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The Rumor Mill

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By Isoprene
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“Alright, let’s hear some theories.”


“Secret love child!”


“Evil twin!”


“Demonic contract!”


“Clone gone wrong!”


“Complete coincidence!”


“Secret love child from the FUTURE!”


“Magic accident!”


“Espresso overdose?”


“Edgy phase!”


“Whatever the Infernal version of a furry would be?”


“Secret love child from an alternate continuity!”


Crucifera held up a hand and the room immediately fell silent. Eyes closed, he let the ideas mingle in his head, nodding to himself before opening his left pair of eyes.


“Alright, good. Looks like everyone’s brains are working. Though,” he pointed an accusatory finger at Memera, the pink and white gremlin swooning to herself, “you really need to expand your horizons. I like the zeal and the zest, but you can only squeeze so much out of a forbidden romance angle before the audience gets bored. You need more to it.”


“Oh, whatever!” Memera scoffed, her tail flicking back and forth, repeatedly hitting the face of the hapless freshman beside her, “It’s my SHIP, Cruci! What could be more enchanting than the forbidden romance between master and servant!?”


“And you,” Crucifera continued, electing to ignore her in favor of the freshman in question. Some kind of bat in a sweater vest. The name would come to him sooner or later. “Let’s have a little more confidence. I don’t like hearing question marks. And as much as the audience loves a good meme, let’s not sound like a tired brand account. Use ‘em sparingly.”


“Y-Yes, sir,” he meekly responded, yelping as he was thwacked again.


“The rest of you, good work. And now that we’ve made a bunch of things up, let’s review the facts. Memera?”


Crucifera leaned back in his chair, assuming figure four position as Memera bounded up to his desk. The plug on the end of her tail transformed into a USB stick, which she plugged into the laptop on his desk. After a moment the projector picked up her input, and the screen behind him sprung to life with the image of a thread on some backwater inter-Reality internet forum.


i.gyazo.com/77d9ab42ddca50f2e1…


An unusual thread, to be certain, but perhaps not for the average Hell College student. It was a school of demons and monsters, after all, so what was a little kidnapping here and there? What drew Crucifera’s interest, however, were the mentioned “purple fucks.” Anyone who was anyone at Hell College knew instantly who the original poster was talking about: Ignis Phasmatis and company.


Ignis was a well-known teacher on campus, teaching various classes on magical theory and always seeking to recruit new blood, converting all sorts of students into Infernals. Research was still ongoing by the Media Club into what exactly being an Infernal was all about, but the gist was that you sell your soul to Ignis, you get cool purple digs and powers. Maybe you lose your individuality or the Infernal conversion procedure blows up your soul, but that’s what you get for having a weak soul.


That wasn’t the whole story, though. Pretty much every teacher on campus would take your soul if you gave it. Heck, maybe even if you didn’t. It was Hell College, not Heaven College. What made Ignis particularly interesting was all the drama around him. He came essentially out of nowhere and graduated on his first try, leaving a permanent mark on the notoriously challenging Wrath Underking in the process. He then found a way to take advantage of the Great Devouring: an incident about 200-odd years ago – well before the time of anyone in the room – where Heaven College assaulted Hell College while unleashing an all-devouring hellbeast within the labyrinth, leading to greatest devastation the school had ever experienced. While horrific loss of life occurred, Ignis played his cards right and picked up a number of souls for his Infernal collection from both sides of the conflict, then used the gaps in faculty afterward to get himself a teaching position. Within a brief span of time, he went from a no one to one of the most important figures around, important enough to even get his own personal maid mansion warped onto campus grounds and mashed together with the Hellspital in the process.


Now, that alone wasn’t enough. Any powerful and intelligent demon could pull all that off. It was what remained unclear that was tantalizing. Rumor had it that Ignis had wound up being sealed into some prison dimension or another before arriving at Hell College, and he was so good at being bad that he’d managed to stretch the confines onto campus. Somehow. However that worked. Knowing however that worked was information Crucifera imagined could make him quite a hefty sum, not to mention he was sure Ignis would go out of his way to keep anyone from hearing about the time he got himself trapped in a prison dimension.


That was the long and short of it: Ignis was a popular, controversial figure with a ton of unanswered questions behind him, and all of that added up to meaning any edition of the Hell College Newspaper with him in it sold like hotcakes. As head of the Media Club, Crucifera liked it when the paper sold like hotcakes. He liked it very much.


“So, as we can see here,” Crucifera began, scrolling through the thread, “there’s no ambiguity about who’s being spoken about. Purple asshole brigade, sunglasses, espresso, Ignis being namedropped specifically… this is an Ignis story, one-hundred percent.”


There were a number of rumors that Ignis had an espresso machine in his pants, but that was a story for another day. From another day, actually, but they’d publish it again in the future when news was slow. There were more important details to get to here, and ones Ignis was more likely to respond to.


“So if you haven’t done your homework, let’s summarize. One, OP posts thread saying Ignis and co. kidnapped her boyfriend that she kidnapped herself at some point. Ignore the second part, what we’re answering here is this: who’s OP?”


“Trigger!” the bat freshman shouted, jumping out of their seat. What in the world was their name? Oh well.


“Right! And who’s that?”


“Former ally of All-Conquering Overlord Hadris Torant who betrayed him to make out with his mortal enemy, Memen, and then something happened and she got out I guess and they all left each other alone and she just spends a lot of time being weird on the internet now?! Sir!”


“You got it, essentially,” Crucifera approved with a snap. “Already we’ve got a major figure in the scheme of Entirety involved, and she’s got enough questions on her own. Now, anyone want to remind me why her name’s Trigger?”


The bat immediately went to speak again, but another stop sign made them freeze in place, paling as they slunk back down into their seat. He instead pointed at the raised sleeve in back, seemingly attached to nothing. Crucifera, of course, knew it belonged to Visva, who happened to be completely invisible. Which would be more useful if she didn’t wear clothes. Or glasses. Or if she had any talent for spying. Well spoken, collected, but couldn’t bump into a chair without apologizing or see someone sneeze without blessing them. Ah, but he digressed.


“Her ability is to serve as the trigger for any given phenomena,” Visva explained. “Effectively, if there is a one in a million chance of something occurring, she can force it to always occur. So long as there is an infinitesimal chance of any given thing occurring, she can make it happen, making her nigh impossible to act against. She could simply trigger a heart attack, an aneurysm, a malfunction of magic, a distortion in space or time… there are any number of ways she could dispose of any foe immediately, regardless of their powers or standing.”


“Bingo!” Crucifera applauded, sitting up. “So, there’s point one. Ignis and friends manage to kidnap someone from Trigger of all people and get away with it. That’s a story on its own! There’s a reason no one interacts with Trigger, not even the Ol’ Space Drewcifer anymore.”


The bat squinted. “Is that what you call Had-”


“Part two: the boyfriend.”


“Finally, the interesting part!” Memera cheered, excitedly opening every image attachment at once and arranging them with as little overlap as possible. Depicted in each image alongside Trigger was an unconscious man with white hair and purple attire.


“So, the big question: who’s important enough that Ignis would send someone to break into the house of one of the most dangerous beings in Entirety to get back?”


Crucifera snapped again, eyes closed, pointing and shooting a finger gun at Memera. She took the signal to bring up a few more images, depicting someone who looked quite similar to the “boyfriend.” Same build, same face, same hairstyle, but the new guy had black hair and wore a maid outfit rather than standard Ignis associate attire.


“Who knows who this is?”


Memera raised her hand and waved it wildly, but Crucifera took in the relative motionlessness of the rest of the room. Maybe a halfway hand wiggle here or a whisper into the ear of their neighbor there, but nothing that gave him any spark of hope. Oh well, he thought to himself again. Cannon fodder was always high in demand. Delayed as usual, Kyona – his right-hand woman – raised her sleeve, slime dripping out of it as it flopped downward. Of course she knew; after all, she was why he knew. He nodded toward her, and she lowered her arm again.


“That’s Dicro Corrune. He works at Maple Manor.”


“Ignis’ fuck parlor across the way. With the maids,” Crucifera interrupted, deciding a thrown bone now would save basic first grade questions later.


“He’s a maid there. I’ve seen him a few times. That’s all,” Kyona concluded.


“And he’s, like, SOOOO mysterious!” Memera butted in, unable to resist flicking her tail back and forth again, thus launching the laptop across the room. Crucifera was ambivalent about it, considering the laptop wasn’t his. He knew better than that.


“He comes and goes WAY more often than the other maids! And he was in that Thyx fanfiction!” Erotic fanfiction written about some guy named Thyx and most other people in the universe, dumped on the same backwater forum. A strange and valuable place. “That’s where I found out about him in the first place! He has a good credit score! Financial responsibility is soooo dreamy!” she continued, sighing.


“She’s got a point,” Crucifera spoke up, doing a full rotation in his chair. “Seems like he has some link with this ‘Thyx’ character, who seems to be enemies with Ignis now. Here’s what we don’t know: about anything else. Looks human, but who knows for sure? No idea where he came from. Doesn’t seem to have a traditional employment contract lying around anywhere. Not a Hell College student, either. We’ve got about nothing beyond the name and, thanks to him posting on that thread, his social media accounts, which just tells us he likes cats and anime. Other than that? We know he’s got a lookalike that Ignis wants, and we know even less about him.”


Crucifera steepled his fingers. All of them. And now, the moment of truth.


“So, what do we do when we don’t know anything about someone?”


“Make shit up!” came the chorus of responses, all in perfect harmony. Ahh, beautiful. That’s what he liked to hear. This cannon fodder knew how to listen.


“Good folks, you lot. So, let’s discuss our plan of attack,” he said, spreading his arms wide. “Kyona, you’re on Dicro duty. Keep doing what you’re doing, you blend in just fine with the slimes infesting the maintenance tunnels. But get a read on him. A thorough one. Like, let’s bring back some soul energy, yeah?”


“Gyuuu,” Kyona replied affirmatively.


“Memera, you’re on internet duty. I want you combing that forum for every post Dicro’s ever made. I want all of his dirtiest secrets and then some.”


“M-My pleasure!” Memera exclaimed, fanning herself a bit.


“Visva, I want you on location. Memera will get you the source of where those pictures were taken, and I want you figuring out where 2cro went from there.”


“Got it,” Visva said, the bobbing of her glasses serving as a nod.


“2cro?” the bat interjected. Crucifera didn’t like that their name still wasn’t popping up. “Is that what we’re calling the guy? Just… the number two in front of ‘cro?’”


“You’re on Trigger duty,” Crucifera deadpanned. They’d make him remember their name or die trying. Win-win.


“W… What?! Seriously?!”


“The rest of you,” Crucifera continued, ignoring the bat’s continued protests with a satisfied grin, “go back to our little exercise at the start. A dangerous figure, a controversial teacher, a mysterious employee, an even more mysterious doppelganger… now, that’s all good in a void, but all the rumors in the world don’t mean a thing if we don’t synthesize! Words are just words until they piss someone off. Fake news is only fake until someone gets mas enough to say what’s real, and that’s what we like.”


Crucifera cracked his knuckles, the rest of the Media Club immediately scrambling for their notepads.


“So, let’s get started. Front page, center stage: Professor Phasmatis’ Dark Secret? What Maple Manor is Really Hiding!”
wild that this is the last writing i have to upload bc i've technically written more since it's just... all spoilers.

anyway the toyhouse version has links and can embed pics so it's probably a better way to read this: toyhou.se/~literature/23751.th…
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© 2020 Isoprene
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