Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Rake, Part 2

I shuffled over to where Fang and Alicia were already gathered. Fang was shoving some throwing blades into his waistband. Alicia was loading her pistol. She looked at me. “This might be a good time to grab your weapon or something.”

I glanced at Lily, which was still in my hand. “Uh, yeah. Okay. So what’s the plan?”

“My plan is to shoot anyhing that comes too close. Simple, really.”

Fang pointed to the grocery store a few blocks away. “Over there. Hopefully there’s a fair amount of people in there. More people, more commotion, more chance the Rake will show up.” He shook his bangs out of his eyes. “Let’s go.”

Alicia nodded. “More slaughter too. All right, let’s get going.”

Fang pulled out some flechettes as we entered, throwing them at the nearest cashier. I think they killed the guy. I’m not sure. I saw the people and froze up, ducking into the closest aisle. I heard gunfire in the aisle nearby. Alicia, probably. I don’t think any of them carried guns. Sounds of footsteps and running, then shouting and the sounds of a scuffle from a corner of the store. Someone had jumped Alicia. Yelling from further away the direction Fang had gone. I glanced around the shelves to see that he was trying to hold off two guys. He was holding his own, but just barely.

That’s when I heard the gunshot. A bag of chips a foot away from me exploded and I ducked back behind the shelves.

“I know you’re back there, kid!” the maenad called. Silence, another gunshot.  “Come on out, kid! Makes it easier for all of us!”

I froze, panicking. Alicia and Fang were both pinned down and in trouble. Someone was shooting at me. I was hiding back behind the shelves like a coward instead of helping them.

Raggedy’s words from his email came back to me then: “pick your moment.” I’m not brave or a good fighter or anything, but I knew that if there was a moment, it had to be now. I had to push through the fear.

I grabbed a few packages of food off the shelf and chucked them out of the aisle. It sounds really stupid typing it out now, but I figured it would work as a diversion at the time. I took off in the other direction, sprinting to where Alicia was. I didn’t hear footsteps. A woman had Alicia pinned to the floor. Taking a deep breath to steel myself, I brought my staff up and down on her head. She crumpled immediately, and Alicia pushed her off herself.

“Come on out, kid!” he was still on the other end of the store for whatever reason. Was he as nervous as I was? Was it part of some strategy? I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.

“Get down,” I whispered to her, gesturing down the aisle. “That guy’s got your gun.”

“Well fuck,” she said, already rolling towards the shelves. “Don’t just stand there, get behind some cover before he blasts your head off!”

“Fang’s got some guys pinning him down,” I said. “I’m gonna try to help him out.”

“Fine. Guess I’ll do this the fun way.” She cautiously raised herself to a crouch. “I’ll try getting my gun back.” With that, she ran off. I ran in the other direction, towards Fang. It turns out that all he really needed was a diversion, since as soon as I showed up and the others turned to face me, he dispatched them handily, pulling out a pair of knives and slitting their throats in one smooth motion. I gagged a bit at the sight, but managed to keep my lunch down. He nodded me towards the entrance, where Alicia was already waiting, the man who had grabbed her gun unconscious or dead (I don’t know which) on the floor.

“That should be good,” Fang said. He pulled the walkie talkie from his waist, radioing Last. “We’re good.”

“Great!” came the response. “Bring it on back.”

Fang nodded, turned to us. “Let’s go.”

We ran back to the gas station to meet up with Last. Maggie, Phones, Reaper, and Mantis were already back.  His face lit up when he saw us. “Second group back. The others should be back any second now….”

As if on cue, Gabe and Boston Black appeared from behind the corner, sprinting down the street. Angel followed a few seconds behind them, pistol drawn, firing at something. The Rake turned the corner behind them.

The Rake was…really grotesque looking. The worst part about it was that it looked human. It had the build of one. But it ran on all fours, had long, sharp claws, was completely naked and hairless (though I don’t think it had any sort of genitalia), and had these beady red eyes. The skin color was off, like it was rotting or something. Overall, it just looked wrong.

“I believe that’s my cue,” the Inspector said. He was calm and composed as he stepped forward, keeping a steady, unhurried pace. The Rake slowed as he approached. Gabe, Black, and Angel managed to reach us.

I had known he could confuse the Fears or something like that, but the extent of his powers surprised me when I saw them in use. One moment, it was charging at us at full speed, the next it had stopped and started wandering around, like it couldn’t even see us.

Last turned to Fang. “Okay, this is going to sound cheesy and kind of like a long shot, but we need the Black Dog now. I need you to focus on your deepest, darkest secrets. You know, the ones you’ve only told me. And then I need you to picture them getting out. Really feel the fear flow through you.”

“You’re right, it does sound cheesy. Is this what your plan hinged on?”

“Just do it, or I’ll tell them all for real.”

Fang’s face darkened. “Fine,” he said. He closed his eyes. The rest of us watched the Rake. It was stumbling around, but it looked like it was starting to regain its senses. Like it would charge at us any second.

The Black Dog showed up before it could happen, leaping out from an intersection and tackling the Rake. It pinned the creature to the ground, trying to bite at its throat. The Inspector was suddenly gone, then beside us the next moment. “Now we let nature take its course,” he said.

“That was fast,” Last told Fang.

Fang nodded. “It was easy. Too easy.” Last grunted in agreement but said nothing more.

The two beasts fought for dominance, their blood spilling on the ground as they clawed and bit.  After a minute that felt far too long, we heard a mechanical whirring.  “Aaaaand here comes the Newborn,” Last said. “Right on cue.” The Manufactured Newborn showed up a few seconds later and joined the fray. It had changed since the last time I had seen it—quite a bit, actually. While it had previously just been a small orb with four legs, it now had six, as well as a crude head.

The Black Dog grabbed it between its teeth as it approached and effortlessly tossed it aside. The Manufactured Newborn collapsed in a crumpled heap before picking itself up and scurrying off.

“Aaaaand there goes the Newborn,” said Last. “Wonderful.”

The battle raged on for a few minutes, and none of us could do anything other than stand far out of the way and watch. It was a really odd mix of extremely boring and downright terrifying. They were both taking a lot of damage, but the longer the battle wore on, the more obvious it was that the Rake was gaining the upper hand.

“You can’t do anything to help?” Last asked the Inspector.

“I would rather not be that close to the conflict,” he said.

“Doesn’t really matter which one of them dies, does it?” Fang grumbled. “One of them’s dead either way.”

That’s when the Manufactured Newborn returned. Changed. At the ends of its legs were long, metal claws, and its head had been modified to include powerful steel jaws.

“It’s learning,” Crimson mused. “It’s learning from them and modifying itself to compete.”

The Newborn latched onto the Rake from behind, digging its claws into its body to hold it and biting down on the neck with its jaws. The Rake struggled, and it looked like it was breaking free. That’s when the shot rang out. The Rake collapsed and the Black Dog and Manufactured Newborn were on it instantly, ripping it apart, destroying the body completely.

Last grabbed his walkie talkie. “Nice shot, Wraith.”

There was a pause before Wraith responded. “That wasn’t me, boss.”

“Then who…?” He looked around and swore. We all followed his line of sight. The Archangel stood on top of a roof in the distance. He lifted his sniper rifle and hoisted it over his shoulder as he turned to us. Then he tipped his bowler hat and disappeared.

Gabe tensed up. Angel Cross started screaming. “You took my ears, you bastard!” she yelled, firing at where he had been. It surprised me, considering how composed she’d been.

“So the Archangel is Angel’s archenemy,” Crimson said, half to himself, a smile tugging at his lips.

“Boss,” Gabe said, “Boss, what’s it doing here?”

“I don’t know. Awful big coincidence it showed up, huh?” He folded his arms.  “And there are no coincidences.”


And that’s the story of how we killed the Rake. Angel, Alicia, and the Inspector have left. I don’t know if the Rake has stayed dead for them, but it was still nice to feel at least something close to a victory. We all went out to celebrate afterwards, and we’ve been slow at getting back into things. I’m sorry it took so long to get it all written down.

But it’s only one Fear we’ve managed to kill. There’s still a long and dangerous road ahead, and there are a lot of worrisome questions. How we’re going to take out the other Fears, for example. Why the Archangel showed up, for another. The last time I saw him, it was when I was leaving the Hostel. He helped me out then, too. Why? What’s his motivation?

I’ll keep you guys posted as more information comes in.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Rake, Part 1

Angel Cross was the first person who started briefing us. When she spoke, it was a bit slowly and hesitantly. It must be a bit weird for her to speak and not be able to hear herself and adjust.  Anyway, she said that there are apparently servants of the Rake, called “maenads.” They’re not very well-known, to the point that Last didn’t even know they existed. In fact, he claims that they may not have existed in our universe until she mentioned them.

“I’m hoping that we can lure the Rake out by killing some maenads,” she said. “It might not care enough about them, but it’s worth trying to attract its attention.”

Last nodded at her and took over.  “There’s a colony of them about five hour’s drive away. We’re going to go in and split into groups.  Of course, even if the Rake doesn’t show up, that means that pretty much the entire colony’s going to be after us. We go in, hit a few groups, book it out, and keep them off of us until the Rake shows up. Or we have to retreat.  Angel, Boston Black, Gabe, you’re in one group. Kenny, Alicia, Fang, you’re in a second. Phones, Mantis, Reaper, Magpie, you’re the the third. Wraith, you’ve got support. Crimson, Inspector, you’re with me.”

Last adjourned the meeting after that. I browsed the internet some that night to calm my nerves. I checked my e-mail, and found this waiting for me from Raggedy:

"I have one last tip for your training before you go off into battle that I wish I had given you before. I may seem obvious but trust, it is the difference between life and death.

“Feel the battle. Feel its flow. Pick your moment. Never strike for the sake of striking them. Every blow is important. Just hurting them is pointless. All it will do is piss them off. Only strike when you know it will have an effect, whether it is dealing them a critical blow or delivering a blow that will give you enough time to get you back into your zone. That is the only way to ensure victory.

“Remember. Pick your moment.”

It helped. It really did.  I’d been freaking out about this battle, since it was the first time I’d be knowingly going into a fight. He was right: it did seem obvious. But it was what I needed to hear, and it helped calm my nerves, if even just a little bit.

We took off for the colony the next day in the “Party Bus.” Alicia sat in the seat across from me. She was dressed in weighted gloves, jean shorts, and a tight-fitting shirt that left her midriff exposed, along with a gun and knife strapped to her waist. Maggie leaned over the seat and poked my shoulder.  “You know that you’ve got about as much chance with her as I do with Crimson, right?” she murmured.

“Yes, I know, shut up.” She chuckled and sat back down.  I looked across the seat to Alicia and tried starting up conversation. After all, we’d have to fight together soon. 

“So, uh…you have much combat experience?”

She looked over at me, fairly stone-faced. She’s quiet and stoic like that most of the time, which makes Shine’s emergences all the more striking. “Depends. Some people would say my record of seventy-nine proxy kills isn’t much, but I’ve only been at it for a few months, so, meh. You?”

“Seventy—I…um…wow.  I, um…I’ve, uh, never actually killed anyone before. Most all my training is self-defense.”

“Well, I prefer not to kill anyone either. But when your hideouts are raided every week by a group of proxies…well, it’s kill or be killed, and I’d rather it’s them than me.” She let out a sigh.

“Oh. Well…I’m glad you’re on our side, I guess.” I sat back and fell silent after that. I didn’t exactly know how to feel. It seems like most people around me are so ready and willing to kill. Seventy-nine people…most serial killers don’t rack up that big of a body count. I know that all our situations are somewhere between war and self-defense, but is it necessary to kill so many? That’s not a rhetorical question. We’re going on the offensive against Fears, and there are a lot of various people serving them. Will I end up needing to kill that many people? Will I grow numb to it? The thought terrifies me.

At the same time—seventy-nine is an impressive number, and Alicia’s an impressive person to have bested that many. It seems like everyone around me is like that: some sort of superhuman, or at very least, grizzled and experienced. The Masks all have combat experience and the skills and/or wits to put them to use against the Fears, the Inspector has influence over the Fears, Wayward’s basically the MacGyver of flammables and explosives, Raggedy can do his thing with the Yu-Gi-Oh cards, Rogue Shadow can use magic, for crying out loud, and that’s without going into all of you that I haven’t met in person. You all have these amazing skills or can pull of amazing feats…and I’m just a normal guy. Not even that. I’m a stupid, scared kid. And yet Last thinks I’m going to be some sort of hero. Other people have left comments agreeing with him. But it’s just not going to happen. In what crazy fantasy am I even remotely like a hero? I’m not even deluded enough to think it about myself.

I reached into my pocket, feeling for the spearhead a proxy called Moth had given me (long story) to attach to my staff. I considered doing so, but for whatever reason, ultimately decided against, removing my hand to let it rest in its hiding place. Not today.

I turned to Benjamin (or Fang, I guess, since we were all “in character”) and tried striking up a conversation to ease my nerves.


“Trying to focus,” was all he said. I fell silent for the rest of the ride.

When we pulled up at the gas station in the small town that served as our destination, Last told us to stretch our legs, but not anywhere we would get noticed, for good cause. When the Masks are “in character,” they tend to stand out. Some more than others. Maggie and Crimson would be fine, since they just wear the sort of street clothes they always do, and Gabe, Boston Black, and Phones could probably pass, though the former two’s aversion to uniforms with sleeves and the latter’s concealment within his hoodie would draw some looks. Same thing with Alicia, Angel Cross, and the Inspector—plausible, but not improbable. But Reaper in his cloak? Mantis looks like the protagonist of a kung fu movie. Fang wears black and has one of those masks that covers the lower part of his face, making him look sort of like a ninja. And Wraith was the one that really surprised me. He normally dresses in blue jeans and a long-sleeved flannel-print shirt of some sort. Really casual, non-threatening stuff. But his persona actually looks…pretty badass. Camo bandana, dark jacket and pants, those black lines drawn under his eyes…stuff like that. That might be at least partially due to the fact that he’s apparently a sharpshooter. That was something of a shock to discover.

“What?” he said when he caught me looking, his demeanor surprisingly cocky compared to his quiet, laid-back one I’d seen earlier. “A musician can’t be interested in guns?”

I spent most of that time off the bus trying not to throw up. I think I’m okay saying that I was justified in having a minor panic attack. I just didn’t know if I was ready for what was going on.

Of course, it ended up helping that I didn’t have the time to worry, just because I didn’t have the time to overthink. There was a gunshot from inside the gas station, and Last came running out pretty quickly.

“Okay, so, um…it turns out my questions were apparently just a bit too pressing, because he sorta caught on to what we’re doing here. Long story short, I may have had to kind of kill a guy, and now there may be more guys on their way. Get your stuff together and get ready for battle, now. This operation is officially underway.”