Too Far From the Trap

During the August 14th abnormal influx of psyco-chip® data, the following cache was recovered concerning the Valhalla Project.

The psyco-chip® is suspected to belong to Witch 4303, reached the outer limits of the Area 44, before disappearing with out explanation during an engagement. This last observance was on April third, four months prior to the reception of this data. The cache is not long enough, nor is it technologically capable of containing four months worth of activity.

begin psyco-chip® cache

It was a long way out of the mountains. Getting this far, alive, and on my own was frankly a miracle. I was well out of the swamps by now, and walked across strange even green hills. They were just tall enough to block my view.

Beyond the crest of one of the hill I could see the level plains, fading into gray wastes. The pinkish sun was setting ahead of me against a gray white sky. Somewhere the wastes were still on fire.

I whipped around and saw four nightmares. I thought this far they would leave me alone. The lead one flared its red eye at me. I jumped over the crest of the hill. Grass sizzled and steamed. I flicked at my lighter. Once, twice, a light. I scrambled for a bomb as I stumbled back. There was no where to hide in this place.

The nightmare’s smokey head rose over the hill. I light the fuse and threw the bomb. My skin began to heat up. The grass began sizzled. The nightmare scattered in the combustive wind.

The three of its gathering were close on it’s heels, fiery gazes staring at me. My foot slid out on the charred grass. I crashed ass first through the cardboard ground. The surface of the hills scampered away.

The following 13 blocks of cache were full of undecipherable data consistent with high, random, background radiation, suggesting strong electromagnetic activity and reduced levels of consciousness.

I washed up on a beach beneath a black sky. The water was so clear I couldn’t tell where it began and ended. The sand was solid, and black, and had red and green lines tracing a grid on it. There was a quaint building a stone’s throw up the shore. Jaunty music slipped out from the brick walls. The front wore a faded awning, with green metal chairs below them, knelled before large display windows. Not knowing what else to do, I went inside.

The first thing to greet me was the jingle of a bell on the door. Second was the décor. A tent was set up between tables at the far side of the cafe. There was wood burning in the modified oven. Cups, plates, books, and all manor of trinkets were gathered along the counter. Lastly a person, shorter than I, wearing a stuffy, almost puffy, earth-toned suit, jumped up from the place they were lying on the counter, and yelled out to a band to hush, and came to me.

“Pleasant to see ya,” they said, “Can I get you some tea?”

“Sorry, but what the fuck is this?”

“Technically it’s still a coffee shop but we only have tea. Lemon mint or ginger?”

“How do I get out of here? How far are we from the mountains?”

They chuckled, “Well were helluva way from the mountains, look up on a telescope and you can see the bottom of them at the edge of render. Here, lemon mint. It’s good, organic too.”

“Did I die? Is this some set of cheap afterlife?”

“The cheapest there is.”

The tea was alright.

“So who was right?”

“Huh?”

“Like if this is the afterlife,”

“Oh, they’re all gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yep, Heaven is full, Valhalla is over, the Backrooms all mapped.”

“Aren’t there still like believers in the cities or something?”

“They certainly believe, but it never made sense to tell them time was up.”

“Awfully cruel don’t you think?”

“That’s what Hell was for.”

“No, I mean you.”

“Woah calm down man, I ain’t no god. Just a bloke stuck in a coffee shop”

“Oh, sorry”

“Its chill man, we all get hyped up sometimes.” There was a rumble from one of the back rooms. “excuse me a moment” They climbed over the counter and left out a door behind the coffee machines

I sat alone in the empty cafe. I looked over the three quarters drunk mugs left on the counter, at the band who was playing. The lead had a flat brimmed hat, and hair like an overgrown hedge bush. They looked at me and nodded. I waved back confused.

I stood up and began to walk towards the metal stage, when the person came back.

“Who are they? Are they stuck here too?”

“Oh, they died a long time ago” The hologram flickered as they waved their hand through it. “They made some kick ass music while they were alive though.”

“Okay, what is really going on here” They looked at me confused. “What is this place? Where the fuck is it? What the hell am I supposed to do?” The rumbling started again, but somewhere else this time.

“Well, uhm”

“Well what!”

There was a pattering of rain.

“Well I don’t know!”

The lights in the building flickered from back to front. The band choked and sputtered.

“I’ve been stuck here for as long as I can remember, and dead people keep coming and then disappearing.” They began to cry “Sometimes they’re from the city or the mountains. I don’t really think this is an afterlife, I think it’s some kind fucked out limbo, like we didn’t get pulled all the way. We were too far from the mountains, and whatever place we were supposed to go was too far, so we just fell, and fell, and fell until we couldn’t fall any farther, and then we fell some more.

The next 137 blocks of the cache are undecipherable. Suspected causes include transmission interference, chip degradation, or malicious tampering. The final 32 blocks are identical, suggesting electrical or digital failure.

end of psyco-chip® cache

REPORT SUMMERY

More than two individuals have escaped the effective area of the Valhalla Project. Observations suggest no individual has been able to return, and may be considered obliterated, however wireless psyco-chip® transmissions were able to be recovered from that location.

No immediate actions are recommended, however an advisory for containment of witches within the inner areas as well as further investigation is recommended.

Senior Naughts’ Special Operations Overseer Rakenthine

Special Operations Terrain Unit 08 Captain Dr. Candlehoff

Special Operations Terrain Unit 08 Dr. Anderin

Special Operations Terrain Unit 08 Dr. Mykart

Special Operations Terrain Unit 08 Dr. Apurtyux

Photos of the Labyrinth

ADDENDUM 6: PSYCOCHIP OF ANDY RELSHEN

the following data was recovered from the mortem emergency protocol of Excitizen Andy Relshen’s Psycochip. Other data recovered this way showed Relshen to be in remarkably good physical health for his circumstances, but that multiple psychoactive substances were likely in his system.

I pulled out the glass shards. My hands shook so violently it was hard. I just tried to keep breathing. After scavenging through my bag, I wrapped it in gauze. Periodically I would frantically look trough the broken window. Not like there would be anyone watching these ruins, but I was still nervous. I felt like I was being followed. It was probably nothing.

I was just a photographer, and I hated having to break my way in like this.

After a while, I stood up. My leg was sore, but workable. I put my bag back on, and paced around the room I was in: a classroom, elementary, maybe 4th grade. Ceiling tiles had bent and collapsed from rot. Past vandals and shoved and over turned many of the desks, and sprayed wide, stylized messages on the wall: “Fuck You”, An inverted cross, “Anarchy Never Dies”, A floating city with a lightning bolt coming down, “Get High, Stay High”

The musty stench of the room seeped into my nose. It was thick, like the air was slowed by all the rot in the room. Rot. I then realized I took my mask off to bandage myself. I threw down my back and pulled the mask back out. Hopefully, my exposure was still low enough to be harmless.

The plastic white board chipped, and huge fragments had fallen off, but a decent amount still clung to the wall. Dead markers and erasers had been scattered across the damp floor. A name on the top of the board identified the room as Mrs. Walters’ room. At the head of the room, Mrs. Walters’ desk still stood, and by some miracle the now ancient tower under was still on. I shook the mouse. It was a laser mouse, damn it was old. It woke up, and didn’t even ask for a password, it went straight to the desktop, emails still open. I clicked around a bit. I wasn’t familiar with software this old, and got bored of looking at old class rosters and stuff.

I poked my head out into the hall. It wasn’t a school hallway. That’s what made these ruins unique. The foothills of the Last Mountain had grafted the remaining buildings into a strange mega structure. But it was damn near impossible to get clearance for down here. You had to hitch a ride on military vehicles and that’s it’s own mess. I might be stuck down here for weeks. It’s not really a “productive person’s” thing

I walked down the old hospital wing. The floor was waving up and down, like rolls in a piece of paper. Low dips were filled with stagnant water, possibly electrified. The walls varied from peeling to collapsed. As I paced down hilly floor, I noticed name plates adjacent to the doors, well, the doors that were still there. The rooms were filled with antiquated medical equipment and beds dotted with rat droppings, or dead rats.

Occasionally, a bed would host are body sized lump hidden under the covers, sometimes it would only be gnawed bones.

I went into every room. Looking for any sealed pills or food, and for any good photos. There were a bunch here. The weird floor made for interesting shots. Moving the analog iv racks up and down them; spilling expired rotting pills on the floor; reflections off the pools at the bottom, which were indeed electrified; One room had been taken over by a juvenile gigarachnid. The webs, dangerous as they were, were beautiful. Each of the leg thick ropes were woven carefully from the thinnest of spider threads, and then draped over the cliff of a collapsed fire escape.

This of course meant that the gigarachnid in the last mountain was making children. A terrifying, but some how hopeful thought. The way a web catches the light, an intricate weave with dew on it is beautiful, but with a whole mountainside for its canvas, the effect was greater. So gorgeous, but I wouldn’t want to be in one.

The hall abrupt ended in collapsed cinder blocks. I poked around looking for a way past, unsuccessfully. The last room still had a name tag: Paul Baker.

I pushed open the door inside. The mold here was not too bad. The wall paper was peeling, and the florescent lights were burnt out, but the rest of the room was intact. The TV, burned in as it was, was still on. “Did you know that there would be so many mutants?” “We took the best course of action given our circumstances, and there were several unaccounted side effects, but we assure you, that it is all under control.” “Some say that the rapid expansion in your mutant response commission is cause for concern or even suspicion; how do you respond to this” “Our mutant response is top notch and top notch service requires…”

The wall paper was covered with images of demons and woodland monsters, children’s drawings, done in crayon and magic marker. There was a single picture frame, still on the wall. I picture of a father and a son. The father had lots of tubes and wires pulling out of his back. It looked like very early Integrated Vital Support. IVS used to be crazy expensive. I mean it still is but a lot of people already have it now. Well, not really a lot.

The father didn’t look so good. He was hunched over. The weight of the thing didn’t seem to rest well. The kid didn’t look so good either. He was pale, and he has stitches around his face.

I poked through the cabinet for any sealed pills, like I had done in the others. The cabinet’s innards seemed to glow. I blinked and in a moment, it was gone. I was just seeing things. I reached to open the cabinet. My hands were shaking, and my breathing was rushed and shallow; why was I so nervous?

The cabinet flew open with a bang. I jumped back as a screamer swooped at me. I pulled my pistol and shot it. It took three bullets to send it to the ground, and then I drove one of my tent stakes through it for good measure.

My ears rang from the gunshots.

I had become accustomed to dealing with many of the mutants in the Remnants. I had seen at least a dozen screamers on my way here, but this one was huge. I held my arm next to its pitch black skin. Its cape like wings stretched at least 4 feet. Twice the size of the ones from the borderlands.

I took a picture of it. I wouldn’t dare touch a mutant. They always carry the worst bugs, but I always took a picture of them. I wanted to document how common they were. It was a serious offense to get caught with these pictures, but it didn’t feel right not take time to appreciate them.

I was done recuperating. I wanted to get out of this room while I could. I looked through the cabinets. There were a lot of pills here. I shoved them all into my bag to sort later and got moving. There was an emergency exit window here, but it dropped down into a school hallway, which lead back under the hospital wing.

The hall didn’t seem to have an end, or rooms, or a direction. Lockers stretched out continuously, not a classroom in sight. Some were still decorated, some had fallen over from rust, some smelled funny. Occasionally there would be a poster. Clubs advertising their meetings, a literature magazine asking for submissions, stuff typical for a high school.

One poster stopped you. A recruitment poster, for the army. The thought of an army trying to recruit straight out of a school unsettled me. It didn’t feel right. To take set them free and then reel them back. They don’t do that anymore. Army kids get a specialized education. Every piece is designed to be optimal.

I was one of the few people not in the army schools.

A low rumbled A turned around and saw a bull at the end of the hall. Tar boiled in its crimson eyes and thunderstorm seethed behind it. I froze, icy needles of fear shut up my spine and through my face. I couldn’t outrun it, especially not in this long corridor.

The bull started running, flames bellowing from its hooves. I jolted to action, and wedged my foot through a rusting locker.

End of Pyscochip cache

Leaving Home

I rummaged through my damp belongings. Everything this side of the mountain was damp this time year, roofs or not.

secret password: nightmares never die

“What are you doing?” Angelica asked. I hadn’t known she was here. I hoped she wasn’t. But hope only goes so far.

“I wasn’t going to tell you so soon” I began “but I need to go”

“What?”

“I’m sorry; its me, not you. I have to go. I can’t stay here”

“I can come with you.”

“No, you can’t. The village needs you. I have a chip in my head, and it’s only going to get worse”

“But the chip must be broken. We’ve been fine with you here”

“It could be recovered, or they might want us to think that.”

“You can’t run because they might know, not from us, from me, Rose, please!”

“Listen it’s not like that. I saw them, in my dream: dozens of the black statues picking up the charred skeletons you’ll leave behind. I should know that they would follow me and I’m sorry for leading you on like I did.”

“I thought you wanted a life here, a life with me?”

“I do, and maybe in some timeline we have a house on a land in once piece, but not here.”

We cried, and Angelica left.

I left too. I hardly even toke anything. I needed to move out before the rain moved in.


I was nearing the edge of the swamp. Soon I would be back to climbing. The rain began to pepper down on me; perhaps I would have to camp by the cliffs instead.

There was a strange smell around, even for the swamp.

I rounded the corner and found the source of it: a burning husk, like a huge insect, with green splintery guts. A boulder had fallen, striking it out of the sky. The mud and rain around it hissed and bubbled from the heat. It was fresh, perhaps only minutes old.

There was a buzzing farther ahead. I looked in horror at the small band of smoky black entities pulsating in the fog. I ducked behind a bush, but the flew over head. For a brief moment I felt relief, before realizing where they were headed.

I bolted back as fast as my legs could move, but the nightmares moved faster. I couldn’t get there in time on my own, I was too far.

I had hope though. In my pouch I had a salve. I covered my hands in it, and traced the pattern on my face. Soon I began to blink forward. Tree by tree I zipped. Lightning broke out, illuminating the sky. In moments I was back.

I was still late. The smokey nightmares burned the thatched homes, and tore apart metal ones. People ran, but few got far. Many were eviscerated, burned, or captured.

“Hey space junk!” I yelled “eat this!” I threw a rock, which bounced off its shiny shell. It turned to face me. A red glowing light leaped from its single eye, shining through the thickening rain.

Angelica shoved me out of the way.

“What are you doing!” She yelled.

“Saving you time, now go!”

The nightmare move closer, spindly, clicking, chitinous, arms pointing out like needles, slicing at Angelica. I jumped at the thing, grabbing the rim of the nightmare and setting it off balance.

Angelica pulled on me, pulling me off, but fully inverting the nightmare, crashing it into the rock mud..

“I’m not letting you leave again”

The crashed nightmare screeched an alarm. It’s now blue eye pumped out a siren’s chorus until fire bubbled out, melting its eye. The others turned to look at it. They opened their unnatural mouths and screamed with it.

Our ears pounded from the pressure of the noise. Three black statues surrounded us. I rubbed the last of the salve on Angelica’s face, and we ran for the nearest tree.

Angelica slipped into the tree. Another wave of thunder plowed overhead. I stumbled and slipped in behind behind her, but the nightmare’s pinciers stabbed and clasped on to me. It slashed through my flesh and locked around my femur. I was half way though the tree. I could see Angelica, safe in the woods. But my mortal body was woven into the tree.

Angelica yelled and slammed into the tree. My sap-like tears dripped down and tangled in her vibrant hair.

“It’s okay” I choked “You need to keep moving”

She didn’t have a choice. She ran as the nightmares came, burning me as they came.

end of psyco-chip® cache

ADDENDUM 3: RECOVERED DRONE FOOTAGE

In a post mission recovery effort, the local disk of Att-Probe 32A-AP37-34. The following transcript was made from the video footage recovered.

04:00 AP37-34 and six other drones departs from hanger 67B.

04:12 Mountain Range enters view. Unfavorable weather conditions. AP37-34 follows primary path to mission target.

04:34 Electrical storm proves to strong for primary path. All drones begin to retreat.

04:36 Sudden winds trap drones in the storm. Landing procedures commence. Interrupted when an unidentified flying object in clouds attempts an attack on several drones. Dispatched two pulses from incendiary ray.

04:37 Drones land successfully.

04:53 Video feed glitches several times consistent with write errors. AP37-34 may have suffered minor damage from storm.

05:57 Opening in cloud appears. AP37-34 and other drones ascend above the storm.

06:01 Secondary mission path established around far side of peak.

06:48 District C cliff range reached. Drones approach low altitude due to weather conditions. Thunder is heard several times.

07:31 Minor avalanche occurs. On of the other drones, presumed AP37-33, is impacted by a boulder approximately 3 feet in diameter.

07:35 Visual on mission location. Weather is unfavorable, but mission leader elects to continue.

07:36 Attack on the targets begin. AP37-34 fired its incendiary ray on a thatch hut. Three human’s inside attempted to escape, but were caught in the ray. AP37-34 is approached by three male humans with heavy junk-made clubs. AP37-34 was impacted by one of the clubs and had its incendiary ray seemingly disabled. AP37-34 preceded to successfully best the attackers engage in melee.

07:38 A female human, presumed to be from the above psyco-chip, henceforth Witch 4307, approaches at rapid pace. Yells (inaudible) and throws stone at AP37-38. AP37-38 responds with incendiary ray.

Another female human later identified as Witch 4488 shoves 4307 out of the way of the blast. 4488 yells at 4307 “What are you doing?”

4307 responds “Saving you time, now go” AP37-38 moved to melee, attempting to subdue 4488. 4307 jumps onto AP37-38. 4488 helps 4307 knock AP37-38 over. The impact damages AP37-38, and it’s alarm is activated it.

07:39 Both individuals run towards nearby tree, touching it before being obscured by a video error.

07:40 4488 is found 60 feet south. AP37-34 pursues. 4307 is embedded in a tree. 4488 kneels next to them in significant distress. AP37-34 and others engage incendiary rays. 4488 flees. Their exact path is obscured by video error.

07:41 AP37-34 continues to pursue 4488. Bright light directed at AP37-34 obscures them.

07:41 A prolonged video error occurs. 4488 and 4307 appear to be on top of AP37-34.

07:42 after several blows on the outer hull of AP37-34, its stabilization system appears to fail. AP37-34 crashes. 4488 walks away, surrounded by a bright light.

AP37-34’s video remained on for several hours after wards, until cutting out likely do to environmental damage, likely due to water damage. Nothing eventful appears to have happened during this time.

ADDENDUM 4: WARNING FROM DRONE PILOT COMMANDER

The involved mission was overall a success in terms of its designated objectives. The poacher encampment was eliminated, and the vast majority of its inhabitants subdued. Witch 4488 was discovered to be among the few successful escapees, and likely remains . I have included proposal for the creation of a additional team to locate it specifically. Her accomplice, Witch 4307 has been eliminated. Later visuals of her are identification by rookie pilot Erin Wikerknel. A single escaped Witch is a statistic that can be reduced, not a folly on part of our team.

– Lieutenant Gregory Vindrical

end of message

The Felling Of a Tree

The smoke smelled funny. The pallet wood was never quite right. But this was the last of it. I had gathered and burned every scrap of wood I could find from my camp to the edge of the city. I dare not go inside either. Too many monsters there.

I tore open a manila packet, and started sorting the contents in to the pot I was warming.

“You’re going to need a bigger fire.” She said

“You’re awfully demanding for a guest.” I said

It was true though. No two ways about it. It was hardly more than a handful of embers in the makeshift stove. I needed more wood, and soon. Everyday now the trees threatened to turn autumnal red, threatening me with tales of colder weather.

“The water won’t get warm enough to break down the bricks you people make”

“What do you mean?”

“The speckled things you keep in the packets.”

“The rations?”

“Is that what you call them?”

“You haven’t been eating them?”

“No, a druid lives with the land, not on it”

“I may be all alone out here, but I still don’t have time for any of your hokey bull shit. I’ve already said you could stay the night, but come sun rise you better be leaving.”

“Okay, I’ll let you be.” She paused for some time “We used to be able to gather wood from the forests.”

“Presumably you asked the monsters not to maul you to death.”

“Pft, they’re not monsters, they’re just spirits.”

“If I go take wood from those trees over there, will you shut up”

“You don’t have to… I can be quiet”

I hesitated for several moments before moving to the fence we’d made around the camp. Just old mesh, but enough to make one feel safe. The fact I was the only one left is testament to the futility of that.

Beyond the fence woods sprawled. A thick underbrush in most of it. I thought it couldn’t hurt to take the sticks from the ground. I knew better than to take from the trees, such could be fatal, or worse, in these parts. But I thought to myself, that surely, off the ground would be fine.

I moved the awkward fence aside so I could pass. Cautiously, I eyed a twig on the ground. I reached towards it. I picked it up. I ran back to the stove and dropped it in.

Nothing happened.

“You should be care-”

“We take wood from the forest.” I mocked

Once more I skulked back to the woods. I eyed up a bigger stick, a bushy fallen branch, hardly as thick as my wrist, but better than pulling twigs at a time.

I grabbed the branch, pulled it over my shoulder and heaved. The branch began to slug along behind me. Step after step I slammed my feat against the ground. Until they stopped.

“Halt” I whipped around to face to voice. A tree, no what looked like a tree, had grabbed my branch, and it’s garish angular face glared deep into me. “Thats not yours now is it?”

“D-d-druid, I could use your help” I stammered “dumb ass what’s your name?”

“This is between me and you, Nymph and man, Neale and Nero.”

“H-h”

“Nymphs know a lot of things, like that you don’t belong here. Go run back to your nanny before I seal you in a tree”

I dropped the stick and ran.

The druid was still sitting by the stove. She had taken the time to make some kind of tea, and gently sipped from her wooden cup. The stove burned hot with thick strips of wood placed inside.

“What the hell!” I yelled “why didn’t you help me?”

“I did”

“No with the tree, you idiot, why didn’t you help”

“I can’t solve stupid, and I have a name”

“Where the fuck did you get all this, ask nicely?”

“Names are very important”

“What the fuck is your problem? I got attacked by some tree demon and your concerned about names?”

“The Nymph you angered is named Neale, and I am named Dibǒnā.”

“okay Dee-bone-uh, how do I get fire wood from Nay-lay”

“You start by saying our names correctly.”

* * *

I stormed off last night. When I woke up the druid was gone. She left a note. Spindly vines had carved themselves into the concrete slabs my camp was on.

“If you want to gather safely, you need permission from a powerful spirit. I’ve written his name on a mostone. Walk skyclade from your camp due east. Place the mostone in the basin.

The spirit is old and angry. But I know it can heal. I know about the rot that afflicts it. I know I can help it. And it starts with you.”

Nearby I found a moss covered pebble with a word carved on the back: Acheron.

* * *

I crept skittishly through the woods. There were no paths here, none that I could see. And to be frank I don’t think I would want a path, being as exposed as I was.

I could feel the layers of leaf and vine underfoot. I could feel the breeze on my legs as walked. There wasn’t any wind, just the force of myself though the air. I felt like an animal. No wonder the seed brained druids like it so much.

By sundown I came to a rocky clearing. There was a massive tree in the center, and before it, a puddle in the rocks. As I came closer I saw my reflection staring up at me through the murky liquid.

I placed the mossy stone in the basin. The water was thick and muddy. Clumps of plant life hung on my fingers as I pulled away.

The water rippled, and then hissed and boiled away. Ahead of me, the trunk began to move. Its craggy bark crawled like an army of ants. It’s huge face turned to face me.

“What stirs you?”

“I- I came to ask for permission”

“On who’s request?”

“They said that they were a nymph”

“Did they give you a name?”

“y-yes, it was Neale”

“Denied.”

“What?”

“Permission denied.”

“But I haven’t even said anything.”

“Depart at once.”

“Please, I heard tales of the olden times whe-”

“The olden times are gone.”

“The druid said you would still know”

“…”

“The druids name was Dibǒnā. she said you wouldn’t change. She said she still knew you.”

“Why is she here?”

“She said she knew she could help you. She knows about the rot. But she needs your help.”

“What did you come to ask for?”

“What?”

“At the beginning, what did you want?”

“Oh, I thought I needed more fire wood, but I don’t think I do anymore.”