Start Of The Light

It was just about as quiet as you could reasonably expect Level 654 to be. A Knight crept cautiously down the hallway, slinking not to stay out of sight, but out of earshot. The dull, incandescent light of the overhead bulbs would keep them perfectly lit, no matter what they did, but what they could avoid undue attention with was their noise levels. The unfortunate side effect of being a Knight is the sound of your armor, but this unit had forgone the traditional sabatons for comfortable, functional white sneakers. It turned a corner, and found itself in the most far out community the MEG had established to date.

The conversation in the room went from a passive indoor conversation's volume to dead silence. The outpost's residents began the first stages of panic preparations, some grabbing rudimentary weapons, others getting ready to run. As they prepared to evacuate, the Knight held up a finger, reaching the other behind it's head to finagle with a clasp. A metallic click, some rustling, the shulff of a helmet being removed, and the people sighed in relief at a familiar face. Junior Researcher Diana Evelynn shook out her hair and stepped into the hallway proper. "You fellas wouldn't know where a gal could get a drink, would you?"

The hubbub settled, she sat down at a nearby bench. Say what you will about the Outer Levels, but their sense of style is unparalleled. The sheet metal from the walls had been pounded with what was probably the homemade hammers that were still sitting behind the counter of the distribution center. When you have nothing better to do, why not make your food depot a bar? Diana taps the bar twice. "Something that isn't Almond Water, please. I don't react well to it." The man behind the counter begins to rummage through a M.E.G. crate, which leaves two people at the bar. The first, of course, is Diana, but the second…

"Haven't seen you in a long time. What have you been up to, Archivist?" The voice came from a lady, half slumped over the bar with a drink in her hand. Her camera sat on the bar, a spare lens in a state of disassembly that had been pretty clearly given up on. Diana turned her head slowly, and met the gaze of the other bar attendee.

"No fucking way… Nicole! Why haven't you been by my office lately?" She offers a hand, but Nicole Matthews slaps it aside, and goes in for a hug. Diana, a bit reluctantly at first, accepts.

Matthews gestures vaguely at everything. "The Ants have kept me pretty busy. The Frontrooms have great research on migration patterns… in three dimensions. If I want to track these little guys, I have to follow them where they go. Which includes Level 654, of all places." She takes a sip of her beverage. "I don't think you'd be there to meet me anyways, given that you're sitting here right in front of me," she says, pointing at the helmet Diana had brought with her. "What's with the digs?"

The bartender brings Diana her drink. "Oh, that's… well, you knew about the glove. I guess the outfit just kinda… grew on me?" This earns her a squint from Nicole. "Jeez, I haven't seen you since… well… oh man, this isn't going to be fun…" Diana sighs, resting her head in her hands.

"What? What's wrong? Diana?"

"Nicole… we lost Isle."

The song playing at the bar is the only thing making it clear time hasn't stopped.

"Ze… the glitches?"

"More or less. It's… a bit hard to explain."

They each finish their beverage.

"Nicole…" Diana begins.

"No. It's… it's okay. I should be used to this kind of thing by now. I'm okay." After scooting her chair in, she starts placing her camera equipment back in her bag. "What brings you about this area?"

"I'm looking for information. Some more on this stuff, this armor. I've gotta find someone… urgently."

The photographer puts on her coat and slings her pack over her shoulder. "You need to go see the Sage." Rummaging through her bag, she pulls out a glossy looking datapad and hands it to Diana. "The program on this device will take you to her, when you're ready. But before you go, Diana?"

"Yeah?"

"When you get back to Level 1, tell Emilie and the others I miss them. I don't know if I'll get a chance before I… before you get there first. Okay?" Diana looks at her, at her face, in her eyes. Once, there had be optimism in those eyes. Now there was only cold resignation.

"Okay."


This hall was empty, and therefore perfect to use for the jump. Diana didn't really think she needed to use this particular method; with the Monarch's Estoc and the knowledge that she would be heading to someone called "The Sage", she was pretty confident she could have gotten there herself. However, it might be nicer to knock on the front door rather than breach and clear from the back.

ANOMALY [0059]

SMALL, FUR COVERED BEINGS.
REFERRED TO BY NATIVES AS 'ANTS'.
DANGER LEVEL 2.
POTENTIALITY FOR SUBDERMAL CONTUSIONS FROM A SINGLE ANOMALY.
FORMATION OF PACK BASED UNITS HAVE CAUSED THE PROJECTED LOSS OF [F] UNITS AS OF [60C4D797].
NO BENEFICIAL EFFECTS KNOWN.

CONCLUSION: AVOID.

DATA LOGGED: [60C4D84B]

AUTHOR; M. HYLIUS

Despite the resemblance to a typical touchscreen tablet, the surface isn't responsive to any typical gestures, nor does it feature any external buttons or ports. It wasn't until, as directed by Nicole, Diana places a fingertip on the hyperlink that was the name of the author, that anything happened at all. While sitting on the floor of an abandoned hallway, the pad slowly but purposely rises out of her hands, floating away from her, perpendicular to the floor. She reaches out to grasp it before it could float away, but before her hand could meet the matte black surface, the edges of the pad expand outwards, with such force that a gust of wind sweeps down the length of the hall. The surface, perpendicular to her, is slightly misaligned with the hall itself, intersecting the walls at odd angles and leaving a void-like space bisecting the area.

With the sudden movement, Diana recoils slightly, but decides to double down. She places her hand against the black plane, and feels it buckle slightly, as if fluid. Inserting one finger into the medium, she notes it parting around her digit and then flowing back into itself, giving it the appearance of a waterfall, composed of some unknown, alien fluid. Behind the part, there was a faint blue light, shining on an immaculate, dark mirrored glass floor. It showed reflections of strange, impossible to comprehend things. Curious, Diana pushed past the panel and into the unknown.


The first thing that became clear to her was the majesty of it. Having been pacing the Backrooms for so long, sometimes you simply forget the awe of an area that is truly, simply, wide open. The sky was impossibly wide, and the galaxies that shone from above were like none she'd ever seen before. Black, glossy square panels undulated on the floor, spread level and evenly for as far as the eye could see. Scanning her environment, she did a full 360, before stopping short on the glint of something in the horizon. A bright cyan light shone in the dark, like a single point in the vast black void. The squares in the floor were more active in that direction as well. With no other information to take in, Diana decided this was the best course to take.

It was roughly a mile before she could make anything out, and another football field before she'd get there. Surprisingly short, by liminal space standards, but still a slog. She watched as the panels became so active, they'd nearly become pillars; each one revealed a blinking pattern of lights on the sides, repeating ever so often, as if speaking. In the center of them, a figure, draped in robes. She crept ever closer, now creeping to behind pillars for cover as they gently rose and fell.


IDENTIFY

The voice came from the figure, still peering at the side of a pillar, hands gently grazing its surface. Blue sparks erupted when it's fingers met the side, and the pillar responded with beeps and boops of a rather polite nature. Diana remained hidden behind one of these pillars, hoping that the booming, rather mystical sounding voice had been a call in the dark, towards doubt rather than some justified suspicion. Alas, she was unlucky.


THIS UNIT WILL REPEAT

IDENTIFY

Taking a deep breath, Diana unsheathed her sword, and stepped out from behind her cover in a wide stance, sword outstretched. "I am Diana Evelynn, Archivist of the M.E.G., and slayer of a Black Monarch. How about you identify?"

The robed figure was now close enough to observe clearly. It hovered ominously above the ground, and its hands were dreadfully pale, with black fingernails. These receded back into the cloak when it moved away from the wall it had been inspecting, which caused each of the panels to recede back into the floor, all at once. Within the cloak was harder to make out, but Diana could make out the lower portion of a humanoid face, lips the same color as the nails. The ornate black cloak was trimmed in a glowing cyan blue, and fluttered slightly in the wind, under an unfelt breeze. Although the silhouette was hundreds of feet away, it covered the distance between them in the blink of an eye, inches from the tip of Diana's outstretched sword, which faltered slightly.


DIANA EVELYNN

TWENTY FOUR

AMERICAN INTERN

ARKANSAS ORIGIN

"That's… right. I asked for identification from you, however." Her false confidence was betrayed by a slight whimper to her voice. Clearly, this new technique did not largely benefit her.


THIS UNIT HAS NO IDENTITY

She dropped the sword. "Do you have a name? A title? Anything?"


THIS UNIT IS

THE SAGE

Taking a deep breath and bringing her fingertips across her face, down from her forehead and into a position of mock prayer, she continues, "Of course you are. I need to speak with you."


ELABORATE.

"I need to know some things about the Black Knights. What they might-" she continues, but is cut off.


FILE: BLACK KNIGHTS MISSION STATEMENT. ACCESSING.

FILE ACCESS COMPLETE. CONTENT:

BLACK KNIGHTS SERVE UNDER SEHNSUCHT AND HEIMWEHMUT INDUSTRIES TO PERFORM CORPORATE ESPIONAGE AND ELIMINATE TARGETS WITH DISCRETION.

"Er… right. I know what the Black Knights are, I just… what is… "highway mutt" industries?"


FILE: HEIMWEHMUT INDUSTRIES. ACCESSING.

FILE ACCESS COMPLETE. CONTENT:

HEIMWEHMUT INDUSTRIES IS A GLOBALLY OPERATED THINKTANK FOUNDED BY S-

"Nevermind. It doesn't matter. I need to find my friend, do you think you could tell me where they are?" There's a moment of silence as Diana waits for a response. "My friend? Their name is… god, what was the number again? Their name is… Knight 783. Do you have his location in whatever database this is?"


LOCATION, UNIT "783", NOT FOUND. TRACKING DISABLED.

Getting tired, the Archivist sinks down to one knee. "Do you… like, have a chair in here or something?" The figure tilts it's head 45 degrees to the left, as if inquisitive, but nonetheless raises one of the panels to a heigh roughly appropriate to be used as a chair with a wave of the hand. When Diana sits, so does "The Sage", albeit on nothing at all. Seeing the lack of threat posed by the individual, Diana removes her helmet to breathe better.

It was the next action that clued her in that the figure was parroting her actions to feign some form of familiarity with her. In time with Diana removing her helmet, the figure removed a hood, revealing her face. While intended to provide comfort, the fact that the Sage had a face identical to Diana's - albeit far paler and with a set of glowing blue orbs for eyes, it didn't really land with its intended gravitas.

"You could have done… literally most anything else and it would have been less creepy than that. Who are you, anyways?"


THIS UNIT IS

THE SAGE

"No, I mean like… are you a person? How did you happen to… be here, exist?"


THIS UNIT BECAME THIS UNIT WHEN EXPOSED TO ANOMALOUS PROPERTIES OF LOCATION: HEADSPACE

"The 'Headspace'… I've heard that term, in my… well, saying I've heard that in my dreams sounds stupid. But yes, that's where I've heard it. What is the Headspace?


FILE: HEADSPACE

QUOTE, JONATHAN MANTELL:

"It's a liminal frontier. When I sat down to start this project, I tried to picture clusters of memetic information as they moved through the collective human psyche. What form would they take? Faces, bodies, people? How do you move about the network, hallways? There was a vision of a traversable world laid deep in our minds. It took some ingenuity, but one day, it clicked. We were in."

"So it's synonymous with the Backrooms, albeit one single interpretation. I may owe a certain someone a canteen of Beverage when I get back, if that's in any way correct. Who's quoted in this file?"


FILE: SEHNSUCHT (AKA JONATHAN MANTELL)

ACCESS DENIED

"What? Bullshit. Access denied, why?"


FILE: SEHNSUCHT (AKA JONATHAN MANTELL) BELOW CLEARANCE LEVEL FOR PERSONNEL M. HYLIUS

"M. Hylius… is that… you?"


THIS UNIT IS

THE SAGE

Diana simply stared, directly into the eyes of someone she'd seen a thousand times, yet never once before. She shook her head to distract her from inquiring exactly what horrible event had transpired here. "Okay, if you can't tell me about the current location of Knight 783, what was his last known location?"


RESPONSE: KNIGHT 783 IS SCHEDULED FOR DECOMMISSIONING, WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN. LAST KNOWN CONTACT DURING ESCAPE OF ENTITY 'ANT QUEEN'.

"There's a… hold on a minute. Do you know the location of any knights that are unmarked? Knights with no trackers, whatsoever?"


ONE SUCH RESULT.

"Go on."


LOCATION: NEURAL LOCALE ALPHA-470, NATIVE DESIGNATION: LEVEL 470, 'COLISEUM'

"That's gotta be them! I have to…" Diana gets up, ready to go retrieve her partner in arms. "I have to go. What, uh… what can I do for you, in return for this information?"


QUERY NOT UNDERSTOOD

"I… I feel bad, asking you for all of this info, barging in here… interrupting your… whatever this is. Can I even the playing field? Compensate you, somehow?" There are a few moments of silence as The Sage stares unyieldingly, unmovingly, and perpetually emotionless at Diana. As the figure's eyes dim, and the gust of wind billowing the folds of their robe fades away, it responds.


Get… get the bastards. Please.

As quickly as it came, the moment is gone. The Sage resumes a standing, albeit floating, position.


THIS USER WILL NOW LEAVE THE DATABASE. GOODBYE

With that, Diana feels a pull, as if just behind her navel, jerking her upwards off her chair-like panel and into the sky. The wind is knocked out of her, and as she loses consciousness due to the whiplash and lack of oxygen, she sees the cold, unblinking blue eyes of the thing that used to be M. Hylius fade into the darkness of the Database.



rating: +6+x
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