Living Outside
Episode 04: Crain Slain 3

Songs 9 & 10
Buckyballs To The Wall Versus Hell Be Damned

New songs rolled in without a pause. The atmosphere was increasingly intense and the music hit stronger, bolstered by the crowd's growing resonance.

Thomas[Audio> Meg] Woh, Slain's doing 'Hell Be Damned'. They usually get a nice extract of Hell Fray going for that one, and it's got a wicked music video. You seen it? Megan[Audio> T] Nope. What's it about? ThomasThe first invasion of Hell in Hell Fray. To this day it's the largest significant game event. It involved more than two million active players. I regret not being there, but I had obligations in Ataraxia. MeganYou regret something? ThomasAs if regret was even a real thing. It's just a saying. MeganRight... ThomasBut quick! Fly over and switch to Slain and soak this one in. I'll stay with Crain to help the cause.

Megan left her concert proxy doing a basic dance routine to maintain its Crain resonance and flew off. Thomas became aware of a "code" someone had posted which supposedly boosted points when leveling 'Shinji's Mom'.

Code-Breaker[Audio>] Up with your left arm, up with your right arm, down with your right, down with your left, sweep both left, sweep right, sweep left, sweep right, do a hop!

Thomas followed along and heard a chime indicating success. He danced his fat body off for 50% more points toward the level.

Megan flew to Slain's side in a non-concert proxy and switched to his song. Flying over the divide, she was amazed by the escalating violence. Some people had achieved weapons that could be used before the final conflict, but most were tearing each other apart with their bare hands. The battle would be quite different once Crain's people activated their cybernetic enhancements and Slain's people their demonic infusions. But until the big battle, the dividing line would continue to be a mass of bloody, entangled human pieces.

Megan could see that the fighting in CS was a simplified variation of the standard combat system, based on Ataraxia standards. It enabled people the freedom to do anything that was possible with their proxies and enhancements, within the constraints of CS's physics. Using their powers effectively, of course, would require strategy and cooperation with other players.

CS combat controls allowed for fully immersive, first person combat with whatever sensations the player wanted. Alternately, players could adopt a third person perspective, or even set their characters to fight automatically under indirect guidance, with a "point and click" type interface. In any case, the CS combat strategy had enough depth not to bore experienced gamers, but was intuitive enough that first timers could make an impact in battle. CS wasn't really about fighting for most players, but the prospective of battle motivated involvement in the concert and punctuated the climax.

Megan finally wrenched her attention away from the carnal spectacle of the divide to watch the 'Hell Be Damned' music video, projecting from a giant screen above the stage. It was indeed awesome. Like Mike's Neo-Kyoto project, it used actual recordings of the game's events to weave a dramatic tale. It made her want to play, but Hell Fray required a little too much involvement for her. It was also quite unpleasant.

She noticed a large group near the burial mound doing a particularly gruesome dance. It could only be described as a cannibalistic mosh pit. Among other things, they would form pairs, then one member of the pair would smash in the other's head with a rock and eat their brains. Then they would switch roles. She pulled up the dance's information and found that it was difficult to pull off, but if accomplished it would choose a variation in lyrics for 'Hell Be Damned' and would even set Slain's next song to be another Hell Fray song about the story of some guy named 'Lutz'.

They were doing well until another Slain group, who had been responsible for selecting a variation in the last song which had led to 'Hell Be Damned', attacked and successfully disrupted the Lutz group. They apparently liked the song the way it was.

T sent her a location indicator drawing her attention to a particular dancer.

Thomas[Audio> Meg] Look at that guy on Slain's mound.

Megan zoomed into the indicator T sent her. A small crowd had formed around a muscular, bare-chested man performing a complex dance sequence.

Thomas[Audio> Meg] That's Chester. Megan[Audio> T] Are you sure? He looks like he escaped from the cover of a romance novel. ThomasOh yeah. That is definitely Chester.

Chester finished her solitary dance and was consumed by demons.

ThomasAnd check out this abstract version of the fruitless, but beautiful, conflict at the divide. *link* The textured colors represent the conflict, and I've mixed them with a mash-up of the two songs. They work strangely well together. MeganThat's really neat. Are the songs supposed to be mixed? ThomasMore likely than not. The songs overlap and seep into each other near the divide, depending on the back and forth of battle. I've been streaming all that to Indra's Net. It seems to be pretty popular there. People are literally swimming in it. MeganIndra's Net is the spiral we're diving into tomorrow, right? Can anyone share anything there? ThomasOh yeah. People share concerts, game worlds, movies, art pieces, their erogenous zones, all sorts of stuff. Doesn't mean anyone will pick it up or carry it, though, just like Crain Slain variations. It helps if you're semi-famous and have a good sharing rep, like I do.

Thomas' difficult dance was not quite enough to occupy him so he looked around for people he knew.

ThomasWhile we're looking at stuff, look at those losers down there, barely experiencing the concert.

Thomas sent Meg an indicator drawing her attention to Mike and Dexter, who were still lying on a blanket, holding hands, making out, and enjoying the concert from the perspective of floating above Slain's burial mound.

MeganIt looks like they're preoccupied with other things. ThomasOther things that could wait until after the world shaping events crashing down around them! They don't even have concert proxies!

Thomas' dance group finished the most difficult section of their dance and was crushed by the biggest claw. They donated their large bonus to Crain, and it was enough to put her over the edge for the trick she was trying to pull.

Slain's side achieved the 'Glyph of Shell's Bloody Scissors'. Crain's side pulled off the 'Gear of Steam Power', but her people also achieved new levels for 2 of the already incorporated Gears. Crain had also achieved a special bonus which shut out Slain from the next song. That meant she had a final solo before the meltdown. This caused quite a commotion across the field.

Thomas super-jumped over to Megan's body, which she had rejoined after the end of the Hell Fray video.

MeganI really liked that song. Hell Fray is just full of crazy. ThomasYeah, yeah, Fray's nuts. Listen, we did it! Slain's shut out! Get ready to dance.
Song 11
Science Will Melt Your Fucking Face Off

Slain oozed reluctantly off stage, leaving Crain.

CrainThis is it! One last chance to power up! Don't let evil win!

Crain's 8-bit metal styling literally electrified the crowd. Devoted Crain fans danced furiously, giving everything they had in her final minutes of need. Slain's side went berserk. They swamped the divide, trying to disrupt Crain's resonance, but it flowed through her people too powerfully to be overcome. The red side found itself ineffective during Crain's bonus song and fell back from the divide line, despite having achieved a symbolic dividing line height advantage of 6 inches.

Thomas stood watching.

MeganAren't you going to help out with the final Gear? ThomasNah, they got it. There's something else coming up in a moment I'll need your help with, though.

The blue rush against Crain's side died down. The blue side mostly stood around, waiting.

MeganWhy'd they stop attacking? ThomasThey're taking this opportunity to plan. OK, you can hear it well enough now.

Thomas linked Megan to a soft echo of a cello solo.

ThomasHear that fan mod? It's meant to be placed into the song in about a minute. We call for it every damn concert but it never gets picked up. According to rumor, Crain will do something neat if it does. Resonate with it and run over near the mech's foot. The map of variations shows its resonance to be weak there. I'm going toward the divide with it.

They took off to broadcast their endorsement of the cello variation. Thomas had enough clout to push it into the hearing of several thousand people, many of whom adopted it.

While running around, Thomas noticed a group attempting to level up the 'Shinji's Mom' Gear. He skipped over to it and helped them out while still broadcasting the fan mod. The achievement was a long shot, because the dance was only partly compatible with the current song. They could only attempt it because it was a bonus song, and they failed at the end, but it was worth a shot.

The fan mod's time came and went, depriving the crowd of one bad-ass cello solo once again.

Megan was swept up by the growing anticipation of the crowd and attempted a mid-level dance to enhance her power and acquire a bejeweled gauntlet. She managed to achieve it by drafting along with a group. She jumped up and down in victory and noted that her gauntlet could extend into a three foot blade.

She opened a window to view Thomas and marveled at his dancing skills.

Megan[Audio> T] Would you have been dancing like that this whole time if I wasn't slowing you down? Thomas[Audio> Meg] Yeah, but it's refreshing to see the concert from a relatively non-engaged perspective, and I couldn't really help against Slain's momentum. Plus, I told Mike I wouldn't get too crazy. And don't ever worry about slowing me down. If I really want to go do something, I have no problem leaving friends behind. MeganHow much of your dancing is automated from a ghost? I mean, do you use other people's ghosts at all? ThomasI let my ghost do simple patterns when I want to concentrate on trickier moves. But these dances are always changing with variations in the songs, so you have to stay on your toes. MeganIt just seems that if you can make a ghost that works for sex, you could make one for CS dances. ThomasPeople have put a whole lot of work into sexbots. They're great, but still not as fun or engaging as having a real human brain on the other end. Do a search for 'CS ghosts' and you'll find some good ones that will help you learn or cheat. If you want to be really lame, you can also set your proxy to copy the dance trainer or another player, but the system will minimize your resonance as punishment. Also, people will make fun of you.

The song ended, marking the end of development for the two sides. Crain had attained the 'Gear of Synthetic Perception', which provided important protection against the perceptual warps of Abyssal entities.

As thousands of proxies moved to the divide, it stretched the center of the field, from the stage to the far end, to accommodate them and increase the area where the sides would first clash.

Song 12
4 Minute Countdown

Slain materialized back on stage.

CrainOnly the lucid machine can face an Abyssal one with an intact mind. We will unravel its divine mysteries and add its uniqueness to our own! SlainMinds made of gears cannot grind the unending Abyss! We will transcend this plane!

Epic instrumental music fit for the buildup to a boss fight pounded the field from all directions. Crain rocketed to the head of her mech and disappeared deep inside to its cockpit. The activated Gears inside Crain's mech shined through and began to turn as they integrated themselves within the rest of its complex interior.

Crain's Final Gears: The Slayer, Kirin, Gear of Gears, Shinji's Mom, Steam Power, and Synthetic Perception.

Slain burst into spiders which hopped to the burial mound and burrowed within. The stone Glyphs sunk deep into the mound, which pulsated and shook the ground around it.

Slain's Final Gears: Alucard's Recurring Nightmare, Berserk, Elder Sign, Uzumaki (Spiral), and Shell's Bloody Scissors.

Thomas[Audio> Meg] I'm going to the mech's chest to see if I can help manage its weapons. You're better equipped for hand-to-hand combat, so activate whatever enhancements you have and get over by the divide. Try to find a spot where defense is weak. This will get rough. Megan[Audio> T] Roger!

Megan activated her equipment as she ran along the line looking for a spot. Her chest plate became a spiky exoskeleton that covered her upper body, while her gauntlet sported a silver, finely serrated blade. She found an area near the divide which glowed only a faint red. She took position in a tertiary line of warriors about 50 feet from the divide.

There was very little fighting during the song, as both sides organized and planned strategies. The sides had moved several meters away from each other to create a no proxy's land, which mostly remained barren.

Megan was accepted into a war party. This gave her access to their general plan, in the form of an annotated 3D map. Being part of the group provided her with suggested tactics, imparted in the same way that groups helped with dancing. The group's tactics and strategy were largely automatically generated from the prior battles fought by the group's more experienced members, and were managed by its strategic leaders, a class usually called 'scanners' in games like Ataraxia. Megan could act independently, of course, and was expected to use her own judgment. Megan watched the sides ramp up as she got a feel for her sword, slinging it about with care not to brain any allies.

The sound of a massive engine roaring to life shook Megan's teeth. The West side cheered as Crain's mech sat up. The rocket pack on its back fired in test, incinerating proxies below it and setting the mech's enormous covering tarp on fire. The giant robot stood, shedding its scaffolding and its rapidly burning tarp. The proxies on the mech scrambled to climb the falling debris and secure holds onto the mech itself. Hundreds fell with the molten tarp, which bathed the ground in front of the mech in liquid fire. A wildfire swept from the tarp across the red side of the field and into parts of the blue. The fire burned proxies and left decorative red marks on players of both sides.

The robot was large enough that Megan found it difficult to estimate its height, but the average proxy came up only partway up its foot.

Crain[Through the mech's chest speaker>] I dub this mech "Star Palladium"!
Star Palladium AppearancePretty standard anthropic giant robot. Matte silver with red trim. Masculine, with a boxed, Egyptian style head. HeightDizzying. Weapons128 lasers, 64 gun turrets, 32 missile launchers, 16 flame throwers, 8 retractable buzz saws, 4 rail guns, 2 rocket fists, and 1 laser sword. Head also has sharp points for ramming. Fans Would SayStar Palladium was a technical marvel and a monument to science. It represented better living through automation, being the pinnacle of technological progress and mechanization.

Red rallied at Palladium's unveiling. Palladium was the best designation possible under those conditions, made possible only by Crain's bonus song. It meant a good fight. Thousands climbed up Palladium to fight over spots inside its various weapon cockpits and control stations.

After a moment, Slain's burial mound on the other side of the field burst open and a river of blue blood geysered into the sky and gelled in place. The small lake of floating blood congealed and pulsed as it took shape. Excess blood rained over the East side and some parts of the West side. The blood drenched and stained Slain's people in the juice of their own sacrificial offerings. The smell was something else.

The form of Slain's summoned abomination was swiftly unveiled, although it was hard to take it all in at once. It had an unearthly beauty and an ethereal blue glow. It had the face of a goddess, bordered by intricate, long dreadlocks that swept the ground around its feet. It had three sets of multiply segmented arms, attached by fine golden webs to copper wings which swept the sky. Tendrils of pure white light emanated from its chest and pelvis, and surrounded its upper and lower halves as slowly turning spheres. Instead of legs, its lower half was the trunk of a particularly attractive blue striped tree, rooted into the ground.

Slain[Speaking through Her mouth>] We are now "Glorificus Bath, of the Abyss"!
Bath Of The Abyss AppearanceAn immaculate goddess worth worshiping. Feminine as Hell. HeightAt least a quarter taller than Star Palladium. Also, wider by half. WeaponsBeing too pretty to hit? Fans Would SayShe was born from the transfigured muck of the world. Her transcendent existence promised the mundane world penetration into a divine realm of uncorrupted mind. Or something like that.

Slain's side was ecstatic. Thousands swarmed to climb up Bath and be absorbed into various parts of Her flesh to control whatever weapons She had.

Thomas[Audio> Megan] An Abyssal Glory is not good for us. Prepare yourself.

With the two incarnations of Crain Slain unveiled, it was the customary time for their supporters to activate their equipment and enhancements. More than 150,000 proxies were ready to engage at the divide, so the transformation was quite a spectacle.

Crain's front line was covered in red glowing armor and cybernetics, symbols of their rhythm game achievements. The transformation of Crain's side involved mechanization and futuristic weaponry. Their equipment morphed into mechanical wings, armor, exoskeletons, powered suits, small mechs, and pet robots. Equipment offered protection, strength, and special powers like partial invisibility. Some achievements transformed proxies entirely into androids or mech components.

Weapons activated included blades of various kinds, laser swords, laser guns, freeze rays, machine guns, explosives, and super strong robotic limbs.

Some players could combined their mechs and weapons into larger mechs, some similar to Voltron. One large group near Megan turned more than a hundred pieces of equipment into a giant robot spider, bristling with weapons. Two dozen players climbed inside to man it, and it was soon aiming its weapons and acid spitting jaws across the divide.

Slain's side was decked out with strange tattoos, swollen pulsing limbs, scaly skin, and gaping holes, signs of successfully completed sacrificial rituals which demonstrated their desires to transcend the human form and become monsters of all shapes and sizes.

As was customary for the dominant power, Slain's side waited until their opponents had transformed before unveiling themselves. The transformation of Slain's side was organically demonic. They became orcs, goblins, vampires, gargoyles, werewolves, ents, zombies, large mutant insects, and classical mythological demons from around the world. Each form had its own attributes. Becoming a zombie made you stronger, smellier, and more resilient. Vampires were largely unaffected by metal bullets and regenerated quickly. Insects spat poisons and acids that could melt or paralyze enemies.

For weapons, there were blades, chainsaws, bows, catapults, and tentacles. There was also magic- telekinesis, fire balls, magic missiles, and other projectile spells.

There was more subtle magic for altering the perceptions and proxy interfaces of enemies to confuse them, but Crain's acquisition of the Gear of Synthetic Perception had seriously weakened their potency, upsetting many players who had sacrificed their bodies and souls with great style to achieve such powers.

Some of Slain's more powerful forms could shapeshift freely within a certain volume. They tended toward the brutish side, such as giants with spiked clubs, though some chose more elegant forms, such as centaurs with multipronged spears.

Combining achieved forms was very popular among the Slain. Numerous proxies forming a giant mass of tentacles was one common combined form. Megan could sort of see how its functions could be divided up among its players, but she couldn't make sense of how other forms could be controlled by multiple people. Giants, some 30 feet high and composed of a dozen proxies seemed unwieldy. Some groups combined into tentacled serpents like the one Thomas had ridden on. The most confusing Megan observed was a collection of large, decaying lions with connected tails, which just seemed like it would hamper movement.

Many proxies across the field had little or no equipment, having come to the concert more to experience it than to participate. Even so, large numbers of unenhanced proxies could still do serious damage if they cared to.

Some people had accomplishments on both side, and became mixtures of mechanical and demonic. One troll had a cybernetic head and a jet pack. There were also mech with blue glowing tentacles. This wasn't a good strategy for gaining power, as mixed warriors would pretty much always have been better off concentrating on collecting compatible parts. But it often looked pretty damn cool.

When Slain's side had unveiled themselves, there was a shuffling of troops on both sides, in attempts to counter their opposition's strategies. Warriors shifted their positions and studied their opponents across the line. It reminded Megan of duels in samurai movies, where warriors adjusted their stances in seemingly insignificant ways in anticipation of enemy tactics. She couldn't tell which proxies were effectively altering their positions and which were just posturing to look cool.

Crain's side was better organized and its team oriented approach was an advantage for them. Those on Slain's side made plans, but they were often discarded when the chaos of battle took sway. The disciplined Crain teams faced off once against the berserker mobs of the Slain. That was the breakdown of the situation given by the battle projections provided by her party. It was overly simplified, but it carried some truth.

Most of the players with the best achievements, and hence strongest glows, were at the divide. The sides glowed so strongly with their respective colors that for the first time during the concert Megan had to turn the glow setting down.

High frequency waves of energy flowed out rapidly through the ground from Palladium and Bath into their allied players, making proxies stronger, slowly repairing damage, arming their mechs, and charging their spells. Megan felt the energy flowing through her proxy at her achieved rate of resonance, making her stronger and faster and adding a red plasma edge along one side of her blade. That effectively made it part lightsaber, which gave her some much needed confidence.

Megan's battle orders were simply to hold her position and to fall back if she got dangerously injured so she could heal. Some player achievements allowed them to repair other proxies. On Crain's side, players with the equipment for that class were called 'mechanics' and red crosses hovered as beacons over their heads.

Megan party suggested that she send her energy flow to the front line proxies while they held strong. Megan set her proxy to forward the waves of energy she was receiving from Palladium as long as she tapped her toe regularly. It was something she would naturally stop doing once she engaged the enemy and needed the energy for herself.

Megan received a message saying that players could now die. Proxies would regenerate according to the energy flow they had attained, but it was slower than before. She guessed that this meant a rotating front line. She grew wary about how close she was to the divide.

Meanwhile, Thomas had found a position in a gun turret on Palladium's upper left chest. Aiming a massive machine gun wasn't quite as sexy as more intimate forms of battle, but his robotic legs served as an interface for only simple mech integration, and he was a skilled sniper.

Thomas[Audio> Meg] Once more into the breach! Megan[Audio> T] It is a good day to die!

Just before the battle started, there were slightly more than 600,000 players prepared to take some part in the battle. The song reached its end and each side's battle anthem started up.