Chapter V - Brimstone

This is what you came here for. Adventure, intrigue, murder, mystery and action - plus a healthy dose of boring everyday stuff. One continuous story-line, broken up into smaller themes for easier consumption.

Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Wed Oct 10, 2018 1:45 am

Aspasia scoffed amusedly and shrugged at the lich. "Girth can have momentum and power, Spurs. Think of sumo wrestlers, Mr. Smith, and other endomorphic body types. They're deceptive in appearance, but their strength has no parallel," she commented. "Add a supernatural edge, and that person's a force to be reckoned with."

She then patted him on the shoulder. "Now, we have some employees to send off to their homes to make their own preparations, and we need to haul ass to talk with the Rothchilds and check on records before it gets too late. I want to get back to Miranda ASAP," she said, heading back inside. She waved back at the Humvee and its occupants before disappearing.

***

"I'll thicken the vines and roots quickly enough, Mr. Grimley," Sophia answered, the dim light of the luminescent fungus giving her even more of a gloomier look. While not bearing the unsettling appearance of her Winter counterparts, the season made her seem slightly gaunter and paler than her healthy and robust Summer countenance. Oddly enough, her green eyes still stood out, the promise of summer and warmer days lingering in them. Her vine hair glinted every so often, seasonal, diamond-like frost tinkling as her arboreal strands occasionally shifted.

She raised her hand, emerald via leaving her fingertips and skirting toward where she sensed the weakened areas harboring the vault doors. There was a faint groaning as the aforementioned roots increased in girth and strength.

Ciaran then joined them and noted the text message with the series of emoticons, smirking lightly. "Well, with the city largely unaware of what's about to happen, they probably think we're all a little crazy with laying out and constructing all these tunnels. Hopefully, though, we'll be able to curtail the loss of lives by sheltering them here or secreting them to places like the Greenvale."
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Wed Oct 10, 2018 10:29 pm

Of the demons, only Valefor had apparently vacated the premises without so much as a thank-you. A fittingly cold exit, coming from Wrath... Otherwise, a few of the juniors had followed along with Herbert and the others, to lay the groundwork for Ephesian and Associates' new incarnation. Leonard had looked like he'd still need some convincing, but the old Pride lawyer did look like he was putting in the requisite efforts in order to keep appearing congenial. Gabriel's retainers had left of their own accord to save some space in the Humvee they'd used, which had left Gabriel and Raguel to sidle up to the Shieldies.

Before long, with a now-closed restaurant and a sitter within minutes of reassurance, Coach found time enough to pull up a GPS route to the Rothchilds'. "I wonder how Charles is doing, after everything that happened," he then mused out loud, to nobody in particular. Looking up to Aspasia, he felt the need to be more precise. 

"Wynn," he said. "I mean Charles Wynn, Astra's husband. We more or less just left him in Jenkins and Zahavi's hands and assumed things would turn out alright..."

He shook his head. "What a meeting that was, back in November - with Gammell and the Squids... I don't know that I was exactly ready for more action, you know?" he admitted, smiling at the Fauness. "It's not so much a complaint as a reminder that even Transgenics or liches can feel outclassed, sometimes."

* * *

A few moments passed on the road, Belphegor's rumbling breaths the only sound in the Humvee the mortals occupied. Three, as ever, chose to break the ice.

"So, are you going to let us in on those relief efforts?" he asked. Sloth stirred, groaned and lifted his head. "Apologies," he managed. "It's... your automobiles and me. You can probably put two and two together."

Three nodded. "On-the-road sleepiness, right. All the little bumps and jostles rock you to sleep..."

Belphegor nodded. "Angel Time is not a luxury of ours, but Hell stands outside of time. I can still expect of those I sent away to come back as healers and battlefield surgeons. They will awaken as I have, be as alert as I will be under duress. Being a Vice so dedicated to idle thought has its perks: logistics has always been an interest of mine. I've never had to act on my plans before, however."

Tom's nostrils flared. "As much as I'd like to agree that planning our little revolution has been a pain, the effort's been worth it so far. I hope you'll at least pick up on that."

The cat rolled his eyes behind his eyelids. "Please. As soon as we're safe, I'm offering the Lady Eirean enough money to rent out her Presidential suite for a month."

He managed a fairly Garfield-worthy yawn. "I suspect I'll be... rather exhausted.
- Oh, we all say that," casually noted Archie. "Then it's three in the bloody morning and we're staring at the ceiling. The mind might recognize safety for what it is, the instincts tend to need a while to catch up."

In the rear-view mirror, they'd see the angel-driven car that now carried Herbert and Leonard veer off to an adjacent street, likely to drop the pair off to the customary meeting between rival attorneys. Less than twelve hours away from the final summations and the jury's final verdict, IsoTech's case took up every speck of news that wasn't eaten up by the holiday cheer or the sudden "volcanic faults" that had opened in various parts of the continent.

Meris' phone chimed, a news story alert appearing on its screen: Walpurgis was apparently on some sort of high level of alert, with Nelson and Erin Galbraith - Nergal and Ereshkigal - having personally seen to traffic's redirection across the Texas city. It being of a more overtly arcane status than Hope, the accompanying image was of a holograph-like street blockade, put together with steel and etched wards. Over in Hong Kong, the Sin Seven were putting the final touches on their own version of Magnus Tower. In Paris, Shield's equivalent had just managed to activate Gustave Eiffel's thought-to-be-inactive arcane countermeasures, a massive dome of coalesced via having sealed off the Arrondissements from the rest of France. In Montana, the more funded and capable of doomsday preppers had repurposed old missile silos into small arcologies capable of sustaining a small population for several years. California's Solarpunks didn't look like they'd bothered much with physical protection, but they'd already spotted flora in the early process of mutation. The smallest of Hell's invaders were already seeping through: the Pit's sparse plant life and microbes reacting to Earth's biosphere like a thirsty man at the sight of water in the desert. The image showed a Los Angeles palmetto covered in what looked like red algae - if algae could grow on land.

They drove past a throng on the sidewalk, a man in a rumpled suit who'd taken to standing on a car's front hood. His features were wild and haggard, desperate zeal in his eyes. He looked like he barely felt the season's chill. Loren didn't need to reach out with his mind to understand what was being screamed. 

The sane people knew the world was ending. The oblivious were out shopping for presents.

Three tried for a smirk, but the gesture seemed half-baked. "Yeah," he said, chuckling, "I'm pretty much terrified."

Archie pensively stroked his cane's pommel. He might've looked composed, but his eyes were alive with fear. "So am I, dear boy," he said, quietly. "So am I..."

* * *

"You know," added Arthur, "I've tried to share in the grim portents with the mayor, but all Doherty seems to care about is avoiding panic. It's honorable, but I still haven't met a mortal that would willingly follow a puss like mine without getting to know me, first. You can imagine how little it's all going to work once our esteemed North American Ringleader goes all Tim Burton over the horrors to come; I at least remember what it's like to be afraid.
- I know fear," protested Grimley, "I know it quite well! I've seen it in enough bleachers and peanut galleries over the last two hundred years! I've seen in Alora's clients and Doctor Dickens' patients-
- But you haven't experienced it," countered Holden. "You had enough of a big coterie to stamp out fear in you with the worst of our intuition, whereas I was left broken so I wouldn't forget."

Grimley's fixed grin looked musing. "I thought you'd been reborn laughing, Art old boy!
- I was," replied Holden, "but I didn't laugh at the futility of fear, like you did. I didn't get to switch out one madness for another, Horatio. I switched out hubris with the understanding that I'd been a hack."

That seemed to take Grimley aback, only for the younger Holden brother to shrug. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make it sound so dramatic. The point is, neither of us are going to Mister Bone-Jangles our way through bunker life. A lot of my people haven't had to share bunks with mortals in centuries. I'm lucid enough to understand we'll end up with baby Freaks at the end of it all."

In the back, a clattering ruckus came closer, a few discordant notes from an improperly-tuned and silenced barbary organ escaping the engraved wooden trailer. It looked like a portable version of the average snake oil merchant kiosk, with a few collapsible drawers and a deployable banner that probably served as a justification for the fairly massive hard rubber brakes that were waiting to the four ancient wooden axles. In another life, Doctor Phineas Dickens had probably needed to clamp his little portable lab down to prevent his almost sail-like banner from pulling his goods away. The man looked like your average Dustbowl-era huckster, wearing dusty clothes that had probably been prohibitively expensive in 1889. He'd kept his own garish makeup on, however, having done his best to cover his sallow, warty and ruptured skin with a poor semblance of life. White clown base, some shade for the cheeks and lips, contouring for his bushy eyebrows and mutton chops... None of it worked, but it did manage to make him look particularly energetic.

"Are you sure he's a qualified physician?" asked Arthur to the Ringleader. "When he first saw me, Phinny tried to push some sort of mix of cinammon and rubbing alcohol on me for my bad right knee... Thing is, I haven't had a right bad knee since Alana turned me!"

Horatio snickered at that. "Well, he's not wrong, is he? Just a little out of sync with time, is all... Every now and again, his more recent training crops up, the right synapses fire and bam, here comes a life-saving spiel extolling the virtues of chemo to a young woman who hasn't realized her white blood cells started eating her alive!"
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 12:09 am

Now that the impromtu and occasionally tense meeting was over, Aspasia relaxed in the passenger's seat and sighed. "No kidding. Everything's happened so fast, since last summer. Though, I have to admit that a small part of me relishes the increased activity, even though I prefer peace. Now, this family reunion with Azazel... It's starting to feel like things are coming full circle, somehow," she responded.

"As for Wynn, we'll find out soon enough. If more issues have arisen, then we'll just have to add that to the pile. Makes me glad I've been working on some armor, ever since the confrontation with McHae and the Chamberlain," she noted.

***

If the Heiress was afraid, she didn't let it show. "It's okay to be afraid, lads; it's what you do with that fear that can mean the difference in battle. As long as you don't let it paralyze you and you keep moving, we have a chance," she said encouragingly, then smirking with a bit of wiliness.

"I do have an ace up my sleeve, one that I know you met already. And he's seasonally appropriate, to boot. It may not mean much, but it's something else in our favor."

***

"Well, that's a glass half-full scenario. Better than a completely empty glass situation," piped in Arthur's maker, stepping into the area they were gathered in. The vampiress still was more her signature flapper's look, wiry, red hair adorned with a feathered headband. "Seems we're as ready as we'll ever be, hm?"

Sophia nodded. "As much as we can be. I can respect Mayor Doherty's stance, but I definitely don't agree with it. This conflict will likely outclass the Battle of Hope and McHae's betrayal," she said. "I can feel the via coiled within the Nexus like a spring. Both fear and defensiveness, and I know that it's a similar feeling with other dryads, particularly in locations with early Infernal activity."

Ciaran sighed. "Seems like the world knows it needs its claws out, even with all that we're doing..."
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:40 pm

Silas had taken to picking up after the delegates and now-departed employees, and stopped long enough to send a smirk to his wife. "I'll bet," he said. "I still remember how shocked I was to see you haggle with Frank Brenner like a native Drifter. I thought you'd settle with Army surplus and a few additions, but you sure showed me."

He chuckled. "I'm more used to Mexican haggling. You name your price, there's maybe two or three rounds of high-speed nonchalant bartering, and that's it. I swear Brenner looked like he was convinced he could deck you if he wanted to, and you're five heads taller than he is. I know it's all part of some elaborate social dance, but..."

The lich didn't finish and instead disappeared in the kitchen with arms laden with plates, one last look of amused bewilderment on his face.

* * *

"Our budget for personal expenses doesn't agree," quietly snarked Archie. "I thought you'd all succeeded in shaking the last dregs of Victorian mortification from me, but what Oberon's man ordered on the pay-per-view packages makes my stomach churn."

Three chuckled. "Chrissy Claus' Carnal Christmas, Buck Rudolph's Haystack Hijinks, Winter Clan Co-Eds Gone Wild, Greta's one Wild Banshee... I had to spend a good twenty minutes fielding calls from an already-suspicious Baverley Walton. In the end, he brought his boss along for a three-way conference call. The mayor just laughs and I figure he'd have slapped my back if he could've, saying he'd seen worse during his police precinct days. Doherty hung up on me, asking me to call him once we'd have a real sexual harassment case on our hands. I don't even think he gets that kind of jollies from the proceedings."

Tom shrugged. "I remember stealing a glance by accident, and the material was raunchy enough to require a few stabilizing breaths, even now that I'm freed. I think he's more attracted to the scabrous parts. Oberon did design him to frighten his issue into behaving and to make sure Winter's extremes would stay manageable, but he just swigged beer and munched on cheese Fritos on parts that would've sent me reeling, a few weeks ago."

Three looked off to the side. "The naughtier the kids, the more excited he gets. Horny adults can be really naughty kids. Unrepentant criminals aren't that far behind."

* * *

Arthur's love-hate relationship with Alana was as long as his own unlife, and the proverbial coin was currently fairly well balanced on its side. Polite consideration mixed with centuries of animosity and lust made him try for a cool sideways glance, hands sedately resting behind his back. Something in his simple sliding step to the side betrayed the fact that there was more than mere frosty politeness behind the gesture, as Arthur typically didn't turn especially debonair for anyone who wasn't of the fairer sex.

"I'm sorry, my dear," he said, "the Flapper Revival rigmarole didn't follow along with Electroswing. I'd go with something in your color; like a pneumatic tungsten stake through your heart."

For once, that seemed to shut up Grimley's low-key snickering. "I'm... assuming there's a history here," he stated.

The younger Holden snorted noisily, his sunken eyes looked a tad bulbous in his deformed and sallow cranium. "And blood doesn't come off of my vests or cummerbunds without Seltzer water or lemon juice; thank you for stating the painfully obvious, Horatio." 
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Thu Oct 11, 2018 10:44 pm

Alana took an appraising look at the former thespian and rolled her eyes while cocking her hip. "Given the current circumstances, I think neither of our choices of apparel necessarily qualify for apocalyptic chic, dear Arthur, so then I suppose you'll have to take that pneumatic tungsten stake to your heart as well," Alana saucily sniped.

Sophia sighed and looked over at Grimley. "Alana is Arthur's maker, and you could consider them Hope's undead, love-hate version of Morticia and Gomez."

Ciaran shoved his hands in his pockets and cheekily eyed his girlfriend. "Well, as long they don't start necking in front of us to the point we need to tell them to get a room or a closet, I think we're good," he noted.

The dryad scoffed and helplessly threw her hands in the air. "I suppose you're right."

***

Meris gestured vaguely. "Then, I guess that could work to our favor, depending on how fervent and unrepentant the Knights of Pride turn out to be," she answered. "Even with the allotments made during that conference, our foes will still be ruthless."

Neasa nodded solemnly. "In this case, they may get no quarter. It's just as well, since they still want to persist with throwing their weight around without any thought but their short-sighted whims."

***

Aspasia began spraying the tables and scrubbing them off of crumbs, chuckling. "Old traditions die hard, dear. You can take the space faun out of Paradise, but there's still elements of Paradise in the space faun," she said loudly enough for him to hear in the kitchen.

"And, perhaps, some of the skills I learned still come in handy, especially when it regards protecting Hope. And the armor I got out of that deal doesn't look like ultra sci-fi Rendell had us wear around the space station. It included boob armor, like you see in some of those space marine video games."
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Sat Oct 13, 2018 3:58 pm

"I see," noted Horatio. "So I've missed the part where passion trumps annoyance, or is this a particularly rare occurrence?"

Arthur sneered and then inspected his claw-like fingernails. "I think Alana and I are going to be in agreement, for once, in saying we don't have to dignify that with a response. The focus du jour should be on keeping mortals safe, not on whether or not you'll get to see sparks fly.
- But you're seen as together by the local media," countered the Squid. "If I'm going to collaborate with the local coterie leader, I think I have a right to know how safe my own roustabouts will be," he said, his statement serious despite his constant leer and low-key chuckles.

Holden rolled his eyes. "We might all be mad here, with the exception of Sophia and Ciaran, but we're all adults as well. Don't worry, Alana and I know enough not to vent our frustrations in front of people we're supposed to protect."

From behind Alana, another female voice sounded. It was slightly tinged with Middle-Eastern tones, and  belonged to a woman who'd opted for another twenties' hairdo; her modified pageboy cut made slick by hair-styling gel, a careful forelock sculpted out of a front bang, sideburns almost painted onto the sides of her face in delicate Art Deco arabesques. Her tiara supported a fanciful artificial flower, dark eyes and seemingly perfect skin gleaming in the low light - until you looked past her neckline. Alora had developed a form of ichthyosis as a result of being turned, greenish highlights marking every other scale that lined her chest, back arms and legs. Dirt be damned, she wore a long cocktail dress topped with a floral shawl. A few symmetrical spots along her arms suggested her natural regenerative abilities as one of the undead tended to frequently work there, paler zones where the scales weren't quite as thick. She smiled, the two tips of a forked tongue briefly visible as tiny glints.

"I would not worry too much," she said, almost sliding past Arthur and Alana, every step a dance, as if you could tone down belly-dancing to slight postural hints. "You'll both love again. It's all over you, like blood in your veins or the scent of soil and grass."

She slid alongside Horatio, the Squid's low chuckles turning into a perhaps tumescent titter, one of his arms circling her waistline. "Alora, darling," he said, "I thought our friends from Hope would be more fun!"

The circus' fortune-teller and knife-eater smiled. "They'll be fun, my love. Just - later. Under different lights, perhaps. If you didn't have me and my Sight, there would be tears in your laughter.
- Oh, I know," the Ringleader grunted, a few of his tendrils reaching up of their own accord to stroke Alora's left forearm. "I wish we could embrace every single mortal to come down here. Then we'd give the demons something to laugh about."

Doctor Dickens chuckled at that. "Oh, please, I wouldn't do that if I were you, Alora! Without mortals, who would I have left to tend to, hm? Who would benefit from Doctor Dickens' Timeless Salves and Poultices?
- Says the man who would probably sell cocaine powder to a depressive," snarked Arthur.

The immortal doctor looked like he'd heard that a million times. "I'd be insulted if that kind of jeer wasn't so commonplace, mister Holden. I stay abreast of modern medical techniques as much as any other physician; even if my roots are less academic than you'd perhaps prefer.
- Hm, yes," quipped the thespian, "I'm sure going from selling fake company shares in Yonkers, New Jersey to solving acute septicemia with vampire blood and Aloe Vera extracts does wonders for the circus' portfolio...
- I'll have you know I bankrolled five of his updated Doctorates," added Horatio. "Phineas' worth as a physician is sound, stress and our common curse just sometimes get the better of him."

Phineas chuckled uneasily. "Yes, er, there isn't much of anything that's more embarrassing than disclosing a married man's affairs to his unsuspecting wife because the blood makes me ferret out an as-of-yet undeveloped venereal disease. I always snap to it in moments like these and wonder why I tried to hawk my wares to that dead-looking fellow in Amarillo. Then again, I would've died from any number of bandits or cattle rustlers in the weeks afterwards, if I hadn't been turned."

* * *

"I would contend that he is not appropriate, period," noted Archie. "Then again, I speak as someone who still feels weak in the knees in seeing the Deputy's Chief's wolf half."

Three smirked. "Don't worry, boss. I'm just as sick of picking up seasonal sleaze on the company's Pay-Per-View bills. The problem is, he took it literally when I dropped that Mi casa, su casa line. Now I've seen the Christmas Devil's naked bum more times than I'd care to mention."

He looked back to Meris. "I had no idea there was a market for Yule-specific Fae porn until he came along. Some of the titles on the last bill, Jesus... Brunhilde's One Tough Banshee, Mab's Girls Night Out, Oberon's Flesh Palace..."

Tom chuckled at that. "I'm just glad I met you guys when I did. There's just so many opportunities for dissolution, nowadays, that I can't imagine myself kicking off my entire agenda now, over two thousand years too late.
- I'm guessing you've got less of an appetite for this kind of stuff now anyway, right?" asked Drake.

Tom shrugged. "Let's just say I'm still an incubus, Aidan - but an incubus with enough of a developed prefrontal cortex to overrule the other parts that'd make me emotionally dependent of Aislinn. I've had my five or six minutes swearing fealty to a walking goddess; now I'm just happy to be a supportive boyfriend. The one difference is if she's up for a little bit more one evening or another," he said, glancing at the selkie, "then I am too. No questions asked. We'll never have that situation where one of us feels cuddly and ends up being frustrated because the other one's too tired. All I have to do is reach down inside, touch base with the old lust; and all of the body's old aches and pains go away. I might have to do that a few times, starting tomorrow. Steal a page from Volker, more or less, and turn my feeling horny into feeling ready and willing to lob a few massive hexes or raise a few dozen zombies."

* * *

Coach's snickering laughter was briefly swallowed by the whoosh of the kitchen's pressurized water faucet working on a few plates. "You punched me in the boob!" he said, lightening his voice to mock one of Scott Pilgrim VS The World's female characters. "Prepare to die, obviously."

"I'll never understand that aspect of science-fiction," he said, stepping out into the dining area after tossing his apron away. "I've read studies showing that the areas of Thessaloniki that were dug up to find your native DNA scraps had bits and pieces of hard leather armor recovered as well. No boob armor there and, well, you wouldn't be around if Goliath hadn't picked up on a few female finger bones."

He then canted his head to the side. "That said, the Spartans did have artificial nipples on their chestplates, so I'm guessing Joel Schumacher's Bat-Nipples aren't anything new." 
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:18 pm

Alana raised an eyebrow somewhat skeptically and appeared resigned. "Dr. Dickens is who we have on hand, Arthur. You're not going to get one of the local clinics or hospitals to spare one of their best to come into a series of tunnels with us Freaks," she noted rather lucidly. "They'll be swamped as it is with the chaos that the demons will bring, so we have to do our best regardless of the circumstances."

The dryad's tendrils flicked like a cat's tail, looking pensive. "She's right. Even as much as we've all planned, we're facing an uphill battle, so we'll have to give it our all."

***

Meris merely scoffed. "If someone can fantasize about it, there will be images of it," she joked. "You're from the generation that grew up with the Internet, Aidan, so I needn't quote one of its rules."

Aislinn glanced at the warthog and chuckled. "So are we going to be the warlock versions of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, powerfully dancing across the urbanscape and lobbing said fireballs at those Knights of Pride?" she also joked.

***

Aspasia scoffed and shrugged. "It could have just been that the smith who designed that armor might've had a fetish himself. He liked his soldiers virile and preening," she observed with a roll of her eyes. "Wouldn't be the first time someone increased the attraction factor to appeal to some deep-seated urge lurking within his psyche. Cough Issacs cough."

She eyed the clock and then surveyed the tidied up space of the dining area and kitchen. "I think we're set to go, so let's go and see Lucian about our mysterious Squid," she said.
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Mon Oct 15, 2018 12:10 am

"And a fine job we'll do, I'm sure!" replied Horatio. "That said, having been on the debatable side of the Vienna Council for a few decades now, I have to ask someone who's got their ducks in a row," he said, looking at Arthur. "What are Vienna's policies about pre-emptively inducting someone? We might need more of a defensive force and, well, we're all just a bite and a bit of patience away from creating very motivated civilians, if you catch my drift."

Arthur sighed and nodded. "You can kiss the old Freak habit of shaping the curse with a little bodily constructive input, to use a euphemism for abuse, goodbye. That means no ironic embraces, no cases like myself or Alana - and especially no springing for the tough ones in the bunch. The last thing we need is a soil bunker packed with potential victims and a fresh undead bully looking to dispense a little justice. The best case scenario would be a Steve Rogers or Peter Parker type, but you'll find those are rare in real life."

Alora slightly narrowed her eyes. "Didn't you voice Steve Rogers at one point?"

Holden briefly looked away, smiling bashfully with one corner of his mouth. "I did; actually. It's from the first weeks after the Accords. I voiced Rogers as part of a pilot project for Filmation; back when superheroes had to sound all chesty and assertive!" he explained, briefly lowering his voice and stripping it of his slight Trans-Atlantic accent, going for the kind of voice you would've stuck to a lantern-jawed depiction of Caucasoid athleticism as of the early sixties. He then went back to his normal, slightly sepulchral registry.

"But that's not germane to our interests. The point is, we won't get to pick and choose the best options on-hand, and people are going to turn scared and desperate, down here. Willfully being turned by one of us is one of the last fully self-conscious choices a mortal can perform, we're risking too much on what's essentially a moral crapshoot."

He then nodded at Sophia. "If anything, I'd rather Treebeard's sexy cousin here hooked up the occasional willing volunteers to the Nexus. Gifted individuals and baby Mages are easier to handle than juvenile Freaks that are still veering somewhere between civility and feral madness."

Dickens raised an eyebrow. "How very lucid of you, mister Holden... I forget you weren't inducted anywhere close to the Circus' font of insight."

Holden looked back to Alana. "Al and I here are passionate, Phineas - that's our damage. I like putting on faces with my voice and scaring the occasional ne'er-do-well; Alana wouldn't have turned me if I hadn't managed to move her to tears with a zero-budget rendition of King Lear. She thought she'd preserve my talent; she only ended up taking a sledgehammer to my brain and ensured I'd take great pride in repulsing others. Anyone sane, Phineas, wouldn't feel that fluttering nugget of glee I have in my chest, at the thought of terrifying some oh-so-haughty demonic entities."

Horatio raised a fist to his chest, his grin almost spastic. "God, how I love seeing that leer on you, Arthur, old chap! Centennial Park's going to be our big top for the foreseeable future, and we'll whip up the greatest show on Earth!"

* * *

"I wouldn't exactly mind," replied Tom, as the Humvee's reduced cordon pulled up along Holden Hall's curving gravel lane. "A sheath dress, a tuxedo, some raised dead and a few allied demons in the orchestra's pit, some Big Band flair jazzing up the air; and our enemies' screams of terror serving as backing vocals..."

He drew in a breath and winked at Aislinn. "I'd call that Warlock Nirvana. It's just too bad it'd be neither feasible or practical, much less safe."

Magnus went for a pout. "I'll settle for a victory lap on the club's dancefloor, once we'll have earned some peace and quiet."

Three was about to comment when the sound of breaking glass disturbed the atmosphere, along with the thunk of something bouncing against the car's bulletproof glass. The mansion's front door opened, and out walked Mister Kramp, wearing what had to be one of Archie's old turn-of-the-century golfing outfits, along with a poorly-fastened stretch of red clip-on beard that had probably been part of one of the Clank's disguises.

"FORE!" shouted the Christmas Demon in an exaggerated Scottish accent, holding onto a religiously-maintained vintage 1910 9-iron - albeit one that now had a rather unsightly bend near the club's head. At that sight, Archie's normally quiet ticking turned into a furious clattering, and he reached into his waistcoat to wind himself up. If the Humvee hadn't been of Angelic make, his shove to open the passenger door would've torn it off its hinges.

"What in good God's name do you think you're doing, mister Kramp?! This is my golf club - and these are my clothes!
Ach, t'wern't like ye were usin' 'em," dismissively replied the demon-turned-Fae, "we still gots a fair few hours ta kill and you lot were off playin' politics so I, uh..."

He dropped the accent, going for some sort of hyper-real New Jersey drawl. "I thought I'd give the help a break, y'see? Gubbin's all hung up nice and ol' Bags is takin' a nap, sort of."

From inside, Gubbin's usually calm and composed voice rose, filed more with rage than distress, rang out in a shout. "Someone get me down, or I swear upon Mab's darkest pits that I shall send him back to Oberon in separate packages!"

Three hopped down. "Why didn't Bucky stop him?
- The big metal lug?" asked Krampus rhetorically, a wide grin on his features. "Eh, he was easy enough to distract. I started by making him too hungry to notice, that gave me a good fifteen minutes. As long as he had the kitchen to himself, I could use Iffy's old books as shot markers. Once he snapped out of that, I made him too sleepy to care. He just trundled right back to his room and conked out. If you guys end up meetin' Sloth - Jesus, I hope you'll never let ol' Buck near the guy. Wouldn't want him to catch forty winks on the battlefield now, would-"

He couldn't finish, as Three was already sprinting towards the front door. Archie looked about ready to have a rage-induced stroke, while Tom scowled and imperiously pointed a finger at Kramp's feet. Gravel swallowed them and then hardened into a uniform slab of stone.

"You stay put," he groused, even as Krampus tried to free himself while protesting the unfairness of it all.

Krampus tried looking back to Tom as the warthog followed along. "Aw, come on, Magnus! Demon-to-sorta-demon, that wasn't so much of a big deal, was it?"

Martin Loren, who had followed along, raised a hand to one of his gray temples. His Karthian mind probably didn't exactly appreciate the flare-ups everyone was displaying. The glacial look he sent to Krampus was clear enough.


* * *

The ride to Old Hope wasn't too eventful, but Silas didn't exactly expect Astra Rothchild's front door to open merely moments after he'd had set the car on Park. She stood in the doorway, looking like someone who was trying to put on a good show of congeniality, despite recently harrowing events. Her features were taut, concern pushing through her smile. Her nature as a Diviner made her go ahead of Aspasia's questioning.

"It's been a rough couple weeks," she said. "Sometimes, Charles pops back for a few hours or a few days. Sometimes, it's Billy for a whole weekend. Thank God for Lucian, or else we wouldn't have been able to move the restraining chair to one of our guest bedrooms. He used whispers in the Black Speech to pop out every rivet along the saferoom's floor and then more of it to make the whole thing lightweight enough to carry. He was exhausted for three days, afterwards."

Silas doffed his hat as he came in. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Wynn... Is he giving you any trouble?
- Charles? Never. Billy? He's - a superpowered child in the body of an adult. Even Lucian can't hope to rein in something that acts like it's invulnerable. He's made a few threats and we had to act on some. Clothes and cigarettes, for starters. HD Cable package add-ons, cheap beer."

An anthro rhino verging on six feet one - a few inches shorter than Charles and with a broader paunch - walked past the lobby and gave the visitors a wide and slightly wild-eyed grin, cigarette in one hand and a can of PBR in the other. He hadn't taken to vests, unlike the body's main owner, and had instead opted for a fully black suit, his tie loosely done. Oddly enough, he had a bit of a Liverpool slant as he spoke, in opposition to Charles' sedate Chicago roots.

"'Ello chaps," he said, "stoppin' by for little old moi, or is this a courtesy call for the ol' fart?"

Coach eyed Astra. "You're letting him smoke? I remember chatting with Charles back at the meet-up. He's a quasi-vegan and a teetotaller...
- I know how it looks," explained the Mulatto woman. "Nobody here's in any position to stop him," she said, lowering her voice, "he lifts up our couch with a single hand!"

Billy looked justifiably annoyed. "He's also right here, Mrs. Wynn. A little more and I'd find that insulting. Wouldn't you?"
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:56 am

Ciaran chuckled. "Try to keep the bromance to a minimum, Mr. Grimley," he again joked, then sighing as he looked back at Sophia.

"We need to use the terrain to our advantage against any Hellspawn that approach," she mused.

"Couldn't we just use an ambush technique against encroaching demons, then? What with your ability to manipulate shadows, that shouldn't be too hard of a feat," he asked the vampires.

***

Aislinn had outright glowered at Krampus while following along with the others to get Gubbin down. Neasa and Meris had stayed behind, with the Archmage only sighing in the Christmas devil's direction. "Mr. Kramp, I think we need to catch up on the recent turn of events, as a lot has developed within the past few hours," she explained.

"And maybe lay some ground rules," the taller selkie groused, sending an annoyed look at him.

***

One look at Billy, and Aspasia's expression changed to the earlier demeanor of a negotiator; however, she seemed rather casual. "We're here to talk with Lucian, but you might find the topics we're going to talk about relevant, Billy," she addressed. Even if their heights were similar, she knew she also wouldn't have much of a chance against him with regard to strength. Much like she had mentioned to Coach previously about endomorphs, she understood that the pachyderm had untold strength, with a potentially temperamental demeanor to boot.

"So, how much did the Squids tweak Charles' mind to be a reenactment of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?" the fauness asked the rhino rather pointedly, hands in her jeans' pockets. "And you're not quite dressed sharply enough to be James Bond villain material, so that's a relief. Already dealt with one of those in my life; don't need another."
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Re: Chapter V - Brimstone

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Mon Oct 15, 2018 11:20 pm

"That's part of what I had in mind," explained Arthur, as he positioned himself closer to one of the light-emitting fungi and a nearby flat stone that would serve nicely as an impromptu table. He pulled out a small notebook from his pie-tailed jacket, briefly exposing its skull-themed inner lining. "You'll have to excuse me if I'm not one for fanciful didactic arcane projections, via was never really my thing. If you'll just come in a little closer..."

The group would see Art had sketched out a rough outline of Sophia's dug-out galleries, essentially an H-shaped array with a central spoke jutting upwards at a slope from the middle segment. "We have two side passages and a central one. Let's call the first one Gallery A and the second one, Gallery B. My proposal is that we should pack all the survivors and supplies at the very tip of Gallery A, here," he said, pointing with a fountain pen's nib. There's a bit of a protrusion in the gallery design here, something that makes these ninety or so square feet more spacious than the rest. They'll be cramped, but we aren't looking to out-shine the Greenvale, here. We post a few vampires on alert here, to watch over them, and to guard the ancillary tunnels leading to Sophia's - ahem - underside, as it were, close to the Nexus' hollow chamber."

The thespian moved to Gallery B. "We've got more mages than prestidigitation experts in town, but misdirection's going to be a crucial asset, here. I'd like to use Sophia's offered resources and a few of the mages we'll chance upon in the refugees to set up a mirror image of the first gallery in the second. A mirage, more or less, of a nice gaggle of seemingly helpless mortals. The roughly-corresponding chamber to Gallery A's tip would be my people's kill room, with the generous pools of shadow allowing us to draw overeager Pitspawn into a trap. Now, as to what trap that would be..."

He flipped a few pages and unfolded a printout of Sandhill's old storm drain turbines. Post-Elysium, Hope largely ran on a collection of mainland wind turbines as well as hydroelectric rotors positioned a few miles East of the Buck mansion, in the narrowest section of the Hillard's offered divide between island and mainland. The strong currents there guaranteed a year-long stable power output along with a minimal environmental impact. The strait was far too narrow and the resulting rapids far too tumultuous for the local salmon to not prefer to swim upstream, where the bedrock and flux created less of a saline environment. Previously, however, the city's decidedly nautical weather would've allowed for storm collection basins to be used to power fewer turbines - if individually more powerful ones.

"We've got two large gaping pits up north, that only Urban Exploration fanatics and my own people have ever set foot in for the past fifty years. Two hollow towers of rust, shadow, stagnant waters and pervasive darkness. There's an estimated twelve feet of putrid sewage runoff and acid rain deposits in there. Better yet, the turbines' mechanisms still work. We wouldn't exactly need to achieve a high RPM ratio for the gigantic blades in there to recreate their old vortex at the bottom - and to mulch and crush whomsoever or whatsoever we'd be so kind as to Shadow-Walk through to there."

Art inspected his fingernails. "Arch can say whatever he wants, I'm the one who has more of a yen for creative B&E. If you'll just step on through, say, this shadow over there," he said, pointing, "you'll end up in one of the old control rooms for the drains' blades. We've been re-wiring and re-soldering the place to some semblance of functionality ever since the Magnus fellow arrived in town."

* * *

Mister Kramp sniggered. "Ground rules, she says, while I've got my feet locked up in stone... Good one! You do kinda raise a fair point, though - ground rules are needed, in an endeavor like ours," he said, his demeanor going from carelessly whimsical to dark and tense within the same sentence. "Rules like this one, for starters: Don't let the Krampus get bored."

He shoved a bit at every one of those last words, Tom's conjured manacles cracking and flaking apart with each one. He focused on Meris with an almost animalistic snort. "Here's the deal, Queenie... Here's the sitch, the sit-rep: you give me a target, or I swear to Oberon's horns and Herne's spears that I'm gonna eat, drink, fuck and kill my way through this town long before the first demonic asshat crawls through Hell's rectum. Oberon thought I'd do ya good? Then let me do my job. If your Samigina screams out of sheer abject horror if he's locked away from the sea for too long, then I turn into a rat locked in a cage if you don't give me evil to smite."

The former demon then reached out and pulled Meris in, pressing his forehead against hers. "Sharpe's envoys in town - lemme at 'em, Queenie! You've got a war to win and you won't have time to spend clawing neighborhoods here or in Evergloam away from Secessionist asshats!"

He grinned, although the faintest whine rose from the base of his throat. "Three weeks without using my whips, Archmage - three weeks without blood! Three weeks without retribution... I need my  fix, Meris. I'll take anything, even if it's just slapping a rude kid's bum a few times!"

* * *

Billy opened his beer with the thumb of the same hand that was holding the can. "They didn't do much," he noted, shrugging as he took a sip, "they just wrote me to feed off of everything Charles Wynn wishes he coulda done. I mean, yeah, the bloke's worked with serial killers an' some other A-list bell-ends, but y'don't see what he's seen and not end up wishin' you could just pop one or two off," he said, replacing the word with the mouth-sound. Y'don't go through what he's been through and not wonder what it'd be like if y'didn't have ta humor ol' Tentacle Beard about stayin' in your lane or keepin' your distance," he said, snorting derisively and turning the sound into a brief cartoon snore. "He works his back off at the ER's Psych ward and with the Rothchilds' training kids, so it figures he's exhausted, too."

He sneered. "It's all nuts and kale and quinoa for an all-energy and no-taste diet that's frustrating his human genes. For Chrissakes, the first thing I wanted when I came to was a cheeseburger!" he admitted, snickering. Billy's glance then turned into a bit of a leer directed at Astra, and he bit the tip of his tongue. "I'd say more, but Squaredy Pants is in the back, tuggin' at the synapses... There ain't no words to it, but I can pick it up fairly well anyways."

Billy slowly opened his mouth and mimed snapping his jaw in a fairly suggestive manner. "I take a piece offa' Wifey here, and he's killin' the both of us off the first chance he gets. Too bad, Astra," he said, winking, "you really make those floral sheath dresses work..."

Astra looked like she was trying very, very hard not to look aghast. She was as pale as her skin tone allowed, however.

From behind the pachyderm, Lucian's dry and aged voice sounded. "Charles, please," he said. "This isn't you."

Billy's smile turned spastic, if not slightly murderous, and his voice turned to a mocking American accent as he looked over his shoulder. "Heya, Gramps! Want a do-over on that senility test?"

Lucian Rothchild looked even more haggard than the last Meris would've seen him, so that would've been a shocking devolution to Aspasia. The Void Weaver looked questing, as though he had a hard time ordering his thoughts. Tears brimmed Astra's eyes at that sight, but she forced herself to move forward. "I told you to stay in your room, Grandpa; I was going to bring the guests to you!"

The Void Weaver briefly looked puzzled as he gazed upon the Faun. "We were expecting guests?
- The Robertsons with info on Arkham," reminded the younger woman, which laboriously seemed to jog the elder Weaver's mind.

"The fellow from Providence, yes!" weakly exclaimed the Squid, chuckling as he did. On some level, even he looked relieved to see himself fully lucid again. Void Weavers weren't probably used to this sort of mental decay.

Astra looked back to the Fauness. "It's getting worse. At first I thought it was just his twilight setting in for once, or maybe that Void Weavers turned into natural Sundowners after long enough without Amaxi crediting them. Now - I don't know. Our geneticist friends in the family are horrified: Lucian's neurons are shedding their myelin sheaths. It's Alzheimer's crossed with an attack dog."
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