Chapter VI - Asunder

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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There was a satisfied smirk on Marius' face as Grish went flying into the tower, and it widened as the whole thing fell down on top of him. "Whenever you want round two, asshole," he muttered to himself, standing his ground against the crash of debris. The smirk fell as a wave of unfocused magic surged toward him, an aftereffect he should have foreseen, but could do nothing about as it rushed into him and set his skin a-tingling. "Yikes," he said, staring at his fingers, wondering if his eyes were glowing. He felt an immediate need to ground himself and divert the excess power away, and if he were back on earth he'd do so immediately. But he wasn't sure it would work that way here.

He sensed the others approaching the ruined keep, saw the majority of the keep's forces giving up and slinking away. One in particular stumbled up to him, asking about pension plans or whatever. "Definitely better than what you had here," he replied, clenching his fists against the need to vent all this power. "Come along then, we're taking applications at least."

The others were drawing closer, and he turned towards them. "Magnus! Is it safe to vent all this wild magic into the dirt around here, or can you use it as a battery to create a rift back to Hope? Otherwise I've got something else in mind for all this shit: project an image of myself and amplify my voice a thousand times to warn everyone we've taken this keep! And everyone in it..."

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IamLEAM1983
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Marius had caught Tom as he'd left one of the remaining three towers, one of his own finds in hand. It didn't look like much, being an old tin snuff box that looked pitifully empty if you looked at it on the purely physical level. Cacus obviously took notice. "That one of Tanner's old foci?" he asked, to which Tom nodded - to Marius as well as to the stockier demon.

"Yes, it'll have to be returned to Cordatus' private collection as soon as the roads to Old Hope are cleared. It's a little banged up, but the seals are still holding fine.
- There's enough power in there to run a small squad's worth of bolstering charms," he said, looking back to the vampire. "Either that, or sustain a few minutes' worth of a decent audiovisual projection effect..."

Pouting lightly, the warthog pocketed the snuff box and approached Marius. "Let's start with that loose via first... You're Ordo Dracul, and I've seen reasonably aged vampires of your wider bloodline end up with appointments to the neurologist because they didn't ground themselves properly. It won't ground itself anywhere in Hell and you're the closest terrestrial anchor these loose P's found."

Cacus frowned. "I must've missed a spot over the last two hundred years - what're P's, exactly?
- Paracelsus units," replied Magnus. Radiation has everything from the sieverts to the becquerels, electricity has volts and amperes, and magic has the paracelsus. It's unit-agnostic, so everyone uses it around the globe. Metric or Imperial; it doesn't matter."

He then wholly focused on Vlastos. "Alright, so - do you happen to have a pen or something like that on you, Marius? Something you've got some minor connection to, ideally. It doesn't need to be important to you, just generally useful. We're not looking to create a standard focus; all we need is a dumping-place for what's surging along your nervous system before it starts interfering with it. I'd be singing a different tune if you were from one of the biologically-deceased strains, but that's neither here nor there. Once we're out of here, you'll just poke that pen or whatever it is in the ground, wait a second or two, and that'll be the end of it."

The warthog then glanced past the vampire and sighed. "As for warning them, I'd commend you for acting suitably Warlock-like, but we'd be losing time. The other fortresses are likely to at least try and mount a counter-offensive soon. Once you threaten them, that'll be a variable certainty. It all depends on how motivated they'll be versus how shaken in their Pride you'll have left them."

He glanced at the snuff box he'd stuffed in a jacket pocket and grunted thoughtfully. "So long as the focus itself is intact afterwards..." he said, apparently to nobody in particular. "You're trying to intimidate two fortresses' worth of supernaturally-inflated Egoes," he noted. "Do you need a minute to prepare?"

Tom's sustained glance made it obvious he wasn't waffling in regards to Marius' suggested course of action. As a Warlock, he simply did happen to know that there was a difference between boasting as a Joe Average and, well, boasting as one possessed of dark powers... That gave him time enough to briefly raise his own box and send a definitely non-Warlock-worthy grin of approval at the selkie.

"Nice catch!" he commented. "Marius wants to spook the other two rally points," he explained, "and he's got a slight case of overcharge. We'll be out of here in a jiffy."

Noting Herbert's presence, his grin turned into a smirk. "What's gotten into you, Atticus Finch? You look like you woke up and found a pimple on your forehead."

The attorney produced one of his signature moues of regal snobbery - a sign that he hadn't been completely neutralized by the revelatory events he'd gone through. "A Summoner demon thought I'd need a new sunwell," he said, "and now I'm short of half of a penthouse. Worse, the man who owns my security deposit is standing in front of me..."

That widened Magnus' smirk back into a smile. "I could maybe finesse a few Eldritch renovations for satisfactory terms...
- How so, pray tell? Are you going to debate against yourself while standing in front of a mirror? That would be my schtick, I'll have you know."

Tom didn't consider how exactly amused Marius would be with all this, but still sent him a wry glance. "We're still passing mental health checks and lobbing sarcasm decently enough," he observed. "That about give you enough time to think it through? We'd just need to have you standing over there, by the rear gate, and we'd need to at least make sure your projection's going to make eye contact with the other keeps' battlements. That's, oh, one or two minutes of prep work, then followed by the illusion proper being cast."

* * *

Hands shaking, the scarred human went and proceeded as directed, pulling out his smartphone and thumbing in a few chatspeak directives. Allocer practically ripped it out of the possessed human's hands and verified that things had been sent as he'd requested - only to crush the small handset in his grip right afterwards.

"Good," he replied. "Now get out there and tell them all about it..."

The servant's eyes bulged. "Are you crazy; they'll have me killed on the spot!
- They won't be fast enough," noted Allocer. "Just duck back in here, we'll keep you safe.
- You'll never make it!"

Allocer sighed, grimaced lightly and briefly tightened his hold on the possessed man's lapels. "Like a certain someone said, O, ye of little faith..."

Half pushing, half throwing him out, Allocer placed the aide in a situation that made it impossible for him to be ignored. A partially rotting thing of vaguely human and reptilian features turned her grotesquely made-up face in his direction, revealing too-sharp teeth and a long, pointed tongue.

"Something wrong, Thrall?" she asked, her tone chillingly normal against a face like hers.

"No, N-No, but I've received news, Madame Secretary. The Sixth and Seventh Centuries were ordered to break out of their original insertion points to search for supplies. We're in need of flesh, and most of the city's already been ransacked by now."

The Goat didn't look away from the battlefield, but lightly turned his head. "So?" he asked, his tone pointed. "Procurement orders are nothing out of the ordinary, usually..."

The thrall nodded. "Normally yes, your Eminence, but they've chosen to canvas the Greenvale Hotel; one of the points you've deemed to be impenetrable on the long-term. Sloth holds it."

The wood of the Goat's blackened cane creaked slightly, a tiny splinter flying off from the veneer and suggesting he'd applied only just too much torque to the object out of rising annoyance. Still, his tone remained eerily calm.

"Is Belphegor stationed there at present?"

A long, terror-filled pause.

"We believe so, yes."

Nami and Allocer had the supernatural eyesight required to track the extreme celerity the Goat imposed on Leonard Ephesian's wasting body, his gestures appearing almost casually graceful to their eyes, apart from the audible tendon and bone pops that followed as the demon pushed his coil past the breaking point. To a mortal, the Goat would've almost teleported across the rooftop, however, his hand closing around the thrall's throat like a vice. He turned around to face the assembly.

"Did one of you give such an order? Your thoughtlessness could cost us this city's trump card, as I'll remind you I've had Brimstone pillars poised to impact with the local Nexus with enough force to reduce downtown Hope to smouldering rubble. Letting the insurgents subsist on pockets of arcane radiation might seem like a sufficiently cruel punishment to you, but need I remind you that it would also. Affect. Us?" he explained, his last words seething with quiet rage.

Doubt crept into Allocer's features, urgent questions lying unspoken in the suddenly limpid pools of his eyes. Despair visibly crept in for a moment, before he briefly glanced down and steeled himself. He might not have spoken out loud, but he was eloquent nonetheless: they had their window. It was now or never.

* * *

"I suppose we'll see in due time," noted Archie. "I, for one, hope our uncooperative little biomes don't rankle the Almighty's proverbial hairs; I remember being quite cross at the sight of old classmates of mine having introduced predatory insects to my vivarium, back in Eton..."

He'd just spoken that he heard what could've almost passed for a mournful buck's call, out in the forest - if not for the fact that for his ears and Crystal's, the sound would've been of unmistakably human origin. An absolutely massive automatic pistol appeared in Nergal's hand seemingly on cue and the group stopped to scan their surroundings. Zeke, at least, did so with his nose.

"I do detect a hint of human sweat on the wind," he confirmed, but it's lacking the acrid undertones of someone like Miss. Lowell's own musk... It's almost like young miss Holden's, back home," he observed. "Saltwater and skin oils - but no bacteria."

Archie raised an eyebrow. "Might I please enquire as to when and how you might have spied upon my daughter's odor, sir?" he asked, his tone pointed.

Lyman scoffed and kept carefully scanning the treeline. "I first bumped into you before you got this upgrade of yours," he reminded the Clank. "You'd bargained for her already and her scent was all over you. Soul-born, like all those who cross back into Hope on foot after dying, with all the traits of the living but none of the surface inconveniences, with endocrine systems that respond more to their surroundings than to standard biological imperatives... Don't forget; Anjali only started growing up the moment her surroundings required her to display some maturity! If you'd given her the old fairytale mansion as expected, she probably would've remained a kid indefinitely."

Archie visibly repressed the urge to glower at the Glutton, a faint orange glow briefly disrupting his LEDs' usual color patterns. Nobody else in the group would've caught it, but Crystal obviously had the eyes for it. Still, nothing happened in the immediate - except Archie's expected polite and glacial warning.

"Mister Lyman, I would be most appreciative if you could leave any further observations concerning my daughter to either myself or to her other legal guardian, whom is currently present with us," he said, his rifle lightly bobbing towards Crystal in response. "She has grown into a fine young woman of upstanding character, I believe the current events are to blame for her early blooming. All this Hellfire, all those Celestial emanations; it can't be good for any developing tot. I'm simply glad she's turned out the way she has."

Lyman kept walking and nodded his head - not without rolling his eyes, however. "Right. Keep telling yourself nothing is wrong, and then watch as even the Akari throw the proverbial towel down after trying to understand anyone who wilfully returns to Earth. We now live with perfected mortal souls given form and substance and walking amongst us, and we absolutely won't be surprised when they somehow turn out to be better mages than even our Archmages, or better users of anti-magic than the Vanguard and the Akari combined. We absolutely won't have a cause to be afraid!"

Holden sighed pointedly. "Kindly hold your tongue, mister Lyman. I've been known to act brashly when my loved ones are spoken of or acted on in ill will..."

* * *

They certainly seemed to get the message, a few soldiers taking a few prudent steps back while maintaining the fallen goddess' gaze. "There's too few of us here to take Mammon's vaults on our own," one of them noted. "I assume you want us to spread the word?
- Yep," replied Melmoth, "just so long as your dipping into the boss' coffers isn't something you advertise outside of anyone you share this to, you should be fine.
- And how do we access those vaults? We know some of them are physically accessible in Hong Kong, under the Hundred Dragons' care - but what about the others? We'd need access provided by someone of Mammon's direct lineage."

Another shred of truth was required, here. Access to Mammon's vaults was more conceptual than physical, but Greed in all its forms did obviously require a no-holds-barred slush fund, as well as some measure of security. That was something Melmoth couldn't fake, and something that required a considerable risk on his part. If he'd been affecting his more primordial smoke-based form, something more grandiose would've been involved, like forging a key out of soot and fire or compacting his own dust particulates into a malleable measure of iron and trace rare-Earth metals, essentially conjuring a USB strip of some sort ex nihilo. As he was corporeal, he could afford to keep things simple even if it still came at a personal coast. Odd lines of strain followed behind the Broker's sustained sharkish grin, as he dug inside his jacket as if to retrieve something. Out of it came what looked like your bog-standard RFID card, complete with embedded chip and magnetic strip. Its polygonal facets gleamed in the light, however, and it looked to have been fashioned out of gold wafers stuck to the usual plastic and silicon substrates.

"Only one of you gets to open the way, capiche? That's a chunk of my own power that I'm handin' out, and I'll know if you geniuses try and clone it using mundane means. The one who takes it has to act as point-man for everyone else, and I already told you Mammon isn't expecting this sort of transactional volume. You're gonna hafta bury the hatchet and work together on this one."

One of the Wrath soldiers scoffed. "Wrath conspiring with Pride to the detriment of another conspiracy... I wouldn't have believed it if you'd told me earlier."

Mel chuckled darkly. "Believe it, bucko - if there's one thing my time with the goodniks taught me, it's that even the most cockamamie collaborative efforts can have their use. It's what's keeping them on the chessboard, and it's high time the Pit started taking notes. You'll know exactly what form Uriel's loan's assumed once you see it. Just bring it back so we can corrupt it nice and easy - and to the victors go the spoils."

Enlil, in the meantime, was beginning to grasp the finer points of Melmoth's gambit: the Broker couldn't quantify Uriel's involvement in Hell's war effort, but everything suggested there had to be something on offer. That obviously would serve as prime cheddar for any Pitspawn, far more than if Mel had settled with merely referring the rogues to drawers stashed with Eldritch bearer bonds.Taking literally any amount from Mammon's coffers would've sufficed, but taking something significant was likely to trigger wider troop movements, something the allies could benefit from. Melmoth was also obviously banking on the rogue troops double-dipping in the Vice's own reserves, thinking that nobody would miss one or two errant Title or Name potentials.

The Pride Commander in the bunch stepped forward and took the card. "I'll take good care of this, sir," he said. "You'll have it back within the fortnight.
- Damn right I will," replied Melmoth, "or I'll have your head on a platter. Find a rift and start with Greed's native coffers, you'll have an easier time slipping under the radar than if you immediately tried to out-manoeuver the Goat's own retinue. Most of the Celestial stash won't be there, but you'll probably find notes and papers."

Another nod. "So we should keep you posted.
- Now, there's a smart cookie," crooned Othstein. "Use that card to transfer what you find to my own account, you won't be able to carry everything physically. If Mammon's tellers give you the look, tell them to look at my bank statement..."

Another demon shrugged. "It's not like they'll be impressed; you said it yourself: you haven't killed that many mortals. Outright evil gets you noticed, nowadays - malevolence is worthless."

Mel rolled his eyes. "Just look at my balance once you're there, for chrissakes; you'll see for yourselves!"

While he kept it casual, Mel's looping of an arm around Abdiel's chest was a nonverbal cue of sorts, as he'd need her to seal the deal. All he could do was affect the depravity of Greed at its worst; it'd be up to God Herself - or a Throne - to sell the lie. Melmoth had never lied in stating he'd once damned others; but he'd never exactly damned the undeserving, however. That was the tiny variable Abdiel had to more or less obfuscate, hack or patch out of existence, so that looking at Melmoth's past actions from Greed's halls would show the apparent works of a paragon of mendacity, laden with all the cruelty expected of several centuries of casual sadism.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Meris sighed and placed a hand on Herbert's shoulder. "That shouldn't be too much of an effort to fix," she admitted. "I was able to create a table there before we were tossed out. It may take a bit of time, but what was lost can be replaced."

Aislinn nodded. "Not to mention, Abdiel was able to replace the mirror after Asmodeus' attack, a while ago. Replacing glass windows shouldn't be too difficult. The key thing is to get your space pressurized once again. That might take some help from our off-planet friends," she noted.

"First things first, let's get on with Marius' plan, and we'll see about getting back to Hope proper," Aspasa wrapped up the relatively trivial aspect of the conversation.

***

With the unspoken decision made, Nami surveyed their situation and how to stall for time until Lucifer and Doherty could get into position to do whatever it was they were going to do against the Goat. It effectively made them decoys, but someone had to do the job, right? And there was also the thrall to free, since they had forced him into this situation.

The Throne of Tech didn’t want to approach too closely too soon, so they needed to free him from a distance. The easiest would be to injure or stun the Goat temporarily in order to rescue the lower demon.

She formed a baseball-sized orb of Celestial light in her right hand. Allocer would probably get the idea of what she was planning to do. “Get ready to move quickly,” she whispered to him.

Nami moved away from the unit just enough to get a clear shot and threw it hard at the Goat’s back. She hoped that he would release the thrall’s neck, and she would be able to grab him. Once the orb had been let go, she darted upward and flew nearer in hopes of reaching the captured demon.

***

"Archie, I don't think Zeke meant any offense," Crystal assuaged the android, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You need to calm down so that we can get through this place and back to Hope, barring any issues with wherever that sound originated from."

Matriel sighed and did his best to also placate the lord's ire, "As one father to another, Mr. Holden, Anjali is a special case, much like Nami was. Having any sort of childhood is a blessing mortals get to have, even as abridged as hers has been so far. We don't know what Soul-born will be like down the line."

"When you do see her again, I'm sure there will be much you'll have to discuss and handle with her. The most important thing to do is ground her life in her humanity. Make sure she empathizes with those around her. It averts issues that typically plague immortals who are out of touch with sentient beings. So, yes, I doubt Ezemial meant any harm, and he needs to accompany us to Hope; so, please, refrain from doing anything that puts us at a disadvantage," he said, turning his eyes to the horizon to search for the source of the mournful cry and a human's presence.

***

Abdiel took the embrace as a hint of what he needed her to do, and she adorably pecked him on the cheek to affirm it. Right after, she slid her eyes toward the departing Wrath demon with a chilling smirk. She glided out of Melmoth's arms and strode over to him.

"When Melmoth says to look in the balance, he means it. Pride's always created the standard for evil as a swift turnover, so that the Goat's able to fill his ranks of minions to do the dirty work. He so frequently sends his men into the field to do the work that he should be doing directly. That's laziness right there. I mean, look where you all are, right? He's attempting to hold together a threadbare plan and expecting it to succeed," she scoffed, then clicking her tongue dismissively at the notion of the Goat's paltry attempts. "That fool."

"The best quality evil is one that has a long fermentation, like an excellent wine. With Melmoth's particular style of Greed, it affects millions of innocent people on the long-term and brings further misery with less work, That's efficient, no? The best forms of cruelty are long and drawn out," she chuckled sadistically, whipping out a blade from the sleeve of her suit's blazer.

She slowly sunk the tip into her wrist, twisted it, and moaned softly, enjoying her own pain. She gazed at the assembly with too-wide eyes and grinned creepily as she pulled it from the wound. She purred as she cauterized it with molten "Hellfire" and closed it. She licked the fresh blood from the knife's edge. "Now. Get. Going. No more questions. No betrayals or you'll have both of us to deal with," she ordered flatly, coldly raising a brow as though to dare them to push her anymore.

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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A focus? Marius patted himself down briefly, stopping near his waist. "What the..." He reached into his suit jacket and pulled out the large .50-cal revolver he'd stuck in there before leaving his apartment a while ago, and apparently had promptly forgotten about after grabbing a little extra ammo from Gabe's compound. "Damn, how about that." On cue, some of the excess via surged into it; he hoped it would survive, it had been a useful little tool at the shooting range.

At first he was irritated by how glib the others were being, until Tom mentioned something about sarcasm and mental states. Then it made sense. They used humor and cracking wise to vent off the stress of the situation. "Yeah, I've an idea what I want to say to those little shits out there," he replied with a smirk, turning to walk toward the rear gate. "Let's hope it'll be suitably dramatic enough, eh?"

Standing at the gate itself, he used the same Black Speech trick from before to fool the air into acting as a telescope, and surveyed the other two forts. "About the same, forces on the move, nothing unusual," he said to himself, fiddling with the big gun to unload it and stick the bullets into his pocket with the extras. Marius had been conjuring illusions and misdirection for a long time, but had he ever done so with this much raw power to work with? He couldn't recall a time, and the sizzling under his skin said he was running out of the stuff anyway.

Muttering in the Black Speech again he began concentrating the energies, his methods a combination of traditional ritual-craft and his own home-brewed ways. White light swirled around him in elliptical circles, almost a spirograph, and the pistol glowed with power. More and more power gathered, and the spirographs grew more ornate as the gun glowed brighter and brighter. "Hi yo silver, away." He aimed straight up in the air and fired the gun!

All the white light erupted upward with a howling BANG, spiraling up and out in mathematically precise waves; not that anyone would notice, although Marius did. It all coalesced into a glowing, thousand-foot-tall facsimile of Marius himself, suit impeccable, eyes glowing. He had created it so that every person looking at it from the direction of the forts would get the impression they were making eye contact with the illusion, although the people behind him in the conquered fort would only see his back, of course.

"MINIONS OF HELL! HEAR MY WORDS!" he shouted, and the illusion carried his voice far out over the plains of Hell to reach everyone in eyesight of the thing. "THIS FORT HAS FALLEN! ITS KEEPER, GRISHNAKHAL, HAS BEEN DEFEATED! THE SAME WILL COME FOR YOU IF YOU DO NOT SURRENDER AND LEAVE THIS AREA FOR OUR FORCES TO OCCUPY!! TRY TO RETAKE THIS FORT AND YOU WILL ALL SUFFER!"

As he'd hoped, the effort of putting up the vast image was drawing off the excess power threatening to overwhelm his body. Good, but there was more in store! "FOR TWO THOUSAND YEARS MY NAME HAS BEEN STRICKEN FROM EVERY RECORD! BUT NOW YOU WILL ALL REMEMBER IT FOR THE NEXT TWO THOUSAND YEARS! FOR IT WAS I WHO TOOK THIS FORT AND THREW DOWN ITS KEEPER! AND IT WILL BE I WHO WILL SEEK YOU ALL OUT AND PUNISH YOUR PERFIDY IF YOU DISOBEY! YOU CAN DENY THE COWARDICE IN YOUR HEARTS NO LONGER! RUN, ALL OF YOU SURRENDER AND RUN! SO SAY I, MARIUS VLASTOS OF THE HUMAN CITY OF HOPE, IN WHICH NAME I HAVE CLAIMED YOUR PRIDE!"

With that the illusion merely howled until it exploded, forming a massive pillar of light that lit up Hell like a beacon. And then it died away, and Marius was left standing there. "...you think that did the trick?" he asked conversationally, turning to Magnus again. "I don't think I can do that again, not for a while anyway..." He glanced at the demon who'd asked about pensions earlier. "You got a name, pal? The owner and proprietor of Magnus Tower is standing right here, submit your applications now!" he added sarcastically.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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The same demon and Tom exchanged a knowing glance. Job interviews would have to wait, in the immediate. What seemingly couldn't wait was the other keeps' response. Shock and indignation probably stopped them from throwing their doors open and tossing their men out in an attempt at retaliation, but several muffled static noises or quasi-electronic squeaks of feedback could be heard coming from the rubble, likely generated by damaged foci that had been used as communication devices prior to the attack. Frowning slightly, the warthog carefully negotiated one of the rubble's created slopes. After giving himself a moment to ensure he wouldn't tumble down, he placed a knee down and began rummaging around. Eventually, his hand emerged from the rubble while holding what looked like an etched finger of quartz, its facets flickering with feedback and only occasionally displaying a flash of fangs or a squinting yellow eye. Tom's grasp on the Stygian dialect of Enochian was a bit iffy, but he didn't need much to understand insults were being lobbed at Marius and the others.

Looking back to the vampire, he hefted the large crystal finger and lightly bounced it in his palm. "Well," he said, "at least we're reasonably certain they won't ever face us head-on again... We've got all those left on the battlefield, but I'd be surprised if the other keepers worked up more than a single squad after this."

Penfield and his understudies walked closer, Hilliard sighing as he observed the surrounding devastation. "No," he then said, his tone almost eerily calm. "They won't send a single squad. They likely won't send anyone at all, after this. This is chess, and you've pressured the black player into securing their meagre lead. Your pieces are in position, his are in disarray. He has one option left."

In the back, Riona stared ahead with her dead eyes. "The white player's king is in play, but they cannot end this alone. The black ones know the queen must be eliminated, but who is she? Does anyone here see her as I do?"

Magnus put two and two together. With their allies' arrival, he and his friends were putting extreme amounts of pressure on Pride's tactical strength. The Goat's aides would eventually crack, letting him rain death on the local Nexus - and killing Sophia. Briefly sending a concerned look at Sophia, he carefuly slid down the slope and approached Riona. "What are our odds, bànfaith?"

The ragged woman drew in a breath, having been keeping a hand on Cacus' shoulder for guidance. Tears quietly streamed from her face.

"What must die will die. This is the winter of our times... But after winter, spring always comes. New growth sleeping, waiting for the Old to wither and rot, roots digging in black earth, anchored to stones and the ruins of old. Born in glory and bloodshed, shining like a beacon, riding on the birth-screams of the Mother..."

She shivered. "But light is always seen by others, isn't it? It calls to all those lost in the dark - even to those better left there. We will have peace, but only for a time."

Hearing this, Herbert couldn't quite repress a scoff. "Just another Tuesday, then."

* * *

It worked as intended, the ungulate falling back with a grunt. They had only seconds to spare, with Allocer slipping into view and using his surprisingly nimble self to jog past the thrall in three easy steps, the rifle he'd hefted earlier held up. He managed to score clean headshots on four of the six possessed cabinet members before they could move, the other two springing to the sides with the loose and jerking movements of dead flesh puppeted by dark hands. Opening his maw, Allocer unleashed a plume of Hellfire on them, knowing full well he wouldn't be able to contain the Goat with simply this. There was also the matter of the Goat's Eldritch assistants to contend with, but all the former commander could hope to do was to keep them sufficiently distracted to prevent them from springing into action.

Considering, he took a chance and infused his voice with power, making it carry much further than it could've on its own. Doing so, he yelled for Rothchild's help. His voice echoed for just an instant, the prime Void Weaver then somehow appearing on the rooftop as if out of a bursting soap bubble, coat rippling, tendrils waving and cane in hand. As expected, the Void-borne creditors of the demon took the bait, both insectile beings rushing the Architect's terrestrial envoy. Lucian simply coaxed gravity into shifting sideways for them and effectively flung them off of the rooftop just as they were about to lunge at him.

His eyes glinting, he carefully assumed a guarding stance beside Allocer, keeping the thrall behind him. "Allocer," he said, his tone almost conversational, nodding slightly as he did, "I see your months of Orwellian surveillance have at least served to acquaint you with my people...
- All that networking has to go somewhere, right?" replied the demon on a tone he wished to be a bit on the glib side, but he kept his eyes on the Goat and his teeth clenched.

The Goat, in the meantime, had backed away and found the first solid bit of brickwork to rest a hand onto, then lifted himself to his feet. "Kill my aides," he seethed, "steal my servants, decimate my forces - all of this changes nothing! I have claimed this world in Pride's name and if you fools knew what lies ahead, you would fall to your knees and beg for forgiveness!"

Lucian's shoulders quietly heaved. "I have seen what lies ahead, you poor man. There will be other challenges, in time. Other horrors, yes. Other pains, other losses. For now, however, and for years to come, a hundred thousand different potentials promise light and joy.
- Peace is an illusion," seethed the Goat, "a fable for weak minds!"

The Squid looked vaguely pained to hear this. "How I pity you," he said. "So vulnerable, so self-conscious, so convinced that harm will come to you, so that you surround yourself with lackeys to keep it at bay. You would burn this entire universe to a cinder, should it protect you - when there is incalculable strength in opening oneself to others. We will have our peace, demon; so that it might prepare us for other turmoils. Strength without recovery withers. Strength that is offered rest only grows."

The Goat bleated reflexively, then spitting at the ground. "If you rest, there will be worse than the courtiers you flung off this rooftop. They will come, Envoy of the Architect, and they will tear the Creator's works to shreds. I may be ruthless, but salvation comes through me - not through your foolish dreams of opposing an infinity of horrors after lazing about for years on end!"

Lucian shrugged. "We have what you sought to impose on us. We freed it from you. All those Knights of Pride I touched have sensed a higher, more rational calling. Pandemonium no longer has a scrappy council of surrogate consciences, the Legion of Burning Suns will defend this and all other planes of existence - including yours, from those such as yourself."

The Goat sneered. "I have infinity at my side, I can-
- And I will simply claim more of yours," smoothly replied the Squid. 

Another bleat followed. "Damn the Architect - he is as blind as his pupil!"

Rothchild smiled as though the Goat were only somewhat in error and needed a rhetorical push or two. "He sees what ails you, angel. He sees the harm wrought on Creation by the Others. You are merely misled; it is your guide who is corrupt."

He glanced about. "Look around you - no dedication to Order as a principle is worth this much suffering, this much bloodshed! Order is found in balance, not complete entropy! If you consume this world, you will have annihilated your Creator's work on a single world at incalculable expense, while facing billions more stars to conquer! A near-infinity of Heavens, a cornucopia of Hells - all of them to be extinguished - and for what? Some vague chance of being left to stand at the edge of the precipice, alone and without the full strength of a nutured balance at your side?"

The demon's teeth were clenched. "Pride will conquer all. It always has - it always will."

A pregnant pause. Lucian sighed and raised a hand, white glyphs of his kind's reconstructed native language appearing around his fingers and nesting in his palm, like small tongues of flame etched in the fabric of Reality. "Not your Pride, no," he then added. "Someone else's."

The Goat presented his hands, his own red, lambent Enochian symbols sliding into view from his singed shirt cuffs, Hellfire coming to his call. 

They didn't have time to launch themselves at one another, however, as the long-since-promised portals from Vienna's forces opened right past Sophia's back yard. The Goat's posture turned slack as dragon after dragon flew or slithered into view, with a few smaller ones dimly heard chattering away in their absent-minded calculations as they hefted large glass globes in pairs. The Jabberwocky freed by Abdiel might have been free of their madness, but their genes still produced potent gaseous compounds which were soon lobbed in the rear of the Goat's forces, near the same portals Marius and the others would need to exit through. Green mist crawled towards the Fiends, those who breathed it soon reduced to cackling fits, sudden bouts of apparent narcolepsy or other less-threatening mental and physical effects. Along the ground, more of Vienna's vampires could be dimly seen zipping about, their plurimillennial stores of power enabling them to stand toe-to-toe with Marius Vlastos in terms of expected casualties. Fae steeds in resplendent armor galloped forth, the pointy-eared Summer and Winter Knights atop their backs wielding modern composite cavalry blades with lethal precision. Fire, ice, acid and cold mist rained down from the momentarily darkened skies as the dragons swooped again and again - 

And slowly, inch by inch, the angels and their allied Legionaires retook the ground, blazing wings looking as though they were charring what remained of the grass in Sophia's domain - only for it to emerge out of the glare greener than in the city's mildest, most pleasant and rain-spattered summers.

The Goat merely stood there, slack-jawed, power seemingly ebbing from his hands. Horror and defeat stretched his features taut. Never one to default to hatred, Rothchild merely stood by, silent for a few moments.

"We all fear what is to come," he then said, in a kind and humble admission. "You've attempted what you believed to be the best for our realm," he said. "Yours was not the way, unfortunately. You can still come away from this mistake, and learn what is to be learned."

The ungulate didn't reply, didn't move a single muscle. For now, Rothchild held his gaze on the anthro's decrepit form, even as he spoke to Nami and Allocer.

"Commander, there is a briefcase resting on the ventilation unit across from us. Would you kindly secure it? Miss Urakawa, if it isn't too much trouble, I would ask you to search him for any personal electronics, find out if any signals have been sent... My patron sees much, but even He would not see ICBMs pointed at this city from silos in the Midwest."

* * *

A few LEDs in the British android's eyes winked yellow against the usual bluish backdrop, then winked back into blue. A stress-related glitch, in all likelihood.

"If you think I would confront Bibendum here whilst in an alien realm, darling," replied Archie, "then further acquiescing needs addressing... I would suggest another date, but this may be in poor taste at present..."

A few more rustling sounds followed on occasion, until their producer simply stepped into view a few minutes later. The man had the burnished skin, proud features and soft eyes of some of Rhode Island's original Wampanoag settlers and was glad in the breeches, buskins and tunic to have been expected of the largely agrarian society. He looked to be about in his mid-forties, with crow's-feet at his eyes, and merely stood in front of them, arms crossed at his chest. Something in his eyes suggested a mixture of wariness and amusement, even if he did effectively carry airs of authority. Nergal didn't particularly look impressed.

"We seek passage, Brave," he bluntly stated, even if he didn't exactly sound abrasive. "Our time is short and while we seek no offense, these lands are to carry us home."

The man replied in a lightly accented English, like a second-generation Pawtuxet or Wampanoag speaker. "Chepian have never walked these paths since men first crossed the stars to here. Your presence is felt - and it is distressing."

Lyman took a step forward, eyes still half-lidded and having apparently swiped a few small fruits from the sides of the trail. "Apologies, kind sir - all of us here are new to your lands, and we only sought to pass through. Zeke Lyman," he said, "formerly Ezemial of the Pit, and now possessed of a great, gaping, ravenous need for some warm slippers and an eye mask. This body's last user had a bit of a pig-out before I took control, and I'm in desperate need of a few cookie boxes, one or two quarts of milk - and a long, uninterrupted nap in whatever's left of Hope's Sheraton and its Presidential suite. Blueberry?"

The man looked like he didn't exactly know whether to be amused, disgusted, insulted - or otherwise. Seeing as his offer wasn't being accepted, Lyman merely shrugged and pulled it back, then popping a few fruits in his mouth. Archie settled with standing tall, his optic covers suggesting a raised eyebrow.

"Wuneekeesuq, my good man - I gather introductions are unappreciated at present, but may we at least know who so imperiously stands in our path?"

The native greeting lit a soft spark in the man's eyes, his folded arms lowering to just under his breastbone. He smiled slightly and spared a tiny nod. "You may call me Tisquantum of the Divine Rage, Minor Aspect of Rain," he said, nodding less at Archie than at Matriel. "The last chepian I confronted had been called forth by the Wendigo."

Lyman smiled again. "Rest assured, good sir, we are not like them. I would never-"

Tisquantum said nothing, but the hard and sustained glance he sent back to Lyman spoke volumes. He'd known what Zeke was about to promise, and knew that wasn't an oath he would've been able to keep. "You cannot help what you are," the man conceded, "but what you are is poison to these lands. First one, then two, then more. The body you chose is as a tick. As for your friend, all he sees is designs for a war that has no place here."

Sighing, Nergal took a shot in the dark. "Are you familiar with Uriel, by any chance?
- I know of him, yes," confirmed Tisquantum. "He is a divisive one, but we agree that the Undiscovered Country should remain unspoiled. There is a sense of discovery at the heart of its existence, and we fear what the merging of the realms could do to its bounty."

Nergal shrugged. "Why do you care if that bounty is unending?
- It is its spirit that I fear for," explained the brave. "A land that is forever exploited is no longer undiscovered. You would not change its fate - not you people, at least. Others could come in your stead, however. Others will, no matter who wins."

Archie shrugged. "Surely our charting a single footpath is not enough to spoil your lands' bounty, is it? You could come with us, see to it that your lands are paid proper respects."

For a moment, Archie expected something like Uriel's professed stubbornness to come in display. Tisquantum's head canted to the side his eyes resting on Crystal.

"You are of the People," he noted, soft amazement coloring his voice. "You have wolf blood, yes?"

* * *

Even the most jaded of subaltern demons knew not to question Kali's orders - nevermind how the Fallen angel had probably succumbed to lack of belief in her over the last several decades. Abdiel's disguise wasn't questioned, the soldiers running off as requested, with smaller portals opening to let them through individually. Mel and Abdiel would catch brief glimpses into the Broker's native realm - White Carerra marble and black quartz pillars lit by an overabundance of chandeliers, the main foyers of Greed's domain looking like a cross between a swanky corporate lobby and the waiting rooms typically found in high-interest private Swiss banks.

For his part, Melmoth hoped never to set foot there again. He also knew that Mammon wasn't likely to stay put, between his eventual ruination and his being divested of his functions. So, his slovenly affectations slipped away on the breeze and followed a sigh of his own, relief washing over his features as the last of the small portals closed.

"They took the bait," he said, looking back at Abdiel. "Thank Lucifer, they took the bait..." He couldn't quite repress a soft peal of nervous laughter as well as the need to lightly stretch his wings. More dried skin fell off, more exposed dermis gleamed in the light, and more quills came into view.

He sighed and looked ahead. "And now, we're at the asskicking part..."

Enlil paused to consult a tablet he was carrying. "The detachments ported in just a few miles ahead; they're already pushing the invaders back. You two could be the deciding factor - or the world's insurance policy," he said, looking back at Abdiel.

Another sharp intake of breath. "Just drop me off within sniper range, for now - I'll engage them progressively. You two can go on ahead and get your feet wet."

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Glancing at Herbert and his slightly breezy demeanor, Aspasia grunted and let out a steadying breath. "Even so, that doesn't make them any easier to deal with, Wormsworth. Try telling Archie that one of his oldest friends will end up dying and will come back in some form, just not the same person he knew for nearly three centuries," she noted. "Not to mention, whatever fallout happens from a considerably weakened Nexus."

Knowing exactly how the dryad would meet her end, Meris said nothing and did her best to hold back tears for the anguish her grandson would experience, pulling the scarf on her head a bit closer to her face to hide her mood. "If we're done here, we need to get to creating that portal. Even if we can't do anything to prevent Sophia's passing, we should return posthaste to Hope to curtail further damage the Goat will try to do," she noted curtly, moving down the slope with ease.

***

Nami let her angelic senses approach the Goat and slither for any devices on his person, anything that would indicate any desperate and volatile last-ditch attempts at victory. "Lucian's correct; we're all scared of what is to come. It's what we do with that fear that will determine our eventual fate. There are things that must be reconciled, returned to their former glory. I know they will with time and with faith," she commented. "Hope is a place, but it's also a state of mind. Of what could be, what we yearn to strive for. You lost sight of that a long time ago, and I hope you're able to see it again eventually."

***

Mildly surprised to have her lupine nature detected, Crystal nodded. "I do, and so does my daughter," she stated, gesturing to Andrea beside her. "Is what you're referring to the awe, wonder, and respect that comes with undiscovered places?" she asked Tisquantum. "My name is Crystal Lowell, and this is Andrea."

The twentysomething awkwardly waved at the buckskin-clad man. "Like when you look up at the stars and are taken back by their beauty?"

"Exactly," she replied. "That youthful exuberance you feel once you see and experience something for the first time. That's what these lands have."

The werewolf's query piqued the Throne's interest. ""If that is what you're referring to, Tisquantum, I think I understand your hesitance toward Zeke and Nergal."

***

Abdiel nodded and picked Enlil up, looking to Melmoth as though to indicate that she would be back shortly. She took off and discreetly flew with the vampire toward one of the medium-sized buildings closer to where their allies were beating back the Goat's forces. "I hope this will do, Enlil. If you need any aid, you know how to contact us," she addressed, briefly showing her phone before tucking it under her chestplate. She bid him goodbye and returned to the Broker's side.

"Well, off to work," the angel said, puffing out a calming breath and a quick squeeze of the demon's hand.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Rummaging up a shard of his own, Marius regarded the insults and slander with a smirk, then gave them the finger and crushed the crystal to powder in his fist. "That felt... pretty good, surprisingly, and not just for venting most of that wild magic," he said thoughtfully. He listened to Riona's prophecy, but couldn't keep himself from shrugging. "Earth is a resilient place, I can personally attest to that. Can the Goat kill all the Trees, all the dryads? I think not! It may take years, but we can recover from whatever last desperate ploys he might have for us."

The revolver in his hand still glowed, though not as fiercely. "Magnus, I vented enough power to keep myself from melting down with that parlor trick of mine, but there's still quite a bit sizzling inside. Can you use it to power a gate back to Hope, or are we hoofing it?" He sounded indifferent to either option, since both led back to the same place.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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The warlock turned back to the bigger portals behind them and pursed his lips together. "For everyone's sake, I'd rather we tunelled straight to the tower's basement. The less Riona stays in the open, the better I'll feel about our predicament. We'll head back outside once everyone else is safe."

His clasping of the vampire's shoulder wouldn't be too surprising, considering. Vlastos would feel some of his lasting imbalance correct itself further, as the warthog leeched a measure of added potential and used his other hand to sign for a portal. A few seconds later, the reinforced and bunker-like lower half of the tower's converted parking garage came into view on the other side of a shimmering golden ring.

"This way," he told the others, then raising his voice a bit more. "To the Pride soldiers who'd follow us, I'd ask that you give us time. Paimon is out on the front courtyard and the Legion of Burning Suns is locked in combat. I know I'm asking for a lot in the immediate, but your next orders are going to come from us, for the immediate future. You can call that Lesson One in Ego Management, if you'd like, or ask Herbert for pointers."

That took the devilish attorney by surprise, which made him slightly stammer. "Well, er - in my experience, abiding by these mortals and former rivals' requests usually leads to pleasant outcomes. You are all of Pride and all seek titles and distinctions, and it seems to me as though most of us shall be worthy of a few marks of recognition, come peacetime."

One of the soldiers frowned slightly. "How can we assert ourselves if we have no enemy to dominate?" he asked. Herbert looked like answering this from his perspective as a Pride demon would require some mental gymnastics.

"Mortals have a differing view of self-assertion," he said. "Most find it in peaceful self-expression, or in joining shared causes. You'll find bullies, of course, and others more used to the left-hand path; but for all of some world leaders' imperialistic leanings, most citizens of the mortal plane tend to find assertion in the pursuit of progress. That, quite plainly, is where their own Pride is rooted."

He clicked his tongue. "Or if you prefer, and if domination is an imperative, then consider that dominating ourselves is the order of the day. Not through violence, but through diligent work."

Another demon snorted. "Paper-pushers such as yourself work, subaltern. We Knights conquer!" the other one said, which elicited a few shouts of approval. Magnus stepped aside and allowed Herbert to take the floor.

"You do," argued the barrister, "and look where you've been led, gentlemen! At every turn, the Goat's ideals are being soundly trounced and cast aside by my allies. There are others in the mortal plane who were subject to this kind of heart-wrenching betrayal, to this exact same kind of abuse - as that is exactly what it is, my friends. The Transgenics of this world were fed on stories of glory opposing an unworthy opponent, and this world's resilience and gumption worked as they usually do: it exposed them to the mortals' nobler virtues and offered them their rightful place in Society. One can only hope that Mister Vlastos here is beginning to see what his earlier endeavors would have cost us - but if I could affect more than the illusion of military might, I would have taken up arms against my own brethren months ago."

He sighed. "As it stands, I use those weapons I can effectively wield.
- Rhetorics and lies?" taunted one of them, which made the lawyer smirk and raise a finger.

"Nice attempt at an insult," he said, sounding more amused than anything else. "Rhetorics aren't necessarily a means of obfuscation, they can also be a means of illustration. As for lies, well... I haven't lied to you in saying you would find many among the mortals still destined to Hell. In observing them, however, you would notice how much of a minority they happen to be. Honestly, Goodness still strikes me as being unbearably saccharine at times, but..."

Herbert sighed and wrung his hands together. "Simply put, none here will be asked to forego their horns and trade them for a halo. Each and every one of you can act as a moral individual whilst not extinguishing that rich, dark flame that gives us character. All that matters is that you turn it to bring light to others. Believe me, paying attention to others after spending centuries wallowing in self-aggrandizement is a breath of fresh air."

That gave way to a dubious murmur that washed over the crowd, Wormsworth taking it as a sign that the Knights had at least been mollified. "Now, then - shall we?" he asked, gesturing to Tom's portal. "You'll find civilian clothing on offer and a place to rest your weary arms and wings. Hot food, warm beds, and your first few hours among civil society. You'll have other opportunities to remind everyone of which Column and Century you hail, of the titles you've earned - but for now, you are all relief-seekers."

He smirked. "Fear not. You'll still have ample chances to claim glory before the conflict ends."

* * *

Nami wouldn't find much more than a smartphone that had already gasped its final breath at the favor of the Goat's amassing of Infernal power, along with a single Bluetooth earpiece in one pants pocket. Being what she was, perhaps there'd be a way to tap into the small device's resistors and emulate the last surges that had activated the speaker's membrane, thereby recreating the sounds the Goat had last been able to hear from it...

In the meantime, Allocer approached the briefcase and inspected it as thoroughly as he could. "Pride never developed a bomb squad expertise, Mister Rothchild. Even if this is what I think it is, I don't know how much I could do...
- I, myself am no hacker," admitted the Squid, "but I may be able to alleviate any danger to result from this device. Could you please bring it closer?"

Allocer did as instructed, the Void Weaver then extending an arm towards the suitcase. It wasn't much more than your typical government-mandated collaborative effort from Masonite and Pelican; at least at the onset. White sparks of power danced around the object for a few moments, it began to shiver and quake in place - and then its constituting pieces slowly exploded apart in the same orderly manner you usually found on assembly manuals, screws turning and pulling themselves, plastic case covers freeing themselves from their foam padding as the glue that held them together was reduced to dust.

No complex electronics could be found in this physically-manifested diagram. The pieces of a thin laptop had been set into the case's foam, the LCD panel inset in the opposing cover's own shock-dampening cradle. Something more complex than your typical laptop's Kensington lock was inset next to the keyboard, the device's Wi-Fi antenna having been apparently hacked to send and receive signals from a tiny spindle of crystallized Brimstone hidden underneath the foam. All the while, Lucian had been careful to avoid triggering what looked like an obvious magnetic catch set in the locks, something to allow the suitcase to likely sense if it was ever opened or closed. He then allowed the pieces to slowly reform the whole object, the case looking wholly undisturbed by the end of the process.

Drawing a breath, Allocer approached the Goat. "Is this a disarming console, or would opening this doom us all?" he asked, his tone suggesting he expected an answer. The Goat weakly chuckled in response.

"You might as well find out," he said, his quiet mockery hanging in the air. "Although, it might already be too late for some other cities..."

A few seconds after speaking, a distant noise caused the clamor below to momentarily pause, the allied duplicates, angels and demons holding their ground while the Fiends did the same. Eyes cautiously turned to the sky.

Off to the north, a reddish glow shone into view far above the cloud cover. The clouds parted as the air's pressure shifted, and a point of bright light shone in the centre of the exposed area, almost as bright as a second sun for an instant. Then followed a rush of air - and the blast wave.

Providence had always been a distant sight, past the Hillard and glinting at the other end of Point Judith Road. The twinkle of other night-time city lights or the sparkle of daytime sunlight off of skyscraper panels. Now, a single point of light had swallowed the nearby city's silhouette, then followed by a wave of decompression that would make Nami and Allocer's ears pop as well as set off most remaining car alarms. When the light receded, Providence was a dark smear on the horizon, a smudge of hanging Brimstone dust all that remained. The state of the created ruins couldn't be seen for now, and the density of the leftover Infernal material suggested it would be days before anyone would have any concrete idea of the state of things in Hope's nearest neighbour.

Slack-jawed, Allocer blinked as a wave of conflicting emotions washed over him. Lucian's features, however, all but decomposed, his confident state of mind dissipating as sheer dismay stretched his features.

"Oh, dear God," he quietly said. "All those people..."

In the meantime, what began as anguished wails turned into howls of pure rage as the allies found new cause to throw themselves at the enemy. In Sophia's abode, however, Claudia's nature as a practitioner allowed her to feel the distant demise of Hope's extended ley lines, as the tributaries that supplied Providence in arcane power effectively seized and collapsed in an instant. Anxiety suddenly clutched at the girl's chest, fear making her eyes dart about in search of predators, even if the Centennial Tree was still hanging on by a thread, still technically safe. Sophia's main network was still protected, still mostly intact - but Providence's own network was as a clone of her own, like two trees sharing the same root system. She wasn't mortally injured in any shape or form - not yet, at least - but this would still prove to be agonizing for her.

Doctor Dickens sensing this in his own way, he felt compelled to grab Ciaran's shoulder. "We should take her and go," he said, his tone clipped as he looked back to Sophia, "save her buddings, her seeds, everything we can - but we aren't safe here anymore! If another pillar hits, you know as well as I do that this is here he's had it pointed at!"

* * *

The Brave nodded. "The fact that someone here agrees with me is reassuring. I understand your predicament, however. How can I remove the Chepian from these lands without violating their purpose? Even if trust is offered, others may come once the planes merge."

Zeke didn't have much of a chin, but he stroked it nonetheless. "I know this isn't terribly Native American and more brazenly Catholic of me, but what if we were to extend an olive branch? I happen to be a lawyer and could assemble a posse of environmentalists and Eminent Domain specialists as soon as this crisis ends, in order to issue protections to the Undiscovered Country.
- Reservations have always failed to preserve harmony in your world," noted Tisquantum. "Those who came inevitably tip the scales in their favor.
- Then I'll invite you, along with a panel of other dearly-departed Native Americans, to come and set terms for yourselves. The denizens of the Undiscovered Country will earn the right to reach out as much as they please, as well as reach in as suits their purposes. The rest of us will only have to accede to your demands."

Nergal, in the meantime, shrugged. "If any mining conglomerate comes to have designs for this place, they'll earn the ire of the same environmentalists Lyman would petition. Why bother exploiting an infinite resource if it generates an infinity of pollutants? Fracking poisons water sources and coal stains the air and soil. If prairies and rivers exist here, wind power and hydroelectric stations would more than suffice - and that is only if we ever feel the need to appropriately petition the Undiscovered Country for resources. The mortal plane has been generating its own resources for millennia, and it seems unlikely to stop in the immediate."

Tisquantum didn't look sold on these ideas quite yet. "Can you vouch for them?" he asked Crystal.

* * *

Melmoth and Abdiel would have had a few minutes to enter the fray, a few minutes to deploy their abilities and lend a hand as the situation allowed. For a good long while, the Broker's smoke form made a poor job of hiding his garrulous self, his stocky offshoot of Chernabog's presentation flinging casual barbs and insults at Pitspawn units it bodily picked up and threw back to the rear of the advancing forces like handfuls of BBs. He made a valiant enough stand even if his constant mockery of the Pitspawn didn't do favors to his attempts at looking intimidating - until Providence was flattened.

Upon seeing this, the currently twenty-foot-tall mass of curling black smoke vaguely shaped like a demon froze in dismay, arms falling limp, coils of Mel's constituting smoke only roiling about as the smaller demons slashed and shot at him. Then, the embers that served as his eyes were joined by another coiling spout of fire where his throat and mouth stood - and he let out a Balrog-worthy roar, the Infernal appearance he'd forced his wings into breaking apart as two massive tongues of fire birthed from his back, flaring out like a bird's feathers. Fury and sorrow were intermingled in the roars that followed, whatever threats he then attempted to spew bleeding back into the sound of a raging firestorm.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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While she would have lauded Herbert for his poise for his handling of the worn out soldiers, there was a growing tension in the pit of Meris' stomach. They seemed so close to Hope and yet so far from the metropolis. What had transpired in the time they had left the tower? What trouble would they find?

Aspasia picked up the Archmage's fear and dread and steeled herself with a breath, patting the selkie on the shoulder. Aislinn squeezed her grandmother's hand. "I'm glad you all will be able to find some refuge for the time being, but we should really get going. We probably have a lot of work ahead of us, with whatever the Goat's got planned."

The Heiress nodded. "No more talk, and let's return home," she responded, stepping through the portal. The fauness and younger selkie followed after her.

***
Racing, conflicting emotions flooded Nami's senses at the sight of the darkened Providence, feeling it instantly drained of its via. Her body slumped despondently. Her wings spread out, eyes blown open. Instead of the more sedate purple and blue, they glowed a livid electric blue. "N-no..."

At the same time, she reached out to the Prince of Darkness, Lucifer, if you're going to do something, you better do it now!"

At the Tree, the destruction of Providence's arcane roots caused pain to surge through the dryad. She sharply cried out in agony. She seemed to have a similar idea to Dr. Dickens as she stumbled toward them, greenish tears running down her cheeks. "T-the acorns are safe with Mi-Milady!!" she half-spoke, half-wept to them, also clutching Ciaran's shoulder.

She shoved a duffel bag in his arms. "Your pelt and your things! If I die, make sure to bury me near the seedlings! They'll need my guidance!" she choked out.

Ciaran briefly cupped her cheek as he could see her anguish and nodded grimly, holding back his own tears. He looked back at Claudia and the two vampires. "Grab what you need to! We're leaving!" He grasped her hand and started out from the apartment.

***

Crystal nodded firmly. "I'll hold them to their word and their actions. If they break either, they'll have me to deal with, and they will regret reneging on their oath," she told him.

Matriel eyed Tisquantum. "I can also shroud this place in a mist that will make it harder for others to find the Undiscovered Lands until we're able to tackle the reconstruction efforts and some peace has been maintained. You won't have to worry about any more Chepian finding their way here for a while. I say that as the Throne of Water., and that these lands fall under my protection."

***

As they had slipped farther into the city, Abdiel had assumed a 50-foot tall humanoid form composed of flames in different colors and temperatures. A circling, fiery halo surrounded her head, while she emanated a searing holy sensation to their foes. Given the relative anonymity of her physique, she was going for a personal manfestation of God's divine rage, to lessen the chances of identifying her. Enochian words burned into the demons' flesh, while she would occasionally spew plumes of fire at them.

Once Providence had been flattened, she joined Melmoth in unleashing her own sorrow and fury at their numbers. She shrieked angrily, the divine words growing painfully intense to the enemy's ears. She scooped up some of them and crushed them to an ashy crisp in one of her hands.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

Marius ignored the posturing soldiers, went through the portal and rushed outside, to the top of the nearest other building. The others could wait around, he had to see what was about to happen. There was a sick tension out there...

But he needn't have bothered, for all his far-sighted trickery. When the pillar hit he felt it, in a way he hadn't realized he was capable of. He had never questioned the ley lines, had he? The root-like conduits, so much akin to blood vessels, that carried power forth to all who had need. All, saint and sinner alike, from heroes like Meris to villains like himself.

"Damn him," he mumbled, an alien sense of guilt washing over him all of a sudden. Had his posturing back in Hell inspired this? How could it have? It hadn't even been a minute since his display! This was some other failsafe going off, a response to someone else's gambit. Right?

He returned to ground level and jammed his fingers into the nearest patch of earth, and sighed as the remaining excess of power bled away. Not all of it of course, even though the earth was now a thirsty maw, into which via would simply disappear. To come back? He couldn't say. His own boasts in response to Riona's prophecy came back, and the words sounded hollow. "Damn him!"

Still wracked by the foreign sense of despair he returned to the others. "Providence is gone," he told them bluntly, unable to keep the despair from his voice. "The Goat dropped a pillar of Brimstone on it, I saw it. I felt it." He shook his head. "Was this the last petulant gambit of a losing general? Surely he had sense enough to realize you can't rule what isn't there!"

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