Eye of Gold
The next jump made me scratch my head in confusion. I had played a little of Alan Wake (I even had the DLC… but I’d never gotten further than the first act… but it didn’t seem like there was enough story depth to really take more than a couple days… and even then… the reason it was called Alan Wake was because it was an intensely personal story… so what was the point of the jump? I examined the machine more closely, reading through the introduction. It wasn’t set in Alan Wake’s story… just in his world, his version of Earth. There was no indication of timeframe, just a descriptive of a world where the Darkness and Light waged an unending war for the… souls… I guess… of artists… and artists could call upon the darkness, opening the door a little more every time.
I casually tossed the age die… a small black thing that felt unnatural and slightly too heavy and slick… 23. And the wheel of locality gave me Free Pick for the first time in… eh… didn’t matter… I didn’t know any of these places but aside from “The Dark Place” I imagine they’re all within fairly easy walking… or at least hiking distance of one another.
All the Backgrounds are free, but Drop-In and Taken are clearly traps. and trouble Artist isn’t my thing. I think, rather, I’ll take the Investigator… and the assume it’s a trap. I’ve been a detective before… I know the routine… and my skills are a little rusty.
Investigator comes free with “Bright Falls Finest” (It becomes easier for you gain acceptance to any law-enforcement organization you wish to join. You are also granted more autonomy in your work than you would otherwise have.). As well as a Flashlight with the unique ability to automatically recharge its battery over time… though batteries can be replaced manually should light be needed immediately… interesting toy… hmmm… I wonder if I can somehow alter my eyebeams to be more light and less… blast. Must work on that.
In the meantime, however, I skip “Trail of Clues” and opt instead for the Investigator Capstone “Touched by Darkness”  (700/1000)… You have been touched by the supernatural, giving you insight into its nature. Thoughts that would tear a normal mind asunder can be understood by you. Nothing is too strange or horrifying for you to understand. How can I pass up the chance to gain immunity / resistance to Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know? (which I don’t believe in, but taking chances is insane). Suck it Necronomicon Ex Mortis.
But the light side has one more perk for me that I must claim as my own “Champion of Light”  (300/1000)… with apologies to Atura… I can’t really afford both the light and dark uber abilities. “Under any bright light, you regenerate health extremely quickly and can even come back from the brink of death. You can also focus any projected light into a stronger, more focused beam, which will destroy beings comprised only of darkness and dark enchantments. This does burn through power faster however.”… wonder if that will work on a lightsaber.
I consider the Poet and the Muse, a 300 point import, with great perks… but it would put my companion in dire straights and I could not, in good faith, do that to any of my friends… and no way am I giving the Dark Presence… whatever the fuck that is, one of the Kihara’s…. This world is fucked up enough already… I can sense it.
Speaking of senses, I do buy “That Was Close”  (100/1000) “You gain an instinctive and uncanny ability to dodge attacks that were clearly meant to kill. When attacked unexpectedly, time appears to slow down to you, better allowing you to dodge the attack… also works in ambushes!” excellent… more defenses!
I look at Trusty Blade… but I have many swords, not the least is my Shehai Soul Blade. I looked at everything… then decided on Artist  (You gain an innate talent in the art style of your choosing.)… which I bought twice, once for drawing & painting, and again for sculpture…. If I got good, maybe I could make my own Figmas… I’d gotten somewhat fond of the things.
That put me 100 over but I balanced that with “Daylight Savings” which meant the nights would seem longer and the days shorter. As handicaps go, it was annoying, but unless there was an axial shift, it wasn’t going to be more than 18:6 or so.
Ahab seemed almost happy when he looked over his options, then opted for Drop-In, which allowed him to pick up Suave. “Always wanted to be one of those handsome glamorous types.” and with a perk like “You give off a vibe that makes you appear dark and mysterious, but also handsome and refined, expect to be a big hit at parties.” he would be… and Trusty Blade “A sharp blade of your choice ranging in size from a kitchen knife to a sickle, it always seems to find its way back to you either by returning to your pocket or being placed conveniently in the environment. Impossible to lose and useful for throwing at enemies. Always sharp.” Believe me when I say a happy Ahab is a worrying sight.
Joy meanwhile, chose to embrace her softer side “I’ve been a spy for centuries darling. I want to be a terrible artist now.” We all laughed, but she followed through, took the Creator Option, took pottery as her art style, and tucked her free Flashlight into her cargo pants
“Everyone ready?” I asked.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” Zane said.
“You can go when we get there.” I shot back, then hit the button.
I stood at the edge of Caldron Lake. Hmmmm… very pretty. I turned my back on it and looked back towards the road. A black suited secret service agent stood there. “Ready to go, Agent James?”
I nodded “Yes. I think so. I’ve seen everything I need to see here.”
“Oh… back to the airport I think.”
The Secret Service Agent didn’t ask any other questions. As far as he knew, his superiors had told him to drive an FBI Agent from SeaTac to Brightfalls. And now we were going back. The Agency had given me an assignment… he didn’t need to know it would never be done.
Back at the airport, darkness falling outside, I bid the Agent farewell and sent the limo back into storage… then flashed my badge to get on a flight bound for Mexico City. As far as I could tell, I wasn’t on The Dark Presence’s radar… and I had no desire to put it on mine. If it came after me anyway, there’d be a reckoning, but for now… I walked out of the airport in Mexico City, walked into the parking lot, and boosted the first luxury sedan I found. Left the city doing 140 and still accelerating, my high beams slicing through the night.
Ditched the car in Cancun, found the most ridiculously large yacht in the harbor and asked the owner if he’d mind terribly dropping me off in Montego Bay. Once there, I met up the others “Ladies and Gentlemen, and Ziggy… Welcome to Jamaica. Take turns, enjoy yourself… don’t bring people back to the warehouse. We’ve got funds, but if you need anything more than reasonable food and gear, you’ll have to work for it… or earn it another way. Try not to destroy the island. We’ve got 10 years here… Let’s make it count.”
Jamaica… land of rum, music, dance…. It became our home town. Our den of debauchery, our way of avoiding the existential ennui of saving the world and leaving friends behind. There was darkness here too, it was probably unavoidable in this world, but like vampires, powerful clusters were rare and there didn’t seem to be any real point in doing more than purifying any Taken we encountered. We lived like a crime crew, SJ’s 18 (a good number according to Judaism… and incidentally 6+6+6… making it a contender for the number of the beast).
Joy got a gig as a nightclub singer… she was… terrible. Ahab got a gig as a bouncer… he wasn’t. Velma and Bao did PI stuff, Uriel opened a surf shop. Cirno ran a shaved ice hut on the beach. It was a vacation, a way to avoid the rest of the world.
I… made comic books… based on my adventures… or just random doodles or doujinshi. I had no responsibilities in this world, no one to kill, no one to cripple. There were the usual bad things happening in the world, and I certainly could have gone to, say, Zaire and topped this world’s version of Robert Mugabe… but someone one would take is place. He was a psychopath, but he wasn’t in my way and dealing with him was for his people. Same for the other tyrants.
The local police avoided us, the local crime bosses too. I flared the Slice of Life hard. I didn’t want any trouble. Joy and Ahab had given me the idea… Ian Fleming, James Bond, bungalow in the Caribbean. Just… drift away in margaritaville and find my lost shaker of salt. Short hot days… made short because I slept through them, long nights, drinking, painting, zero responsibilities. It couldn’t last forever… but 10 years would do. Ten years to leave not so much as a ripple on this world, made for artists to struggle with their inner demons.
Well, I had no inner demons. I knew who and what I was, and never stressed when the words didn’t come or the picture didn’t form. There was always tomorrow, always rum, and wine, and seafood. Always a jungle to explore or a fortune to be won or lost at the gaming tables. I found that, when it really didn’t matter, the warehouse really didn’t care how many of the others were out and about. They were just… chillin. I suspect that if there were too many in scene, thing would be different, but at parties, at the beach, it really didn’t matter..
I know you’re hoping the Dark Presence tracked me down, drew me back to Washington for a final showdown. But it didn’t. We’re talking about a stealthy dark spirit that had trouble with normal writers (I did do some research on the foe). It wouldn’t have had a prayer in hell of fighting me… Velma could have handled it by herself most likely. I was a damned big gun to bring against something like the Presence… and maybe it knew it. Certainly, the way I dispatched what Taken I did encounter by simply purifying them and returning them to their normal lives might have helped demonstrate to the entity just what the balance of power was.
To be honest, I had more trouble with the FBI, wondering why one of their agents was in Jamaica, running up a monstrous tab for coffee and take away… and how come I was being chauffeured everywhere by a succession of what had to be highly bemused Secret Service agents, but just because the beancounters weren’t cleared for Operation Jumper didn’t mean the paperwork wasn’t in order. Still, I was collecting a paycheck from them, the least I could do was to… you know, do investigate local things for them. It was something like “X-Files: Jamaican Nights”
In the end, the final showdown was with Alan himself. Lord knows how he found me, but somehow he’d become convinced that I was “interfering with the plot of his book and stealing all his inspiration.” and apparently, that meant I had to die.
Of course, the fact that he was trying to kill me with a flashlight and a revolver made the whole thing…. Laughable. Even if he managed to hit me with 6 consecutive headshots, by the time he reloaded, I’d have regenerated back to full health… especially since he kept shining that flashlight at me and boosting my regen.
“Wh… where am I?” he asked, once I allowed him to wake up.
“Sailfish.” I answered, knowing it wouldn’t mean anything to him. It was a nice bar and grill, good food, fairly touristy, but nice enough. “Try the rum punch.”
“But I… this doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah? Have you realized that you left your wife at home and flew off to a tropical island to shoot a total stranger?”
“No… I mean… I was fighting you and then… we’re here.”
“Oh… yeah. I whammied you.”
“Ensorceled. I’m a goddess… witch… spirit… what have you. I’m not of this world. You know the Dark Place? I’m the other place. Want to see?”
He nodded, still a bit dazed, taking a long pull of his punch.
He nodded again, then asked “how does this work?”
I didn’t answer, simply took him into the Palace of My Mind. I’d redecorated. The Palace sprawled across nearly three dozen mountain peaks, silver clouds swirling below and, above, massive storm clouds full of lighting and glory.
“Are… these buildings made of frozen fire?” my guest asked.
“To one way of looking at it.”
“Where are we?”
“My Mind. These are the palaces of my memory.”
“And that massive one?”
“12,000 years worth of civilization.”
“But where is… you?”
“I am in everything.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
“Why not? Not everything has a reason.”
“Are you the light?”
“If you mean, am I the anthesis of the Dark Presence? No. It is beneath me. Beneath my notice really. It’s your demon to defeat.”
“But you could, if you wanted to?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You lack perspective.” I said kindly
“You lack compassion.” he snapped.
“You cannot comprehend the strangeness that is me or the terrible weight of my compassion.” I said without rancor.
“People’s lives are at stake! If it returns again it might destroy another town.”
“Tell me, Alan… do you worry about the lives lost in your books?”
“No… they’re fictional people.”
“How about the lives lost in other fictional works?”
“Welll… I guess… sometimes… when I connect with a character and they die.”
“So it is here. I see an entity struggling to free itself. It doesn’t take children…doesn’t outright kill… it’s an enigma… I am disconnected from it… for me crushing it would be like a man kicking a dog… and it’s not my dog. If you want it gone, write it gone. You’re the author. Yours is the power.”
I returned him then to the bar. We talked a bit longer, but it was merely noise. He was gone when morning came, back to his world of gloom and darkness. I wondered if he’d go the way of Hemingway. But for me, it was a couple more years of Oscar Wilde.
On the last day of the world, I found Kendra looking out at the bay. “Conflicted?” I asked.
“You don’t have to ask, you can read my mind.”
“I try not to do that to my friends… “
“Is that what I am? I know you didn’t mean to bring me along.”
“No. I didn’t. I wanted to save your life and I forgot to pull you out of stasis. Honestly, I never found a time I thought you would be safe.”
“I’m a lousy Slayer.”
I shrugged “You clashed with the theme of the show.”
“It’s very hard, sometimes, to think I am a fictional footnote, a character created only to die ignominiously.”
“Better than the fates of many fictional characters. You had lines.”
She laughed dryly. “I sometimes think about….” She waved her hand vaguely.
“Going home? I picked Jamaica because it was your home.”.
“You thought I might decide to stay?”
“Of my 17 companions, 14 are gifts of the chain, if you want to call it that. It would be unfair to claim absolute free will for any of them, though of course they’re free to go if they want. Uriel invited himself… and I owed him… since I accidentally killed him. Toph… Toph I invited… but you? I never asked. You could return to Buffyverse if you wanted… but you’d have to be insane to do so… you could have left on any of the other Earths as well… but this is a nice enough one… you might be happy here.”
She hmmmed.. “No… I… I… I’m not unhappy. Just… Who said “You can Never Go Home Again?”
“Well, he was right. I thought about staying here…. But it’s not my home. And no, I don’t want to go back to the Buffyverse… I was… am.. Nothing there. With all the slayer potentials awoken, I’m not even The Slayer… at best I’d be The Ugly.”
“Good Buffy… Bad Faith… Ugly…”
I nodded “Gotcha.”
“But with you… I’m The Jumper’s Slayer. I get to help save worlds. Sure, I’m… third fiddle? Is that a thing?” I shrugged. “Third fiddle to you and Zane…. But we kick butt and do stuff. Plus, if I ever do go back, I want to be so powerful I can just punch Angeli’s pretty boy head off. I won’t, but ooo… if he hadn’t made Drusilla.”
I laughed and put my arm around Kendra’s shoulder “You’ll be fine. Let’s go get some Rum.”
“I did want to ask… why did you stockpile quite so much rum?”
“Planning for a Pirates of the Caribbean Jump.”
“That’s an injoke, isn’t it?”
“Oh… you might say that.”