Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Hope was a roleplay I ran from August 2008 until March 2009. It eventually had thirteen PCs, dropping in and out as the story went on, and told a strange, epic tale. As an experiment, rather than have NPCs, I had various other friends play recurring characters. Near the end there wound up being a few major NPCs, but for the most part I played very few characters.
The vast majority of Hope was played out online, and written by the players in third-person past tense. As such, large chunks of this story are that original writing. I've edited things, and written parts of it myself, but for the most part it's written by the players. As such, it reads a little oddly--every character is a viewpoint character, so the story flow is a little strange. For the most part I've tried to keep things reasonable and make it work as an ensemble piece, but it's tricky to do that while retaining the original player writing. A few of the sessions (such as the first) were played in person or through other non-text media. These sessions I have reconstructed from memory--they'll be marked as such at the beginning of the posts.
Here and there I'll post bits of background material--things the PCs were told outside of sessions. These will be listed as Detailed Hope.
One of the other things I did during the roleplay was provide a soundtrack! Every scene had an ongoing soundtrack (consisting of various pieces of other soundtracks and nonlyrical music), to set the mood and feel. This added a LOT to the roleplay, I felt. As such, I assembled the entire soundtrack into a trio of .zips. 108 tracks of epic music! At the beginning of every update / scene, I'll list the track number and title in parentheses. It's a lot of music (over half a gig!) but I highly recommend it! It'll enhance your enjoyment quite a bit! (And it's all good music. Promise.) The main theme is Ghost Hardware, track 9. Any time I don't specify music (which will be rare!), it's a good fallback.
Disc 1: Corkscrew
Disc 2: Roost
Disc 3: Center
So without further ado...
Click here to jump to the first page!
Love, the GM.
Friday, February 3, 2012
((94 — Broken Home))
July 4th, 802 AT.
The medical room was quiet, unmoving. A technician had come by the night before to clean up the blood.
Skunk glanced around silently as she guided the stretcher bearing Kasby's still form. Kasby lay on the stretcher, an IV drip running into his arm. He was unconscious but breathing. One of his arms was heavily swathed in bandages.
Goat was lying in one of the beds, staring at the window. He looked up when his friend entered. "Skunk!"
Skunk stopped dead. "Goat?"
"Yep!" He sat up eagerly. "I've been getting worried about you guys. Where've you been? Where are the others? What's up with Kasby?"
Skunk snorted. "His hand got lopped off."
Goat observed Kasby's injury as Skunk wheeled the stretcher into position near his bed. The bandages hid anything particularly vicious from sight, but they were soaked through with blood.
"Me," Skunk continued. "Well, I suppose I've been fine. Owl, I haven't seen her in a few days." She furrowed her brow, looking at Got. "How did you get here? And why are you in the hospital?"
"Escaped in the Quinn from Sector... Four... with Kasby, Giraffe, and..." His face fell. "Zebra," he said softly.
Picking up on his tone, Skunk prompted, "What happened to Zebra?"
"The thing that Jaz turned into... got her. In this very room."
"Shit." Skunk bit her lip. "She--it--got Kasby too. Nearly killed me in the process."
"Did you hear how it and its demon friends killed all the higher-ups here but Barret?"
Skunk shrugged. "I heard that some demons had come a-calling at the meeting-thing, but that's really the sum of my knowledge."
"Mm." Goat leaned back against his pillows. "Barret's a jerk."
"Who's she? Sounds fishy to me."
"She was the military leader of Sector One, before all the other five leaders got assassinated. So now she's basically the dictator." Goat lowered his voice. "I think she's a demon."
"What even is a demon?" Skunk asked in exasperation. "At first I thought they were just those things we fought at the start of all this. Then Jaz... well, you know. And now dictator-demons?"
"Apparently they can be humanoid. Doesn't seem like much of a stretch for them to look completely human." He paused. "After Kasby ran off to hunt down Jaz, Barret sent me, Giraffe, and Zebra to reclaim one of the gun towers from some rebels. We tried to reason with them, join them even, but they shot me in the arm." He used one hand to point at his shoulder, which was still bandaged from the fighting two days earlier. "I do not like them."
"Yeah... I don't think anyone does." Skunk sighed. "What about Spider?"
"I was going to ask you that," Goat said worriedly.
"Hmm..." Skunk gazed at the ceiling. "There was no one else, was there? Me, you, Owl, Spider, Zebra, Giraffe. And Kasby."
"Nope. Everyone's accounted for 'cept Spider," Goat said. "Face is running out of survivors..."
"She can take care of herself, I guess," Skunk said half-heartedly. She didn't seem convinced in the truth of her own words.
The hospital room was silent again for an uncomfortable minute.
"Ah, Face," Goat finally said. "Playing hookball with Aardvark and Platypus... Practicing the art of leaping with Master Jellyfish..."
Skunk kept silent. Her memories of Face were not the type of thing that most people found pleasant or cheery.
Goat was still talking. "Shame how he didn't leap far enough that last time..."
Skunk cracked a tiny smile. "All gone now, no doubt."
"Learning to make sandwiches, with Xylophone! 'Goat! You just something between two other things! It's fucking simple!' Xylophone was always yelling..." Goat's smile almost looked real, but his periodic glances at Kasby's unmoving form gave him away. "And Hippopotamus, that girl with curly hair! The times I almost asked her out..."
Skunk changed the topic with a half-roll of her red eyes. "So where's Giraffe?"
"Back in her room, resting."
"Mm. Good." Skunk's voice was flat. "You were saying about the possibly-demonic dictator. That sounds like trouble to me."
"Yeah!" Goat sat up slightly again. "I've got pretty much no evidence other than how all the other leaders got killed so conveniently, but I'm sure of it." Goat's eyes narrowed. "Something in my gut tells me."
"I don't know much about the situation, but it doesn't sound impossible." Skunk walked over to the windows and gazed out at the city below. "What are we going to do about it, then?"
"I'm gonna heal up, first," Goat said, flexing his shoulder and wincing slightly. "Not sure what to do after that."
"We can't exactly let the entire city to fall to bits, though." Skunk frowned, then sighed. "I wonder whether Owl is still at the library... She'd have an idea."
((91 — Darkness))
July 3rd, 802 AT.
As Spider neared the crystal where the Talons had left their demons, nothing seemed to be amiss. The four demons still sat there, mostly asleep and functionally in a daze. Caf idly picked at her feathers every now and again, but other than that the demons seemed to be in something of a holding pattern. There was something slightly odd about the gravity here, a gentle off-center tugging, but Spider ignored it.
Spider fell over to the demons casually, mostly ignoring the others in favor of keeping her eyes locked on Scorpia. The large insect was huddled over in a corner, not far from Seth's Noh.
"Okay, girl." Spider stepped down onto the crystal. "We're getting you off this rock, 'kay?"
It was the middle of the night, and the Void was dark around her. Far behind her was the distant glow of Sector One, barely visible in the thick fog. She had left Owl and the librarian--Delissa, Spider vaguely remembered--hard at work, still investigating the strange portal. The other side had proved far too vast to explore on foot, so Spider had returned to collect Scorpia.
Scorpia looked up at her indignantly. She scuttled over, and put herself under Spider's hand. The girl petted the demon's opaque shell awkwardly. The other demons watched for a moment, but quickly realized their own masters were still gone, and returned to their listlessness.
"So, er, I hope you don't mind the cold. We're going someplace freezing, and I bet you can help carry some supplies.... though I'm not sure how to get you in sneakily." Spider glanced over her shoulder, back towards Sector One. "Maybe you can make yourself... I don't know, not... energy-like?"
Scorpia's antennae quivered, and then she shook, growing smaller and paler until she was almost invisible, much smaller than normal.
Spider raised her eyebrow. "Well... alright. I've already got some supplies, so... I suppose we get going?" She hovered into the air.
Torrential Black let out a quiet little squawk. It sounded very lonely.
Spider looked over at Black nervously. "Um... I'm sure the rest of those guys will come back for you soon," she said vaguely.
She lifted off, Scorpia just behind her. She frowned, though, feeling again that strange tugging of gravity. It was like there was some huge source of gravity lurking nearby in the fog. She looked, though, staring into the fog on the far side of the crystal from Sector One.
There was nothing, just empty fog. It was thick fog, though, and the more she focused on it, the clearer the pull felt. She re-centered herself on it, and started to drop slowly towards it, moving away from the city.
She fell like that for a few minutes, getting closer to the source of the gravity. She was sure of it now, there had to be something there. Scorpia clicked quietly from her side, and Spider looked at her demon. "You feel it too?"
A glance over her shoulder confirmed that the crystal the demons had been sitting on was long out of sight, and now even the glow of Sector One had vanished into the fog. She let Scorpia drift a little closer.
She bumped into something.
The gravity ahead of her resolved suddenly, becoming not one vague wash of density but a thousand points of pull. There was nothing she could see, just more fog, but she could feel it.
A voice boomed out from behind her. "EXCUSE ME."
Spider jolted in midair at the sound, and spun in the air. She bumped into whatever invisible thing she had found. "What!?"
Before her loomed a massive being, easily three hundred meters tall. His skin glowed yellow, and she looked down to see that his feet trailed off into a vague yellow smoke. His face consisted only of nine glowing yellow eyes, but other than that, he looked... human. Humanoid, at least. Spider crossed her arms and pouted up at him.
"I'M AFRAID I CANNOT LET YOU GO BACK. YOU HAVE SEEN TOO MUCH."
She raised one pointed eyebrow. "What?" She said it quieter this time, more annoyed.
Its four muscular arms unfolded, and one of them reached out to her. Around each wrist was a manacle of glowing red writing.
Spider scrambled through the air, falling backwards away from the hand. The arm faded elongated, stretching out, following her. As massive fingers closed around her, she switched gravity suddenly, slipping out between them. "Who the hell do you think you are!?" She spun, then smacked straight into the palm of a second hand. The thick yellow fingers wrapped tight around her, pulling her up towards the being's face.
"I? I AM MAGID, LORD OF DJINN."
Spider beat her fists on the fingers uselessly, but didn't seem to take the thing too seriously. "What sort of name is that?"
Behind it, the air rippled, as if a curtain was being dropped. The Void suddenly glowed a horrible bloodthirsty red, the glow of a thousand larvae backed by a thousand thousand demons.
"THE NAME OF THE GENERAL OF THE SOUL-EATER SWARM."
Spider stopped hitting his hands. She peered out into the redlit abyss. "Okay... General Soul-Eater. No need to shout." She tried not to be afraid, but was failing slowly.
With one of its three free hands, Magid flicked a finger, and a larva flew forward from its place in the swarm. Its four leathery wings flapped slowly, bringing it towards Spider.
"Okay, so what exactly do you want?" She turned back to the General, and squirmed a bit in his fingers, contorting. Scorpia was somewhere else, but so small and lifeless as to be nearly invisible.
"TO SERVE THE SOUL-EATER, AS HE HAS PROVEN MY BETTER. YOU ARE A LIABILITY, AND AS SUCH, ARE TO BE CONSUMED."
Spider opened her mouth, then closed it. "God DAMMIT. I saw that coming." She sighed.
The all-too-familiar red portal split the air in front of the larva. Snaking red tentacles leapt from its gaping maw, reaching out for her.
It had been said before that Spider was flexible and agile, but even she had boundaries of where she could move. When her life was in danger, though, those limits no longer applied. She squirmed and squeezed and made herself as tiny as possible, folding against the curve of his fingers. At the same time, Scorpia grew again, stabbing the yellow General Soul-Eater in one of his unblinking eyes with both stingers.
Magid hissed angrily, drawing back, a great gout of yellow flame erupting from his wounded eye. In his distraction, he lost his grip on Spider. "THAT WAS A GRAVE MISTAKE, YOUNG HUMAN." His voice was no less deep, but now tinged with anger.
Spider zoomed off sideways, pulling all the gravity in the world with her. Scorpia fell alongside her, zipping away from the sprawling swarm. She looked back, tumbling in the air, just in time to see the yellow smoke at Magid's base swirl up around him. It dissipated into the fog, leaving nothing behind.
A massive hand closed around Spider from behind, yellow smoke blowing past her. "I SHOULD BE NOT SO SURPRISED," the demon boomed. "THE OTHER HUMAN I HAVE SO RECENTLY MET WOULD HAVE DONE SIMILARLY..."
Spider thrashed about, trying to squeeze out again, then paused. "What other human?"
"SHE CALLED HERSELF... JAZRILL QUINN."
Spider stared up at him with narrowed eyes, her face smug and disbelieving. "What? She's dead."
"SHE IS NO MORE DEAD THAN YOU SHALL BE. MERELY... MADE PART OF SOMETHING GREATER." Magid paused for a moment, as if in thought. "I AM UNSURE HOW HER CONSCIOUSNESS WAS ABLE TO MANIFEST WITHIN THE SOUL-EATER. HER BODY HAS CERTAINLY MADE AN ABLE AGENT."
Spider paused herself, thinking over the man's words. "Uh. Soul Eater. You mean that big army thing?"
"THE SOUL-EATER IS HE WHO IS THE HEART OF THE SWARM. ALL-DEVOURER, ALL-CONSUMER." Magid opened his hand, but this time a ring of glowing yellow circles remained, pinning Spider's limbs to her side. Scorpia was similarly bound, floating a few feet to her side.
"I think I'm actually starting to get it," Spider said with a bitter smile.
A pair of larvae flew towards where they floated in the fog. "YOUR UNDERSTANDING IS NOT OF MY CONCERN, YOUNG HUMAN."
Spider stared at the larvae. The tentacles of energy snaked out, twining around her and her demon. "Bye," she said lamely. She thought briefly of Seth, and the Talons, and of Owl and her friends from Face. She thought of Kasby and Jaz.
Mostly she thought about how much it sucked, how unfair it was, and how unsatisfied she was with everything. She had gone into Face to find answers, and was about to die two months later just as confused as she had been when she started.
She took a deep breath, stared up at Magid, Soul-Eater General, and bellowed, "YOUR FACE IS--"
The red swallowed her, and she was gone.
Friday, January 27, 2012
((95 — Industrial Heist))
The cavernous grand hall of the museum echoed with the sudden silence. Seth looked down at where Kiara's corpse lay at the foot of the stairs. Blood seeped out through dozens of tiny cuts, pooling around her and flowing out onto the floor.
He stifled the multitude of curses that nearly flowed from his mouth and began to walk up the stairs, moving as slowly and quietly as he could.
On the second stair he jerked his head up to attention as a skittering sound came from above. A second later it turned to an odd, raspy breathing as the sound came closer.
He raised his blade, frowning at the empty air. "Get the fuck down here, NOW!"
Suddenly he felt putrid breath hot on his face, and the strange sounds were right next to him, filling the air.
Friday, March 18, 2011
July 3rd, 802 AT.
The long group bedroom was quiet, and felt very much like a part of the Library that it was—that peculiar silence that only comes of the absorptive ability of thousands of pages of thousands of books.
Kiara sat on her bed, reading an old journal, waiting for something interesting to happen. She’d been sitting for a day, now, and was starting to get antsy. Night had fallen, and brought with it… absolutely nothing interesting.
Chun was in a corner, sitting on a chair, next to a towering stack of books. She fidgeted for a while, then grabbed one at random and began leafing through it. After a moment she decided it was boring, slipped it back into the stack, and grabbed a different one. She’d been doing this since they arrived at Tanique Hall, in between checkups on Kiara’s leg.
Kiara glanced over to the door and sighed. Her shadow fidgeted slightly.
The door swung abruptly forwards, revealing Seth, Reno, and one Cyclops. “Miss us?” Seth said, grinning.
((92 — Wrong Platform))
Chun grinned and tossed the book aside. “Barely.”
“Hey kid, I make the snappy lines,” said the dashing Cyclops, giving Seth a swat on the back of the head as he entered.
Kiara grinned widely. “A bit, maybe. Anyone hurt?”
“None other than a few guards,” Seth laughed. Next to him, Reno shrugged and spun a knife between her fingers, trying and failing to look innocent.
“Funny thing for you to be saying, peggy.” Cyclops made his way over to his wounded Talon. “See, I called you peggy on account of the leg you lost. Want to tell me how you let something stupid like that happen?”
“Don’t know how, actually.” Kiara scowled. “Bitch shouldn’t have been to get me from that close.”
“Which bitch? Be specific, peggy, there are a lot of them.”
“Some pilot.” She grimaced, pressing the end of her stump gently.
“This have to do with that big demon fleet or whatever?” Cyc asked as he waved his hands in the air for effect and lounged into a seat of his own.
“Nah,” Kiara said, shaking her head. “Had to do with… a bit of a misunderstanding on our way in.”
“Suppose it always does. Still, I hate to say it kid, but I don’t know what use I’ll have for you in the next step of our plan here.” He sat forward in his chair, frowning at her. “How well can you get around?”
“With others watching? Not so well. I can move somewhat, though.” Slowly, she pushed herself to the edge of the bed, then stepped off it. Her shadow gathered where her leg should be, keeping her upright. It didn’t look anything like a leg—just a shifting pillar of darkness—but she didn’t fall.
Seth raised an approving eyebrow. “Creative.”
“No reason not to be. I suppose we could wrap some pants and boots around it, though, if really necessary, and we… had extras.”
“Kiara,” Cyclops said casually, his demon eye rapidly analyzing. “I can’t help but notice you seem to have some sort of horribly otherworldly darkness for a leg. Want to explain that?”
Kiara said again, dispersing it. “I’ll let Chun do it. She’ll say it better.”
“Me? Oh, yeah.” Chun looked devilishly excited. “Well. My mom and I were working on a project, see? Playing with crystals and demons. And, to make a long story short enough for you to listen… we found out how to control demons, with crystals.”
“Well hot damn!” Cyclops’ eyebrows shot up. “Any sort of crystal? Any sort of demon?”
“Yeah, any one, any where,” Chun said, eyes dancing.
“If you can catch it first,” Kiara added.
“Yeah, uh, that detail!” Chun admitted, laughing. “That IS the hard part.”
“Catch it how?” Cyc was sitting up now and seemed to be intently listening, like he always was when he smelled profit.
“Like they did in the old days,” Chun said. “Big nets and stun guns. And a LOT of crystal cages.”
Cyc nodded, thinking. “Does this new revelation have anything to do with the hordes of demons I’m hearing about?”
“Nah… we were only doing what all researchers do… and taking it a mile and a half further.” Chun was trying to hide her pride, but only barely. She grinned madly.
“How many demons do you guys got so far?”
“One each. I also have only minimal stuff with me to do any tweaking for any other demons we find.”
“So count off, what do each of you crazy kids have? I gotta say I’m proud of you rascals. Out there enslaving forces of nature and all. It does a man’s heart good.”
Chun Red grinned very widely. “I have a fifteen foot tall crow!”
“Well,” Kiara said. “I’ve got this shadow thing I’m calling Umbra.”
“How physical can it get? Both of them, I should say. The crow and um… er… Umbra?”
“Completely,” Kiara said.
“Mine is called Torrential Black, and he is great, seriously talented at flying, with two sets of wings! He is very physical, and looks like he could fight, though I never got the chance to try.”
Reno just sort of frowned. “Caf is… Caf. I can’t describe Caf. ‘S like… my other…” She trailed off, shrugging.
“Don’t go soft on me now, Reno. Can Caf do anything useful?”
“I… Caf… yes. All sorts of things. Caf can capture anything launched at him and spit it back. And fly. Very useful.”
Seth smiled. “We’ve got a nice little array of friends here, Cyc.”
“Aces. Thanks for that detailed explanation, we’ve all learned a lot. Seth, how about you?”
“Mine’s not here now, but he’s a crystalline—eh?” He cut off as a voice came over the loudspeakers.
The voice was male, and fairly quiet. "This is a reminder. Tanique Hall is under basic lockdown, due to the riots. All staff are requested to remain calm, and in the safety of their rooms." The message had been repeating every few hours all day.
“Oh. Right. That. Anyhow, it’s this crystal-thing. I can change its shape with my mind. The thing’s good at cutting and breaking other things. And probably shielding, though I haven’t tested it out much.”
“Wow wow wow,” Cyc said. “I dig it.”
“Now how are we getting out?” Kiara said, clearly eager to start moving again.
“Slow down, peggy. We’ve got some business to take care of first.” Cyc looked around the room, at each of them in turn. “There is an item, in this very building, that I think should have the luxury—no, the honor—of getting stolen by us.”
Seth’s eyes gleamed. “Do go on…”
Cyc started to get excited as he began to explain the plan to his co-conspirators. “So guys, it’s literally right downstairs. Main lobby. Like three guards max. We’re in, we’re out. Aces. Plus with our demon stuff, it’s pretty much a done deal.”
“What is it?” Kiara asked. “And the only demon here is mine, we had to leave the others outside the city…”
“We could… get them.” Chun grinned quite a bit, obviously wanting to see what Torrential could do.
“Wait, you guys don’t have your demons? Why not?”
“They couldn’t sneak into the city,” Kiara said.
Chun shrugged. “Difficult for a fifteen foot tall crow.”
“I thought you said they lived in little crystals!”
“No, no, they are controlled by crystals,” Chun corrected.
Seth smiled, trying not to laugh. “There’s a fine line.”
Cyclops scowled. “Well, this is nonsense. So we have one demon? Or two, I guess, if you count the mojo I’ve got floating around here.” He poked the scaly corner of his eye a few times for good measure. He turned again to Kiara. “Can you have a shadow leg and do some sort of shadow noose at the same time? Or a shadow club even?”
“She can be pretty much anything.”
“But at the same time, ‘cause you falling over everywhere isn’t going to help us out at all.”
“Well, why don’t you go ahead and try that out,” Cyclops said slowly, voice clearly bordering on the edge of frustration.
Kiara frowned, concentrating for a moment, then let out a quietly disappointed sigh. “I… no. One shape at a time. But I could… say, sit down around the corner.”
“Or someone could hold you, easy problem to overcome. It doesn’t come with any price, does it? You get tired? Hungry for people burgers?”
“Phew. I’d hate to have a bunch of cannibals to deal with.” Cyclops sat back in his chair. “So, kiddos… want to come steal the magic box with me?” He grinned, then added, “Oh, yeah. It’s a magic box.”
Chun laughed. “Love to!”
“Sure,” Kiara said.
Seth’s smile was his only answer.
“Good, good. This should be fun. Reno? You in or out?”
“You bet your ass I’m in!” Reno said loudly from her corner of the room.
Kiara let out a small dejected sound. “Actually, I may as well just sit here and control Umbra. Won’t get in the way.”
“Aw, that’d be mighty kind of you, but how would we stay in communication? You’re coming.”
“Point… okay, I’ll sit around the corner.”
“Aces. So, someone help Kiara here, and let’s start to head downstairs. I’ll explain my plan as we go.”
Chun leapt to the task, getting her arm under Kiara’s shoulder, and helping her to her feet.
Cyc made a sweep of the room twice—once with his regular sight, and another with his demon eye, to make sure nothing funny was going on. He let his second vision linger for a minute on Kiara’s demon leg, then turned to the door. “Let’s do this, kiddos.”
((93 — Versus))
They went down the back stairway, meant for staff and maintenance only. Cyclops stopped them for a moment on a flight as footsteps approached the door on the landing, but the sound continued past, leaving them alone. A few flights down, they came to the back door to the main hall. Cyclops gently pushed the staff door open, and motioned for the others to follow him into the museum proper.
Inside, it was set up like one would expect of a museum hall. Glass display cases filled most of it, filled with demon skeletons and preserved carcasses, ancient guns and machinery, and other assorted artifacts of leadership. Here was the first crystal sword--there a crystal imbued with demon energy that seemed carbon-dated closed to thirteen thousand years old--the vials containing the DNA of various Earth-based animals that the scientists had never had reason nor equipment to decant and clone. The lights were turned off, and the large hall echoed with darkness.
The Talons eagerly examined the nearby treasures. Reno’s pale gaze slid delicately over everything. Next to her, Chun and Kiara were staring in wonder at the artifacts.
Cyclops tapped his foot once, getting their attention, then hissed to them. “Okay cats, here’s what I’m thinking. I scope it out with the ol’ eye—” Here he tapped his eye for effect. “And we run in, grab the box, and get out. Easy as pie.”
“Put me down,” Kiara murmured. Chun did, resting her just inside the stairwell, then grinned at her friend.
From a ways off, the sound of footsteps carried through the hall--the sound of the night guard, almost certainly.
“Well, maybe not that easy,” Cyc muttered.
“Shit, not again,” moaned Reno under her breath.
“Just knock him out nice and easy.” He turned to Reno. “And to you, shhhh.”
Seth drew his crystal switchblade and began to sneak forward along the edge of the room. Chun came silently behind him, with Reno after her, dagger swishing out again.
The guard stood well ahead of most of the display cases in the room, looking out towards the front doors. He held a large taser baton in one hand. His posture made it clear that he wasn't expecting any particular excitement.
From her position in the stairwell, Kiara closed her eyes, sending Umbra creeping barely visibly along the floor.
Seth watched it creep past him, amused. He took up position behind a case and waited. If the demon didn’t finish the job, he would be ready.
More footsteps came, from off to the right, followed by a voice. “Hey, Max.”
The guard they were sneaking up on turned to look in that direction, and nodded back. "Andrew."
Another guard—Max—came out from behind a segment of wall, looking every bit as relaxed. The two guards began to talk casually.
"Weird, us both being on shift at once."
"It's those damn riots."
Cyclops, watching from afar with his demon eye, whispered to Kiara. “Second guard. Wait for these guys to jet.” Kiara nodded, and Umbra slipped back against the wall, blending into the ambient shadows.
"I know, man, I blame all the refugees,” Max agreed.
"Yeah? My little brother is a radio operator for the landing platforms."
Seth barely stifled a laugh at that, but fell silent as the guards continued talking, not showing any signs of going anywhere.
"And he says there were HUNDREDS of refugee ships. He didn't get to sleep for DAYS 'cause he was landing 'em all."
"Shit, man, way more than they said on the news."
"Hey. You hear something?"
"I dunno, sounded like voices."
Kiara froze. Umbra tensed.
Next to her, Cyc whispered as softly as he could. "Alright, Kiara, think you can make umbra like a big blanket, and catch them all?"
"You're hallucinating, man."
"I'm gonna go check it out."
Max started walking back towards them.
Seth held his position silently, switchblade closed but ready. Chun bit her lip, trying to hold perfectly still against the wall.
Kiara focused, and Umbra shaped herself into something like a large shadowy net, flat against the wall.
Cyclops waited until Max was nearly level with where Seth, Chun, and Reno were hiding, then tapped Kiara on the shoulder. “Go go go!”
Umbra detached from the wall, and in a blur of darkness wrapped around Max, knocking him to the floor. “What the—!?”
The other guard--Andrew--looked up. "Max? You okay?"
“Score one, us,” muttered Reno. Seth nodded, then began to sneak forward, trying to flank Andrew.
Max called back. "Something knocked me over! Couldn't see it, though..."
Cyc pulled out his pistol and began to advance, moving quickly from display to display, making sure to hide his reflective gun as he did so
Kiara grinned with satisfaction, and Umbra reached out a tendril, wrapping around the second guard’s ankle.
Andrew yelped in surprise. "Something's grabbing my ankle!" Umbra yanked, and Andrew's leg went out from under him, hard. He landed on his back. "Gah!"
Meanwhile, Max was getting back to his feet. "What the fuck is this thing? Did you see it?"
Seth reached Max. “Nah, and you didn’t either.” His grin gleamed in the darkness as the guard spun to face him. He brought the blunt end of his switchblade down on the guard’s head, and Max fell forward, unconscious.
Umbra, meanwhile, had bound Andrew’s weapon arm to his side. He yelled again. “Fuck! Thing’s… got my arm!” He struggled at the shadowy stuff, trying to free his arms to no avail. “Get—off—of—me!”
“Your turn, Andrew.” Seth didn’t bother to keep his voice quiet as he closed in on the second guard.
The guard pushed away on the ground, his eyes catching sight of Seth. "Ah, shit, man, you're one of the demon assassins, aren't you! Fuck!”
Reno and Chun stepped out from behind the case, flanking Seth as he advanced. Both were smiling.
“Forget my face.” Seth laughed. “Or don’t,” he finished, uncaring, hammering the blade casing onto Andrew’s temple. The man slumped, unconscious. Umbra quiet slipped away, fading again into the shadows.
“Okay, demon assassins,” Cyc called, still keeping his voice low. “Let’s get that box.”
Seth cracked his neck, then his knuckles. “Let’s.”
The box was in a particularly large glass display case in the center of the hall. Unlike every other item, it had no plaque to describe it. It was a simple gray box, a few inches an edge, with strange runes etched into each side. It was oddly off-center in its case, as if someone had somehow bumped into it.
Cyclops approached the box, his eye starting to scan for anything suspicious. He suppressed a grin. He had been after this box for far too long now—the only thing he hadn’t yet succeeded in stealing. “Somebody tie those gentlemen up, would you?” He said. “We’re going to need—”
Kiara's voice cut him off, out from the stairwell at the back of the room. "Trouble!" Her voice carried fear with it.
Seth flicked his wrist, opening the shiny blade. “I’ll check it out,” he said, as he began to run back towards the stairwell.
“Good man,” Cyc encouraged, eyes never leaving the box.
Kiara's crystal sword came skittering towards Seth, sliding along the floor. Her voice followed it, panicky. "Demon!"
From her position at the base of the staircase, Kiara could hear something coming down it. She frowned, calling Umbra back to her, to see if it could get a view.
It sounded like... skittering claws. Kiara's eyes widened, and she strained to see it, drawing her crystal sword awkwardly.
The sounds reached the edge of the stairwell, and the thing came around the corner--
... but there was nothing there. The sounds continued towards her unabated, accompanied now by an odd rasping breath. "Trouble!" Kiara tried to call, but her voice came out shakier than she had wanted.
Umbra flickered to Kiara’s side, forming a barrier.
The sound of movement stopped, right above her.
Umbra clawed at where the sound had come from. The claw met flesh and feathers. From her touch, an image rippled outwards. Hanging over her, braced between the sides of the stairwell, was a large creature, somewhat bat-like, with skeletal appendages that looked more like long, bony fingers than wings.
“Demon!” she called, voice shot through with panic. Her mind slowly processed what she was seeing. Embedded in the flesh of its chest was a… what had been human… Kiara’s eyes went wide with horror as she recognized the figure buried in the demon’s chest.
The creature looked down at her with both faces, all four eyes glowing red.
Desperately, Kiara thrust her sword at its center of mass. One of the skeletal wing-segments smacked down, knocking the sword out of her hand. The sword clattered off into the hall.
Umbra lunged upwards, slashing again with its claws, but the creature lashed out with its sharp-edged bones, shattering the shadow and dispersing it. The creature faded into invisibility once again.
Kiara pulled her demon towards her, wrapping herself in her living cloak of shadows. A strange calm settled over her. “Goodbye,” she whispered quietly to herself.
Then dozens of invisible claws tore into her flesh, shredding her skin to ribbons.
In one fluid motion, Seth flicked the switchblade shut and picked up the sword. Jaz had shown him how to use one once. He kept running.
He heard the sounds of a scuffle from the stairwell, and clenched his teeth, trying to run faster. He crossed the last few yards to the stairs, skidding to a stop at their base.
Blood covered the bottom few steps, and—
At the foot of the stairs lay the mangled corpse of Kiara.
Seth let out an almost-silent "fuck" as his breath caught in his throat.
Friday, March 4, 2011
((85 — Untrue))
July 3rd, 802 AT.
The crystal tunnel echoed with the screeching of metal on metal as the hinges protested the opening door. Seth stood outside, calmly letting his cigarette burn itself out. He was wearing his classic demon-leather trenchcoat, and his golden earrings jingled a bit in his left ear’s cartilage. On his face was a wicked grin. He was rather looking forward to seeing his mentor. Reno stood behind him, smiling over his shoulder.
Finally, as the door clanged to a halt, he tossed the dying butt to the floor, and ground it to dust underfoot. “Evening, Cyc.”
“I really hope you brought one for me too.”
“But. Of. Course, mate.” Seth reached into his coat and pulled out two fresh ones. He handed one to Cyclops, along with his lighter.
Cyc grabbed it with a smile and a wink. Brown jumpsuit aside, there wasn’t anything normal-looking about Cyclops. His brown hair was styled back, his face covered in stubble. And of course his left eye had three pupils, was red shot-through with violet, and was surrounded by the crimson demonic scales that covered the left half of his face. ((Griffin Simpson))
“Now tell me,” Cyc asked as he took a long drag. “What took you two so long?” This was accompanied with two quick swats to the backs of their respective heads.
Seth laughed, leaning in the doorway. “Oh, you know, the usual. Guards, demons to fight, demons to train, apocalypses…” The prison cell was small and roughly spherical, with a ledge cut into one side to apparently serve as a bed. The only illumination came from the light filtering through the dozens of feet of crystal.
Reno bowed her head shamefully a moment before speaking. "You two catch up. I'm gonna go knock some heads, clear us an escape route." She ran off down the hallway.
Cyc nodded approvingly. “Resourceful girl.”
Seth laughed again. “You should’ve seen her earlier, seducing prepubescent boys.”
After a moment’s pause, Cyc rounded on Seth, his face absent of its previous easy smile. "Now tell me, boy-o of mine. Where are the rest of the Talons?"
“…Recovering.” Seth’s smile was gone too. “We encountered a bit of trouble on our way in.”
“How long are they going to be… recovering?”
“Dunno. Hopefully not too long. They should still be somewhere near a library.”
A muffled whump came from down the corridor, followed by Reno's voice. "One down!"
“Atta girl!” Cyc called out the door, then snapped his eyes back to Seth’s. “They got skinned knees? A little winded? Or are we talking fist-sized holes in their bodies?”
Seth broke the eye contact. “Kiara lost a leg. Well, most of one, anyway.”
“Damn. How long ‘til she’s mobile?”
“Not sure. But it won’t matter soon, will it? She’ll have to move. We all will.”
“Suppose you’re right, prison busts aren’t popular with the locals. But enough talk, you ready to go?” He stretched, rolling his shoulders backwards.
“Yeah. Let’s catch up with Reno.”
“After you,” Cyc said, with a little bow and a gesture for Seth to lead.
Seth nodded. “Let’s book it.” He took off down the hall. Cyc followed him, puffing like a chimney on his cig all the way.
Reno leaned against the wall by the elevator, eyes closed. "What took you two so long?" She grinned wryly. The old guard who had stopped them earlier was facedown on his deck, a small trickle of blood seeping from the back of his head.
Cyc took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew a breath of smoke. "Violent sodomy. Speaking of violence, which one of you delinquents did this?" He said, gesturing at the guard.
"That would be me." Reno hit a button on the wall, and the elevator doors slid open.
Seth stepped inside and pulled a small silver revolver out of his coat.
“Gold star for you,” Cyc said, entering the elevator with Seth. “How many of those hand warmers you got, kid?”
“This’s the only one that makes things go boom. I’ve also got a few sharp things. Any preferences?”
"Whatever you can spare, kid. So what's this big escape plan?"
Reno laughed. "We barely need one. There's just the kid up here, what with the riots."
“You’ve always been a better shot than me,” Seth said, handing Cyclops the gun as he pulled out his crystal switchblade with his other hand.
“Aces,” was all Cyc said as he took the gun, fiddling with it. “I recognize this gun! You kids hit my storeroom.” He thought for a moment. “Gold stars for both of you for resourcefulness.” Then he turned to Reno. “Wait, riots?”
“Shit,” Seth said, eyebrows raised in genuine surprise. “You not hear about the impending doom, corked up down there?”
Cyc frowned at him. “You have some information you want to share with the rest of the class?”
The doors of the elevator slid open onto the first floor hallway. The young teenager still sat at his post, looking around awkwardly. "H-hey!" The boy pointed. "Y-you can't..."
“In a nutshell?” Seth said, ignoring the guard. “We’ve got a fleet of demons coming down our collective ass, bigger and badder than anything you’ve ever seen. Anything anyone's ever seen.”
The guard stammered, gesturing at Cyclops. "He can't..."
Cyc trained the gun on the kid, not even looking at him. "What are they doing about it?" He said to Seth.
The kid shut up quick, his hands raising in the air over his head.
“No clue. Some friends of Jaz—” He paused for a moment and took a sharp breath. “—some friends of Jaz… shit, I don’t even know. But they got here first and warned everyone. Not very well, I guess, given that all hell’s broken loose already.”
Cyc’s human eye brightened a little at this. “So this whole rock is in pandemonium, eh?”
“Yeah,” Seth said, leading the way down the corridor. The rest of the way out was clear. An empty hallway leading towards a huge hole in the wall where the door had been.
“Good. Now let’s got out of here, and then I’m gonna tell you a little story,” Cyc said, making his way towards the hole.
“Sounds like a plan,” spoke Seth, as he stepped outside.
Friday, February 25, 2011
((89 — Beginning))
July 3rd, 802 AT.
Goat’s room in the hospital was a small one, at the outer edge of the crystal spire. A window let a beam of natural light in, gently illuminating the room. The room was long and thin, with space for six beds to fold down from the wall, though only Goat's was in use, leaving most of the room empty.
Giraffe shuffled in through the door, not fully awake yet and trying hard not to spill the tray of food she was carrying. Zebra followed her in, yawning as well. She quietly took a seat in a nearby chair, looking like she might nod off for a bit.
Goat opened his young, naive eyes. Bandages were wrapped tightly around his upper arm, and more over his leg. The doctors had told him the bullets had gone clean through, and with the benefits of modern medical practices, he should be good to leap again in a matter of days. “Good morning!” He said, looking at the two newcomers.
Zebra waved a hand noncommittally. "Morning."
“Here’s some—” Giraffe paused to yawn. “—food, Goat. How are you so cheery?”
“I just woke up,” he said. “The terrible state of things hasn’t gotten to me yet. Plus you brought me food, which is very sweet of you. Thanks!”
Giraffe gave half a smile and shrugged, setting the tray down on Goat’s lap. “Least I could do.” She happily sank down into a chair next to Zebra, and began gently nursing the cup of coffee she had taken from the tray. “Enjoy, I thought it was rather nice myself.” Next to her, Zebra was similarly sipping at a cup of coffee appreciatively. It didn't appear to be doing much to wake her up yet, though.
Goat sat up and instinctively transformed the food into a sandwich, then began munching happily.
“So,” Giraffe said after a minute or two of quiet eating. “How are the appendages?”
“Good, except for the fact that they’re injured. I think they’re getting better though.” As if to demonstrate, he gave a flail with his injured arm, then winced.
“Well that’s good,” Giraffe said, stifling a laugh. “Any idea where we’re going next?”
Goat frowned. “I see two options: we stay here and do Barret’s dirty work… or we go find Kasby.”
Giraffe perked up slightly. “I like option two, Barret bugs me.”
“Bugs? Seems a bit of an understatement. Hey…” Goat lowered his voice to what he thought was a whisper. “Do you think she’s a demon in disguise?”
Giraffe pondered it a moment. “I dunno, the only demons that we’ve seen, even in disguise, have had non-human features. But then again, she could be like us and just scared of more of her/our kind.”
“We’ll see,” Goat said. “In any case, I guess I won’t be doing much ‘til these limbs heal up.”
Giraffe shrugged. “Guess so.”
The conversation trailed off for a long minute. Goat stared out the window, down at the city below. “This city is really big,” he stated quietly.
Giraffe looked at him blankly for a second. “Well that was random. Are you—”
“Hey,” he cut her off, moving his toe nervously. “If we haven’t been eaten by demons when my limbs get better…”
Giraffe continued to look at him in confusion. “Um…”
“Do you want to… um… gonadate?”
Goat gulped. “Go on a date?” His eyes darted nervously.
Giraffe puzzled for a second before looking at her coffee. “I don’t… know? Maybe?”
From her chair, Zebra raised an eyebrow, and a hint of a smile creeped along the corner of her half-asleep mouth.
Giraffe jumped up. “I need more coffee!”
“Kay,” Goat said quietly.
She shuffled to the door, yelling over her shoulder, “And that wasn’t a yes, by the way!”
Goat let out a sigh, then looked to Zebra.
The girl immediately pretended to be asleep, letting out a pointed and perhaps overloud fake yawn.
After a few minutes passed, Giraffe sauntered back with a fresh cup of coffee.
“Still not sure?” Goat asked tentatively.
Giraffe opened her mouth to respond, but turned her head as something caught her eye. On the far side of the room, a yellow mist was slowly beginning to flood the floor, flowing seemingly out of nowhere.
((90 — 0800 Dub))
“Wha!” exclaimed Goat.
“I dunno!” Giraffe yelled as she climbed onto a chair, trying to get away from the mist. Zebra stood up, looking down at the mist in confusion.
Part of it swirled up in the far corner, beginning to solidify into a human form. Slowly, it resolved into something all three recognized--the creature that had once been Jazrill Quinn.
Giraffe looked wide-eyed at the figure. “Fuck!”
“Gah!” Goat yelled.
Its skin was black and cracking, and its eyes shone red. The goggle lenses now embedded in its forehead glowed a fainter red, looking almost like a second set of eyes. The creature took a step forward, hissing angrily. It looked around the room, looking for something or someone. From a mouth that was far from human, the thing let out an angry howl.
Giraffe stood very still, and began to hiss for Zebra to do the same.
Zebra didn’t seem to want to wait around, though, and hurled her cup of hot coffee at the creature.
The cup hit it in the chest, splashing steaming brown liquid all across it. It screeched again, this time in pain.
Giraffe looked at Zebra. “Now she’s going to come after us!” she screeched.
“Fine by me,” Zebra said angrily, and picked up her chair, holding it over her head like a weapon.
Then the creature ran at Zebra--though it was limping slightly, favoring its right leg.
With one arm, Goat threw his tray of food at the creature, as Giraffe shot a blast of flame at its injured leg.
It leapt into the air, over both the fire and the tray of food, barely avoiding hitting the high ceiling. It came down with the crystal blade emerging from the end of its arm aimed squarely at Zebra's chest.
She stumbled backwards, trying to get out of its way, but the blade sliced through her shirt and chest, spattering blood on the floor.
“NO!” Goat shouted. Giraffe just turned up the heat, focusing on the wounded leg. This time, her blast of flame caught the creature solidly, bringing out another howl of pain. It rolled to the side, out of the way of Giraffe's blast, clutching at its burnt leg.
“Oh no, you don’t get away that easily,” Giraffe yelled as she re-directed her blast to follow it.
Next to her, Zebra looked down at herself, at the blood that was quickly staining her shirt red. Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fainted. As her unconscious form hit the floor next to Goat's bed, the room around them seemed to ripple.
A second room seemed to overlay the hospital, a room of metal and wood. It looked almost like one of the rooms of Sector Four, but the walls were overlaid with thick red wires, that pulsed slightly, like blood vessels.
“What the fall?” Goat said, eyes darting around in bewilderment.
Giraffe let off her flame, nervously pacing. “This isn’t good.”
Zebra now stood again where she had been, looking around in confusion. She also lay prone on the floor, at her own feet.
Where Jaz was, though... A second form overlaid hers, this one a glowing silhouhette of angrily flickering red light. It looked around, scowling and hissing, and then its eyes seemed to settle on Zebra once more. Both forms, the physical and the glowing red, took a step towards her.
“Hey you!” Giraffe shouted at the glowing figure. It ignored her, not seeming to hear at all.
Without warning, it leapt forward, landing right in front of the ghostly figure of Zebra. The physical form landed badly, its burnt leg not supporting it well, but the red form stayed standing.
“What…?” Zebra was still frowning in confusion, not understanding. A pale red line appeared along her chest, matching the cut on her body on the ground. Then she reached out a hand to touch the creature’s face, the angry red mist every bit as insubstantial as her hand. “Jaz?”
For a fleeting moment, the redness seemed to peel back where she touched, and the familiar face of Captain Jazrill Quinn emerged from beneath the rage.
Then the moment passed, and the fire once more covered the creature. With one swirly red hand, it grabbed Zebra by the throat.
“Well, shit,” she said quietly.
The creature's other hand punched straight through Zebra, emerging out the back of her spine in a grisly display of bloody light. She fell backwards, even as a third wave of Giraffe's fire hit the creature in the side.
Before Zebra's ghostly body hit the floor a second time, the world rippled, and the overlays vanished. They were once again in the medical room, face to face with the physical demon that had been Jaz.
A demon that was now right in the line of Giraffe's flame. It shrieked, diving backwards, trying to get away from the fire. Giraffe just growled, increasing the intensity of the heat, channeling her anger into it.
Snarling, the creature locked its eyes on its one escape: the window. In a final burst of effort, it launched itself forward, despite both wounded legs. The creature flew over where Goat still lay in bed, smashing through the window next to him.
The room was suddenly deathly silent.
Giraffe ran over to Zebra, dropping to her knees and looking over her body. There didn’t appear to be very much blood, but she wasn’t breathing.
“Shit,” Goat said quietly, eyes wide.
Giraffe didn’t respond, just pulled Zebra’s bloody shirt back to look at where Jaz’s crystal blade had hit her. The wound was a long cut, a slice that ran from shoulder to hip, but it wasn't terribly deep. It wouldn't be life-threatening, but... Zebra wasn't moving. Wasn't breathing.
“Fucktards,” Giraffe spat bitterly.
“Good thing we’re kind of already in a hospital, right?” Goat offered.
“I… I don’t think it will be able to help much.” Zebra lay still. No pulse pushed blood from the wound.
Giraffe reached out her hand, and gently closed Zebra’s eyes, her own hollow eyes looking down at the corpse of her oldest friend.
Friday, February 18, 2011
((88 — Phendrana Drifts))
July 3rd, 802 AT.
“It’s just up ahead,” Delissa said, looking back over her shoulder at Owl and Spider.
The two refugees were following her through the streets of the city, on their way to the entrance to the Deepana Caverns. They had meant to get an early start, but had all wound up sleeping in, and it was midmorning by the time they got moving. The night before, after checking on Kiara, Spider had split off from the Talons and shared Owl’s room for the night. They’d stayed up late catching each other up on their various exploits since parting ways a month earlier.
The alleyway suddenly opened up into what at first looked like a large courtyard. The ground was made of massive metal sheets, instead of the usual ground-down crystal of the rest of the city. In the center sat a small kiosk, with a single door.
Delissa frowned. “Usually there would be guards, but I guess they’re all busy dealing with the riots…”
Spider touched off the ground, letting herself fall towards the building. “Then let’s head inside!”
Owl jogged after, Delissa close on her heels. Their footsteps rang loudly on the metal, making it quite clear that there was nothing but air beneath the panel. They reached the door to find Spider frowning at the large padlock hanging conspicuously on the handle.
“Won’t open,” the teenager said. “I could hit it.”
Delissa shook her head. “It’s probably magically reinforced, knowing security around her. Crystals inside the lock. I guess we’ll have to come back another time.”
Owl stepped forward. “I think I can do something about it, actually.” Smiling, she rested her hand on the padlock. The pattern of words flowed off of her skin, surrounding and describing the lock. Owl focused, and her mouth moved just slightly, lips shaping out words. The writing on the padlock changed, and the lock changed with it. With a click, it popped open.
Delissa just stared. “I… it just…”
“Yeah. It’s… useful, sometimes.”
The younger librarian nodded. “I read about it in your journals, but it’s… it’s something else entirely to see it for real.” She looked at Owl, who smiled sheepishly. “You’re absolutely incredible.”
Owl blushed. “No, I’m just… I do what I can with what I have, and it’s not…” She trailed off as a loud clanging came from within the kiosk. She turned to see Spider already inside and halfway down a ladder.
Spider looked back at her. “What? I got bored. Come on!”
The crystal caves turned out to be much like the ones they had explored on Face, only scaled up a dozen times. They came complete with strange shadow-filled cracks and long-desiccated corpses impaled on crystal spires.
After the fourth or fifth set of corpses they passed, Delissa stopped, tugging on Owl’s sleeve. “We should turn back.”
Owl frowned at her. “Why?”
The girl swallowed, looking down. “We’ll end up like those people we passed… we’ll get impaled!”
Owl shook her head. “I don’t think so. The shadows—the things in the crystals—seem to acknowledge that we’re on their side now. They made contact with us, back when all this was starting.”
Delissa nodded. “I know. I read about it. It still… it feels uncomfortable here.”
“We’ll be fine,” Owl said. “Spider and I have been through much darker situations than this, I assure you. A little spelunking is, you know, easy as falling for us now!” She laughed awkwardly, and Delissa laughed with her, but Owl didn’t think her half-hearted joke had done much to cheer the librarian.
Sighing, they followed after their gravity-defying companion.
After what felt like at least four or five hours of wandering through the crystal catacombs, Spider stopped them abruptly.
Owl raised a questioning eyebrow. “What is it?”
Spider scowled at the floor, looking at it from where she stood on the ceiling. “Gravity goes all weird, right under us. It feels funny.”
“What do you mean?”
“I dunno, but I don’t like it. Something’s messing with it.”
“Something alive?” Delissa asked, voice small.
Spider shook her head. “I don’t think so. It’s like… there’s a hole, where gravity suddenly goes all flippy, like a ledge or something. I can’t really describe it.”
“Do you think you lead us to it?” Owl asked.
Spider nodded sharply. “Absolutely.”
It took them almost another hour of exploration before they found the source of the strange gravity. The orange light came into view first, flickering strangely in the otherwise white-lite tunnel. They rounded the corner to it, bringing it fully into view.
In the floor of the tunnel was a large crack, at least three meters long and half a meter wide. Its edge was lined with glowing orange lettering, that drifted along the length of the crack, phasing gently in and out of itself.
Owl walked slowly to the edge, staring down at the letters, studying them, trying to read them.
“What is it?” Delissa asked quietly.
“And can you read it?” Spider asked, hovering over her shoulder.
Owl shook her head. “I can read the words, but the grammar doesn’t make any sense. It’s all just strings of numbers and descriptive language… Maybe I could decipher it eventually, but it just looks like gibberish to me.” She let out a frustrated sigh.
Spider fell to the ceiling, inverting in mid-air to land on her feet. She stood over the hole, looking straight down through it. “It’s all just white in there!”
“What do you mean?” Owl followed her gaze, and saw only empty whiteness within. A burst of cold air came out, prompting her to pull her arms against her sides.
“The other gaps all had shadows in them, filling them in. This one isn’t even a crack! It’s just white!”
Owl started to answer, but Spider cut her off. “I’m gonna go check it out!” Owl watched as the teenager detached from the ceiling, and let herself fall through the portal.
Delissa frowned after her. “Will she be alright?”
Owl nodded. “She can take care of herself.” She crouched next to the gap, and touched her hand to the words. Rather than flow off of her, the words on the back of her hand took on the orange tint of the writing on the ground. “Oh!” She exclaimed quietly.
“What is it?” Delissa asked worriedly.
“It’s… I can kind of feel how it makes sense now! It’s like the portal is explaining itself to me…”
Spider came rocketing back up through the gap, a whirlwind of cold following her. She landed again on the ceiling, her head and shoulders now covered with a strange dusting of white. She grinned gleefully at her two companions. “Owl! Owl! There’s a whole WORLD in there!”
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
((80 — Yami no Butou))
July 3rd, 802 AT.
It was the next morning by the time Seth and Reno made it to the Complex. They had spent the previous afternoon doing some basic reconnaissance, and making their way through the city. Transportation would’ve been easier if half of the trams hadn’t been shut down due to riots. Reno somehow managed to remember the address of one of Cyclops’ old hideouts, and they crashed there for the night.
The elevator descended the central spire, heading towards the open areas around its base. The Complex was buried inside that spire, and the only entrance was on one of the faces. For a moment the elevator jerked slower before continuing—presumably the result of a lack of maintenance or attention.
Reno stumbled, feet slipping out from under her, but Seth took a step forward and caught her with one arm, helping her upright. “You alright?”
She nodded slowly, putting a hand to her temple. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
He frowned concernedly at her. “You sure?”
Reno looked away, out the window. “I…” She sighed.
“What is it?” Seth sounded uncharacteristically concerned.
“I’m pretty sure my dizzy spells are symptoms of demon withdrawal. I need Caf. The connection… it’s… he’s a part of me. I’m losing track of what’s me, and what’s human, and…” She swallowed hard, but her voice was still flat.
He reached out a hand to her back, almost putting it around her, but held back. “Three weeks of freefall would fuck anybody up, yo.”
“If I concentrate on something calming, I should be fine for now. But I… we shouldn’t stay here too long. It might get more severe.” She turned to face him. “I don’t feel like me, by myself. That’s how I killed that pilot. It wasn’t really me doing it.”
Seth just nodded uncomfortably, not sure how to respond. He was saved by the elevator nearing the ground. “You ready for this?”
Reno smiled. “Yeah. I can do this.”
Outside the wide windows of the elevator, the two Talons could see a large plaza before them, crammed with rioters. "Dayum," breathed Reno. "Look at 'em all."
With a loud hiss of outrushing air, the wood-and-glass elevator gently touched down. The cage door retracted, opening out onto a landing platform, up a few stairs from the plaza. Above them, the crystal spire stretched off almost higher than they could see.
A handful of uniformed guards stood nearby, keeping the riot in check. What had been a riot, anyway. Half the people in the crowd looked unconscious, injured, or similar, and the other half looked about to keel over. It looked like the last dregs of a riot which had been going for days--and, from the radio broadcasts they had overheard on the tram, that's exactly what it was.
“Well shit. Ain’t this pretty.” Seth flicked on a pair of shades he’d had stored in his demon-leather trenchcoat for such an occasion.
“You think we missed the bulk of the heavy crap?” said Reno.
Seth shrugged. “S’pose.” They walked the dozen yards along the edge of the crystal spire to the massive door set into it. Etched above it were the words THE COMPLEX. “Looks like this is the place.” The door was easily three meters tall, a heavily sealed array of steel and bolts and deadlocks. There was a small radio panel set into the crystal next to it.
“…and now the big question,” said Reno, squinting up at the behemoth of a crystal prison. “How the living fuck are we going to get Cyc out of here?"
“Oh, I think we might have our ways.” He gestured to his coat, and to one bulging pocket in particular.
Reno leaned over and examined it. "I have a good feeling that this is the part where you whip out the metric crapton of awesome stuff."
“Sounds ‘bout right. I grabbed some supplies from Cyc’s pad while you were still napping.” He patted the pocket affectionately. “Let’s see if we can get in without this shit, though. Of course, if we can’t get in subtly… then it’s time for the fireworks.”
He walked up the door, looking it over. It didn’t seem particularly guarded, at least from the outside. He took a second look at the people dealing with the riot, and noticed the little COMPLEX logos on their shoulders. Lucky riot.
“Well… let’s try knocking.” Seth strolled over the door and smacked it a few times with his fist. The noise was deep and hollow, an echoing vibration that shuddered through the door.
“Oh,” said Reno, with a hint of disappointment. “I thought you meant knocking with literal fireworks.”
The radio hissed, shutting her up, and a voice asked, “Yes?”
Seth leaned over to the radio. “Yo. Here to visit an old friend. Wanna open the door?”
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to give me an authorization code for visiting.”
“I’m sorry, did that sound like a question? Let me rephrase that. You want to open the door.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir. You’re going to have to leave.”
Seth shook his head and sighed. “No can do, bro.”
Reno leaned into his ear. “Fireworks anytime now, buddy.”
He nodded. “Let’s see here.” He reached into his coat and felt around for a minute. “Ah. This should do nicely.” He pulled out a small glowing crystal, and place it directly in front of the door. “You might wanna take a step back, babe.”
“Okie dokie,” said Reno, obliging.
The crystal pulsed, glowing with... well, it wasn't light. It was an absence of light. The space around it seemed to pulse shadows, as if all the light were being sucked out of it. The air around it rippled, and the crystal seemed to shrink. There was a flash, blinding un-bright, of non-space. The world seemed to ripple, and for a single terrifying moment, a hole opened into absolute nothingness.
The door, the radio, the crystal floor--in the blink of an eye, everything in a two meter radius from the crystal vanished into the black hole, never to be seen again.
Any hint of mental vagueness Reno had at that moment vanished with the door. “WOAH,” she gasped. “What wasn’t that?”
Seth laughed. “Wasn’t not a black hole. Boom, baby.” The hallway on the other side of the vanished crater stretched forward. Seth lit a new cigarette and began to walk forwards. “Let’s raid this place.”
"Aye aye, capitan," saluted Reno, feeling strangely invigorated by the burst of nothingness. Reno hadn't felt this good since before she separated from Caf. It was as though the burst of nothing had subconciously reminded her that there were worse things than being separated from your mental partner.
A small guard post sat to one side of the hall, with the remaining arm and a leg of whoever they had spoken to on the radio. The corridor was moderately well lit by a series of lamps overhead, stretching forward. Various side passages and elevators up and down branched off from the main tunnel. These were marked with various combinations of letters and numbers, denoting... well, to be honest, they had no idea. But they probably denoted something.
“Wonder which one’s got Cyc,” Seth mused as eyed the numbers. “Any ideas, Reno?”
She stood next to him and rubbed her chin in thought. “Let’s seeeeee…” Her chin-finger stopped moving. "Does starting from the bottom and working our way up make any sense?"
“I don’t have any other ideas.”
She grinned. "Or should we just do it the old fashioned way and hold a sharp deadly object to a guard's throat and make him tell us?"
“That’s faster.” Seth shrugged, smiling lazily. “I think we can pull that off. All we need, then, is a guard.”
“A guard and THIS little bugger. I mean dagger.” Reno whipped out the aforementioned sharp, deadly object.
“Excellent. Let’s keep going down this way. Should be a guard post or something.” He began once again to walk. After a few minutes’ walk, they came to a bend, turning left. “Wonder what’s ‘round this corner…” He stepped around it.
The corridor continued along for a good distance. A door was inset into the left side of it, though, with a window-like opening next to it. Anyone on their way through the corridor would have to pass the window.
Seth nodded approvingly. “Bingo. You wanna chat with the bloke? Or shall I?”
Reno grinned. "You know, this is something I've wanted to try for a while, but haven't for weird tomboyish feminist reasons."
“Take it away, my friend,” Seth said, laughing.
((81 — Peeping Tom))
Reno straightened herself, smoothed out her hair, and sauntered over to the guard post in an uncharacteristically sexy way.
The young man sitting inside the window was scribbling away in a journal, eyes down. There was a desk there, cut from the crystal itself, but no glass separating her from him.
“S’cuse me,” she said, lowering the pitch of her voice ever so slightly to induce a more womanly tone. “Sorry for walking in like this. The door was open."
The guard, who didn't look much older than thirteen or fourteen, looked up in surprise. "Wha--?" He shook his head, long brown hair flying out of his eyes. "You're not supposed to be here!"
Reno froze for a moment, startled by how young the boy was, but continued anyway. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, putting on a slightly more-dramatic-than-necessary tweak to her self-protecting hand movements "But my heart tells me I must be here!"
The boy blinked at her in total confusion. "Um? You should leave! Or uh, I'll call the guards!" He stammered awkwardly with every word. "Er, the other guards."
Seth leaned on a wall—out of sight, around the corner—trying very hard not to laugh.
"You wouldn't do that, would you?" she said, leaning in and putting on heavy layers of passion "My lover was wrongly imprisoned here and I must see him again! Please, kind young man! Please tell me where his cell is!" One side of her jacket conveniently slid down, exposing her shoulder and a bit of her chest.
The boy swallowed hard. "That... that would be against protocol." His eyes strayed rather un-subtly to her chest, then jumped back up to her eyes, as his face turned beet red.
Reno took note of this. "Oh, you don't have a girlfriend, do you? Some sweetheart you miss right now?"
"N-no..." He pushed his chair back from the window slightly, starting to sweat, clearly immensely nervous.
"That's a shame," said Reno "Then...you certainly don't understand how I feel..." Reno inched provocatively close to the guard. "...you don't know what it's like to have someone...special in your arms..."
The boy said nothing, simply staring at her, eyes very wide.
"...so let me put it this way." Reno reached forward and cupped the boy's face in her hands. "You tell me which cell Cyclops is in, and you get a kiss from me. Don't tell me where he is, and I'll kill you." Her sickly sweet tone drizzled over every word.
"...C-Cylops!?" It didn't seem possible, but his eyes widened even further.
"Yessssssss," Reno hissed seductively.
The moment of thought passed through the boy very quickly. "H-he's in solitary confinement... Cell s-seventeen... Down the elevator, end of the hall."
"Wonnnnderful," said Reno, and kept her promise. Her face mashed with the young guard, almost as though she intended to suck the life out of him through her sheer dramatized over-sexuality.
She raised one fist. BAM.
The boy dropped to the floor of the guard post, unconscious.
Seth laughed uproariously. “BWAHAHAHAHAH WELL PLAYED AHAHAHAHAHA!” He slowly wiped a tear from his eyes. “That… that was beautiful.” He doubled over, staggering around the corner, still laughing.
Reno sauntered back over to him. "Glad you enjoyed the show," she said “Because I am never. Doing. That. Again.” She hacked up a mouthful of spit, swiftly ejecting it onto the floor and ridding herself of the pubescent-guard germs.
“Awwww,” said Seth teasingly. He walked over to the elevator just down the hall. “So uh Reno. You looked uh pretty good there. If you catch my drift.”
Reno looked at Seth as though she wished there were knives present directly in front of her eyes so that she could stare them into him.
((82 — Poison Prison))
Seth shrugged and sighed sarcastically. “Was worth a shot.” He hit the button, and the elevator’s doors slid open.
She followed him in, and unconsciously tightened her legs. “Three years ago was a one-time thing, Seth. We were kids experimenting. Nothing more.”
He raised an eyebrow at her suddenly more serious tone.
“B’sides,” she continued, looking away. “You’ve got Spider now.”
He leaned against the wall, eyes aimed at the ceiling. “Yeah. Guess I do.” The air in the elevator suddenly felt a thousand times more awkward and full of tension.
Then the doors opened onto the lower floor. The guard in the post in this window, a middle-aged man, jumped to his feet. "Hey! What are you doing down here?"
Seth pushed off the wall and took a step towards him. “Here to visit an old friend.”
The guard pulled a large standard-issue gun out from behind the desk and pointed it at the two. Clearly he was neither as inexperienced nor as incompetent as his companion upstairs.
“Whoa!” said Seth, throwing his hands up. “What’s with the hostility, bro?”
"Civilians are not allowed down in solitary confinement! Even with visitor authorization." His voice was gruff and to the point. "Which, given your lack of escort, I sincerely doubt you have."
Crap, thought Reno, I guess THIS is what the old saying goes about not bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Seth’s tone took on a severity rarely seen. “Do you even know who I am!? How DARE you call me a civilian. Rent-a-cops these days. The nerve.” Next to him, Reno put away her surprise at once, playing along and assuming a psuedo-stance-of-importance.
The man blinked, suddenly unsure. "Um. Oh jeez, you're not one of the Quinn's crew, are you?"
Seth practically exploded at him. “What the fuck do you think, dullard? In case you didn’t notice, there is an ARMY OF DEMONS COMING HERE. Now, if you don’t want any more bullshit on your hands, like the riot going on outside, you let me the fuck in. I’m here to get a man who can help clean up this mess so that the Sector can survive.” He paused for breath. “Dig?”
The man behind the counter swallowed. "Of course, sir. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I understand. I won't get in your way."
“Thank you.” Seth let out a long breath, and walked right up to the counter. “Now, would you kindly direct me to Cyclops’ cell?”
"Cyc--! If... I..." The man's brow furrowed, and he let out a sigh. "Down the hall. The door lock code is 8697." He pointed to the right.
Seth nodded, and walked to the right. He waved to Reno. “Come along, now.” They counted off as they walked--door thirteen, fourteen, fifteen... Down here, the walls were pure crystal, unadorned with anything besides the metal doors and the dim bulbs overhead.
At long last, they reached the door to Cyclops' cell. A simple steel door, with "17" stenciled in white paint on it, and a small electronic keypad set where a lock would normally be
“Let’s see… eight six nine seven.” Seth spoke the numbers as he keyed them in.
The door let out a hiss, mechanisms moving in it as it unlocked, then swung open towards them.