...And that is the simple fact that I should be asleep at this moment.
But, of course, tonight it is choosing to elude me. Truth be told, I've been finding it harder and harder to sleep the past few days. Instead, I've been spending my nights staring up at the ceiling of my room. Up at the darkness that surrounds me and the creeping shadows at the edge of my vision. Riddles and ponderings crawling through my mind like parasites. Billions of questions. Only a handful of answers. None of which want to STOP to just let me sleep...
Sometimes, I get up to do some training. Hope that will wear me out enough.
Sometimes, I give up all together and start through paperwork.
Sometimes, I pay our newest friend a late night visit in his holding cell.
Sometimes, I just go up to the roof. Stare up at the distorted sky and hope to find sleep there instead.
I'm not used to having a room that is "mine."
I'm not used to a crowd for company.
And, more than anything, I'm not used to the Silence.
It feels as though things have become so... needlessly complicated lately. I can't help but remember back before that bloody Cult Town assignment. When it was just me and my two little shadows. My ravens. Kali and Loki. Just us. Moving from place to place. Job to job. Not having a single tie to anywhere. Nearly a free agent. Nearly.
Stupid as it may be to say: I miss them.
The rational side of me knows that this is no place for birds. The Cafe is within a Loop, after all. Even if their systems could handle the shock of the change in energy, I doubt they would quite appreciate the atmosphere. I know I'm not. It feels like a cage. No, actually. It is a cage. One that protects as much as it smothers. An endless stretch of nothingness in all directions where the stars bleed into the sky instead of holding presence in it. Where the fog closes you in. Giving just a glimpse of trees in the distance that disappear the instant you focus on them...
However, even with that in mind... another side of me still wants to bring them here. To feel their weight on my shoulders again. The grip of their talons and the sharp sound of feathers beating air. I've lived in their company for so long that, despite how crowded the Cafe itself is... it feels wrong to be without them. There is a silence that cannot be filled by anything else other than them... a Silence that tends to disturb the mind if left uninterrupted.
Strange as it may sound, a Runner gave me Loki. Only a chick at the time.
It was during an Elimination a month or so after bidding adieu to Dimme. The mission was a little bit of an odd one, for the girl my target was on the Run with was someone I knew quite well from past experiences. One who knew me when I was Sam. One who I had promised that she wouldn't be alone in her struggle anymore...
Her name was Jordan.
I preferred to call her Faith.
My target was an African-American girl. Barely thirteen. I wasn't as creative back then as I tend to be these days, but I still played with them a little bit. The end scene of the affair having me holding my target by the throat at the edge of a rooftop. Four stories up. Her hands clawing at my arm. Begging me to let go and not let go at the same time. I honestly had no interest in her. Ignoring her struggles in favor of smiling across the roof to where Faith stood. Frozen in place. Fear weaved through her features amongst such a vast stretch of conflict and guilt. Sorrow already deep in her eyes for what she could already see coming.
I reminded her then that she could make it all end. After all, she was the one who began this particular Game, and she could end it just as quickly. I told her to pick up the gun from the floor between us. I told her to shoot me. To end it. There and then. Quick and simple.
Even with little Desiree crying... all Jordan could offer was the faintest whisper of a plea that was nearly lost on the wind. Asking for a mercy I was not about to provide.
I told Faith she'd have to try harder than that.
Then let the girl fall.
And, even with the broken body of her latest "friend" sprawled on the pavement a few stories below us... even with the fresh scream only just fading from the air... Faith still watched me with eyes of hope as I began to walk towards her. Despite the tears that streaked her face. Despite how she sunk down to her knees. She still wanted to believe "Gauntlet" wasn't "Sam." Telling me over and over again that this wasn't who I was. That I had to fight this. Whatever the Slender Man had done to me. Whatever demon He had implanted in my head. She begged me not to give up yet. To fight it. To come back. To claw my way forward. To take back control. That it was my choice...
That we always have a choice.
I couldn't help the laugh I gave as I came to crouch down in front of her. Letting my hand touch her cheek. Bringing her stare up to look at me. I told her she was right. All of us have a choice. Unfortunately, we all also have a breaking point. A time when the price paid is worth the return.
Father found mine.
It was time someone found hers.
But Faith... my dearest little Faithful... she refused to believe it. Refused to think I was using the same mind to kill people as I once did to teach them. To help them. Support them. She continued to cry as she spoke, but I knew at that point... that they weren't tears for the death of the little girl. For someone she'd only known for a week or so. No. They were for me. Her teacher. Someone who offered to help back when they were too ignorant to know better.
She told me she knew that her teacher was still "in there somewhere." Screaming to be heard through the cruel words carried on a pleasant tone. Telling me how I couldn't isolate myself. That I had to remember what it is like to be needed. To be counted on. To have trust in another creature. Even if it wasn't human.
That would be when she pulled over the other Runner's backpack. Putting her hand inside and taking out a bundle of wrapped cloth. A gray feathered chick in the center. A few months old at the youngest. Crying to be fed amongst the blankets that were keeping him warm. Obviously an orphan that the Runner had "adopted," for better or for worse. I honestly wasn't even certain what species of bird he was at the time, but Faith still forced the package into my hands. Telling me with a broken voice that it was mine to look after now...
"It'll at least fill the silence."
When the night is too quiet and time itself seems to freeze.
Left with only your own mind for company.
A dangerous thing, indeed.
One of the slowest killers.
A tumor of the mind that slowly grows the longer you let it hold you...
And, the cruelest thing... is that you'll think you've only become saner as you spiral down in a death roll.
All that is left after that point... is to wait for the final impact.
At the time, I had been on my own for perhaps a month or so. Maybe two. The Highers didn't assign me a new Handler after Dimme's death (later found out this was Valtiel's doing). Instead, they left me to rise or to fall by my own making. I discovered the Silence then. I knew it bothered me, but hadn't thought much into it.
Perhaps... Faith had already begun to see my own spiral begin at that point. It is a possibility. But, for whatever reason, she still presented a masked Proxy with the gift of a baby bird. I gave it the only name I could think of... that suited an animal raised in such circumstances.
Kali came into the picture several months later. A wild raven that, I suppose, took an interest in Loki. Or vice versa. Whichever way it worked, I soon found a second raven perching in the trees around us. Following us. Gradually getting closer and closer. I would toss a few pieces of food in her direction. Earning trust. Until, eventually, she came to take the pieces from my hand.
I still remember how right it felt when she finally came to perch on my shoulders for the first time. Opposite side to Loki.
They became my friends. Those I could depend on. Those who filled the Silence in the night...
Now there is only my own mind and the tapping of these keys.
My thoughts left to drift through everything that as transpired lately...
It's been over two weeks now since my performance at the Cult Town, and I've been recovering... decently, I suppose. "Joseph" has been using every trick he knows to help speed the process, but my limitations at this point still sicken me. I am doing all I can to heal while regaining weight and muscle, but it is far from a quick fix...
Something that David has been having quite a bit of fun ribbing me for since his arrival at the Cafe.
Our little assassin was very much amused by the fact that one of the cuts he gave me during our little scuffle way back when had only just begun healing over. It almost seemed as though - in that special mind of his - he considered it a compliment onto him that I had worn his wound for so long. Then again, I shouldn't really say that as if it is new news, should I? He has always had the tendency to find pleasure with anything that makes him believe he has one step above anyone at all.
And, to my own surprise when David had walked in... Venny had come with him.
A bit awkward?
Why, yes. It is. Ronan almost seems to be purposely avoiding me.
It hurts. Truly.
Though that may be for the best, as I do tend to get my fill of talking to a wall with dearest David as it is. All humor aside, I do respect the man. I honestly do. But I think it's rather safe to say we have both found a bit of stress-relief in harassing each other while we're stuck here. Small little mockeries and threats which one day might become more real than the joking tones they are said with suggest. All just some not-so-harmless fun to keep us from getting too comfortable. To remind each other - and perhaps ourselves - of what everyone here is capable of...
And then... Shooter burst into the equation.
Myself, "Joseph", and David were going over some details together when the door was suddenly kicked in. Door cracking back against the wall as a loud, but not familiar, voice proclaimed their arrival in a tone that was very much familiar. I caught sight of a signature grin that I recognized all too well... only it was beneath black hair instead of blonde...
And then I was glomped, for lack of a better term. Tackle-hugged? Whichever.
Good God, it hurt.
I had TOLD the igit to mind my ribs. However, Shooter is not known for his attention span. Or, rather, he is known for it. But not because of his acute focus. In a body that was a bit too tall for him and a bit more muscled, Shooter actually made me wince from the grip. Only letting go once I reminded him of my condition. Apologizing. Worry held in eyes of a blue that reminded me of dark storm-clouds.
Needless to say... remembering a friend is behind the face of a stranger is going to take some getting used to.
He brought with him orders from Redlight that I'm certain you've all already heard about. The four of us wasting no time in setting off to have some fun with one of Moriarty's Killsquads. There isn't really much to tell about it. We went in. Morningstar's target was the only one to be 'spared'. The rest of us had two targets each that were to be Eliminated. I didn't waste time with mine. I was in no shape to play games with soldiers trained to that degree and, not to mention, The Plague Doctor had destroyed my gauntlet rather completely during out last stand-off. Knives and a gun aren't nearly as fun as my old weapon was.
I played shadow tag with them for a bit. My hope being to catch them at a corner when they rushed to catch up... only to find myself clothes-lined. Hitting my back hard.
Yes. That hurt.
The image of a gun came into spinning vision. I twisted hard on the floor. My leg snapping around. Kicking the arm as my other leg found his gut. The gun went off and the bullet hit the concrete by my shoulder, but I only ignored it in favor of twisting more. Finding my feet again. Rising quick with a blade thrown as I turned. One target collapsing with a knife sticking from their throat a scattering of seconds later. Blood surging into his mouth. Down his chin as eyes turned dull. More shots went off from my second target as I ducked around a corner. The shots went wild ever so slightly. I'd guess nerves on their part. The attack only earning me a ricochet that skimmed my arm. Blood beginning to flow. Blood that I then used to flick a false trail around another turn. When the soldier came to follow, it only took a quick movement. A single snap. And the body crumpled. Neck broken.
I don't know how David killed his second target, but I did pass a corpse with his (her?) face literally blown off on my way back to the front. I assumed that was one of his.
At the regroup point, I arrived just after David did. The two of us finding "Joseph" in a bit of an... unusual state of mind, to say the least. The corpse beneath him barely looked human anymore as the knife he held kept coming down. Again. And again. And again. Turning insides to mere mush in a bath of blood. David was the first to get to him. Forcefully pulling him off. Or trying to. It took both him and I to finally get "Joseph" to snap awake.
Thankfully, the soldier was the ONLY one to get mutilated during that little episode, but I think it's safe to say that the soundest mind amongst us all at the moment... is the only one who isn't recovering from one trauma or another.
Makes me grin. It really does.
"Joseph" has been excused from interrogating our little captive friend for obvious reasons. The rest of us all taking shifts to extract as much information as he has stored in that little mind of his. I must admit, these people are tougher than I'd expected. It's quite fun getting into their heads. It poses as a bit of a challenge... but we're getting to him. The anticipation of torture can prove to be as much of a Hell as when it finally comes. And then... just when he thinks we're going to have some real fun, we leave. Let him sit and wait for his fate. His screams to "just get it over with" gave us all a much needed laugh.
Especially after Redlight almost Hallowed "Joseph."
We had been taking a bit of a break at the time. "Joseph" and David were talking at the counter. Shooter and I were playing chess. Well... I was playing chess. I have no idea what he thought he was playing. All I will tell you is what I told him:
No matter how much he had "improved" the rules... a pawn has never. And will never. Move like that.
Shooter was right in the middle of explaining his flawless reasoning while naming all the pieces on my side after Runners... when the air suddenly turned sour. Something almost like a haze settling around us. A chill that sunk deep into everyone present all at once. I felt felt my nerves tighten all at once. A sick feeling twisting inside me as I glanced to my company.
David had pulled "Joseph" in closer to him at the change.
And Star's gaze... had turned nearly blank. Staring off into space for a moment before his eyes fell down to the new ring on his right hand. One that bore a red stone. The Mark.
For nearly two long minutes, nothing changed. Nobody moved. The tension too thick for even words.
The breath before the plunge...
And then he was just There. "Joseph's" head slammed down onto the counter by a wrapped hand. Hard. The words that followed were boiled hot and cut sharp. Rage torn across the face of the Devil as he held "Joseph" pinned. It literally was a strain to remain in the same room, leave alone step forward... leave alone be close enough to keep hold of "Joseph's" hand. I have to give credit for that. David only backed off when that bite turned completely against him.
Apparently, our newest friend didn't appreciate "Joseph" lifting the spirits of a certain Sage.
David and myself both argued as the defense in that makeshift trial/execution. Shooter joining in soon after. Between the three of us, we seemed to actually give Redlight pause for a few seconds...
Long enough for "Joseph" to add his own stammering amendment for his actions, at any rate.
That seemed to be enough to prove to Redlight that he had made his point.
A few seconds later, "Joseph" was thrown to the floor in a heap. A final threat made clear if such stupidity were to happen again... and then the raging Devil was gone just as fast as he come. Only a few stray black leaves left behind him...
"Joseph" is alive. No thanks to that same idiot who was on the second half of all this.
So, since I'm on the topic...
AmalgamationSage. Next time you decide to "help" one of our own by flat-out challenging our dearest Devil with some other-worldly bragging and practically daring him to piss you off...
Kindly do us an even bigger favor... and don't pass up such an excellent opportunity to shut up.