Death follows the Goodbody family. It was as much a part of their family heritage as hunting or individuality. Somehow, it still caught Jack off guard when someone he cared about died. The brilliant sickening light cascading from the chandelier blinded him slightly, leaving his thoughts fuzzy, and his motions sluggish and slow. The cult leader, who just vanished up to the third floor in an undignified escape, was the goal which kept Jack going. Cults were, almost by design, incredibly suspicious of outsiders, but in Jack’s experience they treated other cults in much the same way major corporations treated client e-mail lists. They often networked and bickered with each other about their dueling insane beliefs. While Jack felt certain that his ineptitude had led to his sister’s demise, he could still find what was left of her and give her a decent burial at home. He doubted her spirit would stay there long. She had never been a homebody in life, and what remained of her would follow suit in the afterlife as well.
His thoughts came crashing back to reality with Stan’s mallet, which swung through the air in a short, tight arc and smacked his head into what remained of the wall they had just knocked down. The lenses of his glasses shattered and crinkled to the ground, his ruined frames quickly following them, slipping from his face. This would be a race then. How fast could Jack catch up with this farce of a cult leader while keeping ahead of Stan? Slightly dazed, he snatched the shaft of the mallet before Stan could retract it to strike him again, he grabbed the mallet head and pulled it off. Trying to remove the mallet, or break it, would prove to be too time consuming. With this, at least Stan only had a long stick. What damage could he do with a stick?
When he had a free moment, and Stan was no longer trying to kill him under the orders of a man they had never met before, he would have to examine him to find out what was going on. Only the unhinged and chaotic nature of the moment stopped that question from rising to the top of his mind. Concern for his friend, along with the time it would have taken to fight him, meant that a frontal confrontation was out of the question. Stan wavered for a moment, holding the handle to his mallet with a dumbfounded expression he had never seen before. It must be the light, which was affecting Jack’s ability to focus as well.
Time felt as though it was drawing to a stop as Jack dodged away from Stan and took his first step towards the stairs. The cloaked cultists rushing towards the stairs to cut him off looked as though they were moving in slow motion. It was a sensation which Sam had described to him often, the feeling of absolute concentration she achieved when hunting. On rare occasions, he had experienced the same sensation, but it was rare that the work he took with Stan pushed him to that extreme. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he could see the openings between the bodies cascading down the stairs in a river of angry, undulating idiots.
It was his instincts which saved him, almost pushing him back a step without even knowing why. The mallet handle shot past him and flew off into the building before lodging itself into a wall. Apparently, that’s what Stan could do with a stick. Time to put some distance between himself and Stan. If they got into a fight, Jack would almost certainly win, but it would take precious moments which his quarry could use to escape capture. Rather than let the moment run away, he decided to let Stan be the one to take out the cultists racing down the stairs. It was the least he could do for Jack, given that he had already attacked him twice.
Once he decided to avoid any fighting, his path became easier. Advancing up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, Jack slipped himself through gaps in the crowd of cultists. Worming his way in between them, he could hardly slow down a moment with Stan chasing him. Anyone who fell behind him was violently thrust out of the way, as Stan struggled to deal with the brainwashed, robed traffic barriers Jack left in his wake. As he reached the top of the stairs, Jack grabbed one particularly hefty cultist by his robe and helpfully shoved him down the stairs. The cultists below him tumbled down like dominoes directly into Stan, who had to brace himself to stop them from pushing him back. That gained Jack a precious few seconds.
It occurred to him while he ran up the stairs that Stan’s behavior would immensely improve if that chandelier weren’t shining anymore. That must be what was affecting his own movements, and if it were affecting Stan’s motor skills as well, it would explain why he was having a relatively easy time keeping ahead of him. There was something strange about that light, however. Something which clearly went beyond a normal chandelier. The cult leader had mentioned receiving it recently. Mentally, Jack added it to the list of questions he wanted to ask the man when he found him.
Reaching the third floor Jack quickly located the chain which held the chandelier suspended over the second floor. It had been lowered via a winch to shine down onto the second floor. That was likely why portions of the floors and walls were missing, so that the light could shine on as many places in the building as possible. He wanted to give it a closer examination, but Stan’s footsteps gave him no pause for thought. All he needed to do was stop the chandelier from shining. The walls around him lacked any switches and the cord ran around a wall off into the third floor. With that in mind, he took the chain in his hands and lifted it up slightly to give himself some slack. Just as Stan reached the third floor, Jack snapped the chain holding the chandelier into two with a sharp jerk. Letting go of the chain, it swung downwards towards the floor and shattered into pieces.
The lights from the chandelier vanished with that crashing sound, and the pain which Jack hadn’t even realized was lurking in the front of his head went away. Stan collapsed to his knees, dust rising around him as he fell forward, barely managing to support himself on his hands.
Jack was at his side in an instant, checking his forehead with the back of his hand and gently pulling an eyelid open to check his eyes. The pupils were dilated and appeared to writhe slightly as though they couldn’t maintain their shape. As Jack watched, the movement slowly came to a stop.
“Sorry…boss. Ain’ no way I could’a stopped. Them lights was in my head.” Stan slumped forward and gently hit the ground. His heavy breathing reassured Jack that when he came to, he would be back to his old self.
Getting up and adjusting his tie, Jack scanned the third floor. The walls remained mostly intact, but thankfully he hardly had to look for his target very long. He was the only other person moving in the whole building. Everyone else was either dead, unconscious, or wishing mightily that they were dead, thanks to Stan’s rampage. The few cultists who were conscious merely sat, holding their heads. Stopping, he leaned down and examined one. He seemed disoriented, lost, and entirely confused as to where he was, or even when he was.
Leaving the cultist, he turned his attention back to their former leader. As Jack listened, he could hear footsteps retreating away from him, headed downwards. Oh, of course. There would have to be some second set of stairs reserved for a making a quick escape in case the Feds got interested in why so many people were coming onto the property, and just decided to never leave.
In a building with three stories, and stairs which could only lead down, Jack at least knew the general direction he was headed in. Racing back down the stairs, and winding around the bodies he had pushed past only minutes before, he reached the ground floor in record time. After waiting for just long enough to be sure that his quarry hadn’t simply left via a side door, checking from the front door for flapping robes in the distance, Jack decided to explore the first floor. It didn’t take long to find a door which led down into a basement. In his haste to escape from Jack, he had left it open, but it wouldn’t have taken Jack long to find it anyways.
It led downwards into a crypt of sorts, with a seemingly endless amount of spaces open for bodies. Many of the spaces were already filled, with believers or apostates, not that it made much difference at this point. He found the cult leader desperately scraping away at a wall with his fingernails. Jack scratched his head. Why would anyone go down this path if there was no way out? Maybe he expected Jack would just leave, under the assumption that he had already left. Panic or overconfidence had led to his downfall.
“I didn’t do anything wrong! This isn’t my fault!” The cult leader’s hooded robe fell away, and the result was as spectacularly underwhelming as Jack had learned to expect. He was a thin man, with pale eyes and a sort of dreamy expression on his face. His few wisps of hair spoke of stressful hours running a rat race which, as a cult leader, he no longer needed to run. On the chart of banal evil, he was evil milk toast, capable of hurting people only because someone had given him something so powerful even he couldn’t screw it up. The power in his voice had vanished, replaced by a cowering, wavering voice which sounded more natural coming from his frame.
“We’re surrounded by those who followed your beliefs, whatever they were, and you have the gall to tell me that you didn’t do anything wrong?”
“The light! The light will save us all, which shines from any source which has the stone! It knows all, and sees all, and…”
Jack stopped listening as the situation became clear. It was different than whatever Jack could have expected. This thing he had found, or been given, it was so powerful it had warped his mind. The blind was leading the blind, “And who gave this thing to you?”
After that, he fell silent and looked down at his hand. He was holding a small black cylinder with strangely familiar black markings. Prying it from his hands, Jack turned away and returned to the first floor without a word. He found a groggy Stan waiting for him.
“Boss, I ain’t never had that happen before. I got no idea what happened.”
Holding up the black cylinder he had taken mere moments before, Jack shook his head, “It sounds like everyone was being controlled by this thing. It looks almost exactly like the one we took from Creepy Bug Guy. We can’t let anyone else get their hands on these.”
Stan scratched his chin thoughtfully, “So the reason yer father had them notes on this cult was that metal piece’a…”
“Yes, it had absolutely nothing to do with the Cult of the Fields, or my sister. We’ve been had, Stanley. All we can do is head back home and get to work recovering what’s left of my sister. I find it hard to believe she’s still alive at this point, given how many of their people she killed in her one woman rampage.”
“What about them cultists? I smell no blood on you either, what about the guy in charge?”
Jack paused, “I left him alive, technically, but he’s all alone now. The only member of a cult more helpless than the suckers on the lowest rung is the biggest sucker sitting on top. You learn to think you’re invincible and you forget how to take care of yourself. That guy was a nobody before, and he’s still a nobody now. If the other members of the cult don’t find him, he’s going to die on his own. Nobody will even remember his name.”
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, I never asked.”
Tragedy never happens for a reason. People gave purpose to them afterwards, something Jack refused to do. In his haste, and his fear, he had sought out his kidnapped sister and failed to find her. Ezra’s companion, Ishmael Denavi, had sent him on a wild goose chase, and in his eagerness to find his sister, he had fallen for the ploy. He had found another Machina, likely the reason his father kept notes on the place. He had planted a seed, tended it, and watched it grow twisted and evil from afar. That didn’t give this trip purpose, nor did it give his tragedy a meaning. His sister was almost certainly dead, and that was something he would live with. When he found his father, he had some questions he needed to ask him. His father might not like the questions, but Jack wasn’t sure he even wanted the answers. The long trek back to the van and the ride homewards would give him plenty of time to think it over.