Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ruffling Some Feathers

It's always nice to know one can make a certain level of impact onto others... even with just the simplest of deeds.

You see, I came to know about "Joseph's" telling of my little visit in a rather different manner than any usual update... a manner that still makes me grin even now.

After I left the Cafe, I'd spent the next twenty-four hours or so changing areas to ensure my trail would be long cold by the time he posted (as I knew he would). In all honesty and with what I'm sure doesn't come as a surprise: I rather don't like people knowing my exact location. Makes things too complex. So, I've learned how to disappear. Comes in quite handy, really.

In any case, by the time I was content with my location, it was daylight... but that didn't exactly prevent me from finding myself a motel room and getting a few hours of much-needed rest. I was sound asleep with only Kali and Loki for company... when my cell phone rang. Woke me up enough to answer it, but not really enough to make sense of the onslaught on my eardrum that followed my barely-conscious greeting. Didn't even bother with 'hello' back before the scolding began. Honestly, the Highers have quite poor manners. It's embarrassing. Truly.

As it currently stands, they seem to be rather... agitated that I'd paid "Joseph" a visit. I was warned to pay better mind to my boundaries as I've been "forgetting [my] place" as of late and that I wouldn't want to be "reminded" of them. That is was not up to me to "run off for a social visit" when I had work to do and so did those I was bothering. I was told that I'd been "slacking off" lately. That I should have reported in sooner for my next assignment. That a Proxy such as I should be more thankful for the "longer leash" given to me instead of yanking for even more and abusing their astounding generosity.

They also mentioned something about "Joseph's" standing being rather "toxic."

Warned me to "not associate with a sinking ship."

So I took a moment to reassure them that "I've always tried my utmost to keep my distance from sinking ships... hence why I tend to ignore the lot of YOU."

Strangely, they didn't find that funny. I know I most certainly did.

In any case, I am being ordered (better late then never, yes?) to apologize to "Joseph" for disrupting his lovely evening of working himself up into higher blood pressure. Since I'm certain my little visit ruined the concentration of him and his entire team (who weren't there. I didn't realize my reach went so far!), I hereby vow to never return... without bringing some biscuits to have with the coffee. I'm certain I could remember this nice little recipe I used to make for special occasions way back when...

I don't think they appreciated us chatting, "Joseph."

Either that, or you made them so excited when you said I could have died. I do hope you don't get too much flack for the little bit of aid you gave me, brother. I know they would have probably preferred me left to my predicament.

Just as they themselves are doing.

I suppose at this point there is no true need to hide why I paid a visit to the Squad Leader. "Joseph" has made my present health level public, so it's not as though any further damage can be done. Everything he said was correct. I placed a lot of faith - perhaps blind faith - in that man's hands. I required his insight into a matter. Insight that, as far as I am aware, only he could have possibly given me at the drop of a hat. Trust was a required detail. Otherwise there would have been no point in the visit. I'd already decided before I'd even entered the looped area as to what lengths I would allow him to go to in order for him to make his... diagnosis, shall we say.

The horror on his face was rather priceless. Nearly a Kodak moment. It alone spoke volumes on how screwed I mostly likely am at this point. He needn't give me specifics. No detail of 'what' was going to help me. All I required from him was the confirmation that I was not paranoid...

Or, more accurately, that I hadn't developed hypochondria.

It didn't take me long after leaving the Cult Town to realize that something was not as it should be. I had attempted to take some time to mend, you see. I had injuries to heal. A vast amount of sleep to catch up on. Proper nutrition to regain. As well as... something of a cold to clear out of my system. It hadn't been all that bad at first. Just a feeling of being 'off', for the most part. A bit of a fever. Nothing to be overly concerned about, considering the scale of what I'd been exposed to for a near month. My lungs had been giving me problems for a week or two by that point, but again, I put it to exposure. I monitored my condition closely, as I would have been a fool not to... but I still thought it would clear, if only given time.

Amongst this... I'd begun to notice a strange smell in the air of my motel room from time to time. Especially upon waking. I still can't quite decide on what it reminds me of, but if I had to make a connection... I'd say sulfur. A sour, sharp smell that also stung the tongue. The first few times, it was only just strong enough to take notice of. Only just. 

And then I woke up in the middle of my third night away from the Cult... and the smell was so strong it had me gagging. Choking.

I can remember how panicked Kali and Loki were in their cage. A mess of cawing and flapping wings.

They wanted out.

As did I.

I'd been feeling uneasy ever since I put the Cult Town behind me... but that was the first time since I enlisted in the Service that I'd left my room in the middle of the night like that. That was the first time since I enlisted... that my instincts screamed for me to move. To run. That I wasn't safe where I was. And I didn't ignore that warning. I gathered my things together quick. However, when I went to grab the food I had bought just a day prior... I decided it best left.

It had already begun to rot.

At that moment, I knew. I knew without a doubt... that I had a new friend. In my mind, it was the final flag.

I had been the one to organize the destruction of His Cult.

And now I know that The Plague Doctor wishes to return the favor.

I have not seen Him yet. At least, I do not believe I have. But I know to my core it is Him.

With luck, I am ahead of His Game.

If not... I am simply in it. Nothing more.

That being said, I still needed someone else to confirm what was happening within me. To make clear just what level of the Game I'd skipped ahead to. For that, "Joseph", I will thank you again for your honesty and assistance. The drugs have helped. Though I will only use the others when things get worse. As they are sure to quite fast.

The Highers now know of this as well.

Their response... was to assign me to my next mission. An Elimination.

I am not surprised.

I am writing this from her hotel room. Colleen Flemming. Her corpse is sprawled on the floor to my right. Blood already having formed a think pool of crimson beneath her neck. Skin pale and eyes dull. I didn't have time to play, unfortunately. I'm simply having a quick bite to eat before I move on. It pains me to think I gave her story such an anti-climatic end... but I have other matters to take care of.

Other missions will have to wait.

Right now, there's someone I need to see. Someone I've been putting off meeting for far too long... and I think it's high time we got better acquainted.

After all, I may be the prey for the Beak. But that doesn't mean I'm not a hunter myself.

Time to make your bets, my Friends.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Curtain Close

The pinks and purples of dawn's early light captured my heart this morning.

There was something so peaceful about the way it gently slipped over the Town. The soft light seeming to caress the flames of the inferno that engulfed a good portion of the buildings.

Made my soul at ease.

An excellent start to a new day, if I do say so myself.

You know, my friends... part of me keeps wondering why I bother continuing to update this blog. There is no true reason to do so. If anything, I can think of many a reason why I shouldn't. However... there is something about this Community that I find appealing. Interesting. Amusing.

As the carrousel turns as it always has, this place... has been giving me an in-depth look into so many of your minds. Some of you may not even think you have, but sometimes it is the things left said in between the lines that scream the loudest. Each of you come on here. Spilling your hearts and souls onto blogs of your own creation... where not all the readers care to make the pain stop. In fact, many of us (and not just the ones who advertise themselves as what they are) can't help but think of how to take that agony to the next pitch. To better the Act previous. Expand the Arc. Let you discover a new level of misery as the darkness that you thought had swallowed you whole only gets darker still. The intense crimson flare of splattered blood becoming an even sharper contrast to your dulling world. The once flawless white of innocence stolen away. Piece by piece. Spoiled beyond the point of return. Turning to a gray that dampens the soul at a mere glance... or, better yet, flipping the coin head over tails. For nothing makes a darker black than what was once dazzling white.

Even the little things here and there can bring a smile to my face.

Your titles.

Your terms.

Your precious war of words.

Proclaiming your acts of defiance as if they are some great mark in the endless struggle. As if what you do actually matters. That it will actually amount to something. You delude yourselves into thinking you have a chance. Into thinking that you may just "win this war" one day.

Win this War.

A noble thought.

Makes it all that greater of a shame when the truth is recognized.

This has never been a war.

Only a slaughter.

Whether the hand that guides the Runners through their final moments is Father's or our own - those that have run their time and are pegged to die... always do. Always. Despite all the pain. All the effort. All the support given. Every Runner will die. Leaving only a scattering of words on an internet page. A virtual gravestone, I've heard it called. It's cute, really. There are already so many around. Each one a testament to disprove their own opinions that there was a chance. That there still is a chance.

Every one of you stopped having a chance when He found you the first time.

Or should I possibly say when "One of Them" found you?

I'm sure at least some of you are aware that our Father is not the only entity to fear in the darkness. He is but one of an ever-growing Family. A group of Siblings, if you will. Not quite accurate, but as good a term as any to attempt to describe what They are. Each one being a near-perfect Predator. Most presumably far older than our knowledge dates them...

In my view, so long as there was someone alive to fear what dwells in the darkness, there has been a reason for that fear. When we were younger, most of us knew to tread carefully in their territory. We didn't know who They were, yet we knew to stay quiet in their presence. To hide. To run. However, with age comes arrogance and stupidity. We step forward and call the shadows out on their "bluff." Waving off the spook stories and the chills down our spines. Proclaiming ourselves above such childish nonsense as being afraid of what we can't explain. Proclaiming ourselves free of that paranoia... and, for some, they are allowed to live in that ignorance.

No one here was so fortunate. All of you were answered by your greatest Fears as they stepped forward from those very shadows to pass their Judgement.

Usually, you can consider yourself rather unlucky to catch the attention of one.

To catch the attention of two is a rather special manner of bad luck.

Catching the attention of more than that... well, you're obviously involved in something you shouldn't be. Plain and simple.

And each and every One... has Its own Followers.

It is between these groups of Followers... these Cults... where the true "Wars" can be said to be taking place.

"My God is Better Than Your God."

Tens of thousands of years of conflict amongst the human race... and it never seems to get old, does is?

Generally speaking, there tends to be three Cults which stand head and neck above the other, smaller Cults of the other Fears. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the largest organization is that of Proxies themselves. The minions of the infamous Slender Man. We have the largest base of Followers than any other Cult. We are the widest spread around the globe. And we hold the most power when it comes to political standing in the world of the Norms. Three cheers for us, hm?

At our backs... stand the Followers of the Plague Doctor. And, after them, those of the Rake.

That being said... just like any other Family: Every group annoys the others equally.

A Cult standing further down on the list doesn't mean they won't make a stab at the top or vice versa.

It simply means that some Cults have more resources to be a bigger pain in the ass than others.

For example, The Afflicted - our dear, diseased Cousins - have seemingly made it their goal over the past several hundred years to be the most irritating thorn in our side as possible.

Hence the ruckus.

It all could have been so innocent, honestly. One of the Cult Towns of the Afflicted decided an expansion was in order and they began infiltrating their closest, neighboring town. Taking up positions in the community. Digging their tunnels. Spreading their influence. Before long, it started feeling like a Home away from Home, no doubt.

Honestly? We wouldn't have cared all that much. It wasn't as though it was one of OUR Cult Towns and, if they felt they wanted it, then very well. Good for them. So long as they didn't expect us to send any house-warming gifts, nothing would have had to happen.

And then the kidnappings started. All around the area, Proxies started disappearing. Vanishing into thin air. Right in the middle of missions. It didn't take too long to connect the dots. We discovered through some of our connections that they were taking our kin back to their Homestead. Alive. They'd then proceed to experiment on them. Exposing them to all manner of Special Studies for days on end until the effects became too much and the life of our kin slipped away. A fitting sacrifice to their Sick-Humored God.

The challenge had been made.

We accepted.

Fast-forward a month.

And David and myself were more than ready for the little contest to come to an end.

As you already know, David had already begun ticking off the names on the list I gave him. Within the first couple of days of being enlisted into the Cause, David brought two families down to their knees... and then even further down than that. The first was a soccer mom with three children between the ages of five and twelve years. The second was a stay-at-home dad with two teenage sons. I had instructed him to make certain each family member was made into an example of what happens when Proxies are challenged. David had sent me pictures at the time, you may remember. They were impressive.

As you can imagine, the entire Town went on high alert when the bodies were discovered. David then found himself unable to move without being detected, so he pulled back. Started helping myself and the Divisions in the neighboring town. Just waiting for the heat to die down.

That time.

Was last night

The Divisions themselves were split up, and all on the offensive. The time for being discrete had been over for a while. I instructed a barrage to be swept across the "invaded" town alongside cloak and dagger strategies. Groups of three. No more, no less. Large groups can be taken out too easy, and going in alone leaves blind-spots open for a blade to be buried in one's spinal cord. Doctors do tend to know their anatomy, after all. Taking chances was not on my agenda. Three meant one could fall, and there was still two to watch each others' backs. Best chances.

The attack was a lure.

And They bit.

When met with such a heavy attack, they assumed it was going to be our Last Stand. The final push turned to shove to overwhelm them and reclaim the town. After all, that would be the direction the Highers had wanted to take. To take The Afflicted's beloved expansion project right out from under them, then move against the Center from there.

A foolish endeavor.

The town didn't matter at all.

But our Cousins didn't know that plans had since shifted.

They brought reinforcements from their Hometown to clash with our own forces. Fighting to keep their beloved spit of land. Leaving security in the original Cult Town... significantly lower than it was.

We moved fast.

It was imperative that David completed his list. It targeted very specific families from one side of Town to the other. I gave him free rein in the work, of course. Leaving him to his own creativity. So long as they were each made into examples, and one of two required a bit more than that. Special treatment, you could say. Something that would make a defined impact on the last remaining member of the family to walk into.

David took a few of the other Proxies with him to keep lesser details out of his way as he took care of business.

I swear, the man swept through the Town like a walking plague.

It was glorious.

He updated me after each visit was done.

Thank God, my phone still managed to keep a signal underground.

I would have liked to see David at work, honestly, but I had my own business to attend to. Granted, it had started out above ground, but it didn't take too long before I was moving through the the tunnels beneath the Cult Town itself. Slipping down corridors. Finding my way along. A map in my head of where I needed to go. A few weeks ago, I had taken it upon myself to... get one of our own recruited into their side of the Family. Swampjack came through just like I knew he would. A true snake in the grass, if there ever was one. Father would be ever so proud. As am I. The Ugandan native gave me exactly what I needed. Being a new recruit, he didn't have the rank to access the areas I needed into without causing a stir, but it mattered not. I only needed the knowledge to make me at home in the never-ending tunnels. I could pull "rank" myself.

And that is exactly what I did. As the chaos gripped the Town itself tighter and tighter, I walked with solid resolve to my step. Body language hinting at anger as I passed by many a Cousin of mine, and - just as I had planned - not a question was brought my way. In fact, a few of them moved OUT of my way. I truly had to resist laughing.

Full-body costumes make things so much easier at times.

The tunnels were designed a fair bit more impressively here than in the Wannabe-Town, suggesting an age to their Religion in that specific area that would rival that of some of our own Towns. However, between endless tunnels and sewer systems, things didn't get all that interesting until I hit my destination. Or, at least, the introductory to it. The Main Chamber was little more than a meeting place. Plenty of space for a gathering of people to come to worship their Sick God. A few carvings here and there. Polished, but not fancy. I didn't care, to be honest. I breezed right through it to the far back where a set of stairs lead me down to a new level and a new tunnel.

I had to resist the urge to gag.

The interlocked stones that had once covered the walls of my path so picture-perfectly suddenly had gaps left in their patterns. Carefully carved holes which framed the same thing over and over again: The bodies of humans. With arms, hips and legs caught back behind the stones, the corpses of men and women alike were exposed from the waist up to passer-byes like a morbid art gallery. Varying in different stages of decomposition to those that looked as though they'd died a few days prior, they were all lined up on either side of the hallway. One woman in particular wasn't even dead yet. The slow rise and fall of a ribbed-chest being the only indication of life from the pale, deathly-skinny figure. She reminded me of those who were taken from the Concentration Camps during WW2. A living skeleton and little more.

Punishment, one would think, yes?

I would admit, it would be a rather fitting end for a traitor or spy...

Only, this isn't a practice for Punishment.

It's for reverence. Enlightenment. Honor.

Much like the Buddhist Monks who'd practiced Self-Mummification and had themselves sealed in chambers to die and not-die at the same time, these figures allowed themselves to be sealed into these walls while they are still alive. Only these Afflicted members WANTED to rot. As a show of their faith, they wanted to be a part of their Cult even after death. So they were sealed into the walls. Once death claimed them, their flesh would rot off to "forever be part of the very structure that shelters [their] kin." Generally, this option tends to only be available for very prestigious members of the Family. Multiple reasons can be behind it, but any which way it comes to the same thing: They are left sealed, but exposed... to die of starvation, usually. Their corpses remain in the walls until they are only bones. Only then are they are taken out and properly buried in a crypt further underground.
Needless to say, the stench nearly made my eyes water.

I went down a set of stairs at the end of the hall. Emerging into a much smaller chamber which branched off in three directions: Lab. Vault. Cell. Things were getting more modern as I went. All to support their experiments. I left gifts in the first two rooms before moving to the third. Upon entry, I was faced with nine figures. All on the floor with arms tried behind their backs. All too sick to move.

Eight of them were Proxies.

One was a Chiller. A Cold Boy Follower.

A chorus of quiet, half-suppressed whimpers came from the assortment of figures. Some of which also cringing at the sight. I didn't blame them. My particular choice of attire... was a version of the Plague Doctor that they would have most likely seen many times before. And, most likely, it always accompanied the most... creative sessions they were exposed to.

I removed the hat and mask. Introduced myself for what I was. Then drew my gun.

I went through the room. Delivering one bullet in the skulls of each of my kin. Not wasting time.

Then I reached the Cold Boy Follower in the room. He couldn't have been more than twelve, but I couldn't help but smile. I've never been thanked by one of them before. First time for everything, I suppose. He received the same treatment.

Then I was gone again. Going back the way I had come. Hat and mask back in place.

By the time I reached the Main Chamber, well... I had visitors. As I'd hoped, with David's bloodbath flooding the streets up above, the last remaining member of each family came down to where they felt themselves untouchable. To me. The "Mad Doctors" - the Highest Ranking Oathbreakers of the Cult - had done just that. Seven of them were present in the center of the room. Screaming at each other. Some of which wearing their typical garb, minus their masks to allow easier yelling. Others in normal clothes.

When they saw me enter, tongues were bit and silence took over. One stepped forward. From research, I knew this must be Malfatto. Second in command. His attire carried more of a modern style. Black trench coat. Mask crafted from brown, patterned leather instead of bone. He left it handing around his neck as he spoke in a respectful tone. Holding himself tall as he explained the series of murders in the Town. Using words such as "torture," "barbaric" and "slaughter" to describe what each Mad Doctor had found in their homes. Apparently David brought his love of flaying into use. Can't say I disapprove. From what Malfatto spoke, the adults had it far worse than any children caught in his path, though they were dead just the same.

He went on to explain about the mess in the second town. Letting me know that our Divisions had followed my orders to the letter. Drawing the Cultists into the area, then splitting and flanking around. Giving them the Town... in favor of setting the one above aflame. From the messages on my phone, things were running like clockwork.

And why was Malfatto being so informative to me?

Perhaps because I was wearing the attire of their leader: Josef Bohr. His choice of likeness to their God was more of a mad doctor style. Many layers of tattered clothes. Long, wide sleeves. Stitches. Bolts. Pieces of leather. Pins. And other odd bits and pieces. His mask having a skin-like appearance with heavy stitch work and an extra long beak with a rounded end instead of a sharper one. I think I handled the look rather well. So long as I held the body posture of a man with a vicious temper, of course.

I had taken care of his wife and son myself. Letting him have the experience of finding his family alive. Missing their eyes, nose, tongue, and ears. But alive.

He slit their throats himself.

Then we had an altercation... before I let him follow his family.

Malfatto asked what should be done.

That would be when one of the other Mad Doctors blew a gasket. Screaming about how it was my fault that things had dissolved this far and the level of mind it took to ask that same person to get them OUT of the same mess. Eventually her tantrum brought her stalking right up to my face... and into the blades of my gauntlet (previously hidden beneath my flapping sleeves) as my other arm snapped around her back at the same time. Pulling her in. Tightly keeping her from moving away as her eyes drew wide in pain. I pushed my blades in deeper... until they pushed out the other side. She screamed. My grip wrapping around her spine as my hand that had been holding her close went to her touch her chin gently.

I told her to rest assured... that their dearest Leader paid for his foolishness already. Then I let her fall to the floor. Fit to bleed out. Removing the hat and mask to reveal my own mask underneath. I grinned, though they wouldn't see it. 

"Hello, Cousins. Having a rough day, are we?"

The shock across the room made me laugh. Gun in one hand. Gauntlet on the other. I was confident in my situation. All seven of them were mentally shredded. Between the chaos of the fight, the loss of their families in such brutal fashions, the threat of the growing inferno, the assassination of their leader... and now a Proxy that had revealed itself in the heart of their Cult.

They were at a loss.

A few words were exchanged, but I didn't waste much time. Especially when one of the Mad Doctors tried to make a run for it. A put two bullets into his back. Malfatto was the only one who reacted. A flash of steel swinging my way. The others tried to join in. Thinking numbers would make up for lack of fighting skill and unsettled minds. They were wrong. I cut through them quickly. Only earning a gash or two as one fell then the next. Before long, they changed strategies. Malfatto and two others took off running while I finished off another.

I didn't bother following. Choosing instead of take the nearest exit. Which meant into the sewer system again. But not before I detonated the little presents I'd left behind. I felt the explosions through the ground. Walls chattering slightly. They wouldn't be using that restricted area anymore. With luck, same goes for the Main Chamber.

By the time I came up, nearly half the Town was engulfed in flames. Needless to say, I didn't stick around. David and I met up just outside of town. Exchanging your typical remarks. Watching as dawn broke over the inferno. Both of us looking as though we'd been through Hell and back again. Twice.

We've lost quite a few from the Divisions... but it's over. Mission completed.

The time to breathe deep and relax, however, didn't last too long. I soon had an assassin's stare on me. David demanded the return of that which belongs to him. I, of course, agreed. As was the conditions of the deal to begin with.

We met up not far from where David and I first introduced ourselves. Ronan was in perfect health, just like I said he would be. I am good to my word, after all. Through all this, I believe I proved that much at the very least. However, once David was sure that his partner was alright... I had the JOY of watching the assassin's fury rise to the surface all the same. That unmistakeable passion that I missed out on during our first meeting.

He told me that even though I held my word... the fact that I used Ronan at all meant I had to die no matter what. Otherwise his fiance would be seen as a target and he wouldn't allow that.

I told him he "allowed" that the second Ronan became his fiance in the first place. Even before that. It was his choice to put Ronan in this position. The consequences are their own to bear.

His hands balled into fists, replying by saying that if I wanted to live to see another day, then I had to swear to help keep Ronan safe from anyone else who would want to pull the same stunt I did. That he couldn't let me just walk away, but he would give me this deal. Help or die. My choice.

My response? I laughed a bit at first. Apologizing that he still felt that way. That we did good work together and Ronan himself had been... pleasant company. Then I pointed out... that I'd already helped them. With one blinded by arrogance and the other by lacking of self-worth, my interference served as a friendly wake-up call. I told them that, if I had wanted to, things could have gone a fair bit worse for them. I'm not always as friendly as I've been to the two of them. From my previous endeavors, they should have realized that and considered themselves lucky.

David was beyond bristling at this point. Apologizing through gritted teeth that I felt that way. I saw the glint of steel.

I told him that his shallow way of thinking disappoints me. That I'd hoped he would have learned something from this little Game of mine. I explained a piece of what I told Ronan during our time together: That if he had truly wanted to keep Ronan safe like he says he wanted to - if he truly cared - then he should have walked away from him. Simple. Instead, he chose to take his lover's hand and lead him into the lion pit. I told him that for whatever grand scheme he was using Ronan for, that David should not have been surprised that this part of his plan brought unwanted attention. In fact, he should have expected it from the start.

Ours is not a Game that allows what David is attempting to create. Never has. Never will. No matter the reasoning behind it. Nothing I could do would change that fact, whether I wanted it to or not. They owned their position. No one else. And I wasn't about to support this level of foolishness. It was Fool's Game. I saw no further need to exploit it, but I wasn't about to place my name to it either.

A second later, David's knife sliced about an inch away from my throat. I grabbed his wrist and flipped us around. Slamming him back against the wall behind me. He didn't even pause. He twisted, ramming his shoulder into my chest to send me back. Freeing up his knife that I then deflected with the arm of my gauntlet. Even injured, he was fast. However... so am I.

It didn't last long. Personally, I didn't want it to last at all. David was needed back on the field. As was I. Either of us taking too bad of damage was counterproductive.

Hence why I had friends waiting in the wing.

When David started up, they were quick to move in to help me settle the matter as easily as possible. Requiem - having training in martial arts - joined into the fight with a shift through the Path and a solid kid. Diamondback took a shot before my company even realized he was there. A shot that took away David's knife. Though surprised, this only seemed to make David MORE determined than before to take me down.

The three of us were forced to make a point or two.

It wasn't a matter of proving myself better than him. If I had wanted that, it would be one on one.

However, letting his temper get to better of all of us was not on my to do list. I had survived too much to allow that. As had he.

At one point, Ronan joined in the scuffle. Personally, I would say him to be more skilled than David since he doesn't lose his head, but that is neither here nor there at this point. He seemed to ignore me completely during the "fight," only focusing on Diamondback and Requiem. They had some trouble holding their own against him... but then Ronan stepped out of the fight completely when David continued to push. Not willing to lose his ground.

Eventually, David stayed down. At least with Ronan's hands on his shoulders silently asking for him to stop.

I crouched down in front of the assassin at that point. Wiping a bit of the blood from his chin as I apologized for our adventure to end on such a sour note. I told him his request of me was impossible, since the only way I could possibly help to ensure Ronan's safety... was to kill David himself. As, no matter from what angle you viewed it, he would be the cause of any troubles when all is said and done.

I placed a kiss to his cheek before standing and repeating the gesture with Ronan. I made certain he had my parting gift. Just a recorder with a little something for him to listen to when he was in the mood to. I then bid him good luck before we took our leave.

With David's level of arrogance, he is going to need it.

And I. Officially need sleep. I feel like the walking dead.

Keep smiling, everyone.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sick and Tired

Tell me.

What scenario do you think claimed the most human lives throughout history?

Would you point your finger to the wars? World War I or World War II, perhaps? What with ever-advancing technologies, the use of Death Camps, Atomic Bombs, etc. etc. etc.? One must admit, the statistics are rather staggering.

During WWI, is is estimated that over 15 million people (military and civilians included) died.

During WWII, that number grows to over 60 million people killed, possibly closer to 80 million.

Quite impressive, yes?

A little.

Their competition?


Which ones, you ask? Well...

The Plague of Justinian itself is rather impressive all on its own. With waves of the disease starting about 540 AD and continuing into the 6th, 7th, and early 8th centuries, it is thought to have killed as many as 25 million worldwide. That alone places it above WW1 and, when keeping in mind the world population at that time... it may have to be considered competition in line with WW2, reflectively. However, even if you want to compare just bare numbers alone, all we have to do is gaze forward. The Plague of Justinian didn't reach its full potential until its return in the 1400s. During which it gained a new name as it spread its wings again. Blanketing its hosting countries as The Black Death. An epidemic that is thought to have claimed up to 100 million lives across Europe, India, China, Syria, and Africa. Even when that ended, it later took flight again as The Third Pandemic between 1855 and 1959 - killing off an additional 12 million people in India and China alone.

Not impressed? Then what about a disease that was the cause of roughly one third of military deaths during WW1? A disease that only took half a year to, at the very least, equal the death total of WW2?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: The Spanish Flu. Between 1918 and 1919, it is estimated to have eliminated from 50 up to 100 million people in a time frame of a mere six months.

Want an even larger number still? During the 20th century, Smallpox claimed 300 to 500 million lives. As early as 1967, it was still taking lives by the millions. Only two million, however.

Or are the numbers to large to fathom? Let's go a BIT smaller then.

The Antonine Plague (165 - 180 AD) may have killed as many as 5 million.

The Russian Flu (1889 - 1890) killed at least 250,000 across Western Europe.

One outbreak of Typhus in particular killed more of Napoleon's soldiers than the Russians themselves managed to. Forcing his retreat.

But perhaps I am speaking too historical for you. I know what manner of attention span you glorious Highers have. So let me simplify it.

The Top Ten Causes of Death in the World rank disease as the top nine. 2008 statistics, but it's close enough. I don't have time to find anything more recent.

In the last 150 years, Measles has been estimated to have killed over 200 million people worldwide.

In 2010, Tuberculosis was responsible for 1.45 million deaths worldwide.

Malaria has been said to kill roughly 2.7 million people per year.

AIDS has been attributed to an average of 25 million deaths per year.

In 2005, Cancer took 7.6 million lives and is on the rise each year. It's estimated that, by year 2030, it will be killing 11.4 million a year.

Even the Common Flu. An average of 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year.

Why the history lesson, you ask?

Perhaps because I have been attempting to avoid contracting these diseases and MORE for over three weeks now.

Perhaps because David - who I took it upon myself to blackmail into assisting us - has been attempting to do the same for over a week now.

Perhaps because our enemy has been weaponizing their interests into creations that take only days, hours, sometimes even minutes to start showing symptoms.

Perhaps because, as a result of your incompetence and stupidity, the entire situation had progressed to a point of extremes before we'd even arrived into the area.

Perhaps because, as much as we slaughter them face-to-face, they are still killing us off from a distance.


Are Cultists.

Of the Plague Doctor Himself.

The Afflicted. Oathbreakers. Call them what you will.


Are not.

To be taken.


You have pitted us against disease itself. Not blade or bullet. Disease. Illness. Viruses. Bacteria. We have clashed with these people in the past, of course, but it seems you morons have failed to understand the defined difference THIS time around. I have seen more ways to die in the past three weeks than I have in the past year. The effects their gases have when they spring a trap... it keeps changing. And it's obvious why. They're experimenting. Modern technology has allowed them to mutate diseases and viruses to their will... and now they are studying the effects. As though we are not but lab rats.

We have one Proxy in particular who seems to have developed Ondine's Curse. Meaning she no longer breathes from reflex alone. She hasn't slept in forty-eight hours, for obvious reasons. I expect to hear the gunshot sometime tonight.

Whatever game you were playing - whatever little pissing matches you were having amongst one another - I will tell you now: The humor has turned sour. You have left your Divisions to rot. You have left the entire operation to rot. Forcing us to pick up duties that are not ours to hold just to be able to keep the situation together.

As you already know, I have never been very tolerate of you idiots to begin with. Most of the time, I've chosen to ignore that oh-so-special "wisdom" of yours in favor of staying alive to see another day and using common sense instead of complete arrogance as my guide. Since I do my work well, you have been forced to tolerate ME instead. As such, I understand your desire to see me dead for my constant disregard for whatever elevated position you see yourself as on the totem pole. I understand it. I do.

However, if you truly want to kill me, I'm afraid you'll need to take a FAR more direct route. You presented me with a suicide mission. Did you really expect me to just toss myself in, for better or for worse? One would think that, by now, you'd know better. I recognized it for what it was and found a solution myself. Somewhat of a patch-job, I admit, but he'll do.

Your Divisions have been doing something of the same. Since you're left them with little other choice.

All of you. Are pathetic.

It should NOT have had to fall upon them to scrounge for assistance and supplies from every direction just to keep the plague that is knocking on the back door at bay.

It should NOT have had to fall upon me to force another member of the family into this mess so as to make the mission you assigned me at least somewhat possible.

It should NOT have had to fall upon me and my previously-mentioned, reluctant recruit to keep an eye on and assist YOUR Divisions to ensure we progress forward each day.

It should NOT have had to fall upon a man such as David to become involved into a side of the business he has no experience with.

What part of all this is confusing you?

Despite you not doing your jobs, the rest of us have been doing what we must.

Our Divisions of Proxies have still been fighting to remove the Afflicted from the "invaded" town to the best of their abilities. Succeeding, for the most part. Though casualties ARE mounting. Some of which could have been avoided.

I have adjusted my own situation to help ensure BOTH assignments are completed. In so doing, I've painted a target on the back of my head for my partner in crime to take aim at later. Thank you for that. You may very well get me killed yet. Joy, hm?

As for David himself, he has been adjusting all he knows just in order to survive and complete the tasks laid before him. While I felt from the start that his training would give him a fighting chance of coming out of this alive, he is - by anyone's definition - a rookie in the field. A newbie. He is used to handling norms. Runners. Proxies. This is his first experience against other cults... and the Afflicted are a difficult bunch to have as an introductory. Despite his lack of experience in the area... I had decided he had been worth taking a chance on. His skill level is correct. He had been fairly close by to our location. And he had a publicized weak point I could easily exploit. No one else fit my needs better.

And I must say... that he has been doing VERY well, for the most part. I'm impressed.

Pardoning the fiasco two days ago when he nearly killed us both.

Granted, it was my choice to go in after him. I could have left him to die. Perhaps I should have. However... I happen to be someone who hates putting so much effort into something only to come out empty handed. So, when I saw him disappear through the door of a Marked Building on the tails of a few of the Afflicted... I followed after.

(Normally, I wouldn't explain what happened... but I think my dearest Followers will enjoy hearing the tale.)

David had obviously been having fun as he went further and further into a Trap Waiting to Happen. Like a cat caught up in the excitement of chasing a mouse, he failed to take due notice to his surroundings. I simply pulled up the lower half of my mask (designed to filter the air similar to a medical mask) and followed the trail of bodies - figures in wide-brimmed hats and tattered robes slowly creating pools of thick crimson around their collapsed forms. Eyes of their signature mask peering out at the world still, but the eyes beneath the mask had obviously already been emptied. From the glances I gave them upon passing, I could tell they'd been taken out fast. Cleanly. Not skipping a beat. Just as I'd expect from the assassin.

He must have taken out at least six of them... before the trail lead me to a door which went down into the basement.

I hadn't had such a strong urge to bash my own skull against a wall for quite some time.  

However, I'd gone this far. I wasn't turning back.

I descended the stairs with caution. Not really knowing what to expect. The first thing I saw inside the dimly lit basement... came with some relief. My little runaway was across the room, having just allowed his last target to crumble to the floor in front of him. Blade glistening with fresh blood. A wide, malicious grin across his face. He seemed more than pleased with himself... until his attention rose to his surroundings.

The slight trace of uncertainty that crossed his features then was almost cute, considering how deep he'd buried himself in Their building. I addressed him by name as I came down the stairs - just to make certain I gained his attention and not a bullet of surprise fired in my direction. He seemed genuinely surprised to see me. However, just as I stepped from the last stair... the dooming sound of a slamming door and the clunk of a solid lock twisting into place came from behind me.

We were locked in.

I was not surprised.

It was more or less the next obvious step in a bad day turning for the worst.

After all, that was exactly how the Afflicted work. They seem to despise face-to-face time and will avoid it completely when possible. Instead, they make their little air borne illnesses and set little traps for others to either fall into or be manipulated/driven into.

Hence why I wished to bash my skull in (or his, perhaps?) when I saw the trail of blood leading down to the basement.

We weren't even making them EARN it.

This was well beyond a rookie's mistake. It was practically suicide by ventilation duct... as that is typically their "gun" of choice. They feed their weaponized diseases and bacteria into the room of their choice via the air and let it have its fun with those stuck inside. The Afflicted then like to watch from a distance and take notes. Like good little Medical Students.

David used a piece of his shirt as a make-shift mask for himself (I have since given him a mask similar to my own) and inquired to me as to ideas of how to get out. I suppose he thought that I wouldn't have come down after him (or perhaps because I wasn't in a panic?) unless there was Escape Plan B waiting in the wing. He was more or less correct.

The Afflicted prefer the underground. Underneath their Cult Towns, you will always find the same thing: winding tunnels running from one side of the Town to the other. Connecting into the sewer system... as well as the basements of several key buildings. I already knew the building we were in was Marked as one of their "coming and going" points. I told David that we had to find the entrance to their own tunnel before we found ourselves suffering from exposure to whatever it was that they'd chosen to Eliminate us with. I told him that it was probably covered in some way...

David's response was rather perfect. "You can't be serious. As in the old Trapdoor Beneath a Rug trick?"

I looked to him... and then we both looked down to the carpet we were standing on. We quickly dragged the dead body off to one side before we each grabbed a side of the carpet and flipped it back.

Never doubt a Classic.

The trapdoor was wooden and just pulled open. No fuss, no muss. By this point, however, the air of the basement had taken on a strange taste, even through our masks. I could feel the irritation in my throat and David was starting to cough. Time was ticking, but before one of us could move... we heard a blast and the entire building trembled to the point of making us both stumble slightly in our footing. Then there was another blast. And another. And another. Building into a deafening explosion and the structure above us groaned horribly, dust pouring down upon us as the ceiling began to buckle and split. Pieces of cement crumbling down.

There was another reason we called it the Marked Building. It was set to be reduced to rubble. I knew this going in. I thought we still had time.

I was wrong.

I grabbed David through the shower of dust and chunks of cement and got him to jump down the hole first. I followed just as the ceiling collapsed down and flames from the explosions licked above our heads with searing heat. I'd seen the ladder on the side of the hole earlier, but the hole went even deeper than I'd thought. Sending a jar up my legs as I landed, but the rocks had found the hole as well and were pelting downwards. I threw myself forward to avoid the storming... and landed on top of David.

By the time everything had settled around us... he was half-way in between choking from whatever was in the air and the dust... and laughing his head off.

Honestly? I wasn't much different.

When he had the breath to, he commented about the whole affair being quite the little adventure.

I simply responded that he couldn't say I didn't take him anywhere interesting. Then I complained about having landed on his gun as my ribs were protesting rather angrily at that point.

His advice, while grinning, was not to set it off.

He's a charmer. Truly.

After we untangled ourselves, we took a moment to rest before I stood and offered a hand to David. We had to get moving, after all. We were now even deeper into Their territory than before. He took it after a period of hesitation and I pulled him up. It was then up to me to navigate us through the tunnels to find another exit. During which, we got a chance to talk. Spoke of a variety of things. One of which being his luck (or lack there of) that it had been ME to take advantage of Venny and not someone else. In my view, the Runner is safe and sound so long as David doesn't do anything too stupid. For that, he is lucky. To his eyes, he can't just "throw [me] out a window" and so that constitutes bad luck.

We've both concluded that we think one another to be very confusing individuals.

I also pitched him a warning concerning dearest Ronan. After all, David is attempting to create in the chaos that which it naturally destroys. I will not stand in their way to destroying themselves, though I do urge against the level of blindness BOTH these men live in. I gave him my two cents. David responded by stepping in so close to me with his whisperings that I nearly felt as though he was attempting to seduce me. Amusing, to say the least.

We had to change our route every once in a while. A shadow would appear in front of us as an approaching figure around a turn, so we'd go another way. Choosing to avoiding trouble while we were so deep in another Cult's territory. Honestly, the blocks seemed casual. Nothing seemingly suspicious enough or convenient enough to set off any red flags. In fact, both of us had thought we had AVOIDED a trap or two along the way... and then, after a long stretch of tunnel that looked exactly the same as any other... a dead end rose to greet us.

And They appeared from behind us.

They were all dressed in the likeness of their God. And yet... each one was slightly different. Different colors. Styles. Accessories. Some appearing more "steam-punk" while others held more traditional or tribal appearances. They each carried their choice of bladed weapons.

David and I didn't wait for them to come at us. We went to them. Driving through the crowd of figures with his knife and my gauntlet. Drawing our guns when needed. Always moving. Shifting. One opponent to the next. Shift. Strike. Shift. Block. Block. Strike. Shift. David's laughter was echoing through the tunnel as we worked as a team. The Afflicted fought back just as hard. Both of us earning injuries before long, but nothing that slowed us down, for the most part. What was bothering me, however, was all the while in my head... I kept thinking it was wrong. This wasn't normal for Oathbreakers. That there had to be something else going on...

I remember a motion from the corner of my eye, then there was an arm cutting across my throat as another hand snapped around me with a needle. I didn't hesitate. My gauntlet caught the arm with the needle as I slammed myself backwards against a wall. Bladed fingers cutting through fabric and flesh as I twisted the handgun in my opposite hand to fire backwards into my attacker's gut. There was a shot. A pained gasp. A spray of blood... and nothing changed. The hand with the needle continued to press against my own blades as the other arm continued to choke me. Two other servants moved in to take advantage of my situation. I kicked into the gut of one...

I couldn't help but cringe as a shot suddenly split through my hearing. David's gun having been pressed right against the side of my attacker's head when he took his shot. The hold on me crippled away. Releasing my windpipe for oxygen again. It was at that point that my weeks in this Town began to catch up to me. I couldn't catch my breath. My chest rattled with each inhale and exhale... but I didn't stop. I snapped up with my gauntlet, deflecting a blade from one of my two other attackers before I leveled my gun.

Two bullets.

Two skulls splattering chucks of brain matter and bone on the walls behind them as they both crumpled backwards to the floor.

I turned back to David. It had finally clicked what they were doing.

I told him they were sealing us in.

These were not but decoys. Distractions.

We ran. Ignoring all injuries that came our way as we blasted through the tunnel stride for stride. Five more shots would pierce the air.

Two of mine. Aimed at those rigging the doorway of the tunnel into collapsing.

Three of David's. Aimed at the weak points that the now-dead Oathbreakers had made.

The tunnel collapsed behind us. Sealing the others inside.

David and I wasted no time in moving on. We found where the tunnel breaks into the sewer system and went up a ladder to let ourselves out onto the road. Like I'd planned, we emerged not far from Point Zero. Our Home Base in the town. We were receiving treatment within fifteen minutes.

Our wounds have been dressed and we are both still fighting our own internal battles... but we both got out.

It hadn't been said... but he knows as well as I do that he would have died had I not gone in after him.

He also knows as well as I do that I wouldn't have got out myself had he not returned the favor and watched my back.

So, while I tried to clear out my lungs and he fought off infection from a laced blade, we had a chance to talk things over more carefully.

A decision was made.

Plans have been adjusted accordingly.

It is time we did this our way.

Furthermore, "Highers", in response to your latest "order" we received... you can consider it officially IGNORED.

These Divisions have been under my eye for nearly a month now. Lives have come and gone and been replaced. If things continue as they are, we can both see this continuing for another few weeks... and that if far too long. David and I refuse to be the next corpses to be set ablaze. Therefore, since the lot of you obviously lack the backbone to handle command of what should have originally been a simple mission... I am now informing you that you have not but a single duty from hence forth:

Stay the fuck out of our way.

These Divisions are under my command now.

If you so desire to protest, then please do come to our lovely neighborhood and confront me.

I'll be sure to give you a fitting welcome.

You're dismissed, sweethearts.

PS: As for my Friends who are reading this... do be sure to pray for us. This will get interesting.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Stab To The Heart.

That would be how I started the day.

A needle, to be precise. Driven right through the chest cavity and into the heart of one of the Proxies working on the same mess I am.

She then had what could be described as a seizure. Her body itself becoming a battlefield between a deadly virus... and something of an antidote our side created to fight it. Fever rising and dropping. Shaking. Skin pale and pasty. Obviously in complete agony.

She is now resting. Hopefully, she'll be fit to return to work tomorrow. Though, at this point, whether she lives or dies is completely up to her.

After all, life in itself is sink or swim.

Either you fight the current with all you have. All your strength and knowledge. Struggling even past the point when your body and mind are broken and weary from the brutal onslaught its constantly dealt...

Or you drown in the consequences.

Your choice.

That would be part of what I told darling David during our little get-together two nights ago. I'm so pleased he was able to make it. I, for one, think it was high time we actually had a chance to introduce ourselves to one another face to face. And what better opportunity to do so than placing myself in between himself and his fiance?

I did have a little fun with him at first. Nothing big. Harmless, really. David found himself standing alone at the designated meet-spot. A little four-way in downtown a few towns over from where I've been assigned. On time, just as I told him to be. The wind carried a chilling nip to its touch as it breezed through the otherwise empty street. The dark of the night only held at bay by the pools of yellow light provided by the streetlamps above. A perfect backdrop for two of His Children to meet... only... I was not there to greet him. Instead, he stood against the night and wind alone. From my own spot, I watched him as he glanced each way down the desolate roads... until his eyes fell upon a figure. Collapsed back against one of those very lampposts. Lying on the ground. Body limp.

The coat he was wearing... was one that David would recognize all too well.

It was Ronan's.

The panic that weaved itself into David's mind as he quickly closed distance to that corpse was etched right across his face. Not strikingly obvious, but there. That little mask of his only falling back into place once he was crouched down by the body. Realizing it was not who he had feared it was. It was no one. A stranger.

But a stranger who holds membership to a group that I've been having a lot of fun with recently.

Then David stood and turned around... and that would be when I stepped out of the shadows to greet him.

I must say, everything went very diplomatically. There wasn't even a fight, though I'm certain I can expect that to come later in the game. David did make a point of showing his dislike of being manipulated, but that was hardly anything worth paying a mind to. I was expecting fury. Rage. Passion. David's mood, however, I'd categorize as... annoyed. I wouldn't even say 'irritated'. Just annoyed. Not that I'm complaining, of course. The less time and energy I'm forced to waste on pointless scuffles, the better. I'm a busy Proxy, after all. As is he.

Actually, he's found himself even busier over the last forty-eight hours.

You see... I am not one to do things simply because I can. I've not a care to pull meaningless stunts to impress anyone or prove my worth in any way (That's directed at you, Elaine). You can all rest assured... that this was all done for a very specific reason. A reason that falls on the shoulders of the simple fact... that I required help. I needed David's skills. His talents. Oh, he did try to mock me for it. Making a comment that suggested all I had to do was ask him instead of involving Venny...

It honestly made me laugh.

So I began explaining the job. The risks. For each mission has its own level. Dictated by its finer details of who, what, where, why, when, and how. For example... backing a trained assassin into a corner as opposed to an accountant. Obviously the former would carry more risk... unless, of course, the accountant had trained in one of the martial arts which would make hand-to-hand more risky. It all changes. One job to another. Sometimes the risks are high. Sometimes, low. And, like David's view on the job at hand, one's approach to handling the matter needs to shift accordingly.

David's targets would be families, you see.

He thought it a cut-and-dry case, and I suppose I could have allowed him to go in believing that...

However, I needed him to take care of a NUMBER of families in a this specific town. And having him die in convulsions while attempting to make an example of those at the very first residence was not a thought I wished to make reality. So, I told him exactly what he would be walking into.

I think then he understood why I'd known he wouldn't do the job willingly. 

I wouldn't even do the job willingly.

But neither of us have much choice now, do we?

It is true what they say: Misery does love company. I'm quite pleased at the moment, I must say.

And since I know some of you are thinking it: No, David is not doing all the work himself. Far from it. I could handle what he doing rather simply... have I not my own side of the conflict to take care of. Everyone must pull their weight for this to play out correctly. I've much to do before my own Final Act in this fiasco needs to play out. However, for obvious reasons, I won't be telling exact what it is we're doing. I must say though... that I'm seeing the situation quite a bit brighter now that I know my last piece is at the front lines. As long as I hold one of the pieces from his own board in my palm, then the risks become acceptable. David will do as I say.

Correction: David is doing as I say.

And he seems to be enjoying himself. He sent me a few photos of his work thus far. Not bad, I must admit. His skills have always been unquestionable...

That would be two families down. Rest of the list to go.

I just hope the sweetheart is smart enough to cover up and wear a gas mask. These people are not your ordinary citizens. Far from it, in fact. They're Cultists. But not ours, you see. These are cults... that follow a different being than the Slender Man.

A God who's humor is quite a bit... sicker.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don't Underestimate School Teachers, David...

...Such naivety will be the death of you.

The same naivety that put you in this situation in the first place.

Trust me when I say that I've far too much on my plate to humor your temper-tantrums, so I'd advise you to be on your best behavior. So far, no blood has been spilled. Let us keep it that way, hm?

Come alone.

Don't be late.

Oh, and, sweetheart...

It's just a Game.