Living Outside
Episode 04: Crain Slain 4

Songs 13 & 14
Full Metal Monstrosity Versus Raging Hell

Megan heard Crain's epic battle song - a mix of themes from her earlier songs - all around her. It was coming from Palladium's speakers and the strong red resonance all around her. She also heard Slain's battle song from across the divide. Slain's was clearly stronger. She heard the songs clashing as the lines fell into each other. She heard Slain's apocalyptic theme overpowering Crain's music as Slain's forces spilled over Crain's front line.

Even as Slain broke through, some Crain warriors made their way into Slain territory. A rather large mech, in the shape of a metallic turtle shell, spun through the air and crashed a quarter mile into the blue, crushing and displacing numerous Slain warriors. It spun as it moved toward Bath's trunk, jutting dozens of spears and blades in and out of its sides, cutting down all blue players in its path, and gunning down high profile targets with a laser cannon mounted at its top. It was controlled by 36 "expert" Crain warriors whose equipment had formed it as a composite, and who were now having the time of their lives aggravating and frustrating the Slain and laughing at their futile attempts to stop their instance of the infamous "da Vinci tank".

High above the fray, Palladium's arsenal tore into Bath and the ground directly in front of Her, lighting up the night sky, but barely marring Bath's angelic beauty. Bath retaliated by whipping Palladium with Her tendrils of light, causing explosions everywhere they touched.

Megan had expected more time before having to fight, but she was ready. She anxiously held her ground as a skeleton wielding a metal femur rushed her. She was swinging her blade at it and hoping her armor would hold when an explosion deafened and blinded her, sending her flying backwards into something hard.

In a panic, she reflexively activated her plant's killswitch and found herself in her physical, lying on her bed. Megan cursed herself and went quickly back into the game. Her character was lying in the middle of the battle, ignored because of her low status. Her area had been hit by one of Bath's tendrils, which were smashing their way along. They did more damage to red warriors, but stunned everyone. She realized that she shouldn't be in full immersion, first person mode, at least not for her first CS battle. She switched to an overhead control scheme, which allowed most of the same articulation with a degree of psychological dissociation from her character.

Still lying on the ground, Megan took the opportunity to soak in the madness washing over the field. The music around her was a hectic mix of the two side's themes. It was appropriately unnerving. The battle wasn't exactly orderly, but it also wasn't like the giant pile of entangled parts that used to comprise the dividing line. The energy system encouraged players to space out by penalizing their energy flow when they clustered together. Players had to coordinate and think strategically to use the flow efficiently. In Ataraxia, this required strategic minded players to continually adjust battle tactics, but here most players with common sense could feel their flow being cut off when around too many strong proxies. Additionally, bunched up proxies were more vulnerable to area effects.

Megan stood and jumped over some dismembered allies to hack at a zombie which was trying to climb a small mech. She killed it with little struggle. She remembered that she was part of a group and checked its plan. The group was dispersed and the plan was shot. But the group's scanner was still operating somehow and suggested a group of zombies about her level nearby she could effectively engage. She turned to attack them when several of them tackled her. She managed to cut one of their heads off, but three of them began ravenously consuming her unguarded legs. She was only saved when a nearby mech used its flamethrower to burn them off. Luckily, Crain Slain was casual enough that friendly fire between players was turned off.

Megan hobbled away on her crippled legs toward the safety of Crain territory. On the way she managed to dodge a grove of rampaging ents, a vampire exchanging blows with an android, an audacity of gargoyles, and a rage of orcs. But there was no longer a Crain territory, except perhaps around Palladium's feet. She took a quick aerial overview of the field. Chimera Field spanned miles and miles relative to the size of the average proxy, and even so the battle was now raging everywhere. Even Slain's side had gone to perdition as small dedicated groups of hyper powered Crain mech had penetrated deep into Slain territory, slaughtering thousands on their way to Bath's trunk. It was true pandemonium and Megan loved it.

Skyward, Bath and Palladium were streaming furious death at each other. Bath had lost some of Her shine and had begun to bleed ooze from Her eyes. Not able to rely entirely on Her tendrils, She had begun to shoot blue fireballs and was also whipped Her lovely hair up from Her feet to spear Palladium's weapons and numerous armor plates, occasionally dislodging them and sending them falling to explode below.

Palladium had attempted to move toward Bath, but had been held back by Her constant attacks. It's left arm, which it had been using a shield, was mostly destroyed. It had managed to severely damage Bath's trunk and midsection, including the control center for Her lower tendrils, impairing their attack abilities and killing dozens of high powered proxies integrated into her body.

Their volleys often fell short or went wide, by accident or design, ultimately causing the deaths of thousands of hapless proxies on both sides. Explosions from all causes went off randomly and widely.

Megan[Audio> T] Is it always like this? Thomas[Audio> Meg] Oh no, this is particularly nasty. Normally there's some decorum and showmanship. This is out of control. Fun, huh?

Thomas smiled to himself as he picked off a few more blue proxies with his turret's sniping mode. Sniping with the turret was difficult, but Thomas made excellent use of it. He aimed his gun at Bath's left wing, which he suspected of being a weak point. If he could get just a little damage showing there, someone else might target it as well.

Shell shocked and inexperienced, Megan did her best to avoid combat. It wasn't that she was afraid of dying, at least not from her current perspective. She just wanted to have maximum impact for her alignment. Sam, watching from her abstraction, saw Megan's dilemma.

Sam[Audio> Meg] If you're looking for something to do, check out those demons Northeast of you. Looks about your level. Megan[Audio> Sam] Thanks!

Megan followed the trail Sam had sent her to find the demons, who were tearing a team of tarantula mechs apart. Megan managed to stab one clean through before another tore her head off. Deceased, Megan flew above the battle and watched the Crains' last desperate moments.

Red fighters near Palladium had turned back every wave of enemies, but were being torn apart by a fifteen foot tall sapphire praying mantis. On the other side, the "da Vinci" crew was disintegrating Slain forces and almost to Bath's roots, closer than any other Crain forces. Whether they could do anything once they got there was another matter.

Megan watched the hundreds of proxies controlling the various functions of each of the two incarnations. Without them, neither Bath nor Palladium could move or fight at all. She'd have to try being part of a giant demon sometime, it looked fun.

Star Palladium lost the rest of its left arm, and its laser sword with it. Its chest was full of holes, its head had been sliced diagonally in half, and its right leg was barely supporting its half of the weight. It appeared aged and rusted throughout, and was leaking red oil from dozens of spots. Only a few of its weapons were still firing. Thomas' station had been destroyed by a fireball, and he too was dead.

Palladium rocket-punched Bath in the face with its right fist. The fist, damaged from previous attacks, fell to the ground below Bath and exploded, damaging Her roots and sending proxies flying for half a mile.

Bath was more structurally intact, but Palladium's assault had taken a ghastly toll. Bath was drenched in blue blood, which had obscured Her glow. Her face was no longer the radiant visage of a goddess, but was now a hideously twisted and disgusting mask of rage, revealing her true nature. The maw that was once Her mouth foamed around Her jagged, broken teeth. Blood spewed from a massive gaping wound at the side of Her head, melting Her followers below. The few tendrils and tentacles She had left dripped the same acid death, as did Her wings, which had become as gnarled and demonic as Her face. Her remaining three arms now sported demonic talons. The beautiful tree bark of Her lower section had been torn or burned away in many parts to reveal what could only be described as the rot of a humongous diseased maggot.

The few proxies still orchestrating Palladium concentrated its remaining power on Bath's stomach, rupturing it and causing Her intestines to spill out onto the ground. Her guts shot out over Palladium and fell like a net around it, crushing its armor and pulling the mech closer to Her.

Bath uprooted Herself, revealing three thick, wormlike tentacles which She used to shamble toward Palladium. The field itself warped with her attack, and the whole of Slain's side of the field tilted to follow Her, causing the remaining Slain warriors to spill onto Crain's side, swamping the few thousand remaining Crain proxies. Slain's energy was overwhelming, energizing his warriors while suppressing Crain's.

Palladium and Bath grappled as Crain's forces were extinguished. Bath clawed into the robot's chest and head and crushed Palladium with Her hair and intestines, while Palladium used the last of the ammo it had been saving for a final close range assault, blowing off large chunks of Bath's trunk and breasts, causing Her to emit a nightmarish shriek. Palladium fell backward to the ground and Bath fell on top of it, absorbing it into Her broken and smoldering body. Bath integrated Palladium's systems inside Herself, using its parts to repair the damage it had done to Her and using its remaining energy to once more hide Her true form with a resplendent glow.

A wave of energy pulsed out as Mecha-Bath, the Abyssal Glory, rose. It turned the entire field blue, including the few thousand remaining Crain followers. The battle was unusually long and bitter for CS, lasting more than 12 minutes. At the end, Chimera Field was covered with blood and more than 550,000 disintegrating bodies.

Thomas' spirit caught up with Megan's just before the final moments of the battle. They exchanged a glance of appreciation for the carnage.

Mecha-Bath moved to the stage and swallowed it within Her renewed tree roots. She sent out another energy wave that restored all of the dead proxies back to life. Everyone was shed of their equipment and enhancements and glowed blue.

Mecha-BathYou have summoned Us. Now worship the true Goddess! Bow before Us and We will grant you perfect existence.
Songs 15 & 16
Final Form - Goddess Ascendent! Versus Aqua Regia

The field of proxies stood largely unified in opposition to Mecha-Bath following the revelation of Her true nature. Many proxies previously integrated into Bath fled Her body. Mecha-Bath, now fully integrated and restored, gave an enraged wail at the betrayal of Slain's side.

Mecha-BathYou have chosen your fate! The sun has been traded for the moon and stars. The sphere of consciousness shall suffocate in the Abyss!

A new Slain song began, with lyrics extolling Her many ancient atrocities. Few players chose to resonate with it, so it sounded hollow as it was coming mostly from Mecha-Bath Herself. Bath's tendrils and tentacles shot randomly into all parts of the field. Cybernetic demons spawned at the contact points and attacked players, who were at first powerless before them.

Then Crain opened a screen to all players. She was still in her cockpit, but demonic growths covered everything, including her face.

CrainThere are only seven minutes left until...

Crain's mouth was smothered by the growths before she could finish. She still managed to send the last of Palladium's energy through some of Mecha-Bath's tentacles. They turned red as they pumped out enough of her energy to give each proxy a red glowing dagger in their dominant hand. The dagger counted down the time while playing a Crain song, though it was muffled. She sang of the romance of hopeless struggle. Players resonated with it and the song carried over the field, though it was washed out by Bath's music.

Some players joined with the demons against the other players, but most made a run to assault Mecha-Bath. She had become the final boss. Thomas, like many players, beat back Mecha-Bath's minions and ran up one of Her tentacles to Her body, which continually spawned demons and sent them to Her defense. Running up the tentacles was difficult due to their instability and the stream of enemies. The tendrils had fewer enemies, but they were narrower so players couldn't run as quickly. Other players, like Megan, ran on the ground up to Bath and used their knives to climb up her trunk.

Megan[Audio> T] It's amazing how everyone's getting along now. Thomas[Audio> Meg] We just needed a common enemy to unite us. Look at that thing! MeganDoes CS always end like this?

Thomas pushe a zombie raptor off the tentacle.

ThomasOh no, there are tons of different endings. Sometimes it's just a celebration, and sometimes a bigger bad guy shows up, and sometimes it's all unicorns and golden fields. It depends on the branching tree of songs which the players ultimately select as the concert goes along. There are all sorts of exciting unachieved endings that have been hinted at that people have been trying to get to for years. But right now, this ends one of two ways. We take Bath down or we get annihilated. MeganThen let's get her! ThomasRight on!

Everyone could feel Mecha-Bath's power ramping up for a major assault.

Thomas made it up the tentacle, and when he was near Her head he leapt off and fell onto Her stomach, using his dagger to catch a hold. Up close, Bath's body was covered in fur, a manifestation of Her energy which could be used for climbing. Sticking out at various points was Palladium's metal structure, which could be used as platforms. Thomas jumped over to a broken missile turret jutting out of Her side and from there jumped up and swung over to a particularly bright spot which indicated vulnerability to damage. Holding onto the fur with one hand, he stabbed the spot over and over again until it turned black, then started maneuvering up the body to reach another bright spot.

Hundreds of other proxies did the same thing all over Mecha-Bath. She had reserved some of Her light tendrils to serve as defense, and these continuously swept Her body, throwing proxies some distance away. Other players avoided the tendrils by cutting holes inside Her and fighting through Her hollowed innards to attack vulnerable spots within. That was the more disgusting option, and unpleasant in just about every imaginable way.

Megan, not feeling much like climbing, ran to Mecha-Bath's trunk and followed others inside. She was able to get midway up Her trunk before becoming bogged down in enemies. Fighting them helped defeat Her as well, so Megan concentrated on that for the time remaining.

With a minute left, Mecha-Bath begins to shake violently, having taken critical damage. A warning to escape popped up from the daggers.

CrainBath is defeated! Run before she blows!

Explosions from every part of Her body rocked the field as players fled, but Her basic form remained intact. The ground underneath Her gave way and Her body began to sink into an inferno which opened up underneath Her, setting Her on fire. She pitched forward in a struggle to escape, but giant metal hooked chains shot up from the inferno and embedded themselves all over Her body and pulled Her slowly into the pit.

The left side of Mecha-Bath's head faced the field. It collapsed inward, revealing the center stage, now integrated into Bath's pulsing black brain. Crain's drummer and keyboardist were there, along with a single entity comprised of an amalgamation of Slain and Crain. It began to sing a farewell song.

Song 17
Anarchy Outside

The final song was Anarchy Outside, a popular, unofficial anthem celebrating the liberated expanse of Outside. The mass of proxies resonated it and sang along, causing the field to turn into its original purple color. About a third of the proxies were ghosts, after dying in the assault on Mecha-Bath, but now had been made visible to the other players so they could participate in the camaraderie of the final song. Many of the remaining living proxies were partly dismembered.

Megan and Thomas were quite dead from the explosion. Thomas ported over to Megan's position, some distance from Bath's corpse.

MeganThat was great! I feel like I just helped kill a god. Everything was so realistic and compelling! Bath and Palladium and the various proxy forms and special effects. It must have taken so much work. ThomasIt's taken a while to get to this point. Go back and experience a recording of one of the early concerts to see how far. The giant incarnations and warrior proxies are largely the result of fan mods. And the extracts from other game worlds help a lot. Denizens of Hell Fray even built a special extract just for CS. MeganAnd so many people! Like, a crushing sea of people! ThomasCS isn't all that big or crazy compared to Ego Slider or Gold Wire, but it sure has the pulse of Outside gaming culture. It's a great game, very energetic, with a strong subculture too. A whole bunch of the active proxies at any given CS concert are regulars. MeganI've set it to alert me a few days in advance when there's going to be a relatively local concert. ThomasCS is set up to reduce lag for everything really important, allowing effective participation from all over the Earth. I've done a concert set up in China and didn't notice any lag until the showdown, so if you feel like doing CS, don't let location stop you. Man, I get alerts ten minutes before all kinds of whatever craziness and just jump in where it is. Woosh! MeganWell, I need a little time to prepare. ThomasOh, yeah, that reminds me. You should come by my apartment tomorrow before the film shoot. You've never seen it. MeganOK. What's at your apartment? ThomasI can show you my collection. MeganCollection of what? ThomasEverything! MeganHmm... what time? Thomas10 a.m. We'll make a day of it! MeganI'm sure I won't regret it.

The song ended just as Bath's head sunk below the ground. Proxies jumped into the pit after it, even as the field closed up. And with that, the concert was over. The concert layer remained active for an hour for after-concert socializing, but the physicals were already streaming out of the field.

Everyone with an active proxy received a message from Crain Slain thanking them for participating in the concert. It contained a link to a complete recording of the entire concert, along with a special highlight reel automatically created for their proxy. Each player proxy's points and achievements were reset at the end of the concert, but proxies played under the same account could be set to carry records of past exploits.

That concert, like all previous CS concerts, had streamed for free on the net and been available for replay in full detail, down to being able to inhabit any proxy on the field and passively live out its concert related experiences. The entire thing was quite a production, but Crain Slain made a fortune from the active participant fee.

Thomas and Megan said goodbye and T ported home. Megan wandered around admiring the debris of Chimera Field for a few minutes before Sam appeared next to her.

SamHow was the concert? MeganOh, it was a blast! Though I'm used to less violent concerts like Slushmare or Vermillion Pleasure Slice. SamI saw Slushmare at Lunar Stage last year. Pretty awesome. Classical/meta-slush is my favorite genre. MeganI always wanted to go to Lunar Stage, but it's way up in Canada. SamWell, now you can.

Megan lightly thumped herself on the forehead.

MeganHoly crap, you're right! I can't believe I didn't realize that. SamHa. Keep exploring Outside and you'll never stop finding neat things. So, how is adapting to discomfort going? MeganNot bad. I freaked out a few times, but I managed to keep it set around medium. SamMedium? Seriously? That's a lot of pain for a concert. MeganI thought people usually kept it on high? SamNo... most people have it turned almost completely off for something like CS. Did T tell you to do that? MeganNope, it just seemed like they would do that for realism. SamNo wonder you get along with T. But next time, we should do the concert together. T doesn't play CS exactly like most people. MeganWhat do you mean? SamHe kind of skates over the surface of the game, helping out his side at weak points. He's extremely useful, but he misses out on the social element and the excitement that comes with being part of the crowd. The resonance of a good group can be intoxicating. Having a shared perspective and forming a social and emotional connection with a side is an incredible experience. It can make the concert feel like a roller coaster ride controlled by the collective imagination of hundreds of thousands of people, so its vibrant and unpredictable. It's like being on a sports team, except that your goal is way cooler than just scoring more points than the other team. You get to create some really fun scenarios and compete them against radically different visions. You don't always win, but you always leave a mark. MeganEvolving, player-created game worlds are definitely of interest to me. I wasn't really thinking of Crain Slain that way, but it's like a simple, quickly evolving world. You get to share in and help shape a collective vision for the short future of an entire world, and fight for your vision against conflicting perspectives. What's more incredible than helping create a world that so many people will experience together? But it's done for today, and I'm going to T's place before the shoot tomorrow so I should go. I'll see you tomorrow. SamTomorrow, yep. The shoot and then Omni. Fun, fun, fun.