Printed on nearly every business card, missive and monogrammed piece of office ware belonging to the Samhain Foundation, was an eyeless smiling moon. A red moon, surrounded by red stars, set in the center of a black sky.
The sigil was something a fifteen year old, Desmond, created when he’d been lying awake one night wondering what exactly would become of him in this new Agartha.
He knew he wasn’t weak, but he knew his power was still far from absolute.
Looking at the little drawing he’d made, using just magic and ink, it occurred to him that perhaps he should begin preparing for life without the Caldwells.
He’d need some kind of backing when he finally found an opportune moment to leave the family without causing them undue harm.
Though he was strong enough to keep himself from immediate harm, some political and financial strength would be needed if he wanted to keep himself afloat in this new world of powerful leveller clans and prideful principalities.
He knew that he couldn’t just hope for the best. A peaceful and worry-free life was something that one had to work towards.
After a moment he decided that he’d work on that while he was in bed, calling Jack so he could begin his plans.
For three years, a certain force had grown, growing in bits and pieces. Collecting businesses, collecting families, collecting guilds, collecting gangs. Slowly increasing its influence in Ashok and the neighboring lands both in the mundane world and the wonderland wastes.
Skittish like a spider, boneless like an octopus, insubstantial like a ghost, with all the power and fluidity of fast flowing air.
Though the other factions and powers that operated in the land, serving beneath the three great sects of the Black Sky Union, were aware of it, none of them could ever get close, none of them could ever touch it, nor could they stop its slow and steady expansion.
With no other recourse, its presence and power were simply accepted. Thus it soon simply became known that any group that bore the black and red, red moon insignia were not to be touched.
Those criminals who operated in the shadow knew such companies were under protection. Those powers that operated in the light knew that such groups, be they in the black or the white, were being looked after and were not to be carelessly trifled with. And all knew that there consequences that came with not respecting this rule.
Of course naturally there’d a few who would buck these rules either coming new to the party, or growing slightly and believing themselves some sort of exception.
Such individuals and groups would in turn enjoy the privilege of playing the chicken that gets used to scare the monkeys.
A non-descript black van pulled up to the side of an office building. Pulling into a blind alley and parking in such a way that kept it slightly hidden from view.
A team of twelve men and women dressed in black piled out of the van. Their apparel was a mixture of bullet proofed padding and enchanted leather plate. Their weapons ranged from firearms to good old fashioned swords, knives and spears.
On their faces were masks, simple masks like those worn for masquerades and costume parties. Enchanted and imbued with far more power than one would expect their thin material to be able to hold. The eyes and mouths of the masks radiating with an ominous orange-red light.
These men and women were from the Jack O’Lantern Corps, also known as the Wisps, the fists and hammers of the Samhain foundation.
Made up of former soldiers, young talents pulled from various gangs, young talents from the smaller sects and other specially recruited levellers. All of them having been trained to the named expert level and above. They were the one’s that the organization sent whenever someone forgot the rules, or otherwise went against the foundation’s interests.
That same force had now been mobilized, called to act by a certain company of mercenaries’ insistence on raiding caravans, storage facilities and trailers of some of the Samhain Foundation’s affiliates.
The night had been a long one, filled with various unraveling plots and revelations of a certain sect’s intentions of taking a bite out of the foundation’s trade connections, by lowering their reputation.
No warning was given, the time to talk of second chances was expended once lives were lost.
The Jack O’Lanterns moved with a practiced ease. The majority of the tension they felt on that particular evening not coming from the task that lay ahead of them, but rather coming from the two observers who trailed them from behind.
Even simple work could be made nerve wracking when one had one’s boss breathing down their neck.
And today, two such bosses were shadowing this particular squad of Wisps.
A man and woman trailed the squad as the group silently entered compound that was owned by the Iron Wing Sect.
If the wisps moved like ghosts, silent, and nigh invisible, then the two that followed the wisps, were like two trails of living moonlight. Innately untouchable. Almost illusory in nature.
The breech point was on the roof of the innermost building in the compound. A portion of the Jack O’Lanterns had split off to create a distraction and make sure that the main team wouldn’t be interrupted.
The sounds of screaming, gun fire, mage fire and clashing metal serving as a signal that the timer for the main teams tasks had begun.
Up on the roof, the squad leader, glanced over his shoulder at the two who watched from the very back of the group.
The female who bore a snow white mask that wasn’t much paler than the face that lay beneath, said nothing.
The male who didn’t wear a mask at all, smiling eerily in the dark, his red eyes glowing like hellish fireflies, simply laughed.
“Don’t mind us…I’m just here to see how the magic happens…”
Between the two of them, the squad leader, couldn’t tell which one made him more ill at ease.
On the one hand, the female observer, was known to all the wisps. She was the foundation’s chief of operations and planning.
People either called her the Executive or Executive Weiss and she served as the head wisp and the de facto leader of the foundation.
She had been responsible for training and recruiting the first Wisps. The first squad of Jack O’Lanterns who would be ultimately responsible for training all the proceeding squads down to this one particular squad of Jack O’Lanterns.
She was the legendary mother of the foundation. Powerful, brilliant, beautiful amongst those with the security clearance to actually know of her, that knowledge was almost always tied to a reverence.
On the other hand, there was the man, speaking extremely figuratively, since an organization as nebulous as the foundation would almost certainly not use a normal payroll system, his name was the name on all their checks.
Speaking literally, if the lady in the white mask could be trusted, and not even the most foolish amongst them would dare gainsay her, his name was the one on the building.
He was the Samhain, for which the foundation was named, the one who created group, and the one who pulled its strings.
The Squad Leader wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that. The “man” looked more like a boy, tall and looming yes, but still a boy, and that boy had a tendency of grinning like someone who was both mentally slow and just a little bit insane. Not quite drooling, his mouth not quite hanging open, like a dog on a very hot day.
His mouth was filled with far too many teeth. And the man’s aura, the feel of his presence, it seemed to alternate between nothingness and sheer terror.
Like the transition between a dead sleep and a nightmare.
From the way the higher ups and the Lady Executive treated the man, he was probably a big deal.
As for the man himself, his conduct was casual, and he seemed to act as if everything around him was just some interesting spectacle he was taking in. A manner that was half annoying and half unnerving.
“Is there a problem…?” said Executive Weiss. Her sharp whisper snapping the Wisp out of his momentary fugue.
“Uh…Er…No, ma’am.” said the squad. Cheeks reddening beneath his mask.
The operation continued, with one of the Wisps chantlessly casting a spell to make a section of the rooftop vanish.
Once they were inside the building they quickly made their way down to the highest of the living quarters where they’d find their target.
Three of the Wisps hung back, splitting off from the others. Two Wisps would guard the third and the third Wisp would cast a spell that would affect the flow of time for the building and incapacitate all who were inside.
The rest of the team would find their target and old man with a curled blue beard, who slept beside two beautiful young women.
“Wake up, sleepy head.” drawled the squad leader.
The old man would awake and see actors from a nightmare carnival looking down at him. He’d open his mouth to scream and find that no sound came out. He’d try to fight and find that his body wouldn’t obey him. The last thing that he’d see was the black bag being put over his head, then there would be brief explosion of pain and then nothing.
A wisp would carry the man off taking him back to where the other three were waiting at the exit point. He would be pumped for information and then properly dealt with.
In the meantime the rest of the group fanned out, to quickly and quietly cull the remainder of all those who slept within the building.
Not everyone would have to die, tonight’s targets were just those who’d been responsible for the decision to go after the foundation’s territory and those who would be likely to try retaliating after tonight’s operation.
Inter and intra- factional conflicts were common in Agartha and this was just standard procedure.
Despite seventy percent of a sect vanishing overnight, in all likelihood, it would only be the ghastly discovery of the sect leader’s body that made its way onto the nightly news.