The Laughing Man

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The Laughing Man

Post by Nihilus on Sat Jan 30, 2016 8:24 pm

I’m uploading a series of chats I had with a concerned local fixer on ShadowSEA. The talks paint a picture of a very shadowy character operating behind the scenes in magical circles and Elven high society, a former regular of Shadowland who posted as The Laughing Man, and probably the strangest motherfragging metahuman being I’ve ever had the distinct displeasure of meeting. I’m talking about the very “devil” I mentioned in my tell-all that I posted to this same directory. As much as I’d like to joke that I’m doing this because he’s not worth the Panther ammo, chip-truth is I don’t even know how I’d find him to shoot at him. He comes and goes as he pleases.

No, this is the best payback I can manage—bringing some of his history and his true nature into the light. If you’re able to read this, then this matters to you. You never know when the bogeyman will show up on your doorstep, or when the devil will ask you to dance.

If this mystery man is as bad a motherfucker as you say he is, aren’t you
afraid of retribution?
> Mihoshi Oni

You mean like hiring someone to have me geeked, or just doing it himself?
I’m not too scared of that. That’s not his style. If there’s ever been someone
to adhere to that old “revenge is a dish best served cold thing” it’s him. If
this even registers as a blip on his radar at all.
> Bull

//attach chat file
/user Bull has logged on
/user Saint James has logged on

[Saint James] Salutations! I hope I haven’t got you at a bad time.

[Bull] Nah, chummer. Just looking over some security plans for
the O.R.C. rally this weekend. What’s biz?

[Saint James] The broad sketch is that a team I’m handling has
become curious about a piece of work they just did. I made
some inquiries, which led back to you.

[Bull] Who gave you my name in connection to this?

[Saint James] <snip>

[Bull] All right, I’m all ears.

[Saint James] I must stress it’s not what you’d call urgent. The
salient question here that my associates are asking is not
“What are we getting into?” so much as “Oh God, what have
we done?” Past tense.

[Bull] Go ahead and give me the long version.

[Saint James] The instructions and compensation information
came to me through a trusted contact. A mentor, you might
say—someone I apprenticed under in the ‘50s. The job
was to grab a sword—a three-million-nuyen sword—from
the private collection of a very wealthy man named Emilio
Vasquez. Vasquez, formerly a drek-hot programmer for
UCAS Data Systems, is currently the owner of a boutique
software firm specializing in AR/VR sculpting. He has a
very large weapons collection, largely as a hobby—he’s a
history buff. The sword was apparently one of a kind, and
it was sitting with the rest of his collection in a secure vault
in his corporate office on the 56th floor of a skyscraper in
downtown Denver.

[Bull] None of this is ringing any bells for me so far.

[Saint James] Needless to say, it was a tough run, but they
managed to pull it off. It wasn’t until they had the sword in
hand that they started getting spooked. They were curious
about its value versus what they were getting paid, so they
had a fixer who specializes in that kind of things date it for
them. The sword—an ornate basket-hilt rapier with both
edges razor-sharp—was forged in the late 17th century. The
weird thing is, the team’s mage swore up and down that the
sword was an active, bound weapon-focus, and had been since
it was forged.

[Bull] Again, not really my department.

[Saint James] Hang on, I’m just getting to the really strange
part. The drop-off was at a retro arcade on the Tacoma
docks. The only instructions I was told to give them was
that they would know the recipient when they saw him.
Apparently, that was no problem. There was only one guy in
the arcade. An elf, playing skee-ball, at the only functioning
machine in the building. There was at least two hundred
nuyen in tokens scattered on the machine beside him. And
he was wearing facepaint like a goddamned clown! Is that
weird enough for you?

[Bull] Oh. That slitch. Yes, we’re acquainted. Did he say
anything to your team, when they gave him the sword?

[Saint James] As a matter of fact, he did. He said “Swords are
like women. Sometimes, any one will do. And sometimes,
not so much.” The mage said that this guy’s signature read
like a mundane, but the sword’s power seemed to spike on
the astral when they put it in his hands to a level beyond
anything he’d ever seen before, before it too suddenly
scanned as mundane. Over all, they all just had a really bad
feeling about it, and asked me to check into what they’d just
done on account of that.

[Bull] Your team has good instincts. If the job’s done—hell, even
if it isn’t—they should stay the frag away from him.

[Saint James] Why, pray tell, is that? Just who is this gentleman
with a penchant for swords and ski-ball?

[Bull] I’ve actually gotta slot and run for now. One of my
regular teams needs me to arrange a meet for them with
their Johnson.

[Saint James] Seriously? Now, when my curiosity is most

[Bull] This bastard goes by the name Harlequin. I’ll catch up
with you later and fill you in on the rest.

/user Saint James has logged off
/user Bull has logged off
//chat session archived::user Bull

//attach chat file
/user Bull has logged on
/user Saint James has logged on

[Saint James] Thanks for getting back to me so promptly.

[Bull] Null sheen.

[Saint James] Did you know that there was a hermetic mage
who ran under the street name Harlequin way back in the
day? Apparently, he was killed summoning an elemental that
was too powerful for him to handle—overreached and got
obliterated by drain.

[Bull] Yeah, I don’t think that’s the same guy.

[Saint James] I figured as much. So tell me what you know.

[Bull] Did you know that I was in Chicago when the Windy
City became Bug City?

[Saint James] Your reputation certainly precedes you; I did.

[Bull] We were behind the wall, in hell, for almost a year.
Trapped in the containment zone, not hustling for nuyen
but just flat out struggling to survive. I saw a lot of good
friends get literally eaten during that year; anyone in the CZ
did. Anyway, just when I’m starting to think that we would
all die there, no matter what, this elf appears. I remember
him pretty much like you described. Clown’s motley, I
think you call it. Leather jacket, lots of band pins and
smarmy buttons, all of them ancient and outdated even by
my standards. I asked what the frag he was doing there. He
said “prospecting.” Like the bugs weren’t even a danger to
him, just a natural phenomenon he was observing. He was
like someone going out in the country to watch a meteor
shower. I don’t remember the exact details—this was a long,
long time ago. But essentially we cut a deal, that he’d get our
families out of Chi-Town in exchange for some unspecified
favor later. On that topic: Generally speaking, my advice to
future generations would be if an enigmatic man wearing
clown makeup offers you a deal that sounds too good to be
true, you SAY FRAGGING NO.

[Saint James] People used to say “never trust an elf,” but
naturally I find that offensive, as far as sayings go. I wonder
how dragons feel. Anyway, what happened then?

[Bull] Like, right then? Nothing. Years later, though, the slag came
calling to collect his due. It’s hard to say what happened
then—the entire thing was like a red mescaline trip, so
I doubt you’d believe me if I told you what little I do
remember. It’s hard for me to even remember which
parts of it were real. The part that I think I remember
is that we took a road trip to the site of the Great Ghost
Dance, where what he called a mana spike had ripped a hole
in our reality, where something a hundred times worse than
the bugs was trying to claw its way in. By the time we were at
that point, we were scared shitless. We’d been briefed not at
all on what was happening. But the biggest surprise was right
at the end. Harlequin sacrificed my friend and partner to plug
this hole. He said it was our only choice, or we’d all die—but
he never considered the possibility of sacrificing himself. He
never warned us. If Johnny hadn’t willingly sacrificed himself,
Harlequin and I would have come to blows while the whole
fragging world ended. But Johnny did it, taking the decision
out of our hands. I’ve still never forgiven that clown-shoed slag
for the situation he put us in.

[Saint James] That is … quite a lot to take in, to say the least. Do
you really expect me to believe all of that really happened?

[Bull] Not really, chummer, but don’t you dare tell me it was all
a dream. I lost my best friend that day.

[Saint James] Fair enough. Well, thanks for all the background.
It really is helpful. My team is, apparently, considering taking
another job from this Harlequin.

[Bull] What job?

[Saint James] They wouldn’t say; the few details I have, I can’t
share out of professional courtesy.

[Bull] That’s a shame. I’d be willing to pay good nuyen to know
what the Laughing Man is up to these days.

[Saint James] Well, it just so happens that my team is interested
in his past exploits. Perhaps an information trade is in order?

[Bull] Deal. I’ll see what I can dig up.

/user Saint James has logged off
/user Bull has logged off
//chat session archived::user Bull

It’s courteous of Bull not to mention my involvement in all of this, but I too
was involved in closing that rift, and I can attest to much of what he said. I
was Harlequin’s protégé at the time. I doubt he’d like me announcing that in
an even semi-public venue—I also don’t especially give a shit.
> Frosty

Then how come Bull’s never mentioned that before? How come he doesn’t
seem to hate you anywhere near as much as he hates this other guy?
> Netcat

Maybe Bull is just a sucker for a pretty face.
> Kat o’ Nine Tales

Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them really talk to each other on here.
Maybe that’s no accident.
> Snopes

Can we back up a second? Was his protégé?
> Winterhawk

I don’t feel especially obliged to explain my personal or professional relationships
to any of you, but read the next chat log if you’re that curious.
> Frosty

//attach chat file
/user Bull has logged on
/user Saint James has logged on

[Saint James] Evening.

[Bull] It was a productive week. I figured out what the deal is
with that sword. I hope you’ve got something equally juicy,

[Saint James] I trust that I do. Please, go on.

[Bull] I talked to <snip>, possibly the last surviving member
of a team that thinks they worked for him in the ‘50s. This
predates my encounter with the Laughing Man by years.

[Saint James] Thinks?

[Bull] Harlequin, apparently, rarely does anything in person
or even through one proxy like a single fixer or Johnson.
This team thought they were doing completely unrelated
runs—almost ten of them, over the course of a number of
years—and only began putting the pieces together once it
was too late, since they had plenty of work in between his
jobs. You see, every job they did, they left something related
to the previous job at the scene. Like a message.

[Saint James] What kind of things did they leave behind?

[Bull] Weird unrelated shit. A manuscript page, a cooler full
of severed ear tips, an occult tome, a rare flower. Whatever.
Each time, the thing they left behind was something they’d
stolen on the last run. The runs had nothing in common
either; they took the team all over the world, from Seattle
to the Bavarian Alps to Amazonia. All of them came from
different Johnsons and fixers, some of whom might have
been Harlequin himself, one of which was definitely the
mentor you mentioned, Anson Helm.

[Saint James] Can’t say I’m entirely pleased that my connections
are so easy to look into.

[Bull] They wouldn’t be, for most people. Anyway: all of this
convoluted drek turned out to have a very simple motivation,
according to <snip>. You know Ehran the Scribe?

[Saint James] Elven social theorist, general windbag—yes, I’m
familiar with his work.

[Bull] Besides his day job as a writer, apparently he’s
also a powerful mage who’s taken a recent interest in
arcanoarchaeology. Anyway, absolutely everything that
the runners did that year was somehow an indirect attack
on his holdings and position. The guy I talked to said that
Ehran had maimed Harlequin in the past. Like, if their
story is to believed, three hundred fragging years in the past.
It all culminated in a rematch, with dueling swords, where
the team was shoehorned into acting as seconds. As a final
kiss-off payment, they got tossed the priceless antique sword,
which they pawned for a hundred large. I guess its value
appreciated quite a bit in the interim, huh?

[Saint James] And I guess something happened to make him
want the sword back. Badly.

[Bull] Seems that way.

[Saint James] Hold on a tick. Sorry to do this to you, but I’ve
got an urgent call coming in.

[Bull] Drek!

/user Saint James has logged off
/user Bull has logged off
//chat session archived::user Bull

Since the duel, Ehran and this Harlequin must be on much better terms. If
Ehran had been involved in any kind of major shadow warfare in the past ten
or twenty years, I think I’d know about it.
> T horn

While an entertaining yarn, this is all thoroughly impossible, isn’t it? I mean,
elves don’t live that long, and there were no elves or magicians for that
matter in the 18th century? Am I right?
> Slamm-0!

Right. Any mage can tell you that it’s bullshit. I wouldn’t lend any credence
to any of this.
> Haze

Do not assume that because you know something about how magic works,
you know everything about how magic works. You do not—none of us do.
There is legitimate research published on far stranger phenomena than the
seemingly “immortal” elves. You must ask yourself: what would such a being
be like, really? Terrifying to us, I think. Unfathomable. And what would we be
like to it? Primates? Insects? Less?
> Arete

The question to ask is not: “Is this true?” The question to ask is what will
befall all of us for discussing our “betters” so frankly, when they have valued
their secrecy at so high a price for so long? I worry that Bull might have just
opened Pandora’s Box.
> M an-of-Many-Names

They don’t truly value secrecy. They value coyly flaunting their hidden
knowledge. It’s pretty disgusting. You should read some archived Shadowland
posts some time—the few that survived—and look at the conversations
between Orange Queen, Laughing Man, Wordsmyth, and company.
> Frosty

They may still have more secrets than the ones you know.
> M an-of-Many-Names

Whatever. I still don’t believe any of this shit. Isn’t there enough weirdness
in this world without making up more?
> Sticks

//attach chat file
/user Bull has logged on
/user Saint James has logged on

[Bull] Thought you’d gone squirrely on me. You had a few
minutes left, omae, before I broke into your commlink and
burned it to the ground.

[Saint James] My team decided not to take the job.

[Bull] Good for them. What was the job?

[Saint James] They had to swear up and down not to tell anyone
just to get out of doing it. That might be the only reason
they’re alive. I can’t betray their confidences like that.

[Bull] You’d better tell me something, chummer! I called in
favors to get you that intel.

[Saint James] Fine, I can tell you what little I was able to
dig up. Harlequin has been a fragging ghost since the
Second Crash. I can find almost no record of what he’s
been up to in any of the shadow, government, or corporate
databases I have access to. He’s been sighted in isolated
locations around the globe—Seattle, New York, Hong
Kong, Denver, Prague, Edmonton out in the Athabaskan
Council Lands—he’s kind of hard to miss. But no one in
my extended network has a guess about what he’s doing.
The most recent sighting was in DeeCee, where there was
some kind of a major shakeup on the astral plane. It seems
to have fucked him up. Seriously.

[Bull] Is that what made him want—or need—his sword back?

[Saint James] As far as I can tell. Your guess is as good as mine.

[Bull] Do better than that. I’m compiling these little chats we’re
having for an upload to JackPoint, but without information
on his recent activities, it’s just ancient history. I know he’s
not majorly involved in the artifact rush, at least not the
traffic I’ve seen go through Seattle.

[Saint James] I can’t guess as to his recent activities, but I can
tell you about the recent activities of something that looks
like him.

[Bull] Something that looks like him?

[Saint James] Right. It’s not really him, though. Different
makeup, different clothes, different astral signature—a
spirit, of almost grotesquely high force who’s not making any
efforts at hiding it. But eerily similar, at least according to the
third-party descriptions I’ve got.

[Bull] What’s this eerily similar, Harlequin-like spirit up to?

[Saint James] Well, if you can believe it, it’s backing some
Seattle-area gangs. I have eyewitness accounts of the
spirit—which looks like Harlequin, only with black hair and
makeup, and wearing “a long black flowing coat and cassock
and a floppy, wide brimmed hat”—talking to leaders of the
Spikes in Tacoma and the Rusted Stilettos in Glow City.

[Bull] No fragging way. The Spikes might not be as fanatical as
they were a couple years back, but they’re still not progressive
enough to let anything that even looks like an elf wander
into their territory without curb-stomping it into oblivion.

[Saint James] That’s what I’d have thought, but it’s true. What’s
even weirder is that all this newcomer has encouraged them
to do, so far, is kill more elves. The Spikes have begun taking
it to the Ancients again, this time backed by better firepower
and magical support, and they’re making some progress. The
Stilettos were literally dying out, but they seem to be on the
rebound and out for elven blood too.

[Bull] This all seems way below Harlequin’s level of interest, if
not against his interests.

[Saint James] Well like I said, it’s not him. But it could be his

[Bull] I have no idea what to make of any of this. I’m going to
post it up on JackPoint and see what they think. Maybe they
can help me connect the dots.

[Saint James] I don’t suppose I could ask you to leave my name
out of it?

[Bull] Don’t worry, your rep will come out fine. You just come
off as a concerned fixer looking out for his team. Hell, your
business should go up.

/user Saint James has logged off
/user Bull has logged off
//chat session archived::user Bull

Well I for one can’t help Bull make heads-or-tails of any of this, but it certainly
was an interesting read.
> FastJack

Frosty, anything you’d like to share with the class?
> Netcat

I guess Bull really hasn’t given me much chance of getting out of this without
airing my dirty laundry for everyone to see. I’ll try to be short, punchy, and at
least a little cryptic, as I know he’d want me to be. Harlequin is a very powerful
mage who’s at least three hundred years old. Maybe a lot older—he didn’t
tell me everything. He barely told me anything. He has an infuriating habit of
withholding key information at the most crucial moment. Harlequin taught
me a lot but told me as little as he could. For all his power and mystery, he’s
really a lot like the rest of us: prone to fits of deep, nihilistic depression and
long binges of completely shirking his responsibilities to get wasted and fuck
around—that’s what the whole skee-ball thing is about (he loves the game.)
Occasionally, he gets off of his ass to do something. But the long stretches
of moping and self-pity in between can be tough to take. The ritual Harlequin
was involved with in July in Washington may have saved all of our lives, but
it took a lot out of him. It also more or less dissolved my “apprenticeship,”
although I can’t say whether or not that’s for the best. It was a mutual decision,
and for the most part I’m an independent runner now, just like you all.
The last thing he said to me, the last time I saw him, was tantalizingly cryptic
as always and made me want to smack him in the mouth. It was just after
the assassination of Hestaby’s speaker, Elliott Eyes-of-Wyrm, and just before
he went to go get his sword back. He said: “It’s time for me to take a side.”
Cross-referencing that with an off-hand remark he made twenty-on years
ago, I am deeply, deeply worried. But what else is new?
> Frosty

You were his protégé for the better part of two decades. Just how close
were you?
> Kat o’ Nine Tales

I’m pretty sure that’s none of your business.
> Netcat

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