Ghost Cache

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'Menu' 3.10



Tanzar Beach, North West Coast, Mrilchift, Riches of Renfros

Raphael — Raph to his friends in-game, of which he'd had seven — faded back into a desolate bluff overlooking the wild green expanse of ocean.  He stood among the deserted remains of the previous night's family farewell gathering.  He looked upon the windblown blankets and the bottles and bowls strewn about, considering what a sad sight it was.  It was all the more miserable in the knowledge that the guest of honour had since passed from life.

He shook his head, trying to throw those unwanted thoughts free of his mind.  He'd come here to escape the sorrow for a little while, not to dwell on it.  He didn't normally use VIVID at this time of day, but after the gathering was terminated early some of his daily allottment remained.  "So, this is a 'b day'.  It's really not any different to an 'a day'," he muttered as he snatched up the closest unopened bottle and popped the cork.

The calendar inside VIVID had been complicated by the doubled rate at which time passed.  Instead of having its own separate calendar that bore no relation to the outside world, it simply used each date twice.  Midnight to midday outside was the full 'a day' inside, and midday to midnight outside was the 'b day' inside.  That was of course complicated by the involvement of time zones, but it gave people some chance of scheduling a meeting and having an idea of what day it would occur on.

"Ah, that hits the spot," he said after chugging the good wine much faster than it deserved.  He held onto the bottle and abandoned the remainder of the spread.  "I'll clean that up later.  Maybe risk getting a ghost for it.  No, better not."  He shrugged and started an easy jog toward his house.  "A book and a cosy chair is what I need right now.  Or perhaps a bubble bath.  Yeah, that sounds lovely."

As he neared the house, he sensed something was wrong.  He stopped and stared, running his eyes back and forth like a searchlight.  He couldn't see anything specifically out of place, but he knew something was making him feel uneasy.  From long experience he knew not to ignore such feelings.

Every part of the house looks normal.  The front garden looks normal.  The treeline looks normal.  The door is shut.  The windows are shut.  The wicker chairs are... oh.  One's missing.  Someone's been here.

Maintaining absolute calm, Raphael started circling the house.  He maintained his distance and kept his steps casual.  He stopped upon seeing the missing chair had been moved against the wall.  It was under a kitchen window, which was closed.  He was sure that he'd left that window slightly open.

Someone's definitely been inside.

He moved a little closer and saw that the window was not just closed, but broken.

A burglar.  And today of all days!  If they've been watching and know my schedule, they might not be expecting me, so they might still be inside.

Raphael waited for two whole minutes, listening intently while checking the windows and roof for motion.  He detected nothing but flies.  As silent as a thousand graves, he stalked forward through the short grass until he was at the broken window.  Seeing that none of the glass had fallen onto the wicker chair, he stepped up and looked inside.

That explains the flies.

The floor was littered with two different kinds of glass.  The swarm of flies was showing great interest in pool of spilled wine and in the other mess smeared across his beautifully polished floorboards.  He recognised the bright green frosting from the previous night.

"Hey!  Did some of you kids come back here after...?  You have no business being in my house!"  He stormed around to the front door, but kept the presence of mind to open in gently and listen for signs of danger.  "Is anyone still in here?"

His temper rose as he checked the lounge and found the aftermath of a blizzard of books.  "You're in for it now when I get hold of you, you ungrateful terrors!"  He progressed to the entertainment room and found it was a similar wreck.  "It took me years to collect all of this!  Decades!  You've done more damage than your miserable lives are worth!"

He hurried up the stairs to his own room, the concern over what he might find building with every step.  The concern turned into relief as he was presented with a completely clean and tidy bedroom.  It was only a momentary state.  The relief burst like soap bubble that he'd been leaning on, leaving him tumbling into a void.  A robe was laid out on the bed.  He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

It can't be.  I burned mine!  Everyone should have burned theirs!  This can't be here.  Unless...  Could it be a reproduction?

He drew a throwing knife from his belt and returned to ground level, exercising increased caution.  He realised he'd been wrong.  This wasn't family.  This had to be someone from his past.

Who could have identified me or tracked me down?  I've been careful!  I never interacted with anyone my old characters merely talked to!  But it's fine, no one can open the blood lock.  If anyone tried to get the lockbox open or away, they're dead and gone by now.

Having quelled the worst of his fears, he entered the kitchen and saw two things he hadn't seen from the window.  The first was the messy message about the rings.  The second was a wide pool of blood.

How?  How could anyone know about the rings?  I can't believe anyone would have talked, and no one knew to ask!  And it makes no sense that anyone would demand the rings specifically.  This is nonsense.  Pure nonsense.

He examined the scene again and found a hole in a cupboard door at chest height.  It was directly above the pool of blood, and directly opposite the broken window.

Looks like someone outside the house speared someone inside the house.  But which of them wrote the frosting message?  Is the message for me?

Choosing his footing carefully, Raphael checked the walk-in pantry.  His breath hitched when he saw the open trapdoor and the rope tied to the top rung of the ladder.

No, it's fine, no one could have opened the lockbox.  Only the fresh blood of my current character can open it.  Or the blood of my close kin, but my only in-game relative was Salinda Climmett.  She's been nowhere near here until last night, and she was right with me until Mother... logged out.  Now she's out of the game permanently, just as planned.  So there's no way anyone could have used her.  Unless..

Raphael leaned against the wall, overcome by the realisation that he'd made a major oversight.  "Damn that default ghost!  It either wondered back here after everyone else left, or someone forced it!  But there's no way..."  He shut his mouth before he could say too much out loud and hurried out the back door.  The way a particular garden bed had been disturbed told him that his fear had come to pass: someone had dug out the key to the lockbox.  He knew then that if he was to look in the cellar, he would find the lockbox empty.

He spent the next few minutes screaming and ranting incoherent fury at the blue sky.

As time passed, the sky appeared to cloud over.  Raphael fell quiet and heard the dreadful sound.  He looked back at his house and recognised the source of both.  The house was on fire.

A small object crashed through one of the back windows and fell at his feet, smouldering.  He kicked soil over it to extinguish the flames.  There was no point in even trying to do that for the house.  Guessing that the object was important, he picked it up and brushed off the dirt.  It was a book: Numinous: The Algebra of Destruction.

"Point made!  I get it, you know who I am and you've taken everything from me!  Now what?  Are you going to show me who you are?"

The house continued to burn.

"Oh, so you're going to get away by burning to death and respawning elsewhere.  Clever.  Well if you're still in there, know this!  Just as you found me, I'll find you.  If you use what you took, I'll find you sooner.  You'll get no — Erk!"  The book sprang out of his hands, hitting him hard on the nose.  It fell open as it landed in the dirt, displaying pages that bore dark smears of dried blood.


Raphael collapsed into hysterics, squeezing out bursts of defiant words between fits of laughter.  "Well that serves you right for... thinking you can mess with me and mine!  The others won't be... much good to you now!  They'll never... be good to... anyone!"

He didn't see the blow that killed him, but he was long past caring.

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