|The Girl in the Bubble|
You find yourself standing before an odd abandoned looking house. The walls are cracked and the paint is peeling. The windows are boarded up. There isn't even any grass growing here. Only one thing shows a sign that the place is lived in: A sign has been recently made which reads, "KEEP OFF THE LOOSE SOIL! It's impolite to walk on the dead..."
The flimsy, decaying panelling of the front door rattles as it is thrown back, jolting on hinges which are as in need of retirement as Samantha Li-Bogard is in need of answers. Stepping out of the abandoned home, she lets the portal swing noisily shut behind her, idly stretching out the fingers of her right hand as she gazes after her quarry. Devi's back can be seen disappearing down the nearby street; none too hasty but with a fair headstart on the pursuing catgirl.
Sammy calms herself with a couple of breaths, allowing Devi a little extra time in the hope she may be more prepared to talk. She had half a suspicion that Johnny's former paramour would have started to run as she left the house, too eager to flee from the house... and from her. From a dead relic of a distant past. The young martial artist's expression is thoughtful for a moment, a faint frown burrowing into her brow. She /should/ be dead, as should her lost friend. Her mind rolls back to the days preceding this meeting, before she broke into this rogue dimension. She considers the aura given off by that horrific creature, and it's chilling mistress.
The result is a quickening of her resolve. With a quick sigh, she breaks into a hurried step away from the building, leaving it's boundary at a determined stride, tightening her gloves as she goes. She does not look back - and barely looks forward. There could be a great deal at stake here. There could be everything at stake.
Stepping back out of that horrible house, the world seems to slow to a crawl as all the color abruptly drains out of it. Shadows lurtch across the ground, coming to a stop in bizzare unnatural angels. Sounds everywhere come to a stop as the air grows heavy and thick. There's a moment that can only be described as sufficating as it becomes impossible to breathe and then in a moment not unlike being born, the air around the girl explodes into a sphere of breathable air. Infact the diffrence is staggering, even the ground around her returns to color until it reaches the edge of the bubble. The air mirrors the effect as well like being in a bubble underwater. For the moment the edge of the bubble is stable and pressing on it will be like pressing a hand in the mud and feeling the surface try to stop you, but giving with enough force. Outside, however, that world of broken time will burn your skin much like a limb falling asleep. After all, Stepping out of that bubble will try to freeze you in time.
The girl will have at least a full minute to survey this bizzare landscape before the form of Senior Diablo abruptly appears, standing behind her atop her own shadow. Diablo has been described in many ways but very seldomly like this - the devil glares angrily, his sharp jagged teeth actually piercing his lips and sending a trickle of black blood down his cheek. When he speaks the words are forced as he tries to contain his rage behind them. "Samantha Li-Bogard... or should we call you Lee Truart? You aren't supposed to be here. You aren't supposed to EXIST yet. How did you get out? WHO GUIDED YOU!?!?" He actually lets a bit of that black blood fly from his words like spittle as he yells.
The normally reserved demon takes a moment to recollect himself, shutting his eyes to the world around him. This would be a good time to note that he doesn't stand inside the bubble with Samantha, mearly just outside of it as he addresss her. Taking what appears to be a deep breath in the oxygen-less environment, the demon continues, "Decades of planning for this one moment have been shattered. Alessa was never supposed to see you until the time was right. Who's responsible for this, and don't you DARE say you where acting alone..." Senior Diablo is the one responsible for the libraries of Hell and the infinite knowledge locked within them, in other words this whole instance is a slap in his face.
Airless. Suffocating. Even for a moment, the effect is shocking, the young woman's heart palpitating as panic floods her system. No matter the level of training, there is little that can prepare a body for the sensation of complete oxygen deprivation - let alone when a darker power than mere physics is involved. Samantha's lungs heave against nothing, her entire frame tensing as she struggles against the urge to thrash, an urge that could prove harmful. Even deadly. Caught in mid-stride, she is nevertheless still, and it is a moment before she realises she faces a second form of resistance.
She responds by relaxing. Completely. Her body seems to float inside the bubble, suspended even as it settles to an upright position, her feet sliding through magical molasses to come to a stop evenly spread beneath her. Her wide blue eyes search for a way out even as her brain works overtime simply to stop from imploding. Fear is the mind-killer, indeed. She has her suspicions as to who may have caused this; but this makes it worse. Her fears have been realised within seconds of their becoming. And then, the big reveal.
"You." She tries to speak, and surprises herself with success, pausing to relax her breathing patterns. This is another simple task which proves difficult in the face of a demonic onslaught, by the king of demons no less, and the Devil's visage does little to aid her calming motions. Her shoulders begin to quiver, her ears droop at the tips, though she somehow holds herself upright and true throughout the tirade. Her cheeks begin to flush toward the end, and at the venemous outburst she lifts her chin proudly, gleaming sapphires boldly daring Diablo to continue.
"Far as I know," she begins quietly, when it is her turn to speak, "I did act alone. But that's how manipulation works, isn't it? Y'don't get to find out until afterwards, when it's too late to do anything about it. If I hadn't heard you tell me this whole /mess/," she bites off the word with a burst of anger, rolling her eyes to one side to indicate the house that no longer stands behind her, "Was part of your plan, then I'd be beginning to reckon that it was somethin' to do with that horror-show schoolgirl back there. But see..." She draws a deep breath, and tosses her head, a display of the struggle she is undergoing just to keep her composure.
"There's the funny thing about portals between worlds." She smiles, a gesture that might be cocky were it not so weak, "Ya open 'em in one place, everywhere else gets weaker. Soon enough you've got doors revolving every which way, and not you or anyone else can put a stop to it. Seems to me like you've got a problem. Because master plan or not, I didn't see your friend back there tryin' to haul me back into the dark an' bloody pits where I belong." She swallows, flexes her hands to fists at her sides, "How about you? Gonna ask me to come quietly?"
Senior Diablo's eye twitches. His voice a near hiss, "I do not take credit for her actions, but knowing the outcome of events we can plan around even the darkest of events for the brightest possible outcome." Taking out a white piece of cloth, the demon cleans up the black blood on his cheek and carefully puts the cloth away again. "I also will not disrupt the order that events unfold unless for a specific purpose. The damage has been done. Nothing has the power to change this outcome." The demon turns away from her gaze and looks back at the house she's exited. With a heavy, almost mournful sigh, Diablo shakes his head. "Johnny C... how many times must we play this song and dance around you...?"
The question seems to have been directed not at or to anyone here, the devil is doing something else he rarely seems to do. He's thinking out loud. After calming himself to his normal stature the demon turns around and stares at Samantha questioningly. "Now then, back on topic... that 'school girl' is one of the most powerful of demons without the willpower to control her own actions. She seems calm and colected but that's due to the fact that her entire physical being is currently here to amass an army against her 'sister'. Or, in other words her doppilganger from another world. A doppilganger who sits upon the Council of Hell. We have a bit of a problem with the self appointed 'protector' of Twisted Street. She's decided to sacrifice the lives of everyone who exists upon it in order to set herself up as some sort of 'God' in the eyes of anyone still breathing. She's turned towards my domain and requested I unleash the infinite forces of Hell just to aid her in this quest..."
A lot of information suddenly being given at random, but of course this demon has reasons for it. With a talloned finger he pricks the sphere around Samantha causing it to enlarge and giving her more room to move comfortably. He still refrains from entering it...
Senior Diablo says, "This is why the sisters are so important, this is why they can not know of what's going on around them. All that matters is they continue down this path and try to kill each other using thier minions. In doing so the people of Twisted Street will not be harmed, or at least the damage kept to a minimum, and Concordance will be made to look the fool she is as she tries to stop a fight that does not concern her."
Keeping with the pace of his explanations, the demon begins to walk in a circle around the bubble containing Samantha. There's no denying what this is now, this is a lecture and Samantha is clearly being given an education.
Senior Diablo exclaims, "Now... this is the important part. Your being here jeapordises everything. Someone had to work very hard to pull strings to get you out of Hell without an alarm going off. A system as old as malace itself does not give and sway so easily, child. So I will have to ask again. WHO HELPED YOU?!?!"
A frown once more cuts across the face of Samantha as Johnny's name is mentioned. Across countless years, and a handful of different worlds, he still causes the same ripples amongst the upper echelons of power... as though their time together was part of something far more important. She knows well enough the import of the being that stands before her; for all that her punishment seemed self-inflicted, he is the grand puppet master. The Machiavelli in the convoluted, dizzying plotline of the underworld. She meets his stare carefully, her every fibre wary. Scared, even, and with full reason. This is no mortal man, who speaks without tact, who dispenses his secrets with the wanton glee of the short-lived. She begins to frown more deeply, reaching up to rub self-consciously at the back of her neck as Diablo continues. Armies, gods, and the forces of Hell... this is not freedom.
"Thank you," she murmurs in half-conscious acknowledgement as the enchantment around her subsides, if only slightly. She takes a pace to one side, turning her flank to Diablo, dropping the defensive act - knowing it will do no good should he decide to act physically against her. Past a sweep of dark hair she watches him, nodding slowly as he explains the role of the sisters. There is a flicker of disbelief in her eye, but she waits her turn. Knows also that the Prince of Hell is not done; as she realises she has erred, so must she take some form of punishment. Whatever it may be. With the violently delivered query, she cringes, teeth grinding together and eyes shutting for a moment.
"I. Don't. Know." She hammers each syllable home, spinning to face him, her stare shining with frustration. "But what did I just say? Perhaps /you're/ not as clever as you think you are. Are ya gonna try and tell me nothing's ever gone wrong before? That none of your minions have stood up for themselves? I've faced them, I've fought them, and let me tell you - nowhere is there ambition like there is in Hell. You terrify me," the admission comes with a frank shake of the head, unashamed in its honesty, "But if I were you, knowin' what I know? I wouldn't even bother with someone like me. Y'got much bigger problems. You say this girl has 'turned towards' your domain? I'd say she has. If she's as influential as you say she is, an' she's got Johnny on her side..." She trails away with a pained exhalation, almost snorting as she steps up to the bubble's edge, slamming a fist silently against the transparent surface as though pounding against the chest of Diablo himself.
"Why am I telling you this?" Stepping back, she gesticulates with the same hand, "It's not as though yer new to this game, is it? I'm a clueless kid who got lucky, Diablo. All I've got on my side is a lot of determination and more love than I know what to do with. Is that supposed to make me knowledgeable? It gives me /strength/, but that's no threat to you an' yours. It's not even a threat to that girl and her sister. You wanna know what I think? I think your Hell spat me out because out here, I'm likely to do exactly what I /am/ going to do. And that's try to help my friend get some rest. If this war is supposed to be some big distraction, then I might buy you a day or two." She smirks bitterly, staring at the tall demon with fearful disdain. "Or d'you /really/ think I can stop this thing?"
Senior Diablo chuckles darkly at her words, not even taking a moment to seemingly ponder how serious she is being. When she is finished he simply smiles, "Stop it? Why would I ever try to do that? I'm trying to push it along!" The demon takes his hands and holds them out to the side as if somehow reaching around the bubble keeping Samantha alive. "Just the same, I don't like surprises. You have your purpose, it's written all over your soul. You and our maniac, and all the souls which have crossed your paths in this grand story you write called life. All that's missing is a piece of the puzzle. A name, and with that I may take my leave and we shall see just what hands we all have to play." His smile fades for the briefest of moments as he looks at her with complete seriousness. "...and to that end, I'm truely sorry for what I must do to you. This will hurt I'm sure, but I'll wager it will not be the moment you die either... Best to have faith in that."
Without another word or warning the bubble simply ceases to be. The crushing weight of frozen time comes flooding towards her trying to sufficate her and make her as cold and lifeless as the rest of the world around her. Diablo stares at her, refusing to help in any way. Instead he calls to the heavens, "COME ON OUT!! YOU WOULDN'T HAVE PROTECTED HER THIS LONG TO SIMPLY LET HER DIE NOW!!"
"A name?" Samantha echoes that, starting forward once more only to meet with the resistance of the bubble. Her breast heaves as she draws deep, head shaking slowly from side to side, raven bangs bouncing in gentle rhythm. The terror in her soul rises up, darkening those sapphire globes, dulling her expression as every nerve in her body begins to shriek a warning. She does not need to defend because she /cannot/ defend; held in this prison there is nothing she can do beside appeal to the Devil himself. A court before which there can be no winning argument, not least to one so freshly escaped from the ultimate jail term. A tremor runs along the young woman's spine, and she opens her mouth to speak when suddenly all protection is gone. Leaving nothing. Nothing at all.
It's like being crushed beneath the weight of a thousand mountains. Her limbs cannot resist, her body cannot move. Where there was breath, no more. Where there was air to breathe, no more. Where there were thoughts, feelings, emotions... no more. Everything she is comes under direct assault before the void. It is a battle that can only last seconds as her place in the world is unmade, torn asunder to finally be scattered into its solitary particles - what she is here, only an image. An idea. To kill the idea is to kill the invention. A being uninvented? No being at all. It's over. Her life fades, lips pulled to a still scream, gaze almost impossibly wide and utterly blank.
And then black wings close upon her, slipping out from between her shoulder blades and sliding ceaselessly across her flanks, to the front. They keep unfurling even as the circle is complete, an ellipse of pure uncreation shielding her even from the scrying eyes of Senior Diablo. This was not the plan; this is not what should be happening. It spins silently for several long moments, before a set of dainty white legs emerge from its sloped summit, kicked out over the edge. As they were the legs of a child, eagerly awakening from a fitful sleep. A body unfolds above them, clad in a simple shift of black, silky material. Atop the body, a face. Smiling. Ruby eyes staring out from the midst of dark curls, which tumble about a face of eternal, perfect beauty. On such a being, the smile should be sinister - but it is the bashful smile of a guilty child, caught in naughtiness.
"Senior Diablo," the woman speaks crisp and clear, adjusting the white feather in her hair before folding delicate hands in her lap, "Your perceptiveness always did you credit. I should have expected little more from the man who pulled me from my exile." For man he is, no matter how far he may have come. "I apologise for my methods, but under the circumstance I considered it as much as I could do - to conceal this from you. Twisted was already on the brink of a war-within-a-war... to create our own conflict was never my intention." The Diaduin Emepherea dips her head toward her fellow councillor, a stately gesture of apology that shines true in the relaxed frankness of her gaze.
Senior Diablo's smile returns as he watches what can only be percieved as a transformation. As she speaks he nods and laughs, his foul mood clearly lifted. "Aaaaah, dear little Empherea. I had my suspicions. I knew it couldn't have been any other of those mindless dolts on the Hell Council which was the only reason I gambled on poor Samantha Li. It is good to see you again, even if the circumstances aren't quite what one would consider ideal." The demon plucks a wine glass from the air as he so often does and takes a drink. "There's no need for conflict. You have your reasons for your actions and I will not get in your way further. I trust you understand my anger for a wild card in this play and with that said I'm finished. Hopefully my actions do not endager your own plans, but... I had to be sure." And of course it had nothing to do with his own pride, did it.
The Diaduin smiles brightly as the Prince of Hell greets her, the expression staying in place throughout his speech. It only slips away at the final, disarmingly polite phrase, and she accepts his explanation with another inclination of her head. "Of course," she responds quietly, glancing momentarily down at the shroud-sphere beneath her, and then back to Diablo. "Though I should like to caution you in your own choice of pawns. Johnny may be yours by right of dominion, but to hand him across to those ill-judged 'sisters'..." She pauses, sucking on her bottom lip, rolling her choice of words about in her head. "You should know I bear them no love. Your gambit may succeed, but it poses a danger that I can scarce allow. Hence," she sighs, reaching out with one hand to rap against the void she perches upon, "My use for the girl."
"That being said," she rejoins her monologue with a brisk nod, and suddenly pushes off from the sphere to land beside Diablo. The size difference between them is laughable; but she holds herself as equal as she may without breaching the etiquette between them. She moves to within a few feet of his tall figure, then turns to glance back at Samantha's prison with a single-shouldered shrug. "I release her. She serves the purpose I cannot serve. Her actions must be her own." Emi's voice gains distance as she speaks, a tinge of regret creeping in that is against her role. In this, and in all things. She does not need to finish the thought; that she hopes the determination of the matured catgirl will win out. With finality, she looks away from this relinquised gamepiece, glancing up at Diablo. "If I am still needed on the Council, I will return with you."
Senior Diablo resists the urge to speak out when Johnny is mentioned, after all he's generally too proud to interrupt someone. One has images to maintain after all. He waits paitently until the Goddess is done speaking then nods his head. "You will always be needed, at least in my eyes, but there's no need to return until you are ready. Your chosen seat-warmer is doing her job satisfactory, your daughter (while more withdrawn than before) is once more guarding the gates of time... Things can manage for awhile longer if there is more that you need to do. Besides, the less the rest of our Council knows the better for both of us." Taking a deep drink of his glass the demon shakes his head. "...Johnny wasn't my first choice. She's actually had her fangs in him from the start. The seeds had already been planted. Hopefully he doesn't end up leaving with her when all is said and done. In that, I hope your chosen will succeed where others may not."
As the devil stops talking he takes his cup and throws it into the air, the droplets creating bubbles in the non-time which begin to spread out, destroying his handywork and setting the world right again. "...I hope I do not have to do this again any time soon. It will take me quite some time to recover from the energies I've used here..."
The very instant that Emi glanced away, her own handiwork began to crumble, the rotation slowing and ultimately reversing as the black shroud rewinds. The scattering of dregs from the demon's vessel forms the final catalyst, and with a sudden surge the 'wings' disappear, folding into themselves as the circle is broken. Leaving behind only the space of the void itself, where only the indiscernable mist of timeless time holds sway. The catgirl is gone, banished back onto the world to which she has made her escape... or been allowed to make her escape. Emepherea pays no heed to this process - it had already been done once she spoke her last to Diablo. She merely nods at the bulk of his words, uttering a youthful laugh at the last.
"That's a fact you are well not to share with the others," she notes lightly, smiling at the devil, "But your secret's safe with me." Her hair begins to darken as she pauses, passing to a darkness beyond black, gently rippling in an unseen wind as it does so. "As for the Council, you can assure them my hiatus continues, but I should visit my daughter before I return to my own pursuits. For now, the further I am from the conflict upon the surface, the better." Her eyes narrow to ruby slits, though the rest of her face remains relaxed. Her form begins to fade, growing transparent. "My regards to my replacement, Diablo. I look forward to seeing you again soon..."
She bares her teeth in a sudden, childish grin, a moment before she disappears entirely. Leaving only a voice on the windless plane.
"But not /too/ soon."