Resonance of Ages
Over the next few days, the group refined their alibi several times. It largely remained the same from what Will mentioned. While they would claim ignorance about Steve and his group, they would mention they knew about Leone holding historical items in his house. The student newspaper released a story shortly afterwards, where four bodies had been found in the old house. The media hovered around campus like a plague for a week, hoping to cash in on the fear and hype from the discovery. Strangely, they found most of the students seemed apathetic.
The final story the police presented was a complex one, but the only one they had evidence for. Steve and his associates had used some new type of drug and become addicted to it. One of them had somehow kept Maria in the basement for three days without anyone in the swim house realizing it. Afterwards, perhaps to fund their habit or vent frustration, they assaulted a professor in his own home and ransacked it. Finding nothing, they went into the old house with the weapons used in the assault, and seemed to have all died from overdose or withdraw.
"Seems awfully convenient," Will muttered. He sat in the Losher Hall cafeteria with Ryan, Anne, and Julie around him. "But at least we didn't have to use that alibi."
"Has anyone talked with Leone lately?" Julie asked. "I heard he got out of the hospital, but he's going to be unfit to teach for at least a month."
"He already has some adjunct professor lined up," Anne replied. "I talked with him on the phone earlier today. I told him what happened. He's able to talk, and thanked us for our efforts. He says he'll treat us to dinner or something once he's able to walk again."
"How about Maria?" Ryan asked. "The police wouldn't even let me or her own parents talk with her until they had finished questioning her!"
"They were just building up a case," Will replied. "But it looks like the suspects are all dead."
"And we killed them," Ryan said in a low voice. "You know, I never thought I'd actually have to kill anyone. As much as they probably deserved it, it's not something I want to try again, you know?"
"It wasn't us that killed them," Julie commented. "It was their own arrogance and damn game that did that."
"I would have liked to beat the shit out of them, sure," Anne added. "Maybe even leave them for the cops, but they choose to make that all or nothing bet, and look where it left them."
"That's why I try not to depend too much on chance," Ryan added. "But everyone is alive and still here."
"How about martial arts club?" Anne asked. "Are you still going to run that with Leone in a wheelchair?"
"Of course!" Will snorted. "I'm the senior student, so it's my job to. Besides, I'll try to be less of an asshole. We'll retain more members that way."
"How about Niche expeditions?" Julie inquired. "We are at least going to keep those up, right?"
"We should," Will added.
"Of course we will!" Anne continued. "Gives me something better to do on weekend nights!"
"I was looking over some notes that Leone mailed me," Julie added. "This whole town's covered in Niches. Maybe we should head off campus a bit more in the future?"
"And try to recruit a few new members," Will suggested. "I'm applying for grad schools, and most of those are away from here."
"I'll be around here for a while," Ryan added. "Though I might finish earlier. I normally take a lot of my classes over the summer."
"Julie and I should be around for a while," Anne commented. "But I think we might want to look off campus. There may be other people here in town that know about the Niches, Revenants, and all. Since they live here year round, no need to worry about them graduating, transferring out, or going home for the summer."
"Good idea," Will said. "I feel like I've got one foot out the door, but I still have a few things to finish here before I go."
"Like apologize to Maria?" Ryan held his shoulder.
"I plan to," he leaned back. "I've pissed off too many people here to change my reputation as an ass, but hopefully, I can at least change one person's mind."
"Or at least make a good show of it," Julie grinned. "Hopefully, she'll be a bit more careful in the future."
"Maybe you could invite her to martial arts club one day?" Anne suggested. "She might want to take some self defense classes, especially after what happened."
Julie and Ryan nodded. "Maybe we could see if she's ready for the truth some day?" Julie suggested.
Ryan shrugged. "She's a nursing student. She has enough to worry about already."
Anne looked over her shoulder. She thought she saw someone familiar. "Still, you really think we've seen the last of Matt?" Anne asked. "I mean, Leone said it's unlikely Matt would just leave so abruptly."
"Maybe he's changed his mind, or he's found some enlightenment," Will replied. "Still, I'd love to talk with him about what he's seen. Even if just for my own information. We live in such a shitty era. No quantum computing or even grand unified theory! Not even simple biological longevity, either. Though that's something I'd like to work on."
Ryan shrugged. "Whether there's a Singularity or not, it still doesn't change the fact that someone's going to have to go into Niches and beat the shit out of those things for the foreseeable future."
"I'm just saying," Will added. "If there was a more systematic way of dealing with those things, then humanity would have a better way of dealing with them than sending in some college students."
"We did pretty good for some college students," Anne replied. "Though I guess we could've been more professional."
"Didn't Dr. Leone mention one of his friends was an Army officer?" Julie recalled. "Maybe there already is, but we just don't know about it?"
"May be a contact worth looking into," Will nodded. "But you guys have any plans for the rest of the semester? Other than school stuff, martial arts club, recruiting, and exploring Niches, of course."
"Practice!" Anne added. "And maybe going to less parties. I've been a bit too tired lately."
"Good to hear, Annie!" Julie grinned. "I'm going to look more into local history. I'm sure there's a lot more interesting stuff we can check out!"
"I'd like to see if we can get Maria more involved," Ryan continued. "Hopefully, she'll be discharged soon. Kind of strange that Leone got out before she did, considering in how worse shape he was in."
The group continued talking, but Anne turned to the side. She thought she saw him again, out of the corner of her eye. Turning slightly, she thought she saw Matt. He winked, and then vanished.
"You didn't really think you could get rid of me that easily?" his voice resounded in her head. "Given my new abilities, I can explore higher dimensions while still manifesting. Oh, thanks for the kiss and all, but I don't think it would work out. I am thirty years older than you, after all. And a ghost."
"Should I tell the others?" Anne whispered to herself.
"Nah, it will be a surprise," Matt replied. "I want to manifest for Leone first. Then George. Will does have a point about a better defense. If he's still in the Army, he'll probably have some good connections that might help."
Anne grinned. There was no reason that history could not remain living. Every generation left their own traces, no matter how small, on the universe. The past, present, and future were all artificial constructs, metal categories for people to associate events and memories into. The future was determined by the present, and present by the past. Every action echoed in eternity, creating a resonance of ages and across eras. The campus of GU was such a small place, but it had its share of echoes. Anne began talking with her friends, and grinned once Matt telepathically whispered to all of them, "I'm back."
Their jaws all dropped, and Anne could only grin.
I hope you enjoyed the novel here. This took about a year to write, including a several month hiatus. My goal became to finish it in time for Halloween and before the one year anniversary. I may go back over the novel, since I would have liked to flesh out certain characters a bit more. I'll do a quick summary of certain inspirations to the story.
-Gallagher University: GU is fictional school, combining aspects from two separate colleges in New Jersey: The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) was the primary one in terms of setting, and Rowan University in terms of certain historical elements (such as receiving a large grant and renaming the school after the donor). The old library, old house, memorial gates, the performing hall, and campus layout were all based on TCNJ. In terms of location, it can be thought to be in an (as of yet unnamed) fictional town about a half hour drive east from Philadelphia and a fifty minutes drive south of Trenton if one went at fifty-five miles per hour. Like Lovecraft, I like fictional locations based on real locations.
-Tarot Themes: You may have noticed a lot of Tarot motifs and themes. The chapters are titled after the names of the major Arcana from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. Each chapter should have at least one theme relevant to that arcana in it. Avatars are often grouped by Arcana. Each character also had their own respective Arcana. Anne was Strength, Julie was the Empress, Will was the Hermit, and Ryan was the Chariot. While mentioned in passing, Dr. Leone was the Emperor. While unstated, Matt was the Magician (his plans are a bit too structured to be the Fool). For the villains, Steve was the Tower, Kevin was the Hierophant, Justine was the Hanged Man, and Mitch was the Wheel of Fortune. While the villains did not exactly say so, there were thematic reasons for these selections. Steve was meant as a symbol of fear and impending doom, hence the Tower. Justine was in an abusive relationship and refused to change out of it, hence Hanged Man. Kevin was a hypocritical believer, hence the Hierophant. Mitch was a drunken party animal who relied heavily on luck to get by, hence the Wheel of Fortune.
-Other Notables: One of my main inspirations for this series was the "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona" series. This is one of the few JRPGs I still care for. Specifically, 3 and 4 were inspiration. Julie's last name, Silverman, was a reference to a character in Persona 2 with the same last name. In there, the protagonist of each game must make social connections during the day and fight supernatural monsters based on Tarot arcana and the subconscious mind using entities from their subconscious minds called "Personae." They're on PS2, and coming to PSP, so check it out if you haven't already.
-Cosmology: To clarify some questions about the cosmology, here's a list of the physics and metaphysics relevant to the story:
World of Veils and Forms Cosmology
1) Structure: The World of Veils and Forms is comprised of the three-spatial dimensional and single time dimension we call "our" brane (like a cell membrane). Overlapping and intersecting with this are several branes of both "higher" and "lower" dimensions, often blatantly incomprehensible and alien to "us." For instance, our dimension may overlap with one with four dimensions of space and one of time.
There are ways for a human to part the three dimensional brane and "peak outside." Most of the time, this can only be achieved by someone with a different mindset. Certain psychotropic drugs, intense states of meditation, types of insanity, and other such means are the only means of reaching out. Most of the time, this results in insanity or brain damage, due to the fact human brains are built for a three dimensional brane. Humans may often perceive things that frighten them (most commonly Machine Elves and Drones). Many times, becoming aware of things outside our brane also works for things looking back.
2) Paragons: There are certain universal, absolute truths, or at least abstract approximations of such. Each contains not only their opposite, but related modes of thought, and variations of them. Paragons may and do overlap with each other, making their study especially confusing. A Paragon is believed to be the highest possible "pure" form of an idea. Paragons are considered to be the underlying requirement for sapient thought in the universe. The proximity of an entity to Paragons is directly related to their powers. Paragons cover all conceivable modes of thought and ideas from a human standpoint, and then some.
3) Hierarchy: One's existence can be determined by their proximity to Paragons. Generally speaking, the less material the creatures are, the greater their ability to comprehend a Paragon unbiased by matter and energy.
Drones: Drones are a category of the lowest entities across the universe, equivalent loosely to cockroaches or termites. Drones usually feed on the fabric of branes, often creating Niches if left unchecked. Generally, however, branes heal fast enough to prevent this. Their bizarre ecology also seems to have certain types of Machine Elves that feed on them. Avatars are also often perceived as an "immune response" to a Drone infestation. Drones are largely non-sapient and often function with swarm logic and instinct at most. Drones may even be used as ways to weaken the fabric of a brane so a Giant or Machine Elf could enter.
Revenants: Revenants are largely nonsapient, but a step above drones. They represent memories or distorted visions from humans that reside in Niches. Some range from just "ghostlike" memories to shades to feral creatures. As distilled and distorted versions of interpretations of Paragons, they are essentially "feral" memories from a collective unconscious mind in an area. Even if most people are ignorant of them, historical generations can cause Niches and Niche-specific Revenants to form. When a Giant or Servitor arrives, these creatures are often made stronger and conform to the Giant's specific "specialty." This is akin to animals exploiting a change in environment for their own benefit.
Humans: Humans are stranded in their brane, for the most part. The vast majority cannot perceive what lies outside without mental training, psychotropic drugs, or certain types of insanity. When they do, they often attract the attentions of Machine Elves, or even Giants. A few may become Avatars when there is a need for it. Without the powers of an Avatar, however, most humans are generally unaware and unable to perceive other brains (though many can get "vibes" from certain areas, as well as step outside using Niches).
"Machine Elves"/Servitors: Dubbed Machine Elves by drug users, the Servitors are actually a large category of beings. They range from quasi-sentient beings no smarter than Drones to beings on par with Giants. Machine Elves can range in origin from simply beings from other branes (including non-sapient organisms) to the direct Servitors of Giants. They can be commanded or summoned by some humans through the powers of Giants or Avatars. Often times, they are brought to manifest through Niches.
Avatars: An Avatar may be considered one brane's equivalent of a white blood cell. Avatars are humans given abilities relating to a particular Paragon. The "creation" of an Avatar is apparently a random process. Generally speaking, a person in tune with certain Paragons seems to have a better chance at becoming one. An Avatar is able to enter Niches without incident, and even interact with different branes. However, it would be too much for any human to come into direct contact with a Paragon. Therefore, Avatars generally select (consciously or not) a religious, mythological, or philosophical entity they share traits in common with. This secondary personality is called an Interface. An Interface is essentially a filter for powers drawn from Titans (and a few Giants). A few Avatars are able to create and direct their own Interfaces, but this is an extremely rare skill. Generally, Interface-granted powers that violate the physical laws of "our" brane only work in Niches. Some Avatars can use limited manifestations of some powers by creating a "mini-Niche" around them for short terms. Often times, an Avatar will retain any personality traits of their Interface. The Interface is more of an interpretation or echo of the mythical entity than the "real thing," which is why various "tall tales" of quasi-historical figures have also been used. Experiments invoking exposing the brain to certain magnetic fields have created some Avatars as well. The pineal gland is the most important part of the brain to an Avatar.
Giants: From the standpoint of even an Avatar, a Giant is the incarnation of an idea. In reality, a Giant is merely a "poser" compared to a Titan. A Giant often seeks to make more sapients aware of its own existence, and spread whatever trait it claims to personify. It often attracts (or manifests) its own retinue of Servitors and even like-minded humans. Often times, elaborate rituals are required to allow a Giant to manifest in certain branes. Giants generally require Niches to enter certain branes they would otherwise not be able to. An analogy might be a man that requires a hole in a wall to stick his hand in. The traits that Giants represent are often as varied as Paragons, but are generally more comprehensible to humans. Many often are ignorant of the differences between them and Titans. Generally speaking, Giants prefer small-scale interference, since the creation of too many Niches normally results in the creation of hostile Avatars. While some Giants can live without people knowing about them, the connection between people aware of them and their own power cannot be denied. Giants can sometimes grant Avatar-like powers to like-minded followers.
Titans: Titans are the closest known beings to Paragons. They are arguably the most powerful beings in existence. They are also the most alien. Some think a Titan exists for every individual Paragon. However, they often miss a common fact. Many, if not all, Paragons overlap in some form. Titans also overlap, often times in alien and incomprehensible ways. Some think that the Titans work far more subtly and long-term to spread their respective Paragons around, but there has been no instance of a Titan ever responding directly to a request from a human, Avatar, or Giant. Most humans are ignorant of the differences between Titans and Giants. Some humans and Servitors think that the Giants are "in on something" and know more on the Titans then they show. However, Titans are as alien to Giants as they are to humans (if not more so). A Giant may be based on a certain, specific interpretation of a Paragon, but the Titan is the Paragon, every conceivable perception and interpretation of it, as well as the absence of it. A popular theory is that the Titans are not even aware of their own existence, or simply beyond all comprehensible modes of thought. Some think even the energy used by Interfaces and Avatars is merely residual energy trickling down from the level of the Titans. One may draw parallels with Azathoth when thinking of the Titans.
4) Niches: Niches, simply put, are the projections of non-three dimensional space onto the three spatial dimensions of our own brane. They often have slightly different physical laws (and sometimes, the "laws" of a brane are erratic). Generally, a Niche is where entities of all sorts may manifest directly. An Avatar can normally use the full extent of their Interface's powers inside a Niche. Machine Elves and Drones may manifest and find ways into "our" brane. Even a Giant with enough Servitors and followers can manifest directly inside one. Generally, a Niche is constructed so the inhabitants of whatever branes it connects can coexist without (too) much difficulty. Niches are often targeted by Avatars for destruction, as they allow foreign bodies into their brane. However, some Avatars maintain their own Niches for storage, rest, practice, or other ways to escape from limiting physical laws. These Avatar-created Niches generally do not invoke a response from other Avatars, or at least invoke a less serious response. If not maintained, a Niche will eventually "heal." A Niche may appear to general humans simply as a strange feeling as they walk by one area, to a concealed parallel dimension only a select few can enter. A doorway to a Niche may manifest as a door that appears in a dark corner in the middle of the night to some, or even as "lost time" that no one else can perceive. Some Niches are left open as means of drawing out specific Giants or Machine Elves.