[Author's Note] These chapters are trying to kill me and absolutely don't want to be written, but I'm a-chuggin to try and reach the end. I already have epilogue chapters, damn it...! I know... what... happens... I ... can... do... this...!
Gentleness pillowed the back of his head. "Are you awake? Hey. Can you hear me?"
Maybe. The fog surged with vertigo as his head was elevated. He blinked slowly into the gloom. A sleeve wiped cold sweat from his brow. Her voice lifted in another direction:
"Would... anyone be willing to help me carry him into an empty room? Please?"
"The last time anyone looked away from him, he summoned a monster," someone objected the empty room plan.
Footsteps came shuddering softly along the floorboards; they paused and someone craned over to have a look. A low alto intoned like dripping fire, like a sentencing: "He should be dead."
His fingers tightened about the haft of a spear, pulling the tip aloft. A hand smacked his sharply, and he released in startlement.
"Put that down! Sweet Jesus, you've really amazed me with just how many stupid ways you can antagonize people into shooting you while still being basically completely helpless!"
"Oh I wouldn't need to shoot him," the alto drawled mockingly. About him the gloom rolled back, in part, to the revelation that he was still alive. Laura was keeping his head aloft, and patted at his cheek to hold his attention. He could feel the guns trained in his direction. A blade was nearby, too, but still sheathed.
"Hey. Stay with me. You're awake?"
He lifted his head and spat out a mouthful of blood, and then fell back wincing and swallowed a few times. Where was the helmed avatar? Below them. And the angel? Above. Somehow... rebuked? La naiba, his mind was rolling between clouds and likely could not have followed any thread to its conclusion.
"Sergei? Can you hear me?"
"Yes." He could.
She laughed at the sound of his voice. Not humor; relief. The reaction was disorienting and humbling. "Heeyyy, you're not dead yet. Congratulations! Drink some water for me. Well, it's, it's more heated Gatorade, but same thing. Trust me, I'm a doctor, you need water and sodium." He obeyed as she brought up the cup. It helped; he was parched to the point of pain.
"What woke me?" he asked of her as she set the vessel back down. I ought to be dead.
"The needle in your arm. You passed out from low blood pressure and broke out in cold sweats, but woke back up when I gave you a blood pack. Almost immediately, which would be impressive only if you hadn't survived through five or six considerably more impressive things recently, so consider me unimpressed." She dabbed at his neck and pulse. "Do you know your blood type?"
He happened to: "O-Negative."
Laura paused. Her voice was dismayed: "You're a universal donor?"
The rough alto—Heather Mason?—reflected: "Well at least he's cooperative. Does this mean you can give him any kind of blood?"
"No," Laura lamented. "It means he can literally only take blood from other O-Negatives, which is completely recessive and really rare. Think of the 'A,' 'B,' and the 'Positive' all as potential allergens. AB-Positive people can take any kind of blood cause they aren't allergic to anything. O-Negative can give to anyone because there's no allergens in the blood they make..."
"...but they're allergic to everything, so they can't take blood from anyone," Heather finished, understanding.
"Yeah, so what I'm using is already all we have. Sergei, don't bleed any more. Doctor's orders." Doctors orders. Her hands gathered up his, and then folded about his fingers. She made a noise of disgust in the back of her throat. "You are freezing. Listen, I'm going to drag you to a spare room where there are fewer people with itchy trigger fingers."
"Wait a second, Laura. Eileen's right, we need to keep an eye on him," Heather prohibited, and Laura paused and stammered something about the temperature. "Listen, I'll help you and you can use the bathroom to try and clean him up and get proper bandages on, but then if you want someplace to put him you'll have to use what's left of the couches downstairs as a palette. He needs to stay in view."
"I... Fuck. Okay, I'm sorry, you're right. It's just, he was left outside before this and is at risk for hypothermia." Bless her.
"Well I did say I'd help you." A sudden, dry heat felt over him, and even amid his delirium he cried out softly, because the suddenly thwarted frostbite ached. It could not have simply been a matter of perception, either, as Laura went quiet a moment before demanding a stern:
"Are you emitting heat?"
"Oh yeah, that's definitely the most miraculous thing that's happened recently," Heather sassed back as she reached down to get a secure grip under his knees. "By the way, you need to bandage up your forehead." Bandage? "Because if you fall unconscious, no one else is going to help the cultist who helped kill two of us, kidnap two of us, sic a Bogeyman on two of us, and then beat Eileen across the face with a spear haft."
Laura was cowed only a moment before bristling. "Walter and Michael were both already dead," she argued. "Okay, I'm sorry. Don't give me that look! I watched Xipe obliterate- They kidnapped- You aren't- I just- I can't-!"
"I get it." And she was more concerned with salvaging Laura's mental state than with him. "Do you have his shoulders? Count of three." The two women stood in unison. The world heaved and rolled.
He was not aware of his position until they had gotten him back down on the floor, and then he heard footsteps hurry up and ask questions. He must have faded out then, too, because he was cognizant of little until he could hear and feel trickling water.
"Keep him on his side like that. Blood keeps coming up from the stomach, he needs to not accidentally inhale it. Lisa? Thanks."
"Has your new friend said anything about James and Travis?"
"He said he knows they're both alive, because Edwin's going to use them as leverage. When Edwin came here, he said he wanted us all—you included—to leave Silent Hill for good. Almost like he wanted a truce."
"As if I'd just walk away after what he did? To Elle, to me, to Alex?"
"Not to belittle what you guys went through—and you went through a lot—but you and Samael have a much higher kill-count than Edwin does. From his point of view, that debt might look settled..."
"Anyway we definitely said 'no,' so now that deal might be off the table. Which I suppose means Edwin will ask for you to hand yourself over. I asked Sergei if Edwin would trade for him, but he said he didn't know. He's on death's door and priests of his sect are supposed to be the cult's defenders."
"It's defenders? And its killers. Its muscle." Heather suddenly laughed. "Hey, you know who else is O-Negative?" she rasped. "Alex. Samael. The only person who could theoretically give an infinite amount of a blood. Oh, I'm sure that transfusion would go swimmingly!"
"I've prohibited my patient from turning into another giant god monster. We've got plenty already. Nh. These stitches look like I was drunk. At least they're holding. He still need to get a hospital if he survives this. Leaky bowels are horribbad. Lisa, can you give me the gauze? Thanks."
Laura rearranged blankets. It occurred to him that his skin was bared, and so he had lost his robes, which meant he had been dressed down and towel-bathed by three unmarried women.
"Oh hi Sergei," her voice prodded at him as she bandaged tight the wounds. "Unconscious people don't blush quite that handsomely."
"Unconscious people usually don't keep their eyes open," Heather quipped dryly, and saved him from answering.
"No, but I wouldn't put it past him. Unfortunately Nurse Lisa didn't have him fill out a complete medical history before admitting him to the Emergency Laura Clinic. Shame on her. So I can tell he's blind, but he doesn't seem to feel much corneal dryness, and so hypothetically he might be able to successfully attain unconsciousness with his eyes open..."
"He's blind?" Lisa blurted, apparently unoffended by Laura's absurd playfulness. "He can't be."
"He's definitely blind." Laura laid a forearm over his forehead. "Ooh! You're warming up. Finally. You are pretty much breaking not-conveniently-dying world records right now, I hope you realize. I'd tell you to give yourself a pat on the back, but, really, don't. Just keep breathing. Breathing should be your highest aspiration for the next few days. See what I did there? 'Aspiration.' It's a pun. Don't laugh."
It would have been impolite not to manage any answer, so: "That was terrible."
"How dare you not laugh at my jokes. No! Shh! Stop!" It hurt less, at least, with the wound clear. Still the world spun as Laura pillowed his head with the crook of an elbow and he coughed out blood. "Why did that make you laugh, stupid!? What did I just say!? You are a terrible listener!"
No, he was listening, but this situation was absent of explanation. The Metatron had come of his own volition and ought not to have been at the mercy of any conjurer. Yet now he cowered like a toddler placed in a corner by an overbearing mother. Below them lingered a demon in a red metal hood—still intact, still docile, and still inexplicably in service to Heather Mason. And amidst all this, Sergei himself had not yet been definitively put to death.
A demanding growl crept across the building, and Heather turned. "Speaking of giant god monsters. I suppose I should go have a look at what he wants. Let me help you get your 'patient' downstairs first. You got his shoulders? Alright."
The floor disappeared, and the world tossed with vertigo into endless white. Dizziness, nausea, disorientation.
"I think I need to start weightlifting after this," the alto muttered.
"Eyy! Move in with me, we can go gym hopping together. It's like bar hopping, only completely not, and with a lot of playing oldies like 'Eye of the Tiger' in the background for motivation."
"You live on the west coast, Laura. It's kinda far."
"Exactly! Far, far, far away from Silent Hill, Maine! As far as dad could get, really." Another grumble echoed through the Lighthouse. "Do you think we might be under attack again...?"
"No. I think the big baby is nervous I'm someplace he can't get to, and is begging for attention," the woman explained with baffling irreverence for one who could apparently command the forces of heaven and hell at a whim. "If I don't go give him his blonde-snuggling quota, he'll break the stairs with his fat ass trying to crawl back up here. Samael! Shut up, I'm coming."
"Hey. Hey, hey, hey! Leave the staircase alone, it's already lost a fight with you once today already."
Samael growled reproachfully, especially when he realized what/who she and Laura were carrying down the damaged steps. He picked up his spear and flipped the tip forward.
"Get that outta my way before I trip on these stairs—which you broke—and you end up having to explain to Valtiel how you managed to accidentally kill me again." Samael recoiled with a startled mumble and then lowered the weapon. They reached the bottom step and passed him and his critical glare. "'No, Val, I didn't stab her, she fell on my spear. Honest! Why won't you believe me?'" He peered suspiciously after them as they got their burden over to where a crushed couch still sported healthy cushions.
The cultist himself was very quiet and still, eyes heavy-lidded. Laura cleared away excess debris and then checked his pulse.
"He holding in there?" Heather asked as she searched for had happened to the foyer's blankets. After shaking splinters out, they were serviceable. She passed them to Laura.
"Yeah, for now. Picking him up that last time just looks to have made him swoon; he's not breathing evenly enough to be full unconscious, but he's clearly not all here either."
Heather patted the younger woman's head, and sighed.
"Thank you," Laura blurted.
"Glass houses," Heather retorted before turning about going to present herself for Samael's inspection. Sure enough, no sooner had she returned to his side than the Pyramid Monster reached down with a tongue to pat at her face. She raised an arm to pull more of the appendage out into the open and to wrap it about her forearm and elbow and shoulder and fingers.
"Hi, Samael." From the sound of him, he wasn't feeling incredibly human, but warm affection was there nonetheless. She closed her eyes as the tip slithered through her hair and inspected different locks of it, as if attempting to decide which one was most perfect for snuggling into. She chuckled slightly. "Yeah, don't worry, Other-Valtiel didn't eat me."
"Come to think of it, I think I owe you a 'Thank You' for saving the Lighthouse. And for not dying. That battle wasn't going in your favor, was it?" He growled low and deep, and glared towards the ceiling. She was struck by the sensation that Valtiel, Samael, and Xipe might represent extreme ends of some kind of 'rock-paper-scissors' sort of balance system. Which would be uncharacteristically sensible and wise of Silent Hill's otherwise uniformly evil and twisted 'Goddess.'
Heather patted his arm and then looked about herself. "Hey, I want to get a look at the hole you've put through yourself." When he didn't take the hint, she placed her hands on his hips (because it was hard to reach his shoulders), and steered him about. The Lighthouse foyer had been trashed, but lights from the kitchen would still give her a better look at what 'Other-Valtiel' had done to him.
Hmm. It looked like the wound was sealing up, but he had been impaled clear through the midsection. Come to think of it, this was an oddly specific injury. Had the 'Other-Valtiel' intentionally pinioned him to the wall to mirror the injury Samael had done onto his conjurer? Perhaps. That suggested an oddly personal level of anger. But what did Heather know? She'd never figured out who had created her Valtiel in the first place (Herself? Claudia? Alessa? Harry?), and she'd never seen anyone summon anything much like him since. Some of the monsters in their Bestiary came close in appearance, but never in behavior...
Heather noticed Douglas, finally. He was still downstairs and sitting on the (surviving) kitchen table to take a breather, and had raised a brow at her and Laura both. Heather smirked as a tongue pet back and forward over her head.
"Admit it, you always knew I was a weird one," she quipped. "And as for Laura, well..."
"Understatement of the century," the old detective muttered. "But I've been wrong about every twist and turn in this place so far, so I ain't saying nothing about 'sane' or 'insane' anymore. You're the boss." He gestured with his chin at the Pyramid Monster. "He getting friendlier?"
"And smarter. But this is him being outright amorous. I think he's acting as a well for what's left of Alex, and more pieces keep showing up for duty," she admitted. "Maybe up to and including the soul; I'm not sure. Either way, he seems to think he's inherited our relationship."
"Has he?" Douglas asked without condemning her. Laura, predictably, perked up like a curious groundhog from across the flattened couch.
Heather was surprised by the question, but she heard a huff like an elephant from overhead coupled with a telepathic exclamation of 'Seems to think'! before her Pyramid Thing suddenly ducked. Heather cringed to avoid death by suddenly-plummeting-helmet, but Samael retained enough awareness of her position not to brain her as he grabbed her fast about the hips with his free arm, hoisted her into the air, and clasped her to himself. He then proceeded to hum—thoroughly pleased with himself—and to groom her like a cat.
"Gee, I don't know, Douglas," Heather muttered sarcastically from under a barrage of licks, as she saved her hat and dusted it clean of Boogieman cooties. Laura went wide-eyed, and then pointed, and then fell back in mute laughter because she'd basically promised not to talk about Samael and she knew it. "Why don't you ask him."
"How did your fight with Xuchil-" Eileen began as she came down the stairs, but then grew quieter as she realized where Heather was and what Samael was doing, "-bara... go...?"
Heather tried to wrestle a tongue off herself as punishment, but it just wrapped more around her. She shoved at his helmet and then crossed her arms with a huff and rolled her eyes and looked down at Eileen. "The Crimson God and I are officially listing our Facebook relationship status as 'It's Complicated,'" she muttered indolently and then mimed typing on a keyboard.
Samael considered this, and then dropped her. Heather nearly fell over (it was a long fall) and had to grab wildly for his arm and Eileen's hand so as not to lose her balance. She then proceeded to watch as Samael repeatedly opened and closed his poorly coordinated fingers until at last he managed to clench all the fingers together while keeping the thumb extended. He showed her the result.
Eileen nudged her. "Did he just 'like' your status update?" she asked quietly.
Heather squinted at the monster and then shoved the tip of the helmet to push his head away. "Shut up, Alex." He cooed. She turned back to her friends. "We need a plan for how we're going to rescue James and Travis. Assuming Edwin'll take at least a day to lick his wounds before talking to us again, where do we start?"
"What's the news with Xuchibara?" Douglass asked delicately. "Walter was incredibly sure you'd die, but wasn't otherwise informative. He still playin a role in what happens next?"
Heather winced. "Oh. Guess I only told Henry. To put it briefly: I won my gamble, and Xuchilbara... bowed out after the last fight. He no longer intends to personally factor into how all this ends. But he left me with Samael, who is individually promising to help me." She looked up at the monster in question. "Did I explain that fine?" Her Pyramid Monster gave a mighty huff and a curt bob of his head. "The lack of death threats had sub-sequentially improved our friendship quotient."
You are not my friend, the monster rumbled.
Heather did a double take.
His voice was an inhuman vent of heat as he explained: You are my girlfriend.
And because he'd remembered how to deliver that whole 'joke' clearly, he positively oozed smug, proud, haughty delight.
Heather raised a fist in exasperation and then growled, "God you deserve to be hit upside the head. Douglas, important info: if I'm talking to Samael, it's because we're telepathic and he's a smartass." She punched a leathery bicep and, though it made her feel better, she did have to shake hand out afterwards. Ow. Solid as a rock. Samael was nice enough to make an apologetic little mumble for her benefit.
"Well," Douglas mused with an accepting sigh, "least this means we have some muscle."
"Do we know where the cultists have taken the two?" Eileen asked. "Heather, you've been to their 'temple,' haven't you?"
Heather blinked rapidly, trying to recall what she knew. "I was unconscious both times I was carried through the front doors this time. And, unfortunately, the Order has a lot of different bases of operation throughout this bloody village. Green Lion Antiques, the Church of the Holy Way... Way back when, I entered a Church I'd never seen before through passage in the Amusement Park. But I'm ninety percent convinced at that point Silent Hill was stitching parts together from all over the city and we were deep in hell."
"Heather?" Lisa had come downstairs with some additional blankets for their 'guest.' "Michael and I went out looking for you... when you were missing. We were trying to decide whether to go up Bachman Road or to South Park. Samael came with you from the north.
"From the-?" Heather straightened. "From Old Town, or...? Maybe that makes sense. Do we have a map of the town?"
"Eh? Yeah, and that reminds me," Douglas stood and went over to where the top of the receptionist desk, along with a computer, had been trashed. "Elle was researching the cult before we got pulled into the Fogworld, and printed some stuff. She might have found some useful leads. I'll look through them."
He brought her a small map and a pen, but Heather was so familiar with the blasted town she could quickly quickly dot The Green Lion Antique Shop, Alchemilla Hospital, Midwitch Elementary, and the Lighthouse. "That's an inverted pentagon," she said. "And not that I'm particularly proficient in any esoteric tradition, but if I were a powerful witch-psychic trying to intuitively obliterate a gaping hole in reality, my target would be inscribed in the middle."
"Aside from Bachman Road itself, there's nothing there but wilderness and a river," Eileen noticed.
Heather loosely circled the area. "No, but suddenly a lot about this feels familiar. This is where my dad crashed. I remember Vincent said something about having built 'his' church with money, and it had stained glass windows which meant must have had access to sunlight in the normal world. Maybe it's on a private drive, hidden in the wilderness out there? Can't be far, or Edwin wouldn't have gotten here so early in the morning, and he wouldn't have had cars."
"What's the internal layout?" Eileen prodded. "Do you remember anything?"
"I know the interior was filled with large cylindrical ritual and worship chambers, big ones, so it's either grossly distorted or has a sizable portion of itself lain out underground. Maybe that doesn't surprise me; Edwin's apparently a powerful conjurer, whose been working to unite the Order sects for awhile, and he's not as delusional as Claudia. There must have been living quarters, since a sizable chunk of the cult is here between worlds."
Laura piped up: "What about Samael? He was there. Does he remember where it is or what it looks like?"
Samael cocked his head to the side, with a sharp tilt of his helmet. Come to think of it, he probably did. He looked down to Heather and rumbled.
"I need more paper," Heather demanded after a few vacant blinks. "How Samael sees is still an enigma to me; this is going to take us a bit to reason out."
Douglas and Eileen thought it was a little odd to think their brainstorming session was about to be assisted by a Pyramid Monster, but, well, this one had clearly undergone significant processes personal development. While not exactly very Alex-like, Samael seemed to have his own vague personality showing through now, instead of just being subject to random impulses and anger fits.
Laura made a thoughtful noise, and went back to dabbing sweat from her likely-unconscious patient's brow. The transition from freezing to fevering had gone rather swiftly for her liking, but it also meant Sergei's immune system was booting up to try and rescue him for the long term. Come to think of it, he wasn't the only blind individual with preternatural spatial awareness in Silent Hill. Not by a longshot. None of the monsters seemed to have eyes.
The blood ran down; Down, down, down. Into the grooves, and along the carved arcs, the three circles, runes. It lit up every graven crevice of the Halo with bright red pigment, and renewed a covenant of protection. The boundaries of the building were thus sanctified; prepared to withstand an onslaught from the forces of chaos.
And in lieu of intense faith on the part of sacrifice, the ritual had drunk deep of emotion, and of betrayal. But such was what they had come to, faux trust, mechanized betrayal; they would spill no more blood of their own, not this day, not of friends, not of Faithful.
The body yet quaked, just beside him. The ceremonial knife—yet in hand—dripped with soft red patters across the ground. And still the body quivered, struggled, resisted the inevitable conclusion; the lungs claimed air, the heart hammered vainly. For all that it was doomed—damned—it labored in those final moments to sustain the life it had once so dutifully provided for.
Between the two of them, which was the greatest offense? To know nothing, but give of one's life daily in service unto others; or to speak of such things as service and unity, and to know the truth, but to stand there
For the next few breaths of air, she was still there—still in pain—and he did nothing but wait silently for every last drop.
"There might be an an underground entrance or, better yet, Silent Hill might have her way with the place and open an entryway regardless. The one odd point is Xipe: she seems to anchor a lot of physical and temporal stability."
The sharp movement of fabric beside Laura suggested her patient had reached consciousness unpleasantly, perhaps quick with adrenaline and expecting a need to defend himself. After all, he'd grabbed reflexively for the nearest weapon when hearing Heather claim he 'ought to be dead' in the hallway.
But as she turned away from the mission-planning session to see what had become of him, she felt fingertips close against her knee as if searching for her.
"Hey." Laura leaned over and briefly placed her hands over his to reassure him. "I'm still here." She had a bowl on hand, in case he suffered a fit of nausea. Vomiting—or any abdominal contractions—would surely hurt like hell. She reached over and felt his brow. "How you feeling? You are currently mid-battle with germs, so your fever's at about... eh, hundred and one, hundred and two? Unless you think in metric, in which case it's about thirty eight in a half. Or, you know, 'high but still shy of baking neurons and causing brain damage.'"
He did not answer and instead: "Why are you bleeding?" he requested to have explained to him. His voice was a powerless, rough whisper.
Laura blinked, taken aback. "Oh, it... it mostly stopped. Your monster nicked me while it was contemplating biting off the front end of my skull, is all." And thank you for stopping it, by the way, since you obviously didn't have to... But maybe it was best she didn't think much.
Because, if she did, she'd start remembering her dad was in mortal danger, or that Walter had died while looking positively calm in a way that suggested he'd at least found some peace in his last actions, or that Michael had swallowed a bullet rather than let Xipe have him. And if Laura remembered any of that, well then surely she'd start crying, or throwing things, and become useless to everyone. Everyone, and especially the previously-impaled blind ninja whom had told her about his beta fish.
"Please see to your own injuries at this time."
Laura sat up straight then, mouth thin and eyes shuttered in bemusement as a lid fell flat atop all other fears and worries. Well then. The person who ought to be dead six times over wanted her to bandage herself. That was a difficult request to refuse. She dabbed thoughtfully at her face, where blood was drying. Then she leaned over to see if she could scoop up a shard of the atrium mirror. Ah hah. She looked like a mess; no wonder everyone kept talking about it. Well, perhaps she could clean that up. "Alright. You're right. But I should wash my hands first; The contents of a person's entrails are basically highly acidic raw sewage! Be right back."
This was going to need soap.
She hurried along and so did not look back, nor see bruised and crumpled fingers re-extend meekly after her in her absence.