Back in the New Imperium, in blissful ignorance of most of what had been going on elsewhere, Kevin, Marty, Ryan, and company were preparing to board the Hellstorm and engage in a desperate struggle against the powers of darkness…
Well, actually, Ryan was diverting himself with worries about his own allies (for which some of his friends from the old days had, admittedly, given him ample cause), Kevin was focused on bringing his OWN dark powers back under control, and Marty was looking forward to a little bit of delightful hand-to-hand! Kevin might be good at taking out the minions, but it was time for the main event!
Still… he could always nuke the bridge from the inside! Or vent the entire ship to space! Or tear the Hellstorm in half with raw oratory and the power of his mind!
Aw, who was he kidding? Any of those might be fun – although he wasn’t sure that he OR Kevin OR Ryan could pull off that last one – but there was still nothing like going in with a knife! He WAS the invade-and-take-over specialist after all!
He towed Kevin along. The kid looked pretty abstracted at the moment and it wouldn’t do to let him run into a counter-boarding party in that condition. He’d probably grant them a wish or something in the interests of not being bothered, when stabbing would be far more suitable.
Ah, stabbing. Lots and lots of stabbing…
(Marty) “You okay there Kevin? You look… delirious.”
(Kevin) It… will…. be….. fine….. just… need…. a….. little…… time………
(Marty) “Okay, you sit tight. I’m going to take the thralls and board this sucker!”
Good grief! Kevin was sounding like Gelman on a really bad day!
Marty got together some of the Thralls who weren’t busy assisting Menthas – with the Forgelight entangled with the Hellstorm, a lot of crew positions had become redundant – and had them try to take a look at the sensors. It would be nice to have SOME idea of the layout of the ship they were about to board!
Unfortunately that was fairly useless. They could tell that there was a major power center – radiating both neutrino surges and demonic power – towards the lower back of the ship, but there was just too much interference to get any decent indication of what the interior spaces were like.
Clairvoyance was no use either. Too much magic, demonic power, and dimensional disturbances again – not to mention some areas apparently being shielded.
Dammit. The only way he was going to get directions was if the computer felt cooperative – and it was far more likely to lie – or if they found a map of the area printed on the wall or something (and THAT would be likely to be a fraud too on a hellship!).
(Kevin, blearily muttering quotes) “Audacity! always Audacity!”
Marty frowned… Oh well! It was something like a building, even if it was drifting in space – and he’d assailed a lot of those in his time!
He had about fifty extra thralls above their usual companions – and the three-hundred NeoDogs who were supporting Menthas. He left twenty to handle the defense in case there was an attempt to board THEM, and set out to do a little on-site probing with sharp pointed things! Thirty – forty or so with their usual bunch – should be big enough to take on small groups of defenders without being cumbersome since they were all telepaths anyway! And forty versus a demonic super star destroyer was certainly audacity!
Besides, it was hard to say how many of the crew survived the Nightmare Storm. They wouldn’t have been in the best shape to resist that…
(Ryan) “Hmm, it looks like the interior has been extensively redone since the last time I was in here.”
(Marty) “What changes are you seeing?”
(Ryan) “Well in many ways it would be more proper to say that the interior of this place is more like a pocket dimension now than the interior of a ship. Best to stay on your toes, this place is likely to be highly morphic and will try to prey upon your mind and sanity.”
(Marty, grinning) “What sanity?”
Ryan groaned to himself… Blasted toons! They were always nuts, and they had always had driven him nuts, and it was hard to argue with one who acknowledged his own basic craziness!
(Marty) “Anyway, can you give me any specifics on what you’re seeing in that dimension?”
(Ryan) “Well I suspect you still understand that certain behaviors are not to be carried out, like skinning the skin off someone just to see how long you can keep them alive. And I doubt you feel the need to tear out your eyes and rip out your tongue.”
(Marty) “Okay, that is pretty damn screwed up. First step, put up the old mental defenses.”
(Ryan) “Oh now there is an unpleasant one, seeing someone consumed by negative energy cell by cell. Yes, I think I will be adding a few layers of mental defenses to everyone here… I take it you are heading to the bridge then?”
(Marty, grinning roguishly) “Where else would Revan want to have a dramatic duel?”
(Ryan) “Heh, beware of any giant chasms then. In the meantime, I am going after the main power core, then the main computer core.”
(Marty) “Going to blow them up? Well, try to give us fair warning. It’d suck if I took Revan down, then got vaporized.”
(Ryan) “I was hoping to avoid explosive shutdowns. I was leaning more towards the scattering critical components across the Manifold solution.”
(Marty) “Eh, suit yourself, we’ll be heading off. Good luck.”
(Ryan) “Same to you, I will head towards the bridge when my team is done.”
(Kevin, through the Thralls) “Menthas? Do you have enough support to hold out for a time? I’m going to be leaving Bard with you; he’s covered by the Contract with the Hellstorm, so the pressure shouldn’t step up when Marty and I leave.”
(Menthas) “I should be able to hold for some time – but not indefinitely.”
Marty sighed. It looked like he was going to have to resort to tactics… Blast it! Planning ahead had always kind of seemed like cheating to him! That was why he’d been leaving it to Kevin! A bit of planning ahead was perfectly in character fora a dark lord!
He had the Thralls use the high-magic zone that was currently boiling around Kevin to set up some additional mental shields, negative energy protections, other energy protections, some environmental protections, and other defenses to augment the ones Ryan and company had set up. If it was a hell-dimension, it could be about to get pretty unpleasant!
Hm… He had the Thralls focus a lot of defenses around Kevin. The kid was normally quite capable of handling his own defenses – but he HAD just tapped into a major bit of darkness there, and they were about to confront a Sith Lord and a sapient demonic starship. They might try to manipulate him.
He reminded himself to be ready call for other defenses on the fly. The place sounded more like a psychological kind of hell, but better safe than sorry!
Hm. Was Kevin just a traditionalist? He did seem to stick with the classics a lot…
The two groups stepped out into the Hellstorm and took their separate ways.
Marty found that navigation wasn’t easy – the Hellstorm was a nightmarish jumble of passages, with crusty reddish-black walls, flickering lights, and horrific stains and unmentionable debris scattered everywhere – but the Thralls and his understanding of basic building layouts was still SOME help.
The intermittent screaming and howling echoing through the passages didn’t help though. On the other hand, at least when those came along they drowned out the whispers that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
(Whispers) “Join us, embrace the nightmares. You know he is plotting against you!”
That stirred up Kevin a bit; he was beginning to take an interest again – even if he was still pretty distracted.
(Kevin) “And who would you bunch be?”
(Whispers) “We are the ones that have given into the darkness. It is a part of us just like it is a part of you.”
(Marty) “Yeah, well, we’re not giving into it. We like our other parts too much.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that set off the first attacks – mangled humans, clothed in nothing save for blood, filth, and various implements of torture that were working on them or peeling their skin back, who came out of the ventilation and service shafts.
What was left of a woman who was being slowly torn apart by metal hooks attacked Marty – biting into his shoulder with her lipless bleeding mouth and somehow inflicting massive injuries.
(Marty) “Lady, I’m not into THAT!”
He hurled her down the corridor; unlike some of his colleagues, he was no gentleman!
He considered using his new talents in pleasure magic to sedate her – but the local rules were pretty strongly against it, and it turned out to be a bit beyond his new-found powers.
He had to toss her away again. At least there weren’t enough of the others to get past the Thrall-guards to Kevin – even if they were forcing them to use a lot of their power on self-healing.
He started hewing his way through the maddened, soulless – but still extremely dangerous – husks. They exploded in eruptions of blood and gore that were far beyond what should have been contained in their frames.
By the time he was done, even his healing powers were starting to run low…
(Whispers) “Why do you resist? It is in your nature to destroy and seek pleasure……”
(Marty, growling) “I’m more than some animal!”
(Kevin, rather abstractedly) “How… crude. Is THIS supposed to be tempting?”
(Marty) “Yeah, that was icky! I’ve seen hentai less disgusting than that.”
(Kevin, interrupting) “Yes, the occasional visit to a house of horrors can be entertaining, and some people feel a need to be punished – but this is just silly!”
Real power was derived from having souls in your service! You could build up a following of tormented, sadomasochistic maniacs, but it was an enormous amount of work, little or no fun for ANYONE, and they drifted away quickly! That was why the classic had always been temptation! This was… shortsighted, destructive, and ultimately useless except as a way to cause pain and suffering.
Ah. It was entirely possible that the Hellstorm did not have a soul at all – or, if it did, it was simply demented. Such foolishness was typical of lesser horrors. Destruction, pain, and terror for their own sakes, rather than as tools to be used in pursuit of your ambitions.
(Marty) “Come on Kevin, we don’t have time for this bull!”
Uh-oh. They must really have crossed a realm-boundary when they entered the Hellstorm. Kevin was drifting into his “Angel of Darkness” persona… How did you qualify for a halo and demon-wings at the same time anyway? Maybe it would be best to gate through to Revan? But he – or at least the Hellstorm – would probably make that difficult anyway.
The corridor continued onwards, with the way now lined with remnants of corpses. At least they seemed to be past the more violent amongst the living dead now… heading deeper into the abyss. Most of the bodies were partially-eaten, abused, and mutilated. A number of what appeared to be former imperial officers and storm troopers were crawling around on all fours, ripping feebly at bodies, and making the screaming and howling sounds they’d been hearing. At least they seemed to be too far gone to notice them immediately…
Marty looked at the blue-white thunderbolts and black-and-crimson fire beginning to flicker around Kevin… it would be best to hurry. There was no telling how long the kid would be able to hold it together under this kind of pressure.
The Thralls reported that the creatures crawling around had been driven mad with torment, had had a wide variety of horrific nightmares unleashed upon them, had had their souls driven out, and had been afflicted with a LOT of leaking demonic energy. Most of the damage was beyond repair at this point – the souls had long since departed – and attempts at magical healing would be like throwing a new coat of paint over the halls and mopping. Besides… it looked like most of them hadn’t had souls to begin with. They could heal the physical damage – but that would just let the empty shells attack them better.
Which, by the way, they were currently starting to do.
(Kevin, absently) “Forget them. There’s little to be done for them anyway.”
Marty probed… it looked like… just continuing along the corridor was certain to result in several more encounters with various depraved manifestations of the local reality. At some point though, should they persevere, they’d come across an avatar of the local reality – an “End Boss”. Defeat whatever that turned out to be, and they should reach the bridge – regardless of whether or not they were actually headed in the “right” direction.
(Kevin) “Oh geez! This thing has been patterned after some old game! One of the really crude ones, like that ancient “Doom” thing that was mentioned in history class!”
(Marty) “Hey, I remember that game!”
Don’t think about cacodemons, don’t think about . . . DAMMIT!
Meanwhile, of course, the officers and troopers were galloping – well, OK, shambling, crawling, and slithering – towards them with mindless expressions of voracity.
Kevin grinned suddenly. He wouldn’t want to unseal the grand powers of darkness for a bit – but the corridors were fifteen feet high and at least that wide, and he’d seen this bit in a dozen holo-productions.
He started skipping from head to back to shoulder across the onrushing horde, tumbling acrobatically to avoid any potential strikes. There was no point in having all those genetic boosts to strength and agility that his parents had paid for (since they’d been open-minded enough to give him the animal genegrafts rather than sticking with the purebred human genetic toolbox) if you never used them!
Marty gaped for a moment – the kid had never done that before! – but shrugged. It certainly wasn’t a bad idea; as much as he hated to admit it, fighting these mindless minions had no point… He told the Thralls to levitate themselves – or shapeshift to hummingbirds or some such – and follow their master while he used his own Light Foot skills to run along the walls, with occasional launches off of hungry Imperial troops.
You know, using your acrobatic talents to dodge past frustrated enemy goons was also kind of amusing! Still… it would have been more fun if he hadn’t been aware of just where they were.
There was much bouncing along the tops of depraved heads and running along the walls as they skipped past just out of reach of their attackers, readily evading their various attacks.
(Kevin) “So long suckers!”
That took them – in short order, as the local reality gave it up as a bad job – to a large, arena-style, room flooded with about six inches of rust-colored (or bloody) water. The walls were the color of dried blood and decaying metal, and the room was sweltering, steamy mess. The only sound seems to come from a periodic drip of water – and the only exit was a set of large, Star Wars style, blast doors at the top of a stairway landing at the far end.
Mr “Boss” was waiting for them – and the local reality seemed to have fallen back on some sort of video game imagery again. The “Boss” was an eight-foot-tall humanoid wearing only some sort of rough leather skirt and a pyramid-shaped helmet. He was wielding a long “knife” that was nearly eight feet long itself.
(Marty) “Oh Crap! We’re in Silent Hill! I’ve played that one!”
Kevin drew a complete blank there. Probably some sort of game or practice scenario or some such that had been current when Battling Business World was created. That would make it… early twenty-first century or so?
Marty stepped forward. This would make a good warmup! Besides… letting Kevin get involved would probably confuse things. The kid kind of felt that HE deserved to be richly rewarded, not punished! He, however, had the guilt to challenge the avatar of punishment. Pesky conscience.
The thing wasn’t quite his match on the attack, but it could apparently take – or at least block – nearly limitless amounts of punishment.
Kevin spun sacred-energy construct-armor around Marty – he was pretty sure that THAT kind of power wouldn’t go out of control – but he couldn’t keep that up too long, no matter how amusing it was to see the local reality bending away from it! Even the minor teleportation that his armor was giving him barely allowed him to keep ahead of the thing – and it was absorbing all his strikes with hardly a sign of damage.
This was not good. What were the local rules like? Did he have to come to some sort of terms? Fight until he’d caused some monstrous amount of damage? Did it work more like the game, or was it truly invulnerable?
It certainly didn’t seem to feel pain!
(Marty) “So what’s under that helmet, anyway?
Still no sign of pain – and it ignored his taunts with the cold impersonal response of a machine. It suddenly appeared behind him again as he blinked, and he barely managed to dodge to the side in time to avoid having that knife suddenly materialize in his chest. It still caught him in the ribs though, inflicting another massive wound – and forcing Kevin to renew the armor again.
Damn! Trying to get through the door was no use either! It looked like you HAD to deal with the guardian first!
(Marty) “Dammit! What do you want from us?”
Pyramid-Head pointed to Marty, then proceeded to poke the tip of its blade into its hand. It then squeezed it’s hand and let the blood drip into the water they were standing in.
(Marty) “Oh. Well damn. Why didn’t you just say so.”
(Marty, privately to Kevin) “Can you see anything wrong with what he seems to be suggesting? Because I can see several possible horrors resulting – still, it might be our only way through!”
Kevin, could, of course think of any number of things that could arise from voluntarily-offered blood. (If an involuntary offering would do, Marty wouldn’t need to donate blood; he’d just lost quite a lot of the stuff…).
They had one of the spare Thralls they had along drip some in – despite the whispers suggesting a full filleting.
The door slid open, revealing what looked to be the bridge of the ship on the other side.
(Pyramid-Head) “Sacrificing the blood of another to spare yourselves, how appropriate. You may pass.”
Aw! Now Marty felt guilty again!
They went though anyway, as Pyramid Head stepped to the side and silently faded away. It was likely to be a trap – but even if Revan had gone totally dark side, it was beginning to look like they might be here for a rescue – or a mercy killing – and not a duel.