The Reaping Season

Anything you might want to try out that doesn't temporally or thematically fit the serial should go here. This is an ideal space for all your what-ifs and might-have-beens, as well as for your average silliness.
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IamLEAM1983
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The Reaping Season

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Where Gallywix grew up, you'd hear about demons, and especially how demons weren't afraid of anything. 

Pride Knights were big and boisterous and quite literally bursting with the passion and enthusiasm their leige-lord imparted them with. They were big on pomp, huge on circumstance, some pushed things so far as to display odd takes on honor or chivalry, and some did the same thing and instead ended up going native; melding in with the mortal plane's denizens and their sense of individualism - obviously something that had to have merit for armor-clad bruisers with swollen Egoes. They might be clumsy or slow or quick to anger in some cases, but you couldn't accuse them of fearing anything, ever.

Gluttony Wardens had no fear, as they only had hunger. They only had an insatiable appetite to nurse, and a bundle of attending urges to sate. What could be left to fear if you'd gorged yourself on friend and foe alike, if some centuries left you so blissfully full you left your watch to others and spent a few eternities basking in Sloth's siren-song? As for Sloth proper, there wasn't much of anything to fear if you avoided fear itself. The Prince of Sloth now graciously kept his demesne within the walls of a single suite in Hope's Greenvale Hotel, and there were weeks where if Eirean turned the lobby's music off and ensured elevators were locked in place, you could hear the humongous cat's snores from three floors down, and its faint chorus of attending wheezes and snorts. Belphegor only got up once an idea shot through his brain, and than half-ran and half-bounded the terminally diabetic anthro cat he inhabited to a surprisingly cordial tea-time to be enjoyed with Herbert Wormsworth, Prince of Pride, or occasionally with one of Shield's own. As ever, he was never entirely awake, and merely dialed his snores down to mere low, rumbling purrs. It was hard to imagine he could ever show fear, essentially being the only fully-conscious sleep-walker to ever walk the Earth. With his eyes pinched shut and his feline features suggesting a permanent smirk, fear didn't look like it could so much as be on the menu for him.

Volker, Benjamin Mathers - Prince of Wrath, knew fear well. He inflicted it on others, after all. By virtue of his Vice, he wasn't the type to be able to confine himself to Shield, Hope or New Dalarath's confines. He now walked a path similar to Jenkins', selling his soldiers and toolset for whomsoever had money to spare, and proper, justified Wrath to sacrifice. The gem having subsumed his right eye, it felt as though the former incubus' every single thought was underscored by a low, glacial current of churning rage, one well kept in check by the body's experience as a mercenary. Where his predecessor had delighted in spreading Wrath, the new Prince saw it as a necessary evil - strictly business.

Abuse of his moral code, however, and you'd find he had wrath of his own. The last would-be Columbian drug lord to hire him for a hit on a double agent's family had been found days after their contract had been signed, in a state that had prevented Bogotà's press from releasing pictures. This Wrath didn't know fear like you'd think.

As for Envy? Envy hadn't crossed over officially, and former thralls feared aplenty: they feared losing what little they believed to own, feared being duped on the quality of what was theirs, and many still feared that most of everyone else was out to get them. Paranoia ran deep in Envy - but they could still budge. All it took was patience, time and tear-proof clothes.

The Lustful feared the meaninglessness of their own pursuits, safe in a few individual cases, but not what they pursued. Excite an incubus' burden of Lust with violence, and you could create a full-spectrum warrior who would stop at nothing to chase their own climax and release. They were flexible, though, and many were proving to be too empathetic, too strangely wise in their own way to take the same route as Volker. Gremory's only fear was that he'd eventually find the one soul he'd be unable to crack - the one, slightly harder chestnut than most.

The Damned all feared something, in their own way, but Gallywix was just a line supervisor for Capstone Industries' forging and manufacturing plant, further up eastward along Point Judith Road. He'd lived almost like a mortal for what had felt like forty-eight years but had actually been eight thousand years in mortal time, and had effectively left one suburban area for another. One of the many nondescript Damned to have followed after Belial, he looked a bit like Nickar if the stylist had suffered from male pattern baldness and suffered from the kind of rail-thin scrawniness that hid latent cholesterol problems. He'd stopped in Solita to knock back a few beers at an Italian bistro of which he'd forgotten the name. Something about a girl, someone who'd been important for some big-shot Italian author in the before-times - right, Portinari's. Spaded tail awkwardly swishing, he grunted and blinked to try and clear the fog of booze as he sat down at his old 1993 Honda Civic's wheel. Another shift, done. Sighing in release, Gally switched his radio on and immediately picked up on CCR's Are you Reeling in the Years piping on the radio, his crimson beak pinching as he whistled and tapped his steering wheel along the beat.

Night had fallen. A few blocks, a few streetlights, and he'd return to his rather unremarkable block, where he'd crash on his bed in his ordinary apartment. Sleep wasn't too far off, already, and the sort of elastic ease exhaustion and inebriation brought on together felt warm and comfortable along his arms and legs.

Unfortunately, it wouldn't last.

It took almost a full corner, but he soon took notice of something in the rear-view mirror: a knobby and aged hand, the skin looking rough even in the gloom, affixed to the butt of a Capstone Haxan .357 Revolver, which almost looked like a Smith & Wesson revolver - if revisited by someone in the Goth crowd. The muzzle was set against its neck, diffusing the illusory warmth he recognized from the weapon specs, having prevented him from immediately reacting to its contact against his skin. The muzzle's hole felt faintly uncomfortable, and he knew exactly why: the far back of the barrel had C&C-machined Enochian runes etched into the blued and blackened steel-Brimstone alloy.

"Drive," said a low voice, raspy and taut. "Don't look at me. Look back, and there won't be enough of you left to make the trip back Downstairs."

Wix stammered. "I-I'm just a line supervisor at Capstone; I'm a nobody! If it's money you want, I can-"

Something glowed green above his cheap rear seats, swaying around like the least-determined fireflies imaginable - or like glowing millipedes dancing in an endless figure-eight. The stranger's head was obfuscated by some sort of burlap sack, dark and coarse.

"Talk again, and I'll choke you out in an instant."

Something like rough hemp rope suddenly encircled his throat, making him rasp. The stranger knew what he was doing, leaving just enough of an opening for him to be able to handle slow, ponderous and wheezing breaths.

"We're going to Pier Eight, past Fullerton. You're going to drive us past the eighth stack of containers. Nod."

Gallywix did as instructed, his eyes wide with fear. "Understand that I've got tools with me that'll make your recovery or your return to Pandemonium impossible if you disobey me. Nod."

Another one, sweat now dropping out of his meagre crown of hair.

* * *

You lived in Hope as long as Angus had, you picked up a few things. On the bright side, you realized that being an aging, overweight and gay Airedale Terrier anthro from Glasgow who'd managed to be certified for the American police academy in time to graduate in his mid-thirties and retire at sixty-five wasn't anything special. You realized that most people on the force could still be wholly overpowered by supernatural evils. You also realized that the nature of the crimes involved made approaches like his a little non-standard, even according to Arcane Forensics specialists. Having retired, he wasn't brought in unless the assigned Lieutenant was well and truly stumped. For Harry Benson to be stumped, the case had to be unusual even by Fae standards.

There wasn't much left of the wage-slave Fiend, other than arms pinned to the sides of a container by stakes that glowed magnesium-white when the sun's rays hit them, and a blackened and singed spine that looked like a grotesque cat's tail. Vertical roadkill, in a sense. The air was a veritable cornucopia of conflicting vibes, from the stakes' almost tinnitus-inducing Celestial chime to the way the demon's ashes simply refused to cool, the arms constantly glowing red along their igneous-like cracks, for what had apparently been six hour straight. One of the dockhands had spotted the scene at their shift's early opening, around 6 AM. Now, two-thirds of the city and county's electroncs stores wouldn't get their kit until the scene was scrubbed. That could take days.

"Feeeck me, boyo; that's a barmy one, isn't it?" Angus McGroof rhetorically asked, one hand in his pants' pockets and the other clutching his coffee cup. His fur allowed him to delay the usual autumn wear, so his green Gingham blazer, black dress slacks, blue vest and yellow necktie still felt quite comfortable. Add his avoirdupoids to the mix, and you had enough for him to tolerate maybe adding a basic scarf to the mix in mid-November.

Harry Benson wasn't as lenient towards himself. He had the fur to maybe make the same choices as Angus, but being a Bugbear, prided himself on his appearance. His full suit and overcoat were on, a few rings pinching the furry nubs of his massive fingers and a tie clip that had cost a year's worth of wages securing the length of bespoke Italian silk that added a touch of red to his seasonal browns and greens. "Wouldn't have had Stinson wake you up this early if it wasn't.
- Didja call it in?" he asked. Benson nodded in the affirmative and grunted, on the tone some idiots could've mistaken as standing as the prelude for fists coming down or someone being tackled into the next State. "Percy's on leave, Lowell's on PTO so Andrea goes on some Check Out Your Alma Mater Years in Advance trip for school. Kid's smack-dab in the Get a Dang Job phase of late college extracurriculars. Postgrad track's always an option."

Angus' eyebrow twitched. "Brown, eh?
- Nah, local. Student quad in Renton. Kid joked about practically calling The Last Round the campus cafeteria. Brown's more for Classical Arts studies. Literature, comparative theory - that sorta stuff."

Angus sniffed. "What was your minor in, by the way?"

Harry glanced at the corpse, raised his eyes and sighed. "Psychology, the bugbear said," he quipped, "wondering where the fat dog who thinks he's Columbo wanted to go with this not-at-all-germane line of inquiry..."

The anthro rocked on the soles of his aged Oxfords. "And what's Doctor Harry got to say about this?"

The bugbear shook his head. "Don't know. Too many clashing scents, there's about six or seven moods to all this, judging by the pheromones I'm picking up. I'm thinking, uh, that our guy really wanted this guy dead. Like, so extinct, in demonic or angelic parlance. Gone from Creation."

Grunting, the dog bent down to one knee and used the tip of a ball-point pen to lift up a glowing shell casing. "Still red-hot," he said. "Mundane gunpowder cannae' sustain this sort of heat; same for casings. Smells like Brimstone, glowing spents that can't cool down...
- Opposing stress?" tried Harry. "Like one of the Celestials' old hand cannons we saw during the War? The first thing mortal engineers tried once peacetime was declared was try exactly that. The stress was so hard on the gun and bullet they fused together. Gunpowder charge still went off, ripping through the ballistics engineer's hand and nearly wedging the firing pin three inches into the testing chamber's wall."

The bugbear smirked, the gesture looking mean on his face. "Seeing as it's a piece of Celestial engineering, not even fricking d'Aubignier managed to pull it out, and it's been sending corrective vibes throughout the Institute ever since. Zero incidents reported. Engineer's hand pulled a Wolverine right on the spot."

A sniff was added by the former detective. "So there's more to it, then. A different combination, probably custom-made. Every bloody git in his twenties with a computer and a 3D printer can handle basic machining jobs, now. Purpose-built diamond-tipped bits are cheaper than ever thanks to the Squids, now."

Benson nodded and reviewed the victim's details. "No priors - one of Belial's basically-mundane demons, if that makes sense. No Title, no Name, no Court affiliation - zippo. Just a taxpayer with a lifespan measured in thousands of years.
- Doubt that matters," replied the dog. 

Benson's ears swiveled upwards. "Could be a message. Competitor looking to muddy the waters for the hybrid-plane arms market. Belial's guns are fucking haywire, buy our kit instead. Make the shareholders freak out, jump ship."

McGroof scoffed. "Laddie, now - people don't jump ship on Belial. You remember the inauguration, eh? How his own feckin' shareholders looked at 'im? He's playin' on Smith's level, aye - and he won't take no for an answer. He's the promise Allocer tried to keep, what broke down once Lucifer showed him for a bloomin' softie. He's just better at it - he smiles more, for starters. Remarkably genuine - 'leasaways, in appearance."

Benson rolled his eyes. "Yeah, sure. Capstone posts memes on Twitter, and now Belial shakes hands with John Oliver and Stephen Colbert..."

Angus nodded and grinned, the gesture a bit lopsided. "He's playing a longer game than the feckin' Goat could, for sure. Your Friendly Neighbourhood Industrialist Demon, aye..."

The bugbear looked away, wincing as the morning's rain began to come in. "Donut at Holden's? Can't do shit until Forensics are done.
- You're just gonna hand this over to 'em? Just like that, eh?" asked the dog, even as he began to waddle alongside the bugbear, somehow keeping with his long strides. 

"I just need a second opinion," grunted Benson, and I don't need you inferring all over my morning coffee, sir. Don't know any better pacifier for a nosy old mutt than cheap carbs," he said, a bit of professional affection glinting in his dark eyes.

"What can I say," grunted the dog as he slipped in their shared car, "the more contented I am, the sharper I get. Rangers F.C. on the telly, coffee in my hand and a little something to give me favourite officer a bit more of a pillow to rest 'is head on, and there ain't a grisly murder that could bring me down."

Benson rolled his eyes. "Woo, towing the line for diabetes is great as long as I get cuddles! That's a stellar model to keep, D.T."

Angus seemed more amused than anything. "Eh; once you get my age, you'll realize havin' someone to come back home to is all that matters, Harry-lad. I didn't leave Scotland to feel guilty because I don't do this for the badge anymore. I take cases once in a while so I can pamper my fellow a bit without eating into the old pension, eh?"

Harry smirked again. "Coulda stopped at without eating him.
- Now, izzat a bugbear joke or a gay joke?" asked Angus, narrowing his eyes. Laughing, the Bigfoot tapped the steering wheel.

"Take your pick, old man!"

* * *

Chauncey was at Magnus Tower as per his usual teaching protocol, last summer's weirdness having landed him with the oddest teacher a Void Weaver could've ever had, for the White Speech: a human. Aidan was teaching him on the thought-forms needed to effectively Speak the way he, Marius or Nereus could, in the hopes of eventually defusing the weird mental short-circuit that had caused his nocturnal episodes. The former soldier had requested part of the library's main area for their use, as well as a projector and laptop. He wasn't half-bad, as far as his old curator's insight could tell him.

"...so phn'glui is an Evocative. It's, um, a little bit like half of a gerund in some constructs and half of an adverb. Put stress on the P, and you're referring to a physical status. The N refers to N-protein chains in some constructs. It's easy enough to remember, seeing as Nadesine doesn't feature as an amino acid anywhere else than in Squid-designed Animates. Guadenine, Adenine, Thiacin, Cytosine, Nadesine. My own DNA strand might start with GATCATTG, but my Lexicon's has an N thrown in there."

Chauncey tapped his fingers on the table. "There's this Evocation in the Hours of the Seventh Black Dawn that says that you'd basically get more if you recombined these acids individually, reached other compounds entirely.
- Ask your dad," replied Three with a shrug. "Carbon-based life has its limits, Chauncey. You could do more with Elder Protis or Helena Nasir, but unless you can find the one alien on Earth that uses silicon or crude iron to fashion molecules, you're stuck with what's on the menu in a human like me, or a Void Weaver like yourself."

Hearing this made the middle-aged, bookish and sometimes rather frumpy son of the Augur scowl like a disapppointed boy. "I could say whatever I wanted when I was sleep-talking," he noted. "Why can't I do it now? It doesn't seem fair!" Aidan sighed at that, and turned off his projector.

"Chauncey, that thing you called the Defiler of Stars between snores is your unconscious perception of Chambers, rooted in what he did to you back when you'd just been born. That wasn't you, it was Chambers on Crack co-opting the sleeping mind that had birthed him and wanting to use your own flesh as the world's biggest neutron bomb. I don't need to remind you that we're all made of energy, at the most basic level and that forces that tear atoms apart or make protons decay are incredibly dangerous. We can't defeat the Defiler traditionally, not when your own imagination makes him unkillable by default. Our only shot is to make sure the processes he tried to use become conscious enough in you - enough so that he can't pull this shit."

Drake let his folder fall to the table. "Plus, our boy needs sleep, doesn't he?"

Chauncey's more childlike side always seemed to like it when his friends, colleagues and teammates kept him close. He looked away bashfully, tried to look unaffected, but still turned pinkish on his cheek dimples. "I need my strength to show you what I can do - eventually.
- Correct. The only way we can guarantee that without a REM-Skip prescription is through practice. A healthy mind needs to dream, and we can't keep you on these pills forever. You need a sanctum, and you need to revisit the Darkhallow. You lived there for centuries, without ever thinking you had a body - you'll take to it like a fish to water."

Chauncey grimaced. "I miss looking like Friendly Ike. Now I'm, uh, basically Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor minus the brain and Sonic Screwdriver, with two hundred pounds added on top."

Three smiled encouragingly. "Take it from my sister - you make that body work a lot better than Nick Buck ever could."

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Re: The Reaping Season

Post by TennyoCeres84 »

The library door was heard opening ever so faintly as Meris came in. She heard the tail end of Three and Chauncey's conversation. She clapped a hand on her son's shoulder. "You absolutely do, lad. I'd rather you control that body over that deranged cultist.Your brand of attire is more approachable than what Nicolas Buck had going."

She took a seat in a chair next to Chauncey's and smiled. "Besides, your appearance comes predominantly from your father with mine affecting more of the smaller details," she commented as she gestured to his webbed hands. "Not to crow over my own appearance, but I don't think that's a bad set of genes to inherit from the both of us."

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Re: The Reaping Season

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"There's worse," agreed Chauncey, "but I don't exactly have the usual Eldritch appeal."

Three rolled his eyes at that. "You do, you lovable idiot; you're the one resource I'd go to if the Prelacy's rituals became the object of some weirdo TV Pop Quiz."

In the back, a pair of footsteps approached the trio. Nereus' heavier footfalls might have grown lighter than previously and he might've seemed much more spry on the whole, but he still didn't quite match Archie's brisker pace. The way the android held his tophat in his left hand and close to the chest was already telling; Nereus' worried look only added to the picture. The former Augur pushed the flat-screen TV they kept on a wheel cart for more flexibility in the library, and turned it on as he settled it in place at the table's end. "You three should see this," he noted, his tone betraying a solid amount of concern.

The panel settled on the morning edition for the local news bulletin, a long-necked goblin with immaculately-maintained black sideburns giving the camera a practiced and polite smile.

"-now return to the Morning News, with Finley Wyle, on ECNN.

Good morning, Hope. This is Finley Wyle. Tragedy has again struck Hope County's fledgeling Infernal population, as another mutilated body was found late last night, this time on Pier Eight of the local docks. Precinct Twelve's Captain John Moser was on record this morning, confirming another one of a string of racially-motivated attacks that have brought the normally-placid low-order Infernal denizens of the Obsidian Towers into a state of likely justified paranoia. Professional ward-weavers have doubtless made bank as of the last several weeks, especially considering the savagery of the reported attacks. Last night's victim is believed to be one Gallywix Gallstone, a low-order subordinate of Belial's acting as a shift supervisor for Capstone Industries' iron and Brimstone-casting departments. Capstone's Public Relations representative, Focalor Fowler, had this to say."

The camera shifted to a view of Capstone's Administrative offices, one of the more squat office towers West of Centennial Park. In front of it waited what could've been a green-skinned anthro pig beset with hyperdontia, or perhaps an Orc that had lost rather badly at the genetic lottery. Its upper-tier Brooks Brothers outfit  did look professional enough, but the way the demon constantly felt obligated to dab at his bald pate with a handkerchief left little to the imagination: the poor man had probably looked to Anglicize his usual demonic moniker, Focalor the Foul. When he spoke, it was with the sort of speech impediment that fit with his mouth, as if a dentist would've been well-served to try and extract, oh, some fifteen excess teeth or so...

"Mister Gallstone was well-loved among his employees and exemplified Capstone's familiy values. Whoever works for us joins our fold and benefits from our utmost support, as is well-known by those who have opted to trust our Board of Directors in these changing times. The Board, our CEO and myself are all joined as one, as we express our sincere condolences to Gallywix's widow, Dolores, and to their two children. A commensurate boon will be presented to the three of them, hopefully suitable compensation in the face of the grief and loss experienced. In accordance with mortal Human Relations standards, the State's laws and the Vienna Accords, we also offer to shoulder any and all medical or psychological aid requested, as per our Company's revised policies."

Focalor paused to place a fist in front of his mouth, and tried his best to stifle what would've probably been some sort of gas-based belch, another factor behind his assumed title. Public announcements like this typically involved section heads bringing up the rear behind the HR representative, and yet Focalor was suspiciously alone at the podium. Judging by the way his other hand briefly went to his abdomen, it wasn't hard to imagine more of the same gas likely chose the other exit... Looking only politely mortified, the Foul nodded, muttered apologies and readjusted his microphone.

A hand came up. "Mister Fowler, what is Capstone's official policy on race-based harrassment? You're demons, couldn't you simply take steps in order to prevent losses like this?"

Focalor's moue evoked polite contrition and a bit of annoyance. "Not while remaining in compliance with the Vienna Accords, at present. Capstone is fully prepared to collaborate with local or extrajudicial authorities in order to bring a swift end to this string of murders, but the days of our claiming justice on our own terms are, thankfully, over.
- What is Capstone's official statement regarding the apparent dismissal of high-rank targets?" asked someone else. That one, at least, ripped a bit of a smile out of the flatulent Fiend.

"As you well know, several of these high-status members of our kind have ingratiated themselves with this community and with the local metahuman contingent. Today, Hope is a city partially patrolled and protected by those of us who found something worth cherishing in its borders. While it might be gauche to posit as to whom you might be referring to, individuals such as Herbert Wormsworth, Ezekiel Lyman, Basil Greenleaf, Allocer or Paimon have all demonstrated the kinds of commitment and resilience we should all aspire to emulate.
- You're forgetting Grishnakhal. He might've lost to Marius Vlastos, he still seems determined to win on different grounds."

Focalor pursed his lips. "We're not in the habit of commenting on the actions of individuals with questionable motives. Next question, please?"

Archie turned the TV off before another reporter could cut in. Three had crossed his arms against his chest, looking equal parts disturbed and determined.

"Belial won't lift a finger," he said, after chewing on his pencil's eraser for a few seconds. "His public image took him months of curation, and he doesn't have Melmoth's innate business sense. He moved slowly, carefully - one Tweet and one media appearance at a time. Melmoth can afford to liquidate Greed's old power base in the immediate; the Vice still needs to clean up its public face. Belial can't make that choice; he's an outlier."

Nereus nodded. "So the allied Vices swoop in, Herbert tosses a bonus onto Belial's payout, and that's it? It's off to the mundane system's insurers and any pre-existing policies, past that?"

Chauncey's tendrils popped. "I don't know, Dad - how many demons are still covered by the State's grace period for their tax returns? They're still working on mundane credit records for the most part; I don't think most of them will so much as have enough to cover monthly installments."

That made Three flash Meris a look of pained empathy. "I know tykes born and raised in the Pit are tougher than mortal kids, but they'll fade off if they're left to food stamps. The food banks are still recovering from the War, and we're looking at fifteen thousand planar immigrants from Hell alone. I think the killer's counting on it; on the weaker sorts being stuck waiting until Nereus and Penfield finish future-proofing New Dalarath, and until Herbert gets his full crown back. He can't portion out his power effectively and give his subjects basic defensive measures unless he's fully empowered."

Archie seemed uncomfortable with the subject. "What guarantee do we have that Belial would ever attempt the same for his employees?
- None, basically," noted Chauncey. "He's always kept his subjects close to the mortal baseline; trading raw power for added malleability. His employees and retainers being so weak is exactly what's allowed them to adapt to a mundane existence so quickly."

Nereus grunted. "And if any serial killer makes a dent in his supply, he can always conjure more intentional weaklings. All this talk of condolences is him gaslighting the media and those bereaved. Jubal and Lucian both confirmed the first few stipends were below expectations for anything above a full cremation and a cardboard box."

Three's phone buzzed, and he paused to scan the notification's title. Gallywix Gallstone was the eigth victim as of last week, in the span of four weeks.

"Goddamnit, Tom," he quietly swore, "if only you hadn't gone off the deep end, we might've picked up a few leads already..."

Gremory's predictions had unfortunately come true, the warthog's continued strain against the group's moral compass culminating in a manhunt that had ended in a Warlock Versus Archmage bout - and in the ungulate picking up Gregory Rendell's escape clause.

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Re: The Reaping Season

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As Three swore over their lacking a former teammate, Meris sighed and frowned deeply. "Aidan, I know having Tom around had its benefits with his knowledge of Infernal politics, but we're going to have to use our expertise to figure things out."

"Figure what things out?" Aislinn asked as she heard only the last few words of her grandmother's statement, tilting her head puzzledly as she held a cup of coffee.

"There's been an eighth serial murder of a demon, Aislinn. A Gallywix Gallstone, who worked for Capstone Industries," supplied the older selkie.

"Another one?!" she gaped. "So far all of the deaths have been essentially mundane demons. Why is this bigot targeting them?"

"That's what we're trying to piece together. We don't have Tom's-"

The atmosphere went noticeably frigid, as Aislinn straightened and stiffened herself at the mention of her ex-lover's name. "We don't need that bastard's help! We're plenty capable on our own!"

The Heiress nodded and pursed her lips tightly, hoping to ease the young woman's ire. "I agree, but we also just can't start openly investigating without the OK from the local precinct. We could start with the info publicly available, and then we can proceed further once and if they come to us."

Aislinn clicked her tongue in annoyance and groused, "Fine, that'll work."

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Re: The Reaping Season

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"So, what do we have?" asked Three. "I've put out feelers with Forensics, but Planar Relations are stonewalling us. Facebook's starting to crawl with Pro-Heaven bigots - which I never thought I'd say - and the official word from the local arm of the Vienna Council is wait and see. Low-order demons who couldn't possess a housefly are being murdered, and Vienna wants to weigh in on the theological implications of the situation."

Archie looked just as frustrated. "Oh, I've spoken to Forsythe; he is as livid as we all are. Whoever targeted these poor wretches knew exactly what they were doing, and what type of damage to the social fabric was being done. Conservative arms of the American and Canadian Archddioceses likely pushed for a delay in procedures, seeing these deaths as a boon of sorts. We'll have another show of Randolph's temper at his most irascible in short order, I believe."

Nereus coughed politely. "I know conventional channels are effectively paralyzed, but it could be that my people's avenues could be of some use.
- What are you suggesting?" asked Archie. By way of response - or in seeming lack thereof - Nereus instead turned to the television and turned it back on, flicking through the channels until they fell on another channel showing their own version of the morning broadcast. He flicked the remote's Record button, the panel's integrated DVR causing an interface pop-up to jut inwards from the rightmost side of the screen. Nereus allowed the DVR to record the second broadcast's own re-use of the same footage of the storage containers and the police tape, and then set the DVR to loop the short thirty-second clip he'd recorded. To make the experience a bit less annoying, the former Augur also muted the panel's audio, which left the former spy visibly flummoxed.

"What the blazes are you doing, old boy?!" asked Archie, who stuck his gibus on his head as if that gesture alone could suggest bemusement. Nereus grunted sotto voce a few times, and then looked back to the android.

"I'm committing the scene to memory," he explained. "You've probably seen Aidan or Jenkins' Lexicons cast three-dimensional renders before, likely with dust motes or other small debris. I just hope Gubbin hasn't been sweeping too diligently, lately - I'll need some material to work with..."

Aidan's eyebrows shot up briefly. "You're not your drafting table, Nereus. How much detail can you grab, honestly?
- Enough," noted the Squid. "Hopefully. This is an HD signal, the panel's LCD, the colors look true-to-form - but this is a news broadcast's few snapshots of something grisly. I'd have an orbiting shot to work with in an ideal world, but most police precincts aren't in the habit of setting up Dolly rails and Steadicams for Forensics' benefit...
- How demanding is this?" the soldier asked, which made Chauncey scoff in amusement. "He might've left the title, buddy, but my father's still a former Augur of Dalarath. Dust-mote puppeteering isn't all that different from all the Water-crafting he did to teach Mom, back in the early days," said the former Speaker, nodding to his mother with a smile.

As if catching some lasting concerns, Nereus lifted a finger while keeping his eyes on the screen. "I can give you a life-size projection, but it'll be approximate in almost every way. I wasn't there physically, I have to account for all of the camera shots' various dead angles and make quite a bit of guesswork... Mainstreamers would just shrug that off and alter the real thing to match their approximation. Easier on the ego, apparently."

Three scoffed at that. "That doesn't exactly inspire confidence in Dalarath Arbiters that weren't named William Cuthbert..."

In the back, a gruff voice tried for something congenial. "What's that about confidence?" asked Benson, cutting in and through Bagley's announcement of their guests. Nereus' shoulders jumped and he briefly glared at the bugbear, but otherwise maintained his composure and lifted a finger to ask for patience. Beside the Bigfoot, Central's largest Airedale terrier anthro gave the scene an amused glance, all the while taking one of Bucky's éclairs to his mouth. Three's right hand lowered itself in the same instant, a pistol shimmering into it out of view, only to disappear as soon as tension left his arms. Rolling his eyes, Aidan parted with a chuckle.

"Detective Benson," he said, "one day, you're going to have to tell me how three hundred pounds of fur and muscle wearing Italian leather pumps can be so quiet.
- It's always the big ones you gotta watch out for, first," replied the Bugbear with a self-satisfied smirk. "Failing that, I brought the discount version around. Less brawn, more fat, a couple extra decades of experience."

Angus sucked on his fur-laden fingers with a shrug, and smirked. "Give a perp a brickhouse covered in expensive silk, lad, and they'll know exactly what to expect. Me, an' mister Marinos, there? We're harmless. Sooner ta fantasize about crime novels an' Scotch pairings than connect any dots."

Nereus chuckled knowingly at that. "Oh, quite true. I wouldn't be here if some persons I previously associated with didn't see me as nothing other than a fat, foolish and convenient patsy. It used to be I'd give anything to look more like Lucian or William, but I'm starting to see some use in this," he said, looking away from the screen as his right hand patted his belly's upper arch for a second or two.

"So what did we interrupt?" asked the dog, to which Marinos replied with a didactic cough. "A crime scene reconstruction for forensic purposes," he explained, "seeing as our victims fell into the exact crack a system like Hope's can create. "Well-meaning institutional neglect... Dalarath's had centuries of experience in the matter."

That made Three frown. "What was well-meaning about slave ownership?
- Nothing," conceded Nereus, "seeing as I'm referring to the city's administration. Getting to me for any sort of official matters was an exercise in patience and prior planning that didn't exactly fit my subjects' natural inclinations... Granted, that neglect was in place so most of everyone wouldn't just waltz up to me, curtsy in front of Meris and then end us both where we stood.
-Sounds like the DMV," joked Three, which ripped a quiet snicker out of Chauncey.

"Eh, Tomato, ritualized paranoia, tomahto," the former Speaker joked.

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Re: The Reaping Season

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Meris scoffed. "All of that bureaucratic red tape in Dalarath's administration was what delayed my being brought to Nereus, thanks to the Chamberlain. Thankfully, it didn't take too long to track me down," she mused as she thought back to her own experience with the submerged city's legal system.

She turned her gaze to the crime scene Nereus was memorizing and sighed. "With all of these social cracks, I hope that we're able to find some clues in them to help us catch the culprit."

Aislinn also looked at the setting the former Augur was hoping to recreate and sighed. "Hopefully, we can."

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Re: The Reaping Season

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Nereus' focus seemed to lighten. "We're bound to have something, at least... There we go, I think that'll do it."

He turned the TV off, positioned himself closer to the table and exhaled to compose himself. "I'll need silence for a minute or two - I need to be as quiet as I can be, for all your sakes."

He then closed his eyes and raised his hands, looking a bit like a would-be photographer looking to frame a shot, if his view-finder had been somewhere behind his closed eyelids. The base of his tentacles lightly bobbed and his chin and jaw could be seen working, but only the faintest whispers came forth, Spoken too gently for the older Void Weaver's control to spill out of the intended effects. If Three or Aislinn could recall their childhood Science classes, motes of dust and other debris were beginning to skid along the floor, as if carried by an entreprising teacher's light splash of liquid nitrogen. The catch was that gas brought to a liquid state would've rendered the floor frictionless enough for the debris to be coaxed into sliding away - but the room's faint coating of dust was beginning to tumble off of all the surrounding surfaces, apparently pulled together in a large, floating clump that hovered about two inches above the table's surface. Then, once the library was effectively spotless and every ounce of dust that had filled it was now in that mass of loose hairs and grayish debris, that same mass exploded outward.

Only, it didn't spray powder on anyone. The dust  and loose hairs were beginning to sculpt themselves into a diorama of the grisly container stack on Pier Eight, something in Nereus' words causing the surrounding light to be bent in precise areas and exact wavelengths, effectively colorizing the grayish mass into a slightly hazy, if full-color rendition of the scene. Air coalesced underneath the assembly, crystalline handles forming along what effectively was some sort of Eldritch Lazy Susan. The final construct was impressive in its size, enough to make miniature enthusiasts drool while being big enough to allow for intricate detail.

"I added air-bending arguments," then specified Marinos, "so we can pinch and zoom as needed."

Having grown used to this after spending time enough in Vlastos' company, Three reached out, grabbed one of the quartz-like handles of coalesced air and gave the miniature a testing spin. The remains had been positioned between two container stacks, positioned in order to be out of the way as long as nobody explicitly stared at the empty space between the stacks. Noting this, Chauncey shrugged lightly.

"Clumsy concealment job, eh?
- No, no, no," quietly opposed Archie as he leaned in, "I understand you still are due for several standard Police Procedure accreditations, my boy, but the recent killings indicate this is no sloppy job."

Benson nodded. "Guy wants to be caught. Grill any other serial killer, get your buddy Lucifer to give you updates on Fish or Berkowitz; he'll tell you what I just did. This is a tableau, a mise-en-scène - like all the others."

Nereus nodded. "We've kept track with the one Tom used to call Mister Volker, now the Prince of Wrath. With a Vice now operating a PMC, we've had intel fed down from Spector and his fellow spooks in Homeland Security. Murdering dictators and taking protection detail for Sin Seven execs - that's done cleanly. This wasn't."

Hearing this, Harry parted with a whistle. "Look at you, Mister I'm-just-an-architect! Here I was thinking you'd want to celebrate your earned freedom with some dieting, or maybe a few Peloton tutorials!
- You pick up a few things," replied the Squid, "when factoring things like earthquakes or sea level rises become the easiest part of your job... You need a foundation to build something, and New Dalarath won't prosper until Lucian, Jubal and myself are all sure we do get a few years' worth of peace - and I couldn't live with myself if I used the Speech to better my people's fate at the expense of everyone else's."

By now, however, Three had focused on the details. "Celestial spikes, Hellfire specifically tuned to burn one of Belial's, the lower extremities gone and what's left of the spine's second half being mostly fused to the container, upper details rendered unrecognizable by the heat... Makes you wonder how the vic was IDed so quickly."

"It wasn't," added Angus, passing a file folder on to Three. "Not officially, at least. Central's still waitin' on Forensics, but this is Capstone an' Belial we talkin' about, lad. Man's obviously got resources.
- Couldn't have been difficult," noted Chauncey. "Check attendance records, scout around, find the vic, leak the info to the press."

Archie's eyebrows and eyelid panels swished as he effectively made a face and conveyed dubiousness. "News bulletins do not usually pay heed to corporate hearsay, nevermind anything as outlandish as someone on Belial's payroll claiming to have a hunch that an employee was murdered..."

Three shrugged. "This happened late last night, the body won't decompose like we're used to, so we can't date the murder or the leak with certainty. Plus, most local stations have a line for anonymous tips. Anyone could've placed one between the murder happening and it finally being reported to the cops."

Chauncey glanced at the others. "Aidan mentioned that not every demon can just burn another one on command. Hellfire needs conscious control, right? Who do we know who's got that?"

The question made his father smirk and fold his arms together. "Let's see, hm... My own wife, to a degree, followed by her retinue, a good two-thirds of Magnus Tower's residents, five POIs of Infernal origin, our own Randolph Mantus - oh, and virtually anyone with a Capstone Industries firearm. Going after someone who has that one, single affinity with a Warlock's work puts us nowhere fast."

Shrugging, Chauncey went for another awkward swing. "Maybe Tom's come back. Maybe Rendell helped him found whatever it is he needed, and now he's back to finish what the Pride War started."

Three flashed an apologetic look at Aislinn. "Tom won't come back unless he's looking to atone for what he did, or unless that chunk of Pride he's stuck himself with completely consumes him. If Tom felt ready to face us, Chauncey, he'd disperse all of us and then reach Aislinn while she's exposed. She's the only one that matters to him."

That seemed to confuse the younger Squid. "Were the rest of you ever friends with him? I mean, in full honesty?
- Before he got to the Goat? Absolutely," nodded Three. "I drank with him, laughed with him - Tom Magnus might be a demon, he started out as one of the best wingmen I could've hoped for on the field. After? I think he started to think of us as pieces to move.
- So maybe this is a cry for help of some kind." attempted the dumpy Squid, which made the former Augur smile sweetly - and with obvious melancholy.

"Son, there isn't a single act of evil that isn't a cry for help in and of itself. Tom is acting the way he is because he's lost sight of obvious paths to consider, and our perpetrator here is going to be the same. Serial killers think they're in it for the fame, the media coverage - or maybe retribution, a sense of justice needing apportionment. Even so, all the thralls and Animates I've had to create carried out their respective missions and have always acted out of some hope that someone would notice. That someone would stop them."

Chauncey scoffed. "Come on, now; we're looking at a madman's handiwork! Just how aware could someone like that actually be?"

The Terrier sniffed. "We always know when we do somethin' wrong, laddie. I've heard it said somewhere that our better angels always prevail - even when there's nae chance o' graspin' it consciously. Special cases might get Teacher demons, sure - but for most of us? We're always the first an' worst victims of our own bloody screw-ups. I figure yer friend has still enough of himself left to feel all kinds o' shite about this, but then there's psychologists who'll tell you that enough of a disconnection with reality short-circuits that process."

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Re: The Reaping Season

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Aislinn bitterly muttered something about the only reason for Tom's return would be to stomp on her heart some more, but the younger selkie moved past her own resentment for the incubus to consider the evidence they had. "As for motive, the fact that it was a messy and brutal death may mean we're dealing with someone who was traumatized during the war," she mused.

Meris sided up beside her and nodded. "I would add that our culprit is someone who knows how to understands magic on a deep level, enough to know how to blend opposing magics. I might be wrong, but the potential suspect may not be a demon. I doubt a demon would want to touch spikes infused with Celestial energy, even with gloves. "

"That's a good point. The fact that they're using contrasting magic is likely meant to throw investigators off, at least for the time being. The killer eventually wants to be caught, but they may also want to draw this out like a game and see if we can figure out who it is. These murders could be that they're trying to send a broad message to everyone who was involved during the incursions," Aislinn mused.

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Re: The Reaping Season

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Benson stepped closer, leaned in and gave the diorama a testing spin. "Come and get me; I don't have anything to hide - or something close.
- While still stopping short of a confession, naturally," noted Archie. "I do hope the city hasn't manufactured its own Ripper..."

Something gave him pause, and he glanced out the window. "We should check in with everyone else we know of - starting with Alastriona. She is liable to have sensed something, having grown more attuned to Sophia's pre-existing network over the last several weeks. Other sensitives of note could include Matriel, or perhaps Abdiel."

Three didn't need to be told twice, and stepped aside to thumb the younger dryad's number on his keypad. He relayed his intent to his boss, which made Archie nod while glancing at Nereus. The large Squid, in turn, looked to his wife. "Maybe your retinue has a thing or two they could relay; or maybe you could try reaching out to Wormsworth or Lyman. I'll try and phone Penfield in New Dalarath - we don't have a ton of magic sensitives, but most former Prelates can still sense evil from miles away..."

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Re: The Reaping Season

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"I'll give Naberius a ring. Something like this is bound to rouse up some intel, and someone in the Court likely has something of use. If they don't have anything, then I'll call Wormsworth or Lyman," Meris mused, getting out her phone. She quickly tapped out a message for him to meet her there.

As for the younger dryad, the phone rang about three times before it was picked up. A somewhat miffed sigh was heard first before Alastriona spoke, "Yes, what is it, Mr. Drake?"

When the young tree spirit had fist awakened from the new Tree, she remembered all of Sophia's old friends and associates and treated them as more as professional colleagues than long-lost friends. Her irritation might've been part of her normal repertoire, or it may have been the the serial murders setting her off.

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