- Part Four -
Tuesday, December the 20th, 1763 ~ Sunrise is almost upon us, which means I will be able to sleep soon. We have become nocturnal creatures, so that we may be active during the same hours as our enemy. It has been three weeks since my last entry. I sincerely apologize for the lapse to any who may some day come to read these journals. Alaster has kept us working at a feverish pace, leaving me little time for anything but running his many errands. I must say, I am thankful for it. I feel I have achieved more these past few weeks with Alaster, than I had the previous several months while I was alone. The things the Irishman knows about the hidden evils of the world are at once both nincredible, and terrifying. He tells me the creature is in fact an actual demon! Spawned in the darkest corners of hell, the thing is called a Ra'akzu—a shadow fiend, and Alaster knows what it desires. I did not understand the finer points of what he described, but he told me it is something within the bodily makeup of a human child—something that is still growing—that the Ra'akzu feeds upon. He said this element does not exist in the young of any other mammal, nor anywhere else in nature for that matter, but that the scent can be duplicated. Thrice we lured the beast close to our trap using that scent, but it continues to elude us. Incredibly, it can move in darkness without leaving so much as a trace of its passing, even through closed doors and windows, so long as a shadow passes beneath the door or through the glass. If there is light however, it must open them and tread upon the ground leaving tracks like the rest of us.
Sadly, there have been four more children lost since Charlie Doak, and the citizens of Boston have begun to panic. Many of the wealthy now keep their children with them at night. Alaster says this is the only reason the disappearances aren't tenfold the present number. I told Alaster how strange it was that the creature has stayed so long, and taken so many from one place, which is unlike its usual behavior. He believes it has chosen Boston to be it's “nest,” and that likely, somewhere in a deep, dark place, it is now feeding young of its own. The thought of such a thing troubles me greatly.
After every child that goes missing, Alaster “Soul Walks” their deaths, seeing what they saw, trying to gather as much information about this particular Ra'akzu as he can. I have not joined him in a Soul Walk since I did so accidentally the first time, but he nhas told me that in every occurrence, he sees the ghostly blue child—Simon. Like the first time, Simon tries to comfort the victims as they die, and points out their windows at some unknown thing before vanishing. Alaster has dismissed the ghost as irrelevant, but I am going to dedicate some of what little spare time I have to finding out more about the boy. As far as what he is pointing at—I have a theory, but I shall need a map, and a few more details to
“What are you doing?” Alaster asked, leaning over William's shoulder.
William flinched and reflexively slammed his journal shut.
“Oh, you startled me, sir!” William attempted to change the subject, sensing he might be in trouble. “Have you found a suitable residence for our new trap?”
“Yes, it's all taken care of.” Alaster eyed the cover of the journal. “I would have thought by now, William, that you would have deduced the dangers of penning our activities. These are simply not things that should be readily available to thieves, or the common, curious cat.”
“Ah, but they're not!” William felt a spark of excitement at the prospect of showing off his favorite invention. He snapped a hinged lock in place on the cover, securing the journal.
& ldquo;That's nothing new. I could have it open in seconds.” Alaster scoffed.
“That would be disastrous, I assure you.” William pulled another journal from a desk drawer, similarly locked, and set it before Alaster. “This was to be my next journal, but I suppose I can spare it, I have many others. Go ahead then, open it.” William scooted his chair back a couple of feet.
Regarding William through narrow slits in his eyes, Alaster began to cross his arms, or so William thought. The Irishman instead pulled a pair of foot-long daggers from beneath his cloak. He carefully placed the tip of each blade beneath the part of the hinge that was screwed to the cover of the journal. “Well, knowing that this is some kind of a trap, I won't be trying to pick the lock. I'll be removing it altogether.” He frowned. “You must always assume that someone...” He pressed one of the daggers so that it held the book firmly in place, and slammed his fist down upon the other, popping the hinge screws from the cover. “...has you figured out.”
William pursed his lips, trying to appear disappointed, but in reality, he was pinching away a smile. Alaster flipped the now useless hinge over with the tip of his dagger, and when the lock fell away, the journal erupted in a flash of brilliant white light.
“Pog mo thoin!” Alaster cried. When the light died, there was nothing left of the journal but a pile of ash.
William laughed out loud at the look of amazement on Alaster's face—it was one he hadn't yet seen. “Oh, don't feel too bad. Even if you had the key, the result would be the same, unless you know the secret method to unlocking it—a sequence more complicated than a simple twist.”
“That's some trick.” Alaster scooped up some of the ash with a dagger blade and inspected it.
“The trick is in the compound, my own recipe. It burns even if completely submerged in water, but won't ignite by a normal flame. If the lock is removed from the cover by any means other than my secret method, it will release an element that, when mixed with my compound, produces the wonderful effect you've just witnessed.”
“Very interesting.” Alaster blew the ash from his dagger, and returned them both to their hiding places beneath his cloak. “You have me convinced. Carry on.”
William beamed as Alaster made for the lounge, but a sharp knocking at the door interrupted his moment of triumph. Alaster veered away from the lounge without missing a step, and pulled open the door.
Outside was a young man that William had seen before—a constable's son. He was bent over, with one hand upon the door frame, and huffing like an exhausted puppy. “Good morning, sirs... I have... come to fetch you to...”
“Catch your breath lad,” said Alaster. “Has there been another abduction?”
“No... the villain was fought off... injured... there's blood!”
William and Alaster exchanged a quick, intense look.
“Where, lad?” asked Alaster. He lit two oil lanterns and handed one to William. The boy already carried one of his own.
“Close by... It's the malt house... on Purchase Street.”
“I know the place,” said William. “We won't need the wagon.”
William grabbed his long coat, and Alaster, his thick, black cloak, and the three were off, scrambling down the main hall of the boarding house, and out into the cold, twilit morning. It didn't take long for them to realize why the strong, healthy lad had been so winded. Snow was falling gently, but in large, clumpy flakes. It had been doing so throughout the night, so there was a knee high blanket of fresh powder covering everything within range of their lantern light, making the short trek quite arduous.
By the time they reached the dilapidated mansion that was the Purchase Street Brewery on the edge of the harbor, William and Alaster were just as exhausted as their young guide. The door opened as they approached, and a stout, square jawed man ushered them in. The three stomped the snow from their boots before stepping into the entrance hall. It was quite warm inside as a fire was blazing in the main hall's large hearth, so they removed their over-clothes and hung them on a coat rack.
The man, Constable John Ayers, was as evenly composed as ever, and calmly watched while Alaster's and William's eyes darted about the hall, searching for signs of the creature's passing.
“A moment, sirs,” John said, standing before them before the two could move further into the mansion. “You are spoken highly of, William, by people whom I greatly trust, so I have honored your request to ask no questions with regards to the manner in which you conduct your investigation. Not knowing you personally, I have nevertheless vouched for your character to any who inquire.”
“And I thank you for that, Constable,” said William. “Your gracious acceptance of my—”
“I have also allowed you to include another, even less known individual, with no protest.” John's tone made it clear that he thought William owed him one.
“We have come far in our pursuit of the malefactor thanks only to your sufferance, Constable,” Alaster said. “What can we do for you in return?”
“The man who owns this manor, Samuel, is a close friend of mine.” John glanced at a portrait of a proud and well dressed family hanging above the mantelpiece, but quickly averted his gaze, as though the gesture was unintentional. “His family is like my own, and I do not want any scandal attached to his name. I know stranger things are happening here than just a rash of kidnappings. Whatever strangeness you may discover here, keep it to yourselves, and do not speak of the incident to any outside of those present.”
“You have my word, John.” William extended his hand, and John accepted it.
“Well then, follow me.” John led them up a grand staircase to the second floor and down a long hallway. “Samuel, like most fathers of late, insists the entire family sleep in the same room, despite having more than enough chambers for them all twice and again.” He lifted a brass key from his pocket and unlocked a door in the middle of the hallway. “This is where Samuel's family was sleeping; his wife, son, and daughter. He was at the end of the hall, at work in his study so as not to disturb them. He heard them screaming and rushed back to their aid. He came through the door and saw his wife and son trying desperately to keep his daughter, Hannah, from being pulled away from them by... something.”
John walked to the window, where the ragged edges of broken glass glistened with black, sticky liquid in the light of their lanterns. “Sam described the thing to me. On that, I'll hope you two have heard similar stories by now, and won't require me to repeat it.”
Alaster nodded. “What happened then?”
“Sam was certain he was facing something that climbed out from the bowels of Hell, but he rushed the thing anyways with only his lantern to bear. As much as he loves his family, I'm sure he was swinging it like the Flaming Sword of Michael itself. Must have made an impression at any rate, as the thing released Hannah and jumped through the window. Sam didn't bother to pursue it, and instead gathered up his loved ones and brought them to me. I sent for a few of my most trusted to search the grounds, and my son to fetch the two of you. My men are down there still. Blood trail disappears into the water.” He gazed out into the snow, where lantern lights drifted lazily about by the harbor nearby. “I'll join them now, unless you need me for anything else.”
“You've been most helpful, Constable. Thank you,” said William.
John was already on his way out.
Alaster lifted his lantern close to the window, and with his other hand, lifted something from a sharp, jutting shard of glass, trailing a string of black blood behind it.
“Oh, you black devil.” An intense look twisted Alaster's features—the look of a man within sight of his vengeance. “A vial, please.”
“What is it?” William produced the small vessel from his shoulder bag and pulled the stopper free.
“Skin.” Alaster placed the slimy piece of black flesh into the vial, and William replaced the stopper. “We have him now. There is no time to waste.”
...I have a theory, but I shall need a map, and a few more details to
My last entry was cut short by a most exciting interruption. The constable's son arrived to alert us of a thwarted abduction at the home of a local malster. The beast was fought off, and left a piece of its skin upon a shard of broken glass while making its escape. Alaster says it was just what he needed to make a form of 'compass' that will lead us to it.
He asked me to make something as well. The thought came to him when he saw the device I use to protect my journals. I am to make special 'flash torches' using my compound, of which I had enough to make only six. They are drying as I write. Creating our new implements has taken most of the day, and we are tired, but the creature's skin will only be useful for so long, so we must rest in small doses.
Finishing my earlier entry, I believe my theory about Simon is sound. I have since obtained a detailed map of Boston today thanks to George submitting to the errand, and discovered that every time the ghost child points, it is in a different direction. I traced a line for each direction, and they all intersect at a point on Salem Street, right next to a cobbler's shop. It is an interesting coincidence, as George had brought me to that very spot when we were looking for Simon's hovel. We had found no abandoned house there, and certainly not one in disrepair, but it merits further looking into, when I have more time. For now, the sun has completed its journey overhead during our labors, and the sky now darkens. Nevertheless, very soon, we shall become the hunters.
“Go left here,” Alaster said, his eyes closed and his brow furrowed in concentration. William pulled the left rein and led the horses down Hanover Street. He frowned. They had been down this way already.
Hunters indeed, of the most elusive wild goose. Thankfully, the snow had abated, and it was a crisp, clear night. Earlier, they had been pleased to see that a bright, full moon would assist them with their efforts. Little had come of it however, and it now seemed as though they were chasing their own tails. The excitement from the early hours of the chase had subsided, and William was left with only exhaustion and frustration.
Alaster clutched a small crystal sphere hanging from his neck by a silver chain. It was about the size of a plum, and contained the monster's skin suspended within it. William hadn't seen how Alaster had achieved that little feat, as he was busy making his flash torches, but it was an interesting contraption nonetheless. When Alaster held it and closed his eyes, he seemed to be seeing things in his mind, and he would direct William whenever he thought something was suspicious.
“Damn it.” Alaster started moving his head around, as though the feeble motion would help him discern the direction of his quarry. “Talk to me, William.& rdquo;
“We're on Hanover Street, again, as you just instructed—” William said harshly, but he was cut off before he could really vent.
“Not about the chase. Something else, a story perhaps. It will help.”
“A story?” William said, aggravated at the absurdity of the request. “Why? What would that have to do with anything?”
“It knows we're after it. It can feel when it's being pursued. That is why we're always two steps behind.”
“ Wonderful. And how exactly will a story help?”
“I'm too focused. And so are you. Our thoughts are like your flash torches. The creature can see us coming a mile away. By telling me a story, you may dim that light enough for us to get close.”
William looked to the sky, wide-eyed and mouth opened. “Then why the hell haven't I been telling stories all night?!”
“I've only just figured it out.”
William fought the urge to punch him out of the wagon. “Do you mean to tell me you've never actually caught one of these things before?”
“Of course I have.” Alaster abandoned the unseen pursuit in his mind, opened his eyes, and looked straight into William's. “Many times. But I've always worked as part of a large and skilled team; half a dozen or more Soulseekers, and at the very least, a score of Lightbearers to surround and trap it. In my previous encounters with Ra'akzu, we have always had the advantage in both numbers and experience. Well, it seems the tables have turned quite perfectly. The cunning of this particular demon, and the ease with which it has eluded us, is proof that it is very old, which makes it all the more dangerous. Now, tragically, all it has to overcome is a mere two-man team comprised of you, a man on his first ever mission into the unknown, with a bad habit of questioning orders, and myself, a leader who got his entire team killed the only other time he led one.”
A lump caught in William' s throat. Alaster had even taken his frustration from him, leaving him only his weariness. “Your whole team... killed?”
“To the last man, which presently sits beside you.”
William's heart gained a heaviness as it sank within his chest. He couldn't understand why the Order had sent a man who could be such a risk.
“After my deplorable debut,” Alaster said, “I continued to disgrace myself by running away from the Order and becoming a pathetic sot, swimming in whatever spirits I could find. My little break didn't last long however. The Order isn't easily fled, even for its biggest failures.”
A sudden realization burst forth from William's haze of confusion. “They sent you to die. They expected you to fail and be killed by whatever you might find here.”
Alaster tilted his head slightly down and closed his eyes. “Half true.”
“The Order is at times very unforgiving, as you must have surmised, judging by the tone of your guess. However they would never wish for the death or failure of a brother. It is true I have come to a point with them where they have knowingly placed me in danger, but it was in the hopes that such an extreme would save me from myself. They knew I needed to make a choice. I was either going to succumb to self pity and drown in a bottle, or face the odds one last time and live or die by my skill. But they could not have known the enemy would be an elder Ra'akzu, a considerable feat even for a large and well prepared team.”
“So... it's hopeless.”
“Not hopeless.” Alaster inhaled deeply and seemed to find a place of peace in his thoughts. “Just very, very unlikely.”
“Why didn't you tell me any of this before?”
“And take the wind out of your sails before we even left the dock?” Alaster said. “I had hoped it would only be necessary for one of us to know the ridiculous odds we were facing—for morale's sake—but it appears the only way to get what I ask for, is to explain in great detail the history behind every request I make.”
William felt like kicking himself. Damned fool, you did it again. Alaster was right, and he wished he could unlearn what he had just been told. He felt lower than he had ever been, body and spirit. “I apologize... you are right of course. I shouldn't have questioned. I was just... I'm sorry.”
“Try to forget about it for now. If we live past tonight, there will be ample time for reprimands.”
William chuckled despite the circumstances.
“And anyways, there has been an unexpected benefit to our little discussion.”
“Really?” William searched Alaster's expression for a hint, but his face only showed the hard lines of renewed determination.
“Yes. The arrogant devil saw our lights dimming and mistakenly believed we were moving away from it. It is now desperately seeking prey, and paying us little attention.” Alaster's eyes opened wide and his gaze fell on a dark alley to the right of the wagon. “We have our opportunity. It was there, only moments ago.”
William's grip tightened on the reins, but Alaster grasped his hands and kept him from pulling back. “No, keep going. Ride round to the next street and meet me at the other side of this alley. Have a torch and pistol at the ready. If you hear anything odd at all, light the torch. But be careful what you shoot at.”
Alaster took two torches from William's pack and hopped over the side of the wagon. When he landed, he was brandishing a pistol before him. “Hurry, William!” He only mouthed the words, then turned, and slowly moved into the darkness of the alley.
William gave a quick whip with the reins, and his percherons were off at a trot. He rounded one corner, and then another. As he approached the opposite end of the alley, he found that the place struck him as familiar. He pulled his horses to a halt before the alley entrance and removed a torch from his pack.
Why do I know this place? The horses were agitated; snorting and staring intensely at the alleyway. I know the feeling. He tied them off to a support beam of an awning nearby. He then slid his pistol from his belt and lifted a torch from his pack. Courage William. He pushed his fear down deep, took a deep breath, and prepared to face the living nightmare that was hiding somewhere before him.
He took a few cautious steps into the shadows, unable to soften the crunching of the snow beneath his boots. He stopped when he realized there was no noise at all in the alley. He wanted to call out to Alaster, but buried the thought quickly, instead standing still and trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness. It was so quiet that he was beginning to hear the echoes of his recent talk with Alaster as they replayed in his thoughts. The cold had made his nose run, but he staved off the urge to sniffle. A dog barked in the distance, and something moved in front of him. It made no noise, but he felt it nonetheless.
“NOW!” Alaster screamed from further down the alley. A brilliant light exploded from there like a bolt of lightning, but the alley stayed illuminated as though thrust into daylight. William could see the black silhouette of the creature before him, it's monstrous, tentacled form wreathed in the light from Alaster's torch. It was much closer to him than Alaster was, and the dread William had buried erupted from the depths of his stomach like a geyser through soft ground. He made some unintelligible sound when the creature arched its back and released an ear- splitting cry towards the heavens. William raised his own torch, but before he could smash it against the alley wall to release his compound, the Ra'akzu sprung forward and slammed into him, knocking him back to the entrance of the alley. The horses reared their heads back in surprise when he landed. He could hear Alaster running but the Irishman wouldn't get there in time before the demon would be upon him. He had dropped both the torch and pistol in the impact, and while he could not see where the torch had gone, he spied the pistol out of the corner of his eye, it's metal barrel gleaming in Alaster's approaching torchlight. The creature leapt over three heights of a man into the air and descended straight at William. He rolled towards the pistol and out of the demon's way just as it landed, plunging two of its tentacles into the snow where he had been with such force that William could hear the earth below break apart as though struck with a shovel. William grabbed up the pistol, spun onto his back, and took aim with a quickness that surprised even himself. But then he saw a young boy's face in the body of the creature, terrified and pale in the moonlight. It was a face he knew, and he couldn't shoot. The demon seemed to understand the weapon William held, and stood its ground, snarling, its horrible misshapen teeth appearing in the blackness of its body.
“W-Willum!” The boy cried.
The demon took a swipe at William, knocking the pistol from his hand, and wrapped another tentacle around his throat. The feeling of terror he now felt was all too familiar.
William saw the horses trying to pull away in their panic, and heard Alaster yelling something, but the sound was too muffled for him to make it out. A pistol shot was fired, but the creature was not deterred. It opened its maw and came at William's face, and as it was only inches from tearing into him, another light exploded into the night, followed by another cry from the creature. Both were so close this time that William was blinded and deafened at once.