A lot's happened in the past few days. I'm going to try to start from the beginning the best I can.
After leaving Magpie and Crimson, I started heading down south somewhere warmer. I had invitations from a few places around Georgia and Florida, and wandering is always more tolerable with a destination.
I think it was somewhere in Tennessee that I got picked up. It was a car. The driver was a woman with bright red hair who was probably in her late twenties, with a black-haired young girl in the backseat.
"Hey, thanks for stopping," I told her. "I'm heading somewhat southeast. Does that work for you?"
"No problem," she said. "Do unto others, right? I wouldn't want to be ignored. We're going as far as Murfreesboro. Is that all right?"
I nodded, but to be honest, I had no clue where Murfreesboro was. That's how things go sometimes. I wonder if other hitchhikers familiarize themselves with cities and the like beforehand. "Yeah, as far as you can go would be great. I'm Jason," I told her, using a random name. I never use my real name when dealing with strangers unless I have to.
"I'm Sierra," she said, offering her hand to shake. "That's my sister Rei."
"Nice to meet you," I told her. We fell silent as she drove off. Shortly after that, I felt Rei kicking the back of my seat. I tried to ignore it.
"Rei, sweetie, please stop that."
"It's okay, ma'am," I told her. I've had worse. I really had, and it's always best to err on the side of politeness.
"That doesn't make it okay," Sierra told her
"You never said hello to me!" Rei said.
I turned around and let out a mock gasp. "Oh no! I am so sorry, Rei. Hi. I'm Jason."
"Goodbye Mr. Jason!" Then she pushed a cloth against my face, and that's the last thing I remember.
When I woke up, realizations dawned slowly. It was slowly and without fully understanding what was going on that I found out that I was strapped to one of those James Bond-esque tables. You know, the ones that restrain you while the inevitable laser beam starts slowly inching upwards to cut you in two? My senses were dulled from the drugs, which is probably the only reason I was able to not panic. I thought as quickly and furiously as I could for a suitable opener.
Rei (though I'm not sure if that was her real name) was sitting in the the lap of a man in a suit that must have been really fancy-looking once but was currently worn and bloodstained. There were a few others standing around, all in masks, all looking down at me.
The man in the suit smiled, and Rei giggled and let out a "Hi, Mr. Jason!" Then the man leaned down and whispered something in her ear. Any joy on Rei's face instantly disappeared and she looked pained, like she might start crying. "Y-yes...h-hello there...Kenny..." she stammered quietly.
"So...I guess I'm not exactly the guest of honor here, am I?"
The suited man whispered something else in her ear. "On the...c-c-contrary. You're the v-very special g-g...guest of honor."
I was getting a lot of Bond Villain vibes. It really didn't make my situation feel any better. "Right. That sort of guest of honor."
He whispered in her ear again, and it was at this point that I caught on that he was talking through her for some reason. "S-so many people w-want you.... M-my lord would...see y-you for his own.... C-curious results from your...examin...ations...."
I was still in the dark, so I tried to get them to talk more. If they were acting like Bond Villains, maybe I could get them to monologue like them. "So since you people are probably going to kill me anyway, would you mind telling me who you are and what you want from me?"
"W-we w-want you bec-cause others want you.... W-we certainly won't b-be k-k-k-kill...." Rei started sobbing, unable to go on through the tears. The suited man started holding her like he was comforting her, but it looked more like he was just going through the motions, like he was petting a cat instead of trying to console a human being. His eyes were locked on me. Cold. Mechanical. Calculating.
"Why are you speaking through her?" I asked, not sure what was making her sob so hard. He opened his mouth to say something, but I never heard what came out. There was too much pain. My head felt like someone was slicing into it with a knife made of fire. Almost like hearing the Choir, but different. It wasn't the man in the suit, but myself and the other proxies in the room who I heard speak:
"Wh...who do you work for?" I managed through lungfuls of air.
He went back to speaking in Rei's ear again. I could only imagine the hell she was going through. "F-father." The Slender Man, most likely.
"And why me?"
"E-everyone wants you. Supply...and d-demand."
I thought about it. "All right. So you don't want me dead. And you don't even know why you want me other than 'everyone else does.' So what do you hope to accomplish with this? What are you even planning on doing with me?"
"M-make you...a p-proxy."
Oh. Of course. How stupid of me. "It's not going to happen," I said.
"That's what the...other n-nine p-people in this room said."
I really didn't have a comeback for that. I knew he was right. If they wanted to brute-force me into it, they probably had ways. So I fell silent and waited. There wasn't anything else I could do.
The man in the suit leaned down and started whispering in my ear. I couldn't hear the words, but it was like he was speaking images directly into my head. There were a lot of things and I don't remember them all but there was Lily. Lily was there beside me and she was alive only it wasn't really her because it only looked like her and she wasn't the same girl that I loved and she took out a reverse-blade katana like the one Kenshin uses and started beating me with it over and over and over and over
And then there was a crash and everything stopped. I thought they had finished at first, until I saw that every single one of the people in the room was unconscious. Rei and the suited man had vanished, and there was a masked man standing in the room that hadn't been there before. His mask was cracked in the top corner, and the break ran down into the face of the mask, though I never got a good enough look at the face behind it. He pulled a glass-covered blanked off of himself and dropped it to the ground as he undid the straps holding me to the table. I looked over and saw that the window was broken--he must have come through there.
"There really aren't words to describe my thanks," I told him, "but, um...thank you."
He held up a finger and shook his head, then removed a pair of earplugs. I thanked him again as he started searching around the room until he found a tub containing my bag and Lily.
"Thanks again," I said, admittedly a bit lamely, as he handed them to me. "Uh, who are you?"
He made a zipping motion across his lips, but it lacked the urgency of a command to be quiet. The gesture must have meant something different....
"...Moth?" He nodded. I had actually been heading to visit the mute proxy and his partner Picasso. Proxies, yes, but...relatively good people despite their loyalty to the Slender Man. They seem to keep their enemies limited only to those they have an order against--and their old boss, Fracture. But I had been planning on meeting the pair in Florida. Moth had managed to find me in Tennessee and save me when I most needed saving. Crimson's words came back to me: there are no coincidences.
He beckoned me over to the window and gestured out to some vans in the distance heading in our general direction. "Who are they? Backup?" He nodded and opened the window. "We should probably get out of here, then, huh? You have any ideas?"
He headed out the window and I followed him to a nearby ATV, which he drove into the woods until he reached a truck. "I thought you were supposed to be in Florida," I told him when we finally stopped and after he had loaded the ATV onto the back. We had been e-mailing each other for a while and I had made plans to visit him. He pulled out a laptop and showed me the most recent post on his blog. Apparently their location had been compromised and Picasso's location was currently under siege by Fracture and his men. He was on his way to bail her out.
"So you're on the move. But how'd you find me?" He pulled out an envelope that had instructions to my location and a quick briefing on what to expect. Apparently the man in the suit was called "Whisper." Fitting. The instructions were simply signed "a friend." That caught my eye. Someone had left Raggedy a sizable sum of money after I left for keeping an eye on him and had used that exact signature. "Who gave this to you?"
He pulled out a notepad and wrote something down. "A stranger." It figured. Things are never that easy.
"So...do you want me to come with you?" He looked at me seriously and scrawled "Rogue Shadow" on the paper. "Well yeah, I mean...I guess he's waiting. It's just...I was planning on visiting you anyway. Another time, maybe?"
He nodded and pulled something out of his bag. "What is it?" I asked as he handed it to me. I unwrapped the cloth around it to reveal a spearhead.
"Oh...n-no," I told him as he gestured at Lily. "I'm not...I don't know if I want to turn it into something more lethal. I've...still never killed anyone you know."
He shook his head and indicated that he wanted to spar. We did for a few moments, and he demonstrated how to use it non-lethally: with the spearhead as a dangerous diversion, and the blunt end as a non-lethal alternative.
"Okay...that makes sense. But I'm still not sure. I'll think about it. Is that fair?" He shrugged. I didn't feel like telling him the real reason: Lily was a pacifist, and I wasn't sure I wanted to disrespect that by turning the staff named after her into a lethal weapon.
"Well..." I said after a bit, "I guess this is goodbye, huh? Would you let Picasso know I say hi?" He nodded. "Um...good luck with that."
He nodded again and opened his arms for a hug. I was...admittedly kind of taken aback at first. I've been alone for a while now. And while I've spent time with Raggedy and Canis and Wayward and Lyron and Magpie and Crimson, I've...never had anyone make a gesture of affection like that. It was just a hug, but the fact that he was even offering it meant the world to me. It didn't matter that he was a proxy. He saved my life, so I didn't feel like he was about to knife me. I trudged forward and let him put his arms around me.
It took everything I had not to cry.
After a few seconds I broke the hug. "Well," I said, secretly relieved at how composed I was, "I guess...I'll see you later, maybe." He nodded, and I turned to leave. I didn't turn back. Couldn't. Just started walking and let the tears flow.