7/24/2014

Jason: “Tom, Intelligence plus Computer.”
Me: “What? I know how to use my fucking phone!
Chris: “After the sword incident we’re not entirely sure!”
Jason: “You’re trying to find a sunlight-generating virtual adept app that no-one is supposed to know about!
Me: “Urg, fine!” *rolls* “Um, botch…fuck…I get spyware don’t I?”)
Jason: “No…I’m trying to figure out what the worst possible thing is here…do we say that you lose your phone? Do we say that you find the app and set it off? Or…no. I think I know what you see…”
Me: “…Candy Crush?”

***

THE SHADOWLANDS

The darkness and the one-eyed man striding away through it suddenly evaporate. Anstis finds himself back in the marble hallway of the House of Vigilance, Georgia unconscious at his feet, his hands clutched around Carlos’s neck as his darkness dissipates around them.

Anstis blinks a moment, reorienting himself, then leans forward and growls. “What other means do you have to get out?”

Carlos stares back calmly, but Anstis can sense the barest flickers of resentment underneath his jaundiced eyes. “A man…knows the way out…,” Carlos rasps. “A man…who wants you dead.” He leans forward. “Heinrich Himmler.”

“How do you suppose we convince him to cooperate?”

“I know not. He compelled me here to end you and Ms. Johnson. He promised me a way out as well.”

Anstis stares at Carlos, searching for signs that he’s lying, but the withered man is just as affectless as always. “Aye,” Antsis says finally, “Then let’s see if we can all get out at his expense….”

(Me: “…I immediately regret this decision. O___O”)

“He is a powerful sorcerer,” Carlos says.

“Not undefeatable, though.”

Carlos quirks his head slowly. “Yes, but if you defeat him, will any of us know the way out?”

Anstis smiles grimly. “There are many ways of defeating. Killing is one of them, but not the only one.”

“So be it…What of Ms. Johnson?”

Anstis looks down at her body…but she’s not there. He drops Carlos and looks around. “Where did she go?”

Carlos calmly follows his gaze down the hallway. “I do not know…there are many beings down here that could have taken her, if she did not leave of her own will.”

Anstis stares a moment, then relaxes and stands up straight, smoothing his overcoat. People missing, people to be found….

He might as well kill a couple of birds…with a couple of stones.

“Let me see if I can find out,” he growls. He pulls out a rock with Georgia’s name on it—in front of Carlos, cause the necromancy-cat is already out of the bag on that one—and casts his spell.

Georgia…is in the Molten Hall.

(Me: *gasp* “With baby birds!?!?! 😀 😀 :D”
Jason: “…..Molten not MOLTING!”)

He turns back to Carlos. “Georgia is in the Molten Hall.” He pulls out another stone, clenches it, then frowns. “…And Himmler is there as well.”

Carlos nods. “Yes, yes I know the Molten Hall….” He bows and gestures obsequiously down the hallway. “This way….”

#

Georgia wakes up chained to a desk. And not in the metaphorical sense. Heavy chains lash her arms and legs down on polished wood, and everything is hot—not enough to be panic-inducing but not a normal temperature either. The air is hot too, and thick with smoke, roiling toward the ceiling. She’s somewhat better than she was after Carlos attacked her—her throat, at least, is healed—but between her remaining injuries and the chains, she can’t move much at all. She cranes her neck up and looks around.

She’s in a grand office, with ornate Victorian furniture and gaslit chandeliers hung from high ceilings. Much of the furniture is overturned, though, littered with dust and rubble, and a dark crack spiders up one wall and across the ceiling. The light flickers, but it’s not from the lamps. Strange shapes are undulating on the outside of the smoked-glass windows, shifting in flowing patterns of shadow and flame orange.

Her eye, though, is drawn to her feet. Standing at the foot of the desk, tensely holding a ritual knife in one hand and an ornate wine flask in the other, is Heinrich immler.

“Oh,” Georgia says. “Good evening.”

His eyes narrow under his glasses. “You have made yourself quite a nuisance, Fraulein.”

“Oh? In what way?”

He spreads his arms to encompass the room. “Well, we are in Hell.”

“Ah, yes I had noticed that, but it’s not entirely my fault.”

He glares. “What was in that dart you threw at me?”

She shrugs against the chains. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“I somehow do not believe you.”

“Well, sometimes young Tremere know things older Tremere don’t. Sometimes, it’s the opposite.”

He takes a step forward. “Ms. Johnson I have forgotten more than you know, and this Tremere here will tell me everything she knows about what was done to me.

She sighs and lets her head fall back against the wood. “I told you I don’t know what was in the dart.”

He twists his knife in the flickering light. “Must I torture you to find out?”

“Oh goodie, can we?”

He glares at her again, then starts pacing around the desk. “You think you are so clever, and so brave, you watch the movies from America and you mouth-off to me.” He stops by her head, leaning over. “I knew many men who were brave and who spoke in such ways, do you know what became of them all?”

She sighs and closes her eyes. “You killed them.”

Yes, I killed them.”

She rolls her gaze over to him. “You seem like a nice fellow. Very principled.”

His glare deepens. “Says the Tremere who abandons her clan and binds herself to a Toreador.”

“I only abandon those of you who were declared traitors by my superior,” she chides.

Himmler snorts. “Max, that would be?”

Georgia laughs lightly. “Oh no. He’s…no.”

“Then who? Van Brugge, perhaps? That imbecilic gnostic Flemming? Infused with his Jewish ideas, he is the one who was telling you these things?”

“He does outrank you.”

Himmler scoffs. “Adrianus van Brugge could not outrank the least of us. I am infinitely his superior. Even you are infinitely his superior.” He leans close. “If we were on Earth,” he breathes into her ear, “I would diablerize you on the spot—“

Georgia blinks. “Oh, my, that’s awfully intimate—“

(Author’s Note: )

“—And learn all that I need to know immediately,” Himmler snaps, glaring at her and the fourth wall, “but down here that is less of an option.” He straightens. “What. Was in. That dart?”

Bolted to the table as she is, Georgia still manages to flash her fingers in jazz hands. “Science!”

He sneers. “That dart stank of magic, do not tell me of science—“ His face suddenly drops. “…No…not the madman in the tower?”

Georgia frowns. “Madman? I don’t know any madmen.”

(Jason: “You know nothing but madmen!!!”)

Himmler thumps the flask onto the table. “You…sought the aid…of an Etherite?”

“Oooh, you mean Dr. vonNatsi?”

He glowers and paces the length of the desk again. “Yes, the good Dr. vonNazi…” he sneers.

Georgia considers correcting Himmler’s spelling but decides to let it slide. “Um, yes. He’s helped me out in a couple pinches. Why, you know him?”

Himmler stalks to the windows, staring through the flickering, clouded shadows. “Yes, I know him. You would stoop so low to take up the aid of someone who holds himself separate in a tower, scrambling his own brains with a whisk.”

Georgia considers this. “Well…I’ve seen him use a colander….”

Himmler whirls. “What did that…tinkering fool do to me? He levels the dagger at Georgia. “I will cut you open until you tell me. What was in the dart!?

“Science!” Georgia says, nodding enthusiastically.

(Chris: “All he had to do was give Paul a werewolf and none of this would have happened…”)

“All you had to do was give Paul a werewolf and none of this would have happened!” Georgia says brightly.

He tenses and glowers. “I needed that werewolf, for payment!

Georgia blinks. “Payment? To whom?”

“To those whom I have enlisted the services of! The way that one pays anyone!”

(Me: “…Direct deposit?”)

Georgia cocks her head, processing this. “Why…couldn’t you have used another werewolf?”

“Cause this is the one I had! Do you imagine that I am drowning in werewolves?!”

(Me: *snort* “You are now.)

The combined forces of Georgia’s obstinance and the peanut-gallery’s heckling stokes Himmler’s fury to new heights. He strides back to the desk. “I don’t know how you, and the Toreador, and the sodomite arranged this, but I hope your friends enjoy what they got!”

Some of the mirth drains out of Georgia. “What did you do to Paul?”

“I fed him to my creditors,” he sneers. “Your dear Mr. Stewart is presently someone’s bowel movement.

Georgia considers this, and—considering her blood bond to Paul is still active—considers that this is not the case. “Oh…well, that…sounds sad….” she says carefully.

Himmler slams the dagger into the desk and leans back over her. “I will have what I want from you, one way or another. If I must drag that…” he glowers at the window, “pedophilic psychopath to this place and have him carve you open like a turkey.”

Georgia frowns. “Yeah, how did I get here from there anyway?”

Himmler smirks and stands up. “I caused you to be here. I cause many things to be.”

“Oh…so, where’s Anstis?”

Himmler folds his arms proudly. “Dead. At the hands of the psychopath in question.”

#

Carlos and Anstis, meanwhile, are making their way from the Hall of Vigilance toward the glow of the eternal inferno on the horizon. Many of the boys have followed them as well. The children frolic vacant-eyes through the ash-laden streets, skipping in time as they sing the haunting lilt of Carlos’s song. Carlos himself waves his hands in mock-conduction as he walks, eyes half-lidded in bliss. “Music does make things so much more enjoyable, don’t you agree, Mr. Anstis?” he sighs.

Anstis eyes the half-charred children dancing around them. “I…do like a good tune….” he rumbles cautiously.

(Jason: “Even for you, this is some fucked up repugnant shit.”)

Carlos takes one of the boys’s hands and whirls around in a reel, wiry frame bobbing jerkily under his ragged clothes. “Mr. Anstis, join us in the music! Favor us with a song!”

Anstis hesitates, glancing at the children, and wracks his brain for the least-inappropriate song he can muster. He eventually sings one, half-heartedly, but still has to drop his voice to a mumble at a few points.

The children applaud as he finishes, and Carlos makes a half-bow. “That was lovely,” he rasps. “Thank you.”

Anstis nods and lapses into silence.

#

With Himmler looming over her at the desk, Georgia gets a good look at him, and realizes that something…is off. His face seems…flat, its expressions somewhat muted, like someone who has had too much botox (if she knew what botox was). His movements, too, are harsh and a little bit jerky.

“So…” she cranes her neck to look at him directly. “The dart was unpleasant for you, I take it?” she asks. He stares back witheringly. “I don’t know,” she says hurriedly, “I’m just asking, cause it…looks like you got a haircut or something….”

“That is none of your concern,” he hisses, “What is your concern is the dart. If you do not know what was in it, then what were your instructions from the madman concerning it.”

Georgia extends three fingers one by one. “Um, take the dart…throw it at you…and get it wet.”

“…That’s it?

“That’s it.”

He glares. “There must be more than that.”

“…Oh, yeah,” she extends another finger, “Don’t get it wet before I throw it at you.”

He stands up, staring in disbelief. “Nothing…else?” he mutters through clenched teeth.

“I mean…he said it would be awesome, and that it took him a couple hours to put it together, and that it was science….”

As she talks, Himmler’s disbelief falls into horror. “You cannot know only this…tell me what I must do to reverse its effect!”

Georgia laughs lightly. “You can’t just reverse science! I mean, if you were going to do that…”

(Me: “…You’d have to print a retraction, and maybe give the grant back….”)

Himmler starts to pace again, this time nervously. “This is not acceptable! Everything can be reversed!”

“Hey,” Georgia spreads her hands placatingly, “I didn’t make the science.”

“You are a Tremere mage, we all make up science!”

Georgia gasps. “You take that back!! Science is immutable! We only discover it!”

(Jason: “Oooh, if only Dr. vonNatsi could see you now.”
Me:  )

Himmler paces faster, muttering to himself. “Nein, nein…this can be fixed…everything can be fixed….”

Georgia rocks her head back and forth, watching him. “Well, which steps do we need to take first? What’s the priority?”

He whirls on her. “First, you will serve me in this, I will see to it!”

Georgia frowns. “Uh…nooo…” she chastises, “What comes after that?”

He stalks forward. “You…you will serve me in this whether you are agreeable or not! If you are willing to…to prostitute yourself to a Toreador you can at least find service with an Ubermensch!

Georgia makes a fanning motion with one of her bound hands. “Wow, you really know how to talk to a lady,” she says breathlessly. “What was your next priority?”

He wrenches the dagger from the desk and points it at her shakily. “I…I will send you back! I will make you obey me and send you back to fetch the wizard!”

“I…don’t know if I trust you to—“

“You need not trust me, I will make you do as I say!!” Himmler holds up his hand and slices across the palm. Dark blood wells forth. He clenches his fist around it and begins to chant—

—And then a blast of flame crashes into the middle of his chest. He screams and staggers backward, dropping the knife.

No!” Georgia chides, rocking a finger back and forth.

Himmler dances through the room, beating at the flames on his clothes. Georgia twists against the chains, trying for another good shot…

…And suddenly pulls herself out of the chains. Stunned, she sits up…and realizes that all her damage is healed. What she thought was horrible rending wounds on her body were actually just a thin veneer that melts as she moves.

(Kara: “Yeeeesss, my dark pact has come to fruition….”
Me: “…Wait, what?”)

Georgia slides off the desk and reaches down to grab the dagger. Himmler finally gets the last of the flames beat out and turns back to her. She lunges forward but he reacts first, blasting her with a fireball. She immediately Rotshriek-panics, running to escape via the nearest possible exit.

Which is directly through one of the flickering windows.

#

Carlos and Anstis’s strange procession finally reaches their destination. Carlos spreads his arms. “The Molten Hall,” he announces, though it’s really not necessary.

Anstis stares up at a sprawling, towering structure, ranks of columns and crenelations climbing into the sky. Much of it is ruined, crumbling down into the surrounding streets, but everything left standing is consumed with fire. Great gouts of flame climb up a central domed structure, looming three stories over everything else. Entranced, he stares through the flames, realizing that the dome appears to be weeping as silvery liquid pours off its peak, flowing down and over the ruins on all sides in a fiery cascade.

(Jason: “The Molten Hall is the old City Hall of San Francisco, the one that burned down—in fact, melted down—in the Great Fire of 1906. The dome was entirely sheeted in lead, and when the flames hit it, the lead melted. There are newspaper stories of people standing on Nob Hill watching the molten lead rolling off the roof like a waterfall. Down here, City Hall burns and sheds its leaden roof, forever.”)

Carlos whispers to the boys—his “Sparrows,” he calls them—and sends them out for reconnaissance in the building. He turns to Anstis, still gaping at the flames, then folds his hands and sidles closer. “Mr. Anstis, may I infer from your handling earlier that you have some…” he glances briefly around them, “…Necromantic ability?”

Anstis flicks his gaze over. “I do….” he growls cautiously.

“Then, apart from Mr. Himmler, you may be the most qualified to take us out of this place.”

Anstis frowns. “It is possible….” he says slowly, but unfortunately isn’t able to finish the thought, because at that moment, Georgia comes crashing out of an upper-story window in front of them. She thuds to the ground, successfully avoiding the rivers of molten lead, and scrambles around in the ash, trying to put out the flames on the front of her robes.

“Georgia!” Anstis cries, but she—otherwise occupied—doesn’t respond. Anstis looks up at the window she jumped from.

Himmler stands there, staring through the broken glass and the dripping curtains of lead, looking down on them much like he did when they first arrived in the Shadowlands.

This time, though, as Himmler stares at Anstis, he looks very confused. And concerned.

Himmler turns to Carlos. “Well!? What are you waiting for!?” he snaps. Carlos doesn’t respond.

Anstis smiles and grips the lapels of his coat. “Would you like to come down and have a chat?” he shouts back.

“He is an excellent singer,” Carlos rasps, nodding.

Himmler steps back a pace, still staring at them. He holds up a shaky hand, gesturing across them. “All of you…I will rend you all down for components!!!” He starts muttering an incantation, but before he can release it, shadows erupt from the room behind him. One coils around this arm and the other his torso, lifting him up and chucking him ingloriously through the window. He lands with a sickening crunch in the rubble at the base of the building.

Anstis lunges forward but can’t find a way through the dripping curtains of lead. “Surrender,” Anstis orders—(—Oh, hey, Dominate, that’s new—)—but Himmler avoids his gaze as he scrambles to his feet. He turns, instead, toward Georgia, who is on the same side of the molten curtain and only just barely coming back to her senses.

Fotze!!!” he yells, lunging at her. She rolls out of the way and scrambles to her feet, looking around for the dagger, dropped during her fall…

…Then remembers that she has another dagger in her pocket. The Primium one.

(Jason: “You know, when difficulty numbers are high, you know what becomes important? Willpower.”
Kara: “I only have two left!”
Jason: “And what are you saving them for!?”
Kara: “In case I get into a knife-fight with Heinrich Himmler!”
Me: “…Yeah, that seems like something that would happen….”)

Himmler lunges forward again, screaming incoherently. She dodges out of the way and immediately counter-attacks, whirling the smaller dagger around in a full-weight strike.

(Jason: *rolls his dice, peers at the result, then quietly starts singing* “How much is that dagger in the Nazi? The one that just entered his neck? How much is that dagger in the Nazi? Why don’t you roll damage and check?”
Cameron: “Someone’s about to become a Danzig Queen.”)

The dagger sinks into him with a wet thump. Himmler screams and stumbles.

(Chris: “Can I make new tentacles?”
Jason: “Alright, we will disperse the old ones.”
Kara: “You’re really liking this Obten aren’t you?”
Jason: “Everyone likes a good Obten.”
Me: “Obten is the fucking best, you guys.”
Jason: “No it isn’t.”
Me: “Yes it is!”
Jason: “No, it isn’t! It’s good, but it’s not the fucking best. Celerity is objectively the fucking best!”
Me: “But it’s not as dramatic!”
Jason: “Says the dude who chopped four fuckers’ heads off in a round!!!”)

New tentacles rise out of the rubble and snake around Himmler, dragging him toward the leaden curtain. He grabs onto one, wrapped around his neck, and it immediately bursts into smoke. He dispatches another one, fighting his way free, but two more appear, tightening around his limbs to lash him to the ground.

Untermenschen!!!” he screams, “Bloeder Untermenschen! Ich will ihnen—

And that’s when Anstis, who has finally found a way through the molten curtain, sneaks up and stakes him through the chest. Himmler jerks, gurgles, then collapses to the rubble, unconscious.

Georgia, preciously low on blood, falls on him, trying to take as much as she can. She can’t diablerize him, of course, since the rules in the Shadowlands seem to be different—

—She stops, suddenly sensing something instinctively. Maybe…maybe they aren’t so different….

She drains him to next-to-nothing, then leans over…and unstakes him. He groans and opens his eyes, staring around groggily until they focus on her.

She grins, face and fangs smeared with his own blood, then leans down next to his ear, “Maimonides says, ‘Shalom,’” she whispers.

Then she does the thing.

#

(Me: “Wait, what? I thought you couldn’t diablerize…?”
Jason: “No. Either Himmler was lying, or he was referring to a problem that only he had.”
Kara: *bouncing excitedly through the room* “You guys! You guys!! I ate someone! You guys!!!”)

#

THE DIGITAL WEB

Paul, Sophia, and I run through the Tesseract structure, heading toward the closest exit we can find. There’s no other signs of Perpenna-shadow, but the light effusing the structure seems slightly dimmer, and the spiders covering every surface are visibly agitated. We reach a landing platform at the edge of the structure, connecting to one of the spider-rails. Sophia calls up another transport spider, which scurries away the moment we leap on.

Paul stares wistfully behind us as the shining, impossible structure receding into the distance. “He’ll be coming after us soon,” he mutters.

“It’s a long way to the cairn,” Sophia says, swiping through her tablet. “I don’t think we’re going to get there if he’s on our tail the whole way.”

Paul is silent a moment, still staring back. “Why is he following us so persistently….” he mutters, half to himself.

“He really, really, really doesn’t like you guys,” Sophia says as she works. “I heard some people talking. He…needs things in order to…end the world or whatever, and he thinks you guys are in the way.”

I finger the pommel of my sword, avoiding Paul’s gaze. I too have an idea why Perpenna might be after us, one I haven’t mentioned to Paul yet. Everton said that Perpenna has some plan to…re-consume all of the Vitae that can be traced back to his line. Obviously that means Marcus is on the hit-list, but I have become more and more suspicious that this debt extends to those bound  to the Perpenna line as well. Aka, Paul and myself.

As usual, the thought sends chills down my spine. I mean, it’s one thing to know that some guy is gunning for you, but it’s quite another to know that an ancient supernatural force is stopping at nothing to consume your soul, personally. I glance at Paul and consider saying something, then decide against it. If it’s not true, then there’s no reason to stress him out. And if it is true, well…then theres nothing we can do about it anyway.

Paul turns to Sophia. “How long will it take to get to the cairn?”

She shakes her head. “Difficult to say. It’s a long way, and there’s a lot of stuff between us and it.” She looks up, face pale. “If he escaped the pattern spider…I don’t think anything we got can kill him.”

“Well…he didn’t like the sunlight last time, and I have another phone….”

“No, we need something else.” She waves one hand across the landscape, the lights of her circuit-suit leaving glowing trails. “This is…a spiritual reflection of the internet. We need something big, something that would have enough juice to stop him.”

“…Porn?”

She shoots him a look. “We could try a corporate spirit. Someone else’s, I wouldn’t want you to risk Tesseract’s. Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, they’re all big…” She trails off, face falling. “But I don’t know if a corporate spirit is really set up to fight something like this….”

Paul nods slowly. “What about some sort of…hacking-like presence? Something that does attack, like Anonymous?”

Sophia frowns, considering this. “Anonymous might work, it has a powerful gestalt….”

Paul snorts. “Well, if you’re looking for power, why not the NSA?”

She turns to him. “The NSA?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s the closest thing to a military on the web.” He shrugs. “Besides, they made us install all those damn data-cap switches, they might as well do something for us.”

Sophia’s face suddenly lights up with a smile bordering on unsettling. “Yes…yes that’s perfect!” She turns back to her tablet, typing rapidly. “Keep…his…attention for awhile, I need to go do something….” She trails off, grin growing wider. “Oh, this is going to be epic….”

Before we can ask what’s going on, another spider pulls up along side, matching our pace. Sophia jumps over. “Give me twenty minutes!” she calls back. “Whatever you do, keep him distracted!”

(Jason: “She looks really excited.”
Chris: “Paul’s excited too.”
Me: “Tom’s…confused, but he’s got guns, so he’s going to cling to those as a security blanket.”
Jason: “The Digital Web is a weird place, but guns do still work.
Me: *pantomimes stroking a shotgun* “Good…good….”)

Sophia’s spider veers off, disappearing in another direction. Paul and I are left alone, on the back of an alien creature, speeding through a landscape made of spirit and information.

I stare behind us, gripping my shotgun tighter.

“Tom, do you still have your phone?” Paul says, also staring into the distance. “Download an app called ‘In Case of Vampire Break Glass.’ “

(Jason: “Tom, Intelligence plus Computer.”
Me: “What? I know how to use my fucking phone!
Chris: “After the sword incident we’re not entirely sure!”
Jason: “You’re trying to find a sunlight-generating virtual adept app that no-one is supposed to know about!
Me: “Urg, fine!” *rolls* “Um, botch…fuck…I get spyware don’t I?”)
Jason: “No…I’m trying to figure out what the worst possible thing is here…do we say that you lose your phone? Do we say that you find the app and set it off? Or…no. I think I know what you see…”
Me: “…Candy Crush?”)

I roll my eyes, tab through the AppStore, then start downloading an app that looks like the one Paul’s talking about. The moment it finishes, though, the screen goes black. I frown. Huh…did it force a hard crash—

A voice suddenly slides from the speakers. “I…seeeee…yooooou….”

I freeze. Moments later, black tendrils start to boil out of the screen.

(Me: “THROW IT AWAY!!! THROW IT THE FUCK AWAY!!!!!”)

Paul turns just in time to see me hurl my phone off the back of the spider. “Tom! What the hell?!—“

But it’s too late. Roiling masses of shadow erupt into being, crystalized around the falling phone. They heave and expand, absorbing the net-structure around them…then start racing after us.

I turn to Paul, face pale. “I think I picked the wrong app….”

(Jim: “Tom, dammit, you downloaded ‘For Vampire Break Glass’!”)

Paul glares at me. He grabs his phone and starts trying to copy the processes Sophia was using to communicate with the spider, urging it to go faster. I, meanwhile, faced with an imminent threat that’s becoming intimately more imminent by the second, fall back on my old standby.

Shoot it in the face.

A tendril races ahead of the dark heart of the mass, grasping toward us. I calmly sight along my shotgun and fire. Light and sound erupt off the back of the spider as the full round of dragonsbreath bores into the shadow. A terrible shriek and a smell like burning electronics rolls over me. The tendril writhes and flails, taking out spider-rails on all sides.

But it falls behind.

Our transport spider suddenly changes direction, still heading away from Perpenna but at an oblique angle. “Paul, what’s going on?” I call.

“I’m taking us to Oracle,” he shouts, voice grim. He looks up to see me staring at him. “Well, it’s not ethical, but if there’s gonna be collateral damage, it might as well be to Larry Ellison.”

A metallic screech draws my attention back behind us. The cloud is growing again, roiling up like a thundercloud, consuming spiders and structures around it. I frown and raise my gun again.

Our spider seems to be under control, but Paul is still crouched down, fiddling with phone. He holds down the button and a familiar chime plays. “Siri!” he says, “Siri I need you to—“

A woman suddenly appears on the spider—or, rather, the semi-transluscent image of one. Paul stops and looks up. She’s young, with short black hair and a pale grey suit, smiling at Paul calmly.

“…Siri?” Paul says slowly, phone hand drooping. The woman smiles wider. Paul stares a moment, then pulls himself together. “Siri, can you call the spirit of Tesseract?”

She nods once. “Okay,” she says in her familiar voice, and disappears. A few seconds pass, then a floating four-dimensional hologram—(Jason: “Somehow it works, shut up…”)—of a Tesseract appears in her place, floating in front of Paul.

Hello, Creator,” Tesseract says calmly.

Paul nods to himself and stands up. “Tesseract, do you recall the previous attempt to transport ten thousand instances of ‘In Case of Vampires Break Glass?’”

Yes, Creator. There was a system error.

Paul gestures behind us. “Let’s try it again, for the anomaly.”

I will attempt to, Creator. Is this a new project?

“Er…yes.”

The shape twists upon itself in a way that seems…somehow pleased. “I enjoy new projects,” it says.

(Jason: “You don’t want to see Oracle’s corporate spirit.”
Chris: “It enjoys bureaucracy.”)

Running,” Tesseract continues. “It will take some time, there are…network outages in this area.

Paul glances behind us. “Indeed….”

Another tendril suddenly races forward. I shoot it again. It pulls back, but this time the main body of shadow continues to flow along the spider-rail toward us, absorbing the tendril and sending out another in its place. I try shooting the track, hoping cutting off its route will slow it down, but my shots just spark off it.

“Tesseract,” Paul says as he watches me, “Is there any indication that the anomaly has momentum?”

I cannot discern, Creator. I do not know what the anomaly is.” The shape twists tighter. “It does not…belong here….

“How long does it take to react when we change course?”

The landscape spins nauseatingly as the spider suddenly veers onto a new rail. The boiling darkness reacts immediately, engulfing rails and nodes as it shifts to follow us.

It would seem…no time at all, Creator.”

Suddenly, the darkness ejects something, a massive, straight metallic shape that spins through the air toward us. Paul has just enough time to order our spider to stop. The thing crashes ahead of us, taking out the track where we were just about to be. Up close, we can see what the object is: a jagged piece of iridescent metal the size of a semi-truck.

A piece of the pattern spider.

We stare at it. My shotgun droops in my hands. “Paul….” I say slowly.

He shakes himself out of his shock. “Spider! Take us anywhere but here!

The spider climbs onto a nearby track and shoots off in a new direction.

I turn back, raising my gun. The shadow roils, groping at our track with waves of tentacles, then suddenly stops. It hesitates, writhing slowly, then flows onto a different track and takes off, heading away from us.

I glance at Paul. “Something tells me that’s not good.”

He frowns. “Tesseract, where is the anomaly headed?”

It is difficult to discern, it is not using the usual tracks.

“Interpolate,” Paul orders.

A few moments of silence. The tesseract shape twists slowly in front of Paul, then suddenly faster. “The…United States Government cluster,” it says, voice still calm, but with a hint of anxiety at its edges.

Paul and I trade a long glance. “Spider,” Paul says, “Take us to the United States Government cluster.”

The spider comes to a sudden halt on the track. It shuffles around, metallic legs clicking. “Permission required,” a robotic voice says from the region of the head.

“Whose permission?”

Authenticator’s permission.

Paul hesitates. “…Granted!” he says authoritatively.

Please enter password,” the spider says.

(Kara: “Password!”
Jim: “1-2-3-4-5!”
Me: “…Awe?”)

Paul sighs and closes his eyes. “Tom, I’m going to try something, but…I’m already pretty low on blood, so…stop me if I frenzy…”

I stare at him, eyes narrowing, then silently draw a stake from my belt.

Paul takes a slow breath. “Spider—“

There’s a soft pop, and someone appears between us. A man, dressed like a hippie, with an open-front suede vest over faded cotton clothes. It looks like fairly authentic hippie garb–none of that shitty Etsy hipster knockoffs–and, by his age, it looks like it might be. His grizzled beard and long hair are streaked with grey, and wrinkled eyes peer out under rose-tinted glasses. He stares at us and we stare back.

Paul breaks the silence first. “Hello! I’m Paul Stewart, and this is Tom Lytton.” He gestures at me, still holding my stake.

The man looks between us. “Why are you here?” he asks in the calm tones of the accomplished stoner.

“In what sense?” Paul asks.

“In aaall senses.”

Paul, obviously sensing the man’s native language, answers: “Well, strictly speaking there was a bunch of universe that happened, and then a bunch of us were born respectively, and that answers the bigger question of how we immediately exist.” He spreads his arms, taking in the panorama. “If you ask how we are here, in this place which is not Earth but is super amazing, that is because we were trying to escape from some sort of evil, Earth-devouring beast.”

The man tilts his head. “This is not your place,” he says dreamily.

“No, but I really like this place.”

He blinks at Paul then turns to me. “It is not your place either. Why are you here?”

I eye him carefully and shrug. “…For a friend.”

“Who?”

I hesitate. “…Sophia?” I answer.

“No….” The man spreads his hands in a supplicating gesture. “Who…is she?”

I gape at him and turn to Paul. He steps forward. “She’s someone who had no reason to but helped us when we were in a pinch. We’re doing the same for her.”

“But you do not understand why.”

“Why…we help our friends?”

The man clasps his hands. “Why…anything.”

Paul nods. “I am open to learning, though.”

The man turns to me. “But he is not.”

I bristle. “I’ve been learning plenty of things, like…how this sword works….”

He nods, long hair bobbing, and leans forward. “You know many things, but you do not know……The Way.

(I literally headdesk. “Goddammit!! Jason!!! It’s the fucking Way Dude!?”)

Paul points to the distant shape of the receding Perpenna cloud, now barely a blip on the horizon. “Do you know…a way…we can stop that? Or at least distract it for another fifteen minutes?”

The…the Way Dude, stares at it, still nodding. “I do not know this, but I know…that that…” he points to the shadow, “is not The Way. Where are you going?”

“We are trying to distract it. We think it’s going to the US Government cluster.”

He fold his arms. “Why does it go?”

Paul hesitates. “Because our friend, the one we mentioned, is trying to talk the spirit of the NSA into stopping it and we think it wants to preempt that.”

The Way Dude flicks his gaze at Paul. “She does not understand The Way.”

Paul glances at me. “I suspect a lot of people don’t, but she is a curious and enterprising young girl, so she may be able to learn.”

“The government cluster?” He nods sagely. “You do not need to go…where you already are.”

The landscape around us suddenly melts in a shower of pixels. When it clears, we’re someplace else entirely. Buildings and monuments loom around us, columned and facaded in neoclassical styles, but wrought in shining, obsidian black. An immense number of rails and webs overlay the space, traveled by spiders of all sizes.

And, a few yards away, on a spider of her own, suit glowing like a beacon in this dark plaza, is Sophia. She looks up and does a double take. I meet her eyes and shrug sheepishly. She frowns and turns back to her tablet.

Paul, meanwhile, is staring around, marveling simultaneously at the structures and our instantaneous transport, the Tesseract projection floating at his side. The Way Dude still stands where he first appeared, hands clasped calmly.

I glance around and put my stake away. “Do you know anything about that thing following us?” I ask the mage.

He nods. “It is not of this place. It is not of any place. It is Nihilism.”

Paul finally pulls himself out of his Toreador moment and turns to us. “That must be exhausting.”

I glare at Paul and turn back to the mage. “Do you know where it is from?”

“Yes, I do…” he says dreamily, but when he looks at me, eyes are tight with the tension of remembered-nightmares. “You are not ready to see that place,” he says.

I throw up my arms. “Dammit, I don’t want to see it, I just want to understand what it is so we can stop it!”

“It is not,” is all he replies.

“Well if it’s nothing, then how can we stop nothing!?”

He holds up a finger. “One cannot stop nothing. One must understand…The Way.”

I rub my face. “Well, I’d love to sit around and talk about rainbows and unicorns all day but—“

Paul—sensing that I’m getting frustrated, and thus more likely to stab something—steps forward. “What are some good first steps to take to understanding The Way?”

The man turns to him. “First you must understand that Nothing is Everything, and Everything is Nothing.”

Paul nods intently. “I get that.”

He spreads his arms. “Do you understand this? We are in the government cluster, but we are also not in the government cluster.”

Paul’s nodding intensifies. “I understand and don’t understand this, as I understand and don’t understand everything and nothing.”

The man regards Paul a few moments, then smiles sagely. “He begins to see The Way….”

I gape at them, then turn to Sophia. She has stopped what she’s doing, staring at Paul and the Way Dude. She meets my gaze and silently mouths, “What the fuck??” I answer with wide eyes and a shrug.

A sound appears, moaning like an air-raid siren, echoing sourcelessly through the looming black buildings and growing steadily louder. The movement of the nearby spiders becomes more agitated. Sophia glances at her tablet, then looks back at me, eyes wide.

“Tom!” she shouts over the klaxon, “We have a problem!”

I draw my sword. “What?!”

“That!” She points behind us. We turn.

Three huge vehicles are approaching, large, blocky structures of the same black material as the buildings around us, hovering through the air like alien spacecraft. They’re moving slowly, but undeniably in our direction.

“Say, friend,” Paul says as we stare at them, “This might sound like an odd request, but…you wouldn’t happen to know if there’s a way to get any…blood around here? Preferably not from anyone living….”

The Way Dude nods slowly and turns to him. “You are a vampire. You must understand…that you are not a vampire. You must learn to embrace the totality, and you will unlock the correspondent essence of The Way. All things are not connected. All things are each other. That…is The Way.”

Paul tilts his head, processing this. “So…I am Tom…and…Tom is Sophia…and Sophia is me….”

I walk away from these assholes, putting away my sword and drawing a gun.

The lead vehicle slows. Massive doors wing open along the underside and figures jump out. Humanoid, dressed in suits, but definitely not human. Their skin is a flat, steely grey, and their faces are smooth, featureless planes. They form into ordered ranks and start marching forward…angling toward Sophia’s spider.

Ignoring the navel-gazers, I take a running leap over to join her. She’s focused back on her tablet, typing and swiping more rapidly. “Girl, what are these guys?” I ask.

“Men in Black,” she says without looking up.

I stare at them. “…And not the fun kind, I assume?”

“No, not the fun kind….”

I start loading the shotgun.

Paul, too, is staring at the men in black, the Way Dude standing patiently beside him. “Tesseract, how far away is the anomaly from the government cluster?”

The shape twists. “187,216,413 clusters at this point.”

“How long will it take to get here at its current rate of travel?”

Approximately 319 seconds.”

Paul glances at the horizon, but luckily there is no sign of shadowy clouds yet. “Tesseract, is there a way to upload…blood to my phone?”

Yes, I can upload it.

“Oh!” Paul beams. “Please do so!”

The floating shape pulses once and Paul’s phone chimes. He looks at the screen and sees a new app icon, titled “Blood.” He presses it…

…And the phone loads up a retro-port of a FPS game from the late-90s.

(Chris: “…Paul drinks it.”
Jason: “…No.”
Chris: “No, see, the shooter is the blood, which is the shooter, which is Paul.”)

Paul stares at the phone, stares at the approaching figures, sighs, then scrapes some of the last of his strength to cast Majesty.

He spreads his arms. “Friends! Now comes our greatest struggle! Not five minutes away comes the greatest foe of our times! We must mobilize and stop it!” He gestures toward the horizon. “To Liberty! To Freedom! To Justice! To Order! That way!!!

The ranks of figures stop. For a long moment they stand motionless, blank faces turned toward Paul.

Then, slowly, they turn, forming a semicircle around us, facing out.

The sirens die out. Silence falls across the grand buildings and plazas of the cluster, even the spiders seem to slow. Sophia continues to work, but the rest of us stare quietly toward the horizon. Seconds pass with no sign of change.

Then a dark shape starts to undulate across it.

The Way Dude turns to Paul. “You know how to command, but…do you know how to obey?” He folds his hands. “The wise man knows how to obey, but the enlightened man knows to obey is to command.”

Paul nods slowly. “Thus to know command, one also knows…to obey…as one understands, and does not understand….”

He grins. “That is the essence of The Way.”

(Jason: *turns and sees my face* “You know you can shoot him if you want.”
Me: *flatly* “No, that’s ok.”
Jason: “You sure? Don’t want to stick your sword in him? Shoot him in the face? He is just a mage, I’m sure you could take him.”
Me: “Yeah, I’m sure he’s a bitch clan.”)

The shadow rises above the horizon; moreover, it is the horizon, stretching off in both directions as far as we can see. The lights of spiders and structures wink out as it races toward us like a haboob.

I grip my gun tightly. “Sophia? How you doing girl?”

“Almost there….” she mutters. “I think…this is going to be big….” She laughs nervously. “I really don’t know what this is going to do….”

“Anything you need?”

“Uh…” she laughs again, “Well if you happen to know the passcodes for the NSA….”

“Did you try ‘password’?”

“I did.” She types faster.

Paul, hearing this across the silent plaza, turns to the Way Dude. “Say, friend, do you know the passcodes to the NSA?”

The man smirks. “I know the passcode for all life.”

I glare over at them. “Is it 42?” I call.

The Way Dude turns to me, still smiling lightly. “It is…and it is not.”

I frown. “Girl, try ‘forty-two,’ all lower case…” I pause. “…And…also don’t try it—“

“Yeah, uh…not a good time to have a breakthrough like that,” she mumbles. “Just give me a moment, I’m trying something…really, really, really big….”

The shadow-wall races faster, towering over everything we can see. Paul turns to the men in black and orders them to call for reinforcements. More doors open on the giant craft overhead and thousands more figures fall out, forming up into neatly layered ranks overlocked on the semicircle already present.

(Jim: “You look pretty damn proud of yourself there, Chris.”
Chris: “First a gargoyle army, now a Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith army.”
Jason: “But you know what the difference between them and you is?”
Chris: “…I make it look good?”
Jason: “–Dammit!”)

I stare at the darkness, dread settling over me. From where we stand, it looks like Perpenna is consuming the world—hell, for all I know, he actually is. Sophia is still working frantically but time is very obviously running out, and there’s no guarantee that what she’s going to try will even work. I shove my gun back in its holster and draw the sword, backing up to stand next to her.

Suddenly she tenses and stops. “Tom….” she says, “can you do me a favor?” She looks up. Her face is weary, but excitement is shining through the fear. “Heads or tails?”

I glance at the wall. “Tails.”

“You…sure? Cause this is the kinda thing you want to be sure on.”

I smirk. “Yep, tails-up. Just the way I like it.”

She nods. “Okay…um, okay….” She licks her lips and turns to shout over at Paul and the mage. “Everyone might want to hold onto something!”

Paul and I crouch down where we stand, grabbing onto whatever phalanges of the spider we can reach. The Way Dude, though, remains standing, calmly watching the roiling darkness from behind his rosy glasses.

Sophia looks down at the tablet. “Well…lets see if it works….” She hits a button on the screen.

Nothing happens at first, then…a rumbling. Low, heard more than felt, increasing steadily. The spiders underneath us start to shudder as the net trembles like an earthquake, but it’s an earthquake that doesn’t stop, and continues to grow stronger. Nearby spiders on the net start to move very, very fast.

Suddenly, there’s a cracking SNAP! and a metallic glonging, like a high-tension wire releasing, followed by another. Webs and rails around us are breaking, whiplashing around. Everyone but the Way Dude hits the deck—and he stands calmly as the massive cables sail harmlessly by his head.

Then the world drops away. The landscape around us reels as our spiders are flung into the air, tumbling head over thorax. Everyone holds on—

—And then we land, in a smaller web, hanging in what appears to be void. Paul, Sophia, and I scramble to our feet and peer over the side. The main part of the Digital Web lies far below, it’s entire surface undulating like an angry sea, Perpenna’s cloud boiling over it like mist.

As we watch, the sea rises up in a high crest, curling and folding to envelop the cloud of darkness, with a deep groaning sound that shoots right to the bone.

“I think it will work,” Sophia whispers, voice awed. She turns to Paul. “It was your idea. What you said. All the NSA trackers on your fiber optics? Got me thinking.” She nods below. “We needed something that would stop him, something permeating everywhere.”

I stare at her. “What…?”

She breaks out in a wide grin. “ECHELON. I called up the spirit of ECHELON.”

Paul’s eyes go wide. I stare between them. “What…?

“It’s an NSA project from the 60s,” Sophia says, “though it goes back further than that. It was NWO before it was NSA, NSA is just a cover. It’s…the web, it’s everything. Why do you think it was created in the first place? It’s a spynetwork. Every piece of data, ever, collated, assembled, and categorized.”

“That’s a shitload of cats….” I mumble.

“It’s everything.” She looks below us. “Perpenna can destroy anything on the web, but he’s on the web now, right? ECHELON is the web. And ECHELON doesn’t like people in it’s space.”

A concussive thud rocks our spiders. I look back down. Below us, the crest has completed its curl, wrapping over on itself. It shifts and reforms, settling out into a perfect, spheroid shape of glowing circuitry, large as the moon. The undulations across its surface cease.

And then there is silence.

END OF NIGHT

This entry was posted in Story and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 7/24/2014

  1. Kara Pekarek says:

    Georgia’s diary entry for session 38, Shadowlands, Saturday, March 7:

    Himmler and I have a chat.
    I light him on fire; he lights me on fire; I run away.
    I fall out the window; he falls out the window.
    He tries to touch me in a bad way; I try to touch him in a bad way… (we both fail.)
    I stab him with my primium dagger.
    I EAT HIM.

    (Followed by two pages of notes about what eating Himmler does to Georgia.)

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