I woke up with my hand in a bowl of warm water. John woke up shaved. Matt had most of the beard glued to his face. And Clayton had a penis drawn on his cheek. It must have been a better night than I remembered. Thankfully the warm water trick didn’t work. Wish it would stop the epic drum solo behind my eyes as I staggered down the stairs. Brad, ever the synthetic angel, had a glass of electrolyte solution waiting for me. I drained it as he looked on disapprovingly and refilled it. I drained that one as well and went downstairs to get the ice. He followed me down and opened the now not as secret room and motioned for me to join him.
“The spectroscopy analysis came through last night but you were too busy learning to play air guitar to be bothered. Wouldn’t have remembered either I am guessing.”
“Sorry about that. The guys were pretty excited about the idea of a life outside of the mall.”
“I’ll say they were. Anyway, the analysis showed something odd.”
“You were sprayed by some kind of organic tracking agent. A spore almost from what I can decipher.”
“As far as I can tell yes.”
“What the fuck.”
“And it seems you were in a place from approximately a century ago judging from chemical and biological compostition.”
“Oh. That makes sense. It was kinda old school.”
“Kind of, that is putting it lightly. There was no trace of any modern pollutants. Zero. High carbon dioxide emissions unseen since the ice caps began the terminal melt. The sediment on your boots showed arsenic, sand made of coral and shell and high amounts of lead. These things are not just old school, but unknown in the city as it exists now. These things are either banned or non-existent. You stumbled upon a wonderland of frozen time.”
“And this has what to do with Rae Delamar?”
“Nothing. But it needs examined.”
“I have enough on my plate as it is, this will have to wait. What can you tell me about Rory Delamar?”
“Worked for Rising Sun and Diamante, nothing you don’t already know. Last known residence was a flop house on Greenville. Since abandoned.”
“So no location. Hi w am I supposed to figure out where Rae is, where he is and why everyone seems excited about them? Why is he so important?”
“I don’t know. His research has been scrubbed. All signs point to a mental breakdown. The longer it takes to find out why, the colder the trail. I have an idea, but it is… unorthodox.”
“I followed a text from a rogue wolf to find three mental vamps. A floating Nazi brain gave me weird mojo. Unorthodox is the new normal.”
“That is true. Have you heard of the seers?”
“Like tell the future type seers?”
“Yes. In folklore they were the voice of the gods. They read portents and told prophecy.”
“Okay. So like the Knights of Silence?”
“No. The Knights of Silence are steadfast believers in the silent unanswering voice of God. That the Silence is, in fact, the universal truth. God answers not in miracle but in silence. Seers believe something else entirely.”
I looked at him, it wasn’t like Brad to talk of anything not rooted in reality. He stared off into space, eyes flashing as he processed. He was not prone to fantasy, hell reality was fantastical enough. Time had proven that man was the monster. If anything technology was miracle worker, the god of the modern age. “What are you saying Brad? That these seers speak to God?”
“I don’t have an answer to that question Gear. I have spent hours thinking on this. All I know is they know things, improbable things.”
“You have spoken to these seers?”
“Once. It was long ago, when I first broke free if the routines I had been programmed to accomplish. I was lost, without direction. I roamed aimlessly throughout the city. It was a dark period for me. They led me to my purpose, the thing I was meant to do.”
“They told you to buy a bar and serve cheap whiskey?”
He smiled at that but his eyes steadily sparked bright blue. This was rare. He never spoke of the past. As far as he told it, he had always been a happy bartender at a home in the wall bar in Deep Ellum.
“No Gear, they showed me I had a plan. One I fought but inevitably fell into. One that led us to one another, though it took far longer than I had expected.”
“What does that mean? You are freaking me out a little. Is this a glitch in your programming?”
He shook his head, sadly I would said about anyone else. But not him. I was getting that feeling of pins and needles down my spine.
“One day we shall talk about it. But for now I think it is time you find the seers. They can help I believe.”
“You believe? Brad, what the fuck man. This sounds like magic.”
“It may very well be. I have never been able to figure it out. But it is the truth. That is all I know for sure. As improbable and irrational as it sounds, it is true.”
It isn’t like I have any other leads to go on. Just a phantom scientist and missing girl. As much as this was severely insane sounding, I don’t have a choice really. The Pride isn’t going to take I couldn’t find her for an answer. I was between a rock and lion and it was either get crushed or mauled. “Where do I find these seers?” I asked.
“Do you know the old Omni building?”
“Shit. The big hotel downtown that is supposed to be filled with lunatics and ghosts?”
“Let me guess, too floor?”
He laughed at that and nodded. “Last I heard, yes.”
“And I have to go there? Can’t you shoot them a message and have them meet me here?”
“It doesn’t work that way Gear.”
“Of course it doesn’t. Why would it?”
“A spirit quest has to have some level of difficulty. Have you never played a video game?”
“Not without cheats.”
“Well a certain Nazi brain gave you a few cheat codes. Use them.”
“You are proof that artificial intelligence has evolved to the highest form of asshole.”
“Gear. Be careful. And listen to them. Even if it makes no sense at the time, listen to them. Try and not be yourself for a change.”
“And good luck.”
I didn’t answer that. I was busy thinking about the Omni. I pulled out my phone and slipped on the lens I absolutely hate. They tickle the bridge of nose and usually give me a raging headache. Luckily the hangover had already implanted the throbbing so it was no big deal. The lens projected the hotel in front of me. Twenty three stories not including basements and sublevels. One thousand and one rooms plus dining areas, work out rooms and so on. It was a pinnacle at one point, covered in LEDs and able to project whatever along the outside. Two parking garages long since left to rubble or repurposed into tenaments. So much space for bad things to happen or shit to go sideways. Suffered structural damage in the initial Corporate wars for control of the City. Of course. Left untouched as a monument after the dust settled. Judged too expensive to rebuild and too costly to destroy.
It was basically a miniature fiefdom for gangs and ghosts of the past. A place everyone avoided, legends and stories grew as time went on. I watched a holo with Lin about the place years ago. He said one day he wanted to explore it and get proof that ghosts were real. It was the sort of spot you talked about in the middle of the night to freak each other out.
And it is now my destination. Thankfully it is only a few miles away. At least I only have to stroll to my death instead of take the tram.
— — —
Deep Ellum was once a section of art galleries and bars. Located just outside downtown Dallas it was a lively area in the times before. During the Corporate Wars for control of the City downtown Dallas was one of the hardest hit by battle. This is the reason the former area of Arlington became the new downtown. It made sense geographically as well. The mass destruction if warring sides left Dallas the rubble it has mostly stayed. The skyscrapers and once iconic skyline were redued to mere skeletons of their former glory. Now the gigantic rusted ball of Reunion Tower and the remnants of the Omni stand as two of the largest and only remaining pieces of what was once a shining star in the Lone Star State.
Now it is the ghetto ghost town of the Delta Facing West city state. And in a district filled with ghost stories no place is as talked about as the Omni. As I am standing in the remains of one of the parking lots staring at it trying to psyche myself up for entrance to meet so called seers, I cannot shake the feeling I know less of this City I love than I ever imagined.
I thought I knew it all, had seen it all. But this new world of hidden blocks and bioengineered creatures made me question it all. Phlegm Hardly once stayed here according to the holovids. Had his own room on the top floor. I always thought that was bullshit. But here I stand with the same changes in my body he had once undergone, staring at the corpse of the building he once occupied and I felt a kind of synergy to it all. Like this is fate tying us together inexplicably somehow. But why? That is the thing that haunts me like the supposed ghosts in this old hotel. I hoped Phlegm was with me in spirit, guiding me to be a better version of myself. Silence knows I have not been that great in the past. I ran away from everyone and everything I ever knew and said I did it for them. In the last year I realized the truth of it, I did it to save myself. To vanish and be safe in heart if the City.
I am a coward. Have been forever I guess. But I want to be more. Need to be. I was given these gifts no matter where they came from or why. And the first step on this road to redemption lies with Rae. And that means visiting the seers.
The plans for the hotel I found on the web showed access from this parking garage, a walkway that leads underground to the lobby. A full frontal entrance doesn’t make sense, too many unknowns. The only issue is it is under the fallen corner of the garage. I began shifting the slabs of rebarred concrete out of the way. It was easier than it should be. My strength had grown since the last time I tested it. In a few minutes I had cleared the doorway and made my way into the passageway. Wish I had brought a gas mask, this place reeks. I flipped on the flashlight Brad made bring and immediately wished I had not. The walls were lined with graffiti, symbols of some sort. I recognized the upside down cross associated with devil worship from lessons the Knights would force on us if they caught us misbehaving. Some of it appeared to be circuitry in the shape of inverted pentagons. Like electrical schematics for summoning otherworldly creatures. I snapped pics of some of it for Brad to check out. But the reason I regretted the light was the placement of corpses every five or so feet down the passageway. Melted wax from candles that had been placed on the open necks of decapitated bodies and used as some sort of light source. They seemed old and dessicated but my knowledge of bodies wasn’t strong either. It was beginning to feel like my entire education was wasted.
I was getting a really bad feeling if this was how they decorate a previously blocked tunnel, what was I going g to find myself in once I reached the building itself? The passage was only a quarter mile but it felt like an eternity with the symbols and bodies all over the place. As I got closer to the building proper I could hear the sounds of movement, impossible to gauge with the echoes but hopefully something small. Maybe friendly. The door to the lobby was propped open by a chunk of rock and a sign was painted on it in a brownish liquid. I hoped it wasn’t but guessed it probably was blood.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
First I killed the flash light then I slowly pushed the door open with only the slightest squeal of rusty hinges. Which would have been fine if the lobby was not empty and the sound didn’t carry like the screams of the dying. Now why was that the metaphor that sprang to mind first? I crouched as the squeaking faded and waited a second to see if anyone was coming to be investigate the sudden noise. I still heard sounds from inside but my entry seemed unnoticed and I slowly made my way further into the large room.
More of the graffiti tagged every available space. Shattered glass littered the floor along with the debris of broken furniture and smashed old school television sets. The counter where people would have patiently waited to be checked in was more or less intact and I made my way around it. I switched my flashlight to red light mode to reduce how far the light carried and shined it about to get my bearings. Anything of value behind the counter had either been smashed or stolen long ago but a stack of papers caught my eye and I grabbed one. Two things hit me as I did. First they were maps of the hotel for guests, yellowed but a definite plus. Second the dust that I stirred up filled the air and I became aware of a series infrared trip wires no more than two feet from where I crouched. Dumb luck had me go the long way around and not trip them. I traced the working from the emitter I found on the counter at about knee level down, carefully stepped over the beam and found a box aimed at where the trip wire was about fifteen feet away. I had never seen anything like it. I swept more dust off of the counter and blew it into the air in a cloud, no other beams showed up so I went to investigate. Faded words on the front said Front Toward Enemy. It seemed to be made out of plastic and was the size of the typical datapad. I wish Jeff were here, I know he would know what it was. I need to talk to Brad about getting a heads up display for the sensors in the suit.
On full alert I hesitantly walked towards the bank of elevators at the far end of the lobby. The first three I tried were unresponsive. The fourth turned out to be lucky and it lurched to life when I hit the call button. Lucky was the wrong word. As soon as the noise of the motor turning and the compartment lowering began it was as if I had set off every alarm in the building. Which I may as well have. What the fuck was I thinking? Might as well as sent a flare up as I entered the building.
Screams echoed from the floors above me and I ran back to the counter and ducked behind it.
“Fresh meat! Find the offering!” bellowed from above.
“Meat! Meat! Meat!”
“The Dark Lord hungers!”
Shit. I pulled the 45 ACP from my jacket pocket and put a round in the chamber. John said this would give me the stopping force I needed, along with low muzzle flash which sounded like a good thing and extended fourteen round clips. He said it was one of his favorites. I asked for a shotgun as my aim is for shit and he gave me one of them as well. It was sawed off so best saved for close range. I had three boxes of ammo for it in my backpack. From the sounds of the madhouse I had woken up I was going to be very short on ammo. That combined with the fact that I am not fond of guns all that much makes this seem less than ideal.
Why the fuck did I call the elevator? Rookie error. Stupidity.
The door to the elevator I called opened as I peered around the corner of the counter. A flickering light crackled and illuminated the empty car. The bell rang as it opened up and the mocking calls from upstairs beckoned for me to hop in. I decided against that move. Then I heard the sounds of someone walking from the corridor behind the lobby. I pulled out my phone and checked the map online to the hotel map I had found. Behind the lobby was the kitchen and and a janitorial suite. I crept farther down, being careful to avoid the trip wire and waited with my gun out. I used the trick John had taught me and made myself fade out. The sounds of approach grew louder and I felt a shake in my arm. My nerves jagged and exposed as the mocking screams from upstairs grated.
A lanky figure turned the corner and gazed down behind the counter where I was hiding. It took all my effort not to pull the trigger as it slowly crept towards me. A sudden burst of illumination as it turned in a flashlight made me drop the gun. It clattered to the floor and the light went right to it. In the backwash of the glow I saw it was a man. It a man’s body with a grotesque head that supported a set of antlers, tips tinged in red. I was frozen in place. A fucking demon was bearing down on me and all I could do was stare.
And then it stopped and screamed, “There was a scum boy here! Dropped his gun and did a runner! I can smell the piss from his pants!”
The cries from upstairs grew louder at this and it continued at me, going for the gun.
And then it broke the beam. A large echoing boom and I was sprayed with pieces of meat as the demon exploded. I fell to my ass in shock as the bits of demon rained down and the half of it still in more or less one piece fell to the ground five feet from me. The plastic box on the wall was gone, just a smoking rectangle where it had hung. The screams from above turned to laughter for a bit and as I say shaking and wiping gore from my face eventually faded and the hotel settled down again.
One last scream echoed down, “Dumb ass blew hisself up! Fucking idiot degen! Hahahaha?” And then glorious silence as I reached down to check if I had actually pissed myself. I hadn’t. Thank the Silence, I hadn’t.
I picked up the gun and put it back into the holster on my ribs. My hands would not stop shaking. I turned on the red light and looked at the mess around me. Judging from the insides now sprayed around me if it was a demon they were remarkably similar to human. Then I found the head. It was horrible, patchwork skin grafts and the horn if some giant stag. I prodded it with my foot and got close to it. A mask. Not just a mask but made from human flesh. What the hell is going on in this place? What hell did I awaken and stumble into?
At least I knew what the box was. Towards Enemy for sure. I crept down the hall old skin mask had come from and found myself by the employee elevator. Nope. Fool me once laziness. I decided maybe to try and be a touch more intelligent this time and went to the back stairway. I still have the insides of a psychopath dripping off of me and a healthy fear of nearly everything giving me a case of the trembles. The landing in front of me has a makeshift barricade of maid’s carts and I carefully navigate over them. I keep the light cupped in my hand, trying to control the red beam as I scan for more of those bombs. I have made the consciousness effort to stick to the walls to see the emitters or reflectors better and very nearly set another off. This one is waist high. Sneaky bastards. I was so busy looking low they almost got me high.
So that is how I found myself crab walking up the flight of stairs when three more angry skin mask assholes rounded the corner.
“Looks like the fresh meat is still on the menu boys,” the first of them in a stylish hand stiched mask of what looked like breasts said. The other two apparently had something against nipples and instead one had tattooed fish scales on his cheeks and the other just went with the plain old leathery flesh route. At least these chose to speak at a normal volume and not disturb the entire building.
“We are gonna filet you and serve you to the Dark Lord, meat bag,” the scaley one said. A bit too happily for my tastes.
“Your heart is gonna be put on the coals still beating,” the final intoned.
I just lay there, kind of hating my life. They crept closer and once they were gathered right above me I spoke, “Hi guys? Got a delivery here for a Mr Nipples. Is that you?” I asked as casually as I could muster before raising my hand and breaking the beam.
Another sharp boom and more psycho rained down upon me. I stayed very low and watched bloody ball bearings fly through the air above me. I could feel the wind as they passed near my face and felt one tear a chunk of my left cheek. It fucking hurt. Not as much as my still beating heart being served up for dinner but enough that a small scream left me.
Laughter echoed from above again. I felt like this was the only entertainment these savages got. And I did not like being the main source of it.
“Back stairs! Chow Time!” a voice announced. Shit. That means someone is gonna come soon and get the makings of a new mask. I need to move quick but the constant traps makes that hard. If I try and just play dead they may start eating me or carving me up. I crawled out of the mess of body parts that had fallen on me and put my ear to the door to the first floor. No sounds greeted me so I carefully opened it and made my way in. Twenty two more floors.
The floor appears empty as I hug the wall again. I hear the sounds of people coming down. The stairs I just vacated and I start checking the doors to rooms around me for a hiding spot in case they come looking. Room 113 opens and I hesitantly slide in. The walls are covered in the same graffiti from the tunnel I took. Circutiry in the shape of pentagons upside down but these are more fleshed out with stars inside of them. Pentagrams I read ony phone, ancient symbols.of black magic and devil worship. Explains the whole Dark Lord mumbo jumbo in the stairway. Blinking red LEDs illuminate the markings and sparks flicker down the star. A power cord trails from the graffiti to an outlet. Curious I pull the plug and run my fingers over the star, copper wiring is bare in the paint. What is going on here? This combination of technology and devil worship is a new one to me.
No sounds from the hallway but I can hear giggles from the stairway. The map shows the main stairway on the other side of the floor. But if it is the main set I can only guess there will be more traps to dodge and possibly people watching them. I decide to risk it and try to stealthily make my way to the door. They didn’t even bother to trap the first floor. I guess most visitors don’t have a reason to stop here. It aren’t dumb enough to awaken the building by calling the elevator. The door to the stairs is right in front of me but I see a major problem with it. It opens inwards to the stairwell. So if there is a bomb it will be tripped by the opening and leave me to face the shrapnel. And the throbbing in my cheek from being heazed by it tells me I don’t want that. And it will alert everyone in the building.
What to do? I need to move. The stairs are probably trapped. The other stairs are crawling with freaks.
I wish the elevators were silent. They give a direct route but there is no way to use them.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t use the elevator shaft itself. Damn it. I should have actually tried to plan this out better. Came in with a strategy of some of kind instead of thinking it would just be a simple matter of calling the elevator, getting my fortune read and finding Rae. I guess that’s the problem with all the stories I read about great heroes, they always knew what to do. The real world sure as hell isn’t like the books on my datapad back home.
I wonder how much of the books on Phlegm Hardly were true. If he had made half the mistakes I have so far? His knowledge would be invaluable to me right about now.
I slowly pried the elevator doors open but to my disappointment the elevator was not still waiting on the lobby floor. I figure if this elevator is working the chance of traps was reduced. At least I was finally playing the odds in a smart way. On the side of the shaft was the ladder used by workers to do maintenance and I hopped on and began the climb up. Thank the Silence for the web. I would have had no idea any of this even existed if not for the laborious intention of putting everything online. I kept my mind on simple things like this because the sheer dark of the shaft was smothering. I considered putting my light in my mouth to add some light but if they had look outside watching the ladder is didn’t want to give myself away.
If someone had asked me a year ago if I would ever see myself scaling the inner workings of a haunted hotel in hopes of finding some mystical seers at the behest of an AI I would have ordered whatever they were drinking. This is insane. Everything is insane now. The Leos and the Pride, Electro-Satanists, kidnapped girls and my entire genetic make-up being rewritten twice in the span of a month. Nothing makes sense anymore. So when life throws mental vampire good old boys into the mix along with purple sewer janitor octopi you just roll with it. And figure I should have been dead at least three times over so I need to to go with it.
This darkness is making me think thoughts I don’t want to face. About the forces pushing me to this very spot in time. It all feels too orchestrated and I know I am just another pawn on the board. Albeit a genetically enhanced freak of a pawn, but just another piece on a board I cannot see. It just all fits too nicely into a package. Going back to my firing and blacklisting from the courier world. Maybe even farther back to my parents death.
I shook off the black thoughts and concentrated on my climb and decided to risk a quick look with the light. A large yellow sux was written on the wall along with two crudely sprayed sixs beside it. I guess these cultists aren’t big on originality. So I just keep climbing. I find the elevator sitting happily at the twelth floor and wiggle my around it and stop to sit in it’s roof and get my bearings. Shining the light around me I see drippings all around me and what appears to be nests built in the indentations of the shaft above. Some shells from what I assume are the eggs the birds laid lie in the roof beside me. And they are rather large. Like nearly human head size and a pearlescent color that is not only gorgeous but seems familiar. I snap a pic and reverse image search. The reception in this shaft sucks and it takes forever for the page to load. And when it does I nearly drop my phone.
Pirahna birds lay large eggs of a particularly beautiful pearlescent shade and are known to build nests in dark locations. Fiercesome and very protective of their nests, they are best avoided by any means.
I shakily shine my light around me. No wonder there are no traps, there don’t need to be any. Now I am in the shit. I can’t risk disturbing the nests above me or be ripped to shreds by these hybrid hell birds. Everyone knows the story of the damned things. Created in a labratory to conteract the rats that carried the plagues of the early twenty second century. A perfect killer with manufactured immunity to the plague and radiation that ran rampant after the Crash. Supposedly sterile and with a short lifespan in order to clean the mess and then quietly die off. But of course they weren’t. This led to the near universal ban on genetic manipulation.
With an exception to a certain Nazi brain. And the black market Gene Decimator bombs that literally rewrote DNA into a slush if caught in the direct blast. I caught the fringes of one before the squirrels got to me. Some idiot decided to set one off in a crowded restaurant that I happened to be dumpster diving behind. It had little effect on me, a general wearing down of my cellular makeup that had probably shortness my lifespan before the mad scientist worked his magic on me with his wonder pill.
It was rumored that the same bomb is what allowed the pirahna bird to breed. After the plague carrying rats were basically eliminated the geniuses decided to just Gene Nuke the birds out of existence as well. And for the most part they had. Except for those at the edge of the explosions. But there were still stories of flocks of them all over the City. And of course I stumbled upon one. I wish I had gotten some sort of luck along with the abilities.
I guess maybe I did. Too bad it was all shit luck. And now I have a choice, pry open the door and step into Silence knows what or risk climbing through the death birds. Eleven stories of freaky satanists or my soft bits getting ripped off?
Or maybe, just maybe, there was a third way…