Fanciful Tales and Another World of Adventure

Started by Luca, July 18, 2023, 06:48:29 PM

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If you travel along the paths of the interwebs, seldom will you find a place that is completely free from the wreckage of things long past. Origin civilization is built on top of the ground, but newer civilization is built on the ruins of the old. Like pottery fragments, occasionally pieces of the past will be unearthed by a plough, sowing the seeds of a new harvest, or become the basis for some convoluted procedure that traces its roots to something simultaneously more and less dysfunctional a century prior. Such is the state of things in the post-apocalyptic internet – ruins on top of ruins, upstarts and fallen empires. One fallen empire, was Calamity Refuge.

"Eeehn Ieh wahsn ahrouhunden thah ckharhner ehn ghihvehn thah ckhahmpriehsahr ah ghoohd keeek eehn nenenehks'd theengehnehsee eeasha ploomhminha smhokeh," said a spirited local with hands dug into his linen vest pockets. He circled the compressor madly as he spoke, clearly distraught over the loss of the device's functionality.

That device was a magnificent elevated stone tripod, three metres high. It was made of sandstone block and inlaid with dull, indigo-coloured PHP 5 runes, hovering just above the stone surface. A metre up the point of the tripod's convergence, the sandstone column was no more, shattered by some substantial force. Still, the runes seemed to contain some residual magical charge. Periodically, the runes would fade and blur, and then pulse back to life, both in brightness and sharpness.

"Uh-huh," Luca said absent-mindedly from the ground. Head back against the dirt, they were inspecting the underside of the tripod to collect the error log output. Normally something exploding, even in the middle of a distant field, would trigger an apache error log event which could be seen remotely. This was no exception, but the report wasn't exceptionally useful. Luca looked to their left at their SimpleBot companion of just 5cm, which reported the entry from its SSH terminal:

        [Tue Jul 18 15:11:08.458192 2023] [pid 1058044] [remote] 2023-05-26 21:52:00 True

Most excellent. Often has one wanted to know "True", without context, to divine information about the nature of the world. After all, what is true? What is false? What is right? What is wrong? Only Apache2's 1058044 process can decide. So, it would seem collecting the reading from the device in the field was the only reasonable option.

"Eeehnanoo uan noos hahnah geeheht thah ckhampriehs aahtnpoot aehn gheyaeyht thah deeyahspetch weeathah auhth thah ckhahmpriehsahr..." he continued. Mostly likely he used to use the device's text conversion to publish some kind of news thing to his local village. The sun was a burning beacon of unwanted illumination and searing heat, but the local was working competition for being greatest general pain at work in this particular moment. Luca stopped and pulled themself to the side of the device to lock eyes with the man.

"What IS your accent, anyway," demanded Luca.

The man's eyes grew wide with a sudden great enthusiasm: "FAREIGN!" he exclaimed.

"Right..." said Luca squinting. It must have been the heat that lapsed their judgement to even come here today, but here they were, they might as well collect the output. Spinning through the inset dial, text was now flickering to life. Such and such unable to stat, unable to...verify redirecting URL, blah-blah-blah. Ah. Here we are. Forty individual missing functions in subs_template_default. Additionally, an error was created when trying to load the error handler, which created a feedback loop. That probably exploded the device.

"...annehnanwheaothoonth thah thools eafahtan me treeadh thahn-" he stopped speaking, at last, when Luca emerged from the ground and brushed the dust off themselves. "Wheheal? Wheaht eeas deeah proobhvlem?" he asked.

"It's fucked," Luca responded. The SimpleBot jumped from the ground to land on Luca's shoulder.

"Fhahkehed?" The man asked, confused.

They turned back to the open space of the field and snapped a finger. A translucent aqua lectern materialised in front of an equally translucent arch; a temporary gateway for a Unified Relocation Link. Luca drew a glyph onto the lectern's interface, and a portal crackled into being from the edges of the archway, revealing a swirling, chaotic world, and a winding stone pathway through it.

"Fucked." Luca replied and stepped through the portal.

"Bvheaht ehahoore thah aeaharken aedhamvhenisther..." The local was beside himself in a state of disbelieve.

Luca turned back to the local. "So I am," they said, and the portal shut. The gateway disintegrated.


"The state of things these days," Joshua complained. His gaze was hard to judge, he was either looking at the far away, ruined buildings, or at the weird admin furiously working away in front of him. It was always hard to tell with Joshua because he was rarely doing anything but complaining, whether it be to himself, out loud to terrorise those around him, or recording it into a wrist-bound recording device that broadcast his words to all three people who listened. He shook his head. "Back in my day, things weren't this bad. I can't believe the youth let all this crumble to nothing. You're all such a disappointment. You know, I wouldn't have let this happen, I would have stopped it, if it hadn't been for the damned war getting in the way. That was your fault as well, with all your avocados and insistence on cobbed corn."

Emily, of course, wasn't listening. She was instead hard at work with a nail file, doing her best to wear down and break a long-standing travel rune that was cut into one of the various stone archways. The rune glowed brightly: it believed it had done its job perfectly well, and from one perspective it had. It had held this portal open since time immemorial, longer than anyone could possibly hope to remember, allowing constant travel for at least the last several minutes. "Alllllllll right," she said, taking a second to wipe her brow and blinking several times to regain her focus, "almost done. What were you saying, Joshua?" she continued working away at the travel rune.

"Damned kids, can't pay attention to anything, can't listen to anyone. I've been so disrespected, nobody listens to me. I have good ideas, you know. I should have been made an admin, not you."

"Such is the plight of the social admin," she responded, leaning back and cracking her back, "closing these travel portals going in and out of the Refuge." She looked through the portal, the red and yellow glow of the constant blasts of fire lighting up her face. The sound coming through was a persistent roar, sounding like both a long-lasting dumpster fire and the screams of all manner of terrible people about how they were specifically oppressed. "Can you believe that place exists?"

"And you snowflakes are all so obsessed with cancelling people oh my god. I used to be a big-time GP personality in there, you know? I was on top of the world in 2004, owning all the little noobs, and now you're trying to close it off forever."

She exhaled, a satisfied smile crossing her face. "Yeah."

"And what kind of admin are you supposed to be anyway? Aren't admins supposed to be magic?"

"I'm actually great at magic," Emily perked up, excited to finally be tested in a way that mattered. She leaned closer and placed a hand over the top of Joshua's boot. From the top of the tattered black cloth, a beautiful white flower grew. "Ta-daaaaaaa" she said.

"What, you can grow flowers?"

"Flower, singular!" She nodded. "Where I came from, we didn't have any practitioners of the types of sorcery that exists here. We all just sat around telling stories and wearing pointy ears and occasionally throwing rocks at one another. Our admins had wonderful nature magic that could grow and nurture great trees with branching storylines and so many little pieces of life, but it doesn't translate super well to this space, so I've been working pretty hard on making the things I already know work here, you know?"

"But you can't do anything actually helpful."

"Well, Luca gave me this neat bracelet," Emily said, gesturing to her wrist, around which rested a lovely green ring with several buttons on it. "They said it'll allow me easy access and... routine? routine actions? I think that was it, something like that anyway. Anyway, I haven't figured out what most of the buttons do, but check this out." She pressed the second button, and the bracelet released a "brzzzzzzzzzzh" sound.

"Anyway, I'll come back and work more on this later. It doesn't look like the portal is quite ready to close. I've got a lot to do, many flowers to plant and maybe I'll go work on that tree again soon. Nice seeing you, Josh, good luck with the blog!"

"It's not a blog!" Josh replied as she walked away, stomping his flower-bedazzled boot on the ground and being relieved to see the knife pop out. "It's a stream, and I'm going to have so many fans! And stop calling me Josh, my name is R4z0R_Bl4d3!"


The portal shut, and the gateway disintegrated. Luca now stood alone on a stone platform floating in this dimension of isolated space, the entrance to the dark and sprawling sub-surface world. In this place, platforms of solid material haphazardly connected to one another through narrow pathways of floating brick and stone – the Unified Relocation Link. Dull rainbow skies flashed above and rumbled when sporadically visible torrents of power and data transferred from distant cloud to distant cloud. These paths could take you anywhere, with the right knowledge and access.

This one, however, led back to the Admin Tower, fulcrum of Calamity Refuge's governance and the conduit through which this chaotic, raw internet magic was refined into a usable state. It wasn't far using this shortcut. A stone gateway door could be seen some hundred and fifty metres away. All that was needed was to walk across the precarious pathway, and not look down.

Luca closed their eyes and exhaled. Arch-Admin or not, that local's device wasn't going to get fixed any time soon; it probably wouldn't be fixed at all. Another casualty from the last shockwave that passed through the internet plane. Ancient PHP devices were increasingly unstable, running them at all came with a good bit of risk. Detonation, spontaneous combustion, opening a portal to the sun. Such were the traditional gifts from the maddened wizard who created that power. Running them centuries after the fact only tested fate, but many still relied on these relics' functionality. A convergence of tradition, apathy, superstition, and inaccessibility.

It had been 35 years since the last PHP sage walked the Refuge, so when those devices died, Luca was left with two options: Declare the device permanently non-functional and possibly, painstakingly recreating its abilities using different magic, or use the Refuge's limited resources to have the device renovated by one of the few remaining sages elsewhere. Well, this month's resources had already been expended doing just that and, even then, the URL pathway to get there was a 125km walk.

Luca started down the path, and looked out at the horizon to their right. The sound of massive gong rang in the distance, like a brass bell the size of a house. It emanated from one of the rainbow-hue clouds in the distance with a distinct white radial pulse. As it expanded, it hit another, closer, cloud which repeated the tone exactly. The Rumour Mill, carrying updated DNS information from server to server. This place was about to get a lot louder, and it would be ideal to not be in this space when the propagation pulses arrived.

A little hurried along now, Luca hopped to the stone gateway and input Tower credentials to unseal it. The stone door split down the middle with light.

*GONG* ... *wheeeehw*

Yes, that's definitely what it sounds like when it's getting closer.

Then the door split again in two chevrons, left and right, at 70 and 100 degrees at the top and bottom halves of the door. Is this new? Has it always been like this? Does it really take this long to open a door to the Admin Tower? The four chevrons rotated back, away from the opening revealing two large triangles of light at the entryway's top and bottom.


Yes, it's certainly closer! Holy shit this door takes AGES. The remaining bits of the door panel were now sliding open left and right now. It should...yes, just be enough for a...particularly to...squeeze...okay yes!

Luca burst into their study on the 17th floor. The URL doorway shut immediately. Weird how it takes a whole lot longer to close a door than to open it.


Emily wiped the sweat from her forehead and looked up at the sky. A cloudless, endless expanse of blue as far as the eye could see, entirely unchanged from what it had been the last time she'd looked up a few minutes before. She worried sometimes that most people didn't see the effort everyone was putting into rebuilding the Refuge after the calamitous upheavals, and how necessary the work was. If not us, then who? the thought had passed through her mind several times since arriving and joining the long-term project.

It wasn't a terribly long distance between the old portal arch and the admin tower: only a couple of kilometres, but she'd made the trip several times. Emily knelt down at the side of the path, where several flowers were growing in harmony with one another, and created one more to join them. Just one more little project to make things happier around here. On one of the trips through the area, she had seen some bees clinging to the bits of clover interspersed among other types of grass, and that had led to this project. One flower for every time she passed through here, and surely the bees would be happy long term.

She continued her walk. Her nature magic, as it had been known, came from a very different place than the tech-based magic more commonly found in Refuge admin lore. Unfortunately, shortly before she'd passed through a new portal to this place, her old realm- and the source of her existing magic- had collapsed upon itself, Adjusting to life in a new place was already going to be a difficult prospect when the previous home was one she had built herself, but doing it without her old magic had proven somewhat extreme. People didn't necessarily understand her joy at being able to grow a single flower at a time, but that had come after a few years of magical burnout and a few failed starts at rebuilding her skills. The rust was finally coming off, and what a delight that was.

The admin tower loomed in front of her. Loom might not have been the most apt word in the situation, but it was one that Emily enjoyed using. Loomed! The correct word would more likely be towered, but imagine thinking "the tower is towering over me" and not laughing. But the tower was there, and it was very tall. She enjoyed the simple majesty of it, and all the effort that had been put into a nice, wild nature space around it.

She entered the tower and began trying to magic herself to the top floor. She strained with the effort of opening up a cheeky portal, but it wasn't to be. She pressed the button on her magic bracelet- brzzzzzzzzzzh- and then pressed another one. A simplebot came out of a vent nearby, then just sort of hovered nearby. She looked at it, then at her bracelet, and then back to the simplebot. "Oh! I see. I would like to get to floor 16 please."

The simplebot continued just staring at her.

She tapped gently on the top of it. "Hello little computer friend. I would like to get to floor 16, please."

The simplebot continued.

She looked around. Nobody, typical. Well, then she wouldn't be embarrassed about this. She knelt down and whispered something to it, some sort of secret magic words only the simplebots and Emily knew. And then the simplebot turned and approached one of the walls, beckoning for Emily to follow it. She did so, and found that it had led her to an elevator. "Oh, sick, I didn't know we had elevators," she said as she entered it and pushed the "16" that only appeared as she held her hand up. "I wonder if they're new."


"Damn it, this one's gone too," Cat thought, and kicked the broken door they'd found closed just a little too hard, wincing as the sound of it shutting echoed through the empty alleyway.

Back in the day, there'd been new portals to all sorts of cool places opening up every time you turned your back for 5 seconds, or so it had seemed. Sure, most of the places had been places Cat had not been interested in, but that was the beauty of it. You went to places that you found interesting, and the small groups that ended up there would slowly carve out a home. Nowadays though, it seemed like every door opened to another place that had been taken over by Post-Apocalyptic Algorithms, if they hadn't completely died.

They had been on the lookout for survivors for a while. It was how they'd found the Refuge, sorting through old correspondence and finding mention of a place an old friend had once visited. Although that place hadn't been the Refuge, Cat had practically tripped into it through the door they'd used. Well, seeing as this quest had been a bust, it looked like it was time to go back home.

Cat could not do magic of any kind, but they could draw a passable temporary travel rune. Searching around the alleyway, they scooped up some dirt and smeared it on the door, picking up a twig and scratching the rune that would take them closest to the Refuge. Stepping back out through the door, they smiled at Emily's flowers growing under the blue sky, and headed towards the tower.
Good morning friends and foes


Upon entering the Tower, Cat immediately sought out a room that was just full of simplebots doing their thing. The hum of little magic bots being useful was a good environment to think, even though she didn't really know what they were doing half the time, and certainly not how they worked.

And that was the crux of it, wasn't it? Cat had absolutely no idea what she was doing, never mind what a simplebot was doing. Everything she created came out not quite right, devoid of the life she saw in everyone else's magic. She'd once thought at the beginning of all of this, when the world started going wrong, that she could just try to help her friends. If everyone grabbed somebody's hand, then maybe everyone lived. People thought it was pointless optimism then, and now even more so. It was easy to understand why; with every hand that slipped out of hers it took more and more effort to keep reaching out to others, to believe that she could hold on and at least be proof that somebody wasn't alone, even if she couldn't help them. But with every person that had let go, she became more determined. What if some day somebody held out their hand, desperate for a friend, and nobody was there to answer?

Cat sighed, leaning her head against the wall. She'd go back to trying to help soon, but she'd just give herself this moment first, with the simplebots who were always being useful.
Good morning friends and foes