Orpheus – Trial by Fire (part 1)

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Excerpts from the journal of Connor Galloway, an employee of Orpheus and member of Crucible 7.


Richmond Virginia, October 10, 2013.

So I’m sitting here in the hospital, figured I have some time to write while I wait.

When we got back to the Orpheus building last night a spook met us at the door. He said he needed to talk to Dan. It wasn’t until the morning that we would find out his body wasn’t coping well with the cryo-sleep. Turns out that his injury was healing strangely and they were forced to wake him up early to do some physical therapy. We were told he may miss a day or two.

Anyway, when I arrived at work this morning the place seemed livelier than ever and I noticed a reporter, complete with camera crew, was being shown in and led down to some office. I spotted Dahlia in the foyer, holding her usual large coffee, and commented on how busy it was. I asked if she thought it had anything to do with our somewhat public job last night. She didn’t think so.

Walking into our Crucible office I closed the door and as we stepped away from it I heard a book slam shut behind us. Needless to say, Dahlia and I jumped and turned around to see Markus with a smirk on his face. He’d been practicing his Stormwending and it seemed like he was getting pretty precise with it. As we talked he kept blinking from the couch to the meeting table, to my desk, and so on. I could tell he was enjoying it.

We’d all seen the news bulletin about some new surveillance technology that lets security cameras see ghosts and talked briefly about whether it was something we should be concerned with. We checked our emails and found the one from Dan explaining his situation. As per usual we got a visit from Prator at about 10.

Like everyone else in the office he seemed very happy and asked us if we’d heard the good news. No. As it turns out, Orpheus had just signed a big client, almost doubling it’s revenue. Prator let us know there would be a party on the 23rd to celebrate the deal and that he was unsure whether we could bring partners.

When he left the topic turned to the Church of the Sacred Mother and we all agreed that it would be a good idea to go check it out. While we were discussing seeing people we knew as ghosts Markus made a strange comment. It was something about how it must be sad to see a loved reduced to a repeater (Like Chris Overby) or a blip. I think he might be coming around on his ghosts-are-simply-echos theory.

Back to the job we went, the Sisters at the Orphanage were expecting us, but we agreed that there was time to swing by the Church. On the way out we passed Grimes in the corrider, his face still marred by bruises. He gave us a cursory nod which I returned with a simple, “Grimes.” The man working the desk at the carpark had a friendly smile on his face when we went to pick up the car. “Ready to take another one, huh?” he joked, but it kind of hit home.
“That wasn’t our fault,” replied Markus.

The Church, which was established in an old movie theatre, was deserted when we arrived. The letterboard out the front read, “Services Tuesday and Thursday night, Open all Sunday” There were lights on inside, but with no aliases or cover stories prepared we decided now was not the best time to head in and if we came when it was busier we could blend in easier.

I was making my way back to the car when I heard Dahlia say, “What happened to you?” I turned and saw her talking to thin air, so naturally I used Dead eyes. Markus and her were talking to the ghost of a young black man in a puffer jacket. I stayed out of the conversation, not wanting to intimidate the kid by surrounding him. He told us that he’d been shot after a few more questions that he came to the Church to look out for his sister. At one point he grew slightly suspicious and asked if we were police to which I said, “No, we’re with Orpheus.” When we got back to the car Markus had to tell me off for freely offering that information in the very location we planned to go undercover in later… He was totally right, I messed that up. But hey, I’m new to all this cloak and dagger.

The other interesting piece of information we got from the kid was that there were some really scary spooks hanging out at some school on N street. Back in the car the others suggested maybe checking it out but I reminded them that that was where Bishop was supposedly hanging out. We got back on track to the Orphanage.

The orphanage was an old brick building, three storys tall with it’s higher windows barred. It looked a little rundown on the outside, and the entrance was no different. It smelled a little musty and the carpet was obviously faded from age. An old lady with small glasses sat at the front desk and knew who we were straight away. She informed us that the children had been transferred elsewhere for now and that Sister Madeline, the matron, would be happy to see us.

She led us through a door and into an opulent office. Religious paraphernalia adorned the walls and the majority of the room was taken up by a large mahogany desk. Sister Madeline joined us after a minute and Dahlia began interviewing her. She mostly asked about the children who had died. Were there any signs of depression? What backgrounds did they come from? How old were they? The Sister was very open, admitting that all orphans experience some depression.

I reached into my jacket and took out the mission briefing. Looking over it I reread the mention of disembodied voices being heard and asked Sister Madeline if we could see the room where this took place. She obliged, telling us that it was her own room where she had heard the unrepeatable phrases and that she hadn’t slept there since.

We were led down a dusty hallway towards the living quarters as Sister Madeline told us about the nuns still on the grounds. About halfway down we passed an old wooden spiral staircase that led up to the second floor and she gestured, saying that Sister Catherine was currently scrubbing the floors up there. We continued along until we found ourselves in the nuns living quarters. Sister Mary was seated there, reading the bible, and looked up briefly as we walked past.

Sister Madeline’s room was very sparse. A simple bed, a wooden cross on the wall, and a dresser were the only furnishings. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in either the physical or spirit worlds. Markus told me to ask about the runaway, so I did.

William Danson, aged 9, disappeared four years ago, just when Sister Madeline had started. He was a trouble maker, always getting into things he shouldn’t. When the matron mentioned this though she smiled as if his cheekiness was also his charm. We asked if any of the other Sister’s were less understanding of his ways but there was nothing out of the ordinary to report. He had simply gone missing one day and it was assumed he’d run away.

With nothing else of interest in the room we turned to leave but on the way out Markus called out to us, “guys…”
I asked Sister Madeline if we could have a moment in the room and she obliged. I shut the door behind us so we could all talk. “The air in here just got really heavy,” Markus explained, “and the walls feel like they’re moving in.”
“Is the feeling growing, like something’s coming?”
“Yeah, definitely.”

At this point I could sense it too, a thickness to the air and a shadow that seemed to dim the room. Suddenly the bible on the dresser flipped open, it’s pages violently flicking past. When the back cover had slammed shut the book leaped from the dresser and almost hit us as it crossed the room. “Are demons a thing?” Dahlia asked, “I mean, we are in a catholic church.”
“I’m not sure if they’re actually demons,” Markus replied as he manifested and picked up the bible, “but Grimes did mention a type of bad ghost called a spectre.” He turned the book over in his hands but it seemed to have returned to normal. Then we heard a scream.

It sounded as if it had come from an upper floor and was unmistakably a child’s scream. I turned to the others and saw by the shock on his face that Markus had obviously heard it too. Dahlia looked back and forth between us, puzzled. We needed to get up there fast and as I bolted out the door I knew that the others were close behind. Sister Mary was quite startled as we burst out of the room and ran past, “What were you up to in there?” I wonder if she noticed that there were now three of us…

I remembered the spiral staircase and with no other idea of the Orphanage’s layout I decided up was the only important direction. We found it easily and ascended as fast as we could on the narrow wooden spiral. At the top we came upon a long hallway that must have run the length of the building. Classrooms could be seen to either side, empty now that the children were gone, and at the end of the hall another stairway.

We raced up that one as well and found the children’s dormitory at the top. Looking in the room on the left we could see it was the stereotypical setup with beds lining each wall. As soon as I looked to the room on the right, and saw that it was dark within, the door slammed shut. Dahlia was there first and found that the door handle was stuck. I told her to move out of the way and with a run up, dropped my shoulder into it. The wood splintered a little and when I gave it another charge I found myself stumbling into the room.

I managed to regain my balance and saw that Dahlia and Markus had followed me into the room. Again the dorm was long and narrow with beds lined up against the sides. Halfway down the room a broken lightbulb lay shattered on the floor. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we could see further into the room we spotted them. The end four beds had shapes under their sheets. As we watched, transfixed, a hand slipped out from under one of them. It’s skin was pitch black and the fingers ended in wicked claws.

I suddenly realised how vulnerable we were. In our physical forms we had no power to affect these PLEs. Or spectres, or whatever. “We have to project,” I glanced sideways to Dahlia and she simply nodded. By now the four spectres were all crawling down off the beds, the white sheets still clinging to them. My heart was beating so fast that it took me longer than was comfortable to project and when I finally stepped out of my body I heard it crash to the floor behind me. Next to me Dahlia did the same and I winced as her physical form went limp and fell face first onto the ground.

Looking back to the spectres I saw that they had discarded the sheets completely revealing their half rotted black faces. They were child sized too but the jagged claws and black skin and eyes were clearly inhuman. They had already crossed half of the room.


I reached out to the beds on either side of the room and sent silver cords out, binding them to me. Compared to throwing around lego blocks these iron framed beds were incredibly heavy and I had to focus hard to lift them. As I did the tattoos down my arms glowed as if from within and I felt a surge of power coursing down the tethers. I slammed a bunch of the beds together, sandwiching the spectres between them and holding them at bay. But as tangled up as they were they began to pull their way out.

A bible flew over my shoulder and hit one of the spectres. It glanced off it’s head and when it turned back to us it opened its mouth and screamed. It was kind of a mix between a hiss, a baby’s cry, and nails on a chalk board. I guess Markus had been lugging that tome around since Sister Madeline’s room. Oh well, the power of Christ seemed to have no effect on these creatures.

I noticed Dahlia breathing in deeply and remembered seeing her wail tear apart a punching bag. I dropped my concentration on the beds and let them drop as I reached out to Dahlia to share vitality and strengthen her attack. Energy flowed down my arm and into her as her jaw seemed to unhinge. Then she let out a scream that sent shockwaves down the room.

The spectres, having just untangled themselves, were caught at the heart of the blast and thrown backwards through the air. Several beds also skidded back down the room, crashing into one another. The black forms of the spectres seemed to tear with each shockwave. As the sound died down one of the spectres curled up into a ball and began to whimper in an eerily human way. Another jumped up onto the pile of beds and flattened itself against a wall. The other two crouched on all fours and looked towards us.

Suddenly Markus was behind them, blinking the length of the room in a heartbeat, and one of the crouched spectres turned to face him. I dropped to one knee, feeling my gauze weaken from spending so much energy. Meanwhile Dahlia had begun to sing her calming song, but there was something wrong this time. A waver in her voice betrayed her fear and the power of the song seemed lost on most of the spectres. Only the whimpering one, who had crawled under a bed to hide, seemed soothed by the tune.

The spectre directly in front of us paused a second, then rage contorted his face once more and he leaped half the room to crash into Dahlia. They fell to the ground and I saw the creature rake his claws across her body which seemed to rip at her gauze. Fragments of her spirit form drifted upwards and faded away.

I heard Markus shout, “Hey, No. Bad!” and hold up his mesmerizing Wisp light. It was the kind of thing you might say to a naughty kid. Smart thinking on his part, especially in the heat of the moment. The spectre ahead of him seemed distracted but the one that had pinned Dahlia ignored it, biting down into her shoulder. I could sense that she was preparing to wail again, that she had to get the thing off her and I dived closer. Once again I sent my vitality through her to strengthen her voice.

When the wail burst forth from her the ceiling cracked and was torn apart. The spectre attacking her tried to hold on as the force of the wail tore through it, slowly shredding off pieces of it’s gauze. The plaster overhead crumbled as I channeled more vitality into Dahlia and she in turn intensified and focused the wail. Shockwave after shockwave buffeted the spectre, tearing it apart, until it had disintegrated completely.

I got back to my feet and looked back to where our physical bodies had fallen. My arm and face had a few bruises from falling down but Dahlia’s face was blackened. Bruised showed on almost every inch of skin I could see and a small pool of blood had formed around her mouth. I heard her cry, “Markus!” and I spun back.

The spectre that he had been mesmerizing had jumped on him too. He had kept his balance but was struggling to throw the thing off. The whimpering spectre was also being dragged back through the wall by the last one. It seemed almost reluctant to go, grabbing onto bed legs and scratching across the floor as it was pulled from it’s hiding spot.

With them gone from the middle of the room I had a clear run at Markus and his assailant. So down the room I ran, hopping over an upturned bed and concentrating on congealing some kind of weapon into my hand. As I got close and raised it over my head to swing Markus suddenly vanished. He had teleported right out from under me.

“Oh my lord!” I heard behind me and turned to see one of the sisters, presumably Catherine, had entered the room and seen the mess. Not to mention the two bruised and unconscious bodies on the floor. Oh, and the gaping hole in the roof. She crossed herself and backed out pretty quickly…

Markus blinked back and said, “I lost it downstairs, but we should probably get out of here.” I nodded my agreement and raced back to my body.

Once I was back in the physical world I sat Dahlia up and wiped the blood from her blackened face as a few very long seconds passed. Re-entering your body is usually instantaneous so I was just starting to freak out when her eyes fluttered open and she coughed out, “Take me to the hospital.”

As I stood her up and helped her walk towards the door Sister Madeline was coming up the stairs. “You’ve got ghosts,” I told her dryly, “It’s not safe for anyone to be here.” It took a while to help Dahlia down the stairs and by the time we got outside all the nuns were gathered out front. They were offering prayers and crossing themselves constantly. One of them was crying and a few others looked like they were about to. I turned to Markus to ask him to manifest and talk to them while I helped Dahlia into the car but when I saw his face I could tell he’d taken a heavy toll too. His gauze was more transparent than ever and his features were sickly and sunken. The worst thing was his eyes. They’d gone almost completely black. Just like the creatures.

On the steps of the hospital Dahlia finally lost consciousness. She’s got to be one tough lady to have made it that far. I cried for help and we were quickly ushered inside. By the way the staff were acting I think this must be where she used to work.

So now, here I am, waiting for her to wake up. Apparently the injuries are only on the surface. Terrible bruising but no internal injuries. At least that’s some small consolation.

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