For the last couple of months, I've been writing installments of an urban fantasy story, The Great Game, and sticking it up on the web. At the end of each installment, I offer a list of options for what the main character should do next, and the readers vote for one of them. That forms the basis of the next installment.
It's a hell of a challenge, but it's great fun to work on, and it seems to be turning out okay :)
Here's the story so far:
I wake up in a crappy hotel room. I'm still keeping it together, just about, but I'm glad to see that I'm still made of flesh and blood. I'm not sure why that's such a relief. My stuff is missing, but when I head down to reception, the hall-way is lined with gas-lights, and the whole place is like the Marie Celeste. I search around reception, and see there's plenty of occupied rooms. In theory. While I'm there, I notice a weird face on the CCTV, for an instant. I decide to go investigate the hotel. I knock on some of the occupied rooms, but there's no answer. I bust in to one of them, and there's plenty of stuff, but no guy to go with it. His room key, car keys and wallet are all in the room too, which isn't good.
Back in the hallway, an odd guy pops up out of nowhere. He's wearing a very odd outfit, and his eyes dance menacingly with suppressed glee. He seems to be warning me off, but he isn't making a lot of sense, and he refuses to explain further. When he turns around and stalks off, I snap, and throw my shoe at the back of his head. He doesn't seem particularly impressed. Then a bright pink laser wells up out of his left eye, dazzling me, and I guess I pass out. When I come round, I'm on the floor, and a woman is asking if I'm OK. She's wearing a smart suit, and she's standing in the doorway of the room I bust into. When she sees my eyes, she freaks out, and then starts apologising. What the hell? I dash into her room to see for myself.
My eyes are pink, and maybe even glowing a bit.
I'm still trying to make sense of it when the woman sits down next to me on the bed. She tells me that she's not sure what's going on, but the place looks different to everyone, and it's full of all types of people. She makes it sound like some sort of crazy time-warp prison. Then a guy checks in on her, calls her Alice. It looks like he's making sure I'm not a danger. He's called Massinisa, and he looks like some sort of grand African prince. He leaves without causing any fuss though, and I suppose I understand, so I don't say anything. But I can't believe we're not in Kansas any more, Toto. I go and open the curtains. When I recover, I'm on the floor, and my throat hurts where I've been screaming.
Alice explains that no-one seems to know where this hotel is, only that it sometimes seems to be somewhere random in time and space, maybe in possibility too. Who knows. Some people try to escape; some of them wind up dead. She says she needs help, but I want to know what I'm getting into. She pissed off some sort of local gang, her and a friend broke up a ritual by mistake. Now the friend -- a girl called Eadida -- is dead, her lungs filled with sand and no sign of a struggle. Massinisa took her corpse away for Alice, but it's still no surprise that she is freaked out.
I agree to teaming up with her, and suggest hunting for info. That leads us to Reception, which looks like it belongs in a Victorian palace. The hall is huge, and filled with people dressed in a range of outfits that run from normal to utterly crazy. The guy at the desk, Mr. Andi, gives me a room key, and then we go sit down to grab a coffee and talk about all this madness.
The coffee is good. Really, really good.
I reckon that there will be someone in the hall who deals in information, and suggest we talk to a guy we noticed earlier, who's dressed like a Victorian gentleman, albeit it scary bad-ass one. We track him down and I try bluffing some info out of him, but an off-hand comment pisses him off, and he gets seriously threatening. It's sticky for a moment, but I manage to calm him down, and he offers to help me, in return for a payment of 'body', rather than mind or soul, whatever that implies. God help me, I agree, and it turns out I owe him a task of some sort in the future. He tells me that I need to speak to an information broker called David Sinclair, and that his agents in the room can lead me to him.
We find one of Sinclair's people, a girl -- and I use the term loosely -- who escorts us to a huge, worrying metal door at the end of a corridor. Alice and I head on through, and find ourselves in a field, along with some standing stones. My thoughts of escape are knocked back by the off-putting trees that circle the place. We head to the centre of the field, where there's a stone cairn, seething with ants -- for a little while, at least. Sinclair appears, and agrees to give us some answers in return for us just laying our hands on the cairn. He promises we won't be affected. My new eyes seem to be able to help me see energies or something, because I can see that he is compelled to truthfulness. We agree, and he gives us seven questions.
With them, we discover that Alice is being hunted by a group called the Macandal. They're pissed off because she fouled up a summoning of their by mistake, and they lost some people. The thing they called is missing, too. They want her to help get it back; it wants her to sew chaos with. Either way, she'll die nastily. We decide the critter is the biggest worry, and find out how to get rid of it, using its name and the place it was summoned from.
That's when we discover that our payment for the answers is that we have been duplicated. When we laid our hands on the cairn, Sinclair took copies. He brings those copies into existence, fully sentient, and makes us watch as he twists and mutates our screaming twins into ants, and adds them to his collection. Alice, who seems to have a problem with insects, totally freaks out. I don't feel much better, but I carry her back to the couches in reception, and we both doze off.
When we wake up, God knows how long later, there's a meal waiting for us. A very good one. As we're finishing, the guy who sent me here to the Hotel turns up for a chat. He explains a bit about the hotel's infinite nature and what we're doing here -- I was in danger of damaging reality apparently, and Alice hit a trap -- and gives us some idea of how hard it'll be to get home. Then he offers to make us forget about our doubles, trapped in Sinclair's hellish ant nest. Alice wants to remember, to mount a rescue, but it's more important to focus on her enemies, so I insist we forget.
When Valis leaves, we don't even know that we've forgotten anything. We head back to our rooms, where I plan to check on my stuff and make sure it's all made it.
Unfortunately, it hasn't. Some of my bits and pieces from back home are here, which has worrying implications. There's a couple of books I've never seen before too, and, inside the wardrobe, an outfit which would have gone down well in a swinging disco in 1971. I have a long, hot, shower, and by the time I'm done making myself look human again, my old clothes have vanished, and I'm stuck with the mad stuff. At least I know why there were so many odd outfits in Reception, but damn, Alice got off easy.
A guy comes to the door, some sort of bell-hop, with a present from Mr. Andi. Except I have to pick what I want -- offense, defence or information. I choose the latter, and get given a ring. When I put it on, I can remember things I have no business knowing, like the number of people in the hotel. It doesn't come with a menu though, so I don't actually know what it is I now know. Still, better than nothing I guess.
Alice and I round up her African pal Massinisa, and have him take us to where he left Eadida's corpse. The room now looks a bit like an old cave, and her body is lying on a Celtic-style funeral pyre. I'm all for smashing her hand off with a small log, but Alice is a bit too upset, so when Massinisa suggests asking the dead girl for the hand, I take him up on it. Read on here...