Clockwork Ouroboros

Just rewards, Part II

The spirit shook the ichor off the axe and shook his head at the carnage before him. The pile of limbs, torsos, heads, and other bits slowly dissolved into a smokey miasma.

"I swear, it gets worse every year. One of these days, I'll have words with Dis about what's going on in this place."

Father Fulgino, in spite of his best efforts, found himself stepping closer to the spirit and the shade of Father Tedesco.

"The wicked gather their strength because they sense that there is righteousness in this place."

"If that's the case," said the spirit, "then maybe you should leave the care of the deceased to me. It used to be you'd see maybe one of these things, now, look! There must have been eight or nine of them!"

"Then that shows that they fear the righteous!"

"Gentlemen...", said the shade of Father Tedesco, "as interesting as all this, is, I'd like to get a move on."

"Sure Father," said the spirit, "I'll... we'll make sure you get there. Nothing's going to stop us."

They proceeded further into the caverns, the worn pathway pointing in the right direction.

*****

The spirit looked at the looming presence before him, and did his best not to show any fear. This, this was a first.

The thing before them looked like a badly put together mockery of the human form. Bones protruded, muscles and sinew were exposed, and its features were dominated by a mouth filled with protruding fangs.

"I have no quarrel with you, Old One," it said to him. "But I want those, especially the light bearer. I will have them."

Father Fulgino raised the torch higher, and held the cross in front of him, "Begone damned spirit!"

It snorted contemptuously, and stepped forward. The spirit of Portus Querques raised his axe, "I told you once, they're with me, and they're not yours. Go back to whatever pit you crawled out of, malum, or I'll send you back in pieces."

With a snarl, it charged him and swung a clawed arm at him. He brought the haft of the axe up and blocked, and rocked, but did not fall to his knees from the blow. He shifted his hands and swung the haft into the things side where it hit with a satisfying crunch. He pivoted the axe, and punched at the thing with the spike mounted on the top of the haft. He missed with the spike, but still managed to connect with top of the blade, and shoved the thing back.

It began to warily circle him. "I see fewer and fewer of your sort," it said. "Most just give up, but you... you fight. I think I shall take you back with me as well." It snarled and charged in again, swinging one arm for his legs and the other at his head.

The spirit jumped over the arm coming for his legs, and blocked the overhand swing again, this time rolling with the blow. He bounded to his feet, brought his grip further down the shaft and with a cry of rage swung with all his might.

The thing leapt back, but not far enough and with a meaty thunk the axe blade cleaved it nearly in two. It gurgled as ichor poured from the wound and its mouth, and it looked up in surprise at the spirit. "You win... today, but I shall eventually return." It collapsed, and it too began to dissolve into a foul smelling miasma.

"Come on, let's get moving before something else comes at us." The shade and the priest just nodded, and followed along quickly behind him.

They stepped from the cavern entrance, into a much larger chamber that glowed with a softer, clean light. Before them was a river, dark and slowly flowing, and boat pulled upon the shore.

"Charon," said the spirit, "I have a passenger for you."

The boatman looked at him, and then at the priest and the shade. His voice was a soft whisper, but still clear. "No... this one goes elsewhere, and that one... his time has not come."

"If it's payment you need, I have an aurus or three for you."

"No, as I said, his voyage is not with me." Charon drew a line in the sand with his pole. "His way is through here." Over the line, an arch of light formed, to bright to see more than vague shadows through. "His way is this way." Charon looked at the shade, "Step through, that is the way to your reward, where you will be judged by yours. The journey of your people, is no longer our journey."

The shade of Father Tedesco nodded, and he placed a companionable hand on the arm of the lapis manilis. "Thank you for guarding, and guiding me. Perhaps someday, we may be meet again. If not, well... I hope that will always remember the good you have done in the world, and don't give in to despair. As for you," he said turning to Father Fulgino, "remember that good can be found in everyone, and focus on that." He stepped through the arch of light, and it shimmered and disappeared.

"It is time for both of you to leave this realm," said Charon. He took the coin from the spirit, "I'll take that as a down payment for future services. He swung the pole in front of him, and said "Begone!" and the spirit and Father Fulgino found themselves back in the sepulcher. Only ashes remained where Father Tedesco's body had rested.

Fulgino looked at the spirit, and shook his head. "I know I owe you my life this night, but you... and what you stand for, you are the cause of the mischief we endured."

"What!," said the spirit, "You ungrateful..."

"Hear me out," said Fulgino. "Charon himself said it. Your insistence on taking Father Tedesco to the other side is what brought the malum. The new ways are not your ways, your ways are gone. If the Father had been allowed to rest in piece, he would have only have had to step into the Kingdom of Heaven and been greeted by Saint Peter. Your insistence placed his soul in danger from the malum we encountered. I know now that you are not a malum yourself, but you, you draw them when you guide one of us over. For the good of the souls of the people of this town, I cannot allow you to continue to do this. Admit this to yourself; you are the danger here, you are the one who bring them eternal grief and pain. Do one last service to this town, and let these souls live in peace."

The light from the sunrise reflected off the blue Adriatic into the sepulcher as the spirit shifted and sat heavily on stone. "Consider my words spirit, consider them well. I am not sure we shall meet again." Fulgino left the sepulcher, and made his way down the hill. The spirit watched him go, and did not know what to think, as the hours turned to days, and the days to months, and the months to years as he sat alone, with only the light of the sun and moon to keep him company.
TinMan DG

Where There's Smoke

The island nation reeked of supernaturals, unnaturals, and everything in between. Smoke selected a building filled mostly with the powerless, but a thread of cool, dry earth in the air spoke of vampires in residence. She cloaked herself in the scent of powerlessness when she came and went, and warded her doors and windows with a tracery of protection like frost, jagged swirls and blossoms invisible to the average human eye.

Within the web of protection, she could relax her guard -- at least a little.

Another day spent wandering the alleys of this strange, convoluted city. Another day spent teasing out the scent-threads of her Dragon's agents, allies, and betrayers, only to lose the trail in a tangle of otherness. In a city where non-human species were rare, the trail would be easy to follow and her master's will quickly done. In these Isles, where too many different species mixed and mated, led and followed, won and lost... it was like a living, seething puzzle.

With sweeping motions, she pushed away the tendrils of scent that clung to her skin and clothes. They passed through the wards, through the window, and out into the early evening. Smoke passed a hand over a candle and it lit, the flame flickering low and close to the wick.

A faint headache throbbed behind her eyes, but a deep breath of the clean scent of hot wax and candlesmoke helped to push it away.

She felt the wards go taut a moment before someone knocked at her door. The threads of protection carried the scent of churned earth, dry and crumbling. Vampire. Beneath that, the dust and metal of scales. A vampire that followed a Dragon.

With a curse for the coincidence, she opened the door.

"Hi, neighbor." Cheerful tone and loud voice, the sound of television and children spilling into the hallway from the partly open door opposite, straight teeth and an open smile. "I was hoping I could borrow some evoo."

"I don't know what evoo is." The wards still stood between them, but the opening of the door allowed more of the vampire's scent in. A mate (flowers and a jumble of emotions), children (crayons and runny noses and laughter), all human with no taint of the supernatural outside of the vampire's own. Beneath that, a scent all too familiar. He followed her Dragon. The Dragon of the Coast. Here, under her own nose, was the traitor? Or was it too quick, too much coincidence? A trick of this strange-smelling city, that she would pick a home that carried the faint scent of her brood? The Dragon did already have agents here, she knew. But he had sent her because none of them could uncover the thread of betrayal.

"Evoo? Extra virgin olive oil?" Still the grin, waves of charm like liquid gold. "Can't cook much without it. We were hoping...?" The vampire held up a small, empty pitcher hopefully. "You can join us for dinner in return."

Her first instinct, always her first instinct was to decline. To lie, to withdraw, to seal herself away for a few precious hours of peace and quiet. The door's hinges creaked as she started to push it closed.

"I'll bring the... evoo... over in a moment."

The Dragon -- her Dragon -- delighted in seeing her in uncomfortable situations. Not, she was almost certain, out of a desire to torment her, but because he loved puzzles. It made no difference if he was solving the riddle himself or watching someone else work out a solution. And though she would rather be left alone, Smoke was very good at puzzles.

Here was the first piece.
Lethal lagomorph

Just rewards, Part I

"So what brings you up here Father, on a day like today?"

"Well my son, it's a beautiful day. The sun is shining, the Adriatic is calm, and the Widow Carosi gave me more puls than I could possibly eat, along with some bread. I have an excess of wine, and I have these sausages. I thought it might be nice to share them with a friend."

"Heh, you know, I'm close to a thousand years older than you Father, so I'm not so sure son is appropriate. But I appreciate the food. Is Father Fulgino going to give you trouble for this?"

The old man shifted on the rock he was seated on, to get a better view of the sea below them. "Don't worry yourself about Father Fulgino, I am still the senior priest here, and what he does and doesn't do is still approved of by me."

"Well then, not to tell you your business, you might have some words with him about coming up here and berating people. Pipo and Nuncia brought me their little Lagia to take over, and he followed up behind them, and went on about me being some sort of unholy monster, or a demon! That just isn't right Father, I've been helping the people here cross over for time out of mind. As long as there's been a Portum Querques, I've been here. That takes a lot of nerve, especially from a man who claims to be holy."

"My friend, he's from Rome, and he has... well... ideas. He doesn't understand our ways, and thinks that we're nearly pagans."

"Hmph. I was protecting souls back when his people were running around like a pack of barbarians. I didn't toss him out on his butt, but if he comes up here again and berates grieving parents like that... well, next time, he's going to see exactly what this spirit can do."

"Don't concern yourself my friend, now in happier news, I just so happen to have this jar of wine, and it seems to me that it best if we emptied it so I can get it filled again."

"I like the way you think Father, it might just so happen I've got some cheese to go with that bread and wine."

*****

The old woman was crying, and he put a hand on her shoulder, "I need you to take a deep breath Widow Carosi and tell me what's happening."

"Oh pius phasmatis," she took a ragged breath, "Father Tedesco has passed and Father Fulgino won't let us bring him here."

"Why that rotten, lousy.... Widow, I can't leave this place. There's nothing I can do, you have to bring him to me."

"But we can't, he forbids it!"

"Widow, I knew your father, your mother, and have known your family since they first piled one rock on top of another to make their first home. They smuggled things past the Etruscans, past the Romans, and now past whoever it is that they smuggle things. If you can't find a way to get him here, you are going to bring shame to them." He squeezed her shoulder gently, "Yours are a clever people, and I need you to use your cleverness. He can't watch the Father all the time, you'll know the right time to bring him. Now be careful on your way down, you're not as young as you used to be. Just get him here, and I'll make sure he goes to his just rewards."

"As you say pius phasmatis, I'll do this, we'll do this."

"Gods' speed, I have faith in you, and yours.

*****

Father Fulgino held the torch over his head as he stepped through the simple stone arch into the sepulcher.

"Ah ha! I knew I'd find him in here. Those peasants... they don't realize how they're placing their souls in jeopardy, and his. Leaving him at your mercy's!"

The dark stone figure stood up, from where had been sitting in vigil by the still body of Father Tedesco. "It's mercy that keeps me from picking you up and kicking you all the way to the Adriatic. Tedie asked me to be kind to you, and out of regards for his memory, I will. Besides, it's nearly time."

"Time for what," said Fulgino, "for your dark master to come for him? I'm ready for you and whatever deviltry you may try!" He brandished the silver cross in the direction of the stoney figure.

"Oh, knock it off. That doesn't work on me." The figure seemed to grow, and shift, and soon towered over Fulgino. Where there had been just stone before, he wore armor, that reminded Fulgino the frescoes he had seen in some of the older houses in Rome. The spirit looked like a legionare. It reached into a dark corner, and pulled out a brutal looking axe. Fulgino shook, but stood his ground.

"I do not know what you have planned, malum phasmatis, but you shall not desecrate his corpse! In the Lord's name, I rebuke you!"

To Fulgino's horror, the spirit raised his axe up over his head and swung it down. Fulgino brandished his cross and waited for the killing blow.

The spirit twisted the axe as it descended and blade struck the floor of sepulcher which rung like a bell. When Fulgino opened his eyes, the sepulcher was gone, and so was Father Tedesco's body. In it's place was a young man that the spirit helped up off of the pedestal he had been lying on.

"What witchery is this?!? What have you done with Father Tedesco."

"I'm right here Fulgino. Did you think I pictured myself as an old man? Ha!"

"Father, it's time," said the spirit looking at Tedesco. He turned to Fulgino, "You can stay here if you want, or for once, you can make yourself useful. There's things between here, and where the Father is going that won't want him to make it. Bring your torch, because these are things that fear the light."

Fulgino looked at him, clutched his cross to his chest, and raised the torch higher. "I do not trust you spirit, and I will not leave you alone with Father Tedesco."

"All right then, be that way. But when the time comes, and it will come, when battle is upon us, just be sure to stay out of the way."
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TinMan DG

Smoke and Scales

"I have a task for you," the Dragon of the Coast whispered into her ear. His human form was all knees and elbows but somehow hypnotically graceful as he whirled his enforcer around the dance floor.

Smoke did not love his parties, the press of bodies and wafts of smells -- one moment the buffet loaded with delicacies for a variety of species, the next the sharp, unmistakable scent of undeodorized armpits, now a spilled drink, now the dry dust-tickle of dragon scales and the slightly musty smell of his ancient and somewhat poorly preserved powdered wig. Her employer was capricious when the party mood struck him; the current to-do mixed Baroque dress with thumping, bass-driven industrial and trance tracks running one into the next without pause.

"I am yours to command." Smoke didn't need to raise her voice. The Dragon didn't need her agreement.

More dizzying loops, and the Dragon's mad merry laughter. Fingernails like claws pressed into the space between her shoulder blades, not to hurt but to hold. "My precious one, so solemn. A little black cloud drifting through my party. Why do you continue to attend?"

Because you wish it. Because I love you. She didn't need to say anything.

The Dragon went still, Smoke still captive in his arms. One of a hundred rotating miniature spotlights traced white over his cheek, setting the faintest outlines of scales to glinting. "Someone is betraying me. I need you to be my arm, my justice." All delight left his eyes. "Do what you do best, love."

He planted a noisy kiss on her forehead and released her, spinning and swaying back into the crush of dancers. Smoke bowed as he moved away, surrounded but not engulfed. Any one of his brood could find him in the most crowded room in less than the space of a blink.

She let her body go to smoke, then drift away from the dance floor. Someone reached out to trail fingers through the swirl of grey mist, but she didn't stop.

She had work to do.
Lethal lagomorph

Sonata

Zursiel pulled at the shirt, rather more formal than he was used. The Paragon Symphony Orchestra though wasn't a place where a t-shirt and kilt would really fit in. He stood near the top of the steps, waiting for Katie.

And there she was, taller than many, and a delicate shade of blue. Unlike so many of the others, she did not blend in. He moved down the stairs, and when they were at eye level, smiled at her.

"I'm glad you could make it."
Serenity Dear diary...

Lights, Sirens, and Ghosts

Her chest ached and her lungs burned, but all in all, Alicia Xaeron was pretty pleased with her evening. She'd been ballsy enough to get herself a near-promise of a date with a hottie hot hottie from the PPD "cape squad".

Oh, and she'd saved kids in a burning building, too.

But as the ambulence pulled up, lights flashing and siren wailing, she felt like a little kid herself. Her heart thudded in her chest. Chill, Xaeron. It'll be okay.

The paramedics were efficient and gentle as they bundled her into the back of the ambulence and hooked her up to an oxygen mask. Detective Cobalt Jones kept his promise and climbed in to sit beside her. Thank Gawd they didn't insist on strapping her to a gurney. That would have been the ultimate embarassment.

She could already hear the voices.

...what will the kids do without...

...left that project unfinished...

...where's my mommy?

Ghostly echoes of the other people who had ridden in this ambulence and didn't quite make it to the hospital. Ever since that bus accident in first grade, Alicia had been all too sensitive to the words and wishes of the dearly departed. Most of the time she could block it out, or at least keep the volume to a manageable level.

But when she was sick, hurt, or just plain exhausted, the voices were loud.

The hand holding the oxygen mask against her face started to tremble.
Newrotic2

Blood Red and the Seven Mystics

Vashti was in the Pocket place again. As much as she hated the crush of people, she liked the feeling of distance from the never-ending call.

Come back to me, Vashti. Come back, beautiful one. You belong here, you belong to me.

She shook her head and stepped out onto the dance floor. The glass walls and floor, the space surrounding her was dizzying. Good. That made the call even softer. She stumbled, reaching out blindly for support, and found none.

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Lethal lagomorph

Refills are free.

Mom smiled at Zursiel, "How's my favorite angel today?"

"Well enough, could I get a booth please, for two?"

"Two? Well, well, well. Not the counter huh? Not sure how Sam is going to feel about not being able to see his customer." She winked at him, "how about this one, hot stuff?"

"That would be fine, thank you."
Newrotic2

Full Court Press

It had become a bit of a tradition quickly: every Thursday, Rina would join Rennie, Xentaras, and the Boys at the suite at the Giza to watch As the Tide Rises.

This week, she showed up a little early, hoping to catch some quality time with Zenna and William before the television antics began. As usual, she knocked on the door as she unlocked it, just to warn them that she was inbound.

"Hello? Anybody home?"

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