In Nomine fiction:
Behind the scenes of "Hunt"

The initial back-and-forth email that Maya and I used to construct our versions of "Hunt." Note that some things got changed -- we were a little iffy about genders on the Renegades, and the Calabite didn't get a name for quite some time. There are also a couple of side-comments from the battered triad that just couldn't make it into the actual works.

Maya wrote up Caliah's side of things first, and I used that and this to craft Betharan's take on events. And the Shedim Pit, I'm nearly *positive*, is hers. (I'm lazy, and she comes up with these *great* plot twists, so...)

Comments that never really got used, I'll mark.

Date: Tue, 23 Dec 1997 00:52:11 GMT
Mime-Version: 1.0
From: (GR Cogman)
Subject: Caliah/Betharan, part 1

Caliah slams the door in their faces.

Tebah knocks on the door, and says, "We're the Game."

Caliah says, from the other side, "Pull the other one. You're smiling."

"What, you expect we're going to carry round a Judgement badge?" Betharan snarls. "Open up or I'll open *you*--"

"We're supposed to hunt the Renegade, not the Habbalite," Tebah reminds her.

"If she's not cooperating with us..." Betharan points out.

Caliah says, through the door, "If you're angels, that's the best disguise I've ever seen. Okay, I'm opening up. Names and Princes, please."

Betharan, "Game and Game. And whose Habbalite are *you*?"

Caliah opens the door, staying out of reach. "The War. To what do I owe this ... honour?"

"You're going after a Renegade?" Betharan makes eye contact, does a reading. "So are we. Our instructions say to cooperate with the Servitor on the ground. Congratulations, you get to play."

Caliah finds a perch on the arm of a chair that allows her to cover the room. "I hope this cooperation extends to information-sharing."

"Sharing? I dunno... Teb, what did the file say about sharing?"

"Cooperate as necessary." Teb radiates boredom and mild annoyance.

"Well, I suppose we can share some information. You first."

Caliah gives a military description of the Renegade she's tracked, location and appearance. She then pares her nails with a stiletto, waiting.

Betharan takes notes, then thinks of the locations. "Okay, so, at the coffee shop, you saw the red-head he was talking to? That's our pet project. They're cooperating, so we have to cooperate. You have any special orders I need to take into account?"

Caliah folds a leg over the other. "Get the job done with minimal disturbance - which means that you tell me about the red-head, before I make a mistake and have to blame somebody for inadequate briefing."

"Mistake? What's to mistake. She's a Heart-shattered Renegade. Line her up for me to drop a noose around her neck, and I'll take care of everything." Pauses. "Oh, all right. She's also a nasty Calabite."

Caliah rests her chin in her hands. "From your knowledge, is there a chance of getting them attacking each other, and then taking them while they're distracted? Or isn't that likely to be feasible?"

Betharan considers the notion. "Beats me. Good idea, though. You got any suggestions for playing Factions at them?"

Caliah's teeth show for a moment, in what is not quite a smile. "You know the sort of thing we do. It works best if there's some sort of reason to build on, though. Fan the flame. Don't suppose we could convince one of them that the other had betrayed them to the Game?"

Betharan smirks, tapping her fingertips together in front of her face. "For an angel, you've got a devious mind. I like that. Then we can take them while they rant at each other. Sure you can push them without getting backlash?"

Caliah swings her leg, like a metronome. "One, probably, depending on if they know I'm there and how strong they are. Two, don't know. The Lilim I spotted is supposed to be fairly strong-willed, but overconfident. Anything relevant on your Calabite in that line?"

"He's a Calabite, what do you expect? He's not incredibly precise in destroying things, though -- likely enough to miss the first time or two. He wouldn't eat dissonance otherwise." Betharan radiates bloodlust. "Give it a little juice, and he'll probably cave."

"Hnnh." Caliah is still for a moment. "Sounds easier to trigger him into attacking her if he believes she's betrayed him, then. Could you pull some sort of routine that would make it look as if you'd set things up with her to take him in? The "hello, thanks, don't worry, we'll take it from here" idea?"

Betharan taps one fang-like canine with a fingernail. "If I can't pull a 'Good work, sister!' scam... She had to do it, of course. Geasa, don't you know." She oozes insincere sympathy.

Caliah tilts her head to regard her. "Absolutely. Though I wouldn't know. So I push him towards attacking her, then we move in as is convenient. Are your orders kill or capture?"

"Capture is prefered. We have tools for that. Kill if necessary. And your orders along those lines?" Betharan attempts to look sweetly curious. The mild bloodlust tang beneath the veneer ruins it utterly.

Caliah taps her heel, and shifts her posture to clasp her hands round one knee. "Capture if possible. He's got relevant information which the War requires."

"Got the gear to do it, or are we going to have to divide and conquer?" She smiles again. "I can loan you our equipment, if you...need it."

Caliah seems to be considering. "Oh, I'm sure we can manage something. After all, we can get them to that nearby tether - you did know about it, didn't you? - the one in the Mall. I'm sure that taking your pet in alive would be to your advantage."

"Since he's gone shatter-Heart, yes. We knew the Tether was there, of course." (One can just see Betharan thinking, "We're the *GAME*, we know everything.") "But having it friendly, well, that's certainly useful, yes."

Caliah chuckles, the tone arid. "Of course." (How interesting, they didn't know.) "Are they likely to recognise your Vessels, or can you safely play incognito a while?"

"Me, certainly. They might have noticed Tebah trying to get close enough."

She considers. "Okay. Suppose Tebah lets himself get noticed stalking them, and you get ahead: then when they're about to bolt you step out and pull your act, and I _push_ the Calabite into doing some heavy pounding. Then we jump on the pair of them, subdue them, and haul?"

"It has a certain brash elegance," Betharan admits, somewhat grudgingly. "It's certainly likely to cut to the chase. We should try for a location where we can pound them without being noticed too quickly, of course. And pass-signs we should know for the Tether?"

Caliah's eyes close for a moment, shuttering back some emotion. "It's the tattoo and fetishwear store: you tell them that Mistress Dominique sent you. We might be able to panic them to the intersection by the ice-cream stands down there, the ones that are half run down."

"Mistress Dominique?" Betharan's eyes go big for a moment. "Oh, my. Ahem. Yes, the ice-cream stands. We can do that. I assume you'll be staking the area out, while we spook them?"

"Surely, surely." Caliah frowns slightly. "I'm not sure whether to warn the Seneschal that we'll be coming in, or just bulldoze past him. You know how it is with nervous Seneschals."

"Bulldoze. We bulldoze very well, don't we, Teb?" She grins at her Djinn.

Tebah grunts something and keeps propping up the wall.

"Primary objective is to locate them, again. Do we stay together to search the mall, or split up and rendezvous later?"

Teb and Bethran exchange looks. Teb finally shrugs. Betharan nods at him. "I'll go with you. Teb can find us later, that way."

Caliah smiles amiably. "Want to talk privately before we head off? I promise not to listen."

Betharan raises an eyebrow. "What is there to say? We know our orders, we know the current plan, we know where the Tether is. Ready?"

Caliah swings off the surface. "Naturally." She strolls to the door, and holds it open for the two others.

Betharan saunters through, and Teb eyes Caliah with intent to do the "after you" dance...

Caliah smiles faintly, and turns her back on Teb to walk through. (It's the war thing...)

Teb follows her out, closing the door behind, surprisingly light on his feet for his massive vessel. And silent.


Hm. At this point, we might want to cut to the "sitting in the coffee bar, having declared it a good spot to spy for the Renegades, after having been through most of the rest of the mall fruitlessly..."

That sounds like a good idea, yeah...


Caliah nurses her cup of black coffee. "And the briefing said that she had a cappucino fixation?"

"'Corrupted by the pleasures of the corporeal realm,' or something like that," Betharan says, scanning the crowd casually. "This usually means they prefer coffee to pasta, though once it meant we found him infatuated with a Taco Bell clerk."

Caliah's eyes flick across the room. "Does he/she tend towards multiple Vessels, or can we be fairly sure that she's stuck with her current one?"

"I haven't heard any vessel-swapping noise recently. And I'll probably spot our little Target anyway. I'm Game. We *know* who the players are, Punisher," she smirks.

Caliah swirls her coffee in the cup. "Just checking, Tempter, just checking. Constant state of readiness and all that. And stop wiggling at me, you really aren't my type."

Betharan snorts and sips her own coffee. "Oh, don't fear, Punisher. My lusts run towards other things than wiggling at your kind. And I'm quite ready for our Target to show up, never fear."

"Constant state of readiness - ah, yes. Out of curiosity, which of my Choir was it who so annoyed you in the past? It's quite obvious that somebody did." Caliah does not look at Betharan as she speaks, though, her eyes drifting back to the crowd.

Bloodlust spikes, flavored with raw madness, as Betharan's mouth curls into a smile. "What's that information worth to you, scarred angel?"

Caliah turns back to regard Betharan fully. "Not that much. Not if it'll jeopardise the mission. Still, you wear your pain the way I wear my tattoos - it is rather obvious."

"Enjoy it while you can," Betharan smiles pleasantly, seething with mingled amusement and rage underneath. "If you're really curious... An hour of your time in the future, perhaps?"

Caliah sips her coffee without taking her eyes off Betharan. "No. In the politest way, you understand. Though it is a very kind offer."

Betharan shrugs casually. "As you wish. If you ever decide that curiosity is getting the better of you, feel free to ask. Or if you can think of some other bargain."

Caliah's gaze remains on Betharan, but grows slightly vague. "Brawl over past that corner to the right by the jewellery shop, coming our way. There's something offbeat about it. Can you feel anything?"

Betharan turns and squints. "You mean the Calabite over there? It's changed vessels, but it's got the same dissonance..."

Caliah's tone remains conversational, and she doesn't look round. "For pity's sake don't _stare_ at him yet unless you can fake a reason to do it. All right, there's that one. Where's your Sister?"

"I can look at a starting brawl without looking suspicious," Betharan mutters out the side of her mouth. "Sis, sis, come to sister... Can't spot her, not unless I *do* start looking like what I am."

Caliah seems a touch surprised that she has finished her coffee. "If she were here, and he began to act up, would she be likely to try and stop him? I could prod a little."

"That could work. At the least, if he gets a little freaky, somebody can sneak up and snare the little Renegade... Oh, right. He's the short, dark guy now."

Caliah regards her empty cup as though it were some talisman: over to the side, the man begins to swagger more, aggression showing in his movements as he stomps towards the mild brawl.

"Wonder where Teb got himself off to, though," Betharan murmurs, sipping her own. "Ahhhhhh, there's my partner. And from where he's watching. Drat. Sister-mine must be just out of my range here."

Caliah's eyes are distracted. "Go fetch a cake from the counter, and do some strolling around?"

"Suits. Give it a minute, though. She may come into range."

Mall security begins to appear, moving between the tables as they head for the brawl.

"Just about now..." Betharan gets up, eyes following the security folks naturally, and heads for the counter.

Caliah's brows tighten to a knot, and the scuffle explodes with a yell. The security barge past the crowd, shoving people aside to get through.

Betharan drifts along in their wake, looking like a curious bystander. There's a faint hum of bloodlust from her.

A young man makes a beeline for the brawling Calabite, grabbing at his arm with a practiced swerve. Something about him...

Betharan squints, trying to determine if it's one of the Bands she knows...

The prickle along her skin bespeaks a Sister or a Brother, a Lilim, whatever skin they may be clothed in.

The bloodlust from her spikes, and she moves in, drawing a thin gold-wire noose out of a pocket and concealing it in her hand...

Caliah rises from her seat in a smooth motion, eyes flaring with banked emotion. She heads for Betharan, waving her purse visibly in one hand, the image of a fellow-shopper who wants to settle some matter.

Betharan pauses and waits for Caliah to catch up. "What took you?"

Caliah says, through her teeth, "That last cup of coffee. Is your friend nearby to do his obvious bit?"

"Hope so. Need to be where I can catch somebody if it blows up. Never trust Calabim to stick to plans."

"Okay. Can you signal him to show himself and stampede them over down towards the intersection that way, or do we need something else?"

"No problem." Betharan glances in Teb's direction, locks eyes, and gives the faintest of nods. His eyelids might or might not flicker in response, but he shoves himself off the wall and wanders in the direction of the pair, in plain "I am stalking you" sight.

The Lilim twitches, getting a better grip on the Calabite's arm, and mutters something rapid: their shift into movement towards the exit is a touch too brisk for casualness, a touch too worried for ease.

Caliah jerks her chin towards the left side, her pace more casual. "Out, round, second right then left by the shoeshop, and if we run we should be there in time. Their passage should be more crowded."

"I'm with you." The bloodlust spikes and ebbs like a heartbeat, but there's only a thin smile to betray it externally right now.

As they step out from the crowd and turn into the corridor, it is near-free of human dawdlers. Caliah breaks into a loose, rapid pace, swifter than it looks: her eyes flatten as she does, becoming faintly distracted.

Betharan keeps up after breaking into a trot briefly. "Hear them?" she murmurs, below human thresholds of softness.

Caliah murmurs in response, breathing steady, "Fight's dying down. I'm assuming that they've left. Don't have any other way of tracking, but if they've any sense they'll be trying for some space to lose your Djinn, and that intersection is the first real possibility."

"Reasonable to me. Teb'll find me if there's a problem."

Caliah does not trouble to make any concessions to Betharan as they run, setting a punishing pace. They come to a halt before the turning to the intersection, and Caliah tilts her head to glance round the corner cautiously.

Betharan has long legs, she'll keep up. She even seems amused by the speed. She watched quietly and intently, to see if Caliah's seen anything.

Caliah pulls back slightly, shaking her head. She mouths, "Pick a spot to wait?" as she gestures for Betharan to glance round herself.

Betharan stoops and peeks around from about waist-height, muttering something about glasses, then draws back. "Sure. Here good? Or down a little?" she murmurs back.

Caliah considers, then points down to where they are. "Here's out of sight, and we can move fast enough. We'll probably hear them coming."

"Lead on, soldier. Should we be hanging together or apart?"

Caliah pauses. "You go out first, circle a bit before you address them and see if you can draw their attention off here. Then I hit the Calabite with my resonance, and I have the physical drop on them too. Take care to hold your distance in case the Lilim tries to take you down to prove herself."

"No problem." Betharan prepares herself to saunter out when she hears them -- though she'll give a glance-back and a nod to make sure all is in readiness.

Coming down the hall, the sound of footsteps, two pairs: a heavier one dragging slightly, lighter steps faster. Someone muttering, "Look, nobody can be attuned to us yet, so the faster we get out of here the faster we can lose them and get somewhere _else_..."

Betharan grins like a shark, glances over her shoulder to see if Caliah wants to shake her head frantically, and then smooths her features over to perfect mild interest. She saunters out...

Caliah flicked her hand to gesture her onwards. The couple, Calabite and Lilim vessels, are approaching the intersection. The Lilim glances at Betharan, then discounts her, tugging the Calabite towards the way out.

_Time for Plan A._ "Sister, quick, get out of range so the others can move in!" Carefully dodging in so that the Renegade Lil is between her and the Calabite, Betharan attempts to drag her sib away -- slowly. "Come on, we've got to get to cover!"

The Lilim is caught by surprise and off-balance, and staggers where Betharan tugs her for a few steps before she can catch herself. "Hey, what's the game? What's this? _Sister_?"

"Come on, he's trapped now, don't waste time!"

Round the corner, Caliah's face furrows with effort, her hands twisting at her sides. The Calabite's eyes begin to bulge. "Wait. The Game? You had this arranged? You little *bastard*..."

Betharan carefully makes sure she's not in sight, and that the Renegade Lilim *is*. "I said come *on*! Oh, curses, where are the others?" She harries the other Daughter for a moment longer, then dives for cover.

The Calabite jumps for the Renegade Lilim's throat, roaring, "Treacherous _Shedite-licker_!" and the floor beneath them bends and crazes with entropy and impact. The wriggling Lilim twists in his grip, howling something that begins to take the form of a Song...

Betharan glances across at Caliah and gives her a thumbs-up.

Caliah steps round the corner of the corridor, face still lined with concentration. She mouths at Betharan, "Tebah?" as the centre of the corridor goes up in a spray of acid around the struggling couple.

Betharan peers around the fight. There's a hint of slouched Djinn back a ways. She rolls her eyes and clears her throat, the noise of it lost in the various squabbling. Still, Teb starts ambling over.

Caliah flicks her hand towards the Calabite, then towards Betharan and Tebah, indicating target to them, as she circles rapidly to behind the Lilim.

Betharan moves in on the Calabite, a dark blur, and feints him into a hurried circle. After a short but sweet scuffle, the Calabite is clocked upside the head by a certain burly Djinn -- who then drags Betharan away from the unconscious Renegade. "Alive. Want him alive." Betharan froths.

Caliah, meanwhile, has snapkicked the other Lilim in the small of the back, and is applying a sleeper hold to her neck. As the other squirms, breath slowing, she glances up. "Okay. Now we run for the Tether, and hope no locals have heard all this ruckus?"

"T-tether." Betharan regains control of herself and looks down at her clawed hands. "When'd I do that?" she mutters. "Right, let's get this pair out of here." She helps Teb drape the Calabite over his neck.

Caliah slides her arm round the Lilim's waist, hauling him over her shoulder. "You scout, we follow? Once we get to the Tether, remember the safeword." Her attitude is professional, and oddly blank.

Betharan makes the claws vanish. "Safeword?" she murmurs. "Who needs safewords..."

And somewhere else in the mall, three Celestials are consulting. "It came from thataway. Someone was using Songs. Come on, it might be those Renegades that we're supposed to be converting..."

Meanwhile, our three (anti)heros hurry along, taking the lesser-used routes when possible, and looking smiling and harried if anyone wonders why they're carrying people out...

Caliah pauses at the head of a flight of stairs, glancing downwards. The turning corridor that leads to the sex shop seems clear. Behind, in the distance, comes the whizz-bang of a Song of Motion, from the direction where all the acid got spilt around.

"Trouble," Betharan mutters, flashing claws briefly. "Let's go *fast*."

Caliah nods, and takes the steps three at a time, the Lilim bouncing awkwardly on her shoulder. A shot cracks through the air behind them, barely missing Teb, and a square-shouldered woman yells, "There! They've got them!"

Teb ducks and puts on a bit more speed -- using the Renegade-over-the- shoulder-as-a-shield trick. Betharan Sings something and goes shadowy, turning and dodging back up to cover... Don't kill, don't kill, they may not be prey... In Helltongue, she snarls, "Back off!" (And dodges again immediately afterwards.)

There is the whistling sibilance of angelic tongue in the air, sung high and fast, as a slender young man goes on a dodging right past Betharan, targeting on Tebah. Meanwhile, Caliah has got to the bottom of the flight of stairs, and yells, "Fall back!" as she fishes a gun from inside her coat, snapping a shot in the direction of the pursuers.

Betharan dodges, trying to roll in front of the Ofanite, then scurrying on hands and knees to scoop up the Lilim that Caliah was toting. In Helltongue, she spits out, "All yours, Warrior!"

The Ofanite goes bouncing down the stairs, colliding with Betharan and impersonating a slinky, as Caliah's bullets take the stocky woman squarely in the chest: she is thrown back by the impact, crashing into a wall. Behind her, a taller man raises his hands, pointing at the ceiling and crying out something in the tongue of angels. The Symphony shakes, as dust begins to rattle from the ceiling, the resonance growing...

Scrambling up to grab the Lil, Betharan mutters, "Oh preserve us from triads!" as she runs, shamelessly abandoning Caliah to face the Seraph alone. After all, she's of the War, she's the combat-capable one... Betharan's just doing her job. Fast.

(Caliah would probably agree, assuming she gets through it all right: mission is to get the Renegades out, not to necessarily preserve her Vessel.)

Caliah screams, "Rape, help, rape!" at the top of her voice, as she retreats down the stairs, picking off shots at the Seraph as she tries to go downstairs backwards at speed. With a rending crash, the ceiling begins to collapse, extending down the hall, as the Ofanite makes a grab for Tebah's legs.

("So why did you blow up the ceiling so it would fall _between_ us?" "Um. I might have misjudged trajectory a bit.")

Teb, more graceful than he looks, *almost* manages to skip ahead of the Ofanite's hands. Almost. He sprawls flat, and the unconscious Calabite goes flying ahead of him. The Calabite groans as Teb kicks at the Ofanite to dislodge it.

Betharan pauses for a moment, radiating anguish and indecision. Caliah comes down the stairs just ahead of the collapsing ceiling, and drops her empty pistol, grabbing at one of the cracked railings and bringing it round like a flaming sword directly at the Ofanite's head. From above come shouts, screams, and the building of another Song.

Seeing her partner less endangered, Betharan turns and runs for the door, bearing her prize over one shoulder, teeth bared. Leave the "angel" to damage her kin.

The Ofanite goes down in a moaning pile under Tebah's feet and Caliah's rail, twitching. Caliah kicks him in the head to make sure, as a blazing spear of light sizzles through the ceiling wreckage. "Come on, just round the corner!"

Teb grabs the faintly moaning Calabite by one leg and drags him along as he lumbers to his feet, following after Betharan -- who wasn't waiting for anyone else...

The churning of a Song of Motion screams through the Symphony, and in a swirl of light the lean-bodied Seraph appears about ten yards in front of the sex shop, and almost directly in front of Betharan. With an unduly vicious grin, he reaches for her throat.

And gets some hundred-thirty pounds of Renegade Lilim flung (in a judo-style throw) into his chest, followed by an equal weight of Lilim of the Game in a tearing hurry to grab said impromtu missile by the collar and keep on running. "CAL! BLESSED NUISANCE HERE!" she calls out in Helltongue.

(Worked last time...)

Caliah is slightly ahead of the Calabite-burdened Tebah, both trampling over the downed Ofanim, and plucks a knife from somewhere in her casual outfit, sending it tumbling through the air towards the Seraph's face. She still grasps the railing in her other hand, absently. A young, acne-spotted man is peering nervously round the door of the sex shop at all the commotion.

Betharan slings her Renegade over her shoulder again and stops, smiling prettily. "Excuse us, we need to enter here. Would you mind stepping aside?" She stands, hip cocked just a little, patting her hair into place absently with one hand -- radiating, "Nothing here to see, move along now" as only a Lilim of the Game could...

The young man gawps, but steps aside, muttering, "Normally it's the men carrying the bloody women..." The Seraph has staggered back, blood running from where the knife has sliced down his face and trickling into his eyes.

Behind, the Ofanite is staggering to his feet, one arm at an awkward angle, as Tebah and Caliah come up behind Betharan.

"Thank you!" Betharan saunters in quickly, and adds, "You might want to keep those mugger-types out of here, though. Close the door behind us." Then, in an undertone to Caliah, in Helltongue, "Okay, which way?"

Caliah barks, pushing to the front, "Immediate passage required, in the name of Mistress Dominique." Her tone is completely self-assured, and she murmurs to the Game-Servitors over one shoulder, "Get those two Renegades tied while we're arranging a way down?"

Betharan looks around for something like cuffs or rope, and starts in on her Renegade sister with matter-of-fact motions -- ankles and wrists behind the back. She ties knots like someone who's gotten out of her fair share of bonds in her time.

Tebah regardes the twitching Calabite a little, and blase'ly smacks him around the head a few times before pulling out some handcuffs from a back pocket. They're relics. He snaps them on his prisoner's wrists.

The woman lets her hand fall to the whip at her hip. She says, in Helltongue, "And who am I allowing to pass?" Her posture is an insolent provocation, as she gestures the acne-ridden teenager out of the room.

Beyond the iron grates, heavy fists pound at the door.

Caliah replies, in the same harsh tongue, "Punisher of the War, and two of the Game, and two people you don't want to know any more about."

There is a flicker of slow, malicious recognition in the woman's face as her eyes flicker over Caliah, then the two parcelled figures, then the three standing, then out towards the furious Triad beyond the windows.

(The triad to whom Betharan has just thumbed her nose...) "And can we get a move on here? They'll leave when they figure out that they're facing a Seneschal. It's out of their jurisdiction."

The woman dangles a leg on the edge of the counter, over a display of rubberwear. "You've just blown me to Judgement. I'll need some sort of donation towards the Tether's upkeep. Say, how about your spare Essence?"

The air tingles with some Song of Healing, as outside the Cherub tries to patch up the trampled Ofanite.

Betharan snorts. "As if they couldn't spot a Tether on their own. And as if they care -- unless you have angels in here often?" The thought obviously cheers her substantially, and she actually looks hopeful. Caliah can sense a mild bloodlust spike, along with the annoyance at being held up.

The woman chuckles throatily, a strange sound. "Ah, I've only ever had one in chains.. but that's a different story. Now, let's make a deal. I know how you Daughters work." She ignores Caliah. "You hand over the Essence, and I not only give you free passage, I do it nicely. Come on, sweetheart, even I can see what you need _right_ at the moment."

Caliah's breath hisses between her teeth. She takes a step to one side, to mutter to Betharan. ("No way she can tell how much we've left. Throw her a little to keep the bitch happy and report it later?")

Betharan purses her lips and flicks a glance to Teb -- who, to all observers, ignores it. Finally, she nods. "All right. Your cooperation in this matter will be noted." She extends a hand. "You pledge that we shall have free passage, *nicely*?"

_And if she says yes, she shall be Geas-bound to it, oh, yes..._

(And she'd transfer about four points, figuring that she's got her claws, and Teb's probably near full, so...)

The woman sways her hips as she slides off the counter, approaching. "Oh, sure. Free passage, nicely." She extends her hand to clasp Betharan's, eyes going fuzzy with anticipation.

"Your pledge is your bond," Betharan murmurs, extending her resonance to craft a Geas. "We have free passage through this Tether -- *nicely*." And she takes a reading of what this person Needs, while she's at it. Then she gives over the four specks of energy.

Caliah's lips are thin. Her gaze flicks to the banging Servitors outside - behind the shutter that a minion has drawn - then back to Avicinis and Betharan, then to the bound captives, then to Avicinis and Betharan again.

Tebah clears his throat. "We've traded. Time to go." _Well, only my partner traded, but she did say *we*..._

"Mmmmmm." Her voice is throaty. "Oh, yes. Definitely. Just follow me." The Song of Tongues flickers in the air as she stalks, high-heeled, round the counter to the door behind it, holding it open. The air beyond smells faintly of sweat, rubber, and latex, and the lights are dimmed.

Caliah absently hoists the bound Lilim over her shoulder again, moving more smoothly to follow.

Betharan, eyes half-lidded, leads the way, smouldering with contempt for the Lust-Servitor in front of her, and wary despite her own calm panther tread.

Avicinis leads them down a flight of stairs, which merge from plastic-floored tacky garbage to unsavoury-sounding thick stone, and gestures at the red-lit, silk-hung room beyond. "Walk in, and will yourselves down. You know the routine. I'll tell the police that you made a run for it out the back, and see if I can get that Triad in trouble for you."

Betharan smiles and nods graciously, then meets Tebah's eyes. She tosses him her golden noose of wire, then goes celestial. Needle-sharp horns, slightly fanged teeth, and eyes befitting an assassin. Assuming nothing bad happens, Tebah walks over and nooses Caliah's Lilim burden. "Hold the end of this, will yourself celestial."

Then he produces an identical relic, to do the same to his Calabite.

Caliah transforms, tattoos spreading to cover her skin, eyes clear and flat like oiled glass, balancing the Lilim's weight as she keeps a firm hold on the noose. "Down on the count of three?"

Betharan nods, though Caliah can feel the bloodhunger. "On three. One, Two, Three." (And then there were none...)

There is a moment like falling, caught between two thresholds of perception: then the three of them are standing, with their burdens, on a dais of pale, crimson-veined marble, at the centre of a domed room. Rings are set into the walls at regular intervals, and a few still have shackles dangling from them: cushions dot the floor, plump and soft and velvet. Two Balseraphs are knotted in a coil, watching their arrival, with three Djinn and a couple of Calabites backing them. The hallway leading out lies beyond: dim sounds of music and soft movement hang in the warm air like stale perfume.

One of the Balseraphs disengages, and murmurs, "Just put down the stock, please, then put your hands behind you while we get you shackled up."

Betharan raises both her eyebrows. "Sorry, we're not the delivery demons. We're just passing through." She looks around for an exit, absently falling into a stance with Tebah at her back.

Caliah says, voice like ice, "And we are expected. I don't know what your Prince does to people who hinder you, Game-Servant, but mine," and she moves for a moment so that her tattoos show in the light, "notices."

Betharan smiles, a trace bleakly. "Oh, yes, definitely. My Master would come looking for me, did I not report in promptly." Her expression is one of ironic humor, but her emotions betray despair, rising up to drown even the bloodlust for a moment.

The Balseraphs glance at each other, easing position a bit. One says, rapidly, "Oh, well, if this is an _official_ mission and you're _really_ the people you claim to be, you'll be able to prove it, won't you?"

Betharan reaches into the multitude of bangles at her wrist and pulls out a chain with a token on it. "Passport. And if you think anyone forges passports from the *Game* and lives to brag about it... Well, they might live to tell. Under interrogation."

The lead Balseraph inspects it, the cuffs hanging from his belt chiming faintly as his tail lashes. His face darkens, eyes flickering.

Caliah says, knife-thin, "Possibly our arrival was misreported. It would be a shame if your Tether above were to fail to be assigned War-support, because of a misunderstanding." The Lilim on her shoulder squirms faintly, and is hushed with a touch that is very gentle and precise on her carotids.

Betharan reclaims her wrist and adjusts some of the many Geas-bands in a business-like manner. Teb sets the Calabite down for a minute to make sure the noose is secure around his neck, then hoists him up again. A Game passport can barely be seen in the fur and scales on his chest.

The two Balseraphs eye each other, then turn back. The second one says, "What a good thing that we are offering you our cooperation, then. I take it you want to go straight out? Or do you want to hire that pair out first to make some quick Essence to take with you?"

"We're on duty," Betharan says crisply. "We can be replenished at the first game-stop. Now, if you will kindly indicate the exit, we'll let ourselves out, and you can get on with waiting for the delivery demons."

There is a last, longing consideration of the five specimens, then the Balseraphs and their minions fall back. The first points towards the door.

"Out that way, stay in a straight line, about five rooms and you should hit an exit onto the avenue: then third left, first right, and you're on the Strip."

Betharan nods graciously. "Your cooperation will be noted in my report."

She nods to Teb and heads out the indicated door... leaving little drips of bloodlust behind.

Caliah follows with the captive Lilim, each step as precise as though she were treading on silver needles, eyes flicking from side to side.

Before them stretches a corridor tiled in dark mosaics, lined with doors at either side. Soft murmurs and sounds come from behind the doors, and the ceiling motif appears to be "The Conquests of Andrealphus". A single door is visible at the far end.

Betharan mutters, "Bordellos. Feh." She paces to the far door, scars gleaming slickly in the soft lighting, and listens a moment. She whispers over her shoulder, "Hst, Cal -- you sense anything beyond here?"

Caliah's eyes slit as she frowns. "No outright fighting. Can't tell more than that. Hear anything?"

The Lilim shakes her head, and cracks the door open just a little to peer though.

The other side is a room filled with leather: leather cushions pad the walls, leather restraints dangle from ceiling and floor, leather poufs are distributed in convenient locations, and piles of leather clothing have been discarded in corners.

(There's a Shedite hiding somewhere. Have fun finding it. ;))


Betharan drums her fingers on the doorframe. "I think our instructions were a little... vague. This doesn't look like an exit."

Caliah carefully edges round the door to scrutinize the room. "Perhaps it's a trapdoor or something, or behind one of those leather sheets."

"They *did* say this door, didn't they? Of course, they *were* Balseraphs. Perhaps we could go and beat the truth out of them." The idea obviously appeals to Betharan emotionally, though the tone of her voice was more wistful.

"It's either a deathtrap or a hopeless prison, if they're lying. They didn't look stupid." Caliah frowns, gaze flicking across the room. "Other option is to go back and try some of those doors in the corridor."

Betharan sighs and pulls the door closed, then pauses and cracks it open again. Same scene. "Oh, well, worth a try. Yeah, let's see if any of the other doors are quiet. You sure you can't pick up something through a door?"

"Only a fight. I don't think we're going to be getting much of _that_ here."

"Pity." Betharan checks the other doors to find the ones with quiet behind them.

Only a couple of doors have silence behind them. The other door at the end of the passage, that they came in through, has disappeared into the wall to leave a dead end.

"Oh, I *am* going to report their *cooperation*," Betharan mutters darkly. "Out. I want a door out. I *yearn* for a door out." She looks to see if the silent doors have keyholes to peep through, or cracks under the doors.

There is a gap under the door of one of the silent rooms. From behind it seeps a familiar, bitter smell, that of the Corruptors' slime.

Betharan gags, spiking with powerful revulsion, undercut by something suppressed. "Shedim pit."

Caliah's mouth tightens. "Hopefully not there."

The other silent door has neither gap nor keyhole to guess at what lies beyond.

"You want to open this one, or shall I?" she asks Caliah.

Teb quietly pushes past and cracks the door open, to see what's on the other side....

A wave of steam washes out: on the other side is a aromatic steam-house, with marble benches, braziers of coals, beakers of water, and birch switches. There might be an exit somewhere, beyond the steam which hides the walls and ceiling.

"That's it," Betharan mutters. "We're lost. Okay, time to figure out which of these doors has little happy noises that *aren't* attached to a powerful Word-bound, or somebody with a title." She pauses and thinks. "I wonder if we could do a traitor-sweep? 'This is the Game. Where's Chaltizar?' "

Caliah's brief twist of lips is the closest she has yet come to a true smile. "Shall we see how many ardent passions we can shatter? I'll mind the Renegades if Tebah wants to pin them against the wall."

"Mmmmm.... I was thinking of leaving Teb to sit on the Renegades and loom in the doorway. You want to pin people against walls, or shall I?"

"Take it in turns? Or I can pin them while you eye them hungrily, if you like."

"Turns sounds good. I'll let you do the pinning first -- they'll be more scared of your resonance. Now, let's see... Which door sounds least like it's got somebody distincted?"

Caliah wanders along the corridor, setting ear to door. She pauses at one five along. "Sounds far too cheerful on both sides for somebody with a really severe taste for power."

Betharan listens a moment herself, just to confirm that there's no Prince there... "Good one. Let's go for it. Hand off the Lil to Teb, and I'll kick the door in."

And she proceeds to do so (probably testing it by opening it a crack first, and *then* kicking). "All right, this is the Game. Where's the Renegade?!"

The two thrashing Impudites on the bed separate with a cry of shock, one managing to avoid getting tangled in the sheets, the other failing dismally.

Caliah is across the room like a lean hound, getting a hand around the throat of the free Impudite and slamming him up against the wall, the other hand hovering near his groin. She murmurs, "Are you the Renegade? Renegades don't get to .. enjoy this sort of thing."

Betharan thinks, {Drat, Impudites. I can't spot if they're dissonant or not. Oh, well.} She walks a few paces into the room, tall, arrogant, and scarred. "All right, which of you was working with the Habbalite trying to make the Tether?" she asks crisply, looking around the room as if assessing where a Renegade might be hiding.

Tebah, paws on the Renegades (and with a shapely Renegade Lilim leg showing through the doorway) *looms*.

The Impudite thrashing among the sheets shrieks, "It wasn't me! He seduced me! I'll go back to the electroshock testing! I'm sorry! I wasn't there!"

The other hangs in Caliah's pin, eyes swivelling down his body then back up again. "Yug. Er. No Habbalite. Just us two. I'm on vacation. Got a pass. Really." His eyes bulge as Caliah's grip tightens a shade.

Betharan's mouth quirks into a rather unpleasant smile. "I see. Not either of you, eh? Okay, prettyboy, let's see your 'pass,' shall we?" She takes a step nearer to the one pinned against the wall, somehow making her armor of Geas-bands look like a dominatrix's outfit, and prepares to grab "Sheets" if she bolts.

The pinned one says, eyes flicking to a few fragments of clothing in the corner, "It's over there, madam. It's all signed. Really. I got permission. Ick!"

Caliah murmurs delicately in his ear, "No wonder they gave you time off, you're probably the worst excuse for a soldier I ever saw running away from an army." Her eyes are on his profile as terror dances in the back of her mind, and she fans it, letting the flames rise to keep him in a state of trembling.

Betharan strides over to the clothing and scoops it up, checking for the pass. "Ah, a Techie, are you? Interesting." She holds it up to the light. "Very good forgery, but I think some of the scan chips are a little crispy, even for one of you lot."

She moves to the bed in one smooth flow and takes the other Impudite by the wing. "And you, pretty thing?" she coos, doing a good imitation of a Djinn in fixation mode. "Entertaining an AWOL Techie?"

The sheet-wrapped one clings to the fabric as though satin could somehow protect him from an enraged Lilim. "He swore it was legal! I'll go back to the rods this minute, I'll say anything you want, just please don't report me!"

Caliah frowns. "Perhaps the Renegade's making for the exit. Perhaps this pair helped it."

"That seems likely," Betharan agrees. "They do seem to protest too much, oh, yes. Perhaps they'd like to *show* us the way their compatriot might have fled? That might earn..." she studies the pass thoughtfully, "...a little lost paperwork. I'm sure he can't have gotten far, even in Shal-Mari."

Caliah leans away from her captive. "Did you know that it's possible to eat a pass? I've seen it done. You'd never know it existed."

The Impudites begin to whimper eagerness to help. Now. Please. Please. Anything.

"Soooo," Betharan coos, caressing the sheeted one's wing with a rather... predatory expression. "You'll be happy to show us the way the Renegade probably left the building?"

The Impudite is a trembling mass of weakness under the sheets. Caliah's teeth show as the demon gurgles, "S-s-sure. Anything to, um, help our noble police. It's out the door and through the leather room at the end and push on the panel two right of the door and go through there and.." he retreats into a mass of directions, evidently hoping vainly that he might not have to personally lead the way.

Betharan toys with the other one's pass, and keeps a hand on the sheet-tangled one's wing. She tells Caliah, "The Techie would just slow us down, I think. I have his forged pass, I can pick him up later. Let's take this one and go."

Caliah nods. She plucks her victim off the wall, gives him a shake that makes his teeth click together, and drops him. "You want to have the Djinn attune to him, first? So we can track him later if things go .. wrong?"

"Perfect. Drag him over, would you?"

Caliah sets a hand upon the scruff of the Impudite's neck, and drags him across the floor to Teb, her fingernails breaking the skin. There is something of contempt in her posture, both for the whimpering Taker, and perhaps for herself.

Tebah sighs through his nose and lays a paw on the quivering Techie. "Done," he grunts. "Let's get after the other one."

Betharan has hold of the wing of the "native" Lustie and is dragging it from the sheets with grand disregard for its well-being -- though her emotions are more controlled than that, as she walks a tightrope of what will keep the little thing terrorized, but not so terrorized as to call its Master.

"All right, let's get on to this 'leather room,' shall we?" she asks crisply.

The Impudite snivels, clutching a remnant of sheet to itself in some faintly-remembered echo of modesty, and shuffles towards the door. Caliah deposits the shivering Vapulan, following on her toes, glance swivelling up and down the corridor.

Betharan steers the Lustie down the corridor, each shove and step spiking the bloodlust a little higher -- though yet under control. She lets the Impudite pause outside the door. "This the one?"

It nods, and Betharan reaches around it to shove the door open, keeping careful grasp on its wing...

Inside all is still, quiet, appealing leather. The scent of leather covers any other smells that might hang in the air. Nothing moves. The trembling Impudite points timidly at one panel. "Er.. that one. Let me go and I'll go prod it for you?"

"Teb?" Betharan asks over her shoulder.

Tebah sighs and shuffles forwards to bap the Impudite lightly. "Done."

Betharan releases the Lustie. "Mind you, those who run are usually guilty of *something*. Resisting arrest, at the least," she purrs, throatily.

He flinches, and retreats, eyes on the quintet. "Sure. Definitely." A finger prods at the panel, and it swings slightly. "Look. It's just out there, you can go right through..."

(and behind a leather cushion, a Shedite begins to swell into motion)

Caliah's eyes narrow. She pivots, studying the room, posture shifting to one of readiness.

Betharan flicks a slightly puzzled gaze at the Habbalite, then, trying to look casual about it, goes to open the panel a little further -- making sure that the Impudite is the one in front of it...

Tebah, to all apparencies oblivious to anything, broods in the middle of the room, one Renegade slung over his back, and the other being dragged by one Calabite leg.

The Shedite blooms into horrible organic motion, swelling out from its leather veils to overshadow Betharan and the poor trembling Impudite - who is attempting to dive through the panel at this very moment - in a pulsing thread of motion, flowing towards the Lilim. Caliah is calling out something that might be a warning, and launching into motion, but just a fraction too late.

Betharan is frozen upon seeing it, and Caliah can pick up a horrifying apathetic terror flaring out from the Daughter for a moment. The Impudite rips its wing from her lax grasp and dives out the panel, which seems to be enough to wake the Lilim from her panic. She falls back a pace, eyes wide and clawed hands raised, but it's most definitely too late since the Shedite slaps her down with one tentacle --

-- just before an unconscious pair of Renegades are flung into it, bouncing it against the wall and providing a bit of a distraction.

Betharan uses it to scurry backwards, claws out, crouching. Her emotions taste of sick fear, slowly being overpowered by bloodlust.

Tebah stands at his full bearish height in the middle of the room, wings outstretched, wolfling fangs gaping.

Caliah is circling by the walls, one hand clenching into the leather. It begins to come free as her muscles clench, a long drape of it loosening from the wall in a loose length.

Mouths in the Shedite hiss, "I'm not going to hurt her, Djinn. She'll enjoy it. Or just throw me the little Punisher, or the other one you've got. I won't take long. I don't want to hurt you." Eyes move inside the swirling mass, and less identifiable organs, as it begins to surge upwards in the room.

Tebah flicks his dirty-copper eyes to Betharan for a moment. Her face is twisted into a tooth-chattering grimace, and her emotions are worthy of something tweaked by one of Caliah's Choir -- fear and bloodlust locking her in one place, perfectly balanced.

To the Shedite, Teb says, "No deal. She's *MY* partner. And those are *MY* Renegades." He yawns, showing fangs and a forked tongue. "And the Punisher's not mine to give."

Caliah's legs bunch under her. She tenses, and as the Shedite lowers to extend slimy ribbons of self towards Betharan, she throws herself into a high, Essence-assisted jump, trailing the sheet of leather behind her. She goes just barely over the top of the Shedite, the leather following her and tumbling across the creature...

Tebah blurs into surprisingly speedy motion, putting one hindfoot on the trailing edge of the leather sheet to snap it down on top of the Shedite. Then he hurls the Renegade Lilim at Betharan, sending both Daughters into a tumble for a moment. "Get *moving*, partner!" he barks, gathering up the Calabite. Betharan shakes her head, tucks the other Lilim (who is groaning slightly) under one arm, and bolts out the exit. Tebah isn't far behind, though he does make sure to step heavily on the covered Shedite on the way out.

Caliah slams the door behind her as she tumbles into the corridor behind the others, her body streaked with a few edges of the Corruptor's slime. There is a muffled fumbling behind them, as she heads directly down the corridor that the Impudite had described - the Impudite is fled, though Tebah can probably feel his presence straight ahead of them by a few rooms and running hard.

Teb lopes off in that direction, with a sort of shuffling bounding that would almost be reminiscent of Pepe Le Pew if he weren't kind of batwinged and scaly instead of skunkly.

Betharan seems to be recovering -- the bloodlust and terror dying down to aftershocks. As Caliah catches up, the Lilim mutters, "Thanks."

Caliah nods, not forcing any expansion on the subject, and keeps pace as behind them the door begins to bulge at the corners. Ahead, Tebah is bursting into a wood-panelled gymnasium full of athletic equipment, and a bat-winged panicked figure can just be seen vanishing out the other end

Though stone dungeons, something high-tech looking, and a collection of hallways that would grace (?) any brothel... Occasionally with someone blinking surprisedly from a cracked-open door. And finally, Tebah screeches to a halt in front of a large door, beyond which, is a hotel-like desk and beyond *that* -- the streets of Shal-Mari!

Caliah calls towards the Djinn lounging at the desk, "We're checking out, inspection satisfied. You'll be getting the reports later." She sweeps onwards to the door, brows knotting as she projects apathetic boredom in the Djinn's direction.

Tebah tucks his wings up, partly hiding the unconscious Calabite flung over his shoulder. Betharan takes the semi-conscious Lilim and acts as if they're just walking together, though she has a firm grip on the golden noose yet around her sister's throat.

Caliah loiters against the door, holding it open for the other two, then drapes an arm over the captive Lilim on the other side, smiling faintly as she steps out into the crowded, noisy, polluted, busy, but _safe_ street of Shal-Mari.

"I never want to see another brothel as long as I live," Betharan mutters, keeping a firm grip on the noose. "Come on, let's get to a Game-station."

She and Tebah attempt to take a hard left at the appropriate intersection.

Caliah's arm remains locked around the Lilim. She points out, mildly, "War-post is that way, and I'm under direct orders." There's a glint to her eye which suggests she isn't letting go of the Lilim any time soon. "Your Prince doesn't want to annoy my Prince directly, does he?"

Betharan locks eyes with the Habbalite and gnaws her lower lip. "Direct orders, eh? Mmmmm... But she's also a Renegade, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Game..."

Tebah sighs and skulks against a wall, pounding the Calabite's head into aforementioned wall when it twitches.

After a tense moment, the Gamester Lilim rolls her eyes. "Teb, take yours to the Game-station. I'll go along with this one and collect her after the Prince of the War is finished."

Fixing a slightly bloodthirsty eye on Caliah, she adds, "If that's all right with you? After all, we *do* want to make *both* our Masters happy, no?"

Caliah smiles blandly, perhaps with a shade of relaxation. "I'll arrange the passes. I can apply for you to attend the interrogation, too, if you want?"

(knowing perfectly well that Baal will refuse that if it's sensitive, but at least she's showing willing)

The crowd streams round them, ignoring what is a perfectly average street scene.

"Yes, I think that would be best, if I could attend." Betharan nods and indicates that Caliah can lead the way. But she, too, keeps hold of the Renegade.

Tebah slouches off with the Calabite on his back, looking big and bored and unquestionable.

The Renegade twitches again and groans. "Whuuu....?"

Caliah puts a choke-lock on the Renegade's carotids till she slumps unconscious again, then nods down to the right. "War-base is about two blocks that way: we can get an escort and some quick transport the rest of the way."

"Sounds interesting. Any protocols?" Betharan hangs onto the Renegade, but follows Caliah's lead...

Caliah balances her side of the Renegade. "Probably the same sort of thing as an outsider in a Game-base: I identify myself, tell them who you and the Renegade are, they watch us like dungbeetles on a really tasty ball of dung while they check things, then we get trotted off with by a fast squad who'll walk us through the gates to Gehenna and see us through the battlefield to my Prince's Citadel."

"Sounds fine by me. Sure you don't want me to toss our prize over my shoulder?" Betharan radiates a bit of amusement.

"Only if you want to come in there looking like my convenient body-toter." Caliah's mouth smiles, though her eyes do not. "I'm assuming you'd prefer to come in looking like a colleague. It'll make things a bit easier with the brute squad on the door."

"Point taken. Halvsies." And Betharan saunters along....

(They reach the War-station.)

The doors of the building are forged metal, and there is a plate in one at eye-level where somebody might murmur through: the building itself is heavy rock. Caliah steps to the door, and knocks three times: the plate slides open, revealing the six-fold eyes of a Balseraph. She mutters something that might be a request, or a password, and the door begins to creak open.

Betharan shoulders their Renegade again -- slippery thing, all unconscious like this, and stands at something resembling attention. _They'd just better not make any remarks about green Habbies,_ she thinks to herself, reminding herself that Teb isn't at her back to sit on her if necessary.

Caliah steps in, bearing more taut and military. The door is slammed the moment that Betharan has entered: inside, the Balseraph begins to slide the bolts, while a Djinn sitting at a desk mutters, "All right. Report, Punisher." Two Impudites are arguing over a chessboard in the corner, both with ammunition belts slung across their chests. The room is sparse, walls bare, a few uncomfortable chairs and benches stowed in corners, and the door the other side of the room is plain dark wood.

Caliah salutes. "Renegade captured, sir, as per the Prince's orders. He requested that she be brought to Gehenna." She nods at the body over Betharan's shoulder. "The Tempter is an agent of the Game, one Betharan, assigned by her Prince's orders, to report to Gehenna also and take back any appropriate remains."

Betharan smiles, close-mouthed, and nods in acknowledgement of the statement. Her killer's eyes flicker about, checking for signs of laxness, not lingering anywhere in particular.

The place seems orderly and rigid enough, clearly kept clean and in military trim. The Djinn nods, ignoring Betharan after a glance, and begins to flick through papers. "I can give you a couple of Calabim for runners: that be enough? Sign here, here, and here." He dumps forms on the desk.

Caliah, with an edge of annoyance, moves forward to start signing.

Betharan cranes her neck to peek. The Lilim Renegade stirs, and gets the golden noose around her throat pulled taut absently. "Hey, Caliah," Betharan murmurs. "How intact does Prince Baal *want* this Renegade, anyway?"

The Renegade seems to be turning an interesting shade of aqua...

Caliah says, not looking up as she signs the graphic of her name in Helltongue, "Able to talk, so leave the vocal cords alone, and it'll probably be easier if she can walk rather than having to get the Calabim to carry her. You know what their natural fields are like."

"Oh, right." Betharan loosens the noose and starts lightly slapping the Renegade across the face. "Wakey, wakey," she croons, odd spikes of hatred and self-hate mingling with the sense of her ever-present Discord.

The Renegade twitches, and Betharan hauls off with a *serious* swat, making the other Lilim cry out groggily and try to curl up.

Caliah finishes signing, passing pen and papers back, and the Djinn presses a bell-push beneath the surface of the desk.

The Renegade's eyes open, going wide with horror as she realises the situation. There is a very, very pressing Need in them - to be Elsewhere.

Betharan smiles nastily, Discord showing in her eyes and the needle tips of her horns. "Hi. You're going to cooperate, right?"

The Renegade's eyes flick from side to side, wide and liquid. Her body relaxes, as she whispers, "Sister, you've got to get me out of this: can we make a deal?"

Almost sympathetically, Betharan strokes the other Lilim's face with the backs of her fingers. There's a spark of anguish in the back of her eyes, but it fades. "So sorry, but no, not really. I don't think that my Master would reward me for antagonizing one of his associates unnecessarily. Don't worry -- I've requested that you be left alive for me to retrieve."

The Renegade screams, trying desperately to drag away from the noose and the Lilim holding it, fighting with the pure strength of insanity. Caliah's face goes taut, and she turns back to the table to mutter to the Djinn as the two Impudites in the corner come sprinting over to help subdue her, their chessboard going flying.

Betharan clings to the leash, being partly dragged along the floor like a someone walking a great dane with an attitude. "I don't think this is necessarily more useful, Caliah," she calls out, teeth bared in what might be some kind of smile.

As the Impudites arrive, she adds, "Thank you." While they pin the Renegade's legs and arms, Betharan works on getting a head-lock on her sister. "Struggling will just get me more annoyed with you," she murmurs sweetly, flashing her claws for a moment.

The Renegade whimpers, "What can they do to me that they aren't already going to?" Tears leak from the corners of her eyes as she goes limp.

"Oh, you *don't* want to know," Betharan whispers. "Or, rather, you don't want to know what *I* can do to you. Cooperate, maybe you'll survive. Or did you do too much for that?"

Caliah has collected some leg- and arm-cuffs from the Djinn, and is bringing them over. She says, to Betharan, "Okay, we carry her, then, or the Calabim do and we fix her up later." Her gaze on the struggling Lilim is flat and depthless.

"I'm willing to tote her -- don't want the escort to have their hands full, after all," Betharan says. She adds, to an Impudite, "Here, shift over a little so she can put the cuffs on."

The Impudite nods professionally, helping force the Renegade's wrists together so that Caliah can snap the manacles on. The Renegade herself is twisting her head. "Where's Ashoth? What happened to him?" (the Calabite, natch)

"My partner has him," Betharan comments casually. "Want to say anything about the blessed Triad that showed? Were they looking for you?"

She says, without even pausing to think about it, "They were chasing us! We were trying to sucker them into believing we were Redeemable, see, it was one of those deep cover jobs..."

The twist to Caliah's mouth, as she clamps the leg irons shut, shows precisely what sort of emotions are supporting _this_ story.

"Oh, you're lucky I'm not a Seraph," Betharan grins. "I'd bap you one. You didn't even know about them, did you?"

"Oh yes we did!" She's getting more desperate now as the iron gleams darkly in wide cuffs against her skin. "We thought if we let them take down that Lust-Tether, we might be able to convince them we wanted..." Her voice trails off.

"Oh, keep talking!" Betharan invites. "I'm making little mental notes here. Wanted what?"

The Renegade firmly shuts her mouth.

Caliah shrugs. "They'll get it out of her later. I've heard that the Prince himself might take a personal interest." Something shadows behind her eyes, an echo of webs of blood. "So you're carrying her while the Calabim run escort?"

"Sure. She can whisper things in my ear. I'll take notes." She strokes her sister's hair. "Really now, if you provide the information, maybe you'll even survive."

As soon as the escort makes itself known, Betharan hoists the Renegade to her shoulders, like a bulky carpet. "Now, don't be obnoxious, or you won't be happy at all."

The Renegade sniffles, as the three Calabim form up in a rough triangle round Caliah and Betharan. Caliah flips a salute to the Djinn, who is still hulking at the desk, then gestures to the Balseraphic doorguard to open it.

She says, towards Betharan, "It's the standard route, direct line."

"Never been. I'll keep my eyes on you." She settles the Renegade on her shoulders a little. "Stop squirming, or I'll drop you and let a Calabite carry you."

The door is slammed open, and the group starts out at a fast trot. They come to the Shal-Mari border on Gehenna soon, and are passed through, into the mud and blood and turmoil of the war. Guns echo in the distance, and the occasional corpse dots the field. In the distance, the Fortress of Baal.

"How scenic," Betharan deadpans quietly. To her cargo, she asks, "So, this the place you chose to spend your life, allegedly?"

The Renegade whimpers something about "Earthside assignments" and "inside duty" as she bounces over the Lilim's shoulder.

A few checkpoints later, they are at the gates of the Fortress, and being admitted inside.

Betharan looks around, her pose one of casual curiosity. Knowing Servitors of the Game, it's probably anything but casual...

Stone and metal and tiles form immaculately clean passageways, well-lit and open, scrubbed free of any stains. Those Servitors or souls who move around do so with extreme haste and precision, bearing alert. They are passed by three sets of sentries, and directed up a flight of metal stairs towards the "holding area".

Caliah has relaxed somewhat since entering the fortress, though she casts the occasional half-glance at Betharan to check on her bearing and condition.

Betharan is being just a *little* casual, bending the general rules of poise just a little, radiating "Secret Police Right Here." It seems subconscious. Occasionally, she makes little "small talk" comments to the Renegade across her shoulders -- "So, been here often? What's it like, hm? Don't suppose you'd like to walk now? Oh, never mind -- carried you this far..."

The Renegade has closed her eyes, and seems to be trying for Redemption by sheer force of personal will, as they head up the metal stairs. At the top is a selection of cells - all with the very latest cameras and conversation-assisting appliances - and a Djinn jailer to attune to the Renegade before she is thrown into one of them.

The Djinn turns and grunts to Betharan and Caliah, "Good. Punisher, you're back to assignments, there's something to be sorted out. Tempter, we've had the clearance in from the Prince for you to wait on this one's questioning. Need anything? We've got orders to extend equal-rank courtesy."

"Thank you. Perhaps a transcription device so I can take notes, should my pooooor misguided sib wish to unburden her soul to me." A pause. "And, of course, some way to make a copy, to leave here, if such would be available?"

She's being quite polite, though Caliah can sense a faint bit of uncertainity in her emotions.

The Djinn grunts again. "Sure. Pencil, paper, you got it, we've got cameras running anyway. No problem." He radiates an attitude of hoping Betharan will let him be so he can get back to just staring at the poor demons in the cells.

"That's perfect. Thank you." Betharan restrains herself from resonating him for his desire to go back to brooding...

Caliah turns to Betharan. "My thanks for your cooperation. I'll see you when I next get assigned your way, I imagine." Her voice is neutral and polite.

"Likely enough. Your help will not be forgotten." Betharan attempts to match Caliah's blandness, but there are sparks of other emotions sputtering off of her -- puzzlement, old familiar urges to strike, and an old pain slow and wispy...

Caliah's mouth twitches for a moment. "You were extremely professional. My compliments." She gives a formal salute, fist to shoulder, before turning to make for the door.

And Betharan thinks, _Was that *really* a Habbie? We'll have to keep an eye on her. She's far too... professional, herself._ Then she turns back to the Renegade in her cell and coos, "Are you sure that you don't want to start talking now?"

The poor Renegade hunches in a corner of her cell and just weeps. (End of the line for her, I think, whatever happens.)

(Yup, though Betharan would try to wheedle information out of her, including implying that she might intervene for her survival. Why, she might even be able to pledge to Betharan's Master!)


Maya, Elohim of Eli in service to Blandine
maya @

-- "There are those who say that wizards are subject to temptations and addictions beyond the understanding of ordinary men: the addiction to shape-changing, or to meditation under the influence of certain herbs and conditions of the stars; the obsession with knowledge, and the development of power. Yet this is not so. Temptation is temptation, obsession is obsession, and choice is choice." - Isar Chelladan, Precepts of Wizardry. -- "Dog Wizard", Barbara Hambly.

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