Title: The Arkham Investigation
Fandom: Death Note/Lovecraft crossover
Pairing: N/A, L and Naomi-centric
Rating: NC-17 for violence, language, disturbing situations and sexual content
Warnings: Violence, gore, disturbing themes
Word Count: 9,191
Author's Notes: AU - Naomi Misora left the FBI after the events in 'Another Note' and continued to work for L as his eyes and ears.
Summary: The number of children disappearing in the small coastal town of Arkham was astronomical. Even more disturbing, the town's reluctance to report them. Naomi looked at the investigation as half work, half vacation. She had no idea how deep the depravities of Arkham truly went....
The rickety old bus trundled down the sparsely paved road with a sound that seemed to imply ‘safety codes’ were an unknown concept in backwater Massachusetts. Thick black smoke spat out of the exhaust pipe and the wheels screamed and whined. It was a striking contrast to the peaceful autumn afternoon. New England was, if nothing else, a scenic place. But the bus! Naomi was finding it difficult to concentrate on the book open in her lap.
Glancing out the window, she couldn’t see any road signs. All she could see were trees and fall flowers along the roadside, and in the distance, the coastline.
This was far different than her normal jaunts through the city. After quitting the FBI and going to work fulltime for L, she was used to traveling at a moment’s notice. But most of her investigations took her to capital cities and hubs of humanity. Not small, old fashioned towns on the Atlantic coast.
The message from L - a single email on her computer with no warning, as usual - hadn’t included many details. He never did. Only that it had been brought to his attention that a large number of tourists had disappeared in the area of a university town called Arkham, a large percentage of that number being children. He’d instructed her to pack her bags and catch a bus north.
Having been schooled in Boston and keeping an apartment there for between cases, it was an easy enough thing to leave immediately. And Naomi had to admit that the ride was a pretty one, at least. And she had the bus practically to herself. The old coastal towns weren’t exactly hotbeds of tourist attraction even at peak season - though that was most likely due to the rather private nature of the citizens and the fact that most of them had fallen into disrepair since WWII.
It was an interesting case. Children wandering away or being abducted wasn’t anything altogether odd. But something had clearly piqued L’s interest in the sleepy little town. Naomi didn’t know much about the place, only that its university had once been famous and the Arkham Historical Society was said to have some interesting curios on display. And of course there were the rumors - it was haunted, it had been home to Satanic cults - but those were a dime a dozen in New England.
The bus took a sudden turn, and Naomi grabbed onto the seat to keep from falling over. Her laptop case skidded into the aisle, and her book fell onto the seat beside her. After gathering up her things, she glanced up and was treated to a view of falling gambrel roofs and high, ivy-covered towards.
Naomi realized they’d entered what could only be the oft-forgotten town of Arkham.
To say that Arkham had fallen into disrepair was a kindness, Naomi decided. She had to haul her own bags to her room at the old hotel, and was informed with little warmth that the elevator was broken. The hotel itself was permeated by the smell of mold and decay - rottenness seemed to cling to it. For such a stately, large brick building, it was rather disappointing inside.
There were no other guests at the time. The silent hallways decorated in faintly peeling wallpaper were enough to raise the hairs on the back of Naomi’s neck. Her room, at least, was clean and comfortable. The bedspread and curtains looked as though they hadn’t been changed since the 1920s, but they were charming. The floor was bare wood but polished and clean. There was a pitcher and basin in the corner, china it looked like. The desk was old and looked hand carved. The bathroom…. Well, Naomi had seen worse. It was clean. Even if the bathtub was a claw footed monstrosity and the shower looked as though it couldn’t be trusted.
Despite that, she had to admit that Arkham was a pretty town. It had a certain old fashioned charm. From the window she could see the brick and stone towers of Miskatonic University, the sloping roofs of the houses and shops, and the flowers and red and yellow tinted trees that lined the river.
For such a peaceful looking little town, there was a great deal of missing children.
Naomi set up her laptop on the bed and pressed the number ‘five’ on her cellphone. She was lucky to even get service up here.
“I’m in the hotel,” she said, as soon as the line opened.
“Good. I’ll send you the necessary information.”
This was all routine. Naomi waited for the dialup connection to retrieve the files, cursing inwardly about the lack of cable or DSL.
“I’ll contact the families of the missing children immediately,” she said, eyeing the files. “It’s still early.”
“Hn. If you think that’s best. If you run into trouble, call me.”
Naomi didn’t bother responding. She hung up and jotted down the addresses and names of the families she needed to contact. It was strange - there was only record of the family reporting the incidents. The rest had been reported by other parties. Extended family, friends who lived in other towns….
L had sent her their reports. She re-read them, puzzling over that fact. Even when the parents themselves were the guilty parties, they reported the disappearance. And here were at least nine cases over the last two years where the parents hadn’t said a word. In fact the only parents that had were a tourist couple that had been passing through on the way to New Hampshire.
They had gone missing two months later.
Maybe talking to the families wasn’t the best idea. No wonder L had made that little comment. As much as Naomi appreciated that he trusted her instincts and decisions, she wished he’d come out and tell her when he didn’t agree.
So now what? The fact that no one in Arkham seemed to report missing children indicated it was a normal occurrence. As horrible as that sounded, it was the only logical conclusion that could be drawn. And from that, she could deduce that silence was maintained either out of fear or….
Naomi closed her laptop and grabbed her coat. A trip to the Historical Society was in order. Maybe the idea of a violent cult wasn’t as crazy as she’d first thought.
One thing was certain: picturesque Arkham wasn’t as peaceful as it appeared.
The walk to the Arkham Historical Society was a pleasant one. Rumors aside, the town was pretty. Especially in fall, when the foliage was in full splendor. The old town had the sort of charm that New England was famous for. In its glory days, it was probably quite the vacation spot. A pity it had fallen into such disrepair.
The Historical Society was a large old brick building that seemed to look up against the darkening sky. Part museum, part archives, it held most of the history of the town and its surroundings.
There was a single elderly woman behind the desk, bespectacled and bent over a large catalogue. She looked up long enough to give Naomi directions to the archives, then went back to her work.
Friendly sorts, here in Arkham.
The former FBI agent busied herself in the archives for the next two hours, until the bespectacled woman coughed and none-so-politely told her they were closing for the night.
The walk back to the hotel was an unpleasant one. It was dark now, and the streets were empty. And Naomi had spent the last two hours reading about satanic cults, illegal witch trials, and other dark dealings. Arkham’s history was far more violent and fraught with the occult than she’d realized.
Though there were no direct references to human sacrifice, Naomi had long ago learned to read between the lines. And there a great many ‘unexplained’ incidents that were merely footnotes but spoke of far more serious dealings.
She hurried back into the hotel. The man at the desk glanced up, and warned her mildly about staying out after dark. It was easy to get lost, he said. Naomi only nodded and hurried up the stairs to her room.
She turned on every light in the place.
It wasn’t that Naomi was a superstitious woman, far from it. But even the most rational of minds could be shaken up in the proper environment. Arkham at night was more than proper.
And after reading what she had, she felt maybe she had reason to be paranoid. Arkham had become increasingly unfriendly towards outsiders. Disappearances of children went back for centuries. Strange happenings and ‘quarantines’ littered recent history. And through it all there were undertones of occult practices.
The witch trials in Arkham had rivaled those of Salem. But unlike Salem, there was evidence of actual occult activity. Men and women found dancing and chanting around a pagan edifice, contracts with supposed dark forces written in blood, written documents professing a worship of something called ‘The Old Ones’. And rumors that the coven’s leader had escaped, gathered more followers, and continued the dark practices in secret….
Collapsing back onto the bed, Naomi pulled out her cell phone. She pressed 5 for quick dial, her direct link to L. She wasn’t particularly looking forward to explaining to L that she as relatively certain they were dealing with a cult of some sort. Serial killers she could handle. Cults? That was a whole other story. God knew how many people were under the coercive persuasion of whoever was in charge. She’d studied the effects of psychological manipulation used in these sorts of groups.
If the history of cults and law enforcement had taught her anything, it was that cults were dangerous.
“There’s a strong history of cult practices in the area,” Naomi said, when L had picked up. “Stronger than normal. The records aren’t online, but I found references to covens and devil worship. Including personal diaries which admit to occult worship and a belief that following the Arkham Witch Trials, the coven remained. Evidence entered into the trials included documents written in blood that detailed a pact with ‘dark forces’, and speculation on the disappearances of children at the time. They matched up to what was believed to be the peak worshiping time of this coven. I’d say human sacrifice isn’t completely out of the question.”
“I can’t handle a cult on my own.” There was no sense in beating around the bush or being stupid about it.
“There is no evidence it’s a cult. But probability that your theories regarding human sacrifice are correct is 63%.”
“That’s a pretty high number.”
“But not high enough for certainty. Research the coven further, if possible.”
“The University might have more information. They’re known nationwide for their studies on the occult. I have a feeling there was a lot those records weren‘t saying.”
“Good. I’ll await your next report.”
And that was that. Naomi hung up the phone with a frustrated sigh. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy working with L, and it wasn’t that she didn’t respect and like him… he just frustrated the hell out of her half the time.
She supposed it was a testament to how much he trusted her and had faith in her abilities, but it was still maddening. She wanted to know what he really thought about this case, what his theories were. But he never shared them, not until it was all over.
Naomi pushed herself off of the bed and decided to cross her fingers and hope there was hot water. She rinsed out the tub - force of habit - and pulled the lever for the drain. She turned on the water as hot as it would go and let the tub fill. After that bus ride and two hours sitting on the floor, she needed a good hot soak. She rummaged in her bag for her soap and shampoo and other toiletries and stripped off her clothes.
Cults and covens and human sacrifice. The theories ran round and round her mind as she sank down into the old, claw footed tub. The water was good and hot, at least. She let herself slide down until it was up to her chin. The wind had picked up outside and tree branches scraped against the glass and Naomi blocked out the sound as best she could.
She didn’t know too much about religious sacrifices. She knew that it didn’t actually occur in proper Satanism - which she supposed was a bit of an oxymoron - it was all symbolic. There were the idiots who didn’t know what they were doing, of course, and just called in Satanism, but they tended not to move in groups. And they also tended not to be very bright - certainly not bright enough to exist unbothered for over two years. Didn’t some African religions still practice human sacrifice? Not officially of course, but behind closed doors?
She thought back to the records she’d read at the historical society. They referenced The Old Ones. Old gods? Some form of more traditional paganism, then. That was certainly rampant in the area. Horned gods and things like that, if she remembered correctly.
She did remember, however, from her college days, that children were most often the victims of human sacrifice. Something about innocence and purity or something. She wished she’d paid more attention.
63% probability that the missing kids had been nabbed for sacrifices. And what about the parents of the last one? Killed to keep them quiet? If it was a cult, that fit. Cults were fanatically devoted to their leader and their ideals, they’d do anything to protect both.
At least she knew what to look for tomorrow. Human sacrifice. Wasn’t there a history of coastal trading with tribes from the Indies? Maybe some strange religions had come to New England that way.
Maybe it was best to stop trying to work it out until she had more information.
After her bath, Naomi pulled on an oversized t-shirt and slipped into bed.
She slept with the lights on.
The next day dawned gray and dreary. Naomi woke up to the sound of rain against the windows and she blinked in the low light. A storm had come up overnight. She performed her morning rituals to the sound of the rain on the windows and roof. It was surprisingly dark outside - she was glad she’d left the lights on.
There was no continental breakfast at the Arkham Hotel. Dressed in a heavy sweater and jeans, Naomi headed out into the rain under the shelter of her umbrella. She was glad she’d brought it - weather in New England was famously unpredictable.
She hadn’t had dinner last night, and her stomach was protesting the lack of food loudly. Especially after the jog down the stairs. Breakfast was the first priority, then the University. At least the visitor’s center was only a few minutes walk from the hotel. She grabbed a pamphlet from the rack beside the door and browsed for dining locations. All she wanted was a quick, cheap breakfast.
The likeliest bet was a little waterfront café that boasted home cooked meals and the best biscuits and gravy in town. As long as they had hot, fresh coffee, Naomi would be happy.
The rain was picking up. As she made her way down the winding streets towards the water, Naomi hunched under her umbrella and against the wind. She swore she could feel eyes on her. Apparently her paranoia hadn’t faded any.
But she couldn’t shake that eerie feeling that she was being watched. She glanced up at windows as she passed, expecting to see faces peering out at her. Of course there were none. It was just the town and the things she’d read yesterday. They’d gotten to her worse than she’d thought, that was all.
By the time she’d reached the small café, she had shaken most of her paranoia. Mostly because she was cold and miserable. At least inside it was warm, and smelled like eggs and bacon and best of all: coffee. And it was relatively empty. There were a few couples scattered about and an older man reading a paper by the window.
A harried looking young woman gave her an odd look when she entered, but showed her to a seat and handed her a menu. Naomi didn’t even wait to be asked if she wanted something to drink, she ordered a coffee immediately. Two sugars, no cream.
From her seat, Naomi could see the beach and the ocean. The wind was whipping the waves into a frenzy and the clouds and rain turned everything a sort of steel gray. It wasn’t a friendly view, but it had its own appeal.
The trek up to the university wasn’t going to be a pleasant one. It was going to be cold and long and uphill. She wondered if she could get a coffee to go.
The waitress came back and set down her coffee, and was off again as soon as Naomi had placed her order. Scrambled eggs, bacon and a side of biscuits and gravy. That was the house specialty after all.
She watched the waitress with the other customers, curious to see if she was being given the cold shoulder because she wasn’t a local, or if the girl was just unfriendly. As far as she could tell, it was the latter. She knew Boston was legendary for its coldness, but small towns were supposed to be warm and friendly.
She supposed it was hard for anyone to be warm and friendly on a day like this. Everyone looked rather grim. But Naomi soon forgot about the hostility, if only momentarily. Her coffee was cool enough to drink and the waitress soon came by and dropped off her breakfast. Which was, as promised, quite good.
She had already decided to present herself as a student from Boston, researching local folklore. It was certainly a plausible reason to be asking around about the town’s occult history. And hopefully one that wouldn’t raise any suspicion. She even had a student ID - declaring her to be Evelyn Baker, a student at Brandeis University. Claiming to attend a Liberal Arts college gave her an excuse to be researching nearly anything.
She didn’t intend to ask many questions, if possible. What she wanted was access to the library.
The waitress dropped off her check before she was done with her meal. Naomi decided to take that as a hint. She finished quickly, knocked back the rest of her coffee, and paid the bill - leaving a small tip for the waitress.
Now it was time to make the long walk up to College Street and the towering university. The rain hadn’t let up any and the warmth from the coffee soon wore off as Naomi braved the elements once more. Arkham was pounded with rain, everything taking on a strange and glistening sheen. The wind blew the rain under her umbrella, freezing her cheeks and soaking her hair.
Weren’t there any taxis in Arkham? Any buses? There was a bus station here and there along the rode, but no schedules and hardly any vehicles on the street. No one wanted to be out in this weather.
The things she did for L….
That strange feeling had returned by the time Naomi reached the gates of Miskatonic. Her umbrella had proved to be little defense against the rain. She hurried inside the building, sparing only a moment to look up at the impressive brick building. It looked almost ominous against the darkened sky. A chill went down Naomi’s spine that had little to do with the weather.
Inside the university it was dim and almost cluttered. The entry hall was cramped with statues and the large oak desk in the corner took up a grotesque amount of space. Naomi was almost surprised to see a computer on it.
No one seemed to take any notice of her as she wrung out her hair and shook out her umbrella. Students and professors were bustling here and there, and Naomi simply followed the signs up a large, ornately carved staircase to the library.
Electronic key cards hadn’t made it to Arkham yet. There was nothing barring her way, and obviously nothing setting her apart from anyone else hurrying through the halls, wet from the rain.
She flashed the student ID L had provided her with to the elderly gentleman in the library. He looked as though he were falling asleep at the reference desk, and hardly even looked at the ID. He just pushed the sign in sheet towards her. She signed it ‘Evelyn Baker’.
Here, she felt cowed and small. The library was massive, old, stuffed with books and smelling of leather and paper and years long gone. There were two levels, the upper walkway lined with a heavy wooden banister. The fireplace, set among built in bookshelves, was made of heavy marble. Within it, a fire was roaring. Everything was old. In here, the sound of the rain was amplified. It was like someone was beating against the walls and roof.
A quick browse through the card catalogue and Naomi had a general idea of where to look. She climbed the stairs up to the second level and ran her eyes along the titles, passing by strange books on dead religions and mythical creatures until she found what seemed to be non-fiction.
By the titles, it was hard to tell.
Where to start? Naomi pulled a few books off the shelf, skimming them for anything important. Most seemed to be useless histories on everything ranging from local flora to breeding lines of cattle. But there were one or two that looked as though they could offer some insights.
Naomi returned down the stairs and took a table near the fireplace, The Innsmouth Effect: The Masonic Order’s History in Arkham and Arkham’s Darkest Chapter: A Collection of Diaries and Letters Concerning The Arkham Witch Trials coming with her. The fire was warm and the seats were comfortable and Naomi cracked open the book on the witch trials and began to read.
The text painted a much clearer picture than the old records. Personal accounts went into gritty detail, painting what must have been a horrific scene in old Arkham. Missing children, again. Orgies and blood streaked stone pillars under the full moon. Strange chants in foreign tongues on the beaches at night, sickening cows, withering crops, contracts signed in blood. Some of this Naomi knew, but reading these more personalized retellings gave her a much better insight into the dark goings on.
Nearly twenty five children had gone missing, never to be seen again. Not a single trace of them had been found, as though they’d been snatched into thin air. There was no link to the devil or any Satanic figure, even in these reports, but a repetitive mention of ‘the old ones’. Something for cross-referencing, then.
The other book had nothing of use. It was mostly on the migration of a local Christian denomination from a town further along the coast to Arkham, and the author seemed to take a condescending tone when speculating that the ‘trade savages’ had ‘sullied the good name of Christianity’.
Naomi spent a good four hours in the library of Miskatonic, searching for any further references to the ‘old ones’. There were hints here and there, mentions of very old religions and frightening practices carried out in the name of mysterious deities. Nothing related to Arkham, though. They all cited distant countries and self-proclaimed prophets from foreign lands. Most notably Abdul Alhazred - she’d come across that name a few times. Some crazed Middle Eastern occultist. He’d been said to bind books in human skin or something like that. There were records of an archeological dig of what was believed to be Alhazred’s home - a brief scan of them revealed that the local natives had warned archeologists away due to fear of ‘the old ones’.
There was vague mention of these old ones everywhere. India, Africa, Russia, Asia…. All separate mentions, seemingly unconnected.
What the hell had she stumbled into?
Naomi sat back in her chair and rubbed her temples, feeling a headache coming on. She noticed a handful of youngish looking men starting at her from across the library. She looked right back. There was a vague sense of inspection in their gazes. Were they looking at her because she was a pretty woman, or because they didn’t recognize her? Or maybe because of her selection of reading material….
It was time to go. And hope she wasn’t followed.
After using the photocopier in the library - 10 cents a copy - and securing the pages into her bag, Naomi decided she needed to see the sight of the ritualistic worship herself. Everything she’d found said the stone pillar stood to this day, The White Stone it was called.
She was going to need another hot bath by the time evening rolled around.
The rain was coming down in ever increasing droves as Naomi trudged along the old dirt road out to what was simply known as The Ravine. The road was a river of mud at this point - her leather boots were going to be ruined. She’d send L the bill. In the heavy rain, she couldn’t keep a cigarette lit.
At least she wasn’t being followed. Even in this weather, she would have known if someone had followed her. Whoever those guys at the university had been, they hadn’t tried tracking her out here. Or if they had, they’d given up. She obviously wasn’t important enough to risk pneumonia for.
Freezing, drenched to the bone and in an ever increasingly foul mood, Naomi found The Ravine. It wasn’t the geographical structure that she noticed first, it was the pillar. Against the storm-dark sky, it seemed to gleam with some unearthly light.
The White Stone.
She’d never seen anything like it before. It had to have been carved by human hands - legend held the ancient peoples from before the Vikings had erected it for pagan worship - but there was something grotesquely inhuman about it. It was more of a feeling than anything else, but Naomi felt a queasiness grip her stomach as she looked upon it.
It was tall and wide, standing in the center of the pit of earth. Even from here, she could make out strange shapes carved on its surface. Hieroglyphs or ancient native carvings or something. She shook herself and climbed down the slippery slope of the ravine. The queasy feeling increased as she got closer.
It almost hurt to look at. Naomi found her eyes sliding over the strange carven images on its surface. It was as though she couldn’t quite see them, even when looking right at them. There was an impression of aquatic animals, octopi or squids or some other many legged thing that dwelled beneath the sea. And men. She knew there were men carved on there as well. And something else…
Her head was pounding. Naomi pressed a heel to the space between her eyes and doubled over, pain shooting through her head.
Hunched over as she was, her eyes caught sight of something white, poking up through the mud. It was smooth and strangely familiar… fighting the pain and nausea that wracked her body, she bent and reached her hand for it. She felt the rounded tip, slick with rain and mud…
It was a bone.
Her heart beating quickly now, she pulled it from the wet earth. Three things jumped out at her first. One, it was small. Two, it was most certainly human. Three, it was splintered and mangled and the flesh that still clung to it was shredded as though by wild creatures.
Now she knelt in the mud and began clawing up great handfuls of wet dirt. There were more bones, upset by the storm. Human bones, children’s bones. Twisted and rent and broken in ways Naomi had never seen before. Some had flesh and clotted blood still clinging to them. Flesh that had been shredded by teeth and claws and ripped from the bone… and from the look of the blood, it had happened when the victim was still alive.
Working quickly, Naomi pulled a plastic bag out of her pocket and placed a few of the smaller bones inside. The rest she left as it was and took a few photos of with her digital camera. Those, at least, she could send to L.
The pain in her head was almost overpowering now. She stuffed the bag back into her pocket and half-crawled a little ways away from the crime scene to vomit. Her stomach heaved and her back seized and she emptied her breakfast into the mud. Her body was gripped with strange seizures and she knelt with her hands in the mud, shaking and dry heaving until she swore blood was mixing with the bile.
What the hell was happening to her? The part of her mind that warned her away from black cats and spilled salt whispered that this place was cursed, that some ancient coven had taken care to keep nosey people away. But the rest of her simply blamed it on the freezing rain and the lack of food and being pushed to her limits.
Whatever it was, Naomi needed to leave this place. She needed to be back in her hotel room with something hot and soothing for her stomach and throat. And a hot bath to ease her screaming muscles. She’d feel better when she was warm and could rest.
Keeping the thought of her waiting hotel room in her mind, Naomi staggered to her feet, dizzy and weak, and stumbled up the embankment. She wanted to look behind her, to look at the White Stone again, but common sense was stronger than whatever queer fancy had seized her. She was weak and unsteady on her feet and every muscle ached, but she forced her body to take her to the road, to head back to town….
She didn’t even notice the car until she was hauled unceremoniously inside of it.
Naomi’s first instinct was to fight. Even as weak and sick and sore as she was. She twisted on the seat of the car and tried to strike out….
“Ryuzaki!” Oh god, it was L. L was here. She sank into the seat, limp. She was covered in mud and rain and quite possibly blood and her own vomit. What was L doing here?
“You don’t look well.”
“I’ve been traipsing through the freezing wet wilderness all afternoon. And you don’t look so great yourself, you know.”
She felt a cold hand on her forehead and brushed it away. She’d be fine. She was just exhausted and had been out in the cold and the wet for too long. She didn’t have a fever, she wasn’t sick, she was just drained.
“I think you’re right about cult activity,” he said, making no more attempt to see if she was alright. “I did some investigations of my own. The history of this town is quite dark. I apologize for sending you in alone.”
“It’s fine.” Naomi closed her eyes. “We didn’t know. But we should have enough evidence to investigate further now.”
“You found something?”
“The bodies of victims.” Naomi reached into her pocket and pulled out the plastic bag. “The storm unearthed them.”
“I see.” L took the baggy, holding it in that peculiar way that he had. She’d let him discern what he could from it. “Lab work will tell us more. How many bodies?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “They weren’t whole. They were broken and scattered, it was impossible to get a count. I took pictures.”
“And what?” Naomi turned her head.
“There’s something more.” L was looking at her now, with his too-wide eyes.
“Nothing. I’m just paranoid. You must be rubbing off on me.” She grinned, weakly, but she didn’t feel it. “It just felt like there was something wrong, in the place I found the remains.”
“I see. I‘ll review your photographs at the hotel. I suggest you shower.”
“No shower,” Naomi said. “But I’m going to take a bath.” She’d feel better after a hot bath. Once she was warm again, and away from that place….
She was doing it again. This wasn’t like her. Ghosts and goblins didn’t exist. Witches and warlocks and demons didn’t exist. But in this small town, in the storm, after seeing that oddly carved obelisk… well, a part of her thought she could believe it.
The ride back to the hotel was quiet. L was still studying the bone Naomi had taken from the crime scene, and she herself was trying hard not to doze off. The storm didn’t slack at all, and they both sprinted through the rain into the lobby.
No one questioned the hunched, bag-eyed young man that accompanied Naomi up to her room. And Naomi didn’t bother to ask L what he was doing - she knew she wouldn’t get an answer, and it didn’t matter anyway. L knew what he was doing.
Her room was as she’d left it. L immediately crouched on her bed, powering up her laptop. She tossed him her camera and stripped off her soaking wet coat. The room was cold. There was an old hot water radiator in the corner, and she kicked it, urging it to turn on. There was a painful rattling sound and a puff of air. Hopefully it would turn on.
“The locals aren’t exactly friendly,” Naomi mentioned, after she’d turned on the hot water in the bath. “Don’t go out alone.”
“Hn.” L said nothing more. He was staring intently at the computer screen, his thumb at his lips. Naomi kicked off her shoes and pulled off her wet and soiled clothes, not caring that L was in the room. It was like getting undressed in front of a rock.
The tub had filled enough. Naomi sank into it, letting the hot water drain the pain out of her tight muscles. This was all that she needed. The storm continued to rage outside, the evening growing darker and darker. She was glad she’d left the lights on. And that she was no longer alone in her room. Knowing there was another living person on the other side of the door eased some of her irrational fears.
“Naomi-san. If you’re done, please join me in the bedroom. I’d like your opinion on something.”
Speaking of the other human being…. Naomi reluctantly dragged herself out of the tub and wrapped a towel around her lean form. The hotel room had warmed up, at least.
L was still on the bed, staring at the computer screen. He gestured her over and she bent to look at the photographs she’d taken at the crime scene. They were enlarged and cleaned, giving a clear view of the damaged remains.
“What do you see?”
Naomi pursed her lips and looked closely. It was the same as she’d seen when she was there. Small human bones, torn as though by the teeth of some wild animal. There was muscle and skin remaining on some, shredded.
“It doesn’t look like a human did this,” she said, carefully. “But the markings don’t match any animal teeth I know of. Some sort of weapon?”
“Perhaps.” L clicked the touchpad and pulled up another picture. Another shot of the remains. For some reason, Naomi didn’t think it was a weapon that had mangled those bones.
“What could have done this?”
“I don’t know.” L leaned back, reaching into his pocket. Naomi chewed at her lower lip, her eyes fixed on the pictures. She’d seen broken bones before, and bones that had been chewed by animals. These didn’t match.
“We need a forensics report,” she said. They couldn’t begin to figure out what had done it without running tests. Maybe there would be DNA, trace elements, something.
Naomi left L to his thinking, pulling out her pajamas and getting ready for bed. She’d worked some strange cases in her life, but this one was rapidly becoming the strangest. And L being here only made her more nervous. She knew he could take care of himself, but it was rare he ever got this involved. There was something he wasn’t telling her.
Not that that was something new.
“Off the bed,” Naomi said, giving L’s shoulder a light shove. “I need to try and get some sleep. Unless there’s something else I need to look at?”
“No.” L took the computer and moved to the small desk against the wall. He’d be at it all night, most likely. He never slept, not that Naomi saw. It was off putting. But much about L was off putting. Yawning and exhausted, Naomi shook her head and crawled into bed.
Sleep wasn’t long in coming.
The place where the White Stone stood was dry now, the ground firm and rocky beneath her hands and knees. It was night, a full moon cresting the mountains and shedding pale light on the ravine. The smell of blood was everywhere. The night air was tainted with acrid metal, rich and tangy.
Naomi’s hands were covered in it. Slick, black blood clung to her pale fingers and ran in rivulets down the backs of her palms. All around her, naked bodies writhed in an orgiastic frenzy. Blood stained bare skin and hair, clinging like a sickly liquid shroud.
Naomi was on her hands and knees. She was naked in the pale moonlight, her pallid skin gleaming. Hands gripped her waist, skeletal fingers dipping into her skin. Someone thrust into her from behind, making her arch and moan. Despite the cold autumn night, her body was slick with sweat.
Licking her lips, Naomi tasted blood on them. Her hands fisted in the earth, gathering great clods of dirt. It mingled with the blood, dirtying her hands and sticking beneath her nails. The hands on her waist left smears of blood along her sides. She arched back into her unknown lover, reaching behind, feeling tight muscle and bone and slender limbs.
Blood was everywhere, so much blood. Small, pale bodies lay cut open beneath the White Stone. The corpses were naked as well, slashed and rent and eviscerated by cruel blades. The orgy continued around them, fueled by blood and death and some strange inhuman lust. Naomi felt hands on her breasts, skeletal hands slick with blood, and he press of thin lips to her neck. Her hand tangled in shaggy, thick hair and she felt her body thrum with some strange force.
The earth began to move. There was a great rumbling and the moans of the orgy reached towards a crescendo, movement becoming more heated, more erratic. The earth beneath the stone split with a great noise, and from the depths of the earth, something began to rise….
Naomi woke with a strangled gasp, sitting upright in bed with the covers clutched to her chest. Her legs were tangled in the sheets and she felt a cold sweat cling to her body.
L was staring at her from the chair.
“Bad dream,” she muttered, between gasps for breath. God, she hadn’t had a nightmare in years. And never one so vivid and startling and real. It was though she could still smell the blood and dirt from the ravine. L was still staring at her, a strange expression on his face.
“You were tossing and turning. And making noise.”
“It was a really bad dream.” What the hell had brought it on? The dead kids and the White Stone she could at least explain, but the sex? And now, awake, unable to meet L’s gaze, Naomi had the distinct and unnerving surety that the skeleton fingered mystery lover from her dream had been him.
“I want this case to be over,” she muttered, swinging her legs out of bed and leaning forward to rest her head in her hands. She felt sick all over again, a strange sense of fear and unease gripping her. “Ryuzaki, I have a bad feeling about this place.”
“Irrational fear due to local legend,” L said, shrugging. “But… there is a bad feeling in this place.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in ghosts or witches or anything like that, but…” Naomi sighed. “I don’t know, maybe you’re right. My brain’s just spitting up everything I’ve researched and my subconscious is still freaked out. But this place just doesn‘t feel right.”
“No. It doesn’t.”
L turned back to the computer, the clicking of the keys oddly comforting in the dim hotel room. L had turned off the lights. Naomi, bare feet padding on the floor, switched them on. She didn’t care if he thought she was crazy, she didn’t want to be in the dark.
Noise outside in the hall made her pause, her hand on a lightswitch. She froze, irrational terror gripping her stomach. Someone was in the hall. Someone was right outside the door….
The knock made her jump, and she cursed herself.
“Ryuzaki? Miss Misora?”
Watari. She let out a long breath, feeling ridiculous. It was only Watari. Flipping on the light and grabbing a bathrobe to sling over her tank top and pajama bottoms, she opened the door. The kindly older man stood in the doorway, dressed in a neat suit and with his hat and umbrella in his hands. He looked as though he’d just come from dinner.
“Ah. Forgive me for waking you, but I believe it would be in our best interest to continue your investigation from elsewhere.”
“We weren’t asleep,” Naomi said, running a hand through her hair.
“Bad dreams?” The lift of Watari’s eyebrows and the tone of his voice set Naomi’s hair on end.
“Yeah.” She turned away, letting the older gentleman into the room. L sat hunched at the desk, his thumb at his lips.
“This place seems to inspire them,” he said, comfortingly. “I found my own sleep troubled. That pagan edifice leaves quite an impression. It was only a dream.”
A flush stained Naomi’s cheeks, and she looked away. She was being ridiculous. It wasn’t as though Watari knew what she’d dreamt. Even if they’d dreamed about the same thing. In a general sense. She didn’t remember Watari being in her dream, after all. Not that she had paid that much attention….
“My own rest was troubled as well. The Stone. Hn.”
Naomi’s head snapped like a whip. Had L just admitted to sleeping? But he hadn’t moved from his sitting position on the chair. And what in God’s name had he been dreaming of? He was staring at her intently, and she squirmed under his piercing gaze. It was just a coincidence. Even if they’d all dreamed of the White Stone, it wasn’t as though L could know the details of her dream. And there was no way in hell she’d admit to them, anyway.
Naomi didn’t have much time to think on it, however, as he kept speaking.
“I heard a great deal of movement and voices downstairs, a group of men from the sound of it. And from the ill looks I’ve received from townsfolk and the general air of unfriendliness, I doubt they mean us anything but ill.”
“Hn. I agree.” L was looking upwards. “The elevator is broken. There are two flights of stairs. No fire escape.”
“This is crazy.” Naomi shook her head. “Even if there were people in this town that wanted us gone, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to just… come in and grab us.”
“Disappearances in Arkham are not reported,” L pointed out. “And if we vanish, no one will know.”
“They can’t know that,” Naomi protested. “It isn’t as if they know who we are or what we’re doing here.”
“That has not stopped them before, Naomi-san.”
Now Naomi could hear what had prompted Watari to come to their room in the early hours of morning. Voices, low and masculine, filtering up through the air vents. Despite her logical protests, Naomi shivered.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Watari smiled gently. “We had best leave now, before they block all exits.”
L had already shut off her computer, and Watari was packing quickly. Naomi just slipped on her boots and pulled her coat over her robe, not bothering to get dressed. There were footsteps on the stairs. Watari and L had been right.
Arkham was coming for them.
The hallway was dark, lit by flickering torches set into the wall. To keep that old fashioned look. Shadows stretched across the old carpet and the walls, making the corridor seem longer than it was. Naomi didn’t carry a gun, but for once, she wished she had one. She could hear footsteps on the stairs. There were at least ten different sets, heavy.
L was between her and Watari. It was automatic, the need to protect the young man. She’d been protecting him in one way or another ever since she left the FBI for him. It just usually wasn’t so immediate.
Whatever was coming was coming up the closest set of stairs. There was another, down the far end of the hall. Nodding, Naomi began creeping along the hall. Despite her light footfalls, it creaked beneath her. Damn it!
She’d come to Arkham to investigate some missing children, now she was fleeing a supposed murderous cult in the middle of the night with no weapons. This wasn’t the sort of life she’d imagined when she signed on to work with L.
The footsteps were growing closer.
“Ryuzaki…get in front of me.”
“That’s not necessary.” Their voices were hushed and quiet in the dark hall. Naomi wasn’t about to deal with arguments. She grabbed L by the arm and pushed him in front of her, determined to keep him out of harm’s way.
“Just head for the other stairs, both of you.”
“Miss Misora, as noble as your idea and as high as your skills are, I doubt you can hold off….”
Whatever else Watari was going to say was cut off by a shout down the hall. Damn it, damn it, damn it! There, shadowed in the low light of the flickering lamps, was a group of robed and hooded men. Naomi felt the same queasy feeling she’d felt at the White Stone as the light reflected off the strange jewelry they wore around their necks.
“Too late,” she muttered.
“I think it would be prudent to run, Miss Misora, Ryuzaki.”
Naomi had to agree. They were outnumbered and probably out armed. Much as she wanted to bring these freaks down, now wasn’t the time or the place. She nodded and sprinted behind L and Watari, the hooded figures close on their heels.
There was nothing quiet about their escape now. Shouts and heavy footfalls filled the corridor. Glancing over her shoulder, Naomi saw the glint of metal. They have knives, and they were gaining. And the end of the hallway seemed to be an eternity away.
At least they were moving quickly. For an old man and a guy who lived off of sugar and caffeine, Watari and L could move when they had to.
But they couldn’t move fast enough. Naomi felt a hand grab her coat, haul her back. She spun, kicking out and throwing her weight back. She heard someone call out to her, but she was focused on her attacker. The hood shadowed his face, but she knew it was a man. His grip on her hurt. But she aimed for his throat, her foot angled to cut off his air flow.
A hot sensation spread across her leg and she saw rather than felt the spray of blood from the wound. But she was free, for the moment, her attacker falling back with a strangled choking noise. The others were embroiled in their own battles. L was kicking out at two of their attackers, twisting and arching the same way she had been. He was holding his own. Watari was swinging his umbrella like a sword, jabbing and striking at the hooded figures with the pointed end.
Naomi landed hard on her injured leg, falling against the wall. Blood was soaking through her cotton pants, thick and hot. She grit her teeth, grabbing at the wall to hold her balance. Another was coming at her and she scrambled to hold herself up, her hand grasping at a lamp. She jerked away, her hand burning, and was slammed roughly against the wall with a thick arm across her throat.
She felt and heard the glass of the lamp break beneath her weight. She felt the lot lick fo flames as it fell and she lifted her hips and brought her knee between the legs of the man pinning her.
She slumped to the ground as the carpet caught fire.
Flames leapt up around her and she struggled to her feet. Someone, she thought Watari, pulled her up. Now it was confusion as smoke filled the hall. She breathed it in, coughing harshly as it stung her lungs. A handful of the robed men were on the ground, in pain or without the ability to breathe. The others were still coming, and Naomi stumbled in a limping run along with L and Watari. The fire had caught strongly, the old wood and carpet burning like dry tinder. Coughing, Naomi was shoved through the door to the narrow stairs. She could hardly see, her eyes stung so badly.
After that, she wasn’t entirely certain what happened. Her leg gave out, and someone slung her over their shoulder. It had to have been L because after the cold air hit, Watari was throwing open the doors of the car and she was tossed inside. Her chest ached and her eyes stung and someone was yelling. There was yelling everywhere. The car lurched into motion and she opened her eyes.
She had to be dreaming. It was as though the road was splitting, cracking open. The car shook and rose up on two tires, throwing her against the door. She let out a noise as L slammed against her, and she caught the dark bulk of something rising up from the gouge in the street, something dark and monstrous and born of nightmares….
The first thing Naomi saw when she opened her eyes was a ceiling. A plain, normal, modern ceiling. She sat up and found herself hooked to an IV. She was in a hospital. A quick inventory told her that her leg had been stitched and she was on some sort of painkiller.
L was nowhere to be seen. There was, however, a newspaper left by her bed. She snatched it up, looking for the date. She’d only lost a day, if that. The paper proclaimed it to be October 18th. She’d left for Arkham on the 16th. And the top story…
A photograph of the ruins of the Arkham Hotel stared at her from the newspaper. “Local Earthquake Causes Fire”, read the headlines. The only survivor of the hellish blaze was a visiting student from Brandeis University, Evelyn Baker.
Tucked into the paper was a note.
Your laptop was destroyed in the earthquake. Sorry. I will replace it as a business expense.
Nothing else. Naomi fell back against the pillows, shaking her head and stifling a laugh. So this was how it ended. After all was said and done, this was how it ended.
An earthquake hadn’t caused that fire, she had. In the fight against those freaks in robes. Those freaks who had been killed in the fire. Their names were listed. There was no mention of demonic cults or missing children - just a glorified retelling of a horrible local tragedy. She found she couldn’t even remember exactly what had happened while she was in Arkham. She remembered research, and being attacked, and having horrific dreams, but it was all a strange jumble. She remembered the fight, though, and exactly what had happened in that hallway.
She couldn’t feel any guilt for what had happened. Maybe there hadn’t been any fingerprints or solid evidence, but Naomi knew damn well that the dead deserved what had happened. Sometimes, justice was like that. No trials, no courts, no arrests, simply justice. And it was swept under the rug and only those involved knew the wiser. L probably wasn’t happy with it, but they were all alive - he couldn’t complain too much. The only dead were sick criminals who had been killed in self defense.
And she hoped those bastards were burning in hell.
Predominantly, she wanted to call L, and tell him in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t dealing with cases like that ever again. If he wanted someone to investigate cults, he’d just have to find someone else.
And if he ever put himself in immediate danger like that again, Naomi would kill him herself. Her job was hard enough as it was, why did he have to make it harder? And he ever put her in a position to have another sex dream about him, she’d take a page from his book and stop sleeping.
Naomi set aside the paper and waited for a nurse to check in on her. She felt fine, and she wanted to go back to her little apartment in Boston and recover. She felt she deserved it.
She wanted to leave Arkham far, far behind. The things she’d seem were like a dream now, hazy memories that were only half formed. She shook them away, not wanting them to linger. The things she’d seen in Arkham were in ways worse than things she’d seen in her entire career. And some things her mind wouldn’t let her remember, coating them with a glaze of normality and rationale that placed a border between her memories and her sanity.
But lingering behind them all, unshakable and strikingly vivid, was the image of some horrific, dark thing, rising up beneath the moonlight from a ravenous crack in an Arkham street. The blurred half-look was burned on her mind, a nightmarish shadow behind her eyes. It would never leave her. Nor would the lingering sensation of skeletal hands on her hips, and the metallic taste of blood in her mouth.
Some nightmares never faded.