“Zis is really low, Emmett.”
Emmett: How, Em thinks, Do I get more juice without bothering you?
He swoops low over the nebulous region where the Quarter spills over into the Seventh Ward, leapfrogging from building to building on translucent wings, searching for his quarry. Only so many vampires in this town, he assumes. He hopes.
Not that you’ll tell me, obviously. But I assume there’s a way.
GM: I’ll tell you, just not for free.
Emmett: I’ll tell you what. Tell me and I’ll let you decide what we do to Cash Money. Hmm?
GM: I’ll tell you what. Do something for me, and I’ll take you out to a bar for drinks. That you’ll pay for. Doesn’t that sound like a treat?
Emmett: Name your price and I’ll counter. No more blank checks.
GM: Sucks to be you then.
Emmett: It sucks to be us. Look, I want at least some of what you want. You want to set somebody on fire so we can make them beg for us to piss on them, I’m amenable. But the shit that costs us both means I fight you, and that ain’t fun for either of us. Come on, tell me what you want. Play with me. What do you want?
GM: Actually, it is fun for me.
Emmett: He searches the trash-strewn streets, desperate for his quarry.
GM: Anything that makes your afterlife worse is fun for me.
You want to know how to get juice back, you’ll owe me a favor.
Emmett: He doesn’t answer him, yet.
Just searches for the vampire.
GM: Em may be glad he can fly.
The Seventh Ward, or at least this version of it, looks completely flooded. Stagnant, brackish waters thirstily lap at ruined houses. Shadows and formless shapes slink within the inky depths. Cars, garbage, and the odd hideously water-bloated corpse floats through. The floodwaters don’t go as high as in the 9th Ward. Em remembers news coverage showing people standing on the roofs of houses with water lapping practically at their ankles. Here the water only goes about chest high. The same blurred, luminous figures from the hotel wade obliviously through it.
There is no breeze against Em’s face as his spectral wings slowly flap through the gloom. Just constant, miserable downpour from the void-like sky. The water looks almost like oil, at times. Low, gurgling cries occasionally waft from its umbral depths.
Em passes over flooded street after flooded street. It’s easy to search the buildings. They’re already half-translucent, like dirty glass. He can see the luminous figures going about their lives inside. Many are asleep in their beds. Some are eating. Some are fucking. Some watch TVs. Shattered screens show nightmarish, bestial-faced figures laughing to captive audiences about the end of the world. Anytime now.
Kill yourself and get it over with.
Kill yourself. It’s not so bad.
Kill yourself. You’re just going to die anyway.
Everyone is going to die.
Emmett: He watches the bestial figures from time to time. They’re funnier than most talk show hosts.
It’s funny. He always knew the world was like this, underneath. Now he gets to live in it. Except, you know.
Maybe he should be more melancholy, or more sneering in his vindication. Instead, he feels oddly at peace with this, this not-quite-hell he now inhabits. The Shadowlands.
It makes him feel better, maybe, that he and Ginger and Courtney and Hannah and all of them end up here.
Maybe he isn’t so bad, after all.
He almost dips low enough to skim a foot in the floodwaters, but lifts up at the last moment, squatting on the roof of a waterlogged SUV before launching back into the air.
Somewhere in the Seventh Quarter, a vampire dwells. A dead man luckier than him.
Em will find him. He has to.
GM: Yeah. They just don’t hide it, here. It’s all out in the open.
We should land a news anchor gig. There’s potential here, with these guys, but we could do better.
Emmett: Maybe I’ll keep doing my Isaiah White bit and give some old lady a heart attack. Would you like that?
GM: Em’s only answer is his darker self’s laughter.
He knew before he even asked.
He floats along a little longer. He stops when a figure leaps out from behind one of the houses’ TV screens. He’s a bogeyman. Tall. Dark. His too-large mouth is bared in something between a snarl and a laugh, showing razor-sharp rows of ivory teeth. His pupil-less eyes are solid black. His midnight skin seems to strangely glisten against the backdrop of the flickering TV, like it’s been coated with oil. His viciously clawed hands are bared wide, like a pouncing cat’s, as a serpentine hiss issues from his mouth.
His form is as ashen and dead as Sami’s.
GM: The glowing figure in the couch screams and all but falls off.
He screams they had a deal. He screams he’s useful. He screams about corner profits. He screams—
And then he just runs.
GM: The bogeyman gives chase. The glowing figure grabs a gun and points it at the bogeyman. He laughs. The gun explodes into his chest. He keeps laughing.
Emmett: Em briefly glances around the place’s interior. Looks for a name, some clue as to the owner’s identity. He keeps Astride in sight, though.
GM: The man’s demise is as quick as it is brutal. The bogeyman plunges clawed fingers into the man’s kidneys, twists, and keeps plunging until Em can’t see the ends of his fingers anymore. Teeth flash as he rips a second smile from the man’s throat all the way to the top of his head. He drinks thirstily, lets the corpse topple to the floor, then licks his fingers. He takes the gun and then blows open the dead man’s head. He keeps firing until all that’s left has the texture of gory oatmeal.
He laughs some more when he’s done and re-licks his fingers.
Emmett: “Yikes,” Em says aloud. The solitude might be one of his favorite parts of the afterlife. “Talk about playing with your food.”
GM: The bogeyman ignores Em completely as he walks out of the house like nothing happened.
Em sees several pieces of rotted, ancient-looking mail on the cracked and scuffed kitchen counter. They’re addressed to Kione White.
There’s an ashen-hued figure standing over the man’s no longer glowing body. His build, clothing, and facial features are identical. His eyes are closed and his face is blank. He’s swaddled in a mucus, cobweb-like thing that somehow looks simultaneously and thick and hazy. Its edges slowly drift through the air on a breeze Em does not feel.
He doesn’t want to waste too much time, but more companions are hard to turn down. He digs his hands into Kione’s mucus, cocoon-like shell and tries to rip it apart.
“Up and at ’em,” Em mutters.
What was that word Fizzy had tossed out? Fresh out of a… something.
GM: The man’s eyes don’t open, but his mouth parts in a soundless scream as his features contort with agony.
Lamarck: “Vat in ze Lord’s name do you think you’re doing?” booms the German-accented voice of a man pushing him off the cocooned form.
There’s a man of about forty looking sternly over him, his shirt covered in a mixture of blood and soot, a large leather sack weighing on his shoulders.
His woolen trousers are ripped in places and Emmett can see bone squelching in windows of torn ligaments and musculature. His mustache is trimmed to some sort of regulation, and everything about his face is precisely pointed at Emmett.
He is mostly unadorned by jewelry, but wears a beautifully sculpted and painted ring around his neck, a complex sigil formed at its center, from gemstone.
“Mein Gott in Himmel, look vat you’ve done. A hole hast been torn im-proper-ly in zis poor vun’s caul.” He taps his foot against the floor, looking very concerned.
Emmett: Em starts to fall, but floats back upright. “What the fuck? Where did you come from?” Then he starts to shake his head. “Um, sorry. I’m kind of in the middle of something. Uh…” he glances over his shoulder at the door. Astride’ll get away. “Walk and talk?”
He starts walking.
GM: The man stops silently screaming as Em removes his hands, but his face still looks pained.
Lamarck: “Hmm. All right.”
The German-sounding man hefts the cocooned body over his shoulder and walks beside Emmett.
“Do you know vat you’re doing here, mein freund? I esked you a qvestion, I expekt an answer,” he asks with far less fury.
Emmett: “Following a vampire,” he says, walking quickly outside White’s apartment and trying to catch a glimpse of Astride. “Sorry if I’m distracted. Emmett Delacroix. And you are…”
GM: The vampire wades through the chest-deep waters like they’re not there. Other luminous figures are fleeing the street.
Lamarck: “Herr Lamarck. And are you literally outside of your mind, Herr Delacroix?”
Emmett: Em points. “That’s my man. Try and keep up.” Phantasmal wings erupt from his back and he beats into the air above the street, flying low above the waters. “I’m certainly not inside of it, at the moment. Kind of a lot going on. You been dead for a while?”
Lamarck: With a great rushing of wind, Lamarck spirals through the air using a pair of rotted, oil-dripped bat wings and once parallel with Emmett, switches to beating them in the air and matching his pace.
“Qvite some time, ja. Vat of you?” His attire reminds Emmett of some of the civilians in World War II flicks.
Emmett: “Oh, you know. Feels longer than it’s been. Still learning the ropes.” He glances sideways at Lamarck as he beats his way towards his ash-colored prey. “Never gotten somebody out of a—did you call it a caul?—before. Sorry if I did it clumsily. Seemed selfish to leave him.”
Lamarck: When he turns, he sees Lamarck start to smile, perhaps to reminisce. Perhaps because Emmett is just that likable. But it disappears as quickly as it came, and turns hard and concerned. “You are new,” he asserts.
“Hast no vun explained vat a caul ist? Dit you not see ze terror in his face when you were tearing at it? Oh dear, zat must mean you are completely unaffiliated.”
Emmett: “At the moment,” Em admits. “You’re not with the Hierarchy, are you?”
Lamarck: He looks very nearly offended, and with his free hand points to the gemstone laden circlet around his neck. “I am vun of ze Unharrowed.”
He pauses, flapping his wings.
“Hast no vun told you about ze great Consortium of ze Unharrowed?”
Emmett: He shakes his head. “I’m an, ah, infant. I spent some time in a Giovannini prison and just broke out. Still don’t know much.”
He wonders where Astride’s headed. He doesn’t seem too concerned with keeping a low profile, judging by the fleeing mortals around him.
GM: Astride gets into a rust-corroded car with dead headlights and mangled tires. He starts driving through the water.
Emmett: Em alights on its roof, his wings folding behind him as he crosses his legs, and gestures for Lamarck to sit with him.
“Perhaps you can recruit me,” he smiles. “If that’s the kind of thing you’re into.”
GM: Em sinks through it like it’s made of smoke.
Lamarck: “—incorporeal,” Lamarck tries to warn.
Emmett: He floats back up again, looking disgruntled. “Whoops.”
“Normally we can stand on things. Don’t know why it should be any different to sit.”
Lamarck: “Because wir seeing it does not mean es ist ours. It belongs to ze Skinlands. Verstanden?”
“Du hast a lot zu lern, mein freund. Vy are you following zis vampier ven you are so new?”
Emmett: “Doing one a favor so she’ll do me one,” Em says, smiling ruefully. “I know I have a lot to learn. But that’s why it’s lucky I’ve found you. What would you tell me about cauls? How to open them? And your people, the Unharrowed?”
Lamarck: “Ah,” Lamarck nods intently. “Of course. Vampiere tent to tink in favors. But zey do nothing but lie. Unwise to rely on zem.”
Emmett: Em nods. “Me and this one have history. Figured I’d give it a try, and if she doesn’t keep up her end…” he shrugs. “The afterlife is long.”
“I mean, you know that already.”
Lamarck: “Es ist only as lang as you respekt it and ze nasty tings zat exist vith-in. Lest you risk, diving into Oblivion.”
Their dead teeth seem to chatter at that word, as if from a cold wind.
“But you vould like to know about cauls, then. Unt dee Unharrowed?”
Emmett: “I would,” Em smiles. “It’s rare to meet a casper that’s so, ah, friendly.” But this ghost seems anything but little.
Lamarck: “Vy of course,” he smiles, one of his teeth looks golden, other closer to black. Some however, are pristine and white.
“Und who knew? Casper is still a thing, huh? I remember reading zose komicstreepen before I ex-pired.”
Emmett: “I… didn’t know it was that old,” Em admits. “I guess it sounds German. Nifty. Anyways, I’m saying I appreciate it, and if you aren’t going to turn around and enslave me or something similarly shite, I’d be happy to stay in touch. I’m hanging with a bunch of other fresh ghosts right now, and I think we’re all looking for some guidance. Any tips you can give us about this side of the grave would be helpful.”
He pauses. “Do you know how to get, um, energy? The stuff that lets us use powers. I’m running low.”
-I am Amerikan-” Lamarck cuts with a much darker tone.
Emmett: “Okay,” Em says. “Didn’t mean anything by it.”
Lamarck: He laughs, it is hearty. “Don’t vurry. Sometimes our passions get ze best of us, ja?”
“How many ozer ghosts do you have? It’s irresponsible to leave you all unaffiliated. I couldn’t shlumber wiz zat on mein mind.”
Emmett: “Just four, including myself,” Em says. “I know what you mean about passions.” He smiles ruefully. “I take it loners don’t last long, huh?”
Lamarck: “Ah. Gut! I can just induct you all into the Consortium in vun ritual. Perhaps him as vell,” he says referring to the body in the sac. He nods as they fly, following the rusted car as it trudges through the water.
“I’m zumthing of a loner myzelf aktually. My secret is shtaying abzolutely unapolegetically positive!”
“Now, you asked me about the energy. You are simply tired. It can be regained viz appropriate rest ven you are wiz ze things you really care about.”
Emmett: Hey, Gasper. Coochie-coochie coo. Cunt.
“What kinds of things do you mean, there?”
“Also, just to be clear, if some of us don’t want to join, will you be able to take no for an answer?”
Lamarck: “I’ll give an example. I used to work a taxi cab hier in ze city. It vas compakted at an auto-graveyart. I like to slumber zer to recoup. You are young. Perhaps you have a schwester, or a bruder, or a fader, or a muter. Sleep bezide zem. You might feel better.”
“Und das ist Amerika, Emmett. Es ist a free-country”
Emmett: Em nods, grinning. “All right. Okay. I think I can swing that. Thanks for the tip. What’s it like in the Consortium? Am I saying that right?”
“You said you’re a loner. What does that mean if you’re also not unaligned?”
Lamarck: “Vell, you see,” he says, the wind rushing by, “ze Consortium respekts the individuality of every ghost. Or casper! As you call it. And as a result, you can be a part of it vizout being tied to any other’s vill.”
“We are the Unharrowed. You do know about harrowing, ja?”
Emmett: “I do. That sounds mighty attractive to a man like me. Being free.” His wings beat him higher into the filthy air. “What does it mean to be Unharrowed? And what does the Consortium demand of its members?”
Lamarck: “Vell, ven your shadow—” he whispers that word, “—vishes to punish you, zey may drag you into a pit called zie harrowing. To be unharrowed is to be free of the pit. Dee Consortium demands only zat we support each ozer from being pulled into zee pits.”
He gestures to the gemstone ringlet around his neck.
“Zat is vy ve ver zis. It zupports our invisible ties. Zee ropes ve pull to zupport each ozer.”
Emmett: Em leans forward, not having to feign his interest. “How does one wraith help another?”
Lamarck: “It is zimple, zo not easy. Wiz sie same force ve use to en-er-gize our souls from sie vons ve care about, ve pull each ozer up and out of zee pit, which vee call the nihil.”
Emmett: Finally, some answers. Em’s still focused on Astride, but Lamarck is quickly becoming a better reward for his outing.
“You seem like you’ve been around a while. What are these tricks we can do?” Em holds out a hand. A small flame flickers above his palm, first glowing radioactive green, then aubergine purple, then yellow as a banana, before forming itself into a fleur-de-lis of all three colors.
“One ghost, she called me something. A sandman.”
Lamarck: “Vau. Ab-so-lute-ly vau. If I vasnt’ holding zis enfant I vould clap. Beautiful arcanos, Emmett.” He’s smiling ear to ear at the performance.
“Ah. Of course she did then. A zandman ist a casper, like yourself, who brinks all ze kolor of ze outer vurld into our own. Ze entertainer! Ze main event. Emmett Delacroix! Ha! Ha!” he announces, punctuating with laughter.
Emmett: “Arcanoi,” Em repeats. “Well, thank you very much. It’s not very useful, but it certainly does wonders for my mood. Can arcanoi be taught? Seems like they’re kind of important for futzing about with the… skin place. Skinlands.”
Lamarck: “Vy of course zey kan be, through time und instruktion. Und vizin the group of the Consortium you are indukted into, zer is a qvuiker process of teaching through sharing. Through ze ties ve are connekted through! Beautiful, no?” He is beaming as they fly through.
Emmett sees how grey the rest of the city looks in contrast to his conjuring. It is as dramatic as it is saddening.
“Und, Emmett. Your power is ze only beauty vir haben hier. Zer ist little more important in ze Shadowlants zan zat.”
Emmett: “Perhaps in the Shadowlands,” Em demurs with a smile. He isn’t immune to flattery. “But I’m still rather invested in making things happen on the other side. Which I suppose is why you have found me where you have.” He eyes Kione. “How does one open a caul safely? Is there some trick to it? I wasn’t trying to hurt him.”
Lamarck: “Of course you veren’t trying to, Emmett. But you saw his face. Terror. Ab-sol—-ute terror. And vurse zan zat. Ze potential onset of a harrowing for both parties. Zey are enfants, in ze amniotic sac vich ve call ze caul. Ve treat zem viz ze same respekt and delicacy ve vould treat a newborn.” He has a serious look on his face, some half-parts of nostalgia and pain.
“Zo, all participants in removing ze caul must be protekted from ze potential nihil.”
Emmett: He bows his head. “Thank you for stepping in when you did. It seems I owe you a great deal already.”
Lamarck: “Ha. Ha, Emmett. Zo shtuck on deals. Too much vampier business on your mind.”
When he’s finished chuckling, he adds, “But yes, you do indeed.”
Emmett: Ah, not so charitable after all.
“Oh, I just like to make sure I’m mindful of those who do me a good turn,” Em says easily. “I’ll tell you what. If you aren’t up to anything else tonight, stick with me. We’ll follow the bloodsucker ’till dawn, and talk during the boring bits. Then I can take you back to the place me and the others are holed up, and you can give them your spiel about the Unharrowed. How does that sound?”
Lamarck: “Oh of course, I’m heppy to exp—plain it to zem. But zis enfant is ektually qvite heavy and ve can’t leave it alone while ve search, it vould be kidnapped,” he says grimly.
“Ve know ver your vampier ist going zo, to ze spawning grounts. Not safe for a lone casper. Und don’t vurry, ve have veys of finding ze vampier zimply, vons ve’ve seen zem. Arcanoi.”
Emmett: “Spawning grounds?” Em slows, but doesn’t stop his flight. It’s clear that he isn’t very sure about abandoning the tail.
Lamarck: “Ze spawning grounts are places of excessive angst. Vampiers of zorts are drawn to zeze places, to ze latent energy. Zey bolster ze Shadows of ze unaffiliated caspers who enter vizout protektion. Es ist a begging for a harrowing or ze hijacking of your corpus through a catharsis.”
Emmett: Em looks him in the eye, one dead man to another.
Finally he says, “I like you, Lamarck. I want to trust you. You seem like good people. But I can’t call you a friend if you keep lying to me. What’s your angle, here?”
He keeps flapping over the trashed car as it rolls towards its destination. “I don’t appreciate being told ghost stories. Not when I’m inside one.”
Lamarck: Lamarck sighs. “I’m zorry Emmett. I shpent a lot of mein life lying to keep people zafe. Unt to help myzelf survive. Force of habit.”
“Zer ist a lot of danger anyvere out hier in zese lants. Especailly for such young individuals who just broke out of Giovannini prison. Zey vill be looking for you soon. Vampiers are tricky. Und unforgiving. Much zafer to search during zer day.”
“Vie are much safer ven vie are togezer. Ze Hierarchy is stronk in ze area, keeps us far too on edge for comvert. Ze Consortium needs recruits, and I’m villing to help by recruiting you and teaching. But I can’t be out hier all nacht. Ezpecially not viz zis heavy enfant in my hants. So eizer I depart viz him alone or vie go back.”
“Leik you said, zer is alvays another day to earn a debt. But like I said, you only have von soul to lose.”
Emmett: Em nods evenly. “I won’t ask you to risk your soul or his. But I don’t like leaving things unfinished. Especially not when I gave my word on them. I’ll tell you what. How long does it take our kind to rest properly? I’ll do that after my business here is concluded, and I’ll meet you with my people when I’m up. Maybe before sundown, in Jackson Square? And bring the enfant, if he’s hatched by then. We might have a place for him.”
Lamarck: “It takes at least eight hours of rest with ze von you care about to recoup your energies. Potentially more depending on ze strength of your Shadow. Zat ist over eight straight houvers ver you und ze loved vun you shlumber viz are vulnerable to attack. If zumvun feinds you then alone, you are in trouble.”
He shakes his head once more. “Vich is vy es ist best to regroup as soon as pozible. You have to learn, a vampier need not fulfill zer vurd even if you honor yours. Only to each other’s. Wraiths are family. Zer ist nothing zat makes you shtronger zan family.”
Emmett: “I hear you,” Em says. “But I won’t break my word first. Will you meet me at Jackson Square at sundown, or not?”
Lamarck: He sighs. “You are so painfully new. Es ist far too hopeful to trust that you’ll have a chance to keep it. If you get caught. Oh dear.”
He starts to hum a slow moving tune, reminiscent and pregnant with regret.
“Zis enfant probably knows enough about your vampier to tell where you can find him. Und he vill want to get revenge for being murdered. Come back, ve’ll induct you all into ze Consortium. After zat, ve’ll bring him into zis wurld und zen vigure out vat he knows about your vampier.”
“You’ll keep your vurd und our safety. Please, Emmett, for all of our sakes. Otherwise… I don’t want to think about the possibilities.”
Emmett: Em hesitates. A part of him is still suspicious. Another part of him thinks he should see where this guy goes. And it’s not like he doesn’t have any information to feed to Sami.
“Okay. Shall I lead the way?”
Lamarck: “Right behint you, mein freund.”
Torn wings beat once more against the wind, and the pair fly into the darkness.
Emmett: The pair and their cargo enter the Ritz-Carlton from the roof and plunge down the elevator shaft to Sami’s floor. Em pokes his head into her suite before he enters, crooning, “Honeys, I’m home.”
Lamarck: “Vau, you guys sure are living it up, aren’t you. Ha ha,” the second wraith chuckles as he enters, still carrying the burden of the enfant.
GM: “Home sweet home,” says Hannah. She and Ginger are sitting on the floor’s stained and moth-eaten carpet. Em wonders if they tried to sit on the bed or furniture.
They both look up at the newcomer’s voice.
Emmett: “Bought a friend,” he explains as the second wraith enters. “And a baby.”
GM: “Looks pretty big for a baby,” remarks Hannah.
“Who’s your friend?” asks Ginger. It’s not without a note of wariness.
Emmett: He gestures grandly. “Lamarck, this is Hannah and that’s Ginger. Ginger, Hannah, this is Lamarck. He seems trustworthy, as these things go.”
He fills them in on the basics. How Astride created a ghost, and Lamarck gave him some useful information about the afterlife, and talked him into returning with the “—enfant, is the word he uses. Baby ghost. Figure Kione here will be able to tell us some of Astride’s dirty laundry. And another ghost in the family only helps, if he wants to stick around.”
“Not to mention, you’ve been on this side of the grave for how long, Lamarck?”
Lamarck: He looks into the air with a nostalgic gloss over his eyes, before answering. “Over sevahnty years now. Se-vahn dekades dead.”
“Now I believe mein freund Emmett hier said zer ver four of you. Iz zer von missing or ist mein memory a little out of date?” he smiles.
Emmett: “Running an errand,” Em says. “Ought to be back by dawn.” He glances at the two. “How have things been here?”
GM: “Pretty boring, honestly,” says Hannah.
“But I’ll take that any day over Giovannini, spectres, or reapers,” says Ginger.
“Yeah,” agrees Hannah. “It’s an improvement.”
“We’ve mostly just been talking.” Ginger. “Getting to know each other.”
Lamarck: He has a worried look on his face at Emmet’s answer. “How’s your friend goink to know ven dawn ist? Zer’s no verking vatches in ze untervurld, you know. Es ist unzafe to be alone hier.”
Emmett: Em waves a hand. “She will know. Don’t worry over it.”
Lamarck: “If you zay so, Emmett. You know her better zan I. In any case, I assume you are all unaffiliated, zen, ja?”
Herr Lamarck encourages Emmett to share what he’s learned about the Consortium of the Unharrowed, and fills in key points wherever he feels necessary. He is precise, polite, and willing to answer any of their questions.
GM: Hannah and Ginger confirm they are unaffiliated. They also broke out of “Giovannini prison” with Emmett.
Both of them want to know more about the Consortium. They like what they hear.
“Vampires never really did anything to me,” says Hannah. “That I want revenge for, anyway. I’m just glad to be away from them. But, fuck, yeah. I don’t ever want to have another harrowing.”
Emmett: “No love for them myself, but that doesn’t mean I want to dedicate myself to their destruction,” Em agrees.
GM: “I’d rather just find Melody,” Ginger nods.
“And we hurt them pretty bad breaking out, it felt like,” says Hannah.
She looks at Lamarck. “So, how do we join the Consortium? And stop having more harrowings?”
Lamarck: Lamarck presents the ornately decorated circlet encircling his neck to the crowd. There’s a gemstone imprinted into the center of the band.
He explains, just as he did to Emmett, and as he discussed in his pitch, the power of sticking together as wraiths, that the invisible ties between established groups of Unharrowed can be pulled on through their circlets to pull the suffering wraith out of the nihil pits.
He explains that to join as a troupe within the Consortium, they all, including Lamarck, will participate in a group ritual where, standing in a circle, they each tell a story of the happiest moment in life, of their greatest passion, and then don their own circlets at once.
GM: “Can we do it again, after Courtney gets back, or do we need to do it together with her?” asks Ginger.
Lamarck: “Ve vill do it again, after Courtney gets back. But for all but her, it vill be a rededication versus an induction. Ze process is ze same. For me, both times vill be a rededication, az I’ve already been inducted.”
“Und of course, ve vill do the same for zis enfant und, ven ve find Melody, her as vell,” he assures Ginger.
“No vun in zis family vill be left behind.” He smiles.
GM: “That makes sense if you’ve already done it,” says Hannah.
“So who else is in the Consortium? Where is it?”
Emmett: “Why not wait for her?” Em says. “Seems more efficient. And the circlets—I don’t suppose you keep several on hand? How do we make them?”
GM: Hannah shakes her head. “No way. I don’t want another harrowing. We’ll do it again when she’s back.”
Lamarck: “Like I told you Emmett, be-fore we free zis enfant, ze present parties must be defended against ze potential incitement of a harrowing und ze opening of a nihil. Ve vould have to vait on Courtney to satisfy your curiosity viz ze vampier.”
Emmett: Emmett nods. “I see. I guess I’m still confused about how exactly the protection works.”
Lamarck: “Vell in a zense it is very zimple. Ven ze nihil pit begins to open beneath a member of ze Unharrowed, zer fellow members of zer troupe use ze energy within, projected through ze circlets using ze invisible ties betveen mem-bers, to pull at vonce on the wraith at risk of falling into ze nihil and shtop zer deszent. Verstanden?”
GM: “So it’s actually possible not to fall into… nihils, by being strong enough to pull yourself out?” asks Hannah.
Lamarck: “Theoretically yes, but ven ze nihil opens, it is ven ve are under a great shtress. Zat is vy ve have our families. Each Unharrowed family member can feel ven ze ozer is on ze verge, und can intercede togezer to shtop ze fall.”
GM: “Well, I’m all for doing this… ritual, if that’s what you called it, right now,” says Ginger.
“Who knows if our Shadows might try to harrow us again, before Courtney’s back.”
Emmett: Em agrees. “And the circlets?”
Lamarck: “In my pack,” Lamarck says, patting it with his palm.
Emmett: “No sense in holding up the show, then. Unless there’s something else we ought to know before beginning?”
Lamarck: “Just von zing. Ze ritual tends to leave a few temporary zide effekts for a few hours after it completes. For zome, zer ist a veakening of zer Arcanoi, for ozers, an experience of a high zimilar to zome of zee Zkinlands’ drugs. But ve are hier for each ozer, ve vill be all right.”
Herr Lamarck looks at each of the wraiths, then asks, “Everyone ready?”
GM: They nod.
Lamarck: Lamarck retrieves three equally ornate circlets, adorned with beautifully colored gemstones. He hands them to each of the wraiths, and then instructs them to stand in a circle, facing the collective center.
GM: When Em tilts his head just so, they’re plain and ugly steel. They’re hard thick things that chill his hands.
The other two wraiths both do so.
“Wow, are these pretty,” remarks Ginger.
Lamarck: “Zey say zat ze beauty you see in zese Unharrowed circlets ist a reflektion of ze beauty in your own soul.” He nods sagely.
“Emmett. Are you ready to join ze circle?” he asks calmly.
Emmett: The thing he sees gives him pause. But it’s too late for doubts. In for a penny.
“I died ready.” He steps forward and takes his place in the circle.
Lamarck: “Of course you did, our zandman!” he claps a few times as Emmett completes the congregation.
“Now ve each vill recite a memory of ours from life in vich ve vere at our happiest. I shall start.”
“After ze vehr, venn I escaped from ze New Orleanian internment camp I vas forced into, Camp Algiers, I found myself shtuck vizout vasser. Vizout food of any kind. Und as I was limping through ze bayou, about to collapse, zis beautiful pink schvein came to me viz a pale of fresh vasser to trink. I’ve never felt zat much gratitude ever in mein life. Und to an dirty animal, at zat. Unt yet, I did zen. Such is life.”
GM: The others actually seem to take some time to think on that.
“My first kiss,” says Ginger. “I was, I think 12. I’d been waiting what felt like months for this cute boy to ask me out, and then he finally did. I think one of my friends must have told him I was interested. So we went out to see a movie, he bought us several boxes of Junior Mints there, and gave me a kiss outside the theater. I was so nervous, we both were, but it was… it was a happy kiss. It’d just been a really sweet, wide-eyed date. Then he said he’d forgotten to open one of the Mints boxes during the movie, and wanted me to have it. I ate them later that night in bed. I thought of the date with each one.” Ginger smiles.
“I’ve been a blood doll, for vampires. They can make you feel incredible. But they never made me feel… whole, like I did then. Happy.”
“Putting on a nice dress,” says Hannah. “It was a couple years after I’d started transitioning, and they’d been… rough. My mom and I went shopping this day, and bought a this really nice dress at the mall. It wasn’t that fancy, or anything, I just felt so pretty in it. I really, really felt as though I looked like a girl. I was flouncing around in front of the mirror, then through the house. My mom had a friend over, this was actually the day after we bought it, and she said something about how happy I looked. How ‘full of life’, or something. I just felt so good about myself, and seeing her and my mom smile… they knew how happy I was, and they were happy for me, too. I just felt like I finally was, who I knew I was.”
Lamarck: Lamarck claps again for the two wraith’s stories, and then looks at the wraith stood across him. Emmett.
“Last but not least, Emmett.” There’s an excited tilt to his voice, and for a moment, he can see a gleam of hunger in the ghost’s eye. It vanishes quickly into calm and patience.
Emmett: Emmett is silent, for a while. At first, it seems like he’s digesting the others’ anecdotes. Then, as seconds become minutes, the silence stretches awkwardly, like a condom used as a water balloon. The Sandman stares into nothing, and even the dead cannot see where he sees.
The silence boils, then overflows. It’s been five minutes since anybody spoke. And when the first wraith in the room opens their mouths, tries to break the spell, Em speaks.
“When I was fourteen, I had a fight with my dad. I don’t even really remember what it was about. But it was bad. I mean, it was the worst fight we had ever had. We would have worse ones, later, and I would do worse things, later. But right then, it felt like I was the worst person I had ever been. I was screaming at him, and I was just trying to make him hurt, make him cry, the way you want to when you’re young and you think that’s what winning an argument means. But his face got red, like it always would, like ripe tomato red, and he just started screaming at me…”
The voice of Philèmon Delacroix roars through the room like a Katrina deluge, splatters over the dead assembled like a waterlogged grave.
“EMMETT MILOUD DELACROIX, you can talk all the filth you like, you can lie and you can holler and you can break all the things you want, but don’t you ever think you can scream me into GIVING UP on YOU!”
Silence, for a moment. Em talks quickly. “He didn’t normally talk like that. Didn’t… enunciate, I guess. But it just kind of stopped me. And I was so surprised, I said sorry without realizing I meant it. And he said, it’s okay. He said,”
“I love you.” Phil’s voice is quieter when it comes out of Em’s mouth, but it’s somehow warm as the Skinlands.
“And I said,” Em whispers, “I said, I love you too. And that’s the last time I remember ever meaning that.”
There it is, finally.
The answer to Cécilia’s question, all those years ago. He didn’t have to be drunk to find it.
Just dead sober.
GM: The other two wraiths are silent at the end of Em’s memory.
Very, very silent.
Ginger looks like she’s about to cry again.
But that’s what Tante called him, wasn’t it?
Emmett: “It’s a happy memory,” he says quietly, desperately. “It is. It is.”
It’s the best one he can think of.
The last one.
GM: “It means a lot,” Hannah manages. She sounds a little choked too. “To have someone who cares. Who won’t give up.”
“Yeah,” sniffs Ginger. “Your dad sounds like one in a million.”
Emmett: He waits for Gasper to say what he’s going to say.
To point out how Philèmon did give up, eventually.
Because that’s what Emmett Delacroix does to men who are one in a million.
He proves them wrong.
GM: Em’s Shadow is silent.
What else is there to say that’s not superfluous?
Emmett Delacroix doesn’t need his Shadow’s help to put himself down.
When has he ever needed help putting anyone down?
Lamarck: The old wraith standing across from him stares into Emmett’s dead eyes, though the painful happiness disguises them as anything but. He doesn’t smile like he did for the others. He doesn’t cry. Herr Lamarck just looks him straight in the eyes, and—
The sounds echo throughout the room. Then it’s silent, and then the soft-spoken German-accented voice of the man who insists on being American breaks it.
“Everyone, unbuckle your circlets and place zem around your necks.”
Emmett: Em unbuckles the circlet. He places it around his neck. It’s cold. Metal in winter cold, right before you lick it.
Here goes nothing.
GM: The iron collar snaps shut. The pain is indescribable. Searing hot flames and surges of numbing cold rip through Em’s corpus and mind simultaneously. His knees hit the floor. Even Gasper is screaming with him, in between great heaving bouts of laughter.
HA… HA! YOU… IDIOT! HAHAHAHAHAHAH! BOY, YOU… HAHAHAHA… .! FUCKED YOURSELF-HAHAHAHA-OVER… GOOD! WHAT… YOU’RE… BEAST AT! AHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Hannah and Ginger scream too, writhing on the floor in agony as they clutch their collared necks.
HAHAHA! NO… MORE… HARROWS! HAHAHAHAHAHA!
Emmett: Em chokes down a scream and grits his teeth through the pain. Never should have trusted. Never should have let himself believe.
He looks Lamarck in the eye. “’I… keep… my… word.”
GM: “Wha… the fuck… y… do… to us… !” Hannah gasps. Tears squeeze from her pain-narrowed eyes.
Lamarck: “Oh dear,” the old wraith says dispassionately, as he digs through his bag to retrieve coils of of steel chains. “It zeems you’re experiencing zome of ze more unpleasant symptoms.”
He starts by connecting Hannah’s collar to Ginger’s. Its a fluid motion, like he’s done this a thousand times before.
GM: Ginger just cries and weakly tugs at the steel around her neck.
Emmett: Em thinks, quickly.
G… asper… still… want… that… debt…?
GM: Ha… ha… fuck you…
Emmett: Along… for… the… ride.
GM: “What… the fuck…” gasps Hannah.
The metal feels so cold that it burs white-hot. Its mere touch has done something to him, Em can feel. It presses him to the ground with crushing heaviness. Every fiber of his being feels drained of strength.
Lamarck: “Your Shadows vill be resisting zese changes, perhaps taunting you. Zey are simply resisting the revocation of harrowings. Don’t trust vat you see, ja?” He connects a heavy chain from Hannah to Emmett’s collar.
He looks him in the eye. He seems to gauge him far longer than he did the others. Then he speaks.
“Of course you do, Emmett. Und I’ll keep mine. I’ll show you all how to properly remove a caul.”
Emmett: He looks Lamarck in the eye, neck knotted with pain. And winks.
“W… ell… played…”
He tries to conjure something small. A whisper in the older wraith’s ear.
“FrEe mE aNd I’ll be UseFul…”
GM: There’s another crackling tongue of hot-cold pain through Em’s corpus as he tries. His powers fail him. Utterly.
“Wh… why… ?” grits out Ginger.
Emmett: “The… camp,” Em says. “Rememb… er. The. Camp.” Staring at Lamarck.
GM: Her face convulses with pain. “Wh… wha… ?”
Emmett: He’s not looking at her.
Lamarck: “Zank you,” he responds cordially to the first pained expression from Emmett.
The shocked expressions fall on deaf ears. He’s heard it a thousand times before. He starts to turn back to the enfant, but at the second statement, he turns back and asks,
“Vat about it, Emmett?”
Emmett: Em makes a gesture, beckoning him closer. “Can’t… talk…”
Lamarck: “Ze pain vill become normal, don’t vurry. Most forget about it eventually,” he assures the chained wraiths.
And yet, he does get closer. The expression on his face is not smug, but oddly patient. Or perhaps not so odd; he has all the time in the world.
Emmett: Em struggles, pulling himself closer. Closer. Almost close enough to bite.
But he cannot bite. His only weapons are words.
So he whispers: “You’re… no… American.”
And he spits at his eye.
Emmett Delacroix has been many things. A whore. A liar. A rapist and villain. A criminal.
A dead man.
But he will hurtle into Oblivion before he is a slave.
You want to have FUN, Gasper?
Let’s have FUN.
GM: The ectoplasmic spittle doesn’t even get that far. It runs down his lips like drool.
But Em’s taunting words look as if they’ve gone far enough already.
Lamarck: He can see the man freeze for a second, and then his face contorts into something awful, and unrestrained by the limits of mortality, distorted into monstrosity.
The wraith tackles Emmett and rolls him onto the ground, bringing down the others with a great clattering of chains on the ground.
“I!” he bellows.
The calloused fist of a man who worked in the dirt all his life smashes into Emmett’s pretty face.
And another, sinking into his gut. And another, ripping out a chunk of his hair, pulling him by the scalp to stare at him in his dead, incensed visage.
Then Lamarck smashes his head into Emmett’s with an unrelenting fury.
Emmett: And as the ghost beats and smashes his corpus to ectoplasmic pulp, Em raises his voice and bellows, “GINGER… HANNAH! RUN… AROUND… US!” His voice is urgent and sharp, desperate and certain, hardened by pain and need.
The voice of a leader.
GM: A wailing scream splits the air as a black void yawns open beneath Lamarck’s feet. There’s a split second of shock, and then renewed rage over his face.
And then he’s just gone.
Emmett: “Unharrowed… my… ass,” he snarls. He starts abusing the shackle around his neck, smashing it and himself into the ground, trying to shatter it.
GM: His hands explode with burning, freezing stabs of agony. He can’t stop the screams from tearing out of his throat.
Emmett: But he can think of something else. He crawl and staggers over to Hannah.
“I’m… sorry… kid,” he gasps, and tries to undo her shackle instead.
GM: He tugs impotently and sees no way of getting it off, though there is a keyhole. Hannah just moans.
Emmett: He crawls to the kraut’s bag and rifles through it, looking for a key.
I need to stop getting captured by fucking Nazis.
GM: He finds one. It’s a slim, dull, skeletal thing, and cold to his touch.
Hannah and Ginger just lie there moaning in pain. His plan to forcefully overpower their captor looks like a pretty long shot.
Emmett: Well, that’s him. Casper the unrealistic, far-fetched ghost.
He starts by unlocking Hannah’s. He isn’t sure he can find his own keyhole.
GM: She gives a great, heaving gasp as the collar comes off. For a moment she just lies there, clutching her neck with closed eyes, then takes the key to unlock Emmett and Ginger. He can’t describe the feeling of relief as the pain dissolves with the collar’s release. He feels almost too stunned to move.
But not as stunned as he is angry. “Goddammit. Goddammit. Goddamn, fucking Nazis.”
He gathers up the collars, holding one and getting it ready.
“I owe you guys a hell of an apology. I should have known better.”
GM: Ginger slowly rubs her neck.
“I guess… unharrowed was too good to be true.”
Emmett: He glances at the spot Lamarck disappeared to. “Apparently.”
GM: The sack isn’t empty. It’s made out a strange, ashen material that Em’s can’t quite identify, but it’s solid rather than translucent to his sight. Inside are several more collars and lengths of chain, along with a cruel-looking knife.
Faint moans are audible to his ears.
Emmett: “Slaver’s complete kit,” he says. “Nifty.” He takes the knife, pausing at the moans and looking around.
GM: Em sees nothing in the dilapidated hotel room beyond the other two wraiths.
Emmett: He’s wary about the moans, but keeps the knife, tucking it into his belt.
“Well, you’ve had the bad news of the night.” He readies himself near where Lamarck was taken, holding a collar in one hand. “But the good news is, I think we’ll only have to wait a little while to show Lamarck exactly how it felt. Unless either of you have an objection to that?”
GM: Hannah frowns. “So what do we wanna do with this guy?”
“I mean, collar him, then what?”
Emmett: “Ask him some questions about how to help our friend here,” he points to Kione. “And then… I was thinking I’d fly over the Mississippi and drop him in. Already a lot of trash in that river.”
“There’s another option, but it is, ahem, morally nebulous. For my tastes.”
Not really, but probably for yours.
GM: “Like what?” Ginger asks.
“Dropping him sounds good to me,” says Hannah.
Emmett: “The same thing I’m pretty sure he was trying to do to us,” he says, giving one of the chains a rattle.
GM: Hannah frowns. “I’d rather just drop him. What would we even do with a… slave, anyway?”
Emmett: “I was thinking the same thing. It has a certain poetry to it, obviously, but it also seems like more trouble than its worth, unless he can do something out-of-this-world useful. And, you know. The whole ‘slavery is wrong’ thing.”
He pinches his nose. “Sorry if I seem callous. This is all my fault, and I’m just eager to make somebody else pay for it.”
GM: “I’d rather just dump him,” says Hannah.
Emmett: He nods.
GM: “I don’t know. If he could be useful, why not?” asks Ginger.
Emmett: Interesting, Ginger’s got some grit.
“Might be a pain to control,” Em says honestly. “‘Specially if he’s powerful. But let’s focus on collaring him, first. He might be strong, but don’t think he’ll be able to handle all three of us.”
He shudders, and lets himself start to mend that damage to his corpus.
GM: “I’m not okay with taking slaves,” says Hannah. “Why don’t we just collar him, so he knows what it’s like, then dump him in the river?”
Emmett: “That’s the more moral thing to do,” Em agrees. “And right now, morality’s about all we have. If you’re not comfortable with it, that’s enough of an answer for me. A clean conscience is a luxury. And luxuries are hard to come by around here, so we won’t deprive you of it without good reason. You good with that, Ginger?”
GM: God, you’re so full of it.
“Well, I guess. I suppose there’s not much we could’ve used a slave for anyway.”
Emmett: You mean we are?
“Still,” Em says cheerfully, “Let’s maybe not tell him that. No reason not to mess with his head.”
GM: “Okay. Let’s get him, then.” Hannah picks up a loop of chain.
Ginger does too.
“This feels like a while.” Ginger.
Emmett: “Took a while for Hannah to come back, too. Not like we have somewhere to be.”
GM: They wait.
A black void splits the floor. Susurrating moans lick the air. Lamarck collapses to the ground, screaming and writhing.
Lamarck: “Verdamte Sheisse!” he screams, blinking at the nightmare of the three uncollared wraiths before him. Then he sprouts devilish wings and jumps out towards a broken window.
Emmett: Well. He tries to.
Emmett body slams into the wraith and has the collar around his like he’s giving the kraut a gift.
GM: The other two wraiths fall on him too, looping around the chains and hitting and kicking his sides.
It’s tickles, though, next to the collar.
Lamarck: “It… ahh!” He takes a breath at each kick, writhing on the floor. “Ahm sorry… ah! I ken… ahh,” he chokes. “Teach… you… ev—ahh-ry-ow-thing… P… lea..se.”
Emmett: Em hasn’t done this a thousand times before. But the first time pays for all. “Oh,” he says quietly. “Well, if you’re sorry.”
He drives a foot into the old wraith’s stomach.
“You want to be free, huh? Or would it be better if we enslaved you, like you were trying to do to us?”
GM: “Yeah? What can you teach us?” glares Ginger. She and Hannah have looped coils of chain around his arms.
“Hey, maybe how not to have harrowings anymore. That seems useful,” remarks Hannah.
“Since you’re so clearly cured of them.”
Lamarck: “Vell…” he says as the wings sprouting off his back shrivel into his back like autumn leaves. “For shtartz… I can show… you… how to remove… a caul,” he says, his muscles spasming as he forces himself to fight the pain.
“Und before… I ken tell… you… how to prevent harrovings… truthfully.” The last word comes out more as a hiss as his face contorts, veins pushing their way out of his neck.
GM: “How?” presses Hannah, leaning in close.
Emmett: Em puts a hand on her shoulder, looks down at the wretched older wraith. “I’ll take the collar off, Lamarck. We’ll have a nice proper chat. But I’m going to ask you something first, and I want you to answer me.”
The sandman narrows his eyes. “There a German word for irony?”
He snaps his fingers and a single bright, flickering bulb falls from the ceiling to dangle on a cord, swimming above Lamarck’s eyes like an interrogation room light.
Lamarck: The Amerikan squints at the light, then cobbles together a momentary smile at Emmett when he answers through gritted teeth,
GM: “Sounds about the same,” remarks Ginger.
Emmett: “They’re not a very imaginative people,” Em says flatly. “And maybe don’t have a super strong appreciation of the concept. I’d say irony is, well, you trying to enslave us only to end up our prisoner.” He gets down on one knee so his eyes are level with the other ghost’s. “You try and escape, this conversation is over and the shackle goes back on. Nod if you understand.”
He waits for the confirmation, then makes sure the chains are secure, then unlocks the collar. But he keeps it close, ready to snap back on.
“The caul, first. Start talking.”
“And after that, you can explain who you work for and where you were trying to take us. If I think you’re holding something back, I’m going to run out of patience. I don’t have much to begin with.”
GM: Hannah and Ginger loop the chains around his arms and legs. The collar is the only object with a lock, so they use that to secure them.
Lamarck: For a few moments, all Lamarck can do is breathe as the collar comes off. The veins in his neck slowly relax as the pain dissipates, though there is a latent tension in his limbs as his muscles involuntarily flex against the cold steel of the chains.
Then, he smiles in just the same friendly manner he did when he and Emmett first got to chatting.
“Ze caul ist a komplex fabrik, an intermediary betveen ze Skinlants und ze Shadowlants. An enfant living in ze caul ist on ze border betveen zer rich past lives und zer fresh deaths. Zey are shtuck inzide zer psyches, playing out ze memories of zer lives in a great psychodrama.”
“Ez a result, ze enfant ist in a very vulnurable position vhile shtill in ze caul. Now, you could zimply rip ze enfant out from zer caul like a boar tearing ze skin off a baby deer. But, zis risks doing severe damage to zer mental shtate. Und ze act likely strengthens your Shadow.”
He looks Emmett in the eyes with a concerned look on his face and continues, “Of course, you know zis already, Emmett. I found you trying to rip his caul apart before I shtopped you. Ze poor enfant vas crying out in agony, zo you could not hear his screams.”
“Vas it vorth it to inflict zis torture? Vat made it necessary, Emmett?”
Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow.
Then he reaches for the collar.
Actually, one of the other collars. No need to be stingy.
Lamarck has a few moments before he retrieves it and fastens it around his neck.
GM: Hannah holds onto his arm. “What the hell? He just told us something useful.”
Emmett: “He’s playing games,” Em replies. “And stalling instead of telling us new information. I knew that already.”
GM: “Yeah, well, I didn’t.”
“So how do we get off his caul?” Ginger asks.
Emmett: He inclines his head apologetically. “Sorry. Like I said, short patience. Which is just about out, so, Lamarck—ah, great minds.”
He reminds himself to talk with Hannah later.
Lamarck: “No. I’m zorry. I’m sure Emmett had a good reason to force off ze caul. Zis enfant he found vhile tailing a vampier. Ze vampier had gored zis poor man to death,” Lamarck says, shaking his head.
“Emmett told me about how you had ze misfortune of falling into ze clutches of ze Giovannini vampiere. You must know zat zer vurd is vorth less zan dirt. Und zat’s coming from me. Compared to ze vays of ze vampiere, I’m Honest Abe.”
“Regardless, ze appropriate vay of removing a caul is to forge a psychic connektion to ze psyche of ze enfant, to enter ze psychodrama viz your mind, und to help zem decide to remove it from vizin. Ze process is revarding in many vays. Zer ist a zignifikantly lower chance of ze enfant becoming a brain dead drone, vhich, I’m sure it doesn’t have to be stated, vould get in ze vay of esking zis enfant qvestions about ze vampier zat killed him. Additionally, a successful removal of ze caul zis vay fills ze removal helpers viz strong emotional energies und earns ze helpers special insight into ze mind of ze newborn wraith und usually, zer eternal gratitude.”
GM: “So how do we do that? Forge that ‘psychic connection’?” Hannah asks.
Lamarck: “Vell. It’s a most personal experience. So ze method varies wraith to wraith. Some reqvire a great deal of meditation. Ozers prefer to simply lay hants on ze enfant und to close vuns eyes. But it is a fundamentally natural process for us. Vat matters ist dat ze wraith concentrates purely on inserting zemselves into ze psychodrama vizin ze enfant’s mind. Ze rest of ze vurk simply follows.”
“It can take anyvere from a few minutes to a few hours to komplete ze process, but multiple wraiths participating in ze caul removal shpeeds up ze process.”
GM: Hannah looks at the others. “Okay, guess we know what we’re doing next.”
Emmett: He regards her for a moment. Showing a lot of initiative, this one. He made the right call waiting for her.
“One of us should stay with him,” Em says. “But two of us can go in. Hannah, you’ve been inside a harrowing recently. Seems like you might have some useful experience. But it’s your call, if you don’t want to go in.” He glances at Ginger, than Hannah. “I’m not sure if he’s telling the truth, but I’m willing to try. Whoever stays behind… don’t be shy about using the collar if he seems to be acting weird. Remember, he was willing to do it to us.”
He pauses. “It might also make sense to finish questioning him first, together. But it would also be nice to see whether his info is good to begin with.” Em looks at Lamarck dryly. “Some offense intended, Lamarck.”
“Ginger, what do you think?”
Lamarck: “If you vere trying to zell me offense, you should’ve had it painted first. I’m not buying,” Lamarck quips, smiling.
Emmett: Em rolls his eyes.
GM: “Well, there’s not a whole lot else to do around here,” says Ginger. “Talking’s something. And he knows we’re going to check what he’s told us, with the caul, so his funeral if he wants to steer us wrong.”
Emmett: “Hmmph,” Em says. “Hannah?”
GM: “I’m okay going in,” says Hannah. “Though the longer we talk to him, the more likely Courtney is to get back. And I wouldn’t say no to having someone else, too.”
Emmett: He inclines his head. “That’s a very good point. Let’s talk to him for a while longer.”
Lamarck finds himself regarded by three of the dead hungry for answers. “What were you trying to do to us? And who do you work for?”
Lamarck: “Zat’s a gut idea, Hannah. Waiting for Courtney means more people vurking on ze caul removal. Ze more people vurking ze faster it goes und ze lesser ze chance of lobotomizing ze enfant into a mindless drone,” he responds.
“Vell, I suppose you might call me an independent contraktor, perhaps a bounty hunter even. I vas told to apprehend you und bring you to an interested client. Vell, not you in particular. Ze client vas given a tip about ze Giovannini prison breakout, so I vas on ze lookout for anyvun connected.”
GM: Ginger’s pretty face downturns in a slight frown. “Who was your client?”
Lamarck: “Ze Society of Leopold. Vell, a hunter from one of their subsidiaries. Zey’re an old monshter hunting organization. Connected to ze church.”
Emmett: “What did they offer you? And what did they want us for?”
Lamarck: “Vat everyvun does. Oboli…” He looks at their presumably confused faces for a moment before clarifying. “Ghost cash.”
“I make it a principle not to esk such qvestions from clients. But presumably zey vere interested in intelligence on ze prison breakout. Vampiere are a popular target for zem.”
Emmett: “And you chose to capture us instead of just asking because… ”
Lamarck: “Because I’m a bounty hunter, not an interrogator. Zey vant it from ze horse’s mouth, so to speak. Some of zem distrust wraiths. If I hadn’t brought you ready for interview, I vouldn’t be paid.”
Emmett: “What good is ghost cash, even? What the fuck do you buy with it? More chains? More collars?”
Lamarck: “Vell, sure. But zat’s just tools of ze trade. I told you I vorked as a taxicab driver back in ze Skinlants. Have you seen any vurking cars zat exist in zis vurld? Anything zat isn’t broken, any physical thing you miss from ze old days, costs cash.”
“I just vant my old cab back.”
Emmett: Em touches his chest. “Oh. Oh, heart. Oh, no, and here I thought you were just enslaving us for some silly, selfish reason. But if it was for a cab, I’ll actually go with you of my own free will.”
Lamarck: From the expression on Lamarck’s face, those words seem to hurt far worse than the pain of the collar.
He’s quiet for some seconds, before answering to the floor. “Efter seventy years in zis place, ven you’ve seen everyone you love crumble into dust, vun by vun how zey fall into ze earth, anything zat reminds you zat your life vas vonce vorth living ist a priceless artifakt. A cherished jewel.”
Emmett: Em tilts his head. “All cruelty aside, I believe you. And I’m mostly over it. But I’m sitting here and I’m wondering how we could let you go without expecting you to come right back after us.”
“Well, standing, since we don’t have any chairs.”
“Hey, maybe we should sell you to somebody for some oboli so we can buy some.”
“Or you could tell us about these Leopold motherfuckers and if we should trust them to pay us for the info.”
Lamarck: “Ez I said, ze less I know about my clients, ze better. On principle. But zey hunt all sorts of creatures of die nacht. Perhaps wraiths ez vell, zo I’m not sure zer. Zey might consider us demons. Or perhaps assume ve live in Hell. Zen again, it could be zey believe us to be zer ancestors.”
“Vatever es ist, zey vould likely not trust you, given zey esked for your capture und retrieval. Especially if you vere looking for a buck. Just ze vay es ist.”
GM: “Em has a point. How can we know you aren’t going to come after us again?” Hannah asks.
Lamarck: “Zat’s a very gut qvestion. Viz a very simple answer: I’m just trying to earn cash, und coming after you is more trouble zan it is vurth, clearly. Ez long as I make it out of here viz my vurk-tools, zer ist little reason for me to try to bozer you furzer.”
“Of course, freeing me und returning my tools vould be an appreciated favor, vun I vould pay in return by offering my seventy years of experience opening cauls to ze future attempt at bringing zis enfant into zis vurld. If you vould prefer ozervize, I’m also heppy to offer a favor of a future service.”
Emmett: “Ambitious of you to want to get out with your tools,” Em says wryly. “I’m pretty sure any scenario where we set you free involves us keeping them, or at least ensuring you don’t have them.”
GM: “Those things are torture devices,” Hannah tells Lam flatly. “Say goodbye to them.”
Emmett: He inclines his head. “My thoughts precisely. Rather unethical for us to leave you with them. Shadow-serving, even.”
Emmett: Man, you are the MOST convenient patsy.
GM: Gee, wonder where I get that from?
“Might be they’re worth something, too,” Ginger agrees.
Emmett: “That, too.”
Lamarck: “Zose tools are ze only things vich give me a chance in eternity to get my cab back. You’re taking away ze only chance I have at hope.” He looks desperate.
Looking towards Hannah, he adds, pleading. “You asked how you stop harrowings. Ze only way to do it is to against ze vill of ze Shadow. Yes, I did something wrong to you. But feeding your Shadow by taking revenge on me, by destroying an old man’s livelihood and obliterating his hope, zat vill do nozing for you but make your Shadow stronger. Make ze harrowings more common.”
Emmett: “That’s bad logic,” Em cuts in. “We can ensure you don’t do harm to others without it making us responsible for your misery, or feeding our Shadows. It isn’t vengeful to take away your collars. It’s the only responsible thing to do, either for ourselves or just because it’s the right thing to do. Consider them off the table. But I’ll tell you what.”
He gets down on one knee. “Forsake the slave trade. Give up your cruelties. We’re not letting you have them anyways. But stick with us, and treat us well, and we’ll do everything in our power to get your cab back, too. We’re all looking for something. If you can help us, we’ll help you too. But we’ll do it the right way, or at least a righter way.”
GM: That’s so cute.
Lamarck: Emmett’s extension of an olive branch does little to quell the pained expression on his face. “You’re so new… I’ve been seventy years dead. Zat’s how long it’s taken for me to even think about reclaiming vat vas vonce mein. Zer ist no ozer vay but through ze money.”
He looks Emmett right in the eye. “Und zer are gut reasons for me to do my vurk. Some people deserve some punishment. Serial killers, rapists, child molesters. Many of zem die easy deaths on zese streets, ozers in prison. Vizout my vurk, death vould be a reprieve to zem. No justice. Und if zey fall under ze radar, zeir disturbed souls become shpektors vich haunt ze afterlife, become far more disturbed zan zey ver even in life. Vizout my vurk, zat possibility is made painfully likely.”
Emmett: “That sounds an awful lot like a rationalization,” Em drawls. “Coming from a man who specialized in them while he breathed. Well, I shall assume that’s a ‘no,’ then. Can’t set you free, can’t trust you to stay. Bother, bother.” He drums his fingers on his leg. “I’m no good at these decisions. My vote is we let Kione decide. If he’s in any state to, when we pull him out.”
He shrugs. “Or, well. There’s always the elevator shaft.”
GM: Hannah and Ginger both seem to think.
Lamarck: “I helped you, Emmett. I gave you gut information. Knowledge you vouldn’t have known anyvere else unless you gave into ze vhims of your Shadow. Zat is vurth enough setting me free. Throwing me down en elevator shaft is just feeding into all of your Shadow’s desires for revenge.”
“You vanted to make a deal viz ze vampier of yours, ja? Und you need ze knowledge from zis Kione fellow to make zis deal. Before you make any decisions as to vat you are villing und not villing to do, you should remember zat if you make a mistake in ze uncauling of zis enfant, you could leave him brain dead. You need my help hier.”
Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow. “You also tried to capture us. Trying to cash in on goodwill is pretty ballsy. But that’s why I’m saying we free Kione and let him decide. Gives you an incentive to give us good info, too.”
GM: “I agree,” says Hannah. “You could’ve just asked us.”
“Me too,” echoes Ginger.
“But I dunno why it should be up to Kione, if that’s this guy’s name,” says Hannah. “And it’s not like it’s gonna be any different. Let him go or throw him down the shaft.”
“I don’t want him to come back for us,” says Ginger.
Lamarck: “Und I von’t. Especially not if you give me my tools back. If not, I’m essentially unemployed,” remarks Lamarck.
GM: “Screw that, you tortured us,” glares Hannah.
“Well, looks like that leaves just one thing to do,” says Ginger.
The wraiths’ eyes drift towards the elevator.
Lamarck: “Vell zen gut luck getting your debt, Emmett. Ven you damn zis enfant to eternal brain death.”
Emmett: “Sadly, so,” Em says. “And thanks, Lamarck. Good luck… well. Woth whatever you’re about to meet.” He fastens the collar around the other wraith’s neck. “I’ll see to it,” he tells the other two. “I brought him, after all.”
GM: Hannah takes hold of the collar. “Hey, do we really need to do that? Why not just toss him? He’s already chained up.”
Emmett: “That’s true. I guess I was worried about him flying.”
“But, uh. If he can’t.”
Lamarck: “Zat’s his Shadow speaking, Hannah, how do you know he’s even in control. Look at his eyes.”
Emmett: “Oh, you are just pitiful.”
Lamarck: “Seriously. Look at his eyes. You see the images swirling around zem? He may very vell have fallen under ze clutches of ze Shadow.”
GM: “What images?” says Ginger.
“Oh forget it,” she glares. “You’d say anything right now.”
Emmett: Em inclines his head to her wisdom. “And because we’re so nice, we’re not going to collar you before dropping you.” He starts dragging the protesting wraith.
Out into the hallway.
GM: He’s really, really heavy. Em’s classmates always teased that a girl could beat him up.
Lamarck: “For all zat I did for you, zis is really low, Emmett.”
“I mean, not as low as the elevator shaft.”
“But shtill, remarkably low, Emmett.”
Emmett: He perseveres.
“Yeah, I’m really torn up with guilt, Lamarck. You know, if you had at least pretended to be sorry, things might have gone better for you in there.” Drag. Drag. “Christ, should have laid off the… what’s a German food?”
“Sauerkraut. Ha, ha.”
“Or, you know. Not been a bounty hunter. That fucked with us.”
GM: “Maybe you could use some help?” Ginger remarks a little dubiously. “Bodies are heavy.”
Emmett: Drag. If the carpet wasn’t already scuffed to shit, he’d be nervous about it.
Lamarck: “You should, Emmett, far too weak to hold one body on your own.”
Emmett: “I have… my… pride,” he growls, and keeps dragging. “Lamarck, if you keep it up, I will collar you before you go down.”
Drag. Scuff. Drag.
They get there, eventually. Em ducks his head through the doors, just in time to see the elevator rising above him. He’s careful not to look down.
GM: The doors close through Em’s head.
That might’ve hurt if he was solid.
Emmett: He puts a foot on Lamarck and rolls him to the boundary of the broken and twisted doors.
“I’m not going to say I’m sorry about doing this, but for what it’s worth, I forgive you,” he tells the bounty hunter. Slaver. Whatever.
“Hope that wherever you’re going, you can forgive me too.”
Lamarck: “I’m going, apparently, down ze elevator shaft.”
“Gut game, Emmett. Gut game.”
He smiles weakly.
Emmett: “Think of the shaft as a metaphor. For a longer, darker shaft. Of the afterlife. And then find a way to forgive me. It’s the American thing to do.”
He smiles back, conjures a hat and doffs it.
And then he uses his foot to roll the bastard through.
GM: Em doesn’t have to see it to feel it. The call of those endless black depths.
It’s like that impulse you sometimes get from a high place. To just… jump.
But without the nagging instinct of self-preservation. Going down feels… right.
Emmett: He tears his gaze away, and walks away from the shaft.
Trying to ignore the distant scream.
Never done the right thing before, not gonna start now.
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