The Contingent

Claudia, priestess of the Followers of the Flaming Heart

Jack looked over the research he’s accumulated. The Contingent had been digging into this for months and made very little progress; it only took him two weeks.

Maybe I have more to contribute to the Contingent than I thought. Maybe they didn’t dig back far enough…she has been around for a very long time and the Flaming Heart iconography has been used so widely for so long. Even the Catholic Sisters of the Sacred Heart adopted it. Hopefully the interrogators will get more out of Claudia now, but it’s difficult to get answers out of someone that only speaks with her hands—and every time you free her hands she tries to kill you.

Claudia earned a doctorate in ancient history with a specialization in Ancient Rome. She hasn’t been highly productive, but the papers she does release always seem to have ground breaking insights into Roman history. Usually her papers were involved with more rural and agrarian areas than the normal population centers that most historians focus on.

We know who her source is now that, but I guess we always did. I can’t believe she was cheeky enough to actually cite herself. A number of Claudia’s papers—including her thesis—cite Antonia Scaletti, which was the name on the deed of the house that Sarah Winchester bought and continued to build and expand on. It seems that this site was known as being close to the underworld, or prepared for this task for at least a century. Looking back on Antonia’s work, she also cited some of the same sources that Claudia did. She’s probably been doing this for a long time, always being recognized as a Roman history scholar every half century or so as she changed identities. This certainly made collecting all of the relics from Pompeii easy to explain. It seems like anything authentic that she could pry out of museum or university collections, she would grab; vases, pipes, broken pieces of murals, bowls—all fair game.

Through an "Immortals Among Us” conspiracy site, he was able to find pictures of Claudia going back centuries. Stella has only shown up more recently. She wasn’t listed in the “Immortals among us” database, but has shown up recently in pictures with Claudia. One of the members has been feeding any photo archives she can get her hands on into a facial recognition system she designed to run on Amazon. Never underestimate what smart, obsessed people can accomplish. Conspiracists will continue long after a research assistant has given up, even post docs. If only that effort could be spent on more productive studies, think of what they could do for humanity. On the other hand, maybe she just did. Some of the most interesting photos showed that she was at the first excavations of Pompeii and even most of the subsequent large excavations…and that was the key.

Focusing on Claudia’s and her previous nome-de-plumes’ research and papers around Pompeii turned up a story of a prostitute with dark hair and a beautiful voice. One of her clients apparently became too jealous of sharing her with others and in a fit of rage cut out her tongue, leaving her mute. This woman went on to become a priestess in a cult called the Followers of the Flaming Heart. This passage didn’t have much additional detail on the cult—that requires more research. However, it did say that shortly before Vesuvius’s eruption, the cult was trying to warn the citizens of Pompeii to get them to leave.

That definitely falls in line with what was on the video recording and what was found in the cave at the fountain head. It appears that as they drained the souls from the homeless and indigent of San Francisco and used them as vessels for their followers from Pompeii. They were able to coax the memories (or the souls?) of them out of the River Lethe where they brought it to the surface under the Winchester House. The Contingent has the lists of people, who they were, and who they are. He shook his head. I’m not even sure which deserves the past tense now, or what we can do about them.

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Stayin' Alive
I'll live to see another day

“You’ve been doing what?”

“Uh, crawling through the zom-bayou and kicking the proverbial ass of a tower of flesh. And then there was that battery of bad juju… Heh, bad-tery.”

“Zom-what? What the hell is tha- No. That’s not my point, I mean you’re hunting monsters now? What, punching other idiots in a box wasn’t enough?”

“Well, Richard was doing it… Minus the punching, probably…”

“Since when did anything that bastard do matter to us?”

John leveled a glare at his brother, Rhys. “Since the day I learned the truth. And with him digging up god knows what as a part of his normal job, he didn’t want anything hurting us. Him distancing himself from us was for our own good.”

“Oh, yeah sure. Richard, who practically raised you since father’s passing mind you, just up and disappeared for our own good. What it sounds like is he got tired of you being so dependent.”

“Oh, fuck you, Rhys. I was angry too, but this shit is serious. Haven’t you been watching the news? There are DEAD things walking in DC. You can’t tell me you don’t believe any of this after what’s been happening.”

“Yeah, the biggest hoax in history following in the wake of Jackson Carver’s death. You know what, they said the world was gonna end after the Mayan calendar, and before that, Y2K. People are fucking crazy, and this is just another psychotic episode in the history of man.”

John opened his mouth to reply, and then stopped. Perhaps the first time in a long time he managed to do such. Explaining it didn’t seem like it was going to achieve much. He turned, collecting his jacket and a set of keys that weren’t his (neither were, technically).

“I’m taking your car, poindexter. Look for shelter when you decide to believe. You’re still ‘near’ the delta and they’re draggin’ a bomb out that way.”

“What? No! I’ll call t-”

“And what? Show them the stolen car out front?”

Rhys blanched, having forgotten in the heat of their discussion that John did, in fact, arrive in a stolen car. That was gonna have to be moved…

John paused at the door, offering his brother a thin smile. “I’ve already chatted with sis. I suggest you do to. You know, just in case.”

With keys twirling in hand, he settled into his brother’s compact. Probably not the greatest thing to make a cross country trip in, but it was better than being pulled over for grand theft auto. With the turn of the key, the radio clicked on, playing a familiar tune.

Oh hey. The Bee Gees.”

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If there is no tomorrow

Harry launched a multitude of windows across the screen by hitting Enter. Each flashing texts or graphics before closing to leave a single window with stats churning upward. He watched intently as the numbers continued to climb, After they passed some invisible threshold he relaxed and said to himself, “There, at least that’s done.”

Bringing up his multi-TOR mail client, he had so ironically named “Dark Mail,” he started typing, stopped, started back up again. This repeated process culminating in a break to grab beer and slices of cold pizza.

Before trying to start the email he checked the progress one last time on his “final” burst of videos and data. Already some of the seed boxes were reporting thousands of downloads, meaning it would never go away, had several dozen confirmed opens on the emails to journalists, bloggers and forum admins. These series of videos and information set around giving people hope and the information to take down things they may encounter; as well as those records of friends to humanity. Those creatures struggling in the darkness to protect humans, up to now, without thanks.

Harry stared at the screen for about an hour, or three beers later, before he started to type again.

To: Contingent <conalias-script_0156a9>
From: Harry McCoy <darthcamera.onion>
Subject: If there is no tomorrow

“Howdy,

For those who don’t know me I’m Harry McCoy, formerly of the Frequency, E-GaDs and one of you.

I’m heading off to San Fran, see if we can put an end to whatever it is that woke up out there. Hopefully document it while I’m there. I know I probably won’t. You see I think I carry at least two, maybe three, marks of the Patrons. If you don’t know what those four monsters are read up now!

I’m still not sure what some of us have done is the right thing, exposing all of this. It seems to have created so much panic and paranoia that the Patrons can probably tap into. To that end I’ve now released more digestible chunks and videos for news, and people in general, to explain ways they can protect themselves, identify “good” supernaturals, and give them hope. Let the people’s thoughts turn from horror to hope. I hope it helps.

So on to the sappy part. I’m not a combatant. I know that. There is a very good chance I won’t be making it out of San Fran. If not drink one for me. I’ll do the same for any of you that fall if I’m lucky enough to still be standing at the end.

It really has been a pleasure working with all of you. Every single one of you have been amazing; I couldn’t agree with Elijah’s video more.

To that end. Happy Hunting,

Harry McCoy.”

Hitting send the message is sent via “The Dark Web” and public to each agent’s preferred method of receiving email or text, at least the ones that Harry could dredge up.

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One Day More
This Never-Ending Road to Calvary

“So this is it, man, one way or the other. We win or we die. Or maybe we win and we die. ¿Quien sabe?"

“Girl, why you gotta be so damn depressing right now,” Reggie replied, “when y’all so damn close to the end of this shit?”

“Because I need it to be over, hermano. I was ready for it to be over in Raleigh. Two seconds away from picking Mal up and walking through that door straight into Hell, just to finish this. Church says that’s a sin, but then, we’ve apparently been praying to robots all along, so I’m not sure how much sin really matters, you know?”

“Listen, kid, before I was a car, I was drunk and homeless, so I know a few things about not feeling like anything matters. The only place that kinda talk leads is further down the hole. And that’s the last place you need to be if you’re gonna be fighting the zombie apocalypse or whatever. So, seriously, get your shit together and go kick ass, baby. It’s what you do. And quit asking your damn car for advice, chica. That’s what that half-wit down in New Orleans is for.”

The soft huff of a suppressed laugh escaped Eva’s lungs as she answered, “ _ Si, _ Regg, I know. But no one knows me better than my car. Not even my girl, since the whole soul replacement thing.” She lovingly ran her hand along the steering wheel of the ‘70 Impala. “Anyway, ’mano, I rigged up the walkies like I said I would, so that I’ll still be able to talk to you even from a distance. You won’t be able to answer back, but you should still be able to hear me if I call for you. Hopefully, it’ll help in a pinch. We’ll be on the road in the morning.”

“You and your lady get some rest, girl. Long road ahead.”

_

Sleep took a long time coming. Eva lay staring up at the ceiling, as Mal curled into her side, and could only think “By this time tomorrow, we’ll probably be…” She didn’t finish the thought, not because she was afraid of it, but because she wasn’t. Not really. Not anymore. There had been a time, not so long ago, when being dead had seemed like the worst possible outcome. But there were worse things. Case in point: zombies. Dead really wasn’t so bad.

The last few years with Mal had been a gift. Eva had never believed that she could love someone like this after the way she’d shut down when Mamá had died, but Mal and her weird ways had weaseled their way into her heart. Granted, they had also been years of pants-shitting terror, but that was on the vampires, and Carver, and the Patrons, and…

Anyway, people like Eva, they didn’t just get good shit handed to them without having to pay for it somehow. First it was just the running. Then, failing to stop Mal from losing her soul. Maybe…maybe this was gonna be the last payment. That was fair, right? For three years of love with Mal, and friendship with so many others that she never would have met otherwise? For three years of being more than just a mechanic and a thief? Totally fair.

Besides, she might even survive.

Especially if she got some goddamn sleep.

One more dawn.

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That One Regret

A TV on in the background playing a movie, while Wayne packs:

“My mommy always said there were no monsters – no real ones – but there are, aren’t there?”

“Yes, there are.”

“Why do they tell little kids that?”

“Most of the time it’s true.”

Click The TV goes off as Wayne says “Sorry kid…it’s never true.” He turns back to packing, behind him, standing leaning against the wall, and as angry as he’s ever seen her stood Josie.

“You are a fucking idiot Wayne!”

“Look, I have to do this, I’ve tried explaining it to you several times. I can’t just quit!”

“Wayne Hodges! Look at me when I’m talking to you!” She screams

He turns to look at her. As angry as she is, she’s still the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.

“You’ve put in your time, you’ve fought the monsters, and you’ve saved the world! It’s time you let someone else do it for a change. This…” She points at a newspaper lying on the table with pictures of riots and news about what amounts to total chaos “…isn’t your fault, it ISN’T YOUR FIGHT DAMNIT!”

“YES IT IS!” Wayne yells back, not in anger, but in frustration. Josie’s taken aback for a split second.

“Look Josie, I joined the contingent to try to make the world safe for those who haven’t been exposed to the supernatural, so they have a chance at a normal life. That’s gone with Skaar’s announcement, the whole world has been exposed to this shit, and like it or not, I have a hand in that. I have to make it right, I have to help these people, cause God knows they aren’t prepared to help themselves. Millions of people are going to die…” He turns away, back to his packing. “If I can save even ONE person, I have to try.”

“So let that one person be you Wayne.” The fire back in her voice.

“I can’t Josie…the world can’t save itself.” He retorts, “And I can’t stand back and let someone else save me…or you…I can’t let someone else save us.”

“Make no mistake Wayne, if you leave, you are doing this for you, and you alone. You aren’t saving me, and there damn sure will be no us!”

“Josie, you know how I feel about you. I love you more than I’ve loved anything else in this world, on it or above it. And you know that’s unfair to ask, to give me that kind of ultimatum. But you knew my answer before you made it. Josie…I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

Josie, in tears at hearing the answer she knew was coming, rushed over to Wayne and slapped him. She then started banging her fists on his chest, while crying “You son of a bitch!” Wayne just let her hit him, knowing how angry and scared she is, but also knowing she didn’t want to hurt him, just knock some sense into him.

After a few minutes, she settled down, and sat on the bed breathing heavily while Wayne finished packing. He picked up his suitcase, and Josie grabbed his arm, not wanting to let it go. “Please Wayne, Don’t go…”

“You know me well enough to know I have to go. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I would like to think that everything will turn out fine, but I just don’t know this time. No matter what happens, I love you.”

“Wayne, I”m serious, if you walk out that door, you are turning your back on me…on us. I can’t keep going on wondering if you are going to come back. It’s killing me. If you make it back, I won’t be here, I’ll be gone, and it’ll be your fault!” She said with determination, and sadness.

“Josie, then that will be my one regret…” He turned and left.

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There'll Be Peace When You Are Done
Carry On, My Wayward Sons & Daughters

The E-GaDs video feed shows a dark-skinned man in an impeccably-tailored charcoal suit seated behind a massive oak desk; his expression is taciturn and resolute. A circular wood-paneled wall partition in subtle ambient lighting curves around to frame the man and the desk. A crystal tumbler sits close at hand next to a bottle of 50-year Balvenie Scotch; papers and manila folders are scattered around a slimline desktop computer beside a low, green-shaded brass lamp. Elijah Sharpe’s eyes meet the lens of the camera, and he begins to speak.

“Good morning. Explosive allegations and accompanying evidence have been released to the media in recent weeks exposing a dark proposition for humanity: that the things we have learned to fear from mythology, ghost stories, faerie tales, and urban legends are all, to some extent, real.

“The Patrons’ machinations have resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths as documented by Contingent operatives in the reports I am about to disseminate to every press outlet I can contact. These reports will also be available for download at www.asi.net/monstersarereal/, and I’ve mirrored these files elsewhere in case someone attempts to lock down this information and keep it out of the public eye.

“I realize that this decision may not be the most prudent one for ASI given the security clearances that our work necessitates. That said, some things are far more important than profit. Working alongside myself, Trent Remington, Chester Clarke, and Dr. Adrian Skaar, the many brave people who have joined our cause have worked clandestinely against forces that seek to enslave, murder, or otherwise damage the whole of humanity.

“To some people, these confirmations of facts will amount to a confession on my part—and some people with a different agenda counter to our own will use this opportunity to brand us as domestic terrorists.

“Good. I want our enemies to be terrified. They ought to be terrified. The Contingent boasts personnel from among the best and brightest of our nation: seasoned combatants, brilliant scientific minds, engineers of unparalleled skill, and excellent negotiators. I am proud of each and every one of you, both those who have served in the past and are serving now—and especially those who have given their lives in service to our organization and the American people.

“To the members of the Contingent, I thank you all for your service. Each of you has been the candle in the darkness lighting the way for the lost, a voice for the voiceless crying out for help, a hunter keeping vigil through the long night—and some of you have done it for far longer than others. I know the duty weighs on you, and I wish I could tell you that it will be over soon, but the truth is that the work may never be done. Yet, with our agenda exposed—with the reality of the world unmasked—we are no longer alone. We are stronger than we ever have been before, because now the world knows the truth—and the true patriots among us now have the choice to step up and fight alongside us.

“In this dire hour of struggle, I ask you to consider this: in all my years as a hunter, I have yet to meet an enemy without a weakness. Nothing is unkillable, and few entities, if any, are truly immortal. Victory is never unattainable; it is merely a matter of using the resources and knowledge at hand in order to secure that victory.

“Today, every last man, woman, and child in America is the Contingent—and we will always fight to protect our own. With your continuing dedication and perseverance, we will prevail. Thank you, and may God bless America.”

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Knockin' on Heaven's Door

St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Hagerstown, Maryland

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been…. 2 hours and 36 minutes since my last confession.”

Father Franklin looked up, glancing toward the screened confessional window. “That’s quite recent, my son. Surely you haven’t sinned so much in such a short period of time?”

“It’s not so much recent, Father, as the amount. We all do things we don’t necessarily want to do. Sometimes we have to do things that are necessary, but immoral. Sometimes we enjoy them a bit too much.”

“Well, son, I’m listening.”

“Tell me, Father… have you heard of the Contingent?” The shadowed figure shifted behind the screen.

Franklin frowned, thinking. “These… supposed monster hunters, yes? The ones saying that there’s a battle coming and that they are fighting for us?”

“They aren’t “supposed”, Father, I should know. I’m one of them. And I can promise you, the monsters are out there. I’ve seen terrible things… horrors you couldn’t even imagine. And I’ve done terrible things to make sure much worse doesn’t happen to everyone in the world. I’ve killed people who were working for the monsters trying to control this world and everyone in it. I’ve killed vampires, and Fae. I’ve seen and talked to ghosts. I’ve fought… well, I guess you’d call them demons. It’s all real, Father, every word of it.”

Franklin thought for a moment. “My son, I’m not sure if these things are real or not. Obviously there is evil in the world, and it is our duty to stand against it… but if you’ve done these things you say, then all you need do is ask forgiveness to receive absolution.”

“I don’t need your absolution, Father. What I do must be done. What I need from you is to rally your congregation. The time has come, it’s here already. They need to hope, hope for the future of humanity, and stand united against the things that want to bring us down. They need to pray, pray for themselves and their neighbors, pray that we can end things decisively. They need to stand against the darkness, and resolve to slam the door in its stinking face. Tell your congregation. Tell your superiors. Spread the word.” The figure stood, moving toward the door.

“Wait my son, you must tell me more! Wait!” Franklin moved to the door, pushing it to no avail. An hour later, one of his parishioners found him trapped in the confessional, still yelling, a piece of wood lodged in the door.

South Mountain Eastbound Welcome Center, I-70

Charles sat in the driver’s seat of his Crown Vic, having a hasty lunch made from the rest stop’s vending machines.

“Okay, that’s the Catholics, Evangelicals, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Pentecostals, plus every large non-denominational I could find. Maybe I’m wasting my damn time, but at least it’s something, if just one of them listens…” he trailed off.

Ding!

Charles picked up his phone, reading the text from Tamara Oliver. “Shit!” He revved the Vic, screeched out of the rest stop parking lot. If he hurried he might have time to stop by his weapons cache in Frederick. Might be a few things there that would be useful. He flipped the radio on, and music came from a station barely in tune…

Now my muscles start to rust, my thoughts are growing cold,
while Gabriel and Satan shoot craps for my soul….

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Dance, Magic, Dance
Forest and Taz try to remember what they're talking about

“You remind me of the babe.”

“What babe?”

“The babe with the power.”

“What power?”

“The power of voodoo!”

“Hey, if you’re talking about Maman Minerva, she’s got a name, and it’s kind of rude to call her things like ‘babe’, Forest.”

“Whaa-, no dog! We were doing the thing from the movie!”

“What?”

“The movie thing! You know, man, the movie…with David Bowie and the muppets and shit, right?”

“What?”

“Ah jeez, Taz, you gotta see this. It’s like…a classic. Here, can you hold this and I’ll pull it up on screen.”

“What am I holding?”

“My pipe! This one’s my favorite. It, like, takes me places, man.”

“Why is there a little man floating in the pipe bowl?”

“Oh, sweet, he’s back! You see him, dog?”

“Nope, not anymore. Were you really just watching Zac’s ‘Night of the Chupacabra’?”

“Yeah, man, you’ve got to check out this one scene where the chupacabra flies down from like out of nowhere and bites a dude’s head clear off!”

“But chupacabras don’t have wings, Forest. At least, not the ones we fought last year.”

“Dude, what??”

“What?”

“You met a chupacabra?!”

“Oh yeah, we met them. As in they tried to take us apart, piece by piece. It was at the Zookeeper’s battle arena and holding cells, where we freed the Sphinx.”

“….cool.”

“What were we talking about again?”

“I dunno, man, something about vibrations and that crazy door in the astral plane. Also maybe David Bowie.”

“Yes! Forest, how are you at working with energy?”

“Energy, like vibes? Hell yeah, I got that finger magic, yo!”

“So, say we were trying to fight against that door in the collective unconsciousness being opened, overlapping this world with the underworld and doing terrible things to everyone.”

“Yeah, dude, everybody’s talking about it. The bad dudes are freaking out and trying to find a way to close it ”

“Yeah, so…wait, what?”

“What?”

“Which bad dudes?”

“Yooo, dude, shit, I just realized you don’t know anything about that. There’s like, so many factions I can’t keep track of all of them. But check it, see I’m talking about the secret masters of everything. Like, they try to define what truth even is. Well, not the ones I’ve met. Hah, yeah, I’m nowhere near cool enough to face like the boss monsters. I’m just facing the pawns. Or no, the bishops maybe. Pawns would be like you guys.”

“…”

“Oh shit. That came out way worse than I meant it.”

“Uh huh. Pawns can take down kings sometimes.”

“I super respect you guys and the work you do”

“Or queens, even.”

“Like seriously. Yeah. Exactly. Everyone’s got a part.”

“At least, I think that’s how it works. Not sure I’ve ever played chess before. Sounds right, though.”

“Sure, you’ve got it. Anyway, what about the door?”

“So we decided to try to fight the door opening by using the resonance of the music of the world, channeled through mediums that can focus and strengthen it, like the water or crystal caverns, things like that.”

“Oh yeeeaaah. Tapping into the music of the spheres sort of thing to bring about harmony.”

“Do you think you could help us? We need to try to push that door closed again. The Patrons are trying to bring in the underworld through different methods and portals in our world, like the collective consciousness and the waterways. We’re trying to save the world by turning their own methods against them, but this time with consent and while focusing on what makes us stronger together. We could really use your help keeping things from going too crazy, though. We’re in pretty deep waters with not much info on how to do what we’re trying to do. Can you help us figure out how to direct the vibrations, this heartbeat of the world, and focus it to close that door and lock it again? Maybe even pull out or destroy the key? Granger is also working some angles with dreamstate magic, helping people figure out how to close the door in their minds that got opened by the Patrons. If you can’t do the resonance, could you maybe help him with that?”

“…”

“I know, it’s crazy. It’s a lot to take in, too. Here, I have some of this stuff written down if that makes it easier to-“

“Nope, I’m down.”

“Really??”

“Hell yeah, man. Save the world through good vibes? I’m all over that shit!”

“Oh, man, Forest, that’s awesome! You’ll have the backing of all of us in the Contingent, and Empire, of course, and-”

“Who?”

“Who what?”

“Who’s that?”

“The Contingent? The Empire Foundation? The people you work for?”

“What?”

“…”

“Oh hey! Labyrinth! Taz, you’ve got to see this movie, man! Tell me about these Contingent and Empire dudes while we watch this, though you can’t talk over the songs, ok? These are, like, the best songs.”

(TEXT TO GRANGER SIMMS: “Forest is down, but has no idea what I’m talking about aside from some really scary and important things I don’t understand yet. This may take a while. Also, was David Bowie supposed to be part of our plans? I can’t remember now.”)

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Douse the Flames in a Flood of Sound

Donnie Fitzgerald stepped out onto the sidewalk, the humid summer air almost suffocating. They would be there any minute. He’d been working every other day since they started, but today was Saturday, and Saturday was Donnie’s day off.

It was cloudy today. Donnie counted himself lucky that he wouldn’t be in the beating down sun all afternoon.

As he started walking toward the corner, he heard them. It was like a low honking noise on the other end of the neighborhood.

“Right on time.” He said as he stepped past the corner shop and onto Elysian Fields Avenue.

Every day, for the past nine days, parades had been starting up at 3:00pm on the dot, all over the city of New Orleans. Ten of them each day. Six would take the same route, like the one approaching Donnie. The other four snaked through the city, changing path each day. They were lead by the hired Second Line, with no other indication of who had arranged them. But there they were, every day, beckoning the people along their paths to join in, jump into the line, and become their own parade.

The six main routes came down Elysian Fields Avenue, St. Bernard Avenue, Canal Street, Earhart Boulevard, St. Charles Avenue, and Tchoupitoulas Street. They converged at the French Quarter at about seven o’clock, at which point, the Second Lines would spread out and the entire quarter was filled with music. Classic music from the first days of jazz in the Mississippi Delta. Every other street would have its parade. They criss-crossed paths, converging and splitting up until they all stood at Jackson Square. As the sky shone Purple and gold, they stood on the green grass of the square and let the bells of St. Louis Cathedral count them in at eight o’clock on the money.

It was a cacophony of sound, reverberating through the square as they would turn and move to Artillery Park, where a massive replica of Our Lady of Prompt Succor had been erected ten days before. There, they played to the Lady and to the River and to the sky and to the land beneath their feet. The air buzzed with the sounds of brass bands blaring, children laughing, and people singing. The ground shook as they danced. The waters rippled from the waves of horns and the beat of drums. Sunbeams struck the instruments and lit the square with the light of joy. Over the past ten days, one hundred parades had resulted in hundreds of thousands of people from around the city and surrounding areas to come and stand together, to dance together, to laugh and sing together, to pray together.

This would be the last night, and it was a night of celebration. A celebration of life, of love, and of hope.

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Wishing Well
Whim and Taz search for common ground

The old well was a mossy, crumbling pile of fieldstones left over from the halcyon days of the Rourke estate, now taking up a small corner on the edge of the Hill Valley artist’s enclave with the encroaching forest just started to enfold it, with vines and saplings weaving their tendrils through the nooks and crannies. Taz always liked to hang out there, peering into the shadowed well to catch a glimmer of the light reflecting on the water below. The nearby artists would frequently lug their easels and canvases, or sketch pads and charcoals, or wood blocks, or chunks of clay, or whatever their preferred medium was, in an attempt to capture its eerie peacefulness that somehow seemed to still speak of potentialities, mysteries, adventures to be had in the world. If Taz was hanging out there, they’d include her in the work: a strange, thin, tumbleweed of a woman who breathed and looked about as though she wasn’t quite sure which world she was in at any given moment. The well and Taz seemed to get along.

It was to that well that Taz went before her first mission to New Orleans, flipping a coin into its depths and quietly calling out Whim’s name. “I need to leave for a while, but will you be here when I return? Please, Whim. It’s important.” She had waited, and, failing to hear the coin hit the water, she nodded her thanks and headed to the bayou and the horrors that awaited there.

Now back in Hill Valley and no longer screaming in her sleep from the visions of thousands of people carefully, lovingly sewing themselves into a tower of flesh and madness, a vision that held shreds of the memory of her own temptation to join them, to finally find her perfect spot in the world in that beautiful tower, Taz made her way back to the well. She gazed at it with eyes that were a little more weary and thoughtful, picking out a good spot to…there it is. Her crafter’s eye found the safest place to rest and that’s where she went, straddling the green grass on one side and the foreboding, enticing plunge to the well’s depths on the other. Another coin, another silence. Taz closed her eyes and began speaking.

“Hey Whim. Thanks for coming. I’m…well, things are getting pretty heavy. Guessing I don’t have to tell you what’s been going on, from what I can remember you probably knew way more before any of us. Thing is, I’m not even sure how involved I’ve been in any of this. Something is telling me that it’s more than I’d like to know, but a holy man recently told me that if I can figure that out, I can stop things from getting worse, at least. He talked about atonement, and being free from guilt. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and to be honest, it doesn’t much matter. What matters are people, all people. This world and the good it tries to strive for in spite of all the shit. Maybe the Patrons are right and we’re all under some other thing’s control. But assaulting and exploiting millions of people, tearing apart the land, driving innocents to madness and suffering, committing mass murder…no. You don’t win freedom for people by slaughtering and using them like sheep, no matter how you call yourselves liberators. You win control. And anyone willing to do what they’ve done just to get there…

“I need your help. That door the Patrons opened. We need to close it, and soon. We’re going to try to protect the earth with anchor points of the collective consciousness: all the hopes and prayers of the world shielding it from the onslaught of afterlife. And we’re trying to use the resonance, the rhythm of the world to close that door. It’s crazy, and idealistic, I know. But they hurt us so badly by using our own traits against us, and we were so short-sighted and foolish. I’m going to guess something. I’m going to guess that you don’t necessarily want that door closed, right? Because a bokor in Louisiana explained something to us about the old magic that’s been coming back into the world through it, waking up that magic in folks around the world. Doing what you were willing to risk people’s lives and sanity for, to give people the opportunity to live up to their potential, right?”

Eyes still shut, Taz reached down and took something out of the pack nestled by her feet. A strange, dull metal contraption, covered with odd ridges and switches, appeared in her hands and she blindly began making adjustments, fingers roaming over its surface with practiced ease. A low hum filled the air, and the object – a cube? A globe? – glowed softly, its light almost unnoticeable in the late afternoon sun.

“I love creating things. No joy in the world quite compares to that moment when you’ve built something that solves the problem in just the right way, or hell, doesn’t even solve any problems but somehow adds to the world just in its sheer interestingness, you know? At least, I used to think that. Nothing could compare to the moment of realizing your potential. It felt right. Just as right as that fucking tower. Thing is, we all have potential. What happens when we decide to realize that without any care toward anyone else? Anything else? Because we’re so wrapped up in our own selves that we can justify anything, rationalize any damage because doing what we feel we were made to do just feels so damn right, so how can it be bad? I think the Patrons are kind of like that. They want what they want, they’re convinced they’re right, and they’re willing to kill and destroy and manipulate and hurt…everyone.

“I remember when I saw the place they took you, you and the other kidnapped children, out in Minnesota. That old sewer with the locked rooms, the drawing on the walls, the cells. What they did to you is unforgivable. They turned you into a mage, but do you really think what they did was the way to do it? Deep down? Do you really want to allow people in power to hurt and experiment on others like that again? Whim, magic is back. The door did that much, and there are people all over the world trying to grasp at an understanding of something inside them that maybe they never knew they had, or were missing. If that door stays open, a whole lot of ugly is going to hit us, too, and those people are going to die screaming, maybe insane, maybe taken and used. And this wide green world is going to crack under the weight of that pain.”

Taz released the gadget from her hands and it hung in the air, methodically scanning the area.

“It’s searching for those nanites created by the Patrons. I finally got enough info to at least try to detect them before they infect others. Too late for a lot of people, including myself, but hopefully it’ll benefit others.”

“Help us close that door. There’s so much potential already unlocked, and we can work together to help develop it in a better way. We can bring back the mage school, but not as one place that can be targeted, or even overly controlled, but a network of mentors and apprentices all over the world, supported and protected. I talked with Dr. Skaar and The Empire Foundation is willing to do this with you. You know their transparency and what they’re fighting for, so no back deals or backstabbing. What you can do, nobody else can. You can help people find their way in a world that has become something frighteningly new. And you can help us close that door before it destroys all the potential inside us.”

A soft rustle of downed leaves, a nearly silent outtake of breath. Taz opened her eyes and turned toward her companion. They stood quietly, searching each other’s eyes for understanding. Whim took out a familiar coin and flipped it in the air, catching it neatly and slapping it on the back of her other hand. She glanced at its face. Then she reached out and took Taz’s hand, pulling her up from the edge of the well.

“I have a few ideas. Let’s take a walk.”


As they turned toward the forest, the odd gray scanner floating behind them cast its beam over Taz’s back and began to beep urgently, its warning light still barely noticeable in that late afternoon sun.

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