"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." ~Friedrich Nietzsche This game is a work of fiction rooted in urban legends. All the towns and people are works of fiction and any resemblance to real people is unintentional. [[Play as Tobias|Play as Tobias]] Klaudia's side is currently unavailable. Please note it is strongly recommended to play as Tobias either before you play as Klaudia, or play them both at the same time with Tobias slightly ahead in the storyline. There are many events that can only be seen clearly from Klaudia's perspective, but the weight of the occurence has to be gathered from Tobias. However you play, both play options offer vastly different accounts of one horrifying transformation. Klaudia's side doesn't offer much in the way of choices, and is mainly played through just for perspective.There is a weathered house at the edge of a small town called Bree in Germany. It nestles up to a calm lake and a lush forest of beech trees. Not much work comes through the town, and life is generally slow. Many of the inhabitants turn to storytelling or writing to beat the boredom. Tobias: a young man who repairs cars, motorcycles, and most vehicles in Bree. Many people feel indebted to you for fixing their only form of transportation in an emergency and never charging. It doesn't make you a whole lot of money that way, but you are appreciated. Which is why it is surprising when you are falsely accused of [[murder|The accusation]].You're making your way down Main Street. It's a run down version of what must have once been a bustling, stylish avenue. The weather is fair but windy, and you are dressed a layer warmer than most people passing you. You tip your baseball hat as Lucas passes you. He smiles and returns the greeting. He is always promising to repay you for all the times you've fixed things for him without charging. Just like everyone else in this town. You can't really blame them though; the only other mechanic is a sleazy little man with no real knowledge of cars and the town is running low on outside [[income|A favor for Lucas's brother]].Lucas's family has been pretty bad off recently. His brother Stefan crashed the family car and you fixed it without charge while Stefan recovered. You heard he can finally move without the wheelchair as of yesterday. They were borrowing a friend's car while you fixed the old one, but someone came in the middle of the night and trashed it. So you're off to do them yet another favor. You turn right down one of the side streets and walk for a while until you reach his [[house|Where is Stefan?]]. Despite your love of fixing cars, you don't like driving. Too easily distracted.The lights in the house are off, and the newly fixed family car is not in the driveway. Lucas probably drove it downtown to go do errands. The garage door is open, revealing the battered car awaiting repairs. You should [[get to work on the car.|Wrong place at the wrong time]] Maybe you can finish before Lucas gets back and surprise him. Afterwards you can [[check on Stefan|Stefan's Body]] and see if he's any better. It's a bit early in the morning though.Stefan's definitely not going anywhere. You can pay him a visit after you're done on the car. There's been no internal damage done, and although they're fairly deep there are only a few dents around the car. No broken glass, only one slashed tire. You quickly get to work pounding out the dents and changing the tire and trying to polish it as best you can. It was a beater car anyways, and there's no use hiding the fact that it's been trashed, but at least you can make it look presentable when Lucas returns it. They still don't know who messed with the car due to the lack of a security system in their home. No one witnessed it since their house is the only occupied one on the street. Besides, Lucas didn't see a point to investigating who would feel the need to destroy a car worth only four thousand dollars new. You're nearly done on the car when you hear [[Lucas pull up in the driveway|Caught Red Handed]].The car can wait a minute. You leave the can of car paint on a shelf next to the larger tubs of house paint. Stefan is probably bored out of his mind. He's an active guy, and being locked in a snail's pace must be gnawing at him. You pass by the ruined car and enter the house through the garage door, knocking first. There is no answer. You proceed cautiously, worried that something might have happened to him. Stefan's body lies rigidly on the living room floor. There is no blood. His eyes are frozen wide in terror, and he appears to still be staring at his attacker. You've always loved this family, but God how this would look if someone caught you here. Lucas already knows you're due to be coming over today. Maybe if you go back to main street and try to catch him you can [[pretend you never came|A friendly nod]] and find an excuse for not working on the car. You can't tear your eyes from Stefan, though. He's so unearthly pale, and his body is locked in an unnatural position like he was running from something and fell mid-sprint.The car still has a few patches left to cover up, so you stay in the garage to work until Lucas will inevitably come out to check on you. He goes inside and you continue painting and hammering for a few minutes. It's obvious that you're out here due to the noise you're making. That's when you hear distraught [[yelling|Facing Lucas]] and a loud crash from inside the house.You quickly wipe up any obvious footprints you may have made. There's probably footprints of yours all over the house and that's no surprise. You come here all the time. When you're sure that no one could be watching you, you readjust your baseball cap, pull up your jacket collar, and make your way back to the main street back through the garage. You find Lucas quickly enough. He is at the local diner and spots you immediately. You both wave and he invites you inside to take a seat at his table. Between bites of sausage, he mumbles, "So wtr you doing ovr here? Thought you wr working on the car?" "I just remembered the paint I brought over a few days ago is quite old; I've had it lying around the garage for longer than I thought. I've got to stop by the hardware store down the way to find a fresher one." It's not actually a lie at all, although the paint probably would have looked just fine. It is an old beater car anyways. "Oh you don't have to go all the way down to Bluerock for some new paint. It doesn't have to be perfect, and besides it was a crappy car in the first place," he argues. You insist that it was neccessary and sip your coffee, keeping up small talk for a few minutes before politely excusing yourself early. He gives you a friendly nod and orders a round of dessert before heading [[home|False security]].You drop what you were holding, and a paint can spills on the concrete floor. As you throw the wooden door open from the garage to the house you see Lucas in the corner of the living room. He has crashed into an end table and is clutching the wall and arm of the couch like he's going to fall through the very floor. Stefan is lying on the floor, eyes frozen wide in terror and jaw agape. His body has stiffened in an unnatural position, and it seems he is still staring at his attacker. Lucas only left the house a few hours ago, and you're the only person known to be at the house in that time. Judging by the body, he has only been dead [[a few hours.|Lucas attacks]]Lucas comes to that conlusion the same time you do and scrambles to his feet. He grabs one of the jagged legs that has broken off the end table and swings it blindly at you, tears clouding his vision. He swears angrily as you panic and try to duck out of the way and at the same time catch his club to prevent it from landing a hit. You need to [[persuade him|A blow to the head]] or get him to stop hitting you long enough for you to [[offer to help|A moment to explain]] find the killer."Lucas, what the hell?! You know I didn't do this! Look at the car, //LOOK AT THE CAR!// I was in the garage the whole time trying to work on the car! Come here, I'll show you!" you yell at him while dodging blows. You back through the garage door and lead him out. He is looking at you quizzically and steadies the table leg for a minute. You gesture at the garage with your arm. "See? This took me hours! You saw me come here, and all that time I've been doing this," you explain. Fury fills Lucas's eyes. Before you can react, he swings the makeshift club and bashes you on the head. You are knocked clean off the top step and slam into the car. You bounce backwards far enough to see the most of this side of the car. It is covered in dents and there are paint chips all over the ground. It looks exactly the same as when Lucas first showed it to you. Another blow to the head produces a sickening squelch. You have died. Please try again.Eventually you manage to wrestle the club from his hands. He winces pathetically as you toss the weapon aside. You grab his shoulders and shake him. "I didn't kill Stefan, okay! I was working on your car this whole time, you know I wouldn't hurt him! I will help you find his killer, okay but you have to believe it wasn't me," you plead. Lucas swallows dryly and looks at his brother. "No. You could never do this. You've done so many favors for my family, but you know how this looks. I won't kill you but I have to call the police, and they're going to arrest you. I can... try to get you out of this but I can only do so much." You are [[arrested|Visitor]] and taken to the county jail. Later you are told that it is many hours before Lucas goes to check on the car in the garage. For some reason he sends it to be scrapped and sends his friend money as a compensation. He never tells you why.The police question you and you answer as best you can, though your odds aren't looking good. Everyone knows how it looks and it shows when they're looking at you. Your sister Klaudia either believes your innocence or is doing a good job hiding her distrust. "Are you alright?" she asks gently. "More or less," you reply. Your voice is scratchy from all the questions you've had to answer. The cell is unbelievably cold. Sheriffs can't be bothered to waste heating money on suspected murderers for obvious reasons. "They said you can come home once I fill out some paperwork and confirm a few things about you," she says. [["What kind of things?"|Just paperwork]] you blurt out with a frantic edge to your voice."Just verifying your identity and stuff like that," she says. Her voice betrays nothing. You don't know why you're so paranoid. She quickly changes the subject. "Hey let's go to [[coffee|The ride to the diner]], afterwards!" she offers.Klaudia tries to make conversation to cheer you up during brunch. She is eating little brightly colored macarons. Their color seems so out of place in this grey town. She won't stop smiling, and eventually it wears off on you. Klaudia seems happy that nothing worse happened to you, and is just glad you're back. "Hey, I bought you another sketch book yesterday. I remember you told me your other one was full," she says as she hands you a little black moleskin notebook and fountain pen. "Thanks a bunch, and for brunch too," you say. She looks at the macaroons you haven't touched. The waitress comes by and offers to bring you a take home box. You can't wait to [[get home|The faceless]], but you also are itching to [[draw|Tall figures]].You walk out to the car, take out box and sketchbook in hand. Rainclouds are gathering overhead, which isn't really a surprise for this area. You pull your jacket tighter and Klaudia laughs. She is only wearing a cream colored pullover sweater like most everyone else in Bree. You shiver just to spite her and she laughs that little tinkling laugh of hers. "Oh, the front seat is full of groceries I stuffed in here. I couldn't get to the backseat because someone parked their stroller there, so you'll have to hop in back." You slide in the backseat and gingerly set the cookie wafers and notebook on the middle seat. You stretch and catch a glance of your face in the foggy rearview mirror. Your blood runs cold. For a moment, it almost appeared as though your head... had no face. It was just a blank white sheet, with indents that may have suggested the remnants of features. In a moment the vision is gone. Was it just the fog on the mirror causing the distortion? "Klaudia?" you ask worriedly. "Hm?" "Does my face look at all odd to you?" She tilts her head quizzically at your strange question. "A little pale, perhaps, but nothing out of the ordinary. Why?" You shake your head. "Just looked odd in the mirror for a moment, was wondering if I might be coming down with something." She places her hand on your forehead and frowns. "You feel fine. It's probably nothing. I think you just need some [[sleep|Restful evening]].As if by instinct your fingers wrap around the smooth pen and begin twirling it in intricate patterns in the air while you look around the diner for something to draw. The check comes and you are distracted. You can feel your hand moving but you aren't really looking at what you're drawing. Sketching comes so naturally to you that your art looks okay even when you aren't trying. Klaudia catches your attention and you close the notebook and head to the car. Rainclouds are gathering overhead, which isn't really a surprise for this area. You pull your jacket tighter and Klaudia laughs. She is only wearing a cream colored pullover sweater like most everyone else in Bree. You shiver just to spite her and she laughs that little tinkling laugh of hers. "Oh, the front seat is full of groceries I stuffed in here. I couldn't get to the backseat because someone parked their stroller there, so you'll have to hop in back." You slide in the back and open the notebook to see what you've actually been drawing. A chill runs down your spine. A stick figure like you would see in a cave painting, as if it was scratched on with a crude instrument. Thin and tall. Some had more than two arms, some had no faces. But you'd drawn dozens of them while you were sitting there. They look quite creepy actually. Maybe you were thinking about Stefan and that caused you to create such [[morbid drawings.|Klaudia hasn't seen them]]When you arrive home you do your best to try to clear the image of Stefan's body from your mind. If you look distraught, people will figure out that you knew all along and hid it. Luckily, Klaudia is busy working in the garden at the futile task of stopping the forest from encroaching on the back porch. You are in the middle of washing dishes when the [[phone rings.|To answer or not to answer]]The caller ID says it's Lucas. If you [[answer|A harsh warning]], you might not be able to keep a nervous tone out of your voice. But it could look equally suspicious if you [[ignore the call|Wishing you well]]."Hello?" you ask politely. "Tobias? Y-you said you didn't come by my house today at all?" he asks. "No, I was headed halfway up the road when I remembered the paint so I turned around. I was going to find you and let you know and then go pick up the paint later today or tomorrow," you say. "Stefan's dead." You pause as though taking in the information. What should you say? Who did it? How horrible? How can I help?// What would someone say right now?!// "What?" you ask incredulously. "I found him in the house. There's no blood or wounds. Police can't figure out how he died. I can't stop looking at his eyes, Toby. What was he staring at? God if you could have seen it..." Oh, but you did. And you can see the very eyes he is describing. "One of the neighbors said they saw someone walking down the street late this morning and they were wearing a baseball cap and jacket. I know that's not much to go by but that sounds a lot like you," he warns. "I was with you almost all morning!" "I know," he interrupts, "and you would never hurt my family after all the things you've done to help us. But thoughts start running through your head, you know? You better watch yourself. Rumors spread fast." The line clicks and you are left standing there dumbfounded until [[Klaudia walks in|Breaking the news]].The phone rings for a while and falls silent. Klaudia comes in a few minutes later. Her auburn hair is tied up in a sloppy half bun. "Who was that?" she asks. "Oh, I was in the bathroom and it finished ringing before I came out. I'll call Lucas back later," you say. She could check the ID, so there's no point in saying it was nobody. "How'd his car go?" she asks while she ties an apron around her waist. "I didn't make it to his house because I realized the paint I brought over was too old to use. Met up with him in town and had lunch with him." She unloads the dishes from the dry rack into the cupboard. Trees rustle in the cool breeze outside. A brown bird perches on one of the branches and looks at you before flying away quickly. "Next time you see him, tell him I've got a few dvds of his I've been meaning to return. I hope Stefan's doing better," she says. You choke back words you can hardly stop yourself from blurting out. The dishes are done and you settle down on the couch to watch some tv. An hour later the doorbell [[rings|Come to collect]].You answer the door and rub the tv glare from your eyes. Lucas is standing at the door. His eyes are bloodshot and glazed. He knows about Stefan, and he knows you were there. "Lucas, what the hell...? What happened?" you ask innocently. "You know //exactly// what the hell happened," he growls as he pushes you, stepping inside your door. "You killed Stefan," he growls. "You killed him," he says as his voice breaks on a high note. "I don't know what you're talking about-" you stammer as you back away. "Toby? Tobias, you alright?" Klaudia asks as she trots down the stairs. She obviously just heard him talking and not the actual words. Lucas doesn't seem to have seen her. It doesn't look like he's seeing anything, really. "//You're lying!//" he screams as he throws several objects at you. Klaudia screams and rushes towards you to break it up.She makes the mistake of stepping between you and Lucas. From over her shoulder, you see his eyes suddenly clear up. He pulls something from his coat pocket and thrusts it into your sister's chest. Klaudia chokes and sputters before falling to the ground. As Lucas is pulling the knife out of her, you grab the revolver you keep by the door and fill his chest with lead. You are arrested shortly after and convicted of Stefan's murder. //You have lost. Please try again.//"Hey, who was on the phone? Thought I heard you talking from out on the porch." You put the phone back on the reciever and run your hands nervously through your hair. "It was Lucas. They found his brother Stefan in the house dead." "Oh God, that's awful. And you were supposed to go over there today, weren't you?" "That's exactly it. I was with Lucas most of the day so I have a partial alibi, but people are starting to think it was me because I was the only one that had any reason to go to the house. Lucas said a witness saw someone walking away from the house in a baseball cap and jacket but didn't think anything of it." She grabs the closest cabinet to steady herself. The old wooden door creaks in protest. "Why would you have killed him when you were going over to do them a favor? Everyone in town knows you, and they know you wouldn't do something like this..." "Lucas warned me to watch my back when the [[rumors|Rumors]] start flying." Klaudia must not have seen you drawing them or she would have said something. Why would you draw the same thing over and over? Would it be better to [[tell her|Give it a few days]] or brush it off as [[nothing|Just need some sleep is all]] and just go home? You've both already had a difficult day and it might just make it seem like Stefan's death and your accusation have made you go looney (which may be true, for all you know). However, she has seemed more than willing to offer any help she could give.Just need some sleep is all. "You're right," you say, nervously adjusting your trademark baseball cap. "Was too cold to properly sleep in there." Klaudia leans over and lifts your cap to ruffle your hair. "Poor baby. Alright, lets get home before this weather gets any worse, ya? There's a few new things I want to show you." The rest of the car ride is uneventful. When you get home, Klaudia is literally bouncing at the front door with excitement as she fumbles with her keys. "Just wait till you see it!" she exclaims. You walk inside, not really sure what to expect. "Over here," she says, tugging you along to the back porch. She throws open the curtains and places her hands on her hips in satisfaction. The deck, once a half rotted second story patio you were almost afraid to stand on for worry of falling through, was transformed. All the wood had been replaced and stained a dark reddish brown, and there was now a swing just outside the door. "It's beautiful," you say. "And look, I even trimmed a bunch of the ugly junipers and stuff that were creeping over the fence, see? Now you can actually see the [[forest|A beautiful view]]!"Klaudia?" you ask cautiously. She perks up in the hopes of you finally spilling what's on your mind. "Can you pull over for a second? I'm fine, I just want to show you something." "Sure thing." She signals and parks in front of a little overpriced boutique. "What's going on?" You show her the notebook. "You know how sometimes I draw things without looking and them just to see what goes down on the paper? Well I drew this. Over and over again," you say. Your sister is silent for a while. It has started to rain somewhat heavily, obscuring the view of the inside of the car from anyone outside. The privacy is welcome. "Tobias, you've just been accused of murdering someone who was like a brother to you and spent almost a week in jail. I can't imagine what's going through your head right now. I'm not sure if this specific figure means anything, but for now let's just go home and relax for a while. Sound like a plan?" Way to make it seem like you were worrying over nothing. So you drew a few weird stick figures when you normally draw really detailed stuff so what. Maybe you do just need to [[go home|Restful evening]].So what if you drew a few weird stick figures. Your mind isn't in exactly the most restful state. You take a deep breath and make it through the rest of the car ride without incident. At home Klaudia makes some black tea and sits down to watch a movie with you after showing you the new deck she built. It is already late and she ends up falling asleep on your shoulder halfway through. The movie drones on in the background as your thoughts race a hundred directions. The world has taken on a strange, surreal quality. Your daze is broken by a soft [[buzzing|Anna]]coming from your pocket.You gently slide away from Klaudia to go answer the phone in another room. The kitchen is completely dark except the glow from the tv making its way in. You flip open the old phone and the caller ID says "Anna." Your heart leaps with relief. You haven't gotten a chance to talk to her in the last week. "Hey," you whisper, moving further still into the parlor so as to avoid waking Klaudia. "It's good to hear your voice again," she sighs with relief. "I could say the same," you reply. "I wanted to come see you today, but I figured maybe you needed some time alone at home, you know? I know it's awfully late, but I only just got home from working overtime. Tomorrow's Sunday, maybe we could meet up at the diner for breakfast?" "Sounds great, thank you," you whisper. "It'd be nice to get out of the house to take my mind off things." "Okay. I'll pick you up [[tomorrow|Late to bed]] a bit before eight, if that's okay." "Ya, that's fine. Fine. Um, good night. I love you." "I love you too. I missed you."The forest is deeper than you could have ever imagined from the inadequate view the porch offered before. It goes far back, densely populated by bright red Japanese maple trees starkly contrasted by the dominant white birch trees and dark green mosses and ferns. It's practically a jungle. "I'm glad you like it," she says earnestly, placing her elbows on the railing and leaning over. "I know how hard this has all been, and I wanted us to have a space where we could just... I dont know, get away from everything. And the view just seemed so wasted having to always look at it from inside." "It's... ya, it's great. I can't believe you built this in a week." "There's a few other things, just small stuff. I went out to the hardware store. Figured it was time to start replacing all the [[broken things|All the broken things]] you know?""What rumors could there possibly be?" Klaudia asked in despair. "You were with him and then you were with me! People can't possibly believe that..." "People will believe anything if they need a scapegoat. I just hope whoever did this gets caught before these rumors escalate." You immediately realize that was the wrong thing to say. Making the problem about yourself rather than the victim. Klaudia solemnly agrees, but you can tell that your final comment didn't rest right with her. Later on you both eat dinner in silence. There isn't much to say. As evening falls you head out to the [[back porch|The woods]] to try to find some peace of mind before you attempt to sleep.The back porch is rotting away, and truthfully it's probably quite dangerous to stand on it. Nevertheless, it doesn't detract from the view of the forest. The juniper bushes are encroaching on the railing a bit, but you can still clearly see the forest in all its mysteriousness. It is thick with vines, ferns, moss, and rows of uneven birch trees and Japanese maples. You breathe in the fresh air, but can't seem to get the image of Stefan's face out of your mind. He was clearly terrified by whatever attacked him. Who wouldn't be, if it was something that could kill without leaving a mark? If he was poisoned, surely they could have figured it out by now. Could they? The police department in this town was incredibly small. Would they consider you a suspect if they found your footprints? No. You were there all the time. You were a family friend! It would be obvious that you went over there frequently, so that shouldn't have been strange. There shouldn't have been anything other than that witness that could be incriminating evidence except- The [[paint can|Incriminating evidence]].Double-click this passage to edit it.All the broken things. You wonder how many things in your life will change because of this. There's not much you can do about it now. As you're getting ready for bed, you make your way into the bathroom to brush your teeth. The mirror has been replaced. Good ol' Klaudia. That mirror had been rusted and cracked for years. She must have stopped at the hardware store. You lift your toothbrush to your mouth and stop suddenly. Your face is deathly pale. Granted, the only source of heat in your house is a wood stove and an old radiator, but you're on the verge of looking sickly. However, the thermometer shows that your temperature is perfectly normal, and you feel [[fine|Better than ever]].Despite the circumstances, physically you feel better than ever, actually. It makes you guilty to think about your own good health when Stefan is rotting away in the ground. The funeral was held while you were in jail. It would have been awkward to go anyways. You shake the disturbing image of his face out of your mind and head upstairs to your bedroom. Needless to say, your dreams are anything but restful. It is a relief when you finally [[wake up|A grey morning]].It is late in the morning by the time you finally wake up, judging by the grey light flowing through the curtains and catching the dust particles in the air. Despite the fact that you could have easily slept for three days if you'd put your mind to it, reality is a harsh alarm clock. Shading your eyes from the unwelcome sun, you roll over to face your nightstand and check the time on your phone. It is 10:30 in the morning. Klaudia will have already left for work. There is one [[text message|A message from Anna]] on your phone.You left the paint can on his garage shelf when you went in to check on Stefan. Lucas had dozens of paint cans, but none that would be used on a car. It would stick out like a sore thumb. You begin to pace the creaking deck in a panic. You suppose you could [[break in|Back to the scene]] and try to sneak the paint can back out. Granted, you don't even know how to pick a lock. Maybe [[he won't notice|Leave it be]]. After all, Lucas is fairly short and it was at the back of a high shelf.It wasn't worth the risk. If he ever found that paint can there would be no explaining your way out of it. The police would be scouring that house for every scrap of evidence. Your fingerprints would even be on it! If anyone had already seen that can you would be done for in an instant. That blasted thing was undeniable proof that you had lied about being there, regardless of how you were actually tied into the crime in question. How you were going to smuggle the can out of a taped-off crime scene was a problem to be solved later. The best course of action was... to just take this one step at a time. Leave immediately and [[work something out|The unseen]] on the way there.Whether anyone noticed or not, there's no way that you could get that paint can out of the garage. There was a strong chance that there was still a police search going on. Besides, you had already repaired the car that Stefan crashed- you could say that you brought over a whole mess of random stuff and had forgotten to pick up the paint can from a few days ago. Could they prove that it was only placed there recently? There was no use worrying over it. It would instantly show. You take a deep breath and shake the thoughts out of your mind. Maybe a walk would help. It was certainly cool enough for a hike, and the woods felt like they were [[calling|Sound of silence]] you.The message reads: "//Hey, Love. I'm so sorry I didn't get the chance to call you last night. My boss had me working overtime on the graveyard shift and I didn't know if it would be too late to call. Figured you might be going to sleep early. Give me a call when you wake up and we can go to lunch or something? Missed you <3"// It feels like forever since you've seen Anna. If anything has a chance of picking your spirits up, it's a lunch date with her. As tempted as you are to slam the speed dial button and [[rush out|Oatmeal]] of the house, you could also be persuaded to muster up the patience to take the time to dress a little nicer. Maybe surprise her with some [[flowers|That one customer]].Damn it, the flowers can wait for another day. In the last week and a half, Klaudia is the only friend you've seen, save the waitress at the diner who you occasionally make small talk with, though you don't suppose it really counts. You can get her something tonight, maybe see her again tomorrow. She'll understand. Just the thought of seeing Anna again lifts your spirits as you dart through the upper floor of the house with a toothbrush in your mouth, a hair brush in your hand, and closing the bathroom door with one foot while balancing precariously on the other. It would be a rather comical sight, but honestly it just feels good to be home. You eventually call Anna while you're fixing a quick bowl of oatmeal with the other hand to keep you sated until you arrive at the cafe, since you essentially missed breakfast. When she answers it startles you so much that you splatter some of the hot oatmeal water on your hand. "//Ah, shit!//" you yell right as Anna answers on the other end. "It's lovely to hear from you too," Anna chides in a mixture of amusement and confusion. "Ack, I'm sorry, I just spilled hot water on my hand," you explain as you run your hand under the tap. "Making oatmeal is not a one-handed job. I got your message, um, how've you been?" you ask tentatively. Anna laughs and responds, "Fine, just fine. No oatmeal incidents here. I'm starving though, I think my stomach is going to throttle you through the phone if you don't hurry up though! Can we talk at the diner? I would pick you up, but my car doesn't have enough gas to get up to road to your place and back, and I don't want to make you wait. How about we meet at the diner in twenty?" "Sounds great," you answer as you dry off your hand and resume your oatmeal adventures. "I've missed you. It'll be nice to catch up." There is a pause on her end, as though she is gnawing on an unpleasant thought. Suddenly she exclaims "listen, I don't believe a word about what I've heard. I know you didn't do it. And I know everyone else knows it too, they're just too confused to figure it out clearly right now. This will all clear up soon. I just wanted you to know I'm on your side, alright?" "Thank you. I can't wait to [[see you again|The missing]]. I love you." "I love you too."Double-click this passage to edit it.When you arrive at the bistro, the cozy atmosphere inside is a welcome contrast to the over-present gloomy weather outside. Anna is curled up like a cat on one of the clever window seats the cafe installed, leaning against the windowpane sipping a cup of what can be no other than English breakfast tea, knowing her. Her warm blonde hair is tied up in a messy crown braid and she's wearing that green sweater she hasn't stopped wearing since you told her you thought it was cute. You're going to have to have an intervention about that sweater one of these days. She looks up and smiles widely, swinging her feet back to the floor and placing her mug on the table before running over to you. Small as she may be, Anna nearly sends you flying into a nearby elderly couple's table. "I'm so sorry about this girl, she's incredibly excitable, you see," you attempt to explain through uncontrollable laughter and a death grip hug. "Good God Anna, you're going to crush me," you warn breathlessly. "I'm sorry," she drawls morosely as she takes a step back, her eyes piercing through yours. "But do you know how //boring// it is in this town without you around?" She sits down but stops her rant for nothing. "It's like you walk around going "//Ooh, can't go bowling with one person. Skating alone is just sad-//" She is about to continue when you lean across the table and place your hand across her mouth, which results in a fit of giggles. "Hush, Anna, goodness. Enough about this grey town, //how have you been?//" Anna leans back in her chair, sipping her tea with a mock serious expression on her face. "Oh, you know me. Saving the world one injured cat and dog at a time. Honestly, I don't even have any interesting pet stories to tell you. My only noteworthy gossip is about the owners." "Well, are there any interesting rumors that aren't about me?" You ask as the waitress comes by to take your order of a BLT and coffee. "Actually, there are. Was just hearing this couple talking about their nephew's son who went [[missing|The woods are deep and dark]] up in Northshire, just southwest of Bluerock.""Missing?" you reply incredulously. "I thought most of those woods were blocked off due to the mines?" Anna shrugs and sips on her tea, switching her criss-crossed legs over. "Blocked off means nothing to a child who wants to go exploring, especially not one who'll only become more excited at the prospect of danger." "Was he alone?" you ask, lowering your voice, aware that you have peaked the interest of the couple behind you. "The parents don't know. I had quite a lengthy discussion with the the grand-uncle; his wife wasn't so eager to talk about it. They think he snuck out at night to go exploring in the forest. I think they said the kid was nine or something. The teenage brother had been insisting that he go out and look for him, and the parents are worried he might run off after his brother separate from the search party. The boy's been gone less than two days, and as of yesterday there was a police sweep still moving through the forest." Your sandwich and Anna's pasta arrives, so you are momentarily distracted. In the lapse in conversation, the woman behind you leans over and taps you on the shoulder. "I heard about that from my sister. They still haven't found the Ackermann boy yet. Nothing good comes of that forest, I don't understand why they don't just close the mines off completely. It's too tempting for youngsters to go venturing in there! Besides, the police insist on searching the forest thoroughly before resorting to the mines" she says. You turn around, surprised at this development. "Wait, the forest is corded off but they didn't bother to board up the mines? Are you kidding me?" "I know, it doesn't make any sense. Some legal business about having to work around whoever those mines still belong to. It was private property, but it's not clear who the deed went to. That's all I know, get back to your lunch dear, this talk is too serious for an afternoon with your sweetheart," she concludes with a sad smile. "Thank you for telling me what you know," you respond with a courteous nod and turn back to Anna. A suspicious look has crossed her face. "You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you?" she whispers sternly. "Oh come on Anna, two days and the police haven't found anything in the forest? It's obvious they're [[not gonna find him|Secret Plans]] in time," you argue."And what would you do? Go after him yourself?" she asks, the hostile edge to her voice growing sharper with her rising concern. You stare morosely into your sandwich. It doesn't help that you conveniently already know where the Ackermann family lives. In your mind you are already in the woods, the smell of wet leaves and dew all around you. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet. But I'd rather [[contribute somehow|Redemption]] than [[do nothing|Caution]].""Then help their efforts from afar," Anna advises. "I don't want to see your face wind up on a milk carton too." Your silence betrays your conviction. Eventually the conversation awkwardly rights itself and stumbles to other topics of conversation. The veterinary practice she worked at was partnering with a nearby shelter in Attes. Now the shelter would be able to take in animals whose injuries had been beyond their treatment capabilities, and the veterinary hospital would have more resources in case an animal needed to be rehomed. The shelter was also considering adding on an expanded hospital wing that would serve as a sort of sister hospital to Anna's veterinary clinic. Not much else was going on in the town worth talking about. The business with Stefan and the missing boy in the forest was more than enough buzz for the local coffee shops and diners. When you've both talked long enough that most of the other patrons have been replaced by new faces, Anna requests the check and stands to bid you goodbye. You slip your arms around her waist and she throws hers around your neck, kissing you fiercly as though she had to make up for all the days she missed. A faint amused whistle from across the cafe goes in one ear and out the other. For the faintest of moments you couldn't care less about the whispering. All there is is her. It is only long after you have drawn away and bid her farewell, as you are driving home that you [[turn left|The road to Attes]] instead of continuing straight as if by some unconscious urge, that you are reminded of the tragedy that seems to follow you everywhere. Maybe this is a chance to make things right, in your own way."Tobias, this is foolhardy! I don't know if you're trying to make up for some imagined thing but trust me, this is not the way to do it!" "I... I don't know. I felt like if I could do this one good thing... Anna I don't know why but-" your voice cracks and you lower it to a barely audible whisper so no one but Anna could possibly hear. "Somehow I feel responsible for Stefan. I don't know why, Anna, I can't explain it but I do. Like I could have stopped it somehow." You feel like an idiot now, saying it out loud. Anna places her warm hands over your shaky ones that threaten to spill your mug of hot coffee all over the table. You had been so absorbed in your thoughts that you didn't notice the uncontrollable tremors running through your body. "Hey," she murmurs. "It's just your head messing with you, okay? Don't go and get yourself killed in the mines because you're so torn up about this. Stefan wouldn't want any of this... and neither would Lucas." You lower the mug to the table and hold onto Anna's hands. She's right. Your head is blowing things up to ridiculous proportions and you're trying to compensate for some imaginary guilt. "I guess you're right," you say and manage a weak smile. "Maybe you should [[visit|Making amends]]? It's been long enough," she suggest cautiously.Northshire was a small subsection of the larger town of Attes, just west of Bree and Bluerock. All but the northeast side was bordered by dense forest with a canopy so thick it near completely blotted out the sunlight at all times but noon on a clear summer day. Once one reached the southern border of Bree, the road passed through Bluerock before taking a sharp right into the hills. From there the road became windy, steep and narrow. Due to the infamy of the area, hardly any new residents moved in to replace those who died or moved away. There wasn't enough demand to maintain anything but the main roads leading to Attes proper and northern Bluerock. The road is busy on the way to Bluerock. Bluerock is a good eight times the size of Bree, and in the evening the main road is filled with cars making their way back to smaller outlying towns. You remember while passing through Bree that you ought to stop and [[tell Klaudia|The road to Northshire]] not to expect you back tonight. It's clear that you can't tell her the real reason you won't be home, but if you can't explain your reasoning to your own mind how could you possibly convey it to anyone else? God, how many times will you have to lie to the people you love before this is all over?The whole drive there your knuckles were white from gripping the wheel so tightly. How could you be so //stupid//? It would be infinitely more difficult to retrieve it now than it would have been to just pick it up as you fled. By the time you arrive at the beginning of the street that later forks off into his a mile down, you still don't have even the beginnings of a plan. It would be foolish to even drive all the way to the door, seeing as you had no rehearsed explanation as to why you were there. Ugh, and to make matters worse all of this stress was threatening to just about split your head open. Wow, really though. What on earth was that sensation trickling down your spine as if the very fibers of your body were unraveling? You clamp one hand over your mouth to stifle a scream while the other digs deep into the leather seat of the car. God, your hand. It was white as a sheet and... shimmering? No. It wasn't so much shiny as it was ethereal. Lacking substance. Eventually the pain passed and curiosity took over. Unfortunately, your hand couldn't pass through solid material. But it certainly was [[less visible|Plane jumping]]. The effect was beginning to spread to other areas of your body rather quickly. Shouldn't a man be concerned right now? The only thought that runs through your mind is, //if I can keep this up, maybe I do have a shot at getting that paint can. I haven't got a clue where this power came from, but I sure am grateful for it.//In your deep absorption with your own pain and discovery, you can't recall if anyone's driven by. You suppose not, otherwise they would have stopped the car, fainted, or called the police. With a great shudder of effort, you will your body to become completely translucent, to the point that even your clothes adopt an invisible quality. It's unnerving, not being able to see yourself at all. //Oh, the things you could do with this-// Focus, Tobias, focus. Get this over with before something goes wrong. You've got no idea how long this will last. You make sure no one is watching before exiting the car and making your way down to Lucas's house. All the while, you instinctively double check that no part of you can be seen. There is no reassurance that the back of your head is translucent, but hopefully that wouldn't be enough to go by if someone spotted a disembodied wisp of hair. Now you're really cursing yourself for not parking closer. It would have been too conspicious though: Tobias's car parked near the crime scene and its owner nowhere to be found. You look down as a curious sensation runs through your feet. It is only when you slowly turn your head, afraid of what you'll find, that you see you have moved more than a quarter mile from the car in the span of a minute. The hair on the back of your neck stands up and tingles furiosly. [[Gift|Soon to be safe]] or [[curse|Something wicked]], something's not right about this. The circumstances surrounding all of this... Surely you aren't dreaming? Cautiously, you resume skipping through the physical plane, taking your strides ten or so feet at a time until you become more comfortable with longer distances. It is not a pleasant exercise by any stretch of the imagination. In fact it makes you quite nautious and light-headed at first, as if your body is being put through a taffy puller.A few minutes into this teleportation, you feel better than ever. Spookyness aside, you couldn't have asked for a better time to be helped out of a sticky situation. When you arrive at Lucas's house, it is exactly as you expected it would be. An ongoing investigation, still combing through the house. As you approach the garage door, a curious little thought scratches at the back of your mind, begging to be set free. You push it aside as though swimming through sluggish, murky water, promising to save this epiphany for another time. Right now you need to finish your mission without any further distractions. You walk right up to one of the police officers interviewing a neighbor, standing just inches from him. He twitches, as though some deeper, base instinct in him recognizes the presence of something sinister and hidden, though otherwise does not react. You pace a few circles around the pair just to be sure. When you are confident that your guise is infallible, you slip into the garage. Nearly everything around the car is covered with tape or numbered markings. You breathe an inaudible sigh of relief when you see that the shelf of paint has remained untouched. Now, the final test would be to see if you could [[render the can of car paint invisible|Closed doors]] as well, and cart it out without anyone noticing its sudden disappearance.Whatever this new ability is, something's not right about it. You lean against a streetlight and close your eyes as the nausea comes in waves. Your limbs still like they're being stretched to inhuman proportions, but you can't bring yourself to open your eyes to look at them. It is only when you feel your fingertips brush a point slightly past your kneecaps that you recoil in horror to the point that all at once the invisibility and new stretched form are shedded like a shadowy snake skin. You quickly dart out of sight and vomit in the bushes at the sound of your bones shrinking and shifting. What fresh hell was this? As if the murder of one of your closest friends wasn't enough to rattle you... were you turning into a monster? As long as you could control it no one needed to know. No one need ever find out. There was no reason to use something so dark. And the [[circumstances|A gift from the operator]] surrounding it...Tiptoing up to the shelf, you reach carefully around the other cans and gently wrap your hand around your target. At first, there is nothing. Not one to be discouraged so easily, you give it another minute and finally the can becomes pixelated and suddenly invisible in the span of a few seconds. You lift it and swivel around, double checking that the endeavor has not affected your own image. No one is looking at you. If you can just slide by the group crowding around the door, you'll be fine. You are so caught up in your premature celebration that you fail to notice the police officer slamming the garage door down in one swift motion. The paint can almost falls out of your hands as you stand there in the dim, dusty light, realizing that you will now have to navigate the house in order to leave. With dismay, you look at the door to the house and see that it is closed. There's no telling who could be watching on the other side of that door, and if the doorknob suddenly opened due to an unseen force... well that might cause a bit of alarm. The [[inside of the house|He knows]] would also be much more cramped; there would be more of a chance to bump into someone or knock something over if they weren't expecting you.Now is no time to give up. You had a better chance than any man of escaping with your contraband, and wasting it would be an insult to your newfound gift. You walk up to the garage door and rest your ear on it. Hopefully, you can gauge by drifting conversations if anyone is near the door. Immediately you pick up on a conversation between what would sound like a police officer, judging by the tone, and none other than Lucas. "-just closed the door so the witnesses being interviewed won't interfere with what's going on in the garage. We've searched everything in the car and around it at floor level, now we're working our way up. Obviously there hasn't been enough rain to leave any definitive shoe markings, and unfortunately the garage floor didn't have enough residue on it," the officer explains. "Yeah, just my luck... I just swept it 2, 3 days ago or something," Lucas replies. "I also wanted to let you know that we found numerous sets of fingerprints on the entrances leading in and out of the house belonging to individuals that you had already identified as family and friends, which comes as no surprise. Any prints that were more than a week or so old would have been wiped off, though. I wrote down a list of names, I'm going to go get it and bring it back and you can double check that all of these people were in fact invited into your home in the last week." //He knows. He knows you've been there//, and Lucas knows you haven't openly been at his house in at least a week and a half. Somehow, you've got to get yourself out of this. Your options aren't looking very... savory, though. The most logical option would be to wipe off both sides of the handle, get rid of the list, and any other evidence about the prints. But then the police officer who compiled it might have remembered your name. You would have to somehow... silence him. Could you do that? All of this was to secure your innocence. Do normal people have these thoughts? You would be committing the very crime you were so determined to prove you weren't involved in. And what then? Where would this madness end? No man should have this kind of power. It was like the Ring of Gyges all over again. That little thought threatened to bubble to the surface of your mind again but you quickly slammed it back into its cage like a pesky Jack-in-the-Box winding up of its own accord. Killing Lucas wouldn't do any good. And even in this bizarre, twisted state you suddenly found yourself in you couldn't bear to kill one of your closest friends. Not even if it meant preserving your own life. But a stranger? A stranger with the power to convict you? No, you wouldn't kill him, but... you could still [[destroy the evidence|Our whispering conscience]].You silently wipe this side of the doorknob with your sleeve and peek under the door frame through a hole in the weather stripping. Not a moment later, Lucas gets up and begins pacing the room in long circles. When you are as sure as can be that he is on the far side of the room, you quickly slip through the door, holding the knob with your sleeve. It might leave a fiber or two. Maybe a skin cell. But that would surely be better than what was on it. You quickly wipe down the other side and look up at Lucas. He is staring quizzically at the door, almost through you. He walks over to it. He's obviously heard the sound of the knob turning, and there's no use standing here. You step to the side and back down a hallway to your right as Lucas investigates the other side of the door cautiosuly. In this golden moment of opportunity, you slip behind Lucas and speed walk in the direction you heard the cop go. It isn't long before you spot him. //Shit.// He's already reading the list. "Marius Kauffman, Tobias Müller, Günter Hirsch..." he murmurs. //He knows.// He knows and even if you destroy the evidence it's not going to burn the information out of his mind. The rogue thought is now clawing relentlessly at the back of your mind, as though it is aware of [[what you are considering|Memories returned]]. You don't know which path this action will take you down, or if it is a path you can live with. You brace yourself, still clutching onto your paint can like your very soul is contained within its metal walls. Half of you is ready to [[flee|A path I can live with]] and let fate do what it will with your wretched soul. The other is ready to preserve your life at any cost.You creep closer to your unsuspecting prey, a realization dawning on you with every step you take. //Looking back, something took over you then.// When you are inches from this man who has unknowingly sentenced himself to dead rather than the culprit he was intending to track, you bore your eyes into his. The officer's head snaps up as if he was a marrionette at the whim of a hasty puppeteer. His eyes widen in terror as you move your still invisible hand towards his chest. He seems unsure where to look, as if he senses an inexplicable presense lurking in front of him but his eyes betray what his intuition knows to be true. Without looking, you know that no one else is in a direct line of sight to either of you. Why not give this poor bastard a glimpse of his worst nightmare? Instead of lowering the invisible shroud around you, you instead decide to cover yourself in a different glamour. You decide for something horrifying yet... not without class. A sharp suit and tie almost comically juxtaposes the sudden unearthly stretching of your limbs. Hell, let's add tentacles. A form so dark it would appear as if it was cut out of pure shadows. And a face whiter than death, to give this man a taste of what he's in for. But of course, you can't leave any distinguishing features in case you misjudged and someone //did// see. Better make it blank. Some indents to suggest what once were features... Just as the officer recovers what's left of his wits and looks about to scream, you thrust one of your newfound arms into his chest and wrap it around his heart. Leaning in until your face nearly touches his nose, you savor the dread that drenches his face like sweat. With a manic grin, you crush his heart, relishing the squelching sound it makes as you rip it out of his chest, throwing the worthless piece of sentimental meat on the kitchen floor. You can hear that thought in the back of your mind laughing along with you. It is no longer a nuisance so much as an indifferent reminder. There is no emotion attatched to the knowledge it contains, only a simple fact. A fact that is plainly evident as the police officer collapses on the floor, his skin paper white, mouth agape, staring ahead and body frozen in an uncannily familiar position. When faced with such an obvious parallel, you are not surprised when the alien voice creeps forward to the front of your mind, leans down, and whispers the words into your ear that you've known all along, only been waiting to hear confirmed. "//You killed Stefan. You killed Stefan, and you// enjoyed it."Double-click this passage to edit it.Without a doubt, however, Anna is right. What you're doing is foolhardy. But it wouldn't sit right with you any other way. After sending a quick message you hop back on the road and continue until it's time to turn towards Attes. The Ackermann house sits just before the Northshire limit. The road is completely deserted this far out, and you can see why no one spotted the boy wandering up the mountain road. The drive has already taken you an hour, and by your estimate there's a mere three and a half hours until the [[sun starts setting|Continuing on foot]]. This plan, or lack thereof, is starting to look more haphazard by the minute. If you change your plans, not only will you have a boatload of explaining to do, you might not get the nerve to come back. And by then you're sure it would be too late to find the Ackermann kid. No, dark be damned. You're getting this done tonight. There's not much use talking to the parents. They would probably be suspicious as to why a stranger would go to so much effort to find their son, and for good reason. You rack your brain for the names of Tim and Helena's two boys. There was a large holiday party or something that Klaudia's close friend Hanna held a few years back. The kids were much younger then, but they made an impression. The younger one... Johannes, that was his name... he was mischevious even as a kindergardener. You vividly remember a punch bowl suddenly being flipped across the room by no one other than a well-dressed, grinning tot peeking out from behind his brother's leg. The elder brother's name didn't stick due to the circumstances putting a great deal more focus on the younger. If memory serves you correctly, the drive from the outskirts of Attes to the Northshire glen takes an hour in optimal conditions. Due to the stormy weather recently, the roads may be slippery. As you manouver the car around hairpin turns, you are reminded why you loathe driving so much: the power of over a ton of machinery at your fingertips and all the danger and responsibility that comes with it. Golden light filters through the dense tree branches and glances off the hood of your car. It isn't long before you reach the line of fencing that separates the residential section of Northsire from the hazardous forest. In addition to the split rail fence that cordons off the entire border of the woods, there are numerous "No trespassing" signs, and the occasional length of barbed wire. The road you had been following comes to a complete stop. Instead of rickety wood fencing, the barrier intended to keep vehicles out is made of a sturdy metal gate cemented deep into the ground that is locked with a code. You imagine the only people intended access privileges must be construction personel or, apparently, police officers. There are no clear weak spots in the fence as far as you can see, and you don't intend to lengthen the list of crimes you've committed by driving through a fence. Looks like you'll be [[Continuing on foot|The edge of the woods]].Double-click this passage to edit it.Double-click this passage to edit it.It was undeniable that the timing was chilling. Right after you happened to be at Stefan's house shortly after he was murdered... or even while it was happening? The thought sent a fresh torrent of bile spewing onto the dead grass. Gods, did you lose time that day? Now that you think about it... you can't completely remember driving over there. But you'd made that drive often enough you probably just weren't paying attention. The things we tell ourselves... And the fact that this power surfaced as you were going back to the scene of the crime. Was someone operating this from the outside? It almost felt as if a sign should appear, but you were alone on this desolate street. You wipe your mouth with your hand for lack of a better instrument. It is shaking badly. Coming here was an awful idea. If it was going to cost you your humanity to clear up what you left there, it wasn't worth it. As you sink into the seat of your car you rest your head on the steering wheel. Thoughts of Klaudia and Stefan and Lucas and your sweetheart Anna swirl restlessly in your mind. It's as if whatever possessed you on the sidewalk was reluctant to leave your head in peace. //Turn it back on,// it seemed to say. //It'll be so much easier if you just give in to it. Don't you want to see how much you can do with it?// Your head snaps up. No, that voice wasn't coming from inside your head, you were sure of it. When the [[ringing|The reluctant successor]] starts up in your ears some base human fear kicks in and you throw the car into drive and skid in a half donut back the way you came.Your hands are trembling and it feels like someone has dumped ice water straight into your veins. There is something... something standing under the streetlamp. You push the pedal to the floor and refuse to take your eyes on the road. There's no way you're going to give that thing the satisfaction of acknowledging it. It saw you. It //saw// you. It knows you tried out whatever... whatever sick powers it probably gave to you. You can picture it laughing at your distress, like a rabbit cornered by a wolf. But what if you're becoming the wolf? Maybe this thing is toying with you, trying to make you do things you wouldn't ordinarily consider. God, would you have tried to break into a taped off crime scene at the murder site of your best friend or did this creature put that idea into your head? Just... just get [[home|Through a dog's eyes]], and you'll be fine. Just don't go on walks in the forest alone for a while, maybe.Double-click this passage to edit it. You park your car off the side of the road. There's not nearly enough trees to hide its presence, but you doubt anyone who happened to be coming out this way would be interested in your car. What's surprising is the lack of emergency vehicles. Wasn't there supposed to be a search going on? Either the kid was found on your multi-hour drive or there must be another entrance to the glen. Now that you think about it, the road you took forked numerous times. Without a map of the area, it was safest to simply follow the road you started off on, which happened to remain Ridgeway. It was entirely possible that the main entrance was only accessible by an alternate route. Either way, the further into the forest you trek the more likely it's going to be to encounter the search party. The one good thing about night falling is that you could easily see anyone coming by their flashlight and avoid looking out of place. As you close your car door the noise reverberates several times through the trees and you become acutely aware of how little sound exists in this place. The mines are on the southwest border of the forest. If it's taking the police this long to find Johannes and they refuse to search the mines, you are almost certain that's where he is. There is always room for error, but could a mtwo day search really miss a kid after patrolling for so long? Maybe the forest is bigger than you remember. There is a [[path stretching in front|To the shack]] of you that cuts through the center of the woods, but may or may not connect with the mines at some point. It would probably be easier to follow and less dangerous than skirting through brush. However, following the [[western curve|To the mines]] of the fence would undoubtably bring you to the edge of the cliff face in a much more predictable path. It would be easier to avoid the search party, but now that you think about it the route might be obscure enough that you'll be needing a search party too by the end of the night.Double-click this passage to edit it.