Bluey #2 A Net.Trenchcoat Brigade title Ying Tong Written by and copyright 1997 Saxon Brenton --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows Bluey standing warily in a tunnel, looking back towards a light source off-panel. Unseen people are casting menacing shadows towards him. The cover blurb proclaims: 'Against the Servants of Ying'. --------------------------------------------------------------------- After Bluey got off the train back in London he spent five minutes trying to find a pay phone that hadn't been vandalised into uselessness, then started dialling. The call connected. Or at least, it seemed to. "Call me, Sonia, for a hot time," cooed a female voice, low and sultry. Bluey stared at the phone's headpiece for a second. The voice repeated its offer, then began a graphic description of the type of services offered. He hung up, shaking his head. He tried again, paying more attention to the numbers he dialled. His care was rewarded with a frenetic voice babbling at high speed. "Have you considered how much money you could make with pyramid investment? Hi, my name's Mike, and I'd like to tell you about the huge gains that people all over Europe have made; not just in Britain, but in Germany, Spain, Albania, and..." Bluey hung up, cursing. He had preparations to make, and he wasn't in the mood for this nonsense. Angrily, he took out a cigarette and lit up. Fine then, he'd do it in person. -----===***===----- By mid evening he was ready and headed for the East End. Summer held the city in the grip of an extended twilight. He finished off his current cigarette and moved across the street to a club. It was open, although it was still a bit early for a fashionably timed arrival. The bouncers were built like brick outhouses and probably had the brains to match. They gave him the once over, but Bluey still looked young enough to fit into the dance club scene so he didn't have too much hassle. Within, the music was blaring and there were a number of young people on the dance floor. Bluey skirted around the edge looking casual as he headed in the general direction of the bar. If he thought he had to he'd get on the floor and make as though he were having a good time, but simulating the movements of what they called dancing nowadays - what he thought of as pretending to have an extended attack of epilepsy - was more effort than he really had the patience to go to. He ignored the pill poppers and walked into the corridor that led to the toilets. As he did he took out what looked like a small wooden block, roughly two centimetres along each side. In fact it was a box. Inside was a weirdness magnet in the form of a key. Bluey did not particularly want a weirdness magnet. He certainly didn't need one. His life was difficult enough as was without attracting more problems. But he did want the key, since it had some rather handy properties. This is why when he wasn't using it he kept it inside the block, which was made of insipid wormwood, one of the most magically inert of all substances. It was the psychic equivalent of what several meters of solid lead would be around a nuclear reactor. With the key in hand - and the box at the ready to slip it back into as soon as he was finished with it - he walked down the hall, past the toilets, and through a magically barred entrance that - like himself - most of the patrons simply couldn't pay any attention to. Once through he quickly put the key back in the box. It was, after all, a weirdness magnet, shining like a beacon to anyone sensitive to such things, which would have generally stuffed up his standard M.O. of trying to avoid attention. There'd be enough danger from the big boys without random trouble from street-level interlopers. That done, he moved on. Deeper in and lower down, he came to the first tangible evidence that he was indeed in the demesne of the cult of the Servants of Ying. A smokey den of iniquity, fashioned after the opium houses of the previous century - or perhaps simply an anachronistic holdover from the same. Around the place half-conscious Londoners lay, indulging in the illicit pleasures of marmalade on toast and hot tea. Nobody outside of the cult had ever been able to find out what it was that they did to such simple and homely foods that made them act like addictive narcotics. Presumably it was related to Ying's ability to make the bizarre seem normal and plausible, while twisting the everyday and commonplace into something exotic and strange. Whatever it was, Bluey had to admit that Ying's Servants were damn good at it. His mouth watered at the smell wafting from the urn. It took nearly all his willpower to walk on, resolutely ignoring the scenes of debauchery as London's youth circled ever downward in a cycle of culinary corruption. Walked on into tunnels that, strictly speaking, weren't real. The problem, of course, was that when you were dealing with the occult, that the things that a lot of people believed in tended to become real. Gods and all their associated myths existed because their faithful believed they existed. Bluey and his kin were living proof of that: myths made manifest, stories given form and flesh (and all retrofitted to have always been there, because religious mythologies are basically about explaining how the world works and originally came into being, and why people should bow and scrape before the gods who claim to have caused the world to Be). The principle applied to other things as well though, not just to religion. Bluey had long ago noted humanity's tendency to complicate things in order to make life interesting. This obsession with folklore included underground tunnels. Paris and Rome both had mythic dimension to their Catacombs, and New York had its sewers filled with alligators guarding the Subway Silver dope plants. Even Moscow had the Secret City of Ivan the Terrible. So too, London had a network of passages that had only partly been built by human toil. If you didn't know much about magic then you'd probably never find them, although you might accidentally stumble onto them (then, depending on how lucky you were, you might either have a thrilling time on a wonderful adventure, or spend the rest of your short life scared shitless before being eaten by something unknown by modern taxonomy). After several flights of stairs - some of them positively medieval in construction, and made noisome and slippery by dripping water and the growth of fungus - Bluey came to the chamber he wanted. He paused at the threshold, listening. Then he entered. Within was a vaulted room some five meters high, illuminated by a profusion of evil-smelling candles. It was of brick construction, giving it the appearance of age and solidness. Seven of what were perhaps either alcoves or further passages led off out of the room. In the center was a dustbin. Bluey approached the dustbin and gave a solid rap on its lid, and in a firm voice announcing, "I've gotta go owwwww." Three whooshes of displaced air marked the near-instantaneous arrival of the trio of Thynne Men. They were only slightly taller than human, but were made to seem higher by their excessive emaciation. As he distastefully observed these creatures, Bluey couldn't help but notice that they were even more skeletally gaunt than descriptions of them had hinted. The trio wore what looked like suits of 1950s cut - especially tailored to fit their abnormally thin frames - which were now somewhat shabby. Over their faces they each wore a white mask upon which a faintly mocking smile was painted in red. Those smiles gave Bluey the creeps, but he endured them: he could see a burning hunger in the eyes behind those masks, and from that he had no desire to see what the rest of their faces were like. The Thynne Men watched him like snakes, and for a half second Bluey's attention flickered away from those dreadful false faces to their feet. He had heard that there were few places on Earth that could bear the weight of these beings without cracking and bleeding. After all, these were not mere minions among the Servants of Ying: these were numbered among the Cult's Lords. The pavers, however, seemed unaffected by their presence. Presumably the encrustation of myth in these tunnels made them strong enough to endure the Thynne Men's touch. He turned his attention back to those masks. "Wise ones, greetings." "Needle nardle noo," returned the middle of the three, formally. His voice was dignified but sepulchral. It hinted at exquisite manners combined with a Mephistophelian capacity for cunning and deceit. "What brings you here?" pressed a second. "I have come to ask questions." The first Thynne Man laughed with dry amusement. "Sammy Sammy Sammy," he chided, making it clear that they knew full well who Bluey was. "You silly twisted boy. You're taking a dreadful risk, you know. You might find... answers." "I'm prepared for that risk," Bluey replied carefully. "And there is the matter of payment too," purred the third one. "What have you brought in exchange for these answers?" Bluey took a lunchbox from out of his Drizzabone and opened it for their inspection. "This collection of pumpkin scones and a thermos of hot chocolate." "Owwwww!" owwwwwed the Thynne Men, eyeing the lunchbox and its contents with undisguised greed. "Sinful modern drinking-type chocolate," Bluey heard one of them breathe. "Very well," replied the third Thynne Man. "One answer from each of us." Bluey nodded slightly. It was what he had been expecting. "Okay then. Question of the first. Yesterday the house of my Uncle Raymond was destroyed by your cult. What was your full motive?" "The Servants of Ying were not involved," came the smug sounding reply. Bluey gaped. "Then who...? "One answer from each and one alone. Is that your second question?" the first of them asked mockingly. Bluey's eyes narrowed in irritation. "No," he replied. He collected his thoughts and hastily mapped out a new plan of attack. He hadn't considered the possibility that the Servants hadn't been involved. They were too dangerous a group to be framed that way. Okay, okay, so they were also as mad as cut snakes; that only made them worse. "Question of the second. Name the person or persons involved." "It _was_ your second question then!" exclaimed the first Thynne Man with a malicious child-like glee. Bluey pointedly ignored him, focusing his attention on the second of the them. "A member of your Family," oozed the second Thynne Man. Inwardly, Bluey cursed. One of the Night Kin must have taken out Uncle Ray and set down a false lead to the Ying. And Bluey still didn't know who had done it; the slippery devil of a Thynne Man had named _what_ it was, but not _who_. Third question then. Damn. There were still too many loose ends. He'd love to ask if Ray was still alive, but that wouldn't get him any closer to tracking down the cause of the problem and dealing with it. "Question of the third, then. Where do I look to get the information I need to deal with this matter, decisively and to my satisfaction?" The Thynne man gave him a penetrating look, no doubt trying to find some creative way to twist the answer. "You must travel to Netropolis," he said at last. Bluey sighed in resignation. Lovely. Netropolis. Superhero capital of the world. More costumed nincompoopery per square meter than anywhere else on earth. Well, he'd gotten more out of this than he'd expected, though perhaps not as much as he'd hoped. "Thank you for your help then," he said. One of them laughed. "Thank us? Foolish lilim, you shouldn't be thanking us. You're problems have only just begun." "The Chess Master is out to get you," hissed the second, taking a step forward. "And the Net.Trenchcoat Brigade," added the third with glee. Taken aback by this sudden verbosity, Bluey glanced from one to the other. They were dropping hints to confuse him, he knew, but that didn't mean they weren't telling at least some truth. The problem was in sifting out the significance, and time for that he just didn't have. They had spread out around the crypt and were trying to surround him. So he did what any prudent Trenchcoater in this situation would do. He fled. -----===***===----- At this point we will break from the narrative so that certain other events occurring elsewhere may be revealed to you: Darkness. It surrounded him like a tangible thing waiting to consume his soul... (with relish and unpleasant lip-smacking sounds, since that - he knew - was the way of darkness). What diabolical happenstance could have brought him here? He could not remember. Was there something? Ahead, there was light. He moved towards it. With neither fanfare nor coherence it opened out into a pallid grey expanse of desolation filled with deserted and partially destroyed buildings. Before him was a motley collection of people. Some of them he recognised as fellow members of the Net.Trenchcoat Brigade - inveterately corrupt individuals all of them, whose primary motivations in battling mystical menaces was to preserve the status quo and by doing so put off for as long as possible their justly deserved fate in Hell. Others were from the Legion of Net.Heroes. They were refreshingly innocent as long as they stayed away from angst, but were hindered by possessing the enthusiasm, maturity, and fashion sense of hyperactive adolescents. And the Order of St. Doomas - called St. Dumbass by some. A bunch of religious fanatics who were laudably diligent in their opposition to the forces of spham, but who could be described as 'moral' only insofar as you remembered Pratchett's dictum: that it's never murder if you do it for your God. With interest he watched the eclectic group. Some of them were wounded, and some of them were dead. Most of them had their attention focused upon another individual. He was having trouble making out this person's identity - although he seemed to have too many arms - but this other was holding a device of bizarre design. And then he realised it was Suicide Squid. But that was impossible. Suicide Squid was dead in the Looniverse. It was at this point that Mr. E. K. Mouse realised he was experiencing some form of dream. The Squid was looking towards the sky. E. K. Mouse looked up. The object of the former's attention was an armoured being several thousand feet tall. He was holding out his right arm, with his thumb cocked outwards - neither up nor down - like some ancient Roman Caesar waiting to give verdict. The whole world now seemed to be intent upon that leviathan figure, waiting for an imponderable cosmic decision to be passed. And then the thumb moved... ...downwards. And then Suicide Squid activated the Ultimate RMGrouper. For a moment a look of inhuman ecstasy highlighted his face as he blurred away into nothingness. For the rest it felt as though the bottom of the world had dropped out. As if suddenly disembodied Mr. E. K. Mouse saw the world fall away beneath him, crumbling slightly as it did so. Down it fell, down down down into darkness. The world, the entire universe, the entire newsgroup falling down and falling to pieces as it descended, disintegrating as it tumbled into the yawning blackness of the void. And down there, in the darkness, one was waiting. Killfile, embodiment of non-existent and Lord of Alt.blivion, hands outstretched to catch the sad remains of the glittering toy that had been cast his way. And then he woke up, sweating and trembling. "Shadower!" "Yes, master?" E. K. Mouse whirled. "What are you doing in my room!?" "You called, master." "I mean before I called! You answered too quickly to not have been already here! How many times have I told you never to enter my sleeping quarters without my express permission!?" Visions of the beast creeping into his room and standing, slathering, over the bed - perhaps with a pepper grinder and tartar sauce - sprang to Mouse's mind. "But I was outside, master." E. K. Mouse dismissed from his mind these protestations as dissembling on the part of the beast. He knew better than to put full faith in the creature. "Go and get my clothes, and most particularly my trenchcoat. And make sure they're _clean_ this time! No more of your foul ichor drooled over then." "That was the starch, master," the Shadower protested as it left. Disturbed, in a manner he would find almost impossible to articulate, Mr. E. K. Mouse got up out of bed and began to get ready. He had to make haste back to the 20th century. Something was terribly wrong. -----===***===----- It was also at this juncture, in the coolroom of a certain Trench- coater, that a certain jello quivered. Its creator - Weevil Dendrite - stopped short as he caught sight of the movement out of the corner of his eye. He put down the pineapple jello he'd been making and carefully turned to the quivering mass. It was the blackberry. Certain flavours of jello were useful for predicting certain things. Some were more universally useful, while others were esoteric to the point of near uselessness. Blackberry, specifically, had apocalyptic leanings. .oO(This,) thought the Jellomancer, (could be very bad). -----===***===----- Bluey moved through the tunnels as quickly and as quietly as he could. Down and out and away. That was the key to escaping from the London Underground if you were using magic. He had to get to Dormarth... (one of the three tube stations that they didn't - and hadn't ever - dared show on the public maps of the London Underground) ...and while Dormarth station tended to be mobile, it almost always stayed on the deepest levels. And behind him the Servants of Ying were closing in. A murmuring chant wafted back along the tunnels. A song of madness, capable of stripping the sanity from all but the most resilient of mortal minds... " ying tong ying tong ying tong ying tong iddle i po " Bluey's gut clenched. The dreaded Ying Tong Song. A hunting chant of the Servants. And he had no doubts about what they were hunting. He suspected that the Thynne Men would get more amusement from having him go through his paces against whoever this 'Chess Master' was, than in capturing him and dumping him into an urn of boiling tea. But he couldn't count on that for getting out of here unhindered. If he dawdled the cultists would take him down out of sheer spite. At least the Thynne Men themselves wouldn't be after him - they'd send their underlings. He paused to think. Running blindly wouldn't do much good; he had only a passing familiarity with these tunnels, and he'd probably be herded into a corner. He doubted if he'd have much of an opportunity to find a proper place to hide either. The echoes down here were tricky, so he had no idea how close they really were. But even the Servants wouldn't be stupid enough to let him get much of a head start on them. Assume they were close. Really close. And for all he knew they probably had the giant rats out after him too. -----===***===----- The tunnels beneath London were a mazework. The Servants, however, knew them as well as anyone could know them. A pair advanced along the way, their chant babbling from their lips and echoing back from the tunnels as an audible moire pattern of 'ing's and 'ong's. In their hands they held their tongs. Cooking tongs. Nasty pokey gripping type implements; and when they caught their prey they'd hold him fast with their tongs - on his nose and ears and fingey-wingies and other parts of his body - and drag him back, and then they'd tie him up and seduce him with hot tea and buttered scones, and maybe even do things to him that would make being poked with soft cushions seem very mild by comparison indeed. Yes yes. They came to a two-way junction. For a minute they paused - chanting their song, listening to the echoes reverberate back to them, gauging distances. He was down... there. They moved on. The Servants felt their prey up ahead, stationary in the tunnels. They sloshed through the black, ankle deep runoff just a bit faster, and one of them clacked his tongs in anticipation. Aioohwaioohwaioohwaioohwaiooh- waiooh. They almost had him. The tunnel they were in intersected a larger sewer, with a walkway down one side while a small river flowed rapidly in the deeper channel. This would be one of the mythical tunnels; the real ones tended to have an egg-shaped cross-section so that scouring could remove the most detritus possible. The Servants glanced both ways, took directions, then headed off. Five minutes later they came to a complicated intersection of tunnels which their song told them that their prey was in. They began a systematic search of the numerous recesses, since the rushing water and convoluted shape of the place hindered the precision of the song at such close quarters. They did not, however, think to look up. Which is why Bluey caught them unawares as he swung down from above, kicking one of the Servants into the fast flowing sewer. Which caused the final Servant, unable to help himself, to cry, "He's fallen in the wa-ter!" And that gave Bluey the extra second he needed to deck the man. Massaging his knuckle, the Trenchcoater paused for a second, listening back along the tunnel in all directions to see if this little tussle had been noticed by any of his other pursuers. It seemed not, but it was hard to tell over the noise. He dragged the unconscious Servant into a corner and stripped him of his robe. Bluey wasn't a hundred percent sure what, precisely, the Servants used to identify their prey when they used their echolocation, but he hoped the robe would help disguise him. That, and a good headstart to Dormarth. Bluey put on the robe and adjusted the hood. That done, he slipped away, still intent on a quick escape. The next two hours proved to be uneventful journey steadily downward, although at the time they were fraught with anxiety for the Trenchcoater. Ultimately all the tension came to nothing, and for this he was thankful; excitement wasn't something he particularly craved for his life. Eventually he came out onto a train platform. He lifted his torch and looked about. It was certainly one of the tube stations abandoned earlier this century. It was covered in grime, including over the 1930s style posters and fixtures and the distinctive mauve tiles of the facade. Of course, it wasn't necessarily Dormarth. There were any number of deep tube stations that had been abandoned over time, and most of the weren't even magical. Bluey walked carefully along the platform to a plaque with the station name, then brushed the grime away, hoping desperately that it wouldn't turn out to be Piffle. That was the big risk of looking for Dormarth or its sister station, the Nameless Station: that you'd stumble onto Piffle instead. Piffle, of course, wasn't its real name. The people who knew about it called it Piffle in order to try and belittle the horror of the place. And it also helped to not speak its name. When you were actually down in the depths under London it helped to not even _think_ its name. The station was Dormarth. Bluey almost sagged with relief. He threw a look over his shoulder, not fully trusting the Servants not to have snuck up behind him when he was within meters of escape. Nothing. He rubbed his fingers together to remove the grime, and only then did he notice its colour. It was pink. He stared at it, starting to get a dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomache that any moment now there would be something resembling a Ghostbusters homage. He brought his hand up for a closer examination. It wasn't slime in the normal sense of an algal growth. It was spham. He blinked in surprise, and turned the light beam of his torch sharply back to the plaque and the wall it was attached to. It was all covered in spham, slowly oozing down the wall and starting to pool unwholesomely onto the platform. The hairs on the back of Bluey's neck started to rise. He backed away from the wall, and ran as quickly as was safely possible towards the turnstiles. The sooner he got out of here, the better he'd feel. He stuck his head around the corner and heaved a sigh of relief. Standing guard on the ticket booths was a huge phantom dog, so black that it seemed made from shadows. That, at least, was to expectations. Dogs, after all, usually guarded underground entrances to Elsewhere. And this station was named after the dog that stood guard at the gates of Annwn. Bluey pushed through the turnstiles and off the platform. The Black Shuck watched him, making a low growl as the man approached. Bluey rummaged in his trenchcoat for the bribe he'd brought specifically for this part of the trip. It was usually the case that it was easy to get into the underworld, but getting the canine guardians to let you out again always took something special. Personally, Bluey preferred a bit of advance preparation over impromptu rough and tumble, since he hardly had the strength of Herakles. That was it then. He'd done it. All he had to do now was exit back into London, catch a lift with the Cafe Perilous, and nip over to Netropolis. But after everything that had happened this evening, he still had the feeling that things were going to get worse. Next Issue: Things get worse, as Bluey becomes trapped in a crossover: Cry Apathy, an OSD/NTB/LNH collabortion. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Character Credits: The Jellomancer created by Timothy Toner. Mr. E. K. Mouse and the Shadower created by William Kaufman. Sundry assorted OSDers, NTBers and LNHers belong to their owners. Suicide Squid is more or less Public Domain to r.a.c.* All other characters created by Saxon Brenton. All characters copyright 1997 their owners and/or creators. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Add Notes: Hmm. The Goon Show meets the Cthulhu Mythos. Dvandom's either going to love it or begin preparations to nerf me from orbit... :-) A lot of the stuff in this issue is Goon Show pastiche. In particular the bit about people lying decadently around in teahouses, plus the words of the 'Ying Tong Song' come from GS episodes. Insipid wormwood is mentioned (briefly) in Dan McGirt's _Dirty Work_.Back to the Index.