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Chapter
3
Strychnine

The sun shone bright, high in the sky. The roofs of cookie-cutter houses bore the last heat of the year, and some people were out on their porches enjoying it before Autumn could remember that it wasn’t Summer anymore. There were distorted waves of visible heat rising from the asphalt, as someone stepped out from the grass and onto the sidewalk. They were wearing all black, torn clothes, and heavy boots. They were covered in dirt, dust, assorted filth, and didn’t seem to be looking where they were going. People stared, watching the stranger walk by, as he looked up into the sun. More people pointed as he, oblivious, continued his slow trudge into the street. There was a screech of tires, as someone forced their truck to a stop, right before hitting him.

A red Chia stuck their head out the window. Hey!! Whatch where you’re goin!
The dirt-encrusted Gelert turned their head, looking at the motorist. He mumbled something.
Hey, what? Did you say something to me?
The Gelert cleared his throat: Sorry… I said… I’m a ghost. You could have just driven through me….
The Gelert kept walking, and the driver stared with his mouth open, watching as the strange man walked across the road, right into someone’s backyard, then past it, to someone else’s, and then, out of sight.

It was night, now. The Gelert blended into the darkness because of his clothes, but otherwise made no attempt at stealth. There was a house he recognized, and he stopped, turning to look at it. There was a light on in an upstairs window. He began walking towards it.

The TV was on, but both occupants of the bed across from it were asleep. A show called the Midnight Brew was on, low volume, and a live band was playing for the studio audience. A hand rose, outside the window, and it began pushing it up by the decorative outer fixtures. It was slow, so there wasn’t enough sound to overcome the noise of the television. The Gelert pushed the window all the way open, and contorted himself and his legs at an unnatural angle to fit himself through it. He stared at the couple.

One of them stirred, woken up by something unrelated in a dream. They opened their eyes, and looked across from them. A stranger’s hand was pressing into their husband’s head, and his skin was turning solid, crystalline. They tried to get up, or speak, but there was some kind of heavy fog in the room, and it felt like it weighed as much as a sheet of metal. They were falling asleep again, against their will. They looked up to the stranger, and he was holding up a handful of the purple colored fog, which seemed to be emanating from him. Their vision blurred, and went black.

The intruder turned his attention to the television. He moved his hand away from the head of the husband, picked up the remote control, and turned the volume down until it was silenced.


Internal office stationary. Do not use for public fliers or personal letters. Do not photocopy, fax, transport and/or realay via magic ritual. Please report stolen or misused supplies to Administration.
Date Stationary Printed: 9th of Gathering
Gavin & Grant Stationary Company

d dear warren:

sorry for being absent ill etc   you shouldnt have gone in until i checked it out first   ill give you a taking talking to later   the place is clean as far as i can tell   youll have to bring in your ghost stuff in yourself to do the rest i couldnt carry it out of your house it was too heavy   no basement no crawlspaces between walls and the foundations arent large enough for regular sized people to fit into   attic is locked with only one entrance in the upstairs hall   nothing of interest in the attic   i suggest buying a better lock if you plan to put anything there   there are no magical items in the house (i think)   no unusual structures but i could only do a preliminary search this time because of the disease   ill be more thorough once im well   i cant find the blueprimt blueprin t of the house or who the previous owner was ill get back to u once i have   also im running out of blank paper so ive been using some spam i keep getting from th college   havent read it   its probably not important

about the hot new guy
Yes   hes good ♡️
where did you find him   hes in a cult or something   thats too bad but he seems nice enough   he carries a switchblade (with a tooth on it) (weird aura) on him in his right pocket at all times   minimal wear   i think its just for self defence it shouldnt be a problem   has an absolute shitload of medeval mideval mediaeval mid fuck old as shit clothes in his closet   does he do reenactments or something   that could be cool i guess   we need more members like him   zero tolerance policy on anything demonic is a huge plus   also hes loaded   get him to buy us some snacks maybe   those little palm sized deli sandwiches in the platters   some of those would be good

still sick   will be for a while   im gonna keep doing my background checks   take care of yourselves

 yr best dude

  — lucine

ps   stop lying to kenji and rei about the results of the esp tests

Brightvale University of Magic

This is a notice from
Rose Blau
・
Senior Instructor
Club President
to the recipient
Lucine Cassus
・
Student
Club President 
Please read upon your earliest convenience.

t is a deeply unfortunate circumstance that forces me to ask for your assistance. It is with great regret, and, immense consideration to your feelings, that I revoke the assigned rꝏm of your club, in order to temporarily house the Brightvale University of Magic Ћeatre 🙲 Performative Arʦ Coỻective {aʪo known coỻoqꭐaỻy as the "drama club" by the common rabble that do not appreciate my Art}. It wiỻ be on the fiſteenth of the month of Gathering, at approximately seven thirty, though inclimate weather mꜽ delꜽ or hasten our arrival, depending on circumstances ouʦide of my control. this is the deadline for which you and your feỻow club members {should they be present, or exist} must vacate the premises, including any and aỻ paraphernalia associated with superstition or the occult. Please be aware that I hꜹe already arranged for this to take place {dᵫ to several unanswered queries}, and am not accepting changes to the timeline of evenʦ, or alterations to the deadline. If you do hꜹe any questions, or if you wish to offer assistance, please contact me through Administration.

With greatest sympathies and regards to your health,
ose itzgerald lꜷ🏵︎

Internal office stationary. Do not use for public fliers or personal letters. Do not photocopy, fax, transport and/or realay via magic ritual. Please report stolen or misused supplies to Administration.
Date Stationary Printed: 9th of Gathering
Gavin & Grant Stationary Company

Warren stood next to the bed that Kenji was resting on. The fluorescents above and the medical equipment all around them made a constant, low hum. He had been holding the letter up with one hand to read it, squinting to try and pick out the somewhat dark magenta penned handwriting that had been scribbled on top of some other, more official, printed text that he couldn’t quite make out. Warren finished reading it, and his arm flopped down to his side.

Un-fucking-believable.

Warren was pacing back and forth when the doctor walked in. She was an earth Færie in a white coat, with long green and brown hair tied up into a ponytail. She was holding a clipboard, and a pen dangled from it by a string.

Aah. Hello there Mr. Grey.
Hey. Just Warren is fine.
I see. Is this your classmate?
No, no, uh. We’re in the same after-school club.
Same as his other friends?
Not exactly. The girl was just his roommate. Those two agents that showed up, those were uh… not his friends.
How did you know about them? Did she tell you?
I uh… yeah. She told me. Sure. At some point. They’re not bothering you are they?
No, but… it’s more bothering me how common this is getting.
Common? How many people are affected by this?
Mmm. Follow me.

The Fæ led the way out of Kenij’s room, and Warren followed her. Above several of the doors in the hallway outside, there was a cyan plastic decal with a diamond symbol on it.
In uh… she gestured, each of these rooms with the little signs on them, there’s a crystallization victim. I’m not allowed to show you the individual people, of course, but I hope this gives you a rough idea.
Hmmm. And… how long has this been going on?
For… longer than I’m allowed to say, unfortunately. We recently had a specialist on curses and malevolent magic come in from Færieland, and she said she’d never seen anything like it before. Those agents you mentioned questioned the victims, or the people around them, if they themselves can no longer speak. Every one of them. And they still haven’t told me anything. Something’s definitely going on, but I can only treat what’s already happened.
Of course. I’m… very sorry.
Don’t worry about it. It’s my job. I do have good news for you though Mr. Gr— I mean, Warren. she said, as she began walking around him, and back into Kenji’s room.
Oh yeah?
Mm. Your friend is indeed getting better. Quite rapidly in fact. It’s strange, he was afflicted most recently, but he was also the first one to recover. I think he’s extraordinarily fortunate.
Yes. I have absolutely no idea what could have caused that.

Vert had come fast-walking from down the hall, trying as hard as she could to not look like she was in a hurry or out of breath. Her clothes were ruffled, with tears in her jacket around her shoulders, and her short dark green hair was even more disheveled than usual. Warren turned to look, hearing her shoes against the laminated floor.

Oh, hey. You’re uh, Kenji’s roommate, right? he said, pretending to not know who she was. Also, wow. You look like hell. Did you fall out of a tree or something?

She just stared at him.

Ah, the doctor made a small motion with her free hand, good to see you again! You’ll be glad to know your friend seems to have recovered!
I uh…. Vert stammered, Good! That’s really good, thank you.
Yes, yes. Additionally, he’s been cleared for discharge. If possible, I want you, or someone similarly close, to keep an eye on him, in case the symptoms come back.
Yes ma’am. she nodded.
Good, thank you. If he does relapse, please bring him back in right away. Now, sorry, I must apologize for my poor timing, but I have another patient I need to get back to.
Oh, yes, sorry, of course.
You all take care of yourselves now! the doctor waved as she turned away, walking back down the hall, and entering a door with a cyan sticker on it.

Warren turned his head to her, and began to say something, but Vert interrupted.
You… are… friggin… lucky… that you’re already in a hospital, mister, considering what I wanna do to you right now.
Yeah, well, good luck with that. he sighed, I am sorry that this turned into a disaster, though, believe me.
Did you have to act like you’ve never seen me before??
Yes. There’s no reason anyone should know about us helping you, or that you collaborated with us in any way.
What the hell, dude? Do you think you’re being watched or something?
That’s not important.
Whatever. What I do know, is, I care even less of a crap about your club now than I ever did before.
I could not care less what you think. Your friend is fine. Isn’t that enough for you?
I just watched some old guy get killed by a giant novelty flashlight.
What? Flashlight? What are you talking about? Is that a metaphor or something?
No, it’s not. I guess you’re gonna find out though, aren’t you?

Warren raised an eyebrow and squinted at her. Her furious expression didn’t change.
W… whatever. I guess I will.
Mmm.
He sighed again, Alright, well. You got what you came for. He’s fine, though he’s not awake yet.
Mmm. Still?
Yeah. Has he not been sleeping?
No. In fact, he’d been putting off sleep for your club. He had a whole day of classes that he was just gonna not sleep for, to get those books. Did you know that?
No, I didn’t. That was his decision.
Well, maybe ask him if he has the time, next time, Okay?
And who put you in charge of other people’s time?
Uhhgg! Just try not to be a dick, okay? This is my friend we’re talking about.
I’m not being a dick, I’m giving him space, room to breathe. Let ‘em do whatever he wants!

Hgmngh Kenji stirred, and they both looked down at him.
Oh. Shit. Sorry. Warren said quieter.
We were probably too loud. Vert looked over at him, then back at Kenji. Hey. You doin okay? Don’t you fall back to sleep until you get back to the dorm, alright?
Mmfhg. Hai. he nodded.
Hahaha. Hi to you too. Vert smiled I… didn’t know if you were…. Yeah. Anyway. Are you…? Okay to stand up?
Mm… mmhm. Kenji nodded, and tried to heave himself up on the bed.
Warren stepped forward to help him, Easy, easy. Take it slow. You’re good now.
Th… thank you, guys.
No problem.
What… how long…?
Not that long, only a day.
Day…? Oh no… th….
Vert interrupted, Hey, hey. Don’t worry. You were in the hospital, they’ll understand.
She’s right. Don’t worry about it.
Kenji got upright, and rubbed his eyes. What… time is it?
About… Warren looked at his wristwatch, nine forty. It’s after dark.
The…? Club?
No. No lessons. Don’t worry about it. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.
Kenji sighed, and nodded. Vert looked down, and she noticed that his hand was in a tight fist, shaking.


Vert jiggled the handle and opened the door. There was no light in their dorm except for the outdoor lamps that shone in through the window blinds, and the dim, night-adjusted lights in the hall. Vert flicked on the lightswitch, and both her and Kenji shuffled in. He was limping a little, the half of his body that was crystallized still a bit numb.

Heeeere you go. I’m assuming straight to bed?
Yeah.
You got classes tomorrow?
No. I’m… free.
Good, that’s good.

She took her torn jacket, belt, and shoes off, putting them on top of a stack of her schoolbooks.
You gonna get some water? Anything like that?
No, no. I’m good. he said as he shuffled towards his bed.
Alright, just making sure. She took her shirt and dress slacks off, replacing them with white pajama pants, and Kenji flopped face first into his bed.
Lights off?
Mmfgh. the reply was muffled by his pillow Yes, thank you.
Hahaha. Goodnight.

She turned the lights off, then walked over and rolled onto her own bed, with enough force to make it squeak for a couple seconds. She’d forgotten to take her hat off, and it flopped off against her pillow. Aside from the occasional sniffle, it was still and quiet for a few moments.

Kenji rolled over, and sighed. Vert looked over at him.
You are gonna sleep, right?
…Maybe. I don’t know.
Kenji… you’re gonna feel even worse tomorrow morning if you don’t get some rest.
I rested. he shrugged, I’m okay.
She sighed and kept looking at him. He unbuttoned his shirt and trousers, and once he’d gotten them off, he flung them over his desk, ignoring his usual fastidiousness.
I… I’m okay. I’m just going to lay down.

They both said nothing for a while. The silence was making him restless. Kenji propped himself up with one arm, and looked over at Vert.
So, you uhn… don’t like Warren?
Oh, uh, not really. Sorry. I guess you noticed? Kenji nodded at her, and she continued, Yeah… I don’t wanna make you feel bad, but like… I’m not a huge fan of the guy.
I understand. He’s… slow to trust. He doesn’t like talking to people he doesn’t know.
Mm. That’s an understatement.
Hahaha. Kenji smiled I’m sorry if he was rude.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging you for hanging out with him or anything, but like… I don’t get him, man.
Well… once he trusts someone, he… feels very… obligated, I guess is the word. He does what he thinks is best.
You’re sure about that?
Kenji nods, I am.
Well. Alright.

There was another short-lived pause.
Oh, I forgot! Books! Did I…? Kenji pulled himself up, but wobbled and fell back onto the bed, choosing instead just to prop himself up by the elbows. They both looked over at each other.
Did you what?
Did I check out… the books I was going to get?
N… no, dude, you went to the hospital. I thought you were gonna die.
I dropped them?
Uh… yeah, half your body was frozen solid. There’s no way you could have gotten them.
Oh… that’s disappointing.
Vert laid back down, and rubbed her temples, Sssshit, dude.
Kenji said nothing.
You really gotta, like, prioritize yourself, you know? I mean… they’re kinda… intense I guess, is a charitable way to put it. Your club friends, I mean. Can… can I ask you a question? About them?

There was another silence.
…Kenji?

Vert looked back over at him, and he’d already fallen asleep. She chuckled and smiled, then shook her head and rolled over.
Goodnight dude.


Kenji was staring at the ground, and his mind was empty, except for watching the rocks and dimples in Sechson’s driveway go by while he walked. He closed his eyes as tight as he could, and shook his head. So tired…. I slept, but I’m still exhausted. Oh well. Can’t be helped. he thought to himself. As he came up to the porch, he started to focus in on the sound of Warren ranting about something. He looked up, and raised an eyebrow. Looking in, he could tell no one had noticed him yet. Sechson looked uncomfortable, and Rei, confused. Kenji moved his ear closer to the window so he could hear him.

…Also, you see this shit? Warren waved some yellow and green stationary around next to his head, covered in magenta scribbled writing, This is the kind of shit he makes me put up with. He not only snuck around here, his house, he pointed at Sechson, but he snuck into my house too! pointing at himself.
What?? Rei narrowed her eyes.
He tried to haul out the phasmalogical equipment from my basement. Y’all have any idea how heavy that stuff is? And in that state he’s in! I swear. Warren shook his head, I’m gonna kick his ass. I swear to god I’m gonna kick his ass.
Warren.
I mean, after he gets better, of course.
How’d he manage to do all that if he’s so messed up?
I don’t know. I legitimately do not know. This dude is gonna… Warren rubbed his brow, he’s either gonna get himself killed, or kill me first, from how much stress he puts me under. First Kenji, and then you two, and then this, and fuckin….

Kenji shook his head, and decided that he was done letting Warren stress out. He opened the door. Rei gasped and jumped up from her chair. He noticed that her knuckles were wrapped in cloth bandages.
Ahhh!!! Kenji!! Hey! she almost tackled him as he walked through the door, Oh man I’m so glad you’re okay!! See Warren? It worked!
Warren sighed, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Great. Congrats. Extremely cool. Look, I’m glad he’s okay too, but that doesn’t change—
Aaaa I can’t wait to show you the stuff Sechson got us!
Oh no, no, please, not now, he doesn’t need all this at once.
Pffft, jeeze, Warren.
Sechson waved, Hello! We uh, we saved some cake for you!
Cake? Kenji asked.
Yeah! We uh, we had some cake yesterday, to celebrate, but uh… we didn’t know you were uh….
Oh, thank you.

Warren was looking Kenji up and down. He narrowed his eyes.
Kenji… you brought your backpack?
Mmhm, I did.
What’d you bring?
Oh, the books.

Warren stood there for a second without saying anything, and Sechson walked into the kitchen. Rei spoke instead.
Kenji… you… the books that you were looking for when you got attacked?
Yeah, why?
You went back in there?
Well… yeah. Why not? It was open, I didn’t have anything to do today.
I uh… didn’t think you’d wanna go back in there.
It’s fine. Kenji shrugged. I’m okay.

Well, uh. Warren shrugged, O…kay then. You’re… taking this better than I expected you would. That’s good. Alright! Warren threw his hands up, Good. Now that everyone is here, I’m gonna give every single one of you a god-damned talking to.

Sechson returned, carrying a slice of cake wrapped in plastic, and he winced at Warren cursing, but everyone was silent as they turned to look. Warren’s arms flopped back down to his sides, and it made a sound like aluminum foil getting scrunched up.
Yeah, I know. All y’all had fun last night. Well, maybe except Kenji and his roommate, but, I’ll talk about that later. We gotta get something done first.
Oh really? Rei raised her eyebrows at him.
Yes, yes really. I’m not just being some kind of curmudgeon here, okay? I am not just pissed. All of you scared me shitless last night. Every single one of you came close to dying somehow, yesterday, you realize that right?
What?? Me? No way, dude. Rei scoffed.
Hhhh, look. Let’s just keep arguing about this to a minimum, okay, I have some shit I gotta show you, and not a lot of time or patience to do it. he sighed, again, and pulled a silver briefcase from out of nowhere. Instead of going completely apeshit on all of you, which, I really have every right to do… I’m going to do something I’ve been putting off for a long time. And unfortunately, I think you’re going to like it.

Warren whipped out the laminated sheet of parchment that the Paranormal Club’s opening statement was written on from his jacket, and he inhaled deep.
Wwwwwee nowopenthismeetingofthe Paranormal Club. Luciddreamstulpasghoulssuperpowersandpsychicphenomenathingsthewiderworlddismissesasfantasy, yadda yadda, he inhaled deep again, they’re real, this is where usstudentsofBrightvaleUniversityofMagiccometotalklearnandexperimentwiththeunknown. Whew. Five members, it’s him. Cool. Now, anyway. The important stuff.

Warren popped open the seals on the case, and let it flop open with a thud onto the table. Printed papers, notebooks & notebook paper, photographs, and what looked like reels of videotape were resting in it, and some slid out onto the table.
What… Rei stared at the papers, is all this? What’s this about?
I’ve… actually known about some of this for a while now. Ghouls. I’m assuming you knew, he said, pointing at Sechson, at least something, considering you went to all this trouble to get hunting equipment. Basically… the guy you killed yesterday wasn’t the only ghoul.
Wait, what? Kenji sat down.
Yeah. If you were thinking this was over, sorry. When I was in the hospital last night, the doctor there told me that you’re far from the only case. There’s tons of victims there. And I made a call after I dropped you off.
Oh?
Yeah. I asked the doctor to do me a favor, and call me if there were any more cases. There were. One came in only a few minutes after we left.
Kenji’s eyes widened again. There’s… more than just him.
Oh yeah. There’re more ghouls runnin’ around. It’s honestly a lot worse than I thought. After a bit of negotiating, and another phone call, I gathered up as much of this shit as I could.

Then… that’s… good? For us, I mean? Considering we have the knowledge and the tools to save people. Rei picked up one of the sheets and started reading it, and Sechson did the same to a different one.
Yeah I was afraid you’d take it like that.
Like what, a sensible person?
Oh, yeah, and I’m supposed to sit here and let a bunch of college kids go track down what are basically magic-empowered supernatural murderers without any idea of what they’re getting into??
Uh, yeah? Who else is gonna do it? It’s not like the police get paid to do anything important like this.
You know who should be doing this? Qualified adults, that’s who.
Warren, we are adults.
That’s— That’s not good enough for me! You’re all kids to me.
Dude, you’re our age.
Look, I…. he paced back and forth, Fine. Look. I’m not here to scream at you and have you never look at a ghoul again. Even if that’s what I’d rather be doing. But if that was the case… I’d never have brought this stuff.
Alright… again, I ask, what is all this?
It’s info. Files, documents, surveillance tapes. All of the evidence we have about the ghouls in Brightvale.

Sechson’s eyes were wide as he read about attacks, flipped through photos of what looked like corpses sneaking around at the edges of lighted paths, and photos & descriptions of people crystallized, some less fortunate.
This… this is….
Not leaving this friggin room, you got that? If this ends up in a newspaper, it’s gonna be called a hoax, then forgotten in a week. If this winds up at the police station, it’s going to be stored as evidence for a potential trespassing conviction, until somebody important figures out what it actually is, and then it will be incinerated. Either way, it’s useful only to us, and that’s all who’s gonna see it, alright?
Uh… alright.
Good.

Rei read over much of the same material, and looked up at Warren, confused. Where…? Where did you get all this stuff? You had this the whole time?
Where did I get this? Lucine, mostly.
Oh. Figures.
Yeah. Sorry if that wasn’t as interesting as, like, me breaking into a facility and stealing files or whatever.
That would have been cool. Where did he get all this, then?
Hey, you know the drill with this dude. Who fucking knows. Hell, he may have been the one to break in somewhere to steal all this stuff, but… god I hope that’s not what he did. He finds all kinds of weird shit on his stupid demon hunting quest he thinks he’s doing. I told him to send me anything ghoul related that he might have found. Turns out… it was a lot.

We… we could use this to track them down. Sechson looked up at him.
Yeah. Yeah, I know. Look… I knew that once you all did this, and that none of you got seriously hurt… I knew I’d never be able to stop you. Either of you two. So… instead of wasting my time trying to stop this cycle of stupidity from starting all over again… delaying the inevitable… I thought I might as well give you the best shot you have. That being said… that means it’s story-time.
Huh? Rei squinted, Story time??
Yep, that’s right. And y’all’re gonna like it. If you’re gonna know what’s going on, you’re gonna have to hear this from the beginning.

Warren cleared his throat, and inhaled: Basically everything we know about ghouls, in neopia, came from a few scientists from a long time ago. Like, think Neovian era, top hats, those ridiculous wooden bicycles with the giant wheels, that kinda time period. Dr. Boolin, Bren Gregory, and Professor Vin… shuhh… mm… just a second.
Warren pulled out a slip of paper from the briefcase.
V… Vinsjin. Anyway. These guys were essentially experts in what we would consider the paranormal. They were collectively known as the Ghoul Catchers.

Sechson’s eyes lit up, and Warren continued. Nonono, it’s not what you’re thinking, I’m sure. Back then, basically everything that wasn’t a ghost, and went bump in the night, was called a ghoul by most people. Today, the definition is much more specific, as you probably know by now. Anyway, there was much less of a divide between science, magic, and folklore back then, so the Ghoul Catchers were actually quite an official group, well respected, all that jazz. Most of their activities were academic in nature, but occasionally they would help the community they lived in by tracking down and killing vampires.

Warren sighed, Eventually, though, they got consumed by that, and they spent years tracking down all kinds of supernatural things. Dr. Boolin attempted to document everything he could find out about them, but… they became full blown monster hunters, basically. It wasn’t long until they actually came into contact with an honest-to-god ghoul. We… aren’t entirely sure what happened to them after that. He wrote about them, sure, but not much. They’re all dead now, so there’s no asking them.

Oh no. Sechson looked upset, What happened to them?
Time, that’s what happened. If they were alive today they’d be old as hell.
Oh. I thought….
Yeah, no, sorry. I’d eat my own hat if any of these guys he mentions in his books are still alive. This was like, over a hundred years ago, before the three wars. They didn’t all die of old age, though, I don’t really know what happened. They just sort of dropped off the face of the planet. There was apparently another group that called themselves the Ghoul Catchers after that, who went chasing after a large group of ghouls, but no one seems to know what happened to them either. And after that, there was a third group with the same name, and some of the original members, but once again, details are sparse. It always seems like something happens to these people which gets erased from history, which, you know, is a great sign all around, nothing suspicious about that.

Now. Warren pointed at Sechson, I know what we, my club, knows about ghouls. I don’t wanna have to repeat myself, so, what do you already know?
Oh, uh, he stammered, not expecting to be put on the spot, Well… they’re uh… undead, but not exactly vampires or ghosts, even though they have most of their weaknesses.
Uh-huh, kinda-sorta. Keep going.
They, uh, usually use magic.
Understatement, but yes.
And they’re, like, not supposed to be natural things. Like, it’s some kind of ritual.
Hmm. Well, no, not exactly. That’s usually what it is, but… I mentioned this before, but there are ways of becoming one by accident, or by other means. But it’s extremely unlikely, though. I wouldn’t worry about it, we’ll get to that later. Is that all?
They uh… get hurt by light magic.
…Is… that all you knew? Going into this?
Uhh, yeah?

Warren sighed. God. Damn it. It’s a good thing I’m doing this then. I thought you said you’d been researching this for a while?
To be fair… Rei chimed in, he didn’t have a Lucine to do all his research for him.
Well… yeah. Fine, anyway. Ghouls, as the modern definition usually goes, are essentially semi-physical undead that are powered up by some kind of energy source to stop their minds and bodies from degenerating. Well, to a point, anyway, they still need to feed on the living in some way. That means that most of these guys are either powerful sorcerers or thaumaturges. And yes, Sechson, that means that one powerful energy source they could draw from could be demonic in nature, which, I’m sure you’re excited about. I know Lucine is obsessed with it. Alternative sources to magic are probably more common nowadays considering that there’s less powerful wizards running around. That guy you killed was very much the arcane type, I’m pretty sure. The main point that I want to get across to you is that they are people, and that they are smart. They’ve survived for possibly centuries, using magic that isn’t even taught anymore, and usually all alone, by themselves. This really is like hunting down a master vampire, except they’re probably all going to be like that. And from my… well, Lucine’s research, it looks like there’s a lot of them.

Kenji and Rei had been skimming over the papers as Warren was talking, and Rei raised her hand. Warren pointed at her, and she spoke. Hey, so uh… how many do we think are here? And when did this start?
Well… the answer to the first one is a resounding, uh, I don’t know. At the very least five, maybe ten. There’s a helluva lot of them. The second question, I uh, probably have a more satisfying answer to.
That’s good.
Yeah. A few years ago, a little after the uh, Florin 12 mission splashed back down, there were a massive number of sightings of ghouls around Meridell, Roo Island, around that area. Seemed to come out of nowhere, and then, stopped as suddenly as it started. Well, now we know why it stopped. They all came here, to Brightvale. I don’t know where they came from before Meridell, but something is drawing them here. It’s started to pick up now, I guess, because some of them lagged behind. As far as I know, we think they’re looking for something, but they don’t seem very organized. They’re all acting individually. There’s even some hints that there may have been ghouls here in Brightvale for a really long time, even before that, like… as if this place was a magnet for them or something.

Sechson narrowed his eyes, and looked to the side. Last afternoon (when they’d defeated the ghoul) was such a blur to him, his memory of it was hazy. There was something he felt like he forgot, and it had started to bother him.

So… Warren continued, all this info, these papers and photos, are here so you can track them down. I’m… I’m letting you do this. Against my better judgement.
…Wow. Rei looked at him, a mixture of dumbfounded and impressed. You’re really…? Gonna let us hunt these guys down?
I don’t want to, but, like I said, I can’t stop you. There’s one ghoul in particular that I think we should go after first, even.
Really?
Yeah. It was a really easy pattern to figure out, too. It’s this guy.

Warren pulled out a document with a picture on it, and handed it to Rei. There was a Gelert on it, their fur so matted and filthy that whatever color it might have been was indistinguishable. There were chunks missing out of their ears & face, and they had scars & pieces missing over every part of their body that they could see. They were wearing all black, their clothes ragged and torn. There was what was supposed to be facial hair, but it was equally filthy and tangled up into the fur on his face. His hair was black and had an unpleasant oily-ness to it that made it look like the photograph itself was smudged. There was a blank space for a name, but it hadn’t been filled in, and only listed the date the photo was taken: . A little under a month ago.

Wow. Rei frowned, This guy looks like shit. Are we sure they’re not a zombie or something?
Yeah, we’re sure. My only guess as to why he’s being so obvious is that he’s drawing attention to himself on purpose. He’s basically just walking around in this one neighborhood, in broad daylight, and climbing into people’s windows at night to crystalize them.
Oh, that’s awful! Rei threw the paper down, and Sechson looked at it.
Is he… wearing modern clothes? he asked Warren.
Yeah. I noticed that too. Black jacket, black jean pants. Fashionable about twenty to thirty years ago. Probably used to be shiny, but looks tore up and beat to hell. I don’t know what his deal is, but I guess we’re gonna find out… because I know where he’s gonna be.


They all stood outside on a porch, in the dark, underneath the single lightbulb on the side of the house. Kenji and Sechson were each wearing a magi-gun on their backs, and Sechson was already gripping the handle of his. Rei knocked on the door. There were sounds of heavy footsteps, and soon the door opened, and a tall, muscular green Kyrii looked out.

Hey. I’m the uh, guy. That uh, called you earlier.
Right. Warren leaned towards him and held out his hand. The Kyrii obliged, and shook it. Good. Are you ready to uh, spring the trap I guess?
Mmm. I think so. The rest of my family is uh, at a friend’s house. Come, come in.

The Kyrii ducked back into the house, and motioned for everyone to follow, which they did. Sechson was the last to enter, and he turned to walk in backwards, keeping an eye on the outside, as he closed the door behind him.

So… how did you know the ghoul would be at this house? Rei asked.
Well, Warren replied, A lot of this recon stuff… I did before I got to the meeting today. Before I talked to you guys. Lucine knew where this guy was, and could tell that he just walks in straight lines until he hits something. He was seen a while ago, and it was on a course straight for this house.
The Kyrii shuddered. I’ve heard my neighbors talk about them… a couple just last night was sent to the hospital… and, I also heard, they were almost hit by a truck, but didn’t even flinch. We’ve tried calling the police, but… they haven’t done anything. They said they’d send out a patrol, but no one’s seen a police car around here in months.
Mmm.
We just… want this to be over as soon as possible.
Oh trust me, we feel the same way. Warren said, raising his eyebrows and looking at Sechson. He didn’t notice what Warren was implying. Everyone was following the Kyrii up the stairs, and Warren continued: Now… from what I’ve -well, from what my associate has gathered- we know that this guy is extremely predictable. They just do the same things over and over again. They’re gonna go in the upstairs bedroom with the brightest lights, preferably with the TV on. Why, I dunno. He just has a thing, I guess. Then, he somehow paralyses his victims, then crystallizes them while they can’t fight back.
Eugh. The Kyrii shuddered, Horrible.
Yeah. Doesn’t sound too exciting to me either. Anyway: we need a decoy of some kind, preferably not an actual person. Mannequin, person-shaped arrangement of pillows, sex doll, I don’t care, so long as it looks like what he’s used to seeing in a bed. As soon as he tries to do his thing, or take off the blankets, everybody jumps out and beats the living shit out of him.

That’s… it? The Kyrii asked, We just attack him?
Well, not you. You can watch from a good safe distance, or, hell, drive off and don’t look back, for all I care. We’ve got uh, some potent stuff, apparently.
Oh… okay.
I mean, you can stay if you wa—
No. No that’s fine. Please. I’ll uh… I’ll get in my car. Thank you all, very much. Be careful. the Kyrii said as they ducked out, sliding past them and back down the stairs.
Oh. I uh… okay. Bye then. …Have a good time. Warren shrugged and turned to Rei. Alright. Well, now that he’s gone, here’s what I’m gonna do. All y’all hide around, in like, the closet, master bathroom, whatever. Not the bed though, you’re not the bait.
Got it. she replied.
Good. One of you teach Kenji how to use the uh, fucking, flashligh backpacks or whatever.
Sechson held up the nozzle, It’s called the High Intensity Ma—
Yeah, I don’t care. Warren interrupted him.
…Why didn’t you get one?
Haha, no. I’m not putting that thing on. Sorry. I’m gonna be on the roof keeping watch for him, in case he changes direction for… whatever reason, I dunno. Or you guys need more help. I have… and, I really wish I’d’ve had these yesterday, if I’d known it would come to that, but I have something for you.
Me? Rei asked.
Yeah. Warren said, ruffled in his jacket for something, then handed her a huge maroon metal brick. There were knobs and buttons all over it, and an antenna sticking out of the side, none of which could have possibly fit in his thin silver jacket without severe bulging. This… is what the boys are calling walkie-talkies. I’ve set them up already. Push this button to talk to me. Don’t hold it down unless you’re talking to me. If the button isn’t pressed, I can talk to you. Simple.
Jeez, Warren, where were you hiding these?
Up my ass. It’s none of your business.
That’s… Sechson narrowed his eyes, …that’s military equipment. Advanced military equipment.
Oh, you recognize it? That’s not suspicious at all. Anyway, here. You get one. Warren pulled two more out from his jacket, And you too, Kenji. Try not to talk on them too much. The battery sucks and it doesn’t have the greatest range, but it’s better than nothing. I’ll radio you as soon as I see him, and that’s when I want y’all to get to your places.


Rei was watching television, as Sechson switched on all of the magi-guns. They came to life with a quiet humming that was talked-over by the television.

Heyyyy everybody, the show host —a tall & skinny grey Kyrii— said, standing on stage and looking at the camera, welcome to the Midnight Brew! Hope you’re havin a goooood night, burnin that midnight oil, hahaha.
The audience clapped, and it was clear that the show had just begun.
We have some special guest stars on tonight’s show, professor Arjun Bhatt, an expert on mythology! Fascinating, fascinating.
The camera panned over to a grey-bearded Gnorbu, sitting at a table behind the host. He wore a turban, with a red and orange suit, and thin colorful scarves under his beard & over his shoulders. He smiled and bowed his head at the camera. The audience clapped.
We also have Amy Dupont, one of the engineers that worked on the Florin 12 mission, to put the first Neopians on the moon! Impressive stuff, impressive stuff, give her a big round of applause for me.
The audience applauded again, and the view switched to another camera, pointed at a comfortable looking chair. A blue Ixi woman sat in it, wearing a white suit and holding a cup of coffee. She had a pained, almost haunted expression, until she realised that the camera was on her, to which she gave a weak smile, and waved.

Kenji looked over the nozzle and lever. So… ano… about the… backpacks… what exactly are these? I think I must have misheard earlier.
Oh! Yeah, I forgot! Rei pulled her attention away from the TV, I never explained it to you! This… is a magi-gun!
Kenji’s eyes widened This is a gun?
Yep!! It fires concentrated light magic! Like, tons of it! It got rid of the ghoul in like, a few seconds!
That’s… wow. Uh.
Isn’t that cool?
How does it do that? Kenji looked at Sechson.
Hh… uh, he stammered, It uh…. Well, the… thing… he said, pointing to the yellow viewport on the back of his own pack, the… thing uh….
The crystal. Rei finished for him.
The crystal. Thank you.
No problem. she smiled and giggled.
The crystal uh, stores light magic inside of it, and when we pull the lever, all of it gets funneled through the uh, hose thing.
Sechson pushed the lever on it forward, and a small shine of light came out. Kenji winced. It’s harmless to the living, like us. he clarified, but when it comes into contact with the undead, it purifies them.

Yeah, uh, Warren’s voice came through the crackling of the walkie-talkies, by purify he means it kills them.
Sechson shook his head, and looked up towards the ceiling, They’re already dead. It returns things to the natural order. They will be judged by a higher power than us.
Rei raised her eyebrows, You can hear us up there??
Yes, I can hear you. Through the window, a bit through the roof. They must not have very much insulation. Must sound like a hurricane in there whenever it rains.
Hmm. Alright, I guess. Rei shrugged.
And yeah, Sechson. Warren kept talking, I’m sure glad you’re so blasé about this, extremely normal attitude to have about fucking killing people, that’s healthy.
Uhhhg, Rei moaned, you know what he means.
Kenji whispered, Rei what does B-la-sei mean.
I’ll uh… I’ll tell ya later, sorry. Look, Warren, I know you’re trying to do your whole voice of reason thing or whatever, but this is a good thing that we’re doing! The less of these guys running around causing chaos the better!
Whatever. Just be ready, alright. I should be able to see him any minute now.


Yes, yes, that’s fascinating. the host nodded. He and the professor were sitting across from each other at a table, the chairs diagonal so that they faced the audience and cameras a little.
These deities are normally invisible to us mortals, Arjun said, residing in their own worlds, above and below us. But they are still very close. It is said by practitioners, and by their texts, that if only we were to wrest open our third eyes, then we would see them, and they would know we see them.
I see! Uh, would I want to see them?
Hahaha! Maybe, maybe. It depends, really. A distinction must be made between them, he explained, the Peaceful Deities, and the Fierce Deities. The Peaceful Deities lift us up through wisdom, expressions of calm perception. They tell us: Do not become swept up in wonder.

There was a moment, less than a second, where static interference garbled the signal, displaying red text on the screen. It was gone the next, and the show continued as though nothing happened. Kenji blinked a few times, the English text going by too fast for him to read it. He looked around the room. No one else had been looking at the TV at that moment except for him. He shook his head and ignored it.

Mmhm. And uh, next spring, you’re coming out with the book version of all this? the host lifted up the book, titled Lessons in Dharma and the Protectors of Enlightenment, by Arjun Bhatt. The view switched to a zoomed in angle of the book. The cover was colorful, and had a picture of a being with many arms dancing upon it.
Oh, yes, yes. It is not finished, what you have here is a rough draft. It will be quite a large book, and many of the pages are beautiful illustrations from my culture.
Oooh, that sounds neat. Is it in color?
Oh, of course. he smiled.
Niiiice, nice.
Thank you.
Ahh, uh, you said there were two kinds, right?
Oh, yes, sorry, I got distracted.
Haha, yeah, sorry, that’s probably my fault. Yes! Continue, please.
Yes. The other kind, that I mentioned, were the Fierce Deities. Which, by the way, he lowered his head and smiled, have much more reliable written documentation, here.
Hahaha, really? the host laughed, and the audience chuckled as well.
Yes. People from here seem to find them more interesting for some reason. To us, they are sometimes known as the krodha-vighnantaka, the wraithful destroyers of obstacles. There are many to their number. But it is important to remember that fierce does not mean evil, even though they may appear frightening. They are righteous, passionate people, and they are protectors.


Kenji was stuffing rolls of towels, pillows, and some laundry underneath the blankets on the bed to look somewhat like a person laying on their side. He was focused on the task so much that he jumped when the handheld radio crackled again.

Yeah. Innncomin’. I see ‘em. Get your asses in gear down there. He’s heading for the window.

Rei looked up from the TV, and her expression changed to panic, then excitement. She smiled, and pressed down the talk button on her radio. Roger that.

Sechson grabbed a backpack, and put it on himself, then rushed into the master bathroom. He turned off the light, and almost closed the door, leaving it ajar just enough to be able to peek through. Kenji wobbled, the backpack a little too heavy for him, as he threw the blankets over the decoy. He turned and walked over to the closet, stuffing himself inside and closing the door. Rei ran over to the door to the hall, and hid behind it, leaving it ajar as well, and she stared into the room.

Nothing happened for a time, until there was a sound at the window. Rei watched as a hand rose up outside, from below, and started to push the window upward. Kenji could hear, through the closed closet door, the quiet sound of wood sliding against wood. A Gelert in a black jacket pulled himself through the window, his lanky body twisting and scrunching up to come through without a sound. Something about the way he moved made Rei cringe, as though he couldn’t feel pain, or that his joints bent in ways they weren’t supposed to, like some kind of puppet. He almost looked like a spider crawling out of a tiny hole, to her. She shuddered. A purple fog started to appear, and it seemed to be coming from him, his left hand. She could see a red glow in his palm. That’s some kind of magic. she thought. I can’t tell what it is though. Doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before. Kenji watched as the purple fog started to billow in under the gap between the door and the carpet.

The undead walked over, without even trying to be stealthy. He stared at the blankets, and the shape underneath them. He pulled them back, and a styrofoam wig holder wobbled, a brown wig sliding off of it and onto the floor. He looked at it with a passive, unsurprised expression.

NOW! Rei yelled, and all three doors burst open. Rei raised her hand up, and she began to prepare a powerful fire spell. She thought about it, and shook her head, changing her mind. Fire indoors like this would be pretty irresponsible. she reasoned. She opened her hand again, and began to charge an intense burst of light. Sechson pulled on the backpack’s lever, and light began to pour out of it, but the ghoul jumped to the side. Sechson and Kenji turned to look where he’d dashed to, surprised at just how fast he was. Kenji jerked and fiddled with the lever, not familiar with it, and pushed it too hard into the floor. The impact of the light magic against the ground knocked him off balance, and onto the carpet, landing into the fog.

Rei turned, and threw the spell at where the ghoul was, and he rolled onto the ground, the spell shooting over his head. He held himself up, low to the ground like a quadruped now, looking back and forth between the Fæ and the Bori. Sechson let out another blast from his backpack, but as soon as he did so, the ghoul picked up a wooden chair and flung it at him, knocking Sechson over. The ghoul looked at their own arm. The part of the jacket that had been exposed to the light had faded, going a dark grey color, and some of the grime on his hand had burned off.

Kenji got back up. He wobbled, then fell back down. Rei looked over at him. Fog was starting to fill up the room. She ran over to Kenji, and bent down to pull him up. He was limp. Asleep. The ghoul didn’t move away from where he was, and watched them as he began to stand back up. He closed the door to the hall. Sechson stood back up, and he faltered. He blinked and shook his head as his vision got clouded. Rei turned back towards the ghoul, and backed up as he walked past them. He closed the window to the outside.

Wait a minute. Rei’s eyes widened. Wait a minute! That’s what the fog does! Guys don’t breathe it in!
The ghoul looked at her, and nodded. It works by touch, not breath. It is already done.
Sechson ran over, switching places with Rei, as she dragged Kenji over to the bed. She tried to put him onto it, but she missed, and Kenji rolled onto the floor. Rei stumbled. Sechson looked over to her, back to the ghoul, and back to Rei. Sechson tried to rush over to her, but the Gelert kicked at his shins, and he fell face first into the fog. He pushed himself back up onto one knee, tried to pull the lever, but fell back down. Rei was already on the floor by the time the ghoul looked over to her.

The Gelert was the only one standing, and the room had gone quiet, except for the television. He walked over to the nightstand, picked up the remote control, and began to turn the volume all the way down, until there was no sound in the room. He heard something. He looked up towards the door. Heavy footsteps were walking up the stairs, and soon, down the hall. He didn’t move, as he listened to them approach. The door handle turned, and Warren walked into the room. He looked around. The fog was thick, by now, so much so that the carpet was no longer visible, but he could still see three shapes down on the floor.

Well. he looked up at the ghoul, What the hell happened in here, huh?

They stared at each other, waiting for each other to make the first move. Warren crossed his arms.

Well? You gonna say somethin? Do something?
…I don’t need to.
Hmm. Right. You’re gonna wait for me to fall over, aren’t you. That’s what you’re doing.

They both stood watching each other. Warren moved his arms, putting his thumbs in his pockets and letting his hands rest there.

You’re still awake.
Yeah.
Hmm. This is new. the ghoul looked him over again, It doesn’t work on you. It should work on any kind of organic matter. Why isn’t it working.
So this is… some kind of sleeping gas, then, not paralysis? Okay. You got a name, buddy?
It ought to work on you. I don’t like that. Ghosts don’t like change, new things.
Uh… okay. I mean, you’re not a ghost or anything. Why did you mention that?
He didn’t change his expression No. I am a ghost. I was dead… but not anymore.
Uhm… you’re… you’re joking, right? What’s your name?
It is only Silence, now.
You don’t have one?
No. Silence.

Heh. Warren smiled and tried to suppress a chuckle. He failed. Hahaha! Are… are you serious? You decided to change your name to Silence? That is… the lamest… most goofy teenage shit I’ve heard in years. How the hell did someone like you manage to turn yourself into a ghoul?
No. I am a ghost. Don’t talk like that to me.
Whatever, buddy. You… you don’t know how you became a ghoul??
I returned, from the land of the dead. The dark, far side. Fallen back from the heavens to the ground. It was… very disorienting, to be honest. I don’t remember most of it. I forgot it. It must not matter anymore.
Yeah. That’s what happens to ghouls when they don’t eat for a long time. They forget things. Like who they are, events in their lives. You’re telling me you just fucking forgot how you became a ghoul?
No. I am a ghost. You aren’t listening to me.
This is why you’re doing this to these people… you’re feeding so you can get your memories back.
No. I am a ghost. This is just what I want to do, now. You ought to be respectful to me.
Warren stood, dumbfounded. You’re… uh… you’re… not very smart, are you?
The Gelert frowned. Hey. Fuck you.

He contorted himself downward, keeping his gaze on Warren as he pulled a huge knife from his boot. It was rusted and dull on the flat end, but the side with the edge, the blade, was shining and sharp.

Warren didn’t move Oh? You think you’re gonna stab me, huh? Good luck with that.
You’ll respect me.
Oh yeah?
You think you can punch a ghost? Idiot. But I can stab you just fine. That means you’re dead.
Wow. Wow, okay. You’re fucking useless when people are awake, aren’t you?
His eyes got wide, and he gripped the knife tighter Don’t you fucking talk to me like that! his voice was now loud and fevered, Nobody talks to me like that.
Uh-huh? Yeah? What’re you gonna do about it?
You don’t have your friends to help you. They can’t see you, and they can’t get between us.
Warren chuckled, but his smile faded. Good.


Sechson stirred, and he made a small, muffled sound. Warren was sitting on the end of the bed, looking out the window, and into the morning light. All the lights in the room were off except the muted television, but it was still bright inside from the incoming sun. There was a combination radio/alarm clock on the nightstand, and it was playing a familiar song. The Bori felt weak, but pulled himself up. Warren didn’t turn to look at him, even though he expected him to.

Sechson looked around. The entire room looked as though a tornado had blown through. Furniture was knocked over, a couple of broken light bulbs were on the floor, bedding was torn, and there were holes in a couple of the walls. One of the yellow crystals from inside the backpacks had been taken out, and was pale, spent. One of the pointed ends were cracked, and it was resting on what looked like a grey smudge on the carpet. He looked around, and saw Rei and Kenji, unharmed, still where they’d passed out last night. Kenji in particular was far more still than Rei was, his breathing just a bit more labored than someone asleep ought to be.

He looked up at Warren. It’s… over.
Yeah. I took care of it.
He looked over at the crystal again, and back to Warren. He didn’t say anything for a moment.
It was the fog the ghoul had. Warren said, but still didn’t turn around, It forces your body to sleep against your will.
I can tell. Sechson nodded.
Thaumaturgy of some kind. Possibly an innate, granted ability. Kinda interesting. Lucine is gonna wanna know about that.
He kept staring at Warren. You’re… fine, though?
Yeah. I had… something over my mouth. I used a uh, small pillow.
Sechson narrowed his eyes, That worked? Against magic? That’s what happened, then?
Warren turned his head, just enough to side-eye him.
That’s all you need to know. Warren turned back to look at the sunrise. This was my problem, and I took care of it.
Sechson didn’t reply.
Oh, and another thing…. When y’all go back home… I’m gonna have to talk to you. In private. For now, though… don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the morning. It’s a beautiful day on the outside.