- The Scene: Tonight Emily**, a fine-boned brunette with a boho fringe in her late twenties, is sat at the end of the boardwalk, watching the water and doing some introspection. She is intruded upon. The moon is in the first quarter, the sky is covered with grey clouds, and the air is crisp and cool.
The water off the edge of the boardwalk casts the reflection of the moon above, the lunar visage distorted by the very briny waves its presence influences. At this time of night, the boat launch is relatively quiet (almost certainly at least), the gentle lapping of the waves against the wooden struts filling the seaspray laden air.
Emily is pretty much pondering the meaning of life at the edge of the boardwalk. Or rather, the pointlessness of her life, lamenting her job prospects, her love life and her plans for the future. She doesn't have any company, and since it's well past sunset the boat launch if all but deserted, those few who have bothered taking a boat out in the brisk November winds having returned from a day on the ocean awhile ago, or else already far enough out at sea they plan to overnight there, presumably.
Emily thinks; " REDACTED BY SR TO PRESERVE IC INTEGRITY "
The brief breech in the overhead clouds is remedied shortly, the last vestiges of the celestial wedge locked away behind the shrouded gloom far above. Emily's solitude is absolute, here at the lonesome edge of sealed and knotted planks and nails. The sea is cast into inky darkness with the absence of the night time glow, save for the tiny pinpoints of light occasionally reflecting off of the waters from the nearest lights keeping the boat launch lit to a dim, but acceptable, level. Though, the general feeling of pins and needles, of someone walking over Emily's grave, passes by briefly and suddenly.
Emily rolls her shoulders and sighs as she shivers suddenly. Attributing it to having sat still too long, she pushes up from her seated position and stretches out, starting to pace up the length of boat launch to stretch her legs.
All is well. Or as well enough as the physical world can be, regardless of Emily's current feelings on Life, the Universe, and Everything. Until Emily turns to pace, that is. Perhaps it is what evoked the shiver, or perhaps it was just a coincidence. But a gangly man is at his knees, clutching his head and screaming with wide eyes. Garbed in black jeans, a white tee shirt, and a very dark and unfortunately yellow bomber jacket, he doesn't look very out of the ordinary. Save the fact that he's coated in the red glow attributed to what is probably a normal fellow within the Shroud, his visage slightly blurred, no sound emanating from him describe the perceived motion of yelling.
Emily thinks; "Well. Helping those in need. That was the Temple creed. Sort of."
Emily takes a sideways step into the shroud, fingering her earpiece absently as she does. She pulls a Glock out of where it's tucked away in her purse, too, glancing around to check for potential ambush. Presumably, once she steps into the shroud, she can start hearing what the guy is yelling.
Sound sets in again once Emily enters the shroud, the razor thin and gangly man emitting quite a bit of it. High pitched screams peppered with the occasional heavy gasp for breath, and interspersed oddly with cries of "No! No! This isn't real! I'm not real!" or things of that general nature. He doesn't even seem to take note of Emily when she takes that step over into the place just to the left of reality, his features coming into focus. An unshaven face, several days worth of growth building up, dark to match the ruffled and messy brown hair crowning his head. Once it was probably artistically styled. Tear stained cheeks, red tinges to his cornea, offsetting the green irises.
Nothing about the man screams Shroud Manipulator. His clothing, upon closer inspection, exhibit signs of recent wear. Small tears and snags in the material of his jacket, dirt stains along his jeans and coat. He stops, suddenly, when Emily addresses him however, sucking in a breath and stumbling back onto his ass, in an attempt to move from his knees to his feet, gaping silently.
Emily holsters her gun when the man goes sprawling. "My name is Emily," she says after a moment, crouching so she's level with him, but not approaching just yet. "What's yours?"
Silence reigns from the gangly and unbalanced man, watching Emily with widened eyes and uncertainty. A moment or two lapses before he tries to speak, voice coming out hoarse. "Uh..." He starts, drawing in another heavy gulp of air, chest heaving. "You can see me?" he queries rather than answering her question, as a small patch of clouds above shifts enough to display the silver quarter of the moon above, illuminating the immediate area a bit more
"Yes," Emily says. She pulls a bottle of water from her purse. It's unopened, with the seal still intact, and she approaches cautiously, halving the distance between them and offering it out. "You look dehydrated. How long have you been, um, like this?"
His eyes dart side to side, scooting back a couple of paces as Emily approaches, fingers grasping at the planks of the boardwalk. He freezes up when she asks him another question, drawing in another heavy breath. "I, uh... Uh, a few days. I dunno." his words come out rapidly and stilted, fingernails digging into the wooden surface anxiously. "I dunno. This isn't real, is it? Am I dead?"
Emily thinks; "It would be easier to knock him out, take him to the hospital and bring him out of the shroud there. Should I even explain what's happening to him? If he knows, he'll never sleep well again."
Emily thinks; "Then again, if I do that, there's always the chance he's one of those guys who will never stop looking for his lost couple of days."
Emily thinks; "I guess I'd better find out which he is."
"You're not dead," Emily tells the man, setting the bottle of water down and backing off. "You're just having... an experience of sorts. Why don't you tell me how this happened to you? When did it start?"
He doesn't respond at first. His chest rises and falls as he sucks in air through a strained throat, scooting forward and collecting the bottle of water, uncapping it and drinking greedily with heavy gulps, until he's sputtering and coughing, settling the mostly emptied thing down next to him, drawing his legs in to his chest. "I dunno what happened," he breathes out his response to Emily with another hacking cough. "We were camping out in the woods. And... Something happened. And pulled us. Like... Pulled us, into the same place. But different. Where I am now."
"Us," Emily repeats, brow furrowing as she stays where she is. "Hey-- take it easy, drink slowly. If you've been here for a few days your body probably isn't doing too well. How many of you got pulled in? Where are the rest of you?"
"Me and my friends," He explains, Emily's advice having gone unheeded as he coughs up another sputter, wiping spittle and water droplets from his mouth with the back of a hand. "Like, four or five others. We were out in the woods, camping," the man, who looked like he rested in the realm of mid to late twenties, goes on to explain. "We came in from Boston, to go camping..."
"Did all of you get pulled in?" Emily asks the man, trying to keep him talking instead of drinking the water since it seems to be doing more harm than good. "Where are they now? Did you get split up?"
"Yeah. Yeah. All of us, I think," He continues, pushing a hand through his hair, scratching anxiously away at his scalp when he answers Emily's questions. "And... I dunno. I dunno what happened, after that. I dunno how we even got here. But it was dark, and I saw weird shit. Floating around, and thought it was just... Just, whatever Tom put in the brownies. But, there were other things," these two words are spoken with a particular kind of dread, "Out there."
Emily thinks; "Yeah, this guy... missing friends who probably got dragged off into other planes already, lost a few days and has seen some stuff. I could try to spin this as bad brownies and animal attacks, but there aren't going to be any bodies to produce and it will be a hard sell."
"Okay. What's your name?" Emily asks again, keeping her tone mild and empathetic. "What did you see out there?"
"I, uh... I..." He stumbles over the words, clinging his legs closer to his body. "Sam. I'm Sam," he breathes out quietly, voice still rough. "I dunno what they were. It was, uh. It was dark. And there was some fog out there. But, they came after us. They came after us. These... Things. I'm not crazy," The man adds in sharply and suddenly to Emily as he frowns heavily. "I'm not crazy, right? But there were these things. Like monsters. Like something out of a movie, or a game or whatever. Covered in fur, with faces like, uh... Like rats."
"You're not crazy," Emily tells Sam, shaking her head. "You're sane. You just picked a really bad place to go camping. The worst, in fact." Still crouched, she folds her hands over her legs and watches the man. "Will you go look for your friends?"
"I don't..." He stops himself, clutching the side of his head firmly with one of his hands, rubbing the palm in against his temple. "I dunno." Quiet sets in again as his eyes fall down to the surface of the boardwalk, avoiding looking at Emily directly. "I ran away. They were all screaming. I got away, but they didn't. Those... I dunno. I just tried to run. But they were all screaming. Tom. Alyssa. Zaid. Jamie. Man, they all got dragged away, into the fog. And I just, fucking..."
"Okay," Emily says after a moment. "Since it's like this, I'll give you the choice. You can decide to let the last few days go, wake up tomorrow morning in the hospital and never ask any questions about what happened here ever again. Your friends' disappearances will be attributed to animal attacks in the forest. You can go home and live your life. Or, option two, I tell you what really happened and you do with that what you will. Which is it going to be?"
As Emily speaks he lifts his attention back up to her, watching her carefully, his mouth set in a thin, tight line. "I can't fucking..." He starts, pauses to collect himself, and begins again. "I can't just... Go on," he admits quietly, shaking his head, tips of strands of hair falling in front of his eyes. "Right? Like... It'll always be there. And I'll just... Fucking, I don't know. Just tell me, okay? I wanna know what happened."
"No one ever picks the blue pill," Emily remarks, mostly to herself. She shakes her head. "Okay, Sam. You asked. You will probably regret knowing the answer at some point in your life. Let me just warn you that just knowing about this will bring danger on you. If you know what's good for you, you'll forget about it when I'm done telling you. Don't go hunting." She settles back into a properly seated position, watching Sam carefully, ready to get to her feet or maybe take a quickly drawn potshot from the ground if she needs to. "Where you are currently is a place called the shroud. It's halfway in the regular world. Halfway not. If you have a manipulator like I do, or if you're inherently supernatural, you can see into this plane. That's why I could see you. You can also enter it. You don't have one. That's why you can't get out."
Again me settles into silence as he listens to Emily speak, watching her through slightly unfocused eyes, frowning still. He keeps his arms wrapped around his legs, knees pressed into his chest, the clouds overhead slowly closing again to hide the moon, drawing the little bit of extra light away once more. "What about my friends, though?" he asks tentatively, and quietly. "And how'd I get here, without the... The shroud thing?"
"You got pulled in," Emily says. "It's an ambush tactic usable by people who can enter the shroud themselves. Not usually used for people like you. Usually it's because someone was a specific target. It could be one of your friends was targeted and the rest of you were collateral damage. It could be you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also collateral damage." She grimaces before answering the first question. "Your friends are very likely dead. Where you were camping, Haven. The forests around Haven are very dangerous. This town is a port of sorts. It opens up to different planes. That's where the rats you saw came from. They're not from around these parts."
All the while Emily talks, he nods his head slowly, digging his fingers into his shins. "Where are they from?" He queries next. "Why'd that take my friends? And why'd we get attacked?" He sucks in another breath, closes his eyes tightly, and shakes his head. "This isn't real, is it? I died. I ODed on... Whatever, fucking, whatever we had. Those things weren't real. And this isn't really happening, because it, fucking. Just. Fucking doesn't happen."
"Without knowing your friends or the exact situation, I don't know that. Like I said, it's probable you were just collateral damage. Maybe the rats were just hungry," Emily replies to the man. "I don't know how much of an explanation you want, about what's out there. Your friends, though, they're very probably dead."
"I dunno. I dunno," He repeats this phrase several times, shaking his head and blinking his eyes open, attention ahead towards Emily but staring past her. Eventually he poses another question, "What do I do now?" after a pause, picking each word carefully, grip on his legs tightening. "I dunno what to do."
"Now, you take my hand, we get out of here and I take you to the hospital. You get treated and you talk to the HSD about your missing friends," Emily tells the man. "In a few days time your friends will be reported as having suffered from animal attacks in the forest. Then you go home and live your life, and hopefully you never ever come back here. And if you get the urge to dig around for any other information. You call me first."
With intense trepidation, after listening to Emily's advice, Sam nods slowly, shifting his weight and extending a hand to Emily while carefully moving to his feet, balancing precariously in a crouched position. "I," he starts, hints of resignation tinging his voice, "I will."
"Okay," Emily says, standing and taking the man's hand, and then taking that sideways step to shift them back to regular old reality. Her car is parked nearby, so she pulls out her car keys and unlocks it with a chirp. "Come on," she says, letting go. She pulls a wallet out of her purse, and a business card out of that. It reads her name, Emily Mercer, and Temple Steel on the card, along with two numbers and an email address. "Take this, keep it with you. Don't go looking into this on your own."
As the transition from unreal back to real occurs, Sam stumbles slightly, groaning and pressing a palm to the side of his head, rubbing. "Okay," he says quietly, nodding, falling in line with her. "Okay. I won't," He assures Emily as he takes the card, glancing it over and stowing it into his pocket with trembling fingers, the initial shock of the truth's he'd been told either settling him into an emotionally deadened state, or having passed. It isn't terribly easy to tell. From this point on, he grows more and more quiet, speaking only when initially prompted, and cooperating with Emily and the hospital staff as mutely as possible.
Emily makes the call to the HSD and explains the situation as quietly as possible. They know her, she knows them. They know what to do. So does the hospital staff. This is probably more of a regular occurrence than it really should be. "Sam," she tells the man once the room clears enough for her to speak to him privately, her tone collected but not without empathy or kindness. "I'm sorry about what happened. It isn't something you can forget about, I know. But if you go looking, you will get in over your head. Don't do it unless you're sure it's what you want."
The HSD let Emily know that they'll have someone come speak to Sam, as soon as possible. And the hospital staff get him seen to. Checked out, bandaged where necessary, put into a bed, and on a drip fed IV attached to his arm. "I know," Sam answers her quietly, with a slow nod. "I," another pause, lengthy and pregnant with (probably perturbed) thought. "We were just trying to have fun. Alyssa was going away. For a job, to France. We were already in over our heads," he rattles off softly. "Everyone is. Right? All the... Normal people, like me? All the time? We're in over our heads. But we don't know it."
"Yes," Emily answers candidly, taking a seat by the man's bed. "You are. But most normal people don't have such direct experiences. They can still have normal lives. There are people trying to fight for you. But it's not an easy battle to take up. And you can't go back once you cross that line."
Again Sam continues to nod slowly, listening to Emily in silence, eyes settled on a wall. "Has," he starts with hesitation, lips drawn tightly, "It always been this way? This, just. It didn't happen overnight. It's always been like this?" Sam doesn't look towards Emily while he speaks, eyes half lidded.
"Yes," Emily replies, leaning back against her seat. A hint of weariness creeps into her features at the question. "It's always been this way."
As before Sam sits in silence. The only sign that he's even registered what Emily says, at first, a minute nod of his head, fingers digging into his bedding lightly. "I don't like it," he decides, his tone neutral. Or as neutral as can be, given the circumstances, with tinges of both resignation and distaste creeping into his voice. "Thank you, though," Sam adds in in an afterthought, looking over to Emily, a frown still present despite the sincerity in his voice. "For talking to me. For sitting here with me. Thank you."
"I don't like it either," Emily tells Sam. "Maybe one day it won't be like this anymore. There are people trying to make it that way. But that day is not today, and probably not tomorrow, either. You're welcome. But I'm afraid you won't thank me for knowing about this later. It will be very hard not to be constantly looking over your shoulder."
In response Sam nods in a small manner again, listening to Emily without interrupting her. About two thirds of the way through her talk, the door to the room creeps open and a blonde woman in khakis with a star shaped badge pinned to her chest slips in, remaining quiet until Emily draws to a close. "Hey," she greets the pair of them quietly, nodding. "How's about I take things from here, yeah?"
"Sure thing," Emily says, pushing up from her seat. "Sam, listen to what the Deputy here has to say and do as she tells you to. If you feel like you need anything while you're in town, you have my number." She shoulders her bag and heads for the door.
"Alright," Sam nods a little, looking from Emily to the deputy and back. "I will, Emily. Thank you," he offers the briefest and most minute of smiles, expression rapidly shifting back down into something of a frown. He watches for a moment or two as Emily heads for the door, before the Deputy engages him, and they begin to talk, in hushed tones.