“We make nice, and if we can all stand each other for more than an hour, we decide what to do next. Together.”
GM: Freedom tastes good.
For the life of him, or perhaps the death, Emmett Delacroix cannot taste anything else. He does not taste his spit, phlegm, or tongue. His mouth doesn’t have that dry and stale sensation from not brushing his teeth last night (he rarely did, after leaving home). There’s just nothing.
But freedom has a taste.
And it is sweet indeed.
Spectral voices whoop and cheer into the starless night. Em would say it’s cold, but he doesn’t feel cold, and he’s not sure he’ll ever feel hot too. He does feel damp, at least, from the miserable black rain that seems to eternally pour over everything. Storm clouds rumble ominously overheard as tongues of lightning flicker through the gloom. They seem almost more like after-images than actual lightning: there’s something nothing bright about them. Just part of the sky that’s not as dark.
Black and gray stretches for as far as Em can see, interrupted only by the brilliant colors of his conjured fireworks. A woman’s voice from among the spectral throng hisses, “Kill the lights! There are things out there!”
“She’s right, kill the damn lights!” Fizzy echoes.
Emmett: He kills them.
GM: With the sole color in the achromatic hellscape extinguished, the group’s spirits seem to descend. Literally. Buildings rise to meet them. They look blasted apart and abandoned for years, like bombed-out shells from a World War II newsreel. Em’s not sure where they are. It doesn’t look like the Quarter anymore, and the buildings aren’t skyscrapers like in the CBD. The half-rotted, skeletal structures could be anywhere. Could have been anything. Garbage and debris choke the water-run streets. It looks like Katrina just hit.
Em’s feet make contact with the uneven ground with a light splash. He looks around at the other escapees.
Turner is there. Outside of her prison, she looks even uglier. She’s been shot in the head. The back of her head. There’s a gaping hole with dangling flaps of skin, skull shards, and attached, half-pulped brain matter, which also crusts her blood-matted hair. She’s dressed in a dark pocketed Blackwatch uniform with the company’s black-starred logo and heavy-looking combat boots.
Courtney looks much like Em remembers from behind the glass, but even in an achromatic world, her skin is looks deathly pale. Dark blood steadily drips from her slashed wrists. They’re vertical rather than horizontal cuts. The non-Hollywood way to kill yourself. Instead of her old stripper attire, though, she’s dressed in a simple tank top and denim skirt. She walks barefoot.
It’s been a while since Em saw Fizzy. He looks like shit. He’s covered in still-bleeding stab wounds, lots tiny ones, the kind you get from a shiv in prison. He’s dressed in an Orleans Parish Prison inmate’s uniform. Em knows how those things feel, even if it’s weird to see this one gray instead of orange. They’re always too big, like clown suits, always with holes or missing buttons, and only sometimes without stains Em didn’t want to know the origins of. The underwear was usually even worse. The ‘Jackie Chan’ slide-on shoes are uncomfortable and look like they pinch Fizzy’s large feet.
The first of the wraiths Em doesn’t recognize is a bombshell. She’s gorgeous. She looks around Em’s age, with a slim figure, long hair whose color is hard to determine in a colorless world, and large breasts that might be implants but are just within the realistic frame of possibility to be natural. Her pretty face is deathly pale, like Courtney’s, and dark blood drips from two deep puncture marks along her neck. Her eyes look slightly puffy as if from crying, and her running mascara gives her permanently black tears. She’s dressed in a clingy, low-cut mini-dress that’s slightly rumpled, and strappy platform-less high heels.
The second of the strangers is a man who looks maybe a little older than Em, with boyish features emphasized by his large eyes, thick eyebrows, and frazzled hair. He’s around the same height and slightly thicker than Em, though that isn’t hard. An addict’s dark circles ring his eyes. Blood drips from a puncture along his arm. Em knows the many needle marks and splotchy discoloration of a junkie when he sees one. The man’s dressed in plain jeans and a t-shirt. He’s also barefoot.
The last stranger is a teenage girl with a wide face, firm nose, prominent eyebrows, and mid-back-length hair that’s streaked through a lighter color towards the ends. Her hair looks a little rumpled, and her skin a little pale, but Em can’t see any readily apparent cause of her death, though her eyes are also puffy like the first stranger’s. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved tee, jeans, and socks without shoes.
Seven left, including him.
Seven out of the mob that destroyed Bobbi Jo and tore through that dread house.
Turner looks around them.
“So, what the fuck now?”
Emmett: Em himself doesn’t look so bad, in his opinion. He’s always looked good in gray. Death becomes him.
Except for the arm. Can’t do much about that.
He clears his throat. “I think we could do with a round of names, for a start. That’s the first thing they took from us. Names, death, and calling.”
He flourishes his gangrenous stump. “Emmett Delacroix. Killed by the state for crimes I did not commit. And there are people still alive who I have business with.” He raises an eyebrow at Turner. “Would you like to introduce yourself, or would you prefer me to do the honors?”
GM: Turner snorts. “You wouldn’t know honor if it punched you in the balls.”
“Oh, hey. That reminds me.”
She punches him in the balls.
It hurts, but not as much as it feels like it should. It’s like getting punched in the arm or leg.
Emmett: He grimaces, but raises an eyebrow and says, “That’s Turner, everybody. And that’s how she shows affection.” He smiles and looks at Courtney with a reassuring grin next.
GM: “Yeah, real affectionate, just like you’re real innocent.”
Emmett: “Oh, who would want to be innocent before they died? That’s like coming to the party sober.”
GM: “I was innocent. Of shit to deserve this, anyway.”
“I was loyal to my boss. Through thick and thin. I was loyal. She gave me this souvenir.” Turner sarcastically pokes her blown-out head.
Her colorless eyes brim with anger. “Since you asked about calling. Mine’s revenge.”
Emmett: “Then we’ve got at least one thing in common,” Em says, nodding. “I owe a few people some quality hauntings, too.” He looks again at Courtney.
GM: “Courtney. Y’all can probably tell how I died.” She holds up her vertically slashed wrists with an empty look. “Did it to make the nightmares stop.”
She doesn’t say anything a moment longer.
“Honestly, just survive. Maybe revenge on the guy who sent me here. And my bitch mom. Why not.”
Emmett: “Survival is legit,” Em reassures her, offering her his good hand. “We died once and wound up here. Reckon none of us are looking to find out what’s waiting on the next level down.”
GM: “What is this, fucking group therapy?” Turner snorts at Em’s motion.
Emmett: He waits to see if Courtney takes his hand before replying.
GM: She gives it a curious look, but finally takes it.
Emmett: “We were able to escape,” Em says, “Because we stuck together. You weren’t real fond of that plan, I recall, but we did it anyways and here we are. If anybody wants to go their own way, chance things on their own, I’ll be the last to make ’em stay. But the way I see it, all we have is each other.”
“We’re stronger together than alone. So sure, I’ll say the mushy gushy shit nobody else will. Because nobody else will. So my thinking is, we talk, we make nice, and if we can all stand each other for more than an hour, we decide what to do next. Together. And we survive, and bring the monsters that put us here through seven kinds of hell. Unless that sounds too soft for any of y’all.”
He throws in a little special effect, too. Nothing too flashy, just enough to punctuate his stump speech. Green flames blossom from his mouth as he says Hell, twist into a small campfire that crackles in the middle of their little circle. The light paints their faces.
He squeezes Courtney’s hand, and looks to the girl with marks in her neck. “We can see how you died, too. But I bet your name is something special.”
GM: The other ghosts stare into the fire. The green pallor it casts over their faces looks downright ghoulish, but it’s color, in a world that’s nothing but blacks and grays. Em sees the same look in their eyes as when Tante called him ‘sandman.’
“That all sounds… good to me,” says the teenager.
“I mean, fuck… what’s even out there?”
Emmett: “I’m the last to know,” Em says. “Other than vampires and other ghosts and the people who deal with ’em. But I know at least one of us who knows more.”
He makes eye contact with Fizzy.
GM: Fizzy looks back at him. “What?”
“You want me to go? Okay. Fizzy. Stabbed to death by some shrimp in the big house.”
Emmett: He smiles. “When you were cussing mad at me, last time we talked, you mentioned things. Thrall markets. Obli. Oblivion.” He lets the last word hang in the cool, lifeless air, lets it trickle down the spines of those assembled. “You’ve been dead for a while, Fizzy. S’pect you’ve learned some things.”
GM: The huddled wraiths don’t say anything at that hanging word.
But the fire seems a little smaller.
A little fainter.
A little less green.
“I dunno how long I’ve been dead for,” Fizzy says. “In case you missed it, time don’t mean a whole lot here.” He looks at Em. “And I was just a thrall, before the…”
He looks around the group.
“Oh, that’s rich. Y’all don’t know a fuckin’ thing, do you?”
Emmett: “I don’t,” Em says cheerfully. “Except that it’s better to know more.”
GM: Fizzy looks at the others. “Anyone who’s not fresh outta their caul, raise your hand.”
Only the other man does.
Most of the others look confused. Turner just glares.
“Oh, boy,” says Fizzy.
“Look, y’all want to know the 101 about being dead, there’s someone with answers who can really help you,” says other man. “Lots of answers.”
“I’m Roger Mayfield. Heroin OD, if you couldn’t tell by my arm. There’s other ghosts out there. Wraiths. Most of them’ll try to enslave you, just like the vampires did, but worse.”
“But there’s a group. The Undying Knights of St. Balacou.”
“I’m one of them. We’ve all been killed by vampires.” He looks at the woman with the bleeding neck, then back at the others. “And even you haven’t, you’ve all been enslaved by vampires. Spent a while in those glass cells, waiting until they’d do God knows what to us.”
“Or maybe you got to enjoy some time outside a cell, chained up and whipped like dogs.”
The hate in everyone’s eyes is palpable.
“My boss was a vampire,” says Turner. “They have this whole ‘Masquerade.’ Not to spread it around, what they are. Fuck that.”
“Fuck that,” Roger echoes. “If any of you hates vampires, wants revenge, the Knights’ll have you.”
Emmett: “One visited me in prison,” Em adds in. “Fucked with my head and turned it inside out until I couldn’t remember anything she did to me. And they’re powerful people, too. One that did it to me was a Malveaux.”
“The Knights, you know how to contact them?”
GM: This guy’s taking over. He’s gonna be the boss if we don’t slow him down.
Emmett: I’m on it. Don’t worry.
GM: “Yeah. I’ve met their leader. He’s seriously scary.”
“Where do we sign up?” asks Turner.
“Yeah, where?” asks the woman with the neck.
“I can get us-”
“Ain’t the Knights renegades?” Fizzy interrupts.
“Yeah, the Hierarchy doesn’t much like them. You got a problem?” asks Roger.
“Fuck no,” says Fizzy. “Hierarchy soulforged my brother.”
“Half wanted to do it myself.”
“Guess that’s brothers.”
Emmett: Em holds up a hand. “This is interesting and all, and we all want to know more, but y’all are talking about a lot of shit the rest of us still don’t know.”
GM: “Yeah, what’s the Hierarchy?” asks the teenager.
Emmett: “Let’s finish sharing names. I see some faces without ‘em still. Then we can learn, I don’t know, ghost history. Ain’t like we’re short on time, in the short term at least.”
GM: “I’m Ginger,” says the woman with the bleeding neck. “Y’all could normally tell by my hair, but… everything here’s in black and white. Besides fires and fireworks, I guess.”
“I was drained by a vampire. They did it to me lots of times before that, and normally it feels real good, but that time… not so much.”
Emmett: “That’s real fucked, Ginger,” Em says. “Do you know anything about the one that did it to you?”
GM: She shakes her head. “I don’t even know his name. But he and another one looked like they were gonna have a fight. And the one who… killed me, looked really torn up.”
“I guess they wanted to make it a fair fight. He drained my… best friend, right in front of me. Then he drained me. Because I wasn’t ‘her.’ Those were the last words I heard. ‘She ain’t her.’”
Emmett: He looks at her, his expression somber but sincere.
“And what do you want to do about it?”
GM: “Getting even would be nice, so the Knights sound just fine to me.” The woman glares for a moment, but then her expression shifts to one of worry. “But I’d really like to find my friend. Her name’s Melody. She was always there for me. He killed her and I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she’s a… ghost like me, if the vampires in that house got her, or something else happened to her, or… what. I don’t know.” Ginger looks almost ready to cry.
“You stick by friends,” says Turner.
Emmett: “So we’ll find her if she can be found,” Em agrees. “Name like Melody, somebody ought to know what happened to her. We’ll see about it.”
He looks to the teenager.
GM: “Hannah Burroughs,” she says. “I died from… sleeping pills. Suicide.”
“I didn’t think you could still overdose on those,” remarks Ginger, dabbing at her eyes. Em doesn’t see any tears, though.
“You can’t,” Hannah answers. “OD enough to kill yourself, anyways. You have to mix them with other meds. I… did the research. And had some anti-anxiety meds.”
Emmett: “I’ve considered taking that road myself, more than once,” Em says. “But I would have found even more reason not to, if I had known what was waiting for me.” He smiles sadly at Hannah, and offers her the same hand he gave Courtney. “I can’t imagine you’re happy with what you found, either. But I’m still glad to meet you, Hannah.”
He glances around. “I should have asked earlier… ghosts have tricks. Y’all know that already, and you know mine.” He points to the waning campfire, and pokes it with a shadowy stick, making it billow back into substantiality. “Useful thing to share with each other, I figure. Know what we’re capable of. Especially if they can be taught.”
GM: Hannah takes his hand. “Wait, you asked what we all wanted to do.”
“I want to help my mom.”
Emmett: “I did,” he says, grinning. “And that’s a damn fine thing to want, I think.”
GM: “What I did… it’s gonna destroy her. Completely destroy her.”
Hannah looks like she’s about to cry too.
“I don’t know why I did that. It was so selfish. Just so selfish.”
Emmett: “Living people make selfish choices,” Em says, squeezing her hand. “I made plenty of my own. Fizzy’ll tell you that for free.” He looks around. “But to my way of thinking, if there’s any such thing as a new beginning, this is as close to it as we get. What happened, happened. It’s led us all to the same place, and that’s here. Now.”
GM: “I’m trans,” Hannah abruptly says.
“I hid it from everyone. I took the pills, after I was outed. But… fuck, what’s it matter now?”
Emmett: He smiles and says, “It means what you make it mean. You don’t have to keep secrets anymore.”
GM: “Means we’ll call you ‘he,’ I guess,” Turner shrugs.
“Oh are you fucking SERIOUS!” Hannah flares.
Emmett: He looks at Turner sharply. “Enough of that. She’s dead. Let her be who she wants to be.”
GM: “My boss killed a tranny once. I helped clean it up.”
Emmett: “You want to stay with us, you’ll avoid starting shit over nothing.”
He looks around. “Unless anybody else thinks this is worth fighting over, after what we’ve been through together.”
GM: Hannah throws a punch. Turner catches it, twists her arm around, and drives her face-first into the ground, knee on her back.
“No wonder you wanted to be a girl,” snorts the ex-Marine.
Exclamations go up from Ginger and Courtney. Fizzy and Roger both seem to consider what’s happening, then just cross their arms.
“Lemme—GO!” shouts Hannah.
“Say you’re a boy and I’ll let go.”
Emmett: Em looks Turner in the eye. There’s something dangerous there, something that cares not a whit whether he’s right or wrong. Something that knows only that it has to win.
“I know you like throwing your weight around, and I know you’re tough. We all know it. But you doing this is making us divided. It’s causing problems. And I think it’s sad that you’re trying to be more like your boss.” He glances at Roger, knowing Fizzy probably won’t be a good bet. “You think the Knights are interested in dealing with somebody that doesn’t know how to avoid starting arguments over nothing?”
GM: Roger just watches.
Turner drives her knee harder into Hannah’s neck.
“So the tranny my boss and me killed, she, and by ‘she’ I mean ‘girl pretending to be a boy’ was just fucking ugly. The hormones never work out right. Explains why you’ve got such a thick face, I guess. It was really funny how we killed her. Joked about whether it was a hate crime. I got to see her pussy up close when I was getting rid of the body, we stuck it in ice for a while, and boy. I just about lost my lunch. Do you still have a cock? Hey, why don’t you show us, since you’re so okay now with who you are and shit?” She grabs at Hannah’s pants and starts tugging them off.
Hannah gives a shrill scream. The ground screams too. It’s a dreadful, hair-rising sound that seems to come from all the earth at once. A black void yawns open. Hannah plummets through, still screaming. Some part of Em wants to jump too. There’s something in there. Something that calls to him.
Then the ground slams shut.
“Huh,” says Turner.
“What the hell did you do!?” Courtney exclaims.
“Oh, that’s just great, now there’s six of us!” glares Ginger.
Emmett: “Take out her anger at being trans on the kid, looks like,” Em says coldly. “Well, looks like the kid escaped. Maybe she’ll come back. Maybe not. But now there’s one less of us. Thanks, Turner. Good work.”
GM: “Weakest link,” shrugs Fizzy.
Emmett: “Sure, but now somebody else is.”
GM: Turner frowns.
“That wasn’t me.”
Emmett: “No, it was the kid. Escaping you.”
GM: “No. Saying that shit.”
GM: “I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you’re born with a dick you’re a boy, end of story.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense I’d say that out loud. Doesn’t help.”
Emmett: “Uh huh. Shadow?”
GM: “Shadow, what?” Turner glares. “There’s a lot of shadows around here, in case you missed them.”
Emmett: He looks at Roger and Fizzy. “You two know anything about that?”
GM: Fizzy shrugs. “Evil voice in your head. Everybody got one.”
The rest of the group surveys one another slowly.
Emmett: “Try to keep a handle on it, next time,” Em says, a bit calmer now. “It gets the better of you once, whatever. It keeps causing problems, you become a liability. And whatever else you thought of her, she hasn’t been one so far.”
GM: “And I’ll say the same to you, shitface. If it can get the better of me, yours’ll have you bent over taking it up the ass and begging for seconds.”
“He’s right, though,” says Roger. “The afterlife’s hard. We can’t cut anyone slack for their Shadow.”
“Everyone has one. They never shut up. Never stop trying to turn things to shit.”
Emmett: He don’t think much of you, does he?
GM: I don’t feel like he’s very good at the whole ‘thinking’ thing.
“I’ve had one. Telling me how worthless I am,” says Courtney.
“Where’s the other girl?”
“Other girl?” says Courtney.
“Yeah. The one who got out with us.”
The ex-Marine slowly surveys their lifeless surroundings.
“We were eight. Not seven.”
Emmett: Em’s frowning too. “Which of you hissed in my ear? About the lights?”
GM: There’s blank looks.
“I know I did,” says Fizzy. “Was right to. There’s things out there, which would see.”
“But things that might’ve grabbed one of us in the dark too,” says Turner.
“So we were boned either way,” says Courtney. “Oh my god.”
Emmett: “But there was a woman who said it first,” Em says. “Okay. So. New rule. Watch each other. There’s six of us. Watch your partner. Like kids in summer camp. Em eyes Courtney. “I’ll look out for you, if you look out for me.”
GM: “We need to get to the Knights,” says Roger.
“They have experience with this shit. And they have people who can weaken your Shadow, when it’s getting strong.”
That’s exactly what they wanted to hear, gotta give him that.
“Okay. Lead the way,” says Turner. “And we’ll watch each other, in pairs, until then.”
Guess that makes Roger here the leader.
Emmett: He nods, making the decision cooperative. “Turner and Mayfield. Courtney and me. Fizzy and Ginger.”
He frowns at Roger. “I’m all for going, but there’s things to know first. How long have you been with them? How do they treat newbies? And how much of our afterlives belong to them once we join up? I want to survive, but I want to be free, too.”
He also glances down. “I also think the right thing to do is wait nearby, see if Hannah comes back. I’m not optimistic, but it’s possible. It’s what I’d hope y’all would do for me. I won’t split the group over it, though, if I’m outvoted.” He doesn’t sound hopeful, but it’s the right image to send.
GM: “How long?” says Turner.
“Time don’t really matter here,” says Fizzy.
Emmett: “Let’s combine the two. Just long enough for Roger to answer some. If by the time we run out of questions, she ain’t here, then there’s probably not much to be done.”
“So, Sir Mayfield. What’s the story with the Knights?”
GM: The group seems to consider and then accede to that with a few murmurs.
“Every one of them’s a wraith, like us, who’s been hurt by leeches,” Roger says. “We want revenge. Against all leeches. You help other wraiths get some payback, they help you get yours. We protect each other against the Hierarchy and other wraiths that want to enslave or fuck us up.”
Emmett: “The Hierarchy. They’re, what. Ghost government?”
GM: “Yeah,” says Roger. “They’re everything wrong with government in the Skinlands, that’s the living world, but a hundred times worse. A thousand times worse.”
“They’re built off slavery. Brand new wraiths, enfants, people who’ve just died, get snatched up and sold as thralls. Slaves. They have wraiths, called reapers, who patrol the Shadowlands—that’s the bright and sunny corner of the afterlife we’re in here—looking for new wraiths to harvest. They clap them in chains soon as soon as they find them to sell at the thrall markets.”
Emmett: Em nods. “I’ve met some of those. Before the vamps whistled me up.”
GM: “You’re lucky to’ve escaped.”
Emmett: “The Knights—I was joking earlier, when I called you sir, but how much protocol do they have? Is it like the army, or more like a freedom fighters thing?”
GM: “Real freedom fighters are armies,” says Turner. “There’s a reason discipline and command structures exist, you know. Because it fucking works.”
Emmett: He shrugs. “So it’s a good question.”
GM: “Well, we have a leader who calls the shots. He’s been dead hundreds of years. Knows more about killing leeches than anyone. On ‘operations’ where we’re doing that, he expects wraiths to follow a command structure. But outside of that, your afterlives are yours. He’s not interested in telling everyone what to do. Just killing leeches.”
Emmett: Em nods in response to that. “Sounds pretty damn reasonable. What kinds of ‘operations’?”
He glances around, and invites others to ask, if they have questions. This isn’t just for him, after all.
GM: “Killing leeches,” Roger repeats. “Especially ones like the Giovannini who enslave wraiths like we all were. That’s the main thing the Knights exist for.”
Emmett: “Giovannini,” he repeats, tasting the word.
GM: “Sometimes we sabotage their quick—that’s human—slaves and allies. Try to draw them where we want them. Or set them after other leeches, to do our dirty work.”
“But mostly we just want to make them pay.”
Emmett: “You like them, a lot,” Em notes, looking him over. “That’s clear. How did they earn your loyalty?”
GM: “Hierarchy reapers got me, after I died. Were going to sell me on the thrall markets. Or soulforge me.”
“The Knights raided the convoy. They do that, sometimes, to pick up new recruits. Saved my afterlife.”
“The Giovannini got me later, when I was out on my own. It’s dangerous out here. There’s reaper patrols, Giovannini, spectres, all sorts of fucked up things.”
GM: “That voice in your head. Your Shadow.”
“It’s always fighting you. Always trying to take control.”
“A spectre’s a wraith who’s finally lost that war. Whose Shadow is in control all the time.”
GM: Told you. There’s a lot more I can do to ruin your day than just talk shit.
And I will push you out of the driver’s seat if I don’t like where our afterlife is headed.
Emmett: Now, that’s just a toxic relationship.
GM: “Are they that bad?” asks Ginger.
“Worse,” says Roger. “The Hierarchy kills them on sight. It’s the one thing they have the right idea about.”
“I hate the Hierarchy. But I’d rather be a thrall than fall into spectre hands, any day.”
“All they exist to do is torture and destroy. They’re lost. Gone.”
“How’s someone become a spectre?” asks Turner.
“Their Shadow wins. Lots of ways that can happen. Though if you kill a wraith, that’s one of the fastest ways to do it.”
“So we can die?” Turner asks again.
“Yeah. Kill someone and they might come back. Or their Shadow might take over for good. That’s death for the dead.”
Emmett: “You said the Knights have wraiths who can mess with the Shadows,” he muses. “What’s that about?”
GM: “They’re called pardoners. I don’t really know how they do it, but they can rip out parts of your Shadow. It stains their hands. Turns them black.”
Emmett: “Sounds… painful.”
GM: “Yeah. It really hurts.”
“But less than the alternative.”
Emmett: Em files that away. “Do you know anything about where Hannah might be? I got sucked into a hole like that, before the Giovannini got me. Just before, actually. I had, like, this vision. A nightmare. My Shadow seemed real excited. Is that normal?”
GM: “Yeah. They’re called harrowings. That’s what happens when it’s trying to seize control.”
Roger’s pallid face seems to darken. “Sometimes it wins. Takes away another piece of you.”
True facts. I can drop you into another if I get cheesed off.
Emmett: Don’t get cranky, Gaspy. Who’s my little Shadow. Coochie-coochie-coo.
“So that’s where she is now?” Em asks, leaning in. “A… harrowing? Where will she be when its over?”
GM: “Your guess is as good as mine. They’re crapshoots.”
“Depends how well she does.”
“Or how bad.”
“So is she gonna show back up?” asks Courtney.
“He just said he don’t know,” says Fizzy.
“So it’s a waste of time for us to stick around, then,” remarks Turner.
“You’re the reason she’s gone!” glares Ginger.
“And if you have at least half as many brains as your boob job, you’ll want me rather than him around when we run into reapers or spectres or what the fuck ever.” Turner rolls her eyes. “The Knights are sounding better and better than you losers by the minute.”
Hey, Turner, do you have another cunt down there, or just the one in your head?
GM: “Screw you then, go off with the Knights if that’s where you want to be so bad.” Courtney.
“Oh look, another useless person running her mouth. Glad to.” Turner looks at Fizzy. “Fizzy, you don’t look half-useless in a fight, if you want to come with me and Roger.”
Emmett: “Well, sounds like you won’t have to pick,” Em says brightly. “Knights seem like the way to go, Roger. Thanks for being patient.” He looks over the rest of them. “We can’t force you to come with us, and I don’t think any of us want to. But it sure sounds better than the alternative.”
He glances at Roger. “If there’s nothing we can do for Hannah, than Turner’s right, about at least one thing. There’s no sense waiting.” He eyes her. “Unless she feels like accepting responsibility, of course. But that’s not her style. So, let’s go.” He claps his hands together. “It’ll be nice to be part of something again.” He reaches out to Roger, offering him his hand.
GM: Turner grabs Em by the scruff of his shirt and yanks his face up to hers.
“I’m starting to get pretty sick of your bullshit.”
“You or the other literal dead weights don’t appreciate having a Marine at your backs, you can stay here and rot.”
“I got your back,” says Fizzy.
Emmett: He looks at her, looks up at those furious, violent eyes. And he smiles a Cheshire smile. The whole world vanishes behind it. “Elaborate, please. What bullshit? The bit where it was my plan that got you freed? Or the part where I pretend you aren’t acting like a child because you’re embarrassed your own Shadow got the better of you? I mean, hey, it happens. We all have bad days. I just hope you can hold it together long enough to actually get to the Knights, without losing your temper like a brat halfway there. I mean, you sure kicked Hannah’s ass, and I know you could kick mine.” He tilts his head. “I bet your Shadow really wants you to, too. Come on, Marine. Show me what Semper Fi means. You’re being real faithful, right about now. Or are you man enough to stop having a fuckin’ period?”
He doesn’t look away from her eyes. He wants to see everything inside them.
Emmett: He considers conjuring the noise of a mic dropping. He thinks better of it.
Who says he never learns?
GM: A noise plays.
Mic Drop | SOUND EFFECT
Emmett: Whoops. Goddammit, dude.
He coughs, looking abashed. “Ah. Excuse me.”
GM: The words catch in his throat.
“What the fuck was that?” says Fizzy.
“Oh, that was me,” Em hears himself say.
Emmett: He conjures the word ‘SHADOW’ in big, flaming letters on his own forehead.
Or tries to.
GM: There’s no reaction on anyone’s faces.
“I’d say it was a sound effect to accompany completely humiliating Turner in front of you all like a little bitch,” he goes on, “but it’s not tasteful to brag like that.”
“Oh, did I? Whoops.”
Emmett: He tries to screw up his face and cross his eyes. He is not optimistic.
GM: There’s no reaction from anyone else.
“But I suppose it’s more tasteful than, you know, beating up the trans kid and sending her into god only knows what kind of nightmare.”
Emmett: You get that this isn’t making me want to rely on you more, right?
Although. Good point.
GM: “If she even survives.”
Emmett: He looks at Roger. Roger knows. Roger might be able to tell.
GM: His vision remains where it is.
“Semper fi. What a joke. Last I remember, we all fought as hard as any Marine and bled like any Marine to win free. We should be brothers, sisters, after that. And Turner’s the one throwing all of that away over what? Pronouns? Way I see it, she thinks she’s better than us.”
“I say she’s not. I say we’re all equal after what we went through. And I say we don’t need the Knights. Or Turner. Who’s with me?”
“I am,” says Courtney.
“Me too,” glares Ginger.
“Me not,” says Fizzy.
“Everyone who counts, then,” says Turner. She’s still holding up Em by his shirt.
GM: The words die in his throat.
“Guess it’s your call, Roger,” says Fizzy, looking at the other wraith.
“Who you wanna bring back to the Knights?”
Roger looks between the two groups.
Emmett: Roger, don’t be fucking stupid.
GM: “You and Turner,” he says.
“Smart choice,” says Turner.
Emmett: Goddammit. Goddammit. Somebody THINK.
GM: She yanks Em closer.
Emmett: I was just TRYING to go with the Knights two seconds ago.
GM: “You’re right. It was your plan that got us out.”
GM: “So for that, I won’t stomp the shit out of you like the kid, and send you off to some nightmare I’d bet my life savings you deserve. Don’t expect to be so lucky next time though.”
She shoves him away.
“Don’t expect there to be a next time,” says Em. “Come on, guys.”
GM: “…don’t we want to wait for Hannah?” asks Courtney.
GM: “You’re completely right, Courtney,” says Em.
“We’ll wait. Because she would for us.”
Ginger nods firmly.
Emmett: What. The Fuck.
GM: Fizzy rolls his eyes.
“Good luck, losers.”
GM: He, Turner, and Roger all set off.
Emmett: Fizzy, you know what a piece of shit I am.
GM: Em and his two companions are left alone.
The conjured fire crackles.
Emmett: Fizzy, THINK!
GM: “Didn’t like the vibe I got off her anyway,” says Ginger.
“I know lots of trans girls,” says Courtney.
“I mean, whatever. Be who you want.”
“Yeah,” agrees Ginger.
Emmett: “FUCK!” he snarls. “Shadow!”
GM: His voice dies in his throat.
We never were too good at learning from experiences, were we?
I’m in the driver’s seat until I decide to let you back.
Emmett: Hey, Gasper. If this is how you’re going to play things, I’m never going to work with you. I’m going to find the first pardoner I can and have you ripped out of my asshole.
GM: Ha. Good luck.
Emmett: I don’t know much about how this works, but I’m pretty sure you can’t keep me out forever.
GM: You go ahead and bet on that then.
Emmett: Why, though? We had a good thing going. What the fuck do we gain from this?
GM: Me, actually. I don’t want a pardoner. You were thinking of one.
Plus this was fun.
Emmett: It’ll get us assfucked by a spectre. And I was thinking of one. Now I WANT one. You see how this works?
GM: And, you know, things would’ve change with the Knights. We wouldn’t have been in charge. He said what, his boss was centuries old?
Emmett: Oh, great. Now we’re the king of jack and shit.
You. Suck. At this.
GM: We’re the king of three wraiths. Hannah will be back.
Emmett: One of them. IS. US.
GM: Roger wasn’t ours. Turner wasn’t either. She hated our guts. Fizzy was just waiting to go south. There was that whole ‘got him and his brother killed’ thing.
Emmett: He could have been, and we could have found shit to work with. And she was powerful. We could have used her. You fucking moron. You’re doing the same thing you did whenever we had a chance in life.
GM: But Gasper said it himself.
Emmett: I’m not less mad at you because you’re me, you bleeding cunt.
GM: Maybe you missed the part where she was hitting us in the balls.
These three, they’re nice and weak.
Emmett: Oh, did that hurt you? It tickled me.
GM: They’re dependable. They won’t survive without us.
Turner? She knew she could.
Emmett: Gasper, you can try and spin it no matter what, but you fucked up a chance for us to get actual resources and power. I hope you like driving. I’m going to enjoy kicking the back of your chair until you crash.