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Hooters Across the Houses

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When Harrowhark entered the crypt, it was to find Gideon examining a glossy magazine with her feet propped up on a raised tomb. Sacrilege.

The only light source was the bioluminescent powder that accumulated like algae on the damp stone ceiling and which rained in glittery dust down upon Gideon's pornographic publication. Gideon peered in close at the (here Harrow glided forward, silent on shadow feet to make out the reading material) busty brunette in nerd glasses who took up a full two-page spread, bursting from her too-small button down.

Not aware she was being observed, Gideon wiped the glitter from the page and tipped the magazine for a better angle. "Nice," she said aloud.

"Truly lamentable."

Gideon jumped in her seat, but recovered quickly. When she addressed Harrow she had the gall to sound snide. "Jealous, Your Most Necrotic Daughter?" She gave Harrow a once-over filled with what she clearly thought was disdain but came off more like a furtive ogle.

Harrow exited the shadows entirely and plucked the magazine from clammy fingers.

"I was, of course, merely judging your taste in women." She rifled through the pages, which were earmarked and well-worn. "And by the look of this faux intellectual smut this is doubtless hot off the printing presses of the Sixth House."

"I try not to think about that." Gideon appeared chagrined. "Besides, maybe that's where I originally came from, so I can't hate on them that much."

Harrow lowered the magazine, mouth a fake O of dismay. "So you're drooling over the assets of a potential relation?"

"UGH," said Gideon despairingly.

Harrow closed the magazine (Hot Librarians of the Sixth!) to see that the cover screamed Sexy interview with November's winner of the Miss Galaxy biblio-bikini contest, in our 10,001st year of His Celestial Kindliness, the First Reborn, the Necrolord Prime.

"Hm. I see I was correct. As I said, lamentable."

Gideon sputtered. "I'm reading it for the articles!" she finally managed.

"I'm sure you are."

Having won this current battle of wits, Harrow was done here. She swept from the room with nary a glance back at Gideon who was cursing her out most colorfully. Although Harrow did conjure up a few metacarpals to flip her off just before the door swung closed on its ancient hinges.



*



That night, after a couple mouthfuls of gruel followed by her usual prayer and ablutions, Harrow set to perusing the accursed publication. She had easily disappeared it into her voluminous robes while Gideon was flushing with shame and fury, and she procured it now from beneath her hard pillow.

As she flipped through the shiny pages her second impression was the same as the first: too many coy smiles, too many library-themed puns, and the sort of clothing that would be appropriate for the weather of a more sunbathed planet, one that was at least 20 degrees warmer on average. Certainly not the Ninth where the cold seeped into one's bones and lived there.

Also, Harrow was fairly sure librarians didn't spend their time exposing themselves in this manner. It would distract from the books. Not that she could say for certain; she had never set foot in a library, as the Ninth stacked its collection of gilded tomes and disintegrating scrolls in a cobwebbed crypt that was staffed by no one.

In short, this was a very silly magazine with a silly premise and unrealistic photos, churned out by a house of generally degraded bloodline if rumors were to be taken as truth.

Nevertheless, by the light of the candle stub Harrow continued her perusal. There were tartan mini-skirts for purchase and one especially juicy and overly thumbed page of a dark-haired, gaunt-faced woman who looked more like she belonged in the Ninth. And then there were the "articles" Gideon had spoken of.

Well, Harrow wasn't sure she'd call them articles. They were more like fluffy opinion pieces and short works of fiction. One in particular caught her eye. It was heavily circled by Gideon, and Harrow was eager for a look into Gideon's darkest fantasies.

It turned out to be a story entitled "Lost planet at the edge of nowhere," and it centered a very fraught relationship between two women. They were rivals really, and she found herself strangely engrossed, as well as deeply perturbed when it left off on a cliffhanger.

"At least let us know if they get together..." Harrow muttered, as clearly the characters were obsessed with eachother.

It was then that she caught sight of the author's name.

"BladeBabe9," she muttered, then re-skimmed the story. The obvious suddenly clicked. Harrow began to laugh and then couldn't stop laughing, a rough sound, unfamiliar as it echoed off the stone walls of her small chamber.

On second readthrough, it was patently obvious that Gideon had written the story. There was absolutely no question. No one else in the history of the Nine Houses could have penned a smutty story that focused as much on a sword as on the love interest (a certain nameless, dark-haired demoness) than Gideon herself, the Ninth's lackadaisical swordswoman in training, page to most fearsome swordmaster Aiglamene, and daughter of none. Harrow would have recognized her voice anywhere.

Now in possession of this valuable information, Harrow was beside herself with glee. The question now was what to do with it.

On the next page was the Ask Ambrosius section where people across the Nine Houses wrote in to complain, followed by a two page list of Singles in Space.

"Bingo," said Harrow and retrieved her blood ink.



*



Dear BladeBabe9, I read your story. You sound single lmao - Necr0mantic



*



Harrow made sure to position herself on the airstrip landing pad well before the appointed mail drop. It was a few weeks after her response had been published in the widely distributed Hooters Across the Houses, and she was eager to see if Gideon had taken the bait.

At long last the mail carriage ricketed down onto the scorched landing pad, farting out exhaust fumes and ozone. A skeleton stood at attention beside Harrow, usually tasked with collecting the post. It was not confused at her presence. She was never questioned. There was barely a soul on the Ninth House that qualified as conscious, and the skeleton stood blankly at her left hand, a humble servant.

When a clean-cut woman in a gold and tasseled postal uniform descended the carriage steps, Harrow allowed the skeleton to do its task. It collected the mail and then handed it off to Harrow. She perused it with an appetite.

The stack contained two real estate postcards advertising relatively inexpensive land on the asteroid belt (with a planet-side view!), various religious pamphlets, and a sheaf of coupons. And from under those, Harrow pulled the most recent issue of the titilating magazine, this one cleverly entitled "Utterly Amazing Udders of the Eighth."

"Score," she said, and then stared down the postwoman who was looking on surreptitiously. Harrow tucked the publication into the folds of her church robes and stalked off, leaving the skeleton to handle the tip.

She'd almost made it to her cell before Gideon came racing up the gently sloping hallway that led to the docks. She slowed as she neared Harrow, and pressed a hand to her side, trying to catch her breath quite attractively.

"You're an animal," Harrow said.

"Shut it." Gideon eyed the sheaf of mail hungrily. "Anything for me?"

Harrow displayed the junk mail, and then handed her the coupons as if she was handing her a lot of money.

"That's it?" Gideon demanded, and then, for some reason, "Crux got to it first, didn't he?"

Harrow remained silent, merely raising an eyebrow.

"That goddamned thief!" Gideon, taking this as confirmation, turned and sprinted the opposite direction yelling, "Crux!" in murderous tones that echoed down the torch-lit hall.

It was all too athletic for Harrow's taste. Gideon was like a bright flash of chaos in an otherwise monochrome existence. Harrow preferred, instead, to sit as still as possible and meditate on death.

When she was once again alone in her cell, she cleared the dust off her desk and made herself slowly flip through the pages of the magazine. When she found Gideon's response in the singles section, she bit back the smile that threatened.

Dear Necr0mantic, Very single, believe me. I would be a hit with the ladies…if there were any ladies where I lived. What about u? - BladeBabe9

"Oh, Nav." Harrowhark pressed the magazine to her chest.



*

The singles section now always featured one of their notes, a slow and painstaking flirtation that mounted with every issue.

Harrow quickly signed up for her own subscription to the magazine (under a false name, of course) and kept the growing collection under her hard mattress. The postwoman no longer appeared surprised to see the head of the Ninth House waiting in full garb on the ancient landing pad, nor did she balk at Harrow's choice of reading material after the first few deliveries.



*

 

Dear BladeBabe9, I don't know, you don't sound very smooth to me.

Dear Necr0mantic, Believe me, I've got moves. I'll show you if you want.



*



She didn't spend all her time writing to Gideon, of course. She had a House to run. There were visiting mystics and pilgrims to greet and give blessings to, Ortus and his poetry to avoid, sermons to pen in her spider's scrawl. Whenever her ink ran dry she pricked her own lip with the sharp pen tip and continued to write.

One such morning, as she composed a wordy screed for the afternoon's Mass, she was interrupted by a crunch of bone. She turned to find Crux had entered behind her and was bowed from the knee.

She waved her hand. "Rise."

"Your ladyship." He straightened.

"Proceed."

I must inform you that there is a disturbance in the treasury." He stood at stiff attention but his voice quavered with barely checked rage. "That welp, the Ninth's house most insolent ingrate—"

"Yes, I am familiar with whom you speak. What is she up to now?"

He composed himself with effort. "She is upsetting the nuns! Our exalted sisters who are attempting to rid the vaults of rats out of an excess of goodness!"

Harrow frowned. "Is she looking for something specific?"

"She's clearly thieving from our coffers! I had always known it would come to this!"

The treasury contained a multitude of items lost to the sands of time. There was, of course, treasure, and a good deal of armor, much of which was still attached to the body that had died with it.  The treasury also acted as a sort of regal junk drawer to house anything the Ninth House could foresee needing in the near (or far) future; screws of all sizes, leather belts, pens, several attempts at currency that had been abandoned over time, and all manner of farm equipment necessary to snow leek production. Harrow was deadly curious as to what Gideon could be after.

It struck her suddenly, that it was possible Harrow's only contemporary was arming herself. Not for her daily practice, but for a trip. Perhaps she was planning to leave. She'd already attempted an escape from the Ninth, what, upwards of eighty times? Maybe this time she was taking her preparation more seriously.

Traveling down to the vaults was usually a solemn business, her footfalls echoing, the last living being among endless catacombs of long-deceased past-inhabitants. Today there was no such meditation as she rushed to the treasury, spurred onward by the not-so-irrational fear that Gideon would be lost to her. The skeletons seemed to grin as she sped past.

At a certain point they were able to follow the noise. From one of the many treasure piles came a clatter and eventually she was able to make out, in the dusky half-light of the vault, Gideon wallowing happily in a treasure pile like a pig in mud.

Harrow sneered, but was not able to look away as Gideon found a candle holder that she apparently liked.

"Nav." Her voice ricocheted off the stone columns until it faded into a corner somewhere.

"Shit." There came a clatter of metal. The two newcomers patiently waited the intervening minute or so in which Gideon attempted to remove herself from the pile of ever-sinking gimcracks and trinkets. Just moments ago Harrow had worried that Gideon would manage to extricate herself from the very planet, and here she was struggling to get out of a heap of miscellany.

Harrow could not control the smirk as Gideon's foot got stuck in a bit of pipe most-often used for Castle Drearburh's air filtration system. Maybe it was relief as much as amusement. Maybe.

"What for the love of the Necrolord Prime are you doing," she said once Gideon had managed to find footing on solid ground.

Gideon glanced down at the candelabra she had struggled so hard for, then back to Harrow. "...thrifting?"

Full relief now. Damn her somehow still beating heart.

Gideon looked at her like she was stupid. "Can I help you?"

"It's just that…You're needed in the..." Harrow cast around for a believable thing Gideon was needed for and came up short. She really was rather useless.

"You missed me?" Gideon guessed.

"You wish!" said Harrow, aware she had failed to remain cool, calm, collected. It was a struggle when faced with this ridiculous human before her. "I must attend to my skeletons!"

She didn't wait for Gideon's response, just stormed off the way she had come. She was very busy and important, and found herself looking too closely for comfort at just why the idea of Gideon escaping the Ninth had thrown her into such a panic. Life without Gideon in these crumbling halls was unthinkable. Gideon had always been attached to her life like another limb that Harrow had never been sure of how to use, that acted on its own accord.

Harrow was aware eventually that Gideon was trotting after her when she easily caught up and fell into step.

"Soo…" Gideon twirled the candelabra a bit. "Wanna help me install this? In my cell?" She waggled her eyebrows. When Harrow stared at her, Gideon raised a hand, quickly backing off. "Ok, ok. See you at Mass, I guess."

"If you manage to stay awake this time," Harrow sniffed.



*



Dear BladeBabe9, I'm very busy and important. But I suppose I could make time for you.

Dear Necr0mantic, tell me when and where. I am literally always free.

Dear BladeBabe9, desperate much?

Dear Necr0mantic, You have no idea. I gotta get off this rock.



*

 

That last one had hit Harrow hard. The Ninth was, truly, just a rock, but it was their rock, an impossibility, an aberration. Harrow came from a long line that stretched back to the first necromancers who had been sent to the far reaches of known space to seal the Tomb and then die. But instead, they had crept into the rock face and learned to live.

Harrow wrote another message and sent it. Watching Gideon fall for the ploy so easily had become a definite highlight, just another trick in their long history of tricks. Harrow didn't feel guilty at all.

A week later, when surveying her network of ossuaries, a sound came from one of the many darkened nooks that lined the moldering crypt. Harrow peered around the doorway. Inside knelt Gideon, small somehow when faced with the skeletons stacked one atop the other, morbid in the semi-dark. Harrow pulled back around the corner.

As Harrow watched, Gideon took the hand of one of the skeletons and gave it a squeeze. "It looks like your head was about the size as mine. You'll do." It was unclear what she could possibly be talking about, doing, communing with this random skeleton, but then she said, "Mom, I have so much to tell you," and something twinged in Harrow's chest.

It was a truly pathetic sight. Others might call it tragic but Harrow wasn't capable of experiencing such emotions. Gideon didn't deserve her sympathies and she would rather cry over Ortus the pathetic poet than spare a heartbeat for Nav. No, the eternal mistress of the Ninth House dwelled in darkness, her heart cold and hard as bone. (Ask anyone!)

"Mom," said Gideon, and Harrow's attention was drawn once more at the words. "There's this girl." Gideon paused before amending, "Well, more like a harpy...What I mean to say is, I don't think you'd like her. Actually I don't think I like her. But the thing is…I can't stop thinking about kissing her."

Her voice was despairing, and there was a miserable cast to her normally so animated face. Harrow turned on silent toes and fled.





*



Dear BladeBabe9: there's a girl I Iike. It might be you.

Dear Necr0mantic, :D!!!!!!



*



So the messages had gotten out of hand, Harrow would be the first to admit that. But they were anonymous and Gideon would never find out.

It was how the messages had effected Harrow that was the problem.

She found herself watching Gideon. Who was she lying to, she had always watched Gideon. As another inhabitant of the Ninth, long may it prosper, Gideon was part of Harrow's purview, but moreover she was Harrow's only peer and had become something of the yin to Harrow's yang, the chaos to her stoicism, the flesh to her bone. They had circled each other like twin moons since they were children, a nightmare and a dream both.

She made excuses to find her. Today Gideon was training with Aiglamene in the gym, the long room bathed in a flickering torchlight that cast the two swordswomen in high relief, shadows chasing each other down the parquet floor and up the walls in dramatic umbra.

Gideon was more handy with a sword than Ortus. This wasn't just because Harrow disliked the hangdog expression Ortus gave her any time she reminded him of his ordained duty, his position as right hand man to the Daughter of the Ninth. It was objectively true. Gideon was wound up like a rubber band that, when released, would snap back like a whip.

Seeing Gideon now, standing strong on the parquet floor, arms quivering with the effort of holding the Captain of the Guard at bay, Harrow was left dry mouthed and uncertain. Gideon held the large sword with a two handed grip. It was twice her size.

Gideon parried, and then rolled to avoid being cleaved in twain by Aiglamene's blow, somehow managing this without stabbing herself. The two women engaged one another in a dance of quick thrusts and ripostes, steel sparking against steel so hard it threw sparks.

Finally they broke. They looked up as Harrow stepped into the room.

Aigamene straightened from her practice stance to give her a crisp military bow. "Reverend Daughter."

Gideon, meanwhile, sent Harrow a sarcastic salute.

Aiglamene looked to Gideon and said, "I expect you to do better next time," whether about her lack of deference to Harrow or the sword practice was unclear. Then she left them to their silence, Gideon gazing after her like she worshipped the ground she walked on.

When they were well alone, Gideon raked her fingers through her hair until it was swooped back into that quiff again. It did that naturally, she often claimed, due to that one time she had plummeted through the Ninth's wisp of an atmosphere whilst still in the womb.

Today Harrow wanted to touch it.

Gideon raised an eyebrow, and Harrow realized she'd been staring. This seemed to have unsettled Gideon.

Good.

"You have something to say?" said Gideon impatiently. He shirt was sweated clean through. It should have been repugnant.

Harrow tried not to betray her nerves and took a step closer, hands tucked in her robes. "I wouldn't be opposed to it," she said.

"Opposed to what?" Gideon leaned her giant sword against the rack of weapons and went to sit on a chair to change out of her practice boots. "Is it in the rulebook that sepulcral shades must tell riddles like the ghosts they idolize?"

Harrowhark remained placid and said, "Kissing you. I wouldn't be opposed to it."

"Wha—" Gideon almost fell out of the chair. Then she frowned, realization coloring her face with embarrassment. "You heard."

"I heard." Harrow wasn't exactly proud of admitting to eavesdropping but the way Gideon's face had gone red, nearly obscuring the freckles, was worth it. "So. What do you think?"

"Really?" said Gideon, seeming to be waiting for the punchline. When Harrow just stared her down, Gideon grinned. "I mean— Aight."

She stood up into it, the kiss, one knee still on the chair, and Harrow caught the back so she didn't tip forward.

This first press of Gideon's mouth was hot and wet, like she had spent her time fantasizing over too many porn mags and not enough time kissing girls irl. That worked for Harrow, who was in the same position.

Harrow pulled back first, afraid of losing her cool.

"Well." She would have to reapply her black lip paint; Gideon was now wearing it.

Her chest heaved under the corset of bone she wore, Gideon must have felt it, her hands clenched as they were in Harrow's robes, fingers wound in the thick wool.

If Crux walked in, or god forbid Ortus, who would doubtless commit the moment to song. She shuddered, imagining the stanzas.

"Ahem," said Gideon, moving backward and running fingers through her hair again in a nervous sort of way. She glanced quickly at Harrow, then away. "Well it's a good thing you're eye candy, or else you'd never get away with things like that."

"I'm the one doing you a favor."

"Charming as always," said Gideon, trying to pull her face into a disinterested moue. "Anyway, if you'll excuse me, I have a babe to write to."

"Sure you do," said Harrow, reestablishing their conversational equilibrium.

Gideon made a noise like pshaww and grabbed for the magazine which she carried with her everywhere, apparently. She threw her booted feet out in front of her in the very picture of relaxation, to all intents and purposes completely unmoved by what had just occurred between them.

Harrow couldn't say the same for herself.

"I ALSO have babes," she said nonsensically.

And she did, too! A frozen babe.

When Gideon peeked from behind the copy of Top Shelf Milf despite herself, Harrow declared, "So now you know, my destiny is tied to another." She was sure of it, in fact, though she knew not how.

Gideon narrowed her eyes, lowering the magazine. "Who?"

"No one you've met," Harrow said grandly, watching Gideon's frown deepen.

She had already let on too much. She turned abruptly on heel and left.

"You can't end every conversation by making a big exit, you know!" echoed Gideon's voice after her. "That's not winning!"




*

 

Dear Necr0mantic, Girls are confusing. One day you're trying to kill each other and the next you want to jump their bones.



*



"I pray the Tomb is shut forever," Harrowhark muttered to herself, quickly, rote. "I pray the rock is never rolled away."

A few tourists passing her quickly pressed their backs against the stone wall. Their hushed and excited whispering ("That was her!" "Daughter of the Ninth!") faded out as she turned a corner out of sight.

She emerged from the tunnel out into the large cave system, where she found Gideon seated in the dirt. The dozens of skeletons dug through the cold earth, harvesting this season's crop of snow leeks as Gideon watched.

"I pray that which was buried remains buried, insensate," continued Harrow, taking a seat next to Gideon. And finished, "In perpetual rest with closed eye and stilled brain."

Gideon gave a deep sigh. "Samesies," she said, and they lapsed into a semi-comfortable silence.

Leaning back on a hand, Harrow examined a dirt-clodded leek, one of many from the nearby pile. It looked to be a decent crop. It would be used to make the delicate broth, which was clear and fat-less, with only the vague essence of onion to confirm it had nutritional value.

Harrow felt a brush against her fingers, Gideon's hand seeking hers. She nearly jumped out of her skin but managed to remain outwardly calm and collected as Gideon's fingers entwined daringly with her own.

"You ok?"

Harrowhark scoffed. "Of course."

A trickle of blood spilled down her face. And not because of the bone conjuring.

"You have a nosebleed," Gideon observed, glancing her way with measured disinterest. "Are you finally dying? Has the damp air finally resulted in pneumonia?"

Harrow wiped the blood with her voluminous sleeve. "I'm fine."

"Sure you are." Gideon's fingers still gripped her own. "This isn't the worst thing that you survived."

"My position," Harrow suddenly was compelled to explain. "Means I must maintain the illusion of strength so this house isn't subsumed into another, dissolved forever. You'll understand why I cannot bear any distraction."

"That's a lot for one person's shoulders," said Gideon, looking her over. "And for such small shoulders, too."

Some sort of fondness began to creep over Harrow's cold atriums, as their hands remained clutched despite her words, and as they looked at each other for a long moment. Gideon's eyes really were the most illuminating tone of gold.

"You'll understand why I cannot bear any distractions," said Harrow, ruining the moment. 

Gideon jerked her hand away. She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and looking at the leek pile. "I have a girlfriend anyway. Long-distance."

Harrow raised a painted eyebrow. "And you think I care because…?" 

Gideon scuffed the dirt with her boot. The silence between them, now entirely sour, was cut only by the thump-thump-thump as skeletons tossed snow leeks into their wheelbarrows in consistent tandem.

"As I said, I myself am dedicated to another as well."

Gideon turned wide eyes on her, and for a moment Harrow wished she could live up to that wonder, as Gideon asked, "You were serious? Who is it?!"

Gideon was clearly running through every living person they mutually knew.

"Could it…no. But maybe it could be…? " her expression transformed into one of pity. "Wait...is it Sister Glaurica?"

A collection of carpal bones and tibia and fibula burst from the packed dirt floor and formed into a full skeletal arm in under three seconds. It grabbed Gideon by the ankle.

"Augh!" shouted Gideon, falling to one side and kicking at the arm to little avail. "Eff you, you hag! Eff you and your probably age-inappropriate paramore!"

"You should really be careful where you sit." Harrow told her, watching passively as Gideon tussled.

That night Harrow decided to put an end to it. She got out her camera.



*



"My despondent damsel." Gideon lingered in the doorway. "You called for me?"

Harrow did not look up from her desk. "Griddle."

Gideon shifted her weight from foot to foot, before finally entering uninvited. The room was so small the only other place to sit was the bed. She did so, sprawling out with her back against the wall. It gave Harrow goosebumps.

It was true, she had sent for her. The recent magazine had been published and delivered, and Harrow had made sure to steal Gideon's copy.

After being ignored for a good minute while Harrow pretended to write (her words had turned to scribbles on the scroll) Gideon tossed a crumpled paper at Harrow's head. Harrow caught it without looking her way, a fragment of bone springing from nowhere and spearing the paper then depositing it on the desk.

"Aren't you going to read it?" Gideon asked.

"Ok." Harrow smoothed out the paper to find it was a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, the useless type they got in the mail.

She turned in her chair to look at Nav, whose confident gaze was belied only by the faint shake in her fingers as she raked her hair back and said, "As you'll see, I believe I'm owed the next one for free of charge?" She nodded to the coupon, definitely rehearsed.

Harrow said, "The next what?"

She'd walked right into it.

The second kiss was nothing like the first. For one, Gideon got up off the bed and stalked the two steps to her, slowly, with intent, giving Harrow every chance to conjure a guard.

Gideon ran her fingers through Harrow's short hair and let herself be dragged down into it. Shortly she straddled Harrow's legs, sitting in her lap and kissing her hard in desperate approval. Harrow stroked her hands down to Gideon's hips and then under her shirt to touch her hot skin, causing a mutual shiver ran through them both, a thrill that continued until Harrow leaned her forehead against Gideon's, breaking the kiss to share in the dank air.

Gideon was the only one who did not bow like a puppet on thanergetic strings. It was a relief, it was a goddamned headache. It was Gideon in a nutshell.

"I don't know if your long-distance girlfriend would appreciate that," Harrow said, a tease to her tone.

Gideon kissed her again. "She can wait."

"Can she though? After all the sweet poetry you've been spouting, only to leap into the arms of your enemy?"

Gideon sprung up from Harrow's lap. It was too bad, but the vindicated laughter Harrow allowed herself made it worth it.

Gideon pointed at her, mouth opening and closing. "It was you!"

"Of course." Harrow went to the bed to fish under her mattress, and interrupted what had the potential to be an epic blowout when she tossed the most recent issue of the magazine at Gideon.

Gideon looked down at the copy.

"Saved the best house for last, looks like," Harrow said, and reclined on the bed to witness what came next.

Gideon gaped at the magazine, for a very long time. Slowly she sat beside Harrow on the small mattress as she made a choked noise of amazement.

"Well, isn't that nice." Harrow leaned in to look, up on one elbow. "Looks like I made the cover."

Gideon's only response was the sound of her brain short-circuiting, never to recover. 

"You…have officially won," Gideon said finally. "Now if you'll excuse me, I give up. I am hereby deceased."

She crawled from the room in a gratifying state of shock, and took the magazine with her.

Meanwhile, a true smile formed on Harrow's face, quite rare. She leaned back on the cot, hands behind her head.

Well that had gone better than planned. And judging by the response of its dedicated readership, Harrow wouldn't be surprised if Knockers of the Ninth turned out to be the most popular publication since Teats of the Third: A Terrific Treatise on Top-Notch Titties!