Chapter VI - Asunder

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 VI - Asunder

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:30 am

Archie stepped closer, perusing the blades the way someone else might've inspected fine jewelry. "I'm reminded of the small daggers our liaisons with the various Indian aristocracies sometimes kept. Here is a worn and well cared-for gurka..."

He then looked elsewhere, smirking at the slight of two lithe karambit knives. "This looks to be more Aidan's speed, but I'm starting to see their use...
- Has his Lordship considered scalpels?" asked Eustace, which made Archie lift an eyebrow. Eustace smirked.

"Easily palmed, concealable, lithe and responsive - the perfect tool for precision cuts," the Void Weaver said, a scalpel handle glinting as it seemingly slipped out of his right sleeve. He applied a twirl as he bent his arm to offer the small blade, the handle pointing forwards out of safety. Archie took the offered blade, lightly frowning as he tested its balance in his curved fingers.

"I can't help but wonder how you managed to contact Eiji," he then noted. "A storied Warring States-Era spy and assassin and a Fae, successfully contacted by the reinvented White Brotherhood..."

Eustace shrugged lightly. "Covert operations have had various staging grounds across History. You're familiar with late-Edwardian and Victorian-Era intelligence-gathering - and one of the first slaves to successfully rebel against Dalarath's authority was of Isma'ili Muslim origin, and a native of Alamut. Respite Point - and the Gentlemen's very roots - were founded upon the blood and sweat of our very first assassins; slaves that gave their lives so that the less fortunate might find a means of escape. It took a fair few generations for things to evolve to the point where our assassins were no longer kamikaze troops invested with a purpose, and where Delmar the Revered and his close collaborators could reasonably assume that their operatives would return from their scheduled hits."

Archie didn't look entirely convinced. "Assuming centuries of practice had paid off, who did you send to network with Katsumoto?"

Eustace kept smiling secretively as he loosened his bowtie and undid the first two buttons of his shirt, exposing a fine white line that cut across the base of his neck. "Mister Whitney sent me," he said. "I'm no Irwin Gard and certainly no Archie Holden, and I had to work against centuries of suspicion. The old boy did well in trying to instill his own observational skills - and suspicion - within the Urakawa clan, as he certainly made my job difficult."

The android snickered quietly at that. "So what clinched it, if I may?
- My turning very pleasantly conversational, with a blade pressed against my throat and another poised to sever my tendrils. He didn't expect earnest compliments coming from a cornered opponent."

Archie's smile was earnest, by now. "Knowing him, he must've been rather intrigued.
- Oh, a Loyalist would've ended up as overgrown takoyaki, of that I have no doubts," replied Eustace. "I earned a few superficial cuts, and a common sake-drinking friend.
- With the Snow Clan having been routed last winter," noted Archie, "how does he expect to assist you? I doubt he can afford to leave California, much less Japan."

Combs served himself a finger of Moscato. "Katsumoto's holdings have received massive capital injections from our shell companies, and a few new members of his board are operatives of ours that were already well-accustomed to Japanese-American idiosyncrasies. Nothing much has changed, but we've begun to network with America's Fae, or at least with those that swear fealty to London's thrones. In return, we shield our new friends from any Loyalist depredations that we can ferret out."

* * *

Liz seemed excited, as she led the pair across her research's division's allotted space and entered Arcane Research's own nook. "I can't confirm that you'll immediately figure out how to put it to good use, but it happens to line up with a few of their theoretical avenues of application... You'll see, I guess," she said, leading the pair to what looked to be a resting area penned in by a ring of workstations. The fountain looked peculiar, with what looked like a large cube, about the size of a small two-story building, floating above the main water spout, lazily spinning atop one of its corners. The cube's facets danced with odd pinpricks and flecks of light, as though they were silk screens hiding projectors of some persuasion.

"You can call this a fountain," she said, heading for one of the workstations, "but you'd only be half-right. This was one of the Architect's first gifts to my kind, after we rose forth. We call it the Codex - it's a kind of non-Euclidian and non-mathematical hard drive, to simplify things. Respite Point's people brought it up to the surface with them as fragments, and we've spent the last sixty years trying to recompile the master index file. We've lost a lot of data chunks to the Loyalists, but we were able to index enough of the Codex's contents to use the missing chunks as free space. We've begun uploading our own research to it, and using what our elders already knew from before our corruption to try and better our common causes."

On her screen, Liz brought up what looked like a piece of homebrew software, the Codex emitting a faint glow in response, and its balance point re-centering. Impossibly, a myriad smaller cubes began to extrude from its surfaces and whirled around the central mass, decreasing it until there was nothing left but a whirling array of concentric circles made out of spinning cubes. Depending on her commands, the cubes changed in their configuration, etching out symbols the researcher seemingly recognized.

"Alright," she muttered, "where is it, where did we put you..."

Occasionally, the cubes formed a larger square, diagrams flashing on its surface. Something made Pope's eyebrows twitch, the display surface winking to life with what looked like Destiny 2's character selection screen. She sighed in response. "Nerds will be nerds, I guess... Someone should issue a memo about wasting company resources.
- With this being non-mathematical data storage," quipped Zeb, "I highly doubt that someone using this thing as an excessively powerful video-gaming station could be seen as honestly detrimental. What's a few gigabytes of storage for someone who likely laughs in the face of Moore's Law?
- There's more important things to leave behind for future generations than someone's character build," she retorted, flicking away from the game screen. A few seconds later, her eyes lit up "Ah, there it is!"

What she brought up onscreen looked like a screenshot of someone's chalkboard, the formula that was scrawled onto it combining the structure of what looked like a mathematical equation with a few arcane symbols. Zeb's eyes narrowed as he parsed it, his ghostly lips briefly coming into view as he lightly puffed out some air. "Let's see; this is a basic Transmutation frame - I recognize Nicolas Flamel's alchemical syntax. These symbols, however - they're not the isolated Black Speech indices my volumes contained, but they seem germane, somehow..."

Liz smiled. "These are our original indices for Flesh and Bone, as principles. They're not corrupted, so they're safe for the both of you to view, don't worry. That third one refers to kinetic force, and the fourth, to the first group's hardness factor. This is just an example, but we could theoretically make living organisms react selectively to certain forms of force - or not react at all. A few more arguments in the code, and you could bring about, say, living Theriomorphs with the exact same degree of flexibility they've always had, but an apparent invulnerability to Brimstone weaponry and Hellfire-based ordnance. What's more, seeing as the Architect enables us to directly alter Reality's makeup, we could implement this change worldwide in a matter of moments.
- So why didn't you do it already?" asked Buck, which left Pope to smirk.

"We believe in a thing called disclosure, when it comes to our allies," she said. "As for why I'm targeting Therios; it's largely because your physical makeup is already accustomed to profound changes," she told Andrea. "I'm sure I could change your properties, essentially, without altering your DNA or your own natural physical qualities."

* * *

Hannibal looked as though he didn't quite trust his surroundings, perhaps expecting something more outwardly bucolic to crop out from behind one of the trees, or for its polar opposite to occur. Maybe some sudden marker of violence would unseat him from the vague impression that this was too good to be true, and would cement it as objective fact... A flock of doves, or a drive-by shooting? Either options would've deepened the vague dread he felt churning in his undead bowels.

Tom, on the other hand, glanced back at the weapons-toting angels and hesitated for an instant, before joining the other two. Uriel hadn't been in favor of the Circus' members being released, and he knew enough to know Heaven's principalities loved to let politics seep into standing plans or prior engagements. Half of his mind was trying to figure out how the younger Lightbringer would make his presence or influence known, the other half wondered if he so much as consider being so brazen in the face of Gabriel's edicts.

Still, the way ahead was as crowded as any other smaller park in Hope would've been, with the pedestrian traffic increasing as they reached the grinning bleakness of the Grimley Circus' big top tent, standing almost proudly beside a brand-spanking-new one that had been completely ignored. Some hapless angels had gone through the trouble of putting together everything, from new bleachers, to signposts, animal pens and caravans, only for it all to remain unused.

The bulk of the noise came from Horatio and his menagerie, who had taken to lifting him atop their arms in an impromptu body-surf, the addled Weaver's falsetto giggles dipping into wracked sobs of barely-restrained emotional vulnerability, his glee turning to expansive tears of release. For He's a Jolly Good Fellow, they chanted - all safe for Doctor Dickens, whose sight next to a contrite-looking Celestial cop made Tom hurry over.

"Doc!" he called. "Doc, it's Tom! If you're here and not back in Centennial Park, this means..."

Dickens looked down at his unharmed self and gripped Magnus by his shoulders. "I'm sorry, mister Magnus - there was nothing Sophia or Ciaran could do. I was out near the first trenches, triaging our wounded and turning who I could, when a Hellfire bolt hit me square in the head. I think Alana managed to drag my body back to the tunnels, but there wasn't enough left of my brain to so much as regenerate from that. The next thing I know, this striking young woman steps away from the survivors and asks me to follow her back outside. I did and, well... We rose up to here."

Tom briefly hugged Dickens. "I'm so sorry, Doc... I'm sure everyone did the best they could.
- I wouldn't be here if I hadn't left in peace," reassured the undead huckster-turned-physician. "The front is still holding, we've been kept abreast on everything that's happening with the others - there's still hope. Not so much for Arthur, I'd say - the camp losing its sawbones is one chip he didn't expect to see falling. Alana's not him, but she's more level-headed than he is. It feels like the one blow that was needed to have him step aside, let her play general with our frightened refugees. Things have improved a bit as a result, but being less needed's only put more stress on the younger Holden's particular affliction. He's beginning to suspect that Sophia and Ciaran are conspiring against him."

The Warlock lost a few shades of yellow, at those words, and dismay elongated his features. "Then we have to send all of you back," he said. "Horatio has his own reasons for wanting you back, but the park's camp needs to stand. If Allocer takes it, the Goat gets a token win where it all began. We can't let him get that much leverage!
- I agree," noted Dickens, "but there's the issue of Uriel's original edicts. We were to stay here to heal, and he and his cohorts don't agree that merely recovering from shell shock or the last few days' worth of trauma is enough - they want us freed from Lilith's boon as well as Lucifer's curse!"

Tom glanced towards the angel, outrage obvious in his eyes. "That's completely uncalled for - it's not your decision to make!
- I agree that it isn't mine," replied the angel, "nor is it the Lower Host's, but we can't ignore a Lightbringer's edicts. We'd need Lucifer's word to have enough leeway to ignore what still semantically counts as a curse - a blight we, as angels, are supposed to dispel out of care for your kind."

Calhoun stepped forward. "Hannibal Calhoun, counselor for Chicago's Shadow Commission - the Vienna Accords and the Constitution of the United States of America both state that my people's boons and incurred penalties have come to define our culture. To remove it is to subject us to erasure. If your peers are willing to turn corporeal to save the mortal plane, then they should also be willing to obey our laws."

The cop sighed and glanced at the sun. "The Creator hasn't spoken in favor of or against either option.
already have," reminded Gabriel, "and you'll stand down, Cherub. These people are leaving Heaven as soon as they've organized.
- But God hasn't - 
- God trusts us to administer Heaven, soldier. Our affairs are not Theirs to meddle in, and neither are the undead's.
- Then what's to say Uriel isn't right, if he isn't also attempting to administer justice in our realm?!"

Gabriel's jaw hardened. "There's justice, son, and then there's ignorance. I'll remind you that Uriel's total logged time in the mortal plane adds up to three months, in all of forty billion years. Have you ventured Below, soldier?"

The cop swallowed hard, Gabriel's eyes lightly gleaming in the shadow of his peaked cap. "Head back to the Seat, if you care enough - look for my statistics," he said. "I was there when sentience first touched Mankind, and I intend to be at their side once their Universe succumbs to heat death. There's also a difference between rote procedure and what God so generously gifted us with - the ability to intuit paths from pre-existing commands."

The beat cop steeled himself. "I was asked to tell you that if you went against Uriel's orders, you would be asked to attend a hearing, afterwards.
- As if politics scared me," replied the Archangel, snorting. "Schedule it, I'll be there. I always have and I always will."

Without turning around, he raised his voice louder than any human should have been able to. "GRIMLEY! Gather your troupe, we're leaving as soon as you're ready!"

It was only then that Tom noted how an outer ring of park-goers had slowly formed around them, all wrapped up in their own activities and all of them perfectly spaced apart from one another. In the back, the happy hoots and cackles turned to yelps and industrious babbling. "Carry only what you need, we've everything in the mortal plane!" shouted the Ringleader at his dispersing people, the Bearded Woman and Giant Baby of one of the troupe's former incarnations turning two wheeled concession stands into impromptu rickshaws for others to catch a ride on. The Giant Baby incongruously stopped in front of the others for a second.

"Are you people part of the show too?" he asked them, with an uncharacteristically low voice. He wasn't a baby at all, obviously, and instead was a worryingly obese Caucasian man that seemed to be devoid of any hair, with true undeath's corpselike pallor and Fester Addams-worthy permanent bruises around his eyes. He could've been voiced by John DiMaggio or Brad Garrett at their growliest that it wouldn't have made much of a difference.

"I'm askin' 'cause Mommy's curious, and also 'cause she's a little shy. I'm Orson, by the way - the World's Largest Baby."

Tom glanced down at the massive linen diaper and the festooned collection of pins that held it in place. He looked to probably want to add something about now not being the time or about his moniker being painfully obvious, but Hannibal sent him a quick and obvious glare. If Orson was childlike in any capacity, the last thing they needed was a miffed four-hundred-pound vampire refusing to pile-drive the spawn of Wrath because a smart-mouthed Warlock would've failed to feign interest.

It looked like Tom caught the hint, and he glanced at Aislinn; plastering an awkward smile on his face as he did. "Um - wow! The name fits, you're one heck of a big boy!"

Orson parted with a weirdly low titter at that, going back to push his loaded cart with large and waddling steps. "Say hi, ma!" he asked of his mother, giving the group an apparently toothless grin. The surrounding noise swallowed what a small, bitty old woman sitting on the cart shouted at them, but its lilting tone suggested she'd gone for something nice and appropriately motherly. That done, Tom could only mutely request for an update from Dickens, as his shrug made obvious. As for Phineas, he seemed more amused than anything else.

"Orson and Ma - the World's Largest Baby and Smallest Woman - at least if you believed the posters," he said, smirking. "Most of us know they're not related, either by genetics or by our blood; Alora and Horatio sired them, respectively. Orson, we got first, during a show in Nebraska. He'd been a small-time rustler and moonshiner, one who got it in his fool head that Alora had been making passes at him. Being pushed back by a supernaturally strong Snake Woman wasn't enough, so we inducted him in our family. Ma followed a few months later, the old, shrunken-down and withered crone for a pack of fundamentalists come to curse us from the front bleachers. She heckled Horatio a bit too much, so he obliged her after the show..."

Tom tried not to squirm. "How did they click together, then?
- Orson was as docile as a cow and just as mindless, until she came along. He drank from whoever we'd stick in front of him, ate whatever he could get his hands on, and showed us how one of his quirks was his still having a working digestive system, even if all other biological processes had stopped. She was just as glass-eyed for the first few nights, and then we sort of forgot we'd stuck them in the same caravan, for a few hours. By the time Konrad remembered and went to check on them, they'd created these new roles for themselves and had turned almost symbiotic. Orson doesn't remember a thing from before he met Ma, and she's convinced her giving birth to him killed her - and turned the both of them into vampires, somehow."

* * *

The trolls took notice of both women, failing to keep eyes on the now-successfully struggling Regis. Aspasia's conjured light glowed in his mouth and then winked out as it followed the bend of his esophagus, his small troll arms and legs filled with a strength he wouldn't have believed he could summon on his own. One or two smaller wasps were seen following closely behind, but this was still a far cry from the expected dark swarm. He freed his lips from Morgana's fingers, clenched them shut and kept pushing. The woman's features changed, going from her eerie tenderness to steely determination, and then to rising fury.

"I will never... be someone else's thrall!" cried Woodford in defiance, Morgana hissing as she pushed back, her features turning pallid and sickly, hair turning wild and matted with dirt and twigs, delicate fingers turning into gnarled appendages.

"Wilds take you!" spat the Queen in response, Regis continuing to gain in leverage. "What you've forced down my throat in the wake of Meris' light... I will gladly use against you!"

One last push, and the paunchy green man in bush-hunter khakis negotiated a seemingly impossible upwards kick-flip from his previously horizontal position, pushing himself away from the Queen even as his feet harshly connected with her chin. Woodford's now-diminutive frame twisted in mid-air like a lifelong gymnast's, and he landed beside his still too-large rifle. Eyes narrowing, he picked it up with a growl, ears pinned against the back of his skull. Power of his own seemed to flow out of his hands, the firearm shrinking and lightly changing under a greenish glow. The butt and stock's varnish flaked off and fell away, taking on the knotted and greenish tint of living wood, the polished brass aging by apparent decades in the span of moments, verdigris adding to the now-enchanted weapon's texture. The tiny buds of sprouting branches pushed out of the wood, while the firearm shrank down to troll-appropriate dimensions.

Garvey's amusement had turned dark. "We's gonna eat'cha, mon," he groused at Woodford, adding a leer for effect. "Nobody touches da Boss Lady!
- I like to set precedents!" hissed back the hunter, a leer of his own partially hidden behind the weapon's stock. He fired and worked the weapon's handle, a lancet of greenish-white light bursting out of the muzzle, and impacting with Garvey with what felt like the force of a careening horse. The troll wasn't injured so much as he was blown away, the bullet seemingly carrying him and his screeching protests far off into the forest's canopy. The other two trolls held their pose, latent attacks made far less attractive by the force of the newborn troll's response. Keeping them and Morgana in his sights, this led to the odd sight of a barely four-feet tall green man with flaring ear pinna and a Colonial hunter's garb - almost worthy of a seasonal World of Warcraft character design - holding much taller people behind him, apparently for their own safety. He bent down and recovered his pith helmet, all the while without letting their enemies leave his aiming range.

"We're leaving," he said, "and none of you can stop us!
- You impudent fool," hissed Morgana, "you have no place in their world - you've died in Great Britain's eyes centuries ago! The only place you still held purpose in was here!"

Naberius sniffed contemptuously. "We'll let Society be the judge of that - and we'll leave you to your Wilds. Commander, if you please...
- With pleasure," replied the troll, teeth clenched, indecision then creeping into his features.

"How do I open Gates?" he asked, Morgana and the trolls grinning in sadistic amusement, once they realized he didn't know. It took Amducias' light clearing of his throat for tension to break.

"Imagine you're a composer, and you're working on a song's bridge," he said. "You've got the melody, the chorus, the lyrics - but there's this bloody spot where two bars turn to six and you're just-"

He made a face. "Stumped, I guess. Right knackered. So you faff about, ideally work on a few other things for a while and then, while you're doin' dishes or heading to bed or doing some other completely unrelated thing - there it is, so obvious you'd punch it if it were a person. You open a Gate by bein' in that exact state, an' focusin' on the way forth bein' opened."

Morgana and the trolls closed in. "Not that it matters - none of you are leaving," taunted the Queen of the Wilds.

At those words, however, a flash of Hellfire motes made her and the trolls blink, as Amduscias had seemingly conjured a Fender Flying V for himself. It didn't look to be plugged into anything resembling an amplifier, naturally, but it didn't stop the instrument's chords from rumbling with a low and maintained C-sharp.

"In my case," noted Amduscias, seemingly ignoring Morgana, "I like my bridges a tad on the bluesy side..."

Followed a short solo that had the benefit of leaving Morgana and the trolls rather perplexed, leaving them open when the Prince of Pleasure hammered out a final power chord, a massive shockwave erupting out of him. It barely affected their group, but seemingly barreled through their enemies with the force of a large explosion, flattening trees around them.

That done, he sniffed and glanced about. "Piss-poor audience, as wagered... Now grab that nonexistent handle, Reggie-boy, and walk us outta here right quick, if you please."

Three set a few fingertips on Regis' shoulder as the huntsman and newborn troll hesitantly raised a hand in the space Siv's had occupied. "We're all right here, Commander - the gatekeeper's not after you. You'll be safe."

He then glanced at the others. "Single file, folks - and get your defenses ready, there's no telling how much time's actually passed on Earth. If we're not lucky, Thorn's had time enough to force our coming out of Siv and he'll have prepared a welcoming party."

Isaacs grumbled. "If we really aren't lucky, we'll have missed everything and Earth will have been reduced to the Goat's summer retreat.
- Can it, Isaacs," warned Drake, "remember that we're heading back to Faerie as soon as we'll have gotten some form of clearance for London's Faeside. We have as many chances of stepping out of here just a few seconds after Siv. If that happens, we'll have more than enough time.
- I admire your positive attitude," snidely replied the mad scientist.

* * *

Melmoth could only shrug at that. "I guess - but do you really want to push Angel Time that far back, honestly? I mean, there's a reason why ninety-nine point-six percent of the Host stick to this one timeline," he said, poking the table with an index finger, "and only ever dip pinkies and baby toes in Causality. We might have the luxury of being able to stop and rewind the tape and watch Director's Cuts and Redux Editions that mortals won't ever take a gander at, but ultimately? What's done is done, hon - and no amount of power's ever gonna change that. Lincoln and JFK get shot, Marie-Antoinette acts like a Reality Show prima donna and gets cancelled by Paris' mobs, hapless UN researchers get sucked into a singularity two parsecs out of Paradise and spend ten thousand years in a pocket dimension turning into Space Wizards..."

He clicked his tongue. "Everything's got a price. Sometimes it's a fun one, sometimes you're glad to pay it, and you'd pay it a hundred times over. Other times, like what's happening now, you can feel the world shifting, and it's like your own bones are doing the popping. It hurts, and it hurts bad. I'm gonna be, well, stereotypically demonic for a sec, and say that's the one thing Greed ever gets right. Everything's got a price."

* * *

"She's still newly risen," noted Quinn, "she's focused on chasing after the Ordo Dracul or the Carmilla - anyone with fangs and a daytime routine. I've done what research I could, but nothing I found suggests she bothered to learn to really key into the body's senses. She's not the most thorough of possessing spirits, seeing as she'll only be satisfied once she's like my father or Sasha Grey."

Leonard glanced outside the booth. Bathory was still sitting on her sofa, and now was entertaining two human and anthro couples. The second one involved a young feline number, barely past her twenty-fifth birthday, and an anthro cobra that made the goat's eyes briefly bulge.

"Francis Quigley's with her," he said. "What's he doing here; he gave most of his power away to save Lucian Rothchild!"

Magnus glanced in the same direction, grunting thoughtfully as he did. "This is a man who's spent the last two World Wars and Elysium's invasion pandering to the conquerors, all the better to take them out from within. Chronically self-infatuated and now frustratingly close to being a bottom-tier hedge mage - I could see him petitioning the would-be local Queen of the Damned and Deputy Chief. One outburst of selflessness wouldn't be enough to change the fact that re-claiming immortality for himself is a more tempting prospect than any graceful exit."

Quinn observed the scene for a few moments. "I don't know - why did he carry a bundled-up Muslim prayer rug with him?" she said, lightly jerking her chin in the booth's direction.

Haraldson took another look, his eyes narrowing as he did. "He's not here to bargain for his own sake, then - he's here to parley his jinn out of the HPD's grasp, or to defer to a threat of Elisabeth's..."

Leonard filled in the blanks. "Be my arcane muscle and I'll let you wish for more power, I'd wager, at which point he'd turn heels, blast her into the next continent and reassert his covenant with Khadim Aswad..."

Harker scoffed lightly. "You've done your homework, mister Ephesian...
- We can all help each other," he continued. "Let's start with seduction, then move on to attacks she'll be able to easily counter. He'll have to prove his apparent goodwill towards her, and he'll restrain us somehow. Knowing him, he'll put two and two together and help us take her down once her defenses are lowered."

The Draugr and goat exchanged a look, and then looked to both women. "We'd better defer to the both of you ladies," noted Leonard. "I'd have smelled gerontophilia on her if either of us had an immediate chance."

Quinn glanced outside and then back at Nami. "You take left, I take right? We meander around for a few minutes, avoid making it look like we're deliberately getting closer, grab drinks and sit in. It'll give the bitch enough time to lower her inhibitions and enough for Quigley to run his mouth."
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Fri Oct 04, 2019 7:51 pm

Crystal raised an eyebrow. "Is there any means of contacting those within his board members, in case we might be able to aid them or vice versa? With the incursions taking place globally, it would be prudent to have a means of communication with them."

***

Aislinn seemed unphased at the odd pair and shrugged. "It takes all kinds. That's free will for you. Seemingly unlikely sorts team up together and end up making something amazing. It could be any type of relationship, so if it works and as long as everyone's agreeable to it, who cares? That's why we're in this mess to begin with: anti-free will types against those who favor it. We're not toys to be merely arranged just so to fulfill someone else's wishes."

***

Andrea scoffed lightly. "Wow, that's incredible. Though, I can see how people might not wanting to changed on a fundamental level without having acknowledged it and giving their permission. History's full of events and people who took action without letting others know, and then they wonder why they might be painted in a negative light later on," she scoffed.

***

"We're not done yet, people. We've made it this far, and we're going to fight hard to get back to Hope to win the fight," encouraged Meris, letting her gathered powered remain as it was in order to attack whoever or whatever might be on the other side of the Gate.

Likely due to her current state as a Wyldfae, Aspasia readied her bow instead of her rifle. "Right, that's all the more reason to persevere despite the odds. We can't let them win and we're playing for keeps. There's no place for half-heartedness here," she said to those present.

***

Abdiel sighed. "I know. I'm venting more than anything else, Mel. Thrones can experience the same fatigue that mortals can. Only difference is we know we can't just throw in the towel and that things will improve eventually. I suppose God designed us as something of a balance to the other rungs in the first Choir of the Seraphim and Cherubim. Their respective lacks of humanity are equalized by our regard for mortals despite our eldritch forms and abilities. We tend to think that previous Tools of Creation potentially lacked sentience and the ability to adapt and grow, so it was a gift to receive those at our own creation. Of course, it also comes with the pitfalls of facing strife. As you said, everything has a price. I wouldn't trade what I have now for anything, but it's nice to have someone be a listening ear for when I need to express my human frustrations," the angel said with a smile toward him.

***

Nami smiled. "Sounds like a plan to me," she responded cheerfully despite the dire stakes. In preparation, she sobered up and developed a sultrier appearance. Her dark hair gained more of an alluring sheen, her lips appeared as dew-kissed on top of the red lipstick. It must have been her angelic inheritance adapting to the situation, but she became even more a Gothic ideal with the subtle shifts in light and demeanor.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Fri Oct 11, 2019 6:19 pm

Eustace lifted a hand out of both emphasis and reassurance. "We've already taken the liberty of reminding the venerable CEO of his distant friends here in Texas, as well as Rhode Island. You shouldn't be surprised if the Archimedes' landing pad is eventually solicited by a modern shuttle out of California, or if the Frosthall's own Gate to your beau's residence is put to good use. Encrypted phone calls or the use of burner phones shouldn't come as a surprise, either - Katsumoto is as much of a spy as my brethren and myself happen to be."

Then came a head tilt, as if in allowance of a moderating factoid. "We'll try and keep things as openly cordial and diplomatic as possible, of course.
- We're both friends," surmised Holden, "it would be a shame to squander chances to have us sit at the same table again.
- Well, I have it on good authority that Eiji highly enjoyed working with the both of you, the last time you met," said Coombs, who looked between the werewolf and android. "I've gathered that Lord Holden here is the only man he dares to tease in the way he does."

That left Archie with a lopsided smirk. "I shudder to think of the epithets he'll find to describe my new body: I would not put it past him to ask me if I've entertained the idea of playing Solitaire or FreeCell behind closed eyelids-"

He'd been about to chuckle when his eyes turned to the reddish-orange of the assistive AI's presence, annoyance immediately flaring in his features. "Oh quiet, you!" he told nobody in particular, his grip on his cane shifting as he spoke, leaving him to briefly heft it by the main shaft at about his chest's height, as if to angrily shake the pommel at someone. "You'd think one of the leading providers of armature technology would have cornered the market on assistive intelligences able to recognize sarcasm!"

His eyes then shifted back to their LED-simulated verdigris halo, annoyance replaced with self-consciousness.

"Apologies, mister Coombs - my new shell comes with a few undesired features I apparently am still reliant on for the immediate future..."

Eustace looked more amused than anything else. "Not to worry - we've saved a few of our numbers between the Gaslight Era and the current day through armature technology. I know how certain thresholds can be hard to cross, having seen some of my friends go through with it. If your assisting agent is true to its programming, it shall eventually self-terminate and flag its own code for formatting."

* * *

"How wonderfully progressive of you," noted Hannibal, his eyes severely taking in the ring of bystanders that had formed around the camp as it rallied. "You'll have to forgive the barbs, miss McConmara - I simply find it difficult to openly agree in the presence of someone who doesn't..."

At those words, Tom glanced back at Gabriel and then back at the throng, eyes narrowing. He kept his arms at his sides, only for one of his hands to reflexively slip away behind his back. Aislinn would feel him gather some power from their surroundings, but not enough to constitute a fireball or a gout of flame. He seemed more concerned about ensuring he wouldn't have to fully charge a salvo out of nothing, if and when an attacker manifested.

One by one, the new bystanders walked by them, glancing up to them with a hard glance as they did. One of them had a soft smile hanging below twin flecks of dappled shale, his angular features looking like a slightly scruffier take on Michaelangelo's David. His hair was a loose ash-blonde early-eighties' 'do, framing dark and delicate eyebrows and a slightly Grecian nose. A white shirt was kept loosely buttoned, slim-fit denim pants waiting below. The denim blouse he wore looked like an afterthought, while his being conspicuously barefoot looked like an obvious signal for something. What that might be, however, it looked like only Gabriel immediately recognized.

"Uriel," he said, nodding slightly. As he did, some strange family resemblance seemingly clicked into place, as if the commander of Heaven's armies were an uncle or a distant father to the Lightbringer boys.

The angel didn't immediately acknowledge the others and turned to briefly observe the hubbub that was involved in the camp's dismantling. "Is this what strikes you as being so poignant about the mortal plane, Gabriel?" he asked, his question carrying not the slightest hint of malice or contempt. "Their industriousness, their tenacity?"

Stormy eyes turned to Aislinn, a disarmingly humble smile curling under them. "Our Father does have an eye for beauty, however - that much is obvious."

Gabriel's smile had no mirth in it. "Is there something we can assist you with?
- Of course," noted the younger Lightbringer. "I've come to appeal to your senses, old friend. Let these poor wretches stay here - their earned peace is our prerogative, after all.
- It's their choice," nuanced the Archangel. "Lilith and Lucifer had their reasons, and as much as I mourn every death caused by irresponsible undead throughout the ages, you know as well as I do that everything has its place in Creation."

He paused for emphasis. "Everything, Uriel. From death to mortal suffering, to those Void Weavers who could hurt us so. If God had wanted to change Creation's parameters, They could have done so a hundred times over."

Uriel looked vaguely hurt. "They. Honestly, Uriel, you take too much after these creatures. Our Father's will may be absolute, but I don't believe it holds any place for beings both dead and alive, for superhumans drawing upon living blood to sustain their heritage."

He looked back to the tent. "Our arguing semantics doesn't matter, in the scheme of things. What matters is that I've felt him, Gabriel. I've felt my brother for the first time in millennia - and he is carving a path through the Universe, straight towards that little blue planet you take so much after. You know what follows in his wake."

Gabriel grunted. "I know what you think follows in his wake, Son of the Mid-Day, and I also know I'll have to stop you from acting on it."

Uriel pushed his hands in his pockets and worked his toes, as if delighting in the way the blades of grass tickled them. "A strange thing for you to say, seeing as you helped me prosecute the Fallen, all these centuries ago...
- I might be looking for a better outlook on Lucifer's acts, Uriel," countered Gabriel, "but it doesn't change the fact that those of us who'd abused of his offerings needed to be dealt with. They couldn't be left to tangle in mortal lives - for once, your opposing your brother and my rallying with you answered an imperative we both shared."

Uriel smiled knowingly. "My only concern was Creation's integrity, Gabriel. Yours was Mortalkind's well-being. A small, if important distinction."

Gabriel looked miffed. "Are you here to lecture my friends, Daystar?"

The younger angel looked back to Aislinn. "I'd rather hear from someone who still had a foot in your preferred province, until not so long ago. Do you believe the Moon-Mad are owed rest and respite, Aislinn McConmara?"

Tom's concealed hand was lowered and placed back into view. "That's sophistry in the making, Uriel. Everyone is owed rest - but rest is earned.
- I didn't address you, Hellspawn," replied the angel, his disdain verbalized so openly and honestly - without an ounce of contempt - that it left the incubus blinking.

* * *

Pope raised a curled finger. "Ah - Thank you," she said. "That's as polite a warning as I expected. You'll have to forgive my peers if a few others eventually make similar offers; being transhuman is more or less part and parcel of Void Weaver identity. Privacy concerns tend to focus on our own thoughts and experiences, and not so much on our genome or physical makeup. We have horror stories and legends about what past Augurs of Dalarath could do to themselves, and part of me wonders what'll happen to Keystone once the Architect fully empowers him."

Zeb frowned lightly. "Keystone?
- Oops," replied Liz with a slightly awkward smirk, "that's our codename for Nereus Marinos," she explained, then catching herself again. "I mean - the man you might be more familiar with as Xenophon Thanos. Meris' husband, the last Augur of Dalarath and, supposedly, a man on the run as of the incursions."

The lich seemed intrigued. "If body modification was always part of your culture, why did frescoes and etchings in the books I consulted depict you as frail?"

Pope shrugged as she browsed the Codex for something else. "Frailty and general decrepitude tend to flatter the Loyalists' sense of devotion. Not everyone has money, power or time enough to afford to wither away, however. They can't oppose us if they sit on their thumbs and just - glorify their dead gods. It always starts small, though, like Nereus' surviving several mycotoxin poisoning attempts or his heart and lungs being bolstered enough to handle the body habitus Harrogath imposed on him."

Then came a chuckle. "Nobody here imagines Marinos going musclebound, but the last chronicles from Delmar the Revered's predecessors speak of War Augurs, high priests of the Architect taking our maker's words to the battlefield and wherever more practical applications were needed. They stood with the First Consort in the faithful's last surface-world battle and pulled down stars from the night sky."

Buck's eye socket ridges shot up. "Impressive.
- Yeah, well, most scholars in our group think it's just a flowery way of presenting fireballs. Sol is about average-sized as far as stars go, and it could swallow the Earth whole. Forcing a full-blown star to make contact with the planet's atmosphere would kill us."

Zeb shrugged lightly. "Well, obviously. Nothing could take so much heat and survive.
- I'd worry more about ionizing radiation if that ever happened, honestly," she said. "We'd be long dead even before the sun's heat would start sizzling the planet's surface. Back to my gift idea, though: how would my imbuing a single one of you sound like? As I've explained, the syntax doesn't guarantee invulnerability, just an added layer of resistance against Hell's typical ordnance."

* * *

Hope's Gates had always had the convenience of being obvious to those in the know: a door acted like a door should, it simply led to a different place, in relation to what was effectively behind the enchanted pane. This, however, was different. Opening thin air seemed to require an unusual amount of focus from Regis, and stepping through, strangely enough, wouldn't register. The group went from the Wilds' cloying heat to whistling winds, there was a vague sense of immensity, of the surface they stood on being narrow, like a slit of maintained Reality in the middle of a gulf of non-possibility-

Hardwood floors and Neo-Colonial walls slammed into their senses, the tick-tock of a grandfather clock appearing oddly antagonistic in the dim noise of what looked to be a small cottage. Three didn't recognize the street outside. The passing cars still showed a front license plate, as is common across Europe. Things only clicked into place once he saw the books scattered on the coffee table: they were somewhere in Sweden, in what looked like a suburban area.

Naberius had been about to speak, when both Woodford and Drake motioned for silence. A few eyes looked upwards: there were hushed voices coming from upstairs.

Drake reached out to Meris, Regis and Aspasia. "Upstairs office. Three voices: two female, one male. Woodford, Asp - you're on me. Everyone else stays down here."

That done, he conjured both his pistols and handed one to Aspasia silently. "Short-range," he sent. "A bow wouldn't help in here."

One of the female voices would be familiar to Aspasia: she was pleading, possibly with her teeth clenched over a rising sense of desperation, a bit of a Southern Belle twang affecting otherwise crisp words.

"Sharpe paid you well, Nodin - I'm asking you as a business associate! Please, let me through!"

Thorn's voice had a bit of a German or Scandinavian bent to it, smoothed over by centuries spent speaking English in a variety of dialects. It gave him a bit of a Eurotrash sound, neither quite American or recognizably European. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Owens. It isn't my problem if you didn't foresee Phineas leaving your operative cell to rot when Hope fell. You failed him, as I was told, and have been recognized as expendable.
- And you haven't?! This is patent nonsense!"

A pause. "I haven't, miss Owens, as all I've done is provide my services. I know better than to drink from that poisoned cup of his, my dear.
- Then why go through all this trouble to have Morgana trust you with her paths in the Wilds?!
- Sharpe is her puppet, miss Owens. He isn't mine. My relationship with Morgana isn't something I'll develop on - not in your presence."

Owens exhaled noisily, rage expressed without words. "What about her?
- Siv is a game piece of mine," replied the voice. "A sacrificial pawn to draw out my opponent's first few moves.
- Oh, will you stop being so cryptic, already?!"

Thorn chuckled at that. "We're both of Faerie, my dear. What are we, if we aren't cryptic to the mortals? That anger of yours is all I needed to see - your ambitions have grown far too provincial under the vulture's auspices.
- And yours aren't," she replied, sarcasm dripping forth. "You who took to the waters and the Wilds, and who Swinburne inexplicably avoids..."

A chair was heard creaking. "I don't need lessons in sadism, miss Owens - none of my kind do. All Swinburne could teach me would amount to useless affectation and coquetry."

Upstairs, a short hallway led to an office, while another broke off into what looked like a bedroom and bathroom. Dark wallpaper covered the bedroom's walls, and what little they'd be able to see of it looked to be situated at the intersection of Spartan and Tasteful. The bathroom's door was ajar, its slit showing a more luxurious space. Water obviously had to be of some importance to a brook horse, judging by the large therapeutic tub it contained. Three was careful to remain out of the beam of light that shone forth from underneath the office's closed door, and he urged the troll and Transgenic to frame the door with a few head nods.

* * * 

The Broker returned her smile, gazing into Abdiel's eyes for a few moments. "The real injustice," he then said, "is how we're both so human at our core, and how we're asked to act as either figments of an absolute, or an absolute in and of itself. I've got my mojo, my glitz and glam - but deep down? I'm angry and afraid, Abbie," he said. "You don't know how good it feels to see someone who's technically above my station and who feels exactly like I do. I don't have to pop my suspenders, rock on my heels and pretend everything's fine."

Muted footfalls made him glance off to the side, a flash of annoyance passing through him as a young waiter stood at attention, having cooed basic Teutonic pleasantries. Seated here with Abdiel, Melmoth had been feeling less hungry than expected. His suddenly quailing guts felt like a show of weakness or some sort of perceived betrayal, and he settled with muttering his order of a plate of Tafelspitz with mashed potatoes.

Once Abdiel would've placed her order, Mel watched the waiter walk off and then cleared his throat, his posture shifting slightly, almost like he were leveraging his negotiator's skills to compensate for what looked like emotional vulnerability. "Can I, uh, put my cards on the table?" he asked, clearly rhetorically. 

Hands steepled together near his chest, he straightened again. "I might've spent too much time down here, maybe I'm getting too soft or maybe what's happening is what should happen, but - I really, really, really like you, Abdiel. We've been thick as thieves since the incursions, and all I could think of while we saved these poor folks in Israel is how your fire worked well with my smoke. I'm an artful dodger by trade and you - you're Fire, passion made flesh. I've got my own fire, sure, but it's this tiny ember that's needed thousands of years to turn into what you've freed from the Goat's grasp. It's grown, sure, and it's as big a fire as they come - but I'm this big jolly summer bonfire standing next to a freaking supernova."

He sighed, seemingly dropping previous reservations. "Alright, so - would you sock me into the next solar system over if I kissed you?"

* * *

The two men remained behind in the immediate, leaving the Nephilim and half-breed to take to opposite sides of the club's floor. Quinn stuck to the outer edge, weaving somewhere between the dance floor and the narrow band of worn flooring that served as the bar and lounge areas combined. She spared a cryptic smile here, an alluring sideways glance there, and worked her father's bloodline and the charms he tended to ignore to her best benefit, cadging a free White Russian from a bewitched barman without losing her step. Before long, she stood at an oblique angle from the Deputy Chief's raised platform and pretended to cat-eye various dancers or party-goers of both sexes. What she really was doing, of course, was paying attention to what was being said between Amazo and Bathory...

"You and I both want the same things, Elisabeth," he told her. "Prosperity and order. I gave of myself to save this town - twice, now - and I'm usually left to sit by the sidelines as the local second-least-eccentric arcane whiz. I lost a pupil to a glorified Hellspawn in stolen flesh that's now posing itself as the Martin Luther King of disaffected Pit natives, and the thing that took half of my power is twisting Reality in ways I didn't think were possible. I have every reason to stand here before you."

The dark-haired woman smirked and lifted a champagne glass to her lips, barely wetting them. "I've studied you, Francis Herbert Quigley - as per Lord Allocer's decree. You would have shone like a beacon in Pride's thralls, in your inconstancy and self-serving disposition. Even today, as a lesser man, you come to me in opera regalia, and you ply base mortal charms to surround yourself with flesh. I know you danced the same dance for the Nazis; you walked the same steps for Elysium. You'll forgive me if I ask where you've stashed the proverbial dagger."

Lifting a finger, Amazo produced the bundled rug. "There isn't one. Not this time. You already took the Black Servant from me, and I know you've tried to awaken his powers. Solomon's decree has it so that only a jinni's master can command them."

Bathory's eyes glinted. "You would give us your spirit's jail, his phylactery - and trust us to enable you? I don't know if you're plotting something, wizard, or being deliberately obtuse."

Amazo looked uncomfortable as he sat between two of the Blood Countess' hanger-ons. "I'm aging again, Countess. That's the other thing we have in common. We both want out from the tyranny of rot and decay.
- For vastly different reasons," she noted. "I doubt you'd remain as agreeable as soon as your old mantle - or something close to it - would be bestowed upon you. Besides, I want power. You, however? You're simply scared. Dispel me from my shell, and my creditor will send me back in due time."

Quigley looked desperate. "What could I say to convince you? You know there's certain things I won't consider, but beyond them..."

Something seemed to pass between the two of them, like a burgeoning sense of understanding, or perhaps the sense that a pact was taking shape in Bathory's mind.

"Stay here and shield me, then," she said. "Your betrayal seems obvious, but I'm expecting it, at least. You know how my circles run - if I can't let you wish your powers back into form from your toady, then all you need is a pair of fangs with more empathy than I have to spare.
- I'd be a vampire, then," he opposed. "Not an Archmage."

Elisabeth looked vaguely amused. "How little you know, poor garter snake... That almost makes me want to have you turned by force, so the extent of your ignorance is made manifest."

Harker kept her hands low, but a few fingers flashed with enough intent for Nami to notice: Who goes first? she asked nonverbally.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Sun Oct 13, 2019 11:34 pm

Crystal shrugged. "Maybe instead of considering those features as an inconvenience, you could get it to learn human intricacies, like sarcasm? The providers obviously put them there for a reason," she mused. "Rather than considering a hindrance, look for the possible ways you can turn it to your benefit."

***

Aislinn took in Uriel's bare feet and overall hippie feel, along with his question geared toward her. He was someone with good intentions but an essentially clueless understanding of humanity. Instead, he thought it best to substitute this lack of understanding with his own alien views.

She wondered if he would try to benignly twist her words, regardless of how she would answer. She didn't figure he'd suddenly change his opinions on the vampires, but she felt obligated to respond anyway. "I do think the Moon-Mad deserve rest when it's earned. However, I don't think your idea of rest is the same as what they need, when the time comes. Gabriel called you Daystar, a reference to the sun at its zenith. Its brilliance can leave it ignorant to the damage it can potentially cause to its surroundings. The situation with the Moon-Mad is the same. There's more risk possibly if you expose them too much to Heaven's idea of peace. Their madness is a gift, rather than a flaw. It may not seem that way to you, but there are many forms of blessing that don't necessarily follow celestial prerogatives. The Moon-Mad should be able to decide how they want to spend eternity, much like how you allow mortals to decide how they want to spend their existence in the afterlife. By doing so, you might gain some useful and much needed insight."

***

Andrea's brows shot up partially and let out a whistle of being impressed. "It could be a fireball they were talking about, but it could be something else entirely that's unknown. Also, who's the First Consort? I heard that Meris was Nereus's consort, but I doubt they're related other than the title..."

***

Aspasia gratefully took the pistol from Three and tucked the bow back where it had been. Deirdre Owens' familiar voice made the Fauness' lips curl in annoyance. She quietly sidled up to the door and listened closely with her keen hearing, curious to learn more about Owens' plight. Who was after her? All would be told in time as she had her gun at the ready to hopefully help Siv and find a gate to London.

***
Having noticed his irritation while ordering, she quickly gave a response of Eintopf and thanked the waiter. She listened intently as he admitted his feelings. All the while, she kept an indecipherable expression. Upon hearing his suggestion, she opted to throw him for a bit of a loop.

While the Broker might have assumed that the Throne would be angry, she instead leaned in with a smile. Her cheeks glowed with a slight brilliance, as though a candle lit her skin from behind. "No, not at all. In fact, consider me intrigued."

***

Nami didn't have the vampiric allure that Harker did, but she presented her own beckoning aura. For angels, they had a presence that might give mortals a sense of awe or attraction, but Nami had learned to tweak it just slightly to veer toward the side of sensual. Like the bounty hunter, she had found herself a strawberry daiquiri by way of an entranced patron paying for her drink and then forgetting her as thought she had never been at the bar. She skirted the dance floor and writhed along with dancers of different genders, emitting more of that dark radiance she had displayed earlier. As time passed, she gradually ventured further in Bathory's line of sight while seeming to not pay attention to her, following the flow of the pulsing music.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Mon Oct 21, 2019 10:33 am

Archie grunted. "Evidently, I'll need more time. I've only had this body for a few hours, patience is warranted. As for teaching an AI sarcasm, you'll forgive my Victorian skepticism towards the likes of Siri and Bixby."

Coombs shrugged as he re-buttoned his shirt and reset his bowtie. "Our operatives in Paradise are beginning to paint a frightening portrait: quasi-human intelligence falling prey to Loyalist influence - all within the boundaries of the station's closed-off atmosphere. Earth has clear ethical boundaries that leave you with assisting software agents that mimic courteousness without emergent behavior. Beyond the gravity well, these well-meaning boundaries disappear."

Archie looked a bit confused. "You'll forgive me if I seem slightly lost; my age sometimes betrays my relative newness to some of these questions..."

The sommelier rocked on his heels for a second or two. "Imagine Sir David Naughton, head of the armature manufacturer of the same name, at the height of his and of the British Empire's glory. His brass, wood and copper men and women are dotting the whole of Europe, Asia and the Colonies. Imagine that in the face of mounting pressure, he succumbs to basic imperatives in the same way the Japanese engineers of the Feudal era once did. The Clanks start looking less and less human, increasingly utilitarian - and the piloting souls within are increasingly distorted by the pressure of their physical selves."

The spy looked rightfully displeased. "That would have cost Naughton the House of Lords, at the very least!" he noted. "Today, he would have been tried for gross negligence, as was Frank Lambert of IsoTech!"

Eustace nodded. "That is what a functioning legal system affords us, milord. Paradise is a writhing mob ruled over by common sense that sometimes falls prey to short-term gain, especially since Terran influence has taken root inside its hull. Profit has a particular allure, and Paradise remains blind to the ways in which our enemies may benefit from it."

Archie tried to take a leap of logic. "So, then, artificial intelligence is a clear threat...
Recklessly developed intelligence is a clear threat," noted Coombs. "True AI is an inevitability, as was genetic engineering - but it being developed responsibly falls entirely on our shoulders. Your on-board agent is no threat in and of itself, but you've been exposed to Eldritch forces, of late. A great many things could turn this benign hassle of yours into an altogether different problem."

* * *

"I would offer them this choice if I had a clear notion of their ability to reason effectively," replied the Lightbringer. "As it stands, the bulk of them come across as addled, if not diminished in some ways if only for others to be enhanced."

Tom flicked a finger sideways, arms crossed against his chest. "And you'd say that while standing in front of what seems to be a high-functioning member of the very same species you're distrustful of," he said, then glancing at Calhoun. The undead Irishman's eyes were hard, gleaming in the daylight with obvious disapproval.

"My upbringing wasn't standard," he conceded. "My maker only had enough sense to bring me to Chicago's council, and I was never subjected to physical abuse. I was never molded as many others in the Moon-Mad's ranks can be. When a king is beyond all reasoning, it falls to the king-maker to reason for his liege. That is what I was made for.
- And yet," replied Uriel, "you're still one of them. Enough pressure, and your constructed facade would break. Don't think I don't understand insanity, vampire - I've seen many of my brethren cure otherwise broken souls in the past millennia. Some cracks are buried under decades, if not centuries of maintained habits, faultlines concealed with the mortar of Civility."

He stepped closer, his smile never wavering, and sized Calhoun up with a sweeping glance. "You forget what I am," he said. "What Gabriel and I are. We know your makeup, and we know it quite intimately. We see your faults better than you, yourself, ever could.
- But I've learned to look past them," opposed Gabriel. "Mortals and immortals alike all have faults, some minor and others severe, but that's never stopped me from seeing the potential they offer."

Uriel offered Gabriel a sideways glance. "You wouldn't like this one, if you knew what was festering underneath that rigid poise, that devotion to order and so-called common sense..."

Then followed a look of distant empathy towards Hannibal. "I don't blame you, mister Calhoun. The Holden brothers are an affront to Creation, and I acutely feel how outraged you are by Arthur's inconstant attitude towards his own kin."

There was a pause. "That calcified pride of yours, that unreasonable sense that you could do better than Arthur, than Jonathan Crane, than Alana or Lord Varney - that disgust towards the impractical, flighty, mercurial approach of the Moon-Mad's European branch..."

Calhoun's features looked unusually taut, as if some barely-restrained display of rage was waiting behind a flimsy remnant of poise. Uriel, in the meantime, kept going. 

"I know just how you've pictured it, Hannibal, starting with your tearing Chicago's undead Little Lord Fauntleroy apart with your bare hands - your draining of that dismembered husk of every last drop of blood. You'd move on to the floozies that fed him, to the triggermen that protected him, then on to each and every one of the poor, addled fools living out an endless mockery of their gin-running days. Combined centuries of power now running through your veins, and you would use it to bend Illinois' independent cells to your sway, then closely followed by New York's or New Jersey's, then Rhode Island's... The entire East Coast's worth of the Freaks, the Moon-Kissed, those wretched with so many names and titles across History - all of them under your sway, following your slavish and utterly insane devotion to an ideal of civilization, of reasonable crime, that you very well know to be unattainable."

Uriel looked almost sad. "You can drape yourself in honor and dignity, mister Calhoun - you'll never be anything more than a monster in yesterday's idea of appropriate attire."

Hannibal's face almost seemed to melt, as his eyes bulged and his jaw dropped, exposing his fangs. His tendons looked almost fit to burst through his neck's skin-

But that was all. Some semblance of control was left, some part of Calhoun's own mania keeping him focused enough to avoid simply lunging after a being that would have obliterated him without effort. He'd balled his hands into fists, a few drops of blood dripping from them as his fingernails bit inside his palms.

"If I'm a monster," he then said, quietly, "then I'll feel no shame in tearing your head from your body once the Universe inevitably has you eat those words. I'm immortal, Uriel Lightbringer, and I'm more cautious than most of Grimley's kin. I'll be here for a long, long time - and I'll make you regret your having ever spoken those words to me. I'd intended to build a rapport with those I stand with. How am I supposed to do so, now that they know just what I'll never entirely be able to repress or oppose?"

Tom's eyes had narrowed. "That's one Hell of a good question, to be honest. I knew I happened to be standing next to someone from the old guard, but I had no idea you happened to be Hope's would-be Keyser Söze, plus fangs."

Calhoun sighed. "I would have gone against that impulse for as long as possible, but everything about your own management of Magnus Tower or Arthur Holden's management of Centennial Park's front lines chafes at me. It isn't rational, and I'm aware that it isn't - but my form of mental illness is what I've come to understand as a highly-structured form of mania. I can function with the rest of you, superficially reason like you - but remaining diplomatic in the face of a structure I could optimize takes every ounce of willpower I have."

He paused, seemingly to collect himself. "Anger is what has me lose my grip on reality. I almost slipped right here, and it would've been my undoing. I would've tried to rectify Uriel's assumptions, and-"

The Lightbringer nodded knowingly. "And you're in no place to do so, vampire. I could've killed you without effort. I didn't, because you didn't need to join us. You don't need to die, mister Calhoun. What you need, is to be made humble. This is exactly why the Moon-Mad should stay - all of them have fatal flaws to rectify, such as this one."

Hannibal put two and two together. "So you're exactly like me, then. You're simply coming into it from a different source."

* * *

Pope shrugged as she brought the Codex into what had to be some sort of standby mode. "The First Consort is a bit of a legendary figure among us rebels," she said. "The Architect made the Void Weavers sexless, as focused as he was on their charge or their purpose; so calling most of us men is a bit of a misnomer. I've transitioned past that and I'm clearly a woman, but most of us have more in common with your concept of basic masculinity."

She sighed as she recalled further details. "Story goes that once the Usurper started to put pressure on us, the Architect realized he needed someone to wield a different kind of strength, a different kind of wisdom than what the Augurs used to. We knew all about how the Others were threatening our sacred charge, but we beat ourselves against the systemics of it. Addressing Their corruption like you would a neat and tidy puzzle or an aspect of Reality that happened to need a bit of sprucing-up just didn't work."

Then came a shrug and a bit of a smirk, hidden behind her tendrils. "Nobody really knows if the Architect did that, if God did it or if it's just some kind of hyper-focused genetic drift - but two of us gave birth to a female Void Weaver. The legends say she was the brightest and best among us, and that she went from a singer in the Augur's choir to his consort and lover in barely more than a few years. For centuries, the last Augur and his consort were a kind of living bulwark, our last and best defense against the Others. We know we wrote love songs and romantic epics about them, but our enemies burned everything down when they forced us to flee."

Pope's smirk turned a bit melancholy. "Meris is related to her in the sense that her story mirrors a lot of it. She inspired Nereus, and they then inspired all those of us who couldn't run away to Respite Point, all those who had to outwardly support the Others' regime while working to tear it down from the shadows."

Buck raised an eyebrow. "And Nereus?
- He doesn't quite seem to be a reincarnation or a repetition of a motif or - whatever else, really," she replied. "He's a product of a culture that's spent centuries worshiping the Others, but he's not like myself or a lot of the others around the hotel. He's a recent break, a lucky shot that's due as much to Meris as to the fact that he spent his life with Harrogath as his patron Other. 
- How is that lucky?"

Liz clicked her tongue. "Harrogath is, well - He's carnal desire carried to the extreme. He's the manifested need to see someone else physically suffer to sate a desire of your own. He's conflated with Gluttony, but the Others don't bother with baser notions like simply wanting gross amounts of food. It's not so much about the food or the drugs or alcohol as it's about using these things to destroy something else. That's when He's properly mainlined, but His creed is easy to cross-contaminate with nuance, to more or less dial back down to basic pleasure or being a generic bon vivant. If I were a Loyalist, I'd say that was Nereus' mistake. He was a devout celebrant who happened to enjoy the perks of his status, who wasn't willing to take the next step and ruin himself for Their cause - and that opened the door for Meris to save him."

* * *

There were struggling noises, Siv was heard spitting insults in Swedish from behind clenched teeth, and Owens was heard stepping aside slightly.

"Here are the other game pieces," noted Thorn, his tone eerily sedate. "I'd advise against sudden movements, friends - the huldra are surprisingly easy to break."

Three lowered his gun. "Alright," he said. "We have a few demons along," he warned. "Let's keep this civil.
- And I am of the Fossegrim," noted Thorn. "Keeping it civil would be in your best interest."

Something about that struck Drake as important, so he filed the information aside for later. "Alright," he said, "I'm opening the door now."

As he turned the handle, something in the air shifted: someone had activated a Veil. The office proper looked clean and slightly Modernist in design, wood essences inlaid with a few carefully-placed Elder Futhark runes, a large and acid-etched patio door opening out onto a back yard that was reduced to a blur. The difference in time zones set everything in pre-dawn light, the frosty greens of the yard and the slate of the skies above tinted blue. Off to the side stood Deirdre Owens, her bell skirt complemented by a leather belt and its supported pouch. Her usually severe haircut looked unkempt, her clothes were stained with the mud of other paths and other Gates. Seated at the desk was what looked to be a strikingly pale anthro horse, his mane a peroxide-blonde tint and his eyes being two cloudy orbs, as if he'd contracted severe cataracts. A nineteenth-century suit primly hugged his frame, and he casually kept a hand on his desk while the other one reached sideways to wrap its fingers around Siv's throat.

An almost-hairless brow twitched. "You've managed to free the huntsman and to exploit the fate Morgana reserved for him for your benefit," he noted. "Consider me impressed. You're all utterly doomed, of course, but - still. Impressively done."

Woodford's ears were pinned back. "You would not be saying this if you just how distraught this leaves me, Thorn! Mark my words, I will have you pay for selling me lies!"

Thorn shrugged. "You chanced upon me in India, I never asked to meet you, sir. You asked for game worthy of your skills; I gave you this and more. I never lied.
- I asked for tigers or elephants, you fiend - not deathless green devils and a trap-laden verdant hell!
- Deathless green devils of which you now belong," noted the brook horse. "You should thank me for setting you on the path to meeting these gentle-folk - they've set you on a path leading to certain death - and guaranteed adventure."

Three stepped inside and stood at the desk's corner, opposite from Deirdre. "Personal vendettas aside, we have two requests we'd like to make. I'd like to make a third."

Nodin had coolly followed Drake, and then tracked Aspasia and Regis as they stepped inside. "Let's start with the personal request, then."

Drake crossed his arms over his chest. "Let Siv go. You've proven that you could kill her. We won't interfere unless you fail to accede to one of the other two demands."

The horse weighed the request's value for a few seconds and then lowered his arm. "Fair enough," he said. "Your first official demand?"

Three narrowed his eyes. "Drop your Veil. I like to see who I'm negotiating with.
- You've caught that, I see," noted Thorn, his features suggesting clinical interest more than amusement, even if there was a bit of a glint of it in his eyes. "The rumors are true, then," he said. "Aidan Drake is growing more attuned to his nature, and the millennia-old fops looking to cower away in Faerie are right to be afraid. The Dragon Rider is coming into his own, step by step. A few more keys to turn, a few more latches to undo... If only your Azardad fellow knew just exactly what he did to you..."

Aidan drew in a breath. "You're dodging. Your Veil - lose it.
- Ah, but this is an official request, isn't it? What do you suppose could serve as my payment?"

Three's eyes scanned the room, then landing on the lovingly-framed violin that stood behind the horse. "You're one of the Fossegrim, and your music can compel others. I'd like to offer an audience, assuming you accede to our main request."

He smirked. "This is a package deal - it includes Meris as a Cantor and Aspasia as a descendant of the Fauns of old. A violin needs a beat to follow, and we need to reclaim Saint Brigid's bodhran. It's currently being guarded in London-Upon-Faerie."

Thorn's chuckles were anything if reassuring. "Well played, Summer Knight; well played indeed! To recover what I'm due, I now have to accede to your main request... I would've liked to meet someone like you, back when my ambitions were still as simple as my kin's traditions.
- I'm not sure the feeling's mutual," replied Drake. "Your Veil, Thorn."

The horse canted his head sideways, one eye giving the human a calculating glance, and he then lifted his right hand back onto his desk. As he did so, his form rippled and enlarged. The real Thorn looked as though a mad geneticist from Paradise had combined equine and amphibian traits, with a broad and slightly paunchy frame that belied a fair amount of coiled strength. Nodin's actual neck was broad and muscular, ensconced in rubbery flesh that glistened in the interior light, as though the bâckahasten produced a fine layer of mucus over his skin. His face had the overall structure of a horse's, if the lips and ears were both made smaller. His eyes were more fully front-facing than a horse anthro's, and he sported a heavier brow that more than helped to make him seem rather austere. There wasn't a hint of hair to be found, but a few old scars could be guessed at. What looked like scars also lined the sides of his neck, but these had to actually be gills of some kind. As for his clothes, the prim antebellum suit had been traded for modern Business Casual, an all-black suit and shirt nonchalantly opened at the chest.

"What guarantee do you have that I simply won't enthrall the lot of you the moment I'm given a backing track to follow?" he asked. Three smiled at that - his turn at looking eerie.

"You'll be on a battlefield, surrounded by those trying to kill you, as well as those of us who could if you reneged on your word. You're smarter than that."

Thorn smiled, apparently enjoying Drake's sense of repartee. "And your last request?
- Let Siv have her sister back."

Nodin grunted. "Your payment?
- Safe passage to Hope," replied Three. "Neither of us likes the other, but we both know where we stand. Compared to Sharpe, that's as close to friendship as you'll ever get."

The brook horse laughed, first quietly and then with a slowly billowing expanse. "I see now why you've failed, Miss Owens," he said, flicking a finger at her. "You're as solid as an iron rod, but reeds only ever bend around rods," he said, glinting eyes taking in the trio. "I'm going to like you three, I think," he said. "I already knew enough to respect Meris and her court - but you? How so very delightful..."

He trailed off in more laughter for a few seconds, and then raised his voice. "You can come up here, Archmage!" he called. "I won't have enough seats for your retinue, but they're welcome to use my living room!"

Naturally, Deirdre looked equal parts bewildered and enraged.
 
"You would abandon us? You would abandon our cause?!
- You never had much of a cause to begin with," replied Nodin with an oily sideways sideways glance. "Phineas pays well enough, but using Hell's intercession in our affairs as a means to facilitate his grip on the American political sphere is disingenuous at best. I planted his toadies as he requested; the tools remain mine to use - and to rescind.
- You won't gatekeep for long, if we win this," warned Drake. "The Ways were always open to all, and they'll be opened again."

Nodin tsked. "This is best reserved for another discussion. The Ways could remain open as we had no competitors, but you'll soon see the merit of having a system of valves in place. Just wait until you're left policing Evergloam because of a few overzealous Pitspawn looking for a spot of tourism."

* * *

Melmoth's flash of an earnest smile looked a bit odd on his limestone-patterned skin and his jowls, but he still looked like Abdiel had just made his day. Considering the lateness of the hour, maybe she'd made his evening, come to think of it...

With a table between them and a public space around them, the Broker didn't exactly feel like leaning in. For now, he settled with lifting one of Abdiel's hands and placing a peck on the back of it. He partially held the pose for a few seconds, holding her hand with both of his, his gaze lost in their locked limbs, and then looked back up to her.

"Y'know, I... I think we could give us a chance. We're both pissed off at the same targets, we're both tired of this war and from what you've just told me, I'm guessing we've got the same boatload of feelings bottled up in here," he said, poking his own chest. "We're both hoping for better things, and we're both looking for excuses to be human more often. Or, well, humane, at the very least."

Then came a scoff. "It's not like we both have a lot to lose, eh? I mean, most of the Pit already sees me as a turncoat, and you're so high up past most angels that I kinda doubt you give a rat's ass about what Uriel might have to say about your management of thermodynamics..."

* * *

Quinn looked like she'd heard enough to formulate a plan. Her eyes flashed towards Nami, beckoning her to wait for just a moment, and she disappeared in the dance floor's throng. A few moments passed and she emerged from the writhing mass looking just a smidgen more alluring than before, a tad more dangerous than previous - and generally like she'd taken in a little bit more blood. She briefly flashed a second - and empty - vial, and slipped it back into her purse. Nami obviously had every right to know that she wouldn't consider the club-goers as an easy source of sustenance or fuel for her abilities.

Now, the woman called Quincy wasn't a full vampire, not entirely a product of the living branches of Lilith's curse, but she had one foot past the divider line between mundane existence and superhuman qualities. Her father being of the Ordo Dracul, her powers largely revolved around mental and psychological manipulation. Bathory being ensconced in stolen flesh, she technically happened to serve as a valid target.

She briefly stopped next to the Nephilim and spoke in her ear. "I'll set things up for you to run interference," she said. "Once she notices you, give her the best you've got. Charm her socks off - whatever it is Nephilim can do in that department - do it. Don't cover Quigley if he stops you; she'll be too interested to let it stand."

That done, she sipped at her glass and speared the woman on the dais with her gaze, power slowly welling out of her as she assembled her willpower and cast it out, along with the added potency of the blood she'd just sipped. "Come on, you bitch," she murmured, "don't notice me. Don't look at me - I'm not even here, see? Look at Urakawa. See her. See her, you whore, and let every ounce of desperate need you've got locked up inside latch onto her. See her beauty, burn it onto your retinas..."

She drew in a sharp breath.

"See her. See her now."

A second passed, the woman's eyes slid away from Quigley as she discussed further terms in their deal, and new light bloomed in them as they crossed Nami's. Across the room, shades of red and purple danced across the black-and-white display, the Bates Motel and Janet Leigh's mute scream fading out to jittering Times New Roman letters floating against an formless morass of both colors.

Great plan, gals, the letters spelled out. Let's set the mood...

Sidewalks' Blood faded out, and the seemingly endlessly looping ethereal bars of 2814's 一緒に私たちは、市内の遺跡を歩く filled the space. This seemingly not being too jarring a shift, the patrons didn't react and the manager seemingly didn't notice, but it'd be hard to miss the sight of the upstairs deejay frantically trying to determine where the out-of-queue selection was coming from. Still, it was the perfect selection for a feline glance to pass between demoness and Nephilim, for the dancers to part like a living sea, and for Francis to go along his now agreed-upon duties by climbing down from the raised lounge.

"Nami Urakawa," he said, extending a hand, smiling mirthlessly. "It's been a few, hasn't it?"

He then stepped beside her and turned, looping an arm through the crook of one of her elbows. The gesture had the benefit of looking gallant while allowing him to effectively play bouncer, in that this would lightly hinder Nami's movements. Being closer to her, the Nephilim would be able to see he hadn't been bluffing: there were more crow's-feet at the corners of his eyes, his maxillary muscles looked a little more defined - as if he'd lost a pound or two across his facial features, the whole of it making his already expressive eyes bug out just a little more.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Mon Oct 21, 2019 7:27 pm

"That's any new technology for you, love," Crystal noted. "I'm sure the peers of your day looked upon automatons with suspicion and dread. True AI will be the very same, and once it does develop, you'll have as much of a variety as there are people in this world. As Mr. Coombs suggested, they'll need guidance. Hopefully, it'll be the right kind."

***

While Aislinn had listened to Uriel and Calhoun banter, she couldn't keep her eyes from glazing over slightly. She loudly clicked her tongue to break up the debacle and said to the vampire, "You surmised correctly, Calhoun; though, I'd prefer to not watch you two play out the old Logic vs. Emotion philosophical argument. We have other things to do. However, Angelic Keyser Söze over here is attempting to stall us and chip away at our resolve. Also, I'm well aware you probably have your own deals up your sleeves that'll eventually conflict with ours. Still, I'd rather continue working with you for now and the Moon-Mad. I'm of the opinion that opposites can complement each other's work, so I think Grimley and the others will help us to knock Wrath down a few pegs, at least. So, can we count on you?"

***

"Small opportunities of change are better than none," summarized Andrea with a sigh. "That chance allowed him to be vulnerable to Meris's love and acceptance and turn the tide away from Harrogath's pull. If that's the case, then he's earned the Architect as his new patron god of sorts."

***

Satisfied with the deal Three had brokered, Aspasia remained silent in that regard. She glanced over at Regis and smiled lightly. "I hope you enjoy the birthday present I gave you as a newborn Wyldfae, Woodford. It seemed like the best option between death and the other alternative," Aspasia noted.

Meanwhile, Meris went up the steps after Thorne's call and nodded to Three. "He's right. Best not to poke at that particular bridge, for the moment," she mused, only briefly glancing at Deirdre before joining them. "Too many variables."

***

"You're correct that I don't care about Uriel's opinion of how I use my abilities, but I'm wary of him, at the very least. He's a Lightbringer and knows how to gain the ears of those willing to listen," Abdiel noted. "I figure he's the inspiration for our mole issue, even if he might disagree with the idea of a charred and broken Earth as the new foundations of Creation. Regardless, I'm not letting his opinions influence us. I think we'd work well together, Mel," she admitted with her own earnest smile.

***

The sudden shift in the music and the message on the sign indicated their visitor was getting closer and was aware of their plan. She didn't pay any time to dwelling on the matter, as she had more important things to catch at the moment.

Since she figured Quigley might try to pull her away, Nami did her best to remain firmly in place and ignored his mirthless greeting. She maintained her gaze with Elizabeth's and lured her in with the deep blues and icy lilac flecks of her irises. The subtle fluttering of her lashes seemed to strengthen the siren call. She smiled fluidly at the fake deputy chief, an interesting and enticing blend of sultriness and life. Her pearly whites peeked out as she did so, and the gentle falling of black strands of hair over her face had a peculiarly flirtatious air to it. One of her hips cocked alluringly.

She was the picture of Gothic innocence, the ruby color of her lips glinting gorgeously in the lighting. "Care to dance?" she inquired softly, her voice intended to echo into her heart and loins as one more means of pulling her into her sway.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Thu Oct 24, 2019 10:51 am

"The Fates willing," agreed Holden, who lightly lifted his glass to drain the last of it. Eustace, in the meantime, took in a self-collecting breath.

"Well, you've seen the breadth of the services my division provides," he said. "Armaments, logistical support, intelligence and counter-intelligence. All this, and informed advice on the pairing of wines, tobaccos and meals. It makes for a pleasing cover-up when I find myself faced with common patrons in need of seeing my other self."

Archie nodded. "You must be eager to go out and about without a guise or Veil, I'd assume.
- Within reason, yes," conceded Eustace. "My job requires a fair amount of secrecy, so I'll likely always have need of cosmetic Veils or Flesh Masks. I'll at least earn the right to a space wherein the artifacts of my profession can be set aside."

He then glanced towards the door. "I'll admit I'm slightly envious of young Damian, across the lobby: all he has to show to Belliard is luxury enough to turn his gaze away from our proceedings.
- What do you make of him, in your, erm, Eldritch capacity?" asked the android. "Apologize if my choice of term seems crass, so close to normalcy as you now are."

Coombs let out a good-natured chuckle. "It's no bother, milord. As for Miss Lowell's former chaperone, I'm under the impression that there is a point where the Jonathan Morley Belliard we know of ends, and something altogether different begins. My agents have done their best in assembling a precis of this man's history and have found no obvious traces of possession. He is entirely mortal, at least in the legal sense - and has everything you'd expect from the son of a working-class Birmingham stiff raised in abuse and neglect. The streets raised him, instilled in him a crude sense of morality, enough of a sense of Right and Wrong, but the whole of it tinted by highly personal aspirations."

Archie shrugged. "So, he is no different from the pauper kings of my youth, then," he assumed, to which Eustace opposed a sharp tsk. "I've met the type you've spoken of, and they never tended to raise the same red flags. Smartly-dressed ruffians flashing pen-knives are predictable - they wouldn't have helped Miss Lowell or her daughter. He did. He wouldn't have provided a sense of safety to refugees for weeks on end if something hadn't been waiting for him, at the end of it. Even more curious, he seems rather unfazed by your having somewhat successfully saved them."

Holden had to quirk a brow at that. "Somewhat, mister Coombs?"

Eustace busied himself with one of the electronic thermometers. "Not all of us have bodies they can afford to blow up, good sir," he noted, a bit of mirth flashing in his eyes.

* * *

Hannibal drew in a breath, the remainder of his defensive hostility ebbing away. "You've been able to since the beginning, Miss McConmara. This isn't about to change."

In the back, Uriel shrugged. "It doesn't much matter, in the end. You'll come seeking release - even if it takes several more millennia. Neither Lucifer or Lilith expected their children to survive the full measure of the horrors Pride wants to unleash upon your plane of existence.
- Then it's their prerogative to choose," noted Gabriel. "We're done here, Daystar."

The Lightbringer stepped aside, the onlookers that had surrounded the camp dispersing, as if they'd received a silent signal. As he did, Gabriel set a peculiarly sharp glance on the busy camp and on the roustabouts that were busy packing everything together, and then lifted a hand to flick two fingers in front of himself, as if signalling someone. In response, the sky and surrounding light seemingly went through a time-lapse of sorts, the troupe's long preparations coming to a close in mere seconds, the group being left with the sight of a grinning Horatio and the rest of the troupe, all of them staring intently at them.

"Maybe we're more alike than you think," he noted. "You've all just been standing here for hours!
- It's a matter of perspective," noted Gabriel, "I've just fast-forwarded us to your prepping having finished. Carry only what you'll need, as was said. I'll send some of my men back for the rest.

"Delightful," gleefully replied Grimley, hands energetically clapping, "absolutely delightful! Oh, how nice it'll be to-"

He then caught himself, remembered his own ploy, and carefully exhaled, once again hijacking the imprisoned demon's sense of focus. "I mean, it'll be nice to give Valefor a piece of my mind. We can't all single-file out of your house, so how do we get within Shadow-Walking distance of Valefor's factory?"

Gabriel smirked at that. "We'll travel the way angels do, mister Grimley," he said. "Huddle up, everyone - I'm not at my absolute best, so I'd rather we made this bit as easy as possible..."

As he spoke, what looked like faint tendrils of light, almost like tentacle-shaped dawn rays, crept forwards from behind his back. His wings slowly unfurled, apparently in order to give the others a chance to acclimate to them.

* * *

"You'll get no arguments here," noted Liz. "I'm not exactly the most pious Squid on the block, but Nereus reminds us there's still good guys stuck in Dalarath, aping the others or acting the part of zealots just so they don't attract attention. All they need is a clear sign that there's hope - and that's what's hard to come by in the current circumstances. We're all fairly hopeful when it comes to the Fae, the angels or even our allied Pitspawn friends - but Dalarath and Respite Point are stuck on the back burner, in the meantime. It wouldn't bother me if I had some guarantee that my uncles and former neighbors can all defend themselves, but all they have going for themselves is face value. If they lose that, they won't so much as make it to the lower tunnels and rest houses on the way back to the surface."

She paused for a second or two, long enough to shrug off her sudden mantle of regrets. "It's why you're here, though," she said, "and I mean you as in our collaborators from other species. You're forcing us to find new avenues of approach, and to make sure that the Loyalists lose the home field advantage as soon as possible. The one problem we're still facing is the most obvious one: we can tear minds apart while we've never developed a solid martial or strategic expertise. How do we protect your key assets long enough so you can reach our obvious weak points?"

Zebediah exchanged a glance between Andrea and Liz, shoved his hands in his dressing gown's pockets, and distorted his jawline in the shape of a thoughtful pout. "Black Speech is somatic by default, it needs to be heard to be processed. I'm assuming rendering your operatives deaf would be tactically unsound, but what if you deployed a silence hex targeted at Dalarath's natives?"

Liz smiled, but frustration glinted in her eyes. "We've tackled this; the main issue is this kind of hex would more or less require a ley line to be present locally - it wouldn't draw power long enough without one: the biggest silence hex we tested lasted twenty minutes without a steady source of via. It's not nearly enough for large-scale operations to take place. It's bought us some time for skirmishes against groups of thralls or cult members, but it's just not feasible on the scale of what's effectively a small city."

Zeb leaned on the table, glancing down at the Codex's interface, and then looked back at Andrea. "I'm just spitballing, here - did your family's ancestors use a single, large ritual to become Theriomorphs, or was it the result of long years of work?
- You realize you're asking the Deputy Chief's daughter," noted Liz. "She's a kid, not a trained anthropologist or an arcane researcher."

Buck shrugged. "If you knew how often I made unexpected progress after drunkenly stumbling on local legends, you'd take to drinking on the job. Folklore has its value, Miss Pope."

That made the Squid smile. "Aren't you the same guy I was warned about? You'd bemoan your uselessness and maybe go see if you couldn't pry a drink or two from Eustace or Damian...
- If I knew exactly how Helena Nasir changed me," he said, "I'd tell you. It feels like I'm followed around by a negativity-sucking black hole of some kind - and it's made the family curse feel almost... trivial, since we raided Winters' old haunting grounds in Hope."

* * *

Siv shivered with rage and distress, her makeup having visibly run. She did her best to compose herself. A demand having been formulated, she was in no need to adhere to Fae protocol. "Where is Sanna?" she demanded. "Let me see her!"

Thorn's milky eyes slightly hooded as he seemingly asked his guests for a moment of their time without voicing a word. Then, with a light grunt, he stood out of his chair and headed for the patio door. He stopped in front of it, turned a sort of clicking dial switch beside the door that could've passed for some sort of thermostat control - and the vista beyond the panes of glass changed in a blur of color. Where the brook horse's Swedish back yard had waited now stood the interior space of some high-end condo. He stepped through, but extended a hand towards the others.

"You'd best wait here," he said. "With the amount of jumps you've taken, the draugr and his cohorts must be practically livid in trying to locate you. Let's not cost them what little patience remains. It'll only be a minute.
- Where is this?" asked Three.

Nodin flashed Drake a smile. "Downtown Jakarta. Morgana restricted my choice of destinations, but it had the benefit of isolating my insurance policy from Phineas' direct intervention."

He then looked back inside and rose his voice in Swedish. "Sanna! You're released, girl!"

A slant of light shyly emerged from one of the closed doors, off to the side of the condo's single corridor. Out of it emerged a young woman who certainly looked like she could've been Siv's sister, with the shingles of the living bark that formed atop her back reaching higher and bending over and past her breasts. The top half of her modesty being covered, she'd only slipped a bath towel around her waistline and had emerged from what had to be a bathroom with wet hair and eyes still red with tears. In one hand was a particularly wicked-looking knife, which she visibly hefted with intent.

"If this is another one of your mistress' tricks, monster, I swear I'll-"

Thorn stepped aside. "You'll do nothing, girl. Here she is."

Relief washed over her, a sob escaping her, and she took a few steps forward before caution made her stop. "What is the transaction?" she asked.

As she spoke, she seemingly took notice of the others in the room, besides Nodin and her sister. Three smiled. "It's already covered," he said, in case she spoke English.

She obviously understood him, as genuine relief replaced her suspicion, with what still stopping her having obviously been her inappropriate attire. She mouthed a few words to Siv and ran back to the bathroom, coming back to the door in record time - now dressed in jeans, hiking boots and a brown sweater. She'd done her best to dry her hair quickly, revealing the richer spectrum of her hair, as opposed to Siv's. Something in her gait made her come across as the more tomboyish of the two huldra, perhaps in the way she seemed more emotionally aggressive. The two girls hugged fiercely once Sanna had all but hopped across the threshold, happy sobs escaping the both of them, along with a flurry of displays of worry and affection.

"They're both out in the open, now," noted Thorn. "I've made good on my promise of keeping them out of Sharpe's grasp - until now."

Three blinked. "So, all this - keeping Sanna hostage, forcing Siv to work under Oath for you...
- This was to steal two of Sharpe's game pieces away from the board, to force him to consider different avenues."

Obviously, this shocked both huldra equally. "But what could we have that the old buzzard could want?!" she asked.

Thorn dug his hands in his pockets. "Heritage. Power. Ties to a source of potency you yourselves have ignored. Not all huldra killed passers-by out of simple bloodlust. Some roads must remain closed, some Gates should stay shut - and not all those I drowned deserved to drown. Some of them merely had to, for the good of all."

He paused. "Some powers should never be revealed. You both know what I'm referring to," he said, then eyeing the others. "I'll explain matters on the road."

* * *

Abdiel's observation ripped an emotional scoff from the Broker, making him look away for a second. He marshaled his emotions and looked back to her.

"I shoulda called you centuries ago, I shoulda worked up the nerve to ask for help before the Goat stuck me with this whole Supernatural Asshole Valuation crap I've been stuck with! Fuck being Fallen, I shoulda fought for my rights - for every messed-up angel that already knew just what they'd fucked with! So many of us aren't goners, we have morals and hearts and we care - and I know it woulda stuck me at odds against Gabriel, but it's what I should've done, damnit! I was terrified, I thought I'd done the best I could under the circumstances, and seeing what the Fall did to Ptah just..."

He shivered, as though an old pall of anguish gripped his chest. "I saw myself change, wings turning to stone, age creeping up on me - and I thought I was turning into a monster, Abbie. I'd damn an idiot or two with lethal doses of success and then catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I'm still the same dumpy, halfway-clueless member of the Host I used to be, but I'm stuck with a grotesque reminder of everything I had to do, everything the Goat made me do..."

Melmoth shook his head. "Have you felt anything like this, before? Like you've got all the power in the world - and it's all virtually useless to you in the moment? I guess I'm only just measuring my own usefulness for the first time, now that you're here. I guess I'm sort of scared. Scared, overwhelmed, really motivated, relieved, confused - just toss that in a salad bowl and you've got me." 

* * *

Francis took a half-step forward, noticed Nami wasn't following, and settled with adjusting his cummerbund and speaking from the corner of his mouth. "You do you, I guess," he whispered. "Don't blame me if Queen Bitch ends up - oh."

He'd stopped once he'd noticed Nami's effect on the Blood Countess-turned-cop, in seeing the apparent hostage-holder of Khadim Aswad ibn Marut Al-Malik stand up from her chaise longue and stretch the gorgeous legs she'd stolen down one of the two flights of stairs leading to the dance floor.

"I'd love to, sweet thing," she crooned. "Will you kindly step aside, mister Quigley?"

Francis hesitated. "In my, er, quality as your recently-conscripted bodyguard, I don't think that's wise."

The woman hesitated and narrowed her eyes. "What is your assessment?"

Amazo straightened himself, and didn't voice what should've been his primary concern - a clear sign that he suspected Urakawa was in league with someone else. "This is still a public space," he said, "and you're a highly public figure. The space just opened up around us, potential sightlines have doubled - I'd choose someplace more intimate, if I were you."

Bathory paused, appraised Nami with equal parts lust and some form of attempt at detachment, and pouted. "I can take the risk, in my position. Aside, please."

Nami would then notice how Amazo followed the two of them as they pivoted, the Blood Countess offering him her back as she leaned into the Nephilim, perhaps seeking to adopt her curves enough to verge on the side of an outright embrace. The snake then winked at her and extended a few gloved fingers as he sedately crossed his wrists near his navel. One gesture seemed to intimate patience. Take your time, then. The other one was an adaptation of the Okay symbol. Whenever you're ready.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Fri Oct 25, 2019 12:49 am

Crystal frowned pensively. "While I'm grateful to Jon for looking after me and Andrea, something has always been a bit off about him. I couldn't put my finger on it, though. You said he had no obvious signs of possession, but that doesn't mean he couldn't be affected by a demon somehow. From what I understand with possession, it's generally done against the person's will, such as it was with Mr. Ephesian. The mortal has to have committed numerous acts that a means of tainting the body so a demon might find it inhabitable. What if the said demon and Jon Belliard came to agreement that was mutually beneficial for both and that allowed for a smooth transition for the demon to inhabit the body? If that's the case, then the demon wouldn't have to put much work into maintaining the body with Hellfire. It could exist in the body without much fuss. Do you think that's possible?"

***

Aislinn ventured closer to Gabriel and settled into the space near his wings, adjusting to the comforting warmth the tentacles of light seemed to exude.

***

Andrea scoffed and grinned. "I might be in my twenties, but I do have some insight into my ancestors. My tribe split off from the Narragansett to some degree and formed spiritual relationships with wolf spirits. From what I understand, my ancestors developed an initial ritual to imbue the original recipients with their spirits and enabled it so that their descendants would receive one as well. It was done after separating from our mother tribe as a means of survival, and it was impressed that the person has to develop a strong and a healthy relationship with their wolf spirit," she explained.

***

Aspasia clicked her tongue and glanced back at Meris and her Court. "I realize there won't be enough room for them, but what about Owens? She's essentially stuck here unless she turns back the way she came or travels with us. Is it okay to leave her here with them or does she go with us?" she inquired.

***

Abdiel grunted with some frustration. "I have, in a way, toward my brethren. I'm sure you're familiar with the flaming swords that some of the more bliss-brained sorts love to wave around. I initially helped to design those weapons, back in the early days. It was effective, to be sure, but it aggravates me to no end to see young and blind faith abuse the element I bestowed on those blades. Unfortunately, those swords have become such a mainstay of who we are that I really can't say much to deter some zealot to use it responsibly, rather than self-righteously. I suppose it's a mix of regret and fright over the lengths some of my counterparts go to because they feel strongly motivated to carry out atrocities in the Almighty's name. If I attempted to set them straight, they'd probably think I'd lost it or was somehow being influenced away from what I know my divine intuition tells me what God actually wants us to do."

***

Given that this wasn't exactly ballroom dancing, the gentle, repeating melody of the song would allow for something more freeform. Her facial features maintained the same mixture of sultriness and innocence, while she focused on enrapturing Elizabeth with her equally alluring dance movements. Her hips gently and sensually swayed, and she let the Blood Countess embrace her as closely or tightly as she liked. Her hands rested against the woman's shoulder blades and kept her head close to Bathory's for the intended level of intimacy.
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Tue Nov 05, 2019 12:00 pm

Coombs grunted thoughtfully, his hands toying with the small taster's cup and plate that hung from a chain around his neck. "This is a definitive possibility," he then admitted, "along with a few other avenues of approach. I'll regrettably admit to leaving Biology and Arcane Studies to my better-equipped peers, but I do know enough to understand that a scant few persons in Hell's greater landscape are capable of exerting pinpoint control on their host body. We know the Goat only cares for aesthetics and otherwise wallows in his ability to corrupt mortal flesh, your own Tom Magnus puppets his stolen body with an inordinate amount of care - but otherwise?"

He pouted thoughtfully. "Minerva and the Conclave did warn us of the possibility more sensible sorts emerging from the Pit, as strange as it may seem. Not sensible as in agreeable to our cause, but rather in that they understand the value of properly-maintained genetic strands, as well as general homeostasis."

Archibald took a leap of logic. "Social stealth does have its value...
- Indeed," replied the Void Weaver. "Mundane crime, or at the very least, the lower echelons of supernatural wrongdoing, both carry appeal for whomsoever chooses to forego outright power, in the pursuit of something more valuable. Control, for one."

The android leaned on the nearby wall of closed refrigerated drawers and crossed his arms against his chest. "Do your peers know of anyone that fits this descriptor?
- I've been briefed on several," admitted Eustace, "all were presented as high-value targets - estimated future threats, more or less.
- And Belial?"

Coombs' eyebrows shot up. "We have evidence of his having never left his forge - he would be an adequate fit, but no demon has ever displayed powers of ubiquity. That would be the sole purview of high-ranking angels."

Holden nodded, as he looked back to Crystal. As he kept his glance on her, he shot one last question at the Squid. "Would it be possible for Whitney to issue more marks of trust for us to peruse? I'd like to speak to Herr Geier's peers, if at all possible. Far be it from me to disparage Miss Devlin's own investigative team, but my Infernal sleuth knows to refer to me, when something more complex than base intrigue rears its head up. It takes a spy to know a spy - or at the very least, an unusually ambitious criminal."

Eustace seemed a bit surprised. "Belial's not a spy - well, now technically.
- We've already established that he plays the long game, mister Coombs. What could be possibly longer than fully possessing an English mobster set to land in America on the eve of the Black Goat's emergence, and then abstaining from the excesses our arrogant and common foe is known for? You keep the body going and stick to it, glean whatever you can from what remains of the mortal's mind and its offered connections, then dig yourself in using a spot of goodwill and a dash of patience?"

That gave Eustace pause, enough for his fetching a cordless phone from its wall mount to look like an admission of concern. He pressed a button and listened to the dial tone for a few seconds.

"Damian," he then said. "Verify."

Followed his tentacles swaying, points directed towards the phone. The line screeched and beeped as if it had been connected to an old dial-up modem. Eustace's eyes went vacant for a second as a return transmission reached him, only for his primly nodding afterwards.

"Verified," he then replied. "How are things with our guest?" he then asked, putting the handset on speakerphone. A younger voice sounded. "Fine enough, mister Coombs - I gotta say, though, he's a bit rough around the edges, ain't he? He's landin' the kinda zingers I woulda thought were pretty dope, five years back and, well - he looks like the sort of type a younger, dumber me woulda hoped to impress. He's polite enough, but there's somethin' to the way he's enjoying the stogie and Scotch that, well..."

Damian made a clicking noise. "I mean, I remember the seminars, right? Mundanes like this stuff one way, supernaturals do the same thing in another. They've got more baggage, more memories to tie the taste and sensations and shit to, right? The thing is, I'm just not sure, when it comes to this guy!
- Would your appraisal suggest that there is some skill involved?" asked Eustace.

Damian hesitated, enough for Eustace to gesture to the pair for patience as he slipped through the interior door to what had to be some sort of preparation area, and was heard shucking off his tasting cup and plate, along with his apron. A vest's silk lining was heard whispering as he slipped it on. "Maybe?" had replied the younger Weaver, by the time Coombs had pulled his door open again.

"Let's get you two to the Conclave's chambers, then," briskly said Eustace. "You've piqued my interest."

* * *

Gabriel's wings grew large enough to swallow the entirety of the troupe and its allies, gleeful wonderment showing through in spurts, behind the usurped focus Grimley sported. A single note, like a ringing tuning fork, lightly resonated in the air. It filled the now-seemingly boundless white void, and ended with the abrupt re-emergence of color, texture and sound. Aislinn, Tom, Hannibal and Grimley's entire troupe now stood atop what looked to have been one of the city's dog parks, before the incursions. They were atop a steep hill, looking down at a still-destroyed stretch of highway. Across from it waited a dark gray building, with dirty, gaping windows and a number of attending annexes. Where the Infernal enclave at least sought to rebuild on its own terms and the resistance worked to restore what had been, Wrath's forces had simply opted to acclimate to the post-apocalyptic terrain their disruptions had created. The dog park itself was deserted, the grass brown and either dead or dying, while the blasted highway looked like a bunker-laden beachhead occupied by a controlling force. The figured that patrolled between the bunkers were moving stiffly, evidently being deceased humans and anthros possessed by Wrath's more determined lot. They were orderly, however, and looked to be much more disciplined than Greed or Lust's own contingents. They didn't operate like Pride and didn't send small cadres of Knights forth into the fray. There was no ego to feed on Wrath's side of the exclusion zone - only anger and rage to spend.

Tom placed a knee down on the ground, being careful not to tumble down the slope and into view, and pulled out his phone so he'd be able to use its camera. Zooming in, he spent a few moments following a grainy after-image of one of the patrols.

"They're packing ordnance from the local precinct, and what looks like rifles and ammo from the last troop deployment, six months back. I'm seeing..."

He paused, looked away from the screen and squinted at the far-off front parking lot, before zooming on it again. "I haven't seen hybrid rifles like this before," he then said. "Or at the very least, nothing I'm seeing lines up with Quint's experience in the field of hybrid weaponry. Alkaev always goes elemental and there's reams of certification requirements and red tape involved for the mass production of anything that involves Hellfire - always has been since practitioners left the shadows and started towing a breadline like everyone else."

Calhoun squinted at the complex, either not needing magnification or preferring to rely on Tom's perception. "It'd make sense for the Goat to de-centralize arms and armament production away from the battlefield. Mundane gunsmiths are irrelevant in the face of enemies that can shrug off bullets, and the illegitimate President's own troops are more familiar with their native elements than with our own brass-shaping traditions. Our common friend just wouldn't bother with regulations, but keeping his war effort rooted elsewhere would still be a sound approach."

Doctor Dickens nodded in the affirmative. "This used to be a metalworks plant, correct? All these conveyor belts, these laser-cutting machines or milling apparatuses - they'd be useful to anyone who could connect a raw feed from the Infernal plane to a crucible...
- Maybe," tempered Tom, "but Hope never made much of a splash in the arms-manufacturing industry. Most of what was produced here went to the housing, construction and shipyard industries in the tri-State area. We never had the molds needed to form things like receivers or trigger housings.
- Who's to say this would've been a hindrance?" opposed Calhoun. "My reports made it clear you'd taken down a significant structure in the Pit's war effort, a few months back. If genetic engineering was on the table, as Judge Mantus' creation attests, what's stopping some entreprising Fiend from similarly casting molds for pieces designed for manufacture here, in the mortal plane?"

The warthog sighed as he conceded the point. "Nothing much, obviously. That would also lend more credence to the idea that Belial's more involved than we thought. Weapon and armor-smithing is pretty much his guiding MO."

Gabriel, in the back, retracted his wings. "If he's involved, then it at least explains the stalemate we're in. Belial studied under Hesediel, and he knows the weaknesses inherent to Celestial weaponry just as much as we know those related to the Pit's. Lucian Rothchild and the Promethan Order are turning out to be godsends for the resistance, but Hesediel also taught Belial to compensate and improvise. It won't be long until the Architect's boon is nullified."

Grimley's tentacles bristled, but he marshaled his impulses. "My guest knows we're close to home - he's buckling under the pressure. He's nowhere near strong enough to manifest, at this point. A few more minutes, dear undesired guest, and you'll be free to Fall back down in disgrace," he told his possessing spirit. He then glanced at the others.

"Let's get you into position, first. Then, I'll have to make my entrance..."

The troupe's collective mass resulted in their common Shadow-Walking effort feeling a bit more vertigo-inducing than those Aislinn or Tom would've been familiar with, the sense of involuntary movement being cruder and somehow faster - and with Gabriel's assistance allowing them to see clearly out of their own murk, in the back of the assembly line. The noise was deafening, all in pneumatic pistons hissing and cooling baths hissing as freshly-machined parts were dropped into them. Steam, slag particles and what had to be a variety of toxic fumes filled the space, Valefor's guards and workers all possessing dead flesh and being unconcerned with their state of their own lungs. Orders were barked in a variety of languages, from obvious ones like English, to more obscure tongues ranging from Aramaic to ancient Sumerian. Being in the rear, their eventual attack would be split into two fronts separated by the mass of the largest crucible - the one piece of equipment that showed obvious signs of having been tampered with to handle arcane materials. Speaking was difficult to accomplish in the void the vampires occupied at present, but Tom hoped Aislinn would take notice of the crucible's almost-glowing struts: the Fiends had done a sloppy job at introducing Hellfire to a large vessel crafted in the mortal plane, and the support structure was buckling under pressure. Seeing as they only had the front hangar to worry about, the rear - and the crucible - were left relatively unguarded.

A few seconds of this passed, and Calhoun could soon be felt pulling Aislinn and Tom elsewhere, and back towards the front of the premises. They regained sight from what looked to be the factory floor's upper rafters, and looked down as Horatio assumed the demon's countenance and its own usurped name, walking up the street and into the front parking lot with a sedate pace that looked rather alien on the Ringleader.

"It's Hogarth!" barked one of the front guardsmen, who let the Squid pass with a narrowing of his eyes. The now-deceased Void Weaver operative's assumed name went down the chain, passed along until something caused a group of the possessed to grab their weapons and escort a now-partially decomposed corpse in torn olive drab fatigues. It only had half a set of functioning lips, but it somehow didn't stop him from speaking clearly.

"Morris Hogarth," Valefor said, adding an inflexion of equal parts skepticism and respect to the name. "I'll admit to having been doubtful of your ability to live up to this auspicious name... If you're in the flesh, then I assume your plan unfolded as you'd expected it would?
- Without a hitch," replied Grimley. "Horatio took some time to break down and there were a few meddlesome sorts that tried to play hero, but you can consider this a successful test case for the possession of certain undead strains.
- You're positive none of Grimley's eccentricities have clouded your judgment?
- Absolutely. Drawing on the original mind's fragmentary remains to reestablish a sense of sanity wasn't too hard."

Valefor narrowed the one eye he had that could still emote. "In that case, you should be able to remember his original fealty to the dead gods - and to do so without laughing or flinching."

It was hard to see from where they were, but Horatio may have etched a smirk. "I remember them well enough. I hope you'll excuse the slight grin, it's simply hard to keep an entirely straight face when face with beliefs this patently absurd.
- Absurd they may be, but we'll need them if we're to take our efforts to that sunken city of theirs. If that mental shell of yours stands up to the test, we'll need a great many men like you, in future."

Grimley-as-Hogarth nodded. "Of course, sire. Anything for Wrath's cause. I was thinking, however, that we could celebrate this breakthrough.
- Wrath isn't of Pride or Sloth, soldier," tersely replied Valefor. "The destruction of our enemies should serve as its own gratification," he said, then sighing. "This coil, however, has memories of a few standard vices. Scotch in my office," he said, formulating that last statement as a command and not as a polite question.

Gabriel appeared as a vague sense of presence, near the three suspended presences in the rafters. "I'll summon Hesediel," he sent to their minds, "We'll need his help in safely dismantling this place, after routing them. It might hurt whatever mundane company operated this place before the incursions, but I'd rather no trace of Hellfire or Brimstone remained. The rest are in position at the rear; we'd better be ready to assist Horatio as soon as he attacks Valefor."

* * *

Zeb nodded. "Right. Survival is the keyword, here. Your ancestors likely had a somewhat healthier version of the well of desperation I routinely found myself digging into. There were some obvious sources of stress, but not enough for your forbears to take to Infernalism to achieve the same goal. I'd almost be tempted to suggest that the Gentlemen could do with a similar form of focus to perhaps ensnare at least a block or two of that sunken city of yours," he said, eyeing Liz Pope, "but the fact is most large-scale transmutations aren't rooted outwardly, but inwardly."

He looked back to the Squid. "You're alive, and it might displease Amaxi and Her Cohorts to hear of this, but you're as tied to this world's biosphere as the rest of us. You could render yourselves as specters in the Loyalists' eyes, or at least conditionally sheath yourselves in total silence, excluding allies from the proceedings. It won't silence your enemies, but it could prevent them from acting upon your presence."

Elizabeth looked as though someone had opened a door in the back of her mind. "Oh, my God... There's tales and legends we've uncovered, stories of the Architect speaking to Merath and the last Augur, letting them know that severance would save the remaining faithful from corruption - but they both refused, hoping they'd be able to save a few of the corrupted... What if the Architect had been wanting to give us a way out from the very beginning, and we chose to ignore it because we weren't willing to bury our past?!"

She recited, apparently from memory. "You could be made as air and mist to the Lost, whole and in the flesh to those still pursuing the Great Work; to slip away like water unto stones, like the dutiful stylus and the vengeful dagger... They wouldn't see us, wouldn't hear us, for as long as none of the Others are allowed to pierce that mystery for Themselves and devise a workaround...
- It probably wouldn't last forever, no," conceded Zeb, "but it would give your resistance plenty of immediate time to extract those who can be saved, and to start over elsewhere.
- True enough," replied Liz, "but where would we go? We'll have nowhere to call home, no place to go to legally, until President Jones is-"

She stopped. "The Black Books in the Darkhallow - one of the later volume foretells of a city rising out of the waves fully-formed, with tsunami-level waves avoiding the coastlines and targeting the Fallen in their shoreline encampments. If I were asleep and down there right now, I'd remember where that city is supposed to emerge, where a wall of water is going to avoid destroying the coastline. Even my people couldn't manage something like this, this is absolutely within Celestial purview..."

Zeb smiled, for once looking like the wily tutor he aspired to be, and not like the befuddled novice he usually acted as. "And where is the Water Throne, right now?" he asked, egging her on.

Liz all but fell into the closest seat, smiling in disbelief. "Hope. Matriel has his most permanent seat in Hope."

* * *

 "She's coming with, obviously," replied Nodin as he gathered his things. The Fae woman bristled in response.

"I most certainly am not!" she opposed, briefly letting her heritage show. Her spine looked straighter, her brow more solidly set than before, her features more austere than ever - and yet it was nothing compared to the icy glare and the roiling, oppressive presence of Thorn's deployed Mantle.

"Upon my word, Deirdre Owens of Hope; you shall accompany us. Stray from my sight, raise a hand against us, utter a single unkind word, and I shall dash your pitiful coil against stones, drown you in all of England's rivers and leave your eyes as presents for river carp. Remember my heritage and burden, woman - remember what is mine to do."

Three waited for a few seconds. "Are all brook horses that intense? I mean, jeeze - you've practically bound and gagged her!
- We should be ruthless, Sir Knight," replied Nodin, "we should be cruel, for we guard boundaries as sacred and fearful as your Riona's Hole."

Woodford blinked. "Are all liminal spaces so fearsome?"

Thorn's inhuman authority had subsided, even while a seemingly terrified Owens sidestepped until she stood beside him. He'd recovered and shucked on a black felt overcoat and then picked a black scarf from his office's coat-hanging pole. His pout and shrug looked oddly casual, considering what had preceded them. "Only liminal spaces of crucial import, mister Woodford. Sometimes, a door is just a door, an arch just an arch, and a standing stone, nothing but a standing stone."

Drake nodded. "By the same logic, a tree is sometimes more than just a tree. Sometimes it's an anchor point for a Nexus."

Thorn's chuckle felt a tad unkind. "Sometimes, dear boy, a tree is much, much more than a simple dryad's demesne. A tree can be a forest, and a forest, a single tree. I don't imagine anyone here is familiar with fractal art?" he asked, as he opened the door and started heading down the stairs to his living room. "Infinite universes hiding in a single pattern..."

Having heard only that last half of the conversation, Agares and the rest of the survivors looked fairly confused. "Metaphysics from a supernatural middleman doesn't exactly feel newsworthy, if you ask me," said the muckraker. "Not that anyone has, though."

Thorn smiled icily at that. "Supernatural middleman. Hm - how very much almost dignified," he said, smirking. "I'll accept it, it sounds a mite better than the accusations of terrorism that would have followed my fronting for Sharpe at the proverbial table."

* * *

"But that's just it," agreed Melmoth, "it's divine intuition! You're the only one that feels it the exact way you do, and all these ninnies think about is how moral and just and nicey-nice Fire oughta be. You're leagues above most of them, right? So, well, screw 'em! I've been following my gut ever since the Goat gave me the run of my own slush fund, I've lost every right to call my own gut sense divine, and I do regret a lot of what I had to do - but nothing I regret happens to be something I chose. Every time I've eaten dirt, it's because someone like the Goat or Wormsworth's old cohorts advised me the wrong way. I mean, there's been times where my being kind ended up with my biting one heck of a bullet, but there's just so much good tacked onto even this!"

He sighed in relief, as speaking with Abdiel had seemingly reaffirmed his beliefs. "It's all been worth it," he said. "All the pain, the struggling, the sacrifices - and I wanna be worthwhile to you, too. I want us to be one of the few good things to come out of this mess. Whatever you do, no matter how much it stirs up things afterwards; I'll be right there beside you."

The Infernal Broker let this linger for a moment, his hand slipping over Abdiel's. Mirth then touched his slate-gray eyes. "Plus, if your very mundane bank account needs a leg-up in terms of investments, I'm, uh, shockingly affordable, right now. Side-effect of the Goat taking my day job and pissing all over it, I guess. Yippee, recession!"

* * *

This went on for a few moments, Bathory sighing rapturously with her own eyes closed, keeping Nami as close as the dance format allowed, hands reaching down to the curve at the base of her back, from time to time. "Dark, timeless beauty," she eventually whispered, "what secrets do you hold? I would suffer a thousand castle cells, a million eternities in Hell, if only for a taste..."

Quinn raised her voice from behind them. "I can help you with that."

All sultry affects left her face, and she kept Nami's back positioned in front of her, spearing the brunette with her eyes. "Vlad Tepes' daughter," she hissed. "False Scion of the Blood - you aren't whom or what I seek. Leave, before I have this poppet slaughtered.
- Good luck with that," replied the slayer, "she's a Nephilim. You might have stolen your way to authority, I brought two experienced figures along."

A few tense seconds passed, and both Haraldson and Ephesian emerged from the throng. The dancers at their periphery were starting to notice something was brewing and widened the empty space around them. Bathory hissed, now doing her best to firmly keep Nami pinned in front of her. "A tortured spirit and a dried-up corpse! What could I possibly learn from them?!"

Leonard's eyes had turned milky-white, his fur covered in wisps of grayish smoke that rose forth from him. The music made it difficult to hear, but ghostly wails and screams faintly surrounded him, the wisps assuming lurid shapes as they rose above his horns: grinning skulls, faces contorted in rage, lips split in mocking laughter, features pulled by anguished sobs. Faintly, words in Hungarian seemed to emanate from the air around the goat, the desperate demands of Erzebet Bàthory's victims.

Kill her! Kill her, gouge her eyes out! She took my daughters! She took my sons! She split my family open like pigs and bathed in their blood! She's sick, she's evil - kill her! Kill her now!

Leonard drew in a breath and briefly closed his eyes, marshaling his own willpower in the face of so much hatred. "No," he said, his tone somber. "She's already died; those who should've jailed her simply opted to place her on an undeserved career path. Her treatment, her judgment, were both already underway when they were interrupted. She deserves restitution."

Eyes narrowed, she looked to the Draugr. "And what of you, dragon-slave?
- I gave my life and turned away from Valhalla to keep defending what mattered to me," replied Magnus. "Every step I take as a Draugr is in service of an ideal; each step you took only served to satisfy your diseased mind."

She pressed her lips together. "You won't dare lift a finger, this body's true soul is my hostage. Touch me, and I'll break this back, bash this face against this Nephilim's hardened bones."

Magnus narrowed his eyes. "I've studied her, fröken Bàthory. Lindsay Strong lives up to her surname. If we give her enough purchase, she'll fight you from within. A broken nose or a paralyzed back are no deterrents for a policewoman of sufficient caliber. They have a saying, here in America: Once a cop, always a cop."

The Blood Countess seethed. "I am not going back!"

As she finished her sentence, the low thunk of a large blade digging into flesh was heard, followed by the faint grinding of bones against steel. A sword's tip protruded from the woman's right breastbone, weakly splattering Nami's dress in blood. Amazo slipped into view from behind her, both hands gripping the handle of a claymore he must have somehow conjured while the others hadn't been looking.

"I beg to differ," he said, teeth clenched. "Sorry, Lindsay."

The possessed woman's head rolled back, and she wailed with a supernatural amount of force. A number of patrons jumped from their seats or burst forth from the crowd, plates and utensils clattering, bodies pushed aside and more possessed eyes hatefully fixating themselves on the group. Quinn's initial response was to look both shocked and horrified, thinking Quigley had just bungled their one chance at saving Strong - only for her to notice how the bloodstains on Nami shimmered in a way blood wasn't supposed to. 

Of course, Amazo's best-handled school of magic had always been the creation of illusions. Even at his weakest, this would've been his strong point. For now, at least, the Blood Countess bought completely into the false impalement, letting go of Nami and even following along as Amazo took a few paces back, as convinced as she probably was that his conjured blade was dragging against her vertebrae, organs and spine. Her shock, however, wouldn't last forever.

"We got an exorcist in the house?!" he tersely asked to all those present. "It's now or never, folks!"
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Postby TennyoCeres84 » Wed Nov 06, 2019 12:07 am

"How do we see if Beliard is being influenced by Belial or some other demon? Play a variation on 20 Questions? Look for a tell?" Crystal asked Coombs as she followed after him. "If it is Belial, I doubt he'd take well to his cover being blown like that," she mused.

***

Aislinn did notice the precarious nature of the manmade crucible and paid close attention to the otherwise unguarded area. She listened intently to Gabriel's instructions and waited for the right moment to strike after Grimley's act.

***

Andrea smiled cheekily. "So your collective hope lies in Hope," she noted, then scoffing. "I don't know if the small world thing comes into play here or fate or what, but it's amazing how things seemed to have been lined up since the near beginning."

***

Aspasia nodded and clicked her tongue. "Don't shoot the messenger and that like. It's better to have some ways remain closed instead of the free for all that Sharpe, Swinburne and his merry band of fuckwits seem to want," she mused with a sigh.

***

Abdiel smiled earnestly, her dark eyes twinkling happily. She lightly squeezed his hand."Thank you," she said. "I also hope that we're one of the positive results that occur from this. I don't know all of the timelines and their outcomes, but I do get the sense we'll need every bit of joy and hope to persevere in the future, lights in the darkness."

***

"No need for an exorcist; I got this," Nami answered resolutely. Her voice shifted, sounding both distant and close, sonorous and deep. Her eyes once again glowed, and a radiance lit behind her face. If one of their group looked closely enough, they might have thought they saw the faint impression of gears turning as well, as though the justice-aligned aspect of Nami's Throne heritage was being roused partially.

She then directed her focus to the hostage first. "Lindsay Strong, I am here to help you reclaim your body, but you must fight and push the invading spirit out of it. Show her your strength and determination, your resolve to fight against Pride and all Infernal denizens who do not yearn for the same rights as we are meant to have."

"Elizabeth Bathory, Blood Countess, you have already been convicted and given your sentencing. Now, you hold this woman's soul and body hostage for your relentless pursuit of youth and immortality. I compel you to return to Hell to serve the rest of your time,"
she spoke with power. Her intonation was like a magnetic pull yanking at her core and out of Lindsay's body. The original owner would understand that she was effectively the one to give the Blood Countess the boot, with the Nephilim being the needed boost to help her win her body back.
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