The Crimson Family Part I

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The Crimson Family, Part I.

Tales from The Redlands

All hail the greatness of Coran of the Redlands.


HE IS


Report: NL73 - Expedition Log No.3

This is M.E.G. Operative Lucas W.

The soft caress of the spindly blades of grass tickling my chest, and the throbbing heartbeat hum of the Gloom, growing closer, closer, and ever closer.

That is the last thing that I remember. And to me, it is my fondest memory.

By the time of writing this, I’ve already given up hope that this will ever be read. In reality, it’s just me talking to myself, reminding myself that this is real. It’s a distraction, something to stall away the inevitable screaming death that claws at the boarded window beside my bedroom, three stories up.

The last thing I remembered feeling was prepared. The emotion I feel now is wrong.
I always thought that the Gloom was just… the Gloom. Nothing more, nothing less. Mysterious, but known in its mystery. But all that was shattered when I no-clipped into this place.

That was when I met him.

At first, the steady pulsing vibrated the air, redness obscuring my field of vision. Then I was plunged into darkness. The Gloom was gone, but something worse, much, much worse, surrounded me. I dare not repeat what I saw as I foolishly turned on my dying flashlight. Nothing you could ever say to me would ever convince me to tell. The stench was horrible, enough to make my stomach want to crawl out of my mouth. My endless vomit smelled good in comparison. It dribbled down my chin as I sobbed. Big mistake. The ones that were alive could taste my tears.

I could hear their footsteps, feel their breath sweltering around my arms. I could feel their unseeing stares through the dead air. Death was as homely to me then as a baby’s mother, and I almost fell into his arms to escape the terror behind me.

Instead, I fell into his arms.

He scooped me up like a toy doll, sandwiching me between his sturdy ribcage and his metal palm – the only non-spiked part of his gauntlet. He cradled me. I felt his body vibrate as the monsters caught up to him, latching on with razor teeth and tearing countless bits of flesh from his stomach and his legs. The warm blood from his wounds ran over me, baptizing me. His ragged breath smelled like fresh oranges.

I closed my eyes. It made no difference, anyway. My head spun, and I couldn’t tell if I had lost my limbs or they simply were in too much shock to function. His feet pounded on the stone pathway. He had memorized it – he did not need to see like I did. He jumped over something, stepped over another. His hands were shaking, and I could hear the rattling of chains.

I heard the door slamming shut behind me, but I didn’t process what it truly meant until he set me on the ground and held up my arms like I was a little marionette. I stumbled as I forgot how to stand, but eventually I remembered. Sometimes I wish I didn’t.

There was a small lantern glowing from the inside of a brazier on the stone wall behind me. It gave off just enough dim red light to make out the grotesque features of the figure before me. No eyes, missing chunks of flesh and muscles oozing endless pools of blood. A heart plastered on a chest, trapped under a cage of bone like a fleshy hellish prisoner. Interlinked golden chains, cascading down to the floor from severed shoulders, with spiked black gauntlets that dragged filth on the cobblestone floor as he walked. He looked directly at me with his impossibly deep black pits. I suddenly realized that the two brown-red orbs that were dangling from his neck were his eyes. But in this world, I could not scream. My screams would always be drowned out by the hordes outside the castle, endless and unyielding.

I pressed myself against the wall as if I could melt into it, no-clip to a different level, but nothing happened. He seemed to crush everything around him, even the air. He held out his hand. It was bigger than my head. One finger had enough force to stab right through my skull. But it was gentle. Beneath the crooked, ruined nose and tangled, slick black hair, was a tired smile. A human… smile?

"My name is Coran,” the figure said in a voice like an earthquake’s song. He picked me up, slung me over his shoulders, and carried me into the great hall where my brothers and sisters were waiting. The yellow – yellow, not red – light of the golden chandelier above flowed into my body and gave me the power of breath once more.

"Welcome to the family.”

"Protector"



HE IS


Report: NL73 - Expedition Log No.something how do you expect me to keep track when there's no day/night cycle huh???

This is M.E.G. Operative Winston.

Man, I’m still getting used to the whole "writing reports” thing. That sort of stuff was left to Jolene – you guys at Alpha should know, after all, you’ve probably received dozens of reports from her by now. Well, looks like you’ll eventually have to sit through the messy, unprofessional rants I write from now on. Sorry in advance if this is hard to read. But this is an entirely new level, and Jolene’s not with us anymore to tell you about it, so sucks for you, I guess.

You remember the guy I told you about – Coran, right? Well, he’s been acting really strange lately. He keeps muttering something about "I could have saved more,” or some crap like that. He’s gone almost all the time from the castle now. In fact, he's gone now, on "urgent business," he says. He said it's nothing we need to worry about, but I wonder where the hell he goes. Half of me misses him, half of me doesn’t. That guy gives me the willies, but there’s no doubt in my mind we’re all alive because of him.

Oh, by the way. Rachel’s here with me, too! Rachel, and even Zachary. The three of us are still alive, though Rachel got really badly hurt by some freakshow entity when we first clipped in. She had to have her arm amputated. None of us knew how to amputate an arm, but guess what? Coran knew how! I have no idea where he learned it, but he did a mighty fine job. It took days to convince Rachel – who could blame her for resisting? She even pissed her pants, which was probably the only funny thing to ever happen in this bleak wasteland of a level. But hey, I’ve been keeping the group alive with jokes. The only ones I can come up with are stupid and morbid, but it keeps us from going completely insane. So y’all can thank me for finding out all about level 73. I expect a giant cake and a crown when I come back home, okay?

There’s something you need to know about about this level, though. This is really freaking everyone out. The howls and stuff are loud as fuck, but every so often there’s this really deep one, that tears through the earth and shakes the freaking ground. I even see dust fall from the ceiling sometimes. It’s that powerful. Whatever beast is out there must be crazy huge. And if it can make this entire building shake with just its voice, imagine what it can do with its body. Not only that, but it’s been getting louder. Maybe it’s just our nerves kicking in. Mally insists that we’re just paranoid. But even she’s starting to have doubts now. So uh, if y’all are still looking for us, like at all,

please

please

please

PLEASE

come quickly, cause this is like, the worst expedition of my life. Okay bye.

Report: NL73 - Uhh the one after the last one

This is M.E.G. Operative Winston.

Oh. My. God. You will not believe what just happened. My hands are shaking wayyy too much to like actually write this Jesus CHRIST

Okay, so the other children and I were talking around the dining table, and we were having a pretty great time, as much of a great time that we can have here, until we heard a loud thump against the door. It sounded pretty heavy, like something falling on it. Then we heard three deliberate knocks, which is the code for "It’s me, Coran” so we knew that he was trying to get in. I’m the first to my feet, and I go over to undo the latch. The second that it comes undone, the door swings open and a massive body drops at my feet. I can’t even recognize that it’s Coran. I’m still in shock. He told us it was nothing to worry about! What the hell?

He’s bleeding EVERYWHERE. And I mean everywhere. Blood is even coming out of his gauntlets. I didn’t even know that he had flesh in there! He’s bitten all over, his muscles are exposed and some are torn off, and flaps of skin are hanging all over the place, too! He’s clutching a giant fang that must have been at least five feet long, and it’s bloody at the tip, like he used it to kill something huge. Even through all this, he tells me to help him close the door. So, I do, but the whole time I’m in utter awe that he’s not dead yet.

But that’s not the worst part of it. The worst part is that there’s a massive claw gash, larger than anything I’ve ever seen in my entire lifetime of exploring. And its right in the middle of his damn face. Both of his eyes are dangling from their sockets, which are completely red. I can barely see the outline of his mouth. The smell of death is so strong I lose my lunch in front of him, and so do the rest of my comrades. Rachel is all over him, asking him what the hell happened, and Zach and the new guy Trent haul him over to the sofa in the living room. He just kind of sits there in pain. That weird orange pulsing thing in his chest he calls his heart doesn’t seem damaged, though. Thank god.

I tell you, this guy is the craziest man I've ever met. He didn’t even hesitate. He asked Rachel for one of the steak knives and he severed the flesh connecting his eyes to his sockets. He literally cut off both of his eyes without even screaming. And then he put them in a pouch and continued to talk to us like he just came home from work or something. Absolutely insane. I can’t tell whether to be disturbed or relieved this guy is okay. He’s seriously messed up.

You guys better listen up and put this in your databases. According to him, on level 73 there was a ringleader for the entities. A "brain” of sorts that controls the rest of 'em like a hive mind. That’s why even the non-aggressive entities like male deathmoths still go crazy when they see us. He calls it "the Great Hound.” It’s at least twenty feet tall according to him and more violent than all the rest of the monsters here combined. If this thing appears in other levels you better send a whole fucking squad to take it down because holy crap I can’t even believe what I’m hearing.

And this guy. This guy actually killed the beast, with its own tooth. Stabbed it in the stomach again and again until he hit the vitals. And why did he do it? To keep us safe from it. Us, his children. He risked his life to save a bunch of insignificant humans that he barely knew from this horror monster. I don’t even want to ask why right now. I just gotta ask you all at Alpha. If you ever find a way out, please don’t leave this guy in this bloody fuckin' cesspool. Thanks.

"Hero"



HE IS


Report: NL73 - Dear Ma (and M.E.G. guys too)

From M.E.G. Operative Rachel A!

Rachel A, reporting in! My brothers and sisters are all very excited to tell you about the progress we’ve made. Coran is finally letting us outside of the castle – sort of. You see, it turns out that Lucas W, the newest member of our Family, has some woodworking skills! The Family all worked together to produce bows made from the bones of the Great Hound that Coran has been bringing back to the castle. Each arrow is flammable, and he has been teaching us how to light the arrows on fire and shoot them into the hordes of entities below. We stand behind the crenellations and let loose! Thankfully, we’re high up enough to not see the horrors that await us down below.

Coran truly is amazing. It feels like an injustice to call him just an "entity.” It doesn’t seem fair to constrain him to just a simple number in a list. He is so much more than that. He is not just an entity, he is a living, breathing being with complex thoughts and emotions. He’s like us. He is our father.

Ahh… I’m getting off track, aren’t I? Well, it’s not like I’m really pressed for time. Honestly, I can’t even tell how fast time passes here, or if it even passes at all. There are no clocks and no sun. The time on our phone is stuck at 00:00. How long have we been here? Have we already been forgotten? On some days, it truly feels like we have been…

But no, I can’t say these things. I have to be positive. Coran will show us a way through. I believe in him. We all believe in him. Whenever we say so, he pretends to ignore us. But we know it’s because he has to be strong for us.

Plus, I even have my own bone sword now! Using it is so much harder than I thought it would be, especially one-handed. I really prefer the bow, even though that's even harder. At least I won't be close… Oh, what am I saying? I’d much prefer to be home and snug in my little blanket next to Ma in the rocking chair, scrolling through her database files. It’s embarrassing, I know, but in times like these even the embarrassing memories are fond.

Ma, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re doing well. Much better than me I hope, haha! Don’t you worry. I will be home soon. Wait for me at Alpha, okay?

I’ll be okay, Ma. I’ll be okay.

"Savior"



HE IS


My Diary entry 57

By Mally.

Last night, I had a dream of a long-lost memory.

I was back in our old farm in Eastern Oregon, surrounded by the gentle, distant embraces of those hills on the horizon. A blanket of green stretched out before me.

I was home.

I could name each and every crop that I saw, all perfectly in line like the toy soldiers my little bro used to play with. But even this foggy memory of home was not truly safe.

Of all the days I had spent on the farm, this was the one that I had to dream about. Really?

The sky was green. An unnatural green that I only saw once in my life. That sickly color stuck in my mind, even to this day. I was nine then, but in this dream, I was my current age – 27. It didn’t change the raw terror I felt when I saw that E4 on the horizon.

A long, smoky grey tendril of whirling wind swept down like some angry god’s fingertips to the ground below. It stripped the trees off of my favorite hills like the apple skins my mother would peel in the kitchen sink. It looked so small from far off, but I remembered exactly how wide it was – 1.4 miles. And it was heading straight towards our farm.

"Get in the car!” Dad was bellowing. In a blur of motion, I whipped past him and dove into the backseat. I only caught a blurry glimpse of his face. Where his face should be… there was… a glitch. Fuzzy, rapidly moving patches of light that I couldn’t see through, distorting his features until I could barely recognize them. With a shock I realized that I couldn’t remember his face.

Little bro Tyson was crying. He was sobbing, wailing. His voice sounded like the tornado siren in the background, coming from the town. My mom was screaming. Our car was screaming. My dad pushed our old little 1995 Saturn SL to its absolute limit, twice as fast as he had ever driven before. It was a good thing he knew these roads as well as the back of his hand, or else he would have crashed. I looked back out the rearview window.

The tornado towered over the tops of the apple tree where Dad first taught me how to pick fruit. It crunched its stalwart limbs like a giant stepping on a wad of tissue. The thin gravel driveway where Dad taught me how to ride a bike was sucked away like a root beer float on a hot summer’s day, from the sweet shoppe downtown Dad took us every month. The framework of our house collapsed in a heap like Gran did two summers before this day. Up and up, everything went - the stove Dad bought before I was born, the fields his father before him tilled, and the remnants of my room, lost to the storm.

We drove and drove and drove, until the storm blocked out the sun and then the moon, raging onwards throughout the night. But it was behind us, now. The poor neighbors, Aunt Joella and cousin Tifa, and even the baker, Miss Hardholme - they were all nowhere to be found. They wouldn’t pick up the phone. My mom tried to call them for hours.

We followed the road into the highway. There we drove in silence, save for my brother’s wailing. I was still shaking. My tears made it hard to see. I curled up in a ball, snapshots of all my favorite toys flashing through my mind. We passed the border and stopped at a motel in Washington. It took us ten minutes to get my brother out of the car. It was much too cold. I thought I could still hear the echo of the screaming tornado through the wisps of wind. But Dad was warm. He stood in the parking lot, like a lonely tree. We could still see the storm on the horizon, but we had lost sight of the tornado long ago. I clutched at his side, digging my face within the folds of his sunbathed t-shirt. He patted my head heavily, and I shut my eyes. I shut my eyes as if closing them hard enough would make me wake up from this horrible nightmare.

"Are you scared, Mally?Dad asked me, concerned. He crouched down to my height. I still… couldn’t… remember his face.

I didn’t respond. I only let out a childish sniffle. He hugged me hard and tight.

"Don’t you worry. I will do absolutely anything to keep you safe.”

I woke up.

The howling of the storm’s winds was replaced by the howls of the Hounds. I don’t remember what I did that morning after I had that terrible dream, except for the fact that I found myself at the entrance to the castle, alongside all of my new brothers and sisters. Tyson was nothing more than a memory now.

He didn’t have to tell us what we were going to do. We already knew. That was why he had given us the bones of our enemies and carved them into swords and bows. The door only he was allowed to open loomed before us. I stood by his left side, barely reaching up to his stomach. As I write this now, I know that what he said to me then changed my life forever.

Coran walked around the room, sizing each one of us up and down. He fussed with our outfits, righting our bags and tightening the straps, double-checking that each and every one of us was properly equipped. Then, he put his large, battered hand on my shoulder. There was a sort of familiar magic that coursed through his touch. I felt it pulsate into my bloodstream and fill my heart with energy. It was the same kind of magic that caused the food to appear on the plates at every meal. It was the same kind of magic that held up the castle walls against the relentless attacks of the entities around us. It was the same kind of magic that killed for us, and kept Coran alive, recovering from every terrible wound.

He squatted down and stared at me. I stared back into his empty eye sockets, still brimming with emotion. He held my hand to steady me, and it was only then I realized that I was shaking. The memories of my father came rushing back in a sudden flood of nostalgia, and endless gratitude. The warmth of a calloused hand, a beacon, a lighthouse in the darkness. I looked into Coran’s eyes and I realized I knew him. And he knew me. Part of him grew up with me. I remembered my father’s face now… as it stood in front of me. His body still remained in the Frontrooms, probably still grieving for me after I disappeared forever. But his soul, his spirit, his love, remained with me, to guide me to safety, and watch over me, as a father should.

Father’s chapped lips murmured the familiar words.

"Are you scared, Mally?

I burst into tears.

"I told you, I will do absolutely anything,

anything,

to keep you safe.”

"Father"



WE ARE


Zachary's Journal

We didn’t even get the chance to bury her body.

There were all sorts of monsters chasing us, and not a single one of them ever seemed to tire. We must have walked for days before we were alone enough to rest – but I can never be sure. Every moment blurs into the next, and everything is a great big bloody smudge in my mind.

Finally, after what seemed like ages after leaving the castle, Coran and everyone else stopped to rest. He’s taking it the hardest out of all of us. I don’t know how he knew what a proper burial was, but he lamented not being able to bury her. We had to leave her one-armed corpse with the rest of them, the dead bodies of Hounds and Skin-stealers piled high like hills all the way to the horizon.

The landscape never changes. There is no way to tell what direction you’re headed, or how far you’ve travelled. Yet, somehow, Coran knows the way. He tells us that he’s found an exit, and that word alone lifts our hearts with grim determination. No matter how much of a fruitless, endless struggle that this may be, as long as we have Father, as long as we have faith, we can press onwards past infinity. Even… even in the face of death.

Thankfully, we reached a spot where the entities had mostly been cleared out. Coran forged a path through the bodies with his great bone sword, Mauler, carving out a makeshift camp for us. It was painfully obvious that we were 36 now, instead of 37. The grief of loss is timeless. Coran sat down, and we all sat beside him, huddling in a cold, solitary circle.

"I am sorry that you all had to see this,” Coran told us, speaking to us in a grim whisper like he was telling a haunting lullaby. "I never meant for you to have to see what’s out here. I never meant to let you see what it is I truly do to keep you safe.”

We looked around, over each other’s shoulders. As far as we could see, through the dim light of our tiny torches, were the silhouettes of corpse piles, cadavers stacked high to the sky. Each and every single one of these entities had been slaughtered by Coran’s hands. Hundred and hundreds of entities, snuffed out violently and mercilessly for our safety. It was a gut-wrenching sight, the kind that you’d never describe to your own kids to spare them the terror of even imagining it.

"It’s okay if you… see me as a monster now that you know what I’ve done - how many lives I’ve ended. But I promise that I will show you to the exit. Even if I do not, you deserve to be set free. I am so proud of you all,” Coran said. Even with no eyes to show it, the quaver of his voice told us all that we needed to know.

Coran didn’t know… but we already knew. It came as no surprise to us – though nothing prepared us for the aftermath of his violence, we were smart enough to figure out what he went out of the castle so often to do by the wet, fresh blood on his sword whenever he came home. We knew the reasons why he made us repeat those words after him like a nursery rhyme. Don’t open the windows, don’t go outside. Don’t listen too hard, don’t look around.

But like a true father, he had to come to terms now with the fact that we had grown up. We were no longer the scared, helpless individuals who, one by one, fell into this abysmal pit. We were resilient fighters. We had killed hundreds of entities ourselves, whether by arrow or by sword. We were mature enough to accept this reality and understand what he had done.

We each took our turns. Some of us held his giant, bloody hand. Some of us embraced him. I knelt at his feet. But we all said one thing:


I love you.


I wondered if my own father back in the Frontrooms had heard me as I said those words.

We explained to him that nothing could have prevented at least one of us from dying, and that we already knew that he was killing all the entities that tried to breach the castle walls. We had known for a long, long time. And yet, we had never viewed him as anything other than a hero. It was necessary to survive. He had done so out of love. How could that be wrong?

As I’m writing this now, Coran has warmed up from his grief a little bit. The mood is dark, but with a hint of hope, just like the tiny light that allows me to write on this page, surrounded by utter darkness. I’ve killed many entities with my own hands, and yet I feel numb to the gory deed. I’ve seen too much to be affected now. I was even able to ward off a Smiler with my small sword made from a fragment of the Great Hound. Perhaps there was some magical quality within the bone that made it especially lethal, even to entities like the Smiler. Perhaps that was why Coran, who was able to regenerate almost any injury, couldn’t recover the decimated part of his face.

This place used to make me feel so alone. When I first no-clipped into here, I felt like I was trapped in a hellish prison for the rest of eternity. It tore the memories, and all the happy emotions out of me with jagged claws. But now that I had found my family, now that I had some semblance of hope, those memories began to return, slowly but surely.

The first thing I remembered was laughter. Laughter of my friends, and of my family, both new and old. I remembered the pranks that Winston used to pull to cool us off after a tough expedition. I remembered Rachel’s optimism, even when it looked like we were going to kick the bucket. I remembered my father, and my mother, and my sisters, back in the Frontrooms. I remembered their happy faces as they celebrated my last birthday, eons and eons ago. Long forgotten faces swam to the surface of these murky waters, shining through like fireflies to guide my way.

I remembered my former M.E.G. colleagues, and the way our team would compete to find the strangest levels and discoveries. I remembered how, even in a terror-filled place like the backrooms, there was always a way for humans to adapt and overcome. There was always a place for laughter, even here. There was always a place for hope, always a place for happiness. Always a place for friends and family.

I was closer to my former teammates Trent and Winston than I had ever been. In the time that I had spent with all the other people that Coran had rescued, we had formed an unshakeable bond that transcended personal beliefs and differences. We truly were a family. A great and large family that protected each other, looked out for each other, and kept each other moving forward. I felt the warmth of my brothers and sisters in front of me, behind me, and to my sides. We marched onwards, close enough to touch our elbows together. I fell in line with the rhythm of our determined footsteps. It was like a song, echoing through the darkness. We sang in unison, urging each other to just keep going, keep going…

Winston was the first one to spot the dim light on the horizon. It glowed a different color than the rest of the landscape – purple. A ghostly, ethereal light that streaked across the blackened plains. We weaved through the piles of dead entities in a line, like a river of human bodies. We hurried – we were so used to the unchanging landscape that we could barely believe that it could change.

Our hearts beat rapidly in our chests. Even Coran’s. Our steps became eager, quicker, filled with a fire that spurred our sleeping limbs into action. There were already tears in my eyes, even before I saw the beautiful mirror in full.

This was it. We had finally found the exit to Level 73. I could practically hear Rachel’s voice cheering me on from the sidelines, eager and proud as ever. As we approached the mirror, we crowded around it to see what lay inside its glass. It reflected unknown light, shining beautiful blessings down upon us. It illuminated the carcasses behind us, but those were behind us, not in front of us. What was in front of us was a future. In front of us was everything we had come to miss. In front of us was love, happiness, hope, forgiveness, gratitude, peace, safety, everything.

We remembered everything, all at once. We remembered our previous lives, and the true beauty of reality, the true beauty of each other. For even in the dimmest places, there was a spot of beauty. Time began to flow forwards for us again. We broke free of the endless cycle of suffering that trapped us, for now change stood in front of us, and change was so beautiful. It brought us to our knees, until Coran, who was much stronger than us, lifted us back up again with his inspiring words.

"I am so proud of you all for making it this far,” Coran said. His voice broke. There were no tears to be shed from his empty eye sockets, but we knew he was crying harder than he ever had before. He gestured to the portal.

"You’re coming with us, right, Dad?” Mally asked. Winston was already inches away from touching the portal and being transported to Level Freedom.

"I’ll come last. I need to make sure that each and every one of you make it through first.”

The noble thing to do, I thought to myself. Even we did not know how long Coran had been trapped in this prison. He might have been born, or created, here. He might have spent his entire life trying to get out. And yet, we came first.

Winston hopped through without hesitation. Then, the rest of my brothers and sisters followed suit, one by one. Trent, Lucas, Mally, everyone. I could see them on the other side of the mirror, standing side by side, holding hands, on a field full of lush greenery. I had almost forgotten how beautiful the color green truly was. There was a blue sky that bathed the level in light. They waved to me. I was the last one through.

It was an oddly familiar feeling, one I could not put my finger on, to no-clip out of the level. The transition was seamless, and I found my feet planted firmly on the grass in front of me. My family cheered. They clapped and cheered and cried and embraced each other. I joined them. Tears were falling endlessly down my face. I let myself fall into the crowd before me and they caught me, supporting me up with ease, the strength of them all lifting me like a feather.

We turned around to look back through the portal. Through a hole in the air, seemingly ripped through reality itself, we could see our father gazing back at us. He took his bloodied sword, which he held at the ready at all times, and finally sheathed it for the first time since we had left the castle. He took a deep breath, and even through the gateway, we could see him shaking with emotion.

Coran strode towards the portal.

He reached out his hand…

…and transcended worlds.

"Children"



By ~ Kitty RikaKitty Rika

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