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Realistic or Modern Moonlit Retreats [Closed]

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  1. Supernatural

Syntra

Baba Yaga
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It was never going to work out.

Lilian should have known, and also had known, to an extent, but it turned out hope was a stupid fucking thing. I also believed in all of that. With all my heart. So, why can’t you make that leap? Of course, the simplest explanation was that Deana wasn’t her. Deana was Deana, and they both believed and disbelieved in their own ways, based on… a lot of factors. Too many things were different for them, even if twice as many were the same. And hadn’t Lilian admired it about her? This… steadfastness? In Deana’s eyes, things were so uncomplicated, as long as you walked with God. Any wound could heal, any pain would go away. The good guys would win, in the end; if they didn’t, it just wasn’t the end. It would all work out, in time. Why question God’s decisions, when He knew best?

An easy mindset to envy!

Also an easy mindset to resent, though.

Especially now.

“I don’t know what I’d like you to say,” Lilian admitted, with a sigh. “I just thought that maybe…” maybe you’d be more reasonable, “…maybe we could come to some sort of agreement. See things from the other’s perspective.” But they couldn’t. They couldn’t, they wouldn’t, and both of them were likely aware by now, as much as it hurt. “I guess it’s a sliding scale? Y’know, the shit that we are willing to believe, based on what we see.” And no, they didn’t find themselves on the same end of it. Not at all. Maybe Lilian had thought that they were at least somewhat closer – close enough for her to grasp Deana’s hand, perhaps – but nope, tough luck. You could fucking fit an entire ocean between them!

(An ocean was what she would have liked between them now, too. Several of them. With the distance, it would have been harder to hurt each other… but they weren’t so lucky. Of course not.)

So, the translation is: ‘Either disappear, or I will hunt you.’ Lilian’s own eyes stung, though she wiped the tears away before they could really fall, and took a sip to steady herself. (Spoiler alert: nope, didn’t fucking work. Admittedly, not even a straightjacket would have.) “I’m not destroying anything,” she blurted out. “I’m not, and it’s sad that you can’t see that. I just…” Want to understand. Want to fix this. Not that awesome of a goal when there wasn’t anything to fix, though. According to Deana, this was fine.

Everything about it – the secrecy, the outright lies, the lives destroyed. More than that, they should be grateful for God’s guidance!

And, yeah, that thought was so unbearable that Lilian could no longer take it. Any of this, but especially this meeting. “I’m sorry, Deana,” she said, rising from her chair, “I won’t hurt you if I can help it but – yeah. You know I can’t leave this alone. Traitors’ blood, I guess.” A low blow, “Thanks for everything.”

With that, she headed for Cassidy’s table, caring fuck all that Deana could see. She also cared fuck all that it must have looked very intimate when she placed her hand on Cass’s shoulder, with this blatant casualness, “We’re leaving,” Lilian announced. “No, it did not go well, and yes, she knows who you are. Probably recognized you from some picture. Next time I see her, she’ll try to kill me, but at least we’ve got that cleared up! Yay for transparency, right?” Alright, maybe she was freaking out a little.

~***~

A deicide! That was almost better than a date, as far as Inga was concerned. She had flirted with the idea, once or twice; after all, there was this belief that vampires shared a common ancestor, and she’d figured that killing them would… uh, kill her as well? Or at least make her mortal? Something like that. But, much like most of Inga’s plans, this one had also never produced any results. For one, tracking this pseudo-Cain had been a giant pain in the ass. Couldn’t he have, like, left an address behind? No? Apparently not!

That Inga doubted he existed in the first place was another thing entirely.

So far, her leading theory on the origin of vampires was… evolution, basically. A different branch than the one humanity followed, to be sure, but nothing you could really call supernatural in the most basic sense of the word. Nature was weird, so why the hell not? There were critters who could change their sex at will, fish that glowed in the dark, and mammals that laid eggs. In the grand scheme of things, almost-humans that drank blood weren’t that out there.

Of course, most vampires didn’t like the idea. Much like humans did, they also preferred to believe they were special. And wasn’t that oh so ironic?

“Alright,” she nodded, with a big grin, “Sounds like a plan. Can’t say I’ve killed a god before, but I’ll be happy to add it to my CV! Man, I’m going to be so impressive by the end of this, I’ll have to chase the fangirls away.”

Or, you know, change her name and move to the other end of the Earth. Or Mars. Planning to massacre the Veturia was bad enough, but this somehow felt… worse? More apocalyptic?

It was also why it interested her so much to begin with. Inga would always be Inga, at the end of the day.

There was little reason to linger afterwards, aside from confirming that Joseph was safe from her. Inga promptly did so and then it was time for her to… well, return to what remained of her home? If it had ever been that.

Not that many things had survived, but enough of them had. In a strange parallel to Antonia, she packed her things, only choosing to throw away the ones that could no longer be salvaged. Thankfully, the hunters hadn’t known what they’d been looking at; the glass parts in a lot of her machines 100% had to be replaced, but the rest of it seemed mostly fine.

How do I move it, though? And where to?

Sighing in defeat, Inga grabbed her phone. “Hey, Maya? Hope I didn’t wake you up!”

“Oh my god, is the world ending? Is that it, Inga? Are the horsemen knocking?”

Inga frowned. “Pretty sure they wouldn’t knock, that’s not what they are about. And why would it?”

“Because you’re calling. On your own! And it hasn’t even been a year.”

A fair point. “Touché,” Inga chuckled, “the thing is, I need to move. Like, yesterday. Do you know of any… convenient locations in town, and can you send a truck my way? Some of those machines are pretty hea--”

“You know you can always crash at my place for a few weeks, right?”

“No.” Inga was used to her privacy, thank you very much, and she also didn’t want to drag her into the… whole vendetta thing against the Veturia. Maya didn’t deserve that. Few people did. “Listen, I found a new hobby, and it’s probably going to kill me? Not a great time to catch up.”

She could almost hear the eye-roll. “Any difference from your usual hobbies?”

“This one is worse!”

“YOU are getting worse, Inga. With each passing second.”

That couldn’t really be argued with. “Yes, and?”

“…I know of an abandoned hospital, not strictly in town but close enough. Sounds like that would be up your alley?”

“Ooo,” Inga’s happiness was palpable, “an upgrade!”
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Lilian really did mean to destroy it all. Sure, she tried to deny it, her tears even came as she realized what she was committing to, yet she couldn’t even say what it was she just. Of course, Deana had ideas. She wanted answers that Deana didn’t have, answers no one could have! Well, perhaps Michael, or others of the Seven – and perhaps it would even be good if they shared it – but she was going to go about getting those answers in ways that would kill others.

Other hunters that Deana, also, loved.

Lilian had already hurt her by being willing to hurt the others. “Lilian!” Of course, Deana rose as Lilian gave that comment about traitor’s blood, and of course, she called out, but to no avail. She was left standing in the coffee shop, probably to all the world looking like a terrible mother as her daughter reunited with…

With….

‘Oh.’

Deana had a moment of clarity when she imagined how she looked, when Lilian joined a woman outside. It looked as if she was standing in the way of a relationship between two women, and how strange that it did look just like that as she observed their reunion from within. ‘Have you truly…?’ Could it be that, already? Well, why not – vampires had once been used interchangeably with Succubus and Incubus, why not? That vampiress could have corrupted Lilian with fleshly delights.

Deana didn’t want to think like that, but Lilian had a…checkered history with romances. ‘It isn’t that simple and you know it, Deana.’ She chided herself for it, but would only slump back into her chair and let them leave, let them get out without her disturbing it, as she contemplated what steps she should take next.

‘I have to tell Michael.’

That was at the heart of it.

She finished her latte.

She left, when they were gone, and once she was in her SUV, she called Michael. “I’ve had contact with Lilian.” She said after his greeting, almost monotonous in her own submission to the greater needs. “I…I’m sorry. I thought I could talk her back, or…at least help guide her back. I know it wasn’t my place, I….” her voice broke.

Michael didn’t respond in a rage, thankfully. He had been strangely cold after it all, and they all knew it was coming. Perhaps this would be the point – it wasn’t long after, a meeting was called for.

~***~

Cassidy had still kept glancing up at the situation inside, though the situation happening amongst the vampires was growing increasingly tense. ‘War.’ It echoed in her head, along with the new details about Inga and Antonia which threatened to break their already too-fragile alliance. ‘Threatened? No, it has.’ Because how would Antonia forgive this?

Cassidy wasn’t as close to her sire as she could be, but she still knew she’d want the one who killed him dead.

Or at least, an explanation.

What she knew from Tristan, there was no good explanation.

Not that the memes cared about sentimentality or reason, and she couldn’t stop herself from getting a chuckle, only to shift from amusement to concern as she saw Lilian and Deana both on the verge of tears – to inappropriate amusement again that caused her to put her phone away so she could not be grinning when Lilian came out.

There was nothing really to grin about, anyways.

So she was at least more properly somber and expectant when Lilian came out to meet her, and lifted her gaze to meet Lilian’s as she came close and touched her shoulder, automatically lifting a hand to cover Lilian’s. And squeezed her hand as she explained it all, in her terrible, false-cheerful, it’s-all-shit, way.

Cassidy glanced back in. ‘I don’t think she will.’ Cassidy didn’t say that, but nodded in agreement about leaving. Later, perhaps, she’d try to sow seeds that this wasn’t all bad, that this was a shock on both sides, even if she’d learn it was much less a shock on Deana’s side. “Okay, let’s go home and figure things out from there,” there was still a lot to figure out. She let her hand drop away from Lilian’s as she rose, and would lead the way out, not taking Lilian’s hand for at least a bit.

At least away from the café, and the hunter’s line of sight.

Home, of course, would lead to more discussions about it – and all Deana had known, and the unknowns she was willing to accept on faith. Cassidy would still hope that if they found something, they could convince Deana away from all of this. Deana was dear to Lilian and so by default, dear to Cassidy. She would try to save her, and everyone else.

Except – of course, she had to mention the issues in the world of vampires, and try to explain it as best she could.

“So, Inga killed Antonia’s sire. Basically like…like a parent.” How else to associate it? At least Lilian somewhat understood that, even if she hadn’t known hers. She knew the anger of losing them. It had driven her against vampires, after all.

“The vampires declared war on the hunters. More hunters will be coming, and I guess, uh…Felix’s werewolves are probably joining the fray.”

Well, Lilian deserved to know it was now all out war.

“Other vampires from further away might even be called in.”

Then came the arrangements. Antonia didn’t forget about the god thing in spite of it all, and Cassidy didn’t ask about Inga. Until, the day Inga was mentioned – curiously enough – as coming along. Cassidy decided to just play dumb and work on all the arrangements as if she’d never doubted it for a second, only then to learn Matteo died – Veturia guy, per Tristan.

‘What the fuck is even going on?’ Tristan said it was hunters, but when Cassidy told Lilian about it, apparently, it didn’t line up. Which…was what Cassidy expected, honestly. Antonia was still murdering. Or Inga was? Someone was.

Cassidy intended to play dumb and not get killed.

Although she didn’t like this whole ‘rent a car’ and separate from Lilian thing, she did go along with it, and picked up some foreign thing from the rental place, and used her GPS to get to the parking lot she was supposed to go to, mentally rolling her eyes about the stupid precautions.

Still, she made it, and she walked the rest of the way to the Church – after sending a text to Lilian to let her know she arrived safely, of course.

~***~

Antonia just arched a brow at Inga’s enthusiasm for deicide. To be fair, she would also be pleased to add ‘deicide’ to her list. Telling Amon she committed deicide would never get old, until the day he got tired of it and killed her, of course. A god killing a deicidal person was only proper. Still, it’d be a little bit of fun, until that day.

She had little else to say, and did indeed let Inga go away, calling Amon shortly after she reached her temporary stay. Sadly, she was sharing the same hotel with Tristan. Not the same room, of course, but sharing the same building was bad enough knowing he could pop down at any time to annoy the ever living fuck out of her because he was bored.

“Isn’t it early for you to have problems, Antony?” Amon asked with a stifled yawn through the phone.

“Inga’s off the table for now.”

“Tell me something surprising.”

Antonia sighed, pressing a couple of fingers to her brow, “I’m going to commit deicide.”

“Well we both knew it would one day come to this, although I didn’t expect warning.”

Antonia chuckled at that, smiling just a bit, “Not you,” she clarified, “I plan to tell you more when I can say more, but it relates to the hunters here. I’ll send you the details when I’m on my way, in case I don’t return.”

“You aren’t going to let me go?”

Someone I can trust needs to live to make sure this ends, and you’re the only one I trust to do that.”

“I’m touched.”

“Don’t be, it’s work,” Antonia said, “I’ll see you soon, Amon.”

“Bye~,” sing-song, of course, they hung up, and Antonia would begin to get her affairs in order, making sure her will was, in fact, updated as much as possible, along with everything else. One didn’t rush heedlessly to deal with a potential god, and Antonia was under no delusions of immortality. She redid her will about every century, and made sure it was lodged properly.

Yet another difficulty of vampirism, like IDs, was legal documentation – legal enough by human standards, and vampire standards. That immortality belief ran thick in vampiric circles; not many kept their affairs in order.

After that, it was just a matter of organizing the night with Inga, Cassidy, and Lilian, and making sure none of them would be traveling together, or parking in the same area, in case they needed to run, they’d have multiple options available to them. For that reason, Antonia wasn’t taking August. It was too well-known. She’d take the tried and true Marius, while Felix would take his own, horrendously nameless, car.

The fact Cassidy didn’t own a car just made Antonia sigh, but on learning Cassidy could drive (and so could Lilian), she made sure there were two rentals available, from different car rental agencies. Call her paranoid – she wasn’t taking chances with the possibility that this wasn’t, in fact, bullshit.

"Antoni, there comes a time you have to humor every possibility. Sure, sure, you can say there is no God – but what IF, Antoni, what IF?”

It was a fun thought game with Giannis back in the day, that had prepared her for the inevitable futures ahead. Think of every angle. Prepare for some of the more bizarre ones. A Literal God was bizarre. What was more likely, of course, was that the hunters would notice someone where they shouldn’t be – and they’d want as many escape routes as possible.

So it was the night they all agreed on, Antonia sent her plans and locations to Amon. ‘Should I prepare for his betrayal, Gia?’ and left hours after Felix had already left and scouted the area, because he could travel in the day, the lucky son of a bitch. Not that Antonia even remembered enough of the sun to actually miss it anymore, and she arrived at the church soon enough, parking at a department store a bit aways and calling an uber for the rest of the way, because like hell was she walking.

Even if she was dressed surprisingly sensible, modern-style caligae a part of the slack and cowl-neck top ensemble for once. Her sword wasn’t strapped to her hip immediately, but as soon as she found Felix, that didn’t take long as he handed it over and she prepared herself.

“Don’t you think this is a bit extreme?”

“Probably,” she said, “then again, if it is a God, I’m not prepared at all, am I?”

“You could reason with it.”

“Felix, I would kill Yahweh with my bare hands, what makes you think I’d reason with a hunter’s god?”

“Sense and self-preservation.”

“I pay you to make sure I survive.”

Felix gave a long-suffering sigh. He hoped to suffer longer and not have it all snuffed out here.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Roleplay Availability
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Lilian needed a drink. She really, really did, and the Inga situation was not helping. "Antonia's... parent? Fucking hell! But why?" For all her eccentricities, the blonde didn't seem like a bad sort. Sure, she was a little too happy to murder hunters, and Lilian also doubted that whatever she was working on wasn't shady as fuck, but she'd also been... helpful. A literal lifesaver. Never asked for anything in return either, even if she totally could have. So, there probably had been a reason?

Or not. It had all happened long ago, Lilian gleaned, and people changed a lot even during their relatively short lives. Who said a vampire couldn't have several changes of heart? Of course, that mattered fuck all. Thoughts were thoughts, and, contrary to the 'universe is listening to you' wackos, they did not shape reality. Antonia's sire was still dead. Dead, buried, never to return. Fucking gone. There was a... twinge of sympathy as Lilian considered that, thinking of her own parents and the relationship that had never been, and decided, in the privacy of her mind, that Antonia deserved to nurse her grudge. "That sucks, though. Does anyone aside from her understand... well, anything at all about this?" Probably not. They would deal, though! Because they were going to get those answers, god dammit, and Inga wasn't the only one in the world who could use her fucking brain. Losing her wasn't great, but it also wasn't game over.

Needless to say, the conversation with Deana did feel like game over. Cassidy was unconvinced, citing mutual shock and somesuch hippie bullshit, which... yeah, sounded nice enough. Sounded reasonable enough, too. The thing was, Cassidy didn't know Deana. Lilian did, and it seemed to her that Deana had long since crossed the threshold of what was reasonable, and was now following The One Holy Doctrine of Saint Michael, Come Hell or High Water.

(To be fair, she likely always had. Lilian had, too, even if her deference had always been about 80% less authentic. She'd respected him, because duh, everyone did! But his creepy ass had never really... inspired much devotion in her, for whatever reason.)

No, it wasn't going to end well. Either Deana would kill her, or she would kill Deana, and Lilian didn't fucking want to live in a world where this was an axiom, rather than a crazy 'haha, but what if' scenario.

Sadly, she'd run out of worlds. This was the only one left to her, because not giving Lilian Perry literally any options was something of a running theme, here.

Well, at least she had Cassidy? And this kickass bottle of gin!

Look, Lilian did deserve to let go. Just a little bit, to calm her nerves. It'd been scientifically proven that alcohol wasn't even that bad, if you didn't care about having functional liver, and that was honestly the least of her issues right now. What would she do with one, anyway? Use it to survive?

Monsters didn't need that. Monsters needed to fucking die.

No, Lilian wasn't quite one yet. But if she did turn, despite the transfusions, then she should die as quickly as possible, and not caring about her own health too much struck her as a good contribution towards that very goal. Like, she couldn't possibly be too dangerous if she was falling apart?

Some part of her also knew she was being dramatic about this, because it just fucking hurt and she needed... well, something. An escape. An escape from her own head; from her own feelings; from her own memories, painting in such vivid colors just how good Deana had been to her. She's not my fucking mother, Lilian tried to say to herself. More like an ex-coworker. An ex-coworker who now wants to end me. And while all of that was true, it didn't even begin to cover what Deana had been to her, throughout all those years. What she still was to her, really. Not like you could turn feelings off with one convenient press of a button, y'know?

(Even if Lilian would do just about anything to accomplish that.)

Maybe she can still see the light, if we find something damning enough?

Foolish fucking hopes.

Prior to their mission, Lilian didn't drink. That was one of her chief arguments when convincing people that she didn't, in fact, have a problem; the habit had never interfered with her work. Not once! Because she a) wasn't fucking stupid, b) could stop whenever, actually.

Not wanting to stop wasn't addiction.

Antonia's precautions did seem over-the-top to her, but she also didn't complain, especially since the vampire was paying for it all. How fucking loaded is she? Somehow, Lilian sensed that the answer was 'very,' if her visible disdain for literally everything that a normal person didn't have to get a mortgage for was any indication. Eh, whatever! Lilian didn't care all that much who Antonia had scammed to get where she was now, as long as they worked together.

(Maybe even if they didn't. Not like Lilian cared about petty things such as theft, for fuck's sake.)

The journey was blessedly uneventful, though when the Church appeared on the horizon, a chill ran down her spine nonetheless. An instinct, maybe?

"Hey, everyone," Lilian greeted the others, "Cass," she then smiled, because of course Cassidy would get a special greeting. "Is it just me, or does this place seem super fucking cursed?"

~***~

The following days were... busy. Stupidly so. Prior to seeing the hospital, Inga had asked herself one question: Why haven't I thought of this before? 'This,' of course, being the brilliant, brilliant idea to take over an abandoned hospital! Wasn't that like, her entire thing? The creepy researcher persona?

The question was answered very quickly, and Inga had to admit that her past self had been far more clear-sighted than she gave her credit for. For one, the building was huge. That was to be expected, but you never realized just how huge it was till you had to sweep the floors, wipe the dust, and make it... habitable in general, really. The electricity situation also wasn't awesome, though at least Maya knew a guy who knew a guy, and he'd been able to set up a small generator for her.

Quickly, Inga had given up on refurbishing the entire hospital, and instead declared the left wing to be her kingdom. The lab in there seemed... uh, mostly fine? In a much better shape than the not-meth lab initially had been, likely because the people who had been handling it weren't out of their fucking minds. Of course, it was also mostly empty; the things that stayed couldn't easily be carried away, like the work stations that were bolted to the ground. Nevermind! I can fix that.

And fix things she did. Meanwhile, a little bird had told her that Isolde had all but named the new leader already, apparently getting over the trauma of losing Matteo with relative ease. Which, relatable! Must have been about as painful as losing an ulcer. Things weren't quite official yet, but there was a certain Lady Lenore, a noblewoman from, what, France? Fuck Inga if she cared, because she most certainly didn't. Anyway, she was apparently pretty good at making Isolde believe she wasn't crazy, and like every crazy motherfucker, she ate that shit right up. Pfft. Yeah, do go on, Izzy! Everyone knows bootlickers make the best leaders.

But, all in all, she probably wasn't the worst choice. The Veturia did need someone good with words... and also someone good with swords. Someone better than Inga, to be exact. Not that that was how she planned to take Lenore out, though! Stabbing was all fine and dandy, but also sort of repetitive, and she didn't necessarily want to draw too much attention to herself when there were so many targets. Better for them to stay unaware, eh?

So it happened that Inga devised a Plan. She rarely did that, usually valuing spontaneity far too much for such things, but she did resort to it now - and god fucking help any Veturia standing in her way.

Or not. At least if he didn't want to get on her shitlist, too! Since her and epic fights against gods were now apparently A Thing.

Speaking of... wasn't it time to get ready?

Not that there was much to do, mind you; with her hair properly braided and her sword as sharp as ever, Inga ran out of preparation stuff fairly fast. Unlike Antonia, she always dressed for comfort. Alright, let's see if I can update my CV tonight!

The Church struck her as something straight out of a horror movie; tall and imposing, and much older-looking than it had any right to be, here in the young world of the United States. "Totally cursed," Inga nodded. "Not that curses are a thing, though. I would know! I tried to hex a sucker or two, back when it was all the rage," so, like, Medieval Europe, "but the results were pretty sad. Honestly, I still recommend just stabbing people."

Lilian didn't look like she appreciated that piece of information, but that sort of thing checked out. After all, people rarely liked hearing the truth.

"Hi, Antonia! And Felix! And Cassidy!" Judging from Inga's carefree tone, you might think that she both a) hadn't killed Antonia's sire, b) was somehow here to have a pleasant tea party with friends, instead of her tagging along to kill a literal god. Then again, that probably did pass for tea party in Inga's fucking book.

"So do we just stare lovingly at each other," not so bad with Antonia there, by the way, "Or...?"

Instinctively, Lilian grabbed Cassidy's hand. "I... yeah, let's get this over with. No point in just standing around."

The documents they'd found indicated there was some kind of entrance mechanism near the altar, which, duh; of fucking course it was the altar. Like with The Bible earlier, they couldn't count on Michael having an ounce originality in his entire goddamn body.

The cursed vibes only intensified when they entered, if that was even possible. This was no Catholic church, by the looks of it; the inside was grim and austere, with nothing to distract from God and his might. The crucifix that hung above the altar seemed almost an afterthought, cheap wood and all. "What," Inga snorted, "did they get this one at a dollar store? Man, I expected more. This has to be the most discount Christ ever."

Lilian quite agreed with the sentiment, though she was more focused on, you know, actually finding the fucking entrance. "It's supposed to be under the altar," the huntress frowned, "but it didn't say how to move it." Surely, they didn't expect them to lift it? The thing was made of solid fucking stone! And while the Blessings (ehm, ehm) had granted a lot of them strength that regular humans could only dream of, Lilian still couldn't imagine pulling that off.

Then, all of a sudden, her arm exploded in pain.

Lilian yelped, mostly out of shock, and looked around for signs of danger, when a realization dawned on her. Wait, that... isn't it. No, it very much wasn't. Instead of her entire arm tingling, she could... sort of sense the tattoo? As if the needle was dancing across her skin again, outlining the old patterns.

"Oookay," she looked at Cassidy first, then at Inga, Antonia and Felix, "this is... I don't know what it is, but my tattoo is reacting to something." That was when her gaze fell on the altar again, and when she noticed the chalice had a faint, barely visible outline inside it. A reddish outline. Could have been wine, to be sure, but it also didn't have to be that. Didn't it all come back to blood, in one way or another? Blessed blood?

"I'm gonna... try something. Don't laugh."

Lilian reached into one of her many pockets, only to pull out a Swiss knife. Cutting her finger was the easiest thing in the world, as well as letting a few drops fall into the chalice. Feeling somewhat stupid for even considering the idea, she hoped, and watched, and hoped some more, when--

Szszsz!

--yeah, the altar did move. Beneath, there was a winding staircase, leading to... god-knows-where, really. The catacombs, for sure, but beyond that? (Their fate, though even thinking that felt cheesy.) "Well, ladies and gentleman," Lilian smirked triumphantly, "the door's open."
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Too much was happening all at once for Michael Serafis to be satisfied with the situation. Lilian and Cassidy broke into his office and stole files – very important files. Some he didn’t have copies of. Following that, Antonia declared war on the hunters. Well, the vampires, but Michael wasn’t fool enough to believe she hadn’t called for it.

Their relationship would remain, of course.

Killing vampires was what they both wanted – she just didn’t want redemption.

Another problem – Gabriella had given out the God’s Blessing to vampires.

And Deana went to see Lilian.

His sheep were getting out of line, and so Michael had to call a formal meeting of all the hunters except those necessary to be elsewhere on duty. There weren’t many of those. So, the large, extravagant church was packed that morning when he called the meeting, and he stood at the altar, of course. It was where he belonged.

“Thank you all for coming this morning. I know this is an unusual call,” Michael began, “It has been an unusual week,” he noted, “beginning with hunters going behind my back to plan an attack and executing it, poorly, shifting into an attempt to steal from my office, followed by one of you meeting with a known traitor without prior knowledge or consent to do so.” No, he didn’t bother masking any of what was going on in a happy tone.

“Now we have lost numerous hunters, important information, and we have left our hearts open to being turned away from the god by speaking with traitors. Some of you have gone so far as to offer vampires our blessing.” And his full wrath fell upon Gabriella in the front row, who stood up immediately.

“A vampire we,” she emphasized it, fists clenched, unwilling to be thrown under the metaphorical bus, “were working with to kill other vampires. I thought she sought redemption! We were deceived.”

“You were deceived, I knew what she was. I never gave such a thing as that away to her, I just took the names of the vampires she had to offer, and their information, of which we have more of.” He flashed the pile of letters on the altar, “It does not excuse what you have done, Gabriella. You have dared to offer a vampire the blessing, when you know what they are. Repentant or not, such a thing should have gone through all of us.” Someone had to burn for this. “As working with her went through all of us.”

And the whole group needed to remember who held the power here. “You, one of the Seven, should have known most of all.”

Wings tore out of Gabriella’s back, not beautiful, feathered things, but muscle tendons and bones, ill-formed and atrocious things. Gabriella shrieked as the blood sprayed the walls and hunters near, dropping to her knees and shivering in the pain as the wings grew, and decayed, necrosis setting in almost as soon as they touched the air.

And it ate downwards, to her back, along her limbs, and up her neck.

She melted on the spot before them all, leaving naught but blood behind.

Deana felt sick.

Afraid.

And paralyzed when she heard, “Deana Martin,” come out of Michael’s lips. Still, she looked up, even stood up as she was addressed. “You went to see Lilian after she attacked me.”

“I did, she claimed to have reason for what she had done. I…I found no reason in her.” Well, she did. She found emotional hurt and misunderstandings, but no reason anyone here would forgive or understand, so it wasn’t worth mentioning it. “We parted when she realized my faith was secure. I know what I have done was not passed through you, Michael.”

“And that you should have killed her.”

Deana managed not to wince. “I believe the God will take care of her in his time, as they have taken care of Gabriella through you.”

~***~

It was not long before the others began to arrive. Inga, Cassidy, and Lilian made good time despite her directions putting them all far, far apart. And Inga could still make Antonia sigh in absolute exasperation as she wondered if they were just going to stare there before she had a moment to say anything about going on. “No, Inga.” She did note how Cassidy and Lilian took hands.

Interesting development.

She didn’t waste her breath commenting on it as they all went into the Church. “I haven’t noticed any hunters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here,” Felix spoke up, “smart hunters learn to disguise their scent,” both from vampires and werewolves. Antonia just nodded. She knew this, the others might not.

Well, maybe the huntress knew this, although – “Probably wouldn’t need to,” the Church was…overpowering once the doors opened. Felix wrinkled his nose in disgust, and covered it. It was a bit much for him, not quite so much for Antonia. It also wasn’t unpleasant to Antonia, although she couldn’t immediately place why. Sure, blood – but some blood was disgusting. Felix’s was disgusting to her.

‘And your blood is disgusting to him.’

Nope. She wasn’t giving Inga that satisfaction of mentioning that. Her vampire theory was bullshit.

Besides, Cassidy was scowling at ‘discount Christ’ and Antonia was tempted to play on that to bother the Good Catholic. She didn’t, though. Lilian interrupted to get them back on track with finding the entrance. “Felix could probably move the altar.”

She could feel Felix’s disagreeing stare. Antonia did not meet it. Her idea wasn’t taken seriously anyways, Lilian apparently had another idea, and Antonia didn’t laugh, just gave her a nod, and stood back to watch. She did briefly eye Cassidy as the hunter spilt her own blood, but Cassidy didn’t react. ‘Must have drank enough this time.’ The blood fell into the cup and…moved the altar. “I wonder if water would have worked.”

“A weight mechanism?” Felix asked and she nodded, “Probably not,” he was on the side of magic bullshit, apparently. “Either way—” three flaming arrows shot through the air from a single bow. Felix heard the notch and release quick enough to pull Antonia out of the way, but none had been aimed at her since she was standing apart. The grouping went towards Inga and Cassidy, before a barrage of throwing knives rained down from higher up in the church, in the direction of the altar – in Lilian’s direction.

Felix shifted immediately, tossing his too-large shirt off to the side beforehand. The elastic of his waistband served their purpose well enough; his legs and lower regions didn’t get that much larger than they already were, and the tail was above the waistband. The black wolfman launched himself not at the one with the bow, but the one with the knife, since they were higher up and he could jump quite well like this, to the horrified surprise of the hunter.

That one went down with her head crushed between Felix’s jaws.
 

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It was going to be a shitshow. A shitshow of epic fucking proportions.

Eugene knew, Maria knew, and Julie knew, as well as literally everyone else did, because Michael Serafis didn't organize mass meetings willy-nilly.

Not without a big enough fuck-up.

Then again, you didn't exactly have to be Sherlock Holmes to predict just how Bad this would be. The past week had been... interesting, to put it mildly, and now more than ever, Eugene thanked God that he wasn't important enough to draw Michael's ire. Well, at least he thought so? The man may have known about his friendship with Lilian, but it wasn't like anyone could have seen the betrayal coming.

His own betrayal, as well as Maria's, was another thing entirely. But they were still there, weren't they? Based on that alone, Eugene was willing to wager nobody had found out.

"Can't say I'm looking forward to the verbal beatdown," Julie muttered under her breath. "Fucking Lilian! I bet at least 80% of this will be about her."

"30% tops," Eugene offered what he thought to be a far more realistic estimate, "Not like there aren't bigger issues right now." At the end of the day, Lilian was just one woman. One woman who had fucked up, and in a way which... fed all kinds of interesting rumors, but that could be excused as an anomaly. The human factor. People always made a mess, simply because they were people, and you didn't necessarily have to draw any conclusions from it.

A whole fucking group going behind Michael's back was very conclusion-worthy, though.

"Pfft." Julie looked down at her nails, and somehow, Eugene got the impression she didn't want to face him. "Still should have kept her legs closed. I mean, I doubt a piece of vampire ass is worth it."

"Julie!" Maria, of course, sounded scandalized. It wasn't as if she herself hadn't contributed to the stories, with her talks of the vampire supposedly 'hypnotizing' Lils, but hearing it from Julie's mouth likely hit different. More explicit.

"What? It's Lilian. Don't say it doesn't sound like something she'd do."

It does. Not even because she was quick to take a liking to someone, because she kind of was, but mainly because it was such a ridiculously, staggeringly bad idea that Eugene could totally see her going for it. No, really! For someone so no-nonsense, Lilian also had... a head full of weirdly romantic fantasies. With her admittedly shit self-control, this could be a deadly cocktail.

Then, of course, there had been the way she'd looked at her. At... Cassidy? Um, yeah. Not to read too deeply into it, but--

"Let's just not," Eugene said, in part to escape his own thoughts. "It doesn't matter, anyway. A traitor's a traitor."

There! Nobody could say that he wasn't toeing the party line, and since there were many, many witnesses, Eugene did his best to sound convincing. He succeeded... more or less.

Maria opened her mouth to say something, but whatever it was, nobody would ever find out. Not like it was worth it to talk over Michael, you know?

Michael, who was besides himself with anger. He didn't show it, mostly because the man rarely showed anything, but Eugene could tell, and-- Oh, FUCK. A couple of hunters in the front row yelped, which he didn't at all blame them for. It wasn't every day that you got to witness God's punishment! And it wasn't every day you saw one of the Seven die, either.

All color had drained from Maria's face, and, as she stared at the bloodstain that had once been Gabriella, Eugene clasped her hand. The support was... needed, for both of them. Michael had implied something about someone meeting Lils, right? Shit! What if he just wanted to execute them publicly? What if--?

Ah, Deana. That made more sense, Eugene supposed. What did she say to you, though? Hopefully, he could... speak with the woman later, instead of watching her follow in Gabriella's footsteps.

~***~

"What, a weight mechanism triggered by a few drops of blood?" Inga frowned. The doubt was written all over her face, because duh, of course it was. To imply that a few mililiters of liquid could somehow move an entire altar... yeah, no. At this point, blaming magical bullshit was actually far more reasonable. "A marvel of engineering, right there! Too big of a leap for those fuckers, though. Or anyone. I mean, I guess it could have been connected to some engine instead," since an engine likely was capable of moving it, "but that doesn't explain--"

Sadly, Inga's physics lesson wasn't meant to be a thing. And it would have been a good one, too! About the benefits of being a nutjob who was open-ish to, ehm, daring conclusions, under the right circumstances.

But was it any surprise? Being as anti-intellectual as they were, hunters just had to hijack it. "Gods," Inga rolled her eyes. Faster than it was humanly possible, she reached for her sword and deflected the arrows, which fell on the ground with a series of dull 'thuds.' Vampire reflexes, ladies and gentlemen! Great for pretty much any situation. "You have something against me, bitch? Come down here and say it to my face!"

Of course, Inga didn't think they'd actually do it. For all their posturing, hunters understood the concept of 'fucking around and finding out' pretty well; that was why their combat tactics were based on sneak attacks and daring escapes, rather than honorable duels.

Too bad you couldn't escape from a shadow, though!

And the bastard would soon find out.

Not too keen on getting hit, Lilian dove behind one of the pillars-- only to discover another hunter behind it. A hunter with a stake, as surprised as she was. Sadly for them, Lilian gathered her wits first. "Get the fuck out of my hiding spot!" And since people hadn't been too good at following her well-meaning advice lately, she accompanied it with a stab in their chest.

(Yes, it was more effective than a curse would have been. As much as she hated to live in a world where Inga was right in literally any capacity.)

"Cass, are you--?" --okay, Lilian meant to ask, but something else grabbed her attention. "Behind you!" And, yeah, there was a shadowy figure, concealed much better than any human had the right to be.

Then more hunters emerged from god-knows-where, and they hadn't come to play. They rarely did.

"You will not desecrate God's resting place with your vileness," one of them spat out. "Begone, fiends!" More burning arrows followed the speech; arrows that very much weren't seeking them. Instead, they... found their targets in the barrels standing nearby? Barrels that, as it turned out, were full of fucking gasoline.
 
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Lucyfer

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It was a political answer. Michael recognized it for what it was. She did not lash out as Gabriella did, although Gabriella’s death had been all but a certainty that day. Someone had to die, and Michael had to show not even the Seven were exempt from punishment, because that would trickle down to the others quicker than killing someone like Deana Martin. Not that Deana wasn’t important in her way, but she wasn’t Seven important.

She was a different sort.

“You are correct,” Michael agreed with Deana, “the God will deal with her in its own time, and there is no need to rush it. We have been presented with opportunities from this, and we will continue to find them. Lilian Perry will be dealt with in due time, and should the God guide you to her – you are to execute her. Further meetings with her will be punishable by death.”

Deana lived that night.

Gabriella was enough of a reminder.

He could see the relief as it made Deana’s knees weak, and she sat back down in her pew almost too quickly. “It has come to my attention that Lilian has also become aware of what all of you should know – that the God’s blessing runs in each of us, as more than a metaphorical idea. For as long as you have served as hunter’s, the God’s blessing has run in you, making you stronger, faster, than others. This, all of you should know, you have borne witness to this truth of the miracle. What Lilian Perry believes she has also uncovered, is something that ought to also be apparent: that those who break from the covenant, suffer.”

He gestured almost too casually to Gabriella’s non-existence.

“It is something I have tried to shelter you from, for we do not preach fear here other than the vampires, and it seemed self-obvious that those who go against the God, will suffer for it. Lilian has learned this from the moment she stepped away, as her blessing now plagues her,” no need to mention transfusion. No need to mention it might be out of her. “Soon enough, it will overcome her, as well, but she will use that against you while she lives, and try to scare you into leaving as she tried with Deana.”

Michael sighed, “These plagues never would have befallen her if she did not harden her heart towards the God, and softened it towards the devil, but she has made her choice, and I do not wish for her mistake, her own fear, and her misunderstandings, to sway you from the righteous path. If you stay on the path, the God will not smite you.”

He added more details about planned hits, and would begin to delegate assignments, before drawing the meeting to a close on the happier notes of upcoming jobs against the scourge of humanity.

~***~

Hunters were a nuisance.

Antonia observed the chaos as Felix went to town on the hunters in the higher up areas overlooking the floor, to the hunters along the sides, before more showed up, with even more flaming arrows, and aimed – not at people. Admittedly, Antonia probably could have done more by attacking a few, but she didn’t, which was to her benefit right then.

She didn’t know why they were shooting the barrels because the scent of blood was that overwhelming, but she understood it wasn’t anything good. That left her with two options – run outside, or run into the opened passage.

It was all the same to her if the church burnt down, but she didn’t want to be trapped in the passage – so Antonia ran outside, hearing the first whoosh as something caught fire, and she watched it begin to spread up the church walls from a relatively safe distance of down the stairs and in the parking lot.

She looked more like a bored observer than an active participant in any of this, at least.



Felix, for his part, wasn’t as bothered by fire as either Vampires or Humans were. He was annoyed that he hadn’t caught the smell of gasoline, and did look down to see the situation. Antonia was already out. Inga was – well he didn’t quite know – and Cassidy seemed okay at the moment, just keeping far back from the walls which seemed to be where the barrels were. And they were lighting up the building quick, climbing the walls along the windows which had wood paneling, but it wouldn’t last.

The walls themselves were stone like the altar, after all. The gasoline lit fast, but that was it.

Still, Felix turned himself towards those hunters who had started the fires and bum-rushed them, scattering some and clawing through a few others, knocking several against the walls or into the flames with reckless abandon.

He didn’t need to worry as much with Antonia outside, after all. He wasn’t going to hurt her by mistake. Maybe the others – but he’d try not to.



Cassidy had turned when Lilian told her to look out, but she didn’t see anything worth noticing. Just Inga. Which, unfortunately, meant she also wasn’t facing the right direction to notice the new hunters show up, and instead she saw the fiery arrows zip by her head, and right into the barrels that were all along the walls.

Flames whooshed upwards along the walls, and were blown forwards by the explosive force. Cassidy covered her face, but she felt the flames lick at her arms, and quickly ran back, lowering her arms to try and see where she was going, only to quickly need to dance around a hunter that she’d almost run into, and cut through them with a hastily grown claw-arm.

‘Really kinda…werewolfy, huh?’ Not the point right now, although she was quickly seeing why Felix had earned the dubious title of Antonia’s personal bodyguard.

Antonia who was not, in fact, in the fucking church any longer. ‘What.’ Had she been knocked down? Hurt? Taken outside in another fight? Not important right now! Cassidy turned her attention to dealing with the hunters with her own bestial strength, staying away from the walls and trying to avoid any falling, flaming debris in the process of luring hunters from their safe spots so she could actually attack them and not risk herself.

Where had they all even come from?
 

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God was merciful, but Michael Serafis certainly wasn't. That was part of why his verdict surprised Eugene, who had honestly expected much worse. Although, hmm, was it really that shocking? The old adage about the carrot and the stick came to mind, and yeah, clearly there had been more than enough stick already. Enough of it to break anyone's bones. Maybe some carrot would serve better, now? To lead them where he wanted them to be.

Of course, it was a blasphemous thought. An unacceptable one. Possibly a byproduct of him letting Lilian go that night, if wickedness really was as contagious as everyone said. So, Eugene would keep it close to his heart and not tell anyone, aside from maybe Maria, who also seemed to be on her road to FuckingUp Ville. How have things gone to hell so quickly? The first answer that occurred to him was that God didn't care about timing.

But, if Michael was to be believed, he sure as hell cared about traitors. Enough to damn them.

Was that what she was investigating? He did remember how all of this had begun, still; Lilian asking around about 'weird creatures,' and, in the end, taking the vampire's deal because nobody else had been forthcoming enough. How ironic! If nothing else, she'd gotten her answers. She would live her answers, according to Michael. Lilian Perry, you goddamn idiot.

Was she, though? Well, yes, yes she was, but Eugene also found out that he... didn't quite believe everything Michael was saying. Not wanting to believe him was a part of it, yeah. How terrible was it, to recall Gabriella's fate and imagine Lilian taking her place? This was his fucking friend! The same Lilian who he had laughed at when she'd accidentally dyed her hair green at the ripe age of twelve, and who had punched William Crane when he'd joked about his mother's death. It just... didn't compute. None of it did. To make the confusion worse, there were details that didn't quite add up, and the fact that Michael was conveniently telling them now, most likely so that they heard his version first.

Then again - was he willing to risk his neck for this? And how did he know that his version wasn't truthful?

The thing was, Eugene didn't know. He didn't, for now, but as he clasped Maria's hand tighter, he promised to himself that he wouldn't back away. He couldn't. This was no longer some vague political bullshit he could afford to give a damn about; this was everything, in one way or another. Their past, as well as their future.

And if Lilian really was to succumb to God's will, then he would kill her. Hadn't they always taken care of one another, after all? It was what she would have wanted!

But first things first.

"Hey, Deana," he found the older hunter after the session ended, "You think we could talk? About Lilian. I, um... just wanted to know more, I guess."

~***~

Sily hunters and their silly fire! There was a good analogy somewhere in there, Inga was sure; something pretentious about them being about as out of control, and about as subtle. Then again, maybe not? Because fire at least tended to be effective. "Hi," she smiled, materializing before one of the archers, "Or should I say goodbye?" It would have been the proper choice here, mainly because the sword in his guts didn't allow for future meetings. Ugh, cowards and their ranged weapons! Always got awfully surprised when someone took the fight to them.

(Inga didn't quite remember, but she was also convinced that that was how she'd died. An arrow to the heart! Or maybe not to the heart, but somewhere important enough, which... yeah, not narrowing it down by much. Humans were ridiculously fragile. Vampires, on the other hand, were the organic equivalent of Nokia 3310. And wasn't that what made humans so much more interesting?)

The church was burning, blood was flowing, and Inga couldn't help but think it would have made for a great black metal music video. Time to improve it with more corpses, eh? You could never have enough corpses in those! And since Antonia had gone for good ol' strategic retreat, it wasn't like she had to worry about her.

Lilian, meanwhile, acted the way a reasonable human being would have. "Fucking idiots!" she shouted. "Do you fucking want to die here?" Alright, so that wasn't the reasonable part. Remembering that fire regulations were a thing was, though, and, even through the smoke, the huntress located the fire extinguisher pretty quickly. Powder-based, thank fucking god. She aimed the thing at the closest epicenter of the fire and released, hoping the stream would smother it all. Yes, the fire likely wouldn't last; that still didn't mean letting it run wild was a great idea. It never was!

One of the hunters didn't agree with Lilian's assessment, and tried to rush her. He got a handful of fire extinguisher powder to the face; not too pleasant, but also not too deadly. Too bad the same couldn't be said about Inga's sword, which pierced him from behind. "Teamwork makes for dreamwork, hunter girl!" she winked at Lilian, before once again diving into the chaos.

Lilian did her best not to sigh. How someone managed to be this helpful and this fucking obnoxious, she'd never understand. But, right! More fires to extinguish! And some hunters to give a whack to, which she happily did, because they wouldn't fucking leave her alone. "Hello, idiots? I'm doing this for all of us! Do you want to be a medium-rare steak?" Admittedly, her Samaritan-like intentions probably didn't sound too believable; not with the pile of corpses at her feet, anyway. Also not with the blood covering her blade. Self-defense, Lilian reminded herself. They literally started it.

(Of course, she'd known they'd be there. She'd also known that there would be no diplomatic solution. What did that make her?)

(No, not the time.)

But maybe it would be the time soon, because they were running out of hunters. Felix had made short work of a lot of them, and looking at the carnage now, Lilian was glad that they'd never had to hunt werewolves.

Not that fighting Inga would have been fun. Or Cass, with those transforming powers of hers. Antonia was probably also bad news, judging by her company alone.

"Have you noticed how we always wreck any place we spend more than five minutes at?" Inga asked nobody in particular, sounding all innocent. (Maybe the act would have been more convincing had she also not been wiping blood off her sword. Or kicking a random corpse out of her way.) "Real disappointing, the buildings these days. They don't make 'em like they used to. Also," she smiled in Cassidy's general direction, "how do you feel about helping to destroy God's home? Are you grounded now?"

"You will be grounded if you don't stop bullying my girlfriend," Lilian snapped. Besides, it wasn't even destroyed! The fire, which had calmed down by now, hadn't damaged the structure too much.

"Hey," Inga pursed her lips, "You don't have to be like that. Can't a girl ask a philosophical que-- ooo," she pointed a finger at Cass, "I knew you were fucking her!"

Not even bothering not to roll her eyes this time, Lilian decided to pick up Antonia.

"Congratulations on being reasonable," the huntress sighed, once she found the other vampire in the parking lot. "I fucking swear, nobody has any sense of self-preservation here. Especially not Inga. How has nobody killed her yet?"
 

Lucyfer

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Deana was tired. Exhaustion had come as soon as Michael spared her, all of that useless adrenaline running out of her and leaving her wanting to nap in the pew. Not that she could. There was enough lingering fear to keep her quite alert to all the new information they had about several vampires. ‘Some coup in the ranks.’ Some vampire wanted it all, and sought to end several of them.

Shame it couldn’t be any of the really big names.

Shame they were helping a vampire at all in their power grab, but they needed to see the larger picture. Deana would have to see it from now on, as well. It didn’t stop her from sighing as the meeting came to an end and gathering her purse to head out, quickly.

Not quick enough.

She paused as Eugene caught up with her and called out to her, that weariness palpable as she looked at him. At his desire for answers. ‘What haven’t I said?’ Plenty. What could she really say, that would help Eugene understand Lilian was gone from them, when she hadn’t fully accepted it, either?

Not a damn thing.

“Of course,” the words came out heavy, “Outside though, hm?” the din of hunters talking and catching up was already filling the church, not everyone rushing to leave, despite the blood on the walls and the floor. How quickly blood and guts became an afterthought in the line of duty! Not enough of an afterthought for them to forget what happened, but enough for them to continue life as normal in the midst of it.

Ridiculous.

Deana would lead Eugene outside, and wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he was followed by Maria, nor would she let the presence of Maria make her reconsider telling anything if she chose to tag along. She wouldn’t go far from the church, just outside, and around the stone staircase. “I’m sorry, I don’t have much else to say,” Deana offered that bit before the questions even began, “but I’ll offer what I can. We only met for a short while at a café,” she gestured out to Eugene, giving him the floor again.

He'd have to be more specific. She wasn’t going to rehash everything; Michael had done enough of the important parts.

Well…the important parts to the Church.

Not to Lilian’s friends. She had some ideas of what Eugene would want to know, but she also hesitated to even say them. To say that Lilian was there with a vampire. To speak of that transfusion…that was likely something she shouldn’t mention at all.

She’d use those few seconds that Eugene had, to try and get those thoughts into order of what she could, and couldn’t, say.

And try not to think of why things were a couldn’t.

~***~

The fighting settled, and as it did, Cassidy noticed Felix shift back to himself. Or was that himself? Was his bestial form more himself? Cassidy didn’t actually know, and wondered about it, as Inga declared they made places into wrecks, while he just went to put on a shirt as if nothing had happened.

And Lilian put out the fires that had been raging as Cassidy had to deal with yet another commentary about her faith. “My God isn’t worshipped in this church,” she stated before Lilian cut in. Her god wasn’t in these catacombs, either. Some false deity was here, if the map was right, and they’d come face to face with it soon enough. ‘Please don’t be Jesus.’

She cringed a little as Inga caught on to what Lilian said – and of course, bullied. It wasn’t worth clarifying that she and Lilian had not, in fact, fucked yet. Lilian was already leaving the area, which, Cassidy didn’t blame her.

Okay, so maybe it was worth clarifying. “We just started going out, it was not the plan, so can you please tone it down a little?” Cassidy doubted her request would really be heard, “with teasing us for it. It’s…it’s very new.” And while perhaps it wasn’t fragile, good things had a certain fragility to them, and Inga was abrasive.

Felix opted to comment, “Glad you two found each other in this world,” a comment that at least took the edge off of Inga’s tease, “hope it works out for you.”

“Thanks,” she felt a bit awkward thanking him, but at least he was being nice? Probably? “Hey, um, that shifting thing…is that like…your natural form, or is this your natural form?” she gestured over him.

“The wolf one is natural for me. Not for all werewolves, though,” he noted, not bothered by the question. “Noticed you can shift.”

“Yeah, still figuring that out,” Cassidy had a lot to figure out. “My sire can take the form of animals, and I guess I inherited that, but I haven’t ever fully.” At least this was off the subject of her relationship.



Antonia waited for some sign of the chaos dying down. It came in the form of Lilian walking out, as the sounds of flames and fighting died down, and claiming she was reasonable. “I’m working on it,” Antonia said dryly to the comment of Inga not being dead yet, “these things take time,” as if it was perfectly normal and reasonable to talk about murdering one of the party.

She strode back towards the church, “Mostly, I think she lives by existing under the radar and meaning nothing to anyone.” That would have been something of a severe burn if Inga had been in earshot, no doubt. But, she wasn’t. “You should learn a bit more about self-preservation yourself. You don’t want to end up like those hunters, who would have happily burned to death if it kept us away from their god.”

No, religious zealots didn’t surprise Antonia in the least as they reached the church to find the discussion had turned to shapeshifting. Probably not a surprise, and Antonia didn’t pause to humor it, just walked on to the passage the altar opened up – and Felix quickly broke off conversation to follow.

Self-preservation came in many forms.
 

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Maria did, indeed, tag along, because there was just no way she wouldn't. If there was one person in the entire world for whom this debacle was even more personal than it was for him, then yeah - Maria, without a doubt. Maria, who still blamed herself.

Well, herself and the vampire. Mostly the vampire. It was easier to point your finger at a devil than it was to do the same with yourself, and Maria could be... quite good at ignoring inconvenient facts, when she wanted to. Apparently not good enough to wash her hands off the matter entirely, though.

"Thank you, Ms. Martin," she said simply. "For your openness." It was always Ms. Martin for her, never just Deana; Maria hadn't crossed that line, even if pretty much everyone else had. Something about respect? And about keeping distance from her elders. Eugene had never quite understood, but it also wasn't interesting enough for him to ask about.

"Yes, thank you," he nodded solemnly. "I... fuck, I still can't believe this is happening." That was true enough. A whole year could have passed and he wouldn't have believed it, still; wouldn't have believed that Lilian was gone, not because a vampire had taken her from them, but because she wanted to be. That she'd just... throw it all away, willingly.

In a way, this was worse. Hunters were used to mourning their dead. Had she died, then at least... At least what? Would have had a nice funeral? Wouldn't have made me ask questions? An ugly thought, and one that didn't deserve to be completed. Of course he was glad Lilian was fine, for god's sake! But--

"How is she?" Maria asked, before he could so much as gather his thoughts. She stared at Deana with her big, earnest eyes, and immediately, Eugene was reminded just how dangerous his friend could be.

No, Maria wasn't really all that soft. The misconception was common, though no less deadly for it. What she excelled at was making you think that there was nothing to be afraid of; that you could tell her everything, because she was just a fool of a girl with her head up in the clouds and a heart too tender for a mean thought.

But you couldn't tell her everything. You couldn't, and shouldn't, as Lilian had no doubt learned. It wasn't even that she was being malicious, just that... she kind of thought she knew better than you. Much like Lilian herself, ironically.

"I mean... I know she's a traitor," Maria added. "And traitors get what they deserve. God knows best." Of course, of course! Whether she actually believed it or not, Eugene couldn't say. It likely was something Deana wanted to hear, though. Always good at spotting these things, aren't you? "He will deal with her Himself, as you pointed out. But," her gaze fell downwards, as if her own shoes were suddenly mighty interesting to her, "I admit, I pray for her still. I do want for her to understand the error of her ways, or... or at least a quick death, if that is what God demands. See, had I been wise enough to go to you, or anyone else, instead of acting on my own, then perhaps--" Maria gulped, "--perhaps it wouldn't have come down to this."

She really did look like she might burst into tears, and Eugene was pretty sure that part was authentic. Every good performance had a grain of truth to it, after all!

"It's my fault, Ms. Martin," Maria continued. "So, I hope that she at least gets to be happy before she dies. Is she?"

~***~

Little did Cassidy know that the request would, in fact, do something. Inga raised her eyebrow first, as if she didn't quite believe what she was hearing, blinked a few times, and then, probably to most people's surprise: "Got ya. Should have said earlier this was off limits! Not like I kick people when they're down, y'know. Getting them to be that way is more fun." Because, hey, call her an asshole, but she wasn't a mega asshole. Inga also had nothing against Cassidy or Lilian, and she didn't actually want to be a source of strife in... whatever it was that they had, really.

(She'd played that role already. More often than she would have liked to, and with disastrous results. Hurting someone else when you yourself were hurt was a time-honored tradition, but maybe it was also time to admit that some traditions were shit? And only hurt people when you meant to, instead of lashing out! Which translated into thinking slightly more before opening your mouth. Not a big sacrifice, considering Inga's brainpower. Plus, Cassidy had also asked her nicely, which... yeah, she had almost forgotten what that felt like.)

"Congratz on that, I guess."

Lilian had to chuckle, despite... well, everything Antonia said. Their team was turning out to be a dumpster fire, but really, should she be the one to complain? The huntress did at least have enough self-awareness to admit that she had also lit her fair share of matches. Perhaps even more than anyone else! "Harsh," Lilian said, "Almost makes me feel sorry for her. Almost."

Meaning nothing to anyone sounded fucking horrible. That the fate was likely self-inflicted didn't make it less horrible, though it did make it less scary.

"Me?" Lilian gave a shrug, "Thanks for the concern but I don't think I'm heading their way. I mean, I'm here," no, not the safest decision, "But so are you. You have to play the game to win." Something, something, not throwing stones in glass houses, right?

When they returned to the Church, Inga mumbled a 'sorry' in her general direction, though before Lilian could so much as react to it, the blonde rushed ahead. "Hey, hey, not so fast, Antonia! What if there are traps? I totally want to get annihilated by a trap! C'mon, stop trying to steal my spotlight."

"What did you do to her?" Lilian asked Cass, disbelief clear in her eyes. "Wait, let me guess. You guys murdered her and replaced her with a clone? Or is this just her Jekyll persona?" Contrary to Inga, getting annihilated by a trap was not her heart's deepest wish, and so she was happy to stay in the rear. Still, Lilian reached for a flashlight. The vampires - and likely the werewolf - could see well in the dark, but she couldn't, so--

"Shit," the huntress exclaimed. "I... what the fuck, I didn't know we had any of those!" 'Any of those' referred to creepy fucking catacombs made of human bones, which were supposed to be a European thing. An unhinged European thing, before the continent had discovered the joys of therapy!

To Lilian's absolute lack of surprise, Inga grabbed one of the skulls from a pile. "To be or not to be, that is the question," she recited, so dramatically that Shakespeare would have been proud. "A pretty stupid question, by the way. You don't get to decide to be." No, you just... got to prolong the suffering before the inevitable happened. That, or you got to be a vampire. And wasn't that its own kind of non-existence?

Of course, most vampires had not chosen their fate either. Someone else had done that for them, which, how choice-y! Not.

"Hmm," Inga rubbed her chin. "That blood really does smell funny." Indeed, it did, and it had only become more overpowering since they'd descended under the Church. The closer they got, the more it reminded her of, what, home? A strange fucking thought. Not like Uppsala wasn't hundreds of kilometers away! And it also hadn't smelled of blood. Admittedly, human sacrifices had been a thing, but never to that extent. "You know, it feels familiar to me. Like something I've forgotten, but not quite. What do you guys think?"

But, unbeknownst to her, there actually was a trap. A long, thin wire, barely visible in the darkness, leading to... something? Roughly at their knee height.
 
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Lucyfer

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Deana understood the disbelief, and strange, misplaced grief all too well. This would have been easier if Lilian was dead. Although that went unsaid by them all, in a way, she knew they all felt it. This was strange territory to be in, for them, and for their loved one. So, of course, Deana hummed and nodded as Eugene expressed himself, before her gaze met Maria’s and her eager queries about Lilian.

Deana didn’t believe Maria’s heart was really in her condemnation of Lilian; her words weren’t hollow, but they were too full of sorrow, just as her tears were, for her to mean that traitors got what they deserved. They all wanted something different for Lilian, but none of them could undo the past.

And how was Lilian?

Deana didn’t really know.

She knew what she saw, from the tears they brought each other to her departure with the vampire, but how she was beyond that? She didn’t know. “This is not your fault, Maria. Lilian is responsible for her own actions, you do not need to blame yourself for what has happened with her,” Deana said that much, the calming words expected for the balm to the wound. “But I don’t really know how she is.”

Which was unfortunate. “I saw her for such a brief time. She was upset, and she was terribly determined to…to learn more about what was happening to her. She wouldn’t believe me when I told her what was happening, because at the time I saw her, the God’s curse had waned, and she thought she had beat it,” Deana sighed, “as if unaware of how often the sick and dying have sudden, second winds, before their last breath.”

No, she couldn’t mention the transfusion, but she could explain in a way without it, that still highlighted the dread she personally felt over it. “I am not sure she will ever be happy, Maria,” bad news to break, but then, Lilian shouldn’t be happy with what she was choosing to do anyways, “She is restless and unwilling to believe anymore; no one can find peace in such a state.”

Lilian certainly wouldn’t.

Perhaps she would have a quick death.

“But we can always hope she will come back. No matter what Michael says, he isn’t God – and prodigal children are always features,” it was the least they could do, “so keep praying for her, Maria.”

~***~

‘I’m not the one who stayed in a burning building.’ Antonia didn’t say that, of course, nor could she say much about her survival instincts when she went charging ahead. Then again, she had Felix – and Inga – who would probably die for her to live, so she didn’t need the same sort of instincts as everyone else.

She just needed to get out of their way, and she stepped aside to let Inga lead without hesitation, “I wasn’t in the mood to waste time chatting,” Antonia noted, “we don’t truly know how difficult this labyrinth is going to be, and three of us are on a time table.” The night. When it became morning, things got…significantly more difficult. Sure, they were fine underground…but they couldn’t quite leave underground.

Behind Felix, Cassidy just shrugged. Of course, being there, she didn’t notice a terribly drastic change in Inga, “I just asked her to tone it down,” that was it. And Inga had agreed, which was somewhat surprising but also not. Cassidy couldn’t say she knew Inga well enough to be surprised, and what she did know was that Inga was very reactive.

Being reactive to a request wasn’t too far-fetched, was it?

Down they went into the catacombs, Inga of course reacting to her environment and picking up a skull to quote Shakespeare…for a moment. Cassidy was also a bit weirded out by the place, and she’d hazard a guess that Felix was, too, based on the way he looked around. “You can decide not to be at any time,” Antonia noted to Inga’s statements, that dry commentary not unexpected at this point.

Which turned the topic, apparently.

The bloody scent. “There’s something familiar.” Cassidy agreed.

“Heart’s blood,” no hesitation in Antonia’s words.

“What?”

“Heart’s blood – the old poetic term for the first, and last, drop of any vampire – the life-giving pulse. That’s what it smells like.” Cassidy was pretty sure she heard some resentment in Antonia’s tone, blissfully unaware as she was that Antonia was trying not to feed Inga’s theories, she didn’t know why it was there.

“How are you so sur—aah!”

The trap was sprung, and the floor gave out. Felix was quick enough to grab Antonia and managed to jump across to the other side, and Cassidy far enough back that all she had to do was take a few hasty steps back – and reach for Lilian to make sure she wouldn’t suffer whatever fate awaited her. Which, would have been spiky death. It wasn’t just a pit, but a pit of very sharp spikes that waited for them, which could have easily penetrated any heart.

Felix was already preparing himself to jump back over and help anyone that needed it get across – or help anyone clinging onto a side who hadn’t made it, as he looked to make sure everyone was accounted for.

It was going to be a long night.
 

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“No one can find peace in such a state.”

True enough, Eugene supposed, but there was something else that Deana… wasn’t really saying. Something she would never admit, either because she didn’t want to or simply couldn’t see it. And that something was: When has Lilian ever been at peace?

He
hadn’t considered that before, either. It wasn’t the kind of thought you’d normally have when making breakfast, or getting ready for your next mission, or just… living your life in general, but it also seemed kind of obvious in hindsight, with all the puzzle pieces in place.

What kind of happy fucking person drank as much as she did?

Whatever it was that worked for Deana, it didn’t seem to do the trick for her. Not much more than slapping a band-aid over a broken bone would have, anyway. I wish you’d talked about this more, you stubborn dumbass. But, really, it wasn’t like chasing all those ‘would haves’ and ‘could haves’ would get him anywhere. It never did, and Eugene fucking knew that. The issue was that he also had no idea what would work, here.

(Maybe nothing would. Maybe some people couldn’t be saved. Who was it that needed saving, though? The thought was dangerous, like holding a razor with your bare hand, but he couldn’t let go of it all the same.)

“I get that,” Maria replied, her voice shaking, “I really do. It’s just hard, is all. I really… wish I could have done more. Could have reached her. It’s Lilian, not some… ugh, I don’t know! But I’m preaching to the choir here, aren’t I?” And all of that would have been very moving had Eugene not known her for so many years, and also so well. You really are wasting your talents here, Maria. Hollywood would have loved you.

It really would have, but you didn’t get to leave the organization for something so frivolous. Or, you know, for anything at all. Unless you wanted to pull a Lilian! Lilian, who was apparently paying for all of this with her own life. Was God really trying to punish her, or was this just… something Michael had made up? A little lie here and there would not be above him, especially with a greater purpose in mind.

Where are you heading with this, though? Maria must have been getting at something, but he couldn’t quite follow the trajectory. That, too, was good; it likely meant Deana couldn’t, either. Not to toot his own horn too much, but he did know her much better than anyone else. “Do you really think she could be saved, still?” Maria chose the moment to grab Deana’s hand, “Even after attacking Mr. Serafis? I am… not certain. God’s forgiveness isn’t endless. Unless, perhaps,” And there it was, hidden in that ‘unless!’ The entire point of this conversation, “What they say is true?” Of course, ‘they’ meant ‘Maria’ in this context, and ‘what they say’ likely translated to ‘what she was about to say, right now.’ A handy trick, really. “I have heard that the vampire is controlling her. That she has strange, mind-bending powers. So perhaps, if Lilian killed Cassidy…?”

Or someone else. Someone else who made it look that way! That part remained unspoken, but she didn’t really have to say it for Eugene to understand. Ah, so THAT is your game.

~***~

”And it… worked? Just like that?” Alright, maybe Lilian had to re-adjust her understanding of Inga. Returning back to ‘I understand fuck all about this bitch’ felt like a defeat, but it likely was a deserved one, and she also didn’t resent it too much. Not when there was a slight chance of her possibly being better than expected! Probably still a dumpster fire, but maybe a dumpster fire that occasionally burned things that ought to be burned.

Then again, it also could have been just… Cassidy’s superpowers. Sometimes it seemed to her that Cassidy brought out the best in everyone, solely by the virtue of being her usual, sunshine-y self. So, maybe special rules applied to her? Even when it came to people like Inga.

“Like hell I can,” the blonde chuckled, apparently unbothered by Antonia suggesting that she should fucking kill herself. Lilian’s understanding of the situation, if it had ever existed, continued to shatter further. What the fuck is UP with you two? Of course, something also told her she didn’t really want to know. It was an old instinct, one cultivated by the years of living in God’s shadow, and Lilian believed it with her whole heart. “I promised you something, didn’t I? Not gonna trick me into breaking my vow that easily.”

Yeah, the vow thing did not make it any clearer.

“Are there some… social conventions I’m missing or are they just being weird?” Lilian asked Cassidy, likely breaking several social conventions herself in the process.

No, she also didn’t know what ‘heart’s blood’ was, or whatever it was that Antonia’s saltiness implied, but Inga clearly did have an idea. An idea that made her smirk.

“Just stop fighting it, Antonia,” she recommended to the vampire. “The sooner you accept that I am, in fact, a genius, the less it will hurt. Maybe you guys should form a support group? Because none of you are handling it too well when I’m right.” And she always was, eventually! The trick was in continuing to update your ideas, instead of clinging to your pride. You could afford to be arrogant about being right; what you couldn’t afford to be arrogant about was the process of getting there. An important distinction.

“See, my all but confirmed theory is that this god of yours--”

That Inga stopped herself in time was a coincidence more than anything else, but she did manage to do so. “Oh wow, what a nice trap!” she looked down at the spikes, with this almost child-like wonder. “Would have been kind of cool to die like that, I have to admit. Indiana Jones vibes are the best vibes. Jurassic Park vibes would have been somewhat better but I honestly don’t think we’re anywhere near being able to clone dinosaurs, so--”

“Ever seen a fucking therapist?” Lilian asked, once she got over… all of that. And it was a lot, dammit!

“Nope! Why?”

“No reason.”

“Anyway,” Inga continued, once she jumped over the chasm and those who needed Felix’s help got it, “my 100% true theory says that the god is some kind of vampiric being. Maybe even a proto-vampire? If that really is heart’s blood, and it smells like that to all of us, then I don’t really see any other interpretation. We're meeting Cain tonight, friends! Best get an autograph while you can.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Lilian interjected, “You’re trying to say hunters are worshipping a vampire? Are you kidding me?”

The world had fucking gone crazy, and the worst thing about it was that she could kind of see the logic behind it. The secrecy, the mutations, the weird… obsession with blood, it just checked out!

But the idea of a support group honestly sounded just about irresistible right now, yeah.

And not only because Inga was being insufferable about this.

“Not in the least,” Inga gave her a bright smile. “I would never risk my scientific integrity for a joke,” unless it was really funny, “And besides, what are you so shocked about? Your first time, encountering hypocrisy in religion? But hey, maybe Antonia has a better explanation! Let's hear it.”

No, Antonia wasn't the only one who could be petty. Inga was just... petty about different things, really. Had she actually seen that therapist, they likely would have concluded that this instance of it stemmed from being called stupid so many times.
 
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Lucyfer

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Mr. Serafis was a strange way for Deana to think of Michael, even knowing how naturally it slipped off of Maria’s lips, just like Ms. Martin. Did anyone except Maria call him Mr. Serafis. Now was hardly the time to get lost in that, but it did take Deana out a moment as she had to reconcile just who Mr. Serafis was, again, and remember this was Maria, who was overly formal about all of her superiors.

“I cannot speak for God,” Deana said, because that much was true. God’s forgiveness wasn’t endless, but they couldn’t say where it would begin and where it would begin in all cases. Some things seemed black and white, but not all of it was. After all, if a member of the Seven disagreed about whether or not a vampire could be redeemed through the God’s Blessing, who was to say there weren’t outliers to all things they thought they knew.

Deana knew Cassidy. Well, knew of her. She hadn’t forgotten the way that Lilian and Cassidy looked at each other, the way they interacted as they left the café. They had looked intimate. Was it possible Cassidy was controlling Lilian? Of course it was. Lilian’s romantic history had been pretty shit. ‘Maria was a part of that.’

Something Deana didn’t forget even now, as Lilian held her hand and looked up with such pleading eyes, and knew what she was asking. “She still has to return here of her own free will with the vampire slain, Maria,” which would be a harder task than faking the death of the vampire.

If Cassidy was controlling her in some way, then that would be enough. Killing Cassidy would end it, the spell would be broken, and Lilian could return. If Cassidy wasn’t controlling her…well, it changed nothing, really. Except a vampire was dead. Which was what they all wanted it. “If she could break free of that control enough and kill Cassidy, perhaps she could be forgiven for her weak will, but I do not know what she would have to undergo to strengthen it afterwards, so this never happens again.”

Claiming to be controlled by a vampire was…different then making an honest mistake. It implied a different sort of defect. It would also require some more theological work for why the God’s blessing still left his disciple, when his disciple wasn’t really gone…and why the God’s blessing couldn’t overpower such a thing as a simple vampire hypnotism.

That kind of thought wasn’t one Deana liked humoring.

Vampire hypnotism should be easy for the blessing to overcome, after all.

~***~

Cassidy could only shrug at Lilian’s flabbergasted query about how it just worked, because yeah, it had just worked. Just like that. Which, she supposed, was somewhat surprising as they proceeded down into the catacombs and observed the interactions with Antonia and Inga. “I think it’s just an elder vampire thing,” Cassidy was pretty sure the rules of engagement and social interaction were very different when you had centuries of social interactions.

Not to mention so many different cultures of social niceties, and time periods. Things likely got confused.

Cassidy already had a few under her belt, so to speak.

Of course, that was when the trap happened – a trap that Inga loved – and they had to get across and continue on. Cassidy bit the inside of her cheek against asking that they all just be quiet and stay on guard for more traps, because interrupting still felt rude. And Lilian had already been rude enough in asking about a therapist, though that went right over Inga’s head. One thing was obvious to Cassidy – you couldn’t hint with Inga. You had to be a bit straightforward.

Besides which, Lilian deserved some answers to this theory of Inga’s.

A theory Antonia was all but agreeing with by mentioning the heart’s blood.

“I do not have a theory yet,” Antonia said, “I’m merely disagreeing with yours because it seems improbable that Cain would start working with hunters.” Although she didn’t sound that doubtful, just bitter, Cassidy thought. It was, of course, an honest miracle that Inga and Antonia were in the same room together. She supposed some bitterness was something they could all deal with.

“You both seem pretty sure it’s Cain,” Cassidy noted, “I thought Christianity was a joke?”

“This is Judaism,” Antonia corrected.

“…you’re Jewish?”

‘By birth.’ Came to mind as an answer, but she didn’t care to fuck with Cassidy that much, so she just answered, “No.” Cain was, however, still Vampire Supreme in her mind, if there was going to be a Vampire Supreme. No one really said there had to be, and she’d gotten over the existential crisis of vampire origins centuries ago. That, and pretending to agree with Amon was more entertaining, generally speaking.

But if there was, and she had to pick one…Cain.

Conversation was broken once again, this time by Felix stepping foot on a pressure plate. They all sensed it, the sound of the plate descending wasn’t subtle, nor the rumbling as something came to life.

“Sorry,” he muttered, bracing – before the wall to the left moved, the floor with it. Those on the left, which in this case ended up being Antonia, Felix, and Lilian, were spun right over to the other side. Felix pressed himself against the wall and took hold of Antonia’s wrist. He’d do the same with Lilian if it were necessary – but it wasn’t.

The other side didn’t have a sudden drop beyond their small bit of floor space.

It was just another hallway, running parallel to the other one, at least for a bit. It had a turn left up ahead that the other lacked. “Mmm…not good.” Felix muttered, stepping away from the wall and letting go of Antonia. The pressure plate didn’t lift as he got off of it, either, so spinning it back around wouldn’t be as easy.

He still tried to jam it down further to get a reaction.

Nothing.

“Can you break the wall?” Antonia suggested, and Felix did walk up to where the seam was, now that he could see it. Smell through it. He placed his palm on it, pressed against it, then shook his head, “Eventually,” he said, “but it’d take a while,” he glanced down the hall, “better odds are going forward.”

“You don’t actually know that.”

“No,” he agreed, “neither do you.” He glanced to Lilian, “What do you say?”

‘When did this become a democracy?’ Antonia would let Lilian speak anyways.

~***~

On the other side of the wall, Cassidy moved right to it and banged a fist against it, something not even Felix heard on his side, “Oh, this is BULLSHIT!” she shouted the last word, before looking on the ground for the pressure plate, and stepping on a few random stones that seemed out of place, but weren’t.

Nothing.

She looked back at the wall and tried to figure if there was a lever, or a stone out of place on the wall that she could press, but there didn’t seem to be anything like that. Again, it didn’t stop her from trying to press a few further in, but it didn’t do any good. “There has to be a way to reset it! Even hunters aren’t that stupid to make a trap useful once, right?” She looked to Inga, who was, apparently, the genius here.

Admittedly, that didn’t mean the trap-reset had to be here. It could be down in a control room or something. Still, Cassidy wanted it here, damn it! Or at least on the other side, so that Lilian could find it, and they could be reunited!
 

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This isn't a good idea. An understatement, in all likelihood, because it struck him as nothing short of suicide. 'Hey, Deana! Yes, you, the one who is all buddy-buddy with Michael. Would you maybe like to conspire with us? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge!' In an ideal reality, Eugene would have been able to... well, drag Maria away. Talk some sense into her. He even considered it for a second, thinking to blame grief and anger and other inconvenient emotions later, but the thought came and went. Of course it did. Trying to do anything about Maria was like... well, like complaining about weather. Sure, you could do it! Didn't mean the rain would stop, though.

But do I want it to stop? After all, maybe Lilian would come crawling back if Cassidy died. If she was the only link his friend had... to all of this, where else would she go? Here. Always here. Yeah, a textbook foregone conclusion! The only issue was that, instead of returning with an olive branch, she might bring an even bigger axe to grind. Not like Lilian Perry had ever been lukewarm in her convictions!

And not like an idea being stupid had ever stopped her. In fact, that probably counted as a bonus in whatever fucked-up rulebook she was playing by.

Maria, for the most part, seemed unbothered by such concerns. Eugene could practically hear the 'Ehhh, it will be fine!' commentary running on loop inside her head, and for a moment, he felt genuinely jealous.

Wouldn't it be cool, to believe in yourself like that? Well, yes and no. It had destroyed Lilian; it could destroy Maria, too. Just as easily.

"Yes, of course," Maria nodded, "But she'd do that, wouldn't she? If the vampire is the problem. And perhaps she is! After all, God prepares different trials for us all, doesn't He? Different obstacles, to truly test our faith." A dangerous ground to tread, and Maria likely recognized it, because, "But maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part," she sighed. "Thank you for listening to me anyway, Ms. Martin. I only wish there was something we could do."

~***~

Lilian had had enough theological debates for her entire goddamn life, and she was past pretending that anything else was true. You think she'd left hunters behind to be indoctrinated by a different flavor of bullshit? Yeah, think the fuck again! "I don't care who that guy is," she muttered, "And whether he's Christian or Jewish or, I dunno, a Flying Spaghetti Monster cultist. What matters is that he's going down."

"Spoken like a true hunter!" Inga smirked. "Bloodthirsty and mindless. Y'know, some intellectual curiosity wouldn't kill you, Lils-Lils." Lils-Lils?! Probably still better than Flower Power, but most manners of death would have been kinder than that. "We're all friends here," Inga continued, which, debatable, "So you can spread your wings! Nobody will judge you for a bad guess," aside from literally everyone, "Really, fucking up is what makes humans so endearing. No need to try to look so badass all the time."

"And I mean," she turned back to Antonia, "To me, Cain is more of a-- aw, shit."

Shit, indeed. Whatever hot take it was that Inga was about to serve about Judaism, it would have to wait; mostly because the labyrinth decided to say 'fuck you' to all of them, personally.

"Fucking hell!" Lilian shouted, staring at the wall. While the intensity of her glare was fierce, it also didn't do much to... well, remove it. Because eyes didn't quite work that way. 'Cass, are you okay?' She proceeded to text her, hoping the signal was strong enough.

"Eh," Lilian looked at both Antonia and Felix, "Let's... see what lies ahead? We can try to stay in touch with Team B," because of fucking course they were Team A, by the virtue of Lilian being there, "And watch out for opportunities to meet again. We have a map, right? Should be able to figure something out." If nothing else, maybe there would be places with... more breakable walls? Or even tunnels that were connected to one another?

Of course, the hope didn't stop her from complaining; complaining was all that remained to her, and Lilian sure as hell wasn't ready to give up on it. Sometimes, bitching was all that made life vaguely bearable. "Stupid fucking traps. Why couldn't it have been more shit to kill? At least we're good at killing things!"

~***~

Inga, too, was largely unimpressed. And just when she was about to unveil the next part of her theory, too! Truly, gods could be cruel in the most unpredictable ways. That they'd separate her from Antonia like that was the biggest proof. "That can be anywhere, though," she sighed. "And I can't even phase through the wall. Well, I can, but it's not like I can take anyone with me." The wall was a fucking wall, meaning a solid chunk of stone. Next to no crevices. That was always more tricky, and Inga didn't trust herself not to mess it up. And when 'messing it up' translated into maybe letting the passenger re-materialize inside the wall? Yeah, not even a nutjob would go for that.

Although, hm! Could be a nice execution method. Onto my list it goes.

(Could a vampire even be killed that way? The pressure presumably could crush a heart or two, but you could never tell until you tried. And, oh, something told her that there would be Veturia volunteers!)

A message dinged on Cassidy's phone, which, how very convenient! That meant they could at least keep each other updated. Inga didn't hesitate to do so, sending Antonia a quick text: 'So, what now? I can't pick you up; too risky.'

"Anyway, about Cain," because it wasn't like they had much to discuss in the meantime, "To me, that's a codename. I'm not saying it's the Cain, but like, it may be the concept? The source. The one we based all those stories on. You never thought about where we came from, kiddo?" Because, let's face it, Cassidy totally was a kid. Maybe a snotty-nosed teenager, if Inga was being generous!
 
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Lucyfer

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Antonia had no issues with being ‘Team A’ – because of course she was on Team A. That was how this worked. She didn’t realize her ego fairly matched Lilian in that department. It simply wasn’t worth questioning why they were Team A, although she could question why any of them thought it was a good idea to proceed. “Fine, if this ends up like one of Amon’s pyramids, I’m personally blaming all of you.”

Felix shivered, “I never want to go in one of those again.”

“That’s the idea,” Antonia heard her phone ping and glanced at the message – then remembered it was a flashlight, and noticed this area was particularly dim – dimmer than the other area – so she turned it on as she checked the message.

Inga.

Did it deserve a response? Probably.

Just walk, Inga.

Evidence enough that they, too, were walking. And Lilian was complaining about not being able to kill things. “Speak for yourself.”

“You’re good at killing.”

“Not as good,” Antonia corrected, “but I’m not trying to be, so it doesn’t matter. At least without Inga yammering, we may be able to notice things now.”

“Heh….” Felix didn’t point out she was talking, because that was where she was willing enough to go quiet, and let her light do the talking. Sure, she could see in the dark better than the hunter, but the light was still useful for the small details, which became far more interesting as they proceeded, because the walls became decorative, detailing a curious story.

A curious story of vampires and the Sun.

Of an entity depicted as eight-point star, shining bright, condemning them, like God casting Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, which really did imply one thing: vampires had once been in its grace to even be condemned.

She paused before it all, “Lilian, what does this mean to you?” because Michael had not told Antonia any of this, but here it was, which meant he’d seen this. It was unlikely Lilian had been told any of this either, but…her hunter upbringing would give her an interesting perspective. One worth probing, even as the scent grew stronger.

Antonia barely acknowledged the way her own dead heart stirred, the slow, almost lackadaisical rate, increasing to something human in that terrible yearning she knew too well. Yet, focused on this, she could disregard it.

And ignore Felix’s side-eye as he did notice, because of course he did. Her own scent shifted with the quickened movement of blood, and he heard the heartbeats.

~***~

Cassidy raised her brows as Inga spoke of phasing through walls. ‘So that’s your power? Cool!’ She only began to smile, but it was tempered by her anxiety, which almost spiked when she got that text. However, reading it, she relaxed a bit. No sense that Lilian was hurt.

We’re fine. Are you?

Of course she was, she was texting, but Cassidy wanted to read it.

Naturally, she didn’t escape Inga’s conversation about Cain, which seemed to Inga to just be a Title. She kept her phone in her and to check for any messages quicker as they came through, “Of course I’ve thought about it,” Cassidy said, “but I just used the excuse that God Did It, and I didn’t understand why, or who, or how, since it wasn’t in the Bible. I guess I can see how the Mark of Cain can be interpreted that way, but I’m not buying it.”

Not that she really knew. And she could accept that ‘God Did It’ was a convenient excuse, “I guess I always felt I knew where and how, but I’ve never really understood why. I mean, even as a human, I never understood…why we were. The Bible doesn’t tell us why God chose to create, He just did.”

God didn’t need worship or adulation. God didn’t need anything, so why create? Why do anything at all? That was one of the mysteries she’d likely never have answers to. Inga’s phone dinged, and Cassidy raised her brows, curious if there were further directions or answers there about their friends on the other side.

“What do you really think the Source is? Do you really think some hunters found it and are using it? It’s just…I don’t understand why the Source would be used by hunters. Willingly, at least,” and it seemed like it’d be strong enough to resist them, right? “Maybe it’s nothing sentient. Maybe a Fountain of Youth….” Because that made sense, in a way, although no vampire regained their youth.

They still stayed at whatever age they were, when they were turned.

But why did such a Fountain exist?

Why was it ever a part of anyone’s plans that these things should be?

Well, that answer probably wasn’t ever going to be given. Definitely not here.
 

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“One of Amon’s pyramids,” Lilian repeated, understanding the words but also… not. Pyramids, as in plural. As in, more than fucking one. Owning a single of those was already incomprehensible to the huntress, much like owning a spaceship was. Both were larger than life; in some sense of that word, also larger than death. Of course, the former was much more morbid than the latter. Lilian kind of wanted a spaceship, dammit! But she sure as fuck couldn’t say that about your average pyramid, full of… uh, dust and dead people. And curses, if you happened to believe in that kind of thing. (The huntress would have loved to say that curses were, in fact, bullshit, but her recent experiences with pretty much everything had not convinced her.) “I thought those were just glorified graves? Why collect them?”

A stupid question, of course. People collected all kinds of things just because they could, and Lilian was beginning to accept that vampires were not so different. Be rich enough, be old enough, and yeah, you might as well start obsessing about pyramids! Especially if they were a beloved memory, not something you’d learned about in fifth grade.

“What are you trying to be good at, then?” Lilian asked, realizing just how little she knew about Antonia. Cassidy was an open book; Inga too, to an extent. Who the fuck was she, though? Aside from ‘suspiciously rich vampire with suspicious-ass connections,’ the huntress had nothing. She also had the impression it may have been better to know nothing, judging by Antonia’s rich history with blackmail, but she couldn’t quite help herself.

‘Yeah, we’re exploring,’ she sent a response to Cassidy. ‘We found… something? Fun religious imagery. Vampires being cast from the Paradise.’

It did look like that, didn’t it?

Lilian stared at the wall, “Never heard of such a thing,” she admitted. “Could be symbolic, I guess? You walked in God’s grace as humans, got turned, and bam, instant persona non grata status.” Except that the turning bit was missing. Probably not meaningful, as that could be inferred from the context, but—

But.

Lilian actually had deciphered some of Inga’s notes, dense and annoying as they were. It had been obvious the vampire had sent them over without any editing; the broken syntax, nonsensical abbreviations, and occasional fucking runes were proof enough. The result was nigh unreadable, which was not made better by the fact that a lot of what she could read was weird, technical shit like ‘2,4-hexandienoic acid’ and ‘NMR spectroscopy for best results??? lmaooo, as fucking if!’

Much like their owner herself, the notes mostly made her want to punch Inga.

Except, her analysis of the Blessings' effects on vampires was crystal clear. Clear enough for her to draw a connection, shaky as it was.

“Do you have any stories of vampires being able to walk in sunlight?” Lilian asked. “If this is your… ancestor, or something like that, and his blessings give you immunity to fire and sunlight, then… maybe you really could do that, at one point. Till your Original Sin.”

~***~

“Just walk, Inga.”

“Just walk, Inga,” Inga mimicked Antonia’s voice, several octaves higher than it actually was. It wasn’t a good or even passable impression, but she also wasn’t really trying. Why should she? It encapsulated her bitterness quite well! And yeah, in case anyone wanted to ask, Inga was bitter. More bitter than your morning coffee, whose taste she hadn’t personally experienced, but heard about often enough in commercials.

“You heard the boss, kiddo,” she scoffed. “Time to just walk. Can’t wait to just walk into their corpses later.” Of course, Inga also understood the sentiment. There was no easy way to get rid of the wall, and staying there would have been a fucking waste. None of that implied she had to like it, though! Felix likely could keep Antonia safe, but the more bodyguards, the better the odds. Duh.

‘Aye, aye, ma’am < 3,’ she shot Antonia a response still, and then walking it was.

Well, at least Cassidy was asking questions? That meant she didn’t have to either a) die of boredom, or b) die of worry. The two states may have looked sort of opposed to one another, but when you were Inga Singedottir, multitasking came to you naturally.

As did fucking up in seemingly wildly incompatible ways. It was a talent, really.

“Not sure what I’m thinking yet,” she admitted, after a while. “Until about ten minutes ago, I didn’t even believe there was a Source. Too convenient. But, see, only an idiot doesn’t update their mental catalogue when confronted with new evidence,” probably not a great thing to say to a Catholic, since those unironically based their understanding of the world on one of the oldest books ever, “So here I am!”

Fortunately for Cassidy, there were better things to discuss than making fun of her faith. “Agreed, though. It may be something rather than someone.” Evolution did work in interesting ways, after all; nobody said the First Vampire had to be anything like them. Nobody said it even had to be a vampire, per se! Just something that had provided that… initial spark. Nature had run with it, because of course it had, and after millennia of genes duking it out in metaphorical hand-to-hand combat, they had emerged. Not that weird, in the grand scheme of things. “But it’s hardly the only option. Let’s think about this some more, hmm?” Inga gave Cassidy a sharp, unpleasant smile.

“Pretend that we know it is sentient, for the sake of the argument. Why, oh why, would it betray us so? One,” she raised a finger, “It could have had its teeth kicked in. Usually a pretty good reason to do something you don’t want to do! Two,” another finger, “It just doesn’t give a fuck. I mean, can you even imagine how old it is? Maybe it just follows… some kinda weird, arcane logic. Picture Amon on steroids.” Then, once she realized Cassidy probably didn’t know Amon: “Scratch that, picture me on steroids. And I have only had a little over a millennium to go batshit crazy!” Not that Inga thought she was truly insane; not much more than everyone else was, at any rate. People were allowed to have hobbies! Hers just happened to be on the nutjob end of the spectrum.

“And three,” finally, the most interesting variant, “It is malicious. A big, bad motherfucker, not a tortured prisoner. Could be, could be!” A sideways glance, “Can you think of any reasons for that? For the betrayal? Don’t agonize over it, just throw ideas at me. There’s no right or wrong, only possibilities.”

Which, a lie. There were many wrongs and just one right, but Inga wanted a stepping stone. Something to bounce off of.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Antonia had asked Amon a similar question. Of course, she was aware not all of his pyramids were graves. The majority of them, of course, were, but he also owned one in Vegas that was a passable casino, and a few others that served other entertainment purposes. “The short answer to that question is Amon has a pharaoh complex, and he thinks he is a literal sun god. There is a much longer answer with the nuances of what a sun god’s duties are, but I don’t care enough to tell it.”

As she said that, she was snapping pictures of the wall, and pretending she never heard the question about what she wanted, which was easy enough since the wall had provided other questions for Lilian to ask, and Antonia to ponder. Inga’s text buzzed through, and Antonia only gave it a cursory glance, before sending the pictures to both Amon and Inga, because she had promised Amon things, and this seemed important.

“Of course we do. It’s one of the many popular rumors about the aforementioned sun god,” Antonia noted, “Just like humans have stories of flying, or moving things with their minds, vampires have stories of someone who could walk in the sunlight. We’re not without imaginations.”

She lowered her phone from the wall with the last of the pictures taken, “If you’re asking whether we have stories of vampires before a sunlight curse, and a story about why we’re suddenly cursed…yes.” She heard such stories a long, long time ago. The ones who told them were now long dead, although Amon likely remembered a few.

He’d never told such things, of course. It went against his whole image, which he’d had for as long as Antonia had known him. “There are stories of a time when we walked under the sun, but why it went away varies. Usually a God is to blame, and we offended the God by hunting humanity, or some other nonsense. Which, I suppose, if Inga is on the right track about this, then this wouldn’t be Cain. This would be the God that made Cain and cursed Cain.”

Although Antonia doubted very much it was a literal god, because a god wouldn’t be stuck doing the bidding of hunters. “Or whatever is passing as a god nowadays, at any rate. I’ve known a few too many gods to have much piety left, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t show the proper reverence when we arrive.”

“At least I’ve only known one,” Felix chuckled, “whatever it is, it smells vampiric. More vampiric than you.” He pointed out to Antonia, though that was already known. He didn’t know how well Lilian actually smelled it, or recognized it as something different than normal blood.

He continued to lead the way, using his own phone to add additional light, glancing to the wall now and then as it went through other stories.

Antonia continued to snap pictures, including one with a strange hand and a symbol upon the palm she was sure she’d seen once upon a time, but it meant nothing to her now.

~***~

Cassidy couldn’t help but start to wonder a bit more about the Antonia-Inga situation when Inga mimicked Antonia—terribly. It was obvious, but she didn’t call Inga out, just bit the inside of her cheek and, well, walked – while getting a ping on her phone from Lilian.

She still had an ear to what Inga was saying as she typed back:

Those do sound interesting. I guess we would have been in Paradise if God created everything at the same time.

Obviously, without context of the imagery, she could only imagine it as vampires being literally kicked out of Eden, which was a new take on it she hadn’t really considered. In a way, she supposed she never really had discounted evolution on some level, after being turned. It just made a lot of sense that things changed – even if vampirism seemed more magical than, well, a bird getting a better beak to break open nuts and seeds.

Inga did have some interesting theories – apparently a Source had never been a part of it before, which made Cassidy wonder what had been. Probably not relevant now, unless what they found turned out not to be connected.

A steady stream of pings confirmed Antonia – or someone – was texting Inga.

And true, Cassidy didn’t know Amon, but she thought the rumors about him made it enough that she could picture him on steroids. ‘Wouldn’t being on acid be a better metaphor? Or does acid make weird people less weird?’ Cassidy did not attempt to workshop Inga’s idea.

“Well, knowing we were once humans, I’m inclined to think vampires did something horrendous first and so whatever it was, cursed us for it. But that wouldn’t be Cain, would it? I thought Cain was just the first, and he…started out cursed, right?” Maybe she didn’t follow vampire lingo well, but the Bible told her Cain was cursed, and she assumed that had been a part of using Cain as the beginning in the first place. “But if it was just one who betrayed this Source, they could have killed the one and been done with it.”

So perhaps there was no Cain.

Or, there was, because there was always a first, but that wasn’t as important as people believed. Perhaps it had created many, as it was creating many mutated hunters. Was Michael its Cain, then?

“Cain’s always been a traitor to the Source. So maybe we’re going beyond Cain – and maybe there wasn’t just…one. I mean, there’s not just one Hunter like this, and as far as I know, the Hunters aren’t sharing their own blood. They’re getting the blessing here.” She wasn’t old enough to know what it was like for the first vampires.

Or even who they were.

No one was claiming to be that old…at least, not that she knew.

But the phone continued to ping. “Um. Is everything okay with Antonia…and Lilian?” she couldn’t make it sound like an afterthought. Lilian would tell her if something was wrong, right? She wouldn’t let Antonia just keep sending messages?
 

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Maybe vampires really do get senile. Yes, Lilian remembered this supposed ‘sun god’ from Cassidy’s explanations, and no, she did not think it was valid. You had to be missing more than just a few braincells to think you were a god of anything at all, for fuck’s sake! Let alone of the sun, as a goddamn vampire. There was a time and place for everything, though, and she didn’t particularly desire to find out just how seriously Antonia took this. “Long reign to him, I guess,” the huntress shrugged. “And may the sun shine over his dominion, or whatever it is that sunshine connoisseurs say.” Well, at least nobody could accuse her of not being polite! Aside from those who could hear the palpable sarcasm, which ought to be pretty much everyone in existence. No, subtlety was not one of Lilian’s qualities.

Being nice wasn’t, either.

Especially not in her thoughts.

No, clearly you aren’t. Sun god, anyone? Whatever it was that Tristan had going on? Inga’s entire… damage? If anything, it was clear that vampires had both too much imagination, and way too much time to lose themselves to it. “Not to be that guy,” Lilian said, as she planned to be exactly that guy, “But those stories aren’t always complete bullshit. Mostly bullshit, sure,” Stuff like Icarus and the sun, and likely the creation myths, because, hello? Not like anyone had fucking been there for it! Except: “Look at the vampire myths, though. Those are true, even if they’re distorted as fuck. There might be… something to what you’re saying, as well.” Lilian herself couldn’t quite believe she was becoming one of those ‘but hey, what if the crazy conspiracy is true?’ people, but it also wasn’t her fucking fault that her life had sort of… uh, devolved into one. Into a conspiracy theory.

With a dash of Twilight.

“Must have been some indecisive as fuck god if that’s true, though,” Lilian raised her eyebrow. “Didn’t he make you? One would have thought he was the one with the, you know, manual. And awareness that you would drink blood.” Unless, of course, vampires were somehow a mistake? Note to self: do not present that theory to Cass. Because Cassidy was not a fucking mistake, and didn’t need to hear that. Nobody did. The argument that some mistakes were good, actually – just look at penicillin! – sounded insensitive even to Lilian, the Queen of Bluntness.

‘Not like that,’ she responded to Cass, ‘It just looks like you were banished from the sun?’

“Either way, this… does sort of line up, doesn’t it? You made this god angry, so no sunlight for you. Sounds kinda like reverse grounding, now that I think of it. Most kids can’t go outside after the sunset, while you…” Yeah, fucking duh! Lilian did not need to finish that thought, and she also didn’t, not just because there was no need to play the Captain Obvious but also because something else grabbed her attention.

Something… interesting.

‘Interesting’ as in ‘fucked up’, because of course that they couldn’t have genuinely nice things. This was still Lilian’s life, remember?

“What the hell?”

A fair question to ask! And most people likely would have reacted much more strongly to… uh, whatever bullshittery that was going on.

To be fair, Lilian’s first instinct was to run. Of course, that also meant her actual response was to approach it; to face the horror, not flee, because that was an automatic response by now, forged throughout the years. And so she did step closer, biting the inside of her cheek to, what, stifle a scream?

Maybe! Because—

Corpses. A seemingly endless line of corpses, nailed to the wall, each with a Roman numeral above. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight… A fucking countdown? To what, though? The bodies were all small, dry, and brittle; a touch could have shattered them, which, oddly enough, made Lilian think of butterfly wings, even if nothing about this was remotely pretty or butterfly-like. Maybe because they did look like a collection?

“Fucking bastard,” Lilian spat out, “Is this a… dinner table?”

And if so – was it safe for them to be there?

~***~

Curse here, curse there! Didn’t people want immortality? Viewed through that lens, wasn’t vampirism a blessing?

No. No, of course it wasn’t.

People wanted a great many things, for no deeper reason that they couldn’t have them. Eternal life, unfading beauty, fantastic powers; they yearned, yearned, and yearned, from the bottom of their hearts, and yet Inga knew no vampire that actually enjoyed those for more than a century or so. Things got old. Desires did, as well. And wasn’t it terrible, to have everything and know there was nothing else to want? That it didn’t get better than this?

It was part of why Inga preferred not to own much. That way, you could pretend there was still something to strive towards! Ha, ha, ha.

(Well, something beyond the grave. Always a good goal, by the way.)

“The usual narrative, yeah,” Inga nodded. “Wanna know how I call it? The bootlickers’ hypothesis. Wah, wah, wah, we did something bad, so now we’re being punished! Can you please, please forgive me, Daddy in the Sky?” A little on the nose, but Inga also wasn’t into the whole ‘sugarcoating’ thing. Sugar did nothing but rot your teeth. “It may be true, of course! Especially the multiple progenitors thing, I like that. Ever considered that the god may also be an asshole, though? I am one, and if he made us in his image, then it logically follows that—"

A series of pings disrupted her thoughts, and Inga did, in fact, check out her phone. It turned out Antonia was spamming her with pictures; pictures of ancient-looking drawings, walls covered in symbols, and… What. For a moment or two, Inga’s brain refused to process the information. It was kind of like waking up in the evening, going to the mall, and, what, seeing a fucking dinosaur in the vegetable aisle? A real blast from the past! One that wasn’t all that processable.

Except, of course, Inga did gather her wits in the end. “Oh—sure, the hunter girl is fine,” she said, not at all fooled, “She can probably survive five seconds without you,” And no, her worrying about Antonia was not at all hypocritical. Due to her superior intellect, Inga could determine with great degree of accuracy when it was appropriate to lose one’s shit, and so far, her research suggested the answer was ‘whenever she wanted to.’ Other people, though? Always so dramatic! “Look what Antonia is sending,” she forwarded the pictures to Cassidy, “This is… something, I’m telling you. A certified fucking something!”

Messages would no longer do, and so Inga straight up called Antonia.

“Antonia, the hand! Any context? The last time I saw this, I was at Rudolf II’s court,” and she’d thought it to be bullshit, because, like clockwork, the emperor had only ever been interested in the bullshit-aligned parts of the science, “It’s… apotheosis,” But not like that was common knowledge, so: “Becoming god. Via wisdom. An alchemy thing, because of course they wanted to do crazy shit like that when they were too stupid to even boil their water before drinking it. Lots of accidental poisonings back then, but—yeah, instant divinity. Is anything surrounding it? The fuckers were big on… symbol placement and such, so I’m gonna need more pictures. Please and thank you!”

Fuck! Why couldn’t she be there?
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Antonia could only snort at Lilian’s ‘long reign to him’ about Amon. At least Amon was also used to people and their disbelief, he wasn’t beheading people for that. If he was, pretty much every vampire would be dead except the few sycophants who he’d get tired of eventually, anyways. But no need for Lilian to know all of that. If she was lucky, she’d never meet Amon. Antonia couldn’t imagine it going well for her – not that she’d die – just that she’d hate every second.

So Antonia let that slide with no comment, and a sigh at Lilian being ‘that guy’. How did she always end up around ‘those guys’? ‘And why do they always end up right?’ Inga was, more often than not, and she hated it.

Of course, Lilian’s thoughts came to an abrupt halt as they reached the line of former meals. “No, dear, I believe this is the, mmm, trash sounds a little rude, but it’s the trash. This is just the little plastic bag that was around the food,” Antonia waved her hand dismissively at the people.

“Why are they numbered?” Felix asked.

“I’m not even going to pretend to understand. Maybe I’ll ask Michael.” If he wouldn’t behead her for such a thing. Still, she sighed as Inga called, and she answered. “Yes?” Annoyed drawl.

Of course Inga wanted more information on the hand. “It was on a wall,” that wasn’t good context and she knew that. Antonia knew the word ‘apotheosis’, if only because her Greek was that good to string it together immediately, so the meaning was no surprise. Still, she frowned at it. “I was alive back then, I know how stupid people were.” And how stupid they still were. “I have more, you can look at them later,” only because she wasn’t sending every single picture she took.

She was thorough. “Bye.” Click.

And she took a picture of the wall of trash. “How are Inga and Cassidy?”

“Fine,” Antonia tried not to roll her eyes at Felix asking it, sure he was half-asking it for Lilian’s sake, “The thing you have wrong about gods, Lilian – if there are gods – they do make mistakes. Even Yahweh. That’s why he flooded the Earth, after all. So a god making a mistake with vampirism, isn’t truly that strange,” they walked along the hall of decorative trash. “A God that is omnipotent, omniscient, and also, all good? That’s not a thing. Two out of three, at best.”

If.

There she paused. She felt her fangs descended, and she had not willed it. Recognition of why was fairly obvious, the scent had gotten stronger with each step, and some instincts took over. She didn’t feel possessed to hunt anything down or lose her cool…but she would. Awareness was a bitch.

“I won’t be talking anymore,” one last breath, and then she’d have to stop, or else she’d lose it, “Lilian, I suggest staying at the back, Felix, go ahead.”

“What’s wrong?”

“The scent ahead…one of the few things I can’t deal with well. But I don’t need to breath, so I won’t,” in theory, that ought to be enough.

Felix’s brows still knitted in concern. “Is this the fainting kind of scent or murderous rampage scent?”

“Murderous rampage.”

“Right,” he stepped back to take her wrist, to which she gave him an annoyed look. “Safer.” She just sighed, but didn’t posit any argument. He made his point effectively enough.

The scenery itself didn’t change, except that it began to lighten, and that light wasn’t a simple florescent white. It was a rainbow of hues, iridescent, and Antonia just felt her self-control wither away second by second, but she did her best to cling to it, as Felix kept her wrist in his grasp.

But gods – if there was ever anything to be called ambrosia, this was it.

~***~

‘Bootlickers?!’ Cassidy did feel offended by it, of course, since it was a decent enough hypothesis for her. She supposed someone like Inga wouldn’t see it that way. Or Antonia. Probably not even Lilian since she just broke up with a god. “Not seriously,” she muttered to Inga’s query about God being an asshole.

Had she thought it? Absolutely. She was turned into a vampire, if course during those early years she angsted about it. Oh, woe is her, God let her be turned into a vampire, and even let vampires exist! How could this be a just and good God? But then again, she came around and realized it wasn’t that bad. She would always insist there was a place for them here, or else God would have found a way to smite them all a long, long time ago. Well…maybe. God’s concept of time was drastically different than theirs.

At least Lilian was okay.

“I’m allowed to worry,” Cassidy huffed at Inga trying to dismiss it, “We’ve seen what this place has going for it.” And sure, Lilian was with Felix who seemed pretty damn competent at keeping people alive…but Felix would default to keeping Antonia alive. Cassidy had no doubt about that. Antonia was his lifestyle. Lilian was just some random hunter they picked up along the way.

Hopefully it wouldn’t come down to a choice, though.

Lilian was competent.

Apparently the pictures were interesting enough for Inga to literally call, and Cassidy took her distraction to look over them, seeing what must have been the ‘cast out from paradise’ one that Lilian had referenced. She sighed. No, of course it couldn’t have been Eden, could it? Just the sun. Always the sun. No vampires in the garden! Shame. ‘Maybe that’s how we started, though. Someone found it and stole from the tree of life….’ Had anyone considered that theory?

Probably. She’d heard ‘children of Lilith’ theories, after all.

“I take it you think this…apototheosis is pretty important?” That didn’t sound right, but at least she tried to say it. “You think the…the hunters want to become God or—Jesus.” No, she did not mean that the hunters wanted to become Jesus, she stumbled over her question as she almost stumbled over a withered husk of a body. She managed to dance around it, lifting onto her toes in doing so, before lifting a rather terrified look up to Inga about what the fuck – even though, of course, what the fuck was obvious.

This was a dead body.

They were nearer to the god.

This was food for the god, because apparently, this divinity ate. Not something that Cassidy thought of with divinities, but why not?

And the answer to the god being close was also fairly obvious – there was a luminous glow that caused the shadows to dance at the next turn, suggesting they were about to enter the audience chamber of the god. How the body got this far, or why it got this far, from the colorful light and shadows, Cassidy didn’t know.

She only gave a bit of a sigh in relief as she managed not to stumble, fall, or connect her boot with the body to make additional noise.
 

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It was often said of Lilian that she struggled with self-control.

‘Impulsive’ was a common word in her file; ‘rash’ as well, and, occasionally, ‘not good with authorities.’ Definitely ‘not good with authorities,’ after her last stunt. And yeah, all true! Which was why it was nothing short of a miracle that all she gave Antonia in response was a murderous glare. “So is being a bitch just a hobby for you, or do you see it as more of a full-time job?” Alright, maybe not only a murderous glare, “Asking for a friend.”

Because, contrary to popular opinion, Lilian didn’t actually have to listen to Antonia being a certified fucking asshole! Well, fine, she kind of did – not like she could tape her mouth closed, and she also couldn’t turn her ears off. As long as they worked together, there would be communication. You know what the difference between her and Felix was, though? That Lilian did not work for her! And there was a certain kind of freedom in not being on the resident edgelord’s payroll.

(But, weirdly enough? It helped. It really did, in this strange, roundabout way, much like slapping someone could make them snap out of shock. The horror was still a horror, but it was also true that Lilian felt more annoyed than anything else. More… grounded? Of course, the huntress would die before admitting to that. Not like it had been Antonia’s goal to help, anyway!)

The phone call sounded like a shitshow, though it was only a warm-up exercise for what was to come.

“I… I guess, but—”

But nothing.

Obviously, theological debates had to wait when there was a vampire on the verge of popping her cork. “Uh, hello? Are we just… going to ignore that whole spiel about murderous rampage?” Lilian raised her eyebrow. “’Cause it doesn’t sound like shit we should ignore. I mean, if she can’t deal – maybe it would be better to send her away?” But nooo, that would have been logical! And they couldn’t fucking have logic here, because that was apparently illegal when you were a thousand-year-old vampire. Maybe Antonia had just… survived too much? Which, in turn, had made her think she could survive everything, in a classic narcissistic twist. A solid mindset to have! Though not when it was making them walk into the most obvious trap in the known fucking universe.

“Listen,” she gulped, “I really think we should rendezvous with Cass and Inga so that we can…”

Sadly, Lilian was still Lilian, and that meant nobody listened to her. Not even when it would have been a good idea!

(Especially then.)

The corridor continued to widen, the light getting stronger with each step, and then—

~***~

Inga stared at the phone for a bit before sighing, “Yeah, bye.” Is this how it’s going to be now? Not just the coldness, but the… curtness. The sense that Antonia wanted nothing to do with her, even if she was the last person on the planet. Of course, she had not expected anything else; not after the Giannis revelation, and, to be honest, not even before that.

Inga had always been that sort of person to her. She’d been that sort of person to pretty much everyone, so really, it wasn’t like this was some grand plot twist!

Still, it didn’t have to be a plot twist for it to hurt. A knife in your back also didn’t hurt more just because a motherfucker yelled ‘surprise, bitch’ before sticking it in.

But didn’t I want that? She had, sure, in part because pain was still… well, something. It was either that, or existing in this curious, lifeless limbo, with things happening around her, rather than to her. With nothing but indifference to keep her company. Anything at all had sounded better than that, and Inga still kind of thought so. Though, yeah – this sucked. She could deal with hatred, with resentment, with most things, really, but the feeling that she was just an annoyance?

Not good.

She wanted to be something to Antonia. Not even someone, because goals this unreasonable didn’t help anything, but… couldn’t she at least hate her? Like, more actively than this?

I will have to earn that, too.

“You were saying something?” she finally turned to Cassidy, “Ah, yeah. Sorry. Apotheosis, not… whatever you said. ‘Apo’ means ‘change,’ ‘theos’ means ‘god.’ Hence, apotheosis.” That Inga didn’t even bother joking about the mistake probably pointed towards something, and that something couldn’t have been too good for her reputation. Smile! Shit’s always better with smiling. Years ago, she had read you could sort of… trick your brain into thinking it was content? Because the body was just a big, organic machine, and sometimes, synapses misfired. That made for strange feedback loops. When you were happy, you smiled; but also, when you smiled, you were happy.

Inga didn’t quite remember, but that could have been why she smiled so much in the first place? In an attempt to chase that elusive feeling.

Of course, it didn’t work. It did push everyone’s buttons, though, and that was the next best thing.

And you know what the next next best thing was? Distractions!

“Again, it doesn’t have to be that. That’s why I wanted context! The magical, magical thing that changes everything. The difference between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you not,’ really. See how a single word alters the meaning? Can’t give you any opinion till I see the whole picture.” Wanting to become god was a common enough nutjob ambition, and Inga supposed she could sort of relate, but there was also one big but.

Wasn’t that heresy? Grade A heresy, condemned by every religion ever? They couldn’t have anyone become the head honcho, because then the head honcho would be a… well, a person. More than just a glorified excuse.

“Gods,” Inga rolled her eyes, “Dramatic much? Lemme tell ya, playing with your food like that is never a good sign. This is a nutjob territory, and not the fun kind.”

The light probably didn’t mean anything great, either. In truth, there was no room for ‘probably’; she knew as much, kind of like humans instinctively knew that it wasn’t too smart to touch fire. But at least she could smell Antonia? And Felix and Lilian, meaning the paths converged much earlier than initially expe—

“What the fuck!” Lilian cried out, and yeah, Inga had to agree with the huntress. There weren’t many times when ‘what the fuck’ was a good contribution to a conversation, but this definitely was one of those.

The room was your standard crypt, with a low ceiling and some torches. The altar in the middle of it likely didn’t surprise anyone, either! But that was where any hints of normalcy ended. The smell had gotten so strong it might as well have punched her in the nose; it was hard to walk straight, let alone think, and it felt like she wasn’t even alone in her fucking head, for what it was worth. Still, none of that could have stopped Inga from staring. How could she not?

There was an, um, creature on the altar.

A large, translucent thing, bat-like but also not, because there just wasn’t anything to compare it to. The light was coming from within, making her think of the starry sky. Or, the sun! What am I even looking at?

(Somehow, she was getting the impression this was the blueprint. The… Cain? If so, the myths had taken some massive fucking creative liberties.)

“Alright, so do we murder it or not?” Inga finally found her words. What it said about her that murder was her default option, she couldn’t tell. Probably nothing good? But a) the thing made her feel weak, which was her absolute least favorite way to feel, b) they had good reason to think it was cooperating with hunters. So, sneak attack time! While it was sleeping!

At least it looked like it was?

But maybe not.

Probably not, because then a human fucking torso emerged from not-Cain’s body, accompanied by a disgusting, wet splash. It… was a woman? Or had been? With her skin half-melted, and her legs entirely missing, her status did strike Inga as somewhat questionable. That her eyes were stitched together was honestly the most ordinary thing about her.

Well, well, well! Didn’t these hunters have an interesting skeleton in their closet?

“You are… not supposed to be here,” she said. (It sounded labored, as if each breath cost her much. Perhaps it did.) “Have you… come for your salvation?”

That was when Lilian keeled over.
 
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Lucyfer

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“Yes, we’re going to ignore it,” Felix stated to Lilian as they continued walking, knowing Antonia wasn’t breathing, and so wasn’t going to answer her. “I can take her down if need be. That’s part of the job description.” He’d also never seen Antonia lose her shit before, and if he was honest, he figured she was overstating the threat level of this situation just to be cautious. The ‘being a bitch’ thing would have to go unanswered, although Felix was half-convinced she did get paid for it.

Or she could, in certain BDSM circles.

He valued not having his heart pulled out of his chest too much to say that right now, though.

And then, of course – there could be no more conversation as they came before…well, the God of the Hunters, Felix supposed, and his jaw dropped as Lilian cursed. ‘What in the name of H.P. Fucking Lovecraft….’ His grip loosened on Antonia as he felt her start to go forward, only to instinctively tighten – and loosen again, before letting go, when Lilian reacted more viscerally to the horror of a human body come squelching out of the spectral fiend.

In fact, all thought of Antonia left his mind, for several reasons, but the main one being: Antonia herself withdrew her recognizability. That power which let her presence roar, now diminished it entirely, which made it easy for even the ever-alert Felix to focus on Lilian. And it was never a question for Cassidy, who’s attention turned to Lilian as soon as she was in the room.

Cassidy took several steps forward, before catching herself in the stupidity of the action as it brought her closer to the – well – God? This wasn’t her God. This wasn’t even an Angel of her God, at least, she hoped not. She felt afraid. She felt weak. Most of all, she felt worried as she watched Felix reach out for Lilian who had keeled over to try and lend her strength and help her straighten up if she needed it.

“We—hey, come this way, we can—we can….” Kill it? Was that why they were there? Inga had asked that, but that was it, wasn’t it? ‘Fuck.’ Cassidy drew her gun and pointed it at the God, and the human face. “We’re…no, not…not salvation,” why couldn’t she just fire it? Oh right – answers. “Understanding.”

Felix gave Cassidy an incredulous look. Why was she talking to it? ‘Shouldn’t someone else be talking?’ the thought came and went, “Lilian, hey, let’s head towards Inga and Cassidy,” he urged gently, prepared to help her walk to get around the wall and possibly get out. Killing this thing might be an option, but he got the sense none of them were prepared for the other secrets hiding in this creature’s folds.

They needed a lot more firepower than what was in the room. Way more than Cassidy’s gun. Why hadn’t she used the gun against the hunters? ‘Why does she think it’ll work now?’ It was stupid.

But maybe it’d buy him and Lilian time to get around the corner, then he could go grab Cassidy before she died.

Maybe.

Meanwhile, the one he was supposed to be keeping from dying had quietly worked her way around behind the God. Her method of hunting had never been loud and violent, and even in that demented state of a tranced bloodlust, her animal instincts were stealth and stalking. She disregarded the others, except to know they were there, and they were distracting this delicious creature she didn’t understand.

Lack of understanding caused an increase in caution. No, she probably couldn’t dazzle it with her presence, but once she got her fangs into that human-esque neck, it would fall victim to the pleasure like everyone else, and her eyes were fixed there as she approached – steps silent, despite the heels, she had mastery over the pressure she put on the ground, like a cat on a thin branch – but about ten times better.
 

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The god. This was the god? The one they all worshiped? The one whose grace protected them? It didn’t compute, yet it somehow did, and, as Lilian stared, she was only certain of one thing: shit was fucked. Shit was fucked like never before!

Or rather, shit had never not been fucked. Michael was a joke, the faith was an excuse, and everything they’d ever told her was a filthy fucking lie. Good thing that she’d had her entire world shattered days ago, otherwise this would have been a real fucking shock!

No, she wasn’t that surprised.

She wasn’t even that scared.

If anything, this validated everything she had ever done, from the initial doubts to literally trying to end Michael Serafis’ miserable life.

Why the reaction, then?

The huntress couldn’t tell. She also couldn’t tell why her legs gave out, or why it felt strangely good; somehow closer to collapsing in your bed at the end of a long fucking day than to, uh, actually collapsing. And wouldn’t it be nice, to just… let it happen? Turn her brain off? Something was bubbling underneath her skin, but that, too, wasn’t unpleasant.

Some thorns burst through both of her arms, but also, it didn’t hurt? There was no panic, no grasping at straws; just cold clarity, and knowing that this was how it should be. The end game. The—

And then Felix’s arms wrapped around her. They were big and strong, and most importantly also real, in a way her scattered thoughts just weren’t. It wasn’t hard to use them as an anchor, then. “Yeah,” Lilian said, “Agreed.” After all, Cassidy was right there, and, what, trying to shoot the god?

Two thoughts crossed her mind at once: ‘That’s my Cass,’ and ‘Oh fuck, this CAN’T end well.’

The second thought turned out to be somewhat prophetic, because the action did earn the god’s attention. “Understanding?” the woman asked. “With a weapon? Unorthodox. Throw it away, child,” her voice was heavy, a downpour drumming against a rooftop, “And accept your place. We both know why you are here,” No, they sure as fuck didn’t. Why? What was she getting at? And who was she? The memory was half-buried, but very much there, and Lilian knew she would remember, if she tried hard enough. Her name! Her fucking name was… “Give me your head. You'll do it, won't you?”

The pressure intensified, because of course it did.

Inga wasted no time in trying to reach her sword. It was at her hip, because duh, where else would it be? In her fancy display case? For that, she would have had to a) have one, b) be even slightly more suicidal than she was, because you did not get to be someone like Inga Singedottir and walk around with no protection.

But, for all intents and purposes, the sword didn’t have to be there. Not really. What was a weapon good for when your hand refused to touch it? Oh wow, what a twist! Of all the possible things to be fucked over by, she had not suspected her own body part. What, did it want to declare independence? That’s not it, Inga realized, through the strange fog. Something is wrong.

A brilliant observation, eh? About a million things were wrong at the same time, with this being just a tiny fucking sample. A more lucid Inga would have clapped sarcastically, but a more lucid Inga also… wasn’t present. Hadn’t been, since they’d entered the chamber. The pressure in her head was— ooo, yeah. The pressure in her head! That… wasn’t supposed to be a thing. Some kind of protection mechanism? One likely based in biology, similar to how the queen bee could control the workers via her pheromones. Now, the important question: What is the trigger? If Inga had to guess, she’d say ‘murderous intent.’ That was why she could walk, and think, and retain herself, but not grab her sword.

A great anti-deicide measure! Not that great when you came here for some sweet, sweet deicide, although Inga could at least appreciate the mechanics.

And Antonia is planning to do what, exactly? Definitely not kill the thing, unless the control didn’t apply to her.

Somehow, Inga didn’t think so. No, underestimating Antonia fucking Lenart was never a good idea, but… she didn’t even look like herself? And Inga would know! Since she’d spent so much time staring at her ehm, studying her features.

(For one, she seemed out of it. Completely and totally. Antonia, for whom self-control was everything, behaving like that? Not a good sign. Not a good fucking sign!)

I have to stop her.

That much was obvious, but how? A problem for her future self! Because she had to get there first, somehow.

On wobbly feet, Inga walked towards Antonia… or rather, she tried to. It kind of felt like trying to swim in honey; every step was a pain, every breath a chore, and, annoyingly enough, even keeping her mind on the right trajectory struck her as next to impossible. Could thoughts get sticky? Because hers definitely did! Sticky, slow, and difficult to understand, as if she could hear them not in her own voice, but in its faint echo. Probably in a different fucking language, too! Proximity is… making it worse?

Duh! That didn’t matter, though. What did was that she could watch the present become the future in real time, because now, now Inga had to act.

The riddle went as follows: ‘What is the best way of attracting a vampire’s attention?’

The answer, of course, was rather prosaic.

Blood. A lot of fresh blood, if at all possible.

And because Inga had no blood but that of her own—

Splash!

Well, at least the god allowed her to open her own veins? How very nice of him! Gotta send him a gift basket later.
 
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Lucyfer

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‘Why are you thorny?’ Questions, Felix would not ask right then, if ever. There were some things you just nodded through and tried to forget in order to continue on. Felix was pretty sure this entire night was going to be one of those things, if only he’d be allowed to forget it. Odds were pretty slim on that. He knew none of the vampires were going to forget this, nor the hunter.

At least he didn’t feel the strange effects anywhere near as strong as the others did. Whatever blessed werewolves, apparently, did enough to keep them from being impacted by this strange bat-thing.

It was still there, a certain heaviness that wasn’t just from Lilian’s weight as he got her back to her feet, a terrible sensation in his head like having a head cold (or mild silver poisoning), but he could work through these things. ‘Fuck, if I have to grab Cassidy, too….’ Because the God spoke to Cassidy about lowering her weapon, and Felix watched as her hand lowered. ‘Do not give your head. Do not.’

At least as Cassidy lowered her weapon, Inga picked up hers, and Felix had just gotten behind Inga and Cassidy when he finally let Lilian go, “I’ll make sure they get out of here, try to get the rest of the way, uh, that way,” he whispered it, although he had no idea what the god could or could not hear. Pointing also probably didn’t help with subtlety but he wasn’t sure the god could see? He still pointed down the way he was sure Inga and Cassidy had come from, before is nose was polluted with the scent of fresh blood.

‘Oh, what the fuck.’

He hadn’t heard any fighting yet.

Inga was bleeding, her own sword coated in her own blood, and the not-quite illusion snapped. Felix could see Antonia as her attention left the god for a moment to look at Inga and the blood, before shifting back. ‘Oh.’ Felix always assumed every vampire went mad when they lost control. That it was sudden, and violent, and a rampage. A massacre. Not…this.

But he understood, and he turned all the way back around from Lilian, ran past Cassidy (shoving her to the ground to knock some pain into her and clear her mind, if that was an issue) and managed to slam into Antonia, not caring much about subtlety or even ‘as little harm as possible’ when he recognized how close she was to the creature’s human-ish side.

It wasn’t without consequences for Felix, or Antonia.

Chiffon-like wings of impossible strength unfolded faster than sound, causing a sonic boom that was enjoyable for no one in the room. That wasn’t the main purpose of it. The movement caught both Felix and Antonia and helped throw them into the nearby wall, disrupting any trajectory Felix may have had in mind.

Not that he felt his mind very clearly in the moment. He hadn’t hit his head, but he may as well have for the sounds going through his head which he couldn’t understand, but somehow knew and knew to be a threat as it forced his transition from humanish form to wolf, the way severe injury could.

It felt like silver was being injected into his mind – just when he’d been thinking he might be immune to whatever this was! Damn the luck! He dropped to his knees just after he’d stood, clutching at his head and trying not to dig his own extended claws into his skull to tear the poison out, because that was irrational – ‘It’s in my head, it’s in my head, it’s in my head—’ blood started to seep down his head from his claws.

Antonia, at least, was back to herself. Or, as much of herself as was possible in the circumstances, and seeing her wolf as a wolf helped ground her there as her eyes truly alighted on the situation – difficult as it was to focus on literally anything else but the god.

The delicious god. ‘Stop. You’re not this anymore.’ She wanted to be. She could all but taste the power on her tongue, and the desire to just step towards it again, try again, was oh, so, strong.

But she was Antonia fucking Lenhart, and she would drink when she damn well chose to drink, and the pungent scent of the wolf was helping to overcome that desire…although Felix now needed help.

Help that came with a deft swipe of her sword that cut deep into one of Felix's wrists, severing his hand.

Felix roared to life, anger directed at her, but he couldn’t go through with it. As soon as their eyes met, he cowered back – fear, not understanding, not real understanding – and Antonia grabbed his still-there hand and tore it from his head before looking out at the others to try and figure the way out.



Cassidy had been knocked to her ass by Felix. There wasn’t much pain in that. It was the sound of her gun clattering on the ground, and then the sonic boom, that shook her mind back to the moment. Offer her head? Oh, hell no, she had no plans of that, and she kicked herself back several centimeters before glancing back and seeing Lilian with the spikes.

Panic stabbed at her heart before she scrambled to her feet and got to Lilian’s side, abandoning her gun on the ground. She could buy another one, that thing really didn’t matter right now, “Lils? Are you okay – you’re—you’re spiky,” and Inga was bleeding, and—oh shit fuck, did Felix just roar?

She looked up in time to see Felix was sans a hand, his head was bleeding, and he looked like a very feral, very kicked, giant dog.

And Antonia had cut his hand off? Why?

“We—we gotta go.” Fuck fighting. They weren’t prepared for this, and Cassidy could see that very clearly now. She’d been prepared to just kneel down and extend her neck to that thing! Sure! Have my head! Have whatever you want! “INGA!” she didn’t know if Inga was tranced or not, if she was bleeding as an offering to the god or not, but she needed to get her ass moving, too!
 
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It was odd, the way her own blood smelled to her; both a promise and a threat, wrapped in one package. The even odder thing about this, though? Where her mind went. Automatically, she imagined Antonia’s lips pressed against her skin, and… yeah, yeah, probably not the right timing! But Inga also couldn’t quite help herself, just like she couldn’t help the shudder.

What a nice way to die, eh? Not really the final battle kind of thing she’d hoped for, but you didn’t get everything you wanted in life. In unlife, you got even less. Oh well! Maybe this would still count as a warrior’s death? You know, if they bent the rules for her a little bit? Not ending up in Valhalla after all those years would honestly be unfair, and Inga called bullshit. If Hel wanted her, then she’d better prepare for deicide version 2.0!

Even if the version 1.0 wasn’t going all too smoothly.

Of course, life always came up with new, exciting ways to disappoint her, and so Antonia didn’t take the bait. Oh, come the fuck on! Does the thing really smell so good? It didn’t, at least not to her, and Inga was almost inclined to take this personally, when a queer kind of understanding emerged in her mind. Antonia, are you...?

Unthinkable, except that it really wasn’t. Everyone had their vices, and the only difference between humans and vampires was that they had that much longer to cultivate them. Inga herself knew a thing or two about… uh, unconventional hobbies. Both about them, and their price. But, alright, time to get out of there! Mission accomplished, the fair maiden saved, and now she had to save herself, before—

Before something like this happened. And what was ‘this’ referring to, again?

Not the sonic blast, even though Inga obviously didn’t appreciate it. The way her ears were ringing? 0/10, and only because the scale didn’t go into the negatives! No, the main problem was that she was still bleeding, in the presence of something that clearly enjoyed blood. That it wasn’t a good idea was a conclusion anyone could easily arrive to, and also one that was confirmed, when the god started to feast.

And suddenly, Inga was seeing things. A closed fist; a fish with rotting scales; a burning sea, and the god, drowning in it. More apotheosis imagery? Why, though?

Lilian was too overwhelmed to properly take in everything, and, to be honest, that was likely what saved her from a mental breakdown.

That, plus Cassidy being fine. Thank fucking god! But a different one.

“Yeah,” she deadpanned, “That’s how things are now. Figured a new look could be fun, and since I still can’t get that haircut—” Nope, not the best time to be joking! But maybe it also was, in that ‘haha, we’re all going to die here’ way. Why not get a last laugh? Better than ‘last scream’ or ‘last untreated trauma.’ “Strategic retreat it is, yeah. C’mon!” The huntress had never had never been so done with anything in her entire fucking life, and, considering the level to which she’d ragequit everything, that truly was saying something. Quick, they had to get out!

Inga was still there, though. Oh, shit.

Instinctively, without really realizing what it was that she was doing, Lilian kind of… reached into herself? Was that it? It had to be, because it felt like using the blessing, but it was also the difference between breaking someone’s nail and tearing their whole arm off. So, in short? She, um, shot some of the thorns at the god.

The thing roared in pain.

“Stop fucking around, Inga!” she shouted. “Don’t make me go there and break your goddam nose, you blonde freak!”

Amazingly enough, it worked. The vampire did get up from the floor, and, fucked up as she was, headed towards their entrance, probably guided by the kind of desperation that only ever emerged in those life-or-death situations. “Why are you so hung up on my hair?” Inga pursed her lips. “Jealous much? Y’know, hair dyes aren’t illegal, Lilian. Admitting what you want can be scary, but I do believe in you.”

Not gonna comment on my spikes? No, of course not, because Mrs. Frankenstein never fucking latched onto anything even remotely normal. Still, it was also… weirdly endearing? Because Lilian herself didn’t know what to say, and Inga gave her an excuse to Discuss Something Else. “What? Fuck no! It’s just the nicest noun I could come up with for—”

“Adjective,” Inga corrected, “Or at least it is when you follow it up with ‘freak’. Context, Lils-Lils!”

“Next time, I’m just calling your Ms. Frankenstein.”

“Oh, wow,” the vampire put a hand over her dead heart, “You really think so highly of me? I’m crying over here, girl.”

But it wasn’t like Lilian was paying attention. “Fuck, Felix. Are you alright?"

Clearly he wasn’t, unless you counted missing a hand as ‘alright,’ which would have been a pretty unorthodox definition of that word. Still, it probably wasn’t the worst thing? When dealing with ancient horrors, losing a limb was like, a flesh wound.

The scars on the mind were worse.

The disaster quintet headed deeper into the corridor, likely hoping against hope that the god wouldn’t – or couldn’t – follow. Deciding that she didn’t really want to rely on that, Lilian… switched on autopilot, much like before, and let vines grow over the entrance. “And you can call me Poison Ivy, I guess. No, I can’t fucking explain.” That would be her new mantra, particularly when prospective employers inevitably asked shit like: ‘Hey, why are you cosplaying a fucking cactus?'

Maybe assuming that there would be future employers was being a tad too optimistic, though.

A wave of weakness came over her, and Lilian all but collapsed into Cassidy.

“Aw shit, god withdrawal symptoms?” Probably, and that definitely wasn’t good, judging by the blood suddenly seeping through her sleeves. “We need to get her out of here,” Inga said, serious for once, speaking more to Antonia than to Cassidy. “Five minutes ago was too late!”
 

Lucyfer

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Well, Inga was being eaten. Was, thankfully, being the operative word, even Antonia could agree with that. Cassidy and Lilian were getting their shit together to leave, and the god’s entire distraction seemed to have been Inga, not them, which was good. Antonia found that in her own mad state, she’d managed to at least slip her phone back in her pocket rather than drop it somewhere (of course, dropping it would have caused noise), and Felix’s hand wasn’t too far.

She let go of his attached hand to pick it up, and then she pointed the way the others were already retreating towards. Felix didn’t bother with questions, misunderstandings, or anything – there was still one important thing his pain-hazed mind could understand, and that was escape. So, he escaped, and Antonia followed, debating a last-second picture of the god on the way out, because why not?

Except that it may inspire the god to unfathomable acts of wrath.

Antonia decided she had enough pictures when she caught up with Lilian, Cassidy, and Inga, arguing about hair color as a way to stay sane. It was as good as anything else, and Antonia let her hand slip onto Felix’s back, murmuring, “I’ll need you to focus on becoming a human again, soon, or you’re not going to fit in a car,” because that was A Thing. She didn’t bring a van, and if she was going to get him to Amon, he needed to fit in the car.

Unfortunately their arrival was noted, and Lilian asked the stupidest question. Even Felix couldn’t manage humor as he gave Lilian just an utterly deadened look as she asked if he was alright, because yes, missing a hand and bleeding from his head meant alright. Antonia didn’t step in, just kept glancing back, and let Cassidy change the subject.

Well, kind of. “At least we’re…all alive?” she sounded a bit too doubtful about that.

At least they rounded a few corners.

At least Lilian’s power wasn’t randomly killing them, just growing vines, “It’s not following,” Antonia said it more to Felix than the others, but she couldn’t smell it getting closer, at any rate. That haze of bloodlust was long gone, but certainly not forgotten. She hated that feeling. Losing control was never ideal. Especially when it came to what happened to Felix. To Inga, in a way. Inga wasn’t supposed to get feasted on because Antonia lost her fucking mind to an old bloodlust, damn it! If Inga died, it was her own hands, not some god’s.

But now was hardly the time to get into that, and Lilian collapsing was as good a distraction as any. “Just carry her,” Antonia said, as if that wasn’t exactly what Cassidy was doing in that moment.

Cassidy understood there was no time to waste as she just – scooped Lilian up and kept walking. If Lilian got her strength back, she’d let her walk, but right now, they just had to keep going. “It’ll be okay, we’ll get you out, get a…another transfusion?” was that even going to help? Apparently, all of the god’s blood hadn’t been removed with the last one. Cassidy couldn’t help the doubt she felt since they were right back in this situation with Lilian possibly becoming a mutant when they left the god’s presence.

Could Lilian ever be herself?

“You could just turn her,” Antonia’s suggest was, as usual, unwelcome.

“Is that how you’re going to fix Felix? Turn him?” Cassidy snapped, before wincing and giving Felix an apologetic look. He, at least, didn’t need to be dragged into this. He also didn’t look as if he’d even noticed her talking. Or anyone talking, for that matter. There was a terrible distant look in his eyes as he just kept walking under the mild pressure Antonia kept applying to his back.

Shock.

“We can’t turn werewolves,” Antonia noted, “but no, I’m taking him to Amon, at least that has a chance of fixing his severed hand.”

Which, honestly baffled Cassidy, because nothing she heard about Amon suggested he had powers relating to healing. That was…actually a fairly rare power if she thought of it, she hadn’t heard of anyone with such a thing, because vampires already healed faster than normal with blood. Just give a vampire blood and they’d be fine! What use would healing be? Then again, powers came without consideration of ‘use’.

So, Cassidy naturally went back to sticking her boot up her mouth, “Does he cauterize wounds better?”

Honestly, Antonia’s answer of, “Yes,” was completely expected in that circumstance.

It gave her no idea what Amon could do, and Cassidy bit back against her irked pride to ask, “Could he help Lilian?” because that was important enough. “Not that – not that I’m ungrateful for what you can do, Inga, but it…the transfusion didn’t get it all…maybe another method…for science?”

Yeah ‘for science’ was the way to convince Inga this wasn’t personal – but it wasn’t! She just wanted Lilian saved, whichever way would work!

“Maybe.” Antonia’s answer was terribly evasive. “I don’t know if he’s ever encountered anything like this, so I can’t make promises. You know a transfusion helps.” The hint was ‘stick with what you know’ – and Cassidy did wonder if it was just so they could split up and get away from Inga, but she wouldn’t say that aloud.

“What’s closer? I know where you’re at, Inga, but I don’t know where….”

“I don’t know,” Antonia said with a shrug, “Inga moved.” For reasons. “Amon’s fairly central,” because of course he was, he was Amon, “Near 10th and Memphis,” chosen solely because Memphis was also the name of a city in Egypt. “It’s your choice – just remember, I can’t promise anything.”

Cassidy did look to Inga for a second opinion on the matter.

Thankfully, the traps were easier to avoid on the way back. Or had already been triggered. Making it to the stairs and up into the still-wrecked cathedral wasn’t an issue, and there were no additional hunters waiting in the wings – yet.

Antonia paused there, because, well, Felix couldn’t walk out like this either. There were decency rules to follow, although it didn’t dawn on Felix immediately as he walked a couple of steps, before the weight of Antonia’s hand left his back, and he turned, confused. “Human.” She reminded.

He glanced down at himself. At his stub. The blood tainting his vision didn’t help him see, but he shut his eyes. Forced the shift, although everything told him not to, because being like this, he could handle wounds better.

His body went human.

His hand turned human.

And he hit the floor immediately unconscious, but that was fine. Antonia still had enough weird vampire strength to deal with that. Not werewolf Felix, but human Felix was totally manageable to pick up, even if it wasn’t the best idea. She wasn’t asking Inga, and Cassidy had her hands full.

Felix was still her fucking responsibility and she was to blame for his state, even beyond being the one who literally cut his hand off.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Roleplay Availability
Roleplay Type(s)
Lilian, for the most part, seemed content with playing the part of the sentient potato sack, as she leaned against Cassidy without a hint of protest. But, hey, maybe she wasn't! Not like almost-corpses had many opinions. The brain kind of shut those down first, in favor of more important functions. "Turning her really is an option, though," Inga chimed in, because of course she did. A world without her opinions was a barren wasteland; a peaceful wasteland, perhaps, but also one so devoid of intellectual stimuli that war was honestly the better option.

(She thought, anyway.)

"Spare me the arguments, 'cause I've heard them all. Blah blah blah, consent; blah blah blah, curse; blah blah blah, ethics. You can either debate that with her, or her tombstone. Your choice!" And then, because Inga had always been a born diplomat: "If she doesn't like it, she can always kill herself later. How about giving her the chance, hmm?"

Ah, yes! The soothing, soothing prospect of your loved ones fucking killing themselves. Bonus: because of something you had done. An A+ argument, and not at all a way to deter Cassidy further!

Amon can... fix Felix? Now that piqued Inga's interest, for all the right and wrong reasons. Wasn't Amon supposed to be, like, the god of war? Not literally, given his insistence on the sun god title, but she had heard the stories. Most of them were likely your garden variety bullshit, no doubt spread by the man himself, but all agreed on one thing; if you were stupid enough to make an enemy of Amon, you were as good as dead. Deader than dead, even. But if he could also heal people, then there were... implications. A lot of them. Body modification? Is that what he can do? Fascinating!

Which, of course, translated directly into 'must see, right now.' Inga ultimately wasn't that complicated, and most of what she did could be traced back to 'I was curious, man.'

So, Cassidy's attempt to spare her feelings was met with an unimpressed stare, "I told you the transfusion was a stop-gap measure. Like, I don't know how to break this to you, but it was never going to work in the long-term? You don't remove a vaccine from anyone's system by some bloodletting, and this... this is similar. The body remembers." Oh, it very much did! Even more insidiously, it worked with that memory. That could be a good thing, and often, it also was; the immune response was one such example, among many.

Needless to say, replicating infected blood wasn't one of those examples. Especially not when it kept using a fucked up blueprint provided by a shitty excuse for a god!

What Inga had done was removing a few buckets of water from a sinking fucking ship. Anything else was beyond her, for now. Could Amon do more? If so, then how? Questions, so many questions!

"Visiting Amon it is, I say. Besides," Inga shot Antonia a mysterious glance, "My new place isn't ready. I don't have half the equipment." Maybe, if your hunters weren't such barbarians, this wouldn't have been an issue! But, in all honesty? Thank god for that, because Legitimate Excuses were worth their own weight in gold. Not that they weighed anything at all, but-- yeah. Gonna check out Amon's handiwork! Not many could say that and live to see another day.

They all got in Antonia's car, some of them in a better shape than others. Lilian was competing with Felix for the dubious title of 'The Loser of the Night,' and... uh, Inga guessed it would depend on whether the huntress survived?

It would be a shame if she didn't. Besides her obvious worth as a guinea pig, Lilian's short fuse was also just plain fun, and Inga could think of several ways to get under her skin, without so much as trying. Her kicking the bucket so soon wasn't fair, dammit!

Not to her, but mainly not to Cassidy.

What? Contrary to popular opinion, Inga did have a heart! Sometimes, when she felt like it.

(Also when she didn't.)

The silence was awkward, and she sure as hell wasn't about to bother poor Felix with more stupid questions. But luckily, there was a topic! A pretty important one, in the grand scheme of things. "Oh yeah, I had a vision," Inga announced. "When the god tried to eat me." Not a string of words she had ever expected to say unironically, but here they fucking were. "He was drowning in a burning sea? No idea what that means, aside from it being related to the whole apotheosis thing. The burning sea is just... an old symbol for sulphur. Sulphur is pretty much Alchemy 101, and apotheosis was connected to, hm, to learning about the world through the art? Yeah, that. Call me crazy, but that's no coincidence."

Lilian, in her half-conscious state, grew more thorns, and snarled. Something about it felt vaguely dangerous, like watching a hungry lion pace behind the bars.

And wasn't that fun?

Considering they had no cage to contain her, just... a tiny fucking car. Awesome! Exactly the situation you wanted to be in when a murderous rampage was imminent.

"Uh oh," Inga winced. "Is she losing it?"
 

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