“Well, at least you found a hobby to entertain yerself with.”
In a corner of Al Mamoon that embodied all three Ds - dusty, dark, and dank - a young boy with a big head stood in a small square room tucked behind a secluded alley in one of the busier market districts, really just a storeroom nobody’s used in a while. Razputin Aquato, semi-famed junior Psychonaut and trained mental explorer, had been given the place as a joint bedroom/Headquarters by the Grimleal. Well, ok, he got it as a bedroom, but Raz decided to convert it into a base of operations shortly after realizing that his actual duties were going nowhere fast.
“This is serious
, Agent Cruller!” At the moment, Raz was mulling over one of the room’s walls, covered in crude doodles and criss-crossing lines, a framework of theories and connections penned personally by Raz himself, each small section representing a part in the grander scheme - the Grimleal, Validar, a little crude version of Raz with big question marks in his head, etc. “I’ve been here for days and haven’t gotten any closer to figuring out what’s going on. This could be a psi-mergency, and nobody will listen to me!”“Don’t you think I know that by now?”
Instead of just talking to himself, Raz was in conversation with the voice inside his head. Literally. The wide, lopsided head of Ford Cruller stuck out from the side of Raz’s noggin, like a weird mushroom growing out of his ear. “I’ve been trying to contact Sasha and Milla, but they aren’t answerin’. I’ll keep tryin’ from my end, but in the meantime you need to keep your cool out here. You’re our point man on this, Raz, and we can’t have ya give in to your paranoia!”
Raz sighed, stowing his bit of chalk into his bag. “I know, I know. I’ll report back to you later today, Ford.” With a sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle, Ford’s head shrunk back down into Raz’s ear, knocking the boy off balance for just a moment. He turned back to his Conspiracy Wall, looking it over for the fiftieth time this week, in case there was still something he was missing…
A loud, insistent knocking shattered his focus. The sound itself was a curious one, since who in the world might be paying Raz a visit at this place? When the boy hurried to open the door, however, he found the less-than-delightful visage of a robed Grimleal acolyte waiting for him. That meant it could only be official business--potentially the first real official business to confront Raz since his appointment. That ceremony, such that it was, still stung a little; as exciting as the prospect of being in charge of a makeshift Psychonaut-esque organization of his very own made him, it was hard to see the whole thing as anything more than a publicity hunt. And this guy Chalard certainly didn’t look too happy to be involved with it. A look of irritation already set the old man’s wrinkles in a dour way, making it fairly clear that he saw the whole ordeal as more of a bother than a worthy cause.
“Looks like it’s your lucky day, kid,” the acolyte gruffed. “A whole troop of Resistance fighters just got dumped in the cell block at the Palace. I figured we were gonna torch ‘em, but there’s been some mumblin’ about ‘em bein’ brashwashed, so Lord Validar ‘imself said we oughta bring you in for sicko-analysis.”
“It’s psycho-analysis,” Raz said, meeting Chalard’s annoyance in kind. Tensions aside… “Brainwashing? Actual, real brainwashing?” Raz couldn’t help but get excited at the prospect. Psychics would only ever dream of encountering it, the act of not just suggestion or hypnosis, but a full rewiring of the mind. If Raz could find the cause of it and how it affected the mental realm, he could become a legend!
“This is what it might’ve all been leading to!” Without a further thought given to Chalard, Raz pushed past him, rushing off through the city towards Validar’s palace.
A good hour later, however, his enthusiasm had dampened. After all the questions had been asked and the attempts had been made, Raz was looking very defeated, a look that was way too common for him lately. Five prisoners, four valid candidates to project into, and yet again an utter failure to do so. He bent over to pick up his Psycho-Portal from where it landed on the floor and looked up to the last of the bunch, a man named Baz
“Thanks for your help, at least,” Raz said.
Arms crossed, the churlish wrestler gave a shrug. “I still don’t really know what you were up to, and I sure as hell didn’t do much, but sure thing! The great Baz never turns down praise!”
Beside him, Klee held tight to her stuffed companion, Dodoco. Young children and prisons did not mesh, and even though she had only former allies nearby plus her friendly Uncle Baz to watch out for her, the long-eared girl had been terribly fretful the whole time. “Oh Jean, Jean, where are you?” she cried. “This place is so scary. Its way worse than when she grounds me...I promise I’ll never blow up any more fish! Just let me out, please!” The child tugged on Baz’s arm.
“Easy, kiddo,” the wrestler told her, patting her head. “I can’t get us out. Not with a whole lotta hullabaloo we don’t need. Right now we just gotta keep it together, okay?”
But Klee, still sniffling, could only give a halfhearted nod.
Raz looked between Baz and his younger companion, only a bit shorter than himself, and gave her a concerned smile. “Hey, don’t be too scared, alright? I’m actually pretty, uhh, close
, to the people in charge around here. I’m sure I can put in a good word for the both of you so you won’t be stuck in here.”
Though his expression remained as inscrutable as ever behind his mask, Daemon’s stress could be heard in his voice the next cell over. “This is a goddamn mess. A real nightmare. I remember Nastasia hypnotizing me...and everything I did under her control. I’ve done some stuff I’m not proud of, but this crap takes the cake..”
“Goddamn mess…” Klee repeated, teary-eyed.
The bright white eyes beneath Baz’s mask went wide. “Hey, don’t say that-!”
Just then, however, Raz and the prisoners became aware of voices and footsteps from outside the cell block, and only a few moments later the doors flew open, flooding the dark and dingy interior with afternoon sunlight. After a couple Grimleal forerunners came through, two huge silhouettes moved inside, resolving into two absolute titans of men that a few of those recognized either from the warehouse raid or various scraps throughout the city. Goldlewis Dickinson
cut an imposing figure, his unique blend of professional attire and southern charm the epitome of style and strength combined. Still, Big Band
stood even taller and heavier, a trench-coated detective augmented with enough brass to supply an entire orchestra. Band kept a taciturn silence while Goldlewis raised a hand in greeting. “Howdy. Looks like we found more o’ yer friends.”
The two parted, revealed a procession of cuffed Resistance prisoners. The ominously-dressed Robin
and tired-looking Tharja
led them, with an unfettered fairy
trundling along beside them. After that followed what remained of their former subordinates: the masked Witch Doctor
, the enormous ninja Earthquake
, and Daisy Fitzroy
. Around them various Grimleal acolytes swarmed, weapons at the ready to make sure nothing went amiss. It made for quite the spectacle.
Raz was quick to reach them, practically running up to Goldlewis and Big Band leading the group in. “More Resistance members?” He asked, looking at the procession with squinted eyes, sizing them up for possible mental faculties.Then he looked back up to Goldlewis.
“Are you working for Validar, too? I’ve really been trying to get him to take me seriously. There’s something very wrong around here and I think it might be related to this string of…” He leaned in close, about as close as he could with the difference in size between them, and whispered, “brainwashing.”
The Secretary of Absolute Defense rubbed his head, thinking. “Well, I ain’t exactly workin’ for him. More like I’m a mercenary tryin’ to keep the peace. Help folks out. And yeah, we’ve got a pretty good idea ‘bout what’s goin’ on.” Through touch Goldlewis realized that his pompadour was mussed. “Aw, hell.” With a heave he set his enormous coffin upright and rapped on its lid. With a creak it slid open, revealing a nebulous, spacy haze within. From inside a long, spindly arm of similarly cosmic, gelatinous composition emerged with an ordinary mirror in hand, holding the object so that Goldlewis could see his reflection and get about fixing his hairdo with a handy comb.
Big Band, however, remained focused on the task at hand. “Uh huh, we’ve more or less got the scoop. The Resistance’s boss was the one jackin’ brains. Hypnotized a whole buncha people, then sent ‘em ‘round causin’ no end of trouble.” With a tiny mechanical arm he adjusted his hat, ready for the kicker. “But everyone here’s already cured. We freed ‘em before waltzin’ ‘em back.”
With each word Big Band said, Raz grew visibly more excited. Brain jacking? Hypnotism? Trouble?
Things were finally getting up his alley! But then the kicker came, and he just as visibly deflated. “You did, did you?” He asked dejectedly, looking up at the new prisoners. “I’m… glad. Everyone’s back to normal now.”
Instead of letting him pity himself, Raz shook his head and glanced between Big Band and Goldlewis. “But you didn’t fix the actual problem, right? I’ve been here all day trying to get into people’s minds and it still isn’t working. It’s like something is, is blocking
my access. Like a mass psychic manipulation in the city, or or, a whole other layer of brainwashing! Maybe that’s it!” He spun around to address the two mercenaries again. “Don’t you see? Something’s messing with people’s minds around here, and it might be related to this brainwashing. Everyone else could still be in danger!”“He's right,"
came another voice directly ahead of an image to attach it to. “...Mostly."
In marched Fox, brushing past a pair (or two) of anxious acolytes on guard, carrying himself with seamless, casual poise that came expressly with experience, interjecting at the latter end of the discussion he had overheard. This made a first for him encountering anyone who could remotely intuit their own condition, as well as that of everyone else, and he could all but safely infer through conversation as to how they managed. Yet another child psychic
. He couldn’t even pretend to be surprised at this point. What mattered in this case was if the Grimleal took their apparent consultant seriously, and if they could get their theories and stories to line up. First came measuring him on his level of understanding, even if the grey-washed colors and ruby glow in his eyes belied any at all, for he was clearly different in this regard somehow. “How much do you know?"
It was pretty apparent just how seriously the kid’s concerns were taken when he all but lit up when a complete stranger told him he was right. Raz went into it immediately, very animated as he explained.
“Okay, so, as far as I’ve gotten down into this conspiracy,” he began, definitely calling it a ‘conspiracy’ because it sounded cool, “there’s something suppressing the mental impulses of everyone in this city. See, I have this device -” He pulled out his Psycho-Portal from his back, holding it up for them all to see. “It’s called a Psycho-Portal, and normally it’s supposed to let me project into people’s minds. But, well… I’ll just show you.”
With a quick 180 turn, Raz hurled his Psycho-Portal through the air. It spun as it sailed towards Baz, where, once reaching him, the door smacked him right on the forehead… and fell to the floor. Fox briefly regarded the awkward display with a faint expression of bewilderment, but was otherwise content to quickly dismiss it, where most might have begun to suspect the child of lunacy.
Raz looked back to Fox, pointing a thumb towards the demonstration. “It, uh, isn’t supposed to do that,” he clarified. “As far as I can tell there’s something that’s blocking the Portal from working, and I think it’s affecting me, too. Like a, a psychically enhanced wavelength, or- oh, subliminal messaging!”“I know what it is,”
Fox began with a terse, straightforward reply, “And it doesn’t want anyone under its influence knowing, which makes just about everyone else in the world.”
Besides offhandedly raising the scale of the junior psychic’s theory, there was precious little more he could give him in the way of a straight answer that he would believe, for he, too, was among the influenced. Such was the nature of their internal rewriting by Galeem. He was half certain he could take them outside and point to the Lord of Light itself, and even the most rational of them would either somehow fail to see it, or mistake it for a second sun that never set.
That they thus far found only one apparent answer to this, and that it entailed practically beating it out of everyone they met one at a time, presented a number of obvious problems, not the least of which being that it would mean picking a fight with, as he put it, the rest of the world. Still, if they stood the chance of convincing anyone short of that, as he might have otherwise done to save everyone there some trouble, he would take it. Chances were that character was the deciding factor in that; a willingness within someone to exercise understanding, help out however they can, and do what they honestly feel is right even without knowing. Perhaps that was as good a filter as they were going to get. Though, it still didn’t solve the problem of how better to enlighten the young psychic on the matter…
“Oh, wow…” Raz was a mix of awe and apprehension. What he figured to be a fairly small-scale thing, at least compared to the whole rest of the world, turned out to involve… well, the whole rest of the world. For any normal ten year old, having to contend with a problem of that magnitude would make them pee their pants, but the prospect seemed only to spur Raz even further. He straightened his back as he addressed Fox.
“I might not know what exactly we’ll be facing here, but I’ll have you know that I, Razputin Aquato, will do whatever it takes to fend it off. If you’ll let me, of course. Please? Pretty please?”
Admittedly, he hadn’t expected that they might pick up another potential new recruit while they were there--certainly not one so enthusiastic as to volunteer. It was only two days ago that he was having to talk anyone into it, and the current day in which further complications (as if they needed any more) forced him into a longer walk to accomplish the same, which he was still working on. Truth was, it wasn't a matter of letting
Razputin do anything. It was just as much his problem to share with the entire World, and he would sooner or later have to deal with it anyway, whether he wanted to or not.“Guess you’ll find out soon enough.”
Though he betrayed little sign of apparent enthusiasm about the young prospect, Fox couldn’t help but admire his gumption, and could think of more reasons to accept than deny him either way. Raz was unlikely used to such reception, but could consider Fox’s answer as a tacit welcome aboard. Next came finding out how he could be of immediate help to them.“So, what do we do with them?”
he asked his cohorts, Band, Goldlewis, and now Razputin, even making eye contact with Robin for a second to let him in on the pressing matter of the prisoners’ fates. It was less of a question of what he wanted
to do, for nothing had changed there. He wanted them out and on their
side--those they could manage--and expected that much was understood within his allied circle about his intentions. For lack of immediate direction or ideas less reckless than spontaneously inciting an actual
rebellion, he wanted to feel his teammates out for ideas. “What’s next?”
Having concluded a quick debrief of a few Resistance members before they got closed in their cells, Big Band stomped over just in time to hear the boy’s question. “Right now, we wait. There’s one more chapter before we close the book on the Resistance, probably in the evenin’. Robin ain’t the boss and she wasn’t at that temple, so unless she skipped town she’s at the third hideout, Rocket Incorporated. Guessin’ things’re a li’l tougher over there. Hopefully their backups finds ‘em safe and sound.”
He paused a moment to check Goldlewis arguing with Azwel before looking through the cell block at all the prisoners. No matter how he tried, Band couldn’t shake a feeling of dread. “Once the rest roll up, that’ll be the whole dang Resistance, done and dusted.” He gave a wry chuckle. “What a difference a day made. Considerin’ what they’ve been up to that means better days ahead for Al Mamoon, but they weren’t doin’ it ‘cause they wanted to. The fault lies with the boss, but should the folks who actually did the killin’ and stealin’ get off scot-free?” With a brassy sigh he shrugged his massive shoulders. “I dunno. But it looks like these Grimleal fools just wanna ice ‘em all, no questions asked. Even precious li’l Klee, a kid you’re probably twice the age of,” he told Raz. “That ain’t gonna fly. The others feel the same. So when we’re all here at last we might have some tough choices to make.”
“They’re gonna…” Raz let the question hang, looking back towards the prisoners both old and new, taking particular notice of the scared little Klee still clinging to Baz. “They can’t do that! Everyone here was brainwashed, not able to act with their own free will! I knew the people in charge here were shady but I never expected them to be that bad.” Already in over his head, Raz made his way back towards the wrestler/pyro pair to retrieve his portal once more. While he was there, he gave Klee another look.
“Don’t you worry, I’ll keep my promise. You and your friend’ll be out of here soon enough.” Having hopefully eased the girl’s worries, Raz returned to the group, and gave Big Band a determined look. “It won’t be a tough choice for me, sir. We can’t let anything happen to these prisoners. They’re as much victims as the people they may have hurt. Even if that means going up against the ones on top.”
Raz let himself feel a little proud in the moment. As dire as the circumstances were and despite not being capable of understanding the scope, he knew that there were people who needed help that couldn’t help themselves. He might not be able to do the most he could for them right now, but he’d do all he can to make things right.
That’s what a Psychonaut does.
WORD COUNT: 3,385
EXP GAIN: 4