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.