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Chrysalis
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Mortal Promise
Young Wyrm
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2017 9:12 am    Post subject: Chrysalis Reply with quote

It was more than the thunderous noise that shook the air itself; more than the screaming masses in the bottom of the pit; more than the hissed whispers of temptation flowing from dark alcoves, and more than the sum of the sin in this abyss.

It was power itself, and Tartarus hummed with it.

Samuel Adder watched his nightclub lose its collective mind from its highest balcony, a wide and luxuriously appointed half-circle set eighty feet above the dance floor. He often came here alone after dawn, after the club had finally emptied, to look upon this microcosm of his empire and meditate on the coming harvest of the unlucky. Here he could taste the promise of the feast, and when he was not plotting and scheming, he was savoring it.

He was not alone this time -- though another was now gone, he could still sense the presence of Naomi Lin, lingering in the shadows, as close to the exit as she could get. She always kept her distance when he was feeding, and he couldn't blame her: to those more bound to mortal pleasures, the feeding habits of a succubus seemed a far more intimate and beautiful act than the way he consumed power.

If they could have just one taste, they would not fear me. They would adore me... He smiled thoughtfully as he tipped his hand, and crumbling white embers tumbled into the inscribed silver basin of ashes at his feet.

"Is there anything else you need from me?" It was impeccably stated, but Adder could still feel the fear in her words, even without a tremor to give it away.

"Red and black... red and black..." he murmured senselessly, staring into the ashes as a strange wind stirred them, but he could not divine the riddles of the future out of smoke and gusts. That was what she was for. "Have tailors sent to the tower in Stars End, and have the new arrivals fitted for Friday evening. There's no glamor in owning them if you can't flaunt them, after all."

"My lord." High heels clicked steadily away from him on her next too breath, all too eager to leave his presence.

"Ms. Lin?"

Her breath hitched.

"Send a hairdresser, as well." His eyes narrowed on the dimming white embers among the ashes, all that remained of another of his beliefs that had been vindicated, and his smile grew. "I'm seeing something... platinum."

Naomi did not need to ask who he meant. She was too smart to ask; it was why she had been allowed to suckle at the teat of his power for as long as she had. Her steps continued, and he was alone at the edge of the pit once more.

"Tartarus!" he bellowed suddenly, his voice amplified through the air, cutting through the screams, the sighs, the thudding of the music; he willed every light in the club to curve towards him as he strode to the edge of the balcony, his halo of eerie crimson the only visible feature in a sea of blackness.

"Tartarus... my citizens... my friends..." He spread his arms, beaming down at them like a proud father. "Take what you want. Taste what you want. Drink what you want. Tonight... it is free."

The lights fell away from his smiling face as the depths of the pit erupted with noise.
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Eri Maeda
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A faded metal sign stood at the edge of a lot in Stars End, painted glittering white beneath the pale dust caked on from nearby construction sites. Pieces of the lettering had cracked and fallen away, maintenance neglected long before the site was officially condemned, but the once-impressive blue glass letters still clearly read:

Hakodate Snow Palace: Where Dreams Come True!

It was capped by an engraved white dome and minarets, beyond which Eri could see a squat lime-green building, at the base of the skeletal beginnings of a skyscraper still clawing its way up to the skyline. U-STOR-IT was holographically displayed across the ugly little building's sliding glass doors. She frowned at this development, but was undeterred, marching her way into what had once been a skating rink.

Inside, hundreds of lime-green lockers framed in white plastic lined every wall, with treacherously steep and narrow aluminium staircases leading to catwalks and yet more lockers up above. Each had a letter followed by three digits, and a digital lock activated by a fob.

A simple robot, a white plastic torso with circular green eyes and a motionless gray rectangle for a mouth, turned its head to scan Eri as she entered. A holographic screen was affixed to the counter directly in front of it, currently in poor shape -- several of its tiny emitters had been knocked out of place, with multiple strands of spider silk distorting the patchy display of letters projected out of the counter. "Name, please," the robot intoned in a clear voice.

Hobnail boots made their familiar clatter and scrape as Eri moved towards the robot. She regarded the machine as calmly as it had observed her. When her mouth opened, she found herself issuing a demand instead of giving an answer: "Mallory St. Martin."

It was an easy question, but the delinquent still flunked on the first try. The robot took several fractions of a second to process the input before responding, "Name not found." After a beat, it repeated: "Name, please."

When she heard the programmed reply she gave the machine a dangerous frown, the serene mask slipping for a moment. But after the span of one careful breath, she numbly replied with her own name: "Eri Maeda."

Something inside the robot whirred and clicked. "Welcome, Eri Maeda. Password, please."

The request for a password deepened the frown. But in her head her own questions gave her her reply. Who is...? "Cassandra." Her voice was as small and quiet as it had ever been, but audible enough to register with the machine.

"Password accepted. Here is your key." The mouth whirred open, something clicked into place, and then the apparently magnetized gray rectangle returned to its previous state, a key fob with a metal hook dangling from it. Eri's eyes widened at her own seeming good fortune. "Your locker number is A089. Please return the key to the white plastic bin by the front door when you are finished."

The robot extended one of its thin rectangular arms, its aim apparently off as it pointed several feet to the left of a white plastic bin, with "FOR A GOOD TIME CALL JACK THE KNIFE" written on it in black sharpie.

She found the locker in question near the front left corner of the building. It glimmered with the same spider silk that distorted the screen at the front desk. With a quick swipe of the newly acquired fob, the locker beeped and popped open.

Within the small rectangular space, a palm-sized black spider lay on its back, its legs curled inward, killed upon the completion of Mallory's command spell. Tucked in next to it was the letter it had delivered, bound in spider silk, and written on Samuel Adder campaign letterhead in blue ink.

Eri frowned at the strange sight, but paid it less attention than the letter. She tugged it open and unfolded it to read:

Eri,

I have something important to tell you. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you sooner, and I'm sorry for how much heartbreak I've caused you by the time you read this.

The man in the window has found me. His name is Samuel Adder.

He is an archdevil, older and more powerful than any being I have ever faced. He claims to have been following me my entire life; he claims to be the one responsible for my power. I don't know if that's true, but I know what he's done so far:

He stopped your ability to regenerate; he willed your body to the brink of death. He wields magic more powerful than anything I've seen before. He shredded my wards, broke into my home, twisted Trick's body like a ****ing marionette, and twisted his mind to forget the entire event. He claims he can incite the minds of an entire mob to murder, and based on what I have discovered so far, I don't think he's exaggerating.

I would love nothing more than to personally kill this cowardly fiend and watch his painful passing into oblivion, but he intends the same fate for anyone who stands in his way. When he asked me to join his campaign, before I knew what he was, I declined because it would upend my life -- and I was happy at Panacea, happy with my family, and happy with you.

In response, he forced me to remove from my life everything that could stand between us, and made it very clear that he can and will make good on his threats to destroy all of you if he deems it necessary. I don't know what he intends to do with me, but I know you are only safe from him if he believes you are no longer in my life.

I am so, so sorry for the pain I have caused you. You deserve none of it. You deserve all of the happiness in the world, and I would do anything in my power to give it to you if I could. You are kind, and fearless, and strong, and I know you would have stood by my side to face him if I'd told you what he'd done.

And then he would have killed you.

He is immensely powerful. I cannot stress that enough. If you can't stop him, then don't. I'll understand. Just look after Trick and Spencer, and make sure you stay out of his way. The three of you are the only family I have.

I love you.

Mallory


Eri's eyes moved over the letters on the page, and as soon as she finished, she started over, still standing in front of the open locker, seemingly unaware of her surroundings.

I love you. She read those words several times before she turned and hurried out, wiping away the tears falling from her eyes, already weary of crying. She thoughtlessly dropped the key into the bin as she hurried out. And as she reread the name on the letterhead, the pace of her steps quickened.
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2017 2:24 pm    Post subject: Mirror, Mirror Reply with quote

((Content warning for suicidal thoughts and self-harm.))

Mallory had her keys out by the time she reached the front door, and had it open and shut in a single breath, slumping back against it and taking deep, shuddering breaths.

Her eyes were shut. She didn't want to know what her new home looked like. However posh or spartan her new surroundings, they were chosen for her, just like her hair. Her piercings. Her wardrobe. Her job. Her heartbreak. Her fate.

I want to open my eyes and find it was a dream. I'll be home, safe, in Wayside. Please. Please.

But she wasn't.

She was on the eighteenth floor of a chic new building in Stars End, in a studio apartment that promised a breathtaking view of Fool's Luck Bay on the other side of the gauzy curtains that lined the floor-to-ceiling windows. She dropped her bags at her feet, kicking a fallen bundle of new shirts out of her way, and stalked across the austerely appointed room for a better look.

Hers was the tallest building on the block, and her view of the bay was almost completely unobstructed. Her eyes traced the line of a wide avenue across Stars End to the water's edge, where she could see a spacefaring fishing trawler skimming the surface to settle into the docks among the wooden sailboats and modern yachts. The sky looked too big through these windows, treacherously vast and empty, and reminded her of the long, long way down...

She leaned forward to watch tiny figures hurrying through a crosswalk two hundred feet below, and reached out with her palms to steady herself, but what they struck didn't feel like glass. Something had stopped her two inches short, something that shimmered red and silver wherever she touched it. An arcane barrier. A gentle tug at the too-taut, too-tough threads of its power, just as Mist had taught her, was all she needed to be sure of the spell's infernal origin.

"****er," she muttered, even as it occurred to her that they were probably watching and listening to her right now; it only took two steps on her way to the kitchen with her eyes closed, focusing on the forces at her work inside her mind, to find that one of them came from outside. They were monitoring her, as often as possible if not every single moment, though the presence was unfamiliar -- undoubtedly one of his countless lackeys who wore well-tailored suits and ****-eating grins.

She reached the massive kitchen island, a gleaming slab of black granite, and took in her surroundings. Stainless steel appliances. Cabinets. A block of knives. A telephone, with a long, sturdy cord that trailed to the edge of the counter. A notepad, with relevant numbers scribbled by some aide. A pen, more than sharp enough with the right amount of force. Plastic bags of takeout and snacks. And another note beside it, placed delicately on top of a small stack.

The curiosity drowned out the dark impulses racing through her head, if only for a moment. She walked over, slowly, and examined the note.

IF YOU ESCAPE -- THEY WON'T

Something between a strangled gasp and a sob rose out of her, smothered by her fist, as she dropped the note, spilling the neatly stacked pile of glossy photographs when she did. The people she loved, the people she cared about, oblivious to the strangers in the crowd who found an opportune moment to snap a discreet picture.

The threat was clear. Even if she did not escape with her life, even if the barrier failed and she smashed through a window, even if she ended this with a knife, a phone cord, or a pen, Samuel Adder still had the means and motive to inflict incredible suffering on her family.

Her shaky sobs gave way to an enraged scream, scattering the picture with a sweep of her arm, stalking through them as they fell on her way to the kitchen counter. She yanked the phone out of the wall and hurled it across the room at her bed. She snatched the carafe from the coffee maker and smashed it against the invisible barrier behind the curtains. She yanked open a cabinet to find it empty, and slammed it shut hard enough to put a crack down the middle.

She yanked open the nearest door, and found herself face to face with the bathroom mirror.

A terrified and angry version of the woman she had been just a few days ago stared right back at her. Her hair, now platinum blonde, swept stylishly away from her face, with her bangs arranged just so across one eye. A septum ring and five earrings, which she hadn't asked for, either. The clothes she had been told to wear. The fear and sorrow, inflicted on her by this malevolent stranger, that she now wore on her face.

This is the face of a girl who lost her family, who broke Eri's heart, who couldn't stop him... This is the face of a girl who isn't in control.

She struck the mirror with the palm of her left hand, creating a spiderweb of cracks across one side, and leaving a few pieces of it in her torn flesh. Blood welled out of the little wounds and over her fingers, as the throbbing pain finally set in. The pain that I deserve. The pain that I chose.

She let out a scream as she threw the next punch.


Last edited by Mallory on Mon Jun 25, 2018 2:35 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mortal Promise
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2017 4:56 pm    Post subject: The Hook Reply with quote

The Hook and Hand was a bar on the edge of the city, past the older, larger buildings and the old city walls, past the busy port of RhyDin and out where fishers, clam diggers, and bait shops set up shacks of their own along the muddy tracks that this neighborhood called roads. It was on the edge of the water, its front end sunk partway into the mud on a bad day, with the rickety additions that comprised its misshapen posterior dangling over briny, brackish water, held up by a dozen mussel-pocked pilings.

It was also on the edge of a pit, because it was a place so many people fell from -- usually the kind of people who thought they'd finished falling already. The miserable from all walks of life often landed on this ledge before sliding off into the abyss, whether it was the old sailors drowning in their own liquor and piss, the bone-tired pirates and murderers who'd given up on running finally dragged off to the gallows or the headsman's block, or those crazed few who had seen things one time too many, doomed to disappear into the sea or worse places.

Hector found these miserable souls to be the perfect company, content to let him wallow in his sorrow with a clay jug of cheap liquor, without any worry on any face he could see about what he'd manage to do to himself or any of them. Here, he was far from Polly, far from obligation, far from Ed and Abby and anyone else who gave a ****. These losers get it. None of this matters.

As he leaned on his barstool to peek over the rim of his bottle, suspiciously light the last time he'd hefted it, he slipped free from his seat and crashed to the floor.

"I'll ****in' fight you!" he said on reflex, whirling around on the floor, teeth bared in anger, but no one pointed or guffawed. Barely anyone looked. He made a half-hearted attempt to wipe the tracked-in mud off of his ass, gave up, and slumped back into his space at the bar, sans barstool. "Barkeep, gimme another."

The flea-bitten barkeep gave him nothing more than a glance, too invested in his game of solitaire to bother moving for any man who didn't already have money in his hand. Too many couldn't pay in a place like this, and the people here ran out of what little they had left faster than most.

There were enough copper coins for something in the pockets of his camo fatigues, but before he could fish them out, someone was flashing silver. The whiff of it gave him pause, but its owner didn't seem to be waving it at him. She was a young woman, about thirty, her hair and all but a sliver of her face from this angle covered by a homespun gray cowl. She pointed at a mason jar behind the barkeep with her left ring finger, clad in a copper ring with a dull red stone, and the barkeep dutifully took her money, set the jar and two clay cups in front of her, and spat on the floor.

The woman turned her head, drawing the cowl partway back with a few delicate fingers, golden eyes alighting on him with undisguised delight. "Is this what you're looking for?" she said slowly, lowering her gaze to the moonshine, then back at him. Her eyes narrowed skeptically.

She was pretty to look at, but... attempting to focus on her face only made the face Hector wanted to see swim back into his vision. "You're not Linda," he slurred, giving her plenty of side-eye as he dragged a cup closer and filled it up. "Puta. What are you talkin' to me for?"

"I've had many names, but Linda isn't one of them." Whoever she was, she laughed openly at the abrasive wall he put up. "You can call me Maria."

Maria wasn't pouring herself a drink. Hector's skepticism only deepened, though it would be dulled soon enough by the rancid moonshine now sliding his down throat. "You here to offer me a good time, Maria? 'Cause I ain't interested."

In spite of his words, in spite of his open disinterest, her smile never dimmed. "I'm here to offer you a better time than this. I hear you're a man who can... get things."

Hector coughed out a humorless laugh, wheezing through his next taste of moonshine. "Yeah, I get lots of things. Guns. Drugs. Drink. Bad luck. Death. Bitches who won't leave me the **** alone. Why?"

"We need the second and third things you mentioned." Second and third... It took Hector a moment to work that out in his inebriated state, and he hated her for it. "In exchange..." Gold now graced her palm. He leaned forward for a closer look at the coins, but she waved her hand and they were gone. "We are generous and flexible. I think we'd surprise you with all the things we can offer..."

The fact that he was already getting to his feet did give her some pause. "Enough to keep me busy?"

"Yes."

"Steady?"

"Steady work for the rest of your life," she replied, in a tone brimming with promise.

"Okay, mami." Hector could only chuckle at all her posturing and pouting and the whole sin-and-seduction act. He belched, blew out a breath, and beat his chest with his fist, taking a moment to clear something. "What and where?"

"Shopping list and directions," she said, a note curled between her fingers, held out and drawn back from his reach with a teasing smile.

He scowled, snatched it, and scanned the words. It was quite a shopping list. It was also completely manageable for a smuggler like him. It'd take a few hours to sleep this off, first, but then?

"Tartarus." He snorted as he pocketed the note. "Figures I'd trade one hellhole for another. Later."

Maria smiled to herself as he left, ignoring the desperate eyes now trained on her, failing to understand that Hector's apparent ascent was part of the same long fall as all of theirs.

"Hasta luego, Hector. Until we meet again."

((Big thank you to Hector's creator!))
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Mortal Promise
Young Wyrm
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 20, 2017 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Naomi Lin hadn't been to Kabuki Street in months, not since a street festival on a cold winter's night, where she'd lingered at the edge of pachinko parlors and card tables, watching the people around her slip deeper into vice under the haze of flashing signs and paper lanterns...

Coming back on a warm September morning, Kabuki Street felt like a different world to her. The streets weren't exactly quiet, but they didn't have nearly the same celebratory mass of humanity; the people opening their stores, sweeping out their entryways, and hurrying off to work didn't have nearly the same interest in sin and indulgence, far too focused on routine. Only the scattered, desperate, elderly few who were already waiting for the parlors to open piqued her interest at all.

A morning snack? she thought as she smiled back at a white-haired woman, currently rocking slowly in her black flats and clutching a heavy coinpurse as she waited in front of a locked glass door. No... I'm sure I can find something a little more satisfying.

Her eyes alighted on the sound of girls' voices on a nearby rooftop, and a telltale plume of smoke as they put together a meal while they chatted. Her steps slowed in front of the old building, which drew slow, predatory head-turns from a trio of delinquents squatting by the door. She smiled prettily at them, drew her black workman's cap a little lower, and picked up her pace, giving every appearance that she would rather not have gotten their attention...

...but she allowed herself a secretive smile as she heard one of the girls toss a flip phone to another and say, "Bosu ni denwa suru. Sore wa Naomi Lindesu."

* * * * *

It was only a few minutes later when Eri emerged from an alley that ran oblique to the crossing. At the far side she paused to have a quick conference with the group of delinquents who had alerted her, and soon enough she was in slow, distant pursuit of Naomi's dwindling form. She'd taken steps to disguise herself in plain clothing, thinking that would blend in better than her typical seifuku.

The savvy political operator, on the other hand, was easily recognizable, especially after spending so much of the last few weeks on TV talking up her boss. The black cap and Zhongshan suit made a poor disguise, doing little to cover up the succubus' curvy figure. There were even a few heads (besides Eri's) that turned at her passing, either recognizing her from her campaign's media bombardment or drawn to the aura of lust she exuded.

Naomi didn't look over her shoulder until she reached an alleyway three blocks away from the neighborhood, but missed the delinquent's form in the crowd. Eri stopped at the edge of the alley, paused, and nailed the timing when she decided to peek: Naomi had just turned away from a final backwards glance, only part of her still visible as she descended a slick brick staircase into an arched tunnel underneath the block.

Eri hurried to catch up, controlling her descent on the stairs with her hands pressed to either wall, letting her feet fall quietly, and caught daylight at the end of the tunnel that seemed to come out at the other end of the block, and a glimpse of Naomi's silhouette, disappearing into a side passageway. An iron gate clanged shut after her, foreboding in its appearance -- but unlocked.

As Eri ducked into the tunnel, she picked up the pace, as fast as she could while keeping her steps as quiet as she could. The noise echoing into this space provided some cover -- nearby boiler rooms, wheels and hooves on the street, and the heavy hum of generators. She approached the iron gate cautiously, but when she could see no movement beyond it, she opened it up and slipped through, closing it gently behind her.

The darkness was complete, but by touch the tunnel was evidently much narrower and sloped slowly, steadily downward. Up ahead, at least fifty feet, Naomi's phone lit up, angled away from Eri as she used its light to check around both corners at a T-intersection. Then she turned left, slipping out of sight, the faint light of her phone trailing her for a few seconds before she dimmed it.

Eri hesitated when she found herself in darkness. But after a moment of feeling along the wall with her hands to discern the size of the passage, she resolutely continued. Movement was much slower now, the delinquent's feet testing each step before her weight settled forward. The sounds from the street above caused her to grit her teeth, unable to hear as well as she would like. Once her eyes picked up the faint light ahead and which way it had turned, she moved forward at a quickened pace, determined not to lose her target.

Her quarry had been moving even faster -- when her phone lit up again, it was one hundred feet past the corner Eri had just turned. She turned the small light all around her, Eri's way, then the other, but the soft rays from her LCD screen did not travel nearly that far. She unlatched a creaking wooden gate in front of her, and was completely out of sight by the time Eri came to a stop at its threshold.

Eri took short, careful steps in the dark, one hand trailing along the rough wall to guide her direction, the other outstretched to feel for any obstacles ahead. Without any sign of her quarry ahead, she was in less of a hurry now, but still determined to explore ahead.

When she reached the wooden gate she paused, hands clenched into fists resting against the barrier. A moment passed and she pushed through, eyes focused on a faint red light ahead of her. The stairs went down ten... twenty... thirty... forty steps, the light growing steadily the entire way, until it gave way to a wider corridor, more than ten feet tall and half as wide. Iron lanterns with red glass spilled their firelight across the way, but beyond them, at the end of the hall, the light became blinding. She moved away from the outer wall, red light illuminating her determined expression and causing her narrowing eyes to appear black.

Her pace increased with each step now, nearing full charge as she reached the end of the hall and the blinding illumination there.

The bright threshold gave way to an enormous chamber, at least fifty feet wide and nearly twice as high, ringed by balconies and dangling with chandeliers that stretched precipitously far on their iron chains, bathing the entire chamber in a deep red glow. She stood on the second-highest of the balconies, flanked by bars and stools, cocktail tables and discarded drinks. There were no patrons, no staff present that could be seen. Something shimmered faintly in the air nearby. And across the massive chamber, a tall man in a dark gray suit stood behind the railing of the highest balcony, arms folded behind his back, lifting his chin to watch Eri with a growing smile.

Eri could not have said what she expected to find at the end of the hall, but the sight of the huge space that she had stepped into was still a shock. Her eyes widened, taking in the scope of the club, the distant balconies and number of them. Combined with the red lighting she couldn't shake the impression, no doubt by design, that she had arrived in Hell.

The shimmering in the air drew her attention once the surprise and disquieting feeling were processed, and she instinctively raised her hands, clenched into diminutive but hard fists as she turned to watch it.

The shimmering mass froze, the faint outline of a face visible through the illusion, straining to keep Naomi Lin invisible. Seen by Eri, even if the delinquent did not fully understand what she was seeing the succubus still feared what would follow any attempt to strike her down.

And the well-dressed man, still unnoticed, took advantage of the distraction to attack.

Eri was already striding toward the illusion-clad figure, one clenched fist raised and ready to strike, when Samuel Adder's magic struck her. There were three sizzling bolts of arcane energy, deep crimson and crackling with the promise of infernal pain, two glancing across her limbs, sizzling flesh and rippling through her body, and the third hitting her center mass.

The pain of those bolts glancing across her limbs was enough to reach through her rage and send her reeling back with a scream of agony. The third bolt left her staggered and winded.

Only then did the shimmering mass fully reveal itself as the succubus Eri had pursued, grabbing onto the back of her neck with lengthening claws, willing her muscles and joints to lock up. "I don't remember sending you an invitation," she crooned as she tightened her grasp.

Eri seemed to be an easy mark for the succubus now. Seized by the neck and feeling the lengthening claws, she still struggled and thrashed with incredible force in the initial moments of the assault, knocking the wind out of Naomi with a blow to the ribs -- but it did not break the succubus' grasp, and Eri's fight was short lived. The shock of her injuries and Naomi's will soon locked up her muscles, leaving her unable to move.

"You didn't tell me she was strong!" Naomi called wheezily across the room to her boss, who soon flashed through a rippling black tear to stand before Eri.

"She's a half-demon, child, a mongrel, but still many times stronger than your usual mortal prey. What did you expect?" he sighed, and reached out to lift Eri's chin with one curled finger, smiling into her eyes. "Hello, Eri. My name is Samuel Adder. We're going to be making some exciting introductions very soon, but first, why don't you tell me why you're chasing my people through the streets of RhyDin?"

He nodded aside to Naomi, who bent the spell to release Eri's head from its arcane stranglehold.

The yanki bared her teeth in a grimace as she saw Samuel Adder appear in front of her. Her state of extreme emotional disturbance was both suppressing her human side as well as amplifying her oni side: the regeneration at work was moving even faster than normal, repairing the three distinct wounds on her body fast enough that they could see her burns fading.

And with renewed vigor, Eri found the will to break completely free of the spell as soon as its grasp slackened. She stumbled a bit as she was released, and there was an insant where her face passed into shadow, revealing a flash of baleful yellow eyes, glowing like two lamps in the darkness.

"Following to find you... want to sell you some encyclopedias... prick," she snarled defiantly at Adder, planting her feet and throwing her head back into Naomi's face before the succubus could grab her again. There was a sickening crunch and a splash of blood in her inky black hair as Eri struck the woman's chin, bloodying her teeth with the blow.

But while Naomi sputtered, Adder remained calm and collected. "Sleep now," he whispered over his hand, willing it to be so just as the succubus had done earlier, and smoky black tendrils curled out from his fingers, flowing through Eri's mouth and nose, curling around her eyes, weighing down her eyelids. The delinquent's visage returned to its familiar state as she stumbled...

"Naomi? Summon Mallory. I have questions for that foolish girl."

...and fell as darkness took her.

((Adapted from RP with Eri, with thanks!))
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Nick Cross
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 20, 2017 4:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Following the events of the Gala on Friday, September 22nd...

Getting the Red Letter was easy. He was already a fixture in plenty of disreputable establishments. He simply had to watch and wait.

When the letter finally arrived it was time to make his move. His target was the usual type of rich kid come slumming in the docks. He was doing lines and drinking vodka in the corner.

He almost didn't catch it, when a rather unassuming woman slipped by his table and set the letter on the table. He had noticed her drinking alone before. She was good, just made it look like she was leaving, if he hadn't seen that flash of red as she pulled the envelope from her purse he might have missed the exchange altogether. After she was out the door the detective noticed two large men finishing their own drinks and leaving the bar. He made a mental note of their faces then turned his eyes to the target.

The detective watched as the man red the letter grinned and tucked it into his back pocket. His target drank for about an hour more before finally heading out the door.

Nick settled his tab and waited a a minute before heading out the door himself. He quietly gained on the man, walking like he was in a hurry to get somewhere, then he bumped into him. In one fluid motion he pulled the letter from his victim's pocket and stuffed it into his jacket. Unfortunately, the rich kid wasn't have any of that.

"What the hell man! Watch where you're going!" The kid it seemed was ready to fight.

"Hey, I'm sorry man. I was just in a hurry to get home!" The detective backed up holding his hands in the air.

"You gonna be sorry!" The kid shoved the detective back.

"Sorry kid, I don't have time for this crap!" The detective moves fast uppercutting the kid in the solar plexus. The kid falls to his knees, trying to catch his breath and keep from choking on his own vomit at the same time.

In between ragged gasps, "Don't....you know...who my father is!"

To be honest the detective didn't give a crap who the kid's father is and walked away. He waited until he got a safe distance away before looking at the letter.

"Sin worth the price....first taste is free....red metal door....Huh, not far from here." The dead man mutters out loud as he reads the letter before returning it to his pocket.

----------------------


The Door's location was only a few blocks away. The door was located down some stairs to the basement level of a large building of unassuming nature. It was oddly silent, not what one would expect of a club. The detective knocked hard three times on the door and waited. A slot at eye level opened up and a pair of angry black eyes stared back at him. Taking the letter out of his coat the dead man held it up to the slot and waited. The slot closed, and it took a couple of minutes but the door was opened and he was ushered inside by a huge bald man dressed in an ill fitting black suit and tie that looked just about ready to burst at the seams. "Spread your arms and legs" he ordered and the detective complied.

The bald brute waved a wand around and it didn't take long for the wand to start beeping.

"Weapons stay with me, " The brute ordered and handed Nick a basket for his belongings.

The detective grumbled a bit, but in the end took off his coat folded it neatly and placed it in the basket followed by his gun which he tucked in between the folds of his coat. The brute waved the wand around again and when it beeped Nick grinned cheekily and pulled his keys from his pocket. Once more with the wand, no more beeps, he was allowed to take his keys and given a ticket to pick up his belongings when he left.

The brute then opened up another door allowing the detective to step inside the club proper.

The detective stepped into the red light the loud music hitting him suddenly, Heavy Bass Rhythym thrumming loudly, he could feel it in his chest. He looks up first, gazing up at the balconies of the large room. When he turned his gaze to the other inhabitants he was greeted with a sea of hedonism. Drugs, dancing, drinking, and other vices he'd rather he hadn't seen. The air was warm, thick with the smell of booze and sweat.

Spotting the bar, he made his way though the writhing mass of bodies. It took him longer than expected as he would get pulled one way or another by people wanting to dance, or make out. The longer he remained in the throng of people the easier it would be to succumb to the spell of the place. It had to be a spell, because it took everything he had not to succumb to his earthly desires before he finally made it out in one peace on the other side of the writhing, hedonistic sea.

He leaned against the bar, it was warm, but he felt chilled. The sea of people called to him, and it took nearly all he had to steel himself against it. He cleared his throat more for show than anything else and slid onto one of the barstools.

"Whiskey, on the rocks, " He told the bartender, a scantily clad woman with raven locks and violet eyes.

In a few moments the bartender placed his order in front of him. The dead man reached for his wallet, and the bartender shook her head, "The first drink is free, sugar."

"Thanks, " The detective smiled at the woman and watched the room as he sipped his drink.

He could feel the warmth of the booze as it moved down his throat, the heat blossoming through out his stomach, his chest. He didn't realize what was going on until he had already drank half of the glass. The booze had worked it's way into his head greeting him like an old familiar friend. A feeling he had been unable to feel since he had died. Alcohol just didn't work anymore, but this was something else. He knew he should be worried, but as he drank his booze his troubles seemed to move farther and farther away.

When the Corpse Detective finally finished the glass, he found himself paying for another. It was definitely worth the price.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 10:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thursday morning...

It was Hector's third trip to this weird little nightclub in as many days, and he found himself dreading the descent, to the point that he couldn't follow through.

It wasn't the darkness, the cramped tunnels, the noise of the underground, the rotting filth -- City Momma knew that never bothered him before. He'd been crawling through worse places and baring his teeth at terrible things twice his size for as long as he could remember. But there was something about Tartarus that got in under his fingernails, crawled up his arms, and slithered down his spine on a thousand little claws.

Maybe it was the way Maria and the other girls she worked with smelled wrong. Maybe it was the look in the normies' eyes as they came out of that place in a daze, like they knew something he didn't, even though normies never knew ****. Maybe it was all the red.

Or the fact that this time, the man in charge wanted to meet him.

Hector never trusted politicians. Whenever a new one was elected, wherever he was, he told whoever was listening (usually Jameson or Linda) "They're up to something, man -- I don't know what -- but just you wait -- you'll see." And Samuel Adder had been ringing that paranoid alarm bell in his head so hard that he wanted to crawl into the bottom of the deepest Cold War bunker he could find until he could stop hearing it.

I take the stuff right up to the gate, and they'll find it. Don't even need the gold. ****ers can keep it for the trouble, and keep their ****ing trouble, too.

He resolved on these thoughts with a low growl to himself as he tugged the rucksack on his back with him through a gap in a wooden fence near the end of an alley, wriggling through easily for a man of his size with that kind of cargo. Not just the usual stuff this time -- they'd told him to clean out the back room of a dusty antique shop in Old Temple, bring the three small cedar crates packed with straw, don't look.

They were nailed shut. He didn't look. But their uncomfortable weight, and that they were a mystery he wanted no further part in, was getting to him. He shifted the rucksack to the other side of his back, shut his eyes, and thought about someplace safe. A deep dark hole. No doors, plenty of holes. Big warm blankets to crawl under. Enough food to weather armageddon. Polly.

Then he took the steps down into the tunnel, into the darkness most mortal eyes couldn't pierce.

It was an old electrical tunnel that ran underneath an abandoned hospital, and it was miraculously dry despite the sound and smell of the river a short distance away. White ceramic talls on the floor, ceiling, and walls were gray and black with filth, and about halfway down the corridor toward the broken, picked-clean generator at the far end, something Ed would love, but I ain't telling that poor kid about this ****in' place, something had broken through the wall. A wider tunnel of rough, claw-marked stone gave way to a brick-lined passage, like a catacomb, closed at the near end by a black iron gate.

Beyond it, red light beckoned him to take the path down to Tartarus one more time.

Not today.

He came up to the edge of the stone passage, paused uncertainly, then dropped his rucksack on the floor, ten feet from the gate. As it settled, he thought he heard a quick, exhaled breath at the end of the passage. It was darkness he should be able to see through, easily, but maybe through some trick of the eerie red light, or some other trick, he couldn't make out anything more than a few feet beyond the gate. There was nothing but that breath to let him know that someone was watching him; that, and the unshakeable feeling of eyes seeking to lock with his in the darkness.

"Yo!" he shouted. His voice echoed around him, and drew no answer. He looked over his shoulder and back at the gate as he backed up to the T-intersection, darted his gaze up and down the old electrical tunnel, then narrowed his eyes on the gate again. "It's all there, man! Everything you want! Sorry, I got... **** to do today, you know?! So you keep the gold! Keep the gold, and we're cool. Cool?"

No answer.

"Cool," he snarled, and turned away from the gate. **** this place. He went back the way he came, hands jammed into his pockets, shoulders forward, projecting as much of an air as he could muster that he was someone who didn't care, but someone you should never mess with. He came up to the base of the stairs, and slowly raised his head to something that was blocking the little sliver of daylight he was honing in on.

Shadows manifesting out of the floor, raising into snarling and snapping shapes to fill the entire passage. The utter, impenetrable darkness they were made from grew and spread towards him, skittering along the walls and ceiling, hissing like a torrent of boiling water along the floor.

He turned and ran. And by the time he reached the broken passage with the gate, where the red light spread with a slow, menacing growl, he was scrambling on all fours. He leapt over debris and darted through it, only gaining speed as he closed in on the generator at the end of the hall. He leapt up to the top of it, then off of it to a rusted-out hole wiring had once run out of. His legs cycled in the open air as he struggled to find purchase, as the chamber behind him flooded with suffocating shadow and crimson fire...

...then he was home free, scrambling through tunnels too narrow for any predator he wasn't tough enough to face. Up. Up, through the hospital, out, then anywhere safe... anywhere but here!

He twisted left and right wildly, nose twitching, seeking out different smells, the smell of a rotting and abandoned building, different in subtle ways from filthy tunnels. Staler, mustier. He caught wind of it on the other side of a gap, leapt nimbly across it, and began climbing up a steep slope towards faint rays of dusty daylight ahead of him.

But as he climbed, the tunnel widened and smoothed, the caked filth he found purchase in retreating into the pipe. The angle rose, and rose, and rose... until he was free-falling, straight down, wheeling his limbs with a shriek as he plummeted into the pit.

* * * * *

"Hector."

The voice called for his attention, and he found himself giving it, peeling himself off of a cold brick floor to look up at a man with brilliant green eyes. Red light flooded the vast chamber behind him. They were in Tartarus.

"You're naked."

It was not a statement to be spat at and retorted. It was a fact, coming from a man he needed to listen to. He awaited his words with wide and eager eyes, though some small part of his brain that still knew to panic, to run, kept trying to tick away from him and look for the exits.

"Get dressed," the man said, throwing a dirty brown jumpsuit onto the floor next to him. "And help Maria with the boxes. You have work to do, Hector. Or are you going to run away from that, too?"

There was no need to answer. He got dressed.

* * * * *

He wasn't sure how much time had passed between then and now. He knew he'd been driving heavy bronze nails, marked with strange symbols running the length of them, through the tops of the dancing cages. He'd been unbolting the cages from their mounts, rearranging them around the vast nightclub, with the help of strangers who seemed to be swimming through the same fog he was.

He must have been at it for hours.

"The Bell of Gomorrah," the green-eyed man said, and Hector stopped wondering how long it had been, and moved to the crate at the man's feet. He pulled away matted masses of straw until he uncovered the artifact, lifting it free of its cage: a heavy bronze bell, covered in thousands of tiny runes that each seemed to curl in on themselves and grasp outwards. "Isn't it beautiful?" he asked.

"Yes," Hector replied, because it was what the green-eyed man wanted to hear.

"Set it up."

* * * * *

The other workers were gone. Maria had left. Now it was only Hector and the green-eyed man who called himself Samuel Adder, standing on the highest balcony overlooking the pit of Tartarus. Broad streaks of white ash covered the brickwork between them. The white embers in the brazier crackled and flared with power.

"Come to me, Hector."

After hours under his spell, after failing to escape him, after failing time and again to resist his domination and falling completely under his sway, its power was fading, and his stubborn will broke free. He looked down in shock at his sweaty hands, at the debilitating weariness he felt in every muscle from a day of work he barely remembered, and at the smiling politician before him. His shock hardened into anger.

"Yo, Sam! I got something to say -- **** you!" extending both middle fingers. Samuel only smiled, advancing slowly towards him, and Hector traversed the edge of the balcony. This evil wizard or whatever the **** he is was tricky. That was fine. Hector was faster than him. "Making me do this **** all day, when I gave you a deal walking away from that money! So **** you, and **** your stupid clubs, and **** your stupid campaign. I hope you get no votes."

Samuel Adder didn't answer. He only stepped towards Hector, trying to close the distance between them.

Hector grinned. I got something for you, idiot. Come and get it.

When they were only ten feet apart, with Samuel Adder reaching out for him, Hector drew back to the railing, then leapt right at him. Flat teeth turned to fangs, fingernails turned to claws, fur erupted from skin, and his form twisted and shrank. He could see both his arms, see both his hands, and see that he'd be too quick to be stopped. He'd bite him on the neck, a sweet little gift to remember me by, and get the hell out of there.

Until something unseen, controlled by a simple flourish of Samuel Adder's long-fingered hands, dug its talons into his hide. He shrieked as he struggled to break free from its painful, panic-inducing grasp. He shrieked as Adder's despicable smile swam into his vision.

He shrieked as a searing, white-hot pain consumed his beating heart.
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Ed
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Oh thank God you're here," Olive said with no small measure of exasperation. He found her on the walk in front of the apartment building in Old Temple, pacing back and forth. An inconsolable wailing bundle was tucked against her breasts. She thrust the baby into Ed's arms immediately. "Here. Been screaming all morning. I can't take it anymore. Nothing makes her stop but you."

Sure enough, as soon as he had the newborn cradled in his arms, she ceased all her noises. Why me? He wondered, sighing.

"I need a cigarette," Olive grumbled. "You got one?" Without waiting for an answer, she started patting him down and found what she was looking for in his back pocket. He squirmed where he stood and then bounced a step aside when she'd freed a cigarette from the pack. "Light?" He rolled his eyes and cocked his hip toward her. He tried not to shudder as she dug the Zippo out of his front pants pocket.

"Did you feed her?" he asked, peering down at Polly's passive little face. He couldn't help but smile. Why were babies so darn cute? He stuck his finger close to her nose. She wasn't coordinated enough to reach for and grab it yet, but she wriggled, rooting. He let her suck on his finger without complaint.

"She won't eat," Olive snapped. The Zippo snapped too, when she shut it. Both sounds made him flinch, one after the other. She tucked the lighter back into his pocket, exhaled away from him and the baby, and then shuffled a few more paces away.

"Changed her diaper?"

Olive glared at him slantways. "No point. No eating, no wet nappies."

"Did you at least check?"

"'Course we checked! Sizzle looked for stray hairs maybe caught 'round her toes. Tried burping her. Rocking her. Pert sang her a lullaby. Nothing's made her quit all morning 'til you got here." With a severe frown the woman exhaled another vicious plume of smoke. She looked at him with pure hatred. He could almost hear her thoughts.

It's not right. Rearing babies is woman's work. That baby ain't right. No more than he is. Maybe that's why she takes to him so well.

And Ed shared a secret, sad smile with baby Polly as she suckled his fingertip. He nudged her tiny hand with its conjoined middle fingers with his pinky. Her reflexes were good, even with the deformity. Her grip was strong.

Us freaks gotta stick together, he thought.

Together, Ed and Olive jumped at the sound of a shriek that had come from inside the building. They recognized that lamenting scream immediately. Ed elbowed past the smoking woman and leapt down the half stairs to the basement level. The baby remained quiet, tucked against his chest, as he stormed into the apartment that had once been his own.

Abby was on the floor in front of the refrigerator, on her knees, hugging herself tight, rocking forward and back. Pert was floating to her knees beside her and reaching to tuck an arm around her as Ed came in. "What is it?" she asked Abby softly.

"Hector," Abby gasped.

In the short hall behind him, a collection of other voices gasped. Ed looked back to see many faces he recognized and some that were new. He stepped sideways, further in past the broken couch, and made room for them. Polly made the tiniest of squeaks in his arms.

"No," someone said. "Not Hector too?"

"Yes." The reply from Abby was hardly an exhale. Rocking forward, she put her hands to her face and sobbed. All around them, others joined in to cry with her. Even Ed.

But not Polly. She had worn herself out crying already. Ed looked again to see that her eyes were closed. Finally, she was sleeping. He wondered. Had she known even before Abby? Was she a Seer too?

---

Without a body, they held a small, private service in the dark and quiet of the basement apartment. Many 'Kin came through to whisper prayers to the idol of City Momma they had placed atop the fridge. Ed stayed for as long as Polly napped, then handed her off to Pert when she stirred. She fussed, but did not cry anymore, and she finally took to eating.

"Eddie." Abby, wraithlike in the candle lit apartment, sidled up to him. Her dark eyes were haunted. She set her hand on his arm.

Concern and sadness moved him to turn and wind his arms around her. Without a word, he stuck his nose to her hair and hugged her tight. She was tense in his embrace. After a minute, she loosely tucked her arms around him, too.

"Be careful tomorrow night," she whispered ominously in his ear. "Keep your wits about you, baby boy."

Drawing back his chin, he looked her in the eyes and nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

The most fleeting ghost of a smile flitted across her lips. She looked so worn, tired. Everybody did, he noticed. Having a baby in the building was taking its toll on them all. She touched his cheek, then kissed the other, and drifted away.

Ed took a deep breath and steeled himself. First Linda. Now Hector. Mournfulness threatened to engulf him, but he resisted. He had plans tonight. Goshen had promised him he'd enjoy himself, and so he was determined to do so.

A sense of something being wrong followed him the rest of the day and into the night, though. Regardless of how willful he was about having a good time, it followed him to the party the following evening too.
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 9:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The first thing Eri was aware of when she awoke was the pulse of bass, distantly heard through the brick walls of the cell she found herself in. It only took a moment to remember the fight in the club, and Adder's voice telling her to sleep. She sat up on the edge of the cot she had been laying on, shivering for a moment.

Then she stood and began exploring the confines of her cell.

There was a curtain covering one corner of the room; she pushed it back, revealing a small bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink. There were faint markings on the cell floor, but in the dim and disorienting magical light in the cell, they were impossible to make out... That left only the heavy iron door with a small barred window to explore. Before she could move to it, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching, and she saw the indistinct figure of a hulking bouncer, stooping to slide a tray of food through a slot in the bottom of the door. She waited until their steps moved away before crossing to the door, moving the tray aside with her foot while she looked out the window. All she could see was a section of dimly lit hallway as she instinctively tried pushing at the door.

It wouldn't budge.

Leaning against it for a moment while she thought about her predicament, Eri realized that she was hungry and thirsty. Had she eaten anything in the days since Mallory had handed her that letter? She picked up the tray and sat down on the edge of the cot to eat the food she had been brought. As soon as she was finished, she set the tray aside and covered her face with her hands, waiting in darkness and near-silence save the rhythmic hum of bass through the walls. She had nearly fallen asleep again when she heard more footsteps approaching, and got up to the window in her cell door for a better look.

"Miss Maeda, so good to see you again." Samuel Adder's mocking warmth echoed down the hallway, accompanying the approaching footsteps -- soon interrupted by a more familiar voice.

"Eri?!" Mallory. She sounded incredulous, and rushed over to see for herself. Her eyes widened at the sight of the delinquent.

The witch looked different. Her hair was a shockingly pale blonde, perfectly arranged, and her ears and nose gleamed with shiny new piercings. She wore a white shirt with a peter pan collar and a black sportcoat she normally wouldn't be caught dead in. And behind her carefully applied makeup, her eyes betrayed signs of crying and exhaustion.

Eri's teeth clenched as she heard that mocking voice. She took a breath to speak, but whatever insult she'd been about to cast caught in her throat when she heard Mallory's voice. As the witch came into view of her window the delinquent crowded the door, her hands coming up to clench at the iron bars. Taking in the sight of her, even looking so different and with such suffering evident in her eyes, Eri still couldn't supress a familiar smile even as her eyes filled with tears.

"Of course it's me. I wanted to see you one more time, and tell you that I love you too," she said, her voice breaking when she spoke the words. She continued in a rush: "I'm sorry that I screwed up! I thought I could win. Please don't be mad at me."

"Mad at you?" Mal laughed incredulously, a sob burbling out along with it. "I broke up with you out of the blue, I left you in the lurch, and you came looking for me... Of course I'm not mad at you," she whispered, sliding her hands over Eri's through the bars, holding on as tight as she could. "****ing Christ, I'm so in love with you."

She darted a look back at Adder, who was now stepping past them, gesturing down the hall at someone unseen. "Babe. What's he done to you?" She gave Eri a worried look.

The yanki leaned her form against the door, days of tension leaving her as she heard the reply Mallory whispered to her. She kept her face pressed close to the bars, tears streaming unevenly down her cheeks. "I'm glad, truly," she whispered back. There was a brief glance at Adder stepping past, but her eyes went directly back to look into the witch's. "Nothing. We fought and I couldn't win. He told me to sleep and I woke up in here. I'm sure whatever happens now won't be good, but this was what I chose. What I wanted."

"Eri..." Mallory squeezed her hands, looking aside once more as the toll of a heavy bronze bell reverberated through Tartarus. Whatever it was, it didn't matter. "I'm going to get you out of this," she whispered, and gasped when Eri's hands slid away from hers.

The yanki was still standing in the cell, but had stepped back from the door, her eyes dull, focused on nothing. An eerie red light was fading from the faint markings that criss-crossed the floor of her cell.

"Eri?" When there was no answer, Mallory whipped her head to face Adder, her features twisted in anger: "What the **** did you do to her?!"

Adder closed the distance with long, rapid strides, and when Mallory stuck her jaw out defiantly, he slapped her hard across the face. "It is what you did, you stupid girl! Did you tell her you loved her when you broke her heart? And she thought she could win! How did such a thought ever come to her -- did you tell her about me in your next breath? Speak!" he roared, pushing her back against the wall with a solid thud, hands pressed to her shoulders.

Mallory's cheek stung, still red where he struck her, but she did not lower her eyes from the archdevil when he roared in her face. "I tried to warn her," she hissed, unflinching when he snarled in reply to her insolence. "I knew she wouldn't give up... I knew she would dig... so I left a warning on the trail I thought she'd follow. The warning told her to keep her head down and leave you alone. You think I'd lure my girlfriend into danger?"

Adder's lips thinned as he scrutinized her, searching her eyes for some sign of a lie... but none was found. "You already did," he said, and with a helpless shrug, released her, stepping away down the hall, back towards Tartarus.

"Adder!" Mallory cried hoarsely, taking a few steps after him. "What are you going to do with her?!"

He let out a slow chuckle, pleased at her desperation, at how easy it was to place her firmly back under his control. "Oh, she'll be unharmed... until I'm done with you. Then she's free to go. But this is where my charity stops. If you do anything else to jeopardize your friends' safety, I will destroy them. I promise."

Mallory's gaze fell slightly from his face, her frown deepening, her eyes ticking back and forth as her emotions seesawed on a precarious balance between the desperate terror she'd been feeling for her friends and family all along... and the steadily growing fire of wrath.

"Come along, Ms. St. Martin. Let's watch the evening's entertainment together."

* * * * *

For a change, the highest balcony at Tartarus was not so isolated.

Samuel Adder rubbed shoulders with a few of the higher-class, more respectable members of this city's underworld, well-dressed gangsters from powerful old crime families, trading jokes and kisses and toasting their plans for a more profitable future.

Nearby, a trio of women who seemed to comprise Adder's inner circle charmed and seduced the younger men and women mingling around them, a little less respectable but no less useful for the empires he had planned, whether they turned out to be political or otherwise. Naomi Lin was one of their names, or at least the name she had chosen for now; the second was Maria Ruiz; the third, Shannon O'Connor. None of them were likely of this world or any world like it, too graceful in their movements, and reeking too much of illusions.

They paid little attention to Mallory St. Martin, standing with her arms folded over the edge of the railing, staring at the dancing cages below, but she listened to them. She thought about their names, their faces, and what other guises they might favor. She thought about what they were probably capable of, the magic at their disposal.

And she thought about killing them.

Thirty feet below her, on one of the lower balconies Eri Maeda danced within one of the thirteen cages scattered around Tartarus. Her eyes were lifeless, but her smile was bright, bobbing her head in encouragement to the patrons dancing around her cage as she stepped and clapped and shook for their amusement, a marionette for the man who fancied himself the puppetmaster. He'd even picked out a red-and-black seifuku for her to wear, in an apparent fit of inspiration from his upcoming gala.

The sorrow was not gone, nor the fear. Both roiled in her gut, clenching it into knots as she grit her teeth, but she did not take her eyes off of Eri. Wrath had found its home in her heart, and she meant to show it to this pit of indulgence and despair before the devil decided he was done with her.

((Adapted from live play with Eri! <3 Thank you!))


Last edited by Mallory on Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:08 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It wasn't even five o'clock on Friday when Vash decided to close up shop at Panacea.

This had been one of the shifts he always shared with Mallory, closing on Fridays, staying open another hour or two while the local college crowd decided they'd kick off their weekend with an old-fashioned card reading down in the basement, and a few treats for the road. Now, Fridays were quieter, and Vash hated the new energy they held.

He'd tried napping in the patch of sunlight that appeared near the front late in the afternoon, but found that (for a change) he couldn't sleep at all. He watched the door, sighed, circled his spot and laid back down and sighed some more.

Cane wouldn't care, especially not tonight. And a bunch of people were off at some soiree across town, anyway.

He had his keys in hand as he backed through the front door, ready to pack up, when a shock of color in the doorframe caught the corner of his eye. Some weirdo leave us flowers? Did I drop something? No...

He dropped to a crouch on the balls of his sandaled feet, reaching out to touch the small cluster of belladonna flowers growing out of the base of the doorway. They hummed with the flickering warmth that signaled the coming of autumn, brimming with the magic of the equinox that was now at hand.

He leaned to one side for a better look, and finally saw what the belladonna flowers spelled out:

HELP

"Mal...?" He frowned, shook his head, and dug out his phone to snap a picture. "Sorry, boss," he muttered to himself. "But I'm pretty sure you'll wanna see this..."


Last edited by Mallory on Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Friday evening...

"Look, I know you said--"

"It's fine." Canaan cut off the shopkeeper's attempt at conciliation with a steel-edged reply and the sharp wave of a hand that conveyed his desire for silence. He didn't care that Vash had disobeyed an order to leave him alone today. A girl's cry for help was reason enough to lure him out of the Autumn Prince's domain. "Where's the letter she left?"

Vash glanced toward the office, so Cane started in that direction. The other man followed, but remained at the foot of the stairs, calling up to him. "It's in her file. What's going on?" There was no answer, just the metallic creak of the cabinet being opened. The Cajun didn't even take the time to close the drawer before he reappeared in the doorway and descended the stairs.

"Have you heard from her at all since she left?" He slipped the letter into an inside pocket of his jacket.

"No." Vash shook his head, trailing after Cane to the front door. He watched him kneel down to inspect the message, running calloused fingers gently through the petals. "That was a week ago. Her things are still downstairs."

Cane said nothing in response to Vash, considering his options as he stood. The flowers and vines shriveled up into nothingness, burnt to cinder and ash that floated away in the salty breeze that swept in from the west.

--

Canaan was so lost in thought that he didn't immediately realize he'd passed the derelict manor house until he'd gone two buildings too far. After doubling back, the reason for his error became apparent.

The witch's influence shimmered around the building, tangled wards haphazardly strung up like unkempt christmas lights. Meant to detract, distract, lead the eyes away. The more he focused on them, he could feel the push back from Mallory's magic. He knew it wasn't her best work when, after a twenty second search along the edge of the property, he found a weak point in the matrix. One small tug was all it took to unravel the messily applied illusions and on by one her wards and failsafes collapsed.

He pressed a palm to the door. Brittle, peeling paint disintegrated beneath his touch. There was only one person inside, two floors up. He drew his hand away to knock, then tried the doorbell instead when no one answered.

The door was opened a minute later by a deeply skeptical young man with steel blue eyes and a guarded expression. "Yes?"

"Looking for Mallory." Canaan looked past the boy to what he could see of the foyer and beyond.

"She's not here."

He already knew that, but frowned any way. "You the brother?"

"Trick."

"Trick," he repeated. Cane took a moment to scrutinize him. Trick stared back evenly, his expression steady and unyielding. Between that and the boy's body language, the Cajun could see why he'd managed to capture Salvador's attention. "Would you be able to tell me where she's at? I could track her down myself, but that'd take time I don't have."

"Um. Well..." Trick hesitated briefly. "You're that guy she used to work for, right? The, uh... the Green Man. From Beltane."

"Right. Cane. She worked for me at Panacea through the summer. But then I got a letter last week saying she took another job."

Trick relaxed fractionally, letting the door open another inch or two as he leaned against the frame. "Yeah. She's doing some magic **** for that guy who's running for office. Adder? I think that's it. It was pretty sudden. She just up and moved out to go... I don't even know what exactly she's doing. I assume the same stuff she did for you."

There was a piece of information there that set off alarm bells in Cane's mind. His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "She moved out? Did she say where?" When Trick's eyes narrowed at him, he offered the kid a lopsided smile. "All of her ****'s still sitting in the basement of my shop."

"Oh." The boy scratched his jaw. "She gets caught up in stuff sometimes. I don't know much about campaigning, but it's probably pretty demanding. I can come pick up her stuff if you want."

"Sure, sure. That'd be great. Come by anytime next week. I'll have Vash get it all together for you." Not wanting to worry Mallory's brother (who likely wouldn't be able to help out anyhow), Cane refrained from shedding any light on the truth. "You don't know where she moved, though?"

Trick shook his head, shrugging bare shoulders. "Stars End? That's all she said. But you could probably ask her girlfriend, Eri. Eri Maeda. I'm sure she knows more than I do about it. I'm just 'the brother.'" One side of his mouth hooked upward for a split second, the flickering spark of a smirk.

Cane smirked, too, but his lingered on his face while offering out his hand for the boy to shake. "Thanks, Hoss. 'Preciate it." The smirk stretched into a full blown smile as he watched Trick consider his hand for a moment before taking it. The second their skin touched, however, Cane drew from his infernal gift of Sight.

Beneath the aura of Mallory's own magic, which he'd easily sensed on Trick from the moment they met, lay a darker, malevolent force that saturated the boy's Spirit. He saw what the mortal eye could not: a body and mind tainted by hellish force. The damage was not lasting; it would fade with time. But he sensed the intricate spellwork Mallory had willed upon her brother after the fact, the great care she'd taken in binding this young man's psyche from remembering whatever hell had been imposed.

He thought back on the Witch's letter. Specifically: While I was given a choice, I wish they had given me better options. What had been the options? Join me or I kill your brother?

Patrick was none the wiser for Cane's intrusion. "Sure, man."

They finished shaking hands; Cane took his leave after that. He had a party to attend.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Six o'clock Friday, before the gala...

The fae knight walked at his lady's side down the streets of Stars End, something they never would have been able to do in Faerie but had become accustomed to on the streets of RhyDin. Here, he was not just the silent guardian. He was a companion. Friend. Confidant. He measured his longer stride to keep up with the clicking of her red high-heels on the pavement. It was good to hear that noise again. She had abandoned her high-heels and fancy dresses for a while. It had worried him. She was so quiet. So disheartened. So broken.

Now there was a bit of life to her once more. A crispness and determination to her step. A cunning, bright light in her grey eyes. His lady was most alive when playing the game.

Ishmerai just wished something else had brought that back to her. Someone else.

It was no secret in the household of The Empress that the good knight did not like Samuel Adder. "He is a snake, Mira."

"And you, my dear knight, have reptilian scales. Do you not like him because he reminds you of yourself?" she teased him, kissed his cheek, and did exactly what she wanted despite his repeated warnings.

They took the elevator up to his office. Elevators were the worst. He watched Jewell adjust her short, perfectly coiffed hair in the distorted reflection of the silver doors. He glowered.

Catching him in the act, she smiled first at his reflection and then at him, turning to adjust his leather jacket needlessly. "I will only be a few minutes, okay?" She did not promise. They both knew better.

The opening doors delivered them onto the floor bustling with Adder Campaign business. Jewell breezed through the people. Like water, they parted like a wave for the force of the tide. Such was the nature of her personality and gifts. Unlike on the street, Ishmerai followed behind her as she lead the way to Adder's office. The space Jewell left behind her had immediately filled back up again, the air abuzz with the chatter of office matters and juicy gossip.

His receptionist had her own office, an anteroom to his larger abode, so she could play gatekeeper between the candidate and his visitors and staff. Jewell graced her with a smile. Chit-chatted. Then she buzzed him on the intercom to let him know she was there.

"Come in, please," his affable voice sounded through the double doors to his office, swinging open to admit her on command.

Inside was a view of Stars End's bustling financial district, all wide pavilions and ornate fountains and gleaming skyscrapers, with clerks and investors and other white-collar workers coming and going on foot or by hovercar. A bright blue one raced right by his window, briefly drawing his curious gaze as he turned behind his desk.

Mallory was pulled up in a stiff chair beside his desk. She rose, as she had been sternly instructed to, when she heard someone entering, clapping shut the handsome leather notebook she'd had in her lap up until that very moment. Her eyes were wide with surprise at the familiar but unexpected sight of Jewell and Ishmerai, and her hands tightened around her notebook until her knuckles turned as white as her hair.

But by the time Samuel Adder had turned back around, her expression had leveled off into a slight, polite smile befitting her position. She bowed her head, took a step back as her new boss spoke.

"Jewell," he said warmly, standing now, stepping out from behind his desk, holding out both his hands for hers in greeting. "You're early! I was hoping you would be. Ms. St. Martin and I were just finishing up."

Samuel's warm greeting was lost to her surprise. "Mallory!" the familiar name escaped as the young witch was dismissed. Confusion quickly supplanted the shame and embarrassment she felt every time she saw Mallory since the trip to Perihelion, but even confusion was overcome by pleasure. "I shouldn't be surprised. Samuel did say he had an eye for talent, and I know few people as talented as our little Mal." She smiled at the witch, apparently proud, before crossing the room to kiss Samuel's cheek in greeting. "I hope I didn't interrupt anything too important." It was an empty nicety. When did The Empress ever care if she was interrupting anything?

Ishmerai was no less surprised to see Mallory working with Mr. Adder than Jewell was, immediately taking note of the changes to her appearance but saying nothing. Mr. Adder received a cold, barely perceptible nod of his head, but he did not stir from the door until instructed.

"Wait for me outside, Merai. We just have some finishing touches to go over." The pause was coupled with a coy smile. "For the gala."

The knight bowed and then stood aside, waiting for Mallory to proceed ahead of him, which she did at a dismissive shooing gesture from Samuel Adder. He had more important indulgences in mind than parsing his future through the visions of a miserable young witch, and no sooner had she and the knight crossed the threshold, than the doors slammed shut at Adder's command.

The receptionist was gone. Mallory glanced over her desk, noting the Mute light on the ringer, quietly abandoning her post rather than risk overhearing her boss making noises she had not signed up to hear.

But the witch did not follow suit. She knew her reading would resume as soon as Adder was done. There were things about her confusing portents he wished to understand before the gala, in case any of them became important. Black letters in red books. A glass slipper. A sea of painted bodies. An open cage. Darkness. Rats. Fire. Whatever their meaning, Adder seemed to lack the patience to untangle it, pressing Mallory harder and harder for clear predictions, tightening his vicelike grip around her and Eri...

Her knuckles had gone white again, but as much as she wanted to look at Ishmerai right now, she sat in a leather chair near the receptionist's desk and reopened her notebook, head bowed to her work.

The knight chose to brood by the door, arms crossed and as still as a statue. He did not look once towards the door (no matter what his sharp ears heard), but he did cast a glance once, twice, thrice, aside at Mallory. When it seemed clear she was intent on ignoring him, he cleared his throat.

Nothing.

Slightly exasperated and concerned, he finally spoke up, "I did not expect to find you working in a place such a this, Mallory."

Her finger paused on a page... then continued turning it. "They made me an offer. They pay very well." She smoothed the pages, thinned her lips, and shut her eyes for a moment. There. She could sense the arcane threads of the protective enchantments around his office, and how they vibrated with the energy of lust, something she'd learned how to detect leading up to the fight at Sanctuary.

She opened her eyes, affecting a half-smile in reply to the knight, fighting back the urge to run to him now, to beg him to fight beside her, free Eri, strike this awful archdevil down for good. He's too powerful... he'd kill us all.

"They set me up with a furnished apartment and everything."

"I did not realize you put much value in material things." His tone had a tinge of disapproval when he was truly more confused than anything. If she had wanted money, needed it, Jewell could (and would) have provided. Making a deal with a faerie (from the fae's perspective at least!) was much safer than a deal with a fiend. A minute ticked by in awkward silence. He could actually hear the second hand on the clock moving along. "Are you... satisfied with your work here?"

"Growing up without, it's nice to have. Beats the hell out of thirty silver per diem." She suppressed a wince at the hurled barb, and silently begged whatever being would listen to stop Ishmerai from walking out, right then and there. The powerful thrum of lust on the arcane threads was building quickly... she only needed a few more moments... "They have me doing research and divining the future, so really, there's no job more perfect for someone like me."

A furrow creased his brow as he turned somewhat to give her more of his attention. It was clearly not needed elsewhere at the moment. His tone was stern, reproving. "Your skillset is very valuable. If all you needed was more money, you only had to ask. I know you do not always think highly of my lady, Mallory, but -- "

There. With that pulse of lust along the threads of arcana around them, Mallory knew that Adder was lost in the throes of passion, unable to concentrate on watching her words or on any other magic he commanded. This was her best shot. This could be the only chance she and Eri got, as far as she knew. She lifted her head suddenly to look at him, her eyes wide, desperate, pleading, and mouthed:

Please help me. He has --

Whoever or whatever he had, she did not get to say. Her desperate expression fell as soon as she felt the familiar pull of one of Adder's many lackeys picking up the slack, scrying on the witch mere seconds after his own spell had failed. She could feel an awful little ball of despair forming in her chest as she sucked down everything she felt from that moment of hope among all the despair. Her polite smile fell to a faintly disapproving frown as she shut her notebook.

"I worked for your lady. She fired me. Then I worked for Cane. Now I've found a better job. There's nothing more to say." Her fingers tensed again, wincing inwardly at the feeling of heartbreak those words caused her.

His green eyes widened a touch, but just as he was preparing to offer his assistance, the wall went up between them again through the coldness of her actions and her words. "I see," he offered after a pause that was just a beat too long. He gave what seemed (at least to any video surveillance in the office) to be an annoyed glance at the office door as he turned back to his post, giving Mallory his profile once more.

What did Adder have on her? Why did she need his help? How could he give it if they couldn't even communicate? "I suppose congratulations are in order then," he stated stiffly.

"Thank you, Sir Ishmerai," she replied without looking up, not quite suppressing the quaver in her voice. It didn't matter. There wasn't anything more she could say to him, not now, not without endangering everyone.

As if on cue, the doors swung open, followed by the sound of Jewell and Adder's comingled laughter. His hand was on the small of her back as he escorted her out, and he spared a brief flash of a pleased smile aside to Mallory and her obviously distressed state as he said to Jewell, "Don't worry, I'll be down in a few minutes, and we can head over. Ms. St. Martin and I just have to finish up."

Her head down, her shoulders squared, Mallory marched between Adder and Ishmerai, the notebook clutched tightly to her chest. "Have a good evening, Jewell, Ishmerai; I hope to see you there," she said quietly, before slipping back into his office.

Jewell cast a puzzled look between Ishmerai and Mallory before brushing away the lingering tension. It wasn't going to ruin her good mood. "Don't keep him too long, Mallory," she chided her playfully despite the teen's downcast disposition. Then, in obvious good humor, she looped her arm through one of Ishmerai's and led the reluctant knight out of the office.

* * * * *

They fought outside.

"I do not care if he is your latest toy, Mira. That man is trouble. Mallory is in trouble."

The faerie tried to brush away his concerns with a wave of her hand. "You keep saying that, but you know nothing."

"No, my lady. You are the one that knows nothing: nothing about that man. He is dangerous. Far more dangerous than I think you know."

She laughed at him. "Don't underestimate what I know. I know he's dangerous. Do you think I just trifle with anyone? That's why I like him. Who wants to **** some pokey ol' suit who grunts like he's about to die every time he thrusts? Really Ishmerai."

"Jewell," he growled her name as she refused to take him seriously and poked fun at the entire situation.

She simply laughed at him again. A good afternoon **** always put her in a pleasant, playful mood. "Stop, Merai. I know you're fond of the girl, but all you think she said was help me, but you don't even know what she needs help with! Isn't it more likely that Mallory is just in over her head? They're probably expecting more of her than she can deliver. You know how she is. Our little witch has quite the ego and confidence in her skills. She's the one that insisted on going to Sanctuary, right?"

The knight conceded reluctantly, "Yes."

Jewell continued, "It seems like the same thing. She saw something she wanted to be involved in, and she just jumped right in without thinking that maybe she can't handle it."

"I do not think this is the case, Mira. She seems scared."

The Empress refused to believe it was anything serious, brushing off his concerns once more: "A little bit of fear is healthy when you're meddling with fiends and faeries, Merai."

((Written with Jewell's player! Thank you!))


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2017 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

((Content warning: physical abuse))

Saturday, after the gala, before dawn...

"People seemed very interested in you tonight, Nadya."

It was Adder's enunciation of her birth name that chilled Mallory more than his unspoken question. She had excuses that she had practiced in her head, the result of dozens of imagined conversations between herself and a man prone to violent, potentially deadly outbursts.

Like I've done before. He's no different. Worse... but no different. She carefully schooled her expression as she watched buildings flash by through the tinted windows of his black sedan.

"Is that what you wanted? For me to be interesting?"

She could hear him shifting on the back seat, angling himself towards her; she could feel his gaze burning into the back of her head, though he remained slouched into the corner, relaxed, as if he would not strike. An unspoken lie that she recognized for what it was. "I wanted you to be useful. I want you to be useful," he said slowly, smilingly, like a father gently chiding his daughter.

She braced herself. "Am I not?"

With a subtle beckon with two of his fingers, Mallory's muscles seized up painfully, wrenching her around in her seat, twisting her to face him. She stifled a cry, but managed not to greet him with a snarl. She saw the driver's eyes in the rearview mirror, but he said nothing. People rarely did anywhere, and she did not expect it at all here.

"Your visions so far have meant nothing. Nothing about the debate tomorrow, nothing about the numbers that will start coming in next week...! Only a few useless riddles about tonight's guests, and then the same horse**** I'd expect from a pulp fiction prophet about darkness, and fire, and rat-infested pits..." His magical grip on her body tightened, and she made a strangled sound as she choked back a scream. "And I expected you to do more for me tonight than stand there and soak up attention."

Speaking was a struggle. "W-what -- ?"

He struck her across the face, then back across the other cheek, releasing his spell with the blows. When she recovered, she saw his index finger jammed accusingly in her face. "That strange, white-haired woman. What did she give you?"

"A business card," she said with a glower she couldn't help. Her cheeks were deep red, stinging from his slaps. "I'd helped her son before, but other than that, I don't know why." She dug it out of her jacket pocket, offering it over to him, and he palmed it, sparing it a quick glance. "You've spoken a lot about the talent you acquire. Maybe she wanted to poach me."

He grunted, slid the card away into a trouser pocket. "And that dead detective? He seemed awfully interested in you. What did your cards tell him?"

"Lottery numbers," she said with a helpless laugh, tears brimming in her eyes as she looked at him. "Not even good ones! Just a series of numbers he'll blow money on that'll lead to little changes in his life, adding up to a twist in fate. That's what you wanted me to do for people -- that's how these fortunes work!"

He studied her face for a very long moment... until he decided he was satisfied with her answer, nodding slightly. "You'll have to do better. I won't have you frittering my secrets away with the dead, but we'll have to find you another crutch, since your abilities alone do not seem up to the task..." His eyes danced side to side as he thought, then smiled. "Be up and ready at six, and pack a few things. You'll be doing your readings at Tartarus from now on. Ms. Lin will set you up with the rest. Alright?"

"Alright," she managed with a nod, and turned away to the window. He'd already seen her begin to cry, but he did not need to see her bitter scowl as the hot, angry tears rolled down her face, silently begging the threads of Fate to show her the path to his ruin, as she watched the long procession of streetlights between RhyDin and Stars End flash by...


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 8:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saturday

Mallory's first day in the pit gave her the strange, familiar feeling of an out-of-body experience.

She slept only a few hours and awoke feeling sick. She took a black SUV across town with one of Adder's mid-level staffers, a taller elven man who spent the ride pecking away at his tablet after a single glance at her; and a handful of volunteers, who by contrast seemed too interested in her. There were three boys and two girls, all in their mid to late teens, at the very least none older than her, and they spent about ten minutes whispering and speculating about her.

"I think she's one of his seers." "Where'd he find her?" "Street corner, maybe. Why don't you ask her?" "Shh!" "Think she knows if he'll win?" "Think she'd tell anyone if he wasn't?" "Is she our age?" "Maybe she'd wanna hang out." "Nah. Ice queen. She doesn't talk to anyone." "I heard she was at the gala." "I heard they left together. Do you think those two -- ?"

She felt sick again.

Part of it was what they were describing, though she'd played that fear out in her mind several times arleady: what he could do to her that he hadn't already. The other part was that this was a matter of gossip. No one would care if they knew what he had done. No one cared what happened to her.

No one here, she tried to remind herself, but with the vast gulf imposed between her and the people she could rely on, it was hard to hang onto hope. Eri stuck her neck out for me, and look what happened to her; and why would anyone else? I left. Jewell won't believe Ishmerai, even if he believes me, and why would he? Why would anyone?

Soon she felt a million miles away from herself, her body operating on autopilot as one of the interns finally broached conversation with her. She gave them her name. She promised she'd come out for drinks, if she ever found a spare minute from the campaign. Election night, then, after it was over. Definitely.

She was the last passenger in the car when they dropped her off at a street corner near the Marketplace, an unfamiliar route to Tartarus. Naomi Lin was waiting, smiling, looking perfect in her boots and stockings, her peter pan blouse, and her tweed skirt decorated with a giant bow tied in front. There was a sprig of flowers tucked into her lapel...

Cane.

Something clicked back into place, and Mallory smiled prettily at Adder's lieutenant, joining her for a quick breakfast she didn't care for while she considered the strength of the ribbon on the tweed skirt, namely whether it was strong enough to strangle the life out of Naomi Lin.

* * * * *

It was lucky for Mallory that she'd found her center and some modicum of strength, because it wasn't long until she saw Eri climbing her way out of her dancing cage, directed by unheard commands, retiring to her cell after an exhausting performance for the dozen diehard patrons lingering since last night. Her heart broke. Her guilt only grew. But she found her rage, and when she nurtured it, it renewed her resolve.

That didn't mean that Seeing went any better.

She saw smoke, and fire. A horned demon. Rats tumbling into a pit. A glass slipper, which she now deduced was either Cane or Nick Cross at the gala, but nothing else came to her. After her fifth attempt, she pushed away the clay bowl of blood-tinged rosewater and stared across the chasm at the far wall. She'd relied on her Sight too much in too short a time, and a sharp pain had taken root somewhere behind her eyes.

She crossed the high balcony, winding a wide path around the ash-filled brazier that still unsettled her, carefully avoiding the white streaks of it on the floor as she approached the railing and looked around the chamber. There were thirteen dancing cages here; it was hard to discern a pattern in a three-dimensional space, but they could not all have been placed to please the crowd, with several of them all but hidden away by overhanging balconies or tucked too close to the wall.

Then there was the bell, dangling from an iron arm extending out from the balcony. She didn't want to be seen paying too close of attention, but she looked long enough to see that the letters inscribed in its bronze exterior were Hebrew, which gave her some idea of what it was.

And the architecture here was... strange. The placement of the platforms. The shape of the chamber. The fact that it existed at all, as vast as it was, underneath an ancient seaside city with a river running through it.

She went back towards her blanket littered with her supplies, skirting a closer path to the brazier this time, with a more openly curious look. She'd continue Seeing for this wretched being, as long as he had the means to compel her, but in the meantime...

...this place deserved further study.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 26, 2017 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saturday

Six drinks later and the world was a blur. He looked about the club slowly, everything was a blur. The pulsing bass wormed its way through his body and flashing lights lets spots in his eyes. All in all the sensations were overwhelming, and he wanted to puke. Some small voice in the back of his mind told him that something was wrong. That he'd been dead for three years and he shouldn't be feeling like this. That there was something very wrong with this place. Unfortunately that voice was all but drowned out in a sea of sensation and emotion.

He stood slowly, he was wobbly on his feet. He knew that he had come here for a purpose. He knew it was important, but he couldn't remember what that purpose might be. He pushed himself away from the bar and land began to wander aimlessly through the club. Maybe if he saw what he was looking for he might remember what it was

Several times he found himself sucked into the crowd. He would black out, only to snap back into existence some time later to find himself dancing with or worse kissing on a woman. Each time he would push himself away angrily to return to his search for something that seemed further and further away with each step.

It could have been minutes, it could have been hours. Time seemed to have no hold in a place like this. He was no closer to his goal than when he started. The feeling of dread seems only to grow more intense with time. He had to get out. He had to get out now. It was a mistake to come here in the first place. He stumbled through the crowd at a hurried pace. Then he ran into a brick wall. It wasn't exactly a wall, it was big, bald, and ugly. For as much as he budged when Nick ran into him he may as well be a wall. He bounced back and fell back, cracking his head on the hard concrete floor.

It seemed like it could have been an eternity as the dead man lay on on the floor. But then he saw her. Eri, dancing away in a nearby cage . That was why he had come here in the first place. He'd had a hunch that she had gotten into some kind of trouble, he had no idea that it would have been something like this. Yet there she was, dancing away without an apparent care in the world.

"Come now Mr. Cross, you're in a state. It would be irresponsible of us to let you leave in your current condition. Let's take you somewhere so you can sleep it off." The brute smiled showing bad teeth. He grabbed Nick by the arm and yanked him up to his feet and steadied him. Nick was too out of it to fight back so he just played along.

The brute placed a hand on the back of the detective's neck and started guiding him out of the room and into a series of hallways blindingly bright and sterile in appearance where they were soon joined by the bartender, the dark haired woman from earlier. She gave him a bright, friendly and utterly frightening smile: "You really should be more careful Mr. Cross. Excessive drinking can be dangerous. You're lucky we care about the welfare of our customers."

Nick soon found himself being pushed unceremoniously into a small room decorated with only a worn cot to sleep on. The heavy metal door clanged shut behind him, and he was alone. The room was overly bright and the light hurt his eyes, at least it was quiet. The sounds of the club could not be heard at all from where he was.

"Well Nick, aren't you a sucker for punishment?" he said to himself as he took a seat on the cot pondering through his pounding headache what he was going to do next.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2017 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saturday afternoon

There was a little restaurant in New Haven (lit by candles set on the white tablecloths, a small dance floor, and a well known piano player) which prized the privacy of their guests just a smidge below the quality of their food. The faerie waited outside for her companion, tucking a bit of short, dark hair behind her ear as the breeze tugged at it, pulling it across her face. The debate was scheduled for this evening, but she had been thinking more of her meeting with Canaan than that when she dressed: a black wrap dress, pearls at her throat, and heels that needed no glamour to make her legs look so long.

Although magic made a flawless appearance easy, Jewell still couldn't resist the urge to pull a small compact from her clutch and check on the status of her lipstick. She wasn't sure why Cane had wanted to meet, but she wanted to look perfect regardless. She spotted him behind her via the mirror before hearing him.

"Sometimes you make me want to say outrageously inappropriate things." Cane affixed himself behind Jewell, broad chest pressed bodily up against her back. He stroked callous worn hands down her slender, bare arms and hunched down a little to peek inside the compact, too. "But then you'd probably encourage it, and we'd never make it inside for lunch." She could hear it in his voice as well as see the reflection of the wicked, fish hook smile that spread across his face.

She snapped the compact closed and turned as he straightened back up. "You look beautiful," Cane rumbled. He had a rich, sonorous voice that recalled distantly rolling thunder.

It always gave her goosebumps. "Do we really need to go inside?" She asked it playfully, but the undisguised desire in her grey eyes when she looked him over betrayed the seriousness of the question. Why go inside? Why talk about serious things when they could have so much more fun together?

The Cajun was dressed smartly in a pair of khaki slacks, dress shoes, and a deep, red polo shirt that lent him a respectable quality that the length and style of his hair did not. The sandy blond undercut was knotted simply at the back of his head instead of the more intricate braids he often sported. His pupils dilated, pulse quickening at the suggestion.

"Yes." His voice sounded strained, yet he made no attempt to hide the various manifestations of his longing for her. Cane placed a hand on her hip, gently guiding her to the door which the restaurant's hostess opened for them graciously. He resolutely ignored Jewell's pout, but added in an undertone as they made their way inside, "We can always go elsewhere for dessert."

"Mmm," the sound was a gentle purr, "I like the way you negotiate."

The restaurant was a quiet hum of conversation; the movers and shakers of New Haven were enjoying lunch meetings and dates. The hostess guided them to their table before leaving them to each other's company and glasses of water with thin slices of lemon floating on top.

Jewell smiled as Cane pulled out her seat for her before taking his own. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied smoothly.

She smoothed out her skirt before turning her attention to more important (and attractive) matters, like her lunch date, after a discreet glance to the tables around them. There were two couples nearby and a table of five from one of the local offices. "So to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, darling? Because I know if it wasn't important, we would probably skip right to desert."

Shame on anyone who thought Jewell didn't have any brains and was just a pretty face.

"We certainly would." Cane's eyes trailed Jewell's to each of the surrounding tables. He smiled at her, reaching for the cloth napkin beneath the gleaming spread of silverware and carefully slipped it free. A sharp flourish of the wrist snapped it open at the same time he cast a spell for the mantle of immunity to cloak their immediate vicinity. He lay the napkin over his knee. "But since it is important, I'll cut right to the chase. The witch, Mallory St. Martin, is in some kind of trouble, and I'd appreciate it if you could tell me anything about Samuel Adder."

She felt the spell click into place and smiled as he beat her to it. He beat her to the napkin too, which she immediately forgot all about midway through unfolding it. "Mallory is in trouble?" she repeated rather stupidly as the linen fell to her lap, unheeded. "I don't... what does Samuel have to do with it?" Far from defensive, Jewell was confused. Samuel had been (in a way) a breath of fresh air in her life, and now everything felt like it was falling to pieces again. Ishmerai had tried to warn her yesterday, but she rarely listened to the knight. Now Cane was also saying Mal was in trouble. She couldn't not listen. "I thought Mallory was just working for him?"

"I would have thought so, too, if not for the message she managed to get to me." Cane produced his phone which contained an image of the witch's ingenious cry for help, the belladonna flowers in the doorway. "Found this at my store. A week ago she quit her job at Panacea and left me a letter of resignation; I didn't think anything of it. She's ambitious. I wasn't surprised she'd found herself a step up in the world. But then this." He gestured to the phone laying on the table between them. "So I went and asked her kid brother where she went. Tracking her myself would have taken too long. Brother says she up and moved out of the house to go work for your boy, Adder."

"Not my boy," she responded absently as she tugged the phone closer, staring at those flowers.

Cane held up his hands in both apology and conciliation. He hadn't meant it quite that way.

Her brief smile was acceptance. She wasn't offended. There was a part of her that had wanted to make that clear to Cane for some reason, but she could puzzle that out later. Help me. That's what Mallory said to Ishmerai just yesterday. Jewell thought she was just in over her head a little, but this... this was different. To go through the effort to make this happen, to make sure no one could trace it back to her, to need to make sure no one could? The faerie didn't even need to ask if he was sure it was Mallory. What other conveyance would the Belladonna Knight use?

She slid the cellphone back towards him. "She tried to ask Ishmerai, my knight, for help yesterday. I just..." she shook her head. "It doesn't matter." The set to her shoulders was rigid, immovable. She was all business now. "Do you know what he is?"

Nodding, Cane slipped the phone back into his pocket. "His illusions are remarkable, but I'm moreso." The assertion was rooted firmly in confidence rather than superiority. "What he is doesn't bother me. It's--"

The rest of his sentence broke off as the waiter came to the table to take their lunch order. Both of them ordered small dishes, sharing an anticipatory expression with each other from over the tops of their menus before passing them back to the waiter. When they were alone again, Cane resumed his earlier train of thought.

"It's what he's done with that power. That kid I talked to yesterday bore the spiritual marks of some kind of torture. He was drenched in residual magic -- Adder's magic."

Her teeth worked at the inside of her cheek. "Do you think he did that to Mallory?"

Cane cocked an eyebrow at her, the metal jewelry stationed there catching the light. He spoke nothing aloud, but his expression said it all. What do you think?

She seemed uncertain. It was an uncomfortable thought. Her relationship with Mallory was... interesting, but Jewell was genuinely fond of the girl. "Have you really seen her in action?" Mallory swiped one bloody hand, clutching one of her wounds, across her mouth, licking it. "Take my bitterness -- make this ash in my mouth," she whispered, and spat at Jewell. Steaming black liquid, a type of blinding venom, aimed at the faerie's eyes. "She's strong. But I guess even against an arch-devil..." She shook her head. Even she would have trouble against Adder. "****. **** **** ****."

Cane's smile was perfectly sinful despite the gravity of the situation. "I suspect it goes a little deeper than that. He's got something on her. The brother for sure. There's got to be more involved to make her scared to act. If I thought it was simple, I'd have eviscerated him last night." Cane took a drink of water with insouciant cheer. "I called in a favor for information from a reliable source. They move in the, ah, same Circles."

Even if the idea of enlisting demons for assistance bothered her (which it didn't), the fury that narrowed her grey eyes would surely have eclipsed and shoved aside her reservations. "You think he's extorting her with her family? Dammit Cane, you should have eviscerated him last night."

The Cajun stretched out one of his legs beneath the table, discreetly sliding his foot against hers in an attempt to calm and distract. Hell hath no fury like a pissed off faerie. "I wanted to. I fantasized about incorporating his blood and fetid ichor into the color scheme of his ****ing party. But we need to be smart about this."

She made a discontent, frustrated noise, but she was fighting a smile at the touch of his foot against her own. "Fiiine. We can be smart about it. But only because I like the witch." She paused. "And only because this ****er apparently thought he could keep me from finding out about this by ****ing me." Fury reduced to a simmer, Jewell was ready to plot instead of kill kill kill. "This guy... he's got an extensive network. A lot of money. He's been working towards whatever he wants for a long time."

"We need to investigate the web, so to speak. As you said, he's an extensive network. My contact is bound to return to me as soon as possible. Hell may be vast, but gossip moves quickly. I expect an answer by tomorrow. Tonight I'm taking Salvador with me to that club -- Tartarus. See if mi amante can find something of importance." The Cajun's expression morphed into one of wicked intent. "The Season is upon us."

"Oh, so you two get to have fun while I go to the debate and play nice?" Jewell shook her head but she was laughing. "I'll have to put on quite the performance. He'll never even know something is amiss." Her eyes were bright and the little sidhe was actually a tinsy bit gleeful at the idea. Deception. Intrigue. A web slowly encircling an enemy. What fun!

Cane leaned forward, folding one arm in front of himself along the edge of the table and extending the other palm up toward Jewell. The slender lines an arrow and compass forearm tattoo were placed on display. "But to have to sit through all that drivel, having to look at him..." He smoothed his thumb across Jewell's knuckles when she obliged him by placing her hand in his. "I daresay I'll need to give you something more pleasant to recall while you pretend to be interested in what he says."

She blushed as goosebumps raced across her bare skin, her smile pure trouble. "You know, I was thinking that color red suits you perfectly and the shirt is nice, but I think it would look much better on my floor." When the waiter returned with their food, they excused themselves with a sudden change of plans and asked for it to go.

((Written with the delightful Cane. Thank you!))
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2017 10:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sunday

Mallory arose early enough to see the end of the dancers' performance, and confirm that everyone they placed in the cages had the same hypnotic, glassy-eyed look as Eri. And when the last hour of the night approached, an unseen force struck a bell...

...though not unseen by her. She could sense the fiery fingers plucking at the threads of arcana to toll this heavy bronze bell, and knew they had to belong to a fiend: either Samuel Adder himself, or one of his three succubi.

She spent most of the morning kneeling by the brazier, attuning to its energy, and the energy of Tartarus itself. It did not surprise her to discover that the place was riddled with enchantments, threading between the cages and the bell, but also woven into the walls themselves; around the perimeter of every balcony; and knotted in the air at a single point at the dead center of the chamber.

The glass slipper no longer appeared in her visions, but the fire she Saw felt hotter, and she could hear the horned demon growling as he rose from the flames. The plague of rats remained a mystery to her, but they grew in size and wrath, sweeping over tangled masses of shrieking faces and flailing limbs. Six hands in a tightly intertwined circle, drawing wider as a porcelain mask rose between them. And all of it stopped with the sound of a truck's horn, blaring louder and louder, ending in a flash of red...

In the split second after she had opened her eyes, but before her Sight had truly faded, she glimpsed something in the brazier before her: a face floating among the ashes, its features twisted in anguish and woe.


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 10:18 am; edited 1 time in total
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2017 5:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monday

Yesterday, Mallory's unfocused unease around the brazier sharpened into the beginning of a clearer image. The ashes were not grave dust, nor the product of any cremation process she knew of -- she'd seen both during her experiments with necromancy -- but they held the same essence of the dead, and she knew that could not happen without reason.

Today, she started using more blood.

It was enough to prompt one of Adder's broad-shouldered, beefy-armed lackeys to come thumping up to the high balcony for a closer look at her work, and enough to call for a second set of arcane eyes to scry away at her. But after fifteen minutes of paranoid, thorough monitoring, they could see that it was not a portal, nor was she in any danger of bleeding herself dry. The big guy took up a lean on the railing, whiling away the next two hours with a disc-shaped device, some kind of game that beeped and whistled when he stabbed at the spinning holographic shapes that came out of it. Two scrying warlocks became just the one.

When the circle was complete, it was large enough for her to sit in; it was also the exact diameter of the brazier, a fact disguised by the short arcs and broken circles that orbited it and crowded its interior. Despite its distance from the brazier or any of the streaks of white ash, this physical similarity was enough to make it into a very potent conduit.

She sank into the Sight, her vision drowning in a deep red darkness. There were flashes of what she had seen before, rats and fire, a mask in the darkness, the screeching of tires... and two frogs leaping at each other over a cooking fire, inverted. Likely a bar or restaurant, and some place where Adder would face misfortune...

...and despite her desire for him to face misfortune, it was to her benefit to give him something useful. She made a note of the vision, and deepened her trance.

There were whispers, a faint and cold presence, difficult to feel through the heat of blood magic, but none of the dead came forward. Not yet. She needed to reach out to them, to understand why they had died, and what it had to do with this place... but most of all she wanted to know,

How much time do I have left?


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 10:20 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tuesday

Headlights. Was that a truck, or a van, barreling out of the darkness and into her Sight?

Whatever the case, she made a note to remind the asshole-in-chief to look both ways before darting across the street to kiss another CEO or casino magnate's ass.

She'd been doing nothing but peering beyond the Veil (or attempting to) and recovering from her attempts since Saturday, and both the tedium and the strange weight of it threatened to drag her down; but she had to stay vigilant. She had to be smarter, more focused, more alert than her captors. For Eri's sake.

Sometimes, their attention lapsed. She could feel it. And when she did, she practiced her subtlest magic. Whispers coming from the air itself. Long-spilled blood bending to her will, crackling and evaporating into puffs of steam. The spiders and moths that made the dark corners of this pit their home, writhing as she overwhelmed them with the desire to carry out her will. The copper coin in her pocket, bending at her mental direction without a single touch to check its progress. Mere parlor tricks, most of them, but she'd already thrown her most powerful spells at the fiend who called himself Samuel Adder and failed utterly.

She had to be subtle. But more than once, her determination broke, and today felt worse than Saturday.

The anguish came in waves, alternating heartbreak and guilt as she meditated on the delinquent hypnotized under the spell of Samuel Adder, or one of his three succubi, or the bronze bell itself; every time it happened, she forced herself to focus on what controls her, how, how can it be broken, but she always returned to the pain she'd caused Eri, both by breaking her heart and by leaving any kind of trail for her to follow.

She was losing weight. Naomi had brought her new clothes this morning, after eyeing the witch up and down last night and tsk-tsking: "Small wonder he doesn't want you to be seen in public anymore."

She'd tried to cry that afternoon -- at least she thought it was the afternoon -- but found that she couldn't. She hadn't cared that someone might see her, but the tears wouldn't come. The exhaustion she felt seemed to have sunk too deep into her bones to let her.

The voices in the ashes were whispering again, but today, as much as she tried, she never felt strong enough to hear them.


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 10:38 am; edited 1 time in total
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Nick Cross
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Unknown date...

Somewhere in Tartarus' depths, down one darkened hallway and through a set of metal double doors, the place changed. The corridors were bright and sterile, like a hospital, and every adjoining room was painted a sickly green. There were reception desks at several corners, all of them unmanned. Phones swung free from their cradles, dangling by their cords, emitting no sound. Gurneys had been left in the rooms and the corridors as if they'd all been abandoned in the middle of their use.

And not even the faintest hum of music from the nightclub made it beyond these walls.

The woman Nick Cross only knew as the dark-haired bartender leaned against the closed door to his room, watching him, drumming ruby red fingernails against her arm. There was no sign of the big guy. She was alone with the detective.

She didn't look the least bit worried. "Are you comfortable, Mr. Cross?" she asked, her lips curling into a sly smile.

Nick had been sitting on the cot, leaning against the wall for several hours now lost in thought. He was surprised that he didn't notice the woman approach, though he did his best not to show it.

He gave her a wry grin. "Doing alright. Could use some fuzzy pink bunny slippers though. Where's your boyfriend?"

"Elsewhere. Not here. I hope that puts your mind at ease." She stopped drumming her fingers, turning her hand to inspect her nails.

"You're not what I'd call the nightclub type... What drew you to Tartarus, detective?"

He chuckled at her. "Not the Nightclub type? Lady, you got me all wrong! I love the nightlife! When I heard about a place where a man could find all his deepest desires, I simply had to come see for myself. I can't help but be impressed!"

He narrowed his eyes slightly as he stared at her: "Impressive atmosphere. How do you do it?"

"With power," she said, and decided to demonstrate.

Much the same way pleasure had taken hold in his mind despite Nick's resistance to alcohol since his death, pain now dug its searing fingers into his skull, mimicking the way she arched and stretched her fingers in the air, spiderlike. Her eyes, ruby red, narrowed on his form.

"I should have rephrased that, earlier... You're not really the type of man we typically invite, and private detectives aren't really the type to go chasing after their deepest desires. So I'll ask again... what drew you to Tartarus...? Did someone send you?"

She lowered her hand, and the painful spell quickly faded.

The detective gritted his teeth and closed his eyes tight as he felt something akin to having ice picks driven into his eyeballs. He was no stranger to pain. Still, he was eager for it to end. When it did, he was quick to speak.

"What about the undead? It's no secret that what I most desire is to live again. Why wouldn't I seek that out? Maybe I just heard about your little club and decided I wanted a little taste for myself. You folks really do deliver on your promise. I think what I got a taste of may have been worth the price of admission."

Lies and half-truths, or were they really? For a time he had succumbed to the spell of the place, and though he hated to admit it he would find it easy to fall for the illusion once again. Maybe now that he knew what this place did to a man, he would be able to resist it. However, a small voice in the back of his mind urged him not to. It would be so easy to fall into that trap again, but he could not allow it. Anything that this place gave him would be a lie.

The woman opened her mouth, then clenched it shut, frowning and turning away, facing... something or someone unseen, or listening to an unheard source. She looked back at him.

"That's too many maybes for a man who's telling the truth," and as she finished her words, she flexed her fingers again. The pain resumed, this time twice as intense as the last. Her eyes grew brighter, and her dark hair fanned out as she stalked towards him, and for a moment, it appeared as if horns were emerging from her temples.

The spell flared in intensity before it suddenly dropped, and she was standing in front of him, flattening her hands on her thighs as she leaned to look down at him. "Why are you here? Who sent you? Who are you looking for? Give me honest answers, or I'll be back tomorrow with more creative incentives." Her ruby red eyes flared, and she gave him an expectant smile as she waited.

When the pain came again, Nick was ready for it. Still, as he fell back against the dirty mattress, he screamed. He kept screaming until something inside him snapped and his screams turned into laughter. Insane, howling laughter.

When the pain stopped, it took a few moments for him to gather his thoughts. His lips twisted into a defiant grin.

"I'll give you an A+ for effort. You've got the pain part down at least, but you seriously lack finesse. Torture isn't about just breaking bones and pulling teeth. It's about the anticipation, the build up. You could even say it's an intimate experience. You really gotta get into their head and find out what makes them tick."

Was he giving his captor a lecture on how to torture him? Yes. Yes he was.

"You, sweetheart, you're more like a wrecking ball. Apply your methods to most people and you'll end up with nothing more than a crumpled heap and no real information."

"Crumpled heap, you say." With a sneer and a flick of her wrist, up the detective went into the ceiling, then down into a pile in the corner of the room. Seeing him as a tangled mess of limbs, wracked with pain, struggling to pick himself up off the floor, that brought her smile back.

"Enjoy the silence, detective. I'll see you tomorrow."

((Written with Mallory. Thanks a bunch!))
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 8:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wednesday

This day was more fruitful than the others, though not in the way Mallory would have liked.

At dawn, moments into her first vision, she saw a slaughtered calf, rotten meat falling from its belly when the knife of slaughter tore through its flesh -- a scheduled trip to a meat packing plant, promptly cancelled.

Then, hours later, festering filth swarming with flies, piled higher and higher with refuse, tumbling over itself like a geyser until it gave way, sending a golden wedding band bouncing and rolling down its flank -- an accepted invitation from a sanitation union, and a chance encounter with a biofuels investor.

Finally, at dusk, a massive gray lobster, slick with oil-like grime, its unblinking eyes staring at her over a ring of blazing candlelight -- mysterious, but taken careful note of by Ms. O'Connor, given the vision's unusual and distinct details.

This isn't what I wanted. This helps him. He's getting what he wants, and he wants to ****ing kill me and mine...!

Mallory slapped her hands flat against the brickwork in frustration, her eyes clenched shut tight. There was nothing in her visions, nothing she could see about her salvation, or Eri's, or about the doom of Samuel Adder. Is he fated to win? Are we fated to die?! Can I do nothing?!

She let out a scream as she struck the floor with her fists, and regretted it in an instant, pain reverberating back through her hands, pain that would bruise. She could feel the warmth of her blood mingling with the cold floor, flowing from fresh splits on her knuckles. "****," she breathed, then realized she could not feel the senses of another peering through her own.

Maybe whoever it was had dozed off, or was screwing around. Maybe they forgot a replacement. Maybe it was a trick of the Nexus, but whatever it was, for a few minutes, she was alone.

And as the ashes and dust scattered by her outburst settled around her, flashes of movement caught her eye. Whispers tickled at her ears. A chill ran down the back of her neck and settled in a cradle by her heart like a tiny ball of ice. She was not alone.

She darted a look over her shoulder, and saw a spectral face shifting through the darkness, its hollow black eyes fixed on hers. There was something familiar about its features...

Hector?!
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thursday morning...

The strong scent of Spanish coffee roused him from the depths of sleep. Cane groaned and rolled onto his back, forcing himself to open his eyes. The wooden slats of the ceiling stared back at him. The soft silver light of dawn that shone through the shutters betrayed the early hour. Much too early to be awake, especially after the orgasmic chaos of the previous night.

Bright flashes of memory of yet another visit to Tartarus burst behind his eyes; he could still feel its bass rattling in his bones, and the smell of sweat drenched skin, and blood -- so much blood. There was still some on him, he discovered, looking down at himself as he stretched. The dried patches that coated his skin cracked and spiderwebbed from the tension. The heady scent of sex clung to the sheets gathered around his waist. Cane smiled to himself, despite the early hour.

A glittering refraction of light caught his eye, drawing him out of his reverie.

Salvador; the Autumn Prince in his gargoyle-like crouch at the foot of the bed. Cane flashed a toothy smile at him. "Mornin'."

The fae child said nothing. The scintillant flash of morning light skipped across his eyes again. It was such a mild display of Sal's other-worldliness, but it still managed to send a frisson of excitement down his spine. His lover, both monster and man, thrilled him to death.

More than used to Salvador's nonverbal tendencies, Cane rolled back into his side to retrieve the cup of coffee that had been left for him on the corner of the nightstand.

"There's a demon in the basement."

Cane looked up from the cup hovering by his mouth.

"I thought you'd want to know." Sal rose to his feet abruptly. The bed creaked in protest as he stepped down and prowled away into the bathroom. The door clicked shut after him. Cane dressed in silence as he listened to the Spaniard starting the shower. He longed to join the Spaniard under the blistering spray of water, but scrubbing the blood and grime from his skin would have to wait.

After all, there was a demon in the basement.

--

The dimly lit candles arrayed in a circle on the basement floor burned brighter at Cane's approach.

"Gihshe," he greeted the demon.

The demon lay coiled in a small puddle of brackish liquid in the middle of the chalk lines that stretched between the candles. Her eel-like body oscillated back and forth, drawing her up until they stood eye to eye. Her skin, a dark greying color mottled with deep blues and greens, was coated with a thin layer of slick, shimmering grime reminiscent of an oil spill. The upper half of her body was humanoid in shape, except for her webbed hands, and an anglerfish-like protrusion from her attenuated forehead. Spindly, ribbed oryx horns were attached to the armored skull plate, encrusted with glittering abalone shells and purple urchin spines; silver pearls dotted the long, ink black hair that hung limply at her waist, heavy with saturation.

The tiny mandibles that covered Gihshe's mouth unfolded, stretching and reaching out into the air toward Cane to grasp at nothing, revealing hundreds of needlepoint teeth lining a wide, thin-lipped mouth. "AÄ“zmazÄdeh," she rasped.

"Don't start that **** again. It's Cane, or Canaan if you'd like to get proper."

Her black eyes, completely lacking any sclera, glittered in the firelight. They acted as a mirror, reflecting Cane's face back to him as they stared one another down.

"You like to disappoint all your fathers, don't you."

The Cajun shrugged blithely. "What can I say? Rebellion is my strong suit."

Her tail lashed out violently against the confines of the circle. "Your father--"

Cane cut her off. "Ain't who we're here to discuss." He felt the pushback against his magic cease. Gihshe resorted to slithering up to the very edge of the circle to hiss at him. He ignored her. "Adder," he prompted. "Who is Samuel Adder?"

Gihshe retreated, folding lean-muscled arms under small, bare breasts. "The fiend who has assumed the name and shape of Samuel Adder is best known in the Hells as the Name Thief."

Now that was a moniker with which Cane was familiar. The Name Thief was not an archdevil in the traditional sense, nor even royalty, but extended his lifespan through guile and oppression worthy of any Prince. His reputation preceded him.

"He has stolen not only the names of countless mortals, but those of enough minor devils to make him as feared as he is hated among his infernal brethren. He will then appear when one wishes to summon another, lesser devil, masquerade as that creature, and manipulate his unsuspecting conjurers into giving him exactly what he wants."

Cane began to pace before the circle, his mind working rapidly to fit the new informational pieces where they belonged in the bigger picture. "Which is what in this case?" And how did Mallory fit in?

"Of the various evils he partakes in, his hallmark is the cultivation of potent souls." She paused significantly, visibly pleased when Cane scowled at the implication. "While he sometimes accomplishes this in a similar way to other devils, preying upon mortals in a moment of weakness, he favors taking control of their destinies when they are young, waiting until they grow into their power."

"And then he kills them," Cane guessed.

"A sacrifice to absorb their essence." The demon nodded. "He is a creature of trickery and intimidation first and foremost, but he has a powerful, innate command of magic through sheer force of will. He has personally slaughtered many in his pursuit of a highly prized soul, doing so whenever he deems it necessary. If he has taken up residence in your realm, it is for one of two reasons: to cultivate mortal souls, or to harvest them."

"Son of a bitch." Cane's heart pounded in his ears.

"I have fulfilled your request, mortal. Release me."

The Cajun's scowl deepened. "You are bound by oath to relay all pertinent information regarding the one called Samuel Adder. If you do not fulfill this oath, the nature of the favor owed me remains to stand."

Gihshe's tail whipped out in a restless, wide scythe-like motion. Her mandibles parted, then snapped shut with a sharp clack of indecision. After a long stretch of silence, she said, "He puts himself at great risk by assuming a physical body to travel the mortal planes at length, but this dangerous path has grown his power astronomically in far less time than other devils."

"He is vulnerable."

Her countless needlepoint teeth bristled outward. It might have been a smile. "By destroying his body... you might destroy him utterly."

((Many thanks to Mortal Promise for their input and direction.))
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Mortal Promise
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2017 9:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

At the end of the RhyDin Color Fun Run...

Samuel Adder stood apart from the rest of the crowd that had gathered around the stage, looking on curiously as Dolidh Sulrealta was bodily dragged from it. He sighed through his nose as he waited for a call to connect, and ducked around his phone, using the security guards around him to shield his words and the sight of his face. "Ms. O'Connor. There's a problem with traffic."

"Only now?" She was practically purring. She'd had to be on her best behavior this visit, and hadn't spilled a single drop of mortal blood, that he knew of...

He cleared his throat, looked up to flash a smile and wave off a staffer trying to get his attention, and turned away from him. "I'd hoped it would clear out on its own, but... you know how it is. And with so many pedestrians about, you know how many accidents there could be?"

Shannon let out a pleased hum. "Too many."

"In two cases last year, during hit-and-runs, the driver backed over the victim in their panic to flee the scene. Do you know how tragic that is?"

"Deeply. I'll see to it."

Samuel disconnected the call and returned the phone to the waiting staffer's hands, angling his head to listen to the man's whispers as he greeted the people around him with an eager smile...
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Doli
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Doli's verbal protest at the Color Run didn't turn out to be a smashing success. She couldn't seem to muster up much support for her causes. Even her own sister didn't understand what she had been trying to do. The only one who appeared to care about her efforts at all was Samuel Adder, but only because he wanted to stop them.

She returned to the off-the-grid safe house apartment that she'd procured through the detective Nick Cross, exhausted and drained. She felt a modicum of comfort in private, where she could unleash her emotions without anyone noticing how weak and emotional these last few weeks had made her.

With tears welling in her eyes, she grabbed a pen and vented in a letter.

handwritten letter to her mother

Mamai,

My efforts and endeavors in RhyDin have soured.

I've met with Ronixi, multiple times, but she continues to rebuff and scorn me. She hates me, still, for crimes of compliance that I committed when I was just a child. I'm sorry that I never protected her from that vile man, but what could a teenage girl be expected to do...?

My weakness then does not define me now. Nor should Roni's experiences then define her now. But she's let it do exactly that, Mamai. She's been damaged, to her core, and blinded to her own power. She's a wounded bird who's forgotten how to fly. She's found solace in the company of men who admire her physical beauty and give her attention for it, but it serves as a mere temporary pain reliever, not a true cure. I fear that she'll never be free.

I fear that I'll never be heard.

The citizens here don't listen to me -- they mock me and my beliefs. Their soon-to-be ruler is a man named Samuel Adder. My intuition tells me he's more wicked than most politicians, but his influence continues to swell and infect this entire realm with his disease. For him, I'm a mere speed bump that must be paved away on his road to ruining them all.

I fear that I'll never be heard from again.

If I stay here, committed to saving Roni, intent on saving this world, then these slaves to the darkness will smite me out, one way or another. Quietly, painfully, one way or another -- I will be silenced. I will be dead.

I'm sorry for my weakness, mamai -- but I don't want that. I don't want to die a virgin martyr, buried and forgotten by time. I don't want my grave spat on by my own sister. At times, that fear makes my faith waver.

But I will summon the strength to prevail, because it's my fate. Because I am your daughter. Because I am a TRUE RULER.

With all my heart and all my soul,

~ Dolidh


In the morning, Doli marched out onto the streets with a renewed energy and spirit, still intent on carrying out her mission despite her troubles.

And despite all the commotion on the streets. She hated this filthy, vile land, which reveled in their creature comforts and modern technologies. To wit, she couldn't even find a mailbox for her letter. Apparently emails had killed the need for them. She strolled around a public square for nearly twenty minutes, searching. Searching.

That's where she heard the screeching.

She turned to see a truck veering out of control. A blown tire? A drunk driver? She couldn't tell. But she could see that the roaring vehicle was coming right at her.

There was no time to dodge it or utilize magic before the truck SMASHED right into her. She toppled over to the ground like a sack of potatoes under the force of the impact. Once she landed, she shrieked in pain. Searing pain. She gripped at her leg, which had clearly been broken. Her tibia -- snapped in two. She clenched her teeth and fought through the tears.

She looked up to the driver with scorn in her eyes. The man looked panicked himself, seeing a teenage girl, writhing in pain on the ground. But he didn't leap out of his truck to help. Instead, his engine revved up again.

And he wasn't running away. He was coming back for seconds.

Faster now than before, his truck accelerated in reverse, with her huddled mess of a body nothing more than a sitting duck. The tailgate of the vehicle RAMMED right into her head -- making the result of the blow all but a certainty. Her skull FRACTURED on impact, and again when the man pinned the truck up against the wall, CRUSHING Doli's body in between like a meat grinder. And with that, he drove off, undeterred by the screams from the terrified crowd.

Those onlookers would approach Doli after, tentatively, knowing that there was nothing that they could do to help at this point. Knowing that there was nothing they could do but ogle a crime scene. Stare and gawk at the mangled corpse of the once-pretty redheaded girl.

They'd chatter, and even take pictures, before anyone dared to get close enough to touch her. Or turn her over. Or find that letter, still buried in her back pocket.
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2017 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saturday night, during the match...

Hector was the only spirit who talked to her.

The others retreated into the dust as her Sight reached out to them, snapping their teeth at her and hissing warnings before they melted away; but Hector recognized that weird girl; Abby ****ed you, right? Damn. In life the witch was certain that the man's only words to her had been "Yo," but politics and infernal captivity made strange bedfellows...

Every day since Hector appeared, as early as she could, she threw herself into her work, spilling her blood across the floor, breathing in the smoke from words of power set aflame, and snatching glimpses of the future to send off to Adder in the greedy claws of one of his three succubi. It kept them and Adder distracted for the rest of the day, leaving untrained arcane eyes tracking her activities from afar -- when they didn't succumb to boredom or inattention.

Then she applied herself to the careful art of looking busy, which involved only a little bit of blood, a lot of Latin and sprinkled rosewater, rereading familiar passages so she could sink into meditation, and more than a little cartomancy -- it was so, so easy to lie about what the cards told her, regardless of what they whispered in her ear. And it left her plenty of time to commune with Hector, about whom she had worked out a few details over the last three days:

Part of him was trapped here, in Tartarus, as a result of what had happened to him. He could, however, go beyond the Veil, at least far enough to see into it. He was willing to take her along for the ride, bringing her Sight to a place where the future was not so different from the past and present. And he had a very simple price:

Tell Abby. Kill this mother****er. Swear it.

She swore. She cut her left palm, making a show of sprinkling the blood, pretending that it was part of another ritual for her less-skilled monitors.

Then, 'til one of you unlucky ****s dies... I'm yours.

It was the night of the big cage match, and after some kind of commotion had security dashing off to the lower levels -- she'd sent Hector to check on Eri -- Tartarus was close to empty of anyone who mattered, except for her. People thronged the dancefloor and every balcony except for the highest, indulging in every vice pressed into their eager hands, sliding their sinuous bodies into each other, grasping greedily at the thirteen cages and roaring in delight when the bell tolled and the dancers fell deeper into their trance. But security was minimal, the man of the hour had more pressing engagements, and his sadistic lieutenants were nowhere to be found.

She knelt in the circle of drying blood before the brazier, focused on the strange white ashes until she felt her vision dimmed, and stretched out her senses along the threads of arcane power that surrounded her, until she felt her soul stretching itself away from her body -- not quite projected, but close.

Hector.

Yo.

Show me the Veil.

I ain't no weirdo goth like you, but I gotta feeling you're gonna wanna see this.

Her vision turned deep red, then black and gray, filled with the familiar sight of strange shapes, warped stone and broken monuments and creatures that flitted through the dark fog, hinting at forms never fully revealed. They tugged at her attention, but she remained focused on Hector, whose spirit guided her Sight to something parting the fog around it:

A bright red door at the end of a tunnel, with bright white firelight flickering through the cracks in the doors, pulsing in time with the deep, bassy sound of a beating heart.

What is that?

Doom.

Despite Mallory's clear trepidation, Hector's voice was clear and solemn. The witch pressed on, and the door came closer, and it was a metal door like Eri's, with a slot for a food tray, and a small window. As she wrapped her hands around the bars, she felt spiders scuttle across her fingers, skittering away into the darkness, up towards tiny pinpricks of light, whispering as they went.

The Bell of Gomorrah began to toll, its knells reverberating through the depths of Tartarus.

The door wrenched open, and Mallory fell forward.

She was kneeling on the floor, surrounded by white fire as stone plummeted from the ceiling, and the face of Samuel Adder raised his arms and laughed. Cages and chains rattled and swayed, casting long shadows up the walls, while horned shapes with lashing tails leapt and danced around them.

The bell tolled a final time, with a horrible shriek as it stopped. There was Adder's true form revealed, as a cry rose up in time with her quickening heartbeat: Ila Sheddun! Ila Sheddun! Ila Sheddun!

Fire surrounded him as he laughed, bright orange flame that wreathed his body, racing along the floor, roaring high up into the air, into the darkness, until it caught something falling through the void, something she glimpsed for a fraction of a second before it turned to ash:

A belladonna sprig.

As her Sight clarified with realization, she felt a tug from Hector, yanking her back towards reality, and the visions of a Tartarus-yet-to-come fell away as she raced backwards, into the eerie chill of the cold gray fog and beyond, back to reality.

Hector, what -- ?

Once they push you through that door, they'll kill you, and lady -- you're running outta time.

She took deep, gasping breaths as she found herself once more in the land of the living, kneeling on the floor of Tartarus' highest balcony as the crowd roared and the music thudded away far below. Panic drove her heartbeat ever faster. Her hands were clammy and sweaty as they grasped feebly at the floor. The Bell of Gomorrah was tolling again, its knells reverberating into her chest as much as the bass. I'm running out of time!

She pushed up from the floor, grabbing a ritual knife and a jar of salt from her bag. One of them was unnecessary, but it would make for a good show. She grit her teeth, shut her eyes and grunted as the blade sunk into her left hand, already healed of the day's earlier wounds but still tender. As the bloodflow picked up, she began the circle of salt -- interrupted in several place, curling outwards into other arcs, forming new circles, until it stretched halfway across the platform.

Then she began to chant, low, in Greek as she flicked her left wrist across the wrist, scattering blood like holy water from an aspergillum as she cycled through the invocation of Abraxas. The blood stained and dampened the salt as she traversed its strange pathways, following them further and further out, each step in time with the tolling of the bell, until she reached the edge, where she could see its bronze surface glowing in the eerie red light of Tartarus, and the enthralled masses gathered beneath it, raising their hands to the heavens to beg for more.

She scowled and flicked her wrist a final time, scattering blood before her. Then she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She had one last vision to fake.


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:02 am; edited 1 time in total
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