Disorientation. Spinning out of control. Uncertainty. South becomes north, down becomes up, and then, the sudden crash.* * * * *
Laying spawled out on whatever metal surface he had just bounced off and landed upon, a U.S. Marshal by the very unelegant name of Boone clutching his broken ribs, Arthur Brooks reels at what had just happened. He still has chains on both his wrists and ankles, severely limiting his movement, and his eyesight is difficult to focus.
These days, it was customary to transport criminally insane convicted men under the influence of a high dose of Haloperidol. Nitrazepam could also have been used, but this Arthur Brooks was considered highly dangerous; the psychiatrist had backed the suggestion of the Marshal-in-Chief that this one needed a heavy dosage. Nitrazepam could have caused the man liver damage, and while Brooks was not particularly loved by the powers-that-be, and especially the FBI, the tabloids loved their so-called "White Rook". They had nicknamed him thus, they owned him, and if anything would happen to this particular modern subject, the media uproar would surely go all the way to the federal Department of Justice. From there, any attempt at trying to solve the problem would be trying to plug the leaks in Benedict Arnold's ship in Hell.
But the only Hell that existed is broken, Brooks is sure of this. However, with his movements sluggish and his head swimming, there is no way to actually know what was happening. The drugged haze only lets him remember the boarding in the steel-reinforced patty wagon, the two armed federal Marshals who would watch over him in the back, and the vague knowledge that his transfer wasn't entirely legit.
I need to focus... focus... focus... concentrate... past... the... drug.
One of the marshals is sprawled out on his back, apparently out cold. Whatever had happened produced the very nasty effect of tipping over the truck on its side multiple times, and one of the steel-covered windows had a single rod come off and wedge itself into the poor marshal. The left eye socket to be more precise. The real question was, what had killed the marshal first: the rod in the eye, or the rather unnatural angle at which his neck was turned?
The second officer, Marshal Boone, is struggling to get to his feet, but a deep gash above one of his eyes keeps him partially blind, a predicament not the least helped by the apparent dizziness of the poor gentleman.
The White Rook sees opportunity in the disguise of a large piece of glass resting near the calf of the Marshal.
Right next to his partially-holstered sidearm.
I can't go and reach for it like this, thought Brooks. He'll think I'm onto his gun. Not good.
Arthur Brooks resented firearms back then and still does now. They are noisy, dirty, cold, lack in precision and were in general good taste. Any man, woman, black or white or anything else could pick up and fire a gun. Prebubescent children these days used them to try and kill each other in most states. A nice blade, however, was more than just a tool for releasing death; it was artful, it was elegant and discreet, it was a tool that would never 'run out'. It was his chosen third hand, a natural extension of himself, a favored friend, his only friend.
But as distasteful as it could be, sometimes it had to be the gun.
A few moments later, the sudden stiffled sound of a gunshot was heard in the distance. The few people around the area scattered instantly like flies, a few women screaming in panic. A reinforced steel door opened slowly, and a convicted man in orange coveralls ran slowly in the backstreets in a drugged haze. Half an hour later, police officers and federal agents would argue furiously about how a secretly armored prisoner transport truck with two drivers and two armed U.S. Marshals could have been ambushed, tipped over a few times, and, most importantly, how a single doped-up, criminally insane thirty-nine years old man with chains on his hands and feet could have opened the steel-reinforced doors by himself, from the inside, in the middle of the night and just run off.
At thirteen minutes past midnight, the phone in Special Agent Gries' Manhattan loft rings, informing him of the failed transfer of a federal jurisdiction multiple murderer by the name of Arthur Brooks. The agent, still recovering from a special operation that had been dual-headed by the DEA and the FBI in Jersey City, does not fully understand why he is being informed of this, but just to be sure, he agrees to get up, dress himself and head immediately to Washington D.C. at FBI Headquarters for an early morning debriefing.
One shower, two shampoos, a clumsy shave and two puffs of cologne later, Agent Gries selects a comfortable grey linen suit to put on top of his near-endless collection of plain white polo shirts. Griers reminds himself that he apreciates linen suits because they crumple just by looking at them. So after a full day of traveling by car, of surveillance in a cafe or just regular office paperwork, a regular suit would need a good dry-clean press. All his linen suits require is to hang down while he takes a very steamy shower. He finishes the outfit with custom-made leather shoes. A very embarassing detail about his body is that his feet are very wide, requiring very special sized shoes or boots. Much to his chagrin, the only footwear that is commonly produced for his feet's width were cowboy boots, so the custom shoes and boots are a necessary luxury. He can't imagine himself running down a busy boulevard after a suspect wearing anorexic Puma's or Nike's shoes.
Fully dressed, he grabs his Mustang's keys and heads for the door, then stops. His eyesight drifts naturally back to the cupboard standing beside the living room window. The clear crystal globe he had recovered a few days ago in this student's apartment was beckoning, calling, wishing for him.
"Fuck it. Can't be helped now. No. No... Shit."
Special Agent Gries stomps back into the living room area, opens the cupboard and engulfs the small snowy-white crystal orb into his palm. He stares at it for a moment, then into it, further and further... and then tears away from it.
"Whatever you are, you're coming with me. There'll be time for your mystery later."
With these last words, he storms out of his loft, puts the key in the door, and heads out into the night.
"My liege, the quarry has escaped. Through some unforseen quality, the escort was interrupted and the man fled. We know he is on foot and keeping a low profile in the streets of Manhattan as we speak. What do you wish us to do?"
Sitting in a quaid Staten Island living room, privately ashamed of the relative squalor of his living arrangement, Aaron Pierre feels very nervous right now; he had used all of his sweet talk, connections and even a few choice Divine words here and there to make sure Arthur Brooks would be transfered to the Riker Island Prison Facility. The operation had been successful so far, but who could even imagine that a single man would escape this sort of convoy?YOU WILL RETURN TO ME AT THE SOUND OF MIDNIGHT THIS DAY. I WILL SENT THE OTHERS TO REIN HIM IN. I HAVE NEED OF YOU HERE.
Aaron Pierre paled. Return to the Other Realm? Only his Lord's House members were capable of withstanding prolonged exposure to this ordeal. Still, remembering the previous moment he defied his Lord, he dares not voice his worries. "Yes, my liege."MY MINIONS WILL TRACK YOUR QUARRY. YOU AND YOUR FELLOWS WILL PREPARE FOR THE HUNT FOR GORREK'TRAN. I WILL NOT HAVE THE TYRANT FENZUREL STOP OUR EFFORTS.
Aaron Pierre fumes silently at this mention. His race, even though he was created as one of the first among equals, was in reality subservient to those who had been chosen to reign above him and his like. Their True Names had been revealed to those in charge to ensure proper conduct and efficient communication, but now, it felt at best like bullying, and at worse, it was sheer despotism. This, he feels, runs along the lines of the latter.
Aaron Pierre agrees to the order with a bitter taste in his mouth. He will obey. In time. But right now, his raging impotence towards his predicament and this world consumes him. "I will return, Lord." He silently adds in his thoughts, in time, but not right now* * * * *
After having taken the pesky chains off his wrists and ankles using a ribbon saw in a local pawnshop he broke in, Arthur Brooks could run rather swiftly for an older man with a scholastic background. The clamps still in place only feel like an inconvenience, but still one that's very annoying. While a lot of people would liken his habits and his diagnostic to that of a real-life Hannibal Lecter, minus the cannibalism, Brooks was in no way heavily restrained during his incarceration. That is how he was able to maintain an interesting evening routine of pushups, stomach crunches, chin-ups and other sustained stretches in-between his reading sessions. He admits that the exercising was not entirely his choice moments, but the reading had not been the most evocative either. Books that were readily available included cooking antologies, scores of volumes on religion and philosophy, and as talented as he was, Euripides only kept you going for so long when no one else was around to discuss the intricacies of his verses with you.
Still, as he sprints, crouches, vaults and lifts his way through the smaller streets of south Manhattan, working his way north of the bridges towards the East side, he silently prides himself on maintaining his physical condition. While he may not have the cardio-vascular capacity for marathon running, he can clear fences, gates, and even rummage around in containers for some discarded garments to replace his orange coveralls. A lesser man might not have cared much, but for Arthur Brooks, imbued with the knowledge that he would one day regain his freedom and fight the good fight again, lacking fitness and wits was tantamount to suicide. Complacency had no place in his life, and the dozen-and-half months he was put away were not kind on him.
Certainly his old place had been discovered and everything confiscated by the Feds, but there is yet another cache he had been very careful to shield from everyone, even his old contacts, information brokers and deep-throats. Getting there would be the problem. When you are a recent escapee, showing up at the New York Public Library is sure to be very, very difficult. He knows he has to bide his time and make this opportunity work for him. He had no way of explaining how or who had allowed him to escape, but he knows also that he has to make the most of it. Just another day in ruined Eden.
He stops for a moment, catching his breath behind a trendy SoHo watering hole. His ruined parka, shredded jeans and unconspicuous convict's generic running shoes make him look just like another bum, and the fashionable hipsters and illusion-garbed mainstreamers walk by him in their drunken stupors, unaware, uncaring, jigsaw pieces in a giant puzzle of idleness, social dictatorship and capitalistic abandon. Not their fault, he thinks. They haven't seen. They don't know. They lack knowledge.
It had started with the book, six years-and-some ago. Huepeo Nupoo
, loosely translated as 'Days of Fire' or 'The Burning of Time', a hoary text sometimes seen by some as apocalyptic, others, as Mesopotamian genius preceeding the masters of Greece. Whatever the case was, there was some interesting verses, hardly decipherable by the quality of the text that was provided. Arthur Brooks, Ph.D., did not have clearance to examine the original volume at the Smithsonian, so he was left with copies and facsimiles and other means of reproduction. The text was ancient, that was certain, and there were more than a few tidbits lacking in the various translations that had been attempted throughout the years. It is an understood fac tthat to this day, probably no one living had completely deciphered the complex mix of cuneiforms, pictograms and hieroglyphic expressions that composed these texts. Maybe no one would have that pportunity since the text had been expertly stolen during a very professional and unlikely heist. Still, he knows that in his old cache, he just might be the owner of the most complete reproducted copy of the texts still available. And in its composition, Arthur Brooks had seen something that no one else could: the mathematical expression of an ancient divinity.
No human hand had written Huepeo Nupoo
, that much was certain. The form of the handwriting, both with ink and clay tablets, was too precise, too flexible, yet too manually inexpressive to have been manufactured by antiquity's scholars. He pictured it as the earliest text to have been perfectly written, with no sentiments involved, and such was true and good. The snippets of the text that his very literate mind could comprehend were not about subjects that warranted personal interpretation. It was not as apocalyptic as some thought, no... these New Age freaks would have done well to look elsewhere for Revelation-type raving. This was not a sign of things to come... it was a telling. A hidden telling of immortal proportion. The composition had been the key to unlocking the secrets of the 'Days of Fire', and Arthur Brooks stopped after the merest discovery; it was so simple, so obvious, yet frightening beyond belief.
The author was immortal, had always been and would ever be. It was not human. It was not limited in any way. It was crowned in multiple names and titles, wreathed in timeless mystery and silently wracked by loss and hope. But that was not the most astounding of the hidden numbers. Arthur Brooks had divined the terrible secret, the one that had made him lose his will to live, if only momentarily, and thereafter sent him on his eternal quest for truth, and his eventual downfall.
The author, whoever he was, was only the first of his kind
, and his kind numbered three millions and three thousand and three hundred and three. Most nefarious was the knowledge that he was the first banished to live in this world, the others sent to the abyss. And that from this same abyss one million and one thousand and one hundred and one of his brothers would come to walk the earth.
Recalling this, onetime Doctor Brooks shivers in the dark alley, catching his breath within eyesight of the poor ignorant masses. Are they to be saved, or will they be damned by them? * * * * *
The twenty-first floor of the Flatiron Building, first and for some, most worshipped skyscraper of New York City's Manhattan, is always silent at night, despite the obvious light that remains on, though not on account of any need of security. Its resident and exploitant, a certain wealthy European by the name of Lianna Foalchild, had established the corporation headed by himself and a few chosen on this most glorious perch. The Flatiron Building is renowned for its resident publishers and book-savvy odd-ball types, and few were those that ever left its floors once business came running. It was thus very, very unusual for a whole floor of the iron-shaped skyscraper to be bought out and replaced within a year, and due to that, Tennyson Archiving and Research had been seen from that moment as aggressive, assuming, and not a little haughty by the scholarly community, and thus shunned by the bigger players.
But that would not keep its head chairman, the Malkavian vampire known not as Lianna Foalchild, but as Fanen N'Ganasha, to keep to his silent nightly realm of bookrows, temperature- and humidity-controled rooms, aisles of documented research stacked orderly on oakwood tables, and prestation from vampiric consorts and attendees. Having walked the Earth for more than a hundred years already, Fanen N'Ganasha had never been at a loss for mysteries to uncover, conspirations to defeat, trespassers to frighten and occult strangenesses to decipher. Quite by happenstance, his coming to New York, a newly-rediscovered haven of peace for his kind, had been followed by quite a few paranormal occurences. The appearance of an often-overlooked Red Star in the night sky, humans seeing through the guise of vampiric deceivers, and much more. His actual subject of study for the night is a cross-reference of astrological divining of Mayan origin with the actual faulty-yet-modernly-sufficient Julian calendar. The authors who had pooled their resources in this work were insightful, but lacked in some obvious truth. Unfortunately, their knowledge would have to beforgotten in the sands of Time itself.
A phone rings in the distance. The vampire lifts his eyes ever-so-slightly above the gold-rimed round spectacles, and focuses on his powerful hearing. The ringing again. Forty-three feet away from his personal study's doors. Slightly muffled. Past a single set of pinewood decorative doors. His public office down the hall, three rooms away from the reception office next to the bank of elevators. The fine italian leather shoes begin moving fluidly and steadily towards the office, the eyes going back to the open book in his right hand. Rining again. His left hand move forward reflexively after a series of delicate steps, grasp the door handle as if naturally and sightlessly attracted to it, and twists it delicately. Fourth ring. The few remaining feet are crossed elegantly and the left hand lands easily on the phone, without need for eyes to guide it. The receiver is picked up and brought to an ear framed by dirty-blonde-colored hair before the fifth ring ever gets produced. "Allo", says the vampire's smooth voice.
- Mr. N'Ganasha, this is Inspector Laflamme. Am I troubling you?
- Ah, my dear Daniel", replies N'Ganasha. "How may I be of service?"
Fanen N'Ganasha is not troubled at all by the mention of his vampire-known name. Daniel Laflamme is a kindred spirit, another vampire, one of the Ventrue Clan, and accessorily, an acquaintance and something of a good friend. Having met a few years back in the province of Quebec, in Canada, Laflamme was a newly-Embraced mortal detective with a constabulatory force called the Surete du Quebec, and N'Ganasha had established a haven in the Montreal surroundings to research the mysticism and archeological sites of the past Iroquois tribes of Lower Canada. When the Sabbat, a murderous vampiric cult of madmen and false prophets, had threatened most of the local Kindred, as vampires called themselves, to join them or die the Final Death, N'Ganasha and Laflamme had organized the self-imposed exodus of a dozen vampires to better and more peaceful surroundings. New York had been the choice destination for most of them. Laflamme was able to maintain his mortal identity for a while longer, landing a selective night-time position of Inspector at a local NYPD precinct with the help of his locally well-connected Clanmates, and Fanen N'Ganasha established his headquarters in the Flatiron building, claiming the district of the same name as his personal Domain. They say you get to know your real friends in adversity, and Laflamme's and N'Ganasha's relationship was well-forged thus.
"I know that it's not customary of me to disturb you in the middle of the night, Fanen..." Daniel Laflamme is still speaking with his heavy French-Canadian accent, N'Ganasha noted.
The Malkavian Fanen blinks. "My nights are all I have, dear Daniel, and I cannot say they are most exciting these days. Anything you wish to bring to my attention is most welcome. My stewart Philip has left and the Livinstons have left for home hours ago. Would you like to pass by the office?"
"Actually, I do not have a lot of time for that. I have to get the most done before the day shift and Commissioner Wellington come in and find out about the night's events."
Inspector Laflamme sounds worried. The trench-coat wearing, BMW-riding, brown-haired Ventrue is a usually mellow fellow, but the tinge of nervousness in his voice is a dead giveaway. Something is eating at him.
"Daniel, why don't you tell me what is happening?" This comes out more like a challenge than an actual question, and the Malkavian silently winces at his own eagerness.
"Fanen... are you aware that your Clan's representative, Carter Vanderweyden, is missing?" Laflamme is anxious and waiting.
Fanen sighs. "I am constantly on the lookout for any evolution of our secret society, Daniel. You know this. Of course I am aware of Carter's disappearance. He last was seen leaving for his private Domain at Riker's Island."
"Right. And you know that Arthur Brooks, the White Rook, was scheduled to be transfered for detention to Riker's Island?"
"Yes, I know that too, Inspector." The mention of the title is a slight indication of irritation. "Is there a point to all of this, Daniel?"
"Arthur Brooks was being transfered this very night by armored carrier. He was heavily drugged and restrained. Four United States Marshals were on escort duty for him. He's escaped, Fanen. They're all dead, and he's still unaccounted for. It's going to be a hunt like never seen before in New York, and there will be fucking murders." Daniel Laflamme, NYPD Inspector, is not used to swearing. He sounds very obviously under a lot of stress. His information finally points to a very telling question.
"Did you know about this?"
Fanen N'Ganasha takes a few steps away from his desk, phone still in hand. The book in his right hand wobbles slightly as the vampire feels his facade being chipped away by uncertainty and surprise. A very slight blood sweat breaks out on his forehead. After a silence, he replies:
"...no. I did not know this." The Malkavian hesitates for a moment, listening to the Manhattan nightlife resonating in Daniel Laflamme's cellular phone. Finally he replies. "I'll have to call you back. I will see you at Riley's Valkyries' Club tomorrow night."
After hanging up the telephone, the vampire scholar retracts past a hidden section of bookcases to his personal, hidden study. He punches in a very long string of complex numerical codes, and after the thick fiberglass doors woosh open, he seals himself in his temperature-controlled tomb, containing his most revered and rarest of volumes. He lays down on a thick mattress and starts concentrating, intent on disconnecting himself from his material shackles. A handful of minutes later, Fanen N'Ganasha's etheric form is soaring through the Manhattan skyline, seeking a mortal that has unwittingly endangered his species for a long time.
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Chapter 6: Unveiling of Charades* * * * *
The night shift never is very appealing in Manhattan's hospitals, for the things that like to go bump in the night now also like to bring knives and guns under the cover of night. And that much more patients come in the emergency ward. Tonight happens to be the rotation that Darryl Shanks has landed upon. Between a coffee and a fetch for antihistamines for an asthmatic patient, Darryl stumbles across on a file with the name "Moore, Francis Patrick", under the purview of Dr. Andrew Bacon. Leaving his post for a simple question to Dr. Bacon, Darryl slips into a vacant emergency room where the good doctor is at a desk, filling in papers.
"Ahem... I hope your evening is going smooth.... Huh... I'd like to know what is the condition of Mr. Moore", the young technician asked.
"Hmmm... The writer?"
"No, the criminologist," specifies Darryl.
"He is rather in good condition, though he is sleeping right now. The accident was quite a shock, and his body needs to rest in order to replenish its stores of energy spent to survive and deal with the crash. He's had a nice trauma, but he seems to be coping rather well. This man is sturdier than he looks." The doctor nods slowly as he blabbers on, rubbing his rough chin, never taking his eyes off his various patients' files and tests results on his pad.
"I'm happy to hear it." darryl turns to leave.
"Do you know him personally, Mr. Shanks?"
He stops. "As a matter of fact, I've just been introduced to him. I also read his works. He is quite the insightful professionnal concerning the criminal mind."
"Indeed he is. Though I wonder how he could have been involved in such a accident."
Darryl Shanks felt the doctor holding back from giving too much details, but Lyriel inside him wanted to know more.
"Just exactly what kind of accident was he found in?"
"Well... I don't know details, but rumors has it he was in a single car accident that flipped radically over a fire hydrant in the Financial District of Manhattan. How that came to be, I have no idea... but one of his wounds include a glancing shot from a medium-caliber weapon at point blank range. My opinion is that he's lucky to be alive."
Darryl gasps. "Holy Christ..."
"Indeed. But he is stabilized now. Strangely, his bruises are all but gone. Only the gunshot wound remains, and it isn't half as bad as what is seemed like when they carried him the emergency ward. That man is a tough nut to crack, it seems."
"What do you mean by that?"
The doctor looks up. "Huh? Oh, nevermind."
"Yeah, sure", thought Darryl. "Better keep an eye on Valariel."
And like a shadow, he is gone back in the torrent of humankind cramped in the hospital.
The double doors to the private area of the third floor of the Valkyrie's, the hottest nightclub in Queen's, fly open and reveal the Guardian of the club, Riley, escorting in the leading members of the vampire clans of New York City. The room, filled with august and hoary beings socializing with flawless beauties and horrid mockeries of humanity, instantly snap to attention. In the large modern ballroom lookalike, on every couch and at every table, along the left-hand side of the room, overlooking the second floor's dance floor through the proverbial looking glass, and at the great mahogany table, every vampire present fall silent at the sudden apparition, hanging at the Guardian's lips for a reason for this minor commotion.
"Leave. All of you."
Under the stress of the older vampire's fantastic presence, the smallish crowd rises and leaves slowly, some glaring at the Guardian for disrupting their nice evening, others rolling their eyes for not having the opportunity they were hoping for. When the select vampiric populace of the city has left, the five leaders de facto
of their ancient Clans take place at the great table, with the host at the head of the table.
A veiled, robust woman in fashionable and utilitarian clothing speaks up first. "Thank you for this favor of yours, Mr. Riley."
"It is the very least I can do in these troubled times, Katherine. I hope your Council appreciates."
"Indeed we do," answers a classy, finely dressed man with fashionable eyeglasses and an expensive Italian suit. "Now, can we adress the matter at hand? I have other things to attend to this night, and the way things are looking..."
A stinking form hidden in an enormous woolen winter overcoat shrugs. "Your personal concerns are of rather small importance actually, Thomas Arturo. Do not overextend your use at this table."
"My dear Calebros..." Arturo begins, but he is cut short by a massive man in a simple turtleneck and proper black pants. From under his mustache, he says matter-of-factly, "We are being overtaken from the inside, Thomas. Kindred are disappearing, and not from opposition from the dreaded Sabbat vampire packs or from vampire hunters. Not even the racial opposition, the Lupine werewolves, are responsible... for once."
Katherine, the veiled woman, takes initiative. "What are we up against?"
The larger man in the turtleneck resumes. "As of yet, we have precious few indications as to what we are facing. Indeniably, this is a new threat, one we haven't seen before."
"Come now, Mr. Estevez, surely you sorcerous types from Clan Tremere have a glimpse of what it is with your hermetics trappings and encyclopedias and grimoires." The silk-dressed Arturo smirks as he says this.
Estevez, ever the politician, replies in a calm manner. "Unfortunately, no. All we know is that this threat, while having human form, is probably anything but human. And, like us vam- Kindred
, my apologies... it feeds, on some obscure way, on humans."
For a moment, all Kindred present are silent. Then the sixth present, a man of obvious French descent named Valentine, speaks up.
"I concur. I have had a mild run-in with something along those lines."
All eyes turn to him. Calebros, of the repulsive Nosferatu clan, speaks through raw and bloody gums chewed by a mouthful of fangs. "Tell us more, my noble Ventrue friend."
Valentine straightens his jacket's collar, straightens up in his chair and announces, "I have lost two servants to such a creature."
"Come again", asks Riley.
"Well..." Valentine resumes, "I wouldn't know exactly how to tell it, but the usual Blood Bond that our blood instills in humans seemed to have weakened in those two humans in recent times. There seems to be a way that those... persons
influence those humans that must only instill a deep spiritual longing that rivals our entrancing blood. A week ago, those two left me, on the same night, with some... fervor in their eyes. I haven't seen them since."
Riley interjects. "Wait... Have you tried to summon them to you? Track them, find them since they turned their backs, anything?"
"But of course, Sebastian! These ghouls of mine know almost everything about me! My businesses, my haunts... even my haven's security! I'm not sure I can even afford to sleep there during the day, just in case a new threat is being lead there by them during my daily rest. I'm actually thinking about relocating my haven, just to feel safer."
The vampire named Sebastian Riley perks up. "Now that you mention it... Mostly everyone is present, one from each of the seven Clans. Calebros, of the Nosferatu, Katherine Wiese from the Brujah, Thomas Arturo from the Toreador..."
"As always, Sebastian", comments Arturo.
"... Valentine representing the Ventrue and Eugenio Estevez for the Tremere. We all know how much the Gangrel brood of Jezebelle likes to claim ignorance of our troubles, and I, Sebastian Riley, as a Lasombra refugee and Guardian of this vampiric Elysium, do not count, we can notice that a single clan, the Malkavian, is left remarkably absent from this special session of the Council."
Calebros, the erstwhile head of the Nosferatu, completes Riley's thought. "He has been missing for some time now. Where the hell is Carter Vanderweyden?" * * * * *
I wake up with a start and sit up. "Where the hell am I?"
"Whoa, friend, take it easy... You've been out for quite some time. Lie back, wouldn't want your wound to open again, huh?" It's a male nurse talking to me.
"Where am I, nurse...?"
"El-Rima." I notice the Middle Eastern shade to his skin. "And you are Francis Moore. You have been brought this early afternoon with several contusions and a gunshot wound to your side, though I am glad to tell you that is is only what they call a 'flesh wound'. A glancing shot, you see."
"I know the term. How long have I been here?"
"Well, as of this hour... it is 1:15 AM... it has been almost twelve hours. I'm actually surprised you are up now, most people sleep for more than a day after a four-hour surgery..."
"Can I go now?" This man is starting to freak me out. When did mankind become so... accustomed to pain and suffering?
"I'm afraid it is not so easy, Mr. Moore. You see," he says as he picks up my file at the head of my bed, "I have directions to keep you here for the time being. There are still a lot of details that need further light to be shed upon."
A little jab of pain flares up in my right side. Meat has been scorched off, but my will and stores of energy have seen to its reparation. Still, this body is not very resistant to damage. But at least, Francis' vivacity of mind lets me pick up that something is not quite right here. "What needs to be cleared, nurse," I ask with all my host's wiles.
Keeping his head bowed, the nurse only lifts his eyes at me, set deep in his skull, and another, forceful and devilish voice that is not the nurse's natural one answers me, "You shall see."
I'm not staying here one second longer.
Between a flare of pain at jumping off the bed and my throwing up the blankets, I sense a spike of unnatural energy very close animate itself - and it is homing on me. The nurse snarls in surprise, but I am already on my feet and racing through the curtain that walls off my bed from the others in the emergency ward. He's dropped the file and is running after me. I have to make good my escape.
Upon turning out of the ward, I feel the presence multiply around the hospital. I feel cramped, closed off, with no access to my natural realm, so I head toward them the best I can. Running barefooted in the hallways in a silly hospital frock, knocking people out of my way and hating myself for it, I dart toward the elevators in a fury."Valariel"
, I hear in my head, "where are you?
" It's Lyriel, and he sounds concerned. Boy, that one found a bad timing... or maybe not. Holding back a couple seconds until I reach the silvery doors up ahead, I then yell "Elevator! The roof!"
Everyone looks at me like I'm some crazy in a hospital frock thinking he's Bruce Willis, but I know Lyriel caught on through his evocation of my celestial name. Waiting for the blasted thing to open its doors, I reach out with my senses to feel the demonic energy trails that were following me. They are close, and unless I could melt with the crowd, they are going to spot me very soon.Ding.
The doors open and I rush in, stepping deliberately in front of everyone as nurse El-Rima shows up in the hallway and shouts, "Stop that man!" His voice carries unnatural power, and two men step forward to try to yank me out of the elevator. Even though I am winded and hurt, I manage to punch one in the face before he crosses the door's threshold and jab the elevator button for the roof. Then I throw back the injured man out of the way and into the other man's path, and keep my thumb on the 'close doors' button until they do. The damned machine starts lifting me up. Then I collapse and breathe out.
Blood is flowing out of the bandage on my right, and it hurts like a bitch. I can shut it out, but not for long. I draw on the meager faith that my old friend Alexander provides me with to close it further, helping me on the way up.
"Lyriel" I say out loud, "I'm in trouble. Someone is onto me."I realize that. The emergency ward is filled with.... a presence. I will join you on the roof.
"As you wish. But whatever you do, don't tell them what you are. Chances are, they already know."They are pursuing you, but not me. That gives us an edge.
I'm somewhat amazed by this. "You'd put yourself in danger for me? Then I owe you one."Get my host out of parole's bindings, then we'll call it quit. See you at the skyline.
As I feel him disconnect, the doors open. That last line of his makes me smile. The winds of New York carry more pollution than the waters of the mythical Deluge, but at heart, they are still my home. I step out and climb the couple of steps to the roof access. I push, but the door won't budge. The damnable thing's locked!
"Wrong way, my friend" a voice calls me from behind. I turn to see Carmelia sitting on a plastic chair. The bitch looks like I feel, with a large bandage across her head and a nice red-stained gauze pad taped to her cheek. I smile from the inside: the fucker deserves that.
"I think your host watched too many bad action movies, Valariel. No one can ever escape from a rooftop. Now, angels could... but that's exactly why I had security put that padlock on the outside. Even in your demonic form, you wouldn't have the strength to break it."
I force my body to relax and turn fully, still on top of the smallish flight of stairs. The room is not the most clean in the hospital, but it is spacious and has a few janitors' tools and maintenance commodities littered around. Naho Seqil rises from his - her faded orange plastic chair and stands straight, glowering. Nobility at its worst.
Being a creature more used to servitude than commanding, I expect Naho Seqil to try and overbear me with autority. So I don't let him and throw him off-balance with my host's wittiness.
"You think you're so high-and-mighty, Carmelia? That since the Fall, you could scrounge up Mankind's efforts and assimilate them to your own success? Try harder, 'your honor'. You're just as Fallen as me or anyone else. You've spent as much time in Hell as any of us, and I'm not ready to let you assume control of anything.
"Besides, what can you control? You can't even control me if you'd like! What can you do, really?"
I see a spark of fire light up in those eyes and I taste a piece of victory. I've put it where it hurts. But then, she opens her mouth and an otherwordly syllabe of a primal litany comes out. It rings into my ears, bounces into my skull and shreds its way into my very essence.
The first syllabe of my True Name. The one thing that could compel me to anything, even to my fundemental, utter destruction. I'm aghast.
She sees my reaction, and smiles. "Do not assume, Valariel. I have made friends in very
high places. Do not force me."
"You never were privy to that knowledge before" I retort. "You have surely dealt intensively for that. My guess is, you don't know any of the rest. I call your bluff."
"Well... I do have means to get more of it. If need be. I have a lot of resources. Of course, only the first one is free. But then again, I have been told you are worth it... somehow."
I shrug. What can I do?
"Very well. What do you want?"* * * * *
Darryl Shanks notices the demonic energy signatures around the hospital at last and shivers. "Five... six... Is that a seventh...? Eight!" he tells himself. "We're surrounded..."
He enters the elevator reflexively with other patients and employees and jabs quickly the button for the roof. People look at him sideways, but chalk it up to his hospital name tag on a plain loose blue shirt with a large V-neck. He walks two large steps to the back of the elevator and keeps on focusing on his environment."Ok, eight signatures, but none I recognize... and none powerful enough to actually be a Fallen. Someone has been sending thralls here en masse for some purpose... but who? And why? Surely Valariel is involved in this, but why him... and not me, who is an employee here?"
Lyriel, in his body, thinks back about his involvement in human affairs. His intimate knowledge of death makes him at ease in the emergency ward, but he still feels strangely oppressed when around that many humans, in such claustrophobic quarters as a simple elevator. In a way, he admires Valariel's affinity, as a Scourge, to deal with humanity so easily. Lyriel, the Angel of Death, never knew humankind, and even worse, never even kew its eventual fate once the threshold between life and death was crossed.
Reaping death always seemed hollow and tasteless, like a mouth full of ashes. The Scourges lost their charges, the Slayers took them away forever, unknowingly. In a way, he feels he owes Valariel and his kind some sort of debt, even though he was bound to create death as a divine duty.
Rubbing his dark brown hair, he notices the middle-aged couple stepping out on the tenth floor. Weird visiting hours, but you never know, with the emergency ward being so active here. He glances around him and notices two more people with him as the elevator continues his climb upward. He looks at one of them, a female, black nurse that looks like she's had one dozen too many coffees this evening, and a white strawberry-blonde man in a work uniform. As he looks at this last one, he feels a flare of the essence he felt earlier."Damn. A thrall."
Upon this realization, the man cranes his neck around and looks at Darryl straight in the eyes with a malicious grin. His hand goes deeper into his left pocket and his stare never leaves him. Darryl knows he's bidding his time.
Darryl backs up slowly against the deep right corner of the elevator, leaving the man with the deep left corner, and the nurse up front waiting by the door. "I have to make this quick, or this disillusioned human is going to try and gut me first chance he gets."
The doors open up at the fourteeth floor and let the nurse out. Darryl sweats a bead on the side of his cheek. "Gotta time this right... now!"
The chime of the doors closing is drowned by the scream of rage of the unknown man as he unsheathes a combat knife and viciously lunges at Darryl, but he is already moving toward the elevator doors, dodging the easily expected strike. Eyeing the crazed thrall, Darryl sees nothing remotely human in the man's behavior. "He is running completely on instincts. I can't hope to scare him into submission."
Turning around on himself, Darryl sweeps his left heel low to the ground, hitting his opponent square behind his feet, knocking him down. He trashes around to lift himself up and swipes at Darryl, but drawing upon his celestial knowledge of gravity, he jumps up and concentrates on accelerating his ascent and stopping his descent, hanging suspended only inches from the elevator's roof.
"That's far more than enough."
As the man rises to his feet, reading his blade to slash across Darryl's gut, the elevator buckles and the light blinks. A chill comes over and Lyriel's eyes grow cold, focusing their glare on the floor. The crazed human brings his arm in an upward arc, but Lyriel catches his wrist in time and hold him.
A mask of pure anger and disgust draws itself instead of Darryl serene face and a low growl rumbles in his throat. Clotted blood flashes in his eyes and wrath is made palpable. As the growl rises to a scream, the floor of the elevator rapidly decays and crumbles in, leaving a gaping hole under the assailant, and Lyriel lets him pummel down in the elevator shaft, unsure of his eventual fate.
With a start and a stunned look, Darryl falls down from his erstwhile perch, catching himself on the edge of the decayed carpeting and metal frame, amazed and scared at his actions. He tires to compose himself, but cannot help but feeling the cold satisfaction of the act overweight the guilt at the possible cold-blooded murder of a enthralled human.
Just as his reflection begins to make sense, the doors open on the roof level.* * * * *
"You know what, Naho Seqil? You can shove it up your ass. You know I will never comply." She looks disappointed. I don't care.
"Now, why did I try the kidnapping scheme? I knew you wouldn't comply. No one would. But I'm not asking you to consider. I don't remember giving you a choice."
My muscles tense at this. Confrontation is inevitable. "You're going to have to bring me." My interlocutor shrugs at this.
"Look, Valariel. I have a dozen persons at my call in this very hospital that were 'lent' me for this very purpose. You have something we want, whether you like it or not, and we will get it."
"I really have no idea of what you are talking about."
"It doesn't matter, I tell you. Help is coming as we are speaking. We will bring you, no matter what."
Right on cue, one of the elevators chimes in, and the others are coming up. I'm in trouble. The door opens to reveal a cloud of dust pushing it's way out in a rush of wind, but Naho Seqil doesn't seem to notice. "About time someone showed up..." 'Carmelia' starts to say, but she is cut quickly by a harsh voice.
"I HAVE COME TO PAY MY DEBT", the voice says purposefully.
A slim, winged man-creature with jet black wings tipped with barbs steps out of the dust cloud and turns to the left towards Naho Seqil. Its skin is smooth alabaster riddled with a few faded clotted bloodlines and its eyes are a black-and-white feeling of the otherworldly abyss. The eyes, set in a perfect, smoothly chiseled face, turn to the Malefactor Knight with malecious intent, leaving a subtle trail of grayish, spiritual smoke in the wake of its head's movement.
"SPEAK, FELL KNIGHT, UNLESS I TAKE YOU FOR MY CHOSEN SENDING." It stamps its nimble foot forward and crouches, ready to launch itself. It feels as if Death itself has entered the room, but Naho Seqil and I are not affected by this feeling. We both recognize a Slayer for what it is, and I feel I'm right telling myself this is Lyriel's formely angelic form.
Just the slightest bit surprised, Naho Seqil takes a step back and brings out a crude-looking blade with a wicked curve to it and brings it forward in a defensive position. Whatever Lyriel can bring to bear, Naho Seqil seems ready to take it on. But what Lyriel ignores is this feeling deep inside of me... a sort of memory of the very same Malefactor as a master sorcerer-artisan, hammering away in the lava-forges of the Iron Legion...
"Lyriel, don't!" I shout, but the battle is already joined. Lyriel swoops his wings down for added momentum, and as he tumbles down on my pursuer, this one lifts up his guard in an offensive position and slashes the Slayer across the chest. the wound seems superficial at best and does nothing to stop Lyriel from crashing down on him like the Reaper's scythe. As they tumble down, I can see Lyriel's talons trying to scratch at the woman's heart, but to no avail; Naho Seqil commands his host to bring up her feet and push Lyriel away with all her strength left. Lyriel goes flying... and stays down, seemingly exhausted. He seems conscious and aware, but doesn't rise up.
"Ah... Thank you, whoever you are. That was just what I needed..."
My attention turns to Carmelia. She is standing straight on her feet, struggling to remove the bandages from her head. Using the crude dagger, she cuts them away to reveal an intact, if only bed-haired head and cheek. In her hands, the dagger shimmers slightly, and then fades back to its previous unelegant grayness.
"VALARIEL... THE DAGGER... IT FEEDS..." Lyriel starts to say, but the words fail him. He seems more shocked than actually hurt, though I can sense his divine spark being slightly weakened, like a slow fire dying out.
"IT FEEDS ON FAITH!" he finally cries out in terror.
"Exactly what I needed to finally heal this nasty... 'bruise' you've inflicted me, Mr. Moore." That last name is said with a tad more spite than what I'd like. "Stand down, Slayer. I have no business with you. Don't make me consume you."
That last line freezes Lyriel in place and shocks me to my core. The gravest threat ever, the cannibalism of angels. The only way one of us can be truly destroyed, and the probable explanation to Naho Seqil's power.
"You've used this... tool to augment your own power, didn't you? You drained helpless Fallen to cannibalize them? Is that how you came to your power here?" I ask, intent on knowing, and on gaining time.
"And what of it, my dear reluctant underling? What is there for us to receive as a condamnation? We have already been damned and exiled to the Abyss for love. An eternity without body, without senses, without any recognition of anyone of anything! What, now, could affect us here? The angels and even the Lord of Hosts Himself are gone, leaving this rock with its incompetent and ungrateful horde of... of apes
! I never could understand this idle life of theirs, and I now hate myself for being under the obligation to wear such a flawed skin... Better to wrest the world out of the humans' hands before it comes crashing down, and I will happily devour and use the power of any Fallen who will stand in my way!"
I notice the elevators coming up from the top of the small flight of stairs I am perched on. Lyriel is crouching down on the floor a dozen meters from me and my locked-up exit route. Naho Seqil is opposite him. I take the time to appreciate the irony that we are positioned in an almost-perfect triangle.
Only that the elevator doors are right between Lyriel and Naho Seqil. My Slayer friend will be overpowered when the thralls get here. I have to move fast. I draw once more upon my pact, my connection to my old friend Alexander, and in my mind, I heard his heart grow cold, his breath failing him as I drain the faith out of the spirit that animates his very body."I'm so sorry, my old friend."
I feel Francis Moore talking inside of me, and I feel torn by my need and my decision, but if I lose here, Lyriel and Valariel will be no more. All my efforts to protect my dear humanity, my sacrifice for Lucifer's cause, will be for naught. I feel the warmth fill me and use it unceremoniously, healing up my wound and forcing the divinity out of my host body.
The dust blows out in a radiant arc as the winds that are mine to be rush out with my grayish owl's wings. My back stretches, granting me a foot again in height, and my hair explodes upward in a storm, its white-and-blue streaks circling my fine features. My hospital robe gives way to an asexual body reminiscent of an avian creature with smooth skin, and I feel my whole posture lean forward with the expectation of flight. Hair bristles on the back of my spine and arms, and the transformation ends with my eyes focusing together a thousandfold, granting me a flawless hawk's vision. I'd like to think I am a majestic manifestation, but my angelic form always looked awkward to me, and I feel that the torment and anger at my many millenias of imprisonment has taken its toll on my appearance. I shrug away the thought and rein in the anger that threatens to warp my body further into a mocking abomination of the Divine.
"I AM NOT FINISHED, NAHO SEQIL. AS LONG AS I DRAW BREATH, I WILL DEFEND HUMANITY, AND AS LONG AS THE BREATH OF GOD IS CONTAINED WITHIN MY BODY, YOU AND YOUR MASTER , WHOEVER THIS COWARDLY OAF IS, WILL NEVER OWN ME." I am amazed by my own words. For a moment, I am back to what I was, and I revel in it. I feel the winds forming a tunnel of air around me, sucking in vapors and dust and little things. My very being distorts the air in the room, too small to contain what I govern. With a flourish, I summon the winds about me and hurl them at Naho Seqil, still in human form, and his host, Carmelia, is hurled backwards in a corner, surprised. However, the dagger stays in his hand. Damn.
"STAY BACK, FELL KNIGHT! LYRIEL, RISE. LET US BEGONE THIS PLACE." My voice is a windy bellow that encourages my ally to stand on his feet and fold his wings behind his back. He glances at me with a sad look and nods slowly as the first elevator chimes in. As the doors begin to open, he turns his back around and unfurl one wings in the air. When he has halfway spun around, I notice him disappearing without a trace. Just like that, Lyriel, the Halaku, Slayer of the Seventh House... is gone from this world.
Three persons step out of the elevator with madness in their eyes, and those same eyes are set on me. I do not feel their unbelief of my form and I appear to inspire no fwear in them. Their faith has been awakened and must be plundered by another Fallen. I cannot fight them, but I also cannot escape.
Or can I?
With a sudden inspiration, I turn and shoulder the door hard. I feel it closed tight, stopped by the lock. Not a single draft of air looks to be seeping in from the door. Closed tighter than it should be.
With a great gesture of my arms, I call the air around me to move forward in a fury. The air in the elevator shaft rushes up to respond, pushing hard against my assaillants' backs and sending them to the floor. The enclosed winds rocket against the door barring my way to the roof. The dminutive window shatters, leaving only its metal mesh in its stead.and I notice the hinges pushing out of their sockets by half an inch. Just what I need.
I feel the floor shake slightly. Naho Seqil must be summoning his power to assault me, but I have no time to devote at checking out that theory. Being the master of the winds that I am, I focus again with minute precision again the upper hinges and order the winds to crush it. Two seconds later, the hinge snaps as I hammer the heavy metal door with my shoulder from a running start. It falls from my way being pushed hard by the fast-moving air and I jump, or rather float on my summoning above it safely.
The night sky is there, heavy with clouds, not a star showing. Instead, the city lights of New York show themselves to me as earthbound stars, lighting my way around. My hawk's vision notices immediately the cityscape of the lower part of Manhattan, and I feel I am somewhat at medium height compared to other buildings. I must be on top of Bellevue Hospital."Ironic"
, I think. "Same hospital I first met Lyriel and Naho Seqil."
Unlike any comic book or pop movie, the rooftop of such buildings is not flat gravel. This being a hospital, it has ladders and other doors, elevated viewpoints, scores of antennas, chute accesses and a general crampy feeling to it. I take no chance and start running to the edge of my roof access platform and jump down to the lower flat that composes the roof. I hear a gunshot as my wide-toed feet touch the cold floor. Obviously, the thralls are armed and have decided -or someone decided for them- that shooting me down would be better after all. Naho Seqil, or however is ordering him, has removed the kiddy gloves.
I look out around me and see the very edge of the roof on my right, about thirty long paces in an open area. Normally, I would summon the winds to take me away from here, being granted the true flight that most of my formely angelic kind lacks, but under this circumstances, I'd give myself as a perfect target for people with handguns. So I opt for another strategy.
One that I know Naho Seqil doesn't expect.
Unfurling my wings, I call the winds to push me from my back, and obedient as ever, they do. Just as they lift me up, I curve my wings upward, bringing my body's momentum down. A couple of potshots fly around me unelegantly, but I do not mind them. A sudden wind appears to lift me up, but in fact, only ammounted to a large jump. A moment later, I hang above the edge of the building.
"Get him, incompetent dregs!"
That's when I fold my wings around me and dive head first into the night sky. I can hear Naho Seqil crying out from afar, and it feels good. Let the idiot disillusion himself with my suicide. I know better than to let him know otherwise.
I fall quickly the many floors of the hospital, hoping no one inside can see me, and three floors before the ground, I lift my head with my arms, rearranging the vectors involved with my fall to twist my body upward. In mid-transition I crash to the pavement, but my crash is turned into a shockwave of air and winds that blow in one short second accross the receiving bay of the hospital. My fall leaves me on my knees on this cold ground, but otherwise unharmed.
I belong to the sky. Earth cannot touch me and hope to hurt me.
If only that was also the case with such a Fallen as Naho Seqil. But that is a thought for another moment. I summon the winds one last time to provide me with leaping power coupled my wings, and I shed my angelic form outside of the hospital's boundaries. Francis Patrick Moore stands instead of Valariel in this street, and I now feel the coldness of the asphalt under his naked feet. The hospital frock is not very reassuring, but at least Francis and I are safe.I will find you again, Valariel. Naho Seqil swears it. I have a task to accomplish, and a destiny to achieve, and you will help me, no matter what. Even if you return to the Abyss itself.
Safe for now. * * * * *
The sheriff parks his car beside the road with his lights flashing. He steps out of his vehicule and take a look with his flashlight in the ditch. On a colder Maine night than usual these days, he notices the older Chevy Silverado crashed at medium speeds, but without any breaking tracks. He proceeds then to climb down and check it out.
He finds a lone occupant in the cabin of the truck and opens the door. The man, probably in his early forties, male, balding and graying redhead, mustache and beard, wears a hunting jacket and is unconscious against the steering wheel. A little blood leaks from his nose onto his raised right hand. He almost looks as if he was sleeping, and that remarks makes the sheriff check the man's pulse. He is alive. Weak, but alive.
At a jog, the sheriff returns to his patrol car and signals in his find.
"Yeah, it's Sheriff McCall here. I have a Chevy Silverado in the ditch, possible heart trauma while driving. Checked that, no break tracks. Yeah, I checked that too. Weak, but alive... Send in the ambulance. Yeah, it's on my regular beat. Just give 'em the holler."
The sheriff seats himself and positions his patrol car in an appropriate safe place to make sure incoming cars will see him. The radio gives off half-intelligible barks and the sheriff just nods as he takes out flares to place on the road. He catches a glimpse of the license plate of the Silverado.
"Oh, fuck! Forgot that again..."
He opens the computer and jabs in the numbers of the plate. "Damn friggin' computer thing..." he mumbles under his breath, and he pushes the 'enter' key. information flashes before his eyes and he reads slowly in the light of his car.
"Yeah, awright... Ok... An editor, awright, nice... Westchester? Ok, hunting trip maybe... Poor fucker. Name... Name? Ah, 'k... 'Robertson, Alexander'. Okay, got it."
The sheriff gets out in the chilly night and starts lighting up the safety flares. He looks at his watch. Seven minutes have passed. He looks out to the sight of empty grass fields around him and misses the comfort of his chalet.
"Ok now, where the fuck is that fucking ambulance?"
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The room is filled with blood. The walls, the ceiling, the carpet, the kitchen table, even the sink. There is blood everywhere. There's no way to look anywhere in the small appartment without witnessing a gorish scene of murder. In the background, near the entrance, it is possible to hear a policeman throw up his early morning lunch about every five minutes. The sight of the spilled entrails is too much for most beat cops to handle, and even the seasoned detectives can only handle so much. That is why sometimes, the FBI has to investigate into the matter.* * * * *
"Tell me, officer, what is that first thing you remember having been told through the dispatcher?"
Officer Raines shrugs. "Well, truth to be told, I didn't think much of it at first, sir. It was a call for a simple domestic disturbance."
Raines is one of those "been there done that" kids who managed to make it on the force when need for policemen became desperate. Manhattan and the whole of New York was riddled with crime, and he'd only been on the beat since the beginning of Giuliani's term as mayor. He was a pale, haunted white kid at the moment, not a Karate black belt with an attitude. He'd just witnessed a carpeted slaughterhouse. Chances were it would stay with him all his life.
"So me and Jeffers just came, expecting, you know, another Jewish wife beater who doesn't like his corner of the Diaspora, or some kid angry at the world, or..."
"I get it, officer. Please, go on." The federal agent seemed unimpressed.
"Sorry. So, yeah... We got here and came in, we'd been told it was in appartment 21, so we went up, and all was calm and quiet. Typical 3 am Jewish-owned building, you know?"
The agent let out a sigh. "How did you come to get in here and discover this?"
Officer Raines scratched his crotch in an unelegant way, visibly bored, rubbed his night-shift stubble and went on. "Well, When there was no response, procedures ask that we report before investigating, so I did, and Jeffers noticed the stained carpeting under the door. 'Twas blood, of course, so we just reported in and did the routine before kicking down the door. So then..." The officer grows pale, remembers the details. The federal agent cuts his train of thought with another question before he throws up again.
"I suppose you do not have a clear idea of what transpired here exactly, Officer Raines?"
The policeman raises an eyebrow, runs his hand through his ruffled blond hair, and shrugs.
"Beats me. I've never even imagined something like that. And I've only been on the force all of four years, so..."
"Yes," replied the federal agent, eyeing intensively the young policeman. "Makes a lot of sense to me."
In his dreams, Akriel could scry the skies for the fate of eternity.
But right now, Eric Lawson, his host, needed to eat in order to go on. Such a waste of time, and yet... yet the feeling, the first time around, had not been all that disgusting. But Akriel knew back then how fragile the human body was, and right now, he does the best he can to keep it healthy. So, sitting down in a café near the Flatiron building, he decides on an entrée of various breads and cheese, followed by a simple chicken breast sauté, and to top it all off, a simple fruit salad for dessert. He accompanies the whole with a glass of juice and a glass of milk.
As he is eating, Akriel lets Eric's reflexes make him go through his politics' course notes. Term paper is due on the first week of December, and afterwards, term exam. Somehow, though, the prospect of studies is not all that enjoyable to Akriel, but he knows that if his host is to prosper in Man's society, he need to acquire certification of its capabilities. Diplomas, as they call them. There must be a way to forge those, or to manipulate Man into providing him with one.
His host lost in abstract thought, Akriel looks back iside and ponders about his current situation. He had met Valariel some month ago while running after a Fallen that was infringing on his territory, if such a thing could be said of Manhattan, and they stumbled across each other by pure chance, but Akriel suspects it was by design. After all, if the loss of a Fallen foe is replaced by the emergence of a Fallen Ally, surely there was some sort of meaning behind such an event.
Then there had been the combined apearance of the Slayer Lyriel and the Malefactor Naho Seqil, both of whom were wondering at the cryptic code that Creation seems to be. The father Welesley telling them, over the corpse of a faith-reaped mortal, about the movement of Fallen thirsting for mortals' belief. Then the planning, the tracking down, the delegation of tasks...
Then it struck him.
Akriel had never seen Naho Seqil at the Compound, in the New York City Library where he met other celebrated Fallen who thought like him. And Naho Seqil had never revealed his political affiliation before showing up at the morgue unexpectedly. He is, for lack of a better term, apolitical. Or is he?
"Naho Seqil", says Akriel out loud in his lonely corner of the café, "I wish to talk to you."
He waited. Could an invocation fail? Never in a million years. He tries again.
"Naho Seqil, Akriel invokes your name. Hear my words."
Akriel left his eyes to the sky through the bay window and focused his thoughts on the Fell Knight. He half-blurred his eyeight and saw through windows to the future of the Malefactor.Flash
- Naho Seqil appearing before him at Grand Central Station.Flash
- His meeting him at the hospital morgue, waiting for Valariel.Flash
- Reporting to mortals.Flash
- A weapon of sorts, graced by Naho Seqil's lore of machinery, with harmful intent towards a Fallen.Flash
- A sacrifice of some sort, with a wounded body and a twin soul.
And then nothing. He could not see further, but he knows it was close by. He glances at his watch.
11h16 pm. Somehow, he had the feeling he had time still. But he had to be quick.
"Valariel, where are you?" Did you really needed to invoke me while I am emptying my host of his refuse?
"No time for that now. I have to warn you."Go ahead. I'm not going anywhere right now.
"Naho Seqil is not being straight with us. I think he plans on deceiving us."
Silence. Then an answer.Are you out of your mind, Akriel? Or maybe back in Hell? But then again you wouldn't be able to invoke me; you haven't the strength for that... Have you any idea of what you are saying right now, being suspicious of a Malefactor Fell Knight such as Naho Seqil?
"Where are you? Can we meet? People are looking at my host funny through the glass, I'm talking to empty air for your sake..."I have to meet Naho Seqil in a little more than thirty minutes. It's important. We can discuss this afterwards.
"Cancel it. Listen to me. I believe you're in danger."No, you listen to me, Akriel. I've not known you at all during the War, as you were a pampered seer at the city-fortress of Lucifer scrying the skies. Mind you, on my part, I was scouting them to save people. Humans, Fallen, anything. Naho Seqil is the one I saved back then, not you, and he gave me my title for it. I was a simple gust of air, and he made me greater than the very winds. I think I owe him more than I do you. And he has people of his that he wants me to meet, for he has a proposition. I owe him as much, I think, so if you don't mind, I'll finish expulsing my host's fecal matter from his bowels, I'll see what he has for me, and then I'll be yours to talk to.
"Just be wary, Valariel." But the advice falls on deaf ears. Akriel feels the connection being broken.
"Shit!" he says out loud, stamping his fist on the table. He looks at the clock. 11h19 am. 11h20 am. 11h21 am.
At 11h22 am, Eric Lawson stands up in a jolt. He packs his books quickly in his school bag and leaves them at Renalda, the cute counter cashier.
"Take care of them, please. I'll be right back." She graces his plea with an honest smile and a wink of her right eye. He recalls the omen.
He strides out quickly outside and looks at the sun. Then at the three dogs and their masters crossing the street. The walking sign just begins flashing red.
Three yellow cabs are lined up being a police car. No, not police... Hired security. And a minuscule and cold raindrop hits his cheek. He wipes it off, and sees dirt under his forefinger. He looks at his forefinger's position. It points north.
It points out along Fifth Avenue.Flash.
He then knows what to do.* * * * *
The morgue employee was keeping track of every gesture of the coroner. Every sticker put in place, every mark of his pencil, every detail pointed at. He heard his every comment, each minute mumbling, and archived them all in his photographic memory.
He was not the least bit intimidated by blood and spilled organs and the stench of death and rot. He was more busy trying to make every little piece fit. A split liver here. Fragments of a skull embedded in the living room's wall. Fluid that could only be from an eye. Entrails. The blood is still wet, but not fresh. These people have not been dead for several hours yet, so it being recent means that the trail is still hot, even if the blood is not.
His visual analysis of the pelvic bones confirm that no women were present. If that is a clue, he'll know later.
"Assistant", calls the coroner, "can you help me with this?"
He turns around and automatically gravitates toward his 'superior'. The man needs help moving a low table in the living room. Seems there is something underneath that needs his attention.
"So," says the coroner, "we have a number of deceased, I'd estimate three by the sheer amount of blood present, that were, I'd say quite unpolitically, 'blown to smithereens', but no sign of an explosion, or of weapons of any kind, in fact. No women present, and it seems, from witnesses' account, in this case, neighbors hearing through the walls, that it was very sudden, loud, with screams, and not too long, 'but long enough to wake us and be very disturbing.' " He puts on a disgusted face as he mimicks the neighbors. "You getting all that info?"
The assistant just nods.
"Good. Then while I check this out under the table, I want you to take those notes and process them. But right before that, go down to the unit and ask for more bags and sampling material. Oh, and if you could bring me a coffee too, I'd like that." He gives him a wink and proceeds to continue his examinations.
The assistant gets down the stairs and exits in the morning of the Jewish quarter. Once outside, he removes his gown, throws it in a nearby garbage container, and starts at a jog down a corner. Turning it, he proceeds to unlock a beige Volkswagen Golf parked on the other street. He gets in the driver's seat, starts the ignition and let's out a little bit of pent-up anger."Maudite saloperie de putain de police de merde!
Journeyman Lemouelic is not used to swearing, but whenever he'd encountered resistance or trouble at the very beginning of his assignments, he allowed himself to let out the frustration. This particular assignment seemed no different.
Calming down, he gives a quick look at the stolen notes and lets a short smirk draw itself across his lips. Then he drives off.
He feels a long day ahead of him, and deciphering notes was not planned for. Or his forté, for that matter.* * * * *
I'm walking towards the rendez-vous point nonchalantly. Waves and waves of humanity pass me by and strangely, I feel the pull of their unbelief gnawing at me. Somehow, the angel that I was didn't leave its feelings for mankind at the door of my soul when it left. I'm still biased and torn. I have fought long and hard for humanity's soul to be free of choosing its own path, but I also cannot willingly accept how... low
it has degraded them. No faith in anything but fickle and ephemereal things, bound and directed by more humans on top of them, and all of them running around like over-conscious lemmings.
Only now, demons walk amongst them, and seek to bind them, enslave them, reap them. And I'd be thrice-damned if I fell to being one of them. Which brings me back to my -Francis'- dear friend, Alexander Robertson... Which should be coming back into town soon, back from a hunting trip. I wonder how I will handle this.Valariel.
A familiar voice, chanting my name in Enochian. Naho Seqil.
"I am approaching. In a hurry much?"Let us just claim that we have pressing matters to discuss and very litle time to do it.
Which is somehow out of place. I've been sensing his presence for a quarter mile now walking towards it. And he never fidgeted. But there he is on the corner, in that woman's body, waiting for me peacefully. My watch tells me it is 11h58. I made good time getting there, and Naho Seqil honors me by being there and waiting patiently for me to cross Fifth Avenue. I'm much enclined to oblige myself.
A woman's voice greets me. Smooth, professional, direct. I'm gonna have to get used to this fast...
"Welcome, Francis. As you can see, I have been expecting you."
Someone comes up from behind me and jams a pistol barrel down my coat's left side pocket. I feel more than hear the words of the man telling me to stay quiet or lose my leg. My mind races, but doesn't panick. Francis knows what that is, and I can plunder it from him.He came from behind toward the left side, which means he's a left-handed man - unusual and disconcerting. Impossible to grab the gun fast enough with the bulky coat when he's on my six. Now he grabs my right shoulder, meaning he's taking me casually to a car parked on the street, probably that greenish-brown Mercury I saw waiting with the engine running. Carmelia is there with a man, another in the car... Must be a three-man team, plus her as the leader, and the other unseen one on the backseat or watching from afar...
"Let us go for a ride quietly, my dear", Naho Seqil tells me, all smile. I smile back.
What can I do? I've been had. But I may yet find a way through this. So I give in and walk to the car. As expected, Naho Seqil, in the woman's body, sits in the front passenger seat, and I am squeezed between two men with pistols. I've had worst calls in my days.
"What can I do for you" I ask as the engine makes the car lurch forward into the Manhattan traffic.
"You surprise me, my old friend. I thought you would have deduced this already. And besides, maybe I should be the one doing the questioning..."
I tone out Naho Seqil's words and reach out to the men with us. I feel the pulse of their heartbeats in the air, their scent of humanity wafting near me, their eyes... They are obviously not demon-touched. They must be hired crooks or other unsavory professionnals. Unworthy to live, staining the pure herd o humanity, yet... yet can they be unsalvageable?
"Are you listening to me, Francis?" Seems the Knight of old is intent on me, having turned around to face me.
"How long have you been snooping around?"
"I have no idea of what you are talking about."
A pistol butt hits me square across the jaw. I never saw that one coming. The demon turns his head back toward the road.
"Of course you don't. You wouldn't know it if it hit you right in the eye, huh?" The demonic male voice behind the human female one unnerves me. "Someone wants to see you. Someone who thinks you know far more than what you should. Now, I highly doubt that you forget such things, so just in case, I'll keep quiet about it. I'll just say this: there are lords in this city who need followers. Some need power, and others need answers. Mine needs all of them. And you will serve, one way or the other. Who knows? Maybe if you really don't know anything, or don't remember, he'll just eat you up."Eat you up.
He's talking consuming my very essence. Absorbing me into another one. My real, final destruction. I think I'm starting to panick. But it also gives me an edge.Valariel!
Akriel tunes in.Valariel, I know what's happening. I'm right behind you. I think they are taking you beyond the Brooklyn Bridge. Whatever you do, do it before you get there or I won't be able to follow. I'll give you time.
Now I have two edges. I might as well act upon it.
"Who's your demon Lord now, Naho Seqil?"
Right on cue, the two muscleheads beside me look confused. My kidnapper-in-chief turns around glaring. Fine brown eyebrows plucked into perfection furrow and betray the demon's anger. I think I see the fires of the earth burns in those womanly hazel eyes.
Faster than what anyone would expect of a simple psychologist, I yank out the left guy's pistol with my right hand from underneath my left arm, and as I pull the gun out, I bring my elbow up into the left guy's jaw. I manage to hit him across the ear, but he's surprised enough. I jab my left hand forward and make an invisible grab into empty air.
Naho Seqil starts screaming to the brutes to stop me, but it's already too late. The air around the steering wheel gets immeasurably heavy and the steering armature gets crushed by it in a few seconds.
"How the..." 'Carmelia' starts to say, but it's already too late. The car is steering out of control, and as if it couldn't get worse, the change in the air pressure in the car makes the driver seat window burst in, showering Carmelia and the driver with glass shards.
"Shoot the fucker!" I hear up front, but as the tough on my right tries to turn around to jab-shot me, I and everyone else in the car lose momentum as the car flips on a fire hydrant. A shot is fired, and I know it's not mine. I see the road ahead turning its horizon and now, I think Francis would panick.
Maybe I should, too, but I still have an ace in my pocket. With the last amount to consciousness I have before my human host blacks out from the shock, I summon a sudden gust of wind right under the car to make it flip back on its wheels. I feel the burn of the air against the underside and see the wind rush like a tornado in the passengers' hair. he momentum changes.
Then we crash to the ground. I'd like to know on which side, but I'm in a visual blackout right now.
I hope Akriel knows his stuff, because I ain't moving now that we're all trapped in here.* * * * *
"Agent Gries", says the coroner, "I should be just about finished. I'm sorry it took so long, sir, but you have to understand, in those circumstances..."
The federal agent shrugs. "You do your best. I can understand this massacre slowed you down... You don't get to see this everyday."
"You do?" asks the coroner, waving around the blood-covered appartment.
"I've seen things like that before. And worse. But I admit, it rates pretty high."
The coroner just turns around and picks up his instruments. A sterile box filled with samples and tubes and swabs sits nearby, waiting for the coroner to pick it up, while Agent Gries opens an almost-untouched curtain for sunlight to come in. It's as expected
, he thinks. They are really onto human souls. But how...? And what, or who, is this, so that it could wreck such devastation in such a small instant, with no ttrace of violence whatsoever?
Turning around in his reflection, Gries' eyes catche the glint of silvery metal in the coroner's carry-case. An object he's sure wasn't there two hours ago.
"Dr. Wilkins", the agent asks, "may I know what is that object at the bottom of your case?"
The coroner freezes for a second, turning his head to face Gries. "N... nothing."
What a poor liar.
With a very swift move, Agent Gries takes out his service handgun from his shoulder holster, but the doctor is already moving, and fast. "What the hell is this", wonders Gries.
As the FBI officer turns right, around the wooden kitchen counter, to enter the bloodied hallway, the doctor is already turning the left corner towards the exit of the crime scene.
"Stevens", says Gries in empty air, "the coroner is leaving through the front door. Stop him before he exits. We must not confront him in the open."
Some instants later, in the stairway, Gries hears a satisfactory 'Freeze!' and smiles. He turns down in the stairs and faces the coroner.
"So, Dr. Wilkins, I take it you are leaving the crime scene with evidence? Tampering with this is..."
"You don't know!" answers immediately the frightened old man. "You have no idea what this could be..."
Gries lets the rest of his sentence fall short and is replaced by a booming, otherworldly sound far beyond the possibility of a mere human's throat. The sound takes form and speaks in a commanding tone, "I THINK I KNOW, DOCTOR."
The doctor's features calm down and the man looks up, entranced. "Yes... I do believe you know..."
"I DO NOT THINK YOU NEED THIS OBJECT IN YOUR CASE. YOU SHOULD GIVE IT TO ME."
"Yes... Yes I should." The doctor puts down the carry-case, opens it, takes out a silvery sliver of metal and brings it up for Agent Gries to take. As he reaches out and grabs it, an incredible wind picks up in the staircase and throws the doctor and Gries' partner to the floor, tumbling down. Later, the doctor would be found to have his neck broken, and Agent Stevens would only have minor bruises out of this. Agent Gries, him, remains unharmed, surrounded by the tunnel of wind fading around him fast.
"So... 'This' is part of the mystery. It starts to make some sense now." Then he lifts his chin and speaks again in empty air.
"I am the Nemesis Prince of Justice Unforgiving."My liege! Forgive me, Minister, I had not recognized you.
"I seek audience with the Lord Minister of Lions. I wish for some remembrance of the War."I shall arrange this for you, my Prince. On what matter should I announce you?
"The death of an angel past."
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At the time, I was not bounded by laws that the Lord of Hosts had made for His Creation. Wings stretched wide, my body was not fighting the winds, but one with it, and the sky's prison was my freedom. I soared free, watching the Earth from above, bringing news from the Star to the Earth and Seas. And my task was simple.* * * * *
And then, even through Lucifer's rebellion against the face of God, and my joining his banner, I soared, for it was the only thing I had known. I flew like the Lord of the Wind, like the birds that my claws emulated, like the very air which is eternally restless.
I recall the very first fear I've known, on the Plains of Ghuribla, darting forward faster than anything the world had ever known. There had been a plan, a strategy to make the Abelites loyal to God join the Lightbringer in his rebellion. In the scourging fire of the Malhim had the Fallen fell, a trap so deviously plotted by the Lord God's hunters. One moment, the tribes were assembled and my Asharu brothers and sisters had revealed themselves, asking the humans to hear them out. The next moment, blue flames rocketed from the skies to destroy them.
And the humans had paid with their lives. Ten times ten times ten humans had been used as bait, and so very few left the battlefield. And even fewer of my kin. So I flew forward, with the air screeching my arrival, to help those who were dearest to me, and to assist my House in the conflict.
I saw the scorched earth beneath me, and I wept for the souls the Seventh House had to claim and bring to their final reward for it. I circled and to my dismay, I saw the Malhims. They were the Fierce Flame, the Crown of Conquest and the Shadow over the Dead. The Malhims known as Huyul, Kikrohiy and Di'iaj, who were known for their relentless pursuit of the Fallen. The Mad Three Hunters, as Belial himself called them, and they were not known for their mercy.
Hovering far over them, I bellowed a challenge to the Crown of Conquest, Kikrohiy, and she turned to me with bestly eyes and a snarl. With a wave of her hands, she sent hordes of birds of prey to hound me, but the protective winds about me threw them to the ground. Having bought some relief for my comrades, I decided to join the fray. I wrapped my wings about me and proceed to fall in the heart of the battle.
And I fell. I fell forever. Up to the moment Kikrohiy came up to receive me, like an angry mother wishing to scold her child. But as she reached out to catch my falling celestial body, my wings unfurled, revealing the deadly thorns covering my back and arms, and my body crashed into hers, tearing divinely created flesh and bone. The fur on her arms became stained by the splash of her unnatural blood and she wailed a cry that silenced predators a thousand miles around. Seconds later, she was crashing to the ground heavily, her wings and spirits broken, and her will subdued. But I was not to touch the ground yet, and with a mighty flap of my wings, I soared back up to the sanctity of my home, the all-seeing sky, to watch my companions' struggle.
I saw the remaining Fallen, four of them, torn to pieces by the Fierce Flame and the Shadow over the Dead. I saw their bodies rent to pieces amidst the bodies of murdered humans. I saw, with my eagle's eyes, their passion snuffed out of existence. I saw the Malhims turn to their wounded comrade, not even minding the killing of their cousins. I saw my brothers and sister's bodies fade from existence, turning to flesh or stone or a swift wind. I saw, rather then felt, their sorrow at their failure.
And at that moment, for the very first time of my existence, I felt rage. I felt oppression. I felt the pressing of the Lord's dictature on those who would defy His Holy Word. And I did not contain it. And the anger rose in me for the first time as I saw the Lord's Hosts take viciously on one another.
Then the sky split apart, and the Malhims were gone, just like that.
And I fell out of the sky. Wingless, I pummeled toward the ground, but the very air that was me and mine stopped me as I touched the earth unharmed. Astonished, I tilted my head up, looking at the sky which had rejected me. And I saw.
And I stared. And I quaked. And I feared for the very first time since my coming into Creation.
The sky had really split in half by the glory of the apparition that came into being. Fire sent the clouds away in fear and thunder shook the blue light of the firmament. Four wings stretched across my sight into infinity, and a form as graceful as a midsummer's breeze and as fierce as a raging tornado wore them proudy. It was a God's gift to the sky that humbled me, for the being was none other than Mentor and Nurturer to my House, now enemy to me and mine. He was one of the Lord's Seraphim, and he commanded a full third of the Heavenly Host of the Sky loyal to the One Above.
He was the Seraphim Nûr, Lord of Rolling Clouds Graced by Lightning, and as he flew down to the Earthly skies, I could see him voice words for me...
Then I wake up in a sweat. It was a dream. It was but a stupid dream. But it felt so real because, simply, it was reality back then.
I, Valariel, survived an encounter with the Seraphim Nûr.
I tear myself from the blankets wrapped around me and get up in a weird fashion, fumbling about for a light. The bedside lamp I turn on and instantly, I'm blinded. This is ridiculous. What time is it?
I look at the alarm clock. It is 5:16. I wish that would tell me something concrete about the Plan, but alas, I'll have to make do with that. So I might as well get up.
My mind drifts easily in this body. I prepare the stimulant coffee to help shake off the sleep in my host's eyes, and I walk to the bay window looming over Manhattan The percolator chokes into life, and I wonder... I only fully remember details of my life as a Elohim during sleep. Like this night.
I have never forgotten Nür appearance to me. A single Fallen could not have survived him if so he chose. That was the lot of the Seraphim, that only the Archdukes and the Lightbringer Himself could stand up to them. Yet, I survived, and even though the Fiends know of it and pried the skies and the stars for an answer, they never told them. The secret of the encounter is mine to keep forever.
I have noticed that I have a very good memory of my past existence, much better than most other Fallen I have encountered yet... But only sleep removes the barrier that mortal life imposes on me. The ramblings of a human brain and the subdued soul of Francis Moore must interfere with a proper Elohim essence thinking back to the First Days.
A probable hypothesis... But whatever the case may be, it's getting on my nerves. As much as the low rumbling of the percolator as it's processing its black, bitter drink. I have to convince Francis his body doesn't need this... And to get back in shape. But that will have to wait another day. Today will be as busy a day as any other, maybe even more so.
Akriel and Lyriel want to track this Fallen who is reaping left and right. I can't blame them, but I thought Akriel would not want to take part actively in the hunt. Well, more fool he. I'd like to claim I have better things to do, but it seems like New York is not handing me out better stuff than Arthur Brooks to deal with, and that is not all that exhausting. As much as I would like to preserve the man, his psyche is still shook, and its workings abnormals. Such a disorder is beyond most Scourges to heal, and the healing gift hasn't come back to me as of yet. I think the problem stems from Faith and the current era.
Which reminds me, I should visit my 'group' soon. It has been a while I have done some decent research on the subject. And psychology is not so far from faith, when you have to toy with one to provoke the other...
Steel electrified fences for flesh.
Stone brick walls for bones.
Metal bars for pores.
Antennas for hair.
Human for blood.
Carter Vandermeyen walks through the hallways of the prison like a parasite moving through a body. His mind drifting, aware of every thought in every human mind around him, he opens himself to the madness that surrounds him. A madness, collective or not, that forced these humans to this establishment to repent for their crimes, whether they were justified, excusable or not, against their own kind.
Parasite. Bodies. Madness. The choice of words is not at all a coincidence for Carter Vandermeyen, for he is not wholly human. And not at all sane either.
Carter Vandermeyen is a spawn of the First Murderer, Caine, child to Adam and Eve, though Carter is not that old. Passed through the blood, he received the gift and curse a quite few decades years ago. That, and other things, makes him what his brethren have mokingly called the Kindred. A vampire of legend. Though like all vampires of legend, aside from the usual banes of fire and sunlight, and the urge to feed on mortals' blood, Carter is cursed with a primal flaw, a weakness of his lineage that his own progenitor passed him.
And in his blood is the seed of madness. Though potent, and allowing him feats of unsurpassed physical prowess thanks to his preternatural physique, the madness eating him from inside made him fade in and out of reality. At least, in his mind. And even though he could fool humans into obeying, following or ignoring him completely, and to reach out to the world with otherworldly senses, his potent power could not keep him from going into a mind-numbed state that caught him at times ungarded. Such was his curse. And such was the ailment he was trying to fight at the moment.
Carter had been a successful lawyer in life, and saw an excellent career tumble down when he was brought into the night. Even though his profession had been to keep criminals in the mainstreet and keeping them from going to prison, he did not always succeed, and thus he had to visit the other side of the steel curtain once in a while with a client. With the power of the vampiric blood in him, he had to abandon the courtroom, but he could connect to the prisons. And thus, with hypnosis, mental domination and inside knowledge, Carter had friends that gave him total reign over a single maximum-security prison in the Five Boroughs.
The Riker Island Prison.
But recently, with the turmoil his kind has been living in the area, Carter settled to visit and etch out a permanent place of residence on Riker Island. Much to his dismay, it appears the island was already occupied. Or so he thinks. This night, after a number of days of sleep that were rather disturbing and haunted with dreams uncharacteristic to his kind, Carter awoke in a cell in the prison's west wing with no recollection of how he got there in the first place. Usually, he would chalk this up to his blood's weakness, the mind-boggling fugues that dawn on him once in a while. But this was different.
No security camera ever got sight of him. And if there was a superstition that was indeed false about vampires, it was the fact that mirrors (and cameras) did reflect their image. Also disturbing him was the stress the past days have been playing on his unstable psyche, bringing him slowing on the verge of losing his usual composure.
He needed to get back to his room soon.
And there he is, with a wristwatch telling him it was 5:16 in the morning, with the sun coming up soon, but somehow, he cannot advance faster than a steady walk. He feels it. The same presence he had felt since his arrival on the island itself to claim domain. It was akin to dimmed light in a swimming pool, coming from one source, but refracting everywhere, visible from all points, unable to pinpoint it. Like pressure in a water balloon, or a flight of crows taking off in the middle of a forest, its noise bouncing on every tree and rock and leave, like a ping-pong ball moving up and down between the ground and the canopy.
He is walking steadily, one foot in front on another, hiding himself from the inmates with the power of his mind, racing slowly against the eventual coming of the day, and probing for a presence he fears would be looking out for him.
He had heard, like all others of his age, of the older ones... The elders amongst themselves, and the immesureable power they wielded. The thought of crossing one on its domain was enough to send newly-created Kindred scurrying away in abject fear, and older ones like himself regret their unthinking action, for such creatures did not take ignorance as an excuse.
Carter's train of thoughts is broken by a low rumbling of the cement under his feet and the wanking open of a cell door ahead. He stops and looks over with his sharpened sense. The cell look like any other cell, with a remote locking mechanism, solid steel bars, a desk, and two pallets for inmates to sleep upon. But something is not quite right. The steel is unmarked by any scratch, the lock does not bear the mark of usage, the desk is freshly varnished wood. Like brand new. All of the cell.
And a creeping dakness oozes out of it. Looking around, Carter realizes this is an illusion greater than life, for the cell is not part of a wall.
It is set directly in
He sees the darkness flow out of the cell and drift upward, all by itself, to the skylight. Unthinking, drowsy and confused, Carter follows it with his eyes. And he sees the day come up for a second, until a single ray of light burns one of his eyes to ash in its socket. Crying out in deathly fear and unbearable pain, Carter slumps over, hiding his face in his hands, he hopes for a prisoner, a guard, someone, anyone to help him, but his cries fall on deaf ears, for he stands alone in the hallway.
Time had leapt forward in the meanwhile, leaving him standing unseen in the crowded hallway scant minutes before the dawn's break.
Overtaken by his instinctual fear of the sun's light, on the verge of an irrational frenzy of terror, Carter feels toward his last seen place of refuge.
The cell filled in darkness.
He throw himself in, wishing the darkness would engulf him, and it did. He was away from the sunlight, and he was cold, but he knew he was safe.
The cell door closed all by itself, and the ground rumbled once more, with the same staccato as a dry laugh fading in and out. Somewhere in the prison, an inmate would cltuch at his chest in pain, and another would slip into uncounsciousness while doing laundry.
And then all would be quiet again.* * * * *
"Excuse me, sir, what would be the name of this man again?"
"Arthur Brooks", I repeat. "He was taken in three weeks ago."
"I'll check it up again, sir. This should only take a moment."
I'm Valariel, I'm fully awake, I have a job to do, and this freshly-minted desk officer here is pissing me off. Nevermind the fact that I have an upset stomach from the coffee and that I haven't fully understod the intricacies of cooking with a microwave oven, I have this tingling sensation that for a second, Francis Moore and I will truly be as one and punch the living crap out of this kid in a blue officier's suit. How difficult can it be to figure it out?
A-R-T-H-U-R B-R-O-O-K-S, and then press enter. Come on kid, you can pull it off...
"You may be seated sir, I'll come fetch you when I have the full details."
That's it. He's going to get it. Nevertheless, I know all that is wishful thinking on my part, and I grab a seat. I watch people go around in the police station. Officers, detectives, the dispatcher at the back, Rosanne Kochek, the secretary of Detective O'Flanagan, and a horde of men, women and children, coming and going for the sake of justice. These humans used to police themselves, but now they have to police amongst themselves. Notice the difference. A primordial difference.
All in all, it means, 'something went badly wrong because we Fallen lost'.Valariel.
Oh, great. I'm being invoqued here. I grab a magazine that laying around. Ironically, I pick up Law and Order
. Not a bad enough TV show as it is, I have to hold a copy of this piece of paper with 'morality' printed all over it.
"Who calls me", I answer in the Enochian language. People around will think I'm talking to myself. Oh well.Valariel, it is I, Naho Seqil.
"I am pleased by your calling of me, Sire. How may I serve you, Fell Knight?" I wish I could do without the flattering...Please, there is no such need for formalities now, my dear.
A Fallen after my own heart.I am attending a conclave of my faction. We seem to have found a rather interesting proposition for you concerning our recent troubles.
What is this, 'piss off the Scourge' day? "What would that be?"It is not mine to tell you. I can only tell you that it is a matter that will assurely interest you in a most personal way. Probably even more than any other Fallen, in fact. I cannot be sure if you'd be delighted with this fact or not, but alas, that is the best I can do. You can only come yourself and have them tell you.
I'm hesitant, but I might as well go with it. "Very well. What will be the location of this reunion?"Come to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway in three hours. We will be waiting.
"An open enough space. I accept."
I block out whatever he may have left to tell me. I'm far too trusting. That will be the death of me, I'm sure. I think I can blame Francis Moore's influence for this. He's always have this savior routine thing going on. He just cracked when he saw he couldn't save everyone, himself included. More fool he. Had he ever walked a mile in my shoes, he would've known you can't expect to save half the people you'll meet in your life. Even if it is your sacred duty.
While chasing ghosts in my head, I find I have enough room to consider that I still think it funny to refer to Naho Seqil as 'he' when I can only think of that Carmelia 'she'. I hope this meeting will be worth my time, especially with the cold coming over in November.
"Mister Moore", the boy calls me. Good. "I have the information you were seeking, but alas, it seems it will be more difficult to have an interview with Mister Brooks now."
"What do you mean?" I lean forward. I have the distinct feeling I'm not going to like this bureaucracy thing.
"Arthur Brooks has been transferred this morning. He is no longer in this disctrict." This is going to get ugly. I ask in no uncertain terms where the fuck he is, that he is my assignation, that I have references specifically made by Detective What's-his-name in disctrict Lost-in-Hell in the Don't-give-a-rat's-ass part of town that he's mine to consult.
The boy answers, "I'm afraid there is nothing I can do. Mister Brooks has been transferred to Riker's Island's for detention."
Someone's going to get hurt. I reflexively stamp my fist on the desk in rage. A pen comes rolling down from it and gusts a note along with it. Both fall to the floor unexpectedly. The kid bends over to pick it up but misses the note. Later on, he'll fail to give it to someone and something important will be delayed, probably causing a whole lot of problems. Maybe the kid will even lose his new job.
Chaos theory my ass.
Someone's going to get hurt anyway.
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It's a night as dark as any other in Manhattan, which some may see as rather bright. Justine Faille is one of them. * * * * *
But it's not because of any overflowing positivism. It is rather because she is standing atop a rather old and traditional building near the Jewish Museum.
And she wonders if tonight will see her fall.
It has been three weeks since the nightmares have been tormenting her. Now, she simply cannot find even the courage to try and sleep. She missed classes. She fell asleep at work and woke up screaming, disturbing people eating quite simply at the Dennis' Barbecue and Steak. Now, her semester at New York University is a wreck, she is utterly broke, and the landlord's a total jerk.
Like she cares.
In fact, everything tells her she should care, but somehow it doesn't totally register. It's there, it's hers to seize and comprehend, but she feels like her brain has overloaded, like that guy in The Green Line who's off to the chair and gets the shocks with a dry sponge on his head. Except maybe for the horrible finish to it.
She remembers meeting with that cute guy from Middle East Side and driving around, and everyone of her friends, Jenny especially, telling her he wasn't good enough for her. That he must have been a crackhead of some sort, hitting on girls five years younger. But then again, Jenny still thought that Britney was a virgin, so her opinion didn't really matter.
But the dreams did after that. Again, Justine was crazy, nuts, the whole Girl, Interrupted thing. Soon enough, she had said, she would profess love for tits and pills and Angelina Jolie. But it wasn't anything like that at all. What most of her friends didn't know was that time in Portland before moving to New Jersey, when Justine had spent three weeks under close observation by some psy-somethings in a dank institute. The shock of sudden separation from her parents has been quite jarring to her personality, nevermind the fact that she was seven at the time. Her parents needed the money, and little Justine was an 'interesting case subject'. Hope the money was worth it. She reviled the thought of it, even though it is now rather scrambled in her mind.
But what she reviled most is the simple fact that she could very well soon need to have that pushed on her again.
Something wasn't right. It's not normal to have the same dream, to a detail, happen over and over again during three weeks' time. If only she could sleep for more than two hours at a time. Just this once... All would be ok. Just like chugging on a big fat glass of ice-cold water when you constantly throw up with gastro-entritis. It's gonna come back out again... but the feeling at the very moment is just so fucking soothing.
Still, she doesn't exactly know what she is doing on this roof. Sure, throwing herself off all the way down to the pavement sounds somewhat nice, but not just yet. She can't live with that idea. Suicide is a sin, after all, and while she wasn't the most virtuous 22-years-older in Manhattan, she could pay lip service to that a little while longer. Besides, no one likes dying, right?
Maybe. But something deep inside her soul told her that it wasn't sure it could answer in the affirmative to the not liking dying thing.
That's when the stars in the sky exploded, flooding her sight and mind with lightning blue.
There is something that Aaron Pierre doesn't like about eggs at eight in the evening. Strangely enough, the demon inside him doesn't much care. The broken nose impairs him from tasting anything that enters his mouth, anyway.
Now rid of the bloody blue coat, in a white shirt spotted with a few pinpricks of blood here and there, the demon inside the man thinks back on the encounter with Gravis Dane and the ridiculously easy way the biker had defeated them. The Lord would not be pleased... and in fact, he didn't really care. he just wanted away from all of it. To make the man pay dearly for it.SERVANT! ATTEND ME.
The intense calling of his True Name was enough to make him spill his bite and swallow his coffee through the nose. Speaking of the Fell Lord himself.
"I am here, my master", answered Aaron in the First Language, face buried in a newspaper to hide his talking to no one.I AWAIT FOR THAT WHICH I DEMANDED OF YOU. THERE IS A LOT TO BE ACCOMPLISHED. I CAN SEND YIU'TIR TO FETCH YOUR BOUNTY AND PASS IT TO THE OTHERWORLDLY REALM.
"We have not recovered him yet, Master. He has proven... difficult to rein in."
Silence. Then an answer.YOU CAN GUESS I AM MOST DISPLEASED. BUT IT IS NOT WHOLLY SURPRISING. HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN STRONG AND BRUTAL, AND YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN COMMANDING AND SMALL. SEE THAT YOU CAN TRACK HIM. I WILL NOT BE DENIED SUCH A TASTY RECRUIT TO OUR CAUSE.
"And what of me?"YOU CAN RETURN TO HELL AFTERWARDS. WHAT USE CAN YOU BE TO ME IF SUCH A SIMPLE TASK CANNOT BE ACCOMPLISHED?
"Fuck you, bitch."
The immediate yanking at Ferijzai's True Name sends him screaming at the agony, alerting everyone in the restaurant to his pain and suffering. Waitresses drop platters, customers choke on their food, the manager turns in abject fear.
As Aaron fades into unconsciousness, he hears the parting words of his master.RECOVER. GROW STRONGER. THEN, I WILL EAT YOUR SOUL FOR YOUR DEFIANT INSOLENCE. * * * * *
The sharp knocking on the wooden oak door is firm and determined. It is Journeyman Lemouelic, for sure.
"Come in, Journeyman." The door opens to reveal Alain-Jacques Simon Lemouelic, a French journeyman from the Marseilles Chapter House. A most accomplished traveler, with the roughly-sketched facial features of a sand warrior, but with a distinct caregiving look to his eyes, he comes forward and pulls a seat for him. The master of the house, veiled in the shadows cast by the bookcases, turns around. Only a glimpse of his eyes can be seen under the red hood of his monk-like robe.
"'ow may I be of service, Reverent Master?" Lemouelic asked in his heavy French accent. He was wearing a pleasant and rather cocky smile.
"We have something that need to be fetched and initiated. Someone that the Order has been watching for quite some time. You have been selected to do just that."
Lemouelic interjected. "Reverent Master, I don't t'ink t'at an assignment for me. I am, after all, a traveler, an' an explorer of lost cities. New York is a nice playground and such, but I was lookin' fohward to explore the undah-city, not play gardien d'enfants
to your 'ouse..."
"Believe it or not, Journeyman Lemouelic, as much as your reputation is unsurpassed in Europe, you will not receive any leniency from me here in America. You are a guest in my home. I will do with you as I will under the edicts of the Order, and I expect you to respect the dictated rules of the guest as much as I will, those of the host. Besides, you have a certain experience with what we require of you."
Lemouelic fumed in his seat, but his curiosity got the better of him. "W'at is so special about dat guy?"
"Female, Journeyman. And she has just Awakened."
Lemouelic's smile grew wide. "Now you're talkin'." * * * * *
Nothingness. No eyes, no heart, no hands, no wings, no body, floating in endless depths. Incalculable, immortal, yet with nothing but foreign trains of thoughts.
Then I wake up. I'm living. I have a body. I have a mind, I draw breath. I was sleepish. This body was sleepish. Is it really that hard to cope with an union with a human life? With human thoughts?
I wish I could be sure.
I have fallen asleep to tears I am unable to explain, but that Francis can. Tears at the lost of Stephanie, the one person that made his life whole. The woman who went away. Yet, the woman he had professed eternal love to before God. Before the One Above that now seems to be absent, as far as I, Valariel, is concerned. Francis Moore cries out in denial to this. What a nice believer, a faithful Christian, or so he thinks. What good did his worship bring him?
Stupid human. If only he knew how misguided we all have been. I was a game, all along, and we played merrily along. But now, it seems the final showdown could arrive any minute.
I hate that feeling. It is weak, it is tiring, it is regrettable, but even more... It is draining. Sometimes, only Alexander Robertson's faith keep me firmly entrenched in this body. It is hard, living in this cold, dry, unloving era, but I cannot return to Hell. And it is harder still, because of that clenching feeling I have as my spirit pulses in time with Moore's memories. Regretful memories of his wife and his sorrow. The dimmed light of his soul imprisoned deep inside of me tells me to go to her, to make her mine again.
I'm sorry, Francis. I really am. That cannot happen. I feel for you, really, but a wife is not going to help me solve the Great Riddle.
It is actually 9h37 pm. I'd like find some comfort in that, find some hidden significance, but I just can't. I'm no Fiend, I'm not fortune-teller. In a way, I am only a gardian angel that's fallen for too much love for his charge.
And I certainly could not have predicted the phone's ringing. At least, it didn't happen as I was sleeping this time.
I answer matter-of-factly. No sense in showing my actual annoyance.
"I can see through your skin", the voice says.
"Pardon?" That was probably the last thing I was expecting someone to tell me on the phone.
"You heard me. I can see what you are. I see the devil-spawn gnawing at you."
"You seem to have picked up the wrong number, sir..."
The man continues in a small but firm conspirationnist's voice. "I wish no quarrel with your kind. You must simply be aware: one great Preacher of Death from Hell has become incarnate. It is nearing you. You cannot avoid it, but you can prepare for it."
"This is ridiculous. Goodbye, sir." Still, I hold the phone to my ear for a certain number of seconds longer. The sound of that chills me.
"You will see in time. Go to the island prison. There shall you find an answer to the questions you are investigating." Then a dead line.
I hang up the phone a bit lost. But somehow... Somehow this might just be something for one of my Fate-sighted friends.
Tomorrow, another consultation with Arthur Brooks, and afterwards, meeting with Darryl and Eric. I'm looking forward to this.
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I will re-format my chapters for them to look more like regular chapter lengths, meaning that chapeter two and three will be re-posted as Chapter two.
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Chapter Three later this week.
Je fais refaire mes chapitres pour qu'ils aient plus l'air de vraies longueurs de chapitre, voulant dire que Chapitre deux et trois seront re-lancés comme étant Chapitre Deux.
Chapitre trois plus tard cette semaine.
I hate phones. Especially when they wake me up.* * * * *
Since when mankind has been so weak as to not being able to wake up by themselves? Lost of instinct? Laziness?
In my case, it's duty related. So I answer, my host still sluggish, with a weak "Hello?"
"Hello, Moore. It's me. We have a situation", says the voice at the other end. He'll never learn.
"Well, top o' the morning to you, Eric. Aren't you in school at this hour?" Youngish guys. Can't stop them with the threat of death. It's always been so.
"I skipped classes. This is important. They're moving."
Someday, I'm gonna have to knock some sense into the kid. He's too analytical for his own good.
Doesn't help that one of the Fiends is possessing him.
"Wait, wait up, there... Lemme wake up, for Christ's sake...." Somehow the words came out all by themselves. Human habits die hard.
"The Fallen, Valariel. They are moving into place."
The words sunk in. Suddenly, I'm awake.
"Where are you?"
I've always resented going to hospitals. They're just wrong. If such a thing can be said to be wrong. Well, I can't say I've always resented them, either. They didn't exist back in the War in Heaven. People like me were doing the job of saving lives.
I hope I'm done with that. But then again, I get the feeling I'm not quite through.
Walking up the lobby, I meet some nurses that look like they know me. I'm known, it seems. Oh, yes... Moore wrote these books on the criminal mind some time ago... and gave conferences in public services as to how to deal with criminals. Some people must remember that, it seems. I never thought I could have that influence on people. It's just academic knowledge, after all.
But I have to admit, it is a knowledge that has allowed me to better adapt to life on Creation after the Fall. Meaning, now. Other Fallen don't have that luck.
I wonder why the little bastard gave me a rendez-vous point in a damned morgue. Haven't I seen enough death in my life already? I push the door open, quite firmly, and see him, in his combat boots and in his white short sleeved shirt, turning around to face me. Hello, Eric Lawson. A Fiend, a watcher of the skies like none other. My disposition is a bit irritated, but my eyeglasses hide that well. At least, to the other Fallen in the room. But Lawson is too perceptive not to appreciate my mood. And he understands how annoyed I can be to stand here.
During the War, back some milennias ago, while Eric -Akriel, his Celestial name is- was scouting the skies and soaring next to the stars, predicting the One Above's movement of Malhims created to hunt us down, I was popping out of nowhere to save Man, Woman and Infant caught in the path of destruction. I was scooping away wounded Fallen. I've seen some die in my arms and turn into whatever Fate destined them to turn to as their essence was extinguished.
Needless to say, he knows I'm not happy to be here.
"Greetings, Valariel", tells me a European woman on my right. She looks nice enough, with the darker skin and the fit muscles and the cheap professional suit. I ignore her and take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. The morgue is cold, of course, but is also quite large. Nothing like a New York General Hospital to make you appreciate how much humanity is... mortal.
The room is long and tall, with an unhealthy grayish cast to it. The halogen lights need to be replaced, too. And on the walls are the 'closets' for the cadavers. I notice that one is open and spread out, covered by the typical white blanket. Two men are near it, while Eric and the woman are in front of me to welcome me.
"Thank you", I reply courteously, shaking the woman's hand. "I trust there is a reason why you are calling me like this?"
"Of course." Silence.
It seems the ball is on my side. "And what might that reason be?"
"Don't you remember me? Second front cohort of the Alabaster Legion. At the Battle of the Fallen Crescent. Modern Northern Africa. You saved my life back then, Valariel, for we both know that the Malhims took no prisoners."
"... Naho Seqil? The Malefactor Fell Knight?" I'm rather surprised. People like this Malefactor weren't the ones to usually have it hard on the field of battle. Not an easy memory.
"The very same. It has been a very long time. I've arrived in New York a few weeks ago, by way of Carmelia here in front of you."
Akriel spoke in. "Isn't it weird to experience a body type other than what you used to have?" Curious guy, Akriel.
"It makes for a very different point of view on life." Naho Seqil was not the kind of being to be embarassed by conditions. "I've stubbled accross Carmelia while she was being strangled to death in Calcutta. I just happened to be there. I've wondered for a while if all of this was not ordained to be. If the War, the Fall, the Abyss, everything was not planned for."
Same as me. But I didn't come here to philosophize. So I ask what is it we have to see, and Akriel walks us to the corpse. He is more than happy to present his find...
"We've had this call informing us of this recent arrival. Winston Jacob McNeil, 42, deceased in a shopping mall two days ago. People there have diagnosed a stroke. The coroner concurs. But we've had someone here tell us something was odd..."
We are walking towards the table as a young man looks up. He takes off his medical gloves and greets us. Somehow, he's familiar...
"Hi. I'm the 'mysterious caller'. You must be M. Moore. I'm Darryl Shank. Please, this way..."
Darryl is youngish and gangly, even with a lab coat. His brown hair falls gently on the nappe of his neck and his movements are sharp and precise. He's a man of action. And the name stirs memories of Francis Moore's... But I can't pinpoint what...
The young man continues. "This man has been brought here and was declared clinically dead by Doctor Livinston. She's a tough one, this Livinston... She also happens to be the head pathologist on this level. It's a wonder she overlooked what I've been told..."
With a dramatic gesture, Shank lifts up the white blanket to reveal the upper body of an elderly man, whiter than most. I almost gag.
"This man has died of a stroke, all right. But not from a natural cause." Darryl take a fresh new pair of latex gloves and puts them on. The other man on his left, behind the corpse's head, prepares to help him. The lift up the head of the old dead man and roll him to the side. This is where Eric and I come over to check, I suppose.
Who is this other guy, anyway...?
"Here," pinpoints Darryl, "you can see an extreme discoloration of the hair roots behind his head, right where the neck and head connect. And the neck muscles," again he points, "have been stretched and stuck in place as rigor mortis set in. This is not wholly reminiscent of a stroke."
Akriel, again his perceptive self, "It is as if the man died of fright."
But I'm quicker than that. "Not entirely false, but they're also something else. Didn't you say this man was 42?" Carmelia stares at me. Eric's eyes dart from the corpse to me.
"He looks like 62...", notices Darryl. "Like he was... older?"
The other man, the older one, adds a comment for the first time. "This man has been reaped of his Faith."
Eric, Carmelia and me look up at the man. Darryl remains focused on the subject of our investigation.
Eric breaks the silence. "No shit."* * * * *
We are now in the hospital cafeteria. The eggs are atrocious and the coffee bitter, but after what I saw, I desperately need something on my stomach other than bile.
"Faith is the quintessential power of Man. Through Faith are all things possible. But it has been a long time since this has died in mankind's heart. Fortunately, some of us can still express that belief, and thus are angels made. Unfortunately, thus can we also feed demons, and as we have just seen, some are not too asking, but would rather tear it from any man."
The unknown man revealed himself to be Father Joachim Weslesley. That was quite unexpected. And here he was, surrounded by four fallen angels, talking about Faith like he knew everything about it. Oh, I admit, he knows lots about it... But what he doesn't know is how much it is now addictive to us, now that we've gone so long without it...
I am a bit worried, to be honest. "I can understand how this is fascinating for you, Father, but please realize... Someone like you is not meant to witness such things..."
"I am not your son, Father, and you know it..."
Naho Seqil interjects sharply. "Please, Francis. Go on, Father. What have you learned?"
I am a little disoriented by this. I don't like the idea of a faithful mortal knowing our existence. One too many of those and they could start to drive us back to Hell. And quite frankly... I'm more than a little scared about that. I don't want harm to come to this man because of us.
"...that is fundmental to your search." I have to work on my perceptiveness. I daydream too easily. " I do have the feeling that..."
I'm bored already, so I turn to Darryl. He's bored too, it seems.
"So. Darryl." He turns to me. "You said you had been 'told' this whole thing. Care to enlighten us? I have trouble imagining you could have found this out by yourself."
He looks funny in this lab coat. But he catches on quick.
"The man's soul told me. I summoned him back from the darklands."
"What?" I'm impressed. "That find's not medical-related?"
He laughs shyly. "Hell no! I've spent the last year in a cell for reckless endangerment and criminal negligence. Since I'm here, I got out because Darryl now behaves."
Now I seem to remember... "Weren't you that guy who killed two children in Astoria during an illegal car race a few years back? It was plastered all over the media. It's what gave such popularity to the illegal sport scene and started the police crackdown on the illegal race betting frenzy!"
"That was some time ago. Darryl Shank hung himself in his cell after a gang rape. I'm Lyriel now, of the Seventh House. I'm a Slayer, an angel of death. That's how I called the dead man back."
"And I suppose you are out for good conduct?" I already know the rest.
"Exactly. I'm on curfew for a while with a release official chcking on me, and I'm here 'paying my debt to society'. If only they knew what society owes us in the end..."
"Maybe I can help you out with that. Francis P. Moore is a criminologist. I'll just need to get a copy of your file and see what my 'expert opinion' can do."
"Hey, that'd be great, thanks!" Darryl was kind of glad upon hearing me saying this. I could use someone to help me out with researches.
In the meanwhile, the Father, Carmelia and Eric were discussing possibilities. Possibilities were the domain of Fiends like Akriel, who could foresee Fate's movements, so they were doing rather well. They are talking about tracking the Fallen who had reaped the man and getting back to him. I'd be interested on seeing that one. I think our resident necromancer, Lyriel, is going to have some work ahead of him. I hope we can manage to have access again to the morgue for him.
And here I am, in the middle of a hospital cafeteria, trying to make sense of what is happening to the world through one paltry death. I've always been one to make it through hopeless odds.
That's why Naho Seqil had me named the Savior on the Wayward Wind back then.* * * * *
The back-alley to the Empire Dinner is more than a usual parking place for an overly popular restaurant: it is also a place where fallen angels meet demons incarnate. This afternoon is no different, as the large man walks through unbothered by the blinding light of the sun in his eyes. With a squint, he withstands the glare and moves forward. It's not as if he should mind such a paltry thing: he's got other things to worry about. Like the two Namarus in front of him.
Namarus are a bitch. Always trying to have the upper hand. Both of them are dressed in an appropriate enough manner - befitting their aspirations. Or rather, the man tells himself, the stations they think they command. The House of the Devils has always been a lofty one, and both of them represent that stereotype in a most amusing and futile way.
Blue Coat, on the left, is dressed in a simple marine blue suit with an unbuttoned white shirt. Quite a laughable outfit for a medium-size Afro-American male. His hair is crew-cut, his stance relaxed, composed, though his chin as a tendency toward the sky - and towards people's eyes. Haughty bastard indeed. His partner, ever so subtle, wears fashionable street clothes over a fit and slender body. The medium-length blond hair frames a delicate face, and silvery sunglasses hide a pair of eyes that the man already know to be mismatched. Thanks to the shades, he looks human and eighteen enough. Thing is, Pretty Guy there is not human anymore.
And if it wasn't for the War in Heaven, he'd still be pretty inside, too.
The large man stops short of a few large strides in front of them. The brown-black hair fall slightly in front of his nondescript brown eyes, but he doesn't even spare the energy to whip it back. His body is tense, wound up like a spring ready to lash at the first thing that will poke him. The two men facing him lift their chin at him, and he thinks it funny as hell. For once, the Devils are not snobs, but humbled, in a way. They must not be used to look up at a Devourer that stand a good foot taller than them.
And at six feet seven, leather jacket and jeans, Gravis Dane is more than impressive. He is menace incarnate.
"We have been expecting you, Dane," Blue Coat initiates.
"Of course you have, you high-flying, self-important, balls-licking son of a bitch! Why else would you be there, asshole?!" The tone is set.
Blue Coat doesn't take kindly to insult, but Pretty Guy is faster. "Watch your language there. We're not the enemy. And I have to say, this is not the ideal place for a meeting. Any place is fine, as long as there is some commodity, but in a simple alley? You have to be kidding us."
- If you have to take a piss, the people at the Empire are nice enough. Otherwise, state your business and begone. This is my turf.
- I don't deny that, interjects Pretty Guy. In fact, we know what you are up to, Gorrek'Tran. We know you have lots on your mind, and you lash out at this shell of a world. We feel the same.
- You know nothing about how I feel, Devil! While your kind was holed up and playing the outcome of Lucifer's little tragedy against God, I was fighting and dying time and time again for you," says Dane, "and I don't remember you bleeding against the Malhims. Talk and then run, else I take you for my prey."
Both Devils seem to tense at the threat. Tempers want to flare, but are held in check by the sunlight and the easy eavesdropping of passerbys. And so the bestial cunning of the Devourer is revealed: on his turf, even in plain sight, he can act, while they cannot. Blue Coat speaks up:
"You know of the Raveners. We all do. We have been contacted by a Lord, here, in this city, that belongs to an important party of the Ravener faction. As you should know, an Infernal Court is in place here. In fact, it has been for quite some time. And changes have happened already. This Lord wants followers, people like us - including you. He agreed to let us join him, but only if we brought a third with us.
"We figured that since you are running around Faithless, without Thralls to draw upon, it is only a matter of time before the Court finds you and brings you to heel. And if you don't already know, the actual Tyrant of the Court is none other than Lord Fenzurel himself."
Dane perks up at the name. "The Fiend Fenzurel? The All-Seeing Star?"
Pretty Guy continues. "The very same, Gravis. He has been Tyrant for some months now, ever since the last one disappeared without as trace. He is consolidating his power, and in a few, he will be able to bring considerate force to bear. And believe me, as you are now doing, there is no way you can avoid him forever."
Without warning, the dozen of feet between the three men are crossed and Pretty Guy's head is cusped in Gravis' right hand. With irresistable strength, he lifts up the puny blond and smashes his head to the ground, grievously wounding the man. As he brings himself up, Blue Coat is on him, a knife at his hand, but the trusty leather jacket Gravis wears seem enough to keep the thing from hurting him much. With a fast twist of his hips to the left, the giant of a man, sidesteps the black man and grabs his right knife-hand from over Blue Coat's shoulder. With a brutal wank, the wrist snaps and the blade goes flying in a uncharismatic yelp from the man.
With a final, fluid pull, Gravis brings the disarmed man back toward him and stuns him to the ground with a powerful headbutt to the nose. Bleeding and stunned, Blue Blood-Stained Coat lifts his head feebly to have it grasped by Gravis' powerful hands and pulled within an inch of his. Gagging from the reeking smell of alcohol and rotting teeth in his breath, the defeated Devil hears his opponent tell him:
"Listen to me, you obnoxious, broom-in-ass shit-for-brains, I've made it this far without your guidance and holier-than-thou wisdom, so I'll ask you this on my part: why don't you tell me who you are, so that I can convince my fucking self to spare the trouble of putting you out of your misery?"
"F... F... I'm Ferijzai..."
"Good. Here's, Ferijzai, my piece of advice for you: cross me again and you go straight back to Hell. You got that fucking right?"
An evil smile spreads across Gravis' lips. "Good. One of you has understood. I'm not yours to command anymore. I'll take my vengeance on this world one human -or Fallen- at a time. Count yourself lucky I'm not hungry for Faith right now; I've had my fill just the other day. Now go away, pussy!"* * * * *
As the Devourer Gorrek'Tran, under the guise of Gravis Dane, gets on his Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, a quick glance toward the alley tells him that Ferijzai and his queer gay chummy are gone. For now. But he's not deluding himself; he knows they will be back. Maybe sooner than later. And though that worries him not, he can't quite shake the feeling that it will not be as easy next time. Also, the mere presence of Lord Fenzurel in New York City is enough to give him pause.
Fenzurel was a powerful seer in Lucifer's personal court, and a Lord to boot. While the details are sketchy still, Gorrek'Tran remembers a conflict of some sort with Lucifer's Legions. Maybe a trial, or even a betrayal. Nevertheless, Fenzurel knew of Gorrek'tran, for he was present back then. And that poses a threat to his actual activities. One night or another, if Fenzurel is to manifest himself, Gorrek'tran will have to deal with him. That's if the Lord remembers better than Gorrek'Tran does, and that is one variable that the Devourer won't take a chance upon.
Ever since his arrival in this criminal biker's body a few weeks ago, Gorrek'Tran has felt the urge to destroy. Without exception, each experience he has had as a human has destroyed what meager hopes he had nourished during the long eternity spent in the Abyss for a better world. And though he will never admit it, he's sorely disappointed. Disappointed by fighting a war through his rebellious existence for nothing. Hurting to no avail. Missing the Lord's face for no reward.
If he can't find any satisfaction in that, he'd better fucking deny it to everyone else.
Driving away on the bike, he thinks back at this torment of his. Yeah, that'll be enough.
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Francis P. Moore is used to the smell of those godawful places, but I don't think I ever will. That's because I am not Francis P. Moore. Oh, I look like him, all right, and I wear his clothes, and even the fine Swiss watch he received for his wedding twelve years ago. But I'm not him. At least, not entirely...* * * * *
"You are distracted, Doctor". The voice calls me back. Happens that this very voice is the only one that I am supposed to listen to. Because, also, it is the only one that can be heard by me. I am alone with the man and his cell. And of course, the lack of sunlight and the rancid smell of the environment does wonders to keep me here.
I look at the man across me. He is a rather fit man for his late thirtys. White, the slowly balding hair not even grayish yet... And the smooth, square jaw is strangely offset by warm, focused sea-green eyes. He should be in the Mayor's seat, not in some dank Bronx cell.
"Pardon me. It... has been a while since I've done this." Not as bad a lie as I imagined it would be.
"I'm sure, Doctor, that..."
"Don't call me Doctor." I'm getting enough of that savior routine of his. It irritates me.
The man in front of me is fourteen times homicide convicted, and has committed more horrors in his brief existence than most two-times gangster losers in Bed-Stuy will ever commit in their entire lives. He is, for lack of a better word, hopeless.
And still he jabs at me. The man is a tough nut to crack.
"Tell me, then, M. Moore", says he nagging me, " what... or who... is on your mind?"
"I am trying to make sense out of your particular habits, Mister Brooks. Let us be honest, I am but a simple psychologist and criminologist. Psychiatry isn't quite my field of expertise, and I have to say, if it wasn't for Commissioner Wellington pulling strings, I wouldn't be here sharing a pitcher of water and talking to you. I probably would be home trying to salvage what's left of my mariage. But I suppose the game is as enjoyable for you, no?"
He was taken a bit aback by my wittiness. Arthur Brooks was an intelligent man - too intelligent for his own good. He could rationalize next to everything he did, and while the law could not let him go away, he ended up in a cell with much of the lawyers and juries wondering whether his testimony was making perfectly sense or was just apocalyptic blabber. But he sure as hell did not expect me on his case.
Not every mortal makes the Damned's day.
Then again, butchering the homeless and poverty-stricken to read their entrails and avoid persecution by unknown factors wasn't entirely socially acceptable. Not the least by me.
"M. Moore, I am sure you are not without knowledge that what I did had a greater purpose. Why do you mind?"
"It is my job. And what I chose to do for a living."
"And losing your wife was part of the deal?"
He was trying to get at me. Like a cornered dog, he would fight if he couldn't circle me. What was he trying to get at?
"If you don't mind, I'll be asking the questions, Mister Brooks." My back door exit to anything. Or rather, Moore's back door.
"Whatever you say."
"Good. Here", I say handing him a copy file of his case, "is a complete file of your case, Arthur. Photographs, drawings, calendar, witnesses' accounts - or rather, the few of them that were left alive... How do you feel, knowing you've taken so many lives that were completely unrelated to you?"
I wasn't doing this by the book. There was no sense in it; he already knew all about it.
"I admit to feeling a bit disappointed", he replied calmly.
I don't quite understand, so I ask him to clarify this for me. Like a good, fighting homicidal maniac with a cause, he's rather joyous to oblige.
"Unproductive lives lead to the stagnation of our great society. I have done my research, 'doctor'. All of these people were totally forgotten by their families. It had been years since they had gone unrecorded by the IRS. No social security numbers. And the hooker? The seventeen years old? She had been walking the Bronx streets ever since she was able to walk. My disappointment is not being able to help mankind better. I got stopped at twenty-four."
This is a total surprise. Twenty-four?
"What do you mean, doctor?"
"Twenty-four? The file says fourteen. You mean to tell me there are ten others out there we still haven't found?" This was quite unexpected. Who would admit to more killings after being convicted?
Twenty-four, no less. The man is too far gone. Even for me. Mankind was not meant to be so deluded, so lost. All of a sudden, I feel like I've saved nothing in my existence. Then he breaks the silence.
"Well, you could say fourteen... But some of them I've had to kill twice..."
Intelligent man, Arthur Brooks. Too intelligent for his own good. If he knows his stuff, he'll probably behave and expect a transfer to a minimum security prison where he'll do community work while fooling his psychiatrist, and I'm not allowed to do anything to prevent it. And it isn't quite an incertainty. It is as if humanity is going totally off the rails.
Sometimes I wish I had stayed in the Pit. Hell was less suffering than this. We had sacrificed everything to make Man great, and now here I am, in the shithole called New York, to witness the rot that came to grip Man's heart. Lucifer never said it would be easy.
But where is Lucifer now? No Lightbringer on the dawn. Just the Damned that spews out of the Abyss to come here. And here I am, part of them in a strange land. In this 'Manhattan'.
As far as I remember while I was scouting the winds of Creation, this island never existed. It was sunken, for sure. Or maybe it was a place of rejoice for the Defilers, the Angels of the sea. Now... It is the New Babylon.
I am walking in those streets with waves after waves of humans passing me by, and no one knows. No one sees. They see the man in the woolen dark brown longcoat, the chestnut hair, the fine glasses, the black briefcase. Single women will notice the smooth shaving, the worried brown eyes, the Byronian demeanor, and will maybe try to cheer me up. Still, I can feel the treason screaming from what's left of Francis Moore's soul.
I had to kill a man to take his stead, his life and his memories, and the remnants of his conciousness still nags at me. Like the urge to see his wife again. To have another of those Club 21 fine bison steaks with italian wine. To buy that little chalet with Robertson, an old friend, and go deer hunting in the Appalachians.
But now it's somewhat hollow. Robertson now knows Francis P. Moore is no more, being the mortal shell for the angel Valariel. His friend has seen the angel and now worhips him. Offering his faith. Knowing, believing in his divine presence.
Alexander Robertson is gone. All that remains is his faith in Valariel. And that thought haunts me.
I walk back to Upper East Side Manhattan, to the lobby of Moore's condominium. Night has fallen. I hang the coat and have a shower. My wife -Moore's wife- would normally join me -him- in the shower after a long day such as this one. But she's no longer there. She has gone away when Moore was too taken by his work. That's when his soul got crushed. That's when the alcohol got to him. That's when I replaced the broken Francis.
Even tonight, I can't shake the feeling that I'm no better than that psychopath, Arthur Brooks.
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This is a story about angels.
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This is a story about faith.
This is a story about humanity lost.
This is not a story of the Divine, for the Divine has forsaken His creations.
At the dawn of existence, Man and Woman were guarded and cherished amonst The One Above's creatures. All was in order... or so we thought. But the Lightbringer and Morningstar, Lucifer, first and most beautiful of all the angels, could not bear to love man from afar while he shivered and worried in the darkness with his mate. Such a platonic love was not right.
"Lord", said he to The One Above, "why? Why should we not protect that which you order us to love? Why watch from afar, while we could make Man so much more than just the wretched, broken figure he is?"
"Why love and stay away, so that which is cared for never knows is loved?"
And thus began the War in Heaven.
One third of the Heavenly Host rallied behind the Morningstar's banner. We cherished Man, we cared for him, we protected him and brought him hope. And in response, God sent His Malhims against we Elohims. We were Fallen, denied the face of our Maker. Seven Houses of the Elohim, one third Fallen, against the other. Creation was ravaged and rebuild. Cities were erected and destroyed by the will of the combattants. Oceans boiled, mountains cleaved, fire rained, and Man died in the blinking of an eye.
We counted our numbers in legions, and with the nobility of all of which we were. Our Seven Houses made us what we are. We choose our destiny.
The First and Foremost House, the Namaru, the Devils. First among equals. Our generals, our inspiration, House of the Lightbringer. The radiant flames, the pillars of Heaven on Earth.
The Second House, the Asharu, the Scourges. Tender of Man, the winds and life. Silent herders and protectors of Humanity.
The Third House, the Annunaki, the Malefactors. Guardians in the Earth below, makers and tenders of the forge of Creation.
The Fourth House, the Neberu, the Fiends. Readers of the stars and creators of portals. The light for the lost, the All-Knowing.
The Fifth House, the Lammasu, the Defilers. The beautiful Angels of desire, now succubi and incubi. Explorers of human emotions, scholars of desire and watery sensuality.
The Sixth House, the Rabisu, the Devourers. Warriors of the flesh and the wilds, Those-Who-Run-With Beasts. The surveyers of the rest of Creation's creatures
The Seventh House, the Halaku, the Slayers. Last created angels, willed into existence at the time of Man's birth, the last of us tend the dead. Masters and scholars of the End of all life.
We thought that all of us could prevail. We could make Man great. We could make God change His mind and let us love Man.
In the end, the Heavenly Host prevailed. We were shackled and condemned for betraying The One Above. Eternity in nothingness, deep in death's underworld was our reward. We were disembodied, lost and wailing, left to suffer the torment created by our fault.
And the last angel to enter the Abyss, the Morningstar himself, never came in. We were betrayed, and Lucifer himself was nowhere to be found.
Until now. The wailing of the underworld, of Oblivion, finally cracked open the gate that which has been for so long closed on us. After countless millennias, we were freed. Without a body, with substance, some of us escaped to borrow weak-willed humans to walk Creation again. And Lucifer himself, lost so long ago, now walks the Earth.
We are divided, factioned. Some wish for redemption. Some wish for the Lightbringer to lead us again. Some wonder at the riddle of all of it, while others seek to create their own vision of Creation, free from the shackles of Lucifer or God. And finally, some just indulge theirm torment against the ver humanity which made us fall for it.
I am Valariel, Asharu of the Second House, Savior on the Wayward Wind, and I walk the Earth again. I am, for lack of a better word, whole again. Trapped in the shell of a man, living with his feelings, his emotions for the very first time, I see through caring, knowing eyes. I see Creation. I see the modern man. I see the world once again.
This is my story.
From now on, as often as I am inspired, I will be posting an entire chapter of a novel I am writing, based on the White Wolf Game Studios game Demon: The Fallen.
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With each chapter I will try to include a piece of artwork by myself or a guest artist to accompany it. You will get to appreciate it and even comment and maybe change the course of the story with your ideas. I'm doing this to motivate me to finally express this artistic side that is being slowly strangled by this sudden change of life. By creating, I'll create even more.
Valariel bids you welcome.