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stonyfaced in edensphere_log

Characters: Stoneface (stonyfaced) and Paladin (mythgravenblade)
Date/Time: June 20th/21s5, evening to late night
Location: The Wilderness
Rating: 14-A for probable gore and creepy things.
Summary: Alas, poor NPC is stuck in the Wilderness, and Stoneface needs to rescue his subordinate. Paladin gets roped in to help.

------

When Stoneface saw the distinctly disturbing plea for help - in the writing of one of his new recruits no less - he wasted no time in gearing up and speeding over to the elevator as fast as he could. Usually, he stayed away from the Wilderness; he had no interest in a place that changed every month, disliked the buddy system and found himself ill equipped to deal with things that you couldn't use psychology against. But aversion be damned, the watchman was calling for him and Stoneface would never abandon a subordinate in need. He recalled the man behind the writing.

He was a younger, round-faced man who had skill with blunt weaponry and a certain enthusiasm and idealism that both revolted and attracted Stoneface to welcome him onto the team. He seemed a bit of a fool, a bit reckless, but he had a feeling that he would make a good watcman, just as some called Youth a fool upon his first arrival. Besides, he'd always had a soft spot for the underdog.

Well, look at what happened with that. There was blood on the paper. What if he found him but couldn't move him? He had a rudimentary education in first aid, of course, but nothing to deal with major wounds, and he needed somebody to come with him. He'd need a medic and a fighter, and--

There was Paladin, right by the elevator. He rushed up to him, clanking as he walked. "Paladin! I need your help. Can you fight?"

Comments

Paladin had been having a good day. Granted, as of last week all a day had to do to qualify as good was allow him to wake in his own bed, but it was good all the same--and topped off with a couple hours of practice at Melee Island, splitting dummies with his newest investment.

The evil twin had been what was on his mind when he began browsing Cara's shop for axes. Swords were all fine and good, yes, but against an armored opponent something heavier, more forceful would be of more available. Maces, clubs, morningstars, hammers--those would be of use as well, but he had settled on a single-headed axe of some size. And it split wooden dummies quite satisfyingly.

Home, shower, dinner, then what to do before bed. Something quiet, Paladin was sure--maybe reading more of that history--or perhaps he could--

And there was someone coming--in some armor, and running--He turned to see just as Stoneface called his name. He looked deeply agitated, and what he had to say was of no comfort--was there yet another mass assault? Though he hadn't heard any gunfire...

"Certainly, Captain," Paladin said, worry and confusion in his voice. "What's happened?" He wasn't on the Watch or Guard--if Stoneface needed him, apparently the first qualified person he saw, then the situation had to be bad.
"One of my watchmen is stuck in the Wilderness," he said, bluntly. "I know he can handle himself in a fight, but he can't there." He paused for a moment, hand digging into his pocket, checking for all of his weapons, all his protection. Truncheon, sword, knife, crossbow, knuckleduster, blackjack, helmet, breastplate, chainmail. His mouth moved silently as he ticked everything off on his mental list.

"He's hurt. I need a medic. But I don't know what's out there." His brow furrowed. "I couldn't get a straight answer out of him."
Paladin nodded along, noticing the mouth moving and guessing it was some kind of inventory or message recollection--and what Stoneface had said, "he can't there," disturbed him. Someone hand-selected for his capacity to handle himself in dangerous situations could not handle this one? Brows knitting, he opened his mouth to ask what it possibly was--and shut it as Stoneface explained further.

"You need a combat-capable medic and you need one now," Paladin said, inferring the aim of this conversation--and that left him, Kazahana, and possibly Lezard, and of the three of them, he was here, armed, and, if it should come down it... "I would be honored to accompany you, sir," he said, adjusting his grip on the haft of the axe.
Stoneface was relieved at Paladin's easy agreement; even if running into him by the elevator wasn't planned, the man was the ideal companion for this sort of mission. He had seen for himself that he was an adept healer, and he moved like a fighter. That was all he needed. Hopefully it would only take an hour--he couldn't see it taking much longer.

That axe looked like a good thing to take into battle, too. There was nothing quite so reliable as a hunk of sharpened metal attached to a pole. "Thank you," he said hurriedly. "I won't forget this in a hurry. Keep your journal on you, and your wits about you. Let's go."

He'd done rescue missions before, he knew, trying to focus more on the hum of the elevator than his apprehensions about what the Wilderness held this time. But for some reason, this one just felt dif As it creaked to a stop and the doors opened, the two of them stepped out into town that looked... normal, but not quite. The most identifiable of which being the split-pea soup fog that shrouded them, cold and clammy and dense.

"I can't see a thing past the damned fog," he grumbled, then went up to one of the trees and broke off a branch before lighting a match and making a torch out of it. "There."

They took a total of two steps before here, in the windless, silent city, the torch 's light was suddenly extinguished.

Stoneface didn't believe in the supernatural, but he knew a bad omen when he saw one.
Paladin nodded sharply twice before heading into the elevator with him, already pulling his journal out. He wrote a quick note--so no one would worry--closed it, and returned to standing in silence with Stoneface.

The wait seemed impossibly long. As comforting as the fact that Stoneface was his companion was--Paladin could think of none better--he couldn't help the ominous feeling that swept over him--no, that didn't sweep over him, that nudged at the corner of one eye, dashed about the opposite ear, suggesting, hinting, until suddenly he found a knot of something like dread settling in the pit of his stomach--just as the doors opened.

It was a town. A town, nothing less and a great deal more--something wasn't right here, something besides the fog set the hair on the back of his neck on end, and the axe was in both hands and at the ready before he was out of the elevator proper.

"Good idea," Paladin murmured as Stoneface made the torch and the short-lived flame...one pregnant pause later, he simply said "At least a full moon gives some light. We should go." There appeared to be a road of some sort some yards to their left, and Paladin set out for it. Getting in and out before true night fell would be a very, very good idea.

They didn't speak as they walked along the road in this silent little town--Paladin couldn't know, but he suspected Stoneface was listening for something, anything, as was he. But for five minutes--five minutes of walking in a town that seemed for all the world abandoned--all he could hear were the varied sounds of silence: wind in trees and ssshing along the motionless grass, insects humming, some sort of distant murmur and mutter, and in the distance a dog barking--yipping--then joined in with another with a whining cry.

"What's the watchman look like?" Paladin asked, keeping his eyes ahead of him even as he strained to see in the night and the fog.
After the fire had gone out, Stoneface had taken out his sword as a precaution and held it in front of himself now, wary even as no threats presented themselves. He stared straight ahead as he spoke, voice quiet, as if speaking any louder would suddenly summon whatever it is that had snatched Rod away.

"Young." He glanced at Paladin, noting his companion's age, and scoffed quietly. "In an old copper's eyes, at least. About your age. He's tall, with brownish hair. He's big, too." Muscles of a mule, he could have sworn during his audition, and his words hung ominously in the air, a message: Nothing could have taken him down easily.

He stared into the fog, noting movements that weren't there, searching for some sort of sign, listening for a voice. "His name's Rod. You can't miss him. But if you could, it'd be in this fog."

Suddenly, he reached an arm out, blocking Paladin from moving anymore. "Careful! There's a... cliff in the road." He shook his head in bewilderment, directing them from off the path into the long grass.

There was a sound.

"Damn!"

Stoneface whirled around, and pointed his sword at what happened to be an innocuous looking sparrow and exhaled, relieved. Then from behind them, there was a movement of tree branches, and a most curious wet sound, squelching, the mere utterance of a cry.

He cringed. "Keep moving."
"I see," Paladin said, musing on that information his own way. A large, well-built man could survive a great deal, lucky for him, so odds were good they'd find him alive, and he'd be easier to find. The trouble, then, was whether or not he would be able to move with any speed--Paladin could already tell they needed to get out of there as soon as they found him, and if he was large and either unconscious or unable to walk...He could bear him, probably, but could he still carry a weapon?

It was lucky Stoneface found that crevasse when he did--Paladin stopped short with an indrawn breath, and, without further words (especially not ones commenting on their luck) he followed Stoneface into the grass. It wasn't quite silent anymore, but neither was it loud enough for him to miss that sound--like Stoneface, he turned, but turned away faster when all he saw was a sparrow. Paladin froze, though, at the series of sounds that followed afterwards, and though he began turning back to see, Stoneface's voice stopped him.

"Right," he murmured, and pressed on.

He pushed ahead of Stoneface, but only slightly--he suspected he could see better than the other man could, given their ages, and so he tried to stay straight and even on their self-made path, always keeping the houses of the town in his peripheral vision--as unsettling as this alleged civilization was, there was no doubt in his mind that the untamed wilds would be a thousand times worse. So he pressed on.

"Hold," Paladin whispered, head turning to the side, gaze clearly fixed on something in the distance--and, two houses down, a figure--a shadow, for all they could see in this fog, moved out from the houses and into view, slow and aimless. It was man-sized, roughly, and man-shaped roughly.

If they were lucky, it was Rod--but when it--it moved in place, and then went the precise sort of momentary still that says "I see you"...

"That's not the gait of a man."

Pally gets the next mannequin :|b

As they pressed on, Stoneface attempted not to dwell on those curious sounds behind him, nor did he look back, only kept his gaze on the ground in front of them, just in case another cliffside revealed itself. At Paladin's notification of a figure, he sucked in his breath, only just seeing it through the fog and grabbed Paladin's elbow. "Avoid conflict. Noise may attract noise," he hissed. "Come. Down here."

He crouched behind one of the many logs, careful to duck his head low enough so that his helmet didn't show and carefully watched the figure lumber about until he recognized the motions of it. "Looks like a mannequin, but its limbs are... all wrong. Whatever it is, it ain't human. It's just a beast, and that means..."

Yeah.

"I won't be a moment."

He emerged from his cover, his every movement calculated and controlled, moving with the confidence of a man who had lurked for most of his life. He kept to the shadows, and ducked when he needed to, watching with satisfaction as the mannequin's elongated neck strained to and fro, trying to detect the erratic movement. He picked up a rock and hurled it behind the mannequin, so that it whirled about, then concentrated on tossing more from different directions. It wasn't human, it was a beast, he knew, and beasts didn't think. You couldn't outfight them, but you could sure as hell outwit them. He held his breath before throwing the last rock with all his strength, breaking the tree branch in the opposite direction from where they were going.

The creature followed, and Stoneface crept back to the log. "It's distracted. Let's go."

Whenever that may be :|b

He nodded, though his forehead was creased with thought, and stood to follow Stoneface once more. It was true that avoiding conflict and noise was wise, but...he wasn't sure about ascribing to it no intelligence, and dearly would have preferred to have lured it in such a direction that if it did decide to come back for them, it wouldn't have been from the rear. But--what was done was done, perhaps Stoneface was correct about it, and disagreeing would be dangerous here, a distraction. So he nodded and crept back onto their makeshift path, slow and especially quiet as he listened and watched for any sign of the creature--or any other that might be lurking nearby.

Nothing liv--nothing moving presented itself, though, and the next thing to draw Paladin's attention wasn't moving either: A signpost, just barely visible beyond one of the buildings. He drew up short, muttered "Stoneface," and pointed before (carefully; wouldn't it be so ironic to fall into a chasm now?) making his way over to it.

"Welcome to Silent Hill," The sign said at the top and Paladin repeated, then had to lean in against the darkening of the light to make out any other details. "It's a map."

For some definitions of map. Oh, the original piece was quite clear--squares for buildings, labeled, all arrayed in a clear, grid-like pattern, but it had clearly been defaced--or... Rather, it had been edited, by many people. A black smear he had dismissed as a mar on the map--there was a line to it and a handwritten word: "Crevasse." Other such black marks, he realized as he strained his eyes, had similar labels, some in different hands: "Pit," "Chasm," "Hole." There were other peculiarities labeled as well--"locked," in a neat, feminine hand, "new fence?" in block letters, and "Bad Dogs" in a child's print, with helpful illustration.

"It's like a labyrinth," Paladin whispered.

Siren next tag?

Stoneface followed Paladin's lead, barely squinting to see it as his eyes became accustomed to the darkness that surrounded them. "I don't recognize any of the writing," he said, studying it. It would be best to take heed of the instructions left for them, but the sinking thought that they were walking right into a trap occurred to him. In a place as malicious as this one, why would they provide a map, if not only to catch lost wanderers? And what if the writing on the map warned them away from chasms, only to herd them somewhere else?

"It may be a trap," he mused. But Rod was more of a doer than a thinker--he was the sort to blindly follow maps. Gods knew why. If he had come here without a mission to complete, he would turn tail right now and go home. That wasn't an option. "But it's all we've got to go on."

He took out the blank notebook he had taken to carrying around and quickly scrawled down the basics of the map, noting what others had written on it before snapping it shut. Nowhere to go except deeper into the city, he supposed, and cautiously, sword still held out, he followed the path.

Then, as they walked, a soft wailing sound came seeping through the town, soft at first, then growing in both speed and intensity. It echoed past the empty houses, while all around them, things went still and silent. A warning. Something was coming. They had to get out of the open, out of the place with sprawling streets and a million different ways to catch them off guard, hundreds of doors and windows ready for anything to come out and attack them. They needed an enclosed space, a sanctuary.

"We need to find cover!" He shouted over the siren, speeding into a run. "Hurry!"

You have now entered Dark World. We hope you enjoy your stay!

That it could be a trap had honestly not occurred to Paladin--it would seem to be a very elaborate one, and for what purpose? Who would have set it? Even so, now that the possibility had been raised, it wouldn't leave his mind...indeed, it would be wise to heed Stoneface's warning. With one last glance at the map, Paladin followed Stoneface into the street and the--was it getting thicker, or was the light just fading too fast?--the damnable fog.

It was quite odd, though--such a fog felt like it should muffle all sounds, and yet, there was nothing about the silence that seemed muted at all--least of all that sound, building from the east--no, north--no, everywhere--nothing he had heard before, ever. What manner of beast could possibly--

Paladin didn't respond to Stoneface at first, but saved his breath for running--shelter was needed--which meant one of these buildings, but which one? Houses were likely to be locked, storefronts had those huge glass windows...

"This way!" He shouted over the noise, and jagged over to the right side of the street, to a large building with a half-ruined sign out front--"--mill-- --spita--" was all that could be made out. Paladin sprinted up the steps, taking them two at a time, and found the door easily pushed open. He left it open for Stoneface, and leaned against a wall for a few deep breaths.

They were in a lobby--a lobby more like a closet, with only space for hanging coats and wiping feet before entering the main building. Motivated partly by a desire to get away from the noise, and from whatever the noise portended, and to see what might be in here--Rod, perhaps?--Paladin went ahead of Stoneface and opened the door inside.

Had Stoneface been watching Paladin, he would not have noticed any change--there was no gasp, shudder, shiver, or any tell at all--but all the same Paladin closed the door and said "We're leaving," in a tone of voice he'd only ever used on the evil twin.

But, of course, there was no reason for Stoneface to watch Paladin, when he could be looking inside as well.

Remember to purchase our luncheon of fingernails and eyeballs, perfect for your dining pleasure~

When Paladin went ahead, Stoneface peered into the door as well, only to see that whatever there was hiding in there, he didn't want to find out. It felt... bad. That was the only word he had for it. It was probably mystic, and you never got anything good when magic was involved. Everything had gone a jagged, rusty colour. Hell, he was expecting evil laughter to ring out and a flash of lightning to make itself apparent any moment now; in fact, he'd be relieved to hear that. He knew what to do with evil geniuses, but not what to do with this.

When Paladin told Stoneface that they had to leave, he was perfectly ready to agree with that rational decision and turn around to search for Rod elsewhere. But where there was once a door, there was only a window, small enough for a toddler to crawl through but big enough for them to look outside. The town had looked foreboding enough to begin with, but now it matched the room that they had seen, all filth and sharp edges, the darkness so tangible that it felt as if it was crawling into his chainmail.

In the silence after the siren ceased, Stoneface's voice thudded. "No. We're not. There's no way out of here." His gaze hardened. "We have to press forward. They're trying to scare us."

Oldest trick in the book, wasn't it? To get rid of a door on your way out? That was all it was, really. Scare tactics, to put intruders off guard and off balance, take 'em off their feet for long enough to catch them. He'd done it himself, in far less effective ways. He took the lead into the room, steps steadier than he felt and trusting Paladin to take care of the rear.

They were just trying to scare them. But hell, Stoneface thought, it was working.

Kids and parents can enjoy the Addams Family Special!

He expected to hear Stoneface make some noise of agreement, then footsteps, then the door opening. And he heard the first two. But not the third. He waited a little longer--surely Stoneface was checking outside for a threat--and the door would open any second now...

Then Stoneface spoke, and Paladin took a deep breath, head bowing. Stoneface was right--the town was a trap, a giant conglomeration of traps, and he had led them both right into one.

But Stoneface was right again--they had to press forward. What was done was done, and even if they could reverse this, they couldn't abandon someone to die here. Lifting his head, he followed Stoneface, following the unspoken order to cover the rear.

It was slow going, winding through the building--frequently the floor had to be carefully tested, to see if it would continue to hold their weight, obstacles like splintered beams and shredded furniture littered the way (Paladin was especially careful of the jagged parts, he didn't want to imagine what sort of disease lurked on the cutting edges). As well, doors were locked, there were some inexplicable barricades, and the nagging sense that he knew this place would not leave his mind.

They were half-way down the third floor hall when it came to him--and he came to a stop, eyes widening. "This is Wellspring--only not, it's been--" He was about to point out the differences--inversions, perversions--when a sound from behind grabbed his attention: scuttling, and breathing.

Paladin turned, axe at the ready, just as a hand slapped the top stair of the hallway, followed by another--and when they pulled the body attached to them up, what little color had remained in his face drained from it. It--She--no, it was wrong. It had all the parts of a person, yes, but...put on wrong, with the arms inverted and head on backwards, so it had to move like a crab, on all fours, the body suspended and swaying, belly up. And though it was lean all through, the stomach on it was...distended, bloated round, and from it emerged dull red mushrooms, growing from the creature like...like it was dirt, and--

Stoneface swore behind him, and Paladin would have joined in--but it was fully out of the staircase now--what a wretched, tangled thing--and it proved to be much faster on level ground. It lunged for him, and he lurched away, swiping with his axe to give him some room, some time; it hissed and turned away from him, and No, you aren't touching Stoneface, you're not getting near him-- he brought the axe up high then down. The creature tried to dodge, but couldn't skitter away fast enough, though the blade came down on its belly and not head--and it gave, it almost imploded, half-rotten, and how she screamed--she, her voice wasn't almost human, it was human.

He wrenched the blade free and brought it down once more on the monstrous thing's neck--anything to silence it. Paladin stepped back, away from it, and leaned against the hallway wall, concentrating on evening his breathing. "What--" He said, stifling the tremble, "What in God's name..."
When the... the thing screamed, Stoneface took a step back, shielding his face from the debris spewing from it. It was horrific, all limbs and growths and--well, out of mind. After noting the fear in Paladin's eyes, he put one hand on Paladin's back, easing him forward "Good job, there. Come on, lad, it's done. We have to keep on moving forward. Put that thing behind you."

They walked down a dingy hallway before coming to a dead end, a wall with only a ravaged picture of what appeared to be a beautiful den left hanging on it. He patted the walls, searching for a button or a hidden crease until his foot bumped on a hook on the laminate floor.

"A trap door." With some effort, he pulled it open, and the darkness and clamminess within put in mind not a dank cellar, but a cave. A rope dangled from a metal hook in the ground, down to Gods knew where. "Let's see how far down this goes," he said. "Keep behind me, and be ready to climb up."

With that, he lit another match and held it clenched between his teeth, grabbing onto the rope with both hands and carefully scaled the way down. It seemed to last forever, and the match appeared to agree as it burned right down to the nub, burning his lips just as one foot found the bottom. "It goes all the way!" He called back, turning to face what was inside.

Nothing good. The room was deep blue, swelled thing, lit up by bug--no, vurms, weren't they? Crowded around the place was what appeared to be a small group of wolves, and every one of them lifted their heads to--

"Oh, Gods." Wolves? Hah! Their back halves, maybe. No, where a furry head should have been, there was an all too human face, mere slits where the eyes ought to be. They smelled the air.

Well, their lack of eyes was certainly compensated by that great big thing on the wall, he thought, stomach rolling in disgust. There it was: an eye with a flickering tail.

Then and there, one of the wolf-human-things smiled. "Oh good," he muttered. "They've got human heads and wolf teeth."

"Hallo, Mis--"

It didn't get much further, on account of a sword being in its mouth, but that didn't make the rest of the wolves look very happy. "Paladin! I'll take care of these! You get the eye!"

He wasn't sure what job was worse.
It was a second after Stoneface's reassurance before he could move, but he moved just the same. They had to, after all, Paladin knew. He pulled the axe from the...thing's remains, absently pulling a cloth from one pocket to wipe the blade. He could do that and still concentrate on their surroundings, listen for another thing, or whatever new horror this place had for them--which made the shiver that went through his body when he thought on the thing's scream that much more inexplicable. He had killed people and monsters before, he was sure of it (both at once, if the evil twin counted), and yet--there was simply something about that scream.

Stoneface had found a trapdoor, and he joined the man peering down, wondering too at that air that drifted up from it--earthy and cavelike, yes, but they were three stories up. How--how was the possible?

But Stoneface was heading down that tunnel, and Paladin was crouched down, listening carefully to his descent. If trouble arose, or the rope didn't lead all the way down, he was more than ready to haul it up and Stoneface out. Fortunately, though, it didn't seem to come to that, Stoneface's voice--distorted by echoing up the tunnel walls, but still definitely his voice--called up to him to head down. So he did, and he had just settled into a sustainable climbing pace when Stoneface's voice echoed up again--softer, though, something he likely hadn't intended Paladin to hear: "Oh, Gods."

He slid down much faster.

When Paladin hit earth--strange blue light making everything look otherworldly and unreal--Stoneface was already in the thick of some wolves, and his heart leapt into his throat at the sight. But Stoneface had given his orders, so he bit his lip, steeled himself, and turned to find this eye--

Right behind him.

Paladin jumped back with a yelp as something lashed at him, instinctively he swung the axe and what lashed at him dropped to the floor, a powerless length of brown flesh. The eye rolled back and screamed in pain (a horrible sound but thankfully one definitely inhuman) and Paladin braced himself for whatever sorcery it would throw at him next...but nothing was forthcoming. A helpless target? Really?

So, there was nothing to do but...Paladin sighed and took a deep breath before closing both eyes and mouth. He stepped back, and then swung the axe around his body before it and all its gathered momentum hit the eyeball.

The first gush was the worst. Without breathing, and only glancing to find his next target, Paladin swung again, and again, until he was more than ankle-deep in vitreous humor, and was flinging scraps of some flesh away from him in utter revulsion.

"Stoneface!" He called, wiping the slime from his eyes, his mouth. "Are you well?"
After he had stabbed the first of the wolves, he yanked at it only to find that the tip of it was well wedged into its skull, and with no time to actually pull it out, he resigned himself to utilizing what other resources he had. Fortunately, he was well equipped. Unfortunately, so were the wolves. In finding himself surrounded by well sharpened claws and teeth, he backed himself into a wall to protect his back and took out his knife, slashing wildly at those that attacked him.

When one lunged at him, he leapt upwards onto the tips of his toes so that its claws skittered uselessly across his breastplate and he neatly caught the side of its head with his elbow and followed through with a well placed slice of his knife. He dashed across the room, digging in his pocket for a truncheon and found a handful of Nobby's treats that he had bought earlier despite knowing Cara would scold him for it. Who knew they'd actually come in handy? He tossed them across the room, simultaneously tucking his knife away and hastily unstrapping the crossbow from off his back. When one leaped for the treats, he aimed none too well and fired. It didn't get its head, which was what Stoneface was aiming for, but it got its torso well enough so that it wasn't getting back up again.

Three more. Breathing heavily, he laid one out with his truncheon and ran again, this time to the fallen wolf with the sword still crammed in its gullet. As soon as the remaining wolves came over, he tilted the sword back, using it as a lever so that its handle bashed into one of the wolves' heads as it came over, and the sword came free, although not without some debris. When throwing himself out of the way of the last wolf, he felt its claws scrape across the back of his leg and fell heavily to the ground with a hissed, "Blast!"

The wolf should have killed him then, but as the eye screamed, the wolf stopped, head jerking about as its vision was lost. Readying himself, Stoneface speared his sword between its ribs and it crumpled to the floor.

He rose to his feet and turned to see the rather disgusting display of the eye. "I'm fine," he panted, attempting to hide the unease in which the wolves had woken in him. He looked behind him, gaze dwelling on the human faces, then shakily shook his head. "Are you?"

He wrinkled his nose as the content's of the eye made themselves known in a way other than sight. "We smell."

Paladin, for his part, was just now noticing the exact form of the wolves that had attacked Stoneface, and the expression on his face suggested that he might be ill. He shook himself slightly at Stoneface's question, shook himself out of it, and said "Fine. It had not the means to resist." His lips quirked up at Stoneface's observation. "If I may be so bold, sir, I think the truth is that I smell. Far more than you, in any case." He glanced back at the--the socket, for lack of a better word, the stone socket that had held the eye...and then a glance became a lingering stare.

"There's something back there," He said, leaning down to get a better look--and then leaning forwards, into the socket. "A tunnel."

Though it had until recently housed an eye, there was nothing in the tunnel but wet stone--no sign of the biological apparatus necessary to support it. "Not long--there's a room at the other end," Paladin said from inside the tunnel, and only a few seconds later carefully walking out of it, into this new room.

It was not large--not absolutely, but relative to all other places they had been in Silent Hill so far it was, around fifteen by fifteen feet square. There was a door in the far corner, locked with a massive padlock, the tunnel mouth he had entered by, and otherwise, the room had no ornament. None, save for the thousands of keys hung on its walls.
"Oh, we'll both smell by the end of this," Stoneface said, injecting a grim sort of humour simply to stop them from dwelling on some of the monstrosities that they had confronted. "Dunno about you, but these clothes are going into the trash when we get back and that's that."

As he clambered through the tunnel - holding his breath while he was at it - he prodded at the back of his leg gingerly and his fingers came away sticky with blood. Just a nick of their claws could tear so easily through him. Good Gods, that could have been his head!

Suddenly feeling very thankful for still being alive, he entered the room and stared around at the keys. No way in hell he was just going to grab at the keys. "I know this scenario," he said. "The door's locked, we need to find the right one, but when we touch one, there'll be a trap."

Elementary, really. This was the sort of thing he figured that vampires would absolutely delight in. He took out his notepad, ripped out a piece of paper and after crumpling it into a ball tossed it at one of the keys which neatly scissored it in half.

"S'what I thought," he said. "These things'll take your fingers clean off."

This, at least, was familiar territory. If he knew anything, he knew how sadistic bastards thought.
"And the lock," Paladin said (this room made even him suspect a trap), having gone over to carefully inspect it. Cautiously, he poked at the keyhole with the end of his pen--and yanked it back when a set of teeth snapped closed within the hole. "It's nippish, too. We can't pick it." He straightened and looked at Stoneface. "However, the key we're looking for is large, with long teeth but a narrow shaft." A pause. "Unless--that, too, is part of the trap."

He sighed, aggravated--then froze. As he sighed, a strange tittering came from the room, from the direction of the tunnel--but when he spun to find the source, he saw nothing...though the giggles increased in pitch and intensity. "Are...the keys laughing?" Paladin wondered--and this time the source of the childish laughter showed itself.

Children. Or...not children, precisely. Their skin was greyish in hue and their bodies slightly transparent--ghosts? But otherwise, quite like children, down to apparent baby fat, stubby fingers, and, obviously, voice.

"We haven't been back here for forevvver," said one, looking around in apparent delight. "Thanks for popping the big eye, mister!" Behind that one, another, smaller child said "Pop!" and smashed its hands together, blowing a raspberry, to the applause and approval of its fellows.
This, he didn't like. The shade-children were obviously going to be a hindrance to them, or else they wouldn't be here, but something in him protested against taking any moves to get rid of them. They were kids. He liked kids. They tended not to commit any terrible crimes and although they weren't wholly innocent, they were more innocent than they'd be as adults.

These weren't real children, he reminded himself. Don't let yourself get off guard.

He just hoped like hell that they didn't have to kill them. Human faces or no, killing those wolves set his stomach off but did little more than that. But these? These human-shaped things? Stoneface was no killer. He was a copper. He wasn't made for killing.

So he had to talk to them first. Sighing, he said, "All right, kids, very funny. Now tell us how to get past this room."

The three of them exchanged glances until the boy on the right giggled. "The keys! You have to find the key!"

"They bite our fingers off," Stoneface said flatly.

"So it's guess and check," said the one on the left reasonably, kicking his heels about the ground in sheer giddiness. "You try and try and try until you find the one or it chomps off all your fingers! Chomp chomp chomp! See how many you've got left!"

Stoneface scanned the ground, but thankfully didn't see any severed fingers. He raised a critical brow. "Yeah? And what do you do with the fingers?"

"We eats 'em," said the boy on the right.

"Gross," said the girl, squealing. "Stop lying, you stupid liar. He's lying, Misters Old and Young. We don't eat them. That would be gross. You're all slimy and germy." She put her hands on her hips, looking satisfied. "We feed 'em to our dog."

"Much better," Stoneface sighed. "So what's behind this door?"

"A wonderful place!"

"A place only the luckiest get into!"

"It grants your wishes!"

"It heals you!"

"It's a paradise for people without fing--"

"Shut up, you liar!"

Well, it was decided. Perhaps the last room had been disgusting, but this one gave him a headache.
"But that is only if we can get in there," Paladin said, in his best reasoning-with-mad-people/cajoling-small-children voice (which was surprisingly good). Like Stoneface, the idea of doing anything to children-shaped beings--even if they were spouting the most disgusting words--was enough to make him shudder. "It's all very well for it to heal and grant wishes or have mountains of treasure, but that hardly does us out here any good."

"Then open the door, silly!" Said the one with the affected feminine speech. "Just...walk right in!" She tried to say effortlessly, but a giggle caught in that sentence, irrepressible.

"See? See?" Spoke one of the others. "She's the liar, and she can't even lie good!" He puffed his chest out. "Like me!"

"Shut up! No one listens to you anyways!"

"They're both lying!" Said the smallest one suddenly, and then put on a very, very innocent look, which would have been more effective if its honest smile had a few less teeth. "Gotta find the key that don't bite, Mister White, Mister Grey. That's how you get in." Unspoken, but quite clearly implied: "Duh."

"All right," Paladin said, then examined the lock again--more for show than anything. "It's such a big lock, so it must have a matching key--"

"Yeah! Bigger than your hand--"

"--but smaller than his brain!"

"Shhh!"

"Then again," Paladin said, pretending he hadn't heard anything, "If you've set such a clever trap, then appearances must be deceiving. The key ought to be small." And, without missing a beat:

"Yeah! Yeah! That's real clever!"

"It's a tiny, delicate key! With fancy curlicues, too."

"Ewwww, shut up, you're getting girly on the key!"

"You shut up! You'll ruuuuin it!"

"Will not!"

"Will too!"

"Hey, this key's small! Come on, Mister Grey, try it!"

Paladin suppressed a sigh. They probably already knew they were "winning," but there was no need for him to confirm that.

Edited at 2010-06-23 04:16 am (UTC)
Stoneface stared belligerently at the child holding the key for him to grab and gave them a scowl that made criminals tremble in their boots. He tittered. "Hold that thing near me, and I'll gut yer," he growled.

"Gut!" One shrieked. "Guts! Big gross squishy slimy guts! Gut him! Gut him!"

"Yeah!" The girl said, banging her tiny hands impatiently on the walls. "Do it! Do it!"

"You're all terrible," the threatened child said, looking hurt. "Have him gut his friend, not me."

"I'm not gutting anyone," Stoneface said, then glanced at Paladin. "This isn't getting us anywhe--and what the hell are you doing?"

The small girl was in front of him, poking one of his pockets. "He's got brass knuckles in here. It's been a long time since we've see a really, really nice pair. Is it shiny? Has it got spikes? Have you broken anybody with it?"

"Show us! Show us!"

He stared down at the kids, not showing fear so much as exasperation, pushing them out of the way.

"He hurt us, he hurt us! Ow! Mister, you're a child killer! You're horrible!"

"Hurt us, hurt us--"

"--breaking our arms and kicking our ribs--"

"--really really nasty, nasty, nasty, doesn't deserve to go into the room of light at all--"

"--stupid, stupid, ugly, awful old man, didn't even show us his toy--"

"--killing us, killing us!"
What Paladin was doing, and had been ever since the gleeful reaction to guts, was to close his eyes and rub at one temple with thumb and the other with forefingers. God--even if he could bring himself to do it, apparently no manner of threat could dissuade the little beasts, all over a damned door. The urge to kick it out of frustration was almost overwhelming, and, he bitterly reminded himself, at least he could kick it, not like the infernal keys--

--wait.

The door hadn't reacted at all to his examining it, or to his inspecting the lock strung on a chain--only snapped together teeth within the keyhole itself. And it appeared to be only metal and wood...

With renewed energy he picked up the axe as Stoneface moved towards him--the children's cries, previously crocodile tears over how cruel Mister Grey was to them, turned into excited cheering and chanting about "Off with his head!" He ignored them, and only made sure Stoneface wasn't close enough to be hurt accidentally before he brought the axe down--WHUNK--on the lock's chain.

And the chain was dented.

"--Hey," said one of the children, "Hey mister, what are you--"

Paladin raised the axe again.

"Mister, you--you can't, you really really can't..."

KLANG

"Stop iiiiiit!"

One link on the chain was a hairsbreadth from snapping completely. Encouraged, Paladin hoisted the weapon even higher.

"You're gonna get us in trouble!"

TNGCHHH

The chain had snapped, and it was a simple matter to yank it through the bars holding it in place and toss it over his shoulder--Paladin wasn't even mindful of the children, though he could hear them scatter away from the lock, moaning in something that sounded surprisingly like genuine fear. He lowered the axe, reached for the handle and pulled--

"It's locked."

From behind him came laughter and sneering--but this time there was a definite note of relief in their voices.

"Stupid, stuuuuupid Mister White! Got a brain smaller than a mite's!"

"See! We told you, tooooold you, you wouldn't listen--"

"Go back and getcher fingers chopped off! Chop-chop, chop--"

"The hinges are on this side." What an oversight. Paladin almost smiled as he hoisted the axe over his shoulder, and did smile as he realized he'd rendered the little terrors speechless.

Sadly, it was not destined to last. As he hacked at the top hinge, they redoubled their shouting.

"Mister, Mister, stoppit, stoppit nooow!"

"Stupid--stupid--you're in sooo much trouble!"

"Stop thaaat! Too much noise, he'll hear you!"

"You don't wanna! It--it's a stupid place!"

On the last hinge now, and he could actually feel little hands tugging at his shirt--or try to, at least, they weren't properly corporeal.

"Mister, stop, stoooop, you're scaring me..."

"We're sorry! We're sorry!"

"I'll show you the way out! I promise! Come with me, pleeeeease!"

When the last hinge gave, the children made a sound Paladin had hitherto only ascribed to wounded dogs, and when he kicked the remnants of the door in, they were nowhere to be seen.

1/2

Stoneface sighed in relief once the children disappeared. "Good thinking, there. Miserable little sods. Now, let's see what's behind this blasted..."

When he looked inside, then stopped short for a moment, leaning against the doorframe as he gagged. The stench was awful, and worse, not unfamiliar: piss, bile, blood. But it was nothing compared to what was inside.

There were people hanging from the manacles on the wall, and an ill-drained gulley ran along the ground beneath them. By the side, there was a chair with heavy-duty straps, gags laid lovingly on the table beside it. On the desk in the middle of the room, a half-empty box of ginger beer. There were papers strewn on the desk as well, various metallic objects acting as paperweights, objects with sharp edges and blunt ends, twisting, turning, wretched things not built for killing. The people looked too far gone to help.

Holding his breath, Stoneface grabbed Paladin and dragged him down behind the desk with him. "Steady, lad. We got to--we... there are prisoners here."

Then, peeking around the corner, he saw something, someone. He was wearing a mask about his mouth, presumably to keep the smell out, but his eyes were bright with mirth and the fulfillment you only expected from particularly successful businessmen. He waved one hand arrogantly in the air--a hand composed entirely of steel, he realized.

They were rulers. His fingers were rulers. The creature picked up one of the metallic objects, humming merrily to himself, then pointed to one of the people chained up to the wall.

"Ten centimetres," he said, his smile clear in his voice. "Guilty."

On his head, there was a crown. The King decided who was guilty and who was innocent. You could be born wrong, born poor, then you'd starve your entire life, and watch the people around you die and keep quiet and try to live your lives until some bastard with a crown just bloody well showed up and then he decided what was what and then you, the poor, you were damned. Because nobody was going to stick their neck out for you, not when Kings tortured people, not when Kings went mad and nobody had the courage to stand up and damn well do something.
Something snapped, then Stoneface stood. Whatever voice ought to have been telling him that he was being massively stupid, that he should have bided his time to trick the thing instead of confronting him in an immediate fight had fallen silent in the wake of the deep burning rage that had suddenly spilled over upon sight of the crown. "Stop."

The King walked over to him, his gait uneven as his flickering eyes. He held the steel tipped ruler up to Stoneface's cheek, and at first, did not move a muscle.

"Guilty," said the King, and then Stoneface went spare. Quickly, he jerked one hand up and gripped the ruler in his fist. His palm bled, but the Beast cared little about the pain inflicted upon itself and more about the pain inflicted on others. With one of his hands restrained, Stoneface slipped his hand into his pocket and curled his fingers around his knuckleduster.

Kghhhnk.

The King's head snapped backwards as metal made contact with his face, and wrenched Stoneface away from him, chuckling all the while and as if just noticing the bladed object he held, began jabbing it in Stoneface's direction.

He ducked beneath it, using bone and sinew instead of metal, weaving, lashing out, elbows, knees, teeth, go for the joints, go for the eyes, go for anything that will produce as much pain as possible. He did not speak, only growled as the object made contact with his shoulder. It was thrown unceremoniously away as Stoneface reached for his sword, only to have it knocked away by one of the rulers with a huge clattering sound upon the ground. The King aimed for Stoneface's ankle, tripping him and sending him flying into the corner of the desk, face first.

It provided the momentum for him to smash the back of his helmet into the King's neck. Grinning past the bloody mouth, Stoneface advanced, tackling the King to the ground and simply pounding against him with his fists and screaming bloody murder all the while. It was not nearly as bad as he deserved, a torturer, a bloody murderer.

The King hissed, his rulers screeching against the ground as he struggled against Stoneface's weight, and once he was flung off... he could simply knock the torturer unconscious, but why? He would simply torture again.

Off with his head, the children had screamed. Off with his head, the Beast agreed. He groped around for his sword, swung it in an arc--

"Guilt--"

--and off with his head.

The crown clattered to the floor, and Stoneface fell to his knees, spitting out a mouthful of blood, suddenly aware of bruises and blood. Nothing but flesh wounds - he knew all too well what the fatal felt like - but... Gods, he cut his head off.

That was no longer important. Eyes closed, he reached for a handkerchief and wiped off some of the grime, feeling even more dirty than before. "Paladin," he said, voice steady even as he remained, crouched beside the body. "We need to get the prisoners."

brevity is for the weak 1/2

For his part, as soon as the door hit the ground--and the inside of the room became visible, and the wave of fetor from within washed over them--Paladin clapped his free hand over his mouth, eyes wide as he tried to figure out what, precisely, he was seeing, and forget what he was seeing in order to keep his gorge down, both at the same time.

The trick is not to smell it, to breathe through the mouth, keep breathing, but oh God, he could still smell it, urine, feces, vomit, blood, all the myriad odors the human body could produce--naturally or unnaturally. It was a torture chamber. That was all--at once simply accurate and despairingly inadequate.

Stoneface pulled him down, knocking him out of his stunned state. He said something about prisoners, and that hit something within him--prisoners, victims, the suffering. People he could help, people he had a duty to help. Paladin stood, about to respond to Stoneface--when he saw that his attention was no more on him, but on something, behind a corner, something that made his jaw clench and his eyes narrow. He ducked around behind him to see what had so provoked him, and he saw the king.

"Ten centimetres. Guilty," the king said, his voice repulsive and satisfied, and then Stoneface was suddenly no longer standing with Paladin.

Almost before Paladin could blink, Stoneface had flung himself at the king, all fists and knees and hard clubs that had appeared from--from nowhere, it seemed. He cried out and moved in to join the fight, to help him--what had come over Stoneface, to charge in at the torturer-king in his own chambers, it was madness, it was suicide--when Stoneface himself was thrown back, and almost into him...then rejoined the fight without even seeing Paladin.

There would be no joining in, not with Stoneface as he was. He wouldn't recognize him--and if all Paladin had was an axe, one he didn't dare take his hands or eyes for long for fear of other hands or eyes finding it, he could do very little. Axes were powerful, but fine control was not their purpose, and fine control in order not to hit Stoneface as easily as he might hit the king--

"Guilt--"

Schlesst-thump

2/2

When the king's head hit the floor, the crown fell off and skidded right in front of Paladin. There was on it a jewel--one he had not before noticed, a red ovoid gemstone set in the very center. It held his gaze, even as Paladin reminded himself that Stoneface, he had to get to Stoneface before cracking and falling from its setting. Spell broken, he turned at last to Stoneface; "I'm here," in response to his name. He didn't wait for prompting, but closed his eyes, concentrated, and let the light-and-sound-show of his curative magic begin--but stopped short of healing Stoneface fully. There were prisoners to be tended to.

"Yes. I'll see to the prisoners," Paladin said, squeezing Stoneface's shoulder before heading to the first one he saw, stepping over the king's dead body along the way.

This one was a woman, naked and scarred and moaning and bleeding and twisted--she couldn't see, but could clearly hear or sense his coming, because she began crying out and squirming, trying to get away from him. "I'm here to--" He had to pitch his voice high to be heard over her wailing now, "I'm here to help you!" Paladin tried to hush her, but nothing he said seemed to get through. Had the torture robbed her of her wit? It wouldn't seem unlikely.

Gingerly, he laid one hand on her side, next to one of the lacerations that had not yet festered--her sobbing at the contact could hardly be borne--and taking a deep breath (not through his nose), summoned his magic and began to heal...

Or not. It took him a moment to stop, he couldn't believe what he was seeing: Where he expected to see flesh rejuvenating, knitting back together, instead it...unraveled, peeling away, decaying. The woman howled and lashed at him, and in his surprise managed to thump his cheek soundly.

"What...is this..." Paladin whispered; what new horror could this place possibly have for him. Carefully, he reached forwards, to try one more time--but he faltered, and she kicked his hand away. He could only cause her more pain.

"There--" He had to swallow before attempting to speak again, "There is nothing I can do for them," Paladin said, pitching his voice to be heard by Stoneface over the sounds of the other prisoners--though his voice remained oddly flat. "Nothing at all."

The gibbering of one victim was resolving itself into speech, something about faes, a pleading tone begging for mercy.

"Stoneface, we need to leave--"

"Nah nah nraaah, ogod, d'lee--"

"There's nothing we--"

"Naaah, ah'da, ah'da--don' leave me here!"
Stoneface rose to his feet, still looking shaky but the madness that had caught him had fled. He looked at one of the women tied up there and shook his head. "Look," he said, gesturing to the creases of their joints, well-defined enough to betray their existence as toys of the Wilderness rather than humans. "They're just more creatures." A pang of pity hit him. "Poor sods."

He turned towards the door, "We should--"

"Nghhhmmmffff!"

Another muffled cry, but he couldn't pay attention to prisoners he could not save. Then, suddenly, he realized that there was one, hanging all the way at the far side of the room. Without a word, he immediately jogged over there and there was Rod's face, tears running through the grime only to reveal another layer of dirt beneath it. The change that came over Stoneface was remarkable--for a while, he was just a human being, scared shitless and relying only on instinct, but now he had to be a Captain. Some things were important.

"Steady, son," he said, voice both confident and cheerier than he felt. "I've got you. Hold on." He pulled out his knife and undid the ropes holding the man's arms up above his head and got rid of the gag, leaving Rod to slump over his shoulders. A rather ridiculous sight underneath different circumstances; the man was probably a foot taller than Stoneface and twice as wide.

"Easy, now." He plodded over to Paladin, a hint of brightness returning to his eyes. "This is him. Gods know what happened to whoever he came with, but he's not dying today."
Oh. Oh, that explained it, he had been too focused on the injuries to see the seamed joints--well. In actuality, it explained nothing; why would his magic not only fail but reverse its effects on mannequins? But--best not to think about it, if he pondered the whithertos and wherefores of this place he would surely go mad.

Paladin was about to ask Stoneface their precise course--back to the blue-lit corridors and pray for a way out?--when some sort of recognition flashed over his face, and once more Paladin was not registering. But this time, it wasn't some king in steel or pack of wolves or other monster, but one of the prisoners, a large man, one whose joints were not seamed--

All at once, a great weight was lifted from his shoulders and dropped into his stomach. This must have been Rod, and praise be, he was alive and they had found him, but dear God, in a torture chamber...

Much like Stoneface had to put on a Captain's bearing, so too Paladin put on a medic's mindset, kicking the king's body out of the way and helping Stoneface lay him out on the floor. A voice instilled during his training yelled at him, about hygiene and contamination, but he brushed it aside--he could no more clean Rod, himself, or the room than he could wish them out of here. "Now then..."

For seven silent minutes, Paladin examined his injuries and cured what he could--lacerations, cuts, welts, fractured bones, all were within his power to fix...exhaustion, trauma, and the filth in all his wounds were not. At last, he sat up, carefully did not sigh, and turned to Stoneface. With his voice pitched so that Rod (if he was still lucid enough) could hear it as well, Paladin said "No immediate danger. He'll live."

And then, with voice lower as he got to his feet, so only Stoneface could hear, said, "He'll live longer and better if we can get him to the clinic as soon as possible. I cannot untaint all these wounds." Carefully he lifted Rod, who was slipping into slack unconsciousness, taking his weight over his shoulders. Paladin held out one hand to forestall any protest from Stoneface and said "I am younger, healthier, and stronger, I will carry him." This was true; despite the fact that Paladin was not much taller than Stoneface, nor anywhere near as bulky as Rod, he bore the other man's weight much easier than Stoneface did.

"You'll have to lead the way."
While Paladin got to work, Stoneface watched with some degree of interest for a few moments before deciding to take advantage of the lull in action and sat down. What he did was amazing, to be sure. He never was fond of using magic as a healing source, but the easing of pain in his wounds were testament that they worked at the very least. He didn't dare close his eyes, but he did settle himself against the wall until he had finished.

As expected, once Paladin settled Rod over his back, he opened his mouth in protest but couldn't argue. Paladin was right, asmuch as it pained him to admit it--he wasn't exactly in peak physical form and Paladin certainly had more bulk on him than he did. "Fine," he said, shortly. "But tell me when you need a break."

He wiped the blood off of his sword with his cloth, deemed it too manky to be good any longer, and discarded it. He had been expecting more horrors, more creatures straight out of Hell, but saw only a labyrinth of hallways instead. The traveled silently for a few minutes before Stoneface eventually stopped, inspecting at a crack in the wall.

"I have no idea where the hell we are," he admitted, "but I could swear I've seen this crack before."

Paladin leveled up! Paladin learned Sight! ...It's not very effective...

The thing about carrying a man who easily weighed at least as much as one-and-a-half of you, and an axe, is that you spend a lot of time looking at the ground. Maybe some thresholds every once in a while. And, in Paladin's case, the backs of Stoneface's feet.

The ground here was not particularly interesting--some bones, once in a while, some rocks, but for the most part devoid of identifying features, any sort of landmarks. Paladin was not surprised to hear that they were lost--he had nothing to corroborate it with, but unsurprised. He sighed, softly, and gently leaned Rod up against the labyrinth wall before standing and stretching, looking around.

"Let me think..."

They were at that crack, the pronounced M-shaped one...as opposed to the circular one of a few turns ago, or the matching zigzags of the right-and-left wall a few more turns before that and...wait...

"Stoneface," Paladin said, and his voice was hesitant, before suddenly he felt something like a hook behind and between his eyes and Stoneface and Rod vanished. All there was to see was the labyrinth, which was becoming smaller and smaller and going further and further down until...until somehow his eyes were big enough or the world small enough that he saw it all, and then, one clear, bright, bending line...

Then he was back in the labyrinth, with Rod still unconscious and Stoneface looking at him--Paladin realized he was leaning against the wall and pushed back, away. "I know how to get out," He said, awkwardly picking Rod up again, "Stairs. Don't ask me how I know," His voice became somewhat agitated, though for no apparent reason, "I just do."

He pushed on, through the labyrinth, trusting Stoneface to follow at his side, until the first turn, and he recalled what he had seen, that the left way lead to the next exit and down the right was nothing. Turn, ten more meters of walking straight, another intersection. Paladin dove back into that almost-map, and this time it was right that was right, for on the left was nothing, again.

Five meters. Check. Right again. Left had nothing upon nothing.

Seven meters. Paladin searched his memory once more, though some horrible black headache clawed at the back of his skull. Left, this time, if he turned right he'd be bursting with nothing.

Only a few more turns now, if Paladin remembered correctly--Right, because on the left was nothing, and who might you be? He staggered a bit, making the turn, and almost dropped Rod, but pushed forwards. His eyes weren't open any more--it wasn't the only way he could see, apparently, and the light of the labyrinth was too bright, it aggravated his headache. Next turn was left, right had nothing left over for someone like you, then left because right had nothing like us, nobody likes a gawker who doesn't know when to

And there was the staircase. In the interest of prudence, because he had to get out of here before his skull cracked from this damnable, beastly headache, Paladin tried once more, tried to trigger the--the sight, to see the way from the stairs to the elevator out of here. He tried, and saw

____________________________________


"Stoneface, help!"

Stoneface uses Shout! It is mildly effective on allies!

The words "don't ask me how I know" were a warning sign if Stoneface ever knew one. That meant something mystic was afoot, and people who said words like that alongside "just trust me" tended to be wrong. Nevertheless, Paladin had never led him astray and had been remarkably kind upon seeing him go absolutely spare, so he owed him some benefit of the doubt. The memory of the head lying there on the ground made him sick to his stomach, and he didn't even want to think about how monstrous he had looked to the man who was, for all means and purposes, still innocent.

As Paladin lurched about, however, he was starting to doubt this. As they finally reached the staircase and Paladin cried out, Stoneface reached out and gripped Paladin's shoulders, one in each hand. He squeezed. "Whatever you're doing isn't good," he said, voice low. "We'll make it out without you killing yourself. Easy, now--I'm right here, and I'm not going anywhere. Sit."

As Paladin sat, Stoneface eased Rod from off of him and back onto his own back. Now that he had a bit of a breather after his fight, he was feeling well enough to bear his weight, at least, and he peered around the corner, back into the city. If nothing else, he recognized that look in Paladin's eyes, the manic look of somebody who did not belong entirely to this world anymore/.

He hopped down the stairs a few steps so that he could still stand in order to support Rod but look Paladin in the eye all the while. "The coast looks clear out there. There's enough time to give you a moment. Are you all right?"

A pang of guilt rang through him for a moment, for simply ambushing Paladin and all but commanding him to go into this nightmarish place. If he had just known what was hiding up here... he would have still brought him, he realized with no small amount of disgust. To save another, he would go that for. Oh sure, he would have brought somebody else with him and given the lad some armor bugt when it came down to it, he wouldn't have shied away from giving others the duty they never asked for.

That meant it was his responsibility that Paladin made it out not only alive, but still sane.

That meant he would keep on talking. "It's just a city out there. An abandoned city. It's covered in rust, and there looks to be plenty of decay, but it's nothing compared to the torture room. We'll be outside, at the least, which means the elevator's got to be out there somewhere. We're almost done."

He didn't believe himself, but kept on going. "Are you still with me?"

Paladin is confused! Paladin talks about scary shit in his confusion!

He didn't understand what he saw--how could he? Moving crevasses, impassable passable barriers, buildings much larger on the inside that the outside and tunnels inside hospitals that were inverted homes with impossible inhabitants and flexible numbers of floors and teleporting decay impossible nests of impossible creatures who ate without mouths and ran without legs and saw without eyes, with glaring windows and hungry basements and pulling buildings around behind his back and hell, this was what hell looked like.

He couldn't understand it, and what saved him was that he didn't try--shaken by Stoneface, out of trying to see Silent Hill. Paladin nodded when Stoneface asked if he was all right, a meaningless gesture at best and an outright lie at worst, eyes focused on middle distance.

"It's just a city out there."

In the time it took for that to get through to Paladin, Stoneface had finished speaking, and indeed Paladin was with him. He had to be. He was so with him one hand had, of its own volition clamped around Stoneface's forearm, the one whose hand held his shoulder, and he squeezed so hard it was like he was trying to fuse with him.

"You're wrong," Paladin said, intent in voice and eyes and grip--then he looked away, took a deep shuddering breath, and continued. "It--the magic--it--I think it lets me see. In the labyrinth, it was like I saw a map. That was how--how I got out. But it knew." He had been glancing at Stoneface as he spoke, hesitant, but now he kept eye contact. This was important, Stoneface had to understand: "This place is alive. It thinks. And it knows--it knows what it is, to be cruel and to be evil and to hate."

Pain registered dimly in one hand, he looked down his arm and released Stoneface's--not without difficulty, so tightly had he gripped him.
Stoneface inspected Paladin's face until it showed some dawn of returning to the world of logic and reality--so much as it could be in this place. "Magic that does this to you can't be good," he said, for once keeping the thought that magic wasn't good period to himself. "We're well out of the maze now. Now, we can't risk having you go off into--into wherever you were again."

Even as Paladin let go, he didn't release him, making sure that he didn't disappear back to wherever he had gone. "Every city is alive. And alive or not, we have to go out there, and we'll get out. Perhaps it changes how we go about it, but our objective is the same."

And in a way, every city was alive. Sure, not in the way that Paladin said it, but every city had a language, a way to read the streets, a voice, a name. It fluctuated with the times, suffered as its people did, a personality. Sometimes she was a beast that ate you alive, and others, it was… a tree, hanging people by its branches, just waiting for them to fall.

But they weren’t falling anytime soon. He released Paladin and climbed up the stairs, pausing at the doorway. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we get out of here. Come along, lad.” His grin felt a little bleak to even himself, Rod a heavy weight on his back, but not quite so heavy as the weight on his heart after the previous events, but he grinned nevertheless. “Maybe it’s alive, but it hasn’t seen the likes of us yet.”
"That may be," Paladin said, getting to his feet shakily. He felt--important parts of him felt as substantial as air or as reliable as aether, but he pushed himself to his feet nonetheless. "I suspect the place." He thought back to the mannequin's flesh unraveling, the howling dark nothing that wished--no, not thinking about that. "It perverts."

He took up the axe again--he thought about offering to take Rod's other side, but decided against it. He wasn't stable, some distant part of him, somehow able to function past the headache that gnawed determinedly at him and the fear that it would come back, assessed. He could drop Rod, injure him, trip them up. And he couldn't do that, nor could he worry that he would do it. He took up the axe again, with shaking hands, for though he could not bear his original burden he could bear this one.

He hoped.

Paladin offered Stoneface a tenuous smile--he suspected the other man was all bravado, all to make him feel better--so he returned the favor before turning away, leading the way.

The way he picked, through the rubble and debris of something, someplace exploded, was simple. Paladin was determinedly keeping the way simple, determinedly not looking around for landmarks that would only betray them, or thinking about the fact that he knew they would betray them, about the grasping headache, or a growing suspicion that Stoneface's exorcism was not as complete as--No. No. One foot in front of the other and watch for dange--for livi--for movement, there.

It didn't do him much good, in the end. What he should have been doing was listening, listening very carefully, for by the time he convinced himself that he was not mad enough to be hearing such things, it was the sort of sound that could almost be felt. Coming from behind them.

Paladin sighed, weary, and turned around just in time to catch the first in the vanguard shambling over a bluff--he tripped and fell, but his fellows behind him cared not, and merely used his body to ease the slope, for the next member of this small army, and the next, and the next.

"What new devilry--"

The siren blared.
It perverts.

Paladin made sense. It wasn't a word that Stoneface would have chosen (except, perhaps, in describing Bell) but that was the perfect word for it, for the twisted bodies and the battered crown, the hanging prisoners, the faces, the rust, the fear that set his teeth on his edge and his feet ready to run.

As they navigated the city, Stoneface didn't speak, focusing on his feet just as his companion did. Step over the holes, avoid the jagged edges of metal, one after the other, and it would be over soon. His feet were beginning to hurt, his back twinged from carrying Rod, and all those bits and pieces that he had ignored when they were bleeding suddenly came back with a vengeance--and that was without turning to some loony magic like Paladin did. Gods alone knew how he felt, but judging by the fact that he didn't stubbornly insist upon carrying Rod, he figured he wasn't in good shape.

When Paladin tripped, he turned wearily, just to make sure it wasn't some shadow-monster lurking in the ground. Unfortunately, it was worse. He watched the first shape rise from the ground with a sickening lurching motion, a groan, a whimper. A second rose, his motions and noises louder. Oh Gods, they were rotting. One's jawbone was hanging only by a hinge, another was carrying his own arm, another's eye looked like it was about to topple out, the other's skin had corroded, revealing battered skull underneath.

And there Paladin was, on the ground.

"Oh bugger," he said, quietly. Then louder, "Oh bugger, oh bugger, oh godsdammit, not the bloody undead, oh shit."

The colour drained from his face, he bent double and urgently yanked Paladin upwards. "Up, up, we can't win this one, run!"

As it so happened, nothing quite gave you a second wind like being pursued by the undead. Making sure Paladin was caught up with him, he received a push of strength he didn't know he possessed and ran for his life. Luckily, after more than fifty years of running for his life, he had gotten very good at it.

He simply hoped that Paladin was too.
As it was, running for his life was not something Paladin had done all that often--not that he could have known that. He preferred to stand his ground, to cover others, be the diversion if necessary...running for his life was not something he did often.

He pushed himself to his feet with Stoneface's help and ran with him a few dozen steps--then turned back, to see what was behind, precisely, for two exhausted and injured men bearing a third unconscious, injured man could not run forever--or even for very long. So he turned back to survey.

About seven seconds later he was back, on Stoneface's other side, awkwardly pushing himself under Rod's sagging side and shoving him atop his shoulders. "Run faster," He said to Stoneface, should the other man question why. Running for his own life wasn't something Paladin did often--helping other people run for theirs cropped up with far greater frequency.

Though, it seemed to him that running wasn't going to get them much farther--there was an agonizing stitch developing in his side, and by now he was relying on sheer willpower to keep his eyes open. "We--need," He panted, voice so hoarse as to be nearly unintelligible, "the--elevator..." He didn't have breath enough for the "now" that was meant to follow.

Of course, you can find it, an insidious voice piped up. A quick look. And, damn him, but the thought tempted...it would let Stoneface and Rod get to safety, and that would be good, that would be enough...Paladin turned his head away, so that his eyes could not betray him, and happened to glance down one of the streets intersecting with the one they ran down--

"Elevator!" Everything in his torso protested the shouting, but nonetheless he shouted and dug his heels into the road to brake and turn. And there it was, gleaming patiently a few hundred yards away, with the only thing between them and it a few dozen rotting hands digging themselves out.
Underneath normal circumstances, perhaps Stoneface would have noted the way that Paladin had so easily found the elevator, or chastised him for taking risks. In this case, he was simply thankful for the sight of the elevator, knowing that if either one of them had to run for much longer, they would be dead.

And there it was--the elevator. Thank Gods. Paying little attention to the hands digging themselves out of the dirt, he simply sped his gait, and upon noticing the potential for them to be caught by the hands and dragged into the ground, he glanced over to the ailing Paladin and ordered, "Stomp."

Slamming their heels into the dirt, the effectively smashed the hands with the grotesque sound of snapping bones before fleeing into the elevator.

Once it became clear that none followed them inside, Stoneface leaned against one of the walls, waiting for his heart to stop feeling as if it were about to fall out on the floor and dance a jig.

"We're out." He sighed, resisting the urge to simply slide down onto the floor and sleep in the elevator. "D'you--are you going to be all right?"

Because he wasn't all right--neither of them were. What was important was that they got better. All three of them.
Paladin did not resist the urge to slide to the floor, though he didn't lie down. He excused it to himself by taking the opportunity to lean Rod--still unconscious, but looking like he might be coming around soon--against the wall. Leaning up carefully, he punched the button for the City Without Walls and the little ding! of acknowledgment was the best thing he'd heard in recent memory.

He sat up in the corner and was looking through his pockets for his journal when Stoneface spoke. Was he going to be all right? Good question. However... he gave Stoneface a wry smile. "I'm more worried about you. I didn't attack the king with my bare hands."

He resumed digging out the journal (it would have been easier were he on his feet, but--not standing up until he had to). When he had it out, he scrawled something--three sentences, no more. "I said we're out," Paladin said, closing the journal. "Rod's alive, and needs treatment right away." Another wry smile. "With any luck, I won't be the doctor on call."

The tag in which Stoneface's vocabulary suffers :|b

Once the adrenaline began to drain from his body, Stoneface's shoulders sagged, ready not to think about any of this till morning--that was to say, ready until Paladin brought up his battle with the King. It gave him pause for a moment before he answered, slowly, "Sorry about that. Dunno what came over me."

That was a lie. He knew exactly what it was, but he wasn't about to tell just anybody. As far as he knew, only Handmaiden knew about it, and he wanted to keep how deeply it could affect him a secret from her as long as he possibly could. He'd think on it more later--his actions disturbed even himself far too much. What was it about the King that had made his careful defenses suddenly disintegrate?

"It was a stupid move," he admitted. "but I'm fine. Besides, I wasn't the one using whatever fiddly magic thing you were."

Sitting down just as Paladin had was starting to sound like a very appealing idea when the doors swished open, revealing what appeared to be paradise: home.

They made it back. He turned around and offered Paladin a hand in getting back to his feet.

<3

Maybe if he had been better rested, maybe if he hadn't come close to death in the past few minutes, maybe if he hadn't just left Silent Hill, he would have picked up that Stoneface was hiding something from him--but as it was, he didn't. Something had come over him? Made perfect sense--and Paladin gave a little laugh when Stoneface mentioned the magic. "Very true. Not...not my finest hour." Something had come over him as well, though not quite the same something that came over Stoneface.

It was just then, the door opened--and though he had never been fond of the Tree, he would have agreed with Stoneface that it was like looking at paradise.

Paladin took Stoneface's hand, and pushed himself to his feet. "But we're alive," he said, "and we're going to be all right."
"Not your brightest hour?" Stoneface raised a brow, laying Rod on the ground and checking his journal to make sure that medics were on their way. "Not the magic bit, perhaps, but it sure as hell saved us."

He turned towards Paladin, and inclined his head to him. He owed him that much. "You went above your duty, lad, especially in a place like that. Thank you." He paused, a twist to his features, a melancholy smile forming upon his face. "I doubt neither Rod nor I would be here if it weren't for you."

And it was true--without somebody armed with an axe, as proficient in battle as he was in the arts of healing, he would likely be trapped within the room of wolves still.

Quite breaking the rather noble mood, he yawned massively and promptly collapsed into a sitting position beside the fallen watchman.
Paladin looked away as Stoneface praised him--the "magic bit" still stuck with him, in more ways than one--and then his cheeks tinted pink as Stoneface continued to praise him. He knew it was all true--or at least, it was true that without someone to help them, Stoneface and Rod would not be alive now--but to hear it... Nonetheless, he raised his head at the end and returned the nod to Stoneface.

"Thank y--"

And was promptly cut off as Stone toppled over into a sitting position.

"Stoneface?!" Paladin scrambled down, a jolt of fear going through him--but no, Stoneface appeared to be fine, simply doing what he himself had done in the elevator earlier. Sighing in relief, Paladin dusted himself off and got up just as a pair of medics bearing a stretcher arrived at the access point.

In a low murmur, he told the senior of the two what he believed had befallen Rod, his injuries, and what treatment he had already received--and just as the pair were about to return Rod to the clinic, Paladin tugged at the shoulder of the more junior one.

"I think it would be a good idea if you could send someone out with a chair for this man and take him home, he lives in Sector 3, take a left outside the elevator and--"
"Not bloody likely," Stoneface interrupted, abruptly standing to his feet and looking rather affronted. "I was just having a rest. I think I can make it back home in one piece, thank you."

Sure, being in the chair would probably help most of his wounds, but certainly not his pride. Hell would freeze over before he got into one of those things while he was still conscious.

"Good bye, Paladin! See to it that Lezard gives you the morning off tomorrow, or else we'll be having words. Rest up."

With that, he marched confidently away until he was positive that he was out of eyesight. Then, pride intact, he stumbled, tripped and cursed all the way home.