Saturday, October 16, 2010


Illustrated by Hannah Rothman.

Friday, October 15, 2010


((80 — Yami no Butou))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

It was the next morning by the time Seth and Reno made it to the Complex. They had spent the previous afternoon doing some basic reconnaissance, and making their way through the city. Transportation would’ve been easier if half of the trams hadn’t been shut down due to riots. Reno somehow managed to remember the address of one of Cyclops’ old hideouts, and they crashed there for the night.

The elevator descended the central spire, heading towards the open areas around its base. The Complex was buried inside that spire, and the only entrance was on one of the faces. For a moment the elevator jerked slower before continuing—presumably the result of a lack of maintenance or attention.

Reno stumbled, feet slipping out from under her, but Seth took a step forward and caught her with one arm, helping her upright. “You alright?”

She nodded slowly, putting a hand to her temple. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

He frowned concernedly at her. “You sure?”

Reno looked away, out the window. “I…” She sighed.

“What is it?” Seth sounded uncharacteristically concerned.

“I’m pretty sure my dizzy spells are symptoms of demon withdrawal. I need Caf. The connection… it’s… he’s a part of me. I’m losing track of what’s me, and what’s human, and…” She swallowed hard, but her voice was still flat.

He reached out a hand to her back, almost putting it around her, but held back. “Three weeks of freefall would fuck anybody up, yo.”

“If I concentrate on something calming, I should be fine for now. But I… we shouldn’t stay here too long. It might get more severe.” She turned to face him. “I don’t feel like me, by myself. That’s how I killed that pilot. It wasn’t really me doing it.”

Seth just nodded uncomfortably, not sure how to respond. He was saved by the elevator nearing the ground. “You ready for this?”

Reno smiled. “Yeah. I can do this.”

Outside the wide windows of the elevator, the two Talons could see a large plaza before them, crammed with rioters. "Dayum," breathed Reno. "Look at 'em all."

With a loud hiss of outrushing air, the wood-and-glass elevator gently touched down. The cage door retracted, opening out onto a landing platform, up a few stairs from the plaza. Above them, the crystal spire stretched off almost higher than they could see.

A handful of uniformed guards stood nearby, keeping the riot in check. What had been a riot, anyway. Half the people in the crowd looked unconscious, injured, or similar, and the other half looked about to keel over. It looked like the last dregs of a riot which had been going for days--and, from the radio broadcasts they had overheard on the tram, that's exactly what it was.

“Well shit. Ain’t this pretty.” Seth flicked on a pair of shades he’d had stored in his demon-leather trenchcoat for such an occasion.

“You think we missed the bulk of the heavy crap?” said Reno.

Seth shrugged. “S’pose.” They walked the dozen yards along the edge of the crystal spire to the massive door set into it. Etched above it were the words THE COMPLEX. “Looks like this is the place.” The door was easily three meters tall, a heavily sealed array of steel and bolts and deadlocks. There was a small radio panel set into the crystal next to it.

“…and now the big question,” said Reno, squinting up at the behemoth of a crystal prison. “How the living fuck are we going to get Cyc out of here?"

“Oh, I think we might have our ways.” He gestured to his coat, and to one bulging pocket in particular.

Reno leaned over and examined it. "I have a good feeling that this is the part where you whip out the metric crapton of awesome stuff."

“Sounds ‘bout right. I grabbed some supplies from Cyc’s pad while you were still napping.” He patted the pocket affectionately. “Let’s see if we can get in without this shit, though. Of course, if we can’t get in subtly… then it’s time for the fireworks.”

He walked up the door, looking it over. It didn’t seem particularly guarded, at least from the outside. He took a second look at the people dealing with the riot, and noticed the little COMPLEX logos on their shoulders. Lucky riot.

“Well… let’s try knocking.” Seth strolled over the door and smacked it a few times with his fist. The noise was deep and hollow, an echoing vibration that shuddered through the door.

“Oh,” said Reno, with a hint of disappointment. “I thought you meant knocking with literal fireworks.”

The radio hissed, shutting her up, and a voice asked, “Yes?”

Seth leaned over to the radio. “Yo. Here to visit an old friend. Wanna open the door?”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to give me an authorization code for visiting.”

I’m sorry, did that sound like a question? Let me rephrase that. You want to open the door.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sir. You’re going to have to leave.”

Seth shook his head and sighed. “No can do, bro.”

Reno leaned into his ear. “Fireworks anytime now, buddy.”

He nodded. “Let’s see here.” He reached into his coat and felt around for a minute. “Ah. This should do nicely.” He pulled out a small glowing crystal, and place it directly in front of the door. “You might wanna take a step back, babe.”

“Okie dokie,” said Reno, obliging.

The crystal pulsed, glowing with... well, it wasn't light. It was an absence of light. The space around it seemed to pulse shadows, as if all the light were being sucked out of it. The air around it rippled, and the crystal seemed to shrink. There was a flash, blinding un-bright, of non-space. The world seemed to ripple, and for a single terrifying moment, a hole opened into absolute nothingness.

The door, the radio, the crystal floor--in the blink of an eye, everything in a two meter radius from the crystal vanished into the black hole, never to be seen again.

Any hint of mental vagueness Reno had at that moment vanished with the door. “WOAH,” she gasped. “What wasn’t that?”

Seth laughed. “Wasn’t not a black hole. Boom, baby.” The hallway on the other side of the vanished crater stretched forward. Seth lit a new cigarette and began to walk forwards. “Let’s raid this place.”

"Aye aye, capitan," saluted Reno, feeling strangely invigorated by the burst of nothingness. Reno hadn't felt this good since before she separated from Caf. It was as though the burst of nothing had subconciously reminded her that there were worse things than being separated from your mental partner.

A small guard post sat to one side of the hall, with the remaining arm and a leg of whoever they had spoken to on the radio. The corridor was moderately well lit by a series of lamps overhead, stretching forward. Various side passages and elevators up and down branched off from the main tunnel. These were marked with various combinations of letters and numbers, denoting... well, to be honest, they had no idea. But they probably denoted something.

“Wonder which one’s got Cyc,” Seth mused as eyed the numbers. “Any ideas, Reno?”

She stood next to him and rubbed her chin in thought. “Let’s seeeeee…” Her chin-finger stopped moving. "Does starting from the bottom and working our way up make any sense?"

“I don’t have any other ideas.”

She grinned. "Or should we just do it the old fashioned way and hold a sharp deadly object to a guard's throat and make him tell us?"

“That’s faster.” Seth shrugged, smiling lazily. “I think we can pull that off. All we need, then, is a guard.”

“A guard and THIS little bugger. I mean dagger.” Reno whipped out the aforementioned sharp, deadly object.

“Excellent. Let’s keep going down this way. Should be a guard post or something.” He began once again to walk. After a few minutes’ walk, they came to a bend, turning left. “Wonder what’s ‘round this corner…” He stepped around it.

The corridor continued along for a good distance. A door was inset into the left side of it, though, with a window-like opening next to it. Anyone on their way through the corridor would have to pass the window.

Seth nodded approvingly. “Bingo. You wanna chat with the bloke? Or shall I?”

Reno grinned. "You know, this is something I've wanted to try for a while, but haven't for weird tomboyish feminist reasons."

“Take it away, my friend,” Seth said, laughing.

((81 — Peeping Tom))

Reno straightened herself, smoothed out her hair, and sauntered over to the guard post in an uncharacteristically sexy way.

The young man sitting inside the window was scribbling away in a journal, eyes down. There was a desk there, cut from the crystal itself, but no glass separating her from him.

“S’cuse me,” she said, lowering the pitch of her voice ever so slightly to induce a more womanly tone. “Sorry for walking in like this. The door was open."

The guard, who didn't look much older than thirteen or fourteen, looked up in surprise. "Wha--?" He shook his head, long brown hair flying out of his eyes. "You're not supposed to be here!"

Reno froze for a moment, startled by how young the boy was, but continued anyway. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, putting on a slightly more-dramatic-than-necessary tweak to her self-protecting hand movements "But my heart tells me I must be here!"

The boy blinked at her in total confusion. "Um? You should leave! Or uh, I'll call the guards!" He stammered awkwardly with every word. "Er, the other guards."

Seth leaned on a wall—out of sight, around the corner—trying very hard not to laugh.

"You wouldn't do that, would you?" she said, leaning in and putting on heavy layers of passion "My lover was wrongly imprisoned here and I must see him again! Please, kind young man! Please tell me where his cell is!" One side of her jacket conveniently slid down, exposing her shoulder and a bit of her chest.

The boy swallowed hard. "That... that would be against protocol." His eyes strayed rather un-subtly to her chest, then jumped back up to her eyes, as his face turned beet red.

Reno took note of this. "Oh, you don't have a girlfriend, do you? Some sweetheart you miss right now?"

"N-no..." He pushed his chair back from the window slightly, starting to sweat, clearly immensely nervous.

"That's a shame," said Reno " certainly don't understand how I feel..." Reno inched provocatively close to the guard. " don't know what it's like to have someone...special in your arms..."

The boy said nothing, simply staring at her, eyes very wide.

" let me put it this way." Reno reached forward and cupped the boy's face in her hands. "You tell me which cell Cyclops is in, and you get a kiss from me. Don't tell me where he is, and I'll kill you." Her sickly sweet tone drizzled over every word.

"...C-Cylops!?" It didn't seem possible, but his eyes widened even further.

"Yessssssss," Reno hissed seductively.

The moment of thought passed through the boy very quickly. "H-he's in solitary confinement... Cell s-seventeen... Down the elevator, end of the hall."

"Wonnnnderful," said Reno, and kept her promise. Her face mashed with the young guard, almost as though she intended to suck the life out of him through her sheer dramatized over-sexuality.

She raised one fist. BAM.

The boy dropped to the floor of the guard post, unconscious.

Seth laughed uproariously. “BWAHAHAHAHAH WELL PLAYED AHAHAHAHAHA!” He slowly wiped a tear from his eyes. “That… that was beautiful.” He doubled over, staggering around the corner, still laughing.

Reno sauntered back over to him. "Glad you enjoyed the show," she said “Because I am never. Doing. That. Again.” She hacked up a mouthful of spit, swiftly ejecting it onto the floor and ridding herself of the pubescent-guard germs.

“Awwww,” said Seth teasingly. He walked over to the elevator just down the hall. “So uh Reno. You looked uh pretty good there. If you catch my drift.”

Reno looked at Seth as though she wished there were knives present directly in front of her eyes so that she could stare them into him.

((82 — Poison Prison))

Seth shrugged and sighed sarcastically. “Was worth a shot.” He hit the button, and the elevator’s doors slid open.

She followed him in, and unconsciously tightened her legs. “Three years ago was a one-time thing, Seth. We were kids experimenting. Nothing more.”

He raised an eyebrow at her suddenly more serious tone.

“B’sides,” she continued, looking away. “You’ve got Spider now.”

He leaned against the wall, eyes aimed at the ceiling. “Yeah. Guess I do.” The air in the elevator suddenly felt a thousand times more awkward and full of tension.

Then the doors opened onto the lower floor. The guard in the post in this window, a middle-aged man, jumped to his feet. "Hey! What are you doing down here?"

Seth pushed off the wall and took a step towards him. “Here to visit an old friend.”

The guard pulled a large standard-issue gun out from behind the desk and pointed it at the two. Clearly he was neither as inexperienced nor as incompetent as his companion upstairs.

“Whoa!” said Seth, throwing his hands up. “What’s with the hostility, bro?”

"Civilians are not allowed down in solitary confinement! Even with visitor authorization." His voice was gruff and to the point. "Which, given your lack of escort, I sincerely doubt you have."

Crap, thought Reno, I guess THIS is what the old saying goes about not bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Seth’s tone took on a severity rarely seen. “Do you even know who I am!? How DARE you call me a civilian. Rent-a-cops these days. The nerve.” Next to him, Reno put away her surprise at once, playing along and assuming a psuedo-stance-of-importance.

The man blinked, suddenly unsure. "Um. Oh jeez, you're not one of the Quinn's crew, are you?"

Seth practically exploded at him. “What the fuck do you think, dullard? In case you didn’t notice, there is an ARMY OF DEMONS COMING HERE. Now, if you don’t want any more bullshit on your hands, like the riot going on outside, you let me the fuck in. I’m here to get a man who can help clean up this mess so that the Sector can survive.” He paused for breath. “Dig?

The man behind the counter swallowed. "Of course, sir. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I understand. I won't get in your way."

“Thank you.” Seth let out a long breath, and walked right up to the counter. “Now, would you kindly direct me to Cyclops’ cell?”

"Cyc--! If... I..." The man's brow furrowed, and he let out a sigh. "Down the hall. The door lock code is 8697." He pointed to the right.

Seth nodded, and walked to the right. He waved to Reno. “Come along, now.” They counted off as they walked--door thirteen, fourteen, fifteen... Down here, the walls were pure crystal, unadorned with anything besides the metal doors and the dim bulbs overhead.

At long last, they reached the door to Cyclops' cell. A simple steel door, with "17" stenciled in white paint on it, and a small electronic keypad set where a lock would normally be

“Let’s see… eight six nine seven.” Seth spoke the numbers as he keyed them in.

The door let out a hiss, mechanisms moving in it as it unlocked, then swung open towards them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


((86 — Building Steam With a Grain of Salt))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

Kasby braced one foot on the creature’s chest, and pulled his crystal sword out of it. He collapsed against the wall, panting. He looked at his leg, where a bullet had grazed him, and confirmed the injury wasn’t too bad. He closed his eyes, took a shuddering breath, and looked at what he had just killed.

It was obvious it had once been human—and just as obvious that it no longer was. Its skin was black and leathery-thick, like charcoal. Its clothes had melted into its flesh, becoming a carapace of sorts. Exposed veins still pulsed eerily glowing red blood through it. Its right arm ended in a twisted hunk of metal—a pistol, fused into the hand that had once gripped it, now all part of the same creature. In life, in humanity, it looked to have been a man, of maybe Kasby’s own age. Now it was just another dead demon.

Slowly, Kasby pulled himself to his feet, took one last look around the shattered lab, and walked out. A crew of scientists would be here soon to perform an autopsy on the creature. He had other places to be. He retraced his footsteps, going back the way he had come, towards the Bioresa tram station.

He had lost track of time, by now. Night had come and gone. He had slept at some point. The hours were blurred together, a vague swirl of trails of blood and corpses and crystal. Every few hours, a new report would come in of someone sighting a demonic assassin, and he would set out to hunt. Two more times it had been Jaz, and both times she had escaped handily. Other demons had gotten away similarly, but he had killed three of the things now.

He blinked, and realized he’d already made it back to the tower, lost in thought and memory and sleepless haze. The tram car door opened onto the central platform of the transit terminal. In the last few days, it had changed drastically, from a bustling place of activity to a nearly empty hall. Most everyone was either in their homes, bolting down and readying for war, or in the streets, rioting. Kasby, cold as ever, strode through the almost abandoned hall to enter the central tower.

The radio at his belt crackled, and Mercuria Barret's voice came through. "Bellwood."

Kasby lifted the radio from his belt, and held it up. "Almost back." He sounded more than just physically tired—exhausted down to his core.

"Don't come back. Got a report in from down in Haraya, of more nonhuman activity." Her voice was terse, to the point, as always, but he could hear the strain of three days running the city by herself beginning to wear on her. "Likely another assassin. Take the 63 Tram down there and check it out."

"On my way," he said, his tone as neutral as he could manage.

"Good. Barret out." The radio clicked off.

He turned around and walked to catch the 63 tram. The tram swung away from the dock without incident, sliding down the wire with an audible hum. The car swooped down, taking him towards the flats of the city, where the lower classes lived, those who could not afford the nicer houses on the quartet of crystal spires that dominated the landscape. Kasby stood in the tram, holding onto the guard rail. He stared straight out at the passing landscape as if it was keeping something from him.

The street was practically empty. Ramshackle houses stood around her, shanties and lean-tos comingling with more solid buildings. Here and there a store or restaurant eked out a quiet existence. They had slammed their doors to her, people fleeing the streets before her.

Skunk clenched her fists and tried to ignore the fearful stares of her fellow humans. In fact, she was starting to doubt she was quite human any longer... She shook her head in irritation. The day since her arrival had been spent aimlessly wandering the city, watching as humanity turned its collective back on her.

From a nearby door, a young boy stumbled out, not older than eight or nine. He clutched a sword made from two pieces of scrap metal glued together, and brandished it halfheartedly at her. "S-stop!"

Skunk glared at him incredulously. "What the fuck you want, punk?"

The boy shrunk back at her words, almost stumbling.

Despite herself, she paused. Softening her tone slightly, she added, "You can forget the the sword, kid."

"I... I won't let you kill my dad!"

Skunk's brow furrowed. "I don't have anything to do with your dad. What are you talking about?"

A man's voice hissed from the door the boy had come out of. "Daniel! Daniel, get back in here!"

Skunk held up a hand. “Daniel. Hold on. Just answer me, I won’t hurt you.”

"Y-you're gonna kill 'im! Like you killed all the people over 'n Storm, an, an, an, an daddy says you killed the Council!" The boy stammered, but was fierce and defiant, his own words seeming to inspire him.

"Look, punk—Daniel. I've been here a few hours maximum, and since I've been here I've done nothing but walk around. I don't know what you're talking about." She paused. "Why do you think it was me?"

The boy frowned. "... your skin. You're not a person, like we are."

"How did I know," she muttered. “Your dad is wrong.” She sighed. "You know what? If all you're gonna do is brandish a stick at me and accuse me of things I didn't do and don't plan to, I'm leaving."

Overhead, a tram car whirred down a cable, settling into a dock a block or two away.

"I'm gonna--" The boy was cut off as his father ducked out through the door, grabbed him, and pulled him back inside.

Skunk blinked. "Oookay," she muttered. Turning to the cable car, she walked over to investigate. The tram building was extremely dilapidated and worn-down, like everything else in the area. The windows were all broken, and large sections of wall and flooring were gone, looking as if they had been pried off with crowbars. She could hear someone moving inside.

Skunk stepped through the door into the tram room, and found herself face to face with the business end of Kasby's pistol. "Fuck! What the hell, Katsby!?" Skunk held herself still, resisting the urge to jump away.

As Kasby made eye contact, he froze for a moment. He let out a breath, and lowered his weapon, but did not break eye contact. He looked... tired. But maybe for the first time in a long while, a little bit relieved. "Skunk. Holy hell.”

"Nice way to greet a friend," Skunk said scathingly.

Kasby almost smiled. "You're alive. Thank the Void... you'll have to tell me what happened later."

"Sure, assuming there's a later." She looked around the room. It was small, with a patchwork roof that let bits of light shine through. "What's happening here? Some kid just tried to kill me. Ranting about how I’m a monster.”

"I'm not surprised. This city's been thrown into chaos... and you don't exactly look human," Kasby noted, gesturing at her metallic skin.

"Thanks, I get that." Skunk's tone was light, forced. "What's happening around here?" she repeated.

Kasby's expression hardened. "....Assassin. Of the demonic variety. Took out almost all of the Council, and now it’s running amok. Not to mention the Swarm is practically at the gates." He looked away.

"Demons come in the assassin variety? I thought they were all ravening beasts.” She sighed again. "I saw you on those, uh... screen things.”

Kasby looked confused. "Televisions? I was on the television?"

"At the assassination thing," clarified Skunk. "I saw you guys."

Kasby blinked. “How long have you been in Sector One?”

"A few hours, I guess."

"On that note, where are Spider and Owl?" his voice was laden with concern.

"Spider? Not sure. Owl is probably still in the library," she added, almost guiltily. "We landed there, and I'm betting she'll stay there as long as she can."

Barret's voice came from the radio clipped to Kasby's belt. "Bellwood! Report."

Kasby grabbed the radio off his belt. "Situation has been handled, Barret. How many reports of non-human activity in this area, again?"

"Just one. Good to hear it, too. We've got another report in from over at Enjaya. Reason to suspect they're trying to take out the reactors."

"On my way," Kasby repeated for the third time that day. He clipped the radio back to his belt without replying.

"Good. It's barely a kilometer away, you should be able to run there. Head straight outwards from your current position, towards the spire." Barret’s voice came through the radio. “Good hunting. Barret out.”

Skunk looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "Where are you going?"

“Demon hunting,” he replied, expression neutral.

"I could do with a bit of a fight," Skunk hinted. "This city pisses me off."

Kasby looked hesitant, for a moment. "...Alright. I don't have time to argue. Just... follow me." With that, he broke off back towards the spire.

Skunk followed, looking distinctly more eager and bright-eyed than she had been.

((87 — Battle of the Heroes))

The direction they were headed was drastically more industrial. A cloud of black smoke hung over the district, drifting out of angry smokestacks. The crystal spire rose dramatically, pointing outwards, away from the city center like the spoke of a wheel. Buildings, factories, and industrial complexes covered it, sprawling up its face.

They hadn’t even been running five minutes when they began to hear the first screams. Kasby’s pace increased. He darted towards the scream, swerving around corners and ducking under pipes as he navigated the industrial labyrinth. Skunk strained to see the source of the screaming, but followed Kasby.

Up ahead, a single large building dominated the base of the crystal. A large pair of double doors opened into the base of the building, hanging open. Two guards lay by the doors, dead of matching slash wounds to the chest. Kasby pulled the dartpistol from its holster once more and skidded to a stop a few feet inside the building.

Skunk glanced at the corpses, then began forming her left hand into a blade. With her right hand, she caressed the whip at her side. Another scream came from inside, cutting off abruptly.

Kasby walked carefully through the interior of the building, his pistol aimed in the direction of the scream. Inside, a quartet of ladders lead upwards, toward a series of catwalks.

Skunk stepped up beside him, peering at the ladders. “That’s… crappy. If we get trapped on those...well, it won't be pretty."

From further inside came another scream, as if falling from a catwalk, ending in an electrical hiss.

"Fuck it,” Skunk swore. “Let’s do this.”

Kasby nodded. "Don't get caught in close range." He was already bounding up one of the ladders. Skunk climbed up beside him, cursing as she re-formed her hand back to its normal shape.

The building was full of an electrical hum, with static electricity setting their hairs on end. As they reached the top of the ladders, they could see down into the center of the building. A trio of massive crystals, glowing with orange light, floated there, rotating in a slow circle. Huge arcs of lightning leapt between them, and to rings of dynamos and collectors lining the room. Metal-lined wooden catwalks stretched outwards from where they stood, overlooking the reactor core. At the center of them, a control platform hung from the ceiling.

"Okay...what's all that? And what should I be expecting from these demons?" Skunk hissed.

In response, Kasby just pointed to the control platform. Half a dozen scientists cowered on it, looking in fear at the figure advancing towards them.

She--it--walked slowly them, crystal blade at her side. The leather clothes, the walk, she short-cropped hair. It was unmistakably Jazrill Quinn. Or what was left of her, anyway.

Kasby raised his pistol and took careful aim.

"Fuck," remarked Skunk, too anstonished to even sound surprised. She took out her own gun as well, cradling it lovingly. "Do you want me to...?"

It took another step towards the scientists, moving slowly, taking its time with the kill.

Skunk kept her tone neutral. "Kasby?"

Kasby wore an expression colder than any Skunk had seen on him before. It might have been that absence of emotion, more than anything else, that showed Skunk the turmoil, the rolling storm inside him.

He pulled the trigger. His hand was steady, and this time, the crystal shard flew true. It thudded into the square of the creature's back, sending it sprawling forward against the catwalk, bringing forth an angry howl. Bracing itself on the catwalk with its blade, it reached its one hand back, grasping at the wound. Slowly, its whole body tightening visibly, still hissing angrily, it pulled the chunk of crystal out. The crystal hadn't gone more than an inch deep, most of the impact taken by the leathery armored skin that had once been a flight jacket.

There were two parallel catwalks running towards the control area. "Run past. Protect the scientists," Kasby ordered Skunk, gesturing to the unoccupied bridge. He broke forward towards the creature, raised his pistol and fired again. And again.

"Got it." Skunk crossed the room in as fast a run as possible, considering their height. "Good thing I grew up on Face," she grumbled.

It was still pulling itself to its feet as Kasby fired, its hand still tight around the first shard. The next shot went wide, but the third and fourth slashed across her sword arm. Jaz dropped again to the catwalk as the arm holding it up was shot out from under it. Kasby continued his frenzied advance, and ripped the crystal sword from its sheath at his side. He flew into Jaz full force.

Skunk didn't stop until she had reached the scientists. They huddled behind a control panel, and one let out a yelp of terror upon seeing her. "P-please..."

"For fuck's sake, I'm here to fucking save you!" bellowed Skunk. "Now MOVE!"

The scientists, a group of mixed-gendered elderly people, blinked at her for a long moment. Then they obeyed her order as one, leaping to their feet before her commanding voice. The scientists took off at a run down one of the other catwalks, fleeing at high speed.

Skunk turned towards the demon, in time to see it bringing its feet up, catching Kasby hard in the face with a kick. Skunk formed both arms into long, hooked blades. She advanced more cautiously than Kasby had, waiting for a clear shot.

Stumbling back, Kasby landed half on the catwalk, one leg slipping off of it. He slipped and teetered, for a moment over the edge.

Jaz took a step towards him, grinning as if meaning to shove him, and in that moment Skunk struck. She darted in close and stabbed with her blades, one after the other.

Jaz swung to face Skunk, bringing her crystal blade up to block both blows. Her wounded arm was moving at half speed, though, and barely managed to knock them aside.

Skunk danced just out of range, grinning manically. The thrill of battle.

Hissing angrily, the creature got fully back to its feet, and took a few steps back, now focusing on Skunk. A yellow sheen passed over the goggle-lenses that emerged from the skin of its forehead for a moment, but it shook its head, clearing them back to their normal red.

Skunk moved in, feinting and then going in, aiming for the creature's belly, under the wounded arm. The distraction of whatever had happened to her was enough, and Jaz couldn't block fast enough. She managed to fall backwards, though, away from the slash, past where Kasby was stabilizing himself. The blade's tip still dug into her chest, flitting away a long line of blood. It hissed furiously, almost spitting with pure rage.

"Did you see that?" Skunk yelled.

Kasby pushed himself forward and regained his balance. He dashed forward towards the combat, ducking under Skunk's arm as he lunged. She attacker as well, and they lunged in parallel, blades extended.

Jaz put a foot back and brought her blade up, free hand wrapping around the base of it for support—

The three blades met with a loud clash, ringing out over the hum of the reactor below.

Skunk grimaced at the shock, but pressed in, striking again. "I can hold her, Kasby!" Jaz blocked a strike, a second, a third, alternating between the two attackers.

"So hold her!" he almost screamed back as he continued to trade blows.

The yellow glow flashed over the lenses above Jaz’s eyes again, looking like another pair of eyes, watching her. A shudder ran through her, and she dropped back, pulling her sword arm away from the three-way-clash. She took three quick steps back, away from the fray, and raised her blade high over her head.

Skunk rushed in with renewed power. “Gotcha!”

Jaz’s hand dropped, sweeping out a full arc, swinging around below her, rending through the flimsy metal of the catwalk. With a horrible creaking, it began to bend downwards, pulled down by its own weight, no longer supported from both sides.

Skunk's eyes widened. "Oh SHI—" Skunk’s momentum carried her forward, into the hole. She stretched with her hooks, and just barely managed to dig them into the wooden catwalk on the other side of the gap. "Fuck!"

Kasby's mouth dropped open. No.

Jaz fell forwads, dropping through the widening gap, down towards the three spinning crystals below. Kasby lunged forward, throwing himself against the catwalk and extending his arm as far as it would go. He grabbed onto Jaz’s arm as she plunged downwards.

Jaz hung, dangling from the catwalk, held up by Kasby's grip. Slowly, she turned her head to look at him, eyes bathed in dispassionate yellow glow.

“Please. Not again,” Kasby said, whispering.

"Kasby, what are you doing?" screamed Skunk. Her blades slowly began to cut through the catwalk, inching her downwards.

Jaz's blade arm flashed upwards, swinging at Kasby's wrist, where it held her tight. The blade bit in deep, throwing blood across the catwalk. But Kasby did not let go. He shook his head, silently, mouthing one word. Please. Please.

She fell away from him, dropping away towards the reactor. Kasby's hand still clutched her wrist in a dead man's grip. As she reached the crystals, there was a swirl of yellow smoke, and she was gone.

"Touching!" yelled Skunk frantically. "Now fucking get me out of here!" She attempted to claw her way towards Kasby. Her motions only pulled the catwalk down further, creaking louder. “Little help?”

Kasby watched the beast that had once been his lover fall into the reactor below. He felt everything. And yet....shock. He looked at the bloody tattered sleeve where his hand once had been.

If only the catwalk were metal, instead of wood boards, she could've bent it into shape, but—another crack. Another crack. The wood itself was beginning to crack, where Skunk's blades dug into it. “Kasby.” Skunk’s voice was quiet, hard to hear with the hum.

Over the creaking of the collapsing catwalk, and the reactors, Kasby managed to hear Skunk. Ungracefully, in the midst of all this, he stumbled to his feet and backed away from the broken edge. "....Skunk. Skunk!"

Skunk gingerly kept her hold on the other side of the gap, a meter away from Kasby. Skunk could feel her heart pounding, adrenaline rushing through her.

Kasby rushed forward again and held out his uninjured hand.
"Grab hold!" He was close enough that she could probably reach him, but it would mean pulling one of her blades out of the woodwork.

"Cocksucker," she groaned. She could almost hear Owl’s voice in her head, saying “language!” The thought threatened to bring a bitter smile to her face, but she fought it off. "Okay, gimme a sec." She cautiously pried one hand loose. “I don’t think you’ll be able to pull me out...”

Kasby looked around in a panic. The pain was beginning to cloud his thoughts. He had to act quickly. The captain ran back to the control panel, and went to work at the display to try and turn the reactor off. "Hold tight!"

“Kasby!” Skunk yelled. With only one hand dug into the wood, she was slipping faster. "Oh, fuck..." She cut an inch deeper into the wood, towards the edge.

The controls were complicated, covered with switches and dials and readouts. "Fuck!" Kasby shouted, before dashing back to Skunk.

Skunk, starting to give up on Kasby, unclipped the whip from her belt with her free hand, and tossed one end away from the gaping hole. She concentrated, melding it with the metal edge of the catwalk.

Kasby skidded to a stop, grabbing hold of the secured whip with his hand. The catwalk frame groaned under the weight, but held. Kasby stabbed the crystal blade into the wood platform and used it to brace his leg. "Alright, Skunk!"

"Okay, no problem," she groaned. She reformed the other blade into a hand once more. With nothing holding her to the catwalk anymore, she fell down, swinging under it, held up by the wire. Skunk grunted, holding onto the whip for all she was worth. She squeezed her eyes shut, just briefly.

Kasby threw himself backwards, bracing against the sword to hold Skunk above the humming reactors.

Between Kasby's grip and the metal bonding, Skunk didn't fall. Not quite.

Kasby could feel the pain beginning to overwhelm him, though, darkness dancing at the edge of his vision, and knew he couldn't hold on for long.

“Okay,” she called up. “Good. Very good. Not dying. Excellent.”

“Hurry, Skunk,” Kasby rasped through the fires that had ignited in his nerves.

“Goddamn demons,” she half-whispered, struggling up the whip. Reaching the catwalk at last, she collapsed onto it, gasping.

As Skunk reached safety, Kasby let go of the whip. He swayed, upright, for a moment, before collapsing to the catwalk.

They lay, side by side, now alone with the massive whirring crystals below them.

"Kasby?” Skunk panted. “You still awake?”

The only answer from the unconscious captain was a slowly expanding bloodstain in the woodwork surrounding his left wrist. Skunk stared for a moment, then picked him up carefully. She was still trembling, but she managed to get him over her shoulder, carrying him away from the hole. She walked towards the control area, the catwalk still making ominous creaking sounds with every step.

The radio at his belt hissed and crackled. "Bellwood!" The voice was the same as before--a harsh, older woman.

She jumped at the radio's crackle, right in her ear, but pushed the talk button. “Uh… hello?”

"Who is this? Where's Bellwood?"

"If you mean Kasby, he's here. Badly injured. Here, I mean... shit, what did he call it?"

There was a pause. "But the reactor's still online."

"Yeah, the reactor. We’re at the reactor.”

"Alright. I'll dispatch a medical team. They should be there within fifteen minutes.”

"There was a fucking demon-thing, and it cut the railing, and then...well, his hand is gone. It’s dead, though, it better be dead.” Skunk knew she was babbling.

"Good. Barret out." The radio hissed static for a moment, then went silent.

Skunk took a deep breath. “Okay.” She lay Kasby down in the center of the controls, and collapsed against a bank of controls herself.

She stared blankly up at the ceiling, settling in to wait for the medical team. “…fuck.” This time, there was no Owl to scold her.

Friday, October 1, 2010


((79 — The Days Become a Traveler of a Hundred Generations))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

Owl turned the page slowly, taking care not to damage the ancient book. She eagerly scanned the new page, taking in word after word, locking them away in her mind to store forever. Each page, each book, brought with it incredible ideas, strange worlds, new people—the memory of an entire civilization.


She had been sitting in the basement of Tanique Hall reading for… she didn’t know how long. She had no motive or means to keep track of time here. The archives were unlike anything she had seen before. A massive underground warren, a labyrinth, with every wall lined with bookshelf upon bookshelf. It was as if someone had taken the Archives from the Corkscrew and let them multiply seemingly infinitely, burrowing out into the crystal.


Periodically Delissa had come down to bring her food and water. Owl quite liked the librarian, she found. The woman was a scant few years younger than Owl, but apparently only qualified as a Junior Librarian. It boggled Owl’s mind to think that in this world, thirty-four was considered young, with a whole lifespan ahead of one. The idea of so much more to learn, to discover, to read… for the first time in months, Owl found herself honestly happy.

“Owl!” This time the voice penetrated Owl’s thoughts, and brought her attention snapping upright. There before her hovered a familiar face, one she hadn’t seen in almost a month.

Blinking calmly, Owl carefully set the book in her lap on the table, then turned to face the girl. “SPIDER!” she yelled, wrapping her arms around the girl in a sudden blur of motion, grinning widely.

Spider laughed, and embraced the older woman in return. “Hey! I thought I’d never see you again!” They broke their embrace, and Spider settled to the wall. “What’s been up?”

“Oh goodness! So much has happened.” Owl opened her mouth, about to lay out every detail of her life over the last month, but stopped and reconsidered. “Skunk and I were captured by a scientist, escaped, and flew here,” she summarized.

“Huh,” Spider said. “Sounds like fun, I guess. I, uh, got a pet demon, and met up with the Talons, and maybe made friends, I think.”

Owl quirked her head to the side. “Talons?”

“They’re…” Spider thought back to the events of the morning. “They’re just people, I guess. From Sector Four.” She looked away for a moment, her eyes coming to rest on the books. “How long have you been down here? Just been reading?”

Owl’s eyes lit up. “Oh, Spider! You won’t believe the things I’ve read!”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“There are so many things in the universe! It’s all so vast… there are these demons that don’t hurt people or have magic, called animals—”

“Anemals? That’s what that lady said about our names!”

Owl nodded. “My predecessor once told me that all of the names in Face came from an ancient record of naming. I think that it was actually a zoology book from the old ship!”

Spider looked at her blankly. “Sure.”

The older woman laughed. “I haven’t looked up what a spider is, but an owl was apparently a big thing with wings and big eyes, that people used to think was very smart!”

“A perfect name for you, then. What other kinds of anemals were there?”

“Well, there were these things that wriggled like this—” Owl made a motion with her hands together. “Called fish! They lived in big water places called, uh, ponds! And people ate them all the time.”

“Weird.” Spider stopped, thinking. “Where was all this water? I thought this place just had fog.”

Owl shook her head. “This wasn’t in the Void.”

Spider looked at her quizzically. “Not… in the Void? Where else is there?”

The rememorist smiled. “This was on a place called Earth.”

“What’s an earth?”

“It was… is… a…” Owl frowned, struggling to describe it. “Imagine a giant crystal, only round. Kind of like Sector One, only a million times bigger. Instead of being made of crystal, though, it’s all made of solid dust and liquid metal, and covered with plants and water and friendly demons that don’t kill you!”

“That… sounds nice,” Spider said, smiling. “Where is it?”

Owl’s face fell. “Too far away. The Templar, the ship that crashed and became Face, was full of people leaving it, to find a new home… as far as we’ve come from Face to get here? That would be like… a millimeter, compared to how far it is to Earth.”


They sat in silence for a moment, thinking, before the calm was broken by footsteps coming around the corner. Delissa walked up, carrying a basket. “I, um, thought you might be hungry, so I brought some food!”

She came a few steps closer, then stopped short, staring at Spider. After a moment, she took a deep breath, and finished her approach, setting the basket on the table.

Owl smiled warmly at her. “Thank you, Delissa.”

“You’re… welcome, Owl.” The librarian bit her lip. “Could I… ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“I, um. Why are your skin and shadow covered with words? And, um.” She looked to Spider. “How is she sitting on the wall?”

Spider laughed. “Oh, man, that’s a really long story.”

“…which I happen to have written down!” Owl grinned. “Would you like to read it?”

Delissa nodded eagerly. “I would love to! If you… wouldn’t mind.” She looked down, her face turning a shade of red.

Owl looked at her in surprise. “What? Would that be odd?”

“I… well, it’s your journal, isn’t it?”

“And what’s odd about that?”

Delissa looked at her in confusion. “Well, you’re alive, and we’re not…” She trailed off, looking at the strange expressions on Spider and Owl. “Are things different in the outer sectors?”

“We’re not—” Owl started.

“Yes. Yes they are,” Spider cut her off.

“Oh.” Delissa nodded. “Well, around here, it would be considered an invasion of privacy to read someone’s journal while they were still alive, or if you weren’t… particularly close to them.” She turned a darker shade of red. “I’ve never read someone else’s journal before.”

“While they were still alive? Why do you keep emphasizing that?” Owl asked.

“Well, of course once they’re dead, you’ll want to read their journal for all the important information they took down,” Delissa said very matter-of-factly.

The rememorist nodded. “I suppose that makes sense.” She smiled. “The books are up in my room. I’ll bring them to you later, alright?”

“That would be wonderful. Thank you.”

Owl sat back in her chair, thinking. “Wow. It’s… so much has happened, these last months.”

Spider nodded, stopping with her hand halfway to the basket of food. She’d just remembered quite how hungry she was. Three weeks of harshly rationed supplies hadn’t been good. “Yeah, uh. Yeah.”

With a start, Owl sat up. “Center.”

Spider looked at her. “Huh?”

“The Center. That’s… that’s where the shadows told us to go. Back when this all started.”

“I missed that part. I was with Kasby.”

“Well, the point is, we’re… we’re here. We’re at the Center.” Owl frowned. “But nothing makes any more sense than it did at the Corkscrew.”

Spider shrugged. “Well, we’re at Sector One, but maybe there’s a way to further into the center of it…?”

Slowly, she and Owl both turned to face Delissa. The librarian blinked at them. “Sorry, I… lost you…”

“We… need to go inside.” Owl said slowly. “Is there a way into the heart of the crystal? Into Sector One itself?”

Delissa shook her head. “Not a way that anyone can access.”

Spider raised an eyebrow. “Is... there a way people can’t access?”

“Yes. The Deepana Caverns. No one has ever come back from there, though.”

“What are they?” Owl asked.

“They appeared two or three hundred years ago… cracks in the crystal.”

Owl and Spider exchanged glances, eyes wide. Spider turned back to Delissa. “Can you take us there? We need to go in there. I need to… I’m an architect. I can check the integrity from inside. See if…”

“… if there’s something trying to escape,” Owl finished. “Whatever’s trapped inside this crystal… right here in the center…”

Delissa frowned. “I can take you to the entrance, but no one’s allowed inside any more. Too many expeditions have vanished inside, never to return. Kids started trying to brave it, on dares to each other, so now the entrances are guarded.”

Spider laughed. “We can get in. Don’t worry about that.”

“If you insist. We can go there first thing in the morning.”

Owl smiled. “Thank you, Delissa.”

The librarian blushed again. “It’s… it’s nothing, really.”

“Now then!” Spider said. “Can it be time to eat?”

Delissa laughed. “Absolutely!”

“Great! I’m starving. What’s for dinner?” She opened the basket.

“I made you sandwiches.”

Spider stopped, looking inside, and then looked up and caught Owl’s eye. They laughed together, smiling with tears in their eyes. Delissa watched, smiling along with them despite her confusion.