“I hate this town,” he thought to himself as the hammer came down across the back of his skull.
He fell into the puddle below as rain continued to pour along his back. He brushed his long, dark hair out of his eyes as he peered into the darkness of early morning to get a look at his assailant. It was a younger man, skilled enough to sneak up on him but not experienced enough to realize that not everyone goes down that easily. His eyes widened as he stood up, his 6’5 frame towering over him. Farrell loved the look of fear in the young man’s eyes and stood still, the rain pouring over him as he waited for the next attack. As expected, the young man swung the hammer again, but Farrell caught his wrist and began pummeling him with his free hand. The younger man went down after the first punch but Farrell held on tight and continued to rain down blow after blow until he was sure the young man would never get back up again.
Farrell Creed took another look around in case more men showed up and when he was satisfied, he continued to the small abandoned house in the field. The house sat a few yards from a country road roughly five miles outside the town of Winghaven. It was several decades old but still standing which was common in the area. He knew the missing teen and his friends disappeared near this area (it was common for teenagers in Winghaven to hang out on top of a nearby hill overlooking the city). The abandoned house was rumored to be the site of a cult so once Ferrell got word of missing teens, it was the first place he looked. He parked his motorcycle down the road and trekked through the muddy field to the house. Considering he was attacked by someone watching guard, he knew his instincts were correct so he approached carefully, making sure to go around the back to find an entrance.
He found an old, worn door hanging on its last hinge, leading to a cellar. He carefully moved the door out of the way so that it wouldn’t break off and looked down the staircase. He could see another door at the end up of the stairs and noticed a faint glow, so he took the 9mm from his jacket pocket and carefully made his way down the steps. Once there, he noticed the door had a lock that was far too new for this house. He could have kicked it in with ease but considering he could hear a voice on the other side of the door, he opted to pick the lock instead. He carefully cracked the door and soon realized he was not in a cellar.
The stone floor and walls of the grotto appeared to be much older than the house that was built on top of it. The man-made cave was partially made with mummified skulls of humans and animals. Old oil lamps and candles were scattered around the room, their flickering lights making shadows dance along the walls. He recognized the three nude figures chained to the walls from the pictures he was given by worried parents: they were the three missing teens. Their throats had been cut with blood dripping down their torsos into golden bowls on the dirty floor. An older man knelt in the center of the room, drawing symbols in blood with a knife. Ferrell crept forward and, despite his size, didn’t make a sound until he placed his gun at the back of the man’s head and made sure he heard the hammer pull back.
“How many of you are there?,” Farrell asked.
“More than enough,” the older man sneered without turning around.
“If you have friends, they aren’t here unless we’re talking about the dead guy outside. How many in your group? How many of them are in town?”
“My answers are still the same… more than enough.”
Ferrell took a look at the symbols below and recognized them as the signs of the planets. More to the point, he recognized what practice they belonged to. “Who are you?,” Farrell asked. The man chuckled to himself, “Do you think my name is on any records?” and promptly shoved it into the side of his neck, spilling blood down his clothes before collapsing. “Damn,” Farrell muttered as he put his gun away.
Ten miles away, a young Afro-Cuban woman looked at the mural of her community center’s basement. The mural depicted an incident that happened shortly after the Civil War. Her religion was under attack and the previous worship center had been burned to the ground with practitioners hiding in the basement to escape the flames. Unfortunately, it only bought them a small amount of time before the main floor collapsed. Since then, the center had been rebuilt and renovated several times over, particularly when it came to the basement’s integrity which now doubled as a shelter in case of future attacks. When she was smaller, she would play in the basement and imagine herself protecting her brothers and sisters.
“If they knew what we know now, it never would have gotten that far,” Papa Torres said as he stood behind her. He was a tall, muscular man and a trusted priest in her community.
“That’s what mom always said,” Alysa smiled as she continued to look at mural, “Sometimes it seems like they didn’t understand magic like we do now,” she traced her finger along the paint and the figures in the mural began to move, shifting into battle stances while raising mystic shields.
“I wasn’t talking about magic. I was talking about being prepared for their enemies. Being smart. Magic comes second to that.”
“That’s right,” she waved her hand and the mural returned to normal.
“Anyway, your mom’s been asking for you and I thought you might be playing down here. She’s upstairs.”
Alysa Saraki walked up the stairs to find her mother and as she came to the main floor, some children rushed past her, prompting her to quickly shout, “No running!”. “Yes, ma’am,” one of them called back as they disappeared into the next room. Two older woman sat, talking as she moved into the foyer. They were fellow sisters: Yemesi and Maria from St. Louis and New Orleans respectively and were visiting for the weekend. “Miss Yemesi,” Alysa began, “Have you seen my mom?”. “In the kitchen,” she said, “There’s some big white dude talking to her.”
Alysa sighed, “Thanks,” and made her way to the kitchen, sighing heavily. She had an idea who she might’ve been referring to and when she entered the kitchen, she was proven right. Farrell Creed and her mother stood among boxes of canned goods that were being prepped for a food drive.
“- and I think the guys were Iconoclasts,” she heard Farrell tell her mother.
“Are you sure?,” Ella Saraki was a priestess, usually referred to as Mama Saraki or just ‘Mama’ and was known for both her generosity as well as her skills in the mystic arts.
“The old man said he didn’t have any records so he wouldn’t have a name. I checked for their IDs and didn’t find anything,” Farrell turned once he noticed Alysa, “Hey, Alysa. How are you?”
“Good,” Alysa placed herself between Farrell and her mother, “You needed to see me, Mom?”
“Just a second,” she gently guided Alysa out of the way and continued speaking to Farrell, “You didn’t call the cops did you?”
“Winghaven cops? Nah, not yet. They’ll just get in the way, right?,” Farrell sighed and scratched his beard, “But I gotta let the parents know what happened to the kids. I just decided to stop by here first and tell you about the cult. Just in case my theory holds out and they start trouble with your people.”
“Good to know. Keep us updated and I’ll see if I can find any answers myself.”
He looked out the window, “Still don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to tell the parents of these kids. If people go missing or something, I can find them, but this kinda thing…”
“Think before you speak. Listen to your heart first.”
“Thanks, Mama,” Farrell moved past Alysa and left through the back door.
“That guy’s creepy as hell, Mom. Why do you always talk to him?,” Alysa peaked out the window and watched as he got on his motorcycle to leave.
“He’s done a lot for this town.”
“Yeah, when he gets paid.”
“Do I have to remind you of -“
“The time he helped you fight Iconocalsts? The dude’s still creepy, Mom. Big, ugly, … Oh, and I heard he was Nelson Creed’s son.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“I don’t have time for this foolishness. Listen, I want you to go to the store and ask if they have any spare boxes. We need to move this food out.”
“Yeah, I’ll go ask,” Alysa moved toward the door and turned around, “I’ll be back.”
The Iseda religion originated in the Caribbean and came to the US through slavery. The religion had a focus on nature and animal spirits. Some priests and priestesses were said to be capable of using magic to varying degrees depending on certain practices. Like most religions, there were different sects such as the Iconoclasts who refused modern technology as it separated them from “True Nature”. The main sect saw society and technology as an outcrop of human ingenuity and didn’t mind as it was a part of nature just like everything else. They sometimes referred to themselves as Reformers and a conflict ensued. Winghaven had the largest concentration of Iseda Followers since the early 20th century and one of the deadliest gang wars in American history happened there in 1927 when two rival gangs following the two main sects of Iseda fought in the downtown area with rumors of mystic battles.
Winghaven, of course, was always a city that invited the strange and the violent. It was a mid-sized city in Flyover Country whose only claim to fame was being known as the strangest city in America with multiple supernatural occurrences happening in the area for several years. It had been speculated that something lurked underneath the city, resulting in the strange goings-on, an idea held first by Natives, then colonists, and finally Americans. The most prominent believer in this theory was Henrich Mason, the eccentric inventor of the Locomotive Man and amateur detective; he created an iron statue of himself shortly before his death which was held in the Winghaven Museum.
Alysa grew up in Winghaven as a priestess in training, learning everything she could from her mother. She was a senior in Mason High School and like most young people in the city, often heard weird tales about the area. Her mother often protected her despite being a priestess herself and helping Farrell Creed in several investigations. Alysa was excited about the prospect of learning more about magic and eventually going on adventures of her own. At that moment, she was simply helping with a food drive.
She drove her car to a department store a few blocks away and asked the clerk if they had extra cardboard boxes. He helped her carry the boxes to her car and she happily drove back to the Community Center. The rain had stopped while she was inside, so she understood it as a sign of good lucky. That was moments before she heard a massive explosion and the flash of light emerging from the direction of the Community Center.