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June 23, 1946
Somewhere in British Columbia

For the twenty-two years he had spent in this world, he and the people around him only knew him as "Antlion." His square frame was wrapped in a tan trench coat. His face was a shifting mess of skin-colored blurs and antimemetic spells, practically a mask that only he could take off. Its exact form and measurements weren't entirely comprehensible to the average human's brain, but it helped the Agent get out of some tough pinches.

And approximately one hundred and forty-five pinches later had led him to the middle of Cascadia. The coniferous plane concealed the night sky, speckled with blues and purples and a billion blinking lights. In one hand he held his gun, and in the other a leather suitcase that seemed to breathe against his palm.

He pounced from branch to branch, green pond to green pond, all night before he finally found it: Cassidy, British Columbia. Barely incorporated. His clad, faceless face peered out through the emerald brush and at the small town of about twenty. Browning paint, rusted roofs, dirt paths, and most importantly, an armored van parked just behind Sandy's Cafe & Bar.

He emerged and strutted through the sullen settlement. He looked to his left, and in an instant, the blinds on one of the house's windows snapped shut. Fitzgerald had clearly done a good job at getting the locals to stay put.

Antlion skipped over to its plated trunk. He put his gun in his pocket and knocked. It took a few seconds, but the rear end of the vehicle lifted open like a garage, and two heavily armed men stared down at him with their bald eagle brows.

"Antlion. Papaya. I know Fritz."

One nodded, and he leapt into the truck. The other closed the trunk behind him. For such a compact space, the truck's interior was built like a general's private quarters. A map of the surrounding area was plastered against the left wall, and it had this big red pin stuck in it with a small slip of paper reading "Site-24." On the other wall, rifles and ballistic vests hung on a rack. Four other burly mercenaries stared at him silently in the front.

"I'm late," Antlion set the case down on a folding table in the middle of the trunk. "But for good reason. They have sent their agents after me."

A silhouette, which blended into the dark-blue exterior projected through the front windows, turned to the side. A faint, orange glow illuminated his features. Pale, yet with a faded scar painted across his cheek, a scowl appeared imprinted onto his grim visage. "S'alright," he sucked in a long plume of smoke from his cigarette. "We know all about the Red Herrings."

"Good. Splendid. We shall begin business now, yes?"

Fitzgerald lifted himself from the driver's seat, creaking as he did, and made his way over to the opposite end of the table. A misshapen beard grew lopsided from one side of his head to the other. "We're beginning."

"Good. I have the materials ready. Now, in my past studies I know for sure that there exists over twelve-thousand subterranean tunnels scattered across the province. Now…" he spun his outstretched fingers above the suitcase, "… what I have here is an old Cétlaidí rite. Long story short, they migrated here during the Sixth Occult War, and set their elders free to gnaw at the land as they pleased. So—"

"What are you proposing, Ant?" a shadowy grunt ground asked, speaking with a heavy French accent.

"I told you, the Red Herrings are here. The Foundation has more than enough resources and help to cover a breach up."

"So we break in? Is that it? We've been trying for two years, Antlion. How do you plan on improvising this operation?"

"Well, you've already brought your group into question. Now, yes, you are the Chaos Insurgency, but the Foundation know you will never have a chance of obtaining even a fraction of the materials contained in here."

"So what is the plan?"

"The tunnels are strong, yeah. And those cicada things down there are old and miserable. The Foundation will be too busy cleaning them up. You guys get to raid the ruins of your precious Site, and I'll go along my separate business."

"You still haven't told us what exactly you plan on doing," said Fritz, blowing a wave of ashen smoke.

"I'm waking those cicadas up. They'll crawl to the surface and cause an earthquake."

"… They'll what?" Fritz flicked the cig away and pushed himself to his feet. His scowl seemed to intensify. "An earthquake?! For God's sake, Antlion, that's insane."

"And risking the Veil isn't? The Veil, Fitzgerald, is important to you. You know that if it is broken, Delta Command will rain hellfire upon your little platoon, and the Chaos Insurgency's mission will be for nothing. Yet your team has repeatedly risked info-leak after info-leak charging into Site-24." He leaned forward. "But this? This'll crack your treasure trove like a, like a walnut. The entire thing was built, what? During World War One. Never been renovated since. It'll crack."

The French one stepped forward, rubbing his chin. "And how do we know the things contained in there won't, as you say, shatter the Veil?"

"Site-24 isn't built for containment, people. It's an outpost for Task Forces, so they can stock up and travel to other, bigger Sites and Lodges. It serves as, at best, a hub for Veil Commission reps to meet up and negotiate."

"And how exactly do you know this?"

"I have a lot of experience in my field." Antlion said all this while delicately flicking dust off of the briefcase.

Fitzgerald stared at the map, pondering. "And what of the Task Forces themselves?"

"They'll be after me. Lucky for you, I'm kind enough to use myself as a distraction to you lot can reap your rewards."



"Well…" Fritz sat down again. "What the Hell. I've trusted you for eight years, why stop now."

"Splendid. We will begin tomorrow—"

"But what about your reward?"

Antlion perked up. "My what?"

"What's in it for you, exactly?"

He looked back down. "Personal grudges, Fritz. You and your people need not worry about it."

Fitzgerald looked around at his men. At first, they just looked at him with stone-cold faces, but after a moment they all began nodding and, eventually, chuckling. "Alright," Fritz lit another cigarette. "It's a plan then. We'll meet here, same time tomorrow."

"Wonderful. I knew I could count on you, Fritz." Antlion stood up, holding the briefcase close. "Now, on my way over I saw this nice looking cafe. Who wants to go grab a drink?"

Antlion liked drowning out the drunken voices of gullible terrorists and researchers with the Scent. The prescription clearly stated that he was only to sniff the stuff every two days, but he'd lost track of time long ago.

The Agent slunk behind the bar as the freckled woman behind the counter served Fritz and his merry men yet another pint. A viable distraction, he thought. Tempered lights blinked around him as the moths orbited around them. For a moment, Cascadia was revealed by the orange light. Antlion popped the runic vial open, and a violet fume fluttered out, coalescing in the air into tiny clumps that jiggled like drops of water. He tilted his head down, closed his eyes, and sniifffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

He was in that place again. Black onyx steppes, a pool of sea-green, and a milky pillar of water spilling from the ceiling. Litter sloshed around at his knees. The couch he sat on was damp, and the smell of mildew wafted through the waterlogged place. And then she appeared, like a siren dipping her head into the air. The phantom levitated from the pool, completely dry as if untouched by the water. She beamed and ran her finger down Antlion's chin.

"How long has it been?" she whispered.

Antlion kept staring forward. The bad trips were happening more often. Probably because he had a habit of abusing the Scent.

"Look at me." Her hand drifted onto his thigh. "How long has it been?"

He looked at her, and he felt nothing. The woman in the water, she was nothing to him. An apparition, he thought.

"You can't run forever."

She was nothing more than a shape floating in the water. He said it over and over again: he didn't recognize the body in the water.

"How long has it been?"

The room flooded, and the walls gave way to a sea of black. The woman was swept away, cackling. Her eyes were pure white, and her teeth glinted in the moonlight. Antlion just kept sitting, counting every breath. He counted the ripples in the water; he counted how many times he blinked; he counted every breath, ever speck of dust, until the orange light of Cassidy, British Columbia washed over him. And he was back.

For a moment he looked at the vial of Scent. He just looked at it. Antlion ran his fingers over the inscriptions. His dusty fingernail rattled at it scraped over the rough edges of the bottle. After a few moments, he slipped the item back into his coat.

"Fritz," he called out, stepping back into the bar. "I wouldn't get too busted. We're going to be busy tomorrow."

It had been twenty-two years, and he knew what he had to do.

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