The Coldest War

Betrayal!

As Firestone and Rhyme prepared to journey forth on a recon mission to the Green Mud Lake, Firestone’s biker gang got restive. They wanted to come along, as it had been some time since they had last had an opportunity to raise hell, kill some people, and loot their stuff. Firestone, feeling the pressure, declared that any members of Team Badass who weren’t injured from arena matches with the Have Rats and others could come along.

This prompted Phoenix to rush off to the medical clinic that Cass had set up to try a “quick fix” for what was clearly a concussion. This resulted in Cass being roped in to provide “medical support” to the mission. Ultimately, Firestone, Rhyme, and Cass rode in Firestone’s tank while Team Badass fanned out to the front and sides, and a rather larger caravan of vehicles left Mount Safeco than had been originally intended.

Inside Mount Safeco, Jeanette rushed past Newton into Mizz Stockton’s office with urgent news: The Entertainer was dead! He had apparently keeled over in the middle of the market. Mizz Stockton hurried out, with straggling Have Rats belatedly attaching themselves to her for her protection. She arrived in the market to see a gathered crowd, kept at bay from disturbing the body by a couple of Have Rats. Mizz Stockton began to question the bystanders, but only Jamie, one of Spider’s girls who was manning his booze-booth, had any useful intelligence, and even that wasn’t much. She said that the Entertainer had been making his way through the market on the way to a sunset performance, talking to people, when suddenly he fell over. Jamie herself didn’t see it, she just heard the thud as he hit the ground, but he was bleeding out of all of his “face holes.” Sure enough, the Entertainer’s nose, tear ducts, and ears were trickling blood into a slowly expanding pool, but he had no other sign of injury. Mizz Stockton ordered the Reclaimer to take the body into quarantine. Her Have Rats were muttering conspiracy theories.

Mizz Stockton arrived in the Supper Club to make inquiries to Silver, who was even then being informed by Emmy of the goings-on in the Market. Silver promised to look into it, tapping her own mysterious shady sources to try to find why someone would want the Entertainer dead, and what poison, or other method may have been used. Mizz Stockton then spent a few hours poring over a cutting from the strange Silence Fruit bush growing in her hydroponics garden as she waited for the Regents to assemble.

The Regents were on edge. One of them had been killed, under very suspicious or mysterious circumstances. The Entertainer was a well-loved fixture of Mount Safeco, and none of them could conceive of a reason anyone would want him dead. They were all certain, however, that something needed to be done. If it got around that Regents could be killed without consequences, Mount Safeco might well collapse. Some of the Regents felt that the culprit was a supernatural curse of some sort. Most of them were of the opinion it was poison. Either way, they backed 100% Mizz Stockton’s desire to investigate. She handed bling and trade goods out to The Enforcer and The Marketman for bribes in pursuing the investigation.

Mizz Stockton then summoned Fleece to find out why Have Rats security had fallen lax…

Meanwhile, the convoy powered west through the ruins of the U District into the old Wallingford neighborhood. The rotted, bloated carcasses of houses and business lined the shattered roads, vines with bright colored flowers wrapped up stone structures while fungal blooms and moss slowly tore the wooden structures apart.

Soon, the caravan encountered a large ruined building. Perhaps it had once been a community center or a shopping center. Now, however, it was the home of a scavenging tribe, who were lurking behind the walls watching the caraven with some concern. Team Badass was excited. A tribe they could raid! Firestone was less excited. He wanted to get to the Green Mud Lake. He ordered the caravan to turn aside and skirt the tribe’s fortress. This sparked a confrontation with Farley, Firestone’s lieutenant. Farley exclaimed that ever since they joined up with Firestone he had been nothing but a coward and a wimp, and that maybe the bikers had been wrong about him. This rapidly escalated to violence, with Farley blasting Firestone’s windshield open with a 12-gauge shotgun. The glass shards sparkled in the sun as they lacerated Rhyme’s face, momentarily confusing her. Cass, on the other hand, managed to throw herself out of the vehicle and avoided all damage. Firestone, wounded with buckshot, and frothingly angry, unloaded most of the bullets from his .44 into Farley, who staggered back, discharging his second shotgun shell. The rest of Team Badass watched this contest for leadership and didn’t interfere, no thanks to Rhyme, who’s strange charisma failed her inexplicably.

As Farley coughed up blood and slowly began to expire, Firestone frothed at the rest of Team Badass, intimidating them into grudging quiescence, while Cass worked to keep Farley alive. She managed to stabilize him, then turned her attention to Firestone, patching him up as best she could, although realizing he had a serious laceration in his neck that might cause future problems if she didn’t keep a close eye on him. That’s when a sortie from the scavenging tribe poured out to assault them, led by a man with a cardboard burger king crown. Rhyme, along with Brain, the Rocket Man she had brought along to man Firestone’s machine gun, intimidated this crowd into retreating back within their fortress.

Firestone and Team Badass had a bit of a staredown. Finally Firestone shrugged and decided to let them attack the scavenging tribe, with Firestone fighting among them, much to Rhyme’s chagrin.

The scavenger tribe was defeated, and only two members of Team Badass died, Frost and Hurricane. The rest were re-invigorated, high on battle, and pleased at having saddlebags full of spoils. Slim Jim ended up with the cardboard crown. Firestone found amidst the spoils a handful of Silence Fruit, and decided that they needed to return to Mount Safeco to lick their wounds rather than continue on their original mission.

Back in Mount Safeco, Fleece and Mice arrived at Mizz Stockton’s office. Mizz Stockton gave a stern interview to Fleece to discover the state of Mount Safeco security and discovered that, apparently, with the influx of new fighters all resolving disputes in the arena, it had become a “thing” and that now the Have Rats, Rocket Men, and members of Team Badass were engaged in a tree-structure bloodsports tournament that was captivating the attention of most of the military forces of the tower. Mizz Stockton intimidated Fleece into being more vigilant, and then spoke with Mice, who clearly had a notion that he could replace Fleece if Mizz Stockton was sufficiently upset at her. Mizz Stockton informed Mice that she wanted to talk to the leaders of the Rocket Men and Team Badass to make sure that they got the same message that Fleece had received. Right then, the caravan returned to the tower containing Rhyme and Firestone, those self-same leaders. Mice went down to find them and bring them upstairs to meet with Mizz Stockton.

Meanwhile, Silver’s inquiries bore some fruit. Twice, the girl Silver had given haven to from Spider, was extremely nervous and upset. She seemed convinced that Spider could kill her if she told Silver this information, but she revealed it anyway. She told Silver that Spider had learned his distilling techniques “across the lake” to the south, from a group called The Refined who lived in the Needle. She told Silver that Shazzy had also come from there, and that’s how Spider and Shazzy had known each other and why they had started working together. Twice claimed that both Spider and Shazzy had… talents… sick, twisted ideas and occult claims. She claimed that Spider had taken a vial of her blood with the threat that he could kill her at any time, over any distance. She was certain that one or the other of them had been behind the Entertainer’s death.

Silver decided to go upstairs to meet with Mizz Stockon on this matter. Her employees seemed concerned that she would be going anywhere alone in these tense times, but she insisted she would be fine…

As she moved up into the stairwell leading up to Mizz Stockton’s office, however, that self-assurance began to waver. The lights in the stairwell suddenly went out. Silver took out her shears and made her way up the stairs in the dark, only to find the door to Mizz Stockton’s hallway closed and locked. This was strange, as this door is usually propped open, and there isn’t even a lock on it. Silver kicked at the door, but ended up losing her balance and falling back. She expected there to be a stairwell railing… there should have been a stairwell railing… instead she fell… and fell… and fell… into blackness, in a fall that didn’t end…

Mice found Rhyme and Firestone and told them Mizz Stockton wanted to see them. Cass tagged along to keep an eye on Firestone and his wound. As they headed up the brightly lit stairwell to Mizz Stockton’s office, they saw Silver, lying on the landing, unconscious and pale, gripping the blades of her shears in each hand with a white-knuckled grip. This was very odd. Cass moved to try to waken Silver while Firestone looked around for trouble. Firestone noticed wet footprints leading up the stairs to higher levels, moist water with a faint, gray, oily look like the rainwater that comes from the black rains, even though no such rain had come through in a few days. Cass managed to awaken Silver who, in a panic, accidentally stabbed Cass in the shoulder. The stimulands Cass had to give Silver had her flushed, with elevated heart-rate. Toledo suddenly walked into the hall, noticed everyone. Mice told her to fetch Mizz Stockton, which she rapidly did.

Firestone and Rhyme immediately began following the wet footprints up the stairs, although Rhyme engaged Firestone in conversation seeking to slow him down so the rest could catch up. Down below, Mizz Stockton was filled in, Toledo was sent downstairs to fetch more Have Rats, and they all headed up after Firestone and Rhyme.

They arrived at the landing for an upper level, one of the restricted levels where the hydroponics gardens and whatnot were to be found. This particular door should have been locked, but was not. This was the entrance to the Reclaimer’s lair, where he enacted his mysterious business converting the dead, and other matter, into fertilizer for the gardens. It was dark beyond the door, and the smell of rendering corpses was pungent. The footsteps entered there.

Rhyme concentrated on her dreams, and on the Madness, and felt sensations of mad glee, flashes of voyeuristic pleasure, presumably from the culprit they were chasing. Rhyme, Firestone, Cass, and Mice opted to go into the Reclaimer’s lair and continue tracking the culprit. Mizz Stockton and Silver opted to up one more level to some of the hydroponics gardens, and try to get around to the other stairwell and back down to cut the culprit off in case it was trying to flee through the Reclaimer’s lair.

Mizz Stockon and Silver were delayed by gardeners and other lackeys trying to talk to them, and the complications of navigating hydroponics gardens, but the others, moving through the gloom with only a flashlight to see by, soon reached a large vat of near-boiling sludge, with a human hand sticking out of it. As they peered at this disturbing sight, Mice’s eyes rolled back in his head and he pulled his AK-47 to bear on his companions. Cass and Firestone both dived out of the way, but Rhyme was frozen. Her faith in the Action Man had been shaking by events earlier in the day, and now, here, a friend was trying to kill her.

Mice opened fire, but not at Rhyme. He hit the vat of boiling sludge, which ruptured, burning Rhyme, and washing her off her feet to lie on her back, at Mice’s feet, looking up into the muzzle of his gun. Cass threw herself onto Mice’s back while Firestone opened up with his .44 seeking not to hurt Mice, but to crack and disable his gun. Both were successful, preventing Mice from shooting Rhyme in the face. Rhyme, however, desperate to escape, pulled Truth, her machete, and cut off Mice’s right leg just below the knee, getting Truth lodged in the bone of Mice’s left leg. Suddenly Mice’s eyes returned to normal as he fell, screaming, and gushing blood.

Mizz Stockton and Silver heard gunfire from down below and hurried their pace, Mizz Stockton outpaced Silver, who was still out of breath from the stimulants Cass had given her. Mizz Stockton arrived at the back door to the Reclaimer’s lair and entered it, in the gloom. She peered about at the shadowed tanks and tubes and her sharp eyes picked out a figure perched up on top of the tanks, looking down and away from Mizz Stockton, presumably toward the others who were rapidly trying to recover from their tense and horrible fight. Mizz Stockton recognized the figure as Carver. In a stern tone, she ordered Carver to come down and give herself up. Carver, instead, scuttled across the tanks seeking to escape.

Cass managed, through a heroic display of medical skill, to keep Mice from dying, although he was in a coma from blood loss and shock. Rhyme, also, was shaking and in shock from having nearly killed a friend. Firestone was trying to snap Rhyme out of her panic with evident concern for the girl. They all then heard Mizz Stockton’s voice boom out from further in the gloom, and a panicked scuttling from up above them. Suddenly Silver was there, moving quickly, trying to get Carver’s attention. Pipes burst, and scalding fluid started showering down. Cass threw herself over her patient, taking some serious burns to protect him while Rhyme, wild-eyed, pulled Reason, her rifle, and shot Carver solidly in the gut. Caver curled up like a spider and fell to the ground, weeping, blood gushing from its mouth. Before Rhyme could finish the twisted creature off, however, Silver stopped her, in the name of Mizz Stockton’s need for information. Rhyme instead opened her mind to the Madness and saw two people standing beside Carver, a gentle-faced man and woman, healthy, parental-looking, fondly watching over the twisted creature bleeding on the ground.

Mizz Stockton began asking some stern questions of Carver. In its mad babblings, it became clear that Carver had, somehow, utilizing whatever psychic abilities that it had used on Silver and Mice, killed the Entertainer. Carver’s motivation had been to reunite him with Carver’s “parents” who, it was clear to everyone, were dead but still making demands of the mad hoarder. It furthermore became clear to Mizz Stockton that Carver had the talents and knowledge of Mount Safeco’s crawlspaces to have sabotaged the rain catchers, and was likely the culprit behind many of Mount Safeco’s recent problems.

The wounded retreated to Cass’s clinic. Silver took Rhyme to the Supper Club to bathe the girl, comfort her, and hopefully bring her down from the internal crisis that was afflicting her. Mizz Stockton ordered the Have Rats that Toledo brought up from below to take Carver into custody for future trial.

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