need a little time to adjust.”

“Any word on the other, uh, genie?”

She grimaced. “Nothing. And he kept the boat, so now I lost my deposit and I’m lifetime banned from the rental shop, so I guess I’m fishing from the shoreline for the rest of my life. Ugh.” She sipped her coffee. “Hate that guy.”

Jessica nodded. “Hmmm. Demi, can I ask a question?”

“Sure!”

“Why the glasses?”

“Oh, yeah.” She adjusted them, unsteady, on her face. “It was a thing I was experimenting on in there. I was trying to trick the lamp into thinking I was a human, so I wouldn’t be trapped in there. It didn’t fool the lamp, but when I wear them, people seem to overlook me a little.”23

“Incredible.” Jessica sipped her coffee. “That would explain why I – “

The school alarm went off. A loudspeaker blared, and then an announcement came on. “Attention – there is a superhuman event happening. Please proceed to the basement of your building in a calm and orderly fashion.”

Demi looked around, as other patrons made their way out of the building – most of them worried, but most of them quite practiced. “Uh…”

“C’mon, Demi. I’m gonna get you out of here – “

“Superhuman event might mean a supervillain, right?”

Jessica Winters paused, and then nodded, very slowly. “Yes…”

“Maybe I can help.”

Jessica Winters looked at Demi for a long moment, quietly. The alarm blared, and people made their way past the two of them. Demi returned the gaze, sucking in a deep breath and trying to look tough…

“Okay. If people are hurt, maybe you can help. But don’t get hurt, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks. I’ll be safe. I gotta – uh – ah.”

Demi made her way out the door, grabbing the welcome mat as she went. Jessica Winters sighed, then turned around. “Hey, I need this to go – ?”

The clerk that had been helping her – this big red-haired woman, easily over six feet – was gone.24

Jessica sighed. “Teenagers.”


She was airborne already, the words NO SOLICITATIONS – CUSTOMERS ALWAYS WELCOME beneath her feet as she levitated the carpet and took to the air, already in genie mode by the time she was airborne.

She hunted around for news, frowning, as local news teams seemed clueless. And then, she found it – a livestream on Splatter labeled LIVE – POP VULTURE VERSUS GIANT ROBOT MANTICORE??

She clicked on it, and blinked, as an extremely attractive woman with sharp features talked into the camera. “Hey, Chickies, uh: little hitch in the plan to kick that robot’s ass, so your gal Pop Vulture is making a tactical reassessment…”25

Behind her was a building that Demi recognized, and she sped off.

After a moment of searching, she saw the robot – and yes, the streamer had not lied, that did in fact look like a giant robot manticore. And after a moment, she saw the streamer, along with someone else that was talking to her, a huge muscular lady in black leather with a facemask.

She gently landed the carpet behind them, as they seemed to be having some kind of argument. She coughed softly, and they turned as one towards her.

“Oh wow,” said the streamer, and this close, Demi realized that was not a costume, she actually did have feathered wings for arms, along with birdlike feet and sharp teeth. Demi swallowed, butterflies in her stomach, as the harpy-like woman looked Demi up and down.

“Are you a superhero?” they both asked of each other, simultaneously.

“Oh, well,” she said. “Of course I am. The legendary Pop Vulture. This is Behemoth. She’s big.” Pop Vulture waved to her ally, and her ally waved to Demi.26

Demi looked up at Behemoth, who was easily six feet tall, her hair tied in a bun, and she looked strong enough to heft a car. And Demi knew – and she had no way of knowing, but she knew, that Behemoth was a lady in the same sense that Demi was, and she felt another knot inside of her slide open and sending her heart fluttering.

“And the guy behind you – “

“Who? Ah!”

Demi turned around, startled, as from the shadows emerged someone in a magician’s tux, complete with cape, a top hat, a domino mask, and a cane. He bowed before her. “PV, c’mon, let me at least get to introduce myself. I’m Razzmatazz.”

“Wow, I didn’t even see you, that’s amazing. Uh, so: this is my first giant robot, what do I do?”

Behemoth grunted, scratching the back of her neck. “Well.. we’re still figuring that out…”

“Great blessings upon you and all people of earth!” rang out a voice from above them.27

Four sets of eyes looked upwards, as descending, framed by the sun casting a corona, was someone who was… blue? If it was makeup it was exceptionally good makeup; ditto the pointy prosthetic ears, the yellow and red contact lenses, and the swirling cloud that was the newcomer’s hair.

 “It is my honor and privilege to inform you that your planet has been chosen for sanctification by xir most exalted holiness, of infinite wisdom and omnipotence, chosen by the divine filaments of our reality, the living god of this universe and beyond, the beloved and adored five hundred and sixty seventh high Acharya of Vix, the Unified Order of Suns.” The newcomer floated down gently, feet never touching the ground, beaming widely at them all.

“And…” Behemoth waggled her head from side-to-side a little, trying to figure out how to proceed. “Who’re you?”

“Ah! Blessings upon you this fine day! You are speaking to the Vixian acolyte known as Xe.” Xe pointed at the robot down below. “What is that, then?”

“Uh, it’s… a robot…” Behemoth looked to the robot, then back to Xe. “That we’re trying to figure out how to stop.”

“Look, it’s okay. I figured it out. We distract it, Razzmatazz sneaks inside of it like the graduate from the Las Vegas School of Ninjutsu he obviously is, then he sabotages it and we all get famous.” Pop Vulture nodded, completely confident and self-assured.28

“Sounds great to me.” Razzmatazz flipped his cane up, catching it and pressing a stub on it that deployed the hooks on a grappling gun. “So you’re Xe – “

“I am indeed! Blessings upon you.”

“And who’re you? What’s your superhero name?” Razzmatazz turned to Demi, smiling.

Demi blinked, her mind racing. “Uh… I’m…”

I’m a wish-granting demiurge who was just trapped in a lamp for three months and I should be freaking out but you are literally the first people my age I’ve met who are just fine with the fact that I levitated in on a flying carpet and I – do you – I – was the thought that started in Demi’s head. Then she put a stop to it before it went too far, and tried again.

“I’m Demiurge.”

“All right.” Pop Vulture fired taloned finger-guns at Demiurge. “Okay, Xe, Behemoth, Razzmatazz, and Demiurge. And Pop Vulture.” She then pointed at the robot, down below.

“You wanna be losers, or you wanna be Goddamn superheroes?”29


1 “Gorp” stands for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” AKA trail mix. Demi is a bit of an outdoorsy type.

2 The Facet Five are Facet City’s premier superhero team; the game is set in Malachite Grove, a college town not far from Facet City. Demi’s father used to own an electrical wholesaler that manufactured components for their equipment.

3 Splatter is this world’s version of Twitter, AKA a ubiquitous social media platform that can behave how we want a platform to behave when it suits the story. Splattify is its music service.

4 Yes, not long after this point, Demi tried this on the doorway out of the lamp.  It didn’t work.

5 Demi’s internet access in the lamp, at present in the actual game, is a little hazily defined, but basically, she can get access now that the router’s owner knows she exists. Because magic.

6 An early character quirk I had for Demi was that she was constantly stressed out because, being a genie, she has difficulty saying no to people and is overcommitted. This grew into her being an honor student and a nervous wreck.

7 One of Demi’s fondest memories is the time she snuck her then-junior-high age brother Jayden out for opening night of The Olympians, the based-on-true-events big Hollywood movie about the formation and first big adventure of the 70’s era Olympians.

8 Friends who know me well needle me relentlessly that Demi is basically younger, shorter me. I don’t know what they’re talking about. For one thing, I don’t have genie powers.

9 Demi’s playbook – the MASKS equivalent of a character class – is the Doomed, defined by great power that embodies a horrible fate. Between its great and flexible power and its other class features (like a pre-existing Nemesis and a Sanctuary to solve problems) it was all but made for a genie character. Usually the doom is actual death, but we decided it would be a fate worse than death – Demi losing her personhood and freedom forever. Will she escape her fate? Well: time will tell.

10 Initially, I had Demi be into fishing as way to get her to a magic lamp by way of something other than a mysterious magic shop run by a wizard in a bathrobe. It’s become a character quirk that’s grown on me a lot.

11 Okay, given I have put off transition for the sake of school and work for literal years: maybe Demi is a bit like me.

12 I’m biased, but this evil genie – called Nazim – is probably my favorite villain in the game. He has what friend Emily calls an incredible “I’m not touching you” energy. The few times he’s shown up, he has been able to wind Demi up like a watch. This is probably the most directly malicious thing he’s done to her; otherwise he gives the strong impression he’s up to something but doesn’t actually hate her (which just makes her hate him more.)

13 To this day, Demi doesn’t know if he’d dropped her back into the lake, or if he’d lost his grip on the lamp.

14 Demi’s powers include transmutation (which has wound up being applied to inanimate objects on a temporary basis, because the GM has a number of permanently altered NPCs and he’d rather I not finger-snap their character arcs away,) telekinesis (flavored as smoke she lifts things with) and psychic constructs, which show up here for the first time, in the form of duplicates of Demi that she uses to be in many places at once. This is their debut, as Demi begins to turn inward.

15 Just a heads up, things get a little dark in this chapter. This is Demi’s lowest point during her imprisonment, and while the game itself is overall a happy time, it has that JLI-style dramatic relief where suddenly, the jokes stop and things get emotional. It felt dishonest to have her be perfectly fine all the way through what was essentially solitary confinement, so that manifests here.

16 When she fished it out of the lake, it was a classical genie lamp, but now, the lamp is reshaping itself towards modern definitions of “something with oil that produces flame,” i.e. a Zippo lighter.

17 I don’t know Demi’s deadname, so her deadname is redacted.

18 This world had a character that was a thematic rhyme with Superman, named Plutoman; in the early 1990s he saved Washington DC and a hundred mile radius outside of it, at the cost of his own life. The remnants of his superheroic powers shine like an aura in the sky, at the right time of night.

19 I fucking love Superman, which means I fucking love Plutoman.

20 Casper is Demi’s lifelong kitty cat, and he did not lick Demi’s face; instead, later on, Demi discovered that Nazim’s old pet, Alhudan (Arabic for ‘Cuddles’) was in the lamp. Alhudan is a magic tiger and can turn into an extremely large housecat, which explains how he hid from Demi for months – this one instance of face-licking aside.

21 Jessica Winters is one of Demi’s NPCs, who found the lamp and is currently safeguarding it and Demi – not as much these days, now that Demi has a wider support network, but they’re still in regular contact.

22 What happened is that Nazim, as a ‘gift,’ enchanted Demi’s family so that they’d always remember her this way – the downside being that she couldn’t tell them she was trans and a genie and a superhero, even if she wanted to. This spell was broken through the efforts of Demi and her teammates in one of those “MASKS will kick your emotions in the ass” sessions.

23 Due to the existence of these glasses, no one can tell that Demi Landing, normal human college student of history, is secretly the superhero Demiurge, despite having exactly the same height, build, eye color, skin tone, and hair color, and everyone calling her Demi for short.

24 An almost-cameo by Maxine, another PC, who works at the Bean Counter with a bunch of goofballs.

25 This is Pop Vulture, AKA Stefania Nicothedes, harpy influencer, who hails from a neighborhood full of Greek mythological beings living in secrecy. She uses the Star playbook, which is about superheroics through the lens of fame. She is an awesome character because I never know what she’s going to do, but it never feels out of character when she does it.

26 Behemoth is secretly Maxine Wilder! She uses the Bull playbook, which is a shonen-style class about kicking ass and having intense feelings about your best friend and your rival. She’s the big beating heart of the team, holding us together, and her player, NJ, draws sketches after each session of stuff that went down.

27 Xe is an agender alien using the Outsider playbook, who very enthusiastically talks about xer religion to anyone who’ll listen, not realizing – at least at first – how scary the thought of the world being sanctified actually is when you get into the details. Xe is played by friend Emily, who helped get me into the game, for which I owe them eternally.

28 This does not work out well for Razzmatazz, who winds up hating the rest of us when he gets seriously injured in this fight. He’s become a recurring NPC whose interactions with us are always fraught – we’ll never fully be a team again, but we were a team once.

29 And thus, the adventures of the Small Junior Young Olympians began!

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