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.
User avatar
IamLEAM1983
Site Admin
Posts: 3359
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:54 am
Location: Quebec, Canada

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

Archie shrugged lightly as he reminisced. "Of course, things were reversed, in this particular situation: I'd roped Sharpe's Clank double into working with me, while the genuine article led his group of Fae Secessionnists. I'd had more time to plan things out and spent weeks observing Phineas' efforts under the guise of a Fae Commoner granted a pardon and a then-reasonably-appointed Naughton armature. With enough information, it wasn't too hard to spot dissatisfaction in the enemy's ranks. Copying Sharpe's timetable allowed me to insert the double appropriately and to have him express his sympathies towards those who already threatened to - ironically enough - secede from this Secessionist attempt. Within a month, we had forty armed and willing supporters utterly convinced that the usurper sat on Sharpe's throne.
- Well, we don't have a week," snarled Gallows. "We ain't about to pussyfoot our way to Belial's offices, we're setting this up to wreck shit, and wreck shit fast.
- I agree that subterfuge isn't the key, here," agreed Nergal. "We're looking for immediate trauma; shock dealt out to whoever it is our snapshots depict, whether or not it's Belial."

Gallows made a sucking sound between his teeth. "Here's my proposal: I'm the sketchiest in Bob's peers, everyone already knows I barely need an excuse to shoot up a bunch of Pitspawn. The real deal would buy my wanting to try the other side for sport. We hit the forge, I split from your group during the descent, saying I want to take each individual kiln's worker and their team by surprise in a pincer move. With Matriel flooding the facility, I'll have plenty of opportunities to extend a hand, sort of. Just so long as you all look shocked enough once I - finger-quotes - betray you and bring Belliard forward on my own, we'll know right quick if the pig's the genuine article.
- And if he's planned for that?" asked Erin.

Gallows shrugged. "Whatever happens, I guess. The idea is you check if the mobster's Belial in the flesh, right? Accusations can wait, it's not like he's about to throw an even bigger monkey wrench in our plans."

Archie opted for a lopsided pout. "Hrm. If he really is focused on business operations, he would have more to gain out of working with or moderating Allocer, as opposed to following the Goat's current policies."

* * *

Outside of the factory office, noise died down progressively. Soon, all that was left involved soft gurgles of agony or the disturbingly casual chatter of the troupe's members as they patrolled and stalked the surviving demons. Grimley's slurps grew increasingly quiet, Valefor's struggling gestures turning ever weaker. Soon, Horatio parted from him, eyes lit with a peculiar glint, as though feeding imparted him with clarity or renewed wisdom. Keeping his voice low and soft, he whispered in the man's ear. They wouldn't hear what was said, but the result was obvious: the reborn and now dying man raised his head, his weakened state leaving opened to be cradled like a child. The addled Squid's barb-laden suckers tore open small gashes in his left wrist, which he offered to the soldier.

While Valefor drank, Horatio closed his eyes and hissed, fighting the pulling, painful sensation that radiated along his arm. Head lolling back, he fought to regain and maintain focus.

"You," he gasped, "you deserve a different initiation, former Scion of the Pit. We've no time for beatings, no time for torture, no time for breaking your mind like so much fine china, putting it back together in new ways, like building blocks... I only have one tool, one blow to strike, and it courses through you even now... You were Wrath, Valefor, and through me, the anguish and pain and regret of all those you've slaughtered are now returned to you tenfold."

Power of a different kind surged in his words, the Blood and the Curse knitting themselves together in accordance with his will. "I curse you, Valefor, with everlasting anguish, and eternal life. No life you could take will ever fill this void, no love will ever soothe you entirely, no river of blood will suffice in extinguishing the desperate longing I place within you. Forever will you seek the warm glow of validation, never to perceive it even if fully given. I curse you with weakness, so that seeking your enemies' wrath to end your suffering will forever be outside of your purview. My brood will not shun you, but never will you feel as one of our own..."

Strangely, it looked as though Valefor's newly-healed muscles were now atrophying even as he drank from the Ringleader. Progressively, mewling noises began to escape him, as though sucking on the open gash were some vain source of succor. His first and last human tears welled behind his closed eyes, blood soon giving a pinkish tone to the rivulets that left creases against his now deathly-pale cheeks.

Gasping, Horatio struggled to tie the curse together. "Regret is thy madness, Valefor the Ruined," he seethed. "Anguish, your wisdom. The Moon Dancers welcome you. Such is the will of your sire!"

Valefor pushed the Squid away, looking as though he'd been wanting to cry out in pain. What came out was a gurgling cough that soon transitioned into a quiet and pathetic wail. It slowly grew, until it looked as though his body could barely express the level of anguish and self-loathing he now carried. He looked as though screaming would've been his intention, but all that came out was a whisper.

"I couldn't feel them... I couldn't know! We'd never been made to feel like this - how could anyone from Wrath have understood?! Is this... Is this what guilt feels like?!"

Tom inhaled sharply. "This is... an inkling, yes. I've known guilt of a different kind, the kind you learn from, the kind that shapes you - that serves a purpose. Yours is a different burden to bear, Valefor."

The newborn vampire fell to his side and hugged his chest, bringing his knees in close. His chest quivered with sobs for several long seconds, until pain made him gasp. Black veins were beginning to crisscross his flesh, and a few teeth seemingly rotted out and fell from his gums in a timelapse display of decay.

"MAKE IT STOP!" he wailed, supernatural strength of a different stripe giving too much volume to his voice, for something produced by a chest cavity that increasingly looked like a terminal junkie's - deathly lean and pale, his stomach lightly swelling as if to evoke the gaping need he'd never manage to fill. Grimley, in the meantime, licked his wound closed and stood up relatively easily. He leaned on his reed cane a bit more than previously, but it wasn't anything another feeding wouldn't fix. Still, he extended a hand.

"It won't stop, Valefor," he said, his own madness tightly marshalled for now, only manifesting as a spasmic quivering of the corners of his lips, like a grin being pushed away. "It'll never stop. Get up and follow me, however, and it'll get easier. Somewhat. You want it to get easier, don't you?"

Something made Tom pay special attention to the moments that followed, as Valefor the Ruined extended a trembling hand, bloodshot eyes practically bursting with pathetic gratitude. His ears perked as the sire hoisted his new stripling to its feet, his nostrils quivering.

"We've done something, at least," he said, looking back to Aislinn. "It's faint, but I can just about hear other Damned screech, somewhere between the planes... It's the same thing I heard and smelled, the moment I started to get serious about becoming more humane and abandoning Asmodeus..."

Calhoun nodded. "The power vaccuum should be good for our side of the war effort. Wrath should all but drop off of the chessboard entirely while they in-fight to elect a replacement - and Pride needed their numbers badly. If they're alone against Centennial Park's forces, your friends' odds just dramatically improved.
- If it's Pride on its lonesome and Arthur is under pressure," noted the warthog, "We now have an efficient roadmap on how to treat the younger Holden's mounting delusions. They're looking to sap him of all sense of accomplishment, while Wrath tried to extinguish the local Freaks' guiding kindness."

Horatio helped Valefor on his feet and kept him there, hands bracing his shoulders. "You'll have a hard time staging an intervention like you did for me, Pride isn't likely to stop sending in soldiers or Brimstone mortar strikes."

* * *

"I think you just answered your question, Andrea," nodded Zeb. "It's unfortunate that the only person here who's of the Architect was born and raised in our timeline and can't perceive Time on the quantum level, but I can't exactly see God's purported teacher not leaving an escape clause in the Let's Shake Up the Spacetime Continuum Act. It's probably somewhere on the level of key events being preserved, Angel Time users put in place to make sure that no matter how many crafty modern-day denizens we lose, nobody stays gone for too long or otherwise gets to effect changes the Primordial Pair doesn't see as being beneficial."

He shrugged. "Think about it, Andrea - what if everything you've studied in History class up to this point were to currently include preventative measures, only we simply haven't developed the mundane or arcane technologies to chart them? After all, if this were truly catastrophic, wouldn't we already have found stone carvings of the Orkneys' Picts using, say, Karthian ion rifles against their Viking invaders? Or how about pilfered solid-state drives found in some French knight's tomb, only to be found to contain documents related to some scandal that hasn't even happened yet?"

Liz Pope seemed uncertain. "It's true that we haven't detected anything major, but even standard discourse in Dalarath comes complete with a means to chart Time to some degree. We've found small bubbles of change, but nothing we can make sense of until the war with the Pit dies down. While we're at it, you might as well know we're aware that there's been an odd disturbance in photon deflection and absorption in two places around Hope. One's lasted about sixty years, the other stretches back to 1905. The first one involves what looks to be your typical post-war bungalow in Renton, the other is in Francis Quigley's home, Hope's old Mystic Theatre. If energy states are being changed, like any timeline changes would cause, then it could explain why we've been able to chart small glitches like these."

Zeb looked about to agree or otherwise further develop the idea, when something made him take his hand off of his lapel. "Wait - Renton? Do you have the house's exact address?"

Returning to the Codex, Pope vaguely muttered in assent, until the lich was left pinching what looked like a holographic index card out of the cubic projection. "3256 Primrose Lane," he muttered. "That's Mayor Doherty's old childhood address... He moved out in the early nineties, to go study in Lincoln. I remember his grandfather being unusually strict about it..."

He stopped and then looked back up to Pope and Andrea. "No." he said, his tone almost ruefully derisive, even as his eyelights looked small in now entirely circular sockets. "No," he repeated, scoffing, "Wallace Doherty cannot be his own grandfather; Eustace Doherty was an active superhuman between 1932 and 1975; the family moved in from Nebraska in 1962! I remember Hammerhead taking a hiatus from do-gooding in '47 and refusing to discuss matters related to his love life or family!"

The lich sputtered in disbelief. "Hammerhead had years to perfect his craft, hone his strength and sharpen his reflexes; he had girth, but he made it work to his advantage! No disrespect intended to my city's elected official, but honestly? Wallace Doherty is a mustachioed slug, in comparison."

Pursing her lips together, Pope's tentacles briefly flared in an unconvinced puffing gesture. She accessed the Codex again, this time recovering sepia-toned archival footage that choppily showed a suit and domino mask-wearing walrus anthro sprint into frame as he caught the rear fender of a 1935 Ford Model 48 and strained against it, immobilizing it. Out climbed two men in suits and two more in stained canvas overalls and flat caps. The walrus' combat style was peculiar, as whatever blows he couldn't block looked as though they tucked into something that had the resistance and flexibility of ballistic gel. Even with the footage looking grainy, it was easy to see the anthro should've been bruised by more than a few of the landed strikes. Nothing changed in his appearance, safe for the fact that he was obviously letting them whale on him for the sake of ensuring they'd be worn out quickly.

Eventually, a crowbar came down on him just a tad too slowly, and out came one of the penniped's pudgy hands, crushing the man's wrist. Hands, arms and legs pumped and flexed in what looked to be a home-grown brawler's stance, until the assailants were all out of commission. He yelled at someone offscreen, exposing a brass tie pin shaped like a double letter H. In walked a pudgier and shorter man, something driving Zeb to request Liz to shuttle between two frames.

There it was, visible for half a second: a pair of cloven hooves superimposed on top of the equally masked man's suit pants.

Zeb scoffed amusedly at that. "Yes, I remember Hammerhead having an unusual hype man, in those odd instances where he'd be given a chance to speak before being assaulted. "Mister S. wasn't ever unmasked, unlike Hammerhead, and it was impossible to get ahold of him, somehow - he'd just pop in whenever convenient, either for himself or for whoever needed saving. He was an odd duck, sort of like the Cheshire Cat in human form and pointed ears. He didn't need to actually assault anyone; whoever so much as tried to hit him somehow landed a spot of bad luck that'd be so immediate and so damning it couldn't just be agility or proper situational timing. Even Silas thought it had to involve hexes to some degree, but it never felt evil enough to qualify..."

* * *

The guards gave Deirdre a once-over, muttered something in Old English to one another concerning Deirdre, and then looked at the group expectantly, before walking back to their posts. Taking this as an invitation, Three and Naberius walked forward, a few of the other demons following suit. It'd be obvious enough to figure out they'd be granted an audience.

Past the inner courtyard they went, following a more direct route than their previous covert dealings with the monarchs. The chamberlain barely stopped them, merely holding out a hand before the group for an instant.

"Their Highnesses are already in audience with Esquires Sharpe and McLusky, but they were informed of your circumstances' unusual nature. I was informed that those wishing to depart would be given dispensation from the curfew, while those of Meris' retinue who might wish to seek asylum are welcome to do so."

In crossing the inner courtyard and coming closer, Aspasia would've been able to refine her olfactory impression of the Humvee's owner: it smelled like crude oil and gasoline, if both normally pungent aromas had been toned down to something approaching a normal male's body odor. There was a hint of cologne floating over it all, and something earthy and sharp; like the slightly acrid smell of wet shale. It felt as though those textures were integral to McLusky's nature, if kept in check with a mundane bathing routine. As for Phineas, he carried the slight mustiness even the cleanliest of avian anthros couldn't escape - dust particles tended to cling to feathers - and the faintest trace of bile, carefully marshalled by a layer of day-old soap and a few spritzes of his own cologne. The chamberlain didn't lead them to the throne room, however, but rather to a secluded sitting room.

Oberon stood by a smaller, mundane replica of his Hearth, the dark browns and greens of his suit making the blazing red highlights of his hair and beard and the flecks of white that could be seen glimmer in the low light. He had his back turned to the proceedings, an elbow resting on his other folded arm, hand brought up to stroke his mustache. Titania had usually gone for a more wintry palette, for once, her deceptively small frame ensconced in a blue power suit that accentuated her shoulders and waistline. Her hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, something that made her look fairly driven. She was seated at one of a writing desk's two high-backed chairs, facing a bearded vulture anthro and something that looked like a pudgy human, if said human had been crudely carved from and glued together out of stone. Every tiny gesture produced a grinding noise, sharp flecks of shale growing in the pattern of a well-furnished walrus mustache. A few of the spines twitched as Titania's apparent response caught his attention.

"While I do hope to see that the Old Ways are observed, Mister McLusky," she said, "neither my husband nor myself can afford to ignore the harm you exposed your subjects to, in following Esquire Sharpe's agenda. You'll find the both of us glad to have you come to your senses, but a debt has been incurred that must now be paid."

Sharpe raised a talon. "Your Highness, if I may-"

Titania's response carried softly, but contained steel. "You may have sworn fealty to Mab, Esquire, your living holdings are still within my purview. As such, and as one of my subjects, you are to hold your tongue unless spoken to."

She turned her attention back to the rock troll, her eyes briefly flashing in the new group's direction. "You're in luck, Mister McLusky; it seems we've new guests. You've earned yourself a few minutes to think things through, before determing the nature of your payment."

The rock troll looked immensely relieved, but had sense enough to keep clutching his Stetson in both hands in an attempt at a demure posture. "You're mighty kind, Your Highness. May I offer a point, though?"

Titania gestured for the group to come closer, even as she arched an eyebrow at the troll. "My deal with Sharpe only went as far as providin' gas and power to Richelieu County in the advent o' the Fiends destruction of Louisiana's infrastructure," explained the troll. 'With respect, I wasn't concerned with his facilities, or how power would serve his goals o' collaboration with the enemy's more lawful types - I had the civilians in mind. My employees, their friends an' families, the survivors plugged into my power grid an' my gas mains. I might've powered much o' the South before this calamity, I owed no boons of ideology or mutual agreement to this man," he said, looking back to the vulture.

The Queen nodded. "It's come to my attention that your only bond to him stood in the form of a mundane non-disclosure agreement. You did well to avoid being sworn into a geas, Dwight - are you prepared to suffer the legal repercussions of reneging on your deal? I can provide succor in the advent of a broken Oath, there is little Oberon or I could offer if mister Sharpe chooses to see this as a breach of contract - no matter how agreeable to it you will find us."

* * *

Melmoth parted with a few base pleasantries for the woman, leaving none for St. Clair, and then returned to his previous seat after having replaced his disturbed chair. He then leaned in somewhat, to ensure Abdiel wouldn't have to raise her speakerphone's volume too much.

* * *

The sound that followed felt almost peristaltic in its construction, almost as if the nightclub were a living organism on the verge of vomiting. Nami's allies would only hear faint crackles, but they'd more than certainly hear the increasisng confusion and distress amongst the Damned. From their perspective, the demons suddenly went mad, tearing at one another when they couldn't re-open rifts for their own use or throw themselves fruitlessly at the Witch House's doors. Nami, however, would fully perceive the deafening screech the sound system produced, carrying as much physical revulsion as it did mere electrical discharge. The building's very being didn't want these things here - and using her provided power, attacked them like gastric acid attacks swallowed food. Before long, all that was left of Lucifer's would-be greeters and the group's would-be tormentors was the putrid stench of gore, errant loops of guts, and the rising mustiness of old dust. They'd travelled on their own instead of being summoned, so their remains couldn't have travelled back to Hell. The nightclub again followed Nami's will, producing frequencies so fine as to sever the atomic bonds of the demons' remains. It all turned to ash and dust within a few seconds. There'd be no stains to lift, only dust to vaccuum.

Harker couldn't stifle a sneeze. "Okay so... That just happened. What now? What about Quigley?"

Lucifer looked back to the spot the anthro snake had occupied. "That's one heck of a question, sweetheart," he said. "I'd tell you if I knew, but I can't know until I step out of the bubble, get Her perspective."

Nami's new senses would perceive something... odd, somewhere along the club's brick-lined wall, next to the bar. It felt as though the machinery and circuits of the plane were stepping aside, creating a thinner space in the flesh of the Real. What was stranger still was how this didn't come with the sense of desecration that followed the Others, when They sent one of their messengers forth. God's Creation wasn't being violated, somewhere behind the brick wall - but it was instead being carefully pushed aside. The mortar's lines turned to cold light, as grinding gears that remained unseen pulled the two halves of this new door open. Light seeped forth, along with a forlorn ticking - like that of a distant grandfather clock.

Amazo's voice rang from within. "So I just step on through?" he asked someone. "How different are things over there? They do know what I am, don't they?"

The voice that replied felt old and weary, but possessed of a deep fount of remaining conviction. "You will find many familiar sights, but the strangeness of their world will not shock you for long. The threshold will impart to you all that was your other self's.
- What about my world?"

The old voice chuckled dryly. "You solved the Sublime Degree to prove your superiority to even Solomon in his prime. Should you wish to renounce these new, and soon old friends of yours, I shall put another puzzle in your path, Francis Herbert Quigley.
- If it's anything like the last one, it'll be a cinch, for sure," commented the snake. As he did, his caped silhouette - and that of an old man's - became visible against the light.

"One last thing: can you tell Naberius not to leave the stove on? It looks like I won't be coming home for dinner anytime soon.
- The next test will leave no room for such arrogance, Archmage," said the old man, in a tone that sounded both a little rueful and fond, somehow. "It is my hope that the coming weeks will see you grow. Your other self paid a heavy price for his wisdom, and he now walks in your stead."

The snake's silhouette froze. "Wait. So you're not just dumping me here - Hobo Resistance Force Me is taking over in my world?! That wasn't part of the deal!
- You solved the Sublime Degree," repeated the old man, as if that was reason enough. "All forces must exist in balance, and one of you must exist in all worlds. A trade was the only true option; your Nexus will heal him."

What followed was almost comical, Amazo's silhouette looking as though his cane and cape had a will of their own and were dragging him out of the aperture. Shoe soles were heard squeaking against the Eldritch material of whatever rift it was they were looking onto. He muttered and sputtered and groaned, struggling to oppose his will against that of Solomon's raiments, apparently, until a final trip and loss of balance more or less catapulted him into the nightclub beyond, arms windmilling and feet pumping as he struggled not to lose his balance. His cape didn't let him, apparently, and yanked in the opposite direction to force him to remain standing. Haraldson took a step closer, while this new Amazo stuck his hands on his knees to sputter and cough for a few seconds. He then looked up, panting.

"So the old fart wasn't lying, huh? I do know you! You're Magnus Haraldson," he said, pointing, "you're Lindsay Strong, this is Quinn Harker...
- And Toto was there and you, too Auntie Em!" replied Lucifer, going for mock cheer before twisting his features into a sneer. "Christ, I shoulda known the boss and the old man had a few more curveballs to toss..."

The wall began to close. "I give you another tool," called the Architect, "another ally! This is Amazo the Magnificient, Heir of Solomon!"

The wall closed. Silence stretched out for a second or two. Lucifer apparently forgot to blink in that interval.

"WHAT?!" was all he could manage.

User avatar
TennyoCeres84
Site Admin
Posts: 2689
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:59 am

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

"That makes more sense in the long run. The Goat's numbers are already depleting resources, and if things ever calm down, Allocer will more than likely be involved in rebuilding the city. Thus, I can see where a blacksmith of his caliber would be useful," Crystal grumbled.

She frowned. "And from what I've heard of his character, he'd probably try to smooth over any anger with some persuasive rhetoric," she deduced.

***

Aislinn clicked her tongue in frustration. "They're pushing him into a corner until he buckles. He might attempt to drain Sophia and Ciaran, since he's losing his trust in them. The Goat wants the Nexus to fall, so supes lose their abilities and vampires fall into a deep torpor. I'd suggest going to Sophia and Ciaran first, but I don't know their situation at the moment," she said tensely.

She glanced over at Horatio. "Our chance of intervening with Arthur's plight would improve if Lucifer was here. He'd be able to tweak his insanity, if what I know from the lore is accurate. The Gentlemen would have finished editing my call and sent it out. Though, whether he chose to heed it and come this way is another matter altogether, not to mention how long it might take him to get here," she explained, nervously running a hand through her hair.

***

Andrea's eyebrows shot up incredulously. "So, you mean Doherty went back in time, broke all those time travel paradoxes to become Hammerhead himself, and is now buddies with Hammerhead's sidekick?" she asked, scoffing.

She sobered slightly. "It's like someone granted Doherty's wish in a weird sort of way. Mom mentioned how Doherty liked the limelight and the attention, yet he had this reluctance to fully trust supes. Then he somehow became one and now is a part of the Golden Age of Superheroes," she noted.

***

Meris and Aspasia proceeded forth with the rest of the group. Given the sight of Sharpe, the Fauness repressed a snarl, but her red-tinged ears flattened against her head. Meris maintained a cool gaze, even though she was just as displeased at having the avian Fae there as the Chimera was. Both women remained quiet until Titania or Oberon would direct them to speak.

***

Abdiel once again erected the forcefield to keep prying ears from listening to their conversation and then placed the phone on the table. Matrie's slightly tinny voice came through clearly, "Hello, Abdiel. I am glad I was able to get a hold of you. I will not be able to talk for long, though. I checked ahead and I'll have to leave soon for Hell to work with Nergal and some of our friends," he said.

"Nergal? Why?" Abdiel inquired, her brows knitting together confusedly.

"Holden and Lowell are with them in Walpurgis, but they're headed to Hell to launch an assault on Belial's forges, hoping to flush him out. Chances are he's somehow possessed a mortal mobster and is going to be in for a surprise soon enough," he noted. "Another likelihood is that he may have at least have some backup plans for the mortal plane, if he's found out."

He continued, "I'm aware that you left with Meris and the others earlier today, but I can sense you're no longer in the United States."

"Right, that 's because we had to take a detour to Vienna, Austria. Some of Court members followed us here after the Palace was attacked; Meris, Aidan, and the rest have likely made it to London," she responded.

Partway through her statement, the Throne's voice quietened some, "What?! How?"

"We're not entirely sure how, but from what we've learned from Meris and this situation, we have a mole problem within our own side, brother. More than one, actually. The central goal seems to be derailing our efforts at equal collaboration among mortals, angels, and demons. Not only that, but they're collaborating with the Chamberlain and involving a mortal close to Aidan Drake."

An all too human groan of frustration and exasperation came through, leaving him to sigh. "As if we didn't have enough on our plate, but there's been some major developments here, too."

***

After the demons had been turned to dust, Nami returned to her regular appearance. Her wings remained out, though. She curiously took in the new eyes that lined the edge of her wings. "Well, those are new," she murmured, appraising them. However, her self-reflection ended as she picked up the sound of gears turning from the brick wall.

She listened to the conversation between the Architect and the other Quigley. What had happened with the other snake soon made itself apparent as the new arrival made his awkward entrance. Hie resistance to being pulled there by his cape and staff, along with Lucifer's disbelief caused the Nephilim to sputter and then youthfully giggle and chuckle. "Well, that was clever of the Architect and God. Two Heirs of Solomon will add that much more of a punch against the Goat's forces!" she chirped.

She calmed herself and then lightly waved to Amazo. "Obviously, you already know me, but I'm Nami. Though, we should get any questions out of the way before heading off to where we're needed next. Magnus Tower is one choice, but let's compare notes first, eh?"

User avatar
IamLEAM1983
Site Admin
Posts: 3359
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:54 am
Location: Quebec, Canada

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

"That goes for both of them," noted Nergal. "I know Allocer won't deny his having changed policies if it comes to it, but he'll certainly find a way to have it seem as having been intended. Belial has some advantage in that he's already taken care of coaxing those who needed it. One is a politician, the other is a born snake," he said grimacing lightly.

Erin pouted in assent and glanced at her empty drink. "It takes one to know one, doesn't it?" she said. "It used to be we ordered product from Belial for our own gains, back in Mesopotamia..."

Bob didn't look especially shocked by that detail. "So? If I'd had my eye on total war and didn't have access to serious ordnance, I would've gone to him, too! You picked things up at your own pace and eventually severed your ties, right?
- Not for the right reasons," countered Ereshkigal. "We could smelt iron and craft our own weapons and armor, and we had Angel Time to pick through the entirety of mortalkind's martial history for inspiration. If we hadn't cared to allow some of the city-states near the Euphrates and Tigris to worship us, we could've broken the timeline by deploying atomic warheads before mortals would've so much as mastered steel. Can you imagine Hiroshima taking place before the Bronze Age?"

Gallows grunted. "What kept you, then?
- Ego, at first," admitted Nergal. "Warfare was our form of worship, our expected sacrifice. If we killed everyone, there'd be nobody left to spin early politics conveniently enough for our purposes, or demonize enemies. Practical restraint turned to care over time. Guilt gestated later, even if it only broke through Ego once we were condemned by the Choir."

Archie nodded. "And where does Belial sit on this scale, currently?
- He's practical," immediately replied Walpurgis' patron. "Coldly practical. If there's so much as a chance of him seeing the error of his ways, we're centuries ahead of it, at least. I know him enough to know he's not sadistic, but that's not a marker of empathy. Ask Tom Magus the next time you see him - he works souls the same way he does steel. He's either stored Thomas Quint aside, considering, or tore him apart so he'd be reforged or remade in a more suitable form."

Archie's eyebrow quirked, a servo almost quietly whirring in response. "Should we be worried?
- No," replied the skeletal demon. "Meris broke him, didn't she? She and a few others, if I recall correctly. His suffering, however, his hatred and his madness - they're all tools he can put to use in the creation of other servants. Like flux or on a bed of steel, or steel rods for a Damascus weave. I know I wouldn't waste my time reforging that particular blade - you have all the non-oxidized steel, all the fresh blume that was left, so to speak, in the person of your Warlock friend.
- If suffering involves concrete memories," opposed Holden, "even a sane and relatively powerless Fiend could cause trouble, if given Quint's memory of his downfall.
- Maybe," opposed Nergal, "but you're in luck: I've never seen or heard of Belial infusing his servitors with raw potency. Capability is something that's difficult to extricate from any given soul; it can't be grafted into someone else. It has to grow."

The former Clank looked unconvinced. "I've seen some of Morgana's servants take to Orcish servitude - specifically the hired use of Cursed Ones rendered positively ardent with demonic cunning. All a reborn Quint would need would be that kind of guile, that exact sort of intellect, to countermand its original flaws.
- Presto," noted Bob on a sardonic tone, "you've got an arcane criminal mastermind that can bench two tons on his worst days while choking do-gooders with his washboard abs."

* * *

Grimley looked like he wasn't entirely aware of the ruined, mewling body he was keeping on its feet with a hand. "Oh, right," he said, "you did ring his bell not too long ago! Well, if we had Lilith around I'd maybe think this would be a cinch - but as it stands? My great-great-great-sire might have have more of a chance at sniffing the Lightbringer out if he'd been around, but anything Celestial's in this noggin's been drowned out by Barbary organs and the smell of cotton candy a long, long time ago..." he explained, tittering in unjustified glee.

Seeing this, Tom shrugged and approached the now-vacated desk. He recovered the dropped Scotch tumblers, recovered the half-spilled bottle of Chivas Regal and corked it. "Lucky for us," he said, "I'm a demon. I have some of Grimley's own issue in that I'm not exactly Lady Ceyx or Prince Barbello, but I'm still generationally closer to him, overall. With Asmodeus being every incubus' father, the Lightbringer's exactly the kind of distant uncle we might need," he said. "Failing that, I can at least ping him and ensure we'll meet up shortly."

He looked around. "We don't have much to work with or a lot of time to spare, so subtlety has to go out the window," he said, looking back down on the Scotch bottle and the two tumblers. A second passed, and he glanced back at Aislinn.

"A little jazzed-up bare-bones vodun essentials, a dash of minute-long hedonism... We might be able to whip up a quick calling card," he told her. "I doubt I'll be able to encode the ritual with anything as precise as GPS coordinates, but the general notion that things would be more fun if Lucifer Lightbringer were around to pass the hooch between a selkie archmage, her Warlock lover and a few of their friends might do the trick."

Calhoun coughed. "I'll have to excuse myself, considering. As much as I'd like to partake in these libations, doing in on an empty stomach would be unwise," he said, looking back to Grimley. "If you'll hand me Valefor, I can drop him off to what's left of Arthur Holden's entrenched reinforcements.
- Not without an escort, you won't," countered Horatio. "Besides, I can't drink either, and I've got a troupe of undying former leeches-turned-Revenants-or-Soul-born-or-whatever to lead back to safety!
- One of us has to stay to lead these two home, right?" asked Calhoun, pointing back at Ais and Tom, to which the Warlock shrugged. He slightly loosened his control on his Infernal urges, a smidge of carnal confidence making his smirk look almost buttery-smooth.

"Hello," he said, "Planes merging, free portals to and from Hell, geography and distance rendered meaningless to anyone with a shred of power and an inch of know-how? I'll have us back home safe and social, maybe slightly inebriated, but still fully clothed and hopefully in excellent company."

* * *

"It'll certainly change a few policies once things go back to normal," noted Zeb. "I spent the last eighty years voting for a loosening of the registration laws - I was always peeved about stories that involved the occasional bigoted employer!" he said. "It isn't as though every single metahuman ability imaginable can be mastered within a day or two; not every gifted child or budding mage can be trusted to be immediately safe, and that calls for guidance, not abandonment! I needed close to two centuries to find anyone who could've taught me focus and restraint; so that temporal paradox can hopefully bring some good into being!"

Liz nodded. "Who was that first positive influence?
- Meris McConmara, technically," noted Zeb. "She tried to teach me a few things, but that was before I'd be rendered, well, receptive to it. Silas Robertson's an older one, true, but I can't count him in. It's really no fault of his own."

He hesitated. "I was at the bottom. I was recently deceased, newly reborn, and hopeless. I didn't listen to Silas. How could I have listened to him? I wasn't ready. He took the proverbial bull at the horns as soon as his skin and muscles had sloughed off, he sought out Cordatus Tanner - but I couldn't. Not at the time, at least. Silas was never much of a weeper, and I still don't really know how much of a doer I am. I suppose that's about to change, now that certain things have happened.
- Which means you'll need Meris and Silas again - if Nasir's tweaking didn't somehow alter the way you tap into the World's Breath."

It was Liz's turn to briefly paused. "What's - What's it feel like, anyway?" she asked. "I can study models and testimonies all day long, but I'll never be a practitioner like you are, mister Buck."

That softened the lich's slightly forlorn disposition and made his gaze retreat inwards for a second. "Magic is akin to an old lantern's flame, to me. In years past, I'd sense it as a meagre comfort for my undying coil and a changing, protean keeper for my mind. I remember seeing Silas produce his practical marvels for the first time and being left speechless, or sensing Meris' sheer poetry in her workings, realizing just how clumsy my own efforts had always been. Coach has a nicely-tuned Bunsen burner's flame, so to speak, and Meris has the glowing, bracing warmth of her own convictions to lean on. I don't know how either of them perceive or would so much as describe the World's Breath, personally - but that is my own descriptor."

A slight smile touched his jawline. "I step out into the mansion's rear garden, remove my slippers and sink the phalanges of my toes into moist, damp earth. If I close my eyes, quiet my mind and reach deep, I feel the meekest of sparks taking root in my chest. When I was drunk, I'd confuse that for a serious surge of power, sometimes, and overexert myself. Others, if not the city itself, always paid the price for my botched spells. I've never been quite so thoughtless as Quint, but I have been Hope's local embarrassment long enough to have a set of stories that would make any mage blush in indignation."

Pope nodded. "And now that spark is a tiny flame, then.
- Yes," nodded the lich. "I've a flutter of hope, somewhere inside, and I'm scared to act on it. I'm afraid I'll lose it like I did the others. I'm... afraid I'll disappoint you. I don't want to return to who I was before Nasir. God help me for saying it, but I'm almost glad Holden asked me to help, even if it started with innocents left stranded with Deputy Chief Lowell and Andrea."

He looked back to Andrea. "I know it's a horrible thing for me to say, but I'm starting to think yours and your mother's predicaments were part of something I needed. Some reason to act."

* * *

Sharpe, obviously, protested. "Your Majesty, this would constitute an Oath breach. I've always instructed my notaries to follow the Old Ways in their drafting policies."

Oberon turned away from the window, his American accent sharp, in constrast to his wife's rather received delivery. "Your notaries," he said. "Lawyers and pencil-pushers, modern-day scribes... The law doesn't follow any man's will or anyone's word, Phineas," he said. "We have an honor system dipped in thousands of years of suffering and sacrifice, ritualized and sacralized long before the Bane was ever so much as contained in modern steel. The law doesn't care about honor. Any country's laws are built on common sense and efficiency, on foundational social principles - not the high-stakes pissing matches Morgana so likes to set for Titania, or Mab for myself."

He glanced at Meris and Aspasia as he walked closer. "This world understands the power of written words, Phineas. You've used and abused of them to divest families of their goods, to plant seeds of dissent in communities that were crying for a unificator, not a divider! Why use an Oath when you can expropriate, hm? Why rescind your welcome in accordance with the Old Ways, when you could force some of McLusky's fellow Troll contractors to push pyrite cracks through the foundations of Commoner houses that wouldn't be paid off in a generation? Why issue a summons or schedule a Moot, when you can buy out neighborgoods?"

Sharpe blinked. "What?! I never-
- I know you didn't," sneered the King, "you're too careful to do something so brazen. We have files, however. Names. Things with power in the eyes of the very mundane system you've exploited."

Oberon scoffed. "Civil clerks drafting Oaths for Louisiana's Summer Lord - ha! As if the Gate and Key to the Realms could be passed on to just about anyone with a Middle Management Degree earned in a cereal box!
- Unfounded allegations and mockery - you, sir, are exactly why so many rumors place me at Morgana's side! America's vassals are growing tired of the Court's involvement in their affairs, and we've all stood by gormlessly while the mundanes tossed tea boxes into Boston Harbor! How can we be free if we both stand as American citizens and members of Faerie's sovereign nation?!"

Titania all but groaned in exasperation. "Esquire, our rule has been apolitical in nature since the Vienna Accords' ratification! We are as we are if only for the Realms' safekeeping, not to besmirch the battles you, yourself, fought and lost!"

Nodin coughed loudly at that point. "Nodin Sigismund Thorn, Thrall of the Vanir, formerly Morgana's appointed Doom made manifest - I hate to interrupt, but I'd like to bring Deirdre Owens to the Esquire's attention. No matter what the King and Queen's words may be, she has failed in her mission on Phineas Sharpe's behalf. Rhode Island's metahuman force remain unswayed towards the Halcyon Collective's greater goals. Her word, in sum, has been broken. An Oath, undone not by dint of will, but by lack of conviction."

Furor left Titania's features, something forcing her to recompose herself. "The Old Ways are clear - Phineas Sharpe is free to seek compensation, in exchange for this woman's life."

The ossifrage didn't much time to think it through. "I ask for Mrs. Owens' life, My Queen. In exchange, I shall grant Hope and America a year and a day of rest from my efforts. My followers will be given a seat at this table in due time, but I can be patient."

Three coughed as well. "He means he wants an extra year to scheme his way past his own moronic staff. Your Highness."

The bird looked annoyed that a human could oversimplify his efforts. "Mister Drake - I didn't expect to run into your pithy attempts at glib commentary. That said, I can be amenable. What else could I offer you?"

Three thought back through the last few weeks' events, including what had transpired to his coworkers.

"Swinburne," replied Aidan. "I want him silenced and delivered alive to Magnus Tower. Tom will want a word, and then I think our Squid friends will want to figure out how a slippery eel like him wormed his way past crippling Oaths - which I'm sure you've tried to place on him before."

Sharpe stared at Drake like he'd been slapped in the face. "Squids? What in God's good name are you talking about?"

A few seconds passed, Drake trading a glance between Nodin and Meris. "So he doesn't know. He's been infiltrated - Swinburne wore a Flesh Mask in front of him."

Catching on, Titania couldn't hold back a smirk. "It would seem so, and he holds his maintained sanity to this agent's goodwill towards him - or to his handlers' stated mission parameters."

* * *

Melmoth waited for Abdiel and Matriel to clarify the latest events, his brow furrowing as the Fire Throne's exposé went on.

"Mat - it's Melmoth," he said, raising his voice by just a smidge so the speakerphone would pick it up. "I'd have already rung your bell if I'd learned of any off-base transactions involving souls. If anything's happened that didn't involve your typical psychopomp fare, I don't have intel on it. Either my market indicators are suddenly bullshit - and I've been in the business of souls long enough to know they aren't - or someone's wheeling and dealing from your plane. Sammael herself would be down here with us if someone had kept one or more souls from transitioning properly, so everything points to someone tucking an acquaintance of Drake's away for later use shortly after their passing. Long enough for that soul to pass into Heaven as expected, but short enough for the Choir to not notice their absence. Sam's obviously exonerated by default and the other Grim Reapers aren't in the habit of entertaining the Pit. Baron Samedi could withdraw a soul from Ascending or Falling, but only temporarily. It takes a lot for the loa to force someone to wander the Shadowlands. That would serve as a decent spot to hide someone, but Samedi's not the scheming sort."

He clicked his tongue. "I'd have something like intel if the Goat or someone else had plans for a former colleague of Drake's, but I've got zilch as of now. All of that narrows our potential culprits down, and you can guess the type of one of 'em. The other one would have to be one of the Squids."

* * * 

The snake anthro tried to make his dusting himself off and replacing his clothes look dignified, and didn't entirely succeed. After a few seconds, his cape apparently snapped itself a few times to rid itself of any remaining dust, the three sharp tugs against his shoulders making him pause - in obvious aggravation.

"As I was about to say, I know Meris didn't have the necessary intel to tackle the Vices from Day One. That's one difference between this world and mine: as soon as my Naberius briefed me on my responsibilities, I knew I'd be doing the world a favor if I fixed seriously pressing issues, first. I tracked down one of the Goat's earlier contenders in the forties and used it as bait to draw the Goat out. I trapped him in a phylactery and then used, oh, six or seven levitating sledgehammers, I forget how many exactly - to bash that ungodly expensive spindle of criminally-sourced German crystal to bits. Nobody knew, nobody rejoiced over it, my Gabriel knew enough not to make a scene out of it. I got my military parade and my medal from Eisenhower for killing Hitler with a hex, adopted his dog and that was that for Pride on Earth."

Quinn blinked. "You adopted Blondi. You."

The snake surveyed the club's overall disarray as he answered, spotting Lucifer's abandoned whiskey bottle. "What was I supposed to do, euthanize a two year-old wild German Shepherd for the crime of having been a despot's pet? Come on, I've been called an ass in the past, but I'm not that cruel! The ol' girl lived to the ripe age of thirteen, then I put her to sleep before cancer turned her bones to paper mâché."

Lucifer gestured back to the wall and followed Quigley to the bottle. "What about your other you? Our you?
- You heard the Architect," replied Francis as he poured himself a measure, "He's safe and sound, plugged in with my Sophia's Nexus. There's no trans-planar war in my universe, so by the time she's done with him, it'll pretty much be a close case of tomayto, tomahto between the two of us. He won't be the Heir of Solomon, sure, but Soph knows he deserves a leg-up for his efforts. In the meantime, consider me his stand-in."

He observed his glass for a moment, then rolled his free hand's wrist, producing a playing card. Its number-sporting face was blank, however, and as polished as a mirror. "The Old Geezer gave me the runaround, before sending me here. We can head back to the tower to prep for the final push, or we can avert a potential tragedy over in Centennial Park's trenches. I don't have the specifics exactly because both gods wanted to stack odds in our favor, but we'd be definitely welcomed there."

Haraldson justifiably looked alarmed. "Then we should hurry," he said. "I'm afraid you'll have to recollect elsewhere, Herr Quigley."

Francis looked back at the Draugr with a vague smirk, deliberately taking his time to take a sip from his glass. "What really freaks me out, though, is seeing you, Crusty," he said, adding a wink to it. In seeing Magnus' vaguely offended look, he shook his head. "Crusty's my nickname for the other Magnus Haraldson, seeing as my Aldergard Kuhn put a bonafide dragon cult in place over the Orkneys, in pre-Roman times. The locals revolted and most of the local history's still the same, but the other you was real glad that a few zealous idiots from the Waffen-SS showed up in the Outer Hebrides, in 1940. You snacked on about six jackboot-wearing Capri Suns, leaving one alive to schlep you back to Berlin. The Black dragons' planned thousand-year reign had failed, so you swapped that last part out for a thousand-year Reich."

Magnus looked disgusted, his fangs lightly showing just underneath his upper lip. "My brethren and I would never so much as attempt a coup; Aldergard swore us in service to Dragon's Peak and the Orkneys!"

Francis gestured with his glass. "Sorry; I just wanted to see how close you were to my Crusty Dead Guy, Mags. Parallel universes come with a bevy of changes great and small. Your Draugr are cursed to root out and feed from evildoers, my Draugr take in all the evil they ingest. Give a dour tactician a few thousand years and enough blood, and you go from being rude to bystanders to thinking that some crazy Austrian art-school has-been has the right idea. When I last saw your asshole twin, he made the sixties' bored megalomaniacs look like fuzzy teddy bears."

Quinn looked vaguely annoyed. "It's been fun, but we've got a traumatized HPD employee to drop off somewhere safe."

User avatar
TennyoCeres84
Site Admin
Posts: 2689
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:59 am

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Crystal scoffed at Bob's sardonic comment and sighed. "Joking aside, we don't know for sure unless we somehow got Belial to be completely honest with us. If he's as coldly practical as you say, he could potentially create such a person, but it'd have to benefit him for him to do so," she mused as she looked at Bob, Nergal, and Archibald respectively.

"If such a process is possible for him, what would he have to gain from it? I think that's the question we have to consider to be able see if it has any veracity," she opined.

***

Aislinn scoffed with a slight smile and nodded. "I think that could work. We need to divide up the work to make sure things go the way we want them to. Meeting with Lucifer is important if he is here; we have to start coordinating how we're going to counter the Goat's attacks with him since he probably knows the bastard batter than anybody," she replied.

***

Andrea gave Zeb a look that seemed resigned to his point, while she also didn't want to entirely accept it. "That makes sense. Anything magical in nature, whether it's a spell or a transformation, will has to be the center of it, regardless whether it's entirely positive for all of the involved parties."

She shrugged. "If you can put this new incentive of yours to good use, then I can see what we went through as not being entirely in vain. Helping others is the best reason to strive toward something, so I hope that fuels your future endeavors, Zeb."

***

Meris raised a finger to indicate a point. "Knowing those with Swinburne's inclinations, he may expect this. He probably knows he can't stay off the Fae radar entirely. If Sharpe approaches him to fulfill this deal, he may think Sharpe's outlived his usefulness and turn him into his plaything, if he feels the need to."

"Or a handy bodyguard, like some of those gunned down at Holden Hall. The jaw strength in his beak would be quite useful mingled with whatever qualities Swinburne felt like slapping together with his abilities. No sense of identity, completely malleable to his whims," Aspasia added.

The archmage nodded and eyed Titania. "We need to consider is more beneficial to us so we don't open ourselves to the depredations of someone with unknown motivations or connections."

***

"Agreed. That criteria certainly narrows the culprit. Unfortunately, I can't sort out who they might be amongst our numbers. However, I can have some people search for me. Namely, Nami and Ariel."

Abdiel blinked. "Why those two? As far as I know, Ariel is still in Heaven and Nami is at her job."

"I've sent a message to Ariel to fill in for me, and she will arrive soon to take up my stead. As for Nami, she's been involved in a lot of developments today. Firstly, she escorted Ephesian and Miranda Roberts the safety of Magnus Haraldson's quarters after taking out some of Belial's minions, then she aided Haraldson and Quinn Harker in exoricising Elizabeth Bathory from the rank of deputy chief. She also awakened as the fifth Throne."

There was a pause as the Fire Elemental absorbed this and processed. "Fifth Throne of what? And how?"

"Her particularly Element seems to be technology itself. Mind you, her power is a small percentage of our own. Her power was increased by Lucifer after his return. She apparently encouraged the electronics in a club to develop just enough sentience to obliterate a mob of Lucifer's admirers."

"What prompted Lucifer to return? Members from both sides have been searching for and calling him for millennia to return!" she countered.

"Based on what I could see in Angel Time, he followed after Aislinn McConmara's call that had been modified by the Gentlemen and sent out into space. He just arrived a little while ago and is currently speaking to an alternate Amazo the Architect sent over after our version of Quigley suffered heart complications after fending off Bathory. He's being healed in the other universe."

Another few moments of silence passed as the angel took all of this in. "Well, this has been quite the day," she mumbled to both men, running a hand through her hair.

***

Nami looked like she had enough of the idle banter and frowned. "We need to weigh our options based on what is the greater danger at the moment," she stated, then looking over at Quigley. "What's the tragedy that we need to prevent? Depending on what it is, we can send the needed forces over there."

She looked over at the police officer they had saved. "As for her, she needs to somewhere away from who would seek retribution for Bathory. The most likely choice would be Magnus Tower, so she can recover from her ordeal."

The Nephilim then glanced back over at Lucifer. "By the way, how did you know to return to Earth? Otou-san told me that others have looking for you for some time. What made you realize you were needed here?" she asked him.

User avatar
IamLEAM1983
Site Admin
Posts: 3359
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:54 am
Location: Quebec, Canada

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

"I'm thinking he could use a PR nerd," noted Erin. "If he manages to kickstart weapons manufacturing back in Hope, he won't be able to get by on mobster moxie - the reinstated rule of law won't allow it. He'll do fine as a blue-collar supervisor or a factory-floor boss, but his product's going to need a manufacturing deal to sell. Either he sells to one of the American weaponsmiths, or he somehow puts enough capital together to start his own brand."

"One would believe this to be impossible," noted Archie, but many within Greed wouldn't balk overmuch at the thought of short-circuiting mundane financing requirements. Wyvern Securities and the Vienna Council are going to fight for the viability of the world's legal tenders with tooth and claw, that much is obvious. The supernaturals that helped usher in the Accords understood the value of temperance as a force applied to immortals' endeavors, but many in our new guests won't be quite so considerate."

Bob nodded. "He'll need a smooth-talker, someone to walk the right steps, get money loaned the right way - all so nobody notices his factory's first few prototypes might've started claiming lives. Quint was already a schemer, add more focused goals and some self-control and he'd be the exact kind of goon I'd consider. Belial's probably pitched Pride's bean counters, but I woulda heard from Ahriman if someone from Wormsworth's old digs had opted in to chuck some moolah in the Smith's direction."

Gallows added a grunt. "We've got dying, dead or comatose Orcs the world over thanks to this shit, so Belial's new best friend would have the pick of the litter."

* * *

Tom's smile turned even warmer, his steps slow and sightly meandering even as he crossed the small distance between himself and the roane. They served as a tease, the unspoken and obvious fact that if a dash of pleasure was needed to call the Lightbringer forth, he didn't mind taking a few minutes to make a game out of it.

"Right now," he said, stopping in front of Aislinn as he poured a measure into one of the glasses and handed it to her. "It's vitally important that I coordinate the way light catches this Scotch with your face's angles and curves. The rest can wait for a bit, while we limber up..."

The slight plosive of his last world turned into an invitation. He was far from drunk, but he had the sweet and heady scent of classic Scots spirits on his mouth. Something of his old scents, those that had followed him back when his tumescence had been constant, shyly rose to the surface. Tom didn't exactly intend on going too far, they still had a set of goals to reach, but Lucifer's byword was hedonism. 

A bit of release, a necktie slightly loosened, old power allowed to flow slightly more freely than before... Tom's old urges turned into a comfortable itch in the back of his brain: the concerted need for Aislinn's lips, the gleam of her teeth, the flash of her eyes or the sound of her laughter, perhaps. The old office next to the factory floor wouldn't have been a suitable place to take things any further, but they also didn't need to. All they needed was to consecrate a liplock, a bit of shared warmth or a peal of laughter to the Choir's enfant terrible.

"When we get home, after all this," he whispered in her ear, "I'm shucking off my jacket, rolling my sleeves and wrapping the both of us in one of your throw blankets. I'm spending twenty minutes with my snout perched right here," he said, as he planted a slight kiss at the base of her forehead, next to her hairline, "and I'm going to catalog each and every nuance of your hair's scent..."

The smooth curve of his left tusk carefully brushed her right eyebrow. "You smell like everything that's still good about this world. Sea brine and spearmint, summer rain and home-made sandwiches, Sharpie ink and burning dust stuck between your tattoo gun's coils... Their memories, I send out in my call."

His lips melded with hers, but he didn't quest further. The kiss felt like a stamped letter, a surge of sensual power leaving the warthog as his call was sent.

* * *

"I feel like it will," reassured the lich, who then looked back to Liz. "The others are probably scheming on their own, by now. We should probably return to them."

Liz nodded. "I'll take you back to the front lobby, someone's sure to tell us where the others went off to."

A weak chime made her look at her smartwatch. "The angels and Einherjar are in position around the city," she said. "We've stirred up enough via for the enemy to know we're up to something. If Nergal and the others have something planned, it'll have to happen soon."

The lich looked back the way they came. "Let's get going, then. Considering what I've been able to do in Hope, there's a theory I'd like to test."

* * *

Titania's gaze slid to Oberon, who stroked his beard with a hand and lightly exhaled. "By my crown, Phineas Sharpe," he said, "you'll deliver your agent to our allies in America," he said, glancing in Meris and Aidan's direction. "So do I swear."

The words acted like an unseen vice around Sharpe's throat, the bird's gullet closing and his ambergris eyes lightly widening in panic. This left the King to smirk knowingly.

"Subjects may step away from the Crown, Phineas," he said, "but Mab and Morgana aren't much more than pretenders. Your ties to Summer, my Queen - and to me, by extension - have always remained."

The ossifrage grimaced. "Lady Morgana said-
- The Unseelie are rebels, spirits of dissent one and all," replied Titania. "Ask any revolutionary; any rebel still is part of some hierarchy. The Seasons, Phineas, were claimed by us in our hour of freedom against our dragon creators. Anyone who told you that you could be freed from the ebb and flow of life and death was preaching for chaos. There won't be any great rising under Morgana, no return of the Eldritch South."

She sighed. "You've always spoken for the disenfranchised, however, for those who aren't satisfied by our rule. I know enough to know you'll return to America, once released, and get back to work. You'll try and end Swinburne on your own terms, to then deliver his tendrils on a platter - and you'll resume your efforts. You'll think you've eventually removed every conspirator from your inner circle, but your efforts are too appealing for our enemies to ignore."

Three followed along. "You're letting him go, then. No further admonitions."

Titania's smile looked a tad resigned. "What would be the point? The past has too much of an allure for him, and he's deluded himself into thinking that those native Wyldfae hate has twisted into monsters - and all those who would seize control in Hell's wake - are allied with him. Remove Swinburne, you'll still have a baker's dozen to contend with. I can at least give you the Squid, for you to do with as you please."

He glanced back at Meris. "If this happens, we're the only two people who can safely stand in the same room as him. I'm not letting him in the same room as Tom or Aislinn until I'm sure he'll be cut off from Amaxi for the rest of his life."

* * *

"Right back at'cha," muttered the Broker, one hand coming up to massage the back of his neck. "Apart from bearing witness to the supernaturals' muster call," he asked Matriel, "what could we do? We could both head back to Hope pretty much right away. I just don't know how close we are to the last big push."

He then stifled a yawn. "I'd defer our asking to drag ourselves over, if it's possible. I don't wanna spoil much of anything, but Abdiel and I have something fun going on. This might be the last decent stretch of rest anyone's gonna get before things get real - think the war effort could wait 'til tomorrow morning?"

* * *

Amazo gestured to Lucifer, more or less nonverbally stating they still had some time. The Lightbringer could afford to explain the specifics of his travels. Apparently, it wasn't a topic he'd looked forward to broaching with anyone, and he looked visibly uncomfortable.

"Well," he said, "for starters, I should probably apologize for taking off for so long. You're a baby Throne, so I might as well start with you," he said, shrugging.

"Pings like those your friend sent are a dime a dozen," he said. "If you pop Outside and look back in, you can see prayers going off every which way across the Universe, all at once. God's got the hardware to parse it all simultaneously without losing Her marbles and I've got hardware enough to tune out those that don't concern me - and that gets to be essential, once you leave the Local Group. Sol, Proxima Centauri, Vega - it's a fairly empty chunk of real estate, compared to the rest of, well, everything."

He took hold of both Amazo's glass and his own, positioning them on the counter to suggest distances. "Alright - so my glass is the Local Group, and Quigley's glass..."

He gave the glass a toss along the counter, in a way that obviously involved a dose of supernatural control. The glass came to a perfect stop at the counter's extreme edge, a third of its underside hanging off of the surface.

"Quigley's glass is three galactic arms over," he said, "at the thinnest parts of the Milky Way. The oldest parts, the sectors with civilizations clocking millennia ahead of Earth's development, with angels and demons the kind of which nobody's seen in all the Planes, right? It's that far. Billions of light-years away."

He paused, then lifting a finger. "That ain't even close to where I was, kiddo," he told Nami. "I'd crossed the Universe to its opposite rim, so I'd end up with galaxies' worth of people with millennia of advanced history and arcane research to call their own. I figured, if anyone's sussed out anything about Akoman's glitch, it'll be the oldest practitioners in the mortal realm, the people so old and so far ahead of us they don't even need Elemental Thrones to make sense of their corner of Existence. They've hopped planets, established sector-spanning civilizations and lost more history than Earth's ever gained."

He lifted his shoulders in powerlessness. "A few Archmages knew about Akoman, some knew about alternate timelines and the McConmara gal paging me thousands of years before she'd so much as be born - but nothing about Order's main hitch in the works. I don't have a fix - yet - but I have workarounds. Stopgap measures. A few were baffled I even went through the trouble of betraying most of Heaven to seal Order away, seeing as they'd known how to staple on a few, oh, thousand billion years to the Universe's expiry date for longer than I'd been traveling. I pissed off a fair few of 'em - stopgap measures wouldn't do. Hairless monkeys can sanitize code; why can't angels?"

Haraldson sat at one of the stools. "So the war for Humanity's soul, Good against Evil, the Original Sin...
- All bullshit," replied the Lightbringer. "Bullshit I admittedly stirred up to keep the hopeless freaks out of Heaven and well fucking south of the mortal plane, for all your sakes. It worked, the Goat and his cronies all luuuurve a shot of ego-stroking, and all you need to keep most of Existence statistically safe is to toss one or two insane fuckers per decade in their general direction. It weeds out problematic elements in the mortal plane and it's generally kept the Vices purring like kittens for most of your recorded history."

Clicking his tongue, he looked back to Nami. "So obviously, I left for Earth as soon as I could. Or, well, as soon as it'd be obvious that if I left now and traveled at speeds Earth's science can't even grasp yet, I'd reach Hope by, oh..."

He checked a watch that had been hidden by his varsity jacket's sleeve. "Fifteen minutes ago, give or take."

Amazo's lips quivered as a thought sprang up. "Why not just teleport back here?
- At the distance covered," replied Lucifer, "there's more of a gain for anything traveling across the Universe if they do it the old-fashioned way. God can compute a working teleport, like She does whenever one of the Thrones hop around - but angels are designed to be local, by default. Re-instancing, say, Nami's dad, on an island in the middle of Triton's ammonia oceans, would be needlessly fiddly even for Her. You could argue Triton isn't that far from Earth, but Triton's ice is harder than granite. There's nothing life-giving about it, not in its current state. It's got no usable ties to the Water Throne, considering. Thrones and creatures like Thrones across the Universe are engineered to create life, and they can't work if life's building blocks aren't in the right state to begin with. Ergo, Matriel warping to Triton for a dip in liquid methane would look a teensy bit like he's got an unpleasant bowel movement to work past."

Haraldson followed along. "So there is more than a single set of Elemental Thrones, then."

The Lightbringer sniggered as he picked up the fallen officer and headed for the nightclub's doors. "That's for another time, Mein Herr - let's just say you're right on the money and so completely off-base you might as well be three planets over at the same exact time. Quantum physics - ain't it grand?!"

User avatar
TennyoCeres84
Site Admin
Posts: 2689
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:59 am

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Crystal frowned at the thought of the orcs' unfortunate fate and the potential choices Belial's new right hand man. She then sighed and said with some frustration, "I'm not sure that there's anything to keep Belial's new associate from selecting the body he likes, unfortunately. The only way I could think of messing with Belial's future in the weapons industry is maybe eventual arcane countermeasures?"

***

"That sounds nice," Aislinn replied as she leaned into the kiss. She added her own power to the kiss, warmth and pleasure lazily mingling together in the call. The sweet and strong flavor of Scots blended with the natural taste of her lips. She wordlessly added her own memories of Tom to the spell. The musk of his cologne, the richness of his cigars, the rich luxuriousness of the purple aesthetic that was so synonymous with the warthog. Her understanding of hedonism involved cuddling together in each other's company, the sound of the tv quietly playing in the background while time stretched nonchalantly over the course of an afternoon.

***

"Oh? What's that? Is it supposed to be a surprise?" Andrea asked as she got up from her seat. She was being seriously, but there was a slight joking nature to her question.

***

Meris couldn't help but smirk faintly and said, "The best way to cut a Squid off from Amaxi's graces is firstly for him to lose his favor with Her. Swinburne's still a rogue agent who probably gives Her the occasional morsel to pacify Her. He's not among the higher-ups of the Prelacy, so I doubt he'd pass muster with the Chamberlain," she mused, then sobering. "Severing those connections to Her is paramount to making him harmless, anything he draws dark pleasure from. It has to be snuffed out like a candle."

***

"I plan to text a summary of what we've discussed to both Ariel and Nami. As far as I can tell, Aislinn and Tom will send more pointed call to Lucifer, but I feel it's best to have the former know the current risks to stand as countermeasures to what these moles might have in mind," Matriel stated. "It seems we're in a slight lull before things really get started, so I'd rather focus on putting preventative means in place to hopefully stop any plans intended for Magnus Tower."

Even though neither of them could see his face, they could easily sense his smile in his next words, "Take the night to recover in Vienna and return the next day. Another thing to remember is that battles aren't always fought with martial prowess or clever strategy. It is sometimes helped by unlikely fellows creating new paradigms for others in the future. So, I have high hopes for you both," he stated.

Melmoth might then notice his companion's faint blush as she responded, "Thank you, Matriel."

***

Nami looked back to the electronics she had awakened earlier and realized the weight of her newly available powers. "Geez, did my dad, aunts, and uncle feel this much of the burden of responsibility for all the lifeforms they gave the initial spark to?" she asked Lucifer.

"I've only read speculation of what AI will eventually be capable of, and to think I'll probably have a hand in that creation, it's rather daunting to consider," she mused. "Though, it's necessary, I guess. Someone needs to serve as a counterbalance to the assholes taking advantage of what will essentially be blank slates."

User avatar
IamLEAM1983
Site Admin
Posts: 3359
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:54 am
Location: Quebec, Canada

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

"Countermanding these endeavors might be difficult in the immediate," noted Nergal, "but I do have one option to lay on the table."

Erin didn't need much to figure out where he was headed. "We diversify our own operations and beat him in quality. You've already been speaking to the man whose mortal persona used to dine with planners from Lockheed Martin and Heckler & Koch, and Lion Arms already has a portfolio. We have the Gentlemen's Research division, and could begin prototyping limited Hellfire or Celestial Light-based weaponry within a few months. Belial's only option will be to beat us by the price tag, which should impact his potential buyers."

* * *

The booze was well out of Tom's mind, by that point, the urgency of their remaining tasks tugging in the back of his mind. The front of it was consumed with Aislinn, the perfection of her myriad tiny imperfections, and paid little mind to the old urges that slithered forth. He'd been grunting with dilligent effort and expectation combined at every kiss, adding notes from the base of his throat whenever his lips parted from the roane's flesh. Only once heat had surged below his belt and that power had begun to course through his blood, did he realize he'd better reserve further teasing to safer areas. Aislinn's temperament and practical brilliance always stoked his fire, one which he felt would be better tended to at home.

Besides, this had only been a metaphysical doorbell, of sorts. Lucifer might've been an ally, he wasn't yet a friend - let alone a close one. The Lightbringer didn't deserve to have an incubus' shivers and snorts of release added to a polite summons. So, for now, he stayed pressed against the roane, hugging her close, and worked to slow his own breath and marshal his thoughts.

"I might've... pushed a little too much," he then admitted, chuckling in self-deprecation. "It's been months since I paid my old urges any mind: I knew they'd latch onto the ritual, but I thought they'd have grown weaker."

He drew in another breath, and exhaled the excess of his love and lust, at least for now. Instead of further prodding, he gave her a teasing pout.

"It's your fault, you know. You McConmaras, always at your best with the elements at your beck and call, looking like you'd slay it at any runway even while you're trying to roast down the Evil of the Week. What's an innocent incubus like me to do, I wonder?"

His chuckle from earlier turned into a short laugh. "Besides, we're both worth a lot better than this place. We've given Lucifer a decent prod, I'd say; and I'm not in any hurry to make out with anyone in Tetanus Central," he said, a finger going to one of the filing cabinets they'd disturbed, tracing a line just below a fairly visible line of rust.

* * *

"Did you notice what I called forth to push the possessed back?" asked Zeb to Andrea as they returned to the Krieger's front lobby. "The spirits of departed Wampanoag braves is what I called, and I think I'm starting to understand why the more common tiers of arcane practice were never much of a success for me."

He gestured as he spoke, barely paying attention to the elevator cabin they'd entered. "The Bucks have been cursed since Hope's Colonial Era days, that's a given. Samoset wanted us to crumble under the weight of responsibility, for all the ruin our ancestor brought to our little chunk of Rhode Island. I think responsibility is the keyword, here. I wanted to shoot these possessed grunts down, somehow, and what sprang out of my witch-fire was the torso of a Native archer. I wished I had enough combat experience to cover our little raiding party's forward push, so I called Native horsemen forth..."

The lich grimaced. "I wish we'd already freed Riona; I'd have the opportunity to ask her if my hunch is founded on something concrete. You see, I didn't want to call these spirits forth - they came anyway. I had fireballs and lightning in mind, the whole shebang, but I got war cries and trampling hooves. I was so hung up on Western Spirituality in trying to bring my wife and son back, that I never stopped to consider that Samoset's curse might not allow a Western séance to bring Evangeline and Nicholas back to me. I scoured everything Western tradition has to offer, dipped my toes into Middle-Eastern and Asian mysticism in the hopes of finding anything, but my only result was in calling forth something that haunts my home - something that barely feels like my wife."

The glance he sent both Andrea and Liz was trembling. "I swear on my meagre power, that thing that stalks the manor at night and that's made me and my family the stock of sordid legends is nothing like my wife! My Evangeline was full of life and vigor, always so insightful and passionate, under her composed exterior - and my son...!"

The skeleton sighed, a bit of wistfulness clinging to it. "I've always hoped I'd met her earlier, found enough gumption to leave Rhode Island earlier, and younger... Nicholas was bright-eyed and inventive, either lost in my books or in the woods outside Old Hope, building statues and odd contraptions out of refuse he found across town. Whenever I'd try and follow him, I'd be exhausted within ten minutes."

The ghost of his skin shimmered into view, and he etched a smile. "If you're planning on having children, Andrea, find someone while you're still young. Not able to keep up with my own son was always difficult - and losing him young was heartbreaking."

* * *

Three smirked grimly. "Then, I think I know what we could do. It'll be risky, hence why I'd keep Ais and Tom out of the picture, but if he still wants to mind-fuck people to death after I'm done with him, he'll find out that Anton's practicality has more in common with sadism than his own impulses."

Isaacs grimaced. "You can't possibly want to bring this wretch into your own mental construct, Drake!
- I can," replied. "I'm not deluded, unlike someone who's here with us," he said, eyeing Sharpe, curiosity then giving a twinkle to his glance. "How was it that you never noticed, Phineas? You, the spymaster, someone who's as good at sussing out ulterior motives as Archie Holden, someone who had the entire American South singing his tune for a few years?"

The bird's beak distorted in a pout. "Swinburne was good," he admitted. "Too good, obviously. An infectious level of charm, easy smiles - for a while, he made sure to only seek audience with a Flesh Mask on. Teeth crooked in just the right way, a hook nose that'd probably seen a punch or two... I could tell he had an interest in me, but he never verbalized it, knowing who he'd just surrounded himself with. Centuries-old conservatives wouldn't have tolerated the glances he sent me in private, and I had to pay lip service to the darkest stretches of the country's religious contingent. I pretended not to notice."

He shook his head. "He took advantage of it, I think. We'd discuss things pertaining to Albuquerque's Threshold Ministries, with whom I had my reservations, and I'd feel his will sink into mine, as effectively as any Oath. He was careful, if the stories about your enemies are true," he said, glancing at Meris. "All he wanted was for his course of action to seem like the most effective, the most appealing. Hurting me, sabotaging my own agenda, wasn't on the menu. He made it easy to ignore his suspiciously mute friends, whenever I'd visit him, the hardware I'd find tossed on his bed..."

Three nodded. "I understand, mister Sharpe. If he wants pain, I'll give him pain. He just won't like the kind of pain I've got on offer."

The newly-minted forest troll leaned on his rifle. "I understand your Afghanistan wasn't mine, Lieutenant," he asked, looking at Aidan. "I'm sorry to interject, but how was it?"

Three's face darkened. "Like any war, Nigel. Like this one. It was bad. I hope we've freed you from the need to ever return to the front, after we'll have dealt with Hell."

* * *

Abdiel would also notice a darkening on the Broker's slate-grey complexion - his own flushed cheeks. He'd composed his face into a more solemn arrangement. "Thanks, buddy," he said. "I'll, uh, I'll take good care of your sister," he said, glancing back at the Fire Throne, looking unsure as to whether or not the Thrones had someone in the quartet that served as a chaperone.

Once she'd hung up, Mel opted to drain his glass and lightly clasp one of the Throne's hands, inquisitiveness returning to his eyes. 

"I got a question for ya," he started. "People have summoned me every so often over time, there's the Angelic Bigwigs who get a lot of attention and a whole market's worth of religious medallions, even virtuous mortals who ended up with the honor of being called saints, their names turning as strong as any ritual. The Fae get called, mortals all summon one another with phones or text messages and whatnot, dragons use emissaries 'cause they're just that old-fashioned..."

He smiled. "What about you, Abbie? Anyone ever summon you? I mean, not to decipher fire or poke through an alchemical formula or whatever - but just to get to know you? I've been lucky enough to reach that point, with Shield's kids, but it looks like nobody just, y'know, calls on Gabriel or Matriel or you just to ask how you're doing. If anything, that seems unfair."

There was a pause, the slight coarseness of his thumb lightly brushing the space between her own index finger and thumb. "How are you, Abdiel? We've got so much on our plate, we've barely just stopped to catch our breath. You might be stronger than I am, but every fire needs oxygen."

* * *

"You're a Throne, now," replied Lucifer, who grunted as he headed for Haraldson's car. "You're lucky; Nature's elements don't need constant revision. Your job is to step in whenever the working balance is out of whack; and AI's been worked on as a project for decades, long before I pulled that little cheat code on you. You'll probably feel something spinnin' around in the Web, like a fetus pulling backflips in the womb, but you'll know if and when you have to act. Until then, you might as well keep to it at face value, stick to cat pics and dumb memes," he said, grinning.

Magnus grunted as he sat down in the limo. "Besides, Wyvern would stand as one of the Throne of Technology's lymph nodes, so to speak. We already are monitoring the world's networks for any traces of financial and legal abuses by our immortal peers, and Aldergard's efforts online were but one form out of many."

He smiled at Nami. "You will know when to act, Fröken Urakawa. Trust in it. I simply can't tell you in what way this will be made manifest. Intuition, perhaps, or maybe some sort of pull at the back of your mind? I imagine you'll have to ask your father." 

User avatar
TennyoCeres84
Site Admin
Posts: 2689
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:59 am

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Crystal nodded approvingly. "That's something, at least. Given time, we might be able find other ways to limit his influence on the arms market."

***

Aislinn grimaced slightly at the sight of the rust and shook her head, chuckling lightly. "Yeah, no kidding. Speaking of which, we should get out of here and probably head closer to the park. They'll need our help, after all, to hopefully get through to Arthur."

***

Zeb's last comment had accidentally prodded after a barely healing wound, the loss of her lover. At first, Andrea's lips pulled sharply back to retort at him, but she caught herself as she understood he didn't mean anything by his words.

She sighed sadly, "Nico and I had thought about having kids, but maybe I might see her again one day..." She was obviously thinking of the Ishtar Gate that Anjali had originally come through and knew that it was possible.

***

Meris could sense that the young man was likely to recall his past and opted to steer things in a more productive direction. "That sentiment segues well into the reason we came here in the first place," she noted, looking from Aidan to the Queen.

"Your Majesty, I feel that the Goat may grow desperate and want to pull out last resorts to sway the war in his favor, one of them being Azazel, the embodiment of Wrath. We have a decidedly unwarlike plan to counter him, but we require the bodhran that was returned to you last year after its theft."

***

Abdiel lifted her eyes upward as she recalled the past and frowned as she shook her head. "Any summons I received was typically business in nature, not to check on me. Angels are typically seen as tireless and ever-vigilant in their duties, while members of the Third Choir are almost seen as unflappable to the point of not being bothered by anything."

She shrugged uncertainly. "I'm enjoying our time here, but I know it's just a temporary rest. Even then, I don't feel I can stop looking after the survivors we brought with us. They're targets, after all. And there's also the possible vulnerabilities in Hope... I've only had people ask after my well-being when they saw my guise as a mortal woman, not as a Throne. It gets tiring, but I know that I have responsibilities that come first. Also, I haven't really had the opportunity to be vulnerable around most to have them ask about how I'm doing. Doing so leaves them and myself vulnerable, so I've just brushed it off over the millennia."

She gently stroked his thumb in return, "However, I feel like I can be open with you, Mel. Thank you."

***

Nami nodded in response to the encouragement. "I get the sense that you're right, even though I don't know when those times will be." Her words were interrupted by a ping coming from her pants pocket. She pulled out her phone and looked at the screen.

She saw that it was a text from her father, her lips pursing in concern as she read it.

She then moved the screen over so that Lucifer and the others would see the message.

Nami, I know you are safe and currently with Lucifer. To Lucifer, hello and better late than never. I have business with Nergal to snuff out the fires in Belial's forges, but I found it pertinent to keep you abreast of the developments. Abdiel and Melmoth are in Vienna after fleeing Israel with some of Meris's Court. The Palace was attacked by the country's army. Meris and her group left for London, others found their own means of escape. I have been notified that there is at least one angelic mole, if not more, within our own camp. They are collaborating with the Chamberlain to thwart our efforts, involving Aidan Drake's former lover as a means of making us vulnerable in the future. There may be other plans afoot unknown to us. In my absence, Ariel will be filling in for me. Please be careful.

User avatar
IamLEAM1983
Site Admin
Posts: 3359
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:54 am
Location: Quebec, Canada

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

A few minutes of discussion followed, after which a knock was heard at the club's doors. With the staff having vacated for the evening, Nergal gave the door a circumspect look, asked for patience out of his fellow conspirators, and went to answer it, light surprise touching his features at the lich, werewolf and Squid researcher's sight.

"Mister Buck, miss Lowell - I'd extol the club's virtues, but we're past closing time. Please, join us.
- It's no serious loss," replied Zeb, "I'm better off without alcohol, for the time being. Nasir's workings and Brenner's patch aren't keeping urges away, but at least I'm not currently anxious about it or..."

He sighed uneasily. "You know, right? I'm not hallucinating, either. You'd have assumed my not having internal organs would free me from alcohol withdrawal, but my mind hasn't gotten the message...
- Then you'll sit next to me and Erin," noted Nergal. "Neither of us are having booze while we're going over things."

The lich nodded. "I understand you're planning something in Hell? I'd like to tag along, if it's possible. There's a theory I'd like to check.
- Such as?
- I'm wondering if the reason why I've been so ineffectual in regards to my development as a practitioner is because of a certain interpretation of the family's curse," he explained, sitting down at the bar, as far away from the two booze-drinkers as he could manage without looking antisocial.

Erin voiced her interest, and Buck spent a few moments retracing the cognitive steps he'd taken with Elizabeth and Andrea. By the end of it, Galbraith looked intrigued. "The restless dead are all over Hell," she said. "I don't know what your odds are of running into Rhode Island's restless dead near Belial's forge, but they wouldn't be nil - that, I'm fairly sure of. The one point of contention I've got is that Belial rules over a sort of no man's land in Hell. It's not regimented in the same way the Princes attract certain types of wrongdoers. He calls to them all, and they answer."

Zeb seemed perplexed. "What does he promise?
- The same thing he promised to the old Hyperborean Warlocks, those who'd later become Goblins or Orcs. Power, obviously. The one catch is that they'll be the ones providing it, and they'll be reduced to whatever Belial's clients need. An armored arm brace, a cloak clasp, rings of power..."

The lich frowned. "Doesn't Melmoth provide similar services? Why does he get a pass?
- Melmoth's always targeted those who sought out perdition. The already-powerful or already-moneyed looking for their next bump up the social ladder, those who already ate away at their souls without demonic interference. What you'd call assholes, I imagine; the garden-variety sociopaths in the world of high-stakes finance. Belial's victims are just that - victims. They could've been saved."

Bob fiddled with his beer bottle, in the back. "Which is why we'll need weapons. Belial's got a metric fuckton of ordnance to swing or shoot our way.
- Which is why I'd make like I'm sellin' you out," replied Gallows. "Belial's a busy man, we'd probably be escorted to his forge and told to wait a while. As soon as his secretary or lead supervisor or whatever walks out, we knock out the working smith, load ourselves up - and kick Belial's door down ourselves. With Matriel's disturbance, he'll be in more or a hurry. He'll pay less attention. If it's actually a double wearing his Veil, he'll crack right quick."

That said, Gallows looked back to Maeve. "Y'got a bowl, kid? Let's make that call to Matriel official."

Lachlan smirked. "We've modernized things a bit. All you need is some water, not a bowlful. I've spoken with a few Celestial magic nerds; a bottle of spring water is as good as a smartphone, when it comes to ringing up the Water Throne. It's a lot more compact than a bowl or a sink."

She handed a bottle to Gallows, from behind the counter. "Take a sip to seal the bond, then focus on the surface line, inside the bottle."

* * *

As he'd explained earlier, Tom opted to open a portal to Hell, and another one to the mortal plane and Hope - this time a stone's throw away from Centennial Park. Having picked his incubi and succubi friends' former hideout, they suffered no interruptions or travel hazards, nor any time dilation. Looking at the sky, it'd be obvious they'd reached Renton's outskirts perhaps mere moments after Calhoun and Grimley.

As could be expected, Centennial Park's outer front was barely recognizable. Angels and demons had reduced one third of the park's grass to patchy, weakened mutations of your typical blades of grass, stones having poked out of the soil only to be powdered and then turned to glass dust. Small islets of soil and rock defied physics and levitated off the ground, a mixture of Lucian Rothchild's influence and the Celestial forces' own allowing for the growth of small shrubs on these hovering blocks of roots and soil. From outside the park, the westernmost edge looked fairly normal. From within its borders, the park seemingly opened out into an infinite space, the surrounding city blocks roiling and rippling like fractal constructions. By the looks of it, both fronts were leagues away from the Warlock and selkie.

Tom was about to turn back towards the Tree's neighboring trenches, only for a slightly frayed cry of challenge to cause him to look back the way they'd come. A small comet of light arced from the distant front, indignant roars sounding from within. It ejected another fireball at its highest point, the projectile revealing itself as one of Pride's armored knights, his plates torn and singed. His assailant followed close behind, wreathed in white light and faintly perceptible geometric shapes. Lucian Rothchild managed an effective superhero landing, so to speak, a few paces away from his opponent, and dimmed his exuded light at the two practitioners' sight.

"Miss. McConmara," he said, nodding, sounding like he was slightly out of breath but still in high spirits, "Mister Magnus - I'll be right with you, if you'll give me a moment..."

The Pride demon recoiled away as the Void Weaver walked forward. "No," he said, "No! The Black Goat said nothing of your mazes! He said nothing of your wretched light! WHAT ARE YOU?!"

Lucian grunted. "An aggravated old man, for starters. Secondly, a concerned citizen.
- GET AWAY FROM ME!
- No," he softly replied. "You deserve clarity. You all do."

Cane softly thumping against the grass, he walked towards the demon and placed a knee down on the ground. Tentacles gently undulating, he placed a hand on an exposed stretch of burnt skin on the demon's forearm, the Architect's words of power leaving his lips in a quiet stream. As they did, a look of vague confusion bloomed on the demon's features, followed by realization. At the same time, his burnt and torn armor pieces seemingly re-forged themselves, the black soot of the Pit falling off in inert clumps to reveal an almost chrome-like finish.

The demon's voice had turned soft with shock and understanding - still a growl, if a quiet one. "If only we'd known, if only we'd been shown like this, ages ago..."

Lucian shook his head, looking like he'd done this dozens of times already, with the patience of a lifelong tutor. "You couldn't have known. Lucifer had his reasons for leaving, and he thought his instructions had been clear. They would've been, if greed hadn't blinded your master. The onus is only on the Princes. You only followed orders."

The Infernal footman stood on one knee. "Command me, Guardian.
- Rejoin your brothers by Heaven's side," Rothchild said. "The scions of the Pit who've seen the light and who fight for this plane are only growing in numbers. You can count yourself among them."

The soldier's old cape had fallen apart in sooty clumps, Lucian's willpower knitting a new one into being, iridescent crimson against the armor's chrome finish. He briefly glanced in the selkie and warthog's direction, and then looked back to the Squid. "Before I leave," he asked, "how does Paimon fare?"

Lucian smiled. "He is thriving," he said. "As are those who chose to rejoin his ranks in Magnus Tower's defense. The doubters and naysayers are showed proofs of Pride's nobility, day after day. The Vice is turning among my allies."

His smile widened slightly. "You haven't known true Pride just yet, footman. You will, however - once you'll discover fellowship."

The hulking, armored creature - someone who would've been big enough to physically crush Lucian, beamed. It didn't do much to temper the cruelty of his tooth-lined maw, but his dark eyes gleamed with something new. Hope, perhaps, and a new kind of determination.

"Send me forth," he said.

In response, Lucian looked back to his friends. "Tom, Aislinn - if you'll do the honors... We'll address Arthur's issue right afterwards; I've already warned Gabriel's commanders that they might lose a few yards, I won't be able to fully maintain the battlefield's distance while impeding Holden's potential attacks."

* * *

Oberon nodded. "Scatha's Aegis, Minerva's Shield... That bodhran's carried many names across History. You'd use it to temper the horde's hearts through magic, I imagine."

Three nodded. "I'm not exactly the scholar, here, but yes. Meris told me enough to understand that we could quell Azazel's inner turmoil with it.
- Azazel predates the drum," cautioned the king. "Our record of its use stretches across Pre-Roman Britain and Ancient Greece. We don't quite know how or if the fallen Fauns could still stand to listen to any song that would use it as a metering device."

Regis looked perplexed. "I believed Celtic hand drums could only be retraced as far as Germany and France," he said. 

Titania smiled, the gesture evoking patience. "Common ones never went as far as Germany or France, yes," she said. "This is Faerie, however, and small sojourns here can equate to thousands of leagues in the mortal plane; and to centuries being crossed back and forth, as easily as any flowing stream. It isn't a reliable form of time travel, especially now that Hell has made travel hazardous, but it served us well in the past. Over two thousand years ago, one of Arcadia's Faun scouts crossed the Way to Ennis Skai, in 48 BC. Scatha having determined that active Roman occupation had ended and peace sufficiently restored, she loaned the bodhran to Lady Amalthea, who successfully took it back to the past, and to Greece."

The troll poked at his outstretched palm, sketching out a bounding or jumping motion. "And the drum made its way back to pre-Roman Europe some time afterwards, then followed the normal course of history until...?"

Aidan smirked. "Until a desperate dabbler in the black arts tried to mic an impromptu show on the drum. Technical issues popped up first, then followed by a certain Archmage."

The troll frowned sharply. "This gentleman tried to what?
- Toss that on the Stuff Regis Woodford needs to learn about pile," replied Drake with an amused eye roll.

* * *

"Don't mention it," replied the demon, with a small smile. "Don't brush this off, though - you've got every right to feel things, to feel what's going on right now. We're past the point where Fire needs an impartial rep; even if I didn't want to fight by your side, I'd be sane enough to admit the Goat's pushing too far for the sake of his own ego."

He hesitated. "His ego or that Akoman guy or, well, whoever or whatever motivates cockamamie schemes like his," he added, along with a quiet snort of contempt. "I get it if you don't feel safe to let your guard down in front of just about everyone, but this world's gonna need a Fire Throne that's a lot more focused on empathy than crude thermodynamics, when this'll blow over."

The Broker's smile widened slightly. "So, get angry once we're out there again. Get pissed - but you'll also have to keep a pilot light out for the average Joes to stay warm and alive, if you get me. Every part of you that follows after the human psyche is important, and that's one lesson I wouldn't have learned if Goatsie hadn't made my powers dependent on my performance. Ironically, the best thing he ever did for me was condemn me to a few generations in the flesh, whenever I didn't meet sales quotas. In being weak, I learned to feel like they do. I learned to care, where the moron and the rest of Pride thought I'd spend a few decades muttering and pacing around in the Shadowlands, waiting to get summoned."

He paused. "Don't wait for another summons, Abbie - ever. Build those bridges; you might need them sooner, rather than later."

* * *

Lucifer pulled a long whistle as he read over the text message. "Ayep, that falls right in the script's broader strokes," he said, to nobody in particular. "Endgame, baby - at least for a certain traitorous someone!"

Amazo glanced outside. "You're taking us past the blockade on Crenshaw, Haraldson - Centennial's the other way.
- I know," replied the vampire. "The officer requires care. Like it or not, my tower is not in the enclave and I'm not sure she'd tolerate flight or teleportation, as of now."

Quinn did her best to look into Lindsay's eyes, her background as a slayer coming with some medical know-how. "She's in shock, obviously," she said, more or less confirming the Draugr's assumption. "Her body temp's dropped like a stone, I don't think anything in what's happening is registering with her. Her pupils are dilated but she's not tracking anything..."

The cadaverous vampire briefly looked over his seat, his nostrils flaring. "Her blood doesn't smell off - she isn't infected with anything, at least. I've seen some demons wreak havoc on their stolen bodies' immune systems out of sick sense of amusement, we can at least be glad that the Blood Countess was a picky spirit.
- I don't know that she'd be happy to hear this," noted the snake. "Since we can't fly her out and anything East of here is Demon City, we don't have that many options..."

A contemplative silence fell for a few minutes, which passed with, among other things, the Lightbringer rather childishly fiddling with his passenger door's electric window controls. After a few up-down motions, his window's offered crack happened to carry a gust of air through, his drooping nose twitching in response.

"Hm," he grunted. "Dashes of martial Pride, definitely a Knight by trade - but no oil or grease, no blood or grit. No sweat, either... Swollen Ego? Check. Excessive testosterone? Check. What's -"

He stopped, scoffing at some still-cryptic discovery of his. "We've got a sensitive one, boys! Well, wouldja look at that! Our friend Fell, he fought, won and lost, he caved in and carried out some truly despicable shit for thousands of years, but there's still an angelic nugget in there!" he said, cackling softly. "I didn't meet thirty-six Damned with that kind of pedigree in my time, so that narrows things down to one of the last ones to Fall, or one of the second-generation types: born Evil, but without the kind of spite to make it stick - a Melmoth that wouldn't have caught on yet!"

The Lightbringer looked back to Magnus. "Steer us into town, champ - we've got a conflicted monster to go mess with, and a cop to drop off someplace safe. Seeing the both of us should tick the proverbial scale in the right direction."

Somewhat annoyed, Quigley clicked his tongue. "You know, people used to tell me I had the Quixotic Adventurer crap down pat, and it pissed people off to no end. I never thought I'd empathize with them in my lifetime but, you know? Meeting you, Lucifer? That's changed. I've finally met someone who loves the sound of their own voice more than I do mine. I'd provide some applause, but - yeah. Traumatized Cop on my right, Baby Throne on my left. Not a lot of elbow room."

God's formerly favored son blinked a few times. "People usually like it when I'm smart. What's your problem?
- Maybe start by telling us who the subject of your olfactive hunch could be?" added the snake, looking like his attempt at requesting clarification bordered on the homicidal. Obviously, the cartoon demon didn't take it too well, scoffing as he turned his head away.

"Come on - there's only one Fiend in town that can stink of being convinced there's a middle ground between being a scion of the Pit and being all neighborly with the fucking locals and also of department-store Hugo Boss cologne, and that's whoever's in charge of this debatable chunk of law and order."

He pointed outside. "Me Adversary. Me want to piss him off to see what happens, while also delivering Cop Lady to healers. You want I add some Ooga Boogas to go with that?!"

User avatar
TennyoCeres84
Site Admin
Posts: 2689
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:59 am

Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Crystal and Andrea were both slightly surprised by the seeming simplicity of the ritual. However, given the Thrones' innately human nature, it made sense for the summons to be something realistic and down-to-earth.

***

Aislinn briefly marveled at Lucian's skill and then eyed the footman. "We don't have a bunch of time for pleasantries, but I'm Aislinn McConmara and that's Tom Magnus. You have a name?" she asked the newly recruited demon, gesturing to herself and the warthog respectively. "We're not big on formalities, so a first name basis works for our group."

***

"A tale for another time," Meris added with her own amusement. She then regained her composed state and explained, "As you mentioned the Fauns, our plan relates to one of their daughters. Our tentative plan would be to have Aspasia perform the lead vocals, while I would function as backup. The combination of the bodhran and our voices would serve as an initial means to lure Azazel in, until empathy would ease his pain and troubles to effectively neuter the threat."

The commander frowned thoughtfully. "I'm game with the idea, Meris, but do you really think my presence has that much sway?" she asked.

The Archmage nodded. "I do. You jumped to Regis's plight sooner than I could respond. The melody you produced was on a scale that many cantors would have trouble creating right off the cuff, like you did. Your ancestral gifts are stirring, probably even more so with the current events."

She clarified for the King and Queen. "Regis might not have retained his humanity if Aspasia hadn't sung her song. It filled his heart more thoroughly and quicker than the majority of Morgana's wasps. Not only that, Valefor seemed to place the onus of the encounter on her shoulders, even if he meant it be a cruelly sardonic courtesy to her."

She sighed, "Our plan is risky, but it seems the better solution than to greeting the epitome of Wrath with more violence. It might even lend weight to our collaborative efforts, show that it can work."

***

Her eyes held a glowing warmth as she took in his words. Abdiel's smile grew wider as she nodded. "Fire isn't just fiery arrows and the blasts of firearms. It's the warmth of the hearth, of compassion and empathy. The past weeks and months have accordingly hardened us, but we can't give into the same sort of callousness that Pride currently runs on. We need strength, but also kindness."

She gratefully brought his hand to her cheek and lightly kissed the palm. "I'll definitely build bridges with those around me so that we can have a brighter future."

***

Nami rolled her eyes in amusement, looking over at Quigley. "He's talking about Allocer. He took over Mayor Doherty's spot during the incursion. At first, he started this whole stupid campaign to have mortals view him and the rest of his administration favorably, but cracks are already starting to form. His allegiance to the Goat and the proud, scrupulous diplomat that he is can only keep going so long."

She shrugged. "He was willing to put aside his job to help Wormsworth and Neasa have a means to keep the Freaks' channels provide goods and the like to the refugees. He's reachable, and we need to make him think. Put doubt in his mind about the Goat's tactics."

Post Reply