User logged on
As I look out into the great void beyond, I see nothing but darkness.
Brief flickers of light gleam in the emptiness, casting a green
glow across my translucent body.
1. Welcome to the World
What happens when you die in a place that isn't real? Death in the real world is complex enough, but in the pseudoreality of the Digital Web the situation is more complex. When a webslinger dies, his soul does not pass into the Shadowlands. This much is known. The moment of physical death results in a massive outpouring of emotional energy that reformats the sector, turning it into a Haunt Sector. This outpouring and reformatting traps the deceased's soul in the Sector.
Even in the Digital Web, Wraithly existence is hampered by a barrier. This is not the same as the Shroud, separating the Shadowlands from the Skinlands, but instead is more intellectual in nature, more of a Firewall than a Shroud. The new Wraith is not Cauled, but must fight against a set of mental Puzzles to free himself. Other Wraiths that happen across the newly Dead may see mazes, strings of binary code, or even renditions of 3D video games floating around the 'newbie's head. If they are of an altruistic streak, they may even help her.
Once freed of the Puzzles, the newbie must get used to life in the Haunt Sectors. On the Wraithly side of the Firewall, the Wraith can see other inhabitants of the Haunt Networks and the contents of the Sector, including the Icons of other WebDead. The newbie, without an Icon, can only interact with other Wraiths (including those with Icons) and can only be seen by the same, or an unwitting mage visiting to the sector with the proper scanning tools activated (see page XX).
This is enough for many newbies. They can use Gateways to explore the rest of the Haunt Network, and interact with others in the same situation as they are. The Shadow however, will be able to play upon their inability to touch anything and their lack of contact with the 'real world'. Sooner or later, they will need to contact someone to acquire an Icon.
Possessing an Icon allows the Wraith to enter a 'physical' body on the other side of the Firewall. With an Icon, the Wraith can interact fully with the world of the Haunt Network. She can see and be seen by anyone that enters the Sector, including foolish mages and other Webslingers that enter. The icons of the WebDead are not noticeably different from those of any other creation wandering the Digital Web, but the fact that they are only ever temporary makes the WebDead's movements stilted and slightly 'off'. They just can't get the co-ordination that comes naturally with the Icon acting as their body. On the other hand, many Wraiths have taken particular constructs in the Haunt Network as their 'body stores', hoarding Icons for varying uses. Of course, the Icons are not linked to any one Wraith in particular, so often a WebDead will return to his body store after a fight with the Online Legion only to find that he has no other icons left but the war form he was wearing.
Stealing an Icon is not the only way to acquire one. Artists can create Icons, given enough incentive (in Pathos, Credits, or more violent means). Imagineers can duplicate an Icon, given time to study it and the Credits to gain their interest. And Crackers can force another WebDead out of his Icon.
Icons are not the only form of 'currency' available. The real value is in the energy used to create polygons, the building blocks used by the WebDead in their objects and all of the forms. A single soul, stripped of its Icon, is the most potent source of this creative energy. The devices of the Imagineers, reinforced by the contact they have had with Stygian Artificers, have produced devices capable of reforming this soul into a more portable form. One soul, not unlike the Stygian Obolus, has been made the standard unit of trade, named the Credit by the long time cyberpunkish WebDead.
Unlike Quick webslingers, the WebDead have no computers to access in the 'real world'. They cannot just run rendering software to create what they need. Instead, everything must be built with polygons, from the ground up. The online Guild known as Artists can create polygons from Pathos, and they hold the monopoly on lasting objects. Imagineers can take objects that the Artists have created and add functionality, but without the objects to begin with their Arcanos is not so useful. Fortunately, they are not restricted to the objects created by Artists, as every Haunt Sector has its own objects inherent from creation.
When a Quick webslinger dies physically, the mental backlash tears through the area, reformatting the sector of the Web that they are in. This often changes the sector entirely. A bar-themed Sector might be reformatted so that the windows are smashed and only burned out cars lay in what was once a bustling street. Imagineers can take these cars and return them to working states. The polygons within them are reconfigured, however, no polygons are created.
Polygons are created, however, during the Puzzling. A Wraith that manages to free herself from the Puzzling may leave shards behind, rich in polygons. It is an unspoken rule among the Dead that he that reaps the Wraith keeps the polygons. Of course, the envoy from Stygia believes in no such thing, reasoning that as the last bastion of the Empire they have a right to the resources. To say that this has stirred up resentment is an understatement.
Almost as long as there has been the Digital Web, there have been Haunt Sectors. The only thing separating the discovery of the Web with the arising of Haunt Sectors was the time waiting for something to die. Given the warlike nature of Magi, it was sooner, rather than later.
Nobody knows the precise date that the group of technomages known as the Virtual Adepts first discovered the Digital Web. In the time between then and the Sixth Great Maelstrom, who knows how many died? Nobody can say. The Great Whiteout alone accounted for several Webslingers, and not all of them reappeared in 'meatspace', even briefly. Of course, in that uncountable time before the Sixth Great Maelstrom, many went mad, trapped in their Haunt Sectors without even the knowledge to craft their own icons. Those that were not fodder for the Laughing Lady spent their time practicing their Arcanoi, trying in vain to contact any Webslingers that happened across their Sectors. Uniformly, they were unsuccessful. So, they stayed where they were, testing their limits.
The Sixth Great Maelstrom changed all of that. The storm winds blowing through the Shadowlands did some good, blasting open Gateways between the Haunt Sectors. Unlike the Conduits that bond normal Sectors, the Gateways don't just exist in webspace. They have the back door behind the Firewall, allowing the bipartite WebDead to pass through them.
Each Gateway looks different, and some shift depending upon what the viewer expects. They are all darker than the Conduits that lead to and from sectors. What in one part of the Haunt Network looks like the dingy door of an alleyway, spattered with dried blood and other fluids may lead to a gateway constructed of the muscle and bone of the dead Webslinger. They always fit the darkest aspects of the Sector, and can be the least expected means of egress. But for the WebDead, they are the only way.
This opening up of the Network let the departed Webslingers know that they were not alone. Soon enough, schools of advancement formed for the various Arcanoi. Going by whatever names they chose, but later termed Guilds after contact with Stygia, they came to head the WebDead. Hearkening to the utopian ideals of many, a council was formed. There, anyone with an interest could arrive and speak up and would be listened to. Of course, such a situation could not last.
In the heat of the Maelstrom, Stygia was falling. Nhudri, the Smiling Lord in his chains, knew that his plans could not last without a base of his own. Nobody knows how he knew, but the great Phantom Computer had whispered its secrets to him. He knew of a way out. The Smiling Lord would be the final component. Working fast, he forged, thoughts of a new Stygia running through what little consciousness he had. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle was complete. Nhudri charged the device with his Pathos, and vanished.
The new Deathlords discovered the Phantom Computer soon after. Though they knew not what it did, they realized its great importance. Contacting the few Harbingers left to the Legions, they moved it to an undisclosed location. The Artificers more knowledgeable in modern technology were conscripted to build what they termed 'workstations', as either the fabricators or (in the case of the more rebellious) the parts. These workstations allowed communication with the Phantom Computer and were installed in secret locations in the major Hierarchy-held Necropoli.
From there, Hierarchy agents 'jacked in' to the Web, hoping to claim this undiscovered land in the name of Stygia. In the spirit of colonialism they arrived, and in the spirit of colonialism they were not pleased at there being Wraiths there already. They made a simple proposition: Join them, and be part of the New Stygian Empire, or be Renegades and crushed under the Empire. Some did join up. They formed the backbone of Stygia's Online Legion, and began to forge the New Empire in the virtual world. Thus began the Virtual War.
The Online Legion contained some of the most skilled in their Arcanoi, but the Masters of the Guilds (as the newcomers termed the) eluded them. In a decisive strike, the Stygians took the Tower, a humongous cathedral-like sector that had previously been used to hold the meetings of all WebDead. They did not capitalize quickly upon their victory, instead preferring to build a stable base. The Renegade WebDead went underground, hiding their meetings in layers of secrecy. Unlike in the Underworld, the Guilds worked closely with these Renegades, reinforcing them were necessary. Of course, they also supported their members that are part of the Online Legion, leading some to question their true motivations.
This is the atmosphere of the Haunt Network today. Conspiracies are rife, and in the shadows that Webslingers try not to look to, a war is being fought. Sometimes it is with words and propaganda, but far too often it is with swords and guns. Each side has its good points and its bad, nobody can say who can really be trusted, especially now.
Thanks to all of those at the Wraith Project,
and all the others that gave me inspiration, however unknowing.