Chapter 11: Q & Not So Much A
The escort force moved through the quiet town just below a jog. Their silenced weapons quickly and relatively quietly eliminated scattered resistance as they rounded building after building to reach their destination hiding in the mist. It was a large brick structure that had once been an industrial factory. The soldiers poured in the front entrance and swept downstairs where more of their black clad comrades waited.
Milling around a set of broken doors the only man not holding a gun stormed past all of the others to where the medics were tending to the wounded. Shying away from him the conversations died down and heads turned to the floor as the commander took stock of the room.
"What in the nine hells is going on here!" Hulme raged. "Where is Finnian!"
"Here, sir." one of the men stepped out. "We were attacked."
"No shit. Anyone not a medic or part of my escort, get out of here and go find me a trail. Move!" he barked as the men hurriedly made themselves scarce. "Why is most of my task force here tending to wounded and wasting time standing around, Finnian?"
"Back up was called in sir. We were waiting for your orders after securing the area." the lance corporal took a breath before he went on. "The men here were not just attacked by standard hostiles. These were people. Armed people."
Several things ran through Hulme's mind and half of them were mono-syllabic curses. Random people walking into Silent Hill was always a possibility according to his employer but they had never encountered any up until now. It also meant that paradoxically other people could stroll into town when he and his men were trapped at every turn. Taking off his tactical helmet Hulme rubbed tired eyes and took a seat on one of the crates scattered around the room.
"How many and what did they look like?"
"Three, sir. I...don't know what they looked like." Finnian confessed.
"Three people broke into your locked and fortified position with some kind of magic doohickey on the front and overwhelmed all five of you? All without you getting a good look at them?"
The trooper looked extremely uncomfortable and choose his words carefully. "Three of us were on patrol when the attack happened..."
"I don't recall this unit being assigned a patrol route for a specific reason, Lance Corporal. Who authorized this action?"
"I did, sir." the soldier writhed his hands.
"And your reason for this unsanctioned, unnecessary waste of precious ammunition? Which led to dereliction of your duty and failure of your very simple task to stay on guard?"
"Um...well...we've been here some time and the men were complaining about R&R..."
"R&R?" Hulme echoed. "R. And R"
The soldier clearly wanted to be somewhere else when Hulme got up and stood a few inches away with a withering glare on his hard features. "You did this for sport!" he screamed at the younger soldier. "I've got two wounded and a primary fucking objective missing because you wanted to have fun! I should shoot you myself! You couldn't have screwed up worse on purpose!"
The words hit the other man like physical blows and he trembled in front of the commander. "Get out of my sight." Hulme growled menacingly and the other man nearly sprinted out of the room. Rubbing his forehead in disbelief the old soldier joined the medics tending to the two injured privates. Ryan and Zoller were their last names as he recalled and the former's face was being wrapped up to keep in place what appeared to be a broken jaw.
"He going to be able to function?" Hulme asked the senior medic available.
"Won't be able to talk but he can shoot." the typically businesslike specialist answered. "Going to hurt like hell though."
"That's going to be his reward for failing to do his job." Hulme said as he stared directly at Ryan. "What about this one?" he pointed at Zoller who was having some paste rubbed into the holes that flecked his face.
"Took a shotgun hit. Combat armor held up just fine and he's a little bruised but we're going to need to pull those bits of shot out back at the triage."
"He okay to talk?"
"Good. Over here Zoller." Hulme motioned and pulled two crates together. Getting a nod from the medic the shaky private sat with the Commander almost knee to knee.
"Want to tell me what happened, son?"
"Three of them." the private said and it was obviously unpleasant to talk. Hulme didn't care at the moment though.
"How did they get in?"
"Door open. Patrol left it."
This much the commander expected but he'd been assured by his employer that the disturbing and undeniably effective mumbo jumbo written on the door would keep out any intruders. It was meant for the monstrous inhabitants of the town but should have worked on their mystery guests.
"They got the drop on your I'm assuming." he said.
The private nodded. "Went for Glock, they fired. Don't remember what happened after."
"What did they look like?"
"Two civilians. Young guy, curly hair, only one who talked. Shotgun. Woman, short, long black hair, cute. Nine mil. Third guy. Tall. Wearing green armor. Like a knight. Big shield. Sword. No visible features."
This triggered something in Hulme's mind. One of their first objectives in the town was to secure an apartment in an unremarkable building with the assistance of their employer's men. They recovered some choice items as well as a library and a suit of armor complete with matching sword. All of the items were taken by Marcus; Hulme now wondered if the person that was supposed to be living there had returned for his belongings.
"Tied us up. Bandaged us."
"They gave you first aid?" Hulme blinked. "What for?"
"Goodwill. Message for you."
"Don't want to fight us. Said enemy is employer and the town. Said no way out."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Commander. They didn't know. What was down there." Zoller managed to get out.
"Just wanted to fight employer. Knew something being guarded here, not what."
This deeply troubled Hulme for a number of reasons but he kept his face passive. "Not a word of this to anyone." he ordered and the private nodded. Taking his leave the commander strolled to the back of the room and to the icy stairwell. Contemplating exactly how he was going to punish the idiotic lance corporal he found the soldiers investigating the sewer escape route and squeezed by them. Reaching the bottom he met his right hand man Westfall in the holding chamber.
"Commander. Was wondering when you were going to show up." the Lt. Colonel said.
"I can't even begin to imagine how badly this has been fubar'd." Hulme sighed. "As if the leaving thing wasn't enough now we've actually screwed up one of our primary objectives. This operation is going from bad to worse faster than any I've been a part of."
"Certainly looks like that, David." Westfall agreed. "This though. Marcus is going to be beside himself."
"I know. Not eager to break the news either."
Puffing out a breath of mist Westfall shivered. "Colder than a witch's tit in here. They sure did a good job building this place. Just makes our failure that much worse."
Circling the extremely deep well the commander crouched down by the still remaining ice that littered the floor. The creature they'd sealed away in the cube was reported to be more dangerous than the entire mercenary occupying force combined but Hulme assumed it was more Silent Hill lunacy. As far as he was concerned the body was just that and if they were going to be paid large sums of money to guard it then they would do so gladly. There was something off about the whole situation though.
"What's on your mind?" the other man asked.
"Something doesn't add up, Matt. No doubt the soon to be demoted Finnian screwed the pooch with his play dates. But it shouldn't have come to that in the first place."
"You mean that ceremony thing they did?"
"Yeah. We were assured, promised that only our men would be permitted into the room. The attackers got in like we left the door open, which, actually, we did."
"Maybe they did it wrong." Westfall suggested.
"No." Hulme shook his head. "Marcus Stone doesn't make mistakes like that. I was here when we sealed this place up. He wouldn't leave things like this to chance. That's not the only problem I have though."
"How did they know where to find this guy?" Hulme asked as he picked up a chunk of ice and tossed it over the side of the well. "They knew where to go, knew how to get past the seal but didn't know what they were looking for. Hell, it sounds like they had no idea what to expect when they got here. Some of it could have been dumb luck but these three were looking for something. Maybe they didn't know what but when they found our friend they broke him out in a hurry."
"And they left Ryan and Zoller alive. Anyone with our business acumen would have executed them."
"Too many questions and not enough answers. Typical."
"What's our next move?" Westfall asked.
"I want those three tracked as far as possible. If we can locate them maybe we can find out what they're doing here. But if you find them capture them gently. I want a chance to talk to them before I turn them over to Stone."
"If they know a way in and out of the town maybe we can strike a deal."
"I know what it is, Matt. Right now I'm willing to consider all options." Hulme said. "Make no mistake, our backs are against the wall. If Stone isn't going to let us go then we need to be prepared to find a way out of this hell hole by any means necessary."
Dragging a corpse along in general wasn't fun but it was even more so when having to do so in a dark sewer in a hostile ghost town. Chuck trudged along with his surprisingly light but increasingly heavy friend and hurried as best he could behind Victor's bulky frame. The knight's head light and Julia's flashlight lit up the grimy sewer but having a decent amount of vision didn't stop him from stepping in things he had to hope were mere human waste.
Finding a manhole and spending an eternity getting it open Victor slid the heavy cover out of the way and let light pour into the dingy sewer. Throwing the triangle sword ahead he followed it out of the dark tunnel and not a moment too soon. From farther back in the darkness Chuck heard the inhuman, shrill wail from far in the distance of something he never wanted to meet.
"Looks like we got here just in time." Victor commented as he helped Julia up the short ladder to the street surface.
"What the hell was that?"
"We should probably just get out of their way." the knight said and Chuck's face frowned as hard as humanly possible.
"Nevermind. Hand me the body." he said and Chuck took a breath before hoisting what was left of the Dark Man upwards. Scrambling up the ladder when the corpse was out of the way he quickly replaced the cover and shuddered to think of what they had just avoided. The town had reverted back to its misty, daylight appearance sometime while they were in the basement and Chuck was glad for it. The eternally dark, rusted version of the town was infinitely more menacing and had haunted him for two long years. Chuck didn't recognize his surroundings but that wasn't particularly unusual and according to Julia her man knew the area better than anyone alive.
"We gotta make ourselves scarce." Julia suggested.
"Agreed. Bring him, let's get into that gas station." Victor ordered. Holding his breath about how he didn't recall signing up to take commands Chuck nevertheless hefted the still cold body onto his back. Carrying it some forty more feet to the long since abandoned structure Victor went in first with a shotgun armed Julia close behind. While he might have been somewhat brusque one could not say that the knight didn't have a pair of brass ones.
Finding it empty Chuck dragged the body into the building and laid it down on the floor. Closing and locking the door Victor stared out of it a couple of moments before returning to them. Tired muscles gratefully relieved themselves of their burden and the killer looked around the room. Half ransacked for supplies the orderly rows of food and random products were still more or less as they were almost twenty years ago. By now none of it would we good to eat but they would have to look through the place for anything they could use.
Standing around the body the three of them rested and looked down on the reason that they were all these. Reflecting on what had led them here Chuck said out loud, "Well, that sucked."
"Putting it lightly." the woman of the group said.
"We're alive and we got what we came for." Victor shrugged. Leaning the strange triangle handled sword against the aisle he took off his helmet and set it down on a row of moldy cereal boxes.
"Only because those guys were screwing around. What if we had walked into a room full of them with rifles waiting?" the pilgrim scoffed.
"Yeah. Guys in combat armor and guns I didn't sign up for." Chuck agreed.
"The two of you worry too much. Everything worked out. Why continue to dwell on it?"
"Well...I don't know, it was just stressful, man." the killer said.
"Mmm. You'll get used to it."
"What are we going to do with Sleeping Beauty?" Julia asked and prodded the body with her foot.
"That's a good question, actually." the knight mused. "How do you revive someone who was already dead before you ever met him?"
"Wait, what?" Chuck asked. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"You didn't know?" Victor asked like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Well...I mean I knew he was...I don't know...magical? I guess? The only way I could think to describe him. I just thought it was part of the Silent Hill weirdness."
"Oh, it is, it is." Victor said with unsettling calm. "Let me tell you about your old friend. I'll assume you know about the Order? The people trying to kill us?"
"Ugh. I keep forgetting you merely found your way here." Victor said irritably. "They are the ones behind all of this. I don't know how but I'm positive they had a hand in turning Silent Hill into what it is now. They've been active for hundreds of years in one form or the other. But what concerns you is your...dark benefactor. He was one of them."
"He was a...cultist?"
"Oh yes. In fact he was once their greatest practitioner of the arcane, a title he still refers to himself as: the Fater."
A suppressed memory came to the surface and Chuck remembered when he first came to Silent Hill. The angry, vengeful half of himself that manifested in his 'Troy' personality had asked the town for help. It was not the mists but the Dark Man who had answered his twisted prayer. Chuck remembered now that the knife wielding phantom had indeed referred to himself as 'Nothing, the Fater'.
"What happened to him?" Julia asked and was paying just as rapt attention as Chuck was.
"Well, I only have the story I was told. The Fater was given access to all of the Order's ceremonies and spells. There was an obscure and old ritual that even they deemed too dangerous he was able to exploit. Somewhere, somehow he elevated himself past mortal limits. He isn't a man anymore in the true sense of the word...more of a shade, an essence still clinging to this world after it should have departed."
"But that guy's real. He's got a body and everything." Julia argued.
"Maybe so but that's not flesh and bone you're looking at. There's no organism, no beating heart in that body. He's no more human than the things that crawl in the mists." Victor explained.
All of this was news to Chuck but he wasn't exactly sure how to take it. He had been the direct beneficiary of the Dark Man's supernatural powers on many occasions. Most of his journey through Silent Hill the first time was only possible and didn't kill him because of the influence and protection given by Nothing. Yet in all the time he knew the ghost man he never could figure out what he wanted in return.
As the killer contemplated the oddity that was his only friend in the world Julia scratched her head. "Well that still leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. Mostly no one's come up with a good way to get popsicle here to start talking and explain what's going on."
"They killed him once, didn't they?" Chuck asked. "Or at least got him close enough to trap him. I mean, how else do you kill someone whose already dead?"
"You freeze them in an ice cube with a sword in their chest and drop them down a well?" Julia threw out.
"In a well lit room..." Victor breathed like he had just stumbled onto something important.
"What is it Vic?"
"We found him in a room, in a whole section of a building lit up brighter than day time. Locked in ice, surrounded by water with machines pumping cold air in." he spoke rapidly. "What does that mean to you?"
"Uh...they wanted to be able to see in large refrigerator?"
"No no, think about it more symbolically." he insisted. "He was already defeated before they put him in there. The writing on the walls was specifically made to keep him in."
"A prison." Julia concluded. "A prison...of lights and cold?"
"Exactly." the knight nodded. "It wasn't just the sword, the well or the lights. It was all of them combined together that kept him trapped. They knew he wasn't able to be killed by conventional methods or maybe they just didn't have the right tools. So they did the next best thing and put him in a deep, brightly lit hole he'd never be able to fight his way out of."
"You know what, that's gone up my flagpole Victor, I'm saluting that one." Chuck said. "That makes total sense."
"Wait, it does?" Julia asked quizzically.
"When we found him he was surrounded by so many lights you had to squint to see. Hell, they built them into his ice cube. I might not have spent a lot of time talking to him but he seemed like a guy that preferred to be in the dark. Ditto for the cold. Maybe they knew that he wouldn't be able to use his freaky powers if they set it up just right."
"We should attempt to counter act the Order's steps to contain him. Provide the opposite of what they did."
"Darkness and heat?" Chuck asked.
"How would we even do that?" Julia wondered aloud. "What are we going to do, stick him in an oven?"
Both men looked up at each other and then to Julia. "What?" she glanced back and forth quickly between them.
"That's genius!" Victor exclaimed.
"It is? I mean, huh, yeah, I meant to do that." Julia said and curled her fingers arrogantly to pretend she was inspecting her nails. "You're welcome."
"You really think it'll work?" Chuck worried.
"What are we going to do, kill him a third time? There's an old bakery a couple of streets over, with any luck the oven will still be in working order. Let's find one large enough to throw him in." Victor said.
"And what if we're wrong?"
"Then at least he was cremated." Victor shrugged. "More than most get in Silent Hill."