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ARC, Volume Two

Here's the second volume of my ongoing, rambling meta-plot narrative. It might be worthwhile to read the first volume before this one as, although it may not look like it, there is a story going on here. In its proper form, this is quite layout heavy (reflecting my background in poetry) so I've tried to make it as easy to read on-screen as I can.
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First, The City

There's a man by the Choke with a turn-handle organ and he plays as the shadows walk by. There's a monkey beside him with an old, rusty cup and she dances for the copper they throw.

Sometimes he wonders whether he turns the handle or the handle is now turning him but the song is near ending and the monkey's stopped dancing so he puts the machine in reverse.

.esrever ni enihcam eht stup eh os gnicnad deppots s'yeknom eht dna gnidne raen
si gnos eht tub mih gninrut won si eldnah eht ro eldnah eht snrut eh rehtehw srednow eh semitemoS

.worht yeht reppoc eht rof secnad ehs dna puc ytsur ,dlo na htiw mih ediseb yeknom
a s'erehT .yb klaw swodahs eht sa syalp eh dna nagro eldnah-nrut a htiw ekohC eht yb nam a s'erehT

There's a man by the Choke with a turn-handle organ and he plays as the shadows walk by. There's a monkey beside him with an old, rusty cup and she dances for the copper they throw.

Sometimes he wonders whether he turns the handle or the handle is now turning him but the song is near ending and the monkey's stopped dancing so he puts the machine in reverse.
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In the echoing halls of the Tryckery, vast turbines spin and crackle. Legions of Boxers jerkily patrol the corridors as their silvery shells crackle with barely controlled bleed-off. They chitter to each other in their metallic, staccato tongue as they check gauges and glowing feed-lines.

13U CLR_ LVL ACCEPT_ 001
14U CLR_ LVL ACCEPT_ 001
15U CLR_ LVL DEPLETED_ LINE ENHANCE_ 001
16U CLR_ LVL ACCEPT_ 001

Human maintenance technicians lumber between them, heavy in insulated suits and smoked-glass visors like divers in a sea of energy. A handful of figures gather in a group. Ribbed speaking tubes snake to their helmets from a valve-like hub.

"Fluctuations?"
"Wave interferences, yes. We're getting a lot of strange formations appearing."
"What does it mean?"
"We…we don't really know. We've not seen anything like it before."
"We've asked the College for their help but we've not had any response yet."
"The College?"
"We have some links with their research community that we can…invoke. They think that they may be able to help."
"Let's hope so."
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Choke Bend Sanatorium
Patient Report: #77423; (Verdeer, J.)
Ward: 77:F3
Dated: 7th Leewesend

Patient History:

Patient #77423 has consistently presented delusional characteristics, punctuated equally with periods of mania and lethargy. Although generally non-violent, outbursts are common when the patient's worldview is challenged. Additionally, contrary to most other residents, patient #77423 was particularly unresponsive when placed in a unit with a view across the Fen. It is believed that patient #77423 suffers from a form of residual memory regarding an episode occurring in, or around, the Fen area.

Patient #77423 had since been moved to a more suitable unit, with marked increase in responsiveness. However, this final session marked the end of the patient's responsive nature requiring a move to a more secure unit. Relevant treatments have subsequently been applied to the patient with little to no improvement.

Session Transcription:

The following is a record of the discussion therapy session, taking place on the above-noted date and transcribed from cylinder recording #77 BB4.

Dr. Brannon: Good morning, and how are you today?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): I'm well, Dr Brannon. Thank you.

Dr. Brannon: Have you thought about our last meeting?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): Yes… I (coughs) I realise that I was wrong, Dr Brannon, and I apologise.

Dr. Brannon: Wrong? You seemed quite adamant the last time we spoke.

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): I was (pause) mistaken. I was confused about certain things.

Dr. Brannon: Indeed? Well, shall we take a moment to remind ourselves of the previous session?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): (no response)

Dr. Brannon: Very well. We previously discussed the unusual visual effects that you believed you were experiencing. These visions appeared to take two distinct but related forms. First, you believed that certain individuals were marked with (pause) an aura of some description and, second, that certain creatures were attracted to this aura. Is this correct?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): Yes.

Dr. Brannon: And yet you now claim that you were mistaken regarding these apparitions?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): Yes.

/Transcript Dept. note: Marked degradation of recording quality is noted at this stage in the transcript. It is recommended that cylinder #77 BB4 be cleaned and/or replaced at the earliest opportunity.

Dr. Brannon: Why is this?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): (pause) The things I claim to have seen cannot be real, I know this now. I (pause) I know that they are not possible.

Dr. Brannon: Not possible? In what way?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): People don't have colours around them, (voice rises) they don't have flames! They don't! (pause) They don't…

/Transcript Dept. note: At this point degradation increases and incoherent voice overlay occurs, possibly from previous sessions.

Dr. Brannon: Yet the possibility still disturbs you?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): I don't want to see these things

Dr. Brannon: So you still see them?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): I (pause) I don't know anymore. I just don't know (period of breathing) I don't know what I see. It's (lengthy pause) hard to describe.

Dr. Brannon: Can you see them now? The aura (pause) the flames? Or the creatures?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): (pause) No. Not now.

/Transcript Dept. note: A burst of interference appears at this point, indicating that the cylinder requires immediate resurfacing. Similar interference occurs throughout the rest of the recording.

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): I can't see anything that shouldn't be here, Doctor.

Dr. Brannon: Well, that's something. When did you…

Unknown voice: (heavily distorted) lost lost lost fall reach noncolour grasp feed

/Transcript Dept. note: Session records indicate that only Dr Brannon and patient #77423 were present in the interview room yet a third voice appears at this juncture. The nonsensical nature of this voice indicates further, historical interference on the cylinder.

Dr. Brannon: …the flames, as you call them?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): (coughs) I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?

Dr. Brannon: When did you last see the flames, as you call them?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): I, ah (coughs) Yes. Some time ago, now. Some time ago (voice fades)

Dr. Brannon: In the Sanatorium?

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): Yes…no, not really. I (pause) looked through the window, through the window and… (patient's voice is obscured by noise at this point) …in the sky. The clouds. The light (voice fades)

Dr. Brannon: Are you alright? Record is to show that patient is now showing signs of withdrawal as per previous sessions and that…

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): The light is here! The colour! They come! (patient's voice is again obscured by static) fall! Feed! (unknown noise, possibly moving furniture) Feed!

Dr. Brannon: Re (pause) record is to show that (breathing sounds) record is to show that patient is in an extremely agitated state and that (unknown noise) is exhibiting violent tendencies.

Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.): (incoherent noise)

Dr. Brannon: (shouting) Porter! PORTER!! PORTE (voice cuts off abruptly)

/Transcript Dept. note: A period of near-chaos follows. Some noises which could be attributable to Patient #77423; (Verdeer, J.) are apparent although it is difficult to define them as words due to the continued presence of extensive cylinder damage. A number of sharply distorted and high-pitched sounds can, in hindsight, be attributed to Dr Brannon. The sound of the interview room door opening can be heard briefly before the cylinder equipment appears to have been disturbed and the recording ends in a crackling loop.

Recommendations: In the light of events recorded on this cylinder it is unfortunate the sound quality is so poor. It is the Transcript Dept.'s wish that all cylinders in this series be removed from circulation and cleaned/repaired where required.
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///Hidden// thinks the Bat. //Hidden worlds, hidden words/Lost and found/Lost/And Found//

The Bat's head jitters quickly. Thin fingers click against each other nervously.

///Found// thinks the Bat. //Stolen?/Difficult/Difficult thought//

The Bat walks slowly back and forth, hunkered over with its brazen wings folded behind it. Quiet mutterings come from beneath its ragged cowl.

///Bat didn't know// thinks the Bat. //Bat asked for secrets/Bat gives secrets/Bat gets coin/Always the same/Always/No trouble/ No trouble for Bat//

The Bat rubs its hands together, shakes its head.

///Bat not look for trouble// thinks the Bat. //Only lost secrets/Need home from sky colours/Bat gives/No trouble/No trouble//
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Second, Littoral

Who are They?

They're everywhere these days, aren't They? They say this and They say that but they never really do much, do They? They stop other people from doing things, that's for sure, but they never do much Themselves. Apart from writing signs. Closing doors.

So, who are They? They're not Us, that's all We know.

Or do We?

Who are They?

Are They You?
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Hobbledy-Ghost,
Oh, Hobbledy-Ghost,
I am not scared
of the Hobbledy-Ghost.

Hobbledy-Ghost,
Oh, Hobbledy-Ghost,
We are not scared
of the Hobbledy-Ghost.

We have candle
And we have a book
We have a bell
And a bird on a hook
We will not falter
And we will not sway
We'll make the Hobbledy-Ghost
Go away

Hobbledy-Ghost,
Oh, Hobbledy-Ghost,
I am not scared
of the Hobbledy-Ghost.

Hobbledy-Ghost,
Oh, Hobbledy-Ghost,
No, we are not scared
of the Hobbledy-Ghost!
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Third, The City?

"How's the poem going? The one you hadn't actually started yet."
"Good, good… Getting there."
"What's it about?"
"Oh, you know… The City."
"Everything's about the City, in the end."
"True…very true."
"Does it rhyme? None of your stuff ever rhymes."
"I've told you this before. It doesn't have to rhyme."
"How can it be a poem if it doesn't rhyme?!"
"It's a prose poem… Look, you have these things coming and going all over the place and some of them don't even exist! You don't see me complaining, do you?"
"They do exist! They just don't exist all the time…"
"And that makes all the difference, I imagine?"
"Yes! Yes, it does."
"Ah… Of course, it does. Of course."
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What's that ye were sayin', young feller? I was thinkin' that I 'eard ye say something about the Sleepin' Cliffs, eh? Plannin'? Plannin' a what? A nexpedishun? Wassat? Y'goin' out there? Ye don' wanna go out there, young 'un. Lissen… lissen t'me! I been out there. Yeah, yeah… I been out there a good few times. Long ago, now, but I still been and I'm tellin' ye that ye don' wanna go out there on no nexpedishun!

Sure I been drinkin'! Ye'd be drinkin' too if y'seen what I seen out on them cliffs. Wretched things…wretched. Ain't nothing for no human eyes to see… Once ye get past the Slums then it ain't no land o' man no more. Beasts is all there is. An' worse than beasts…

Aye! Ye might well laugh! Daft ol' coot livin' in the gutter I be but I gots more sense than any o' ye an' I reckons that I'll live a sight longer'n ye if'n ye go on this nexpedishun.

Yer bones'll be bleachin' in the sun afore I'm dead, boy. I tell you that straight off.
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Causation. Entropy. Time. The slow, inexorable unravelling of Existence. Irreversible decay.

Somewhere, a clock ticks meaninglessly. The hands cut into Time itself, slicing it into bleeding sheets.

A bell rings.

Echoes.

How long have I been here?
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Fourth, The Aether

She runs through the densely packed trees of the Melancholium, scarcely caring as the half-seen branches lash out at her. Her lungs burn; the dry scratching of pine dust mingled with the hot fire of exhaustion. Tears stain her cobwebbed face and blood drips onto her tattered clothes.

Behind her, she hears the crystalline shriek of the Glissandi and the biting ice of despair fills her heart.
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18.19.7.19.8.9.20.22.9.26.5.13.16.23
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The Melancholium grows thicker. She knows that she's running towards the heart of the forest but, for now, the threat of the Glissandi is more immediate than any of the dangers further ahead. Only the sharpest, most feral thoughts penetrate her fugue of delirium. A slight hazing hangs in the air and she flings herself forward to avoid the breath of the Fire-leaf hidden in the brush. She lands badly but rolls and comes upright in a blink, her dress spattered with mud and darker, sooty stains. She runs, half mad.

She hears a dull, thumping roar and the cloud of Glissandi crackles in pain. Something deep inside her smiles briefly.

Burn, you fuckers, she thinks. Burn.
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22.23.7.22.9.5.18.23.20.9.22.23.13.23.24
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She runs. The screams of the Glissandi dissipate behind her and she runs. Distance, she sings to herself. Distance, distance, distance.

Something oil-black, almost-gaseous, crashes through the canopy above her and clips her head, grabs at her hair with writhing tendrils. She gasps and wrenches herself away. She staggers, whirling, and dagger-pain explodes behind her eyes as her scalp rips.

Her heel catches on a root and she flails to the floor, air escaping from her burning lungs. The black shape descends, howling insanely, and smothers her.

The last thing she feels is her own flesh dissolving.
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5.16.16.13.23.24.22.5.18.23.13.9.18.24
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The woman wakes with a start, sweat cooling on her face, as her daughter screams in the cot beside her narrow bed. Pale moonlight filters through the sooty windows and bathes her room in silver dust. In this moment of disorientated waking, she sees the dust motes glisten in the air like fireflies. Like crystals.

She blinks and the moment is gone. Her daughter cries again and she lifts the swaddled form from the cot, cradling the baby gently. She hums a song she once heard, long ago, and wraps a blanket around them. Her daughter coughs and then smiles up at her. Her eyes glimmer with tears.

In the corner of the room, something rustles.
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