She finds it waiting for her in a south side alleyway near the potion factory, digging its electric tendrils into the remains of an abandoned strip mall. In another city they might have called it graffiti, but the tags found elsewhere don’t squirm when touched with bare hands. Not many people can get their hands on aerosol data, let alone twist it into something algorithmic with their wrists.
After a few minutes of careful study, she pulls an obsidian keyboard from her backpack, the sort only entrusted to an adept Glitchkeeper. Its smooth surface traps stray moonlight under its glyphs, causing them to glow in the violet night. She plugs the end of its cable into the mall’s crumbling bricks, and the mortar between them begins to shine softly. She types a brief command, forcing the code on the wall to compile.
The bricks beyond twist and spiral inward, manipulating the structure of the wall to produce some form of portal. The entrance reveals that this mall has an alternate interior that is not empty at all- a bonus stage. She sees herself on the other side, six years younger, asleep in a hotel room on the outskirts near the highway. It’s the night of her initiation ceremony, and there’s no gray in her hair, no corruptions in her memory. The room smells of lavender and ash. Tempting words curl across the gateway’s peak: “PLAY AGAIN?”
She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. She knows what she has to do, but for the first time in her career, she can’t quite bring herself to press delete.