By Moe Lane


It had taken Alyx a few minutes to work out why her fear was so mixed with the feeling of deja vu - but when it did, the answer was obvious. This wasn't precisely a new situation for her, by any stretch of the imagination. An abandoned warehouse, ritualistic implements, strong chains and the smell of rusty steel, rusty blood and sharp fear - all of these things had been an increasingly common part of her surroundings over the last few years, and had long since lost any negative connotations for her. Indeed, by now such things were inextricably linked with her favorite hobbies.

Alyx just never really thought that one day it would be her turn. She was too skilled and useful for - this - to happen to her; she was special, unlike those weaklings and sheep that made up most of humanity. She had been told so. She mattered. She had a place.

None of this seemed to matter to her captor; the hulking figure had captured and kidnapped her with contemptuous ease. He had demonstrated no lack of ruthlessness in keeping her subdued, either; the Hellsworn had so far lost three teeth and the use of one eye, and the dull roar in her side suggested that at least one of her ribs was broken. Even if - when, always 'when' - she got out of this alive, it would take months before her master would find her useful again, or desirable.

This fool would pay. He had gagged her, of course - but Alyx was more than a talking monkey, unlike this deeply disturbed subhuman. She had abilities. She mattered - and she finally had regained enough Essence to make her play. Performing the Song while bound, suspended and gagged was somewhat tricky, but she managed. She had to.

*Take me down from here, worm!*, she thought/screamed.

At first, she thought that her attempt to make mental contact had failed - but, after a moment, the man stopped and turned to face her. His face was stone.

*You heard me. You have made a stupid mistake, and your life is mine to do with as I would. If I am placated, I will let you live - even thrive; but if I am displeased further, then the fires of Hell themselves will gnaw on you forever.* Alyx' master had once shown her a terrifying vision of the parts of Hell reserved for incompetent Soldiers; she now passed it along, with interest. *Do you want to avoid that? Do you? THEN FALL TO YOUR KNEES AND BEG MY FORGIVENESS, WRETCH!*

For one glorious moment, Alyx thought that her bluff had worked. Her captor had obviously 'heard' her, and she knew that no human could stand up to the scenes of pain and desolation that she had passed on. Further negotiations would be tricky, and there was no assurance that she could eventually see this scum screaming out his life, but there was a chance -

The man casually reached out and bent a nearby steel pipe into a pretzel. The faintest hint of disturbance teased at Alyx' hearing as the taste of victory became ash.

She now knew that she was going to die.

Immediately, the threats became begging. *No! Wait! I was mistaken! Forgive me!* The man came closer, a battered medical bag in one hand. *I am loyal! Ask anyone!* The man knelt to rearrange a drop cloth and bucket underneath her bound form. *You don't have to do this! We can find someone better to amuse you! I have been trained well in how to provide that service! I am eager to prove my worth!* The bag was now being opened: the overhead bulb shone wetly on the edges of various - things. *It would be wasteful to use me up - the fact that I can speak to you like this shows that I am valuable! There are those that would be hampered by my death!* Candles were now being lit and ritual circles drawn; Alyx could feel her ability to speak mind-to-mind drain away - and with it, any chance that she could stop this, this - aberration. She threw everything left into her last plea.

*Damn you, demon! We're on the same side!*

If her last desperate scream of rage and fear affected her killer, he gave no sign. He simply straightened up, checked the tableau, and looked at her. Bizarrely, he checked her pulse - she tried to scratch, at least, but to no avail - and even more bizarrely, touched one finger to her forehead, evidently to gather some sweat. He rolled that sweat on his fingers, smelled it, tasted it - but in a way unlike any she had ever seen before. After a moment, he nodded and spoke the only words that she would ever hear.

"Yes. That should be enough." He raised one fist; the sound of her neck breaking accompanied her into unconsciousness. She never noticed, however, that it was not conjoined with any disturbance.

The Elohite picked up the bone saw.

Zadkiel doesn't talk much about the fact that certain of her Elohim have been tasked with, frankly, wet work. Not because she regrets the necessity, of course; she doesn't. Those that willfully and unrepentantly walk the dark path don't deserve anything but death. And it's certainly not because she disapproves of their methods; taking advantage of an unfortunate corporeal societal problem is actually quite clever, provided that it doesn't get out of hand. No, Zadkiel's reticence is purely pragmatic.

It's just that most people get uncomfortable when they find out that certain members of the Host have Roles as serial killers.

The problem is, that sort of Role is really very useful for hiding disturbance that arises from a human's death. Certainly Hell thinks so; they've pioneered this sort of thing for their more disgusting demons. There is a certain satisfaction in turning the tables - well, not really. Zadkiel's Behavioral Specialists do not allow themselves satisfaction.

Before you ask, developing this sort of Role is tricky. The optimal course is to actually find an existing serial killer, work out a way to kill him celestially and take over his existing life. Failing that, well, Malakim don't suffer Trauma. Zadkiel doesn't like 'growing' Roles this way - it damages the host society in a variety of ways, but sometimes she doesn't have a choice. At any rate, once the Role is formed the Specialist simply waits until it is assigned a Hellsworn that fits the ritual profile. Zadkiel only picks the worst servants of Hell for removal - again, because it's pragmatic to do so. The Archangel of Protection is very much an Old Testament sort of angel, when it comes to those who would collude in the damnation of their own species.

Needless to say, all Specialists are on Dominic's permanent Watch List; he yanks them off duty at the first hint that they might be suffering from subjectivity. He also insists that any specific Role be strictly short-term. It probably disturbs him, though, that Behavioral Specialists do not seem to be particularly unstable (unless overworked, of course).

After all, it's just a job.


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