Interlude #2

A young human, only in his preteens or early teens, knocks on the front door of Spiderweb Software Message Board. The door automatically opens. The human—whose name is Trenton—takes his first steps into the hallowed forums. Trenton is in the middle of a growth spurt, and currently extremely gangly and uncoordinated. Even the simplest tasks seem to send his limbs flailing in at least sixteen directions. He wears modern day clothes: jeans, sneakers, T-shirt, and a jacket.

A short hallway connects the entryway to the main hall. A sign sits in the middle of the hallway, so large and obvious that he has to maneuver around it in order to proceed. It says Please leave your sanity here and has an arrow pointing to the coatroom. Trenton is confused but heads to the coatroom.

The coatroom is large but strangely bare. No coats, cloaks, or hats hang from the wall hooks. Trenton doesn’t know that thievery is rampant at Spiderweb, but since he takes off his jacket and hangs it on the nearest hook, he will soon find out. A jar of extra-long Q-tips and a box of small plastic bags sit on a shelf next to a chute in the wall. Trenton grimaces. What a weird place! Still, he’s heard good things about Spiderweb, so he inserts a Q-tip into his ear and pulls out strands of long, shimmering sanity, as thin and strong as spider silk. He half-expects the process to hurt, but it only tickles. He stuffs the sanity into a bag and repeats the process with his other ear. Then he zips the bag shut and drops it into the chute. The bag is light enough that it lands without a sound somewhere below him.

At the end of the hallway is a strange stone arch. It and its support columns are skillfully made, but their installation was amateur. A chunk of the ceiling drywall had to be removed to make room for the top of the arch, and the mortar attaching the support columns to the wall is already cracking. Trenton stops to stare at the runes carved and painted into the arch. He can’t understand them, but they don’t look dangerous, so he passes beneath arch. As he does so, he experiences a strange sensation, as if being hit by a cool, refreshing breeze and a warm, comforting draft at the same time. He looks around carefully. Nope. No air vents nearby. It was probably magic, then. Trenton checks himself over, but as this is a Regeneration Entrance and he is not injured, dead, fatigued, nor low on mana, he doesn’t notice anything different. He wonders whether it is some sort of magical search or test. Maybe it is to make sure people actually remove their sanity. Since the runes don’t stop him, he is free to move on.

Trenton continues onward into the main hall. It’s lunchtime, so there is no one around to meet him. He wanders around the main hall, staring at everything. The architecture is well-made but not decorative. Perhaps in an attempt to make up for this, or perhaps just because Spiderwebbers are creative and like art, the walls are covered in it, ranging from cheap posters of memes and stencils of overused quotations through portraits of famous members and screenshots of Spiderweb Software games to gorgeous photographs and amazing drawings. There are numerous doors off the main hall, but Trenton is attracted to the door that says “Dining Hall.” He can hear people laughing and talking from behind it, so he cracks open the door and peers inside. Sure enough, there are plenty of people in the dining hall.

A servile in filthy brown robes spots him. “Hey everyone, it looks like we have another newbie! Did you leave your sanity at the door?”

Trenton nods nervously from behind the door.

“Well, come on in. Welcome to Spiderweb Software Message Board.” The servile stands up, and Trenton can see that he is short even by servile standards. His hands, arms, and face are covered in scars. He takes a step towards Trenton, and Trenton hears the armor underneath his robe clank. “I’m Randomizer. What’s your name?”

Trenton looks around. Everyone is watching him now. Some seem enthusiastic or curious, others disinterested and merely going through the motions, and a few downright scornful. Trenton hesitates, and then throws the door open. Who cares what those weirdos think? He belongs at Spiderweb now. “I’m Trenton.”

“Welcome, Trenton.”

“Hey.”

“Oh no, not another newbie.”

“Hello.”

“Sit over here! Sit over here!” A humanoid wearing a massive suit of armor bounces up and down in his chair and waves his hand in the air to get Trenton’s attention. A wraith of some sort hovers at the table too.

Trenton joins the armored figure and wraith. Why not? “Who are you?”

The armored figure flips up his visor to reveal that he is a human about Trenton’s age. He has an angular face with an overlarge nose and thick eyebrows. “I’m MMXPERT. I’m pretty new here too.”

“I’m Nightwatcher.” The wraith holds out a hand just substantial enough for Trenton to shake it. Most wraiths are arrogant or sullen with a tendency to dress in black and lurk in the shadows, but Nightwatcher is cheery and easily excited. He wears a red robe over his wispy frame. A few tendrils of mist floated up from beneath his collar.

“Oh. Okay. Do you like it here?”

“Oh yeah. It’s the best,” MMXPERT says.

Someone else approaches Trenton. She is a human in her late teens or early twenties and has skin translucent enough that Trenton can see all of the blood vessels in her hands and arms and neck and face. She wears leather armor, cowboy boots, and a vest covered in embroidered patches and pin buttons. The patches and buttons all feature rainbows or brightly colored ponies. She clutches something thin and rectangular in her hands, but Trenton can’t tell what it is. Several pieces of straw are stuck in her hair. “Hi. I’m Sylae.”

Trenton stares at Sylae’s skin in horror. “Are you an Avernite?”

Sylae laughs nervously. “No. I just spend far too much time at Calamity Refuge.”

“What’s Calamity Refuge?”

“It’s my message board. You must have seen it coming in.”

Trenton tries to remember. “Maybe…”

“But I don’t want to talk about that. I just want to know whether you’ve ever heard of My Little Pony.”

MMXPERT says, “Bah, who cares about your stupid ponies?”

“Yeah. We’ll give you the tour, it’s way better than ponies,” Nightwatcher says.

“The tour?”

“Yeah, of General, so you know all the cool places to hang out.”

Sylae snorts. “You two don’t know the first thing about being cool.”

“Oh yeah?”

Trenton tunes out their arguing and looks around. The dining hall looks a lot like his school’s cafeteria, except cleaner and without the hideous floor tiles. Instead, the floor is just dull, gray linoleum. The long tables and chairs are made out of some sort of soft, spongy wood—or at least it looks a lot like wood—with a layer of hardwood covering the base of the legs, the seats, and the tabletops. He ducks under the table to get a better look at the spongy wood. It feels like cork, but it’s much stringier. He sits back up. “What kind of wood is this?”

“It’s a type of cavewood. It’s actually a fungus,” Sylae says.

“You’re asking questions about the place. Does that mean you’re ready to go on the tour?” MMXPERT asks.

The serving table catches Trenton’s eye. He sees that there are a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches left, as well as a pitcher full of fruit punch. “Maybe later. I’m a bit hungry at the moment.”