Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rally Round the Flag (Last of the Last)

Hey, all.  Last here.  Kenny has generously donated the use of his blog for me to put out a call.  See, we're going after the Rake, and I think we may even be able to kill it.  We've got some allies and an idea of what to do, but we have hit a little bit of a snag.

See, we don't exactly know where to find the Rake.

This puts us in a bit of an awkward situation. We can kind of do Kenny's thing and wander around for a while, only hope we run into stuff instead of the other way around.  Or, we can get help from any of you. Anyone who might know how we might encounter the Rake. Advice would be great. Actual help would be even better, though we can't guarantee that if you help us kill our Rake that your Rake will end up dead too after this is all over.  The whole dimensional bleeding thing gets weird like that, and I don't know what will and won't leak over.

Basically, this is a call to arms.  We are going to take these things down if it's the last thing we do. And "we" doesn't necessarily have to mean "me, Kenny, and the rest of the Masks."

So will you stand and fight with us?  Will you take destiny into your own hands?

Any advice or offers can be made in the comment section or sent to wanderingfromdeath@gmail.com. Anything you can give us will be much appreciated.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Belated Birthday

"What was the price the Blind Man was talking about?" I asked Last when we were on the road again.

"That?  Oh.  Old memory. From my old life. One that was probably better off gone."

"Painful memory?"

"I don't know," he said.  "I don't remember what it was anymore. Probably not. But if it was from that old life, I'm probably better off without it."

"You'd do that to yourself? Destroy a memory just for information on how to beat the Rake?"

He gave me a hard look. "This isn't the first time I've had dealings with the Blind Man. He's given me a lot of information in the past. He was even the one who gave me tips on getting here from...you know. There.  It's cost me memories every time. You know what, Kenny? The only way I know I had parents is that everyone had them. I don't know if I was raised by one or the other or both. I don't know if I had any siblings.  I don't even know how or when they died. Only that they did. And you know how I know that? Because I know, Kenny, and I will always know no matter how many memories I lose--that they're all dead. Everyone from that old life, except for me."

He continued almost without breaking stride, speaking to everyone instead of just me.  "Okay, so, we've got who I think we'll refer to as the Magi helping us out, Benjamin here acting as bait for the Black Dog--"

"Thanks, boss," Benjamin deadpanned.

"--but we're hitting a little snag, in that we kind of have no clue how to find the Rake.  So there's that.  We'll need to work on that. Kenny, I may need to borrow your blog for that.  Hey, anyone else want to use it?'  There was a chorus of mostly apathetic responses.  I raised my hand.

"Do I get a say in this? It's kind of my blog."

"We'll talk.  Anyone have any ideas?  No?  Okay, we'll keep thinking on it.  Anyone need the bathroom?"  A few hands shot up.  "Okay, great.  Boston, pull over at the next rest stop."

We pulled up to a rest stop a few minutes later and poured out of the bus, some of us heading to the bathroom, most just stretching our legs.  I checked out the visitor center.  You know, the ones that consist mostly of pamphlets for tourist attractions and a few vending machines?  Places with signs of human life, but no actual humans. It made me realize just how empty human structures feel without the humans.

I glanced up at the clock and date display and had a moment of realization.

"I missed her birthday," I said to myself.

"What now?"  Maggie was standing just off behind me, sort of shadowing me like she tends to do.

"Lily. I missed Lily's birthday.  By almost a month.  I...oh god, I've just been so busy with all this going on, I...I forgot and...she...she would have been nineteen...almost...almost a full month...."  I stammered to myself as I started panicking. I had forgotten. How could I have possibly forgotten the birthday of the girl I loved?

Maggie gave me an odd sort of stare.  "Calm down, Kenny. I mean, it's not exactly like she cares."

"What? You...you realize what you just said, right?  You don't even--"

"Kenny! Calm down!  Sometimes people get busy and they forget things. In this case...there was no reason to be reminded.  I'm sorry, Kenny. I know it sounds hard and it's harsh for you, but...it's no big deal. She's not getting any older anymore. You can't beat yourself up over this."

It didn't help.  "What, and disrespect her memory by forgetting her?  I can't do that, Maggie.  I loved her."

She gave me a blank stare for a second, then, when an expression formed, she looked...hurt.  Genuinely hurt, like my words had offended her somehow.  "No," she said, just loud enough that I could hear.  "No, you...you still do.  Oh my god.  You still love her."  Her voice rose, and she started speaking in Spanish. I couldn't understand any of it, but from her tone of voice and the way she grabbed at her head and started pacing in tight circles, I'm pretty sure that most of it was cursing.  "Oh my god," she said.  "Oh my god.  I get it now.  That's why.  That's why you're so fucking blind."  Before I could react, she grabbed Lily from my hands, walked outside, and chucked it as far as she could across the parking lot.

"Maggie!  What are you doing?"  I scrambled after it.

"Yeah, go run after it," she yelled after me.  "Go after your stupid staff.  Cling to the past. You are literally using her as a fucking crutch." She sat down on the curb and buried her face in her hands in exasperation.  "Oh, god, I can't believe I didn't see it before."  She looked up at me, venom in her eyes.  "You don't realize how selfish you are. You're blind to everyone around you because you because you're still in love with a dead girl."

She stormed into the bus at that point and refused to talk at me anymore for the rest of the day.

I...I think I get it now.  She's right.  I've been...really blind. No, that's not even the right. I've been in denial. And I...need to think. I think I may need to move on.  But I don't know if I'm ready.  I really have a lot to think about.

I'm sorry.  To Lily. To Maggie. To everyone.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Catacombs

We descended the staircase, and instantly I could tell that it wasn't part of the library.  It wasn't even part of California, or the world for that matter.  There was something in the air that tipped me off.  It's this sort of aura that all Fears have about them.

The corridors were lit by torches, sticking out of stone pillars in the wall.  Between the pillars stood bookshelves, from floor to ceiling, nine feet up, lined with dusty books.  I instinctively reached out to grab one to see what was inside, but Gabe grabbed my hand as I reached out.

"I wouldn't do that, kiddo."

Last nodded, but didn't turn back.  "You wouldn't want to do that, Kenny. The price is too steep. Try reading any of those books, you risk losing every single one of your memories."

I stayed my hand after that.  So we continued, down the spiraling corridor, the air growing colder and colder as we went.  After about ten minutes of walking, all of which was spent in solemn silence, it opened into a giant room that seemed to go on forever.  Maybe it did, as I couldn't see any walls but the one we had just come through the doorway of.  Shelves towering fifty feet high, the shelves seemingly infinitely long, and a seeming infinite number of rows loomed around us, making everything feel positively miniscule.  Coming down the aisle towards us was a man, probably about eight feet tall, shrouded in a brown cloak that hid all his features save two wrinkled old hands, which clutched a giant tome.

A voice echoed throughout the Catacombs.  "What is your business?"

"We seek any information and help to aid us in a fight against the Rake," Last said, yelling to try to match the voice's volume.

"Silence, boy," hissed the voice.  "I am right here.  I am merely blind, not deaf."

"Blind Man?" I whispered to Crimson, who was standing just off to my right.  He nodded but said nothing, continuing to stare at the cloaked man with the book.

"Er...yes, sorry," Last continued, his decibel level returning to normal.  "Will you be able to aid us in either way?"

There was a brief moment of silence as the Blind Man considered.  "Perhaps," came the voice again.  It was strange how he spoke.  The voice didn't come from the body of the Blind Man himself, but from everywhere.  Not even like there was some form of PA system, but as if the Catacombs themselves were speaking.  "But what reason have I to aid you?"

"No reason, admittedly.  But you have the means.  Your library contains all the knowledge we could ever want. Knowledge that could give us an edge against the Rake. Will you give us the knowledge we need?"

"Perhaps.  I have not yet made up my mind."

Last grinned.  "Ah! That must mean that we succeed, because if we fail, what cost is it to you to give us that knowledge?"

"You are clever, boy," the Blind Man said, "but not near as clever as you think.  You are obviously aware that I see all. The past, the present, the future--all knowledge is mine. However, you confuse what was and what is to be for what could have been and what might be.  I see that you succeed, yes.  But I also see that you fail. All words remain unwritten until they are read."

Last gave him a blank look.

"When walking in the Garden of Forking Paths, knowing where the paths lead does one no good, for others walk the paths as well. Many follow the paths they were always meant to take. Others challenge their destinies and in doing so, change these paths."

Last thought for a moment, processing the Blind Man's words and formulating his own.  "That, great seer, is why we come to you and ask your aid in defeating the Rake.  The Rake is impulsive and unpredictable. Can you truly know how he will act?"

"No, I cannot. I see.  Perhaps a partnership will prove to be valuable. If the Rake's path were erased, the Garden would see more order...."  The head of the cloaked figure tilted up slightly as he considered it, then fixed on Last.  "Will you pay the price?"

Last bit his lip.  "Am I the only one who has to pay it?"

"I am feeling...generous.  The price shall be yours alone."

Last closed his eyes, his body stiffening.  "Very well.  I'll pay the price."

The Blind Man stepped forward, and half of us took a step forward as well.  "No," Last said, holding up a hand to stop us.  "I'll be fine.  I've...I've done this before. More times than I care to remember."

"More times than you remember at all," the Blind Man replied.  The two stepped closer, until they were within arm's length of each other.  The Fear reached out and placed his hand on Last's head.  As he pulled it away, his wrinkled fingers pulled something from his forehead.  The Blind Man's book fell open in his hand, and I saw that it was a quill.  As the Blind Man wrote, the quill started to dissolve, and by the time the Blind Man closed the tome again, had disappeared entirely.

"The Rake," the Blind Man said slowly and deliberately, "is not a creature of reason. Perhaps in other pasts, presents, or futures he is keen and calculating, but as he is, he is feral. A creature of instinct. Reason and planning will not work against him. You need another creature of instinct to combat him."

"The Black Dog," Last said, his voice quiet.  The cowl shifted as the Blind Man nodded.

"Wait," came an unfamiliar voice.  It came from a small end table that I hadn't noticed before.  Had it always been there, or had it suddenly appeared?  If so, when?  The table contained nothing but a basin, but I understood where the voice came from when the Blind Man retrieved it from the table and held it at an angle where all eleven of us could see what was inside.

The water in the basin rippled on its own, and when I looked closely, I could see that they formed a sort of face.  It became more clear as the ripples spoke again and I could actually see the mouth moving.  "EAT?" I asked Crimson.  He nodded, not looking away, and held a finger to his lips.

"I wish to aid them as well," said the basin.  "I sense they will be useful allies to us, seer."  To my right, Crimson pulled a notepad out of his paper and started writing.  "Perhaps it is time for us to finish our creation and send it to aid them."

The Blind Man nodded slowly. "You are right, of course.  Very well."  He set the basin down and reached into his sleeve, extending his arm to show us the metal sphere sitting in his palm.  As we watched, four metal legs protruded from the sphere, and it skittered back and forth across the Blind Man's sizable hand.

"A newly created being," he said.  "The Leviathan and I have been working on it for some time."

"It is a being," EAT said, "that evolves on its own.  Organic lifeforms, impressive though they may be, can only make small progressions through generations. The Mason, as we call it, will have no such restriction. It can make and remake itself at will to conquer any obstacles it may face. It will prove a useful ally to you."

Last nodded, trying to hold back a grin.  "We thank you for all your help.  Between the information and your...Mason, you've provided us with plenty.  We hope to work together with you again to advance you further in the Great Game."

"Leave," was all the Blind Man said in response.

"That was the Manufactured Newborn," I hissed to Last as we turned to leave.  The staircase we had entered through, thankfully, was still there. You never know with Fears.

"Yeah, I know."

"How is that--I mean, they just finished it?  How do we already know about it, then?"

"Don't ask me; it's some sort of Schrodinger's Cat sort of thing, probably.  It exists, but it doesn't actually exist until it's manufactured?  We just...opened the metaphorical box, I guess."

I didn't realize that we were already back at the California State Library until we emerged through the door. What had taken minutes to enter had allowed us to leave in seconds.  "All words remain unwritten until they are read?"

He gave a laugh and rolled his eyes.  "Sure, something like that.  Still, wasn't expecting those three to be connected.  I thought we were just going to see the Blind Man. Now we've got his help, as well as EAT's and the Manufactured Newborn's.  That's a happy coincidence if I've ever seen one."

"There are no coincidences," I said quietly, half to myself.

He gave me a dubious look as he heard the words he himself had made sure the Masks told me.  "No," he said thoughtfully.  "No, I don't suppose there are."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Into the Library

We were all packed and ready by the day we left for the California State Library.  Boston Black pulled up in a minibus in the late morning.  "All aboard the party bus," he said, banging on the side.

We piled into the bus.  It was kind of a weird mode of transportation, but I guess when you're transporting this many people over so far of a distance, you need something fairly roomy.  I glanced over at Maggie, who ended up in the seat across from mine.  "Hey, Maggie?  Um...I guess this is kind of an awkward question, but...are you not in some sort of relationship with Crimson?  I mean, I guess I kind of had assumed you were and I shouldn't have, but you guys kind of laughed when I mentioned it on my blog.  Why exactly was it so funny?"

She gave me a look.  "You're serious?"  She started to laugh.  "Oh my god, I thought that you were mostly just joking before.  I had no idea you were really that dense."  She shook her head.  "I really don't know whether to laugh or smack you.  I mean, can I smack you?  Because you're seriously that infuriatingly dense."

"How am--ow!" She leaned across the aisle and slugged my shoulder.

Her rolled her eyes in exasperation.  "Oh, madre de dios...Kenny, Crimson's gay. I have no clue how you haven't picked up on that.  He's been flirting with you enough. I mean, I'm pretty sure everyone reading your blog's picked up on it, meaning that you're not even catching what it is you're writing down."

"Wait, what?  He has?  You mean he...?"

"He's probably not serious about it.  I mean, he knows that there's no chance of it happening, considering you're asexual."

"Huh? But...I'm straight."

She scoffed.  "Coulda fooled me.  So he seriously never told you his story?"

"I guess not, no."

"Eh, he'll let you know eventually. But let's address again how incredibly boneheaded and dense you are, shall we?"

Last came up to us at that moment, interrupting her and sparing me a tongue-lashing.  "Hey, Kenny, how'd you sleep?"

"Good.  No dreams.  Not that kind, anyway."

"What's he talking about?" Maggie asked him.

"Oh, that?  Yeah, sorry, forgot to bring it up to you guys.  Um...the Cold Boy and Wooden Girl are kind of working with the Grotesque now.  Trying to kill Kenny in his sleep."

"And you kept this from the rest of us because...?"

Last looked indignant.  "Hey, I was busy planning for this trip, okay? I didn't have time to come up with a quick solution.  On top of that, I'm not sure there even is a quick solution. It's not like we can monitor his dreams or anything."

"What about rooming with someone?" Maggie suggested.

"Good question. You a light sleeper, Mags?"

"I am, though don't you think Kenny would be a bit more comfortable with you or Crimson?"

"I guess he might, but I've got a really weird sleep schedule and I don't know how heavy or light a sleeper Crimson is."

"Guys?  I'm right here; you could just ask me."

"We'll get it figured out later," Last said.  "Kenny, get some rest. You've got those bag things under your eyes.  You gonna be awake, Mags?"

"I'll keep an eye on him, yeah."

I managed to get some sleep on the trip. I've gotten used to sleeping in moving vehicles.  I've done a lot of it in my time on the road.  It's uncomfortable, sure, but lots of places to sleep are.

I'm not going to mention when we arrived, since I don't want anyone trying to calculate the distance to the safehouse, but we eventually arrived at the California State Library.  Everyone left most of their things on the bus. A few people packed a hidden knife or two, but we went in largely unarmed and out of "character."

"We can't draw attention," Last explained.  "A group of LARPers is pretty conspicuous, and we need to be as inconspicuous as possible.  We don't want anyone following us."

"Where are we going?" I asked him.

"Libraries are institutions of knowledge," he said.  "Even when all the information is digital, there's still something about the term 'library' that's synonymous with learning and information. Because of that, you can technically get to where we need to go from any library if you know how to look, but bigger libraries make it easier."

"And where's that?"

He hushed me and just motioned for me to follow along with the rest of the Masks.  "There it is," he said, finally stopping and pointing to a set of shelves labeled "restricted section."  He picked up the pace, walking through the shelves without glancing at any of the books.  He stopped at an old-looking wooden door at the far wall and opened it.  A spiraling stone staircase was behind it, curving down and out of sight.  He pulled a flashlight out and turned it on.

"Are you ready to enter the Catacombs, Kenny?" he asked me.  "There's a very special someone we need to pay a visit."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Nightmare

I had an incredibly vivid nightmare last night.  I was walking through an evergreen forest in the snow.  The trees were decorated with all sorts of Christmas lights, and I felt...uplifted.  The air was cold, but in that brisk, refreshing way that was welcoming after the heat of California, and the spectacle of lights around me was beautiful.

I stopped in front of a huge tree, decorated not with electric lights, but with actual candles. I remember hearing a story about how the first Christmas trees would use candles, and I'd always wanted to see it done. I stared at it in awe, but as I watched, I realized that it wasn't just the candles burning anymore--it was the tree.  In fact, every tree around me had become a torch.  Despite that, the flames weren't hot.  It felt like they actually sucked the heat out of the air. The gentle snowfall came faster and faster until it became a blizzard.  I heard a familiar voice echoing all around me.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice 
Is also great

At this point, the face of the little towheaded boy appeared in the sky and giggled.

And would suffice.

"Good work, Frosty," a voice by my ear cooed.  The trees, which suddenly weren't burning anymore, started to splinter, creaking and crashing and coming together and reforming until the Wooden Girl stood behind me.  "We've got him right where we want him."  The Cold Boy giggled again.  "Think you can hide from us behind your new friends?" she purred, cocking her head in a way that implied that there was no sort of muscle and she was controlling her body from some outside source.  "Kenny, boy...you're still aaaaaall alone here within your mind."

Suddenly there was a reverse-blade katana in my hands.  I struggled against it, but I could already feel my body moving on its own, pulled by strings that weren't there, raising the sharpened edge up to my throat.  The blade sunk in as it pressed against my neck.

"Of with his head," the Wooden Girl said to me.  "In three...two...."

The next moment, I was...somewhere.  Back in the waking world, I realized after a few seconds.  Last was calling my name and shaking my shoulder.  He flipped the light on as I started thrashing.

"Thank god," he said quietly.  "I heard...weird things.  Thrashing about, moaning.  Decided I'd check on you.  So glad it was the nightmare type of thrashing and moaning."  He took another glance at me and swore.  "Jesus, Kenny!  Look at your hands.  I think you've got frostbite."  I looked at my hands.  They were red and starting to swell.  Instinctively, I reached up to touch my neck and when I brought them down, there was a bit of blood on them as well.  I held them out to show him.  Last grabbed my shoulder and pulled me out of bed, dragging me down the hall to give me first aid.

As he tended to me, I described my dream.  He shook his head when I finished.  "Oh, this is bad, Kenny.  This is really bad.  It sounds like the Cold Boy and Wooden Girl are working with the Grotesque now.  It gives you an outlet to access you that they don't normally have: your dreams.  The Cold Boy can't come after you directly in this big of a group, and the tensions of the Great Game are high enough that the two of them aren't going to try a direct assault anyway.  But this--they can use the Grotesque to get inside your mind.  And as you've probably guessed by this little game of midnight doctor, it can affect reality as well. We need to find some way to take precautions.  We were really lucky this time. The cut on your neck was just a scratch and your hands will be a little sore for a few days with no major damage done.  But we need some way to monitor you and make sure you don't inception yourself to death in the future."

"I'm sorry," I told him.

"It's cool. We didn't plan for it. Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.  Oh, hey, that reminds me.  We're heading to the state library on [date removed]."


"We're taking the Rake down. Like I said, knowing is half the battle."

"Yeah, but...a library?"

"California's not some backwoods hick state. The state library's pretty big, and you'd be surprised at how much there is on the Fears throughout history.  Also we're not really going for the library."

"Then why are we going?"

"Ah, that part's a secret.  You think you'll be okay to sleep again?"

"I hope so. At least some."

"Good.  I'll check on you every hour.  Only about four or five left in the night anyway."  He placed a hand on my shoulder.  "I'm counting on you to be strong enough to deal with them until then if they show up again.  There are a lot of people counting on you, Kenny. But a lot of people who trust you, too."

"Gee, thanks. That load will make it a bit easier to sleep."

He gave me a smile.  "Don't believe in the me that believes in you, Kenny. Believe in yourself."  He stood.  "I'm gonna get a nap in before I have to check on you again. You should try to get some as well.  It's gonna be a busy week."

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fang and Boston Black

I approached Fang while he was watching TV.  Nothing in particular, he was just channel-surfing. Fang is a fairly short guy. I think that Maggie is the only Mask he's taller than.  The back of his hair is cut fairly short, but his bangs are pretty long.  He's constantly making small tossing movements with his head to keep it out of his eyes.  The guy also tends to favor black clothing a lot. What type of clothing it is tends to vary, but 90% of the time, it's black.

"Fang, right?"


"Right, sorry, Benjamin."

He looked at me.  One thing that bugs me about him is that he acts so disinterested in everything around him. He's always speaking in a soft, "sure, whatever" tone of voice, and always gives you a sort of "can I help you" look.

"Black Dog, right?"

"That's right."

I paused.  "You know, I know someone else being chased by the Black Dog. Do you know Edwin Canis at all?"

"Other than the fact that he's the cop stalking you? No. No one here knows Canis as well as you do."

"Right, sorry.  So, um...what's your story?"

He looked back over at me and gave me a look that felt like it was intended to make me feel like an idiot.  "Black Dog, Kenny.  Fear of your secrets being revealed? You're really expecting me to just open up like that?"

"Um...I guess not? Sorry."

"Yeah, sure." He waved me away. "That counts, right? You can tell Last you've got me out of the way now?"

"I...haven't learned anything about you, though."

He shrugged, not looking away from the TV.  "You will, provided we both live long enough. Later, though. I'm busy."

My luck with Boston Black was a bit better, if you could call it that.  He spends most of his time in his room, which is littered with all sorts of spare parts for projects he's working on.  He's got long, shaggy black hair and a sort of intensity surrounding him.  He's not the kind of guy you want to mess with.  Though that might be the wifebeaters talking. I've never seen him wear any other type of shirt, so his muscles have always been on pretty good display.

"Here to do your homework for the bossman?" he asked as I entered. The room was dim, lit mostly by florescent lamps he was working by.

"I guess you could call it that.  You do machines, then?"

"Oh, ha ha, a fuckin' Ninja Turtles reference. Never heard that one before.  You want a Coke?"


He went over to a minifridge he had plugged in and looked inside.  "Shit," he muttered.  "Only one left.  Sorry, kid."  He cracked the can open and drank it in a single go.  "So yeah, I 'do machines' or whatever.  As these stupid gimmicks go, it's pretty useful."

"And what's your Fear theme again?  Your name's a bit...less obvious than some of the others, really."

"Christ, I gotta spell it out, dude?  It's the Empty City. Boston Black.  You know, like Boston? That one city?"

"Still, why Boston? And what's up with the 'black' bit?"

"Because it doesn't fucking sound retarded, okay?  No one said I had to chose a name that didn't sound at least halfway badass."  There was the crackling of electricity as he did something at his workstation.

"What are you working on?" I asked.

He turned around and gave me a...somewhat disconcerting grin.  Almost hungry or manic, I'd say.  "Taser gauntlets."

"Taser gauntlets?"

"What, did I stutter or something, man?  Fucking taser gauntlets. Gauntlets with tasers in them.  It's not that hard."

"You...have fun with that," I told him, backing out of the room.

So now I've had some one-on-one time with all the Masks.  We'll probably be going soon.  Last says he needs to get in touch with some of his contacts before he tells me when and where we're taking off, but it won't be long now.

We'll be on the move again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


From a conversation with Last of the Last:

"So how exactly are we going to kill these Fears?" I asked Last.  "I mean, I smashed the Cold Boy's face in with Lily and he just kind of...repaired himself."

"They do that," Last said.  "There are probably tricks and tips to killing them all, but the best way is to get them to kill each other.  Killing something like that takes equal or greater power.  Fortunately...that's what we've been working on for a while.  I've got a lot of contacts, and some of the Masks are doing a little double-duty and working for other Fears."

"So, for example, Maggie would be a servant of both the Slender Man and the Convocation?"

"No, Kenny.  She's been chased by the Convocation.  No one is working for someone who's after them."  He paused.  "She's the bait for the Convocation."

"These people are bait?"

"Don't make it sound so bad; they've known the deal since before they signed up.  They choose to be bait because they want to see these guys dead.  You've noticed how many of the Masks are themed around fragmented Fears, right?  You know, the hiveminds, the ones that aren't just a single solid entity?  There's a reason for that."

"Well what is it?"

"Anyway, like I said, we've got contacts, and lots of them serve other Fears.  And yes, I am dodging the question because I know you'll blog the plan to everyone and telling people what the plan is is the best way to jinx absolutely everything. But the first part is to use these contacts to turn these factions--and consequently, the Fears, against each other.  It's really not too hard, considering how territorial these Fears can get.  They're all locked into something that some people call the "Great Game."  Like a board game, or more accurately, a schoolyard game, albeit with more death and destruction.  So kind of like Red Rover, then. 

"Alliances are made, of course.  You can't just turn everyone against everyone, because even the Fears are looking for a little help. They all have their preferred allies and tend to sort of branch off into some groups.  I'm sure you know a few of these already."

"The Cold Boy and the Wooden Girl?"

"That's right.  The two seem to be pretty interested in you, you little celebrity."  He grinned.

"Please, don't call me that. I'm just going along with your plans, not embracing any sort of 'hero' thing you're trying to do."

"Right, right, sorry.  Anyway, you've also seen the Red Cap and the Choir teaming up, an aspect that you unfortunately managed to bring with you back to your own dimension from your visit to that hostel place where they got attacked by the scarlet-marked greyskins.  So thanks, Kenny.  Now we've got horny sonic zombies to deal with."

"Well, you might have persuaded me to introduce a child-murdering sociopath from another dimension here as well, so that one's on your head."

"Fair enough.  There's at least a third one that I absolutely know, and that's the Four Horsemen: the Archangel, Plague Doctor, Brute and Burning Bride, and Intrusion."

"That's five."

"Brute and Burning Bride are a set, Kenny. They count as one. Don't feel bad; I know it's confusing and you're still pretty new to all of this."

"So that's three alliances we know about.  What about the others?"

"Well, from what I've experienced of this universe, the Rake and the Black Dog are feral. Creatures of instinct. And even if they're not--well, I've told you so, so they're more likely to be now." He tapped the side of his skull with a finger.  "It's all in your mind, and what you perceive to be true.  Anyway, those two don't have the capacity to make or break alliances. I don't think the Quiet or Nightlanders are going to ally with anyone either, since they seem to be...more forces than beings.  I'm not even sure we're going to have to kill them.  The Nightlanders are creatures of order, and they're sort of like the janitors of the world--resetting it to how it's supposed to be.  And the Quiet...the Quiet will wait for the right time to strike. When the universe is ending, that's when it will consume.  It...it devours all....consumes...."  He paused, then shook his head, and why he started acting so dodgy came to me.  The Quiet had likely ultimately destroyed the dimension he had come from.  "Sorry. Anyway, it's not important.  Those four, and then the Empty City. It's a place.  A sort of neutral ground. It has a terrible power of its own, yes, but it's on its own side, aiding everyone and no one.  I don't think we need to worry about any of those five allying with anyone.  So that leaves...?"

"The, um...Convocation, Blind Man, Dying Man...um...Manufactured Newborn...."  I struggled to remember the rest.

"The Eye, Mother of Snakes, Grotesque, Unnamed Child, Smiling Man, and EAT.  It's a big list, I know. Don't worry about it right now.  You'll get to know them better as we go along.  But so far, these ten are the ten whose allegiance is least obvious. It's EAT I'm most concerned about at the moment, actually. It's a really clever bastard."

"So what's the plan, then?"

"Well, the Slender Man's out, I've got an idea in mind for those hivemind sorts that I'm not ready to put into action, we're not strong enough to take out the Horsemen, and the Cold Boy and Wooden Girl are after you and would be ready for us if we went after them now.  I'm thinking," he said, "that step one is convincing someone to take out the Rake.  He's strong, he's dangerous, he's unpredictable, and none of the other Fears like him. Get him out of the way first, and that's one wild card we won't have to worry about down the road. The downside is that it's going to be harder to orchestrate. I don't have a ton of information on which way these alliances are falling, but I do know one thing: no one, I repeat, no one, likes the Rake."

"So where do we start?"

"The thing we need most before we do any of this is knowledge.  It'll probably be our greatest weapon: knowing what we're up against, knowing any possible way to stop them, et cetera."

"I still have those notes on the Fears that Lyron gave me."

"That's good, but it's nowhere near enough. No, we'll have to do something a bit more drastic.  In fact, plans for that are what I've been so busy with this whole time.  Go.  Talk to the Masks more. Really get to know them.  I'll tell you more when it's time."

Monday, May 13, 2013


My first experience with Reaper outside of my fight with him was really not what I expected.  I knew he was an older guy, but seeing him outside of his "character" was...not pleasant.  I guess I never realized just how bad of shape he's actually in.

I didn't see him around the house at all, just because he rarely leaves his room. Since Last wanted me to talk to everyone, I decided to knock on his door and get it out of the way.

"What do you want?"

"It's Kenny. Last says that I'm supposed to speak to you?"

A pause, then a sigh.  "Come in."

When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the oxygen tank and mask.  He had been dressed in a dark, billowing cloak when I fought him that hid the dimensions of his body some, but when he was dressed in a baggy t-shirt and pajama bottoms, I could tell just how gaunt he was.

He held up the oxygen mask and took a few breaths.  "So, obviously, I'm dying."

"I'm sorry," I said, stunned, "I didn't realize."

He let out one of his wheezing chuckles.  "Not as clever as I gave you credit for, then. I'm themed after the Dying Man? What did you expect?"

"I...guess I didn't know.  Um...I'm sorry I hit you in the stomach with my staff."

"Don't be. I'm not sorry I slashed your hand."

"Oh.  Um...okay?  So...can I ask what it is?"

"Cancer."  I glanced at his hair when he said it.  What I had mistaken for a full head of silvery hair when I had fought him in the dark, I could now see was a wig.  "You've talked to me now. I'll tell Last you completed your little assignment. Would you mind leaving me alone?"

I left after that.  When I spoke to Last about it, I brought up a question that I had had.  Reaper uses the Path of Black Leaves, and I've always been under the impression that it's not a healthy use of otherworldly realms.

"It's not," Last agreed, "and it's taking a toll on Reaper's body.  It's slowly killing him.  He knows this, and he does it anyway, figuring that as long as he's dying, he might as well be thorough about it."

"Wouldn't that kill him quicker? I thought he was afraid of death."

"Well yes, he is, but in reality, he's more afraid of dying, and he's already doing that every day."

So that only leaves Boston Black and Fang, the two I know the least about at this point.  I'll get that post up as soon as I can.  I'm starting to get anxious cooped up here and the weather is getting hotter and hotter, and Last refuses to leave and officially open the safehouse until I've gotten this taken care of.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gabe's Story

Jerry "Gabe" Landis caught up to me while I was making myself a snack at the safehouse.

"Hey, Kenny," he said, greeting me with a heavy pat on the shoulder.  He's a large, boisterous man, and I'm not sure he realizes his own strength.  "Just wanted to patch the whole 'trying to kill you' thing up.  Are we cool now that you understand what we're about a bit better?"

I nodded.  "Sure.  Hey, um...Gabe?'


"I hear you have a daughter...?"

"Oh, Janie?  Yeah, she's about ten now.  Adorable thing.  I'm really hoping we get back soon, actually.  I know she's fine with my mother for now, but I'd prefer not to leave her there any longer than I have to."

"If you, um...don't mind my asking, uh...where exactly is her mother?"

His face darkened.  "I'd rather not talk about it, but I guess you deserve to know.  Last wants you to know as many of our stories as possible, and she's a big part of mine."

"Well, I can ask later--" I started walking off with my sandwich, but he grabbed my shoulder and sat me down at the table.

"Nah, we'll get it out of the way now.  Basically...she left us.  More accurately, she's dead, but she left us in the process.  Irene was my wife of ten years. A few years ago, she got tangled up in some weird religious cult.  I thought the whole thing was bull, of course, but it made her happy and I liked seeing her happy.  Well, that was my mistake, because it turned out to be one of those crazy suicide cults.  She put poison in our supper.  I think she put more in than she meant to, because it killed her really quickly.  It tasted funny, and that was the only thing that saved me and Janie.  I got suspicious of it, Janie spat it out and said it was yucky...I tried, but I couldn't get Irene to the hospital in time."

"Wow.  I'm...I'm sorry."

He shrugged.  "It's a sob story, yeah.  Seeing just what religion can do to you--to the people around you--well, that's what got the Archangel after me.  After Janie, too, but she doesn't realize what's going on yet.  That's why I'm doing this.  For her.  So she doesn't have to worry about the bad scary man anymore.  So that I don't have to lie and tell her it's all in her imagination."

"Do you think we can do it?"

He gave my shoulder another heavy pat as he stood.  "I think that you might be able to, kiddo.  I'm really looking forward to working with you."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mantis and Phones

Mantis and Phones are probably the least accessible members of the Masks--Phones because he refuses to speak or listen, and Mantis because he finds it hard to speak or listen.  As a result, the two have formed a sort of strange bond.  They provide the social interaction the other needs, and they both do it without needing to exchange words.  They usually just play card games.  Usually just War. Simple, doesn't require talking, takes long periods of time.

Any time I try to talk to Phones, he just gives me a brief nod and a wave and moves on.  He's always listening to music--you can hear it faintly if you're close enough--and is always cloaked in a red hoodie.  He's never taken it off around me, so I've never gotten a good look at his face.  Never heard his voice.  He's a silent presence.  An elephant in the room that no one knows how to talk to.

Mantis is a little easier to communicate with.  At least he's willing to try.  I've made a few attempts, but they're all difficult.  He has some common phrases like please and thank you down well, but whenever he attempts a less stock phrase, he moves slowly from word to word, pausing briefly between each, and when he finishes, he gets an excited look on his face at the accomplishment.  It really surprised me, but whenever he made a fairly small mistake around Last or Crimson, they'd correct him. It seemed rude to me, but Mantis would smile, thank them, and correct himself every time.

"Most ESL speakers appreciate it," Last told me.  "They wouldn't know that what they're saying is wrong otherwise.  It sounds rude to draw attention to errors, but it's actually what helps them learn.  And Mantis is learning.  Slowly, but he's learning.  Just remember: he speaks slowly and with a thick accent, but he's not a dumb guy.  He's got a fairly good mind for science and he's actually done a fair amount of public speaking--in his own language of course."

"He's from where, China?"  Last nodded in response.  "How'd he end up here?"

Last shrugged.  "Far as I can tell, he just really didn't like the country. Liked America better. Liked good ol' democracy, maybe.  Came over, and had a hard time fitting in.  He was just that stupid foreign guy who couldn't pick up on the language as quickly as he hoped he would, couldn't find a good job, couldn't scrounge up enough money to go back when he decided that he wanted to...a bunch of stuff like that.  I only got what I could with the help of Crimson and a Chinese to English translator.  Turns out that Mantis doesn't even speak primarily Mandarin Chinese. Watching two guys trying to communicate in a language they're both only kind of familiar with--well that's an ideal use of time." He rolled his eyes.

I nodded at Phones.  "And what about him?  What's his story?"

"He's the only one I haven't been able to wrestle a story out of.  I know that the Choir's after him, and I know his first name--or maybe it's his last name, I dunno.  But he's only had one conversation with me, and that's the one where I recruited him.  I've had to pass some other messages along and we've gotten a system down, but for the most part, he's a mystery even to me."  He looked at him and shook his head.  "Maybe, once the Choir's gone, maybe then he'll be able to open up. Talk to people without getting hurt."

"That alone is almost reason enough to fight," I said quietly.

Last gave my shoulder a pat.  "I know it's all confusing," he said.  "You're changing, and you're trying to figure out just who you are. You'll figure it out eventually, and we're here to help you figure it out."

"To help me figure out who I am, or to tell me who you think I am?"

Last gave me a wistful little smile.  "Yes," was all he said.  I got nothing else from him.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


I got my first chance to actually talk to Wraith the other day.  I'd seen him before and exchanged a greeting or two, but never really had the chance to actually meet him.

Wraith is a blond guy with hair that's cut pretty short, at least compared to me and some of the other Masks.  Medium length I guess.  That length that you and your friends think looks great but that makes your parents and grandparents ask when you're getting it cut.  He's got that "stick figure" build, quite a bit of height with long and gangly arms and legs.  He wore a skinny pair of jeans and a shirt with a black and purple flannel pattern over a white t-shirt.

I heard the sound of an acoustic guitar playing from one of the bedrooms and knocked on the door, deciding to check it out.  "Come in," came the voice.  Wraith was sitting on the bed, guitar in hand.  "Oh, hey Kenny."

"Hey.  Wraith, right?"

"That's me."

"And your motif is...."

"The Quiet," he answered as I tried to remember.  He started picking out some notes on the guitar again.

"That sounds really good.  What song is that?"

 "You wouldn't know it," he said.  "I wrote it."

"Wow, really?"

"Yeah.  It's not finished, and I need to come up with lyrics yet.  I think I have an idea, but I'm not sure yet."

I nodded and sat quietly, listening until he finished the song.  "You're really good," I told him.

"Well, thanks.  That means a lot.  But I'm not that great.  I mean, I try, but...there's always someone better.  You know that feeling, right?"

"I guess."

He set the guitar aside.  "It's just hard, especially in an industry like music where you've got so many great professionals.  I listen to them and think 'man, if only I could play or sing like that.'  It's tough, you know?"

"So you want to be a professional songwriter, then?"

He smiled.  "I'd love it.  I'm just worried it's never going to happen."  He leaned back against the bed for a bit.  "What do you know about the Quiet, Kenny?" he asked.

"Not too much.  The Fear of nothing, right?  It doesn't seem too bad."  I realized who I had said that to.  "Erm...sorry, I didn't mean it like that...."

"It's fine. I wouldn't expect you to understand.  It's like...have you ever stared up into the night sky and seen all the stars, knowing that they're billions of miles away and knowing that something that far away is dozens of times bigger than the Earth?  You know what I'm talking about, right?  That small feeling you get?"

"Yeah, I...guess I do."

"Well, that's how I feel all the time.  Like I'm insignificant.  I'm just one person on this planet our of billions.  What do I matter?  What will I accomplish?  Who's going to remember me after I'm gone?"

"I'm sure there are people who'll remember you.  I will."

"And what about when you're gone?  We're all just temporary, Kenny.  I'm sure you could name a lot of...say, the founding fathers of America.  And you could look more up.  But who else from that era do you know?  Writers, politicians, some musicians...they all get remembered.  George Washington is going to live forever in the memories of every single American.  But those regular people?  Who are they?  They're nothing.  They're gone.  They're lost to the void."  He sighed and shrugged.  "I'm nobody, Kenny.  And that's what terrifies me.  The fact that I'll spend my life as nobody."

Something that Lily always used to say popped into my mind, and I repeated it for Wraith.  "I've never met anybody who's nobody."

"Thanks, Kenny.  That's...very optimistic and idealistic of you."  He picked up his guitar again.  "You can stick around and listen to me practice if you want to.  If not...I guess I'll talk to you later."

"I'm going to talk with a few other people," I told him.  "But I'll see you around."

He nodded and waved as I slipped out the door.  "Thanks, Kenny."