No Heaven for Us (Manticore & Aine)

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Manticore, May 24, 2015.

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  1. Marcus Blackwell
    Fort Scott, Kansas

    It was a day, just like any other day in the life of Marcus Blackwell. He was on a case as per usual, only that his job wasn't something people would consider…normal. On top of that, it didn't even pay well – hell, it didn't even pay at all. All the money he needed to sustain himself, he won playing poker on his free nights – if there even were any. Lately, there was more activity than there was people who would take care of it, which meant he barely had time to think about anything else than his hunting business. Demon hunting business. Yes, that's what he was – a demon hunter – and all of the monsters that were said to live in the children's closets were pretty damn real. Only that they were far more worse than all the common characters from a random horror story. His 'job' was a secret profession to many, except for those who – like him – were born into families that originated from the lines of the first demon hunters in the history of humankind. The Blackwells were one of those lines, that on top of everything had a reputation of being cursed, condemned to operate as lone wolves, because it was believed that anyone who'd care to partner up with them would soonn die in the hands of the very thing they were hunting. Although, no one could confirm whether the curse was real or not, the events from the past obviously showed that there was some truth to it, which was enought to make other hunters believe that it was best if they stayed clear off the members of that line. Even though Marcus wasn't too keen on believing anything that he couldn't really prove, he considered this curse to be the truth. Especially after what happened to his wife, 5 years ago, when she died in the hands of a demon they were hunting at that time… It was a painful memory, one that Marcus still hadn't gotten over, and he doubted that he ever will.

    Burdened by this curse and the death of his lovely wife Kathleen, he was now determined not to let anyone near him ever again. He really felt he was doing people a favor by turning them away with some insensitive remarks or his bitter attitude, since he didn't want anyone else to get hurt, because of what he was. Indeed, he led a lonely life, that sometimes really took a tool on him. He'd lost count on how many times he'd considered pulling the trigger on himself, thus ending his misery, only to change his mind out of the fear of landing in Hell because of it, and because of everything else that he'd done wrong in his life. Yes, he believed in Hell, for he was dealing with its inhabitants every single day, and he'd heard countless stories about how horrible the place was. And where was God and Heavens in all that? He didn't know, and he stopped caring about it a long time ago, for all he was familiar with was evil.

    He had gotten to know those sons of bitches pretty well during his life as a hunter, and he also noticed that they were getting more and more sophisticated when possessing humans. They weren't as wild and ferocious as they used to be, instead they blended in with possessed humans' families so well it took others quite some time before they figured out there was something really odd about their spouses, or sisters or neighbours. Their crimes however were getting more horrid, which was another reason to be concerned. Being as subtle as they could possibly be, they were also hard to track down, especially if one was searching for them alone. And yet Marcus had his techniques, and what he called 'a natural talent' to sniff them out before they could make too much damage.

    This time his instincts led him to a bar in the middle of the town, where all kinds of rabble was gathering for some drinks. He parked his car in front of the building, and went to get some stuff from its trunk, where he kept all kinds of different weapons he was using against demons and other monsters. A gun, some salt and holy water, a chalk, and a good old family grimoire that contained all kinds of information on demons, exorcising rituals, and everything else a demon hunter needed to know in order to be successful at his job. Of course, Marcus knew most of that stuff by heart, but he had a habit of keeping that book by his side at all times. Wearing some blue jeans, gray T-shirt and a black leather jacket, he didn't really stand out from all the other people that were there. He looked like a man who stopped by to get himself a drink or two before continuing his journey, and that's exactly what Marcus wanted everyone to believe. Since he had no intention of making new friends, he didn't care to put a smile on his face upon entering the bar. He preferred to look as dark and serious as possible, because that way almost no one dared to bother him with stupid questions like ''What's your name? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?''. Not even the ladies, who were usually instantly attracted to his whole 'mysterious bad guy image'. ''One beer, please,'' he ordered when he reached the counter, and looked around himself to see whether his target was already there.​
     
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  2. Sophia Longfellow
    Blood. Blood was everywhere. Walls were covered in red, floor sticky with the life-giving liquid. The metallic stench almost made her gag. Sophia knew she should run, but something urged her to continue. Unable to resist, the girl advanced further into the depths of the building where the metallic stench intensified. The house itself looked mundane enough. It was large - too large to really serve as a residential area - and the ceiling hovered so high above her head a monster truck could easily fit in there. If Sophia had to guess, she'd identify it as an old storage. The shelves were long gone, but the air carried that unmistakable scent associated only with years of staleness. It had become so ingrained in the surroundings not even blood could erase it fully. Step by step, Sophia was getting closer. Fear would have been a logical emotion to experience, yet she felt strangely distanced from it all. Seeing the horrific scene unfold with her own eyes wasn't so different than watching a b-grade horror movie, except that reality had much better graphics. Then she finally saw it; a creature hunched over a pile of meat and bones which used to be human, munching on its meal with gusto. When she had witnessed similar horror for the first time, it was hard to fight her gag reflex, but experience had dulled the impact significantly. Now Sophia only briefly wondered whether urban legends were true and human meat really tasted like pork.

    A movement caught by her peripheral vision didn't surprise her, either. She didn't even bother to confirm the newcomer's identity. It was always him. The man with raven hair and starkly blue eyes never failed to come, making sure to bring judgement upon those born out of her nightmares. Sensing foreign presence, the ghoul turned around and brandished its sharp teeth. He calmly cocked his gun and proceeded to put a bullet in the beast's forehead. The skull practically exploded, pieces of brain flying in all cardinal directions, and -


    "Soph? Sophie, are you alright?" The vision suddenly dissipated and Sophia realized she was staring in her roommate's concerned face. The redhead blinked a few times, looking a bit disoriented, but then she forced herself to smile. "Y-yeah, I'm fine. If you want to interrogate me about daydreaming, then I freely admit I'm guilty." Lara didn't seem exactly convinced. The girl's eyes narrowed slightly as she examined her friend's expression, presumably attempting to discover signs that would catch her in a lie. "Are you sure? You kinda gave off a strange vibe... As if you were out of it, if you know what I mean." Unfortunately for her, Sophia's ability to mask her feelings would probably leave even professional poker players in the dust, so her face was innocence incarnate. "Don't be so paranoid, Lara. I just let my mind wander for a while, that's all. Is it suddenly illegal?" she reached after one of the slices of bread on the table and put some butter on it. Hunger didn't really bother her right now, but occupying her hands was a good idea unless she wanted to give away her deception via uncomfortable fiddling with her fingers. Besides, getting some precious nutrients before heading off to work wouldn't hurt her. Waitresses didn't have many opportunities to eat during their shift because the patrons demanded constant focus.

    "No, of course it's not," Lara replied, helping herself to a cup of coffee. "I'm just making sure your... recovery is going well. Is being a good friend suddenly illegal?" It was Sophia's turn to shake her head. "No. Thank you for helping me, Lara. I'm grateful, really, but you don't have to act like I'm going to break down at any given moment. Doctors said I was healthy, remember?" Well, that wasn't exactly true. It had been three weeks since she had stopped taking her medication, yet her doctors had had no say in this decision. Sophia had honestly tried to follow their instructions and be a good patient, but the drugs they had prescribed to her made her feel like shit. Did they work? Yes, she couldn't complain about their effectiveness. The pills were extremely good at shoving all the nasty stuff her brain liked to fabricate into a vault and locking it up so it had no way of tormenting her anymore. They also did the same with her thoughts, emotions and ideas. If the price of sanity amounted to becoming a human vegetable, Sophia would choose madness every time. It wasn't so bad, really. The visions, while annoying, didn't truly scare her anymore and they weren't so frequent as to complicate her life much. Maybe she should try to embrace them and make the best of her situation instead of trying to suppress them. Lovecraft had supposedly suffered from paranoia and plethora of other mental issues, but his inner demons tampering with his mind was what had made him famous in the first place. It's clear that career path of a horror novelist is my destiny, she thought sarcastically as the two ate in silence.

    Then the time for relaxation ran out, which meant she had to prepare for the daily grind. Sophia put on her waitress uniform which consisted of a simple white shirt and a black miniskirt, said goodbye to Lara and went to work. The bar wasn't too far from her flat, so she didn't waste any money on public transport and took a walk instead. After exchanging few friendly words with her colleagues, Sophia got behind the counter. Hours passed in the usual blur of faked smiles, meaningless conversations with drunkards and wishing for her shift to end. Then arrival of a young man shattered the stereotype. There was nothing particularly bewildering about him from the objective standpoint. Yeah, he did seem about as warm and cordial as an average Arctic glacier, but he also didn't really look like the prime candidate for a future school shooter. Many men who visited this bar liked to cultivate this kind of standoffish aura to maintain that bad boy image that attracted ladies like flies to a carcass. It was a smart tactic to pick up girls, one that required practically zero effort. Sophia knew these types well enough not to shower them with the attention they craved, yet she couldn't take her eyes off this guy. He was the one from her dreams! Great, I'm going crazy. Or, since the ship with my mental health has sailed already, even crazier than I am. She pinched herself inconspicuously, half-expecting him to simply evaporate, but he remained seated in the chair, waiting for his beer.

    Right, the beer. Biggest star of her dreams or not, the man was still a paying customer and he shouldn't be ignored. "Ah, excuse me. I'll get to you immediately, sir." Approaching the fridge, Sophia pulled out a bottle of beer, poured it in a glass and served it to him. "Here you go!" the girl exclaimed, quietly wondering whether they had met before. Who knew, maybe they had and her defective memory had buried the knowledge deep into her subconsciousness. She had read somewhere that people appearing in dreams always had some basis in reality because human brain couldn't create faces without real life inspiration. If it was true, maybe she could learn something new about herself today. Sophia almost opened her mouth to ask, but another customer clicked his fingers loudly. "Hey, sweetie! Could I get another beer, too?" No, not unless you stop calling me sweetie, she thought irritably as she reached for yet another bottle. Saying it out loud would kill her already low chances of receiving a decent tip, though, so the grumble didn't make it past her lips. Sophia smiled instead and handed him the dewy glass... Only to almost drop it on the ground in shock when his face momentarily distorted into that of the ghoul from her earlier delusion. Okay, no way this is not a dream. I'm either asleep or staring into nothingness again while Lara worries about my well-being. It feels a lot more interactive than usual, though. Deciding to take advantage of the fact she wasn't a passive spectator this time, Sophia returned back to the demon slayer, her expression unreadable.

    "You're looking for someone here, aren't you?" she addressed him, her words barely a whisper. "Well, your search has ended. Do you see the guy on the far right? Messy blonde hair, beard, blue T-shirt and ragged jeans. That's him. You can do your usual thing now."
     
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  3. Marcus Blackwell
    Marcus knew exactly whom he was looking for, since he had been tracking him for quite a while. From what he gathered he seemed to be one of the lesser demons, and pretty new to the whole walking the Earth thing. In other words, it meant he wasn't as troubling as demons usually were, however, there was no reason to let him of the hook. Marcus had heard some of the hunters say that not all of the demons were equally evil. While some were as twisted as the Devil himself, others were just a bunch of lost souls, that only wanted to be left alone. What a load of crap! In his opinion evil was evil, as much as supernatural was not natural. And possessing random human's bodies – not cool. So for him doing his job wasn't a matter of moral judgement. He also didn't do it out of his concern for the wellbeing of 6 billion people. He just did what he had to do. It was his job, his life, and his destiny. Whether he liked it or not was completely irrelevant.

    The waitress behind a counter seemed to be a little nervous, but Marcus just thought she was being new to the job, and so he didn't pay a lot of attention to her. That didn't mean he didn't notice how pretty she was, but as a dog on a diet he focused on one thing he was allowed to have. A nice cold beer. Not nearly enough to get him through the day, but there was always a bottle of Jack in his car, hiden under the passanger's seat. The voice of a man who ordered another beer caught him by surprise, although his expression remained unaffected. He recognized him just by the voice, and so he didn't even have to look at him to confirm that his target was indeed there. But what he really didn't expect were the waitress' next words. It came to him as a complete surprise, that resulted in a lifting of his right eyebrow, which in his facial expression repertoar was considered to be an extreme reaction to a mild shock. For a moment, his mind went completely crazy running through all sorts of possible explanations as to why would a waitress said those exact words to him. Judging from her appearance – meaning, she looked like a normal human being, without any supernatural craziness attached – there was only one explanation that made sense to him at that moment. Another hunter. What he didn't quite get was how did she know he was a hunter himself, and why was she sending him to do the dirty work if she could obviously take care of it herself. The urgency of the situation didn't give him much time to question her, so he made a quick decision to do what hunters usually did in situations like this – they collaborated.

    ''Alright, Sophie, or whatever your name is,'' he said upon reading the name of her identity badge, assuming being a waitress was one of her many fake identities. ''Clearly we are on the same page here, so here's the plan. I'll go make a trap in men's toilet, while you do whatever it takes to convince him to follow me there. The rest I will take care of myself.'' Plain and simple. Pretty boring too, but they really didn't have to make a scene in order to take care of that guy. He was more of a drunk than he was a vicious demon. Marcus didn't wait on Sophie to give him any sign of confirmation. His orders were so clear there was no need for further clarification. Just lure him there, period. So before she could say anything else, he was already walking toward the restroom facilities. There he entered the room with a small male figure portrayed on the door. After he made sure no one else was in, he took a black chalk out of his pocket, and climbed onto the sink that was on the left side of the room, pretty close to the door itself.

    Luckily for him, the ceiling wasn't as high, so he was able to reach it without over-stretching himself. With a chalk he then quickly draw a meter wide pentagram sigil, called a Devil's trap, that had a power of capturing a demon in place once it had stepped under it. This was considered to be the most humane way of taking out a demon. Not because it was the least excruciating for them, for it was not, but because there were no physical injuries caused to the human body in the process. Which basically meant that after the exorcism was completed, and demon was sent back to hell, human was able to regain control over their own body, and walk away as if nothing happened – only they usually remembered everything that they've done during the time they were possesed. Sadly, there was no cure for that, and many that had survived the whole act of exorcism later just couldn't bare the memories of the things they saw and done.

    Marcus was finished with drawing the sigil in less than a minute, which gave him enough time to jump from the sink, and prepare for the special guest's arrival. The room was narrow enough, so there was no way that demon could bypass the sigil. All he needed to do was to walk straight into it. In order to lure him closer, when he'd arrived, Marcus stood on the other side of the restroom, with a gun in his hand just to be safe, and his eyes patiently glaring at the door.
     
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  4. Sophia Longfellow
    What exactly had she expected? To tell you the truth, dear reader, Sophia had no idea. Yes, the visions had been plaguing her for so long that not experiencing at least one a day felt almost like missing an episode of her favorite soap opera, but initiating contact with the hunter was a step out of her comfort zone. Maybe even a pretty big leap. The only thing her dreams had told about him was that he apparently liked to kill monsters. While that seemed all fine and dandy, it certainly didn't erase the possibility of him also having different hobbies, like butchering nosy waitresses who apparently knew too much for their own good. Sophia sincerely doubted her brain could actually convince her pain receptors to simulate the agony of being dismembered alive, but tempting the fate usually didn't pay off. Reality routinely disregarded all laws of probability when it concerned her solely to go out of its way to kick her ass in the most outlandish ways imaginable. Besides, she couldn't deny it deceived her senses very effectively. Would it really be so difficult to imitate pain? Finding out suddenly didn't look like a seductive prospect. Still, Sophia maintained neutral expression, acting as if instructing total strangers to go kill abominations from the depths of hell itself was the most natural thing in the world.

    Her exclamation caught the guy off guard and for a brief moment, Sophia thought he was going to send her where sun didn't shine for spouting utter nonsense, but he recovered from the shock rather quickly. In a 180 degree turn, the man proposed a plan on how to defeat the demon together and ran off to do his part without really waiting for her confirmation. Well, I guess membership of the monster hunter club isn't as exclusive as one would anticipate it to be. Then again, this is all happening in my head. I can't really expect things to be logical, now can I? Sophia momentarily flirted with the idea of pretending their little exchange had never happened and continuing to do her work just like usual, but it was rejected quickly. The visions always found their way to drag her right in the middle of the bloody mess whether she liked it or not and going off the script would likely result in her imagination coming up with needlessly creative punishment. Plus, if I comply with this narrative, maybe I'll actually unearth something about nature of these delusions I have. It's going to be like self-induced psychotherapy! The only obstacle in her path to self-discovery was devising a plausible way to lure the demon to the restrooms. Somehow, I assume that saying there's a candy hidden in the restrooms isn't gonna cut it. Okay, Sophie, think. What can you do to make him obey you?

    Every successful manipulator knew that key to turning people into puppets that danced according to your will was in determining what they wanted. Sophia didn't know this guy at all and she couldn't afford to waste her time getting closer to him, but that didn't matter. Not when she could rely on such convenient tropes as damsel in distress. Men usually loved to feel important. Stroking his ego by asking him for a favor Sophia was allegedly too weak to do herself and offering an adequate reward would likely work wonders. Feeling a bit silly about this whole affair, the redhead stretched her lips in a smile again and approached the demon in disguise again. "Excuse me, sir. Do you have a minute or two?" The man in question looked up from his drink. "Well, that depends. What do you want, sweetie?" Sophia cast her eyes down for a moment, feigning shyness expertly. "Well, it's a little embarrassing, but I figured I could ask my favorite customer for help. I've received some complaints that door to the third stall in men's restroom is jammed and I can't get it open. Would you try to solve it for me? Next beer is on the house if you do," she winked at him and started polishing a glass, wonderingwhether herperformance had been good enough.

    The way he practically jumped from his chair suggested that yes, her charade had been rather persuasive. "Heh, you know I can't resist a bribe like that. I'll see what I can do," he promised and walked towards the restrooms. Hook, line, and sinker. That was almost too easy. Nevertheless, Sophia could still feel strange kind of excitement rising in her chest. She had just helped to get rid of one of these monsters for the first time. Did it mean something? Could it be representation of her mind finally dealing with its issues? Probably not, but at least she was getting some amusement out of them now.
     
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  5. Marcus Blackwell
    What the hell was he doing trusting the waitress to do her part of the deal? He didn't even know who she was, or if she was indeed a hunter as he so foolishly presumed at a first glance. Perhaps he should really consider cutting down on the amount of alcohol he was lately consuming in order to get himself through all the shitty work. But then again it was that time around the anniversary of his wife's death, which after 5 years he still couldn't handle without drowning himself in a strong liquid every night for one whole month. He was just pondering, whether he made a serious mistake of dragging the waitress into this, when the door of the restroom finally opened, and there in between stood the man Marcus was waiting for.

    ''Well, hello there, sweetie. I've been waiting for you. Wanna play?'' he smirked at the demon, cocking the gun just to piss him off. Man's eyes turned black for a moment, which instantly gave away his true identity. For some reason, demons only did that when they were really pissed, which is why making them mad was consider a good way of confirming their presence. Although, not so good if you weren't prepared for what usually followed such provocation. Demon snarled at Marcus, and as expected launched itself toward him, only to end up being caught in the invisible trap. Realizing that, demon looked up at the ceiling, and snarled again at Marcus. ''You! The Blackwell boy!'' He knew exactly what was going to happen to him, for he had heard the stories about this particular hunter, who was known to be one of the most ruthless of his kind.

    ''In my own flesh. Unlike you, you piece of shit.'' Now that he had in him place, where he was unable to use any of his powers, Marcus put the gun away, and extended his open hand toward the demon. The words that came out of his mouth were one of the prayers from his family grimoire, that served as an effective exorcism tool:

    »Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus
    omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio
    infernalis adversarii, omnis legio,
    omnis congregatio et secta diabolica.«

    Demon growled out in pain as his spirit was being torn out of the human body by the sheer force of Marcus's uttered words. A black smoke began comming out of the victim's mouth, gathering below the ceiling as a whirling dark fog. The demon was out, and now all Marcus had to do was send him back to where it came from.

    »Ergo draco maledicte
    et omnis legio diabolica adjuramus te.
    Cessa decipere humanas creaturas,
    eisque aeternae Perditionis venenum propinare!«

    With the last word spoken the fog was sent spinning downward, leaving charred marks on the floor behind it. Meanwhile, the man regained control of his own body, and was now staring at Marcus with sheer perplexity. Not because he didn't know what was going on around him, for he was aware during the time of his possesion, but because he still couldn't believe that demon possesion was in fact real. ''Wha-?'' he half coughed, too confused to continue his own sentence. ''What the hell? Exactly,'' Marcus helped him out by finishing his sentence. He had witnessed this kind of a reaction for a thousandth time, so he knew exactly what to expect. Yet his capacity for showing at least a bit of a compassion to the victims of demon possession was close to a none, for he really didn't have the energy nor the will to help them understand what actually happened to them. Ever since his wife died, he couldn't be bothered to offer these people any kind of consolation. But even before it was always her who cared enough to attend to victims' psychological needs after the exorcism was done. ''You're free to go now. Try not to drink as much. It might save you from getting another one of these little suckers,'' was all he was able to say to a man, who was now just realizing that his life would never be the same again. ''And yeah, a 'thanks' would suffice, but you're welcome,'' Marcus added upon leaving the restroom, although he was being used to not receiving any kind of gratitude from the people he saved. This was probably due to the fact, that he never stayed around long enough to even get a proper 'thanks', but still – demon hunting was an unthankful job by its definition. Especially if the hunter, like in Marcus' case, was more focused on killing the monsters than saving people.

    Marcus didn't care to look behind himself or offer the man to accompany him back to the bar. Instead, he walked straight to the counter, where his unfinished beer was still faithfully waiting on him. ''It's done. But I think he might need a drink or two to get over that one,'' he said to the waitress, as he reclaimed his previous seat and took a sip of beer. ''But now I have to ask you...'' he continued, his expression cold as ice despite the obvious confusion reflected in his words. ''Have we met before? How the hell did you know I was a hunter?'' Marcus pierced through Sophie with his questions, that were far from being the only ones. He was very much intrigued by her presence, because she didn't looked like anything he encountered before. So human, so ordinary, so not appearing like a professional hunter, and yet she could spot a demon even before he did. And since he wasn't a guy, who would let any of his questions remain unanswered, he felt he needed to warn her about that. ''You better have a reasonable explanation or else I might have to put you through supernatural-proofing process right here at the counter. Are we clear? Now speak.''
     
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  6. Sophia Longfellow
    In a way, Sophia almost regretted missing the demon's inevitable demise. It probably spoke volumes about how messed up she truly was underneath the guise of normality she wore to trick people into recognizing her as one of them, but exorcism fascinated her. Something about it seemed to please instincts that were usually lingering on the very edge of her consciousness, silently waiting for the opportunity to take over. What exactly made her feel that way? Was it joy from those parasites receiving their well deserved comeuppance, the same kind of morbid curiosity that prevented people from looking away when witnessing the bloodiest car accidents or just developing sociopathy? Sophia didn't know. To be completely honest, she also wasn't totally sure whether she wanted to know. Some secrets were better left uncovered. Certain people would interpret it as a cowardice, but there was a fine line between fearing you could be a potentially dangerous nutjob who should never breed in order to stop her deficient genes from spreading and getting your suspicions confirmed. Sweet ignorance let her live with herself normally, or at least as normally as the circumstances allowed it. Sophia continued polishing the glasses even though they looked so clean not even the most maniacal hypochondriacs would be afraid to drink from them. Few things soothed her so thoroughly as these simple moves.

    Then the hunter returned back to his seat. Even though he didn't seem exactly triumphant, the lack of any visible injuries and panic told her he had succeeded before he opened his mouth. It didn't surprise her at all. From what she had seen, this man was a true professional while the demon likely occupied the lowest positions in the hellish hierarchy. He had also apparently managed to expel the fiend without hurting its host which felt like a nice bonus. She had assumed the demons couldn't really be separated from the unlucky humans whose bodies they had stolen, so this revelation definitely satisfied her. His next question, however, didn't have such a positive effect on her. Why do you even demand this knowledge? Aren't you a little cheeky for a figment of my imagination? The truth was that doubts began attacking her mind. This situation seemed awfully sinister for some reason. Yes, her head adored to supply her with nasty stuff that could likely break weaker souls, but it had always had the decency of following the time-tested rules in the past. For instance, her delusions had never been so... coherent before. The usual modus operandi was the she suddenly found herself disconnected from the reality, watching the monsters getting slaughtered while nobody acknowledged her presence. Sophia had tried to speak to the man once, yet he clearly couldn't see her. The delusions had also released her from their grip the moment the supernatural critter bit the dust. Why did it proceed so differently this time? Was her condition worsening without the medication keeping it on a tight leash? Or could it be that this wasn't one of her visions after all?

    Sophia shook her head, suppressing the heretical thought back into oblivion. What would save her if she couldn't trust in her critical reasoning to guide her through the darkness? Still, it was probably better to play along for now, if only to find out what would happen. "Well, I'll gladly tell you, but I'm not sure whether it falls under the category of reasonable explanations. Most likely not unless you're using some different definition of that word," the redhead admitted and ran her hand through her hair in an obvious gesture of nervousness. "Yeah, we have met before. Specifically, I've met you, but you haven't got to meet me. And before you start thinking about getting a restraining order against me, let me assure you I'm not a creepy stalker. I've just... been having those delusions focused on you killing monsters. In other words, I'm a certified loon. Finally meeting you in person would actually be rather cool - I'm a big fan of your work, you see - if I wasn't 85 percent sure this is just another product of chemical imbalance in my brain," Sophia stated calmly, slightly shocked by her own bluntness. She usually wasn't this open about her issues with anyone, though it made sense he would be an exception. Unlike practically everyone else, he had no right to accuse her of madness.
     
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  7. Marcus Blackwell
    Marcus was more than tempted to splash some holy water over the Sophie's face, just to be sure she wasn't some sort of a demon in disguise messing with his head. But for some reason, his gut was telling him that she was as pure as a newborn's teardrop. And completely ignorant for that matter. Why else would she so openely talk to him about her 'condition', and above all else – why would she help him get rid of that demon if she belonged to the dark side? Marcus didn't even have to ask her whether she was a hunter or not, because it was more than clear that she wasn't. Then what the hell she was? He also didn't buy all of that her being a lunatic crap, because knowing from his own experience there was crazy, and then there was crazy. Surely the human mind was able to create all kinds of strange stuff, and even make you believe all of it was real, but this… this was something else. If she'd told him, she was a psychic, he would have believed her with no questions asked. But having all that knowledge without being aware of what it was… well, no wonder she thought she was nuts.

    ''Alright,'' was all he said after the thoughtful process of trying to put the pieces of her sentences together in a more sensible explanation that she'd had offered him. She probably didn't expect such a short and simple answer to all the crazy babble she produced in order to explain herself, but that was just Marcus' style. Why waste words if there was no reason for it? ''Next queston. How did you know that guy was a demon? Did you have visions of him too?'' he asked her bluntly, without a sound of scorning in his voice, for he took their conversation as serious as one possibly could. To him it was as if he were working on another case, where he had to determine whether there was something supernatural going on or not. In other words, he was intrigued by Sophie not because he wanted to help her understand her situation, but because he had a reason to believe she could present a serious threat. Crazy or not crazy, normal humans did not repeatedly dream about a demon hunter, and then got to meet them in person.

    Meanwhile, the man whom Marcus had saved from a demon's grip finally managed to get back from the restrooms. He looked confused, and scared, and disoriented. Basically, he looked like everyone else who had been suffering from a demon possession hangover as Marcus liked to call it. He hoped the man would want nothing more than to go back to his family as possibly as he could, so he wouldn't have to deal with him again. But upon seeing the hunter who had just saved his life – or probably ruined it – he began advancing toward the counter. Marcus carefully watched with a corner of his eye, not wanting to give him any reason to engage in a conversation with him, for his momentary interests were obviously laying elsewhere. ''Thanks…I guess?'' the man suddenly spoke, carefully glancing at the hunter. Marcus beckoned Sophie to give the man something to drink, preferably stronger than the beer, in hopes he'd leave them alone. But the man clearly had no intention of keeping silent, and was now staring at Sophie in a strange kind of concern. ''The demon…They are watching you…and they talk about you. They are afraid…'' the man continued to talk in a strange sort of awe, his words making Marcus finally decide to say something back. ''Of course they are afraid. I'm not considered the best hunter around just due to my pretty face,'' he remarked cynically, rolling his eyes at the man. But then, his next words caught Marcus completely by surprise. ''Not you, you self-absorbed asshole. They are afraid of her. And they want her dead.''
     
    #7 Manticore, May 29, 2015
    Last edited: May 29, 2015
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  8. Sophia Longfellow
    Alright? That's everything you're going to say? Sophia could see he was the type to use words so sparingly as if they were non-renewable resources, but she had definitely expected a stronger reaction. It didn't necessarily need to manifest itself through words - hell, expressions could be more telling than essays most of the time - but he looked completely unfazed. The composure with which he continued to ask questions invoked image of a clerk making sure she hadn't screwed up anything on her tax return form, not a demon hunter treading in an uncharted territory. Sophia had also thought he was going to try and convince her she should treat everything those visions had showed her as a gospel truth as most people didn't exactly enjoy being reduced to nothing more than character in someone's dreams, yet he apparently didn't care at all. Had he underwent an operation to have his emotions surgically removed? Then again, this cold professionalism probably was what kept him alive in his line of business. Plus, even though his demeanor did throw her off balance a bit, Sophia had to admit it constituted a welcome change from the sympathetic looks she tended to receive whenever someone found out about her condition. In a way, it felt as if he considered her his equal.

    "Yes and no," she responded after a moment of deliberation. "I don't remember ever meeting this concrete guy in my visions, but I'm familiar with his... Demon type? Is this how you call it? I'm not really well-versed in the jargon since I've been getting all my info from visual cues," Sophia explained, sounding genuinely apologetic. Yes, nobody with IQ higher than average room temperature could possibly blame her for not knowing demon lore, but being the chronic perfectionist she was, the waitress still felt a little inadequate for not being able to communicate clearly. It reminded her of visiting her Italian relatives while not having a good grasp of their language. They hadn't mocked her for her ignorance back then, yet her own shame had forced her to master Italian in a record speed. "I recognized him as a demon because I saw he was one. When I looked at him for the first time, his true form sort of flashed through his face. Don't you have a supernatural detector of your own?" There had to be some reliable way he could tell apart demons wearing human skin from normal people. It likely wasn't as instinctive as her method, at least judging from the fact he had apparently been slower to notice the fiend's presence, but Sophia somewhat doubted it consisted of politely asking suspicious individuals whether they didn't happen to have an uninvited guest inhabiting their body.

    Seeing the formerly possessed man return back to the counter normally as if he had just finished answering the call of nature was a little surreal, especially since she had thought he wouldn't survive the ordeal. The poor guy did seem a bit shaken which prompted her to pull out a bottle of vodka even before her new friend's incentive. He would probably need a good psychologist to get rid of the immense emotional baggage that came with identity theft, but alcohol could make his worries disappear, if only temporarily. Short-term relief was all you needed sometimes. His next words, however, stopped her dead in her tracks. What? Me? Out of all people on this earth, they're afraid of me? Looking up at the customer from the bottle, Sophia suddenly burst out laughing. Yet another evidence this couldn't possibly be real! Why would they focus on someone so non-threatening? On a mere civilian with absolutely no training? "I'm sorry," she started with a small smile gracing her lips, "but why would they want me dead? I guess wanting people dead in general is kinda their whole shtick, but why me specifically? Am I their equivalent of NSA? Are the demons doing something embarrassing when they think nobody is watching and now they're afraid I'm going to spill the beans? If that's their issue with me, they shouldn't fret. It's not like I can speak about it without being branded as a complete and utter fool."
     
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  9. Marcus Blackwell
    A waitress with clear visions of a real hunter she’d never seen before, and ability to see a demons’ true form? Marcus had to admit it - he was being impressed. Although, he couldn’t think of a single theory that would explain what exactly was going on with Sophie, he was pretty sure it wasn’t due to some kind of a mental illness. No, this was pure supernatural. He had never heard of people being able to see demons’ true form before, and as far as he knew not even the best of psychics had this sort of ability. He could only dream of ever possessing such power, that would clearly simplify his job, and enable him to act more effectively. But then again, it would probably make him even a bigger target – being known as the most ruthless hunter there ever was, apart from his late father before him, caused him to have quite a reputation among demons. Not just the lesser ones, but also the ‘big bosses’. One of their many issues was with the fact that in order to stop Marcus they had to get directly through him. Since he had no living relatives left, no family of his own, and no close friends, whom he’d be willing to give his life for, he was practically untouchable. The only leverage the demons had on him, his wife, had already been wasted for nothing but sheer entertainment.

    After five seconds long astonishment, caused by man’s revelation, Marcus’s blood froze in dread. From his point of view, Sophie’s laughter seemed almost grotesque. Not because there would be anything wrong with her way of laughing, but because she wasn’t aware that the men had just sentenced her to death. Well, not literally, but still. When demons talked about killing someone, they didn’t do it in a conference room. They went out and they circled the victim, watching their every move, waiting for the best moment to attack. In other words, the demon Marcus had just sent on his merry way back to hell, wasn’t the only one around keeping a watchful eye on their current most prominent target. While the man could only shrug his shoulders in regard to why would the demons want Sophie dead, Marcus had an answer of his own – her ability to see demons with her naked eye was obviously considered as a serious threat.

    ''We have to get out of here,'' Marcus suddenly urged, his voice dead serious. ‘’Sophie,’’ he called her by her name in order to get her full attention. ''You asked me before if I had my own supernatural detector. Well, consider my gut as one. I know how these things operate. If you really have a target on your back, it's just a matter of time before they pull the trigger.'' Realizing that she might have trouble believing his sudden outburst of words, which to her probably appeared like they came out of nowhere, he leaned a bit closer with his eyes set boldly on hers. ''You want to know what you are? I can help you get the answers. But you have to come with me, right this second. Or else…'' He wasn’t able to finish his sentence, for there was a sudden change in the air. To the inexperienced pair of eyes, or better yet - the nostrils – this change would probably go unnoticed. But for Marcus, even the slightest smell of sulphur reeked like the bottom of hell itself. ''Shit. They are already here.'' His hand had automatically reached for the gun, while he slowly turned around to face the entrance to the bar, where four newcomers stood in line with a sinister smiles upon their faces.

    “Well, well, well…is that fear I see in your eyes, Marcus?” spoke one of them, a cute blonde that would look like a random meangirl if it weren’t for her extra special aura of pure evilness. “Astaroth…” He could recognize her anywhere, no matter whose body she was occupying - the bitch who turned his life into a living hell was once again mocking his existence. “Or is it rage? Don’t tell me you’re still mad at me for what I did to your wife?” she taunted him, while licking her lips in pure contempt. “Screw you, bitch,” he snarled, his eyelid twitching in a mixture of emotions that her remark had pushed to the near surface. "Oh, don’t be like that, darling. I haven’t even come for you. I find her to be a lot more interesting at the moment.” The demon pointed at Sophie, starting to slowly advance toward the counter with her three friends alongside her. “Back off,” Marcus warned her, his gun cocked and ready to blow her brains into oblivion. "Or what? You’ll shoot me? You do know that bullets cannot kill me, right?” she laughed at him scornfully, a part of her being slightly perplexed by his words, because bluffing wasn’t something that she considered to be Marcus’ thing.

    After urging Sophie to stay behind the counter, Marcus pointed the gun at Astaroth, only to change his mind in an instant, and instead of her shot the demon next to her right in between his eyes. There was a brief sound of a fire cracking, before the black smoke began coming out of his mouth, tearing itself apart just like clouds at the end of a storm. The rest of it fell on the ground like ashes, surrounding the human body that had died along with it. Before anyone could react, he shot another one to the left, making the third one disappear from the sight out of fear, leaving Astaroth all alone in the line. "These ones can,” was all he was able to say before Astaroth had sent him flying across the bar with just one wave of her hand, her eyes flashing in black due to her rage. He landed on the ground 10 meters away, smashing a table and a few chairs on his way. It wasn’t the first time a demon took it out on him like that, but that didn’t mean he got used to the pain that came along with it. "You are such a fool!” Astaroth pitched her scorning voice at him, slowly approaching him from behind. “You should’ve killed me while you had a chance,” she smirked, waving his gun away so he could not reach it, while Marcus was trying to pick himself up in order to face her. When Astaroth grabbed him, he managed to pull a silver cross he carried around in his pocket, and with a sheer force of will pressed it on her forehead. Her screaming was drown out by his uttered prayer, that drove out her spirit, and sent it spinning downward toward the pit. Only after the ritual was done, and all that was left of the vicious Astaroth was an unconscious pretty lady, Marcus finally managed to glance over to Sophie to see if she was ok. "Still a fan of my work?" he asked her cynically, while holding back the searing pain. The mess he just made in the bar was beyond cleaning point, especially with the number of bodies laying on the floor. Oh, well, he better got out of there before the authorities show up.
     
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  10. Sophia Longfellow
    The urgency in his voice silenced her laughter within seconds. "But I can't just disappear whenever I want to," Sophia protested. "My shift hasn't ended yet!" What would she say to her boss? Sorry, Bernie, but some trustworthy sources have confirmed I'm on the demons' hit list. I'd tell you more about it, but I don't wish to endanger your life. Surely, you understand. I'll be leaving with this handsome stranger to confront my fate, possibly to never return. You can continue sending my salary to my bank account, thank you very much. Indulging in this little power fantasy where she evidently mattered enough for the demons themselves to consider her a threat seemed like an interesting exploration of her mental issues, but this was going too far. Such irresponsibility as abandoning the counter without a good explanation could lead to disastrous consequences. Sophia didn't belong among the blessed minority that had won the cosmic lottery via being born with a silver spoon in their mouth and while she firmly believed everyone should try out different lifestyles before settling on one, homelessness didn't really strike her as an enticing prospect to pursue. The promise of finding out why her brain kept spitting out one horrifying vision after another did erode her resolve a bit, though. Could he truly help her discover the roots of her psychosis? And what was more important, could this knowledge potentially cure her?

    Then a shiver ran down her spine, kinda as if someone suddenly opened a window and let the freezing wind in, and Sophia simply knew something went terribly wrong. She had never been the one to rely on her instincts much, mainly because her senses loved to play nasty tricks on her, but this felt way too different for her to dismiss as a mere illusion. Every fiber of her body was tingling, and it wasn't the pleasant sort of excitement usually connected to roller coaster rides or your crush holding your hand for the first time. No, it could be compared to staring into a bottomless abyss only for the darkness to smirk back at you, revealing a set of unnaturally sharp teeth in the process. Evil had just entered this room, ready to harvest the fruits of the ignorance that had led her to stay here instead of following the hunter's advice. Sophia's gaze wandered to the door. The creatures standing there may have been human in shape, but her inner eyes stripped them of their masks and what she saw would likely be enough to shatter sanity of most people. Limbs in unimaginable places, animal parts fused with something so foreign there was no way to categorize it, essence of the hell itself mirroring in their empty eyes... Sophia lacked the vocabulary necessary to describe their appearance properly, but she sensed they were miles away from the ghoul in terms of power.

    Oddly enough, the dominant emotion gnawing at her insides wasn't fear. The pitiful fragments of a healthy sense of self-preservation telling her to run for the hills were drowning in desire to bathe those damned creatures in a cleansing fire. It had emerged from the centre of her being, rising like a tidal wave, and Sophia's hands balled into fists unconsciously. She had never really suffered from anger issues, preferring diplomacy over a violent solution, but these beings had awakened something primal within her and it demanded blood. Fortunately, the swift exchange between the man - Marcus? - and one of the intruders dispelled the red mist in front of her eyes before she committed some crime against common sense. A wife? Ouch. Choosing exterminating demons as your profession apparently came with few risks uncovered by insurance, like elimination of your loved ones by ancient horrors. Sophia obviously didn't know the details, but she could imagine they had had something special hidden up their sleeve for a wife of their enemy. Damn, poor woman. And poor Marcus. Now the waitress understood why he seemed so distant all the time. Living with the burden of contributing to your significant other's death, even if indirectly, must have been very draining. Deciding that following his orders would be the smartest decision for now, Sophia crouched behind the counter without any complaints. You just had to swallow your pride from time to time in order to admit you were useless. Enthusiasm in itself wouldn't turn her into a capable fighter. What could she do it help him? Slap the demons until they started seeing stars? Sophia didn't think so.

    Marcus was outnumbered, but she didn't feel the need to panic just yet. If her visions had been consistent in something, it was in portraying him as someone who never failed to devise new ways to remove the demonic threat. Still, Sophia didn't feel comfortable doing absolutely nothing, so she reached for the shotgun strategically placed in one of the drawers. Bernie had bought it so his employees could deal with especially problematic customers and while it likely couldn't seriously hurt the demons, the girl thanked his foresight. A small hope was better than no hope, similarly like a candle was better than having to sit in a complete darkness even though a light bulb would have been ideal. Sophia's grip on the weapon tightened. Her shooting experience so far amounted to bringing down few cans with bullets while drinking with friends, yet she trusted herself to fire accurately. Didn't adrenaline also improve aim? This little theory of hers remained untested, though, because it quickly turned out Marcus didn't need her assistance at all. When she finally crawled out of her hiding place, the once orderly bar could easily fit in a scene of some post-apocalyptic movie. Uh-oh, something tells me Bernie won't be happy to see this. "Yes, very much," Sophia confirmed as she approached Marcus. "I think I would like an autograph. Seriously, though, are you okay? Or at least as okay as you can be given the circumstances?"

    On the surface, Sophia looked exactly the same like her version from five minutes ago, yet a skilled observer could notice subtle changes. The way she held her body, for example, indicated decisiveness that hadn't been present before. The events that had just occurred tipped the metaphorical scales in favor of Marcus' story. It was a nice wake up call, if you will. Granted, it could still be an elaborate delusion born out of mental illness so unique Freud would sacrifice his left arm just so he could study it, but everything pointed to a different conclusion. The vision was just too detailed, too colorful in the material it provided, too large-scale. Maybe it could be true after all. And wasn't denying the reality despite abundance of evidence yet another form of madness? Numerous questions were practically burning hole through her tongue and she wanted her answers. Besides, if the demons truly targeted her for some reason, staying here would only endanger more people. "Alright, I think I trust you now. We should get out of here before it gets too crowded." Offering him her support in case he needed it, Sophia walked out of the door. The chilly night air caressed her skin, causing her to shudder slightly. "Have you come by car? I can drive if you navigate me."
     
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  11. Marcus Blackwell
    “Oh, I’m just peachy,” Marcus sarcastically responded through his teeth. It wasn’t the first time he was being thrown around as a sack of potatoes, but he still perceived it as an act that stripped him off all his dignity. Slowly he managed to get himself back on his two feet, while glancing around to spot the gun Astaroth had snatched away from him. It was the only thing that he knew of that was able to kill demons. Not just send them to Hell, but really end them. One might think he’d used those magic bullets on the one demon he blamed for his wife’s death, but the truth was that death was too merciful to act as a fair retribution. No, that bitch Astaroth deserved much worse than elimination from the face of this Universe. After picking up the gun, he only briefly looked around himself. Two dead human bodies and one unconscious. It could be worse, he thought to himself, not really caring about who these poor people were, and who was going to explain to their saddened families what had happened to them. He strode after Sophie, who seemed to be just a little too eager to join him after the things she just witnessed. Maybe she really is crazy, he thought silently, quickly reminding himself that she actually wasn’t much safer around him, and that he should get out of her life before the curse strikes again.

    “No offense, but I’d rather drive my own car. It has a few perks that yours definitely doesn’t,” he said rather patronizingly, but still with a smile on his lips. His car was a black El Camino, and it was probably the only thing that remained faithfully by his side throughout all these years. Even though the car was just a thing, it was both Marcus’s companion and a home for all the times he spent on the road. Not to mention it had a trunk full of anti-demon weapons. “Besides, we’re far from being off the radar. These suckers really do seem to be interested in you,” he said while unlocking the car. “But then again, so am I,” he added with a slight spark in his otherwise expressionless eyes. Sophie was special, and there was no doubt about it. It was only natural for him to become intrigued by the puzzle he couldn’t possibly solve on his own. Surely, that meant he would have to pay a visit to one of his few remaining friends, who were still happy to see him despite the fact that he’d been keeping them at arms’ length, and wasn’t very keen on visiting them.

    He slide behind the wheel, and waited for Sophie to take the passenger seat before starting the engine. Meanwhile, he took the phone out of his pocket and dialed the number he hadn’t in a very long time. Before the person on the other side managed to pick up their phone, he already maneuvered the car out of a parking spot and directed it on the road. When the woman on the other side of the line finally answered, he already knew the conversation was going to be a little bit awkward. “Hey, Ellen, it’s me…. Yeah, I know. … Listen, I have something you need to see. Well, actually it’s more like someone...What? No! it’s not a new girlfriend, Jesus. Just tell me where you are…..Alright, perfect. I happen to be in the neighborhood, so I’ll be there in a bit… Thanks. Bye.” He rolled his eyes, and put the phone down. All the while he was trying to put up a serious face, he was actually leavened by hearing Ellen’s voice. The woman was practically the closest thing he had for a mother, since his biological one died when he was little. Then he realized it would be proper of him to let Sophie know what was going on, and where he was taking her to. “That was my friend. Well, sort of. I don’t really have friends. Anyway, she’s a psychic and I believe she will be able to tell you more about yourself and your… gifts. Also, we’ll be safe there from all the demons that might be after us at this point,” Marcus explained to her briefly, only glancing at her to see her nonverbal reaction to his words. For a ‘certified lunatic’ she was quite collected in her thoughts, since most people would be completely freaked out by the whole situation. Of course, he could only thank god for that, because he really had no intention of dealing with a troubled person for long. He spent the rest of the drive rather quietly, for he saw no reason why he should engage in the conversation with her. He wasn’t planning on becoming friends with her, and he was determined to get himself back on the road after Ellen takes care of her. If he was meaning to protect her, he might as well do it thoroughly.

    After 10-minutes’ drive out of town they reached a house that seemed to be quite old, and yet very well taken care of. The lawn was green and mowed, with a nice white-painted fence around it. One could easily say it was the sight of a true American dream. However, the truth was far from there. “Here we are,” Marcus made the announcement after parking in front of the psychic’s house. Once out of the car he beckoned Sophie to follow him, and strode toward the door, that suddenly opened even before Marcus set his foot on the first stair. There stood a middle-aged black woman, who was wearing an apron, and looked like she was just in the middle of baking something. “Marcus! It’s so good to see you! Come on, let me hug you,” she squeaked upon seeing him, and pulled him into a tight hug that could literally broke his already battered bones. But before he could cry out in pain to inform her that his body was too aching to consider her hug as a pleasant act of affection, Ellen already released him upon receiving this message through her ‘psychic touch’. “Oh, I’m sorry. That must have hurt,” she apologized, and then finally glanced over to Sophie. “Hello, there. My name is Ellen. Nice to meet you…?” “It’s Sophie. Now let’s go inside, before the demons spot us standing on the freaking porch,” Marcus interrupted her, and with a gentle gesture pushed both of the ladies inside the house.
     
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  12. Sophia Longfellow
    "Oh, really? Well, I'm fairly sure I could adapt as long as your car has a steering wheel on the right side," Sophia responded in kind, still suspiciously calm for the events she had just witnessed. Many people dealt with trauma through withdrawing into themselves and shutting down emotionally, but that just didn't seem to be her case. The sparks dancing in her eyes spoke about fascination rather than about some inner crisis turning her world upside down. Mild concern had found its way in her features, yet it was the kind of uneasiness you would display upon finding out you had just missed your train. "Nerves of steel" could clearly be her middle name, even though her parents obviously didn't hate her enough for it to happen. "But alright," Sophia showed her palms in a defensive gesture, "As humiliating as it is, I will cast away my pride and reconcile with the role of a passenger. My life is in your hands now, so be careful. It would be somewhat underwhelming if I were to die in a car accident right after discovering I may actually matter," she chuckled quietly and made herself comfortable on the passenger's seat. The waitress lived in a state of eternal paranoia when it came to strangers, possibly her brain portrayed disturbingly high amount of them as something straight out of a horror movie, so this was the first time she had entered someone's car without knowing them well. It didn't really unearth any insecurities, even though it probably should have.

    Maybe she really did suffer from chronic gullibility syndrome. What guaranteed Marcus was unambiguously on her side? His pretty eyes? Sophia had no logical reason to think he actually cooperated with demons, but that didn't necessarily mean he wanted to protect her interests. "Enemy of my enemy is my friend" looked like a nice strategy on the paper, though anyone not looking at the reality through rose-colored lenses of a child knew it didn't exactly work this way all the time. If bad sci-fi movies about teenage mutants taught her anything, it was that people with special powers couldn't be careful enough when choosing who to trust. Allies who pursued their own hidden agenda could easily transform into a poison eating you from within. Well, it's not like I have a choice to do anything else but follow him if I wish to solve this issue. I doubt I could hire a licensed exorcist to serve as my bodyguard in case I need to fend off further demon attacks. As it is, this man is my best bet on safety. Besides, Sophia refused to believe Marcus could be involved in some shady business. He just didn't strike her as the lying type. Sure, guys good at deception hardly walked around with "I'm a crook" written on their foreheads in neon letters, yet some half-forgotten instinct surviving in the murky depths of her mind apparently approved of him. Listening to the whole phone phone call with an unabashed curiosity, Sophia tilted her head aside a little. Eavesdropping surely didn't count as a big sin against etiquette when you were the main topic of the conversation, right?

    Marcus mercifully spared her from having to fight for every piece of information, though, and the girl simply nodded. "Fine, I guess that makes sense. Can't say I'm excited about someone messing with my head, but a little mental probe is probably in order." After a moment of silence that seemed to drag on like honey, Sophia put her hand in his shoulder hesitantly. "Thank you. Thank you for going out of your way to help me. It means a lot to me. I know my condition is likely just an anomaly that captivates you from a professional standpoint, yet that doesn't make it less valid." Sophia wasn't exaggerating in the slightest. Accepting the doctors' diagnosis certainly didn't make the label of a lunatic less hurtful. Not knowing whether she could trust her eyes to capture the reality without adding some psychotic spin on it filled her with genuine dread, even though her dignity prevented her from outwardly manifesting any symptoms of fear. Learning that there was something fundamentally wrong with the world itself instead of her felt almost soothing. Sophia spent the rest of their journey observing her surroundings from the window. Marcus didn't seem eager to talk and to be honest, she didn't mind the silence, either. Too many thoughts were roaming in her mind freely and taming for the purpose of a debate looked like a waste of time. If demons existed and physics existed, what about other supernatural creatures that had shaped her childhood? Could she ever see a real unicorn? How many of the crazy conspiracy theories supported by nutcases in tinfoil hats were actually true? And how come that presence of the demons had ignited such raw hatred within her instead of triggering some much more sensible reaction such as fleeing?

    The endless string of questions was suddenly interrupted by the engine coughing and stopping altogether which signaled they arrived to their destination. "Great," Sophia uttered while getting out of the car, excitement infiltrating her voice against her will. Was it possible she could truly receive concrete answers to the mysteries that had been bothering her so long? So this is Ellen? the redhead thought as she watched the woman squeezing oxygen out of Marcus' body. Contrary to her expectations, Ellen looked almost staggeringly normal. Sophia could easily imagine having her as a neighbor and visiting her to drink a coffee with her from time to time. Well, I guess my idea of her as a fragile, ephemeral being covered in exotic tattoos may have been slightly misleading. "Sophia Longfellow," she smiled warmly and extended her hand once they were in the house, unsatisfied with Marcus' quick introduction. You could never fix a bad first impression and letting Ellen categorize her as a shy little girl incapable of speaking for herself wouldn't be the best ground for a friendship. "Glad to meet you, too," she added. The two shook her hands politely, but then Ellen's amicable expression gained some pensive undertones. "I have to say, your shield is quite impressive. Is this why Marcus wanted me to meet you?" Sophia raised her eyebrow. "What shield? What are you talking about?" It was Ellen's turn to wonder. "I don't sense anything from you which means you have to be blocking me. Are you not aware of it?" Awesome, new superpower. I'll be able to generate laser beams from my eyes soon at this rate. "Well, maybe I'm just secretly a robot sent from the future to remedy wrongdoings of the past?" she laughed, but it didn't take her long to sober. "Yeah, this is new. I'm here because I've been having some near-prophetic dreams and I can also recognize demons in their human form, all without any training. Marcus was thinking you could help me to discover what's up with me."

    The psychic was fully focused on her now, looking like a scientist who had just stumbled upon the missing link in human evolution. Those big brown eyes seemingly could see right to the core of her very soul and Sophia shuddered slightly. "Oh my, this is interesting. To tell you the truth, I don't know what you may be, darling. I've never heard about someone possessing these particular abilities before. I can examine your memories for any clues, but you'll have to cooperate with removing that block of yours. Piercing the barrier through would likely be possible, but I'd rather not do that because I don't know what would happen to you." Fright sank its teeth deep into her heart, but nothing could force her to abandon her quest for knowledge at this point. The victory was almost within her reach and minor complications like losing few IQ points from the foreign force exploring her brain wouldn't stop her. Moreover, heeding the instructions would minimize the risks, right? "Okay then. What do I need to do?" she asked in a tone of someone discussing the newest fashion. "I suppose you'll have to relax. Marcus, this is going to take a while, so you can go to the kitchen and help yourself to some cookies. I've just finished my last batch! Come, Sophie. We'll move to the living room."

    The living room reflected the host's warm personality better than any words possibly could. The shelves brimming over with books invited any curious mind to delve into the pages and couches offered comfort. The lack of electronics almost convinced her she had unknowingly used a time machine to return back to the past, but it didn't feel bad, especially since Sophia wasn't the type to get a heart attack when her iPhone ran out of power. "Lie down on the sofa and close your eyes," Ellen said softly and she obeyed without any complaints. "Now I want you to imagine your mind as a crystal clear pond with all the details you can manage. It has to be vivid. Don't speak, just nod your head when you see the picture clearly." Ignoring obtrusive thoughts such as "What is this hippie nonsense?" and "I feel like an idiot," Sophia once again tried to fulfill the order to the best of her ability. Soon enough, her imagination painted a glistening mass of water. "Good," the woman declared after she nodded, "and now imagine a wall around it. Once you see it in vivid colors, bring it down. I'll know when it's done, so you don't have to tell me anything this time." Altering the image, Sophia added some wall round it and consequently tore it down, but it didn't seem to have the desired effect. "Why do I have a feeling it's not working?" she asked, carefully opening one eye. "Because it's not. You have to put your heart into it. Don't worry, you'll make it eventually," Ellen encouraged her. "Just keep trying."

    Sophia briefly flirted with the idea of stopping this exercise in futility and giving up, but her stubbornness won in the end. To say it bored her to tears would have been pretty accurate. Imagining the same scenario over and over, her mind resembled a broken record, and the saddest thing about it was that the things she had to visualize weren't even remotely interesting. Ellen began massaging her temples slightly, presumably to help her concentrate on her task, yet that couldn't improve her mood. I swear I've never been so close to suicide. Sophia strained her mental strength once again and surprisingly, something was different this time; she couldn't exactly pinpoint what had led her to this conclusion, but her gut insisted something had changed. These vague assumptions were swiftly confirmed when the waters of the pond gurgled ominously and before she had the chance to comprehend what was happening, a foreign force dragged her inside. Laws of nature dictated she should have drown, but thankfully, this place didn't follow dictate of reality. Instead of flooding her lungs with water, the pond invited her to an exhibition centered around her memories. Sophia watched with awe as various scenes from her life flashed before her eyes. Her mother's bitter tears when the doctors called her crazy for the first time. Celebration of graduation with her friends and, conversely, her first school day. Her first kiss. Hell, there were even blurred memories from before kindergarten she didn't remember having.

    And then, completely out of blue, the redhead found herself standing in a garden. It was an enchantingly beautiful garden worthy of a king, but Sophia had no desire to admire it, mainly because the chains on her wrists and a bunch of armed men encircling her occupied her attention more. What? What is this? This has never happened! "Is this really necessary, Kushiel?" her double asked in a voice so cold it had potential to freeze hell over. "I would have come on my own." "Yes, I believe you're foolish enough to do that, but protocol is protocol," Kushiel responded quietly. He was a terrifying man, tall and adorned in what must have been war decoration, but she returned his gaze without a signs of fear. "I understand you don't wish to waste your breath on gratuitous words. Very well, that's one thing we can agree on. I can give you one last chance out of comradeship. Do you regret your actions? Are you going to repent?" Sophia merely smirked. "Repent? For what? I've finally seen the light, friend." A shadow of emotion appeared on his face, but it was gone before anyone could spot it. "It's your choice." One of the soldiers forced her on her knees. A surge of agony paralyzed her body as Kushiel ripped her wings from her back and kicked her off the cliff, and then she was falling, falling, falling...

    Sophia sat up violently, her heart practically racing. Blood was oozing from the old wound in her back, but sheer power of the revelation and memories coming back inhibited the pain. The pieces of puzzle finally formed the picture in all its glory. The reason she had felt incomplete so often in the past was because they had shattered her and nobody had expressed any effort to put her back together. "M-my name isn't Sophia," she whispered. "I am Laylah. Well, officially Leliel, but Laylah sounds better in English. I'm an angel."
     
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  13. Marcus Blackwell
    Once they were all inside the house, Marcus could finally relax. He had seen many such buildings that were demon-proved from the bottom of the basement to the top of the chimney, but this was a fortress among them. Most of it was invisible to the naked eye, but if one were to illuminate the walls with an ultraviolet light in the dark, they would be able to see numerous magical sigils that acted like evil supernatural repellent. There was no way a demon could possibly enter the house, which meant they were 100% safe inside. Well, unless the demon would be smart enough to hijack a demolition machine, and tear the house apart. But even in that case, Marcus was sure he’d be able to save the day somehow. He always has.

    He let the ladies talk between themselves, for he knew that Ellen was more than capable of retrieving all the information that she needed in order to get to the bottom of this. He was more or less useless at this point, so he gladly took Ellen’s advice, and headed toward the kitchen to try some of her delicious pastry. Of course, he also used this stroll to look through the windows, and check if there was anything strange going on. Much to his contentment everything seemed to be quiet outside, so he advanced toward the table in the middle of the kitchen to grab a cookie. Its taste instantly reminded him of some happier times, when he and his brother used to come there on a holiday. Well, actually they stayed at Ellen’s to be babysat, while their father was working on some hard case, and needed space and a carefree attitude in order to do his job, but that seemed to be just a minor detail back then. Now, the two brothers couldn’t be further from each other, because Marcus thought it was best if he kept Killian away. He did call him on occasion, however, but only to make sure he was ok. As ok as one could be given the circumstances, that is...

    After indulging in a minute long contemplation of the past memories and three eaten cookies, he headed back to the living room to see if the ladies had made any progress. Strangely enough, he made it just in time to witness Sophie’s spectacular comeback from the dreamland. Then his jaw dropped when he heard her revelation. “An angel?” he uttered in a complete disbelief, instantly assuming that something must have gone terribly wrong, that the girl was now talking rubbish. “Ellen, what the hell did you do to her?” he went on accusing her friend of frying the waitress' brain, because what Sophie or Laylah or whatever was saying didn’t make any sense. Among all the crazy things he had heard that day, this was an absolute winner. Although, he seemed to be the only way thinking like that. “I’m sorry, but angels don’t exist. This must be some sort of a wishful thinking playing tricks with your crazy mind,” he made an insolent remark pointed directly at Sophie. He didn’t intend on sounding so harsh, but the whole angel thing really did push some long forgotten buttons in him. “Marcus…” Ellen tried to pause him with a judging look, but Marcus was too worked up to stop on her account. “What? Wouldn’t we have seen one before if they were real?” he asked her in a voice that was getting slightly louder. “Marcus, she’s telling the truth,” Ellen tried again, her warm eyes now piercing through him in order to figure out what the hell was going on with him. “So what? You expect me to just be ok with this? If she really is a freaking angel, how come none of her kind ever came down here and help us with the fucking monsters?!” Now his voice reached the top volume, his body slightly shaking as his bottled rage began reaching the boiling point.

    For someone so cold and collected this was an absolute twist in his character. If he appeared slightly terrifying when he was all calm and reserved, the raging version of him was even worse. Ellen, however, remained completely unaffected by his outburst, as if she had witnessed it before, and understood where was it all coming from. “Calm down for Christ’s sake. It’s not her fault. She didn’t even know she was an angel…” she tried once more to reason with him, trying to protect Sophie from whatever was next to come out of his mouth. “Oh, so now you’re taking some stranger’s side over mine?” Marcus protested, feeling annoyed by the fact, that his concerns were being completely ignored. His heart was pounding in all the emotions that he was trying to keep under control, but now couldn’t detain any longer. “Do you know that Kathleen believed they were real? Yeah, she was even trying to convince me to have a little faith. She prayed to them every night, asking them for protection. She was a good person, Ellen, so tell me why would the angels let…” “Marcus, that’s enough! You want to take your rage on someone, fine, but you’re not going to do it in my house! Did I make myself clear?” Ellen had enough of his behavior, and she was ready to throw him out of the house, no matter how much she sympathized with him. She knew very well, where all this rage was coming from, but she also knew that anything in connection to Kathleen aroused a specific kind of demons in Marcus, that he was unable to see, and even less fight. There was so much darkness in him that not even a heavenly light could cast it away completely, for it had eaten itself into the very core of his being. It was a part of who he was, and was probably residing there even before the whole dead wife tragedy. He was a broken man in all his glory, that didn’t have to go to hell in order to live in one. His hell was right here, and he was well aware of it. That’s why the single possibility of angels being in the actual existence threw him off completely. Because if they were real, then so was God. And if so many horrors were happening under divine supervision, then the world was even more doomed that it appeared before.

    “Let the poor woman explain herself, please.” Ellen added after waiting for Marcus to regain control of his own behavior. Usually, he would take on the responsibility, and apologize for his outburst, but this time he felt he didn’t owe Sophie anything. If she was really an angel, she might as well be a part of some wicked conspiracy to torture human beings for the sake of God’s entertainment. That’s how he felt about the angels, and for all he cared he had no intention of changing his mind. He turned around so he wouldn’t have to look at their faces, and took a bit of a stroll down the living room just to take the edge off and relieve the tension. He stayed close enough, though, to still hear the continued conversation.

    “I’m sorry, dear. You don’t deserve to be treated like that.” Ellen apologized for Marcus’ behavior, and offered Sophie a warm smile full of compassion. “Now… do you remember anything else? How did you end up on Earth, anyway?”
     
    #13 Manticore, Jun 7, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2015
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  14. Laylah
    If I got a cent every time someone mentioned I was crazy, I'd be a millionaire by now, Laylah thought sarcastically. Mere five minutes ago, such a harsh dismissal of her sanity would have pierced her heart through like the sharpest sword. It would have made her want to pull a warm blanket over her head, close her eyes and pretend the world ceased to exist. Marcus' words, however, had no weight at the moment. She was an angel and opinions of other people couldn't change anything about that fact no matter how negative they were. Today would doubtlessly go down in history as the happiest day of her life. The weaklings who believed in the old proverb that preached ignorance was bliss simply didn't deserve to bask in the glory of knowing the truth. Sure, Laylah didn't exactly revel in remembering her heavenly father had abandoned her, her friends hadn't hesitated to sell her for the opportunity to climb higher in the hierarchy and her wings had been gone, but only children protested against swallowing a bitter pill even though it was the only thing that could cure them. Opening the old wounds didn't hurt as much as remaining in the darkness inevitably would in the end, for she had received her identity back in return. No feeling in the varied emotional arsenal of humans could possibly outmatch the euphoria of reconciling with your true self. Besides, didn't pain only prove you were alive? Marcus didn't seem to share her sentiments about benefits of suffering, though, at least judging from the rain of accusations falling on her head.

    Angels normally paid no attention to affairs of mortals, but being born in a human body must have eliminated the mechanisms that usually allowed them to perceive people as little more than cattle. Laylah could almost feel her blood pressure rising to dangerous levels. Why did humans always have to be so volatile? Who needs evidence and objective information when you can just explode with anger, right? I guess not succumbing to blind fury would be simply too mainstream! Prejudices that clouded his reasoning skills didn't just appear out of nowhere and Laylah would be the last person to defend the deeply flawed system that had caused heaven's shitty reputation in the first place, but blaming her for the very things she had opposed so hard it had cost her her wings just struck the nerve. Was there truly no justice? Could it be some inner joke played on her by god meant to illustrate the colorful irony of life? If so, Laylah didn't find it to be particularly funny. Still, the angel bit her lip and left Ellen alone in her attempts to extinguish the rage burning him alive from within. No, cowardice wasn't her main motivation for doing so. While she could certainly shed some light on the nature of celestial politics and thus advocate for herself with greater success than the kind psychic, Marcus clearly wouldn't listen to logic now. Just like a widespread forest fire, his wrath needed to destroy everything in its way before it could be conquered. Ellen had the advantage of being his long time friend, so she had better chances of getting to him than the creature he considered to be responsible for the death of his beloved wife. Diplomacy 101, ladies and gentlemen.

    And so she was sitting there, as reserved as ever, waiting for the storm to calm down. Her ostensible composure may have served as a red flag to him as well, but Laylah wasn't going to simulate fear for the sake awakening some sort of regret in Marcus. She didn't intend to humiliate herself in order to repent for crimes that weren't even hers to begin with. Pride - the only thing that truly belonged to her at this point - could meant the difference between surviving and slitting her wrists to escape the futility. Damaging it for someone who likely didn't even care wouldn't help anyone, so why bother? "No, it's fine, Ellen. I understand why is he so angry," Laylah returned her smile weakly and squeezed her hand slightly to express her gratitude. "And I remember everything. Maybe more than I would have liked, to be honest. I fell, both figuratively and literally. Before you ask me why, no, I wasn't in alliance with Lucifer or anything like that, although I can see why he betrayed him now. God's thought-police discovered my opinions regarding our dearest lord weren't in line with the latest propaganda and he couldn't cope with the idea of someone daring to criticize him. Free speech is a mythical concept in heaven, kinda like lost Atlantis, Knights of the Round Table or lowered taxes."

    Laylah stood up from her place on couch, still ignoring the crimson stain on her back, and made few tentative steps towards Marcus. "I'm sorry for your wife, Marcus, but the truth is we do try. We're just not omnipotent and our numbers are too low to deal with the demon menace effectively. You've never met any of my colleagues because they are invisible to a naked eye. You can see me because I was technically born to human parents when I fell. What happened was shameful, but don't think we just let people die. Knowing God, someone probably paid for it in their own blood. He's not as big on forgiveness as The Bible makes him out to be."
     
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  15. Marcus Blackwell
    Removing himself from the heat of the moment turned out to be a very wise decision, for his mind was too poisoned with hatred for him to see things clearly. Of course, deep down he knew he was being wrongful, and that he should approach the situation as if he was on an ordinary case, but he just couldn’t help it. Angels… he still couldn’t quite grasp the idea of them being real. I guess that’s how people feel when I tell them about the demons, he thought to himself, trying to flip back his rationality, which was said to be his greatest quality. Meanwhile, he listened to Laylah’s explanation, taking mental notes on every piece of information she had provided. He wasn’t sure he should believe her claiming not to be involved with Lucifer, the notorious fallen angel, yet he remained quiet and kept that scruple to himself. Although, he had no reason not to trust the girl - especially since he believed her every word from the moment they’d met - he was stepping on a completely foreign territory, and thus had no guarantee this particular angel was not in fact a liar. On the other hand, if there were something really wicked about the angel, Ellen would probably feel it and warned him about it. All in all, the facts were piling up in Laylah’s favour, which he couldn’t quite ignore, but couldn’t accept either.

    “As above so below, I’d say… Oh, my, that is a lot to take in,” Ellen commented on Laylah’s answer. Even though she was more open about the whole angels-are-real thing, she was just as stunned as anyone would be. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to get us some scotch,” she added, glancing over at Marcus and guessing he was in need of something strong that would soothe him down. Ellen stood up and took a stroll over to the other side of the room, where she was keeping an ‘emergency kit’ as she liked to call it. Judging from the fact that the bottle was still unopened, this was the first emergency after a long time.

    Marcus was still determined not to engage in the conversation with the angel, but after Laylah adressed him, he didn’t have much choice. “Right…” He would have responded with ‘whatever’, but he didn’t want to receive another one of Ellen’s judgmental looks. For such a nice lady she was quite intimidating when it came to disapproving of other people’s behavior. She was a righteous woman, a moral compass to many who had lost their ways. Including Marcus. As for Laylah, he wasn’t going to get easy on her just because she gave him her condolences, along with a mellow apology for angels being too busy to give a crap about saving the one person, who had probably killed more demons than an average Heaven’s employee of the month. Just thinking about it made his blood boil all over again, so he had to bite his tongue in order to change the course of his thoughts. The only way he could keep himself from leashing out on her was to act as if she was still Sophie the waitress from an hour ago, who was in need of his assistance. Of course, that was easier said than done, because the Sophie before him didn’t look like Sophie at all, despite the fact that she was wearing the same flesh and bones.

    “So, let me get this straight. You rebelled, you’ve been punished for straying from the flock, you’ve been thrown out the Heaven and left here forgotten, and yet you’re still willing to defend your kind?” he finally faced Laylah with the wondering expression. He didn’t know anything about angel relations, so he was honestly perplexed by her stance. In human world this kind of faithful behavior would be consider naïve, or better yet stupid. It kind of reminded him of a situation, where wife keeps returning to her abusive husband just because she loves him too much. Very unhealthy. “I’m sorry, but it’s just so ironic. Do I really need to remind you that if it weren’t for me - a mere mortal - you’d be some demon’s chewing toy by now? It seems to me you should reconsider your loyalties,” he added in a tone, which was as neutral as it could be given his annoyance. It wasn’t that he demanded to be recognized as the savior of the day, nor he wanted to receive her infinite gratitude. He just wanted to confront her with the facts, which she might not be able to see from her divine perspective. After all, she was now Laylah, and who knew if that identity had completely overwrote the old Sophie, who was born and raised in human ways. “So, what’s your plan now, anyway? Fly to Heaven, and ask nicely to be taken back?” Marcus asked with curiosity, although he had a feeling things weren’t so simple. Otherwise, why would she be still standing there if she could teleport herself back to her daddy’s?
     
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  16. Laylah
    "I think we could all use a shot or ten," Laylah agreed with a tiny nod. Booze was strictly forbidden to angels just like most things that made life even remotely bearable, but she just didn't feel like following all those nonsensical orders anymore. How could it possibly benefit her? It wasn't as if God watched her every step, taking cute notes along the lines of "My little girl had just passed the test and resisted temptation of the demon alcohol, let's forgive her her mishaps." Something told her the almighty creator cared about as much as the average human cared about breeding habits of mosquitoes. All the heavenly ties to her had been severed the second he branded her as a traitor. Even though there was obviously no way to verify this hypothesis, she suspected Metatron had already erased her name from all the chronicles. Knowing him, the smelly rat had probably derived great joy from destroying every single piece of evidence that the creature named Laylah had ever existed outside of someone's imagination. Mere banishment could never be a satisfactory retribution for the crime of disbelief. Only complete and utter elimination of the sinner's persona from everybody's memory would suffice. Lucifer had gotten a special treatment in the spirit of good old divide et impera, but one sworn enemy was more than enough for the purposes of uniting the angels against mutual threat. More of them would only undermine the much needed morale.

    Marcus didn't seem ready to accept her explanation, though he also didn't spit in her face which she considered to be a good sign. Lack of any real retaliation meant he was open to conversation, even if it consisted solely of her dodging grave insults. Laylah didn't exactly enjoy adopting the role of his personal punching bag, but the wound caused by death of his wife apparently ran deep and those things demanded a sensitive approach. If he needed to scream out his lungs in frustration, then the least she could do would be to withstand the metaphorical slaps. Blame didn't rest on her shoulders as she had never been assigned to protect them, yet a small part of her did feel responsible for failure of her comrades to a certain degree, no matter how little sense it made. Sense of collective guilt was a heritage from happier times - a connection to their community - that simply refused to go away despite the fact her membership had expired. Turning back to Ellen, Laylah poured herself a glass of scotch and drank it all with speed of a professional alcoholic. The smoky taste tingled her throat slightly, but it was a pleasant kind of pain, not at all similar to the one slowly sprouting in her heart. When had everything gone so wrong? Marcus' next remark about misplaced trust finally broke through Laylah's mask of neutrality and let him see a glimpse of what lay beneath. One could identify mostly resignation with a hint of sorrow, though other admixtures were also present.

    "You're oversimplifying it," the angel accused him quietly. "Yes, I owe you my life. I'm very well aware nobody else would lift a finger to help me. Make no mistake, I am grateful, but... How do I explain this?" Pausing for a while, Laylah let the question hang in the air before the right analogy occurred to her. "Imagine you're fighting in a war, Marcus. Are you going to hate every ordinary soldier who likely got dragged in the conflict against his will instead of focusing your wrath on the aggressor that started it? They weren't the ones to decide I didn't belong among them anymore. There are individuals I can never forgive, that's true, but I can't dislike them as a group. Not when I know most of them are either brainwashed or too scared of ending up like me to deviate from the norm." Plus, they are still my brothers and sisters. Isn't it a common knowledge that families are hardly ever perfect? So mine ditched me, big deal. They could have gone much further to ensure I wouldn't cause them any trouble in the future, yet here I stand. Laylah's lips curled into an amused smile when Marcus asked her whether her plans included returning home. Did she really look stupid enough to hope that this particular bridge hadn't been burned to a crisp?

    "Well, as long as I say pretty please and promise not to tamper with his collection of crucifixes again, God will surely welcome me with open arms. No, I think it's evident I've been marked as a persona non grata and frankly, I'm not suicidal enough to find out what would happen if I were to go against his wishes. Besides, I can't just waltz into heaven even if I wanted to. I've lost most of my powers when I fell. Detection of demons, prophetic dreams and mental endurance, those are just fragments of what I could do if I unlocked my potential. I don't really have any long term goals at this point, but I think I'd like to help with removing the demon infestation," Laylah said, sounding as if she was thinking aloud rather than answering his questions. "Yeah, I'd definitely like that. It's the reason I exist, after all. So I guess the first step would be regaining my grace which should be interesting enough with those fiends aiming to end me before I can send them all to oblivion. Oh well," the redhead smirked, "there's nothing like a good challenge, right?"
     
    #16 Aine, Jun 8, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
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  17. Marcus Blackwell
    Listening to Laylah’s words he had no trouble imagining how being in a war felt like. He had been in one for as long as he could remember, although he couldn’t quite compare that to what the angel was talking about. His enemies were all equally bad, for he haven’t yet met a demon, who’d be dragged into the war against their will. No, to him they were all equally bad, and the world he was living in was more or less just black and white. Clearly, there was more black than white, and the war he was fighting in wasn’t just around him. It was also inside of him. And yet he understood her point of view, and thus had nothing to say against it. Her next words made him smile in amusement, because he always valued a good sarcasm. He listened to the rest of her speech with genuine interest, noticing the ease with which she swallowed down the scotch. Sarcasm and alcohol – these were the two things Marcus considered his trademark signature - thus seeing the angel do what angels probably weren’t supposed to do was pretty intriguing. He thanked Ellen for the glass of more than needed scotch, and drank it all at once, enjoying the burning sensation down his throat. Thank God for that, he thought to himself, only to realize that the word ‘God’ had gained a completely new meaning. He never pondered about Him before, especially not while throwing his name around just for the sake of being more expressive. However, now that his existence was confirmed by one of his early daughters, Marcus couldn’t help but wonder. And he would probably continue doing so if he weren’t completely perplexed by Laylah’s conclusion.

    “So, you think crawling back to Heaven is a suicide mission, but you consider going out there to search for your grace to be nothing but a good challenge? Jesus! What we saw back there was just the beginning. With Astaroth so pissed even I could see her damned soul, I’m sure there will be legions of demons knocking on your door.” His concerns were more than just valid, for he had serious doubts that this girl – angel or not – would be able to defend herself against a horde of demons, that clearly wanted her dead. He didn’t think about it before, but now it seemed so clear why they wanted to kill her– or probably worse. Laylah was a walking sack of heavy information on Heaven, and as a human she was indeed an easy target. A shadow of genuine concern fell over his face, and lingered there until he saw an expression on Ellen’s face. “Why are you smiling?” he asked her dubiously, not seeing how could any of that be funny. “Oh, it’s just one of those moments, when I know something will happen even before others realize it. And I’m not talking about premonition,” she said meaningfully, shooting a conspiratorial wink at Laylah.

    It took Marcus several seconds before he realized what exactly was Ellen implying to. “Oh… So you think I should help her?” he lifted his eyebrow at Ellen, and then briefly glanced over to Laylah. “No offense, but babysitting fallen angels is way above my pay grade,” he openly protested, because he didn’t consider himself to be invincible when it came to fighting demons. Surely, he took care of the situation back at the bar, where he was alone against 4, but this…well this was a whole new kind of fucking crazy. “Marcus... What other choice do we have?” Ellen asked him in a mellow voice. “If she has any chance surviving this whole mess, it’s with you. Besides, as soon as we are done here, you two have to leave. I won’t risk my house no matter how much I love you.” Yes, Ellen was a wise and powerful woman, who knew exactly which buttons to push in order to manipulate people into doing things, they already knew they had to do. And since it was Marcus, she also knew that spending some time in a company of another...being would definitely do him good, for he has been playing solo for far too long.

    “Great,” Marcus muttered in response. He was in no position to argue against Ellen’s expressed concern for the safety of her house. After all, she was right. And he had no intention of letting anything bad happen to her and her property just because of his issues with heavenly creatures. “I think I need another one,” he muttered once more, and poured himself another glass of scotch. He drank it fiercely as if it was only water, while quietly cursing all the supernatural beings he could think of at that moment. “I guess, since I save people every day, and I send supernatural beings back to where they belong, you fit in my job description perfectly,” he tried to reconcile himself with what seemed to be his fate, and finally turned to Laylah. “So where’s this grace of yours again?” he asked her, only to be interrupted by Ellen, who clearly spotted something, and was then already on her way to the angel. “Laylah, darling, you’re bleeding…”
     
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  18. Laylah
    Laylah's grin widened until it suddenly stopped resembling a genuine smile and turned into its slightly disturbing parody. If sharks controlled their facial muscles enough to change expressions, they would surely look like this seconds before sinking their teeth into their prey's tender flesh. "Well, what can I say? I like to live dangerously. Besides, there's a hefty life insurance on my name. If I happen to kick the bucket, at least my parents will finally be able to afford that trip to Seychelles they've always dreamed of and some bankers will lose their sleep over their precious money. It's a win-win situation, really. I'm almost tempted to kill myself now that I know for sure heaven exists." Human artists usually depicted angels as cutesy little critters wearing silk, singing gospel songs and spreading joy whenever they went, but that idea couldn't possibly be more misguided even if they actively tried. Angelic routine which usually consisted of slaying demons to save people in the age of atheism when everybody thought you were a fairytale character at best or a cog in the propaganda machine at worst typically bred humor darker than black coffee, and Laylah was no exception in this regard. "But really, Marcus, you seem to stand by the opinion it's some sort of choice. Trust me, it's not. Do you think I can just invite those demons for a glass of beer, explain to them they don't have to fear me anymore as God basically gave me a giant middle finger and promise I will never threaten them in the future if they just leave me alone? Nice delusion you have there. Most of them would rather eat their own eyeballs than to pass up a chance to fuck an angel up."

    She imagined her reputation would do her no favors in this regard, either. Releasing some celestial bureaucrat who would unironically select a pen instead of a sword was a likely scenario. Believe it or not, even demons had some standards and slaughtering weaklings generally didn't do much to paint them as dauntless warriors. Laylah couldn't hope in this kind of mercy for her hands were stained with demonic blood. The amount of demon clans wrecked by her interventions would have been almost heartbreaking if their brains had been wired to understand mechanics of family relationships. They could grasp the ways of revenge just fine, though, and she guessed her head would make a fine trophy above some monster's fireplace. Ah, the perks of being significant enough for the bad guys to notice me yet not significant enough to be protected by powerful friends. All jokes aside, what was she going to do? "Sophia's" parents had done a remarkably good job at raising her, shielding her from all harmful influences that infected many teenagers, but they were chronic pacifists. The body Laylah currently inhabited had zero ass-kicking related skills and her knowledge alone couldn't rectify this situation because angels simply didn't work like humans. On the other hand, it probably didn't matter. Not even a kung fu master could do much against the messengers from hell. In other words, I'm stuck in a useless shell while whole world is out to get me.

    Descent towards pessimism seemed to be an inevitable outcome, but then Ellen rushed to her rescue again. A genuine amazement reflected in her eyes as the woman persuaded the hunter to accompany her in her possibly suicidal quest in less than five sentences. How could this even happen? Had she been transported to some alternative universe where Marcus didn't harbor deep hatred towards everything celestial? Did Ellen secretly possess reality warping powers? The truth revealed by his words happened to be simultaneously way more mundane and infinitely more fantastic. Looking past his own bias and her status, he was able to see her for what she truly was; an innocent who would perish without a helping hand. Underneath all that repressed anger lay a good man willing to risk his life for a complete stranger without expecting anything in return. These diamonds hidden in the rough easily belonged on the endangered species list, yet they always strengthened her conviction whenever it faltered a bit. Moral people existed, and they were worth fighting for. "Thank you," Laylah smiled warmly, "though I'd view at as an investment rather than babysitting. I'll pay you back with interest once I get my grace back. My preferred currency is dead demon bodies. Anyway, I don't know where my grace is, but locating it shouldn't be too difficult. It's energy in its purest form, which means it must have manifested itself somehow when it landed. If we go to an archive and examine articles dated shortly before my birth for mysterious occurrences, we should discover it soon."

    Ellen's warning finally brought her attention to her back. Touching the aching spot carefully, Laylah winced as another surge of pain ran through her body. When she looked at her hand, it was indeed covered in blood. "Dammit, that memory was intense. I'm sorry if I destroyed your couch, Ellen. I didn't mean to." "Don't be silly!" the psychic chastised her. "Come with me, I'll patch you up a bit." The two proceeded to go to a bathroom where the host kept her medical supplies. The wound wasn't too deep, she just splashed it with cold water, sprayed some disinfection on it and put bandages over the bruised area. Laylah stayed silent during the treatment, holding all the signs of discomfort in. Main motto in heaven could be summarized as "eat or be eaten" which had cured her out of showing weakness centuries ago. As they said, old habits died hard. "I'd give you one of my shirts, but I probably don't have your size," she apologized. "It's fine, I'll just wear a jacket so people don't stare at me and get new clothes later." It became increasingly more obvious that sitting here idly would equal to hazarding with Ellen's life, so they said their goodbyes and went to meet their destiny. Or, in less poetic terms, got back into the car. "Do you know where the closest archive is? I can look it up if you want to," Laylah offered, reaching into her pocket for a phone. For all their limits, human were surprisingly impressive when it came to technology, that much she had to admit. Then something rustled in a bush by the road and before they could do anything, a humanoid creature jumped on the car's hood, trying to break the windshield. Patience apparently wasn't demons' best virtue.
     
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  19. Marcus Blackwell
    Oh...and I thought you’d grant me three wishes, Marcus thought to himself cynically. He didn’t quite understand why should her promise to kill demons be considered a suitable currency for repaying the debt. Wasn’t that what she was supposed to do regardless of the fact that he’d saved her holy ass? He would have made a remark about it, but he was smart enough to drop it, and just confirm her plan to go to the archive to do some research by nodding his head. Laylah’s wound on the back that seemed to appear out of nowhere was strange enough, but Marcus kept his cool regardless of its mysterious origin. By then he had already come to understand that anything related to angels was either strange, weird or insane, and yet somehow completely explainable, so he let Ellen to do the nurturing part, while he took a stroll by the windows to check for possible trouble outside the house.

    So much for dropping this girl at Ellen’s, and saving her from myself. Marcus hadn’t forgotten that being under his protection was a double-edged sword. Although the curse usually took quite some time before it striked and claimed a life of his partner, he wasn’t keen on taking any chances. Yet this particular situation seemed to be kind of ironic. Or maybe tragic? Was the angel doomed to fail at her quest with or without his help? This was the question that kept on rolling inside his head, while he was waiting on Ellen to finish patching up the angel. It never occurred to him that he should worry about his own safety. Of course, that didn’t mean he was being suicidal, although many other hunters would claim he was. It was just that he had been raised to put the safety of others first. Being born into a family of warriors, he was thought to be strong and fearless when it came to fighting evil, and to count on no one to be there to help. The sense of obligation to be the guardian of common people ran deeper that anyone could ever understand. It was as if it all derived from a persistent feeling of guilt for doing something wrongful sometime in the past, and that all attempts of gaining redemption were always done in vain. No matter how many people Marcus had saved, and how many evil bastard he had eliminated, it was never enough. It will never be enough. Surely, he attributed most of the blame to his wife’s death and his inability to save her, but the truth was that the feeling of obligation to carry the whole world on his shoulders was in him long before that.

    The outside seemed to be clear of preying demons, but he knew that this could change any minute, so he quickly said goodbye to Ellen, promising her to keep her posted about their progress, and to call her every day to confirm he is still alive. Of course they both knew that he wasn’t going to do that, and yet the smile on their faces spoke of no such awareness. Once back in the car, Marcus glanced over at Laylah, and smirked at the sigh. “You really are one of a kind. An angel with a smart phone in their pocket,” he remarked amusingly. “But yeah, you do that,” he added to answer her question regarding the archive. Although he knew the locations of the largest archives in the state, he wasn’t very informed on the smaller ones. Especially on those that were in the town that he’d never been to before.

    To be completely honest Marcus got pretty startled by the whole demon jumping on the car situation, for he really didn’t expect them to be so…impulsive? They were usually much smarter than that, making their way into someone’s life before they ruined it. Surely, they had no such leverage when it came to Laylah, since she was able to spot them on the sight, so they had to get creative. Or perhaps this was just another one of the newborns, that was sent there in order to throw them off their track. “Son of a…“ Marcus cursed, mostly out of fear for the wellbeing of his car. He fiercely started the engine, and pulled the car in reverse, making a wild turn in attempt to get the demon of the hood. “You make so much as a scratch I’ll make you shit lava!” he muttered angrily at the menacing demon, shifting the car into the first gear, and driving off violently. Due to the jerky turnings Marcus was taking down the road demon was no longer hitting the windshield - he was too busy clutching the roof, trying not to fall to the side. “Buckle up if you haven’t already,” Marcus warned Laylah before adding more pressure on the gas pedal. They raced down the road for a few hundred meters, reaching a high speed, when he suddenly pulled the brakes, and took a wild turn at the crossroads. The demon instantly lost its grip, and was then hurled off the car onto the road, while Marcus wasted no time to see what happened after that. He just pressed the gas pedal, and continued racing. “Well, what can I say?” he smiled after a moment of adrenaline rush. “Welcome to my life, fan-girl. It’s the day your dreams come true,” he smirked at the angel, still with a grin on his face, that was clearly something Marcus hadn’t showed in a very long time.

    "I guess you've been too distracted to find the archives yet?" he asked her tauntingly. It was only then that it occured to him, the place was probably already closed for the day, and that they will have to commit a minor crime in order to get in. "By the way, what's your moral ground of the breaking and entering?"
     
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  20. Laylah
    Fear could be a funny emotion. People usually didn't examine it much for they were so intimately familiar with it, but if they bothered to trace the ancient instinct sending shiver down their spine to its origin, they would unmask it as nothing more than pure sense of self-preservation. This sense of self-preservation sometimes went into full retard mode, such as when it reduced you to tears over spotting a spider, yet it still was God's greatest gift to his children. Humans essentially entered this world with the advantage of collective memory of their species stored somewhere in their brain, whispering warnings from the distant past in their ear. Angels, however, weren't programmed this way. Laylah's rational self knew she should be very afraid of the creature thirsting after her blood, but her heart still wasn't on board with this line of thinking. Accepting this new narrative that had turned her from a defender of innocents into a helpless victim still felt so bizarre she rejected it on a subconscious level, kinda like amputees typically couldn't believe they had truly lost their limb at first. Compared to the countless centuries spent as a messenger of God, Laylah's human existence didn't last longer than a blink of an eye. It couldn't fully overwrite old habits. Calling upon the pure magic circulating in her veins and teaching the demon true meaning of the word pain still seemed like a valid solution, even though they had separated her from the source of her power years ago. And so the seed of dread didn't root within her despite very favorable conditions.

    "Freaking idiot," Laylah muttered, sounding like a sports fan criticizing poor judgement of a referee during an important match. Shock was audible in her voice, yet annoyance prevailed by a wide margin. "You know, I'd hate to look like a pensioner complaining about young people these days, but if nothing else, demons had class when I was on duty. One could almost admire their style if you ignored the general penchant for lunacy and attempts at world domination. They were the inspiration behind the works of cursed poets. But this? This is downright sad. Like animals in the zoo," the angel shook her head as she fiddled with the safety belt. Dying in a car crash would be fairly anti-climactic after making it this far, which painted this probability as the most likely outcome because the Lord had an exceptionally shitty sense of humor. Knowing my luck, I'll probably strangle on the belt anyway. That would be exactly his brand of irony. Laylah could only congratulate herself for possessing a strong stomach since covering Marcus' car in vomit would be the only thing that could potentially make this situation even worse. Welcome to my world? Ha! It's my world, except you get to play on a higher difficulty setting. "I just don't know, Marcus. I feel so torn. My initial impression was that you were supposed to kill them, not run away like a little girl at the smallest sign of confrontation. I may have to revoke my membership in your fanclub at this rate," the redhead teased back, clearly enjoying this little banter. It reminded her of less complicated days when nothing aside from not scoring the most confirmed demon kills could ruin her mood.

    "Aye, aye, sir, give me a second," Laylah exclaimed, navigating through the interface of her cell phone. "There it is, Crawford Street 55. Turn left, at the next intersection continue going straight for circa two hundred meters and then turn left again." The notion questioning morality of break-ins elicited a light chuckle from her. "Show me the section of Ten Commandments that explicitly forbids me from forcibly entering someone else's house to investigate. Pro tip: You can't. Besides, if God didn't want us to commit crime, it wouldn't be so easy." Well, that, and rules established at the beginning of time were only rough guidelines anyway. Those who followed them blindly without taking into account their circumstances often found them to be a handicap rather than a moral compass leading them to prosperity. The growl of the engine died down as they arrived to their destination. The neighborhood slept peacefully, enshrouded in the kind of silence only night could bring, which meant the demons had abandoned their pursuit for now. That gave them no reason to open bottles of champagne in celebration of victory, though, because "for now" was the key phrase here. Laylah would be willing to bet her first-born on the fact they had retreated solely to craft a plan more sophisticated than just charging at them furiously. Nothing but cold grave awaited them if they didn't act fast. A quick glance at the door told her the lock was sturdy, yet it operated on a relatively simple mechanism. "Watch my back, I'll get us inside." Kneeling on the cold ground, the angel pulled out a bobby pin from her hair, snapped it in half and forced it inside of the lock. She wiggled it slightly, her tongue stuck out in concentration, and the door opened obediently.

    "Carry on, mister. And don't look at me like that. My little sister once locked me in the bathroom accidentally while my parents were out shopping. It was a choice between figuring out how to get out of there or letting her set the house on fire. Needless to say, I didn't need to think twice." Laylah picked up few rocks as ammo and started searching for security cameras. Adding police to the ever-growing list of their enemies wouldn't be a good strategy, especially since prisons were infested with potential demon hosts and they wouldn't last five minutes without proper equipment. One was hidden in the corner, but her aim quickly put it out of service. The pair progressed deeper into the building until they finally reached the shelves full of boxes with various documents. "Alright, a lady never mentions her age, but I guess I'll live with this stigma. I was born on 3rd of February 1990. I don't know what we're looking for, but I'll recognize it when I see it, so just tell whenever you discover something weird."
     
    #20 Aine, Jun 15, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2015
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