This is an in-character game thread from Nobilis: Where Only Lilies Grow. (This page is written by a number of people, and is not Creative Commons licenced.)
Those that had followed the Sphinx stepped out of the palace into bright morning sunlight and the sound of clashing steel. Between stone columns they could see a battle raging in the distance.
“We hurry,” said the Sphinx. “There must be no delay in countering a breach of our walls.”
And on they ran, to the edges of the fight. Sphinxes and gryphons and all manner of other creatures fought alongside men in ancient armour, carrying spears and scimitars. Yet with them both fought present-day soldiers, discharging M16 rifles as their allies lunged with steel.
The two groups were trying their hardest not to make eye contact.
Pouring through the rubble of the former Northern wall were creatures even stranger than anything seen before. They were not quite real – even less real than the rest – and forever shifting from one form to another, dark colours and shapes rippling across them like dreams painted in crude oil. They moved like liquid yet struck like lead, crushing their foes.
The sphinx drew his two scimitars and glared at the intruders.
“Now you have seen what we face,” he said, “are you still willing to fight?”
Benton emerged last, having been unavoidably delayed by two ancient persians and a harem girl passing through one of the doors he’d held along the way. He stopped at the sight of the sphinx drawing its weapons – an eye-wateringly complex motion which seemed to involve joints bending in directions they were never meant to bend, assuming of course that common skeletal anatomy applied equally to a creature made entirely of sandstone. Then his gaze slid past, to take in the melee in the courtyard and over the ruin of the northern wall.
“Oh dear,” he said. “Even by the standards of my previous hallucinations, this is rather odd.”
“Statistically, there is little chance of us winning… however, the same could be said of Napoleon’s chances of becoming Emperor of the French empire…” Ioun said, looking at the Sphinx. “Yes, I suppose I shall fight.”
Benton gave Ioun an encouraging nod. “If I might just try reasoning with them, before the situation escalates further…?”
Stepping out from the shadow of the palace into the blazing sunshine that filled the courtyard, Benton stood at ease with his hands clasped loosely behind his back. Raising one to cover his mouth, he coughed once – politely, of course, and discretely – to draw the attention of the invading… things.
“Good-“ quick glance upwards, to find the sun just creeping past the apogee “-afternoon. My name is Constable Benton Fraser, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I’m afraid your presence here places you in violation of numerous UN resolutions and US military orders, as well as putting you in breach of the peace. So I’m going to have to ask you to disperse, or face the full extent of international law. Thank you kindly.”
With that, and a sharp nod of the hat, Benton was done. His warnings often went unheeded, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t still be given. Even the most hardened criminal deserved to have that choice. Even strange, alien creatures which were more than likely an abstract creation of his fractured psyche deserved that chance to change their ways.
“Err..This is not entirely what I was expecting. Perhaps I should keep towards the back, and document our success? Do scream if you need assistance!” With that, Nabu edged backwards to the doors.
Somewhat taken aback by Benton’s positively chirpy request, the forward-most of the attackers paused for a moment, looked at each other, then turned to Benton.
“Our presence here violates reality, that’s sort of the point,” one of them chittered. It turned toward one of its neighbours, or at least seemed to give that impression. “Isn’t it?”
The human and mythological soldiers had stopped fighting too, now, and stared at Benton with open mouths. Just what was this fool trying to do, they thought, and… how the heck had he actually achieved it?
Leilah was unimpressed by Benton’s speech, although some small remaining part of her that might not be steeped in cynicism wanted to be moved by it. In her experience, pretty words didn’t work – in fact, they just got you into trouble. All she’d ever been able to rely on in the end, that blurry memory of brightness notwithstanding, was herself. She was already dead – what was there left to lose, and what could she possibly have left to give up that mattered to her? So she moved forward to stand beside the (endearingly naive and possibly imaginary?) Canadian, stared at these monsters from beyond human imagination, and laughed in their shifting faces.
Leilah’s eyes flickered the colour of fire, and her defiant laughter echoed out across the quiet battlefield. The noise seemed given physical form, each gasp of a laugh impacted on one of the strange creatures like the punch of some invisible demon, and before long the creatures had disappeared amongst a pile of rubble and a cloud of smoke.
Ioun looked over the battlefield, activating her thermal scanners in order to check for signs of life and not sure what they’d even look like if there were to be any…
“Well, it looks like that was effective…” she mumbled, confused as to what exactly happened.
“Perhaps somewhat harsh,” Benton added. “I believe they may have seen the error of their ways, with a little more persuasion. And while your action was indeed effective as a peace-keeping measure, ma’am, we now have nothing to question.”
Leilah’s eyes cleared and it looked like she was attempting to focus them. “Well, whatever I just did, it was better than my Plan A, which was to Die Gloriously (Again) just to spite these monstrosities. By the way, what on earth are they?” she asked the Sphinx, guessing one impossible creature would be the most likely candidate for understanding another impossible creature.
“They are-“ said the Sphinx, but he got no further.
“WE ARE WITHOUT NAME,” came a booming voice from across the battlefield. “FOR NAMES DEFINE THAT WHICH NEED NOT BE DEFINED. NAMES ARE SHACKLES THAT LIMIT POSSIBILITY.”
The dust was beginning to clear, and in patches where the air was transparent again, the oily creatures could be seen running like puddles of mercury towards a single point where slowly but surely a figure was rising out of them.
“WE ARE THE TRUTH BEHIND THE FACADE OF EXISTENCE. WE ARE LIQUID POTENTIAL.”
The figure was taking shape now, the shape a man would be if he were drawn in petrol, parts running together with surface tension where they ought not to. Without a face or fingers, the only details on its otherwise jet-black body were the bursts and lines of light that emanated from deep inside it, flickering across its skin like de-tuned television fuzz.
It stepped forward and seemed to turn towards Benton, ripples spreading across its body to give tiny millisecond flashes of different faces.
“YOU ARE WRONG,” it said, “THERE IS PLENTY OF TIME FOR QUESTIONS. I WILL BEGIN. DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE, AND IF SO, WHY DO YOU FIGHT ME?”
“Wonderful. Question time with the eldritch horror,” Leilah said snidely. It was not quite a stage whisper, before addressing herself to the creature.
“No, I don’t know what I am. Last I checked, I was human. Also dead. I’m beginning to understand these are flexible concepts. Less flexible, however, is the fact that you seem to be killing people. Having experienced it myself, I must admit I’m not a fan and I don’t generally condone it in others, which might explain my reaction.”
“Do I know what I am? Yes, I rather think I do. I’m a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Benton said. “That’s what the uniform means, you see. Well, in fact there are several layers of symbolism attached to various aspects of the uniform, but that’s the essential gist. And like my apparently posthumous companion here, I do tend to frown somewhat on the assault of law-abiding citizens. Regardless of their existential state.” He cleared his throat. “So although I’m not technically a citizen of this country, I feel obliged to inform you that I am carrying out a citizen’s arrest. Will you come quietly?”
“While I am relatively sure about what I am, I am willing to hear what you think I am.” Ioun said, opening a datasheet and inputting details on this eldritch horror.
“YOU,” it said, turning to Leilah, “SEEM VERY MUCH UNAWARE OF JUST HOW FLEXIBLE THOSE CONCEPTS YOU SPEAK OF ARE. YOU,” – to Ioun – “SHOULD CONSIDER WHAT YOUR ASSOCIATES HAVE JUST DONE BEFORE DECIDING WHAT YOU THINK YOU ARE, AND YOU,” – to Benton – “MUST UNBURDEN YOURSELF FROM THE SHACKLES OF YOUR LOYALTY TO A HUMAN ORGANISATION.”
The creature’s voice took on an almost curious quality as it continued. “AS FOR WHETHER I WILL ‘COME QUIETLY’, PERHAPS I SHALL.” It inclined its non-face towards the Sphinx. “BUT I DO NOT THINK THIS ONE IS KEEN ON THAT IDEA. AND BESIDES, WHERE WOULD YOU TAKE ME?”
“To be honest, we’re all fairly certain of who we are, if not, precisely, what. You seem to know us, too. It would seem only fair for you to introduce yourself properly. Descriptions are all well and good, but if we are to converse with you, we need to know what to call you. I am Nabu.’
“THE ONE THAT WAS A FEMALE HUMAN SEEMS TO HAVE BEGUN REFERRING TO ME AS ‘THE ELDRITCH HORROR’. WOULD YOU FIND THIS NAME ACCEPTABLE? IT REALLY IS OF NO CONCERN TO ME.”
Ioun considered her friend’s actions for a nanosecond, wishing something would just blow the eldritch horrors away as she turned back towards the door they’d come through.
“I don’t think I’m programmed for this…” she muttered, inputting another line on the database reading “name unknown, rather annoying”
“If you would prefer to remain anonymous, that is your right,” Benton blithely informed the creature. Referring to it as an edritch horror seemed rather prejudicial – it had killed people, admittedly, but that was no reason not to treat it with the respect for its racia… cultura… for its background which all livi… sentien… Benton struggled to classify the creature briefly, a faint frown creasing his smooth features, then gave up. Which everything deserved would have to do. “And while we may not be quite up to speed on the context to your disagreement with the local authorities, you can rest assured that you have nothing to fear if you turn yourself in.” He glanced at the Sphinx, briefly, and when he spoke it was as much for that being’s benefit as for its adversary. “Freedom from intimidation is another right to which you are entitled.”
Leilah frowned. “Sorry, what? Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that taking this Eldritch Horror inside the Lady Sheherazade’s palace can’t be the best of ideas?”
“Well no,” Benton said, sounding faintly put upon. “Perhaps not. However, I’m sure we can find a secure location somewhere around the city in which our friend here might be held until some kind of a trial can be convened.” He turned back to the oily, ethereal creature looming over the courtyard. “Assuming your earlier comment was sincere, of course?”
“I respectfully disagree,” Leilah insisted sharply. “I don’t like keeping this…unreal thing in a place that seems to defy ‘reality’ as we understand it. You want to arrest it? Go ahead. Then escort it out of the Lady’s domain.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, ma’am. While I’m unfamiliar with the exact details of medieval persian law, it would appear that we are – at least in part – still within the area known colloquially as the Green Zone. Which brings our friend here under the auspices of the Iraqi government and, as he seems to have assaulted at least one of the US military personnel stationed here, under those of the US armed forces as well.” Benton gave a rueful chuckle. “It’s really quite a fascinating jurisdictional pickle we’re in.”
“The creature, however, is just that. A creature. In my experience, demons and their ilk exist for heroes to slay, or at the very least, defeat.” Nabu growled under what passed for his breath. “Besides the laws of which you seem so fond rely on some form of social contract having been agreed to, tacitly or otherwise. I don’t believe Eldritch has done anything to imply such agreement. Legally speaking, it’s a non-entity. Does this not mean we can do what we want with it? We are the heroes, after all. I think.”
“There’s also the fact that it was obviously trying to get in here,” Leilah added after some thought, “And I’m really loathe to give it what it wants. Seeing as I can apparently laugh things apart, now, do you think there might be a way we newly-minted heroic types can imprison or dispose of the Horror in some way that is likely to be effective?”
The being coughed, or seemed to – lack of a face seemed to render the noise somewhat incongruous.
“THIS HAS BEEN AN INTERESTING INTERLUDE,” it said, “BUT I FEEL THE CONVERSATION IS TURNING AGAINST ME. REMEMBER THAT I AM PLAYING ALONG BECAUSE I FIND YOUR ACTIONS INTRIGUING. VIOLENCE DOES REMAIN AN OPTION.”
Ioun waved her hand as if to dismiss the eldritch horror, wishing a strong gust of wind would come and remove it from where it was and hoping that it would work.
Without warning, a sharp gust of wind rose up from the west, bringing with it sand that stung the eyes. As those that had eyes shielded them, dust around them thickened to an opaque wall that hid the strange black being from view.
Yet a few moments later it was gone again, sand dropping to the floor, as if reality itself was somehow embarrassed about the whole affair.
Eyes were opened to the sight of a creature not quite so black and oily-skinned as before. Instead it seemed half oil and half sand, its once free-flowing black gunk now clotting around gritty particles. And when it spoke, it creaked.
“THiS Is… MOst IrrEG..ULar,” it said. “ComPROmiS.Ed bOTH onCE MenTALly anD TwICE phySICALly… in ONe D.. .. ..ay.”
Benton cocked his head to one side as the wind whipped sand around them, letting the wide brim of his hat shield his face. When he looked up again, the creature was gummed up with sand yet still functioning. Benton paused, realising he’d made an error. “I believe we may have mistaken the situation,” he said, turning his back on the creature to address his colleagues – with his hands still neatly clasped at the small of his back.
“We are, in fact, being threatened by an ambulatory oil slick. This is an ecological concern, not a military or police action. That it speaks and stands upright can be dismissed as anomalous. Sergeant,” he called, snapping his head to the side and addressing one of the US troops who still held positions around the edge of the courtyard. The man looked slightly startled. “Sergeant, may I suggest you radio the Doura refinery and ask them to send an Oil Spill Cleanup Response team? With some urgency, if they would be so kind.”
“Yes, er… Sir,” said the Sergeant, making for the command post at double time, but still looking over his shoulder every few seconds just in case the ambulatory oil slick chose to do something even more worrying than anything it had already done.
The oil slick, for its part, mostly gooped and gurgled and spread out slowly, as if it were finally losing its battle with a gravity that desired it to be laminar.
“I… appEAr to HAVE UNdereS.tiMATed the… RATE a.t wh…ich YOu h.AVE aCCepted y…our POWERS,” it gurgled.