– – –
Okay, here we go! :3 I've been working on this on and off since before we finished Cthulhu Fhtagn, and I'm really excited to start posting this!
Damien's Inferno is the sequel to Cthulhu Fhtagn, but this first chapter will be a little bit of a recap/refresher to catch things up from where the first story left off. We're turning to Dante's Inferno (which is going to be called The Book of the Inferno in this story for reasons that will eventually be revealed) for some help with this part of the story more than Lovecraft works, but there's still going to be some Lovecraft influence coming in later chapters.
This story sticks to the same four narrators: Kenny, Kyle, Stan, and Butters. I'm doing the one narrator a week thing for a little while, but we'll see how long that keeps up, haha... Damien's Inferno is going to have more focus on other League members, too, though (Kenny is still the main one, but the other guys are more tied into the Mythos than they realize...), and I'm planning to add in at least one other narrator in the later chapters...
I've rated this M for language and basic action-y violence. Some pairings do come into play, picking up from pretty much the same ones in Cthulhu Fhtagn, and while they're prevalent, the romance is going to be ending up secondary/tertiary to the action.
Thank you so much to everyone who has read, favorited and reviewed Cthulhu Fhtagn! We hope you like this story too~ :3
~Jizena, and Rosie Denn
– – –
The Mysterion Mythos:
"I am the Way into the City of Woe.
I am the Way to a Forsaken People.
I am the Way into Eternal Sorrow.
Sacred Justice moved my Architect.
I was raised here by Divine Omnipotence.
Primordial Love and Ultimate Intellect.
Only those elements Time cannot wear
Were made before me, and beyond Time I stand.
ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE."
—The Book of the Inferno
ALL CHARACTERS AND EVENTS IN THIS FAN FICTION — EVEN THOSE BASED ON FICTIONAL PEOPLE — ARE ENTIRELY MADE-UP. ALL DANTE REFERENCES ARE RESEARCHED… POORLY. THE FOLLOWING STORY CONTAINS LEWD SEXUAL HUMOR AND DUE TO ITS LONG INTROSPECTIVE MONOLOGUES IT SHOULD NOT BE READ BY ANYONE. _|_|_|
It's kind of amazing to think about, really, that even though throughout human history we've been given plenty of examples of reasons why a bargain with the devil is never a good thing… human history goes right on repeating itself, and someone will inevitably go right on and decide to make another deal. Some people never learn.
And some curses never die.
– – –
Let me just start off by saying that I am pretty damn proud of everything that I am.
Now, okay, this isn't going to turn into some personal manifesto, or big life-affirming soliloquy or anything (I promise); it's not going to be me railing off on how, despite my faults, I'm human and here's what's awesome about me. I actually really hate stuff like that. Things just are. I'm too over-analytically logical to want to laud the little things about myself with exhausted and unnecessary poetics. That's what my literature class last semester was for.
Nope, right here, I'm just gonna lay it out flat:
I'm a psychic. I have telekinesis.
It's something that's taken me a while to accept about myself, but I was born with a quirk. When I was nine, I fell off a roof and it jostled something in my brain, and when I was sixteen, that quirk helped me save the world. Again, I'm still not bragging, I'm just stating facts. It happened. Just ask Clyde Donovan or Bebe Stevens to pull out a newspaper clipping from that year, or ask my younger brother Ike to search one of his four computer databases, or, hell, just ask my roommate, Kenny McCormick (who still at times brings up his luck for making it out of that alive), or his sister Karen. Ask my boyfriend, Stan Marsh—and God bless him for helping me through that troubled time, let me tell you.
Sure, my real name isn't exactly attached to it… none of our real names are. Not in the way that we were truly involved. You might find a paper saying that Token Black's father stepped in as the mayor of South Park for a while… you might actually read a (quite well-written, I have to say) Gazette article on the fiasco by Wendy Testaburger herself. But you won't see anything stating that we few went to a place no mortal eyes were ever meant to see, fought and nearly lost our lives, and saved countless people from death or insanity. Some were lost, but so many were saved.
Through all of that, I had been developing that quirk. It went from being this annoying synapse in my brain that, whenever I got angry, would make lights flicker or china rattle. Little things that, for the longest time, I could pretend weren't caused by my own neurons. As it developed, though, I became able to move objects at will, stop things in midair, break equipment apart or bend things in half with my mind.
And then, I didn't need it anymore. So it disappeared.
For four pretty calmingly standard years, I just had to be other things. A good student, a good boyfriend; friend, son, brother—just a good person in general. That's what I aim for. Just because I happen to have telekinesis does not mean I'm going to pull it out as a fucking party trick or let myself get butchered and cast onstage by some dumb carnival side show.
Even though they tried.
They had a way of turning strength into weakness.
It wasn't even originally because of the telekinesis that they wanted me; no, they tried to sign me up for other reasons. And by they, I mean the GSM. Or, more accurately, their leaders.
We all had a hell of a time this past summer. And by we, I mean the vigilante league I've taken part in since I was nine years old. The Shadow League. When we were kids, it was kind of a game… but our little 'Coon and Friends' group had grown into that League that the town still talks about and looks to for help, and every one of us takes pride in the work that we do. Rallied under Kenny's alter ego, Mysterion, we—in growing number—did our part to stop the Dark Lord Cthulhu from plunging the planet into madness and darkness. We'd been seasoned into pros by the time we were all eighteen.
But still… Hell's a pretty scary thing, no matter how much time goes by. And really, as terrifying as things had been in R'lyeh, as many near-death experiences as some of us had faced back in elementary and high school, we couldn't exactly say we'd gone through hell until the summer Hell itself finally crept its merry way into South Park.
I'll backtrack. That would make more sense anyway.
– – –
Here are a couple other indisputable facts about me: I'm five-foot-ten. I'm Jewish. I'm from South Park, Colorado, my name is Kyle Broflovski, my brother is from Canada, I think that women are very aesthetically (and sexually) pleasing but am proud to say I fell in love with a guy, I'm very much a Gemini, and I am not very fond of the taste, smell, or texture of bananas.
Also, I have red hair.
For some reason, that was the kicker at the start of summer. I was about to turn twenty-one, and had just finished up my third year of college, along with a few great, long-time friends. A handful of us had ended up at CSU in Fort Collins. Me, Stan, Kenny, Clyde, Red, Bebe, Butters, Craig… probably more from South Park, too, though I didn't pay too close attention to the full list. (Cartman had weaseled his way into the same town, but he was at a community college and therefore not in any of our classes or dorm areas, thank God.) We stuck together primarily because we couldn't leave certain hometown duties behind, but even at the same school our group could sometimes find ourselves worlds apart from each other.
It was supposed to be a nice, calm, normal three and a half months… but here we go with an indisputable fact about the town I grew up in: nothing will ever be exactly 'normal.'
This whole hellish fiasco began just about as soon as vacation did. And it started with a letter.
The first couple days of vacation had been spent, basically, getting settled back home, dealing with my mother's inane coddlings and Randy Marsh rambling out something about absolutely having to plan a barbeque (and, subsequently, Sharon telling him to chill the fuck out—her words, not mine, though mine wouldn't be too different, nor would Stan's), and, of course, making damn sure there would be a good balance between, well, you know… work and play.
Stan and I both worked five days a week during the summer, and a breathtaking stroke of luck had allowed us to have the same two sequential days off. My job was fine, nowhere near my actual major, but fine (and I mean, in South Park, there wasn't much I could do), and allowed me time to do some reading on my own… I was at a book store, after all; seven a.m. till two p.m., like I was still in friggin' high school. Stan, on the other hand, had two jobs, making it even luckier that we had the same time off: the first was at his dad's office, sorting things out for the geologists and sneaking in some study time while he could, and the second was lifeguarding at the community pool during morning hours, and it was there, on the third day of vacation, that the weirdness began.
I'd just finished a texting battle with Kenny about his want to do a huge Fourth of July thing that summer (and my hoping that he wouldn't set the town on fire), which I'll just go ahead and say I won, since he had to leave to work himself. Surprisingly, Kenny and I didn't text all that much about one thing that really kind of involved both of us: the fact that my brother and his sister had been dating for the past couple years, and the fact that Karen had just graduated, while Ike still had one year to go. Maybe it was the graduation thing that was bugging Kenny.
With Karen out of town starting this fall, we had no idea what would happen to the League.
But I pushed that from my mind for the time being, instead deciding to revel in my victory over Kenny's stupid fireworks idea and turn on some damn music on my iPhone, to make my wait for Stan go by a little faster.
The community pool was an interesting place… what had once been just an outdoor pool as part of a recreation area had now been built up into a larger building with the full-sized pool at which Stan had been a lifeguard for a little while, a wading pool for toddlers and mothers with babies, and even a sauna (which a group of us had played chicken in once to see how long we could stand it, and as a result were all dehydrated for about a week).
There were locker rooms and showers within the main building—which was kind of bland from the outside, just a big ol' grey thing that blended into the rest of the town—and an office area in the front, accessible through two sets of glass doors leading back out onto the sidewalk.
My back to the wall in the front office near the large community events board that rarely stayed up-to-date, I started up a mindless game of Fruit Ninja. Somebody had to beat Clyde's score, and I didn't want it to be Cartman or Craig. I didn't even care about that stupid game—fucking Fruit Ninja, come on—but it was something to do when I was waiting somewhere, so why the hell not, right?
When I advanced a level, I glanced up at the analog clock on the opposite wall. Stan's shift ended at three, and factoring in the time it always took him to shower, 3:10 seemed like it was signaling a pretty close meet-up time. I smiled to myself and went back to the phone. I wasn't even looking at what I was doing with that game anymore, so I switched to Tetris. Much better. Any second now, and I'd be cleared of this boredom and out on a date.
Summers home in South Park were interesting, because any given day could be one of two things. Normal, or utterly ridiculous. We'd gotten used to the 'normal' of our college town by now, which was nice, but being in a place where we could all just be ourselves and focus on things like, oh, classes, and parties, and elections and local concerts—it made it easy to forget that, sooner or later, we'd be back in crazy little South Park, dodging the weird, or else getting sucked up in it.
3:11. First date of the summer, Stan, come on, get out of the damn shower already. I couldn't wait. Going on afternoon dates in South Park made me feel like I was still a high schooler sometimes. A high schooler in the good way—in the 'everything is new and awesome and I have absolutely no responsibilities because I'm a teenager' way. Now that we were both past twenty, we were starting to look forward a little, but we'd take those 'let's be kids' opportunities wherever we could.
I started to tap my foot a bit. As I was quitting Tetris to see if Stan had texted me and I just hadn't heard it, for having my headphones on, I noticed a girl walking toward me. A young woman, actually, probably around my own age. When she stopped in front of me, she leaned in a little so that she could look right up into my face as if to study me like I was a statue, which instantly got me uncomfortable, but I slid off my headphones—I'd traded in my earbuds for good-quality, sound-cancelling cans a while ago—so that I could hear her response when I asked, "Can I help you?"
The girl stood back, pleased with the fact that I had spoken first, and reached into the red tote bag she had over her left shoulder. She was a girl of average height, and she dressed normally enough, in a black and white polka-dotted dress; on the front of her black bolero was a circular white pin that looked like a nametag. Oh, great, wonderful, she was a survey girl. Stan, hurry it the hell up, I don't want to take a survey. Not that I dislike surveys entirely, but I hate having them forced on me, because I always feel like I have to answer them, just out of pity for the fact that some of those poor people handing them out don't even really want to be there, they just needed jobs. Stan always did a great job of weaving me around the people on street corners in downtown Fort Collins, but when he wasn't there to stop me, I'd find myself caught up in surveys and questionnaires, or at least really long-winded explanations along the lines of, "I really can't donate, I'm sorry, I'm a college student and have absolutely nothing."
"Ginger?" I read off the pin.
"Hmm?" said the girl, glancing at me. Her eyes were a wandering ice blue, and under them, dotting her stark, pale skin, were a few lines of freckles. Another group of freckles formed a circle on her forehead. Her lips, I noticed as she began to chew on one corner, were painted a much darker shade of red than she should have been wearing, with that skin tone. (Dear God, stop me, stop me, stop me, I really don't care about that stuff, I honestly don't, stop me…)
"Is your name Ginger?" I asked. "You didn't introduce yourself, I don't know what you're doing here."
"Oh," said the girl. Fumbling, she reached back into her tote bag. She glanced back up at me, then looked back in the bag. Finally, she pulled out a stack of envelopes, held together with a red elastic. "Let's see here…" she said, flipping through the envelopes and peering at the addressee on each. Her voice was rather low and clipped in tone and pace, to the point that I found myself—possibly illogically—afraid for whatever it was she was actually trying to say to me.
"Can I help you?" I repeated. I was getting annoyed. 3:12. I heard the door from the locker room down the hall open. Thank God.
"Anderson… Ashcroft… Beckman… Bradford…" the girl mumbled to herself, going through the envelopes still.
"Hey." My heart leapt and my mind relaxed as finally I heard my boyfriend's voice, and felt him slide his right arm around my waist.
"Hi," I greeted back. I forgot all about the fact that this survey person had just been bothering me, and pressed myself into Stan's side, ticking my head up and pulling him in by the front of his shirt for a kiss. His skin and clothes were still a little damp and sticky from having just come from the showers, but he smelled amazing. I had no idea what his secret was for managing to get all that chlorine out of his hair (I usually retain the smell for at least another couple hours, no matter what I wash with), but he was carrying that stinging, untraceable clean scent that always just begged me to grab and devour and inhale him all day. If it was a strategy, it worked.
"Sorry," Stan said when I rocked back out of the kiss, "it was real crowded in there today."
"It's okay," I shrugged, moving my right hand to be placed on top of his, where he had a firm hold of my waist. "I'm just glad you're here."
"Mmhmm," said Stan, placing another small kiss on my cheek. "Who's this?" he then wondered, nodding down to the survey girl.
"I have no idea," I started to answer, "but—"
"Broflovski!" the girl exclaimed. She dug out one small white envelope from her stack, put the others away, and handed the selected one out to me. "Here you go, this is for you."
"Um… who are you," I asked, giving the girl a glare, "and why are you giving that to me? What is it?"
"It's for you," she said, as if that would be enough.
"Is it anthrax?" I asked. "I'm not touching that thing, you're honestly weirding me the hell out."
"It's your invitation," the girl clarified, shoving it toward me.
"Um, hey," Stan interjected, and after a quick glance at the girl's pin, he continued, "Ginger? Is that your name? Look, Ginger, I'm sure you're thinking of this as a nice gesture, but my boyfriend and I really need to be going." He stressed the word 'boyfriend' just enough, not as any kind of extreme stress or anything, but more of a 'sorry, wrong tree' kind of emphasis on the off-chance that survey girl was trying to pick me up. It wouldn't have been the first time. For either of us. We'd worked out ways to handle it.
When survey girl didn't answer, Stan said, "Come on, let's go," and started leading me toward the glass front doors.
"This envelope needs to be in the hands of Mr. Broflovski," the girl said sternly from behind us.
"Not happening," I muttered.
"Just ignore her," Stan said calmly as we made our way out.
But just as we'd gone through the second of the two doors past the front vestibule, survey girl ran out in front of us and placed the envelope in my free hand. "Hey!" I shouted at her, but she was done with me.
The envelope delivered, the girl turned on her heel, took a black and white polka-dotted parasol out of her tote bag, then said, simply, "My name isn't Ginger," before she tossed her red hair and began walking away. Her walk turned to a brisk gait as she rounded the corner, keeping to the shade of her parasol.
"Um… that was fucking weird," I commented, glaring down at the envelope the girl had so rudely shoved into my hand.
It was a simple envelope, with no return address. My address was not written on there, either. Just my name, in script that looked like it was trying to be self-important, but just came off as juvenile and chicken scratched. No stamp, no sender; nothing. I turned the envelope over and saw that it was sealed in wax. A Gothic script T was pressed into the red wax that held the flap shut. The only people in town I really knew whose name began with T were Token Black and Timmy Burch… or there was Craig Tucker, but none of those guys would have done anything that weird, and nor would Wendy Testaburger.
Heidi Turner? My ex? Maybe. I figured she'd forgotten all about me, though.
"Dude, just throw it away," my boyfriend suggested. "There's a trash thing right over there."
"Yeah, good deal," I decided.
Weird things happen in South Park. Strange people come up to you and give you things. It just happens. Stan and I were of the class that just ignored that kind of thing. So I did the logical thing and disposed of the mysterious envelope in the parking lot trash receptacle, a sigh of relief finding its way out of me once I had.
"There, better?" Stan guessed.
"Yeah," I said, grabbing his hand, "that was weird. But I'm just gonna let it go."
"Good for you," he grinned.
Letting shit go was kind of difficult for me, and becoming more difficult by the year, the more I stacked onto my proverbial plate. Stan was always right there, though, to let me know when I was over-thinking or over-reacting (without explicitly stating that, or I'd blow up), and was very good at coming up with alternative solutions to situations, in order to keep us both going strong without either of us getting worn out. I'd made some bad college decisions, but, hey, in the end, things had worked out so that now Stan and I would be living together all senior year, in a place we'd be sharing with Kenny (my roommate since freshman year) and Clyde.
But, again, it was summer, now. The last summer that would allow me to just let things go and feel like I had no other obligations until August. "Thanks," I said in return. "So where are we going? You didn't drive, did you?"
Stan shook his head. "You?"
"Nope. It's too nice out."
"Walking it is," Stan declared brightly, as we picked up our pace. I thought for a second about the parasol the survey girl had opened up, and glanced at the sky. No threat of rain; I guess the sun was just too intense for her. Whatever. Let it go. I was sure I'd never see her again and that the letter was just some stupid flyer for something. Let it the fuck go because, dammit, I was on vacation, had nights off, and had nothing-doing date plans for the rest of this evening.
My acquired afternoon need to become heavily caffeinated kicked in the second the green Harbucks sign came into view on our walk into town, and Stan got the message right off, before I even started to tug him in that direction. I recognized the barista there as Ike's ex-girlfriend, Flora (who now, I guess, was dating his long-time friendly rival Filmore Anderson, which had caused a weird spat between the guys, even with Ike dating Karen; ohhhhh, high school drama…), and she gave me a friendly but slightly guilty wave when she saw me walk in. She probably missed Ike a bit, and it was no secret that my mom missed her, even though I swear to God, she could not shut up about what a nice girl Karen was. But there could be way worse things my mother could be obsessing over, and I knew Karen well enough to know that she was on the right track.
Even though Harbucks couldn't compare to the local coffee shops I was growing used to in our college town, it served its purpose in dosing out the espresso. But as we were making our way outside after claiming our drinks, a man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties walked out from the manager's office, off to the far right of the espresso bar, his icy eyes locked right on me. He was a lanky man, though a little shorter than me, and I didn't recognize him as anyone I'd seen in town before, so I could not fathom why he'd need to talk to me.
Clearly, he did, though, and took the time to stop us before we made it outside. "Kyle Broflovski?" he asked me in a pinched voice.
"Uh… yeah?" I said. "Was something wrong with my debit card or something? I can pay cash."
The man's eyebrows were so fucking light, I couldn't even really see them, which made the white grin he flashed at that point one of the creepiest things I'd seen in a while. His pale skin wrinkled at the corners of his eyes, under which were a pattern of dark freckles, and he said, "No, no problem at all. But save that cash, would you? You'll want to invest."
The strawberry-blonde man then set an envelope into my hand, and disappeared back into his office, but not before I caught a glimpse of a circular pin on his red polo shirt that said, in the same precise print as survey girl's, GINGER. Which was not normally a man's name. He wasn't exactly a Ginger, as the girl had been, given his hair tones, but still, close enough.
And he'd shoved the same motherfucking envelope at me. Maybe not the same envelope, since this was pristine white, rather than covered in the trash the other one was decomposing in, but it still had my name written on it, and was sealed with a wax T on the back.
I disposed of it—and, incidentally, my coffee—at the trash can by the door, and aggressively pumped out hand sanitizer from the dispenser above the trash until my palms were doused. "Dude," Stan reprimanded me, turning his nose up at the pungent waft of the sanitizer.
"Yeah, I poured too much," I realized. "Fucking shit, though, what the…"
"Come on," Stan suggested, backing into the door to hold it open for me. At the same time, he held his hands out, palms up, for me to wipe off some of the sanitizer despite his admitted hatred for the commercial stuff and how it really didn't get your hands clean. It felt like it did, though, so I didn't care.
"Thanks," I muttered. I wiped my palms on his, which made me realize that he, too, had followed suit in ditching his coffee. "I'm sorry," I added, shaking my head. I lathered my hands up with the sanitizer, which dried up and stung in the cooling May breeze. "I'm just… kinda weirded out right now."
"Umm… yeah," Stan agreed, "no kidding. No need to be sorry, Kyle, that was fucked up."
"Yeah!" I said, my heart rate working itself up as my nerves built. "And invest? Asking me to fucking invest in something? What the fuck am I going to invest in? I'm a college student!"
"I could invest in a bottle of white and we could just go home, get drunk, and watch really bad Canadian soaps until they make sense," Stan offered.
"Jesus Christ. Can we please?"
"Sure. But can we wait till at least after seven for that?" Stan's shy smile was enough to remind me that neither of us really liked touching alcohol in the afternoon, unless it was some family get-together and we were prepared to pace ourselves. Both of us had hang-ups about anything harder than wine, due to Stan's family history of alcoholism and my personal history in nursing it, so we watched ourselves whenever liquor did come into the equation.
In a couple weeks, I'd be twenty-one and be able to accompany Stan on the wine trips (or, you know, actually order wine out at dinner and stuff), but for now, I did enjoy being able to just enjoy ourselves on a night in.
Which did not fucking happen that night, by the way. Did not fucking happen. No. No, what happened that night was me getting more neurotic than ever, Stan going from concerned boyfriend to personal fucking bodyguard, and Kenny McCormick all but painting an enormous green question mark in the sky.
Because the letters did not stop.
"Am I Harry Motherfucking Potter?" I screamed after another letter addressed to me was slipped into my hands on the street a couple hours after the Harbucks incident. "What the Christ?"
Stan grabbed me around the shoulders, sent a scowl in the direction of the heavily-freckled mail carrier who'd shoved the letter my way, and led me off the sidewalk. "You okay?" Stan asked when we'd walked around to the side of a building facing the backside of another.
I gathered my breath and took a look around.
Were we ever back in South Park. That was all I could think about. The past few summers had been fine, as if atoning for the winter that had rained insanity on our town. As if going away to school in Fort Collins had been the answer all along. Like that was a cure or something. That it was the one thing we'd needed to dust off the dirt that clung to everyone in South Park… the abnormal situations, the absurdities of seemingly level-headed people, the just fucking stupid things that would go on around us at all times.
Being a part of the League had taught me to stop taking things like that in stride, though. I'd become wary to the fact that anything odd—like, oh, you know, cults—could be potentially dangerous and needing of our interference if there was any hope of making that particular threat stop.
Now, I don't have PTSD or anything. Yes, I carry the memory of everything that happened during the crisis, but I don't bring it up often, because a lot of it is painful. But right there, as soon as Stan asked me those two little, but weighted, words, I began having what I suppose I could equate to war flashbacks.
Stan's uncle, Jimbo, would sometimes regale us as kids with stories about Korea. Sometimes he'd just slip it into conversation, and it would come and go as easily as talk about the weather. Other times, rarer times, Jimbo would say something he hadn't meant to, and go silent. I could remember once, when we were twelve and Jimbo was attempting to get Stan and me to watch war documentaries, the man started yelling something at a person who wasn't there in the room with us. I had talked to Stan and Kenny about maybe quitting the League after that, but we were just kids. We hadn't really had fights with fatalities yet.
But right now, that day, that warm May day between junior and senior year of college, I had a flashback so vivid it made me crumble. I was not ready for that. I did not bring it up in day to day conversation. It did not cross my mind. Not when I saw the scar, not when I walked by courthouses, not when Kenny brought up R'lyeh at meetings. Only when I heard gunshots. And, due to my nerves, that afternoon. Because of where we were standing.
I grabbed the front of Stan's shirt, pressed myself up close to him, and asked, "Can we just go?"
"Y-yeah, sure," Stan said, pure sympathy gliding into his tone. He rubbed my back, and I felt his breath catch when I didn't pull away. He knew damn well that I didn't like getting like this, and knew even moreso that I never got that emotional in public. "Kyle… Kyle, hey, what's up? What's going on? I mean… I agree that this shit's really weird, and all…"
"I just don't want to talk right here," I said. "That's all."
"I just don't," I said firmly, "want to talk about weird shit in an alley, Stan."
Because I'd watched him die in one.
It had come up every now and then during our senior year of high school. Hell, our entire first year of dating had been spent almost in fear, with us glancing behind each other all the time, just to make sure another near-death experience wasn't waiting around the corner. Our relationship was built on a solid pact to protect each other, no matter what, to the point that we'd kind of carved out our own little world. I hated remembering that incident in the alley now, though; it hurt too fucking much. Stan felt the same way.
We both had scars from the Cthulhu crisis. Even when we didn't talk about them, they were there. Neither of us wanted our entire existence as a pair to be defined by that crisis alone, though (God, there was so much more than that behind us), so it scared me more now than it would have three years before to be having these flashbacks at such a time.
Stan understood my nerves, helped me gather myself, and kept an arm around me during our entire walk back to my house. I was so ready to make good on his offer to get drunk and watch horrible TV. Canadian soap operas could cure any bad mood or nerve-wracking situation. Especially this one we'd just gotten invested in that had the Queef Sisters playing a lesbian couple who didn't know they were actually long-lost twins, and then I think one of them got a concussion or something and the other one got pregnant by the milkman (because they still have milkmen in Canada, apparently), and oh, dear God, it's terrible. Clyde watched it high once and didn't stop laughing for two hours. Yeah, that shit could distract me.
No. Because as soon as we came within distance to my house, some kid, a guy who seemed barely fifteen, was shoving something into the mailbox. I was boiling over once I noticed that, and probably would have lost it and at least gotten a punch in on the kid had Stan not held me back. So all I could manage was a holler of, "What the fuck?"
I could have sworn I recognized this one. Couldn't completely tell, though. I didn't know the kids in town very well anymore, not the ones below Ike's grade. Maybe he was someone's younger brother or something, but more than just the circular Ginger pin the accurately-labeled kid was wearing gave me a sense of unease. Not to mention the threat of another flashback. Because I was just so Goddamn skittish at this point, my head was going haywire.
I clenched my fists in an attempt to control myself, and the kid flashed me a pasty-faced grin before he walked away. Stan opened his mouth to console—or possibly help control—me, but I was beyond irate and didn't even want to listen. I just wanted to confirm that another letter had just been shoved into my mailbox.
Fuming but terrified, I shrugged Stan's arm off of me and stormed up to the mailbox to tear it open. That mailbox seemed to be getting less cluttered by the year, what with how quickly my parents had gone digital with their bills and newsletters, mostly at Ike's pressuring, so opening it up was like brushing back growth from the mouth of a cave. The domed metal box was empty but for the letter.
My hands were shaking when I drew it out, and when I turned it over to see that ominous wax seal, I couldn't breathe for a good five seconds. I bit my lower lip, halfway between wanting to call the cops and wanting to just burn the thing and get drunk and forget about it. "Okay," I said when I could finally draw in a breath again. "I'm not just mad anymore. This is fucking terrifying."
Stan walked up in front of me, and held a hand out. I could tell that he was trying to be calm, which I appreciated, but at the same time, when Stan faked one emotion, it was hard to tell what he was really thinking. That bothered me, since I could normally read him so well; I've always been able to. But when he's putting something on, I find myself wanting more and more to know the truth. If he was as petrified as I was, in this instance, or if he thought I was over-reacting.
I surrendered the letter to his open palm, and Stan held it up to the sun. "Shit, man, it's really thick paper," he said. "But it's all typed up, I can see that much. So I doubt it's a personal letter."
"Maybe you should just open it," Stan shrugged. He held the envelope between us again, easily able to read that I didn't want to be touching it anymore. If he could read that, though, why suggest I open it? Or maybe he was offering to open it for me. Not that I wanted that, exactly, either. "It's probably just some stupid chainmail thing and they'll stop once you open the envelope."
"Nobody sends chainmail anymore, Stan," I reminded him. "Especially sealed in wax. And no, I don't want to open it. This is fucking disturbing. It's gone from weird to disturbing, dude. I don't want to open it on my own."
He cast me a look. "Kyle."
"Stan, I want to open it at the base."
Stan stared at me for a moment, then looked down at the envelope, then back at me; envelope, me, envelope, me, then finally commented, "Dude."
"I know it sounds stupid, but did you catch anything kind of strange about the people we've seen try to hand this off to me?" I said, folding my arms in defiance against the situation. "Plus, the pins, and…"
His normally serene blue eyes went wide with shock. "They were all…"
"They were all Gingers, Stan," I said as I huffed out a breath.
Stan paused for a second, then pinched the bridge of his nose and stood back. "No. No, no, no," he said, groaning a bit. "Oh, my God, no. This is… that happened a long time ago, and this has nothing to do with—or, I mean, it shouldn't…"
"Look, Stan," I said firmly, "I don't want my summer to be ruined by people trying to hand me something they're calling an 'invitation.' And to be honest, you know what? I wouldn't put this whole thing past Cartman for orchestrating, either."
"Dude, he doesn't do that shit anymore."
"Not as much," I agreed, "but still…"
"You want to call a meeting before just confronting Cartman?" Stan asked warily.
"Ugh, that asshole will just deny, deny, deny, but I know for a fact he tells the truth around Kenny," I pointed out. "Swear to God, Kenny's the only one who can make real threats on him." Because Kenny had the authority to kick people out of the League. Even Cartman knew that. Technically, Kenny and Cartman started the League, albeit not for the same purposes, back in fourth grade. The latter had learned the value of teamwork as the years went on, but the former was still cautious. We may have started out as 'Coon and Friends,' but we didn't just call ourselves the 'Shadow League' now for nothing. This was Kenny's turf, and besides, if there was any kind of Ginger cult resurrection going on, we had the power to find out about it.
Stan sighed. "Okay. We'll call a meeting. Fine. Kenny'll love it, anyway."
I took in a deep breath, and was finally able to smile. "Thanks, Stan," I said, a little cautiously.
"No problem." He tapped the letter into his free palm a couple times, chewed the inside of his cheek in contemplation, then looked me right in the eyes and asked, "You wanna talk to Kenny now, don't you?"
"Yeah, I kinda do."
"All right." Stan held onto the letter with one hand, and wrapped the other around me as we began to walk back toward town. "Let's figure this whole thing out as quickly as we can, huh?"
"Mm, please," I agreed. "Thanks for not thinking I'm totally nuts about this."
"No, you brought up good points," Stan let me know. "I just… it did happen a long time ago."
"Yeah, but this damn town can't just let shit die."
We were, of course, referring to an uprising which was… well, to be honest, partially our fault.
Prior to becoming the Coon (and even several, several times after), our cockroach of an acquaintance, Eric Cartman, had undergone several missions of, shall we say, 'purging.' In order to prove himself right and superior about just about everything, he went as far as to attempt genocide a few different times, including—but not limited to—getting rid of both Jews and Gingers. I happen to be Jewish, as previously stated, and, while not Ginger exactly (I can tan, thank you very much… and I like to think that that has nothing to do with my mom being from Jersey, since that's a gene I hate bringing up), my red hair was enough to make 'Ginger' another label Cartman constantly tried to rip on me for.
I was still sour about a lot of the shit he'd attempted to use to make me feel inferior, but at the same time, the sheer consistency of that stupid brand of bullying kept me tough throughout school, and the Ginger fiasco was one of my attempts to get back at Cartman. Give him a taste of his own medicine. It hadn't worked. It hadn't worked, and had resulted in first his banding together all of the Ginger kids in town into a purist cult of their own, and secondly in his discovering that the father he'd had killed (who, incidentally, had also been a part of the Cult of Cthulhu) was Ginger as well.
This Goddamn town. I tell you.
So, no. No, I would not have put it past Cartman to try to be rustling up something from the past to get me all pissed about something or other. I mean, the timing was impeccable. Just before graduating? Of course. He'd left the rest of us alone for a pretty long time. Enough time to plot some kind of stupid grand finale.
So the answer was to stop it before it started. Things did, however, prove to be much heavier than we were expecting in this particular situation.
Stan and I caught up with Kenny pretty easily; it was a help that I'd been texting with him earlier, since I knew exactly where he'd be. He tended to shut his phone off while he worked and tuck it away, which was smart, since Kenny's work was more hands-on than any the rest of us did for part-time jobs. He'd gone from painting and detailing throughout high school to nearly full-on contract work with some of the town builders. He worked under the table so as to avoid being taxed, which allowed him the extra after grants to go through school, not to mention help support his sister, and he kind of put some of us to shame, with how hard a worker he'd become.
When we found him, on the street past the rhinoplasty office at which Stan's mother once worked, he was covered in dusty plaster and mixing cement in a five-gallon bucket on the sidewalk. His orange tee-shirt had been stained a few different shades of off-white from both plaster and paint; jeans and sneakers were similarly ruined, but we both knew Kenny loved it. Beneath his plaster-dusted thicket of messy blonde hair, he'd strapped on clear construction goggles, and was wearing a dust mask over his nose and mouth. And, of course, it wouldn't be Kenny if he wasn't muttering some profanity under his breath… in this case, clearly about the rough time the cement was giving him.
"You like that, motherfucker?" he was saying when we came within a couple feet of where he stood. His words came out slightly muffled from the dust mask, and his breath was out of synch as he stirred the troublesome, thick liquid around in the bucket. "Let's go! Let's just fuckin' go!"
"Everything okay, McCormick?" a man called from around the side of the building.
"Shit's almost done!" he called back. "We're gonna wanna pour it fast!"
Stan halted me before I could take another step; I hadn't realized how horribly I'd been paying attention to the actual surroundings until he did. Kenny's work area was surrounded by bright orange cones—he wasn't just working on a building, but the whole sidewalk around it as well.
"Yo, Kenny!" Stan called over.
Without breaking his stirring rhythm, Kenny glanced over at us, and ticked his head in greeting. "What's good, dudes?" he said in response. "Can you hold up like three minutes? I break once this shit's done."
Stan and I nodded, and waited while Kenny and a couple other members of the crew poured the cement into the mould on the sidewalk. Once the job was done, Kenny thrust both fists high in the air in full success and congratulations. The foreman passed our friend a stack of bills and slapped him on the back; Kenny then passed back his goggles and mask, liberated his hair of some of the dusty plaster, picked up a beaten rucksack, and walked over to meet up with us.
"'Sup, guys?" he grinned, stuffing his cash into his wallet before digging into one of the pockets of his bag.
"Dude, you smell fucking dank," I commented, turning my face away.
"No shit, right?" Kenny laughed. Luckily, the thing he was rummaging for turned out to be spray deodorant.
"Close to shit."
"Play nice," he smirked as he liberally doused himself in aerosol deodorant. "And now I'm the man you wish your man smelled like."
"Stan smells fine, and shut up," I said, even though Stan was laughing at this point. I probably would have been, too, had I not been so wound-up with nerves.
"Now look at my hand, what do I have?" Kenny said, still bastardized-quoting the ads that had run for damn long enough by now. He flipped me off. "It's that bird you like."
"Fuck yourself hard, Kenny. Do you have a minute?"
"I've got a few. Come on."
"Wait, I thought you said you got a break," I noted.
"Yeah," said Kenny, "between this job and my next one. Walk with me."
Stan and I shrugged at each other and walked on Kenny's right as he checked traffic (quite less frantically than he used to, but still with plenty of caution) and crossed to head further into town. "Dude, do you have time off?" Stan asked.
"Some. You should know." Well, that was a given; any time Kenny wasn't working was spent either with his girlfriend or being Mysterion. (Or probably both sometimes, as far as we knew.) "What's goin' on? Planning something?"
"Honestly?" I said. "I want to call a meeting."
"Like, as soon as we can."
Kenny stopped abruptly, and turned to look directly at me. He passed his quizzical blue-eyed gaze between me and Stan, nearly every trace of his previous carelessness gone. "What's going on, guys?" he asked, his tone much more stern.
I glanced around to make sure we were alone on the sidewalk, then tapped Stan's arm a couple of times. Stan's own nerves were finally coming out into the open as he handed the sealed envelope to Kenny. "This is the fourth one someone's tried to pass off to Kyle today," he said.
"The fourth wha—oh… shit…" Kenny said, his face growing pale as he looked over the envelope.
"What?" Stan wondered. I couldn't even move, let alone think or speak. "Kenny, what's 'oh shit?' Kenny? Dude?"
"What time is it?" Kenny asked out of the blue.
"That a trick question?" Stan asked. Kenny shook his head, and Stan consulted his phone. "Uh… six-thirty?"
"Fuck," Kenny muttered. "Keep followin'." We did as he asked, and Kenny kept his pace down the sidewalk, his eyes staring straight forward as he said, "Guys, I wanna keep talking, but I can't blow off this job. Hundred bucks for this one gig and Karen needs it to pay the rest of her room and board next year. Shit. Meeting. Yes."
"Kenny, do you know what this letter is?" I wondered, my heart fluttering half with excitement and half with anxiety as an answer became something slightly more within my reach.
"Can't say I know exactly," Kenny let out on a single breath. He rounded one last corner, then ticked his chin up at a man seated outside a new-looking office building. Cans of paint lay in front of the building's door; Kenny exchanged a few words with the man, who promised him pay at the end of the night, and then our friend set down his bag, picked up a can of brown paint and began to do some detail work around a window to the right of the door.
"Kenny!" I said, stressing his name as I attempted to remember how to breathe.
"I dunno what's in the envelope, either," he finally told us, completely focused on his paint job. "But yeah. We need to have a meeting about it. Luckily, tomorrow's Wednesday. Don't open it till we're all together, okay?"
"Wasn't planning on it, but…"
"Don't chuck it, either."
"Kenny," Stan said, his voice sounding tense, "you do think it's a good idea to do this at a meeting?"
"Uh, yeah," said Kenny, looking right at us, "actually, I think that's a great idea."
"Really?" I wondered. "Why?"
Kenny's expression went grave, and he turned back to continue detailing the outer wall of his current project building. With each precise stroke, he seemed to be having a different thought, but he stopped, with a need for more paint as well as a need to speak, and finally answered, "Red keeps getting them, too."
– – –
The Shadow League. God, I still love saying it. There's so much for all of us to be proud of, those of us who had taken part in that.
We've known, for a while now, that not all of us would be able to let that part of our lives go. It had been an understanding over the past few years, since high school graduation, that, if we were physically able, each and every one of us would always be there to help out the Shadow League in whatever way possible. Thank God we hadn't let it go. I shudder to think what may have happened to the contrary, honestly. South Park relied on us and needed us, and… I mean, sure, not all of us would be around forever, but whenever we could, we'd answer any call. A part of me will always be the Human Kite. A part of Stan will always be Toolshed. That's just the way things have been, and the way things will be.
Led by Mysterion, the crew was rounded out at the end of junior year by the two of us, plus the following: Clyde Donovan, as Mosquito, more or less the second in command; Eric Cartman, as the Coon; Token Black, as TupperWear; Wendy Testaburger, as Marpesia; Timmy Burch, as Iron Maiden; my brother, Ike, as Red Serge; and Karen McCormick, as the Guardian Angel, a hero who first had watched over the streets of Salt Lake City before Karen once again relocated to South Park after a stint at private school. And then there was Craig. Craig did not want an alter ego, but we needed him. He was just… Craig. And he was really, really good at almost anything he tried.
During our senior year of high school, we had added on two adjunct members: Kenny and Clyde's respective significant others. Red did not want an alter ego, primarily because she idealized Mysterion so much and did not want to overstep boundaries, but she was something of a liaison to us, since she had a talent for keeping her ear out for the right kinds of information. It helped that one of the only two female cops on the South Park force (ridiculous, I know!) was an avid shopper at the dressmaker for whom Red worked… and more fortunate still that this woman tended to talk about her day quite often, or let fly a few things while on the phone with her husband, or would simply still be wearing her radio. And Red always had a pen at the ready.
Bebe, too, was quick to take in information where she could, and, having been one of the convicted insane during the Cthulhu crisis, had put forth even more of an effort to help, to the point of adopting an identity of her own, since she would sometimes communicate with us over our hidden wires and didn't want her name spoken on the job. To the League, Bebe was Delphi, a literal oracle who kept our records and files in order, and who took over archival duties during my brother's stints abroad. She had joined her best friend Wendy in turning to classical mythology for hero names, and the two were a pretty damn good team.
Last and most certainly not least, there was Butters Stotch. Or Marjorine Stotch, depending on how he or she felt that day. Butters had been renting a room from Wendy's parents since the end of the Cthulhu crisis, when he had left two very important parts of his life behind. The first was his childhood home. He had not spoken to his parents, as far as any of us knew, since the day he'd gone out on his own. All the better for him, though; we were all impressed, and kind of proud.
The second thing Butters had left behind, having been used by another of Cthulhu's ilk, a creature by the name of Nyarlathotep, and by his own partner in very literal crime, was one of his alter egos. We had not seen nor heard anything of Professor Chaos since his retirement that year. Mysterion had even made a public statement, at Butters's request, on the topic of Chaos's end. Butters had been in and out of League meetings for a while after that, and had become a member with a much different spin than Chaos by the end of the summer leading up to high school senior year.
After Stan and I talked with Kenny, we checked around with the others and set the meeting for an early dinner time the following day, being a time that all of us were able to get together at once. Tradition had seen us meeting regularly on Wednesday nights, so we'd kept those free throughout college (even away at school, we'd meet on occasion), and this particular meeting was no different.
Wednesday was one of my full days off, and it seemed like this was the right summer to have Thursdays clear, too, if we were going to have to start pulling long nights. So much for balancing work and play.
Kenny, Timmy, Token and Wendy were at the base behind Token's house first, and Stan and I arrived at the same time Clyde showed up with Bebe. Clyde was looking pretty ecstatic; he had taken his superhero persona almost as seriously as Kenny always had, feeling that it was his way of really doing good.
"Yo!" Clyde greeted, as we four made our way through the coded gate that led onto the path which then twined through trees to the land on which the base stood. "Kyle, Stan, what's goin' on, guys?"
"I'd say not much, but…" I said, attempting to laugh.
"Dude, I heard about the letters, that sucks," said Clyde.
"Red's freaking out," Bebe added. "If I were her, I'd've called out of work today. Poor girl."
"But, hey," Clyde said to her, clearly enthused, "Shadow League's on it, babe, we got this. Gonna be a hell of a summer if we're on a mission, huh?"
"Dunno how you can be this excited about possible terrorist threats," I commented with a tiny bit of humor, "but at least we won't be bored."
"There ya go," Clyde laughed, smacking me on the back. Clyde had made it somewhat of a personal mission to make sure I didn't go supremely anal-retentive on the apartment, to the point that we joked back and forth about just how much of an elitist perfectionist I could—sometimes not-so-jokingly—be. Stan would step in when it got too stupid, or Bebe would haul Clyde off on some spur-of-the-moment date or another, but things remained friendly for us.
Things were pretty friendly for just about everyone in the League. We were lucky that way.
The four of us caught up with the four already at the base… Token and Wendy in particular, since we saw them so rarely. The two were very good friends (very, very good friends, it seemed, given that Token kept on touching Wendy's shoulder, or that Wendy would purposefully brush against him) even after their breakup two years prior. It was sad when they broke up, and kind of weird to meet their new flames the summer before this one (Token's in person and Wendy's over v-chat on her iPhone), but things seemed to be working back around. Seemed to be, anyway. I didn't know all of the details, but both of them were allegedly single again.
The breakup was mostly odd for us to think about due to just how close they'd become during the Cthulhu battle. I mean, Kenny and Red were solid as anything after that; Stan and I were closer than ever; Ike and Karen had started a spark; hell, Clyde and Bebe were engaged.
To each their own, though. To each their own.
After we'd arrived, Craig wandered in from the back yard (where he couldn't have been smoking since it wasn't allowed around the base, so what he was up to I had no idea), followed by my brother, having finished doing some paperwork for our dad at his law firm. Ike, fifteen and about to be a senior, had decided on taking the law route, while I'd diverted in favor of majoring in engineering. Despite having truly entered his teenage years, Ike hadn't grown much, nor had he really filled out at all. I never, ever pulled the 'sorry, dude, you're Canadian' excuse against him, but I mean, no one can outrun their genetics.
Jeez, was that ever a statement for that whole damn summer.
Ike said his hellos, gave Kenny his dinner order, and traipsed down the hallway from the living room area at the front of the base in which we'd be getting started straight to the back, where Timmy could be found, as almost always, getting a head start on the databases in the back.
Karen pulled in under-the-table money herself at a couple of different jobs in town, primarily waitressing, though she was also a pretty active dog walker and part-time barista as well. She happened to have waitressing shifts on Wednesday afternoons, and was therefore often in charge of quite literally bringing home the bacon for Kenny. And all of us. The restaurant at which she worked had an extensive menu of sandwiches, wraps and burgers, so Kenny would text her our orders before her shift ended, and we'd be ensured a damn good, not to mention cheap, dinner.
There was one among us, though, who would text Kenny about four times throughout the day when he knew there was going to be a meeting, just to make damn fucking sure he got his fucking food, and that was Eric Cartman. Floor manager at an electronics store in town, he oddly enough worked a lot (because he liked ordering people around, probably), and showed up only about half an hour before Karen was scheduled to get off of work.
The rest of us were all communing and catching up over sodas (or, for Bebe and Wendy, sparkling water, since the girls had apparently sworn off of soda… and we didn't touch alcohol during meetings), when Cartman made his entrance, calling out, "Hey, assholes, this better be good," before even so much as 'hello.'
Bebe and Wendy shared a sort of 'well that was fun while it lasted' glance, but all of us went on acting like Cartman's douchebaggery didn't affect us. For the most part, it didn't, but he kept on trying every now and then.
All of us were more or less in a circle, all on the floor, when he walked in; Kenny was texting Red like crazy and was more or less removed from initial conversation, so Clyde took on his co-leader role and tried to keep an open atmosphere.
"Hey, man," Clyde greeted Cartman, who gave a bit of a wave in response. "Where's Butters? We just need him, Red and Karen to start."
"How the fuck should I know?" Cartman spat back. "Food here yet?"
"Um, not yet," said Bebe, which marked this as probably only the third time in the past few years she actually said something in direct response to Eric Cartman, since she'd been of the 'ignore him and he'll go away' crowd for a long time. "I don't get why you have to be such an asshole to Butters, though. Isn't he your—"
"He's a little bitch, and it's really none of your business, 'kay?"
Stan and I shared a glance, and shared an eye roll with Kenny. We didn't hang out with Butters all that much at school, since he'd almost immediately started running in different circles (which was good for him, though), and Cartman had gone to a different college entirely, but every damn summer it seemed like the same thing: one was pissed at the other for God knows what reason, and hell if I knew if they'd ever actually been officially together. Like Cartman would ever admit it if they were.
The thing was, Cartman used people the way anyone else would use toilet bowl cleaner: when it suited him to do so, and only to keep himself from wading in his own shit. Apparently, this was a 'Butters can piss off' month, or week, or day, or span of twelve seconds, and this was just something else added to the routine of why none of us could expect anything natural from the guy none of us had ever really bothered to call by his first name.
I heard Bebe mutter something to Clyde, and he responded by changing the subject. "Stan, dude, any calls on the Broncos this year?"
"All or nothin', man," Stan grinned back, very clearly glad for the change of pace. "Fuckin' Pats are going down before the Superbowl."
"For once," Clyde laughed.
Kenny swept a hand over his head to indicate that the football jargon was way too much for him, and left the room temporarily to answer the next knock that came. Given how long he stayed at the door, I knew that it was Red.
When she walked in, hand in hand with Kenny, Red seemed a bit shaken. No kidding. She'd been getting letters, as well. The same sort I had been bombarded with. Probably since I hadn't thrown this one away, no others had come, but I was still being cautious, and had been kind of a mess during the day, even with Stan keeping his eyes out for problems around corners as well.
Red struck up a normal enough conversation with the other girls right off, though, so we could at least keep a semi-controlled air for a while yet. When, a few minutes later, Marjorine showed up, things remained fine, even with Cartman shooting her highly unnecessary death glares every few minutes. After all, we were only four days into summer, and this was, some strain aside, a pretty damn solid group of friends. Our team, now into our twelfth active year (holy shit), had benefited immensely from how tight we'd always been… and reciprocally, we were all still close with each other with plenty of thanks to the League's existence.
Karen came through the front door after her shift was over, her arms piled with bags and boxes of burgers, sandwiches, and waffle fries enough to feed an army, proclaiming, "Kenny, you've gotta stop using me for food!"
Kenny looked up from where he sat on the couch, and flashed his sister a big, white grin before hopping up to help her with her load. "I'm not using you, sis, you know that," he assured her, giving her a pat on the head while Karen helped Marjorine kick Cartman away from the food before he could descend upon it like the miserable vulture he was. "We pay and we tip, right guys?"
There were some grumbles—Clyde and Cartman—but overall affirmation of Kenny's statement as each of us coughed up what we owed Karen and then some. Token always slipped her a tip, too, even though Karen continuously refused his money, despite his being the richest of all of us, simply because he was letting her stay at the base as her home. Kenny and Karen had lived at the base—so, technically, with the Black family—for quite some time, having separated from their parents and older brother (and for good reason), and it was still where Kenny primarily made camp on his vacations home from school, when he wasn't staying with his girlfriend, since he felt so responsible for his sister.
"Thanks," Karen smiled, pocketing her tips before she could count them, since she never liked dealing with money in front of others. "You guys're worth lugging all this stuff, though. I'm gonna go change. Kenny, don't let fatass eat my food!"
"We'll keep him in a barrier," Kenny laughed, waving to his sister.
"Oh, hey, Ike's back in the meeting room," I added before Karen could leave, "just so you know."
"Thanks, Kyle!" my brother's girlfriend grinned back. "See you guys in a few. I mean it about my food!""
Cartman huffed out a breath and, while chomping down on his first of two loaded burgers, hungrily eyed the cardboard boxes meant for the other two. "She didn't say anything about Ike's," he just had to say.
"Goddammit, dude, choke down your own shit first," Token reprimanded him.
"There's crackers and cheese if you, like, need something later," Kenny added, "but for fuck's sake, man, seriously."
"Oh, whatever," Cartman grumbled.
"Chew with your mouth closed," Marjorine added, ripping off a corner of her sandwich.
Cartman muttered out another, "Whatever," pretended to ignore her, and went back to his food.
By this point, we'd all pretty much settled in: Token, Clyde and Bebe sat on the sofa against the wall that faced the TV, while Stan had surrendered the most comfortable beanbag chair in the world to me, on the condition that he could lean against my right knee as a makeshift chair; Kenny, Red, Wendy and Craig had admitted to being fine sitting on the floor; Cartman had taken the armchair directly across from the beanbag, and when Marjorine had been shunned from his lap to make way for things he didn't make a fuss over putting in his mouth she stole a pillow from behind her reluctant friend and used that as her floor cushion beside Wendy. Timmy was positioned near the hall that would lead directly back to the meeting room, and Ike and Karen both sat on the floor under the TV, both more interested in each other than their food. I couldn't help but try to sneak glances at them when I could—being out of town, Kenny and I missed out on a lot of the fun of spying on our siblings' relationship.
"So, hey," said Kenny, biting down on the straw of the cream soda Karen had brought for him, "mind if we get down to business right now? This shit's bugging me, man."
"Dude, I'm all for getting right into a meeting, too," Clyde mentioned, "but fuck, Kenny, can we eat like, two bites?"
Kenny relented. "Sure, man, sorry. Shit just gets to me, though, y'know?"
"Also, you're stoked to get the League back up and running, right?" Stan accurately guessed.
"Oh, like you wouldn't believe, dude," Kenny grinned.
"Oh, no, we believe you," I laughed for both Stan and myself, leaning down to steal one of Stan's sweet potato fries.
"Dude, if you like the sweet potato ones so much, why not order them yourself?" my boyfriend reprimanded me, giving me that little glare he tries to put on whenever I go into what he has dubbed 'hypocrite mode.' ('Hypocrite mode' also includes: me saying I'm too tired to go out and then getting a second wind once Stan's dead set on staying in, me admitting to liking 'just this one song… okay also this one' from artists I otherwise claim to hate, and me not voicing an opinion on something until after the decision has been made.)
"I just want, like, two," I said, chomping down on the one I'd stolen.
"You're gonna be diving back for more in five minutes, I bet you," Stan fake-groaned, passing another, smaller one up to me.
"This one's tiny, that doesn't count."
"Oh, my God. Okay. Here."
Stan made a show of rolling his eyes, feigning irritation, and scooped up a handful of his fries, which were then surrendered to the open lid of my own cardboard takeout box.
I grinned and laughed a little, then ruffled his hair as I said an overly sweet, "Thank you."
"Mmhmm." Stan glanced up at me, put on a sideways smirk, and said, "You're lucky you're cute." In accurate retaliation, I leaned down and forward to give him a kiss, which he gladly returned.
I mussed with his hair again before I sat back up in the beanbag chair in order to eat and give my full attention to the quasi-meeting at hand.
I had to admit, even though we were sure to find ourselves entangled in a mess the likes of which we had not known in quite some time, I was glad to be there. The situation was laced with nostalgia, but we really were going to need all the help we could get.
"So, Red," I started, "you've been getting letters, too?"
"Yeah," she answered nervously, cuddling up into Kenny's side. "At first I thought it was some kind of awful joke, but then they just kept coming."
"I know, right?" I complained. "When did yours start coming?"
"Two days ago," Red told me. She picked up a stray piece of shredded carrot out of her takeout box and gnawed on the end of it as she worked herself through the issue. "You?"
"Yesterday," I sighed. I felt Stan lean a little more against my right leg, and place his hand around my ankle, at just the same time Kenny started to pat back his girlfriend's long, firey hair.
Red's hair had always been her signature. While I just sort of happen to have lightish red hair as a result of getting a lot of the little genetic details out of my mother's side of the family, Red had straight hair of a deep enough red hue for it to provide her with a nickname she favored over the name she'd been given at birth. She'd been one of only a couple of girls with red hair in our grade, let alone our school, and made it kind of clear that she was very proud of it.
Right now, though, it seemed like her favorite quality was going to be giving her more trouble than anyone deserved.
"Sorry to hear you've been getting them, too," I said.
"Well, you, too," Red returned to me. "What was really scary was that before they started coming in my mailbox, people were handing them to me on the street!"
"Were they," Red asked cautiously, "you know… um… Gingers?"
"What?" Cartman perked up.
"Oh, Lord," I groaned, pinching the bridge of my nose in frustration.
"No, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but who called it?" said Cartman. "Right here. Me. I said they were gonna strike again. I said—"
"No celebrating yet," Kenny snapped at him. "You're on the list of suspects for sending these."
"Aye!" Cartman spat back. "Kenny, why would I have any reason to harass Red and Kyle, huh?"
"Let me count the ways," Stan mumbled.
"Stan, can you shut up? Me and Kenny are talking."
"No, you're arguing," Wendy cut in. I looked up, patted Stan's shoulder as thanks for his interference, and gave Wendy my attention. Despite the fact that she was focused on her hummus wrap, her proverbial quills were pointed at Cartman. "Before the issue was accurately addressed, at that," Wendy continued.
"So, let's accurately address the issue," Token said smoothly, playing the unbiased party, which was something he'd always been fairly good at.
There was a bit of an air of disquiet in the room, but I could feel that most of the hidden curious glances from our friends around the circle were being directed at either me or Red at any given moment.
Then again, we were the conversation. We were the two redheads in the room, and we were the ones getting the letters from people wearing pins that marked them as Gingers. Which did make me feel uncomfortable and which got weirder to talk about the longer both Red and I recalled our individual—and, eerily, not so different—experiences with being handed what was clearly some sort of propaganda.
"This is so weird," Karen commented, once both Red and I had said our share, and others, mostly Kenny, had offered some input and reaction to the situation. "Honestly, and… I mean, Ike and Timmy, you guys can back me up on this…"
"Timmy," said Timmy; one of the few things he'd ever really been able to say. He was easily understood, though, and a very patient person. And, come to think of it, I realized, he had reddish-blonde hair. Why wasn't he getting letters?
"Yeah," said Ike, "like the fact that there haven't been any rallies, or anything like that. Plus, I mean, our database plus the stuff that comes through Dad's office, Kyle…"
"Yeah?" I wondered.
"All I'm saying is," my brother shrugged, "there has been literally no uprising, or anything. No cultish activity."
"Any mention of Scott Tenorman?"
Everyone turned to look at Cartman, who had spoken. He smirked, glad to have all of the attention in the room for the time being, and lounged back into the armchair, crossing one leg over the other. "Scott Tenorman," he continued, "has been locked up for years, but… there's always the chance…"
"He's under really, really heavy lock," Kenny interrupted. "When the insanity crap was going on a few years ago, he was already there, and he's not getting out."
"We sure about this?"
"Last I did the rounds at the asylum," said Karen, sternly, "Tenorman was still there."
"God, the guy must be, like, what, almost thirty by now?" Clyde pointed out. "No fuckin' way he'd still care about—"
"Oh, no, he does." And cue everyone getting whiplash for turning to look at Marjorine now. She looked a little guilty as she picked off a piece of bread crust and rolled it between her index finger and thumb. Butters himself had a few nervous ticks, but as Marjorine was able to bottle and control them… for the most part. Every now and then, she'd twist or tug her hair, or pick at her food as was happening now. When that happened, it was full indication that Butters was nervous about something. Full indication that we needed to listen.
"And you know this how?" Kenny wondered.
"Don't you dare," Cartman muttered down to Marjorine.
Marjorine pursed her lips and continued. "People at the asylum are allowed to write letters if they're 'capable' enough," she said. "Wh-when I was, y'know, when I was Chaos, back in like eighth grade, I'd do stupid stuff like go to the asylum and switch who the letters were gettin' mailed to. D-dumb Chaos stuff."
"Wait," I said before anyone else could make a move. I set my food down and leaned over my knees, trying to get Marjorine's full attention. "Wait, Marjorine, is that still true? They can write letters from the asylum?" Red and Bebe gasped. "Then of course, guys, of…"
"It's sealed with a T, after all," Red added.
"Aaaaaand mark that as something so obvious I feel kinda stupid," Kenny grumbled.
"I dunno, fellas," said Marjorine. "I mean, well, maybe, but they can only write one letter at a time."
"So he sent one to someone who mass-produced it, maybe," Stan offered.
"I dunno," Marjorine went on nervously, "see… Scott always sends his letters to—"
"Okay!" Cartman interrupted, stretching his arms above his head and drawing out his word just in case Marjorine had continued speaking. "Anyone have any more food they wanna donate to me? Marjorine, that includes you."
"I wasn't finished—"
"So if you're not finished, gimme your food."
"I mean I wasn't finished talk—"
"I'm wasting away here."
"SCOTT TENORMAN ALWAYS SENDS HIS LETTERS TO LIANE CARTMAN!" Marjorine shouted.
To Eric Cartman's mother. The woman who had slept with… well, with at least half of the town, male and female alike, but most importantly in this case with Jack Tenorman, Scott's father, in order to bring that lousy loudmouthed fatass bastard into the world. Tenorman had tried to get back at Cartman before for having his parents killed, of course, but in the League, we had not heard from him in a very, very long time. To the point that we'd nearly forgotten about him altogether.
"Weak," Cartman muttered.
"And now I'm fucking concerned," Kenny commented.
"No! Really! I'm fucking concerned. Why the hell wouldn't you tell us that unless you're hiding something, too?" Kenny snapped across the room at Cartman. "Jesus Christ!"
"I appreciate the compliment, but I'm not Jesus, Marjorine is just being a whiny bitch, I'm still hungry, and I'm not hiding anything," Cartman lashed out.
"Because you sent these, didn't you?" I accused him.
"I did not!"
"And how the heck're you still hungry?" Marjorine muttered.
"Maybe cuz I'm still starving after that year you fucked up my diet."
"Oh, that's not even close to true."
"You tried to kill me!" Cartman snapped.
"I made you eat, what, a salad a week?" Marjorine hollered back. "For God's sake, Cartman, it's not gonna kill you to have a couple healthy meals."
The fatass reeled, but relented. Marjorine shot him a scowl and went back to ripping off small pieces of her sandwich.
"…Would so, bitch," Cartman muttered.
"Okay, that does it!" Despite the attire, Butters dropped his voice to its unpracticed, natural octave (which wasn't much lower than Marjorine's glide, but it was a significant difference), set down the meal, stood and grabbed Cartman by the shoulder, free hand set to strike.
"Jesus Christ, guys, both of you, fucking cut it the fuck out!" Kenny shouted. The command echoed throughout the room. "For crying out loud! What happened to leave shit at the door?"
"Thought that was just for meetings," Cartman shot at Kenny.
Which did not settle well. "Fine. Then we're starting the meeting."
Clyde, Stan and I groaned, and I saw Token shoot the arguing pair a warning glance that clearly read that he still technically owned the land and could have them both kicked off if he so chose. "Groan all you want, guys, we've gotta get started," Kenny said, clapping his hands together twice. "We can bring the food, we've just gotta talk business. And you two," he added, as Butters smoothed down his skirt and turned in a huff away from Cartman, "I am honestly fucking warning you. Don't bring your own shit into this. Leave it, because like it or not, we're a team, and you're probably gonna end up a recon pair, so fucking suck it up and let's go."
We did all sort of have to admit that, given that we had been on the subject prior to the ridiculous squabbling that followed, the next logical step for the evening was to move things back to the primary meeting room.
While the base had everything we could have needed and more—including a small kitchen, rooms small enough to be cramped into one long hallway but large enough to house a little bed for almost all of us (primarily used as personal changing areas), a detailed and well-organized cloak room, and that nice entrance room, the main attraction, as it were, was the enormous room in the back. It was home to Kenny, Clyde and Bebe's years worth of archives, to the computer system that I had set up long ago and that Ike and Timmy had been constantly perfecting, to our current missions and past achievements.
Though the League had grown quite large, there was still sort of an unspoken but well-understood 'main team,' and within that, we had pairs or groups of three that tended to work well together. Mysterion often worked alone, though it was not uncommon for him to pair with the Guardian Angel, now. Red Serge got his time on the field while the rest of us were away, but once us senior members returned, he tended to hang back in order to monitor field activity from his computers. Delphi was with us on rare occasions, but mainly kept her work to the side; Bebe was not often seen in the meeting hall, nor was Red.
But that night, extra chairs were added to our long rectangular table, at which Mysterion, Mosquito and Angel took turns at the head. I had led a meeting only once before, and it had been during the Cthulhu crisis. While Kenny was dead. Incidentally, while Stan was dead as well. The two had gone through Purgatory and R'lyeh before our Goth confidante Henrietta was able to bring them back, and for one meeting, I had stepped in as Mysterion.
I hadn't thought I'd ever have a reason to lead a meeting again, but it was Kenny's idea to call me to the head of the table that evening. Oddly enough, the thing that bothered me most was how far away I was sitting from my brother; I wanted to gauge his reactions to this a little better. He and I hadn't had a chance to talk about the letters, yet, not with our mother breathing down his neck about his college applications, or down mine about grad school. As brothers go, we were luckily pretty close… and when it came to League-related things, I always wanted his opinion.
Ike and Timmy were stationed down at the main control for their computer system, which was spread out over one entire wall of the huge room. Beside them sat Bebe with her notepad, and then Wendy with hers. Then Cartman, and then Token; Stan sat directly across from Ike, and on his left were Craig, then Butters, and Karen, and then Clyde. Red normally would occupy the 'guest' seat at the other end, but was now standing beside me, and in the seat closest to the head was Kenny, who gave us the floor.
"Not that much else really needs to be said," I began, "but here's the letter in question."
I had left it in the cloak room prior to the start of the meeting proper, and had a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer in my pocket just in case, since I felt like I wanted to be handling that damn thing with gloves.
"Here's mine," Red added, sheepishly holding up a twin to my own. The same self-important scrawling had done up her name on the front, and no other labels could be seen other than the red wax seal with the Gothic script T on the back.
I glanced down at her, where she stood on my left, and saw just how disturbed she appeared to be. All color seemed to have drained from her face, and she was not smiling, which was an odd thing for that girl. Red was always so upbeat and confident; she knew who she was and I knew that that was something Kenny loved about her, and since I'd come to know her so well, I felt distraught and almost a little responsible for her in that moment. I had more experience with things like this; I could handle it.
"I'm happy to open mine first," I offered, "if that helps. Or do you want to do this together?"
Red shook her head. "Let's just get this over with and see what they want."
"All right." I picked my head back up to address the group, and said, "Thanks for agreeing to a meeting about this, guys. It disturbed me when the letters started coming, but now that we've made the Tenorman connection, I'd say we're already pretty well on our way to sorting this out and getting on with our lives. Just in case, though…"
I turned, and pulled forward the long whiteboard on wheels we had stationed against the back wall. There were some things written over it now, in Karen's writing: there had been a heist, apparently, that she and Ike had taken care of last month… something about, based on her notes, a local group using a series of underground tunnels to loot shops and our few museums. Angel and Red Serge had, it appeared, succeeded in blocking up the tunnels and bringing the group to justice, so, no harm in erasing the board. "Karen," I checked just in case, "you done with this?"
"Oh," she said, "yeah, we've got it in the system now anyway, you can erase if you have to."
I took up the eraser that lay on the shelf at the base of the board, cleared us up for a clean slate, and began what I thought was going to be the first of few, if not the only, note sessions. We had been using that whiteboard for God knows how long; ghosts of notes past could be seen underneath the constant erasings (mostly in Clyde's writing, since he bore down so hard with the markers), and there was a hole on the side on my (or, the writer's) right from where, a couple years ago, Kenny had gotten so angry about missing a clue about a serial murderer he'd thrown a shuriken into the whiteboard. At the time, Karen had slapped a Post-It over the hole, but that had long since fallen off, and we hadn't cared to replace it.
Carefully, I uncapped a black felt-tipped marker and wrote at the top of the board, LETTERS. Below and to the left, I began bullet points. The first I wrote was Tenorman? Then, after scribbling in a second black dot beside which I'd eventually continue the notes, I turned back to face the group and said, "Here we go. Let's just see how involved this whole thing is."
"Okay," said Red, inhaling deeply.
I took a survey of the others in the room prior to ripping open my wax-sealed letter. No doubt about it… whatever anyone was trying to project, I still saw anticipation. In everybody present. No one could hide it.
Secretly or not-so-secretly, we did kind of want to be on a huge mission again. Clearing the city of casual crimes was all well and good, and we had been doing our part for a long time, but things hadn't been very involved in a while. Besides… even with his Immortality gone, I knew that Kenny remained cautious. All of us did. After all, that Cult had deep ties to more of us than we had known from the start.
And there was no telling whether or not something dark and otherworldly was still out there waiting for us.
If it began with something as seemingly normal as a terrorist threat from one of our League members' half-brothers, so be it. But I got the idea I wouldn't be feeling this unwell about just anything.
With a singular rip, Red and I opened our letters.
I don't know what I was expecting. Time to stop, or some tentacled R'lyeh beast to bubble up from the ground to tell us "Just kidding!" or what. Nothing in the air changed, nothing strange happened. It was nice to know that, no, there was no anthrax, or anything like that. I'd still wash my hands a few times, but this wasn't chemical warfare.
It was, though, as I had started to speculate on my own, obvious literary propaganda.
"Well?" Clyde prompted.
Another survey of the table. Anticipation still reigned, but Kenny and Stan wore mixed feelings of concern. Wendy and Bebe looked sympathetic. Cartman looked slightly disenchanted, and Marjorine was silently drumming her fingertips on the table. My brother was holding his breath.
I pulled my reading glasses out of my jeans pocket and read over the letterhead once on my own. Enormous, bolded print started it all off: GSM, it read, and underneath each letter were the words for the acronym… Ginger Separatist Movement. I turned to write that as my second bullet point, and turned back in order to read aloud.
"Seems like the envelopes were the only things personalized," I informed the team. "Red, how does your start off?"
"There's no greeting," she said. The same was true for mine. "All it says is, A call to all young, able-bodied Gingers and our carefully-selected red-haired brothers and sisters…"
"Aaaaaand, CULT," said Kenny, slapping a hand down on the table. "Kyle?"
"Agreed," I groaned, writing Cult underneath GSM on the board. "It goes on," I read, "to say… ugh, what is this, who wrote this?"
"Scott Tenorman?" Marjorine offered.
"Maybe, probably, but still…"
It was so fucking flowery; so fucking showy. I felt almost embarrassed for having been afraid of the letters the day before. But the more I read, the more I could see past the flowery language and into the heart of the problem. There was a new cultist uprising, and more than just intuition led me to believe that it wasn't just about the Gingers being purist again. They were on a mission. And if they were hand-selecting letter recipients…
"No doubt about it, guys," I said, gnawing on my lower lip and shaking my head. "They're targeting us."
"Hold up," Stan said angrily. "Does it say why?"
"No," I was able to confirm, looking over the rest of the letter. "At the bottom, it's perforated, and there's a label…"
"Looks like they want us to fill out a form and send it back," Red added.
"It says, More information to come upon your compliance," I read off.
"Compliance to what?" Kenny wanted to know.
"Joining the movement, I guess," I deduced.
"What's it offering you?" asked Cartman.
"Ech. People don't just send out rally letters without askin' for stuff." Yeah, he would know. "What're they offering you if you join?"
"Actually, yeah," Stan said. "Especially if that one guy asked you to invest, Kyle, remember that?"
"Yeah, you're right," I realized. "And it does mention something about paying an entrance fee, though it doesn't tell you how much that is."
"So," Wendy translated, "they want your compliance and your cash to join their stupid cult with no hinted benefits? Yeah, I don't think so."
"No kidding," Red and I answered at the same time.
I was starting to get a headache. Just from having opened the letter at all. But the more we were passing these speculations around, the stronger that feeling became. It wasn't a normal headache and I knew it, but I pretended that it was. Because, for fuck's sake, I'd been able to be normal for the last four years. No big uprisings, nothing too strange… everyday problems to face, ordinary ways of working through them. Headaches that would go away with Advil or an ice pack or green tea.
The lights didn't flicker or anything, but my over-stimulated mind was telling me something. Now that Red and I had opened those letters, the League was on the job. We had to say our goodbyes to any mundaneness we'd been expecting of our final summer before college graduation.
"Well, guys," said Kenny, standing in order to place himself between me and Red at the head of the table, "I think it's obvious that we've got something pretty serious and pretty damn personal on our hands, here. Time to get some investigating done."
"Kenny," said Token, "do you really think this is gonna get big? Like, to Cult extremes?"
"It's a Movement recruiting members, earning money, and doing so mostly without being noticed." He held out his hand, and I surrendered the marker to him. Kenny was better with that sort of thing, anyway. "Tenorman is most likely orchestrating something, and Cartman, we have got to read those letters he's sent to your mom…"
"Goddammit," was the reply.
"But in all honesty, guys, we've got ourselves a case, here. An uprising very clearly targeting two of our members? Sometimes I can't believe in coincidence," Kenny said, almost proudly. "This means somebody probably knows about us, and they're calling us out. So here's my answer."
With that, Kenny turned, drew his signature question mark underneath my scribbled notes, and then, on the blank side of the whiteboard, wrote down the date and the words, Open Case. "What do you say, guys?" he addressed the team, with a trademark grin. "We gonna take this one?"
"Well, I'm in," I sighed. "I just want these stupid letters to not get any worse, and I know the cops aren't gonna do a damn thing."
"I'm on board," Stan added without hesitation.
"So am I," said Karen.
"Right here," added Clyde, throwing one hand up into the air.
One by one, nods were given, affirmations were voiced, summers were sworn away.
"All right, it's settled," said Kenny, underlining Open Case. "Do what you can this week, boys and girls, cuz next Wednesday, it's all about recon. We got this, guys, and we're not gonna take it lightly." He grinned again, emphatically snapped the cap back on the dry-erase marker, and boasted, "The Shadow League's back in action!"
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South Park is -c- Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
Kenny narrates next week! Lots of recapping and catching up in this chapter (and Kyle's my most long-winded narrator...), but next week we'll be diving right in to get the League to work. We'd been considering bringing in Tenorman and the Gingers during the first story, but it was too much... and they're not even the worst of what's coming this time around... ^^
Updates are going to be on Wednesdays again, but not at any particular time of day; I'll make a note on my profile and/or tumblr if I have to postpone. :3 (I'll also try to be less long-winded in my ANs this time haha... but will probably blog thoughts on tumblr now&then.)
Thank you so much for reading~! See you again next Wednesday, June 27th for chapter 2!
~Jizena, and Rosie Denn
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