Chapter VI - Asunder

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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"Yes, let's," Marius agreed. What were they waiting for now?

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IamLEAM1983
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Using Alora's gifts to cross over to Centennial Park, the selkie and vampire would be forced to contend with the warthog gawking at the stretch of blasted greenery and its new topography. The Pit's battle had effectively been lost, but more distant roars, gunshots and screams could be heard in the air. Seeing as coordinated assaults no longer worked and as most of their commanders had either been locked off or killed, the Fiends were now accessing the mortal plane on their own terms, peppering the already-ruined city with small raiding parties. Only those who could stay airborne had remained near or in the park to confront the angels, while some side-columns of the Burning Legion had slipped down their respective slopes to confront the demons that were land-locked. Tom obviously suspected the ground's warped appearance wasn't of Infernal origin, but he had a hard time imagining that the park's topsoil would survive this. Before long, the Centennial Tree's roots would be digging inside a blasted heath, soil turned almost chalky with repeated exposures to extreme temperatures. If it slipped off of the Nexus or fell...

Ah, but he didn't have to entertain these notions - not yet, at least. Alora carried them past the floor where Azazel conversed with Archie and Aspasia, among others, and left them on the rooftop on which Allocer and Nami had stood. There waited the Goat, as solidly in the flesh as his now-disarrayed troops, kneeled down in front of a strange lance that pierced his forearm. Blood had pooled on the flat rubber shingles that lined the rooftop, but not enough to pose a risk to the ungulate demon's immediate health.

Seeing the newcomers, he managed a pained chuckle. "I will say this, incubus. You have fought well; better than I suspected one of Asmodeus' sons ever could. You have proven to the world that even the Damned can be more than what their lot prescribes."

Stepping forward, Magnus made as though to jab his staff's tip against the likely-agonizing biceps of the same arm that was impaled, the staff instead impacting the ground next to the Goat's arm. The demon couldn't repress a wince and a brief look of surprise.

"Thank you," said Tom, as he used his other hand to wrench the middle section of Lucifer's trident free. "That was the compliment - I'd like the punchline, please."

The Goat didn't have enough energy left to stand up and actively oppose them, so he settled with crawling on his backside until his back was rested against a ventilation unit. He settled there with a sigh and brought his wounded arm closer. He kept his voice low, if still radiating conviction - the kind of certainty convicted criminals sometimes displayed, in hanging onto their falsehoods beyond all hope.

"You were all as fierce, as merciless as my own kind. You took no prisoners, and twisted your enemy's perceptions admirably. I've lost so, so many souls this day; and it now seems as though Life could never be truly extinguished... I hope you've learned well. The Outer Reaches are tearing open, and things unburdened with my founding Sins are working at the seams. Things with no Pride, no Wrath, no Envy - but the dogged persistence of immune cells attacking a foreign body..."

Tom nodded. "We know. The age of Void Weaver secrecy is over. Their cults won't have survived this in their old forms, and any lone agents aren't much more than terrorists we'll uproot in our own time. Amaxi and Her Brothers have what they need, and so does the resistance."

The Goat nodded slowly, seemingly burdened with exhaustion. A slow, cruel smile then stretched on his features. "A miscalculation, of all things... Akoman being wrong would change everything. Order hashing the wrong checksum, the Cosmic Ordinator returning Five, when asked what two plus two equals..."

Tom forced the Goat to his feet, who laboriously chuckled. "Something has to account for this new variable," he said. "Luckily for us, I'd planned for this..."

Tom froze and glanced at the Goat, whose laughter slowly grew. "This Plane, this place - it pulls all there is to it. Every angel, all the scores of Hell, all the gifted folk who could travel, all the locals with a firearm or just a scrap of conviction... The Thrones coming here was as obvious as two and two equalling five in Akoman's fractured scope. Accounting for Hesediel and his herald wasn't too difficult."

Up above, an odd cloud formation spiraled into being, like a tornado that stubbornly refused to make contact with land, its eye turning reddish and streaked with crimson flashes of lightning. Down below, just short of the burning chasm that now contained the remains of Hell's combatants, stone bunched up together atop an outcropping, taking the shape of Hesediel.

"If only you could see what I see," sighed the Goat. "There wouldn't have been any need for this. One day, you'll all thank me. Mark my words."

Horror rose in Tom's throat, and he exchanged a puzzled look with both Aislinn and Marius, hoping beyond hope that he was simply reading too much in a madman's ramblings.

"HESEDIEL!" he screamed, gripping the short wall that lined the rooftop. "HESEDIEL, MOVE!"

* * *

Miranda's personal commentary cooled the Fallen dragon's spirits to a degree, the tension that had been building up in him seemingly leaving him with a sigh.

"If you could drop these off by his and Aislinn's penthouse, at least," he said, "I'd appreciate it."

He sighed and looked about, then back down at himself as he slid towards the door. "I envy you, you know," he said. "You have some sense of Justice to return to, some sense of rectitude. There isn't much left for me, beyond my own passions, my own regard for the Law. I'm hoping that our victory could spell the end of my own burdens, but no angel has ever come to a demon's aid like this before, much less a dragon who so foolishly fell for Pride's wiles. Not to mention that Time in itself makes my fondest of hopes impossible to realize."

He looked back to his window. "I miss my cavern in Greece, sometimes. I barely remember it, but what does spring to mind is peaceful. Orderly, carrying the sort of grace quiet days tend to bring. I miss Alcmene, from the days before my foolish hopes led to my destroying it all out of selfishness..."

The dragon looked back at Miranda. "I miss Minos, too. He would've liked you, I think. Ah, what I wouldn't give to go back and swat those elixirs out of my own hands..."

There was a pregnant pause. "I wish all that you've mentioned for you. For all of our friends. But most of all... Most of all, my charge shouldn't be a burden, sapping all strength out of me. It should be an honor. With Pride deposed, whomsoever I choose will inherit great power."

The old man clicked his tongue. "I suppose that all I want is to wake up refreshed, for once. Refreshed and free. As you've mentioned it, however... Could I possibly ask that you hug me for a few moments? Tom justifiably wanted to keep me safe across these long months, but my relative isolation is making my condition harder to bear. Things were easier when I had my own apartment in Old Hope, or when I still slept at Holden Hall."

* * *

Understandably, nobody had given Azazel this much information in eons. He was heard quivering with a mixture of glee and long-repressed pain, but what left his mouth still was more of a chuckle than a sob. He did sniffle a bit at the end, the following silence speaking volumes in and of itself. It took a while for him to speak again, a glance at the blasted window next to him causing his tone to shift.

"I... am sorry for you," he said, "and your friends. If I could stop what is about to happen, I would. Look to the sky, Aspasia, if you can see it from where you are. I'll let your friends through, now. I hope that this won't be a killing blow. I hope we'll eat grilled cheese sandwiches together, someday."

Nergal's tone was understandably clipped. "What are you seeing, Azazel?!"

In response, the Scapegoat gestured down the corridor, opened a Gate and looked back at the group. "Step through now," he said. "I'll step away to avoid affecting you."

He hesitated. "I... I know this isn't my fault, for once, but for what it's worth... I'm truly sorry."

There was a burst of light behind the Scapegoat, followed by a loud, sustained and single note, like God's metaphorical tuning fork being struck. The group would see a shockwave heading straight for them from the park, compressed air travelling at unheard-of speeds and shattering whatever intact glass remained as it passed. Azazel shifted his posture, standing squarely in front of them. Just above him, a long and black shaft jutted at an angle from the park's ground, its impact point tuned to a blazing white dot. Azazel lifted his arms, grimacing as if in expectation of pain, and screamed as the shockwave hit him - but didn't seem to progress further. From Aspasia's perspective, Azazel's scream was garbled and partially covered in static, before the line went dead.

The Scapegoat might have taken the pressure wave's burden for them, but the sudden obliteration of the Nexus' external layer would still be felt by all. Archie's eyes flickered erratically and he collapsed to the side, his attempted warning turning into a distorted auditive mess. Crystal and her lupine half would feel as though something had taken a serrated knife to the bond tying them together. It wasn't enough to sever it, but Lowell would suddenly have an acute sense of how the Fae tended to feel, when exposed to the Bane. Someone might as well have ripped her soul out of her body and used magic to mar and maim it. The pain wasn't physical at all, but it might as well have been, judging by how excruciating the sudden pang of anxiety happened to be. Erin and Nergal didn't fare much better either, the male demon's eyelights blazing as he screamed and the woman's back arching as her teeth gnashed together as if in a seizure. An alarmed bark worthy of an unpossessed Gluttony Warden escaped Lyman as he gripped his sides in apparent agony - and Matriel?

Matriel would know the chilling truth behind what had just transpired. The Nexus wasn't gone - not yet, but the Brimstone pillar had struck something that had stood right next to it. Not just something - but someone

Normally, Thrones didn't so much die as they simply reformed their assumed appearance. While it had never happened before, the Creator did have contingencies in place, if the Elements were rendered unbalanced. There was an undisclosed line of succession from a Throne to another close angel of their choosing, the assumed mantle being so complete they effectively became the just-deceased Throne. Normally, with Angel Time allowing, everything was always and forever in place for any unfortunate accident could result in the unthinkable happening, the substitution being so sudden, so complete that the Universe essentially didn't skip a beat.

On some level that no conscious mortal mind could grasp, Matriel, Abdiel and Ariel would know that somewhere outside Creation, their maker was reeling. Something unexpected had occurred, an unplanned variable had shifted. Everything had always followed some form of the plan, even with all of the Goat's thrown curveballs, but now here was something that didn't, that was completely outside of Angel Time's covered variables. Something that didn't come from God.

Hesediel had no backup. They'd know he'd followed the procedure, the almost casual choosing of another angel for a Universe-defining task. The idea of a Throne not doing so wasn't simply impossible because it made no sense, it was impossible because succession was as rooted in each Element's definition as Water's chemical requirements or the levels of molecular friction by which Matter in all its forms yielded to Fire. It was as though Matriel had touched a block of ice, and God Themselves had replied back that this wasn't ice, but rather rock.

Hesediel had no backup. That fact would surge inside all of them, cold and cruel, even as a slow, rising and constant groan began to rise from all around. Crystal, especially, would hear it coming from somewhere very close to her. Months later, it'd be obvious that this groan had risen across the globe; steel and aluminium groaning their sudden agony as oxygen left them and rust ate away at them. In front of the building, the same groaning sound came from the Celestials and Pitspawn's respective armor and weapons seizing up and crumbling, screams sounding as firearms suddenly backfired and injured their wielders.

Slowly, inexorably, Archie's inert form was beginning to rust before her very eyes. It didn't look like a fast process and it seemed to be working its way from the outside in - but if the rust touched the armature's Etheric Processing Unit, Archibald would effectively be lost to time. If they could remove it, isolating it might give them time to somehow fix whatever had obliterated the Metal Throne. If they could, then maybe he'd be able to reverse the process, saving Archie the trouble of lying inert for however many weeks they'd need to secure another armature.

* * *

They remained silent for a moment, until Dickens motioned for the sword Ciaran had been entrusted with. He seemed about to suggest that he take position and prepare himself, when something changed in his eyes.

"Grab your sword," he said, his tone clipped, "and stand at attention by the door. A surge of energy is coming, we have to prevent it from reaching her - absorbing it might finish her off in agonizing pain or irremediably corrupt her."

He looked off to the far wall and licked his lips, as if he could taste or smell something on the air. "A Throne just died - I can't tell which one. The Goat was counting on the local disruption to reach her and tip her to his side."

Claudia's face blanched "What?!" she said. "If that's true, then we should-
- The disruption hasn't reached us yet," countered Albert. "I won't let it, either. All our lines are interlinked, in here - it means the flow has to reach a central trunk to touch us and finish Sophia off outside of our terms. I can use my blood to make it manifest, pinch it off and ground the excess flow. We'll need an insurance policy, though."

Catching on, Tomlin hurried towards the kitchenette and rummaged around. "I can whip up something big to attract all of the excess via. A summons, a flame shield, a large ball of light..."

Arthur caught the rhetorical ball. "Why not use it to heal Sophia, then?
- We can't shield her from magic gone haywire and let her absorb the rest," countered Claudia. "If a Throne paid the price for this, some element in her physiology would be torn apart if she took it in. Her electrolyte balance or her ion channels, her core body temperature or her lungs' ability to process oxygen... Take a Throne, kill it, and you'd create a dryad-killing timebomb. Healthy dryads would get over it if the imbalance is fixed quickly, but Sophia's already critical. You'd be the first persons complicit in a lethal healing spell, and I'm not ready to think of the metaphysical repercussions involved."

Frustrated, Arthur gritted his teeth and lashed out after a few seconds, gripping the alarm clock that had stood on the nightstand and ripping its electrical cord apart in a single gesture, as he tossed it against the far wall. His undead strength being what it was, the device didn't simply break apart; it felt as though the plastic casing and electronic components had been shot at the wall by a grenade launcher. "Haven't we suffered enough?!" he snarled, baring his fangs at the wall.

Doctor Dickens remained composed, in comparison. "Listen - the surge is getting closer as we speak, and even now our friends are mobilizing. Whether the Goat likes it or not, this is the final movement in his deplorable fanfare. You can either help me cut off Sophia from what would finish her off in one of the worst ways anyone here could imagine, or you can watch as we lose the ability to cap the Nexus off and someone you've just sworn friendship to turns into one of Pride's assets. If you want Sophia's life to have harbored any meaning at all over the past centuries, you'll calm down and come grip Ciaran's arms from behind. We'll need a lot of willpower to ground that surge. Ciaran, you'll use the flat of your blade like a lever, to push the flow down when I materialize it. It'll be hard, harder than anything you've ever done before, and there's risks involved. The last time your powers changed, you'd received a boon from Sophia. Now you're about to be exposed to something worse than the surge that gave the mayor powers of his own. You might be affected by it, or you might not. Time will tell."

He looked back to Alana. "'Lana, if you could stand behind me and grip my own forearms, I'd appreciate it. Arthur and Ciaran are going to push the flow downwards while the both of us pinch the main branch off and prevent it from reaching our friend," he said, then glancing at Claudia. "Go for the light ball - fire would be a hazard in here. Anything Ciaran and Arthur can't push down and Alana and I can't pinch off, you convert into Lumens.
- Got it!" replied the student, who haphazardly laid out a pentagram beside the bed using pieces of rubble and random objects to figure the diagram's points, and who muttered Latin phrases to better prepare her mind.

A few seconds later, Albert looked back to Sophia. "And you, darling - just shut your eyes, if you can. It's about to get very bright in here."

* * *

Lucifer had been about to answer when thought patterns that definitely belonged to Cuthbert swarmed their maintained telepathic ties with the Squids. Pure horror drowned out the Lightbringer's retort, as William unintentionally relayed the sensation of his weapon's weight shifting as timelapse rust began to spread across the rifle's body. Half a second ago, the line on the screen that had been set aside for Hope had changed, and now listed the payload as having been launched.

"God's Blood," swore the Knight, "we have to go back! We have to go back now! Something's happened!"

His sense of profound panic surged along the link, as only his martial training kept him in place. Cuthbert was now in some sort of deeply personal state of crisis, the mental link somehow carrying across the notion that his very faith had taken a literal blow. "S-Something's happened to Hesediel! We have to go back! We have to-"

He was cut off by Lucian's sobering mental stream, something to the impression that he'd restrained William physically being carried across. "We still have time, friends," sent the elder Squid, "but whatever you plan to do in there, I suggest you do it quickly. I can feel my patron working on something - some sort of fix or patch... Some part of our plane's material balance has failed, somehow, and all of the universe's ferrous elements are returning to a state of equilibrium, starting with manmade alloys. The fault may spread to non-ferrous iron over time and affect biological life. You should prepare yourself, Nami - your realm will be in a state of agony, upon your return to Earth. As long as the Metal Throne is not reinstated, Technology is at stake. If Hesediel is restored, you should be able to do the same with any and all affected objects."

Lucifer froze in place a moment, his hand quivering as he closed it in a fist. "Punch it in," he said. "Fucker's just twisted the knife - no time for debates. We'll figure this shit out once we've kicked his ass for good."

Sighing, Allocer nodded to Nami and gripped the key on his side of the keyboard. "Type it in, then grip the key on the other side. We'll turn together on three."

* * *

Melmoth had every intention to reply with something simple and heartfelt, but a glint of light and its accompanying moment of silence caught his attention. He barely had time to see Hesediel's small shadow being cast by a glowing ball of light that a wall of pure force ripped him away from Abdiel and across the street, to slam into the wall with a grunt. Having begun life as a subaltern of Greed, he wasn't in as much distress as some others had been, but still felt as though he was trying to push back against a tidal wave of force.

"ABDIEL!" he screamed, less out of fear for himself than out of acute and instinctual horror out of what this meant for the Throne of Fire's well-being.

Fire's links with Earth and Metal were less co-dependent than those of Earth and Water, but some parts of Earth still did give rise to her. Volcanoes, oil deposits, mineral springs or man-made forges were all places that owed as much to her as they did to her brother, but her element couldn't have been extinguished in its entirety even if all the world's iron turned to rust in an instant. If anything, Earth's apparent demise would perhaps strike her as a deeply personal affront, beyond even the petty or mortal descriptors of assault. Her person, her persona, was still entirely fine. The Goat, however, had not only murdered her brother, but also slashed at the canvas she'd used to Create for eons on end.

All the way back at the tower, however, Ariel would sense the danger this posed. Abdiel could be passionate, inspiring, kind or protective - but she could also rage with the fire of all of the cosmos' dying stars. Ariel would need the longest to be affected, as rust would require thousands of years to eat away at the mountains and valleys her brother had erected to shape her dance. For now, her element still moved as usual - but it carried the agony of Man's structures on its winds. The world over, falling planes and shuttles streaked through her as engines failed. Up above, the International Space Station's seals began to fail, leaking her element into the void. Half a galaxy away, she'd sense the winds inside Paradise's engineered forests shift, as the station's massive fans seized up and turned silent.

Of course, Ariel wasn't without a frame of comparison. She'd remember Mars - one of the Creator's other local testing grounds, and the way They'd made a few crucial mistakes in the atmosphere's composition. Matriel had lost his hold on the Red Planet, Abdiel couldn't stop originally life-giving processes from turning into a death spiral, and Hesediel could no longer rely on his sisters to shape his valleys and mountains. Mars had crumbled to dust over millennia, Ariel's demesne on the red world turning gossamer-thin and lifeless. Hers had been a slow death on Mars, graceful and almost unnoticed. Turning her gaze over to Earth wouldn't have been too demanding, considering.

Not too demanding, yes - but still mourned. Crucial lessons had been learned, when they'd finally left and when God had finally placed all of Her bets on this small blue world... Would they move on, once this one failed? For all of Gabriel's belief in Humanity, were they about to try their great experiment elsewhere?

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TennyoCeres84
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

A look of horror appeared on Aislinn's face as the pillar struck Hesediel and the aftermath resulted in the slow erosion of metal alloys in the vicinity followed. For all their seeming victory over Pride's numbers, it now felt like a paltry stalemate. Now with the additional ordeal of anything metal degrading, a swell of anger surged in her as she glared at the Goat.

"I'm fucking tired of hearing you speak, you murderous shit-for-brains!" she screamed, seething. A telekinetic punch was delivered to the demon's jaw, possibly knocking some teeth loose. Having no empathy for him or his injury, she roughly secured his wrists with a pair of zip ties.

Now with the reality of the situation sinking in, she looked over at Tom and Marius as she was unable to keep some tears from falling. "Someone probably pinned him there for safekeeping, and that someone was probably Lucifer. We need to find him and see if we can fix this, somehow..." she pointed out weakly, sniffling.

***

Miranda bobbed her head lightly. "Sure, isolation's not good for most people," she responded, approaching him. The girl gently hugged the old Judicator and let him embrace her for however long he wished. "I know you have regrets for things or the people you lost in the past, and that should be accounted for with the Goat. I think Alcmene and Minos wouldn't want you to carry that burden for so long; I can't think of anybody who deserves to suffer for things that happened ages ago, for the most part. You deserve to be forgiven and free from the guilt," she noted.

She tilted her head downwards as she seemed to remember something."When I was younger, Mom told me about the things she had done with Elysium. She said she wasn't proud of her actions and wished she hadn't done them. However, she also said they helped form the person she was then and would be. She said that it's better to own your mistakes and accept that they happened, and then you should do your best to learn from them and try to improve the world in whatever way you can," she explained. "It seems like things wouldn't be as harsh with Heaven and Hell if they took that approach instead of having two extremes of bliss and extreme punishment."

***

When the phone called ended abruptly with Azazel's static-filled scream, Aspasia desperately, if futilely said, "Azazel? Azazel?!" She checked the screen and saw the 'mobile network not available' alert, and noticed how the screen itself was flickering. Given the Scapegoat's indication that she should look at the sky, she hurried to the nearest skylight and gasped as she saw metallic debris and rust flying through the air. She hurried back to the convenience store.

"Something's happened. There's a faint, piercing groan emanating everywhere, and I saw rust and debris in the air," she quickly explained to Aristide and Woodford. "I'm worried about the structure of the Tower and possible security breaches."

Meanwhile, Archibald's sudden inert state had the werewolf in a state of panic and grief. She shook nervously and screamed his name and in her own pain, even though she was physically unharmed.

Matriel felt a pit in his stomach as he realized with dread and grief at what had transpired. Hesediel was dead, and he had no backup. How? What had happened? There were protocols in place they were required to meet, so what had stopped the mantle from carrying over? Simultaneously, he could feel his maker reeling from the unpredictable variable that had caused this travesty. A million other thoughts raced past him, and he knew he had to do something to move forward.

Tears trickling down his face, he hurried over to Crystal and gripped her arm. "You need to remove his Etheric Processing Unit; it'll delay the damage done to his person. The only way to reverse this is to get Hesediel back in control or to pass his powers to someone else. Then we need to get through the portal Azazel provided." She wept from the pain she still felt, but began probing for a way to retrieve Archie's EPU.

Understanding that everyone was either in mental agony from the blast or immobile, Matriel urgently tried to get the demons' attention. "Hesediel is gone. We need to slow down Archibald's corrosion by and get through the portal! We can't stay here!" he exclaimed, Erin, Nergal, and Zeke seeing that he was doing his best to proceed forward while distraught over the loss of his brother.

***

Now faced with the added threat of the energy surge, Ciaran swallowed heavily and did as Dickens asked. He held his sword with the flat side facing downward and toward where the surge was coming from and angled it slightly. "I'll take the risk; it's worth protecting Sophia from being corrupted by the Goat's plans. We've been through too much to let that happen!" he answered, hoping Arthur would take position as needed.

Given the risk ahead, the vampiress stood behind the Squid and grasped his forearms. "We don't have a lot of time, Arthur; hurry and get in position!" she urged, her demeanor leaving no room for a rebuttal.

Touched by their diligence to protect her, Sophia could nothing else but shut her eyes tightly. Her stomach knotted in anticipation as she waited as the moments seemed to stretch out.

***

Shuddering from the tension of the news, Nami inhaled deeply to steady herself and quickly typed in the password. The young Throne then gripped the key and eyed Allocer in a resolute fashion. "1, 2, 3..."

Time felt like it drifted on as she turned it, unsure of what would happen next. Would they stop some of the damage from occurring? What would she find after returning to Hope?

***

Once she realize just who and what she had lost, Abdiel let out an all too human wail of mourning. Tears flowed freely, and her body slumped. Fire flicked around her, her aimless emotions almost drowning her. The force that kept Melmoth in place didn't affect her so much as the raw sorrow she felt in her core.

Ariel had detected her sister's grief, as well as the fear and horror that was transpiring on an intergalactic level. She recalled the millions of years they had spent with one of God's experiments with sowing life on Earth's neighbor. Initially, it looked like a success, but their hopes had been dashed. Time passed, and they mourned. She remembered Their intense curiosity toward the third planet, mostly covered by her brother's nearly endless blue and land masses carved out by her brother and sister. Now, there was a missing quarter to their group. His legacy was literally falling apart from his absence. A slow planetary demise was not something she wished to see again any time soon, even if it had been well before the first dragons took their breaths. In some ways, it merely felt like those events had transpired within the last few years.

Given the Throne of Fire's proximity to where Hesediel had been, Ariel reached out to her, "Abdiel, we have to do something! We need an heir to Hesediel's power! We can't let an extinction level event take place!" she cried out mentally.

Her message reached through to the angel, but she still appeared wrought by anguish. Abdiel sensed where Melmoth was and pushed against the force that was pummeling the area. "Melmoth! Hesediel was killed; this is the fallout! If we don't find a replacement for him soon, metal will continue to degrade and corrode!"

As Matriel and Ariel had realized about the lack of a backup, she thought over who might be a potential candidate. She remembered Hesediel's close bond with William Cuthbert. Her mind scanned the city, feeling for where the Void Weaver might be. She could pick up on terror and spiritual despair coming from him. She gently sent to him, "Mr. Cuthbert, can you hear me? It's Abdiel. Where are you?"

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

The age of Void Weaver secrecy is over. Those words resonated strangely with Marius. If the Weavers were out in the open, finally, could he seek justice for what was done to him, for his exposure to the Black Speech? Never mind that he'd worked to create boons from the curse of it; never mind that he couldn't recall exactly who, or when, or what (he had a vague idea of where though... somewhere in the East? all he could recall anymore was an impression of briny water, of vaguely Oriental surroundings). Memories could be recovered, no amount of right could ever erase a wrong.

He looked up at the weird red funnel, noticing a bit too late the approaching pillar of Brimstone. "What the..." he muttered, looking back down. "Hesediel..." That was the Angel of Metal, right? Dammit, he should have paid attention in theology!

Tom screamed, and Marius grabbed the Goat and dragged him behind an AC unit, getting them both out of the blast. The shockwave blew past them, and something else, too. Vaguely akin to the wild surge that had inhabited his body for a time back in Hell, only this one bypassed him for the most part. "You goddamn fool," he shouted at the Goat, trying to be heard over the noise, "what was THAT supposed to accomplish?"

When the noise died down, everything was eerily quiet. So quiet that for the first time in months, Marius could hear the voice of his blood. Strangeness, weirdness, out of balance, it moaned, and things of that nature. Which was a strangeness in and of itself, as it tended to be louder and more concerned with making sure he enriched himself at the expense of everyone and everything around him. That he was hearing it actively again after so long was a bad omen in and of itself, honestly.

He made no move to shield the Goat from Aislinn's rage, and when she had his wrists in the zip cuffs he hoisted the weakened demon over his shoulder. "I'm gonna take this one to your tower, Magnus," he said gruffly. "Is there a basement or a freezer that's secure? Actually, hell, you've probably got cells of some kind for all I know." Either for kinks, or for imprisonment and isolation. No time for judging, though.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

Tom made no effort to prevent Marius from taking hold of the Goat, nor did he stop Aislinn from whaling on him. "Back down in the parking garage," he said, "there's cells we'd set up to use as either armory complements or detainment facilities. You'll find keys in the garage's office, next to Bucky's condo."

He paused to give the Goat a surly look. "Ask Drake about silencing components in the Black Speech, once you see him," he said to the vampire. "He should be able to help you whip something up in Squid-talk beyond the basic semantic component. If you can't reach him, ask Meris. Either of them should help you keep him gagged on the long term. I'd consider it a good opportunity to hack our way past his delusions and find out what he was so desperate to save us from."

The Warlock paused to glance about and then back down at his hands. Reddish sparks of Hellfire jumped from fingertip to fingertip, seemingly unbidden. "I'd say something about lemons and lemonade, but Ais isn't as much of a worker of negative magic as I am. Otto, myself and any other practitioner of black magic should see this as a chance to inflict lasting damage," he said, his features looking sour. "There's an opened Gate two stories below us and Azazel was last seen here. Ais and I are going to see what we can do to help out."

The warthog gave the blackened ungulate one last glance, his burgundy eyes narrowed. "I'm going to have every last arcane record of your existence expunged, you wretch. The last of your faithful would have an easier time summoning a paperclip out of Belial's office supplies than plucking you out of whatever box you'll be stuffed in."

Sucking on the blood that leaked out of his split lip, the Goat didn't oppose any resistance after being passed on to Vlastos, but still laughed out of a mixture of extreme exhaustion and lasting arrogance. "There's always someone to hunt out apocrypha, Magnus - none of us are ever truly forgotten. You know this as well as I do!"

Ton yanked on the Goat's shirt. "That might be, you pompous prick, but I can think of a Celestial Burden that's due for a redux - with a new customer. When I'll be done, the only people who'll keep you in their thoughts are going to be those of us who will have sworn to keep you in the dark."

Giving their customer a push back towards Vlastos, he nodded at the vampire. "Safe trip," he said, "feel free to drag him against a few brick walls while sprinting back."

* * *

Rhadamantus had spent a good, long thirty seconds holding Miranda close, his tendrils flattened out so he'd stand more at a level with her. He'd rested his chin on her shoulder and closed his eyes, resting a fraction of his weight on her with a long sigh of relief. His breath had deepened and slowed down, one hand at the back of the girl's head and the other touching her waist, and two or three soft snores had escaped him. Then, after hovering at the very edge of shallow sleep, he'd opened his eyes, coughed his thoughts back into order and parted from her, listening to her sobering assessment.

"You've spoken like a mortal rendered wise beyond her years," he said, smiling. "Unfortunately, most here view death and the Afterlife as great equalizers - moral rectitude finally apportioned, unending punishments dealt out to the wicked and eternal rewards spread out before the deserving. They all see the sacrifices Justice requires during their prime, but as someone ages..."

He clicked his tongue. "As someone ages, moderate stances lose their appeal. Why do you think so many zealots and ideological conservatives are elderly men and women? It is... human nature that wrought what we currently face. Human nature as expressed by beings designed to appoint measured praise and constructive criticism."

The Judge looked outside. "I can't see how different things could've been. Lucidity is the province of youth, and immortals lose this after a scant few decades..."

They'd been shielded from Hesediel's apparent death, but the sudden flicker of lights and the screams that echoed inside the tower left little to the imagination. Something was wrong. A low, tortured moan rose up to meet them as the tower's steel beams protested - and Rhadamantus' eyes widened at the sight of his kitchen sink rusting in time-lapse. Instinctively, he brought Miranda close again.

"Hold on," he demanded, one hand reaching to the floor and willing a curved plane of force and Hellfire into being around them - essentially a sphere. As he did so, more creaking noises were heard. The ground gave way from underneath them, but the ball of energy they were stuck in hit something solid just a few inches down.

"Stay limp," he then demanded, keeping his voice soft to avoid alerting her. "You'll hurt yourself if you tense up. I'll keep this sphere opaque while we tumble down; it should take the edge off of the sense of disorientation."

Below them, the rusting pipes they'd fallen onto started to break apart, making them sink further down.

"Something else to add to the pile," noted Rhadamantus with a huffed breath. "Another intent to harm, more fuel for my Court... Anything to be remembered, I suppose."

They fell by a few stories, having been stopped by part of the ruined stairwell Miranda had climbed. The Judge snickered as they bounced for a few moments, holding Miranda close so she wouldn't experience whiplash.

"I really shouldn't laugh, I know," he said. "This is tragic, more lives are sure to be lost from this - I'd stake my office on Hesediel having paid with his life. It's simply a matter of..."

A few more stories down, the Judge grunting as they bounced against what had been someone's bed, before being pushed down in the stairwell's widening and gaping void. "It's a matter of realizing how long I spent chained to such a colossal idiot," he said, laughing a bit more freely. "The procecution was given all the arguments they'll ever need hand over fist - and here is this moron, so determined to have the last laugh or to prove his point as to dig himself deeper!"

A few more levels raced past them, and they bounced off the top of one of the elevator cabins, likely hitting some sort of exposed circuit on the double doors' interior side. Letting go of Miranda, Rhadamantus more or less used the sphere like a giant hamster ball and pushed the both of them through the open aperture. They'd come to a stop just above the ground floor's atrium. Going down either of the staircases on the sides would take them back to Meris, Aspasia, Drake and the others.

Still laughing, he dispelled the sphere and helped Miranda to her feet. "We'll all have memoirs to write, after this," he said. "Yours and mine are bound to veer somewhere between the absurd, the needlessly tragic and the fantastic. Are you alright?"

Down below, Aidan watched as the decorative aluminium lining for the sides of the atrium's benches began to rust away. "Yeah, I'd definitely be worried, structurally," he said, eyes searching for the source of the all-encompassing groaning noise the tower produced. Otto and the other necromancers on the helipad are probably being knocked around like ninepins!"

Hearing this, Nasir placed a steadying hand on Paimon's chest and then walked back outside. A wave of force burst out from her, knocking back those few Pitspawn who were still determined to attempt an ingress, and she then lifted herself off the floor, likely scaling the length of the skyscraper.

Back a few stories below Tom and Aislinn, Nergal sent the limp form of Azazel a concerned look, grunting as he extended one of his metal wings and began to rummage between two rifle-cum-feathers. Out of the steely depths came a can of bluesteel grease, which he hurriedly uncapped. 

"We can't save what's already rusted away," he explained, his tone clipped as he repressed his own sorrow and pain. "We can try and coat what hasn't been affected yet. Erin, you're the one who has a better grasp on electronics. How do we pull out Holden's EPU?"

A moan dying on her lips, Erin's eyes were wild with sorrow and rage. She tried not to pay attention as her necklace's ornaments rusted and fell away, but a hand still reflexively clutched at the leather cord that encircled her neck even as she gasped. She hemmed and hawed as she turned the android's now rigid form over and knocked his stovepipe off with a flick of her hand.

"Alright," she said, her voice frayed, "See the port here? We'll need a Torx 2 screwdriver bit. The port below is fastened with two Philips-heads, and then there's a small lever release to disengage the EPU. It's mostly lab-grown crystal - silicon-grade, but there's a gold trace running through it. If that oxidizes, we'll lose Holden. The interface PCB could rust away if we don't fix this soon. He's driving a high-end model, and we won't find replacements just about anywhere."

As she spoke, Nergal dug further into his wings and recovered a small plastic toolcase, which Ereshkigal opened hastily. The battery-powered screwdriver didn't have a lot of torque and audibly struggled against the screws that held the outer cover in place, but she still got them out.

While this was happening, Matriel would eventually sense an odd feeling taking root in him, as he observed the demons' hurried attempts to save the spy. Thrones didn't often feel like something was on the tip of their tongue or just at the back of their mind. They could affect it for the sake of mortal verisimilitude, of course, but it mostly was just one of numerous white lies they routinely put on. This time, however, that feeling was genuine...

* * *

What happened next would later be understood to have been compressed in a fraction of a millisecond. He was in the ruined stairwell one moment and standing beside himself the next, the world having apparently been frozen in place. Something then seemed to pull him back through the wall, or maybe the world itself was scrolling past him, with his affected physical form clipping through walls and buildings and equally-frozen mortals several blocks behind them. As he was pulled back, the world seemed to lose in detail and contrast, until nothing remained but a featureless white void. Some sort of current then caused him to pivot to face the direction he was traveling in, and soon, the Architect's non-Euclidean tower or sculpture came into view, rising above a sea of clouds. As Meris had done before, something seemed to direct his wings to cause him to bank left, through a hole in the sculpture's flank, and up a flight of stairs in what now definitely looked like a tower.

This time, however, there'd be no Void Weaver to greet him. The Architect had altered his demesne for this exact purpose, and tapped into God's Thrones in this exact moment. Considering, Matriel would quickly realize that in some ways, while he'd still look to be alone atop the stairs, his sisters were still with him - perhaps in their own instance of the same place.

Before him stood a throne room of silently turning cogs and pinwheels, and seated in the throne was an old, wizened woman, her dark skin pockmarked with age and her dark hair pulled back into a loose bun. Her robes were indistinct - either Indian or Greek, with details picking from both as well as from aesthetic currents Matriel wouldn't recognize from Earth's history. She looked fairly severe, as if her age were some titanic thing weighing her down, but her slowly-blooming smile would strangely be familiar to him...

"Welcome, Matriel," she said, nodding her head, "first-born of God, Throne of Water. Your patron would not wish for me to waste time, and so I shall not."

A second passed. "I am the Architect. I tutored your young Creator in your design. You could say I am of Those that Came Before - but not of Amaxi's ilk. There is a flaw in need of correction, and She - your God - lacks detachment enough to freeze her Creation in its tracks. Pausing Her Laws would give Her leisure enough to account for Hesediel's removal. She is attached, however, and finds it difficult to stop Her work. I will have to do so for Her."

She raised a hand. "Please, Matriel. Come forth. I will give you - and your siblings - what you require. I will then restore you to the exact moment of your departure."

* * *

They'd have to wait a few agonizing seconds, but Albert's warnings soon made sense as a surge of via tuned to Hesediel's sudden and excruciating death all but screamed along the Pedway's buried arcane confluents. It reached them without much warning, like a feral animal pouncing after a prey with teeth and claws bared, leaving both pairs to pinch off the flow as best they could. Albert's newfound clarity seemingly made his fear an easier thing to marshal, as all that left him was a long grunt. His blood dagger's produced droplets sizzled on the floor, while Ciaran would feel some of the unshackled arcane force shoot up the blade he was using as a lever - and up into his arms, diffusing itself across the extent of his body. Arthur and Alana having served as their added torque, they'd only sense part of that total excess reach them, their dead flesh quivering in response. Arthur clenched his teeth over muscle spasms that seized his arms, trying to ignore the weird flutters of motion that flicked across his chest and gut. As planned, Claudia further rooted the rest of the surge into a light-producing spell, her ball of light flickering as though it were an LED array plugged to a hand-cranked generator. The selkie and vampires would have to maintain their pressure for one agonizingly long minute, after which the human mage called out to them.

"You can let go, now," she said, "the surge's mostly passed and I can take the rest through my spell! Keep your eyes closed just a little while longer, Sophia!"

Cautiously, Albert released his hold on the local main strand, following Claudia's cue. The girl kept her eyes closed and eyebrows furrowed, occasionally telling the other three to either slacken or tighten their grasp, depending on how the flow changed. It took all of five long minutes, after which she sighed in release.

"Okay... We're good," she said. "I can't sense much from down here, but the upstream seems to have quieted down. An impact like that is bound to have created several surges across town - not everyone will have had our luck in safely channeling it."

Albert nodded as he flexed his intentionally-injured hand and willed the wound to close. "More liches, more superhumans, maybe one or two untamed hedge mages - but they'll soon prove to be the weakest of the bunch as soon as we do what needs to be done. They'll gain power quickly with an uncapped Nexus, but they'll also plateau sooner than most."

Arthur looked back to Sophia with a ghost of the emotional turmoil from earlier clinging to his features. "I can't believe we're still considering this," he said, bitterness clinging to his voice. That left Claudia to sit at Sophia's side, holding one of her hands.

"Our situation hasn't changed, Arthur," she said. "We can either let Sophia suffer in the wake of Hesediel's death, or give her the chance to act on her own terms. Besides, as long as Albert and I aren't given assistance, we won't be able to leave this place. You and Alana have spent enough of your reserves already. We can't Shadow-Walk out of here safely, so we need more options. Lilith's made Albert powerful, relative to how he used to be, but blood magic is subtle and limited. He won't be able to punch all four of us through here on his own."

The thespian blinked at Albert. "There's a precedent for your kind of magic?
- Multiple cultures recognize the arcane significance of blood, Arthur," explained Dickens. "I'm simply the first of a line designed to use it more concretely. At least, this is my best understanding of Lilith's intentions.
- But you didn't have that understanding before! Where'd she pick it up, then?"

Dickens smirked at that. "I wasn't just called Doctor Dickens out of showmanship, Arthur. Or, well, I used to be, but I also was Horatio's First Aid technician. I knotted up slings whenever one of our roustabouts would break an arm, I Shadow-Walked the injured to the closest ICU whenever possible, and I kept a supply of antibiotics for their families. I was known to misdiagnose guests or infrequent employees if I turned nervous or anxious, but anyone I confidently knew could count on me not retreating back to my old snake oil remedies."

He stood at attention near the doorway, but made sure Ciaran would have another chance at the intimacy required for such a final act. "I'd say she brought out the best in me, using it to allude to arcane practices that are older, in some sense, than Mankind itself.
- So what do we call you, now that you're the root of a new bloodline?"

Sighing, Albert quietly observed Ciaran and Sophia. "I don't feel this is for me for decide," he said. "I am what I am, for now - and that should suffice."

* * *

Both key locks felt like their turning completed some sort of circuit - a slight click in the physical and mechanical makeup of the console, one that was more felt than heard. Then, after a slight lag that felt like an eternity, the launch timer for the next city after Hope stopped. All the others below it followed suit. Its internal speaker beeped, a window superimposing itself over the others.

Launch aborted. 

A wave of relief washed over Allocer, whose shoulders slumped visibly. Nami wouldn't have much time to dwell on this, however. As had been the case with Matriel, a part of her was effectively whisked out of Creation and made to soar towards the Architect's demesne. She, too, would feel as though she alone were being received. Contrary to her father, however, she'd find herself standing before an old man, his appearance almost druidic. The same exact words left his mouth, tailored for her.

Almost the same words. A few more were added.

"What I place in your hands is power unimaginable, Nami Urakawa, Guardian of Human Ingenuity. I have gifted it to your siblings, as well, but you stand in a particular position. In the past, an angel died and another one took its mantle. There were no wrong choices, and no risk was involved. Now, for the first time, a Throne will inherit a legion of enemies as its gift of induction.

I see many choices; some conventional and others... less so. No matter the final choice, it shall be criticized. The new Metal Throne will struggle to find acceptance in the Host across all potentialities, and it will struggle to find acceptance in the place of its birth. Bravery and patience are required, as well as an understanding of Hesediel's sacred charge."

He slowly and laboriously stood up from his throne, then approaching her. "Ignore my ties to your Creator, in your judgment," he counselled. "Consider all variables, but know that the mantle of leadership implies a painful truth... Perfect decisions in imperfect circumstances. The longer you wait, the longer Metal dies across the universe. On the other hand, if your decision is too brash..."

The old man didn't finish, perhaps not feeling the need to do so.

* * *

For the first few seconds, Melmoth was too dazed to make sense of anything. Being of Greed, however, something began to gnaw at him. 

In some sense, he was a bit like Ariel in being removed from the immediate consequences of Hesediel's demise. Those degrees of separation weren't infinite, however, and cold dread slipped through the back of his mind. If rare earths and minerals suffered from this, multiple currencies and highly fungible goods would see their values spike. The part of him that was of Mammon produced a weak core of elation in his chest, something that came across as more of a dose of lucid interest than what would've been the Prince's own sadistic glee. Beyond collapsing buildings, a collapsing economy was to be expected. What was truly and indelibly Melmoth's own attachment to the situation found nothing pleasurable in this. Pointed interest turned to a sharp pang of anguish.

"We need to take cards out of the Goat's deck," he responded, "and pronto! Here's hoping's Vlastos' detaining the fucker doesn't turn sour; I don't know if I could take another shake-up after this!"

Concern lining his features, he turned quiet and attentive as his lover reached out to someone, somewhere. In the meantime, Abdiel would be struck by the wrestling emotional undercurrents of Lucian and William, as the first one tried to physically restrain the second. She wouldn't get anything concrete out of the Knight Commander, except acute sorrow and panic. Still, Rothchild got him under control over a few minutes, which allowed him to finally perceive her connection attempt.

"I... We're in Hell, near Mammon's Vaults," he sent back. "We found the Goat's duplicate of the White House, his final graven image. Lucian and I opted to stay back to cover Nami, Lucifer and Allocer. I don't - I don't know how much they've been able to do, I can't get a lock on the girl. I can sense she's still there, but someone or something's pulled her mind away, somehow - like how some in the Prelacy used to do it to call for impromptu meetings..."

Sorrow clung to his thoughts like an oil slick in water. "Hesediel's gone, Abdiel. I've never felt so... empty before in my life - and I can feel others taking notice. I haven't visited the Darkhallow in over a year, not since I last discussed our plans with Meris and her allies - and now I feel cold. They're going to try to pull me back in, detain my mind, puppet my body so I betray my God and my cause..."

From the soldier's extreme chagrin, Abdiel would find herself sensing Lucian's more sober levels of concern. The older Void Weaver slipped into their telepathic link with as much non-physical politeness as could be imagined in context, his presence edging in by degrees.

"Apologies, Abdiel. William is in the throes of acute spiritual distress, and all my tales of the Architect's watchful guard would amount to platitudes, in context. He must be brought to some measure of peace, or what he fears will surely come to pass. He is not lying, in claiming that Loyalist compatriots of mine could sense his distress within our shared subconscious. Hesediel was his guardian angel, and while he took to this honor with no misplaced pride, it brought him an immesurable amount of comfort. I can sense that Hesediel's approval struck him as the culmination of his efforts. The Goat has now trampled the foundation of who he believes himself to be."

Melmoth also slipped in, in his characteristically frank, if slightly less polite manner. "Y'want my two cents? He knows he's lost Ephesian so he's trying his hand at creating another patsy. Gun-toting Jesuits aren't really the type to blow their charge out of proportion, but edging our guy here back towards the Others leaves a lotta doors open. Willie here could take to this as a personal slight, eventually, and when he does..."

Lucian's assent was manifest. "Which is all the more reason why my family has worked to keep the Gentlemen away from matters of Leonard Ephesian's involvement. There is no need for the Black Goat to realize what he could stand to gain if he allied with the likes of the Chamberlain. A more perfect vessel could not be asked for."

Unconsciously, Melmoth broadcast his vision of what Chambers and the Goat coming to terms could look like. Possession wouldn't be on the table, at this point - symbiosis would be on the menu. The Void Weaver's cold intellect paired with the Goat's flair for self-aggrandizement could open the way for dangerously effective plans. They'd have no need to land final gut punches as a spiteful last measure, not when the Goat would have the benefit of the lead Prelate's pliable and flexible mind to add a dangerous dose of foresight and hard-earned wisdom...

Visually, there wasn't much to it: Chambers sitting in the same seat Aidan had once seen in an illusion, when meeting Naberius in his physical form. The mental projection's eyes were different, however. Less cold, more calculating - animal cunning hiding beneath the surface, with the slightest touch of a flame-colored glare in both eyes to suggest the unthinkable.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Aislinn made to leave with Tom, before pausing to look back at Marius and the Goat. "Oh, if one of your knees happens to move a bit too high while bounding around and makes contact with his backside or his family jewels, that works as well," she noted before heading off with Tom to help below.

***

The descent downward through the levels was certainly disorienting, and she did her best to keep her posture relaxed within the Hellfire bubble. It felt like some weird sort of training for astronauts or shuttle pilots, given the weightlessness of the interior. The girl was thankful once they reached their destination and they were released from the protective sphere.

"I'm alright," she said as she stood and regained her bearings. "I don't know how much of an audience my memoir would have, but I think I already have a working title: The Dark Days of Dictator Bleatbreath: A Memoir," she scoffed.

The teenager shook her head and chuckled sadly. "Some people laugh when they're nervous, why not while mourning?" she suggested as she started toward the right staircase to rejoin their friends on the lower levels.

With the Vanguard Queen heading outside, Aspasia helped Paimon to a sturdy enough chair and handed him a sandwich to start off refueling himself. "What should we do? It would be difficult to evacuate everyone in the event of a collapse, so we're limited on our solutions. Is there any way to slow the corrosion with Black Speech?"

Meanwhile, as Nasir was gliding up the side of the skyscraper, she would see Ariel seemingly doing her best to use her powers to create a cocoon around the tower. At the same time, the angel seemed distracted, as she was probably being called by the Architect as well.

Given her limited knowledge of electronics, Crystal watched the demons work and anxiously and reflexively grabbed onto the discarded stovepipe hat, as though for safekeeping. Her fingers rubbed and lightly kneaded the brim's edge like it was a worry stone. She could be heard quietly murmuring, likely praying for a miracle to save him.

As for Matriel, he was about to say something that would have likely meant to strengthen the morale or calm their fears before his attention was drawn elsewhere.

***

Matriel soared through the appropriate opening in the tower and landed gently on the steps. The Architect's introduction eased his worry slightly and nodded his understanding of who They were and why he and the other Thrones were needed there. Ariel was seemingly there, and he could pick up a faint impression of his fiery sister, like she wasn't quite there just yet.

Nevertheless, he grasped the offered hand and followed after the elderly deity. His more human traits were still evident, concern and sorrow entering into his tone. "What needs correcting? How did this problem keep Hesediel's mantle from passing to another angel?" he asked.

***

As to the origins of Albert's newfound powers, Sophia gasped from a bit of pain as she turned her head toward him. "Dryads have an understanding of old stories that have buried and seeped into the Earth. Even before the earliest dryads were contracted to a region of land, blood was deeply connected to the Mother of Vampires. Through her anguish of her barren state, those she cared for and loved who had their blood seep into the ground by the hands of her assailants, those who wished she would have remained a forgotten memory of history... The Earth knows her past and the one who taught her those old ways was Lucifer. Your lineage will attain a name eventually..."

Sophia looked back toward the entrance Albert guarded and explained, "My demise should weaken the forces outside, once my sowed curse reaches out through the ground. The strongest ones will be weak from the sickness, while their lesser counterparts will perish soon enough; you should be able to make quick work of them and flee, I would imagine. My resentment toward their numbers will be my final boon."

Once that was said, the gravity of the situation returned to Ciaran's mind once more, the feeling being less ghostly in its intensity and more of a resuming pang in his heart. His gaze fell back to the sword he had used as a lever just minutes before. It had been used to steer the Goat's last ditch effort to corrupt her. There might be more of those surges soon enough, and he knew it was possible that they might not be able to divert it away from the dryad again. What was needed felt like the third time of an emotional roller coaster he had been placed on. It was an indirect twisting of the knife in their collective side.

Sophia placed her hand on his in a sobering fashion, causing the roane to tear up once more. He leaned in and hugged her, his tears dripping into her now frail, brownish hair of vines. The dryad gently returned the embrace, quivering from the effort of leaning forward.

His previous recollection of assignments and dates had already been covered, so he pondered over what to say. He tilted his head and rested it against hers, tears still flowing as the words followed after. "I want to say again thank you for loving me, Sophia. I know how much of a blessing it is and how fortunate I've been to receive love and to love you in return. It's a rarity in and of itself. I don't know about other dryads and their histories, but I think your story stands out among them all. Your love, your dedication, your kindness, and your friendship to me and all of those who have befriended you and sought your aid have affected us in ways I don't think any one of us could describe or fully comprehend."

Greenish tears once more flowed from her emerald eyes, her hands gripping Ciaran and Claudia's. "I've been honored to live beside you all, to see your points of happiness, celebration, turmoil, and despair. Dryads are nurtured by everything we sense, and I felt the full scope of humanity while guarding the Tree and the Nexus. I couldn't be happier for the life that I have lived. It makes me sad to leave you behind, and as I said before, I will miss you all greatly. I couldn't have asked for better companions."

Sophia touched Ciaran's cheek and smiled, lightly pressing her lips to his. "I love you all, but my Knight, you have made my presence in Hope that much more special and important. Dryads don't typically get to experience the kinds of love I have had with you. Those who do are usually betrayed, but not you. You loved me for who I am, the quiet moments of just being together and the harrowing events that shook the city. The small and large displays of love and affection. You have protected me and been at my side through the gentle times and the awful ones."

He placed his hand over the one that was on his cheek and lightly squeezed and kissed it. "I love your smiles, your laughter, your wit, and your humor. I admire the way the seasons influence you, from the blossoming of spring to the vibrancy of summer to the crispness of autumn and to the frigidity of winter. Every aspect of you I adore and cherish. I will miss you so very much, and you will remain in my heart forever, no matter what."

"And I you," she whispered, her eyes tightening in longing and sadness over her soon departure.

He looked at her directly, shivering with emotion. He leaned in and kissed her more deeply, fingers reaching through her hair. She returned the liplock, just as passionate as his. They both shivered as they were overcome by the rawness of their emotions. Their contact broke, while Ciaran gently helped her to rest on the bed. Sniffling and weeping, he gripped the pommel of the sword.

"I love you, Ciaran," the tree spirit uttered with love and resignation.

His grief intensified at her words as he gritted his teeth. A gentle hand rested on his to reassure him once more that it was okay for him do this, that it would be better for them all. "I love you, too, Sophia," he responded with pain and love in his voice.

He pulled up the hem of her shirt to expose the torso and nestled the sword's tip against her the right side of her ribcage, lining it up just so to deliver a merciful strike. The movement was smooth and quick, and she was gone. The last sound from her was the quiet exhalation of breath, her expression serene and that of slumber. The sword's removal was just as swift, with its wielder letting it clatter to the floor. He slumped and shook all over, burying his head in his hands.

Green fluid trickled from the wound and flowered and budded, a trail of greenery and vines emerging from it. It seemed to glow as it seeped down the bed and to the floor. It continued through the apartment and past the front door the vampire protected. The demons who had harangued them earlier could be heard coughing and sputtering from the other side. Shouts of falling comrades were heard, along with the heavy weight of their bodies thudding the ground.

***

Nami lightly scoffed at the exposition and nodded. "I can relate somewhat to having an existence that causes friction among the fussy types in Heaven, and I know I'm not typically favored by demons either. However, I already have my role as the Throne of Technology. I don't need any more power. Out of my Celestial relatives, I didn't know Hesediel as well as the others. However, I understand how important and how sacred his charge was," she admitted. "That's why it needs to go to someone else."

"Hesediel's successor should be someone who knew him, who he was close to. I think he would be the best choice to inherit this responsibility. It's unconvential, sure, and I'm certain it will ruffle many, many literal and metaphorical feathers," she said with a light chuckle. "He's not that far off, either. I know Cuthbert-san has suffered a terrible loss, but I believe he is the best one to fulfill the role. And he won't be alone to handle the task ahead. He has the rest of us Thrones to back him up and plenty of friends as well."

***

Abdiel grew quite aware of this serious and foreboding potential threat, and she wasn't about to let it come to pass. Shivering past her anguish and loss, she reached out, Mr. Cuth-no, William, I understand how bereft and lost you feel. Hesediel is gone, and it feels like the Goat's cut at my side just enough to make me suffer without killing me. The only difference is that you can't let them take you back to what you were. Hesediel wouldn't want that."

The Void Weaver could sense her smiling. "You know, it's not often that Thrones get to be guardian angels. Matriel is Meris', and you're the only other one I know of to have that honor. However, it's not that status that makes you who you are, but it's the core of your being that puts you on the right path that defines you. You rescued yourself from your plight in Dalarath, overcame the fear and stagnation of your former station. Change is central to a Throne's nature, and you displayed that characteristic greatly. I'd say it was your true nature that drew Hesediel to you and for him to be assigned to you. You are so much more than you or your former collaborators realize. Please don't let that emptiness consume you. Find what pulled you away from the Others' grasp and use it as a lifeline."

Her tone became more dire as she spoke, "Hesediel's legacy is corroding and drifting to the winds as we speak. His death is being used by the Goat to ring the death knell to the Nexus and for people across Earth and the galaxy. I feel the Creator reeling from his loss, and it's breaking my heart to experience Their anguish. I feel my own and my siblings', but Theirs is on a scale I can't put words to. I sense They can't do much on Their own, not without some significant help. However, I and the other Thrones can't do it alone. I don't want to my brother's efforts and creation to perish, and I don't think you would want that, either. That feeling of emptiness or loneliness is an illusion. You're not alone; you also have us to stand by your side. Please, William, honor Hesediel and aid us in stopping the Goat's plans."

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

"Good luck," he called to the others as they took off. He glanced sideways at the would-be conqueror, shrugged and clamped a few fingers at his throat, squeezing his windpipe for a few moments and temporarily disabling his voice box. "Don't need YOUR prattle in my ears," he explained, hoisting him up a bit more and glancing around. "I'm sure you've flown about, Leo- mind if I call you Leo? tough- so this might not be too special... but I tend to enjoy it, anyway."

He got a running start toward the edge, and a powerful leap took them high into the air, the Goat's weight hardly slowing Marius down despite his thin frame. "Don't think I didn't think of shutting you up more directly," he went on casually in between leaps, "but Tom was right. It'd be nice to see through all your lies and deceptions to the Truth of all this crap. What, you were subjugating us to save us? From what? The Others wouldn't give a fuck for all your posturing, they'd roll right over you no matter what you did!"

He paused atop a building to get his bearings again. "Damn this city, always changing... and damn you for changing it!" and he gave the Goat a light thwack between the eyes. "And that whole thing with Hesediel! What the fuck, man? You seriously murdered a Throne just to get at Sophia, or something? Have I got that right? That's like, like... ugh, I can't even think of a decent analogy for how stupid that was. Also aren't their powers supposed to sort of jump around if one of them 'dies' anyway? I'm sure that'll make for fascinating testimony at your trial, assuming you make it that far."

The vamp squeezed the Goat's throat again to make sure he still couldn't talk, then kept going. "But yeah. I hate to admit it but the Drake boy is better with precision Black Speeching than I am. I could rip your mind open and reveal your secrets, but they'd have a tough time putting you back together afterward to stand trial! Lucky that Jenkins creep isn't around, if he did it you'd never be rebuilt again! Spend the rest of your days in diapers and a padded cell, you would!"

The Tower was in sight by then, and Marius landed outside, grunting with the impact. He made his way inside, and found the others. "Look who I've got!" he sang out, walking in and dumping the Goat on a table. "C'mere, Drake, help me pry his mind open so we can see what he thought he was 'saving' us from, Tom said something along those lines anyway!"

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IamLEAM1983
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

At the exact moment of Sophia's death, the exact inverse of the Brimstone pillar's impact surged through the city's moribund ley lines. With the Nexus now uncapped, power flowed forth unbidden and uncontrolled, effectively rising up to meet against the descending pall of Brimstone dust. The remaining angels and allied demons could all feel this keenly, as their energy was seemingly redoubled. As expected, those who'd depended on standard connections to maintain a physical form began to falter and fade, and most of the city's remaining Hell portals also collapsed. With the city's entire arcane flux pouring out of its central point like a geyser, there wasn't enough pressure left, so to speak, to fuel rooted distortions in Reality like those that had allowed the Fiends to pour forth.

Of course, not everyone was overjoyed by this, although most understood why this had occurred - and what it involved. Obviously, this meant that Samoset's curse was back in full force, but its terms had always been directed at markers of prosperity. As most had different things on the brain than growing crops or keeping citizens employed at the moment, its slowly billowing mantle wouldn't be felt concretely in a long while. Hopefully, it'd be long enough for the war effort to end and for palliative measures to be undertaken. In the bunkers below Magnus Tower, Zebediah felt Evangeline's tortured shade call to him from across the city, while Eliphas felt the beast within work at the sturdy patch the local Warlock had instigated in his own curse. As for Riona, she might've been considered ecstatic at this point, grinning at the empty air with looks that evoked as much pain as they did raw exhilaration.

"It flows!" she whispered, seemingly for her own benefit. "It flows again - but at what cost?"

* * *

Directing his attention back to local matters, Tom had a swarm of conjured imps force both himself and Aislinn into a controlled descent down to Azazel's floor and through the hole in the wall. He dispelled the small creatures as soon as Aislinn was safely on her feet, putting a knee down to check on Azazel's limp form. He was groaning slightly and appeared to be unconscious. He knew they were too close to him and he could already feel the Scapegoat's curse stir and quest outwards, but he held his ground for now. It was only at the favor of a sideways glance that he caught sight of Archie's spastic form and the two demons that labored over him.

"Oh, for God's sake," he muttered, annoyed by the Goat's constant stream of vexations. "If I were Holden, I'd toss a few dozen Bitcoin in Paradise's general direction and grow myself a clone of my old human self - be done with all these technological crutches... Ais, you're a bit less attuned to negative magic than I am, so I figure you could last a little longer by Azazel's side. If you could just try and bring him back; I'll go see what I can do about Archie."

Reaching the others, he opted to focus on Crystal in the immediate. "Lowell," he called out, so as not to startle her out of her prayers, "it's Magnus. I'm here with Aislinn."

For a few seconds, he remained silent and watched as Erin carefully extricated the EPU from the back of the android's skull. The module looked more or less like a modern-day graphics card, with its thick heat spreader and triple fan array, but the fans were arranged in a triangular fashion, while some sort of rune-etched heat spreader bore trace numbers and via-conducting sigils alike. The crystal lattice was just underneath, and it'd probably be too risky to de-lid the assembly to access it. Considering, Erin's next few actions made sense: she checked to see the grease she was looking to apply was non-conductive and, once satisfied, began coating the crystal chip with it. Cooling wasn't an issue in the immediate, so she didn't make too much an effort in making sure the grease wouldn't touch the board's components. As she'd already checked for conductivity, there was no risk of her shorting out part of the Clank's connective supports. In the meantime, Nergal did as best he could for the seized-up shell, tearing off the spy's usually impeccably tailored clothing to access joints and sparing no modesty in making sure his main articulation points wouldn't spot-weld with spreading rust.

"They better patch up Hesediel quickly," he noted between clenched teeth, "the world as we know it can't function without trace metals..."

Tom couldn't do much more than nod, and settled with placing a hand on the armature's chest, whispering a few Latin words. Some of the usually-concealed channeling wards glowed orange-red under his influence, and the spreading corrosion slowed down.

"I've just laced him with Brimstone. It'd be a potent curse if he were active, but it'll also slow down oxidization as it presents in the mortal plane," he explained. "Brimstone still reacts with oxygen on its own, so he's probably going to change hues if we don't fix this soon," he warned Crystal.

He managed a hesitant smirk. "Either he goes back to brassy tones all over, or his plates change haphazardly depending on which ones have the most contact with the outside air. If we can bring balance back soon enough, I'll be able to dispel this before anything happens, aesthetically."

In the back, Lyman gave the outside world a troubled glance. "Speaking of last-minute boons, Magnus..."

Tom's faint optimism crumbled and he hung his head, sighing. "I know," he finally said, after a few seconds of mournful silence. "I can feel it, too. Sophia's dead. I..."

Sorrow clutched at his chest and throat, making him grimace. He coughed his unease away and tapped at the floor with his staff. "This is one of those few instances where I come close to regretting having left Lust behind... We'll give her a burial befitting one of the Daughters of Yggdrasil - I swear upon my power.
- And after that?"

Tom looked back towards Azazel and Aislinn, scoffing. "After that? After that, Lyman, I'm downing a bottle of Scotch on my own, smoking three packs of Sobranies in a day, I'm bawling my eyes out until I have no tears left and then I'm sleeping for three weeks straight. Then I'm buying myself the priciest USDA prime-cut steak the post-collapse economy allows for, shopping for a new suit and renovating my home."

* * *

Having had time enough to look upon Marius' superhuman speed with some detachment, Aidan didn't look too surprised to see him return with his prize - or it could be that the soldier's exhaustion was simply this much obvious. "I'd need help," he told Aspasia, "the kind of help only Nereus or Meris could give me."

Remembering something, he looked back to Marius. "Didn't we bring back some sort of Squid Cantor? Penfield, was it? I know you did, technically, seeing as I didn't hang around in Hell, but - I don't know how much we could do. We could at least shore up what we've got left locally. I don't think any single Squid with a near-perfect command of the old language could patch things up the way a Throne could, but..."

He shrugged, then considering Marius' prisoner as if he were something vaguely vexing and tiresome. "Let him go, Marius. All he's got left is words. Empty ones. Mine aren't."

Standing up, he approached the ebony-black ungulate with a sigh, using the being's silence at the favor of his bruised throat. "The last time we had a meeting of the minds, I tried to heal you. I tried to sever you from Akoman. You remember, right? I'm sure you do, at a level I doubt you could consciously grasp."

The Goat didn't reply, a pained rasp being all that left him. "Good," said Drake. "That means you'll listen, for once."

The soldier crossed his arms in front of himself and allowed for a moment of silence to settle in. When he spoke again, it was in his measured delivery of the Black Speech, kept at a low whisper.

"You're going to tell me everything you know about Akoman. Everything you know about what he fears."

As before, the ungulate seized up as an odd mixture of pain and sudden pleasure seemingly wracked his frame, causing him to falter and badly catch himself against the lobby's main arrangement of seats and ferns. Aidan tried to ignore the bruise the anthro was sure to end up with on one of his hips.

"Power like this shouldn't be wasted on the likes of you!" he spat, then laughing in tired defiance. Three shrugged in response.

"Don't I know it," he replied, adding a lopsided smirk before switching back to Black Speech. "Tell me everything, Ptah; Civilizer of Egypt.
- You couldn't comprehend it even if you tried!
- I'd still like to take a swing at it. Tell me, Goat of Mendes. I beseech you in the name of your Creator.
- It would be an affront to my seat!"

Three stepped in closer. "Your seat won't be yours for much longer, Goat. You've lost Pride and you know it. Now - speak."

It took a few more tries, each prod from Aidan making the Goat react in ways that evoked as much pleasure as they did pain, until he retreated to the same status he'd been in under Aidan and Charles' influence, more than a year ago. Docile but left shivering with conflicting emotions and sensory inputs, something small and helpless and afraid pointing out of the open wound of the Fallen angel's ego. He spoke in Enochian, but Three used the Lexicon to translate it, relaying the Goat's words in English for others to hear.

"He says God isn't to blame for any of this," said Aidan. "He says God is a she, and that the Tools of Creation are made with an intentional flaw, one that allows for chaos and variety. He says it's something jagged nestled in something smooth, whatever that means, and that life as we know it can't exist without a loose knot in the tapestry. Most other Creators knew how to use it safely and, for the most part, God performed as well as all the others, but..."

He hesitated, pausing to let the Goat's tongue roll, Enochian's odd syllables feeling both familiar and wholly alien - the way he imagined linguists first hearing Sanskrit samples would feel. "He says the Knot is designed to be antithetical to Order, and every God designs its definition of Order. You're supposed to pull on the Knot and let your... Principle of Order use the loose threads to sew life together. Somehow, God's Principle of Order touched the Knot when it wasn't supposed to and... It tainted him? I'm actually not sure how to translate this..."

A few more seconds passed, Aidan closely listening to the demon. "Entropy is always designed to bring the threads to a standstill. Across all Creations, Life had its beginning, midpoint and end. Never did Order actually work to bring an end to things. Order normally just... arose out of life as energy was spent, from beings like us all the way to the last photon falling prey to heat death and the Universe turning cold. Order never feels. It just is."

Drake drew in a breath. "Except for ours. Akoman knows something is coming, something that'll unravel the Knot - and he's afraid. If the Knot is undone, there won't be energy enough left for Life's processes. Chaos is going to spill through - first on our scale, then... deeply enough to break us apart."

Recalling Zebediah's own research, Three placed a hand on the Goat's knee. "Is Chaos coming for us through the Far Reaches?"

Shivering, the Goat chilled Aidan's core by responding in the Black Speech. "Yes. The Others are but standard-bearers - horrors beyond reckoning have made their intentions known at the dawn of Creation. They instilled Fear itself in Order. They made it fear the energies of Creation. They made it fear flesh and blood, be it mortal or immortal. They made it fear Heaven. So, he came to me - twisted Lucifer's plight for his own ends."

It was a strange thing, hearing so much earnest fear in syllables few living minds could decipher safely. It made the air around the Goat taste foul and bent light around him so that darkness hugged him closely, the bench's light shadows twisted out of shape and darkened into pools so deep even a Shadow-Walking vampire would've thought twice about stepping forth. There was an odd hum in the air, of the sort you heard at the middle of a powered arcane circle or at the base of a high-voltage pylon.

"I could've been a good Pride, Aidan Drake. I could've paid my price, earned my crown - but that fear, that terrible, cloying, hopeless fear - it left me dark. Dark and... cold."

More shivers, until the Black Goat spoke again, this time in English. "I thought... I thought I would save you all."

Watching the fallen demon's pitiful countenance, Aidan felt his contempt for it ease away by a few degrees. "You did what you thought was right - and you made mistakes. You'll have to pay for every pint of blood you've spilled - but you've just remembered how faillible you are. I'm expecting your ego to close up and harden again, but you're at least receptive in the immediate."

He lifted the hand that had been on the Goat's knee, as if expecting to receive something. "I think it's time," he said.

The Goat blinked, looking flatly, almost humanely surprised. "You would have my crown?
- Not for myself," amended the soldier. "Pride can't be remade if nobody administers it. Someone's going to need it."

The ungulate looked tired and haggard. "No mortal hands could claim it. I mean it in the sense that no-one from here could physically touch it.
- Then I won't," nodded Aidan. "Technically."

Shuddering one last time, the Black Goat slowly reached up as a faint tongue of flame winked to life between his horns. He seemingly caused it to jump to one of his fingers, like a candle flame exposed to a new wick, and then lowered his hands. As he did so, the single flame billowed and shuddered, whooshing, sparking and flashing all the way - and taking the shape of a soot-covered and grimy old crown in the style of a sixteenth-century four-pointed circlet, the metal tarnished and warped and several insert points missing their associated jewels, with the mink's-hair trim at the base looking half-rotted and torn open in multiple sections. Drake conjured a horizontal plane of force just above his hand, saying nothing as the object was placed down. As the Goat's hands retreated, the object seemingly repaired itself at an equivalent pace, soon looking like the sort of headdress St. Edwards or the reigning monarch of the Netherlands could have been found wearing in exceedingly rare occasions. Shifting his grasp on the plane underneath, Aidan made as if to grasp the object from the top. His hand passed right through it, the crown's metal and fur lining shimmering like a ghost ship on the horizon.

Looking back to the Goat, Aidan was almost shocked. The ungulate now hardly looked demonic at all, and instead looked like a musty anthro stuck in anachronistic clothes that looked to be of especially poor make. It was only in squinting that he could find torn seams and scuffed edges righting themselves in a slow regenerative process, the Goat's ego slowly rebuilding and reconstituting his usual appearance. It was Aidan's turn to be sorry.

"I thought removing this would free you," he said. "You deserve to be fully aware of what you've done. Not just out of punishment, but so you understand."

The Goat nodded in the negative, scoffing lightly as a bit of poise returned to him. "I marred my Pride too deeply. You've freed it from me, freed my soldiers from me... But it's too late for me. Someday soon, if you don't entrust it someone else, I'll break free and reclaim it. This will start all over again. The deeper you dig into my Pride and the deeper the callus grows... You won't be able to subdue me again, if you lose control of me."

As he finished, distant rattles and tumbling sounds were heard coming down from the recessed spiral staircase that connected half of the central passageways in the tower, right above the central plaza. Three and Paimon stood up unbidden, weapons at the ready - until what came into view dangerously clambering down the stairs with bones a-clattering and clawed feet slapping the chipped and splitting marble floors was revealed to be Otto Geier, his bat-like face turned in an almost ecstatic grin.

"Sie haben aufgehört zu kämpfen! Wir haben gewonnen!"

Something in Geier's tone made Three smile broadly, disregarding the way the tower still groaned and not paying attention as a chunk of railing fell off of a banister on the second floor and clattered down below.

"What was that?! I don't speak German!
- They've stopped fighting!" repeated Otto. "The Pitspawn look confused, somehow - as though they have no idea why they're here, anymore! Even as far out as Centennial Park - even those not born of Pride are acting as if routed! Wrath is - I don't know how it happened - but they turned on Envy and Lust, somehow! Wrath battallions simply turned on their heels like robots and started defending positions they'd only just tried to besiege! We're receiving coded bursts along the ley lines again - demons who looked to be out for blood just moments ago slowed down and started working away at collapses across the city! They're pulling survivors and refugees out, sharing their own rations!"

Three looked down at the crown he still "held" and couldn't repress a grin.

"We've won!" shouted Otto. "It's over! We still can't receive anything out of the Internet, but our arcane networks are abuzz - this is spreading like a virus! It's like someone deactivated a set of instructions, and it's spreading like a cascade!"

Paimon looked up at Otto. "The Goat's abdication is going to reach his old seat last! As long as Hesediel's not mended, we have to be careful! Even just a few dozen former comrades of mine could retake this place if we let our guard down! It's not over yet, Warlock, but we're getting there!"

* * *

The female Architect led the Throne to one of her tower's many arches and looked out at what had to be some sort of impossible sunrise, a distant star rising out of the sea of clouds and attracting long bands of condensed vapor towards it with its gravitational pull. "The Tools were designed to be perfect," she said. "Not out of arrogance, but out of simplicity. The Thrones are the Tools' essential avatars in your Creator's realms, but there are levels of existence where even abstract notions such as your Waters, Abdiel's Fire or Hesediel's Earth and soil can be grasped as a totality; inspected and scrutinized. Some flaws can be corrected on your level, or that of your mortals and deathless beings - but others are difficult to prevent."

She turned slightly, handing Matriel a small jeweller's hammer, the kind you would've used to inlay gemstones into pre-carved or smelted sockets. "This is all that remains of my Hesediel, in a sense - of my iteration of these Tools. On my scope of existence, certain things that seem simple to you are difficult to conceptualize. Some things such as containing the tools from beings beyond all Creation, or jealous former observers of the Craft. As I am formless outside of all appearances, so too are walls and binding measures arduous concepts to implement. How could anything contain the Infinite?"

There was a pause as she listened to her realm's winds. "Someone touched the Knot - the willful imperfection in the tapestry of Life - and corrupted it. Your God's incarnation of the principle of Order took notice, and became frightened. It corrupted Lucifer's designs - although at this point it seems moot to consider who struck first, Lucifer or Akoman, who displayed prescience and who merely reacted in defense - and now, one of Akoman's created flaws has been brought to light. Your Hesediel was careful, cautious by nature, and he was never endangered in all of Existence. It prevented you from noticing his vulnerability, as removed from Creation as it stood. It also prevented God from doing the same. All seemed well - until now."

She curled Matriel's fingers around the small hammer, smiling almost sadly. "It seems my role is to give of myself so that one worthy Creation learns from all others. It might be that one day, I'll have very little left to give..."

She fell silent for a moment. "I've given this to you, but your sisters have also received it in their own right. So has your daughter. All I would ask in return is that you watch over my wards, the freed Void Weavers. You, especially. The Waters are yours, and my pupil consented to my raising them out of your berth, ages ago. In a very real sense, you are one of their progenitors. With this hammer, I also place a song in your heart. The words will seem alien to you, until one of my children leaves one of your hiding places and calls for restitution and restoration. They will sing - not with madness in their hearts, but pure creative intent - and bring a close to this calamitous chapter.

One of you is in position to pass this boon on to a worthy soul. You'll have nothing physical to give them, but if you welcome them with open arms, they will receive it. I've already taken to your Creation with your God's permission and have recompiled both yourself and the other Thrones. The Tools should now be resistant to outside tampering; at least until some such time as an Outsider or one of the Old Ones cracks my code. On the scale of your mortals, this could take thousands of years. The Far Reaches should prove stabler in the immediate. I cannot, unfortunately, revise and reassemble your code to innure you to the corrupted instructions the Old Ones can disseminate. My wards began as Thrones of my own, during my time as Creator, and their words are not entirely dissimilar to your power. God would have to entirely redesign the Tools to render you immune, and that is outside of all Creators' scope of understanding."

* * *

Claudia had stood up and remained off to the side during the proceedings, something compelling to never break sight with Ciaran's sacrifice, even if her eyes burned and every inch of her moral fiber asked that she turn away. What was happening here was tragic, it should never have happened, but it also was an object lesson on the ethics of magic. Sophia's death spoke heavily of the responsibility practitioners shared towards not only their source of power, but also towards the world at large. Obviously, it also was a deeply personal story, one she had no right to encroach on. So, she remained quiet throughout, and allowed Ciaran time enough to begin expressing his grief. After a few minutes of it, she gingerly approached the selkie and sat beside him, careful not to disturb the dryad's husk.

"Ciaran?" she began softly. "Ciaran, we have to move. We can clean up Sophia as best we can and then collapse the entrance to this condo behind us. We can't assume that there won't be a few more solid Pitspawn that can still put up a fight even while her last wish tears them apart."

"We'll come back for her," promised Arthur. "We'll give her the burial she deserves. We're below ground and she was mostly animated wood and some other kind of fleshy construct, so I don't think anything will get to her before we place her under the new sapling. She can rest safely here, for now."

Dickens set his eyes on the trail of selectively noxious poisonous plants that grew from Sophia's unnaturally-pooling blood. "I doubt anything could get to her, in any case. I wouldn't be surprised if Sophia ended up covered in underbrush by the time someone tries to extricate her."

Some of the growing vines reached back up to the bed's headboard after curling up the posts and flowing over the matress. "She's going to be rooted to this bed - or what'll be left of it - in a few minutes," he commented.

* * *

The Architect's druidic self agreed with Nami's assessment and gave her much the same information as had been given to Matriel, along with a slightly different hammer. What Nami would find herself wielding looked like the sort of blocky blunt instrument you could've expected to find in a Medieval carpenter's tools.

"That gladdens me," he said, in regards to Cuthbert's support network. "I've never allowed myself to offer my own pupils for anointment, after relinquishing the Tools. It might embarrass your Maker if I were to confess this, but..."

He also paused to listen to the winds beyond. "I've grown fond of Her. If I could have found a way to make our weaknesses and failings more apparent to other Creators before Her, I would have. So many vulnerabilities are being exposed through Her own work, and there are so few of us left to learn their lessons. Hers is an unenviable burden to bear, as She is the first of us to Create in full awareness that there are others who would seek to undo Her Work."

The old man looked saddened. "Under different laws for Time and Space, those you call the Others were pupils of mine, once. They were young, curious, and promising. They'd come from nothing, as do we all, and stood before me without umbrage or ambition. I sometimes wonder; what if I had not sensed such beauty in the Artisan's work? What if I had been more impartial? We can scour your timelines in every single direction, but our own scale of Existence is as opaque to us as life's mysteries are to your mortals..."

* * *

Abdiel's initial words of encouragement triggered a memory of William's, something that jumped onto the telepathic link despite himself. It felt like the abstraction of an acutely-remembered dream with some abstractions tacked on after years of distance, but the gist was there: Amaxi's hate, pushed through by gentle light and grace, a feminine hand cupping the former Arbiter's chin and whispering to him. The face wasn't clear, neither were its surrounding details, but the role the figure occupied was obvious. This was a gestalt of motherhood or parental protection, filtered through Cuthbert's long years of religious service. He'd rarely spoken of it, having always preferred to keep this private, but he'd always believed that the Virgin Mary had visited him in Dalarath.

Of course, Abdiel was well-placed to know that there was some historicity to Mary's existence. Jesus had been an inspired public speaker and would-be liberator gifted with a religious core and both arcane and superhuman abilities, but human faith still tends to find godly grace in surprisingly mundane beings. The notion of angels having visited her prior to her son's birth was a Biblical embellishment, as Abdiel's peers weren't in the habit of foretelling the coming of some of History's luminaries. Angel Time was their advantage and their burden to bear, and most of them preferred not to put the weight of prophecy on shoulders that sometimes were already straining under the weight of responsibility. What was true is that like all mortals, Mary had lived and died, and had ultimately gone on to Heaven. Like any souls around which cults sprang up, she'd been gifted potential and power - boons that had built up over the eons and that had allowed her to eventually rival her son as a technical demigod of sorts.

Not every manmade tutelary spirit takes to its charges seriously. Some lose themselves in the process, turning a bit into entities not unlike Baron Samedi or Maman Brigitte, reshaped by syncretic beliefs to such an extent as to forget the mortals they'd once been. Mary, on the other hand, was known to be a relatively stable font of worship, and she'd always maintained the same profile - the same focus on protection and motherhood.

Sorrow briefly flowed through the link, and the Throne would soon feel the Void Weaver turn inwards. His pain lessened, and although he remained in Lucian's physical embrace, he could be felt leaning on his faith. Bible verses bubbled up, popping shyly like half-deflated soda, then growing in strength as he focused and latched onto more concrete exerpts. A small chunk from the Psalms eventually came up.

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

He sighed, his steadying breath carrying through. "He won't save me if I don't act. I have to keep moving."

Another emotional shudder came though, accompanied by the sense of the paladin leaving the steadying arms of the Architect's chosen. "Thank you, Abdiel. I'll still need some time to process my own grief, but I can't let you down now."

The other Squid's slightly nervous edge came through. "Wonderful, William. We're going to need that sword-arm of yours, soon - look to the West from our position..."

William sent his own field of view through the link, letting Abdiel glance past the portal that led back to Hope. The crumbling fortresses that had served Pride were now collapsing, and out of them flowed a sea of Fiends, all of them looking panicked, afraid - or alternatively ready to sink their teeth into the persons responsible for their downfall. It'd be a few minutes before the Throne would sense the Goat's abdication taking effect, and a few minutes more for those most removed from him within Pride and Greed's wastes - and these legions were now looking for a scapegoat. As expected, the wall of flesh surged towards the half-sunken White House, still possessed of the Goat's original intent - and more than willing to retake what they'd lost.

"My abilities are rooted in the physical realm," amended Lucian. "I cannot be expected to deter them effectively., not unless we allow them to pursue us back into the mortal plane - and further endanger our friends and allies. We're going to need a miracle."

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TennyoCeres84
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Aislinn quickly nodded and ventured over to the Scapegoat's side. Thankfully, he was breathing and hadn't been completely knocked out from the surge. She sensed his curse creep toward her, but she steeled her mind against it for the time being. Now, to see if he could regain consciousness...

She made sure he was on his back and propped his legs up with some broken timber piled up to about a foot high. The young Warlock then focused her powers on trying to resuscitate him with a magical warming spell, a simple incantation that was meant to temporarily soothe the curse and help him focus on waking up. A warm, golden light seeped into his chest. "Azazel, please wake up..."

Crystal still felt helpless while the three demons worked to slow the corrosion of Archie's body. "His coloration's the last thing on my mind. I just want him to wake up and be able to move again," she said worriedly.

Lyman and Tom's discourse of Sophia's demise felt like a punch to the gut, and the werewolf's demeanor worsened. "No, Samoset's curse...I don't know how quickly it'll resume its course, but I hope we're able to get some balance back before it takes its toll," she fretted, still rubbing her fingers along the brim of the automaton's hat.

***

"Well, we came in through the basement, so Penfield might still be down there, unless he chose to come upstairs," Aspasia addressed.

Meris picked this time to chime in. "Chances are the Thrones are working to fix the problem with Hesediel's mantle, more than likely picking someone else to fill his role," she explained.

She glanced back at the Goat with a cold glance. "We'll find some way to contend with what Akoman fears. I know there's a solution, but we won't get around to resolving it until after we repair everything you damaged and destroyed," she said harshly, not immediately cheered by the news that Pride's forces were turning to their side. "Though, finding your replacement won't be difficult, I already have someone in mind."

With the groaning of the Tower, she ventured past the convenience store and focused on the layers of the building she had seen on the inside and began murmuring Black Speech under her breath. As she did so, the fallen railing floated back in place and welded back into place with a few metallic squeaks. Obviously what she was doing was nothing more than patchwork, but the feat was impressive as she continued to mingle the tongue with her matter creation abilities. The groaning seemed to ease to a degree.

"As Paimon mentioned, until the situation regarding Hesediel stabilizes, I can only delay what's happening with the structure of the building," she admitted with added sadness in her tone.

She had sensed the surge in arcane power after the dryad's demise and who had likely caused it. Her stomach knotted at how her grandson might be feeling at the moment. She envisioned the exterior of the complex and began to whisper strengthening words and reinforcing the bonds in between metal beams, flooring, and glass. For the time being, the groan stopped completely.

After she finished speaking, Miranda emerged from the staircase and ventured over to her mother's side, then noticing Marius' captive. "Bleatbreath was caught?" she asked with surprise. Offering her a light chuckle, she nodded. "He was. We're not done yet, kid, but we're getting there!"

The former commander then noted Rhadamantus following after her and realized that things could quickly turn strained if someone didn't keep the atmosphere in the area to a relatively calm. "Is there anything you need to eat or drink, sir? We're having a bit of impromptu picnic," she said.

***

Matriel smiled warmly at the mention of the Void Weavers. "That would be an honor to protect them as they reassume their old roles, back in their Golden Age," he mused, then seeming to recall something that seemed too coincidental.

"It's funny how I was assigned to Meris as her guardian and her deeply strong ties to the Void Weavers. I know there's something more to her than just being an Archmage or Solomon's Heir, and my Maker always kept that knowledge hidden from me. I'm sure this was for a good and secretive reason," he admitted.

He looked down at the key and nodded, the same warmth in his words. 'Whoever the recipient is, they will be welcomed and guided in their new role. I'm sure this new version of a Throne will vex people from the different realms, but I'm not letting anyone stand in the way of Change and Adaptation."

As the female Architect noted the vulnerabilities inherent in their designs, he sighed. "I'd say that's a reoccurring theme with errors; nobody can account for everything and will uncover unknown mistakes under solutions. Nothing is perfect. However, it might be your children who will see the issues you might've missed. Different perspectives can bolster insight into weaknesses. I promise I will look after them and help them in every way that I can."

***

It took Ciaran a moment for Claudia's urging to register. He lifted himself off the floor and took another look at Sophia as her vines covered more of the mattress and bed frame. He did have to agree that the encroaching vegetation, some of it poisonous, would prove to be a sufficient security measure from thieves. As much as it pained him to leave her body behind, it was definitely safer for her to be here until they could give her a proper burial.

His voice sounded threadbare and exhausted as he spoke, "I understand; we'll leave her here for now. Let's get this place closed up and get out of here as quickly as possible."

He turned back to the dryad's husk and placed a light kiss on her forehead. "Your legacy's safe, Sophia. I'm sure your memories and personality are ensconced in the container of Vlastos' would-be bomb. I don't know where he is, but it was rather ironic and fortuitous that it was depleted of its energies and stored away at the precinct's storage. Between that and the acorns you left behind, I hope we will get to see you again in some variation in the future. I love who you were and who you will be, even if we're nothing more than friends. You'll survive and thrive in some capacity."

Even while still grief-stricken, the selkie man appeared to be trying to have a somewhat positive outlook toward what had transpired. His demeanor was still sorrowful and enraged by the Goat's actions, but there was some hope in his eyes. He glanced down at the sword in a brief consideration at whether he should continue to use it, but he couldn't bring himself to pick it up. It was just as well as he saw that corrosion was eating away at the blade and the pommel. Between rust and the vines overtaking the apartment, it would probably be nothing more than a temporary tool that helped ensure the nature spirit would survive.

Shivering out a sigh, he grabbed his bag and headed for the entrance and looked to Albert. "Time to blast through here and make sure Sophia's left alone to rest peacefully."

***

Nami could only shrug at His questions. "I couldn't say. Speculation is mostly good for what-ifs, storytelling, or philosophy. What we do now is make the best of what we can with what we have. I do think that what will come will be amazing, though!" she ended on a cheerful note.

The youngest Throne looked down at the blocky hammer and smiled. "I'm sure She probably knows You care about Her, Architect. She'd have to be blind to not at least know that. You're definitely the Quintessential Mentor and Pupil, or Grandfather and Granddaughter in this case. Perhaps we'll find out if Amaxi and Her brothers can be reconciled with or those strained relationships can be improved upon. Maybe familial ties are what's needed to remove the barriers of fear and ignorance," she said, then scoffing at herself. "Here I go speculating myself, heh!"

"I know time hasn't passed much on the mortal plane, but the less time wasted, the quicker we can repair things and get the world back on track. Is there anything else I should know?" she asked.

***

A hopeful tone hung in Abdiel's voice as she responded, "The other Thrones and I have been working on a miracle with your Patron while we have been speaking, Lucian. It'd be wiser to not let these remaining Fiends attack our allies, so we will need William's presence to ensure it happens."

The younger Void Weaver would find himself escorted to the space Abdiel had been brought to as the Architect explained and gave them the different versions of Hesediel's hammer, time now existing on a very different spectrum. Melmoth and Lucian would see the angel and the paladin's bodies, but the respective focuses were elsewhere in the Architect's dimension. The atmosphere around him felt warm and comforting, soft shades of gold and red light filling the sky above like ethereal drapes. Wispy, pink and purple hued clouds drifted slowly in the air, while newborn stars twinkled in the distance.

Cuthbert would see Abdiel standing there in her armor, but she seemed less battle-weary and more cordial and welcoming, sisterly even. "We have been talking with the Architect, and He has given us something that will allow for a version of Hesediel's mantle to be passed on to you. We determined you were the best candidate based on your character and proximity to Hesediel. This is understandably an enormous responsibility, and I felt that you should have some foreknowledge of this so that it wouldn't be forced on you. As He has told us, you will be faced with those who would feel that you aren't the proper recipient of his gifts, but you should know that we will be at your side to support you through thick and thin, as well as our mortal friends. We will essentially be your family. I'm aware that this is a lot to take in during a relatively brief amount of time, but we're on the clock in order to avoid irreversible damage to Hesediel's Element."

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

Marius sat in silence as the Goat poured out his heart and soul, having no need for Aidan's translation. Where he had learned Enochian he wasn't sure, but he'd always been a quick learner anyway, especially with languages. It was a lot to take in, and he wasn't sure what to make of most of it. Tools, Knots, chaos? Some of it seemed familiar... ugh, why hadn't he paid attention in theology?!

As the Crown was surrendered and the Goat shrank back into what had to be his old self, Marius stood, noticing the degradation of the Tower. He too stepped away, helping Meris with her patchwork by applying his own Black Speech abilities. That done he came back, nodded to Otto in recognition of his announcement, and knelt down to pick up the Goat again. "Magnus mentioned holding cells, I reckon those are as good a place as any," he explained as he stood the demon on his feet rather than throwing him over a shoulder like before. "Penfield, you said? If I see him I'll send him back up here, maybe he can do more to keep the place from falling down on us."

He looked to the Goat. "Can you walk, sir? You're coming downstairs either way, might as well face it on your own two feet if you ask me."

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