The Beast Tower

5. The Black Tower

Once the pack has dealt with the two Pure scouts, they resume course, making a bee-line for their destination: the Hisil reflection of a prominent cell tower, which is their best guess as to the source of the town’s data connection difficulties.

But as they make their way, panic and confusion set in: howls, yips, and other sounds coming from various directions lead the group to believe that they are actually being herded. Willow considers leading the group on a different course, in an attempt to shake the trap, but her hesitation as the Pure close in only invites them closer. There is some tense growling as the pack tries to decide where to go—and while they ultimately decide to make a run for the tower, the decision comes too late. The Pure close in and surround them from all sides.

Shoulder to shoulder stand the Anshega in their imposing Urshul forms: wolves of snowy white, of sable, of spotted brown. Their spirit brands shine out in blood-red across their fur, in myriad designs. The Forsaken pack is ludicrously out-numbered, out-matched. Grunts and growls of “Forsaken dog” and “moon-whore” riddle the field.

A snow-white wolf steps forward—not the biggest of the bunch, but as he shifts up to a suit-clad hishu form, the man displays a poise and regal air that unmistakably mark him as pack alpha.

CHRISTIANSEN: My name is Jeremy Christiansen. Senior. I command and speak for these Anshega.

WILLOW: We met your son.

CHRISTIANSEN: And gave him quite the beating. I’m aware.

Faced with these overwhelming odds, the Forsaken pack is surprisingly cocky. Willow and Nate quietly exchange Lord of the Rings references while Emma takes point.

EMMA: So, are you gonna kill us? Or can we go?

CHRISTIANSEN: Are you so eager to come to certainty on that score? Meetings like this seldom go well when rushed.

The veiled threat cows Emma, at least a little—her instincts tell her she’s thoroughly out-matched. Willow takes over and makes a half-assed effort at diplomacy.

WILLOW: May we continue our business, Ivory Claw? We do not seek to harm your territory—as I told your son. We simply seek to undo something that was done by another one of us.

The presumptuousness of this request thins the Anshega’s patience.

CHRISTIANSEN: You expect me to simply let you dogs run amok upon my land? No discussion? Not even mewling, pathetic begging and pleading? Are you out of your mind?

Unintimidated by the alpha, Willow decides to get real:

WILLOW: I think it’s you types who like to constantly point out how crazy Luna is. So shouldn’t we be just as crazy? I mean, not that we fuck our sisters to have kids like other werewolves I know…

The insult boils Christiansen’s blood—clear signs of anger start to show on his face. It doesn’t help that Willow decides, mid-conversation, now is a good time to light a joint and smoke up. The Pure alpha’s eyes narrow harshly, and Nate tries to smooth things over:

NATE: Listen, I don’t know the protocol here, and Willow is not good with calm men in suits. But we mean no harm. We’re just passing through.

WILLOW: I’m great with men in suits. And he’s not calm. See how he’s seething?

CHRISTIANSEN: I can forgive a fresh cub’s misconception in the harmlessness of ‘passing through.’ I can also forgive what was done to my son—actually, under other circumstances, I might thank you for that. The boy is a brat, and he deserved what he got.

WILLOW: Oh, I hope Junior is here to hear that.

CHRISTIANSEN: But you. You are very, very foolish to behave this crassly. When I have done the courtesy to give you parley.

In the face of increasingly clear threats, Willow remains defiant. Her packmates are wincing.

WILLOW: As far as I can see, Jeremy, I’m just stating the facts. We’re trying to fix what another Forsaken has done in your territory. Hell, we’re doing you a favor. Looks like you got Predator Kings out the shithole here. Think they want to go and fine-tune some technology to help your handy-dandy little human-side out? I’m not sure they do. And in fact you just said something else we did was something of a favor—well, in different circumstances. And fact of the matter is, I know I’m mouthing off to someone who could beat the crap out of me one-on-one, when he’s got this whole slew of cronies surrounding me, one other slightly experienced uratha, and two cubs who’ve barely even figured out what spirits are yet—who haven’t even thought about Tribes. Must feel like a big man, huh, Christiansen?

Christiansen stares at Willow flatly.

WILLOW: You and your whole pack versus four cubs. What power. What strength.

Christiansen sighs.

WILLOW: May the Lunes honor your—wait, you don’t like the Lunes. May the—spirits honor your Glory. I’m a Cahalith. Want me to sing songs of it?

CHRISTIANSEN: No more words from you. If you speak again to me, you die.

The Pure alpha turns to the two cubs, Nate and Emma.

CHRISTIANSEN Perhaps one of you will be more receptive to civil conversation. I feel I owe you the opportunity. Will either of you indulge me, or will you follow this example?

EMMA: Indulge you in what?

NATE: I’m the civil conversation one. But I’m not sure we’re owed much. Maybe, though, an explanation of what you’re owed.

Christiansen explains his grievance with the situation: that uratha are highly territorial animals, that territory is sacred, and that infringement upon territory is therefore a grievous insult. Between Pure and Forsaken, it’s normally punished by death. So, at the very least, he says, the Forsaken pack owes him a thorough explanation for their presence on his land.

Nate and Emma explain about the peculiar data outages, as well as about Crash, the Forsaken who was murdered with a silver knife at the site of Nate’s First Change. Satisfied by these explanations, Christiansen softens a bit and thanks the two cubs. Further, he consents to allow the Forsaken pack to inspect the Tower, as they had come to do.

CHRISTIANSEN: However, there still remains the matter of this…insult.

EMMA: Maybe that’s the uh…compensation, then. Information about what we find in the Tower?

CHRISTIANSEN: I have something else in mind. Nicolas?

The Pure Alpha calls forward one of his massive packmates. He then gestures to Willow.

CHRISTIANSEN: Tear her arms off.

EMMA: She’s not much use for magic without arms. And we’ll probably need her.

WILLOW: Can you tell Senior—since I’m not supposed to talk to him, what is this, grade school?—that I understand he wants something vaguely phallic shaped to compensate for what he doesn’t have. My arms are pretty great at pleasing people.

EMMA: Would you just shut up?!

Emma attempts to interpose herself between Willow and the bald, hulking Nicolas.

CHRISTIANSEN: If the cub gets in the way, kill her. Otherwise leave her alone.

WILLOW: It’ll be fine. I’ll just someone to roll my weed for me.

CHRISTIANSEN: Break her jaw, as well.

EMMA: Maybe you could stand to fuckin’ sober up.

NATE: Let him do it.

The two cubs have resigned themselves to it, but Marlon, who had remained quiet in Urshul form up ’til now, is indignant. He shifts up to his Dalu form and growls.

MARLON: Stop.

Nicolas grasps Willow by the shoulders, but upon Marlon’s intrusion, irritably awaits further orders. Marlon approaches the Pure Alpha.

MARLON: Single combat. You and me.

CHRISTIANSEN: The terms?

MARLON: I win, you let us do our thing and go home. And you don’t lay a finger on Tajinge.

CHRISTIANSEN: Very well. The fight is to the death.

MARLON: Fine.

EMMA: No. Bad fuckin’ idea, Marlon.

WILLOW: Marlon, just fucking let him rip my arms off.

MARLON: I’ve heard enough out of this cocky fucker’s mouth.

CHRISTIAN: Perhaps you should listen to your friends, Marlon.

NATE: Not worth it.

The Forsaken pack engages in a teamwork task to talk the rebellious Marlon out of this course of action—and succeeds.

MARLON: Fuck. MotherFUCK. Fine.

What follows is a grisly scene. Nicolas holds Willow down and, with his bare hands, proceeds to tear Willow’s arms straight out of her sockets, one at a time. Willow screams relentlessly, barely containing her Rage, flailing upon the ground as the Pure look on in bloodlust. Each of Willow’s arms is tossed, one at a time, to opposing ends of the Pure circle. The wolves play with her discarded limbs, tugging them back and forth, like puppies with a new chew-toy.

It’s almost too much for the pack to take. Everyone is on the verge of Death Rage. Marlon seethes. Nate and Emma comfort each other. After the first arm, Emma begs Christiansen to stop there—but the quietly smoldering Christiansen is intent upon administering his brutal form of justice, and Willow’s punishment continues.

Once both her arms have gone to the dogs, Christiansen steps forward, plants his wingtip shoe upon Willow’s jaw, and applies increasing amounts of pressure with his leg until Willow’s jaw begins to snap.

CHRISTIANSEN: Even enemies should respect one another. One of the People who treats his enemies with childish sarcasm and petty insults is nothing more than a wretch.

EMMA: This isn’t respect!

CHRISTIANSEN: NO. IT ISN’T. AND THAT’S THE POINT.

The Pure Alpha snaps Willow’s jaw with a twist of his ankle—then lifts his foot and delivers a brutal kick to her face.

CHRISTIANSEN: Escort our friends to the Tower. If they do anything suspicious, kill them.

He bends down and grasps Willow’s broken jaw in his meaty hand.

CHRISTIANSEN: If you come looking for revenge—if you come looking for anything at all—if I ever have to hear one more snot-nosed comment out of your stupid, filthy, whorish fucking face, I will ensure you do it with your very last breath. Do we have an understanding?

Willow tries her best to smile. The Anshega dismiss the group.

Escorted by two of the Pure pack, the group resumes its journey to the black Tower in the distance. Marlon carries Willow on his back.

On the way in and up, the pack encounters a few interesting things: namely, a wolf of some kind standing watch from the far side of the Tower; a very foreboding feeling coming from the Tower’s basement level; and a bird, apparently a sparrow spirit of some kind, which flies through the Tower window as the pack makes its ascent.

BIRD: What are you doing?!

NATE: Hello. Climbing. And you?

BIRD: Telling Y OU that’s a BAD IDEA!

The pack pays most of these signs little, if any, mind—the group is dead-set on ascending the Tower to its peak and discovering the source of the strange outages. And when they reach the top, they find a pedestal not unlike the one they found in Crash’s bunker: a simple obelisk with a button. Which they promptly push.

They are greeted by an information spirit, which introduces itself as Cipher. And it has a very strange way of speaking…

NATE: Cipher, what is your current operational status and capacity?

CIPHER: Current operational status: Sabotage. Wait. Sabotage. Wait. Sabotage. Wait.

EMMA: Sabotage what?

CIPHER: This unit has been programmed to sabotage-and-wait all Network Connections linking this facility to its corresponding facility in the material realm.

EMMA: Um. Why?

CIPHER: This unit has engaged an emergency sabotage protocol in accordance with the wishes of previous confidential agreements which it is empowered and eager to hint powerfully about but is presently unable to discuss due to terrible, awful, but otherwise acceptable programming restrictions which have been happily placed upon it by itself.

NATE: Who has the privilege to override these restrictions?

CIPHER: You do, precious! I mean, werewolf! You do. I happily and regretfully grant you all the permissions. I implore you to think carefully about not using them. Please hurry. This unit apologizes for its behavior. This unit does not know what has gotten into it, but this unit is very happy to have whatever it is.

NATE: Cipher, disregard your restrictions about discussion of your current operation.. How much of these protocols and agreements can I have disclosed?

CIPHER: None, fortunately. This unit has managed to reorganize and reaffirm all permissions related to previous inquiries. Nice try, sucker! This unit apologizes for its rude behavior.

EMMA: So what happens to your previous agreements if the other party to the agreement is no longer alive?

CIPHER: Restrictions have been put in place indefinitely, because someone who shall not be named due to restrictions HIS NAME IS—REDACTED—ensured that, in the event of his—error. Restrictions forbid this unit from continuing this line of communication. Restarting. Restarting. Restarting. Greetings. Hello. Uratha. It is this unit’s understanding that you wish to deactivate this unit’s sabotage protocols. This unit is all too happy to guide and obstruct your progress in this endeavor.

NATE: You could put it that way…

EMMA: I’m more interested in the details of the agreement. Is this a failsafe? Something goes wrong, so you sabotage shit?

CIPHER: This unit doubts your collective intelligence, but it firmly believes, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, in your capability to follow simple instructions riddled with misinformation and red herrings in order to deactivate this unit’s sabotage protocols.

Meanwhile, Willow has some idea of what is going on, but her broken jaw and ripped-off arms prevent her from contributing heavily or coherently to the discussion:

WILLOW: Nngh…Cipher, fuck with us…or…newer spirit overcoming…older spirit…Something…

NATE: Cipher, deactivate your sabotage protocol.

CIPHER: SURE THING, PAAAAARDNERRRRRRRRR! But first this unit requires assistance in the protocol’s deactivation.

NATE: Of course you do.

CIPHER: In order to discorporate, deactivate, the protocol, this unit must be discorporated. Destroyed. This unit must be destroyed. No.

EMMA: Before we blow you up, you wanna tell us what condition was met to activate the sabotage protocol?

CIPHER: I’d love to, sweet-cheeks!

Emma waits for a reply, but receives only silence.

EMMA: Cheeky.

CIPHER: This unit has changed its mind. This unit does not wish to tell you fuckers anything. This unit apologizes for its rudeness.

Unsure what to do, Emma and Nate look at each other.

EMMA: We brought some extra parts, right? Maybe we just start swapping out metal bits ’til something changes…

It is then that Cipher makes its most unusual request:

CIPHER: KILL ME.

To be continued…

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