Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sticks And Stones.

It was November 28th.

And I could see my breath.

The night was cold, and it had only just begun. Rain came down as a mist. There was warning that it might turn to ice rain or snow, but that far into the night, that hadn't been the case. The delicate sound of the tiny drops hitting down on stone and grass and leaves was nearly a comfort to my uneased mind as I stood waiting in that small courtyard. A small clearing enclosed by a stone wall. Signatured with several trees who's canopy was nearly enough to block out the moon when it peeked through the clouds.

Earlier in the month, I had answer my cell, only to find the voice of Delirium greeting me. My Oathbreaker "friend". She wasted a bare few minutes asking questions that she knew I was not about to answer before getting to the actual point of her call.

She spoke of a Meeting.

They are a simple thing. A simple concept. Every so often, one is called amongst the lower-ranked in the assorted Cults - usually when there is something especially turbulent transpiring somewhere, somehow. The location is constantly changing from one Meeting to the next, and invitation is the only way to take part. It's a simple way of fixing problems and trading information without the Highers of the different Political Parties sticking their noses in.

Delirium cautioned as to whether or not I should attend, but she knew I had in the past. And knew that my interest in information might sway the scales when placed against the risk. There weren't bound to be many there who were going to be... all that happy to see me. In fact, it could get lethally ugly...

You don't get it, do you?

That would take the fun out of it. 

And yet... I asked where and when.

"...November 28th. Giles Corey."

And that, of course, was when she hung up.

So, under the dull light of the full moon... that is exactly where I went.

Just one out of twenty simple slabs of stone - benches, almost - that protrude out from the stone wall enclosing the old memorial site. Each stone being engraved with a name. Their End. And the date. The site existing as a simple, small nod to those who were executed during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Amongst the dead, I found the marker for the man who was "pressed to death". Kali was perched upon my shoulder as we both watched the light rain wash over the few words carved in stone before us. On a whim, I slowly bent down and placed my fingers lightly to the name. The two words that were his last becoming my own form of greeting on that drizzly night.

"More weight, brother."

Something shifted the air.

I shot to my feet at the same instance that Kali screamed and flew from my shoulder. Disappearing into the night. Deserting me amongst the endless sea of stone names as a crawling sensation rose over my skin and threw a cold shiver down my spine. A presence enveloped me. Weighting me in place when I slowly turned... and found a being all too familiar interrupting the waves of gravestones. A tall, black suit and a face empty of expression. Arms long and bent. His entire Being like a distortion of reality as the rest of the world shrank away. Bolting me in place. My throat constricting as He watched me. Studied me.

A voice drifted up into my mind. Reminding me to kneel.

I could not.

For another voice I didn't recognize hissed for me to Run.

Between the two, I only froze.

Terror laced my thoughts as I found myself caught and held in that gaze. The silence pounding deafeningly over the space as the chilling wind blew stronger. His Whispers drifting across my hearing almost... hesitantly at first. Quiet and broken. Until another voice joined it. And another and another. Laying one over the other until it was not but a hive of sounds. Twisting. Multiplying. Distorting...

Until a pain spiked through the center of my skull. Sharp. Fast. Ruthless. Splintering down my neck. Down my spine. Arms. Legs.

Cutting my very knees out from under me.

I collapsed. Hands catching hold of the stone wall to stop my fall. To steady myself. To gain my feet back under me again after such a split-second attack to my senses. My head throbbed and the world pulsed and spun violently...

You had your chance. 

And now... I burn the heart. Right. Out. Of. You. 

but, by the time I looked up again, He was gone.

I barely had the chance to catch my breath before a voice called my attention. A voice so light and airy pulling me awake from the cold dread that gripped me down to my soul. A voice I knew all too well...

"Nightscream, your presence was requested 
a quarter of an hour ago."

"My most humble apologies for sleeping in, Requiem. Truly, the image of Sloth itself could be crafted in my likeness. I must have slept for a whole three minutes. What is it? If this is regarding Diamondback again, I'll murder either him or you myself. Possibly both, for convenience sake."

"Oathbreakers stalk the streets this night. You are to eradicate their sickly presence within my town before their mockery of God's plan stains my Holy Church. Go."

"...Oath...? What in Father's name are Oathbreakers doing all the way out here? Their nearest settlement is... the Northern region of Alabama, isn't it?"

"The diseased imps follow an Outcast of their own blood."

"...Oh, sweetheart, what manner of lost puppy have you taken in this time?"

Meghan Fisher.

Also known as Delirium.

The tiny little thing of a woman was skipping from one name slab to the next as if they were not but stepping stones over a pond. Her white labcoat flapping in the breeze as she held her arms wide on either side of her. From her beaming mouth bubbled detailed explanations of what organs would have "popped" first when Giles was "squished like a bug" as she neared with every hop forward. Her Oathbreaker mask dangling around her neck, out of the way, and a plushie dangling from one hand. The bizarre looking toy grinning 

do we i to

at me even as it swung around by its arm. A little grim reaper. A toy which I had a very hard time deciding... whether it was somewhat cute... or if I needed a Priest and some holy water.

When she stood directly beside me on the stone for Giles Corey, she still wasn't at eye height.

She peered up at me. Wide eyes holding a wondrous expression that one would only expect to see on a young child, not a woman nearing thirty. But, as though oblivious to the physical years that were supposed to have aged and matured her, she hugged that creepily-cute toy close to her chest. Blonde pigtails bobbling on either side of her head with every movement and breeze.

She commented I looked pale with ALMOST a trace of worry in her tone. Asking if I was feeling alright as she reached to touch my forehead...

And I blocked her reach with the back of my gauntlet. Staring her down from behind my mask. Letting her know full well... that she wasn't fooling me even the slightest. Her own expression nearly cooled as she met mine, but a second later she was grinning again. Turning her hand and fingers in silent admission to let me see the small, circular, metal point surgically implanted into the tip of her middle finger. A dot that, no doubt, was tainted with some manner of virus or another.

She giggled. Admitting that I caught her as if I'd walked into the room while she had her hand in the cookie jar. A sly, almost pouting, look to her face as she fidgeted with her jacket. Tugging on it as she went on about how I didn't have to use such a scary face. That it was just a little joke between friends.

So I asked what she had "jokingly" tried to lace me with.

Delirium jumped up onto the stone wall that separated us from the graveyard. Finally gaining some height over me while doing a little spin on the toes of her boots. Red skirt flapping just like her coat in the wind. Saying it was nothing. Just a joke. A simple cold. Nothing more. Then she looked down at the plushie in her arms. Asking "George" to back her up.

The creepy toy grinning 


at me did not help her case in the slightest.

After that initial headache, she lead the way to where the Meeting was taking place. It wasn't far, but it gave us enough time to discuss recent test results a little. All part of our arrangement. Proposed by her not long after the Church burnt to the ground. Basically, I take my own blood samples and such and pass them along to her. She, being an Oathbreaker, was obviously rather fascinated with the idea of someone outrunning the Plague Doctor, so studies whatever results come up. As a result, she has a front row seat to any problems that appear, and I have someone monitoring my condition.

That being said... I can throw her farther than I trust her.

Her head isn't wanted by her own kin for nothing. I have seen what she is capable of... and I'm not denying that involving myself was, perhaps, stupid from the very start... but I considered it the lesser of two evils. I wanted to make sure I would know if The Beak came back for me. So far, I seem to be in the clear.

Which, in itself, I find highly unnerving.

Nevertheless, I followed along like she wanted me to. Explaining that she hadn't wanted her "Special Proxy Friend" to go in alone as she hopped from one gravestone to the next, as if the ground itself was made of lava. Which it might very well have been in her mind. When we finally came to the entrance (who doesn't have a handy dandy underground chamber in their home town?) you could tell that it had been there for a long time. The air held that must of age that only decades upon decades give birth to. The tunnel leading single-file all the way down to the labyrinth of a pit below. Tunnels. Doors. Dead Ends. All covered in thick moss and spider webs. All feeling as though they were set to close in around us at any point in time...

I've been to plenty of other Meetings in other areas, and each had their own feel. Usually a faint hint of whichever Cult had made them still lingered in the halls. As if their purpose - the very spirits of those who once used them as their own places of work and worship - were still very much active.

This one felt like nothing I'd ever been in before.

Even the air itself felt constricted.

Like so many other locations, I observed many scratches and marks on the walls as I went along. Most partly cover by dirt and moss and webs, but others were still revealed enough to catch my attention.

One such scratching was in Latin. My Latin isn't the best, but the best translation I could give for it was: "Free Her; Free Us."

As I scanned this leftover or that from the past occupants, Delirium seemed to entertain herself by playing "don't step on the crack, or you'll break your mother's back" with the interlocked stone floor. Chanting a little, senseless rhyme to herself as she went along ahead of me. At least, she did. Until she jumped up and slammed both feet down on the final crack of the passageway. Turning back to me as she gestured out to the chamber which spread around us, as if it was some grand reveal.

The ceiling was unexpectedly low. The chamber itself feeling just as cramped and set to close in as the passageway, even though, technically, it should have been more than large enough to host our crowd and more. Chains and ropes hung like decorations. Some had snapped and fallen to rest on the floor with the years of dust and cracked rock, but the majority still hung exactly as they were intended. Rising from where they were fastened to the walls to swoop up to the very center of the ceiling. Twisting and wrapping around a carved figure which looked more like a human cocoon than a woman. Arms and legs snared by shackles, knots, locks, and hooks. Those very same chains and ropes wrapped down her body to flood down the center column of the chamber.

"Welcome to the only known shrine in the whole wide world of The Imprisoned, Screamy!"

"...The Fear of Confinement."

"Yep! The one and only!"

Now that came as a surprise. The last time I'd heard of The Imprisoned, it was during that whole Cult Town mess back with the Oathbreakers. We had a Scribe amongst us. A Blind Man Follower. He got ushered into the wrong place at the wrong time, and preferred the company of our Kin rather than that of the Mad Doctors. The lot of us (David included) 

David...? Yes, David had found me. Not that... long ago...


what for...?


he'd been... 


were hunkered down for another night. A few stories were passed around, and some simple mind... I forget who it was... mentioned feeling trapped. Like we'd come here to settle the matter, and had only volunteered to be mice in a maze for a bunch of freaks in labcoats.

The Scribe actually smiled. And spoke a warning. A warning to never let such things burden us too greatly. Lest we risk drawing HER attention. He spoke of a Fear locked away in their own Realm. A creature in the shape of a Woman; who dragged chains and ropes as She roams. Appearing nearly as a ghost. Always on the other side of a door, or gate, or window. Appearance broken and faint... but still bound and shackled. Gagged and blindfolded... except, the blindfold had slipped down over time. Revealing one sickly eye. The Scribe going on to say how it's said that that slip is the only reason She can still Reach out from Her Realm...

She recruits what are referred to as Burdens. Both Target and Servant, wrapped up in one convenient package. Those who, like Her, are trapped. Mind. Body. Or Soul. Whispering a promise of Freeing them from their personal prisons... so long as they Free Her first. And so begins the obsession. An obsession with Freeing their Damsel, so to speak. An obsession that eventually comes to imprint them with the same bruises and welts and injuries that their Lady has gained from Her ropes and chains and hooks. The Scribe spoke of how She... liked to steal targets from other Fears most of all. Tugging them away from those who'd already claimed them. Smiling as he repeated his warning... to not let thoughts of prisons linger in our minds too long. That the Oathbreakers could become the very least of our concerns...

Then, several months later... I was standing in Her Shrine with an Oathbreaker for an ally.

Funny how the world comes around, hm?

The chamber was already crowded with figures as Delirium and I slipped amongst them. Servants of all branches gathered under a single roof. I felt the pull of my kin. Other Proxies. I noticed Maenads and Scarlet Marked. Nests and Dolls. Snake Servants and Chillers. Drones and Nameless...

And Oathbreakers, of course.

Malfatto was there. The very same Malfatto who treated me with such honor and respect during the climax of that whole Cult Town fiasco. He met me across the floor, addressing me in a tone calm and cooled from behind his leather mask. I gave my best smile. Expressing surprise that he was able to recognize me without the garb of his late Leader, Josef Bohr.

I heard the smile in his tone when he answered... by telling me that everyone and anyone could recognize me by now.

After all, I was one of the central figures in causing the entire Proxy Organization to implode.

He clapped. As though applauding me. The mocking sound seeming a lot louder than it should have. Drawing the attention of most others in the room onto Malfatto himself, and myself by extension. He addressed the crowd. Suggesting they all give a warm welcome towards me, if only to appreciate my courage... or, rather, my stupidity for actually daring to show myself there. In this turbulent time when ALL Cults are being shaken from their very supports. All being threatened by the same invisible force who's very existence pollutes the air with ill omens...

My "Leader" and "Master", Redlight.

He spoke of how this "fiend" threatened all of them. That he managed to undo the entire Proxy Organization. The unquestionable powerhouse of ANY of the Cults. And how?

By getting a "Cafe Waitress" to dig up the history of a High School Teacher.

He explained for the crowd what had happened. Detailing each turn in events. Explaining how, in panic of what he had done, the Proxy known as Sherlock turned to the Highers for help.

no. no that's wrong.

Just like Redlight knew he would.

And, the Highers, not thinking Redlight was of much concern to them in whole, decided to use the information for a different matter. To hunt down this Teacher and arrest them. To make an example out of their precious "Rebel without a Cause" for every other Agent out there.


no they...

it wasn't that. it wasn't...


Just like Redlight knew they would.

And so, with my head on the Wanted List, those who were in alliances with me - specifically close alliances - would be forced to pick a side. Of course, The Highers didn't think for a second that any of them would choose me over them... but there was one young man who would. And did. A young man who hauled his entire team along on the quest. A young man who was, indeed, Redlight's own creation... but who anyone could see had his true loyalty only in me. Driven by the memories and experiences from the life he was so desperate to believe was his own. The infamous Morningstar. Choosing to leave the Organization along with his company... only to take to aiming all his chaos and mayhem right back at them.

Just like Redlight knew he would. And had probably created him for.

Of course, the Highers fought back. Sending forces to deal with such a tiny, secondary rebellious force. Aiming to stomp them out quickly and efficiently. Critically injuring several of the group. Actions which drew the notice... of the Valtiels. As both of these so called "Rebel Targets" were loyal Servants of the Slender God, it became oh so perfectly clear to Them... that the Highers believed that that loyalty should exist only towards themselves. And, therefore, taking the Self-Proclaimed "Angels" off the sidelines... and into play. Sweeping the entire Organization off its feet in a matter of days.

Just like Redlight knew They would.

Malfatto concluded for everyone... that it had been The Devil that had desired to annihilate the Organization, and replace it with himself. And he had done just that, just by giving a little tap on ONE Domino:


But, of course, Malfatto continued on, speaking of how the Dominos were still falling. That if this egotistical maniac went along his course, all other Cults could be swept away just as cleanly. That it was not by accident that the Valtiels were involved... and how they (the Cultists at the Meeting) had every reason to believe that these Elemental Figures would be the next Domino to fall. Just another stepping stone in Redlight's quest for power.

And that would be when Malfatto turned back to me. Speaking of how curious it was... that I had announced my own vendetta against a Valtiel at this time. The Amber Eyed one. The one who, if anyone knew anything about energy could hazard a guess, had some connection to The Devil, judging by the reflection of the Soul in their eyes.

He questioned... if my little quest to take out this particular demi-god... was really about my son.

Or if I had a more... Contracted reason behind it.

I listened. Letting him have his monologue, before speaking up. Admitting to having allied myself with The Devil, but reminding that I had had little choice in the matter. He had saved my life, and so it was indebted to him. So, while I would not deny being a "Redlight Loyalist", it was hardly fair to accuse me of treason or some such when it was the only rope being offered at the time. One must do what they have to in order to survive, after all...

I told him... how I was well aware of the pattern. How everything seemed to be falling in Redlight's favor, for whatever means he had for it. However, I hadn't been in contact with The Devil since this whole mess began with Joseph. What is more, he only ever gave orders by text after I had left the Cafe with Morningstar. That I never once saw him in person after that. And then I hadn't heard from him at all.

I explained what Valtiel told me. That Redlight was dead. That "those who do what Redlight did, don't survive to talk about it."

The murmur that went through the crowd told me that those present had the same doubts I did.

And I agreed with them.

I told them that I highly doubted Redlight really was dead. That my gut told me otherwise. And that I would be happy to share any and all knowledge that I did have. That I was willing to detail what our discussions had been. What bits and pieces he had told me about of his view of the world and where he wanted it to head. Where the mistakes were.

I told them that I was only there as a Proxy. That I wanted answers just as much as they did.

And I was accused of being a liar. A spy. A traitor. Any of the above and more. We argued and discussed. One figure after another voicing their own opinions on what was going on and what needed to be addressed. One Maenad - tall and muscled like something out of a Greek Myth - suggested that maybe I'd speak with a more truthful tongue if they put me under a bit of "pressure" to clear my thoughts. As one would expect, the only appropriate response I could think of for that little idea bubble was to grin at him with two words on my lips: More weight. Of course, he thought I was mocking him - which I more or less was - and he started to come over to me. Only to get interrupted on the way by the pint-sized Delirium with her white leather mask on. Red, goggle-like eyes staring WAY up. That airy, giggly voice of hers suggesting he take a breath, lest he go for a Time Out.

He went for a Time Out.

A rather permanent one which had him in a seizure on the floor. Convulsing so hard he snapped his spine even while foam came from his mouth and his eyes turned red with hemorrhaging blood vessels. Dripping down his cheeks like tears.

I was very glad at that point that I hadn't let that little, circular dot touch me.

She stepped over his jerking body as she trotted up to me. Still hugging that toy to her chest. Asking how glad I was that she had my back even as she rocked back and forth on her heels. Of course, she didn't even wait for an answer before those red-goggle eyes of her mask were directed to Malfatto nearby. The tension in the air nearly doubling in that split second as she passed a smooth greeting to him. Voice nearly a purr.

He reminded her with a sharp tongue and tight fists... that violence was against the Code at a Meeting.

And she reminded him that the Code allowed for self-defense. And the Maenad HAD tried to shove her aside. Going on to say that she HAD been playing nice. Mentioning that she COULD have used "George's Secret Weapon." Taking a syringe from out of the back of the stuffed toy as though to prove her point. Asking Malfatto if he wanted to try it out for himself.

That it "might be fun!"

Everyone seemed to let the topic drop rather wordlessly.

That was when he spoke up. A Nest. An older man with striking black hair streaked with gray and worn and weathered features. Scars torn across his face and being. A suit as worn and torn as my own garb fashioning him as dignified. A man of knowledge. A man of... purpose... even if, perhaps, he had lost it by then.

He mocked the fear that laid in the hearts of those around him.

Word by word came slow, but heavy. Each one chosen carefully and dangerously before it fell from his tongue. Though at first he'd simply been just another face in the crowd, when he spoke, he seemed to nearly command the attention of everyone. A quiet confidence. A quiet understanding. A quiet... brutality, that no one doubted he possessed.

He spoke of Redlight... as not but a toy. A puppet. A child on a tantrum. Reminding the crowd that, though Malfatto's Domino Story was amusing, it still summed up to the simple fact... that Red himself had done nothing. And would continue to do nothing.

"After all, one can only be what they are. No more."

A CRACK split the air. A snap of sound which stilled all tongues...

and drove attention right back onto myself.

My gauntlet throbbing... from how I had slammed it down upon a table nearby.

I couldn't... recall why I'd got so mad.

I couldn't... understand why I'd... nearly broken my own hand with the force.

I couldn't explain it.

Despite the stares of the room silently... questioning.

silently demanding

I left before any could get in my way.

but... one did get in the way, didn't they?

a black hoodie nearly... shadowing over a mask. a white mask with a painted-on red smile. green hair. that... purple strip going downwards on the left side. 

he stepped in front of me while others pulled back. 

I nearly... bumped into him...

that was... reeal.... wasnt it?

I just knew I had to get out of there. I had... to get some air. I jogged down the length of the passage and back up the stairs. My head pounded so bad that the echo of my own steps was near torturous. The cold night air greeted me as a blessing. But I didn't stop. I didn't stop until I slipped and fell down to my hands and knees amongst the gravestones. Burning lungs replacing the ache of my hand...

I couldn't understand it.

something... fell from my pocket. onto the grass. i remember... taking it. looking at it. something that filled my very core with ddread. something that made me... look back behind me... 

and see that mask again.

sitting up in the branch of a tree

legs dangling

The Jester waved at me.

I just kept Running.

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