The Coldest War

The Fall of the Needle

The ground attack team consisting of Firestone and his Team Badass, Navarre, and Sunny waited on the rickety Aurora bridge to coordinate the attack with the amphibious assault of Monk and his people. They watched from the bridge and Monk’s boats entered Lake Union from the Gasworks, Monk’s boat pulling ahead. They then witnessed, from afar, Monk slit the throat of a man and toss him overboard. The water churned and frothed, then went smooth… and Monk and his boats crossed the lake with no trouble.

The ground assault team had some trouble with the bridge, and in crossing safely, were a bit delayed. They arrived at the Needle to find Monk’s people already engaged with the tatterdemalion cult that lived in the sprawling camp between the legs of the Needle. Despite the cult having no appreciable weapons or armor, they fought as creatures savagely possessed. Some of the more… sensitive among the ground team saw a faint fog clinging to the ground, seeming to descend in an almost invisible curtain from the Needle above, that appeared to have a malign purpose, those fighting in the fog found their wills subverted, and many of Monk’s people fell to their own.

The ground assault crew attacked. Navarre’s opening grenade did significant damage to the cult although Sunny and Firestone had more difficulty finding success. Firestone’s tank got so shot up it ended up crashing uselessly into one of the Needle’s legs. Team Badass finally charged into the fray, no longer held in check by their boss, and fell prey to the fog.

Eventually, however, numbers told, and the cult was killed or scattered as…

Meanwhile, in Mount Safeco, the team gathered to invade the heart of the Needle through barely understood sorcery gathered in the subterranean Hoard, the Sorceress carefully preparing the ritual with Rhyme’s blood. As she began, however, Rhyme saw a door opening at the apex of the hoard and, reflexively, walked through it before the Sorceress had completed her rite. The others with Rhyme, being Silver, Beckett, Cass, and Hurrican rapidly followed Rhyme although the band of Have Rats led by Fleece were too slow.

Rhyme and the rest (but strangely without Hurricane) found themselves suddenly in a strange world… a clean hospital room, working TV, outside the window were cars, and gleaming buildings, and sunlight… a vision of the world before the Madness. In the hospital bed was… none other than Rhyme, or at least a girl who looked exactly like her. The girl seemed to recognize Rhyme, as well as Cass, and asked “Dr. Cassandra” to please stop giving her the medicine.

Soon, however, things got confusing, as “Dr. Cassandra” entered the room, complete with clean lab coat. The Dr. looked at Cass oddly, but did not seem to recognize that they were twins. She registered an objection to scruffy visitors disturbing her patient.

At that point, an older man entered the room who looked remarkably like a male version of Silver. He identified himself as the father of the girl in the bed. And shortly after that, a young man identical to Firestone but with a mullet entered. The whole hospital scene was reminiscent of the vision Rhyme had when trapped by the Eye.

As tensions mounted in the room, Rhyme sought a way out and realized that her hospitalized alter-ego was the key, the focus of this whole strange reality. Rhyme grabbed her doppelganger and concentrated, and a strange portal opened. The portal led to a dark room, a table, a bowl of blood, and cloaked men and women chanting. Rhyme dashed through, recognizing the Refined, and preparing for battle. Silver grabbed the hospitalized girl, who was terrified of Dr. Cassandra and didn’t want to be left behind. Beckett followed Rhyme, while Cass played rearguard, trying to keep her own doppelganger, and the strange male Silver and mulleted Firestone from following.

Cass was not particularly effective at this. The strange people forced their way past Cass as Rhyme, a flurry of thrown blades, entered the dark, shrouded room. Beckett fired, keeping the cultists scattered while Silver, tossing aside the girl, drew her large scissors, and waded into the melee.

While Cass ran interference on the strange people from the hospital, the Refined cultists, who stood about a ritual table incanting over a bowl of blood, sprang into action. One of them drove her hand into the bowl of blood and Rhyme suddenly felt cold fingers wrap around her heart. Silver, though, flipped the table, breaking that bond, while Rhyme kicked the table, knocking the cultist (who was probably Visage) out cold. The rest of the cultists drew guns, except for one who drew what looked like (believe it or not) a wand of some sort. The fight was on.

In the chaos, it became clear that the cultists were benefiting from some sort of miasma or perceptual confusion. Attacks would go wide, attempts to hit a cultist would find that cultist inexplicably eight inches to the right. In all the confusion, one cultist managed to get behind Beckett and drove a ritual knife up under her armor, dropping her to the ground. She fell and looked up at him, desperately trying to bring her rifle around, only to find his knife driven into her.

Cass was having troubles of her own. The strange hospital people kept trying to recover the girl they claimed as “their” daughter/sister/patient while the girl trembled and refused to go back. Cass found herself trampled and beaten until Rhyme put a shot through the fake-Firestone’s head. This seemed to sufficiently horrify them all. The portal to the hospital, however, at this point, faded, trapped everyone in the Needle as the last Cultists died.

Cass, badly wounded, nevertheless rushed to revive Beckett who was near death. As the blood of the cultist’s soaked into the plush rugs, however, a voice boomed through the Needle and they found themselves…

Elsewhere. They sat around a banquet table floating in a void. The table was heaped high with roast human, specifically the dead cultists, roasted and prepared and smelling marvellous. It was the team from Mount Safeco, along with the false-Rhyme and at the head of the table sat a monstrosity, a twisted, blasphemous being who looked like an immense tongue with angled, clawed limbs and a ravenous mouth. It thanked them for preparing such a delightful feast for it as it messily gobbled up the corpse of Visage. So mind-shattering was the creature that some of them found themselves momentarily overcome. Worst was Silver, who began to reflexively eat the feat before her until she was stopped by Rhyme. The awful Tongue invited them to partake, but Rhyme, recognizing that her alter-ego, created in the hospital reality from her own blood and the immense psychic antenna that was the Needle, was the key out of there. Rhyme locked eyes with her alter ego and began to sing.

A door opened up to Hurricane. He had apparently ended up in another room of the Needle and was polishing off some cultists of his own. He saw Rhyme singing and plugged in his amp and guitar. Power chords filled the space between worlds as Rhyme and Hurricane performed an act of music, of mathematical proficiency, of ordered chord progressions in the presence of being that was the embodiment of crawling chaos. It pained the tongue creature and, exasperated, it banished them from his table.

They found themselves back in the Needle. The false-Silver and false-Cass stood terrified by one wall while Cass comforted false-Rhyme, whose hospital gown had fallen open. Everyone noticed, then, that false-Rhyme had strange extrusions coming out of her vertebrae, leech-like protrusions that seemed to flex and move on their own. Cass touched one and suddenly they erupted from the girl, wrapping Cass in strong, slimy, ropy strands until Silver, acting quickly, cut them away, whereupon they splattered in liquid over Silver, Cass, and Rhyme. They saw the droplets of liquid trying to invade their orifices, and they struggled to take their clothes off to burn them, and scrub away the strange black oil substance.

Throughout this, false-rhyme was crying, beseeching, a lost girl, not understanding who, what, or why she existed or what was happening. Rhyme tried to comfort her as she drew an Elder Sign on the girl’s forehead… she got it a bit wrong, but with Hurricane’s help, she corrected it and the girl began shrieking. Her flesh boiled off her bones, and she deliquesced in agony… a lost girl who never understood her fate.

the others from the hospital realm vanished suddenly.

Rhyme found the blood no longer quite washed off her hands as easily as it used to.

They looted the Needle as best they could while Hurricane scribed elder signs on everything. They doused the place in kerosene and lit it.

They descended from the burning needle and met the tattered ground crew. Rhyme and Hurricane saw to the many dead on all sides while Firestone and Team Badass repaired the tank as best they could.

Monk and his people returned to their boats. The ground crew began limping back toward Mount Safeco only to be met halfway by Fleece and a gang of Have Rats who had been unable to follow Rhyme and company through the portal.

Meanwhile, back at Mount Safeco, Mizz Stockton saw the flames engulf the Needle, and suddenly she was not alone. She turned and saw Visage standing there, her eyes coal-black orbs. Visage thanked Mizz Stockton for providing the opportunity to complete her preparations to truly become a “bride of the black pharaoh” … an act that apparently involved placating multiple faces of the Crawling Chaos, and paid for by the blood of the Academics as well as the Refined. Her thanks seemed genuine, if a bit nefarious. She promised Mizz Stockton that in payment for all the help the denizens of Mount Safeco had provided, they would never see Visage again.

Rhyme returned to the holding having sent an innocent girl from another realm to oblivion.

Silver returned to the holding, damaged and bleeding, seeking out Mizz Stockton for quiet comfort.

Firestone returned to the holding, minus some more of his dwindling biker gang.

Beckett returned to the holding more wounded than she could ever remember being.

Navarre returned to the holding having seen yet another cult fall, and nursing his own wounds, taking comfort in Sunny’s company, as always.

Sunny returned to the holding to her by-now familiar refrain of “what the fuck was all that?”

Cass returned to the holding to limp into her own infirmary for some much needed medical aid.

Arguably the greatest threat to Seattle had been dealt with, and the Door that was the Needle was closed.

Preparing for War

Smith came to Mizz Stockton to press “her” petition to be made a Regent. Stockton had the other regents meet with Smith, and ultimately inducted her into their ranks as “The Sorceress” but not until after officially granting Silver the title of “The Entertainer”. Smith indicated her commitment to looking after the sorcerous and supernatural health of the tower.

In the Supper Club, Beckett and Mice entered, with Amy skidding in their wake. The crazy-eyed little girl didn’t stay, however, running off to find Puck of Trouble&co, who she decided was her boyfriend and she would marry him and have children, and they would all dance and enjoy the King’s party all the time…

Puck was having none of it. He and his bolted, leaving Amy in tears. Cass found her and attempted to comfort her to a certain degree, ultimately sending her off to find Navarre in the market.

Navarre and Sunny were shopping for marijuana, imported from Discovery Park by the strange man named Hurricane who had helped them return from the Needle. Amy ran up and insisted that Navarre beat up his “little brother” Puck for being mean to a girl. Navarre demurred. Eventually her child-like ravings insisted that Navarre “dance with her.” He humored her only to receive a vision of a grand ball-room, and Amy, as a beautiful young woman, dressed in satin with a mask… The vision ended, and ultimately Amy wandered off. The incident provoked Navarre to converse at some length with Hurricane, though, wherein it became clear that Hurricane was a man with a vision… a vision of “closing all the doors” and keeping the mad beings who plague the world out, leaving the world for humans. Navarred decided that Hurricane and Rhyme needed to talk further. Navarre and Sunny bought a brick of hash, though, as did Firestone who proceeded to get stoned with Team Badass.

Rhyme was sitting with the ghost of the piano player in the Supper Club when Navarre found her. He told her about his conversation with Hurricane, and Rhyme did that crazy-eyed thing Rhyme does, and became suddenly convinced to do so, and furthermore, that the Refined in the Needle needed to die, as they are the sorcerers “holding open the doors” in Seattle, with their tendrils and hooks in all manner of groups and factions. Slowly, a plan of action began to form.

Rhyme, Hurricane, and Cass gathered up a now-stoned Navarre and Sunny, along with a thoroughly stoned Firestone and Team Badass, and engaged in a dead-of-night expedition to the Gasworks. Notwithstanding their impaired states, they managed to wander past a momentary encounter with a strange man and woman in yellow wielding blackberry brambles as weapons and into the Gasworks, a promontory out into Lake Union characterized by tall, rusting refinery towers surrounded by a thick maze of blackberry brambles. They encountered Kettle once more, the old man who proselytizes on behalf of the leader of the Gasworks, Monk. They all were taken to Monk where Rhyme, Hurrican, and Monk shared their visions of the fall of the Refined.

Monk indicated that he and his growing army had boats with which to cross the lake, notwithstanding the potential of creatures from the deep that may have infested it. Monk indicated he and his people would attack from the water in coordination with an assault over the Aurora bridge, and, hopefully, a simultaneous sorcerous assault directly into the heart of the Needle.

Having reached this resolution, all that remained was to see what resources from Mount Safeco could be rallied.

The next morning, Rhyme, Hurricane and Cass approached Mizz Stockton and the Regents. Mizz Stockton was clearly hesitant, but Cass produced an action plan and a timetable. There was much debate.

Ultimately, Mizz Stockton and the Regents realized that the Refined, having just effectively destroyed the Academics, having their hooks in the Cygnet Committee, having spies and agents in the Tower itself, and everywhere else, were a very imminent threat. Mizz Stockton brought out the strange book in German that the ex-Academic-turned-Refined Visage had given her and the Sorceress along with Rhyme, determined it to be a powerful occult tome, a potent gift that forged a mystical bond of obligation and hospitality that the Refined could use against Mizz Stockton and the Tower.

They all realized, with some trepidation, that the Refined really were the biggest threat the ongoing survival of Mount Safeco. They may not have armies, but their insidious power could strike at any time for any reason. The Sorceress indicated that she could, certainly, use the power of the Hoard to once more send a strike team into the Needle, especially if, as expected, Rhyme’s blood was still there.

All parties prepared, then, for war.

Portals and Portents
  • Beckett gathered a group to revisit the crumbling basement room on the University campus from whence she stumbled from an ancient portal. The Scrounger helped them without undue attention from the Rocket Men or Cygnet Committee members who had flocked to the University to the succor (conquest) of the Academics.
  • The portal was an asymmetrical stone arch connected to various strange pieces of electronic equipment. The party uncovered mouldering yellow notebooks filled with scientific and mathematical notes that made little immediate sense.
  • They notice that a small red light was still glowing on one machine connected to the portal even though there was no electricity in the building. They flipped the switch, the light turned to three red lights, then three yellow lights, then three green lights, and the portal activated, the arch filling with a grayish sheen.
  • The portal appeared to shift and change its destination at unanticipated intervals and seemingly at random, each time going somewhere different. Specialist Jackson, who was with the group, bolted through the portal once, and was not retrievable before it shifted… but later she emerged from the portal, apparently having figured out a way to open it from the other side.
  • Some led to icy spaces, some subterranean, some desert, some alien. After some experimentation, the investigators turned it all off. Beckett salvaged a number of seemingly derelict but still high-value technical systems to use as barter back at Mount Safeco and they departed.
  • In the Supper Club, and old scavenger noticed the piano that Rhyme was working on. The old man seemed mostly mad, but had deft fingers. He spent some hours tuning the instrument by ear before launching into amazing music. At the crescendo, eyes glistening with joy, he had a heart attack and died.
  • Rhyme noticed that his ghost continued to play… Rhyme decided to learn how to play the piano from this ghost.
The Refined

The others involved in the rescue operation at the Suzallo Palace were alerted to Rhyme’s disappearance. Firestone poked at the strange symbol carved into the table, and got a weird vibe from it, but was unable to pursue Rhyme. Firestone did, however, remember that Mount Safeco has a spooky subterranean horde of junk capable of opening mystical portals, and somewhat incoherently expressed a rescue plan for Rhyme. While Navarre sent a random Rocket Man (Alpo) to run back to Mizz Stockton reporting on Rhyme’s disappearance.

This precipitated the March of the Cygnet Committee. As they returned to Mount Safeco, they encountered over forty people following Cali marching to the Suzallo Palace to “help Rhyme”.

Navarre, Firestone, Beckett, Cass and Sunny briefed Mizz Stockton, and with the addition of Silver, they headed down to the mysterious Horde, where they found Smith puttering around. They described what happened to Rhyme, and Smith posited that Rhyme ended up either in whatever realm was associated with the three-lobed burning eye, or had ended up with whomever had carved the symbol and was using the Eye as a weapon. Either way, Smith indicated he could send them to wherever Rhyme was, and all she needed was a copious amount of Firestone’s blood.

After laying open Firestone’s arm, a hazy portal of blood was fabricated. Silver, Cass, and Firestone himself entered leaving Mizz Stockton, Navarre, Sunny, and Beckett behind. Mizz Stockton spoke more with Smith about speculations that the Eye had been carved by Visage, the ex-Academic who had been harbored at Mount Safeco, and gone on to join the Refined, and that perhaps Rhyme and the rest were now with that mysterious group. Mizz Stockton then went to inform Team Badass that they should step up patrols to look for the return of their boss and party.

Firestone and crew found themselves in a room full of vaguely macabre of lovely art and thick velvet wall hangings. It looked like a vampire-cultist’s wet dream. In the distance was chanting in a language Cass recognized as probably Latin. Visage entered the room and greeted them quite cordially. Cass recognized her as the renegade Academic who had stolen old occult books from the library before leaving, and pointed a shotgun at her. She tsked and pointed out that they were in the Needle, and would not be leaving without the say-so of the Refined.

They were all treated as guests, and led into a room where an unconscious Rhyme was sprawled, bleeding from multiple shallow cuts into bowls held by the Refined present. Visage took pains to explain that this was all done for Rhyme’s own good, that she had been saved from the Eye at the cost of her blood, and that she was free to depart. Cass and the others moved forward to wake Rhyme into consciousness. The Refined invited them all to dine, which they all refused, and to have something to drink, which all but Silver refused. Silver realized that they had real scotch whiskey.

In the subsequent discussion, Rhyme threatened the Refined over her lost blood. The Refined claimed not to have the blood anymore, having used it to secure Rhyme’s safety from the Eye. They indicated that Silver, and to some extent Rhyme, were always welcome to visit. They made it clear that they reciprocated Firestone’s animosity, and seemed more or less amused at Cass’s hostility.

The group climbed down the Needle and found a deranged tribe living at the base who communicated through ululation and strange gifts of teeth or makeshift makeup or bizarre grooming habits. They fled, and after a debate, opted to return home by skirting Queen Anne Hill and daring the bizarre Fremont gangs.

As they skirted Queen Anne Hill, they encountered four strangers. The leader, who called himself Hurricane, claimed to have had a vision of Rhyme, and they came to help escort them home. The others were a female scavenger who avoided attention to herself, a man dressed in clean military clothes akin to Beckett’s, and a strange man in a butcher’s apron and other accoutrements reminiscent of Smith. True to their word, they showed the travelers how to propitiate the Fremont gangs (lots of marijuana) and escorted them safely back to Mount Safeco, although not without incident, as The Surgeon (the guy in the apron) rather rudely read Cass’ mind and got a kick to the junk as a result.

While they were gone, the more martial crew encountered young Chin, who heard that something had happened to Rhyme and was very concerned. It came out that Chin considered himself in love with Rhyme, and thought them destined to be together. This prompted some very unusual relationship advice and intercession which resulted in a trip to the Supper Club where the assorted badasses tried to teach Chin a thing or two about relationships. During this conversation, Rhyme and company returned, and Silver dragged Rhyme and Chin to a back room to talk out the weirdness. Chin seemed to finally understand that Rhyme doesn’t understand sex, and has no interest in physical intimacy. This didn’t bother Chin as much as it might have. He professed his eternal love of Rhyme, and merely decided to get his sex elsewhere… by which he meant Sunny, who with a shrug, took the teenager back and taught him… a night’s worth of education.

Rhyme reported on the Refined, and expressed her desire to exterminate them all. She had a willing ally in Fleece. Eventually, however, it occurred to them to wonder what Cali and the Cygnet Committee had been up to all that time…

Rhyme spoke Tao’s name to the Madness, and sure enough, Tao arrived a half-hour later. She reported that Cali had, essentially, usurped the Academics, and was running things as a “co-leader” with the Provost under a philosophy that the old had been swept aside, and that the Academics needed to embrace the new. This caused some… consternation.

Rhyme spoke the names of Cali and Wisher Thomas into the Madness, and sure enough, both parties arrived. Cali didn’t seem particularly pleased, but had been forcibly escorted by Madame BBQ. They all sat down to an impromptu Summit with Mizz Stockton and Silver in attendance…

The Haunter in the Darkness

Professor Novell came to Mizz Stockton’s office to thank her for her hospitality and make veiled snide remarks about the savagery of her justice system. He did, however, wish to discuss one other matter. He brought up the ex-Academic named Visage who had been granted shelter in Mount Safeco some many months before. He informed Mizz Stockton that Visage had been a… specialist… in the “occult sciences”, an area the Academics typically disdain. Their rare-book vault and book-restoration rooms had been storing a number of rare occult tomes on loan from Harvard and Miskatonic Universities thirty years ago when the madness had hit, and those books had been kept safe ever since, until Visage stole them. She had been fleeing when the King’s Gang had caught her, and when Stockton’s people ultimately rescued her. Novell wanted to know if she had paid for her rescue in books, and whether she had gone on to the Refined.

Stockton and Silver gave vague answers that did not satisfy Professor Novell, but before their conversation could conclude, all power cut out again.

The Tower went on high alert, and prepared for an attack, which never came. Some hours later, however, word reached the folks in the Supper Club, as well as Mizz Stockton, that the Provost of the Academics himself, Wisher Thomas, was in the lobby with a few wounded Huskies (his gang). Surprised that the Provost himself should be there, various folks converged on the lobby of the Tower.

The Provost seemed to recognize Rhyme, even though he hadn’t seen her since she was five. As Cass patched up his three men, he indicated that Rhyme had spoken in his dreams in the morning hours, and he woke as the Academics were under attack. After some hours of trying to figure out what was happening, he ultimately was forced to flee and find help.

The Huskies were shaken, and their wounds were unearthly. They spoke to Cass of tentacles, and hooked spikes, and a burning eye.

Stockton invited the Provost to a private conference room. He asked for Rhyme, Cass, and (strangely) Beckett to be brought along. In private, he told the tale of a malign darkness that erupted from the rare-book vaults deep below the Suzallo Palace, an entity of tentacles and barbed hooks and flapping wings that struck from the shadow. He spoke of electricity being cut, and slaughter and screams in the parking garage below Red Square which was the heart of the Academics’ fortress. He also spoke of a mysterious woman, dressed identically to Beckett, armed with an assault rifle, who was helping to lead the fight to resist the creature as the Provost fled.

Beckett went to search for Specialist Jackson while Stockton summoned the Regents for a meeting. The Provost then had a mostly-private conversation with Rhyme where he revealed that he was not entirely insensitive to alternate realities, as part of his job was to be at least passingly familiar with ALL academic fields. He posited that somehow Visage had struck her revenge.

The Regents decided that something needed to be done, and quickly, if power was to be restored. They suggested sending a significant force of arms, but holding the Have Rats in reserve, having them guard the Tower while Team Badass, the Rocket Men, and various independent mercenaries such as Sunny and Navarre should be sent under the command of Firestone and Rhyme.

The meeting was crashed by Smith who made a play to be elevated to Regent, with the title “The Sorceress” or something similar. She even had a written CV. She made the case that there was no Regent specialized in mysterious occult forces. To prove her value, she told Stockton and the Regents about the entity they were facing, and told them that Rhyme had already faced it and defeated it once. Apparently the creature’s weakness was light, and so cutting the power was likely the first thing it or its agents did.

With a plan decided upon, the Provost himself volunteered to go with the assault party. Everyone purchased or procured light sources, from old flashlights to kerosene lamps. After some discussion, they opted for a direct assault on the fortified entrance to the parking garage, taking on the malign entity directly. They arrived and saw the fortified gates already half-open, with torn-apart Huskies lying dead. They shone their lights into the darkness and saw carnage. Rhyme quested with her mind to seek out the entity and…

Every found themselves on a lifeless plain of charcoal dust with basalt rock formations under a sky only slightly illuminated with half-seen stars. Beckett recognized the place immediately. Her squad had found this world by accident through a gate and been slaughtered, with only herself and Jackson surviving. Team Badass immediately began driving in a defensive circle, the light of their motorcyle headlights providing a fence of illumination. Sunny fired the machine gun on Firestone’s tank to keep the half-seen tentacles and flapping horrors at bay while Navarre, looking about, came to the intuitive conclusion that they were not actually, physically, in another world, but that rather Rhyme had opened her mind and drawn everyone, including the Haunter in the Dark, into a mental mindscape. It took some effort on the part of everyone to convince Rhyme that she had the power to change her own dreams, but ultimately Rhyme made daylight arrive, and the Haunter vanished in a puff of charcoal dust and smoke.. but not until after it tried to seize Navarre, who ended up with its symbol burned in his forehead, and not until it tried to seize one of the wounded Huskies, who died while Cass was distracted.

They were once more standing in front of the parking garage. As the sun set, they explored the charnal house that had been the Academics’ fortress. Ultimately, in the light of the setting sun through stained glass, they found survivors on the upper levels of the Suzallo library building. The survivors were being led by Specialist Jackson, who was covered in blood, wielding two knives, her rifle having run out of ammunition. The fierce, fevered look in her eye faded when she saw Beckett, and she pleaded to be taking home… not the Tower, but Home.

Navarre and Beckett accompanied the Provost and Rhyme into the rare-book vaults to find where the creature had come from. Rhyme discovered the creature’s symbol burned into the underside of one of the tables, and pushed…

She vanished.

Hospitals and Trials

Rhyme woke up. She was lying on a hospital bed in a hospital gown. The sunlight was filtering in through a window. Birds were singing. There was a lunch on a tray nearby, and a strange metal box with moving pictures (a tv) was showing some people talking about stuff on low volume. Outside the window, she saw the Seattle skyline, whole, unblemished, gleaming buildings rising into the sky, cars in the streets… she saw a world she had never seen with her own eyes before, the world before the Madness.

A doctor entered. She was wearing a white lab-coat with “Dr. Cassandra” on the tag. It was Cass, but strangely not-Cass. She asked how Rhyme was feeling today, but called her “Ann” instead of Rhyme. She asked if Rhyme would like to see her family.

Cynthia Stockton walked in, but a young version, a Stockton thirty years younger, alongside a somewhat rumpled, androgynous-looking man who resembled Silver, and a younger man, about Firestone’s age, who was Firestone but with a mullet, and named James. The family, along with the doctor, informed “Ann” that she was having a rare lucid moment, and that they wanted her to agree to accept a new medication for her condition, a mental condition that caused her to believe that she lived in an awful, post-apocalyptic world surrounded by horror and ancient, evil beings.

This new family was not perfect. Apparently Ann’s mother and father were now divorced, and James was a college dropout who would rather work on cars and worked in a warehouse down near the waterfront. Still, they seemed to genuinely love Ann, and wanted her to accept the new medication and come home to live with them. Rhyme obviously found this a bit hard to take in, and ultimately, when handed the medication, crushed it, refusing to take it. Her family looked on, sadly, as they faded away and Rhyme found herself lying at the base of the Hoard with a bemused Smith looking on.

The time for Rolfball’s and Smog’s trial was at hand. Stockton and some of her Regents interrogated the weakened prisoners and discovered that the Academics weren’t necessarily totally behind the attack on the tower, but when Rolfball approached them, they did strike a deal wherein IF Rolfball succeeded in seizing the tower, he would “continue” to pay the Academics the “usual” tribute (not realizing that Stockton had recently enforced more favorable terms from the Academics). The Academics, obviously, looked fondly on the notion of going back to the old way things were, and cut the power during the attack, but didn’t otherwise interfere.

The Electrician and the Mechanic had created an elaborate execution device, but Mizz Stockton disapproved, preferring that any execution be done by hand, to reinforce the seriousness of such a sentence. The Ringmistress wanted a show, but Mizz Stockton disapproved, indicating this wasn’t a gladiatorial spectacle. The Angel and the Enforcer gathered the accused, and the citizens of the Tower came to see the trial. Accusations were voiced, eyewitnesses were questioned. Rolfball’s guilt was obvious, as he had been previously exiled, and his mere presence in the tower was proof enough of his guilt. Smog was harder to convict, but not by much. A sentence of death seemed imminent. The Ringmistress proposed to Mizz Stockton that the sentence be trial by combat, with the loser dying, and the winner being exiled. Mizz Stockton grudgingly agreed, and the Ringmistress started the show. The crowd was rallied, and she threw random weapons into the arena.

Rolfball, with his gimp leg, and Smog, starved and filthy, fought desperately, but Smog ultimately prevailed. He was declared the winner, and exiled.

As Rhyme escorted Smog from the tower, they encountered, on a streetcorner, Silver. Smog realized that exile was not, in fact to be his fate. Silver executed him with her sword-cane, and for a moment there, his corpse became possessed by the spirit of Dustwich who thanked Silver for avenging her. Dustwich then, finally, passed on to her final rest.

Three-Lobed Burning Eye

With Smog and Rolfball still rotting in Mount Safeco’s jail, and new blood in the form of ex-fishermen refugees, things were returning to normal.

The Cygnet Committee continued to grow, causing some in the tower to become concerned that they were becoming TOO powerful, particularly Cali, the young woman effectively running the cult on behalf of Rhyme. Silver especially had some words of caution for Rhyme, as well as some words for Cali herself.

As Rhyme was helping/preaching to some of the newcomers, one of Rhyme’s committee members came with cookies, and offered some to Rhyme. Before Rhyme could bite into a cookie, however, she found her arm mysteriously jerked by some unseen force, causing her to drop the cookie. She got the impression that the spirit of Dustwich had somehow taken action, and suspicion arose around the cookies, which it turned out were poisoned.

An investigation ensued which led to Committee Member Danson, who did not remember poisoning the cookies, but was having memory lapses and strange episodes of missing-time. Rhyme’s facility with seeing beyond the surface discovered that Danson, who had earlier admitted an addiction to the Silence Fruit before the Committee started forcing him to stop, was suffering withdrawal and other symptoms, and in that moment of weakness, something else inhabited him, possessing him, causing him to poison the cookies. Rhyme got the impression of a three-lobed burning eye, an image that matched the symbols various members of the Tower had been carving into themselves in moments of stress.

A member of the Academics arrived to see Mizz Stockton. Professor Novell was his usual arrogant, insufferable self, but lodged a formal request for extradition for Rolfball. It seems, as a former Academic, that they had an interest in him, and they assured Mizz Stockton that if she handed him over she would never see him again. Stockton gave him a nice room and told him to enjoy his stay and she would take it under consideration. She then spoke over his offer with the Regents, who were all under the opinion that it was a bit of a coincidence that they lost power right as Rolfball’s multi-pronged attack hit.

The mysterious Smith, and her albino mutant walking-hive companion Number Eleven, continued to hang out in the Supper Club. Beckett continued to develop her relationship with Mice, while Rhyme sang, and Sunny guarded things. A gruff, scarred man sporting a sniper rifle and grenades showed up. He seemed to know Sunny. He was a mercenary named Navarre that Rolfball’s conspiracy had tried to recruit to attack the tower. He turned them down, but showed up to see how things went. He seemed to fit in well enough.

Rhyme noticed honey-bees flying about and speculated that they were alien insects of some sort. She was only partially right, as they belonged to Number Eleven.

Smith made "her"self useful by noticing a number of strange and unusual things about the tower that few others aside from Rhyme had ever detected. So intriguing was Smith’s knowledge, that Mizz Stockton was even convinced to allow her down into the chamber of the hoard, where Smith immediately noticed that it was leaking psychic energy and was somewhat broken. With the aid of Rhyme and the ghost of Carver, Smith began repairing the Hoard / psychic antenna. As Smith did so, Rhyme sat and contemplated the three-lobed burning eye that had tried to kill her… and found herself pulled through the instability of the Hoard’s room into… another place, where a burning eye, vaguely born by the sense of flapping wings, swooped down on her. She tried desperately to summon up an Elder Sign to defend herself, but failed and felt searing pain as…

The Hoard

That night, Silver had a dream.

In it, Dustich brushed her face gently, awakening her. Dustwich had a look of anger mixed with sorrow and desire. She had a collar around her neck and a chain that extended into the darkness. She silently beckoned Silver to follow her.

Dustwich led Silver through an empty and abandoned Mount Safeco… empty except for the occasional shadow and whisper that seemed to be perpetually fleeing a dark figure in a gas mask…

Dustwich led Silver deep into the bowels of the building, through old tunnels and maintenance shafts, through long buried cellars and sewers, to a smashed hole in a concrete wall, and a basement whose building above had long since collapsed. In the center of this basement was a massive hoard of stuff… taxidermied animals, random collections of bondage and fetish wear, books, maps, weapons, silverware, bric-a-brac, and many other useless or valuable things, all carefully and artfully arranged. In this dream, Daniel and Ammie, the deceased former Academics who were once Carver’s parents, sat upon thrones at the top of the mound, smiling benign smiles at the dozens of spirits chained and collared, leashed to the eerie pair. The chained spirits revolved around the throne despondently except for Carver, who scrabbled frantically. Only then did Silver notice the vague form of Smog and his mercenaries, staking out the room, half seen, as if through a veil.

Silver awoke from her dream with the knowledge of where Smog and his men were hiding, and an awareness that Dustwich wanted her revenge on her killer.

Specialist Beckett awoke from dreams that felt like memories, dreams of her father, a listless, hopeless man, who drank and smoked in a facility far too large for its population, a community living on a dry, dead world, a world of red dust and black skies and a dull red ember of a sun, a world with carefully rationed water and food, a place built to be the ultimate bunker, a fallout shelter for the most powerful and influential men and women, who had fled here from a great catastrophe. They had never intended to be stranded for so long, and the water was running out…

Beckett found, however, a certain degree of solace in the arms of Mice, the strange one-legged man who had sought her out, propositioned her, and bathed her in the Supper Club the night before. Such wanton use of water was still strange to her.

Rhyme also enjoyed the benefits of the Supper Club, although her performance sparked a fight between three scrounger patrons, all of whom wished to spend the same limited time with the captivating new singer, all three of whom were ejected from the club by Kitty. Rhyme followed, only to see young Chin outside, stepping up, ready to defend his “girlfriend’s” honor. A few words from Rhyme deflated the young man, and the situation. Chin, however, fled the scene, heartbroken. They ended up in the garage, where Rhyme and Silver and Firestone and Chin had a conversation wherein it was clear that Rhyme still doesn’t entirely understand the concept of romance or sex. Chin was eventually mollified with the promise of some one-on-one time with Rhyme. Silver, on the other hand, was more concerned with Rhyme’s followers, the Cygnet Committee, which had been actively recruiting of late, and had grown uncomfortably large.

A visit to the committee revealed that Cali had managed to run their affairs relatively effectively, albeit ambitiously. While there didn’t seem to be any indication that Cali planned a coup, she clearly preferred that Rhyme remain a somewhat distant figurehead. Silver made sure that Cali understood that any disloyalty to Mizz Stockton, or further “ambitions” in the hardhold would be carefully watched.

Ultimately, Silver prepared to pursue Smog. She recognized that Smog was in a defensible underground location, and that she would need a decent force of arms. Recruiting Rhyme and Sunny was easy enough. Cass was willing to follow to ensure wounds were patched. Silver considered the strange new soldier and her shiny assault rifle. Beckett, for her part, seemed willing to join the group. Silver finally opted to recruit Mizz Stockton herself, assuming that the leader of the hardhold had an interest in rounding up the last of the conspirators who had done so much harm. Stockton joined the posse, with a half-dozen of her Have-Rats.

The band descended into the twisted labyrinth beneath the skyscraper, ultimately seeking to sneak up on Smog and his people. The sneaking didn’t work so well, but the subsequent all-out assault proved marvelously effective, gunning down all six of Smog’s men and rushing into the room, Silver in the lead. There she saw the elaborately arranged mound of junk, clearly Carver’s former hoard, and atop it, concentrating on something unnatural and blasphemous, was Smog himself.

As the posse entered the chamber, it became clear to those sensitive to such things that Smog was seeking to utilize the arcane energies of the room to reach… through reality… to something beyond. Smog was seeking to contact someone or something to cut a bargain in exchange for a portal to escape. The elaborate arrangement of junk in Carver’s hoard acted as a psychic antenna, and he was close to success. With many guns aimed at him, however, he opted to give himself up. The Have-Rats escorted him out, ultimately to a cell near Rolfball.

The posse, meanwhile, stayed in the chamber to look it over somewhat. Some of them recognized that the partially-opened portal was probably a bad thing to leave, and with some trial and error, managed to close it, albeit not before something took a swipe at Rhyme. Ultimately, though, they sought to pierce through to the entities who ruled this room, Daniel and Ammie, and perhaps free Dustwich, the Entertainer, and the various other spirits that had been enslaved. With some effort, and a lot of help, Rhyme managed to activate the strange psychic qualities of the Hoard to shift everyone into a strange dreamscape, the chained spirits ambulating about the mound, with Daniel and Ammie, hand in hand, looking genially on.

The posse sought to engage Daniel and Ammie, but it became clear that whatever they looked like, they were no longer the spirits of humans, but rather vessels of something ancient, alien, and not altogether sentient… a force of nature that sought to bleed into this world from beyond. They attacked the Daniel/Ammie construct, every wound bleeding sickly green light, until Cass aimed her shotgun squarely at the place where the two were holding hands, shattering them. The ghosts fled, trailing chains, and the posse was expelled into the normal world once more.

Cass was injured with strange radiation burns. Silver set up a small shrine in the corner to Dustwich. Mizz Stockton made sure that the Horde remained relatively undisturbed, and the posse limped back to Mount Safeco.

A week passed, the injured recovered. The prisoners stayed imprisoned. Visitors arrived at Mount Safeco.

A band of dirty refugees, villagers who once fished mudfish from the Montlake Bridge, arrived in the company of four strangers. One of these strangers, a genial, generic-faced man named Core, spoke for the whole ground. He informed Mizz Stockton, as well as the various others who came out to see the newcomers, that the villagers had been forced to abandon their bridge by a threat and a danger that Core wished to convey to Mizz Stockton privately. He indicated that he and his three companions were nearby, and came to the aid of the villagers, and opted to escort them to Mount Safeco before moving on. Core was accompanied by a pretty young man with a sword named Sunset, an androgynous person in a rubber butcher’s apron who hung back a bit named Smith, and another figure, hanging back with Smith, dressed in an old Seahawk’s hoodie pulled high over her head, disguising her facial features. What could be seen of her, however, was not entirely human. She was introduced as “Number 11.”

In the course of these introductions, it became clear to various onlookers that the dirty villagers looked upon the 4 with a certain terror mixed with awe. As Cass looked the villagers over with a general health inspection she noted red marks, as of long-healed scars, and discovered that many of the villagers had been torn into by claws just hours before, but the touch of Core mystically healed them. Mizz Stockton noticed that the lobby had insects flitting about that appeared to be bees. While insects were not uncommon in the lobby of Mount Safeco, Mizz Stockton was sure that bees had been extinct in the area for decades.

Eventually, the villagers and their protectors were given sanctuary, whereupon Number 11 pulled back her hoodie to reveal albino skin, bone spurs protruding where eyebrows should be, and strange insectoid eyes. She opened her mouth and a swarm of bees converged on her from all around, swarming into her mouth and down her throat. It became apparent to those not paralyzed by shock and horror that she had been seeing through the insects and keeping an eye on herself and the villagers.

Core spoke to Mizz Stockton in private. He revealed that he and his three companions had escaped from The Hospital on the Hill, a place south of the Toll with a sinister reputation. The experiments in that Hospital had escaped confinement, and they had fled. Core claimed to have been a captive of the cult that ran the hospital, captured for his medical skills. He claimed that Sunset had been security, while Smith had been staff, and Number 11 had, obviously, been one of the friendlier experiments. He disclosed that on the way north they encountered a large number of Esoterics which had taken the Eastlake bridge, and attacked the Montlake bridge. Core and his companions, along with the villagers, fought off waves of Esoterics successfully, only to note an immense, hulking creature observing them from the waters to the east. He came to warn Mount Safeco that Lake Washington was infested, and that the Esoterics had either breached Pike’s Watch, or done an end-run around them.

With this disturbing news, the villagers were granted tentative sanctuary until they could prove themselves useful to the community. Core and his companions indicated they would stay a short while before continuing on their way…

A Dish Best Served Cold

Specialist Beckett was having a nightmare. A tentacled horror was tearing through a squad of men and women dressed, armed, and armored as she was. The gurgling of blood through pierced lungs, the screams and moans of the dying punctuated the still, stale air as the horror stalked off, not defeated, but perhaps bored. She woke to the barren concrete room into which she and Specialist Jackson were being kept to find her head cradled by Jackson, who was singing soothingly to her. A scruffy Have Rat poked her head in, apparently in response to the nightmare screams, but soon lost interest. Suddenly, the single bare light-bulb went dark, and the distant sound of gunfire had the confused young soldier grabbing her rifle and hunkering down to weather an attack…

In Cass’ clinic, Silver continued to contemplate the events of the previous day. No longer injured, but now aware of who was behind the aborted attack on her club, she contemplated continuing the ruse when suddenly the lights went out and she heard the sound of gunfire. She sprang to her feet, grabbed a scalpel off a nearby tray, and ran out of the clinic, leaving a bewildered Cass to leave instructions to her people and go skidding in her wake…

In her office, Miss Stockton was going through some papers when suddenly the electricity to the building cut out, and she heard the sounds of massed gunfire from far below. Springing into action, she used the emergency phone (which had its own power supply) to contact a few of the Regents, locking down the hydroponics levels and the market, and activating the emergency defenses before grabbing her shotgun and heading downstairs…

In the parking garage, Firestone was sleeping in his Firebird when the sound of gunfire woke him. He sprang out to see his gang, Team Badass, gathering their weapons and gear in preparation for a fight. Massive sheets of metal clanged over the grate leading out of the garage, meaning whatever fight they were about to engage in would have to be on foot, and neither Firestone nor his Team were really all that good at fighting without their vehicles…

In the Supper Club, Rhyme had finished comforting Twice and was helping to clean the damage done during Silver’s ruse the previous night. Kitty was training Absinthe in non-lethal violence, and the other staff were preparing for the later crowds when suddenly gunfire erupted from below. Rhyme sprinted to the new quarters of the Cygnet Committee and the Rocket Men to fetch reinforcements, only to realize that Cali had them all in a drugged-out hunger-fast, presumably to inspire visions like those Rhyme herself has. Leaving the Rocket Men to sluggishly gather their weapons, Rhyme called out a prayer to the Action Man and sprinted on ahead…

Sunny had just finished a night of casual sex with the two mercenaries “No One” and “Of Consequence.” As she stepped out the door to their room into the hall, she heard gunfire coming from the lobby of Mount Safeco. She patted her immense shotgun and went to investigate…

Mount Safeco was under attack. An immense, massed mob of savages in assorted small arms were taking potshots into the fortified lobby of the building while the entrenched Have Rats returned fire. Silver arrived in an unfortunately open position and took a bullet as she headed down to the lobby from the second-floor balcony. She dropped her scalpel, but attempted to take a knife from a convenient Have Rat, only to take a bullet to the skull. Fortunately it traveled under the scalp and didn’t penetrate the bone, but it did knock her unconscious for a few moments. Cass, arriving a bit later, noted Silver’s prone form and roused her.

Rhyme arrived and immediately attempted to tap into the Madness to understand the meaning of this attack. She got a strong pulsing red sensation of revenge. Firestone and Team Badass arrived. Firestone left the Team to bolster the Have Rats while he himself went to drag Rhyme out of the crossfire.

Sunny arrived near the lobby, but her keen senses noted that the two mercs she had just been with were following her, and drawing weapons. Suddenly aware that she had been sleeping with the enemy, she confronted them, and rather rapidly dispatched them both in a shower of gore that artfully splattered across her near-naked form.

Mizz Stockton arrived on the scene and took immediate charge of the Have Rats, directing their return fire and ordering vats of boiling… liquid… down on the invaders.

Rhyme, with Firestone, came to the sudden conclusion that although the massed attack was dangerous, it seemed likely to be a feint. Hearing Sunny’s shouts to the mercs who had been living in a rented room in Mount Safeco, Rhyme realized that the real enemy had already infiltrated the building. She shouted across the battle to Sunny about the hydroponics, and ran off to scale many many stairs with Firestone panting behind her, leaving the battle just as the dazed and confused Rocket Men arrived to bolster the Have Rats. They arrived, panting and gasping, just in time to see a small squad of well-armed mercs force the sealed door to the hydroponics bay open. Leading them was the scarred form of Rolfball!

Sunny saw Rhyme and Firestone take off, and sought to make her own way up to the hydroponics, only to take an unfortunate wrong turn, ending up in the market, where a beleaguered Marketman was trying to rally the civilians to resist the wanton violence of another small gang of mercs led by a one-eyed, scarred old man. Sunny used pure bad-ass to bring him up short, before systematically murdering him and his whole squad.

Meanwhile, in the lobby, a recovering Silver gauged the scene and came to a similar conclusion as Rhyme. She sprang to her feet, taking even more gunfire in the halls as she sped back up to the Supper Club, with Cass at her heels. They arrived to find Kitty grievously wounded and bleeding out on the stairs, and heard shouts and gunfire from within. Absinthe was single-handedly holding out against a small squad of heavily armed mercs led by Smog. Dustwich was dead or dying on the ground. Despite already being badly wounded, Silver momentarily considered charging furiously into her club and into the waiting gunfire of a far superior force before deciding instead to rely on pure stone-cold bluffery to convince Smog that his plan had failed, that he was outmaneuvered and outgunned, despite having only a medic and a badly wounded bouncer to back her up.

At the hydroponics, Rolfball ordered his men to kill Rhyme and Firestone. Firestone unloaded his magnum into them, receiving a number of bullets himself for his trouble. Rhyme, however, filled with the power of the Action Man, avoided gunfire with eerie grace, tossing a throwing knife into Rolfball’s gimp knee, dropping him to the ground, and in a flurry of steel, taking out half his squad. The fight was over fairly quick, with Rhyme once more unscathed, and Firestone once more badly wounded. Rolfball himself, exercising intelligence, relinquished his rifle and permitted himself to be taken captive.

Back in the Supper Club, Silver received some surprising aid as Twice called out from a back room, in an eerie, dead voice, confirmation of Silver’s threats. Smog proved once more to be the coward Silver always knew he was, preferring poison and backstabbing to a straight-up fight. He and his squad fled Silver’s steely gaze. Cass then sprang into action, saving Kitty’s life, but barely, stabilizing Absinthe, and realizing that there was, sadly, nothing to be done for Dustwich.

In the lobby, Mizz Stockton led the combined forces of the Have Rats, Team Badass, and the Rocket Men to a rousing victory, routing the savages who had doubtless been promised the rich spoils of the tower, only to find death.

And then, the cleanup began.

Eventually, Specialist Beckett, hearing no more gunfire, and realizing her room was no longer guarded, emerged to survey the aftermath. Those Have Rats who recognized her didn’t make a big deal out of it, but rather pressed her into service cleaning up the wounded and the dead, fortifying broken fortifications, etcetera. She ran across Amy, who was her usual creepy self, and Mice who seemed much more interested in the more typical things young men want from clean, healthy, attractive young women. He invited her up to the Supper Club where they could talk.

In the Supper Club, Silver waited, being bandaged by Cass, for the inevitable arrival of the Reclaimer. The eerie gas-masked figure took longer than usual to arrive, presumably because of the sheer number of corpses to dispose of. The Reclaimer took a moment to speak with Silver before gently bearing away the corpse of Dustwich. It appeared as if Smog had succeeded in completing his vendetta against his lovely former employee.

Silver retreated to a back room to rest and mourn while Rhyme spoke with Beckett and saw visions of the strange world from which she came. Rhyme helped tease out a few more of Beckett’s elusive memories while the Supper Club, embodying the philosophy that the show must go on, opened for business. Rhyme showed Beckett the bathing room where Beckett, unused to such luxury, consented to permit herself to be washed by Mice, who clearly enjoyed an opportunity to run his hands across her body.

Firestone was treated by Cass and left to sleep off the drugs in his Firebird, under the careful watch of Team Badass. Sunny got a few bandages herself, and returned to the Supper Club. Mizz Stockton spent the rest of the day putting her house in order, stopping only to raise a wry eyebrow as the electricity mysteriously came back on at about 4pm. The timing of the blackout was… rather suspicious. In all, only one member of the Have Rats died in the attack, the unfortunate Tam.

The residents of Mount Safeco rested and licked their wounds. Of the three ringleaders of the attack, one was slain, Rolfball was captured, and Smog was still missing.

The Girl from Masada

Mizz Stockton, realizing that Rhyme’s Cygnet Committee was growing in size and influence, decided to offer them better living accommodations in return for their aid in “keeping an eye out” for those who mean the tower harm. Things in the Committee seem to have shifted somewhat during Rhyme’s recent absences. Mice and Amy have integrated well, and Cali’s influence has grown significantly.

The Scrounger interrupted Mizz Stockton, however, with intriguing news. He/she had been scouting the grounds of the University, keeping tabs on the Academics in lieu of recent… changes in the relationship between the two groups, when he saw a strange sight. Out of the crumbled ruins of Clark Hall, a crazed woman emerged. She was clearly driven made by something, babbling, and fleeing, but the odd part was that she was dressed in high-tech military-grade combat armor, fatigues, a state-of-the-art assault rifle, and other gear. The Scrounger knows quality stuff when he sees it, but the uniformly high quality of the mysterious soldier’s equipment, coupled with the soldier herself, piqued his interest. He tracked her, avoiding the occasional errant bullet she sent at shadows, until he could ambush her and knock her out. He had her in a dark closet elsewhere in the building.

Mizz Stockton interrogated the crazed woman, whose name (according to the patch on her fatigues) was Specialist Jackson. Jackson was mostly incoherent, but it became clear that she did not believe she was alone, and made reference to “Specialist Beckett” and other references that led Mizz Stockton to believe that wherever this strange woman came from, there was at least one more like her, somehow in the ruins of Clark Hall. The Scrounger pointed out that if they were to find this potential trove before the Academics, they should leave soon. Mizz Stockton grabbed a half-dozen Have Rats and led them by circuitous byways through the tangled, overgrown campus to the crumbled ruins of the derelict Clark Hall, looking to all the world like a valueless pile. It was clear, however, that Specialist Jackson had pushed her way through the rubble and brambles, and so they retraced the route. They descended down a crumbled concrete stairwell to an old security door that looked for all the world like an innocuous maintenance closet (except for the curiously high-tech remains of a card scanner with keypad and thumb sensor). The door had been opened with an automatic weapon. Within was a dusty, decaying laboratory filled with high technology, and on the floor was slumped an unconscious woman in fatigues, armor, and weapons similar to Specialist Jackson. Of most interest, however, was the strange stone arch dominating the room. It seemed to be made of a sort of basalt with a silvery sheen, and the posts and lintels of the “door” were at odd angles and proportions. All manner of derelict machinery was hooked up to this empty arch.

Mizz Stockton roused the woman, who by her name patch was Specialist Beckett. Beckett seemed to have weathered whatever trauma drove Jackson mad. Although she was still fragile, and seemed to have lost most of her memory, she seemed capable of reason and thought. Her weapons were taken by Fleece and Mizz Stockton insisted that they depart before Academics found them. They did so while the Scrounger concealed their passage to hide this hidden mystery from discovery. Despite running into an Academic patrol on the way back, Mizz Stockton was able to bullshit her way past and brought Beckett to The Librarian.

It became clear that the two Specialists were not only not from around Seattle, but that they had never before set foot in the “real world.” Their trauma was the result of sudden exposure to the Madness, leaving the open question of where, exactly, they were from and who they represented. Fragments of memory would occasionally float to the surface of Beckett’s mind, or dribble from the babbling lips of Jackson. They seemed to remember the United States of America, they remembered the notion of “Russians,” and various other fragments of memory from before the Madness descended.

Mizz Stockton took both of them to an isolated basement room, set a guard on them, and found Silver to bring them some comforts while they adjusted to their situation.

In the Supper Club, Silver and Mizz Stockton discussed the strange newcomers while Rhyme and Dustwich alternated entertaining the crowd. Sunny loitered while Firestone took advantage of a gap in Rhyme’s performances to have talk about how his mechanic apprentice, Chin, was slacking off in favor of mooning after Rhyme. Rhyme took the opportunity to inspect Firestone and noted that while the Silence Fruit addiction had not wholly waned, Firestone was doing much better.

As Silver left to bring comforts and supplies to the Specialists, Mizz Stockton and Cass had a chat while Shazzy sidled up to Rhyme to discuss… dark and enigmatic matters. Apparently, Shazzy sees much promise in Rhyme, seeing a person who “shines like a candle” attracting the attention and intentions of all manner of “powers.” Shazzy claimed that he could teach Rhyme to… direct that attention a bit better, claiming to be a “sorcerer” of some talent. He claimed that this is what the Refined were… those who saw the world for what it was, and embraced the reality of the various incomprehensible powers that infested it. When asked point-blank which power they served, Shazzy indicated that their “patron” was called the “Black Pharaoh.” Upon hearing that name, Rhyme opened her senses to the Madness and saw an extremely powerful vision of the Pharaoh that gave her much to contemplate.

Silver, upon returning, noted Shazzy and approached. He seemed perfectly polite to her, and invited her to be one of the first to enjoy the pleasures of his new establishment.

As the evening wound down, and the Supper Club emptied of all but the most persistent drunks and hedonists, the club was suddenly attacked! Or, rather, the plan Silver had set in motion to fake an attack to draw out whichever mysterious enemy was behind Balls’ mercenaries was enacted. Rhyme, Absinthe, and Sunny, in disguise, smashed some things up and Rhyme stabbed Silver in a manner to produce a convincing quantity of blood, but not seriously hurt her. The three fled before Dustwich could arrive, not wanting the ruse to be seen through immediately. Needless to say, the employees of the club acted like a kicked anthill. Dustwich and Kitty chewed out Absinthe (who had since ditched the disguise) for being “knocked out on the job” while Mizz Stockton rallied the Have Rats to find those responsible. Silver was rapidly transported to Cass’ infirmary. Cass was in on the scheme, and made appropriate noises about how badly wounded Silver was while Mizz Stockton, after putting on a good show, let Dustwich and Kitty in on the scheme as well.

Rhyme hid under Silver’s bed while Sunny paced in the waiting room. Just before sunrise, Twice showed up at the clinic. This was somewhat unusual as the waifish girl lived in terror of Spider and never left the back rooms of the Supper Club. She asked to see Silver so as to express her condolences, but there was something odd about her behavior. Cass wasn’t sure exactly how to react to her, getting a weird emotionless vibe and a seeming lack of actual volition behind her request and seeming desire for physical contact with Silver. Twice was eventually let into the back room where she sought to take Silver’s hand in an apparently comforting gesture. Cass dissuaded her whereupon she sought to kiss Silver’s forehead. Silver opened her eyes and asked her what was going on. She leaned in for the kiss anyway, which Silver ultimately permitted…

Silver’s mind was opened to the Madness. She saw a galaxy infested with illness, but with nuclear fire seeking to cleanse it. Suddenly she WAS that galaxy, and the pain subsided.

Cass forcibly pulled Twice away from the gasping, stiffening Silver, only to notice that the superficial wound was entirely gone. Not even a scar remained. Twice suddenly blinked, clearly not knowing where she was or how she got there, and panicked, fearing she had killed Silver. Sunny and Rhyme took her back to the Supper Club where she trembled and claimed that Spider had somehow taken over her body. It seemed exceedingly strange that he had used that opportunity to heal Silver and not harm her in some way, as he had not been notably friendly to her in quite a while, but considering she IS his best customer, some sense was made of it. It did cause the others some consternation to see the very real demonstration of Spider’s unnatural control of Twice, even after she fled from him.

Without Sunny and Rhyme on hand, Cass sent for Firestone to help guard Silver. A few hours later, two well-armed slabs of meat who named themselves “No One” and “Of Consequence” arrived claiming to have a message for Silver. They were put off by Cass, and they seemed perfectly content to wait until the tower collapsed from age. Sunny returned and used her wiles to distract them for a bit, but ultimately they were permitted into Silver’s room, with Cass, Sunny, and Firestone present. Their message was a blunt one, indicating that Smog was threatening Silver, that if she didn’t leave Mount Safeco, “next time would be worse.” The two mercs were clearly paid to lurk around the Tower and wait for word that Silver had been attacked and, if she survived, to deliver this message. They apparently were not aware that Balls and his mercs had been bought off. They cheerfully delivered the message and wandered off to have sex with Sunny

Silver’s ploy was successful. She discovered that Smog, an old enemy of hers, had been behind the aborted attack and that Shazzy and Spider, although certainly somewhat nefarious, were not actively plotting her downfall.


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