FBI Casefile 4815/1523-42
Eleventh handwritten journal entry in small black notebook
In the small, square garden enclosed by the walls of the high hedges, Linna lay unconscious on the stone bench, breathing gently, one arm folded across her midsection and the other dangling down so that her fingertips touched the grass below. To all the world she appeared to be sweetly asleep. I knew the difference. Her mind had shut down, protecting itself, the moment she had reached the furthest edge of her power. Spasms had wracked her body as I held her.
I didn’t know what she had done. She had mention a name—Tess—that I recognized, a friend of hers who must have been at the party that night, someone who was in trouble. Linna had seen what she had seen and then she forced herself to concentrate, focusing, gathering, driving her will and her awareness out and away from the self. Too far out, too fast, too much: in a few seconds she had collapsed into my arms. Gently, I had laid her down on the bench. And then the seizures had come over her. I could have eased this pain but I was afraid of working my own power out in the open, far from my Sanctum.
We remained like this for a few minutes, hidden in our private garden away from the eyes of the rest of the guests. I waited. If anyone had come in upon us I would have made certain Linna wasn’t disturbed. Nothing was more important for her than this unconsciousness, this recovery.
Finally, she woke. Eyes fluttering open, taking in deep breaths to fill impatient lungs. She shifted, sitting upright. Holding both hands to the sides of her head.
“Tess killed me,” she said, after a time.
I paused. “What does that mean?”
“She killed… him,” Linna corrected herself, “but it felt… it was awful. It was terrifying. I was inside his mind, holding him back. And she stabbed him, but I felt it too.” She put her hands on her stomach. “I felt the knife go in. There was… there was something I saw… a white fire that was billowing out below me, and it was burning over the top of a dark opening like a well that went down and down.”
I said to her, “You experienced his death.”
“No thanks,” she said, shaking her head. “Won’t be doing that again.”
“You could have been drawn into it, easily. You could have been killed. It took real strength to separate yourself.”
Linna tried to stand up without my help, then wavered woozily on her feet. “Whoa,” she said, “so much for real strength.”
I stood up next to her and put my arm out and she steadied herself. “You need to rest.”
“No,” she said. “I have to find Tess. It’s awful what she went through. She needs me." Something occurred to her. “Exactly how long was I out for?”
“Only half an hour. I was expecting you’d sleep longer, but you recovered quickly.”
“Well you know me, I’m….” Her eyes went wide suddenly.
There was a sudden depth and distance in her dark eyes that I hadn’t seen before. As if she was looking in on something far away, or something was looking in on her. In all the time I had spent with her while she had been exploring her nascent power, I had watched her closely, carefully, and this was nothing I recognized. It was a different kind of power and I felt as if it came from someplace outside of who she was.
She blinked rapidly and the distance disappeared. She said, “We’re in trouble.”
“Linna,” I said. “What’s going on?”
She took my hand. “You have to leave.”
I glanced down at the grass. The over-sized top hat that had been part of my costume for the evening had fallen off when I had caught Linna and it lay upended next to the stone bench, its circular opening a deeper black against black.
“I’m not going anywhere, Linna,” I said, “until you tell me what’s going on.”
“No!” she said in a voice that was the voice of a small child. She was pulling on my arm. “No, no, you have to get out of here!”
“You need to tell me what’s happening.”
She looked up at me. “I can’t.”
“It’s alright, Linna,” I said.
“No, it’s not alright.”
“It’s going to be alright.”
“No it’s not fucking alright and you don’t know, you don’t know what I did!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters,” she said. She took a step back from me. “I’m not what you think I am.”
“Then tell me what you are.”
“I can’t! I can’t tell you.” Tears made darkened tracks down her cheeks. “You have to go. My father knows what I did to help Tess. He’s looking for me.”
“Who is your father, Linna?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Tell me who he is, and tell me who you are.”
She had backed away from me until the stone bench was behind her and she couldn’t move further back. “I’m sorry,” she said, crying. “I’m sorry.”
“We’re Watchers, Gabriel.”
My hands clenched into fists. “I don’t believe it.”
“My father is a Watcher. You call him the Scholar.”
“I’m a Watcher. Like he is. Like my brother.”
“It’s not possible. There are no children.”
“We’re the first ones. They found a way, the Watchers—we found a way to create life.”
My fists opened. I looked down at the white half-moon indentations my fingernails had driven into the palms of my hands.
At the heart of me there is a brokenness. Broken from living in the world, broken from my training, broken every time I reach for it, the power that comes to me out of the very brokenness itself.
It came to me then. Coruscating within—alive, electric with the urge to strike down my enemies.
“That night at the diner, you knew I was an Archimage, didn’t you?” I took a step toward her and she flinched back. “You knew what I was and yet you came to me anyway at the bed and breakfast. You came to me and pretended innocence.” Power licking at the edge of restraint. “Why, Linna? The only thing I’ve done for years is run from the Watchers, nothing more. My existence is desperation! And then you. You gave me hope, Linna. You made me believe I could choose to fight back. And all of it was lies and deception.” I stepped forward once more. “Why did you come to me that day? Why have you done this to me?”
“I don’t know!” she cried. “I don’t know. At first it was my secret. I cherished having a secret. It was dangerous and it was exciting—to be what I am and be with you, an Archimage. And then… you were showing me so much. You taught me about myself. I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t want to give up what you gave to me.”
“I was teaching you to be a Chantress!”
“You showed me what’s inside of me. It’s something no-one knows is there.”
“Are you telling me your father doesn’t know what you’ve done?”
“He doesn’t! I didn’t tell him anything.” She gasped through her tears. “Except that now he’s looking for me. Because of what I did for Tess. Now he knows that something is different about me. And that means you have to get out of here!”
“Linna,” I said slowly, “did you bring me here tonight to trap me?” Power snapped and sparked between the tips of my fingers.
She shook her head. “No! I didn’t want my father to know about you.”
“Is that the truth?”
“I just wanted you here tonight. For me! I thought you’d be proud of me. You’re my teacher, my own teacher.” Her voice rose into a shriek. “Mine and no-one else’s!”
“Linna, what are you saying?”
“I don’t have anything of my own! I have nothing! Nothing!” She sank down to her knees and covered her face with her hands. “I can’t be what they want me to be. They do things to me, Gabriel. They hurt me. They hurt me and I can’t take it anymore.” Her hands dropped away. “I don’t want to be with them. I don’t want to be what I am.”
I moved. I crossed the grass. Linna stared at me, startled, afraid.
I lifted her up and took hold of her in an embrace. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her face into my chest, crying freely.
I said, “Told you it’s alright.”
“I’m sorry,” she cried. “Please forgive me, Gabriel. Forgive me, I’m so sorry….”
“Listen to me, Linna,” I said, lifting her face by her chin so that her eyes met mine. “Use what we’ve worked on. Find me.”
“No,” she pleaded, “don’t leave me here!”
“We don’t have a choice. But you’ll find me again. And we’ll continue.” She wiped her eyes, sniffling. I said, “Do you understand?” She nodded her head. “Good. Now step away from me.”
When she didn’t move I pushed her away with enough force that she stumbled and fell backwards onto the grass. I stepped back from her to make enough room.
“That’s enough! Don’t move!” A woman was there at the entrance to the garden, framed in the opening between the vertical lines of the hedges. Open stance, arms raised, pistol aimed at my head. The way she controlled her heavy breathing and the sheen of perspiration on her face suggested she had been running.
“You don’t have to pull the trigger,” I said. The woman’s focused gaze strayed to one side, to where, behind me, Linna was rising from the ground. “No,” I shouted, “Linna, no!”
There was snarl from Linna. She lifted her hand. The woman at the entrance to the garden flew into the air as if knocked backwards from the force of an explosion.
Then a man appeared right next to where the woman had just been standing. He did not have his weapon drawn. It was Juan Garcia Madero.
All at once a keening sound pierced the inside of my skull. An alarm. The boundaries of my Sanctum, my place of power, had been breached. I received the image of agents of the Watchers, more than one Trinity, moving in on the bed and breakfast, crouched a column along the fence at the back alley, assault rifles free to hand.
Jenny and Karen. They were innocent of all of this.
Madero looked at me with haunted eyes in a haggard face that had aged a great deal since the last time I had seen him. It felt to me as if he had stopped being alive some time ago and was now only an echo.
“Next time,” I said to him.
Immediately arriving in the backyard of the bed and breakfast. I stood on the stone path next to the Koi pool.
One Trinity, three men in full assault gear, moving through the metal tables and chairs on the backyard patio, the outside floodlight reflecting yellow-green from the visors of their matte-black recon helmets. All three whirled around at the unmistakable impression of my arrival—the exit-vacuum hiss through the air and the pop of pressure against the inner ear—their automatic weapons leveled.
There was music, suddenly. I realized that, before I had Traveled, this music had begun to be heard, a live band playing on the stage that had been assembled outside the mansion. It seemed that the sound of the music had followed me here to the bed and breakfast as if captured, and it became the soundtrack for the choreography of brutality that followed.
“Flanking position,” snapped the central agent of the Trinity, knocking a patio chair aside, crouching down, taking aim. His colleagues darted sideways, left and right.
I spoke aloud a phrase, words of finality, invoking my will. “When I have done what must be done then nothing will remain.”
Reaching into brokenness. Taking hold. With a gesture, flinging out the work of power, the interruption in reality, the Archimagean Thaumasphere.
A latticework of perfected mathematics expressed in light and fire had blossomed into orbit around me, its flawless circumference radiating with incandescent energy. Where the sphere touched the material world it burned and obliterated everything, setting fire to the lawn, smashing the stones of the path, boiling the water in the Koi pool.
“Open fire, open fire!”came the command.
The Trinity discharged their rifles in three-round bursts. A sound that hammered into the back of the teeth. Yet I could still hear the music.
The barrage of bullets entered the Thaumasphere and burned away.
I began to move forward.
“Fall back! Fall back! Move move move!”
Too late for you, my friends.
I opened three Excoriations. Like solar flares striking out from the rim of the sun, three threads of fire unfurled from the surface of the Thaumasphere. More rifle shots as the Trinity maintained the angles of suppressive fire—another hail of bullets, and the Thaumasphere, weakened by the production of Excoriations, allowed the rounds to pass close to my face and body before the bullets liquefied.
I sent the Excoriations out: one ribbon of light entered the head of the leftmost Trinity agent, exploding. The second struck its man in the chest and his body spun backwards, lifted up, slamming into the house. The kitchen windows shattered. The final Excoriation cut the third man in half.
A shout. Burning hands grasped at me from behind. Another Trinity. One man brave to have thought to reach into the Thaumasphere.
I jumped away and spun about to face these new attackers. The Thaumasphere was instantly extinguished, unsustained without my focus. The man who had reached into the arc of it was now fully on fire, screaming, turning round and round senselessly. Finally he leapt into the Koi pool.
Two more men in full combat armor and recon helmets. Both of them were closing in, fast. I did not have my preferred weapon, Crybaby—it was in my room in the house as were all of my belongings.
I reached one hand back as the first man came in with his tactical baton. An automatic rifle lodged in the wreckage of the tables and chairs on the patio flew into the air. I caught it with both hands, lifting it out from my chest as the agent’s baton came down. His weapon jounced away from the parrying rifle.
Now shift to the side. Step forward, swinging.
The agent’s baton came in and whipped past me, dealing a glancing blow to the side of my left arm. At the same moment I drove the butt of the rifle into the unprotected part of his neck. He went right down.
The third man of the Trinity had stopped. He put out a hand, palm forward, as if to call for a truce.
I turned the rifle in my hands, righting it, then firing whatever ammunition remained in the cartridge. The agent took the gunfire straight on and his body crumpled to the ground in a shower of blood that hung in the air like mist.
The man I had struck with the rifle was moaning, gasping for air, crawling on his belly away from me. I dropped the spent rifle onto the ground and went to him. Turned him over onto his back. Knelt down, straddling his chest.
When I detached and lifted away his helmet, I saw that his face was youthful, clean-shaven, handsome even.
I lifted my fist and brought it down. He struggled and I held him down with my left hand. My right hand’s fist cracked down against the bridge of his nose, then smashed down into his mouth. Then again. And again.
Rage. Hate and rage, coursing in me, bringing power to every one of the blows I hammered down onto the handsome face of the young Trinity agent.
Rage and hate. For every betrayal. For every death of one of my brothers. For every Watcher in the world.
My left hand throbbed and my right hand was a ruin. Breathing hard, spent, I staggered up and away. I started to laugh and it became a cough.
Gingerly, with numb fingers, I reached up to my face. I had forgotten I was still wearing the fundraiser costume’s black half-mask. What demonic vision of me had these agents seen before their deaths? I pulled the mask away. Its slick black surface was spattered with spots of bright blood.
The fight was over. I forced my breathing to slow down. Small fires burned everywhere around me: the lawn, the garden, the wooden back porch addition charred black and lit with licking yellow flames.
I went up the stairs and through the back door and into the house.
The kitchen was a scene of carnage and death. At least two Trinities had been torn apart here by an indomitable force. A body had been driven through the fridge. Limbs lay tangled. A red mess was smeared across the kitchen cabinets. I looked away.
“Jenny!” I shouted. “Karen!” The house was silent.
To the upper floor. More bodies of Trinity agents. Trails of bullet holes led up the walls of the stairwell and the landing, and the artwork I had admired when I first came here was now ripped to pieces.
My hand pushed open the door to Jenny and Karen’s bedroom.
There, on the bed, squatting over a mound of red-soaked sheets, Tataille lifted Jenny’s severed head to its open maw and it ate from the face.
I choked out words. “What have you done.” Jenny and Karen’s bodies had been sectioned into pieces, wrapped in the bedsheets, and Tataille stroked the bloodied length of this desecration with one distended limb while its mouthparts continued to spasm behind the curtain of Jenny’s long, unbraided hair. “Stop!” I said. “Tataille stop!”
“I made you. I named you. I command you to stop!”
Tataille emitted a hissing shriek.
“Get away from them!” I shouted, moving into the room, waving my arms. Tataille sprang away from the bed into the corner of the room, shattering a dresser as it landed, claws embedded in the walls. Its clothes had been shredded into rags from bullets and the matted hair down its front was dripping with black-red fluid.
I fight them all! I protect you! My turn in the warm place with food for me!
“No no no, mon Tataille,” I said, “no, this is not what I made you for.”
The golem drew itself into its full height, its misshapen head scraping against the ceiling of the room. It lifted both limbs toward me. It roared.
There was no other choice. I had kept it too long and I had lost control.
I stretched my hand out toward it and I spoke words of unmaking.
A wailing cry of unearthly torture. The body of Tataille flailed and spun in the corner, its talons rending the floorboards and tearing holes in the drywall that rained plaster dust across the bedroom.
No! it screamed. No! I want to live!
And it sprang onto the bed.
I fell back to the floor and looked up at its terrible, mangled, unfinished countenance. Its eyes—their vertical-slit pupils alight with an alien and unknowable intelligence.
I had broken its bond with me. I had undone its creation. It should have dissolved into dust.
Tataille howled down at me. Rage and hate.
It bounded to the floor and it leapt through the bedroom window, smashing through the glass, out onto the roof of the house, then out into the night.
I gathered myself. There were sirens, fast approaching.
All of this was my fault.
I stumbled out of Jenny and Karen’s bedroom and down the hall. Wheezing, hacking a sputtering cough. My left arm had gone completely numb. In my own room, with one hand, I hurriedly stuffed all of my belongings into the Hello Kitty backpack.
Red and blue lights had begun to strobe through the empty house. There were a great number of police cruisers pulling to a stop on the street outside.
I should never have stayed here, in this bed and breakfast, in Park Heights.
I put Anpenpan on and pulled the brim down.
© 2017 by C.D. Miller
“My obsession, it’s my creation
You’ll understand, it’s not important now.”
— OMD, Souvenir
NIGHTFALL and PART ONE of DARK HEIGHTS will conclude with Episode 6