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Tobit: The Champion Rises

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This is the 9th installment in the ongoing Hyraaq Tobit series. If you're new to the story, please begin at The Demon Tobit of Delphia to enjoy the series in order.



HyraaqTobitPendant

Intentions Revealed

Clair Nobles had always been a woman of science and logic. Though she’d dedicated much of her professional life to researching such strange affairs as cryptozoology and the likes, she’d always done so by following a strict scientific concept. She had little faith in the unseen, always remaining a partial skeptic and a willing believer. So when the strange little girl from her dreams appeared in Derrick’s apartment, bearing the means of her salvation, it struck her as decidedly odd that she willingly put her fate in this child’s “magic word.” Yet there it was, Clair believed, no questions asked, no fear or hesitation. It could be that all of the bizarre and unworldly events that had recently occupied her life had altered her sense of reality, but there was more to it than just that. Soka Ito had made a deeper connection with Clair. It was more than the fact that the little girl was apparently able to move about within her mind. It was more than the combined effects of all Clair had dealt with since she and her friends opened up the Triassic Journal and began their think tank. It was something far more profound. Clair couldn’t describe it exactly, but she knew beyond a doubt that the small child that seemed to come and go undetected was telling the truth. Her magic word as she called it was going to be the salvation for Clair, Trevor and Derrick. Clair stood and spoke this word, directly in the face of the two women who currently held her hostage. The logical part of her mind would normally scream that this was insanity, that diplomacy was called for here, not magic words, yet, as Clair was discovering, she felt no apprehension. This would work; she knew it in her heart.

It was not really a word at all though, but rather a phrase, something to be uttered that Clair understood immediately would result in a reaction. She didn’t know from who or how, but she understood enough to know that once these words, this phrase, was said aloud, that something would occur that would tip the balance here. So, after Soka vanished, seeming to leave as mysteriously as she’d come, Clair took in a deep breath and prepared to make a power play that she had no doubt would save this day.

“Dumb bitch has lost her fucking mind,” Lacy smirked as Clair prepared to speak Soka’s phrase. “Look around, Clair, you’ve lost; the big bad wolves have caught you. I guess a mouthy little cunt like you has to die as you live though, giving your little speeches.”

Clair ignored Lacy’s taunts though. Lena was watching intently, knife at the ready. Derrick and Trevor seemed to be fixed on Clair, but their faces seemed to radiate a look that begged her to sit down and be quiet. Clearly they’d missed out on the mental connection to whomever or whatever the little Japanese girl represented in all of this. Clair understood their confusion. After all, she’d been pretty confused throughout most of this, but now, now she saw things clearly.

Clair smiled once again, and spoke. “Open the locked door and enter the room; the window is just right, but the door is far more civilized.”

Lacy began to laugh. “Was that your wild card Clair? Was that what you thought was going to tip the balance here? Christ, how do girls like you ever make it out of the womb?”

“What are you doing?” Trevor asked, speaking low, even though in this small apartment there was no chance of passing messages without detection from their captors.

Clair simply returned to silence, waiting for whatever effects Soka’s little phrase would bring about. She had no doubt they’d be saved; however, there seemed to be no immediate reaction or response.

“Well now, guess that’s that,” Lacy snickered. “Clair, it has been a real pleasure getting to know you. If I were into girls, you’d be on the top of my list; you’re just so damned cute. But, like all good things, this has to come to an end. In the name of girl power and all that shit though, I’ll kill you quick, how about that? And who knows, I think ol’ Trevor over there is a little sweet on you, so maybe once it’s all done, I’ll do a little of my famous corpse art with your bodies. Let Trev get to third base before rigor mortis sets in? Sound good?”

Lacy moved forward, blade directed at Clair’s chest. Clair felt at peace, a sensation she had felt rarely throughout her life. It was finer than any drug or drink that man could make.

“Lacy… wait just a second,” Lena suddenly spoke. She’d been quite silent during all of this, seeming to study Clair rather than provoke or mock her.

“Christ, Mom, what is it?” The annoyance in Lacy’s voice was unmistakable. She sounded almost like a spoiled child being told to wait for family pictures before unwrapping her gifts on Christmas morning.

“Lacy, I have to ask you, and you must be honest with me. Your loyalty to Tabitha and Pinkerton, to Tobit even, is it still solid?”

Lacy made a face that was slightly quizzical and annoyed, the face a busy businesswoman might make if she were asked the time by a stranger on the street. That look seemed to say, “Don’t waste my time with silly questions.”

“What are you talking about, Lena? You know I am dedicated to this shit! I fucking love it!” Lacy replied, a determined and sadistic smile working its way across her face.

“So, if you were offered a chance, right here, right now, to walk away from it all, leave the Sisters behind, move in a new direction, one without Delphia on the horizon, what would you do?”

“Lena, I don’t know what the hell has gotten into you, but you already know where I stand on this. Nothing is ever going to change my mind about working for Tabitha. This is too fucking fun, after all. Why would I ever even think of giving it up?”

“Lacy, please, please hear me out. If right now you could make a change, would you even consider it? Could you turn your back on Tobit’s cult and start over? Would you betray Tabitha given the opportunity? Would you be able to abandon the life you’ve known for so long if there was a way out?”

“Fuck and no, Lena; this is who I am. If you doubt me, allow me to show you by skinning this bitch alive right here and now. Say goodbye, Clair!” Lacy snarled, and advance with her knife.

Clair Nobles heard Lena whisper something to herself, one quick comment, but she couldn’t ignore the depth of sorrow and regret that comment was laced with. “I knew you were loyal, I always knew…”

Lacy Suzino didn’t hear Lena’s words. She’d gone into that sweetly addicting sadistic zone within her mind. It was a place where everything was red, a place where screams were music. She’d gone there with a little child named Robert Mayo many years before; she’d gone there with a coffee vendor named Perry quite recently. It was a controlled storm to Lacy, a place of utter euphoria for her. She was about to take in that drug-like high of the kill. An expression of determined glee was plastered over her face. Trevor and Derrick observed her eyes, how they’d become soulless and empty. Derrick, who’d spent more time with Lacy than he could have ever wanted to, understood that nothing could save Clair now. He wished that things had gone differently; he wished he’d never taken that yacht out to sea. All the confidence that he believed he obtained from surviving Delphia was melting away. He was watching someone preparing to commit murder, and felt that there was nothing he could do.

Trevor Leary, a man not commonly known for his backbone or courage, stood and shouted, “No, don’t hurt her, just…”

Lacy ignored him; he’d get his turn. She drove the knife forward, the honed tip aimed directly at Clair’s heart. There would be no more talking, no more discussion, no more waiting. Tabitha was interested in finding out if Clair or Derrick had further information on Delphia or Tobit. Clearly they did not, and even if they did, what did it really matter. Lacy was in her red place now, that realm of pain and death. She couldn’t stop now even if she wanted to, which she did not. However, Clair continued to stare up at Lacy with a small, content smile, even with death less than an inch away. Why? Why was this mousy little bitch so confident? That phrase, she’d uttered some nonsense little phrase and….

“Oh fuck…” Lacy uttered. That phrase, she understood all too late, was not just some nonsense, but a code. Lena’s questions too, asking Lacy about her loyalties to Tobit, there was something more to that as well. Lacy suddenly understood, but her awakening came far too late.

“I’m sorry, Lacy,” Lena whispered, suddenly standing directly behind her, speaking into her ear as though she were telling some grade school secret. “It was never all your fault; they corrupted you, but you’re past repair. You were a sister to me in many ways. I hope you find peace in the next life.”

“Lena, wait….” Lacy had time to utter, as her confidence was suddenly replaced by something worse than fear. Fear for Lacy was uncommon but not unheard of. She’d been in many situations where fear was a normal reaction, such as when Derrick escaped the hotel room. A strange and sick sort of work ethic, however, had always accompanied Lacy’s fears, as though all situations, good or bad, could be figured out and reversed with the right formula. This however, this was a new one for her. She imagined that this was how people felt after a tornado had already lifted them up off the ground and pulled them into the cyclone. She wanted to say something, anything to try and save herself. However, she understood enough to know that her chance had come and gone. Lena of all people. This could be funny if it weren’t so damned tragic.

“Goodbye friend,” Lena spoke softly, and Lacy had time to feel the warmth of tears on her neck as Lena softly wept. The action was fast and smooth. Lacy registered the pressure of a blade on her back, but never really felt the knife penetrate, the cold steel driving forward, taking the back path to her heart. Lena made sure that it was a painless affair. Lacy gasped one time, a sound that crushed Lena’s heart and brought more tears. It was an innocent, human sound. Not the harsh and often times mean-spirited words that came from her now-former partner, but a simple feminine gasp, clean and almost sweet. Lacy’s eyes went wide, her hands relaxed and her knife dropped to the floor. A single drop of blood formed at the corner of her mouth. Lena removed the knife in a fast motion, wrapped her arms around Lacy’s body, and slowly lowered the now fallen Sister of Tobit onto Derrick’s couch. Lacy’s head slumped down, giving the appearance of a college student, a cute little red head, that had simply stayed up too late studying and had fallen asleep in the process. Lena stroked her friend’s crimson hair and wept, a sound full of anguish and pain. She used the palm of her hand to close Lacy’s eyes, and wiped away the blood from the corner of her mouth with her thumb.

No one dared to speak for several minutes. During that time, Lena continued to cry into her dead friend’s hair. Derrick and Trevor, who had existed in an almost constant state of confused shock since all this began today, were hesitant to make a move or utter a word. This woman, who’d taken them hostage, just stabbed her partner in the back. However, that didn’t convince either of the men in attendance that she was a friend, or that she wouldn’t turn that same blade on either of them should they make a false move or speak too soon.

It was Clair who finally did break the silence, and both Derrick and Trevor were secretly relieved that it wasn’t on their shoulders to do so. “Thank you, Lena... thank you for saving us,” Clair stated softly, her voice ripe with compassion.

Lena spoke through her tears, her voice sounding harsh and raspy, yet sane. “I always knew it would fall on me to do this, should the time come. I just… I just wasn’t ready for how bad it would hurt.”

“She would have killed us all, Lena. She was…” Clair stopped, considering her words.

“Sick? Yeah, I know. Lacy was a very sick woman. They got to her when she was young; they ruined her on so many levels. She never had a chance, you know? Tabitha selects her people very carefully, and Lacy was always sort of her favorite. I always hoped, even prayed, that I could help her before it got to this point. Even if she never saw the light, I always thought that maybe she could just… walk away from it all, go out and find the life that was taken away from her. She was just too damned corrupted, though; she was too far-gone. Still, I never expected it to feel like this. I’m no better than she was, just another fucking killer…”

“No, you aren’t. You did what you know had to be done. It hurts now, but in time I think…”

“You think what, Clair? That in time I’ll wake up and feel okay about killing the closest thing I’ve ever really had to a friend? That in time I’ll look back at today and think justice was served? No, not a chance. I will hate myself forever for this. Fucking Tobit, it’s nothing but death, death to get in, death to get out.”

“You saved people today, Lena, don’t forget that,” Clair replied, and then simply sat down, as though she had run out of words.

Finally Derrick, perhaps remembering that this was his home that all this madness was taking place, found his voice. “Okay, shit, what exactly is fucking going on here?”

Lena slowly stood up, giving Lacy’s hair one final stroke, and stood before the three survivors. “Okay, we have a lot to discuss and not much time to do it in. We have to clean this up and move on, quickly. I promise, by the end of the day you’ll understand all of it, and what we have to do to make things right. Lacy won’t have died in vain, I’ll make sure of it. So listen up, move fast and don’t ask a lot of questions until I am through, okay?”

Trevor, Derrick and Clair nodded slowly, preparing to delve deeper into the heart of Delphia and the mind of Tobit than they’d ever thought possible.

Touring Hell

Thousands of miles away, in a cold and desperate place, a city of the damned if ever there stood one, Gregory Leary was propelled by means of dark magic into the personal chambers of Lance Madison. Moments before he’d been in a hotel room in New Orleans, fighting with a psychotic little woman intent on stabbing him to death. Now, within moments of discharging a pistol into her stomach, he was in Delphia, though he had no idea of this at the moment. At the moment of his arrival, Gregory was taken by a sense of disorientation and terror that he’d perhaps never known. Throughout his entire life he’d been plagued by the denizens of Hyraaq Tobit, but even having dealt with all of that, he’d never dreamed that he be standing in the very belly of the beast.

He’d taken Madison’s deal, that much he remembered. He’d adorned the amulet that would allow him to teleport from his hotel room into Lacy’s, his marching orders from Madison clear in his mind. Disrupt the Sisters of Tobit; allow the man known as Derrick Reynolds to escape. Madison believed that these Sisters of Tobit, namely, their leader, Tabitha Shaw, were out to dethrone him from his position of power within Tobit’s cult. He believed that if they should fail at their mission, this would cast doubt on Tabitha’s abilities in the mind of her superiors. Madison would be able to swoop in and correct the situation his way, thus repairing his standing with his masters. In exchange for this service, Madison promised Gregory that his minions, the ones he called “The Faithful,” would bother him and his brother no more. Gregory and Trevor could finally have a normal life, far away from the terrors that had haunted them since their father shared the Leary family’s dark legacy. Gregory knew that it was a gamble, a long shot if there ever was one. To get into bed with the enemy, to make deals with a man that seemed to be more devil than human, that was indeed a calculated risk. A risk that men like Trevor, his beloved brother, would never have the spine to make. Gregory, though, had spine for days. He had always been a man of action rather than words. He’d worked so long and hard to try and break his family free from the curse of Tobit that he was almost powerless to turn down Madison’s offer. He’d weighed it out in his mind, and realized slowly that the offer on the table was likely the best he’d ever receive.

He’d worked it over quickly, as had always been his way when it came to decisions of a business nature. “If Madison wanted to kill me, he certainly could. He got into our hotel room and froze Trevor in place with no more effort than a man taking a breath of fresh air. He could have done the same to me, but instead, he made me a deal. Men in control of situations don’t make deals, they make demands, so if Madison is willing to deal, that means he realizes he isn’t as in control as he would like to be.” That was Gregory’s selling point to himself. He wasn’t sure if Lance Madison would betray him after the deed was done or not, but from his current position, he could see no better option.

Once Madison left though, and Trevor was restored from his stasis, Gregory found that his brother would have no part of the deal.

The conversation between the brothers had gone much the way that Trevor had explained to Clair, with Gregory proposing Lance’s idea, and Trevor wanting nothing to do with it. They had argued, harsh words were exchanged, and in the end, Trevor went his way, which was to the airport to meet Clair, and Gregory had gone his, which was to trust in the amulet given to him by Madison. Gregory remembered manifesting in Derrick’s hotel bathroom. He remembered listening to Lacy taunt her captive, words that sounded more like flirting than threats. He remembered Lacy announcing that she would take a shower, and heard her coming in his direction. He knew that it was time to take action, no more waiting and listening. He’d pounced on the woman as she’d turned to enter the small washroom. They fought, he clocked her a good blow across the face, and believed that she was out cold, but she’d come back with a vengeance. They’d fought more, Gregory was stabbed, but in the end, Lacy had missed her mark and the wound had been more painful than deadly. Gregory had responded to her knife with his pistol, and at the end of the encounter, he’d been the one to stand up and walk, not her. He recalled assisting Derrick, who’d been tied to a chair. He knew they had to leave, that someone in that hotel would have surely reported that gunshot. He walked into the bathroom to clean and dress his wound a bit, and then everything had gone black. When the world came back into focus, he was somewhere new. Not Derrick’s hotel room, nor his own. No, this was something he’d not been expecting. While he had no idea where he was, he knew that the amulet Madison gave him had something to do with it. It brought him here the same way it’d brought him into Derrick’s bathroom. But where was here?

He felt a slight sting as he stepped forward, and looked down at his wound. Blood stained his shirt, but the pain seemed to have faded quite considerably. The wound hadn’t been that deep to start with after all. He pulled off his shirt and removed his undershirt, wrapping it around the wound and creating a pressure bandage. The pain was nagging but not enough to debilitate him. He put his shirt back on and tucked it in tightly to his pants, creating more pressure on the wound. He was confident that the bleeding had already stopped on its own, but he didn’t care for the idea of getting an infection. With his shirt tucked deeply into his pants, the bloodstain was barely visible, and he quickly forgot all about the injury as he prepared to take in his surroundings.

Gregory took a quick look about his new surroundings. He’d come in through some sort of small closet. Hanging from hooks in the closet were red robes that he recognized at once, the garb of The Faithful it would seem. He’d seen them his entire life, hung over the shoulders of goat headed fiends. So, he was in enemy territory, that much was obvious. The room he stood in was well appointed. A king sized bed with elegant silk sheets, many fine pieces of furniture, wardrobes and dressers like what he imagined lined the chambers of Buckingham Palace perhaps. A huge door, solid oak from first glance, seemed to mark the room’s only exit. It was currently closed, which suited Gregory just fine. He was scared, no doubt, but he was also enthralled by all of this. A large window across from the bed caught his attention. Gazing out, he realized without a doubt he was no longer in New Orleans, likely no longer in the United States.

White, for miles, that’s what he saw in the distance. Snow, a white sky hovering over a city of dark stone. He saw buildings and spires, like something from a fairy tale. Old, ancient really, and as foreign to his eyes as he’d imagine the surface of Pluto would look. The style of architecture, perhaps Gothic, maybe older, he was hard pressed to tell.

He saw people milling about down below though, moving around as any inhabitants of any city would. Visiting stores and markets, talking in the streets; it all seemed rather normal. However, he could feel something right below the surface of that normalcy.

He continued to ponder just where he was, and what he was doing there, when a voice suddenly spoke from behind him, and his question as to just where he was became clear.

“Welcome to Delphia, Mr. Leary!”

Gregory spun on his heels, startled to the point of almost falling over. Standing across the room from him was a small, delicate looking man. Short, portly in the stomach, wearing a rather expensive looking suit was the owner of the welcoming voice.

Gregory struggled for words, finding that he had nothing of real value to say. He went with the most basic of response instead. “Delphia?”

“Oh yes, sir, yes sir indeed. You have stumbled your way into the very sacred City of Tobit. What a lucky one you are!” the small man replied, his sly grin never leaving his chubby face.

“I…. how?”

“Why, magic of course, sir, how do you think? Now, how exactly you came into possession of such magic is a mystery indeed, and one I think we shall enjoy solving deeply. However, that can come in time. Now, since my manners seem to have all but fled from me, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mr. Pinkerton, but my friends call me Mr. Pinky. I do hope you’ll call me that, in time of course. And you must be Gregory Leary, long descendant of the famous lawman Brandon Leary, and current pet project of our very own dear Grand Magus Lance Madison. My how the wheels of fate have turned today, to have you standing here, in one of the grandest chambers in the city.”

Gregory recognized the name; Madison had mentioned Pinkerton at length. He was the boss around these parts, that much Gregory understood. What his intentions were though, that was still a mystery.

“I still don’t understand how I got here,” Gregory replied. He had a lot of other things that he wanted to say. Begging for mercy was actually something that popped into his mind. He realized he had trespassed into a very bad place, with the aid of magic he wasn’t supposed to possess. He further realized that he’d been caught by the one man he was certainly not meant to encounter in all of this, and despite Pinkerton’s refined speech and well groomed appearance, Gregory could sense an evil radiating off of him that would be apparent with or without the use of mystic powers. However, Gregory was shrewd and was good at maintaining the appearance of control at least. Pinkerton hadn’t made any aggressive movements, didn’t seem to want to fight, so that was at least a hopeful sign. The time to talk was now. The time to fight might come later, but right now, Gregory knew that he needed to keep this seedy little dandy talking. He could sense that the man that called himself Mr. Pinky enjoyed banter; that much was clear of anyone who spent that much time refining his words and feigning an archaic form of politeness. What might happen later was unknown to the oldest Leary brother, but for here and now, talk was the order of the day.

“As I said before, Mr. Leary, you’re here by means of good old Delphian magic. The amulet that you wear, that’s what brought you here. While I am not a man known for making assumptions, if I had a single silver dollar to bet, I would bet that you used that amulet once today. You see, they only work once, and then they bring you back to the source of their creation. Since that little necklace was enchanted here in Delphia, it brought you right back here. It’s sort of a…. fail safe I suppose. They are given to our most Faithful of servants when they venture out into the wilds.”

“I… see. So I’m in Delphia. I never imagined I’d be here.” Gregory felt his mental prowess begin to build a bit. He was still scared, of course, but he also felt that he could perhaps control this situation. His first thought on being caught here by this Pinkerton character was that the entire jig was up, that clearly Pinkerton, the big bug of Delphia that he was supposed to be, would know everything. He’d know that Madison, who was clearly on the outs, had made a deal with him. He would have known that Leary shot one of his agents and interfered with their plans. However, now that a bit of time had passed and he’d observed Pinkerton, he was starting to think otherwise. After all, it seemed unlikely that Madison would have struck out such a deal if his boss was clever enough to know all. Madison clearly was also into taking calculated risks, and so far, despite Gregory’s little detour into frozen hell, things were actually moving along. The Sister’s plans had been shattered, at least as far as Gregory could tell after leaving the redhead lying in a pool of her own blood and freeing Derrick. And despite where he was currently standing, Gregory was alive and well. He knew that he’d need to speak with Madison, and soon, as he’d need a way out of this city, but for the time being, Pinkerton seemed content to stand and converse and Gregory would be happy to oblige so long as that kept him breathing.

“Well then, Mr. Pinky, you already know my name, but you’ve yet to meet my handshake. Gregory Leary of London England, pleasure!”

Gregory extended his hand, and found that look of glee on Pinkerton’s face to be oddly authentic. His smile seemed to denote that he was a man used to making warm introductions, but not well versed in receiving them in return.

“Yes, a true man of class. What a breath of fresh air you are, Mr. Leary! Thaddeus Pinkerton of Delphia Antarctica, and many other places, and the pleasure is all mine!”

The two men shook hands, and Gregory was pleased at the earnest, firm grip that met his.

“Shall we go on a bit of a tour, Mr. Leary? Since you are a guest here in my city, it would only seem fitting that I show you around.”

Gregory considered this. Things were moving fast. He’d just arrived here, just gotten his bearings, for whatever that was worth, and now this strange little man wanted to give him the diplomat’s welcome. It seemed unreal, but he realized he didn’t have much of a choice. He realized that, as much a gentleman as Pinkerton was acting, he was still very much a prisoner here of sorts. It wasn’t as though he could just up and leave after all; that would require more of Madison’s magic. Weighing things as they were, Leary saw no reason to not play the obligated guest.

“I would love to, Mr. Pinkerton. I am quite sure your city possesses much to entertain the eye.”

“More than your soul could imagine if you had a thousand years to ponder, Mr. Leary.”

So it was that Pinkerton led Gregory Leary from the private chambers of Lance Madison and out into Delphia proper. As they exited the large tower that contained Madison’s home, Gregory observed the first of many uniformed men that appeared to be old time police officers.

“You have police here?” Leary asked.

“Oh yes, sir, we do. There is much law and order to be maintained in a city such as Delphia. We receive many visitors, and while most are quite content to call the very hub of creation their home, there are always those that cause problems. Some folks simply don’t want to be happy, Mr. Leary, if you can believe such a thing.”

Leary nodded as they stepped from the gated area around the tower and into the stone city of snow. “It’s warmer here than I would have expected.”

“Yes, the very essence of Tobit maintains a pleasant, human suited milieu. As I said, our purpose here is to welcome newcomers, not leave them out in the frost. Which brings me to a very important question, Mr. Leary, if I may impose?”

Leary nodded. He knew what sorts of questions would likely come, and was already preparing in his mind the right smoke screens to keep Pinky here happy. He had already noticed how many of the citizens of Delphia seemed to shy quickly away from Pinkerton, as though the man carried a disease. He understood from the looks on their faces exactly what that disease was, unquestioned authority and the power to enforce it. Leary had seen this time and time again in the business world; the way people went from loud and pleasant conversation to hushed chatter when a CEO or some other such boardroom goon would walk by. Pinkerton was clearly the boss here, though it seemed that in Delphia, being terminated by such a boss was far more a literal concept.

“How did you get here? I mean, I know it was by means of that amulet you have, but do tell, how did you acquire it? Those amulets are typically issued out only to our most Faithful when they must interact outside of Delphia.”

“Time for the test to begin,” Leary thought to himself. He would have to string a long row of lies to make this work, and he had to do so while telling just enough truth to keep Pinkerton from digging even deeper. He felt he was up to the task, but wasn’t sure just how much this man might already know and how much could just be a test or something.

Leary decided to take a large risk right from the start. If it were to pay off, he’d give himself some breathing room. Should it fail, well, he would only be speeding up what could already be the inevitable.

“Your Faithful have been tormenting my family for generations, Mr. Pinkerton, as I am sure you’re aware. After being targeted by them for so long, I was eventually able to overtake one of them. I stole this amulet from around his neck.”

This was a half-truth, as Leary had indeed subdued at least one Faithful in his past. He’d not taken the amulet of course, and that body had been gone later, most likely teleported right back here. However, with so much going on, Leary hoped Pinkerton wouldn’t have been keeping track of each and every member of his flock over the years.

“How bold, Mr. Leary. I can imagine it took a great deal of courage for you to fight back against one of them. I know their appearance can be quite… frightful, though once you come to appreciate Hyraaq Tobit, I feel you may come to appreciate their appearance as well. Still though, if you had the amulet, why wait until now to visit?”

Leary laughed, and was surprised to find it almost an honest sound. “I never wanted to put the damned thing on. No, I just held on to it. You know who my long distant uncle was after all, and I am sure that you’re aware he placed many of your daggers and other effects from the Faithful in a safe vault. I’d just tossed the amulet in there with the rest of the collection. It wasn’t until they began to torment my brother that I pulled it all back out and tried to figure out some sort of solution within my uncle’s notes. I’d hoped they contained some sort of clue to make your agent’s little visits cease. I figured that it couldn’t be the daggers, as he’d had those for so long, but perhaps that amulet, maybe it held some sort of secret that I’d yet to discover. So, there I was, in my home looking over this stuff, when my doorbell rang. I was holding the amulet in my hand, and when I went to get the door, I guess I just tossed it around my neck, force of habit. I went through my kitchen door, making my way towards the ringing of the bell, and then, poof, I’m here in your darling little city.”

“And that wound? Did you stab yourself while walking through your kitchen?” Pinkerton asked, gesturing towards the small bloodstain on Gregory’s shirt. There was something in the way Pinkerton addressed the stain that Gregory didn’t quite like, something shrewd and knowing. The good humor in Pinky’s voice wavered for just a moment, and Gregory knew that any lie short of brilliant might tip this delicate accord.

“If I were a fool, Mr. Pinkerton, I would smile and agree with that. I might tell you that as I was making my way towards the door, I walked into a knife. Perhaps I could tell you that it was an injury from a day or two ago that just hasn’t quite healed. No, I have no such silly excuses prepared. There is a story behind the bloodstain, and perhaps it does tie in to my being here, but isn’t it fun to have a bit of mystery between friends?”

Gregory waited for the payoff. He would either offend his new host or Pinkerton would allow the comment to pass and they’d continue their little tour. Leary worked hard to show no leaning towards either outcome and simply waited for the friendly banter to continue.

Pinkerton laughed, an honest and good-humored sound. “My yes, Mr. Leary, a bit of mystery between friends is such a rare commodity in today’s world. Keep your little stain to yourself for now then. If later, should you decide to share its origins, I will be happy to lend you my undivided attention.”

Leary decided it was time to take another risk. He wanted to level out his knowledge of what was going on around here before making his next move. “So, I assume you’re in charge of this city?” he asked Pinkerton.

“In a sense, I am, but a man named Lance Madison is the current Grand Magus. That’s just a fancy term for the head priest and essentially… well, mayor of the town, I guess. I run things on a slightly more advanced tier, but we all do our part in serving Tobit. That is what’s important you know.”

Gregory wanted to ask to “meet” Madison, but felt such a request was too specific to seem anything other than planned. He would need time to work on that angle. He decided that yet another risk was in order. “Tobit, yeah, that’s a name I’ve grown up hearing. Followers of Tobit killed my father, as you probably already know. So please pardon me, Mr. Pinky, if I don’t genuflect at the mention of his name.”

“A messy affair, yes indeed. Now, I am not trying to make excuses for the horrible loss to you and your family. Just know that the murder of your father was all part of Madison’s scheme to finish the little feud he’d started with your uncle so many years ago. Personally I always lectured Madison that his place was here and his duties were within these walls. However, our current Grand Magus has a bit of a problem with following even the simplest of instructions it seems. We’ve had… problems lately.”

Gregory found all of this to be quite interesting. Madison told him that a woman named Tabitha Shaw had killed his father; now Pinkerton puts the blame back on Madison. And could it be true that Madison himself had interacted with Brandon Leary? That would explain the obsession he’d created with the Leary family. Gregory wasn’t quite sure who was telling the truth, but he had reason to start to believe that Madison had been mostly full of shit.

“My only goal, the reason I even ended up here today, is that I just want the torment to stop. For me, and especially for my brother, Trevor. He deserves a normal life, not one where men in goat masks jump out of dark corners several times a day.”

“And I do believe, Mr. Leary that I can make that happen. Your brother, free of the Faithful, and you sir, perhaps with a whole new life. That is indeed something that I feel is within reach between the two of us.”

“And what would I have to do to arrive at such a deal?”

“Well now, Mr. Leary, remember what you said, a bit of mystery between friends and such. Let us continue our little tour here, and perhaps in time I can elaborate a bit more on removing your family’s little curse.”

“More deals with devils,” Leary thought to himself, but plastered on a smile and nodded at Pinkerton as though it was the greatest offer he’d ever heard.

At that moment, Pinkerton’s eyes shot over to an attractive woman who was walking with her head down, apparently in her own thoughts. “Oh, Mr. Leary, what luck. Here comes Tabitha Shaw, a rather important member of my little cabinet. You two can meet, but beware, sir; her charm can be deadly.”

Gregory observed the woman, who was indeed lovely. A trim body, a boyish haircut that looked stunning on some women but awful on most. Shaw wore it well in his opinion. She looked all of 25 years of age until you saw her eyes, which held what appeared to be decades of hard knowledge. Could she have really been the one to kill his father? He still had his doubts on whom to trust. However, he put on a smile of his own, especially considering that just hours ago he’d shot one of her followers. The game continued.

“Tabitha, good morning to you! Come over and meet a new friend of mine!” Pinkerton announced with glee.

The woman appeared to be startled, as though she were so lost in her own thoughts that she’d not even seen them coming. Leary sensed a rushed and stressed aura about her.

“Oh, Mr. Pinky, good morning. And… holy shit, is that a Leary?” Tabitha sounded almost awed.

“Manners, Miss Shaw, manners! Mr. Leary here is our guest.”

Tabitha seemed to fluster a bit more before extending a small yet strong hand to Gregory. “Tabitha Shaw, pleased I’m sure,” she stated.

“Gregory Leary,” he replied, taking her hand, which did indeed possess a strength that would be missed on first glance.

“Why is he here?” Tabitha asked Pinkerton, speaking as though Gregory were not standing right in front of her.

“We are actually in the process of ironing all of that out, but it would seem that Mr. Leary here has come in search of peace, and peace we shall provide. Madison has made quite a sport out of his family for some time now, and I do believe it may be time to correct that. I feel Mr. Leary and I can mutually benefit from each other, and you as well of course.”

“Well then, you should know your family is quite well known around these parts. I’m sure you’ll have much to discuss with Lance when you meet him,” Tabitha said, still sounding distracted though.

“It would appear that we do,” Gregory replied. That was two accusations towards Madison now. Gregory felt an anger form in the pit of his belly. He was slowly becoming more convinced that Madison had manipulated him for no other purpose than to clear his own tarnished name. Did he ever really intend to call off his troops? This was something Gregory would want to find out for himself.

“Mr. Pinky, Gregory… if I may be excused, I’ve had a long day and would do well with some rest,” Tabitha announced.

“Of course, my dear, go and rest. We’ve all been working overtime lately. I do intend to see you at tonight’s little get together in the Grand Cathedral though. I am sure you’ll want to attend. Why, even as we speak, Mr. Madison is prepping for what is sure to be a wild time,” Pinkerton stated with subdued glee.

“Still letting him pretend to be in charge?” she asked.

“Nothing has been changed yet, Miss Shaw, and before you go and declare our current Grand Magus defunct, I would still like a status report concerning your current operations in New Orleans.”

“Of course, sir; that is on my to-do list. I’ll have some good news for you soon, likely by tonight.”

“See that you do,” Pinkerton answered, and Gregory couldn’t help but notice that shift in his demeanor once again. Pinkerton could go from charming dandy to threatening thug with no transition. Gregory would remember that as well, and continue to be extra careful.

Tabitha Shaw walked on, and the two men returned to their conversation. Gregory took yet another risk in what seemed to be a non-stop flow.

“It would seem that this Madison is on thin ice with everyone around here.”

“He has made some errors recently, some quite grave. He has been Grand Magus for a long time, and we have begun to consider it may be time for his retirement. He has done a good enough job of boosting our population, but in doing so he’s created quite a few other issues.”

As they walked on, Gregory took in a few more sights. There was a bustling market, which led him to wonder how exactly they took in fresh vegetables and meat. That was a question for another time though; right now he wanted to remain on track.

“What sort of issues?”

“So many questions, Mr. Leary. Why, you are ever a contending conversationalist.”

“Mr. Pinky, in all due respect, this city has been a source of torment for me and my family all of my life, so yeah, this is sort of like when you finally get to hang out over at the school bully’s house or something. Delphia, Tobit, it’s all been like a constant… well, goblin in my existence. Now that I have the chance to understand it a bit, I guess, well, I guess I want to get to know the bully a bit better.”

“Fair enough, Mr. Leary, fair enough. I suppose if we are going to help each other it is only fair that we be as transparent as possible here. Madison allowed a young man to escape from Delphia, a massive failure on his part as Grand Magus. While it is possible to come and go from this city, and while such favors are granted for those of us in the right position, it is frowned upon for a new comer such as this Reynolds was to just leave. It was a simple task that Madison failed at. My superiors and I, as even I have people to answer to, have concluded that perhaps Madison could be granted a bit of time to correct his miscalculations. However, he has failed so far to do so. Further more, his rush to boost our population has given rise to a rebellion of all things. Why, even as we speak, a group that calls themselves The Unwashed is working to destroy all that we have built here. The blame for that also rests on the shoulders of the Grand Magus. So yes, Mr. Leary, in a few words, Mr. Madison is on some very thin ice.”

“Where is he right now? I’d like to see the man that everyone keeps saying killed my dad,” Leary asked.

“Like I told Miss Shaw, we’re having a great celebration tonight in our Grand Cathedral. Of course I would like for you to come, as my personal guest, no less. Madison is arranging things now, as he is still, technically, our Grand Magus.”

“I think your friend Tabitha has her eyes on his job. Just a vibe I got.”

Pinkerton laughed, “It’s no secret that Miss Shaw wishes to climb the ladder a bit more. However, she already has a very important position, and as much as she might like a bit more clout under her belt, she is fine where she is. No, I do have someone else in mind for Madison’s job, but it isn’t Miss Shaw. It’s someone from outside of the city.”

“Like who?”

Pinkerton didn’t answer, but instead patted Gregory on the back and shifted the conversation. “Mr. Leary, this is where we must part ways for the time being. I must go and check on a few things. My duties never seem to cease. It’s work, work and more work for this little fat man. However, I will come and fetch you when it’s time for the celebration tonight. You’ll see everyone making their way to the giant church right in the middle of town anyway, but I want you sitting next to me for this, so start looking for me around dark. I’ll be easy to find, I promise.”

“You mean I can just…?”

“Of course, Mr. Leary; feel free to explore. As I said, there are wonders here that will set your soul ablaze. We have a succubus, if you’re feeling particularly… inclined. She’ll do anything you want, for you, with you or to you. You’d be surprised how many men want things done to them. There is also plenty to eat, so feel free to enjoy some of our local cuisine. Some of our other culinary delights may take some adjusting to, but what you’ll find during the day is four legged and cloven. No need to concern your self with money; we’ve evolved beyond that here in Delphia. Just let them know what you want and it’ll be provided.”

“I have to ask, what about leaving, going back home…. To put this directly, am I a prisoner here?”

“No sir, Mr. Leary. If you do decide that the ways of Tobit are to your liking, I can assure you that we have much larger plans for you. Restricting you to Delphia would be a sin. However, for the time being, you are our guest, as it isn’t quite as easy to leave as it is to come in. But fear not, you are no prisoner. Now, go enjoy some of Delphia. And Mr. Leary, if you do decide to visit our succubus, whatever you do, don’t accept what she calls a 'tail job.' Ghastly experience that is.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll see you tonight, Mr. Pinky, and thank you for your hospitality.”

Pinkerton smiled and walked away, leaving Leary to ponder just what he was supposed to do now.

Family Affairs

The leader of The Unwashed met with his most trusted in a small house within Delphia. Clive Andrews, Emily Pert and Soka Ito were in attendance. They’d decided to avoid the hassle of meeting in the warehouse, as this would be a fast get together. The leader still had other business to attend to, the new arrival for example, which had been all he’d spoken of for the last few hours.

“How did it go with Clair Nobles?” he asked.

“Soka was successful. She got the code to her. If all went well, if Lena was able to follow through, then Clair and Derrick should be safe. Lena knows what to do next, so I imagine we should prepare for company,” Clive explained.

“It was scary, but I didn’t lose faith. Plus, I had some help from my friends in there,” Soka added in her broken English.

“Well done, young miss. I am very proud of you.”

“So, tell us about this new arrival that has you all worked up, boss,” Emily asked.

“He’s been walking about with Pinkerton for a while. I shadowed them for some time until Tabitha showed up. I figured it was time to vanish then, but I intend to go and make contact with him shortly. I am very interested in finding out how the bloke got here, and of course, what his intentions are now. He seemed mighty cozy with ol’ Pinky out there, like they were best of pals.”

“You know Madison has some big ceremony or some shit planned in the Cathedral tonight,” Clive inserted.

“So I’ve heard. Makes you wonder what it could be,” the leader replied.

“Hmmm, no new arrivals have come through lately, so it can’t be a Masking, and I doubt Madison would do a Feasting right now, especially since he hasn’t brought in a large group in sometime. He typically sticks to a pretty regular routine with those anyway, and tonight doesn’t fit the behavior.”

“That’s true, Emily. I want you and Clive to attend. I’ll make sure Soka is taken care of; I think Rosa can watch her tonight. Madison hasn’t paid much attention to Rosa since she arrived here earlier in the year, so I doubt her absence will be noticed.”

Clive and Emily nodded in unison.

“Right, bring me a full report of what goes on in there. If Lena succeeded, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, things are going to move forward very quickly from here on out. We’re going to have to be ready. The idol has to come down, and we must be ready to evacuate from here once that happens. I have a feeling that once Delphia starts to crumble, things are going to get very… lively around here. I still have no idea what the effect of destroying the idol will have on those that are sworn to Tobit, but I do know that whatever happens will be hot and fast. Plus, once the idol is broken and this place starts to come down, we’re still going to have to get into Madison’s dungeon and rescue Timothy. We can’t leave him behind.”

“Of course not,” Clive agreed.

“How did Tabitha look when you saw her?” Soka asked the leader.

“She looked broken, lassie. She looked like a woman that was on top so long that she forgot what the bottom looked like. Excellent work in there, stopping that wretched witch in her tracks and showing her that Tobit doesn’t control everything around here. I’ll bet our little Miss Shaw will be looking under her bed tonight for a Soka!”

Soka Ito laughed at that, but also felt a little bad for Tabitha. Despite all she’d gone through, she still didn’t enjoy seeing anyone, even someone as wicked as Shaw, in pain. “I wish she could be a nice lady, like Clair and Emily. I wish we could have helped her, like you helped Lena.”

The leader bent down, his large frame moving slowly, and took Soka by the hand. “Little miss, some people in this world can be helped. Others, they just enjoy being bad. Tabitha is one of those people. Even if we tried to help her, I doubt that she would let us. She likes working for Tobit.”

Soka nodded. “I understand; I just wish it didn’t have to be that way.”

The leader winked and stood up, giving Soka a warm smile as he did so. “I’m going to go talk to Gregory Leary now. We have to reach out to him before Pinkerton manages to get too close. That bastard can be as charming as Old Scratch if you don’t rope him in. We’ll all meet tonight after this ceremony of Madison’s. I want to know exactly what they’re up to.”

The leader turned to exit, when Emily called out to him. “Brandon, be careful out there okay. Things are moving very fast now, and we can’t be totally sure how Pinkerton and his damn brood are going to start reacting. Tabitha is going to find out that her plans in New Orleans didn’t work out really soon, and I don’t think any of us want to wind up in her kill zone when that happens.”

Brandon Leary winked and smiled once more at Emily. “Lass, I’ve been at this game for a very long time. I am old and tired, but I’ve learned a lot, and even now I think my fat arse can out maneuver these morons. See you after the ceremony.”

“Brandon and Gregory Leary on the same team. Do you think this is a sign?” asked Emily.

“I don’t know. It’s not as though they’ve ever met, especially considering that one is over a century older than the other. I have to wonder if his nephew has the same iron will and conviction that our leader does. Why and how Gregory even got here is a mystery, but like Brandon said, his nephew looked mighty cozy with Pinkerton. No telling. At this point though, we need the numbers. Things are going to get nutty around here very soon. We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Tabitha Shaw continued her way back to her private chambers. She’d be at the ceremony tonight; she would have to attend now that she’d encountered Pinkerton. Had it been up to her, she’d likely have hidden out in her bedroom for the rest of the day. Things had, after all, gone quite poorly when dealing with Soka Ito. Tabitha had been bested, and by a child at that, a scared and confused little girl in a nightmare full of demons and monsters. She’d been beaten at a game that she felt she was a professional. Then there was the matter of her girls. She’d not heard from either Lacy or Lena in some time, and with Soka’s success in reaching out to Clair, it was unknown what effect that had on the overall plan. Clair and her little pals had proven themselves cunning in the past, Derrick Reynolds in particular with his ballsy escape from the city, and as much faith as Tabitha did have in her agents, she was in no position to leave anything to chance.

“And now fucking Gregory Leary is here?” Tabitha muttered to herself as she entered her chambers, feeling a bit of relief at finally finding a degree of privacy. She knew that nothing good could come from his presence. How he’d even gotten into Delphia was a bit of a mystery, though she believed she already knew the answer.

“Someone is helping him from the inside,” she mumbled again, as she sat down on her bed and removed her boots. “Someone gave him that amulet, someone that enchanted it right here in Delphia, but who?” She believed that Pinkerton must suspect the same; he likely already knew that answer anyway, or was she perhaps giving her superior too much credit?

“Pinky likes to think he’s some sort of demi-god, the Avatar of Tobit, but he can’t possibly know everything, can he?” she asked to nothing in particular. “Could one of The Unwashed have infiltrated Madison’s circle? That would make sense. Or could it have been Madison himself? But why? Why would Madison bring someone into the city who is clearly affiliated with the resistance?” The nothing that she posed these questions to remained silent and unhelpful. She was further concerned by how cozy Pinky was with the man. Why not kill him, or brainwash him or lock him up? Why give him free reign of the city as though he was some sort of honored guest?

Tabitha realized that she was losing ground, and all of her gambles were coming up failures. She’d held off on reporting the identities of Clive and Emily, because she wanted to get ahold of the leader of The Unwashed first. She’d neglected to kill Soka when she had ample chances within her dream world, because she thought that she could possibly convert the girl. And now what? Now she sits in her chambers, confused and without a solid plan in sight.

“Fuck it, one thing at a time. I’ll sleep a bit, go to the ceremony tonight, and if I don’t hear from my girls by tomorrow, I’ll go and turn in the members of The Unwashed that I do know, at least that’ll be something positive to show.” Tabitha didn’t find much relief in this, as most of her mind was still in a state of shock that she’d been taken so easily by a child in a cartoon dream. She was starting to worry about a lot of things now, and that wasn’t a look that she wore well. The stakes were always too damned high in this game. Success could get you everything, but failure could wind you up on the Red Star as quickly as you could blink your eyes. She fell asleep thinking about that, and had bad dreams as she did.

Brandon Leary met his nephew for the first time in his very long life shortly after leaving the company of his fellow Unwashed members. Perhaps the large man had expected more; perhaps he’d hoped that Gregory had arrived with some noble purpose or other. However, at the end of their conversation he had no idea where his long lost nephew’s loyalties really lied.

They were sitting in a vacant home where several new arrivals had decided the best way out of Delphia was a mass suicide. Some family from the Netherlands who’d arrived as many do, by boat. Unlike many who found ways to get by in Tobit’s frozen city of damnation though, this family could not, and had left quite a mess in their wake. Since then, the house had sat vacant, as no one else seemed to be in a particular hurry to move in. This worked well for Brandon Leary, who had to move about the city mostly unseen. Really the only threat was Madison, who might recognize him from their one time meeting in London so many decades before. Still, the hefty former Scotland Yard detective felt it was prudent to stay as private as possible, so homes like these were a boon. He had all the space and privacy that a man could ask for, without fear of running into the wrong elements. He’d gone out and found Gregory easily enough, he’d introduced himself as a friend, keeping it simple, and asked if he’d be interested in returning for tea. Gregory, being lost and alone in a new and very strange city, obliged with only a faint degree of caution. That was, until they were behind closed doors. Then the man’s true grit allowed itself to be seen.

“You’re Brandon Leary,” Gregory stated firmly as they walked into the small home.

“Am I, lad?” his uncle replied.

“Yeah, you are. I’ve seen enough pictures of you throughout my life to know you when I see you. Your journal is actually sitting in my home in London, how do you like that? So is your collection of daggers that you took from those cultists over the years. It’s all in a safe, locked nicely away in my estate. And now look at this, we’re meeting for the first time, although I must say, uncle, it seems like I’ve always known you.”

“I sense a bit of agitation from you, Gregory, not quite what I anticipated when I found out you were coming this way,” Brandon replied.

“I have my feelings about you. You were a fine detective, legendary actually. But your little antics, messing with these people, it cursed the family. Not sure if you ever knew that or not.”

In all truth, Brandon didn’t know about that. He’d left England in order to track down Madison and solve the mystery of what he believed to be a sophisticated religious cult. He’d wound up in Delphia and found that there was far more to Madison’s group of robed lunatics then he’d first believed. From then on, his entire life had been dedicated to gathering a resistance and bringing down the very fabric that held Delphia together. He never once imagined that his family, his bloodline, would continue to be tormented by Tobit’s forces.

“How long has it been going on?” Brandon asked.

“My entire life just about. My father told me the story, all about Tobit and his cult, all gathered from your notes. Oh, and your little translation guide for the cult’s secret language, yeah, that was discovered, right under Whitehall, where I imagine some associate of yours hid it.”

“Who got ahold of it?”

“A scientist named Clair Nobles. This woman went on the television and read a great deal of Delphia’s little secrets for the whole world to hear. Things haven’t been going so great for her since then.”

Brandon chuckled deeply. “Television. I’ve never seen one of the bloody things, but from what I keep hearing about them, it seems as though it was a toy designed by the devil himself.”

Gregory didn’t join in the laughter.

“You’re bleeding?” Brandon asked.

Gregory raised his shirt and saw that his wound had begun to bleed again. “Yeah, that was from one of Tobit’s little helpers as well. So glad you brought this into our lives.”

“Allow me to at least properly clean and dress it.”

Brandon retrieved a first aid kit from a cabinet in the home and went to work doing a better job disinfecting and cleaning up the stab wound that Lacy had delivered to his nephew. As Brandon worked on the cut, he continued to speak with his descendant. “I really do sense hostility here, Gregory. Look, lad, I am sorry that my meddling has caused trouble for you and the family, but listen, I am working double time here to make all of this right. I lead a resistance called The Unwashed, and we’re just about on the verge of taking Tobit’s little world down here. I can’t imagine that your showing up now is anything other than a sign that things are going to work out.”

“And exactly how do you intend to bring down this city? A city where robed fanatics can appear and vanish with magical amulets, a city where assassins can be sent out to all corners of the world to slay their enemies? How, uncle?”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow, if you’ll still hear me out. I’m sorry, lad. I want to trust you just based on your last name alone, but I haven’t made it this many eons on trust alone. I want to discuss our meeting with other members, Clive Andrews and Emily Pert to be exact. They are sort of my… well, brain trust I suppose you could say. They’ll be at the ceremony tonight; perhaps if you get a chance when things break down, you could speak with them a bit on your own. Get to know us; we’re so damned close to shutting this whole Tobit affair down, and we could most certainly use your help.”

Gregory did consider his uncle’s invitation. After all, the man had been successfully evading Madison and his minions for going on 200 years now. Brandon had explained how citizens of Delphia didn’t age normally in the city, and was shocked a bit at his nephew’s rather apathetic response to finding out that people could essentially live forever here. He knew that Gregory was jaded, but found his level of disinterest almost shocking. Gregory understood his mode of thinking though. He’d always been a strict consequentialist when it came to reason and logic. Gregory Leary didn’t possess much in the way of idealism. He was a man who sought results. And right now, as his uncle explained more and more about the inner workings of Delphia, he found that he could almost place his finger on the right path to choose.

“Uncle, understand this, my goals are unchanged. I became involved in all of this in order to stop the harassment of my family. My younger brother, Trevor, he’s weak. Me, perhaps I could take a lifetime of seeing Madison’s goat-ghouls every time I turn a corner, but Trevor, he’s soft, and I know he’ll break. If bringing down this city is what stops the terror, then count me in. However, if there are other options to explore, then I shall do so. Nothing personal, just business.”

“Lad, this isn’t business; this is life or death! Do you know what Tobit’s followers do to innocent people here? The Feasting rituals alone are like something from the very pages of The Divine Comedy, but it gets much worse than that. People here are practically slaves, and anyone that crosses Madison or Pinkerton are dealt with in the most… unearthly means. Does such injustice, such dastardly acts, not strike a nerve within you?”

“You’ve been gone a long time; you’ve missed a lot of world out there. When you get a chance, you should ask some of the new arrivals to tell you about Hitler or Stalin. Hell, the shit they did makes Madison and Pinkerton look like a Punch and Judy show. Why, not even that long ago a man named Jim Jones convinced a bunch of people that he was Jesus Christ. He forced kids to drink poison and shot the few people that refused. That’s the world that’s happening outside of Delphia right now. We’ve had two world wars since you left, did you know that? Of course not, you were gone before even ol’ Jack the Ripper was terrorizing the streets of London. So yeah, you wonder why I’m not in shock and awe at all of this, go and ask; you’ll see that the world outside of Delphia isn’t that much different.”

“No, lad, the world has always been a filthy place; that’s not the problem here. Something changed you, got to you and made you cold. What was it?”

“I thought I cleared that up already. Your little investigation screwed up my world, what do you think? You think I liked finding my father sliced to ribbons by members of this cult? You think I liked being plagued by monsters every time I opened my eyes? You think bringing my brother into this world was something that I wanted to do? No, uncle, you did this. You cursed this family and the rest of us have had to live with it while you’ve been here playing hero. So there, if you want to know why I am cold towards all of this, just go look into a mirror; the answer is right there!”

“Shut up, you little arse!” Brandon suddenly snapped, his composure and patience failing all at once in the face of his distant nephew's insolence. “I did my duty, with honor and distinction. I am sorry if that has caused problems, but I wouldn’t sell an ounce of my integrity for a moment’s rest. That is what we do, that is what it means to be a Leary. You want me to feel guilt? I’ve been here for the longest time, watching countless friends die at the hands of Madison and his followers, men and women that I swore I would protect. I watched them die while I had to hide in the shadows, all in the name of one day bringing this entire fucking nightmare to an end. I know more about guilt than I could explain to you if we both lived forever, so save your little speeches for someone else. You’re a privileged little snot who cares only about yourself; I can see it written all over your face. But guess what, lad, there isn’t any time left for you to sit back and hedge your bets. If you want to make it out of this city alive, I suggest you come down off your ever-fucking high horse and do the right thing!”

“Not much time left? In a city where no one ages, that seems to be a bit ironic, would you say?”

“Clair Nobles was given the code earlier, son, and do you know what that means?”

“How could I?”

“One of Tabitha Shaw’s agents has been working with us. When the code was given she is to bring Clair and the others here and move into our final phase…”

Gregory interrupted his uncle, “What, they’re coming here? My brother, I’m sure he went to meet Clair after I left. That means… would Trevor actually have the spine to come here…?”

“Oh, so now you see, there is more at stake here than just you and your peace of mind.”

“If Clair wasn’t involved, he might not follow them. I mean, Trevor was never known for taking risks. But he is quite taken by her; I can read him like a book in that regard. If she comes through with this agent of yours, I would bet he’d follow.”

“So now you see, now you see why it’s important that you work with me and my people. We have to ensure that the plan goes off smoothly.”

“The plan that you refuse to enlighten me on? That plan?”

“I told you, lad, tomorrow, when everyone is gathered. Let me do this my way, please!”

“You do it your way, uncle, and I’ll do it mine. If it turns out to be in the best interest of all of us that I work with you and your group, then I will. However, do not think for a moment that I will not plow my own path in this affair. I have ideas too. Plus, if my brother’s life is on the line, please pardon me if I don’t trust the very man who just told me he hid in the shadows while his people were killed.”

“You little bastard, you are not the nephew I would have expected.”

“And you’re exactly the uncle that I did expect, full of hot air and convinced of himself. Now listen, I’m going to go to the little ceremony tonight. I’ve been invited by your good pal Pinkerton himself. I’m going to see this cult in action. I also have a rather large bone to pick with Madison, and I intend to take care of that piece of business as well. I’ll talk to your people if I get a chance. You said their names are Clive Andrews and Emily Pert?”

Brandon nodded, and even described them briefly so that Gregory could pick them out in the crowd.

“If we can work together we will. I want my brother to be safe; I want my family to be free. But you’ve had over a century to correct your little mistake, and you’ve yet to do a damned thing, so pardon me if I don’t just jump right into your cabinet upon invitation.”

With that Gregory left the small home and returned to exploring the city, leaving Brandon Leary to ponder what the hell actually just happened.

Power Plays

Lance Madison sat in the small private room situated in the rear of the Grand Cathedral. He’d received his instructions from Pinkerton regarding tonight’s ceremony. He found this odd. It was odd to him because Pinkerton rarely personally directed the faith-based activities within Delphia. With the exception of the Hiya Toby nonsense, which was all Pinkerton’s doing, Madison was given almost full autonomy on matters of church. However, tonight seemed to be different. Lance had received his instructions early that morning. Tonight’s event was not going to be a Masking or a Feasting, but rather something different all together. And while Madison felt that he was more than capable of leading the event, he was still left wondering why Pinkerton was suddenly so interested in taking lead on something that he’d rarely shown much interest.

However he looked at it though, Lance had his marching orders and he intended to follow through with them. As the time of the event grew closer, he could hear the murmurs and whispers of those gathering within the church. From what Pinkerton had told him, almost the entire city would be present that night. He was even informed that a special guest would be in attendance. For some reason, Madison did not care much for that idea. He had no idea who or what would qualify as a special guest in a place like Delphia, but he feared that any friend of Pinkerton would be trouble.

Madison also had the matter of his little deal made in New Orleans to ponder over. He had no idea if Leary had been successful or not. He’d heard nothing from Pinkerton, and he’d witnessed Tabitha Shaw milling about the city earlier. While her mannerisms (her head down, shoulders slumped) did seem to indicate something, he didn’t wish to be so bold to assume it was because of his actions against her agents. He knew what he’d done could be viewed as treason, and would not be able to fully relax until he knew for sure the outcome. In the meantime he simply promised himself that he would carry on as normal and try not to gain any negative attention.

“Not that I can get much deeper in it anyway,” he mumbled as he slipped on his robes and adjusted them to comfort. “Damned Pinkerton is just about ready to slit my throat, I can see it in his eyes.” Despite his fear and growing concern for his standing in the circle of trust, he still knew that avenging Jennifer was the best thing he could have ever done. She would always remain his anchor to his more noble side, a side which had become long buried during his tenure within Tobit’s church, but a side that could never be fully done away with.

“I would do business with the very legions of hell for one more day with you, my love,” he whispered, a habit that usually soothed him. Talking to his long lost love seemed to center him and remind him as to why he was here in the first place.

Suddenly there was a knock on the chamber door, and a voice, some deacon or other, informed Madison that it was time to start tonight’s ritual.

Madison nodded to no one in particular, and barked a quick and harsh response to the owner of the voice who’d disturbed him. Before exiting the private room and taking his place at the front of Tobit’s congregation, Lance looked up towards the ceiling and spoke to Jennifer Standish as he always did before starting these rituals.

“Forgive me, my love. I know what I am about to do is vile and corrupt, and I wish there was another way, any way, that I could have made things right. I sold my soul to this nightmare for a moment of revenge, when what I really wanted was to have a lifetime of happiness with you. So please, Jennifer, if you are looking down on me, know that I am a hopeless fool trapped in a living hell, but I do it with grace because I do it all for you.”

With that little tradition done, Lance left out to lead another form of ritual, one that he hated and had no real belief in, yet would do just the same as both a priest and prisoner of Hyraaq Tobit.

The Cathedral was indeed packed beyond capacity. People sat crammed into pews, stood where they could, and lined the very walls of the building. Their eyes were like, as Madison had grown accustomed to seeing, wide, fearful, angry and desperate. Those that were fully under the control of Delphia’s brainwashing though had the look of hungry animals. But even the most devout follower of Tobit carried the same fear into each and every one of Madison’s gatherings, fear that tonight might be a Feasting, fear that their pew might be called upon to serve as the harvest. Parents held their children close, lovers held each other, and those that were alone simply held onto the hope that no blood would be called for on this night. As Madison approached the Altar of Tobit, the congregation rose to their feet. Lance stood, his back now turned to them, and recited the same incantation that he did at the start of all these events. They were just empty words to Delphia’s Grand Magus, but he spat them out with the conviction of a true believer.

“My People, we gather tonight to give glory and praise to He of the Red Star, The Molder of our Minds, He of the Goat Head and Man’s Body, our Lord and Master, Hyraaq Tobit. Let us reflect upon His great Mercy and Wisdom, as He continues to lead us, his Chosen, forward in our mission of servitude and honor. Let us remember that it is He who gives us life, knowledge and wisdom. He watches us all with the stern love of a Father, and the true heart of a Mother. He loves us all, but we must demonstrate that we love Him in return. Let it be our banner, let it be our war cry, let it be the soft song that we keep within out hearts, that we always give Hyraaq Tobit the full contents of our Mind, our Body and our Soul.”

Madison could hear the soft, almost orgasmic like release of breath from the crowd gathered behind him. He’d had over a century of practice at this little opening, and despite it all, he still took pride in his ability to get the people to listen. He felt his confidence rise and believed that he was fully prepared to carry out tonight’s task. However, upon turning around and really looking over his flock, he quickly realized that something was very, very wrong.

Lance turned and his eyes were quickly drawn to Pinkerton and Tabitha Shaw, both who were sitting in the front row. This was normal enough though and wasn’t what caused him the alarm. It was the well dressed, square jawed Londoner sitting next to them that caused him to almost stammer. Gregory Leary… here in Delphia, and sitting with Pinkerton. How? How the hell did something like this happen?

Gregory appeared to be very comfortable in his present company as well. He was clearly not here as a prisoner; that much was obvious by the smug and satisfied look on his face. Was he the special guest that Pinkerton hinted at before? Did Pinkerton know about Madison’s plan?

Question after question raced through Lance’s head, and through it all he had to pretend on the outside that everything was calm and fine. He didn’t want to stare at Leary, for that would likely give too much away. Of course, if Pinkerton already knew, it wouldn’t make a difference and Madison would be just as dead, but if he didn’t, perhaps… Then it dawned on him. How Leary had gotten here. “The damned amulet…was I really that stupid?” Lance thought to himself. He’d given Gregory a fully enchanted amulet so that he could infiltrate Lacy Suzino’s hotel room, but in his rush to take action, he’d somehow forgotten the secondary effects of the enchantment. First use will take you to your desired location, but the second use brings you back to the place where the spell was cast… in this case… “My own bedroom…” Madison thought, and felt his skin go cold.

He had to fight through his worries though, as he had a full house with the boss present, and knew that any errors would serve to only punctuate Pinkerton’s already fading faith in his abilities to lead. If they came for a show, he intended to give them one, and damn all if Gregory Leary or Christ himself sat in attendance.

“My people, my flock, Lord Tobit’s Chosen few, tonight we gather here for a special purpose. We have had intruders and interlopers within our most holy city for far too long. They aim only to damage and reduce the world of wonders that our Lord Tobit has given us in his infinite love. One of those men is here with us tonight, in this very church. He has caused great damage to our lives and works to threaten the very existence that we enjoy here in Delphia. Tonight, my people, tonight he will answer for his crimes, not just to Lord Tobit, not just to me, our Lord’s trusted Grand Magus, but also to all of you! Tonight he will be compelled to make contrition and give confession, and if our Master deems so, he shall be absolved in blood and sacrifice. Bring him to me!”

Two hooded cultists, their goat masks only partially covered by their robes, seemed to appear from behind the altar. They were dragging a bound man between them. He was malnourished and weak, his skin was broken out in sores and his eyes were deeply sunken. Had it not been for the two Faithful dragging him along, he likely would not have been able to stand.

“My flock, I give to you the traitor Timothy VanBuren, a coward, a collaborator of The Unwashed, a man with so little conviction or faith that he knowingly assisted Derrick Reynolds in his escape from out blessed city. Timothy stands charged with not only treason, but also murder!”

Subdued gasps and murmurs erupted briefly from the crowd.

“That’s right, my Chosen. Timothy, while in possession of an unauthorized tool, a pistol to be exact, fired into a crowd of our most noble members, those who risked their own lives to try and prevent Reynolds from blaspheming our beloved city and our merciful Master by disregarding our most basic and simple commandments. What makes Timothy’s crimes so much more grave is that he worked his way into this very church and feigned being a loyal servant of our Lord. He betrayed not just your trust and mine, but the trust of Lord Tobit. He murdered three men that night and one young woman who just started her journey with Delphia. He had no reason to open fire upon his own people, he had nothing to gain, he only wished to sow discord and openly mock the laws of our society. He did not mourn for those he murdered but rather stood tall and proud of his actions.”

The gathered crowd’s hostility towards Timothy was growing in waves of hatred. Men and women stood in their seats, pointing and calling out damnations to the man bound and dying upon Madison’s altar.

“For almost a year now I have given Timothy VanBuren every opportunity to atone for his sins, even willingly seeing him in my private chambers and offering him council. I wanted so badly to absolve him, to give him Lord Tobit’s blessing and allow him to continue his journey with all of us. For you see, my children, forgiveness is one of King Tobit’s favorite gifts to bestow, but it must be sought and desired with an open heart. And what I received in return for my efforts was rejection again and again. Timothy would not hear me; he would not listen as I all but begged him to allow me to save him through Tobit’s mercy. He wants to see all of us burn, all because he feels that he is superior to all of you, that the lives that our Master has granted us through his blessings are below his stature. He is a man of arrogance and pride, and now, as I stand before you all, I must admit defeat. As much as I wanted to help him, to save him from himself, he has disrespected and defiled the name of our God-King one too many times. Lord Hyraaq Tobit has personally spoken to me, and asked that I take action. If Timothy does not answer to his sins tonight, in front of you all, then we shall send him to the Red Star ourselves, where he can answer to Hyraaq Tobit in person!”

Madison finished this little speech with power behind the words. The effects on the crowd were obvious as the people stood, throwing their hands forward with screams of "Hail Tobit!" and "Praise be to Hyraaq!" Some people shouted such phrases as “Kill the bastard!” and “Let us feast!” Madison smiled both inwardly and outwardly, feeling that he’d delivered a masterful oration and felt confident that Pinkerton would be satisfied thus far.

Lance leaned in close to Timothy and whispered to him gleefully, “Have anything you’d like to tell me now, or would you like me to feed you to them?”

Timothy slowly nodded, and turned his head to Madison’s. “Yes, I will speak now, Madison. Stand me up and I’ll speak.”

Lance smiled from ear and ear and raised his arms to the people before him. “He will confess, my flock! Your strength, your love for our Eternal Tobit has compelled this sinner to cleanse his soul. Shall we hear him?”

The crowd shouted its approval, and Lance motioned for his Faithful to stand Timothy on his feet. It took a moment for the man to find steady footing, and even longer for him to muster the breath to speak out to the crowd, but like any noble Royal Officer, once Timothy found his bearing, he needed no further time.

In the rear of the church, Clive and Emily looked fearfully at each other, both wondering the same thing- had Madison finally broken their fellow Unwashed? They gripped each other’s hands and practically held their breath as they waited for him to speak.

“Citizens of Delphia, prisoners of this place, I have been held by Madison for many months now. Tortured, starved and left at the brink of death. He has tried many clever tricks to break me, to force me to betray those that I love, those that are like family to me, and tonight, tonight is no different.”

There was a sharp echo of multiple mouths sucking in air at the shock of VanBuren’s continued insolence. He continued, “People, look around you. You are all trapped here just as I am trapped on this altar. The only difference is that Madison and his cult only torture you on the inside. I understand it is hard to believe that. No one wants to believe the worst has come, but my friends, open your eyes and you’ll see. Madison has convinced you all that some mystical force keeps you here for your own betterment, that this place, this city is some sort of blessing, some reward for the faithful. A place where children are forced to eat their parents, a place where we are all afraid to speak a word of truth in the face of the horrors all around us. We believe that if we do, some god from the stars will smite us where we stand. We believe that men like Lance Madison and Thaddeus Pinkerton carry the powers of this god, and that we must fear them as we would Tobit himself. We have sold our souls for a moment’s safety, but I ask you, how many of you walked into this church tonight fearing a Feasting ritual? How many? How many of you held your children closer, kissed your lovers longer, because you feared that tonight, like any other night that we are forced to gather here, could be the night that your so called Grand Magus declares that Tobit desires harvest?”

There was silence from the crowd now; all eyes were locked on Timothy as he continued his speech. “Is that what you call love? Is that what you call a blessing? To live every waking moment of your life in fear, to never be able to return to your homes? To never age, to live as you are here forever, always waiting for your turn to be harvest, not for Tobit though, but for Lance Madison! That’s right people, he said it himself. I worked within his church for years, and I helped this man prepare for his rituals time and time again. There is no magic here though, no godly powers, just an old man that sits in his tower all day and then comes down here and decides who lives and who dies. That’s the magic of Delphia. He doesn’t speak to Tobit; he looks out into your faces and chooses who is eaten at random, or based on whomever he may dislike at the time. It’s just a game to him. He is a fraud, he has no powers!”

A few voices rang out from the crowd, some demanding that Timothy shut up, and some demanding that he be killed. However, the surge of hatred from just moments ago was gone, and Lance Madison wasn’t sure that he liked the new direction. Madison prepared to end this little diatribe and prevent any further disruption, but it was too late. Timothy had been given the chance to wind up to a fevered pitch, and although his lungs were screaming in agony at the force being applied to them, although his starved muscles screamed for relief from standing, Timothy would continue. The storm was in full effect now, and the likes of Madison would not dissipate it.

“That’s right, people. It’s only fear that keeps you here- no magic, no powers from any Red Star, just fear of what could happen if you say or even think the wrong thing. But do not be afraid any longer. Fuck Hyraaq Tobit! FUCK HYRAAQ TOBIT!!”

Timothy screamed this darkest of irreverence on the very altar of Tobit in the heart of his very city. Over and over again he shouted, “Fuck Tobit,” and in the end, he still stood.

“See? No lightening, no thunder, I did not burst into flames. I am still here, still whole, still breathing. Fuck Tobit, Madison and Pinkerton. Fuck all of Delphia too. If Tobit is there, watching and judging, let him appear now! That’s right, where is the mighty King? I have betrayed this church, I have spit, no, PISSED on the very essence of what Tobit is, so where is my quick punishment? Where is retribution? If our Grand Magus here has so much power, why does he not simply pull the names of the Unwashed from my mind? Why does he have to torture me in hopes of a confession? If Tobit himself is so powerful, why hasn’t he struck down those of us that will stop at nothing to watch this city burn? I’ll tell you why, because it’s all a crock of shit! All of you need to wake up and realize that the only power damning you to Delphia is your own damned fears. And what is there to fear, an old man who cannot even compel a confession from me with all the time and torture he could muster to do so? Or that little asshole Pinkerton, the fat little dandy over there, a man who's more likely to bore you to death than use any dark magic to bring about your demise. All of you have suffered at the hands of Madison, all of you! I look around and see so many faces, so many people that I have called friends, watched you sit and watch your family devoured by the teeth of your fellow Delphians. You’ve seen the lawmen here beat and murder people for such crimes as asking to go home. Yes, Madison speaks true; I did shoot and kill people during Reynolds’ escape, and I wish everyday that I had not had to do so. How many people, though, has Madison killed? How many people that you love has he killed in cold blood, all while hiding behind the lie that it was the will of Tobit? He speaks of murder and bloodshed, yet he answers not for his own crimes. Who among you here would be so bold as hold your Grand Magus accountable for the lives he’s taken? Who here truly cares about justice?”

“I DO!” rang out a voice, and all eyes in the church shot about until they locked onto the owner, Gregory Leary.

“Oh my, Mr. Leary, I feel as though you are compelled now to testify,” Pinkerton said softly, patting Gregory on the leg as he stood.

“What are you… you just wait, I’m in the middle of a ritual and…” Madison protested, but Pinkerton spoke up on Gregory’s behalf.

“Father Madison, our guest wishes to speak; allow him the floor.”

Madison didn’t argue back, but watched Leary like a hawk as he stepped up on the altar.

“Timothy VanBuren, right?” Gregory asked to the bound man.

“Yes.”

“You say that you’ve worked closely with Madison for a long time, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Did he kill my father?”

“Yes.”

Madison began to step forward, opening his mouth to respond to Timothy’s claim. As he approached, lips parting, Gregory Leary reached underneath his jacket and removed the small pistol that he’d still been carrying since he left to confront Lacy. In one smooth motion he raised the gun and cocked the hammer. Madison never had time to react. Leary fired three shots into the Grand Magus at point blank range. The first bullet tore into Lance’s upper right shoulder, staggering the man back. The second shot took him in the chest, center mass. The third bullet found the intended mark though, taking Lance Madison in the heart.

For a moment Madison still stood, alternating from foot to foot as if he were attempting some sort of simple dance. Then all of his strength failed him. He gripped the ornate cloth covering the altar, but found no support, falling backwards and rolling down the three steps that led up the altar, taking the cloth with him. As his corpse struck the floor of the Cathedral, the cloth fell over his body. A fitting scene, Gregory thought, the man was kind enough to prep himself for burial. Gregory turned and looked out over the crowd within the church, a church that now had no priest.

The congregation seemed to want to erupt into some sort of reaction, but no one seemed to know what to do or say. Perhaps everyone was just too shocked to make a sound. Leary, ever the trouper, followed his own act with another.

“Mr. Pinkerton, this man was a failure and a weakling. He couldn’t succeed at so much as finding the identities of The Unwashed. You want to know who they are? Take a look in the back of your church; there are two of them sitting right there, Clive Andrews and Emily Pert. They are their leader’s most trusted.”

“You bastard,” VanBuren whispered, but Gregory ignored him.

The uniformed guards seemed just as stunned as the rest of those in attendance. Gregory helped them shake the cobwebs. “Well, what the fuck are you waiting for, arrest them!” he shouted. The officers began making their way to the back, where Emily and Clive were now standing, trying to find some means of escape. They were blocked in though, too many people between them and the door. In seconds they were being dragged away by the blue clad officers.

“Take this one away as well! He knows too much to kill!” Gregory barked, directing his order at the masked Faithful, who also appeared to be lost for actions. This man had just killed their leader, and now he was giving orders. Perhaps it was Pinkerton and Tabitha Shaw’s smiles that convinced the masked followers that this was somehow okay, because after a moment they also obeyed, and Timothy VanBuren was brought back to the dungeons where he would later be united with Emily and Clive.

The church still remained silent though, until a sharp clapping broke through. Pinkerton, smiling so wide that one might think his face would split in half, began clapping louder and louder. Tabitha joined him, both now standing.

“Bravo, Mr. Leary, BRAVO! Fine time someone with a spine stepped up around here!” Pinkerton shouted, and that seemed to drive the rest of the church forward, as they all began to clap and cheer. “Tobit has sent us all a real champion!”

“Tobit’s Champion!” a man screamed from somewhere in the crowd, which caused others to join in. Gregory, a man who had indeed championed many challenges in his time, bowed slightly to the crowd. “Father, you are avenged,” he whispered to himself, and for the first time in his adult life, surrounded by fanatics and freaks, felt real happiness.

Champion's Spoils

Two hours later, Gregory Leary was standing in front of the window that Lance Madison had once gazed out of while he thought of his lost love and the events that brought him to his time as Grand Magus. Now a new man occupied that window. Gregory had not exactly been named Madison’s replacement, which would be absurd even in a place such as Delphia. However, Pinkerton had slipped Gregory a set of keys and told him to enjoy his new chambers, which seemed to be an indirect way of making possible future intention known. Pinkerton had further congratulated Gregory on his actions, telling him that it was fine time someone took real steps towards flushing out the problems here in Delphia. Ridding the city of a failing leader seemed to be just the tip of the iceberg. Revealing the identities and facilitating the arrest of two more Unwashed seemed to be the real excitement for Pinkerton. Timothy, Emily and Clive were currently locked up, and Pinky had assured Gregory he would be given a piece of the responsibility in getting them to reveal the rest. Leary smiled, knowing that he held the rest of the puzzle in his mind regardless, and realized that he was currently sitting in a very favorable location. Pinkerton had further given his word that Trevor and the Leary family as a whole could now consider themselves free of the curse that had followed their family for so long. In closing, Pinky stated that he now had to go and report these new developments to the Council of Tobit, but assured Gregory there would be plenty of assistance for him while he was away.

As Gregory had been making his way through the darkening city towards his newfound lodgings, a voice beckoned him harshly from the shadows.

“Just what the fuck have you done, boy?” It was Brandon Leary, hiding in the dark as usual.

“Just taking care of the family business, uncle, something that you clearly are not capable of.”

“You had Clive and Emily arrested! Do you know what they’ll do to them?”

“Torture, I’d imagine,” Gregory replied.

“You soulless little twat!”

“Open your eyes, uncle; Timothy was a dead man until I stepped up. Madison is gone now too. You’d think you would be pleased.”

“This isn’t the way things are done. This isn’t what I’ve worked towards all these years!”

“No, this is the way I do things, and you should probably get used to that. I get results. Pinkerton is over the moon with glee right now; Madison is dead, and all you can think of is the fact that two people are in a dungeon? Look around, fool; they were already prisoners here. Now they’re just in a different level of the prison. Same fucking difference at the end of the day though.”

“I don’t fucking want anything to do with you, nephew. Consider my offer off the table. You’re on your own; The Unwashed will not have you!”

Gregory laughed softly, “Uncle, does it look as though I need your Unwashed? I am not a man who hides in the shadows; I am a man that takes action. And your invitation was never anything I’d have taken in the first place. Following you around in the dark as you struggled to do something that took me less than two seconds to accomplish tonight doesn’t exactly entice me to join your ranks.”

“You’ll see for yourself, you will. You really think you’re on to something, but you’re just being used by them. You’re digging your own grave, Gregory, and what a shame it is that you’re too blinded by arrogance to see that.”

“Go away, old man; you’re boring and your rhetoric is stale.”

Brandon Leary may have attempted to further speak to his nephew, but Gregory saved him the trouble and walked away.

The chambers had indeed been converted to a degree for Gregory’s tastes. Upon unlocking the oak doors and entering, he’d found a hot kettle of his favorite evening tea waiting for him. He also found several packs of his favorite cigarettes and a bottle of his favorite liquor, straight Bourbon. All of Madison’s personal items were gone. In the closet Gregory found several tailored suits, and he knew without even trying them on that they’d fit him perfectly. Several pairs of dress shoes, shined like mirrors, rested on the floor of the closet. A fine set of silk pajamas was lying on the bed, with a simple note attached. “Hot bathes are down the hallway. Medicine has been left for your mystery wound. Enjoy the new living quarters, Champion of Tobit.” The note was signed “Mr. Pinky” with “Hail Tobit” scrawled below. So Gregory had bathed and changed, and was now standing before the window, sipping his Bourbon and taking a long drag of a cigarette. His quiet reflection was broken by a soft knock on his door.

Gregory glanced over at his pistol, which he’d left on the nightstand next to what was now his bed. Pinkerton had never even asked for it; he’d simply allowed Gregory to keep it. He thought to pick it up before answering, but decided not to allow paranoia to play any games. If anyone wanted him dead, they’d have plenty of chances to do so tonight. He opened the door and was met by the brilliant gaze of Tabitha Shaw. She was wearing a thin nightgown that was quite transparent. It took Gregory no time to register that she was wearing nothing underneath it. As he opened the door, she walked in, ducking under his arm and making herself at home.

“By all means, Tabitha, come in.”

“You were amazing tonight. I mean, I sort of always pictured myself doing Madison in, but shit, man, you made that look like art.”

“He killed my father. He had those bullets coming a very long time. I’m just happy that I was able to deliver them.”

“Revenge, one of the sweetest devices in humanity, am I right?”

“There was a time that I would have told you differently, but yes, I think tonight it was served both sweetly and with interest paid.”

Tabitha walked around Gregory and lay down on his bed, seduction hanging heavily in the air. “So what is next for Tobit’s Champion?”

“That I don’t know. I came here by accident, and while things have gone... favorably for me since arriving, I am not quite sure what Plan B is at this moment.”

“Fuck dude, just enjoy the present then,” Shaw remarked, rolling over on her back and allowing the robe to open a bit. She reached over and grabbed his pack of cigarettes and lighter and lit one for herself. She took a deep drag and held it for a moment, enjoying the slight head rush that accompanied.

“Hey, how did you know that Emily and Clive were with the rebels?” Shaw asked.

“You ask a lot of questions,” Gregory answered.

“Well now, if only I had something else to do with my mouth right now, maybe I wouldn’t ask them,” Tabitha replied with a giggle, and Gregory, a self proclaimed man of action, didn’t miss a note. He was out of his pajamas and naked almost immediately, and what followed was a night of the most raw and soul shaking sex he’d ever experienced. Tabitha moved like a swarm of bees, covering his body with quick, painful love bites. She rolled him over, crawling on him, coating him with her scent, her feminine essence. She touched him in places he’d never known, and brought him to heights of extreme that he would never have believed possible. Her hands never stopped moving about his body as their mouths locked together. She didn’t ask what he liked, didn’t concern herself with hard limits, personal tastes or discomforts. She delivered lightening bolts of pleasure to every inch of his body. Gregory returned the favor to her as well. He took her without fear or concern. His powerful hands comforted and excited her all at once, his confidence bringing her to climax like a silent power. He didn’t grunt and moan, he didn’t make lewd comments or brag about his endowment. He simply made fierce love to her. He did not find the need to ask such stupid questions as “Is this good” or “What do you need” because he seemed to already know. Several hours later, when it was finally done, the two lay next to each other, bathed in their clean sweat, panting like animals and feeling the electricity of their passion still resonate through their very bodies and souls.

“Lover, I don’t know where they’ve been keeping you all this time, but fuck if I’m not glad you’re here now,” Tabitha stated, taking another smoke and running her fingers through Gregory’s hair with her free hand.

“I must say, had you appeared to me from the start, instead of Madison’s fucking goat men, I would have moved to Delphia straight away.”

The two shared a bit more conversation, until Tabitha finally dozed off. Gregory rolled over, facing away from her, and smiled broadly in the dark. “I killed their leader... I just pulled a fucking hostile take-over on Delphia. I should have thought of this before. All that running around out there trying to hide books and scare off scientists, when all I needed was just one day in the damn heart of it all. God Bless!”

The idea that Madison may have been his only ticket home never reoccurred to him. He’d known in the moments before he pulled the trigger that Madison was going to be of no further use to him. Also, part of him now wondered what the rush to get back to the “real” world really was. This was something new to explore, an entire empire that he could possibly manipulate and eventually lead. His life’s mission was now essentially complete. His family was free of Tobit, and what better way to suppress the powers of Delphia than to perhaps become one of those very powers.

Gregory fell asleep smiling, sharing a bed with Tabitha Shaw. In all of his years, he’d never have believed that he’d get his best night’s sleep in the heart of Delphia.

Hope Gathers

It was now night in New Orleans. Clair, Derrick, Trevor and Lena were gathered in the hotel room that was purchased by the Leary brothers earlier that day. To Trevor, it seemed as though that simple check-in was a lifetime ago. Things had changed dramatically in the last 12 hours, and now that Lena Vazquez had told them her tale, he knew that things could never return to normal until the job was done. Lacy’s body was taken to a private location, a small grove of trees outside of the city and laid to rest there. Lena cried through most of the affair, expressing her regret in slight whispers. The others weren’t exactly inclined to pay much respect to the psychopathic woman that had certainly intended to kill them all, but they allowed Lena to have her time and express her sorrow. Trusting Lena was still a long shot for any of them, but in the world of Hyraaq Tobit, one didn’t refuse the aid of a friend, regardless of who that friend might be. Lena did not bury her deep, informing the others that she wished her body to be eventually found.

“I hope when they find her, they’ll track down her family so that she can be given a proper burial. The girl hasn’t seen her parents in almost 12 years. It seems fitting that she might be able to return home, even if it is just to be given a funeral.”

They drove back to the city mostly in silence. Clair and the others had about a million questions, but they all decided to move with caution. Lena’s full intentions were still far from clear, but if this was some sort of trick, they were all damned to understand how it worked. She’d saved them, and as she told her story into the evening, they all began to believe she could indeed be trusted.

Now back in the safety and privacy of the hotel room, Lena sat them down and did her best to bring them up to speed. “I’ve been a Sister of Tobit for a very long time. It all started when I was an Interpol Agent. I was tracking this drug cartel, and let’s just say that I wasn’t careful enough. Their leader caught up with me one night on a dark road and took me hostage. He had some awful plans in store, with a beheading as the finish. I looked to the stars and prayed for a savior, and that’s when Tabitha appeared.”

“Like, she just appeared from thin air?” Derrick asked.

“Could have, I’m not sure. All I know is that two men were preparing to rape me, and all of sudden they were bleeding. When I looked up, Tabitha was there, like my prayers were answered. Yeah, more like a curse I think now.

She didn’t exactly give me much in the way of a choice you know. I either agreed to follow her and do her bidding, or she would leave me to die right out there off that dirt road. Of course I agreed to go with her. I had no choice, did I?” She blurted that out as more of a defense than a legitimate question.

She continued, “I was brought back to Delphia and given my position within Tabitha’s Sisters of Tobit. We were like her hit squad I guess. When there was an issue that required a more… personal touch, we were sent in. Once they started to trust me a bit more, I was paired with Lacy and began working missions. The Sisters, we all live outside of Delphia, and Tabitha contacts us through heavily encrypted websites and emails. It’s quite interesting until you realize just what it is she wants us to do. Lacy, well, as you could tell, she loved her job; she practically got off on it. As for me, no way.”

“So you never… killed?” Trevor asked nervously.

“Well, the drug cartel leader, she made me finish him off the night she rescued me. I told her that I wanted to arrest him. I guess I still somehow believed that I was a police officer. No, once Tabitha got her hands on me, that part of my life was over forever. I was her property, or Tobit’s, who fucking even knows? Anyway, him, and Lacy, my God, poor Lacy, but they were my only real kills. I found a way around having to shed blood once Lacy and I were teamed up. She just loved doing it so much that I would sort of hang back and serve as the 'brains' of the outfit, while she went out and did the dirty work.”

“But you knew what she was doing, you knew and…” Trevor began, but was cut off.

“Yes, I fucking knew what she was doing, and NO, I didn’t do anything to stop it. There, is that what you wanted to hear?”

“I’m sorry, I just…”

“Look, I get it- this is all beyond fucked up. No one is doubting that. But, from where I stood, I was trapped. I couldn’t refuse to carry out a mission and I couldn’t just go about murdering innocent people. I guess I took the coward’s route. I didn’t know how I was going to keep this up, living this life of death and violence. But then, then I met him.”

“The leader of The Unwashed?” Clair asked.

“Yes, Brandon Leary is his name, a name I am sure you know quite well, Trevor.”

“Wait, you work for Brandon Leary… how is that possible? The man would be ancient!”

Lena smiled a bit at that. “It’s because of the effects of living in Delphia. You don’t age there. For people like me and Lacy, we aged at a normal rate because we reside mostly outside of Delphia, but for people like Madison and Tabitha, they basically stay the same. Madison is around the same age as Brandon, and Tabitha was born sometime back in the 1920s I think. She was taken in as a child, much like Lacy, but she’s spent enough time outside of Delphia to where she’s aged about 20 years or so. You see, when you leave, you start aging; when you return you go back to… being in neutral I suppose.”

“My uncle’s story says that he followed Madison back to Delphia in the early 1800s to further investigate the cult. Are you really saying he’s been there the whole time, alive and… immortal?”

“In a matter of speaking, yes. Brandon has never left. He’s trapped like most everyone else in Delphia, but that didn’t stop him from continuing his work to bring down Tobit’s cult. He spent years there hiding, well, hiding in plain sight, you might say. When Madison took over the city, he started pulling in people left and right. He thought expanding the population would further the church’s strength I guess. He was really the only one to encounter Madison on the outside, and since people were coming in all the time now, Brandon didn’t have to hide too hard; he just had to make sure that Madison didn’t recognize him. He began recruiting a resistance. The Unwashed were formed from that. Derrick and Clair, you’ve actually met other members already.”

“Timothy, right? He saved me from the city when I was stranded there,” Derrick stated, feeling a pit of sadness form at the thought of his fallen friend.

“Yes, he’s been working with Brandon for a long time. He’s currently held prisoner in Madison’s dungeon.”

“He’s alive?!” Derrick exclaimed.

“Yes he is. The mob trampled him, but he survived. Although for what he’s been through, I don’t know if surviving was exactly a blessing…”

“Oh my God, what about a guy named Sergio Castro? Have you seen or heard anything about him since my escape?” Derrick was nearly out of his seat at the hope that his friends lost in Delphia might still be rescued.

“Not sure about him. I know he was Masked on the night you fled, but like I said before, I don’t spend much time in Delphia. I’m sorry. But if he is alive, we can certainly try and save him too.”

Clair spoke up, “The little girl, Soka, she’s the other member, right?”

Lena nodded, “Soka is a very special child, as you well know. She is able to reach out to others in her mind, but of course you already know that.”

“Yes, she gave me that code phrase. She also tried to warn me once before, but Tabitha got into her dream and scared her off.”

“Okay, so what exactly is the plan? I mean, what are we supposed to do?” Derrick asked Lena.

“We go to Delphia, we meet up with Brandon Leary and we move forward on the final phase. We believe that we’ve found a way to bring the city down for good. It’s something to do with the Idol of Tobit, the very one that fell to earth during the… what do you call it, Clair?”

“The Triassic Period. You mean the statue of the goat head that drove the Primes insane, the one from Epor’s story?”

“The very one, yes. Brandon believes that holds the key to bringing down Delphia.”

“Okay, so if he knows all of that, why wait? Why not just do whatever it is that needs to be done? I mean, how do we really fall into this?” Trevor asked.

“You are very much a part of this, Trevor, as are all of you. Listen, Clair, you proved that Tobit could be studied and understood, in ways that none of us ever believed. Derrick, you proved that Tobit could be escaped, outwitted, something else that we all believed impossible for the longest time. And Trevor, you and your brother proved that Tobit could be fought, that his cult was not this unstoppable army, but rather an organization that could be exploited and overcome. Plus, there is the matter of your brother…”

Trevor stood up. “Yes, Lacy said before that he attacked her in her hotel room. Earlier today he told me that Madison came to him and offered him a deal. He wanted Gregory to save Derrick, to cause you and Lacy to fail at your mission. Something to do with undermining Tabitha and restoring his place. He gave my brother some sort of pendant and told him it would allow him to sneak into her room, something like that.”

“Yes, if that is true, I believe it’s likely that your brother is now trapped in Delphia as well,” Lena replied.

“How?”

“Well, if Madison used the same enchantment on the necklace as his Faithful use, that would explain how your brother vanished. Different amulets use different spells. The one that I wear allows free travel to and from Delphia at will. However, Madison is only capable of creating short-term effects. If your brother was still wearing it, and if he walked back through the same door that he entered, it would have pulled him back to the place it was created, in this case, Delphia.”

“That’s right, he attacked Lacy, but was stabbed. After he helped me get free from that chair, he walked back into the bathroom where he appeared. Then he was just gone, but the sink was full of snow.”

“Snow? Then that settles it- he’s no doubt back in Delphia. The snow is always a sign of travel there.”

“Oh God, no… then they have him,” Trevor whispered, tears forming.

“We’ll save him, okay, Trevor? We’ll get him back too,” Derrick stated, patting his friend on the shoulder.

“If he’s even still alive,” Trevor finished.

“Have faith, Trevor. Brandon has connections within Madison’s church. There are people who monitor the comings and goings, and they alert Brandon when anyone of interest is arriving. I believe that our leader would take great interest in his nephew coming to Delphia, and would do all he could to reach out to him. If I had to guess, I would imagine that he is sipping tea with your brother right now, planning their next move. From what we’ve learned of you and Gregory, you’re both quite cunning.”

“Gregory is the cunning one. I’m just the, well, sidekick.”

“Don’t doubt yourself. You’re a Leary after all, a name that carries much weight.”

“I can’t believe this is all real,” Clair said to herself.

“It is, and it is time to take action. But I won’t force any of you to come back to Delphia with me. I’m not like Tabitha. If any, or all of you wish to leave, go back to your normal lives, I won’t stop you,” Lena stated.

“I have to go, as much as I can’t believe I’m saying it,” Derrick said. “I promised Timothy, the night that he saved me, that I would come back for him. All this time, I’ve been living with this guilt because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep my word, but now that you say he’s alive, I have to go back. I have to try to help him, and I have to try and find Sergio. He’s my best friend, you know.”

Trevor spoke next, “If Gregory is there, I’m going, simple as that. He risked his life to try and stop this all. Shit, he’s been risking his life everyday since I was a kid to stop all of this. You say that amulet brought him back to Delphia. If that’s the case, I have to go and help him. He’d do the same for me.”

Now all eyes shifted to Clair Nobles. “As a scientist I can’t say no. I started this entire project with the mission to understand the Triassic Journal. I cannot think of a better way to understand it than by going to Tobit’s city. Plus, I know I can help. If it’s a matter of finding that statue, I have some ideas. I mean, I’ll need to see the city of course, but with everything we’ve uncovered so far, I believe we can solve this. Our lab was destroyed by Tobit’s agents though, but luckily I have enough stored between my ears to still be of assistance. Also, my friends from the think tank have been having the nightmares, being tormented by dreams of Delphia and Tobit. If I can do something to stop those, to restore all of our peace of mind, then I must do all I can.”

“Then it’s settled, we go day after tomorrow. I’ll need time to prepare a gateway, and I am sure all of you will want to spend some time getting things in order. I’ll also need to access a computer. I have to send Tabitha a message letting her know that all is A-OK here in New Orleans. She needs to think the mission went successfully. She’ll report to Pinkerton that all of you are dead, which will take the focus off of you for a while at least. Hopefully that will buy us some wiggle room once we get to Delphia. With that being said, I really need you all to understand that there is no promise that any of us will return. This isn’t a game, you all know that, right?”

“I’ve played their game once, I feel I can do it again,” Derrick stated with confidence.

“Don’t be cocky,” Clair corrected, causing Derrick to blush a bit.

“How exactly are we all going to get there anyway?” Trevor asked.

“I can create a door for all of us from my amulet. It’s a lot to explain, just know it’ll work. Once we get there, we’ll have to make contact with Brandon and get somewhere safe. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get to the idol.”

No one spoke for a few minutes, then Lena broke the silence once more. “Let’s all get some rest tonight. I have to go; I have to mourn Lacy in my own way. I know she was a monster from where you all sit, but to me, she was like my best friend and messed up little sister all in one. We looked out for each other, and today I had to kill her. I have to go and take all that in alone. I know it sounds girly, but I need to go and cry. I’m sure the rest of you have things to tidy up as well. I don’t know how long this is going to take. We could be in Delphia for a day or for months. That’s why I need you all to really understand what we’re going in for here. This isn’t a game or a movie, this is real life, and possibly real death as well.”

Awkward goodbyes were exchanged between Lena and the others. She informed them that she’d meet them back at the hotel room the following day. Clair went down to the lobby to purchase a room for herself, leaving the two men alone.

“Are you going to go back to your apartment?” Trevor asked Derrick.

“The place were a woman was stabbed today? No thanks, bro. Think I can crash with you?”

“We have two beds here, why not?”

Derrick smiled a bit, in spite of their circumstances. “I bet you’d rather spend the night in a different room, if you know what I mean?”

“What ever are you talking about?”

“C’mon, Trevor, I saw the way you were looking at Clair. I’ve seen that look a million times; you want to get to know her a bit better, don’t you? You know, find out if it’s true about the nerdy scientist type? See what she could do with your ‘test tube’ if you know what I’m saying?”

“Derrick, did you learn nothing from your experience with Lacy? Maybe thinking with our dicks isn’t the best course right now.”

Derrick laughed and fell backwards on one of the large double beds. “Figures, I would get stuck with the boring brother.”

Trevor chuckled at that. He could tell Derrick meant no real insult with the words. He was right, though; Clair had captured his attention, just as Gregory had been able to see earlier. She was beautiful and brilliant. He just hoped they could all live long enough for him to work up the courage to be rejected by her.

And so it was. Clair slept in her hotel room, falling asleep with the television turned low. Derrick and Trevor slept in their shared room. They’d had a bit of conversation themselves before turning in, sharing and swapping their stories of Tobit’s influence on their lives. And thousands of miles a way, in a city of ice and dark powers, Gregory Leary slept with Tabitha Shaw curled up against his body. In the heart of evil, he enjoyed a night of the sweetest dreams.



Written by K. Banning Kellum
Content is available under CC BY-NC
Published March 13th, 2016

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