Excerpts from the journal of Connor Galloway, an employee of Orpheus and member of Crucible 7.
Richmond Virginia, October 12, 2013.
It was four-thirty in the morning when we met back up at Orpheus. The building was practically deserted because of the hour and the fact that it was the start of the weekend. There were still quite a few spooks wandering around though. I guess some people don’t really have a choice but to stay here. We took out one of the company cars and made our way back to the parking lot by the Drink.
We parked the car and hopped out to wait. I found myself leaning back on the bonnet as the others milled about. The sun was just coming up when we spotted Ken, right on time. He walked purposefully down the road his hands dug deep into the pockets of his iconic detective’s overcoat. He looked a bit worn out but moved quickly towards us. Dan asked how he’d got on ‘down at the river’ and Ken only commented, “well, at least I made it back this time.” He didn’t have any more information on Bishop but said he’d done a bit of digging for us. Apparently Terrence Richards, the lawyer, had been spotted around a place called Sheltering Palms somewhere on Churchill. With no other business we planned to meet again at the same time next week.
After tracking down the Sheltering Palms address we decided to do a quick drive-by, just to get a look at the place. It was a short drive away and we found ourselves entered a rundown part of town. They probably call it the ghetto but what do I know? It wasn’t hard to spot the building. It was surrounded by a chain-link fence and despite the ‘Condemned’ sign that hung out front there were a group of particularly gangster-looking men sitting on the front steps. Dahlia had us coasting by a little too slowly for their liking apparently and they eyed us up for a second. One of them stood up intimidatingly and Dahlia sped up a little to get us out of there. As we pulled away I noticed the disused playground out back and caught a glimpse of a spook in one of the windows. If this place was being used by Bishop’s gang as a sort of base of operations it would definitely behoove us to keep tabs on it.
We found ourselves driving with no real destination and Dahlia suggested breakfast. I hadn’t realised I was hungry yet but readily agreed. She drove us back to the central city and found a Denny’s. Over breakfast I suggested that we come up with some kind of strategy for our return to the Orphanage as our last visit had turned into a bit of a mess. The first thing we immediately agreed upon was that we should head over in our spirit form so no one would spot us. This brought up the issue of actually getting there from Orpheus and we decided it would be best not to have Dan inhabit a car and then drive it, full of invisible spooks, all the way across town. A few more things were suggested and I remember Dan remarking, “Who thought that the biggest issue with being a ghost would be getting around town?” The joke cut the tension a bit and we all had a much needed laugh. We figured we’d ask one of the spooks hanging around the office if they could drop us off.
The battle plan we decided on was as follows. Dan and Dahlia, with their powerful offensive Horrors, would take the lead. Because I could share vitality to power up either one of them I would stay close and offer support. I outlined an idea for using Markus’ Stormwending in a defensive way, darting in to pull anyone who was pinned out of a spectre’s grip. We all agreed that it would be a good way of preventing any more beatings like the one Dahlia received last time. But as everyone knows, no plan survives first contact with the enemy… I’ll get to that.
To cut a long story short we projected back at Orpheus, managed to convince Gordon from Crucible 3 to drive us, and found ourselves back at the Orphanage by about nine o’clock.
The place had been deserted and I breathed a sigh of relief that no one (but us) would be in harm’s way. The front door hung slightly open and I could see a few leaves had been blown in by the wind. Even with the curtains drawn the windows appeared inky black from the outside and as we approached we felt the temperature drop. Dan pushed open the front door and we filed in. The foyer seemed as before, tall ceilings and a long stairway running up the centre to the balconies. It was unnaturally dark inside apart from the few shafts of light that came streaming in to illuminate the dust particles drifting by.
We had reached the middle of the ground floor when, THUMP, A noise drew our attention to the second story balcony on our right. As we made our way to the foot of the stairs we saw the ghost of one of the nuns. She walked backwards from the second floor room making her way to the top of the stairs. The disturbing thing wasn’t her jerky gait but the broken neck that left her head hanging down behind her. When she reached the stairs she turned her back to us so we could see her upside-down face. It was cracked with rot and her eyes had taken on the spectre’s black. She seemed to look behind us and smile and when we turned to look we saw the other three. The inky children clung to the ceiling above the foyer and in voices that were child-like yet echoed with deep gravelly tones they said, “Hiiiiii.”
I heard a crackle behind me and spun to see Dan’s hands erupting in lightning. He turned his shoulders and threw, the lightning shaping into a football as it left his hands. True to his training I suppose, it flew dead on into the middle spectre who was shredded in a second. I concentrated for a second and felt the energy from my tattoos pulsing down my arms. I channeled it into my hands where I congealed katana. As I was focusing the nun had come running down the stairs, awkwardly and backwards but with some speed, and dived for Markus, her clawed hands outstretched. I saw him blink to one side but a claw still raked into his side. From the ceiling the remaining two child-spectres sprang down. One moved towards Dan but as the lightning flickered to cover his entire body it backed off slightly. The other once again pounced on Dahlia and pinned her to the floor, it’s claws digging into her back in a torturous embrace. When she tried to wail at it the thing placed a black claw on her face and pushed it aside sending the shout into the floor boards which cracked. Markus managed to keep his cool enough to put our defensive plan into action and dived towards Dahlia, managing to get a hand on her ankle. Then they were gone, replaced by a puff of red smoke and a moment later they appeared at the top of the stairs, well out of harms way.
Dan took his opening and ran towards Dahlia’s attacker, who was still biting and scratching at the floorboards. Dan’s punch pierced straight down through the spectre’s gauze and into the floor below it. The rest of the dark child was torn to pieces by the arcing lightning that now surrounded Dan. With my weapon forged and ready to be put to use I was grabbed by the spectre-nun whose claws dug into my back, preventing me from swinging. Her broken neck left her head hanging backwards towards me and she continued to bite at me frantically. Over her shoulders I saw the last child-spectre leap toward Dan but he fended it off. As it hit the ground and skittered back to the shadows it’s body twitched from the contact with his witch’s nimbus. I continued to struggle, trying to escape the grapple but the nun started biting at my face and I could feel pieces of my gauze being torn off.
The next thing I knew Dan had grabbed her head and was pulling her off me. We all stumbled sideways and I get a taste of the witch’s nimbus myself. The shock sent a spasm through my body and I collapsed back onto the stairs. When I landed I saw Markus, who had descended the steps, but there was something wrong. I saw his gauze split in two, one version of him looking fearful and backing away while the other smiled wickedly and summoned his unearthly repose to hypnotise the spectres. It only lasted a split second before the frightened Markus caught up to the smiling one but I could swear I saw his eyes darken. As had happened before the child turned his head and moved out of the shadows towards Markus, although the spectre-nun seemed unaffected.
She was however staggered by Dan’s next lightning-football and seeing my chance to issue some payback on the bitch I stepped forward. I raised my katana overhead like Hollis had shown me, my hands spread apart on the grip for more leverage, and hacked downwards. The blade, created as it was from my own gauze, cut through her easily from shoulder to hip. As she fell to the ground I reined in my anger and thought back to my training. I stepped back into stance and exhaled.
We saw the last spectre bolt into a side room and made chase. The Orphanage was dark within but as we entered the room Dan’s nimbus lit it up to reveal the dark shape crawling across one of the walls. It turned to us and spoke again in it’s dual voice, “Don’t hurt me.”
A bolt of lightning crashed into the wall next to it, sending it skittering along. Dahlia stepped forward between me and Markus and we both shared vitality with her. Her wail tore across the room sending furniture and shards of floorboards flying with it. The child dodged by leaping straight up onto the ceiling and then sprang back down, landing on Dahlia once more. It bit into her as she fought back but it wasn’t until Dan dropped his nimbus and simply tore the spectre off with his hands that she had a chance to fight back. Simply sitting up where she had fallen she let out another wail and this one struck true. The final spectre dug its claws into the floor as it started sliding backwards. Pieces of it’s gauze ripped at the edges and eventually it couldn’t hold on. Flying back through the air it slammed into the back wall and burst into smoke and embers which dissolved in the air.
The building seemed to brighten at that and the temperature rose back up from it’s chill. With the fight over, Dahlia slumped down to lie on the ground. Thinking back to some of the weird behaviour we’d seen from the spectres, those few small glimpses of humanity, I said, “I think we could’ve saved that one.”
When Markus replied with, “not that one,” his voice took on the same duality as the spectres. His normal was voice echoed by a deeper one and he sounded more judgmental than usual. I took a better look at him then and saw that his eyes were definitely dark, not entirely black, but dark.
I helped Dahlia up and we all moved back to the foyer to sit on the steps. The spectres had left no trace, evaporating when they were destroyed. We still wanted to know the story behind how the spectres had formed in the first place so Dahlia tried putting her forbode to good use. I suppose she wanted to get it under control to stop the random visions. She basically looked like she was nodding off and I was thinking of waking her up when her eyes flicked open again. She’d seen the Orphanage’s history, she knew what had happened.
The young boy, William Danson, who was reported missing had actually walked in on one of the nuns having sex. He’d tried to run when spotted but was caught and thrown into what Dahlia described as a dungeon that was somewhere on a lower level of the building. Apparently he’d been left there to die of starvation.
I asked Dahlia if she could look into how the boy had made more spectres and she dropped into her sleepy trance again. Moments later she awoke and relayed what she’d seen. A shadowy figure hunched over a young girl who sat in bed crying. The spectre whispered terrible things in her ear. Sometime later she had killed herself as the spectre looked on and when her ghost appeared it had said, “You’re with me now.” before dragging her, kicking and screaming, into the darkness.
We talked briefly about what we’d learned. About how spectres are most likely formed out of ghosts who have died full of sadness and rage or who are turned to anger once they have died. Dahlia, Dan, and I all expressed concern about Markus’ shift in appearance and at first he didn’t seem to notice we were talking about him. He looked like he was lost in thought. Once he realised that we were worried he was becoming more like the spectres he was quick to reassure us that that wasn’t the case. It did lead us to wonder if we, as projectors, could be turned.
We made our way back to Orpheus slowly, catching free rides on a couple of buses that Dahlia pointed out. It’s been quite handy having a local on the team. There’s nothing worse than having to pull out a map and announce to anyone watching that you don’t know where you are.
On the trip Dan suggested that we report what had happened to Orpheus. I was initially reluctant as was Markus and Dahlia but Dan made a good argument. Information had been kept from us about the existence of spectres and we’d been beaten down a bit because of that lack of knowledge. Dan wanted to make sure that other crucibles could learn from what we had discovered. He was rightfully pissed off about the amount of secrecy and determined that our Crucible wouldn’t be a part of it. I’m not sure whether Markus was fully on board but we decided it was the right thing to do. “I don’t think they’re gonna fire us on our fifth day,” Dahlia joked.
“Besides,” Dan replied, “we brought the car back this time.”
Back in the skimmer lounge we were surprised to discover that our bodies had been moved. A moment of panic was soon allayed as Gordon found us and told us to follow him to the ER. He’d wondered about what we were up to and had checked on our bodies once he got back to Orpheus. Seeing the bruising he had alerted the medical staff to keep an eye on us.
It was a strange sensation standing over my own body as it was being monitored by a small team of nurses. One of them said, “their condition has stabilised so whatever trouble they were in, I think it’s passed.” It’s one thing to see your body seated comfortably in a yoga room and another completely to see it laying on an operating table with electrodes and an IV, and dark bruises covering your face. I hopped up onto the table and slipped back into my body to find darkness.
I must’ve been unconscious because when I finally opened my eyes it was a few minutes later. I’d grown accustomed to the immediate transition I suppose. A few more minutes passed before Dahlia woke up and she left in a wheelchair which I volunterred to push partially out of support for my own hurting body. We met briefly in our office and all decided it would be best to take it easy for the rest of the weekend and take care of our next, hopefully straight-forward, mission on Monday as scheduled.
When I arrived home Julie was pretty mad. Not only had I been working late most of the week but now I’d spent half of Saturday working too. She also wasn’t impressed by the bruised state of my face. There were tears in her eyes as she told me how abandoned she felt, taken so far away from home and then discarded. I tried to explain how we were the only ones who could’ve cleared the Orphanage and she seemed to understand. But she was still not happy.
Richmond Virginia, October 13, 2013.
Julie saw me manifest today. I’d been spending some time outside of my body, simply projecting to take a break from my aching body. This afternoon I had dug out my copy of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and was flipping through it when a migraine came over me. I barely thought about it at the time, slipping from my body into the spirit world and then manifesting to continue reading the book for a time. I was engrossed in the early section about Acheron, the river of the dead, and wondered whether this could be the river that Ken kept mentioning when Julie walked in. She took a double-take and when she realised there was two of me in the room she screamed and ran into the bedroom. The book fell on the floor as I jumped back into my body and went to calm her down.