So I know what you're thinking. He's projecting into another world. Why does he need a topographical map of this one?
For better or for worse, the astral plane corresponds with our physical world. The reverse is also true. Any time there's a difference in one, it has an affect on the other. That house that just keeps falling apart no matter how hard you work on it might have that problem through shoddy construction. Or there's a vast crater on the astral plane, and the physical world is tearing trying to match up with the astral plane. God only knows how many mighty castles on the Astral Plane want to break apart because there's no corresponding structure in the physical world to support it. You know all those images of elves in their tree houses and giant tree villages? It's not just because they like trees, it's really easy to create that kind of astral structure out of a vast swath of existing tree spirits.
People like my buddy Green Man will tell you that the Astral Plane doesn't mean a thing, that the world of spirits doesn't have any affect on our world if we don't want it to. He's a fucking selfish moron who only knows reality when it hits him in the face. That statement of course, assumes I'm not completely insane and this actually works.
Armed with a topographical map of the area, I just needed to compare it to what I sensed on the Astral plane. Wherever there was a difference in height or depth between the two, there would be a difference in the energy, as it needed to flow and expend itself to maintain the difference. It also helped that I could also cross-reference that bastard with the energy of whatever was keeping the Kid and the Kidnapper on the astral plane. Keep in mind, there are STORIES of travelers being kept in the realms of the fey against their will, and other fun legends, but I'd never actually seen this sort of thing in action. I was running entirely on guesswork. Guesswork had failed me for the last twelve hours.
I needed a totem for this Shitstorm. Amalgamation Sage didn't have the kind of expertise to actively hunt something on the Astral Plane. He'd spent his entire career setting up lures and traps and making things come after him. He was very good at that, and counterattacking right when something thought it had him. But now he needed to go on the offensive. Someone new and deadly needed to come onto the playing field. Someone who could track the devil to the ends of the earth. And I needed to find what made him everything he was, right here, right now.
Fortunately, I had a cowboy hat. It was an old, brown, faded thing that had seen better days, but it was a cowboy hat. From somewhere in the hodge-podge that is my spirit, Wizard popped up and started looking over my shoulder as I worked it over in my mind. It wasn't hard. I just needed to imagine The Man With No Name. Praise be to Clint Eastwood.
Wizard was grinning as I worked.
He said to me, "That's the ticket. Now you've got something. Twelve hours to save the world, nothing we haven't done before."
I grunted, "Do you have any actual advice for me?"
He said, "Gods no. I think you've got this one nice and figured out."
I was riding it close. But I had a cowboy hat. I was in the desert. I was backed by a local sheriff while hunting down a kidnapped kid. Right here and now, I was something bigger. I was something that spoke to every living, breathing person in the American West. I was the mysterious stranger from out of town with no past and a big gun. The Man In Blue had arrived. It was fun. Trading one title for something just about the same, but completely different. I felt the mind of the Man In Blue, mysterious gunslinger, cloak itself around mine.
I wanted a cigar. And whiskey. So far so good.
Sheriff Wiseass grunted, "Got anything yet."
I grunted back. It was exceptionally manly.
I said in a soft, gravelly voice, "Might want to get those deputies on scene. This is gonna get messy."
The path ahead was easy to see for the Man In Blue. He could feel the trail the two had left, and there was something else. The place right over the ridge in front of me where they were laying around was a right easy place to ambush some dumb son of a bitch. But as I projected my mind into that lovely pulsing energy that had to be where the Kid and the Kidnapper were laying low, I felt predatory. I pulled my gun from my side, and checked how many bullets were loaded. In the real world, I didn't have a gun, I realized I was looking at an empty hand. The gun was where I needed it to be, and that wasn't in our world. I put the gun back in my invisible holster. Real men shot on the draw.
The astral plane around this deserted desert stretch of highway didn't look all that different. A giant rattlesnake the size of a whale rumbled past, getting the hell out of wherever I was heading. My eyes narrowed as I squinted toward that flickering, pulsing darkness that was the energy I was looking for. Not many things pulsed black and scared Mega-snakes. A glowing white tumbleweed rolled past as I started toward it. I looked down at myself, and found that the Man in Blue wore a big blue serape (cloth poncho) and matching cowboy hat, and it was good.
Then I had another world crushing, soul smashing migraine. The world started spinning, and I groaned in frustration.
"Oh fuck. Fuck. Oh goddamn. Sheriff, where's my backpack? I need my pills..."
I blinked. Sheriff Wiseass was gone. I was in my normal clothes, without a cowboy hat, with none of my equipment. A vast, bright moon looked down on me. It was like I was looking at everything in grayscale, there was no color anywhere. I started walking forward. My legs felt sluggish. I dazedly looked at my feet sinking into the sand. I had a brief moment of shock as I suddenly fell through the desert, falling in a vast, dark nothing.
This wasn't astral projection anymore. I didn't know what this was. I was walking around blind. Having good astral senses is like have a combination of Radar, Sonar, and Infrared vision for everything that's on the Astral Plane. Off the astral plane, it can give you clues about the physical world. Whatever this was, my senses didn't work in it. The entire world felt like I was being rubbed in steel wool as I hit the ground. I coughed hard, my whole body shivering like I'd been dumped in ice water. Then it all stopped, and my entire body felt like it was being run over by a freight train.
That was about when I decided I was through with this. I tensed my entire body like a spring and felt what had kept me alive for the last nine years of my life surging through me: the hope that maybe some day it would all make sense. The hope that if I just pushed a little harder, I'd come out the other side of hell and find my own peace. It's sad that the one person I wanted to see again has been dead for months and spent a lot of the last nine years trying to kill me. I exploded to my feet, gasping for air.
It wasn't hard. I shook my head rapidly as I tried to orient myself. Now I was pissed.
Then I looked around and saw the fifteen dead Chupacabras, and a single closed wooden door not attached to anything. I started feeling very small, unarmed, and lonely.
Then I saw the woman. Her clothes were haphazard, yet colorful. Every inch was wrapped in cloth or some kind of bandage. Yellows, reds, greens...She was a rainbow in the dark. The only color in a world of black and white.
And then I saw the look in her eyes as she darted toward me. I had no idea who this was, but she was angry. They were the eyes of a killer. I did the only thing that seemed smart. I opened the bizarre random door, stepped in, and slammed it shut behind me. Her palm shattered through the wood, the rest of her body stuck behind the door. I ignored it, running my ass off.
I was stumbling my sorry ass up a wooden stairway. There was a door at the top that I barreled through. The woman exploded through the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and I slammed the top door shut, twisting three different latches. I heard her hit the door hard, and I heard a telltale clank. Metal. Yeah, I remember now, the door was made of steel. Why was there a steel door? I saw the metal dent inward. I wasn't paying much attention to my surroundings at this point. I started running again. What I can tell you is that the whole place was an ostentatious grayscale mess. In color, it must have looked wonderful, but the splendor of gold, silver, and diamond chandeliers, doesn't mean much when everything is in black and white.
My head just kept on pounding. I started up a flight of stairs, and heard that metal door keep on clanging. The door at the top of the stairs, it was a big set of fancy looking double-doors. I threw them open.
And there was the girl in this vast, empty, concrete room sitting next to a piano. I haven't mentioned her name before, have I? We'll cut to the chase and call her Victim. I took two steps into the room before my migraine kicked all the way up to eleven, dropping me onto the floor. I heard the double-doors behind me slam shut.
Victim said, "Please go. He'll kill you."
I forced myself upright, and stumbled backwards toward the doors. The doors were gone, and I nearly fell out a window. I took another look around, and we were at the top of a vast tower of some kind. Trees stretched on as far as the eye could see. Big, dark things with black leaves. This was impossible. I needed some whiskey.
Then I saw him. And it all made sense. Tall, pale, faceless, with arms that were just a little too long and legs that were just a little too out of proportion. I remembered what I'd read on TV tropes so long ago, about how in the original stories, he'd appear different to everyone who saw him. I started sweating. I saw the vines spreading from his body, and I knew: I needed some whiskey.
I said to Victim, my voice barely cracking with fear, "You know, when I was kid, I wanted a tree house. What kind of parents get their kid a tower?"
She looked confused. I let loose with another one:
"So how many Slendies does it take to screw in a light bulb? Just one, but he needs to break someone's mind into doing it for him."
Then he was walking toward me. The trick to staring down a cosmic horror, is to not directly look at the thing. If you look directly at it, you create a connection between your mind at its. The correct way to look at one is to stare a little to the left or a little to the right of the thing. You need to be aware of it without giving it an easy opening into your mind.
I said, "Hey (Victim). ready to go home?"
Victim said, "He came for me. I had to go with him. There was no reason not to."
Her pupils were like dinner plates. I could see the vines starting to take root in her. Feeding on her. I could feel her body breaking apart under the strain. She would be dead by morning. It's happened before, and it would happen again.Whoever this kid was, a certain tall and faceless gentleman was intent on devouring her. To hell with that. I wasn't letting anything take a damn kid who was right in front of me. I felt my back against the open window. There were no stairs out of here, no obvious entrances or exits to the tower. I needed...
I don't drink whiskey. I drink scotch whiskey, I drink bourbon whiskey, but I don't call it "whiskey." I look at specific varieties of lovely alcoholic drink. The gunslinger of legend walks up to the bar and sits down and says "Whiskey" in the gritty tone of the dusty trail.
Tentacles were spreading out from it's form. Maybe this wasn't the astral plane. Maybe I was going to die here. But I wasn't going down without a fight, and my senses were picking back up around me. My gun was where I needed it to be, and that wasn't in this world. Real men shot on the draw.
I felt the serape and cowboy hat around me. I drew my gun and fired.
I woke up right when my 24 hours expired. I was in some kind of hospital gown, in a hospital bed. Sheriff Wiseass was staring down at me blankly.
"Son. You were giving us a heart attack. You sorta keeled over, and you weren't getting back up."
Victim was in a bed next to mine, alseep.
Sheriff Wiseass said, "She showed up just over the next dune a minute after you collapsed. Doesn't seem to remember a damn thing about the last week or so."
I forced myself upright. We were in a sterile hospital room. I'm surprised they even had one in this tiny craphole of a town. I hoarsely tried to say something and nothing come out. It's a good thing too, because no more then twenty feet away behind Sheriff Wiseass, outside the window, I saw our Tall, Pale, Faceless friend. I could feel the rage radiating off of it. I had taken it's dinner. I don't know how I had. But I had. And it was angry. Sheriff Wiseass noted my hoarse little gasp, and handed me a glass of water. I downed it in one gulp.
Sheriff Wiseass said, "Funny thing is, we somehow missed her mother's divorced husband and his car just over the ridge during all our previous sweeps. Found his body dead at the steering wheel. Victim's got a whole bunch of bruises that I suppose might be from her seat belt protecting her from the crash. We must be awfully incompetent, seeing as (Victim) had to have come from that car. Looks like were too busy looking at you to see the answer right in front of us."
I was looking just a little to the right of SlenderShit McDoucheSuit. You never, ever look directly at one of these things. Sheriff Wiseass looked toward where I was staring, but he didn't see anything of importance.
I said, "And you believe that, Sheriff?"
Sheriff Wiseass said, "Your car's out of impound, and all your stuff is in it. You can keep the cowboy hat. And...I don't know. Was it always dark blue?"
He looked very confused. It had been brown.
I said to him, "Yes. Yes it was. And sheriff?"
Sheriff Wiseass looked at me blankly.
I said, "Don't read my blog. Don't go looking for answers. This case made no sense, but it's solved. It's good and solved. You don't want to know anything else. Go home, give (Deputy Smartass) a hug, and make sure my laptop is in my car. Keep an eye on (Victim). If anything else happens...you've got my number by this point, right?"
Sheriff Wiseass nodded.
I said, "Call me. But only if something else happens. Otherwise: you don't ever, ever want to know more."
Sheriff Wiseass laughed a little. Then he said, "Yeah. Yeah, if I believed that there was anything other than gross incompetence involved. Supernatural powers my ass. Sorry for the trouble, Shaman-boy."
His eyes said he was lying. He could see the outline of something very, very weird. I hope he can stay out of this, I really do.
I said, "Not a problem. Just get me discharged as soon as you can."
And I kept one eye just to the right of The Slender Douche until I was discharged.
I have no idea what actually happened in that Tower. If I was ever actually in that tower. Maybe I survived that because I was still in a projection? Or was it a hallucination? Either way, I can definitely tell you that I've seen Slender Douche around periodically since I left. Always at a distance, but I don't know how long that will last. I think I'd best be ready for hell rather soon.
This whole scenario was far, far too cute. I sense the machinations of some extremely smart son of a bitch. Timelord maybe? I don't know.
I saw Maduin's post an hour ago. Am I supposed to be a sorceress? I guess by process of elimination, I'm a Crazy Beastmaster. I guess it doesn't change who I am or what I do. Still weird to think about. Many strange things are happening. I guess it's official now: We need to find a way to save the day. Kay! Ryuu! We've got work to do.
Glass Man: I'd probably respect you more if you wrote with a proper respect for the rules of the English Language. As it is, you're just as bad as Zero. He and I will have our reckoning, but I have a rule about working with anyone crazier than me.
Zero: Saw your post. You have something to give me? Fine. Lets meet and hash this out like men shall we?
Everyone Else: Thanks for the encouragement. And stay tuned.