November 5, 2010

Tracking Down Ghosts, Part II

The others were nearly done with their reconnaissance by the time Nadi and Alexandria made it over to the sewers nearer to Maury's home. The others had been able to take cars, or at least some form of public transit. The two mages had to walk through the dark tunnels. Nadi was none to happy about that. Ever since she'd seen Stone in his true form (or maybe it wasn't his true form, but it terrifying nonetheless) she'd been afraid of the dark. She also had little desire to run into Joseph Traveler again.. but she wasn't going to say anything in front of anyone else.

So she and Alexandria got to go into the sewers. Nadi had a rather good memory, and navigated the tunnels well in the dark. At every few turns, she would call out in hopes that she could talk to the Collector before he jumped them.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" Nadi called in her low voice. The acoustics of the sewers sent it bouncing down the tunnels in eerie echos.

A familiar voice responded, somewhere above them, or in front of them.. .or maybe behind them.. the echoing tunnels made it nearly impossible to tell. "You are not alone.."

The sisters stopped walking. Nadi didn't try to sweep the flashlight about to look for the Collector. She knew it was a pointless gesture.. even if it would make her feel less nervous. "This is my sister, Alexandria."

"Does she promise to do no harm?" The voice was androgynous, with a hissing and clicking quality to it, almost like a trio singing three different parts in a song at the same time.

"If no harm is done to me..I agree." Alexandria responded, eyes roaming the darkness, searching for the bearer of the voice.

"Why are you here?"

"We are looking for Stepping Feather."

"The Indian?"

Nadi nodded. "Yes."

"You are too late." The Collector hissed in its disjointed song. A creepy, disturbing, and terrifying song that shot right through the reasoning part of the brain and straight to the animal instincts, the part of the brain that has nothing to do with rational thought, and everything to do with fleeing dangerous predators in the dark.

But Nadi was not one to be ruled by her baser instincts. Her head was screaming at her to runrunrun.. get into the light.. it was the only place safe from getting devoured. But she stood her ground, and didn't so much as flinch when the Collector seemed to materialize in front of them, appearing from nowhere.

The vampire  was all long limbs and disturbing features. It was virtually naked, dirty and torn rags hanging from its freakishly thin apendages, but it was still impossible to tell if it was male or female. Lank, greasy hair fell down to the middle of its back, and would serve as a veil for its face had it not had patches missing. Its teeth were pointed and stained. It stared at them, somehow intimately aware of where both of them stood, despite the fact that it had no eyes. In fact, it had no eye sockets. Just smooth skin on an uninterrupted plane of the face. Its nose was barely more than two holes in that plane, which was only truly broken by its mouth and its dangerously sharp fangs.

It also looked like it had a bad run in with a chainsaw. Or more accurately, an angry werewolf. Bloodless gashes adorned its skeletal frame. Angry wounds that were slowly knitting themselves closed, even as they watched.

"You fought?" Nadi asked in a tone that was only a little more breathless than usual.

 "Yes, we were both very injured." It tilted its head to one side, a very bird like gesture. "He is alive." it said as though it suddenly realized that might be important to the mages. "He made it past all the extra security measure, all the mazes.. all the traps. I found him in Maxwell's study."

Nadi blinked once. Her version of a very surprised expression. "What was he doing?"

The Collector made a long series of clicks before answering. They echoed off the walls and cement floor. "The same thing Maury.. and you, did while there... went through books."

 Books.. it was possible that if she could see what he'd been reading, she could make a guess as to where he might head next. "Do you know which ones?"

The Collector bared its teeth in what was probably a smile. "They all look the same to me, but you can ask Maury."

 Nadi frowned. "He saw Stepping Feather?"

The Collector disappeared, its voice floating back to them in an eerily disembodied manner. "He did not leave his sanctuary. However, he was the one who informed me the Indian's presence. It was rather... embarrassing."

Nadi and Alexandria exchanged glances, then continued through the tunnels until they arrived in Maury's study. When they stepped foot inside and closed the large steel door behind them, they heard another heavy door open and shut, and a moment later, Maxwell Maury stood across the room. "You are looking for the lycanthrope that broke into my study earlier this evening." He said without preamble.

Nadi just gave a small nod. "We know he's gone now, I was wondering which journals he was going through."

He reached over and removed several leather bound journals from the shelves and held them out to her. "He seemed to be particularly interested in the entries concerned with the Cook County Asylum."

Nadi gave a curt nod and handed the books back to Maury. They both turned from each other, and walked away without another word.

Nadi pulled the door closed behind her, and opened the mental connection to the rest of the group. He is heading to Cook County. We should hurry.


The car came to a stop, gravel crunching under the tires. I had filled Davareaux in on the way over, telling him about the last time we had been here, chasing after the serial killer. We'd given life to the Promethean that had been put together from the pieces of all the Natalies that had been murdered, then we'd run from the monster known as a Mask, who shrugged off bullets, knives, and death magic like annoying mosquito bites. The Natalie Promethean was the only reason we'd made it out alive. Somewhere during the chase things had been set on fire. I think Nadi had been responsible for that one, but I couldn't be sure. It had been a pretty hectic situation. It hadn't been pretty, and I made sure he knew just how dangerous this place was.

The fire hadn't taken out the whole place, as I thought it would have. One side of the building was charred and sagging, but the other side was mostly still intact. I had no idea how the firemen had put out the blaze without getting their heads bitten off by an angry, nigh invulnerable monster.. but they had managed. There was police tape across the gate, which was unlocked.

I pulled out my cell and dialed Martindale. I needed to know if the Mask was even still there. He had said they'd send a team down to take care of it. If the Mask was gone, that would make our snooping much simpler, and much less deadly.


"Martindale.. Hope your night is going well. I need some information... did your guys ever get the Mask in Cook County?"

He gave an irritated grunt. "We looked everywhere. Had a whole team of your guys with me," I scowled. I was a long way from considering Taskforce Valkyrie 'my guys'. "There was no Mask."

I blinked, taken off guard. That was probably one of the last answers I had expected. The Mask was not a subtle creature. I doubted it had the wherewithal to hide successfully from a trained strike force. Irritation colored my voice and made my words sound slightly harsher than I intended. "Well that's fucking convenient."

I could almost hear Marindale's teeth grinding. He spoke with them clenched tightly shut. "Seeing as how something I've been hunting for years slipped through my fingers, again.. I'd say its decidedly inconvenient."

I rolled my eyes. Sarcasm was lost on some people. Or maybe it was just that much of a sore spot with him. I steered the conversation in a slightly more productive direction. "Do they usually just leave like that?"

"Usually, once a mask has made a nest, it won't leave without killing anyone trying to make it, as well as any person in the general vicinity."

"Where the hell would it have gone, then?" I asked, mostly to myself.

"There are all sorts of old sewer tunnels under that area.. maybe went down there..Why the sudden interest in the Mask?" He asked.

"Business bringing me back. Needed to know what to expect."

"Are you there now?"

I glanced up at the haunting building. It looked even more daunting than it had before, the charred and melted places made it seem nightmareishly resilient. "Yeah."

"You loaded for bear?"

I put a hand on one of the flash bangs I'd thought to take from the lab. No as much as I'd like to be.. I thought.

"Always." I said.

"Be careful."

I smirked at the phone. "Why Martindale, it's almost like you care."

He snorted. "Care, nothing. If you get torn to shreds, I have to deal with the fucking paperwork." And he hung up on me.

I put the phone away and Davareaux quirked a brow in silent question. I gave him the short version, then we ducked around the police tape and started walking through the tall grass. I decided to start at the back door. First, we'd retrace our steps from our original visit, then head up to the upper floors.

If the mask didn't show up to tear us apart, that is.

The back door was unlocked, even cracked slightly. We opened it as silently as possible and took careful steps into the dim building. The lower floor had been hollowed out, most of the interior walls gone. I was surprised it was still standing. It also made me realize that the Mask wasn't the only danger of being in such an unstable building. Vampire or not, being crushed by giant slabs of concrete wouldn't feel good, and wouldn't lend itself well to outrunning murderous monsters.

The kitchen looked unremarkable, as it had the first time we'd been here. I switched all communication to the mental link between Davareaux and I. I had no idea how sensitive the Mask's hearing was, and had little desire to find out.

If I give us more cover, will you be able to see?

I'm not really using my eyes. he replied, even his thoughts were quiet. I saw his nostrils flare, scenting the air.

I nodded once and let the darkness grow around us until it was downright inky. The shadows were so dense that they were nearly solid. I couldn't help but feel a little pleased with myself. I was getting better with the power. I briefly wondered if that reflected my mental state at all. Too soon to tell. I let my pupils expand to fill my eyes so I could see through my own creation, and we started down the hallway. Davaruex took point, and I gave him the directions.

First stop: the boiler room. It was a dead end, one entrance, one exit.. but it was necessary. We descended the stairs slowly and silently. Any small noises made where muffled by the darkness that followed us, keeping pace with our steps.

The subbasement looked no different than it had 2 months ago. The message was still scrawled across the wall in huge letters..lyrics to 'Weird Science', and a bent and mangled gurney that had held Natalie. It was still a mystery who had written them there, who had put together the Promethean. Giuseppe had said it hadn't been him, or Ray. I tore my eyes away from them, and focused on the task at hand.

I trained all my attention on my nose, and inhaled slowly.

Old dust.. ash (an involuntary shiver ran down my spine), sweat, and perfume. But the sweat smelled.. off somehow.

That sweat smells weird, but I can't really figure out how. Can you smell it? I asked Davareaux silently.

He came to an abrupt stop and held him arm out in front of me. I came up short. Then I heard it.


Deep, heavy breaths came from the furnace in the corner. The breathing of a huge sleeping creature. The doors were shut, and the metal bars on the doors looked like a giant hand had crushed them together and twisted.

One of the benefits of lacking a working circulatory system is that when you're terrified, your heart doesn't pound so hard in your head that you can't hear anything else. So I could hear every move the Mask made as fear shot through me like lightning. I had no illusions that I could take on that creature, even with Davareux and his rifle around.

Davareaux seemed to be of a similar sentiment, because we both started taking very slow, silent steps backwards, towards the stairs. We walked up them backwards, eyes never leaving that furnace. Once we reached the first floor, I shut the door to the lower levels and a small portion of the fear leaked out of my body, leaving behind a nervous caution. Mystery solved. I wonder how they missed it..

Davareux just shrugged, and we continued our silent search of the Asylum.

There was nothing much left of the first floor to search. Even the room that had been filled with furniture, the obstacle course that we'd had to transverse with the Mask hot on our heels, had been reduced to a room of piled ashes. So we hit the stairs, and made our way to the second floor.

I found myself coming up short at every little sound. I was wound tightly, but I found it to be essential to my survival for once. I just had to hope that I'd hear the screaming metal if the Mask made an attempt to exit the furnace.

At the end of the 2nd floor hallway, there was an area of the ceiling that had collapsed, allowing access to the room above. I paused and regarded the area with a pensive frown.

What? Davareux asked silently.

We never came up here, the first time, but we had gone over the floor plans pretty thoroughly before we showed up. It was a couple months ago, but if I remember correctly.. this room isn't actually accessible from the third floor. According to the blueprints, It shouldn't even be here.

I took a few steps forward and peered up into the room, but the angle kept me from seeing anything but ceiling. I climbed up the fallen support beams as quietly as I could, pulling myself out of the way to allow Davareaux to follow me.

The room was in similar condition to the others, but had a few additions. There was a CD player sitting on an old table, the plastic on the Play button cracked and mashed. Next to the player, there was a compact, makeup brush, and a few other beauty supplies. The brush handle was slightly bent, and the compact was cracked down the middle. The smell of perfume hung lightly in the air, the same perfume I had detected in the boiler room.

Strange.. Davareaux thought, I smelled that scent in New Orleans before too..

I picked up the compact and flipped it open. It stuck for a moment, the plastic sticking together at the seams. Once I managed to pry it apart, I saw that the makeup inside was similarly damaged. Seemed like whoever was using it had a hard time controlling their own strength. I focused my voodoo on the mirror.. but saw nothing.

Instead, I felt something. Emotions. fear, self loathing, sadness, a gut wrenching loneliness.. and a myriad of other feelings, some conflicting.

But the important part was the fact that I felt each emotion thirteen separate times.

Damn.. I didn't know she'd come back.. I put the compact back down, taking a few long breathes to steady myself..remind myself that the feelings weren't mine. I couldn't afford to get distracted.

We left the room and used the stairs to get to the rest of the third floor. I wondered where the Natalie Promethean was, if not in her room. 

In another room on the third floor, right next to the stairs, there was an old fridge, handle dented. When opened, it revealed rows of yogurt, and other healthy snacks. The place hadn't had electricity in years though, and everything in the fridge was spoiled. I grimaced and closed it softly. Seemed like she was going through the motions, being as normal as she could be.

Poor girl.

I heard something move on the second floor landing. I looked up sharply at the door and froze.

Someone is on the landing.

Davareaux didn't say a word, merely unslung his rifle and held it against his shoulder, aiming at the door. I pulled out two obscenely sharp knives. We stood that way, still as death, as quiet footsteps came up the stairs to the third floor and stopped outside the door.

"Whose there?" a rough voice said from the other side of the door.

Daraeaux exchanged a look. He inclined his head to me. He was taking my lead. I inhaled and exhaled slowly and quickly ran through my options. I didn't have many.

"People not looking for trouble." I said quietly.

The makeup compact I'd examined earlier slid under the door, mirror open. "Tell your friend to drop his gun."

Davareaux kept the rifle trained on the door. "Are you absolutely sure about this?" He murmured to me, almost inaudibly.

I put my knives back in their sheaths, and made them disappear. "No, but I don't see another option."

He only hesitated a moment before slowly lowering the weapon to the floor.

The door opened a few inches and a hand came around the door, fingernails painted pink, but poorly, like she didn't have very good fine motor control. Natalie peeked around the door, just enough that I could see only one bright green eye. She blinked in surprise. "Oh!.. It's you."

I gave her a strained half-smile and nodded. "Yeah. It's me. Sorry to disturb you. We didn't know you were back.

She pushed the door the rest of the way open and walked into the room with a plastic bag of groceries. The makeup on her face was poorly applied, and her eyes still looked a bit suspicious. Other than that, she was very attractive. It would take someone who knew what they were looking for to pick up on the imperfections.. the way she walked with a slight limp because one leg was slightly longer than the other, for example.

But that's to be expected when you're body was sewn together from the pieces of 13 different women.

 She opened the fridge and began to take things out of the bag and set them inside. It was mostly health food. I felt a pang of sympathy for her.

"When did you get back?" I asked, voice now made soft out of concern, rather than fear.

She was in the process of putting a glass bottle of Agave juice in the fridge. Her hand convulsed around it when I spoke, and the bottle shattered. She looked at it and sighed, then picked up a towel to wipe her hands. Her voice was quiet, and seemed slightly haunted, or maybe bitter. There were too many emotions there for me to tell. I didn't look at her aura. I didn't want to see visual evidence of her emotional turmoil.. turmoil that I felt at least partially responsible for.

"Traveling was hard. I tried hitchhiking. But in the end, they all wanted one thing." Her expression hardened. "I got tired of hiding the bodies." She raised her eyes to mine, as if daring me to judge her. But my face was a mask of concerned interest, and nothing more.

I just nodded. "How do you avoid the Mask?"

She went back to putting the last few items in the fridge and shut the door a bit more forcefully than necessary. But she didn't seem angry, just uncoordinated.

"When's he'd asleep, we get along just fine. When he's awake.." She smiled a bit, sadly. "Well, it's something to pass the time. The hard part was hiding him from the agents."

Mystery really solved. I was glad they hadn't found Natalie. I was also glad that she hadn't felt the need to beat the shit out of a group of heavily armed agents. Might've been fun to watch though.."How'd you do it?"

She shrugged. "Put him in the furnace... what are you doing here?"

I sighed and rubbed my eyes with the heel of my hand. "Looking for a friend. We think he may have come here.."

"No one was here when I left, a couples hours ago." She set some canned food up on a shelf. "Can't go into the grocery store.. but they always throw things away.." she said softly. I managed to keep my wince internal.

"Would you know if anyone had come in since then?" I doubted she had any special way to keep track of the whole building, but I'd been wrong before.

She just shrugged. "You can try the 4th floor... but I don't know what's up there."

I regarded her with a tilt of my head, a bit surprised. "You've never been?"

She shuddered very slightly. "No.. something up there.." Her eyes drifted towards the ceiling. "...scares me."

I frowned and started to reply, when Nadi spoke up on our mental radio channel.

He is heading to Cook County. We should hurry. Nadi's voice was calm, but still managed to convey urgency.

"Is it alright if others come in? Most of them are the same people from before, when you woke up. We think our friend might be upstairs.."

Natalie looked at me, her face stoic and serious. "If they come at me, I'll kill them."

I nodded. "I understand. They won't hurt you."

She nodded slowly.

Go ahead and get your asses over here. But be polite. Natalie is here, and everyone damn well better leave her be. I growled, picturing the room for them.

Why would we hurt Natalie? Gio's voice echoed in my skull about a half second before the entire group stood around the room, all of them looked a little green around the gills, but everyone managed to keep their lunch.

Giovanni looked at Natalie, who was tensed, ready to make a move if she had too.
"Oh! Hi!" Giovanni said in a quietly cheerful voice.

She seemed to relax just slightly. "Hello.."

We didn't have time for any more pleasantries if Stepping Feather might have come this way. I jerked my chin at the stairs. "Only place left to look is the 4th floor. Is everyone ready?"

Everyone murmured an affirmative. I pulled a plain white card from my pocket and held it out for Natalie. "I may not get a chance to see you again before we leave, depending on what's upstairs. If you need anything.. don't hesitate to call me."

She reached out, her fingers trembling, and took the card with forced gentleness. I could see that it was taking all her will and concentration to not destroy the card. She managed to take it from my hand while only slightly creasing the paper.

I gave her one last nod, and we turned and headed up to the 4th floor.


We stopped on the landing, just inside the door. The place was preternaturally dark. Even with my night vision, I couldn't see all the way down the hallway. My skin was trying to detach itself and crawl away.. which was probably a wiser decision than the one I made to stay.

Giovanni took a slow breath, and a glance told me that he was working his mojo. His eyes had rolled back into his head, and he seemed to enter a trance like state. He was reading the building. Suddenly, a mental picture of the floor we were on appeared in our heads. There were several rooms on either side of the hallway, then the hall opened up into a larger area at the end, with two medical bays. There were evidence of presences in each of the rooms.

10 of them.

There were also black half circles on his mental blue print. two at the end of the hall, in each medical bay, one on the far wall of a room on the right side of the hallway, one directly across from it on the far wall of a room on the left, and one directly behind us.

Those presences are ghosts. I'm not sure what those marks are, though.. and the ghosts are moving. Gio thought.

We watched as figures exited the rooms and filled the hallway. They were moving towards us, and they did not look friendly. The closest ghost watched us with hollow sockets filled with fire, instead of eyes. His limbs were grotesquely distended. It looked like he'd tried to claw his way out of something so fervently that it had destroyed his fingers. Now, past the last knuckle his fingers were nothing but bone, dripping a continual stream of blood.

And he was just the beginning of the horrors that were pouring out into the hallway. 

I closed my eyes and focused on the map, trusting the others to keep watch on our new friends. Something about those marks was eating at me.. some connection that was probably important.

Then I had it. I inhaled sharply. Look. I drew a mental line between the points. Starting with the medical bay on the right, and drawing a straight line to the mark behind us, then back down to the other medical bay, then diagonally across to the mark in the room on the right, then the room on the left, then back down to the original point.

It makes a star, Giovanni. This isn't good. What are those things?

Gio's tone held an edge to it. I already said, I don't know. But there should be one directly behind us.

Everyone turned to look but Gio and Davareaux. Gio held his trance state, and Davareaux was watching Larissa, who was, oddly,  in a similar start as Giovanni. There was nothing but a blank wall behind us.

Roxanne jumped up, easily reaching the area of wall right below the ceiling, and ripped through the plaster.

Behind it, was a piece of black glass in the shape of an oval.

My eyes went wide. No one touch it! I snapped.

Everyone glanced at me, surprised. It's a smoking mirror. I explained.

I turned back to the hallway, as did everyone else. We could see more of the ghosts Giovanni had been talking about now. They were all continuing towards us, slowly and deliberately.

I pulled out my side arm and ejected the magazine, sliding a new one home. The bullets glowed with a faint blue light.

Remind me again what a smoking mirror is? Giovanni asked in a conversational tone, like we weren't about to get munched on by the stars of Thir13en Ghosts.

I eyed the threat nervously. A mirror that shows you what you truly are. The Nahuali in Mexico are known for using them. When the New Orleans group found one on the temple top in Mexico, Jaleel touched it and it threw him into an immediate frenzy. Stone had set it up to eat the ghosts.. or absorb them.. whatever.

The mirrors aren't eating these guys. Nadi thought.

No. I said grimly. They aren't.

"What do you want?" Gio said, eyes still rolled back in his head, but he was facing in the general direction of the closest ghost, the one with the ruined fingers.

Its mouth twisted and its body shook in an unsettling manner. Its eye sockets burned with a wild insanity, its voice was rough and hoarse. "To be.. free.."

Nadi shouldered to the front and looked out over the ghosts with a small frown. She seemed completely unafraid. Which was fine, because I was plenty scared for the both of us. Ghosts might not phase her.. but these things were something out of my worst nightmares. "What is binding you here?"

Another ghost, the one directly behind the first, answered. He had on odd contraption wired into his skull. He shook spasmodically as blue currents of electricity traveled across his body. His flesh was eaten away, wounds I recognized as severe electrical burns, the flesh charred and smoking around the open gashes. "He bound us, with the mirrors!" its body convulsed and its voice went high with rage. I saw lighting crackling in the back of his throat.  "We want OUT!"

I held my gun down at my side, for now. The first ghost was getting closer, and I had no intention of letting it touch me. "Who bound you? What would you do if you got out?"

Another ghost responded. He was so tightly wrapped in a straight jacket that the movement to simply open his mouth was a violent tearing and ripping motion. The jacket had become part of him, and every movement tore at his flesh. His head twisted in an impossible manner. "Inflict the madness!" His eyes flashed and bored holes into my skull.

I met those eyes full of nothing but rage and insanity, and felt something inside my head snap. A deep, penetrating fear blossomed in the pit of my stomach, and the hallway and all the people in it suddenly felt cramped and restricting, like the walls were closing in. I looked aroud wildly for a moment before I forced it down and away, and made myself look back up at the approaching horde, but a fine tremor had begun in my hands.

Nadi's voice was much more calm and concerned than mine would've been, had I trusted myself to speak at that moment. "We can't let you out, but we can help you be at peace.."

A ghost near the back of the hallway that was covered in badly sutured incisions in places that no sane doctor would ever cut and had scalpels coming from the tips of its fingers threw back his head and let out a sound that might have been a scream, or might have been hysterical laughter."There is no peace for us! Only madness!"

He glared at her with those same eyes, and she shrunk back from him, if only slightly.

They're strong... really strong. But there is one in the far right corner that hasn't come out yet. Gio muttered.

I took aim at the closest ghost, but waited to pull the trigger. Is there any reason we should stay up here? Because running seems to be the smart thing to do right about now.

I'm already gone! Get your asses out of there! Came Nobody's response. I spared a glance over my shoulder and saw that, sure enough, the changeling was no longer on the landing with the rest of us. My vision flashed red with rage. He'd run. He'd left us there, and run away like a coward. The rage was too intense to keep to myself, and I knew that everyone on the mental channel got a good dose of it. But I hardly cared. I focused on the incoming threat instead.

Nadi looked to another ghost. "We can help you pass on from here."

"There will be no peace!" Another shrieked. it was covered in hypodermic needles. Huge syringes stabbed into its eyes and more decorated its body like gruesome spines.

As if I didn't have enough reason to never use intravenous drugs ever again..

They surged forward again, still out of physical reach, and began to twist and convulse, becoming more and more horrifying with each passing moment.

That last ghost.. its really, really angry. Nadi thought.
Dangerous? Gio asked.
Maybe moreso than the rest of them, yes.
Then I don't see a reason to stick around. I growled. I wanted to get out of there just as much as Nobody had. But I wasn't about to leave everyone else behind to do it.

"Who is the ghost still in his room?" Nadi asked.
One ghost looked like he may have been, at one time, a security guard. He held a billy club that was stained with blood and other things and his uniform was in tattered rags. Strings of rusted barbed wire dug into his arms, chest and neck, oozing blood. His face was twisted with crazed violence and cruel intentions. He twitched and let lose a peel of  laughter that sent shivers down my spine.  "New patient.. just got here.. days ago."

I doubted highly that these ghosts had any accurate sense of the passage of time. For all we knew, "a few days ago" could have been hours..or decades.

These guys aren't old enough to be this damn powerful.. this doesn't make sense. Gio said, his tone frustrated.

He was right. I didn't know much about ghosts, but it always seemed like they needed to be pretty damn old to even be worth mentioning. These guys were 60..70 years old, tops. But we could fell the power coming off of them in waves, and they had physicality manifested with ease, and remained that way.

The one time I saw the Natalie ghost manifest, she'd done so for only seconds, and had been utterly exhausted afterward.

The mirrors. The mirrors were focusing their strength.. playing double duty. They weren't just holding them up here, they were allowing them to grow in power. The star pattern was amplifying their strength. They weren't trapped up here so they couldn't hurt people.. they were trapped up here so they could grow.

So that they could hurt people more later.

It was difficult to keep from pulling the trigger and trying to blow the ghost to bits, but I managed. We need to get the hell out of here before we can't anymore. 

The ghost feels like Stepping Feather's memories felt... Nadi said, interrupted my train of thought.

"Of course it does!" I snarled, out loud. 

It didn't surprise me. We'd been having that sort of night. But I was done putting up with this bullshit.

"Fuck this!" I whirled around to face the door.

But I wasn't running. I aimed for that damned piece of black glass and pulled the trigger. The blue tracer round left the barrel and hit the mirror right in the middle. There was a muted WHUMP, like a cannon ball being shot into feather pillows, an explosion of blue light and dark glass, and the mirror fell to the ground in a million tiny pieces. "Take them out, and do it fast! They mirrors are focusing their power. Destroy them all and we might actually have a fucking prayer!"

No one questioned it. I had the most experience with the mirrors, so they took my word for it. They never stopped to question what would happen if the ghosts got out.

Probably because none of us untended to let any of them leave.

Nadi threw out her hand and energy rolled off her fingertips. I heard the sound of falling glass in the back of the hallway. Alexandria disappeared, and we heard more shattering glass in the room on the right.

"Now this is something I can actually do!" Ori said and bolted forward, dodging around the ghosts like they weren't even there. He threw open the door on the left and lept, sticks coming down hard on the mirror.

Giovanni's eyes rolled back to a normal position and he pulled out his shotgun. We traded a glance. I winked at him, and he turned away with a smirk and leveled the shotgun down the hallway.

Time to start the fucking party.

Gio lined it up where he knew the last mirror would be, and let the shot fly. I wouldn't think that a spray weapon would be that accurate at such a distance, but it not only shattered the glass on the med bay, but also the mirror high up on the wall, behind the plaster. The runes on the gun glowed a fierce red.

The darkness suddenly felt a little less oppressive.

The ghosts, however, will still just as terrifying.

They howled in equal parts fury and glee began to rush at us. We all heard that last door slam open.

Nine huge dire wolves burst out into the hallway, made entirely of shadow. I booming voice rolled over us from the back of the room.

"I'm tired.. of being bound. I'm tired.. of darkness!"

Three wolves lunged at a ghost that was sheathed in iron. Black metal bands encircled it at the ankles, knees, wrists, waist, elbows and shoulders. Bands were also screwed into place over his mouth and eyes, and what looked like iron nails were driven into its ears. He was floating, as if underwater, feet never touching the ground.

The wolves tore it to pieces.

Nobody, where the fuck are you?! Gio demanded as he took aim at a ghost so emaciated that it looked like a skeleton covered in a thin layer of skin. Its mouth gaped, larger than it had any right to be, yawning like a chasm. Its ribs broke through the skin, and its movements were a study in contradictions, agonizingly slow, but somehow urgent, yet tentative. Giovanni blew its head from its fucking shoulders.

Getting backup! He called back

He was going for the Mask. I wasn't sure how good of an idea that was, but I had none better, so instead of criticizing, I lined up my sights on the ghost who was half straight jacket, the one who had scared the ever loving bejezzus out of me, and pulled the trigger twice.

Blue tracer rounds erupted from the barrel and slammed into center mass. The crazy apparition howled, and then just fell apart. He unraveled, almost like a mummy, and disappeared. I allowed myself a satisfied smirk. It gave new meaning to the term facing down your fears.

Around us, other ghosts were falling under the teeth of the shadowy wolves.

And then we heard another howl. One from far below us.. along with the sound of screaming metal, and then the tearing of concrete and rebar.

The Mask was coming.

Ori had traded his sticks for his rifle and landed several shots in the forehead of one that was barely more than a mass of smoldering and burnt flesh, skin sloughing off as fire chewed its way across its body. The bullet holes matched the gaping eye sockets, eyeballs hanging like deflated balloons on its cheeks, presumable burst from pressure or heat. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Scalpel fingers reach for Nadi, and she fell back, eyes wide and panicked.

Then she threw out her hand and the ghost just fell to pieces in front of her.

The others were busy as well, but that was all I had time to take in before the floor in the middle of the hallway buckled and split open. The beastly arms of the Mask reached up and hauled its huge ass through the hole. It immediately began grabbing for the remaining ghosts, tearing chucks of the specters off with his teeth.

He was eating them.

"He's binding them to himself.." Nadi said quietly as she climbed to her feet.

A familiar figure stepped out of the room on the far side of the hallway, the Mask between us and him. He was dressed in thrift store rags, and his face was set in a grim expression. The wolves fanned out in front of him, snarling and snapping at the Mask as the monster finished its meal.

He was going to stand and fight.

"Nadi! The journal!" Alexandria yelled. Nadi produced the slim volume from her pocket and the two of them started reading quickly, voices rolling over the words, speaking in a language that made my head throb.

Stepping Feather tensed, and sprung forward, charging the new enemy.

The words reached his ears half way down the hallway. I watched as his expression and his aura shifted. He twisted his body mid-leap and turned it into an artful dive, sliding between the massive creatures legs. He came to his feet on the other side in one smooth motion and ran right for us. "For fucks sake! RUN!"

None of us needed to be told twice. We turned and ran for the stairs. Giovanni jumped down the damn hole that the Mask had made, and met us on the first floor. Nobody and Natalie appeared from a small alcove in the wall they'd used to avoid getting in the monster's way. Natalie gave us a brief nod, cracked her knuckles, and started striding purposefully towards the stairs to face down the Mask.

We didn't stop running until we were clear of the fence.  We heard a loud roar, and the sound of concrete shattering.

Stepping Feather skidded to a stop and looked at Alexandria. "Soo.. are you still mad at me?"
Her eyebrows went up and she blinked at him. "A little.. but this really isn't the time for that, don't you think?"
Stepping Feather nodded vigorously. "Yeah. Good. Mind getting us out of here?"

She smiled fiercely, and a moment later, we all stood inside Giovanni's shop, trying not to vomit all over his floors.


Daraveaux was carrying Larissa, limp in his arms. She had stopped shaking, and was now completely unconscious.

"How is she?" Nobody asked in a low voice.
"She'll be fine.. she does this sometimes." Davareaux answered, just as softly. But the lines around his eyes stood out more than usual, and his expression was tight with worry. He went into one of the bedrooms and closed the door behind him.

We stood around the lab..more accurately, we stood around Stepping Feather. Everyone but Roxanne, who made a beeline for the kitchen and start taking out enough food and beer for a small Army.

 I half-sat on one of the work tables, a small satisfied smile on my face. "How're you feeling?"
Stepping Feather looked thoughtful. "It's weird.. it's like.. I died.. and was buried alive. Then, I had to dig my way out, and ran all over the city, got trapped in some creepy as shit asylum, then had memories forcibly shoved back into my head.."
I grinned at him. I couldn't help it. "How did you get stuck up there anyway?"
He gave an easy shrug. "I was tracking scents, you guys.. I went up there, and then I couldn't leave. Simple as that."
Giovanni settled himself on a stool and leaned his elbows on the table. "Well you are half dead. Makes sense."
Stepping Feather's expression twisted into comical consternation. "I gotta go through all that again?"
Gio chuckled. "You were dead. Leaves a mark." He inclined his head ever so slightly in the direction of Larissa's room.

Roxanne returned with mounds of food and made sure that Stepping Feather ate. I'd never seen her in mother mode before. I did have to admit, it was a more characteristic response to Stepping Feather's return than seeing her break down in tears would have been. Any time anyone got close to him, her muscles tensed. She never actually made anyone move away, but the protectiveness was definitely evident.

Ori had a goofy ass grin plastered over his face. Not that I could blame him.

"Hey Uncle John."
Stepping Feather's eyes widened like he'd just seen Ori for the first time. In his defense, we'd been pretty preoccupied before. "Well holy shit! When'd you get so fucking tall?!" He pulled Ori into a bear hug. Ori laughed and hugged back, thumping his back.

Stepping Feather pulled away and looked closely at Ori's face. "Damn..its like looking in a mirror.. a taller,  uglier mirror.."
I choked back a laugh.
Stepping Feather took a long pull from a beer. "So what the hell? Last I knew you were doing shit in Las Vegas. Now you're running with these guys?"
Ori blinked at him, a bit confused. "You..uh..sent me.."
Stepping Feather blinked right back. "Was it.. like a vision? or a dream..?"
Ori nodded and grabbed a beer for himself. "A dream I think.. not sure, I was smoking some pretty wild stuff."

"Then Giuseppe threatened him if he didn't help us." Nobody chimed in.
"Yeah, that's kind what he does...." Stepping Feather paused and looked at Nobody with a grimace. "I threw you down a flight of stairs.."
Nobody smirked. "Yup."
Stepping Feather rubbed the back of his neck and took another drink of his beer. "Yeah..uh..sorry about that.. it was a weird time for me.. I was in a bad place.."
Nobody shook his head. I got the idea he as smiling, but with no face, its hard to tell. "No worries."

Ori disappeared for a moment and came back with a box of clothes. He handed it to Stepping Feather. "Here, you look like a bum."
Stepping Feather grinned. "A handsome bum."
He proceeded to to strip out of the old thrift store clothes.. he hadn't stolen underwear. He changed right there in front of god and everyone.

And I figured, if he wasn't embarrassed about changing clothes in front of all of us, I had no reason to be embarrassed about watching him do it.

"So, what have I missed?" He asked, looking around the room at everyone.
"I killed Citysmith." Ori said smugly.
All of our heads swiveled in his direction at once. I arched a brow at him. Gio smirked widely, Nobody shook his head, and Nadi and Becca both just stared.
"All by yourself, eh Ori? You are a pillar of humility." My sarcasm fell in puddles on the floor.

Stepping Feather stared too, for that matter, mouth agape for a moment. "...Why?"
"Bale hound." Ori said simply.
His mouth snapped shut. "No shit.. man.. you think you know someone.." Stepping Feather said, shaking his head.

We spent awhile filling him in on what he'd missed out on. The serial killer, our banishment to Maury's place, Maxwell's death.. we spent a lot more time on Pain of Animals, and the fight with Citysmith. Anything we could think of. And we talked about nothing. It felt good to be able to talk to him again. It felt good to know that I'd been able to help him.

"So what about New Orleans?" He asked finally, looking at Roxanne.
"I'll fill you in when we get home."
"And when is that?"
She shrugged. "I can get tickets for tomorrow."
"Or I can take you there now." Alexandria said. She'd been so quiet I'd mostly forgotten she was there.
"Well what does Davareaux think?" He asked innocently.

A brief, but uncomfortable silence fell in the room
"We'll talk about it when we get home." Roxanne said in a flat voice.

"Oh.. yeah.. you see.. during the Pain of Animals fight..." Ori began.
 "Shut. Up. Ori." I glared daggers at him.
"She said she'd tell him when they got home, you idiot." Nobody said, his voice tinged with a sneer.
Ori held up his hands. "Oookay. Shutting up now." He gave Stepping Feather a helpless look. Stepping Feather just offered a small shrug.

Davareaux reappeared then. "She's awake. She wants to see you."
Stepping Feather nodded and disappeared into the bedroom without another word. I heard crying a few moments later, but made a point not to listen in anymore than that.

I do respect peoples boundaries occasionally, believe it or not.

Gio sidled up next to me. "Ever heard of voodoo that makes beetles crawl out of a mans throat?"
"Beetles? Sounds familiar.. but I couldn't tell you where I've heard of it. I can try to find out though."
He nodded and went back to a low table in the corner. "Good.. because they were crawling out of one of the guards throats at the tower.."

I fell still as death and stared at him, surprised, and more than a little suspicious. He ignored me. The ass. I shook myself, brushing it off for now,  and took out my cell and sent a quick message to Giuseppe.


To: G

Stepping Feather is safe and sound. On an unrelated note..Do you know what kind of voodoo would make beetles crawl out of a mans throat?


I only had to wait a moment for the response.

From: G

Lanceaum Sanctum. Not Birch's bag.

I'm proud of you.


I smiled. I'd be damn if I ever admitted to anyone how satisfying that little phrase was, coming from him.. but I'd be lying to myself if I said I didn't like reading it.

And I was never one for overly emotional displays of affection.



Doing what I can. I'll keep you updated. Have fun in NOLA.


I snapped the phone shut and put it away.

Everyone had split off to do their own thing. Giovanni sat in the far corner of the lab, watching me. He knew me well enough to know when I'd want to have a conversation. Everyone else was either in another room, or involved with their own shit.

The warm fuzzies were retreating... replaced with the knowledge that we still had a lot of work to do..I felt my expression twist into something grim. There were still important issues to take care of.

Like the possibility that one of our own might one day leave us up shit creek with no paddles and a hole in the boat.

I walked towards Giovanni. It was important to appreciate the small victories.. and I thought getting Stepping Feather back a rather large one, all things considered. There was a part of me that felt satisfied and sated for the moment. Giuseppe's text had helped with that.

But I didn't have time to bask in the glow. There was still too much to do.. and no rest for the wicked.

I pulled out a stool and sat across from Giovanni. He and I had a lot to discuss.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments or questions are welcomed