Mysterious Mynds: An Uru/Criminal Minds Crossover

Creative Expression

Moderator: Writers Club Managers

Post Reply
Afalstein
Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:47 am
Location: Texas

Mysterious Mynds: An Uru/Criminal Minds Crossover

Post by Afalstein » Wed Mar 19, 2014 10:22 pm

Mysterious Minds 1—The Journey

“It is my belief... founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” --Arthur Conan Doyle

“What’s the big hurry?” Morgan asked Prentiss, as she ushered him into the conference room. “I thought we didn’t have any major cases on the table.”
Prentiss just shrugged, making her way to her seat. “Don’t know much more than you, I’m afraid. Hotch just called and said he was coming down, and to get everyone in the conference room NOW. He didn’t say what it was about. It sounded like he was in the middle of talking with someone else.”
“Must be why he’s not here yet.” Morgan noted, looking around the room. Reid was leaning back and studying the ceiling with an air of profound interest. Rossi was just sitting quietly, his hands folded in his lap. “Is JJ still...”
“...here.” The blonde pushed her way past them. “Emily, why didn’t you tell me we had a meeting today? It’s all dead out there, I was starting to wonder if you’d already left on a case.”
“I... didn’t know you were here.” Morgan and Prentiss exchanged glances.
Reid looked up. “Hey JJ. Back already?”
“Yup.” JJ took a seat.
There was a short silence. Clearly troubled, Reid started to say something, than stopped frowned, and turned away. Morgan, Rossi, and Prentiss looked very carefully blank.
JJ coughed. “Where’s Hotch?”
“A number of tourists have gone missing in the deserts of Eddy County, New Mexico.” Hotch said, as he paced into the room, dropping files on the table. “No bodies have been found yet, but between coyotes and vultures, the local authorities don’t expect to find any.”
“How many?” Morgan asked, as he opened the file.
“The initial report was two.” Hotch answered. “Part of a local small-towns tour across America.” Reaching the head of the room, he turned and saw JJ. His brow knitted. “JJ, don’t you still have a week or more of vacation left?”
“Yes.” JJ nodded. “Hotch, It says here that both disappeared at the same time. Are they sure this is a serial killer? Two seems like a small number for us to get called in on.”
“...Yes.” Hotch agreed, turning back. “And when they began to investigate, authorities considered it an isolated incident. But when questioning the locals, they discovered something far more troubling.”
“Are...” Reid, far ahead of the others in his reading, stared at the paper in his hands. “Are these figures accurate?”
Hotch gave a grim nod. “Apparently it’s not unusual for tourists to vanish in that particular area. None of the locals expressed any surprise on hearing of the missing couple. Even the sheriff seemed unusually apathetic about the matter. One storeowner said, quote: ‘folks disappear in the desert.’”
“Still... one hundred-thirty-seven?” Reid pressed.
“That they’ve managed to confirm.” Hotch nodded. “There may be more, they’re still getting names from motels and gas stations.”
“That... hardly seems possible.” Morgan said, reading through his file in disbelief. “You could maybe pull that off in the early days, when people hardly knew what serial killers were, but these days people know what to look for. How could the unsub get away with so many?”
Hotch shrugged. “Apparently most of them were solitary travelers. This is the first time our unsub has targeted a member of a larger group, or at least the first time he’s left the rest of the group to report it.”
“Growing reckless.” Rossi frowned, looking up. “Shows increasing confidence, instability.”
“Perhaps he WANTS to be noticed,” theorized Prentiss.
“Odd impulse to get, at this stage.” Morgan objected. “The fact that the unsub’s been so careful about killing so many indicates this is more a deep-seated personal need.”
“Most serial killers motivations ARE deep-seated personal needs.”
“But this one isn’t egotistical. He wants it to satisfy something inside him, not to soothe some insecurity. Why the sudden need for attention?”
“Something recent must have happened to him,” nodded Reid. “Maybe he learned of a terminal disease and wants to leave something behind. Or something happened that made him feel suddenly insignificant.”
“Implying that previously, he felt significant. A man of influence who lost his position?”
“It would explain the townspeople’s behavior.”
“We’re still gathering information.” Hotch held up a hand to forestall further brainstorming. “Garcia’s working on compiling a general profile of the area and statistics regarding the townspeople. But right now it’s important we get out to Carlsbad as soon as possible. Wheels up in twenty.”

-------------

“Population of less 54,000.” Morgan raised his eyebrows.
“And almost half of that is in Carlsbad, which is nearly seventy miles from this place” pointed out Reid. “It’s a pretty large county. Says here it averages twelve people per square mile, and if you take the Carlsbad population out of that, it’s more like six and 2/3rd’s people per square mile.”
Morgan looked at him with a frown. “Why do I get the feeling you’re not rounding that?”
“And we’re going a good hour or so out from Carlsbad itself.” Emily chewed her lip. “REALLY out in the sticks.”
“What locals did authorities even talk to?” Morgan asked, turning to Hotch.
Hotch did not take his eyes from the screen as he answered. “There’s a diner/gas station that the tour group had stopped at. From there they spoke with a few ranchers who own territory nearby, and also some truckers who frequent that particular diner.”
“Nothing particularly suspicious about any of them.” Reid said, speed-reading through the profiles. “All of the truckers have alibis for many of the disappearances, several of the ranchers moved to the area sometime AFTER the first disappearances, and the other one never goes to that particular diner.”
“But somehow knows of the disappearances.” Prentiss pointed out. “Maybe he has a grudge against the owner and is killing off his customers.”
Frowning, JJ shook her head. “News travels fast in a small community like this. I’m interested in the diner owner and his wife... the disappearances only start AFTER they move to the area.”
“Interesting, but that’s more likely a data problem.” Rossi said, lifting his head for the first time from the file. “Recall that most of these names are taken FROM the diner receipts. We have no way of knowing if the disappearances started at all before then.”
“Even then, why would the owner save ALL the receipts?” JJ insisted. “Going back four years? That goes BEYOND tax purposes.”
“It’s definitely suspicious,” agreed Reid, nodding at her. “Something to ask about when we get there.”
“But what about...” Morgan started.
As the team started a second round of brainstorming, Hotch looked over at Rossi. As unobtrusively as possible, the team leader crooked a finger at him, and the senior agent leant forward.
“I need your opinion.” Hotch muttered. “How is she?”
Rossi did not bother to ask who. “She seems capable enough.” He shrugged. “So far her analysis of the case has been reasonably accurate. I’d say she seems fit for duty.”
“Working in the aftermath of a personal tragedy is a sign of avoidance, a reluctance to confront loss.” Hotch responded, his voice low. “Is coming back to work so soon... healthy for her?”
Rossi once again gave a subtle shrug. “You’ve known her longer than I have.”
“You’ve been profiling killers for longer than I have,” countered Hotch.
A sigh was Rossi’s answer. “It depends on any number of things, not least of which is how this case affects her. I would have rather had her stay off of work for a few days more, just to be on the safe side, but I think she should be fine regardless.”
“And you base this assessment on... what, exactly?” Hotch tilted his head.
Rossi gave a little smile. “She is surrounded by friends.”

--------------------

“We’ve updated the list to one hundred seventy names.” The state trooper informed Hotch. Hotch and Rossi were in the lead car of a caravan of SUV’s, headed out into the desert. “It’s slow work... we’re basically going through every receipt and record in the area and trying to locate the credit card owners. We’ve been working with your agency and the Missing Persons’ Bureau on it, but it will take some time.”
“Good. Put every man you have on it, we need to get an idea of what we’re dealing with.” Hotch nodded, looking over the new names. “Anything the victims have in common?”
“Not that we’ve noticed. But then, that’s why you guys are here, right?” The trooper grinned ruefully at Hotch. “Most of them are loners, tourists on vacation. We’re interviewing what friends they had... so far it seems a lot of them were going through mid-life crises. Though that seems an odd thing for a killer to zero in on.”
“Not even something a killer would know about.” Hotch shook his head. “Probably just the nature of the data—I imagine most people who travel out this way are going through some sort of personal crisis. The tourist angle might be something—a concern for how tourists are destroying the region—an environmental obsession, or perhaps an associated nostalgia for the community.”
“Or just good sense,” Rossi put in. “Tourists are less well-known, have fewer immediate connections, and when they go missing folks just assume they moved on to the next town.”
The trooper coughed. “It’s also possible that’s just a data anomaly. We’ve only been looking at roadside diners and gas-stations so far, so tourists are the ones that come up on our radar. We’re now checking to see if there were any local disappearances during the timeframe.”
“Check earlier.” Hotch recommended. “No telling when this guy got started.”
“The tourist fixation does fit with the townspeople’s strange apathy,” pointed out Rossi. “They’d be more worried if one of their own disappeared, but so long as it’s an outsider...”
Hotch nodded. “What else do you have for us?” He asked, turning to the state trooper.
“We’ve been holding on to diner owner and his wife since this investigation began,” reported the man. “Can’t hang onto them for much longer without charging them, but we figured you’d want to take a crack at them, see what you can learn.”

----------------

“The owner’s a no-go, he knows practically nothing.” Morgan concluded, entering the observation room. “His wife handles all the customers, he just does the cooking and supply. He knew folks were disappearing, but he claims that as no one else in town seemed too worried, he figured it wasn’t anything dangerous.”
“So that leaves us with the wife.” Hotch stared through the two-way mirror. An overweight, frumpy-looking woman with greying brown hair sat on the side of a cold metal table. Her arms were crossed, and she looked very annoyed. “What do we have on her?”
“Baby-girl says she’s a local, lived in the town her whole life. Father died when she was young, she was raised by near relatives. Income records indicate she’s had to work hard at one job or another over the years.” Morgan reported. “Her husband’s a local too—childhood sweetheart, from the looks of things. The deed’s in his name, but it cost more to get that place started than he could have raised on his own.”
“They both put their heart into that place.” Hotch nodded. “That’s an angle we can use.”
“So far, the profile doesn’t scream serial killer.” Morgan shrugged.
“Official records only tell half the story.” Prentiss stepped closer to the glass. “Look at that jutting lower lip, the slight crook in her nose, the way she folds her arms defensively. This woman’s been through some hardship.”
Morgan frowned, considering. “Her husband seemed like a demure, quiet sort... Then again, repression can lead to violence in private.”
“I doubt it’s her husband.” Prentiss shook her head. “I can’t tell how old that broken nose is, but the postures are habit, not recent. Besides, this is a defiant woman, not a broken one. If her husband had beaten her, she would have left—or beaten him back.”
“Indicating a history of abuse, but nothing current.” Hotch nodded. “But our killer isn’t gender-specific.”
“Right. Which means this woman ISN’T our killer.” Prentiss turned around to look at the men. “Did you see her when they were bringing her in? She HATES men. Doesn’t trust them, doesn’t like them. Her husband might be the only man she doesn’t actively resent.”
“Maybe not even him.” Hotch frowned.
“Lesbian inclinations?”
Prentiss rolled her eyes. “Please. You guys are such pigs, your mind goes ONE place.” Shaking her head, she continued. “No. This isn’t a sexual thing, it a power dynamic. She’s been oppressed by men her whole life, apart from her husband, who I imagine SHE dominates. Right now, she sees what’s going on as a male power play on her life’s dream.”
“So...”
“So if she’s going to talk to anyone of us three, she’s going to talk to me.” Prentiss concluded.

------------------

The heavyset woman glanced up and frowned as the door opened. “I ain’t saying nothing to nobody until I see my lawyer.” She snarled.
“We called her. She’s on her way.” Prentiss sat down across from the lady and flipped open her file. “But you do realize that insisting on a lawyer makes you appear somewhat suspicious.”
The woman snorted. “Half those men out there have made their mind up about me already.” She answered. “Why bother about appearances?”
“Because men are all about appearances,” responded Prentiss, give a smug little grin back. “They don’t tend to look at facts. Like these receipts you have. All they can say is that it looks weird for you to save them all like that.”
“Oh, for the love of...” The woman threw up her hands. “That’s Earl’s little mania. Never throws anything away. But do they suspect HIM? Of course not.”
Prentiss smiled. “You’re right that they don’t think your husband has the guts to pull it off.”
“Guts? They would think that.” There was something a trifle protective about the woman’s snort. “More like the gall. Earl’s can be plenty gutsy when he has a mind to, just not about killing folks.”
“So who would?” Emily asked.
“No one.” The woman stuck out her chin. “We’re decent folks out here. Not like you city slickers.”
“You’re not so fond of urban centers, out here, are you?” smiled Emily.
“Damn straight.” The woman’s chin stuck out even more. “All you high-falutin’ folks, passing through this fine little town like it ain’t as much as a bump on the road. Beautiful place we got here, full of fine people, but do you care? No. More interested in bare rocks.”
Emily’s eyes quivered just slightly. “Like the disappearing visitors?”
“Those people,” grunted the woman. “Come into the diner and barely buy a drink, most of them. Shiftless, moving about like devil-may-care, not bothering with where they’re going or what they’re doing like they got all the time and money in the world.”
“You said they were interested in rocks?” Emily pressed.
“Only thing they WERE interested in. Come out of nowhere and head out into the desert like it was the only thing. Leave their cars in the lot, most of them. Others, they’d keep coming and going in and out... never bother with the town, just back and forth with the desert.” The woman spat viciously. “Weeks and weeks they’d be out there, but would they bother staying at any of our town’s fine hotels? No! Just the desert for them. Spend less and less time, even at the diner.”

---------------

Morgan threw Hotch a look. “Sounds like not all the disappearances were sudden.”
“Might explain the townspeople’s apathy.” Hotch rubbed his chin. “Didn’t think the tourists were dead, just off in some survivalist commune. The xenophobia might contribute to it too, if it’s typical across the town.”
“So then the question becomes: what was going out in the desert?” Morgan mused, turning back to the window.

-----------------------

“You say they all went out to the desert... any idea where?”
“Oh, heavens if I know,” snapped the woman. “Shiftless, those folks. Never even knew where they were going. Hippies, the lot of them, going on about this ‘dream’ they had. John would reel them in like fish... shameless hustler like he is.”
Emily leant forward just the smallest bit. “John? Who’s he?”
“John Travis. Little better than a bum, that man. But he knows how to lead city slickers on. Clean them out with promises to show them their dreams and such.” The woman waved her hand. “He was always hanging around the diner, looking to take the next shiftless preppy boy out for a ride.”

--------------------

Hotch rapped on the door. “John Travis?”
“Coming!” rasped a voice from within the trailer. There was the rattling of a lock and then a thin, dirty face stuck out of the door. “Somethin’ I can do for ya?”
Hotch held up his wallet. “Special Agent Aaron Hotchner.” He gestured off to the side. “This is Special Agent Spencer Reid. We’re here to ask about a Nicholas and Jane Harper.”
Surprisingly, the man rolled his eyes. “Not this again.” He muttered. Opening the door, he gestured. “C’mon in, then. They want to come too?” He asked, pointing at the row of SUV’s in the road.
“No, that won’t be necessary.” Hotch turned and gave a sign. He saw Morgan, peering over the hood of the lead SUV, give a nod in answer. Morgan would tell the SWAT teams hidden behind the cars to stand down.
Morgan’d been all for crashing in the front door and taking down the man, but Hotch had vetoed that plan. The fact that some of the tourists had come back out after going for a ride with Travis suggested that he wasn’t the unsub they were after. Plus, a quick check by Garcia had revealed that Travis had already been checked out once by the Missing Person’s Bureau, and they had cleared him. So instead it was just Hotch and Reid, going in for a friendly chat.
It was crowded and stuffy in the trailer, and Hotch was fairly certain he caught the scent of marijuana. That could be useful leverage. A cat hissed at them as they entered and then leapt off an oddly-placed laptop computer perched on the stove.
“Have a seat,” said the man, going over to a beat-up dresser.
Hotch and Reid eyed the threadbare, grease-stained couch and looked at each other. “Thank you, but this shouldn’t take long.” Hotch said. “We understand you were the last person to see Nicholas and Jane Harper.”
“Yeah, I remember ‘em.” The man said, not turning as he opened a drawer on the dresser. “Offered to show them the sights of the desert.”
“They’re missing.” Reid said.
“Course they are. And you’re here to see if I’ve stowed their bodies under the porch, right? Harper, harper...” muttered the grungy man as he rummaged through the drawer. “Here we are.” He produced a slim brown wallet and a turquoise purse. “Harper.”
Hotch took it. “You expect me to believe you this couple just... gave you all their belongings?”
Shrugging, John Travis shambled over to the laptop and booted it up. “Believe what you want.” He answered. “But nine times out of ten, the second they get to that ranch, they practically toss me their stuff. Lessee, they were just last week, right?”
“This past Thursday,” Reid answered, staring into the drawer with fascination. “Hotch, this drawer is full of wallets.”
“And ain’t none of them with their credit cards maxed out or identities stolen.” Travis called, clicking away at his computer. “I know enough not to push a good thing. Here.” He opened a window and pushed his chair away, gesturing Hotch forward. “Take a look for yourself.”
Hotch studied the screen. The shot was of a truck interior. Travis and a young, dark-haired man in khaki shorts and a white t-shirt were visible in the front seat. Every so often the camera jostled and caught sight of a similarly-dressed brunette in the back seat.
Hotch glanced at the man. “You take videos of all your passengers?”
“After one of them earned me three weeks of questioning, yeah.” Travis snorted. “S’a little dash-mounted camera. Still in the truck, if you want to take a look.”
Hotch wondered. Serial killers were known for taking trophies—and videos. This man seemed like a perfectly textbook example.
Still there was the irrefutable evidence that the couple in the video was very much alive, and apparently under no threat of coercion. “200 dollars.” Travis was saying.
“Hm? Oh, yeah, yeah.” The man handed Travis his wallet. He seemed to be staring off at something in the distance. “Just uh.. uh...”
“My word, honey,” said the woman, leaning forward over the backseat eagerly, staring at the same thing. “Just... my word.”
In the video, Travis paused from thumbing through the wallet. “There ain’t no change in this wallet, man.”
“Oh, take... take my card.” The young man waved vaguely, struggling out of his seatbelt and opening the door. “Just... not more than you need.”
“There’s cash in my purse in the back,” added the woman, shoving the chair forward eagerly and scrambling out of the back.
“Right.” Travis called out after them. “Any messages you want me to pass on? Hey, kid!” Grumbling, the Travis in the video reached toward the camera. The view lurched suddenly and swiveled toward the windshield, showing the couple man running across the desert toward an extinct volcano.
“And that was the last you saw of him?” Hotch asked.
“Sure was. That’s the last I ever seen of any of them. They...”
“Hotch.” Reid’s voice was strangely sharp. “Hotch, you’re going to want to see this.”
The senior analyst looked over at the gangly agent with a frown. Reid was standing unnaturally stiffly, his face was pale, and his lips were drawn. In his hand was a smooth brown wallet. Hotch took it without a word and opened it up.
A very familiar driver’s license jumped out at him. Jason Gideon.
Hotch slowly lowered the wallet and looked at Travis, who was glancing from one to the other in mild puzzlement. “This man...” He said, his voice low and level. “Did you take him where you took the others?”
Travis took the wallet and glanced at it. “Oh yeah. Him. I remember him, real friendly guy.”
“Did you take him to where the others disappeared?” Hotch repeated, a hint of stress creeping into his voice.
“Yeah.” A few more clicks on the computer, and a new video came up. Gideon’s wrinkled, weary face came into focus. He was staring out the window in disinterest as the truck sped along down the road.
“Gideon.” Reid breathed.
“And you dropped him off at this place?” Hotch asked, staring at the screen. Gideon had started suddenly, he was staring off at something in the distance.
“Yeah.”
“And you never saw him again?”
Travis just snorted. “I told you. I never see any of them again. They go off to that mountain, and they don’t come back.”
Hotch stood back and lookedat Travis. “Show me.”

-----------------

SUV’s came roaring over the hill, tearing through the thin wire fence and kicking up enormous clouds of dust as they sped toward the volcano and the tiny camper at its foot. With a crunch of sand and gravel they ground to a halt, surrounding the camper. Black-suited SWAT officers jumped out of the vehicles, followed closely by the BAU team.
In the middle of them all sat a portly old man in a hawaiian shirt, sitting on a lawn chair in front of the trailer.
He lowered his book and blinked at the guns pointed in his direction. “Hey there.” he nodded. “I’m Zandi and I...” He paused, and frowned at them. “...I have no idea why you’re here.”

“Life is really simple, but men insist on making it complicated.” --Confucius

Afalstein
Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:47 am
Location: Texas

Re: Mysterious Mynds: An Uru/Criminal Minds Crossover

Post by Afalstein » Sun Mar 23, 2014 6:37 am

Mysterious Minds 2—The Cleft

“Nothing resembles an honest man more than a cheat.” –French proverb

“So you say these people come here all the time?”

The portly man nodded pleasantly, almost as if he were talking philosophy with a man at the bar, not handcuffed and sitting in the back of an SUV. “All the time, agent.”

Hotch glared. He really didn’t like how well this man was taking everything. “And you do... what?”

“I set them on the path,” answered the man.

“And what path is that?” Rossi cut in.

Zandi smiled. “The path of the Grower. The return of the Least. The seven journeys.”

Hotch and Rossi exchanged glances. All around them, the police officers and FBI agents were fanning out across the ranch, searching the firepit, digging up suspicious-looking piles of dirt, rappelling down into the strange canyon just beyond. So for, nothing had come up.

“Where is this path?” Hotch tried.

“I told you. Listen to the message. Find the seven journeys, then... enter the tree.” Zandi gestured, a difficult action when your hands were cuffed. “I’m not really here to give you... answers, you understand.”

“No, I’m pretty sure that’s EXACTLY why you’re here.” Hotch shot back. “And believe me, you will give me plenty of them back at the station, one way or another, so start thinking some up.” He gestured to the driver. “Take him away.”

Rossi glanced at him as the car sped away. “We don’t really have enough evidence to arrest him, Aaron.”

“He’s hiding something.” Hotch argued. “We can hold him for at least 24 hours; after that we can hit him with ‘obstruction of justice’ and see if that loosens his tongue.”

Rossi considered this. “He might not be ABLE to loosen his tongue, Hotch.”

“He’s not insane. Odd, definitely, but more perverse than insane. I get the feeling this isn’t the first time he’s done something like this, and he ENJOYS the mysterious answer routine.” Hotch turned as Prentiss came walking out of the camper, accompanied by several officers. “Well?”

She shook her head. “Lots of books and old records, but no guns, chainsaws, or anything remotely resembling a serial killer’s setup.” Prentiss answered.

“See any repeats of that odd hand symbol he’s got on the back of his trailer?” Rossi asked.

“One ratty old shirt in the closet,” shrugged Prentiss. “From the looks of his camper, I’d profile the guy as a laid-back sort, a prematurely retired man. There are signs he’s used to living larger—gourmet foods in the fridge, a few tuxedoes in the closet—but he’s settled down to his means.”

“The books?” Rossi asked.

“Some archaeological, some puzzle, some ones I don’t recognize,” answered Prentiss. “They’re kind of a mix—I’d say he at least used to be a scholar of some kind, but now he reads mostly for recreation. And he loves puzzles, they’re littered all over the place.” She shrugged. “Right now, I’m going with disappointed heir of old money who’s bored and feeling unfulfilled, so he starts killing tourists to prove himself.”

“This isn’t Batman, and our unsub isn’t the Riddler.” Rossi shook his head.

“Just saying. If I had to spend days out here, I might go crazy too. I mean, there’s NOTHING out here. Why would anyone come this way? Why would Gideon come this way?”

“Maybe he picked up on the missing persons angle and wanted to look it up himself.” Rossi suggested.

“Gideon stopped working because he was sick of the business.” Hotch shook his head.

“He might say that,” Rossi allowed, “but we both know the profiler never really stops working.”

“Maybe. But even so, Jason would know...” The ring of a phone cut him off and Hotch reached into his pocket. “Garcia.” He said, pressing speakerphone. “What do you have?”

“Ask and you shall receive, Keemosabie!” Penelope Garcia’s voice laughed from the device. “I did some checking up on your Jeff Zandi character. Get this. PROFESSOR Jeff Zandi is the only son of the late Elias Zandi.”

Hotch just blinked. “Who?”

“The millionaire archaeologist?” Rossi asked, moving a step closer.

“That’s the one! Used to collect southwest artifacts, eye for the strange and unusual. Died back in 1996 of a heart attack, but didn’t leave his son anything outside of the bare land you’re standing on.”

“See?” Prentiss smirked. “Daddy issues. Wanted to prove himself.”

“Trying to give value to the worthless land his father gave him?” Rossi considered. “I could see it.”

“Garcia, what about the handprint on the back?” Hotch asked.

“Stiiillll working on that, oh wise one.” Garcia sounded slightly less enthusiastic. “But not much has been coming up yet. All I’ve got are a few cave drawings and some designer shirts, and neither seem to be the original thing.”

“All right. Keep on it.” Clicking the phone off, Hotch turned to an approaching police officer. “What is it?”

“Sir, you may want to come out by the gate,” said the man. “We have a... minor situation.”

-----------------

“Reid, let it go.”

“You don’t understand. These bones can NOT exist.”

“So they don’t!” Morgan gestured at the giant ribs and skull poking out of the sand. “Let’s just call them plaster casts and move on!”

“But they’re NOT plaster!” Reid darted about the bones, glancing at the teeth, feeling the texture of the eye socket, tapping the jagged ribs. “The texture, the feel, the consistency is all wrong for plaster!”

“So what do they feel like?”

“Like bones!”

“Well okay, maybe they are bones!”

“Morgan, these bones correspond to no known species of animal, living or otherwise!” Reid shouted, throwing up his hands in frustration. “I am familiar with the skeletomuscular system of every living and fossilized creature, and this does not fit into any of them!”

“Familiar with... oh c’mon.” Derek scoffed. “Look, let’s narrow it down some, okay? What would you say if you had to—bird, mammal, or lizard?”

Reid backed up and took a long look. “Fish.” He decided.

“Fish? Seriously? In the desert?”

“It’s the only thing that fits! The density and structure is consistent with that of a small whale.” He studied it some more. “With tusks.”

“Tusks. Right.” Morgan shook his head and glanced upward. “And how’d it get out here? Fall out of the sky, Douglas Adams style?”

“Fish falling from the sky is NOT unprecedented,” answered Reid defensively. “A typhoon picks up fish from the sea, brings them up into the air, and then rains them down far inland when it’s lost its energy. The first recorded instance was in Singapore in 1861, but even as recently as 2012, there was a instance of it in the Phillipines.”

“New Mexico isn’t some Pacific Island, Reid.” Morgan pointed out. “And it’s been years since any hurricane came this way. A fish skeleton doesn’t belong here.”

Reid rounded on him. “THIS fish skeleton doesn’t belong ANYWHERE.” He insisted. “I’m telling you, this skeleton doesn’t fit with any known species!” Turning back to the bones, he started to inspect the inside of the sizeable jaw, continuing: “And it can’t be a fossil, because it’s out in the open and exposed to the elements! It would have rotted or...” He paused suddenly.

“What?” asked Morgan. “You solve the mystery of the missing fish?”

“Not so much.” answered Reid. “But I did find something interesting. Here, take a look at this.”

Morgan came around the skull to see what Reid was talking about.

Attached somehow to the interior of the skeleton’s jawbone was a piece of rough canvas, emblazoned with a rough painting. Four short stalks extended from a slightly oblong spiral to form a stylized, tribal-like symbol of a hand.

“Hey, that’s the same symbol we saw on the back of Zandi’s trailer.” He noted.

“On the same sort of cloth, too,” agreed Reid, fingering the stitching. “But why stick a symbol like this to a skeleton, fake or otherwise?”

“Ritualistic, maybe?” Morgan suggested. “These bones could have been part of a sacrifice of some kind. Or—saying these bones are fake...”

“They are. They have to be.”

“Right. In THAT case, then maybe someone drafted them as the relics for a new cult of some kind. Say these are the remains of the fish god who fell from the stars or something.”

“And decorate it with the cult’s emblem.” Reid nodded. “It fits. But most cults use rather derivative imagery, and err on the side of detail, particularly for an object of worship, like these bones. This hand is remarkably simple... not even that big, really.” He stretched his own hand out along it to indicate.

There was a strange sound like a droning hum, and a portion of the cloth lit up.

Reid jerked back his hand as if it had been burnt, stumbling away and crashing against the other side of the fish’s jawbone.

Morgan just gave him an odd look. “Reid. It’s freaky, but it’s not THAT freaky.”

“Sorry.” Reid managed, pushing himself back to his feet. “It just... felt really... strange.”

“Strange? Like how?”

“Like I was being pulled... well, no, more like it was marking... well, it just... forget it.” Reid sighed.

“O-o-kay,” answered Morgan, still eyeing him strangely. “Suppose we should get forensics down here to look at this cloth, see if it’s some sort of touch or
heat-sensitive pad under there.”

“And WHY it’s there.” Reid pointed out.

Morgan nodded. “Should probably check the one on the trailer, too, see if it does the same thing.”

“Not just that...” Reid was staring at the cloth with renewed concentration. “I’ve seen another one of these.”

------------------------------

“Sir, trespassing on a crime scene is a serious offense.” Hotch informed the man.

“I know, I know.” The man smiled, holding up his hands. “Believe me, I have no intention of interfering in official business. But I just wondering... perhaps I take a look? With your permission, of course. Just a quick look. I bother no one.”

Hotch eyed the man. He spoke with a faint Eastern European accent, but even a foreigner should have known how ludicrous such a request was. “Why is it so important you look around?” He asked.

“Well, it... it just...” The man laughed, scratching the skin under his polo shirt in an embarrassed fashion. “Is hard to explain... volcano is just... just... like something I remember.” He smiled.

“Have you been here before? Are you familiar with the area?” pressed Hotch. Perhaps this man could give them information.

“Oh, not me.” The man shook his head. “I come to America on vacation. My friends, they say I crazy to go to New Mexico and not New York. But...” Again he looked longingly at vacation. “Something calls me here. I come to see...”

Hotch’s attention was suddenly caught by Reid and Morgan, who had come up silently during the conversation and were now inspecting the half-fallen sign leaning against the fence. “Excuse me.” He said, holding up a finger to silence the man. “Reid. Morgan. What is it?”

Morgan looked up at him, while Reid continued to study whatever-it-was on the back side of the sign. “Hey Hotch. We found another one of those hand-symbols on some bizarre skeletons out in the desert.”

“Skeletons?” Hotch’s eyebrow shot upwards.

“Not human. Some kind of animal...”

“NOT an animal. Not any possible kind of animal that I’VE ever seen, anyway.” Reid cut in.

“...they might be fakes.” Morgan threw Reid an exasperated look. “Anyway, the hand thing sort of lit up when Reid touched it.”

Hotch closed his eyes. “You realize we have a forensics lab for a reason.” He said.

“When have we ever used forensics?” Morgan scoffed. “We checked the cloth on the trailer and it did something similar, and then Reid remembered he’d seen another out here...”

“Just out of the corner of my eye, when we first arrived.” Reid answered, turning the sign around. There, fixed tightly to the metal, was another cloth bearing the strange hand sign.

Hotch frowned. “Odd place to stick something like that.”

“Secret sign of some kind,maybe?”

“Too blatant for a secret sign.” Rossi shook his head, coming alongside Reid to study the symbol. “No, it’s meant to be overt, tacked over the sign like that, but why?”

“Show them how it lights up, Reid.” Morgan suggested.

Reid nodded. “They seem to have differing responses.” He informed the others. “The one at the skeleton only lit up this far.” A quick jab at the symbol indicated his meaning. “The one on the trailer lit up a little farther... about halfway up the spiral. Not sure yet what this one will do.” He pressed his hand to the cloth.

The entire spiral that made up the lower part of the hand lit up with a strange glow. Hotch, Rossi, and most of the surrounding officers studied it with interest. “Significance?” Hotch asked.

Rossi shrugged. “An elaborate scavenger hunt of some kind? Markers, maybe for different hiding spots? You could say ‘the complete spiral’ and no one would know which you meant until they pressed the cloth.”

“They could memorize the locations.”

“Not if they rotate the markers. It’d be random.”

“That would imply a higher level of organization than what we’d supposed.” Hotch muttered, staring off across the desert. “We’d taken this to be one man, perhaps...”

“Hey!” An outraged shout cut him off, and Hotch spun round to see the European tourist, halfway across the fence, shoving past a police officer to press his hand against the cloth.

“Get him out of here!” snapped Hotch, as the officers finally pushed the man away.

“Look! Look!” cried the man, pointing with delight.

The same cloth lit up, but now only to the edge of the thumb.

The Analysts stood dumbfounded. “Perhaps it... alternates? According to how many times its been activated?” Reid hazarded.

Hotch shook his head. “Officer Ramirez.” He said, pointing. “Please escort Mr. Benyskouy off the premises. Sergeant Briscoe, get forensics out here to take a look at this thing. See if they can work out the programming and who built it. And,” he said, turning to the team, “I think it best if from now on we wear GLOVES while examining those cloths. There are likely some fingerprints on some.”

“More likely too muddled to make anything out.” Rossi warned.

“Still, we should take precautions.” Hotch answered. His phone beeped, and he snapped it open. “Emily, how’s the canyon coming?”

“Hotch, you better get down here.” Prentiss’ voice came through. “You have to see this.”

-----------------------------------

“Okay, we’re here.” Morgan said, grunting as he squeezed into the narrow cave room. Between five BAU agents and three forensic specialists, it was getting pretty crowded. “Now what’s so important that we all had to come down here?”

Prentiss, standing near a bizarre metallic construct positioned on a low stone shelf at the far side of the room, looked over at him. “Well, I just called Hotch, but... it’s best you all see it. I’m not sure you’d believe me otherwise.”

“What is it?” Hotch asked.

“Some sort of message.” Prentiss answered. “Apparently left behind for anyone who comes here. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

Reid elbowed him as Prentiss began to fiddle with the machine. “There were three more of those hand-print cloth things down here.” He whispered. “One in another room, another on a bucket, and another one on the back of the door to this cave.”

“Yeah, I saw it.” Morgan nodded. “I’m more curious as to who the hell puts automatic doors on a cave.”

They fell silent as Prentiss pressed the glowing blue button in the center of the apparatus.

The lights flickered, and then all the agents gave an involuntary step back as the shimmering image of a woman appeared in their midst.
"Shorah,” said the woman. She was tall and brown-skinned, with long dreadlocks and a blue face tattoo. She was dressed in equally exotic garments. “...reKUan treKleft...”

Reid waved an arm through the image. It passed through with no resistance. “A hologram?”

“Damn.” Morgan was impressed.

“...preniv legloen b'rem...”

“Rossi?” Hotch looked to the elder agent, who shook his head.

The girl suddenly slapped her head. “Oh, yes. Not in Dunny. They won't understand.”

“Slight Arabian accent.” Reid noted.

“No duh. What’s Dunny?” Morgan asked him. Reid shrugged.

“Once again the stream in the Cleft has begun to flow.” said the woman, her hologram starting to move through the cave, it’s form ghosting through the crowded agents. “It was dry for so long. The water is flowing in from the desert. The storm is coming.”

“Looks like we were right about the cult.” Morgan smirked.

“Definitely sounds like it.” Rossi nodded, but his face was troubled. "Odd she mentions an endgame. The killings suggested a more continuous timeframe.”

Hotch leaned in toward Prentiss. “This is the second time you’ve seen this. Does it make any more sense to you?”

Prentiss shook her head. “Apart from the obvious—that the woman’s delusional and has some sort of Messiah complex—I can’t understand a word of what she’s talking about. Silent cities and quests and such. It would be easier if she wasn’t continually speaking in metaphor.”

“Have you heard of the city?” asked the holographic woman, staring past them out the door. “The deep city, the ancient uru? Where there was power to write worlds. For thousands of years the city lived, lived beneath the surface. Keeper of the secret; keeper of the power; keeper of the ages. Always keeping. The city grew proud and then it died.”

“Convenient, that.” Morgan muttered.

“Classic myth-building.” Rossi nodded. “Promise secret ancient power, balance with a cautionary fable that also explains why this power isn’t readily available.” He glanced to Hotch. “This girl could write a book on cults.

“She said ‘beneath the surface.’” Reid noted. “The ‘hollow-earth’ theory proposes that...”

“The water flows where it wills.” said the girl again, now coasting through the room almost playfully. “It seeks its own path uncontrolled, except that it flows downward, always downward.”

“Back to metaphor.” Hotch frowned. Prentiss nodded sympathetically.

The girl stopped in the middle of the floor. “Dunny, the city of ages, of other worlds, died.” She stated. “But now it breathes again. It awaits. Some will seek that destination, but you should seek the Journey. It's as a fine tapestry. Complex beyond comprehension, but now torn.”

“The distinction between groups...” Morgan muttered. “Victims vs. acolytes? Those who fail go straight to the underworld city, while those who focus on ‘the journey’ stick around and get more?”

“My god.” Rossi looked like he’d just been struck with a thought. “The ones that came out of the desert... they were devotees.”

The girl had stopped by the far wall, where (Reid noticed with surprise) another of the hand-cloths was located. “We will show you remnants, pieces of the tapestry.” She said, indicating the fabric. “Pieces of the Journey. Find these remnants, these Journeys. Seven. Seven in each age. Seven here in the desert. Consider it a quest...” She paused. “No... a request.”

Morgan closed his eyes. “Seriously?”

“At least that tells us how many there are to look for.” Reid shrugged.

“The water flows downward, and there it pools and collects, and finally, once again, it reaches the roots, and the tree begins to grow again.”

“Sounds like she’s wrapping it up.” Hotch got out his phone. “Well, that explains a lot. Now if we can identify this woman...”

“I am Yeesha.” The girl announced. The agents stared at her in dumbfounded silence as she continued. “My parents brought me to this place. We... will bring you."

The hologram flickered away, and for a few moments a tense silence hung over the cave.

“That... sounded a little bit like a threat.” Reid observed.

“Well,” said Morgan, clapping his hands. “That gives us a face, and a name. More than we usually have at this point.”

Hotch nodded. “Did she leave anything here?” He asked, turning to Prentiss.

“There’s a letter to her we found in one of the adjoining caves.” Prentiss handed him a sheet of paper, neatly enclosed in an evidence bag. “Written from someone named ‘Atrus,’ claiming to be her father.”

“No last name, I suppose.”

“No.”

“Those aren’t exactly common names.” Morgan pointed out. “Let’s call up baby-girl, see what she can do with that.”

“Ask her about that city of Dunny, too.” Hotch nodded. “It seems like an important motivator in whatever’s driving our unsub.”

“Right.” Morgan pulled out his phone.

Reid eyed the projector atop the stone pillar with distrust. “Seems odd to bother with a projected image like that.” He mused. “Why not a simple note? Or a video?”

“You think THAT’S odd.” Prentiss smirked. “See that cloth on the wall back there? When we started up this projector, it wasn’t there.”

One of the forensic team snorted. Hotch glanced over at him. “Something amusing, Agent Dawson?”

Agent Dawson coughed, a little embarrassed at being caught. “Well, it’s just that... you all are missing the point. Compared to the projector itself, a hidden cloth, touch-sensitive or otherwise, is small potatoes.”

“Really?” Reid looked over. “How expensive is one of these things?”

Dawson gave a little laugh. “I don’t know, because I’ve never seen one before. To be honest, before Agent Prentiss hit that button, I didn’t know something like this existed.”

The agents looked askance at him, but the other forensic agents were nodding. “Holographic projectors are available on the market, but generally speaking they stay in one place—over the projector,” volunteered one. “Something like this... that can project the image anywhere in its line of sight... well, it’s unheard of.”

“So this is an invention of our unsub’s design?” Hotch asked.

Agent Dawson shrugged. “I don’t know where else she would have gotten it. The bigger question is why she would hide it down here—you could sell the designs to a company and make an easy million. More than that, if you decided to market it yourself.” He rubbed his hands in anticipation. “I can’t wait to take it apart and see what’s inside.”

“Hold that thought.” There was a commotion at the door, and several of the forensic agents moved aside as JJ pushed her way into the cave, clad in a dark suit with slacks. “We can’t damage any of these artifacts until we get the Apache, Navajo, and Zuni representatives out here to give the ok.”

“Seriously?” Morgan asked, turning as he snapped his phone shut.

“The artifacts just in this room are distinctly different from any sort of native American culture,” protested Reid, caught in the act of lifting a strange leather belt from the rock shelf. “The carvings, textiles, and symbology are wholly inconsistent with any known tribal culture.”

“Plus, there’s the electronic cloths, the windmill, the automatic doors, and the holographic projector.” Prentiss pointed out.

“I agree.” JJ nodded. “But it doesn’t change the fact that there are protocols about these things. Any artifacts found in the desert have to be examined to determine who they belong to.” She glared at Reid. “Which means you should probably put that belt back, Spence.”

Reid seemed not to hear her. He was too busy frowning at the satchel that hung from one side of the belt. “What could this possibly be used for?” He pondered aloud.

“I suppose I should call off the drill team, then.” Hotch muttered, looking slightly annoyed as he pulled out his phone.

JJ glanced from him to Prentiss. “Drill team?”

Shrugging, Prentiss answered, “For the door under the tree, at the far end of the cleft. The man we have in custody said something about ‘entering the tree,’ and it’s got another of those hand-prints on it, so we’re pretty sure it’s important, but we can’t get it to budge for anything. And it’s stone, so a battering ram wouldn’t do much either.” Without much hope, she looked at JJ. “I don’t suppose it’s possible that destroying things in the area is permitted.”

“Sorry.” JJ offered an apologetic smile.

“Don’t worry about it.” Hotch said, as he snapped his phone shut. “Clearly our unsub has a fascination with technology and cryptic riddles. And Prentiss noted he has a fondness for puzzles... There is most likely some sort of key about the cleft that can open the door. We just need to locate it.”

“Given the similar symbology, I’d say it has something to do with these cloth panels.” Reid suggested, frowning at the one on the wall. “Counting the other ones we found in the cleft, this makes seven.” Slipping a glove over his hand, he pressed it to the cloth and smirked triumphantly as the entire hand lit up.

Rossi raised an eyebrow and looked at Hotch. “’Seven journeys,’ eh?”

“I told you he was enjoying playing with us.” Hotch answered. “Reid.” He gestured. “Let’s see if the door recognizes your handprint.”

-----------------------------

It took them a few moments to get out of the room and down to the canyon floor. It wasn’t a large canyon—in fact, with all the agents swarming over it, things were rather crowded—but it had not been designed for ease of access. Several of the bridges had collapsed, and though the forensic team was working on a solution to that, the team still had to practically climb down the cliff face to get to the ground.

Reid helped her to the floor. “Careful, JJ.”

“Thanks, Spence.” She answered with a smile.

But she could see in his face that he wasn’t fooled. As much as JJ loved the team, one of the things she HATED about profilers is that they were always watching you and appraising your actions. Right now, she could feel all their eyes on her, studying her face, her walk, the way her hand trembled slightly when she pushed back her hair, the goddamned pants she was wearing.

“Slacks, huh JJ?” Morgan observed, as he dropped to the ground. “That’s a new look.”

Bingo. “We’re in the desert, Morgan.” She grinned at him. “A skirt didn’t exactly seem practical for climbing over rocks.”

Morgan nodded and smiled, but she could still seem him watching. It didn’t really matter what she said. Or at least, it didn’t matter except to the extent that it helped them appraise why she was lying. She wondered why Morgan thought she was wearing slacks. Physical protection to compensate for emotional vulnerability? Attempt to move on past tragedy by reinventing oneself? Lack of concern for personal appearance, suggesting apathy and a slow degeneration of character?

“What’s in the bag?” That was Prentiss.

“Can’t quite remember, to be honest.” Actually, she wasn’t being honest. Flashlight, sunblock, bugspray, three water bottles, a coil of rope, a compass, a map of the area, a pack of energy bars, and a flare gun. But listing them out would only give her friends more to work with. “I threw it together when I heard we were heading out to the desert. I had an uncle who got stranded out in Texas once... all they ever found of him was the vultures picking dry his bleached skeleton.”

There was a sudden silence.

“I’m KIDDING.” She said, throwing them a mock-glare. “They found him after two days. He was fine.”

The team broke into some relieved chuckles, and JJ allowed herself a little smile. Yes, she was hurting. But for as much as she was hurting, there were people out there DYING, and neither they nor Henry could last if she chose to have a nervous breakdown right now. Of course, having a whole team of people constantly watching you for signs of said breakdown was NOT helpful. JJ gave a little kick at a stone and instantly regretted it—that was probably one of the signs.

“Reid.” She said, in an attempt at distraction. “What is this place, exactly? Doesn’t look like any cavern I’ve ever seen.”

“Strictly speaking, this isn’t a cavern.” Reid answered, his lecture-voice taking over. “A cavern is a large underground region, a large cave, if you will. This could more accurately be considered a canyon, a narrow chasm with steep walls. But generally people think of much larger regions when they think of canyons. The precise term for this sort of formation is ‘diatreme,’ a sort of volcanic vent or fissure, which...”

“Volcanic?” That was Morgan.

“I’m practically certain it’s extinct.” Reid assured them. “There hasn’t been an eruption in this area since the 1500’s, according to geological surveys.” The others looked at him strangely, and he shrugged. “I looked it up on the way over here, okay? Living so close to a volcano represents an adventurous spirit, which contrasts with the underground nature of the complex—geographically, underground dwellings indicate a fondness for establishment and rules.”

“So perhaps a risk-taker who follows certain rules of his own?” suggested Prentiss. “Definitely an unorthodox, creative sort, given all the artistry on the walls and the simple fact that they set up shop in this ‘diatreme.’”

“Not only that, but living beneath the surface like this shows that the unsub, or at least the original designers of this place liked secrecy and isolation.” Reid seemed to consider for a moment. “Though I guess you could get that anyway from the desert surroundings.”

“Wonder what it would be like to lay in here at night and just look up at the stars through the crack.” Prentiss mused. Her voice had an odd, almost sing-song tone to it, and her head was tilted back to look at the sky.

“Dark, probably,” answered Morgan.

Awakening from whatever world she was in, Prentiss slapped the agent on the arm. “You haven’t an ounce of romance in your soul, Derek.”

They had reached the door. JJ was surprised by the size of the tree—its roots reached along either side of the circular stone door, and its trunk craned all the way out of the cleft, spreading its leaves out in the open air.

None of the other agents seemed particularly interested in the tree right now. They simply watched as Reid placed his hand on the symbol set in the center of the stone. The symbol glowed briefly, and then, with a rumble, the stone door raised upwards.

Reid threw her a smile. “Got it.”

“What’s back there?” Morgan craned his head around, trying to see past all the others clustered around the opening.

“It’s a hole, and there’s a ladder leading down into it.” Reid answered. With sudden abruptness, he moved forward and started to clamber down the ladder. JJ noticed, with faint exasperation, that he had the belt from the cave slung over one shoulder. “Let’s see what’s at the bottom!”

“Whoa, hey, Reid, maybe let someone with more weapons experience check it...”

“I’m on the floor!” Reid’s voice called up. “Wasn’t much of a climb at all.”

JJ dug into her bag and pulled out a flashlight. “Here, catch.” She called, tossing it down.

Reid caught it, but he gave her an odd look. “It’s... not really dark down here, JJ. They have lights.”

Oh. Well now she felt stupid. “I’m coming down.”

As she stepped off the ladder, Prentiss already climbing down after her, JJ took the flashlight back and stuffed it into her bag as she glanced around. They seemed to be in a subterranean passage. It didn’t seem to be going down at all, but it was heading away from the cleft, which meant...

“Spence.” She asked, stepping just a little further away from the ladder, so Prentiss would have room. “Are you SURE that volcano is extinct?”

“Reasonably.” He answered. “Why?”

Without answering, she dug out a compass. “Because this path is headed straight for it.” She answered.

There was a little creak as Prentiss paused in mid-climb. “You couldn’t have mentioned that while I was still at the top?”

“I’m telling you, it’s perfectly safe. This volcano is as extinct as they get.” Reid walked a few steps down the path to prove his point.

And jumped back as the walls of the tunnel suddenly lit up. “YAAH!”

“Huh. That’s interesting.” Prentiss stepped off the ladder. The sides of the tunnel were now covered in glowing runes. “More techno-magic tricks?”

“This one looks to be pretty simple... some kind of phosphorescent algae.” JJ answered, studying the designs. “Though it must be something of a trick to get them to stay in one place.”

“Emily, could you move away from the ladder?” Morgan, still at the top, called out. “I’m getting tired of hanging here.”

“Right, sorry.” Prentiss moved away, and soon the whole team stood in the tunnel. Hotch studied the algae thoughtfully. “An odd mixture—the mystic and the techno-geek. And now this algae.”

“We may be looking at an organization, remember.” Rossi noted. “Perhaps they all contributed to this complex.”

The tunnel led them to a small room at the end, covered in the strange algae-pictures, with a small book on the pedestal in the middle. Reid, by default, went for the book, while the others examined the pictures on the walls.

“Some... guy in a gas mask?” Morgan hazarded, looking at the blocky figure on his wall.

“Perhaps a miner.” Hotch glanced over another sign. “This seems to show an underground cavern of some kind. Thoughts, David?”

Rossi was busy studying a diagram of a tall pointed shape, something like a truncated pyramid. “That one over there is fairly obviously supposed to be that ‘city of Dunny’ the girl mentioned in her recording.” He remarked. “Morgan’s gas-mask man is probably their messiah figure. This...” he tapped the symbol, “... puzzles me. It’s clearly an illustration, not a symbol, but it’s a very simple one. I’d guess this is a temple or monument that features largely in their mythology.” He turned around. “I imagine the book explains it all. Reid?”

“That would seem a reasonable hypothesis, and I imagine you’re correct.” Reid answered, already examining the tome. He flipped through the pages rapidly. “But... it’s filled with gibberish. A code of some kind.”

“More likely a fictitious language, the way our unsub works.” JJ pointed out, peering over his shoulder.

“Possibly. There are some patterns that suggest...” Reid paused suddenly in his rapid flipping. JJ blinked at the page and stepped back. “Huh.”

“What? What is it?” The other’s pressed in close to see.

“It... ah... it...” Reid stared at the page before him, not so much as turning to the others. “Well there’s a picture here, but it’s... rather odd.”

“Symbology? Some kind of icon or metaphor you can’t interpret?” Rossi hazarded.

“No, the picture itself isn’t strange, it’s just a house on some kind of plateau, surrounded by mists. The architecture is odd, possibly Indonesian, though the climate wouldn’t match with that... But the odd thing is... the picture’s moving.”

“It looks almost more like a window.” JJ agreed. “Like we’re actually...” She shook her head. “Gotta be a video panel or a hologram of some kind.”

Reid turned the page over. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“A projector?” Morgan glanced around the cave.

“This is probably their ‘Bible.’” Rossi noted to Hotch. “This whole place is an initiation ground of some kind... people find the signs, come down here, and read the ‘Bible,’ complete with magical illustrations.”

“So that’s what the man meant about ‘helping them to find the path.’ Makes sense.” Hotch nodded. “But all our missing persons came to this initiation. Where are they now?”

Rossi shrugged. “Nothing new about suicidal cults. Or even sacrificial ones. Maybe the whole point of recruiting new acolytes is to provide new people for the unsub to kill.”

The discussion was broken by JJ. “Reid, what are you doing? I told you not to touch any of the artifacts.”

Reid didn’t listen, continuing to tighten the belt around his waist. “I think I figured out the purpose of this equipment belt.” He explained. “There are some hooks of some kind on the back of the book that line up with the loops on the satchel. So the satchel rests on your hip and the book...” He slipped the book neatly in place. “There.”

“These guys need to come up with fantasy bookbags, too?” Morgan glanced to Rossi, who shrugged.

“There must be a reason for it.” Reid insisted, opening the book slung on his hip. Craning his neck, he tried to see the pages he was flipping through. “Maybe the code only makes sense from this angle...”

“Reid, take off the belt.” JJ ordered, tugging at the strap insistently. “I need to clear it with the representatives before we can use it as...”

“JJ, wait!” Reid grabbed her wrist with one hand, as his other pressed the book to his thigh.

By sheer chance, his hand came down on the glowing picture.

There was a strange sound.

“Reid?” Morgan asked, as the two suddenly froze. “Reid, you’re looking...”

“JJ!” Emily cried, pushing forward as the two forms became transparent.

All the rest of the team could do was gape in disbelief as Reid, JJ, and the strange book all vanished into nothingness.

-----------------------

Reid and JJ felt as though their bodies were melting, transmuting, flowing into the image on the page, the words, the ink, the very paper. It was impossible to tell whether they was shrinking or the book was growing, only that they were being pulled into it—or was it through it? Through, to another...

And suddenly they were again themselves, refreshingly solid on refreshingly solid grass, with a bright sky overhead and a cool wind on their faces.

“Owwowowowwww!” JJ hissed.

“Sorry!” Reid let go of her wrist, suddenly conscious that he was gripping it VERY tightly. “I just... when that happened...” He stopped, looking around. “...when...”

JJ’s eyes traveled around her, slowly realizing that something was very, VERY wrong.

They were no longer in the cave. They were on a grassy plateau, with nothing to be seen for miles but an ocean of rolling mist. A small hut was built against the side of a tall jutting rock on their left, while on their right, four strange pillars were placed in the ground.

For all its strangeness, it was a horribly familiar scene, and it was with a sinking heart that JJ turned to look at Reid, his blank, staring eyes telling her that he had come to the same terrifying conclusion.

“We’re in the book.”

“There is nothing so powerful as truth, and often nothing as strange.” –Daniel Webster

Afalstein
Member
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:47 am
Location: Texas

Re: Mysterious Mynds: An Uru/Criminal Minds Crossover

Post by Afalstein » Thu Apr 10, 2014 3:24 am

Mysterious Minds 3—Relto

Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds.
George Santayana



“No.” Agent Dawson shook his head. “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t find anything. No trapdoors, no projectors, nothing. It’s just an ordinary cave.”
“Clearly it’s not, because two of my people just disappeared in front of me.” Hotch snapped. “Now I need you to go over it again, and KEEP going over it until you can tell me how that happened. Go over it with jackhammers if you have to.”
“But the Native American representatives haven’t...”
“There is no way in hell this is anything associated with the local tribes.” Hotch shook his head in exasperation. “Take pictures of everything, try not to destroy any evidence, but tear this place apart.”
Dawson eyed him worriedly. “Strauss won’t like that very much.”
“I’m past caring about Strauss,” answered Hotch savagely. “Just get me some answers.”
“Where are you going now?” asked Dawson, as Hotch turned on his heel toward the tunnel exit.
“To get some answers from someone else.”

------------------

“Don’t even think about it, JJ,” Reid called, looking over the edge at the rope that disappeared into the boiling mists below. The other end was fastened to one of the strange stone half-pillars behind him.
“It can’t be THAT much further down,” JJ’s voice floated up to him. “I mean, we’re not really cold up here, and it’s not hard to breathe, either, so it’s not like we’re on top of a mountain or anything. Plus, with all this mist, it might be just a lake down there.”
“Or an ocean!” Reid insisted. “Or a boiling hot spring or a tropical rainforest or...” He shook his head and regained his composure. “It could be anything down there. And we don’t have to be THAT high for the fall to kill you, or even just badly maim you.”
“I’m gonna just drop a rock and see if I can hear it land.”
Reid pressed his face into his hand. “Why did I let you go over the edge?”
A light laugh echoed upwards. “Because it’s MY rope, and because I’m the only one of us who ever bothered to go rock-climbing at the gym. I’m dropping the rock now...”
There was a long, long silence.
“Damn, how high up ARE we?”
“Definitely too high for you to survive a fall.” Reid felt it important to emphasize that point.
“Fine, I’m coming back up.”
Sighing with relief, Reid grabbed hold of the rope and pulled. JJ was a fine rock climber, and they’d thought the rope would only be a safeguard, perhaps to be abandoned later. But they’d found that the cliff-face was curiously smooth, and foiled nearly all of JJ’s attempts to secure a handhold.
It’d been bad enough for Reid, gradually lowering her down before. Now, trying to haul her up, it was a nightmare. JJ tried to help wherever she could, but still it was mostly all on Reid. He heaved, struggled, and nearly lost his grip several times, but at last it was done. JJ came crawling over the edge, Reid helped her up over the last bit, and then, without a word, they both collapsed next to each other on the grass.
For a while, they just lay there, breathing hard.
Reid sighed. “There’s got to be SOME way down from here. I mean, they got the building supplies here somehow.”
JJ nodded, but couldn’t help but feel discouraged. They’d searched the entirety of the island but found nothing resembling a way down. There were books, they’d discovered, hidden in the four pillars, but neither had dared to touch them. There were books in the house, too... indeed, books were practically the only thing IN the house, apart from a large empty wardrobe. JJ still wasn’t sure what THAT was there for.
But aside from that, there was nothing on the island but rocks, trees, and grass, and on all sides the plateau dropped sharply away into the mists.
Sighing again, Reid stepped back and dropped to sit next to her. “Well.” He muttered, checking his watch. “It should be night soon. That should at least give us an idea of where on earth we ARE.”
JJ gave a little snort. “You seem confident enough that we’re in your watch’s time zone.”
“What? Oh, no, I just checked my watch to see how far off the time we were. See...” Reid’s lecture tone entered his voice again. “The sun hasn’t appeared yet, so that means we’re either very early or very late in the day. But if it were early, there’d be dew all over the grass, given the climate. So it stands to reason that we’re nearing the end of the solar cycle in whatever region we’re in, which given that it’s only three o’clock in Arizona where we started, I’d say that we’re probably far to the east.” He glanced around. “Probably Africa, given the climate.”
“Africa, huh?” JJ looked out over the misty expanse and couldn’t help but feel that it did NOT look like Africa. “Well, that’s something. How long should it be?”
Reid shrugged. “An hour. Maybe two, but that’s stretching it.”
“Perfect.” JJ let herself fall back on the grass. More from boredom than from any real expectation of success, she checked her phone for what seemed like the twentieth time. She frowned. “Still no bars.”
Reid nodded. “Africa.”
Groaning, JJ pressed her hands to her forehead. “I am SO suing Verizon when I get out of here. Them and their stupid ‘Can you hear me now’ ads.”
“There’s only like 140,000 cell towers in all of Africa.” Reid frowned. “And those tend to be centered around urban areas. West Africa is pretty well wired, so we must be further east yet.”
“Terrific.”
For a moment there was silence. Real, complete silence. It struck JJ that there wasn’t even the sound of waves lapping or birds singing or even insects chirping. There was only the sound of the wind, whistling over the island. It was... eerily quiet. More quiet than anything she had ever heard.
Finally she couldn’t take it. “Any ideas as to how we ended up in East Africa?” She asked.
“Not necessarily east. We could be in the Northern or Southern regions too, or even on an island off shore. And really, West is still a valid possibility since there are plenty of areas in...”
“So you DON’T have any idea how we somehow came from New Mexico to the other side of the Atlantic.”
Reid bit his lip. “It’s possible...” He stopped. “Well, assuming that...” Again he stopped. “I think... well, I consider...” He wagged his head from side to side, his fingers playing with each other feverishly. “Not... really.”
JJ looked at him. “Really? No idea at all?”
“The only explanation that makes sense is that we were somehow drugged... a toxin laced onto the pages, maybe, or an odorless gas that was released...”
“Really, Reid? Odorless gas?”
“...and it knocked us out and we were... somehow transported here.”
JJ waited, but it seemed that was all that was coming. “And they did that... why? Just for kicks and giggles?”
“You know, that statement originally came from...”
“And they reset your watch and both our phones just to convince us no time had passed?”
Reid winced. “The other option is that, again, we were drugged, but it was a hallucinogenic. In which case, this island, that house, and you are all probably just figments of my imagination.”
“Really. Well, I can tell you the FIRST problem with that theory...”
“See now, if you’re going to say that you’re NOT a figment of my imagination, than that’s exactly what my figment version of you would say.” Reid cut her off.
JJ stopped, looked at him suspiciously, then continued, “Okay, then the SECOND problem with that theory is that if this whole place...” She waved her arms vaguely, “...is just a creation of your mind, than your mind is VERY boring.”
Reid looked around him. “Well, that depends what you mean. In some respects, this is a VERY creative mindscape, though it’s possible that it’s just a result of that strange picture being the last thing I saw before the drugs took effect. From a psychoanalytic perspective, it might be interesting to surmise what it says about my subconscious that I’m now having dreams about being stranded on a desolate island with a...”
“Reid.” JJ stopped him. “The sky is blue. The grass is green. Gravity and physics in general seem to be functioning precisely as they’re supposed to. Neither one of us is in our underwear. For a hallucination, this one seems very... plain.”
Sighing, Reid gave a rueful nod of agreement. “It definitely seems more grounded than most of my previous episodes.” He admitted. “And it doesn’t feel the same, either... usually when I’m on a high, I’m either paranoid or blissfully apathetic.”
“So what are you now?” JJ looked at him.
Reid looked back. “Stressed out.”

----------------------------

The door to the interrogation room crashed open and a grim Hotch stalked in, followed by a dark-looking Rossi.
“You seem stressed out,” noted the heavyset man on the other side of the table.
“Stressed out?” Hotch raised his eyebrows. His voice was low and dangerous. “I’ve got a hundred possible homicides, a vast cult-like network, and two agents who just vanished in front of me. So yeah, I’m stressed out.” Taking all that into consideration, yes, you could say I’m stressed out.”
“Hmmm. I was afraid something like that might happen.” Jeff Zandi scratched behind his ear ruefully.
“Afraid?” Rossi questioned. “You didn’t mean for the cave to be found?”
“No, you would have found the cave eventually. I just... didn’t think you’d touch the book.” The man shrugged. “Usually you official types are so careful about handling artifacts.”
“’Official types.’ You’ve had problems with the authorities before?”
Zandi smiled. “I watch a lot of crime dramas.”
“What about your father?” Rossi pressed. “Did he watch crime dramas?”
“Not so much. He was more from the Perry Mason era anyways,” answered Zandi. “Dad was an archaeologist, he went more for the historical shows... hated Indiana Jones, though. Said it was too fanciful and made archaeology to be a joke.”
Hotch and Rossi exchanged a quick glance. There’d been no noticeable reaction at the mention of the father. “I can assure you, Mr. Zandi, I am not laughing.” Hotch took up the thread. “That cleft, and those caves... that’s not your father’s work, is it?”
“You kidding?” Zandi blinked. “That stuff there is what my father spent his life for! Although...” he seemed to consider a moment. “...I suppose you’re right. In a way. I mean, my father and I both have a fascination with ancient cultures, particularly the Dunny culture, but I suppose that he wouldn’t approve of... what I’ve done with it.”
Dunny. There was that word again. “I’m something of a researcher myself.” Rossi said. “Why don’t you tell us about this ‘Dunny culture,’ Zandi?”
The man shook his head, still smiling. “Sorry. It’s not something that can be described, only discovered. The Dunny culture is too complex and rich.”
“And what have you done with it that your father would disapprove of?” asked Hotch, leaning forward.
“Left it all out in the open, for one.” Zandi shrugged. “Dad would have tagged every object—well, he DID tag every object in that cleft—and put it all behind glass in a museum somewhere. But that...” A peculiar smile lit up his face. “That wasn’t my way.”
“If your father put it all behind glass, how’d you get it back?” Rossi asked. “Our records show he left you nothing but the land itself.”
Zandi looked confused, then his face cleared. “Oh, you think THOSE are artifacts in there now?” He gave a light chuckle. “Goodness no. I mean, the windmill perhaps, but that place was all empty when she arrived. All that stuff in there is hers.”
“She?” Rossi raised an eyebrow.
Now Zandi looked surprised. “Oh come now. You must know who I’m talking about. Neesha. The Desert Bird. The Grower, who will restore the Least to Dunny and return it to its old glory.”
“Sounds like something of a Messiah.”
“Messiah is... a bit strong.” Zandi frowned. “But she is the sign of the re-awakening of Dunny. Already the gathering is beginning... soon all the scattered will return to their home.”
“Because of Neesha.” Rossi said.
“Of course. She calls them. They all hear the dream, they all come, they all seek the journey.” Zandi smiled. “And they all enter the tree.”
“And disappear, like my agents?” asked Hotch.
Zandi waved away the menace in the man’s voice. “Be assured, your agents are quite safe. I am surprised to learn that two of them linked out, but it poses no problem. They have embarked on the great journey of the ages, and when they return, they will be much changed.”
Somehow, this was even more disturbing. Hotch leant fully over the table and stared into the man’s eyes, their faces inches apart. “Where. Are. They.” He hissed.
Zandi frowned in thought. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure.”

--------------------------

“What time is it?” JJ asked, still staring up at the sky.
The grass slightly rustled as Reid sat up to check his watch. “Five o’clock in New Mexico.”
“Shouldn’t the sun have gone down by now?”
“Yes.”
There was a long silence.
“Henry will be wanting his supper right about now.” She murmured.
She heard Reid turn to look at her. “I didn’t even think about... I’m sure Hotch and Emily will...”
“I left him with his aunt before we flew to New Mexico.” JJ closed her eyes. “He’ll be fine. It... was just a thought. I hope Strauss doesn’t send out any reports to our families, though.”
Reid gave a little chuckle. “Hotch must be having a great time explaining this to Strauss.”
“Hotch probably isn’t explaining anything to anyone right now.” JJ pointed out, eyes still closed.
There was a silence. “Of course...” Reid nodded. “...in order to take us away, they’d need to incapacitate the whole group... a small, enclosed cave like that could function as a gas chamber very well.”
“Or at any rate, if we DID get...” it sounded ridiculous to say ‘sucked into the book’ “...magically teleported somewhere, maybe they got teleported somewhere too.” JJ took a deep breath. “They might be as trapped as us.”
Another, much longer silence.
“So.” Reid swallowed. “No rescue party.”
“At least not from our team. There were lots of agents there, though, I’m pretty sure SOME of them must have escaped to get the cavalry. But still, I wouldn’t...” JJ opened her eyes and sat up as Reid’s stomach gurgled loudly. “Sounds like you’d like some supper yourself.” She grinned at him.
Reid had the grace to look embarrassed. “I didn’t have much of a lunch...” He confessed.
Still smiling, JJ grabbed her survival pack and rooted around in it. The smile on her face slowly vanished, but she still managed to produce two energy bars, one of which she handed to Reid. “Here. Eat up.”
Reid looked at the energy bar disconsolately. “That’s all?”
“There’s maybe four more bars left in there, but that’s it.” JJ pointed out. She looked a little nervous, and just a touch grim. “That won’t last us more than a day or two, Spence. If we want food and water to last longer than that...”
Reid closed his eyes. “We’re going to have to go through the books.”

“Necessity is the mother of taking chances.” --Mark Twain

Post Reply

Return to “Writers Club”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest