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Author's Notes: This is the sixth installment of the Hyraaq Tobit series. If you are new to the series, please start with The Demon Tobit of Delphia to enjoy the series in order.
Desperation Takes Form
Lance Madison sat alone in the Grand Cathedral of Delphia. He had just completed a service; no Feasting today, though, just the usual Hail Tobit sort of sermon. He sat in his large chair behind his altar, realizing, slowly and sadly, that it may very soon be his no longer.
He was well aware that things were different now. It was undeniable. The younger people of Delphia still regarded him with the awe and reverence that was fitting for the Grand Magus; however, he could see the subtle changes on the faces of the older residents. Word was getting out. Tabitha Shaw’s arrival to Delphia was well known. After all, she wasn’t exactly staying hidden. Tabitha walked about, chatting it up with folks, perhaps looking to recruit a new member of her blasted Sisters of Tobit. The younger heads in Delphia only knew that she was someone important, and perhaps didn’t recognize the change and disaster that she represented to their way of life. The older and wiser heads, though - they knew exactly what her arrival meant.
A change of the guard was soon to come.
Every resident of this damned city knew of the Derrick Reynolds debacle; that much was clear. To see Tabitha Shaw show up afterwards, taking up lodging in Lance’s own rectory, well, that said so much more. She wasn’t just here for a visit, as it was well known that the Sisters had free reign on the world and rarely chose to spend too much time milling around in an archaic city without technology. So, if she was spending time here, sleeping and eating here, it was quite obvious that certain members of the rank structure might be up for reevaluation. And since Lance Madison was the one standing behind the big altar when Delphia’s first escape in God knows how long occurred, it was equally easy to figure out who in that rank structure might be up for a visit to the Red Star.
Lance was no fool, though. Over the years he had learned to mask his thoughts well. He knew, as did anyone who’s spent enough time in Delphia, that the strict order and law that seemed a governing factor in everyone’s lives was, in fact, a false front. The reality of Delphia was quite different. It was a land of treachery.
It was spoken in great, hushed tones that the so called mighty Tobit himself rewarded the most vile and underhanded of his flock. Perhaps that was why Tabitha and her merry band of bitches were able to reap so much earthly pleasure. They lived and operated in shadow and subterfuge, something that apparently went a long way in the eyes of the Great Starry Demon Tobit.
Lance exited his church and began to make his way back home, to his room at the top of the tower rectory. His personal chambers had become a favorite of his as of late; it was one of the few places that he felt at least a slight level of safety.
Walking down the streets of Delphia, Lance’s paranoia continued. Looking at the eyes of the older residents seemed to hammer that in even deeper. They all nodded as he walked by, but he thought he could see, hidden behind their gaze, a slight look of insolence.
“Good afternoon, Grand Magus,” spoke a woman as she walked by.
“Good day, my child,” answered Lance, forcing his gaze to her eyes, trying to produce an image of authority and confidence.
“I enjoyed your service today. You really moved me with your words of how Tobit will one day reward us with the entire planet, perhaps even the entire universe,” she responded.
Lance felt himself relax a bit. This woman wasn’t faking; she was one of the residents that still saw him as the Grand Magus, the leader of Delphia. Perhaps he could take refuge in her admiration.
“Yes, my dear. Tobit does reward the faithful, you must always remember that. When you feel at your lowest, know that he watches over us all, and knows the contents of your heart as well as you do,” Lance replied, feeling a bit better.
The woman nodded and smiled for a moment, lingering in place. Normally Lance would be trying to move the conversation to a conclusion so that he could return to his own thoughts, but he felt a soothing aura coming from this encounter. He knew that dread and fear awaited him, so he wished to make this last a bit longer.
Lance and the woman stood in place and spoke a bit further. Her patter was of the usual that he heard from those that still believed he was in charge. She spoke of how Tobit blessed her, how Lance was a wise and kind man, how Delphia was paradise and so forth.
Lance usually tended to daydream during these routine conversations, but today he wanted to hear it all.
The woman’s eyes suddenly grew darker and her tone dropped. Her head dipped slightly, and Lance assumed that she wished to make some sort of confession. This was normal. Every so often, a citizen of Delphia would come to him and confess that they missed their old lives outside of Antarctica, that they would dream of their families back home. Sometimes they would ask if it was possible to go home for just one single day, perhaps just an hour.
Lance would then give them a typical speech about how Delphia was their home now, how Tobit was their family. He would tell them that the reward would come soon, and when it did, they would never long for anything again.
What they didn’t realize was that Lance kept track of all those that came to him with such concerns. When the time would come for a Feasting ritual, Madison would ensure that all those who expressed such concerns were seated in very specific locations within his cathedral. When he would close his eyes and pretend that Tobit was actually speaking to him, something that he both hoped and feared might happen someday, he would announce that their Demon King chose that particular row of pews to be given as sacrifice. Those that longed for their old lives would be eaten by those that knew their place. It was a simple strategy that had worked for over a century. Of course, not everyone in those pews and rows expressed such concerns, but Lance had to see them as collateral damage and nothing more. Just another level of this damned curse that he allowed his anger over the death of Jennifer to trap him into.
Lance decided though, that even if this woman, whose name he didn’t even know, did confess such a desire, that he would spare her. She radiated a loyalty that he no longer trusted in his people. He would keep her around no matter what she said. He even made a mental note to learn her name before they parted ways. No matter what else happened today, Lance was grateful for the brief comfort she was supplying him. He saw that she wished to ask something complicated, and smiled and gently nodded, urging her to continue.
“Grand Magus, what I want to ask, if I may be so bold…” she stuttered.
“Go ahead, my child. I am your Grand Magus; you may ask me anything,” he spoke kindly.
“Well, there is talk, talk that Tabitha Shaw is here to oversee your replacement. I would never think such a thing possible. You have been Grand Magus since my arrival, but… that is the word, that since that boy from America escaped…” She began to tear up slightly, her words coming out in soft weeps.
“What is your name, my dear?” Lance asked.
“Emily Pert,” she replied softly.
“Well, Emily, know that my loyalty is to you, my flock. I am not going anywhere, not as long as there are people here that need me, such as you, my sweet child, so fear not,” he replied, feeling his anxiety suddenly rocket.
He could feel his face getting hot. Lance was well aware that Tabatha’s arrival in Delphia likely spelled disaster for him, but he had no idea that people, people like Emily, were hearing whispers of it. If she knew about this, that meant that the information was being supplied. Never before had Lance witnessed a common resident of the city have any information on the inner workings of the Tobit’s rank structure.
When Lance himself had taken over as Grand Magus, the man he replaced, a man whose name he could barely recall, the entire operation had been done in the shadows. That was the way things had always been. For this woman to hear rumors that Lance could be on his way out meant only one thing, someone - that someone no doubt being Tabitha Shaw - was allowing that information to escape into the streets of Delphia.
“My dear Emily, I assure you once more that I am quite endowed with Tobit’s confidence, and that any rumors you may hear are nothing more than….” Lance thought of how he could cover this, then genius struck, “They are nothing more than the words of the rebels that threaten our way of life.”
Yes, he thought, that can work. Blame those damned rebels. Everyone knew about them; they certainly made themselves known. Timothy VanBuren’s team of scoundrels that would not rest until the entire damned city was in flames.
“That… makes sense,” Emily replied slowly.
“Of course it does, and do not let them scare you. They are terrorists, who wage their war with fear. To allow them to cause you any concern is to allow them a victory. Remain vigilant and confident in Tobit, and in me, and we shall receive our rewards together,” Lance concluded.
Emily smiled at that. He could tell that he managed to comfort her. He hoped, somewhere inside, that his ruse would carry weight. He hoped that she would return to tell those that were spreading Tabitha’s words that it was all the work of the rebels.
The rebels… yes, rebels, how could he have not thought of this sooner. Lance had a sudden epiphany.
He smiled, and for the first time since the escape of Derrick Reynolds, he felt this smile to be sincere.
“I must return home and meditate, Emily, but thank you. Thank you for your words of confidence. You have brought joy to my heart this day, and you have my thanks and Tobit’s blessing,” he concluded, gently squeezing her shoulder.
Lance returned to his chambers walking at a brisk pace. He greeted everyone he saw kindly on his way, but made no further small talk. He felt suddenly confident, but with an edge of fear. He fathomed a gambit, one that would either save him from the Red Star or send him there even faster. Either way, if he did nothing, he was doomed. His conversation with Emily concreted that assertion with little room for doubt. However, if this plan that was slowly growing in his head worked, he would perhaps be rewarded with greatness. Perhaps he would even find a place on the mythical Council of Tobit, a group so shadowy that even he as Grand Magus had never actually seen them, nor did he have any idea where or when they met.
Treachery. He held on to that word as he walked. The rebels were a treacherous bunch, and he held on to that idea too. If the Council of Tobit really did reward treachery, perhaps Lance had just discovered his salvation. He knew it was a long shot perhaps, but at this point in his life, he had no other shots to take.
Entering the rectory, he felt a sense of dread that had become too familiar to him. Tabitha was living in here too, and they often would meet either coming or going. Conversations with her were so laced with pretense that one could almost taste it. She mocked him openly, knowing full well that he could do nothing about it.
Sometimes, during these encounters, he fantasized about killing her and just taking the punishment. He almost felt that he could go to the Red Star with a smile, if he knew that she would be burning for eternity right alongside of him. But he knew that she was untouchable.
Lance was no fool. He was aware of himself and his limitations. He was a man in his 40s, even though he had existed on this planet for over two centuries. He never aged, though, so he would stay this way until the Council of Tobit either rewarded him, which he believed in less and less with each passing day, or until he wound up on the Red Star. While he was no frail weakling, he also knew that Tabitha could kill a man without getting out of her seat, so he had no chance against her in combat.
He did possess magic of course. All those of the Grand Magus title were blessed in such ways; however, the Council of Tobit had given him the power of necromancy. While being able to raise the dead was a great way to convince a gathering of Delphian church goers that he was the right hand of a god, it did him no good in close quarter fighting. It was a shame that he could not have been made a pyromancer as the previous Grand Magus had been. To set Tabitha Shaw on fire from the inside, well, that would give him great pleasure. Sadly, though, that was simply not a talent he had been given.
Tabitha was also untouchable due to her position within Tobit’s hierarchy. Pinkerton was the Avatar of Tobit, which essentially made him the most powerful member to grace Delphia, but Tabitha was close behind. As the leader of the Sisters of Tobit, her value to Pinkerton and the Council was unfathomable. For a lowly Grand Magus to make a move against such a high ranking official, well, that would be a death warrant.
But killing Tabitha was no longer Lance’s desire. No, the plan that was slowly developing in his mind was much better. If it were to work, well, Tabitha Shaw might find herself being replaced. Lance smiled again, thinking of how much pleasure he would gain watching her beg before Pinkerton. Tabitha had likely never begged before in her long and twisted life, and Lance could only hope that he would live long enough to see it happen.
Lance found yet another good omen, and yet another reason to broaden his smile. No sign of Tabitha. Not to say the bitch wasn’t hiding. She could practically vanish in plain sight if she wished, but that didn’t matter to Lance. Tabitha was a mistress of shadows and stealth, not a mind reader. Even if she was watching him, she would have no idea the contents of his mind. Perhaps that would be her downfall.
As he approached the large oaken doors that led to his private chambers, one of the Delphian Guards, dressed in his wool blue uniform, stopped him.
“Sir, will you be requiring us to bring VanBuren to your room tonight?” the guard asked.
“Not tonight. Tonight I work on other matters,” Lance replied.
The guard nodded and stepped aside. Lance entered his room, his smile now so large that he felt he could barely contain the laughter that begged to spill out. He did, though. He had to continue to appear normal, and what Tabitha and Pinkerton expected as normal now would be a Grand Magus counting down his final days. What they no doubt saw was a broken old man waiting for the executioner to come and bring him to the gallows. Lance intended to show them all that he was not broken, and that if there was to be an executioner, he would fill that role.
Sealing the door behind him, Lance removed his robes. He looked over at his picture of Jennifer Standish, and gently touched the cool glass that her lovely image rested behind.
“My love, you gave me your strength once; now I ask for it again. I am on a difficult mission now, a mission where even those that should be friends are now enemies. I pray to only you my love, that you watch over me, and protect me once more. If I am to believe in any god, let it be you, my Goddess,” Lance concluded his prayer by gently kissing the framed photo.
Lance Madison gathered himself; he would need to be strong. For starters, he needed a mantra. What he was about to do would change things forever, either for better or worse. He knew that if he followed through, he would never be able to return to the life in Delphia that he had known for so long. He knew that this was a game changer that could never be undone. He had to make ready for all of that.
Walking over to the small altar that he kept in his room for personal rituals, he gazed into the mirror hanging directly over it. A small statue of Tobit sat on that altar, looking up at him, as if even a mindless statue was amazed at what this man was about to say.
“I must admit things before I can start this. I must go into this task with a clean mind,” he stated out loud to his reflection.
“I do not believe in God, and I no longer believe in Hyraaq Tobit.”
As these words left his mouth, he felt himself brace for instant death. He imagined being struck with a stroke or a heart attack instantly. Perhaps Pinkerton would just appear behind him and rip his heart out.
Nothing of that nature happened.
“I do believe in the Council of Tobit, as I have witnessed evidence of their existence. I also believe that there is some powerful aspect out there that has given me the power to raise the dead, and to live in a city that cannot be seen from the outside world. I have witnessed actions that defy all laws of nature, and certainly do suggest that a greater power exists. However, I do not believe, nor am I even sure that I have ever really believed, that a man with a goat’s head lives on a floating castle and grants me these powers.”
Again Madison waited for that death note to play. He waited for the execution. Still nothing happened. Madison was still standing, healthy and alive.
“I have forced myself to think that I believe in Tobit all of these years. Deep down inside, I wanted so badly to believe in him, whether out of fear or not, yet I know now that my doubts were always the stronger of the two beliefs. While I know there is dark magic at work in every aspect of my life, I am at best an agnostic in the grand scheme of Tobit’s world. If he does exist, I hope only that he rewards my actions today. If he is in fact a false god, nothing more than a focal point for his fanatical worshippers, then I hope that Pinkerton, who is more a proven god than Tobit, will reward my actions.”
Lance Madison felt something almost like a childish thrill come across him. To finally say out loud what he had held in for nearly two centuries felt amazing. All these years, he had forced himself to believe in Tobit, forced it with all of his mental might, simply because he was afraid that to believe otherwise, even for a second, would be his death.
However, here he was now, in the light of day, admitting in spoken word that he did not believe in the existence of Hyraaq Tobit, that he in fact never really did, and it felt as though a ton had been lifted from his shoulders. He smiled even larger. Today was shaping up to be quite a day indeed, and he owed it all to a woman named Emily Pert. He decided at that moment he would reward her. Perhaps she could be given a position of trust within Lance’s clergy.
Perhaps, even, he could love a woman once more. He felt a touch of shame at that, as he had just prayed for Jennifer’s blessing, but he was also a man who felt that he might now live another few centuries, and if he could somehow manage that, he did not wish to live them alone.
“Now to prepare,” Lance Madison stated once more.
Removing a key from his dresser, he opened a locked closet in the corner of his chambers. Inside were crimson robes, pendants bearing the image of Tobit and goat skull masks. He removed two pendants and attached them to simple silver chains. The pendants were all he would need for this. He left the robes and masks in the closet. Most people saw those that wore this outfit as goat-headed fiends, terrible entities of demonic powers. What they were known as in Delphia were The Faithful. Appointed and empowering The Faithful was a power that was unique to the Grand Magus. Lance was quite sure that Pinkerton could also conduct this ritual, but he had never seen the man do it himself. No, it seemed that Thaddeus Pinkerton took more pleasure in working alone, tempting and damning those with his own magic and twisted concept of charm.
Lance had two people in mind as the next to be imbued with the powers given to The Faithful. He would need to make the correct preparations first, though. Laying out the pendants, he raised his hands and began the ritual. His plan was underway, and he knew that his very soul was on the betting table.
He prayed to Jennifer as he murmured the ancient words in Dawning that would enchant the objects before him. He prayed that this gambit would work, for failure meant a fate far worse than death for Delphia’s current Grand Magus.
Emily Pert concluded her conversation with Lance Madison, thanking the Grand Magus for his time and attention, reassuring him that his place would always be here in the heart of Delphia, gently shaking his hand, and then feeling the urge to vomit.
Emily despised the man. She always had. He was pure evil, and everyone who encountered him could tell. He was arrogant yet so weak of mind. If Emily had her way, she would have stilled his black heart on the spot, but of course, to do that would be to endanger everyone she cared for.
Emily's task had recently shifted to getting close to the Grand Magus, in any way she possibly could. Normally this was almost impossible. On most days, Lance Madison would give his sermon, all that bullshit about how Tobit is the creator of all the cosmos, and how those that reside in Delphia are the chosen flock... blah blah and bullshit. These damned sermons went on almost daily, with the occasional break for some other such nonsense. Emily knew for a fact that today was the day that Pinkerton, an equally slimy piece of shit in her mind, yet a far more difficult target, would come and put on a show for the children of Delphia.
"Soka has to sit through that shit, poor girl," Emily thought as she advanced down the cobblestone streets.
Emily was a member of what Madison, Pinkerton and Shaw liked to refer to as the rebels. Emily didn't see it that way. She, and those that made up her group, few as it may be, called themselves the Unwashed.
It started as a bit of joke. Most members of Delphia are quickly brainwashed upon arrival. There was once a time when everyone who washed up on the shores of Antarctica were quickly given over to Tobit. They would be forced to take a pledge, swearing their souls to the dark god. Of course, taking a pledge to Tobit means nothing on a spiritual level; most people would make this oath out of fear for their lives. However, this ritual did make escape from Delphia almost impossible, as it would bind your spiritual identity to the city itself. Emily, nor any other members of the Unwashed, really understood how this binding worked; they all just knew that once the pledge was made, people didn't try and escape anymore.
She remembered the night that Derrick Reynolds escaped. He was also unwashed, his brains were at least, and he had managed to escape through the gate. The others, the mob who gave chase, none of them even tried to leave. They stood there, staring out into the free world, and simply remained. She never understood that. They could have all ran for it, just as Reynolds did, yet they chose to return to the city and resume this farce of a life. This existence where, on any given day, your neighbors could be instructed to eat you alive.
The preceding Grand Magus, and quite likely the ones before him, took a slow and methodical approach to taking in new members. Everyone was sworn in, and it was easy to keep track because the arrivals were few and far between. Madison, however, had taken a much more industrious approach, making recruitment a top priority. He developed a means of getting in dozens of new citizens at once, sometimes more.
Of course, what Madison didn't account for in this method was the more people coming in, the harder it was to keep track of them all. Also, opening the Veil of Delphia through the suicide rituals had allowed at least one person, the leader of the Unwashed to be exact, to slip into the city unnoticed altogether. If Madison only knew who it was, he would likely kill himself on the spot and save the Unwashed the trouble.
So, many of those that were forced into Delphia, were here without taking the cursed pledge to Tobit. Because of that, they existed almost off of Madison's demonic radar. This allowed them to survive thus far at least. Emily chuckled at the thought that Madison, in his rush to prove himself to Pinkerton by tripling the population of Delphia, had actually given rise to the very rebels that, if their leader was correct, could possibly take down the bastardized city and all the wicked pricks that ran the place.
Hence they called themselves the Unwashed, a nod to the very fact that their minds had not been infiltrated by the influence of Tobit's cult.
Emily picked up the pace as she neared her home. She would drop off information to Soka's adopted father, a man named Clive Andrews. Soka's real parents had been killed shortly after arriving in Delphia.
They made the mistake of speaking out once too many times. They resisted from the moment they were brought to the city, demanding their release.
They had been part of a Japanese tour line. A small, private group of tourists taking a small chartered ship around Antarctica. Somehow, Madison's tendrils of influence had reached the captain of that ship, and he had wrecked right on the shore near Bannister Church. He had committed the suicide ritual, opening the gates. Soka's family had been brought in, with about a dozen others, looking for help. Instead of help, they had found Delphia.
Soka's parents had refused the pledge; even though others told them that it was best to just go through with it. They fought back, they resisted. It came as no surprise to anyone when they were brought before the congregation during one of Madison's sermons, and given the simple choice, commit or die.
The fact that Soka, a 10 year old girl from Tokyo, was now being taken care of by a man from Pittsburgh was evidence enough of which path they chose. Clive had been a traveling journalist before he was taken into Delphia, so he spoke a little Japanese. It made the most sense to let him take care of her. She seemed to trust him.
Emily arrived at her door and took a quick glance around in either direction, ensuring that she wasn't being followed. Once she felt that she was as safe as possible, she entered and shut the door behind her.
"How did it go?" asked Clive, standing to greet Emily as she entered.
"He's distressed about the whole situation. It would appear that our wonderful Grand Magus is on the outs with his boss. The whole Derrick Reynolds situation must have really shaken things up. He's scared. He's trying to be strong, to fake it, but I could tell that the guy is scared, and perhaps desperate for a solution."
"Good, having him on edge will work in our favor. The more he's got to think about, the better we can move about right under his nose," Clive replied with a smile.
"How is Soka?" Emily inquired.
"She's good. She is really proud of being able to reach Clair Nobles in her dream. Her psychic gifts have been a boon to us thus far, but having her able to communicate with the outside world, that is something we cannot possibly put a value on," Clive responded, his smile still confident.
"Do you think it worked? Do you think Clair and Derrick met up?" Emily asked.
"We have no way of knowing right now. Although I would bet a million dollars that Madison and that freak Pinkerton are doing everything in their powers to make sure that doesn't happen," he answered.
"So the boss really thinks that they can help save us all?"
Clive considered her question. The leader of the Unwashed did seem confident that Clair and Derrick were the solution. That if the right information could be passed on to them, that perhaps, just maybe, Delphia could be dismantled.
"Emily, we've trusted him this long. He's kept us alive and safe, evaded Madison and his goat-faced minions at every turn. I think we just need to keep working with Soka on her mental abilities. If she can reach out to Clair again, we might be able to get more information to her. Think about it, Emily. Perhaps we could be home again by this time next month. No more Delphia, no more Tobit, just home, like life was before all of this."
"But what about the woman, Tabitha? The one that arrived here not too long ago. Soka saw her in her dream. Aren't you concerned that Tabitha might know about us, or at least about Soka?"
"Perhaps," Clive answered, "But I feel like if that were the case, she would have already come after us. I've walked past her on the street a couple of times since that dream, and she hasn't even batted an eye at me, although sometimes I wish she would...." Clive blushed a bit.
"Relax there, Romeo," Emily snapped.
"Fine, but like I said, I think we're okay. We don't even know if Soka really saw Tabitha Shaw in her dream, or if she just dreamed about Tabitha Shaw. Think about it. Soka is afraid of that woman, as I imagine most people would be, so it stands to reason that she would show up in the girl's nightmare. The fact that we're still standing here talking about it all tells me that Tabitha, Lance and the rest of the stooges up in that tower don't know a thing."
"It's a shame about Timothy, though..." Emily stated, her eyes watering just a bit. "He's the one that brought me into the Unwashed. He gave it all to rescue Derrick."
Clive gripped Emily's shoulder, "He gave it all to rescue all of us. Before that mob ran him down, he stood his ground, knowing what would happen, knowing that they would kill him if he were caught. Yet he did that so not only Derrick could escape, but so we could continue to fight and resist Madison. We must carry on in his name. If we escape Delphia, if we make this all right, his death will have meant something far greater than we can imagine."
"Go wake up Soka. Pinkerton is doing that goddamned children's show today. Soka will be expected to be there," Emily said, wanting to break away from the intense discussion of their lost compatriot.
Soka hated Pinkerton's little event. He called it "Hiya Toby." It almost sounded like some corny 90s Nickelodeon morning programming, but to anyone who has lived in Delphia for a while, it becomes quite clear that Hiya Toby is nothing more than a clever way to say Hyraaq Tobit, but in a way to suck children into it without ever knowing exactly who and what they were cheering for.
Pinkerton would come out in his brightest, cheeriest little outfit, he would sing and dance, and all the while he'd fill the children's heads up with lies and nonsense about how Delphia is greater than Disney World, and how following Tobit's words will surely lead to salvation and joy beyond their wildest imaginations.
In other words, total bullshit.
With a sigh, Clive walked up the stairs to the small bedroom where Soka was sleeping. He already knew that she would cry and protest, as she hated Hiya Toby as much as the adults of the Unwashed hated Pinkerton and Madison. Yet she knew that they would make her go. Clive had explained it to her time and time again. It was all about appearance.
Soka felt the dread creep over her as Clive walked her towards the small gathering hall where the dreaded Hiya Toby show took place. She had hated every aspect of Delphia with a fierceness that was not common to a girl her age ever since her parents were punished at the hands of Lance Madison. Their crime - expressing their free will.
Soka was a special little girl. She had known it for the longest time. Clive and Emily knew it too, as did the large, kind man that led the Unwashed. She had experienced clairvoyant gifts since she was old enough to understand what they were. She had always felt a deep connection to everyone around here. She didn’t know exactly what an empath was, nor did she know the full extent of her abilities. All that she knew was she could reach out to others in their minds.
She remembered back to her earlier childhood, when these gifts first began to expose themselves. It all started out very minimal at first. She could tell if a kid walking towards her was going to be nice or mean. She could tell if the teacher in her class was going to give out a light assignment or a harsh one. She could tell when her parents were happy or sad, regardless of how they behaved.
As far as she could tell, she couldn’t turn this ability on or off, it was just… there. She felt it the day her family boarded the small ship for their tour around Antarctica. Her mother had been very excited. She had too; the prospect of seeing live penguins was something that to Soka was well worth the trip alone.
They had been at sea for two days when the dread became stronger. Soka saw something in the face of the ship’s captain, something that she understood as evil, yet lacked the understanding to actually define or articulate.
“The captain is a bad man,” she had told her parents one night, as they settled in their cabin for sleep.
“Soka, do not be silly,” her mother replied. “The captain is a kind and wise man; he is in charge of all of our safety.”
Soka, who didn’t like to argue with her parents, thought carefully before speaking again.
“It’s just... I had a nightmare about him. He was sitting alone in his cabin; he had candles lit and was reading from a book. He was chanting, it sounded... ancient. In my dream, I was in the room with him. He continued to chant, but then, then I think he knew I was there. He turned to look at me, but his head…. his head was that of a goat.” Soka forced her words, feeling the fear that had been building within her trying to escape, to burst free and cause her to break down crying like a baby.
“Honey, you just had a nightmare, that’s all. We’re far away from home on a strange boat. It’s normal that you’d feel a bit nervous. Just remember, we’ll get to see the penguins soon. Won’t that be fun?”
This was her father, a man who could never raise his voice to his daughter. He spoke in the calming tones that usually worked when she was upset.
“Can’t we just go home? I can see penguins at the zoo,” she replied.
Soka’s mother, whose tones tended to lean more towards direct and stern, stepped in.
“Soka, enough of this, you had a nightmare. We spent a lot of money on this trip and I do not want to hear you crying the entire time because you had a bad dream. There is nothing wrong with the captain.”
Soka then did what she always did when her parents were upset with her. She lay down on her bed and pulled the covers over her head. She would sleep, and when she awoke the next morning, she knew that she would feel better.
However, the morning did not bring her comfort. As the ship neared the Antarctic coast, her sense of despair rose. She had a horrible thought that her parents, her home, her friends and even her pets were about to be removed from her life. She couldn’t quite place all of her fears, but she knew they were strong, and by now undeniable.
She tried again and again to warn her parents, and again she was ignored.
“Soka, if you do not stop this nonsense this second, you will spend the remainder of this trip in the cabin. Is that what you want?” her mother demanded.
“No, I want us to go home, mother. Something awful is going to happen, I can feel it,” Soka begged. However, her pleas continued to fall on deaf ears.
Her father attempted to soothe her in his trademark manner.
“Soka, we could not just go home right now even if we wanted to. We are at sea. It’s not as though we can just step off this boat and hail a cab. Don’t you understand that?”
“But the man with the goat head… he’s here, I can sense him,” Soka pleaded back.
“Enough Soka!” shouted her mother, “You will not ruin this trip!”
“Yumi, it will not help to scream at her,” Soka’s father stated. He was always a softy when it came to his daughter, something that his wife always nagged him for.
“No, Shota. Enough is enough. Do you not remember our trip to the United States? Do you remember our time in Greenwich, Connecticut, when we went to see my sister-in-law?”
Shota did indeed remember that time. The entire trip, Soka cried, telling them that a white haired girl was being held prisoner in a church. Soka even gave her imaginary white haired maiden a name, Cindy. For most of the trip, she insisted that Cindy was going to be sacrificed to a monster. Because of these hysterics, most of the trip was ruined, at least in the eyes of Yumi Ito. They actually ended up leaving early because Soka wouldn’t stop crying. Yumi, a loving enough wife and mother, was also one to hold a grudge, and because of that, she had never forgotten how difficult their daughter could be at times.
What Shota would never tell his wife, was that Soka had many more episodes like this, but would only confide in him. Shota also believed his daughter, at least to an extent. As a businessman, it was his job to keep an eye on things in the UK and the United States. He read, later, after their trip to Greenwich, that a cult had been exposed in a local church there, and that they indeed were holding a girl captive there. He didn’t tell this to his wife or daughter, as he didn’t want to upset his daughter by bringing her fears back to light, and he didn’t want to upset his wife by bringing up past experiences that caused her anger.
Still, though, when his daughter showed those brief moments of empathic abilities, Shota Ito paid attention. He wasn’t a firm believer in the paranormal, but he did come from a strong Shinto background, and believed in spirits. He wasn’t completely opposed to the idea that perhaps his daughter was sensitive to their presence.
“How about this, Soka. Let us go and speak to the captain, you and I together. I will show you that he is a good man, not some sort of monster,” Shota offered.
“You’ll be with me?” Soka asked.
“Of course,” he assured her.
Walking towards the captain’s wheelhouse, Soka began to feel the dread and fear intensify. She gripped her father’s hand, hoping that he could protect her from whatever might lie beyond.
Upon arriving at the wheelhouse door, Shota told his daughter to wait outside until he called her in. She agreed, and he entered the wheelhouse.
The events that happened next came quickly, and left Soka in a state of confusion that even now, in the present, had not abandoned her.
Shota quickly exited the wheelhouse, appearing pale and shaken.
“What is wrong, father?” Soka asked.
“Go back to your cabin, NOW! Tell your mother to wait there with you until I come back,” he demanded, in a tone that was far harsher than she was used to hearing from her father.
“Father, what is the matter?” she attempted to ask again.
“I said GO NOW!” he shouted, and Soka did as she was told.
She returned to the cabin, but before she could even begin to explain to her mother what was happening, she heard a loud crash and the entire room tipped on its side.
People could be heard screaming in panic. An alarm was going off somewhere on the ship. Yumi, who had been knocked to the floor in the initial crash, regained her footing and crawled towards the window in their cabin.
“Oh, God, we’ve hit the shore… we’ve crashed,” she stated in a harsh whisper.
And so it began, the whirlwind of events that would eventually lead to Soka being led to the dreaded Hiya Toby show.
The captain had committed suicide, slitting his own throat apparently. What the survivors found in his cabin caused Soka’s parents to both cringe. They found candles, a book with archaic writing in a language that none of them could decipher, and some sort of ceremonial dagger. Mixed in with the strange language were sets of numbers, which the survivors quickly determined to be grid coordinates. Had this been the captain’s plan all along?
As they continued to search about, things became more and more bleak. The captain, before taking his own life, had apparently destroyed all of the communications equipment aboard the ship, including all radios and the navigation devices. They had no way of calling for help or even determining where exactly they were.
The survivors quickly organized themselves into groups. Some worked to attempt to repair the ship, which any engineer, even in his or her first year of school, would have been able to tell was just about impossible. The rest of the able bodied adults went off in search of help. They were aware that research stations were set up along the coast of Antarctica, and were hoping to find one that was currently manned.
The group that remained at the boat worked to ration the food and water. Soka, who had been scared before, was now terrified. In her mind, she saw the man with the goat head. He was coming towards them, trudging through the snow and ice. She didn’t know who or what he was, but she knew he was evil. She clung to her father and wouldn’t allow him to leave her sight.
“There are bad people here,” she spoke.
“Who?” asked Shota.
“The people in the city. They worship the goat man. He sits alone, in a castle,” Soka replied.
“Stop scaring her by going along with this,” Yumi scolded.
Shota, for one of the few times in his marriage, defied his wife and pressed his daughter for more insight. After all, she had been right about the girl with the white hair, even had her name correct, so why should he not at the very least hear her out now.
“What city, Soka?” he asked.
“It’s here; it’s a bad place father, a very bad place. It’s been here for a very long time, and the people that live there, they…. they eat each other,” she whispered the last part, as though the very ears of the devil were upon them. Perhaps they were.
“Soka, if you do not stop this right now!” Yumi demanded.
Shota was preparing for the argument if need be; he wanted to hear what his daughter had to say. However, before he could speak, some of the other survivors returned at a quick pace, seemingly excited over something they found.
“We’re rescued!” shouted a man in the group.
“Did you find a science station?” asked Shota, standing up.
“Shota, you will not believe this! We found a city!” the man replied.
The Ito family took a moment to register this. Had their daughter not just made this prediction?
“No, that isn’t possible,” Shota replied, “This is Antarctica. There are no cities here, just a few research centers and a lot of ice.”
“Then come with us and see,” the man replied.
Shota stood up, but felt Soka tugging at his pants.
“No, father. Don’t go there. It’s an evil place, a place of death,” she begged.
“Soka, we cannot stay here; we will freeze to death. We don’t have much food, and there are elders with us here as well. They cannot survive these harsh environments. We must go and get help. Do not be afraid; I am here with you,” Shota said, doing his best to reassure her.
The survivors did indeed find a city. It was a miracle. There was a tiny building with a sign out front that read Bannister Church. The man who had announced the finding led Shota and his family through. When they emerged on the other side, they found utter amazement awaiting them.
A beautiful city, like something from a fairy tale stood beyond the church. All the buildings were constructed of dark stone, and the roads were cobblestone. Shota saw no cars or payphones, no neon signs, nothing of the 21st century. Instead this reminded him of something one might find in the rural back-country of Europe. The tallest buildings appeared to be perhaps about 20 stories tall, but none were like the glass walled towers of Tokyo. He could see some sort of tower in the back of the city, rising up. In the center of the town was a massive cathedral.
They were greeted by men wearing what almost appeared to be traditional police uniforms, only they were solid blue with large gold buttons. They all wore a single star as a badge. There was no badge number, no radio or gun on their hips. As far as Shota and Yumi Ito could tell, they had somehow stumbled back in time.
“Welcome to Delphia!” announced one of the police officers. “Please, enter. We are sure you’re quite confused and probably have lots of questions. We will take you to our Magistrate, and all shall be explained.”
The survivors were ushered in, and all received the same greeting. By the day’s end, they had been taken in, given a meal and a place to sleep.
Everyone appeared thrilled at being rescued and were overtaken by curiosity. Everyone except Soka, that was. Soka was terrified. As far as she was concerned, her parents had just walked into the very bowels of Hell.
There was some sort of ceremony being held in the cathedral that night. Something called a masking. Soka refused to go into the cathedral, insisting that it was a place of immense evil. Her parents, who were also shaken by the events of that day, agreed to stay in their quarters that had been provided for them.
Some of the others from the ship did attend, wanting to show their respect and appreciation for the food and lodging. Those that did attend came back… changed. They seemed to walk around in a haze, smiling and speaking of how Delphia could be a new home to them.
The following afternoon, as the Ito family walked about Delphia taking in some of the sights, Shota could have sworn he saw the captain from the ship strolling about the city as well. Certainly the man looked identical in most every way. He knew that was impossible, though; he found the man with his throat cut, lying in a puddle of his own blood. No amount of medical miracles would explain him making a recovery, especially to the point where he could go on a nice stroll through town.
Soka tugged on her father’s pants, “That is the captain, father. The goat man brought him back, but he didn’t bring him back the way he was.”
“What do you mean, Soka?” he asked.
“I saw it in a dream. The goat man, the one they all worship here, can bring back the dead, but when they come back, they’re different. He does something to them…. that’s why, that’s why we cannot go into that church; I don’t want him to make us different.”
Shota was chilled to his core at those words. Certainly he felt something was off about this place as well, but they had only been here a day. Sure, the people here seemed strange, but then again, the very idea that people lived here at all was strange.
Shota, wishing to continue to keep up the image of the strong father, told his daughter to not think too much about it. They had just gone through a traumatic experience; it was only natural to be nervous. He assured her that in a few days they would be on a ship back to Japan, back home, and that they would all laugh about this later.
“We won’t, father. We will never laugh at this; in fact, we may never laugh again,” Soka said in a melancholy voice that had no place in the speech of a young child. Her sadness made Shota fearful, even though he couldn’t quite tell why.
The days went on after that in a fashion keeping with any prison that didn’t quite want to admit that it was a prison.
The survivors that hadn’t fallen under the charms of this city quickly began to realize that the denizens of Delphia were not rescuers, but rather captors. All requests for phone calls were denied. Any requests to reach out to their families in Japan were quickly swatted away. When people asked to leave the city and return to the ship to collect some of their personal items, the request was denied. There was always an excuse, always a reason not to go.
This lasted for about a week. That was when Shota could take it no longer. Between his daughter’s deteriorating mental health, his wife’s slowly dawning fears and his own realization that something was very wrong with this city, he finally decided to go down and demand that the city magistrate allow them to leave. At this point, he would be happy just to hike to one of the science stations, even if it did mean he’d arrive with frostbite.
Soka recalled the night her father returned to their quarters, so enraged that she barely recognized the man.
“He said no!” Shota bellowed harshly as he walked into the room.
“What? What do you mean he said no?” asked Yumi.
“He said that we are home now, that we should adjust to Delphia and the way things are done here. He told me that we needed to start attending this Madison’s church sermons as well. He said that we cannot be excused from our duties any longer, simply because we are new to the city.”
“Shota, I will not be forced to go to church. What is this, the dark ages?” Yumi replied, her own anger beginning to rise.
“I agree, Yumi. This is ridiculous. They cannot keep us here like prisoners,” Shota concurred to his wife.
“What do we do?” Yumi asked, the panic clear in her voice.
“We leave; they cannot force us to stay. We are citizens of Japan; they cannot keep us here like prisoners. We shall pack warm clothes and leave out of the same gate in which we came through. If we must, we will return to the boat and take shelter there. I know there are several science stations along the coast here. With any luck, if I search during the warmer hours of the day, I’ll find help and rescue.”
“Okay, Shota, but what of the others, those that came here with us from the boat?” Yumi inquired.
“Have you seen them? It’s almost like they're…. brainwashed. They walk around here smiling and taking in the scenery. One of them asked me if I found the light of Tobit today, that fucking thing they worship here. I have never seen people get so swept up in something as quickly as they have.”
“They aren’t by choice,” Soka interjected. “They are under his control. I can feel him, like a black tumor, somewhere beneath this city.”
“What are you talking about, Soka?” Yumi asked in sharp tones.
“If I focus, if I close my eyes and let my mind wander, I see, I see a statue, buried under the ice. It was put there a long time ago. It’s how he controls the people here,” Soka answered.
“Enough is enough, all of this is driving us all crazy,” Shota stated. “We will all bundle up, put on layers, grab a few things that you want to bring, but travel light; we must leave this city now. I don’t know if there is an evil statue under the ice, but I do know that something is very wrong here, and I don’t want to wait around to find out what. We leave now! Get ready.”
The Ito family left their quarters and made their way briskly to the gates of Bannister Church. They reached the door and found a dozen or so of those weird police officers waiting for them there.
“Wrong way, sir. The Cathedral is in the center of town,” one of the officers stated, putting on false jovial tones.
“I don’t think so. We’re leaving here. Move out of our way,” demanded Shota.
“I think you’ll want to attend tonight’s service, Mr. Ito; it is a very special one. Seems that Father Madison is quite anxious to meet you and your family. I think it would be best if you go to the Cathedral, now,” the guard replied, no trace of the friendly or jovial man remained. The officer was not making a suggestion; he was giving an order.
“Move aside!” Shota demanded, and stepped forward, pushing the guard.
What happened next was fast and gruesome. Soka knew at that moment, if she were to live to be 100 years old, she would never get the image out of her head. The officers descended upon her parents. Shota was beaten with the large clubs each officer wore hanging from their belts. Yumi began to scream, stepping in and trying to protect her husband. The officers showed her no mercy, nor did they show any consideration for her size or gender. They began to beat her as well. Apparently in Delphia, everyone is abused equally.
A guard grabbed Soka roughly by the back of her neck.
“You stand still and watch, see what happens to those that defy the laws of Delphia, those that would reject the Word of Tobit!”
So the guard held Soka in place and forced her to watch her parents beaten. She screamed and cried and begged the men to stop. Once her parents were lying bruised and bleeding on the street, the guards picked them up and began forcibly marching them towards the Cathedral in the center of the city. Soka was forced along as well.
They were paraded into the Cathedral, which was already packed with people. Every pew was filled. Some were even standing.
Soka’s terrified mind attempted to take everything in. She was terrified of the Cathedral, but she was more afraid for her parents. In that moment, she forgot all she had felt about this building. At that moment, she wasn’t thinking about the demonic statue buried beneath the city; she wasn’t thinking about the captain of the ship that was walking around as though he hadn’t sliced his own throat; she wasn’t thinking about the goat man that she could practically feel gazing upon her from behind the eyes of everyone in attendance.
At that moment, all she cared about was the safety of her parents.
The Ito family was led to the front of the cathedral. Soka was forcibly sat down on a pew; her parents were taken up to the raised area that housed the altar.
Her parents stood before the altar, looking down at their daughter. The fear she saw in their eyes was terrifying. Up until this moment, she didn’t even believe that adults were capable of being that afraid. She tried to get up once, to run to them and comfort them, but the guard remained next to her, and violently shoved her back into the pew when she attempted to stand.
“Remain seated,” he stated in a voice that was so devoid of human emotion that he could have almost been a robot. Soka spoke very little English, as she had only just begun studying it in school, but that tone, and the look in his eyes, told her all she needed to hear.
A man entered from a small door beyond the altar. Soka had seen him around once or twice. He looked friendly at first, sort of like a professor. She thought he looked like the actor that played Magneto in the X-Men movie she saw a few months ago - handsome, but in a fatherly way.
He began to address the crowd. He was speaking English, Soka could tell that much, but for some reason, when he spoke, his words came out clear as day, as though he was speaking perfect Japanese.
He began, “My Flock, My People, My most Faithful, you, those who have been chosen by our Lord, the One Who Created All, the One whom we must give all of our praise and glory, Hyraaq Tobit! Tonight, tonight we do not gather for a traditional sermon. Tonight we gather to try and save these two lost souls. Shota and Yumi Ito, of Tokyo, Japan, have been chosen to live among us here in the Center of Creation, in Lord Tobit’s most sacred of places, yet they resist!”
A hushed gasp could be heard throughout the congregation. Soka mustered all of her strength and ordered herself not to fall into hysterics. She began to weep, silently, allowing the tears to simply fall down her face. She was afraid that if she were to move her hands to wipe them away, that the guard might grab her again.
The man that looked like the Magneto actor continued, “As much as they have tried our resolve and tested our infinite love, the Word of Tobit is always that of kindness and love. In keeping with the will and wishes of our great Lord, he who sits beyond the stars, he who keeps all of us within his heart, I do extend to them yet another invitation to come along with us on our journey with Lord Tobit, for he will never turn away a true faithful heart, even those that have a little trouble finding room in their own hearts, mind and souls for our most beloved Master.
“With that said, Mr. and Mrs. Ito, I ask of you, on bended knee and with only the deepest and most sincere of intent, to join us, pledge yourselves, and your beautiful daughter Soka, to Hyraaq Tobit, and to Delphia. What say you, will you join me in praising our Lord and Master Hyraaq Tobit? If not just for your own salvations, but also for that of your daughter?”
Shota had never been quick to anger, not once in his adult life anyway. He had a boss that didn’t appreciate his efforts, yet he held his tongue. He had a domineering wife that often times demanded that Shota do things her way, and even then he held his tongue. However, when he was beaten, then forced to watch his wife be beaten, then dragged into a church and forced to stand in front of a sea of drooling zealots, only to have the leader of the zealots attempt to use his daughter as collateral to essentially blackmail him into worshipping some made up god, well, that was all he could take.
Shota had never spit on anyone before. His mother had forbidden him to even spit on the ground as a child, insisting that it was trashy and unbecoming. Shota however forgot all of that, and spit a large wad of saliva directly into Lance Madison’s face.
“Fuck you, and fuck your Tobit, LET ME AND MY FAMILY GO!” he screamed.
Madison didn’t respond at first. He removed a cloth and wiped the spit from his face. He stood silently for a moment, looking at Shota Ito, as though he couldn’t quite decide what he wanted to do. Then, after what felt like an eternity to Soka, Madison smiled.
Turning away from the Ito family on the altar, Madison addressed the congregation, “Tobit is a loving Father; Tobit provides so much to us all, does he not?”
The sea of fanatics all responded with a growing fervor.
“Tonight, he offered the Ito family love; he wished only to provide them with the same light and guidance that he has given to all of us. Yet, they reject him. However, Lord Tobit does not see their rejection as a reason to feel regret. Since they will not allow him to provide love for them, he has instead chosen for them to provide for all of you. My people, I ask that you do not push and shove, I ask that you all form a line to the front. Lord Tobit has told me Shota and Yumi Ito, will be provided to you all… as food!”
Upon hearing this, the energy in the room went through the roof. Everyone in the gathering formed a line, as neat as Catholics lining up for communion. Soka was forced to remain seated. She had no idea what was coming, but she feared the worst for her parents.
It wasn’t until the first Delphian in the line reached the front, that it began to dawn on Soka, exactly what was about to happen. She had been able to live through seeing her parents being beaten, because she knew that a beating rarely killed anyone. However, when she saw a man bite into her mother’s right cheek and rip out a large chunk of flesh, the little girl went into a panic attack.
She remembered very little. What she did see, when her overtaxed mind allowed her to see anything, were her parents being held in place by the guards, as one after another, the church goers lined up and bit into them, ripping their flesh and eating it, as her parents screamed and begged. Finally, like a blessing, Soka passed out from fear and panic.
When she woke up, it was all over. Any sign of her parents was simply gone, as though they had never existed. Of course, she knew exactly what happened to them. Had it not been for Clive and Emily, she surely would have lost her mind during those dark times. They had taken her in, though; Clive even spoke a bit of Japanese. His broken Japanese, combined with her limited English, was enough for the two to communicate with each other. It took time, but slowly she began to trust Clive and Emily. Her trust came not from their smiles and kindness, because, as she had seen, even snakes like Lance Madison could pretend to be kind. No, her trust came from what she saw and sensed in the two. They were different. Like her parents, they had managed to resist taking the pledge to Tobit. Unlike her parents, they had managed to survive, to simply slip through the cracks. She sensed something else in them as well, something even greater. They were resisting. She felt that in time, they might even find a way to escape. Eventually, they revealed to her the Unwashed; they introduced her to the large, jolly man that led the Unwashed, the man who had managed to sneak into Delphia with the sole purpose of bringing it down. She trusted him as well. At this point, she had no choice.
She didn’t like their group’s name though.
“It makes it seem as though we don’t bathe,” she mentioned to Clive once.
He laughed. “It means far more than that, Soka, it means that we still have our real lives, our real souls inside of us, that we haven’t been changed by that church, by that bastard Madison,” Clive reassured her.
Since that day, Soka had been helping her friends, who, also unlike her parents, believed in her mental abilities. They developed slowly, but when a new discovery was made, it seemed almost as though they were inventing electricity. In a place like Delphia, where gas lamps and wax candles were all the rage, that was quite an advancement.
She had managed to reach Clair just the other night, reach out to her in her dreams. That was the first time she’d succeeded in finding someone on the outside. The leader of the Unwashed believed in his heart and soul that contacting those on the outside and coordinating a plan with those on the inside was the key to bringing down Delphia and escaping this hell once and for all.
“Darling, we’re here,” Clive stated in a flat voice, bringing Soka out of her reflections and back into the present.
They were at the small gathering place where Pinkerton would put on his little show. Clive was grateful that it was for children only, as he was quite sure anything that Pinkerton produced was vile. Yet he also felt pity for Soka, that she would have to sit through a couple hours of his nonsense. However, she had done it many times, and he had no reason to suspect anything else would be different.
Clive cringed when he heard that all too familiar southern accent speak his name.
“Mister Andrews, oh Mister Andrews, how are you and little Soka on this fine day?”
“Quite well, Mr. Pinkerton. Soka here is very excited for today’s Hiya Toby show,” Clive replied, hating himself more with each false word he produced in the name of keeping up images.
“Well now, Mister Andrews, we are just too excited to have her here. Hiya Toby has been talking about little Miss Ito all day now. He’s simply jumping out of his skin to see her,” Pinkerton replied, following his statement with a deep belly laugh.
“Hello, Mister Pinky,” Soka spoke. She learned some time ago that with Pinkerton, it didn’t matter what language she spoke, he could understand it all, and she could always understand him.
Pinkerton laughed again and puffed out his cheeks and rolled his eyes around in his head.
Soka hated him with all of her heart.
“Well then, Miss Ito, do come in, let’s not keep Hiya Toby waiting, because you know, he just cannot wait to say Hiya to you!” Pinkerton concluded, and ushered the little girl into the building.
“I’ll pick her up in two hours, Mister Pinkerton,” Clive commented.
Pinkerton looked back and gave a dark smile, “Two hours, Mister Andrews. We shall see each other then.”
Inspiration Takes Form
Tabitha Shaw sat atop the small house where Emily Pert and Clive Andrews had discussed their current dilemma. She had heard it all.
To someone like Tabitha, finding the location and identities of at least some of the Unwashed had been quite simple. While a bumbling fool like Lance Madison would stick to his nightly torture of Timothy VanBuren, getting nowhere while asking the same questions, Tabitha was a different kind of hunter. Tabitha was a mover and a shaker. While she certainly did enjoy torturing information out of people, or sometimes just torturing them for fun, she also knew when a method wasn’t working, such as Madison’s repeated failures at getting Timothy to reveal the location of the Unwashed.
Tabitha had to admit, some of her success had been by luck. She had been in deep meditation at just the right time when she intercepted the dream being shared by Clair Nobles and Soka Ito. To someone like Tabitha, though, it was never just about luck; it was always about the millions of other levels that surrounded that luck.
“Luck is for those that lack grace,” Tabitha thought to herself, perched on the roof of Emily’s little home in Delphia.
She tried to remember exactly where she heard that comment, perhaps something her mother told her eons ago when Tabitha Shaw had such earthly anchors as parents. Something from the life she barely recalled, a life that she could hardly believe ever existed, a life before Pinkerton, Tobit and the Sisters.
To Tabitha Shaw, it had been like clockwork after the dream. She had seen the Ito girl around town. She was hard to miss. Children were rare in Delphia, with only a few dozen in the entire city. Soka was the only Japanese girl, so she grabbed attention. Tabitha would have laughed herself to death had she known that this little girl would lead her to the Unwashed the first time she saw her. Soka was meek and scared, the opposite of any such mantras that Tabitha lived by. Tabitha believed in strength and a presence so powerful that all eyes must lock on you. She was the definition of an alpha-female.
Soka, on the other hand, almost always seemed on the verge of tears or panic. This is something that Tabitha simply couldn’t abide in a person.
But then the dream came, and Tabitha saw Soka for what she really was. A damned psionic of sorts, a skill that even the highest ranking members of Tobit’s flock often struggled to master. And here she was, sending herself into other people’s dreams like a second nature.
“Oh, girly, you are lucky,” Tabitha thought to herself. “Those skills make you quite valuable. Hell, perhaps you could even be a Sister one day. In the meantime, though, those skills will keep you alive, because we are going to want to peek into that little mind of yours eventually. As for your friends though… well, they’re not quite so valuable.”
Tabitha’s first thought was to just wait for Clive Andrews to return to Emily Pert, and then go on in there and have some fun with them. One would die, one would be kept alive and tortured until she was satisfied she’d gathered all the information on the Unwashed that she could want.
Therein lay the problem. Even in the comfort and privacy of their own home, they didn’t speak the name or location of the leader of their little group. And as Madison has been proving in his own pathetic way for the last few months, having one captured doesn’t mean much. Madison had been torturing Timothy in some fairly creative and gruesome ways, yet the man held tough. Tabitha was sure that Pinkerton would be pleased should she return to him with two captured rebels, and that would certainly go a long way in removing Madison once and for all, which would give Tabitha the ability to manipulate the hierarchy in Delphia, moving her one step closer to her goal.
However, returning to Pinkerton with only two captured rebels and one psionic kid wouldn’t complete the entire mission. They would still have no idea who was running the rebels, and if torture didn’t work on Emily or Clive, that would put Tabitha in the same position as Madison, just another sadist trying to pry information out of a person one pound of flesh at a time. This would not do.
Tabitha’s goal was to return to Pinkerton with the leader of the rebels in tow. He would be pleased. Best of all, she would demonstrate that she was able to accomplish in a matter of days what Madison couldn’t do in a matter of months. That would be the final nail in his coffin, and Tabitha could ride that wave to the next level in the grand scheme of things.
With that in mind, Tabitha decided that she would continue with her current operation. She would follow Emily and Clive for a bit, see where they went and what they did. They would surely lead her to their leader eventually. If all else failed, then perhaps she would have to get her hands dirty a bit sooner, but she felt confident that she could manage this in her own way.
“I can’t tell Pinkerton about this yet,” she thought. “He’ll want action immediately. He’s getting a lot of heat from the Council about this; they want this Delphia situation squashed. If he finds out I’ve identified two of the rebels, three counting the girl, he’ll want them captured, which could, in turn prevent me from finding out the identity of their leader. So for now, we keep this one a secret.”
Tabitha knew that she was rolling the dice in keeping secrets from Pinkerton. He was not a man who liked being left in the dark about anything. He was a true micro-manager in that regard. However, she was confident that if she were able to turn over the entire resistance at once, he would be far more pleased than concerned about being kept in the loop every step of the way.
Best of all, with Lacy and Lena making progress on Derrick Reynolds and Clair Nobles, that would be a double bonus. Not only would she capture the leader of the Unwashed, but her girls would also eradicate the problems outside of Delphia.
Tabitha couldn’t help but grin at that prospect. Hell, with success like that, she could wind up with a seat on the Council, making decisions and playing a role far beyond anything Delphia could produce. Tabitha could find herself overseeing multiple worlds, dozens of places scattered about the galaxy, places with sights and wonders that would make Delphia look like a visit to a senior citizen home.
“So what to do right this second?” she thought. “What is my next move?”
As if by magic, an answer of sorts seemed to just appear. She caught sight of Clive Andrews walking back towards the house. He was returning from dropping Soka off at the Hiya Toby show. Tabitha adjusted herself on the roof to conceal her location, and waited patiently for the man to enter the home.
She decided she would linger a bit longer and keep listening; surely they would make some mistake. After all, they already tipped their hats enough to where she could easily slip in and murder them for their treason, yet, as she already knew, patience was the order of the day here.
“I’m just feeding you assholes the rope; you’re doing a fine little job of tightening the noose,” she thought, and a sly smile slowly invaded her face.
The Hiya Toby Fun Day Celebration
Soka was led into the gathering hall and seated among the other children of Delphia. There were maybe 30 in attendance. Children were a rare sight in this city, and Soka knew that the powers that be valued their presence. Children could be molded far better than adults, and as she already knew, most of the kids sharing this room with her were deeply buried in the brainwashing techniques that were the classrooms of Delphia. She suspected, as best her young mind could, that Pinkerton’s long term plan was to have Delphia a largely self-sustaining society. The children here today would grow up so enamored in the bullshit that was Hyraaq Tobit, that by the time they were adults themselves, they would raise families that were already under Pinkerton’s control.
The whole situation was about as confusing to a child as any situation could be. Kids aged slowly here, eventually becoming adults, at which point, they seemed to almost stop aging completely. She knew that they still did, but so slowly that the average lifespan of a Delphian resident had to be somewhere in the 500 year range. She also suspected that others, like Madison and Pinkerton, did not age at all. The thought of spending half a millennia in Delphia was enough to make her want to cry. However, if what the leader of the Unwashed said was true, if his plan could really work, then perhaps she wouldn’t have to worry about such things after all.
She became so lost in thought that she barely noticed the lights dimming and the other children falling into a hushed silence that could almost be confused with reverence. She sighed to herself as she realized the Hiya Toby show was about to start.
The room became almost dark except for the stage set before them. Lights shone from an unknown source. They appeared to be pools of light produced by electricity, but Soka was hard pressed to guess where any source of electricity was being fed into Delphia. Then, Pinkerton appeared on stage. Dressed in a blue-striped suit with a flat-brimmed straw hat, he made his way to center stage. It mattered not that Soka understood little English, for when Pinkerton spoke, she understood every word. His amplified voice boomed throughout the room, as Soka Ito cringed at the thought of enduring yet another performance of Hiya Toby.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” shouted Pinkerton. “This is the Hiya Toby Fun Day Celebration! Children, it is a pleasure for your old pal Mr. Pinky to be here with you all today. I just teleported into Delphia to let you all know that our best friend, Toby, is here to see you all!”
Soka looked around in disgust as the rest of the children in attendance squealed with glee.
“Ok, kids, I think he’s around here somewhere. Do any of you see Toby?” Pinkerton asked, pretending to search around the small stage.
“NOOOO!” the children answered.
“But kids, he told me he was coming in today, and as you all know, EVERYTHING Toby says is true, right?” Pinkerton asked.
“EVERYTHING HE SAYS IS TRUE!” the children responded.
“Does Toby ever lie?”
“HE NEVER LIES!”
“Is anyone, anything, anywhere more powerful or glorious than Toby?”
“NOT ANYONE, ANYTHING, ANYWHERE!” the children screamed in unison.
“That’s right, my little lambs, he is greater than all. He is wiser than any owl, kinder than any angel, stronger than any army and more beautiful than any work of art.”
The children all clapped and cheered. As always, Pinkerton could work them up with relative ease.
“Well, children, do you have any ideas on how we might be able to get our good friend Toby to come out and play?” Pinkerton asked.
“LET’S SING THE HIYA TOBY SONG!”
Pinkerton’s face lit up with a huge smile as he nodded and clapped. “Brilliant idea, kids, let’s sing the Hiya Toby song together!” Pinkerton announced with glee, and suddenly music was playing from yet another unknown source.
Soka knew the damned Hiya Toby song; they sung it every time. She was amazed at how controlled these other kids were, the way they jumped for joy at the prospect of repeating the same ritual, just so Pinkerton would perhaps pat them on the head at the end. Soka felt something almost like pity and shame mixed together for her peers, yet, as she had been instructed to do by the leader of the Unwashed, she joined in on the music and played her part. She hoped that to Pinkerton, she would appear just as brainwashed as the rest of the fools in attendance here today.
The music was to the tune of Yankee Doodle. Pinkerton began to clap along, as the children, without needing to be told, began to sing:
Hiya Toby went to town,
To teach important lessons,
He helps us all to learn and grow,
So let’s all sing together,
Hiya Toby play your horn,
Play it even louder,
Come on children join the fun,
Now let’s all sing together,
Well that spells Hyraaq Tobit,
He will help us grow up strong,
Because he always knows it,
Hiya Toby lead the band,
Lead it even faster,
C’mon, SOKA, come on in,
And join in on the laughter!
The song ended, leaving Soka stunned. No one had ever been called out by name during one of these songs. Soka felt a dread creep into her stomach and up into her chest. Could it be that Pinkerton suspected something? Why did he call her name out, and how the hell did all the kids know to sing it. She suddenly felt very flushed and claustrophobic.
All the children cheered as the music faded out and Pinkerton began to speak again.
“Okay, kids, I think that got old Toby’s attention, so now we have to greet him. You all know what to do, right?”
The children began to scream in anticipation, as Pinkerton raised his arms and began to conduct the group like an orchestra.
“Okay kids, let’s hear it!” he shouted.
“One more time!”
Soka knew the program. Smoke from what could only be a dry ice machine, though this, like the electric lights and music, remained unseen, filled the room. Then, from behind the fog, a figure began to emerge.
It was a costume; that much was obvious. It stood about eight feet tall. It wore a crimson robe, and its head was that of a mascot-styled goat. It had a ridiculous smile on its face, and its eyes were set to roll about as it moved.
To Soka, it looked cheap, like a sports mascot at an underfunded high school. The kids in attendance though cheered and shouted, clapping their hands, as Hiya Toby began to spin and dance about the stage. She wondered, if there in fact was such a being as Hyraaq Tobit, how it didn’t see this as blasphemy. Pinkerton, feigning surprise, put on yet another wide grin at the sight of Toby, as though he really believed that he wouldn’t show up on time today.
Pinkerton addressed the crowd, “Everyone, he’s here, because, as we all know, Toby is always watching over us. He is always with us in our hearts and minds!”
“IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS!” the children replied automatically.
“Now, kids, Toby has come to tell us that there are some…. bad eggs running around here,” Pinkerton stated. When he mentioned the "bad eggs" he spoke in an almost hushed tone, like he was speaking of the devil himself. The children all gasped at this news.
“Oh yes, my children, Toby is very worried. He says that some very dangerous people are out and about, and they want to ruin Delphia!”
Another gasp from the audience followed this announcement.
“Now, kids, I want you to all be on the lookout for these bad eggs. They could be anywhere, and trust me when I say, they are certainly and without a doubt up to no good.”
Music was cued once again. It was a dark tune, kind of jaunty. Soka didn’t know what the tune was called, but she recognized it from a few cartoons she’d watched before coming to Delphia. It was usually played when a bad guy came sneaking about.
A man entered the stage from the surrounding darkness. He was young, dressed in nondescript clothing. The only standout on his outfit was a yachting cap. The kids in the audience all started shouting.
“Look out, Mr. Pinky, one of the bad eggs is right behind you!” a boy shouted from somewhere behind Soka.
Pinkerton pretended to be shocked, and comically jumped back.
“Why, that’s Dastardly Derrick Reynolds! Good job, children! He’s a real slimy character!” Pinkerton answered. “Quick, children, what should I do?”
The kids looked back and forth at each other, as though they were afraid to call out a bad suggestion to Pinkerton. Soka wouldn’t have been surprised if that were the case.
“I know, kids, let’s call our great and wise Grand Magus, Father Lance Madison; it is his job to prevent people like Dastardly Derrick from running amuck, right?”
The children all began to giggle, knowing what was coming next.
“Father Madison, we need you!” Pinkerton shouted.
Another man wandered into the light. This one a clear mockery of the Grand Magus. He was an old man dressed up in priest’s garb, using a walker to get about the stage. Every few steps he would take, a comical farting sound was released from a speaker somewhere behind the stage. The old man, wearing thick glasses and performing a mockery of senility and fragility, looked about the stage as though he was lost.
“Mr. Pinkerton, what’s going on, why did you awaken me from my nap?” the fake Madison asked.
“Father Madison, Dastardly Derrick is on a rampage, it is your job to contain such behavior, isn’t it?” Pinkerton replied in a mocking tone.
“Oh… now, I tend to forget things, but don’t worry, I’ll catch old Derrick,” fake Madison answered, and began to putter about the stage with his walker, pretending to give chase.
The man portraying Derrick easily moved around him. The farting noise sounded again as the chase continued, garnering laughter from all the kids.
“C’mon, Father Madison, you must protect the children! Catch him!” Pinkerton jovially shouted.
“Hold on now, young fellow, I have a great idea,” the Madison character announced.
“Excellent, Father, and what is your plan?” Pinkerton asked.
“I’ll take a nap!” fake Madison responded, and laid down on the stage. A comical snoring sound began to come from the speakers, causing the kids to roar with laughter once more.
“Well, kids, if you want something done right, what do you do?” Pinkerton asked the crowd.
“PRAY TO TOBY!” the kids all replied.
“Correct, kids, so, let’s all get down on our knees and pray that Toby helps us capture Dastardly Derrick Reynolds,” Pinkerton commanded, and the children all dropped down to their knees. Soka despised having to play along with this, but she did as she had been instructed by the leader, and knelt down.
“Lord Toby, we beg of thee, make right what has been allowed to go so wrong, and bless the children, their families and their futures with your love, wisdom, and most importantly, your swift justice!”
“Bless us, bless us, bless us, bless us….” the children all chanted.
Slowly, the mascot of Tobit stood up, and thrust his hands in the direction of the Derrick character. The actor grabbed at his chest and fell to the floor, comically rolling about as though he were having some sort of heart failure.
Once it was over, the actor went over and sat at the feet of the Toby mascot, his head down, as though he were a child caught in a defiant act. The children all cheered.
“Great job, kids! Great job indeed! You helped Toby capture Dastardly Derrick!”
More cheering from the children erupted, when suddenly; the fog machine went back to work, producing another cloud on the stage.
“Uh, oh, kids, I think there is another bad egg sneaking around,” Pinkerton gasped.
This time, a woman entered the stage. She was dressed in a lab coat, and was walking around with a clip board. She walked right up the first row of children and began to pretend as though she were writing down facts on each one of them.
“Look out my, young friends. That is Cutthroat Clair Nobles. She hides behind science and research, but never doubt that her real intention is to destroy Delphia, and kill each and every one of you!” Pinkerton announced.
“Help us, Mr. Pinky, she’s trying to destroy Delphia right now!” one of the children shouted. The fake Clair walked around to the other side of the stage and took more notes.
She looked down at one of the kids and asked, “What is your favorite food?”
“Ice cream!” the child, a small boy, shouted at her.
“Okay, let me just write that down in my notes…. to get rid of Delphia, Toby, and especially ice cream!” the Clair character stated, causing the children to all boo.
“See kids, these bad eggs want to destroy everything we know and love. Are we going to let them win?” Pinkerton shouted, raising his arms to the sky.
“NO WAY, MR. PINKY! QUICK, STOP HER!” the children shouted in an eerily unrehearsed unison.
The fake Clair began to theatrically run across the stage. She made it halfway before she intentionally tripped over the sleeping Lance Madison character. Once she hit the ground, the Toby mascot reached over and pulled her next to the Derrick character. Both sat next to each other, looking down at the floor.
“Hey, look, kids, it appears that old Father Madison did something useful after all,” Pinkerton announced, adding in short bursts of laughter. The farting noise could be heard among the fake snoring, causing the kids to launch themselves into another laughing fit.
“Well, my little friends, it would appear that you all saved the day here. We caught Dastardly Derrick and Cutthroat Clair. Delphia is safe a little longer. Now, how do we thank Toby for helping us capture these two criminals?”
“GIVE HIM SACRIFICE! GIVE HIM THEIR BLOOD!” the children screamed. Soka, who had gotten used to many of the insane antics of this activity, could never bring herself to adjust to what she knew would come next.
Soka watched closely as the two actors reached out and took each other’s hands. This wasn’t part of the show, even Soka knew that much. They knew what was about to happen, and at the end of it all, despite all the brainwashing and fear mongering of this place, she knew they were just two scared people that knew they were about to die.
The two actors were whispering something to each other. Soka couldn’t read lips, but she had an idea it was final words of comfort. She felt her heart cry out for them.
“Alright, kiddos, we all know that here in Delphia, under the loving embrace of our best friend Toby, that we have a very special way of sacrificing, right?” Pinkerton asked.
The children all cheered.
“And how do we sacrifice to Toby?”
“WE FEAST!” the children shouted back in unison.
“That’s right, so, everyone line up, and let’s give Toby the honor and glory that he deserves, while giving Dastardly Derrick and Cutthroat Clair the justice that they deserve!”
The children all stood and began to form a line to the stage. Soka, who swore she would never do such things, was stood up anyway, hating herself in a way that no child of her age should have to. She would go through with it, though, as the leader had told her was necessary. He was a warm and kind man, but she couldn’t help but hate the Unwashed just a little, because he told her that she had to do whatever the other kids did. He told her time and time again that the only way they would succeed, the only way they could escape Delphia, would be to remain hidden until the time to strike arrived. He assured her that the only way to remain hidden would be to go along with the program.
So, Soka got in line as each child approached the fake Derrick and Clair, and began to take hungry bites out of their flesh, tearing into the soft parts of their bodies, eating them alive. Soka tried to take small bites, but that did no good in negating the horror and gore of the act that she was forced to take part in.
Children take small bites, and sadly, this meant that the act of eating the two actors to death went on for quite some time. Their screams would never leave Soka’s mind.
From Form Into Action
Night fell on Delphia. Doors were latched and lights appeared in the windows of buildings, as families settled in for the evening. Each person in Delphia had their own life and their own story to tell.
Emily Pert, Clive Andrews and Soka Ito settled into their home. Soka went up to her bedroom and cried herself to sleep.
“She wouldn’t speak to me when I picked her up. They made her participate in a Feasting,” Clive spoke softly to Emily.
“They will pay for this, Clive, fear not. Remember what we discussed today, while she was at the show. Our plans are very soon to come together. We will meet with our leader and hear the next stage of the plans. With everything moving so quickly, we won’t have to suffer Delphia much longer,” Emily told him.
“I know, it’s just... how can we ever forgive ourselves. We’ve had to play along here, we’ve had to participate in their rituals, and poor Soka, that girl will never have a normal life, even if we do escape Delphia,” Clive replied.
“When, not if, Clive. When we escape Delphia. As for Soka, she may never have the sort of life she’d have had if she never came here, but with our help, she will have a chance at a real life, away from this place, in the real world. That is a lot more than can be said for a lot of the people here,” Emily assured him.
“Very well. In two days we meet with the leader. We will move forward a little more, a step closer to freedom,” Clive stated, before retiring upstairs to his own bed.
Tabitha Shaw sat in her chamber in the rectory, feeling alive with energy, a fierce, electric feeling that she only got when something very huge was about to happen. Tabitha had spent hours on the roof of Emily’s home, hearing every word of their conversation with a battery operated listening device. Technology was forbidden in Delphia for most everyone else, but the Sisters of Tobit played by their own rules, and today, Tabitha’s rules had led her to what could only evolve into the next great victory in her life.
She heard it all; she knew that Emily and Clive were going to meet up with the mysterious leader of the Unwashed in a couple of days. She knew that the little girl, Soka, was in fact demonstrating just the sort of psychic powers that would make her a boon to Pinkerton and his future plans. She would stay on them, she would follow them everywhere. They would lead her to their leader, and Tabitha would slaughter them all in front of him. When it was all said and done, she would capture him and give him to Pinkerton as a gift.
Madison would be removed; Tabitha would manipulate the selection of the next Grand Magus, and use her accolades to propel herself up the chain of command even higher. If everything went as planned, Tabitha suspected that she would be something of a goddess by the end of the year, maybe sooner.
Several stories above Tabitha’s room in the tower was the Grand Magus’ chambers, the largest and most well-appointed room in Delphia, currently, if perhaps not much longer, still occupied by Lance Madison.
Lance, knowing that this was his final gamble to keep this chamber, his title and his life, prepared the ritual. He already knew who he was going to meet, and what offer he would make to them. He had prepared it all, the speech, the enchantments, and most importantly, the bargain that he hoped would be too tempting to pass on. If his plan worked, he would return to Delphia with a renewed image. Pinkerton would have no choice but to realize that Delphia’s current Grand Magus was still the competent leader that he’d always been. Perhaps even an apology would be in order.
Lance Madison removed a vial of red liquid and began the laborious task of painting the precise symbol on the door to his chambers. As he painted it, he chanted the incantation over and over. Slowly, as he worked, the symbol began to glow, and Lance could feel in his very soul that the ritual had been a success.
The door that he painted on had been his closet door; however, Lance knew that when he opened it, it would not lead him into his closet. The spell would allow him to travel out of Delphia, an act that he had not done in decades. It was frowned upon for the Grand Magus to leave his post for any reason, but as Lance knew, his days of being Grand Magus were limited unless he did leave Delphia, at least for a little while.
Once the spell was complete and the door was ready to open to Lance’s chosen destination, he stepped back. He looked once more at his photo of Jennifer and felt that horrid pain of loss deep within himself.
Still gazing at the picture, he patted his pockets to ensure that the two enchanted pendants were safely in tow.
“I love you, Jennifer. Watch over me, and lead me to salvation,” he spoke in a tone that held both desperation and hope.
After taking one final glance at Jennifer’s image, Lance opened the enchanted door and stepped through. He left Delphia, and within less than a fraction of a second, stepped through the threshold into New Orleans, Louisiana.
Written by K. Banning Kellum
Published June 23rd, 2015