Saturday, March 01, 2008

Plot Synopsis Project--The Plot

WebMage Plot Outline
Kelly McCullough



Don’t Mess With Fate:


Ravirn is a child of the Fates, literally. His grandmother is Lachesis, the Greek weaver of destiny, and like Hercules before him, Ravirn lives in that middle country between the mortal and the divine. He’s also a computer hacker of unparalleled ability, capable of finding the fatal flaw in just about any program. He’s only really happy when he’s breaking into other people’s computers, the tougher the security, the better.

This isn’t Homer’s pantheon anymore. The Fates have moved with the times to create a fully modern computerized operation that spans a near infinite number of possible worlds using a magical version of the world wide web. Ravirn’s talent for finding flaws makes him a master at locating bugs and fixing them as well. It’s this latter skill that initially gets him into trouble. Atropos, the Fate who wields the shears, has come to him with a proposition. She feels that too much free will has been creeping into the weave of destiny and she’s unilaterally decided to excise it. She’s crafted a program called Puppeteer to tighten the strings of Fate, but it doesn’t work, and she needs Ravirn to debug it. Ravirn, a free spirit by nature, refuses. This infuriates Atropos, who’s working behind the backs of the other Fates. Without their support, she can’t compel him to her will.



Opening Gambit:


Aided only by his familiar Melchior, Ravirn hacks into Atropos.web, the computer system which Atropos uses to control her part of Fate’s domain. He’s looking for a copy of the spell she wants to use to destroy free will. He believes that with the spell in hand he’ll be able to thwart Atropos. He doesn’t get the opportunity. While Ravirn and Melchior are ransacking Atropos’ office, they are detected by her security net.

The pair is forced to flee from Atropos’ domain. Melchior, half goblin, half laptop and one hundred percent cynic, is only too happy to be going. Melchior might have been designed specifically for hacking, but he’s deeply attached to his skin and he’s terrified of Atropos.

He has every right to be. Ravirn leads a second life as an undergraduate majoring in computer science at the University of Minnesota. He’s there because his grandmother wants his debugging skills honed and, due to a certain lack of motivation, he’s already flunked out of MIT and Carnegie Mellon. Within an hour of returning to Minnesota from the demesne of Atropos, Ravirn learns that she is backtracking his computer trail. To avoid capture, Ravirn employs a specially designed virus/spell called Scorched Earth. It’s supposed to churn the local portion of the mweb into a froth too chaotic for his great aunt to use. Unfortunately, the virus gets out of hand and crashes the entire mweb, severing the primary bond between the worlds.

Ravirn is suddenly in very serious trouble. He only learns how serious when his cousin Cerice sends him a message over the local net. Cerice is a distant cousin by blood, but a close one by affection. She has just come from a meeting of the Fates at which Atropos has demanded that she be allowed to snip Ravirn’s life thread. Atropos needs to protect her hidden agenda of changing the balance between Destiny and Chance and she wants to punish Ravirn for refusing her. Crashing the mweb has provided her with the perfect excuse.

Still, Ravirn is Lachesis’ grandson, and even though she doesn’t know what’s going on with Atropos, she won’t countenance his summary execution. The third fate, Clotho, agrees with that. Killing a member of Fate’s family puts an end to a life that, barring accident, might last for millennia. However, Clotho agrees with Atropos that crashing the mweb demands drastic punishment. So by a vote of two to one it is decided that a trio of Atropos’ grandchildren will be dispatched to try and kill Ravirn with the outcome left in the hands of Tyche, goddess of Chance. This leaves Ravirn with a real problem. The assassins, coming directly from the Fates, are able to travel between the worlds to Ravirn, but with the mweb down he’s confined to the world that he currently occupies.

Soon the assassins arrive. Ravirn is able to prevent them from killing him in the initial attack, but just barely. When it comes to physical prowess he’s more than human, but he’s no match for his assassin cousins. As he is being pursued, he takes refuge in an art gallery. Here he is reminded that before the mweb there were other ways of passing between the worlds.

In the old days, interworld travel was via the gateways provided by a special kind of art. The gates are one-way and inefficient, crafted by human artists who can see beyond the bounds of their own worlds. Melchior locates one such painting for Ravirn. It leads to a bizarre and twisted landscape, but it offers Ravirn his only opportunity for escape. Sacrificing a fingertip to create a doppleganger of himself, he sends it to face his cousins. A battle ensues in which Ravirn shatters a knee and the doppleganger and one of the assassins are killed. Because the doppleganger was magically identical to Ravirn, his cousins believe that he is dead and he is able to make an undetected escape into the picture.



Hidden Agenda:


The world on the other side of the picture is a sort of Garbage Faerie in which the Fey inhabit a giant eldritch dump. Ravirn doesn’t know it, but Melchior chose this picture for more than one reason. Ravirn and most of his family think of their familiars as being semi-autonomous at best. They’re wrong. The familiars are fully independent beings and there is a secret familiar underground. This Garbage Faerie is one of their refuges. Melchior has brought Ravirn here because he knows that this is one of the few places where they can remain hidden even from the Fates.

When they arrive, Ravirn is badly injured and unconscious. While he is in this state, a vegetarian troll named Ahllan takes them into her home. She is a former familiar of Atropos’, discarded and believed destroyed. She is also the leader of the familiar underground. It is only because Ravirn is attempting to thwart Atropos that Ahllan is willing to take him in, and even so she insists that Ravirn remain ignorant of the nature of Garbage Faerie.

Ahllan attempts to heal Ravirn. But her efforts aren’t enough, so without Ravirn’s knowledge, Melchior summons Cerice to Ravirn’s aid. He chooses Cerice because she cares deeply for Ravirn and because she is one of the few members of the family of Fate who is in on the secret of the familiars. Cerice arrives, furious with Ravirn for almost getting himself killed. Nonetheless she proceeds to help. Ravirn is grateful for the aid, but worried that Cerice will be drawn into his conflict with Atropos, so he conceals the truth about his argument with the Fate.

While he is recovering, Ravirn and Cerice spend considerable time together and almost accidentally, they end up in bed. It’s something they’ve both been thinking about for years, and Ravirn wants to make a relationship of it, but Cerice isn’t ready for that yet. She can sense that he’s hiding something from her, and suspects that it has to do with Atropos. Unwilling to start a romance with secrets between them, she leaves Ravirn in Garbage Faerie to return to her regular life. Physically healed, but disappointed and hurt by Cerice’s rejection, Ravirn follows suit.



A Visit With The Family:


No sooner does Ravirn arrive back at the U of M than Atropos, having discovered the faked death, makes another attempt on his life. He is still trying to figure out what he can do about Atropos when his grandmother arrives. He wants to tell her what has been happening with Atropos, but he never gets the chance. She’s there to deliver an ultimatum. If his behavior doesn’t improve, he will find himself imprisoned in a monastery. She also cuts him off from the mweb.

This is too much for Ravirn, and for a while he just buries his head in the sand, pretending that he’s just an ordinary college student, and trying to figure out what went wrong with Cerice. Weeks go by with no word, and, cut off from the mweb, he is unable to contact her. He grows steadily more depressed. It takes another attempt on his life to jolt him into action.



Desperate Times:

Ravirn knows that his chances of surviving the coming conflict with his aunt are slim and he doesn’t want to leave any loose ends. His abortive romance with Cerice is a big loose end. With the mweb closed to him, and no painting that leads in the right direction, Ravirn’s only option for reaching Cerice is wild magic. Using his blood and the stuff of chaos, he creates a faerie ring. It gets him there, but it’s a rough ride.

Ravirn tells Cerice the whole story. He also tells her that he loves her. It’s been building for years, but he hadn’t been willing to admit it, even to himself, until now. The pair reconcile and spend a brief interlude together before Ravirn leaves to continue the conflict with Atropos.

As a first step in this campaign, he sets out to attach a software dead-man switch to his life thread in the Fate Core. He hopes that this will allow him to stop Atropos’ plans even if she kills him. The Fate Core is the computer where all the destinies of every individual in all of the worlds are stored. If he’s caught breaking into it not even his grandmother will be able to prevent Atropos from snipping his life thread. It’s a desperate measure, but he can’t see any alternative.

He begins his attempt by hacking into Atropos.net so he can use its computers as a gateway to the Fate Core. Through a clever use of one of the early lines of the mweb, he is able to penetrate Atropos.net. Once he’s in among Atropos’ servers, he finds a connection leading into the Fate Core and sends a probe in. That’s when Ravirn discovers that the Core has already been hacked by a huge and vicious virus. It appears in web-space as a gigantic electronic dragon. The dragon is swallowing the golden life threads that govern destiny, processing them, and excreting them as clear hollow strands. Ravirn isn’t quite sure what the dragon is doing to the threads, but he realizes that a virus so complex and dangerous could have only one author: Eris, goddess of discord.

This is a danger that goes beyond Ravirn’s feud with his great aunt. Eris can’t be allowed to have her way with the Fate Core. Unfortunately, he can’t let the Fates know what’s going on without also letting them know how he found out. Ravirn’s on his own. So he codes a special purpose vaccine called Dragonslayer. But inserting it into the Fate Core trips a security alarm and one of Ravirn’s cousins, Laris, finds him. Alone among Atropos’ family, Laris was once a friend of Ravirn’s. Using that friendship, Ravirn convinces Laris to help him stop Eris’ virus-dragon.

The only way to ensure that Dragonslayer has a real chance at destroying Eris’ dragon is for Ravirn and Laris to magically bond themselves with the program and guide its attack. In the course of the battle they and Dragonslayer are swallowed by the dragon. This gives them an opportunity to kill the beast, but Laris dies in the effort. After the battle, Ravirn is leaning over Laris’ body and mourning when Hwyl, one of the original assassination team, comes in. He immediately leaps to the wrong conclusion and tries to kill Ravirn. But Ravirn fends him off and escapes back to Minnesota with a number of his murderous cousins in hot pursuit. There he uses a spell to create a gigantic blizzard. In the whiteout that follows, he is able to elude his pursuers, though he does sustain several significant injuries.



Outcast:


His respite is temporary. Interfering with the Fate Core is a killing offense in the family of Fate. Ravirn’s only hope for clemency is to convince his grandmother and Clotho that he followed Eris’ virus into the Fate Core and killed it to protect the life threads. But even as this is occurring to him, Atropos is destroying the evidence that ties the virus to Eris. Atropos knows that this is Eris’ response to Atropos’ attempt to shift the balance away from Chance.

Atropos has also discovered the virus’ aftereffects. Eris’ program was a chaos pathogen designed to eradicate destiny. Everything that was eaten by the code dragon had its destiny wiped, including Ravirn when he was swallowed whole. This has turned him into a man with no Fate.

She is still trying to figure out what to do about this when the other two Fates arrive in response to alarms triggered by Ravirn’s fight with the virus. When they check the Core they find the clear life threads, the shredded virus, and the evidence of Ravirn’s meddling. Believing that Ravirn is responsible, they condemn him to die, but because of the erasure of his Fate profile his life thread can’t be found. Clotho and Lachesis assume that this was Ravirn’s goal in hacking into the Fate Core and call in the Furies.



Touch and Go:

Ravirn is unaware of the depths of the trouble he’s in. Again it’s Cerice who warns him. Using her connections with the familiar underground, she’s been keeping a close eye on things. Clotho’s webtroll gives Cerice a report of what happened at the Fate Core, but only from the time Clotho arrived. Cerice is confused and angered by the news about the dragon virus, because that’s not what Ravirn said that he was going to do. She’s terribly hurt that he would do such a thing without letting her know about it, but the evidence seems overwhelming. Still, she loves him, and she warns him about the Furies.

In response, he unleashes his mweb scrambling spell again with the intent of crashing the system to cover his trail. But after the last time he took down the mweb, the Fates programmed in new security measures. Rather than shutting down the web, Ravirn ends up crashing Melchior. A few moments later, the Furies arrive on the scene. With his primary hacking tool and best friend out of commission, Ravirn is forced to flee on foot. Fortunately for Ravirn, the blizzard is still raging and even the Furies have trouble tracking someone through a Minnesota whiteout.

When they catch up to him at a small gas station, Ravirn transforms the gasoline in the tanks back into a pack of the dinosaurs that make up a portion of its source material. Casting a spell without the aid of a familiar is a messy procedure, and quite a bit of raw magic gets released into the surrounding area. A bit of this loose magic partially reactivates Melchior. The webgoblin is still too damaged to function magically, but he is capable of speech. Seeing that it’s their only hope for survival, Melchior tells Ravirn about the familiar underground and sends him to Ahllan in Garbage Faerie.

Ravirn follows Melchior’s instructions and heads for the U of M and its art gallery. He arrives only moments ahead of the Furies. It’s going to be very close. Snatching a bottle of vodka from a frat boy out front, he smashes it on the wall above the painting. Opening the gate to Garbage Faerie, he summons a spark, lights the vodka, and dives through. Flames destroy the painting, but not before one of the Furies reaches through and slices a furrow in Ravirn’s back with one razor sharp claw.

In Garbage Faerie he takes refuge with Ahllan while he races to repair Melchior. Cerice, traveling by devious ways, arrives to have it out with him over the desecration of the Fate Core. She’s furious at Ravirn for what she believes is his betrayal of the family of Fate and, more personally, of herself. Ravirn tries to explain what happened, but she doesn’t at first believe him. It’s only after Ahllan steps in, relaying the full story from Atropos’ current webtroll, that Cerice relents. The question then becomes: what next? They can’t use the information from the webtroll to clear Ravirn’s name without revealing the existence of the familiar underground. And Ravirn still hasn’t found a way to stop Atropos from using the Puppeteer spell to destroy free will.



Endgame:

The Furies pose the most immediate threat and the only way to turn them aside is to offer an alternative target. In order to demonstrate his innocence, Ravirn must find evidence that points to Eris as the author of the Fate virus. So he decides to break into Castle Discord. After hacking through Eris’ security, Ravirn opens a link to the castle. He’s still standing on the threshold when the Furies arrive at Garbage Faerie.

Cerice knows the Furies have no cause to kill her and that Ravirn can’t hope to stand against them. So, with the Furies bearing down, she pushes Ravirn through the portal and closes it behind him. He ends up at the other end in the basement of Eris’ fortress, where he begins to search for the evidence to clear his name. While he’s doing that, the Furies seize Cerice as an accomplice and deliver her to the Fates, who promptly put her on trial for hubris.

In Castle Discord, Ravirn finds and downloads the info he needs to prove that Eris is the author of the virus. He is just on his way out when he is discovered by Eris. They fight, but the contest is unequal and she easily defeats him. He is in her power, expecting to be killed, when he says something that intrigues her. They begin to talk and discover that they’ve been working at cross purposes.

Eris has discovered what Atropos is up to. She was able to sense the shift in the forces that balance chaos against order when Atropos first tried to run the spell. This is why she hacked the Fate Core. It was a desperate measure taken because she has been unable to complete a program which she has been writing to try and summon a copy of the Puppeteer spell so that she could create counter-measures.

Eris also tells Ravirn that she doesn’t believe that Atropos could be doing what she is without the other Fates’ complicity. This shakes Ravirn badly, because he fears that it’s true. Finally, Eris shows Ravirn her anti-Puppeteer spell, and he offers to try and fix it. Having heard of Ravirn’s skills, Eris releases him and he begins to debug the program.

He’s almost finished when the Furies arrive at the perimeter of the castle. Eris gives Ravirn her spell and the evidence he needs to clear his name and tells him to stop Atropos. Then she turns to do hopeless battle with the Furies.

Returning to Garbage Faerie, Ravirn finds out that Cerice has been hauled away. By using Ahllan’s connections with the familiar underground they are able to discover that Cerice is on trial for her life. With not an instant to waste, Ravirn heads for the trial. With him he carries both the evidence to clear himself, and Eris’ partially debugged program.

He gives the Fates the evidence against Eris. It clears his name, gets Cerice out of the hotseat and maintains his allegiance to Fate. Everything is starting to look like it might just work out. That’s when the Furies arrive with Eris. He watches as they begin a process which can only end in a judgment against Eris for interfering with the balance. All of the Fates are drooling over the possibility of destroying Eris as a power. But Eris’ spell, which Ravirn is now sure that he can fix, will summon Puppeteer and prove that Eris was only responding to actions initiated by Atropos. Ravirn has a decision to make.

Fate and family, or Eris, free will, and justice. He casts the spell summoning Puppeteer. The Furies destroy the spell and Eris walks away free. This is the final straw for Ravirn’s grandmother. Combined with his erased Fate line, and his championing of free will, he has crossed the line. She names him an agent of chaos, disbars him from the house of Fate, and takes back his name. Then she leaves. Atropos goes next, but not before promising revenge. Clotho pauses long enough to give Ravirn a new name, Raven, then follows Atropos, leaving him alone with Cerice and the webgoblins. Ravirn, now Raven, turns to Cerice, a question in his eyes. She’s his lover, but she also a member of the house of Fate. She seems uncertain for a moment, then smiles and takes him in her arms.

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