At 6 AM, on a Tuesday morning, the Three Princes of Greenglade, Monochrome Exploration Team, headed into the Monochrome gate located just outside of the city of Fontaine’s city limits. Using a teleport-key to drop into a particular monochrome realm.
The group of ten foundation agents found themselves in a world of idyllic hues.
A dream-like world with a blue sky that felt like had been painted there, and clouds that gave the impression that they were all, really just cotton ball swirls that had been glued onto the canvas of the heavens. The sun, a mere ornamental bulb that hung on a hook, supplying just the right level of brightness and warmth.
They meandered through the winding streets of a city of crumbling alabaster stone. Passing simple-souled people, who dressed as if they were from another age. Garbed in togas and robes. Their hair fair and shimmering, their eyes like marbles, their flesh like bronze.
Their group grew one person larger, when they hired a guide to take them to their destination. A woman who by the name Vivi.
Eventually the group found its way to a tower. Showing permits to the broad-bodied guards who waited at the gates of the tower.
They entered the tower, with the intent of climbing to its highest floor and seeing their relatively painless endeavor to its conclusion. Getting mid-way through before calamity struck.
“Catastrophic Damage Received, Beginning Recovery Process, Recovery at 10%.”
Clancy would be the only one who heard the voice, hearing it as he and the others awoke. Rising after having been swept off their feet and thrown into a deep unconsciousness
The voice was a familiar one, he knew it, remembering its owner’s name before he remembered his own.
It told him things, filling the gaps and yawning holes that the magic had been blown into his memory. Allowing him to pull himself together sooner than the rest of his companions in the tower did.
Meeting people was always hard, it was harder still if the multitude of worst case scenarios one had stored in one’s head, were accompanied with freshly recollected justifications.
All of them serving as reminders of why the most dangerous and unpredictable creatures one might run into on a dark and stormy night, were other people.
If it weren’t for the voice in his head, murmuring reassuring thoughts, while giving status updates on his recovery process, Clancy might well have just turtled up. Curling onto his side like a shrimp with his back to a wall and a suitably dangerous spell gathered at his fingertips.
“Uh…hi, guys the name’s Maxwell…I mean…no…Wait, My name’s Clancy…Wait did I say Maxwell? My name’s Maxwell..No, wait, dammit, My name is Clancy…Clancy. Hi guys my name is Clancy Ambrose.” said Clancy. Introducing himself to the group of nine or so strangers that the voice in his head, assured him were his teammates.
“Wait, so is it Clancy or Maxwell?” said a handsome-ish man with swept blond hair and a crooked nose.
Clancy had to think about that for a second. For whatever reason the name Maxwell sounded right, but at the same time he knew it was wrong. Eventually he made up his mind.
The blonde-man frowned.
“Then why did you say it was Maxwell?”
Clancy frowned trying to think up a reasonable excuse.
“Maybe because you said your name is Maxwell first?”
The other Maxwell thought about it and then he shrugged, seeming to accept the answer at face value. A thing that the group had been doing quite a lot for the last few hours or so.
Accepting that things were so, because their brains were still recovering from the anomalous pulse that was released from the tower, destroying their memories of the last twenty-four hours and scattering their recollections of their former selves.
“Hey, you two! Keep up or get left behind!” shouted a gruff voice from the front of their little procession.
Not wanting to get left behind lest they become physically lost on top of their mental disorientation, the two men stopped talking and followed the rest of the group.
With the group following four amongst their number. The first three of whom, seeming to have been affected the least amongst the team, for some reason of the other.
The leader amongst them was a man named Esteban. Esteban was tall, tan and dark haired. A strapping, well-built fellow, with a devil-may care manner to him.
Marching at the head of the group with his machine rifle jauntily resting on both his shoulders.
Beside him was a woman named Nicole. A fair haired witch with hang-dog look to her. With blue bags under her eyes, and blue eyes that seemed to dart left and right, peering into every errant shadow.
Behind Nicole, was a woman named Vivi, curly haired, with a Mediterranean complexion, dressed differently from everyone else. Her tan and green breeches and tunic setting her from everyone else who seemed to have come ready for war. Dressed in armor of both the mundane and magical varieties.
And Behind Vivi, was a shifty-eyed, grave-faced man named Dennis. His green-brown hair in disarray. An ugly bruise slowly rising up on the left the side of his face.
Esteban, Nicole and Vivi seemed to know what was up. Which was good, since no one else knew much of anything. Had they not been present it might have taken some time for everyone to remember that they were all supposed to be on the same team.
According to those four, the group was made up fighters, soldiers for hire. Warriors trained to deal with the strange and the magical.
Dennis also knew that they were on the same team, but he hadn’t known much else. In fact it was Esteban who reminded him that his name was Esteban.
Esteban said he was the leader of their group, but Dennis seemed to disagree with this. Dennis also seemed to think that something was wrong and that their group was heading in the wrong the direction. Climbing down, when they were supposed to be climbing up.
Unsure of what to believe, the confused group seemed to be following majority rules, quietly ignoring the fact that most of them were still too out of sorts to have made any kind of informed decision.
For his part, Clancy didn’t really trust either Esteban or Dennis…The objective part of Clancy that was always alert and watching for….reasons…and the little voice in his head, both agreed that Clancy was a somewhat paranoid person. Whose first reaction to new people, places and scenarios, was the creation of long line of models and threat analyses.
Clancy and the objective part of him that was always watching him, worried that this was a sign that whoever he was before, he might well have been a bad person.
Since he could recall either hearing or reading from somewhere, that it was the worst sorts of people who expected the worst of others. Mostly because they spent their time doing the worst to others and knew how it was done.
The one’s who feared monsters most were often monsters themselves…or something like that.
The small voice in his head, chided him, telling him that he was being silly. Telling him he was mistaken. Whatever else Clancy was, he wasn’t a monster. He might not have been a Saint, but he was no villain either.
He was just someone who’d been trained since he was very young to be always, always on notice. Having lived a life of hard lessons.
Which made Clancy wonder what kind of Hard lessons. A question that made the voice in his head go quiet, its tone more somber. Eventually, it, she, just told him, he’d remember soon enough.
“Recovery at 45%. Entering Second Stage of Restoration.”
As they marched onwards, making their way down into the depths of the tower they were occasionally met by men in armor, some of them made of flesh, some of them made of stone. All them huge and hulking, not very happy to see the little group of amnesiacs.
It was odd, but highly convenient, to find that the combat skills were what came first. With a most of their number recalling which direction to point their firearms and auto-staves before they remember any meaningful details about their own lives.
It didn’t always save them, since there also traps and pitfalls to look out for, but it was enough to keep them from being over-run.
In Clancy’s case he wouldn’t start recalling who he was and what he’d been doing in the tower till they were on the tenth highly guarded sub-basement and he was busy using his enchanted cricket bat to turn one ten-foot tall man of marble, into many ten-millimeter high pieces.
He’d be hacking at the creature’s knees when it occurred to him that this wasn’t what he’d signed up for. Then he’d recall that he’d signed up at all and this wasn’t something that he’d had to do.
He’d recall that the reason he was in the tower was because the shifty-eyed guy, Dennis, had asked him to come.
He’d recall that the voice in his head was his girlfriend, Anne, speaking to him through their empathetic link. Slowly feeding him his memories from the backup that was stored on the shared portion of their minds.
Then he’d be knocked on his rear by another of the stone men he was supposed to be fighting because remembering a whole bunch of things, and going on trips down memory lane, mid-battle, was pretty inadvisable.
Dennis would save him, using his rifle-like auto-stave to insta-cast a dozen force spells, that would knock back the stone guardsman, while Dennis helped Clancy pick himself off the floor.
“Thanks!…” said Clancy. Shouting over the din.
“Don’t mention it!” shouted Dennis.
“You know…I thought you said, this was supposed to be an easy gig.” said Clancy.
“I did?” said Dennis blinking. Frowning. Scrunching up his face in concentration as he tried to remember.
Clancy frowned as well as he considered the other man’s question.
“I think so?”
Dennis sighed, rubbing a knot on the back of his head.
“Well…I’m sorry about that, bud. I don’t know what went wrong, but I do know that things weren’t supposed to go this way.”
“Recovery at 75%.”
After hours of slogging through the tower depths and enough encounters with the incensed security personnel to make most of their group start suspecting that “they” weren’t good guys in this story, they finally reached the bottom floors of the tower.
The second to last floor was guarded by a beast of stone, bigger than all the others and armed with some manner of breath cannon. The blue beams that poured from its mouth scorching the tile floors and stone walls of the hall it was guarding.
Two members of the team failed to leave that floor alive. One of them, a woman by the name of the Marina, was bitten in two by the creature. She shrieked frantically as the creature caught her. Her shrill cries enough to pour ice-water on even the hardiest man’s nerves.
Her blood splashed down on her the horrified faces of her nearest teammates. What remained of her body was perforated by their bullets, and spells as they panicked and frantically tried to fall back.
The other Maxwell died as well, the stone guardian’s beam cannon blowing a hole through his torso. Easily smashing through the haphazard shielding spell the man had thrown up in front of himself, and reducing what was left into a charred husk.
Clancy took man’s death the hardest. Despite being sure, that his own name was Clancy and not Maxwell, suddenly losing the other Maxwell, made Clancy feel uncertain about a whole bunch of things.
Questioning his memories because he could swear that at least at some point in time he had been a Maxwell,
A paternalistic voice, sly and serpentine, smoothe like well aged brandy, echoing in his ears. Filling his head with snatches of half recalled conversations.
“Very good, Maxwell. You’ve done your father proud. Come on now, I’ll call someone to come and clean this little mess up.”
“Maxwell, Maxwell, Maxwell…are you telling me you still don’t understand? There’s so much expected of you…So much rides on your young shoulders.”
“Dammit, Maxwell, stop your blubbering…I didn’t raise you to be this weak!”
“Don’t die Maxwell. Come back to me stronger and greater than you already are, my son.”
“Maxwell my boy…You father’s going to make you into a god!”
Clancy wasn’t sure, but he had a worrying feeling that the death of the other Maxwell meant that he’d have to take on the name in the man’s place. He didn’t want that, He definitely didn’t want that. The memories that he bore in his head, suggested that life as a Maxwell was less than pleasant.
“Recovery at 85%. Entering Third Stage of Restoration.”
They made it to the final floor, and on this floor there were no guards, no guardian beasts. Nothing. Beyond the doorway at the foot of that final flight of steps, there was nothing.
There was only void, vaguely pastel colored, and smelling of a mixture baby powder and hospital antiseptic.
This was what met the group, once they finally reached the very bottom of the tower.
For the first time, since they’d all lost their memories, it wasn’t Esteban who took the lead. Vivi lead the group through the pale pink doorway into a pale-pink.
A room wider and bigger than the entire tower had been, seeming to be a world onto itself. A world within a world, within a world.
At the center of the room was a youth in a hospital bed. Looking to be somewhere between thirteen and twenty. His sallow face, neotenous to the point of looking almost infant-like.
The youth was hooked up to a machine and the machine was hooked up to a wall outlet, like that one would expect to see in any home or public building.
The wall outlet was surrounded by a circle. A warded circle. One of three that surrounded the man, and the machine and of course, the wall outlet. With fourth, greater circle surrounding all the three smaller ones and fifth circle standing apart.
“What is this?” said Dennis. Asking the question that everyone else in the room wanted to ask.
“This is the dreamer.” said Vivi. Her voice sounding breathless, filled with a rapt and holy reverence.
Dennis held the side of his head, grimacing, growling beneath his breath at the sharp pain that was slowly making its way through the back of his head.
“No that’s not what I’m asking. I know who that guy is supposed to be…What I’m asking is what the hell we’re doing here.”
The rest of the group, began to grimace and groan as well. One of the team members collapsed, falling to his knees.
“Recovery at 100%. Restoration Complete….Knock ‘em dead, hon. Literally if necessary.”
Clancy blinked as everything that he was, everything that had been left to question and everything that he’d unsure about, fell back into place. A line of red ran down from a flared nostril.
First, he was a bit stunned, then he was furious.
“Dennis…Explain this for me, please.”
Dennis didn’t look much happier, his auto-stave up and ready, while he helped the surviving members of his team to their feet.
“I don’t know man, I think you’re gonna have to ask our boy Esteban here.” said Dennis.
Esteban was standing in the third circle with a wide-eyed anguished looking Nicole standing behind him. The woman muttering very rapidly beneath her breath as strings of magical ink built upon and around the warded circle at her feet.
“Esteban, what is this shit?!” barked Dennis.
Esteban, smiled looking sheepish as he turned machine rifle towards where Dennis and the rest stood.
“Sorry friend, this is just good business and a conflict of interest.”
“You son of a bitch…you’re turning coat?!”
“Come on man, don’t look at this like its a doublecross, just think of it, as my getting a higher bidder and jumping on the opportunity to climb a little higher up in the world.” said Esteban. Smirking.
“The hell he just say?” said another member of team, who stood at Dennis’ side.
Clancy put two and two together as he saw Vivi stalking towards the youth in the bed with some kind of ceremonial knife in her hands.
He stood with bat in his hand, preparing to lunge forwards when he suddenly heard the bark of the machine rifle.
Clancy was knocked off his feet before he could even move. The concussive spell on the machine pistols bullets walloping him like each round was a cannon ball. Tearing through his outer-armor but thankfully not doing too much harm to his inner-armor and the flesh below.
Esteban’s firing his weapon, lead to Dennis firing theirs. Most the bullets and spells bouncing off of Nicole’s addition to warded circle.
“Nicole why the hell are you doing?!” said one Dennis’s people, shouting in frustration as she called up a spell to create some cover for their side to hide behind in the empty, pale-pink, room.
“I-…I’m sorry, I’m sorry. This was the only way.”
“The only way for what?” snapped Dennis. Taking a knee and firing spell after spell from his auto-stave. A cascade of fire, force and ice smashing into Nicole’s shield.
The other member of the team, a woman named Amalia, answered, her expression pained. Full of a mottled mixture of anger, regret and pity.
“Nicole’s almost to the end of the circle ranks, chief.” said Amalia.
Dennis swore beneath his breath understanding.
On his end of thing, Clancy quickly climbed back onto his feet. Throwing his bat at the woman before she could reach the youth in the bed.
Esteban swore firing at the flying bat and then firing at the one who threw it, as he watched the woman go down.
Her body spinning as she fell, red blood spurting from the stump, as her severed arm dropped to the floor. Disappearing fading into pale-pink nothing.
“The world will end if the Dreamer wakes…Thus the Dreamer must die. The Dreamer must die!” cried Vivi. Her eyes wide and wild.
Esteban jumped out from behind his shield of wards, snatching the sacrificial knife from the dying woman on the floor.
The group turned towards him, firing as he ran. Nicole threw up a wall of force that intercepted their fire.
“What the fuck Nicole?!”
“It’s the only way!”
“Your only way out, means fucking over your friends?! Fuck you, Nicole!” bellowed another member of the team.
“The world ends when the Dreamer wakes. A new world is born when the dreamer dies…the dreamer must-…”
Vivi’s words were cut short as she bled out and passed into unconsciousness.
Clancy slammed into Esteban before the man could drive the sacrificial knife into the dreaming youth’s chest.
Nicole cast a spell that sent a barrage of ice-arrows flying towards the hospital bed. Clancy rolled over with the man in his arms. Taking several frozen blue-spikes to the back, protecting Esteban because he knew the foundation would need somebody to blame for the fiasco that just took place.
The first of the spikes touched the space above the hospital bed. Nicole cried out, her spell backlashing, the ice-arrows turning into white mist while the desperate young witch was turned into pink mist.
“Nicole!?” sobbed Amalia. Falling to her knees, eyes red, tears running down her cheeks.
If the Job had been merely messy, the clean-up that came afterwards was a complete fiasco. Another foundation team had to be called in, while the barricaded themselves, on the bottom floor of the dreamer’s tower.
With foundation personnel being called in to mediate for the group and the locals.
Put simply, if it weren’t for the fact that with the exception of those individuals that managed to escape from such dream-worlds and integrate with reality, beings from dream or “imaginary” realms weren’t counted as real people, the whole team would have likely ended up going to jail.
Or the very least they’d have been tied up in a lengthy court case, where the state and the foundation would have to unravel exactly how much fault the magically addled crew of mages, held.
After all there was a very well-exploited, legal precedent that more or less, vindicated defendants who could be proven to have been under magical influence during their crimes.
Instead all the innocent guards and creatures they’d killed were discounted as figments of the sleeping boy’s imagination. And with the lack of “actual” victims, all the surviving members of the team were allowed to go home.
With the exceptions being Dennis who had a lengthy accounting to give and Esteban who was black bagged by foundation agents and carried off to face charges for his involvement in the deaths of his legally “real” team members. As well an additional charge of attempted murder and treason against the UN Council.
Later Clancy would be standing at the Monochrome gate on the edge of the city for the second time that day. His head still pounding from having everything inside it, erased and then re-written. He got phone call and saw that it was from Dennis.
“Sorry about that, man.” said Dennis. Sounding tired, the strain palpable on his end of the call.
“Huh? Sorry about what?” said Clancy.
“This whole fiasco…this whole fucking mess. This was supposed to be my way of showing you how great it is to work in teams and instead…”
“Dude, is that really why you’re calling? Shit happens, man. Don’t worry about it. More like, are you gonna be okay on your end?” said Clancy.
He’d gotten a briefing of what had gone down from both the team, from Dennis and from the Foundation staff.
The original plan had been to climb to the top of the tower of the dreamer, there were some wards at the top of the tower that needed to be touched up to ensure the stability of the dream.
There were also some measurements that the foundation had wanted their group to take, since dreamlike worlds like the one they’d been in were a special interest for the foundation.
Monochrome Worlds that were formed by the unconscious mind, of powerful comatose casters, were something that Foundation and the various world powers that the foundation worked for, were interested in looking into.
Besides the economic ramifications, there was also the possibility of using such worlds as evacuation destinations, in the case of any number of end of the world, end of the home reality, scenarios.
Apparently Esteban, Vivi and Nicole’s entry into the tower of the dream had triggered a sort of defense mechanism. It would have put them all out of the commission till the guards could escort them out and lock them out of the tower.
Esteban, Nicole and Vivi had been prepared, shielding their minds beforehand, which allowed them to take charge of their addled teammates.
After some rigorous questioning, it was revealed that Esteban was being paid by a certain vested interest to help Vivi and her group of “Awakeners” kill the dreamer. Part of a ploy to gather certain rare materials were generated when a bubble of anomalous space like the dream-like world was destroyed.
Nicole was pulled into their schemes because her pending graduation from the circle stage of caster rankings, meant that her caster’s demon, or anathema would soon be coming for her. Its power have risen to a level where it would be to find her even if she stayed in the real world.
The destruction of an entire was one of the few scenarios in which a caster’s anathema could be killed by something other than the caster themselves.
With the erasure of the world beyond the warded circles leading to the erasure of the demon along with everything else that lay beyond the aforementioned circles.
“Huh? Oh, right. Nah, they got finished with me, like two hours ago, I’m just driving home now. Gonna make a few very sad phone calls, make some work arrangements. Then I’m going to drink, some extremely hard liquor, crawl into bed and pretend this shit didn’t happen, at least till I have to wake up and face it all in the morning.”
“That sounds rough, man. This shit is just….You know, One of those things…Shit. Assholes happen…Life happens. Your friend Nicole was just scared… I-…I don’t know what to say, man. Nothing will change the fact that this whole situation sucks and we all nearly got played by that asshat Esteban. If it makes you feel better the elapsed time it took for everything to go down, was short enough that I’m seriously thinking about either joining a team, or starting one of my own.” said Clancy.
There was a sigh from the other end of the line. Then for a while there was nothing. Clancy was almost about to shut off his phone thinking he might have been hung up on, when the other man finally spoke again.
“….Do you really mean it, if I somehow don’t get shit canned, you might join my team?” said Dennis. Somehow managing to make the smile he was wearing audible.
“Oi, who said anything about joining ‘your’ team? I also said I might start one of my own.” snapped Clancy. Slightly annoyed by his friend’s quick swinging mood.
“Hmm? That might be good too, man. With half the team, dead or injured, and the other half thinking about taking a break because this was a fuckin’ close call and all our heads have been messed with, I’m pretty sure the Greenglade Company’s gonna drop my ass like it’s on fire…Talk to you later man.” said Dennis.
The other man hung up and Clancy was left staring at his phone wondering if he might not have inadvertently committed to something he didn’t want to commit to.
Just as Clancy was going to start fuming over the issue his turn to use the gate came up.
Clancy had been right to play it safe, with the last job having ending successfully, he’d need to do a little more work to make sure that his and Anne’s checkbooks stayed in the black for this month.