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Week 0.

"The Quiet of the Grave."


The quiet of the grave is a common descriptor for Illmound Keep under most circumstances, but today, it was a bustling palace, filled with cackling fiends, feral shapechangers, silken vampires, and a hundred other things which haunt the dreams of the sternest of men. Maman Brigette herself was none of these things, a simple mistress of the occult plucked specially for this mission by the gaunt Man himself over the ... well, no one, not even the Hellion Court disagrees with the Gaunt Man, but ... reservations ... of those who felt she was as yet too untested for such a post. This was the invasion of Earth, the single greatest jewel in the Gaunt Man’s crown! A reality so rich in Possibilities that seven High Lords had gathered, to attack the planet in unison as it was so powerful that, singularly, any of them would have fallen.


Brigette’s pace through the labrynthian halls slowed as she reflected on this a moment. In her short life, she had transformed from a simple aristocrat’s daughter to a reader of scandalous novels to a member of a secret society who penned them to a practitionary of the dark arts and, now, hand picked by the Gaunt Man for her ability to inflitrate Earth’s own societies. A year ago to the day, she had traveled to this “Haiti”, learning of their occult practices and religion, mastering their language and having that knowledge plucked from her by sorcerous means and shared among the Hellion Court. Her magics allowed her to take the form of the locals, to match them in dress, manner, and speech as well as form and her fierce beliefs won many to the cause. Truth be told, it was not terribly difficult ... this part of Earth was quite vulnerable to her. She was to be rewarded a station as ‘Bride’ of the Gaunt Man’s Earthly persona, the Maman Brigette to his Baron Samedi, names that were more natural to her, now, than her own.


A time for reflection passed, her steps hurried, two massive black doors swinging open as she drew near to the Gaunt Man’s private quarters. His guards, more servants really as the High Lord had no need of protection, stood aside as she entered, calling, “My lord?”


The Gaunt Man stood before a silver mirror wreathed in bone, adjusting his clothing just a bit. Tall and skeletal, his dark suit was worn well, the “burial best”, the clean white shirt beneath a stark contrast to his ebony skin. The upper half of his face was painted a skull white, while each ear sported a single gold loop. His head was bald, but the matching white paint there was hidden by his top hat. A silver-shod cane was tucked under his left arm while his hands busied themselves trying to get his bow tie just right. A quick glance to his left as the doors opened, and a surprisingly chipper High Lord called, “Ah, Brigette, a bit of aid, if you will?”


She moved quickly to his side, hands quick to work on her master’s attire as he managed a smirk. “A thousand thousand years of life, countless cosms invaded, the mysteries of the universe mine to see where no other can bear to look ... and I remain vexed by fashion.”


Brigette allowed herself a small smile, risky in more sullen times but well received just now. “A new world, m’lord, a new culture, and new customs to understand and subvert.”


He nodded, right hand now freed from his adornment to, instead, pluck a cigar from a goblet of rum nearby. He held it aloft, lighting it with the tiniest fragment his power before taking a few relaxing draws. “I must confess, despite their appalling taste in fashion, they do make a fantastic rum, and the cigars?” He took another long draw, “Well, they’re to die for.”


Her task finished, Brigette bowed her head low, stepping back respectfully from her master. He let the silence linger a heartbeat longer, than said, “You serve me well, Brigette. Soon, we stride forth into the new world as Baron Samedi and his bride, Maman Brigette, taking my rightful place of lord of all I survey. The first week, you will stay by my side, showing these lesser creatures that they will be well rewarded for staying in line, serving loyally and showing proper veneration. The beasts will serve as the reward for failing such a path. The carrot or the stick, I believe the saying goes, though I confess my minions would vastly prefer the latter. The initial invasion will see much blood shed in my name, to sate the bloodlust of my most vicious followers but, after that, you will be paramount, my dear, sent forth to spread the word ... MY word ... and to show these fools that salvation is at hand.” He paused, taking another draw from his cigar, before adding,. “There will be others, of course, groups dispersed far and wide, and other servants, trusted servants, leading my affairs in far away lands, but you are my harbinger, and, as such, your rewards will be greater than any others.”


She bowed much lower, now, eyes fully upon the ground. “Your generosity is unmatched, my lord.”


The Gaunt man snorted, now swishing his rum about. “Do not deceive yourself, child. It is not generosity that motivates me. I reward those who succeed and I punish those who fail. I am no friend, giving to you out of some sense of comraderie, no lover, giving out of some obligation, no, I am your master, and I dole out rewards based on how well you serve me. Your gifts are earned, not given.” He took a sip, then, closing his eyes for a moment to enjoy the sensation. “Fail me, and your punishment will be merciless. Do as I command, and your reward boundless.”


Unmoving, Brigette simply returned, “As you wish, my lord.”


“Now, leave me. I wish to be alone.”


Brigette backed away three steps, before turning and passing through the chamber’s doors without another word. The Gaunt Man moved to a stone balcony, looking into the cool night air. Beneath him a thousand nightmares, each worse than the one before it, stood at the ready, raccously awaiting the moment of release. Above him, the twisted pillar of flesh that formed his bridge to another world... his Maelstrom bridge. The Gaunt Man no longer knew true happiness, but the giddy sense of expectation he felt just before an invasion was as near as he reached, and tonight, he was very expectant indeed.


He took another drink, longer by far, then pulled the goblet away from his thin smile. “Oh yes. Absolutely to die for.”

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The Gaunt Man’s shoes, polished to a glossy sheen, buckled in gold, clacked quietly against the white marble floor of the chamber, a slow pace made melodic by the click of his silver-tipped cane at every third step. His pace took him counter-clockwise around the meeting table, also carved of white marble, which, only days before, had held eight High Lords, himself included. The centerpiece of the room was the shimmering globe that still hovered above the center, small markings at different points, indicating where each possibility raider had staked his claim.


“Beautiful, is it not?” he asked, red eyes unblinking as they focused on the globe.


“I never took you for a romantic,” came the woman’s voice behind him.


The Gaunt man chuckled, shaking his head before turning his eyes from the prize, to cast his glance at the young woman of cafe-au-laut skin who leaned against the entranceway’s frame. “I am no mere villain, my dear, content to cackle upon my throne while tossing children to wolves. I am, before anything else, an artist, a sculptor of pain, a poet of fear, a painter whose brush is filled with the colors of the night.” He gestured somewhat, there, with his cane, phantom brush strokes in the air, drawn with the silver tip. “True, mine is an art reviled by many, aimed for the rarest of audience, but...” He smiled, a wicked grin that spread across his green visage like a beetle’s wings, “An art, all the same.”


Brigette snorted, but followed the dismisal with an earnest intrest, pushing herself from her lean to stand tall, approaching once the Gaunt Man had turned to survey the globe again. “You’ve chosen a motley bunch, oh darkest one, if you wish to paint the Infiniverse.”


The Gaunt man nodded, hands behind his back, now, resting just so against the head of his cane, his eyes focused on the globe again. “I know. This is not the band I’d have chosen to invade, but, too many of those closest to me are indisposed. Kranod scarcely had the power to attend our gathering, such was the damage the accursed Kadandrans had done to his realm. Uthroian’s stablity has been in question since his merger with that witch-woman, while Kurst...” He let it trail away for a moment, then sighed. “Nonetheless, further delays could have left this world ripe for another High Lord to pluck, and that would not do.”


Brigette stayed at her lord’s back, asking quietly, “How well will they stay to the plan, m’lord?”


The Gaunt Man shook his head. “Well enough, for a time, but each of us knows that there can only be one Torg. It is only a matter of time before they turn on one another, or me, in the quest for power. Such is our desire for power that nothing, not even another High Lord, can quell it. Should we find a Darkness Device on this world, my dear, you will get your own chance to see, first hand, the power and the desire that being a High Lord entails.” He gestured towards the globe, which expanded as it narrowed the focus to one landing area.


“Prague,” he said, indicating the city lit on the globe, “Chosen of Uthorion, to be his seat of power. My oldest lieutenant chose to be the first bridge to drop, and to be on the far side of the globe as myself.”


“Prudent,” said Brigette.


“Indeed,” concurred th Gaunt Man, then adding, “A seat of power from a bygone era, filled with forgotten artifacts and a pacified population. The introduction of magic will keep them loyal, drawing fascinated peoples frmo across the globe to study, little aware that they’ll be transformed in the process. He has the greater population of Europe to his west and the enormous reserves of Russia to his east, putting himself in the best expansion position of us all. I expect great things from him.”


“Fitting, my lord, as he was best trained of your former minions.”


“True, true. In recent decades, however, he has been closer to Jean Malreaux.” As he spoke, the globe spun, showing a location in the United States. “The Cyberpope has chosen to land in New York City, the very heart of the resistance that we’ll face. He seeks to prove his loyalty to the cause by facing the fiercest battles, but I know that this region has the greatest concentration of potential stormers that we have yet seen... they will flock to his banner, I think, and the large number of Eternity Shards that he might find there, and near to his first landing, could enrich him with a power that few, myself included, would be hard pressed to match.”


“My lord, you can’t...” her words were cut off with a lift of his hand.


“Tut, my dear. This is no time for sycophancy. I’m well aware of the power of each High Lord invited to this invasion and only a fool thinks himself so far above that no other could threaten him. Malreaux’s clerics are a match for those of the Sacelleum, while his science is far beyond anything that I have encountered before. Add to this an ample bounty formed of this world’s toughest region ... well ... I chose a landing close enough to watch him for a reason. He could be my greatest ally ... or my greatest foe.” A gesture made the globe retreat somewhat, showing the area that would be near, but beyond, the first landing zone. “I worry, however, of his expansion potential. His technology and miracles will fail outside of his own borders and his foe is the most advanced any of us face. He needs to make use of the Gospog I have gifted him with to properly spread his borders. I would have preferred that Baruk Khah took this point, but...” He sighed. “Still, his presence will keep the strongest defender occupied, allowing the rest of us to progress with little true resistance. If he is successful, then fantastic, if he falters, my aid will endebt him to me, and if he fails, well, that would leave many Eternity Shards uncovered and undefended.”


“Why did the lord of the Living Land chose a different landing, I wonder?”


A motion of his hand brought the United Kingdom to the center, a green light shining from the Living Land’s bridgehead. “I do not know.” He shook his head, adding, “The lizard man is an enigma to me, enchanted with his own religion even as he defiles it, leading a culture with no leaders, forming armies of those with no concept of armies to conquer land which they know no one can own, only occupy.” He shook his head again, stating, “Unpredictable, savage, but possessed of a low cunning and ferocity that should not be underestimated.” He paused, here, to look over his shoulder at his charge, adding, “Never mistake a lack of culture for a lack of intelligence, Brigette. The others scoff at Khah’s lack of technology and backwards nature, but I know well that he has no qualms about cracking any of our skulls open and feasting on what remains. He is a hunter, a stalker, a killer ... I only wish I could understand his plan.” The globe pulled back, showing the small island in full detail. “He has very little room to expand. He’ll need a second bridgehead, and early, to continue his gains, but he was unwilling to say just where this leg of his invasion might go. He’s crafty, and his nature makes him unpredictable. Which brings me to...”


Another spin of the globe, now to South America’s western coast. “... The Faceless Lord. A name unknown to me, a face unknown to anyone, and an approach that is well and truly alien. He takes an area full of animals but lacking in population, thick with plants and water, but with little technology or progress. I see few Eternity Shards here, and a vast space filled sparsely with population. I cannot grasp his approach, which is most vexsome. Still, he, too, is near my own landing site, where I can watch him in action and, in turn, he can watch me, feeling safe by knowing if, or when, a betrayal would come.”


“And do you plan on betraying him, my lord?”


The Gaunt Man snorted. “Each of us plans on betraying the other, my dear. It’s only a matter of when and where. Sprinting for the end game leaves you vulnerable to the arrows of all those at your back. No, better to bide your time, let others make the first move while you prepare to deal with it.” He managed a small smirk, then a chuckle, “The one thing we can trust is that everyone will be betrayed. There’s a certain loyalty in that.”


Brigette looked puzzled, but the Gaunt Man wavedit away as the globe spun again, “Which brings me to ‘Mister Xiao’.” The globe centered on China, a massive land whose sized was patched only by its population. “Now here is a true master of the game. He claims as his own the third largest country, and largest population, of the globe. Originally, I’d planned on using Kranod’s landing in Tokyo to counter him, but, alas, that is not to be as we number seven, not eight. He favors a soft invasion, unseen by the world at large, hiding in plain sight while our more ... shocking ... entries into this world are watched carefully. Exposing him as one of us is ever our strongest threat, our ‘Sword of Damocles’ if you will,” he glanced back at Brigette’s blank face, then away with a sigh, “We simply must have you read more, my dear.” He reached up to tap the globe with his cane-tip, adding, “But that’s a strong hand best held back for now. I want to see how he runs. We’ve never worked together before and I’m curious how a world so devoid of the occult or spirit can function. His technology will lead to a cleaner world, perhaps, but I would call it sterile, not safe, lacking that spark of life that makes fear so palpable.”


“And Professor Moebius?”


The globe spun once more, now to India. “A mad genius. We have our share of them as well, of course, and I can respect the drive of science, but, despite his cry for a new Nile Empire, he chooses to instead land in East India, over four thousand kilometers from his headwaters! A madman, but one with a plan that lies outside my reckoning.”


“The population, my lord? I understand that is second only to China’s.”


The Gaunt Man nodded, but slowly. “Perhaps. Perhaps he wanted to keep an eye on Mister Xiao. Perhaps they want to work as allies, butting against one another and spreading forth, or, perhaps, he knows of some Eternity Shards that I do not. The Pharaoh, while young, has seen nine cosms fall at his feet. He has a plan, I simply cannot see it yet. Perhaps Tibet...”


Brigette let the Gaunt Man ponder a moment more, before asking, “My lord?”


The Gaunt Man turned, dismissing the globe’s view to the default once more. “Too little time to dwell on things for now, I’m well aware. The other bridges are on schedule, and my own invasion is due.” He turned his back to the table, walking towards the doorway, cane tucked under one arm. As he walked, his appearance changed, skin darkening, face growing flush, clothes turning to a dark suit topped with a tall hat. Baron Samedi stood where the Gaunt Man once did, a wide grin on his face, shown beneath the white painted skull. He offered his elbow to the houngan, where she entwined her own. “Time for the dance, my sweet.”


She returned his smile as they left, exclaiming,, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

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Orrosh, Part I


Alexander huddled into the shadow of the alley, quietly cursing a wardrobe of bright colors in this darkened age. He glanced upwards at the still bank sign which no longer read the time and temperature... like the rest of Port au Prince, electricity here had stopped dead. Ordinarily, he and his family would have simply broken out the emergency generator, gathered with freinds and neighbors at the church, and waited it out as they had so many hurricanes and storms in the past.


This time, though?


This time was different.


Generators refused to run. Sewer treatment plants had stopped up, filling the streets with runoff even as torrential rains had pounded down. The emergency radio network had failed as well... it wasn’t that radios got only static, it was that radios refused to even turn on! It was ... disheartening. His sister, Portia, had managed to get one running with several beats ... the kid was going to be a doctor when she grew up, he could just tell, but there was nothing but silence on the airwaves.


Alexander moved from the alleyway, now, scuttling behind an idle bus in the cloud-covered moonlight. Busses were idle, no cars worked, it was madness. Ever since Baron Samedi had strode from the hills, cackling as he went... there were such stories! The Baron, or someone claiming to be him, grabbing a cameraman at a futbol match, talking of how “his people” had “lost their way” and how he was here to restore order. Alexander’s father had muttered darkly of Papa Doc; His father who had gone to work three days ago and never returned. Alexander was now the man of the house and, as they had run out of food and medicine for baby Sarah, he’d bravely gone outside. In the Baron’s Haiti, only a scant few candles pierced the night sky and even then, homes kept their curtains closed. The day belonged to the people, to live their life as they wished... The Baron wanted them to work, to thrive, and to pray every Sunday, but also to obey. Church was required every Sunday. Sunrise to sunset, you could travel, but when the sun set, everyone was to remain indoors ... night was when the dead would walk, when the Baron’s cackling troupe would search for those outside (like me!), to punish them for disobeying his rules. Worse, they would find those who had broken the law, or those who had been immoral, and when morning came, the houses of those who were so visited would be found empty.


A smattering of laughter from ahead drew Alexander’s notice. A group of perhaps a half dozen, hard to count with only scant starlight, either the Baron’s own or fools who’d soon be swept up. Either way, it would be bad to go that way. A quick glance around lead to a worse realization... the only other pathway to the grocer would go through a side alley he knew was gang territory. The voices drew nearer and Alexander realized that waiting longer was a death sentence. He quietly drew a breath, steeled his reserve, and dashed for the alley.






Carribean Crying, Part I


“Damndest thing,” said Detective Dallas, just before spitting tobacco juice off the dock, “Storm season this rough, they shouldn’t have gone out there.”


Detective Miller shook his head, “The passengers were drunk college kids too willing to spend daddy’s money, but the captain was an experienced seaman. He shouldn’t have had problems.”


Dallas snorted, “A yacht that bobs into Kingston without a soul onboard isn’t a ‘problem’. It’s a mystery. And I hate those.”


Miller looked sideways at the rotund officer, asking, “Are you serious? A police detective who hates mysteries?”


Dallas nodded, spitting again into the water. “Crimes make sense. Guy’s doped up and bashes his gril up. Drug deal goes south and a bunch of gangers blow each other up. Rich guy can’t get it up anymore so gets a mistress, gets roped in, then talked into bumping off his wife to make room for the new dish. Rotten bastards, one and all, but they make sense. This?” He gestured towards the now moored yacht and the investigators inside, “This makes my head hurt.”


Miller grunted, a weak agreement, then stated, “So, you think there’s more to this than just a bunch of drunks going skinny dipping and drowning?”


Dallas asked, “And the captain?”


Miller rubbed his chin, pondering. “Hot co-ed begs him to join her for a swim?”


Dallas spit once more. “Captain Higgins-Whyte was as gay as they come. Also in a relationship for thirty years. His boyfriend’s on shore now, crying.”


Miller shrugged, “Well, it could be ...” his thought was interrupted by a cry from on deck. “Sirs! We have something!”


The two hurried up the loading ramp, where several other junior detectives were stepping aside. One brought up a book, old, leathery, and filled with thick parchment pages. “Down in the captain’s quarters, hidden under a manifest.”


Dallas stepped forward to take it, unlocking the clasp as he asked, “Suicide note?” He gagged as the book opened, half-choking on his tobacco before managing to hork it free.


Miller scooped up the book, frowning at the smell from the rotten flesh woven into the first page. A notation in blood stated, simply, The Tome of Blood. “Dallas,” he said while patting his partner’s back gently, “I’m starting to see why you hate mysteries.”

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Orrorsh, Part II


“Hey, I see somebody!”


Those chilling words at his heels, Alexander dashed through the side alley, the clamour of runners behind him. . o O ( Gotta ditch ‘em fast! ) he thought, launching himself in one smooth leap to the chain fence, then scrambling over the top to the far side. (Too dark to find me again if I just shake ‘em! ) He continued to run, tumbling some boxes in his wake to slow his pursuers, who were already cursing the fence that they were still scaling. (Lazy. Used to easy prey.)


The next few moments were a blur, with dark alley meeting dark alley, short bursts of graffiti offering color, each curve taken, each street pushed through, leaving the sounds of pursuit more scattered and slowing. In due time, he found himself free and able to once again concentrate on finding a store that still held food. Most markets had been cleaned out in short order, with those at the fringes still having fresh food, either from the sea for those dockside or from the farms inland for those at the city’s rim. The center, however...


One hit with a brick wasn’t enough for the door’s lock, but a second had it give way. The weight dropped to one side, he pushed the door open, trying to adjust his eyes to the pitch black inside. He closed the door behind him, glanced towards the front windows and, with a careful sigh, ducked low, pulling from his pocket a flashlight. No one else he knew could get them to work anymore ... was every battery on the island dead? ... but Alex, when he concentrated really hard, when he prayed hard enough ... *click* He squinted against the bright beam, keeping it aimed at the floor even as he quickly looked outside. The light might help him see, but it was a beacon for whatever might be hunting out there. He pulled his backpack off, quickly cramming it with instant pasta, canned food (He never stopped to see just what), and a few bags of microwave popcorn. Not like anybody could USE them, but he had some ide...




Alexander looked up, his light illuminating first the legs, then the body, of an older man, shotgun leveled at Alexander’s head. The old man was half-crazed, and Alex could see a few others moving behind him ... family from upstairs, he guessed. “Sorry, old timer.”


“Sorry won’t feed my kids, boy! Now, you just put that food down and step off, I’ll be willing to call it a wash.”


Alexander sighed, then stood up, shaking his head. “Please. You know as well as I do that that thing won’t work under the Baron’s rules.” The older man flinched, as Alexander continued, “Besides, you have lots while my family starves. I’m only taking a little.”


“You’re taking what isn’t yours!”


“Maybe so, but there’s not a lot you can do about it, now is there?” luckily, the blinding beam of the flashlight hid his grimace. “I got what I came for, pops. Rest is yours.” With that, he retreated



Caribbean Cries Part II


“Joseph, please put the light out and come to bed?”


“In a moment, honey. I’m almost finished.” Doctor Joseph Ryder sighed, pushing his glasses up while massaging the bridge of his nose. He hated to lie to his wife... this damnable book’s pages were going to keep him tied up for weeks... but he knew how she could worry when he stayed focused too long on a task. And what a task! Yesterday, when the Kingston police department had visited the school, he was certain that they weren’t interested in his lecture on the phonetics of ancient Dutch, but, in part, they were. This book... the so called “Tome of Blood” was part of an ongoing investigation. They were stumped as to the language it was written in, so had come to him for help. He had to confess a measure of confusion as well. He’d been cross-checking his research library all night, finding phrases shifting from Sumerian here to Latin there to Mandarin, of all things, there, a complete jumble of languages all rambling on about lost gods whose names he’d never seen and the end times. He’d have dismissed it as a prank, were it not for the pages each being written in blood ... human blood, forensics had determined ... and written on tanned human hide. Several diagrams inside were akin to star charts; his yachting hobby having paid dividends it seemed, while others ...


He shook his head. It was all madness. No, not true. It was insane, not mad. There was a storyline being laid out, a tale (cautionary?) in places, some sort of universal “truth” being laid out in an order that was perfectly logical to whomever wrote it but whose meaning continued to hide from a sane man like himself. Not the lost captain of the ship, and he doubted any of the passengers could have been so literate, but, if not them, then who?


He sighed again, taking a long pull of his coffee. He pushed his glasses into place once more, and began cross-referencing yet another page. “Going to be a long night...”


The Lost Gospels, Part I


“Going to be a long night,” said Reverend Gunnels as he sat his satchel down in the grass. “Got sermons for the morrow, for the unlearned who have yet heard the Word.” He knelt by the small fire, sprinkling a small offering to the blaze. “It were Judas who said ‘All have their part to play. Judge not as guilty he who is God’s pawn.’ and I can hardly find fault in these men not knowing the Word. Too many gospels lost, too many pages torn free from the Good Book. Oh, they have the doubt of Thomas in them, but Thomas himself was won over by miracles great and small. They just need to see the Book of Power in all the Holy Glory, they’ll come around.”


He cast a circle of salt around his small camp, to ward away evil, then bowed his head in short prayer, hands clasped on his book. When his head lifted once more, it was with a smile of knowing that God’s will had been done, his camp now warded against the darkness. “As God spared not his Son the suffering of the cross, neither should the father spare his children a firm hand, it’s suffering what causes the soul to sing praise to him. Tomorrow, these heathens will know glorious pain, to clear the mind and keep the soul pure. They’ll come around. Amen.”

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The First Step, Part I


Sarah yelped as the swat, not a surprise really but still singing, rang out from the patron’s hand. “C’mon, pretty lady. You sit on down, ol’ Jean’ll make it better for you.”


She managed a weak smile even as she stepped on towards the kitchen, her smile fading as soon as she was safely out of sight. “Oh, I’ll make it better for you, you ...” She caught herself, eyes closing as she took a short breath. Jobs were hard enough to come by here in Jamaica, and this one, poor as it was, was a blessing. She could grit her teeth and get through one loathsome customer, right?


“Fast hands on that one, hmm?”


Sarah opened her eyes, catching a glance at the new girl ... what’s her name again?


“Marie,” she said, as if expecting the failing, then nodded towards the loudly guffawing customer and his table of rabble. “Hands that go where they don’t belong, they draw the circle.”


Sarah frowned a bit, confused. “A circle? What?”


Marie chuckled a bit. “Circle of justice, sister. Bring bad to the world, it comes back three times to you. Bring good, and it falls threefold as well.”


Sarah laughed, glancing up for the prder that wasn’t quite ready yet. “Oh please. All that hoodoo? Magic’s not real.” She added a glass to the tray, waiting for a final bowl. “Don’t tell me you believe?”


Marie nodded, slowly, eyes closed the while in reverence. “I get away from Haiti a week ago, and now, thanks to good deeds, the shelter helps me find a job, helps me find a home, helps me pay for it until I can get on my own feet ... you don’t call that magic, sister?”


Sarah shook her head, then snapped at George the cook until he added the final bowl to her plate.

“Hardly. Good luck, maybe? Good government? But magic? Please.”


Marie nodded again, saying, “You’d be surprised, sister. Things are connected.” She idly plucked at Sarah’s skirt, pulling a small hair free that must have fallen from her patron’s wrist, “The air to the sea, the sea to the fish, the fish to the man, the man to the Earth. A great circle.”


Sarah scoffed once more, taking up her tray. “My paycheck’s going to circle the drain if I don’t get this order out there. You take care now, alright?”


Marie nodded, idly playing with a chicken bone from the tray she’d only just returned with. “Don’t worry, I take care of those who take care of me.”


Sarah flitted back to her table, this time sure to keep herself positioned away from her masher, even as she passed out supper. “Anything else you need, you just let me know, alright?”


“How about your number?” Jean asked, loudly enough for everyone near to get a wince.


“Too expensive for your kind, I’m afraid.” returned Sarah, moving back towards the kitchen.


“Stuck up bitch,” Jean grumbled, jamming his spoon into his soup. “I should have a talk with her manager. That’d teach her to ... gurk!”


“Jean? Jean, what’s wrong?” came several worried questions from his booth. Jean’s hands were at his throat, eyes bulging as he choked. “Hit his back!”


Sarah paused, turning back to the commotion in a bit of surprise. Behind her, she heard someone stand and advance, saying, “Heimlich!” as he did so.


The new patron moved behind Jean, now turning a shade of purple she couldn’t quite recall ever seeing, even as his savior began forcing his fist up into Jean’s diaphram. One ... two ...


A small motion caught her eye to one side. Marie was there, holding the bone in both her hands, eye focused on the choking man with a tense look on her face. She blinking, then glanced at Sarah, questioningly. Sarah blinked, then lifted a hand, quietly mouthing ‘Stop’ ... as if Marie had some kind of power over the situation.


Marie nodded back to Sarah, another of those long, respectful blinks, then snapped the bone with her thumbs.


“FWAH!” managed Jean, coughing up some meaty chunk thanks to his savior’s aid. A round of cheers went up from the patron, which quickly fell to one side as Jean ranted, hurling his soup bowl to the floor. “Trying to kill me, you bastards?! I’ll see that nobody ever comes here again!”

He pushed the astonished patron to one side, grabbing his date’s wrist painfully and yanking her to stand as well, soon followed by the other couple with him who were more than a bit embarrassed at it all. “You hear me? You’re DONE for!” With that, he pushed out the door with a slam, protesting companions hot on his heels.


“Marie,” managed Sarah, still not quite sure what had happened here.


Marie shrugged, then managed a small smile. “Must have choked on his pride, hmm?” She chuckled a bit, then gathered up a mop and bucket. “Ours to clean up, I suppose.” She moved towards the mess with a happy step, humming quietly.


Sarah watched her for a moment, thinking. . o O ( Coincidence. That’s all. Not like she...)


Marie turned to look back over her shoulder, saying, “Three,” then began to mop.


Sarah finished... ( reading my ... mind. ... ... three. ) She put her hand over her heart. “Oh my.”

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Dominican Republic, June 23rd.


“On your knees, boy!”


With those words at his back, Hector was pushed forward, stumbling to his knees in the dark of midnight.. Hands still tied at his back, he was unable to stop his face-first fall. <You won’t get away with this!> he spat into the ground, struggling to rise.


<Aw now my friend, there’s the rub, hmm? We’ll be getting away with more than that!>


The ring of men laughed, leaving Hector long enough to recover to his knees, eyes whirling around the circle. He, and a dozen other men of the village, had been gathered up by the invaders ... he hesitated to call them Haitians as he’d never known his island neighbors to be so ... savage ... but the men around him looked to be his ken, even if their eyes sparkled with bloodlust. A quick headcount in the flickering torchlight showed he and his outnumbered by two fold. Behind the ring of murderous men he could make out a handful of women, children, elderly ... those who would be unable to fight back. They were being let live.




Hector swept his eyes around the circle again, noting the men’s eyes, the wicked blades in their hands, the guns, the torches, and the pit in the middle. The realization that he would die, here, now, in the dark, struck him like a physical force, but he refused to bend to it. He would not cry. He would not weep. And <I will not beg for mercy, you bastards!>


A soft chuckle came from behind the soon-killers, who parted to make way for a figure from a nightmare made flesh; Baron Samedi himself. Skin like coal, a white skull painted on his face, wearing his burial suit, top hat, and an elegant cane with a silver tip and a dragon-like knob. The Baron stopped, handing a goblet of rum (blood?) To one beside him, then taking a long pull from his cigar. He pulled the smoke from his lips, tucking it between forefinger and second, all the while his fingers curled over the head of his cane, like a tarantula taking a mouse. The macabre figure leaned in, blowing a ring of smoke into Guatier’s face. <I would give none, so, at least we know where we both stand, eh?> He then leaned back, a rich laugh booming from his cadaverous chest.


Hector shook his head. <You’re not real,> he said, almost snarling at his captor, <You can’t be!>


The Baron smirked, taking his goblet back from his thug, sniffing it, then hurling the contents into Hector’s face with a splash. <A nightmare can be escaped by waking up, boy. No such luck for you.> The Baron tucked both hands behind him, pacing slowly around the circle as he spoke. <You see, this is where you say “I’m not afraid to die” ... go on, say it.>


Hector tried to stand, but was pushed back to his knees by rough hands. <I’m not afraid to die.>


Baron Samedi turned with a smile, <Good! You’ll be happy to know that there are worse fates than death. I’m sad to say that this is a fate that you’re soon to embrace. No, wait, I lie ... I’m not sad about it at all! HAH!>


Hector shook some rum from his eyes, demanding, <Who are you really? What do you want?>


The Baron continued his slow walk, gesturing languidly with his cane as he did so. <What do any of us want, really? Pleasure, pain, it all blends so easily. The only things certain, they say, are death and taxes. Now, myself? I rule all I survey. I pay no taxes. As for death?> He shrugged, resting on his cane once more. <There are worse fates.>


Hector tilted his head, here, looking at the strangely serence face of Baron Samedi in puzzlement. <What are you talking about>


The Baron prowled like a wolf, his feral smile never changing, yet somehow turning from glee to malevolence all the same as he replied, <My role is to be the judge of life. Who lived a righteous life and who faltered, who was noble and who a coward, who a leader and who was lead. And those who fail me are denied the rest of the dead. My dance plays on throughout the night, boy, and you’ll dance to its tune for as long as I so choose.>


Hector paused, some color draining from his face. “Zombi...”


The Baron tipped his hat. <For starters.>


Several men now tried to move, tried to get away, but the thunk of machette and the crack of bullets began to ring out. Gautier, somehow, was untouched. <No, please. Have mercy.>


The Baron moved close, now, dropping to a crouch, his slender fingers gentle against Hector’s cheek. <Would that I could, boy, but such is not your fate, nor my intent.> His fingertips brushed lips, then pulled away, wisps of life’s breath following them. Hector’s eyes grew large as his lungs emptied of air, his very breath coalescing before him in the Baron’s hands. <Your death is a seed, boy. A seed that will grow, spreading like a vine, ensnaring hundreds more than a simple death could ever reach.> Hector, unable to breath, collapsed to the ground, eyes turning dark even as he fell prone.


Baron Samedi turned, holding his prize aloft as his men set about the corpses, pushing each into the pit dug earlier that day, one cooling body after another piled in an unmarked grave. <To the rest of you, do not weep for this man! He gave his life so that you could live! You may continue to toil, here, to feed your young, to mind your home, and most of all, to obey your one true master.> He rolled his hat down his arm, letting it catch in his left hand as he bowed deeply, then looked up with a grin, directly at Hector’s widow and the baby in her arms. The wisps of Hector’s final breath he lifted up, breathing them in deeply until they vanished, then stood tall and regal in the center of the circle. >Fear not, however! The Baron is not a callus man! He realizes that you do not wish to be seperated from your loved ones! As such, I will give this one back to you.>


Horrified whispers were music to his ears even as the Baron waved his cane over the hero’s body, black tendrils and red sparks bringing first a twicth, then a tremor, before the thing that was once Gautier rose to his feet once more, neither alive nor dead. A Zombie. <This one will watch over your village for me. He will tell me of those who obey and those who resist. Those who do not follow my commands will join him. Those that serve loyally will be rewarded.>


The waves of revulsion and fear washed over him like an ocean’s tide, a heady pastiche of emotion that he was too dead inside to ever truly feel himself. He spread his arms wide, luxuriating in the feeling for a breath, two, but no more than three, before reopening his eyes, then waving his men forward, who quickly gathered up the remaining villagers and turned them into their homes.


The Baron nodded to a second, who began sprinkling seeds into the pit of death while others shoveled fresh dirt over the field. “Another hundred,” he said, slipping to English rather than Spanish, taking another drought from his goblet, now freshly filled, “Small pockets rather than a single large field, but no less effective.” He cast an eye to the cottages, candles being snuffed in each, “Turning their soldiers to my cause, spreading terror and killing hope, even as my forces grow. Yes, this is certainly to my advantage.”


The Baron strode over to the still form of that which was Hector, frowning as he did so. “He looks far too ... dour.” Once more his fingers brushed Hector’s lips, but now he simply pushed the corners of the dead man’s mouth back, then pulled his eyes open just a bit more, a cruel mockery of a smile on his face. “There. Much better.” He tossed his goblet to his manservant again, retrieving a violin case from another, then sat atop a rock, folding like a praying mantis. “Time, I think, for music."


The Gaunt Man played, a smile on his lips, while that which was once Hector danced a jig to his master's amusement. Master and servant, violin and dance, until the sun rose, leaving only echoes of the night before.

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The Lost Gospels, Part II


The brothers were at it again. Each morning, Reverend Gunnels would be up at the crack of dawn, hammering away, building a church for himself in this small Jamaican town. He would work through the day, resting only to refresh himself with water or the simplest of food, before returning his work. For a week and three days, he’d been at it, having arrived on a Monday morning with nothing in his hand but a holy book that he called “The Bible’s Brother, the Book of Power”, and would spread the word to anyone who’d listen. Of course, the locals cared little for his word ... they’d seen many a missionary and had heard many a sermon, but Reverend Gunnels wasn’t quite like the others. His message was quite a bit different, down below the surface, and eh would preach from the Book of Thomas, of Phillip and of Simon. The Brothers of Thunder and even Judas. Judas!


“How can a man who was chosen for a holy task by God almighty have been evil?” he would ask. “Yes, he slaid the Son of God, but only so the Resurrection could take place. It took two hands to work that miracle and it washed away the sins of man. How can you spit at his name when he had the hardest task of all? He had to see the man he believed in die.Teh level of faith that took is a mighty thing... MIGHTY indeed. That’s what the Book of Power teaches you. How to take that faith, how to harness it, how to channel it, and how to do the hard things that Man must do.”


Oh, the other missionaries didn’t like him much at all, but, slowly, he’d been gathering ... not a flock, but those interested, at the least. A young girl who would bring him bread and milk, a young boy who would help him hold a plan steady so that it could be hammered correctly, local farmers who just wanted to practice their English (And what an odd accent he had) ... they would listen, but few would believe.


That all changed the night the vampire came.


The natives of this small town weren’t one for tall tales, but they’d seen killers before ... a rich kid from the States would get drunk, pick a local, and sometimes a “Having a little fun” would get out of hand. Usually a rich daddy would get them off the island before too much happened. Usually. The locals had their share of native crime as well, but, six bodies in six days? Each having been nearly torn in two? Each having their head pulled free from the body but with nary a drop of blood to be found in the aftermath? No, that was ... new.


And the killer, the vampire, he came on the seventh day to hunt, and Reverend Gunnels was there, Book of Power in hand. He commanded the thing to step back from Theresa (The young girl who was so kind to him!) Even as it had a taste of her blood on its mouth. He bade it return to Hell and it laughed, but it would circle, not close, warded by his Book. Native shotguns were of little use against the beast, but the Reverend’s crossbow (When did he find the time to build one?) Would wound it most proper and fair. The beast threatened to kill everyone if the priest didn’t relent, and he threw his book... his Book, to little Theresa.


“Kill me, Hellspawn ... if you can!”

The chase was short, the outcome known to one and assumed by the other, but witnessed by all. The beast was faster, dropping o all fours like a wolf as it ran, Reverend Gunnels a middle aged man not as swift as his youth but more cunning. He stayed a step ahead, leg torn open, a slash on his back, but no trace of fear on his face. Instead, he smiled ... smiled! ... as he faced the beast in the hall of his little church.


“You’re trapped, little holy man,” said the beast, “Nowhere to run. No Book to hide behind. Your heart’s blood will slake my thirst this night, then I’ll take your woman just for spite.”


Reverend Gunnels smiled back, a twist of lips from snarl to smirk to smile as he held a brick in hand. “No church this, beast, and no running for me. I need no Book on holy ground, and you,” he said, slipping the final brick into the dias at the front of his church, “You are the one trapped.”


The vampire shrieked. It railed, it ranted, it beat fists against the column of light that had sprung forth beneath its feet, but to no avail. “This is no church,” Reverend Gunnels said, his voice now thunderous, echoing to a dozen eyes and three score ears, “This is a Sacellum! Warded from evil, and you, foul creature, you will be the first sacrifice in honor of the one true God!” At his words, a column of fire did erupt, dropping from the heavens, a roar of the divine at his command, and the beast screamed as it died.


Reverend Gunnels stepped from his church, every eye on him as he strode to the fallen Theresa, cradling her gently in her arms. “You doubted, little one, as did Thomas before you, but as he was an apostle, so to will God share his miracles with you.” He touched her brow, murmuring a prayer, returning breath to the child. A flicker of eyes, a sharp intake of air, and she whoul should be fallen sat up, the spectre of death given away this night.


When morning came, Reverend Gunnels opened his church ... his Sacellum, and found the benches filled. The people would believe. And they would be saved.


And the Gaunt Man said “Hallelujah.”

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The First Step, Part II


Marie dusted her hands of the powder, smiling as Sarah made the final stir. “And that,” she said to the assembled around her circle, “Is how you make a charming potion.”


The circle was a mix of serious study and nervous titters, but it was fine by Marie. “Now, I know that you might think that Marie’s a bit of a tale-spinner, and I understand. When my gran first taught me the Old Ways, I didn’t believe either, but, in time, she opened my eyes and I learned the rituals.” She fetched up a small bottle, spooning the pink fluid of the bowl into it, then stoppering it with a cork. “Now, keep in mind, this only stays potent for a day and a night. After that, you have to throw it out, lest it go sour, and sour love makes for a sour love life!”


The assembled giggled, as she knew they would, but the lesson itself was true... the potion would last twenty-four hours at best, then fall apart, only making a situation worse if tried.


“Marie,” came one timid voice ... Erin, this one was called, “What about refrigeration?”


Marie waved a hand. “Pfah. What does science know about magic, child? It lasts for a single day and a single night, period. No freezing, no boiling, no adding preservatives ... magic ignores those rules. Twenty four hours, and not a minute more, so get your intended to drink it, and soon, if you want him to see you with opened eyes.” She filled another bottle, stoppered it, then passed it to Erin. “That’s how truth works.”


Sarah quietly marveled. Since that first encounter with Marie, she’d felt ... different. More alive, somehow, knowing a secret, sharing in the knowledge of something otherworldly. Oh, it wasn’t easy of course. For nearly a week she’d denied what she’d seen, tried to find a rational explanation for it, but she’d catch Marie making small signs, whispering words, using tokens, and things ... well. Things would *happen*. Small things, innocent things, but things would happen all the same. Magical things.


Only three nights ago, she brought her fully into confidence, telling her to gather seven friends “For nine is a powerful nuumber” and that she would give a lesson in magic. In *true* magic. Simple things, reading of cards, of somehow knowing what she couldn’t know, finished with a small thing “Little more than a parlor trick” she’d confided quietly, producing a tiny flame in the palm of her hand. And now she offered this potion, this ... Sarah grinned despite herself ... this “Love Potion”, to show the circle that any of them could learn to work magic, in time.


“Magic isn’t about books,” she’d say, “Not some formula that you can memorize, but an art... like a song, a painting, or an old family recipe. Each witch adds her own touch, her own flavor, and no two spells are ever truly the same. Even I’ve learned only the smallest of handfuls, and when you learn them, you’ll not cast them quiet as I do, but that’s fine. What’s important is that you *embrace* the magic. Let it become part of you, coursing through your veins, filling you with unlimited possibility... then, and only then, will you truly be free.”


Sarah remembered this best from the library. Why use a computer (Faulty crashy thing!) When the information was at hand in a book? She had little use for news, having not turned on her television in days, and, indeed, had left even her lights off, using candles for reading at night, which just felt right. More and more, she found herself giving way to her old ways and embracing ... not the new, but an even older set. It felt *right*, and, as she looked around the room, she could see the same look in her friends. They were the first wave, but each would soon enough learn magics to teach to others, passing these old coda to those responsive. Let the Jeans of this world continue with shallow needs of flashy cars and fancy jewelry, of bright teeth and celphones and fast cars... she had found a home, a new home, in the world of magic and simplicity, and it welcomed her with open arms.


And the Gaunt Man said, “Abracadabra.”

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Twisted Siblings, Part I

Camaguey, Cuba, July 15th


Bladewing paced like a caged tiger, tugging at his hair as he snarled, pulling at his shirt, then grabbed a nearby lamp and hurled it against a wall, the glass bulb inside shattering and the ... tether? That so many of these local things had falling limp beside it. He breathed heavily, eyes darting a bit to see where the fire would be before remembering that these things somehow worked without so much as a drop of oil. “Stupid,” he muttered, then slammed his hands on the desk. “Why must we continue to wait?!”


“Victor, please,” said his companion, her dark tresses calm compared to his wild, her sitting so serene in a chair, elegant and formal to his primal pacing, but her voice was mas mocking as that name she dared to use, one he had cast off a decade ago, “You know that our sire was told...”


“Silence!” Bladewing roared, looking to find something to hurl but having no luck. He resigned himself to simply balling his fists and giving her a baleful gaze. “It is foul enough that we’re being tasked to herd a legion of trembling sheep to their fate, with five score gargoyles, necromancers, and foul aberrations, but why must we *wait*?! The smell of them...” He shuddered, looking towards the window, broken by a similar rage a day ago. “It revolts me, Delilah. *They* revolt me.”


“Pshaw,” she said, gracefully lifting from her seat, then slowly walking across the floor with an inhuman grace, running her fingers through Bladewing’s hair. “We serve at our sire’s wish, brother. You would do well to remember that.” She slid closer, pressing her fore to his back, lacing her arms over his shoulders, coiling gently around his neck as she breathed hot whispers into his ear. “Anything that is asked, we are to provide. Is there any less price for immortality than eternal service?”


With a sneering snarl on his lips, Bladewing turned, one arm pulling his sister around the waist, the other now pawing at her hair. “Is there any greater reward?” He grabbed her hair, forcing her head back suddenly, forcing a gasp from her chest, followed by a low purr as he ran his tongue along the fine flesh of her neck. He released her hair, allowing her to lower her chin, eyes meeting his with a wicked grin on her lips.


“I can think of a way to spend our time, brother,” she said.


He sneered again, releasing her waist and giving her a small push away from him, drawing first a hiccup of surprise, then a pout as he said, “I was thinking of taking my frustrations out on one of the sheep, my dearest Deliliah.”


She frowned, then, resigned to this, settled back against the desk, leaning her hips against it, her arms bent back for support. She shook her head, hair tumbling around her neck in a way that she *knew* he liked, but found no hint of desire from him this night. She sighed just a bit, then asked, “Did you have one in mind? I was thinking of that policewoman we have in their jail. She’s a feisty one! I’d love to see you break her spirit,.or, oo, oo, how about the boy?”


Bladewing arched a brow, asking, “The boy?”


Deliliah nodded quickly, a sparkle in her eye, “You know, the one ... Paco or Pedro or whatever his name was. His grandfather was pleading for your mercy and his grandchild was weeping and the mother...”


Bladewing brightened, jabbing a finger at his sister, “The one that you grabbed from behind and beheaded? Right before the pair of them?”


She nodded again, then stood up, blinking her eyes large, voice turning to a begging tone, “Oh please, take me if you must, but my son, please, leave my son...”


Bladewing made an exaggerated tip-toe behind her as she spoke, then lunged, taking her by the neck and lifting her from the ground, his voice lifting in falsetto, “Very well, woman! A life for a life!” He pantomimed plucking her head off with his free hand, then dropping the ‘corpse’ to the ground, where Deliliah puddled with a dramatic swoon, arms beneath her head, her hair splayed just so.


Bladewing then moved to one side, dropping to his knees with a sobbing in his voice, a terrible simulation of Spanish from his lips, “Me mama! Me mama, noooo!” he scuffled forward on his knees, flinging himself on the body of his “mother” while sobbing, then looking back towards the desk, shaking his fist, “Garble garble! Blabber revenge! Me mama! Me maaa maaaaa....” His sobs turned to ripples of laughter, echoed by his sister as she spooled up from the floor, clutching at her brother’s arm to keep from collapsing again, tears in her eyes.


“Oh ... oh my,” she gasped, dabbing at the corners of her eyes, “I think that if I live to be a thousand, I’ll never get tired of that!”


Bladewing grinned in return, a hint of tears in his own eyes as he replied, “I know! He was, what, seven? Eight? And he was so *determined* to kill us! Why, he’s probably in his filthy little camp now, sharpening soem stick with thoughts of plunging it into my heart!”


Delilah tossed her head, steeling her jaw with a look of pouty determination on her features, her hand pulled back as if it held a dagger. “I have hunted you for ten years, dark beast!” Bladewing grew a look of mock horror on his face, pulling his shirt open with both hands, then squinting his eyes tightly as he looked away. “And now, for my mother, I strike!” She thumped her hand into Bladewing’s chest, drawing a wail from her brother. “No, NO! By your hate, I am undone! NoooOooo....” he then fell backwards, flat against the floor, eyes open, arms thumping lifelessly.


Delilah rose on shakey legs, her hair draped over her face, legs as weak as a fawns, before finally growing steady enough to stand tall. She pushed her hair back from her face, pout still set in determination as she turned her gaze to the heavens. “For you, me mama. For you...”


The two then fell to a cackling laughterfor minutes until interrupted by a knock. Both drew themselves up, fighting through giggles and a snort, brushing their hair and clothing back to a semblance of order before, finally, Bladewing called, “Come in.”


The messenger was painfully ordinary and whose name neither of the siblings had ever bothered to learn. A small homonculus stood on his shoulder, surveying the room. “This just arrived, sir,” the man said, offering a letter, which Bladewing took. He opened it, dismissing the man with a wave, who slunk back out and away, closing the door as he left.


Delilah pounced forward, clasping both hands on her brother’s shoulders as she strained to read oast his neck, asking, “What is it? New orders?”


Bladewing shushed her, then smiled. He read aloud, “Gather your minions, Bladewing, for we march west at dusk. We are to meet at Candado in two days and, from there, march to Santa Clara. Further orders will arrive there for our attack on Havana,” he got louder, here, as his sister’s giddy squeels in his ear brought a raucous joy in his own, “Where we will conquer this feeble land once and for all and celebrate with a three day feast of the damned!” He turned, scooping his sister up by her waist, spinning her into the air, “Action! Killing! And a feast!”


She giggled, then turned her gaze down to her brother, clasping his cheeks in her hands, voice a seductive low question, “But how ever will we spend the time until night falls?”


Bladewing smiled up at her, letting her slowly slide down against his body, until she rested on the floor once more, body pressed tight against his own. “I think,” he said, drawing so near to her that his breath pooled on her crimson lips, “That we should share a nun.”

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Caribbean Cries, Part II


“Fools,” he roared, slamming the car door as he flung himself into the seat.


“Joseph, please,” his wife said, lifting a hand to sooth her husband, only to be rebuffed by an agitated wave.


“They’re all short-sighted misguided fools!” He turned towards his wife as she flustered, “I brought them the translations,” he said, gesturing wildly as she started the car, “I illustrated the sigils and how they related to Summerian, to Egyptian, to all of the ancient languages and how this was a Rosetta Stone ... no, bigger. This was a key, THE key, to unlocking Atlantis itself!”


“What did they say,” she asked, trying to remain calm while he squirmed and frothed by her side.


“A myth, they said! A story conjured by Plato! A teaching tool, not a real place, they said. The fools! The evidence in my hand, and they turned away!”


“The book didn’t convince them?”


Joseph laughed, the strained, life-is-hopeless laugh of a man resigned to a world full of small-minded people. “As if I would risk such a marvelous thing with those pinheaded twits? Hah! No, it’s safely under lock and key at home. I brought them reams of evidence, of data, translations, and of the charts. The charts!” He wildly pawed at his briefcase, pulling a fistful of papers in a crumpled heap. “They match no constellations!” he jammed them down into his pouch again, ranting with a clawed hand towards nothing, “They don’t understand! I tried for an hour, but I couldn’t make them see!”


“Well,” Mrs Ryder floated, great care n her voice, “You did what you could, honey. I suppose we’ll just try again at the end of the semester.”


He snorted, now resting an elbow on the window of the car, looking out over Kingston Bay.


“There’s plenty of time,” she tried, only to be interrupted by a mutter. “What was that?”


“Nothing but time,” Joseph said, flatly. She blinked confusedly, eyes staying on the road mostly, but glancing as his way as he lazily turned away from the sea, to look at her as he stated, “I quit as well.”


The car swerved as she reacted with a loud, “What?!”


Joseph, once regaining his balance in the car, and quietly affixing his seat belt, “I simply refuse to work with such small-minded neanderthals that can’t see...”


His wife, now a tight annoyance clear in her voice, asked, “What? They can’t see that an overworked professor can’t swallow some pride for his *pregnant* wife, that he can’t do his *job* and take care of his family?”


Joseph squirmed for a bit, then tried, “It will give me more time for my own book, you know! I’ve been meaning to...”


She cut him off, quickly. “When we get home, you’re going to call the Dean and apologize.” “But!” “AND, you’ll ask for your job back. You’re just stressed is all.”


“But, my research...”


“Will still be there in the morning. Honestly, Joseph, what were you thinking?”


The rest of the trip was a stoney silence.

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Week Six: Interlude


Major Gomez Allonso-Pereira glanced around the table, staid in his military dress but clearly out of his element. The Major was a rotund man of dark complexion and fading grey hair worn longer than regulation in order to brush over his balding areas, his sixty years worn heavy on his face, his heritage, a mix of Spanish and Native Mexican, was clear and his skin was weathered by sun as well as time, a tough, leathery brown. The medals that were worn proudly across his chest, if examined closely, were of minor note ... forty years of service, a decade of perfect attendance, awards for pushing papers and staying out of the limelight, not for wars won or battles fought. Oh, he’d served his country proudly, just not in ways that were decorated and, worse, those who had been promoted past him over the years had done far less. His true crime was being born Mestizo, or mixed race, in a country that venerated ‘true’ Spanish blood; these Spanish ‘noblemen’ had been promoted beyond him, and their worth, time and time again while he, himself, was passed over time and again. He sucked at the fillings in his teeth, a nervous habit he’d picked up in his youth as a way to keep himself from saying what was on his mind when annoyed, as he remembered Roberto Deigo, a worthless fop of a man whose only gifts were a pretty face and a pure bloodline. His promotion was the final straw that lead Allonso-Pereira to look for an out. What he found was the Gaunt Man.


He took a sip from his water glass, then glanced around the table, taking in the assembled, the Gaunt Man’s “Hellion Court” on Earth. He was given to understand that a similar council was ... elsewhere. The place the Gaunt Man called home, wherever that might be. They still did not trust him with their secrets, it seemed, but his placement here seemed to indicate that he was a high-ranking fellow indeed, now, and poised to raise even higher. The top of those now assembled was the one they called Maman Brigitte, a truly beautiful woman of black eyes and a blacker heart. She was seen by many as the consort of the Gaunt Man, the wife of his identity of Baron Samedi, and easily the closest to him in the inner circle. She sat at his right hand, but when he was absent, she would assume his place at the head of the table instead.


To her right sat one Lord Humphrey Hyde-Whitehead, the current ruler of the Gaunt Man’s vampiric legions. Lord Humphrey was an exceedingly British fellow, Major Gomez thought, with his slender build, pale skin, weak chin, large ears, and truly awful dentistry, but the tweedy fellow was, by all accounts, a ferocious beast best left to his own affairs.


To his right was Pierre Voule’, a Haitian criminal whose savagery caught the Gaunt Man’s eye early and who was brought in as both an enforcer and someone knowledgeable about the country that the Gaunt Man now called home. He was a large man, with a flush beard, bulging eyes, and, most annoying to the Major, a nose broken in such a way that each breath brought forth a quiet whistle, just enough to annoy. Pierre was further a paranoid man, typical of his kind really, and alone among the room bore weapons on his person; a revolver, his machete, and often an assault rifle, though he had, at the least, left that behind today.


At the foot of the table was Tz’Fallow, a ‘Ravagon’. Tz’Fallow rarely spoke, instead simply waiting quietly and with unyielding patience, simply listening and waiting. He was, in many ways, the most terrifying one in the room, despite having never done, or said, anything.



At the left hand of the Gaunt Man would sit Bishop Thomas Mannus, a Catholic-ish priest of some kind. He was given to understand that this “Sacellum” was a powerful religion in the Gaunt Man’s home and that Mannus was charged with sharing it with this world. Bishop Mannus himself was an ordinary looking man close to Gomez’ own age but who was given to most undivine lechery... The Major had personally been offered the ‘services’ of one of the Bishop’s nuns, which he had accepted, and an altar boy, which he’d passed on. “More blessing for me,” he’d said, and seemed at peace with the world. The Major paused a bit, making a mental note to visit that nun after this meeting.


Next was simply Mark, a wild-eyed man who, he’d discovered, was leader of the shape-changing races that were pledged to the Gaunt Man. Mark was never comfortable, always tugging at the collar of his shirt, oft-panting and bristling with barely-constrained rage. He and Lord Hyde-Whitehead had a rivalry as fierce as any he’d seen and that the Gaunt Man had set them across the table from one another was sure to be an amusement as much as a way for the two men to counter one another.


Lastly was Major Allonso-Pereira himself, but he knew that there were another half dozen persons, or person-like things, who sat at the table from time to time; their chairs, unused for now, were placed against the walls of the white marble room, for when they might be needed. At the center of the room, a globe of Earth ... his Earth, floated for all to survey, with several areas indicated in differing colors. He noted with no lack of pride his own country of Mexico remained untouched. The Gaunt Man’s word, it seemed, was true, and yet...


All conversations fell quiet as the Gaunt Man himself strode into the room, appearing from behind a white door in near silence, then slowly pacing his way around the room, the click of his cane’s tip reverberating off the marble floor with every other step. The Gaunt Man moved to the head of his table, back to the room, clasping his hands behind his back, resting just so against the top of his cane. Two breaths, then three, passed before he spoke, “Gentlemen, your reports.”


Brigitte was the first to speak, as always. “Jamaica has fallen fully under our sway, master, while advance agents have been deployed as you commanded. They are lying low, for now, trying to gain entrance, but will soon begin converting the locals. As Jamaica fell, so too shall others.”


The Gaunt Man nodded ever so slightly, returning, “Good, good, and the Stormers?”


She hung her head a bit, then said, “Escaped, my lord. They were able to land on Haiti’s southwestern tip long enough to gather up a local, then turned to the sea and fled.”


The Gaunt Man, no hint of emotion in his voice, asked, “A local? Did you not say that we had purged all of the Stormers from this island?”


She nodded again. “I did, my lord.”


“And yet there was one. Moreover, he jioned his kind, then escaped.”


“Yes my lord.”


“Problematic.” He sighed, then turned, gesturing to the globe with his cane. Several red lights flicked to life on the surface. “Most worlds, there is roughly one stormer in a million persons. Here, that number is tenfold.” As he spoke, the red lights began to double, then triple, then more as well. “Worse, I am told from the other high Lords that this infernal planet continues to create them. As they are wiped out, new ones are created. Created from nothing!” He shook his head. “It goes against all logic, all that I have learned in my eons of invasion. Truly, this is a special world.” He looked to Brigitte, whose head remained low in contrite posture. “They escaped, but did no damage tat we have seen. They head south, when last I was told. This means that they are the Faceless King’s worry, now. Let him deal with the nuisance.” He pointed his cane to Tz’Fallow, adding, “I want your wings to be more alert. Once Cuba has fallen, we will redouble our efforts to purge our borders of these “heroes”. It will remain an ongoing hunt.”

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Week SIx: Interlude (Part II)




Mark snarled, asking, “And when will Cuba fall? My people do not leash well.”


The gaunt Man smiled, a thin, tight thing but a smile nonetheless. “If you wish them to be unleashed, my dear man-beast, then by all means, let them fly. I’m certain that Lord Humphrey’s vampires will be grateful for the bullets your people absorb before their extinction before the natives’ rifles.”


Mark snarled, then, as he caught Lord Humphrey’s snicker behind a hand, then growled, casting a red eye at the vampire lord. “Any shifter is worth ten of his kind.”


Lord Humphrey gathered himself, pushing his spectacles up his nose (A battle he was never destined to win), then stated, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t let him prove that boast, master. I’ll allow his werewolves the position of honor on the right forefront of the line when the final push to Havana begins.”


The Gaunt Man nodded, stating, “So be it. As it stands, however, you’re both to wait for the arrival of the new crops of Gospog. Their military was frighteningly effective in the field this past week and the casualties were higher than I care to allow. Victory can come with too high a price and I was forced to invest quite a large bounty of energy to make up for these losses. Let us not forget why we’re invading! Earth’s hardest defenders are split between our larger High Lords, leaving us small morsels to snatch with little opposition. We need our forces to remain strong enough that we will be able to repulse Earth’s counter-attacks. Patience is our strength.”


Mark growled again, then, letting it fall into his chest as he was brought to heel.


Brigette then spoke, saying, “We expect Cuba to fall in two weeks time, exactly on schedule, even if our casualty count is somewhat higher than planned for. The second generation gospog proved an invaluable resource and, as more are ready, we can arm them with the natives’ weapons that we gathered. Victory is assured, as well as prompt.”


Pierre Voule’ was next, noting, “Hawaii was more difficult than I was prepared for.” He cast his gaze at Bishop Mannus, noting, “Nobody warned me about Pearl Harbor.”


The Bishop tsked, returning, “It’s hardly my fault that you have so little understanding of Reality and hardpoints, Voule’.” His smug look was erased by a glance to the Gaunt Man, followed by a suddenly-contrite Mannus boweing his head, “I will personally draw up notations on how the Possibility Wars are fought and pass them to you, sir, so that your men will be better prepared for the next time.”


The Gaunt Man then added, “Advance agents had worried about the harbor’s significance being an issue. The effect should remain localized to it, allowing you full access to the other islands. If it becomes a nagging thorn, however, I will dispatch forces to deal with it.”


Brigitte then added, “Our Gospog fields there were disrupted by the American Navy, my lord. Until that harbor is dealt with, I’m uncertain that we can maintain any fields of note and I’m somewhat worried about the waste of so much seed.”


The Gaunt Man tapped hsi cane to his chin, the globe spinning at his mental command, then swooping in to the island of Hawaii, blowing itself large before his gaze. “Do what you can, plant where able, but continue to avoid their ships. I’ll set aside the third planting’s crop to this task, once they’re ready.”


Lord Humphrey next rose, stating, “Our Icelandic adventure has launched without fault, sir. They had no army of note, only a handful of policemen, easily swept aside. I’ve tasked my closest kin to overwatching the island, to ensure that no more than twenty-five of the nosferatu lay claim to it, but I confess to some confusion. The numbers there are so few and the land so large, it must have cost us a great number of stelae to gather it up. While we welcome a land where the sun never shines for months at a time, I fear that there is little to be gained here.”


Mark spoke again, asking, “Will not my brothers in Aysle stand against this?”


The Gaunt Man shook his head. “Aysle remains locked in conflict with Rome and the Pope of the Vatican. He warned me off of a bridge to Rome’s south, but I think he’ll not be overly concerned with one lone island being added to my domain... the aid I’ve sent him against those meddlesome priests should go far to assuage his anger as well. I’ll assure him that my goal is not to gain a hodl in Europe but to investigate this “Under-Realm” that we have heard of... He’ll have doubts, of course, but telling him of the entrance in France should show that no harm is intended. Quite frankly, the Plague and Baruk Khah have exceeded my expectations by far with their success. A small rift in our relationship is a price I’m willing to pay to get a closer look at these underground passages.”


Brigitte touched the globe in iceland, swinging it around for a better look, blowing it large as Hawaii had done just before. “I’ll be assembling several teams to spread out into Iceland’s eastern side, where we suspect the entrances to be. The rest of the island is generally beneath our worry. It’s large, with scant population and less natural resources.”

Bishop Mannus harumphed. “In many ways, we’re doing them a favor by removing it from the board.”


The Gaunt Man nodded, resting his hands on his cane once more. “In many ways, but they’re going to be worried about us drawing near. I want it known to each of our followers in that land that absolutely *no* encroachment is to be allowed. Should I hear of so much as a single zombie trying to shamble away from the island, I will personally visit my ministrations on the one guilty of this.”


Only the Ravagon managed to repress a shudder at that thought.


“Thomas,” the Gaunt Man said to the bishop, “Get in contact with the Khah at the earliest opportunity and offer him tribute for his successful rending of western America. He needs to know that we respect his territorial claims.” He paused, then added, “Let him know of France as well. One of those two will find the entrance to Subterannia and know we speak the truth.”


Following this, several smaller discussions were had ... the allowances of persons brought from his homeworld, of Rockefeller and Jennings, Morgan and Penn, of Bell and de Houtman, and how they would be allowed to enrich themselves on the bounties of this world. Troop movement and supplies, of borders and boundaries, with Major Allonso-Periera taking notes at each step. Throughout the meeting, neither he nor the stone-faced Tz’Hallow had spoke, but he had read the tensions in the others. The invasion was largely on pace, save the Hawaiian setback and high loses in Cuba, with Iceland an unexpected bonus. He had found no stelae marked as being within Mexico, as he was promised in exchange for his service, but he also had little knowledge of exactly what those did, only that they were important. He also noted that the Gaunt Man’s own empire was smaller than those of any of the other High Lords, which he found surprising. Had he, perhaps, backed the wrong horse? The Faceless King, after all, was invading South America and was having remarkable success at it. Perhaps he should...

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Week Six: Interlude (Part III)


“Ahh, Major Gomez,” the sound of his own name had never been quite so chilling as when spoken by the Gaunt Man.


“Yes master?” Oh, how those words turned sour on his lips.


“I noticed you taking in so very much in our meeting. Always listening, never speaking... you’re very like Tz’Hallow, you know.”


Gomez’s brow furrowed at that. “The demon?”


The Gaunt Man nodded. “Ravagon, but yes. He’s a loyal one, and I’m certain you will be as well, in time.”


Gomez squirmed a bit, then stating, “I still have not been given my prize.”



The Gaunt Man nodded. “True, true. I had hoped that the many rewards you had been given would soothe you, but worry not, they are but placeholders, not replacements. I promised you an item of power and, rest assured, you will have it. Now, I would never ask of you to provide me with the information you have stored in that agile mind of yours as it remains the barter for the Eternity Sh... item of power ... that you have asked for. However, I have given you room, board, and many vices to call your own. I have proven a man of my word and not so much as a single tendril has been exuded towards your homeland. However, it’s time that you carry out a task for me in trade. Proof of your own word, as it were.”


Gomez frowned deeper, saying, “I do not like my honor being called in question.”


The Gaunt Man laughed, clasping Gomez on the shoulder, “A traitor to his people boasting of his honor! I tell you, good sir, your wrld is *ripe* with possibilities!” He grinned, then tapped the Major’s chest, at the center of his medals. “No, this is simply a task, an undertaking that requires your very unique talents. You’ll join me for dinner in three hours and I’ll give you more details then.”


Major Allonso-Pereira harumphed, tugging his military jacket down taut over his belly bulge. “A task worthy of my talents? Not a lackey’s errand?”


The gaunt Man shook his head, now pulling away from the man. “I assure you, my good man, that you, and you alone, of all those in my employ could do what must be done.” He swept his hand towards the door that lead to the Major’s own suite, adding, “I’d schedule it earlier, but I understand that Bishop Mannus has arranged for your, shall we say, spiritual needs to be met.”


The Major looked down the hall, gaze lingering a bit, before glancing back to the Gaunt Man. Where the Lord of Orrosh had stood, however, now was Baron Samedi, suit fresh, top hat in hand, and a wide smile painted onto his ebony face. “Don’t have too much fun, EL Tigre,” the Baron quipped, “You’ll do me no good if you have a stroke!” With that, he rolled his hat along the length of his arm, then deposited it atop his head with a gentle tap. “Laissez les bon temps rouler, mon ami!”


With that, Baron Samedi stepped back into the shadows, fading like the Cheshire Cat until only his smile remained, then that vanishing as well, leaving only a haunting laugh to echo the halls for far too long. Major Gomex returned his gaze towards his suite, now noticing a light from beneath the crack of his door. Inside, he could just make out two shadows moving and the quiet giggles of women at play. He plucked a flask from his back pocket, taking a long swig, then smiled. Perhaps he’d made the right choice after all.

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