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Do I really have to?

One. More. Night.

It was all that came to mind while listening to the ever continuing and surrounding hum of the cicadas. They were something of a trade mark to the south, as were the frequent moss hangings from the trees, some how beautiful, and annoying. As were the creepy, two-headed love bugs, the boiled peanut stands, the over-enthusiastic college football fans, and the not-so-occasional confederate flag.

He wouldn't have been so bothered if the atmosphere had been a little different. If perhaps, they'd been really needed, all in some true danger. Yes, there had been "devil workins, 'round" but it was all small fry stuff.

Crossing his arms casually, Royce glanced at the woman in charge. She wore that smile that wasn't so pretty, and he wondered how much longer he should just stand there without interrupting. How much longer could she honestly take. Lowering his eyes, he instantly regretted looking away from the far lesser evil that was the smile.

Oh. My--

He'd never seen such...dirty feet.

I'm sorry.

His eyes quickly snapped up and away to find an approaching Rachel. Good.

Would she save them?

He hoped-- and then from yards away came... devil music. Perhaps a good escape, in itself.

Without looking at the van, Royce rose his chin toward St. Vier. "I'll get it."

Starting at a slow trot, the man's speed picked up with each step until he met the back of the van. Hands quickly tugged at the handle, but naturally, he'd locked the doors. "Uh..." He moved along the van toward the front, and dug into his pocket, retrieving a key. He'd had the spare since earlier that morning when he'd needed to use the van for an important phone call (oddly, he couldn't get reception at the inn). Good thing he'd kept it. Even more so, good thing he'd had a legit excuse to use the van.

"Aren't you a little old for these type of stunts?" His upper body hung in the van, hands reaching out toward the player to stop the blaring.
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St. × Vier
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Canned music cut over the scene, theme music to an already superfluous encounter, and St. Vier’s smile melted at the edges.

She perked visibly at Rachel’s interruption. Just as visibly captured control, smoothed her features to polite interest.

”Ah. Excuse me.” Back away, back away…She placed a light hand at Rachel’s elbow, taking the opportunity to whisk the two of them away in the name of professionalism.

The music grew suddenly in volume, lyrics strained to fill the air momentarily, bucking over something sharp and squealing. St. Vier kept an ear on it, hoping for a sudden cut-off.

“…good save Belleza” St. Vier murmured gratefully once the two of them were a few quick steps away. The Belleza was slightly forced. St. Vier had tried ‘my child,’ ‘sister’ and the like upon first receiving her new name—all the titles she might, in good faith, have taken for herself if the Church had not invoked her status as saint. Even before the Church had revoked her status as a living saint it had quickly turned…forced; a satire of herself. She was no one’s mother; better not to pretend. It had been a relief to retire to the usual courtesies, but inexplicably she'd found it difficult to change the uncomfortable pattern.

“I was hoping to use this mission to induct you formally.” It would have been a good oppurtunity to do so; if everything had been as expected here. St. Vier's eyes unfocused, remembering the team’s last induction; it hadn't been that long ago, really. A shame.

Flashes of memory: Deliberate overdosing, bringing the temptation of hellfire to the fore.

A man sobbing as he prayed, face twisted in some strong emotion. Limbs moving deftly, as if under some other power’s control, cutting through black flesh that moved to press against his cheek, seeking to engulf him…

Closeup on dilated eyes, shaking pupils and twitching eyelids.

//No. Satan, I reject you// This said through gritted teeth.

St. Vier standing in the background, lips moving soundlessly as she pointed a high-caliber pistol in the direction of the man’s head…Lips curling from teeth, core strengthening in preparation…he had seemed so strong...

St. Vier’s eyes refocused, took inventory; appraised Rachel in one long sweep. She couldn’t let herself get attached until she knew; it wasn’t a sure thing, that explicit rejection of the power they all relied on. Not once it was taken to that extreme point; it felt wonderful…

”Sadly, it would have been inappropriate for…this.” A dismissive wave at the entirety of their week.
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Sheoth × Azuriel
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"Ain't no such thing as too old. Too decrepid, sure, but that's not one that'll be applying to me anytime this side of the End of Days." Faster than Sheoth had hoped, and it was coming to an end. He honestly hadn't looked at what exactly it was that was playing; some battered old album case with some generic icon with wings, standard fare for abandonment in nearly everyone's glovebox. Idly, he toyed with the idea of crushing the hand that snaked for the player, kicking and bracing against the seat to break as many bones as possible. Of course, he also knew that he just... Couldn't. Frustrating.

"You're starting to look like that's getting to be a problem, actually." A half smirk, as he eyed over the tired looking man. It was satisfying, really, in a sad sort of way. He didn't want to see burned out, ruined husks, and at the same time he knew that this was one step closer to a way out. One strung out meant more were on their way; willpower only counted for so much when your body was what you were fighting.

"Heh. Go on, old man. Turn that darn noise down." The smirk turned into a cruel smile, then a look of raw disgust.

"Then complain about how us kids have no values, but expect me to help you with your frailty. Get my help by any means except making me grateful, or goodness forbid, proud to associate. I'm sure I owe you something." It was an unkind metaphor, but one the the Fallen found particularly effective on Americans. They were either proud, conflicted, or disgusted. Neutrality was an amazingly rare trait.

Small mercies.
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Ah, and such good timing too. Rachel echoed St. Vier's smile and nodded a polite little apology to the villagers

She watched for a moment as Royce headed toward the van, grateful for the man's volunteering. She wouldn't readily admit it, but time and time again she was surprised by just how human the incubus seemed. Blasting the car radio to piss people off? That's something her high school boyfriend would have done to make her laugh. And it threw her off everytime. To her, Sheoth should have been... something else. Something like the time she had taken her first dose of blood with the group, taken a glance of the Fallen's face and immediately vomitted. Funny though, she could deal with her doped-up visions of any other demon. It was just Sheoth, perhaps because his odd, almost intimate relation to the group and her normal interaction with him in his "polite" form.

"I'm glad to help," she responded. She idly walked toward the van, not particularly desiring to go anywhere else in this village.

The woman caught St. Vier's expression as the other woman talked again, this time about inductions and more disappointments. She herself just had a general idea of what was to take place and was eager for it above all things. A tad scared, but ready to go for the next step. Maybe even hungry for it, especially when faced with the idleness of their current mission. But there--the sweep of her leader's eyes--made her wonder. Rachel really still didn't have a clue about things.

"That's what I've been meaning to ask about." She shifted the strap of her rifle. "The inappropriateness of this. Is it... normal for Escariot to make mistakes like this, placing us here? Or maybe the population was just very convincing?"
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St. × Vier
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It was a legitimate question. One she, unfortunately, didn’t have an answer to. Not the kind of answer that would have been optimal in this situation—no statistics to show how unlikely it was that an Escariot team was misinformed in this day and age (their webmasters were second to none), without the actual transcripts of the initial distress calls in-hand.

Her weight shifted in annoyance—she’d intended to file for information as soon as they returned.

”It’s never happened before” she answered after a moment’s pause.

”It’s not just the distress calls. We never would have been sent to an unverified site…the Seventh isn’t a first responder.” There were too many political misgivings with the nature of the Seventh—they were wrapped in layers of bureaucracy. At the moment, it led to being sent on fewer missions, sure, but the missions they were sent on…they were always heavy, always desperate.

St. Vier had no idea what had happened. It was an uncomfortable position to be in, with a likely new recruit. She peered at Rachel out of the corner of her eye, tapping the butt of the Marlin against her thigh.

”…Honestly, I don’t know what’s happened. I’m going to call in on my free hours tonight.” That was the best she could say, really.

”First watch starts in twenty minutes. You want to get it over with? I can tap Whinton if you’re not keen.”

((setup posts…))
Do I really have to?

Words picked with clumsy, jagged nails at Royce’s skin. He had been comfortable. But the squeeze of embarrassment on his insides and the heat that came from that place, had destroyed it.

For a moment it reminded him of everything. Everything he never wanted to do, but had to, and the way it made him less and less himself. The things he’d given up, and all he’d gotten back for it.

He looked to the creature and felt so much anger suddenly. It wasn’t his fault, and yet it was. Briefly he imagined what it’d feel like to take his gun and blow him away. Destroy that human face and body, and give with the bullets, all the trouble he’d ever given him, and the others.

…It was difficult living with it; something that you needed, but should destroy, and could not trust. There was always that fear—it would get the better of him. And only him. He’d be the weak link of the team, of his class, of his family.

Looking away, he smiled and snapped the plastic, twice. He knew that showing he was bothered would only make the other satisfied, but it seemed sometimes, his only release. He threw the broken pieces toward the other’s face.

Shut up--dog.

Crude and unsophisticated. But he felt a knot loosen as he hopped out off the van and headed toward the women.
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Sheoth × Azuriel
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Unsurprising. Everything, the reactions, the lack of real outcome. But it was all part of the long game. Just whittle and work; at the end of the day, as strong as anyone claimed to be, they could only stand to be around people who liked them. The Seventh had made a serious mistake, in that department. They kept their people near to Sheoth, let him pick at them like the scabs they were. They could never fully unwind, never fully let their guard down, never just relax.

He didn't need to be that dangerous, or even that clever. The forced proximity meant it'd be enough to act like a highschool bully, and eventually someone would fold. Of course, he was more dangerous that that. And a lot cleverer.

That meant, though, that he also had to be more tactful than a bully; he couldn't chase after Royce, taunt him until he gave in to anger just out of exhaustion. Indeed, that kept him locked in the sweltering van, waiting as always for a real chance to do something. Anything. He sighed, and dug in the esky for a shard of ice, sucking on it as he pulled off his t-shirt. Contrary to their belief, he hadn't grown up in a lake-of-fire-side cabin. He could tolerate the heat, but didn't enjoy it.

"...You're not supposed to leave dogs in hot cars." He idly mused, mentally adding animal cruelty to the list of things he'd hold them accountable for at the end of this.
Moonlit Shadow's avatar

Sex Symbol


Rachel nodded, gaze wandering out to the marsh around them as she mulled over the information. Her leader pretty much thought the same thing. She shouldn't have really been surprised, but it all still worried her. Made her paranoid about it.

The woman took a long breath and blew it out slow as she rolled her shoulders back. She met St. Vier's eyes again, managing a smile, trying to convey that she was at least glad that the other woman was concerned about them and particularly her--the rookie--and how she felt about it. Rachel wasn't used to being the one looked after.

"I can take up the shift; no problem. I should be grateful about nothing happening anyhow, but maybe I'm just so used to... so eager to stomp something in the face," she said. And then, as an afterthought, as if to justify it even more, "Plus, I just changed and freshened up anyhow."

She raised a hand as she saw Royce exit the van. She thought about what to say, but settled on a neutral smile before checking her watch to make sure she'd be where she had to be in time.
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St. × Vier
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Relieved of first watch, expected to be a dull chore at best, St. Vier holed up in the parish the four of them had taken as their week-long base. It was an old building, the pews worn down to shining, the surface uneven and knobbly with the pressure of generations of behinds wearing their own uneven spots. St. Vier’s feet rested on threadbare kneeling stands, once-plush velvet spotty where, here and there, a lady’s high heel or a child’s bored scuffing had torn through and been carefully sewn closed. Even the floors bowed slightly toward the altar, showing shining points where processions of altar boys and rhapsodizing priests had waved incense at their steadfast congregation for who-knew-how-long.

Caressing the back of this selfsame pew, St. Vier held a smart phone to one ear, calling in to her superiors, ready to demand an explanation for this monumental waste of time. She’s been waiting, patiently; ready for a last minute surge of activity, ready for the sickly feeling that hung around this place to manifest into…something. Instead, a near-void. The kind of low-grade activity most towns would be lucky to have. Fingers tapped as the phone rang. And rang. And rang.

It was a 24-hour line. …maybe a new receptionist, someone unfamiliar with the phone system? With an annoyed grunt, St. Vier cut the call, dialed again, dialing straight in past the system to input an officer’s extension. It rang twice, and cut—straight to voicemail.

Mild apprehension showed in a tightening around the mouth, and she left a terse message: ”St. Vier. Your system is kicking me. Fire your receptionist. Oh, and call me back immediately.” Small kick to the ego; she wasn’t used to having to leave messages.

The corners of her mouth turned down, and after a moment she dialed a third number; a personal number, the direct line to a leader of another prominent team. He wasn’t in the area, but he was influential—he could give her a contact. There would be no reason for this one not to answer; he was her elder brother, after all. Blood still meant something.

The line didn’t even ring. An automated message came on, a pleasant voice informing her that the number she’d dialed had been disconnected.

She brought the phone away from her face, stared down at it with a surprised snarl twisting her lips.

What…was going on?

The air had been cooler inside, and comfortable with the faint, yet determined scent of old incents, and candles. In the back of it all, the sweet, slight smell of the semi-fragrant holy water.

It was soothing, the quiet and solitude. Or nearly.

Before the alter Royce comfortably kneeled, hands together and head bowed. His first thought was to give thanks to his heavenly father, for providing him yet another day, and all of the days that had passed him. His next thought was usually to ask for forgiveness, and admit that he was unworthy of God and his graces. However, his mind had skipped straight on to his mother. She’d been sick for some time, but the doctors had informed that her days were now numbered. The sickness had grew, and her body wasn’t getting any stronger. He prayed for her body and soul, but he knew that there was nothing to hope for, her time was coming, and soon. It meant that there would be no desire to go home, and that the glue between him and the other men in his life would be gone. They likely wouldn’t have much reason to see each other after her funeral. The possibility that her death would bring them closer, as his mother wished, was slight. Perhaps, unlike most families, in theirs, it was quite clear to see who were favorites and who were not. And things that should have died at adulthood still lived because they were nearly repeated, and never addressed.

Sad that they couldn't have been like a normal family, or at least a fraction of the normal they were made to pretend to be. He didn't know what would happen to his father after her death, but knew that there wouldn't be much more than there had been between them.

With a deep sigh, Royce slowly opened his eyes and brought a knee up. He looked to the cross on the alter and made one over his chest, “Gracias, Dios.” He blew a small kiss, and muttered a quick, but appropriate prayer from childhood before standing.

He didn't feel much lighter than he had before the prayer, unfortunately, but he did still smile at the statue, left to the alter, and spoke some quiet words before remembering that he hadn't been alone.

Shoulders tensed just slightly, hearing the woman on the other side of the room. He'd felt alone in his prayers, and they'd been slightly more intimate than he would have allowed with someone else around. But… discomfort was hardly present. They all did this, and he’d known St. Vier for years--he’d known Emma, for years. Never so well as now, but he’d known her name, and her face--before now. Warm and bright and stark with life. She'd seemed different then, but they all had.

He moved down the center of the room toward her, listening, until he stood above her.

You’re having trouble reaching them?” Them, they had names, but often seemed too similar to separate.

His brows furrowed at the idea. Unnatural for them to not be able to reach anyone, or for her, to not be able to reach anyone. Eyes lowered to the woman's mouth where it seemed to fight. "Hm. Perhaps, by email?" Without hesitating, Royce pulled out his own phone and attempted the internet.

Best to assume, and not assume. To be calm, but expect... what shouldn't be. This whole week had been odd.
Elisha T. Martin

Elisha had gotten a little time to sleep in, with the rest of the team away still on that mission in whatever hellish American hole they’d been sent to this time. For once, he had not gone with them, deemed unnecessary. It was just as well; Elisha enjoyed a little time to himself to work on his own projects, the most present of which rested on his workbench – an imp’s former plaything of a dagger. Something formerly human, warped by passage in and out of Hell, he was certain. He’d yet had the chance to test it on anything living, but the animal flesh he’d supplied had bled black blood which had burned holes into his bench and the floor below. A dagger that produced acid? What a nice little toy.

He smiled at it as he left his Spartan bedroom and headed for the kitchen. The post was in early, letters and newspapers in a neat pile by the coffeemaker. Scratching at an ankle with his toe, he set the espresso maker to boil and checked for messages on his cell phone. Nothing; one of those rare quiet mornings, then. Considering some of the mornings Elisha had had to deal with in his time during and before working with Seventh Trumpet, he’d take the silences when he got them and be grateful.

The team were an hour overdue for checking in. Every twelve hours, on the dot, unless there was an emergency, he expected to hear St. Vier reciting a report of happenings, demons slayed, and what nonsense her pet got himself into this time. By hour eleven, Elisha very nearly looked forward to it, every time it rolled around. He had been up and showered and eating his breakfast over a newspaper, ear perked for the ring of his cell phone when his internal timer had gone off in a silent scream.

St. Vier had never missed a report before. And what was worse, Elisha was coming to realize by hour thirteen that he was cut off from contacting Rome as well as his team. Seventh Trumpet was one thing; they wandered into some particularly bad patches of the earth, sometimes reception was down. There were excuses other than the assumption that the team had been killed off (and that was highly unlikely) to explain why the system refused to offer him a dial tone. The net was down entirely, and he had spent twenty minutes gutting the modem before realizing that the tech was perfectly fine.

Something was blocking him from getting word in out, or in. Seventh Trumpet headquarters was cut off in a way it had never been before and was certainly never supposed to be. Putting the hardware back together with a groan, he hunted the complex for a landline. Those were harder to block than wifi and cell service. He found one much abused cordless phone left buried under paper and debris on a bench in the back of the workroom, and breathed a prayer of thanks as he picked it up to hear a dial tone. Calls could still be blocked, but he could hack those if he needed.

Perhaps whoever had put Seventh Trumpet's Headquarters under its little lockdown hadn't thought they'd still hold to the ways of supposedly outmoded technology. Thumb pressed the number in by heart, hoping that it went through.

"It'd be great to hear a friendly voice," he murmured as he held up the earpiece, holding on for a ring. If they were locked out entire, he'd have to use more drastic measures to figure out what was wrong, measures he didn't much enjoy.
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Sheoth × Azuriel
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Time wore on. Maybe it was just minutes; after a while, Azuriel stopped paying attention to preserve his sanity. He could obsess over the seconds creeping by, or hope that somehow, hours would blur together.

However long it had been, it was too long almost immediately. Vier was controlling, not in the obsessing over tiny points that couldn't be changed way, but in the things ran how she wanted way. When they were done chasing bugbears and bogeymen, the show got on the road rather quickly. The fact that it hadn't meant something was up. Maybe they'd found something out there? The Fallen wondered at what it could possibly be, in this swamp-a** part of the world; truthfully, no-one really cared about places like this. Not Heaven, not Hell. There were barely enough people here to warrant a glance, and the people who were here?

Neither side really wanted them.

What happened out here, in these unbearable parts of existence, was only ever distraction. A way to get people like Escariot to pay attention. Usually, they knew better. Or maybe, they'd just turned a blind eye, decided it was too small a battle to bother fighting. Maybe they didn't even know. That might explain why anything at all was happening, why he was sweltering his a** off in the back of a van. They'd only just figured out these people weren't (totally) crazy. Just mostly.

He'd have been happy for the Seventh to waste their time out here, burning resources on absolutely nothing of worth. But it was boring enough as is without adding living in the boondocks to his list of problems. And, more importantly, it was hard to do damage to the group's cohesion if nothing was happening. He needed opportunities to get leverage. Which meant he had to fix whatever hiccup had derailed their circus train.

"I don't know what's wrong, but I bet I can fix it." Sheoth announced as he swung open the van doors, hoping that he was right, and that it'd spare him any admonishment for not following his 'stay exactly there' orders.
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St. × Vier
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St. Vier mulled over her phone for a moment, trying to take comfort from the smells that seemed to linger in ever parish, no matter the location. Wood polish. Sweat (just barely, and only when your head was pressed against the pew in front of you, as St. Vier’s was now). A hint of incense, in something spicier than usual. That lingered in anything fabric, cloaking and simultaneously adding to the musk of old wood itself.

St. Vier moved muscled forearms under her face at a whisper of sound across the parish, perching on the edge of the pew. So situated, she watched—first with mild curiosity, then an odd avidity as the other Seventh member engaged with his God. A private act—St. Vier’s own mother had often expressed the opinion that prayer wasn’t something to be done in front of other people. It was private; a necessary, like going to the bathroom or washing after a long day. The idea had stuck in St. Vier’s mind as a child, and she’d blushed when saying her prayers in church, tucked against her father’s side--thinking of her community watching her on the toilet. It helped that each of them was praying too. It helped her understand the concept of courtesy; a mutual ignoring of regular intimacy in favor of the community.

When she was watching someone pray alone, that initial childhood mixture of embarrassment and thrill, the feeling of getting away with doing something private in public, came back to her in a rush. Electricity cracked across her shoulderblades as Royce discovered her presence, and she swallowed before answering his easy question.

”Nothing. I even tried Koen. It’s weird—Elisha should be in, at least.” As if speaking his name had summoned him, St. Vier’s phone rang, startling her.

”Hello?” she called into the phone, not waiting to check the number.

”Elisha, is that you?”

Scritch. Scritch —scritch. The noise was barely irregular, coming from the opposite side of the van to the one Sheoth had just left. It was a testing sound, a bare scoring—the kind of sound a rosebush might make if it were to brush against a house.

A face pressed against the back window, so hard against the glass his nose and lips were distorted. He. Any of them might have recognized the man as coming from among the ranks of the overly-grateful earlier that day. They had purified his hearth (a word that, these days, ended up meaning ‘stove’ more often than not). He licked the glass, then tilted his head and made the scritching sound, that semi-irregular scratching.One, suddenly sharp front tooth left a white mark as he scored the glass with it.

There were a lot of little white marks.


First watch had proven uneventful. After eight o’clock, most of the businesses closed completely, leaving in some cases nothing but a neon sign in the window advertising some national chain of beer.

Around the edges of the town, where the sparse trees thickened ever-so-slightly, something stirred on four feet. It shied away from the few, flickering streetlights, pebbled flesh reddening and expelling clear fluid whenever it wasn’t quick enough and the light hit a bit it. It was roughly humanoid—naked and pale, but with the correct number of limbs, the right ratio of torso to leg. Belly, sex, and cheeks were distended, horribly swollen to comic proportions, impeding its shuffling movement.

It moved with the air of someone on a mission, its hesitant steps clear and purposeful. It moved toward a residence on the fringes of town, pulling itself onto the porch with only a moment of difficulty. No subtlety was spent on the door. It began beating its body against it, leaving greasy smears on the cheap, particle-board frame. After only a few moments of this ramming, the door began to warp, bending in on itself. It would give way soon.

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