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Afternoon. Nick has the cabin to himself for a short while as his two apprentice houseguests, Shade and Briar, both Hollow Ones from Portland, have departed to acquire pizza and a movie in town. After settling in on the hardwood floor in front of the fireplace, Nick picks up a familiar phone and makes a call.

There's a click, a tiny amount of static, and then a heavy, wheezing male voice that's becoming increasingly familiar. "Ahh. You."]
 
"Yes. Me," Nick responds with a similar rhythm. He places the phone on the speaker setting and places it on the floor. "I have to ask if you were involved in thinning the gauntlet earlier in a town called Kents Crossing where two groups of werewolves squared off and some of The Nothing's shadows appeared. Or if that was outside your purview."

"Right to the point, I see," says the voice. As usual there doesn't seem to be any urgency with him, and his words are measured at best. "I was not involved in thinning the gauntlet there, though I was involved in events to some degree. They had one of the younger mongrels while the rest were fighting outside. I offered my assistance. Although now I wonder if I should regret meddling; I'd forgotten how infuriating the dogs could be."
 
"Oh, they can be exquisitely infuriating. One of them approached me earlier this week demanding that I give her your name just because she liked having a name when she was talking to someone on the phone, but I'm very well aware of how they have static magicks that allow them to track a person down with only a name to go off of. So I pointed that out and refused to tell her and caught hell for it," Nick states with factual ease and confidence. "Admittedly, it was easy to do because I don't know your name, but regardless, it was interesting to observe her clumsy attempt at manipulating me--and her subsequent reactions. Some of them are obviously more trustworthy, or I wouldn't bother dealing with them."
 
"A name, a name," says the voice. "They wanted a name when I spoke with them. I used to have more dealings with their kind when I was much younger, but I do not miss it. Short-sighted. Greedy. A complete inability to appreciate the benefits of patience. They wanted to know what I knew about their current enemy and were...irritable when I answered. Completely hostile when I asked for a favor in return for future aid."
 
Nicodemus agrees. "They are impatient by nature and often frustrated by solutions that involve things other than the application of brute force. Still, they let me visit their caern in exchange for my assistance in protecting it. One day I might share with them some of the wonders surrounding it that I doubt they are even aware of." He then moves back to the subject of the recent call. "I had heard you had talked to their leader, but not what about. Just that he got frustrated and walked away. What favor did you ask for? And what were they asking for?"

"There is only one thing that I want from any of this," the voice replies. "As I have mentioned to you before. I told them the same. A simple favor they will not object to...but it requires their presence here. They wanted information on the...Queen. Yes, that was the word. I told them what I could, but they sneered at it. When their leader stormed away, he claimed he would answer my call later. I have not attempted to contact him again. I am not sure I will."
 
"Odd that they were so unreceptive to cooperating with you in order to address The Nothing, as that is a rather mutual concern. They... do have egos, though. And dislike being reminded that they are not the biggest and most powerful things gracing the face of the planet, and that not everyone fears them as much as they'd hope." Nick then asks, "Could you tell me what you told them? They neglected to share."
 
"I hear them now," the voice responds. "All the whispering, whispering, but she and her sisters the loudest. The words aren't clear, I'm afraid. I told them that they were unique. Old, but only newly emerged. Where they came from I don't know. I was more interested in the man she had with her, but he's dead now. For the best. He was ultimately a slave. Pitiful. Happy with his prison."
 
"I have heard that the local Queen can affect people's minds, forcing them to love her and become her slaves. The mage who served her might have appeared happy, but it might not have been his will to find himself in that situation. I have likewise noticed that they seem to have some kind of telepathic communication between the Queen and what we call the wraiths--the creatures that suck the very essence of existence straight from their victims." Nick glances nearby to one of the wraith's finger bones placed on the glass coffee table. "I have a finger bone from one of the wraiths and believe it might be feasible to use Mind magicks to tap in to their communication network--perhaps disrupting it--but I am fearful that doing so will open myself up to... ending up like the other mage was, serving a Queen. Or driven mad, as I have studied the pattern of their glyphs and that nearly corrupted both me and one of the garou I let examine it. Have you had any experience listening in on their whispers?"
 
"I have no desire to make myself known to her. The whispers I hear are not from direct contact--I suspect you are correct, and connecting yourself to a mental network like that would not end well. However, the methods I have observed to create loyalty have not involved direct mind manipulation, but rather a fascinating reverse of their usual feeding habits. I observed what they did to the mongrel leader before I was able to arrange for his freedom; he is very lucky to still have his own will. He was drained, and drained, but then given back what they took. The effect was dramatic."
 
"Interesting. One of them did briefly get his hands on me and managed to drain a little." Nick pauses as he momentarily reflects on how a year of his life might be considered 'a little.' "I did not realize that they could give it back. I assumed it was merely consumed, used to power other things. Like tass by a mage." He surmises, "So if one offers to return what they stole from me, I should definitely say 'no' then? So why are they draining people? To what end?"

"Ordinarily, you are correct," the voice says. "They feed. Like vampires, but on something more insubstantial, more irreplaceable. It powers them, they...grow very strong when well fed. But they can give it back, when motivated. They can even repeat the process as many times as they wish on the same victim. I believe it is how they've managed to gather such...widely differing allies. Mages. Mongrels. Humans. Even mongrel turncoats now and then. Yes. Yes, you should turn down such an offer. Your mind is your most potent weapon. It should not be surrendered willingly." There's quiet from the phone for a few moments. "I do not know what end these creatures have in mind, if they have one at all. From my limited observations, they feed and they reproduce, as do all parasites."
 
Nicodemus replies with a great deal of sincerity. "Never give away your free will, nor ask others to do the same." He seems to hold others in high regard. "I won't make any deals with them, and I'll caution the local Wookies about it as well.

Nicodemus replies with a great deal of sincerity. "Never give away your free will, nor ask others to do the same." He seems to hold others in high regard. "I won't make any deals with them, and I'll caution the local Wookies about it as well." He pauses for a moment before resuming the conversation. "Did the mongrel you rescued not share what their objectives were? Or did they just suck the essence out of him like a vampire and keep him alive for other reasons?"
 
"They were interrupted," the voice answers. "His ingratitude aside, he is likely fully recovered. I suspect if I had not intervened, they would have wheedled every last bit of knowledge from him. Or, perhaps they would have sent him back, working for them to undermine his own people."
 
"Ingratitude seems to be a running theme these days," Nick commiserates over the phone. "I'm trying to keep to the shadows here, so that the Queen and the Spirals remain unaware that I exist and am aiding the local garou. It might help you achieve your goals if you work through me to communicate with the garou instead of directly with them. They already trust me enough to allow me into their caern, even though they do not know who I really am." He explains, "I appear to them using an illusion of a cougar. I used to have a talisman that let me turn into one."
 
"Interesting choice." There's a long pause. "I have little desire to communicate with them more than necessary. If you want to relay such things, by all means do so."
 
"I am at your disposal," Nick says out loud to the room, voice carrying over the phone. "So you have been in touch with the Spiral named Renegade. Why did you take an interest in freeing him? Did he make you promises? Or was it out of the goodness of your heart?"

"Renegade?" A pregnant pause. "No, no. You misunderstand. The other leader. The one you are allied with. I have never spoken with this...Renegade, although one of your acquaintances is fond of mentioning the creature."
 
Nicodemus suddenly laughs at the confusion. "Oh, that is hillarious." And then he sobers rapidly. "I thought you'd.... Okay, that makes more sense now. So you save the sept's leader's bacon. And should I keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't end up becoming re-enamoured by the Queen or the wraiths?"
 
The voice wheezes, "That would not be a bad idea, although I suspect he is likely past any real danger."

You say "Things make a lot more sense now. So. Were your actions what caused the gauntlet to thin at the garage where you saved the sept's Alpha? And you are keeping tabs on the wraith that has been watching the building?" Nick inquires, "Has The Nothing affected you, so that when you reach out it brings a hint of the taint with it? And that is why you do not move from the caves beneath the dead caern?"

"My actions led to it," the voice wheezes. "Yes. And I have been watching the place, although I am not sure how long I will continue to do so." There's a long pause. "I have spent a very long time studying the Not. I understand certain aspect of its nature, of the things that it causes. I cannot direct them. I can, however, with considerable effort, attract their attention to things. As you have seen, it is unpredictable, and destructive. However, it is a very effective distraction. I would not attempt to do it again so close to your allies' node, however."
 
"That would definitely turn them against you. Forever," Nick adds as punctuation. "Speaking of the Not. Ghost. There seems to be a second iteration of her now. Did you cause that? Did you know the new--clone--shares her same memories?"
 
"I am aware of her. An unexpected but interesting development, but as I told your ally, I wouldn't worry too much. It will sort itself out." A wheeze. "I did not have a hand in it, no. At least, not yet."

Nicodemus hmms thoughtfully at this new information. "Interesting. I'd thought you might have had a hand in that. If you didn't, then does that mean that the Not actually created something? And do you think it would be unwise to allow them to meet one another?"

"It does not create," the voice replies with a decided measure of confidence. "It warps, it...consumes, it remembers. Creation is the antithesis. This creature that you have discovered could be any number of things. I don't doubt that the Not is involved in some fashion, but I can't speak to definitives. I would keep it and see what happens. But I do not think I would allow the two to interact. The results would be fascinating, but the risks are too high."
 
You say "Is not mutation a form of creation and evolution? And everything that is created must come from something. Matter from energy. Energy from matter. Consume and warp to create."

"That's a sadly limited view," the voice responds. "However, understand that little of what the Not does is deliberate, and much of what it seems to do is merely the result of its presence. The bleeding of the reality consensus, freed from limits, can do all sorts of strange things with no input. Perhaps this is one of them. Or perhaps it is something else."

Nicodemus pauses at the initial comment about his view being sadly limited. It takes a few seconds for him to respond. "I'm afraid I lack your experience and, I suspect, longevity that tends to be a prerequisite for acquiring that experience. It sounds as if... The mage you were interested in earlier, that the garou killed in the parking garage? He was near the edge of one of those areas, was he not? I was trying to unwork what he worked to attack the garou and then escape, but he had curiously large reserves of power. Is that because he was so close to the.... event horizon of the Not's dissembling of reality? Or do you know if it was something else?"

"Yes." Beneath the wheezing, there's a slightly different tone to the man's voice. Pleased. Approving. "It is possible for mages to take significant advantage of the loosening of reality's chains. Dangerous, of course. But very possible. It requires patience. Observation. Time. Things he did not have."

"And you attempted this yourself?" Nick theorizes. "With, perhaps, mixed results?"

"Many times," the voice replies. "There were failures. There have been...costs. I will not advise you on whether you should or should not attempt such things yourself, although it is possible that I could offer some guidance."

Nicodemus dwells on this information for a moment before replying. "I would most certainly like to discuss your theories and observations, as well as consequences for failures. I can very clearly imagine worst case scenarios, and I've been thinking of the Not's taint as being similar to a gravitational pull froma black hole. Cross a certain point, intentionally or not, and doom follows--it's merely a matter of how quickly it happens." He asks, "There's been some discussion among the garou here as to whether it was you who awoke the Not. Or if it was the Spirals. Or perhaps both. The garou are looking to assign blame to justify their actions, and they have not considered the possibility that sometimes a quest for knowledge can bear unintentional consequences."

"It was neither," says the voice. "However, if they are looking to place blame, I am happy to take it if it will bring them sooner. The...Spirals, as you say, attracted attention, but we were already awake. When I...yes, yes, I remember. When I first came seeking, it slept, but fitfully. Always strange things in this area. Disappearances. Unexplained phenomena. The Sleepers, they make up ghost stories and the mongrels assumed it was sabotage or their capricious masters but I...I found the truth. But waking it? No. No, I am flattered by the idea that you think I'm so powerful, but we stirred when the other did. We woke...sooner. Curious. Perhaps the absence of the Node? It could be...regardless, we are awake because the other is waking. Tell them to look for blame there, if they want the truth. Or tell them I did it, if they don't care for it."
 
Nicodemus admits, "I'm, frankly, less concerned about who started it and more concerned about what to do to stop it. All I have been able to discover is that the garou know one rite that seems to affect it, but it has limits on purging the Not. If it is too strong, it does not work. And it only affects a small area. I might be able to use magick to enhance the effect they create, but... It seems like a long shot at best. And I have been able to use radiation to move it from one place to the next as it chases this food source." He speculates, "Anti-radiation? Are you familiar with such a thing? Or perhaps dark energy? A negative times a negative equates to a positive?"

"How do you destroy something that does not exist? A paradox. But, perhaps destruction is not necessary. These...entities. They are so old. The Not has been in this place for longer than I have been able to discover. For all that time it has slept, a danger only to those who stumble across it as it rests. It could sleep again. When the node was alive, it would take one here. One there. Some would dream dark, dark dreams. Most never realized it was present. Only when the others, the mongrels of the Garou Nation, only when they took it again, ignorant, soaked in the blood of their enemy brothers...they did not understand. They thought it was after the node, and so they destroyed it, destroyed their own holy place, disrupted...many things they were ignorant of. We grew to fill the space they left, it spread into places long left alone, but still it did not wake until its twin stirred. Perhaps you could find a way to make it sleep again. Or perhaps there is some way to destroy it. I would not know, I never sought to do so."

Nicodemus listens to this bit of history he's largely unaware of. "Much like I probably know a few things about the caern here that the garou who have occupied it for so long do not, perhaps there are things beyond what even mages can observe. The 10th Sphere that some speculate exists, but none know how to even see it. Maybe... Perhaps, with the death of the node in Hanford, it awoke the Not. Which in turn has been waking the anti-Not at the node to the north of Hanford." He speculates, "What if we were to try and re-awaken the Hanford node? That sort of thing is well beyond my capabilities, but I could certainly participate in a ritual with other mages--or perhaps the garou." A beat. "Or the Spirals, if need be."
 
"Such a thing is beyond my concern," the voice says, and while the words are dismissive, the tone sounds very weary. "But in theory, it is possible that the Not would rest again if that were to happen. I would ask..." There's a pause. "Do not bring the Spirals here. I have had enough of them. I wish the Garou to come. Come, perform my favor, and then do as they will. That is my only desire."

"I'll be frank with you, because I doubt the garou will be on this matter." Nick then shares, "They are afraid that they will be impotent against what they find there. When they can't resolve problems with tooth and claw, they get confused and fearful. And they are not sure if you are friend or foe--as they have trouble seeing things in anything other than black and white. Perhaps you could share some information as to what is there, what you expect them to do, and what the minions of the Not are vulnerable to? Otherwise, they may not come."
 
The laugh that comes is harsh and derisive. "Of course. They are /afraid/. Then tell them this: I have provided a tool to get them past the bulk of the dangers here. Just how she might be used is something that still must be discovered, but she was created for this purpose. The Echoes see her as one of them. Find a way to use her unique properties to your advantage, and you will be able to get very close. The Warder will be trouble, however. She will not allow anyone near, not even my vaccine. You will have to kill her, and I think, if any part of her remains, she will find that merciful. She may have allies; there are others that have been corrupted in this way, and they follow her. If you get past the Warder, there are tunnels that lead down, down, down underneath the dead Node. They all lead here. Once you have reached me, I will ask my favor, and you will understand /why/ I ask it, and why I will not speak to particulars. It is, as I have said many times, not something the Garou will object to, and not something that they will find difficult. After that, it is up to you. Up to them. But they will be at the empty heart of the Not, where any possible strike must be made."
 
"They are afraid, but you and I cannot tell them they are afraid. That would just make them angry and unproductive." Nick mentions a prior observation. "I'm not so sure Ghost--your vaccine--works particularly well. I've watched her enter a bunker with other garou following her, and they were attacked by the echoes. All but Ghost, really. Who one of the echoes in particular showed great interest in."

"Not as she is, no," the voice agrees. "There must be a way to harness that trait. I have not worked it out. It...would require access that I do not have. You and the Garou must do it. I am convinced it is possible. She is...connected to the Not, in a way that took a great deal of effort to manage, and more to arrange. She is a part of it."

Nicodemus concurs and, perhaps, adds some additional information. "She may be evolving still. At least in a spiritual capacity. She seems to still be changing, and it is frightening away the spirits. I have not made any personal observations on this yet, as I have yet to observe her in the umbra. Is that the trait you speak of?"
 
"A symptom." The voice elaborates after a moment. "You understand how vaccines are created, I'm sure. I used the same principle."

"Take a portion of the dead or badly weakened organism and introduce it into the body so that it can kill it--or pretend to re-kill it--so as to prep the body for any future attacks by alive and unweaked viruses." Nick then adds to what he said. "But in this instance, Ghost has feelings and is a living, sentient creature. I do not think she has come to terms with being a prospective living vaccine. And she may not be willing to sacrifice herself to the Not."

"Willing or unwilling," says the voice. "Sacrifices will be necessary to combat this entity. I created her for this purpose. If you wish to concern yourself with ethical dilemmas, that is your choice. One way or another, the Garou must come here. If you find another more acceptable method, I will not be insulted."
 
"So she just evolves a bit more, escorts us in past the echoes guarding the destroyed hive, we take out the warder, and then Ghost sacrifices herself by throwing herself into the Not's heart, where we all just hope for the best?" Nick wrinkles his nose. "That's... kind of horrific."

"I don't know," the voice replies. "It may be just that simple. It may require more creativity. This is not something I have tried before."
 
"And so you can appreciate how difficult this is for Ghost, whose life is on the line--and maybe for nothing at all." A car pulls up the dirt road outside Nick's cabin. He adds, "My apprentices are back from town. I need to go. But thank you ever so much for the discussion. It was enlightening for me, and I'm sorry I'm... nowhere near as illuminating. I do look forward to talking again in the future, though."
 
"Your conversation is far preferable to your allies," the voice replies. "Until next time." The call ends.
This entry was originally posted at http://nick-garou.dreamwidth.org/123001.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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