The stark marble-fronted building had no official name. Everyone called it the Asylum. Even the Plants – or their chosen spokespeople, at any rate – referred to it as such.
It towered like a tombstone over the edge of the park by which it had been built. Its windows were high, thin things lined with bars and tinted to prevent anyone from looking in. Not that many people did. Most everyone in the Canonical Preservation League stayed away if they could. Anyone who actually needed a mental consultation went to the smaller clinic which stood nearby. The Asylum was for those who were too far gone for even the skills of the renowned alienist Doctor Freedenberg.
The only distinguishing marks it bore were five exclamation points carved into the cornice above the main entryway. And just above them, a grim quote from some unknown figure:
May the gods pity a man who in his callousness can remain sane to the hideous end.
It was both a gruesome monument to the frailty of the mind and a warning to any league member that gazed upon it. A physical reminder of the dangers that awaited the unprepared and the unfortunate out in the field.
The building was even worse on the inside. Not in terms of treatment or structure, mind you; the Asylum would have been a cutting-edge facility out in the ordinary world. The nurses treated their patients with kindness and respect. And while the interior did not seem to properly correspond to the exterior in terms of size, that was normal for just about every building in the little pocket dimension burg the Plants had created.
It was the noise: a low droning made up of the mingled sounds of hundreds of insane men and women. Every scream, every mutter, and every mad peal of laughter all combined into a dull and steady cacophony that grated away at the nerves of anyone who walked the Asylum’s halls.
Every nurse had their own method of blocking out the sound. Some sang quiet songs or hummed to themselves. Others did mental mathematical equations or ran through recipes in their head. A few just did their best with earplugs. Those who failed to find a way to cope either eventually left the Psychological Society or joined the damned chorus in a room all their own.
Nurse Jennifer Robinson prefered humming. She had found that if she hummed a certain tune in time with the rattling and squeaking of her battered medical cart, she could drown out most of the noise. Plus, some of the more lucid patients seemed to appreciate the music.
She pushed her cart, loaded down with bottles of pills and tinctures meant for granting a brief respite to the troubled, down a long corridor lined with thick steel doors. On each one was painted a single name in thick black letters. REVANI, J.; REWAN, P.; REX, M. Jennifer knew all of them, although there were times when she wished otherwise.
Jennifer glanced down at the clipboard and pocketwatch arranged in front of her on the cart. The order in which patients received their medication sometimes seemed to be completely random. It likely made sense to someone, if not necessarily to the nurses. Perhaps it had been determined by one of the patients themselves. Jennifer had considered that possibility one quiet night and decided that it was maybe not too far away from the truth.
Her next case brought her before a door bearing the name RICHARDSON, D. Unlike many of the other cells, there was no discernable sound coming from within. This was normal. The occupant had made barely a single noise beyond breathing since his incarceration about a year before.
Jennifer paused for a moment before consulting her clipboard again. A year ago to the day, as a matter of fact. Richardson had been paying regular visits to Doctor Freedenberg’s clinic for a month or so prior. She did not know for what reason exactly other than it involved the death of his partner in the field.
She vaguely remembered seeing the man once or twice before his being brought to the Asylum. He had been a tall and strapping man of Anglo-Saxon descent with a head full of dark blond hair. Whatever incident had taken his partner from him had left him with a limp, for which he walked with a cane. An air of melancholy seemed to surround him, and the polite smile that he adopted when she had passed was always tinged with sadness.
Richardson had apparently suffered a breakdown that night one year ago. His neighbors reported a hideous scream coming from inside his response quarters. League patrolmen had battered down the door to find Richardson covered in blood and thrashing around on the floor in some sort of fit. It appeared as if he had repeatedly stabbed himself in both legs with something. No weapon was ever found.
Jennifer slid back the viewing slot in the cell door and peered inside. Sitting in a wheelchair in the center of the room was a figure who bore very little resemblance to the man who had been first brought in. His body was thin and withered from inactivity. His head was slightly cocked to one side, as if he were silently puzzling over some difficult question, while his unfocused and sunken eyes stared at nothing. Only the slight rising and falling of his chest indicated that this was a man and not a corpse.
Jennifer picked a bottle of medication and an eyedropper off of her cart before opening the heavy door. Richardson did not react to the squealing of the metal hinges, or the nurse’s soft footsteps as she stepped inside.
“Good evening, Daniel,” Jennifer said. “Are you feeling any better today?”
There was no response from the hunched figure. His cloudy gaze remained fixed on some random spot in space. Jennifer had not expected any sort of reply.
“It’s time for your medication, Daniel,” she continued as she knelt down next to the wheelchair. “I know this isn’t pleasant, but it will help you in the long run. All right?”
She uncorked the bottle, an action which immediately flooded the room with an acrid metallic scent. A few drops of the foul liquid were sucked up into the dropper, which she held in one hand while grasping Richardson’s chin with the other. The patient remained unmoved as Jennifer gently craned his head back and squirted the medicine into his agape mouth.
“There we are,” Jennifer said as she tilted Richardson back into his normal position. “Sorry again for the inconvenience. I promise you, Daniel, this will all be worth it when you’re better.” She paused in the act of sealing up the medication to rub her fingers together. “Feels like you’re getting a little stubble. I’ll schedule you an appointment with the barber, all right?”
Jennifer froze. The voice was raspy and weak, but it was a voice nevertheless. She looked up from the bottle to see Richardson’s lips trembling as his tongue struggled to grab on to noises long forgotten.
“Daniel!” The nurse, in her excitement, dropped the medicine and put her hands on one of Richardson’s arms. “What is it? What are you trying to say?”
His eyes were closed now, and his head was shaking with sustained effort. “Buh… b-b-book,” he finally managed to croak. “The… the book.”
There were no books in Richardson’s cell; Jennifer knew that without having to even look around. “What book, Daniel?” she replied. “Do you want me to get you something to read?”
“I… the book. The buh… the book, the book I…” He grimaced, as if attempting to bring his scattered thoughts into line was causing him physical pain. “M-my words. Lost words. Hidden away. I saw so muh… muh...”
Jennifer had seen this before from her more vocal patients. They knew what they wanted to say but lacked the ability to articulate it. She took Richardson’s right hand in her own and gave it a comforting squeeze. “It’s all right, Daniel,” she said. “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”
Richardson's left arm blurred with sudden movement. His fingers wrapped around one of Jennifer's wrists with a strength that seemed unnatural given his apparent physical state. Jennifer gasped as he pulled her close, their faces only inches apart.
"I have no time." His voice was still weak and hoarse, but now had a tangible air of desperation about it. His normally dull brown eyes were alive with what appeared to be fear. "Find it. Read it. Then you will see."
With a brief and startled cry, the nurse finally wrenched her wrist out of Richardson's grasp. He slumped in his chair. His breathing, previously thick and strained, steadied. One final incomprehensible mutter escaped his lips before his face settled back into the vacuous stare it had held for a year.
* * * * *
Jennifer did not report the incident with Richardson. She knew deep down that she should have told one of the doctors, but there was no proof as to his sudden and brief recovery from catatonia besides a spilled vial of medicine and her own testimony. All she would receive from the other nurses would be suspicion.
Besides, his words had left her both shaken and somewhat curious. A small mental voice once again warned her, saying that to blindly follow the words of madmen would only lead to ruin. She had seen evidence enough of that time and again. But there had been something in his tone, a sense of horrible distress that made his babbled phrases stand out as being something more than mere nonsense. Perhaps there was something more to his condition.
Jennifer told Matron Sachs that she was taking off early. She made up a story about feeling under the weather and not wanting to spread anything to the patients. The head nurse had eyed her with no small amount of suspicion for a few moments, but eventually relented and allowed her the remainder of her shift off.
The nurse began piecing together what details she was able to take from Richardson's rant as she walked out of the Asylum. The mention of a book was unremarkable until it was combined with "my words. Lost words." That they were Richardson's words, that he had once possessed them in the past, made Jennifer think that he was referring to something like a private journal. It was not unusual for investigators to keep journals, if only to help chart the passing of days as best they could in this realm outside of normal time.
If it was indeed a journal – and a well hidden one at that, as Jennifer had not heard of the authorities finding anything like it when they came for Richardson – it made sense to seek it out in a place that had been known to the investigator before his life in the Asylum. Someplace personal to him. It was not the most complex reasoning ever conceived, but it seemed sound enough to Jennifer. So sound, in fact, that she had looked up Richardson’s response quarters in his medical records before leaving the Asylum. She soon found herself outside one of the multiple sprawling Georgian-style tenements that housed the League’s field operatives.
It took about a half hour more of wandering the winding interior halls before Jennifer finally reached Room 64. The door bore no names on it, which left the nurse vaguely troubled. It did not seem like the Plants to leave a useable quarters unoccupied for so long.
The door was locked, as it obviously should have been. Fortunately the locks were were flimsy things, not even capable of standing up to someone with as weak a grasp on lockpicking as Jennifer Robinson. It took only a few more minutes of busy work before the knob turned freely in her hand.
A sudden rush of stale, dusty air invaded Jennifer’s nose and lungs as she swung the door open. That and the sight of dropcloth-shrouded furniture barely visible in the gloom confirmed that the quarters had indeed been unused ever since Richardson’s accident. She coughed briefly and tried to wave away some of the dust as best she could before hunting around for a light switch.
The one she found by the door only produced a momentary flickering in the sconces arranged just underneath the ceiling. Fortunately, her questing hands also found an old candle and a box of matches. With a light source now finally in hand, Jennifer closed the door behind her before properly examining the room.
Her surroundings looked no better in the flickering flame than they had when illuminated by the lights in the hall. The covered furniture and bare walls gave the room a tomb-like appearance. Shadows that writhed and shivered under the light when she looked at them directly seemed to fall into a strange stillness when she saw them out of the corner of her eye.
She brushed aside one of the sheets. It was the rune-engraved lectern that everyone in the League knew by sight, an eerie thing of brass and wood that under normal circumstances held a copy of the tome De Plaughtoules. It was that book, written by the Plants themselves, which allowed investigators to travel between the different planes to fight the servants of the Twin Devourers of Canon, M’rasu and M’rtastu. The tome was no longer there. It had been no doubt given to others still in possession of at least some of their faculties.
Jennifer twitched aside another sheet. It concealed a standing wardrobe, a bulky thing that looked large enough to allow two people with no concept of personal space to stand inside. Her eyes were drawn to the thin parallel scratches on the wood around the handles. On a hideous whim, she placed her fingers in the jagged grooves. A perfect fit. She snatched her hand away from the door while trying to banish images of the bleeding Richardson digging at the door with his fingernails.
It therefore came as something of a disappointment to find nothing inside when she opened it. No doubt that the porters had boxed up every bit of Richardson’s personal effects to be stored somewhere in the hope that he might one day reclaim them.
Jennifer huffed in frustration. She went to close the wardrobe, but paused with her hand on the door. Something was off. Some small erroneous detail had caught the corner of her eye.
A quick scan in the candlelight revealed the flaw. The floor of the wardrobe was slightly off-kilter and did not appear to be properly joined to the rest of the body. On further inspection, it turned out to be an inferior piece of wood roughly cut and stained to appear as if to fit inside the armoire. It wobbled slightly when she pressed down on it, as if the wood were resting on a smaller object.
Jennifer was able to remove the board after roughly a minute or two of careful pulling and sliding. Her breath momentarily caught when she saw the slim leather-bound volume tucked in underneath it. A highly rusted fountain pen lay next to it. It seemed that Richardson had not been completely addled by his madness after all.
Common sense suggested that she take the book elsewhere to read. But Jennifer found herself gripped by curiosity as she picked it up. A man had fought his way through his own mental barriers to tell her about this. What was so important to demand such an arduous task?
She could not wait. Jennifer found a chair underneath one of the sheets and made herself as comfortable as possible. Then, with bated breath and trembling hands, she opened up the journal to its first page.
I wish I could put this all behind me, it began in neat if cramped handwriting. I would tell Doctor Freedenberg of this were it not for the fear that he dismiss me as a maniac and seal me away in the Asylum. There are times that I wonder if that would not be the best thing for me. I fear I am going mad.
Jennifer looked back towards the top of the page. This initial entry was dated to only two weeks before Richardson's breakdown. She could not help but shiver at the thought of being cognizant of one's own mental decline.
The entry went on. I feel as if I cannot trust my own thoughts anymore. I try to seize them but they slither from my mental grasp like eels in a pond. Perhaps streaming my consciousness directly onto the page will help me confront these demons plaguing my dreams.
It all comes back to her. Every night since that mission I wake up hearing her screams. Doctor Freedenberg says it is guilt, that I am torturing myself for not having saved her. I believed him up until last night. It was then, in the last few moments before I awoke, that she dimly appeared. She did not scream. She spoke, and while I did not understand the words they were enough to drive me from my bed in a state of terror.
They were words filled with not with anger, but with a sly contempt that I had never heard from her before. They coiled through my mind, promising both immeasurable power and everlasting pain. Whatever that spectre was, I do not believe it was Laurelin. Something new is tormenting me.
Jennifer pursed her lips in thought. The Laurelin to whom Richardson referred was his late partner, she knew that much. Even so far before his breakdown, he sounded possessed by both guilt and paranoia. This was not uncommon amongst operatives whose partners had been lost in the line of duty.
She turned to the next entry. It was dated a few days after the first.
She appeared to me again last night. This was not the Laurelin I had seen in my mind before, the Laurelin who drew her last breath in my arms. Her wounds were healed and her clothes were free of blood. The arm she had lost was restored. She raised it towards me in a beckoning gesture.
I took a step to follow her before I noticed it. Her arm, the arm that had been lost, seemed to shimmer in the thin light of my dream. The hand was far more beautiful than I remembered, with perfectly tapered fingers and no obvious imperfections. I recall being both entranced and horrified. It was right, and yet obviously not.
I asked her what happened. She merely gestured me forward again.
I took another step. I felt the air leave my lungs in a strangled gasp of horror as her face came into focus. Her smile was far too wide, her teeth were far too sharp, and her eye! Her eye, the eye that had been left as a bloody vacant maw, had been made anew. Only now it glowed with a faint urple light, and sparkled in a band of colors that had no business existing in this world.
"I am whole again, Daniel," she said in that same horrible tone I recognized from before. "Better than I was. Better than you are. You will see." It was then I awoke, panicked and soaked in sweat.
Doctor Freedenberg told me before that dreams were just harmless manifestations of one’s inner turmoil. I hope to God and the Plants he is right.
Jennifer let out a shaking breath as she finished the entry. This did not seem like simple madness anymore. She had heard stories of operatives taken by Su-kind spirits, of once good League members twisted and corrupted into the very creatures they hunted. Some had to be destroyed themselves. Even those that were purged of this foreign essence never became as they once were.
But therein was hope. It was treatable. Richardson might yet be cured.
She turned a few more pages. The handwriting seemed slightly shakier than it had before.
There is no peace in sleep now. I see her whenever I drift away. Her words are as alarms, jostling me awake. Even the sedatives Doctor Freedenberg gave me – I told him my nightmares were worsening, but was untruthful as in what way – even they cannot drive this twisted version of Laurelin from my mind.
The realness of those dreams, the vividness of them, they drive my idle mind to questions. She died in my arms, did she not? She must have. I attended her funeral, saw her casket. Never saw the body though. Was she really inside? Or is this all just a manifestation of my guilt, as the doctor has said so often?
I am no longer sure. My mind is becoming addled. Perhaps I will find some peace if I increase the dosage.
Jennifer flipped the page and immediately recoiled from the image she saw drawn there. It was a M'rasu glyph of some kind, a twisted and horrible emblem that covered almost an entire page. It seemed to glow in the candlelight. To describe it using conventional language and grammar was difficult, but it seemed to involved horrible, beautiful figures all converging on some vague central point. Just the sight of it caused the nurse's eyes to water.
Underneath it at the very bottom of the page was scribbled one frantic sentence: I have no memory of drawing this.
She quickly opened the journal up to a new page. It was dated to two days before Richardson’s breakdown. His handwriting was now messy and labored, and moved up and down the page in defiance of proper lines. Poorly spelled words were scribbled out.
This false Laurelin now torments me outside of sleep – or am I sleeping now? I am no longer certain. Dreams seem so real, and reality like a dream. I swear I’ve seen her inside the town, standing within crowds or in the mouth of ally alleyways. But when I go to confront her, she is gone. If she was ever there to begin with.
Her voice cont constantly echoes inside my head. She belittles me for my failure in saving her before calling me to join her side. She offers me powers. No more will have to die like she did if I decide so. I could rewrite the world if I so desired.
It is tempting. So, so tempting.
Doctor Freedenberg has had me suspended from my duties due to medical reasons. Given what I am going through, I cannot begurg begrudge him his decision. I will show him the contents of this journal when we next meet, conseuw consequences be damned. It is already too late.
Jennifer paused in her reading, her finger ready with the next page. Her common sense was once again telling her to step away, to abandon this task. She had enough evidence to effectively demonstrate that Richardson had been touched by some Su spirit. Whatever he might have had to say on that final day would not change anything.
Curiosity, however, is a most efficacious temptor. She turned the page.
i should not have fallen asleep but i did. too tired. she knew what i inteded to do. iwaited too long. she came to me. it was no dream. it has never been a dream. or maybe always been a dream. maybe i died that day, not her. taht would proabbly be better.
words in my ears my head my brain, echoiing round and round. she promises me a new life. a better life. forgiveness. NO FORGIVENESS DO NOT LISTEN DO NOT
looked back at the glyph and it made sense to me. i udnerstand. do i? yes maybe. dont want to. she makes me look.
the images still plague me. i need to put them to page. i need more ink. i need
The words faded out after that. They continued on the opposite page in a dark and flaky brown. The amount of spattering and drips increased by a wide degree.
i made do
Jennifer paused as she stared at the new text. On a whim, she held the page up to her nose and inhaled. It was a horrifyingly familiar smell, one of old rust and corroded pennies. She glanced over at the fountain pen resting in the bottom of the wardrobe.
“He stabbed himself,” she murmured. “In the legs. They never found the weapon.” Despite everything in her body now demanding that she stop reading, Jennifer resumed where she left off.
i have seen the great urple mass. the writhing hordes of su-kind beyond the walls of the word worlds. they will cast aside the league and devour the heart of canon. their masters have decreed it and so it shall be.
i have seen the faces of the servitors, the hands of m’rasu and m’rtastu. those whose names are only spoken of in whispers. C’l’br’n the Fallen Queen. Ehnobei. the Bleeding Witch and Mother of Trolls. even Sah-N’dwistch, who perished at both mine and laurelin’s hands
i have seen
you cannot make me look i do not wish to see
I HAVE SEEN THEM. THEIR FACES. BEAUTIFUL.
I HAVE SEEN I HAVE SEEN IHAVESEENSEENTOSEESEENWILLSEEEEE
The journal devolved into an unreadable mass at that point.
It was only when Jennifer set the book down upon her lap did she realize her hands were shaking. She took a shuddering breath and closed her eyes in an attempt to compose herself.
After a few moments, she felt calm enough to open her eyes again. The nurse internally vowed to return to the Asylum and show the book to Doctor Freedenberg. Operatives from the Exorcist Society would come and purge the foreign spirit from Richardson’s mind. Everything would return to as close to normal as events would be in the League.
It was when she went to close the journal that she caught a glimpse of something on the rear flyleaf. She sat there for a good minute, debating whether or not to look at this last message Richardson had left. Eventually Jennifer decided to look. It was not as if whatever was there could be worse than everything she had already read.
It was one sentence, written in that same brown “ink.” The handwriting, however, was not Richardson’s.
She read it once. Then again. And then again. She sat there rereading it for a long time.
Do you wish to see as well, Jennifer?
“Well?” a female voice asked from behind her. “Do you?”
Jennifer leapt up from her seat, but the moment for action had already been lost. The last thing she saw before the candle was snuffed out was a smiling figure with one eye that sparkled in the flickering light.
* * * * *
That following day would be whispered about for some time to come. It became a popular source of conspiracies amongst the more paranoid League members. Others saw it as just another strange occurrence in an already strange place.
It had begun the previous night. All at once, every patient in the Asylum began screaming. Those who were unrestrained began throwing themselves at the doors to their cells or clawing at the padded walls until their fingers bled. Several unfortunate souls went into convulsions and died.
After five minutes, the screaming stopped. All noise stopped, as a matter of fact. The Asylum was quiet for the first time since it had been constructed. Those nurses and doctors who had not fled when the shrieking began later recalled the silence as being far more unnerving than anything they had previously encountered in their time with the League. That too only lasted a few minutes until the normal droning of the patients resumed.
It took until well into the next morning before nurses found the empty cell. The heavy steel door had been torn from its hinges and crumpled like rice paper. Of the occupant, one Daniel Richardson, there was no sign apart from the wheelchair lying overturned in one corner of the room.
Far more alarming than even the concept of a missing patient was the glyph burned into the cell’s ceiling. The sight of it sent one nurse shrieking out of the building. The investigators that were called in confirmed it was Su-kind in its origin, but would not say what it meant or how it could have possibly been made. They eventually ordered that the room be bricked up, which it was.
The nurse who had last treated Richardson, Jennifer Robinson, also vanished. Authorities went to her quarters only to find that all of her personal possessions had been removed. The only item of note they found was a rusted pen spattered with some sort of unknown noxious liquid.