Chapter VI - Asunder

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Karl the Mad
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Holden? What... Marius wanted to ask what Raguel meant by that, but he got a gut full of blood before he could form the words. "Oh." He rubbed his stomach, a bit bemused but willing to go with it. "Well... I guess that's that, then. My thanks, sir." He sat down to wait for the bitey urge to go away, then stretched and laid down, wondering how he'd manage to sleep with everything going on. Raguel's last words lingered, and he wondered what had happened with the old clank.

(Scene transition here, no?)

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IamLEAM1983
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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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A long, formless and yet still achingly distinct amount of time had passed in the Darkhallow, while only a few minutes had unfolded in the Real. Mildly concerned singers had laid down to rest and those who stood up from the cots now were warriors in their own right. They hadn't used guns or blades or even physical displays of martial skill - but they'd fought all the same. Fought and, most importantly, survived. Sweat dappled their brows and Marius would come to the Darkhallow's easily-dismissable aches and pains manifesting as cramps in the Real.

Their main goal had been accomplished, of that much he'd be certain. Nereus and the Curator had helped him look past the blight that had been inflicted upon him, and would eventually find resonance in Shen Long's teachings. He was Marius Vlastos and he was Ordo Dracul - but still, so much more than your garden-variety immortal despot. Lilith's intended purpose had come that much more into focus, compounded by the new lease he'd earned on his Eldritch abilities. Why destroy, when you can create? Why tear things down when you can improve upon them? Victum's shade tore at all those of his descent, but only so they could conquer it, in time, and rise as better beings.

These concepts, at least, were now out for him to grasp. It might take a while to do so, but the seed had at least been planted. For now, mildly groggy Void Weavers extricated themselves from their own cots, re-checked their little burners and shut them off, and folded the covers that had been loaned to them. Raguel stood close by, a repurposed grocery bag in hand, which he used to hand out water bottles and a box of table salt.

"Here you go," said the angel, smirking as he handed the bottle to Marius. "Can I assume this was a bit of an eye-opener?"

For now, the Void Weavers unsealed their bottles and hurriedly tried to divvy up the box's contents in their bottles, sealing them again and shaking them for a few seconds, before opening them up to pull long, grateful gulps. Harry sighed as the increased sodium intake allowed his sweaty brow to clear up. "I don't know about him," he said, grinning, "but it certainly was for us."

His eyes twinkled with joy. "Nereus is alive! He's on his way over to us!
- How close is he?" asked the angel. Harry took another drag from his bottle before answering.

"Close enough that he could reach out to Meris in the Darkhallow, if he thought it was safe," the amaneuensis said, one of the tenors nodding.

"We aren't exactly locals, but his cover's forcing him into a non-obvious route. He's somewhere up north for now - possibly around Westchester, maybe even Manhattan's DMZ from three months ago. No Gates, no brine pools, nothing - anything else than undercover roadside travel would put up red flags for Chambers. If it weren't for the fact that we only just won, he'd be able to beeline it straight to us. Highways are still lousy with Pitspawn; they won't all take to their newly-earned independence charitably."

Raguel put two and two together. "So he's on a circuit, using one of the old Enclave-approved jobs as cover. The Goat wanted to keep the economy afloat for his own gain, so I would've bet on trucking or longshoreman work. ID's easy enough to forge, especially if he could just cultivate a few fresh Flesh Masks... He's coming in from California and he's been moving for a while, now, so..."

Harry nodded. "Trucker, or a trucker's partner."

Raguel nodded and took a few steps aside. "Right. Someone oughta let her know..."

It was easy enough to figure out who he was speaking of, and why he'd fallen silent for a moment. Looking back at the group with an even bigger grin on his features, he rubbed his hands together. "Listen, I know you guys just woke up, but we've got anxious civilians here and, well..."

Harry took one last pull from his bottle, draining it as he did, and looked back to Marius and his bottle of regular, unsalted spring water. "I'm game if he is," he said.

* * *

Three opined as Ciaran spoke, looking relieved to see him find some measure of solace in some of the local quirks. "He's, um, another person I think might want to speak to you, actually," he told the selkie. "He knew you two were close. He knew the risks, but I'd be careful about discussing how she died in front of him. He was sour before, I'm a little afraid to see what's happened with him after all this."

It's there that Raguel's particular Celestial chime would ring in Meris' ears. "Hey, Nimue - you know who this is. I know this ain't terribly Angelic of me but I've got some great news. Your Merlin's on his way - he's mobile. Vlastos and Penfield's colleagues are gonna unstick the elevator shafts and stairwells so they needed to level him up in the Darkhallow, first. Guess who they bumped into - which means he's close enough that you could reach him! They kept up with his route and pieced together that he might be posing as a long-haul trucker, probably with a few fresh Flesh Masks and identities. I'd confirm it with Angel Time for ya, but I'd risk blowing his cover. All that makes him come off as being real close - somewhere north of here, probably around Westchester, NY, or Manhattan's own Enclave. If it weren't for the fact that we won and just threw the Pitspawn's travel plans out of whack, he'd probably be able to beeline straight for you.

I'd maybe find a bed as soon as things clear up, if I were you. I guess the guy's too frazzled to catch forty winks and he obviously can't snooze if he's at the wheel, but who knows? Maybe you'll catch something."

* * *

"Good point," agreed Tom. "We'd cheat Azazel of his own birthright if we left him as-is while hacking his curse's variables into something more beneficial. I'm no specialist when it comes to Fae works, but I hope his very literal roots in the Realms of Seasons are going to be enough for the Queen to whip up something."

Azazel shivered as he looked down on his now grease-stained hands. "I don't care," he said, almost too softly. "I just don't want to be this anymore. Anything else would make me happier."

He looked back up at Aspasia. "You call me a Faun, but I haven't been one for... I don't know how long, now. I've been so angry, sometimes, that I became something else. I almost did, when the metal man's... demon attacked me."

Archie nodded. "It's alright, lad. We've all acted angrily before. We've all acted callously or selfishly in the past; the trick is to find something that pulls you back into focus. I have my own expectations, Crystal has her standing and her responsibilities, Tom has his pride as the local Warlock - and so on."

Zeke shrugged. "You've got your heritage, I'd say. Wouldn't that be sufficient?"

Azazel sniffed. "It would if I felt like a Faun," he admitted.

The Gluttony Warden pouted thoughtfully, then glanced back at the righted and fixed-up portable stove. "You still haven't answered Miranda, by the way."

Glancing back up guiltily, Azazel answered quickly, as if expecting some form of admonition. "It was good - really good. Pride's bailey keepers never let me have more than gristle; whatever chunk of the Pit's local fauna they'd charred too much in trying to cook it. Whenever I had something soft, it was usually something's half-cooked gizzard or something. Your sandwich didn't make me sick. That's never happened before."

Seizing on that, Zeke clicked his tongue. "You can't have more grilled cheese sandwiches if you lose control, Azazel. It's not a lot, but it's one good reason to keep things under wraps. It works for children, and it'll work for you until we can lift this pesky thing, get you to mature like a fine wine and then give you reason enough to find something worth fighting for."

The demon blinked at him. "And you? What are you fighting for?
- Well, the practical response would be to say that I have a legal practice to get back to, a standing to shore back up and a name to rehabilitate. I might not be prosecuted in this country's legal system, but I fully expect Rhadamantus to ask for some form of redress for my participation in Hope's fall. The honest answer is I want Cruise Avenue's restaurant strip to get back in shape, I'm already waiting for the first new exhibits in Anastasius' gallery and the part of me that never truly will walk the straight-and-narrow is itching for whatever designer drugs and cocktails the locals will whip up with Heaven and Hell's biomes. If my old penthouse downtown is still standing, then I can't wait for the weather to subside enough for my patio to be accessible - I've got outdoor furniture to lay out and cat naps to take in the shade."

A few more blinks, which made Ezekiel chuckle. "Come on," he said, "Tom's all nice and balanced, now; everyone else here is baseline-functional - someone has to pick up the Unrepentant Hedonist tab, right?"

Tom smirked at that. "I'll have you know I'm still an incubus, by default. What's more, I'm an incubus with a nightclub and a lounge bar. Unrepentant might no longer fit me, but peacetime's going to see me test Club Ishtar's soundproofing more than once, believe me."

Nergal grinned sardonically, which the warthog caught. "That's high school-grade, Lionel; I meant I'd want to regale my friends with the best DJs and performers to have survived the planar merger and I'll wipe the last few years off of the survivors' minds with a series of sold-out concerts and lounge events. Solomon designed Iram to be a place where the Celestials and Infernals forgot about their stupid rivalries for a few hours each day and so help me, that's what Club Ishtar will be. I'll have done something right if I can get an angel, a demon and a mortal to sidle up to my counter like in one of these corny joke setups."

* * *

Charon looked like Nami's definition of progress upset his personal curmudgeon tendencies; and Tom or Aislinn could've attested to the Ferryman (or Actual Bus Driver, and now Cable Car Operator) and his propensity to keep a grim outlook on the Afterlife. A slightly snug-looking red-faced and double-breasted uniform had appeared over his features, and he looked down at it as though one of the golden buttons had conspired to murder him.

"The old way's always going to have fans," noted Cuthbert, as he walked closer with a frazzled-looking Allocer in tow. "What was true in the mortal plane is true enough here - I know that much, now. You can't grow without growing pains, a processor can't work without producing heat, and you can't work steel without comprimising its integrity."

Lucian smirked. "Did that one come from the Throne, or from the Jesuit Void Weaver priest?"

The former Arbiter chuckled warmly. "A bit of both, I'd say. There's a lot I'll have to explain to the Order's Cardinals; I wouldn't be surprised if they asked me to rescind my sword and cape... I can't be Saint George's Lead Financial Controller, a Knight Commander, a priest, a choir conductor and a Throne; I'd have to be in six or seven places at once."

It was Lucian's turn to chuckle. "Spoken like someone who's never used Angel Time before."

* * *

Lucifer gave Abdiel one of his signature grins. "Abbie, babe - I'm always in danger. You don't do what I do without making a fuckton of enemies. You go on, I might not try and cause a scene... And Lil - well, I didn't remake her from the core and up so she'd stand idly by and wait. Everyone she's turned, every breed she's seeded, I know she had reason enough to. She's around, I know that much. She's just... lying low, seeing as if I could sense her, so could Uriel."

His features turned morose for an instant, and then he willed it away with another grin. "See you lovebirds real soon."

Once again, the large portal shrank down and, finally, disappeared for good. Odds were Lucifer intended to create his own aperture later on. By now, the remaining Celestials had started rounding up the isolated Infernals in the park, coils of heat haze rising from Hesediel and Melmoth's created ball of molten slag. As for Melmoth, he briefly thought about pinning the ruby to his tie, thought better of it and then took a step or so away from Abdiel to free both his hands. Focusing on one of his ostentatious pinkie rings, he dislodged the featureless golden cap one of them sported and wedged the jewel in the created socket with a bit of elbow grease and Hellfire. His clothes seemingly reacted, the usually more ample fit of his double-breasted suit becoming a tiny bit more snug around the midriff, the suit's closed flap opening and exposing a gray pinstriped vest, underneath. The effect seemed to neutralize a bit of his bombastic demeanor and injected a bit of professionalism into the Broker's presence - which wouldn't necessarily prove to be a bad thing. He looked a little less like a figment of gross pecuniary excess personified and more like someone who managed gross pecuniary excess.

Surprised, Melmoth glanced at his arms and patted at his face. His double chin was less obvious, his cheekbones almost coming through, his nose looking a little less like a cross between an eggplant and a late-stage alcoholic's nasal appendage. It still drooped, but there was a definite bridge to it, now - something that evoked a tiny bit of the formerly delicate features he'd depicted as an angel. Perplexed, he took a few tentative sniffs and soon grinned at Abdiel.

"Hot damn," he exclaimed, "I think this thing's fixed my nasal septum! Here's hoping I won't snore like I'm possessing Regan McNeil, the next time we share a bed, huh?"

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Ciaran grew somber again as he thought of the pumpkin-headed dryad. "Yeah, he'll have dealt with his own trauma from all of this; I don't need to add to it," he responded. "I'll do my best to avoid talking about the details, and hopefully, he won't ask."

Raguel's message initially startled the Archmage, but she quickly cheered up at the news that Nereus wasn't that far off. "Once things settle down, I'll see about catching a nap and seeing what I can find out in the Darkhallow. Maybe I can connect with him on some level. Thank you for the heads-up, Raguel."

***

"My element remains a consistent reason for me to keep fighting, as well as my family and humanity in general," Matriel offered.

Aspasia smiled. "Family's fairly common for most people to find a purpose, including myself. However, I'll backtrack to your previous statement, Azazel. I don't know what feeling like a Faun is supposed to be like, but I know that I am one. So's Miranda."

"If you're referring to the Golden Age fauns, any Chimera around today has trouble connecting with their inner Wyldfae, including myself. I've only heard of a handful of experiences from former comrades, and I've only gotten in touch with that part of me a little bit. As far as I know, it has to do with finding a deep-seated purpose. I was told that battle was my anvil when I was younger and more foolish, but I at least have a better understanding of what that means now. Every Faun's calling is different, I'm sure."

Ears flicking upwards, Miranda smiled brightly at the Scapegoat and happily swished her tail. "Thank you. I'm glad you liked it. I hope I can make more food for you to try," she answered, faintly blushing from the compliment.

"Well, with grilled cheese sandwiches as a treat, there's plenty of other food he can eat. Fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and the like," her mother added as she looked back at him. "Mortals have a saying: "you are what you eat", so getting you on more nutritious food could help with improving your skin and overall health, along with further tethering you to this world."

The older satyress' smile widened as she got an idea. "Mira, do you think you could tutor Azazel on the things you learned in school? I imagine his knowledge on things like geography, history, and so on are behind."

The girl shrugged. "I can definitely try, Mom, as long as you're okay with it. Would that work for you?" she asked him hopefully, her tail moving back and forth in a shyly eager manner.

***

Seeing Charon look at his new uniform like it was plotting mutiny, she shrugged in response to the other angel's statement.

Nami grinned at Cuthbert. "I've used it some, so you'll get used to it. Though, I think the Order would be foolish if they decided to ask you to step down. There's a lot they could still learn."

She then looked over sympathetically at the Pride demon, still smiling. "Are you okay, Allocer? William didn't troll you by doing too many loop-de-loops, did he?"

***

Chuckling at the comparison, Abdiel squeezed his hand and smiled warmly. "That's wonderful; I'm happy that improved for you. You look quite sharp, too!" she complimented him.

She spread her wings and looked at him. "Ready to head back to the tower?" she asked, lifting into the air.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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The first thing Marius did upon waking was check himself for tentacles. Nope, he was outwardly human again. He sighed and stood up, reaching for his clothes. "It very much was," he replied to Raguel as he accepted the water. He screwed the top off and chugged it, watching the others add salt to theirs. His mind was a whirl, and he wondered at how obvious some of these new concepts were. Hindsight was perfect, though, as they said, and he warned himself not to get too caught up in the marvel of it all.

Listening to the rest of the banter, he privately despaired. Getting back into it already? He wanted time to adjust, to try out what he'd learned where it was quiet before heading out again. But he could see the eagerness on the others' faces, and grinned despite himself. "Let's not keep them waiting," he responded gamely, finishing his water and getting dressed once more. Coat, shoes, gun, vest... all good. "Shall we?"

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Nodding, Harry led the other Squids and Marius back to the damaged shaft and once again hopped down into it. 

"Alright. Before we went on our little jaunt, I touched on how fundamentally different this would be. Try and spend a few seconds in the positive mindset you were in, when you created your Sanctum. Try and focus on how you felt, when you realized that for all you'd done, you still have a solid moral compass - as opposed to the Augur's son. Think back on all the cloying darkness the Loyalists take for granted in the Darkhallow, the way they destroy for destruction's own sake - and realize you were given tools to create. In a way, you've been given the best tools you could ever want as a security systems engineer - and even beyond. A lot of us rebels take to a form of art in private, to express those parts of our gifts we can't really put to use as operatives. Penfield gave us song and historical studies, but maybe you'll expand your work as a designer into canvassing different things on paper."

He smiled. "Let that fill you for a moment, let yourself smile, and then think back on the Tower. On these shafts. On the elevator cabin we also need to repair. Improve on them. Not just in terms of security or functionality, but also in terms of your own aesthetic flair. Focus on the stairwells, since we'll repair them too. They're load-bearing, yes, but Spartan by design. We can probably do better."

The group closed their eyes and drew in a slow breath. Harry's eyes turned to a soft focus as his eyes travelled up the shaft. "We used to sing to honor the beauty of Balance, the grace of a just purpose. We sang to true and life-giving Order, far removed from Entropy, with just enough Chaos for the Tapestry to be weaved. We honored every tragedy, every death and sacrifice - and every success and each saved life - as they preserved the Natural Order. Before the Usurper destroyed us, we had bartered with the Minoans and sailed along the canals of Tenochtitlan, bore witness to all the beauty the Grand Design had fostered. We lived beneath the waves, but Meris' people could count on us for light - for safety and guidance. We watched while the prehistoric humans of Siberia harnessed magic for the first time, holding the Weave in place so the Others wouldn't see their glory.

We held the Weave for as long as we could, and then we fell. To pride first, then madness. If Penfield were down here with us, he'd want this moment chronicled, etched in our memories forever."

He exhaled.

"Sing, Marius. Sing to the best of what you can be. We'll provide harmonics."

* * *

"I'm pretty sure he won't," noted Three, which made Penfield cant his head to the side and join his hands together. "That hardly seems healthy," he commented, to which Aidan sniffed.

"Yeah, well, that's Jack Greene for you. If you want to fix him, I'd suggest hitching a ride on an angel and back into the mid eighteen-hundreds, then using your own abilities to supercede Angel Time's limitations and actively create a new timeline. If quantum physics are right, you won't actually fix things. You'll only fork things into two branches: one where your intervention saved Greene from abuse at the hands of the local Pagans and one where you didn't. The Architect swapped out Amazo the Magnificient for Amazo the Archmage, but He's the only one who could pull this off."

Hilliard's tentacles swayed. "Then we should provide closure to this other dryad - the sooner, the better.
- You're new here," noted Three. "The physical abuse stopped, eventually, but it didn't stop kids and idiotic Saint Patrick's Day and Halloween celebrants from having fun at his expense. He's a good man, but everyday life's made him gruff. Prickly, even. Add war on top of this and you've got something nasty to contend with."

The human stopped, narrowing his eyes at a few winged fingers along the skyline. He soon recognized Abdiel and Melmoth, but they weren't alone. Gabriel had also moved to reach them ahead of the couple, and landed first. Three raised his rifle away, assuming a more relaxed stance, and settled with a brisk nod as Heaven's general approached.

"Gabriel, is something wrong?" he asked, the middle-aged general removing his cap and sticking it under his arm as he approached the group and shook a few hands.

"Other outposts are falling away globally. In smaller cities that weren't immediately targeted, the Damned are almost entirely routed. That's made them spill out into the countryside. Cranston, Pawtucket, Warren - all beseiged by Damned who used their newfound autonomy to keep carrying out their old orders. They're cut off, though. No distribution centers, no outposts to fall back to, no supplies. They've been corporeal for a while, too, so they're starting to feel the plane's effects. They're hungry and thirsty. They've got wounded to tend to.
- Aren't the Einherjaren on the road, most of the time? We've got a detachment of their bikers patrolling the entire State."

Gabriel nodded. "They aren't a threat in and of themselves, no - I agree. The problem is legislation now matters again. President Jones just signed an executive order to have the Goat's Senate dissolved, all pending bills amended as unconstitutional and for a new, extraordinary session of Congress to be called for."

Rhadamantus followed along. "The war is over, but our adversaries are too fractious. There won't be peacetime until law and order are restored."

The Archangel dipped his head. "So we're taking the initiative," he said, briefly digging into his jacket to produce a sealed envelope, which he handed to Meris.

"Meris McConmara," he said, adopting a formal tone, "Chairman Forsythe Holden of the Vienna Council calls for your presence at the Head Office on Köeningstrasse, Vienna, in a month's time. I have been charged with delivering this missive to you. You are hereby summoned as the signatory of the revised Accords on Humanity's behalf. I've been asked to tell you that I've received a similar letter at Celestial Command, requesting that I serve as Heaven's signatory. While every city in the world has its fair share of presentable Infernalists that will assuredly be commended, Hope stood at the invaders' beach-head."

He pulled out a second letter, which he also handed to Meris. "Please deliver this to mister Magnus as soon as possible."

Putting things together, Bucky made his jaw creak as it hung. "Wait - shouldn't this go to Lucifer or somethin'?
- If you followed the old body politic - yes," allowed the Archangel. "Yes, it should. Lucifer only appeared to tip the scales in our favor after Aislinn and the Walpurgis Infernalists put in quite a bit of work, however. The instigator was - and always has been -  your rogue incubus."

The Archangel pointed at his two letters. "You'll also find a second summons in your envelope," he told Meris. "It's for Nereus. His comes with dispensatory powers if he feels unable or unwilling to comply; but in that case it should go to another Void Weaver. My personal roster pick is Lucian Rothchild, but I'll leave it up to you."

* * *

"Y-Yes," answered the Scapegoat, after a few seconds' worth of hesitation. Tom scratched the side of his snout as he traded a glance between the old Faun and Miranda. "I'd say you're up as a temp tutor, Mira," he said. "Once Titania figures out how to approach his situation, he'll probably end up on a less painful and more immediate version of the same treatment that turned a handpicked Fiend into Mister Kramp. A little Mantle-work and you'll have a boarding school-educated adult on your hands, one with all the perks of being of Faerie."

Zeke pouted slightly, then turning his lips up in a grin. "Here's hoping you won't change that much, sport - but I do wonder if you're more of a Puck or a Billy Goat's-Legs... Maybe a Costanzo, hm, judging by the slant of your nose?"

Archie leaned on the wall and smiled at the discussion. "I doubt the Bard, Hans Christian Andersen or Straparola thought of his predicament while penning their characters, mister Lyman... After spending several thousand years as the object of someone's sadistic curiosity, I'd gather the boy is due for a chance at crafting his own sense of Self. Besides, Costanzo is revealed to actually be Costanza, in Straparola's fable..."

Zeke looked back to Azazel and shrugged. "Somehow, I doubt gender is part of the issue, here.
- Quite," noted Archie, amused that Ezekiel had stated the painfully obvious.

* * *

The former Duke looked more than a little green around the normally ochre-tinted cheekbones, when he answered. "I'm fine, I was just one of the more, um, landlocked Pride Knights on record, before you saved me. With the Goat out of the equation, I have enough control over my own Ego to admit I screamed at probably too high a pitch for a guy like me..."

Hearing this, Lucian gripped Allocer's shoulders in support and actually looked like he wanted to say something supportive, only for his head to dip with a snort. He laughed out-loud for a few minutes, apologizing profusely whenever he managed to catch his breath.

"I'm truly sorry," he said, "this is unbecoming of me in any stage, decrepit or empowered, but one must admit that hearing these noises leaving that throat was, well, rather arresting-!"

The old Squid fought not to double over as he laughed, Allocer feeling both amused and a mite self-conscious as he patted his friend's back and tried to ignore Charon's maintained glare.

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Meris took the two envelopes and then quirked an eyebrow at the Archangel. "I won't complain about the honor of being a signatory for the Vienna Accords' revision, but why me? How was it decided that I should be picked to sign as a representative for an entire demographic?"

Ciaran offered her a slightly cheeky smile. "As much as you've done over the years in to protect humanity from the Void Weavers' plot, plus your work to bring everyone together to fight against the incursions, I can see why you were selected, grandma," he joked. "Being the current Heiress of Solomon and a living Archmage, you have quite the resume."

The Archmage scoffed at the term of affection from the younger selkie. "Even still, with all those accomplishments, it still seems like a mortal candidate would have been better."

***

Glad to hear the Scapegoat's response, Aspasia nodded approvingly. "All of this can happen in due time, of course. First thing we need to do is get him to the tower so that he can rest and getting settled into his new residence."

"How should we bring him back? There's still room in the armored vehicle we took here," Neasa asked.

"That'll do. You can drive, and Miranda can sit in the front with you. On the way there, I could still play the bodhran in the back seat near him," the older Fauness stated.

Aislinn nodded. "If you've got that camp stove and anything else packed up, we should be able to head out then," she noted to the two satyresses, glancing over at Tom to see if he agreed.

***

"I've had passengers who would get a little green in the face during flights, so I'll lay off you," Nami replied with a grin, shaking her head at Lucian with mild amusement.

She discreetly glanced over at Charon still glaring at them and looked back toward the others. "So, given that we're now here, should we focus on getting back to Hope?"

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Re: Chapter VI - Asunder

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Marius was silent as he absorbed Harry's words, as he pondered the memories of feeling and change he had from his time in the Dream. "To create..." he murmured, looking up at the collapsed shaft. What would he create, then? Another plantation manor? No, that was not a style befitting of this tower. Something vaguely gothic, like the old bank he had repurposed for his company here in Hope? Not that either...

He listened for the Noise, wondering if it had any coherent thoughts. Go back, he heard, go far back, reach deep, force yourself upon these works of stone and metal. Never be forgotten again!

Sound advice, for once. He thought back, as far back as he could. Vague impressions of Ancient Egypt swam before his mind's eye, chanting and praises to the gods and the Pharaoh. There was color back then, color and mud and massive blocks of sandstone and granite, towering pillars of marble.

Yes. That was the way, he decided. Just had to be careful with the hieroglyphs and the iconography...

He closed his eyes again, filled his lungs with air. And then he sang. If the Black Speech could have accents, they'd recognize his as stemming from Egypt, from Alexandria. He sang, and the collapsed ruin around them began to rearrange, to reinforce. The shaft righted itself, the elevator rose on its cables once again; the corners of the shaft warped, taking on an appearance of stone pillars lively with color. A facade of brown stone blocks covered over the bare metal of the shaft, and the notes of Marius' song shifted with every addition he made.

He was new at this. He knew that without the backup of the other singers he'd probably not be able to repair a brick. But they had his back, they followed his lead, and working as one, they were Creating. An alien sense of confidence filled him, and he paused to renew the breath in his lungs.

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IamLEAM1983
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Epilogue

Post by IamLEAM1983 »

March 18th, 2026

Springtime, delayed and finally asserting itself. Cold showers extinguishing extraplanar Infernal pits. Weeks of rain, not as a mark of catastrophe, but rather as one of a healing Earth. Jack's vines snaking across Old Hope and the city itself, emerging in the gutted section of the Pedway serving as Sophia's temporary mausoleum, a network of vines making the entrance all but impassable.

For now, Holden Hall was still being rebuilt, with a new addition in the form of a functional greenhouse being constructed. In time, Sophia's daughter would come to reside there. For now, Eirean and Vernon stand as custodians of a small collection of seedlings, waiting to see which one will bear the desired spark, that faint echo of the World Tree. Angels and demons alike turning increasingly human, the sworn enemies of yesterday becoming today's placid colleagues.

Tom looked up from the guestbook after signing, the Karthian returning a dispassionate stare. Doctor Gavrilo Kuznetsov sniffing and turning his lilac-colored irises away from the guard's countertop and back towards the triple-magnetic-bolt and eighteen-ward setup being deactivated. Beyond waits the Goat, now dispossessed. Just another corporeal demon, a far cry from the man who'd once quickened Lucifer's pulse.

"You're not going to ask what he's doing in the East wing, mister Magnus?" asked the psychiatrist. The warthog settled with a shrug.

"I know what he's doing here. He's still a demon, still a charmer at heart. He's of the same class as Rendell; he could get anyone that presents enough leverage to open his cell, even without powers.
- Correct," replied Kuznetsov. "Those of us unmarred by the Crimson Spirit present a mindscape too orderly, too even-tempered for him to find purchase. Terran cultural affects give us some measure of flexibility, but a complete emotional range is something that eludes us - unless we natively present a few alleles of human genetic material. We also find it difficult to take pride in something over which we objectively have little authority. Our habitually networking our minds makes it difficult for any one of us to ascribe much value to a sense of Self."

Tom headed for the door. "And if your Ego's nearly atrophied, then he has nothing to mess with.
- Objectivity infuriates him," noted Gavrilo, while pulling at one of his little facial tendrils that were rooted along his chin. "It also forces him to confront his powerlessness."

The door's locks clicked noisily, and the massive armored panel swung open. Beyond waited another corridor, ending in a set of interior baywindows. Past that, details of the Goat's cell - or his apartment, if you would - came into view. The anthro demon had no privacy to speak of, owing to his set of cameras - but a few wall divisions that afforded the illusion of multiple spaces. A bedroom, a bathroom and lounge area were included, with a number of items of leisure provided at the warlock's behest. The humility of his initial abdication hadn't lasted long, all things told, and Tom had considered it wise to at least give the Goat a few things to assuage his own self-worth. Outside communication was denied, but he had a television, books and access to Chimera Row's one-way Intranet.

"He quickly became a model patient," noted the Grayskin, "once he realized he wouldn't obtain anything of worth out of us. He has, however, realized that although my people and I do not feel as you do, we still remain students of Humanity. If being human can be summed up to a collection of tics and autonomous responses, then it is surprisingly easy for us to affect emotion."

Tom quirked an eyebrow. "So... you're saying the entire Karthian staff faked falling under his spell and kept it under wraps for two weeks? That's what Project Matryoshka was?
- A necessary deception in order to divest him of his prior illusions," explained Gavrilo. "There is nobody here for him to own, nobody here for him to direct, order or otherwise possess. The protocol included the reversal of his usual leitmotiv. I, myself, mind-controlled him for three days. He proved exceptionally compliant, afterwards."

The baywindows' electrochromic panels shifted, going from hazy to clear in an instant. The Black Goat wore an orange prison jumpsuit over a greying and mottled coat of fur, details of his features having lost their supernatural allure. He now looked like just any other anthro goat, if perhaps for the fact that his eyes looked aged. He stood up from his sofa, stretched and set his hands behind his back as he approached the center panel, smirking sardonically. He gestured across his own throat and nodded in the negative. They wouldn't let him hear him.

Tom grunted lightly. "So, I'm guessing this is going to be pretty much one-way, right?
- For your own safety," nodded Gavrilo. "You can sit here and address him naturally; I will relay your statements and condense his replies."

Taking a seat, Tom brushed a hand against his mouth, sighed and set about straightening his clothes. He then removed his hat on a whim, realizing only a few seconds later that the Goat had been standing there, arms crossed, observing him. His lips moved, and the Grayskin spoke for the Pitspawn.

"Feeling hints of Pride, Magnus?"

The Infernalist paused to consider his reponse. "Not Pride so much as self-consciousness. Karthians are unbeatable when it comes to pattern recognition, and one that's studied psychology is a fearsome foe to be standing next to. If my tie pin's a little crooked, Gavrilo here could deduce that I was feeling nervous while on the way here, and that I'm having victor's guilt of sorts.
- Am I to understand I should be moved by this display of empathy?"

Magnus scoffed and shook his head in the negative. "No, you're too far gone for that. God knows we've tried, though. You don't twist a friend's master plan out of shape like this unless your real sin of choice is Envy. I guess I just wanted to see if you had any more info on Akoman, on what it or he said or did to you..."

As was customary when someone mentioned the Principle of Order, the Black Goat's features clammed shut. "I've nothing to tell you which you haven't already heard, Warlock. You've stripped me of every asset - go ask the Judge or Melmoth's old mentor, the one who spends his weekends squatting the local law firms as if he'd just been made partner."

The incubus was careful not to react. He had to wonder just how much the Goat knew, weeks after the fact, but giving too much of anything away would be just as dangerous for him and his friends.

"Alright, fine," he said. "Let's move on to current news, hm? Nereus is held up for a few days longer - long enough for us to coordinate something together with some of Marius' old connections, and Meris isn't suspecting a thing. This'll be the surprise to end all surprises, and it'll put a definitive end to the last year's events.
- Save me a seat," replied the demon, his sarcasm obvious even through the Karthian's stilted re-interpretation. That, in Tom's mind, warranted a mocking Boy Scout salute, which he offered.

"Then there's Azazel. There's still centuries of physical damage to undo, surgeries to perform and a few extra healthy pounds to gain before Titania will so much as think to try and work on him, so he's plugging along relatively well. He's alternating therapists between Bob's Sariel and the Rothchilds' Charles Wynn. Things are good for now, the alter hasn't cropped up since Penfield sang him a few bars. Aidan's helping him with physical therapy, but Zeke's idea of putting mass on mostly involves extra flab. I'm just glad Lyman does most of the eating when they go on their joyrides together, or else he wouldn't fit in half the clothes we bought for him. Miranda and Anjali are working on the teaching side of things, but he's starting to outpace them.
- Of course, he does. I didn't pick him for his resilience alone, you know. Have you managed to strip my handiwork away, yet?"

The warthog lifted a hand, exposing a few rings on his fingers. "Modified shield wards. Nobody could honestly ask Aspasia to keep playing on that drum forever, so I hacked something together: we started with a recording of her that we played on a portable tape player until the magic stored in the sound wore the tape drive through, then we used those few days to study Aspasia's beat and frequency. Once I had the right hertz and the right sequence, getting some of the local goblins to work on commission was a cinch. I had a handful of rings done, all set to send infrasonic vibrations into him and along his arms, at the same beat. If he brings his hands to his ears, it's like he can still hear her."

He clicked his tongue. "Like those bone-conduction earphones and implants you'll find pretty much anywhere. Simple, effective, and we won't need to recharge the rings for a few hundred years. They'll last until he's recovered enough for Titania."

The Goat scoffed through the Karthian. "The Scapegoat, absolved of all sins and offered peerage... Please tell me she's shooting for something impressive, at least."

Tom shrugged. "Don't know - we've already established it'll be honorary. Azazel won't be expected to carry out any of the functions his rank might require, and he won't functionally be tied to Faerie's aristocracy. We're thinking it might be a combination that wouldn't normally work in the usual system - Duke of Hope or something. The Queen's still open on sticking close to tradition, though, if Azazel voices interest in actually having a few responsibilities. That's neither here nor there, though."

Another scoff. "Duke of Hope, hm? Are you sure Allocer won't mind?"

The Warlock didn't miss out on the taunting nature of the question and opted to reply with frank honesty. "Allocer's in the wing opposite yours - low-security. He's collaborative, helpful, pleasant to be around... I already broached the topic with him, he pretty much shrugged it off. He asked me how he could have a duchy when America doesn't so much as have a monarchy. I laughed back at him, telling him it was a fair point. The American Fae that didn't fall in with Sharpe never made a fuss of their own little duchy and barony lines - they're common taxpayers like the rest of us, peerage only ever comes up in their great halls. More than ever, Erin and Vernon don't bat an eyelash if you slip up and call them things like McHale or Vern or Erin or whatever."

Tom opted to add his own barb, with a bit of a chuckle. "That's the fun thing with healthy pride - you can play along with some of its markers. Milords and Ladies start flying around when we're sitting around in Club Ishtar, sipping drinks and telling stories, add in a head swagger or two if you're looking to poke fun  at yourself. The only ones who get to call me Master Warlock are the kids facing off against me in Cody Tanner's Dungeons and Dragons run."

There was a sneer. "Playing Dark Lord in children's doggerels after saving the world, are we? Face it, you'll never be quite like the rest of them. You can try and defend them, use your gifts as a shield in front of them - but the fact remains that Asmodeus gave you that potential for a reason. You think you've freed yourself, that you now care for this world? You haven't been disappointed yet, incubus, and when you do - when someone you love will hurt you - you will return to the fold. Thou art evil made flesh, Pitspawn - you cannot deny it."

Gavrilo was about to turn to Tom in the expectation of a reply, when something in the warthog's thought-stream alarmed him. The Goat's needling had been designed to provoke a response and the alien had been expecting some form of flippant dismissal, but what he sensed in the back of the Warlock's mind made him stand up in his own seat.

"Now, let's not be too rash, mister-"

He couldn't finish, as Tom summoned a gale of force that sent the doctor flying towards the concrete wall with enough force for him to slam into it and lose consciousness. The same was done to the armed guard stationed behind him, and a quick hex was then applied to the camera system. Slowly, the Black Goat grinned.

"There it is, what I thought you'd all but castrated and tossed aside - that old lust for power, the very same urge you've so sanctimoniously tried to pry out of Vlastos' own carcass, still hale and hearty. Oh, poor Infernalist - you're like all the others, aren't you? Unhappy, unsatisfied until things fall into place by your own accord..."

Tom closed his eyes and slowly, carefully, undid all the latches on his inner psyche that Hieros Gamos had previously placed - not with the intention of discarding them, but with the desire to re-assert them once he'd be done. For what he intended to do here, he'd need his full power, without restrictions. So, carefully, he removed himself from every mark of earned happiness he'd cultivated in the past years, and reconnected with the famished and conniving predator he knew he'd never stopped being. He raised his head to the ceiling, shivered as the wing's sterile air carried the scent of dust, and allowed himself one long orgasmic shiver and moan. His eyes tingled as blood rushed to fill his sclera, his entire field of view turning crimson for just a second.

The words that left him were spoken in the kind of soft whisper you would've kept for a love confession. 

"You can't be allowed to stay. You'd escape... sooner or later. No."

Another moan, the warthog's voice now trembling with power. "You. Must. End."

The Goat's eyes went wide, and he started to backpedal. The warthog was no longer mentally present enough to hear his objections and set his staff and hat aside, humming to himself as he kept an eye on his prey and slowly, methodically, stripped a few layers of clothing until he was down to his pants, shirt and suspenders. Rolling his shirtsleeves, Magnus used one of his fingernails to score the electrochromic glass in a circular shape big enough to contain him, then whispering a word that turned the created circle into sand. He stepped into the Goat's cell while humming Antonio Carlos Jobim's Corcovado and slowly, inexorably, guided the former demon into a corner.

In some ways, part of the Goat left Chimera Row in the form of an anguished and muffled scream that would forever resonate in the same corner of Tom's mind as where his repressed impulses typically resided. In others, the Black Goat had been all but nullified. Kuznetsov and the Karthian staff didn't remember anything out of the ordinary, and the missing footage in the cell's cameras would prove to be irretrievable. What remained was the Goat's body - and precious little else. He was still alive, but despite Rhadamantus' urging of Tom to remember anything out of the ordinary from this meeting, nothing would ever come up. The case against the Black Goat was shot, now, but the fact was that Pride's articles had already been redistributed. Judgement had already been served, but justice would be denied. Aislinn would need a few weeks to notice the coldness in Mantus' and Magnus' professional relationship, the sense that the Judicator had been denied something and now was polite and professional enough to keep his grudge to personal meetings.

To say that the former Black Goat of Mendes, the former Chief Inspector of Black Magic and the former Prince of Pride had been raped would've been a comical understatement. Of anyone, only Marius would have an inkling of the depths of ruination that had been visited upon the formerly-supernatural ungulate, and all of it without more than expertly-calculated strangulation and ligature marks that left no workable fingerprints. The court date had been memorable enough, but not for reasons others would've expected. Wormsworth had prepared for a few weeks spent offering nuance to his client's boastful defense, only to be met with a mute, shivering and perpetually terrified wretch that studiously avoided looking at the Warlock. Whenever Tom was called forth to testify, it took both of Rhadamantus' new Bailiffs to keep him sitting down and quiet, as deep as was his need to wordlessly shriek in terror.

At recess, Three met Tom at one of the courthouse's vending machines, taking five to put some slack in his tie's knot. "Have you seen that shit?" he asked. "How are we supposed to get anything out of him if a Squid opted to do us one heck of a fucked-up favor by turning him into a turnip? Chimera Row's Medical says the guy got raped, but analysis only came back with a jumble of genetic proteins. If we sent this off to someone in Paradise, it'll be years before we manage to re-code the culprit's genome."

Tom drew in a breath and sucked at his coffee. "I'd say that's unfortunate, but it'd be putting it lightly. Honestly though, we've won and we can put all of this behind us. It's all that matters to me."

That and something else added a quiet corner of his mind. He'd taken the last embers of a Prince, before Herbert's still-upcoming coronation. As far as the universe was concerned, he was the Prince of Pride, and would be for the several weeks leading up to the final ceremony. Even once Herbert would be given his title, part of the associated power would remain with him, thanks to the means in which he'd seized it. It would prevent Pride from again rising up as the Sins' defacto figurehead.

They kept chatting for a few minutes, until Three excused himself to go speak with Melmoth and Abdiel. Tom caught sight of his own reflection in the vending machine's chrome, something that was proving to be less and less alien to him - and increasingly easy to tame - welled up. He wet the tip of one tongue and smoothed out his mustache, briefly inspecting his own frame. The self-satisfaction he normally reserved for rituals just wouldn't let go, now, and he couldn't quite repress a brief smirk once he finished gussying himself up. He'd been humble for those long weeks leading up to the trial, and now was rediscovering the quiet joy of knowingly measuring the scope of his own power. He didn't notice the very faint flame-like glint in his irises that played out for just half a second.

Saving the world... That had to excuse the occasional bit of an attitude, right?

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