Growing up in a powerful and secretive family, Jack understood the mystique of cults quite well. Loneliness can be a fate worse than death, and being part of a cult made you part of something bigger than yourself. That’s all well and good, until it all goes wrong and the scales get pulled away from your eyes. For Jack, the loss of his brother was the event which caused him to finally leave it all behind. Even before that, though, he had been considering leaving. Cults also come with their own problems, which Jack was intimately familiar with. If you spend all your time looking inwards at your own group, you’ll never notice the intruders slowly sneaking up on you until it’s too late.
Remaining still, knowing his sister was so close, and forcing himself to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness was one of the most difficult things Jack had ever done. Successful hunts require three things, things which had been pounded into him since he was a child. Planning, patience, and determination. With his only remaining sibling on the line, he found himself sorely lacking in the first two traits. If he were his father, or his sister, he could have made up the difference in pure talent. Lacking that talent, he would just have to move fast and hope that nobody caught onto their presence until they were already gone.
Returning to the fence, Jack hefted his broom up into the air. The steel bristles twinkled in the low light before he brought it down twice, slashing a hole in the fence for Stan to clamber under. Looking back to the compound, he studied the buildings and considered which one to attack first. The largest building was the barn, clearly intended as a place of worship. It looked empty, however, and Jack felt safe leaving that building for last. The lights were on at the smallest building, which lay directly next to the gate leading into the compound. That would be the safest place to start, and it would allow for a quick escape route if their rescue went south. The largest building sat atop a hill. The lights coming from the third floor danced slightly, showing movements in the light which he couldn’t comprehend. Instinctually, he looked away from the lights. Best to start with the smallest building first. When you’re trying to rescue someone from a cult, it’s best to work in one solid direction, like rolling up a carpet full of Dirt Gremlins so you can release them all into the wild at the same time.
The building they started with, which stood by the gate, was a rather deceptive piece of architecture. It’s design was simple, bricks and windows with a small front door. Light streamed out from the windows, illuminating the road leading up to the other buildings. At first glance, it was a completely harmless building, with nothing special to show for itself. A closer examination revealed some troubling features. In a few places on the building, the brickwork had been pulled away to reveal reinforced concrete. The front door, which had been painted a bright blue color, was actually made from reinforced steel. These design choices made it’s sinister purposes quite clear. If you were joining their little club, that building would welcome you inside. Like most cults, it was easy to get in, but very difficult to get out again.
Jack stood to one side of the door and nodded to Stan. Taking a few steps back, Stan raised his foot in the air and smashed the door into the building. Stepping inside, Jack scanned the room. To his surprise, they weren’t greeted by a wave of cultists occupied by plant monsters. A quick tour through the rest of the building revealed nothing worthwhile. The first floor held only empty offices and some locked doors which leaked the smell of dried blood from the rooms behind them. Though Jack felt sure the blood was too old to belong to Sam, he kicked the doors down anyways to confirm it. He was thankfully right. The second floor was made up of simple bedrooms. Each room had it’s own gun rack, but all the guns were still hanging in place. The beds were warm, and the sheets were flung back to the bottom of the bed as though they had been tossed aside in a hurry.
“Looks like someone called an emergency meeting.” Jack looked out the window of the room they were in towards the large dormitory building. The lights which shone out from the window gave Jack a slight headache as he watched colors within the lights dance.
“We best go break them up, boss.”
Jack headed for the door, the trance of the lights broken by Stan’s voice. Stepping back outside, he once again took a few impossibly long moments to adjust his vision to the darkness. Avoiding the road, they crossed the yard to stand at the bottom of the hill which led up to the building. The slope which led up to the main building turned out to be incredibly useful, due to the tall grass which grew on it. Once they hit the slope, it became difficult to make out any movement amongst the long grass leading up towards the main entrance. Once they reached the top of the slope, they stopped and waited.
Once he was satisfied that they wouldn’t be seen, Jack dashed to the side of the building. Taking a quick peak through the window, Jack was dumbfounded by what he saw. Whatever original purpose the building had been intended for, it could no longer serve that purpose. Aside from stairs leading to the second floor and load bearing bits of wall, the most of floor had been pulled out, leaving him clearly able to see the second floor. From where he was, he could see the entire cult gathered in one group on the largest bit of remaining floor, looking upwards towards a hole in the ceiling. From the ceiling, a chandelier slowly descended, attached to a chain. That chandelier was what gave out the strange lights which had been bothering Jack’s eyes for so long.
The light blazing out from the windows made it quite difficult for Jack to see what was going on, but as he got closer he could hear the shuffling inside. The murmuring of the people milling around in what Jack assumed was the opening hall could be heard even from outside, making Jack think the amount of people was far more than he had originally expected. Warning bells started going off in his head as he noticed strange things about this cult. They wore robes, which Jack had never noticed in worshippers of the Elder Plant gods thus far, and not everyone in the crowd was human. There wasn’t a law against non-humans worshipping evil plant deities that he was aware of, but those monstrous plants seemed to view people as produce, so what did that make a lizard person? Jack wanted to know, because several of the cultists had scaled tails poking out from under their robes. Some of the others had teeth poking out from their mouths which indicated goblin ancestry somewhere in their background.
Since the cultists were expectantly waiting for something, and Jack could see no sign of his sister in immediate danger, he decided to wait. He didn’t have to sit idle long before their leader showed up. He wore a different colored robe, with ornate nonsensical markings along the hood he had pulled ominously low. From where he was situated, Jack couldn’t see the man’s face. Light from the chandelier bathed him in shadows beneath his hood. The arrival of their caretaker led to thunderous applause that was so loud it knocked Jack back onto the seat of his pants in shock. It died down quickly and the speech began.
“Friends, it’s been three years since I had this wonderful new chandelier installed and in that time we have gained so many new friends.” a man was speaking, though he got cut off by a small shower of applause. This was, as Jack learned quickly, was a usual occurrence in his speech regardless of what he said.
“But sadly, we have lost friends as well. Some of them have left us for better situations and despite their promises to keep in touch, and some of them had to be sent away for good.” This was punctuated by a loud boo and some hisses from the captive audience. “But despite those losses, our home remains as strong as it ever has. We will not tolerate any weakness from within this family…”
“He sure rambles on some, don’t he?” Stan leaned on his mallet and rubbed his head before fishing for a cigar.
Jack simply listened and watched the man’s actions. In the pit of his stomach, he tried to push aside the nagging feeling that something was very wrong. It was more than the strange headache he had, it was a feeling that he had been lied to. Turning to Stan, he noticed his normally placid friend’s forehead was covered in beads of sweat, and his face barely hid the pain he was feeling. The light from the chandelier was affecting him even more than Jack.
Jack patted his arm and pulled him away from the light a bit more, making sure they both were in the shadows, “Are you alright, Stanley? You can sit this one out, if you want to. I won’t cut your pay, since this isn’t technically a job.”
Stan laughed, a low rumbling noise that managed to be drowned out by yet another cheer, “Boss, wherever you go I gotta go too. I don’t know no other way.”
Jack nodded and smirked, a tight and satisfied smile, “Well then, let me make the entrance. The problem seems to be the chandelier so once I take it out, you should be fine with your headache, right?”
Jack looked back at the front doors in the middle of the building and then returned his gaze to the strange chandelier and the cult. It would take far too long to get in through the front door, especially when they could just make their own by breaking the wall down. Jack nodded to Stan and waited while he found the right spot to attack.
Stan nodded and tapped the wall a few times, pressing his ear to the wall and listening carefully. Making sure to stay out of his way, Jack listened as well as with each tap, Stan got closer and closer to the sweet spot. Eventually, Jack tapped Stan to tell him that he had, indeed, found the spot. All buildings have some weak points, no matter how hard you try to get rid of them. The problem in making yourself an entrance in a wall became having the proper application of strength and most people didn’t have a Stanley at their disposal. Jack did. Stan wound up with his mallet and looked at Jack. Jack swung his broom out to the side, holding the long handle in two hands as Stan began his swing. The mallet hit and blew a huge hole in the wall, and thankfully didn’t send the whole building tumbling to the ground.
Light from the chandelier poured out into the darkness, spreading it’s strange multi-colored glow into the night. Stan stumbled back away from the light into the darkness, holding his hands over his eyes. Jack’s headache grew worse as he stepped into the building, but it still felt more bearable to him.
From his perch high above Jack, the cult leader pointed down at him and shook his finger, “The blasphemer comes to take me away from you! Defend me, my children!”
The man wound up to say more, but Jack used the opening to yell out his own demand, “Give me back my sister!”
“You can never have your sister back!”
The whole world came crashing down around him. Jack knew that a demand for his sister would have led to a recounting of his actions in Ramshead. That he didn’t even mention Jack’s sister by name gave him all the information he didn’t want to have, “You have no idea who I am, do you?”
That statement took the cult leader off guard, “You’re…from the nearby town, right? We just took in a new girl this last week and…”
Jack hefted his broom over his shoulder and examined the stairs leading up towards the third floor. Every single one of those cultists was going to get into his way. He could tell from the determined, vacant expressions on their faces. Something in their fanaticism felt wrong, however, as though it didn’t come from true belief. As a cult leader, he might have some information for Jack that could help him find his sister. The only thing to do was ask him, and then kill him.
“I’m going to kill you. Just stay right there, and I’ll come to you. This is what you get for wasting my time.” Jack placed one foot on the steps leading up towards the third floor.
“Protect me!” The cult leader turned and ran in the most undignified manner Jack had ever seen for a man wearing long robes and a hood. The air shifted behind him and Jack reflexively dodged to the side as a mallet came careening by his head. Stan stood behind him, with a crazed look in his eyes. His cigar lay abandoned on the floor, curling wisps of smoke into the air. As the cultists ran down the stairs to meet him, Stan raised his mallet again, aiming directly for Jack’s head.
“Well,” Jack realized the light from the chandelier was affecting his friend more than he had realized, “I’m definitely docking your pay for this.” Looking up the stairs, Jack braced himself and started to run. This whole thing had gotten very complicated.