A Sarkic By Any Other Name


A Sarkic By Any Other Name


rating: +79+x

In Transit
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean
2 November, 2021

“Do you think Orok, and his flock, will come into to the fold?” Tilda Moose asked over the video call. Clef was asleep a few seats away from Varis, while the Karcist sat at the table in the Vanguard jet transporting the MTF forces back from Moscow.

“I’m not sure. Will they open up with us diplomatically? Yes. Will they completely reform? I don’t know. Will they join Vanguard? Possibly. It’s been over a century of bloodshed, we shouldn’t expect every one of the Lodge members to abandon their views overnight.”

“Is it going to be a problem?”

“Almost certainly, but I have faith that Orok will rein his people in. After years of silence, their Klavigar has returned to lead.”

“I’m going to need you to touch base with them. I don’t mean to pretend I’m in authority over you, but you’re perfectly situated. Not to mention, it was your choice to offer a diplomatic solution so it’s sorta your mess to clean up.”

“Well, funny you should say that because I think we need to move further in that direction. We’ve got a Vanguard diplomatic core, but it’s been of tertiary concerns. I’ve been thinking of the wider Nälkä community, the diaspora in general really.”

“Oh?”


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Massachusetts
4 November, 2021

The helicopter’s rotors roared above their heads in the fading New England sun as Varis watched Dr. Alto Clef’s lips move. This had been going on for approximately the last ten minutes. Clef finally noticed Varis wasn’t responding and met his eyes, shaking his headset.

Varis reached up and turned the headset’s receiver back on.

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said?”

“Not a word of it.”

“Goddamnit, Varis.”

“You say a lot of things that I’d rather not listen to, especially when ranting.”

Clef’s eyes narrowed. “I. Do. Not. Rant.”

“Well, however you feel comfortable labeling that way of speaking you adopt when you start to describe everything around you as ‘fucking nonsense’ and start using rural American aphorisms.”

Clef stared at Varis, his mouth slightly agape.

“Alto, if you want to repeat any of it go ahead. But before you do, try to keep in mind I’ve been alive for centuries and I’ve heard all the speeches I care to. Be concise.”

Clef literally growled, then lit one of the oily-black Russian cigarettes he had picked up in Moscow. The co-pilot turned around and started to yell that Clef couldn’t smoke in the chopper, but the veteran agent interrupted her.

“Shut the fuck up.” Clef turned back to Varis. “Why am I here?”

“We worked together well in Moscow, didn’t we?”

“That doesn’t mean I want to immediately turn around and get on a helo to New England.”

“From what little I understand, you’ve not pursued anything you wanted since you joined the Foundation.”

Clef turned his face down towards the floor of the helicopter, took a drag, and then looked up over his sunglasses without tilting his head up. “What the hell do you know about it?”

Varis shrugged and looked out the window over the darkening ocean. “I know whatever deal you made with the O5s, it doesn’t bind you anymore.”

“Don’t talk about shit you don’t know fuck all about, Varis. I don’t care who you are.”

“Alright, Alto. Calm down. I won’t pry.”

“So, you be concise: why am I here?”

“You’ll be useful when dealing with Adytum’s Wake. And because I’m your boss.”

“You’re on the interim Board.”

“And you’re not.”

“Fuck.”


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███████, Massachusetts
Containment Wall
4 November, 2021

“So, how are we trying to normalize this situation to the public?” Clef asked.

Captain Sarah Guerrero, current commander of Sitra Achra personnel surrounding ███████, sighed and shook her head.

“Honestly, sir, we’re just trying to keep the wall from being breached. Those GOC traitors pulled out when the Foundation dissolved and formed Vanguard. Not only that but we’ve had to shoot down two tactical missiles.”

Varis turned away from the section of the wall he was examining. “Nuclear?”

“No, sir. But they were MOAB equivalent.”

Varis looked at Clef, who explained. “’Mother of all bombs’, equivalent to almost a dozen tons of TNT. They even ignite the oxygen. Could’ve easily flattened the whole area and incinerated anything living. Next best thing to a nuclear strike with none of the radiation.”

“Fucking soldiers,” Varis said, then sighed. “No offense, Captain.”

“None taken.”

“Remind me, have we revealed the existence of this anomaly to the wider public yet?”

“No, sir.”

“We’re going to have to deal with this sooner or later; maybe making the public aware of what happens here and the GOC’s actions in general would get them off your back.”

Captain Guerrero widened her eyes. “Not for me to say, sir, but that seems premature.”

“It’s something to think about, though. GOC isn’t fond of having this out in public, or anything else. We knew we’d face blowback, but tactical strikes already? I know them, we need to hit back,” Clef said.

Varis turned back to the wall. It was five meters tall and one thick, with gun emplacements every half kilometer, constructed of thaumaturgically reinforced concrete.

“I’m going up.”

Captain Guerrero shook her head. “Sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I am a Karcist. That is my title, Captain. Not ‘sir’. And I’m going up.”

The MTF captain looked at Clef for support, and he just shrugged. When she turned back to Varis, she found him climbing the metal stairs bolted to the exterior of the wall, leading to the gun emplacements above.

“You heard him,” Clef said, then followed Varis.

At the top of the wall, beyond the reinforced bunker prickly with automatic weapons outfitted with alternating incendiary and armor piercing rounds, was a no man’s land of wrecked buildings. The skeletons of Victorian houses and small brick business store fronts, half a park, and one warehouse were visible.

The joint GOC and Foundation forces had leveled a circle half a kilometer deep around the interior diameter of the wall, creating a kill zone for any bioforms or creatures summoned by Adytum’s Wake.

But according to the old Foundation files, SCP-2480 was never fully contained, just held back. It had taken twelve years of sustained bloodshed, and even at the end of the small war it wasn’t clear if the anomaly was contained. The cult had made a pact with otherworldly entities and opened dimensional rifts, letting another reality bleed in and overwrite the small Rhode Island town.

And the cult was charismatic; the Foundation Director overseeing the anomaly was taken in and transformed – apparently by the Grand Karcist himself.

Varis scoffed. Clef raised an eyebrow at the Karcist. “What’s got you so amused?”

“Just remembering something I read in the original file.”

“So, how we handling this?”

“Let’s talk to that ex-Site Director.”

“Have fun with that,” Guerrero said.

“What do you mean?”

“Guy’s a mess, si– Karcist Varis. He’s not terribly cogent.”


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Armed Biological Containment Area-14
4 November, 2021

The figure in the holding cell thrashed in his bindings. He was wrapped in a straitjacket, then had several straps restraining his body on top of that. The containment staff had learned quickly that the individual Varis was watching through the observation window would tear out limbs rather than be bound.

Varis looked at the notepad in front of him, containing updates from the last few decades. The entity who used to call himself Simon Oswalt – formerly Site-13 Director in the refurbished Bodfell Manor – had grown back his arms somehow since the last recorded interview. Varis turned to Captain Guerrero.

“Has Mr. Oswalt not been interviewed since the late 80s?”

“I’m sure he has, but that isn’t something I would have anything to do with.”

“Why the change in containment?” Clef asked.

Captain Guerrero turned to the doctor. “I’m sorry?”

“According to the file, containment was a covert matter. MTF agents from Epsilon-6 were to infiltrate and investigate, with Psi-9 backing them up in case of an ‘Emanation Event’. GOC joins up with Sitra Achra and the file gets vague, lots of effort to contain after a decade and a half, we’ve achieved containment. But we get here and there’s a goddamn wall 'round this town.”

“As far as I know, the wall has been there since after the partnership started with the GOC forces. As the population was so intertwined with the anomaly, and the O5s decided not to relocate anyone, the decision was made to enforce containment in an old-fashioned manner.”

“And the guns?”

“The entities are not compliant, not all the time. They’ve tried to breach containment periodically over the years. Not in any predictable manner, but it’s been necessary to use lethal force to push them back.”

“What about the civilians?” Varis asked.

“We don’t fire on the civilians!”

“No, I mean, if there’s a wall then what are the civilians doing?”

“We airlift in supplies several times a month and the utilities are still maintained, but…”

“They’re prisoners.”

“Effectively.”

“That will have to change. But first, I need to understand what has happened here. Find someone to go through the archives; I have the file, but I refuse to believe there’s nothing in the archive besides an update thirty or so years ago,” Varis said.

“Yes, Karcist.”

Clef caught Varis grinning as the MTF captain left the room. “What are you smiling at?”

“Who would’ve thought I’d have Foundation soldiers calling me ‘Karcist’ with a tone of respect?

“What are you hoping to find in the files, Varis?”

“I don’t know exactly. Maybe he’s been raving for the past three decades, and the interview in the file doesn’t fill me with hope about his conversation skills. But… if he was controlling the bioforms in the area – as the file suggests – then why are they occasionally trying to breach? They were described as ‘idle’ and refusing to feed or even defend themselves’ after Oswalt was taken into custody.”

“Didn’t he have a Sark– sorry – Nälkä name?”

“He said he wanted to be called ‘Karcist Karvas’ but something doesn’t ring true about that.”

“What?”

“Not sure. Feels wrong. Who gave him the title? Where are his Halkost? This faith is not about controlling the will of others – although I have certainly done that from time to time – who is he a leader of?”

“Ah, gotcha. Welp, file also said Ion gave it to him.”

Varis looked out of the side of his eye at Clef. “I realize you have no respect for almost anyone you’ve ever met, Alto. But do you think you are on a first name basis with my great teacher?”

“…Karcist Ion, sorry.”

“Besides, we don’t take ‘Nälkä names’. Heritage matters. If he were a Karcist, why isn’t he Karcist Oswalt? Varis was my birth name. Before there were such things as surnames.”

Varis opened the paper file in front of him again, and looked at a picture recovered from a failed GOC mission in the fifties. “Speaking of the Grand Karcist… Alright, I’m going in to speak with the prisoner.”

“Want me to come with?”

“No… but keep watch on him, this one is slippery.”

Varis walked to the sealed door and waited for the containment team – they were going to have to call them something else now, even for those individuals who weren’t being freed quite yet – to authorize his entry into the room.

The moment he was alone and across the table from Oswalt (he was strapped to dolly like that cannibal serial killer in the film) he could sense what had been done to him. The ex-Site Director was still thrashing around in his bindings but when he noticed Varis; suddenly Oswalt was deathly still, his eyes glaring above the gag bound over his mouth.

“Mr. Oswalt. Do you know who I am?”

Oswalt shook his head.

“Do you know what I am?”

A slow nod.

“Good. If I remove your gag, will you speak with me? One ‘Karcist’ to another?”

Another nod. Varis reached forward and undid the man’s gag, pulling it away from the mouth and hanging around his neck.

“What about the rest of these bindings?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Such disrespect from a fellow Karcist.”

“Are you though? A Karcist? Who gave you that title?”

“Ion himself. The Grand Karcist came to me and bestowed upon me right to lead the coming darkness. To use the people as fuel for ascendancy.”

“Is this the Ion you speak of?” Varis said as he passed a photograph from the file across the table such that Oswalt could see it.

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Oswalt leaned as far forward as the various straps would allow him.

“Yes, that is he. Who granted me power over the weak wills of that town, and dominion over the gate to the outer void to call greater forth servants.”

“That is not the Ozi̮rmok.”

“What? You’re a fool, this is the man who opened my eyes and transformed my body!”

“I believe you. But this is not Ion.”

“Who are you to say such a thing?”

“My name is Varis.”

The ex-Site Director leaned back against his restraints, his mouth a perfect horizontal line. Only a quiver beneath the left eye revealed any emotion.

“You’ve heard of me then?”

Another slow nod.

“Good. Then you might know that I knew the Grand Karcist, personally. He taught me himself. He bestowed upon me the title, Karcist, after years of study. So, when I say the man in this picture is not Ion, I don’t say so casually.”

“But my powers?”

“Yes, I wanted to speak with you about that. The researchers thought you controlled the entities within the town. Is that true?”

“Yes.”

“How did you do that?”

“With my mind! They followed my every instruction!”

“And this started when you underwent a transformation?”

“Yes! When my Lord took from me all that was not needed and granted me immortality.”

“And this is when you were first a Karcist?”

“Yes!”

“Feel out. Tell me what you sense about me.”

“What? You are not one of the Halkost.”

“Maybe not yours, but certainly a part of the greater Halkost. Can you tell me nothing?”

“You are trying my patience!”

“I can tell everything that was done to you,” Varis said through Oswalt’s mouth. The ex-Site Director’s eyes flared open, no hiding the terror now.

“Do you see?” Varis asked with his own mouth. “I am a Karcist. I am given dominion over those I choose to make a part of the Halkost. That could be you, the guards outside, even the creatures you have left unattended these long decades.”

“No.”

“You are a puppet, made of meat.”

“No!”

“This pretender who called himself my teacher, he used you. He and his folk shaped you into a weapon to hold the line around the gate in ███████ and make soldiers. You’ve been in custody for three decades. Has your messiah ever even sent you a message?”

Oswalt tilted his head up to the fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling, closing his eyes after a moment.

“…no.”

“No, he hasn’t. There’s been no attempt to free you or even to reclaim this town they’d spent so many years and resources on. Do you know why that is?”

Oswalt shook his head.

“In 2014 the Foundation found similar events taking place in a small township in Romania. They gave up on you. Your career as a ‘Karcist’ was a failure, Oswalt.”

“Goddamn your eyes!”

“You took our faith – about personal empowerment and sacrifice for the community so that humanity as a whole might ascend and kill an unkind creator – and you perverted it, with your benefactors, to exercise your will over thousands of civilians. And to what end? Other than maintaining the control over this town, what were you to do?”

“I enlightened these people to the power of their bodies! Under the watchful eye of the Jailors, I built an army of fleshcrafters ready to seize the entire Eastern Seaboard for our glory!”

“You turned free thinking, ignorant civilians into mindless puppets of violence. Ion would spit on you. You think Ion would give you a boon so you could enslave people? Simpering idiot! Ion abhorred slavery! His entire philosophy was about shattering the chains that held his people in bondage!”

Varis closed the file and stood from his chair. He paused at the door and turned back to Oswalt.

“Do you understand? You were a disposable asset. You must’ve suspected this during your years of confinement. After everything, are you still loyal to your benefactor?”

Oswalt hung his head, gritting his teeth audibly. However, his response was impossible to hear.

“What was that?”

“What are my options?”

“Cooperate. Help me stop the entities from growing – seal whatever the gate is,” Varis said.

“I didn’t open it!”

“Where is it?”

“Under the manor, crypts under the basement. Behind overlapping ritual bindings to hide it from this dimension.”

Varis considered for a moment and then spoke again.

“The civilians still within the town, are any of them salvageable?”

“I don’t know, only maybe a tenth had undergone transformation when I was imprisoned. The process could have continued after.”

“You don’t know?”

“The Wake had agents within the town even before I joined, and throughout my time there.”

“Where is your ‘Ion’?”

“I don’t know where he is, the man I called Ion. But I know Adytum’s Wake was active before I was apprehended.”

“Thank you.”

Varis indicated he wanted out to the guards, and Oswalt spoke behind him.

“How could you do it? Betray everything to work with the Foundation?”

“The Foundation has been dissolved, Oswalt. We’re making something better. Something actually concerned with lives like your townspeople. The way Ion would have wanted.”

Oswalt was quiet for a moment but then, just as the door was being opened, he spoke again.

“What will become of me?”

“That depends entirely on your cooperation. You’ve committed heinous acts, and the new organization is no longer hiding the anomalous. This town will be brought back into society and the events will be catalogued. If you cooperate, I will speak for you. But if you do not… righteous judgment is all you can expect.”


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Varis nodded and exited the containment cell. Clef was waiting with a thick paper file.

“Are those the extended records?”

Clef nodded. “You got more out of him than a dozen different researchers since ’88.”

Varis took the file and flipped through it. The numbers of altered civilians were estimates at best. The surreal perception effects of the dimensional anomaly made careful examination impossible unless a researcher wanted to use DMT, as Dr. Narváez had in the initial logs.

Guerrero approached, looking from Clef to Varis and back again.

“Now that’s a pensive goddamn look, Captain. Spit it out,” Clef said.

“Just got off the horn with Site-17 security – they’re the ones watching GOC activity – and they’ve caught wind of some movement.”

Varis continued looking through the file. Clef looked at him but then shrugged. “Okay, so what have they got?”

“Mobilization for a ground assault, headed right here. I guess they’re sick of getting their missiles shot down.”

“That’s a ballsy move, very out in the open.”

“What do you mean?” Varis said, still not taking his eyes from the file.

“The GOC has not followed our lead – surprising no one – remaining covert over the last few months since we dissolved the Foundation and came out to the public as Vanguard.”

Varis finally closed the file and looked up at Guerrero. “How long before the assault forces get here?”

“Projections have it at least seven hours out. I’ve only got a few hundred agents around the barrier. We don’t have the capacity to hold off an invasion.”

Varis passed the file to a nearby researcher. He turned and walked back the way they had come into the facility.

“Hey, where you going?” Clef asked.

“Into the town. Coming?”


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“This is a horrible goddamn idea, Varis.”

Clef leapt down from the ladder extended down along the interior of the barrier wall, landing next to Varis.

“Oh?” Varis began walking through the ruined no man’s land that surrounded the town.

“We’re completely vulnerable in here. You read the file, there’s all sorts of augmented bioforms from who goddamn knows where.”

“Mmm.”

“Don’t fucking ‘mmm’ me. We need operational security here. An MTF squad at least.” Clef climbed over several concrete barriers set out in the street. Varis stared at the barriers.

“Slows down people or entities approaching on foot, allows for larger windows to tag them with automatic fire or heavy weapons. Especially useful for enhanced anomalous entities that can absorb a lot of damage,” Clef said.

“I see.”

“What is it we’re even looking for he– holy fuck!”

Clef stared at the first building they had come upon on the edge of the cleared area within the wall. A young man leaned against the wall, staring at them. He was dressed in rags, with a threadbare hood pulled down over his head. Under the hood, Varis could see his mouth, which showed smiling, yellowing teeth.

“What do you see, Alto?”

“A goddamn giant, you can’t see him?”

“All I see a man in rags.”

“It’s a story-and-a-half tall, no eyes or nose, but one fuck off giant mouth full of teeth. Whole thing is naked and like a pulsing meat golem.”

“This is why I wanted you here. Your vaunted immunity to reality warping effects pierces the dimensional barrier.”

“You can’t see it at all?”

“No, but now that you’ve pointed it out I can sense it and feel it is not human.”

“Then why’s it got that monstrous bloody di–”

“Alto.”

“What? If you could see it, you’d be talking about it too.”

“Let’s focus on the important thing.”

“It IS the important thi–”

Alto.”

“Fine. It’s not approaching but it sure is ‘looking’ right at us. Hard to say for sure what with it missing its goddamn eyes. But the mouth is sure as shit pointed right at us.”

Varis reached out to the behemoth and found its being with his halkost, grasping its nervous system tightly. The entity – looking like a vagabond to Varis – shifted its attention to his efforts and did not resist. In fact, it relished the grip of his carnomancy, leaning into accepting his control. So, Oswalt controlled them in a similar fashion. Interesting.

“It won’t impede us. But let’s keep an eye on any such entities.”

“Can you see the buildings or is that just a ‘me thing’ too?”

“What do you mean? I see the buildings.”

“Every other one is made of meat and glistening with this black shit oozing into the gutter.”

“This is madness. How could anyone look at this chaos and think it had anything to do with Ion’s teachings?”

“I don’t know shit about it, but your people have been in the shadows for so long that most who know see meat magic and think ‘Sarkic’, no offense.”

Varis sighed. He continued to walk into the town. Gathered in a rundown courtyard was a group of civilians; their clothes were distressed, and the buildings were in need of repair.

“This is like a medieval ghetto for those society has cast out. Like the Jews throughout their history, and my people as well. The Foundation has done these people a disservice.”

Varis stopped and scanned the crowd, feeling out for their bodies and finding no sign of carnomancy.

“Do you see anything amiss here?”

“There are a couple robed figures – a man and a woman – in the shadows under the trellises, towards the back. They’re watching us real intently. Other than the meat buildings leaking all over them, it’s just a group of people.”

“Why are they gathered here?”

A little girl walked up to him and pulled on the sleeve of his coat. “We are waiting for you, Karcist.”

Varis knelt before the little girl, looking at the dirty blouse and jeans she had on. He looked back at Clef. “What has your Foundation been doing to these people?”

Clef shrugged and indicated the little girl. “Why don’t you hear what she’s got to say?”

“What is your name, child?”

“Bethany.”

“That’s a lovely name. Bethany, can you tell me why you’ve been waiting for me?”

“Come speak to the leaders. They’re the wise people!”

The little girl pointed to the man and woman in hoods.

“They do not look pleased to see me.”

“That’s because the community decided to tell them where to stick it. They wanted you to be resisted at the wall, but the people were happy to hear a Karcist would be visiting. Even if you’re with those Jailers!”

“I’m not wi– never mind, let’s talk to your holy people.”

Clef lit another black Russian cigarette. “Wouldn’t they be Karcists, too?”

“Oh, shut up.”

Bethany took Varis’ hand in hers and started pulling him through the crowd. He noted there were roughly fifty people in the courtyard and though they all looked towards his approach with some anticipation, they also parted for the little girl’s insistent march forward.

Although many of the townspeople moved aside and away from their progress, several stood in a semi-circle around the two robed figures. Each in turn looked to Varis and nodded, parting to allow his approach but not moving away.

The man in robes pulled back his hood and offered his hand for Varis. “Karcist, I am Zend Lykaios and this is Võlutaar Richter. We welcome you to our community.” The robed woman bowed slightly when meeting Varis’ gaze.

“That welcome confuses me, as Bethany tells me that you did not want me here.”

The little girl nodded dramatically, causing Clef to chuckle. Varis looked back at him, and Clef shrugged, then mimed zipping his mouth shut.

“We know you are not of our belief, Karcist. We were not informed of your arrival and no Karcist has been within our community since Karcist Karvas was taken from our midst. It was feasible that you would come with violence in mind.”

“I don’t.”

“Why do you come with the Jailers in tow, then?” Lykaios asked, pointing at Clef.

“We are not with the Foundation, although Dr. Clef has until recently been associated with their organization. The Foundation is gone, Zend. They have dissolved themselves and opened their doors to the world, even asking for anomalous communities to join something new. A Vanguard.”

“Why would you do this? They have kept our people prisoner for decades and killed the holy beings whenever they’ve approached their damned wall!” Richter yelled.

“Because my people will not be left out of the discussion of how to treat our community. I stand in their stead, as is my place as Karcist. Because Vanguard wish to let the Veil drop, they have already made motions in that direction. A plan is in place to inform and protect all peoples, mundane or otherwise. What would you have me do? Sit back and pray we would be treated fairly?”

“Exercise your power, assure your own ascendance as the Master dictated. Do not be a slave to the Jailers, whatever they call themselves.”

“I am not their slave. When I say they welcomed the Nälkä, I meant it. I am one of the leadership, amongst other leaders of Nälkä communities, Serpent’s Hand, even some progressive Mekhanites. This is the beginning of a new era for our people, and I intend to take into shelter all those that will come with.”

“We are not your people, Karcist. We are of the new faith, and reject your veneration of Ion.”

“Haven’t we been separated long enough? What purpose do we serve merely surviving? The Nälkä have allies now, it’s time to use them. Not in some senseless bid for conquest, but as the warrior poets that Ion dreamt of.”

“And what if, as your faithful believes, the Grand Karcist returns?”

“It has been more than a thousand years. We have been scattered on the wind, our children hunted for the sport of religious zealots, our futures bound to the mad or the marginalized. We have waited long enough; if Ion returns, he will be welcome. But I am not waiting for him anymore.”

“This sounds like you co-opting the destiny of the Nälkä for your own purposes, Varis. Some will certainly say so.”

“Richter, I have served the dream for more than a millennium. But after the war, what has been our people’s destiny? To eek out a living in the Carpathians? To corrupt this town with pacts made with eldritch horrors in the outer void? This is not what Ion dreamed of.”

“You’ll get resistance, even hostility.”

“Every killer they send will be more arrows in my quiver. We must not fight among ourselves any longer, our enemies are too vast. The only thing that protected our communities was the Foundation’s attempts to contain us. There are Mekhanite zealots and Book Burners ready to bring down our walls. And we are too small. If our enemies want my blood, let them come. I brought Orok’s Fall into the fold, I count the dread Klavigar among my friends. I will no longer let our people to fade to ash.”

Richter pursed her lips and looked him up and down. He regretted wearing a suit, and not some ceremonial robes. She turned to look at Lykaios, who whispered into her ear.

Varis shook his head and stroked his beard. “You may wish to know that a small army of Book Burners are on their way here now, even as we speak. Vanguard has offered to protect our people; that requires openness. Karcist Karvas – Oswalt – is with us. When did you last hear from your masters, Võlutaar? Understand as your Karcist has: you have been abandoned, and we offer you shelter.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Join us, and let us normalize the community, open up the barriers and shut down the gate. Let your people join with their cousins and we might even be able to teach each other.”

“I meant, what do you suggest about the Book Burner army?”

“Resist.”

“We have no weapons here, and the holy creatures do not listen to our commands as they did Karvas.”

“They will listen to me. But…”

“What?”

Varis turned to Clef. “You have a communicator from command?”

Clef nodded. “Sure, but what will that do? Guerrero said reinforcements were en route, but I doubt we have enough time to man a defense. We should leave, Varis.”

Varis held out his hand and Clef handed him the device, shaking his head.

Varis made a call, and was surprised when Tilda Moose answered on the second ring.

“What are you thinking? We’re sending a strike force, but it’s been difficult to mobilize in the chaos of the transition. We can get a hundred MTF agents there, but not in time. I think we should pull you out.”

“No. I won’t leave my people unprotected.”

“Those are not your peo– oh, who am I kidding, you’re going to do whatever you want no matter what I say. So what are you thinking?”

“How much leeway will I get on this?”

“You have the same authority I do.”

“Yes, but I don’t know the inner workings of ex-Foundation forces like you do. I want to go loud, and we’ll deal with the fallout after.”

“Well, these people have been cooped up long enough, so I don’t see any problem. But any blowback you might get doesn’t matter if all of you don’t survive the next five hours. Whatever you do, if you can hold out a few hours, maybe the strike force can scare off the GOC.”

“I think we can do just that.”


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Colonel Greg Rasmussen, fifteen-year veteran of GOC operations, rode in the command helo leading another thirty troop-carrying vehicles along with armored cars to be unloaded. He had been stationed at the town in partnership with the Foundation Sitra Achra forces for the last five years of his career, seeing the horrors the Sarkics had unleashed upon the world and pushing them back every time the beasts tried to violate the barrier. He had watched brothers-in-arms fall to tentacles of flesh, crushed beneath behemoth claws, and even the occasional assault by the cultists.

In all those years, he had argued for his superiors to allow for a final strike to burn out the corruption. Rasmussen had grown up in a strict Catholic household and though his faith had fallen, the creatures in that small Massachusetts town reminded him of the horrifying images of hell described by the nuns in his childhood. But every time he outlined a proposed plan of action, the word from on high was that the Council of 108 would not condone a betrayal of the agreement with the Foundation. The Coalition had their chance in the '50s to wipe the town out, and failed to take the threat seriously. Any attack would require open warfare with the Foundation, and that was not acceptable.

But in recent months, the Foundation had come out to the world. Claiming a new name and a new purpose, rejecting containment in favor of whatever the hell they meant with “normalization.” Reports of their efforts were all over the news, but the world was holding its breath – the public seemed unsure of Vanguard’s announcement that monsters, magics, and other dimensions were real. The Coalition had not decided what to do and were keeping quiet, maintaining operations as before.

But when it came to SCP-2480 and the Sitra Achra project, the Coalition finally listened to his requests and Rasmussen was allowed to pull out from the reinforcement of the containment and plan for eradication of the horrors. He had tried to spare those few ex-Foundation soldiers he had worked beside for half a decade, sending two strikes at the town itself to burn out the corruption. But both strikes had failed, and now it was time to set boots on the ground and purify the town of the anomalous.

“Lieutenant, how long?” Rasmussen asked into his headset.

“Sir, we’re two minutes out.”

Hours of mobilization and days of planning were finally going to culminate in this assault, and by the time night fell he wanted to know for sure the horrors of the Sarkics were scoured from this corner of New England. Then, possibly, he could propose similar actions in Eastern Europe against the communities that had been corrupted in that region by the Sarkic cults.

“Sir?”

Rasmussen turned sharply to the pilot – this was when he would find out what sort of defense these Vanguard fools had brought together. “What do you see, lieutenant?”

“I think you should see it for yourself, sir.”

Rasmussen moved towards the cockpit and braced himself by holding onto a strap attached to the ceiling of the helo. He peered through the front windscreen of the 'copter, seeing a small crowd of people against the outer edge of the barrier wall.

“What is that?”

“It looks like a press conference.”


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Varis paused in his statements, looking out over the podium at the fifty or so reporters from newspapers, websites and cable news channels. Beyond their chairs arrayed in front of his stage, he saw a chopper hover in place and then start descending. Behind that were dozens more, and he heard the rumble of assault vehicles approaching on land.

The MTF forces were on the top of the barrier wall, the gun emplacements turned outward for the first time since their addition to the barricade.

“So, I’ve explained what lies beyond this wall. Now you should know that despite the creatures, and the possibility of other dimensions – all of which are a threat to existence in this area – there are also people living in the town. They have been quarantined for decades, shut off from the rest of the world by Vanguard’s predecessor organization for fear of polluting nearby populations. But these are just people – albeit ones who follow a different faith than your own, a faith I also claim.”

A CNN reporter frantically waved her hand. “Mr. Varis, are you saying you also belong to this cult?”

“Not exactly. More information will be made available after today’s presentation. But this faith, known as Nälkä, is older than Christianity and has a long history of being repressed. If any one should understand the need for religious freedoms, it should be the Fourth Estate.”

Reporters had started to notice the approaching GOC forces; he noted that although they had turned in their seats, there was no panic.

“Ah, my colleagues from the United Nations have arrived. We’ll be glad to explain their presence in a moment, but before we go on, I want you to meet Bethany.”

The young girl had on cleaner clothes at Varis' insistence, while he silently vowed to have massive resupplies of sundries and clothes available before the next day. Just so long as they all survived the next hour.

Bethany came up beside him and he took the microphone from its stand, crouching down next to her.

“Bethany, can you tell the nice reporters how old you are?”

“I’m ten, Karcist Varis!”

“Very good. Can you tell them where you live?”

“On the other side of the wall, with my mommy and daddy.”

Varis smiled to himself as the girl turned up the precociousness of her presentation.

“Do you know why I wanted you to speak today?”

“Because those soldiers are coming to kill my mommy and daddy and everyone else I know.”

The reporters gasped almost in unison. Varis stood and approached the edge of the stage.

“In the last few months, Vanguard has tried to inform the greater world of wonders and threats that for too long were kept hidden from the eyes of the public. We are not the only force that knows of this hidden world. The UN soldiers behind you, those tanks and men armed with flamethrowers, they know too. For decades, the Global Occult Coalition – yes, that is really their name – has been made up of various anomalous organizations and UN charter states, with the goal of controlling or outright destroying what they deem to be abominations.”

An older soldier with the marks of a colonel on his breast was approaching the stage, a small retinue of armed soldiers following in his wake.

“The GOC – much easier to say as an acronym – has launched two missile strikes on the community behind me in the last month. These were averted by Vanguard forces. But today, these soldiers have come to kill every last one of the civilians and entities beyond these walls. As you know, the Vanguard motto is ‘Shelter, Normalize, Inform’. We only seek to protect those beings that other members of the anomalous community would harm, while also normalizing the strange and unbelievable nature of our world with the public.”

The colonel was standing at the foot of the stage now, glaring at Varis. He started a little when he saw Clef standing behind the Karcist.

“Hey Greg, nice uniform. When’d you get promoted?”

Clef walked up, and Varis offered him the microphone. “This is Colonel Gregory Rasmussen, of the Global Occult Coalition black forces, previously a captain in the German special forces. Say hello to the press, Greg.”

The colonel did not take his eyes off Clef, gritting his teeth beneath a graying mustache.

Varis took the microphone back from Clef. “I’ve called you all here today to bear witness. The GOC forces have mobilized the rather large assault force behind you to commit a war crime on US soil this afternoon. They’re hoping their covert nature and connection to the UN Security Council and the Pentagon will let them smooth over the story. Disinformation has been the watchword in anomalous control operations for most of the last hundred years, after all. Colonel Rasmussen, did you have a statement you wanted to make?”

Varis crouched at the edge of the stage and placed the microphone in front of the colonel’s face. The military commander’s hand gripped the butt of his still holstered pistol, as he violently grit his teeth. Finally, he sighed.

“Not at this time.”

Then he turned and started walking back to his transport, the soldiers following closely behind. Varis waited until the helo ascended and the mobilized GOC troops started beating a retreat before speaking again.

“This is the world as it is – violent and oppressive for those not fitting into an arbitrary definition of ‘normalcy’. For at least a century, the Foundation and GOC have held this planet in lockstep with that definition, lying to the world and perpetuating acts of violence against anything they did not understand. But it is time for a new normal, one without the shackles of deceit and authoritarianism.”

Varis stood and approached the podium again, inserting the microphone into its stand. This would have to do for now, but the state of the town needed to be addressed, the entities corralled and researched, and the dimensional anomaly closed if his people were to be safe again. But then, he was a Karcist, it was his role to lead. Who better to shoulder this burden?

“I’ll take your questions now.”

All fifty-something reporters stood up, shouting questions at the tops of their lungs, desperate to have him answer their concerns and explain what had just happened. Varis caught Clef’s eye and smiled. Clef leaned back against the wall barricading the town and lit a cigarette.

But he was too busy laughing to take a drag.


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