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Nick Cross
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2017 8:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saturday Night During the Match

The Corpse Detective didn't know how long he had been there. He had no way to mark the passage of time he'd spent in that overly bright room, but he had been there long enough. They had left him alone for the most part, save for the few times the dark haired bartender had tried to get information. He wasn't lying about her being bad at it. To him, pain was like, well not a friend. More like that annoying person you've known your whole life that you can't seem to get rid of no matter how hard you try so you just learn to live with them.

He shoved those random thoughts out of his head. He had to focus on bigger problems, like busting out of here. He looked quietly around the room -- it wasn't designed as a prison. He eyed the steel door, and then looked down at the door handle with the keyhole. A small grin crept onto his features as he went and sat down on the bed.

He pulled off his jacket and rolled up his left sleeve and gently pressed along the inside of his forearm. Once he found what he was looking for, he pressed and pinched at the skin until an object began to poke through. He winced a little at the pain as he grabbed the object with a tip of his finger and gave a sharp tug upwards. It was a thin plastic shiv, maybe four inches in length. The detective nearly cried out as it tore open his skin and went clattering to the floor. He didn't bleed -- thankfully this procedure was not as messy as it could have been when he was alive.

He took a moment to observe the wound on his arm, then grit his teeth and jammed his finger inside the tear in his skin, probing around for something. It took about a minute for him to grab the thin plastic pouch that contained his lock pick and slim torsion wrench. He set that aside a moment while he rolled down his sleeve, leaving the jacket on the bed. In a few minutes the wound would have taken care of itself.

He bent down and picked up the small shiv from the floor and shoved it into his pockets, then grabbed the picks and went to the plain metal door. He stuck his ear to the door's surface and listened for a few moments, making sure he couldn't hear anything from the other side before he set to work on picking the lock. Even given the state of his makeshift prison, he was a little surprised at just how easy it was to spring the lock. He pulled the door open slowly, then carefully peeked outside. Nothing but an overly bright, sterile hallway. He put the lock picks in his pocket and stepped out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

He looked both ways down the hall, and decided it would be best to not go through the club. He didn't want to risk whatever sort of enchantments waited for him in there. Not without some preparation -- and backup. When he came back here he wouldn't be doing it alone. He walked quietly down the hall as he kept an eye on his surroundings. Wherever this was, the place was large, and he wouldn't have been able keep track of how far he has gone if the rooms themselves were not helpfully numbered.

He could have taken more time to explore, but for now his focus was on getting out, so to that end he wandered around the sterile halls looking for something different. Something that might lead him to his freedom.

He could hear voices in the distance, "How did he get out? Spread out, we need to find him!"

It appeared he would have to find his escape sooner rather than later. He quickened his pace and dodged down an intersecting hall and kept moving until he found a door labeled, "Mechanical." He reached out to open the door and finding it locked, brought out his lock pick and got to work on the door.

"There he is! Get him!" The security personnel began running towards him just as he slipped inside the room and shut the door.

Pressing his back against the door, he looked around the mechanical room and spied a nearby chair, which he grabbed and propped up under the doorknob. He looked about the dimly lit room even as the security personnel started pounding at the door. He didn't have much time, and that's when he spied the manhole cover.

After a bit of searching and more loud pounding at the door, he had managed to find a hook to open up the manhole, and a flashlight. He quickly hooked the manhole covers and heaved it to the side, then turned on the light and started crawling down iron rungs into the darkness.

As he made his way down, one of the iron rungs weakened by years of rust busted under his foot and sent him falling to the ground into a small rivulet of stinking water. He yelped at the pain of the impact, but quickly shoved it aside and pulled himself to his feet. He snatched the dropped flashlight from the floor to look at his surrounding. Some sort of old sewer system, long since put out of use.

A loud crash came from above him and he could hear the voices of men yelling, though he couldn't make out what they said. They must have busted through the door.

"No rest for the weary," the dead detective muttered as he hurried off down the tunnels.

In the darkness it was fairly easy to lose his pursuers, and as he ran he started to smell the distinct smell of rotting fish. This made sense when he ran right out of the tunnel and into the water under one of the docks. He sunk like a rock and found himself trudging along the bottom until he found a good place to crawl to dry land. It felt good to feel the starlight once again.

((Thanks again to Mallory who helped me with the editing of this post))
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2017 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sunday, before dawn...

Samuel Adder looked on in silence as Mallory dangled from Naomi Lin's clawed grasp, her long fingers stretched over the back of the girl's head. The witch murmured, her eyes rolled, her arms twitched, but all of it was nonsense -- reflexive reactions to the succubus' intrusion into her mind. She wasn't merely skimming the surface, not this time. She was diving deep into her mind, looking for anything regarding one man in particular:

Nick Cross.

He had nothing against the man, personally. Private investigators were a necessity in cities like RhyDin, an effective and disposable tool for getting things done, and there was a quaintness to an old-fashioned zombie detective that struck Adder as quintessentially RhyDinian. But why had he come to Tartarus? What did he know? And what had Mallory St. Martin really told him at the Gala?

"The Sulrealta girls... Nick Cross..." One of the three had already been disposed of; would the other two have to follow suit? Could he take that risk? He breathed a deep sigh, and turned to Naomi: "Anything?"

"Cards... just cards. I've told a few fortunes, but I don't know what these mean. It looks like nonsense."

He huffed impatiently, strode in front of Naomi, and jerked his head aside at Mallory. She dropped to a heap on the floor of the cell, emitting a low moan of pain as her consciousness returned to her. "Write them down."

It took a minute for Naomi to put them all in the appropriate order, but she slipped the business card she'd used for scratch paper into his hand. It did not take him long, and understanding dawned on him with a low growl rumbling in his throat.

"Tartarus, Miss Volokhov," he said to Mallory through a barely-contained sneer, letting the illusion drop from his razor-sharp teeth. "You sent him here, of all places... why? This was not where you stayed until the day after the Gala... Ah." He smiled. "Miss Maeda."

Mallory braced her arms against the floor, picking her head up slowly, squinting at Samuel Adder's face as he swam back into focus. "I don't... I don't--"

"Don't trouble your little mind over it any further, you stupid, stupid girl," he sighed, leaning closer to look her in the eye, to watch her face flush with embarrassment and rage. "What's done is done... and the price will be paid in full soon enough." He straightened in one fluid motion. "Come, Naomi. I think we've had enough of Miss Volokhov's visions. You know when we'll need her again."

He lingered in front of the door after Naomi passed him by, watching the glowering girl on the floor with a wicked smile as the door swung shut, sealing her in her cell.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2017 6:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sunday afternoon...

A letter was sent to Jewell's residence. Signature required.

It had two pages; the first was handwritten on a piece of blank paper:

Jewell, it's Zan. It was good to see you out and about the other night,
although I must admit that I'm starting to have some serious concerns about your affiliation with Sam Adder. it's not jealousy, either (only 10% max). A detective named Nick Cross wants to recount to you his experiences, so hopefully you consider his words and your response carefully. - Zan


The second used the business letterhead of the Fallen Cross Detective Agency, apparently typed on an old fashioned typewriter:

Ms. Jewell Ravenlock,

My name is Nick Cross, I believe that we might have briefly met once or twice. I have some concerns involving Samuel Adder and the club called Tartarus with which I think he might be involved. I became involved in this unfortunate business through Eri, of the Kabuki Street Girls with whom I like to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship. I approached Mallory at the Red and Black Gala, and it was her that led me to seek out Tartarus.

It was a mistake for me to go there alone. The atmosphere of the place can only be described as magical. I was barely able to maintain my composure as I had to wade through that sea of hedonism. When I got to the bar and took that first drink, I was hooked. I'll be the first to admit that being dead leaves a man with a multitude of desires, and chief among those is a desire to live again. In short, I got drunk, blacked out several times and from the little bit I can remember had the time of my life. The fact is though, that it was a lie. I can't even fathom what the purpose of that place is, but it's bad news. There's even rumors that some of the people that go there never come back. Me, personally. I don't remember much from that night, but I did see Eri dancing in a cage.

All in all, I spent a week in that hell hole as their 'guest' where I was subject to interrogation and a rather poor attempt at torture by a dark haired woman who, judging by the horns may or may not be some kind of demon.

I managed to break out some time during the cage match, and now quite frankly I'm at a loss of what to do. Zan suggested you may be able to help. I need to find a way to get Eri, and most likely Mallory away from that club, but I don't dare go in there alone.
Regards,

Nick Cross, P.I.



((Thanks to Zan for his letter of introduction, and of course the wonderful Mallory for editing ))
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2017 10:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sunday evening...

"I believe the young man is just a little concerned, Mira. Understandably so."

"Yeah, well his concern could get me ****ing killed. I don't know how good Samuel's network is. If I respond to these truthfully and he finds out? I could be a dead woman."

"Then it is all a matter of how you respond, is it not? If you respond at all."

"Mmm." The Empress chewed on the inside of her cheek, staring down at the two letters she had received this afternoon: one from Zan and one from the Private Investigator, Nick Cross. Why couldn't people just mind their own business?

The knight sighed. "You play very dangerous games, my lady."

Jewell laughed wearily, "Yeah, tell me about it."

* * * * *

Sunday evening, Jewell's most trusted courier departed Little Elfhame with two letters and strict instructions to hand deliver them to the intended recipients and no one else.

Zan's was delivered first.

Zandrick,

I appreciate your concerns, but as you must realize, I am a woman capable of handling my own affairs.

It's a dangerous business listening to the undead and involving yourself in the affairs of faeries and fiends. Perhaps I should be the one concerned about you.

Jewell


The half-elf courier then sought out Mr. Cross.

Mr. Cross,

While I appreciate your intentions, you must realize that you are warning a sidhe about the dangers of a magic saturated night club. The fae revel in the vices offered at places such as Tartarus.

I advise all mortals to avoid meddling in the matters of faeries and fiends.

I doubt you want to die a second time.

Sincerely,

Jewell Ravenlock
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Mallory
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 8:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sunday -- dusk...

Mallory's cell was identical to Eri's, and likely to the twelve other dancers held captive at Tartarus. The metallic door was heavy, with a small barred window and a slot where they slid through food trays twice a day. The sink, toilet, and shower shared a small corner. Her cot was on the other end, with a simple wool blanket, the bag she'd brought with her last week (thoroughly searched), and nothing else.

There was nothing else except the sound of her showerhead drip, drip, dripping onto the tiny patch of tile floor. Mallory didn't mind the noise, no more than she minded the music now flooding down the corridor from the dancefloor as the first thirsty patrons filtered in. It gave her a rhythm to focus on while she knelt in the middle of the room, hands dangling off of her knees, kept her eyes shut, and listened.

It did not matter that Eri was two cells over right now, deep in a hypnotic daze, ready to be summoned at the tolling of the bell; nor that the fiend who had put them both here might actually lead this city; nor that she had not spoken to her family in weeks, and her heart ached to see them and know that they were safe. These were all beyond her control right now. All that mattered was that the doom she foresaw was nearly at hand, and that she saw it through.

The dark red behind her eyes flickered with a much deeper darkness as she tensed her fingers, feeling the blood pushing out of her heart before she felt it welling through a tiny tear in her left palm. The drips came rapidly at first... then slower... then drip, drip, drip in time with the water collecting on the showerhead.

Trappers, poisoners, hunters in the dark... oh, how you thirst... come... drink.

She was not sure how much time had passed when the first one came. All she knew was that her minders had been scrying on her much less since she was imprisoned her, and not at all in what must have been the frenzy of election night, and she did not feel any tickles or tugs along the subtle threads of magic fanning out from her bleeding hand... until there was a ripple, like something had just alighted on her invisible web.

She cracked one eye open, then the other, focusing on the showerhead in the corner, watching a tiny show stalking along the top. She rose fluidly to her feet, strode across the room, leaned up on tip-toe to peer at her new courier -- and snatched the bulbous black spider in her left hand, crushing it into her palm.

"Tell her," she breathed into its cracked, twitching body, as she focused her mind's eye on the image of the Seer. "Tell her what they did to Hector, tell her where we are, and tell her that they -- must -- die.

"Go," she whispered, and the resurrected spider flew from her hand, skittering along the floor and up the door with a speed amplified by the power of her blood, through her barred window, and up, climbing into the city above...


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:09 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 9:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monday night...

In spite of all of the twists and turns and changes in fortune over the last month, over the last nineteen years, the rise of the Name Thief known as Samuel Adder was finally at hand.

There were decades of mortal suffering gathered here at Tartarus and trying desperately to claw their way through its gates. Mortals suffered in every world he had ever seen or heard of -- they were wretched and miserable creatures cursed to know and understand the fate none of them could escape -- but this suffering had been inflicted by his hand, and it made all the difference.

The parents of Nadya Volokhov had bargained away their daughter's advantages, and with them, all memory of her, starting on her path of suffering; but the power they had bargained for was not theirs to claim. For years it had festered within this mortal girl, a lowly vessel, and now it was his to take. He had claimed hundreds of others in the dark millennia of his life, but no random mortal heart set aflame compared to the power of one cultivated carefully for decades before the harvest.

"Can you feel it, Nadya? The promise of power," Adder growled softly. She was in no position to answer him, her hands and ankles bound, her mouth gagged, kneeling in the center of a circle of crackling white embers. Though the way her green eyes glared at him with undisguised malice was answer enough. His lips curled in disgust. Even now, with her end at hand, she's no different than a cornered animal... a feral creature of terror and rage.

He shook his head in disappointment as he strode to the edge of the balcony.

Eighty feet below him, the dancefloor was empty, not so much as a lowly bartender or reveler anywhere in sight. But every one of the thirteen cages had been filled, the enthralled dancers standing within them, glassy-eyed, their hands wrapped tightly around the bars. He could feel the arcane power stretched between their spellbound hearts, growing steadily, the spell circle sparking as it sought connection with its missing centerpiece...

Time to put the pieces into place.

"Don't worry, Miss Volokhov. No further harm will come to your roommates, and once you are dead... Miss Maeda will go free. For what can be freer than a soul finally sprung from the cage that is its half-breed body, free to wander the Void as it pleases, or vanish into oblivion?"

The witch's eyes widened, and she made several muffled noises of anger as she stared daggers at Adder.

"Such language," he sighed sadly. "And to your own boss, no less. Naomi!" he called out, tearing his attention away from his captive. "Bring out the chanters. It's time."

Naomi Lin stepped out of the shadows of the middle balcony, stretched all the way around the perimeter of Tartarus, like the stands that circled the ancient fighting pits. She was dressed in black, with a thick stripe of red warpaint smeared across her face and eyes, and Adder could see her smile as she slowly raised her arms in praise and celebration.

"Ila Sheddun; ila Sheddun; tal-Sheddun dra Gomorrah!"

The Bell of Gomorrah tolled, and the brickwork around the balconies that ringed Tartarus began to shift, crack, and crumble. Adder grinned at the sound, and at the rising chorus as dozens more black-clad worshippers stepped out of the darkness to join her.

"Ila Sheddun; ila Sheddun; tal-Sheddun dra Gomorrah!"

With the steady tolling of the bell and the chorus of their chants, the balconies shifted until they tore free, sending brick and mortar and loose stone plummeting to the dancefloor below, smashed into bits, cracking chairs and tables in two, shattering bottles as the rubble tumbled over the bars. But with the layered enchantments in place, the walls of Tartarus held. The massive brick platform that had been the highest balcony floated down, down into the center of the chamber, its railing cracking and tumbling away to the floor as it sank into place, ringed by the center balcony with the worshippers and nine of the cages. Four more platforms sank into place, each bearing a cage, slowly orbiting the center platform.

As the bell tolled louder and louder each time, still dangling from the central platform, the power gathering within this pit only grew. The loose circle of embers around the witch erupted into thirteen jets of white flame; the brazier of sacrificial ashes burst into a searing, blinding beacon. And Samuel Adder raised his arms to the ceiling and laughed.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 9:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the first time since its bassline heartbeat had started thumping away in the depths of RhyDin, dominating the enthralled masses from dusk until well past dawn, Tartarus had shut its doors.

No music reverberated out of the pit, only the steady toll of a heavy bronze bell, punctuated by faint rumblings as something shifted; but the masses still heeded the call to worship, thronged outside of its many red doors, buzzing with confusion, anger, and hunger. They had a desperate need for the vices that only Tartarus could provide, and they queued up shoulder to shoulder in the dimly lit red corridors, like blood drawn inexorably towards the heart...

The little sidhe's high heels clicked against the cobblestone streets as she detached herself from the massive crowd outside one of its red doors and headed along the front of the building to where the small cluster of her companions waited in the shadows. As she went, the glamour of a slinky black mini-dress and ridiculous high-heels melted away into the far more practical mix of leather and sheaths and of pants and boots made for ass-kicking. Her ten shield rings caught the light of a streetlamp before she stepped out of sight. "Well, the doors are definitely sealed, and I don't think we should force our way through. It could give him time to kill Mallory and Eri if he has them close at hand."

"Agreed." The fae knight crossed his arms, reeking disapproval of this entire affair.

"So if you two don't have any objections," she looked to Cane and Sal, "I suggest a quick trip across the Veil to get inside without anyone we like accidentally dying." She didn"t wait for consensus, gesturing to a stretch of empty space nearby. "Salvador, Ishmerai, if you'd both be so kind as to assist me?"

With the full weight of Autumn coursing through his veins, Salvador had no objections to obliging the Empress. He had plenty of energy to burn, and a need to indulge. With a grunt, he metaphorically nudged the knight out of the way and simply stuck his nails into an invisible seam between realms. Gripping hold, a crack in the air before them shimmered. When he pulled, he rent a tear in time and space, wide enough to act as a door, and ushered the lot of them through.

((This post written collaboratively with Jewell, Salvador, and Cane! Thanks!))


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:11 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When the three entered Tartarus, leaving Ishmerai behind to handle any reinforcements, they lingered on the other side of the Veil, taking in the situation while remaining out of Sight. Quietly, they watched the argument play out, gazing across the platform at Samuel and Mallory as if through a dirty, warped pane of glass.

Mallory stared at Samuel Adder through the bright blaze of white fire around her. She could feel the threads snapping into place, centered on her, fed by the caged dancers, and controlled by the steady tolling of the bell that she had for days suspected, but now confirmed, was none other than the Bell of Gomorrah.

She knew that he was stronger than her. He could kill Patrick and Spencer. He was going to kill Eri. He was going to kill her, and a part of her knew that she should still be terrified of his power. That her only thought should be getting free, running, and hiding somewhere he could never find her, and pray that his eyes find a better prize.

But he'd stopped Eri's heart, and then told her to break it. He'd made himself at home in her home, and dangled her brother before her like a puppet. He'd made Eri dance for his twisted nightclub for days, and even had the gall to go back on his word about her. He'd threatened, manipulated, and abused Mallory without a single thought to the threat of retribution at her hands, because she was nothing more than a silly mortal girl. Because he thought she was his.

There was no more room for fear in her heart, for her blood boiled with rage.

Are you called Sheddun?

The words echoed in the air around Mallory and her tormentor, who stopped laughing and turned, confused, to look for her voice's source. No new spell circles or threads of arcane power had flashed into being. Her gag remained intact. This was a simple parlor trick, the first form of magic she'd ever learned; for lack of a free hand to wiggle her fingers, or a few arcane words to whisper, her voice emanated instead from the traces of her dried blood scattered around the platform.

"I am called many things," he began, turning his head to her and narrowing his eyes. "A few of which I'm sure you've heard before, and you'll hear more," he snarled, "when you pass through the gates of my kingdom -- "

Don't pretend to be Satan. No one who calls himself Sheddun is the Prince of Lies himself. Just a cheap imitation, hoping to impress the stupid and gullible.

He visibly fought down the urge to inflict further harm on her, but the blazing sacrificial circle was already in place, and he needed her alive until the moment he set her heart ablaze. He strode away from her, attempting to refocus on the ritual in progress, and the business he still had to attend to. "Naomi!" he called, over the chorus of chanting. "Send someone to open the doors and let the mortals in! It won't be much longer now."

Do you know why God destroyed Gomorrah?

The way Adder tensed up and closed his eyes, he could only be counting backwards to calm himself down. "For vice," he hissed through his teeth. "A ludicrous thing to punish."

And a ludicrous thing to definitively ascribe to your campaign and Gomorrah. Their sin may not have been vice itself. I agree with the scholars who argue that it was being inhospitable. Unneighborly. Being a good neighbor, a good host, is of great importance in Abrahamic and other Levantine moral traditions.

Adder was attempting to ignore her again, as his smug satisfaction at the near-completion of his task and mounting irritation at her words warred visibly across his face. He was looking pointedly away from her, at Naomi as she paused in her chant long enough to order a few of his worshippers to make their way to Tartarus' sealed doors.

"Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good."

"Vice is an abomination," he snarled.

However you define toevah, it begs the question... did you ever think about any of this? Did you ever consider it? Did you even know to consider it? Are you even capable of that?

"Are you calling me stupid, you mewling stripling of a mortal girl?!" he roared, rounding on her, as close to the white-hot flames as he dared.

No. But I am smarter than you.

((Written collaboratively with Jewell, Salvador, and Cane!))


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:15 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"What -- ?" Adder began, darting a suspicious look around, scanning the threads of power for any scrap of a clue, any sign, any trap that he had missed... but with the culmination of the ritual nearly at hand, there was too much power in this place to see such faint glimmers. It was already too late.

The Bell of Gomorrah tolled a final time, the rusty stains of her dried blood splattered across it sharply contrasted by the white firelight gleaming off its bronze surface.

Break.

With the horrible sound of shearing metal, the bell split in two and plummeted to the floor. The cages sprang open, no longer sealed by the artifact's power. And the threads of the spell enthralling the thirteen caged dancers snapped, freeing them at last from Samuel Adder's control.

The moment Eri felt the spell break, there was no hesitation. She scrambled out of the opening door of her cage and into the wild fray of panicking worshippers. She could see Mallory and Adder ahead, but there was a small army of cambions, tieflings, and other lesser fiends in her way, whirling to face her and the other dancers. That was fine. The delinquent charged ahead at the nearest target, lashing out furiously with her fists, pummeling him until he toppled over the railing behind him before he could even unleash a single spell.

"NO!" Adder roared, stalking to the edge of the platform to witness the cages breaking open, his thirteen precious captives scrambling free. He did not see Mallory's new piercings melting into a thin blade called to her hand, but when he whirled, he saw her already in the process of severing her bonds. His eyes flared into two pillars of green flame, and his tail lashed out behind him in agitation as he raised his hands to retaliate --

-- and Jewell emerged from the shadows of the Veil, ("Ladies first!" she insisted to her companions) springing onto the platform and landing right in front of him. Energy, a brilliant silver grey against the flame-lit darkness of Tartarus, gathered around her hand as she swung upwards, burying her fist into his stomach in a nasty uppercut. "You asshole!" She didn't give him time to catch his breath. With the whisper of Lestari, her sapphire-studded scepter, the weapon that made her The Empress Overlady of the Duel of Swords, appeared in her hand and she began to wail on Samuel with it.

Mana energy channeled through her into the weapon, amplifying each blow. "How dare you!" The right shoulder. "You used me!" Left knee. "To get to her!" Right ribs. Left ribs. Left ankle. Temple.

Jewell battered him back with blow after blow, giving Mallory time to sever her bonds. She darted a wild look over her shoulder at the unfolding chaos, then the tangle of bodies around one of the broken cages and the rising sounds of battle. "Eri?!" She could see the other escaped dancers darting into the exits in the unfolding chaos, but she'd lost sight of the delinquent. The witch dashed forward, her heart jumping into her throat as she leapt across the treacherous gap between the platform and the balcony --

-- and found the clawed hands of Naomi Lin wrapping around her arm, digging into her flesh, wrenching it painfully before releasing to topple over a tall cocktail table. She scrambled up to a bar for cover, slipping out of sight, but the light of her spellwork flashing as she traded blows with Naomi.

Eri kept moving, trying to avoid engaging any of the mob in pursuit of her. When she nearly tripped over a broken piece of a heavy table leg among the rubble of furniture scattered on the balcony floor, she eagerly reached down to seize the improvised club. Now armed, she put the makeshift weapon to effective use, striking every foe that moved into range with hard, fast swings before their blades could connect. Beaten and fallen worshippers piled up around the delinquent, but when she saw the witch leap to the balcony and the ensuing flashes of magic of her battle, she screamed over the heads of the many foes still in her path: "Hang on! Here I come!"

Before Eri could rejoin Mallory, she was forced to throw herself to the floor, rolling away to avoid a barrage of bolts of arcane energy aimed at her by a group of the cambions. Her momentum carried her straight into a tiefling, tangling them together and knocking her weapon loose. They locked arms, the tiefling snapping his teeth at her as he struggled and strained to push his hand towards her face...

Adder was bloody and bruised, forced to his knees by Jewell's assault; but he was not beaten, and far from alone. Blood streamed down the side of his face from his scalp, and the after-effects of her mana crackled everywhere she'd landed a blow. He gained a moment of respite as Jewell was forced to duck bolts of crimson power flung by a trio of cambions arrayed on the nearby balcony; and a moment was all he needed. "I thought a fae, of all people, would understand!" he snarled, and raised his arms. In a blinding white flash, he vanished to the far side of the platform, leaving an explosion of fiery force in his wake to fling Jewell away from the platform.

Like a rag doll, Jewell was tossed off the platform, her hastily activated shield rings protecting her body from the worst of harm. Dazed by the heat, she fell freely to the dance floor forty feet below and the sea of waiting minions. Coming to her senses long enough at the end to slow her descent, the faerie used the translucent wings that momentarily appeared at her back to assist and direct her into breaking her fall on an unfortunate tiefling whose neck she broke.

She was given no time to right herself when she hit the dance floor before the horde was upon her, daggers and scimitars drawn. The blades flashed down at her, and with her scepter lost in the fall, she withdrew the dagger at her hip. Again and again it darted out, saving her from the bite of their blades. Her right hand she kept free, redirecting the spells thrown at her and firing off her own shots.

One wickedly curved scimitar caught her wrist, forcing her to drop her blade, but by then the blood was flowing freely and in abundance, her own and theirs. With sweat streaming down her face, she seized the blood in the three nearest, living tieflings and brought it to her along with the blood on the floor, in the fallen bodies at her feet, and even dripping from her own wounds. It crested around her, a series of octopus arms catching and redirecting physical blows, a frenetic, symphonatic fighting style conducted with her left hand while the right continued to absorb and reflect spells cast her way.

((Written collaboratively with Salvador, Jewell, Cane, and Eri!))


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:17 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Adder's allies vastly outnumbered Mallory, Eri, and the others in the process of emerging from the Veil and into the fray... but the Veil was not the only road into Tartarus. Thousands upon thousands of tiny claws scrabbled and scratched their way through the tunnels and pipes and crevices that spiderwebbed across RhyDin's vast undercity, descending on this vast pit from all sides. A cambion nursing a freshly broken arm, staggering away from Eri's powerful swings, stopped to look up at a clattering pipe -- and screamed when a torrent of vengeful, shrieking rats fell onto him, biting, clawing, and tearing deep into his flesh.

All around the circular balcony, rats swarmed out of any opening they could find, scurrying up legs, leaping onto limbs, and tearing into exposed flesh. Wherever one was flung free, skewered by a blade, blasted by magic, or stomped until broken, two more appeared, eager to repay Mr. Adder's hospitality in kind.

Among them rose a small scattering of monstrous hybrids, six to seven feet tall with enormous gnashing teeth, whipping tails that were strong and thick enough to crack bones, and long fingers capped in scalpel sharp claws. One such beast wore a bandolier full of sticks of dynamite. Mad, mad eyes gleamed in the dark as it lit one and chucked it into the throng, shrieking the name "HECTOR" as its battlecry.

But in spite of the chaos, in spite of the rat swarms, and in spite of a stick of dynamite turning what had once been perfectly loyal lackeys into so many discrete chunks, when Cane emerged from the Veil and onto the platform? Adder was ready for him. Fallen bricks and chunks of rubble were spinning above him like a cyclone, and with a simple jerk of his head, they went soaring across the chamber, battering his own allies and sending Mallory and Eri tumbling and scrambling for cover from the projectiles. A glance back at the Cajun's form was enough to draw a thread between himself and his new target. Electricity crackled in the air around him before it gathered into a single bolt, racing across the platform at the other man.

The explosion of lightning hit Cane square in the chest with enough force to drive him back by several feet. He only succeeded in remaining on the balcony by melting the platform beneath his feet, boots digging into the softening stone to slow the momentum. Behind him, lava spilled over the edge and to the chaos below where it found an unfortunate target whose agonized screams did not last long.

The Cajun's body sang with the tension of arcane power that surged into him, muscles and tendons creating sharp definition beneath the skin. He let out a stentorian bellow of rage, bringing his hands together to divert the lightning's point of entry away from his center and into his palms.

"Yaf wmidd clas py." In the split second that followed, Cane used the conduit between them to turn the tide, locking the open channel so Adder would be unable to disconnect. He went from merely contending with the electricity to siphoning the power from its source. Reveling in the look of frightened surprise on the devil's face, Canaan broke free of the igneous rock which plastered him in place and began to advance.

Wisps of sulfurous smoke trickled up along his skin as he gathered the brimstone tainted energy to himself. Tremendous heat blossomed around Cane that blistered Adder's mortal skin and caused ripples of distortion in the air around them. His body stretched, growing in both size and strength as he feasted upon the raw power that poured into him. Horns sprouted from his temples, curling back over his skull; clothing burned away only to be replaced by fire-charred, crystalline scales that pushed up through blackening skin. Hardened flesh split and cracked like stone beneath its protective armor, emitting the hellish light of Living Flame through the fissures and bathing the balcony in his blazing radiance. He breathed through a keeled, plated sternum which expanded and contracted like a bellows to ventilate the fire in his chest, its color shifting from white to light blue with each breath.

Adder's fear resolved into rage as he dropped all illusions disguising his true form, his suit falling away as nothing more than ashes, his fire-cracked skin turning a deep, deep red. Interlopers. Trespassers. Fools! His eyes erupted into two gouts of green flame and two long, curling horns burst from his temples; his cloven feet dug into the floor as his form swelled in size, over seven feet tall, and his tail lashed side to side in growing agitation. "If I cannot break away from you...!" he roared, charging at Cane's monstrous form, lashing out at his torso with lengthening claws, amplifying each blow with crimson bolts of infernal power; but the open channel was working against him, diminishing the power of his attacks and feeding them to Cane.

They collided. The friction of the devil's claws against Cane's armor sent a burst of sparks showering to the ground at their feet. Cane snarled, reaching up with his own monstrously clawed hands to grasp Adder's head between them. He slammed his forehead to the devil's with tremendous force, the thunderous crash of bone reverberating emphatically.

Adder reeled backward from the headbutt, and dug his lengthening, sharpening claws into Cane's massive arms as he reached for him, struggling and failing to stop the other man from seizing him by the horns. Cane let him struggle, enjoying the moment with an audible growl, then released one horn and wrenched hard to throw him off balance. Then he followed through with a haymaker, sending Adder staggering away from him.

Fire erupted from Cane's outstretched hand in a stream of tightly focused energy. The roar of flame gave way to a hideous shriek as it seared across and through Adder's chest.

In spite of the onslaught from Cane's awesome form, Samuel Adder was not beaten... not yet. His face was battered and burned, his skin continuing to crack in the presence of Cane's heat, and the blood falling from his chest evaporated before it could reach the floor. He could see several of his underlings twitching in the open air around the platform, skewered on the sharpened ends of Jewell's eight elemental arms before they dropped to the floor. He let out a snarl of frustration as his green eyes narrowed on Cane with malice: "The girl is mine, you worthless mutt!"

A chorus of wails of the damned rose up around him as several spectral bolts lashed out around the room at every foe he could see. Blood turned to a noxious steam as Jewell shielded herself with the abundant liquid. Fire erupted in a flamethrower-like gout between Mallory and Naomi, flaring out at the witch who covered her face with her arms to absorb what her shadowy mantle failed to deflect, staggering backwards and stumbling over broken furniture; acid surged out of a rivulet forming across the balcony, searing through a now screaming tiefling that had been sneaking up on Eri, and splashing painfully across the delinquent's back; and ice met the fiery beast before him, three successive waves of snow, hail, razor-sharp spikes, and bitingly cold wind blasting into Cane's form.

In a flurry of blinding speed, Cane raised his arms to cover his head, dredging up freshly formed lava at his feet to create a shield of rapidly cooling stone to protect him from the worst of the attack, allowing him to regroup. Fire and ice clashed, generating a thick cloud of steam that enveloped the entire platform.

With long, thudding strides, Adder barreled through the dissipating steam, letting out an enraged roar as his glistening black claws tore through Cane's stone shield, shattering it into so much rubble falling onto the dancefloor below. The moment Cane staggered, he lunged, driving his claws in wherever they could find purchase, snarling with delight as they sank in deeper. "Pathetic half-breed...!"

((Written collaboratively with Hector's mysterious friends, Cane, and some other people. You get the gist.))


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:20 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cane's vision went red with Rage, or maybe it was just the fire he called up. Directed by fury, the fire lashed out of Cane with concussive force, filling the massive chamber with thunder and light. Scale and flesh tore away from his body as Adder's claws were rent from his form when he was thrown back by the bloom of thermal power. Molten life force spilled from his wounds to the ground, but Cane ignored it, calling upon still more infernal energy as he closed the distance. He didn't give the devil time to even think about getting up.

His clawed fists opened mid-leap, and he came down on top of the devil as he snarled, "Smy uw puly!" And he sank his claws into Adder's chest. The flames around them flowered, brightening for a second, before being drawn into Cane's expanding chest like a vacuum, the bright light within him burning blue with intense heat.

Adder's eyes widened in fear and rage, at Cane's snarled challenge in the infernal tongue they shared, and at the claws now tearing through his chest, shredding through organs that struggled to regenerate against this terrible onslaught. His body was breaking. His claws were utterly destroyed, the skin of his knuckles torn open to flesh and bone. He called upon his power with a screaming roar, bolt after bolt of infernal energy rippling across Cane's body as the larger creature tore his claws free, scattering evaporating blood across the platform. He backed away with each spell flung in Cane's face, pouring all of the power he had left into this creature's destruction.

It wasn't enough.

In this exhausted state, Adder's pathetic spells were too weak to stop Cane's inexorable advance, nor what followed. The Cajun opened his maw with a snarl to unleash a roaring torrent of hellfire. The devastating flood consumed the devil, setting flesh and nerves ablaze.

Adder screamed in anguish and fell onto his back as he succumbed to the infernal flames, peeling open his flesh, blistering away his skin, cracking his bones with the intensity of the heat. Wild green eyes darted a quick look at his rapidly diminishing allies, and he traced a claw through the air to tear open a portal... only to find the power failing him, siphoned into the living forge that was Cane. He tried to move again, to get back to his feet, but he cried out as heat-blasted flesh and bone sundered with the effort.

At the sound of her boss' mad laughter and enraged roars giving way to pained screams, Naomi Lin finally broke away from her duel with the witchling, paying for her moment of inattention with a retaliatory blast of wind that screamed around her, covering her back in razor-like cuts. She snapped her teeth angrily at Mallory, slashed her hand through the air, and disappeared in a cloud of embers and ash, reappearing on the edge of the main platform, standing before her boss... and the fiery beast that had looked like a simple mortal when he'd first appeared. His presence gave her pause, but the witch dashing after her divided her attention.

Mallory's clothes were dirty, singed and slashed from too many close calls; blood trickled from her scalp, flowed down her right arm, and dripped steadily from her left hand; and the mantle of shadows that protected her from harm flickered and wavered -- but she wasn't out of the fight yet. She leapt far enough to clear the gap to the platform, and caught a whip-like lash from Naomi's tail at her ankle as she came down hard. The succubus trilled with laughter at the sound of Mallory's sharp scream as her ankle twisted painfully --

-- cut short by a single word from the witch, vindicta. Naomi gasped as a deep cut sliced up her torso and slashed into her jaw, staggered by the wound. She turned from the girl to the many fallen figures scattered across the balcony and the dancefloor below, one screaming as another wave of rats crested over and consumed him...

...and back to her boss' failing body, nearly consumed by the inferno that issued from within the monster that called itself Cane. The succubus dragged her hand through the air again, disappearing from the fray in a flash of scarlet.

Adder was alone with Cane and the witch, but not for long.

The delinquent, Eri, snarled and bared her long lower canines at the last fiendish minion to fall to her blows. Then she heard the sudden silence of this place, and her yellow, lantern-like eyes caught sight of Adder's smoking, crackling husk of a body, cowering before Cane and Mallory. She flung her makeshift bludgeon aside with a huff, shattering the chunk of stone railing against the wall, and loped over to the edge of the balcony, reaching the platform easily with a feral leap.

Jewell's ethereal wings glimmered in the air as she rose up from the dance floor, coated in blood and ichor from head to toe, then vanished as she set down on the edge of the platform. Two long appendages of thick, red and black blood extended from her arms, writhing weapons created from those who fell before her. Despite the terrible racing of her heart, she was ready for more.

Sal's wild, glowing eyes looked on from the furthest shadows. One last cambion gurgled on her own blood as she fell at his feet, among so many others. Shifting to take a step, he blinked out of space, and on the next step was standing among them on the platform, radiating bone-chilling cold. With living, jagged carapace slithering slowly over his skin, he looked like some nightmarish alien creature instead of the man Mal knew. Blood dripped from the tips of his sharply pointed fingers.

Samuel Adder's allies were dead, or had abandoned him. The throng of revelers, hundreds of would-be sacrifices, had dispersed as soon as the Bell of Gomorrah had broken -- there was no strength he could draw from them. There was no power left for the magic he commanded. And he was surrounded.

"Finish this," he croaked at Cane, smoke, ash, and flakes of charred flesh falling from his mouth as it struggled to form the words. "Finish me... you beast."

The Cajun's demonic form diminished into something more human, if only so he could properly smile at the devil. He crouched down beside Samuel's scorched, mortal vessel twitching in agony and ignored the anemic echo of a shriek that begged for release. "I'm not gonna kill you," he said in a quiet voice. "But somethin' tells me you're gonna wish I had."

Cane glanced over his shoulder to those looking on, some wounded, others soaked in blood that was clearly not their own... coming to a stop when he reached the battered witch.

"Nadya," Adder croaked at Mallory at Cane's silent invitation, black smoke puffing out of his bloody mouth when he spoke. The witch said nothing, only turning her gaze from Cane to Adder's broken form as she pulled herself to her feet. She clasped her bloody right arm tightly with her left hand, grunting in pain as she took the first limping step, dragging her right ankle... but pain was something she had been learning to cope with since this fiend had dumped her in RhyDin.

Adder's flesh was charred and cracked, his tail mangled and twitching, but he had strength enough to pull himself up from the floor, onto his hands and knees as Mallory approached. "Nadya... it does not have to end this way. I have given you power... and I could show you so much more. I could return you home, to your family, to Vyrna in glory...!"

Mallory stopped in front of him, raising her chin to stare critically at his wretched, broken form. "My home?" she said. "My family?" His fanged teeth broke into a grin as he nodded emphatically, turning to listen to her...

"My name is Mallory St. Martin, and RhyDin is my home. My family is Patrick, Spencer and Eri, the people you tortured, captured and threatened, the people you tried to take away from me! And that power you speak of is not yours to give, because I earned it through suffering, you ****ing prick!"

Samuel Adder snarled in anger, opening his mouth to chide Mallory for her insolence, when she pressed her left ring finger to his ruined throat... and he found himself choking on his own roiling, thickening blood. He had no power left to tear open an escape from this fate, and could only watch the witch in wide-eyed terror as she flexed her fingers and beckoned to his flesh with the blood-soaked magic of the Belladonna Knight. Tiny vines wound their way through his cracking, dessicating skin, blooming into tiny purple flowers. Flesh sloughed off into growing piles of fine black soil, and the blood he tried to hiss his desperate final pleas through turned to the toxic essence of nightshade.

He reached out to Mallory with what remained of his arms until they withered and collapsed, leaving nothing but an appallingly blackened skull resting atop an altar of dark soil, with its curly horns wreathed in belladonna flowers.

"Well," Cane said when it was all finished.

Mallory turned her head with a start as if she'd forgotten Cane was there; she was drenched in sweat, her chest still heaving from the exertion of the fight. Her wild eyes ticked between him and the others, her expression softening as she reminded herself that these were friends... and that the archdevil watching her every word was dead.

Something welled up inside of her, her expression breaking as she locked eyes with the delinquent. "Eri!" She limped as fast as she could across the platform, arms open.

Eri looked a little like an animal herself right now. The costume she was wearing was barely intact, and blood was splashed and streaked across her face. Her hands were uniformly coated red, fists finally unclenched to stretch her fingers. Her breathing was heavy and her teeth still bared, though she swayed on her feet from simple exhaustion. Mallory's voice broke the frenzy, and her still yellow eyes widened. An unsteady gait carried her forward to meet the limping witch with arms already outstretched, crashing into her as they pulled each other into a tight embrace. "Mallory!" she exclaimed, unable to articulate anything more than a sob.

The two lingered in the embrace for a long moment, sharing quiet words, before they drew back far enough to tip their heads together. "I love you," Mallory whispered.

"I love you, Mallory," Eri replied, sniffling as a few happy tears left tracks on her bloody face.

Jewell--weary, breathless, and a bit out of humor because she was pretty sure she was having another heart attack while Mallory and Eri were busy kissing and being all mushy--cleared her throat loudly, "Not to ruin the moment, but who gets to keep the skull?"

"Dibs!" Mallory replied as she broke away from Eri. "We were just talking about that. We're thinking decorative door-knocker," she added with a sniffle as she eyed it.

The faerie sighed dramatically, giving up her dreams of a mantle centerpiece featuring her now dead ****-toy, and begrudgingly relented to Mallory's greater claim on Samuel's skull, "Fiiine. You can keep this one." Then she wandered off to find a piece of rubble to sit on, preferably one that Cane had not turned into magma.

By this point, Salvador had already left their cluster and resumed prowling the fringes of the room. There were other bodies to deal with. He took it upon himself to clean them up. No need to thank him.

Mallory finally turned to Cane, trying to put words to a question that had only been a faint glimmer of hope an hour ago... She searched his face curiously, and with some effort, formed the words he'd spoken before: "Smy uw puly... Does that mean I can have my job back?"

Not seeing any reason to correct her, Cane shrugged nonchalantly. "Close enough. But we're gonna have to have a little talk about monologuing."

((Written collaboratively with Eri; Jewell; Salvador; Cane; and Hector's friends, all of whom are lovely, wonderful writers I am lucky I got to do this with! Thank you! <3 <3 <3

Just getting caught up on this thread on or after October 2nd? The scene in the post above starts here!))


Last edited by Mallory on Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:26 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 11:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Early Tuesday morning...

Maria Ruiz and Shannon O'Connor waited for their fellow succubus in Samuel Adder's darkened office. With the end of the campaign -- despite the promise of more work to come with his casino projects -- the building was quiet, with staff released from their overtime obligations and finally allowed to take a sorely needed day off. There was no sound in the room at all, except for the frustrated sighs Shannon kept heaving and the crackle of a portal about to open.

Naomi Lin stumbled out of a shimmering crimson tear in reality, unsteady on her feet, the hood drawn up on her bloody and singed robes. Shannon didn't give her a chance to recover, rounding on her immediately

"You left him there?!"

"Shannon, we weren't there -- "

"Maybe if we had been, this wouldn't have happened -- !"

"If you'd been there, you'd all be dead!" Naomi snapped, throwing back her hood -- her jaw was still split open on one side, revealing tendon that was slow to regenerate. "Our wise and all-knowing master gave a ****ing blood witch free rein in Tartarus for a week. She broke the ritual. The sacrifices ran. That demonic mutt of a gangster got loose and started killing our chanters."

"Surely the two of you could have handled a blood witch and a half-breed," Maria intoned, daring to step between Shannon and Naomi.

"She brought friends. Our master's mistress, the fae -- her loyal knight, who slaughtered our reinforcements -- a sadistic fae creature the likes of which I've never seen before, but at least he ate well! -- that busybody of a shopkeep, Cane, who may as well have been a full-blooded demon -- and an endless plague of rats and ratkin. One of them had ****ing dynamite!"

Shannon snapped her teeth at Naomi and her excuses, and turned her head to Maria: "We should have been there. We would not have run."

"Do you think each of us so strong?" Maria narrowed her eyes skeptically at Shannon. "Our master got in over his head, and now we're left to pick up the pieces. Yes? What's done is done," she added, looking pointedly between her and Naomi.

"Good. Then, we can recover our strength and plan a counterattack," Naomi growled, her scar stretching, "make sure they won't be a problem -- "

"No," Maria said, stepping up to her, and darting a warning look back at Shannon. "No counterattacks. No revenge. No war. We don't have the empire for it... and I don't think we have anything further to fear from them. Not now. Unless you think they'd like to boast about murdering a politician?"

It seemed to pacify them; Naomi, at least. Shannon frowned, shaking her head. "I am not so sure... this is a strange and violent city..."

"At the very least, they'd keep their cards close if they saw another Samuel Adder."

"The Rite of the Avatar?" Naomi asked. "Would he... do you think he would permit it?"

"He left us with this mess," Shannon replied with a huff, folding her arms tightly. "And his Hellbound spirit won't be in any shape to answer us for weeks. Months, if he's unlucky."

"Are we agreed?" Maria intoned sternly; and as they both relented with nods, she smiled. "I do not think the face of Samuel Adder could be in any better hands than ours. Let us begin."

* * * * *

The ritual had been going on for hours, long enough that the first rays of sunlight had broken over the hills to the east, spilling their gold across Fool's Luck Bay. Maria, Shannon, and Naomi were kneeling in a circle, arms outstretched, hands only barely touching, chanting on the floor of Samuel Adder's empty office. "Mara Sheddun mara," they whispered, the newest of hundreds of repetitions. "Mara Sheddun mara."

With the six hundred and sixteenth invocation of the last face of the Name Thief, the ritual culminated, and a pitch black void appeared in the floor between them, stretching at the corners into a three-pointed star, flaring, crackling with power, and emitting a dark, chilling mist. Voices echoed out of the infinite chasms on the other side of the door, the slow rumbling thunder of ancient beings rousing from their slumber at this intrusion, and the despairing wails of the lost souls condemned to this place.

Chitinous legs, glistening claws, and oil-slick tentacles scrabbled and writhed at the edges of the void, trying in vain to widen the tear, but the only thing that the coven of succubi would suffer to pass was already rising: a simple, pearlescent mask, featureless but for the empty eyes and a thin mouth, spinning in the air between them.

The void snapped shut the moment they broke the circle, and the mask descended slowly, floating down into their outstretched hands. Through mere contact with it, they could feel the essence of Samuel Adder, the idea of his presence, his shape, his voice. It was not him, but it was as close to him as they would get on short notice, and they shared a quiet moment of satisfaction at the completion of their task -- it wasn't much, but it was a small victory in the face of so many setbacks.

Shannon looked at the mask... then between Naomi and Maria with a deepening frown. "Sooo... who gets to wear it first?"
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

October 24th...

Maria Ruiz's first impression of Club Zenith was that it was worlds apart from Tartarus.

The old nightclub had been an impossibly massive chamber, more than seven stories tall, with a grand balcony at the pinnacle worthy of any king. It had been packed with bodies from dusk until dawn, all of them giving themselves over to a frenzied lust, happily taking whatever drinks and whatever else was pressed into their greedy hands. Its heartbeat was the bassline that reverberated through the dark roots of the city, as a thousand corrupted mortal hearts beat as one. And under its eerie red glow, there had been enough of a feast for any succubus to glut herself for months.

Club Zenith was something altogether different, at least at a glance, more respectable despite the more openly adult entertainment. Rather than hide deep underground, away from the prying eyes of this city's many self-proclaimed guardians, the strip club proudly occupied a busy mid-level floor, the perfect height for Stars End's busiest hovercraft lanes. It occupied one corner of a diamond-shaped skyscraper, with a commanding view of Fool's Luck Bay only ever broken by shuttles and airspeeders whizzing past. Between the windows, the stools, the bar, and every catwalk, most of Club Zenith was made of the same type of holographic glass; only the floors, stairs, and ceiling were gleaming chrome, catching the lights within and without, refracted and dancing strangely across every surface.

There was no ancient bell tolling, and no cages -- though there were glass platforms that orbited slowly over the main floor that passed tantalizingly close to balconies, with dancers grinding on the hard light railings. And in place of the ancient artifact, there was a DJ at work on the main stage, bulky headphones not quite covering his long, piercing-laden ears. They seemed to be invisible to most of the crowd, but in Maria's eyes she could see a glow, the faint tracing of infernal runes across his equipment, curling up and wreathing his hands in crimson threads of arcane power, pulsing out over the crowd in waves.

Despite the writhing performance on the glass platform currently hovering between him and the crowd, and the lascivious looks the two dancers were giving him, his eyes kept straying to the muse standing over his shoulder: Shannon O'Connor, her green eyes glittering as she beheld her enthralled artist, silently reveling in all the good work he was doing for them. Even if she did not seem to care for mortal lust, even at the best of times, the power they accrued from it was another matter altogether.

There was another deep pulse of energy that carried itself through the music, crackling through the crowd and the electric touch between bodies, spiraling down their legs and through the apparently seamless chrome floor. She could feel it as it thrummed along a ritually inscribed line just inches below her feet, drawn in towards an invisible centerpoint, and she couldn't help a fraction of a smile at the feeling. It was the same smile she graced a male dancer with as he led two of their new patrons away by the hand, passing under the watchful gaze of someone up on the second story.

"Mr. Adder!" Over the din, she heard the booming voice of a half-orc in a silk suit and tie, moving to greet the familiar face and figure of Samuel Adder, clasping his hand in two massive ones adorned with golden rings. Maria spared a smile for her companion -- Samuel spared a solitary wink -- and crossed the room to the bar, deftly negotiating the mass of bodies with a well-placed heart-stopping look, a distracting tickle of claw-like fingertips, and a subtle push of a few bodies towards the performers and partners they preferred.

"Vodka. Neat." She stood with her back to the counter, letting the skinny glass dangle from her fingers as soon as it passed within reach, and allowed herself a few minutes to just watch as Club Zenith's opening night progressed before her eyes.

This club was worlds apart from Tartarus. Compared to their first underground venture, Zenith was perfectly appropriate for an entertainment company like Shining Cities Entertainment. It had been announced out in the open, with the figure of Samuel Adder opening its doors after dusk after giving a small speech to the throng of eager patrons. There were no captive dancers, no prison cells or torture chambers, and no sacrificial braziers for the incineration of unlucky souls; only the steady pulse of music that quietly fed a small but growing reserve of magical power. In time, with enough venues like this, it would be enough to resurrect the infernal essence of the Name Thief...

...unless we commit its power to a more worthy task.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 6th...

Mallory did her best to warn Jewell before dropping by to talk -- a scarlet butterfly that fluttered into the place she was staying, delivering a simple message from the witch about an hour beforehand. She arrived on foot, standing in front of the luxuriously appointed New Haven house and looking at it the way one does any garishly colored animal, silently considering whether it was a warning of venomous intent or merely poor taste. Someone was looking back at her, a short red-haired girl smoking at the back of a studio van, eyeing her with suspicion equal to the witch's own. Just beyond the skeptical intern, someone was visible through the living room windows, dancing across the sofas while swinging a sword. Shirtless.

Christ, she hoped she wouldn't have to go in there.

The witch's message had given her enough time to dig through the closet she shared with Gren (it was in shambles!) to find something other than shorts and a sports bra to wear. Jewell slowed on the way down the stairs, pulling on her t-shirt and tying her white hair back in a ponytail, and then stopped completely at the bottom to watch Hugo practice.

"Looking good, handsome. Too bad TDL isn't a thing these days. You'd slay it and make me a ton of money," she said to the house monitor. He mutely flourished a bow in reply, breathing too hard for words, sparing her a roguish wink as he extended his blade away from her.

She faked a swoon and then detoured into the kitchen, eyeing the snacks on the counter. "Granola... hemp seeds. Sunflower seeds. Where the hell are the potato chips and pixie sticks I asked for?" she asked the nearest cameraman.

"Uh ma'am, we told you. You're not supposed to talk to us."

"Yeah yeah. I'll talk to whoever I--" the doorbell rang. "IT'S FOR ME!" she shouted over her shoulder to whoever was home. Grabbing the granola, "Ugh, infused with flax seeds," she headed for the door and threw it open.

"If you don't get that ****ing thing out of my face, I'll -- " Mallory stopped threatening another one of the cameraman (currently backed all the way up to the railing) when Jewell threw open the door. "Hey!" she said, affecting cheerfulness that belied her desire to be away from this house and the camera crew that came with it. "Join me for cider and donuts? My treat?"

She'd seen a stand on her way over. She hoped no one would try to follow them there, but she had her doubts...

"Mm donuts? Hell yes." Jewell actually tossed the bag of granola over her shoulder and then searched the pile of shoes that had already accumulated next to the door. "Think these are mine..." she said as she shoved her feet into a pair of flats.

"GOING OUT!" she shouted again to the house at large, explaining quickly to Mal, "Ishmerai's been kind of worried about me going out a lot. Can't blame him, I guess."

"I get it," she muttered, once she thought they were out of microphone shot, although they probably weren't; "but it's New Haven, and we can do bloody murder between the two of us." She shoved her hands into her hoodie pockets, glowered at an intern, and led the charge away from the Real RhyDin house, putting buildings and bodies between them and the set of the reality show. "I dunno how you live in a place like that," she admitted honestly, finally slowing down and turning to look at Jewell as the faerie caught up to her.

"Eh.. it's not so bad, I guess." She shrugged. "Kind of like a big game of pretend? Pretend you're the person they want you to be. Pretend you don't want to murder your roommates. Pretend no one is watching." Jewell smirked, "And when my lovely doppleganger kills me, at least they'll catch it on camera?"

"Which reminds to me to ask you, what the **** is all that about?" Mallory gave Jewell another look as they slowed to the end of a line for cider and donuts. "I really thought that invitation was from you. I know your glamour," she said. "Like cool, clear water, with... light, somehow. I wouldn't have come otherwise."

Her description of her glamour made her smile, but her nose wrinkled up immediately. "Sorry about that. Didn't even think she would invite you. I mean, I didn't even know about it until a few days before." The line inched forward. "A few years ago, some CPA agents dropped her through a portal to this dimension and time. Bitch had already destroyed her version of RhyDin. I don't know why they brought her to me buuut they did, so I locked her up in the Tower of Gulshan. Guess I should have killed her."

Mallory thinned her lips as she thought about that. "That's pretty bitchy of the CPA. They should be the ones to clean up this mess, but I guess that's not gonna happen if they dumped her here to begin with. But I dunno if I would've killed her ahead of time, either, given the chance." They made it to the front of the line, and the witch flashed two fingers as she fished out enough silver coins for hot cider and a maple donut for each of them, and turned to follow Jewell to a bench nearby.

"I might be in a similar place. Kind of." She took a big bite of her donut, despite how the conversation was making her feel. It took a lot more stress and anxiety than this to stop the witch from eating whatever food was in front of her.

Jewell was going a little bit slower with her donut. It was good, but she didn't really feel truly hungry these days. "Is that what you wanted to talk about?" She broke a piece off and nibbled, contemplated, and then shoved the whole piece in her mouth. Even lacking an appetite, it was good!

"Mm," she nodded. Just seconds later, hers was gone. "I've got..." She trailed off, her expression falling to another frown. She drew her legs up to sit indian-style on the bench next to Jewell, balancing the cider in her lap. "Adder abducted me from somewhere when I was a baby. From somewhere called Vyrna, from a family called the Volokhovs. They struck a bargain, their memories of me in exchange for power, at least according to him. And he bundled me up in a cloak from a place called Mallory's Fine Clothiers before he delivered me to an orphanage that transferred me to St. Martin's in RhyDin -- that's where I got the name," she added with a sliver of a smile she didn't feel. "There's never been a Mallory's in RhyDin -- I checked. So it could be in Vyrna, or somewhere nearby.

"I've been looking for any information about Vyrna, but I can't find anything. I've been trying to figure out where Adder's spirit is, or if he's actually, you know, gone, but I can't find anything, either. And I don't have the cloak... but I know where it is. I could get it, and use it to find one of those things."

"What a bastard." It was her version of commiserating and showing sympathy to the young witch, and she really did think that Adder was a bastard. "Do you want to find this... Vyrna place?" She popped another piece of donut into her mouth, talking as she chewed. "Not like you've ever really lived there, you know?"

"No, and... I meant what I said to him, before I killed him," Mallory replied, lifting the piping hot cider for a careful sip. "I'm not Nadya Volokhov, from Vyrna. I'm Mallory St. Martin, from RhyDin, and my family's here." She breathed a long sigh as she remembered it. Tartarus and everything leading up to it still followed her every day. If the Name Thief was truly dead, at least he didn't have to remember it. Her eyes slid shut, and she blew out another breath. "But that's still a piece of me, and the only piece he didn't touch. And I have power... and it's not just the mark left by the bargain he struck for control over my fate. Part of the gift's in my blood, and... I'll always wanna know what that is, too."

She turned to look Jewell in the eye: "**** Mariya and Evgeny Volokhov for doing this to me. I don't care why they did it. I don't want to know. But I do want to know more about me. I've never had the chance before, and... I don't know that I'll get another."

"Then you should go." She said it as if it was all as simple as walking to the bodega on the corner. Jewell shoved the last bit of her donut in her mouth and washed it down with some cider. "Mm that's good. I'll have to come back here with the roomies." It was a momentary aside before she was back on topic, "Normally, I'd warn against revenge jobs. They don't pay and you're usually doubly screwed in the end." She licked a bit of the maple glaze from the donut off her finger, decidedly not thinking about all the revenge she had sought in RhyDin and how it led to so much sorrow. "But if you want to go to learn about yourself? Do it."

Mallory couldn't help but laugh, quietly, at the sight of the deadly faerie next to her licking the last of the glaze off her fingers like a greedy child. In spite of their history, it made her laugh. "Okay. Maybe I will." She wrapped her hands a little tighter around her cup of cider, letting herself enjoy the warmth for a long moment. "And maybe I'll try... other channels to look for the Name Thief. There's gotta be a few." She knew of a couple, though she wouldn't voice them just now. Then she gave Jewell another look, a lingering, curious look.

There were questions she wanted to ask the faerie, snatches of her doppelganger's insane speech at the grotesque Samhain party that she had recalled and tried to make sense of; but none of them felt like they were meant to be voiced just now, either. "Let me know if you need a hand murdering Her Royal Highness. Bitch upstaged my title. You know I can't let that stand."

It was Jewell's turn to laugh. "No, I don't suppose you can."

((Adapted from live play with Jewell, with thanks!))


Last edited by Mallory on Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:34 am; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2017 11:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monday night...

The new house was starting to feel less like a complex storage locker and more like a home, now that they'd had a few days to unpack and settle in. Mallory, fresh from breaking down another box of books, had taken a detour to the small room near the middle of the second floor. She stood in the center, fists pressed to her hips, and gave the ceiling a long, scrutinizing look, tapping her bare feet against the creaky old hardwood floor.

Her thoughts drifted. It was easier to stay focused leading up to the move and the day after, when she was still bone tired, but this was the first bad day she'd had in a while. She bit her lip. Her eyes flared as she played through all of the words he had ever said to her, silently working through the anger and fear as she had a thousand times already, until all she was left with was a feeling of gnawing, growing curiosity.

Eri had spent most of her time after dinner organizing the storage area on the ground floor. Now her light steps could be heard on the risers of the stairs as she made her way up. She emerged onto the landing and started toward the kitchen, but halted when she saw Mallory in the small, empty room down the hall. The delinquent smiled, seeing her thoughtful look. "Still tired?" she asked.

A smile flickered onto the witch's lips, and she turned her head to look back at Eri. "Yeah. Kind of a weird day. Other than dinner," she promised in a gentler tone, turning to drape her arms over Eri's shoulders, "and waking up next to your cute ass... it was kind of one of those days," she added, her expression falling somewhat.

Eri's smile remained, growing brighter as she listened, making a familiar soft sound of agreement to her words. Her ears flushed at the compliment. "Waking up next to you set a good tone for my morning," she said in her soft, lyrical accent. Her smile finally faltered, only to return a moment later as she asked: "One of those? Want to tell me about it?"

"Tartarus," Mallory said, slipping away from Eri to lean in the doorway to the tiny room. She was still bone-tired, and leaning felt easier. "No," she decided with a headshake, "not that stupid place... more Adder in general. The things he said to me about who I am. I dunno how much I told you about that right after... The days after Tartarus are kind of a blur," she said with an apologetic smile at Eri.

While Mallory leaned in the doorway, Eri sat down on the floor, legs crossed in front of her to listen. "Hm, they felt a bit blurry to me, looking back now," she admitted after thinking for a moment. "But I remember you telling me he told you what your name was. Was there more?"

"Just a place," Mallory sighed, letting her eyes drift shut as she tipped her head back against the doorframe. "Vyrna. I've tried looking for information on it, but there's nothing. Maybe it's hard to reach from here. Maybe it's not noteworthy, though he did say the Volokhovs were an important wizarding family... I don't know, maybe he's a ****ing liar," she said, the heat of frustrated anger rising in her tone. "But it's hard to just, like... leave it alone and forget about it."

"Vyrna..." Eri repeated the word at a quiet pitch, her curiosity already apparent. Upper teeth nibbled at her lower lip while she thought about it. "Do you think it's a place in a different world, or... somewhere on this one?" she wondered. Lips pursed and she shook her head. "Of course you can't leave it. Even if you decided that you are Mallory now, you want to know how it started. And about where you came from. You shouldn't leave it in my opinion. It's something that was taken from you, right?"

Mallory sighed again, and cut a smile over at Eri. "Mallory St. Martin, from RhyDin. And my family's right here." After a moment, her expression fell and her gaze slid back to the other side of the doorway. "Jewell thought I should check out Vyrna, too -- and I'm pretty sure it's nowhere on this planet. Probably in a place that doesn't have a lot tying it to RhyDin." She drummed her fingers against her biceps, thinking for a moment. "I have a chance to pick whether I try to find... wherever the Name Thief is, if there's anything left of him... or where Vyrna is... and I thought she'd be a good person to ask about revenge and regret," she added thoughtfully.

"You know that... I like this, here, with you, right? I like it here. Whatever was taken from me has to be less than this. And whoever the **** the Volokhovs are, they gave me up to that monster. The people I love are around me because they choose to be."

The delinquent's eyes were solemn as she listened, with growing interest at the revelation of the probable nature of this place, and that it might be possible to divine its location. When the witch made her assurance, Eri nodded firmly. "I know," she replied with a renewed smile. "Truly, I've never been happier. But I'm with you on finding out about this Vyrna place, completely"

"Then we'll go. Together," the witch offered, along with both of her hands to pull Eri back to her feet. "I just need to get something back from Abby, and after a scrying ritual... I should know where Vyrna is, or get damn close to it."

"Together!" Eri agreed in her cheerful voice, arms wrapping around the witch as she was pulled to her feet. Her chin came to rest on Mallory's shoulder for a moment as she thought of a plan. "Okay, I'll drive you over there again, whenever you're ready," she decided. Then, with a lift of her chin to look at Mal's face, she smiled and offered: "But for tonight, you look pretty tired. How about I draw you a bath before bed?"

Mallory smiled softly, tipping her head forward to gently touch her brow to the delinquent's, and narrowed her eyes at her. "You draw us a bath, and you have yourself a deal."

"I like that plan!" Eri exclaimed, and was skittering off with renewed vigor toward the bath.

((Adapted from live play with Eri, with thanks!))
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

New Year's Eve, 2017 - Opening Night at the Golden Bough...

"It isn't working."

The three succubi stood in a circle in the middle of a handsomely appointed office overlooking Seaside, lit only by the glow of the city below. The lighthouse lamp flashed through the tall windows from across the water, illuminating three more finely dressed figures sprawled out on the floor around them with their throats torn open, seeping blood into the large Turkish rug. The succubi's hands were linked, their eyes shut as they focused on the power they shared, but Naomi Lin was scowling in frustration, stretching the ugly scar across her jaw, where her dark red skin had been corrupted and blackened.

They spared no fraction of their power for illusions, nor glamour, nor any other spell, all of their magic devoted to one thing: rediscovering their master and bringing him back.

"Patience, Naomi," Shannon growled through her interlocking fangs, in a tone that implied she had none to spare. Her tail lashed across the blood-slick floor, snaking out through the long slit of her cocktail dress.

"You know what I think?" Maria's eyebrows twitched with irritation, struggling to contain her rage when she spoke. "I think we need to consider the possibility that he's ****ing gone."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Naomi snapped. Both of them opened their eyes to snarl and snap their teeth at each other, disturbing their ritual's tenuous connection to the planes of Hell with a crackle in the air and scattering clouds of black smoke.

"Be silent, both of you!" Shannon squeezed their hands hard, and they grunted in pain as she exerted her will over them, forcing them back into the ritual. "If we cannot find him as Sheddun, either he's dead, or his masks are broken."

"No...! If he finds out, he'll be--" Maria began to protest.

"--lucky to return," Naomi added. She took a breath and composed herself, shunting her rage towards Maria off to the side for later use. Her jaw fell slack, her eyelids fluttered as her eyes rolled back, and she uttered a name: Anomenar.

Anomenar. Shannon followed suit...

...and Maria after her, with a bitter shake of her head. Anomenar.

Magmatic cracks appeared in the floor as a window into the inferno opened in the casino's executive office, unbeknownst to the gathering throng of gamblers, drunkards, and ambitious socialites directly beneath it. The glow in the fissures brightened towards the center, rising into a roaring column of fire.

Shannon gritted her teeth, sweat dripping down her brow from the base of her horns as she focused. "Through the barrier... almost... almost..."

The flames receded all at once, revealing an image of a crystal that glowed with a white-hot fire deep inside. The trio stared in suspicion, and Naomi dared to draw in for a closer look... and gasped when she saw the familiar visage of her infernal master butting his horns against one of the crystal faces, slapping his hands against it, and roaring in rage and desperation.

"Looking for this?" A high, hissing voice echoed through the planar window as a chitinous black limb snatched the crystal in his claw-like fingers. He was an eight-legged imp with black carapaces, bristling spikes of hair that gave the impression of a long, pointed mustache, and rubbery gray skin stretched a little too taut over his flesh.

"Who are you--?!" Shannon began to demand, but the imp tsk'ed and shook a finger at her.

"Don't worry, my little lustling, I'm not going to consume him... but someone else might want to. I will call on you at dusk tomorrow, and I'll warn you -- be prepared to negotiate like his life depends on it." His red eyes flashed with malice, and he grinned all the wider as he gloated, "I've already heard from many interested parties. Ta-ta, darlings."

And with another burst of roaring fire, the grinning imp slammed the planar window shut.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 11:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

October 1st, 2017.

Struck down. Cast out. Burning. Poisoned. Beaten. The enraging thoughts swirled through the dark patch of shadow that once was a proud archdevil as he plummeted through the planes, flashing with angry bursts of red as he struggled to regain control. The flashes coalesced into a single pulse in his center like a burning coal, and the shadow lengthened into a torso, two clawed black arms, and a horned head. Wings arose twice from his back with an angry hiss, and each time burst into mist, drawing a roar of rage from the wounded beast as he found itself without any means to control his descent. There were no legs, no cloven hooves, and no barbed, lashing tail, only an incoherent trail of shadow streaming behind him as he struggled to draw from his thoroughly depleted well of magical power.

The fight in Tartarus had not yet taken everything from the fiend who called himself Samuel Adder, and with time, his power would return... but the bubble of fire expanding in the interplanar darkness beneath him showed just how little time he had.

It had been a speck at first, a faint glimmer of fire in his vision, but the fiery barrier that contained Hell itself grew impossibly vast, filling up all of his vision, before the fallen infernal struck its surface. His screams of anguish were drowned out by spectral faces rippling through the flames, hissing their words to him through the inferno:

Anomenar. Anomenar! Anomenar the Name Thief! He returns! The Thief returns! He is weak! He is fallen!

Anguish gave way to rage, but the dark claws that the devil lashed out at the faces with burned away into ash before his eyes. His power was too little, his form too weak to survive the descent; the barrier was burning him away faster than he could restore himself. The specters swirled around him, cackling at him, mocking him, snapping their teeth hungrily at his diminished form. One caught and tore at him with its teeth, barely deterred as he pushed back against it with what remained of him, watching in horror as it tore away a ragged chunk of shadowy essence that slithered between its teeth, its eyes locked hungrily on his through every bite...

Then the burning stopped, and a tiny shooting star of an angry red spirit with a shadowy corona fell through the bottom of the barrier and into Hell.

Jagged black towers and mountains shaped like cruel teeth towered impossibly high around him, nearly scraping the barrier and looming over the labyrinth of palaces, dungeons, and lava-filled canals far below. Winged beings crawled over the upper reaches like a swarm of ants, while others had already taken flight, swarming around other fallen spirits beneath him -- some large, hulking monsters that swatted angrily at every creature that managed to steal a bite, scattering dozens into dust with high-pitched shrieks at their ending; others were more diminished, like him, and he watched in dawning horror as an infernal spirit the color of a blue star screeched its last in the jaws of a ravenous imp.

Then a glowing yellow pair of eyes met his, wings rustled, and a creature took flight. Anomenar could hear the swarm following it but didn't dare to look, turning away as he tried to will his essence into some kind of useful shape. Two tiny, batlike wings crackled out of his shadowy corona, and as he heard much faster wings flutter up behind him he darted away, zipping in dangerously close to a caged tower filled with wailing voices and grasping arms, then away again as a dozen imps behind him were caught in their grasp, shrieking in terror.

He wheeled around and tucked his wings in, diving along the obsidian surface of a sorcerer's spire, darting between the spikes that protruded out at odd angles. He could see a ravenous imp darting up alongside him, ready to swoop in for the kill, and caught only a brief cry from it as it collided with a treacherous piece of the architecture, leaving him free for the final descent, though he could hear the wings beating hard behind him.

If I can reach the surface, I can make it to Venedictus'... get that sniveling poison devil to lend me a husk, and then I can --

"Decipula."

He caught sight of the web-like magic circle too late, its translucent lines flashing only in the split-second when it activated. Spinning triangles of crystalline glass smacked into him and abruptly stopped his descent, slowly, painfully pressing in on eight sides until they locked into place.

He flared with rage, pounding and scratching at the barrier, trying to draw on more of his power -- surely there was some he had recovered by now -- but as he felt his essence grow, it simply slipped out of his grasp, sticking to the walls of his prison.

Outside of it he could see a flurry of narrow passages of volcanic rock, caged windows, claw-carved tunnels, twisting through them with blinding speed... until it stopped, and Anomenar could finally look upon the face of his captor, who was looking right back at him, his red eyes narrowed with keen interest as he pulled at his mustache.

"Anomenar... I am Zarhas, a collector, just like you... and you, my thieving friend, are going to make me a very wealthy man."
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 2:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

New Year's Day, 2018.

Anomenar was one of hundreds of prizes stored in the Black Vault of Zarhas, lining the rock-hewn shelves of the low octagonal chamber that lay hidden in the roots of Hell's highest mountains. There were soul crystals like his own, though few so prominent as his own, mostly lesser beings encased in pyramids of enchanted glass that cursed and howled for hours on end before they exhausted themselves into silence.

Then there were the skulls of gleaming gold, silver, ruby and emerald, spectral light in their eyes as the enchanters they imprisoned whispered an unending stream of promises, treasures and favors they would exchange for their release. Every word was taken down by a pegasus feather quill that floated over an endless roll of parchment, which curled into a three-foot pile off the end of a desk made of nephilim bones; every so often it paused to dip into an inkwell filled with glistening violet venom, then resumed its hurried scrawl.

This was to say nothing of the cages dangling from the ceiling, filled with feral imps that gnawed at the bars and pale, sickly creatures that watched their surroundings with dull, weary eyes and made no sound at all -- at least, no sound until Zarhas plucked them from their cages to carve out their hearts, sucking the vitae down through his razor sharp teeth.

In the center of the chamber, amidst the locked chests of gold, silver, and cruel, jagged iron, small mounds of glittering treasure and gilded urns plucked from forbidden shrines, was the circle where Zarhas the Collector conducted business.

It was a complex circle, white lines carved into the rock that ended abruptly in strange places and resumed after several unseen twists and turns, each point anchored by a small golden brazier. Eight of twenty were lit at the moment, flickering with angry infernal fire, just enough to part the barrier to communicate with the mortal planes. And around the perimeter were a dozen floating silver scrying orbs, each one containing the leering visage of a being that had placed a bid for the crystal that contained Anomenar's soul.

He had been arguing for months with fiends he recognized, and who all certainly remembered him in kind: Elluseth the Madam of Succubi, Ferén of the Third Eye, Kirastira, Dronox and Avornox, Gethuen, and not least of all Sheddun, among others. They had all bid eagerly for a chance at revenge on the Name Thief, a chance to finally be free of him, but his theft of their names had brought them low in the intervening centuries. Each offered meager piles of rubies, enchanted trinkets that were once legendary but now diminished by disuse, a dozen mortal slaves with promises of potential or delectable souls...

Taken altogether, he reasoned, it would be a suitable sum for the soul of an archdevil, but his enemies distrusted each other as much as they did the Name Thief himself, and rightly so; there was little danger of them working together, and he could not help but be pleased as they regarded each other warily, as Zarhas conducted business with more competent clients:

The trio of succubi who had pledged to serve Anomenar.

"You will have one year," Zarhas began --

"The first day of the year 2019, anno Domini?" Naomi was quick to interject, her voice ringing clearly through the roaring pillar of fire in the center of the circle.

"One year since his descent." Zarhas' razor-sharp teeth set into a cruel smile, and Anomenar snarled as he imagined plucking each tooth out, then feeding them to the miserable imp. "On the first day of October, 2018, anno Domini, I will deliver the means to transport my prize to the highest bidder."

"You will close bidding." Another voice rang through. Shannon.

Zarhas' eyes glittered with delight, and he chuckled raspily through his teeth. The collector clearly felt he was going to like whatever he heard next. "And why would I do a thing like that, my darling soul-sucker?"

"Because we can give you something these nameless, Hell-bound, so-called fiends cannot." Naomi, again. Maria had been silent so far. Anomenar narrowed his eyes as he pressed his hands against the boundaries of his prison, listening to every word, watching every detail, trying to divine intentions from anything and everything he observed. "Mortal souls."

"Mortal children," Zarhas countered, snarling as he loped right up to the edge of the crackling fire on six of his limbs, ignoring the fiends now shouting in protest through the orbs. He waved an arm behind him and -- poof -- each orb blinked out, turning a dull gray color as they all sank back to the floor. "No younger than nine, no older than eleven, each of them possessed of innate magical talent."

There was a long pause, punctuated only by the crackling of the pillar of flame and the howling, shrieking, and whispering of the many beings imprisoned in this vault. "This is acceptable. Our master has tracked many mortals across the planes. Matching your description, we can offer eight now -- "

"Only eight?!"

"Out of thirty that will follow."

Zarhas spat out of the corner of his mouth, dislodging a particularly tough piece of imp heart that had been lodged in there for hours. "Forty."

"Thirty is an unholy number..." Naomi began tersely.

"And forty is holy. How delightfully perverse, wouldn't you say?" Zarhas leered into the fire, smiling widely at the succubi on the other side. "On October 1st, 2018, by dawn, you will show me that you have my prize, blindfolded and shackled; then and only then will I open a portal for mortal crossing, and mortal crossing only. If there are any tricks..." He parted his teeth, then snapped them together. "I eat his soul. Do we have an accord?"

There was a pregnant pause. The pillar of flame crackled. Zarhas ground his teeth in anticipation. Then three voices -- Naomi, Shannon, and Maria -- rang out as one:

"Forty children, one year from his descent. It has been spoken... and thus, it shall be done."
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