Chapter VI - Asunder

This is what you came here for. Adventure, intrigue, murder, mystery and action - plus a healthy dose of boring everyday stuff. One continuous story-line, broken up into smaller themes for easier consumption.
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TennyoCeres84
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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The girl's antics proved somewhat amusing for the Archmage, but the humor of it was dampened by the mention of Amenadiel. The news of Amenadiel's suspicious activity drew the attention of both the selkie and the Throne, the winged woman growing particularly interested in what the angel had been doing. Ariel ventured closer to the young woman.

"Even with his being Tom's pick from Heaven, the fact of the matter is that Amenadiel is still under probation. He's as much of a suspect for our potential mole as others who might be deemed as such. He can have deeply zealous tendencies, so Gabriel had him stationed here to hopefully erode away at these dispositions. Matriel alerted me to our mole issue while he aided the others in Hell, so I blocked off access to Heaven from here. That doesn't mean a possible foe couldn't slip off elsewhere," she explained.

Ariel nodded to her, her gray eyes grim with concern. "What did you see Amenadiel doing, Anjali? Was there anybody else with him?" she asked.

***


Miranda didn't seem bothered by Zeke's request and put Azazel's sandwich on a paper plate. She quickly placed it on a flat piece of broken concrete near the Scapegoat and scurried back to the cooking fire. The combination of grilled bread and melted cheese would have smelled most pleasant to his nose, while the girl had done a great job at cooking it evenly on both sides until they were a rich golden brown.

"I know you've suffered more than I can imagine, Azazel, but sometimes taking chances is required to improve things. We're taking our chances by being here with you, so I hope you'll be able to enjoy what I prepared for you," she said as she started cutting and preparing the bread for Zeke's sandwich. Soon enough, the Warden demon would smell the teenager's cooking.

Aspasia continued her drumming session, the tempo picking up its pace. She bobbed her head and still kept the rhythm maintained with her hoof. The melody still beckoned to Azazel, hopefully encouraging him to allow himself to be welcomed by the satyress' playing.

Crystal sighed and glanced down at Archibald. "All we can do is wake him up and keep him from accidentally injuring himself or anybody else, in case the AI wants to be defensive or something," she stated, looking over at Aislinn's older sister. "Neasa, could you come here, in case he's too strong for myself or the others to handle?"

The older selkie nodded and came to kneel near Archie's side, while Matriel had opted to be near the automaton, in case the others needed some additional help. The werewolf looked at the others and made ready to squeeze his hand. "On the count of three, I'll press his hand and we'll see how cooperative the AI will be. 1, 2, 3..." Her hand gently squeezed his right hand.

***

Even with the remaining forces of Envy and Greed being relatively docile, the vampiress and the selkie proceeded toward the Tower with trepidation. It was quite bizarre to see the avian demons no longer attacking and merely perched or flying.

It's really weird to see to see them like this. It's like someone knocked the air out of them with the Goat deposed,"
Ciaran broadcasted to his friends, as though not wanting to disturb the precarious peace. Alana could only nod in agreement with his assessment.

***

While continuing to observe the recuperation proceedings of electronics and devices, Nami looked over to Allocer and the others. "William's working on getting metal back to its original state. There's some things that were too damaged after Hesediel's death that can't be recovered, but the situation is improving," the Throne summarized. "I'll continue to keep an eye on things, but we should get back with the others."

***

With their collective boldness on the battlefield, there was no chance of keeping their relationship or Melmoth's new wings a secret any longer. Oh, well... This revelation would certainly stir the pot in Heaven and Hell, but the angel didn't care. It was better this way, she thought. Perhaps it would help to normalize natural developments between angels and demons in the future.

Of course, she was fully aware of the target they had painted on their backs, in particularly Melmoth. The Fire Elemental understood that she had her rank in Heaven and reputation to protect her some, but there would always be tongues wagging at a demon having gained the seemingly restricted aesthetic feature of Celestials. She imagined that the few angelic naysayers probably believed the Broker had seduced her and was slowly plotting to cause her to Fall, while the predominantly Pride numbers were irked by the sheer thought of the two of them being together.

With his peacock-like gesture and the tango-esque movements rubbing in their detractors' faces, Abdiel responded by wrapping her garnet and ruby-hued wings around his light gray ones. The combination of red and gray called to mind fire and smoke, an appropriate comparison of how they complemented each other. She returned his liplock for a few more seconds while keeping her own eyes closed. However, the eyes on her wings remained wide open to gaze down at the handful of angels who disapproved of their connection. If they paid attention, they would feel those spectral eyes on them, as though daring them to do anything about it.

She returned the liplock for a few seconds more before breaking it with a smile. "I think they got our message loud and clear," she murmured with a light chuckle, leaning her forehead against his affectionately.

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Marius visibly perked up as Raguel spoke on. Engineering? Tinkering? Those were what he did best. "I could use all the positive karma I can get," he agreed, perhaps a little eagerly. He was sure the present company would understand his eagerness though. He imagined a few diagrams to distract himself with while the others talked, at least until one of the Squids approached them too. Then he had to tune back in.

"Me, sing? Well, maybe." He shrugged. "I've had some luck at moderating the worst of the Black Speech in the past, through trial and error. Not sure if it can equate to what you guys can do, or what Drake and Jenkins have had done to them, but just earlier I was helping Lady Meris reinforce the walls in here and no one suffered any ill effect."

He wanted to bring up his work, show off a little, but restrained himself. It sounded like there was still work to do, and if he got to talking about his runes and his self-made security systems they'd never get anything done. "In any event I'm definitely interested in learning about your version, it sounds healthier than anything I could ever come up with on my own."

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IamLEAM1983
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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"Grand," said the amanuensis, smiling behind his tendrils as he extended a hand. "I'm Harry Miles - Bertram's cousin. The other four are John, Taylor, Paul and Jimmy. I'm contralto, the others are respectively alto, soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone. We've complete control over our two sets of vocal cords, however, much like any other adult Void Weaver - so we're flexible when it comes to choir arrangements. Penfield's the only one who never deviates from his tenor range."

Harry clicked his tentacles as the others got the message and murmured in interrogation. Things were packed up and carried further away, Harry soon peeking past Marius' shoulder and grinning a bit. "No need to back away that far, gents; we'll close the cabin doors behind us! You can stay near the cars if you want, but this is a bit much!"

He received nervous chuckles and thumbs-up gestures for his effort, but he didn't look too distraught. Raguel didn't either. "Still gotta go a ways to earn some local goodwill, huh?
- I can't blame them," shrugged Harry. "There's a few thousand of us trying to reclaim the destiny that was stolen from us, and hundreds of thousands of Loyalist Squids either running small-time ops in various pockets worldwide, or with their bigger efforts forcibly stopped by the war. Add to that the intelligentsia that never left Dalarath, the coordinating Arbiters and the Word Houses keeping the faith and, well, there's just not enough of us freed Prelates to make a good impression - especially now that the War's cracked us open. They'll have to redouble their efforts to maintain their corruptive schemes, seeing as the minority is the mainstream, for now. They're going to lie low for a few years, and then we'll all see much worse than cultist cells and poisoned Evangelist ministries. We'll need all the positive impact we can get."

Carefully, Harry led Marius and the other Squids back towards the wrecked elevator shaft. He gazed up at the immobilized cabin and spent a few moments crouching down to touch the still-glistening pulleys and the massive rivets holding them in place. "I know you have a background as a designer," he told Marius, "but you'll really gain more control if you take a few minutes to feel along the walls, really acquaint yourself with the material you're about to alter. Run your fingers along the parts of the shaft walls that aren't bent out of shape, sniff for traces of dust, metal shavings or grease... Feel the breeze the collapse created. You don't have tentacles to use to feel the air with, but you can probably feel it around your neck and shoulders, or on top of your head. Really take the time to tune into these data points - you'll be using them shortly."

He sighed. "Right now, mister Vlastos, you're not a vampire or an architect. Right now, you're an artist and you're looking for inspiration. Restoring stairwells and elevator shafts might seem boring to you, but you're about to have access to their molecular totality. That's a lot of power to have, and a lot of responsibility and aesthetic liberty, too. Take your time to remember the war Magnus Tower's stairwells used to look like, before the attacks that would damage them. Reminisce on your one or two rides along this very shaft. Would you change the cabin's finish, if you could? If so, how would you do it? There's broken tech in the cabin, too - panels Magnus used to advertise shops and his club. Would you add to their resolution? Is there anything you'd like to smuggle onto their onboard memory? A new ad for your own services, or maybe just a marker of gratitude?"

Harry shrugged as he stood up, seemingly satisfied with his own collection process. "I'm just spitballing, here - trying to get you percolating. You're taller than us, you've got a bigger chest - odds are we'll have to follow your lead, vocally. As for the hard part, well..."

Taylor had a bit of a Leeds accent. "Yeah, I was gonna ask, bruv - how're you gonna undo thousands of years of bad habits in one go? Y'ain't Penny, after all."

Harry nodded. "I indeed am not. I have to trust that if we give Marius the right stimuli, he'll subconsciously know which pronounciations to favor and which ones to discard. Story goes he's been exposed to our tongue for long enough to be great at half-conscious assaults, mostly to force people into remembering him for a while before his curse broke, but-"

Realizing he'd been referring to Marius as if he hadn't been here, the Squid stopped himself. "Right - sorry. There's no two ways about it, I think you'll need brand new associations, Marius. Positive ones. Whoever gifted you with the Black Speech wanted to scar you, we'll first have to do our best to empower you, instead. Penfield is against any attempts to patch waking minds, no matter how receptive they might be - there's too much of a domino effect to risk. We don't want you to wake up able to sing architectural marvels into being but otherwise stuck with speech aphasia, for instance, and we can't sing precise optogenetic patterns into being, we simply can't sufficiently emulate that recent a technology using our skills."

Jimmy sniffed. "So it's the Darkhallow, then. We send a millennia-old vampire into the open reaches of the Black Library, we stealth our way past the Dalarath loyalists dreaming or studying in there, we force someone who's still well-versed into the classification system into showing us Delmar's scrolls and anything that dates back to them, and we slip back out. We could pull this off in five minutes real-time, but there's no telling how long it'll feel like we'll be down there for."

Harry nodded. "There's that, and another risk. The Chamberlain. Our contacts are saying that with Marinos on the lam, his former primary abuser and the real figurehead behind the modern incarnation of our native culture is trying to finagle himself a way out of whatever curse has him withering away. Dead Prelates aren't too skilled at reanimating their own flesh, so he's racing against the clock and getting desperate. He'll be deep in there too, for other reasons."

The shirt-clad Squid looked back to Marius. "Are you up for it? You'll be as powerful as your mind allows you to be in there, but so will everyone else. If we brawl our way past guards or other library-goers, we'll ring a dinner bell the Chamberlain won't miss - and you do not want to face him in dream-space, Marius."

* * *

The girl set her rifle down. "Nothing much, most of the time. We'd chat, but I always got the sense he wasn't exactly keen on speaking to me. He kept using openers like Considering what you are or Could a being such as yourself and, well - he always worked to make sure I'd feel isolated - even in the middle of conversation."

She sighed. "Then there's when he'd be speaking with Sophie. I don't know why these two latched together, but she usually made her way to Amenadiel's office, citing boredom. They'd always look like employees caught playing hooky - their discussion would sort of shift to ordinary things as soon as I or other people came by, acting pretty much like anyone extra-planar would when trying to figure out Earth for the first time. They'd do it really abruptly, and I never really caught on to what they really talked about. I think at once time they were looking over plans for the tower and had circled in the elevator shafts and stairwells. Another time, I heard them talking about base charges, but they changed topics really quickly."

Three nodded, his lips pursed. "I'm going to need you to focus, Anjali. Did they say anything about explosives being set in the basement levels? That'd be what base charges would be referring to - inflicting precise structural damage. The shafts and stairwells are load-bearing by nature, so it really does sound like they were trying to figure out how to make the other team bring this place down quickly."

The girl blinked. "Bucky's always down there, he would've found something already if there were really charges set in there, right?
- Not if they were part of Tom's renovation plans, before the incursions hit us."

Rhadamantus looked shocked. "Tom wouldn't have approved anything this reckless, Aidan. This angle has no basis in fact.
Tom wouldn't have approved it, no," agreed Drake, "but he's trained five incubi into scheming their way to survival and adaptation in his distinctly legally-gray manner. Who's to say someone else could've forged signatures, hired some of Weasel's mob contacts, broken the info across five or six different subcontractors so nobody would've had enough to piece it all together? One supplier for the wood, one supplier for harmless glycerin barrels, seperate ones for each active chemical and for wiring components..."

The tentacled dragon stammered. "But this involves contacts, delivery reception - they can't have continually received deliveries on Tom's behalf without telling him!"

In response, Three tapped into his Lexicon and whispered the Squid equivalent of a Veil around himself, a perfect duplicate of Tom Magnus now sitting in his place after a shimmering of air, voice included.

"One's an angel and the other's a trained teenage succubus, Randolph. If I can do this, they could've used Veils." he said, then dispelling the illusion. "We need proof, obviously. I'm just hoping Nami's restored Amenadiel's computer without wiping the HDD, or else we'll never get anything.
- And if he's up there?" asked Regis.

Three sighed. "We're stuck waiting until the shafts and stairwells are repaired. The club floor has a Gate leading directly to Heaven - he won't have far to go if he bails. We can head back downstairs, see what we can do to help speed things along, or we can use any of the Celestial Gates in the Heaven-controlled sectors around here to turn back around and reach the top floors from the other Plane."

By that point, Ciaran and the others would've made their way in. Three briefly froze in seeing them, confusion flickering across his features as he glanced at Dickens without recognizing him, and he then stood up, approaching Ciaran.

"Jesus, Ciaran," he said, hugging the male selkie, "I'm so, so sorry... We pretty much all felt it when she died. I... I really wish Tom hadn't been right."

* * *

Azazel seemed to mellow by degrees, first approaching the proffered sandwich like someone was likely to snap at him or lash out if he got too close. Picking up the paper plate as though it were an armed bomb, he carefully sat down, slowly beginning to munch on one of the triangle halves while keeping his eyes on Aspasia. Something in the melody seemed to not so much succeed in soothing him, as it succeeded in shrinking his curse's area of effect. Slowly, occasionally reaching out with a hand as if he could sense the boundaries of his area of effect, he scooched closer. It was a long, inch-by-inch process, but Aspasia's efforts seemed to be paying off. Before long, the Scapegoat looked both exhilerated and wracked with tension, both apprehending whatever would happen if the older satyress stopped playing, and realizing just how lucky he truly was, currently.

Eventually, he effectively placed himself right across from Miranda and Zeke, an almost spastic grin of pure glee set on his face, and his only reaction being an occasional disbelieving cackle. The sandwich was long gone by now, and all that was left was the almost unbearable notion that this was his first decent shot at establishing rapports since his curse had been set.

Occasionally, he ducked his head between his shoulders and slightly rocked back and forth, trying to repress more disbelieving chuckles. "This can't be real," he murmured, "this has to be a trick or a ruse; any moment now, the Goat's going to appear and drag me away - him or some other demon. They'll drag me away and I'll never see you again..."

Zeke shrugged lightly at that, having been much slower in eating his sandwich. You would've expected a Gluttony demon to scarf down the food in one go, but Lyman settled with tearing off little dainty sections and popping them in his mouth every so often, clearly not minding that his sandwich had had time enough to cool down.

"If anyone drags you away, Azazel, they'll have three motivated demons and a Throne to contend with. Honestly, I'd just kick back and enjoy the moment while we find out how to keep your bubble shrunken down without forcing Momma here to play her arms off from here to Magnus Tower. I doubt you'd enjoy it if we simply gave you directions and scarpered off."

Azazel reacted as if the suggestion had been a physical blow he'd received, his spine twitching and his eyes squeezing shut for an instant. "No, I wouldn't," he said, shivering. "I'd be very angry, and I hope you're truly not like all the others.
- Well, I can't speak for the others," noted Zeke, "but I'm ensconced in the flesh of a Gluttony Warden. That implies a certain sense of guardianship and, well... I know it's not very gluttonous of me if I say so, but I'd say I feel a certain attachment. A sense of responsibility, at the very least. In what's a little more on-brand, I'd really like to see what you'd look like with a few extra healthy pounds and all those suppurating bruises properly healed."

Azazel wouldn't have the chance to respond, as another beep was finally heard. Something that wasn't quite Archie's voice was heard, once the eye panels' flaps settled into position. It sounded mostly like Archie - if Archie had been utterly devoid of personality.

"Initiating proprioceptive check-up," he said, standing straight and panning his gaze over Crystal and the others without a shred of recognition. He briefly stopped on Nergal and Ereshkigal, his eyes turning red and his panels' flaps lowering in a way that suggested a scowl.

"Potential threats detected," the armature said. "Analyzing."

The weaponsmith and sword-maker both froze, Nergal carefully freeing his hands in a posture Crystal would recognize in anyone who'd been about to draw a pistol. His mate squared off her shoulders, fear quickly replaced in her eyes with flashes of tactical thought. The armature blinked.

"Threats of least importance. Resuming."

It settled on Zeke and furrowed its brows again. Lyman replied by resting a few fingertips on his chest and raising his eyebrows in a rather universal gesture. Him, a threat? Surely that bundle of frazzled microchips was jesting!

"No elevated heart rate detected. Resuming."

It then settled on Azazel. The Scapegoat all but bolted away in response, returning to his initial position with a terrified howl and gnashed teeth. "YOU PROMISED!" he half-screamed and half-seethed between clenched teeth, "YOU PROMISED NOBODY WOULD HURT ME!"

By that point, however, the armature had stood up, eyes gleaming red and affected scowl firmly in place. "Threat detected. High cortisol and adrenaline aerosol samples analyzed. Postural feedback suggests a likelihood of 97.5 percent for violent aggression. Subjects present match with engram's stored high-value personnel. Final computation: pacification required."

Ignoring his cane and gibus, Archie's armature then marched forward, its shoulders too square to possibly match Holden's personality. Azazel's final scream didn't faze it in the least, either, as the Goat's expected use for the Scapegoat effectively came into being several hours too late. Azazel launched himself at Archie with a wordless scream, clearly intent to discharge all of his frustration and his lack of belief in those who now sought to help him onto the armature. The end result would've ended with Holden being thrown to the floor and more or less mauled right then and there with plates being torn off, if his waking mind had been in control. Instead, the armature smoothly followed Azazel's established momentum, not caring if this meant knocking Miranda's grill out of place and cutting a gash along the back of the Fallen Faun's head with the heating coil's supporting metal struts.

Once Azazel was on the floor and desperately trying to claw at the armature's face, the crimson-eyed android merely gripped one of the flailing forearms and began wrenching it away, the Scapegoat's scream gaining a few painful notes.

"Pacification commencing," said the armature in the same bland tone, Archie's free right fist balling up and striking the Faun's right cheekbone repeatedly, pulling back and pushing back in with the mechanical precision of a jackhammer. By that point, of course, Lyman was far less casual and now was trying his best to immobilize the repeatedly flexing arm.

The armature stopped for a moment. "Please relax all muscle groups. Maintained tension will be perceived as resistance. Please relax all muscle groups."

Azazel screamed something in what likely was Aramaic. Matriel would understand it as meaning It was never my fault! By now, of course, Aspasia would've lost her focus, and his curse billowed again, enveloping them all and picking at their respective minds, urging them to simply let the armature pound this wretched creature into dust. Unless she felt like regaining her composure and trying again, they'd have to wrestle against the urge for as long as they could.

"No relaxation detected. Resuming pacification," said the armature, wrenching the arm further and stopping just before a fracture would have occurred.

"I have applied structural stress to one of your upper limbs. Please relax all muscle groups, or I will be forced to shatter your left radius and ulna."

* * *

Lucifer looked like he agreed. "Good," he said. "Go on ahead; I'll catch up in a few. There's a few stupid billion fuckers left down here that didn't get the message, and I'd say the new administration deserves a clean slate..."

No sooner had he said this that rising squawks could be heard from the roof of Mammon's vault, likely a result of the closest Prince sensing the proverbial hot water. Cuthbert sent the Lightbringer a glance. "You want I take care of them?" he asked, to which Lucifer pulled a moue.

"Nah, I'm due for some forceful re-acquainting with the class clowns I left in charge of this place. They forgot what I could do by the time I left, and they don't know shit about me by now. If you wanna help, send some kinda signal back up there, so Pandemonium knows it has to buckle up for a bit."

He smiled at Nami. "By the time you see me again, sport, the Pit's hopefully gonna look a whole heck of a lot different. They'll fight me, for sure - but I'm not the Goat. I know exactly what I can do. They're not ready for it."

* * *

The dissenters certainly noticed, at least judging by how they held their ground and avoided anything you could've construed as being actively hostile. As for Melmoth, he'd briefly held his own pressure against the Throne's forehead, his stirred need for her giving his eyes a seductively brooding quality.

"I wouldn't mind a repeat if there's any deaf or blind angels in there," he purred, settling into a much shorter liplock. "I used to think I'd have to change a few more things for this to work, but now...."

Gently, he helped Abdiel back to her feet. "If all demons in the Pit could feel the way you make me feel, then it would all be like Lucifer had intended. We're not supposed to be at peace with our own selves; our sin's supposed to gnaw at us enough to push us to acts of cruelty."

He smiled ever so slightly. "I am the Infernal Broker, I carry an ember of the Fires within me and I'm in love with the Throne of Fire. I'm the Greed that preys upon those with excessive confidence and I've also been balancing the scales for artifacts of power. I'm both Good in its most congenial forms and the Evil in sympathy. I should be looking for guidance with Pride or Greed, I should be looking to further blacken my ledgers. I should be afraid of what's to come, and I. Am. Not. Scared. I'm neither Subaltern or Cherub. Soon enough, I'll be nothing to angels and demons alike."

A finger was gently placed beneath Abdiel's chin. "I'll be anything you want me to be, Abdiel. I love you."

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

Ciaran's initial reaction was to stiffen against Aidan's embrace, but his bristling didn't least long as the emotional dam broke. The male selkie had been doing his best to maintain his composure, but that barrier he had put up was as vulnerable as walking on thin ice. Wrapping his arms around the human's back, he openly wept, the tears dampening his shirt.

"I-I wish he hadn't been either...I miss her so much already," he cried. "She didn't die in pain, but it still hurts...I didn't want to do it, but she told me to in order for the next dryad to be preserved."

Meris was the next person to hug Ciaran, rubbing him on his back. She didn't say anything, her heart feeling like it had sunk into her stomach. She wished that the Architect hadn't told her what would happen; what good had it done? She hadn't been able to prevent it, and her grandson was grieving over what he had done and the loss of his love.

***

The sudden shift in the atmosphere had the older Fauness mentally reeling as she dropped the drum and the tipper; the surge of apathy threatened to overwhelm her, the risk of the automaton beating Azazel into submission or worse imminent.

Aspasia closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She couldn't negate the effects of his curse, but she could push them aside to better focus her efforts on a solution. The indifference lost its edge, and she was able to grab the instrument and its accessory. The return of the music would level off the curse's effect, or so she hoped. Striking the ground with her hoof to create another rhythm, she began with slow, long strokes on the bodhran's skin. More raps along the edge and beats on it created a more serious tune this time around. There was a sense of loss, but there was also a need to regain something precious to the player, a burgeoning friendship.

Her focus became clearer, the haze of numbness lifting. As she struck the drum, the idea of funneling her mantle as a Knight came to her. A Knight's job was to protect those in need from harm, and Azazel certainly was in dire straits. The others were only just starting to become unaffected by the billowing emotion, so someone had to free the Scapegoat from the possessed Clank's grasp.

The melody strengthened her resolve and demeanor, causing her to square her shoulder and assume a fighter's stance as the song came to an end. The drum and its beater were casually placed aside as she swiftly bounded from her spot to where Azazel was pinned. While Zeke was attempting to stop the jackhammer-like arm, the satryess easily pulled the fist away from the Fallen Faun's face, using her grip on his limb and her own martial prowess to their favor. The automaton was flipped and sent flying in a direction further away from his victim.

"Neasa, keep the armature pinned! Crystal, see if you can get Holden to wake up!" she called.

The two women hurried to do as she urged. The older roane firmly secured his arms and legs with her weight and superior strength, while the werewolf slapped her hand against his face. "Archie, wake up, please! You need to snap out of it! I need you back to your regular self, so does Anjali!" she shouted.

The pair were now occupied with attempting to bring their companion back to his senses and paid the Scapegoat no mind. Andrea, Miranda, and Aislinn had since joined them in keeping the Clank away from him and trying to bring their friend back to consciousness.

The former commander took another steadying breath and quickly ventured back to the demon. Given the perceived betrayal, she was quick to help him to his feet and then respectfully backed off to give him his space. She kept her posture non-threatening as she kneeled on the ground, her hands where he could see them. "I know that outburst dashed whatever trust you might've felt toward us, but it was an accident, regardless. The surge knocked the shell Archie's in back to its default state; Archie wouldn't have attacked you in any other circumstance. You have every reason not to believe me. However, I still think we can make this work somehow, if you're willing."

Even in the likely din of his curse pushing him to attack, he'd pick up on something different. The Fauness was using her mantle to remain polite and calm. There was no hatred or aggression in her body language or in her facial expression. Her faith in her protective duties was alleviating the normal strain of his curse on her.

***

With Lucifer's assessment of the situation, she returned his smile and nodded back toward Mammon's vault. "I'm not sure if I'd want to be a fly on the metaphorical wall to see what you have in mind, but good luck in your renovations and establishing a different administration," she responded.

She glanced at Allocer, Cuthbert, and the others. "Time for us to go. I'm not sure if phones work here, but that might be a way for us to tell Pandemonium that they'll need to ride out what Lucifer's going to do to the plane."

***

His confession made her heart swell with passion and warmth. "I want you to be all of that which you told me and for you to remain at my side," Abdiel stated warmly with a smile. "You are your own person, and I adore that about you. Show the demons and angels what they're supposed to be, not antiquated personifications of virtues and vices. We're all so much more than that, especially you, Mel."

She nestled her wings around them more closely, creating a partial cocoon to provide some privacy. "I love you, too. Be my lover, my friend, my partner-in-crime, and anything else that stirs in your heart as we grow together."

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

They needed a backup singer, eh. He wasn't the best, but... "I'll give it my best shot, but I'm a bit reedy, as you might imagine," he replied, emphasizing the rasp in his voice very briefly. "That might not be our biggest issue, either..."

But they already knew that, it seemed, and plans were being made before his very eyes. Sneaking into the Darkhallow? "Bold," he nodded with a smile. "I like it. We're better off sneaking in, then, by the sounds of it; you lot just be yourselves, I'll duck behind you or just throw up some kind of screen." He cracked his knuckles. "The angel curse might be broken, but I had a LOT of time to study its effects, and I can replicate them on myself or a couple others fairly easily. I could also make an illusion of a squid around myself, but down there would be a risky place for anything flashier. Via is in short supply now, and who knows how my spells would affect the dream?"

Concerning Chambers, his smile faded a bit. "Yes, he's a risk factor for sure. But if Chambers could be there, could Nereus also be down there? I know he's on our side, at least." He'd had his own reasons to keep tabs on the likes of Meris and Nereus back in the day, but Chambers had been an enigma then and now. Plenty of empty data out there that said nothing at all about the squid behind the man, even for someone of his means and ambitions.

"But... yes, I think it would be worth it to go down there and look for these scrolls, or whatever they are. I used to be a librarian, you know, classification systems haven't changed all that much over the years."

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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The older Miles climbed back out of the elevator shaft. "You'd be entirely right if we followed Dewey, basic alphabetized order or anything else, really, but we'll be visiting the Black Library in difficult times. The problem with having a shared subconscious is some basic notions get passed around even if you try and be secretive about things. All the Loyalists need to restructure the place into a more hostile environment is confirmation that the rebels gained a shoo-in with official political pillars and members of the resistance - and they've got that in spades. I'm just hoping it's still functionally a library, to start with, and not some bloody Mind Palace gauntlet with high admission fees..."

Once Marius had climbed back out, the other Squids followed suit. "You sure we shouldn't bring Penfield into this, Har?
- He said he didn't want to risk the Darkhallow until he's certain folks like us have at least something that works like Respite Point. Until we have our own segregated dream-space, he doesn't feel like risking any connection with the rest of us. So for now, we find chairs or cots or whatever, we try and avoid looks from everyone else - and we dive in.

One of the mundane survivors looked intrigued. "What do you need cots for? Short-wave says we're winning, but we're still trapped down here. Now's not the time to nap, I'd say."

Raguel opted to come to the group's defense. "I know how it sounds, Christine; but you can trust me that these guys wouldn't go for some shut-eye if they didn't have a reason. Besides, if that offends anyone, you won't have to look at them," he said, standing up and meeting the others.

"I figure you guys would be better off past the cars. Less noise, for starters. I'd add intimacy as a factor, but it's more about making sure some of the Pride guys and a few more wound-up locals don't see you snoozing your way to a solution. That's one aspect of Squid culture that's going to take some getting-used-to for a lot of people.
- I don't know about that," noted Harry as he followed along. "Surface folk have a saying, especially here in America. Sleep on it, right? Waiting a while so things percolate or mentally take shape - that's exactly what we're going to do, just in a very literal manner."

Tom's survival supplies included cots and mats, as could've been expected, so Raguel led them to the shelves that contained them and clicked his tongue. "Welp, there you go. There's blankets if you need to throw something on to doze off - which I'd reccomend seeing as this place is pretty much Concrete Everything. Y'want us to agree on a signal or something, in case you get into trouble?"

Harry glanced at Marius. "I think we'll be fine. Even if we square it off against Chambers in there, he's still on the other side of the country. Even if he took a jet or used a Fae Gate, we'd see him coming. Most of us can handle a bit of a dampness in the air, seeing where we're from, but..."

Another glance at Vlastos. "We could always use one or two of these little propane reservoirs with one of these screw-on heating elements, if you'd rather be a little warmer," Harry suggested, pointing at the shelves.

* * *

Three was silent for a few moments longer, returning the embrace quietly - knowing that no reassuring platitudes would ever ease the selkie's immediate grief. He then lifted his eyes, Dickens coolly observing him as well, until a vague smirk touched the pencil-thin mustache atop the lightly burnished and bald man's lips. Aidan didn't respond verbally, his eyes widening and performing a once-over. A more verbal approach might've been to comment on Dickens' new look. In response, the newly-minted undead sire shrugged, grinned and then gestured at himself, finally lifting both hands as appeasement. They'd discuss this in a more involved manner later on. 

Needing confirmation, at least, Three mouthed Dickens? and received a nod for his trouble. His eyes widened again, after which he did his best to refocus on Ciaran.

"Just get through today, alright?" he asked of the roane. "One foot in front of the other, that's all. I'll make sure you can speak to Crystal and Archie if you need to take a leave of absence for a few weeks after this, and I'll let Eirean know. Bagley's never missed a pay slip and he won't mind you using your vacation days after this. We wouldn't want things to progress too quickly for you, nevermind how antsy practically everyone's going to be about getting a dryad back into function. There's Charles Wynn, provided his alter isn't running the body, and you've also got Sariel. If it helps, I'm sure Rhadamantus is going to want to listen to you - what's happened is integral to the case against the Goat."

The Judge slid closer. "I indeed will, Aidan," he said. "This qualifies as an injurious assault against your person, Ciaran. You are well within your rights to seek representation, or to append your demands to the greater case being built. I doubt mister Ephesian will be immediately available in the weeks following official capitulation, but you could seek out the counsel of the one known as Cordatus, or speak to Magnus Haraldson for further referrals."

Penfield kept his distance, but the look on his face suggested he knew what weighed down Meris' heart. Knowing that anything he could've said regarding prophesies or the Architect's use of them would've been in poor taste in this moment, he simply stood there, tendrils nearly immobile, hands crossed low in front of himself in an almost monastic posture.

* * *

The armature barely reacted to having been flung off of its quarry or to its tearing a seam along the morning jacket's right shoulder. It simply stood up and made as if to walk back to Azazel, but Neasa and Crystal effectively rushed it and pushed it against what remained of the rear wall near the stairwell.

"Error. Cannot reinitialize etheric engine. Threats still present. Engram data suggests protective measures for high-value assets. Assist-"

It didn't finish, its eyes' LED panels flickering on and off and its speech decaying as Archie's had when the surge had initially hit. The armature lightly sagged against Neasa for an instant, the eyes then flickering green and re-establishing their prior verdigris halo. Neasa wouldn't get much of an opportunity for commentary, however, as a panicked, disoriented - and at least conscious - Archibald yelped, slipped his legs underneath the selkie's and effectively forced her into a judo flip that likely wasn't entirely borne out of awareness. It proved he at least knew his way out of a stronger opponent's grip.

Full cognizance returned to him once he found himself crouched down in front of Neasa, hand on the forearm belonging to the hand she'd used to pin him down, his other hand raised in a fist and ready to strike. His optics' field of yellowish green shrank down to two circles, a ragged breath escaped him, and he let go of her wrist with a gasp.

"Great Scott, I - heavens, Neasa, I've no idea what came over me! I-"

He then looked down, realizing that he'd absently assumed his hat had fallen off during the struggle. It, and his cane, were nowhere near the selkie, however, and he was surprised to find Crystal holding his gibus. He didn't elaborate, however, noticing instead howAspasia, Miranda, Tom and Aislinn were present - and how Nergal and Ereshkigal had their weapons trained on the Scapegoat, waiting to see how things would unfold. The mangy-looking Faun had only let Aspasia help him to his feet out of principle and had now recoiled away, eyes flitting between her and the Clank.

Archie stammered. "I-I remember you taking position to absorb the arcane surge; there is an instant of something for which I've no known word for - and I find myself here judo-throwing one of my colleagues and employees out of some instinctive fear I can't quite grasp. Whatever I could've done, Azazel, I assure you that-"

The Scapegoat all but screamed between his clenched teeth, standing up as if he wished he could phase through the wall and somehow flee. "HE DOESN'T GET TO SPEAK TO ME!"

Only then did Archie notice the bleeding cuts on Azazel's brow, and the dark stains that liberally spattered his knuckles and cuffs and jacket sleeves.

"Oh, dear Lord," he whispered, his voice turned thin with fear, servos lightly humming as very human trembling motions were being rendered. His jaw worked in a way that suggested that if he'd had a tongue to move, he would've licked his lips with it out of nervousness.

"That's it," he said, his voice made quiet with the kind of resolve only knee-jerk decisions brought on, "I'm getting a crystal fitted in the display unit I had Eirean store in Frosthall once the incursions began. I don't care if it's missing weapons or telemetry, it's still bloody good British clockwork and I for one am not-"

Tom extended a hand. "Whoa, there, boss. First of all, we're not done with any of this. Even if the war ends now, diplomatically, there's going to be outliers wanting to flip the bird to any cease-fire we'd agree to. I'd be more comfortable with a hacker or a systems engineer taking a look at you, in the immediate. Secondly, and correct me if I'm wrong, but that display unit has no eyes."

Archie blinked twice. "Right - it's a mockup of my old Naughton's systems; I'd completely forgotten. I do need visual telemetry and, well-
- You won't be effective if you can't hear anything, Arch," confirmed the warthog. "Either Melmoth or myself could bankroll a retrofit any day, honestly, but your old parts just went beyond Prohibitively Expensive thanks to our friends from Hell. You obviously won't want a scaled-down exterior shell and nobody uses an empire's worth of money to fund a single armature's design, anymore. You're not Vladimir Putin at his most cancer-riddled and you're not that desperate."

The spy gave the Scapegoat a pointed glance, as if to justify his own opinion. Tom sighed. "That wasn't you, he's just not ready to accept it. Look, I'm sure Preston or the Tanner kid from Wyvern could... jailbreak you or whatever, but you're not a ticking time bomb. You've slept with Crystal while wearing this body and nothing happened. You've been anxious before dates in that body - all kinds of things happened and you never snapped. I'd be more interested in how the armature rebooted without external involvement. The assistive AI was in full swing, then it sagged, and you came to and threw Neasa to the ground."

Lyman had ventured closer to Azazel, in the meantime. "Aspasia's right, you know. I spent long enough trying to be a thorn in these guys' efforts against the Goat to understand that men like Archie don't attack others out of the blue. He's what you'd call a gentleman, and gentlemen absolutely don't resolve conflicts by pounding someone into submission."

Azazel bristled at these words. "Then who attacked me? Is your friend possessed?! If he is, I won't-"

Tom made as if to speak, caught himself and sighed, instead. "It's complicated. You've got thousands of years of arcane theory and technology to catch up on. He isn't possessed, no as much as he has a kind of assisting homunculus in his head, which normally  just takes care of basic motor functions. This body's still brand new to Archie, and some things need some easing-into, first. That homunculus, if you can call it that, normally just helps him walk. He doesn't even realize it's there."

Hostility gave way to wary curiosity. "What happened to his first body?
- It died. Archie fought for his monarch's empire and he was rewarded for his efforts with a new lease on life. Then that body was destroyed when he saved his lover and her daughter from a small enclave in town. There wasn't much left of him other than a torso, a head and a bunch of loose gears, so a contact of ours generously reneged on a deal with a richer client and gave him this body."

Azazel blinked. "Anyone who breaks deals suffers, I've seen that much.
- That armature's purveyor is from another world, one that's more lawless than this one, if you can believe it. He wouldn't have offered it if he wasn't certain he could weather the consequences. My friends were a little bit more than desperate, at the time."

The Scapegoat looked at Archie. "You have sins of your own, golem - I can smell them. Why haven't you cast them onto me?"

Archie gratefully took his gibus from Crystal and retrieved his cane, then composing himself for an instant. "The British Empire has had its day; I am but a relic of it. The divesting of natives, their enslavement, the pain brought upon them - they are not mine to bear. I may have served the British Raj, I did so in a spirit of protection and in the hopeful betterment of the lives of all Indians, at the time. I had vowed to protect them from threats both within and without - in acceptance of the harm my people had caused.

I have killed, yes. I have lied, cheated, murdered and swindled in my Queen's name. The self-awareness the current era requires is a new addition to my burdens, but I bear it in full cognizance. I also cannot deny that these hands have caused you harm, Azazel. All I can offer in return are my apologies."

The Scapegoat seemed surprised. "You bear your own sins?
- As any gentleman should," opined the Clank. "The notion of casting my own faults onto someone else seems cowardly to me. Facile, even. One sleeps better with a clear conscience."

Azazel nodded. "I can smell it. The one sin that still tortures you. It smells recent, like love turned painful."

Archie nodded, slowly. "I regret that my choice of career has kept me away from my daughter at a crucial moment in her life."

He glanced back at Crystal and gently clasped one of her hands. "I regret that it's kept me away from both of my daughters. I am as responsible for Andrea as I am for Anjali. It may be out of my hands, but I also regret this loss of control, Azazel. I have never wished to harm you."

* * *

Cuthbert glanced back at the swarm, then considered his friends. "I have a better idea. Focus on Lucian, see if you can't spot his lifeline. It should be curled in on itself, like a handle. We're both angels now and can peer past the physical aspects of this plane. Look into the Shadowlands."

He smiled, perhaps just a bit impishly. "Grab Rothchild's lifeline - with both hands."

Allocer scoffed. "You can't possibly want to carry us back up there like-"

He couldn't finish, as William's right hand closed on a silvery loop that had appeared along Allocer's back. The Void Weaver-turned-Throne bent his legs, unfurled his wings and bounded straight up, Allocer's scream dopplering out of range until Throne and former Duke alike weren't much more than black specks against the churning backdrop of the Pit's skies. Lucian watched this for a few moments, grinning, and then looked back to Nami. He raised a hand and hooded his eyes for a second or two, his own silvery loop manifesting in his hand - which he offered to the young Throne.

"When in Rome," he said, smirking. "I think I'll assist you in keeping things a little bit dignified for the both of us, at least. I'd much rather stay upright while you keep me stabilized with an arm."

In the back, Lucifer simply kept walking towards Mammon's vault, the tongue of flame between his horns growing to a long lancet of fire. Its corona of light took shape directly in front of him, light bending in the shape of a massive disco ball - or at least, something close to it. He was distant by now, but some sort of upbeat House mix seemed to emanate from him, each glimmering facet of the orb shooting out a ray of fire that set whatever it touched to extreme temperatures, cracks appearing in the vault's front facade and the surrounding dunes sinking as their supporting stone shelves collapsed. Newly-formed glass bubbled and sank further into the sand - and slowly...

Slowly, seismic vibrations began to travel towards and through Nami and Lucian's legs. The Pit was being seized by a growing earthquake, the dimension's own mantle of magma being stirred awake as plumes of smoke began to rise from the ground.

* * *

By now, the seething demons had something else to worry about. Groups that had already retreated ran back through the Gate haphazardly. Various cries of alarm could be heard, including one that made Melmoth peer at the scene from a crack in-between both his and Abdiel's wings.

"THE PIT IS COLLAPSING! WE'RE CUT OFF!"

Love was slowly replaced with wonderment, even as he kept holding onto Abdiel. "Lucifer, Abbie - is he really doing what I think he's doing?"

From the other side of the closest Gate, a sudden plume of dust rose as the entire plateau that had supported the advance forts collapsed with an earth-shaking whump. Then followed loud grinding noises as, inch by inch, the dislocated shelf rose upwards, first at the speed of a few millimetres per second, then reaching speeds no Terrestrial shelf could've attained. Everest took decades to gain a few inches and soon, the Gate opened on nothing except a rapidly-cooling wall of magma that churned and crunched as it moved.

The Pit wasn't collapsing; it was being reformed, quite literally.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

The male roane released the human and nodded, sniffling. He dried his eyes and sighed. "Thank you for the support. I'll probably need to take them up on it," he replied. "I'll also let you know about whatever I might need."

Ciaran eyed Rhadamantus and then lowered his gaze. "I'll think about how I want to approach my part of the case. I'm angry at the Goat at what he caused to happen; nearly everyone's lost someone, though. I wish Sophia was able to speak up against him, but I'll do it in her stead. Eirean will be among those that were also hurt badly by her passing."

He paused for a moment and frowned. "I know things are still in a upheaval, but do we have any idea of how Jack is? He was essentially like a brother to Sophia, and he helped support the Nexus. Most people tended to forget about him, but we shouldn't."

***

Neasa had been taken off guard by the judo flip and quickly assumed it was the AI still in control, but she mildly gaped when the aristocrat resumed consciousness. "I-it's fine, Archie! I'm just glad you're back!" she exclaimed. She got up and dusted herself off.

Crystal squeezed his hand in return. "We'll work on it as we go, love. Besides, Andrea is here, so all we'll need to do is return to the tower and we can be with Anjali."

Aspasia nodded. "Don't be too hard on yourself, Holden. Best thing for you to do for her is be there. Though, she might have a few choice words for you or throw a few things at you, after seeing your new armature," she commented, smiling ever so wryly. "Regardless, I think she's taking after you in that she has the same adventurous spirit."

She then snapped her fingers as she recalled something. "Oh! Speaking of which, she's been learning to be a crack shot along with Miranda from an old comrade of yours. Remember Regis Woodford? We ran into him after we escaped from Israel and had to take a backway through Morgana's territory to reach London. He had been trapped in the jungles of Faerie for a few centuries of endless dying and reviving, but we were able to rescue him by outwitting Queen Swamp Bitch. He's a jungle troll now, but he doesn't have the ruthless instincts like most would. Though, you'll look as different to him as he does to you!"

The satyress then turned her attention back to Azazel and added to the commentary, "Accepting your sins and taking ownership of them is a far healthier option than casting the blame on someone else. It is cowardly to do so, from my perspective as well."

She shrugged. "I don't know what you sins you might smell from me, but I wear them as badges of experiences and lessons to be learned from. I don't like what I did fiftysomething years ago, but it's also something I'm not going to put on someone else' shoulders or let it weigh on me. Remorse can be as toxic as blame. Things should be let go of at some point."

***

Nami took the silver loop and chuckled as she saw the dots that were Cuthbert and Allocer fly away even farther. She gripped Lucien's left arm and spread out her own wings. She crouched and followed after the other Throne and the demon, watching the transformation below.

"It's hard to believe this is really happening, but it's long overdue!" she called to the Void Weaver. "Though, I'm already getting retro vibes from it and he's just barely getting started!"

***

Abdiel peered through the crack her wings provided and widened her eyes. "Lucifer's doing exactly what you think he's doing! He's literally remaking Hell from the ground up!"

She then lowered her wings some and watched as the Infernal dunes disappeared and became new building materials for an entirely new terrain molded by the Dark Prince himself.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

Post by Karl the Mad »

So this was really happening, then. He was going to go into some dreamspace with members of the race that had screwed him up so badly, years and years ago. So many years he couldn't remember when. That vague impression of brine, of Far Eastern architecture, of a cloudy day, came back to him as he thought back on the matter once more. Never more than that.

It was maddening. Perhaps here he would have a chance to pierce through the madness to some sort of truth.

They made it to the isolated corner, and he set about arranging a cot for himself. "I'll be fine with a blanket and a pillow, I wouldn't trust the vents down here after everything that's happened," he noted in response to being asked about a heater. "Wouldn't do any of us any good if we suffocated on fumes while we were down there, hm?"

He shrugged out of his jacket and set it carefully aside, then placed his revolver atop it and removed his shoes, at regular human speed so as not to spook anyone. Then he sat down on the cot and picked at his socks briefly. "Mm, I would appreciate some water or a spot of blood, before we go under." He looked to Raguel. "You think you can sustain a quick donation, sir? And I'd personally feel better if you were standing watch over us..."

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Raguel glanced back past Marius, perhaps scanning what little of the others he could see to ensure their safety, and then shrugged. "Sure, just - I'd rather the locals didn't see I was fed from. Not right now, at least. Holden's loss of control's starting to go around as a convo topic and, well... I don't think the mundanes are anywhere near jazzed about seeing someone needing a pick-me-up in the immediate. Luckily for you, though, I'm an angel."

Nothing happened - at least outwardly - but Marius would suddenly feel the old, familiar warmth blooming in his stomach and spreading across his chest and limbs. He'd feel as though he'd just pulled a few nice and generous gulps on someone of potent vintage, as it were, the feeling eating away at the very concern he'd expressed moments ago.

The Latino angel clicked his tongue. "I just manifested a jugful of my own hemo in your gut," he explained, smirking. "I've done it before with other vamps; the urge to get bitey usually goes away a minute or two later, so don't sweat it. It's just, uh, biomechanical frustration, sort of."

He then sniffed, crossed his arms in front of himself and rocked on his heels for a second or two. "I'll just be by the cars, if anything happens."

* * *

Three nodded reassuringly. "We haven't. You'll have to check with Otto or Nergal, but someone in the Walpurgis team was manning a set of radios and I'd asked them to keep a line on Pickman's Sound. If we haven't heard from Jack, it likely means he's still entrenched. You could ask Nergal later on, but I think he had some satellite imaging on hand, from pirated airtime. He showed me a few aerial shots of the farm's defenses."

His demeanor darkened slightly. "There's no easy way to say this without looking insensitive, but Jack wasn't manning a Nexus. He never was. By the looks of things, all he received was basic attrition, just enough trouble to keep him cut off. Seeing as we couldn't push Northeast from Centennial until now, we never could reach him and send assistance. The enclave didn't do much either, but Allocer had his orders. Greene just wasn't on them."

Penfield stepped closer. "The region's ley lines are shifting, after your dryad's demise. Even before I was put to sleep, we'd noticed how magic distributes itself on the surface world. With your Sophia gone, he'll have some weight to shoulder - that much is obvious. If he's never shouldered the local network, then we can assume he won't manage more than a few external knots and strands near your Old Hope - but I doubt your Sophia's successor will be the only one to support the local arcane populace, going forward."

Rhadamantus nodded. "Adapt to survive. Nature does it, so does magic. It might come as a shock to the local gourd-headed curmudgeon, but he's likely to receive more attention from now on."

The dragon-headed demon's comment made Aidan grin slightly. "Fuck me, he's probably going to hate this more than the actual siege. All the hedge mages showing up just to shyly ask for five minutes near his flower beds to work on a blessing for Arcane Theory 101; and he'll greet them at the gates with his boomstick and a handful of rock salt..."

* * *

Judging by Archie's look, he wondered where he'd been the past several weeks, if a former colleague had been able to emerge from Faerie and undergo a radical transformation without his noticing. He then rolled his eyes. He'd been where everyone had been, realistically, and probably wasn't the only one to have missed a chance for a chat with returning old colleagues. That would warrant commentary later on, however, as Azazel was still in need of careful attention.

As for the Scapegoat, his defensive posture lessened slightly and he took a few steps forward and away from the wall. "I wish the people who cursed me had thought like you," he said, sitting back down. Still, he was much further back then he'd previously been. "I hate what they did, and I hate that the Goat used it in his favor, but I can't blame them. They were starving. The problem is, so was I."

Lyman rolled the shoulder of the arm that had taken the strain of Aspasia's full-body throw, briefly scowling at a torn stitch in the jacket's shoulder. His confectionary-worthy smell briefly intensified and the fabric seemingly knitted itself back together. "Well," he then said, raising his voice as if to dispel the atmosphere, "who knew Yom Kippur could get so dark, eh?! Let's get down from there, for now - torn-open buildings upset my feng shui and I've got a few things I'd like to brainstorm with the local Warlocks," he said, giving Tom and Aislinn a few eyebrow waggles.

Smirking with, Tom exchanged a look with his lover before settling back on Lyman. "Like what?" he asked.

The Gluttony Warden rolled his compound eyes evasively, pouted and briefly gave Azazel a shoulder squeeze. "Not in front of the kid, alright? We get him a bath and a warm meal first, we pack the stragglers in, in time for the victory cigar handout, and we then let the local Council of Arcane Figures of Report beta-test a few curse dispels or alterations... Even the Squids are going to want to have a crack at him, I'm sure. We'll talk once everyone's snug."

Looking a tad amused, Tom seemed as though he had some idea of where Ezekiel's ideas were taking him. "Yeah, alright," he said, scoffing. "It's nice to see someone steal my thinking cap, for a change."

The pink demon snorted and gestured at Aislinn. "Come on, give her some credit! Aislinn's young for an Archmage, Magnus - give her a few decades and she'll scheme so hard you might start wondering if she isn't trying for Rendell's seat."

Azazel had obviously followed along. "What are you planning to do to me?" he asked, suspicion returning to his voice. Zeke pouted and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"Me? Nothing, dear boy - I just think you deserve a fresh start, but you've been shaped by that curse of yours for so long it wouldn't do you good to just have you stripped of it. You'll still need an arcane crutch of sorts. If we have to stick you with something else, and if your nature makes you difficult to heal on the biological level, then we might need to once again twist the Dark Arts on our little fingers for the sake of a good cause. I have a few ideas floating around, all I need is a good table, a few half-decent bottles and a few hours to spend spitballing things with more qualified practitioners."

Azazel smiled uneasily. "You must really like food, mister," he said, barely allowing himself a chuckle. Zeke bulged his eyes and briefly pulled away, perhaps nonverbally asking if the Scapegoat had taken a good look at him. Of course, he liked food!

* * *

As Nami and Lucian rose, Mammon's vault collapsed before their eyes. Distance made sound all but imperceptible, but they'd briefly a tiny speck of crimson fire - proportionally a massive blaze with the Prince of Greed at its center - hurtling towards Lucifer. The large plume of red Hellfire clashed against Lucifer's almost golden-white spire, both men underneath them could faintly be seen circling one another; but Nami wouldn't be able to watch as the conflict resolved itself. The lower stratas of the lake of fire's surface engulfed her, the layer of previously-buoyant Damned souls falling away as the Plane's rules were being rewritten - and she and the Void Weaver emerged to an Infernal City that was in the grip of panic. Portals weren't involved, in this case - not so much as a wide-scale earthquake that was making large blocks of rock from the cavernous ceiling above fall down to the port and city streets. Just before she'd begin her descending arc, Urakawa would be able to see a large block of Brimstone detach itself from the cavern, exposing something impossible, beyond.

In all the ages of the Three Planes, Pandemonium had always been underground, at least figuratively. It was Purgatory, Dante and many a Christian theorician depicting it as where mild sinners went if they were unwilling or unable to accept the truth of God. An ersatz of mortal life deprived of some of its pleasures, made just a little bleak and a little lifeless, just enough to coax the stubborn and prideful into self-examination and eventual admission into the ranks of Heaven. It had always made sense, then, for it to appear as a subterranean city, perpetually twilit and seemingly designed to favor Expressionist angles and stark lighting contrasts.

And yet now, beyond the fresh, new arches of the collapsing dome, summer twilight reached her eyes. Summer twilight, yes - but a little hazy, the shift in colors from dark blue to bright orange looking purposefully dated. The far ends of the cavern fell away, the churning inner sea turning into a rapidly-cooling ocean - and the sun was still in the sky, low and immense, hugging the horizon and looking almost like a painted backdrop from an old eighties' action movie. Slowly, the flame-like whorls of the former lake and now-lagoon were turning blue and growing placid, increasingly resembling water in its ebb and flow - except perhaps in how a faint grid pattern etched in light shimmered into being just below the surface.

Looking back to the city, Nami and Rothchild would see that only parts of it were collapsing - and only in their aesthetics. Everything was still standing, but it felt as though Lucifer were forcing Pandemonium to slough off its caked-on layers of grime and dust, cracks depening and worsening and plaster falling off in large chunks, only to expose new storefronts or public facades underneath, like newly-healed skin. The city had once looked like your average American metropolis stuck in the grip of the eighties' economic slump - but as they watched, markers of mortal excess began to crop up. Palm trees shot out of the sand by the beachfront and an entire boardwalk heaved itself out of the waves, Ferris wheel and rollercoaster alike glistening with dripping water. Nearby, Wolfram and Associates rumbled its way past the water line, the shelf that supported it rising and bubbling, the entire office campus pushing itself free of the waves and locking into place with the boardwalk. Demons and souls alike poured out of the shaking buildings, screaming and shouting, some of them noting how office floors had fallen apart, dividers had crumbled away and a movie theatre's seats had erupted out of the ground. Pandemonium had always been a place of relatively unfulfilling entertainment - on purpose - but other screams sounded excited, noting the oddity of some horned fellow's nameless electronics emporium turning in a genuine Radio Shack, seemingly risen out of the grave of old corporate figureheads...

As they landed on a sidewalk near the beachside slopes, a fittingly Infernal racket sounded to their right, belonging to the tortured and twisting form of an old bus. Metal tracks were erupting out of the asphalt, vintage tram wires seemingly manifesting out of thin air behind and ahead of it, tires were being shredded while they transformed into tram wheels, a vaguely toad-like demon angrily stomping off of the tram as it came to a stop, grimacing as his uniform changed on his shoulders.

You could apparently change Pandemonium and the Pit with enough willpower, but Charon's disposition was as immovable as stone in the terrestrial Plane.

"Self-absorbed idiot changed my bus!" he belted by way of greeting, gesturing at Nami. "Can you believe this shit?! Lucifer drags himself back down here, and he changes my bus! How'd he like it if I turned his Miami Vice ass into a twenties' bindle-carrying John Steinbeck gold-panning hobo?!"

Lucian shrugged. "At least he's pulling from the same locale you would. John Steinbeck, boardwalks and amusement parks... Somehow, the idea of demons taking to San Francisco or Northern California would not surprise me in the least."

* * *

For the first time in months, the large gates that had served as beach-heads began to shrink, first rising off the ground just enough for someone needing a bit of an exxagerated gait to cross, then becoming impossible to reach for anyone not equipped with a ladder or a pair of wings. They shrank and shrank, eventually growing about as large as a balled fist - and then expanded again, the indistinct haze in their center parting. A different, yet familiar expanse of terrain waited.

Beyond the rim waited the same dunes, with ruined fortresses now covered in moss. The Plane's reddish hue was gone, replaced with a decidedly Terrestrial slate-grey haze, almost Scandinavian in appearance. Lichen and rough grass covered nearly everything, the blasting winds of earlier replaced with a gentle breeze. Pandemonium's sea turned into a churning and pregnant sky from down below. The blistering heat was still dissipating, slowly dying out and replaced with the kind of muggy, uncomfortable - if liveable - cold you could've found off the coast of Iceland. The portal's view opened onto a partially settled footpath, slightly bigger stones suggesting the sides of a road to be travelled by foot.

Roads, in whatever shape or form, had never existed before in the Pit. The portal's view then receded, pivoted and turned shaky - as though the Gate were actually phone-sized and being used to record or vlog something. Lucifer's face came into view, massive in proportion, and he grinned. Judging from the perspective, the Gate was only large from their side and actually was fairly portable on the Lightbringer's.

"Well," he said, "that's the floors, walls and shelves done; but there's still a lotta work to do..."

He raised his other hand, four crowns of various designs looped over his forearm. "I reset all permissions except for a select few with whom you're probably familiar. There's a few guidelines in place, provisos and quid pro quos and whatnot - they'll really make sense once we start divvying up war spoils. Speaking of which..."

The view shook while Lucifer freed one of the crowns from his arm, juggled it and the portal in a single hand and finally managed to hold the portal in one hand and the crown in the other. That done, he smirked at Melmoth.

"Hey, sport - I know you're never gonna want to put this on, but you're the best guy I know for safekeeping. Avarice doesn't need a figurehead, it needs directing  rates. First vault you build as Greed's administrator, you chuck it in, lock away and throw away the fuckin' key."

Melmoth blinked. "You're not disbanding the Princes?
- I did!" replied Lucifer. "Someone else needs to pick up the slack, though - idea was that we'd have leaders familiar with people's failings. It's exactly why I was in favor of angels putting up yardsticks on Earth. Morons figured Paragons of Evil had more 'zazz..."

The Lightbringer looked above and away for an instant, sniffed in a slightly desultory manner and then refocused on Melmoth and Abdiel. "If I stay - on Earth or down here - then I get to make sure things are run like they're supposed to be run. Was always meant to be so the Damned would be the ones torturing themselves; there's never been any need to compound the issue. The smart ones are gonna find all they need to start their climb back up to Pandemonium; the dumb ones are gonna drown in the same things that landed them down here - until things click."

He nodded at nobody in particular, still looking away. "Yep - all of Humanity's Vices laid bare, with guides waiting for whoever's gonna have enough brains to figure shit out for themselves."

Melmoth couldn't repress a few blinks. "How did we get from there to what I left behind?"

The Prince looked back down to the "camera", shrugging. "Beats me. I thought I'd picked the mature ones out of the bunch; the only one I knew was rotten from the start was the Goat - already explained why. Thought I could drill responsibility into him, shape his ego in something to ward off the bad tendencies of anyone who would've ended down here by dint of pride. I was dead-wrong, and I figure he infected everyone else in the process."

Lucifer started along the footpath, leaving the oddly flat and barren expanse of what had been Mammon's vault behind him. As he moved, he tossed Greed's crown through the portal he was holding - the proportionately titanic circlet emerging on the other side as a standard crown-shaped hoop that clattered on the ground, a single red ruby coming undone from one of its sockets and rolling towards the Broker.

"Pick it up," the Lightbringer said, "it'll give you Mammon's canniness, but not his obsessions. Rest of that package deal stays in the crown, and you seal that away. By my law, Melmoth of Greed, I name you Arbiter of Avarice. You'll stand equal to the New Princes, but freed from your Sin's grievous excesses. Avarice is survival instinct gone wrong, so you'll be able to see when one of your peers slips off of the path. You'll recognize it - not through me, but through your own empathy. I give Pride the honor of opening the march, but you're the silent watcher; the finger on the Princes' human pulse."

Melmoth placed a knee down, observed the ruby, picked it up and then looked back up. "So, who's Pride now?"

Lucifer didn't answer outright and merely smiled as he walked. "Someone who really enjoys being one of the good guys, even if he doesn't really want to admit it yet. Get yourselves to Magnus Tower; it's time we started setting things up for the real endgame."

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Ciaran couldn't help but chuckle as Three grinned. "Sophia took to me meet him a couple autumns back to pick apples from his orchard. Talk about awkward! I think he let us do that because of Sophia's presence, but in some ways, he felt like a disapproving brother keeping an eye on his sister. I had initially thought about having a brief conversation with him, but it was better to let him drive any discussions," he noted.

"If any hedge mages show up at his doorstep, they're better off just sitting quietly and letting him get used to their presence before requesting anything. Though, until things stabilize more, the area's going to need his help with anything arcane, like it or not," he added with a sigh.

***

Chuckling, Miranda saddled up next to Azazel, keeping her distance so he wouldn't be uncomfortable. She shrugged. "Food is meant to be enjoyed, and Zeke's probably one of its biggest fans. By the way, how was the grilled cheese sandwich I made for you? It wasn't that fancy, but I figure it was the first meal you had in a while."

Aislinn grimaced as she heard Zeke's suggestion. "I might be a warlock, but if I start acting like Rendell in a couple decades, punch me to give me a reality check."

She reassuringly looked over at the Scapegoat. "For the foreseeable future, you'll be given one of the unused apartments at the Tower to stay in. An apartment's like a small residence built next to other residences. It'll have a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bathroom-effectively your own place to live in. There's a few apartments away from other residents, so you won't feel crowded in and avoid any conflicts with your curse. Of course, we can still visit you."

She shrugged. "A quick arcane theory lesson for you, blessings are the other side of curses. There's some leeway in the use of positive and negative energy, so we're going to reshape your curse into something beneficial for you. However, we don't have a manual on how to do it, so that's why we're figuring out the best way to help you for you to live a life where you're happy. That's the ultimate objective, but it's going to take some time and effort to reach that goal."

Aspasia clicked her tongue as an idea came to her. "I know you Warlock types are going to have your brainstorming party, but it might be worth considering to ask Titania on how we might help him take the his ingrained burdens off of his shoulders. She really wanted the Chimeras to help kickstart the Fauns' return, but I think helping Azazel would fall in the same vein. A Fallen Faun is still a Faun."

***

Nami refrained from scoffing in amusement and shrugged at the Ferryman. "Well, I know optimism is a rare commodity in Pandemonium, but look at the big picture. It could be worse. At least the Goat's been dethroned and all three planes aren't going to be handed over to the Others on a platter," she pointed out.

She gestured at the movie theater and the Radio Shack. "You and the passengers get to at least have some fun from time to time. That may not seem like much, but it certainly appears like a significantly beneficial change to me. There's still hard work for the souls coming here, but at least it won't be so grim for them."

***

Abdiel smirked, as she mused over who it could be. "We'll get over there soon. Should we let them know you're coming? Or are you going to make one of your infamous entrances like you did when you entered the Heavenly Tribunal back in the day? I'm sure I can think of a few types whose heads will spin at your return," she commented with a throaty chuckle.

She then recalled their encounter with the Mother of Vampires. "By the way, while we were in Vienna, Lilith paid us a visit in our dreams. She told us that you were in some form of danger. From what, we weren't sure."

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