Saffron

Apocalypse has come like gravity to a rotten fruit, and the old world has burst open. Their grand buildings are ashes, their roads buckled and green; the mighty wander the streets, armed to the gums, sobbing and frail.

Beausoleil loves it. Oh, hates (maybe) the cost they paid, the loss of life, the corruption pulled to the surface, the stupid waste, but in the wide heart of her rejoices to see it all come apart. Nowhere to go but up, and she’s swallowed enough blood for a lifetime: let them choke themselves coppergreen for a change.

She pushes inland, crossing the river. What’s left of the roads is thick with people, owners and slaves both, werewolves and virgins. She wears an army rifle slung on her back, barren of shells, just to prove that she can. They shrink down into the bushes when she passes, stride long and brave as the sun, afraid not of what her empty gun can do, but just to see the world so upended.

Beausoleil walks west. Out there, in the sage and the sky, there’s a town with her name on it, and cattle the color of dawn.

Cadmium

Flowers bloom in yellow, barbed profusion through her narrow streets, and Cadmium chokes on their perfumed brimstone. The sky is made of glass a mile thick and lowering; thronged with faces bubbled deep, fork-bearded prophets with Byzantine eyes and gentle blue women long-lashed as cattle. Terrible license; orgies and murder, weeks of dancing and fasting, and everywhere the damnable roses!

“Sacred heart,” Ganelon cries, and cracks his lips around the prayer. Sharp pieces glitter against the mirror of his coat; he raises trembling hands and tries desperately to grow them back into his skin. Days since he slept, he thinks, hours since he moved. Surely it was bright noon just a second ago? The night sky is black and only fathoms above. He trembles, and speaks— What was it Britomart said? or Bradamante?

Everywhere the flowers run riot. Spring has come, weeks too soon, and the fields and the shops are all abandoned. In the hills fires burn and witches leap, and everywhere the roses, yellow as the devil, yellow as the rye.

Mustard

Yellow, yellow.

The border dies first, lungs snapped shut by that unready breath, mired out of sleep. The trenches have enough time to wail against a redder sky.

Mustard’s speaker blares the one word “Gas!” and even dead asleep the training takes hold and clamps him shut, jacks him upright and pissing. He clamps the yellow pad over his breath and strains through days of cornmeal coffee.

He runs, runs, mouth and eyes choked with yellow, yellow. They run with him, swirling out of the killing fog, pushing desperately downstream. Tocsin of the light guns; the glassmen weave against their current, faces dragged deeper in their sacks, beating back the tide.

He crashes out and grabs the mask Cooper hold out, pulls it down and regurgitates the stale wad of life-guarding piss. Guns, guns; Mustard creeps into the fog on little cat’s feet, crouched low and bent toward justice.

Giallo

Behind Giallo a sky yellow as lemon drops and buildings broken as rose bushes. The door ahead is filled with water sounds, water smells, rounded as the inside of a spoon and empty as a thought. He peels his fingers away from the jam, counting to ten, watching them bend, pitches forward on stiff legs into the underground river.

Water steals the sounds of pursuit.

He bangs, turns, chokes and beats for the surface, severed from the certainty of down. Water red as the inside of his eyes, crying loud against brick like blood in his cheek. Giallo nightmares of grates, of a stretch without air, of their hungry bone fingers digging into his side. Down and out is still better than back; he perseveres.

Daylight finds him encrusted on the side of the bay. Slick and oily with filth, hair and body nacred with bile. Someone is screaming music against the concrete further down, voice and drums and guitars biting into the air like a chainsaw. He drags himself up, no sound the sweeter, glad for the moment to just be outside.