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trollthumper

But Maybe Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back (IC)

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"Well, that's just wonderful. Good thing I brought my proton pack. Oh, almost forgot! I have a friend of mine I'd like you to meet.

Before Nick could ask who, KC raised his hands, and the sounds of flutes played by the insane echoed around them. And next to KC stood a horrible monster stood. It was about eight feet tall, a dozen mouths and a mass of tentacles. The sounds of mad flutes died down, but there was something so unnatural about it that it hurt one's head to think about. The creature gibbered, and its tentacles flailed.

"Nick, I'd like you to meet Jerry. He's my pet shoggoth. Now give the nice man a handshake, Jerry!"

The shoggoth growled, and extended a tentacle.

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Nick blinked. Lots of tentacles, he thought. Why am I not surprised? He reached out his hand and gently shook Jerry's tentacle, not wanting to know where it had been or what it might have probed.

"Does he do tricks?"

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To Nick's surprise, the shoggoth shook his hand quite daintily and he could have sworn the creature smiled at him from of its many mouths.

"Of course he can, they all can. Show him, Jerry!"

One horrible and mind-melting trick later, KC was grinning at Nick. "Pretty cool, right? Now let's get into that casino. I'm dying to meet this guy." KC said as he hopped atop Jerry's back. The creature was floating a foot or two off the ground, and was more than happy to let him ride on his back. "Want to ride him with me? He doesn't bite...not unless you sit on one of his mouths."

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Nick slowly tried to regain control of his functions. "Thanks for the offer," he said, "but I think I might walk."

The two made their way to the casino, and the further they got from the boardwalk, the clearer the sound of ringing machines and clinking coins became. The door to the casino was fairly unguarded, with no obvious doorman. The two entered, and were greeted with a cold marble foyer, gray shot through with veins of a strange red. At the counter, a clerk stood -- a strange clerk, one with sallow skin and a hairstyle that likely went out of style in the 1500s. He wore the jaunty red cap of a bellboy, only it was the color of fresh blood -- and coupled with a strange sort of double-breasted padded robe of the same color.

"Guests?" he asked.

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KC hopped off the shoggoth. He wasn't quite sure what to say to a ghost, or whether or not any of what was happening was real. His mind was boggling. He just decided to go with what felt natural.

"Yes, that's right. We checked in yesterday. Under the name Mr. Cthulhu, that's myself. And my associate, Mr. Cimitiere, and my, uh...dog."

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The clerk took a look over the books, operating somewhat by rote. "We do not usually allow pets," he said, ignoring the somewhat squamous nature of the "dog," "but I think we can make an exception in the case. Welcome to the Golden Plains, sir."

Passing through the foyer, it became obvious that the only true "gold" in the Golden Plains was in the name. The main floor was iron and lead structures over the same gray marble as the entrance. On the main floor of the casino lay a suite of slot machines, cards tables, and wheels of fortune. The clinking of coins and the rattle of bells forms a cacophony, but something became clear over the din -- there didn't seem to be much cheer here. The gamblers seemed locked to the tables, operating out of obligation more than anything else.

And at the center of the casino stood an obsidian throne, which lay empty and watched over the entire floor.

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"Thank you, sir." KC said as he walked into the casino. Jerry had to hover closer to the ground and compress his dimensions slightly, but he fit inside the building.

"I'm not entirely sure how that worked, but it did, I guess. So let's spread out and find the ghost that occupies that throne." KC said, making his way around the casino. He saw the ghosts playing, not for amusement, but with grim expressions set on their faces. He shivered a little as he made his way around, his shoggoth following behind him like a loyal dog.

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Nick, Kid Cthulhu and Jerry went on their various paths, but after a while, they all began to notice the same figure walking through the crowd. He was shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with all the guests, who seemed to be animated in his presence but withdrawn once he left. He wore a suit with a cut from an earlier age, the kind of thing the higher class of businessman might have worn in the Forties. On top of that he wore a greatcoat draped over his shoulders like a trailing cloak.

He might have looked like another ghost... if not for the strange accoutrements. His face was covered with a mask of burnished bronze; as Kid Cthulhu watched, the mask actually shifted to fit the face. While the mouth never opened, the lips rose into a smile and pressed into concern with the tone of the man's voice. A crown of broken obsidian and rusted iron sat upon his head, catching the light at strange angles. And in his hand, he held a scepter sculpted of black steel, bearing the general shape of a judge's gavel.

"Yeah, I'd say there's the pit boss," said Nick. "And it looks like he brought some of the pit with him."

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"Nick, should we stay out of his way until we come up with a battle plan or rush him? I don't know about you, but I kind of want to get back to Claremont. If beating this guy up is the way to get back, I think we should go for it." Jerry nodded in agreement, as far as a shoggoth can. KC stood for a moment, thinking. "Or...maybe we can ask him for the way out? Diplomacy might be a good idea too."

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"I'd probably recommend diplomacy, at this point," Nick said. "Guy doesn't seem like a psychopomp, or one of the major death gods, but we have no idea how much power he's packing. Those things look like symbols of office, and I don't know what sort of mojo is bound up in 'em. 'Sides, if we play it nice, we might found out how the hell he managed to do this."

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"Sounds like a plan, Nick. So I'll let you do all the talking. You know this stuff better than I do. But if things get hairy, I'll blow down a wall." KC said, and raised his index finger. He made green sparks fly from it. "I think we've got enough firepower, especially with my...dog. Also, why did my obvious lie work on that doorman?"

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Nick shook his head. "Because he may be bound," he said. "Like I said, those are symbols of office the pit boss is bearing. Odds are they may grant him more power over the dead. It's really not normal for a ghost to have something like that. If he starts trying to whammy us, we whammy him back, but for now... a little info into the 'why' of this little bit of Stygian real estate might be helpful."

Nick walked up to the ghost with the crown. As he approached, the ghost turned; the mask he was wearing molded into a warm smile, almost like a comedy mask. "Ah, new guests," he said in a voice that flowed like warm oil. "Welcome to my humble abode. Everything to your liking?"

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KC walked with Nick, his shoggoth following behind. "Nice place you've got here, sir. Really state-of-the-art. How long did it take you to work your way up to manager?" KC said. His shoggoth growled at him, as far as shoggoth can.

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The ghost chuckled. "It's been a long while," he said. "I was there on the ground floor. Helped this place get up on its feet. There was a brief... upset... with some of my employees, but my associate was able to help me reestablish control, in time. We were able to bring in new employees, and a whole string of customers." The ghost gestured over the room to the other almost mirthless souls. "Old friends and new, all with second chances."

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KC nodded. "What do you mean by 'upsets'? Did someone get hurt or something?" KC said, stroking the tentacles on his face. He was trying to get somewhere with the ghost. He was hoping he wasn't an evil ghost. He forgot his proton pack at home.

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The mask reformed into a tight-lipped frown -- not sadness so much as displeasure. "There was... a dispute. Someone beneath me thought they deserved more. He... is no longer in the picture. My associate established a contract, made sure I could rebuild without further problems." The mask reformed into a warmer expression. "And now here I am. In my own kingdom."

"Seems like sound business," Nick said. "If you don't mind me asking, how was the contract put together?"

The ghost shook his head. "Damned if I know," he said. "The ways of the strega are always strange."

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"Interesting. How do the other patrons like it here?" KC said. He had started to draw his own conclusions about the man. "Also, we never got your name. What do they call you, buddy?"

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The man in the mask chuckled. "You can call me Benny, kid," he said. "That's what my men did, back in the day. As for the others..." Benny, as he called himself, spread his arms. "Take a look around you. Food, drink, entertainment, the chance for riches... and anything else you could ask for. This place is a little slice of heaven."

To Nick and Kid Cthulhu, it certainly didn't look like it. There were no cheers on the floor, no mirth amongst the gamblers. They seemed to mostly be going through the motions, locked up in the pattern of a dream. "Yeah," Nick said. "I can certainly see that. I thought it was the off season, though. How did you draw the crowds in?"

"Oh, I've been... away," Benny said. "Back in the homeland. I talked this place up to some friends I made back there. Told them Freedom was a city of opportunity, a place where you could achieve anything if you put your mind to it. And look where I am now. I'm living proof."

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KC shook his head. "Are you blind or just delusional? These people are trapped here. They're stuck in this hotel, and you're not letting them free!" He extended his wings, and summoned two spheres of mystic fire. "Let's take this ghost down, Nick."

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The mobster's mask did not shift so much as change -- where once had been a picture of benevolence was now a man bellowing in rage. "You dare attack me in my palace?" he yelled as black lightning began to spark across the points of his crown. "You sniveling sons-of-bitches! I was walking the Boardwalk when you were still in diapers!" He raised the scepter, which was now covered in roiling shadows. "I built this place with my bones! With my sweat and my blood! YOU WILL NOT TAKE IT FROM ME!"

The black fire burst from the scepter and struck Kid Cthulhu across the chest, mingling with and, in places, dampening his green fire.

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KC took the hit and it blew him off of his feet. He lay on the ground, screaming as his body and soul were being burnt to a crisp. He tried to hop to his feet, but his body was in too much pain. "Aggh! Dammit! Take 'im down, Nick!" he said as his back arched in pain.

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Nick turned on the mobster. "Y'know, I'd hate to be stating the obvious," he said, "but it really doesn't work this way." Ectoplasm gathered in the air around him, hardening into primitive talons on his hands. "You want to stick around, fine. You want to redecorate with the essence of the Underworld, okay. But you don't get to bind anyone into your service."

Nick ran towards the mobster and swiped at his mask... but Benny was too quick, stepping backwards and avoiding the claws. "These men are mine," Benny said, as the eyes on his mask began to glow. "My customers. My soldiers. My... servants. This is not your place to speak of such things. You will show me some respect."

All Nick could do, however, was laugh. "Not my place, huh?" he said. "Old man, this is my goddamn playground!"

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KC dusted off his costume. "Yeah, old man, it's gonna take more than a little magic razzle-dazzle to beat us. He eats ghosts like you for breakfast. And I got my power from the Necronomicon, one of the more powerful tomes of magic written. So you think you can take us down?" he said, clearly on a roll.

He held one hand to his temple and sent a powerful sanity draining spell his way. "I'd like to see you try."

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A sound of maddened pipers and unnatural drums cracked the air as the spell hit Benny, but he seemed to shrug it off. At least, he seemed to; who could really tell? "You think you're doing something, kid?" he said. "I've seen things, been places, you can't begin to imagine --"

"Bow for judgment."

The mask's expression again melted and reformed -- this time, not in anger or in joy, but in sheer and utter terror. Benny was looking down to Nick, whose mouth was stretched open. Out spat an eerie death rattle, studded through with barley distinguishable fragments of an authoritative voice.

"Bones and blood... weakness and folly... your plea is meaningless here..."

"No..." muttered Benny as he crept backwards on the carpet. "Not you! I took care of you! She took care of you all! This is my power, now, not yours! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!"

With that, Benny turned and ran through the gray halls of the casino, knocking over spectral patrons as he passed.

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KC looked at Nick. "That was pretty badass, I gotta say. Now let's beat this ghost down." KC said, his nightmare wings extending on either side of him. He flew down the hallways, bounding, his wings providing him lift and additional speed. He saw the phantom running in fear, and fired a bolt of mental fury at him, hoping to take him down for good. Or, as far as ghosts can go down for good. As he ran, he tilted his head back, and unleashed a torrent of eldritch psychic power at Antonio.

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