Alicia had made herself quite at home these past few days. Since it had occurred to her that the only people on the planet that could have a chance to save her sister lived in this house she swore that she would learn everything about them. That meant pummeling Sean with question after question about this monster and that. Her curiosity even drove her to hear the gorier stories Sean and the others had to offer, and when a chance arrived at seeing a monster interrogated she didn’t even flinch. This was especially interesting to Scott who had only recently met her. He didn’t quite see how she was so drawn into their world this fast, despite the loss of her sister and the resurgence of her as an evil entity. He had figured she would turn away when the punches started to fly and the human looking fellow in the chair was beaten to a pulp. He saw himself proven wrong, for Alicia was in this to the end. There were quite a few times the expressions she made led Scott to believe she was a second away from asking to help torture Collin.
Sean is shaking his head, “Not liking this at all man,” he says to Marko. Alicia pipes up with: “When did you get back? How did you get back?” For once her questioning is met with approval from Sean. Marko doesn’t want to reveal too much to the wrangler, he simply waves off the question for now. Scott and Sean nod having inferred correctly that Collin was the problem. Alicia does not understand. “You waved yourself here, is that like what Ian does?” Marko ignores Sean and Scott who were fervently nodding their heads as if to say, “Yes, please confuse her more!” He just tells Alicia, “Not quite. Look we’ve got a thing here…” Nick coughs deliberately before saying: “Yeah, are we doing this or not?”
As Marko draws nearer to Collin who is staring wide eyed and frightened at the buckets of water, he kneels in front of him. He checks the restraints to see if they’re holding up or if he had loosed himself while the others were distracted by Marko’s return. Then he says, “Collin. I’m not going to lie to you. Right now I’m not playing with a full deck; things have been taken from me. I don’t particularly dislike you and the reason for that is honestly unknown to me. Could it be that I have no reason to dislike you, or that I do not possess the ability to dislike anyone anymore. In order to find out I am willing to test the remaining humanity in me by seeing how far I am willing to go in torturing you. I can’t even say in good conscience that telling me the truth will save you here, but then again maybe it will.” Marko looks at Nick and gives him a thumb up. “No!” Screams Collin. “I don’t know what you want yet, tell me what I need to tell you. Is it about the Mare? Is it about my family? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!”
“Oh I’m sorry,” begins Marko, “I forgot all about that part. Start with your family. Is this your crest?” Nick tilts his head to the side. He asks: “Dude, are you sure you don’t want to ask about the Mare first?”
“No,” says Marko. “I have a hunch we ought to begin at the beginning.” Collin takes this as his cue and he is happy to do so. “Alright look, I’m a flesh eater.” There is a collective “Eww…” from the group. “I know you think I’m something disgusting but it’s how I live, it’s how we survived. I don’t get why though, I mean when you look around at the other monsters they have a something to show for their darker sides, but not us. We live about as long as a human, we look about as average as a human, but we need them to live, and only them. For a while there were a lot of us, but the thing is we couldn’t live together for long because when the whole town is eaten up people start asking questions like ‘How are these three families the only ones untouched’. We were even scape goats for other monsters; they started to blame their crimes on us. We were defenseless. So then my great, great, great, great, probably a few more greats, grandfather came up with an idea. If they blame us, why don’t we turn it on them? Better still he would get the creeps to take the fall for us. He took a copy of the family crest to a priest of some kind, and together they made a brand from it. That was poetic justice in motion; they sealed the deal using the bones of an actual scapegoat to give the brand longevity. Now we’re the only family of our kind left alive. We brand a monster here and there to tell them to kill for us. We take the scraps from their kill and then they get hunted down in our place. When the brand heals the spell wears off. Pain in the neck that last part is, if you forget about it you might brand a werewolf and try and keep them too long. Trouble is once they change back to human mode they’re all healed up and those are some angry folks.”
Alicia quickly asks the question on everyone’s mind, “What do you mean the bones of a scapegoat?” Marko is actually impressed that she kept up with the story and knew to ask that question. She learned an awful lot in just a short time. Collin explains: “Scapegoats used to be a tradition in the less than intellectual past of humanity. No offense… They would take a literal goat and drag it through town so it could be abused by the people living there. The creature would literally be a sounding board for the sins of a village. This was their way of cleansing their souls; they would cast their worst aspects out onto an innocent animal. They would either kill the damn thing or banish it when they reached the outskirts of town.”
Marko picks up the story here, saying: “Only they didn’t understand that the casting of sin has a powerful effect on the goats. They were actually inheriting the evils of the town. That’s powerful magic right there. So when they were believed to be banished, they were really taken by the magically inclined if not for use, then to sell them or their bones. That much hate in a single vessel could power a spell for ages.” Scott asks: “Since when are you such an expert on spell ingredients?”
“Since my friend told me all about it. He knew of a few remains left of scapegoats that still had power. I can’t believe I never thought of this before but if you trade that lasting power for raw output you could make a short and powerful spell verses a long lasting one.” Sean crosses his arms, he asks: “I see that look in your eyes, what are you getting at?”
“I’m getting at the reason why we can’t cure Tatia or Deacon. They’re being cursed by someone who has used a scapegoat’s bones to empower the curse. We tried to tackle that thing with everything we had. What if we failed because no one single effort is going to outmatch the collective hate of a city?” Marko is relieved at the epiphany and also that he still feels relief. “Then,” says Nick, “We can either take the curses down by destroying the bone used in the curse, or we kick the anti-spelling into overdrive and see if we can burn out the rest of the spell’s juice.” You couldn’t hear it but at that moment bells and whistles were ringing in everyone’s head, except for Alicia’s, she asks: “Who are Tatia and Deacon?” She is ignored. Marko wonders if investigating the same priest that helped Collin’s ancestor might lead them to whoever cursed their friends but he quickly realizes that the odds were slim that Collin could provide both the answer to Tatia and Deacon’s afflictions and the identity of the Mare, Never would we be that lucky.
“You guys are sharp,” says Collin. Marko shakes his head, “You have no friends, here carry on with the story.”
“So,” says Collin, feeling a little more than defeated, “That brand is kind of my whole deal. I’ve used it my entire life. Eventually some people came to me asking about it.” Scott interrupts, asking: “People you say?”
“Alright fine, they were demons. Scary ones too. They said they needed help with something, a big project they were working on for bigger and scarier demons. They had rounded up a bunch of Mares I was supposed to brand them one at a time and influence them to haunt people. I didn’t understand what they were doing, and I honestly still don’t get what kind of operation they were running. In the end they found who or what they were looking for. They had me rebrand that poor thing a hundred times. I ran him into the ground. You should see the state he’s probably in now, I told them it didn’t make sense to do this to one Mare alone when they had a stable full that they weren’t using but they said ‘this one will do just fine, the others are just backup’. I knew one day whatever they drudged up with that Mare would come back and bite me. You guys aren’t ordinary monster hunters. You’re way too equipped and those other guys are loners but I see you have a pretty big group here. They messed with you didn’t they? I can help more; I can brand almost any kind of monster.”
“Unless that includes demons you’ve pretty much given us everything we need from you,” says Sean. Collin is silent. Demons are far beyond him or his brand. Alicia however, is not satisfied, not yet. “Tell us what they made my sister see!” The outburst startles everyone, Collin a little more so than the others. She seems unapologetic at causing his fear. “No, he told me he can’t see what visions he brings people he only knows what buttons to press so they come out all dark and ominous.” Nick hangs on to that thought with both hands. He says: “How can that be of any use to them unless they have a way of looking into the dreams. The Mare was alone the whole time or was there someone else with him?” Collin hesitates. He doesn’t know the answer they’re looking for or which one will cause the less pain. Silence is not the best choice. Alicia slaps him without warning. Collin squeals, “I don’t know. Sometimes we would talk. I really felt bad for him, one outcast to another, we would talk sometimes and he forgave me for what I had to do. I know he feasts of the nightmares but I also know he doesn’t have a clue what they’re about.”
“Think faster,” starts Nick. He lifts the buckets of water as a threat. Collin is spiraling into despair, he knows Scott is impervious to bullets and that Sean being his brother would mean he too had some sort of power, so what does this man with the buckets have that would make him a partner to these two. Nothing is more important to Collin than never finding out that answer. “Wait! Wait. I don’t know what this is worth to you but there was one time he said something like… uh… ‘Ask a sleepwalker if you really want to find out what a nightmare looks like’, but I don’t know what that means. There, that’s all I have.”
By now everyone with the exception of Alicia had taken a seat around Collin. Marko is staring at Scott’s socks. “Are you wearing worn out socks? We have a million upstairs.” Scott is confused, and then he looks down at his feet and laughs. “That’s an Eliot original right there. I asked him for something that would help channel the power of rock. I half expected him to come back with an amplifier, but instead he’s holding holy socks.”
“That’s smart,” says Marko. “As long as you have a connection to the Earth you can invoke rock.” Alicia clears her throat trying to bring the attention back to Collin. Scott goes on. “I still have to stand perfectly still to block a bullet and it still leaves a wicked bruise but it’s not all bad.” Sean adds: “Yeah, it’s better than a poke in the eye.” Alicia has had enough. “Guys, focus!” Nick pats her on the back, “The story is over,” he says. “There’s nothing more to learn from this guy now. Why don’t you go, hrmmm, anywhere but here?” When Alicia won’t leave, Scott calls for her, “Hey Alicia,” he begins. As she focuses her attention on him, she hears a crackling sound from behind her. She isn’t sure but she thinks a flash of light came from Nick’s direction. She turns to see Collin motionless in his chair and Nick displaying an innocent grin. “Alright,” says Sean. “Show’s over. Collin here is all tuckered out.” Before Alicia can mount any form of protest Scott leads her out of the garage and away from Collin’s lifeless body. Nick and Marko remain behind. “So, ever heard of a sleepwalker before?” Asks Nick. “No. It sounds pretty made up.” Nick agrees. “Next step,” he says, “find the monster that doesn’t exist.” Marko nods before saying, “That’s just the way we’ve always done it.” Nick adds: “The way that he talked. It sounded like he didn’t know the Mare is dead.”
“Yeah. Now I wonder if I shouldn’t have killed it so soon.” Marko doesn’t wonder this for long.