Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Church Was Burning.

The hellish glow of orange flame coated the surrounding area. Twisting shadows against a backdrop of branches and trunks as gunfire split the air again and again and again. A waterfall of bullets embraced in the raging heat of Hell. Shadowed figures darted from here to there, desperate to keep cover. Many of my kin were still within the Church. Attempting to salvage this and that. Other Proxies had chosen to flee ahead of the rest via The Path. Others who couldn't handle such a maneuver were left to take their chances in the woods...

Myself, Morningstar, The Butler, Requiem, Mother Vex, and a few others lingered behind. Attempting to keep an opening for the others to escape.

We were out-gunned.


And were to be burnt alive if we stayed much longer.

The turn of events were weighing heavily on Requiem. Each life lost was another shred of blame that he placed upon his own shoulders. He said not a word of it as he stepped over the corpses - as we all did to get from here to there - but I could see it. So could Mother Vex. There was no point in mentioning it to him. I knew him well enough to know that he would hear none of it. This had been his Church, after all. His Position. A Holy Sanctuary in The Name of Our Father... 

It was his to Hold.

And he lost it.

We all lost it.

The halls were thick with smoke. Once again, I had my lower mask pulled up. Moving quick. I... shouted over the racket to gain Requiem's attention. I told him that everyone was on their way out. That it was time to go. All of us.

Two more shots left his gun. Whether they found their mark, I don't know.

Then he turned... and it felt like the world went on pause before my eyes.




A sickening splatter across my friend's face. Eyes wide staring out, unseeing.

Just one breath... is all it takes.

Better? Or Worse?

And then a man who I've known for a year and a quarter crumpled to the floor.

Dead eyes staring out.

White collar stained by his own blood.

Rest In Peace, Philip.

My stare shot down The Line.

Out in the branches of a tree across the way... I could just make out a faint glow.

A Sniper.

A Sniper who was about to meet the same damn end.

Only not quite as quick.

I took off down the hall. Jumping across Requiem's body as I took to the shadows. In what felt like seconds, my boots hit grass instead of stone. Cold night air filled my lungs... and I let out a whistle as I disappeared from the battlefield into the surrounding bush. Moving fast, but quiet. Target set...

I heard when Kali and Loki found their target. 

The mess of wings beating, the gritted-teeth grunts and swears of their prey trying to beat them off as talon and beak sunk into skin and flesh...

And then the sweet sound of a body falling through the branches.

I saw him then. A shadow that just managed to catch hold of the last branch for a bare second. Slowing his descent just enough before his grip slipped and he fell the rest of the way to the hard ground. A THUD that I wanted to make permanent. The gasp of stolen breath and the clatter of his rifle hitting the ground beside him sounding next. A low groan leaking out from the jolt of the fall...

My ravens went after him. Set to shred him. Set to rip into him. Turning scratches into gashes. Longer. Deeper. Spraying the crimson over black wings...

I whistled.

Their path altered... and a mere second later, their wings folded back at their sides as they came to rest upon my shoulders again. The blades of my gauntlet drawing across each other...

I wanted to play with this one.

"Well, what have we here...? A baby bird fallen from its nest..."

The soldier coughed for breath as he pried himself up. A crop of short, sandy blonde hair on top of a tanned and weathered face. All wrapped up in a bright yellow raincoat. Fatigues and army boots peeking out from beneath. He flexed his hands. More coughing as he reached for the rifle still hanging from the strap on his shoulder...


 "I'd stay... where I was if I were you, neighbour."

Well. That made 'who' easy enough.

My first answer was only a warm chuckle. Then I reminded him that, as 'neighbors', it's only good manners to greet the New Family on the Block. Especially after all the blood-splattered attention they keep bringing onto themselves. I apologized for failure to bring a gift basket, but that they had caught me a little by surprise.

Then... well, I let a bit of the anger I felt in my veins twist into my words...

"It's a shame... you already marred our first meeting. You chose... a very poor target, darling..."

"These things happen. Wouldn't want them to happen to you, would you?"

"If one is willing to take a life... they should also be prepared to GIVE IT!"

A flourish of feathers came between us as Kali and Loki went up to the branches... and I struck low and to the left. Moving quick. Over and across. Slashing out with my gauntlet as he dove backwards. Cursing. Rifle spraying bullets wildly before suddenly stopping with a pronounced 'click.'

He was empty.

And he missed.

That's when I knew...

He had taken Requiem.

And I was going to make certain... to take this Cousin of ours as an offering in return.

My blades caught his flak jacket as he fumbled back. Still groggy from the fall, but still rather quick on his feet. Much like myself...

The empty rifle hung at his side from its strap... secured to his shoulder, but deemed useless since it needed to be reloaded... but I myself came to a much different conclusion. I grabbed it and jerked it forward - his own strap dragging him in towards me and my waiting blades.

He pulled a sidearm. 

I gritted my teeth as I grabbed his wrist in my gauntlet. His own clothing protecting from my blades as we twisted and struggled against each other. The gun going off twice. One skimming just across my side before I forced the barrel of his rifle across his neck. Slamming him back against the trunk of a tree. Crushing his windpipe. Using the strap itself and my free hand to hold the pin while my gauntlet tried to keep his handgun away from vital organs...

"There's a poetic value in this, don't you think? Care to tell me your name, sweetpea? Your real one? I promise I'll remember it. It'll be all that will remain of you in just a few minutes..."

He twisted in my hold and the butt of the handgun hit my stomach. A distraction that he used to his fullest advantage... as the barrel of the rifle snapped back across my jaw. My blades taking a wild slash as I stumbled back. An attack that raked across his left shoulder... as payment for his handgun setting its target. Leveled. And fired. One bullet missed. Another sunk into my shoulder before I could find cover. A hiss on my breath as the familiar sensation of burning hot lead settled in my arm.

The bastard is good. I'd give him that.

But... I was pleased despite the pain.

Requiem wasn't Ended by a No Name. That in itself was worth quite a bit...

And I told my company so from where I hide in the shadows.

"Just bad luck, between you and Shirley."

"Is that so...? Just pure bad luck? The wrong turn of a flipped coin~?" I couldn't help the laugh I gave. "Is that how you justify yourself, darling? How you sleep at night knowing you are just as bad as those you take aim at? Us 'evil' Proxies..."

"Murder's murder, neighbour. Doesn't matter which side is doing it." A twig snapped. He was looking for me now. 

I felt the blood trickle down my spine... and paid no mind to it. Moving spots. A shadow amongst shadows. "'Murder's murder.' Quite true. But then... there is Murder and then there is Murder, correct? And, I must say... I pity you, love. It takes a cold heart to be what you are. To not even give a chance to those in your sights... hehe, yes, indeed. How amusing... the lengths one will go to kill their nightmares... even if it means becoming one themselves. I wonder... who was your first target, darling? Did they haul out some little Proxy girl? Test your will to do the job...?"

"Kid, not more than seventeen. Over in the sandbox. I remember every last one of them. Can you say the same?" I heard the rifle reload. "Now are you going to try to stab me again Freddy-boy, or are we going to play twenty questions?"

"...A man. Middle-aged. I had once tried to help his daughter. He was my First... techniquely speaking, anyway. I remember the ones who wanted to be remembered, sweetheart. Bending your knee doesn't affect your memory unless you want it to." Another shift to another shadow. "...And here I thought we were being so 'neighborly'! Have we hit a sore spot, perhaps? If you prefer, we could flip a coin for a new one, my dear sweet Cousin..." I grinned from my spot. "You still haven't told me who you are. Surely you abandoned your birth name, like a good soldier would. Hiding who you are from who you were... but there's no need to be shy about that. You picked one, didn't you?"

"I'm sure you could have guessed if you put your mind to it. Granted, you're no Shirley."

"Trust me, love, I know who you are. You give yourself away nearly as much as I do. However... there is something to be said... about people like you claiming their own title. When you say it... there's no running from it, is there?"

"Go get it from Shirley, you won't have the satisfaction from me."

Another laugh. Genuine. "Ah, I see. So we still hide, do we? If only to a point. How cute. Yet I'm far from surprised..."

I blew another whistle out. Different from the first two.

A fake call.

And when Trips ducked, eyes shooting up to an attack that wasn't coming... I stepped out with my own gun in hand. Getting out only two shots...

...Before near ten rattled against the truck that I ducked behind. Splitting into the wood with near deafening cracks...

I stood no chance to regain my position...

"...Give Moriarty a message for me, darling..."

I retreated.

Like Requiem lost his hold on the Church, so did I lose my Target.

I couldn't avenge him. But at the very least... we have a little something to work with.

"...This isn't the story of David and Goliath..."

Something is protecting these people... and I want to know what.

I've sent the blood on my gauntlet to a friend for analysis. A good place to start.

Let's see what turns up, shall we?

"...It's going to take more than just a few polished rocks to destroy what has Stood for Centuries. He may win a battle or two...

But Father always wins the War."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not Entirely As Planned.

The wind has been howling like a pack of wolves all night. Rain descending from the darkened skies like a blanket has been pulled over this very Church and the town to the West. The lights flickering up and down the halls. Room to room. Threatening to plunge every one of us into sheer darkness...

Heh. A growing storm that beckons into the sweet unknown...

It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?

At least, to some.

To others, there is nothing more terrifying.

Even as I glance around the faces of those around me, I see traces of fear. Of uncertainty. Of doubt. There are roughly twenty of my kin left fighting. Many of whom were just caught on their way. Proxies who were injured and were here for care. Proxies who were here for supplies. For information. For a simple rest and a place to feel safe. The lot of them ranging from newbies to veterans...

All of them simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And, despite all they've each done... despite the butchering and torturing and mindfuckeries that come with the job... I can see fear in them. The slight stumble of words or the tremble of a hand can normally be brushed off as fatigue... but one's eyes never lie. They can hide, sometimes. But they can't lie.

Not that I blame them.

We've never seen anything like this before. A direct, organized assault like this has only been an occurrence in war-zones between the Cults (for which there are specific divisions trained), and even then... it tends to be cloak and dagger. Sabotage and assassination. Not military-grade warfare. A siege that has lasted for days. Open fire attacks that come and go. Surge and fade.

And no police interference. 

We've had fourteen casualties thus far.

They're equipment is far more superior than we have at our disposal... but we own the Stronghold.

The Church.

Their hiding place has become - ironically - the forest surrounding us.

Funny how things can turn on their heads, hm?

Just one breath is all it takes...

We had heard gunshots.

I had been driving (I don't trust Shooter behind the wheel, quite honestly.) and, amongst our usual stream of bickering... we heard the familiar chorus of bullets splitting the air. Faintly at first. Then slowly getting louder. More defined. Cracking and echoing and repeating. Voices layering under the rainfall of bullets. Screams. Shouts.

One screamed of "a holy vengeance in the Name of God."

I knew that voice immediately.

I gritted my teeth.

Foot to the floor.

Cracked the wheel.

The squeal of tires interrupted the spray of bullets.

The black clad figure of a Kill Squad member was taken out at the knees. Body slamming into the windshield to go flying behind us as the car spun around itself. Coming to a stop between them and the Church... but not before a blast of dynamite shook the area. Thrown from Shooter's very hand from out the window. A flare of flames rose next amongst the growing chaos as I took my gun from my side and started shooting. Shooter doing likewise as we added our own gunfire to the show. Our kin covering us from their own positions to give us the chance to find shelter inside the Church even as those carrying military-grade weapons and wearing state of the art body armor fell back.

No doubt shaken by "Anomalies" having appeared in their plans. Not to mention the explosion...

And, before anyone asks... No. I don't know where Shooter got the dynamite. Or when, for that matter. Nor am I going to ask. It's easier to just ACCEPT what the idiot is capable of getting his hands on. Trying to make sense of it is just asking for a headache that one could really do without. In any case, Shooter is, without a doubt, the closest representation of Chaos in a Proxy I have ever met...

Why would I attempt to tame such a thing with logic?

Once inside, Requiem approached me with one of his usual condescending remarks... and yet even a man such as he couldn't hide the relief that invaded his tone for the greeting. Turning his voice just a touch softer than it typically was. It only lasted for only an instant, however, and then it was covered again as he continued to speak. Anger rising as he explained just what the situation was and how exactly it had happened. Who was here. Their rank. Skills. The fatalities thus far. Just a quick summery to let me know where exactly we were standing. Requiem's hands gesturing around rather wildly as he spoke. A bad habit of his when he's nervous.

The attacks on the Church come and go. Floods of bullets and a few explosives exchanged as we struggle to push past this stalemate... and THEY struggle to do the same. Us, unwilling to retreat from our Standing. Them, unwilling to back off their assault. It's rush and wait. They're trying to wear us down. Find the weak point and take advantage. The fetal crack in the shield...

Quite honestly, we would have run out of ammunition by now had The Butler not taken a walk through The Path with all manner of bags slung around him packed full with supplies. Proper as ever. Not a hair out of place despite the load. He simply pushed his glasses further up his nose after appearing amongst a stray black leaf or two. Inquiring as to whether we've all been enjoying the hospitality of Moriarty's forces. To which Shooter asked if "Jeeves" would "enjoy" a black eye. The Butler simply turned to the shorter Proxy (being a decent foot over his head... like Butler is with practically everyone) and commended Morningstar in his bravery - if not, stupidity - of choosing to turn his gun into a club once he ran out of bullets. As that would be its only possible use.

Needless to say... there was a near instant 'bond'.

It'll be interesting to see who annoys who first.

At least when there is a chance to speak without being interrupting by bullets.

Just yesterday, we lost Sister Orchid. She earned herself a spray of bullets from machine-gun fire. Requiem used The Path to get to her, but she had been already choking on her own blood. He practically buried his hands in her to stop the bleeding... but she was just shredded. It was a useless attempt.

Fourteen years old.

Long, black hair and hazel eyes.

In more than one visit can I recall her going about her duties with earphones blasting away to her favorite songs. Always the same genre of artists. Pop/Rock, I believe it's referred to as. When she had found out I played an instrument, she had only been excited up until she found out it was the sax.

At which point she had simply rolled her eyes and walked away.

Her mix of innocent excitement and 'whatev' attitude always did make me smirk.

To say Requiem 'took it personally' to hold onto his youngest charge as she bathed in her own blood would be a rather massive understatement. Next thing any of us were aware of almost the gunfight (as the fighting hadn't stopped just because one Nun fell), Requiem was boiling over. A curse seething between clenched teeth as The Path opened so quickly I swore I heard a 'snap.'

We didn't have time to pause against the assault to question what was in his mind... but soon enough the firing came slower against the Church... even though we could still hear it.

Requiem reappeared amongst us a few seconds later. Ramming the skull of a Kill Squad member into the nearest wall as they both landed from the transfer. The "Fighter" choking from exposure to the other Realm, but Requiem was in no mood to pause. Taking the woman by her hair and forcing her down the corridor. Throwing her down the stairs to the basement. Even from where I was, I could hear the groans that came when she landed in a heap on the concrete floor at the bottom.

Requiem descended after her.

I went after him.

By the time I was in the basement myself, both figures were gone, but the sharp sound of shattering glass gave me my next hint. The door for the Cooler slightly ajar.

Requiem had taken one of the jars they stored blood in for rituals and missions, broken it into pieces within a bucket... and was holding the woman's head beneath the gathered mess of blood and glass shards. The Priest spitting venom about "drowning in your own filth" as the woman thrashed... only for the bucket to tip over as the figure convulsed. Choking. Coughing. Eyes wide as blood surged from her mouth.

A piece of glass caught in her throat. Cutting in.

Requiem watched her die at his feet. The silence stretching out. The gunfire had stopped... at least for now.

I noticed a bone sticking out from one of the dead woman's arms. Her shoulder on the opposite arm was obviously dislocated as well. I suppose all the body armor and training in the world aren't worth much when your opponent takes the opportunity to break your body for you.

The blood on Requiem's hands slowly dripped to the floor at his side. Each drop seeming too loud.

Then he began to speak. Not quite as drawn out as normal. Not quite as loud.

He asked me why he saw no difference in watching the light go out in Sister Orchid's eyes, in comparison to watching the emptiness claim this "Runner."

He asked if I thought these groups... were just another Game our dear Father was playing. Just another trick to add to the usual performance. Testing us. Testing them.

Similar to the Revenants.

After all... they've been outside for days. In the woods. Supposedly His territory... and yet... not a single appearance earned?

I have to admit... it is odd. I'm finding it difficult to understand just how these groups are in operation. They're highly trained and amazingly equipped, but it's more than that. More than anything that money could buy. It's almost as though... they are being protected. As if Mor

oh fucking hell

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Knight's Bishop

Close your eyes for a moment.

Don't roll them at me. Close them. Just for a moment. I sincerely doubt anyone is sneaking up on you at this very instant preparing to bury a knife in your spine and - if by some bizarre chance that IS, in fact, your reality... well, you shouldn't have been on the internet anyway. So, with your own odds at play... just close your eyes.

Breath in.


Filling your chest.

Breath out.


Emptying all of what you just filled.

Now... listen.

What do you hear?

What sounds surround you day in, day out? What do you tune out? Ignore? Block out completely?

What do you pretend doesn't exist as you go about attempting to do just that?

In this moment... I can hear the hum of the traffic on the street below. Engines accelerating and decelerating. Tires on pavement. The odd horn of an impatient driver. One car in particular that apparently wants to brag about having the all-too-rare invention known as a radio. The distant murmuring of people passing by on the sidewalk. A laugh given amongst a conversation that has become a near shouting-match between buddies. Other people moving to and fro work. Errands. Meetings.

The daily grind.

The World. 

Have you ever stopped to wonder how it could be possible?

For all of this - this war, this organization, this living nightmare for hundreds to thousands of people - to not exist to them? For all of our stories... to simply be lost amongst the billions of other normal stories told by those who escape The Game's notice? There was a time... when I thought for certain we'd all become invisible. That we had become so cut off... so removed... that we were no longer 'existing' as they do. That there was a curved, one-way mirror between their world and ours. We may be able to see them, but when they see us... it is but a distorted version of their own reality. Nothing terrifying. Nothing abnormal. Just... nothing. Normal. Average.

Honestly, I've always found it feels surreal to watch it shift through its motions. Nearly every face you see is just another normal, stressed person going about their normal, stress-filled lives. A race that nearly every one of you reading this once knew as well. A race that I myself once took place in. Living a life of bills, responsibilities, and everyday drama. Married with a child to love and raise under our own roof...

Alex always used to say the same thing:

"The down-payment bought the roof. We own that. The rest we're going to be paying for one nail at a time for the next fifty years!"

We were... just another young family figuring out how to keep their feet grounded. Barely making ends meet. Just living a life that should have offered so much distraction for me to stay out of trouble. To ignore what everyone else caught in the main stream ignores. To stay out of His Game...

But, like every other numbskull here... I became a piece. Runner or Proxy - it doesn't matter. I've been both, and, trust me, in His "eyes"... it really. Doesn't. Matter. The only real difference... is that a Proxy admits itself as a Tool beneath His Will. We admit to being outsmarted. Out-powered. Outclassed. We play His Game by submission.

Runners play His Game through rebellion and denial.

Ultimately, it doesn't much matter which side you're on. Each one holds  its own list of pros and cons as you work to further your own goals by whatever means necessary... and, eventually, every one of us will break. Eventually, we'll be cleared off the board to make way for a new Trick to come along. Fresh from the packaging, so to speak.

Around this time of last month... I thought my last grain of sand had fallen. I thought my story had reached its conclusion. The final scene of an end that started when I asked a single student to stay behind after class. That started when I took a sobbing teenage girl into my arms and told her everything was going to be alright. When I thought I could pin the problem down to an anxiety disorder of some kind. A nervous breakdown caused by problems at home or some buried trauma. Perhaps even drugs. I remember so clearly how she looked at me when I told her that we would speak to her parents together. That what she needed was support and I would make certain that whatever this paranoia was coming from... that we'd figure it out and fix it. When I smiled and reassured her that monsters don't exist, but hallucinations do... and that didn't mean she was crazy. The mind has a strange way of calling for help sometimes. One just has to listen...

I was an idealistic moron.

Some days it feels like centuries have come and gone since that day. Other times, it feels as though someone stepped on some Sacred Remote and fast-forwarded everything until I was pinned beneath that Cane. Until I could hear the clicks and gurgling growls between two Beings that shouldn't exist. Until I was staring into inhuman amber eyes above a grin that spread far too wide. Making a Deal... just to stay in The Game a bit longer.

To remain a Piece... just for a bit longer. Even if that meant accepting a new leash.

After that, it was only a matter of time until we spoke again. One on one. 

It came to pass the very same night I published my last post.

After spending another hour or so staring at the shifting shadows of my ceiling, I had resigned myself to the all-too-mocking reality that I would not be getting any more sleep than what I've already had. Choosing instead to head downstairs to grab myself a drink or find some other form of distraction to fend off the suffocating pressure of the Loop. The Cafe itself was lost in complete darkness as I had descended the stairs. I knew all the others were asleep at that point in the night, so hadn't bothered disturbing any of the light sleepers of the house by flipping any switches. The only light - which seemed to me to be more of a 'glow' - was that which barely streamed through the windows. However, just like everything else had been in that place... it seemed distorted, somehow. Not natural.

It was giving me a headache.

And then...

"You certainly have a way with words."

I almost FELT my heart hit my ribcage... and then the very next second I found an all-too familiar pair of amber eyes staring back at me from the swallowing darkness of the room. The silhouette of a tall man was seated comfortably at one of the tables... as if he had been waiting there for quite some time and I had simply... overlooked his presence. A near impossible feat, since the air itself seemed to constrict with the very first syllable he spoke. Nevertheless, I had recomposed myself as quickly as I could manage, offering a late night greeting of my own along with a smirk finding its place on my lips as I found my normal pace. Observing him from behind my mask.

The table in front of him was harboring the same chess board that Shooter and I had set up a few days prior. Pieces now back in their rightful places. In between the sides of White and Black, I spotted a bundle placed across the board. A gift, he told me.

My gauntlet.

Oh, yes. I was absolutely grinning at that point.

He invited me to play a friendly game between us. Both upon the board and off of it. Through the physical game, Redlight played as Black. Myself; White. However, off the board... things were not so cut and try. We spoke of the finer details of the King's Game. The pieces involved. The balance of hope and fear. Punishment and reward.

And then he asked a simple question to his recovering recruit who sold themselves to stay In Play...

"...What piece do you see yourself as on this board, Nightscream?"

I couldn't help the smile I gave. Offering only a riddle as an answer.

"I'm stuck on a single, stubborn path... and yet my coming might still surprise you.

Though unwilling to Jump, I still bypass the front-lines with ease.

What am I?"

His answer came without hesitation. "The Bishop." 


A piece moved. Inhuman eyes never once straying from watching me.  

"An incredible piece. Capable of dominating with or without support... but if its own allies get in the way? Effectively useless. At least... without assistance."

"Even when blocked in one direction... a bishop does have the ability to find opportunities in the... corners of situations, so to speak."


I made my own move.

"That being said, any piece that attempts to stand solely on its own will eventually be overwhelmed. A pawn is all but useless on its own. It gains its strength from being coordinated with others of its level and those above it. A ripple effect, as it were. The same rule applies for every other piece In Play..."

I smiled at my company.

"...No matter how 'powerful' the one in question."

He grinned in return. A disturbing feeling shifting across the table.


"Correct. Even the Queen can be lured into a trap. The King, the most important piece on the board, is also the most vulnerable. Not to mention being limited of use..."

"Precisely. Having the most pieces doesn't always grant victory. Defeat can come in a heartbeat. Just one wrong decision can crumble months, even years, of planning. The key is remembering to protect oneself from all sides. Especially when on the attack..."


Pawn takes pawn.

"A Game well played is one in which the potential of a piece... matches the use of the piece. Curious, darling... where do you see yourself on this board?"

That chilling grin only grew.

"How about you handle this one, Brother? I have faith you'll make the right choice."

 "...The Knight. The most flexible piece on the board. One of the most useful keys in finding the weakness to nearly any strategy fathomable. It defends and attacks from blind-spots. Jumping across friend and foe alike without hindrance or any true predictability..."

I couldn't help the small chuckle I gave.

"And yet... still incapable of checkmate. At least on its own."

I earned a laugh from that. Amusement.

"Well done. I'd say my pride was damaged, but it seems you see things others don't. I'm impressed; you chose exactly what I did. What does that say about you, I wonder...?"


"And Banks?"

"I think we both know where Darling David rests on the board."

"A powerful piece, he most certainly is... but, complex, he is not."

"David Banks..."


Rook forward.

"..Hardy, straightforward, and, once set in motion, impossible to stop. Much like a train, no~?"

"A train, indeed. One I am still attempting to step off the tracks to avoid before things become too close for comfort."


The conversation rolled on from there. Spanning across several topics. I must say... that some of his comments intrigued me. Others... made old scars flare in memory. Even at the time, part of me wondered if some of what he said was simply designed to see if I had much of a temper myself. After all, he is far from a fool. Far from blind. He's done his research. He is well aware of my past reactions to feeling the leash snap tight. Well aware of the story of scars that cover my body beneath my layers of clothing...

However, if he was looking for a rise, he didn't get one. Nor did I simply allow myself to partake in the Head-Nodders Association that has a tendency to follow figures like him. Beings of influence and power. I simply did what I've always done.

I spoke the Truth.

Whether he wished to hear it or not.

"You're not nearly as unpredictable as you'd all like to believe. Every single person on earth has their breaking point. Love, grief, rage... what do they mean in the face of total domination? Absolutely nothing. Subtleties are sometimes nothing more than artifacts to be respected, methods to be studied, not utilized. Because sometimes..."


A dark grin flitted across his features.

"Power is all you need. Don't you agree...?"

"...Such familiar words."

I allowed the slightest nip to invade my tone as I stared into those eyes. Ignoring the chill that crept down my spine.

"But not yours, are they? You know as well as I do that power is not nearly enough. That such... simplistic mentality was one of greatest faults of the First and of the Highers themselves. So, if you don't mind me asking, Redlight... were you expecting a flare of a temper, a silent nod, or a mindless agreement?"



"Is this little test truly necessary?"

I honestly think he was taken aback at first. Only to then grin. Moving his king as he once again commented on my "way with words" before a sharpness came to that stare. We Spoke then. Honest and clear. A dance of minds as pieces moved across the board. He was playing much more aggressive then. Once, I noted irritation at a particularly forward comment, so amended by pointing out that there is a defined difference between testing and challenging...

One makes certain cracks are sealed... while the other digs them deeper.

"Understand me, Redlight... I won't always say what you want to hear...

But... you can be certain I will tell you what you need to hear."

In the end, I was checkmated.

One move before I could checkmate him.

Nevertheless, just before he vanished leaving only a couple black leaves in his wake, an understanding was achieved. He's well aware that he isn't the only one with a Game in motion and, as such, I've reassured him that his goals are not any near my own. Our Games can run - unhindered - simultaneously. Meaning there is only benefit so long as we both cooperate in our roles...

And, normally... a Knight and a Bishop do tend to work well together.

For now, however, my goals are very simple. I have old friends to reunite with, you see. And, at this very moment, I'm pleased to be able to say that I have the cool night air on my face and the sound of traffic rushing below on lamp-lit roads. Normally, I'd wear my disguise and stay in some cheap little motel off the beaten path... but no. Not tonight. Tonight I yearned for much more... open surroundings than what any form of room could offer. With the Cafe and its maddening Loop now behind me... I chose a rooftop to sleep for the night. It's cold, but pleasantly so. The night sky above only slightly concealed by streams of shifting clouds that offer a spitting of rain down upon the small city. A slight nip carried in the wind...

I have never been so grateful for raindrops in all my life.

The World is open to me again.

No longer am I bound within the hellish fog of a realm between ours and His.

No longer am I severed off from the rest of humanity. Cut away like a cancerous tumor.

I'm back.

And with an old friend at my side, no less.

Shooter chose to accompany me after I told everyone I was off. Muttered something about not wanting to hear of me "turning up in a ditch somewhere" and gathered up what few things he had with him. I thanked "Joseph" once again for everything he's done for me and the rest of us exchanged the only farewell that tends to be appropriate in our line of work...

"Don't die."

Sort of says it all, doesn't it?

I didn't exactly get what one would call "approval" to leave the Loop, but... well, old habits die hard, I suppose. I doubt my newest friend much cares and, besides that... I have a medallion to return. After all, it would be far from good manners to keep a friend waiting needlessly, no? The only thing that had kept me bound to the Cafe was my weakened condition, but now... now, I'm faring much better. Now, I feel near to my old ways. Granted, it will take another month or so for my ribs to fully heal, but one mustn't expect miracles. I am a merely human, after all. And though I am a Proxy... magical pixie healing abilities somehow never worked its way onto my contract.

In any case, we should be at Requiem's church in a few days' time. Shooter muttered something along the lines of "get up high, eh?" when I purposed spending the night of a rooftop, but honestly... it just feels nice to see a sky as it is supposed to be. Not distorted or twisted with stars bleeding against the backdrop... flaring up like an infection...

Yes. He is still on my mind.

Though I try not to let it dominate my thoughts. Just the thought of Him returning for Round Two is enough to make me feel sick and part of me wants to believe it won't happen. That the confrontation with Father had... "encouraged" Him to reconsider... but, deep inside, I know He will come again. I know He will make me Run again... and I know it'll be a hell of a lot worse than it was. I'm living on borrowed time now. That much, I am well aware... even if my allies like "Joseph" and Shooter don't want to admit it. Doing their best to reassure me that The Beak is long gone.

Given how well I can read most people... you'd think they wouldn't bother with the lie.

Last I heard, The Beak was "hibernating" to recuperate from His altercation with Father. How long that will last or, more likely, did last for, I have no way of knowing... but, for now, I will enjoy this second chance for all it is worth. "Joseph" has found a... detail or two about my health that may be cause for concern... but nothing fatal. At least, not imminently so. So, for now, I am back to work.

Well, back to work after I have Kali and Loki on my shoulders again.

I'm honestly dead curious as to what their reaction will be to Shooter. They never did really like him, but he's not exactly "Shooter" anymore. Least not in body. In mind and spirit... well, I'm still trying to figure that out for myself. As is he. It's quite the quandary. One we've already discussed more than once and one I've seen working through his mind quite a few times as he sits alone in silence...

On the roof of the Cafe one night, he asked me if I trusted him. He asked for truth, saying he deserved that much... and asked if I trusted him. Like I used to.

I told him no.

I could tell immediately it was a hard pill for him to swallow, but he did nod... and then he threw birdseed in my face.

I had to smile.

Honestly, I do find myself trusting him to a point. And he will always be my ally and friend, no matter which face he wears. I simply hope the mental strain does not tax him too much. He's been unusually quiet lately... as if he's down-scaled himself from "fire tornado" to simply "tornado."

I've no doubt he will come around. Probably just needs to get on a mission or two to get the traffic jam in his mind moving again.

It will probably do myself some good as well. I'm still a little... off, so to speak. As some of my Friends here have no doubt noticed. I need to get my mind in gear again...

And what better way to do that than to have some fun in the eye of the storm?

I must say, I've been in this Game for quite a while. Seen a lot of "Players" come and go...

But this time... this time, things feel different.

The winds are set to tear apart the reality we know at its very seams...

Those who fail to pay attention will be torn apart with it.

My friends, I'd advise every one of you consider your positions very carefully.

If you wait until you hear the thunder to act, it might already be too late.

But remember the most important thing...

Keep Smiling!