May 26, 2017

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XXI: Your Child Sent

http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Aretino_Residence
The Thief in The Snow
Entry XXI: Your Child Sent
Windhelm, Eastmarch
Tirdas, 2nd of Heartfire, 4E 201

I was unsure if I would be able to enter Windhelm, for my title as Thane of Whiterun would not aid me here. While Jarl Balgruuf held a neutral position in Skyrim's Civil War, he did have a working relationship with the Empire but this was not the case with the Stormcloaks. As I walked down the snow-covered path and then onto the icy bridge that led to Windhelm, I was greeted by the guards. They hailed me as Dragonborn and welcomed me into the “heart of all true Nords.” Apparently news of my arrival in Riften had already spread north to Eastmarch. This made me wonder if the other Stormcloak aligned holds also knew of my presence in the area. I had little time to ponder this for the guards opened the towering wood gate and ushered me inside.

I was greeted by the spine tingling sensation of cold. Icy air hit my face, my paws pressed against frozen stone, and there was a frigid aura that seeped out of the city. As I approached the local tavern, I overheard an argument brewing nearby. Two Nords were harassing someone they called “gray-skin” and chiding her for not siding with the Stormcloaks. This “gray-skin” was a female Dunmer and she stated that this was not their war to fight. The Nords then went as far as to accuse the Dunmer of being an Imperial spy. They then threatened violence, at this point I felt I had to step in but a third Nord beat me to it. He quickly broke up the argument, calling for peace from both sides. The Nord was called Brunwulf Free-Winter and the reception he received from the arguing party made me surmise that he was a powerful man in Windhelm.

Brunwulf easily dispatched the small crowd by admonishing the Nords for treating the Dunmer so abhorrently. Afterall, Jarl Ulfric allowed them to dwell in the city. After the two Nords left, Brunwulf spoke to the Dunmer and also chastised her for encouraging the conversation to flare. After she apologized and left, Brunwulf turned to me with a look of surprise on his face, a look I was very accustomed to seeing. I introduced myself but Brunwulf was already familiar with tales of my adventures in Whiterun. Brunwulf warned me to be careful in Windhelm for not everyone would be so welcoming. I asked about the cause of the argument and he explained that Dunmer and other non-Nord inhabitants of the city were segregated and forced to live in the Gray Quarter. Brunwulf disagreed with this and had brought up the issue many times to Jarl Ulfric, but the Stormcloak was too busy planning his war against the Empire.

I bid Brunwulf good day and continued to my destination, the White Phial in the market district, to find a lost Soul Gem. Wylaniah, the Court Wizard of Riften, had requested that I retrieve the item she left behind on her last visit to the city. Since I had made the hard journey to the north, I did not mind running this simple errand for her. I also hoped that gaining favor with Jarl Laila Law-Giver’s Court Wizard would also increase my standing with the Jarl as well. I made my way to the marketplace and spied a couple of guards patrolling the area. I was careful of my actions, making sure not to loiter too long at a stall or stare at the wrong person, for any minor slight and I would be arrested. I had no friends here to protect me and I felt that the guards were just waiting for an excuse to make trouble.

I finally located the White Phial, Windhelm’s local alchemy shop, which was located towards the back of the market district. Like all the buildings in Windhelm, its structure was made of stone making its appearance feel uninviting and cold. Inside, there was an old Atlmer who I took to be the owner, sick in the back. His assistant was helping him and though I tried to get his attention, he simply waved me away. I did not wish to disturb them any further and when I spied Wylaniah’s satchel on a shelf, I collected the Soul Gem and went on my way. Back outside in the marketplace, I overheard the locals discussing a string of recent murders including the murder of a Nord named Frigga. The news disturbed me and I knew that I must finish my business in Windhelm as quickly as possible and return to Riften at once.

I passed a Nord beggar near the marketplace named Silda the Unseen. I offered her a few Septims in hopes that she could use them to fight the harsh winter weather. I asked nothing in return but she informed me of some news that she thought I might be interested in. The recent murders had begun a few weeks back when a woman named Naalia Aretino was murdered in a back alley. She left a son named Aventus who was shipped to Honorhall Orphanage in Riften. The Aretino Residence was condemned but only a few days ago, there appeared to be life in the house. Aventus Aretino had run away from Riften and was now locked inside of his old home. Late at night, strange sounds could be heard coming from the dwelling which the locals could only explain by saying Aventus had gone mad with grief. Silda had another reason, that the boy was practicing the Black Sacrament to summon the Dark Brotherhood, in hopes of contracting an assassination.

I arrived at the dilapidated house just as the sun had slipped behind the mountains. I knocked but there was no answer. I knew that someone was inside for I could hear murmuring through the door. Rote words were being chanted within the dwelling, over and over they were recited like a child’s nursery rhyme. I procured a lockpick and silently went to work. I easily unlocked the door and entered the Aretino residence. Inside, I found the house in utter disarray. Furniture was overturned, the tableware was laying under the kitchen table, and rotten food had been trampled. I went farther into the house and found a crumpled letter lying at the foot of the stairs.
‘Master Aventus Aretino,

Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak wishes to express his deepest sympathies at the death of your mother, Naalia.

Unfortunately, because you are fatherless, and have no other known relations, the Jarl cannot allow you to remain in your home unsupervised. Therefore, in no more than a week’s time, you are to report to Honorhall Orphanage in Rifen, where you will reside until your sixteenth birthday.

The Aretino family home in the city of Windhelm will, of course, remain your property. The building will be securely locked and ready for your return six years hence.

Note that I am unsure of the education provided to you by your recently deceased mother, or if you possess the ability to read the letter I am currently composing. therefore, a member of the city guard will call upon you in one week, at your home, and provide escort to the orphanage. Hopefully, his arrival will not come as a complete shock.

With greatest respect,

Jorleif
Steward to our most noble Jarl, Ulfric Stormcloak’
If the state of his house was any indicator, It appeared as if Aventus violently resisted his escort to Honorhall Orphanage. It must have been extremely difficult for him, to suddenly lose his mother and his home all at the same time. Grelod the Kind was no help either, her harsh treatment would make anyone wish for her death. Still, the rumors that Aventus was trying to summon the Dark Brotherhood seemed like an extreme course of action to take. As if to answer my questioning thoughts, I heard a voice falling from the second floor. The voice was that of a young boy who was chanting a dark prayer.

“Die, Grelod! Die! Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.”

I knew the words but had never uttered them. They were the words of the Black Sacrament, the ritual to summon the Dark Brotherhood. The ritual to request that someone be killed. If the Night Mother heard the pleas of the invoker of the Sacrament, she would relay the request to her Listener who in turn, would choose a member of the Dark Brotherhood to fulfill the kill. The words alone were not enough to complete the Black Sacrament. An effigy must be created in the likeness of the intended victim and assembled from a real body. A skull, a heart, bones, and flesh were all needed for the dark ritual. The effigy was then to be encircled with candles. Once this effigy was in place, the invoker needed to stab the effigy repeatedly with a dagger bathed in Nightshade while reciting the prayer.

“Die, Grelod! Die! Please… how long must I do this? I keep praying, Night Mother. Why will you not answer me?”

I heard Aventus again as I stealthily made my way up the staircase. I reached the second floor and inched my way towards Aventus’ pleading voice. I spied him in the back bedroom, shakily clutching a silver dagger. He plunged it into the heart and tried to remove it again, only for the blade to become lodged. Aventus jerked back on the handle as hard as he could and fell backward in the pool of blood that had accumulated underneath him. A sickening thought crossed my mind, ‘maybe this boy is the one that has been murdering women in Windhelm.’ The boy slumped down, exhausted and frustrated that his prayers to the Night Mother had not been unanswered. That was until Aventus turned around and saw me standing over him.

“You have come at last! I knew you would!” he exclaimed with excitement as he jumped to his feet.

“Is this one alright?” I inquired.

“It worked! I knew you would come, I just knew it!” Aventus cried with a grin. “I did the Black Sacrament, over and over. With the body and the… the things. And then you came! An assassin from the Dark Brotherhood!”

I remained silent.

“You do not have to say anything. There is no need. You are here, so I know you will accept my contract.” Aventus stated matter of factly.

“Contract?” I quizzed.

Aventus slowly began to explain, “My mother, she… died. I… I am all alone now. So they sent me to that terrible orphanage in Riften. Honorhall. The headmistress is an evil, cruel woman. They call her Grelod the Kind. But she is not kind. She is terrible. To all of us. So I ran away, came home. And performed the Black Sacrament. Now, you are here! And you can kill Grelod the Kind! Please hurry. To be honest, I am kind of lonely here. As much as I hated getting sent to Honorhall, I really miss my friends there…”

I left the boy, who was still standing in a pool of blood, without saying another word. I sprinted down the staircase, burst through the door, and fled through the streets of Windhelm until I was at the city’s main gate. I was unsure of what to do. The job was easy enough, killing Grelod the Kind was something I could do blindfolded. It was supposedly a Dark Brotherhood contract and at first I pondered if it was wise to steal this job from them. Then I remembered that Aventus had been performing the Black Sacrament for days now and no one had answered him. It was not like I even believed that the Night Mother existed, she was probably just some tale spun to scare children into obeying their parents. Nevertheless, I found myself at an impasse not sure if I should grant the boy’s prayers or just move onto another job. One thing was for sure, I still had work to do in Riften. Without further delay, I left the cold lands of Eastmarch and traveled south towards The Rift.

April 28, 2017

Worth Fighting For - Entry XIV: Old Friends and New Allies

http://freedomfighters.wikia.com/wiki/Chris_Stone
Worth Fighting For
Entry XIV: Old Friends and New Allies
Location: Governor’s Island Munitions Depot
Date: Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

With our mission to destroy the ventilation system complete, we knew that any survivors from Chris’s or Phil’s teams would head to either the munitions depot or the main artillery. Since we assumed the others had lost their C4 in the crash as well, we headed to the munitions depot first. We met little resistance, a few SAF soldiers here and there, but nothing we couldn’t handle. It seemed that while we had been scattered, so had the Reds. We heard sporadic gunfire erupt from various parts of the island. Some battles seemed so close that if we turned the right corner, we’d find our allies. Other battles sounded like they were on the far side of the island, which made little sense since we all crashed on the same side of the island. No matter, we didn’t run into any of our comrades until we reached the munitions depot.

It was there that we found Chris, Steven, Chelly, and Ryo. We greeted our friends with warm smiles and handshakes but then got down to business. Chris hadn’t seen Daniil, Logan, or any other resistance member since they had reached land. Chris thought about heading straight to the ventilation system as planned but without any C4, they had no way to destroy it, that’s why they went straight towards the munitions depot. I told Chris that was why we were here, we had lost or supply also.  He said he had heard the explosion and asked if that was us. I nodded and told him that the system was indeed destroyed and we could now move into the interior of the island. Chris gave us all a perplexed smile and asked how we managed to destroy it without any explosives. Phil answered with a single word, “creatively.”

http://freedomfighters.wikia.com/wiki/Freedom_Fighters
Location: Governor’s Island Main Artillery
Date: Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

We all grabbed as much C4 and ammo as we could carry and headed towards the main artillery. Chris hoped that if we eliminated the massive guns, that we might get reinforcements via boat. But with those guns still operational, there was no way anyone else would make it onto the island. We met pockets of resistance along the way but again, it was nothing we couldn’t handle. As we approached the hill where the mortar guns were stationed, we could hear them firing towards the docks. There shouldn’t be any of our people on that side of the island so what were they shooting at? We didn’t have time to find out as a Soviet helicopter flew overhead and landed nearby.

Chris charged towards the helipad and we followed close behind. We reached the road that led to the landing pad only to be faced with a mounted machine gun. It fired in zigzag lines, forcing us to break formation and find something to hide behind. I jumped to my right while everyone else found cover on the left side of the road. It was a stupid move but I had separated myself from everyone. Then a large squad of Red soldiers descended on us. Chris called for me to make a break for it but I yelled that I’d meet up with him farther down the road. I then turned in the opposite direction and sprinted away.

I was running towards the mortar guns now and trying to figure out how to work my way back to Chris when I went headfirst down an embankment. I rolled head over feet and landed hard on concrete. I tried to shake the jolt from my head and collect myself. Another stupid move, there were two mortar guns and I had just fallen into the operating center for the second gun. As I pushed myself up on my hands and knees I saw a pair of boots approach me. Damn, I was caught with no options. I thought about trying to blow the C4 I was wearing when I heard a woman start laughing. My head jerked up to see Charlie Raider standing over me. She offered a hand and pulled me to my feet. My mouth must have been wide open because she gave me a big hug and asked me if I really thought the Red invasion of our Manhattan Rebel Base would have killed her.

I tried to ask her what had happened to her but my tongue seemed to be paralyzed with shock. She understood none the less and told me that she had met up with some civilians after her escape from the base. She had organized them, trained them, and then led the fight against pockets of SAF soldiers in the city. Then, when she saw Chris’ broadcast and the fireworks on the island, she knew that this was the last battle and that she couldn’t miss it for the world. They had commandeered a few boats and had landed near the docks but were being decimated by the mortar fire. That explains why they had been firing earlier; it was Charlie’s team that they were aiming for. She told me that they were trying to figure out how to blow them up when I came crashing down.

I let out an embarrassed laugh and told her I wasn’t the greatest soldier but I did have a solution for her. I handed her my belt of C4 and told her that Chris, Phil, and the rest of the team was headed towards the helipad nearby. She took half of the bricks and then handed the belt back to me. She had a favor to ask; while she and her team took out the mortar guns, Charlie wanted me to take a couple of people and help out her remaining team members at the docks. I couldn’t refuse to help out an old friend and told her I would be glad to assist her in anyway I could. She called up two of her team members and introduced us. Ken Traynor was a teenager who had lost both of his parents in initial invasion. Charlie ensured me that Ken was reliable and levelheaded in combat. Shinji Cortez was less so, a rough and tumble fighter, he was skilled and trustworthy but tended to rush into battles.

Location: Governor’s Island Docks
Date: Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

With my new squad mates in tow, I lead our tiny team on a rescue mission. As we steered our way down the mortar hill and towards the docks, I heard a loud explosion in the distance; too far away to be the mortar guns. Ken looked concerned but I reassured him that it was probably Chris blowing up the helipad. Shinji told me that there was another pad near the docks as well and that we should try to destroy it. I threw him the C4 belt and told him that I was assigning the task to him. He gave me a wide grin as he buckled the belt around his waist. I asked Ken if he knew how many of Charlie’s team were still down in the docks. Ken said there was at least a dozen and to expect a lot of SAF resistance since they had a command post in the area.

When we entered the docks we were met with a mazelike structure of shipping containers. Some of the containers were empty and open on both sides, others were filled with crates. We could hear the popping of alternating bullets down by the water and Shinji commented that their comrades were probably using the boats for cover. We hurried towards the water to provide assistance and found ourselves facing the back of six SAF soldiers. We coordinated our attack and eliminated the threat. The other Freedom Fighters were grateful for the assist and went ahead to join Charlie. By this time, an explosion and then another much closer, blasted above us. It was obvious that Charlie and her team had destroyed the mortar guns and would be moving on to the second location.

There was only one thing left for us to do before we rejoined Charlie as well, blow up the helipad. We cautiously approached the parked chopper but no one was in sight. Then before I realized what was happening, Ken cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Shinji also screamed as I saw blood burst from his leg. He crumbled down to his knees and I dove for cover. I scanned the shipping containers above me and saw the glint of a sniper rifle. I opened fire and realized that I had hit my target when a soldier fell to the ground, dead. I ran to Ken’s side but it was too late for him, the sniper had shot him clean through the chest. I was about to sprint towards Shinji when I heard him yelling for me to run. Five Reds were surrounding him as he crawled towards the helicopter. Our eyes met for a split second and he smiled at me, then he raised his arm and pressed the C4 detonator.

March 24, 2017

Missing Rachel - Entry VIII: Home

https://store.playstation.com/#!/en-us/games/home-a-unique-horror-adventure/cid=UP2150-PCSE00533_00-000000000HOMEPSV
Missing Rachel
Entry VIII: Home
Location: Home
Date: Friday, June 19th, 2015

I slowly walked down our street towards home. I could barely will my legs to move but I knew I was close now. The questions laid heavily on my mind and made me feel like I was carrying bricks with me. The third gate down the street was our gate. The neighborhood’s local postbox was stuffed full and a letter was sticking out as if someone hadn’t pushed it all the way in. I knew it wasn’t right, but… the envelope was addressed to Norman. There was no return address but the handwriting looked familiar. I took a deep breath and tore open the package.
Norman,

I’m sending this to you in a letter because I’m afraid to tell you this in person. What we did… well, it was wrong. My husband isn’t an easy man to be… with… but he IS my husband and your friend. I need some time to sort this out, away from you both. I’m going away for a while. I’m going to tell him, Norman… so don’t you think you can hold that against me. Maybe we’ll work it out. I’m not sure I even want to, but he deserves at least that much.

Goodbye,
Rachel
I entered our backyard, the rain gave me a terrible sense of foreboding and it chilled me through my clothes. I was expectant, but also… afraid. I held my breath as I approached my… our back door. I was terrified to step inside. The house was painfully quiet, the only sound was my own breathing, ragged and strained. I clicked the light switch by the door; the power was off. In the darkness, I bumped into the kitchen table. I remembered having breakfast here on this very table, was that yesterday? Or some time before? I had lost track of all time. I swung the flashlight back and forth in wide arcs. I could see the door to the basement and it was locked. Where had I put the damned key?

I went to the front door to find a small pile of mail on the floor. How long had I been away? Why hadn’t Rachel picked this up? Most of the contents were bills; there was a credit card bill in there too. I ripped the bill open and read it; to my surprise it said something about cancelling my credit card due to nonpayment. What the hell? I ran upstairs, ignoring the pain in my leg, hoping to find something… anything. There on a cabinet in the hall, I found the last missing piece from my wallet. The old photo of Rachel and I stared back at me, reminding me of better times. It didn’t make me feel terribly comfortable but I replaced the photo in my wallet. I hoped that I would feel like I had gotten a part of my life back but the image just made me feel uneasy. Why had I thrown it away?

In our family room, I saw the large television. I had purchased it before I knew I was going to lose my job. I felt pretty guilty about it afterward, but by then it was too late. I walked down the hallway, the mirror had been smashed to pieces and scattered around the floor. I stepped over the broken glass and went into the bathroom. I stared at the sink, one of the taps always stuck. I promised Rachel I would fix it but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. There never seemed to be enough time but now I wondered what I had wasted all that time on. My eyes glanced at the bathtub. We were lucky enough to get a house with one of those wonderful old claw-footed tubs. It was something Rachel always enjoyed using and its aesthetic appeal made the average bathroom stand out. I looked in the mirror but didn’t recognize the man staring back at me. In a single night, my entire life had been transformed into something… unimaginable.

I entered our bedroom, hoping to find Rachel sitting there but I was alone. My laptop had been left on and it only had a tiny bit of power left. On the screen was a website about the old water tower. I remembered where I had put the basement key and opened the top drawer of the desk. I pocketed it and continued searching the room. The bookcase was filled with books that were half mine and half Rachel’s. The more closely I looked at the book collection, the more I realized that it looked like the collection in that house; I even had some of the same books as that man. My wife’s… Rachel’s suitcase was sitting on our bed. It was closed but I had a feeling I knew what was in it. I flipped open the latch and saw her suitcase was filled with clothes, toiletries, and a train ticket. Were you leaving just me… or Norman too?

I went downstairs again and unlocked the basement door. Down in the musty room was where we stored our old Christmas decorations. There were also garbage bags stuffed with dry paint cans and supplies. I saw a glint of metal on the ground and picked up a small key, I tried to remember what it went to but I couldn’t. There was also a pile of old boxes filled with clothes, tools, and other things that we obviously hadn’t thrown out yet. I stared at all the unfinished projects like the divider wall I put up last summer. I built it so we could create a separate room in the basement yet I hadn’t finished it yet so the door stuck and the drywall was poorly installed. I might be able to break through it if I found something heavy enough.

I remembered what the key I had found opened and sprinted back to the second floor. There was a small utility closet there and I knew I might be able to find something to break down the divider wall. I placed the key into the keyhole and it unlocked with a click that seemed to echo throughout the empty house. Inside the closet, I found a heavy crowbar, this should work. I went back to the basement and with a heave; I swung the crowbar at the wall. I smashed a hole large enough to step through and as I did, my breath caught in my throat. This was it, I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought Rachel might be down here. Was she okay? She had to be okay.

Behind the divider wall I found a filthy-looking pile of rags that had been dumped in the corner. The stench coming from them was awful and made my eyes water. I was terrified to even touch the pile… to see what laid within… but I knew I had to; I had come this far. After all this searching, after all I had seen… when I looked within the rags… wrapped within the filthy rags, pale and still… was Rachel. She was covered in fading bruises and what appeared to be cuts. Her chest was a horrible mess of blood and dirt, and I couldn’t bear to look at it. The knife in my boot, the gun in my pocket… were they the tools of her murder? I thought about all I had seen and wondered if any of it could help me figure out who had done this to her. Who had done this to my wife, who would do this to Rachel?

When I couldn’t stay there any longer, I stepped away on shaky legs and made my way back upstairs. Reluctantly, exhausted from my journey, I could no longer resist the urge to close my eyes. I don’t know how long I slept, it was more like I was unconscious, but I awoke hoping to wake from this nightmare. When I glanced around the bedroom, I realized that nothing had changed, Rachel was gone forever. I looked at the travel books Rachel liked to read, thinking I may be able to find some place to go. How would I pay for an airplane ticket? My credit card had been cancelled. Then I remembered the wallet and how I had found its contents throughout my journey. Either I dropped that stuff or somebody else did. Maybe I was sleepwalking again, or maybe someone stole it from me. Norman’s store, the wood, the water tower… was I at those places before? I didn’t see how it could have happened any other way. I must have been the one to lose my wallet and its contents, but what does that mean…?

I willed my body to move and headed down the hall towards the bathroom. When I passed the broken mirror, within the few broken pieces that remained I could see my face had grown pale and weak. I couldn’t bear to look again; it was like I didn’t actually expect a reflection. I felt empty and drained. I stood in front of the sink and saw in the grimy glass the shadow of myself, a whisper. I pulled out something from my pocket, it was the keycard I found in the factory, the one that allowed me to slip through that door. It seemed to me that it was probably Norman’s but if that was true, what was he doing back at the plant? Did I think Norman was going back to the factory? It must have been him; he must have been using the old locker room. Then I pulled out the old photo of that man and his wife. I found it in that house; I recalled those faded remains I had found, deep underneath the house in the tunnels. What had he done there? Well, what did I think? Was that man involved in this whole mess somehow? Definitely… those tunnels, the odd tools in his house, and the remains of his wife… he wasn’t innocent, that’s for sure.

I went to the family room and sat down. I pulled out the letter that I had taken from the postbox. Rachel, were you really having an affair with Norman? But why? I didn’t think things were that bad… in the letter, Rachel seemed concerned, she almost seemed worried of what Norman might do. Did he… did he do that to Rachel? I was sure of it, she wanted to end their affair and that bastard… he killed her for it. A lot of it made sense; Norman was clearly seeing Rachel a lot so he had plenty of time to plan it out. He knew where we lived, obviously. Is that why Rachel looked so scared when I came home that day? What had happened to me? Did Norman knock me out or something? I gazed at the television I had purchased while I was trying to figure out what happened, when it hit me… from now on, I’d have no one to get angry with me for stupid things like buying this TV.

I went to my desk, sat down and, leafed through the notebook I found between the rocks in the wood. In it was a list of female names… and Rachel’s was the last on that list. I recalled the names I saw scratched out on that old desk, deep within those musty tunnels. Was the man in that house really up to something? I noticed my old office safe tucked into the corner of the closet. I used to keep tax records and other important documents in it. It used a digital passcode lock but I didn’t have the code, maybe I left it somewhere. I went downstairs and to the front door. The mail still sat there, heaped on the floor. How long had Rachel been lying in the basement? I moved away from the front door like a spirit aimlessly haunting our house. I entered the kitchen and could only think that there would be no more dinners here. No more chit chat over breakfast… at least not for us.

My eyes found the basement door and all I could do was stare at it until I felt like I had bore holes through it. It seemed like I had seen all there was, maybe, I thought, I was ready to go back into the basement. Maybe there wouldn’t be anything for me to find, but I had to take one last look. I descended the basement steps and stood in the middle of the room like a frozen statue. Before I knew what I was doing, I had the knife held in my hands. If I was guilty, I could take this to a warm, safe place, and do something about it. No, no… there were other means of dealing with this. I pulled out the gun from my pocket and slowly caressed it. If I wanted to end it, I could do it; I could do it with this gun. It felt like I was carrying an anvil but I couldn’t let it go. I realized now that I was in the basement and that I couldn’t go back into that room again. I had already seen too much.

I went back upstairs to the bedroom, the laptop was now dead but I found some notes and loose paper in the desk drawers. There was a yellow sticky note with an eight-digit code on it: ‘4R3UHER3.’ The code was for the safe but what kind of phrase was that? I punched it into the digital safe display and pulled open the small safe door. I peered inside and found a photo of Rachel and I when we first moved to town. In it, we were smiling outside the front of the house, which looked like a real mess, but we looked happy. Odd, I couldn’t remember who took that photo. There was also an envelope in the safe with something written on it: ‘DO NOT OPEN UNTIL I TELL YOU.’ I guess this was as good a time as any to see what was inside. I tore open the envelope and removed the yellow-lined paper inside. I began to read the familiar looking handwriting.
I know this whole event has probably been pretty difficult. You can’t imagine how hard it’s been for me too (well, maybe you can). That isn’t meant to be an excuse, but… well, I hope you can better understand why I’ve done what I’ve done. Moving to this town seemed like such a dream… a quiet place to get established, to live out our lives, and to be together. But you knew as well as I did that things quickly changed. Your drinking was one thing but as you grew more distant, as you retreated into that world of yours… well, it was clear you didn’t need me as much. In fact, maybe you never needed me at all, but it took all this to make you realize. In the end though, you may never forgive me for this… you may never forgive yourself… but this is probably for the best. You’ll be healthier for this. I’m just sorry it had to happen this way.

Rachel
I sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the gun in my hand. It didn’t seem so heavy this time. If I wanted to, I could use the gun to finally end this. The question was… did I think I deserved it? Did I? Was this my fault? Did I deserve to die? Living in this town hadn’t been easy. The plant had helped in some way to keep me grounded. It kept me in line, gave me something to do, and helped me get away from my past. When the factory closed, everything changed. I guess that was when I started sleepwalking, disappearing for hours at a time. I had piles of doctors’ reports but nothing seemed to help, not even drinking, but I swear I had tried to give it up. I know it! The sleepwalking never really went away but I know Rachel had tried… I know she had tried to be there for me, even when everything was falling apart. This night had unearthed terrible truths but I knew it was the final act of a long-standing horror I’d been living.

Waking up in that house tonight was the final cruelty. I wish I had remained unconscious in that room forever. It was obvious to me that the man I had found in that house had something to do with all this. Could he have killed Rachel? It started to seem that there were too many things I had seen to think otherwise. After making it out of those tunnels, I thought those sewers might feel safer, I was wrong. The security tape I had watched showed someone being attacked by what looked like two people. I had found the contents of my wallet scattered throughout town. Why the hell had I been out there? Had my sleepwalking gone to some new extreme? The thought that I couldn’t account for my whereabouts, but knew I had been to the wood and even Norman’s place… well, it was terrifying. Was I out wandering the town while Rachel was home alone getting murdered? I didn’t know what that meant, but at least I had recovered my things… hopefully, I thought, that would cover my tracks so I wouldn’t be blamed for all of this.

Deep within the wood, was where things became truly awful and finding that notebook only made things worse. Rachel’s name had been on that list, so what terrible plan was she a part of? There was a similar list of names on the desk back in those tunnels as well. What was the connection? It was clear, at least, that Norman had been going back to the old plant. Maybe he was the one who had boarded up the locker room and who had been drinking up there in that secret hiding place. So had he killed that security guard then? He must have; maybe he was found out, or the guard had caught him on patrol. Damnit Norman! Why? After the factory, I thought I might find some solace if I could just get to Norman’s store but all I had found were more horrors… and more questions. Now that I really considered it, that’s when I should have seen it coming. Norman, you were dead and it was damn hard to feel bad about that. It was clear you and Rachel were more than just friends… but obviously whatever had been going on had gone badly. So why did you kill her? Did she want out of whatever you two were getting into? Were you responsible for the other murders? And what of those other horrible things that had gone on in town? I found that I could find no peace that much was certain, but this way, I didn’t have to look you in the eye or sit through some kind of trial and wonder what was going through your head.

When I had marched through the rain towards home, I desperately clung to the hope that this would end and I guess, in a way it did. How could I have known how hopeless it all was? I had started to feel as disoriented as when I sleepwalked. To think of it now… going through the back door and into the kitchen should have tipped me off that something was horribly wrong. There was no sound from the television, radio, even the air was still. But… but seeing Rachel there, lying ruined and discarded in the basement… that was a horror I could never have imagined. That other man I had found was involved in all this somehow, I knew it. Maybe he and Norman were partners, after all, how could one person kill that many people without getting caught. But I knew it was Norman, that traitorous son of a bitch, who had done the deed and killed Rachel. Whatever was going on, he was the one who took Rachel away from me. I hated him for it more than I could possibly express. If he wasn’t already dead, I would have marched to his house and shot him in the head… but that offered me no strength, no solace now. Rachel was gone now, and I was too, forever.

I checked the gun again… it still had a few bullets left. I felt surprisingly calm as I sat there with it in my hand. I could feel its weight and perhaps it was that sense, that presence, that allowed me to understand what had to be done. Rachel was dead and there was nothing I could do about it… nothing but one final act.


~Postscript~

I bought Home for $2.99, which was an extremely high price since it ended up going on sale for $0.99 a few weeks later, but I don’t regret paying the higher price. What I found wrapped up in a very basic game was a really interesting story. I liked how the story tended to implicate different people in the murder of Rachel and the other women depending on how much you explored. I actually played this game through three times. The first, it seemed like Norman was the killer of all of the people. The second, seemed to point towards the man in the house, the first dead body you discover. The third time, well the third time made me feel like I had killed Rachel and Norman out of rage and just happened to uncover another murderer in the house. I really enjoyed how the story evolved as I played through it and while it wasn’t much of a horror game; its dark elements definitely set the tone. As to what I think really happened? My guess is Norman killed Rachel and wanted to frame the playable character, who I personally call Hal, for her murder. Hal somehow finds out and confronts Norman who spills the beans on his partner in crime, the man in the house. Hal kills Norman and then goes on the hunting spree for the mystery man. Hal gets close but is unable to stop the man from killing the security guard and the two campers. Back in the sewer facility, Hal and the sewer worker try to stop the man, but the worker is killed instead. Hall chases the man all the way back to his house and kills him in the bedroom, but not before the man can seriously wound Hal. Hal blacks out and when he wakes up, doesn’t remember a thing. Whether or not that is what really happened, I don’t think we will ever know… there are some questions that can never be answered.

February 24, 2017

Worth Fighting For - Entry XIII: Assault on Governor’s Island

http://freedomfighters.wikia.com/wiki/Governer%27s_Island
Worth Fighting For
Entry XIII: Assault on Governor’s Island
Location: Midtown Manhattan Rebel Base
Date: Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

Chris’ speech was a success. People rallied to our cause and those that couldn’t fight found other ways to help. We had small groups fighting guerrilla style in the streets, blitzing Red patrols and then disappearing just as quickly. We hadn’t seen Phil for some time after we returned from the Manhattan TV Station. He took charge of organizing all of our new members and coordinating the defense of the civilian camps. We all pitched in as well for a couple of weeks until Chris announced that it was time to launch our final assault.

We found out from Ryo and Daniil that the reason why the Reds had abandoned the two helicopters at the TV station was because they weren’t functional. Chris hoped to get the birds functioning and to use them to transport fighters to Governor’s Island. While we were working with Phil to restore order, Ryo and Daniil had been working to restore the choppers. They had to steal parts from other vehicles, jury rig parts, and used a large amount of electrical tape to make the repairs. Now, they were finally finished and we all knew that it was now or never to try and push the Soviets out of our country once and for all.

http://freedomfighters.wikia.com/wiki/Battle_of_Govener%27s_Island
Location: Governor’s Island Boat Landing
Date: Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

We packed into the two choppers like sardines crammed into a can. There was no way to get to Governor’s Island undetected. After Chris assassinated General Tatarin, Governor’s Island stepped up its patrols by land, sea, and air. Our best strategy was a blitz attack, drop our team off at the boat landing and then work our way towards the interior of the island. Chris had briefed us on the layout of the island, stating that the interior was protected by concrete walls and guard stations. He recommended that we blow up the ventilation system near the boat landing which would force the sealed guard stations to open for air. Then we would split into two teams and hit the munitions depot and main artillery guns.

We flew towards Governor’s Island under the cover of night. Soon the island was in our sights and we could see that there was very little activity; even the bright spotlights that patrolled the water weren’t on. We all gave Chris a nervous look but before he could reassure us an alarm in the cockpit started to sound. We had been targeted by a missile. Our pilot tried to avoid the impact but the three Red choppers had the drop on us. The second missile didn’t miss its target and the explosion sent us tail spinning towards the icy water. We rushed to don parachutes and exit the burning helicopter before it crashed. As I jumped, I lost sight of the others and could only watch as our second helicopter exploded in mid-air.

I crashed hard. At first I didn’t understand what had happened and then I realized I had landed on the large sheets of ice that spread out from Governor’s Island like jagged fingers. Burning debris fell around me and I could see our chopper slowly sinking into the sea. I hurriedly took off my parachute and grabbed a weapon. I checked the bodies that were near me to find that none of them had survived. Then I saw a figure in the distance waving at me. I jogged towards the silhouette and was relieved to see it was Chris. He threw a first aid kit to me and told me to check the east side of the crash while he checked the other side. I found Kat and Logan together, battered but alive. We found Steven a little ways away, his leg injured. I used the aid kit on him and we helped him to stand. They joined me in the search for others and soon we had a handful of fighters, some from our team and some from Phil’s.

We met up with Chris who had found Daniil, Chelly, Ryo, and Phil along with other members of Phil’s team. We were about to formulate a plan when Steven yelled for us to run. I looked up to see the three Red choppers had returned and were firing at us. No, they were firing at the ice. With each impact the ice began to fracture and break away. We ran as fast as we could towards Governor’s Island. A few of Phil’s team members weren’t fast enough and they fell into the water. There was no time to save them; we had to make it to the boat landing. We were forced to scatter and I found myself alone when I finally made it to land.

The place was crawling with Reds so I took cover by a couple shipping crates and tried to gain my bearings. I knew that I was at least in the right section of the island. The boat landing housed the ventilation system that connected the outer ring of concrete. Destroy it and we would be able to breach into the interior of the island, if there was still a “we.” I peeked my head around the crate and saw that the coast was clear. I scurried to another stack of crates only to find that someone else was using it as cover. I almost shot the person in the head when he chuckled. Phil, a sight for sore eyes. He slapped me on the back and then motioned behind him. There, Kat was crouched down watching for enemies. She smiled when she saw me and I gave her a slight wave. Then I pointed in the direction of the ventilation system and Phil gave me the thumbs up.

I took point, careful to stay in the shadows as we navigated towards our target. I scanned the area and soon spotted what I was looking for. Phil whispered that he didn’t know how we were going to destroy it since we had lost our C4 in the crash. I was about to suggest that we head towards the munitions depot when Kat opened fire. We all dove for cover as a half dozen Red appeared from nowhere. A skirmish ensued with each side squeezing off what seemed like hundreds of bullets. There were only two soldiers left now. Kat gave me a signal that told me to distract the Red. I did so by moving to a different crate and firing at him. While I was keeping the Red’s attention, Kat flanked him and fired a precision shot into his head.

Phil was still fighting the last Red near the ventilation system and had the upper hand. He was about to fire a killing blow when we heard Phil’s gun make a loud click; he was out of ammo. He tried to dive out of the line of fire when the Red raised his rifle and fire. Instead of a gunshot we heard another click; the Red was out of ammo too. I was about to take my shot when Phil climbed to his feet and pounced on the Red soldier. They jostled with each other, neither one getting the opportunity to strike the other. Kat and I rushed to aid our friend when he yelled “vent!” I wasn’t sure what he meant but Kat realized and motioned for me to help her. We reached the side of the ventilation system and pried off the grating to one of the main shafts. Then we heard a thunderous strike and saw that Phil had landed a heavy uppercut squarely on the Red’s chin. With his enemy dazed, Phil picked up the Red and propped him against the open ventilation shaft. With a sly grin, Phil pulled the pins to the three grenades the Red was wearing and then hoisted him into the shaft and let go. We reached cover just before the grenades exploded, destroying the ventilation system.

January 27, 2017

The Thief in the Snow - Entry XX: From Far Places

http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Mistveil_Keep
The Thief in the Snow
Entry XX: From Far Places
Location: The Rift Valleys, The Rift
Date: Morndas, 1st of Heartfire, 4E 201

There was still quite a bit of light left in the day when I left Riften and ventured towards Windhelm. I am not sure why I was determined to put an end to Grelod the Kind’s rule of Honorhall Orphanage. I, myself, never had much of a childhood. I never knew my parents and was raised by a Khajiit Caravan that brought me from Elsweyr into Cyrodiil. I had worked for the caravan since I could remember until it was attacked and most of the members were killed. I spent my youth in the cities of Leyawiin and Bravil before settling in the Waterfront district of the Imperial City. Maybe it was because of this that the mistreatment of children bothered me so. No matter the reason, I was resolved to find Aventus Aretino and convince him to testify before Jarl Laila about the crimes of Grelod the Kind. If I could get the support of Constance Michel, Grelod’s assistant, I was sure that the Jarl would be spurred into action.

As I travelled north along the main stone road out of Riften, I came across Shor’s Watchtower, a lookout point for spotting Imperial Legion troops in the area. My time in Riften almost made me forget that there was a Civil War brewing and that skirmishes had broken out across Skyrim. When I approached the tower, I realized that it was not manned by any guards. This was striking for Shor’s Watchtower was a major defensive position. I cautiously entered the tower with daggers drawn only to find that I had missed all the fighting. Inside, there were signs of a battle and four Riften guards laid dead. The bodies were too badly decomposed for me to discern what killed them but I found a note that indicated the Imperial Legion was close by. As I exited the watchtower, I saw a passerby and told him to go straight to Riften with the news of the dead guards. I left out the note about the Imperial forces, for what reason I am not sure, but I urged the passerby to go with haste.

With the message in transit, I continued examining the surrounding area of the watchtower in hopes of finding some clues. Instead, I came across a ferocious Troll. I already knew what these creatures were capable of when I fought one on my way to Ivarstead so I knew I had to tread carefully. I drew my bow and began pelting the creature’s hide with as many arrows as possible. The Troll seemed unhindered by the dozen arrows sticking out of his chest so I changed my target and aimed for his eyes. It took me three attempts before an arrow found its target. With the creature reeling in pain, I was able to close the distance between us, draw my daggers, and plunge them into its neck. It collapsed with a growl and then laid still. I collected what arrows were still salvageable and then continued on my journey north. I could not help questioning if the Legion had killed the guards at Shor’s Watchtower or if it was really the Troll who attacked them.

http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Eastmarch_%28Skyrim%29
Location: Eastmarch Tundras, Eastmarch
Date: Morndas, 1st of Heartfire, 4E 201

I passed into the domain of Eastmarch as I journeyed towards its capital, Windhelm. It was much colder than the Rift and I found drifts of snow beginning to collect on the ground. As I wandered north, I discovered a giants’ camp called Steamcrag and near it, a dead Khajiit inside a broken wagon. She must have been a member of a caravan but I was sure she was attacked by something other than a giant for they were generally docile creatures. As if to voice that my deduction was correct, I heard a roar of a dragon in the distance. I made the decision not to linger for fear of getting attacked by a dragon. It was one thing when I had Irileth and her guards with me but to face a dragon alone; that was something I did not want to do.

As I continued northward, I came across a farmer heading the opposite direction. I inquired if he had any news and he told me that he was headed to Solitude to join the Legion. This surprised me but he informed me that he felt Ulfric had gone mad and that Skyrim needed to stay united with the Empire if we ever had any hopes of breaking free from the Aldmeri Dominion. I warned him of the dragon and he thanked me for the information before heading south. As I marched forward, I discovered geysers releasing hot steam high into the air. The geysers were connected to a nearby hot springs. The sulfuric scent was reminiscent of the Hjaalmarch Marshes. As I was watching the geysers spew their contents high into the air, a patrol of Stormcloaks passed me by. I could have snitched on the farmer and sent the Stormcloaks after him for a nice reward but I kept my mouth shut. There are a few things in the world worth more than money, not many, but there are a few.

It was late and I was still far from Windhelm but nevertheless, I continued my trek north through the thickening snow. Eventually, I had to stop and make camp for the ice filled air was impeding my progress significantly. I built a fire and prepared to settle in for the rest of the night when I suddenly found myself surrounded. I sprung to my feet with daggers readied only to be greeted by a very familiar accent. A dark Khajiit dressed in fine clothes slowly approached me with hands opened in peace. She introduced herself as Ahkari, the pawnbroker for a caravan that traveled between Dawnstar and Riften. She, along with her other companions, were headed south when the weather closed in around them. She asked if they could take shelter near my fire. I sheathed my weapons and welcomed them into my makeshift camp. Zaynabi, the caravan’s scout, told me that she had seen the embers of my fire from the road. Dro’marash added that he planned on killing the occupants of the camp and taking it over for the caravan. Kharjo interjected that Dro’marash was only joking and that Ahkari would never allow them to attack innocent travelers.

I asked them how well their business was doing and Ahkari informed me that many refused to talk to them, calling them thieves and smugglers. I could only nod my head in agreement for I had faced the same in my early days in Whiterun. I asked if she always had trouble with the locals and the Khajiit replied that it was mostly the Nords. They did not like outsiders in their land which is why the Jarls forbade them to enter the cities. Many Nords only saw the Khajiit as pickpockets and Skooma dealers. Ahkari continued that it was unfair but that they did their best to ignore the comments. I also inquired if she had been in Skyrim for long but she replied that she had only recently arrived. She had become ‘unwelcome’ in Elsweyr and Cyrodiil so she sought a new life here. When I raised a skeptical eyebrow, she only stated that she seemed to have an unfortunate talent for getting involved in misunderstandings with the law. Ahkari continued that Ri’saad was able to look past that, and it was he who helped her set up a trade caravan. Now Ahkari and the others work for him in Skyrim. I told her that I knew Ri’saad well for my home was in Whiterun. They all perked their ears when they heard this and I could only shrug. I vaguely conveyed that I was allowed inside the city gates because I served the Jarl a few times. Zaynabi gasped and Dro’marash slapped me on the back, exclaiming how amazing it was that a Khajiit had not only spoken to a Jarl but was serving him as well. They asked me to share stories of my exploits, which I did while leaving out the bits about slaying a dragon and using Thu’ums, until the others were tired enough to finally sleep.

Kharjo was still awake though so we quietly talked into the night, doing our best not to wake the others. I quizzed him about his job with the caravan and he answered that he was hired to protect it as they walked the roads of Skyrim. It was a thankless task, he continued, and that he would rather be back home in Elsweyr but he had little choice. When I questioned further, he only stated that Ahkari had freed him from a prison in Cyrodiil and now he must repay the debt to her. I asked if they always traveled so heavily protected, motioning to the weapons Kharjo and Dro’marash carried. Kharjo answered that bandits harassed the caravans but that they usually scared them off. He told me how they were ambushed only a few days ago. The marauders were a mere nuisance but they had quick fingers and one of them stole his Moon Amulet. I asked Kharjo what the significance of this amulet was and he told me that it was given to him by his mother when he was just a cub. It was the only memory of home that he had in this cold land. I offered to track it down for him and he responded with telling me I was kind to offer my help. He pointed out where he thought the marauders were headquartered on my map but he also warned me to be careful. Kharjo advised that while he missed his amulet, a life cannot be easily replaced. After chatting more about our escapades drinking and gambling, we finally turned in for the night.

http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/Kharjo
Location: Eastmarch Tundras, Eastmarch
Date: Tirdas, 2nd of Heartfire, 4E 201

We all rose early in the morning, so early that the sun was not even over the mountains yet. As the caravan packed its things I bid Ahkari safe travels and reassured Kharjo that I would locate his amulet for him. They both gave me final bits of advice on the Nords to the north, cautioning me to be vigilant not only on the roads but near the cities as well. I did not tell them my plans of entering Windhelm but I thanked them for the concern and wished them warmth until we met again. I waited a moment as I watched the caravan disappear down the road before I picked up my supplies and turned north. I was not sure what I would find in Windhelm but I knew that I had to be wary. Ulfric Stormcloak had once again returned to his throne as Jarl after escaping death at the hands of the Imperials and a dragon. His fervor against outsiders in Skyrim was reaching new heights and I knew that Windhelm would not be safe for me. But as conspicuous as I was being a Khajiit in Skyrim, I needed to ensure that I did not accidentally meet the Gagged Man for I feared what might happen if he realized I was there in Helgen with him only months ago.