Excerpts from the journal of Connor Galloway, an employee of Orpheus and member of Crucible 7.
Washington DC, October 15, 2013.
There was more coverage on the news about the Death Merchants last night. One of the reporters even likened them to Orpheus but was quick to point out that the company had thus far stuck to the law. Some cell had popped up in Mexico, killing a drug lord while he slept in his house surrounded by guards. After seeing the footage I found it rather hard to get to sleep and after a few hours of restless dreaming I was woken by a ringing noise.
It was my phone on the bedside table and at first I though it must be morning and that I’d forgotten to turn my alarm off for the trip. But, as I looked over I saw that it was 3am and Dahlia was calling. I rubbed my eyes a little before answering.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Hi,” she sounded a lot more awake than I was, “could you come over to my room for a second?”
“Sure,” what on earth could this be about, “I’ll be right there.”
I threw on some clothes and shuffled out across the hallway, knocking on her door. Inside I heard some thumping and a crash before the door swung open. Dahlia was in her pajamas and behind her I saw that one of the chairs was on it’s side. She must’ve knocked it over while walking to the door. “What can I do for you?” I managed to mumble out.
“Um…” she quickly looked back over her shoulder, “can you just have a look under the bed for me?”
I don’t think I was really processing what she’d said but I obliged, lying down on my stomach and lifting the sheet up to look under the bed. What I saw woke me up pretty sharply. Hanging from the slats was a young man in a denim jacket. Well, the ghost of a young man. His face was a dark sickly grey and his eyes were almost completely black. We locked eyes and he screamed at me. As I scooted away from the bed I saw him sink down through the floorboards.
Dahlia was already shaken up so I tried to gather myself before I spoke. “There was definitely a spook under there,” I said, and half trying to convince myself I added, “He’s gone now.”
She told me that just before she’d been woken by the sound of the spook’s breathing Dahlia had experienced one of her foreboding dreams. The scene she described sounded like something out of a World War Two movie, full of soldiers and snow and explosions. She’d woken up to find a pair of ghostly dogtags in her hands that soon vanished.
At that moment Markus blinked into the room and both Dahlia and I jumped at the sudden movement. He’d been awake, as Sleepers tend to be, and had heard us talking. I described the man I’d seen under the bed and while Dahlia recounted her dream again I thought I heard a door slam somewhere down the hall. Curious, I stepped over to the open door of Dahlia’s room and looked down the hall. The others had gone silent, no doubt wondering what I was staring at.
Down the hallway I saw a rather overweight woman, probably about 40, stumbling off around a corner. Something about the way she’d moved wasn’t quite right and so I called after her as I made chase. I knew Markus and Dahlia would be right behind me so I focused on following the scuffling sound of the woman’s footsteps.
As we got nearer we realised that she was headed for the hotel’s pool. Fearing the worst Markus blinked ahead to intercept her and stop her from sleepwalking into the water. As we all entered the room the pool lights flickered and went out, the moon’s light reflected off the water onto the sleepwalker and gave her a decidedly creepy visage. She was about 5 metres away from the pool’s edge when Markus held up his hypnotising light. She turned her face for a second and it was long enough for Dahlia and I to get ahead of her.
When she snapped away from Markus I grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a shake to wake her up. But she pushed forward with an unearthly strength that had me slowly sliding back towards the pool myself. Dahlia checked her pulse as her lips parted and she whispered, “Help me.” I called out to Markus desperately and he responded by closing his eyes and glowing brighter. The woman stopped walking and turned completely to stare at the wisp.
“We need to project,” I urged Dahlia, but remembering what had happened at the orphanage I scanned the room for somewhere comfortable, “there, some deck chairs.”
As I felt myself leave my body I heard the woman speak again, but this time she was echoed by a low rasping voice, “This body is mine.” When I stepped up I saw her charge towards Markus who managed to blink sideways away from the possessed woman. Dahlia was up and projecting as well and began to sing her calming tune.
The rage on the woman’s face melted away and she fell to her knees sobbing. Her eyes, however, never left Markus’ light. As Dahlia and I walked towards her a shadow detached itself from her back and solidified. It was the same spook I’d seen under the bed. I tried to talk to him, to find out what he was doing, but he just said he was ‘having a bit of fun’ and haunting people because he had nothing better to do as a ghost. As he stood there justifying his behaviour I noticed too late that Dahlia’s song had sped up.
I turned around just as she let out her wail and saw her take on a frightful form. Her fingers had grown long and sharp and her clothes were tattered and floating. She’d turned entirely black and white, the very vision of a banshee.
The ghost didn’t stand a chance as the shockwave threw him backwards. He held up his arms to shield his face but they only shredded first, flakes of dark grey skin tearing off and dissipating in the torrent. As he cried out for her to stop she let loose one final shriek and he burst. Behind him one of the roadside windows also shattered, raining glass down upon the empty sidewalk.
Behind us I heard the woman who had been possessed start screaming. She’d just seen a manifested banshee destroying another spook and was understandably freaking out. I knew the situation could turn even uglier fast and half-panicking I ripcorded back to my body. It was the first time I’d really tried it, feeling for the tether that linked me to my body and letting it pull me away. I felt a painful jerking motion, like slamming on your car’s breaks, and was instantly back in my body. I ran over to comfort the woman.
Dahlia moved back into her body and as she came over a security guard burst into the room. Dahlia spun him a half-truth, that we’d seen the woman sleepwalking toward the pool and run after her and then seen some ghosts who quickly vanished. The guard told us all to return to our rooms and we stepped back into the hotel. Still shaken up from the whole ordeal Dahlia was adamant that she wouldn’t be able to sleep. So we found a diner and sat down for what had to be the earliest breakfast I’ve ever had.
Now I’m back in my room and we’ve got about ten minutes before we need to leave for the museum. I’m so incredibly tired.
Washington DC, October 15, 2013.
When we arrived at the museum we were greeted outside by Dr. Green’s assistant. She asked if we’d been to the museum before and I answered a little too quickly with an unconvincing, “No.” She gave me a strange look but continued to ask, “I was told to expect four of you.”
“No, just the three of us,” Dahlia answered, and it took a few moments before she remembered that no one could see Markus, “I mean, two of us.”
So, with a slightly confused look on her face the assistant led us into the museum and gave us a quick tour which ended at the ‘Dies Ignes’ exhibit. She handed us both security badges and told us some of the painting’s history. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t already uncovered.
When she asked if we needed to inspect the painting or the room we declined and asked instead to see Dr. Green. We were led once more to the hallway of offices, although this time we took a much more direct and official route. As we waited outside Dr. Green’s office his assistant also brought us each a cup of coffee. Clearly we weren’t hiding our sleeplessness very well.
Soon we were ushered into the office where we saw the large man in the brown suit from the day before. He introduced himself as Dr. Green and began to ask questions about the strange disturbance they’d had. His suspicion was obvious so I kept my mouth shut. There was no way I was going to convince him it wasn’t us. Dahlia on the other hand seemed to cover it up with ease and after a short back-and-forth Dr. Green seemed surprised, but convinced that it wasn’t us.
“Look, I just want business to get back to normal,” he admitted, “I just want this ghost to move on.
“And if it is Carey, tell him we all miss him.”
In an attempt to get a more complete picture we had a few questions for Dr. Green about Herbert Carey’s work, his relationship with Lee Anne and the location and frequency of the sightings. He answered everything as best he could but looking back on it now I know that none of it mattered. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We were permitted to come in after dark and follow one of the guards around on his usual patrol. Through Dahlia, Markus made sure that Dr. Green knew the guards should all follow their usual routes and that anything out of routine might cause the ghost to not appear. He even tried to get a hold of a record of the guards’ patrols, which seemed a little unnecessary to me, and Dr. Green refused citing security concerns.
Next we visited Lee Anne in her office. Dahlia asked about the extensive collection of occult books on her shelf and Lee Anne passed it off as being for research. She even mentioned that she meant to sell most of them online soon and I made sure to let her know I’d be interested in buying them. Again we asked her the usual questions about Carey but we failed to glean any new information. It was time to head home and rest up before our stakeout.
The guard who had been assigned to show us around was a young man named Ben. Probably about Dan’s age. He seemed pretty excited to be working with us and was generally very upbeat and jovial as he showed us around the darkened exhibits. We asked about the incident in the bathroom where the glass had all shattered and Ben told us that one of the guards on duty that night swore he saw figures leaving the scene.
As we passed into the exhibit where the Dies Ignes was on display Ben made a surprised sound and said, “the exhibit isn’t alarmed.” He’d been arming and disarming each exhibit as we passed through but someone was already here. We found Lee Anne staring up at the painting and taking slow sips from a cup of coffee. We exchanged pleasantries but when Dahlia asked whether this was a normal part of Lee Anne’s routine she seemed to realise the time and bade us farewell.
Eventually we found ourselves outside the bathroom where the mirrors had reportedly shattered. We asked Ben to wait outside so we could perform some tests and he reluctantly obliged. Inside the bathroom Dahlia sat down on one of the closed toilets and projected. We wanted to know what exactly had happened to cause the glass to break. After her usual descent into her trance-like state Dahlia’s eyes flicked back open and she filled us in.
She’d looked back almost a year to the night of the incident and seen the ghost of Herbert Carey run into the room and cower in one of the corners. Moments later a second figure had appeared in the doorway, its form wreathed in shadow. “I’m sorry doctor Carey,” it had said before leaning forward and letting out a wail. Just as we’d seen from Dahlia this wail tore through the bathroom, shattering mirrors and breaking doors off the hinges. The last thing Dahlia had seen was Carey cry out in fear and pain before being torn apart.
Markus seemed shocked that someone with similar abilities to us was involved in this. I reminded him that the names of our abilities were derived from tales that are hundreds of years old and that clearly spooks have been able to discover these abilities for themselves in the past. After a few more moments considering what we’d learned I had an idea. “Alright guys, we need to get back to the Dies Ignes. I want to know what Lee Anne was doing in there before we arrived.” If Dahlia could see an event from a year ago, surely it would be simple for her to see something that had occurred on the same night.
Standing back under the unnerving gaze of the Dies Ignes Dahlia sat down to meditate. We’d asked Ben for some privacy and again he was very reluctant. We settled on having him wait just in the doorway. It was for his own good really, we didn’t want him freaking out the way the woman at the pool had.
It didn’t take long before Dahlia snapped back to reality and was able to fill us in. She’d seen Lee Anne waiting in the room while three shadowed figures emerged from the walls. They had asked her about money and she’d reassured them. They asked what to do about us and she told them that if we went near her office they were to kill us. A noise behind Lee Anne had cut the conversation short and the vision had ended with our party entering the room.
Death Merchants, we’d heard a lot about them over the past few days but didn’t expect to run into any here. Most of the reports placed them in third world countries! We started throwing around theories as to why they might be here and, more importantly, why Lee Anne thought she needed to resort to such drastic measures.
Our discussion was cut short when a figure stepped through the back wall. “Convince Dr. Green to sell the painting,” it said, “There is already a buyer lined up. Do this and the hauntings will stop. You have ten minutes to leave the museum alive.”
Then he slipped back through the wall. Needless to say we left straight away.
Back at the hotel the others argued for a while about what we should do and what our responsibilities were. Markus was sure that there was more to the painting than what we knew and that if other groups were trying this hard to get a hold of it then we should too. He even revealed that while we were in the museum, and even while talking to Dr. Green, he had been trying to find an opportunity to steal it. Dahlia seemed fed up with all the mystery surrounding the painting and now that the mission goal had technically been achieved she wanted to put it all behind her. She put it quite bluntly that we shouldn’t be putting ourselves at odds with some mercenary group of killers.
After a few minutes I stopped them and offered a compromise. Yes, the job was done. A simple call to Dr. Green would have the painting out of the museum and we would have achieved what we’d set out to do: stop the hauntings. However, since the painting was obviously very important to some entity out there I suggested that we ask Orpheus to try and track the sale so that we would at least know who had orchestrated the whole thing. Finally, a full report about the presence of Death Merchants in Washington DC would have to be made.
Dahlia and Markus agreed to the plan and together we decided to leave for Richmond at once rather than wait til morning. So here I am in the passenger seat and I’ve just finished writing up the report to send through to Prator when we get back. I’ve lost count of which number coffee Dahlia is up to today but I’m glad she’s driving and not me.
Richmond Virginia, October 16, 2013.
Markus and Dahlia noticed as soon as I got in this morning that I had had a rough night. I hadn’t showered or changed my clothes. Simply stumbled into the office with a pile of books which I laid down on my desk.
It had taken another hour once we reached the Orpheus offices to send the report and then get home. There was a note standing folded on the kitchen table when I got back to the apartment. It was from Julie, telling me that she hadn’t expected it to be like this. The constant late nights I’d been working and the dark bruises I couldn’t really explain were too much. She’d gone to stay with one of her new work friends and was heading home within the week.
With that bad news piled on top of the long day I’d already had, I lost it. All I wanted was to shoot up and forget it all. I remember checking my hollowed out book and finding it empty. I must’ve called up the dealer, Wheezy, and acquired some Pigment because the rest of the night is something of a blur. When I woke up it looked like I’d thrown a bunch of books and some furniture around the apartment.
So, the morning after was not easy. I told the crucible about Julie and that seemed to get them off my back enough that I didn’t have to lie about the Pigment. I know Prator showed up at some point to tell us that we’d done the right thing staying away from the Death Merchants. As he left I asked after Dan and was given another vague answer, “You’ll hear from him soon.”
We called Dr. Green and let him know the situation was under control. He seemed more than happy to sell the painting due to its lack of popularity among both staff and patrons. I guess that’s one less case to worry about.