The world made more sense when it was clean. That, more than any other reason, is why Jack loved his work. Hunting quickly became so complicated, but cleaning was simple and pure. When it was just he and Stan, they worked one job at a time to create a more organized world. A clean world meant that everything had a place where it belonged. If something got out of place, one simply had to lift it up and put it back where it needed to be. That was true of people as well. Even someone as contemptible as Jack’s father belonged right where he was, cooped up in his dingy office with the blinds closed and the fire roaring in the middle of summer. Sometimes, all you can do is hide away the stain so nobody can see it. Samantha also had a place where she belonged and it wasn’t kidnapped by some crazed plant cult. This was a hunt, and one which Jack had hoped he never would see again. Hunting made even less sense when you’re hunting for a family member in order to save them.
On this one occasion, Jack was truly glad that his father had a place he belonged. Varnes was sick, and had been sick for as long as Jack could remember. He hardly ever left his study, except for rare occasions when he went to sleep in his own room. That predictability meant that he would be home, and even Varnes Goodbody wouldn’t be so calloused as to let his only daughter get dragged off by the same cult which had stolen his youngest son from them.
The road stretched on eternally in front of them. Once Jack started recognizing the landmarks which led him home, the road grew even longer. As the van raced along, he willed himself into a state of calm. A frantic hunter would do no good for Samantha. He needed to be sharp and prepared to move at a moment’s notice. What he really needed was information. Running off wild would waste valuable time.
They arrived at the house in the early hours of the morning, when the mists were still curled around the tree trunks and the sun had barely risen enough to dispel the darkness. Jack hopped out of the car and raced through the front doors. It only took a few steps into the house to realize something was wrong. He could smell it in the air which lazily washed past him out the doors. It smelled stale, the Goodbody house always did, but it lacked that sickly sweet edge it normally carried. Fear, true fear and panic set in. Slowly, Jack walked around the first floor, trying to find someone to question. All the furniture was exactly where he remembered it. The kitchen was still warm from that morning’s breakfast. In his entire circuit of the ground floor, he only met a few maids and servants, and they would barely respond to him.
Trudging up the stairs with heavy feet, Jack barely noticed Stan hovering in the lobby with a concerned look on his face. The stairs led his feet to his father’s office. The door into it was open, the fire was cold and the chair Varnes normally occupied was empty. The one time he needed his father to be a guardian and a guide, he had vanished without a trace. Surely, someone who knew where he had gone would come soon, but Jack had no time to waste. He only had one clue to go on, and that meant it was time to research on his own.
Crossing the room, Jack drew the blinds aside from the massive windows which overlooked the backyard and flung the windows open. Cold mountain air poured in, dispelling the scents which had been idle in the room for so long. The fresh air helped Jack calm down and think. Time to research. Ishmael had told them the cult had a massive complex in Connecticut. Since his father had let it go this long without reacting, that meant he didn’t know it was there. That hardly meant there would be no records on cults in Connecticut, he just needed to narrow down which one he was looking for.
Hours passed, and the research in his father’s office proved fruitless. No book in the study, no file in the cabinets, and no job on the personal message board provided anything which meshed with the clue Ishmael had given them. Sitting back in his father’s desk chair, Jack pushed back a ways and kicked the desk hard enough to lift it up off the ground. The center drawer came loose and hit the ground with a solid thud. He expected the contents to spill out all over the ground, but surprisingly there were only two files in it. One of them was the file which Jack had given him, taken from Ezra’s(?) office before all this madness had begun. The other was a file which his father must have compiled. Most of it made little to no sense to Jack, but one stray piece of paper caught his eye. It was the address of a building in Connecticut, which belonged to a cult. The name, “Children of Light” was as generic as it got. What really caught Jack’s eye was the mention that the cult lived in a massive building next to a farm.
Rising to his feet, Jack memorized the address and tucked the piece of paper into his pocket, slipping the file under his arm. If the cult took her there, Sam wouldn’t have been there even for a whole day by that point. Dashing down the stairs, Jack found Stan sleeping at the bottom of the stairs, leaned against the wall next to the trophy werewolf. Gently kicking his leg, he roused his companion to wakefulness. That nudge from Jack sent him shooting upwards at incredible speed.
”We ready to take off, boss? The van’s prepped, the tools is ready to go.”
Jack nodded and handed Stan the piece of paper he had located in the drawer, “I found this in father’s desk. It’s the place where they took our sister, if Ishmael is telling the truth.”
Stan took the piece of paper in his gargantuan fingers and held it up to his eyes, “Is we sure we can trust them guys?”
Looking out the door, Jack could tell Stan worked hard making sure the van was in tip-top shape. It sat higher than usual, and the windows looked cleaner.
“We have to look. Let’s go, Stanley. We’re going to get Samantha back.”
Stan nodded and stomped out for the driver’s seat, fishing for a cigar from his pocket as he went. Family is family, no matter where they came from. Jack adjusted his tie and checked his suit before hopping into the passenger seat. As Stan drove down the drive towards the main road away from home and towards his sister, Jack struggled to keep calm. Just because his sister was at risk was no reason to break from the usual procedure when dealing with a cult. If anything, that was all the more reason to keep to the tried and true methods. Getting anything wrong here would have disastrous consequences.
The cult property, which the cultists had fled to with his sister, was located in North Haven. It was a good choice for a recruitment ground, because it lay directly on the border of Haven. North Haven had seen better days, but Haven remained fairly prosperous. That meant they were able to recruit from the poor and desperate, as well as those who were bored and searching for meaning in empty materialism. Before Jack was going to bulrush the cult complex, he wanted to find out as much information as he could about the location.
The building wasn’t hard to find. It sat at the top of a large hill, overlooking a road which wound its way down to the main thoroughfare which ran through both towns. The property was surrounded by a tall chain link fence capped by razor wire. From the road, Jack could only see three buildings. The largest of the three was a barn which resembled a Romanesque cathedral if it were built by the Amish. It was a barn made for worship, and for human food. Close by, was a large brick building which looked to be their dormitory. The third building sat at the bottom of the hill, close to the fence. Jack couldn’t see anyone around the building, but if he had to guess, it served as an intake house for new members. It also probably housed some guards. In the distance, Jack could see a field of wheat swaying gently in the breeze.
Getting back into the van, Jack nodded and Stan drove them back into town. Asking questions of the locals about the giant ominous complex on the outskirts of town would ring too many alarm bells, and he didn’t want them to know he was there yet. He had two sources of information to tap at his immediate disposal. The first was the file his father had left behind in his desk. The second was word of mouth he could catch just by eavesdropping, and getting a little lucky.
They chose a diner in the middle of town and sat down to eat two days’ worth of meals, which they had missed while on the hunt. As they ate, Jack flipped open the file and examined the contents in more detail. The cult he was looking for was hardly mentioned at all, but there was a list of Machina and suspected current locations at the back of the file, written on a page in his father’s simple, but elegant, handwriting. So the cult were looking for Machina as well, were they?
It made sense. If you wanted to bring your evil Elder Plant gods into being, you couldn’t do much better than a piece of magical equipment which could bring those dark realities to life. It also explained why Ezra(?) was helping the cult. If he was looking for a quick way to get his dead wife back, the Deus would be the fastest and most cost effective means of doing it. None of that sacrificing a close friend nonsense, just the press of a button and it’s done.
They spent the rest of the day wandering around the town window shopping for information. Jack knew he was being overly cautious, but any wrong move could have consequences for his sister. It was only after the sun began to set that he started to give up on the idea of getting more information. It had already grown dark by the time they reached the cult’s property again and parked on the side of the road. If they couldn’t go in prepared, they could at least go in quickly and find her as fast as possible.
The fence around the complex looked completely unattended, but Jack expected there to be security cameras or some unearthly horror show of plant monsters guarding the cultists. Stepping up to the chain link fence, he tentatively touched the metal and found nothing. No alarms sounded, no cameras whirred, the fence remained completely quiet in the darkness.
Stan tromped over to await instructions, both of their cleaning bags slung over his shoulder, “Cults ain’t got no common sense. How come they had no idea we was comin?”
Jack removed his suit coat and folded it over, placing it gently on the ground, “I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I intend to find out. Get me over the fence.”
Stan shuffled the cleaning bags from his shoulder and handed Jack his bag before hunkering down and cupping his hands for Jack to place a foot on them. Placing his right foot on Stan’s outstretched palms, Jack braced himself and placed his hands on Stan’s shoulders. With a heft, he sent Jack rocketing skyward and over the fence, sailing a good distance onto the property before he landed. He surveyed the property and slowly pulled his steel broom out, waiting to see if there was any reaction to his intrusion. The sharp bristles glimmered in the light which poured from the windows into the night. Time to let Stan in and find his sister.