If We Die Unjustified

Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, bones hollowed and so slight; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, you ate the marrow bright. Boiled down your wings and sawed away your teeth; plucked your feathers softly and made yourself a wreath. Why do this, darling Angelcorpse? Why mutilate you so? Is it for another’s sight or is it for your woe? Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, you opened up your wrists; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, you thought the end was bliss.

—a nursery rhyme, first verse

Sallowbone feeds off corpses during the revolution. There’re always fresh bodies shot down in the streets or hanged by a jury of one. Butchered meat more plentiful than cowflesh put on display in front of windows. Makes getting his teeth into a flank or ruptured belly easier.

It doesn’t feel right, feeding on the dead. That’s how you get hauntings. But a dog’s got to eat. Bryony told him to go find food and Sallow keeps obeying, even if she’s not here now.

It’s gray and raining the morning he meets Angelcorpse.

It’s Sallow’s last day alive.

Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, you’re nothing but red strings; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, why do you never sing? Is it ‘coz you cut your throat? Or is it out of spite? Is it from remembered teeth that bite and bite and bite? Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, you eat your brethren whole; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, make sinners pay your toll.

—second verse

The day never really dawns, not like in poetry or paintings. The clouds just stretch and itch at the sky, so it’ll scratch a scab wide enough for the sun to show face. Winter’s got hold of the city and all the other cities ‘round, and sometimes the sky’s just too weary to bother.

So no sun on the day Sallow meets Angelcorpse.

The one detail Sallow can never forget is how the rain smelled. Clean. Not fucked over by oily residue or hampered by smoke from the perpetual engines used to grind away the world. This is rain like Sallow has never smelled: it’s intoxicating.

Before the rain, though, came the shots.

The revolution grinds onwards, a lost cause every day. Sallow hides in gutted alleys full of charred pamphlets and bloodied flags; he keeps dry under gore-stained barricades left to rot. Gunshots wake him. Sallow hates the loud sounds in particular.

He hunkers under half a wooden cart, shivering in the pile of rags he’s collected for a nest. Sniffs. The air’s as fucking exhausted as everything else, but it does its job: carries scents and screams all the way through the district.

Two—no, four. All corpses now. Bodies once alive, hunted, harrowed against a boarded shop front, then executed one, two, three, four. Ankles wobble and kneecaps creak as weight bears down. From feet to knees to faces, bodies dropping to the street.

He swivels his head back and forth, ears perked, waiting for the exhale. That’s how he imagines the executions. An indrawn breath, full of potential—pulling air into needy lungs, filling the throat to howl or laugh or scream. The conquerors could do anything with that breath—whisper, relent—but no, it’s just accusations of treason, and gunpowder, and bullets.

The exhale is when the conquerors reform into military shapes and move onwards, ever onwards. They aren’t allowed to stop until the city is quiet. Fucking bastards are the ones making all the noise.

Certain he’s safe to forage, Sallow slinks from his shelter. His paws are sore with scars and mended bone, so he avoids sharp cracks in cobbles or the unknown ripple of puddles. He keeps to the edges of buildings, blending with the ragged piles of shadow and debris. He doesn’t have much of a tail any longer, not enough of it to get bitten off by a steel trap again.

Yeah, there’s the fresh corpses. All men this time. They have each other’s faces. Same litter, probably. Sallow doesn’t like the taste of deadflesh: it has too much fear and rage, and meat remembers. It goes sour fast or claws at the gullet with iron splinters or rope-burned pain. The smallest corpse, glassy-eyed and pink-cheeked, smells best.

He studies the nostrils, watching for a final puff of air from collapsed lungs. Sure, he’ll bite the throat, make no doubt of the corpse being dead-dead, because the ones that aren’t quite gone make awful sounds when he eats.

Then comes the rain, sweet and unlike any cloud-piss he’s ever tasted, and Sallow lifts his head in wonder. That’s when he sees Angelcorpse.

When Sallow lived with his human pup, Bryony’s dam sang her nightsongs. Her favorite was called “Angelcorpse.”

Other children used to bark, “That’s a bad nursery rhyme. It’ll bring us all to ruin.”

Bryony shot back, “It’s the only song I like.” To Sallow, in the dark when they huddled in the back of the dam’s shop, she added, “Angelcorpse isn’t afraid of anything.”

We’re scared of everything, he said, because it was true.

“Angelcorpse could save us.” Bryony pressed her face into his ruff. “I’m tired, dog.”

He licked her face. You sleep. I’ll keep watch.

She did, and so did he, and the morning, sunless and drab with smoke, loud with new proclamations and executions, Sallowbone slept while his girl-pup watched over them both.

The children killed her on the day Sallow wasn’t at her side. All part of the revolution. Sallow sat and howled by Bryony’s corpse until the hunger got too bad and her scent turned into fly-bait and he ate and ate so the rats wouldn’t come and take her away.

In his belly, his girl-pup was safe.

Sallow knows what the creature is when it drops from a roof, or maybe the sky: bloody strings and inscribed bones bared under tendon and vein, jaws loose-slung from skull-joints, wide clawed hands covered in crusted soil. Its enormous eyes are made from fire and acrid smoke, a medley of orange-black. Angelcorpse rises from its cat-crouch landing.

“Where is she?” rasps Angelcorpse.

Sallow’s hackles rise and he bares his teeth. This thing doesn’t belong here. All the angels fled before the revolution. No guardians, no warriors. Just people who kill and people who die, and sometimes dogs like him caught in between. Bryony hummed the Angelcorpse nursery rhyme like a prayer. Where was the monster when Bryony was breathing?

Well, Sallow is the one who should’ve been with her. He’d been scrounging for whey or bread so his Bryony wouldn’t bellyhunger. She vomited when he gave her deadmeat and he licked away the bile on her chin and promised to find girl-food after that.

“She learned my name.” Angelcorpse shivers in the rain, watery red pooling about its hind feet. It stands in its own blood-shadow and stretches fingers long, long, long and sharp like teeth it doesn’t have. “She called. Where is she?”

Dead, Sallow says. Go away.

“Why dead?”

Killed a fortnight back, Sallow growls. He’s been hungry and sad and scared, but now he’s angry like the biting rats and the stinging fleas. Angry enough to bite an angel-eater. You never came.

“There are a lot of winged guardians between here and where I lay. A lot to crunch and lap and swallow.”

Words empty like dried beetle carapaces. They rattle in Angelcorpse’s breath, irritating Sallow’s ears. Fucking excuses. Words, like rifles, are noise and death.

So Sallow bites Angelcorpse’s leg, throws his weight into shoulders and neck and jaws as he shakes his head. She believed you’d come. Go away, dead thing.

Lots of times, Sallow thought about chasing down soldiers or the children who killed his girl-pup. Humans have words for those thoughts: suicide, ideation. Sallow doesn’t like words; can’t do much with a long tongue and a muzzle and jaws designed to crunch instead of speak. He just thinks about dying because he’s lonely and he’s in pain and his girl-pup is dead.

Dogs aren’t supposed to be alone.

Angelcorpse sighs. Its ribs rattle-click with air and no lungs. “I will find the one who called me.”

Then it kills Sallow. Badly, too—flays his hide, breaks his bones, and unspools his entrails in the rain. Sallow’s eyes glaze as he lies there, dying slow, but before he’s dead, he sees Angelcorpse peer at his split belly and hiss.

“She’s still here.”

Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, your heart is cold and still; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, your spirit haunts us still. Now you’re dead and buried. Now you know no fear. There’s no one left to harm you through the live-long year. Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, hallowed be your shame; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, we’ll never say your name.

—third verse

“I don’t know why you like that song so much,” Bryony’s dam growled on a day when the gunshots were continuous and blood seeped under the shop’s closed door. She held a cleaver she cut raw leather with, held it close and shaky.

Bryony huddled in the corner, and Sallow lay across her feet, trembling.

“Mama, you said the world is made of monsters. I want one that’s going to help us.”

“You stupid girl,” the dam said. “There are no good people and no monsters. Shut up before those men find us and make you real sorry.”

“I don’t need my monsters to be good,” Bryony whispered to Sallow. He licked her cheek. “Just powerful.”

Sallow flinched as something heavy thumped against the door. Bryony squeezed her eyes shut tight. “Angelcorpse, AngelcorpseI want the power that you hold…

The door didn’t splinter that day.

Angelcorpse puts Sallow back together again: a little different, a little wrong. At first, when he licks at the scar-stitch patterns along his belly and ribs, he thinks the monster left some of his guts in the street. He’s not as heavy as he was.

He shakes water from his coat and looks at the street for his missing pieces.

Bryony stands beside him, a patchwork ghost-girl. She’s a sliver, disappearing from his vision if he tilts his head too far to the side. Sallow wags his stub tail, elated to see her. They’re both dead and now he can protect her again.

But Angelcorpse didn’t put her back together whole. Her eye sockets are hollow. Where she should have a jaw there’s just a stretch of masticated flesh hung from the cheekbones like a veil.

Sallow nuzzles her hip, concerned. He ate her corpse to keep her safe. If he missed scraps of decayed meat and bruised skin, she’ll be an unhappy ghost. He whines and licks her hand. Slowly, stiff like the shop hinges in winter, she tips her head down.

“Hi, dog.” Her voice scratches behind his ears, sharp like mouse teeth. “You stayed.”

Yes. I’ll always stay for you.

The lanky creature sways. “You called me,” says Angelcorpse. “I ate all the angels that would keep me away. What do you want, child?”

The rain is empty, or it’s given up and laid down in the gutters to trickle into. The air clings damp to Sallow’s nape and paws. Naturally dead things still feel, just not the way they do when alive. There’s memory moldering in marrow, and bones must be gnawed so those life-tastes can escape and leave the dead in peace. Sallow wonders if being cut apart by Angelcorpse will be enough for him to rest, when the time comes.

“What I want…” Bryony pats Sallow’s head, and he looks up at her, ready to do anything she asks. “Is for the revolution to end.”

Angelcorpse hums. It’s the tune from the nursery rhyme, and Sallow growls. The dead thing doesn’t have a voice for song. It aches the insides of his ears.

“You don’t need me for that,” Angelcorpse says. “Wait a year. All who resist will be still by then.”

Bryony shakes her head slowly, loose flesh swaying across her half-a-face. “Not like that. I want all the killing to stop. For always.”

“That’s more challenging,” said Angelcorpse. “That I like.”

Sallow’s hackles rise again. He hears the violence in the angel-eater’s voice like when it killed him. His lips curl back. You won’t bite her, dead thing.

“I know a way to do what you ask,” says Angelcorpse. “If you’re willing to give up that which you cherish most.”

Bryony looks at Sallow, and he wags his tail hesitantly, dipping his head and staring back. The clomp-click of boots two streets away makes him jump. Damn noise. He points his nose that direction.

Death-bringers coming. Got to hide.

This time he won’t let them kill his girl-pup. He won’t leave to find her food, even if she kicks him. She never has. Her dam hit him often, and he whimpered, but when the mother went after his girl, he chewed her hands into pulp. That was when the shop went empty and dark, drained of new bodies there to walk out in new shoes or patched boots.

“I’m willing,” Bryony says. “Tell me how to get my wish.”

“Follow me,” says Angelcorpse, and she does, so Sallow follows, too.

Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, protector of the damned; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, your wrath none can withstand. If we call you, Angelcorpse, from the grave you’ll hear. If we die unjustified, your vengeance will they fear. Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, come take the pain away; Angelcorpse, Angelcorpse, your name we may yet say.

—fourth (final) verse

Loping at Bryony’s side, Sallow keeps close watch on Angelcorpse. He doesn’t trust it. It’s too human-shaped and it speaks too much like men.

They glide unseen past the great mills that belch ruin, past the steel-wire and stone palisades from which the soldiers come, pass the pits gouged into foundations to imprison the dead. The city used to have walls, the rats say, but they got torn down or broken open like eggshells long before Sallow was whelped. Now there’s nothing wall-like between the butchered landscape and the city’s guts. Just traps left during the war, the ones that burst and rip limps apart and burrow sharp teeth into flesh.

Sallow learned how to smell for the boom-traps after another dog, Whipper, walked over one and died messily. Sallow wasn’t more than a pup himself back then. Shrapnel pierced his front paws when he tried to drag the dead pieces of his friend home. He limped so bad that Bryony found him, scooped him up in her arms, and carried him to the shop. After she wrapped his paws, he swore his heart to her, and a dog never breaks its oath.

Now, Sallow doesn’t know where Angelcorpse is taking them. He’s never been outside the city. On nights when the smoke didn’t burn his nostrils and the clouds sagged exhausted into the ground, sometimes he smelled distant fields: grass unwilted from piss, shed rabbit fur, thistle blooms drying into white froth. His kin once ran in meadows and forests; Sallow still has some wolfblood in him.

When Angelcorpse guides them out of the city, Sallow’s breath quickens. His pelt itches with the need to roll in soil and bramble, absorb the blessing of earth and touch of old pawprints that only the ground remembers. His nose quivers as he pants, swallowing the air as hungrily as he laps water in the summer-mired heat. Sallow doesn’t tire, perhaps because he’s dead now, and dead things rot rather than weary.

Bryony tugs Angelcorpse’s bony hand. “Why did you eat the angels? Your rhyme never said.”

“In between this world and where I lay, they gathered.” Its whorled eyes fix on her. “They whispered in wing-flutters and the click of teeth. They abandoned their charges, afraid to die in duty when the world is crumbling and woven from chaos. So I devoured them for their cowardice and because I was so very hungry when you woke me.”

Bryony nods. “How do you know how to grant my wish, if you spent so long eating angels?”

Angelcorpse makes a rasping sound when it tries to laugh. “Because I was one, and we all knew the secrets of the world.”

“Okay. Where are we going?” Bryony asks, keeping hold of Angelcorpse’s hand. She doesn’t have a second one to rest on Sallow’s head.

“Where men first chose to kill, child.”

Walk, walk, walk. The sun doesn’t show its face, so the sky just molts into black-gray storms. The darkness growls and flickers light-teeth at the trio. Sallow tries not to cower. Bryony told him often that the storms couldn’t eat him if he stayed under a roof, but little fucking good that does now when he’s in the middle of a barren field with his girl.

Need shelter, Sallow barks.

“No,” Angelcorpse says. “We must await the lightning.” It points with one rawboned hand at the ground. “Down there is where your people first learned to despise their God. The light will show us where to burrow.”

Bryony sits on the muddy ground. The rain bends around her the way rats dodge the iron-shod wheels of exterminator carts. Sallow scratches behind his ear. He often heard screams to a god that never answered, prayers ignored and spited. Little wonder his girl-pup called to an angel instead. The dead answered more than the living.

So they wait for the sky to yawn bright and pierce the earth’s throat.

Sallow watches Bryony, shivering even though he doesn’t feel cold. He’s too new to being dead to forget the way his pelt tingles in fear at the storms.

Why don’t you have your eyes? Sallow asks. He sniffs at her cheek, worried. I killed the rats that wanted to eat them.

She wraps her arms about her bony knees. “I don’t know, dog.”

Do you want mine? He has his nose and his ears and he’s seen enough. Seen so much, the dregs spill out of his head when he sleeps, creating restless dreams where he’s always being run down by iron boots, and rifle butts crunch his skull.

“Okay. But just one,” Bryony says. “Then we can both see.”

Sallow nods in agreement. She’s never needed two hands, so he doesn’t offer her one of his paws as well. Bryony pets his muzzle, then pulls out his eye and puts it in her socket. Sallow’s vision dims on one side and he wags his tail when his girl-pup looks at him again. He isn’t sure how to give her back her jaw and tongue and lips.

Mayhap she doesn’t need them anymore.

Light-teeth rip apart the cloud bellies and Sallow yelps as the crashing noise follows, almost on top of him. He flattens himself to the earth, pressing his side against Bryony’s leg.

“It is not enough,” says Angelcorpse. “We must wait.”

“You’re stalling,” Bryony says. “Show me where we need to dig.”

Angelcorpse growl-sighs. “There are no shortcuts. The womb of the earth, where your people were made from clay, cannot be cut open at whim.”

“Well I don’t want to wait.” Bryony pats Sallow’s shoulder. “I did that all my life. It didn’t end well. Dog,” she says, standing. “Dig.”

Sallow gladly obeys. His paws rip into soil, his toenails carving aside mud and scraggly plant roots and worms and stones. He digs with all his might, eager to get away from the angry sky and please his girl. He digs and he digs and he digs, tunneling deep into the land while the bright-teeth light flickers above.

Being dead, Sallow doesn’t tire or hunger or thirst. He gouges his way through stone and bones long buried, tempting as they are. He smells Bryony and Angelcorpse following him down, deep into the world’s womb.

Finally, his paws meet damp air that smells of mucus and umbilical cords. He falls, popping from earth into space, and lands hard on his legs inside a vaulted cavern. It’s dusk: that musty in-between of day and night, when bats flock and cats prowl. A layer of chill red mist drifts across the ground.

Bryony says, “Good boy,” and Sallow wiggles with pride. He shakes soil from his muzzle and sniffs the air, searching for any threats.

Angelcorpse drifts from the tunnel and its dripping limbs seem to fill the space, stretching out like long, blood-soaked shadows.

“It’s not very impressive,” Bryony says.

“Most murder never is,” Angelcorpse replies. It crawls like an inexorable plague across the cavern floor and the mist peels aside at its approach. “Witness.”

In the center of the world’s womb is a plain slab of ivory-colored stone. It looks like the ceramic tub in the butcher’s shop, used to wash on days there weren’t water rations. When last Sallow saw it, the butcher lay in the tube’s curves, his wrists chewed open and his mouth frothed from the biting sickness.

Sallow didn’t like that tub; it reeked of disease. He doesn’t like this stone any better. It stinks of badness he can’t name. A white-edged knife made of bone rests on the lip of the altar, its tip stained red. It’s wrong, like a creature rotting from the inside out. Pain pain pain, the knife whispers. All is pain.

“When men were first shaped from the world’s soil, they were carved into form with a bone from heaven’s side.” It points at the knife on the altar. “And with this blade, men first learned how to murder.”

“Stop saying ‘men’ like they’re the only ones who exist,” Bryony snaps, balling her fist at her side. “Don’t you fucking dare make other genders disappear.”

Angelcorpse tilts its head like a weaned pup, confused. “It’s your language.”

“It’s language that needs to change,” she says.

“Child, I care not.”

Sallow growls. He does care. The tongues that have power always want to sew shut the mouths of the ones who don’t. Watch your words, dead thing.

“I tell you only how to achieve your wish.” Angelcorpse points again at the tub-stone. “When your people first spilled blood and were thrown from the world’s heart, they left this blade behind in their haste.”

Pain pain pain, the knife whispers. All is pain.

Sallow can’t argue with the knife, though he’s not sure it knows all truths. Sometimes there are good things: like belly rubs and warm meat and sleeping dry by a hearth. Good things exist squeezed into all the bad, and Sallow doesn’t want to forget that.

“Destroy that which you cherish most, as your forbearers once did,” Angelcorpse says, “and the world will remember and will reshape around your desire.”

Slowly, Bryony creeps towards the white slab and picks up the knife. Sallow whines low in his throat. He saw many knives in the revolution. He saw the knife-cuts on Bryony’s body when he found her dead.

Angelcorpse hovers at Bryony’s side, its long, long fingers clicking softly against its leg bones.

“Come here, dog,” Bryony says. Sallow slinks over to her, eyeing Angelcorpse warily. “Dog, up.” She points with the knife at the altar.

Sallow doesn’t want to die a second time, not if his girl-pup is going to cut his throat. She’ll be sad after that. He smells her heart-hurt. He’ll be eaten, which isn’t bad. What’s bad is that he’ll leave her alone. He already did that and look what happened.

“Up, dog.”

Sallow whines but hops onto the altar. Bryony pats his head once. Her touch soothes him. It means: good boy. He lies on his side, curling his paws against his chest so his belly and throat are bared. At least he’s already died once, so he knows what it’ll feel like, and he thinks his girl-pup will be kinder. She strokes Sallow’s ears and he wags his tail, even though he stays where he’s at.

“It’s not going to hurt.”

“No,” says Angelcorpse. “You must erase that which you cherish completely. Only by causing pain unending, unbearable, will the world be satisfied.”

Sallow whimpers but stays still. This is what she wants. He’ll serve. He’s hers and he wants her to be happy.

Bryony frowns at Angelcorpse. “Why? Isn’t the world in enough pain?”

“I did not forge these rules,” the dead thing says with the twitch of shoulder bones. “I only know what I have seen in my long grave.”

Sallow stretches his neck out and licks Bryony’s knuckles. It’s okay. We don’t have to be scared of everything, now. You can make things good.

She drops her arm, the knife now aimed at her knee.

“Hesitation will not save your city,” Angelcorpse whispers.

“I don’t want to,” Bryony says. “I said I want the killing to stop for always.”

It leans closer, closer, until its maw is pressed against her hair. If it speaks, it’s not at a pitch Sallow can hear. He strains his ears but there is nothing except Angelcorpse’s breath.

“No,” Bryony says at last. “You’re wrong. The world doesn’t have to be this way. Dog, get down.”

Confused, Sallow rolls to his paws and hops off the altar. He looks up at her, his one eye meeting hers. What do you want?

“I want you to stay,” Bryony says. Then she turns to face Angelcorpse. “But not you.”

She says its name once, twice, three times. The altar splinters, stretching out tendrils of white stone that catch and pull and bind the creature against the flat surface. Angelcorpse writhes. One of the cords snaps and dangles, the first weakness.

“Hold it down, boy,” Bryony says.

Sallow grabs the rope in his teeth and pulls. The bindings hold Angelcorpse supine and helpless. It’s all Bryony’s now.

“You make a mistake,” the dead thing hisses.

“I prayed to you all my life,” Bryony replies, trembling mad.

Sallow strains against the cord, holding pressure against the angel-eater. He won’t let it escape. The rope burns his tongue and he digs his teeth deeper.

“I cherished you and what you meant.” She climbs onto the altar and stands over it, a leg on either side of its empty ribs. “I knew you were real, and I believed you would save me. But you didn’t.” She leans down, and in the blood-glow from Angelcorpse’s presence, her jaw and tongue reappear as ghostly as she is. She bares her teeth.

“And then you killed my dog,” she says, before she plunges the knife into Angelcorpse’s eye.

The world erupts, flinging Sallow across the cavern and into unmoving stone. He yelps and slides to the floor, dazed. He must get up. Must protect his girl. Hurry. Sallow struggles to his paws. His body aches more than any fucking dead thing should. But he has endured worse.

Over the altar stands another sliver child, and this one smells of ancient rage. It balances in the air over Angelcorpse’s skull. He races back to his girl-pup’s side, ready to defend her from this new ghost.

Don’t touch her.

The ghost blinks slowly and doesn’t turn away from his girl-pup. “What do you want, Bryony Angelkiller?”

Sallow’s ears perk and he skids to a halt before the altar. The ghost doesn’t smell hostile now, and it hasn’t tried to trick or hurt Bryony. He looks up at her, waiting.

“Everyone who has committed violence will turn to ash,” Bryony says, “and come the dawn, any person who chooses violence against another human—or a dog—” She looks down at Sallow and nods. “—Will know they too will die a heartbeat later.”

“You won’t have much of a world left,” the ghost says.

Bryony shrugs. “Anyone who’s left will learn to do better. Maybe in time we’ll all have a world worth keeping.”

“So be it.”

Another shudder ripples through the air. Sallow’s hackles bristle. The ground under his paws shivers like snow-pricked skin. He jumps back a step. The mist has sunk into stone and vanished.

In the distance, high above and outside, Sallow hears the sound of ash raining down across the world. He knows that all those who hurt Bryony are gone and he barks in approval. No one will ever hurt her again.

“Who are you?” Bryony asks quietly.

“First victim,” says the apparition with a shrug. “I don’t remember my name. Just that I was killed here long, long ago. My blood never truly left this place. I don’t remember who it was who held the knife.” Another twitch of ephemeral shoulders. “I do wish he’d left my name…”

“You can pick any name you want.”

“I can?”

“Of course.”

A moment of silence arches between the two, and then the ghost-child nods. “I like Vengeance. That’s my name now.”

Bryony hugs Vengeance, who hugs her back. “I’m glad,” Bryony says. “You don’t have to stay here any longer now, do you?” Vengeance shakes their head. Bryony smiles and then asks, “Do you want to come with us?”

“Not yet,” Vengeance says, considering the dead angel under their feet.

“Call for us and we’ll answer. I think we should make a new rhyme. Angelkiller, Angelkiller, she changed the story told.

“I can think of more verses. I’ll tell you next we meet.” Vengeance smiles. “First, I’m hungry.”

Bryony hops from the altar and pats Sallow’s ears. “Let’s go, friend.”

Sallow wags his tail. She’s going to stay, and so is he.

They trudge back up the tunnel to see what kind of world they’ve shaped. Someone has to survive, and Sallow figures it might as well be him and his girl.

(Editors’ Note: A. Merc Rustad is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)

A. Merc Rustad

A. Merc Rustad is a queer non-binary writer who lives in Minnesota. Favorite things include: robots, dinosaurs, monsters, and tea. Their stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Apex, Uncanny, Shimmer, Cicada, and other fine venues, with reprints included in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy (2015 and 2017). Merc likes to play video games, watch movies, read comics, and wear awesome hats. You can find Merc on Twitter @Merc_Rustad or their website: amercrustad.com. Merc also has a debut short story collection, So You Want to Be a Robot, published by Lethe Press (2017).

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