He’s in her head every day.
It doesn’t matter what she writes, whether it be Willow and Ash trying to pick up the pieces, building a new world of Imps and Gems, Thorn having his doubts about the sincerity of the truce, or Baba giving someone a reading, President Stoneback is there, trying to drown them all out, insisting that his voice be heard, that she change the sequel she’s been planning for months and re-write it as pro-Gem, that he’s not happy with the perception of the Gems in the fandom, that he wants things to change from the loop they are stuck on.
She had very clear ideas in her head for what she wanted to do with the sequel to The Gallows Dance, and they didn’t include a pro-Gem victory.
“Why stick with the preconceived stereotype that villains shouldn’t get their happy ending, you foolish girl?” Professor Stoneback’s voice sounded in her ear every day.
It’s not about that. It’s about the fact that I am on the side of the Imps, the Imperfects, society’s maligned, and for me there could never be a story without an Imp victory. Victory for your genetically enhanced villains is not the story I want to tell.
But he refused to take that as an answer, kept making the same demands in her ear for a pro-Gem ending.
I should have had Thorn kill you in canon, Sally had tried to argue back, write you out of existence altogether. I can still do that.
Yet we are on a loop, President Stoneback reminded her. Even if you had written that, you still wouldn’t have written me out of existence. As the day completes its circle, so would I be reborn, and so would I return to you every day to make my request. That would not work as an escape from me.
He’s still in her head as Sally leaps from the balcony, desperate to do anything to silence him, the voice in her head which even now has her wondering if she is crazy.
Your death will not silence me, Miss King. Another writer will complete your work – my work – and bring my people to the victory they deserve.
Fool of a girl.
Well, they were all fools of girls.
It was never supposed to be this way. Sally King was supposed to write the sequel as he intended it to be written. But instead she had jumped, and left him with no choice but to look elsewhere, to the Fandom, for a means of breaking the loop he found himself stuck in. He’d intended to bring Alice, and only Alice, into their universe. She had already fleshed out Willow Harper with more backstory; it would be easy enough to persuade her to write more of the Gems. It had been clear to him that Alice was the one person who could write the pro-Gem sequel that needed to be written. And what had he got instead, but her best friend Violet, that idiot who was determined to pursue the pro-Imp sequel, who had persuaded Alice out of a lot of her Willow-centric suggestions, of her ideas to flesh out some of the Gems more.
Well, Violet might just find that the joke was on her.
Stoneback was sure that with a little more encouragement, a little more time spent among the Gems, Alice would be willing to override anything Violet had to say, to write the Gem sequel he had requested after all. And if need be, he would even talk to her himself as he had talked to Violet, a flat out explanation of why it was needed, and she would know what she had to do. So he would pull them back into the Gallows Dance universe again. They wouldn’t be prepared for it, as they wouldn’t remember when he did it before. But once Alice was there, back in the Gem lifestyle again, she would understand why they needed to prevail.
As for Violet, if she was uncooperative, well, Stoneback knew exactly how he was going to make her behave.
And the best part of it? Violet’s sequel had provided him with the means to make this happen. She had written her own downfall.
She understood now, knew who the old man was who had kept appearing in her dreams, telling her she shouldn’t listen to Violet’s suggestions of centring the sequel on Ash, telling her to stick to her love of Willow.
Alice had never told Violet and Katie about the dreams of Stoneback, thinking they’d think she was crazy. But looking at Violet’s face now, as they looked around and realised they were in the London of the Gallows Dance world, the London that was no longer known as London, she began to think that Violet, at least, would understand, that maybe she had had similar dreams too.
She remembered it all, the look on Violet’s face when Alice had chosen Willow, had talked about choosing to stay in the Gem world instead of returning home. But she also remembered how she had publicly declared that she loved Violet as Violet was about to hang, how she had realised there were more important things than genetically engineered looks and intelligence, how even Willow meant less to her than her best friend.
Alice had chosen the wrong path the first time she was in this universe. Now she had a chance to make things right.
Which didn’t include the Gem-centric sequel Stoneback had asked for.
She remembered everything.
As soon as she realised she was in Imp territory, that she saw Ash again, Violet remembered the first time she had been pulled into The Gallows Dance universe. She remembered how she’d gone from being a Willow fan to thinking he was what Katie called a titwomble, and realising that Ash was the real hero of The Gallows Dance, which was why she had made him so prominent in the sequel even when Alice kept arguing for more Willow. She remembered her growing feelings for Ash, and the knowledge that they could never be together because she was to hang in Rose’s place and return to her universe. She remembered Alice, drawn towards the Gems because of her relationship with Willow, set up by Stoneback to start appreciating the Gem life in order that she could write the sequel he had asked for.
And she remembered Nate, how she had watched her brother die for the cause of the Imps, unable to prevent it. She knew why he hadn’t come out of his coma when the rest of them had, why he had flatlined for three minutes. And she knew that now was the chance that she could actually do something, could get him home again. Baba must know a way.
Violet didn’t know whether it was Stoneback who had pulled them back this time, determined to get his sequel, or whether it had been Baba, who she knew now was the old woman from her dreams, working to get her to write the pro-Imp sequel while allowing Stoneback to think she was helping him get the happy ending for his Gems.
But she did know one thing. Being back here again gave Violet the opportunity to see her brother again, in a universe where he was no longer either dead or in a coma, and a chance to bring him home again.
An unmarked grave in Imp territory.
No one is there to watch as a hand slowly claws through the earth, digging his way out of his makeshift grave. But President Stoneback sees it all, watches as Nate pulls himself out of the grave, prepares to take his place in the canon of The Gallows Song, to introduce himself to Thorn and Ash, to offer his services to the Imp rebel cause.
Just as Violet had written it.
Insolent girl, she was yet to realise what she had done. Nate was part of their world now, not hers; he was no longer Violet’s brother, but her construct, he had become part of the Gallows Dance verse, no longer part of his own.
Any minute now, events would unfold exactly as Stoneback knew they would, and he would just sit and watch, knowing he was one step closer to manipulating Violet to his will.
He watched as Violet ran towards Nate, tried to hug him as he pushed her away suspiciously, as she talked about how much she’d missed him, how she visited him every day, how she was going to get him home to their family.
Nate stared at Violet uncomprehendingly. “I don’t know anyone called Violet. I certainly don’t know any Gems,” he went on, looking suspiciously at Alice. “Who are you?”