The Coldest War

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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