Chapter nine: Whereby a monumental truth becomes apparent

"Noob? Noob, are you okay? Speak to me, Noob. Come on now."

He couldn't focus on anything. Shapes and blurs moved about at random. And his head ached like nothing he had ever endured before.

Shaking hands on his forehead. Worried whispers in his ear. He recognised that voice. But where from?

A memory surfaced.

Sunlit corridors; ream upon ream of paper; cinnamon skin.

"Bender?" he croaked. What was she doing here? He hadn't seen her in so long. More to the point, where exactly was 'here'?

"You're back in the OT." This other voice was kind, a little sympathetic, and more than a little amused: Radio.

"Where's everyone else?" he asked, thinking of those in the TBT circle with him. Ye gods, what had happened? His head felt like half dried cement with pop rocks in it.

Karas's face popped up just then to fill his vision. Noob resisted the urge to flinch. "Take it easy next time, eh? I must say you had us impressed though. Most can't do it on their first try."

"Impressed? What?" Words, too many words, all sleeting straight through Noob's mangled brain. "Look, can I just get some sleep now?"

He watched as Bender and Radio shooed the ever over-excited Karas away, then he closed his eyes.

***

Noob woke with a start.

It was happening again. That scratching writing sound.

He looked around him. The OT was dark and empty: night time in the Review Game. All should be silent and well.

But it wasn't. That blasted sound was driving him crazy!

Noob rubbed at his ear, trying to make the noise go away; no dice.

Noob stood with a sudden determination. He had to take a moment to figure which foot was which and whether or not those wrists were his, of course, but then he thought, that's it. This time I am going to get to the bottom of it. And I am not going to get distracted.

Whatever happens, whatever the consequences, I will find out what it is.

***

Beatles hunched ever more over her battered notebook. The light was dim, the darkness oppressive; the words seemed heavier with each stroke of the pen, and there was so much left to write.

***

Eventually Noob tracked the sounds down to a little used room in the RG Mansion. Book Reviews, said the door. Noob frowned and tried to put out of his head the fact that the door had just spoken to him. Things were odd in the RG, the sooner you accepted that, the easier life was.

He shouldered his way in with the hinges protesting and then spluttered at the cobwebs that greeted him.

"Hello?" he called out.

The scratching stopped. Noob felt a silence fill the air, like someone trying very hard all of a sudden not to be there.

He brushed away some dust and managed to locate the light switch. A flickering forty watt bulb provided little illumination except to highlight the dirt and signs of abandonment.

It also illuminated a hunched figure.

"Beatles, is that you?"

The figure looked up at the sound of his voice. "It might be," Beatles said. "It's very possible in fact."

"What have you got there?" He pointed to the notebook in her hands.

"It's nothing."

"It doesn't look like nothing." Noob moved a step closer and was horrified to see Beatles flinch back. "Hey, are you alright?"

Beatles tucked the notebook behind her back and flashed him a bracing smile. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Just busy."

"Busy?" Noob said. "Busy with what? Can I see?"

"No!"

Beatles checked herself. "I mean, no. It isn't done yet. No one can look."

"No one?" Noob joked. He knelt down beside her, trying hard not to notice the blind panic in her eyes. "Come on, what is it? I won't tell anyone, honest."

"Noob, you seeing this would be awful, okay? Please just accept that."

"I never said it would be awful! Oh..." He paused thoughtfully. "You're writing something?"

Beatles nodded. She was getting worried about how close Noob seemed. She clutched the notebook tighter in the hand behind her back. There was a crack as her scrubby little pencil broke.

"I bet it'll be great. I saw some of your other stories, I liked them. Why can't you show me this one?" Noob tilted his head and shuffled a bit closer. In a sudden movement he reached around her and grabbed the book.

"No!" Beatles screamed. "Give that back! You have to give it back, now!"

"Will you calm down?! It's only a story!" Noob had to leap backwards as Beatles rose to her feet and made a snatch at the notebook. "Good grief, woman. Calm down!"

"Give it back! Please! For your sake if not everyone's, please!" She kept shouting and pleading, she lunged and dove, she was nearly in tears...

Noob didn't know what to think. He glanced cursorily at the open pages—

Not one word registered with Noob's mind; he was too busy listening to the tone of her voice, noticing the way her hair fell into her face, the gentle curve of cheek, the graceful sweep of her hand with each brandished page of notes.

He sighed contentedly. The cinnamon skinned girl's face became worried. "I'm not boring you, am I?"

—and surfaced with a sickening jolt. "What the hell is this?!" he demanded. Beatles made just one more attempt to grab the book and then sank to the floor.

"Too late, too late," she whimpered into her knees.

"What is this?!" Noob shouted. "Have you been following me? Stalking me? Stalker!"

"No, not that." Beatles started to rock in her little ball. "Never that. You don't understand what you've done."

The room shook.

Dust began to fall from the floorboards above.

Noob flicked hurriedly through the pages of scribbled script.

"Argh! This is so dumb!" Karas said. Another pause. "Beatles, what are you doing down there?"

The sound of paper being hastily hidden. "Nothing! Nothing. Honest. Just passing the time."

"He loves me, he loves me not..." sang Radio.

"No, seriously Beebee, what have you got there? Is that a pen? Why are you writing at a time like this?!"

Noob stared in bewilderment at the words. "Were you writing in this?"

Beatles nodded. The windows started to rattle.

He read on...

"Shut up, Kas! It's Noob, of course."

There was a momentary silence.

"How do you know it's Noob, Beatles?" asked both Sesshy and Karas, curiosity etched into their voices.

"How did you know?" Noob croaked. There was no reply. Noob didn't need the reply though, he already knew how.

With each word that Noob read, the room trembled more and more viciously.

Beatles was staring at him in abject shock.

"It worked," she breathed.

He stared back at her. A tiny thought scrabbling around in the back of his head, he shook it off—

An echoing voice sounded. "...blasphemer! You have given power, power that was Reggy's alone, to a..." some of Frac's words were lost to cursing and the notoriously bad acoustics of the under levels in the RG Mansion, "DIE!"—

"Beebee, you are so dead! I said Reggy alone could open that door, and you let that power be bestowed on Noob?!"—

Beatles and Frac stared at each other: there was evident panic in Beatles's eyes, and now a glimmer of concern in Frac's.

"I wouldn't," Frac said, managing to convey her meaning to Beatles alone. The brunette relaxed in relief.—

"What," Noob said hoarsely, "is this?"

Beatles looked up with tears in her eyes. "I never meant for you to see. Never. God, I'm sorry. I don't want this to end, but it has to now. I'm so sorry."

The walls suddenly fell away. There was darkness all around them, only the floor on which the two of them stood remained.

"What's happening?!" shouted Noob. The shaking rose to a peak and a high pitched screeching filled his head. Noob fell to his knees, clutching at his ears.

Beatles whispered, "It's over..."

"I'm sorry, Noob."

And then they both disappeared: like a wave crashing down on the beach of reality; like Frac boiling over at a witless newbie, like a tab being closed on a computer screen.

All that was left were the dearly familiar writing sounds.

The noise of words.

The mumblings of creativity.

The sound of FictionPress.

They coalesced into two syllables and then echoed back into non existence:

...The End