Terror, Boogie's Beans, Taletown
"I'm disappointed in you, Crier," Becca said as she watched the detective walk towards the glass double doors that would return him to the streets of Taletown. "Truly. I expected more from you, but I suppose it's easier to go through life with your eyes shut and your fingers jammed in your ears. Perhaps you just need more time?" Without waiting for a response, the Tale pulled James' business card out of her pants' pocket and held it up, the cheap card-stock flashing in the moonlight filtering through the curtains. "At least I have your card. I'll be in touch."
As the Boy Who Cried Wolf opened the first set of doors and left Boogie's Beans, a triumphant smile slithered across Terror's face. Even though she'd failed to convince Crier to support her cause, the Boogieman was nothing if not patient. And she'd noticed something curious. James' expression had changed ever so slightly when she'd mentioned her desire to "atone for the sins of the past." Terror had always suspected this was the reason Crier had opened his little detective agency all those years ago, but now she was sure of it. That was an angle she could work with, a weakness just begging to be exploited.
Chuckling, Boogie put the detective's business card back in her pocket and switched off the table lamp she'd turned on for her meeting with Manuel. His rejection notwithstanding, James had impressed Terror. Most Tales were either terrified of her or believed she wasn't a threat because she'd spent so much time building a reputation as a respectable, law-abiding member of the community. Crier wasn't fooled, though. Ignoring his protests to the contrary, the detective clearly knew another predator when he saw one and he wasn't afraid to say it. As she stood in the silent darkness of Boogie's Beans, Terror had to admit her admiration for the Boy Who Cried Wolf was genuine. He was a brave, stubborn, and honorable man. Of course, Boogie had butchered countless honorable men over the years. If James got in her way then he'd share their fate. Terror refused to allow anything or anyone to interfere with her plans.
As if responding to their mistress' thoughts, three shades loped across the dining area and sank into the shadows near the first set of glass doors. Two of them were loaded down with what looked like stacks of white posters. Crier had been gone for less than five minutes, but Baelor, Grim, and Swift were already moving out to complete their respective tasks.
"Wonderful," Boogie said aloud as she turned and sauntered towards her office, her heels clacking against the wooden floorboards. "I'm not expecting any other visitors tonight, my little soldiers, so one of you can lock the doors. Keep an eye on the gnat buzzing around outside and let me know if he tries anything. Otherwise, don't disturb me. We have a few hours before the morning shift arrives, and I intend to make good use of that time."
Somewhere in the depths of the building, a shade moved and the sound of doors being locked echoed through Boogie's Beans as Terror stepped into her office once more. She had a phone call to make. Moving around to the other side of her cherry wood desk, Terror sat down and opened the desk's main drawer. Surprisingly for someone that was running a business and plotting to take control of Taletown, Boogie kept her belongings well-organized. Writing utensils were neatly arranged on the left side of the drawer, important documents were to the right, and in the middle rested a magazine with Rebecca Sinclair's face on the cover. This was the latest issue of "Local Business Owners Monthly," and it just so happened to contain a lengthy article describing all the wonderful services Boogie's Beans provided for the people of Taletown. Thomas Thumb, the Tale who'd written the piece, had quickly established himself as a skilled and trustworthy journalist after the Great Exodus so people tended to believe what he wrote. Strangely, nobody had seen him since he'd published the Boogie's Beans article.
The Boogieman smiled a small, dangerous little smile as she pulled the magazine out and flipped it open to page thirteen. There was a scrap of paper with a series of numbers scrawled on it between pages twelve and thirteen. This was a phone number for a secure line Boogie could use to talk to the Nunez brothers without fear of anyone listening in. Domingo had given it to her after their first meeting. Settling back into her wine-colored desk chair and picking up her telephone, Terror dialed the number and waited.
After a few rings, a recording of Domingo Nunez's voice said, "If you're calling this number then you know what to do." Frowning and glancing at the ornate clock hanging on the right wall of her office, the Boogieman said, "You boys are going to have to get used to working unusual hours if our partnership is going to thrive. It's only 6:30 in the morning. Regardless, I'm calling to tell you things are moving faster than we originally anticipated. In forty-eight hours, I want you two to come up with a plan, a workable plan, for moving your equipment to Boogie's Beans. I'm willing to offer monetary assistance, but I'm low on manpower at the moment. Coincidentally, if you have any friends, preferably friends that know how to use basic firearms, feel free to get them involved. Just know that whatever money you promise them is coming out of your cut of the profits. Remember, forty-eight hours, boys. Do not keep me waiting." Terror hung up the phone and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the polished surface of her desk. How was it 6:30 already? Where had the evening gone?
The two manila folders she'd left on her desk caught her eye, and Boogie's smile returned. She'd spent most of the night working on these, gathering all the information she could on the people she wanted to talk to over the next few days. Abruptly, her grin faded as she saw something else. Something that was always on her person. Something that she did her best not to think about. It was the ring she wore on her right pinkie, a beautiful silver band with a black gemstone set in the center. Did this ring, this dangerous magical ring, have something to do with the vision she had during Crier's visit? Boogie had experienced similar flashbacks, vivid reminders of her life in the Darklands, in the past, but she still didn't know what triggered them. As far as the ring was concerned, Terror had it made to serve one purpose. If she uttered a specific mystical word then the black portal gem would activate and open a gateway to the Darklands. Obviously, the Boogieman would only use this artifact as a last resort. Returning to the Homelands meant returning to the Everwar. And returning to...her. Shuddering with something almost like fear, Boogie gathered her folders and started to rise when Queezel stepped out of the shadows near her desk.
"Queezel," Terror said as she stood and stared down at the one-eared shade, "welcome back. Where did you end up?"
The elder shade bowed low and said, "I visited the G'Whiz Sweets Shop, mistress." The stink of rotting flesh was slowly filling Terror's office, but she barely noticed it. Amazing what you grew accustomed to after a few thousand years.
"Went to talk to Hansel, did you? Smart. Given the proper incentive, he can find just about anyone," Boogie said as she walked around the desk and casually leaned against it, her gaze never leaving Queezel's decaying face. "A little strange, though. You always seem to find your way to the sweets shop. Why is that?"
Queezel scratched at his chest wound for a moment before he said, "Honestly, mistress, I do not know. It calls to me for some reason. Although, I don't think I'll be returning there anytime soon."
Well, that was curious. Tilting her head to one side like a dog confronted by an unfamiliar scent, Boogie asked, "What makes you say that?"
"Master Hansel not only refused to help me find Crier, but he also told me to inform you he doesn't want any more of your muppets in his shop," Queezel said in his dry, rasping voice as he shifted from one foot to another.
"My muppets?" Terror asked as she rose from her desk to tower over the hunchbacked shade. What had happened at the G'Whiz Sweets Shop?
Queezel inclined his bulbous head and said, “I believe in this case Master Hansel was referring to—“
“I know what he was referring to,” Terror said, “I was just being...never mind. What did you do to upset Hansel?” When the shade held up his hands in mute confusion, she said, “Odd. Look, don't worry about it, Queezel. I’ll talk to him when I have a moment. I have bigger fish to fry right now. In about two hours the opening manager and cashiers will be arriving to get everything ready for the breakfast rush. I want you and all the other shades in the building to start making your rounds. Everything needs to be clean and secure. And make sure someone is watching Mothman. I’m going down to the basement for an hour or so then I plan to shadow-walk back to the apartment. Meet me there when everything is done, but leave at least two or three shades here. We’re going to have to start being more careful now that we’re rattling cages. I don’t want to be caught off-guard. Understood?”
Queezel bowed low and watched his mistress walk over to the large antique armoire that occupied one corner of her office. Using her free hand, she opened it, revealing a dizzzying array of outfits and shoes. Outfits and shoes for both men and women. Currently, there was one empty spot for a pair of women's shoes. Kicking off her high heels, Terror put the shoes into the armoire and closed it. "I am so eager to get out of this body," she muttered and Queezel took this as his cue to leave. The undead creature stepped back and sank into the same shadow he'd originally emerged from while Terror walked around to the front of her desk.
The ancient Tale knelt down on the floor and started running her hands across the green carpet, her eyes narrowing in concentration. Several years ago, she'd paid a dwarven craftsman named Bazak Skoll a great deal of money to install a few intricate mechanisms in Boogie's Beans. Then she'd killed him so he couldn't reveal her secrets. One of those secrets just so happened to be a cleverly concealed trapdoor. After a few moments, the Boogieman felt a small portion of the carpet yield to her touch. She applied a little pressure and there was a faint clicking sound as a twelve-inch tall brass column rose from the floor. There was a keyhole embedded in the center of the column. Terror set her folders down beside the column and reached into her brassiere, producing a single bronze key. Grinning, she inserted the key into the lock and turned it counterclockwise twice then clockwise three times. In dwarven culture, this was known as a "craftsman's turn" for some reason. Unless an intruder had a deep understanding of dwarven customs, found the hidden mechanism, and got their hands on the key, it was impossible to access the basement of Boogie's Beans.
The keyhole column retracted into the floor as the trapdoor opened by itself, releasing a burst of warm, foul-smelling air. A series of black metal rungs descended into the newly revealed concrete shaft. There was no visible bottom. Humming to herself, Terror retrieved her folders and put the key back in her bra. It would've been faster to shadow-walk to the basement since spells could be cast inside Boogie's Beans. However, the Boogieman enjoyed the ritual of slowly climbing down into the pitch-black abyss. It was a purifying experience, leaving the identity of Rebecca Sinclair behind as she sank into the darkness. Down there, down below her stronghold, Terror could be herself. Her true self. After checking to make sure her folders were tucked securely under her right arm, Boogie lowered herself onto the first rung and began her journey towards the basement. Once she'd moved down a few rungs, she pressed herself against the wall in front of her and reached up with her left hand. She'd done this plenty of times so she wasn't worried about losing her balance. She pressed the small square-shaped button on the underside of the trapdoor and it swung closed, vanishing into the carpet once again. A true testament to the ingenuity and practicality of dwarven craftsmanship.
“Welcome to your life,” Becca sang quietly as she continued her descent, “there’s no turning back.” After what felt like an age, her bare feet touched concrete and she looked around the lightless expanse of the basement. She found herself standing in a rectangular room made of concrete with several large support pillars scattered throughout and a seven foot high ceiling. There were also three man-sized grates set into the left wall that could be shifted aside to access the New York City sewer system. The smell was revolting beyond words, but the possibilities for such a place were endless. Oddly enough, there was also a cluster of wooden dressers and wardrobes tucked into the corner closest to the metal rungs.
“Even while we sleep,” Terror muttered to herself as she walked over to the largest dresser and laid her manila folders on it. “We will find you acting on your best behavior. Turn your back on mother nature. Everybody wants to rule the world.” Still humming, she removed the key from her bra and laid it next to the two folders. Without hesitation, she stripped in the dark and neatly folded her clothes before stowing them in the appropriate drawers. Taking a deep breath, though she didn’t need to breathe, Terror focused and her body began to change. Tanned skin suddenly took on a reddish purple hue and Rebecca Sinclair's slender figure bulged and warped. Thick blackish-blue armor, almost like an insect’s carapace, began to crawl up her left arm while the fingers of her right hand sprouted sharp white claws. In moments, Rebecca Sinclair was replaced by the monstrosity known as Terror. “Everybody wants to rule the world,” the shapeshifter sang in a deep, rumbling bass as she moved towards the opposite wall of the chamber. This was one of her favorite ways to relax or move past a difficult event. Like a traumatic vision. She would come down here, become herself, and practice her swordplay. In the center of this chamber were two dozen effigies made of cinder blocks and rebar that looked vaguely human-like. Actual humans probably wouldn't survive even one training session with the Boogieman.
"It’s my own desire,” Terror hissed as she reached out and pressed her clawed hand against the wall in front of her. She pushed in, moved a hidden panel, and revealed the black metal face of a combination safe. Another of Bazak Skoll's devices. Using her white claws, she entered the combination and the safe opened, disgorging a long, wooden drawer. On it lay a jagged, black sword with strips of sweat-stained leather wrapped around the handle. It was a cruel, unpleasant-looking weapon and it seemed to shimmer despite the total absence of light in the basement. This was Dread, the Umbral Blade and the Shadow-That-Cuts, and the sight of it dispelled the last of Terror's melancholy. This sword was more a part of her than Boogie’s Beans could ever be. It was more a part of her than her shades. It was an extension of her will, and she so rarely got to use it these days. She rarely had reason to.
That's what separated Terror from the rest of her family.
After spending millennia engaged in a pointless war, violence was something Boogie viewed as a last resort. It was one of the few positive lessons Mother Night had taught her. Just thinking that name made Boogie nervous so she picked up the sword and shoved the drawer back into the safe before closing it. “It’s my own remorse,” she whispered as she began walking towards the cinder block dummies. “Help me to decide. Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure. Nothing ever lasts for ever.” By the time she finished the last verse, she was running towards the effigies, her wings folded behind her back, and the sword held down and to the right. Her footfalls thudded against the concrete as she lunged forward and swung the Umbral Blade around in an arcing cut.
“Everybody wants to rule the world!” Terror roared as the Shadow-That-Cuts whizzed towards the dummy, but she stopped it a centimeter away from the cinder block head. Dread could cut through these like butter, but making these dummies was a pain in the ass. Her swordplay was more about control than anything else. Smiling as she realized her blade hadn’t even touched the cinder block, Terror glanced over her shoulder at the manila folders on the dresser, the results of a long night’s work.
The thinner of the two folders contained information about Swan, the Gingerbread Man’s right hand woman. Another predator, like Crier, but slightly more dangerous. Terror was quite fond of her. The last folder was Mothman’s. Just thinking about that annoying bastard made Boogie's blood boil and she turned back to face the dummy. With a guttural snarl, she whipped Dread around and continued practicing.
By the time Pestle Nickabrick, a magically disguised gnome that worked for Terror as both an assistant manager and informant, and Silas Greer, a mortal and father of three, arrived at Boogie’s Beans to open the cafe', the sword-wielding Tale was gone. She'd finished her therapeutic training session and was resting comfortably in her apartment. The first honey-colored sunbeams also signaled to Swift and Grim that it was time to stop putting up posters, though they’d already covered a fair bit of Taletown. People would wake up to see simple white posters with the words ‘Where is the Justice in Taletown?’ printed on them wherever they looked. Even on Boogie’s Beans. If the Council didn’t notice this then they were truly blind. Elsewhere, Baelor did his best to shadow-walk along with Crier, though the daylight made that difficult. He could look out at it from the Waiting Room, but if sunlight so much as touched him he would die. Meanwhile, Terror quickly wrote and sent off a letter with Nod, one of her newer shades. It took Nod awhile to find a sufficient portal, but eventually he did. The letter, which was written on crisp white parchment in Boogie's flowery handwriting, was left outside Swan's apartment. It contained the following message:“Dear Swan,
Isn’t the New World funny? Back in the Homelands, many of us never encountered each other but now we’re all crammed into the same borough. Everyone is being forced to deal with everybody else for better or worse. Anyway, I was hoping to meet with you to discuss a few important matters. If you aren’t interested then you can tear this letter up right now. If you are interested then please write down a place where you’d feel comfortable talking with me and a time that works for you on the back of this sheet. One of my associates will retrieve it. I look forward to meeting you, my bird of Paradise.