The Number No Good Things Can Come Of

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb


Jules singled out a dust mote. Followed it with his gaze as it hung on the air among a lazy cloud of its fellows in a long beam of sunlight, all but weightless, without purpose or direction.

Draven sat in silence across the table from him, absorbing the news he’d just divulged to her. The tome-filled cages of the secret archives enclosed them on all sides.

“Is she sensible at all?” asked the Grand Archivist finally.

Jules dropped his gaze to his left hand, with its bandaged wrist, lying flat and motionless on the table. It didn’t seem like part of him. Felt like he could probably get up and walk away and leave it there, and the rest of his body too, and that was seeming like a nice idea. “Sometimes. I think. Hard to say how much, seeing as she probably doesn’t want to talk to me, or even acknowledge I exist.”

Draven sat with a grim expression, her knuckle pressed to her lips.

After a long silence, “I don’t know what to do,” said Jules.

“Mm. What do you mean?”

Jules looked at her. “I mean I don’t know what to do.”

“Are you stalled in your investigation? In your research?”

Jules was a bit disappointed to see his hand tense. “The research hasn’t gone anywhere. Not from day one. And the investigation…” He paused. “Not stalled. Not yet. There’s still the site of the ritual in which she was conceived. Caliban and I are supposed to go have a look around there tonight.”

“It seems your way forward is clear, then.”

Jules eyed the Grand Archivist. “I guess it is.”

Draven’s expression wasn’t unsympathetic. It wasn’t quite sympathetic, either. “You seem unconvinced.”

“Lately, everything I do just makes things worse.” Jules watched his hand flex at his command. “What if it’s all for nothing?” Touched his fingertips to his thumb, one by one, felt his pulse in each.

Dropped his voice to a whisper, because it felt wrong to voice the thought at all:

“What if the wound came before me, and can only grow?”

“The void, I think,” said Draven, “is getting its hooks in you.”

“I have knowings sometimes,” said Jules.


“Like knowing I wasn’t a girl, even when everyone said I was. And knowing that mana and prima materia are one. With all my big scientific breakthroughs, the knowing came first. The math after.”

“What is the Knowing telling you now?”

The question brought his attention at last to a whisper in the depths of his soul—one that, till this moment, he’d been refusing to hear. “That this is going to end up killing me.”

“Hmm. Well, you’ve died before, haven’t you?”

Jules looked at the Grand Archivist, not understanding.

For once, Draven’s expression was soft. “Poor boy.”

For a fleeting instant, Jules hated her. Because, in her gaze, he saw himself small and afraid.

“All along, I’ve been encouraging you to pursue this,” she went on. “Perhaps it was poor judgment on my part. This does not have to be your burden.” She looked him in the eyes. “You can still turn back.”

“Turning back would itself be a death.”

Draven arched one eyebrow. “Another of your ‘knowings’?”

An upwelling of bitterness, rage. Jules contained it, as he contained everything. “Yes.” A moment of silence, as acceptance settled heavy on the floor of his being. “There are right and wrong ways to die. I have to see this through to the end.”

Draven gazed at him quietly a moment, then spoke, a note of gentle humor in her voice. “Doesn’t sound like you require my advice after all.”

Jules looked at her.

“But as always,” she added, “I am at your disposal. Any aid I can provide.”

“Thank you, Grand Archivist.”

She inclined her head. “Grand Philosopher.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

“How you holding up, kid? Ay, what happened to your wrist?”

Jules looked past Caliban, down the weed-infested pathway that led to the back of the condemned Riverdale house; ignored his questions. Whether it made sense to be angry at the merc, he couldn’t decide, but he had to be angry at someone. “Through here?”

Caliban’s gray eyes studied Jules over his mirror-lens glasses. “Yeah.” He turned, led the way.

The back door was so rotten it pulled apart easily.

As they started across the half-collapsed kitchen, Jules began to hear them:


Nothing from nothing. Nothing from nothing.

Their chanting increased in speed and intensity as Caliban pried open the door to the cellar.

It was pitch-dark below, the air heavy with mold and stagnant ash. Caliban muttered a cantrip as they neared the bottom of the rickety wooden staircase; a gobbet of flame sputtered to life above his palm, illuminating the space.

“Good Christ,” he muttered.

The floor was an ocean of charred human bones.

“Dunno if you could see it,” said Caliban, in an uncharacteristically reverent tone of voice, “but when she was…raped…there were corpses everywhere. Some bare bones, some barely startin’ to turn green. Couldn’t say if the motherfuckers did a bunch of grave-robbin’…or if they offed all these people themselves.”

“Most of them died right here,” murmured Jules, on a hunch. “I’d be willing to bet on it.”

Caliban eyed him. “Given the condition of some a’ the corpses at the time, that would mean years of grisly preparation, to impregnate one woman.” He glanced around. “No doubt you thought a’ this already, but our next move’s gotta be trackin’ down Maxine.”

“I’ve looked into it. Maxine Frankel disappeared without a trace last month.”

Caliban raised one non-eyebrow. “Maybe the Mother of Abominations claimed her vessel.”

Maybe she did, thought Jules.


It wasn’t audible. And yet it was deafening.

Jules took a crunching step into the sea of bones. Wondered absently whether he’d bother trying to wash his Chucks after this or just throw them out. “What else did you see here?”

“Gravity was weird,” said Caliban. “Anythin’ not too heavy couldn’t seem ta stay down.”

“Just like how Clint said it was at the hospital during the birth.”



“Anything else?”

“I think the glimpse you got kinda said it all. Hard to make any sense of it. Just chaos. Very unceremonious—nothin’ like your Arcanus rituals, with all the Greek and Latin and the fancy choreography.”

Jules paced the cellar. It was completely burned out, just like the site of Max’s abduction had been. Nothing but naked, singed dirt walls and crumbling bones.

“This can’t be all there is. There has to be something we can follow up on. Something that can lead us to them, or at least help us understand what they’re doing.”

Caliban shrugged. “Like I said. Seems to me the thing to do next is find the daughter. Everything points to Emily’s kid. Whatever these sickos are tryin’ to bring into the world, it’s gonna manifest through Maxine.” He turned, squinted over his shades at Jules. “Didn’t ya tell me when we first met that this all started with a mundane gal they kidnapped, put a hole in her chest? You don’t reckon that was her, do ya?”

“No. That girl’s name was Kelly Jones. And she’s the wrong age.”

“You sure she was bein’ honest with ya?”

The shades’ chanting swelled:


At that moment, Jules was struck with one of his knowings:

It was him they were mocking.



Their voices converged, into one he recognized—because he’d heard it issue, dripping with hatred, from Max’s lips:



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