Built on Sand

Full Version: Let's talk about Jess
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The drive was a short one, the walk however was a bit longer than expected - or you could rather call it "the climb", as Lexie's apartment was at 5th floor and the elevator "temporarily" out of service. Darrel could remember Lexie as a tall girl with short blond hair; the one opening the door had her pixie cut dyed orange - she was surely still Lexie, however. "Hi people! So shady stuff going on? Please come in! Oh, right, I'm Lexie just in case you're wondering". She greeted the strangers as someone who's not unaccustomed to stranger strangers at her door. The house itself was vaguely messy, although not impressively so: standard studentesque housing, that was it. Near the entrance a kitchen, books on the table and dishes laying around to dry - probably hastily washed once guests had been announced. And another girl sitting at the table, but promptly getting up as they all appeared - dark skin, thinly braided hair, swimming in an oversized bright green sweater. "Hey hello!" "This is Tasha" "...Jessica's former friend, yes". "So, fancy a drink? Chips? Dunno, ramen noodles? Or right to the point?"
"Good to see you again, Lexie. I like the new color. Good to meet you, Tasha, " Darrel replies as he moves to shake each woman's hand. He turns back towards the still-probably-couple. "This is Ericka, and Joshua."

"I could go for either chips or ramen noodles. And... what drinks do you have?" He turns back towards Ericka and Joshua. "Or... would you two rather get right to the point?"

The two girls looked at him, slightly surprised for some reason. Tasha, just for a second, gave her friend a quizzical frown. Lexie took a bag of chips and put it on the table and filled a jug of tap water. "Beer, soda, energy drinks, vodka..." A few colorful bottled appeared on the table as well, all of subpar discount brands. "Wait, does anyone really need ramen? But yeah please have a seat".
Were they seriously discussing ramen? Almost sure that was a joke, although very little was entirely sure at that point. Ramen noodles were sort of appealing, actually, as was a good gulp of any kind of energy drink. Her head was clearing up a bit, however, and she had her priorities straight. "Nice to meet you and... may I use your toilet? I'm sure everything will be better after that!". As soon as Lexie hinted to show her the way, Erika rushed to the door - it had some humorous posted on the outside, no time to read it, though. Once in, once finding relief from an evening of procrastination, beer and obliviousness, observing the surroundings became amenable once again. The mismatched towels and patiently waiting laundry almost gave her a deja vu of her own life, and what about the image in front of the toilet itself - a pic of Tyrion with a crossbow? Looking around a bit, that'd have been fun, maybe? Although! They were there on a mission, keeping that in mind would've been good too. She washed her hands, dried them on her trousers, headed back now deeply desiring anything caffeinated.
Joshua took a seat, waving away the offer of food or drink. "No thank you. And it's nice to meet you Lexie. We were wondering if you could..you know..fill us in on what Darrel was saying on the phone."
"Thanks." Darrel took a chip awkwardly, not sure if he was supposed to.

He had a rather awkward relationship with sarcasm. He used it fairly freely himself, but sometimes missed it in others. And he put so little effort into advertising it that sometimes people couldn't tell he was joking no matter how ridiculous he made the joke.

But as far as the food? No, he'd assumed that was a serious offer.

Although in this case, part of it might be that I'd been considering offering to call UberEats when we walked in. Sit down, eat something together. Maybe that's why I took Lexie at her word when she offered?

Darrel heard Joshua speaking, and chimed in. "Yeah. I think it was something about Jess joining the FBI, and you're afraid cultists are looking for her? Or... was it the other way around?"

Aaaannd here I am doing that again.

Darrel had gotten the joke about Joshua and Ericka possibly being FBI Agents. He thought. He'd been pretty sure at the time it was a joke, at least, and he'd treated it as one. But given how weird everyone's night had been so far, and that he was ultimately here to figure out what was in the new drug on the street, maybe he shouldn't have made that assumption? Even if Ericka and Joshua seemed to take that remark as a joke too... Oh, speaking of.

"On second thought, should we wait for Ericka?"
Caffeine! It was there! She rushed back, her hands still fresh and soapy - she should have rinsed better, but whatever. She grabbed a can, a stylized campy dragon promising badasness and screaming of incompetent designers (most likely, the guy who sold the product had sketched the thing all by himself, cheap bastard. MS paint must've been involved too at some point). Caffeine! Sweet sticky relief!

"Hello! And thanks! I'm not a cultist, I swear, nor am I FBI!"

She was The Media, sort of, well, very sort of, but there was no need to remind everyone about it.

"Yeah, we were saying something about our cultist former friend who went from a living parody of a religious mania to hooking up at *gasp* the Clay Prep, nothing less. Or... That's what I got from Lexie here, what was the whole story?"
"We don't know much more than that, actually." Or, we don't know much more than that other than the thing that'll make you think we're all crazy. "The only other thing Arlene told us was that Jess seemed like she was high."

Darrel closed his eyes for a second. "She didn't say what she thought Jess was on, and at least implied that she didn't really know. I... don't think she mentioned any symptoms? I'd meant to ask about that, but the conversation moved in a different direction."
High? That was stupid. Okay, she was kinda drunk. But also pretty sure that was stupid. Really, who gives a flying fuck about someone being high? Even if she'd literally been a former nun or actual nun or anything? But then, they'd invited them home so even if they hadn't cared about Jess getting high, there must have been something juicy one way or another.

"Well, one could say there's a continuum between religious mania and getting high?"

Okay, not so productive. But she wanted to know about the religious mania.

"I remember she was... sorta uptight? Never really had the chance for a religious debate..."

"You lucky bastard! Okay, I must say it was fun at first, but then?"

Tasha shook her head.

"Well, I can't say if she was really religious or just, you know, needed to obsess over something. I mean, I get it, we all get those phases, but... lately it was getting quite creepy, you see? It's - I think it was when it wasn't just her ranting, and she actually started going out with those groups... although, I suspect none of those people would have approved of the Clay Prep...".
"So... what sort of groups were these? I mean, in context I'd kind of assumed that when you say 'cult' you mean it literally, rather than... oh, I don't know, talking about an obsessive fan club for someone..."

And given that whatever she's involved in apparently motivated her to get high even though she was never that way before, I'd imagine at least one uses narcotics of some sort in their religious ceremonies... and might actually be a bit more dangerous than I ought to be poking around in, if Arlene's right about her turning into a bat, and what I'm learning here is relevant to why.

A series of disturbing images passed through his head: images of fictional characters who'd gained magical power through servitude to beings who were morally ambiguous or worse. He saw Ammon Jerro, a warlock from a computer RPG he'd played who'd assembled an army of various fiends and then gotten dragged into damnation by them in one of the expansion campaigns. He saw a few Dungeons and Dragons clerics that his gamer group in college had rolled, especially a human necromancer-cleric of Oghma that he'd played and a drunken ex-convict dwarven cleric of Sun Wukong the group's party animal had created. He saw the toxic shamans from Deadlands: Hell On Earth, who are rewarded with potentially game-breaking magical power in exchange for spreading toxins and radiation. Perhaps most clearly, Darrel saw the chief (human) villain from Doctor Strange, who'd made a pact with a timeless demon of immense power and received a massive power-boost that had visibly disfigured his face.

Darrel wondered if Jess had actually found some sort of real being willing to provide such twisted power. And he vaguely wondered if the next time he saw Jess, she'd have purple, necrotic bruise-burns around her eyes.

I'd better hope magic isn't real. I don't know what I'd do about it if it was.

"But... did she tell you what these groups were all about? Maybe try to get you two to join them?"