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?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Stone, Ghost, and I all decided to head back to base to plan out our next move. How we would find Neomaria, neutralize her without harming her, and keep the Martyrs from capturing her first. The thing is, when we got back, there were people waiting for us.

Not Martyrs. Worse.

The first sign of trouble was that none of the agents who were supposed to be guarding the apartment building were there. Stone and I had our guns out in an instant as we entered the building, Ghost following behind us, my bodyguard/captors just behind him.

We headed upstairs, to the room we'd decided as base. An old, empty apartment that always gave me the creeps. As soon as we opened the door, a young, attractive dark-haired woman in a white t-shirt and tight blue jeans turned away from the window and smiled at us.

"Woah," I said, pushing Stone's gun down as she took aim. She gave me an irritated look. I tried to ignore her and addressed the intruder. "Jorma."

Jorma smiled at me. "Matthias, you remember my name! Mother will be so pleased." Her eyes flickered and focused behind me, and for a brief instant they turned gold. "And you must be the famous Ghost, of the Old Guy's cult. It's a pleasure."

"What are you doing here, Lilim?" Stone asked.

"My name is Jorma, and I'm here because the one you're hunting is a nuisance that Mother has, until this point, ignored. But since a valuable piece has decided to get involved with her, we might as well remove the nuisance, yes?"

Ghost pushed past me, and I swear that man is insane. He actually walked right up to the snake lady with clenched fists like he was gonna strike her. "If you try to harm her in any way--"

The thing about standing in the doorway is that you don't see what's behind the corner. In this case, there was suddenly a gun pointed at Ghost's head at point blank rage. A man in a black cloak and gas mask stepped out from behind the corner.

"One should not fear death," he said. "It is merely a transition. Ending the girl would be a gift."

I was dumbfounded. "Ophilim?"

Jorma threw her head back and laughed. "I told you, Matty, the Archangel's gotten interested in you. It's something it and Mother agree on."

"Regrettably, we must work together," Ophilim said. "That threat of the-- of Neomaria is too great."

Ghost took a step away from Jorma, and frowned at Ophilim. "What do you want?"

"I want to kill that possessed failure of a cop over there and get out of this apartment," he turned his masked head and looked around. "My kind isn't welcome here. But what I want even more is to serve the will of the Archangel, and the Archangel desires me to aid you in capturing the girl."

With that, Jorma clapped her hands and smiled. "Come in, everyone!" she said. "We have much to discuss! And don't worry, your friends who were guarding the place are safe and sleeping. Oh, and Matty? Be a doll and don't go blabbing about this on your blog, OK? We wouldn't want the Martyrs to know what we're up to."

As I stepped inside, I heard Judas mumble in the back of my mind Wheels within wheels. That's the phrase, right? This is going to be fun...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Meeting Ghost

I met Ghost on a busy street on a sidewalk downtown. Like he said on the phone, he was easy to spot. While there is a small number of black men in khaki suits and trilbies in Tennessee, I don't think many of them are known speaking in British accents and happily chatting up random people.

"So," I said, trying to ignore the various agents I recognized around me, each trying to blend in (on reflection, I think Ghost was doing the same thing). "I understand that the person we've been tracking is your girlfriend."

He grinned. I think I actually embarrassed the former cultist-slash-spy. "Not exactly," he said. "Just someone special to me."

"Any idea how to track her down?"

He shook his head. "I've been looking for her for some time. This is the closest I've gotten to actually finding her."

"Why do the Nightlanders protect her? What do they get out of it?"

Ghost, to his credit, didn't show any overt signs of discomfort at being addressed by my, um, roommate. "I don't know. To be honest, I'm not sure if the shadows guarding her are technically Nightlanders. Once they were, but they've been part of a freaky mad-science fetal experiment for a decade. All I know is that they don't like it when Neomaria gets agitated."

"What do you mean?"

"At first, I thought they attacked anyone who got close. But during my search, I met a few people who got close to her. Each of them didn't approach until they'd talked her into calming down. I think it's only when she's scared or upset that the shadows lash out."

I nodded. "Hence why all the dead servants and our agents. Of course, they'd frighten her."

"Yeah, about that--"

We were interrupted by Agent Stone, who was suddenly walking beside Ghost. "I want to know what the Archive wants with our operation."

Ghost blinked at her. "Ma'am, I cut ties with the Archive when I started searching for--"

"Bullshit. No one leaves the Archive. You're a Blind Man Cult--"

"Grandfather," he corrected her, presumably by reflex.

"--And cults don't let their members just walk away." Stone regarded him with a stare that could have made a lion swear off meat. "If you want to keep us from that bringing a murderer to justice--"

"Murderer!?" Ghost raised his voice there, drawing a few looks. He quickly quieted down. "Neomaria is a victim. She has no control over the shadows. I know you've lost people but--"

"But nothing. People died. It's her fault."

I decided to step in there. "Look, we can discuss who's evil later. Ghost, you were about to ask me something?"

"Right," he sighed. "I read your blog, Matthias. There was a victim you couldn't identify. One in commando gear. I want to see the body."

"Too late," Stone said. "It's been shipped away to headquarters. What the hell did you want to do with it anyway?"

"It's just... troubling," Ghost said. "Over the past few months, I've noticed things. People following me. Signs that others are looking for Neomaria as well. Of course, the PREs probably want her, as a curiosity if nothing else, but I think someone else is trying to find her."

"Who?" I asked.

"How much do you know about the Archive? Are you familiar with the Seven Callings."

Stone snorted. "Pretty much everyone is, ever since your girlfriend's sister decided to become the Cult's public face. You got Scribes, Inquisitors, Keepers, Brokers, Collectors, Martyrs, and Analysts, right?"

"And which would you say is the most dangerous?"

I shrugged. "The combat ones, I guess. Those are the Martyrs, right?"

Ghost nodded. "There is a very good chance that the Martyrs are hunting Neomaria as well. I think your John Doe was one."

That got us quiet. Eventually, Stone decided to break said silence: "Shit."

Once again, Ghost nodded. "Couldn't have said it better myself."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Things Have Been Hectic

Well, it's been a while since I last posted, and my last post was of me going off to do something, and if you've been paying attention, you know what that means: a bunch of posts recapping what happened are coming soon.