The Coldest 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.
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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…

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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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The Thousand Young

Firestone, shaking and sweating from severe withdrawal, nevertheless determined to tough it out and prepared his tank and trailer for the expedition north toward the Ravine to try to scavenge a piano for Rhyme, notwithstanding Rhyme’s theft-by-Chin-seduction of his Silence fruit. Along for the expedition were, of course, Team Badass. Rhyme opted to bring her Rocket Men into the field, and felt it an appropriate time to attempt to appropriate one of the rocket launchers from the Have Rats. Rhyme sought out Fleece and, after an earnest conversation, endeared herself to the leader of the Have Rats so much that Fleece practically adopted Rhyme, taking her under her wing as a confidante, and lending her a rocket launcher, along with a single rocket. Rhyme in turn handed the launcher to Rum, and they prepared to depart.

Silver, interested in this old cache of musical instruments, opted to go as well, bringing along the mysterious sexy solo wanderer Sunny. Cass came along as well, bringing the scrounger Mac, in hopes that they would finally be able to swing by Mac’s hidden cache of potential medical supplies. Finally, the sole Have Rat in the party Quick came along as the guide to the location in question.

They made their way up Roosevelt toward the overgrown belt of greenery that was the Ravine. Although the actual Ravine was further east, the dilapidated old musical instrument store was at the edge of a green belt of thick growth along what was once “Ravenna” street. As the tank, trailer, and Rocket Men footsoldiers moved north, Team Badass patrolled the flanks. There were sporadic drops of rain, thick fog and mist blanketed the world in a sound-deadening gray.

They arrived at the old dilapidated music store, finding that much had been scavenged or rotted by the moisture, but that proximity to the savages of the Ravine had kept it from being totally picked clean. Firestone stayed outside in the tank, nursing his withdrawal, while Team Badass rode off into the mist to scout and keep an eye out. The rest went inside. In an upper room there were a number of pianos, most of them somewhat worse for wear. Silver, poking around, found and almost entirely intact drum kit before hearing, in the distance, the muffled sound of combat. Suddenly, a crazed madman leapt out of a dark alcove and plunged a knife into Sunny’s shoulder, babbling about “awakening the children.” Rhyme slung one of her throwing knives into his throat and he died, gurgling on his own blood. Silver, ignoring the crazed man, headed rapidly out to the tank to warn Firestone that Team Badass was apparently engaged in distant combat. She realized that there were hints of movement in the mist, and that the building was being surrounded. Silver roused Firestone, and leaned on the tank’s horn, sounding the alarm.

On the dilapidated upper floor of the building, Sunny and Cass used the windows to peer out, shotguns in hand. Both received the ricochets of random small arms fire as the half-seen figures in the mist began chaotic potshots. One bullet grazed Cass while another came disturbingly close to Sunny, whose lithe dexterity managed to avoid it. Silver climbed into the tank and took hold of the machine gun while Firestone started up the engine. Rhyme directed the Rocket Men into the secure position of the building, encouraging Rum to ascend to the second floor for optimal use of the rocket launcher, then she took a moment to concentrate on her visions from the mysterious pantheon of entities she was slowly coming to grips with. Something about the situation, or Rhyme’s own mental state, brought a disturbingly vivid vision to her mind, full of surprisingly specific metaphor, and featuring a strange and arcane branching symbol.

The group from Mount Safeco began securing themselves and preparing for assault while the horde of Ravine savages slowly emerged, firing small guns and throwing stones and knives. Sunny ordered Firestone to back the tank up against the front door, helping further secure the building, while Silver opened up the machine gun on a cluster of savages, reducing them to pulp, and scattering them. Cass ducked down the stairs, seeking a back door, and finding the crazed old man’s hidden living area in the old store stockroom. She saw savages coming for the back door, and turned around and fled, but not before snatching up a flawless, shiny trumpet. From the upper floor, Rhyme ordered her Rocket Men to attack, but they saw something disturbing… behind the horde of savages were strange, capering figures, humanoid, but covered in short black fur, with limbs jointed in strange places, and red, blood-filled eyes. The creatures seemed to be driving the human cannibals into a frenzy with strange capering, and dissonant, eerie song. The sight of the creatures so disconcerted the Rocket Men that they refused to fight, some shouted out their surrender, while others looked likely to openly rebel against Rhyme. Meanwhile, below, Firestone made an amazing, crack shot with his magnum that whizzed past the savages and neatly bisected the head of one of the black-furred creatures, causing the group of savages it had been directing to fall into disarray.

As Silver lay down a steady stream of machine-gun fire, Sunny did what she could from the upper floor while Rhyme sought to regain control of her gang, to no avail. Even Rum, bolstered as he was by possession of the rocket launcher, ultimately turned to flee. Rhyme sought to pluck the rocket launcher from her fleeing minion, only to have Rum turn reflexively to cling to it, causing it to go off. The rocket fortunately missed Rhyme, but disintegrated much of the wall and a part of the roof in an outward explosion that rocked the dilapidated building. Rum dropped the rocket launcher in surprise and bolted down the stairs, with Rhyme in hot pursuit, calling out to the Action Man, a figure she had not beseeched since her last fateful battle in the Reclaimer’s lair. Sadly, the Action Man was slow to respond, and Rhyme put her foot through a rotted stair and toppled to the first floor, taking some damage, but avoiding bullets from the savages who, by then, were pouring into the building from the back door, and hacking down the fleeing Rocket Men.

Cass, fleeing ahead of those savages, jumped into the back of the tank, doing what she could with her shotgun. Firestone laid on the horn again, trying to summon Team Badass, who eventually came out of the mist like a cavalry charge, guns blazing and chains whipping overhead, swathes of savages were cut down by the bikers and they swept past, finishing what Silver had started, and effectively wiping out all the savages but the ones in the building. The furred creatures, however, started capering and ululating. Both Silver and Sunny blacked out for a brief moment, only to come to a few seconds later finding that they had cut the palms of their hands with a strange pattern, and that their blood had been momentarily black and viscous…

Rhyme, recovering from her fall, felt the fury of the Action Man fill her as she single-handedly slaughtered the dozen remaining savage men and women in the building, and putting the fear of death into her Rocket Men followers. Team Badass turned to make another charge at the capering furred creatures, who ululated a dissonant song at them, causing the entire cavalry charge to lay down their bikes in a massive crumpled pileup as every biker in the gang was struck suddenly senseless. Cass, from inside the tank, noticed that the blood of the furred creatures seemed to flow like thick tar, and move of its own volition from the corpses. She realized that this viscous fluid needed to be burned. Daring the ululating song, she grabbed Firestone’s spare gas can full of gasoline and sprinted out of the tank, covered by Firestone and Silver, to splash gas over the spreading tarry black blood, pulling out the lighter she kept on hand for sterilizing medical equipment, and setting the black blood ablaze while Sunny drove off the remaining furred creatures.

The battle was over. Team Badass was roused, more angry at the damage to their bikes than the assorted injuries they had suffered. Some of the Rocket Men had died in the fighting, and the rest were deeply abashed at having broken and run in battle. Rhyme expressed her severe disappointment. While Cass attended to her own wounds and the wounds of the two gangs, Firestone scavenged the corpses of the dead savages hoping deep in his heart to find more Silence Fruit, but to no avail. In the stockroom, Silver, Sunny, Rhyme and Cass found various useful objects, including a small bag of Silence fruit. Cass, remembering Shazzy’s offer, sought to take them, but Silver, in no uncertain terms, indicated they needed to be destroyed. Rhyme told Cass that these were the fruits that Firestone was addicted to. Cass then sought to keep them for investigatory purposes, but again Silver insisted they be destroyed. Cass grudgingly permitted Rhyme to do the honors, and Firestone was never the wiser.

They scavenged the drum set, a mostly-intact piano, and assorted piano pieces and extra strings. They put the badly injured in the trailer. They swung east, hoping they had done enough damage to the savages of the Ravine that they would remain unmolested while they collected Mac’s hidden stash of rare medicinals. They then returned to Mount Safeco.

Firestone came to Cass’s clinic to get patched up after the battle. Cass realized that Firestone was in some serious withdrawal, and with Rhyme’s tacit support, sedated Firestone for about a week to help him through withdrawal. While sedated, Firestone was wracked by nightmares in which all of his deepest fears manifested in the forms of those he knew best. Rhyme was Firestone’s fear of betrayal. Silver was his fear of commitment and being tied down. Mizz Stockton was his fear of going soft while Cass was his fear of death. He resisted the blandishments of these nightmare figments and when he awoke, filthy from a week’s worth of sweating toxins and less pleasant bodily functions, he felt oddly better.

During that week, Rhyme earned a bit in the Supper Club, while also working with Quick to fix and tune the piano. Cass talked to Mizz Stockton about the Silence Fruit and revealed Shazzy’s interest. Mizz Stockton spoke to Silver about the mysterious mercenary band who seemed intent on trashing the Supper Club, and they speculated about who could be behind it. Silver conceived a plan to fake being injured and vulnerable to see who comes to take advantage. She was still considering this as Firestone came to the Supper Club and purchased a full-service luxurious bath. Mizz Stockton remonstrated with Fleece for permitting a rocket launcher to leave the Have Rats control without permission. Clearly Rhyme’s strange charismatic influence was spreading…

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Dark Currents

Firestone met with The Machinist, the father of Fuse and Chin, the kids he had taken under his wing. The Machinist believes in self-sufficiency, and doesn’t want his children given a free ride, but Firestone convinced the old man that he would not only look after the kids, but also challenge them. The Machinist agreed to help Firestone and the two kids upgrade Firestone’s tank with new, improved armored windshield-slats to help keep the driver from being constantly shot up.

Silver invited Absinthe up to the Supper Club. While there, Absinthe saw Rhyme perform a song that captivated all present. Absinthe decided then and there to accept Silver’s offer of employment, and departed to make her decision known to Team Badass. Quitting the Team apparently involved a similar process to joining it: running the gauntlet. The motorcycle gang formerly allied with the King’s Gang has a strongly held “survival of the strongest” ethos, and to join, you have to prove you’re a true badass… and to be allowed to leave with your life requires the same. Absinthe was beaten, broken and bruised, but emerged with a bloody grin. She sought out Cass at her clinic before returning to Silver for some training. She ran into Farley, the former leader of Team Badass, who was being kicked out of the clinic. Farley decided the time had come to formally challenge Firestone once more, this time in Mount Safeco’s arena.

Farley entered the garage and made a big production out of his challenge, which Firestone accepted. By the time they reached the arena, word was spreading throughout the hold. Team Badass was there in force, but also the Have Rats, and the Rocket Men. Mizz Stockton herself, along with many Regents, as well as Silver and Rhyme were there to watch. Cass was on hand to tend to the loser.

The Ringmistress began the fight with her usual showmanship, bringing a gleam of maternal pride to Mizz Stockton’s eye. Farley came out swinging, dealing a brutal blow to the already-injured Firestone. Suddenly, Firestone’s usual bluster drained away, and with a strange, uncharacteristic silence, he smoothly executed a series of blows that not only laid out Farley, but severely damaged his spine. He was stopped before he could execute the former biker, and the strange, liquid silence faded, leaving him bloody and panting.

Cass desperately, once again, tried to save Farley, but on transportation to the clinic, the old biker died. Cass handed the corpse over to The Reclaimer, and hoped that nobody would inquire into Farley’s fate, for the arena is not supposed to be fatal.

Cass was consulted by Mizz Stockton on the strange red-flowing plant that seemed to have taken the lives, or at least the motor-control, of the two kids Dog-Face and Enough. They theorized about whether the plant killed its prey and animated the corpses or somehow controlled living bodies to fetch it more sustenance. Either way, Mizz Stockton added it to the general warning signs scattered about Mount Safeco. As she departed Cass’ clinic, Mizz Stockton caught a glimpse of the mysterious Shazzy, who had apparently been coming to the clinic. Shazzy ducked out of sight, but not before Mizz Stockton saw him. She gave pursuit, which led eventually to one of the stairwells. She chose to go down and ran into a gang of a dozen heavily-armed individuals, none of whom she recognized. It was clear she had interrupted them prior to some violent endeavor. She and the two Have Rats with her, Jackson and Jeanette, realized they were severely outgunned, but the thugs also did not apparently consider that Mizz Stockton would run in on them without backup lurking nearby. Mizz Stockton attempted to talk her way out of the impasse, but ultimately relied on buying off the thugs, who were apparently mercenaries hired to cause trouble for someone in the tower. She got the name of the leader, Balls, and a location where she could contact him in the next few days if she wished.

Rhyme, remembering the infatuation that the young Chin had for her, invited the lad off to a private chat. Since her epiphany, her strange charisma has manifested itself in new and more alluring ways. It was no time at all before Chin was thoroughly in love with Rhyme, willing to do anything she wished. What Rhyme wished the lad to do was find Firestone’s hidden stash of Silence-fruit and destroy it. Rhyme convinced Chin in no uncertain terms that Firestone was addicted, and killing himself with these strange fruit. This Chin promised to do.

Firestone, for his part, sought medical attention after his fight. He was treated, and slept off the worst of the bruising, but the dreams that plagued him were far worse than the usual bouts of vivid madness that afflicted him before he started taking the Silence-fruit. Once he was released from the clinic, he rushed to his garage to take another berry only to find his secret stash gone. He freaked out, demanding that everyone in Team Badass open up their saddlebags, furious that someone had “stolen his shit.” Ultimately he determined that Chin was the culprit, and although Chin never betrayed his love, Firestone put two and two together from previous conversations and left to confront his oldest friend in the Supper Club.

Meanwhile, Silver was training a bruised up but happy Absinthe in her new duties as back-up bouncer for Mice. Absinthe was clearly a rough work in progress, not really understanding the notion of restrained violence necessary to be an effective bouncer, but she seemed willing to learn. Silver was informed that a new woman had arrived at the tower asking for her. A scantily-clad girl with a very big gun and a stone-cold attitude handed Silver a bag full of intact Butterfinger candy bars and was invited up to the Supper Club. Her name was Sunny, and she had come into Seattle from the north.

After Firestone and Rhyme had an inconclusive disagreement in a back room, Firestone began hitting “the good stuff” to drown his withdrawal while the Have-Rat Quick started chatting up Rhyme. Rhyme referenced the “piano-man,” a figure in one of her songs, and Quick spoke of a building full of broken and rotting pianos, and the possibility that maybe a full, working instrument could be salvaged with enough effort. The problem was, the building was at the edge of the Ravine. Another expedition was formulated, as Cass also needed to visit that vicinity to pick up a stash of useful supplies revealed to her by Mac. And, of course, to haul back a whole piano would require Firestone’s tank and a trailer. Firestone had an avid gleam in his eye about this expedition, remembering that the berries came from a Ravine savage. Quick left to start working on putting together a full group, and the rest spread out to consider what to bring.

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