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Literature / Chasing Butterflies

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Chasing Butterflies is a sci-fi/adventure web novel meant to serve as a prequel to a forthcoming webcomic.

Welcome to the Kinematic Envelope, a stretch of infinity where time does not flow so much as break apart. Sal, a xeno who landed in a settlement where the residents are unaging, unchanging, and content, is compelled back to his own timeline from the memories that haven't faded away, but the pursuit of it may as well be as fruitless as chasing butterflies through eternity.


It can be read here.

The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • A Million Is a Statistic: Mr. Hive cares nothing about mass murder, viewing countless deaths as just a blip on the radar. He threatens to raze Xemidas, saying nothing in the Kinematic Envelope will even notice, let alone care and time will march onward.
  • Actual Pacifist: The people of Xemidas have some weird beliefs, but their snail-based religion is a completely pacifistic one and the city's residents are hospitable folks who wouldn't harm a soul.
  • Affably Evil: Papa Sugar's warm, affable, and a Fat Bastard underneath the surface who cheerfully informs he's intending to sell Quine and Feyf to pay his outstanding debts in more-or-less the same amicable tone he welcomed them in.
  • Alien Sky: The sky of the Kinematic Envelope are thick and shadowy, covered in 'rusted, carmine clouds.'
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  • And the Adventure Continues: The last spoken word of the story is 'onward' as Sal leads the others to the planet Miirth, crossing back into Sal's timeline and questing for news of his family.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Most of Fitch's vitriolic behavior is out of concern for her friends. At one point she thinks when she sees Sal, she'll beat him up, bury him and dig him up again, though she's clearly beside herself in concern for him.
  • Avenging the Villain: Papa Sugar's pals want revenge on Sal and friends for helping the wicked slaver exit the mortal coil.
  • The Barnum: Mr. Hive is a particularly nightmarish example who goes around the Kinematic Envelope, roping in xenos with abundant Steam by luring the butterflies they chase to his "Vanity Rail." There Mr. Hive tricks them into believing they'll never get back to their timelines, and offers the "next best thing"—artifacts made in and taken from other timelines—at the price of all their Steam. Mr. Hive conveniently fails to mention the extraction of the xenos' Steam is a fatal process, after which Mr. Hive flies out to find the next poor soul while taking a trophy from his victim as the newest item on display in the Vanity Rail's stock.
  • Beast Man: Many of the xenos, by their own admission, resemble animals, albeit with some differences.
    • Ransa's a yendon, which most liken to a bunny.
    • Sal is likened to a salamander at times, and some of his description makes him appear like an axolotl.
    • The gentlemen, Kindly and Rudely are notably reptilian and likened to horned lizards.
  • Berserk Button: Hurting a snail turns out to be Fitch's trigger.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Sal is pretty reasonable, but threaten his friends and he will fight back or use lethal force as he does on Papa Sugar.
    • Quine might be the sweetest of the core four but when pushed she can be lethal. She throws Rudely to his death in the jaws of a giant eel with only a growl of "mincemeat" when he clearly wants mercy.
  • Big Bad: The villain of the story is the mysterious and sadistic Mr. Hive.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Papa Sugar sure seems nice, but it's a ruse to lure in others, as anything is for sale in Countdown Town, even and especially people.
  • Body-Count Competition: Kindly and Rudely decide a game of butchering innocents and to see who can wrack up the higher body count faster in Xemidas.
  • Body Horror: Fitch's body starts to grow and change unnaturally in response to time moving forward in the Vanity Rail. It merely starts out with her hair starting to grow out and a weird feeling that forces her to sit down; a few minutes later, her bones are growing out of place and her knee is permanently deformed from the stress of it when she escapes.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Ramus fires off a javelin right into Kindly's skull, with no Pretty Little Headshots in effect.
  • Bystander Syndrome: The populace of Mould is awed by the Skycavity, but they do remarkably little to save one of their own marooned upon it when it starts to fly away.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The Vanity Rail has numerous examples:
      • Feyf's bunny plush turns out to have a hidden hand-spike Sal uses to finish off Papa Sugar in a pinch.
      • The flute, the one item in the Vanity Rail Sal remembers the name of, turns out to be the final key between Sal and his own past.
      • Subverted with the actual gun, which is focused on at the start of the chapter and busted out at the end—whereupon it promptly fails to fire due to its age.
    • Ramus mentions that when chronautilids die, it results in a fascinating natural event called a "big bang," which creates an entire new timeline from all the Steam the dying chronautilid consumed being released all at once. This is exactly how Feyf and Mr. Hive end up kicking it in the end, when Feyf rams the Vanity Rail directly into a chronautilid to trigger the big bang.
  • Consummate Professional: Kindly is quite dedicated to the idea of capturing people to the letter of his contract, carving them up in the waiting room...but nothing beyond that. Professional standards are important.
  • Cool Train: The Steam locomotives are this to a tee and are even capable of driving entirely off of railways. The Vanity Rail, Mr. Hive's chronoengine, is a strange Ghost Train that runs perfectly fine despite the rot marring it front-to-back, and Soot swipes a chronofreighter he finds appealing.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • In general, anyone Mr. Hive sets his flies upon is bound for an agonizing end. The rot-flies are demonstrated to rapidly decay anything they swarm over, from wood to flesh.
    • Taking out someone's Steam is no better a death, as it's analogous to ripping out a person's soul. Mr. Hive never uses his Steam cane to accomplish this—on-page—but Feyf demonstrates the cane's effects on an unfortunate thug toward the end, resulting in him slowly crumbling away.
    • Craggs, an unfortunate fisherman Mr. Hive bumps into, is tortured with a gaffing hook before being left to drown in the unimaginably filthy waters of the Scumsea.
    • Rudely is hurled to be shredded in the jaws of a massive eel, torn apart with only his shredded remains left.
  • Cuteness Overload: Fitch being informed she may keep her visitor snail makes her explode in joy at the cute little thing, even flying into the air.
  • Cuteness Proximity: When they get to Xemidas, the core four are enraptured by their adorable little visitor snails.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fitch, in a calm mood, dispenses sardonic barbs like Pez candies. Everyone has their moments, though, even Sal and Quine.
  • Deal with the Devil: Mr. Hive is happy to offer bargains and alliances, but you do so at your peril with the rotting monster. Ironically enough, Mr. Hive essentially made one with the rot-flies to find his timeline, musing that he "sold his soul to the Kinematic Envelope" to get where he is now.
  • Defiant to the End: When Croque is set upon by Hive's flies, all he does is laugh until the end.
  • Despair Event Horizon: What started Mr. Hive's downfall into villainy, by his own admission: when Mr. Hive finally found his own timeline again, only to find it destroyed, he entered a "perfect, defining moment of despair" that left nothing for him but a one-way plunge far, far downward from there.
  • Determinator: For all Sal goes through, he steadfastly refuses to consider backing down.
  • Die Laughing: Both Croque and Feyf, though in different circumstances, both give their lives to screw over Mr. Hive and spend their last moments laughing their asses off over it:
    (in chapter 4) Croque said nothing. He just laughed and laughed as the rot-flies engulfed him.
    (in chapter 12) Feyf said nothing else. She just laughed and laughed, until the chronoengine hit the chronautilid head-on and the engine finally exploded.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After abuse and slavery from Hive, Feyf fights back against him and finally destroys him, making it clear she is through being afraid of him.
  • Don't Think, Feel: At the end of chapter one, Sal decides the characters might as well be algae that need to 'drift' rather than thinking of it.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Feyf's final sacrifice entails her driving Mr. Hive's chronomotive into a chronautilid with herself and Mr. Hive still on it. The resulting "big bang" is a Technicolor Death that can be seen for thousands of kilometers away and ultimately creates an entire new timeline from all the Steam released in the process.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Brother Dreiss speaks of a formless, infectious "entity" never seen onscreen that destroys entire timelines, his own included. Steam is mentioned to have been created as an antibody to such a horrific evil.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Papa Sugar is willing to sell Quine and Feyf into slavery, but avoids picking Sal as he sees no potential use for him aside from serving him as food—and Sugar remarks he stays well away from the xenoflesh market.
  • Evil Duo: The "gentlemen," two reptilian enforcers for Countdown Town's mob that become recurring antagonists in the story. Mr. Hive sweet-talks them into becoming his Co-Dragons at the end of the ninth chapter.
  • Evil Counterpart: As the story goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious Mr. Hive is one to Sal. Like Sal, Mr. Hive was once a "naive little nobody" who saw the butterflies and tried to follow them back to his own timeline. Unlike Sal, Mr. Hive made rash, self-afflicting decisions to help find his timeline, giving his very being over to the rot-flies to track it, only to find his timeline utterly destroyed. Mr. Hive notes that the only thing that truly separates him and Sal is "time and choice", representing an image of what Sal could become if he made the wrong decisions—decisions Sal ultimately decides he'll never make in his final Shut Up, Hannibal! moment.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Mr. Hive's voice is described as a deep baritone.
  • Face of a Thug: Feyf has three eyes, a grin incapable of being anything else but a Slasher Smile and two enormous "hand-fangs" jutting out from underneath her hands. Despite this (and her morbid sense of humor), she's very quick to offer her hand in friendship to Sal and the others after her getaway plan succeeds.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: Xemidas worships snails as holy creatures and uses them to help cleanse the souls. Capitalism doesn't exist there; food is exchanged for unburdening one's spirit and confession. At which point you get a snail burger to purify your soul.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Mr. Hive is polite and pleasant, all part of his shtick as a roaming Con Artist who charms and tricks xenos who see the butterflies (i.e. those with excess Steam) into giving him their Steam. Beneath it, he's a sadistic and remorseless killer who's killed an indeterminate but lengthy amount of people via stealing their Steam.
    • Kindly, one half of the vicious due "the gentlemen," is a pleasant and kind-seeming reptilian xeno. It masks that he's a heartless, vicious sadist who loves torture and murder.
  • For the Lulz: Apparently Soot's only reason for lending any sort of aid to the protagonists—he's mostly content to stand by and watch, but his reason for tagging along with the heroes after the breakout scheme is "fun's fun."
  • Festering Fungus: There's a lot of strange, alien fungi about there. Mould is an entire settlement dedicated to growing alien, multicolored mushrooms and lichen.
  • Five-Man Band: After Feyf joins the party, Sal's group rounds out to this:
    • The Leader: Sal, by virtue of being the primary factor tying the group together and inciting the journey to begin with.
    • The Lancer: Feyf, the most experienced and bold of the group.
    • The Smart Guy: Ransa, the most intelligent and practical of the group.
    • The Big Guy: Quine, the most active and physical of the group.
    • The Chick: Fitch, the most passive and non-action of the group.
    • Sixth Ranger: Soot, the odd fellow who tags along the journey for reasons known only to him, then later Ramus, the Anorak Soot pays to look after them for a while.
  • Flies Equals Evil: Hive's wickedness is accentuated by the flies about him.
  • Floating Continent: The Skycavity, the floating island that Mr. Hive pilots, is a massive, floating black island named so because of all the cavernous "cavities" upon its surface.
  • Foreign Queasine: Fitch is aghast that Xemidas makes burgers out of snails.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sal's core group of four:
    • Quine is the Sanguine: cheerful, unwaveringly perky, eager to get out of Mould and always looking on the bright side.
    • Ransa is the Choleric: logical, stubborn, very strongly opinionated and vitriolic but endlessly loyal to his friends.
    • Sal is the Phlegmatic: quiet, downbeat, and something of a social outcast who spends most of his time daydreaming about butterflies.
    • Fitch is the Melancholic: snarky, conflict-averse, occasionally rational but mostly cynical and apathetic toward the journey.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Mr. Hive, like Sal, spent a seeming eternity trying to find his timeline, only to ultimately find it in ruins. Sal genuinely pities Mr. Hive, but still notes that doesn't give him the right to kill and manipulate so many innocent people.
  • Game Face: Papa Sugar's race, the Sucrians, are seemingly big and furry xenos...under that, they can gain terrifying, fanged and extending mouths.
  • Genki Girl: Quine's disposition is almost always energetic, and her enthusiasm for the journey outside of Mould is in stark contrast to the rest of her friends. Fitch even wryly comments she has no idea how Quine pulls it off.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Fitch goes into a fit of Cuteness Proximity when around Xemidas' snails and ends up fawning over one of the stuffed ones when she's prohibited from touching the real ones.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Quine is easily the sweetest character in the story, cares endlessly for her friends, and delivers the most brutal coup de grâce in the story when she rips Rudely off his chronofreighter and tosses him into the awaiting jaws of a gigantic eel.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: A certain creature is mentioned in the background as to whom Steam was created to opposite; a being who destroys entire timelines, but it plays no apparent role in the story of Sal and friends, save the indication that it's responsible for the destruction of Mr. Hive's timeline.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Feyf indicates Croque knew he was doomed either way, so he intentionally got himself thrown out of the Vanity Rail so he could come back and screw Mr. Hive over later so Feyf, Sal and the others can escape. The plan goes without a hitch—except for Croque's subsequent demise at the hands of the rot-flies.
    • Xemidas believes the snails they make burgers out of heroically sacrifice their lives to cleanse the souls of the consumers. No word on how the snails actually think of it.
    • Feyf gives her life to stop Mr. Hive, impaling him and making sure his vaunted Vanity Rail smashes into a chronautilid.
  • Hostage Situation: In Chapter 11, the gentlemen manage to take Ransa hostage.
  • Hypocrite: Mr. Hive's home timeline was destroyed and the consequences of his past decisions—infusing himself with the rot-flies—ensured Mr. Hive wouldn't ever be able to cross out of the Kinematic Envelope again, providing the impetus for his Straw Nihilist behavior as he peddles to everyone else with the butterflies that returning to their own timelines is impossible. Except Mr. Hive knows full well there are other, non-destroyed timelines, and he's stockpiling on stolen Steam to escape the consequences of his own actions and rejoin a timeline anyway.
  • I'm Taking Her Home with Me!: Fitch adores her visitor snail from Xemidas so much she wants to keep it.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Sal kills Papa Sugar this way, with one of Feyf's hand-spikes hidden inside of her bunny plush.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Ransa is easily the most confrontational and irascible of the main group, but he's nevertheless steadfastly loyal to his friends, and moral to the point where Mould's Bystander Syndrome earnestly pisses him off.
    • Downplayed with Fitch. She's less of a "jerk" and more just stressed out of her mind throughout the journey, which comes through as constant snark and sometimes lashing out at her friends. When she's in a more level mood, she's as much of a sweetheart as Sal is—the worst that can be consistently said about her is she's blunt.
  • Just Desserts: Rudely gets a particularly bloody instance of this, when Quine throws him to the jaws of an anguillotine which bites so hard Rudely essentially explodes into blood.
  • Kick the Dog: Mr. Hive allows the gentlemen and their comrades to go wild on Xemidas and kill large portions of the city just to let off some steam.
  • Lovable Coward: Ransa's quick to run from any sign of actual danger and whines every step of the way out of Mould, but he's nevertheless absolutely loyal to his friends, which continually prevails over his attempt to hide away from the danger.
  • Made a Slave: What happened to Feyf and Croque a long, long time before the plot started at the hands of Mr. Hive. Feyf's introduction has her liberate herself with the help of fellow slave Croque.
  • Made of Iron: He's very much worse for the wear afterwards, but Mr. Hive survives getting hit head-on by a flying train and the ensuing hundred-story drop.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Sal has only about five hundred brothers and sisters.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Papa Sugar's former buddies realize that they're on the side of the bad guys and opt to help the heroes when it's pointed out how evil Mr. Hive is and Xemidas is a peaceful city under attack as opposed to an evil cult.
  • Mortality Phobia: One of Mr. Hive's chief motives and largely the reason why he degenerated from a naive xeno like Sal into a self-serving, hypocritical monster. Mr. Hive is psychotically obsessed with staving off his own death at the hands of the rot-flies, to the point he's in conscious denial of his own impending demise even as his guts hang out of his suit and Fitch matter-of-factly tells him You Are Already Dead. All the lives Mr. Hive has wasted is ultimately for the purpose of fulfilling his desire to not die in the KE.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Kindly and Rudely don't respond to much by way of negotiation, simply preferring to slaughter whoever is trying to reason with them.
  • Nice Girl: Quine, in refreshing contrast to Ransa and Fitch, is nothing but earnestly cheerful and supportive of her friends.
  • The Nicknamer: Feyf seems to spring these on everyone she meets: Sal is "salamander," Quine is "greenie," Ramus is "elf-ears," and so on.
  • Obviously Evil: Mr. Hive looks like a rotting corpse and controls swarms known as "rot-flies." Any doubt this guy is bad, bad news?
  • Pest Controller: Hive's power is seemingly to control his very, very deadly flies.
  • Precision F-Strike: Passive, put-upon Sal who almost never utters a curse otherwise steps down when Mr. Hive attempts to prioritize his deal with Sal over Fitch's physical health:
    Sal: Screw your transaction! Stop the train now!
  • Pretty Butterflies: The butterflies of the title which drive the plot. Sal's entire journey starts with him being memorized by them; it's later explained that they're made of Steam, and they are naturally drawn back to their own timelines and other sources of Steam.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Played with for Kindly and Rudely. They do their jobs, but they rather enjoy their jobs and all the viciousness that results.
  • Quirky Town:
    • Countdown Town, place of countless stories with countless individuals there.
    • Xemidas is a holy city with a religion centered on snails. Every visitor has one assigned to them.
  • Rail Enthusiast: Ramus is an "Anorak," a member of a group with particular interest and knowledge in Steam locomotives. He's able to repair the busted engine of Mr. Hive's borderline-Ghost Train in twelve hours. He even wears a parka, which is an image inseparable from British trainspotters.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ruler of Xemidas, the Gastropope is a wise and benevolent leader who happily allows Fitch to keep her visitor snail and gives the core four a reward for saving Xemidas. Maybe. He's a giant slug in a pope outfit, so he might be a wise ruler or the Xemidas cultists are just interpreting for him. But they think he's this anyways.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • Countdown Town and indeed most of the locations are lovingly, vividly described through the story.
    • Special shoutout tot he Kinematic Envelope itself, described exquisitely and gorgeously.
  • Seen It All: Soot's been around and seen everything. Nothing phases him at all.
  • Serious Business: Papa Sugar says it best: to him, sugar whiskey is serious business and you can't 'just' serve it.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Ransa, Feyf and Rudely seem to each account for a third of the story's cursing. Feyf is the only member of the party not to even try to bother to adhere to Xemidas' laws against obscene language.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Inverted. Soot, the most overtly comic character in the story, sticks around for his own amusement for a short while after bumping into the core four but buzzes off once he finds a chronodiesel that attracts his attention. He's gone entirely for possibly the most lighthearted part of the story, and only returns the exact moment Mr. Hive is boring down on Xemidas itself.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Vanity Rail is a shout-out to the Vanity Fair from The Pilgrim's Progress, with Mr. Hive taking the place of Beelzebub.
    • Feyf teases Fitch—who more than once is likened to a fairy—by calling her "Tink."
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Hive's cruel enslavement of xenos for their Steam is seen as especially monstrous, as is Papa Sugar intending on selling others to cover his debts.
  • Speedy Snail: The chronautilids are beautiful flying snails. Can't get speedier.
  • Spree Killer: Kindly and Rudely go nuts in the city of Xemidas, obliterating portions of the city and going on a violent killing spree.
  • Stargazing Scene: The moment with Fitch and Ransa at the end of chapter 6 is a quiet moment where they're able to affirm their friendship and indeed how much the entire group means to both of them.
  • Superhuman Trafficking: In Countdown Town, anything is for sale, even people. And the more special the individual, the higher the price, with a thriving slave trade.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: While he ultimately condemns Mr. Hive as a victim of his own decisions, Sal still pities him for the loss of his timeline. Even Mr. Hive seems passingly aware of the abomination he's become at times:
    "What a dreadful word that is, isn't it? 'Once.' Yes... Once I could have been like you. Once, I could have offered you my hand in friendship. Once, I could have returned to my timeline, before all this madness happened...but only that once. And...never again."
  • These Hands Have Killed: Sal is considerably shaken by killing Papa Sugar at first, being rather morose over it.
  • True Companions: Sal, Ransa, Quine and Fitch. No matter how much they barb at each other and no matter what insane circumstances they end up in, their friendship is impenetrable and serves as the core of the story.
  • Undying Loyalty: The True Companions in general are supremely loyal to each other no matter how much they get under each other's skin, but this is most emphasized with Fitch toward Sal. Even in spite of being by far the most reluctant member of the group to have left Mould, Fitch tells Sal she's willing to follow him anywhere to ensure he's not alone for the future.
  • Villain Team-Up: Kindly and Rudely make an alliance with the wicked Mr. Hive.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mr. Hive grows increasingly impatient throughout the story, and by the time he's nearly bisected by Soot's chronodiesel, he's a delirious mess in a state of Tranquil Fury who utterly refuses to believe his time is up even when his guts are literally hanging out of his suit, and he finally attempts to (ineffectually) beg for his life when Feyf finally has him cornered and at her mercy.
  • Villains Want Mercy:
    • Rudely is silently begging Quine not to throw him to his death. It doesn't work.
    • When the chips are down, Mr. Hive is caught dead to rights by Feyf and all but begging to be spared. She'd rather die with him than let him live in the end.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds:
    • Sal and Fitch can lobby insults and venom at one another, but are good friends in spite of it.
    • Even more emphasized with Quine and Ransa. Almost all the page-time they share is spent with the two of them mutually driving each other up the wall, through Quine's naivete and Ransa's complaining.
  • Wretched Hive: Countdown Town is glitzier than the average wretched hive, but it's a cesspool of violence, hard drugs and barely-disguised Human Trafficking operations and savage criminals underneath its surface. People casually have sex out in the open, turn on each other for slights, and Ramus notes they have something of a tendency to disappear in the town.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Invoked. Mr. Hive has a bit of a habit of pulling this on those around him or working with him. Kindly and Rudely are warned that it's only a matter of time until they run out of use to him and are introduced to his flesh-eating flies.
  • You Owe Me: On taking a chance for Sal, Fitch remarks he "owes me a life of servitude for this!"
  • Your Soul Is Mine: When one villainous xeno attacks, Feyf tears his very Steam out as a finisher.

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