Thursday, April 30, 2009


((9 - Ghost Hardware))

Spider, Zebra, and Giraffe were a little bit further behind, narrowly dodging the crystal spikes. Up ahead in the tunnel, they could see Goat, Skunk, and Owl running full tilt. As they reached the end, Goat threw himself bodily from the crystal face--

Skunk skidded to a stop, but the ever-inattentive Owl bowled straight into her. Both plummeted out.

The other three managed to stop, looking out. To their side was the city of Face, a city falling apart. Crystal cracked around them. Beyond that, the beasts were emerging from the crystal, taking flight, still glowing red. There was a sound like a thousand thunderbolts crashing as one, and their crystal world exploded around them.

Millions of shards flew, slicing their faces and clothes, as they were thrown out into the abyss. Below, they could just make out Goat, Owl, and Skunk, falling beyond--

--falling towards a large chunk of crystal that almost seemed to hang in the air--

--they hit it with a flash of inky shadow, and then vanished.

Falling. Falling.

The world, collapsed, broken, shattered.

Suddenly, a new sound cut in. A sound of metal on metal, of dozens of bits over each other, rattering. Something enormous and gray-silver came out of the hailstorm, plummeting down to match their speed. An aerial beast of gears, cogs, brass and wood, with four glowing boosters attached to what might be described as the four corners. On the either side of the craft were two massive, bat-like mechanical wings, clearly for stabilization. The machine was open on the top, the control deck exposed to the open air. It matched pace with them, then cut in sharply at their angle, catching them.

One after another, with absurd accuracy it matched up and caught each of them, all of whom landed firmly into a cockpit that didn't look terribly different from the exterior. A domed metal shutter snapped sharply into place above them, keeping out the falling crystal shards.

"Ow, FUCK!" Spider exclaimed as she landed not too gently into the compartment. Out of frustration more than confusion, she hit the walls around her.

Familiar plants of varying sizes and species lined the walls, making for an odd contrast with the brass and hardwood of the surroundings. A young man was seated alone at the helm, surrounded by gears and knobs and levers and dials. He was concentrating VERY HARD on not killing all of them by driving the contraption into one of the falling crystal glaciers.

"Ow..." Zebra focused on making sure she was okay for a second before looking around. "Well, I'm glad we were caught, but... where are we?"

"What the hell? Giant...flying...thing?" Spider looked around, steadying her heartbeat and taking in the surroundings.

"How do you steer this thing and how do you keep it up!?" Giraffe asked hurriedly.

"Hello!" The man at the dials seemed to shout over the din of the shattering crystal. Oddly enough, he seemed... excited? Ecstatic?

Giraffe glowered at the man for not answering her question.

Kasby turned to her, before quickly looking back to his controls. "Ah-...oops! Um, it's kind of like... channeling system.." He seemed to be trying very hard to both answer her question and keep the crystals from ripping them all to pieces. He obviously had a lot on his mind.

Spider sat on the floor cross-legged, looking around nervously and trying to hold onto the floor for support. She didn't look very pleased. A spiderweb of cuts was laced across her arms and chest. "Greaaaat..." She looked at her companions, but they seemed more or less unharmed.

"Huh." Giraffe continued to stare at the controls, trying to figure them out. Zebra walked over to observe them as well.

Amidst a whirl of lever-pulls and knob-twirling, all the while gripping those wooden controls tightly, they seemed for the most part break free of the crystal hailstorm. Kasby let out a deep sigh of relief. "Oh... well... never done that before!" he said, turning to them and laughing lazily.

Giraffe frowned at him. "Who are you? What are you doing here? Mister man."

Zebra cut in. "I'm gonna repeat my question: Where are we? In fact, I'll add one more: What just happened?"

The young spindly girl finally got the courage to stand up, after the worst of the shaking had stopped. Spider grabbed her thick spiky web of black and hair and shouted, "GET ME ON LANNNNNNNNND!" She paused for breath, then continued, "OUR WORLD EXPLODED!"

Zebra rolled her eyes. "Thanks, I got that. I was more wondering why and, if the world exploded, where are we now?"

"And why did the crystals stop...?" Giraffe mused.

Kasby looked around the circle, darting his head between faces. He seemed to be, for the most part, ignoring the questions, and more enthused by just their presence. He was a decently tall fellow, draped in what looked like a longcoat- probably some kind of rough leather, with plates of metal sewn into the fabric. His mirrored goggles, which were previously tight around his eyes, now rested on his forehead, but did nothing to lessen the wildness of his copper hair. "You... you are all very much alive."

Spider glared at him, and smacked her lips.

Giraffe tapped her heavily-clad foot, waiting for the man to answer her questions, her face becoming even more pointed as she became impatient. "Yes, we know that!"

"Yeah, we're alive," Spider said quietly, "unlike the rest of our whole city." She seemed more ticked off than actually sad, or in shock. As her heart rate slowed, she gathered her composure.

Tired of being ignored, Zebra sat down and waited.

Spider's last comment seemed to land on ears that were previously deaf. His eyes fell and his head lowered a bit. "Yes... I'm... sorry. Really sorry. By the time I got there..." He looked up, the previous glow in his eyes much diminished. "Well, it was a miracle I could save you three.

"Everyone had spikes through them..." Spider finished for him, under her breath.

Giraffe stared at the man. "What do you know?"

He turned to Giraffe. "Um... quite a bit, I expect?"

"Care to explain?"

Zebra was not amused. "Then I would suggest you start sharing."

"Look, what happened out there is kind of complicated. I can show you, but... well, not here." Kasby said earnestly.

Giraffe frowned again. "Well, where then?"

"Where else is there?" Zebra asked.

Kasby raised a finger: one minute. He tapped a few buttons on the console, and a few lights came on. Zebra raised an eyebrow at that. The dome that had previously covered the cockpit split open, revealing the fog of the Void thick around them.

"Wha--!" "Shit-!" Giraffe and Zebra exclaimed in unison. Spider simply looked up, cocking an eyebrow.

"So, uh, thankfully, your cryst-- your city wasn't terribly far..." Kasby said.

"From what? We never saw anything else!" Giraffe shot back.

Kasby kept on tapping buttons, occasionally pulling a lever. The aircraft to dip down, plummeting through the fog of the void. Off in the distance, high above them, a diagonal edge of crystal could be seen, flashing past in the fog.

Giraffe let out a scared yelp, and Zebra wrapped her arms around herself.

Kasby pushed in on a wooden handle, and the entire vessel made a sharp turn to the left. Spider fell over again, obviously very out of place in the air. She latched her whole self onto the back of Kasby's chair and clung on for dear life.

Giraffe felt around for any hand or foot hold, settling for Zebra. Zebra, meanwhile, had braced herself in a corner.

"So, I don't think I really got to introduce myself, what with all the crystals..." Kasby started, seemingly unfazed by the zooming and swerving of the aircraft as it sought its destination.

"Spider." She stuck her hand over Kasby's shoulder, still crawled up on his chair.


"Giraffe," she grunted.

"I... I really can't tell you how nice it is to meet you all!" he seemed to mean this very genuinely. The ship made another sharp turn.

"Why do you keep doing that?!" Giraffe yelped.

"I don't care!" Spider shouted in his ear as the...thing changed direction. "Get me on something that doesn't MOVE!"

Zebra reached a hand over to Giraffe to help her get a better position.

"In case any of you are wondering..." he continued. The aircraft suddenly swung diagonally up. "My name is Kasby..." he said, standing up from the controls and raising his arms.

"Stay near the controls, I don't wanna die like this," Giraffe muttered.

"And this... is The Corkscrew!" he remarked. In front of the ship, they could see a colossal shape peek out beyond the fog. It looked quite a bit like the Archimedes in basic elements, but that was where the similarity ended. It may have been made of wood and gears and brass, but the only adequate way of describing this behemoth would be a flying castle. A massive, mobile fort, barely smaller than Face itself.

Spider gaped. "What."

"How does that figure..." Giraffe stared.

Spider frowned, and stood up again. "Why isn't it attached to something," she said, positively distressed. "WHY ISN'T IT STANDING STILL?"

As the Archimedes started to approach the floating behemoth, they all got an idea of how big this thing was. And how mobile. It was very unlike anything they'd ever seen.

Kasby grinned at Spider. "Doesn't need to be!" he said excitedly.

Something large and dark and leathery slowly detached itself from the bottom of the Corkscrew, dropping out into the void with a quiet sigh.

"I like my cities attached to something! Against the face, not where it could fall into the void!" It took Spider a moment to realize the phrase 'cities' came off of her tongue. Wait. Another city? "Where's its support?" she muttered to herself, puzzling now.

"Boosters on the bottom, channeling demonic energy out of filled crystals themselves from the Deep Engine Room!" Kasby began to elaborate, but it really just sounded like babbling to them all. He branched on to some subject of fusion reactions, almost talking to himself at this point.

Without warning, the Archimedes shook hard to the right.

Giraffe raised an eyebrow. "Did you do that? 'Cause you'd better fix it if you didn't."

He spilled to the side, catching onto one of the wooden railings. "Um, no, that certainly wasn't me.

Spider cursed, and jumped onto Kasby. Zebra almost lost her hold, but stayed where she was. No time to help Giraffe, though.

A horrible shrieking noise came from below the ship. One leathery hand clawed its way up, grasping at the railing, all black fur and angry spikes.

"Just... give me one second!" said Kasby, walking his way up the now-slanted deck to the controls. He hardly noticed Spider clinging to him. This guy must get a lot of exercise.

Giraffe tried to back into the corner, forgetting Zebra was there. Zebra pushed Giraffe away from her, taking a look over Giraffe's shoulder.

The hand grasped about, scrabbling for purchase. After a moment, it was joined by a second hand, then a third.

"I want to go home," Spider wailed, stomping on the floor.

"There is no home!" Giraffe shot back.

"I don't think this is the time for such debates!" Kasby said, urgently trying to reach the control console.

"Then what is it time for?" Zebra scowled.

When she saw the...thing, Spider jumped up onto a wall of control panels as far as possible. "WHAT IS IT?" She managed to get up the slope easily, and offered Kasby a hand.

The claws snaked out, wrapping around Zebra. "Shit!" she cursed. They began to squeeze, dragging her back across the ship's deck, towards the edge.

Giraffe began going into hysterics. "We're all just stuck here and going to die because of that thing!" She pointed at the claw around Zebra.

"Shit ow fuck fuck ow ow ow!" Zebra clawed at he floor, cursing all the while.

Kasby gladly accepted Spider's hand, swinging himself up to the control panel. "My dear, it is the time for THIS!" He yanked down a lever, hard.

"FRICK!" Spider said, about to leap towards Zebra--

There was an agonized SHRIEK and the claw let go.

Giraffe grabbed Zebra's hand, pulling her back, and continued holding on to her for dear life as they scuttled to the other side of the cockpit.

The smell of burning flesh and the sound of pain came screaming up from below as the Archimedes lurched back upright. From beneath the ship, they could hear the wooshing sound of afterburners.

The creature, a mass of black leather and too many wings, shook its way up, in full view of the crew of the good ship.

Spider sat down, very slowly, and watched the thing fly.

Its mouths opened wide, giving a full view of row upon row of angry teeth. It swooped down towards them--

Giraffe's eyes widened. "OH shit."

Kasby, quick as a whip, drew from the holster on his side a small contraption of wood and gears and pointed it at the beast. Twang! Twang! Two crystals whizzed through the air towards the beast.

They thudded into its flesh, bringing forth another horrific wail. The beast stood still in the air, its momentum countered by the shards. Suddenly, it began to glow with a sickening black light, streaming from within it.

Giraffe stared on in awe and fear. Zebra did the same, panting heavily, heart racing.

Kasby moved again, even faster than before. His face was a picture of calm, even as he snatched the stunned creature by two of its arms and slammed it down onto the deck. It shrieked, writhing angrily, but it seemed unable to move, as if restrained by the black light playing over its flesh.

Spider got in a position, ready to pounce. But the look on her face was that of expectancy... to be shocked, confused.

There was a click and a whirring noise from the device in Kasby's hand as he held the creature onto the deck. Two more twangs sounded out.

The black light ripped through it, shredding it from the inside out with a horrific sound like a thousand hearts breaking.

Giraffe backed away, still staring. Zebra stood up warily, flattening herself against the back wall. Spider clutched her stomach as she watched the blackness tear the creature apart.

Where it had been, four crystals now lay, each pulsing with that same nauseous un-light. Kasby bent down and gingerly picked up each of the crystals before slipping them into a leather pouch on one of his belts.

"What just happened...?" Giraffe asked in a small voice.

"Erm, sorry about that. Normally, they don't get that bold this close to the Corkscrew. Kind of ruined the whole dramatic entrance I had going..." Kasby remarked, almost sheepishly.

Spider sat quietly, her mouth pressed to one side, eyes locked on Kasby.

Giraffe took a couple deep breaths. "So, is now the time for an explanation?" She slid down the wall, clutching her knees as she stared at the young man.

Slowly, the aircraft closed with the great floating base, drifting to an indentation in one side. There was a hissing noise as the Archimedes locked in place with the Corkscrew.

The scientist was a bit relieved, all in all... it lessened all the awkwardness hanging in the air. He couldn't help but feel just a little uncomfortable with all the eyes looking his way. "Um... that's what it's like, alot of the time, out here. Most of the time, for me." he said, a bit quietly. "Please, come inside. Everything will feel a bit more stable. It's not home, but... it's something."

"Fantastic," Spider said, too spent for true sarcasm. She stood and moved to the ladder down from the deck.

Zebra didn't move. "Where is this, then?"

Giraffe shakily stood, waiting for an answer to Zebra's question.

Kasby looked down at her. "What?"

"Where are we?" Zebra repeated. "'Corkscrew' tells us nothing."

"It looks like..." Spider said slowly, "we're in the middle of the void."

"We're in Sector Seven, of the Void Nebula... although I doubt that tells you much either," he said. "Around the middle, but not quite."

Zebra sighed. "You're right, that does tell me nothing."

"Fuck it, I'm going inside the thing," Spider said. She turned and climbed down the ladder ahead of everyone.

Giraffe looked at Kasby skeptically. "What were you doing by Face?"

"Please?" asked Kasby. "Just... I'll try to explain more inside. And there's... food, a-and water..."

Giraffe dashed down after Spider. "WATER!!!!"

Zebra blinked at Giraffe's exit. "Okay, guess that settles it..." She followed her down the ladder.

"Oh!" Kasby said, briefly. He reached under the seat of the Archimedes, grabbing a small black book before following after them. "On my way!"

Spider lead the way as usual, boldly and ignorantly into her new surroundings.

The Corkscrew was a grand old base, a beautiful contraption of... confusion. Pipes and wires and conduits guarded every door, warding shadows off into the side-rooms. Here and there a light flickered half-heartedly, illuminating empty bedrooms and hallways. The place felt like a home for hundreds... not one.

But in places there were signs of past fighting. Scars and pits in the metal bulkheads. Tubes overhead ripped open. Melted sections of doorways and charred wood. Every hall, every room, every nook and cranny... lay dead and empty. Not a sign of life anywhere.

Giraffe stumbled around trying to take in everything. She didn't want any more surprises. She shuddered at the lack of life.

Spider had been expecting to see more people in a place of this size. "Where is everyone?" she asked, examining the strange architecture.

Kasby watched his feet very aptly, his mouth open as if to say something at Spider's comment. He finally settled on "Not here." He was very clearly uncomfortable on the subject.

Their footsteps echoed tinnily through the metal corridors, coming back around behind them. Occasionally, a window would offer a glimpse out into... more nothingness. The floor they were on seemed to be just bedchambers and halls, nothing more. Eventually they came to a gray wall.

"Where are they?" Spider asked again, pointedly, not caring at all about being sensitive.

"I just told you." said Kasby, before hitting a button on the wall. It slid open with a hiss, revealing a small round room beyond.

"He likes to give answers that don't mean much," Zebra muttered snidely.

Spider spun on him. "No, you didn't! You think you can just... plop us out of the sky with your...giant thing..."

"Saved you. I saved you." He said, walking into the small round room that had opened in the wall. "C'mon. Get in."

"None of this makes sense," she hissed, her jaw clenched around each syllable like a fist. "Stop being cryptic, and explain it." She followed him in, obviously pissed.

Giraffe rolled her eyes at Kasby. "Yes you saved us, big whoop, but we could be in more danger now!"

Kasby looked back at them, anger in his eyes for the first time- nothing like that seemed to exist when he was fighting the monstrous thing from before. He clutched the black book from before tightly to his side. "I saved your lives, all of them, risked my own life and my ship, and this is how you all show your gratitude?!" He seemed genuinely upset.

Spider stared him right back, her black eyes not wavering. "No one asked you to," she said quietly.

His anger quickly melted into... sadness? Nostalgia? Disappointment? They could see them all there.

Spider rolled her eyes, and began to examine what was around her again. Mindless examination. The wall started to slide shut behind them--

Kasby put a hand in the doorway, stopping the wall from sliding shut all the way. He promptly slammed his hand down on the door open button. It slid back open with a hiss. "Food and water are downstairs. Take the lift," he said quietly. He reached inside and pushed a button, setting the coordinates, before stalking off down the hallways, book clenched tight.

Spider grumbled, rubbing her sliced arms. She winced. "Great guy," she muttered, once he was gone. "Exceptionally charming." She glanced at her two companions.

The door slid shut, sealing on the the three girls with a quiet snap. There was a feeling of motion for a moment. The door slid back open again, onto a much larger chamber than any they had seen so far.

"Eee!" Spider glared at the floor, and at the suddenly new surrounding. "What...?"

The room stretched easily two hundred meters off, lined with long mess-hall style tables and crude metal stools. A counter opened at the far end, with a door on one side. There was a dirty tray sitting on one of the nearby tables, with a half-eaten meal on it. Everywhere else was covered with dust.

"Gone," Spider said, then looked at Zebra and Giraffe, who had followed quietly. "They're all gone." She stalked off to the other side of the room in search of some food. "Too bad Goat isn't here to make us sandwiches."

The door to the side of the counter opened into what was clearly a kitchen. "Don't all start making conversation at once!" she called back over her shoulder, almost bitterly. Then she disappeared inside the door, hoping to find some familiar food.

Zebra followed her, scowling. "Fine. What should we talk about? The fact that we don't know where we are, and the only man who knows refuses to say? The fact that our companions and family are probably dead? Really, it's your choice."

Giraffe brought up the lead into the small room on the far side of the great hall. One side of the room was full of crates of plants--the same plants as back home, back in Face. The other side had several large tanks, each with a spigot. Various bits of tableware filled the remainder, along with a sink.

Spider grabbed a familiar-looking green, and chomped on it. She examined the spigot suspiciously, and then turned it. Water spilled out, siphoning down into a drain below. Giraffe darted past her, grabbing a cup from beside the container and filling it, gulping down water.

Spider grabbed herself some water and shut off the spigot, before finally replying to Zebra. "Well, at least we're not falling." She tried for a smile.

Zebra sarcastically smiled back. "And that's all we need, right?"

"Food helps," Spider said, stuffing the rest of the green thing in her mouth.

Giraffe looked up from her cup. "Yeah, and we do have some form of sustenance!"

Spider smiled. "There we go!"


"The food... uh, nevermind." Spider examined the sink, and turned the water spout. "How does this irrigation system work?" She marveled, examining the strange pipes. A substance that wasn't quite water poured out--a little slimier, with bits of rainbow mixed in. "Woah..." Spider stuck her tongue under the flow.

"That is gross and pretty at the same time," Giraffe said. "How's it taste?"

It tasted like icky. Also like burning on her tongue. Spider made a face, and began to lick her arm to get the stuff off, frantically cursing incoherently. "BLAH!" She let her tongue get some air, and then grabbed the nearest plant and rubbed it against her tongue.

"I wonder what the other taps have in them..." Giraffe mused.

Quietly, the sound of the elevator door sliding open came from the main dining hall.

Ignoring the door, Giraffe grabbed a clean cup and turned on a random spigot, connected to one of the other large containers. Pure water flowed out.

After Spider cleansed her tongue, she began to look in all the cabinets and under everything. They were full of basic kitchen things--pipes, utensils, and so on. Bored, Spider moved to head back to the main room.

Kasby knocked on the wall of the kitchen, standing in the doorway. He looked a bit detached, if a bit more fresh-faced; his hair was wet, and he was wearing new clothes. "Done?" he asked blankly.

Spider bumped into Kasby, bouncing off of him as if he were a solid rock. She side-stepped him, squeezing through the narrow doorway without looking at him.

He watched her slip past and didn't do much to stop her. He stepped the rest of the way out of the doorway as Giraffe and Zebra followed Spider back into the main hall, joining her at the table. Spider began munching on the leafy dinner she had assembled.

"Y'know, I tried to stop what happened. Your world, the shattering... It's why I came out there in the first place." He didn't seem to be talking to any one of them in particular.

"You failed, it seems." Zebra said quietly.

"So did we," Spider said. She pulled her bag off her back, and began to make inventory of what she still had. Her climbing hooks had been lost in the fall, but she still had her changes of clothes.

Giraffe stared off into space, pretending to ignore the conversation.

Kasby opened his mouth to say something, finally simply closing his mouth and walking to the head of their table. "I have answers. You want to know what happened, where you are... I can tell you. Show you. If nothing else."

Giraffe's head snapped around to stare at Kasby. "Share please."

"Whatever," Spider mumbled. She let out a sigh of relief, and pocketed what looked like a rock.

Zebra sighed. "By all means, then, tell us."

Despite that detached expression he was wearing, it's obvious that he wasn't fed up or pissed off at them... if anything, he was a bit desperate. He nodded and led them back over to the elevator, calling it and stepping inside. He motioned for them to follow.

The three followed, Giraffe letting out a sigh. "I hate curiosity."

"Um, what is this?" Spider asked, as they stepped into the contraption and the wall slid shut once more behind them.

"Elevator. Goes up, goes down." responded Kasby simply. He pressed another button on the inside of the elevator.

"How?" She looked around for any weight system, but it must have been on the outside. "Is it safe?" She gripped the walls.

Again, the feeling of motion, of... controlled falling. This time for considerably longer before they stopped with a gentle hiss, and the door slid open.

"Pulley system, run by electricity." Kasby said, seeming to actually fall back into his older voice, the one they met him with. Voice of curiosity. Bewilderment.

Beyond the doorways was a long hallway, lined with shelves. Each shelf was stacked high with leatherbound... boxy things.

"Uhh... what's electricity?" Spider raised her eyebrows, trying to take in everything at once. She went up to one of the shelves and picked up the... thing. Kasby had one in his hand earlier, she remembered. It was wrapped most of the way around with leather, but the inside was full of lots of paper. The paper was covered with... scribble after scribble, like tiny mysterious doodles and pictures of... nothing.

"Power source... like heat, I guess." said Kasby, slipping more and more away from that detached state per word. He obviously wasn't very good at being cold.

"And this is showing us... how? Are we supposed to chuck these boxy things at you?" Giraffe asked, sarcasm dripping off of every word. "What are these things? They look rather pointless."

Spider was holding the book upside-down, not that that mattered much. Her eyes grew wide with amazement, and then confusion. "What are these squiggles?"

Kasby ignored Giraffe's sarcastic comment and instead pounced on the questions. "Those are books! And letters. Specifically, I suppose, they're my journal from a few years ago. You can read, of course?" he asked.

"Read? Letters? Huh?" Giraffe stared, eyes flat.

"Uhuh." Spider sniffed the book. "What are you supposed to do with it?"

"Well, they record information. You can use them to keep records, or hold facts, or even tell stories!" he informed them, adding a happier note onto the last one.

"We can tell stories..." Spider pressed her ear to the book.

Giraffe didn't seem impressed. "Interesting, and how do they help us?"

Spider frowned. "I don't hear any stories..."

"Maybe if you shake it."

"Well... it's a kind of... picture system, I suppose." Kasby tried to explain.

"I don't get it." Spider dropped the book on the floor.

Kasby held up the book he had had earlier, then tucked it onto one of the shelves. "This is my journal, but the library is full of them! From all the hundreds who used to be here, back when this city was alive," he remarked. He started it all off happy, but hit a hard chord at the end. "It... doesn't really matter. I think I have something better anyways." said Kasby.

"Alive......." Giraffe's voice trailed off.

"So this is a city," Spider mused.

"Sure. Used to be. A kind of base, for people like me." He motioned for them to follow as he started to walk down the shelves.

Giraffe rolled her eyes. "Oh joy, better, something better than something else we can't understand." She followed any, Zebra tagging along after.

After a few winding corridors of shelves, the space opened up. In the center of the space was a metal pedastal, with a sort of glass spiked ball sitting atop it. A series of buttons and controls lined the edge just below it. The walls of the circular room were flat and gray, except for one space that had a second control panel.

Kasby strode over and started to manipulate the controls. As he did, the glass slowly raised up on a spit, and began to glow. "A year ago, they would have had three people at least working on this thing." said Kasby, busy calibrating things. "It was a little hard to learn them without any formal training."

The lights in the room dimmed, giving way to tendrils of light hesitantly snaking their way out of the crystal. The tendrils filled the room, slowly resolving into thousands of points of light. Each one winked, then dimmed, becoming a quiet marker hanging in the air.

Spider stared in awe. ""

Giraffe moved her hand away from shielding her eyes. "And once again, how does this help us?"

The markers seemed to get denser closer to the center of the room. One in particular flashed red, and another right nearby it glowed and rotated. Kasby walked through the room until he reached a crystal not terribly far from the very center, the one glowing red. He tapped it with a finger. A line of the scribbles sprawled out of it, hanging in the air.

"Whattttttttttttttttttttttt." Spider's head fell to the side as the pieces fell into place.

"So, this was your crystal." Kasby swallowed. "Until, you know. the shattering."

Spider raised her hand, pointing, opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again. Sighed. She looked completely dumbfounded. At long last she spoke, mostly to herself. "I totally called it."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009



((7 - In Doubt))

Goat sailed through the air, tangle of wild brown hair flaring out behind him. His arms reached, straining against their joints, clawing for the leathery-winged larva floating away from him. He fell short by meters, and was suddenly dropping through a hailstorm of crystal shards, as his home exploded behind him.

Skunk and Owl came tumbling after him in a tangle of limbs and a terrified yell. A massive chunk of crystal flew out beneath the three of them, one large flat facet rising to meet their descent. The crystal seemed to gleam and shimmer jet black, like a hissing, bubbling shadow. They hit it, falling into it, vanishing into that darkness.

Owl's scream faded into the oppressive silence of the inky blackness around them. They were floating suspended in... nothingness. It was the same now-familiar empty shadow that had surrounded them inside the heart of Face, the same shadow that had swallowed Eagle and tried to kill them with spikes of crystal.

Goat looked around innocently, curiously. Skunk whirled, looking for any source or being, or anything at all in this emptiness. Owl simply floated, eyes wide, as realization slowly began to dawn on her.

Face was gone.

Her children--

Her hand clutched tight at the small gemstone on the choker around her neck, and she began to cry.

Skunk and Goat looked worriedly at the older woman, unsure of what to do.

Owl's voice let out a pained whisper. "What... what am I supposed to do now? My children..."

Something rippled through their minds. It wasn't so much a voice as a series of concepts, ideas in succession.


The three scions of Face looked around, suddenly alert. "Who's there?" Skunk snapped out.


Skunk frowned. "What do you want with us?"


She began another question, but Goat cut her off. "Hey, if you're protectors, why'd you try to kill us?"


"It has a point. We did free those... things." Skunk's voice was flat.

"Yeah, I guess." Goat thought for a moment. "What happened to Eagle?"


"I don't really understand that, but it doesn't sound pleasant!"

Letting out a strained choke, Owl spoke up, tears still running down her face. "What... what happened to Face? What happened to my children?"

The shadows rippled around them, and an image formed from the nothingness. It had the unstable, vague quality of a dream, or the reflection on a pool of water. It showed Face, laced with thin white lines. Slowly, the image swooped in to focus on a small shelter, a house, a room. Five children were inside, each impaled on a crystal spire.

When the non-voice came through their minds again, it was tinged with an unmistakable emotion: regret.


Tears welled fresh from Owl's eyes, as the image burned into her memory. She would never forget it. The darkness faded back in around them, but the sight of her childrens' corpses stayed as sharp as a papercut to her mind. Her voice shook. "What... can we do now? There's nothing left..."


Skunk scowled. "What can we do?"


Owl spoke quietly, almost to herself. "More people."

Goat quirked his head to one side. "What's the center?"

Once again the world shifted. This time, the view was of a massive expanse of white. Great spires of something that looked almost like crystal rose up from the white ground, and white flakes drifted down from the pale sky above. One peak rose towards that sky, dwarfing all the others. Above the peak floated a glowing... something. It flickered red, green, yellow, purple, flaring off great tendrils of energy and sucking them back in. It was unmistakably magical.


Owl spoke again, her voice slightly stronger. "What... what were those things?"


The rememorist swallowed. "And what... will they do?"


She nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes with one hand. "Then... then we have no choice. We can't let this happen to anyone else. We have to stop them."


The shadows rippled around them, and the three were falling again out into the empty void of fog.

Friday, April 24, 2009


((8 - From the Wreckage))

The fog was thick and heavy, hanging over the air like a blanket. Out of nowhere, the great face of the crystal roared silently, gleaming gray-silver. The mottled patterns of it indicated regrowths and damages over its history--clearly whatever was imprisoned in it hadn't been held down easily. The lower edge of the roughly cuboid crystal loomed, the bottom surface not quite visible due to the angle. The vertical faced sheered off above into the ever-present infinity of the Void Nebula.

Kasby Bellwood's leather gloves gripped the steering controls of the Archimedes carefully and delicately. ((Roy Norvell)) He had all the confidence of a thousand flights behind him, but you never last long in the Void without a bit of caution. He eased the hovercraft in nice and slow, flipped a switch now and again. His eyes, shielded by a pair of goggles, occasionally flicked to his radar. It was a primitive system, given the materials they had available, but it was the best he could do. He looked for something--anything--that might have caused an energy fluctuation like that like that on a crystal that hadn't shown much signs of weakening for all of Kasby's life.

The systems blinked, indicating the pulses were coming from nearly directly overhead. With a gentle motion, Kasby brought the aircraft upwards. The boosters glowed intensely with the effort of lifting the vehicle, but in the fog they could hardly be seen. Kasby's left hand came to rest on one of the two holsters hanging by his belt, onto a familiar wooden handle--his dart pistol, the oaken gears ticking away.

After a few minutes, something began to come into view up the face--something silver-gray and rounded, protruding from the crystal. Hard to make out from this distance exactly what it was.

Keeping in time with his cautious advance, Kasby eased the Archimedes forward. A year ago, he would have felt a bit of unease- nobody else with him, and some odd formation he hadn't seen before... In the here and now, though, the deadly calm of danger, learned through dozens of battles, had taken him over.

Slowly, details began to emerge through the fog. Rounded shapes, structures, layered upwards. Arches. Designs. The dark-lensed goggles hid Kasby's wide eyes from the rest of this sleeping world. He moved a hand down and turned a knob, and with a flash and a pop the front lights of the craft came on.

It was... big. Whatever it was. A few miles across, at least, and seemingly bolted into the face of the crystal. Closer down, some scaffolding extended downwards from the bottom of it, towards where some holes had been blasted into the crystal. As he got closer, sounds started to waft down towards him. Clanking, humming, a general noise.

Kasby's heart started to pound in his chest as he guided the hovercraft closer towards the sounds. Whatever it was, he was starting to get caught up, like being tugged along by the wind, or by his own excitement. Battle after battle, blood spilled over and over... that, he was numbed to. That was expected. But this... Demons didn't build. Or carve. They just... burn, and kill, and destroy. So what did this? ...Who did this?

An instrument pinged. Loudly. The energy pulses were spiking faster, and more violently. They were no longer overhead, instead coming from the direction of the crystal. Kasby jumped in his seat, his heart skyrocketing. He fumbled for a minute before tightening his hand on the controls, the other groping down at his holster. He twisted a knob, trying to check his equipment to find out what the bloody hell was going on. Energy spikes, becoming more and more frequent, from within the crystal.

The sounds above suddenly began to change drastically. A new sound filtered in. A familiar sound. Human screams.

Christ, thought Kasby. Oh Christ. Familiar sounds indeed... the one year since sure hadn't put many buffers on that memory. The sound truly kicked him into gear, though, shoved the intense curiosity to the very back of his mind- at least for now. Time for action and heroics.

--something coming down--

--no, three somethings--

--three human-shaped somethings--

He gunned the engine of his craft and blasted his way through the fog, tapping the keys of the controls madly. Lock on, lock on, lock on, please....

--make that four, five, six, twelve--!

The screen of the Archimedes still wavered uncertainly as Kasby hammered in commands. "Lock on, dammit!" he shouted in frustration. The craft still zoomed forward, the engine roaring and the boosters tearing through the fog as he zipped towards the falling people. As Kasby looked down at his controls, the problem became suddenly apparent. They weren't registering as living objects. No heat signatures.

The first of them came close enough to see. A great spike of solid crystal was speared through his torso, bloody out one side. Kasby felt his heart drop into his stomach. Oh, no, no... He swerved around, unable to look as the lifeless bodies fell further into the abyss.

From above, a sudden horrific rending noise began, the sound of metal being pulled apart by some great force. And from ahead, from within the crystal, a bloody red light began to shine, cutting through the fog.

Kasby's heart was still pounding in his chest, his stomach still churning because of the corpse, but he kept his hands steady on the controls and continued to pound orders into the console. Find. Me. Life.

The instruments pinged meekly. Lifesigns, coming from the structure, still above--numbers dwindling VERY fast. Blinking out in rapid succession.

A series of red lights began to pulse within the crystal, spreading outwards and getting brighter.

Kasby swooped in, the Archimedes screaming through the air, his eyes flickering between the screen and back. He was climbing towards the life forms, only giving the red lights a second thought.

As he came level with it, the structure came into view. Arches and buildings and roads and clearings--a city. A real city. Stuck on to the crystal face--no, stuck into the crystal face. Wrought metal and carved crystal formed its myriad paths and homes, spiraling intricately into itself.

But now... crystal spikes were so dense spiking through the whole structure that they seemed to crosshatch it white. Blood was everywhere. The spikes Kasby recognized as the crystal's last line of defense... but they were meant for escaping demons, not for... people. As Kasby watched, the last lifesign blinked out.

"NO!" He screamed it out of the cockpit and through the city, an anguished cry. So close, so close, so fucking goddamn close, oh god... Kasby stalled his ship in the air, the boosters slowed and cooling as he hung there, gripping the controls. His fingernails dug into the wooden controls so hard he felt blood well up under each nail.

The instruments started blinking again. Something was coming out of the crystal. They weren't huge--not much more than a meter across, and maybe a dozen meters long. Grayish, ugly, like big angry larvae, or maggots. They glowed with that same bloody red light. The beasts unfurled great leathery wings, each wing easily ten feet across, and began to slowly flap to the sky. Behind them, a great cracking noise filled the sky.

Kasby clenched the controls and gunned the engine, his teeth gritted in anger as he tore through the air, the Archimedes swooping in on the demons like some giant bird of prey. He reached to his right, left hand still on the controls, and grasped hold of what he had been looking for: a crank. With a stony resolution, Kasby whirled the crank over and over in his right hand, and from somewhere on front of the ship came a repeating hollow sound. Crystal shard after crystal shard thunked out of the weapon mounted on front of the Archimedes at a rapid pace, cutting at the demons like a scythe through weeds. Seal up the just-free demons, jet out of the crystal before you incur too much harm, and wait until it shatters. Then you begin the slow, painful process of hunting down each and every escapee... the steps began to sound off in Kasby's mind numbly as he prepared to fire the weapon. Too much to do to feel anything else. He turned the crank...

The crystal shards streaked towards their targets, flying deadly and true-- The red light surrounding the demons sharpened, intensified, solidified. The shards shattered harmlessly against the light as the beasts continued to stream out of their fresh-bored holes in the crystal. The shards didn't work, leaving Kasby gaping in surprise...

The cracking increased. A great split began to work its way open, centered on the city of steel and glass.

-- the instruments pinged again, a different one. The previous alert he had set up. Human lifesigns. Six of them, in one of the tunnels just vacated by a demon. The scientist did a double take into the monitor, halfway between a yelp of shock and a scream of joy. The demons continued to soar through the sky out into the nebula, leathery wings beating, but it didn't take a heartbeat for Kasby to choose his direction. He pulled opened the throttle and made a beeline for the tunnel. Signs of life...

He could just make them out visibly. One of them dove out of the end of the tunnel, followed shortly by two more. The other three stayed in the tunnel--

Until the entire crystal shattered in an instant, sending everything hailing into madness.



((4 - Theme From Amateria))

They had been walking for a few hours when they found the first bodies.

The cave had widened out a bit, and was now wide enough to accommodate them three abreast. They'd been gently sloping upwards, pausing every now and again to examine more of the cracks. All were full of the same strange shadows, which seemed to hiss and hum audibly upon close inspection. It wasn't quite solid--bits of it seemed to drift off and fall back in, snatched in by tendrils of darkness. Whatever the shadow-stuff was, it felt alive, and had everyone thoroughly unsettled.

Eventually, they came to a fork in the tunnel, splitting slightly up and to the right, or straight ahead. The route that lay ahead seemed to curve and be blocked a short ways up. Without checking to see if the others followed, Goat bounded down it.

The others looked at each other briefly, before Giraffe spoke up. "We should stick together..."

Skunk nodded. "I'll go after him. See whether or not the passage is as blocked as it looks." She hurried off, Spider and Owl close behind.

They caught up to Goat a hundred feet down the tunnel. He was standing still for once, silently staring at the obstruction in the cave. It was criss-crossed with spikes and bars of crystal, extruded from the walls of the passage. Hanging from the spikes were the bodies of half a dozen people.

Skunk's eyes narrowed. "I know these people. Members of the guard, all of them."

A shudder went through Owl. "They... must've been the group before us." The others looked at her, knowing she could never un-see their bodies.

Skunk took a step closer, looking over the bodies more closely. "Looks like they've been here about a week, maybe less."

"Let's get back to the others..." Spider fidgeted, clearly anxious to get back. Owl nodded agreement, and they headed back.

After informing Eagle, Zebra, and Giraffe of their morbid discovery, the septet continued up the other branch. A few hours passed, and the light began to dim. Goat prepared sandwiches for everyone from the provisions he had packed, and the group lay down in the cavern to sleep for the night.

Spider awoke in the night to find herself immersed in total darkness. She couldn't see her fingers in front of her face. It felt like... something was crawling on her skin, vibrating, unseen shifting in the air in front of her. With a horrified start, she realized that the shadow-stuff from the cracks was now filling the entire tunnel. The hum of it pounded in her ears. She knew there was no way she could get back to sleep.

Groping around blindly in the dark, she roused her companions. After a brief and uncomfortable discussion, they agreed to continue on in the cavern. None of them would be sleeping more that night.

As day broke, the shadows dissipated, leaving with a rush of whispers and slithering darkness. In their wake, the cave seemed thinner, narrower, more constricted. Eventually they realized that this was entirely true--the further and higher they went, the tighter the pathway was getting. Despite their growing apprehensions, no one was willing to turn back at this point.

Fortunately, by the time it had gotten to the point of squeezing sideways through the fissure in the crystal, several hours later, the tunnel widened suddenly. Spider collapsed to the ground, happy to be able to extend her limbs comfortably again.

Zebra walked up to one wall, and ran her hand along it. Giraffe walked over, following suit curiously, then turned to the group. "Anyone else notice how weird this part of the cave is?"

Owl nodded. "It's perfectly circular... not at all jagged like the rest."

"Almost like someone dug it out intentionally..." Eagle mused.

Spider sat up, spreading her knees wide to turn to Eagle. She opened her mouth to speak, and was cut off abruptly by a massive wedge of crystal shooting out of the ground between her legs. One edge sliced through her woven pants, sliding a red ribbon of blood up the spike. The inside of it seemed to flash with darkness, a writhing shadow that vanished back the way it had come instantly.

The group stared in shocked silence a moment.

Then a second lance of crystal shot out, spearing Owl through the shoulder. Goat leapt forward, pulling her off it even as she went into shock, only for a third spike to slice past his left leg, tearing out a chunk of flesh.

"RUN!" Eagle's cry broke them out of their stunned paralysis, and the group leapt into a sprint down the strangely smooth tunnel.

Spikes shot out from all sides--ceiling, floor, the walls--seeking and spearing. One clipped Zebra's arm, another Giraffe's ear. They dashed madly, the crystal spikes all too close behind. Goat, somehow still in the front in spite of his cut leg, pointed forward. "Up ahead! It widens out! Come on!"

Putting another burst of speed, they threw themselves forward, collapsing out into the larger room. The spikes exploded out to the edge of it behind them, desperately trying to catch them, spear them, but came no further. They seemed to only be able to grow from the walls of the cave, not this new room they found themselves in.

((5 - Lunatic Pandora))

The room was a perfect flattened circle, maybe eight feet to the roof, and a few dozen feet across. The rounded wall of the room was perfectly smooth, save for the mess of crystal spikes filling the way they had come. In the center of the room, a pillar of crystal connected the floor to the ceiling, no more than a few inches wide. The crystal was opaque and white, unlike the normally semi-translucent material of the rest of Face. The very heart of the pillar seemed to glow a bloody red, giving the room an unsettling feeling.

The seven sat down to nurse their wounds and bandage themselves as best they could. No one said much. Goat prepared sandwiches with his usual enthusiasm, but his cheerful smile was not matched by his compatriots. Not long after, the room began to dim again.

Owl frowned. "That's odd. It doesn't feel like it's been a whole day..."

Skunk shook her head. "We must've lost track of time..."

"Or maybe those weird shadows kept us in the dark for a while into the day," Giraffe mused.

Eagle shrugged. "Whatever the reason, we're not going anywhere tonight. Let's bed down and try to get some rest."

Owl found herself being shaken awake, too little sleep later. The world was again nothing but inky vibrating blackness, and she let out another shudder. Nothing to see, nothing to remember, in this kind of night.

A voice whispered to her quietly. "It's Zebra." Zebra tugged her upright and turned her to face inwards.

The pillar stood fully visible, glowing its quietly pulsating red. With no visible floor or ceiling, it seemed to float in the air--as did Spider and Skunk, each touching it from one side.

"Spider? Skunk? What's going on?" Owl's voice was weak and scared.

"Oh, hey, you're awake. Come to the middle... for some reason the pillar seems to be able to make us visible in the dark." Spider seemed to be energetic enough, despite the situation.

Owl and Zebra quickly complied, running to the pillar in the center. As their hands touched it, its light seemed to flow through them, driving back the shadows for the moment. Quietly, Zebra let go of the pillar and vanished again, returning a moment later with a groggy Giraffe.

Skunk nodded in approval. "Let's get Goat and Eagle. It seems safer here, somehow."

Before anyone could do anything, the world changed. The shadows fled, gone in an instant. In their wake they left a thoroughly changed landscape.

The five of them now stood at the top of a cone of crystal, from which the pillar arose, extending dozens of feet to the roof above. The cone sloped down a few yards before meeting a massive curving circular wall that joined up to the ceiling. Half a dozen openings dotted the ceiling, a foot or two wide.

Goat and Eagle, having been brought as well, were woken rather abruptly by the drop to the bottom of the cone.

"GAH!" Goat cried out, looking around in confusion.

Eagle was slower to rise, trying to gauge his surroundings.

Suddenly, shadows began pouring out of the holes in the ceiling like water from a tap. Waterfalls of pure darkness flowed to the bottom of the room, quickly beginning to fill it.

With his usual alacrity, Goat leapt up the slope, darting above the reach of the pooling shadow. Eagle did not fare so well. He ran upwards, but a tendril of shadow caught his leg, beginning to pull him back down.

"EAGLE!" Spider let out a yell, beginning to slide down the slope to grab him. She stopped abruptly, and looked up to see Skunk holding her wrist tightly. "Let me go! We have to save him!" Skunk shook her head, and pointed mutely to the spectacle unfolding below.

As they watched helplessly from the top of the pillar, the shadows wrapped themselves around Eagle, and pulled him into their solid darkness. There was a fizzle and a hiss, like something burning, and one last abbreviated cry of pain. Then Eagle was gone.

The shadows continued to pool, filling up the room and rising higher, towards them. Giraffe swallowed audibly. "Now what?"

No one voiced an answer for a very long and uncomfortable while, as the shadows continued to rise closer to them.

Finally, Zebra spoke up. "We... touched the pillar. And we could see ourselves in the darkness. Maybe..."

"... it could help us more." Spider finished the sentence.

As if answer, the red light at the center of the pillar pulsed, growing brighter.

Owl frowned. "But how do we get it to help us?"

Spider shrugged. "Figure this is worth a try, though." Without giving the others a chance to stop her, she pulled back a fist and slammed it into the crystal pillar. With a crunch, a small part of the crystal chipped and broke off. A beam of red light burst forth from it, glowing with angry force. Where the beam hit one of the falls of shadow, the shadow seemed to be driven back, burned away.

Zebra walked up to the glowing beam, and quietly extended her hand to brush it. She yanked it back a second later, hissing in pain. Giraffe reached a hand out to her worriedly, but Zebra waved her off. "It's okay... it only stung for a second..."

"And look!" Owl cried out excitedly, pointing. "The cut on your arm is healed!" Sure enough, the slice the crystal spike had left on Zebra's forearm was gone.

"Oh man, great!" Goat exclaimed. "I'm gonna get it to fix my leg!" He leapt into the air, flailing wildly, trying to get his leg in the way of the beam of red light. As his body passed through it, it seemed to pick him up with sheer force, as if it were a mighty wind. He flew through the air, slamming into the wall of the room, and slid down it, vanishing into the shadows below.

"Well, fuck." Skunk was thoroughly unenthusiastic. "What now?"

The remaining few looked around worriedly. The shadows were continuing to encroach, now only a few feet below their perch, huddled around the cracked and glowing pillar.

There was a sound from the shadows, and Goat bounded up out of them, parting them behind him. Tendrils grasped at his ankles and slid off, seemingly unable to find purchase. "Check it out! I'm totally okay!" His entire body seemed to glow with slowly fading red light.

Spider broke the shocked silence at his return by turning her attention sharply to the pillar. "Okay, I'm fucking breaking this thing. Any objections?"

There were none.

Spider's fist smashed into the crystal again. Twice. Three times. She whirled around and brought her leg up into a solid roundhouse kick, smashing finally clear through the pillar. Red light exploded in all directions, blinding them--

((6 - Train: Academy Remix))

--as the light cleared, they were back in the smaller circular pillar room. Where the pillar had been, there was what could only be described as a hole in the world. An angry red rip in the fabric of reality hung in the air, glowing a sick and bloodthirsty red. The shadows were for the moment nowhere to be seen.

Something emerged slowly from the hole in the world. It was a long gray worm, tapered at either end and cinched in the middle. It was huge, easily a dozen yards long, and barely fit in the room. A smaller rip in the world opened before it, and it vanished out into the wall of the crystal, leaving a circular tunnel behind it.

Slowly, as a second and third of the larvae emerged from the portal, the humans drifted out of their stunned confusion.

"Something tells me we should be leaving now." Giraffe's statement was the calm brought only by barely suppressed terror.

Owl swallowed hard, shaking. "I rather agree."

The six people of Face set off into the corridor the first larva had left behind, following the way it had come. Without warning, the corridor behind them exploded once more into crystal spikes.

"FUCK!" Spider cursed. "RUN!"

Needing no further incitement, they broke out into a dead sprint, chasing the glowing red creature ahead. The shadow-filled spikes closed on them, stabbing desperately at their arms, legs, and bodies.

To all sides, the distant glowing forms of more larvae tunneling their way out could be seen through the translucent crystal.

After bare minutes, a light began to glow ahead of them--the white light of the fog, and the outside of the crystal. Goat, in the lead, sprinted the last hundred feet to the edge.

Outside, hundreds of the larvae were emerging, all up and down the crystal face, and spreading their narrow leathery wings, beginning a slow flap. Goat's eyes burned with intensity, and he let out a yell. "I'M GONNA RIDE IT!" Grinning with utter fearlessness, he threw himself from the end of the tunnel, leaping out towards the larva.

Behind him, Skunk skidded to a stop, watching the creatures. Owl barreled on, eyes shut in terror, and slammed into the policewoman from behind. The two women tumbled out of the cave, falling into the empty void.

Spider, Zebra, and Giraffe, crystal spikes, closing hot on their tails, stopped at the end of the passage. To their left they could just make out the great city of Face, hundreds of yards away, barely visible in the fog.

A horrible rending noise filled the air, far louder than anything any of them had ever heard before--

--and the world shattered.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Illustrated by Quinn Milton.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009



((2 - Blood on the Motorway))

"Hey, Spider, courier for you," a voice called from the ground below the court.

Flicking the ball off to a teammate, Spider swung along the gridwork hookball court. Her hooks easily caught the metal bars, bringing her quickly to the edge of the play area. Without looking down, the sixteen-year-old used her momentum to flip casually to the ground. The friend who had called to her moments earlier gestured to where the courier stood, at the edge of the platform. Running a hand through her short-cropped jagged black hair, Spider walked over to meet him. ((Hillary Milton))

The boy, who was not so much tall as long, grinned at her. "You're Spider?" He looked maybe a year or two older than her, with brown hair that vanished down his back, and curled around either side of his head to look almost like horns.

Spider nodded. "Yeah. What's the message?"

The boy's eyes darted up, running it over in his mind. "Mayor Bear has requested that you meet in his audience immediately." His voice was cheerful, belying the seriousness of his message.

The teen's eyebrows raised. "The Mayor, huh? Alright, then. Probably shouldn't waste any time." She clipped her twin hooks to her belt.

The courier shook his head. "He also says you should bring supplies to last you up to a week." The boy gestured to the backpack he wore, which was full to bulging.

Spider shrugged. "I'm good with what I've got on me, really."

The boy nodded affably. "Okay! We should go, then!"

Pausing briefly to grab her backpack, Spider and the courier headed towards the ramp up from the hookball court. "I'm Spider."

The boy laughed. "I know! I'm Goat." ((Tom Kelly))

Shaking her head, Spider headed off up the ramp. Goat leapt past her, kicking off the railing to land easily on another one a few feet higher up.

Their journey through Face didn't take long, between Goat's constant leaping and Spider's gymnastics, and they soon arrived at Mayor Bear's office, nestled deep within the crystal itself. Goat pushed the door open to find several people already inside the cramped office, along with Mayor Bear himself.

Mayor Bear was a heavyset man, with a large beard hanging down nearly to his desk. His face was grim as Goat and Spider entered, quietly closing the door behind them. "As I had been saying, we have reason to suspect serious trouble. There are cracks forming in the crystal." Spider's eyes widened. That couldn't be good. "You've each been chosen for various reasons to investigate. We've discovered one particularly large crack, easily big enough for people to enter, several hundred feet below Face. You'll be mounting an expedition into it." He looked around the room. "If you'd each be so kind as to state your name and occupation...?"

There was a brief pause, before Goat leapt forward into the center of the room. "I'm Goat the leaper! I leap and make sandwiches!" He grinned eagerly at his fellows for a moment before stepping back to the edge of the room.

A tall, very pale woman, in early twenties, spoke. "I'm Giraffe. I'm a philosopher and advisor." Her voice was strong and clear. ((Aarin Parker))

She nodded to the shorter woman next to her, who took a somewhat uncertain step forward. "Zebra. I'm a blacksmith..." Her heavily muscled forearms showed this quite clearly. ((Rio Sperling))

Next was a woman with short-cropped black hair and a wicked array of knives at her belt. She looked around the room, hard eyes resting coolly on each of them in turn for a long moment before she spoke curtly. "Skunk. Police officer." ((Katya D'Andrea))

Spider realized with a start that she was the last one on this side of the desk. "Oh, hey, I'm Spider. I'm an architect." She glanced around at the various older folk, brows still furrowed over the idea of cracks in the crystal.

Mayor Bear nodded, and began to speak, gesturing to the teen standing behind him. Before he could form words, though, the door burst open. An older woman, looking to be in her early thirties, came in, breathing hard. Her curly hair was a wild mess, and her tan skin was covered in a slight sheen of sweat. "Oh goodness, sorry I'm so late! I had to pack my clothes, and the four-year-old wouldn't stop crying, and the baby just picked up on it and..." The woman's voice trailed off as she realized everyone was staring at her.

Mayor Bear cleared his throat awkwardly. "Would you please inform the others of your name and occupation? They'll brief you en route as to what you missed." He arched his eyebrows skeptically at the woman.

"Oh! Oh, certainly." She laughed nervously, running a hand through her tangled hair. "I'm Owl, and I'm a rememorist. Seemed like, you know, the only thing to do, what with my perfect recall and such." ((Jenna Brotsky))

"Mm." Mayor Bear picked up where'd been interrupted moments earlier. He pointed again to the boy, who looked about Spider's age. "This is Eagle, a courier. He's seen the cave, and will be your guide."

Tucking a strand of long blonde hair behind his ear, the boy nodded. "Hey."

"Now then," the Mayor continued, "I believe time is of the essence. You've all got your things--you should set out at once."

Giraffe spoke up. "Mayor, I have a question. Why us? There are better-suited people for this than us in Face."

The Mayor let out a long sigh. "Because we have already sent the better-suited people, and none of them have come back. Three teams and not a single report back." He looked up, and stared intensely at their shocked faces. "Put quite simply, ladies and gentlemen... you are Face's last hope."

((3 - Above Stoneship (Telescope Theme) ))

The small metal platform hung from the very bottom of the city, divots screwed straight into the crystal itself. Eagle had lead the sextet down through the city, passing housing layers and hookball courts and food gardens, bringing them down as far as they could physically go.

The fog around them was empty and white, a bleak expanse of nothingness that was the only world they had ever known. Owl looked down over the edge of the wire railing, eyes darting around nervously. "Where do we go from here?"

"Down." Eagle gestured to the edge of the platform, where a wire descended alongside a metal ladder. He reached into a pouch at his belt and distributed carabiners to the assembled. "Hook them onto your belt, and onto the wire. Should stop you from falling." Spider raised a hand, declining the help. Eagle shrugged. "Suit yourself." He went to the side, and headed down the ladder. One by one, the others followed suit.

They spotted the first of the cracks a hundred feet down. Skunk stopped and look into it. It was a narrow split, running perpendicular to the ladder.

Giraffe looked down at her from a few rungs up. "What do you see?"

Skunk narrowed her eyes. "It's... full of some sort of... pulsing darkness. Like a living shadow."

"Weird." Giraffe motioned for Skunk to continue down.

As their descent continued, they passed another few dozen cracks, running in different directions. All were full of the same inky shadows.

After Eagle, Spider was the first one to reach the bottom. The entrance to the cave was more like a widened crevasse than a proper entranceway. A previous team had cut a small ledge into the crystal face, easily big enough to stand on. Spider unclipped herself from the wire and walked over to Eagle. "Do we have any idea at all what's in there?"

Eagle shook his head. "People have explored the inside of Face, but... no one's every found anything other than... more crystal."

Goat leapt eagerly down from the ladder. "Then we're gonna be the first to find new stuff!" Still grinning his fearless smile, the teen ran off into the cave.

As the others filed down beside them, Spider and Eagle shrugged at each other and set off after him.

Monday, April 20, 2009



((1 - Myst Theme))


The city perches on the edge of infinity. It juts forth from an endless vertical expanse of crystal. To both sides, above, and below, the mottled crystal fades into bottomless gray fog. Many have tried, but no one has ever found an end to the crystal. Expeditions of climbers have set out, chipping their way into the crystal, but none have ever returned with news of an edge.

There is only the crystal, and Face, emerging defiantly to dangle over that endless gray void. Face itself is wrought from twisted sheets of iron and steel, fragments of glass windows, wood grown into misshapen planks and boardwalks. Many corridors and rooms are also carved into the crystal itself.

A few thousand live and thrive in its corridors and functional promenades. No one knows where they came from, or why. Religion and history are all but unheard of in Face--for in such a bleak world, is there anything to dream of? Indeed, there is no writing system at all, nor have any there heard of such a thing. Their world is, and has always been, just as it is.

It is a reasonably normal city, much as something in such a place can be considered normal. Mayor Bear leads the city, and he does a good job of it, backed up by his efficient and effective police force. No one wants to cross them, for in Face, there is only one punishment: down.

Food is grown in large bays, from water (which is easily captured from the moisture in the air, using machines that have always been there). For eight hours out of every twenty-four, the light that permeates the fog dims drastically, resulting in a fairly normal sleep cycle. Lives are not very long on Face--few people live past forty or fifty. Medical arts are negligible, and while sickness is unheard of, injuries tend to be fatal or crippling.

Technology is not much more advanced than that of Earth's dark ages. Basic blacksmithing exists, and some principles of architecture. Beyond that, the lack of a writing system or resources have prevented much development. All transportation is on foot, and messages are carried by couriers. All light is natural, or if absolutely necessary, oil lamps. Clothes are woven from plant fiber and passed down. Interestingly, there are no animals anywhere on Face. Only humans.

Mayor Bear has quietly dispatched couriers to certain people in the city.

Face is doomed.