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Everything posted by Cassandra Allen

  1. "Do you have enough for a scandalous expose in the paper, do you think?" "I had enough for that before you even opened your mouth," Cassandra replied, still grinning. "Now I have enough for an actual book." Then she yawned and stretched, smirking slightly as she started down the hallway towards the bathroom to wash up before eating. Cass hadn't gotten more than a few steps though before pausing and looking back at Jase over her shoulder. "But that's if I was writing for gossip columns, you know? I have seriously important things to write about these days. Gods and heroes. Villainy. The end of the world. If you want page time, you're going to have to sell this relationship a bit more. I mean, if you're worried about embarrassing Autumn, there must be an embarrassing story in there, right?" She gave Autumn a grin and a wink to let her know she was mostly just kidding. Mostly.
  2. Cassandra's eyes immediately narrowed as Dana spoke. Words jumped out at her. "Hang on," she said, twisting around to look at Jason. "You...remember?" A slow grin spread across her face. "This isn't your first time here." Then she was on her feet, reaching instinctively behind her to grab the chair back before it fell over. "So?" Cass pressed, folding her arms and getting up in Jase's space. "Spill it? What are we talking about here? Study session? Hot date? Something...in between?"
  3. "Lets fight inside," Cassandra suggested as she headed for the front door. "I can smell breakfast cooking from out here. And coffee. Once the adrenaline from thinking Devin was going to kill us wears off, I'm definitely going to need coffee." She did have the presence of mind to wait for Autumn to go ahead of her back into the house though. They were friends, but Cassie hadn't been invited into the house before. Maybe she was a vampire? Jesus, were there vampires? There were psychic space aliens and interdimensional monsters and psychic powers...what wasn't there? And who knew it and when did they know? Following Autumn in, with the boys right on her heels, Cass waved hello to Mrs Keane. "Hey," she chirped in greeting. "Smells awesome! Also, I'm Cassandra, hi." Offering a hand to shake, she added, "Jason's the tall one annnnnd sorry in advance for Devin. We have to take him around with us for a school project. It's kind of like that egg thing, only instead of an egg, it's Devin." She turned around a little to flash Devin a grin as she took a seat at the table.
  4. "Right, yeah. Okay. So, maybe he's not a native, or maybe it's not his real name, but you're right. If he was the one who put Air Force guy up to..." Autumn hesitated, sucked in a sharp breath, and pushed onward. "Up to that, then we need to know more about him. God, this is all crazy. It's like, the more we find out, the more we realize how much we don't know. You know?" Cassandra nodded as she slurped up her milkshake. The horror was still there, hiding in the shadows of her mind...but here in the bright, cheerful restaurant, eating delicious food that was really bad for her, that horror was muted, like a dream. "I'll start online. I mean, it's a weird name. I can probably just google 'enterich shelly montana' and find SOMEthing. I figure he's almost gotta be at the base...or maybe the prison. Remember how their mad scientist had basically moved in there and made it his playground? He could be part of that. It'd explain him knowing so much..." She rubbed her temple. "Ugh. Okay, I feel like once I get off the sugar rush from this, I'm going to pass out. We should get home. Get some rest. I'll look into Enterich, and we'll get everyone together and let them know what we found out. Sound good?"
  5. "Chocolate," Cassandra said automatically. "Definitely chocolate." The brief bike ride and the smell of deliciously unhealthy food were helping drive the lingering nightmare-dust off of her brain. It'd be a long time before she'd be able to eat pasta again though, that was for sure. She dabbed the end of a napkin into her complimentary glass of water and then dabbed it under her eyes, trying to keep them from getting all 'cry-eyed,' There were words hanging between them. Words like 'thanks for helping me when I was freaking out' that Cassandra felt like she ought to say, but also felt awkward about saying, and reminding them both of the whole incident. Better, easier, to focus on what had been gained than on the price paid to gain it. "I saw who was serving the tree before Cody," she said in a low voice after Autumn finished her text. "It was that guy. That...guy from the little cabin near where we had the party back when this all started. The guy that me and Devin saw get...cephaloed up." Cass frowned, realizing something. "Wait, did we ever tell you that story?" Autumn gave Cassandra a wry look. "The 'cephalogina'?" she asked, making air quotes. Cassie winced slightly. "Okay, yeah, you heard it. Anyway, he was the one doing it...BUT...he wasn't totally possessed by the Dark is the thing." She tapped the table, as if trying to get Autumn's attention. Totally unnecessary in this case. "He was put up to it by someone named Enterich. Some kind of ritual sacrifice. He changed his mind at the last second and tried to stop it...but..." Cassandra shook her head and took a quick drink from her soda, trying to wash away the memory as it came back up. "Anyway. The point is that this Enterich guy must have known...everything. We have to find him."
  6. "Jesus shit!" Cassandra yelped, and she tried to yank herself back from the vision, tried NOT to see, to close her Eye...but it wasn't as easy as a physical eyelid was. The image of it pursued her even as she batted at her eyes and tried reflexively to cover them. At the same time the raw fear, and the anguish, drilled like augers into her mind from the people she was witnessing. She wasn't even aware of herself falling over backwards. Coming back out meant passing through the choking, cloying Darkness, and it closed fingers around her throat...or maybe it was just panic...or maybe it was the same thing. She couldn't scream along with Cooper because she couldn't breathe. She tried to grab the floor under her, fingers scratching ineffectually at old concrete. The world was moving too fast. There wasn't any oxygen in the air. And all the while black tendrils reached out, reached for her, questing, gripping, tearing... "Cassie!" Autumn's voice reached her finally, and her eyes opened wide, terrified. She looked up to see Autumn's face, wracked by fear for her. Just seeing that she wasn't alone was like a splash of water, cleaning the Dark away...or at least easing it. With a whimper Cassandra sat up and flung her arms around her friend, clutching her like a drowning woman. "Oh my god," Cass whispered. "Oh my god. I saw it. He was just a little boy." With those words out, there was nothing left but to break into tears.
  7. Cassandra stopped pushing on the wall when Autumn made her case and just stood there for a moment. It looked like she was using the wall to hold herself up more than trying to open it. Her eyes dropped down to the shoe again, but she didn't say anything. There were a dozen reasons not to do it. Or, at least to wait to do it. If the shoe really had been there that long, it didn't seem likely another hour would change anything. And she remembered well how the presence of the Dark had made it hard to focus on her vision down here. And also she just was really unsure she wanted to see what had happened to the owner of this shoe. But this was kind of her thing, right? What good was an eye that refused to open? She pushed off from the wall and bent over to scoop the forlorn little shoe up in her hand. Her eyes never left it as she spoke to Autumn. "I'll give it a try, but...the Dark is boiling in the air here. It made it hard to see through before. And if it does work...there is a fair to...to average chance I may freak out or something? Because I think I get it. What happened to this...to whoever had this." Cassie nodded at the drawing on the wall, the one the trail ended at. "That's not a secret door. I remember it now. It's the spot the Dark was strongest. I think it must be where Cody can push through. And...I guess he can take other people with him." The wannabe reporter let out a shuddering breath. "I don't want to do it, but...I think I have to try. If there's even a chance they're still alive, we need to know about it now."
  8. Cassandra froze on seeing the shoe, both mentally and physically. Like a passenger in her body she could only watch as Autumn knelt down and examined it more closely. All she could focus on was a phrase that kept repeating in her head, like a panicked mantra. I didn't see this. I didn't see this. I didn't see this. It was a feeble attempt at a denial. If she hadn't seen it, it couldn't be. If she hadn't seen it, it wasn't her fault. She couldn't have stopped it. Stopped...wait, stopped what? Scuffs on the floor. Leading to a wall. Bloody marks. Blood on the shoe...but not a lot of blood? Maybe? She leaned down and took hold of Autumn's shoulder. Her eyes were too wide, her breath was too fast, but there was a frantic clarity shining through the horror and instinctive disgust. They didn't KNOW yet. "Autumn, we have to get through that wall," Cassie whispered. "They might still be alive. We have to find them." Everything else could wait. The panic, the disbelief, the guilt. They could wait. She brought her light up and shone it on the wall, on the disquieting image that had been scrawled on it. It didn't make sense. A secret door? In a town hall? Why? Start simple. Start basic. Cassie moved up to the wall and pressed her palm against it, trying to see if it would move...or even if it was real at all. At this point there was almost nothing she wouldn't believe.
  9. Cassandra nodded as she solemnly lifted her flashlight-phone and snapped a shot...first of the wall marking, then of the victims used to make it. "Definitely," she whispered. "There's more in the basement. Animals strung up. I didn't know why before, but...yeah, collecting blood could be one reason. Also I think it may be what he's eating?" Cass winced at that. "This is why I wanted to come back though. Remote viewing is kind of...wispy...it's not like being here." She shook her head and looked away, feeling her stomach move uneasily. Even prepared as she was for what they'd find, there was something profoundly more disturbing actually seeing it. It was the smell, maybe...or the feel of the old, dusty dry air on her arms. Standing here she could imagine what it must have been like when Cody had been here, killing this creature. Holding it. Cutting it. Letting blood just...pour out. "Damnit," she muttered, then reprimanded her brain privately. Not the time! "Okay...I think we've seen enough up here. Just the basement left. It's..." Cassandra gave Autumn an apologetic look. "...it's worse than this. A lot worse. Just so you know." Then she headed back down to the dry, worryingly bendy stairs to get to the ground floor...and from there, to the basement stairs. Where they would be both very grateful, and very unhappy, that they had flashlights.
  10. Cassandra nodded and whispered back, "The basement's where his...lair is, I guess. But yeah, lets take a look around before we head down there. When I was doing the vision quest thing, I didn't stop and look for details. But...well...I don't feel like Cody's here, but he could come back any time so lets not take too much time doing it." She started her phone camera recording, and swing her flashlight around a bit, checking to see how it was dealing with the low light. Not great...the 'image' was grainy at best, and most of the time was just not useful. When Cass flicked the flashlight on though, it worked fine...the beam landing nearly right on the center of the camera's field of view. It taken her forever to get that alignment right. The flashlight winked out again, but she left the recording running for audio. "Okay, room by room, we stick together. Lets start with this one." She motioned towards the room closest to their point of entry and moved towards its doorframe...testing each step before putting weight on it to try to minimize squeaking.
  11. "Most of the ways in are boarded up, but there's a window around back," Cassandra said in a hushed tone. She was frankly rather impressed with Autumn's array of gear. She really was a Girl Scout, it seemed like. "Lets bring the bikes up to the side of the buildings, over by those bushes. We can just lean them there. Shouldn't have to worry about anyone stealing them from here." She dug out her own flashlight, which had been modified with one of those dashboard mobile phone holders. It made the tool a little ungainly, but it let her attach her phone to the flashlight with the camera facing forward so she didn't need both hands. Despite this Cassie said, "Lets not use the lights at least until we're inside. I don't know if he's home. I don't think he is...but he could have come back since I did my woo-woo thing." Bikes left nestled in an overgrown bush, Cassandra then led Autumn around the Old Town Hall building, navigating the unkempt grounds like someone who'd been there before, making a beeline for the window she'd discovered where the boards were just stuck loosely onto it, not preventing it from being opened. "Okay. I'll hold the window open for you, and you hold the pepper spray or that wrench thingy as you go through...just in case there's trouble. I'll be like three seconds behind you."
  12. Saturday, August 31. Evening. Cassandra rode over to the intersection across from the Old Town Hall at the appointed hour...the one she and Autumn had agreed to over a flurry of texts that was...on her bike wearing suicidally dark clothes. This mission called for stealth. They had to be sneaky. Glancing around she didn't spot Autumn, and with another look at her watch she realized why. The bike ride from her house to here was apparently shorter than she'd estimated. That, or she'd been riding pretty fast without realizing it. That meant Cassie had a few minutes to herself. It felt oddly uncomfortable. It felt like she was wasting time, like any minutes spent not making tangible progress towards the goal was a failure. Why? Well, because there was a timer, and not a very long one. And the Man in Black had made it pretty clear there was cause for haste. ...and that led her back to the Man himself. No sooner than she'd summoned up his image in her head than pieces socked together in her head, and her eyes widened. Holy shit. No way. It fit though. It did. It was pure speculation on her part, and the only evidence was circumstantial at best. But...it fit. It explained at a stroke all her questions. Why had he come here? Why was he so invested in their success? What did he hope to gain from their efforts? She looked around, half-hoping to spot that too-tall, lanky figure ambling along down the street under the nearby streetlamp. There was nothing though. Then, somehow, Cass heard the distant metal rattle of spokes and gears and sat up straighter to twist around and look. A lone bicycle rider was approaching, flitting between the lengthening shadows of dusk. They didn't have much daylight left, but that was good right? Sneaky? Even if it would magnify the creep factor as well. Cassandra waved at Autumn as she rode over towards her and as she came up alongside her said, "Hey! Okay do you have everything you need? I brought some extra stuff just in case."
  13. Cassandra thought about that for a moment. On the one hand, having Devin on hand could be really useful. He could pull them all out at a moment's notice if they ran into trouble. His powers were also a damn sight better than say, her own, in a fight. Again, if it came to that. Then again, the bigger the group, the harder it was to stay quiet and hidden. But he was also completely irreplaceable. If anything happened to him, the Fellowship was sunk. He was their only way across to the other side. "You do help me see better. I was able to see across the barrier when I looked at Cody though. It's just really hard." She looked at Devin, not sure what the best thing to say was, so she just laid out what was in her head. "So here's the thing. I think having you there could be good, if we get into trouble. You can get us all out, or if we have to fight, you're good at that too. It's just...I'm worried that you're our only way of getting across to where the Dark lives. It must know that too, which means if it can get you, it will. And if you..." Here Cass could only shrug, not wanting to say it. "We don't have a backup plan, is all. If you can't do it, no one can. You know?"
  14. Cassandra blinked, trying to catch up to the abrupt shift. "Wow, really? Just gonna go straight into Homecoming?" Fortunately, it wasn't that hard a question. Devin could be a jerk, but she'd seen another side to him as well. Given the situation with Lona, it was possible he was rebounding, but that was okay. Cass didn't have romantic aspirations with him. Maybe he just needed a friend, which she could relate to. And it wasn't like she had a lot of other folks asking her to the dance. And...yeah she was officially starting to overthink this. She grinned and shook her head at herself. "Sure. I mean, we may or may not be at the dance, if Cody and the Dark are acting up and we have to get all action hero to stop them...but one way or another, we'll be at Homecoming together. Just don't make me regret it, okay?" Then Cassie looked at Autumn and nodded. "First though, sounds like me and Autumn have a date on Saturday."
  15. During her trance, Cassandra's face was deeply troubled. Her brow furrowed, her lips tightly pressed together. She actually seemed to be holding her breath for a really long time, and suddenly let it all out in a explosive, "Ho shit!" as she opened her eyes and flailed around with her arms as she nearly fell over in her haste to 'get away.' She managed to catch hold of Devin's shoulder though, and save herself further shame. For a second she just sat there, breathing hard, then nodded as she assembled the surreal nightmare she'd seen into something that could be put into words. "Okay, I found him. He's...on the other side. I saw where the Dark lives. Jesus. It's not a tree at all. It only looks like one from a distance. And Cody..." Cassie shook her head. "He's...it's not just changing his mind. He looks like a monster now. Tall and...skinny with long arms and claws and...he's insane. Talking to himself, eating meat off a human bone insane." Then she hesitates and adds, "But there was something else there with him. Everything was like bones. Just bones, everywhere. And he was sitting on a throne made of them. With a skull on top with deer horns on it. Human skull, only really big, with horns on it. And the skull..." Cassie thought about it. "The skull is what's doing it to him. Not the Dark, not directly. I think maybe the skull is something else. The Man talked about a spirit loyal to the Dark. That must be what it is." "If we can destroy that, it might help Cody." With that, Cassandra met each person's eyes. "We have to hurry though. Whatever he's planning, he was going on about being Homecoming King. It's going down in time for that." She took a deep breath and covered her mouth with her hands as she slumped back a little.
  16. Cassandra grinned at Autumn as the redhead mused on the 'eyes,' but her smile was short lived as business was returned to. "By gone, I meant that...it seems like he's possessed. Or something like that. At least according to the Man in Black. He's not Cody anymore. At least not enough of him to think of him as still being...him." She took a deep breath. "I've seen where he lives now though. I can find him. It may take a few tries, but I'm pretty sure I can. He's going to be thick with the Dark. That sticks out. As for what to do with him?" Cassie shakes her head. "I'm not sure. But he's way too dangerous to not do anything with. I don't know if we can undo what the Dark did to him." "Regardless, we have to catch him first."
  17. "Right, so...Cody," Cassandra said, louder than her usual speaking voice to try to recapture everyone's attention. "That's the other thing. He's gone. Like...the Man basically said that he was part person, part spirit that served the Dark now. And from what I saw in the Old Town Hall, I am inclined to believe it. More importantly though, according to the Man...the whole reason he even looked me up was that this 'spirit' from the Dark is frantic now. Desperate to, uh..." she cleared her throat. "Kill us. And he thinks it's going to do something extreme, soon. He wasn't more specific than that." "So if we don't find him, he'll definitely find us. And we won't like how that goes." Cass took a deep breath. "As for the kind of alien, so...he really really didn't want to talk about himself. A lot of this is me reading between the lines. So...take that for what it's worth. Here's a pieced-together version of this kind of deep history that he told me." "Way a long time ago, no real idea HOW long, but a LONG time...there were beings that put some kind of barrier or shield around Earth to stop human beings from developing these powers, this Shine. The Man said this was out of fear, and that he didn't agree with it. Which implies to ME that he's on at least equal footing as them. Flash forwards to merely recent prehistory, and something which he wouldn't tell me anything specific about, 'hit' this barrier from outside and sort of...embedded itself in it. Like a bullet getting stuck in a cinderblock. It didn't punch all the way through, but it made a weak point. Like, a thin spot. All I know about this thing is that it's old, and it radiates a LOT of Shine. The Man in Black said that when he meddled with human beings around Shelly to try to get them to produce people with the Shine, that the 'others' would be really mad about it. He also said that they will be REALLY upset when we go to Site B and find this thing and learn the 'whole story.' So these aliens seem to be basically immortal, and have some kind of powers that I honestly can barely even imagine, and are very concerned about us having powers. No idea how many there are, or if there's others that are like the Man in Black and don't agree with the whole 'containment' thing they're doing to us." She looked around at everyone. "I know that's not much to go on. I did try to press him, but he wasn't biting. I also asked him how to beat the Dark, but he said that was...my job to figure out. He kept calling me the Eyes. He went to some trouble to explain that what he could do was really limited. I got the sense that wasn't just about what he can DO but also about what he can tell us." After a second of reflective silence, Cassie added, "And I know there's something important he's leaving out. I pushed him over and over again about what he wants out of this, but he never directly answered me. He definitely wants us to kill the Dark, but he wouldn't say why. I feel like it's related to him being limited though. All he'd tell me is that he likes to upset the status quo. He was implying that he does it for its own sake, but I don't know if I believe that."
  18. "Devin's right about one thing," Cassandra agreed. "We definitely aren't ready yet. And we'll definitely need to try to look across." "But I don't think the Dark can come here. And I think we want to keep it that way. Like, I really think we want to keep it that way." "This isn't something we have to do tomorrow, or even next week. We'll need to prepare, and we'll need to know what we're getting into. But the Dark is more like a tree than a person. What came over to attack us wasn't it...it was just, branches, reaching through. We can break those off all day long, and it won't kill it." "We have to go after the roots. Cut the whole thing down." Cass gave Autumn an apologetic smile. "So, I talked to the scary Man in Black, and it turns out he's some kind of super-alien or something, and he told me Site B has some kind of...thing that we'll release when we go there, and if the Dark is still alive when that happens...it'll be able to break into our world and that will pretty much be..." She blew a raspberry and spread her fingers in an 'explody' gesture. "Basically, our whole planet is kind of...shielded, sort of? Blocked off, to keep us from developing the Shine. This thing they have at Site B 'hit' us from outside the shield, weakening it. The Dark is taking advantage of that weak spot. But this thing is basically RADIATING Shine. That's why people in Shelly keep developing these powers. The whole project Cook is part of, they've been messing around, trying to control how and why and when it happens, but it started WAY before they came along. The Man in Black said HE'D been manipulating people to have kids with Shine for ages." "The Dark 'eats' Shine though. He called it a parasite. If that thing at Site B opens, or is broken, then it can get strong enough to rip the shield open and spill into this world all the way." She shakes her head. "That can't happen. If it does, then it's too late. That's what he said anyway."
  19. There were a dozen counterarguments that pinged around in Cassie's head to refute what Devin was saying, but...she knew as soon as they occurred to her that none of them were what needed to be said right then. Devin was sitting right next to her, so Cassandra turned where she sat to face him, then looped her arms around his shoulders and nestled her head against his on his shoulder. "It's going to be okay," she said as she hugged him. "What happened before isn't going to be what happens again. I promise." There was more to say, more to tell, but there was also time to offer a friend a little comfort. This couldn't be all doom and gloom, or else...well it just couldn't be.
  20. Cassandra winced sympathetically. "Kind of?" she admitted, "But I get that it might not sound like it to you. I'll help if I can, Cade. But...I feel like anything I do to help might really mess things up for your family. Exposing secrets and so on. I'll do it if you want, but definitely be careful." She took a deep breath. "Anyway. I kinda wanted everyone to be here..." And just then, her phone jingled at her. With an exasperated frown Cassandra took a look at it and saw a text from Autumn. "Oh...okay. Autumn says she's delayed and to start without her. Damn. All right, well...I'll fill her in when she makes it." "So...two things happened to me. First, I had a chat with Mr Man In Black. It was pretty fucked up. Also, I spied on the old town hall and it was ALSO pretty fucked up, but in a different and honestly more fucked up way." She paused, trying to organize her thoughts which were still bouncing around like particles at CERN, striking each other and fragmenting into subthoughtic fragments that peeled away in looping spirals. "I'm just going to summarize everything before I get into it, because otherwise I feel like we'll never get to the bottom line." Cassie held up a finger. "The Man In Black is some kind of alien or something, and he warned me not to go to Site B first, because if the Dark is still around when we do...whatever we'll wind up doing there...the Dark will feed on it and it'll be pretty much game over." She ticked the finger off, then raised the next. "Someone's living at the old town hall, and from what the Man in Black said, it's almost definitely Cody. The Dark has him. He has a bunch of animals strung up from the ceiling and drew a freaky picture of a guy with antlers or branches or something on his head. And the Dark is STRONG there. I couldn't stick around when I was in the heart of it, where Cody's...lair, I guess...was. Like static in my brain, fuzzing everything out. But according to the MiB, we have to stop the Dark before we do much else." "The thing is that the Dark isn't in the town hall. That's just where it's...closest, kind of. I think we have to actually travel into the dark world from that spot, but we'd be going blind, because I can't see across there." Now Cassandra looked at Devin. "Not without help." "There's more, a lot more, but it's all kind of scattered. Those are the main points. So..." She closed her eyes, steeling herself. "Questions?"
  21. Cassandra frowned a little. Cade really did seem out of sorts. He was usually more careful when horsing around than that. The shoulder-rub in particular from Devin was concerning. It meant he was either not hurt at all and was trying to milk sympathy...or that it hurt enough that he'd forgotten to be stoic. Or maybe, just maybe, he was opening up some to the Fellowship? Right. That was it. "Yeah," she chimed in, with a quick glance at Devin to verify he was okay. "What's up? We're friends, we can help."
  22. "Okaaaay," Cass said, playfully pushing Devin's arm off. "You're not first, I am. You're second." Her expression took a turn towards sympathy then. "I hadn't heard Lona's moving away though. That really sucks. I'm sorry." She looked over at Marissa and nodded. "Sucks for all of. We could use her for this. I have a feeling we're going to need all hands on deck."
  23. Eager, even anxious to begin, Cassandra arrived first for the lunchtime powow. She reviewed to herself over and over what she'd learned, what had happened...wishing all along that she'd taken notes while it was happening. Would the Man in Black have spoken so freely if she'd been recording him? She'd never know now! Record everything. Nothing happened if it's just you said what he said, she thought. She picked a spot to sit where she'd be able to see the others easily and waited.
  24. It was later that afternoon, in her room at home with the scents of dinner cooking pressing around her door that Cassandra laid down on her bed and stared up at the ceiling. For a moment she just felt stupid. Even if the wall that the bulk of her powers were hidden behind had doors in it now, it still took a moment to really open them up. She could feel it though... Then she could see it. Cassie's bedroom ceiling seemed to darken slightly in hue, and the shadows of clouds scudded over it. A heartbeat later it was transparent, like glass. She could see the twilight sky through it, the blazing orange sunset and the purple clouds...and then Shelly itself spreading out under her as the house faded away and Cassandra soared out and away. As tempting as it was to just fly ghostlike where she pleased, the guiding image of the Old Town Hall reeled her in. Here the gloom of the oncoming night fell heavy, even though the sun wasn't quite down yet. Some trick of the long shadows cast the entire building under a pall. It was paint-peeled and ramshackle...the kind of building that most cities would either tear down as an eyesore, or label a 'Heritage Site' and renovate into a museum or something. For some reason Shelly had never done either. Now, through her sight beyond sight, Cassandra knew why. Something akin to the grimy, fetid 'smog' that had erupted from the Medical Center was in the air around the Old Town Hall, but more subtle in its manifestation. Not quite in the world, but so close that it repulsed even the minuscule Shine that most living things had. People unconsciously avoided it. Even birds and animals found other places to haunt. Disembodied as she was, Cass could still feel it around her like the smoke from a greasefire. Thin and cloying and bitter. And getting thicker as she slowed and 'landed' in front of it. The...aura, or field or whatever it was...it was like a constant humming in her ears, a smell of burning tires, a faint miasma that softened the sharpness of even her psychic senses. Invisibly she cased the place like a seasoned thief. There were stories in the walls...flashes of transients breaking in or sneaking in and vanishing, until the city council couldn't ignore it anymore, and commissioned waves of workers to finally seal the place up tightly. The work crews had trouble keeping workers, she felt echoing...they tended either to work a shift and not come back, or start falling ill if they worked too often. In the end though, it was done. The main door and the two fire escape doors padlocked and secured. The windows boarded. Totally secure. Except...not. As Cassandra circled the town hall building, even with the fogging of the 'darkness,' she heard something. A breeze picked up, and there was a faint scrape of wood. She wheeled about on the sound and followed it to one of the windows. Boarded, yes, but the nails on the bottom edge had either been pulled out, or perhaps corroded away. The bottom edge of the boards were now just dangling in front of the window. A way in, for someone of sufficient pluck and not too-impressive a physique. She pressed in then. The inside of the town hall was perfectly in keeping with the outside. Barren and decrepit. Littered with thick cobwebs and accumulations of dust that were thick enough to have shallow drifts. Of the paint virtually nothing was left but flakes, and the wallpaper was little more than a substrate for exotic blooms of mold and water damage. The second floor and tiny attic were no different...but Cassandra sensed the beating heart of the place long before she visited it. The hideous presence that permeated the building and area around it got thicker still the lower down she was. It was no surprise when she found the stairs to a cellar tucked behind a door near the pantry. There was no light down there. Fortunately whatever her remote viewing used to 'see,' it wasn't light...she could still detect what was down there. The strength of the interference was strong enough it took effort to cut through, the mental equivalent of shielding her eyes from noxious fumes with a hand. She passed the furnace room first, where an ancient cast iron boiler sat half off it's legs and canted at an angle, long dead and cold. Turning a corner, she spotted, finally, the 'nest.' Tiny figures dangled from the ceiling on wire or bits of string and twine, almost like dolls at first glance. A closer look revealed fur coats, matted with blood. The ones that could be recognized were cats, small dogs, possums...the small game of the city, killed and strung up off the ground to keep scavengers from getting to them. Along one of the longer walls was a drawing made with what looked like charcoal...a bizarre, towering stick figure with something emerging from each side of its head...something like antlers, or tree branches perhaps. The dust on the floor was scuffed here, partly cleared there, and there were spatters of dark, dry fluid scattered about, most of it under the forest of carcasses that hung from above. The interference in the room was palpable, pressing against her from all sides. It reminded her of the time she'd decided, as a little girl, to see how deep she could swim while at the lake. She'd always loved swimming down to the bottom of a swimming pool, where few people hung out and it was rather peaceful and calm for the few seconds she could stay. But the lake was deeper, and colder and darker, and past a certain point she'd felt the water change...start to gain a terrible weight that compressed every bit of her. Squeezing into her nose and ears and tightening around her arms and legs and pushing at her belly as if trying to make her expel that precious air she had stored. She was drowning in the Dark here, even though she was safe in bed. The memory of that panic chased her up and out... ...and she opened her eyes in her room, sucking in a desperate gasp of air, as if she'd been choking. For a minute she just lay there, breathing hard, lifting both hands to her neck and just holding herself. Then Cassandra reached for her phone. They needed to know what she'd seen. A special meeting was in order.
  25. Cassandra nodded. "Like I said, now's good." She led him outside. "That's a neat trick, convincing a teacher that sending a teenage girl around with you all day with no supervision is a good idea," Cass mentioned as they walked away from the building. She glanced over at him. "More magic powers?" "What is magic, really?" The man of indeterminate identity said casually as he strolled alongside her. "Just being able to do something other people don't." He fixed Cassie with a penetrating, albeit good-humored glance. "Is the magic strange and terrible power not of this Earthly realm? Or is it just having a keen insight and way with people? What do you think, Cassandra?" She realised he'd dropped the down-home, folksy accent, now sounding sort of trans-Atlantic, possibly European... It was hard to tell. Cassie shook her head, dismissing the head games. "Gonna go with the strange and terrible power not of this Earthly realm. That is literally the definition." "One definition, surely. If you want to be a writer, you've got to be precise with your words." The Man in Black tsked, shaking his head. "Magic can also be 'an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source'. Seemingly. Just because you can't see how the trick is done, doesn't mean it's done with Radiance." "So did you use any kind of supernatural power or influence on Klent, or was it just your gift for gab?" Cass pressed. For a moment he was silent as they made their way down Main Street, then when he spoke it was without a trace of his prior amusement. "Live long enough, you meet a lot of the same people. Men like Barry, with his kind heart , his desire to help people, his hobbies and his wish to some day meet a nice woman and not be alone anymore. They're all just a teensy bit different, but they're similar enough that it's easy to fascinate and befriend them. Especially if you like them." "Which is not false, but also not what I asked." Cassandra looked at him. "Well that was my first question. What's yours then?" She'd already come to the conclusion that learning from him directly was going to be a chore...but she figured just knowing what his interest was would reveal at least some of his hand. "An easy one, to start." Mr Black said breezily as they walked together. "You're the Eyes. You found the Dark yet?" "Now look who needs to pick his words," she teased with a smirk. "There's more than one way to take that. Do you mean the Dark as in the alternate world that's all gross and...contaminated? Or the Dark as in the powers that the creatures from there seem to be...part of? Or maybe the Tree at the center of it all?" She lets that hang, then says, "I've found where it's closest to us, I think. At least around here." He smiled slightly at her teasing. "They're all related. But yes, the source. The Tree... that's not a tree at all. It's more of a... like those worms that attach to sea creatures, and grow and burrow into it, spreading a canker all around the infection point. A giant parasite that found it's way through a wound in the world a long time back, growing bigger every cycle of death and violence. That's what the Dark is, seeress - At least, as you know it." "So what does that make you?" Cass asks. "You've got some interest in this, but you don't seem to be helping it...or trying to stop it." "There's that tricky word again. 'Seem'." The Man in Black looked up at the sky, at the blue and the end of summer warmth permeating the air. "There's only so much I can do. Directly anyway. For me to do more would only make things worse. I am bound within certain rules, child, rules that restrict my power. But I have worked long and hard to ensure that there will be those who are going to step up who don't have my restrictions." He glanced at her meaningfully. "So that's implying that you're the reason that people around here have psychic powers so often?" She thinks about that, her eyes never leaving his face. "And these restrictions you have...they're because of the Dark?" "This land is special, because of what is buried beneath it. That wasn't my doing - I was elsewhere at the time it happened. I just arranged things so people with the right genes met, fell in love - or at least lust, and the usual natural things happened. Moving grains of sand, over many generations, to get you all here, where those genes would express in the way I hoped they would." He stopped, turning and facing her as a breeze flicked at the ends of his black coat. "There's a barrier around your world, Cassandra, put there a long time back, that's supposed to stop the development of Radiance amongst your kind. Something happened, and here in this place the barrier is weak. See, there's a source of Radiance, powerful Radiance, buried in this place you call Montana. And perversely, it coming here was what caused the wound that the Dark seeped through. So you have a place unlike anywhere else on your planet." He paused, scrutinising her. "You understand?" "No," Cassie replied. "There's a whole lot of context missing there. But we'll need to be gone more than an afternoon to chase everything down at once." She looked back ahead, to where downtown Shelly was visible some ways off. "So what we call 'Shine' you're calling 'Radiance.' Something from outside our world sort of...hit us, I guess, and made a weak place in a barrier. And now the Dark is taking advantage of that." She chews on that for a second, then says, "So people here have Shine because of this first thing. You're not the source of that, you're just...taking advantage of it." Now she looks back at him. "Why?" "Like I told your cold-eyed friend... I aim to cause upset to the established order." Mr Black grinned a trifle wolfishly. "Call me a rebel with a cause." His grin faded, his manner turning sober again. "It's important you kill the Dark before you go to Site B. You have to. What is at Site B, if you are able to free it - and you are - will feed the Dark exponentially if it is still alive. The shadow world it casts will become your actual world. It will possess people to kill their loved ones, then finally to turn on each other. So you and your friends have to find the Dark, defeat the host of the spirit that serves it, and smash the skull. That's the only way to cut the parasite off from what it needs to survive. It will shrivel and die... Probably." "Why can't it just feed off the Radiance in this thing?" she asks. "It's still outside the barrier, right?" In her head she was gnawing at another question entirely. The man's motivations. Cass didn't think he was lying, but he was definitely dancing around something significant. He wanted to be rid of the Dark, but was being forced to act very circumspectly. Why? He wanted to upset the established order. Why? She felt like the answers to those questions were the same. "Or, you said 'free' it. So...it's sort of embedded?" "Attagirl." Mr Black nodded approvingly. "It's not able to get at the source directly, and has to content itself with scraps of Shine it can glean only a few at a time." "Something like this doesn't seem like it's an accident. You're saying the barrier's to keep us from getting Shine, but maybe it's to keep things like the Dark out. Which means, maybe this thing was trying to get somewhere safe. Is it...alive? Is it intelligent?" "Yes." He said simply. "But it's not responsible for the barrier. In fact, the barrier is what caused the accident that crashed it here anyway. When you get there, and free it, you'll find out the whole story. It's not my story to tell, you see. The barrier is definitely there to stop humanity evolving Shine, though. On that, I swear. There's folks who don't want that to happen." "Folks who probably aren't too happy with this thing being here," Cassandra observes. "Or with what you're doing." "Probably!" Mr Black answered with a merry air. "They're going to be downright pissed when you unravel the mystery of Site B." "Is that a good idea? Pissing off folks that surround an entire universe with an anti-Shine barrier?" "Psh. Only your world." He flapped a hand dismissively. "And trust me, they'll be more scared than mad. They'd love to get their hands on the prize that's buried in them thar hills - it's way beyond what they've got on their best day. You'll see." "And besides... Site B is where you have to go anyway, isn't it?" he added with a sly smile. "It's on the list," Cassandra says casually. The Man In Black was the one who'd manipulated her into finding that photograph of her dad, knowing where it would eventually send her. He knew damn well. "So basically, this tour...this is you protecting your investment. Making sure we don't screw it all up. So what can you tell us about the Dark itself then? How do we beat it?" "You're the Eyes." he replied enigmatically. "You don't need me to tell you anything, Seeress." "Yeah, but no," she parried. "Because if that was true, you wouldn't need to be doing this. You've never stepped forward before, so something's changed." "Yes. It has. The spirit that serves the Tree is frantic. He tried to get you at the hospital and failed. He's going to do something else crazy and desperate soon - it's like he's half a terrified traumatised kid called Cody and half an ancient being of corrupted power mad with rage. You all have a lot on your plate, so I'm stepping up and helping you focus, like a coach - but I won't play the game for you." He motioned to her. "You're the Eyes. I've given you hints and even some straightforward instructions. If you want more, you have the power to find it out." Cassandra winced. So that's what happened to Cody. "Is that one of your restrictions?" she asked, "You can give some help, but only some? Is it because of these other 'folks?' or something else?" He paused for a beat, then said with a perfectly straight face "Yes." "Right." She looks around then, gestures with a sweep of her arm. "Behold downtown Shelly, in all its scenic grandeur. Anything else you can tell me?" "I like ice cream." he said as he glanced around, spotting Bunnees in the near-distance. "I'm going to have some ice cream. I think I'm all good for guidance right now, thanks. You? Well, you've got the afternoon off. So have fun, get stoned, have casual sex, do a little scrying... Whatever you crazy kids get up to these days when you play hooky." He sauntered in the direction of the diner, waving a hand in farewell. "You're welcome." "Hey," Cassandra called after him. "What are you going to do once we get rid of the Dark and free this 'other thing?'" He turned, walking backwards as he flashed a grin at her that made him seem boyish. "Sleep." he called back, before turning and continuing on his way. "Shit." Cassandra hurriedly grabbed her phone out of her pocket and held it up to snap a shot of 'Troy' walking off. Even zoomed in, it wasn't a great shot. She cursed under her breath and started dialing. The League of Extraordinary Teens needed to have a meeting. But first, she had some 'seering' to do.
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