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.
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TennyoCeres84
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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"The cultural aspect might be more of a steeper hill to deal with, but you'd have us to help you adjust," Matriel responded supportively. "Our group is fairly tight knit and is there for each other. If you need to talk, there'll be someone to listen and help where they can. Things are tense in the mortal plane with Pride maneuvering so aggressively, but we're in it for the long haul."

Crystal shrugged lightly. "The tech here seems on par with what you'd find in Hope. The arcane aspects might be different to a degree, since it's not Infernal-based. Though, in that case, you'd probably be consulting with whoever designed whatever it is you'd be working on. Cantors, elemental mages, and so forth. If you don't know about a particular skill, there's always training available."

***

Aislinn lowered her lids and focused on creating her own fireball, whispering words into the flame to give it the desired properties. It would lift the flare to the needed height and shine brilliantly, likely leaving little to no shadow. Once he would have repositioned himself and gained the needed space, she focused on fusing her fireball to his before backing away to give him enough space to launch it.

Meanwhile, Alana stood ready to give the triggermen a warning so that they wouldn't be blinded by the flare.

***

"I'm definitely joining you," Meris said, gratefully handing Gubbin her plate. "As you said, it's time to test drive that bodhran. I can combine my vocals with Aspasia's and we'll see how it affects unruly demons."

"Thanks, Meris. Even though I'm concerned with what's causing all the activity around Wormsworth's office, I'm also glad to be able to get the hang of playing this drum," Aspasia added.

Hanako eyed Gubbin and Bucky. "I can provide any help you might need with Mr. McLusky and Mr. Woodford," she offered.

***

"I'm also available for that invitation," Abdiel said with a light-hearted smile, her curiosity getting the better of her.

"They were beautiful to hear as we fell asleep, but were you singing those songs for an audience or in honor of someone?" she asked, wondering if the melodies and Lilith's presence were connected. She was acutely aware of how music could stir emotions, perform miracles, or bring ancient figures to a couple immortals' shared dream...

***

Nami momentarily eyed the racks Akaios had shown Allocer and decided those weapons were definitely not her style. She went back to the main racks and searched for a sword that was at least single-bladed, like a katana. She surveyed the larger than normal pistols and felt of their effects with her empathy, searching for ones that would possibly give their targets a lesson while incapacitating them for a while. The Throne of Tech didn't necessarily want to kill demons, but she didn't know how easily they could be swayed.

She heard Lucifer voice his concerns toward Allocer and frowned. "Allocer, I understand you're feeling better and ready to get your battle lust on, but do you think any of your former colleagues could possibly be redeemed? We want to change things in Hope's favor, but a total bloodbath may not be the way to go about it, unless it's completely unavoidable."

***

Ariel nodded. "Of course I do," she replied with a light, approving smile.

She looked back at the antlers, bones and the other primal looking instruments. "These instruments honestly remind me of the first cantors' efforts to replicate the songs they heard us compose and sing. Rougher, but nonetheless earnest in their approach, also just as beautiful," she noted.

"The origins of music might be different, but they all share the same foundations. Otherwise, they wouldn't work as they do. Hell and Heaven are two sides of the same coin, even if some of their citizens fail to understand that fact."

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Squeaky looked unsure, and looked back at his employer. "You'd let us go? No questions asked?
- I'd even toss in a referral," replied Belial with a small smile, "as well as the admittedly not-too-subtle hope you'd rejoin the office's new Terrestrial branch, once I'll have gotten it off the ground. I know, however, that you'll likely have your sights set elsewhere, once you'll have your first taste of what's sure to be a booming job market. Our products have made life difficult for the locals, Mister Squeaky, so you'll be in for a few months of Welfare or stimulus checks, all depending on what shape their economy's recovery will take."

Squeaky blinked a few times. "What have we been manufacturing, sir?
- Weapons," replied Belial, without hesitation. "You, your wife, your coworkers and closest friends, even mister Quint, have been owing the state of your lives to a war economy, here in the Pit. We didn't start this war, rest assured - but it's bankrolled your existence, and that of your peers.
- Who are we fighting against, then?" asked the administrator.

Belial looked back at the group. "Not them, if you'd like to know. We're suppliers, we don't fight anyone. 
- We're supplying their enemies?
- Yes, and the occasional native of their plane, pending a summons or an equivalent transaction. I'm looking to reverse our momentum, in this regard."

Squeaky processed all this. "Are we supplying their enemy because they paid more?
- In a manner of speaking," admitted Belial. "Pride paid us in respect - the tacit agreement that they wouldn't seize this factory. You wouldn't have kept your posting if my seat had gone to one of Pride's popinjays - and certain safeguards wouldn't have been implemented."

That caught Archie's attention. "What kind of safeguards?
- Deliberate defects," answered Belial. "It won't be obvious now, but battlefield analytics should be clear, a few months after the cessation of hostilities. Shots gone wide, jammed rifles, brittle sword-arms or low-durability blades, among others.
- One might assume you'll make a killing from this," noted the Clank. "Lessened casualties or no, your weapons still have claimed lives."

Belial fished out an ice cube from his glass and pensively crunched down on it, chewing it for a few moments. "I would have developed projected-healing solutions based off of smuggled Celestial light and the occasional patch of Cherub down, but I think it's safe to say my clients of the moment would've noticed a few things," he replied, keeping his sarcasm casual. "I'm still not at liberty to play warlord and develop ordnance for the other two sides, hence my needing to make a choice."

Gallows slowly cocked his head. "Hence your moving Topside undercover. You gonna stop furnishing Pride once you're up there?
- Once appearances permit," nodded Belial. "As I said; I'll finish my current orders, keep my employees paid, then open a new set of invoices for mortal clients.
- And what's stoppin' you from keeping a seperate book?
- The Deputy Chief already knows I'll work with the Commission. This, by default, implies a so-called separate book. It's one her men won't have too much trouble accessing, if they know their trade well enough."

* * *

Tom wasn't fancy, when it came to flinging projectiles around, and he didn't have Aislinn's telekinetics. All he could do was trust her, angle the combined fireball as best he could, lean back as if priming an ACME slingshot - and release it. Just before doing so, he'd glanced back at Alana and nodded at her: she could warn the others.

The ball arched in the sky, briefly looking like a second, smaller sun in the sky that banished most of the waning day's lenghtening shadows. The dozens of previous pockets of shadow shrunk down to only three: the narrow band of shade offered by Sophia's fence and the long poles of darkness that two park lights offered.

* * *

"Thanks, Milady," nodded Bucky at the Japanese Malk. "S'mighty appreciated. 

Nigel looked like he didn't know if he should surrender his plate or somehow attempt to help out, considering his size. He visibly tried to make the act of standing up on his chair not look too uncouth, adding a few diffident shakes of his feet as if to knock off dust motes.

"I'd very much like to know what it is the world is up against," he said, "but I can't conceivably ask you to provide me with the last two hundred years' worth of historical data in one sitting now, can I?"

The Clank glanced at Hanako. "We could always, um, plug him in with Squid Central," he said. "You might've heard, but Aidan and Meris created some sorta guest access into some kinda shared dreamspace. The Squids store all their knowledge there, includin' mundane stuff like historical data."

As he left, Three nodded his approval as he glanced back to Meris. "We might as well look things over with Delmar, once we'll be done with this,"

* * *

"Don't worry," groused Allocer, "I'm not some roided-out Michael Douglas and I'm not re-enacting Falling Down. I'll make sure the right people get a chance.
- I was kinda hoping you'd stay in place," noted Lucifer, who also worriedly looked at the weapon racks. "We could use a double agent, y'know?
- And leave those outside of Magnus Tower and the enclave stuck with breadlines and thievery?" rhetorically asked Allocer. "I'd rather choke on my own ichor. If the enclave remains in place and the Goat establishes a beachhead, I'll be the one with blood on my hands."

He loaded a shotgun with six shells and racked the slide. "Never again. That's final.
- And you trust us enough to risk facing City Hall's guards?" asked Amazo.

Allocer stopped to fish an oversized combat knife that looked fairly small in his mitt, and selected a fitting ankle sheath. "It's not just you that I'm trusting," he opposed. "I'm trusting Magnus Tower. I've fought with Neasa McConmara and Herbert Wormsworth against Wrath - the warlock's allies are bound to figure out what we're attempting. There's enough of them for them to send someone else."

He eyed his allies. "If not - we've got the Lightbringer, the best Archmage in North America if Meris of the Orcades is excluded, a newborn Throne and a waiting Draugr. We're far from defenseless, and we have enough options, when put together, to minimize bloodshed."

Allocer sniffed. "The only ones that need to bleed are the replacing Deputy Chiefs - and they'll come. We'll be rid of them, and Lowell will have ample proof of my intentions."

Amazo fingered a staff-like weapon he couldn't identify. "Why'd you nominate them, if you despise them so much?"

Allocer's determination briefly gave way to weary disgust. "Pride makes a big show of being freed of Humanity's foibles and proclivities. For a morally unfettered culture, they absolutely adore their partisan nominations. It's depressingly on-brand, when you think about it," he said, which made him chuckle sardonically. "Either I accepted the Goat's hand-picked order-givers or I lost my own nomination."

Lucifer scoffed. "We would've missed the chance of seeing a bulky Pride Knight with a more flexible eyebrow ridge than most flex his haberdashery credits."

That made Allocer part with a good-natured smirk and squeeze Lucifer's right shoulder, in passing back towards the door.

* * *

Enlil smirked at Abdiel. "At my age, Milady Throne, everything I do is loaded with significance. Why, I spend five minutes each morning ensuring that passer-bys catch a glance of each portentous sip of my very-important morning coffee, and every itch and tic that troubles me foretells the fate of nations the world over."

He laughed easily, following them to the same conference hall. "Seriously, now - it's the first melody I learned, once the priests showed me the lute, the first lyrics I was taught. There's beauty to them, but I might as well have been reciting the ABCs.
- I think Abbie was asking if you'd felt anything stir, well, in there," he said, gesturing at his own chest. Enlil looked like he needed a few seconds to catch the subtext, but his eyebrows soon shot up. 

"Oh! Well, no. The Blood doesn't quite work like this, you know. None of us have Lilith's metaphorical pager number and Lilith herself likely doesn't have the ability to exert that kind of control over her progeny. If she did, honestly? It'd make my skin crawl. Can you imagine that kind of invasion of privacy?"

Enlil soon caught the glance Mel sent back to Abdiel and froze, muttering apologies in Spanish once one of the Quetzalcoatl shouldered past him to enter the auditorium. "You're serious, aren't you. You've had a visitation of some sort?"

Mel sniffed. "Well, let's just say there's the last messed-up trip to Slumberland I had the last time I had a Sriracha Sauce Philly Cheesesteak, and then there's what Abbie and I shared, last night. Whole other level."

* * *

Geier smirked as he lightly fingered a wind festooned in bone fragments and small runic stones. "That said, I haven't heard out of my town's rituals be considered traditionally harmonious in a good, long while. Maypoles and arcane power building up at the favor of a tune carried on a fife tend to rub certain tourists the wrong way."

Protis' mandibles clicked. "What is fife?
- A type of flute," replied Otto. "When I'm not required to put together bombastic displays such as this one, I prefer to build on a spell as slowly as possible. My city's arcane defenses must be replenished twice a year. May's Eve and Walpurgisnacht are our seasonal holidays, and both involve week-long rituals."

The Akari's four visible eyes blinked. "Seven of your suns, on a single ritual?"

Otto smiled. "Well, yes - and no. We hold week-long festivals with a number of buskers and performers dotted across town; some of them are our own mummers of a sort, re-enacting the city's inauguration. We also have a number of local tunes and songs, and each item is part of a whole. I open each festival in Vasquez Square with a maypole dance, and each performer has a few verses or bars, lyrics or visual components, that contain part of the greater ritual. With all the stages and busking sites we place, the city's surface is covered."

Elena elicited light surprise from him, as she nodded. "You share the load. Nergal's city-wide summoning circle is too wide for a single practitioner to sustain."

Otto seemed to agree. "My priming the ritual and capping it only takes six hours, spread out between two performances," he explained. "In-between, the other members of the city's cabal take the lead."

* * *

Marius would've had a lengthy forty-five minutes to cogitate on the circumstances of his return, which would've introduced him to the high volumes of traffic density the enclave's increased population caused. Lights were long, and his usual route to his pied-à-terre wasn't available. The city's new influx of cops and other uniformed officials tended to run the gamut between disaffection and overzealousness, most of them being more than glad to make their horns, scales or skin conditions work in their favor. The glances they sent him might briefly make him feel as though his curse had re-asserted itself, only for someone else to gesture for him, when he had right-of-way.

No need for a curse if the local cops were too drunk on their own measly scraps of power to care, the effect was essentially the same. The mundanes looked like they had other things on the mind, and this wasn't Heaven's own patrolled sector. It made the sudden chime of his car's tire pressure sensor all the more inconvenient.

At the favor of a red light, a squad car stopped beside him. The cop at the wheel looked human, almost certainly mortal - fortysomething or thereabouts, with the kind of silhouette you only picked up if you never really slacked off from your early post-Police Academy years. Clean, lean, healthy, educated - good blood, all things considered. Not extraordinary, but a far cry from any bio-maker's reconstituted AB-negative. That stuff could've been probably repackaged a pro-vampire offering at the worst-rated diner on Mars that it wouldn't have made much of a difference.

Then came his eyes. A pale shade of green, just shy of normal mortal ranges. The smile, too - perfect in its little imperfections. Crow's feet and expression wrinkles slapped onto athletic perfection made manifest, almost like an afterthought. His right canine was crooked, and the Kevlar chestplate's nametag read Remiel.

Remiel etched a look at the rear side of Marius' car and then pointed at the curbside. There wasn't any particular urgency in the gesture, but Marius might've lacked practice in interpreting it. After all, he'd gone from Damnatio Memoriae to courtrooms, and from courtrooms to low-latency laser-pulse psychotherapy. Compared to his long millennia spent existing as a shadow, he'd only been acknowledged for a heartbeat.

The angel spoke, somehow projecting his voice in Marius' own vehicle, without lowering his window.

"I'm sorry if I'm catching you at the wrong time, Mister Vlastos," he said, "but I've got a little motor pump in the back and you're nearly flat-out, on the side. You won't find open garages past Crenshaw, thanks to the enclave. I thought I'd buy you an hour or two, before you start having trouble."

Remiel didn't speak further, but his askew smile spoke volumes. He seemed to know just how cliché this entire setup was, perhaps as much as the antiquarian did. 

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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"My officers know their stuff. For those who don't, they'll learn," Crystal noted pointedly.

Recalling the incident involving his daughter, Miranda, and the Damned dragons, Matriel said, "Besides supplying weapons to Pride, you've occasionally thrown a bone to the Goat. The most recent one I know of was when you attempted to remove Shen Long from the board by having Aric and his cohorts attack the temple. What did he have to gain from that?" he asked. "Mind you, I doubt he wanted that sword to fall into the hands of a 16 year old."

***

Before he released the fireball, Alana gave a sharp whistle to Calhoun and Grimley's peoples to indicate an incoming onslaught, followed by her clapping her hand over her eyes. Arthur would probably figure out their attack, but it was more important to keep him pinned from jumping to another shadow.

Meanwhile, Aislinn focused on keeping the flare aloft and focused on the three remaining shadowed areas. The shadow near Sophia's fence vanished, while the fireball also illuminated one of the park lights. This narrow means of transporting from the shadows of Sophia's home to that of the remaining shadow wasn't wasted as she vanished from the warthog and selkie's sights and toward the sliver of shade and hopefully on to reaching Arthur.

***
The Malk blinked her eyes, a sign of agreement. "That seems like an appropriate action for him to learn what he missed."

Meris nodded. "That's the easiest way for him to catch up on history. Libraries will be limited on the services they can provide, and the Darkhallow will give him the space he needs," she agreed, following after him.

***

"We already took out the spirit that was inhabiting Lindsay Strong's body. Her soul was being held hostage by Elizabeth Bathory, who I exorcised. She needed medical help, so that empty spot might leave the possessed officers below unsure," Nami mused, still looking over the racks.

"Ah!" she quietly exclaimed as she pulled a sword and its accompanying scabbard from the shelf. It had a similar enough blade to a katana, albeit the metal had a rough hammered texture to it. The handgrip had a carved obsidian veneer to it, wrapped with lengths of sturdy brown sinews. The pommel resembled a curling claw holding a round, roughly hewn blue crystal. a few slightly curved bone spikes formed the handle. She also selected a couple pistols that looked like they could somehow take down a wild boar, yet they probably had more empathetic traits to the ammo.

"I think these'll do nicely," she noted.

***

Abdiel kept her voice low as she spoke to him, "Lilith definitely paid us a visit last night. Long story short, she showed us what led to her becoming the Mother of Vampires. She indicated that Lucifer is in danger, but she couldn't say from what. Something to do with a prophecy and her not being able to act at this time. I think she wanted us to help her protect Lucifer and figure out how to stop Pride from winning this war. However, we don't really have much to go on."

***

Ariel once against studied the collected instruments and the sigil adorning the helipad, then eying Otto. "There's another reason I'm here besides to fill in for Matriel. He told me that we have a mole situation among the stationed Host, at least one. Chances are that they're reporting back to Uriel in Heaven. I want to prevent any more information from reaching Heaven from this mole," she addressed.

"I'm thinking we could set up a diversion of imps and use that as an excuse to extend your spell with the aid of my voice, thereby keeping the mole from creating any portals back to Heaven within the Tower," she suggested.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

Vlastos was reminded why he wanted to End this place. Human or demon, mortal or otherwise, they were all People, and People were all the same. Puffed up, pretentious, needing to be taken down a peg or two... He had no illusions he couldn't stand for the same himself, of course. Most of the past two years had been nothing but a descending series of pegs, one after another!

Then the tire light went off. Not unexpected. The car had sat out for almost a year after all. But where could he pull off to address it? He wasn't some helpless hippie, he knew how to change a tire.

Then the patrol car pulled up, and he took in all the details at a glance. The name tag, the too-perfect imperfections... "About time," he muttered even as the "cop's" voice came through loud and clear. What was he pointing at, though? The curb was emp-

Oh. Of course it was empty, he was supposed to take up the spot himself and get off the lane of traffic. Very safe, very wise. Yes.

He put the vehicle in gear and eased off to the side, far enough to be safe yet not far enough to block the sidewalk. Then he opened the door and stepped out. When the cop came up with his pump, he looked awkward. "I... appreciate the assistance," he stammered, in the tone of a man for whom politeness was not a common thing. But he was trying it anyway, if it made life easier in Hell.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Belial pressed his lips together as he remembered the incident. As per his apparent policy, he remained forthcoming. 

"I lost a potential template that would have made later production runs of bladed weapons easier by several orders of magnitude, and gained a new set of opportunities, starting with this one. I won't ask for forgiveness regarding Aric's actions in Hope, you won't be willing to offer it.
- Yes, and Joyful Death is in the hands of a child," noted Archie, his disapproval obvious. "Shen Long, in a moment of desperation, offered Miranda Robertson, a child, the contained focus of centuries of combined martial prowess. He might have saved the sword from falling into the wrong hands, but robbed a girl of her adolescence - none of which would have happened if you had exercised the restraint you so conveniently show now."

Belial sighed and glanced about the room. "Look at this place, Holden. Look at where you stand. Do you honestly think my apology holds any weight? I can shift my goalposts, limit casualties and circumscribe myself to a Terrestrial criminal empire's code of Ethics; but nothing I could ever say will ever bring back Shen Long's temple in its previous form. Nothing I could say will ever bring back Miranda's carefree life, which the Goat up-ended, let me remind you. A sword is inert until it's wielded, a gun is harmless until it's fired. I'll shoulder what guilt is mine to shoulder, but ask yourself - who fired the first shot? Who possessed Leonard Ephesian?"

He crunched on another ice cube. "Don't condescend - and please, don't assume that the girl's life is ruined because she'll now have one or more bald-headed Shaolin-adjacent martial artists teach her to do splits. You're still thinking in terms of tea party dresses and lace hair bows, and it painfully shows."

* * *

A lifetime ago, Alana would've probably been like any other women, if thrust in total darkness. Like anyone else at all, in fact. Humans being predominantly visual creatures, complete darkness hobbles nearly every other sense. Fear sets in, and hyper-dilated pupils conjure sight lines wherever they may, manifest threats at the favor of rising terror and diminishing rationality. Practice is required for fear to be pushed aside, for the remaining senses to bloom. Practice or, in the case of the Moon-Mad, several short years of relentless pressure.

The fathomless causeways of her kind only needed willpower to navigate, which normally made encounters a rather common occurence. This time, however, she'd sense that Arthur wanted to avoid her. He wasn't far, that much was obvious - the snapping of his pie-tailed coat in the Stygian wind, a dopplering laugh whizzing around her - but he kept her at bay as best he could. She could've grown frustrated, but she was, after all, his maker. She was of the same blood, and would know that in different circumstances, perhaps she would've been the one to snap, for fear of her brood's loss.

She could've thrashed around, tried to claw for him, to catch up somehow - or she could wait. All she needed was for Arthur's lasciviousness to manifest again, for his newfound menace to thrill at the idea of manifesting right up against her ear or to the side of her head - and she'd have him.

From Tom's perspective, however, Alana simply bolted off the porch, a red-haired blur fading under a lamppost beyond. Seeing this, the warlock raised a hand. "THERE!" he shouted, intentionally avoiding the spot's more descriptive name, in case Arthur could still hear him.

The warthog's plan was sound - if you only considered the shadows at the park's rear, where Arthur had seemingly been prowling. In the rear of the flare's cone, underneath the window to Sophia's kitchen, colors were already darkening. As soon as an outline became perceptible, shadows began to darken behind Tom and Aislinn. Arthur's voice came to them, as if echoing down a long tunnel, making his words almost imperceptible.

"The funny thing about the Void is that it's formless. Alana's in there, swimming around, looking for me. I can be as close to her as I want, whispering in her ear even now - or miles across. We pay our toll in blood, every time we pass through. A drop or two - nothing to be concerned about. In making my soldiers, those Rothchild's trapped, I gave almost everything I had."

Tom turned around, but nobody was there. Nobody and nothing, except the darkening shadows under the window. 

"I've gone beyond hunger, now. The Void is feeding from me, sapping my flesh... I'd laugh if I didn't have strength to save. Giving everything one has in the face of tragedy - it's beautiful, isn't it? If I lunge forward and tackle you, Aislinn, Tom roasts me and brings that churning knot of anguish in my chest to a standstill. If I pin you down, Tom, desperation and anger will give Aislinn strength enough to have her mind tear me limb from limb, at this stage. If Alana finds me, we fall."

Tom placed a knee down. "You have a fourth option, Arthur. Come forward. Your desperation was fed to you by the enemy. I know all of Pride's tricks, my friend - they want you to feel alone and misunderstood. We almost lost Horatio because of them.
How do you know you haven't lost me already?" asked Arthur. "I could be a demon, driving that poor old thespian's undying body around, given free reign after almost a month's worth of harrowing responsibilities."

The warlock smirked. "I might not be as long-lived a local as others here, but I know my Arthur Holden. You're only a tragedy player in the sense that you love the grim and the macabre. You've hosted Friday-night horror marathons on local television for decades, now, and you've taken dilligent care of your own brood for even longer. Centuries without breaking, and horned idiots are the straw that breaks the camel's back?"

He scoffed. "No, Arthur. Pride knew you'd be the local drama queen, the top of their list of priorities. Horatio's the den mother, the standard-bearer. You're the local champion. It takes a blowhard to know one, and believe me, you wouldn't have fallen to the same tricks as Horatio. We can't just pin you down, knock you out and put your brain's puzzle pieces back together. You're a stage actor - you'd only show us what we want to see."

A low, weak chuckle was heard. "So how would you fix me, O Warlock? What would you do?"

Tom eyed Aislinn and smirked. "Oh, Ais and I? Practically nothing. Nothing except stall you long enough for Alana to find you. All you have to do is stay put. Once she has you, let her take the lead. You'll just step out nice and slow. From my perspective, you're just a few steps across from Sophia's garden lounge. I already gave for the cause, but maybe I could have Claudia or Dickens prick a finger for you - a few drops in with some ice water would be more responsible at this point than anyone's open veins."

* * *

Going down a few levels and following the banister's curve to the lawyers' offices, Aidan noticed how the lights in Ephesian & Wormsworth were flickering, and that the pair's recently-hired front desk receptionist was absent. She happened to walk out of a public restroom located just a few paces off to the side, her things gathered in a way that suggested she wasn't returning inside.

"Naomi, right?" asked Aidan, nodding at the mulatto woman, who rolled her eyes. "Yeah," she said. "You can tell Wormsworth I'm not working in these conditions! If we're all depending on food runs and practically anything gets done pro bono around this place, then I'm in no hurry to get paid, right?"

A bit taken aback, Aidan watched the receptionist walk away, muttering something about her lack of sleep. Looking back inside and keying into his Lexicon, the soldier didn't have to wonder why.

Physically, the place was barren. They'd finished decorating, the space being fitting of a prosperous small-town legal office, but its twin in the Shadowlands was cramped. A small mob was packed in the main wating room and the attending corridor, containing as many hovering and vacant-eyed specters as it did more terrestrial ones. These ones seemed to be more mentally agile and were trying to jostle and shoulder their way to the rear offices. As expected, the mob largely ignored Ephesian's door, having perhaps noticed how the office was empty, and pressed in on Herbert's door like sardines in a can.

"Holy shit," he breathed, barely noticing how Al Biggs had joined the group, his gargoyle body managing a desultory sniff as he removed his flat cap and scratched his forehead.

"I've tried reasoning with those I still can see," he said, "but they're too far gone. This shit's straight outta Ghost - they're desperate and lookin' for a way out, thinking Wormy's got the same connections as Len."

Three's skin crawled. "Can we walk through them?
- 'Course," replied Al. "Thing is, you won't like it. Dense like they are, you could be squarer than a Republican with a postgrad Math degree that you'd still feel 'em. You're halfway-to-sensitive, what with your implant thingy, so... Yeah."

Steeling himself, Drake opened the office's door and stepped in, clammy chills immediately overtaking him. He hurried back towards Meris, hugging himself as if to protect the core of his body and its source of warmth. "Fuck!" he swore. "I've been in clammy basements before - we're almost thirty stories up and this shit's worse!"

Looking back to the two women, he couldn't repress a few chatterings of his teeth. "Are you sure this drum thing's gonna help? I'd almost rather we asked Astra Rothchild for one of Lucian's Steampunk Proton Packs!"

* * *

"Good," noted Allocer. "You can take us back now, Nami."

Akaios blinked. "She brought you here? I thought you'd come here using your own means!"

Lucifer rubbed his jaw. "Yeah, I, uh, shifted a coupla memory addresses around, made something happen earlier that would've happened a coupla, oh, thousand years or so down the line... Seeing as I wasn't sure how much time Earth had and I was standing in front of a nightclub's worth of murder-groupies, it seemed like a decent strategy."

"How astute of you," observed Ahriman, while the Judge seemed a little less prone to aggrandize the Lightbringer. Lucifer met Akaios' dubious pout with a nervous chuckle. "Eh - heh - you can credit the mortals for depictin' me like I was always a step ahead of the curve. From my first pact with Her down to coming back here, I've always more or less winged it, followed my gut sense."

* * *

Enlil pursed his lips together, made a popping noise as he parted them, and sighed. "That does feel like something that's on-brand for her, doesn't it?" he asked rhetorically. "She's comparable to almost all of the world's Archmages, in the sense that most of them owe their powers to some stretch of the Forbidden. They stop running for a lifetime or two, but that, ultimately, doesn't amount to much. They all seem to carry something they can't share, something of which the continued secrecy guarantees our existence. Protecting Lucifer would fit her, and so would trying to end Pride..."

He pouted. "I don't know much; I'm a Neolithic soul, myself," he said, smiling. "My best guess is you could maybe glean a few things by asking some of our other guests. Some of these same Archmages reminded us that the Fall theoretically occurred in Antiquity, if both Pandemonium and Earth's timelines ran parallel. They don't, which allows for the existence of beings like myself with a tangential connection to Biblical lore. We also have a few consultants from Heaven. You missed them by a few hours, last night, but you should have a chance to speak with them now."

Melmoth entered the auditorium. "Are you telling us you got Patton or Eisenhower back on the saddle?
- You've been American for too long, Melmoth!" playfully chided Enlil. "Try someone older by a few millennia!"

Scanning the auditorium's tiers, Melmoth found the same faces as the previous day and stopped to wave at Cordatus and Amaterasu, sparing a smirk and a nod for Ethelred and Theobald. Abdiel's offered sanity hadn't changed much in the Addled's approach to public assembly, the only notable difference being the object of their babble. They were keenly focused on the war's plans, but discussed their matter in cheerful, carefree tones that didn't entirely fit. As previously, some of their Western and Meso-American cousins fruitlessly tried to remind them of the virtues of tact, but it didn't seem to work for long.

Finally, Melmoth found the newcomer in the crowd, looking a little overwhelmed by those that surrounded him and trying his best to make small talk with a Black dragon. The man's features were burnished by the sun and the advancing years, a curly beard and crown of gray hair speckled with the bleached-blonde tints of life-long and unprotected exposure to sunlight. He wore a simple cream-colored suit jacket over a blue shirt, hands moving to adjust a clasp or something else on his shoulder that wasn't there. The proud and lean nose and attentive eyes were familiar, making Melmoth mentally ensconce the man in starkly different clothes. A toga and robe, for starters, with sandals worn out by decades spent addressing the bouleterion.

"Pericles," he gasped. "You've had Pericles of Athens, the father of Democracy on call for days, and none of you dolts ever thought to phone Aspasia Robertson, back in Hope?! She's spent her time in Paradise getting her ears chewed out by Rendell's choosy renditions of the Peloponnesian War - if anyone deserves a chance to meet him, it's her! Her and all of the Blues, goddamnit!"

* * *

Otto's interest was piqued, but he was obviously conflicted. "This seems like it could work, but I obviously hesitate at the thought of unleashing admittedly harmless minor spirits upon a populace that won't have been informed..."

Nasir shrugged. "Keep them to the air ducts, then. Control them so they show themselves to only those who could suss out what's been schemed, and you could reduce the spread of panic while still justifying any attempts to cordon off residents."

Looking uncertain, Geier looked back to Ariel, curious to see what she'd think of the Vanguard Queen's suggestion.

* * *

Remiel parted with a good-natured smile as he found the offending tire, plugged it to his pump and started the small device. "My pleasure," he'd replied, letting a strangely comfortable silence settle in for a few seconds. He then pursed his lips, seemingly mulled something over for a few moments, unplugged the pump once he'd been satisfied, and stood up.

"I know you're the last person I should say this to, in regards to their safety. We know you're aware of it, but, still - be careful. Only a handful of people across the entire world know who to blame, and the rest are all looking for a scapegoat. That goes for everyone. Some demons are pissed off at being uprooted, some of my peers don't appreciate being down here - things are tense enough as it is. You're not involved, but you're part of a group that's always been the object of some finger-pointing. You've got your own life to get back to, and we'd like to protect that right."

He smiled again. "You've already met the Goat," he noted, fishing into his chestplate's front pocket and producing a business card, which he handed to him. "Gabriel thinks a counter-offer is long overdue. Your aren't being called upon if you don't want to. All my boss wants is to discuss things over coffee. The decision's yours." 

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Matriel sighed and looked over at Holden with some heaviness to his expression. "Miranda isn't the only child who had to grow up quickly in the past while, Mr. Holden. We have several minors who have had their normal lives upended by the incursions. The interruption of their schooling, loss of homes, or even their parents' demises. You're also forgetting whose child she is. Both Silas and Aspasia Robertson aren't ones to shield their daughter from life's realities. They'll be there for her and help her adjust to these new responsibilities. As I'm sure you will for your own child, Anjali. I'm sure there'll be some things she'll have to adjust to after her father's re-embodiment," he told him pointedly.

Crystal sent the automaton a meaningful gaze, knowing the angel had hit the nail on the head.

He returned his gaze to Belliard and the Smith. "The reason I brought that incident up is I don't want to risk any surprises that'll tilt the War in Pride's favor. It doesn't have anything to do with Heaven or Hell winning. It's a matter of survival for the entire planet. The planar merger is giving demons another means of being corporeal and with that comes hunger. Earth's agriculture will only be able to support them for so long, and even if the mortals were to become the main food source, that won't last either. If we don't keep this conflict from careening off a cliff into an abyss of oblivion, everybody loses. That's a worst case scenario, but we have more than a few fools who don't care if we head down that path. If the Goat's requested any further favors from you, you can understand why I brought the matter up."

***

Aislinn scoffed. "Honestly, Arthur, the fact that Alana's safe hasn't hit you yet is kind of amusing. You haven't seen her in weeks, but you're whiling away your time with us when you could be with her."

Initially, Alana did feel frustrated at her inability to catch the mad vampire, but a hint from past memories of how she had lured him in the past bloomed in her mind. Anger being the flame of passion that drew the moth... There was no point to chasing him through endless darkness, as he'd teleport to another point. She remained where she was and indignantly called to him, "Arthur, Aislinn's right. They rescued me, and you're bouncing around in the shadows like you're some eldritch Spiderman! That's rather vexing to me, you old, overly dramatic fop! How dare you?!"

***

"That won't do any good, lad. We need to see how the bodhran works, after all," Meris reminded him, sighing. To quell his chills, she quickly took the enchanted scarf from her hair and enlarged it to the size of a blanket. She tossed it around his shoulders, which he would find warmed him nicely without becoming suffocating.

Opening the office's door and propping it in place, the archmage then eyed the fauness and nodded to the her. Aspasia pulled the drum and its beater from the case and lightly struck the edge with one tip, seeing if it would get the spirits to at least notice them. Meris joined in with a low, undulating vocalization, while the Chimera added in her own humming melody.

***

While she knew they needed to leave ASAP, Nami scoffed in response to Lucifer's nervous response. "Thankfully, you did; otherwise, we might have been delayed. Though, I don't feel that much different from before, just that I feel like I have more control and a bit more oomph to my abilities," she admitted.

"You might have been winging it this whole to, Lucifer, but I think it's led you in the right direction," she said. "I mean, that's what Otou-san and my aunts and uncle have done. Follow their intuition and done with they thought was best."

***

Abdiel placed a calming hand on the Broker's shoulder. "I understand your irritation, Melmoth, but that's neither here nor there, unfortuantely. What Aspasia and the Blue Chimeras went through was half a century ago. As malleable as she probably was then, she might have still believed Rendell for all his lies. He built himself up as a parental figure, remember? There's no way to tell how having Pericles speak to them would have helped. Hopefully, she'll be able to speak to him in the not too distant future," she noted.

She smiled lighly and suggested, "We should try to slip in and pick his brain. If you think Aspasia should have a chance to talk with him, then maybe we can get a hold of her shortly. The best thing to do for now is introduce ourselves and speak with him."

***

Ariel listened to Nasir's advice and mulled it over with a moment before nodding to Otto. "That should do for now. We need a cause to set our plan into motion, not alarm the entire complex," she said.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

Marius took the card, feeling a little apprehensive. "I feel like such a hot commodity," he replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "But I'm inclined to give your boss the time of day, at least." If only because Remiel was being polite about it, as opposed to couching everything in smug, veiled threats like Leonard had.

That and the only real reason anyone had to do anything these days: YOLO.

"Thanks again, I'll swing by here after I attend to a few personal matters in the city. Maybe literally, I don't know." He glanced up and down the street, feeling exposed. "I'll see you later, maybe." One last nod, and he got back in the car and got ready to drive away again. He had to check his apartments, reach out to a few contacts and see if they were still there, catch up on his portfolio (he was reasonably sure he'd made them invasion-proof thanks to what little forewarning he'd received, but one never knew), and unwind for a spell before he could think about going to see the angels.

And that was all assuming no one tried to menace him again, of course. That was one thing Remiel had been a bit too spot on about, was the penchant for those like Vlastos to get fingers pointed at them. Or worse. And considering his previous actions he knew there was a target on his back; even if the world had bigger things to worry about, Vlastos knew better than anyone else how a grudge could fester well beyond its expiration date.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Archie looked self-conscious, now, his more humble leanings and his pride both vying for attention. Matriel was right, however; he still had no idea how his daughter would react to the sight of her father's new physical form; and to the notion that the one she'd grown fond of had been effectively scrapped.

I was simply voicing my concerns towards Miranda," he then said. "I apologize for what may have been a poor judgment call."

Belial grunted. "Apology accepted, as far as I'm concerned. I'll extend one of my own, however, and both severely reduce Aric's standing in my organization, as well as financially contribute to the temple's reconstruction as soon as I'm able," he said.

"I don't suppose I need to remind you with whom you were denied a meeting, a few hours ago," reminded Eustace. "I hope you will keep to the same cordial approach, once rendered corporeal. Unless you are to besmirch your own words, you would find Federal indictments more than somewhat cumbersome."

The Smith's eyes twinkled, at that. "Only a vaudevillian idiot like the Goat would hack his sheltering nation apart in a bid for power, mister Coombs. I don't suppose I need to remind you that King Sarvin, Weasel Reginald Biggs and several other American spokespersons for the legitimate fronts of criminal operations are all hardlining Social Progressives. We've only just established working conditions; what kind of idiot would I be if I attempted to enthrall President Jones?"

He scoffed. "You don't need to worry. At most, he's deserving of a hefty bid for his re-election campaign, followed by a few years spent casually rubbing elbows with his successor. Normalcy is worth gold, in times like these. It's exactly what I'd like to usher in.
- Considering," asked Gallows, "got any plans for food?"

Belial parted his hands in a show of powerlessness. "I don't, admittedly. In due time, I can get you the man who does.
- Our fields are limited," immediately replied Bob, "we'll never have space enough to feed every Pitspawn."

Belial clicked his tongue. "I wasn't referring to Ahriman, Mister O'Malley. Try Beelzebub.
- You can't reason with Gluttony personified," countered the Sammaelite, "only his thralls can toil the Hunger Fields, and even they immediately consume what they dig up.
- You can't reason with Leviathan, that much is correct, but old Baal knows me well enough. He knows I can tighten his belt; get him to pay attention. Getting him to portion off some of the Fields, however... That's going to take some leveraging."

Belliard sniffed and looked at his brother. "S'alright, though, bruv;" he said, glancing back at Archie and Crystal. "They've got an ace in the hole they've forgotten about. Bleat-face's old defector, Lyman. They get him out and win the war? They'll have every right to nominate someone else for Gluttony's post.
- And where is he detained?" asked Archie.

Belial's eyes twinkled again. "If you're still parked out back, I can take you there. His jailers won't put up a fight, and you'll have yourselves a bargaining chip."

Squeaky looked confused. "Why won't they fight?
- How do you torture a demon of Gluttony according to you, Mister Squeaky?" asked Belial, to which the supervisor shrugged.

Belliard chuckled darkly. "You starve the bugger. His guards aren't so much guards as they're the patrons of a bloody endless buffet line. They're stuffing their maws with food and pills galore, jabbin' needles in their veins 'till there ain't more pleasure to be had - and he's in the middle, within sight and scent, but out of reach. No weapons needed. No bars, no cages. Just plain ol' fashioned cruelty."

* * *

"Then reach across, take my hand and lead us through," challenged Arthur. "I love you, Alana. I love you enough to kill you so our enemies never take your flesh on some grotesque trip. I love you enough to gorge myself on the blood of everyone left alive in Hope, if this would save the Tree. I love you enough to kill those who'd stop me."

Tom nodded at the patch of shadows. "Fair enough, Holden. Can I ask you something, though? How much would you say you love yourself, right about now?"

The thespian's voice wavered. "Don't go there, Magnus. Don't."

The warthog ignored him. "The local undead bon vivant, the conoisseur of all things graven, the man who turned his curse into a transmedia career and a shot at local fame, the one local night-shifter who's not so much about putting clown lips on Lady Death and more about taking Her for a spin in one of Grace Kelly's old dresses - would tear all of this down out of some vague hope that it might somehow help things...

You know as well as I do that only Lilith grants the kind of power you're looking for, Arthur. If you hadn't needed to vamp up an entire collegiate promotion, you would've ended bloated and drooling on the floor; a fat, useless tick stuck in Torpor, snoozing through the end of the world. You never gained in power and you never raised an army. You've killed kids, along with your career. At the end of this, you'll be lucky if Rhadamantus doesn't stick several consecutive lifetimes of Involuntary Homicide charges on you."

Arthur nonverbally snarled in response. Tom went on, looking to hammer the final nail in. Either Alana would catch up with them in time, or he and Aislinn would stop him. 

"Congratulations, Arthur," he said. "You've got your name in the history books - for all the wrong reasons. They'll let you out of Chimera Row in a few centuries, once everyone will have forgotten about you. You'll be just like Zebediah, just like Quint was: a local grotesquery, an embarrassing mascot nobody talks about. You'll be lucky to host infomercials, afterwards."

The snarl turned into a full-on growl. "So, let me ask again," queried Tom, "do you like what you've become?"

* * *

The drum's magic took a while to be noticed. Meris wouldn't need to worry, being the scholar she was: this was simply the result of most of the local restless dead having never studied Celtic folklore or cultural customs in life, or for generally never developing an understanding or appreciation of the bodhràn. She and Aspasia would find themselves spending a few minutes testing patterns and frequencies, almost as though the hand drum were a radio's tuning knob and the ghosts, a station they hoped to dial in.

Slowly, ectoplasmic strands began to coalesce in the air, like cobwebs turning visible at the favor of a properly-angled shaft of light. The first bodies that knitted themselves into shape were of Native American origin, their eyeless and withered features bearing Wampanoag marks dating back to the Colonial days. They hovered in place like bodied hung off a tree, their heads only straightening once something like recognition made their jaws tighten. They consisted of a farming couple, from the looks of things, and perhaps three braves, still wearing their trail breeches. Slowly blinking, the dead female farmer shyly began to etch out a traditional chant, forcing Meris and Aspasia to adapt their pace by a hair or two.

Then came a few Dutch colonists, a few of them sporting fully-formed eyeballs. They appreared confused, if more mentally present than the natives, and exchanged nervous glances between themselves, Wormsworth's door and the two women, clearly hesitating. One of the men turned glassy-eyed and began humming something in Dutch while following the same tune, while a woman gripped his forearm and shook, her Netherlands vernacular sounding distant and echoy, if entirely lucid.

"Rutger, no! We came all this way for answers, we can't simply drift away again! I am NOT losing myself again, do you hear me?! I am NOT losing my daughter again! Don't listen to them!"

More shades manifested, stretching across all of Hope's history. Some were already lost, as aimless as the long-lost Wampanoag, but others still bore the full weight of their misfortune and anguish. The recent ghosts, especially, forced Aidan to take a step back, clutching Meris' provided shawl close to him, regret and horror playing across his features. They screamed and wailed, clutching gossamer-thin wounds that never stopped oozing, or appearing as torn scraps of human and anthro features alike. "THEY TOOK MY BODY!" they mostly yelled. "OH GOD, THEY TOOK MY BODY!"

The mob kept swelling, immaterial spittle touching Meris' face as fingers were pointed at her in anger. Ghosts too far gone to realize she had nothing to do with their plight pointed at her, accusing her of ruining their lives, of killing their loved ones - when they didn't simply swear revenge. Aspasia would hear a cacophony of slurs being directed at her, the restless dead mistaking her for one of the demons, for a friend or a lover, for someone they'd known, someone who'd abandoned them under piles of rubble or who'd failed to prevent their deaths...

Fifteen minutes passed. Fifteen minutes for Meris' pacifying intent to finally worm its way through that writhing morass of anger, sorrow and confusion. The drum wasn't at fault, nor was her or Aspasia's performance. In fact, Miranda's mother would prove to be remarkably perceptive, for a declared mundane. What was at fault was Hope's own history, its callus of pain most people simply consigned to the history books and forgot about as quickly as possible.

Fifteen minutes of Hell.

Finally, they quieted down. The addled ones looked exhausted, transparency returning to their features, while those that still had a mind to call their own had shifted to tired resignation.

* * *

Lucifer's smile looked a bit more self-confident, some of the old swagger returning to his features. Still, Allocer's curiosity had been piqued.

"I've always been told that you had the first Fallen abandon their angelic forms to mock Mortalkind," he observed, "and that the Sammaelites appropriated the same marks and turned them into badges of office. I have a hard time imagining you ordering my predecessors to grow horns or fur to mock those we're about to save."

Lucifer chuckled at that. "Classic misdirection, Al ol' pal. I wanted to get out of Hell from the beginning, for reasons that should now be pretty fucking obvious, but I needed to be sure the rotten apples in the bunch would be easy to take down. I had to make sure those I'd lied to wouldn't have trouble identifying their enemies. Back then, there wasn't a single angel that'd seen horns or red skin or scales, or even women with heads fulla snakes or what have you. I made sure your ancestors would be obvious to mine by trumping up grotesque appearances as a badge of pride. Where I fucked up is in drawing up a few goat-like features too many. That probably contributed to the Fauns' fate."

Allocer glanced at Nami. "It doesn't matter, now. When we'll be done, we'll be able to start reconstructing my people's pride. Their real pride. One day, all Terrestrial demons will have earned their horns."

* * *

"Yeah," agreed Melmoth, with a steadying sigh. "Once more into the breach and whatnot..."

As before, Tanner and Amaterasu were amenable, quickly including the pair in a quick summation of the council's last few proclamations.

"So, dear friends," explained the Welshman, "we've agreed to petition Titania and Oberon for our accessing the European and North-American Gates to remain undocumented for the next seventy-two hours. Emissaries have already been sent. If Faerie's time dilation works in our favor, we should have a response shortly. The most magically gifted among us will hold the rear and stabilize said Gates so that their energy signature does not become overly distinct, thusly avoiding the invaders' notice. We are to use Rhode Island, New York and Vermont's Gates as beach-heads, and hold position a few leagues north of Point Judith Road. The less-taxed of our brethren should keep us Veiled until nightfall. At that point, some of President Jones' allies should have met with us. Walpurgis has its contingent of Einherjaren and Valkyries, and we should have our own within a few hours. The Vienna Council has also held an open Conclave while you slept, with Forsythe Holden and all law-abiding bloodline representatives agreeing to send their eldest and most powerful scions to the fore."

Amaterasu nodded. "Several Golden Age gifted mortals have also stepped forward with intent to join. You might remember Sterling Starr and Sir Arrowhead."

Melmoth seemed surprised. "Arrowhead's still kicking? The last time his name cropped up, I was still racking up power with the Kaiser's cronies!
- Flight-enabled Gifted tend to have quick metabolisms," noted the female dragon, "which promotes quick healing and more resilient telomere strands. Their cells make better copies of themselves, to put it simply."

The Broker nodded. "Right. So, no senility even though he's past a hundred. How's Grant? He's pushing ninety-three, I think."

Tanner's smile was a bit pursed. "Mister Sterling is doing fine, for his age. He assures us his mace-work has not diminished in quality, even if he has spent the last several decades as Massachusetts' senator."

Mel smirked. "Did he finally get around to suing Marvel for royalties?"

Tanner chuckled. "We haven't discussed this, unfortunately."

The Broker then looked back to the bearded gentleman in the rear of the auditorium. "So," he said, his tone airy. "Pericles, huh?
- Heaven has no shortage of willing tacticians and wartime heroes," noted the dragon with an amused smirk. "Would you like an introduction?
- Sure, but, uh... My Greek is kinda rusty," admitted the demon, which made Tanner laugh openly.

"Not to worry, mister Othstein," he said, smiling. "He's had thousands of years to play catch-up."

* * *

"I can keep them discrete," reassured the warlock. "It might run against my profession's ethos," he mentioned, his amusement palpable, "but subtlety has its occasional perks."

He dug inside his robe's right sleeve, fishing out a tiny skull - possibly that of a marmoset. "A gift from a Paraguayan colleague," he explained, adding a bit of a bashful chuckle. "Shall I?"

* * *

Alexandria Antiquities had gone the way of the dodo, more or less.

Marius would obviously remember his vaults' dismantling, their charging plates left to the care of the HPD as evidence, all processes involving their transfer on Federal levels effectively frozen by the drastic change in administration. As a result, there really wasn't much left of his local legitimate presence, apart from what he'd gained with the Council's support. He still had his residence of choice, now paired with the ball-and-chain of being a common taxpayer. Vlastos would've been exposed to the Council's lenient approach to taming financial responsibilities under better circumstances, but the Goat's new administration wasn't particularly soft on anyone that didn't bend the knee or otherwise happen to behave amenably towards the regime. Spending months out-of-orbit more than qualified as a slight. Hell's apparatchiks had raided his bank accounts, but wouldn't have been able to lay hands on the entirety of his local wealth. Greater Europe and, specifically, Switzerland, still held plenty of lucre for him to tap into, but the current global situation would make international wire transfers difficult, if not impossible.

When in doubt, stuff pawnables in your floorboards and gold bullion in your walls, after all. The new administration hadn't been too forthcoming with the new mayor, as would be soon rendered obvious, and most of those properties that could've been identified as being the local Antediluvian's had been seized and repropriated. Ironically, he'd owe his ability to track down one of his apartments to the Vienna Council's integration efforts having been jostled by the incursions' effects on Austrian soil: some paperwork was obviously still waiting to be processed. The screwed-in holo-strip that graced his door couldn't have been clearer:

This apartment is under audit by the American Board for Supernatural Integration, under mandate of the Vienna Council. Forced entry may result in prosecution.

Not that anyone cared, at this point. Marius would be free to either rip the thing off of the door's panel, or maybe use a screwdriver and a bit of patience if avoiding gawping neighbours mattered to him, down the line.

The apartment was a loft-style three-and-a-half, with a bed in a shadowed mezzanine, a small kitchen, the obligatory dining and living rooms, as well as a cramped bathroom. The whole of it was clean, despite having never been used. Ironically, it contained one of several bug-out bags that would've been useful, before Hell foiled his plans more thoroughly than any of Holden Hall's cohorts: fake passports now rendered useless, instead acting as reminders of his own globe-trotting past. What would they trigger, one could've wondered; nostalgia or bitterness? Something else, perhaps? Someone else in a similar situation would've packed a handgun or two, the passing centuries having rendered that particular precaution almost laughable.

He was north of Renton, in a weird spike-like outgrowth of the enclave that was wedged between two outcroppings of twisted rust and rubble, his fire escape leading to one of the lengths of fencing erected by the Pitspawn as pylons of dark Brimstone connecting muted reddish forcefields that occasionally gleamed with Enochian symbols. Magnus Tower waited a few blocks away, the helipad's busy workers being rather easy to distinguish, for someone with his eyesight. Off in the distance, the halfhearted pistol pops and siren wails of enclave cops unconvincingly trying to pin down rebels could be heard. Marius would need a few days to realize that the mortal contingent only put up token peacekeeping efforts towards the tower's residents; the demons were the one that brought riot shields and SWAT equipment they barely understood.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Crystal's brows rose slightly as she listened to Belliard speak about Lyman's fate and asked, "If we rescue him, how do we try to keep him trying to eat whoever might be in front of him?" she asked.

"Release him and then see how much pent-up rage he's probably got to take out on them and whatever food's left," Matriel supplied matter-of-factually, even though his wording was considerably dark. "We'll be able to talk with him once he's sated himself, more than likely."

The werewolf lightly shook her head and eyed the way they had come. "Let's go free him then," she responded.

***

As the warthog asked the mad undead his provocative question, Alana zeroed in on Arthur and launched herself at him from the shadows, arriving right behind him. She knocked him out of his protective shadow and onto the ground, pinning his arms behind his back.

Aislinn provided another fireball to illuminate the space about them, in order to neutralize his escape routes. She warily eyed the vampires and hoped they would be able to get through to him.

"Well, answer Tom, my love," Alana demanded, eyes narrowed coldly on him.

***

Both women did the best to ignore the misguided insults and threats, knowing that the gathered spirits were merely disoriented, angry, and purposeless. Ephesian would be the only one to be able to help them, so they would have to wait until he returned.

Once they were quelled, Aspasia kept the drum at the ready and nodded for Meris to check on the Pride demon. The archmage cautiously ventured past them and knocked lightly on his office door. "Mr. Wormsworth, Aidan, Aspasia, and I are here. The spirits have been calmed down, if you want to join us out here," she said to him.

***

The mention of real Pride caused the young Throne to recall who would lead this new version of Pride. "I think we should contact Herbert Wormworth. I heard about the kerfuffle you had a little while back with Wrath's minions and fought with him and Neasa McConmara," she noted. "If we're to establish a unique definition of Pride, then we should get its declared leader involved ASAP," Nami opined.

***

"I figure he probably knows as English as well as you or I do," Abdiel added, then approaching the tactician once they would have went in Pericles' direction.

***

Ariel nodded. "Release them and let's put a stop to the errant blissbrain's communications," she spoke quietly, yet with power.

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