Friday, February 25, 2011


((89 — Beginning))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

Goat’s room in the hospital was a small one, at the outer edge of the crystal spire. A window let a beam of natural light in, gently illuminating the room. The room was long and thin, with space for six beds to fold down from the wall, though only Goat's was in use, leaving most of the room empty.

Giraffe shuffled in through the door, not fully awake yet and trying hard not to spill the tray of food she was carrying. Zebra followed her in, yawning as well. She quietly took a seat in a nearby chair, looking like she might nod off for a bit.

Goat opened his young, naive eyes. Bandages were wrapped tightly around his upper arm, and more over his leg. The doctors had told him the bullets had gone clean through, and with the benefits of modern medical practices, he should be good to leap again in a matter of days. “Good morning!” He said, looking at the two newcomers.

Zebra waved a hand noncommittally. "Morning."

“Here’s some—” Giraffe paused to yawn. “—food, Goat. How are you so cheery?”

“I just woke up,” he said. “The terrible state of things hasn’t gotten to me yet. Plus you brought me food, which is very sweet of you. Thanks!”

Giraffe gave half a smile and shrugged, setting the tray down on Goat’s lap. “Least I could do.” She happily sank down into a chair next to Zebra, and began gently nursing the cup of coffee she had taken from the tray. “Enjoy, I thought it was rather nice myself.” Next to her, Zebra was similarly sipping at a cup of coffee appreciatively. It didn't appear to be doing much to wake her up yet, though.

Goat sat up and instinctively transformed the food into a sandwich, then began munching happily.

“So,” Giraffe said after a minute or two of quiet eating. “How are the appendages?”

“Good, except for the fact that they’re injured. I think they’re getting better though.” As if to demonstrate, he gave a flail with his injured arm, then winced.

“Well that’s good,” Giraffe said, stifling a laugh. “Any idea where we’re going next?”

Goat frowned. “I see two options: we stay here and do Barret’s dirty work… or we go find Kasby.”

Giraffe perked up slightly. “I like option two, Barret bugs me.”

“Bugs? Seems a bit of an understatement. Hey…” Goat lowered his voice to what he thought was a whisper. “Do you think she’s a demon in disguise?”

Giraffe pondered it a moment. “I dunno, the only demons that we’ve seen, even in disguise, have had non-human features. But then again, she could be like us and just scared of more of her/our kind.”

“We’ll see,” Goat said. “In any case, I guess I won’t be doing much ‘til these limbs heal up.”

Giraffe shrugged. “Guess so.”

The conversation trailed off for a long minute. Goat stared out the window, down at the city below. “This city is really big,” he stated quietly.

Giraffe looked at him blankly for a second. “Well that was random. Are you—”

“Hey,” he cut her off, moving his toe nervously. “If we haven’t been eaten by demons when my limbs get better…”

Giraffe continued to look at him in confusion. “Um…”

“Do you want to… um… gonadate?”

“Say again?”

Goat gulped. “Go on a date?” His eyes darted nervously.

Giraffe puzzled for a second before looking at her coffee. “I don’t… know? Maybe?”

From her chair, Zebra raised an eyebrow, and a hint of a smile creeped along the corner of her half-asleep mouth.

Giraffe jumped up. “I need more coffee!”

“Kay,” Goat said quietly.

She shuffled to the door, yelling over her shoulder, “And that wasn’t a yes, by the way!”

Goat let out a sigh, then looked to Zebra.

The girl immediately pretended to be asleep, letting out a pointed and perhaps overloud fake yawn.

After a few minutes passed, Giraffe sauntered back with a fresh cup of coffee.

“Still not sure?” Goat asked tentatively.

Giraffe opened her mouth to respond, but turned her head as something caught her eye. On the far side of the room, a yellow mist was slowly beginning to flood the floor, flowing seemingly out of nowhere.

((90 — 0800 Dub))

“Wha!” exclaimed Goat.

“I dunno!” Giraffe yelled as she climbed onto a chair, trying to get away from the mist. Zebra stood up, looking down at the mist in confusion.

Part of it swirled up in the far corner, beginning to solidify into a human form. Slowly, it resolved into something all three recognized--the creature that had once been Jazrill Quinn.

Giraffe looked wide-eyed at the figure. “Fuck!”

“Gah!” Goat yelled.

Its skin was black and cracking, and its eyes shone red. The goggle lenses now embedded in its forehead glowed a fainter red, looking almost like a second set of eyes. The creature took a step forward, hissing angrily. It looked around the room, looking for something or someone. From a mouth that was far from human, the thing let out an angry howl.

Giraffe stood very still, and began to hiss for Zebra to do the same.

Zebra didn’t seem to want to wait around, though, and hurled her cup of hot coffee at the creature.

The cup hit it in the chest, splashing steaming brown liquid all across it. It screeched again, this time in pain.

Giraffe looked at Zebra. “Now she’s going to come after us!” she screeched.

“Fine by me,” Zebra said angrily, and picked up her chair, holding it over her head like a weapon.

Then the creature ran at Zebra--though it was limping slightly, favoring its right leg.

With one arm, Goat threw his tray of food at the creature, as Giraffe shot a blast of flame at its injured leg.

It leapt into the air, over both the fire and the tray of food, barely avoiding hitting the high ceiling. It came down with the crystal blade emerging from the end of its arm aimed squarely at Zebra's chest.

She stumbled backwards, trying to get out of its way, but the blade sliced through her shirt and chest, spattering blood on the floor.

“NO!” Goat shouted. Giraffe just turned up the heat, focusing on the wounded leg. This time, her blast of flame caught the creature solidly, bringing out another howl of pain. It rolled to the side, out of the way of Giraffe's blast, clutching at its burnt leg.

“Oh no, you don’t get away that easily,” Giraffe yelled as she re-directed her blast to follow it.

Next to her, Zebra looked down at herself, at the blood that was quickly staining her shirt red. Then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fainted. As her unconscious form hit the floor next to Goat's bed, the room around them seemed to ripple.

A second room seemed to overlay the hospital, a room of metal and wood. It looked almost like one of the rooms of Sector Four, but the walls were overlaid with thick red wires, that pulsed slightly, like blood vessels.

“What the fall?” Goat said, eyes darting around in bewilderment.

Giraffe let off her flame, nervously pacing. “This isn’t good.”

Zebra now stood again where she had been, looking around in confusion. She also lay prone on the floor, at her own feet.

Where Jaz was, though... A second form overlaid hers, this one a glowing silhouhette of angrily flickering red light. It looked around, scowling and hissing, and then its eyes seemed to settle on Zebra once more. Both forms, the physical and the glowing red, took a step towards her.

“Hey you!” Giraffe shouted at the glowing figure. It ignored her, not seeming to hear at all.

Without warning, it leapt forward, landing right in front of the ghostly figure of Zebra. The physical form landed badly, its burnt leg not supporting it well, but the red form stayed standing.

“What…?” Zebra was still frowning in confusion, not understanding. A pale red line appeared along her chest, matching the cut on her body on the ground. Then she reached out a hand to touch the creature’s face, the angry red mist every bit as insubstantial as her hand. “Jaz?”

For a fleeting moment, the redness seemed to peel back where she touched, and the familiar face of Captain Jazrill Quinn emerged from beneath the rage.

Then the moment passed, and the fire once more covered the creature. With one swirly red hand, it grabbed Zebra by the throat.

“Well, shit,” she said quietly.

The creature's other hand punched straight through Zebra, emerging out the back of her spine in a grisly display of bloody light. She fell backwards, even as a third wave of Giraffe's fire hit the creature in the side.

Before Zebra's ghostly body hit the floor a second time, the world rippled, and the overlays vanished. They were once again in the medical room, face to face with the physical demon that had been Jaz.

A demon that was now right in the line of Giraffe's flame. It shrieked, diving backwards, trying to get away from the fire. Giraffe just growled, increasing the intensity of the heat, channeling her anger into it.

Snarling, the creature locked its eyes on its one escape: the window. In a final burst of effort, it launched itself forward, despite both wounded legs. The creature flew over where Goat still lay in bed, smashing through the window next to him.

The room was suddenly deathly silent.

Giraffe ran over to Zebra, dropping to her knees and looking over her body. There didn’t appear to be very much blood, but she wasn’t breathing.

“Shit,” Goat said quietly, eyes wide.

Giraffe didn’t respond, just pulled Zebra’s bloody shirt back to look at where Jaz’s crystal blade had hit her. The wound was a long cut, a slice that ran from shoulder to hip, but it wasn't terribly deep. It wouldn't be life-threatening, but... Zebra wasn't moving. Wasn't breathing.

“Fucktards,” Giraffe spat bitterly.

“Good thing we’re kind of already in a hospital, right?” Goat offered.

“I… I don’t think it will be able to help much.” Zebra lay still. No pulse pushed blood from the wound.

Giraffe reached out her hand, and gently closed Zebra’s eyes, her own hollow eyes looking down at the corpse of her oldest friend.

Friday, February 18, 2011


((88 — Phendrana Drifts))
July 3rd, 802 AT.

“It’s just up ahead,” Delissa said, looking back over her shoulder at Owl and Spider.

The two refugees were following her through the streets of the city, on their way to the entrance to the Deepana Caverns. They had meant to get an early start, but had all wound up sleeping in, and it was midmorning by the time they got moving. The night before, after checking on Kiara, Spider had split off from the Talons and shared Owl’s room for the night. They’d stayed up late catching each other up on their various exploits since parting ways a month earlier.

The alleyway suddenly opened up into what at first looked like a large courtyard. The ground was made of massive metal sheets, instead of the usual ground-down crystal of the rest of the city. In the center sat a small kiosk, with a single door.

Delissa frowned. “Usually there would be guards, but I guess they’re all busy dealing with the riots…”

Spider touched off the ground, letting herself fall towards the building. “Then let’s head inside!”

Owl jogged after, Delissa close on her heels. Their footsteps rang loudly on the metal, making it quite clear that there was nothing but air beneath the panel. They reached the door to find Spider frowning at the large padlock hanging conspicuously on the handle.

“Won’t open,” the teenager said. “I could hit it.”

Delissa shook her head. “It’s probably magically reinforced, knowing security around her. Crystals inside the lock. I guess we’ll have to come back another time.”

Owl stepped forward. “I think I can do something about it, actually.” Smiling, she rested her hand on the padlock. The pattern of words flowed off of her skin, surrounding and describing the lock. Owl focused, and her mouth moved just slightly, lips shaping out words. The writing on the padlock changed, and the lock changed with it. With a click, it popped open.

Delissa just stared. “I… it just…”

“Yeah. It’s… useful, sometimes.”

The younger librarian nodded. “I read about it in your journals, but it’s… it’s something else entirely to see it for real.” She looked at Owl, who smiled sheepishly. “You’re absolutely incredible.”

Owl blushed. “No, I’m just… I do what I can with what I have, and it’s not…” She trailed off as a loud clanging came from within the kiosk. She turned to see Spider already inside and halfway down a ladder.

Spider looked back at her. “What? I got bored. Come on!”

The crystal caves turned out to be much like the ones they had explored on Face, only scaled up a dozen times. They came complete with strange shadow-filled cracks and long-desiccated corpses impaled on crystal spires.

After the fourth or fifth set of corpses they passed, Delissa stopped, tugging on Owl’s sleeve. “We should turn back.”

Owl frowned at her. “Why?”

The girl swallowed, looking down. “We’ll end up like those people we passed… we’ll get impaled!”

Owl shook her head. “I don’t think so. The shadows—the things in the crystals—seem to acknowledge that we’re on their side now. They made contact with us, back when all this was starting.”

Delissa nodded. “I know. I read about it. It still… it feels uncomfortable here.”

“We’ll be fine,” Owl said. “Spider and I have been through much darker situations than this, I assure you. A little spelunking is, you know, easy as falling for us now!” She laughed awkwardly, and Delissa laughed with her, but Owl didn’t think her half-hearted joke had done much to cheer the librarian.

Sighing, they followed after their gravity-defying companion.

After what felt like at least four or five hours of wandering through the crystal catacombs, Spider stopped them abruptly.

Owl raised a questioning eyebrow. “What is it?”

Spider scowled at the floor, looking at it from where she stood on the ceiling. “Gravity goes all weird, right under us. It feels funny.”

“What do you mean?”

“I dunno, but I don’t like it. Something’s messing with it.”

“Something alive?” Delissa asked, voice small.

Spider shook her head. “I don’t think so. It’s like… there’s a hole, where gravity suddenly goes all flippy, like a ledge or something. I can’t really describe it.”

“Do you think you lead us to it?” Owl asked.

Spider nodded sharply. “Absolutely.”

It took them almost another hour of exploration before they found the source of the strange gravity. The orange light came into view first, flickering strangely in the otherwise white-lite tunnel. They rounded the corner to it, bringing it fully into view.

In the floor of the tunnel was a large crack, at least three meters long and half a meter wide. Its edge was lined with glowing orange lettering, that drifted along the length of the crack, phasing gently in and out of itself.

Owl walked slowly to the edge, staring down at the letters, studying them, trying to read them.

“What is it?” Delissa asked quietly.

“And can you read it?” Spider asked, hovering over her shoulder.

Owl shook her head. “I can read the words, but the grammar doesn’t make any sense. It’s all just strings of numbers and descriptive language… Maybe I could decipher it eventually, but it just looks like gibberish to me.” She let out a frustrated sigh.

Spider fell to the ceiling, inverting in mid-air to land on her feet. She stood over the hole, looking straight down through it. “It’s all just white in there!”

“What do you mean?” Owl followed her gaze, and saw only empty whiteness within. A burst of cold air came out, prompting her to pull her arms against her sides.

“The other gaps all had shadows in them, filling them in. This one isn’t even a crack! It’s just white!”

Owl started to answer, but Spider cut her off. “I’m gonna go check it out!” Owl watched as the teenager detached from the ceiling, and let herself fall through the portal.

Delissa frowned after her. “Will she be alright?”

Owl nodded. “She can take care of herself.” She crouched next to the gap, and touched her hand to the words. Rather than flow off of her, the words on the back of her hand took on the orange tint of the writing on the ground. “Oh!” She exclaimed quietly.

“What is it?” Delissa asked worriedly.

“It’s… I can kind of feel how it makes sense now! It’s like the portal is explaining itself to me…”


Spider came rocketing back up through the gap, a whirlwind of cold following her. She landed again on the ceiling, her head and shoulders now covered with a strange dusting of white. She grinned gleefully at her two companions. “Owl! Owl! There’s a whole WORLD in there!”