Origin of Reliquary
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Yesterday, the Galleria Mall was a showpiece of the community. Today, it's a ruin. Over eighty percent of the structure has been burned. Nearly a third is completely uninhabitable. Numerous surrounding buildings were damaged, including the Westin Galleria hotel.
Official reports say that several individuals, presently unidentified, engaged in combat using military-grade weaponry. Four combatants died, as did ninety-seven civilian bystanders, either immediately or later as a result of their severe injuries. Twenty-five others remain hospitalized, and many more were treated and released.
Witness accounts produce severe inconsistencies with the official version. There are stories of strange events: a man jumping into a movie poster, monsters rampaging through the crowd, only to crumble to dust after a short time, a man throwing fire from his hands.
Officials attribute these stories to stress, mass hallucination, and possible use of hallucinogenic gases. The department of Homeland Security has taken over the investigation, citing possible terrorist connections.
But details remain extremely murky and point to troubling gaps in the official account. Only hours after what people are calling the Devil's Night Fires, while emergency personnel were still trying to contain the damage, a video appeared on the world wide web. Uploaded anonymously, the forty-five second video was apparently taken with a camera phone and shows a man engulfed in flames, yelling at someone off-camera. A second man seems to fly on a trail of multicolored sparks and strikes the burning man. Experts say the video is likely a fake, using computer animation.
The video does, however, seem to corroborate eyewitness accounts... -- Mercer Jamison, KTXATV
A group of medical students follow a doctor through the Neuroscience wing of Medical City Dallas.
"Now this one is an interesting case. Tragic, but in a really interesting way. Amanda Pennington. Age nineteen. She was in the Galleria on the night of the Devil's Night Fires. Found, naked but unharmed, in some of the worst of the fire. There was a badly burned body on top of her. She survived the fire, which is weird enough, but the stress, or the hallucinogens if Homeland Security is to be believed, triggered some kind of unusual mental break.
"You can see that she's unresponsive. She is not comatose or sleeping. She's completely awake, but totally unaware of her environment. In fact, we have to periodically sedate her to get her to sleep."
"What's that she's mumbling, doctor?"
"Not sure. One of the nurses says it sounds like Chinese. Other times, she's spoken in German and French. Generally expressions of fear. Our course of treatment has met with no real success yet. We're cycling her through various anti-psychotics, but her condition is persistent. Now, over here..."
As the group reached a bathroom, one student breaks off and goes inside. He enters a stall and pulls out his cell phone. "Yo Joe," he says when the call connects. "I know you said you weren't sure about... that thing you can do, but I think you should come to Dallas. There's someone you need to meet. Call me and don't be a pussy."
A year after the Devil's Night Fires, there are still more questions than answers. This man, Kelvin Meadows, a known gang member and convicted felon, is largely regarded as the responsible party. His body was one of many found at the scene, showing gunshot wounds and what medical examiners defined as plasma burns, as well as a broken back and significant internal injuries consistent with being struck by a car.
The string of fires began in the east Dallas, with the burning of a warehouse that spread to adjacent buildings. The string of fires moved erratically across the city, stretching emergency responders very thin, before ending with the tragic encounter in the Galleria Mall.
One year later, the city still shows the scars. The Galleria has been repaired, but many other structures burned in the fires remain derelict and empty except for homeless and drug addicts. The city may never know the full death toll. It stands over five-hundred, and some of the survivors continue to suffer from crippling or disfiguring injuries.
And the city is no closer to the answers behind these senseless tragedies than ever. It is widely agreed that Kelvin "K-money" Meadows used incendiary devices and a flame-thrower in a bizarre gang dispute, but no one knows how he acquired these weapons. Nor has anyone proposed a logical explanation for baffling eye-witness accounts of flying men and people being pulled through wall advertisements as though they were curtains.
Homeland Security investigators have reputedly closed their case, claiming they have found no terrorist connections or links to a larger plot. Our police promise us that we're safe. But in a world where this can happen, how much faith can we put in those assurances?
One benefit of the tragic events of that night has been a complete overhaul of the city's emergency response policies. Three new fire stations were commissioned, including the "flying squad," that makes use of a state of the art fire-fighting helicopter. The city also added new police and increased police training in emergency relief... --Mercer Jamison, KTXATV
"Look, kiddo, the truth is you're as sane as you can be." Dr. Thomas Rook sits comfortably in an armchair. His guest sits on the overstuffed love-seat across the coffee table, with a huge bookcase behind her.
"I hear voices." Amanda Pennington, his patient, is dressed in jeans and a pink T-shirt that say Princess in glittery letters, and a big flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up so they didn't cover her hands. Even so, they slip down every time she moves.
Thomas reminds himself, again, that she's his patient, and the same age as his daughter. Which was technically legal... He stops that train of thought.
"The voices of dead people. Real dead people, all of whom died within twenty yards of you. It violates every principle of science I know, but it's still true."
"We always get this backwards. Aren't you supposed to say I'm crazy and I'm supposed to say 'no, no, it's real,' or something?" Amanda had developed more of a sense of humor about her situation over the past year. She smiles a little.
"Only if you're crazy, which you're not. You're not even functionally crazy. You've learned to handle the psychic input well enough to get by in society, and that's what I advise you to do. Do you ever even leave your house except to come here?"
"I go to the library. And my studio."
"You live across the street from the library, and your studio is in a detached garage. That so doesn't count. You need to be with people."
She laughs. "I'm with people all the time."
"Alive people," Tom chides her. "You can't keep being scared of this. You really will go crazy."
"Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last confession. I have kept fifty-three souls from their rightful reward, be it heaven, hell, or purgatory. I have felt the sin of despair. I have also masturbated thirty-six times."
"Ahem... really?" Amanda recognizes Father McKinzie's voice. The screen in the confessional doesn't really provide much anonymity. "You say things like that just to bother an old man, don't you?"
"It was really thirty-seven, but I got interrupted once, so that doesn't count."
"You know my opinion on that subject. Let's talk about despair instead. I can't really just say 'you should get over this,' but you should get over this. You need to. You don't need God's forgivness for this."
"But I really am keeping fifty-three souls out of heaven. How can I ever..."
"Statistically, no more than twenty-six," the priest said. "One of them is Kelvin Meadows, so I know you can't count him. Perhaps your real sin here is a lack of faith. You've asked me before, and I still can't answer you whether you really hold other souls inside you. But I do not believe, not even for an instant, that you are evil. I've seen real evil, and it's not you. You've told me your doctor believes they're just psychic echoes, and that may be true. If so, then while they're a burden for you, they are ultimately a good thing. Because of you, whatever those unfortunate people knew can still be used to help mankind.
"Or possibly you really are a repository for the souls of the departed. If so, you have to have faith that it's part of God's plan. He is certainly powerful enough to put those souls where he wants them. And through you, they still have the chance to do good works on the earth and possibly to find redemption."
"So I just shouldn't worry about it?" Amanda's voice holds a note of challenge. She finds herself curiously resistant to the idea of releasing her pain. It's been with her for nearly a year now.
"That's not what I'm saying at all. You have a gift, a Talent if you will. It's as much a burden as a blessing. I'm just saying you dwell too much on the burden. Hiding from the world is a way of burying your Talent, and it stifles your soul. It seems trite to tell you this, but even though you're much concerned with death, you need to remember your life."
"No maybe about it, my child. God wants all his children to be happy. That includes you."
"Dr. Rook says the same thing. Except he doesn't talk about God, and he uses bigger words."
"Then he's a wise man, for a filthy heathen. You should listen to him. And me."
"Everything is scary if you're paying attention. But God will be with you, even when you're afraid. Now, I'd like to see you start making plans again. You were the best organist we ever had. It was kind of a shame that Mrs. Willet recovered from her hip surgery so fast. I think your music is another talent you should nurture, and just playing for yourself in your parents' garage isn't going to cut it."
"Maybe you're right. Maybe everybody's right. I could probably start playing again. See if Roger at J. Gilligans would put me back on the schedule. Thanks, Father McKinzie. I feel a little better. See you next month?"
"Ahem. I believe we have one other matter to discuss. How many Hail Mary's do you think would be fair..."
Amanda takes a cab home. She hasn't had a serious episode in months, but she's still a little nervous about driving. She pays the driver and thanks him in Farsi, not quite sure where she learned to say "thank you" in Farsi, and goes inside.
"Twenty, nearly twenty-one, and still living with your mom. You a loser, girl."
"Shut up," Amanda replies silently. Learning to do that was one of her biggest accomplishments.
She drops her messenger bag next to the front door, beside her dad's briefcase. "I'm home," she says. "Nobody died."
"Honey, your friend Joseph called. He wants to know if you play Rock, Paper, Scissors."
"What?" Allison Pennington's grip on reality outside the realms of primary education and baking was always a bit tenuous, and she was famous for garbling phone messages, especially the ones she took in the kitchen. On the other hand, Amanda smelled fresh apple pie. "Never mind, I'll call him back."
Joseph picked up on the second ring. After some pleasantries, Amanda asked "What about Rock, Paper, Scissors?"
"It's a band..."