pt. IV

And that, right there, was about all my mind could handle. I fell to the floor, on my knees, in front of my son, whispering his name over and over again.

My son, my Joey, was going to die - because of me.

And the moment he died - or maybe just before - he was going to pop open like a human seed-pod, and The Damned were going to have a party. Everyone in the building... hell, everyone in the city, for all I knew, was going to die.

And it was all because of me.

To this day, I still don't know what I might have done if things hadn't gone the way they had: I was too gone to think, and too shattered to react. And the fact that Laris was going to leave it all in my hands... that was just so far past the line that it didn't even register.

So I just kneeled there, in front of my son, watching his skin ripple and shiver along with the air around him, and knowing - all too damn well - that this was all my fault.

Fortunately, the Pardoners came to kill me.


I don't know when I realized that Sister Mercy was arguing with Laris. I think it was the words "I don't appreciate you meddling in this matter, Dark Walker."

I snapped out of it, hearing her shrill, take-no-prisoners voice - the same one I heard every time she kicked down my door - and turned to look, just in time to see her point right at me.

"I told her several times not to come here, and not to interfere with his life. She disobeyed, and this is the result - disaster is looming."

You will not interfere, Laris replied, hammer in hand: What happens here can only happen by her hand, and her hand alone.

Sister Mercy just glared up at him, gritting her teeth. She was fearless - I have to give her that.

She wasn't alone, either: she had two other Pardoners with her, flanking her on either side and clearly ready for a right.

One of them was some guy I'd seen around, once or twice, but never had any dealings with. He was wrapped in a black, loose-fitting monk's cassock, and looked like he had no sense of humor.

And the other one was... well, a kid.

Of course, for all anyone knew the kid could have been older than all of us put together. You know how this place is: old ghosts who've been here for months and little kids who've been here for decades.

But he had a kid's wild eyes, and looked extremely excited at the prospect of doing something. And I didn't like the way he was looking at me - cocking a finger and thumb in my direction and mouthing the words "bang... bang... bang..."

He was wearing a private school jacket, and I could see something glistening and glowing on the inside, which should have been my cue that this was no ordinary kid.

"I demand that you let us do our appointed task, Dark Walker," Sister Mercy said: "She has sinned and she must atone for it. This matter must be-"

"This matter's in my hands, bitch," I said, trying to get up off the floor: "So you just fuck off, okay?"

Now that took her back a step or two. I don't think anyone had ever used that kind of language at her and looked like they'd meant it, before... but right about then I could have just strangled the old bag.

"Your matter is in my hands, young lady," she retorted: "I told you-"

"This matter's not just about me, anymore," I said: "My son's turning into some kind of fucking breach. And if I don't do something, the Barrier's going to come down and this whole city is going to die, okay?

"Now are you going to help me, or are you just gonna shoot me?"


It had taken me some time, but I figured out what Laris was up to, that night.
He could have gotten me at my own apartment, and zapped us both to Joey's penthouse right away, but he didn't. He must have wanted me to talk to people on the way, and see the living as I did; He wanted me to really see those people, so I understood what it was I had to choose between.

All the same, I wasn't giving up hope on my son just yet.

I figured that maybe, just maybe, there was some piece of mercy in Sister Mercy. Maybe she'd at least offer to help me fix this mess - because dear Jesus was I not sure what I could do about it - and then do me in.

That I could have lived with, really.


I thought that might get through to her. Gods know, it was finally getting through to me.

But she looked like I was telling her about the average yearly rainfall in the Amazon Basin, or something like that: she just didn't fucking care.

"I'll let your Dark Walker friend take care of that," she said, indicating Laris: "He won't let it happen. You, on the other hand, are being taken care of here and now, by me-"

You are mistaken, Laris said, standing still: What is to be done here is to be done by her alone, with no interference from anyone.

"Begone, demon," the monk said, pulling something that looked like a black, metal oyster the size of a man's head out of his cassock: "Leave us to our work, or I will send you back to Hell. The choice is yours."

The oyster started glowing, the kid started giggling and Sister Mercy snorted: "The souls of this city are our concern, Dark Walker, not yours."

That was about when I realized that Sister Mercy had none left in her. I really was on my own here.

So I figured I'd play for time - such as I had it.

"Thanks for the concern, bitch," I shot back at her, turning back to Joey: "But just in case you didn't fucking notice, my son's in trouble. You let me take care of this first, and then... well, we'll see."

"You don't get to make the demands here-" Sister Mercy started to say, walking forward.

You are mistaken, Laris said, just standing there: What is to be done here is to be done by her alone. There will be no interference from anyone.

"... and you don't get involved in our business, Demon," she spat at him: "If you step in our way one more time we will strike you down!"

You are mistaken, Laris said, slowly hefting his hammer: I will show you this. You will learn.


The first time I met Laris, we were dealing with a Haunter gone insane.

I guess they're all crazy, in one way or another, but this sick motherfucker took the cake. I still can't wrap my head around everything it wanted to do in that grade school... even now, I can't think about what it did do without wanting to be sick.

But it wasn't alone - far from it.

I guess Haunters have this thing about sticking by one another, even if they don't agree with what's going on. Strength in numbers, or making a united front - who knows?

So in the end, it was me and Laris against just about every Haunter in the city - including the sick one, which had to have been the most powerful Wraith I'd ever met.

I'd seen this thing warp space and time around into taffy, made it rain blood, acid and flesh-eating bugs and raise the dead out of the shoreline. I'd seen it make cars grow steel-fanged mouths and eat pedestrians, possess entire busses of tourists and make them fuck one another to death... there seemed to be no limits to what that thing could do...

And yet Laris took the monster apart like it was nothing - nothing at all.

Before then, I'd heard stories about how Ferrymen just mowed through swarms of The Damned, smacking and slicing right through them like a reaper scything through grain. I guess I didn't realize they could do that to ordinary Wraiths, too.

But Laris did it, right in front of me, and before I knew it the Haunters were running away from us.

Now that I think about it, that's probably why they still haven't come after me: they're terrified that if they try to make good on their last threats, he'll come after them again. Masters of Fear or not, I know I'd be scared as hell.

But Sister Mercy just didn't scare at all - and that's probably why she's dead.


Sister Mercy tried to say something - I'll give her that much. But she should have shot first and made stupid threats later.

As it was, she was badly prepared when Laris spun around, faster than even I could see, and struck her right in the chest with his hammer.

There was a deafening thunderclap, and her entire body rippled and shook. She looked just like a small, deep pond that'd had a boulder dropped into it...
Then she went flying.

She went straight through the wall, then straight through the next wall. And then she went straight out the windows of Joey's bedroom, and still on, howling all the way like someone falling out of a plane.

Laris just stood there, hammer still extended, waiting for the other Pardoners to do something.
The kid ducked, rolled and shaped himself, forming what looked like a cancerous tommygun out of each arm. The glow inside his jacket subsided as he did, and I realized he'd been packing Essence the whole time.

The other Pardoner, meanwhile, stood his ground and tried to make the Artifact do something against Laris.

And Laris... I don't know he said, just then, but whatever it was I don't think the Artifact liked it. It stopped glowing, started smoking, and the monk dropped it to the ground, holding a burned hand.

Then the Monk growled and started tensing himself, seeming like he was going to do something very drastic against someone's Shadow.

But it wasn't against a Shadow, but with a Shadow - his own. Everything above his waist melted like wax, rushed up and then solidified into some perverse, inside-out mockery of the human form.

He was easily twice as tall and three times as large as Laris, now, and he rushed at him, bellowing as he prepared to  smash into him...
Right about then was when I realized I'd ignored my son for too long. And I think if I hadn't looked, just then, it would have all been over.


I turned to look at Joey just as the first evil, ugly face began to form on his chest.

It looked like a cross between a woman, a spider and vampire. And it was stretching against the skin, trying to burst out of him.
I screamed, holding my hands to my head and thinking of my little boy - my little boy - now about to explode outwards with the Damned, and if I hadn't been such a stupid, blind bitch I would have seen...
I turned to shout to Laris, hoping he could tell me what in the name of God I could do, but he had his own problems. He was just barely keeping out of the bulked-up Pardoner's blows, and right behind him was the kid, aiming his guns at the Ferryman's back.
And then the kid opened up - with both barrels.