Old Business
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"'Let it hereby be known that the following document and parts thereof comprise in full the last will and testament of the late Dr. Cornelius Everett Wondertainment, who inherited the title by way of Dr. Isabel Helga Anastasia Parvati Wondertainment V, PhD, who inherited the title by way of Drs. Isiah Crawford (formerly Wondertainment) and Bertrand Wondertainment, who both inherited the title by way of'- hold on"

There's a rustling of paper.

"It… it keeps going like this for a while. Should I just skip to the, uh, important bit?"

The cloaked figure that stands alone at the back of the hall nods. His voice is soft, but with a strange pervasiveness that seems to completely fill the space. "That might be best. Some of us, I believe, still possess mortal lifespans." Many of the room's other inhabitants roll their eyes, and one (a young female in an exorbitantly well-made suit) flashes a half-glower in the wraith's direction. The Executor nods nervously, and thumbs through the document's heavy, glossy pages.

"Do declare… being of sound body and mind… ah, here we go. 'I, Dr. Cornelius Everett Wondertainment, do leave my considerable fortune to my daughter Holly, redeemable in its entirety at any point following my death, or preceeding it if she can work out how. Do me proud.' How sweet. 'To those who I previously employed as staff'… oh, um. There's a whole list of names here. Does anybody know a Mr. Russel Peters?"

A frail man in a bowler hat is shuffled through the crowd towards the table.

"Oh good. There's a lot of specifics here, and as the esteemed Mr. Darke said, we don't really have time here today. Since you're the-" He glances at the paper. "'Wondertainment Funtime Employee Manager Extraordinaire', could you see to the details?"

Mr. Peters stammers as a hefty chunk of the will is placed into his arms, but the collective force of the crowd clamouring to get a good look at it pushes him back into their midst before he can voice any complaints. The Executor adjusts his spectacles and peers down at the paper.

"'To my business associates at the famed Circus of the Disquieting, I leave the contents of the Dr. Wondertainment's Preposterously Paranatural Petting Zoo, as well as seventy assorted creations housed in my workshop. The key is enclosed below, and is yours-'" There's a clink as the Executor pulls it swiftly out of the grasp of the clamour. "-provided you offer Wondertainment exclusive vending rights to all abnormal confections purveyed at your Circus for a period of no less than 50 years."

The Man with the Upside-Down Face rubs his chin — or rather, his forehead — and sighs. "The old bastard. I'll have to talk it out with Icky, but we should be able to make arrangements." He extends his hand. "I'll take the key now, if that's okay. You have my word that we won't disobey the conditions."

"I'm sorry, I can't-"

The hand is rotated, and placed on the Executor's shoulder. He gulps.

"I am sure that if the late Doctor wished to prevent us from violating his will, he would have put in place a system to ensure our compliance. And I am also sure that nobody here would wish to deal with the wrath of the dead." There's a cough from Darke. "Alright, practicing necromancers excluded, I'm sure nobody-" There's another, much quieter cough from a figure in the opposite corner — a man of average height and build, in average clothes that conveyed an overall impression of nothing more than mediocrity. "-present company excluded, would wish to do anything contrary to Cornelius's wishes." He grins wryly, and the effect is chilling.

"…very well. M- moving swiftly onwards, aha, we have the members of the Wanderers' Library literature club, who receive approximately $14,000,000 worth of rare and abnormal books, and somebody called 'Dado' — no, sorry, 'dado', although I'm not entirely sure how I'm pronouncing it lowercase — who is entitled to the contents of the late doctor's extensive medical cabinets…"

And so it went on. One by one, dealers in the anomalous were called up to collect their dues, and over the course of the afternoon the room emptied. Around one in ten were asked to linger, and lurked around the edge of the wood-panelled hall while the sunlight through the windows dimmed from orange to bloody red. Artists, merchants, soldiers take their leave, and of the hundred or so people initially present, only a dozen now remain.

The door finally clicks shut, and the room is still.

"L- ladies and gentlemen." The echoing of his own voice catches the Executor off guard. "I have left you until last, and there is a very good reason for this." With a deft flick of his hands, he unfolds the final page of the will. "And that is the matter of the Dr. Wondertainment company, brand, and all abnormal assets therefore included."

The silence, already palpable, becomes almost throttling. No-one risks a glance around the room, and no-one dares move.

"The will reads as follows: 'If you are hearing this, then I am dead. As you have no-doubt spent the last several hours attending the reading of my will, this should not come as a surprise. For matters of security and dramatic suspense, I cannot simply declare an heir, and since I did not live long enough to select one myself, the matter is still open. You are the ones I have selected to see the process through — shareholders, coworkers, associates and friends. Instructions will become clear below. I apologise in advance for the inconvenience.'"

A pause, during which the only sound is the desperate grunting of a fat man in an ill-fitting waistcoat as he tries to crane his neck over the shoulders of those in front of him.

"It's… blank."

This begins to sink in.

"Completely blank."

This begins to sink out, in an emotional geyser of angry muttering.

"I- no, no, of course I'm not joking, why would I- yes I'm sure! It's blank paper, there's- Fine! See for yourself!"

Holding it up like a shield, the Executor faces the crowd. It is indeed blank. 3/4 of a page, filled with nothing but faintly-yellowed whiteness.

"It's a trick!" Someone shouts over the clamour. "He wants us to solve a riddle!"

"No!" Shouts someone else. "It's a metaphor! The real Wondertainment was inside us the whole time!"

"Don't be stupid, what does that even mean?"

"What do you even mean?"

"Ladies and gentlemen, please!"

Darke floats slowly to the front of the tussle, the crowd parting before him like the Red Sea.

"Me and Cornelius were… not friends. I met him perhaps three times over the course of his life, and during one of those times I nearly ended it. I was unsure why I was here, in fact, when my partners and even my prodigy were asked to retire from this function."

He draws a long quill from his cloak, and presses it to the parchment. It sinks a centimetre or so further in than it should appear to, and Darke closes his eyes.

"This is nomenclative siphoning. Name magic. Old magic. I will not bore you with the details, but suffice to say… it is powerful. More powerful, I will be honest, than I thought the old fool was capable of."

He draws a breath, and the air around him takes on a faint purple hue.

"Of our merry gang, around half are members of the Wondertainment board of executives. At least three are majority shareholders in one portion of the company or another, and I believe one of you may have held the Doctor's title in a time of strife. In short, you are tied to the brand, and so-" He pauses, clearly resisting with no small amount of effort. "-the brand is tied to you. The remaining five, of which I count myself a member, are potentially the five most powerful sorcerers on this plane with the inclination to participate."

"Cornelius was a clever one, I'll give him that."

Darke shudders, and the quill begins to sputter across the page of its own volition, dragging his arm along in the process. After all of one second, he wrenches himself free and gasps. On the paper, "Darke" glows with a faint black un-light, like a hole cut through the text itself.

He holds up the quill, and asks who's next. His faint smile makes nobody feel better.



Well, it's done. The reading is over. The Executor has vanished into the aether as the members of the Wondertainment Lega-riffic Legal Department are wont to do, and the bemused signers of the late Doctor's will have been bustled out by security. Only I remain. They let me stay, of course. I'm not important enough to worry about.

I stroll over to the table, where the document lies open. I watch as the not-really-ink beings to move across the god-I-wish-it-were-paper, collecting in the middle and spreading out in three long, spidery tendrils.

Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes pass. Finally, a miniature thunderclap (cliché but effective) tells me the process has finished. The symbol spread out before me is the new bearer of the Dr. Wondertainment title, and all the burdens that contains. When I see it, I almost burst out laughing.

Still, nothing to be done now. The old man made his choice, but god knows what he was thinking. God knows. Hah. What gods were there, any more? He was a foolish dreamer, and he tried to make the world a better place by hurting those around him. He had one goal in life and he couldn't even fulfil that. The testament to his failure lies rusting even now. I'm sure the Factory will reclaim it eventually, it usually does. "Wonder World". Even for him, it was naïve. It's a new world out there, and new times, and new times need new gods. Or no gods at all, more likely.

I blink.

What was I thinking about?

No matter, it can't have been important. I never do anything important.

I fold up the paper up into a square the size of a postage stamp, and slip it into my pocket. The door is locked, but I walk out anyway. Nobody could could have done it, after all. And I'm Nobody.




And all is said and said is done
And done is all for naught but fun



But just make sure
You walk before
You try to think to learn to run




Ever-mover,
moving shaker,
Joy-man, toy-man,
Wondermaker


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