Melville – Issues

We continued to have bad luck over the next several missions. Maddock, North Dakota; Magruder Mountain, Nevada; Shawtown, Maine; all of them started off well, but something always fell apart in the end. The alarm would sound, or one of us would get spotted being somewhere they shouldn’t… even one time the guards noticed an unusual movement in the local squirrel population, and that put the drop on us.
And every time, like clockwork, Ishmael would be there to save us.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget what I saw in the half darkness, somewhere between nowhere and absolutely fucking nowhere, when the fairy with a shotgun and a score to settle finally let it all out. He never liked to talk, and his voice was always so harsh, but it was when he was really in the shit, right in the middle, that his voice came through clear, and cold, and hard.
And he was screaming. Always screaming.
It’s not like we didn’t have a reason to be quiet on the escape from each of these missions, with more than a few of us bleeding and bruised and another stinging half-victory keeping our mouths shut and our spirits less than jubilant… but the screaming. We all heard it. You couldn’t not hear it.  We didn’t know what to do about it, or if we should even talk about it. We just sat in our car, silent and afraid. Over in the other car, as I learned afterwards, Xandra wasn’t afraid to talk, and wasn’t afraid to take Ishmael to task.
“I told him to knock it off on the next mission,” she said over breakfast the morning after Shawtown. The two of us had suffered the least amount of injury, just cuts and bruises, so we were up first while the rest of them slept it off.
“Yeah, he mentioned the voice,” she said, jabbing sadly at a frozen waffle. We had decided to let Mom sleep in, too; she’d been up most of the night patching wounds.
“So…” I looked down at my own waffle, “Why the screaming?”
“He says he likes it,” Xandra replied, “He said it makes him feel good.”
“What, like therapy?”
“Not exactly. You see, he breathed in some pretty nasty stuff when his family’s house burned down. That special skill he has… he was able to find the safest place and survive, but his throat was ruined… that’s why the voice.”
“But when he screams…” I began, but she cut me off with a wave of her fork.
“When Ishmael screams,” her eyes adopted a far away look, somewhere past my shoulder and over the cupboard with all the cups, “It causes bleeding in his throat. And the bleeding… it sort of lubricates things for him. I’m no doctor, and I certainly don’t know how a Mythic body works… but if he screams enough, he can have a regular voice again.
He says it makes him happy, because that was the voice his parents always wanted to hear, a voice they never got to hear, a voice that the Altse Erce ruined. So, he’s here to remind them.”
It felt incredibly lame, but it was the only word I could get out at that point.
“Yeah… wow,” Xandra speared some breakfast with her fork, “And it’s the strangest thing: I haven’t known one… one millionth of all the problems he’s had. He’s told me stories, horrible stories about being hunted… he was washing dishes once, in a pub in Minnesota, and one of the bounty hunters came for him. He was barely fifteen, but he was already prepared. He had five or six coffee cups in the sink, and he wrapped them around his fist. The guy spent the rest of his short life eating through a tube. And yet…”
She had a sudden shudder, despite my mother keeping the house ridiculously warm.
“I felt like… I could feel it. Everything he was feeling. And it made me mad, and it made me want to do what he does. It made me want to scream, too.”
“Yeah, he has that effect on people,” was all I could manage before I felt my face get a little red and I once again focused intensely on my waffle.
“Anyway, I told him to knock it off,” Xandra said after a pause, picking up her plate and rinsing it off in the sink.
“Can you… just say that to him?”
“I have my ways…”
“I…really don’t think I want to know.”
It was actually upsetting me a lot more than I thought it would. I mean, what should I care what two adults are doing in their private lives, anyway?
“Oh, no… it wasn’t that,” she gave a husky little laugh, “Well, it sort of is. I told him if he didn’t stop scaring the shit out of us I was going to go ahead and start sleeping with you instead.”
And then she left. She did shit like that a lot. I was left to wander through an empty house with a basement full of sleeping Mythics and warriors, all recovering from a particularly nasty, uh… quest-type thing. I always wondered as a kid what happened after the heroes did their thing in the movies or comic books. Like, did Superman just go home and have a drink or something? What was that first day like after they beat Sauron, anyway? I bet they could finally take a decent trip to the bathroom once it was all over.
I took a mental tally as I splayed out on the couch, turning on some terrible local TV and immediately putting it on mute. Aonghus was in his workshop nursing a nasty swelling on his elbow, and Dr. Bill never wanted to be disturbed after a raid. Something about fighting brought out the primal in him, and he usually would take some time in his study before he stepped out again, collected as usual. Rat was, unsurprisingly, locked up with his computers, and Father Mulcahey was spending more and more time with Titania these days.
Brigitte was nursing the worst injuries of the lot, but that was almost a given. Being a Changeling, she was often the first to throw herself in the line of fire. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the hail of gunfire she took in Maddock, slumping to the ground in front of me. I did my best to care for her, but she smiled (she actually smiled!) at me and said in her cute little accent “do not wah-ree, I moved everything that is important,” and it was only then I noticed that she wasn’t bleeding from any of the twenty or so bullet holes in her torso. Still, it all hurt like hell, or so I could only assume, and so I made sure to remind myself to check on, maybe with a bit of Ovaltine. She loves Ovaltine.
I had just finished stirring her up a glass when I heard a rather loud bump from the basement. Now, with the company I kept, weird noises were usually par for the course, but as long as heading that way to see Brigitte I might as well keep an eye out. I was at the top of the stairs when I heard another bump, accompanied by the sound of a door straining on its hinges. Dr. Bill was known to have certain “episodes” after an operation, so I shrugged and headed downstairs, only to have the Ovaltine go sailing out of my hand as one of the extra-dimensional doors in the basement went flying off its hinges, shattering into toothpicks against the far stone wall. I forced myself to look away from the now shattered glass and milk splatter, half expecting I’d half to curse out a team member for rough-housing, and so soon after an operation. Instead, I turned around to see Father Kenneth splayed out on the floor, blood streaming from a wound across his forehead, and directly in front of him was a visual unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
The door was gone, but in its place was something that looked like a Mac screensaver if you’d just dropped acid. Among this swirling hell of clashing colors and shrieking, otherwordly laughter, Titania Wallace seemed to be suspended in mid-air, her long red hair flowing out in all directions, her usually modest peasant attire in various states of eye-catching undress. Her skin was even paler than normal, and it seemed as if someone had injected ink into her veins as she was marked all over with black spidery patterns. Most disturbing of all, however, were her eyes: once kind, gentle and green, they had turned almost completely black, with only a tiny, mad white pupil that seemed to be focused directly on me.
“What the hell…”
Any question I could have was immediately cut off by Titania’s piercing, shrieking laughter that seemed to come from everywhere in a voice that certainly was not her own.  It was about this time that other doors in the basement were flying open, and Dr. Bill was the first on the scene, his hair and eyes still wild and dangerous.
“You!” his voice tore out of his throat like a striking tiger, “But it can’t be!”
Titania gave a wave of her hand, and the shocked old professor was knocked senseless, flying across the room to land in a heap next to the priest. I knelt down beside both of them to do the best I could to help them. Again, Titania’s laughter cut through me.
“Oh, they’re not dead, I assure you,” her voice had a mocking tone, even though it sounded like six or seven people talking at one, “At least, they’re not dead yet! I haven’t fully had my fun.”
I looked down and noticed that, yes, both seemed to be breathing , and Father Kenneth seemed to be showing signs of coming around.
It was the only word I could think of, a word that ricocheted around my head over and over until it jumped out of my mouth.
“Why are you doing this, Titania?”
“Ahahaha… you still call me by that name, how cute. As if you think I’ll go back to being that sweet and gentle little bit of nothing… I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you, little boy? You always do like your women uncomplicated.”
“Well then, you know how I hate competition.”
I turned to see Xandra swiftly emerging from her room, shouldering an assault rifle.
“Cause you don’t get any less complicated that being a straight-up bitch.”
She let loose with a barrage of fire, which Titania deflected easily with a wave of her hand, still shrieking with laughter. She pointed sharply at Xandra, and the gun fairly exploded in her hand, sending her to the ground in a heap.
“Stop doing this, Titania!” I cried over her near-constant laughter. She rounded on me with a face like all Hell.
“Do not refer to me by that name again, you insignificant little insect! Don’t you realize who I am? I am the wife of Chaos, the bride of Discord! I take pleasure in what causes pain, I delight in the absolute bedlam of broken lives! It was I who caused all the pain and suffering for this group, and it was so very easy. I was able to fool you all, manipulate your minds, make you believe… even the strongest of you fell to my power… and the most virtuous.”
She looked down pityingly at the priest, who was trying to struggle to his feet. I helped prop him up as she laughed again.
“Ah-ha! Another sacrifice approaches!”
Rat tore out of his room brandishing what looked to be a dictionary and muttering in an unintelligible language.
“Oh, no,” Titania giggled, and with a wave the book was engulfed in flame, “we won’t be having any of that old skullduggery.”
Rat let go of the book with a shout and turned to us, as if to say “well, I tried. Now what?”
“Rat!” I shouted over the laughter, “What the hell is going on here? What’s happened to Titania?”
“Christ, man!” Rat shouted back, pulling a revolver from his waistband and cocking it hard, “Didn’t you read any of the shit I sent you?”
“What?!” At this point I was bellowing over the cacophonous laughter.
“That’s not Titania, and it never was! It’s fucking Queen Mab!”

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