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(DF) The Wilting Rose

 
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5/12/2019 6:30:32   
NagisaXIkari
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"Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities." ~H.P Lovecraft

Prologue: The Fall

The fall of Espina Rosa dealt a crippling blow to The Rose with the break out of one of their most dangerous captives.

Some within the organization, advocated for executing those captured by The Rose, something that was shot down and those advocating for it reprimanded. Instead a new prison would be called for.

Members stationed in Amityvale, had heard rumours, whispers really of distant towns from travellers who could at best be described as disturbed. Among those whispers was mention of a town that was home to a foreboding asylum. The town of Arkham.

It was too good of an opportunity to not warrant an investigation at the very least and should it prove to be real and defensible enough, the new Espina Rosa.

As not to divert resources from Amityvale and elsewhere, a team was set to be assembled and begin their investigation, consulting with The Rose stationed in the walled town as well as conduct interviews with the townspeople to find out all that they could about the alleged town of Arkham and its asylum.

Chapter I: Assembly

He cursed under his breath at the parchment a scribe had given to him, running a gloved hand through his black hair. He had been assigned the duty of leading the investigation into Doomwood to find the alleged asylum somewhere in the region and looking at the names on the roster, he just knew it wasn't going to be as simple as his briefing made it sound.

Resting beside him was a large hammer with a magnet supposedly of Dwarven origin attached at the hilt which he picked up with minimal effort and slung it over his back, the magnet connecting to the standard issue Rose armour he wore beneath a large, heavy coat many within the organization attributed to his upbringing in Dragesvard. But his most striking feature was the half mask forged from the signature blue metal most Rose equipment was made from covering the left side of his face, a rose where his eye should be. Every now and again when the nights grew cold, the pain would flare up and he'd be brought back to the day when he was an aspiring Dragonslayer wielding a hammer he forged himself and the chilling breath of an ice dragon took half his face.

He looked over the roster once more as he went to the meeting hall. Some of these names were too ridiculous to be real, probably ironic.

Cry. He dreaded the idea of being stuck with some crybaby. Sight. Probably blind. Hands. What are they, a pervert? Kid. Probably some fossil. And lastly Simon, the only one with an actual name. He grimaced at the idea of who or what Simon could be.

The meeting hall was large mostly empty room as though it were initially a gathering hall for Swordhaven's monied class with some wooden chairs in the middle where various people in modified Rose attire and a single person in standard Rose attire, presumably the one who'd be giving the briefing sat.

"Welcome, Captain Roland," the one in standard Rose attire said. "Please, have a seat. We have much to discuss."

Roland took a seat and looked over those that sat before him. The first was a tall male in fairly standard ManaHunter attire, the helmet nowhere to be seen showing his disheveled blonde hair and blue eyes while his attire showed a lack of care with hodgepodge attempts at repairing it.

"Your name?" Roland asked the blonde ManaHunter.

"Cry, sir," he said, sounding like he had to force himself to address his superior officer formally.

He looked at the one beside Cry, a young woman with black and red hair tied into twintails with gold wire frame glasses in standard Energizer attire.

"Sight, sir," she said in a soft almost a whisper voice. She looked directly at him, the glasses magnifying her green eyes, showing she wasn't blind, which came as a relief.

The third member was tall woman with long dark hair, long eye lashes, and hazel eyes in a modified ManaHuntress uniform. The greaves were cut off just above the knee, the shoulder plates removed while the top was cut off at the waist revealing her stomach and even stranger, strapped to her hip was the standard sword used by ManaHunters rather than the daggers.

"Name?" Roland asked, almost exhausted at this point.

"Hands, sir," she said in a husky tone.

Roland resisted the urge to sigh, dreading having to spend any time with this group of what could best be described as delinquents until he turned his sight towards the next one relieved that he seemed normal despite looking like he was barely out of his teen years. The fourth member was a young dark haired male with green eyes in standard ManaHunter attire with no modifications, helmet resting on his lap.

"Kid, I presume?"

"Yes, sir," the one identified as Kid responded, his voice firm and confident.

How'd this one become part of this team of rejects? His voice alone commanded respect in such a way Roland felt like this one should've been leading the operation rather than himself.

And lastly was another woman with blue eyes like sapphires marked either by heavy make-up or dark circles from a lack of sleep and hair as white as the snowfields of Dragsvard cut short in Energizer attire adorned with multiple chains and other trinkets that must make her sound like a rattling keyring when she walks. What stood out most about her was the series of piercings she had, A lip ring attached to an earring via a thin chain and a nose ring attached to an earring on the opposite side via a thin chain, an aesthetic common among the Magisterium.

"And lastly Simon, I presume?" Roland asked, some of his disbelief in the squad presented before him escaping into his voice.

"Yes, sir," the one identified as Simon responded, trying to stifle a yawn.

Roland looked towards the one who arranged this meeting, his eye showing annoyance. They were a bookish looking male in a blue robe adorned with Rose emblems as was standard of magus and other less combative types. His robe being quite plain as opposed to the more unique appearances more renown magi take on suggested he was a novice at best.

"Care to explain how this group was chosen for this mission?"

"Um...yes, sir," the young magus began stammering. "You see, there aren't enough operatives to dispatch on a mission that is based mostly on rumours, so..." he coughs, trying to maintain eye contact with Roland despite his own nervousness. "So, your squad was chosen from reserves as per orders from those above me.

Roland rubbed his temple. No wonder they were 'reserves.' Skimming the roster, all but one of them had multiple infractions and disciplinaries for various forms of misconduct that it was surprising they were still within the ranks of The Rose.

The entry on Kid was interesting in that he did have field experience having been on a mission eight months ago. Easy enough mission of just clearing out a Clawkin nest and apprehending the creatures, but somehow it ended in the deaths of six people with him as the only survivor. Pending investigation, he had been relieved of field duty until this operation.

"Anywho," the magus began. "The purpose of this meeting was to introduce you to the team you'll be leading. Tomorrow morning you all will be leaving for Amityvale via gryphon."

For such a brief meeting, Roland was exhausted. With such a ragtag team, he wondered if the leadership had any faith in this operation succeeding.

"Dismissed," he said.

Chapter II: Departure

Roland and his squad met at the gryphon stables, Kid was the first to arrive even before Roland while Simon was the last, looking like she had just woken up minutes ago.

Simon's tardiness explained her record while Kid arriving before anyone else was unnerving to Roland. It was almost like he was trying too hard to be a model soldier.

"Nice of you all to finally make it," Roland began. "As you all know, in a few moments we will be departing for Amityvale. And should you have read the dossier, none of this will be new to you, but anyway, our first objective is to consult the Rose members stationed in the town and, interview townspeople and gather all information available. Aside from the town of Arkham, we have information on the town of Miskatonic which is where a university is. Assuming it does exist, we will consult the university staff for information on Arkham before continuing. Any questions before we depart?"

When Roland got no response, the group saddled up and the gryphons took flight.

***

The light of the full moon suggested it was mid-afternoon in Darkovia and its Doomwood, the gryphons touching down outside the stables.

"Greetings, sir," a Rose stable worker said, followed by others as they worked to bring in the gryphons and aid their riders in dismounting.

Simon shrunk back from the hand of a stable worker offering to help her dismount instead opting to slide off the side opposite of the stable worker much to their confusion.

With a moment to stretch their legs, they gathered in the town center, Roland looking over the mission's roster. Much to his dismay and shock, Hands and Cry were the only ones to apparently have any aptitude in communicating with people.

"Hands, Cry, you two will interview the townspeople to find out what they know."

"Yes, sir," both said in unison and set off, Hands going towards the tavern while Cry began with people in the streets.

Unsurprisingly, Sight and Simon were listed as being adept in information gathering, leaving him with Kid to talk with the magus stationed in the town.

"Sight, Simon, you two will go to the town hall and go over any records of the surrounding area and looking for any mention of Miskatonic and Arkham."

"Yes sir," the two presumably said in unison, Sight was barely audible.

With Sight and Simon gone, Roland was left with Kid who stood motionless at attention almost statue-esque. Roland found it unnerving to say the least.

"At ease," Roland ordered, the ManaHunter's change in pose not alleviating his unease.

Chapter III: The First Objective

Hands entered the tavern, greeted by the sound of merriment and socializing. The tavern was the most logical place to begin asking questions as people from all walks of life tended to congregate there including people from out of town who were easy to spot as the average townsperson wasn't in regular clothing or Rose attire.

Scanning the room, she saw two men in plate armour, one with a sword on his hip while the other was hunched over in his seat, an axe across his back.

"Mind if I join you two?" she asked, pulling up an empty chair before they could respond.

"Guess not," the adventurer with the sword said, a tinge of annoyance in his voice.

"Before you say anything," the adventurer with the axe began, "We're not the magic using type."

"Oh, I'm not interested in that. Besides, you two look like you don't need magic to get the job done," Hands said flirtatiously.

The adventurer with the sword smirked. "Got that right," he said, his eyes looking Hands up and down. "So what brings you to us instead of those Rose guys at the other tables?"

Hands eyes looked over the adventurer with an axe. He was clearly suspicious of her, but his friend was very much not.

"Those guys are so boring, but you and your friend here if he's up for it look like the type that could satisfy a girl's needs. And do I have some needs that yearn to be satisfied."

The adventurer with the axe was having none of her antics, but his associate was all over it, not even trying to hide his excitement.

"Oh, I got just the thing. How about we-"

"But first," Hands interrupted trying to keep her composure. This was always the best part of conducting any interview. "I need to know everything both of you know about the towns of Miskatonic and Arkham."

This got the interest of the adventurer with the axe while the adventurer with the sword looked like he just got blocked.

"What does The Rose want with either of those places?" the adventurer with the axe asked, his suspicion growing.

"First and foremost, we'd like to know if they even exist. A lot of Doomwood is still uncharted and we'd like to change that."

"And by change, you mean occupy," the adventurer with the axe said.

"Hey now, no need for any squabble. Especially when we're outnumbered here. And then..." the adventurer with the sword trailed off, leering at Hands.

"Of course. So how about a little quid pro quo?"

The adventurer with the sword looked like as if he'd be finished right then and there. It was gross to put it mildly. Local taverns definitely attracted all kinds of people.

"We've never been to either place, but we've heard Miskatonic has something of a spider issue. Apparently lots of adventurer types have been heading there to make a name for themselves. Never heard of no Arkham though."

"Thank you for your assistance and I wish you good luck on your travels," Hands said while standing up and heading for the door.

"Hey, what about-"

"Forget it," the adventurer with the axe said, putting a hand on his companion's shoulder to keep him seated. "It wasn't going to go anywhere anyways."

With the tavern door at her back, Hands shuddered. There were others who could've answered her questions, but that guy looked like he would have no qualms making a scene in the tavern and the last thing she wanted to do was pull steel on some nobody.

***

Cry knew Hands had the right idea of starting with the tavern and perhaps he might try there as well, but to him she seemed like she had ulterior motives and he didn't want to be witness to that and any fallout that came with it. The town's vendors and shops would be adequate.

He began in the weapon shop, as any adventurer passing through would logically want their piece touched up if need be or to purchase a new one if possible and sure enough inside were multiple people who stood out from the inhabitants of Amityvale.

He approached a pair of travellers, a tall one in a hooded cloak with a bow and quiver slung over their shoulder accompanying someone slightly shorter with a hammer hanging off their waist. Upon closer inspection the hooded one had pointed ears barely visible under their hood.

"Excuse me, do you either of you mind if I ask a couple questions?"

The two faced him, the hooded one stepping back slightly while the one with the hammer, clearly human took a step forward, eying Cry suspiciously.

"Look, we don't want any trouble, we're just passing through," the adventurer with the hammer said roughly.

"That's fine," Cry began, trying to keep his voice level. "I just want to ask if either of you know anything about the towns of Miskatonic or Arkham."

"No, never heard of them," the adventurer with the hammer said, the venom still in his voice.

"O-okay, thank you."

Cry turned and walked away, his eyes stinging. There were other adventurer looking types in the shop, now staring at him as he hastily left the shop and ducked into an alley, wiping his eyes with his forearm.

I just want to do the right thing, but people hate me for it.

***

Roland and Kid entered the office of Magus Neron who was in the midst of his research on curing lycanthropy. Upon seeing the two enter, Neron gathered his notes, including a letter from Chaney into a neat stack which he promptly put inside of his desk.

"Greetings, you must be Roland," Neron said warmly.

"Indeed, sir. And this is...Kid. I trust you were given a missive on the mission my team and I are on."

Magus Neron looked over to Kid who stood at attention, his eyes boring through him and beyond. Despite everything he had seen since coming to Amityvale, nothing was as unnerving as this recruit. Even Z's golems displayed more humanity than him.

"Indeed. While we have been working to chart out more of the region, we've had our own problems to deal with, so I'm afraid I can't offer too much information. Patrols still find Doom Weapons once in awhile."

"Understandable, sir. Any information you have is invaluable nonetheless."

Magus Neron opened a drawer in his desk and retrieved a slim folder. Opening it momentarily to confirm its contents, he handed it over to Roland.

Inside were only a few sheets with some brief notes. Miskatonic was somewhere down the west road as stated by multiple adventurers, all of whom have also said they heard that the town had a spider infestation.

There were even fewer mentions of Arkham, not even a general direction of where it was only that those who made mention of it were considered 'unwell.'

Each mention was dated with one mention of Arkham being only a week ago and while it was unlikely, there was a possibility that the adventurer who mentioned it was still in town.

"Are the whereabouts of the one who most recently mentioned Arkham known?"

"I'm afraid not," Neron began. "I did have him administered to the inn, but they somehow escaped in the middle of the night. The townwatch did not open the gates for anyone, so we do have reason to believe they're still in town somewhere, but no leads as to where."

"Is there anything else that you can tell us about this person? What they looked like perhaps?"

Magus Neron put a hand to his chin in thought. He had so much going on, he could scarcely recall what many of the recruits under his leadership looked like.

"That's the thing, they were just so...forgettable. Beyond their mumbling about the town, they really didn't look any different from anyone you may have already seen since entering the town."

"I see. Thank you for your cooperation, sir. We will take our leave."

"Yes. And good luck on your mission."

***

Sight and Simon stood inside the town hall, neither having said a word to the other, Simon yawning occasionally being the only sound to come from either of them beside the rattling of the chains and trinkets that adorned her attire.

A dark haired woman in a red dress approached them, Simon taking a step back as she did.

"May I help you two?" the woman asked.

"We'd like to view the town's records, specifically about anything relating to the surrounding area," Sight said, the woman leaning in to hear.

"I guess I can allow that. Most of those records would've been taken by the Rose garrisoned here, but there might be something left behind still."

"Thank you."

The woman led them to a back room full of boxes on shelves and cabinets, leaving them to their own devices. Without a word, Sight began to peruse the various shelves, some of the labels on the boxes being worn out and faded from time and strangely enough, water damage. Few of the boxes had recent dates and mostly contained information regarding trade with towns in the Surewould region.

While Sight investigated the boxes, Simon looked over the cabinets, most of which were empty and those that weren't contained things similar to what Sight had uncovered as well as incident reports ranging mainly from town hall meetings getting out of hand or notes from other meetings.

Sight would eventually find a box containing information going back to the settlement of the area that is now Amityvale. The pages were yellowed with age, some of the writing illegible while other pages disintegrated in her hands.

On one page that stood out was the mention of a family by the name of Arkham who from what Sight could tell had a dispute with some of the other founders and went out west to found their own settlement.

Simon's own search yielded some similar results. Much like Sight, some pages she found were too old to be legible or even disintegrated by her touch, but it did confirm that after the founding of Amityvale, others had set out to found a new settlement although the writing was too illegible to confirm whether or not it was Miskatonic.

***

Roland and his squad eventually gathered outside of the town hall to give their reports. Hands and Cry had similar reports, Miskatonic was somewhere to the west and had a spider infestation that attracts adventurers hoping to make a name for themselves.

Sight shared her discovery that there was evidence that Arkham exists west of Amityvale, Roland and her squadmates sans Simon having to huddle around her to hear.

After Simon and Roland shared their discoveries, the next step was clear. Searching for the person mumbling about Arkham was a crapshoot leaving the departure out west to Miskatonic the next day.

Chapter IV: Going Out West

The guards opened the west gate allowing them passage into the dark woods of Western Doomwood. Roland led them with Kid and Cry while Sight stood center while Hands and Simon took the back.

As the gates of Amityvale closed behind them and soon faded into the distance, they noticed the woods seemed darker despite being during the early morning hours.

The first sign of the Rose having begun to move out west was the entrance to an old graveyard walled off with bricks, the groans of the dead faintly audible behind the wall.

Carrying on down the road, Sight noticed a black light streak across the sky.

"Captain," she said, pointing towards the beam, her speech unnoticed by Roland.

"Girl, you need to speak up," Hands said. "Captain, there's something in the sky."

Roland looked up, seeing the black light streak across the sky.

"What is that?" It almost looks like it'd come from a lighthouse," Cry remarked.

"A lighthouse? That doesn't make sense, we're nowhere near the coast," Roland said.

"Should we investigate, sir?" Kid asked.

"Make a note of it. Our objective is to get to Miskatonic," Roland began. "Carry on."

They resumed their trek through the woods, the ominous light growing closer and soon the group let out a collective gag as the stench of rotting Drayden Fish assaulted their nostrils.

"By the Avatars!" Hands exclaimed, muffling her face with her arm.

"All right, pick up the pace," Roland ordered.

The smell would eventually fade as the ominous light would soon become less visible.

"When we reach Miskatonic, we'll send a missive to Amityvale, informing them of the strange light. If time permits it, we may even be able to begin a cursory investigation at the university," Roland said, addressing no one in particular.

While their time in Amityvale lessened his doubts about his team to some extent, and the demonstration of situational awareness also helped, he still wasn't completely confident in this group of misfits he was shouldered with, but the real test was yet to come.

"Yes, sir," some of them had said in acknowledgement, possibly as a courtesy.

As the road winded, they caught sight of a section of forest cleared out where a building had begun to be built, presently just a wooden frame, other materials scattered around. Through the frame of the building, they could see another road separated by the dense foliage from the one they were on.

There were no workers on site and no indication that whatever was being built was Rose sanctioned.

"Keep going," Roland ordered.

The woods were strangely quiet, continuing to grow darker as they ventured deeper into them despite the light of the moon indicating, it was still morning. Kid suddenly stopped and reached for his sword, something straight ahead catching his eye.

"What is it, Kid?" Roland asked, looking ahead, not seeing what Kid saw likely because of his reduced vision.

In one swift motion, Kid drew his sword and slashed forward, webs coating his blade as it cut through.

"It's only a spider's web, Kid." Roland said.

Roland was impressed by the keen vision that the recruit demonstrated as Cry who stood beside him as well didn't notice it, but of course neither did he.

"That's not all, sir," Kid replied, slowly turning towards the trees where a large purple spider came crawling out, taking them in with its many eyes.

Large spiders weren't an uncommon sight in Doomwood or Lore in general, but they certainly weren't purple. Not that it mattered as Kid quickly dispatched it.

Withdrawing a rag from his pocket, Kid wiped off his blade before returning it to its sheath.

"We must be close, Captain," Hands said.

They resumed their travels, Roland glancing at Kid. He was quick on the draw and kill, further making him wonder why Kid wasn't a part of a more standard unit if not for the incident that got him benched.

The road curved once more, the woods obstructing the path forward. The road joined with presumably the path they saw on the other side of the structure being built and continuing forward until a town began to come into view, various cliffs behind it in the distance and most notably, the university.

Chapter V: Miskatonic

Their first sight upon entering the town was a group of three people mobbing a large brown spider, a fairly common type found throughout the region and Lore in general.

One person would run the spider through with a pike while another would douse it in pitch from a large bucket they carried, and the third would ignite the body. Some spiders carried their offspring or egg clutches on them, so it made sense to ignite the body especially if there was an infestation as Hands had learned, the townspeople would go to any lengths to try and curb it.

"Hands, Cry," Roland began. "Interview the townspeople and learn what you can about the town and Arkham."

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison, both setting off towards two separate buildings.

"The rest of you, we're going to the university."

"Yes sir," the remaining recruits said.

***

Cry entered a two story building, presumably the town's inn by the looks of the lobby where various adventurers were gathered around, some huddled in corners, others sitting or leaning against walls, a few even seated in chairs.

None of them stood out as being particularly noteworthy clad in robes or armour of various materials, some even looking a lot like his, patchwork pieces as though they had hastily repaired it in the field or even made it themselves.

Behind the counter was a woman who appeared to be in her fifties, an annoyed expression on her face as she glared at the adventurers, some trying to find lodging while others just bummed around the lobby. Her expression didn't change when Cry approached the counter.

"I don't have any available rooms," the woman barked.

Cry was taken slightly aback, but tried to compose himself.

"That won't be necessary, ma'am. I'm with The Rose and I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me."

"The Rose? We've been petitioning them since we got word that they came to Doomwood and you're what they send? You look no different than these loafers calling themselves adventurers. Are we not good enough for you to worry about our plight, is that it?"

"I'm...I'm not from the Amityvale garrison, ma'am. While I...I am interested in knowing about Miskatonic's problem, I'm also here to ask if you know anything about Arkham."

"Why are you stammering like that? Don't tell me you're afraid of an old woman," the woman began. "Of course your priority isn't Miskatonic. Not even the presence of the university managed to entice you lot."

The woman's words stung. Just what was the purpose of The Rose if not to help people? Sure, they couldn't be everywhere at all times, but how long had they been petitioning the Amityvale garrison to make her so immediately scornful?

"You want to know about Arkham? It's further down the road, now unless you're going to say anything about the spider problem, beat it."

"Th...thank you, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am," Cry said hastily leaving the inn.

Cry went around behind the inn, his eyes burning. Why did this always happen? Why'd he always have to react like this to any sort of anger towards him?

Don't cry. If you cry, you lose.

***

Hands entered the town tavern, the sounds of merriment all around her as patrons talked among themselves or yipped and hollered while watching a dancer troupe on the stage, a pianist playing a fast, fun filled tune.

If not for being there on business, she'd have really liked to partake in watching the dancers, it was not something that one would get to see very often if at all in Swordhaven. Of course she'd still watch them, she'd just have to try and not get enamored in the display.

Some of the non-human patrons eyed Hands with suspicion. While this was likely the first contact with The Rose, the town had, it's unlikely they were unheard of.

She approached the counter, put off by a patron crushing a small spider beneath their glass. A sight a large older man with thinning hair wasn't thrilled with either.

"For Avatar's sake, can you not use my glasses to do that?" the man, presumably the keeper of the establishment barked.

"Hey, it's it or me," the one being scolded said, swaying in their seat.

The tavern keeper grumbled under his breath, turning his attention to Hands as she sat down. Much like the non-human patrons, he too looked at her with suspicion.

"What might someone from The Rose be doing here? Finally coming to investigate this spider problem?"

"Yes and no," she began. "We're interested in learning what we can about the town of Arkham first and foremost, but we are also interested in hearing about your problem. There's not much we can do though as I'm not with the Amityvale garrison."

The look on the man's face suggested he wasn't fond of that answer, but he let out an exasperated sigh.

"Further down the road, you'll find Arkham. Really hard to miss with the tower of the asylum sticking out like a sore thumb."

"What can you tell me about the asylum?" Hands asked, leaning forward on the counter.

"Nothing. Only been to Arkham a couple times and it sure wasn't to visit no asylum. Now then, what do you want to know about our problem here?"

"I guess for starters is when did this infestation happen?"

The man scratched his stubble covered chin, pondering his answer. "For as long as I've been alive at least and that's a good almost fifty years. From what I heard, it goes all the way to the town's founding long ago."

"Almost fifty years if not longer of a spider infestation? You'd think at some point, someone would have figured it out by now," Hands said bewildered.

The man shrugged. "Perhaps you're right. It could also be that there are things in this world we're not capable of or meant to solve."

Hands thought about the man's words. Does that apply to Jaania's goal to end magic as well?

"Thank you for your time, sir."

The man gave a slight bow and with another glance at the dancers, Hands left the tavern where she encountered Cry.

"Any luck?" he asked, his voice steady.

"Arkham is further down the road, we'll know it when we see the tower from the asylum. And the spiders have infested the town for anywhere to fifty years if not longer."

Cry was shocked by the revelation that this has been going on for so long.

"How can that even be possible?" he asked. "Wouldn't someone have found a solution by now?"

Hands shrugged and repeated what the man told her. "Anyway, you learn anything?"

"Just that Arkham is down the road. Townspeople aren't big fans of The Rose. Apparently they've been petitioning Amityvale since they got word of their garrison there."

"Figures," Hands began looking around before stepping closer to Cry. "Do you think there's even a point in trying to help these people? What if the tavern keeper is right and this is something no one can solve?"

"We should at least try. Sometimes that's the only thing we can do."

Chapter VI: The University

Roland and the remaining members of his team entered the university, the entrance hall large and dimly lit by lanterns with a strange red glow that looked as though steam was coming off of them.

The light barely illuminated the black marble floor they stood on let alone the rest of the hall, its corners and anything not within their field of vision black like the night sky.

"Strange design choice for a university," Roland said to no one in particular.

Passing from the entrance hall to another hallway straight ahead, it too was lit in the same way, the lanterns glowing blue rather than red where they could see many doors likely lecture halls and offices.

A map would've been nice, but even if there was one posted, they had no way of seeing it.

As they went down the hall, glancing at the doors some of which voices could be heard coming from behind, a white light and the thud of something on the floor began to approach, Kid placing a hand on his sword.

"Who goes there?" came an almost thunderous voice.

Roland raised his hand to gesture for his team to stop before taking a few steps closer. "I am Captain Roland of The Rose. I come here with my team seeking an audience with the dean of this university."

The source of the voice came closer showing a tall man almost as wide as the hallway wearing a long grey coat open enough to show the black robe beneath carrying a lantern radiating a white light in one hand and a halberd in the other. A peculiar sight in a place of learning for sure.

"Are there only the four of you?" the man asked, eyeing the four with suspicion.

"Two others are outside interviewing the townspeople," Roland said.

"Very well, I shall take you to the dean."

The man led them through the hall into other parts of the university dimly lit by lanterns radiating other colours, passing more people dressed as he was, approaching a great set of doors on the second floor.

Upon knocking on the door, a voice bid them to enter.

The dean's office was lined with bookshelves except for the back which featured a large window leading to a balcony, the light of the moon illuminating the office more so than the lamps which didn't feature any peculiar colours.

Sitting behind a desk was an older man, in attire that looked like it may have been formal attire at a point in time no one that wasn't his age could recall or was alive to experience, who gestured for the group's guide to leave.

The man looked up from what he was doing, pushing a pair of spectacles up the bridge of his nose and looked the four over.

"And what can I do for you?" he asked, his voice hoarse.

Roland stepped forward and gave a slight bow. "I am Captain Roland of The Rose, Swordhaven garrison. My team and I have been sent to Doomwood to search out the town of Arkham and we come to ask you some questions and request your assistance."

"Oh, you've come to request our assistance? Yet when we request your assistance, we don't even get a response. It's not easy sending couriers through Doomwood, you know. We have lost many in our quest to petition for your aid and those that do return come bearing no news," the man asked, venom seeping into his voice.

"I understand your frustration, sir. I hope during our time here that we may petition Amityvale to assist you."

"Your words are nice, but ultimately mean nothing to me," the man began. "My authority is only over this building, you will want to speak to the mayor about petitioning Amityvale. What I can decide is whether or not to allow you access to university resources you may require in your own quest."

"Any assistance you decide to lend would be greatly appreciated, sir. And I will personally speak to mayor about my intent on petitioning Amityvale to assist this town."

"I certainly have nothing to lose allowing you make use of our resources assuming that it doesn't hinder the university in any way of course. Speak with one of the watchers and they will lead you to the library or anywhere else you feel might be useful to you."

"Thank you, sir," Roland said with a slight bow.

Making their leave, Roland did as the dean had said and asked one of the university's watchers to lead them to the library which took them into a basement and beyond a large set of double doors which lead to a massive library unlike anything any of them had ever seen before.

"Sight, Simon, find out what you can about the spider infestation and Arkham. Kid and I will rendezvous with Cry and Hands before speaking with the mayor."

"Yes, sir," the two said and began scouring the aisles upon aisles of books while Roland and Kid set out back to the main floor and the entrance hall. Going by the moon shining into the dean's office, night was approaching.

Chapter VII: The Library

The library of Miskatonic University was as strange as the halls they traversed as it too was lit by the same lamps, each aisle marked by a different colour illuminating a placard identifying the contents of that aisle's shelves, but not providing enough light for either of them to identify the various books and tomes lining the shelves without straining their eyes.

It was peculiar that a library would be so dark, but they supposed that the eyes of the people of Doomwood had adapted to the darkness especially the type which persist long after the clouds had parted as was the case for Miskatonic.

Simon squinted and strained her eyes trying to identify the titles of the tomes and books that lined the shelves, running her fingers along the spines of various titles, feeling the smooth, slightly raised text that differentiated it from the rough texture of their spines and covers, but unable to identify their words.

"Can I help you?" a male voice asked, startling Simon.

She could barely see who addressed her in the darkness, his attire looking rather ordinary from what little she could see.

"My associate and I are looking for information on this town and Arkham," she said, slowly backing away from the man.

"You two want the local history section. It is marked by a purple lantern."

"Thank you," she said turning away from the man to seek out the purple lantern, relieved to be away from the man and to be by herself once more.

***

Sight wandered between the aisles, squinting and straining her eyes to see the words on the placards from behind her glasses. Who thought that it was a good idea to make a library so dark and for what reason?

She continued her search until she began to hear footsteps approaching from behind. Turning around she could faintly see the outline of Simon, her facial jewelry and the various trinkets hanging from her robes reflecting in the faint light.

Sight gazed upon Simon's outline which stopped approaching. Sight had noticed when they arrived in Amityvale that Simon had an aversion to physical contact and apparently dislike of being near others possibly explaining why she became an Energizer when joining the Rose.

Sight was strangely interested in Simon from the modifications to her attire to her asocial tendencies to something else she was unsure of. What was their significance? What was the reason for her behaviour? What was the reason for her own interest in Simon?

"Have you learned anything, Simon?" Sight asked, her voice amplified by the dead silence of the library allowing her to be heard for the first time since she could remember.

Her voice carried another thing which she didn't think would be present, but wasn't troubled by. Joy.

"The section marked with a purple lantern," Simon said in the same tired tone she seemed to always speak in.

Sight let out a relieved sigh as she glanced at the rainbow of aisles that she was prepared to skim until finally finding the correct one and beamed at Simon, the faint light being too weak to illuminate her face.

While their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, it wasn't enough to make the titles of the books and tomes visible to them making their search an exercise in frustration.

As before, Simon felt along the spines of the books and tomes, hoping to be able to decipher a title from the text inscribed in them while Sight squinted and strained trying to read them.

While Simon could feel the difference in texture between the text and the spines of the various tomes and books she touched, the words were much too small for her to trace the letters with her fingers as though they were manufactured in a way that they were intentionally difficult to find if one wasn't born with what she assumed would be the eyes of those who inhabited Doomwood.

Sight took a cue from Simon and began to feel along the spines of the various tomes and books while still squinting to try and decipher their text.

During her search, Sight's hand fell upon Simon's and while Simon recoiled and backed away, Sight felt as though a bolt of lightning had just run through her body.

"S...sorry," Sight said, opening and closing her hand mentally replaying the moment over and over again.

Simon fell silent her body overcome with fear, but berating herself internally.

I have no reason to fear her, but I...it's all their fault.

Chapter VIII: The Mayor

She looked over the town from her office, grimacing at the sight of the Rose members as they left the university to meet up with the two who wandered about the town bothering its citizens.

The people of Miskatonic petitioned the Rose multiple times and now that they were present, they didn't even come to her first.

***

"What have you learned?" Roland asked the two.

"Arkham is further down the road, sir." Cry stated.

"On top of that, the asylum is also quite real. As we near the town, a tower belonging to it should become noticeable." Hands said.

"Anything about the town's spider problem?" Roland asked.

"According to the tavernmaster, the spider infestation has been ongoing for nearly fifty years, but may go as far back as the town's founding."

"And according to Sight and Simon's findings in Amityvale, it's possible Miskatonic was founded not long after Amityvale which means the infestation has been ongoing for longer than anyone living can recall," Roland added.

Roland put a hand to his chin in thought, tapping the masked half of his face with his finger.

With what information they had, it seemed as though a solution was non-existent, but he was honour bound to speak to the mayor and try to petition the Amityvale garrison to assist the town. Even as a token gesture, it was the best that he could do.

"All right, let us go speak with the mayor. We will plot our next course of action afterwards."

"Yes, sir," the three said in unison."

It was with their best guess that the building near the rear of the town featuring a large picture window on the second floor was the town hall. To one side was a simple palisade wall with sharpened stakes protruding from the base leading from the building somewhere off in the distance.

On the other side of the building was a group of four people standing between the building and another palisade wall. Two were armed with pikes while the others carried torches. Beside them hanging from the wall was a lantern much like the ones in the university, a faint green light radiating from it. Unseen in the dark were buckets of pitch.

The interior of the building was sparsely furnished with a few chairs on the side walls flanking small tables holding oil lamps adding more light to the room than the lanterns flanking the door that gave off a faint white light. At the end of the room was a desk with another lamp between two staircases.

The room had two windows that flanked the door.

Sitting at the desk was a younger man in fairly plain attire who looked at them with an expression that suggested he had expected their arrival.

"Welcome to Miskatonic. How may I assist you?" he asked in a tone that Roland thought was too cheerful.

"We would like to request an audience with the mayor," Roland said approaching the desk, the others following a couple paces behind.

"Certainly. To be honest, we were expecting you a lot sooner."

A chill ran down Roland's spine. If this man was trying to get under their skin, he was on the right track.

"If you'll follow me upstairs," the man said standing up and gesturing to a staircase.

Unlike the front room, the stairwell was not lit in any way while the hall it led to was. The hallway featured multiple doors with each one marked by a lantern of a different colour.

"What's with the lanterns?" Cry asked.

"Thank you for asking. The lanterns burn a particular incense that we theorize and hope keeps the spiders at bay. Each colour is a different incense which we hope to find one that works," the man said, his cheerful tone never faltering.

Cry thought about the brief conversation he had with Hands. He believed that the best thing they could do was try which was what the townspeople were doing even though they had no way of knowing whether or not what they were doing was even working.

It was admirable in a way, but with the information available to him it made it seem that what they were doing was ultimately futile.

They came to a set of double doors flanked by lanterns that radiated a pale blue light. The young man knocked on the door opening it and leading the four in when prompted to enter.

"Good evening, ma'am. The Rose members have arrived," he said, his tone even more cheerful.

Obscured by a chair behind a desk, a light haired woman stared out the picture window, not looking away to face her visitors.

"You may leave, Charles," the woman said.

The man identified as Charles left the room, closing the door behind him.

"So what brings you to my humble little town? Have you finally decided to answer our petitions?" the woman asked, a hint of growing malice in her voice.

"I'd like to begin by saying we're not from the Amityvale garrison. Our primary objective is to learn what we can about Arkham and its asylum before setting off there to continue our mission. Learning about Miskatonic and doing what we can to aid in your problem is secondary," Roland said matter of factly.

"So what you're telling me is none of you are going to be of any help to myself or this town and its people?" she said scornfully.

"While we're here, I will do anything I can to aid this town. I will even personally petition the Amityvale garrison," Roland said sternly.

"Words without action are meaningless. If you do intend on aiding this town, you will need to provide material results."

"Then let me begin by asking if there's a courier in town and I will follow through on my word."

Roland tried his best to stay level headed. Unlike Cry who was having less success of keeping it together despite the woman's harsh words not being directed towards him, Roland had many years of practice with keeping his composure in the face of harsh scrutiny going back to his younger days as an apprentice blacksmith and later dragonslayer.

"Unfortunately, we do not nor will we as we have lost too many people already in trying to get a message to Amityvale and those that do manage to survive the trip there and back have never gotten a response. But if you're so adamant on this, maybe one of those good for nothing adventurers lingering around the town can be of use to you."

"Thank you, ma'am. You have my word that there will be a Rose presence in Miskatonic in the near future. And with that, we'll take our leave."

With a slight bow, Roland turned away, having never seen the woman's face during the whole discussion and left her office, his squad following behind. Outside the man identified as Charles stood outside the door, a smile too large to be genuine plastered across his face.

"Allow me to show you folks out," he said.

Upon exiting the town hall, they could see the lights in various buildings having gone out, presumably the townspeople having turned in for the night leaving only the strange incense lanterns lit outside their homes.

Aside from themselves, the only others on the street were the town watch, those near the palisade gathered around the burning body of what they could only assume was a spider.

"Let us rendevous with Sight and Simon. We'll need to consider something to do for lodging for the night."

Chapter IX: Resemblance

They rendezvoused with Sight and Simon outside the university with neither looking like they had good news to share.

"Report," Roland ordered.

"As you know, the library is incredibly dark and we were unable to find anything," Sight said, disappointment in her voice.

"I should've known," Roland began."Anyway, we need lodging for the night and then I need to get a message to Amityvale."

"Sir, if I may," Cry asked, continuing when granted permission. "The innkeeper informed me that there are no rooms available."

Roland put a hand to his chin in thought. That complicated matters and there was no way he could expropriate even one room in good faith. And with the views expressed about the Rose, even asking a random townsperson was out of the question.

"I may be able to remedy this problem, Captain," Kid said. "Just allow me to speak to the innkeeper."

It would be a gamble and the unnerving feeling Kid gave him made him doubly nervous, but there was no other option readily available.

***

"Wait here," Kid had said before entering the inn leaving his squadmates and captain outside waiting to speculate what he would be doing inside.

Much like when Cry went to the inn, the lobby was crowded with adventurers most of whom had fallen asleep wherever they sat or in some cases stood.

The innkeeper appeared to have been preparing to turn in for the night herself when she saw Kid.

"Like I told the other one, I don't have any rooms avail...able. You...you look just like..." she trailed off her complexion becoming supernaturally pale.

Kid looked the woman over, trying to estimate her age. It was a long shot that there'd be anyone in this town who may recognize him, but his aim was true.

"My grandfather, most likely," he said in a calm tone that sounded almost sinister.

"There were others after Samuel...?" the woman asked quizzically, fear starting to creep into her voice.

There had been tales of the old families passed around town for as long as anyone can seem to remember. Tales that frightened the children and even some adults without the use of obvious exaggeration.

"You seem much too young to have even seen my great grandfather let alone even know his name," Kid said somewhat impressed.

"We fear the old families as we fear the spiders," the woman said trying to find the steel her voice had carried when dealing with Cry and the adventurers that plague her establishment.

"As you should. Now then, why not direct that fear into something productive? I need at least three rooms and don't that tell me you don't have any, I know you only say that to try and drive the adventurers away."

***

They stood in the second floor hallway, three of them clutching a key, the curiosity of what Kid did prodding at their mind.

"Keep in mind, fraternizing within the ranks of the Rose has consequences as I'm sure you are all aware of," Roland said as he entered a room with Kid.

The lobby hadn't been turned into a killing floor which was a relief, but it didn't dispel the feeling of unease he felt around Kid which only grew stronger at the endless possibilities of how the rooms were secured that unfolded in his mind.

Chapter X: Nighttime Conversation

Cry and Hands entered their room, Cry slowly closing the door behind him, his movements suggesting nervousness.

"Relax," Hands began. "I'm not going to jump your bones. You heard the Captain, afterall, no fraternizing."

"You don't seem like the type to obey that particular rule," Cry said sitting on one of the two beds the room had to offer.

"I can't imagine why you believe that, but if you must know, it's quite easy to get people especially men to tell you what you want to hear if you appeal to their more...base desires."

"Do you really believe that?" Cry asked, his nervousness starting to cede.

"I've had no reason not to..." she began to trail off. "I'll let you know something that's not even mentioned in my registry for the Rose, but you keep it to yourself, okay?"

"Um, yeah," Cry said confused.

"I assume you know what a honeypot is, right?"

"You would s-"

"If necessary," Hands interrupted. "It wasn't often it came to that part before killing the target."

"You were an assassin?" Cry asked bewildered.

"Yes. I come from the Shadow of the Wind village and...I'm not sure why. I wanted to do something that didn't involve killing and...I don't think what we're supposed to do is noble let alone possible."

Cry thought long and hard about her words. He too just wanted to do the right thing, but who was it right for?

"I think the best thing we can do is what's right for us."

***

Sight and Simon's room featured two beds separated by a small table with a lamp, a couple chairs and more tables also featuring lamps and a small room for washing and bathing. All three of the rooms they would occupy all looked identical.

Each of them sat on a bed, Simon's back to Sight who wanted to say something to her, but wasn't sure what or why.

"What do you think of me?" Simon asked, startling Sight.

"What do you mean?" she replied, audibly shaken.

"In the library, you seemed happy to see me and even in the dim light of the lanterns, I could tell you were staring at me. I'd like to know why."

A red tint came over Sight's face, her teeth biting down on her bottom lip to keep a smile from forming that while Simon would not see it, she felt it was necessary.

"I'm...I'm not actually sure. I find you...interesting," Sight began wishing she chose a better word. "I'd like to know more about you, the significance of the jewelry hanging from your attire, your piercings, and..." she trailed off unsure of what to say.

There was something else, but while she could feel it, she just couldn't put it into words.

"You're not...put off by me?"

"No. The opposite in fact," Sight said, her face growing redder and redder.

"But why not? I'm sure you've seen by now I'm not exactly normal. Even in comparison to everyone else on the team. Err...present company excluded."

Sight let out a small laugh, but in the quiet room between the two of them, the others probably could probably hear it as well.

"It's not about 'normalcy,' it's about you. It's you I'm interested in because you are you."

"But why," Simon protested. "You still haven't said why unless..." she trailed off unwilling to finish her thought.

It can't be that. That'd be impossible.

"Maybe...maybe it's love."

***

"That was quite impressive that you were able to secure us lodging despite our circumstances," Roland said. "How did you do it?"

"Thank you, sir. To be honest, I just asked politely," Kid said humbly.

The feeling of unease Roland got from Kid crept upon him like a persistent itch. The amount of distrust and disdain be it subtle or blatant they had received since entering the town had Roland doubting Kid's story.

He dreaded the idea of sleeping in the same room as him, but it was better him than one of the others under his command.

He thought back to the roster he was given back in Swordhaven before the mission began. The information was vague and didn't tell him a great deal of information on any of them beyond what was apparently deemed necessary.

Cry came from some farming community some distance from Oaklore which he had no reason to doubt.

Sight also came from somewhere near Oaklore and thinking about it, he could see a resemblance between her and Loremaster Maya, so it is possible the two have met and Sight styled her hair after the Loremaster.

Hands came from Falconreach and while there was nothing apparent to make him doubt that, he felt like there was something not right about this information.

The information on Kid was strangest yet. The roster said he came from Willowshire which he wasn't even aware if there had been any Rose activity there or in the Deadlands in general. There was no mention of any ties to the Guardians or anything for that matter.

Lastly the entry on Simon said she comes from somewhere on the border of the Maguswoods and the Sandsea which in itself was curious as he recalled no one ever mentioning such a place during the time the Rose went into the Sandsea. But at the end, he had no reason to question her origins. While she came off as strange, she didn't bring with her the sense of unease that Kid did.

He was definitely hiding something.

< Message edited by NagisaXIkari -- 10/5/2019 7:01:45 >
DF  Post #: 1
6/13/2019 6:12:31   
NagisaXIkari
Member

Interlude I: Always Watching

Madness was not something that usually happened instantaneously. Sometimes it would occur in days or weeks, but it often took months or even years to set in and while it waited, it would watch over the town of Arkham from above as those down below slowly began to succumb to the allure of madness as it did for many years and would continue to do for many more to come.

From its vantage point, it could see far off into the distance. It couldn't see in great detail, but it could see Miskatonic to the west and their vain struggle against the spiders unaware of just what was causing the infestation. And further east, it could see the town of Dunwich whose people kept to themselves, isolated and completely ignorant of the world outside their little town.

It was always watching as it did for many years before and would continue to do so for many more after.

Chapter XI: The Missive

Roland thought he had awoken long before the other members of his squad, but in the darkness, he could see the outline of Kid sitting on the edge of his bed as if awaiting orders.

"Morning, sir," Kid said.

That uneasy feeling crept up on Roland. Does he even sleep? It was obvious Simon didn't, but what was his deal?

"Morning, Kid," Roland said, trying to steel his voice. "We have work to do, the two of us."

It was a lie, but he had no intention of leaving Kid alone with the others. Not until he knew Kid could be trusted.

"Yes, sir," Kid said standing up, picking his helmet and sword off of the floor.

***

The inn lobby was full with the cluttered outlines of various adventurers that slept wherever they could while through the windows, they could see the faint glow of the torches the townwatch carried in their quest of purging the spiders.

The town was dark even by the standards of Doomwood and the seemingly supernatural veil of black that hung over them like the light from the lighthouse they saw on the way into Miskatonic persisted. It would appear that it was still much too early to conduct any business, but it would give Roland an opportunity to further question Kid.

"What are we going to do, sir?" Kid asked.

"Still much too early to find a means of getting a message to Amityvale, so until then I was hoping to get to know you better. You appear to be a good soldier, but some things aren't adding up."

"Ask anything you'd like, sir. I have nothing to hide."

"Let's start at the beginning. You're from Willowshire, correct?" Roland asked.

"Yes, sir. Born and raised. The land still bares the scars left behind by the earth dragon."

Due to the lack of Rose presence in the Deadlands, he had no way of knowing if this was true or not. While Kid looked much too young to know anything about the dragon, he could just look young. Not to mention, the attack on Willowshire and the events that followed was a major historical event. Anyone with access to a library could learn this information and thus weave their own story based around it.

"Why would you travel such a distance to join the Rose?" Roland began. "Willowshire's Guardians weren't recruiting?"

"The Guardians were unable to protect Willowshire, or the orb they were charged with protecting. The Rose offered a possibility to do what Guardians could not."

A pretty standard story given by a lot of recruits, especially those from places where a Guardian presence still existed and especially those old enough to remember what happened with the orbs and Wargoth.

"One last question, tell me about your first field operation. Pretty standard flush out and apprehend a group of clawkin, correct?"

"Yes, sir. We were some distance from the border of Greensguard and Doomwood. Locals in the area had a problem with clawkin raiding their food stores, so we were tasked to find and apprehend them. It did not go as planned."

"Meaning that there were casualties, correct?" Roland asked.

So far what he was being told was consistent with the roster, but there was still some crucial information missing. Clawkins were only a threat to civilians and only the most bumbling of new adventurers. It made no sense for a group the size of the one he was leading to be reduced to one person, a new recruit at that.

"Correct, sir. As you know, I was the only survivor of that operation."

"Can you explain the events of that operation?" Roland asked. "Out of that team, you were the only new member while the others were veteran members. It seems quite odd to me that a group of beasts that are barely a threat to even novice adventurers could wipe out nearly the entire squad."

"Everyone has a bad day, sir. If one person isn't in top form, it can effect the morale and performance of the others."

Kid wasn't wrong about everyone having a bad day. The mask covering half of Roland's face was testament to that. It didn't do anything to lessen the unease Roland felt though and would require a more thorough investigation.

"Thank you, that will be all."

***

Roland's inquiry was useless without whatever information the Rose had gathered in their investigation, but until he could make contact with Swordhaven, he had to focus on his objective in Miskatonic.

Roland began at the tavern which even in the early morning was bustling with activity, although most of that activity was from the adventurers. Approaching the counter, he was given a halfhearted greeting by the same man Hands had spoken to who had just admonished someone for crushing a spider with a glass.

"Excuse me, sir," Roland began.

"How many more of you are there?" the tavernmaster asked, voice filled with frustration. "Say your piece and be quick, too early in the morning for this Rose ineptitude."

"I need to send a missive. Is there a courier in town?" Roland asked, trying to keep his own frustration down.

What made him want to spend any more time in this town than the mission outline stated? From inquiring about Arkham, he was on day two of trying to aid the people of Miskatonic with a spider infestation. The information Hands had gotten was more than enough for them to continue, but he was determined to do something to aid the people of Miskatonic.

"No. If you're really desperate, try one of these adventurers sitting around doing nothing. One of them might want to do something to pay their tab."

When Roland walked away, the tavernmaster caught a glance of Kid and quickly turned away, a chill running down his spine. It had to have been his imagination. He had heard the stories and seen some old pictures, but there was no way what he saw was actually real. The old families as great and powerful as they were were long gone, but something about that Rose member made the tavernmaster's blood run cold.

***

Gathered around a table were a group of adventurers who looked at Roland and Kid's approach with disinterest.

They had generally shoddy equipment and sending any of them would be tantamount to sending them marching to their deaths in the event that they were attacked.

"What do you want?" one adventurer in a barely holding together robe over equally ratty clothing sniped.

"I need a message sent to the Amityvale Rose garrison. Whoever accepts will be paid for accepting the job and delivering the message," Roland said not at all keen on the depths he viewed himself as sinking to.

One adventurer, a rogue-looking type put a hand to their chin in thought. Accepting the job would put some money in their pocket and wasn't like they had to risk life and limb to go to Amityvale. They moved their hand and were about to speak when a scythe wielding adventurer in leather and steel riveted armour spoke up.

"I'll deliver your message," they said. "You won't expect me to have to return here for the other half of the payment, do you?"

"No. The message contains instructions for the magus stationed about compensating you. I cannot guarantee he will, but I trust that they will. With that and the inherent risk of the task, do you still accept?"

"Anything to put some money in my pocket and get out. There's nothing out here, but an impossible task and death."

Roland handed over a sealed envelope containing a missive he had written the night before and a handful of coins to the adventurer who immediately set off.

Today would be the day they departed for Arkham, but he would need to decide who to leave to rendezvous with the Amityvale should any arrive. They'd be given two days to wait and assist the people of Miskatonic and if no one from Amityvale arrived, they would then depart for Arkham.

Deciding on who would be the difficult part. With no reason to trust Kid, that left him with four options.

Chapter XII: To Arkham

The night had been awkward for all of them. Despite their short time together, each of them seemed to have found someone among their squad mates that they were comfortable with enough to confide in or reveal a major part of who they were.

Cry was unsure how to handle the information Hands had told him. He of course kept it to himself as he said he would, not like there really was anyone else to tell anyways, but the revelation that he was working alongside a former assassin weighed heavily on his mind.

Hands had the opposite feeling. She felt relieved to have shared that piece of information about herself. That feeling of relief was lessened by the lingering guilt that came with being in the Rose and having just dumped a massive burden on Cry's shoulders.

Sight and Simon had similar conflicts from their exchange during the night. Neither were sure how to handle what had been said and attempted to sleep without another word.

Both were wracked with confusion, but Sight was relieved to an extent that Simon's reaction was only silence rather than something worse.

***

The four met with Roland and Kid outside the inn, the visible half of Roland's face showed something weighed heavily on his mind.

"I contracted an adventurer to deliver the missive. I will need at least two of you to stay here for no longer than two days to meet anyone from the Amityvale garrison, should they arrive. During that time, the two of you are to aid the people of Miskatonic in any capacity. Should anyone from Amityvale arrive, you are to brief them on the current situation and then make your way down the road to Arkham."

"And if no one arrives, sir?" Cry asked.

"Then you make your way to Arkham."

Cry wasn't fond of the order. It was enough that they were already distrusted on account of being part of the Rose, but to abandon a town in need made him feel even worse about what he was doing.

Roland took a moment to consider who'd be best to have stay in Miskatonic. Kid was out of the question until he could get more information on that field operation. There was also the question of how he secured lodging for them. Kid saying that he had just asked politely was incredibly farfetched to Roland.

He considered Hands as while Cry served the same role, Hands had so far always been able to deliver more information, although whether or not that had to do with their abilities or other factors was unknown to him, but with what he knew, it would be best to have Hands for conducting any interviews in Arkham.

Sight and Simon were on par with each other for information gathering, so it made no difference to Roland which one he chose to stay in Miskatonic.

"Cry, Simon, you two will remain in Miskatonic. Remember, no longer than two days and then make your way to Arkham where the rest of us will be. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison.

***

As the two watched the others depart, Cry thought about what it meant that their order to him meant they'd be abandoning Miskatonic to what peril fate had in store for them.

When Simon was that certain the others were out of earshot before springing a question on Cry that came as an enormous shock to him.

"What do you know about love?"

***

The road to Arkham grew darker as they got farther and farther from Miskatonic despite the lack of an overhanging canopy. It was just like the road to Miskatonic, but there was a sinister feeling to it like something was lurking just out of view in the eerie early morning darkness.

Despite or in spite of the darkness, anyone who was keeping their eyes peeled would eventually see the outline of a tower staring off into the distance or maybe staring at them, watching their approach.

***

"That's...that's an odd thing to ask," Cry said, flabbergasted.

"My apologies. Forget I said anything," Simon said, looking away from Cry to hide her embarrassment.

"I can't say I know much if anything at all, but if I had to guess, I'd say that it's better than happiness, but also worse than sadness."

Cry thought back many years ago as he recalled a life that seemed so alien to him in the present. He tried to picture the face of the one who whenever he saw it, set his heart aflame and chilled it to the core whenever he didn't see them. He couldn't recall a face or even a name, but he recalled how just seeing them made him feel.

"I see...." Simon said, trailing off as she thought about Cry's words.

She wasn't opposed to what Sight had said, she actually found it welcoming. It was the first time anyone had said something like that to her and it made her feel happy for what seemed like the first time in her life.

"Thank you," she said to Cry's surprise.

***

As the roaded winded and turned, the position of the tower never seemed to change as though something was trying to keep it in view at all times.

It was enough to send a collective chill up the spines of most of them.

This doesn't feel right, Hands thought. We shouldn't be going to this place.

It was only by turning her attention to the ground below that she could no longer see the tower, but it only made the feeling as though she were being watched intensify until she could no longer bear it and had to look up and see the foreboding tower.

As the tower drew closer and closer, they couldn't help but feel as though something was calling them to it.

Chapter: XIII: The Town Behind the Wall

As with the tower, the walls surrounding the town of Arkham came into view.

The town being surrounded by walls meant that fortifying it would be even easier once the Rose could move into Arkham.

Along the walls were a few people carrying crudely forged weapons who eyed the Rose with suspicion as they approached the gate.

"We seek entry," Roland called to the guards standing above the gate.

"State your business," one called out.

"We come to investigate the asylum," Roland said.

The guards talked among themselves for a couple minutes before opening the gate.

"Your funeral," one guard called out.

Roland looked up at the guard with suspicion. Roland didn't detect any threat or suspicion in their voice, but it was still a very peculiar thing to say.

"Be on your guard," Roland said to his squad in a hushed tone.

Sitting atop the hill, they could see the asylum also surrounded by stone walls much like the town looking over the town. The rest of the town was similar to Miskatonic or any other town with a number of buildings, mostly house scattered about, separated by roads and alleys.

The most prominent was a two story building with a large sign with the word Callahan's painted on it. It seemed like the best place to begin their investigation.

Roland pushed open the door and a wave of music greeted them. To Hands, the tavern was no different than the one in Miskatonic including a troupe of dancers which she tried to keep from being enamoured by.

Roland caught sight of an older one-eyed man behind the bar whose face looked like he had seen his share of battles.

"Find somewhere to sit, I'll conduct the interview," Roland said as he approached the bar.

"Greetings, and well met," the one-eyed man who was presumably Callahan said.

"And to you as well," Roland said.

"What can I do you for?"

"I'm looking for some information. I'm Captain Roland of the Rose, Swordhaven garrison and I've been tasked with investigating the town of Arkham, more specifically, the asylum. We believe that it may be useful to our cause."

The man leaned against the counter, his gaze hardening. "I don't know anything about this Rose you work for, nor do I care. I can tell you to abandon your mission and forget about this place, but I know you won't and it's up to the mayor to decide who can and cannot stay. But what I can say is forget all about the asylum. Nothing good has come from there and it continues to haunt this town."

***

Hands watched the dancers with an almost childlike wonder while Sight stared down at the table, her mind still on the night before.

Meanwhile, Kid slowly looked around at the patrons of the tavern, a stoic expression on his face.

By the way the one-eyed man leaned towards Captain Roland, Kid could and would correctly guess that he was warning Roland to abandon their mission. A wise choice that Roland wasn't likely to take.

***

"I'm afraid I can't do that. Whatever it is that plagues the asylum and this town, we will do everything in our power to get rid of it," Roland said.

The man chuckled. "You would not be the first to say that and you will likely not be the last and all who did were unable to keep their word. Whatever haunts that place is not something that one can expunge just by hitting it enough times. It's..." the main trailed off as he felt a chill creep up his spine. "It is best left well alone until all that remains of this town is dust."

"If you say so. But if you'd excuse me, I should return to my squad."

"One more thing," the one-eyed man began. "It's best if you keep this matter quiet. Folks around these parts don't take kindly to people be they local or otherwise poking around about the asylum."

"Understood," Roland lied.

At the table where his squad had gathered, calling them to attention when noticing all but Kid were lost in their own thoughts. Had Kid been lost in thought like the other two, it would have made him appear almost normal.

"We are going to meet the mayor and find out all we can about the asylum and once Cry and Simon return, we begin our expedition of the asylum. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the three said in unison.

***

Outside the tavern, Roland and his squad looked over the town. The architecture was similar to that of Miskatonic with many of the houses featuring gambrel roofs that swayed and sagged over attics while those made for commerce or reasons beyond habitation differed slightly mainly they being larger than residential buildings.

The biggest exception being Arkham Asylum that loomed over the rest of the town, its dark tower casting a shadow even in the darkness that cast a veil over Doomwood since they began their journey to Miskatonic.

Passing through the streets, some of the towns residents seemed to be going out of their way to avoid them, giving them wide berths or crossing the street to avoid them only looking at them to gawk.

It was hard to tell why the townspeople were avoiding them out of either mistrust or even fear.

One thing was certain though, many of the townspeople who went out of their way to avoid the Rose were mumbling mostly without any coherence, but Roland was certain he had heard one legible word.

"It's him."

Chapter XIV:Meetings & Appreciation

Cry and Simon approached the town watch members who stood near town hall. They had at least two days before they could set off to Arkham and figured that it would be best to continue to investigate Miskatonic.

"You're still here?" a man holding a torch asked, his tone indicating he was none too pleased with their presence.

"Yes, sir," Cry said, trying to steel his nerves. "We'll be here for the next two days at the most waiting for a response from the Amityvale garrison. Until then, we're continuing our investigation and lending any that support we can."

Another man, this one leaning on a pike scoffed. "Is that so? Haven't you been told already, this has been going on for longer than most of us here have been alive. What makes you think that you can hope to change what others haven't been able to do over decades?"

"We can at least try. The Rose has resources that may alleviate the problem or maybe even put an end to it."

"Pfft, you really are something, you know that?" the man with the torch said.

"Reminds me of myself when I was younger," the man leaning against a pike said. "Holding on to ideals that maybe I, or any of those adventurers that are now just freeloading, could do something about."

The man leaning against the pike stood up straight and stretched.

"Hold on to those ideals as long as you can, kid. Eventually it won't be long before they're shattered and you're just as pessimistic as the rest of us."

"Right..." Cry said.

"Where do the spiders come from?" Simon asked.

"There's a series of caves in the hills beyond here. We try to be the first line against them, but it doesn't always work. Some burrow out of the ground in the middle of town, once heard of one burrowing through the floor of someone's house." the man with the torch said.

"Have there been any expeditions into the caves?" Cry asked, feeling more relaxed.

"Over the years, but never too deep. Those who tried to go in deeper never returned. Tried to brick the entrance up, but again they burrow out into the town and some of the bigger spiders eventually knock the wall down. We don't even know if there's only one entrance." the man who had been leaning against a pike said.

"I see. Thank you for your time," Cry said.

"One more thing," the man who has been leaning against a pike said. "It may not seem like it, but we are grateful for the assistance you and yours have pledged. Even if it doesn't amount to much, it's nice to know that we're not forgotten in this dark corner of the world."

***

Roland and company came up to a two story building that bore a resemblance to Miskatonic's town hall although was much more lit up. The resemblance persisted upon entering in the way that the lobby was set up although instead of two sets of stairs leading up, only one led up while the other led down to what they would assume to be a basement.

Behind a desk sat a woman around Roland's age who gazed at them behind a small pair of glasses, squinting at them as they approached.

"How may I help the...fi...four of you?" she asked.

"I am Captain Roland of The Rose, Swordhaven garrison, my team and I are here to investigate the asylum and we come to seek an audience with the mayor of this town."

The woman's eyes widened beyond the lenses of her glasses as a look of horror took over her face.

"With all due respect, I would advise you to not do that. What I would instead do is turn around and return to Swordhaven," the woman said in a panicked tone.

"I appreciate the concern, ma'am, but I am afraid we cannot do that."

The woman closed her eyes and took, a deep breath and then exhaled. "Very well, if nothing I say will change your views, then that just leaves the mayor."

The woman stood up and gestured for them to follow her down the stairs.

"I will need to ask your party to wait outside the mayor's office if her chooses to speak with you. I'm afraid it's not made to accomodate so many people," the woman said as she led them to the lower floor.

The town hall's lower floor was less illuminated than the main floor, but was not comparable to the lower floor of Miskatonic University which was a welcome sight. Roland thought that perhap once Simon and Cry made their way to Arkham, perhaps she and Sight could be able to look through anything that could be useful to their investigation should the mayor permit it.

The lower floor was a wide room sectioned off into multiple smaller rooms with boxes stacked outside a couple of rooms making it appear more like a repurposed storage room rather than where the managing of a town took place.

The woman stopped them outside a door with the word mayor crudely scrawled on it.

"Please wait for a moment," the woman said before entering the room and closing the door behind her.

***

Cry thought about what the man had told him about how the townspeople appreciated the help that the Rose had pledged to them even if only because it meant they weren't forgotten and it made him feel happy.

A show of gratitude made Cry feel as if in some small way they were making a difference.

"Do you believe we can achieve what we pledged to do here?" Simon asked.

"I don't know. Hands asked me a similar question and I'll tell you what I told her. We should at least try. Sometimes it's the only thing that we can do."

"You have a very optimistic outlook. It's...charming in a way."

Cry thought back to his hometown and the people there and one person in particular. He still couldn't remember a name or face, just the feeling he got when seeing them and when he didn't. They had said something similar to him and how it made him feel.

"Thank you."

***

The door opened and the woman stepped out, squinting from behind her glasses as she looked them over as if she forgot who she was meaning to address.

"The mayor will see you, but due to current conditions, only one of you may enter."

"I see," Roland said. "Thank you."

As Roland stepped into the mayor's office, closing the door behind him the woman stopped and looked at Kid, squinting and adjusting her glasses.

"You look familiar. Are you from here?" she asked.

"I am not, ma'am," Kid said his voice holding no indication he was lying.

"I apologize, afraid my vision isn't what it used to be."

"No need to apologize, ma'am."

***

The mayor's office was lit mainly by candlelight with a of couple lamps showing that it looked more like a storage room like where Sight and Simon conducted their investigation in Amityvale than where someone would run a town. The only furnishings in the room besides the lamps were a desk and a pair of chairs one of which a skittish looking man in disheveled clothing sat in behind the desk.

"I apologize for the mess, we're in the process of moving offices from the top floor. Please, have a seat," the man said gesturing the chair opposite of where he sat.

"Thank you, Mr. Mayor," Roland said as he sat down.

"Anywho, let's get right to it," the man began, mild panic entering his voice. "I cannot allow you and your team to enter Arkham Asylum. We've already lost so many to that accursed place, it wouldn't bode well if we let someone of your...prestige enter and be claimed by it."

Roland was perplexed by the man's words. While he was given the rank of Captain, he did not see himself as anything more than just someone from an obscure town in the far reaches of Dragesvard. It actually took a considerable amount of willpower to not begin laughing.

"I can assure you, sir, not only am I, but my team as well are prepared to face whatever may lurk the halls of the asylum. As are other members of The Rose who may be garrisoned in Arkham should our evaluation of the building yield positive results."

"It's not what's in the asylum, it's the asylum itself," the man began, his voice becoming more and more shrill. "It is cursed down to its very foundation, tainting the land and all who inhabit it. It's not something you can just swing a sword at and it'll go away, it is beyond you, or me, or anyone for that matter."

"We have many magi within The Rose who are more than capable of determining what plagues the halls of the asylum. You have my word."

"I stand by what I said and it's final. I cannot permit you to enter the asylum. I must ask that you leave as soon as possible and forget all about this grand quest of yours and this town."

"Understood," Roland said, standing up.

***

Roland's squad looked towards the door as he stepped out. Looking over them, he found Kid's stoic expression unnerving while the others showed some degree of nervousness or anxiousness.

"The mayor will not permit us to enter Arkham Asylum. Tomorrow we return to Miskatonic and once we know whether or not anyone from Amityvale will be going there, we return to Amityvale and then Swordhaven. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," the three said in unison as they all turned to return to the main floor and leave the town hall.

This won't do at all.

Chapter XV: Persuasion

Roland and his squad entered Callahan's, Roland approaching the counter where the man who was presumably Callahan was wiping down as he prepared to end the night, the liveliness from their earlier time there having dwindled and eventually died down.

"Welcome back, what can I do you for? I must mention though, I don't intend on staying up all night with you or your crew."

"We require lodging for the night. Am I right to believe this tavern is also an inn as well?" Roland asked.

"You'd be correct. Although for four rooms, that'll be quite costly. I trust that won't be an issue?"

"Two rooms that can accommodate two people each will suffice and payment won't be an issue."

"Alright then," the man who was presumably Callahan said retrieving a pair of keys from below the counter.

When money and keys exchanged hands, the man who was presumably Callahan leaned forward towards Roland looking just beyond him towards his squad.

"Perhaps it's because I don't see things how I used to, but you should keep a close watch on the young looking one. There's something sinister about that one," he said in a hushed tone.

Roland was unsure what to make of the man's words, but he could find himself agreeing with the man who was presumably Callahan. Sinister may be an exaggeration, but he was certainly uneasy about Kid.

"Explain further, if you don't mind."

"Now don't take my words as gospel or even to heart, but he's got a...look to him that spells trouble. If I were you, I would not associate with him any more than you already have."

Roland put a hand to his face, a finger tapping on his mask. While cryptic, this man seemed to understand Kid more than he did and with what he knew about Kid, he certainly did not have any reason to doubt his words.

"You've given me something to think about when we leave Arkham tomorrow. It's troubling to say the least, but from what I know, there is weight to it. Now then, I won't take up any more of your time, thank you for allowing us to stay."

"Appreciate the patronage."

***

The rooms were set up in much the same way as the ones in Miskatonic, two beds, a table between them, a couple chairs, but more noticeably, a separate room for bathing which the rooms of Miskatonic lacked perhaps only having one per floor of the inn which was used by the guests.

Hands and Sight shared a room while like in Miskatonic, Roland and Kid shared one.

"Do you like dancing?" Sight asked from the bed she sat on.

"Was I too obvious?"

Hands tried to play it off as cool as she could to hide her embarrassment, but the heat creeping up her cheeks betrayed her.

"I guess that you're not called Sight for nothing, huh?"

"Well, no..." she trailed off, a tinge of hurt in her voice.

Roland's speculation about Sight having met Loremaster Maya and even to an extent idolizing her was correct. Folks from around Oaklore sought refuge in the keep during times of crisis and it was during those times that Sight would get to see Maya which made her fears and worries melt away.

Thinking about those times brought a smile to her face, but it soon faded. She wanted to be like Maya, but instead found herself as an operative of the Rose, and by her own admission a less than adequate one, wasn't skilled to use magic to become a magi and thus the closest to being like Loremaster Maya as she could.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you," Hands said remorsefully.

"It's okay. It's not your fault that a cruel name has haunted me for so long. But please, I want to know more about you. Is it the dancing you like or is it-" she cut herself off realizing what she was about to say.

"The dancers?" Hands finished to Sight's embarrassment. "More from column A, little from column B. For a while now, I've wanted to be a dancer. It seems almost like a childhood fantasy at this point, but unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. Sometimes the way to at least getting a bed to sleep in and three meals a day means having to abandon those dreams and doing things that you swore to never do again."

"What do you mean?"

"It's...I'd rather not say. I confided in Cry about that and I'd rather not put more of that burden on another. I'm honestly surprised that I even told him, but sometimes you just can't help who or what you tell if it's a heavy enough burden."

"I see," Sight said thinking about the things she considered burdens she carried with her.

Her thoughts went to Simon and their exchange in Miskatonic. She knew that there were other things that weighed on her heart, but the words to Simon weighed the most, but to her it wasn't enough to make her want to share those thoughts with Hands. Maybe it wasn't such a burden after all?

***

Roland sat on the edge of his bed facing away from Kid pondering not only what he thought of the recruit, but also what the tavernmaster had said. The mayor's words should've been at the forefront of his mind, but the mystery surrounding Kid was too much.

Something needed to be done, but what? Kid wouldn't give him an honest answer and he wasn't equipped to interrogate him.

He thought of Hands in the next room. She was capable of gathering information and her dossier made it clear what her methods are, but would they work on Kid? Only thing that seemed to be on his mind at any given time was the mission or any orders given to him.

He shook his head. It wouldn't be right to involve any of the others in this matter especially when taking the tavernmaster's words into consideration. If Kid truly was a threat, it would be best to not put anyone else at risk.

***

It seemed like quite some time before he was certain Roland had fallen asleep. He knew the captain did not trust him, he really made no attempts to hide it. The distrust was unwarranted as far as he was concerned, he did everything as told and it was unfortunate that field operation ended as it did otherwise things may not have had to go this route.

With the lights out, Arkham was quite dark even for the corner of Doomwood where even the moon's light seemed to barely shine and what he was to do next would be a gamble, but he had a feeling that it would pay off.

Moving through the town, he could hear murmurs coming from some of the houses, the ramblings of those as they slowly descended the ladder into madness unbeknownst to themselves.

It was when he caught sight of the tower in full view watching over him like a silent protector while passing judgment over the town of Arkham.

The town hall looked as it did before lit up for all to see, but strangely and fortunately enough the door was unlocked. He was either blessed or the old secretary couldn't see to put the key in the lock.

Inside the secretary was absent, but a man he assumed to be who Roland had spoken to was present.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but we're not seeing anyone presently. May I ask you to..." the man trailed off as he took in Kid's appearance.

"I think you'll make an exception."

"No...it...it can't be. You look just like..."

The mayor began to back away, stumbling as he did so until his back hit a wall and he began to shuffle towards the stairs, Kid approaching him with the look of a predator that has cornered its prey.

"Jonathon is the name you're looking for. My grandfather. Jonathon Arkham."

"W..why are you here? There shouldn't be anyone left."

The mayor stopped moving as soon as Kid stood directly in front of him, his panicked face visible to himself in the green pools of Kid's eyes.

"I understand that you denied Captain Roland and by extension myself entry into Arkham Asylum and that just cannot be."

"You can enter! I can't stop you from entering."

"You certainly can't, but the Captain won't take my word, so you're going to do me and by extension my family, a favour. In the morning, I want you to present to the Captain written permission permitting him and his team to enter the asylum. You will find him at Callahan's and not only will you deliver the message, you will apologize and tell him all about how you wracked your mind with guilt over obstructing his mission."

Kid smiled in such a way, the mayor couldn't help, but wonder if the monster that stood before was going to consume him if not his soul right there on the spot.

"Y...yes, sir."

***

True to his word, when Roland and his team exited Callahan's in preparation to return to Miskatonic, they were greeted by the mayor holding a letter which he seemed to force onto Roland rather than hand to him.

"What is this?" Roland asked, confused and still tired from having slept very little during the night.

"A formal letter granting you and your team permission to enter Arkham Asylum. I deeply apologize for the inconvenience that I caused you by making you almost abandon your mission. I was too concerned by my own fears to consider just how much good could be done for this town..."

Roland had tuned the mayor out, lost in his own thoughts as he skimmed the letter. During his uneasy sleep he had noticed Kid sneaking out and then this happened? There was more to Kid than he had thought and this town and the asylum were part of it.

The mayor would have answers, but now was not a good time to be asking questions.

"My team and I greatly appreciate your reconsideration, sir. And I give you my word, we will put an end to whatever plagues this town and its asylum."

Providing someone doesn't interfere.

Chapter XVI: Departure

The innkeeper glared daggers at the two as they descended the stairs into the lobby as she had done when first entering the inn the other day. Cry understood the disdain for them, but was confused as to why she let them stay. What did Kid say or do for her to have a change of heart?

"Excuse me, ma'am," Cry said as he approached the counter the woman stood behind.

"What do you want?" she barked causing Cry to step back.

"I...I was curious as to what my squadmate said or did to make you reconsider allowing us to stay."

The woman's expression grew more fierce before turning into one of pity and then confusion.

"You don't know, do you?"

"I'm afraid not."

The woman's expression softened into one that seemed to almost convey sympathy.

"There are things in Doomwood far more terrifying than any ghost or vampire that prowls the woods. Things that will outlive both you and I. That man is among those things and it's best for us to not anger them."

Cry thought about the innkeeper's words for a moment. What she said didn't particularly answer the question nor was it too helpful, but it did shed some light on part of the situation and to say it was troubling was putting it mildly at best.

"I see," Cry began, "Thank you, ma'am. And for what it's worth, I apologize that happened to you."

***

"You suspect Kid of...wrongdoing?" Simon asked.

"I don't know for sure. It was peculiar that in such a short time he was able to turn around an unfortunate event and according to the innkeeper, there is something about him that we should be careful or even scared of."

"Do you think the Captain suspects anything?"

"Maybe. He does want to keep Kid close, but that could just be because Kid is...actually fit for this mission."

"You don't think anyone else is fit for this mission?" Simon said, her tone neutral.

"We don't exactly look the part of any other unit. And, I'm definitely not fit for many operations the Rose does."

"It's not about looking the part, but being able to perform your role. You're often tasked with talking to people and you can do that, right?"

Cry began to think about Simon's words and his actions and reactions since arriving in Amityvale and how he even got the name Cry until something in the distance towards the road leading from Amityvale caught his vision.

They were scantly visible in the early morning darkness becoming more clear as they approached and their Rose-issued attire became apparent. For Cry, it was a welcome interruption.

Three Rose operatives, two people in ManaHunter attire and another in Magus-style robes that obscured their features, an apprentice at best most likely.

"Are you two the members of Captain Roland's team we were informed we'd be meeting?" the likely apprentice Magus asked, their tone rough, suggesting they didn't want to be there.

"Yes, ma'am," Cry said, relieved to avoid any introspection.

"Well, tell us what you know, so we can all get to work," she said.

Simon and Cry informed the likely apprentice Magus of what they knew concerning Miskatonic and its spider infestation as well as their lack of success with their own investigations due to the townspeople distaste for the Rose and the peculiar incense that seemed to substitute as a light source in the university library.

"It will be tough to earn the people's trust, but it should not be an impossible task. A bigger mystery is why an infestation that has been going on for so long seems to only be contained within the town. We too encountered one of the peculiar spiders on our way here, but two spiders in as many days outside the town is quite strange. Thank you, you're free to go."

***

The road never seemed to grow less dark as time passed and the two distanced themselves from Miskatonic. In fact, it seemed to grow darker. The phenomenon wasn't new to them, but it didn't cease to be a mystery to them. What was it about the far reaches of Doomwood that seemed to grow darker the further in they go despite the absence of anything that may obstruct the moon's light?

Neither pondered too much on the topic or exchanged many words as the constant feeling of unease that began when Miskatonic faded from view and persisted the further away they went  as well as the need to be constantly aware of their surroundings as the slightest noise could be a sign of hostility.

The feeling of unease grew as they continued down the road and the outline of a tower begin to manifest in the distance and with it a feeling of dread as though what they are doing is wrong.

Chapter XVII: These Grounds Aren't Hallowed

Much like the town, Arkham Asylum was also walled off, the space between the bars of its gates offering a glimpse into the vast courtyard peppered with as far as they could tell, white flowers which crept their way up a broken road leading from the gate up a slight incline to the asylum itself, its dark tower staring down at them.

Hands stood with her back towards the tower while in contrast, Kid stared directly at it.

Something's off about him, she thought.

"We'll begin by surveying the asylum grounds and surrounding walls," Roland began. "At no point will we enter the asylum until Cry and Simon arrive in Arkham. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Roland's team said in unison.

"Hands, Sight, you two search the surrounding walls. Look for any obvious structural integrities or anything you believe to be out of the ordinary. Kid and I will search around the asylum itself."

"Yes, sir," Hands and Sight said in unison.

***

In the courtyard, both pairs could see the flowers more closely. The leaves were a sickly brown colour while the bulb was snow white. Sight gazed upon them as though they were familiar to her in some way.

"What is it, Sight?" Hands asked, her own gaze fixed on the flowers as a chill crept up her spine from the feeling of something watching her.

"These flowers...I've seen them before. There were pictures in a book I read about a faraway land consumed by beasts and these flowers grew wherever blood was spilled."
Hands looked uneasy, disturbed even. Just what kind of books did Sight read?

"Do you always read those types of books?"

"Not particularly, but sometimes it's nice to read about places that may or may not have existed and imagine what it'd be like to have a life there. Not in that particular instance though."

Hands looked around, doing her best to not look directly at the tower until she could see Roland and Kid before stepping closer to Sight.

"Say, what do you think of Kid? Does he come off as strange to you?" Hands whispered.

"He certainly seems like he doesn't belong here with the rest of us."

***

There were no windows around the large iron doors leading into the asylum or anywhere else around the entrance to offer a glimpse to the interior of the potential future prison of the Rose.

Much like the tower that overlooked the asylum courtyard and the town below it made for a very imposing and oppressive structure that almost made Espina Rosa seem welcoming. If Roland were to describe the asylum just based on what he could see, he would describe it as colder than anything he had seen in his homeland of Dragesvard.

Roland looked over to Kid as he scoured the exterior of the asylum, the continued feeling of unease and distrust welling inside him. Kid's actions went against the backstory presented in his roster. It made no sense to him that someone from Willowshire could somehow influence anyone from what was essentially the other side of the continent, but what did he do and how?

Who or what are you? Roland thought.

***

The two pairs regrouped around the asylum entrance before splitting off again to investigate the sides of the asylum exterior. The entrance revealed itself to be a separate structure attached to walls that connected to other buildings, four in total with the same white flowers growing at the base of the walls. the other buildings featured windows on the second and above floors while the main floor as far as they could guess was just bare stone with some signs of wear, but nothing significant.

Hands thought about what Sight had said about the flowers and shivered. If they were the ones from the story she read, just how much blood was spilled on these grounds and why?

"You're afraid of this place, aren't you?" Sight asked.

"What? Where did you get that idea?"

"Since we left Miskatonic and the tower came into view, you've gone out of your way to avoid looking at it."

"You don't find it unnerving like the tower itself is watching you?" Hands asked, perplexed by Sight's words.

"I do, but I find it easier to handle seeing it, if I have something else for my mind to fall back on should the tower and asylum become too overwhelming. And it does."

"Something for my mind to fall back on..." Hands said to herself aloud, trailing off as she did so.

Sight made it sound easy, but for Hands what came to mind were the thoughts of dreams that would never come to pass, memories of a life she had hoped to have left behind and the guilt that came with letting someone in on what she once was.

***

On the other side of the asylum, Roland and Kid had the same findings, blank walls, out of reach windows and white flowers. The exterior at least lended to the idea that the asylum would be able to serve the purpose they needed fulfilled, but until Cry and Simon arrived in Arkham, they would not investigate the interior.

Roland would once again look in Kid's direction unsure of what was to be done about him. It would make sense to question the mayor, but he would need to do something to keep Kid occupied and away from the rest of his team.

And idea came to mind, but it would be a gamble and he was unsure of the odds.

Chapter XVIII: Who Are You?

Simon and Cry entered the town of Arkham, a feeling of unease coming over them as the asylum's dark tower came into view.

What was it about the asylum or the tower that made them feel as they did?

The two stopped in their tracks and looked back towards the town's gates, the guards staring back at them which did very little to lessen the feeling of unease.

"Should we mention what the innkeeper said to the Captain?" Cry asked.

"Not while Kid is around," Simon began. "We'll need an opportunity to speak with the Captain alone."

***

Simon and Cry regrouped with Roland and their squadmates outside of Callahan's where they gave their report, leaving out Cry and the innkeeper's conversation about Kid as they agreed to, Roland's expression easing up, but only just slightly. It was still apparent, that he too was experiencing the same feeling of unease as the others.

Roland put a hand to his chin in thought,a finger tapping his mask.

"Sight, Simon, I need to speak with you two. The rest of you, are free to rest. When we reconvene, we'll be entering the asylum proper. Dismissed."

"Yes, sir," the four said in unison before setting off with Kid returning to Callahan's while Cry and Hands stayed close.

The five stood in silence all looking towards Callahan's wanting to be certain Kid wasn't lurking in the doorway. None of them expressed their concern aloud, but they all knew they had the same idea in mind when Cry stepped forward.

"You all also have your suspicions of Kid, correct?" Roland asked in a hushed tone.

"Yes, sir, if I may speak freely."

Roland glanced back at the entrance of Callahan's.

"Not here. Let's take a walk."

"I'll keep watch here, sir," Hands offered.

Roland opened his mouth to speak before being cut off by Hands.

"I assure you, I can take of myself, sir."

Roland didn't like the idea of leaving Hands or anyone else alone with someone they knew nothing about, but it was either that or deal with the possibility of being followed and the plan failing before it can even begin.

"All right, but if something happens, do not hesitate to retreat if need be or kill."

"Yes, sir."

***

Outside Arkham's town hall, Simon and Cry informed Roland of what Miskatonic's innkeeper had told them as vague and unsettling as it was.

"Do you believe him to be inhuman?" Roland asked no one in particular.

"I don't know, sir. It could just be local superstitions," Cry said.

But not all superstitions were just tall tales as Cry would know all too well from his hometown. But beasts and people are different aren't they?

As I get older and the more I see, the line between superstition and reality begins to get blurrier and blurrier. Roland thought.

"Now then, for the reason I addressed you two specifically, I need you two to find what information you can about Arkham and the asylum specifically. Perhaps even these "old families" as well if possible."

"Yes, sir," Sight and Simon said in unison.

"And since you're here, Cry, we're going to talk to the mayor. Initially we were turned down to investigate the asylum until Kid paid a late night visit and suddenly the mayor had a change of heart. We're going to find out why."

"Yes, sir," Cry said.

***

The secretary looked at the four a look of distrust and scorn on her face.

"Not content with sending your lapdog to harass the mayor, you've come yourself?" she said disdainfully.

"I assure you, ma'am," Roland began. "Kid did not come here with my knowledge or permission. That's part of why we're here today."

"Kid, you say? Is that what he calls himself or what you call him?"

"It's the only name we have on record. Is there another name he'd go by?"

Of course he's not from Willowshire. If he's somehow known in the far reaches of Doomwood, it only makes sense that he's from here, but why lie about it?

"The name you seek is Arkham. The same name of the asylum you've come to investigate."

"What can you tell us about him?"

The secretary shook her head.

"Nothing. That family was supposed to be long dead, but his presence here shows that family still haunts these grounds all these years later."

"Are there any records of the town and more specifically the asylum and the Arkham family here?"

"Somewhere in the basement perhaps, not easy to find currently, but I could give you a start."

"Sight, Simon, go with her. Cry and I will speak with the mayor. I want to know what happened last night."

***

Outside of Callahan's, Hands watched as various townspeople walked by, some going out of their way to avoid seeing her or possibly being seen by her while others made wide berths to avoid walking close to her. Some had looks of distrust while others had looks of anger if not outright hatred.

She thought of Cry and how he might feel if he were in her position, but also of how he might muse on whether or not they were doing the right thing despite the reaction to them being even lass favourable than in Miskatonic.

I think the best thing we can do is what's right for us, she thought in his words.

She looked towards the town's gates and the guards standing along the wall, staring not out at the road ahead, but in the direction of the town, possibly at her.

Will we ever leave this town? she thought.

She entered Callahan's the main floor largely empty except for a couple people who sat by themselves as far away from anyone as they could and approached the counter where Callahan stood, polishing a glass.

"He's upstairs. Quiet one, isn't he?" Callahan asked.

"That's one way to describe him, what else do you think of him?" Hands asked.

Callahan leaned forward, setting the glass down on the counter. "I'll tell you what I told your commanding officer, there's something sinister about him. And I reckon the townsfolk feel the same way. You see the way they look at you and your lot. A lot of that is typical behaviour of the people here, but some of them have been really...how should I say it? Let's say antsy."

"You think it has something to do with him?" Hands asked quizzically.

"It's a hunch. In my line of work, you encounter a lot of people and some of them are chatty for one reason or other, so when they stop and start sitting in the corner rather than at the counter like they used to, pieces start to appear and fit."

"I see. Thank you for your time."

***

Kid looked out the window of the room he shared with Roland, gazing at the asylum in the distance his eyes locking with the windows of the tower.

It's only a matter of time.

Chapter XIV: Legacy

"You may enter," the secretary said as she stepped out of the mayor's makeshift office.

"Thank you," Roland said before he and Cry entered, shutting the door behind them.

"What more do you want from me?" the mayor pleaded. "Sending that monster to harrass me wasn't enough for you?"

"I assure you, sir," Roland began. "Kid did not come here with my permission. We're here to find out what transpired last night."

"Kid? Do you call him that or is that what he calls himself? Whatever you want to call him, he just waltzed in here and told me to give you that letter."

"And you just listened to him? Are you leaving anything out? Did he threaten you?" Roland asked, the mayor's answer not making any sense.

"Sir, if I may?" Cry asked.

"You may."

"The innkeeper in Miskatonic didn't say anything about being threatened. The secretary said Kid's surname is Arkham. What if the people are afraid of the Arkham family?"

"Out of all of the old families of Doomwood, none were feared more than the Arkham family. How any remain to this day is nothing short of a mystery. Or maybe even a curse left behind by that wretched family."

"Other than founding the town and building the asylum, what did they do?" Roland asked.

"I don't know the whole history and no one wants to talk about it and with good reason. Especially when one of the Arkham's lives and has come to this town. Now then, is that all?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you," Roland said.

***

Sight and Simon looked through various boxes many of which contained leather bound ledgers, many of which were clasped shut and locked, their keys lost or perhaps in another box.

Simon managed to find a ledger with a broken clasp, the leather of its covers showing signs of decay as were its pages many of which had already turned to dust.

On its few remaining pages the writing was almost entirely illegible as though whoever wrote it did not wait for the ink to dry. One partial sentence she could make out read that someone had been burned at the stake.

Simon grimaced at the thought and looked towards Sight who appeared to have similar luck in her findings.

"Someone claiming to have been an exorcist came here seven years ago. It says they went into the asylum and came back...touched." Sight said aloud. "What did you find?"

"Someone had been burned at the stake. The ledger is too old and whoever wrote it didn't let the ink dry. It's impossible to get much more from it."

"Are you two looking for the history of the Arkham family?" the secretary asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Simon began. "As well as information on the asylum."

"I worked for many of this towns mayors and since long before my time, they all kept ledgers detailing their thoughts about the town and the direction it was going in starting with the first mayor, Samael or so the story goes."

"Was...was Samael the founder of the town?" Sight asked.

"Strangely enough, he wasn't. Hm, I feel I should be telling your commanding officer and the young man he was with this as well, if you mind the wait."

"It won't be a problem, ma'am," Simon said.

***

Roland and Cry reunited with Sight and Simon.

"What have you learned?" Roland asked.

"I had begun to tell them what I know, but figured it would be best if you were all present," the secretary said.

The secretary took a moment to gather her thoughts before beginning with the mention of Arkham's first mayor Samael.

"What did the Arkham family do?" Cry asked. "They founded the town, but didn't even operate it."

"The Arkham family was focused on the mansion later turned into an asylum. Their focus was on what they saw as their legacy."

"The ledger mentioned someone...being burned at the stake. What happened? Who was it?" Simon asked.

A forlorn expression came across the secretaries face as though she had just been confronted with something she had hoped to bury and forget.

"It happened while I was quite young. Long ago and a belief that probably persists to this day, the townspeople began to believe the Arkham family were practicing dark and forbidden magic and sought to...put an end to them. My mother had shut herself and I up in our home, but I still remember the faint light of the fire through the curtains, but what I don't remember is hearing any screaming or even cheering. And then no one dared to speak of the family or the asylum again as if they still hold influence over the town years after the supposed demise of the family."

"How many were there?" Roland asked.

"Just one or so they thought. Jonathon Arkham."

Roland put a hand to his chin, tapping a finger on his mask. Just what did they get caught up in? Was the original mission statement the full information or was something being held from them?

"Thank you for your time, ma'am," Roland said.

***

Outside the town hall, Roland looked out towards the asylum, its tower staring back at him like the dark, old god of Arkham.

"Until we can establish communication with Swordhaven or even just Amityvale, our only answers lie in that asylum," Roland began. "We'll find out from Hands if she learned anything or if anything then we enter it."

"Yes, sir," his squad said in unison.

Chapter XX: The Ward

Hands stood outside of Callahan's, waiting for Captain Roland and the others to return.

"Any developments, Hands?" Roland asked.

"I'm afraid not, sir. Kid has been upstairs since returning from surveying the asylum grounds," Hands said.

"Did you talk to Callahan or anyone else?"

"I talked to Callahan and he said the same thing he told you. He says there's something sinister about Kid and the townspeople feel the same way. They're very distrustful of us, even more so that what he said is typical behaviour of the townspeople."

Roland reiterated what the secretary at the town hall had told them about the family and the supposed extermination of it.

Hands looked inside Callahan's then from left to right.

"With all due respect, sir, would it not be better for this town and our mission, to put him down?"

In contrast to Sight and Simon who both expressed shock, Cry was unphased. While Hands may no longer be an assassin, he figured some part of that life still remained with her. It takes a certain mindset to casually suggest taking another life even if it may be justifiable and while he was not surprised given what he knew about her, he did wonder if she was wrong to make such a suggestion.

"I cannot authorize the extrajudicial killing of a Rose operative based on the superstitions of the townspeople and our own feelings of unease. We need substantial and material evidence of wrongdoings before carrying out any form of prosecution. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Hands said flatly.

"Moving on then, we're going to begin our investigation of the asylum interior today. I'll go and retrieve Kid, the rest of you make your way to the asylum, but do not enter it until I arrive."

"Yes, sir," Roland's squad said in unison.

***

The four stood outside the asylum doors, looking out at the town beyond the courtyard walls.

"Do you really believe we should kill him?" Simon asked.

"If he is a hindrance to the mission and most importantly, a threat to us, yes. If we wouldn't hesitate to dispatch anything be it man or beast that would threaten us, why should we hesitate to do the same to Kid just because he's also with The Rose?" Hands said, her voice unshaken.

"All we have to go on is what the mayor and his secretary have said and it wouldn't be unjust to believe their judgment is impaired by their fears. If he of the Arkham lineage, what is to say he is anything like the rest of his family? How many of us are anything like our parents or their parents?" Sight said.

Simon stared at the ground and the strange white flower bulbs around her feet.

I'm nothing like them.

"I believe Sight is correct," Cry began. "Don't you think it's where, how, and when we were born and raised rather than who we were born to that'd be a greater influence on who we are?"

"But you believe Kid doesn't belong with us, Sight. Do you believe that because you are put off by him or is there another reason?" Hands asked.

"I won't deny that I find him off putting," Sight began. "But I believe he doesn't belong with us because he doesn't present himself as an outcast. There's nothing about him that separates him from any other rank and file Rose member."

The four went silent as they slowly looked not only themselves, but each other over. Despite their interactions with each other over the last few days, they didn't particularly look at one another to realize that they would indeed stand out among the rank and file of The Rose and to them, Kid stands out.

"I believe that only further shows there's something to be suspicious of," Hands said, breaking the silence. "We're outcasts and it shows. And while he doesn't look the part, it's clear there's something about him because even the Captain is suspicious. I won't draw steel against him unless he absolutely shows himself to be a threat and should that happen, I hope none of you will hesitate to do the same."

***

Kid stood at attention as soon as he heard the door creak, the sight unnerving Roland.

"We're beginning our investigation of the asylum interior," Roland said, the asylum, it's dark tower and rest of his squad visible through the window of the room he and Kid shared as though it were staring through the window at them.

"Understood, sir," Kid said in his usual flat almost unnatural tone.

***

The front hall of the asylum was a long corridor illuminated by dim and dying candles and oil lanterns that by all logic should've died out long ago faintly exposing the statues of jackal-headed beings flanking the door and symbols beetle-looking creatures etched into the walls.

"This was an asylum?" Cry started. "What even are these symbols?"

"They're significant in the Sandsea. Symbols of judgment and rebirth," Simon said.

"Why would such symbols be here?" Cry asked. "I guess the rebirth one makes sense, but the judgment one? That's a little strange."

"How are these candles and lanterns still lit? They don't look magical, but shouldn't they have gone out ages ago?" Hands inquired.

"Let's look further in," Roland said as he walked further down the hall.

Along the walls are various cells, all empty as far as they could tell with heavy metal doors.

Two open cells stood out to them. In one, scarcely visible in the dim light of the hall was a large and elaborate series of runes etched into the walls and floor, the light too dim to show the dried and faded blood that dotted the arcane etchings.

"What...what went on here?" Cry asked no one in particular. "Wasn't this supposed to have been an asylum? A place for healing?"

Sight glanced inside another open cell, straining her eyes to make out the faint outline of a suit of armour so dark in colour, it nearly blended in with the darkness of the windowless cell.

"This place is evil," she said to herself, her tone too hushed for anyone else to hear.

At the end of the hall, they came to another set of heavy iron doors etched with the strange beetle symbol much like the ones that led them into the asylum.
Roland made a mental note that the cells will need to be repurposed for Rose use as well as further inspection to find the source of the oddities with the lighting.

Pushing open the doors revealed a large courtyard leading to three other buildings including the tower looming over them like a titanic creature threatening to crush them.
The courtyard appeared as though it were once a playground with slides, swing sets, and seesaws in various sets of disrepair scattered about. None of these were particularly out of the ordinary for anyone present, but what was strange to all of them as far as they knew was the bronze statue at the center of the courtyard depicting a winged humanoid wielding a lance, triumphing over a serpentine dragon.

"We split up, the usual pairs. Kid and I will proceed forward. Cry and Hands, you two will take the east while Sight and Simon take the west. Survey each area and make note of any oddities and structural compromises," Roland ordered.

"Yes, sir," his squad said in unison.

< Message edited by NagisaXIkari -- 2/1/2020 3:35:54 >
DF  Post #: 2
12/17/2019 9:05:06   
NagisaXIkari
Member

Interlude II: Bloodline

How long has it been since someone of the Arkham line stepped foot on these grounds? It wondered.

Time was a strange concept for many due to how it could be perceived differently by different people. To some, the day could pass by slowly or quickly as some believe happens with age while others view it as a spiral that will eventually end while others view it as a flat circle constantly revolving with no true end.

To one in particular, it didn't matter. It may as well have been yesterday that Jonathon Arkham was burned alive by the townsfolk it watched over.

How many of them watched enraptured by the sight of removing what they thought to be the last of the bloodline they thought cursed them with the madness that grew inside them like a tumour?

How many of them attempted to move on from that time even though they passed everything on down their own bloodlines ensuring the memory would remain and spread like a virus?

All of them across time and down the bloodlines.

Chapter XXI: What's Right For Us

Cry took hold of the handles of the doors, feeling the coldness of the metal through his gloves while the strange jackal-headed statues observed silently and the beetle-looking symbols clung to the doors without any concern for the world around them as though it were as static as they are.

Behind the door was a short foyer flanked by more of the same statues and beyond that a large room illuminated by the same candles and lanterns like they saw in the entrance with rows of beds that if not for the dust, various stains and time-worn restraints would look like the barracks of any Rose garrison.

"Is it you or the assassin that's so quick to immediately suggest killing someone?" Cry asked.

"What makes you think the two are different?" Hands said.

"You wouldn't have gotten out of that life if it was who you are. And if circumstances worked in your favour, you wouldn't be here in that uniform and in this asylum."

"You're right, I wouldn't be here if things went how I wanted them to, but we don't always get what we want, so we just have to make do," Hands began. "And you weren't exactly flinching when I brought up killing Kid."

"You told me you were an assassin, so it's not a surprise you would suggest doing what assassins do."

"Or maybe it's because you know if it comes down to it, he has to die. Unless it's something else. Unless you've also taken a life at some point..."

Hands looked to Cry and while she had to strain her eyes in the dim light, she could faintly see his eyes tearing up.

"I had to do not only what's right for me, but what was right for the people in my community. But sometimes what's right for me isn't what's right for us and vice versa. Regardless, not everyone will agree and they may hate you for it. Sometimes that means taking the life of another."

"And that's why you're in that uniform and in this asylum."

At the end of the room was a set of doors identical to every other one they've seen so far and beyond it two sets of stairs, one leading up and one leading down.

"Should we start upstairs or downstairs?" Cry asked.

"Upstairs. We'll do a full sweep then move down," Hands said as she began to make her way up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs was the same sight they had come to expect when approaching a door and beyond it another ward similar to the first, but the beds featured heavier restraints having shackles instead of straps.

The second floor featured windows that let in the moon's light which offered more light than the candles and lantern, but not enough for them to be able to discern if the discolouration on the shackles was blood or rust.

"Can you believe this was supposed to be a place of healing?" Hands asked.

"I'm not sure what to believe," Cry began. "I'm not sure what to believe about this or anything that has to do with this mission."

"Do you believe this was right for anyone involved?"

"I don't know."

***

At the bottom of the stairs was the all too familiar sight of the doors and their watchers while behind it was a room that was difficult to describe. It was almost cavernous in its design as though rather than making it a real room the builders merely just dug it out of the ground.

The room smelled stale with just a slight earthy scent that made them wonder if it indeed had just been dug out which made them wonder how the building hadn't collapsed, but as neither of them were architectures, all they could do was just make a note of it.

What stood out the most about the room was at the center of it is an obelisk of sorts made of a white stone so bright it appeared clearly despite if not in spite of the darkness. Stranger yet was the segmented nature of it as though someone made a black line around parts of it dividing it into three.

"I think we found out all we could here," Hands said. "Also this place makes me uneasy."

***

In the foyer leading to the courtyard, Hands reached for the door.

"About our conversation earlier," Cry started. "I-"

"It's okay," Hands interrupted. "If there's anything I'm going to take away from that talk it's that the two of us are similar in a way."

"Similar how?" Cry asked.

"We both try to do what's right for us."

Chapter XXII: Garden of Eyes

Sight and Simon approached the heavy metal doors that were identical to those that led to the courtyard.

"You recognized these symbols from the Sandsea. Is that where you're from?" Sight asked.

"No. I'm from somewhere that bordered the Sandsea. I've been there a few times and these symbols had been present in different places," Simon said as she placed a hand on the door feeling the cold metal and the raise emblem of the beetle. "This is a symbol of rebirth. Fitting for such a place."

Sight looked towards the jackal-headed statues that stared back at her, their eyes as cold as the door Simon touched.

"This is a symbol of judgment then? Were those kept here also being judged?"

"I can't answer that. Maybe they were or maybe it had some other meaning to the people who built this place."

Simon ran her hand down the door until she clutched the handle and pulled it open.

Inside was a short foyer that led to an open room that to them resembled the mess hall of the Swordhaven garrison except for part of it was segregated by bars and the faint smell of putrefaction. Like the front hall, it to was barely lit by the same dim lanterns and dying candles.

At the end of the room was a door they would correctly believe to be identical to the ones they had saw previously while another had been closer.

"Which should we investigate first?" Simon asked.

"The closest one," Sight said making her way towards the door, one hand along the rough stone wall to act as a guide in the room that was almost as dark as the Miskatonic University library.

With a jump, Sight pulled back from the wall when she felt Simon's hand take her own. It was a comforting feeling despite the clamminess of Simon's hand which she attributed to nervousness. She gave the hand a squeeze and smiled, barely visible in the dim light.

As they approached the door, the putrefaction scent grew stronger until opening the door and taking the full brunt of it.

They did not dare step inside and what little they could see told them it had been a kitchen which was good enough for them and shut the door.

***

Beyond the door at the rear of the mess hall was a flight of stairs leading up and another door.

Hand in hand, the two went up the stairs, Simon occasionally giving Sight's hand a squeeze as if assuring Sight that she is indeed there or perhaps to assure herself that it's really happening.

At the top of the stairs behind another set of familiar doors they entered another scarcely lit room, this one resembling the barracks of the Swordhaven garrison except beside each bed was a small table with left behind personal belongings.

Upon closer investigation, they would find family pictures caked with dust and faded with time, books and journals with faded and yellowed pages and rotting covers.

"They just left everything behind," Sight said. "Do you think they went back to the town below or...?"

Simon stared at the faded family picture on the nearest table, an expression of loss on her face.

How does this happen? Did they not care?

Sight gave Simon's hand a squeeze and looked at her in the dim light behind her glasses.

"I know it hasn't been long, but I'm here."

"Thank you," Simon whispered.

***

Beyond the door at the bottom of the stairs, the smell of dust and putrefaction gave way to fresh air and the dim light of the asylum interior to that of moonlight dampened by the dark veil they came to accept as normal since departing from Amityvale.

The two found themselves in another courtyard of sorts although much smaller than the one they initially came in from.

The courtyard appeared to have been a garden at one point in time with timeworn benches and statues carefully arranged amidst long since dead and decayed flowers that have since been replaced by white flowers that resembled the ones growing in the courtyard beyond the asylum gates in their final stage of growth.

Scattered throughout the courtyard were countless white flowers all resembling eyes that stared at anything and everything as well as nothing all at once.

Sight thought back to what she told Hands earlier in the day and shivered.

"This place is evil," she said.

"Do you recognize these flowers?" Simon asked.

Sight recalled what she said to Hands, a grim expression coming over Simon's face.

"Do you think these are the same as those in the story?"

"I don't know. All I know is we shouldn't be here."

The two returned inside without investigating further. It wouldn't be until some time later when others would enter the garden and take a closer look where they would see the time and weather worn statues up close and how they once resembled people with names long since worn off their base.

Chapter XXIII: The Long Dark

The doors opened to a long, dark hallway illuminated only by the dying candles that should've went out long ago.

It has been too long. Far too long, Kid thought.

As they crossed the hall, Roland trying his best to get a look at what Kid was below the surface, but between his own impaired vision, the darkness of the hallway, and Kid's own disposition, made it seem like an impossible task.

The hallway split into two with a cylindrical aquarium at the center, the water too clouded over with filth to tell if anything was in it or not.

"Which path should we take, sir?" Kid asked. "Unless you believe we should split up."

"We stay together. We'll start with the left path," Roland ordered.

***

The left path was just like the main path which made it all the more unnerving to Roland.

During the few opportunities Roland had to enter Swordhaven's castle, even the most identical halls had some differentiating feature such as any artwork hanging in the walls, but the halls of Arkham Asylum were just bare stone with brass pickets and dying candles every feet that almost made it seem like the hall would go on forever.

At the end of the hall, they came to a very familiar looking door.

"What do these symbols mean to you?" Roland asked.

It was a longshot that he'd take the bait given everything he knew so far, but it was the best option he had at this time.

"Simon said they're significant in the Sandsea. Perhaps whoever ran this place spent some time there and thought their meaning meant something to them," Kid said.

Of course he didn't take it.

Pushing open the door lead them an open room with multiple cells like the front hall with far heavier doors and the scent of decay from the remains of poor souls left behind.

Further in, they'd find another set of familiar doors and a set of stairs leading deep beneath the asylum not even marked by the dim and dying lights that marked the other parts of the asylum. At the bottom of the stairs was only darkness and the lingering smell of soil and decay.

***

Back at the fork, the two went down the right path until coming to another of the familiar doors which concealed a long, winding staircase leading up. They stood at the base of the tower that looked over Arkham, the land beyond, and even them.

"Are we going up, sir?" Kid asked.

Roland thought about whether or not he and Kid should continue or if they should turn back and climb the tower with the entirety of his squad depending on the just how big the tower is or how many rooms there are.

"We continue on," he said.

Chapter XXIV: Long Way Up

Outside the asylum's main building, Rolands squad gathered, their hearts and minds heavy with the weight of the days ordeal.

"What does...everyone think of this place?" Cry asked.

"There's something more sinister about this place than what we've felt," Hands began. "That obelisk or whatever it was is just the tip of the...physical aspect of it."

"There were more of those flowers...fully blossomed," Sight said, a grim expression coming across Hands face. "Countless...eyes staring at everything and anything, but also nothing."

Hands looked at the two women and their interlocked hands.

"And you two managed to find some more form of comfort in this darkness," she said, getting matching looks of embarrassment from the two as they let each other go.

"I won't say anything to the Captain. I think it's important to find some sort of comfort in events like these be it just having someone to talk to and be open with or something more."

"I won't say anything either," Cry said. "Hands is right though. It may be against protocol, but it's what's right for you two and I think that's what matters more."

***

Dim and dying candles lit the staircase as they did for most of the asylum and with every few feet they climbed, they came to a door and the feeling of unease Roland got from Kid became more intense as they climbed.

Perhaps it was best to have the rest of the squad here, Roland thought. I shouldn't be alone with him.

"Are we going to investigate every door we come across, sir?" Kid asked.

Roland put a hand to his chin in thought, a finger tapping his mask. It would take far too long for just the two of them and there was no telling how many other rooms there were between where they were and the top.

"No, we'll fall back and regroup with the others before searching," Roland said as he turned away from the doorway.

While his reasoning for regrouping was to hasten the search of the tower, but the reality was he wanted a brief reprieve from the oppressive atmosphere that was the asylum interior.

***

The four stood at attention as the door opened as Roland and Kid stepped out.

"We'll be investigating the tower. Same pairs and same procedure. Sight and Simon will check the first room, Hands and Cry will search the next while Kid and I the next and so on. Your orders are the same, keep watch for anything compromises in the structure and oddities," Roland ordered.

"Yes, sir," everyone said in unison.

***

The doors in the tower differed from the rest of the asylum in that they were plain heavy metal doors with no emblems or statues flanking them. The lack of distinctive features made the tower more unnerving as thought it wasn't just a separate part of the asylum, but a separate entity as a whole.

Sight and Simon entered the first room while the others continued up the stairs.

The first room was a bedroom of sorts illuminated only by the faint light of the moon creeping in through the window showing the dust covered furniture.

Further investigation revealed the room once belonged to a child. On the bed was a stuffed animal and at the foot of the bed was a chest containing multiple toys.

In the faint light of the moon, Sight could see a look of heartbreak in Simon's eyes as she looked around the room.

Is this what it looks like for a child to be loved? she though.

Sitting on a table, Sight found a doll house that resembled a great manor like that of a noble family would have lived in somewhere in the world and as she looked closer at it, she let out a gasp when she saw the house stared back at her.

"Are you okay?" Simon asked, Sight's gasp bringing her back from her own thoughts as she looked towards the doll house.

"Y-yes," Sight stammered as she composed herself and saw the doll crammed into the attic of the house, the moon's light reflecting off the doll's glass eyes. "I was just startled, that's all."

***

In the next room, Cry and Hands found it as lit as the second floor of the infirmary they searched previously with the moonlight coming in through the window and the dying candles all of which revealed the room to be a study of sorts.

"I think we're a little out of our element," Cry said.

"We'll be fine," Hands began. "We're not going to be digging through each tome unless we have to," she said moving among the stacks.

The study was like a condensed version of the Miskatonic University library which was impressive in a way with how much could fit into what they believed to be such a small room without being cramped.

Wandering the stacks, the aisle Hands found herself in seemed tailored for her. The titles of many books were barely visible to her, but the titles of dance related books all stood out as though illuminated by individual spotlights focused directly on them and only them.

There was a feeling of sadness that came with the thought of abandoning one's dreams for survival and a feeling of resentment and disgust that came with thinking about how one's survival depends on the subjugation of others.

Hands leaned against one of the shelves, placing a hand on her stomach to suppress the feeling of nausea that came over her.

***

Cry went down a different aisle than Hands, briefly glancing at the stacks, the titles of the various tomes obscured by the lack of lighting in the room.

Turning down a different aisle, Cry had an experience like Hands, but with books about Surewould and wolves all visible to him and if Hands were beside him, only him.

Cry took a step back, anxiety and dread creeping up his body. Something knew things about him, he was certain no one else did.

He thought back to the conversation he had with Hands in the infirmary and he thought back to a time he hoped he could forget and the first time he ever took a life.

It was a mercy, he told himself.

***

Peering around the bend, Roland could almost tell there was still at least a few more doors before they reached the top and the further they climbed, the greater the feeling of unease was.

Behind the door was another bedroom similar to the one Sight and Simon searched although it lacked the features that pointed towards a girl having been in it.

Instead of dolls and a doll house, wooden soldiers and similar toys were scattered around a corner of the floor and most strikingly among them that even in the faint light of the moon and with his diminished vision, Roland could clearly see a soldier with a hammer standing before a dragon.

It's only a coincidence, Roland told himself, confidently.

Kid looked elsewhere in the room at a pair of toy swords leaning against a wardrobe before stealing a glance at Roland and what he saw plain as day.

"Is something wrong, sir?" he asked.

"No, not at all," Roland said, feeling ice creep through his veins.

Just a coincidence, he told himself, his confidence wavering.

***

Sight and Simon climbed the stairs beyond the two rooms being searched and into the next one they were tasked to search, two more rooms visible around the bend.

The door creaked on its hinges as they opened it showing another bedroom with all the distinctions of a master bedroom, but its most notable feature was the single window that not only dwarfed those from the other bedroom they investigated, but looked directly out over the asylum grounds and the town of Arkham below giving them a nearly perfect view of everything.

While the view was notable, one of the strangest features of the room was a series of frames on the walls that were empty as though the portraits were either removed or just were never present.

The strangest was a portrait above the bed that resembled the garden they investigated earlier. The portrait featured statues with features they couldn't make out, trees with broken portraits hanging from them like some sort of surreal orchard and the eye-looking flowers in full bloom.

Unlike the flowers in the garden that stared at anything and everything, but also nothing, the ones in the portrait much like the doll in the child's room, stared right at them.
"This...this isn't normal," Sight said, backing away from the portrait, the eyes fixed on her.

***

Cry and Hands stood at the top of the stairs outside the final door which unlike the previous doors had the same markings as the other doors in the asylum.

As the other four climbed the stairs, Cry and Hands moved to let Roland aside who then opened the door.

Inside the room was brightly lit by the moon's light that poured in through a pair of large windows that overlooked the asylum grounds, Arkham and the surrounding area.

At the center of the room sat a large bed covered in dust and upon closer inspection the petrified remains of some kind of insect all  with pieces missing from them as though whoever or whatever once laid in this bed had been feeding on them either willingly or not.

"By the Avatars," Cry said under his breath. "Just what was this place?"

The walls of the room were completely bare with no sign there had ever been even a single portrait on them. Something Sight was thankful for.

Circling the room, they find a desk and chair as the only other furnishings in the room. The desk had a single locked drawer with no visible key in sight or anything to shed any light on the previous occupants of the asylum be they patient or anyone else for that matter.

Roland looked out one of the windows over the asylum grounds, the town below and the world beyond its walls and wondered if anyone below got the same feeling of being watched a he did earlier in the room he shared with Kid in Callahan's.

"We're finished here," Roland began. "We'll return to Callahan's and I want a written report from each of you detailing your findings in the asylum."

"Yes, sir," his squad said in unison.

***

With the asylum gates closed behind them, Roland and his squad made their way back to Callahan's, townspeople wandering the streets steering clear of them and overall acting stranger than they had done so initially.

Soon, he could hear it say as though it were someone speaking directly to him. Soon it will all come crashing down on them.

Chapter XXV: An Uneasy Night

Outside the asylum gates, a near collective feeling of ease came over Roland and his squad, a feeling that grew as they put more distance between themselves and the asylum, but there would always be a lingering unease gnawing away at them as long as they remained in Arkham.

"I want a full written report of everything you all observed while searching the asylum," Roland said outside of Callahan's. "With that information, I will compile a full report and put in a request with Swordhaven to begin repurposing the asylum."

"Yes, sir," they said in unison before entering Callahan's and returning to their rooms.

***

Roland approached the counter Callahan stood behind, polishing a glass as he seemed to do regularly, too regularly given how few patrons there were at the time which by Roland's estimate was late afternoon into the early evening.

"Was it everything you hoped for and more?" Callahan asked, dryly.

"If I'm being honest, I'm not sure what to think of that place," Roland said. "I've seen very little of it so far to say I let alone anyone else on my team have even scratched the surface."

"The mystery deepens, you might say," Callahan said putting the glass down and picking up another. "I won't repeat myself and tell you that it's best to abandon your mission since you didn't listen the first time, but I will say you and yours best watch yourselves. You've tread upon forbidden grounds and the townsfolk won't appreciate that at all."

"I appreciate that, but you know I'm not coming to you to open up about what happened there."

"Apologise, habit picked up from this line of work," Callahan said. "What is it you'd like to know?"

"There wouldn't happen to be a courier in town, is there?"

"At one point, I'm sure there was, but there hasn't been one since I settled in years ago," Callahan said putting down the glass and picking up another. "Although every now and again, a raven perches on the railing with a note tied to it. Not sure where it comes from or even who it's delivering a message for, but someone somewhere is employing a courier."

This would complicate matters and Roland was quite certain that he'd be unable to talk someone into acting as a courier on his behalf given that he and his team were the only outsiders in town as far as he could tell.

Roland put a hand to his chin, tapping a finger on his mask.

Miskatonic would be his best bet, but who could he send there let alone there and back?

"If I may, might I suggest making another visit to town hall? Although I would assume inquiring about the surrounding area would've been part of your mission," Callahan said.

A tinge of embarrassment came over Roland as he knew Callahan was right. He should've been more prepared. He thought about his mask and why he wore it.

"I won't judge you harshly. The Avatars know I've made plenty of mistakes and some days I feel, I never stopped making them," Callahan said, a touch of regret in his voice.

"Soldier or...?"

"Tried my hand at the adventurer game for a bit and eventually thought I had what it takes to do something in Miskatonic as many adventurers believed," Callahan began. "I'm lucky the only thing I lost was an eye."

The two stood in silence, Callahan putting the glass he was polishing down. Roland didn't press Callahan further even though further information about Miskatonic would be helpful for their initial objective, it wouldn't do him any good to breach what he could see was a sensitive topic.

"I appreciate all the help you've provided since we arrived here. I hope whatever it is we end up doing here can repay that," Roland said.

***

Cry and Hands looked over their reports both wondering why they even needed to do individual reports as they were both investigating the same rooms until they found a contradiction in each others report.

"Books about dance stood out to you?" Cry asked.

Hands was visibly unnerved by the topic because it made no sense to her as to why those particular works would be illuminated for her.

"Yes. And books about wolves and Surewould stood out to you?" Hands asked.

"Yes," Cry said. "What if something in that asylum or even the asylum itself...knows us?"

"The asylum itself?" Hands asked finding the idea absurd, but deep down she thought he might be right. "It's just an empty, creepy, and probably haunted building. There's no way it could be alive. It's just ghosts or something trying to mess with us."

"Do you believe that?"

"Y...I don't know what to believe," Hands said putting Cry's report down on the table separating their beds. "Nothing about this mission makes any sense."

A knock came on the door and the two stood at attention as Roland entered.

"I take it you two are finished your reports?" he asked, closing the door behind him as he stepped in.

"Yes, sir," both said in unison, handing over their reports.

Roland briefly looked over their reports noting the similarities until he spotted the contradiction the two had noticed themselves earlier.

"Can you explain what you mean by these remarks about the books? I can understand the books about Surewould, but why the dance and wolves?"

Cry and Hands looked to one another before Cry gestured for Hands to speak first, a look of embarrassment on her face.
"It's pretty embarrassing to share, sir, but...for some time I've wanted to be a dancer."

Roland thought it was a strange thing to say especially considering her currently being part of The Rose, but currently this was not the time to press one of his subordinates on their dreams and if he was being honest, he wasn't interested.

"And you, Cry?" Roland asked. "I understand you're from Surewould, but what of the significance of wolves?"

"Where I'm from has had a wolf problem for some time, sir. To be honest, sir, I've come to fear them," Cry said.

"We're in Doomwood. Wolves, specifically werewolves are a predominant feature of the region. That can't be doing you any favours and I can't risk your fears jeopardizing this mission."

"I do what I can to keep it under control. And strangely enough, sir, I haven't heard one since we left Amityvale. Not even while we were heading to Miskatonic and not while Simon and I were coming here to Arkham."

Roland thought about what Cry said and while he couldn't recall hearing any howls since leaving Amityvale, he didn't think anything of it. While he was no expert on wolves of any sort, he thought that with the moon no longer obscured by the clouds, the wolves would be howling far more frequently.

Unless something was keeping the wolves away.

"What do you think these incidents say about the asylum?"

"Honestly, sir, I don't know. I can only guess that perhaps whatever haunts that asylum is trying to get to us," Cry said.

Roland's mind went back to the toys of the dragon and the hammer wielding soldier. It was a very specific image, but what kind of ghost if there even was any would know that kind of information?

"Thank you, you two," Roland said heading towards the door. "Now get some rest, there is still much to do."

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison as Roland left.

***

Sight and Simon sat in silence as they thought about what they saw in the asylum.

"What is it like..." Simon began. "To have a family? To be loved?"

"What do you feel when you're with me or anyone else on the team?"

"When I'm with you, I feel...warm and happy. With the others, I feel welcomed and like...I belong. I feel those things with you just like I feel the warmth and happiness when with the others, but with you, they're...intensified."

Sight looked at Simon her eyes wide and face red. She wasn't sure what kind of response she'd get and her words to Simon in Miskatonic still confused her, but for this moment she could forget about the asylum and dozens if not hundreds of eyes.

A knock on the door prompted the two to stand at attention as Roland entered the room.

"I take it you two are finished with your reports?" Roland said, closing the door behind him.

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison as they handed over their reports.

Roland looked over their reports which unlike Cry and Hand's had no apparent contradictions between the two reports, he departed with the same words he left Cry and Hands with.

***

Back in the room he shared with Kid, Roland once more found Kid standing at attention to present his report.

"Thank you, Kid," Roland said taking the document from Kid who continued to linger. "At ease."

Roland sat at the table separating his and Kid's bed and began to look over all the reports more in-depth taking in the peculiarities of the asylum mentioned throughout them most notably Cry and Hands experiences.

What they experienced in the library had him thinking of what he saw in the room he and Kid investigated. What if something was indeed trying to get to them and was using their memories and information that would otherwise be unknown to anyone except themselves?

He felt a chill run down his spine and looked up towards the window where he could see the asylum and the windows at the top of its tower staring back at him like the eyes of some monolithic creature. He looked beside himself and Kid sat on his bed staring straight head as if completely inert.

He wasn't sure which of the two was the most unnerving.

"Get some rest, Kid. There's still a lot to do before we can begin the next phase of the mission," Roland ordered.

"Yes, sir," Kid said.

So much more to do.

***

For Cry, sleep did not come easily. His mind was bustling with activity as he thought about what he saw in the asylum as he tried to piece together what he saw.

The problem and supposed solution to the problem Miskatonic was facing seemed easy to figure out in comparison to Arkham and especially the asylum.

When his eyes finally began to feel heavy and slowly shut when out somewhere in the darkness came the howl of a wolf which made his blood run cold.

"Did...did you hear that, Hands?" Cry asked out, receiving no answer.

From the out in the darkness came another howl, now closer.

"Hands?" Cry asked out, sitting up.

Scanning the room, he couldn't tell if Hands was even in her bed or the room.

Another howl, this one even closer as though it were within the town's walls. and getting closer.

Cry threw himself out of his bed and gripped his sword. With one more scan of the room to double check if Hands was in the room before throwing wide the door.

Very little light came in through the room's window which seemed to only make the asylum's tower stand out against the backdrop of the night sky.

Cry slowly began to make his way down the hall, each step sending a chill through his body as his bare feet touched the cold floor.

Down below, he could hear the heavy breathing of what he could only assume to be a massive wolf, his imagination and memories painting a picture of it for his mind's eye to see.

You're supposed to be dead, he thought. I know this because I killed you. I killed you and...I killed him as well.

Cry's eyes began to sting as tears formed and the ghosts of so many years ago sought him out.

Don't cry. If you cry, you lose. And you've already lost so much.

***

Hands wasn't sure what compelled her to take to the stage and begin her journey of fulfilling the dream she believed she had long since left behind.

She took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself as the tavern patrons stared in anticipation for her to begin. She had no routine in mind, only a newly excavated dream which she hoped would be good enough once she began her first step.

She thought back to her life in the Shadow of the Wind Village and how through some strange alchemy, a life of violence and espionage was what birthed her dream and the movements came back to her as though she had never stopped.

She thought about why she danced and how it spelt death for someone be it by her hand or that of another, but that life was behind her or so she thought.

***

Cry crept down the stairs to the main floor of Callahan's, the moon's light creeping in through the windows, concentrated on the wolf prowling on the stage, turning its sight on Cry who raised his sword.

***

"Cry? What are you doing down here?" She asked realizing she had found herself on the tavern stage in nothing but her small clothes. "What am I doing down here?"

The wolf barked and snapped at Cry. He had it backed against a wall, but he knew all too well the more threatened the animal is, the more dangerous it is.

"Cry? What are you doing?"

Cry went in with a thrust, but luckily he wasn't the quickest and she was able to duck down and lunge forward, striking him in the abdomen forcing him to double over, gasping for breath.

"Cry, what's wrong with you?" Hands said giving her hand a shake. It wasn't her preferred method of getting a feel for another person's body, but she was grateful he wasn't in his armour or she might have more than a sore hand.

Cry coughed and gasped trying to catch his breath. He could hear the wolf snarling in his ear, but something was off. That attack should've torn him open and the snarling was beginning to change and sound more like words and a familiar voice.

"Hands?" Cry said dumbfounded as he slowly began to stand up straight. "What happened? Why are you down here? Where's the wolf?"

"You tried to run me...what wolf?"

"I heard a wolf howl and it was getting closer and closer. You were nowhere in sight and then I saw it on the stage and...it wasn't a wolf, was it? It was you."

The two stood in silence thinking about what transpired, their thoughts going back to the asylum.

"What were you doing down here?" Cry asked.

"I...I was dancing. I just felt compelled to take to the stage and...You don't think this has anything to do with the asylum, do you?"

"Someone or something knows things about us. Maybe it can make us see and do things  as well."

"Let's just return to our room and figure something out in the morning," Hands said walking to the stairs.

If it were up to her, she'd just leave the cursed town of Arkham and forget all about this chapter of her life, but service comes before self as the assassins would say.

Chapter XXVI: Beyond the Wall

Cry and Hands waited in the hallway outside of Roland and Kid's room. Neither showed signs of having slept after the ordeal on the main floor and weren't exactly sure what they had in mind other than informing Roland of what had happened.

Roland opened the door, a brief look of surprise on his face upon seeing the two waiting in the hallway.

"Good morning. Is there something you two need, besides sleep?" He asked, suspicion creeping into his voice.

"If you don't mind, we need to speak with you privately, sir," Hands said.

***

In the room Cry and Hands shared, the two explained to Roland what had happened on the main floor as well as brought up the asylum to further their initial theory about someone or something in the asylum attacking them mentally.

Roland put a finger to his chin, tapping on his mask in thought.

"This is quite distressing," he said, trying to push the sight of the toys out of his mind. "We're going back to the town hall today where it'll be up to all of you to find more information on the asylum and the Arkham family and I recommend you all stick together just in case something like this happens again."

"Yes, sir," the two said in unison.

***

Roland and his squad entered the town hall, the secretary was sitting at her desk looking over an open book which she closed upon seeing them enter.
"Good morning. Anything I can help you with?" she asked, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

"Yes," Roland began. "Callahan told me about a raven with a note attached to it that comes into town every now and again. I was wondering if you knew where it might be coming from."

"For as long as I or anyone who has been alive long enough can recall, Arkham has been without a courier having largely cut itself off from the rest of Doomwood for reasons no one can fathom let alone recall with you lot being the first new faces since...well, since Callahan came into town."

The secretary leaned back in her chair, adjusting her glasses.

"There was supposedly another town. There were some folk who I can't recall if they were put off by the Arkham family or maybe thought they didn't go far enough, but they went off deeper into the Doomwood to get away. If they did succeed, perhaps they have a courier service."

Kid fought hard to maintain his composure at the sound of the Arkham name being besmirched. As far as he knew, only the mayor recognized him for who he is and wouldn't dare reveal himself just yet.

Roland raised a hand to his chin, tapping a finger against his mask. It would be another gamble, but this whole mission was a gamble and while he was unsure of the odds, it'd be one he'd have to take.

"Thank you, ma'am," Roland said. "If you or the mayor wouldn't mind, could my team take another look at the records? I believe there may be more for them to gleam while Kid and I investigate this other town you spoke of."

"I will speak to the mayor and see what he has to say on the matter."

***

The guards opened the gates allowing Roland and Kid passage as they began their trip down the road away from Arkham into further uncharted territory where the veil gets heavier and heavier where the light of the moon unobstructed by any clouds does not reach them on the ground below.

As Arkham, the asylum and its accursed tower faded from view, Roland could feel as though a weight was slowly being lifted off of him as though a great burden was fading away and he was free from whatever madness was beginning to manifest.

With the feeling of freedom also came a touch of regret having left the rest of his squad in Arkham, especially Cry and Hands after what they had told him.

He thought back to the child's room he and Kid had searched and the toy dragon and hammer wielding soldier as well as the written statements given to him by Cry and Hands.

The journey to this other town would be the perfect opportunity for him to think clearly about the mission as well as who or what Kid is. It seemed like too much to be a coincidence that their mission to investigate whether or not Arkham and its asylum exist would not only yield results, but also someone of the Arkham name would be involved.

***

"Excuse me, ma'am?" Cry said as the secretary was about to make her way downstairs.

"Yes?"

"I don't know if I should ask you this or maybe the mayor, but have you had any strange experiences during your time here? Maybe seeing or hearing things that may not be there or appear to be different than what they actually are?" Cry asked.

"I've been here a long time and while the townspeople do have their quirks, it's considered normal around here. The strangest thing to have happened recently is six strangers one of whom bares too much of a resemblance to a family thought long gone coming in and poking around things that are best left forgotten," she said.

"Right. Thank you, ma'am."

Sight and Simon looked at Cry quizzically and once the secretary went downstairs, he and Hands shared with them what had transpired the night before, a look of concern and fear appearing on their faces.

***

Continuing down the road, the road continued to get darker and darker until Roland thought back to that day years ago when the sun went out as it was devoured by a great dragon and then again when the sky went dark and ash fell from the sky like snow due to the machinations of another dragon.

He thought back to his youth when he was an apprenticing Dragonslayer and the hammer on his back from his time as an apprentice blacksmith during the same time.

Maybe it was just the light of the sun and moon reflecting off the snow of northern Dragesvard, but his future seemed much brighter than it does in the current time while the half-mask and dark road ahead of him served as a reminder that even now in his authoritative position and having aged by many years, he still had a lot to learn in regards of being prepared.

Despite these thoughts, he also knew that there are things one can never prepare for.

Chapter XXVII: Living In Fear

The path into the unknown reaches of Doomwood was much like the path from Amityvale to this point with all the signs of having been manmade, but while the path to Miskatonic and even Arkham showed signs of regular use, what was considered nature in Doomwood was gradually beginning to take over and reclaim the current path they walked.
In many ways it was a discouraging sight, but given the apparent isolationist tendencies of Arkham, this other town should it exist may be isolated even further by more than just distance.

***

The mayor of Arkham ascended the stairs, his secretary following behind him.

He wore the same disheveled clothing he wore during their last meeting and as far as Hands could tell, looked even worse since then.

"Yes, what is it now?" the mayor asked curtly.

"Sir, we need more information on Arkham Asylum," Cry said trying to maintain his composure. "Any available information you can provide will be extremely helpful in our understanding of the place."

"Why would you ask me? You've been accompanied by an Arkham, just ask him," the mayor spat.

"Sir, if I may," Hands said, stepping ahead of Cry. "We do not know why Kid is concealing his identity and as far as we know, he is not aware that we know some semblance of his true identity."

"Then bury him. This far into Doomwood, no one will ever find him and as the last of the Arkham line, no one will be looking for him," the mayor cried, his voice dripping with desperation.

"That has been proposed and the Captain denied it."

"Then we will ta-"

"Sir, if I may," the mayor's secretary interrupted. "I feel it may be best to let them deal with the matter themselves. If we take matters into our own hands, we risk making an enemy of this Rose group that we know nothing about."

The mayor took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, slicking it back.

"You're right," the mayor began. "My apologies to you all, there was no excuse for that. Now then, I apologize once more, but we have very little if any information about the asylum in this building."

"There are ledgers from previous mayors. If you let us break the clasps on the locked ones we may be able to learn from them," Sight said.

Both the mayor and his secretary looked uneasy at the idea of tampering with what they considered to be historical documents.

"I'll allow it," the mayor lamented clearly unhappy with his decision.

***

Elsewhere in the dark heart of Doomwood, the road Roland and Kid walked remained the same, the signs of disuse growing more and more apparent even under the strange veil that covered the sky the further they went as though they were returning to the days when the moon over Doomwood was perpetually covered by clouds.
By Roland's own admission he had never been into Doomwood and with good reason. In Dragesvard, the darkness doesn't have any unfortunate effects on those who have ventured into it which was an advantage of the northern snowfields.

Doomwood on the other hand was entirely different. While going out into the darkness of Doomwood wouldn't necessarily be life threatening if not fatal, it was instead home to various things that hid within the shadow of ever rock or tree and if it didn't make itself known, one's own imagination was more than enough to begin to run rampant.
Fortunately or unfortunately, one of the many things, a trio of them really lurking in the shadows exposed themselves to them.

The creatures from what Roland could see were malformed and vaguely humanoid, standing not quite upright, and reeked of decay. Their arms were quite long, almost the same length of their body if they stood upright with nails as long as daggers.

Kid had a better time seeing them and could scarcely make out some vaguely canine-like features around the monsters head, but like the spider, he did not fear it and drew his sword.

As if following Kid's lead, Roland pulled the hammer from his back. This was a new enemy in what might as well have been a new land, but these creatures did not compare to what he had seen in his youth in Dragesvard and while unnerved by their presence and appearance, he did not fear them.

The monsters began to spread out to encircle the duo demonstrating some intelligence. Roland noted that wild dogs would do the same.

One of the monsters crouched, preparing to lunge at Kid while the other two moved, one to flank Kid and the other moved to lunge at Roland.

The creature let out a growl that was unlike any animal either of them had ever seen and despite their humanoid characteristics, it was no sound any human could make, but one that would engrave itself into their memories.

The creature lunged as quick as its frame would suggest while the second one prepared its own pounce, but as Kid demonstrated just after leaving Amityvale, he too was quick.
Had Roland not been focused on the monster attempting to flank him, he'd have noticed Kid's dodge having been missed by mere millimeters.

One of the monsters let out a sound that sounded like a strange conglomerate made up of a dog's yelp and a human-like scream as Kid's blade ran up its side, spilling its blood on the ground.

The other two monsters prepared to bounce until the scent of freshly spilled blood entered their nostrils, setting off something inside of them 'causing them to leap wildly at their respective targets.

Kid guarded against the monster with his sword, the creature grabbing hold of the blade, snapping its jaws at him, assaulting him with the scent of rot from whatever it had consumed previously.

Despite its atrophied-looking appearance, the creature was surprisingly strong, forcing Kid to brace himself and dig in his heel less he run the risk of getting toppled over.

Roland blocked the incoming monster with his hammer much like Kid did with his sword, the monster snapping its jaws at him.

While the wounded monster recovered, Kid brought up a knee into the monster's abdomen. It wasn't a particularly good feeling, the monster's body being more solid than it would appear, but it staggered just enough for Kid to pull his sword back and run the monster through where it let out an even more pained sound than the first one did before its body went limp.

The smell of blood filled the air and the wounded monster leapt onto the fresh corpse, digging into it with its claws and fangs, savagely ripping it apart before letting out what could best be described as some kind of deranged howl that sounded neither like man nor beast.

Kid watched what should've been the perfect opportunity to slay the monster, dumbfounded. What drove this creature that it would cannibalize its own kin?

Contempt took over as the monster looked at Kid, its face smeared with blood and bits of its packmate hanging from its mouth.

Roland pushed the monster he was engaged with pack and swung his hammer in a twisting motion, connecting its massive head with that of the monster, shattering bone and leaving the monster standing motionless, stunned even.

Roland determined the monster was neither dragonic or reptilian given the less than stellar effect that technique had on it, but a moment reprieve was a welcome one as it allowed for him to follow with an overhand strike that ended in a sickening, wet crunch.

The remaining monster lunged at Kid who held his sword firm and finished the monster by running it through as it lunged before pulling up, nearly tearing the monster in two.
While Roland secured his hammer to his back, he watched Kid wipe the blood off his blade before sheathing it.

While the spider appeared to be as weak as any regular spider found throughout Lore, these things appeared to be at least somewhat stronger and Kid dispatched two of them without suffering any wounds.

He thought once more that Kid would've been better suited, but how he dispatched the last monster on top of everything else learned since entering Arkham...he was beginning to think back to what Hands had said before pushing the thought from his mind.

***

In the basement of Arkham's town hall, the four flipped through the old ledgers, cutting the clasps on those that were locked looking specifically for any mention of the Arkham family or the asylum, but there was one ledger in particular that stood out from the others.

The ledgers they went through were all leatherbound decaying as time went on, but the one that stood out was in pristine condition and made of some material none of them could identify. It resembled black leather, but felt like some kind of stone and no matter how hard they tried, they could not cut the clasp securing it shut.

"Excuse me, but what's the story with this ledger?" Cry asked the secretary.

"That one is..." the secretary trailed off as all colour left her face and a look of sheer terror came upon it. "That was the first mayor's. It was supposed to have been destroyed long before I ever took this job."

"The first mayor, Samael you said their name was?"

"Yes. No one alive today knows anything about them other than he was chosen as mayor by the Arkham family once the town had been constructed. Everyone who held the position of mayor or even my position all say they burned that ledger believing it to be cursed. I'm sure you can feel something about it isn't right."

The secretary was correct, Cry could feel something coming from the book that chilled his body to the core.

Cry placed the mysterious ledger into a box and stepped away, the chill he got from it remaining as though whatever dark power it held has been transferred to him.

"I'll mention it to Captain Roland when he returns. Perhaps a magus can figure it out," he said to no one in particular as he began to flip through a different ledger to distract himself from the thought of the mysterious and possibly cursed ledger.

If the answer isn't in the asylum, it's in that ledger.

Chapter XXVIII: The Lurking Fear

The four left the town hall with far more questions than answers. Of the ledgers that they could open, most just mentioned how unnerved they were by the asylum and how some of them had never met the Arkham family despite being the mayor the of the town named after them.

"We know pretty much nothing that we didn't already know," Hands groaned. "The only place we can find answers is in the asylum, but...to be honest, I really don't want to go back there after what happened last night."

"That ledger belonging to Samael might have something, but...honestly I feel it would be better to just pretend we never saw it," Cry said.
"You know we can't abandon the mission," Simon said.

"I know..." Hands said regretfully. "But..."

Hands trailed off and took a deep breath. She wanted to say she's scared even though she already believed they could tell, but she also couldn't admit to it.

***

The road into the further unknown reaches of Doomwood seemed even longer after their encounter with the strange monsters that were unlike anything one would expect to encounter in Doomwood.

For many reasons, it would be a risk to stop but pressing on as nighttime for Doomwood set in which seemed to further enhance the strange veil cast over them since leaving Amityvale to the point where even though the moon was full and visible, its light did not reach them.

"We'll stop here for the night," Roland said.

"Yes, sir," Kid said.

While Roland was not surprised by Kid's lack of protest, he still found it unnerving that Kid would respond in such a flat tone without even a hint of judgment.

Sustaining themselves on meager rations which luckily Miskatonic and Arkham proving to exist stretched them out, they set up a fire in the center of the road which gave them a better view of the surrounding landscape.

It wasn't noticeably different from the rest of Doomwood that they had seen in that the surrounding landscape was covered in dark, lifeless trees, but with the strange veil over this dark corner of the region, the trees appeared to be as black as the night sky even though they were close enough to touch them.

Everything about this gets stranger and strange, Roland thought while staring into the fire.

In the frozen plains of Dragesvard, fire was a sign of safety and security, offering some refuge from the cold and what horrors lurked in the darkness beyond its light, but Roland couldn't help but feel as though starting a fire in Doomwood just acted as a beacon to the horrors that lurked within the trees.

***

The four gathered in Callahan's where they could be out of sight of the asylum which brought them some small comfort.

"What can I do you for?" Callahan asked approaching their table, noticing the absence of Roland and Kid. "Hm, you're two short."

"The Captain and Kid are investigating another lead," Hands said. "Otherwise, I believe we're fine."

"Right, he and I were talking about that earlier. Investigating where a courier raven came from. Not quite the mystery you all seem to be working on, but I'm sure there's a small handful of people interested in what lies beyond these walls. Or at least the mayor would be."

"You and the Captain spoke of the mission?" Cry asked.

"If there's anything meant to be a secret, I wouldn't know and I'm certain he wouldn't say anything. It was through our conversation that the topic of a courier came up."

"You and the Captain get along quite well," Hands noted. "You've actually been the only one to not be suspicious or distrustful of us for that matter."

"Comes with this line of work and as you may have guessed unless someone at the townhall said something, I'm not from these parts, so it doesn't do me any favours to be as wary to newcomers as the rest of the town," Callahan said.

"Where do you hail from, if you don't mind me asking?" Cry said.

"Not at all. Hail from Kingsport, a fishing village in Greenguard, near the border of Braughlmurk," Callahan began noticing Cry and Sight perking up the mention of the town. "Been awhile since I left, so for all I know it no longer exists given events over the last while."

"Kingsport, you say?" Cry began. "I recall some people from there would cross the bay and do trade in the town I'm from. They'd dock on the shore and then go the rest of the way through the forest on foot. I enlisted with the Rose after the Black Winter, so I don't know how Kingsport fared after that."

"So there's some chance it may still exist. That's comforting in a way," Callahan began. "What about you, miss? You seemed to recognize the name," Callahan said to Sight.
"Are the stories of pirates using Kingsport as a hideout true?"

Callahan gave a slight chuckle. "I've met some sailors who fancied themselves as pirates, but no actual pirates."

Sight appeared to be somewhat disappointed by Callahan's answer, but at least the topic of Kingsport and anything not relating to the asylum was a nice distraction and for a moment, everything seemed normal.

***

He always returns to his blood, his parents would say, especially his father on the day he and his mother left for Falconreach before his father was executed.

No, before his father was murdered.

The people of Arkham were an ignorant and cowardly lot that knew only to fear their betters which Kid did not mind at all and actually found quite amusing that even years after the supposed end of the Arkham family, their influence continued to hang over not only the people of Arkham, but at least one person and possibly others in Miskatonic.

He looked across the fire at Captain Roland, the flickering of the fire reflecting off of his half-mask as he continuously scanned the surrounding trees as if expecting another attack by whatever those monsters were if not something else.

It was a particularly interesting encounter if only because he got an opportunity to learn something new.

"Get some rest, Kid," Roland said turning his attention away from the trees. "I'll keep watch."

"Will you be watching the entire night, sir?"

"Yes," Roland said keeping his voice as level as he could.

When staying at an inn, Roland wasn't opposed to sleeping with Kid in the room as at least there were others nearby who could hopefully intervene, but alone in an uncharted part of Doomwood, it wasn't a gamble he was willing to take. He had taken far too many over the years and in his heart, he knew there'd be more.

Keeping watch in the foreboding forest made him think back to the rest of his squad in Arkham and how they were coping with what they've experienced so far as if they were thinking about what may come next.

Roland's mind drifted as he began to wonder what the future had in store for them. What he had seen currently while bothersome was easy to process, but without some kind of visual, his imagination took over and all he could imagine was a repeat of that day so many years ago when his days as a Dragonslayer came to an end.

As he envisioned the different variations of this event, he couldn't help but feel the same way he did when he was several years younger.

He was afraid.

Chapter XXIX: Fear And Blood

Once patrons started to enter, Callahan had to attend to his duties, but they were in a silent agreement that it was a very enjoyable conversation. Not only did it allow them to forget about their mission for a time, but it also gave them the opportunity to be normal people for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

"Can you tell us more about where you're from, Simon?" Sight asked.

"It's a town on the border of the Maguswood and Sandsea," Simon began. "Well, town wouldn't be very accurate, it was more like a caravan. The border of Maguswood and the Sandsea was where we were set up when I enlisted."

"A caravan?" Cry asked. "Were your people merchants or...?"

"There were a multitude of people among us. Craftsmen, fortune tellers, merchants, and so on. There were some good people among them who I miss dearly, but also..."

"It's okay if you don't want to say anything more," Sight said taking Simon's hand into her own.

"I'm okay...it's just...despite what I just said, the four of you are really the closest thing I've had to a family," Simon said, giving Sight's hand a squeeze.

"I know that feeling, Simon," Hands said. "I guarantee the circumstances are vastly different, but the way we feel in the end is the same."

Cry stared into his lap while the three of them exchanged words. He couldn't really relate to Simon and he could kind of relate to Hands in a way, but to him it was strange to hear people talk as though they never had a family before.

Perhaps it was because he was from somewhere where everyone was close that even though they didn't share the same blood, they still treated each other as though they did.
At least until he came along and shattered those bonds between himself and those around him.

"Cry, are you okay?" Hands asked.

"Huh? Oh, yes. Yes, I'm fine," he said, lying through his teeth.

***

Looking up at the sky, Roland could see from the position of the moon that it really wasn't that late into the day, but possibly as a result of that encounter with those strange canine-looking monster he felt exhausted and truly did want to sleep, but he could not risk leaving himself open to Kid.

From his pack, he withdrew a small satchel and from it a pair of what looked like leaves and placed them in his mouth, a holdover from his days as an apprentice Dragonslayer and from his early days in The Rose as a means of staying awake and alert for extended periods of time.

Chewing the leaves, it took a few minutes before its effects became apparent and Roland could feel his fatigue melt away. Consequently on top of the alertness, the various sounds that came from the woods made him very jumpy even if there was no indication that whatever made the sound was in any way threatening.

On the other end of the fire lay Kid, his back to Roland, waiting for sleep to come.

Kid thought of the other members of the squad, but unlike Roland it was not in anyway that was feeling concern for them, but in how any of them can be of use which if he were being honest, almost none of them.

He always return to his blood.

***

The four retired to their rooms unsure of what the next day had in store for them, but what good mood they had cultivated on the tavern main floor melted away at the sight of the asylum's dark tower staring through their respective window from atop its lofty perch.

"There's more to that place than just an old mansion turned asylum," Cry said. "Would it be unreasonable to believe that it's possibly alive?"

Hands shuddered at the thought, looking away from the prying eyes of the tower.

"I don't want to think about that place for as long as possible," she said. "Instead I want to know more about you."

"What do you mean?" he asked, his voice sounding flustered.

"I told you something that I trusted you to keep between us and in the interest of friendship, I think it's fair you did the same. Or don't and just go with something that you'd have no qualms about telling the others."

"You're only saying that, so it doesn't sound so coercive," Cry said defensively. "You've probably noticed something about me and want to know more for whatever reason."

"You're right, I did and have, but I'm sure the others have too, they're just not as forward about it, but that's not what I want to know and I won't pressure you into saying anything. But I am being sincere when I speak of friendship and I think that's really the only redeeming aspect of this mission is meeting the three of you."

Cry would admit that he's not the best at reading people and the only reason he was ever considered for information gathering is that his upbringing made him a relatively sociable person, but he noticed as time went on that even in a casual conversation he was taking mental notes and trying to gather as much information about a person as possible.

"What do you want to know then?"

"What is it that made you afraid of wolves? Hands asked. "Is it just that you've seen so many or is there something more to it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Yesterday, you went out by yourself against what you thought was a wolf. You could've alerted anyone else, but you didn't," she said. "You could've even just stayed in here and hid under the blankets and let someone else handle it, but you potentially risked your own life instead."

"When I woke up, you were gone and all I could hear was the wolf. I went by myself because...because I didn't want to risk losing anyone."

Not...not again.

Hands went silent as Cry choked out his last words, his expression conveying more pain and regret than his words ever could.

***

"Thank you," Simon said unexpectedly when she and Sight entered their room.

"For what?" Sight said a look of surprise coming over her face, a red tinge forming on her cheeks.

"For being you."

Sight stared at Simon, her eyes wide in shock. She wanted to say something, but she couldn't find the words as Simon leaned in and their lips meeting.

A feeling of warmth surged through Sight's body, her heart beating audibly in her chest. When Simon pulled away, the happiest moment in Sight's life at the time turned into one of horror at the sight of Simon's mouth covered in blood.

"What's wrong?" Simon asked. "Sight? Is something wrong?"

Sight gave her head a shake, dispelling whatever illusion she was caught in revealing a concerned expression on Simon's bloodless face.

"Sight, what's wrong?"

"I...I'm okay. I think," she said feeling around her face for blood or otherwise. "I saw something, but it wasn't real."

"What do you mean?" Simon asked hurtfully.

"You kissed me-"

"I did kiss you," Simon interrupted.

"And there was blood all over your mouth."

A look of horror came over Simon's face, the two directing their attention to the window of their room where they could see the asylum's horrid tower gazing back at them, the windows of its top floor illuminated like the golden eyes of some forsaken creature.

"I hate this place," Simon said.

< Message edited by NagisaXIkari -- 2/13/2020 2:28:11 >
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