A Little Bit Of Guidance 3-03

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Before he moved with my mother to the much smaller and quieter Laramie Falls, my father’s work in Los Angeles had sent him to a lot of disturbing scenes. He wasn’t a cop, but in some ways, his job had been almost as dangerous. He had investigated serial killers, arsonists, child abductors, and worse, all without the benefit of a badge. He’d carried a small gun for protection after an incident where a man followed him home, but for the most part, it had been up to him to keep himself out of too much trouble.

Of course, he’d gone right into trouble, because that was where the story happened to be. Dad’s primary purpose and goal had been to expose those monsters, to drag them into the light of day and tear away the shadows of mystery that kept people terrified of them. He used his writing to shine a spotlight directly on the sick pieces of shit, not to simply scare his audience but to educate them.

After changing cities and mostly settling down, he had kept boxes full of all his old work hidden under camping equipment in the attic. To this day, he had no idea that I had found those boxes back when I was twelve. I’d pored through them, seeing all the stories he’d written, all the pictures that had been taken of those awful scenes, even the reports filed in such dry and concise language by the police.

Most of it had made me physically sick, but I had gone through it anyway. I’d looked at the pictures of violent, soul-crushing death and human misery, not for the thrill, but to inoculate myself against the horror of it. My thought, as a child, had been that if I saw those things through the pictures, it wouldn’t be as hard to see it when I grew up. Because even back then I had known that I wanted to do the same job that my father had. I wanted to help people by exposing the monsters as the humans they were.

And now I had found out the truth. Many of those monsters weren’t human at all. They were things that no amount of light would bring answers to, not for the vast majority of humanity. There were creatures, foul, evil monsters who could not be held by any human prison. Their crimes would go forever unsolved by human authority, the families of their victims left without any real closure. They would escape any and all justice and be left to freely prey upon the innocent, treating humanity as toys.

Except for one thing. The Heretics. These were the people who could bring those monsters to justice, who could stop them from preying upon the innocent. That was why I had chosen so easily to join them, to set aside my desire to be a reporter. My goal all along had been to stop the monsters hiding in the shadows. I just hadn’t realized how literal that term was. And now that I did? Now that I had some idea of what creatures were out there, I was going to learn everything I could about how to stop them.

All of that and more passed through my mind as I stared at the projection of the crime scene. The hologram, if that’s what this could be called, was so realistic that I almost forgot we were in a room. From all appearances, we were standing on the edge of an actual gas station parking lot. It looked absolutely real, and I would have believed that we had teleported here. Even the sky above looked convincing. Behind us, the door we had come through appeared to be a simple doorway standing right in the middle of an empty street. When I put my hand out toward what looked like empty air beside the door, I found the wall. There was no indication of its existence until I touched it.

Turning back, my eyes found the poor girl on the ground with the gas nozzle duct taped into her mouth, and I felt that familiar taste of sick rising up in my throat. Even looking through my father’s old files and pictures hadn’t prepared me for seeing this sort of thing as up close and personal as this was.

Beside me, I heard a girl gasp the words, “Oh my god….” Then a hand caught my arm and squeezed. When I looked that way, I found Koren of all people. She was staring at the dead girl. Her eyes were wide with shock, and I saw a bit of dampness leak through the corners. She worked her mouth with a small, barely audible whine, and I could almost see the bile making its way up her throat.

Wincing, I turned to grab the girl’s arm, turning her away from the scene and bending her over slightly even as her body started to heave. When she puked, it hit what looked like pavement beneath our feet.

Once she had finished, Koren spat at the ground a couple of times to clear her mouth, then gave a little shudder before straightening up. Her eyes found me and I saw a look of confusion and uncertainty touch her gaze for just a moment before she pulled away with a mumbled, “I’m fine.” Her face was flushed with embarrassment, which stood out a lot against her naturally pale skin.

“Here,” the voice of Professor Dare spoke up, and I saw her extending a glass of water to Koren, along with a napkin for her face. “If you need to take a break, you can go back through the door and sit down for a few minutes.” Raising her voice then, she added, “That goes for everyone. Go back to the other side and give yourself a break if you need it. No one is going to shame you for it. The fact that seeing something like this makes you sick is a good thing, and is not to be mocked. Any person that I see doing something like that will be in my office every day after classes for the rest of the month.”

Once that was acknowledged, the blonde woman gestured. “Look around, trust your instincts and see what you can find. You can touch things in here and move them around. The scene can be reset by the lead investigator, in this case that would be me, so do not worry about disturbing things. Look around as much as you like and then we will all discuss what we believe happened here.”

“Um, Professor?” I raised my hand before pointing. “What about the cameras?” They were clearly covering not only the lot, but the inside of the store. The whole thing should have been recorded. “I mean, is there any way to make that work?” Not being able to view footage would have made any investigation a lot harder than it had to be, and I couldn’t imagine that they didn’t have a way around it.

Smiling faintly, Professor Dare gestured. “The PAWS system automatically copies any recordings within the area and will play them accordingly, yes. I suggest you look inside the office for that.”

Most of the group spread out, the majority going to look either at the girl’s body, or the one inside the store. I hesitated before looking toward the twins, who seemed to be waiting for me. “Video then?”

Sands nodded, and the three of us made our way inside, moving through the almost obnoxiously bright store. My eyes tracked the trail of blood to the back coolers, where the second body lay in a heap. Remnants of both the glass of the coolers, and their contents covered the body, mixing with the blood.

Swallowing, I forced myself to look away, returning my attention to the twins. “Are you guys okay?”

Sands actually seemed to be the more affected of the two. Her lower lip trembled slightly while she stared, clearly unable to look away. It was Scout, her expression sad but controlled, who moved in front of her sister to block her view. It was a subtle thing, the girl turning her body as though reacting to me, which maneuvered her directly into Sands’ eye-line. Subtle, yet I had no doubt it was purposeful.

Scout looked at me, meeting my gaze before giving a slight nod. She was okay. She had seen worse.

Back under control, Sands breathed out before nodding as well. “L-let’s go see this video.”

We found our way to the manager’s office, and it only took a few seconds to spot the computer in the corner. I shrugged at the others before reaching out to hit a key. For a hologram, it certainly felt real. The key brought up the computer screen, and it only took a minute to find the security footage.

Unfortunately, it was spectacularly useless. Though the cameras were clearly high quality, capturing both the interior of the store from several angles, and the parking lot including the pumps, none of it mattered, because the actual scene itself was completely missing. I was able to set the video to show the doomed clerk standing in her spot behind the counter, with the equally doomed man in the back of the store, glancing nervously around as though waiting to be sure the place was empty. Then, without warning or apparent reason, the view jumped instantly to show the scene we had just walked through. One second everything was fine, and then there were two dead bodies on camera.

“Whoa, whoa, what?” I clicked the button to send the footage back, then let it play. Again, the scene jumped. According to the video details in the corner, it had jumped almost twenty minutes.

Professor Dare spoke up from behind us. “Most Strangers project a field that inhibits being recorded by ordinary human technology. The strength of this field varies. Some are so weak that details of the event or creature can still be made out. Even the quality of those best videos, however, are rendered so poor so that almost any Bystanders dismisses it as a poorly made edit, a prank. Others, like vampires, simply don’t appear on video at all while allowing it to continue recording other subjects. In this case, it would appear that the Stranger who was responsible for this… situation was sufficiently powerful that the entire recording was simply frozen from the moment they arrived, and did not resume until they left.”

“But why?” I asked with a frown. “Why would creatures of magic have an effect so specialized as messing with technology like that? Cameras are a very new thing, I mean, as far as the Strangers go. How did they develop that kind of defense so quickly? And why? Would humans be a threat to them?”

“A united humanity, joined in power against the monsters that stalk the darkness?” Professor Dare gave a single nod. “Indeed. That would be a genuine threat. Unfortunately, that is not what would happen.”

Frowning, I glanced to the security footage (or lack thereof), and thought for a second before responding as I turned back to the teacher. “Because humans don’t tend to unite like that?”

“Precisely.” Professor Dare met my gaze. “If humanity as a whole knew about the Strangers, they would fall on each other. Paranoia would run rampant. Every disagreement would be magnified to the point of absurdity. Ordinary disputes would be tainted by the fear that the person they were arguing with was a monster posing as a human being. You believe that humans have treated each other horribly throughout history simply due to a difference of belief, skin color, or economic status? Add in the fear of monsters posing as humans, and society would tear itself apart. Trust outside of close acquaintances would quickly fall apart, and even friendships and families themselves could be strained.”

Biting my lip, I looked back to the useless computer monitor once more with a frown. So much for getting anything here. “I guess we should look around the rest of the scene,” I said quietly.

“Do not feel bad,” Professor Dare urged. “It is never a waste of time to examine such footage, even if it rarely pans out. Sometimes, as I said, enough of the video remains to identify the creature responsible. Or there may be clues and evidence before or after the event itself that can help. It is always a good idea to check, just to rule out an easy solution before moving on to the next possibility.”

“Before and after…” I murmured under my breath before turning back to the computer. Sands had been about to close out of the footage. “Wait, send it back to right before the scene jumps and pause it.”

With a shrug, the other girl complied. After two clicks, the ordinary scene returned, freezing in place.

Lifting my hand, I indicated the vehicles that were in the lot or on the nearby street, committing them to memory. “Remember all these cars that are in view. Okay, let it skip ahead, then pause again.”

Sands did so, freezing the image as soon as the newly horrific scene returned. This time, rather than focus on the dead bodies, I scanned the scene for any of the same cars that had been there before.

It was Scout who raised her finger, pointing to a sedan on the road to the right of the station. Her finger touched the screen, and then she gestured to her sister. Getting the point, Sands rewound the footage once more. This time, Scout moved her finger down to one of the other camera views, which showed the left hand side of the station lot. In that view, the same car was just pulling in. Unfortunately, it was impossible to make out the occupant in either case. The angle was wrong.

I smiled in spite of myself. “Good eyes, Scout. Look, Professor. That car pulls in right before everything skips ahead. When the cameras come back, it just pulled out.” Turning a bit, I asked, “The license plate is right there. Can you send it to the Heretics that are actually investigating this?”

Her head dipped in acknowledgment. “An excellent use of resources, Miss Chambers. And well-spotted, Miss Mason. You’ve done well so far. And… precisely what the investigators assigned to this case have already done.” She gave a smile at our collective wince. “Do not feel bad. The fact that you’ve done precisely what the Runners on this case have done should not be a cause for embarrassment, but pride. Our investigators know their jobs. Of course they would think to do exactly what you just did. Be proud that you thought the way that they do, not ashamed that you have not single-handedly created a whole new avenue of investigation.”

She was right. The Heretics that were looking into this were trained professionals. The best of the best. Of course they had already thought of something as simple as comparing the before and after footage. Just because we were being tutored using this crime scene didn’t mean we were going to spot anything that the actual professionals missed. Not that easily, at least.

Sands was already straightening up, her voice as confident as ever. “Let’s see what else we can spot out there. There’s gotta be something the investigators missed.”

Professor Dare stepped aside, saying only, “I am here to answer any questions that you have.”

The three of us walked back out into the main part of the store, and the professor moved to help Travis and Rudolph over by the cash register. The two of them had apparently found the dead girl’s purse.

“I don’t think there’s gonna be any answers there,” I murmured under my breath to the twins. “I doubt she was a planned target.”

“Why not?” Sands asked, glancing my way with a raised eyebrow.

Shrugging, I replied, “It just doesn’t feel like that, I don’t know. I can’t explain it. But everything here says it was a crime of opportunity. Think about it. A twenty minute jump? Whoever or whatever did this was having fun. They took the time to enjoy themselves before… somehow forcing that girl to kill that man and then… I don’t know, kill herself? Strangers can have mind control powers, right?”

Both girls nodded, and Sands spoke up. “Some of them, yeah.”

“I think… someone was playing.” After hesitating, I started to pace while thinking about it for another few seconds. “They didn’t care about making a scene. There was no attempt to cover this up at all. Part of that was relying on the whole camera-futzing thing, but they didn’t even try to make the scene look realistic. What kind of girl commits suicide like… like she supposedly did? Plus, look at the difference between the two deaths. That one there was sudden and simple. Shot in the back. The one out there was elaborate and nasty. This was powerful, but also… immature. Unplanned. It’s almost like they were… I don’t know, testing their power or playing with it?”

“You know that stuff isn’t real, right?” Sands asked, gesturing. “Can’t really take it with you.”

Blinking down in confusion, I found myself looking at a candy bar and a bottle of orange soda. “Huh?”

Sands snickered. “You picked them up while you were talking. Need a snack when we get back?”

Shaking my head, I set both the soda and the candy down, squinting at them briefly. “I guess so. Sorry, I didn’t know I was doing that.”

Shrugging, Sands tapped the bottle. “Your subconscious makes good choices, anyway. But yeah, holograms probably don’t taste that good.”

Before I could say anything else, a voice spoke up from nearby. “Heh, guess you saw it too, huh?”

Looking back, I saw Koren standing there. She still looked a little flushed, but was clearly doing her best to hold it together. “Saw what?”

“The receipt?” She offered, the tone of her voice implying the unstated ‘duh.’

I shook my head at that. “What receipt?”

“Oh for the love of…” Trailing off, the girl spun around, making her long brown braid fly as she stomped back toward the registers to where Travis and Rudolph still were. Without ceremony, she snatched away a paper that the two were examining and brought it back, thrusting the paper into my face. “This receipt. You know, the one you saw before you picked those things up, like they’re gonna tell you anything.”

It took me a second to focus on the words on the receipt, but when I did, my throat closed up. Orange soda and a candy bar. The same candy bar I had picked up. “What… where was… this?”

“Seriously?” Koren squinted at me. “Back there, on the counter. It was the last thing on the register, so it was obviously the last thing that dead girl out there sold before all this shit happened.”

Her head tilted at me, her squint turning suspicious. “If you didn’t know what was on the receipt, then how the fuck did you just happen to pick up exactly what was on it?”

That… was a very good question.

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  1. Hmmm. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy what Flick was talking about at the beginning and I don’t buy Dare’s explanation for why they don’t try and go public with the existence of Strangers.

    I’m guessing that the ratio of Stranger incidents to human crimes on the same level of brutality is HEAVILY weighted towards human crimes. Stranger attacks are probably few and far between.

    And I don’t see how Dare’s description of what would happen if humans were aware of Strangers would be all that much different from the way we already live.

    The fact that not all Strangers are as evil as the Crossroads Heretics claim hurts her case as well.

    I have to say, I’m really on the fence as far as the Crossroads Heretics are concerned. I’m not fond of their M.O. at all. But I’ll try to wait until we get some more details on Eden’s Garden, Strangers in general, what happened to Joselyn and why they’re hiding that info from Flick before I pass judgement.

    I’m really not fond of Koren at the moment. My opinion softened on her at the beginning, but her quick shift to suspicion irritates me. Again though I’ll try to reserve judgement until more info on her revealed.

    Now. Why did Flick pick up the same items as her littke brother? Some kind of mental link? Coincidentally similar tastes? I doubt it’s the latter, given the emphasis the narrative places on it. I wonder how Dare’s going to react. If they decide to tell her.

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    1. I’m not sure I see why the ratio of human brutality to Stranger brutality is all that relevant. Baseline humans can deal with human crimes, but can’t do so with the nastier Strangers. Something like the Heretics are necessary, though the Crossroads ones obviously have problems. Really, it’d actually be more odd if they didn’t seem to, humans aren’t perfect, after all.

      As to Dare’s description of what would happen if everything came into the open … I can see it. People can get really, really nasty when hunting for secret undesirables. Witch hunts, secret police, lynch mobs, these are things that happen fairly often when humanity decides that the enemy is within our ranks. And given that the Strangers are powerful, making the stakes higher, and would be really hard for non-heretics to detect or prove, I suspect you’d get more cooperation than McCarthy got, and even more false positives. It’d get ugly, and that’s not even taking into account that the old human hatreds wouldn’t just go away. Now, that might not happen, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if that statement of Dare’s came from some amount of experience.

      As to Koren being less likable because she’s suspicious … heck, I’m suspicious. You’re suspicious. It’s pretty weird, even if you know the connection between Flick and Ammon. Koren’s rather rude about it, but I wouldn’t really expect much else from her, and from her perspective, it did kind of look like Flick was messing with her.

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      1. I meant to say that Koren undid the good will she earned earlier in the chapter. For me. Not for everyone.

        As for what I was saying about the ratio, I’m not trying to say that the Heretics aren’t necessary, and I may be overstating my growing suspicions against Crossroads. What I meant with that comment is that Flick’s thoughts seemed, to me, to be heading in the direction of blaming Strangers for humanity’s problems. A little bit. I personally saw the beginning of that mindset. Maybe I’m imagining problems where there aren’t any.

        Humanity’s potential reaction to learning about Strangers. I understand that Dare is probably about how humanity would react. What I’m saying is that we already act like that. All the time. Throughout history.

        I do not see how being aware of shapeshifters and monsters would make humanity more paranoid than it already is.

        And the fact that not all Strangers are evil, as Senny and her dad prove, undermines her position. A lot.

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      2. I guess I can see where you got the “Strangers are the cause of humanity’s problems” bit. I didn’t see it at first, and still don’t read it that way, but I’ll keep an eye out for it now.

        As to the paranoia bit, we certainly can be paranoid, but we don’t act on it unless we have a target of some sort to aim at. It does happen all throughout history, but, IIRC, it tends to happen in waves and spurts, triggered by hatred for a particular group. The Salem Witch Trials wouldn’t have happened without someone who looked like a witch (or possibly a real witch in this story), McCarthyism only happened because of the rise of Communism, and if the Strangers were revealed to the public, it would cause a huge witch hunt. It’s not that it would make us more paranoid, it’s that it would activate the already existing dormant paranoia.

        And while the existence of friendly Strangers certainly causes problems to the Crossroads approach to things, it doesn’t make them wrong about needing to deal with the unfriendly ones, or really alter much about their analysis of what would happen if people were told about the unfriendly ones. Even if the world learned about the friendly Strangers at the same time as the unfriendly ones, I doubt it would have much effect. Being friendly rarely protects one from lynch mobs.

        I’m willing to drop the conversation after this, but I also wouldn’t mind keeping it up.

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      3. “I’m willing to drop the conversation after this, but I also wouldn’t mind keeping it up.”

        I’m choosing to read this as “I want to keep discussing this,” and am responding accordingly. (This message ended up being a freaking essay. Sorry about that).

        Okay, let me start by saying two things.

        1. Every opinion I am about to voice is colored by the fact that we’re still pretty early in the story. I understand that there is a great deal I do not know, and am prepared to change my opinions if future revelations give me reason to.

        2. Based on the information I have now, I do not trust Crossroads Academy.

        There are a number of reasons for this, and I’ll start with the Masquerade they’re maintaining on bystanders.

        Ancient, magical, secretive organizations doing their best to keep humanity in the dark about the supernatural threats they face on a regular basis is a pretty common trope. These organizations, whatever form they take, typically believe that it is in the best interest of everyone that their activities are kept a secret. Crossroads is obviously among these groups, but I don’t accept the reasons they’ve given for why they do it that way.

        In the past, I compared Crossroads to the Watchers Council, from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and the White Council from The Dresden Files. They’re also organizations that seek to keep mankind in the dark about what they do, but their reasons for WHY they keep their activities secret differ greatly.

        The Watchers Council never seems to give a reason for why they can’t expose the existence of Vampires and Demons to the world. Which is ridiculous to me because when I watch Buffy or Angel, it seems clear that at least half the vampire killings across both series could have been prevented if the random civilians who were killed had been aware that running into a vampire was a possibility. If the Watchers Council, a group of influential rich people, were to use their influence to expose the existence of vampires to the world, then BAM, all of the sudden large swaths of the human population would be able to defend themselves against vampires. It might cause a panic, yes, but it would do more good than harm in the long run if people were aware that vampires were real and could be defended against with a few basic precautions. But the Watchers never seem to give a satisfactory reason for why they don’t do this beyond tradition, and the possibility that they would not be taken seriously. However, the latter reason falls apart when you find out that they can and do capture vampires for study. How hard would it really be to arrange a meeting where they can show their captives to military or political personnel, or even televise proof that vampires exist?

        The White Council of Wizards, by contrast, keeps themselves a secret for a number of reasons that all make sense (to me). One of their reasons is to prevent persecution of their members, which makes sense considering that many of its centuries old members are old enough to remember actual witch hunts. Another reason is the fact that the purpose of the White Council, according to Luccio, is to protect mankind from Wizards first and foremost, above even vampires or monsters. Wizards of the past would often insinuate themselves into positions of political power and use magic to amass more of that power and influence for themselves. The White Council would also have a harder time maintaining its political neutrality among human nations, which is vital to maintaining its international membership, if various mortal factions were to be made aware of their existence and start trying to build a relationship with them.

        Back to the Heretics. On a scale of Watcher’s Council to White Council, the reasons Crossroads personnel have given to maintain the Masquerade seem to have more in common with the Watchers than the Wizards. Everything I’ve heard so far about why the Heretics keep mankind in the dark of the true nature of reality seems to boil down to “It’s for their own good,” and that isn’t good enough for me. Now, if Dare were to say something about mortal governments attempting to co opt the Heretics, or that it was possible bystanders would persecute the Heretics, that would be good enough for me. I could accept those as good reasons to maintain the Masquerade with no issue (in fact, I’m convinced that those are the real reasons Crossroads and Eden’s Garden operate in secrecy). I understand that revealing the truth would cause a certain degree, maybe even a shit ton, of harm. But I also feel that the benefits, informing bystanders about the threats they face and potentially teaching ordinary people how they might be able to defend themselves themselves, would outweigh the costs.

        The second reason I don’t trust Crossroads at the moment is because the way they operate, specifically the way they recruit, sets off alarm bells in my head. It’s a heavily isolated community that recruits people in such a way that they can’t talk about it to anyone outside of said community. They have total control of the information their students receive, and the info that’s been given so far smells faintly of propaganda (to me).

        I’m leaning heavily on the side of criticism at the moment, so i want to take a quick moment to make it clear that I do understand that there are many Strangers that really are the pure evil monsters Crossroads paints them as. Ammon’s actions are proof of that (although I’m guessing he’s not going to be pure evil once we learn more about him. I’m imagining him as more of being raised that way by his dad, the truly evil one).

        Basically, I understand full well that a certain degree of dogma is probably necessary. It’s the same principle as the Imperium of Man. Yes, it’s a brutal, blatantly evil regime that would make Stalin blink. But damn it, it kind of needs to be like that to survive in the universe of Warhammer 40k. Please note, I am not trying to imply that Crossroads is anywhere near the level of the Imperium. I’m just saying that if I”m right and Crossroads really is more sinister than its being presented as, the same principle applies.

        Back to my points, the third reason I’m suspecting Crossroads of being more sinister than it appears at first glance is quite simple. I kind of WANT them to be the “bad” guys. I like following things from the perspective of what another series would consider the bad guys, that’s a huge part of the reason I like Worm so much. There’s always a part of me that just wants Luke Skywalker to give in to the Dark Side in the Empire Strikes Back, just to see what would happen (Though I really don’t want him to have fallen in the new movie).

        Narratively speaking, it would be fascinating if Flick were part of the dogmatic, darker, “evil counterpart” organization. Especially since it’s made up of genuinely well-meaning and generally decent people. I know I’ve been harping on Dare a lot in the last couple chapters, but I do think she’s a good person. I disagree with the methods of Crossroads, but that doesn’t change the fact that they ultimately and obviously mean well.

        I mean jeez, I cut Cauldron a lot of slack. As long as Crossroads doesn’t kidnap people for human experimentation, I’m good.

        Although… the argument could be made that they’ve essentially kidnapped Flick and the other Bystander students.

        If you want to continue the discussion, I request that you PM me over Spacebattles. There appears to be a limit in reply chains on this site.

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      4. Wow, lots of good thoughts here. Thanks for putting so much into analyzing and explaining your thought process and whatnot.

        I’m not going to spoil too much, but I will say that one group being wrong about another doesn’t NECESSARILY make that group malicious in their wrongness. Do Senny and her father discredit the thought that all Strangers are evil. Yes, absolutely. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Heretics are evil or malicious for believing what they do. You have to take into account things like… how much experience with non-evil Strangers do the Heretics have, and that sort of thing.

        As far as whether they should tell the world or not, you’re right that humans can be paranoid already. But if you tell them monsters and magic are literally real, it will most likely make things a hell of a lot worse. ANYTHING seen as different will be cause for some to go on (literal) witch hunts. Have an opinion that’s different from the group? You must be a demon, so let’s nail you to a spike and burn you.

        I’m not saying (and neither are the Heretics) that EVERYONE would be like that, or even a majority of people. But it would create a lot of problems. Hell, people do this kind of thing over pitiful, made-up differences already. Give them the ‘monster under the bed’ excuse and some would go wild with it.

        Now, all that said, there is obviously debate about telling the world or not. The primary thing stopping them, however, is NOT the fear of how humanity would react. Remember how it was said that only using the Heretical Edge would allow someone to see and recognize the Strangers for what they were? That effect can’t be given to everyone. Remember what was stated earlier? They choose their students from people whose ancestors have had deliberate and personal interaction with Strangers in the past. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not just tradition.

        There are several qualities that go into whether someone is eligible for the Heretical Edge. One of those qualities is a close connection sometime in their ancestors pasts with a Stranger. Others are not yet explained, but exist. If they don’t meet these qualities, the Edge will not work on them, or has a much smaller chance of working. And if it doesn’t work, the effects can range from inconsequential to crippling. Thus, they maximize the chances of it working by being extremely selective in who they use it on.

        Beyond that, using the Edge is the only way of making people see the Strangers for what they are. But using the Edge ALSO does other things, like grant them the ability to absorb power from dead Strangers. Do you really think they should give that ability to LITERALLY every person in the world, even if it was possible? I mentioned paranoia leading to killing a lot of innocents. What about the people who would realize that they can become immortal and powerful simply by killing enough Strangers? How many sprees would we see where they kill a bunch of people just hoping to get a couple of power ups out of the deal by happening across a hiding Stranger or two?

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      5. Definitely agree that inaccurate views of another group can just as easily come from ignorance (or incompetence) as malice, and that should be kept in mind.

        Also, thanks for informing us on the restrictions on who can use the Edge. I was wondering about the feasibility of spamming that (though it really didn’t seem like a good idea), and this answers several questions.

        I think, though, that a fair bit of our discussion was based on informing them of the existence of Strangers without making them Heretics, for what it’s worth.

        Also, a few procedural questions: if we get into long discussions, would you prefer we have them in these comments, or on the discussion threads, or just PM them after a while?

        And do you know why the comments only go three levels deep? That’s not the case on Worm, and it’s run in WordPress as well, so is it just a settings thing?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. It may be a settings thing or this particular skin, I’m not sure. I don’t know enough to say. I know you have to scroll up to find the first post in a comment chain and reply to THAT to keep the same line going. Which is annoying.

        As far as long discussions go, it’ll PROBABLY be easier to do so in the discussion thread on the forums at least until/unless I work out changing the settings enough on this to make it easier to keep conversations going. So if you want to respond to this over there, I’m fine with that.

        “I think, though, that a fair bit of our discussion was based on informing them of the existence of Strangers without making them Heretics, for what it’s worth.”

        How would they do that? Proving it won’t work because of the stranger-mind effect, and if they just say ‘there’s monsters, trust us’, they’ll end up being put in the crazy house. Or they’ll just make targets of themselves by the humans who think they’re nuts (because again, they can’t prove it), thus forcing them into defending themselves.

        Without the Edge, humans will either FORGET about a Stranger’s magical/supernatural ability shortly after it’s exposed to them, or they will simply not recognize it for what it is, depending on the situation. Faced with a massive troll? They see an ugly fat guy. Things they see will be retconned in their memory as something normal and mundane. Being flat out told something without proof? They’ll see it as rambling from a crazy person. Having it proven in front of them? They’ll forget about the supernatural aspects of it as soon as possible.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Oh! I forgot to say this before. That opening few paragrapsh describing Lincoln Chamber’s history has further convinced me that he and Aseneth are going to partner up and fight crime/Strangers/Heretics together.

      Make it happen!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Well, then. Interesting.

    I like how you had people react to seeing that. I feel somewhat less dislike of Koren now, and Flick, Sands, and Scout’s reactions figure too.

    The anti-recording effects Strangers have are interesting, and it certainly seems Ammon counts as one. Vampires just going invisible on recordings is interesting as well; it reminds me of how they supposedly don’t show up on mirrors. Also, I’m curious: do these stealth effects work on Heretic equipment?

    Flick, Scout, and Koren seem to have pretty good instincts for this, given the info they pulled up. Flick going right for the cameras and her use of the timeperiod to figure Ammon’s motives was really good and made sense, and checking the most recent purchases is a good thought.

    One thought about the camera – would the outside camera have been recording while Ammon was inside, and vice versa?

    And it would appear that Flick and Ammon have similar taste in snacks. My eyes bugged out when I remembered that Ammon got an orange soda as well. Curious, I wonder what, if anything, will come of this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Also, I’m curious: do these stealth effects work on Heretic equipment?”

      Depends on the equipment and the Stranger.

      “One thought about the camera – would the outside camera have been recording while Ammon was inside, and vice versa?”

      The effect doesn’t really pay attention to walls, only distance. He was close enough at that point to both sets of cameras that they were both affected.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. “Depends” – of course it does.

        Ah, I was thinking it was activated by him being recorded. Distance makes more sense.


  3. “”The fact that seeing something like this makes you sick is a good thing, and is not to be mocked. Any person that I see doing something like that will be in my office every day after classes for the rest of the month.”
    Me: Hm. Harsh but appropriate punishment. I imagine crime scenes can be grisly business to the uninitiated.

    “Lifting my hand, I indicated the vehicles that were in the lot or on the nearby street, committing them to memory. “Remember all these cars that are in view. Okay, let it skip ahead, then pause again.”

    Sands did so, freezing the image as soon as the newly horrific scene returned. This time, rather than focus on the dead bodies, I scanned the scene for any of the same cars that had been there before.

    It was Scout who raised her finger, pointing to a sedan on the road to the right of the station. Her finger touched the screen, and then she gestured to her sister. Getting the point, Sands rewound the footage once more. This time, Scout moved her finger down to one of the other camera views, which showed the left hand side of the station lot. In that view, the same car was just pulling in. Unfortunately, it was impossible to make out the occupant in either case. The angle was wrong.”
    Me: Good instincts on Flick and Sands’ parts.

    “It took me a second to focus on the words on the receipt, but when I did, my throat closed up. Orange soda and a candy bar. The same candy bar I had picked up. “What… where was… this?”

    “Seriously?” Koren squinted at me. “Back there, on the counter. It was the last thing on the register, so it was obviously the last thing that dead girl out there sold before all this shit happened.”

    Her head tilted at me, her squint turning suspicious. “If you didn’t know what was on the receipt, then how the fuck did you just happen to pick up exactly what was on it?”

    That… was a very good question.”
    Me: Koren’s tone is a little odd here, but the query is still an interesting and valid one imo.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hmm, lot of stuff going on here.

    Though Flick’s wondering just how many of the bad things she saw in Lincoln’s old work notes from LA are actually the work of Strangers, it’s possibly notably less than she thinks, or the Crossroads people would believe it to be. That in turn raises some questions about to what extent the Heretics may be overstating the threat Strangers pose and the results if the masquerade were to be lifted & the general public finds out, and why.

    As to poking about the crime scene at the gas station, Flick & the twins showed some good instincts going through the video & noticing both the car that was there through it all, as well as the timeskip in the footage.

    Pretty neat trick with the PAWS scanners being able to copy electronic data such as computer data & video recordings.

    Would have thought that of the twins, it would have been Scout, not Sands who would have more of a problem with the crime scene.

    And it turns out that Strangers have some sort of jamming field that messes with normal cameras & recording equipment, so if they end up in a picture at all, it’s usually just a very blurry thing.

    Then at the end, just why did Flick unconsciously pick up the pop & candy that had been what Ammon grabbed & were the last items bought before the murders? Get the feeling that the answer to that & what it might mean for a connection between him & Flick could be pretty important.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hum, your comment above about not using The Edge on everyone gives me some answers to my “is it genetic?” question a couple of chapter back.

    Though the “ancestors have had deliberate and personal interaction with Strangers” is ambiguous on who’s part the deliberateness is, the Stranger or the human. I’m guessing Stranger, since I don’t think Co Ward would deliberately go out and seek new Strangers after his run in with the orcs.
    It could be either though.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Not saying this phrase is wrong, just that I’ve never seen it without “part” at the end:
    “… but for the most, ”

    Regarding humanity turning on each other, that reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where a neighborhood was trapped and anything not “common” was immediately pounced on as evidence of who was causing the problem, when in fact it was none of them.

    Thanks for the chapter! ^_^

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not saying this phrase is wrong, just that I’ve never seen it without “part” at the end:

      Whoops, you’re absolutely right. Thanks for noticing!

      Regarding humanity turning on each other, that reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where a neighborhood was trapped and anything not “common” was immediately pounced on as evidence of who was causing the problem, when in fact it was none of them.

      Sounds interesting. And yeah, that’s the basic idea of what they’re worried about.


  7. Umm… , this is another instance where a bit more buildup would’ve been helpful. Because as it stands, Flicks rant about why she has joined the heretics comes across rather aprupt and jarring. Feels more like sombody messed with her memory than a genuine expression of her feelings.
    Also Flick didn’t know about the Strangers before she decided to step through the magic door/mirror. That info came later.
    And this time I’m not the only one who noticed something of about it.

    This post is intended as a quick FYI, not as another discussion starter.
    If you want me to refrain from writing posts like this, just say the word.


  8. I think I’ll add my voice to the choir saying that I don’t buy Dare’s explanation on why people have to be kept in the dark. Cerulean, in an earlier comment you did touch on what felt like a much better reason to me. Which actually ties to my personal theory about Eden’s Garden.

    We haven’t heard much about Eden’s Garden, but at first, the idea that they want to HELP the Strangers seems absolutely ludicrous. Then I got to thinking, what if they are just power-hungry, and being sustainable about it?

    I mean, you can’t kill Strangers for power if they’ve gone extinct. So Eden’s Garden might be something like a group of ranchers tending to their farm animals. They would then see Crossroads as something like poachers endangering the existence of rare and powerful creatures.

    So if Strangers became common knowledge… You might see much greater efforts to ‘farm’ them. Including corrupt governments making it illegal kill them without a permit, even as they feed on humanity.

    Either way, breaking the Masquerade would be a major escalation in the current shadow war. And you don’t want to escalate until you’re sure that doing so will let you win.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m very sorry to do that, but I had to edit your comment to avoid huge potential spoilers for future readers. Do feel free to ask that kind of thing in one of the later chapters, anywhere past that particular reveal. Or in the Discord, or either of the Spacebattles or Sufficient Velocity Forums.

      That said, the answer to your question is no. In this particular case, the individual you’re referring to did not see the receipt. Good thought, though.


  9. If you gave the humans a some semi-decent ways of detecting Strangers in the field and a near certain way of detecting them back at a local secure base then the panic could be kept to a minimum and eventually focus entirely on one of humanities favorite instinctive pastimes, “Us’ns verses Them’ns!” Also sometimes nostalgically known in medieval times as, “KILL IT WITH FIRE!”

    Since doing this would probably end 80% of the stranger threat in short order I would think this would be the magi-tech priority now that most normies are packing heat or could be damn quick.

    While not super likely it wouldn’t be impossible for those raised with not only a bystander way of looking at things as well as a much more modern one at that to see or think of something an investigative team made up mostly or entirely of Knowledge raised folks might miss.

    The term bystander seems somewhat disrespectful as in truth the normies have one of the most direct relationships with the whole Stranger phenomenon possible. They’re prey. But then so are the Heretics, just a lot tougher. I think just calling them The Blind would have been closer to what they are without being directly insulting.


    1. Read above how this was considered impossible which I have to accept due to Plot which is fine if not very believable. Always a work around.

      Sounds like The Heretical Edge works on imbuing mundane beings with “The energy Strangers used to get here”/magic. Seems like it’s active magical effects that keep humans from seeing the beasties. As the camera thing is new it suggest that most of these are not natural defenses but active attempts by Strangers to develop their magic/power tricks to prevent detection. So maybe the best answer is to work on magic/power tricks that actively suppresses ALL magic energy/effects in an area or, preferably, on a person to create the opposite of a Heretic: The Mundane (capital “M”!) who can see and remember cause any magic trying to get near them is devoured or deflected by passive enchantment.

      Though it seems like the ability to channel and store energy has somehow been deemed impossible in enchanting cause if it was possible (very little is impossible!) then they should have self replicating/charging enchants which it has been mentioned they do not have. (is it weird that I find a made up magic rule so hard to swallow? I guess it will be better explained later on… )

      Things being impossible to the point that nobody even seems to be exploring work arounds anymore just makes me itchy for the MC to find the loopholes cause otherwise having too many “impossible can’t even dare to dream of a work around” things in a magic-tech multiple dimension/worlds/space travel story seems a bit odd right off the bat. Maybe this is just what they tell newbs to keep it simple for the first year or so?


    2. As always, it is quite fun to see the thoughts you’re having as you read through this. Especially given things that are revealed as this story goes on. 😉 There is certainly a lot that Flick, at this point in the story, is not being told. That said, I wouldn’t be too certain about open warfare with the whole human race being a great idea. For reasons best found later on.

      Anyway, as far as the term goes, narratively it’s a play off the actual psychological term of ‘Bystander Effect’, wherein an individual is far less likely to intervene or act in an emergency situation when there are many people around, partly because everyone thinks someone else will do something. In-universe, it has nothing to do with them being seen as ‘not involved’, it has to do with them being seen as helpless and unable to fight back. Innocent, etc. As for the Heretics being prey… well, you’ll have to keep reading to see where that goes.


      1. Well calling them “The Innocent” would be less insulting then “The ignorant”. LOL

        Well, I mean, prey in the sense that they are made out of what the Strangers want to consume/enjoy. Not in the sense that they are weak. Our ancestors, who were armed with sticks, stones, and torches/campfires loved to eat mammoths which were heavily naturally armed and armored giant elephants (which aren’t small creatures to begin with!). So technically the mammoths (which if they were as smart as modern elephants would be VERY SMART WITH GOOD MEMORIES EVEN COMPARED TO HUMANS) were the puny technically primitive humans prey.


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