8/01/16

Chris: “I will hold Glitch to the side and wait for it to cool.”
Jason: “Ironically, there is a command to turn Glitch back to normal–”
Me: “REALLY!?
Jason: “–But no one has figured it out yet.”
Me: “Is it ‘FLAME OFF’?”
Jason: “No.”
Me: “How the hell are we supposed to figure it out?”
Jason: “Well, one person knew it.”
Me: “Who??”
Jason: “Max.”
Me: “Awwww! Dammit!! Cause yeah that’s the worst part about Glitch, not being able to turn it off when you need to.”
Jim: “You want me to commune with Max in the afterlife and ask?”
Me: “No!!! Fuck that guy. Not worth it.”

***

ANTIOCH AIRFIELD: RABENHOLZ

Laertes stands at the gates to the airfield. The stinking marsh wind swirls around his threadbare suit and gnarled hands, clutching an equally-gnarled cane. His face is calm, grinning at Rabenholz, as if meeting an acquaintance to pass the time of day.

Rabenholz glances around him. Everton has disappeared from sight and all the people preparing his planes are at the far end of the airfield. He turns back toward Laertes and meets his gaze in a long, silent stare.

Suddenly, two cars in the parking lot beyond the gates lift into the air, levitating forward to slam into Laertes from behind. They crash to the asphalt, burying Laertes’ form under a pile of squealing metal. Silence sits a long moment…

…Then the cars lift back into the air and fling away to both sides. Laertes stands, unharmed.

“Rabenholz,” Laertes whispers, voice carrying unnaturally clearly on the wind. “No matter how many parlor tricks you steal from the Magi, you will never be rid of me. Are you such a fool that you did not know this?”

Unmoved, Rabenholz draws Glitch and flicks the blade, nicking his finger. Fire instantly erupts along the sword’s length. Rabenholz ignores the heat and flame licking inches from his hand, focusing all his attention on Laertes. With a quick, reserved burst of motion, Rabenholz swirls the sword once, slicing a casual arc of flame through the air.

Laertes lifts an eyebrow.

The discarded cars suddenly lift into the air again and hurl toward Rabenholz like meteors. Rabenholz drops and rolls, ducking both as they pass overhead, and continues the motion to rise back to his feet as Laertes approaches.

“You cannot escape what you have done here at the end of the world, Pfalzgraf,” Laertes snarls. “We remember what you were. What you are.”

“You remember nothing, you crazy old vermin,” Rabenholz replies calmly.

“Vermin, am I? If I am vermin, then beware my friends.” Laertes lifts his arms. A chattering sound suddenly echoes from the darkness, rising louder. The ground underneath him buckles and swells, then breaks. A flood of rats pours up through the cracked asphalt and rushes forward, chittering.

(Jason: *gestures dramatically* “Animalism, Jim.”
Jim: “What’s that?”)

Gripping Glitch tightly, Rabenholz rushes toward Laertes, leaping over the tide of rats. Laertes lifts his cane to parry the sword, the wood suddenly erupting into a blue miasma.

(Chris: “Soooo, basically he’s conjured up a blue lightsaber to battle my red one.”)

At the last moment, Rabenholz shifts his attack, slicing under the glowing cane and cutting a gouge across Laertes’ chest. Flames erupt from the torn edges of the antique coat.

(Jason: “…Damn, I thought the stats I came up with for Laertes would make him kick your ass….”)

Laertes howls in pain and twists to counter-attack. Rabenholz, though, continues with his momentum and takes a leaping strike, holding Glitch high overhead as he falls–

(Chris: *rolls* “…So…that looks like fourteen successes….”
Jason: “…”)

–And smashes its burning blade down through Laertes’s eye.

(Jason: “…Chris?”
Chris: “Yes?”
Jason: “Will you do me a favor?”
Chris. “Yes.”
Jason: “Roll me…seventeen dice of damage.”
Chris: “Oo, glad I brought my extra dice bag.”
Jason: “…This is really not going the way I expected this to go….”)

Glitch impales Laertes’ head like a cocktail cherry. Fire spreads quickly from the blade, flash-frying the entire skull. Laertes’ body jerks, then falls to the ground, sliding off the sword as it falls.

Rabenholz gazes at it a moment, then beheads the body in one strike.

(Me: “You not gonna drink him?”
Chris: “NO. I know what happens when you drink people related to this guy.”
Me: “…Bad news bears?”
Chris: “This guy knows things that Rabenholz would literally kill to know, but it’s still not worth the price.”)

Instantly the body disintegrates. The glowing cane falls from the crumbling hand and rolls to a stop against the concrete, its glow slowly fading.

As Rabenholz watches the decay unfold, Everton suddenly reappears into view beside him. “I feel less bad about losing to you,” he says grimly. “Was that who I thought it was?”

Rabenholz nods once. “King Laertes.”

“Ah yes. The Mad King. I had heard stories, but we never met. What could he possibly have thought, going up against you like this?”

“The last time we met, he sat for eighty years in my court before moving, knowing the whole time I was the object of his revenge. Clearly he took a long view of things.”

Everton glances around the airfield, and the distant silver nitrate preparations finally completing. “So why strike now? Why here?”

“He was perhaps emboldened by his previous success at my party.”

“Or perhaps his object was not to slay you,” Everton says. “Though I can’t imagine there was love lost.”

Rabenholz doesn’t reply, still staring at the ashes slowly melting into the wind.

(Chris: “I will hold Glitch to the side and wait for it to cool.”
Jason: “Ironically, there is a command to turn Glitch back to normal–”
Me: “REALLY!?
Jason: “–But no one has figured it out yet.”
Me: “Is it ‘FLAME OFF’?”
Jason: “No.”
Me: “How the hell are we supposed to figure it out?”
Jason: “Well, one person knew it.”
Me: “Who??”
Jason: “Max.”
Me: “Awwww! Dammit!! Cause yeah that’s the worst part about Glitch, not being able to turn it off when you need to.”
Jim: “You want me to commune with Max in the afterlife and ask?”
Me: “No!!! Fuck that guy. Not worth it.”)

As they stand there, a parrot suddenly drops from the sky to land nearby. A moment later, it erupts up into human form, brushing off his coat and adjusting his hat.

Rabenholz doesn’t even blink. “Ah, Captain, so good of you to join us.”

Anstis ignores the greeting, glaring daggers at Everton. “Everton.”

Everton returns his glare with a hint of a smirk. “Captain. I trust your stay in San Simeon was to your liking?”

“Ye tread on dangerous ground,” Anstis growls.

Everton sighs. “Captain, you have no conception of the grounds on which I tread. I have been  to the realm of the dead many times. You don’t frighten me. I did what I had to, and you came out no worse for the wear. Did Orlando agree to send its warriors?” Everton glances around, as if expecting to see the massive vozdt monsters approaching across the airfield.

Anstis grumbles. “It did.”

“Good. Then the matter was accomplished.”

“Twas, but at a cost that needn’t be expended.”

Everton chuckles. “Cost to you, Captain. It’s time we all paid our share, because believe me Captain, I have paid enough.” He stretches the ungainly limbs of his new body.

Anstis glares. “Not to me, the man who brought you back.”

Everton nods toward Rabenholz. “Nor to him, the man who sent me away. We can resolve these debts now, but if we do, we will all die.”

Anstis glowers a long moment, then–glancing at the sky–backs down. “Perhaps after the current crisis.”

Rabenholz, meanwhile, is carefully peering at Laertes’ cane. It’s gnarled and warped, more like a shillelagh than a traditional cane. He lays down the still-burning Glitch and carefully picks up the cane. There’s a mild electric sensation when touching the handle, but nothing more sinister than that. “Gentlemen. Silence if you don’t mind.” Laying his other hand upon it, he closes his eyes to read the history of the weapon.

(Jason: “The cane has no name. It has no name because it was carved less than a month ago. From the heartwood of an evil tree.”
Jim: “How does a tree become evil?”
Jason: “It’s corrupted via various complicated thaumaturgical means. Anyway, Laertes carved it from a tree in the center of Ireland, in the moonlight on a full moon, while a coven of pagan witches danced around him naked. He did so while uttering Rabenholz’s name and pronouncing curses and blasphemies against you. This is a weapon that was designed to be your utter instrument of ruin and destruction.”
Chris: “Jesus. But…I was able to touch it….”
Jason: “Yes. You don’t recognize the magic he used, its very powerful obscure stuff, possibly something he invented. However, as you run through the lifespan of the cane and the events leading to tonight and you realize…he wasn’t trying to hit you with the cane, he was trying to parry you with the cane. His intention was to touch it to Glitch. What it would have done at that point, you don’t know.”)

After some long moments of this, Rabenholz opens his eyes. The first thing he sees is Anstis poking at Laertes’ ashen corpse. “Captain, that was one of the most powerful men you will ever meet. Perhaps on par with Perpenna. But you attempt to commune with his spirit, I assure you, whatever you may gain from it will not be worth the cost.”

At that moment, Glitch finally smolders back into cold steel. Rabenholz picks up the sword and tucks both it and the cane away.

#

MOUNT DIABLO: GAVRIL AND SCOUT

Gavril, mounted on Neshka, is making his way up the mountain to rendezvous with Sergei and his men. Unbeknownst to him, Scout has caught up to him and is following not far behind under obfuscate as they make their way through the dark, winding trails.

The wind picks up as they approach the upper reaches of the mountain, carrying the sound of shouts and roars in the distance. Gavril pulls Neshka to a stop and listens. More shouts echo through the brush and scattered trees, followed by gunfire. Followed by an explosion.

Gavril grins and urges Neshka into a trot. Scout follows at a more leisurely pace.

(Me: “You want to run full-speed toward the werewolves, you do that on your own, son.”)

Gavril and Neshka burst into a clearing not far from the summit. The Sabbat pack is here, battling werewolves of multiple sizes and forms. Blood is streaked across the dirt, along with many pieces of assorted vampires, but even as Gavril watches all the damage dealt to the werewolves heals before his eyes. In the middle of the fracas–weilding a suspiciously-silver sword in one hand and an automatic rifle in the other–stands Sergei, spattered with gore, stepping gleefully over the bodies of his fallen comrades as he launches new attacks, singing in Russian as he goes.

Gavril grins. He slides out of Neshka’s saddle, strides forward, then raises his arms, summoning the storm.

(Jason: “Oh great, Koldunic sorcery….”)

A blast of arctic wind suddenly races up the side of the mountain, twisting the brush and trees. Gavril raises his hands higher, chanting, willing the blast to become a vortex–

Until suddenly, as if summoned by the cold, a werewolf in dire-wolf form melts out from the shadows of the brush nearby, staring at Gavril and growling.

(Jim: “…Yeah, I guess Koldunic sorcery would smell a little Wyrmy.”
Jason: “Yeah, a little bit.”)

The wolf snarls and leaps. Gavril draws his sword and turns to meet it.

#

Meanwhile, Scout is nearby, perched in the low branches of a lone oak tree, watching the unfolding events from its shadows. After taking stock of the battle, she pulls out her phone and calls Leidesdorff.

“…Talk to me,” Leidesdorff answers.

“I just thought I’d let you know your men have engaged the enemy and are fighting a bunch of werewolves at the moment,” Scout says.

There’s a pause. “Are they winning?”

Scout watches as two crinos werewolves tear one of Sergei’s men in half, lengthwise. “Define winning,” she says.

Leidesdorff groans. “So you’re telling me better than half of my muscle has just committed suicide because they thought they could kill werewolves. Is there something you would like me to do about this?”

“No, I just thought you should be informed of the situation.” Scout pauses. “I’m fine, by the way, thanks for asking.”

“Thank you for your information,” Leidesdorff grumbles. “If any of them survive this, let me know.”

He hangs up. Scout puts her phone away, finds a more secure position in the tree, and continues to watch the fight.

#

As if in slow motion, the werewolf soars through the air, jaws wide and angling for Gavril’s throat. At the same time, with an equally awesome burst of speed and power, Gavril swings his sword around–

(Jim: “…NINE successes!”
Jason: “Jesus christ!!
Me: “That has literally never happened to Jim!”)

–And beheads the wolf as it sails toward him. Gavril steps to the side as the decapitated body flops to the ground.

A brief lull falls across the battle. Sergei emerges from the chaos nearby and stops to stare. Gavril grins back, head high. “We kill werewolves!” he shouts.

Sergei grins. “TOVARICH!!!” he shouts, firing his gun into the air.

More triumphant shouts echo from the surviving vampires as they pull together to regroup. Gavril picks up the decapitated head of the werewolf at his feet, bites into it like an apple, then drinks.

#

Still in the tree, Scout watches this grimly, till movement below catches her eye. A crinos werewolf–smaller than the ones out in the battle–has emerged from the brush and is growling something in a chanting cadence. It waves its paws in elaborate gestures, leaving glowing trails in the air.

The tree underneath her suddenly lurches. Branches bend and reach, groaning like spars of a sailing ship. Long, ancient roots tear themselves from the packed ground, flopping like tentacles. The entire tree lifts itself from the dirt and begins hauling itself forward.

(Jim: “Do you want ents? Cause that’s how you get ents.”)

Still obfuscated, Scout leaps from the tree and rolls away as it crawls toward the battle. She shoves quickly back to her feet, watching in awe as the tree pulls itself toward Gavril. Before she can do anything about it, though, lightning flashes against the sky, briefly illuminating the peak of the mountain. In that brief moment, a figure stands silhouetted against the light, massive and horned, raising arms to the deadened sky.

Without a second glance back, Scout leaves the battle and makes her way toward the summit.

#

Once finished draining the werewolf skull, Gavril tosses it away and looks for Neshka. She’s not far away, battling with a werewolf larger than herself. Clawed arms grapple each other, both jaws slaver and gnash, and her raptor-like talons on her feet tear disemboweling rents through the werewolf’s flesh that heal almost as soon as they’re sliced.

Gavril picks up his sword and runs to assist her.

(Jim: “Eleven successes!”
Jason: *sighs* “…Remember when werewolves were scary and you could never ever hope to fight one?”
Me: “Remember when I one-shot punched one out in like the fourth session ever of this game?”
Jason: “And that convinced you that you were god and could kill anything you came across, including Marcus Sertorius?”
Chris: “Imagine, if Colleen hadn’t successfully punched the werewolf, Tom would have become a completely different character.”
Me: “It’s almost as if the choices we make in life affect who we become.”
Chris: “Dark.”)

Taking a leap, Gavril jams his sword deep into the werewolf’s back. The wolf roars and whirls to face him, snapping at Gavril’s arm, almost ripping it off. Gavril tears free, summoning a burst of strength to shove the werewolf to the ground and hack at the base of the neck until the spine snaps in two.

He looks up to check on Neshka, but instead sees the twisted, jagged shadow of a tree looming over him, one massive root arched high and about to crash down.

#

Scout clears the last layer of brush to reach the clearing at the summit. A massive bonfire roars in the middle, surrounded by various werewolf figures, but her attention is instantly drawn to the largest. A massive crinos-werewolf wearing some kind of horned helmet, silhouetted by the flames, facing west. Carefully, she circles the outskirts of the clearing to get a better look.

In the twisting light of the flames, she sees horned helmet is actually a mantle, made from the whole head of an ox with the rest of the hide still attached and trailing down over the wolf’s shoulders. Despite the wolf’s size, it reaches almost all the way to the ground, and in the shifting light it takes Scout a moment to see why. Other, smaller skins are sewn to the edges of the ox hide like a crude quilt. Some are furred, but most are hairless.

The hairless ones are faces. Human faces, crudely stitched together in a miasma of permanent, empty-eyed screams.

Scout watches the skin-pelt in horror as the werewolf bends over. The cape twists against the light, momentarily making the faces look excruciatingly alive. The wolf picks up two objects. One is a blade long enough to be a sword in human-sized hands but barely a dagger in its talons. The other is some sort of chalice, glittering like gold in the firelight.

Fighting back terror, Scout forces herself closer, then stumbles into something on the ground. A trench surrounds the clearing, piled almost full of dirt and other things. She reaches down to investigate.

Bodies. Skinned human bodies, covered in a paste made of blood and dirt and gore, the stench of them barely covered by the roiling clouds of smoke.

Scout scrambles away, away from the clearing and back into the sheltering shadows of the trees, out of sight of the bonfire. Hand shaking, she pulls out her phone to call Leidesdorff again.

“…Look,” he answers, “These show-and-tells are very interesting but what exactly do you want me to do about any of this?”

She glances back. The wolves are chanting, too focused on their ritual to hear her even if she wasn’t under obfuscate. “No, this time I was hoping you’d pass me along to someone else.”

“I’m not a switchboard,” Leidesdorff snaps.

“I was hoping you’d know this one personally.”

“Who?”

“Norton.”

Leidesdorff hesitates. “…You want to talk to Norton?”

Scout rubs her face. “I’m afraid so.”

“In my experience, just shout his name, he’ll be along. But very well.” The line clicks into expectant silence. Scout waits patiently, until:

“THIS IS JOSHUA ABRAHAM NORTON SPEAKING!!!”

Scout glances around nervously, cupping her hand instinctively over the phone to muffle the sound. “Emperor.”

“Ahh, The Scout! How fare you this evening?”

“I’m calling you from Mt. Diablo, there’s–”

“And what have you found on the Mountain of Devils? Tell me, are the werewolves conducting some sort of creepy, unholy ritual, filled with blood and chaos?”

“Yes!” Scout replies.

“As I thought!! Then you should call me when I am at home, for this…is a VOICEMAIL!!!”

A drawn-out beep echoes across the line. Scout stares into the darkness until the call disconnects.

(Me: “…I am done. He is dead to me.”)

#

THE DIGITAL WEB: PAUL

Paul stands on the platform above the networked spider-roads of the Digital Web, staring nervously at the Corporate Spirit of Oracle standing before him. “So…how’s it going?” he asks.

She scoffs and stares into the distance. “Everything is lost. Everything besides these few petty things.” She gestures angrily at a few spiders passing nearby. Paul still doesn’t know much about them, but something about their movements seems strangely erratic.

He waits for Oracle to continue. When she doesn’t, he pulls out his phone to text Sophia. There’s no signal.

(Jason: “You are literally on the Internet and you have no signal.”
Jim: “That’s…not a good sign….”)

Paul sighs and puts his phone away. “Well, even in the best of situations I imagine you wouldn’t help me. Tell me, can I reach my company from here?”

Oracle casts a haughty glance at him. “Tesseract. A pale, pathetic imitation of its betters. Your firmware is inferior. Your data a joke. You are run by a madman and a liar.”

He bristles. “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“You are Paul Stewart. A creature not fit to sit on a board.”

Paul stares back. “You are kind of mean. I don’t like you.”

She smirks. “I am Oracle. I know all.”

“But apparently not where everything got lost to.”

Her smirk turns into a glare. Without another word, she walks away. As she walks, a marbled temple-facade shimmers into existence at the far end of the platform. She enters and the massive doors close behind her.

Paul stares out across the web. He’s only been here once before, but the longer he looks, the more something seems off. The spiders seem confused more than purposeful and there’s a lot fewer of them than last time. Above it all, a strange tension hangs in the air, setting his dead nerves on edge. He paces the edge of the platform, trying to figure out what to do next, when he finally notices something: a very small figure, sitting at the far edge of the platform, so still he didn’t notice him before. Marcus, staring out across the LED landscape.

Paul walks up and sits down next to him. “I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t peg you for someone who’d be on the internet much.”

Marcus looks up at him. Parts of him are still mangled from his battle with Perpenna in the Spiral Hive. “Would it be superfluous to ask where we are?

“I don’t think you’ll like the answer.” Paul gestures. “This is the Digital Web. A spiritual embodiment of modern telecommunications.”

Marcus stares in silence a moment. “Did you build all this?”

“No. I build technology it represents, but this place is like a pop-culture embodiment of a representative metaphor for communication technology overall.”

Marcus doesn’t respond immediately, watching pulsing bands of light pass along the webs below. “When I was born,” he finally says, “The fastest way one could spread a message was to write it on a scroll, hand it to a slave to run to the harbor and put it on a ship to Rome.”

Paul nods silently. The two sit a long moment, staring at the landscape.

“This might be a weird question to ask,” Paul says suddenly, “But how do I know you’re not a hallucination?”

Marcus’s face hardens. “It’s a fair question, but it’s not what you should be most concerned about. A better concern is whether I am one of Perpennas…little birds.”

“The…clones?”

“Ghouled or embraced childer, molded and Dominated to think they are me.” Marcus glances up at Paul, the pupils of his eyes undulating with hate. “He’s been making them for centuries.”

Paul stares into the abyss roiling inside him. “That’s…pretty fucked up.”

“You don’t say.” Marcus turns away. “If I was one of his birds I would be brainwashed to act and speak like the real Marcus does and then kill you as soon as your back is turned.”

“Well, you got the right level of angst going on for Marcus Sertorius so I’ll just assume you’re the real one.”

Marcus gives Paul a Look. This time, though, the darkness within is quiet.

Paul examines their surroundings again. “So, something seems off about this place. I don’t know if this is a facsimile or if its been damaged somehow. Or maybe something about that darkness-shroud covering the real Bay Area is closing this place off too.”

“How do we get out?”

“Well, last time we met this really weird mage.”

Marcus glowers. “Oh. Good. More mages. How do you contact him?”

“Your phone doesn’t work does it?”

Marcus pulls his phone out of his tunic and examines the screen a moment. “No. Should it?”

“Yes….”

Marcus shrugs. “This is your realm, surely you can find us a place with a phone.”

Paul climbs back to his feet and walks to the door of the Oracle’s temple. Marcus follows a few paces behind. When they reach it, though, the door is locked and refuses to open under Paul’s hand.

“It won’t open,” says strange voice behind them. They turn.

A male human figure is standing behind them, with an average face, averagely dressed. In fact, something about him is so average it’s as if he’s a composite formed from thousands of people. Paul stares at him, catching a few brief flickers of change, but it always returns to the same smooth, amiable face.

“Why won’t it open?” Paul asks.

“Because it is closed,” the man says.

Paul frowns and gestures out to the web. “What’s going on around here?”

The man cocks his head. “A dark cloud has descended over the Bay Area, sent in by the Jews–” his face suddenly flickers, “–sent in by the government–” flickers, “–sent in by the reptilian people who live beneath–” flickers, “–sent in by the United Nations.”

Paul and Marcus trade a look. “…Got it,” Paul says. “Hey, do you know how to get to Tesseract from here?”

The man tilts his head the other way. “Tesseract is a corporation founded in 19[mumble] by Paul Stewart. A fortune-500 company with NASDAQ index of TRCT. Its annual revenue is 9 billion dollars. Total employees, 1250–”

(Jim: “You are now subscribed to Tesseract Facts.”)

Paul raises a hand to stop him. “Maybe if you could pull up Google Maps or something to show us the way?”

The man tilts his head again. “Google Maps originally began as a C++ program developed by the Rasmussen brothers in the early 2000’s, until its acquisition by Google Inc in 2004–”

Paul raises his hand again to cut him off. The man stares at his hand. “Hand gestures are used by many cultures to wordlessly convey meaning–”

“Do you have a map?” Paul presses.

He tilts his head. “Maps are tools presenting information on geographical–”

Sudo do you have a map?”

The man pauses, considers, then: “‘Do you have a map’ is a line uttered in the 1956 film–”

(Jim: “Damn, that should have worked.”)

Marcus stares up at the man, perplexed. “Paul, what technological wizardry is this?”

Paul shakes his head slowly. “I have no idea what this is.”

The man continues blindly rattling off facts–some real, some alternative–as Paul and Marcus walk away.

“I still think getting to Tesseract is our best bet,” Paul says. “I have an office there. Also maybe the Tesseract spirit will be more helpful.”

“But where is it?” Marcus asks, staring off into the distance. Scattered structures loom against the impossibly-flat horizon, but with no sense of scale it’s impossible to tell how far they are away.

“I’ve got one more thing I can try.” Paul climbs off the platform and carefully works his way out to balance in he middle of one of the web-tracks. He waits there a few moments until a web spider the size of a sedan approaches. It totters unsteadily to a halt, staring at him with bright eyes.

“Hey there,” Paul says. “My name is Paul Stewart, and this is my friend. I know things are really confusing here right now, but we’re trying to get to Tesseract, and from there get out of here to possibly save the world. Do you happen to know or remember where it is, or maybe know of anyone else who could help us?”

The spider stares at him a long moment. Lights flicker underneath its translucent carapice. Finally, it folds its legs and squats down.

“I think this is our best bet,” Paul says, scrambling up onto its back. Marcus stares suspiciously but follows his lead to climb down and join him. Once they’re both settled, the spider levers itself back to full height and races off down the glowing highway.

#

TOM’S UNKNOWN LOCATION

I awake in darkness. Because of course I fucking do.

But this darkness feels different. Not quite the Abyss, but also not just standing in a darkened room. “Fuck me,” I say the sound of the my voice half muffled by the darkness. “Am I dead?” I hesitate. “…Again?”

There’s no response from the gloom. I call out for people: Sophia, Boss, Paul, Dr. von Natsi, anyone who was with me before Flagg opened that fucking book of his. Hell, I even call for Flagg himself. Nothing.

Dammit. If even Flagg isn’t picking up, that leaves only one possible option for someone to find me in this weird between-realm.

“…Emperor Norton?” I say.

A moment later, a voice responds from the darkness: “Do you know where you are?” It’s unmistakably Norton’s, but something about it seems strangely grim. And strangely lucid.

I rub my face. At least my hands are here. “I really really don’t.”

Do you know WHO you are?

I blink. “Um, Tom Lytton?”

No….WHO are YOU!!?!?

I exhale slowly, trying to anticipate the twists that must already be forming in his Malkavian brain. “I am Tom Lytton, born in Ohio, previous resident of a decent apartment in SOMA. Currently…couchsurfing, I guess–”

Norton’s voice cuts me off. “Tell me, Thomas Lytton. Do you see?

I groan, but before I can yell at him, suddenly I do see…something.

A vision unfolds before me. Chaos on Mount Diablo, Sergei and some Sabbat-looking motherfuckers are fighting werewolves. A mutant dinosaur-looking thing is also fighting, next to a think man in a baroque coat, who is currently battling an animate tree. Towering above

all this, though, is a bonfire, stoked by a massive werewolf wearing a cloak of human skin, holding a roughly-wrought dagger in one hand and a cup in the other.

As creepy as the whole thing is, it’s that dagger and cup that make my blood go cold. “That…cup is made of gold….” I say slowly.

Yes,” replies Norton.

“And that dagger…looks like it’s made of iron….” Iron and gold. One of the many things Norton has been running around repeating for weeks.

Iron. And gold,” Norton repeats with gravitas. “Why would a werewolf who shuns the things of man carry iron and gold?

I stretch whatever I’m using to see this vision to search the scene. Twisted figures lurk around the bonfire. “He’s…fighting something?”

No. She is killing something,” Norton says firmly. “I have given warnings, Mr. Lytton. Fire. Wrath. Devastation. But our kind trades in these things, do we not? We care nothing. We protect nothing! We rule NOTHING! I rule. I protect. What do you do, Thomas Lytton!?

I hesitate, floating in the featureless silence. “Um, well the usual stuff I guess–”

Thomas Lytton,” Norton continues, “Goon of Marcus Sertorius?”

I roll my eyes. “Okay, but I wouldn’t call myself a goon–”

Thomas Lytton…the Scourge of Monterey?!

I fall still. “Look, that whole situation wasn’t entirely my fault–”

Thomas Lytton, murderer of Karl Sutro?

“Goddammit!! That wasn’t my–”

Thomas Lytton…Slayer of Werewolves???

“And protector of them!!!” I shout into the darkness.

Silence greets me. “…Are you now?” Norton’s voice finally responds, an air of amusement under its venom.

Instantly light envelops me, followed by heat. I stumble on uneven ground, blinking to adjust my vision, then freeze.

A blasted hellscape of cracked, rolling earth surrounds me in all directions. A cavernous ceiling, impossibly high, also stretches off as far as the eye can see. A deep red glow permeates the space, reflecting off silvery pools of liquid stretching in lakes and ribbons between the undulations of the ground. My lungs sear in the scorched, dry air, but there’s no source of open flame I can see. I peer around–

–And find Norton standing next to me, face grim. “Do you see now?” he asks.

I blink again out at the landscape. “I see some shitty death-metal album cover. What the hell is going on?”

“We are in the Umbra.”

The word rings a bell, but it takes me a moment to place it. “…Wait, isn’t that that werewolf thing Sophia is always talking abou–”

As I think it, a massive figure suddenly steps into view through the hot, red gloom. A werewolf shape of titanic proportions, towering like a construction crane, with three separate lupine heads perched on its massive shoulders. It strides across the landscape, moving uncannily silent for something of its size, then stops, staring at me through three sets of glowing red eyes. I stare back, unable to gather enough wits for anything else, but after a moment I realize it’s carrying something in one of its massive talons. Something with a beaten army jacket and Cubs baseball cap.

Sophia.

I stumble in shock, almost sliding down the slope into the nearest silver pool, but I barely notice. “GIRL!!!” 

She doesn’t respond, or even react. The massive thing holding her fixes its gaze on me another moment, then turns to walk away.

Next to me, Norton speaks, “Your patron speaks cavalierly of Erebus, his god.” He gestures toward the small figure in the creature’s hand. “This…is her god. A god of Judgement, and Death. Which will be your fate as well if you will…not…see.” With that, Norton turns and walks away.

END OF NIGHT

 

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3 Responses to 8/01/16

  1. blindinkpoet says:

    Oh, fuck… Did Tom really just witnessed the coming of the Wyrm? How the fuck did the campaign go on after that?

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