They wandered for a long time through the maze. Dr. Orange’s experience in mathematical topology helped guide them closer and closer to the center. Their food ran low, and even with rationing they were almost out of water.
They came to a blank brick wall.
“The center of the maze is behind this,” said Dr. Orange.
Jimmy and Geronimo used their ice axes as improvised picks, wedging open cracks with their pitons. After a couple of hours they were able to smash open a hole large enough to squeeze through.
The room beyond the wall was glowing with a horrible red light. Suspended in an enormous cavern was a gigantic, beating, human heart, easily the size of a house or larger. Veins and arteries branched off of it, hanging like bridge cables from the ceiling, where they connected to flaccid sac-like stomachs which pulsed with peristalsis.
The air was absolutely clogged with the smell of Nectar, but even Ruby felt no compulsion to take it. Not in the presence of this titanic horror. All of them felt their minds reel. Nothing could have prepared them for this.
[Indeed. This was a 6-point Stability loss, which brought three PCs to negative Stability; the Liar makes any Sanity loss two points worse, so they all went down 3 points of Sanity.]
Kneeling in front of the enormous heart was a human figure. As they came near, they were shocked to see that it was Millicent, her head lolling around senselessly. Jimmy turned back to the girl he had found in the bloody room.
“Oh,” she said, the spell loosening. “I’m not real, am I.”
Millicent—the real Millicent—stood up. She looked at the rest of them with dazed eyes.
Jimmy grabbed the duplicate by her shoulders. “Please just make my day,” he growled, and shoved her forward.
“I’m coming,” she said.
[Intimidate spend by JP. As a reward for everyone playing along with fake Millicent, they got to hold 3 to do stuff, most importantly to pass dismissal checks during the upcoming ritual.]
Geronimo seized the…not original…maybe not real…their Milicent by the shoulders. “Millicent, you’re you, you’re real.”
“She’s just a duplicate. Ignore her.”
“But…who’s real…who’s the me…I’m overthinking it, aren’t I?”
“Yes. You are in your body. You are human.”
“I don’t think I am. But I understand what you mean.”
“You have to save your mom. Stay strong.”
[Reassurance spend by Geronimo, refreshed 2 points of Stability for Millicent.]
“Let’s do this,” muttered Jimmy. “The world may need to stay saved on its own after this, but let’s do it.”
[JP Challenged Jimmy’s “The world won’t stay saved” Statement.]
“Amazing,” said Dr. Orange. “I’d like to learn more. But let’s destroy it.”
[And Dr. Orange Challenges his “My Research Takes Priority” Statement.]
“Something’s moving out there,” said Geronimo, gazing into the murky darkness surrounding them. “We’re not going to be alone for long.”
“We need to bring our Yucatan friend here,” said Jimmy. He spent a long moment concentrating. He felt his mind reach out to the others, to Ruby and DoctorOrangeMillicent…
Weeee aaarrreeeee heeerreeeee
The sound came from all their mouths in sequence. Geronimo involuntarily stumbled back. The four of them were locked into some eerie synchronicity, their mouths and hands working together as if moved by the same inhuman will, their very breathing now forced into an alien rhythm.
The sword was in his hand. He couldn’t remember drawing it. Something colossal moved towards him, roughly bipedal. As it stepped into the ruby light shed by the gigantic heart, he saw that it was covered in Mouths, every inch a gaping orifice of teeth and forking tongues, oozing Nectar. What little he could see of its body seemed to be made of stone.
He chanted something in Latin and sprang toward it.
Jimmy, his eyes wide and pupils constricted, drew his knife and stabbed the duplicate Millicent in the chest. Blood spurted from the wound. It was absorbed, somehow, into the stony ground, and he felt his connection to the others somehow increase in intensity.
There was a horrible chuckle that seemed to come from all around him. “Why Jimmy Wright, are you casting spells again?”
He made no reply.
The colossal…Thing With Entirely Too Many Mouths brushed past Geronimo and began striding directly at Ruby. He rolled behind it and threw some smoke bombs toward Ruby and the others. Clouds of acrid smoke surrounded them. They didn’t seem to notice.
He heard the heavy footfalls of the Thing change direction and begin to come closer to him. He backed away from it, and then suddenly felt something wet and elastic wrap around his ankle and drag him to the ground. Acidic secretions burned his skin and he could feel the teeth of a Mouth biting him.
He backhanded the Sword across the tentacle. The colossus backed away into the darkness.
Not even sure if it was her own will, Ruby jammed the ice axe at the end of her artificial arm into the false Millicent. Her head seemed to clear, although it was full of some kind of incomprehensible realm of higher thoughts than she could consciously process.
“Ruby,” came a purring, menacing voice from the direction of the gigantic heart. “You know that when I am gone you will never be happy again.”
She screamed, a blood-curdling, feral yell.
“Ruby!” cried Geronimo, hearing the scream. He raced toward the sound. A spray of sticky liquid hit him with the force of a fire hose, knocking him down, filling his nose and mouth.
It tasted of honey and cinnamon, belying its mossy smell. He felt warmth flow through him from his groin, spreading throughout his body. He wanted Ruby. He wanted to wrench her away from the others, rip off her clothes, and penitently adore that holy flesh in the most primal of sacraments, to merge, to become one…
The Sword was ice cold in his hand. He rose, shaking his head, trying to summon up the will to continue.
Millicent took Jimmy’s knife from his hands wordlessly. She slashed across her double’s throat, severing the head from the neck. The body fell with a thud to the floor of the cavern, already beginning to melt into a doughy, formless substance.
“I’m sorry,” she said tonelessly.
“You will regret this,” boomed the voice of the Liar. She looked up dispassionately as Geronimo stumbled behind Ruby.
Ruby turned her head slowly toward Geronimo, eyes barely registering the giant Thing looming up behind him.
Geronimo reached out toward her. Ruby stretched out her artificial arm and slashed at him with her ice axe.
[RP’s idea; cost Geronimo a point of Stability, but helped him avoid some of the Nectar compulsion.]
Geronimo stepped back. “Mi amor?” he muttered. Then some warrior instinct in him caused him to spin around. The Sword shed a brilliant light as he raised it up, slashing at the gigantic hand reaching for him.
[Me: A Elbereth Gilthoniel!]
His blow struck home. The Thing recoiled, then struck out with a tentacle formed by a twisting braid of tongues from its myriad Mouths. He felt himself leaving the ground, flying backward into the rock wall of the cavern. Everything grew blurry as he fought to stay conscious.
[The Thing took Geronimo into negative Health here.]
Dr. Orange’s senses reeled, then somehow reached some new plateau. He could see things so clearly, the lines of force ringing the Heart, the pull of gravity, the subtle interplay of quantum radiation that kept its obscene presence here, in this universe. Sweat broke out on his brow, and a trickle of blood flowed from his nose.
Some tiny, insignificant part of him wondered at the toll becoming the vessel for an extradimensional alien being was taking on his body, but he dismissed that as immaterial.
[The fake-Millicent gave them a Hold of 3 to pass the initial checks of the contest vs. the Liar, but now they were in the Stability or Health spending portion of the ritual.]
“Doctor,” the Liar’s inhuman voice called out. “I could teach you so much still.”
“We’re past that,” the insignificant part of him said, while the rest of his mind raced on.
Geronimo staggered to his feet. He saw the Thing moving toward Jimmy. “Oye, cabrón,” he shouted. “Qué te jodan!”
[Intimidate spend by GP.]
The Thing stopped, its hand less than a foot from Jimmy’s head. It turned toward Geronimo and rushed at him, already weaving a stiff tentacle like a spear. Geronimo tried to stumble away, but he was still clumsy from the concussion he had taken.
The tentacle lanced through him and impaled him against the wall.
He groaned, blood flowing from the wound. The tentacle withdrew and he slid down the cave wall.
Soon you will be with your brother, said the Thing in a voice made of the screams and mutterings of its Mouths. Soon you will be mine.
“Rodolfo…I always hoped I could find a way to trick this devil into bringing you back,” muttered Geronimo. It was in a breathy whisper. It was almost like a prayer. “But now I know that can never be. Give me strength, my brother. Adios.”
He stood up. The sword leapt into his hand from where he had dropped it on the ground. “In nomine Deo!” he shouted as he slashed at the monster.
A tiny piece of Jimmy’s soul was happy. Time to let go, he thought, as he felt his body riot against the control of Gol-Goroth. In his heart’s erratic rhythm he found a song of peace. Let the world take care of itself for a while.
“I’m going to kill Janet,” said the Liar.
Jimmy’s eyes opened.
“Right now,” continued the Liar. “You know I can do this.”
“Can you afford to?” whispered Jimmy. But his soul was no longer peaceful.
The Thing batted away Geronimo’s blow, and then turned back to where the others were gathered around the enormous heart. Geronimo slid into the shadows and followed it. As he got closer to the circle of his friends, he saw that tentacles tipped with Mouths had grown out of the ground behind them. One was attached to Jimmy, sucking blood out of him.
[Stealth check by GP. He was in negative Health so a lot of Investigative spends that might have helped weren’t available.]
Geronimo drew his pistol and pumped several rounds into the Thing. It spun around, sprouting tongues for tentacles, weaving them into a kind of loose net.
Ruby’s breath grew shallow. Her body was failing, but she kept focusing her will on the Liar, feeling the others help her, the connection with them stronger than it had ever been.
Then she felt it. The pulse of Nectar in her body. She wanted to break her concentration, to give in to the feeling, but the will of Gol-Goroth bound her, resisted her feeble attempts to regain control. In her mind, she screamed again and again.
Geronimo staggered away from the Thing. The net smashed into the ground just behind him. He stumbled forward, trying to twist around to defend himself.
Suddenly his foot sank into the ground and teeth bit into it. He fell down, one foot buried to the ankle in a suddenly gaping Mouth on the ground.
Yoouuu arre theone, some voice said in Millicent’s head. You were always theinstrument ofdestruction. Now isthetime. The time you weremadefor.
Everything became clear.
The world was a network of forces, branching out in beautiful fractal patterns all around her. She could see the loops and whorls of matter, the collected thoughtentities of her friends not that such INsignificant beings couldbe her friends. They were so fragile compared to the vastness in front of her, to the will that arced between them like lightning made of sunshine. Waves of force extended from them, washing against the enormous vortex at the center of this nexus of twentythreedimensional spacetime that the little dim cores of darkness that were the regular consciousnesses of the humans around her perceived as a cavern.
It looked so powerful. It looked immovable and inevitable, eternal and fixed. But that was a Lie too.
She raised the collection of forces that a tiny, alien part of her called her hand and moved it thus, disrupting a narrow thread of light. Something wavered. A flaw in the vortex appeared, and she expanded it with her mind, with the mind of the Otherone, and the band of power around them began to move inward, constricting the vortex, squeezing it, destabilizing the ridiculous false construct of artificial spacetime around them.
The walls of the cavern began to shake. Great boulders dropped from the roof. Blood and Nectar spurted from the heart.
It has begunnn said a voice that wasn’t there.
The Thing stalked toward Geronimo. It chuckled ruthlessly as the senses that served it for perception watched the Spaniard grope around for his Sword. It moved closer and closer, towering over him, leaning over him to squash the life out this insignificant insect…
Geronimo rolled over slightly, revealing the Sword clutched in his left hand. He slashed at the Thing’s knee, cutting cleanly through the tremendous leg of the creature. It stumbled and began to fall on top of him. Almost quicker than thought he pulled the Sword back, clutching it both hands and bracing it against the rocky floor.
The colossal being crashed to the ground on top of him, the Sword tearing through it like a spear. Geronimo could feel it twitching and shaking on top of him as his breath was crushed out of his body.
[Conceal test here by GP.]
Dr. Orange’s left arm was numb. He was reasonably sure his heart had stopped beating some time ago. It seemed obscurely interesting. All he knew was that somehow the power of the Liar was failing. He kept his will focused on crushing it.
Geronimo snaked one hand down to the pistol in his belt. He managed to somehow flip it over to face into the body of the creature, and pulled the trigger until the magazine was empty. It stopped shaking and he felt its great dead weight settle down on top of him. The blackness was all around him.
He refused to give in to it.
Jimmy regarded the Heart coldly. His mind was a furious bolt of golden energy, and he could feel his personality washing away into the stream of alien power. Blood and Nectar continued to flow from the wounded god. It was up to his ankles now.
A word formed in his mind. Maybe it was even his own thought.
Ruby could feel her body shutting down, already beginning to collapse to the ground, but she hung on, resisting the Nectar, resisting the unconsciousness, pushing all her will into one last constriction of force to close the gap to seal the breach in twentythreedimensional spacetime that the Other thecontagion the onewhoLies had forged and then it gave way, collapsing, waveforms falling back to baseline with a sigh of sinerhythms and it was done and over and the Mind released ITS hold on her…
The Heart exploded.
Blood and ichor rained out of it, but in slow motion. Rainbow streaks appeared at the edges of things. Everything slowed, stopped, faded to black…