Friday, January 4, 2013

The Sin of Sloth

"The Lord helps those who help themselves."

That's a phrase that a lot of people use. Now, I've always felt kind of conflicted about it. On the one hand, it is theoretically good advice. I mean, you can't expect God to help save you with miracles all the time. Probably because he's a fairy tale you humans dreamed up. Ultimately, you are in control of your own destiny. It's up to you to improve your lot in life.

On the other hand, it also feels like an excuse. Like people started saying to justify not lending a hand to others, so that they could pretend that their own selfishness was holy and righteous and what Jesus taught. And I think that this meaning is all too common, and that the phrase has started to become damaging.

But the first meaning-- that I can get behind. And I think that it might be what whoever coined the phrase actually meant. Not living to your full potential was seen as sinful in the early Church. You know how Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins? And how nowadays, it's used to mean laziness? Originally, Sloth was about apathy. It was about not caring around the world around you, and squandering your God-given talents. You have great potential in you, and you commit the sin of Sloth when you fail to use that potential to better the world.

I admit, these days, I've been feeling awfully Slothful. I've spent the last few weeks doing nothing. I know, it's very boring. When I agreed to work with the SMSC... I don't know, I thought I'd be making a difference in people's lives. I'd thought I'd be making the world a better place.

But I was wrong. All I've done so far is sit around and watch things happen. My agency is restrained by, well, agents. Even if I knew of a way to make a difference, I wouldn't be allowed to. So I can do is wait around for whatever purpose it is that the Mother of Snakes has in mind for me. No way out, no way to fight. And the worst part is that I allowed myself to be put in this situation when I signed up with the SMSC.

I am guilty of Sloth.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Idle Ponderings

What does SMSC even stand for?

Spooky Monster Splattering Commission? Secret Munitions Spy Corps? Supernatural Military Sleeper Cell? Super Macho Sexy Committee?  Screaming Mormons Scare Catholics?

Apparently, it actually stands for Special Monitoring and Study Commission. Well, I guess if you want an agency to be top secret, picking a boring and innocuous name like that is probably the way to go.

Happy New Year

Operations are almost back in full swing here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shadow Puppets II

She did not speak. She did not move. The Wooden Girl simply stood there in silence, surveying the firefight before her.

Behind her, the air began to shimmer. This was followed by a great tearing in the world, and a portal to some other horrible realm opened up in the forest. Even above the gunfire, even from across the clearing, I could hear the screams. Within the Screaming Tower, the puppet tortures her dolls. They hang suspended in the tower's halls. Their bodies respond only to the commands of the tower's mistress. Their bodies decay, even as the dolls themselves are forced to remain alive. Some are allowed to scream in terror. Some cannot scream, for their throats have rotted away. Some only scream when the vultures come for them, to eat at their flesh. Some are taken to secret rooms and forced to endure more conventional methods of torture. Their screams echo throughout the tower. This is the symphony to which she conducts her plays.

As the screams washed over us, one by one, everyone stopped and turned to see the Wooden Girl and the portal to her hellish realm.

"Experiment 154," I heard Scribe Sigma say. "Using materials collected from Experiment 153, they attempted to find a way to use her strings for themselves."

Neomaria faced the Wooden Girl. The shadows coalesced around her, almost cocooning the poor girl. "Who are you?" she asked the Wooden Girl. "Why are you here?"

The Wooden Girl was silent, but she lifted one arm, and pointed on finger at Martyr Alpha. The man seemed to turn white as a sheet.

"It's not my--" he protested. "I wasn't the first to use your strings! I just used what was available to me! I--"

I don't know what else he was going to say. I suppose I'll never know. His voice was cut off by a sudden choking sound, and suddenly he was being lifted into the air, struggling feebly against invisible strings. I saw the other Martyrs being pulled across the clearing toward the Wooden Girl. Unlike their Alpha, they did not resist.

That's when I realized: there was nothing left inside the Martyrs. They were puppets of the Alpha. Anything that remained of the people they once were was long gone.

The Wooden Girl turned around and stepped into the tear in space. The Martyrs were pulled in behind her. Just before the portal closed, I saw Martyr Alpha casting one last panicked look back at the clearing, back at the world that he would never see again. He opened his mouth, and though the Wooden Girl did not allow any sound to come out, I knew that he was screaming.

The world went silent. The Screaming Tower was gone. Neomaria fell to the ground, and lay there.

"Maria!" Ghost shouted, rushing to her. The shadows swirled around her, and seemed almost like they were going to lash out at him, but then they receded. Ghost knelt next to her and held her in his arms.

I wasn't close enough to hear what was said, but I saw her wrapping her arms around him, and the two of them holding each other close. Scribe Sigma began to walk away.

"You're not going to say anything to her?" I asked.

"No, she's safe now."

"But she's your sister. Shouldn't you talk to her?"

Scribe Sigma just gave me a sad smile. She didn't say anything, and I heard a sound like stone grinding against stone, and the the entrance to a tunnel opened up in the world, and Scribe Sigma walked through it.

The grinding again, and the tunnel closed itself.

In the clearing, Ghost stood, helping Neomaria to her feet. "We're leaving," Ghost announced. "I've set aside some resources. I've got a home for us squared away. You won't be hearing from us again."

"Like hell!" Stone said. "That girl is still wanted for murder."

"And if I recall your orders were to leave her be," Ghost snapped. "Don't try to stop us."

"Need some help getting to wherever you're going?" Jorma asked, a sly smile on her lips.

"Absolutely not. I don't want you telling your 'mother' where we are."

"She'll find out anyway. Every mirror, every reflection you cast, she can see." Jorma laughed. "I promise not to harm you. My Mother just wants to be sure that Neomaria can't be used to interfere with her plans. If she retires to some farm with her sweetheart, then it all works out."

Ghost glared at Jorma, and Neomaria whispered something in his ear. "Alright," he said finally. "Fine. But we're watching you."

Jorma laughed and approached the pair. "Don't worry," she said. "We'll just take a quick detour through the Garden." It was like a sudden sandstorm came out of nowhere, and then vanished, and Ghost, Jorma, and Neomaria were gone.

Ophilim had apparently decided to leave at some point during all this as well, so it was only us SMSC employees that made the trek through the woods back to New Rossfield.

Matthias, why don't you tell them what else you saw?


Very well.

On every tree in the forest as we walked back, there was an eye. And the gaze of each eye followed Matthias as he passed. He said not a word, and stared straight ahead. But he could feel every eye on his back.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Shadow Puppets I

Agents are returning from holidays. I guess things will start getting lively here soon.

Anyway, I see that Judas decided to add his two cents. I guess I'll just pick up where he left off.

There was a clearing, and in the center of the clearing was Neomaria. She was on her knees, crying, and shadows were swirling around her like an angry storm. Four Martyrs stood on the edge of the clearing, each one with a weapon trained on her. Between her sobs, Neomaria begged them to leave her alone. To just go.

"Neomaria!" Ghost shouted. The Martyrs looked at us. Neomaria looked up, and saw Ghost, and I swear, her face lit up like a lightbulb. It was amazing to watch. Like all the fear and sorrow and panic just washed away from her face in an instance, replaced only by sheer joy.

"Nu!" she said, and jumped up. A shot rang out, and the shadows swirled angrily. The fear returned to Neomaria's face.

"Martyr Alpha!" Sigma growled. She had her own weapon aimed at one particular Martyr, who had a big "A" emblazoned on his combat armor. It was a great day for people shouting each other's names.

"You should leave!" Martyr Alpha shouted. "This girl is the property of the Archive, and anybody who attempts to obstruct her capture will be eliminated!"

"No," Agent Stone said. "This girl is a wanted murderer, and I am going to bring her in."

"Please... everyone, please just go," Neomaria pleaded. "I don't want to hurt anyone else."

"I'm not going to leave you," Scribe Sigma told her sister. "Tell me, Martyr Alpha, how do you instill such loyalty in your soldiers? I was looking through some old records, and I found the most interesting thing. A certain experiment that was never officially closed."

By this point, we basically had a Mexican standoff going on. Everyone had a gun aimed at someone. The only exceptions were me and Neomaria, since she had her shadows, and nobody trusted me with a firearm.

But Martyr Alpha didn't seem to care. "This is your last chance!" he shouted. "We don't care if you're Gifted, we don't care if a PRE has marked you as a servant! We will kill you!"

"Why would they obey this insanity?" Ghost asked softly. "Harming a Gifted is heresy!"

"Gee," Stone said dryly, "it's almost like crazy people join your little cult."

I heard Ophilim sigh through his gas mask. "Children, please."

Even though weeks have passed, I'm still not sure who fired the first shot. Whether it was one of our guys or one of theirs. But somebody tried to kill somebody else, and that's when all hell broke loose.

Jorma tackled me almost immediately, and I found myself staring very intently at a blade of grass right in front of my eye while gunshots and shouts echoed around me. "Stay," Jorma ordered above me, and I felt her weight leave me. I heard her feet against the ground as she rushed past my head.

I looked up.

Mostly, everyone was hiding behind trees, occasionally popping out to fire a quick shot before returning to cover. Neomaria remained in the center of the clearing, crying, her shadows protecting her from the hail of bullets.

"Don't worry!" Ghost shouted above the pandemonium. "I'll get you out of this, babe! I promise!"

And then I saw her.

She appeared on the opposite side of the clearing, just beyond the trees, behind where Martyr Alpha had taken cover. She was taller than I'd expected, like a tree herself. Her body appeared to completely made of wood, and even from this distance, I could see her painted face, and that horrible, painted sneer.

The Wooden Girl had come.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Scribe Sigma

Matthias had just reached the part when that bitch had joined us, didn't he?

I'm always wary of the ones that the Old Oaf chose to receive new memories. I think the Archivists call them "Gifted." Those lucky fuckers who are selected by the "Blind Man" or "Grandfather" or whatever to get access to other people's memories and also access to his fancy interdimensional Catacombs. None of Us-- and by "Us," I mean the ones Matthias keeps referring to as "Them"-- really know what to think of the Old Oaf. It's like he pokes and prods just to see what will happen. In that sense, I suppose, the Archive and him deserve each other.

So anyway, here I am, sitting in the body of the Matthias the Oh-So-Pious, as he wanders the woods with his idiot government friends, a snake lady, a former Archivist, and Ophilim, looking for a science project gone wrong. I wouldn't mind so much, except that they all were keeping me from getting near Ophilim. I swear, you try to possess a guy one time...

Next thing we know some idiots are attacking us, and then one of the idiots starts flying around and talking about strings like the puppet bitch is here, only I can't sense her presence at all, so who knows what the fuck that's all about. And then who should swoop in at the last moment and save the day but Scribe Sigma? The Old Oaf's chosen idiot.

Words were exchanged, especially between Sigma and Ghost, but I frankly didn't give a shit. You guys already know what's up, you've read Matthias' public diary.

We hear gunshots. We hear screams. I start to perk up. Next thing I know, we're all running through the woods, after the people making that huge racket.

We get there and there she is: Neomaria. The little lost lamb with the Nightlander babies. And who's surrounding her? Just a bunch of heavily armed Martyrs, that's who.

There. Matthias should be grateful. I've moved his narrative along, so now he can get to the good stuff.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas and the Martyrs

Things have been dull. Many agents have left to be with their families. Hopefully, they'll be back soon.

Jorma's visited me a few times. We've taken to playing chess. I'm not good at it, though occasionally Judas takes over and plays in my stead.

He never loses.

So it's basically just been me, a handful of agents, Jorma, and the occasional inexplicable sound or item seemingly moving by itself. Before she left for the Holidays, Stone said she suspects the old apartment has a Poltergeist. Those are apparently things. Who knew?

Anyway, where was I with my story last time I posted? The alliance with Ophilim, right?


I'll spare you the details on our planning and such, but a few days later we were all in the woods outside of town. We'd located the remains of campsite that Neomaria had likely used, and were hot on her trail. Ghost seemed the most driven, of course. I'd grown to like the guy. There was a sincerity to him that you wouldn't expect from a member of secret cult. He really cared about the girl, and only wanted her well-being. He argued with both Stone and Ophilim about it quite a bit.

I'd been kind of banned from moving within a few yards of Ophilim. There'd been an incident earlier when Judas had tried to jump bodies. The Archangel's lapdog is a fast one.

I'm... not really sure what the hell happened next. But suddenly, there was the sound of gunfire, I was covered in blood, two agents were dead (one at my feet), and Jorma and Ophilim had pinned down someone in body armor, who struggling, vainly, to escape their grasp.

We all ran over to him. "It's a Martyr," Ghost said. "Tried to get the drop on us."

"And he succeeded," Ophilim said. "I have shamed my Lord Archangel by allowing such a thing."

Stone rolled her eyes, and I tried to ignore the hysterical laughter echoing through my brain.

"Inquisitor Nu," the Martyr said, oddly calmly for someone trying to break free from two superhuman Fear-Servants. "I am Martyr Nu. Isn't that neat?"

"Name's Ghost."

"You cannot escape what you are," Martyr Nu said. "Our destinies are woven with unbreakable strings."

And then he shot up. Like, straight up. His whole body. Ophilim and Jorma were knocked back onto the ground. Martyr Nu hovered there a moment, limp, as if he were being held by something invisible. Then his body turned upright, and his fell alighted to the ground. "For the Alpha," he said, still with that tone of eerie calm. He drew a knife and rushed at Ghost, in a blur I could barely see.

One more gunshot, and Martyr Nu was spread on the ground with blood gushing from the hole in the side of his head.

As one, we all turned to see where the shot had come from.

It was like the world itself had been painted on a brick wall, and a part of that wall had crumbled away, revealing a long, torchlit tunnel. A woman stood there, with dirty blond hair drawn back in a ponytail, he skin pale, her clothing black. She held a rifle in her hands, and a pair of gray eyes regarded us all from behind her glasses.

And then, Scribe Sigma spoke:

"Where is my sister?"