From Unofficial Handbook of the Virtue Universe
Every day the sun rises and every night the sun sets. People sleep. They dream as their bodies reboot. With the sun's next rise, people begin anew; reborn to take on the new day.
My days, nights, and sleep were the same. Endless hell that brought no peace. My over-worked mind fixated on rogue memories. It analyzed every fragment. But it all ends the same:
I was a Widow.
I woke every day with heaviness in my chest. Simply breathing became a struggle. The only way I could ease the tension was with Xanax. Then that stopped working, so I took more pills.
I also discovered the wonderful combination of Xanax with beer. I could function as a zombie.
I have to say I was wasted most days. Pocket Douche and its random conversations were the perfect escape. People passed me by without knowing my shit. The people that did stop, I engaged in a game unbeknownst to them. I would ask them questions: they’d answer. I was successful in deflecting the questions about the huge hole in my chest.
My Ansen's been dead longer than we were married. I awoke some mornings forgetting that he's gone. My beating heart turned cold.
Time for more Xanax, and for beer to wash it all down.
I lost more than just my Ansen. I lost my family: My mentor Jarod Kingsley alienated me. A smart man, whose profession used vast amounts of words, had none to spare. He did not even send me a note of condolence about Ansen's death. Nothing. I don't know what I did to have him turn so cold on me.
I loved and greatly admired him, but just like every-fucking-one else I've cared for, he’s abandoned me. I saw him once in the D. I was about to turn and say something to him but he left in quite a hurry.
I promise you this, Mister Kingsley: if you hold still for long enough, I will find and confront you over a cup of tea. So keep running, asshole.
A house; A home- emotional words. It was just a building made of up of various unemotional materials. Rock, metal and wood, buried beneath drywall, structured the foundation. Objects within the building either functioned or they did not.
Humans attached emotions to the buildings forcing them into homes. Emotions turned into memories that haunted empty quarters.
A home, once, now a neglected building. The structure's windows are shuttered blocking out the sunlight. The weeds assimilated the green grass, growing high, netting litter with wiry brown leaves. Months old newspapers rotted where they fell. A black Porsche Cayenne Turbo occasionally moved from the driveway: a small sign of life.
An open door alleviated the stale air. There, by the stairs, sickness stained the carpet. Walls bare; darkened rectangles inlaid against faded painted walls. Reversed portraits collected at the wall base. They were shunned from the eye and kept from remembrance.
A sleeper's nest built around a single couch. The essentials needed to survive staying here: A bucket, cases of beer and several pill bottles. A fire place filled with ash, and a book still lay untouched by the fire. Dust thickly coated on the cover, preserving it's position- untouched in time.
Dead rooms, each of them. Neglected. Trash piled high with take-out; uncleaned; forgotten; sickness.
Not a home; a cage crippled with memories.
Are you out there? Can you hear me?
I can't feel you. I can't hear you.
I couldn't save you. I couldn't... If I only I picked up the phone. If you only came to find me and not her. If only...
Shut up, you piece of shit-shut up!
Suicide, it was, Ansen, you broke all protocol and confronted the man you thought your wife was fucking.
Shut up, don't say it!
Ansen killed himself. He did. Everything he was ever taught he went against. He killed himself.
I wasn't going to last much longer. I couldn't be, I couldn't breathe... I drank more, self medicated and kept to myself. I fought anyone that looked at me crossed eyed. Someone was bound to get the upper hand and end me. Where the fuck was Sheer when he could actually be of some use?
I had no one now. I could be maggot pie in the grave next to Ansen's. The only memory of me would be my name written on the tombstone next to his.
Is there life after death?
Ansen, can you hear me? I can't do this. Why did you leave? Why couldn't you trust me? … you didn't trust me.
Shut up, Shut the FUCK up!
The thoughts tumbled in my head. The scenario replayed every last detail to his death. It didn't make sense... He was a damned solider for Christ's sake. How could he be so stupid- How could he have fallen for it? Was it inside job?
Make it stop. Make it go away. Stop it, Stop... STOP!
“You need to stop those thoughts,” a soothing voice said to me. There was a hint of accent in the words that I couldn't quite place. I raised my head, and stared dumbfounded.
“You see, Cassandra” the man continued, “you are powering my brother with such thoughts, and I prefer you not.”
I did not give anyone my name. Most people didn't know my name, and he used it. I studied the man before me. He was not human; not by way of his pointed ears, nor by the way of his soothing golden gaze. I noted the unusual star burst mark around his left eye. It wasn't a tattoo or anything I had seen before.. sometimes if I stared at it too long, I thought I caught a hint of it dimly glowing. Snow white shoulder length hair tapered around his tan face. A bristly white goatee framed his lips. He dressed himself in an orange suit... Heh, Orange.
This man seemed a paradox: He seemed to belong to this world and at the same time he did not. I opened my mouth, and uttered an elegant, 'Huh?'
So once again, the man tried to reach me through my drunk and drug induced haze. Orland, his name is Orland and his brother is Balos, together and on opposite sides, they worked in the realm of dreams. I was Orland's dreamer, and he worked on my dreams. And, by myself, I seemed to be exhausting him.
How long had he been witness to my dreams? Since... Wait... How much did he know about me? I crossed my arms over the hole in my chest. Orland saw it, he saw me... he knew. Before I could ask more questions, Orland vanished before my eyes.
Was this even real or had I just hallucinated? Fuck.
Great. I don't want to go back to that hell hole; don't want to stay here; don't want to be in my skin. Here, I am- again; alone.
Disappointed, I found my way to the bar and blatantly loaded up on the xanax and beer. It's blissful not to give a shit. The crushing pressure lifted from my chest, and the thoughts in my head stilled.
I picked up a few beer nuts and started chucking them at some twenty-something-year-old kid. The first one hit, the second one he expertly dodged, and the third he returned to me. Ha, on closer inspection this kid looked rather eccentric with nearly all his visible flesh covered in Japanese themed tattoos. Beneath one of his brown eyes, he sported a tribal vine pattern.
He responded rather calmly and if he were anything, I'd say he was amused. He even had a polite way of inquiring what the fuck what was up with me throwing the peanuts. I discovered his name to be Alex, and then I have a hazy recollection of our conversation after that point. It ended with me exchanging numbers with him before I stumbled home.
Acidic bile spurned my senses, and I awoke to find myself next to a puke pile. I never made it into my house. I passed out in the bushes at the end of the driveway. I looked around, and picked myself up from the ground. Branches and leaves stuck out of my hair and clothes. The Neighbors peered over at me, and I gave a wave back. The afternoon sunlight told me I had been passed out there a while.
Awesome, Cassie. I gathered my wits, and held still; a single world on my lips: Orland.
I spoke his name as if it were a sacred prayer. I laughed, called myself an asshole and headed inside this damn house to take a shower.
The hope to see Orland annoyed me. I felt like a fool, but that alone was not enough to detour me from trying to find him. I camped Pocket Douche day after day, and toward the end of the week I felt like a huge asshole. Just maybe... Orland was a hallucination from the combo of drugs and alcohol.
I gave up and made my way to leave. I spotted a well-known creeper cornering some beautiful young blonde girl. I was already annoyed, it wouldn't hurt to chase the stiffy-sporting bastard away, or so I reasoned with myself. He split like a flashlight-blasted cockroach. I decided to depart what wisdom I could give the girl, by pointing out the crazies, creepers and futas. I introduced myself, and so did she: Elizabeth King, or Beth.
Conversational discovery led me to believe she was my age, and in high school (and quite green to the Club life). Ooh, this girl would shit if she knew the kind of person I am. Heh.. kinda of like Sandra Dee and Rizzo. I decided it best not to say anything now... or maybe ever.
I came back to the D every day still in discrete search of Orland. I enjoyed the company of Beth, and pelted Alex with peanuts in attempt to make him more sociable. It worked. I avoided the personal questions they asked, and in return they saw the behavior of someone with a substance abuse problem.
Some days I manage and others not so much. Two weeks later, I decided Orland was just a hallucination. I started to load up on xanax, and beer, in attempt to return home and pass out hopefully dreamless.
One beer, two or four later, I turned and looked to the man standing beside me.
Orland's golden gaze fell on me, and it was as if twin suns chased away the darkness. My soul felt warmed being near him. He's beautiful and younger now; layered golden blonde hair framed his sun kissed face. My eyes fall to his lips framed by a soft golden goatee. He smiled; I look away feeling overwhelmed by his radiance.
My eyes trailed along the intricate tribal patterns woven onto the flesh of his arm, with a curious dragon tattoo that seemed to stare back at me. His gentle British accented words stirred me from my infatuated exploration, and I raise my eyes to meet his.
“Do you like picnics?”
“Huh,” I stammered, caught off guard by such an innocent question.
“Join me for a picnic.”
I agreed to the picnic. Orland whisked us away to tropical island covered in lush greenery, golden sand beaches and our own private waterfall. I appreciated the seclusion, maybe I'd grow a pair and finally say something other than 'um' and 'huh'.
I enjoyed the sun's warmth on my skin and the crisp air the breeze carried from the ocean. I happily listened to Orland's soothing voice as he shared stories of the dreamtime, and his brother. With an open hand, he conjured a picnic basket. He opened the lid he asked me what I wished. He reached inside and like magic, he pulled out my favorite ale and handed it to me.
How much do you tell someone? How much is too much? How much before they run away screaming or duck around a corner when they see you coming? I was too scared to find out.
In the here and now, the truth being I struggled to financially pay the mortgage as Acheron Acquisition collapsed. No one wanted to hire a freelance teenage female Mercenary. It was a lot more easier with a male to front the business. I told Orland, that much of my troubles, and asked if he knew anyone that could use someone like me.
With the same magic, he brought forth a business card and referred me to one: Andrew Wraith.
“Thanks, Sandman,” I mumbled as I read the card. It got too quiet for a second, and looked up to see Orland pause a moment, and chuckle. I think he liked the nickname.
No, found Balos quite easy. Flame-headed, sharply dressed and conversing with a an odd-looking group nearby me. Balos, for a bastard, exuded charisma and charm. All those gathered to him intently look to him as he spoke. I made mental notes of those he spoke with, and their distinguishable features- a pair, mother and daughter, sported purple hair.
The conversation blew my mind. I couldn't pinpoint anything significant to take back. Fail, Cassie. I frowned, returning to Andrew empty handed. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.
What the fuck were you doing? You're a mortal. Cassie and playing in the realm of Gods. Gods with very deadly mortal smiting powers.Wait, this job is a suicide Mission. Then realization occurred to me: of death being the one-way ticket to Ansen- comforted me. The only way this could suck is if I failed and lived.
I found my pigeon, Illiana, the woman with purple hair. She often met weird people in the D. I lingered close by, writing in a journal, as she personally conversed. I jotted down information about her questions and the people she met. Slowly, Illiana painted a picture for me, but there was a lot I still didn't understand. I knew she was after something, but what?
At the end of each day, I returned to Andrew Wraith and associates. My understanding of information I gathered depended on who was around that I could talk to about this shit. Sometimes, they'd shed light on the situation, or most times they pointed me to someone else. The brush off; the run around- call it whatever you like - sometimes it annoyed the fuck outta me.
In passing, I encountered the female Dreamwalker I hired to help me with Sheppard (before I thought this Dreamwalker crap was real). I was surprised to see her, but she wasn't so much of me. She gave me a nod, and acted as if nothing transpired, nor did I seek to acknowledge anything happened between us.
I lucked out this night, and met with Orland. My collected information changed his facial expressions. That alone rewarded me. I brought back something relevant . I only stopped to jot down more notes in my book. Orland helped give these people identities and background. Soon, I hoped I'd understand their conversations. Reports end, sadly, and I packed up my research to return to my hell. The shakes settled into my hands. I'd gone too long without my 'meds'.
'Are you hungry,' Orland asked me. Quite honestly, I hadn't had anything more than poptarts in the last few days. I nodded my head, and slung my book bag over my shoulder. Orland beckoned me to follow him. We walked into his place's kitchen. It was an odd-looking little thing. The weird light on the cabinets made everything look pink. I sat on a counter top as he put on a frilly pink apron. I laughed a little, and lowered my eyes.
My heart sank in my chest, and silence over took me as I wrestled my emotions and the memories.How did Orland know to do this? How did he know?
'Hope you like steak sandwiches,' His words gently poked me and I escaped from drowning in my head. I nodded, with a 'yeah of course'. I held my legs to my chest, as if two layers of support would keep me from outwardly exploding.
I ate my hot and fresh steak sandwich, and idly talked to Orland. The shakes worsened, and I'd only pick up my sandwich when he'd look away. Orland noticed, and grabbed me another beer. I drank for a different thirst. I groped for the bottle of pills in my pocket. I wouldn't take them at the table, nor in front of him.
My behavior changed, and on queue, Orland's line of questioning changed with it. He asked about the last time I decently slept. I joked, and said I didn't sleep; only passed out. Orland's lips pursed at me. Stop it, don't purse your lips at me.
I closed my eyes, and took in a deep breath.
'You should stay here with me,' Orland decided. I dryly laughed, and opened my eyes to see if he was serious. I had a husband... had a husband. Ansen's been dead two years. Well there was Mister- no, he was gone too. There was no one. I had no one and nothing. People's selfish decisions robbed me of everything that I loved. What more had I to lose? Not a fucking thing.
'Alright,' I agreed to do this without any hope. Orland smiled, and led me to the guest quarters. He seemed to have crafted this room just for me, as if he expected me. Why do I say that? Items, familiar to me, decorated the room. Behind Orland's shoulder, in a corner, a red bow and a few arrows rested there. My eyes lingered on it. Orland interrupted my staring with his rules.
'There's one thing, I must ask of you, Cassie.” I lifted my head, and folded my arms waiting for the barrage of rules. Great, no drugs- no alcohol, I am boned. 'Bad dreams are not welcomed here. No bad thoughts, no darkness... nor anything else that may allow my brother passage to this place.'
So why did you invite me here, Orland. You know my head, you've seen my dreams- and you're risking me being here? I don't want to fuck this up- I can't make it stop- Christ.
'Funny', I said, 'for a moment I thought you were going to chide me over drugs and alcohol.'
Orland, unaffected by my angry thoughts, headed toward the door. With warmth in his gaze and gentleness in his voice, he told me: 'If that is who you wish to be, who am I to say otherwise?' The door gave a soft click behind him as he left.
Son of a bitch! Seriously?! Pissed, I threw my book bag into a corner, and dropped down on the very comfortable bed. No it's not who I want to be, I yelled at him with my mind as if he could hear me. Gotta give Orland props for one-upping me. What a smooth Mother fucker. It's not who I wished to be, I wasn't always like this.. this was.. just for now. God damn it. I grabbed a pillow and covered my eyes with it. When the angry thoughts settled, I fell into a sleep. I woke, a long time later. I knew I dreamed, I just couldn't remember any of it.
I wholly surrendered myself to this job. I followed every lead to its foreseeable end. I returned to Orland's only at the point of my mental exhaustion. I found Orland by the fireplace as he enjoyed precious free time.
Yeaaaah, and here I arrived to bomb him with work. I tried to talk to him about new information. He deflected everything with subject changes, until I got the hint to stop. Tonight, it seemed Orland wanted to know more about the person he hired and invited to live in his domain.
I sat on the floor next to his fireplace and by his feet with my back to him. A little information was a fair trade for sanctuary, I thought. I kept my eyes on the fireplace to avoid his gentle gaze. The conversation lightly started from music to more personal questions. I sighed as he asked the question I'd been dreading: Why was I so sad?
And for the first time in a long time, I told someone about my grief and my broken heart. I wasn't a junkie- I was a woman in incredible pain. I was abandoned, and had to keep going all by myself. I am so goddamned angry at Ansen for doing this to me.
How Orland knew is beyond me, but he conjured a hair brush. The bristles met my head lightly, as they stroked through my long blue hair. I started to cry. I hid my face and focused on the fire place. The brushing soothed me, and Orland spoke to me softly of his past, and his relation to me of his personal stories of love and loss.
I turned to look into Orland's warm golden gaze. I could scarcely uttered words through my choking sobs. Only the word 'sorry' could be understood. After a long while, I finally calmed enough to ask an important question: Where do dreams go to die?
Orland continued brushing my hair. I closed my eyes trying suppress my weakness. He explained that dreams cannot die, they live on- endlessly drifting in his world. He explained in more detail to me but a lot of it I didn't understand.
These dreams could no longer exist for me. Having them- thinking of them mocked me. I would never bear Ansen's children. We'd never have our son, Justin. All these dreams of unrealized Christmases, Wedding Anniversaries, gifts yet to give- are of a stupid innocent girl. I wanted to let go... I wanted to give them away.
Orland asked me what I wanted. I wanted my goddamned husband back.
I shook my head, claiming that I didn't know.
I woke the next morning to an empty domain. I wandered around, looking through various rooms. Some were more peaceful, while others appeared more angry. I found one room, amongst a garden and a faded corner that broke the reality of the base. It was an veil between this world into a further world- one that I could not venture.
I opened up the journal I kept and continued for the absent teacher, Mister Kingsley. I tore a few pages from the binding, crumbling them up into tight little balls. The dreams on these pages useless to me. I threw the paper-wads hard into the swirling veil, but watched as they bounced off an invisible barrier.
Eff'n Awesome. No one wanted my dreams, not even the realm of dreams. I kept ripping the pages from the journal. At the veil's base, a collection of my rejected dreams gathered. In a fit, I tossed the rest of the journal at the veil. It thudded against the wall, and fell on the floor like a pile of bones.
Fuck you too, Dreamworld.
I slept. My dreams, they are different now. There's no horror; only a soothing voice that speaks to me. I am comforted by it. When I wake, I recall nothing specific about the conversations. I assume it's the people that reside within Orland's s sanctuary. Maybe it's Orland himself. I will have to ask him about it someday.
A stray guilty thought nagged me. I've holed up in this room , sleeping on and off for days, with no contact to anyone outside. I wonder if Beth and Alex have given up on me. Maybe they didn't know me well enough to actually give a shit.
A text from Andrew Wraith roused me from bed. The message gave me an address in Sharkhead, and a specific instruction: Don't be late.
Anxiety gripped my chest. I rubbed the rib under my breast up to my breast bone. I couldn't breathe. I took two Xanax as I got dressed. I hazard a look into the mirror. My eyes look dead to me. There's no light in them. Too skinny- I am closing in on eighty pounds. I'm a pile of bones. I looked away while brushing my hair.
I tried to eat, but nothing tasted good. I left my food untouched, and headed out to the Sharkhead warehouse. Suspicious looking stains colored the dirty floor. By how this place smelled and looked, I wouldn't be surprised if I were about to witness a murder here. Xanax worked: I was very blah about it all. If I died, I died. Who cared.
My ears rang in the silence as I tried to keep focus. The hairs on the back of my neck pricked to life, and I knew I was no longer alone here. I kept still, scarcely breathing, as I hid crouched behind some broken crates.
Illiana's voice chimed up in the distance . She's guarded, firm and conversationally sparring against a crueler Male voice. Illiana carefully navigated the conversation. She wanted something, and this guy knew it and toyed with her. I peaked over the crates. I wanted to see this other asshole. He stood about Six foot, and had ashen flesh with dark black hair – is he a demon? My stomach flipped.
“I know you're there,” Illiana called out to me. The Demon- man's head snapped in my direction. And for one horrid moment our eyes locked. Fuck this.
I launched from my hiding spot, and settled into a sprint. I found my way out through a broken window, and landed in the street. Disembodied laughter of a thousand creepy kids echoed in my wake. I felt a pull at my being, as if something tried to pull my soul from my body. My peripheral vision darkened and I fought harder. The faster I ran, the faster it ran, and I was losing focus. It continued to assault my mind, dragging me to the darkness. It's looking for something, laughing and taunting me all the while doing it.
No! I wasn't going to let them find anything. I prayed for Orland, prayed for strength and gave the dark essence a wall to pick apart.
“Why are you following me?”
The darkness drained away from me, and I found myself standing in front of Illiana. She's taller than me, and quite pissed off. Around her eye, is that same starburst mark Orland and Balos have- she's like them.
Illiana shouted at me: “Who are you?”
“I am no one,” I answered.
'Who are you.” Illiana's voice reverberated with a sinister male voice. I suppose it was meant to make me shit my pants and give up all the information Illiana required of me. I felt no fear. In fact, it just pissed me off and I vowed to be as difficult as possible.
So I answered the question again, with a my own vocal special effects added to it: 'NooOoooOOoobody.'
'I will ask Orland, the next I see him,' Illiana stated, and winded up for another blow: 'And if you intend to spy on me, try harder.'
I kept my face placid, shrugging my shoulders. I would not give up any information. 'Dunno what or who you are talking about.'
Illiana's icy glare bored down on me. If she weren't Orland's 'family' I'd punch her in the throat. That'd wipe that shitty look off her face. The darkness taunted me, digging its fingers into my headspace, begging Illiana to let it help in its gibberish tongue. I braced myself, Head bowed, scowling from the spliting headache it caused.
'She not spy. She friend of Uncle Orland.' I opened an eye and found myself surprised to see this rather broad shouldered Frankenstein like guy standing at Illiana's side. There's something about his eyes. They are kinder than Illiana's. They didn't match the rest of him.
'Do you trust her,' Illiana asked the Broken man, named Darrel.
'Uncle Orland never hit me,” he answered her with his simplistic vocabulary. 'He always treat Darrel with kindness and respect. He like her. Why not trust.'
Illiana glared me. She looked triumphant as she announced to our gathering that I was a liar because I declared I didn't know Orland and therefore could not be trusted. I leveled my gaze with her. My fist clenched. I bit the inside of my cheek to halt the verbal tongue lashing I so wanted to deliver this dream-bitch.
'Why you tell Illiana you not know Orland?'
I looked to Darrel, saying that they didn't trust me so I didn't trust them. Why would I show them all my cards just because they called my bluff? Just because someone demands something of you it does not mean you have to give it to them.
I growled at the darkness that kept picking at my buried memories. I was losing. It flaunted Ansen at me. His scarred and lifeless face. It asked me questions about him, threatened to bring the nightmares back if I didn't do what I was told. I put my hands on my head, and squeezed my eyes shut as if that would help fight the creature.
'No lie anymore- Illiana not enemy. No more fighting,” Darrel said. I pried open my eyes to see Darrel shroud himself in darkness. The illusion of twisted nightmares slithered around his dark misty form. Darrel looked to me, and beyond me to what I couldn't see. His voice, more clear and concise threatened: 'You will cease.' I felt the creature relinquish the hold on my mind.
'Continue to harm her, and I will tear your strands from you layer by layer and feed you to the maras.'
Illiana looked to me a last time. Throwing another insult my way before she departed into a portal along with her Nightmare Pet. Darrel lingered behind despite Illiana's impatience. He said if I really wanted to help Orland, I'd stay away from Balos and this other guy named Dementas. I didn't know of a Dementas, yet.
When they were gone, I keeled over and violently wretched. Barely any food, and mostly alcohol spilled onto the street in a potent stench.
I fucked up.
Meeting with Mister Kingsley.