Monday, May 10, 2010


((60 - Greyscale))

June 2nd, 802 AT.

Slowly, the world faded in from black, in a steadily lightening haze. Cold metal met at their wrists and ankles, hold them both against… a wall? Slowly the world came into focus, revealing a room full of strange equipment—bubbling vials of glowing liquid, apparati hanging from the ceiling, tools and instruments of all sorts. A tall man in a white lab coat was hunched over a table, scrawling notes. A long, thin red pony tail trailed down his back.

Owl’s eyes went wide, and she pulled against the cold bonds, staring around the room in confusion.

Next to her on the wall, Skunk scowled. “What the fuck?” She tried to shape the metal bonds, but found them unresponsive.

At the sound, the man at the table stood up, turning to face them. His glasses gleamed in the too-bright light from overhead. "Ah, you're awake."

Owl frowned. "Who are you?" she questioned, more dazed than angry.

Skunk pulled against her bonds. “And why the hell are we bound?”

The word 'language' came as an auto-response to the older woman's lips, but she swallowed it.

"You can call me Dr. Emerson." He smiled, and walked calmly over to a large machine that hung from the ceiling.

Skunk's face twisted into an even deeper scowl. "That's not an answer."

"Oh, don't worry, I'm sure I'll get plenty of answers out of you." Emerson pulled the machine down, revealing a large jagged-edged circular piece of metal on a socket off one side.

"Out of us?" There was a squeaky quality to Owl's tone now.

"Coward," spat Skunk venomously.

Turning to face her, he raised an eyebrow, smile unwavering. "Am I?"

"Binding me up with freak metal, using fucking machines to do your dirty work?"

He simply shrugged, and turned back to his machine, continuing to prepare it.

Owl shivered. It had nothing to do with cold.

Skunk’s eyes narrowed as she examined the machine. "Gonna torture us, are you?"

"He... he can't do that!" Owl gasped.

“Why not?” Emerson blinked. "You don't make the least bit of sense, and I intend to find some!"

"Be-because... because we... you just can't!"

"It's simple science, my dear." He took a step towards his two subjects. "Look at you! You're covered with strange words, half of them in languages that I can't find in the most detailed linguistics textbooks!"

"Well then, then... your books aren't very good." Owl squirmed under his gaze.

Skunk just rolled her eyes. "Whoop-dee-fuckin'-doo, he's a nutter too."

"And you--" he gestured at Skunk "--are covered head to toe with some sort of liquid, semi-living metal."

Owl continued to protest. "And let me tell you, from everything I've read, simple science is rarely just that."

"Well, of course not. If it were simple, it wouldn't be fun." He flipped a switch on the machine, and the circle began to spin.

“But then… then you lied,” Owl said.

The metal rotated, slowly at first, then faster and faster, becoming a shining whirring blur.

He blinked at Owl. "Really?"

"You... you said it was simple, and that simple science wasn't fun and... and that thing does NOT look simple."

Skunk watched the blade spin. "What are you looking for?"

“I’m looking for an explanation.”

"For what?" asked Skunk, trying to steal some time.

He reached back and pushed a button on a small machine mounted on a tripod. Ignoring them, he spoke to the machine. "Experiment one. Testing resilience of liquid metal skin-system, using iron saw."



He turned back to the girls, and moved the spinning blade into position over Skunk's right arm.

"I do not like the sound of that." Skunk braced herself, gritting her teeth.

"You! Hey! Young man, you will use no such thing on her!" Owl’s protests sounded hollow, even to her.

"And how do you intend to stop me, ma'am? With words?"

Owl squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head, determined not to have the image stuck in her skull. "Words are more powerful than you might think," she answered, not opening her eyes.

Emerson pushed the saw down onto Skunk's arm.

“The saw is soft,” Owl began, as the room filled with a screeching sound of metal on metal as the saw blade scraped against the much-harder metal of Skunk.

Skunk tried to shape the metal into a harmless blob, but somehow it too resisted her power. "Ow," she commented sounding far away.

"Nearly intangible,” Owl continued. “It is made of cotton and baby blankets. The teeth are duller than a newborn's gums." The words flowed down her arms, crossing behind Skunk along the wall, wrapping around her arm and onto the saw.

"When it touches metal, it folds against it," Owl said, voice getting stronger. She pushed the words hard. "When it touches Skunk, it cannot hurt her... it is a cloud."

Emerson took a step back in confusion, watching as his best saw appeared to melt, and then half-fade away, falling through the machinery holding it up.

Owl’s words wrapped around the blade, covering it with writing, as it landed on the floor and folded in on itself.

Skunk relaxed a bit. "Okay, that's...better."

Emerson whirled to Owl. "Well then! I see I've directed my inquiry in the wrong direction!" He pulled a scalpel out of his pocket and took two steps towards her.

"Wait, what exactly do you want to know?" Skunk cut in.

Owl glared at the scientist looming over her, easily a foot taller than her. "Young man, I hope you realize that that scalpel is made of the same clouds as the saw." Owl allowed herself a strained smile as she sent more words out. "It will touch me, but it cannot hurt me. It is softer than air."

Ignoring her, Emerson spoke to Skunk. "At the moment, if the words on this woman are—” He blinked in surprise as the scalpel literally fell through his fingertips, coming to rest softly against the ground.

Skunk ground her teeth, annoyed at being useless. "Great job. Now, can you get us out?"

Owl's eyes lit up. "I can!" she answered. "The metal that holds us is melting away. But as it melts, it remains cool."

Emerson turned back to the machine on the tripod. "Subjects are proving difficult to experiment on, and resistant. Perhaps I should have done more experimentation on them when they were unconscious."

“Camera!” Owl named automatically, recognizing it from a book. “What are you taking pictures of?”

"You know, I for one wouldn't mind practicing my whip's aim on this guy," muttered Skunk, ignoring the scientist.

Owl’s words had wrapped around the restraints, again flowing off of her body and altering what they touched. The metal melted away, slipping to the floor.

Skunk eyed Owl. "So you do have your uses then."

"Several of them, I hope," Owl replied.

Oblivious, Emerson continued to talk into the camera, describing Owl's writing.

She turned back to the scientist. "Young man. Perhaps you should let us go. This whole laboratory could be a puddle of clouds." Owl shook her wrists, getting a fleck of melted metal off.

He continued to ignore her, launching into a description of the feeling of the scalpel as it passed through his hand.

"Young man!" Owl snapped. "Do your, um, guests the common courtesy of paying them attention!"

Skunk rubbed her wrists, and looked around for her iron whip, which was conspicuously absent from her hip. "You know, I think we ought to repay him with as much courtesy as he gave us."

"What do you... Oh, no. Skunk! We couldn't!"

This seemed to finally get the doctor's attention. "Hm? I'm sorry, did you say something?

"Yes, several things," Owl answered.

"Oh. I'm sorry, would you mind repeating them?"

"You know, I think this guy is absolutely out of his goddamn mind." Skunk advanced towards him menacingly.

Owl put her hands on her hips and scowled. "Well, first of all, I asked what the camera was for," she repeated. "And second of all, while I disagree with the phrasing, I think you might be right, Skunk."

"Why? Well, that seems obvious enough. To record my experiments so that I can review the data later!"

Owl's eyes widened. "So you can... that's terrible! You were going to have vih-dee-oh of this?"

Skunk kept her blood-red eyes trained on the Doctor, but didn't make any moves just yet. "Yeah, well, I think we've already seen that he's not exactly the nicest guy ever."

"Of course I was! Record-keeping is vital to good scientific methodology."

"Why in all of Face would you want something like that?" Owl gasped.

“Look, does it matter? He’s clearly crazy.” Skunk glanced around the rest of the room, eyes coming to rest on the ladder hanging down into the room from above. "There's a ladder over there, maybe we can get out."

"Well, yes, but," Owl bit her lip. "There are lines that shouldn't be crossed."

"I am not crazy, I am a man of science!"

"Same thing, from my reading," Owl replied. “Well, except for some nice ones.”

"I'm leaving.” Skunk rolled her red eyes. “This guy's not worth the time it would take to smear his brains on the walls."

Emerson frowned. "Hm." He took a few steps over towards a work desk, and picked up a fist-sized metal apparatus.

Skunk headed for the ladder. “I’m getting out of here, whether you’re coming or not, Owl.”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” The older woman answered.

Emerson spun towards them. "But I've just begun my experiments!" The contraption now included a large canister of glowing green liquid which, combined with the long needle out the other end, gave it a rather sinister appearance. "Stop, the experiments will go much smoother if I sedate you."

“Owl? What’s that?”

“Don’t know for sure!” The wordmancer was already starting towards the ladder. "But the green stuff looks like a lot of various liquids in this one old book with a skull on the front... No good can come of that."

Skunk glared around the room, seeing many exciting sources of metal she could use as a weapon. She settled on touching her palm to the nearest table, melting part of it off to form a long sword-like shard. Her other arm she formed into a gleaming blade.

Owl scrambled across the room until she reached the ladder. Grabbing a rung she called, "Skunk, leave him! Let's just go!"

"He's not giving up, though. The fucker could sound an alarm or some shit, or just stab one of us in the back."

Emerson’s eyes widened at Skunk's transformation, and ran over to the camera. He turned it on its tripod to point at her.

"But maybe he won't! Let's GO and not HURT anybody!" Owl knew she was screeching and she didn't care.

“Whatever.” Skunk backed away from him, stopping alongside Owl and the ladder. “Well? Head up.”

Owl started up the thing as fast as she could. "Going, going!"

"Wait! I'm not done with my experiments!"

"He gets to keep his head, for now," Skunk growled.

"Forever I hope. If we never see him again it'll be too soon," the shorter woman replied as she went up the ladder. Owl pulled herself over the top of the ladder and came out onto the ship’s upper deck.

The ladder opened onto the deck of a ship not terribly unlike the Quinn, though closer to the Oliver in size. At one end was a control port, and a pair of large engines stuck off the sides, currently rotated to point straight downwards. The sky above was open Void.

Skunk followed up the ladder, and looked around. “Fun. Now what?”

"What do we do?" Owl asked. "I know how to navigate, but... not in this."

"Hell, I don't know." Skunk glanced back down into the room they had left, checking to see if there was a way to close the scientist inside, but unfortunately there was no door or hatch to seal the ladder.

Owl walked over to the unfamiliar dash and said, "Oh." She concentrated for a moment. “The controls are not unfamiliar.” The words again flowed off of her finger tips, beginning to wrap around the controls and alter them.

After a moment, the large red-haired man came up the ladder. He took the large syringe out of his pocket, and walked towards Skunk. "Come now, I'm just going to sedate you to make the experiments easier."

"Back the fuck off." Skunk reformed her left arm into a blade.

"They look just like the ones I've practiced on. The steering wheel is in my hands." Seeing what was happening behind her, Owl sped up. "And the buttons are all ones I know. They're in nice little rows." The steering wheel formed into her hands, and the buttons began to pop into place, one by one.

Emerson took another step towards Skunk, holding out his empty hand. “Please, it won’t hurt at all.”

“Touch me and I kill you, asshole.”

Owl bit her lip and looked back to Emerson and Skunk. “The syringe is empty! It has no point!” She cried, willing it to change. Her words were still wrapped around the console, though, and it seemed she couldn’t edit two things at once. “Darn!”

“Fuck this.” Skunk reached out her metal hand and grabbed him by the wrist, pulling him close, then impaled him with her blade.

He stared down at the extended metal now sticking into his chest. He frowned at it, clearly in considerable consternation. "This is... hm."

She let him go, then quickly lashed out with one sharpened foot, just to be thorough. The second blade caught him in the leg, cutting through a large chunk of him.

He blinked twice. "I don't think..." Then his eyes rolled back into his head, and he fell over backwards.

Owl couldn't close her eyes fast enough, and shuddered as Emerson fell. She knew she could never forget that image. Blood flowed freely from the two large wounds as his body thudded down onto the hardwood floor.

"That oughta do it." Skunk casually stepped away. "Get us away."

Owl opened her eyes and stared at her companion. "You..." she whispered.

"Owl, focus, damnit."

"What did you... you killed him."

"He was gonna torture us."

The smaller woman shook. All she could think of was the blood. "You killed him! No, no, no..." The words in Owl's shadow changed. Blood, they read in a million tongues, blood screaming agony death. Blood Face Center leaving dying blood everything everyone! "No..."

Skunk crossed over to stand by Owl, and shook her roughly. "Yeah, well, we're gonna be dead too, if you don't get us somewhere."

"No," she whimpered, tears running down her cheeks. "I can't..."

“You’ve got two choices. Die out here, or learn to fly the damn ship.”

Owl was shivering to the point where she didn't trust her finger on the dash, but she turned to the controls. "You have to step away from me," she whispered, starting the ship.

Skunk complied. "I really hope there's no one else aboard," she mused under her breath.

Owl closed her eyes for a minute. When they opened she stopped shaking. "Okay. Let's go." She punched a few buttons in sequence and grabbed the wheel.

Going back over to the ladder opening, Skunk placed her palms against the floor and stretched some of the metal to cover the opening. "Where are we going?"

"Center," Owl replied, more casually than she should have been able to.

Skunk grunted, retreating into her usual silence.

"At least I hope so,” the rememorist added under her breath.

The small ship whirred to life at Owl's touch, reorienting downwards, and dropping into the Void.

Friday, May 7, 2010


((58 - Atrus' Theme))

June 2nd, 802 AT.

The fog of the Void slowly cleared away as a massive floor of crystal came into view beneath them. A huge streak of dark mineral ore splashed across the face, cutting a gray swath against the white crystal. In the middle of the ore was a huge cylindrical shaft, descending down into the crystal. A metal building sat alongside the shaft, with a large transport ship docked next to it. In all directions around it, the crystal surface stretched away, vanishing into the fog along every horizon.

The five Talons and their demons had been traveling for quite a few hours now, none of them talking all that much. While there had been no love lost between them and most of its inhabitants, the Roost had been their home. And now, in all likelihood, it was gone, lost to the Swarm.

But now they had arrived at their first layover en route to Sector One. The mine complex here had served as one of Cyclops' hideouts for a few years. It had been abandoned due to demons, and Cyc had kept up the illusion of a demonic presence for years to keep anyone from coming back. Cyc hadn't been there in a good long while, but in theory it would still be well-stocked with food and other supplies--enough to last them the month-long journey to Sector One, hopefully.

Torrential Black and Chun hovered for a moment before diving down towards the crystal. They landed next to the shaft, Torrential eyeing the surroundings. The bird let out a soft squawk and a short purring sound as Chun cocked her head from his back.

Spider rested comfortably on the back of her huge scorpion, having gotten tired of orbiting around it for so long. She shuddered, and the two landed next to Chun. The scorpion--now named Scorpia, after Spider's late mother--shrank slightly, and its wings furled up into a more appropriate size. As the rest of their companions landed around them, Spider made a beeline for the building, examining it for architectural issues or faults.

It was about two stories tall, and was clearly originally designed to serve as dormitories for the miners. It looked structurally sound, but not particularly well-designed. A large elevator shaft went down into the mine, connected to the building, with no entrance from the outside.

Reno raked the area with her gaze. "ANYONE HOME?" she called, not necessarily expecting an answer.

One came, in the form of quiet footsteps, echoing from inside the building.

Seth remained in his seat within his demon, and cocked his head to the side, listening. "Hear that?"

Kiara looked around, searching for the source of the sound. "Someone's here..." She shifted and waited, one hand casually resting on the crystal sword beneath her trenchcoat.

Chun pushed her goggles to her forehead, leaning forward to rest her arms on Torrential's head. The demon scratched at the crystal ground restlessly with a claw.

Reno's head swiveled to face the direction of the footsteps. Caf leaned in slightly towards the sound. His nostrils twitched. Reno's did the same, in-synch.

A crash of metal sounded, even closer than the footsteps, again coming from the direction of the building. Near the grounded transport ship, a large pair of double doors hung half-open.

Reno and Caf's heads jerked back simultaneously. "What was that?"

Seth took advantage of finally being back on solid ground to pull out and light a fresh cigarette. "It was interesting." The quartz beast he sat on floated in the direction of the noise.

Chun grinned. "It sounds like a person. They can't be too much of a threat..." Torrential took steps towards the sound, Chun swaying a bit with each movement. Her eager smile didn't disappear as dull thuds slowly approached.

Reno and Caf's backs both arched a bit. It seemed like they shared certain tics now. Reno's suit hadn't changed color since the implantation of the crystal, remaining a tawny brown, possibly an indication of Reno's now-constantly-alert mental state.

Kiara tapped her foot in annoyance, and began to speak. "Well, this suspense is just getting ridic--"

She was cut off as a duct on the outside of the building burst open, and a raggedy-looking man spilled to the ground. He had shoulder-length black hair that matched his scraggly beard, and was dressed in extremely dirty mining gear. He coughed violently from his position on the crystal, slowly dragging himself up to lean against the rough metal wall. ((David Gottsegen))

"Oh, well, there we go," Kiara remarked, looking a bit disappointed. "He doesn't look like a threat at all."

Scorpia flashed black and white quickly and began to scuttle towards the man. "Eh ey!" Spider halted the giant insect, which slunk back towards her, hanging its shifting head.

Seth gazed thoughtfully down at the man. "And what might you be doing here?"

The man froze, seeming to finally notice them as a direct question was posed to him. He looked around frantically, then dashed off in the direction of the transport ship.

Caf suddenly let out a shriek, and darted straight in the direction of the fleeing man. Reno looked uncharacteristically horrified. "CAF! NO!" Caf plummeted to the ground, stopping just feet from the man.

He stumbled and fell to the ground as the demon gained on him, and lay on his back staring up at the creature. "Get away from me!"

Torrential pranced over to the man, lowering his head down close. Chun leaned forward and grinned widely at the stranger. "Boo!"

He began to shiver violently and sweat. "Who the hell are you people!?"

Kiara scowled in Reno's direction. "Reno. Control your demon."

Reno scoffed as she gathered herself "Iiiii'm TRYINNGGGGGGG."

Seth floated over to the man, still not leaving his perch in his demon. "Yo, we have nothing against you, mate. We just wanna know why you're here."

The man said nothing, just looked up at the trio of demons and riders around him in confusion and fear.

"Oh. Right. These." Seth let out a brief cackle. "Don't worry about these guys, mate. I'm pretty sure they won't hurt you."

Spider walked over to Reno, Scorpia scuttling obediently behind. "Do you want me to get Scorpia to beat up Caf for you?" She offered, sounding completely serious.

Reno and Caf gave dual growls, glaring at Spider and Scorpia. With so many mimicked movements, it was hard to tell who was in control.

"Okay, okay!" Spider held up her hands, and Scorpia backed down, eliciting a quiet chuckle from Chun.

The man on the ground scrambled to his feet, bracing himself against the side of the transport ship. "You laugh now, but you'll see who's laughing when they're all dead!"

Seth raised an eyebrow. "When they're all dead?"

"Every one of you."

"Is that so? Do elaborate."

Chun turned sharply towards the man, scowling. "Yeah, why would WE be dead?" Torrential got riled up, stretching his wings and bucking his back.

The man's voice got very quiet. "It won't matter much... not here, anyway."

"I'm just going to wait patiently," Spider mumbled to herself. "Until I figure out what they're talking about..."

He began to edge along the side of the ship, towards the door to the building. "My guess is that none of you will survive." He pointed at Chun. "Especially you."

Chun frowned as Torrential became harder to control, snapping his beak towards the man, obviously violent. "Ha! Me?"

Reno furrowed her eyebrows. Not in the direction of the man, but out into space. She seemed to be concentrating on something else.

"Oh. You think these things," Seth motioned to the demons. "Are going to kill us?"

Spider walked besides Seth. "I don't think he's talking about our demons..." She said with a sudden frown.

"Oh, who knows, maybe I am." The man twitched a bit. "I don't even know any more!"

"Augh!" Spider clenched her hands to her head. "Why doesn't anyone make any SENSE any more?"

"Hey! Shut up about our sweet steeds!" said Caf, twisted mouth opening in rapid sequence. Reno's eyes lit up. Caf was talking in her voice, in a voice that decidedly did not belong coming out of a demonic mouth.

Spider stalked forward to the man, and grabbed his shirt with one hand, slapping him across the face with the other. "Start speaking our language!" She shouted.

The man let out a nervous giggle, clearly cracking. "Who cares what language you speak? It's all the same..."

"Hot DAMN!" Shouted Caf, though Reno was the one making the facial expressions and lip movements. "He can speak my thoughts!"

Spider shook the man violently. "What. Is. Going. ON!?" Apparently, the man would start making sense if she shouted at him. Obviously. Scorpia stood behind her, hissing white gas. It raised its two massive stingers.

He looked at her, eyes wide. "First to go are the lights."

Kiara paused, then sighed. "Spider. Back off. Maybe we can convince him to make some sense."

"Shh!" She hissed back, not turning away from the man, face stony cold.

"Second, the sounds... screaming, everywhere." He began to sweat more profusely. "I don't remember much, uh, some whistling? Whipping, maybe?"

Torrential landed again, obviously calmer. Chun lifted an eyebrow. "We're wasting our time here! This guy is raving mad."

"Wait..." Spider said. "Are there more people in there?" She asked, her voice strangely calm.

"No, they're gone now, you will be too. You'll find them after you go, maybe. I don't know where it is, though, but I'm sure to go too..."

Kiara frowned. "Go where?"

"Wherever the people who leave go. Those... friends," he spat, "will take you there someday, I'm sure."

"Damn," Spider whispered, and dropped the guy unceremoniously.

Seth finally spoke up, clearly getting bored. "The fuck're you talking about? Hell?"

"Leave from where?" Said Reno, from her own body this time. "This place? The Void?" And then with a mocking tone, "Our mortal coil?"

Spider rolled her eyes. "You guys are more dense than I am. And I don't like the idea of going in there." She jerked her head towards the door.

Chun grimaced, obviously not caring at all about what this guy was talking about. "Do we really NEED to go in there, anyway? There isn't anything wrong with talking and planning outside. Plus, I don't even know if I can fit Torrential in there, and I am NOT leaving him out here."

Seth raised an eyebrow at her. "... supplies. Unless you want to fast until we hit Sector One."

"How do we know Bozo here didn't already deplete the supplies?" Chun elbowed the very confused and obviously crazy man. "Eh, Bozo, you eat our food?"

He just looked at her in confusion.

"Fine, then, you guys stay out here." Seth walked towards the doors. "I'm gonna go get some food. Anyone who wants to can join me."

"Okay, valid point," said Reno, dropping her sarcasm. "I'll go, Seth."

With a desolate sigh and a whine in her voice, Spider said, "I'm sure I can get Scorpia to fit in there too... I'll come."

"Whatever," Kiara muttered. "I'm staying out here. Make sure no one else shows up."

Chun raised an eyebrow at the doors to the barracks. "I'm not even going to try to get Torrential in there. I'm staying out here."

"Very well. Kiara, Chun, you can... watch our backs, or whatever." Seth hopped off his beast and stepped up to the doors, examining them. They were undamaged, but hung curiously open.

The man followed him, walking awkwardly, almost stumbling once or twice. "If you go in, your fate goes with you."

"The worst that can happen is I'll go back home," Spider said quietly, as she and Scorpia scuttled to the doors. The scorpion was mad with red energy, its whole form twitching slightly.

Seth chuckled to himself. "Heh. Fate."

Kiara sighed, smoothing down her trenchcoat. "I'm going for a walk, see if there's anything else here. I'll be back later."

Reno watched them go, then turned back to the man. "Hey, Cryptic-o dude. Just so we don't have to come up with a million different nicknames for you, what's your name?"

He laughed. "I guess my name was Garus." He frowned, eyes still looking at Reno but seeming to not see her. "But since then I am Wurm."

"...worm? Okay," Reno deadpanned. Ahead of her, Seth and Spider headed into the building.

Chun slid off Torrential's back, starting to follow after Kiara and Umbra, but paused, looking back. "Wurm! You going in with them, or hanging out with me?"

His eyes went wide. "Wait! Don't leave me with them!"

Chun just grinned at him. "Oh, don't worry, I don't bite. But he might!" She pointed to Torrential.

Reno sighed in exasperation as Wurm scurried away from the massive crow, in through the door she held open, then followed him in, Caf squeezing into the hallway behind her.

Inside, the hallway led straight ahead towards what looked like an elevator shaft at the far end. Paths led off to the sides--stairways up and down to bedrooms, mess halls, ore dumps, and places like that.

Seth stood at the far end of the hall, leaning against the wall, his demon next to him. He casually cracked his knuckles, and watched as Spider came scurrying in from a side hall, along the ceiling. "Anything?" He asked her.

She shook her head. "This hall is just as empty of food as the last one."

Reno raised an eyebrow. "What's up?"

Seth pushed off from the wall, standing upright. "Apparently Chun wasn't being as funny as she thought. Wurm, where's all the food?"

Wurm shuffled from side to side, glancing at Caf filling the corridor behind him, then Scorpia and Seth's demon up ahead. "We... it... it's all down there. In the pit." He pointed to the elevator at the end of the hall.

"Right then," Seth grumbled. "Guess we're heading down after it."

The elevator was fairly large, clearly intended as some sort of freight lift. It was a wide platform surrounded by mesh-cage walls. A utilitarian lever was on one wall, with two simple settings--up and down.

Spider led the way in, rightside-up for once, Scorpia shrinking down considerably next to her. Seth followed, his demon close behind. Wurm crawled in, trying to keep as much distance between him and the demons as possible.

Caf clawed her way up the elevator wall to hang on the ceiling, Reno still on her back. "Okay," she said. "Can we get this thing moving before ALL the blood in my body rushes to my head?"

Spider grabbed the lever and yanked it down violently. As gears whirred and the elevator began to descend, she glanced over at Reno. "See, that's why it helps to change your gravity instead of just standing upside down."

"Wooooooooow," replied Reno. "I should try that! Yeah! That's totally physically possible for me!" Her voice became suddenly serious again. "Which begs the question... how can YOU do that?"

Spider scratched her head, looking at the shaft outside. It was lined with various old tunnels, metal support structures, and other channels, all cut into the solid rock vein. "Well..." Spider said, stretching the word out nice and long. "It's a long story... involving the inside of a crystal... and a giant slug... and some stomping boots..." Her voice took on a bitter edge. "I learned my lesson, though."

Hundreds of feet down, the elevator clicked to a grinding halt. The light was dimmer down here, filtered down from up above. The only real source of clear light was the bare bulb of the elevator. As the wire doors slid open, it fizzled out with a pop.

Wurm looked up at it, eyes narrow. "First go the lights."

((59 - Laki))

"Oh, shhh!" Spider said to Wurm, stepping out through the doors. "It's still light enough to see fine."

Tunnels led off in various directions from the walls of the shaft. Up ahead, the Void was a small circle of light, leaving the deep bathed in a dim twilight.

In the broad, open center of the shaft, though, there lay some kind of creature, half a dozen feet tall. It was chitinous, and the one large eye on top of its sectioned body looked around with sharp, clicking movements. ((Dylan Scott)) As the four people and their three demons piled out of the elevator, it skittered to the far side of the shaft, moving startlingly quickly on its six legs.

"Woah," said Reno. "Giant bug." She didn't sound particularly impressed.

"So the screams should be coming nowish, eh Wurm?" Seth raised an eyebrow at the man, who was standing there staring, wide-eyed, pale.

"Ew," said Spider loudly, glancing to the others. "So, what now? We fight it?" Her voice echoed dramatically around the cavern, coming back at them from all sides. 'What... we fight... fight now... what... what...'

Seth’s lit cigarette glowed in the pseudo-darkness. He slowly strolled towards the oversized insect, letting out a laugh as it leapt along the edge of the shaft, further away from him. “It’s afraid of us?

From nowhere in particular came a sound like a sheet being ripped in half, or a thousand bees dying. Wurm let out a scream, collapsing backwards against the wall of the shaft.

Seth looked at Wurm, then back to where the creature was—or had been. It was conspicuously absent. “Oh,” he said, voice trembling ever so slightly. “There are the screams.”

Reno looked around, eyes flashing each direction, suddenly very alert. “Where did it go?”

Spider frowned. “I don’t know… it was there a second ago.” She glanced over at Wurm, and saw him staring straight upwards, eyes wide. She followed his gaze, trying to figure out what he was looking at.

Emitting a horrible screaming shriek, the bug was hurtling down towards them, pincers flashing, dripping massive globs of venom.

Scorpia and Spider leapt against the side well, letting out a stream of curses, dodging out of the way. “Don’t just STAND there!” She screamed at the rest of them.

As the creature redirected in mid-air towards Spider, one of the venom drops struck Caf on the shoulder. Once again, he and Reno let out synchronized screams.

Spider raised an arm to parry the bug, as Scorpia readied her two huge stingers, preparing to sting the thing. As the two lashed out towards it, it seemed to coalesce through them, thinning and disappearing.

Reno clamped her hands to her head and began to breathe words in a raspy voice that was most certainly not hers. "M-m-mast-master! It...BURNS, master!"

Spider and Scorpia both dropped down the floor of the shaft, looking mad. “Dammit! Where the hell did it—”

They were cut off by Reno’s sudden yelp as she was abruptly knocked forward by the creature slamming into the backs of her knees. She almost immediately went into violent spasms, not unlike a seizure, as it loomed over her.

Seth pulled a small hand pistol out of his jacket. It was meant for small demons, not chitinous creatures like this. “Worth a shot, he breathed.” He aimed it at the creature atop his friend.

“SETH!” Caf cried in Reno’s voice. “YOU FUCKER! DON’T SHOOT ME!”

He pulled the trigger, and with a loud snap the gun went off. As it did, a thousand ghost shadows coalesced around the bug, pulling it away into nothingness.

“C’mon Reno, you know I’m a good shot.” He grinned. “You’re fine.”

Spider’s hand shot to the pouch at her belt and brought up her crystal gun, aiming it at Seth. The giant bug was right behind him. “SETH!” She shouted. “DUCK!”

Shit!” He dropped flat to the ground as Spider fired twice. But as the bug leapt towards Seth’s head, jaws at the ready it seemed to fade away.

—And Spider felt something slam into her legs from behind. She tripped, and fell upwards, slamming into the side of the crevice. “Godamnitsonvabitch!” Scorpia leapt at where the giant bug would be, trying to sting it, but it wasn’t there.

“The fuck is this thing? Some kinda ghost?” Seth said angrily. He walked to where Reno still lay on the ground, twitching slightly, but not spazzing anymore.

Spider moaned, and pushed herself up on the wall. “This isn’t working,” she panted heavily. “How do you kill a ghost?”

Seth shrugged. “I got nothing.”

Near Reno, Caf started to stumble, losing balance on a suddenly limp left foreleg, still suffering from the bug’s venom. Once again, Reno silently mouthed, “…m…a…ster…”

Wurm came crawling cautiously out of the elevator, looking around, shaking. “The lights… the screams…”

Seth looked hard at the man, who was starting to seem a little less mad. “What happens next, Wurm?”

Wurm looked at him with bloodshot eyes. “The voice…”

As if on cue, a massive booming voice echoed throughout the cavern. “I. AM. HUMAN.”

Seth raised an eyebrow. “Eh?” He looked around for the bug, presumably the source of the voice, but didn’t see it.

“Hey, if you’re human,” Spider said, “then I’m a demon… oh, wait.” She paused, and pressed a finger to her lips.

Suddenly the bug was among them one more, sitting in the center of the pit. It spoke again, the voice seeming to emanate from its single eye. “I AM TERZA RIMA.”

Seth shook his head. “Back to not being human. That’s cool.”

It skittered up to him. “WHAT ARE YOU?”

“Us? We’re the motherfucking Talons, yo.” Seth crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the bug, intrigued. “Why jump us?”

“Talons. Tell me this: what is human?” It turned in a circle, its spindly legs clacking against the crystal floor.

Seth sighed. “I’m not a scientist. I’m not a philosopher. Someone else field this one.”

Spider looked to Reno, then to Terza Rima. “Well there’s humans and demons,” she said slowly. “What else is there? You have to be one or the other… or both, I suppose…”

“Human,” Reno said, her voice now seeming to come from both herself and Caf. “Homo Sapien. Intelligent, thinking, vertebrate, ammals.”

Spider gave her a very confused look.

“… or is it hammals?” Caf quirked his head to one side, looking to Reno, as they both spoke.

“Both? No. There is human, and there is monster. I am not a monster.”

“Well, you’re doing a good job of freaking us out,” Spider said.

Caf walked up to Terza Rima. “Okay… how exactly are you not a monster?”


Seth frowned. “Thought isn’t—”

It cut him off. “Sometimes. Sometimes I do not think. Sometimes I am the chaos, and the chaos is me.”

Spider threw her hands in the air. “Chaos! Monsters! Humans! No one makes sense any more!”

“When are you the chaos, Terza Rima?” Seth asked slowly.

There was a pause, and then the bug vanished. Its voice came again, from thin air. “NOW.”

Once more it was shrieking through the air, this time targeting Caf, who scrambled backwards. Reno let out an inhuman shriek, and threw herself between the bug and her demon. All three collided and—

((82 — Poison Prison))

Reno stood atop a mountain, a real mountain of brown earth and stone, the kind she had only ever seen in picture books. Above her the sky shone yellow, filled with acidic green clouds. She felt a presence at her shoulder, and turned to find Caf sitting there. He lowered his head and nuzzled it against her shoulder, and she smiled. There had been something—

Terza Rima stood before them, perched on a rocky spire. “Come, Talon. Come and see the happening.”

In her somewhat dreamlike state, it didn’t occur to Reno not to do so. She walked to the edge of the peak, and looked down at the massive plain below. Thousands of creatures just like Terza Rima were there, clashing in what could only be described as war.

She watched in silence as killing and death on a scale she had never before seen unfolded. Caf crouched low next to her, and she could feel his heartbeat in her ears, pounding steadily in time to the beat of violence in the field.

Huge sparks began to erupt here and there in the battle. Vast gouts of flame and lightning, glowing beams that vaporized dozens of the creatures. It was unmistakably magic.

From beside her, Terza Rima spoke, in a voice quieter than any he had used before. “This is the chaos that becomes us. This is the chaos that destroys us.”

Finally, Reno managed to crack the silence in her throat. “Is… this what happened to your people? You wiped each other out with magic?”

“The chaos claimed us, until I alone remained.”

She turned away from the battle, looking to Terza Rima. “Huh. How did you wind up here?”

He did not answer, instead scuttling to Caf. “The chaos is in you as well. In you both. If you do not understand it, it will consume you.”

As he said the words, Reno could feel her connection to Caf returning. Her thoughts were no longer just hers—they were his as well. A feral instinct crawling inside her head, a sort of madness. But now that she saw this feeling, now that she understood, she was able to welcome it.

“You must apart. You must be separate. If you are not, the chaos will become you as well.”

Reno frowned. “No. I’m not cutting Caf off. He’s a part of me, now.”

“Then you will be taken.” Terza Rima began to turn away.

“Wait!” Reno took a step towards him, Caf following suit. “Where are you going?”

“The chaos comes. There is nothing of me. There is chaos.”

The world began to fade around them, cracks appearing, holes in the world.

“You are not alone, Talon. The darkness comes. Find light, if you are to live.”

“Terza Rima…” Reno and Caf were now alone on what was left of the peak.

“There is no Terza Rima. There is chaos.”

—and she was lying on her back, suddenly in the mineshaft again. She could see the distant circle of light overhead. Caf huddled next to her, and nipped at her arm.

“Y’alright, Reno?” Seth asked, standing over her.

She got to her feet, leaning against Caf for support. “Yeah, yeah… what happened?”

“That demon-bug-thing did. It hit you and vanished, and left you and Caf twitching like crazy for a few minutes.”

Reno nodded slowly, unsure how to explain what she had seen inside Terza Rima’s memories.

“Oh,” Seth continued. “And that Wurm guy ran off down a corridor. Spider went after him a few minutes ago.”


“Helloooo? Wuuuuurm?” Spider’s voice echoed back to her along the corridor as she walked. She hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary yet, just low hanging lights and small branching pathways into the crystal. Scorpia scuttled along obediently beside her.

From around the next bend, she heard someone trip and fall, and a short cry that sounded like Wurm’s voice.

She moved to investigate, but before she could, the lights in the next section of hallway went out.

Then the next lightbulb burned bright and died.

And the next.

The darkness crept closer, looking dangerously alive. Memories of the shadows in the crystal of Face came unbidden to the surface of her mind, and suddenly staying in the tunnel didn’t seem like a good idea. Spider changed her gravity, and fell at high speed back the way she had come, the darkness following close behind as the lights fizzled one by one.

Spider and Scorpia shot out into the main space, where Reno and Seth still stood. Behind her, the darkness reached the end of the tunnel—

—and stopped short. It stayed contained within the tunnel, as if unable to leave. The entrance was a seething mass of living darkness, seeming to claw at the light outside.

Seth stared at it. “What the shit. Spider, what’d you find?”

“I found what’s killing people, I think! Wurm’s in there!” She settled lightly to the ground, still mildly freaking out.

Reno frowned. “That’s not Terza Rima… whatever it is, though, we have to get rid of it.”

A sound like whistling and ripping filled the air, as something began to glow within the darkness. After a moment, a glowing blue-white orb erupted out of it, shooting through the air. It flew straight through Spider and Scorpia as it flitted around the bottom of the shaft, then suddenly jerked upwards, vanishing out of sight towards the top of the shaft.

Seth blinked. “… what.”

The darkness began to retreat back down the tunnel it had come from, and one by one, the lights in the tunnel winked back on.

“Wait a sec…” said Reno. “Didn’t Wurm say there’d be screaming next?”

A horrific scream pierced the air, echoing out of the tunnel Spider and Scorpia had just vacated.

Reno and Caf shivered in unison. “Right on cue!”

“Fuck it.” Spider clenched her jaw, and shook her head. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I’m with you,” said Reno, hopping on Caf.

Seth took a half-step forward, then back. He so wanted to explore, but at the same time, he was freaked the fuck out. He stood there, having an intense internal battle as to whether to stay or to go. “Oh, what the hell, I’ll be right back.” He reached into his coat and flipped out a switchblade. In his other hand, he took out his lighter. Just in case.

Spider looked over at him. “Iiiiiiiiiii don’t think that’s a good idea!” she said loudly.

“Who said it was?” He replied, laughing, as he walked towards the tunnel. “But I can’t turn around now…”

Spider bit her lip. If they didn’t stop this new… thing… more humans would probably die, when they came here to investigate. She smiled slightly, but it was pained. “Dammit.”

Seth turned his back on his friends, stepping into the semi-darkness of the tunnel. “I’ll see you all on the surface.”