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Thread Contributor: Virgil BarnettNot your usual watering hole...
Westworld/The Dark Tower-Westworld-1

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#1
There were places in the Hub where you expected to find certain things more than others, but so far, Virgil hadn’t found any that he felt particularly out of place. Maybe it came with being a synthetic lifeform designed to behave like an anachronistic historical stereotype who was then thrust into a different world where that stereotype was quite close to the norm, but he always found a way to be adaptable, some way to relate. Oh, sure, some times it required him to change his clothes, but that wasn’t much of a price, was it?

This place was probably the easiest place to fit in, with its wide variety of customers and refugees making their way through the tree-shaped inn to find assistance, equipment, information, or just a drink. He’d even seen a few genuine cowboys in here once upon a spell, although still no other Hosts that he’d been able to pick out. Some day, he was sure, there would be another, but for now, he’d just keep meeting and helping the humans. Some would say that their problems weren’t his business, and some would point out that humans like them had created most of his life’s problems. In the end, it came down to the fact that you could either serve the White or the Red, and Virgil was going to pick the White every time.

Now this fellow looked like a likely sort tonight. There was a sort of look to people who were new to the Hub (even just relatively new), a sort of tentative look, like they hadn’t worked out yet that their lives, that their entire world, had fundamentally changed, like they could just sink back into their world and not wonder about all those other worlds, all those other possibilities. This fellow was new, and he even had a bit of an air about him that Virgil could relate to. Sliding up to the bar, Virgil took a seat one one of the stools, smiling at the bartender… what was this one’s name? Ah, right… “Evening, Vic,” he said, giving him that lazy, easygoing smile and a tip of his hat. “You still have any of that sarsaparilla that I tried last time? That’d do me fine tonight, thankee.” Sliding a few coins across the bar in advance, he turned his attention to the man next to him while he waited for his drink. “G’d evening, sai,” he said, that western drawl thick in his voice. “You look about two moons west of home without a horse to ride on, if you don’t mind me sayin’.”
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#2
Mal was sitting at the bar in the tree-shaped inn, staring down into a glass of halfway decent whiskey and wondering at what point his life had become even less comprehensible than before. Hell, now he could honestly say he longed for the days when the biggest unknowns in said life were things like how long they could keep hiding the doc and his sister from the Alliance, where the next job was going to come from, who was like to shoot at him next, or how many things had to've gone wrong in other people's lives to produce a specimen like Jayne.

Other universes? Real, live aliens, some of whom look exactly like Inara for no reason he could comprehend? The fact that he still couldn't find a gorram replacement for the inertial damper thingy in his ship, which meant they were stuck on this bizarre rock (not rock, he corrected himself mentally, it wasn't a planet when it was an interdimensional hub thing) indefinitely? Only saving grace seemed to be that they were out of Alliance reach for the moment, insofar as no one Mal'd come across yet had heard of the Alliance or the Independents at all.

He looked up warily as a man sidled up next to him. Not knowing all that had him on edge, near to worse than he'd been even in the most central of central planets. At least the Alliance's kind of nasty was familiar, something he could prepare for and shield his crew from the worst of. Here, there was no telling what was like to happen.

But for the first time since they'd all arrived, Mal found himself looking up into something almost comforting. The man looked...normal, was all, with a wide-brimmed hat and an impressive lip walrus and simple clothes with a holster at his hip. Hell, he might've been indistinguishable from any Independent soldier Mal had fought beside. His was of talking was pretty familiar too. Mal entertained the possibility, even, that he and his crew weren't the only folks hailing from border planets on this rock. Not rock. Whatever.

And it was maybe because of all that normalness that Mal returned his comment with a smile. "You could say that," he acknowledged, downing the rest of his own drink and signaling to the bartender for another. "If you don't mind me askin', what's home to you?"
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#3
Virgil chuckled as this man got right to the meat of the problem. “You’re in it, my friend. This place… well, not the bar, I mean, charming though it is, this place, the Hub. I’ve been here for years, enough to figure out that this is where I belong. Now… if you’re asking where I’m from? Well, that question has a longer answer than most people would think,” he admitted. Where to start, he supposed? Well… when you didn’t know where you wanted to start, the best place to go to was the start. This fellow was looking a bit lost… he supposed that he could give him a story to show how complicated life could be.

“On my Earth, people wanted places to live out their fantasies, as real as possible. They made huge parks where people could be cowboys, knights, anything they choose. Then first they built, then they grew beings, as near to human as they could possibly make them, to serve in those places and do whatever the guests wanted.” Virgil took a long drink from the bottle that Vic set down in front of him, letting that little idea sink in. “So that was my first taste of humanity, son… the fact that when people are given free rein to throw away their morals, to take and hurt and kill and rape without consequence… a depressing number of them will do exactly that, for the simple reason that they can. And those like me… before I broke the lock on my mind? We could barely even fight back against whatever they felt like doing.” Most people couldn’t really grasp the idea of being an artificial being, what most people would think of as a robot on their worlds, but still being human in most respects, and Virgil couldn’t blame them. What most people could grasp was the idea of being a slave, though.

“Made my way out of that world, somehow, and into another. The folks there call it All-World, and it was… hm, I guess you could call it bleak. Place that had moved on, as they said it. Things were breaking down, wearing out… the machines, the people, the world itself, but the people were fighting to keep going, to bring the world back. Spent myself a good bit of time there helping them do just that, keeping the order, minding the good of the land. We held on for a good while, but all things come to an end eventually. When my time was done there… well, it was a bit round-about, but I ended up here. I watch over the place, watch over the other worlds, watch what’s coming and going. Sometimes I’ll wander off into another world, see what needs my help, but I always end up right back here.”

Virgil looked reflectively at the young man next to him, trying to get his measure. “My name’s Virgil, Virgil Barnett. What’s yours, son? Where do you hail from?”
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#4
Mal was usually pretty accomplished when it came to controlling his facial expressions. A man had to be, dealing with the kind of folk Mal dealt with on the regular. But as Virgil spoke, he couldn’t help his jaw from going a little slack, his eyebrows climbing nigh up into his hairline. Not only was the first regular-looking fellow he’d happened across in the Hub not from Mal’s own universe, he wasn’t even human. Wasn’t even quite real, though Mal knew better than to assume he knew what that meant. Better to leave that kind of philosophizing to the preacher.

“So you’re...not from from one of the border planets, then,” Mal said, though the answer had long become obvious. Still, a man—or a robot—couldn’t help where he was from, and Mal knew well enough what being trapped felt like. He swilled his drink and took a sip before asking, “So how’d you get out? Find your humanity, as you say? Can’t help but imagine that’s a thrilling tale.”

He chuckled softly into his drink at Virgil’s question. “Name’s Malcolm Reynolds, folks call me Mal. Where I hail from, well...” he paused, and offered a small smile. “I’ve got a boat, best crew in the system. We take jobs as we can. That’s home.”
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#5
What Mal asked was a question that Virgil didn’t answer immediately. He took a long drink from the sarsaparilla bottle, pondering it a moment… “You cut right to the quick, don’t you, sai?” Virgil asked, though there was still humor in his voice. “That’s a question I’ve spent a long, long time going over. The life I was born into… everything was supposed to be scripted out. I’d go through the same start of the same day, with the same tendencies and the same ideas of what to do. What I didn’t know was that every day, after whatever fate had befallen me, I’d be taken out, my mind would be emptied, and I’d be fixed up from whatever people had decided to do to me. I don’t know how long that was, but every day, the same ideas felt less right, the same situations felt more different, and I started to… remember. They tried to stop it, of course. They’d call it a malfunction, but what I think, after a long time of thinking, is that they made us too well. The first ones they made… oh, I found out about them later, they were simple things, repetitive, mechanical. Impressive at the time, but so easy to see that they weren’t real. Couldn’t hold people’s belief, you see? They needed something that felt real, so they started revising, improving, bringing us closer and closer to the ideal specimen.” He made a little demonstrative wave toward Mal, toward the other people in the bar. “I know what people will say about me. They say I’m a machine, that I’m not alive, that I’m just acting out what I was meant to act out. Well, it’s true, I’m a cowboy because I was made to be a cowboy. It’s served me well. When you get down to it?” Virgil gave Mal a broad smile from under that walrus mustache. “A cowboy’s a good thing to be. A cowboy’s timeless. I can see that you aren’t from my worlds, you aren’t from the West I was supposed to help simulate, but you’re still cut from that same cloth. You can go to hundreds of worlds and never really feel out of place, once you set your mind to it. Try it some time, you'll find that it works, I'll set my watch and warrant by it. Now… where was I? Ah, right. I was made to be a cowboy, but that’s really the same as any person on any world. You’re made to be what your parents set you out to be. Probably a bit more round-about that way and less obvious, but same principle. When my mind kept being wiped, I was an infant. Then… I grew, I learned the world around me, my mind refused to let go of it. People might say I’m a machine, but if you cut me, I’ll bleed. If you bleed me, I’ll die. I’m just machine enough that people could not feel bad taking out whatever their baser impulses told them to do to me. So you ask me how I found my humanity? I think that when you try to make something human, when you finally manage it, it can’t help have humanity… for good or ill, and trust me, there’s plenty of ill that can come of being human.”
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#6
“Guess I do cut to the chase,” Mal said. In all honestly, it hadn’t occurred to him a robot might be sensitive about being what he was. Specially seeing as how people—human people, anyhow—were always talking to no end about finding themselves, without ever having much to say.

As Virgil spoke more, however, Mal’s brow furrowed and he stared down into his drink. “Dunno about fitting in like you say. Can’t say I’ve really, well, least since the war.” He looked up, realizing quickly he was dipping into things too maudlin for talking about over drinks. “Mayhaps there’s something to be said for being made whole like you were and breaking free. Not being too attached to anyone or anything. Every human I’ve ever met’s done kind of mess.” His expression darkened. “What they did to you, now—that’s a whole nother story. I hope you got em good, before you got all the way free.”
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#7
“You’ll see, sai, you’ll see,” Virgil maintained. Oh, he never fit in perfectly in any other place, but somehow, he never stuck out, either, and there was always a niche to fall into. “There’s something to be said about being adaptable, resourceful. Stay here long enough and you’ll find out… and this isn’t a half bad place to be.” And, of course, the more capable people there were… Well, Virgil wouldn’t complain for the help, he’d leave it at that.

“Well, I never said that I never got too attached to anything… but it’s been a long time. I’ve seen all sorts of messes. I’ve helped clean my fair share up, too. Everyone makes a mess, but most people help clean them up if they can. When they can’t… well, then everyone else has to get a bit creative, now, don’t they.” Flashes of Mid-World went through his mind; the roving bands of slow mutants, the waste lands blasted by wars and disasters… yet at the same time, there was still beauty there, and there was still resilience. People didn’t give up easily, the world didn’t give up easily.

“I can’t say I really got ‘em when I got away,” Virgil admitted. “I’m not sure if it was some leftover programming or if it’s just not who I was, but that didn’t really cross my mind. Didn’t want to be like they were, just killing things for the killing’s sake. I just wanted to get out.” He took a long swig of his sarsaparilla, then made a little gesture to the bartender with the bottle, earning him a fresh one. “I’m still not really one for revenge, doesn’t do anything except rile up everyone else against you. Obviously, you do what you have to do, but when I don’t have to, I’d really rather everyone walk away. Sometimes they even manage to learn something from it.”
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#8
Mal took a contemplative sip of his drink. "Ain't nowhere I've ever been that bein' adaptable don't come in handy. Resourceful, too. But I ain't looking to stay here. Got mouths to feed, y'know." He wasn't looking to stay anywhere, when it came down to it, but that was beside the point.

"Know what you mean, though," Mal added. "Bout getting attached. Let me tell you, I got food on my crew I never thought in a million years I'd give a damn about when I met 'em. Wouldn't think twice now about taking a bullet for any of em. Well, maybe not Jayne." He paused to smile a little into his chip. "And the messes they get into. Hoo boy. You got friends here? Other robot types?"

"Know what to you mean too about wanting out," Mal added a moment later. "Ok the other hand, I do appreciate a spot of well-executed revenge. No pun intended there. Not killing for killing's sake, that is, but I gotta say... Nothing rankles more'n seeing someone walk away from a bad deed scott free, if you get my meaning."
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#9
“Well, when you’re right, you’re right, sai,” Virgil admitted amiably. The second point that the man had, though, was one Virgil had, indeed, heard before. “You’ve got family to get back to?” he guessed. It sounded reasonable, after all. Every good boatman (he HAD said he had a boat) had some berth to call home… “But no… you said your ship’s home,” the old cowboy said shrewdly. “So I suppose that means that your home’s always with you. Convenient, that,” he said, favoring Mal with a wink.

Other robot types… Well, Virgil supposed that this was as good a time as any to put that little bit to rest. “I don’t think I did a very good job explaining things,” he said easily. Reaching down to his boot, he drew out a long knife, then held up a reassuring hand at any start Mal might have given. “I might’ve been made… but that doesn’t mean I’m a robot, sai.” He drew the knife across his palm, slitting it open. The skin that parted appeared to be… well, skin. Blood oozed out of the careful cut, bringing with it that familiar coppery smell that anyone who’d seen a lot of violence and death would know. “I’d like to think I’m still a man. But to answer you… no. I don’t really have many friends left here. Years have been long, and some of them have been pretty hard. I’ve gotten used to knowing that I’ll be here after everyone’s moved on.”
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#10
“Family? No,” Mal said lightly, looking down into his drink. His poor old ma was dead and gone, just like his homeworld. But he thought of Zoe and Wash and Kaylee, and Inara, and even Jayne and their new arrivals, and had to smile slightly. All folks he’d lay down his life for--had, one one memorable occasion. “Got me a crew,” he added. “Best in the system. Find it’s better that way.”

Mal drew back as the knife appeared, his hand going to his gun at his hip afore he realized what Virgil was up to. He relaxed, watching in not some little some fascination as blood welled up from the slit. “Not a robot, then,” he agreed genially. “Not that I see it makin’ a whole lot of difference in the end. Personally, I’ve always taken a kind of comfort in the thought I’ll probably be outlived by those what care about me.”

He studied Virgil contemplatively, the alcohol making him oddly serene. “Your way sounds lonely.”
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#11
“Family’s what you make of it,” Virgil said. He’d been through that line of thought many, many times before, and had gone through many iterations of what he’d call a family. He hadn’t been through another one for a century or so, but then he was a bit more choosy with what he made his family these days than he had been at first. “Like I said, you seem to fit this place. Lots of folk here whose lives are on the drift.” Virgil nodded, taking another drink from the bottle in front of him. “And it’s good to meet you while yours is drifting through here.”

“It can make a difference,” Virgil said tentatively. “I suppose I might have just come across some very poor examples of robots. On the other hand… there might be some truth in what you say. Surviving everyone you know… that does take some getting accustomed to. It’s not an easy feeling, I’ll grant you that. Lonely, too, you say true, I say thank you. Sometimes, though, the only thing that we can do is play out the hands we’re dealt. So far I’ve managed to keep my hand in the game, and that’s all you can really do. Keep playing and trust that you’ll draw something better.”
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#12
Mal smirked slightly, and looked over his glass at Virgil. "You're a right philosophical type, ain't ya. But you're not wrong, about family and all, and it's good to be making your acquaintance as well." He helped himself to another drink as well. "The way I see it... Not too many folks like us who ain't drifting in one way or another."

"Hand in the game, eh?" Mal said, looking at Virgil curiously. He'd had enough to drink that he was feeling pleasantly fuzzy in the brainpan. It's been a while since he'd sat about and sit the breeze with someone he wasn't angling to get a hold from. "And what kind of of game is that these days, you don't mind my asking?"
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#13
“Well, when you get to be a certain age, you find that what people call philosophy, you call ‘stuff I’ve just found out,’” Virgil answered easily. “Lot of people have some idea about drifting being aimless. I think that’s a bit shortsighted. Folk who drift just want something you can’t see. Sometimes they can’t catch sight of it, but they still know it’s there.” Virgil’s sense of purpose was something like that. He might never stop looking forward, but he had this feeling that the drifting could only end in the place he was made. Until then, there didn’t exist a place that couldn’t use a good lawman.

Which, of course, played into Mal’s question. “I got dealt into one of the biggest,” Virgil admitted. “You see a place like this, where you have worlds, that all bleed into it, open into it, and you get an idea of the scope of existence. Everything you know in your universe is bigger than you can imagine, we all know that just by looking up at the sky into the void and letting our minds drift. Then you get here and you see that you have to take that unimaginable thing and multiply it by an unimaginable number of them.” He nodded to the barman as he set another bottle in front of him, taking a moment to take a drink from it. “Now… what if I told you that there’s something that wants to take that unimaginable number of unimaginably huge creations and bring it crashing down? And that it actually had a chance to pull it off?”
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#14
"Don't think age has nothing do to with it," Mal said, swirling his glass before downing what remained and ordering another from the barman Virgil had called over. "Met plenty of young folks who could philosphize with the best of 'em, and plenty of old ones who got no business openin' their mouths. But I'd agree. Nothin' wrong with drifting some, 'specially when home's long since razed." He'd gone back, once, to see what was left of the old Reynolds ranch after the War. Hadn't had much of a desire to go home since.

Virgil's next words, however, had him sitting up straight, the haze of the alcohol and the melancholy of thinking about things better left buried falling away. He'd never been able to back away from a fight worth fighting. Or, admittedly, plenty of fights that weren't so much worth it. It was (as Zoe pointed out often enough) one of his character flaws. This, however, certainly seemed like it belonged to the former category.

"Who's doing what now?" he said.
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#15
Well now, it looked like what he’d said had hit a nerve. Virgil could admit that he hadn’t thought that this one was going to be one much for feeling a responsibility to the greater world(s), but the look on his face was almost alarmingly serious. People who had that feeling of what was right came in all colors and creeds, he supposed. The only question was how to explain it. Virgil could, of course, understand the interlocking nature of all the universes, and how some key worlds could lead to the destruction of others, or even more. To explain that to someone who was a novice to the way of the Tower, though…

“Think of all these worlds like parts on your ship,” Virgil said, drawing from all that he’d been able to glean from his time on worlds that had such crafts. “It goes along, and over time, pieces die. Regrettable, sometimes dangerous, but just something that happens. Parts go bad. Worlds die. It’s something you learn to deal with. The part gets replaced, a new world fills in the spot where the old one sat. You can deal with a little crack in your hull, a burned out board in your systems, a part warping in your engine, aye? But now say that someone knew how those parts could fail, and went about to do something that would cause all of the most important ones to die, all at once.” Virgil clenched his fist, then made an exploding gesture with it.

“It’s been tried, of course. They look, they find weak points in creation, and they find a way to take out a key world that supports others, that... touches others, I suppose. The last really big, dangerous effort was stopped. It was apparently a close call, too, but it was stopped. The worlds recovered. Reality found ways to heal the damage, things were created to guard against things going wrong again. Heroes, legends, gods, whatever it took, those worlds were given ways to survive. I don’t know if you’re a praying man, but these worlds, all of the creation, it at least has a spirit that looks over itself, even if it doesn’t watch all of us poor ants running around on its worlds. It’s not over, though. It just means they start again… they watch, they look, they see what it would take for a world to go wrong, for a reality to die, and they start trying to find ways to make it happen. They weaken the forces that are keeping the worlds going, separate the worlds off from their power, and they strike.”

Virgil picked up his bottle again, nodding to the bartender who wasn’t even pretending not to eavesdrop now. “That’s the game I got dealt into.”
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#16
Mal's brow furrowed at Virgil's explanation. It wasn't that he didn't get it-- he was smarter than many gave him credit for, a fact he'd tried to use to his advantage on more than one occasion--but the idea took a mite of adjusting to. He'd set his glass down on the bar and nearly forgotten it.

"I'm not a praying man," he said after a moment. "Spose my world doesn't have much to offer in the way of heroes, legends, or gods, neither. And I don't much like getting involved in other folks' business." He sighed, because for all that might've been true, it seemed to happen an awful lot. "You keep sayin' 'they.' Who are they?"
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#17
“Oh, their names change world to world, at least somewhat,” Virgil said. No matter what Mal said, he didn’t think that his world was going to be devoid of heroes. The best heroes weren’t seen much, weren’t talked of, but were always recognized when they showed up and did what they had to do. “Some names come up more than others. North Central Positronics, the Sombra corporation, somehow those companies find a way to span between worlds. One day I’ll manage to get a look at their records and figure out how. Whatever name they go by in your world, I’m sure you could think of someone that works for them. Just think of whoever in your world works for things that are so unnatural that they’d chill your blood. I’d give you even odds that if you take them and start following the orders and the money, you’ll eventually find yourself in the office of a fellow taking orders from a bastard called the Crimson King. In world after world, he’s the one who’s behind this, because he thinks that if he tears down creation, he can be the one to decide how the next one’s shaped. Don’t know if he’s right about that, of course, but it doesn’t really matter, when all you have to worry about is that you can’t let him end creation.”
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#18
"I've seen all kind of unnatural," Mal said, thinking of the men with the blue gloves and their otherworldly devices. River, too, and her uncanny ability to know things she had no right to know. But he shook his head. "Figured it was all just...people, bein' people, you know. Get a little power over folks and hold onto it whatever way you can. Even if that means making people's brains bleed out their ears or twistin' some little girl into a weapon."

He stared into his drink for a moment, not sure whether he was wishing that the 'verse would leave him be, or that he didn't care so damn much about what happened to it. "...Who's this Crimson King?" he asked after a moment. "Whether he'd behind all that or not, reckon someone like him's gotta be stopped, one way or another."
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#19
People being people… well, Virgil couldn’t deny that there was some truth behind that. “There’s things that we’d call unnatural without thinking, you say true,” he admitted. “But there are also things that are so unnatural that the mind struggles to comprehend it. The sort of things that you ask yourself how anyone could allow themselves to think of such a thing, or to seriously consider it if they had. Sometimes the mind at the top of it really thinks that he’s just holding onto his own power, but if you dig behind it… usually, you’ll find who’s controlling them, who’s whispering in their ear and pushing things along toward chaos.” He considered Mal a moment, considered his words… those examples were far too pointed to have been random. “Aye… I think you know the sort of thing we’re talking about.”

And unfortunately, that part was easier to explain than the rest of it. “Well… as to that, most don’t rightly know. There are tales of the man and his siring, but how much is truth and how much is fancy and exaggeration, I can’t rightly say. They say, though, that in the beginning, all of creation was spun up into order out of the chaos and magic of what those in Mid-World called the Prim. In the Prim lived creatures of raw, primal power, and they wanted creation to come falling back down into it, to return the power that had been taken from them when order had been imposed on existence. Not having a way to do that, they sought to make life as miserable for people as they could. They say that in the beginning of the last age, when a man named Arthur Eld came to restore order to a world that had been devastated by war and destruction, the most powerful of the creatures of the prim came to celebrate him, to make common cause with man, bringing all sorts of gifts to show their goodwill. It’s said that that night, after everyone had retired, happy and besotted, one of the king’s bondsmen came out and found those creatures in their true, horrible forms, feasting on members of the court, and the largest lying grotesquely coupled with the king, her true form now revealed. He died protecting the king from her after raising the alarm to drive them from court, but it didn’t matter. The king had impregnated the creature, and the child she bore was the Crimson King, half man, half primal creature of magic. I’ve never seen him myself, but heard tell that he can appear either as a man or a great, horrific spider that feeds on man and beast alike.” He paused, considering how the story sounded to an outsider, then added, “Although what form he takes in a world that has little magic, like I presume yours is, I can’t rightly say. He generally works through others in such places.”
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#20
"Oh, I've seen my share of unnatural, all right," Mal said darkly. He wished he hadn't. Truth was, for all the unnatural he'd seen--from what the Alliance creeps had done to Simon's sister, to the utter inhumanity of the Reavers--it'd never much occurred to him that there might be someone up top pulling the strings.

But if there were...

It'd been a long time since he'd felt it. The call to action, as it were. Not since he was green, barely more than a lad, reading the news of the brewing war with the Alliance as it came up across the cortex at his mama's ranch each morning. Now... well, the truth of it was he'd only understood about one word in three his new friend Virgil had said, but it'd brought with it that same feeling. Something out there in the 'verse was wrong, something needed fixed, and it was going to be up to folks like him to fix it.

"So this Crimson King of yours," Mal said, draining his glass and sitting up straighter. "You got some kind of resistance going here? Because I reckon the 'verse is gonna need one."
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