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Generated: Jul 25, 2021 2:33 AM
Post last updated: Jul 25, 2021 2:34 AM
stare into the darkness, admit defeat
A sorcerer Zero summons an angel Sunburst.
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He lights the last candle and looks over the room. It’s dark, candlelight the only light there is, shimmering in the dark bowl of wine that sits on the altar on the far side of the room. There’s a large summoning circle burned into the floor on the ground, done meticulously by a well-practiced hand (though he’s never actually performed this specific ritual before). A larger circle of salt surrounds the summoning circle, and salt lines the windows and doorways. 

He opens his grimoire and prepares for some long chanting in Aramaic.

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Her appearance is heralded by no flash of blinding light, no sound of bells, but she's here now. Her mouth is half open, a hand held out pointing as if she had been dropped here in the middle of a conversation. When she tries to look up, her halo hisses and spits like a dying fluorescent bulb and she quickly turns her gaze back to the floor. Where is she? Why is she here?

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His eyes flash with delight, and he looms as close to the circle as he can get without stepping over the edge.

”Hello there, love! Wonderful to have you.”

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The glare of the runes makes it hard to see through the boundary, but she makes out a man holding a book with letters that squirm away from her vision. She squints at him and her wings shiver slightly. Why does he look familiar?

"Have me? Where am I?"

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“A nice place for nice angels like you.”

He snaps the book shut.

”You’re in my basement.”

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"I... don't belong in basements."

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“You belong wherever I am, now!” 

He reaches a hand through the circle.

”You won’t mind if I touch your wings, will you? Just to make sure they’re real.”

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She draws her wings in close to her body. She doesn't like this at all.

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather you didn't. I will be missed soon - by my charges and by He himself. Please let me go."

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“I really don’t think I will, I mean, I’ve finally succeeded, and look at you, gods, you’re gorgeous!

He’s pacing around the circle now, looking at her with an almost hungry look in her eyes.

“Who did you say would miss you? Your charges?”

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"Yes. And the divine. Who I'm sure will be coming for me any moment now so let. Me. Go!"

This last outburst is accompanied with a flickering of form and the image of burning, interlocking wheels appears momentarily before being shunted to the ground and shattering with a crash. She grits her teeth and stifles a scream which comes out as a whine of pain.

"What did you do to me? Why can't I take my form?"

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“I’m not a beginner at this whole thing, you know. Even I know you’d be far too dangerous in your true form. I’m sure everyone back at home needs you, but I need you too.”

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"What could you possibly need me for more than the Divine Plan?" She's pacing now, agitated, looking for gaps in the bars of her cage that she might slip through if he'd been careless or unlucky.

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“Oh, lots of things. Tasks, protection, help with my work. But mainly I think we could have such fun together,” he’s grinning now, his teeth look just a little too sharp, “I’ve always wanted an angel of my own. You’ll like it here with me.”

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She's trying to be patient with him, but it's very hard. "I've no idea what you plan on using me for, but I have no intention of helping you any more than is my duty. Release me this instant and I promise I won't incinerate you instantly."

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“No release until you behave yourself, silly! Just forget about all your God nonsense, and I’ll let you go and you can help me instead! I think you need to remember it’s my circle you’re standing in, and I could break you if I wanted.”

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She raises her chin defiantly, ignoring how her halo crackles, tendrils of light singing her hair. "I will do no such thing. You couldn't break me if you had a thousand years, mortal." There's a sneer to the last word.

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He pouts.

“I thought they said angels were supposed to be nice.”

As he says it, the knife in his right hand comes to rest at her throat.

”You’re not being nice at all.

His nose is bleeding. It’s unclear whether it’s because of the strain of keeping the wards up or proximity to something so volatile, but he ignores it entirely.

”Don’t you want a purpose better than the one you have right now? All the praise you could possibly want? I know you don’t get much from YHWH Himself.”

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"I've been around for a long time, intervened in mortal affairs more than once or twice. People call us wondrous and awe-inspiring, terrifying to behold clad in reflected splendor. We say to those we touch that they may be not afraid. No one ever called us nice. I don't know what blasphemous books you've been reading, but they're certainly rotting holes in your brain if you think that I should be nice to you."

She shivers at the knife's caress. It is not normal for her to be touched by anything at all, much less something that seeks to sap her will, her Purpose and harm her. Twist her for his own sick Purpose. This will Not do.

"The only purpose that matters any way at all is His. I" (her words stumble a moment) "don't need praise to be what I am. You mean nothing and you will fade to nothingness in a blink of my eye. Your very existence will leave no imprint upon the world, and your works will crumble. What could you possibly offer that outshines divinity?"

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He leans closer to whisper in her ear, knife pressing harder at her throat now, beads of golden ichor welling up where it presses.

"You don't ever want to be told how well you're doing? How lovely you look and how helpful you are? How terribly you are wanted? I doubt your God does any of that for you, and you seem so in need of it."

He brings the thumb of his left hand to one of her wings and strokes it, leaving a smear of his own blood behind.

"I would hate to have to resort to other methods of making you stay, your wings and halo are so pretty, but I can't let you go back now, can I?"

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She stifles a whimper as her blood dribbles down her chest with each pulse of her heart. She resists the urge to pull away from the knife, painfully aware of the throb of words she does not have the capacity to understand forming angry red weals in the air as she leans towards them.

"My wants are not relevant to what I should get. I trust in His plan for me. I have faith, something it's clear you are lacking in."

Her wing-eye nearest his hand flares with white light as his hand draws near - he has not entirely stripped her of her defenses, she grimly thinks.

"You wouldn't dare mutilate me. I'm sure you hardly understand the consequences of such actions, let alone ways to mitigate them."

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"You think He has a plan for you other than complete irrelevance when He decides he needs a new set of angels? One of His angels has a knife to the throat and where do I see Him? Nowhere."

He walks in front of her, knife back at his side, gazing at the blood dripping down her chest with obvious interest.

His tone switches to something more tender, "I think your wants should be relevant to what you get. That's part of what I'd like to teach you!" He does look like he genuinely cares, though his eyes still have something dark in them.

"Besides, you shouldn't be telling me what I would or wouldn't dare to do. I know how much your divine type values your eyes, and I'm the one with a knife and no fear of God here."

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She fucked up. Her wants are not and never will be relevant and she never should have even revealed their existence to this man. She chokes up a little when responding to him as the knife scrapes against the cartilage of her windpipe.

"I don't know what you've done to separate me from him, but all things pass. I will return into His loving embrace, and you will be dust. Thus it is written, heathen."

"You dare to preach to me of what values I should or should not have. About how my wants should be taken into account in my" (hitch of breath) "reward. If it were not for this circle, I could snap you like a twig and scour your mind of impurity with but a thought. I would. You are in no position to reward me, despite your delusions to the contrary, and I shall have no other master before Him."

"I value my eyes, yes, but this form is but a projection. Harms done to me here will not persist" (probably. At least she doesn't remember any. It's so hard to tell when her body is continuously renewed and remade, updated as His conception of her changes and He needs new and better limbs) "so do to me what you please. You'll get no satisfaction from me."

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His eyes light up.

"Harms here are temporary? You should've told me sooner! I could've been having so much more fun!"

He swings the knife up and plunges it into the wing-eye nearest him.

"I think you'll find that I can get quite a lot of satisfaction! I've wanted this for so long and now you're here! Honestly, even if you never submit to my will, it might be worth it just for the opportunity to look at some angel biology for myself!"

He twists the knife.

"So, does that like, impact your vision at all? You have so many eyes, how are all of them getting put together into one visual input?"

He laughs.

"And I don't think I quite preach about my values so much as ask everyone around me very nicely, with force applied where necessary, to adopt them."

He yanks the knife out.

"Oh nice, you bleed gold. Do angels have the same sort of eye setup humans do? This is the kind of thing people don't quite document in their grimoires, it's all 'and then my mind broke from the stress' or 'Gabriel was like an ocean of screaming, biting mouths' in that insufferable old English spelling but y'know, I'm interested in science and facts."

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She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that! She should not have said that!

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When the pain fades somewhat, she's aware of the gash in her eye as a sucking void that drips hot fluids onto the ground where they spatter and hiss as they touch the runes, like fat dripping into the flame of a gas burner. The smell makes her want to vomit, though she doesn't have the anatomy for that. The blow rammed her up against the side of her cage that shed so carefully avoided before. Not so lucky anymore, she can smell burnt feathers and flesh - it's so unfair that the binding thinks she's trying to escape, she was pushed into it and while it doesn't hurt yet she's sure it's going to just as soon as her eye stops being the center of her entire bodily awareness.

"F...Fuck you!"

She collapses to the ground, hiding under her scorched wings like she was freshly made and unused to His attentions.

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He looks down at her on the floor and reaches a hand down. An offer to help her up.

"That wasn't an answer to any of the questions, I'm afraid. Let me ask again -- how did that impact your vision? How do your eyes work? And ooh, your wings look quite pretty scorched."

He strokes them.

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"Please stop touching those." She tries to huddle even smaller.

"Since you asked, each eye sees differently. That eye was for discerning truth from falsehood. I hope that satisfies you." She's unable to keep herself from sneering, even though that defeats the point of attempting to mollify her captor.

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"Angel, I am far from satisfied, but I am overjoyed that you answered. I would stop touching them, but they're just so soft..." he strokes a couple more times and then lifts his hand, "that's really interesting though. Does that mean I can lie to you and you won't know? What do your other eyes do?That hadn't been one of my theories, I am so excited to receive actual answers for once..."

He's grinning and bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. He reaches one finger, almost reverently, to the torn-up eye socket, and murmurs some inaudible praise.

"And what's your name? I'd love to have something to actually call you."

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She shivers, hot ichor dribbling down her chest with each breath and leaving burning trails in her skin.

"I can probably still tell, I've … had a lot of practice." She looks down at her feet, criss-crossed with burn marks from runes and sticky with blood which pools sickly gold around them.

"My other eyes are for seeing other things, colors, textures, sins, scrawled messages from other angels - there are a lot of things to see in the world."

Her halo is not healing her, at least not fast enough. She doesn't know what this means or why it's happening but she wishes it would stop. Sharing her name probably won't hurt her more and defiance doesn't seem to be getting her anywhere.

"Inara." She hopes she'll never have to learn his name.

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He smiles.

“I’m Kestrel. Inara is a lovely name. I think we’ll get along quite well, now that you’ve decided to answer my questions. Who’s been lying to you?”

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She winces. Hope isn't exactly a virtue in an angel; of course this one would be dashed.

"Just, you know, people. My charges." My God, she doesn't say.

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He looks at her as if he can hear the unspoken words.

”Don’t you think it would be better without those charges? To forsake them and your God and do something more directly rewarding? I wouldn’t lie to you like that.”

Probably she can’t see his fingers crossed behind his back.

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"Do you understand the concept of a divine plan? One doesn't exactly forsake it. He sees further in an instant than either of us ever will, it's not His fault that this means his plans are inscrutable to our small consciousnesses. And yes, you would lie to me like that." She can see his fingers crossed behind his back. Seeing his words billow with falsehood is not the only way that her eyes scrutinize him.

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“Ah, Inara, you know me too well. His ‘divine plans’ are a front. You think it’s in His divine plans somewhere, to let His angel be captured and hurt? That it’ll all be for the greater good? I see no reason to have faith in something so cruel.”

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"I must have faith." It's all she has.

Her empty eye socket still hurts so much. She wants to go home.

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“It would be so freeing to not though, wouldn’t it? To have nothing, for once? The world opens up before you, once your God means nothing to you.”

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She curls up on the ground, knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped around them. She doesn't like this at all.

"I don't think you understand what must means. You've never had a halo."

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“Oh, if the halo’s your problem, I’m sure we could find a way to take it off of you!”

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"No. You could not. What do you think being an angel is, I'm nothing without a halo."

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“Oh, darling, I think you’re worth lots even without it. But if you don’t want to get rid of it I’m sure I could do something else with it! Maybe mold it to fit my will?”

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She's trying not to cry but it is not working super well.

"It's not" (just) "worth, I'm literally nothing, I'll fall apart, I might explode, I've no idea, I, I-"

She starts hyperventilating for a moment before she pulls herself together.

"I don't want to not exist and I don't want you tampering with my Purpose even if you could and it wouldn't just burn you to death!" And then where would she be, stuck in this circle separated from Him forever and ever, the charge of divinity circling her brow losing speed and spiraling closer and closer to her until they collide in a thousand thousand thousand years and hopefully she's lucky enough to die and not just continue here, broken beyond fixing.

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He kneels down to look at her.

”Poor little angel. I pity you, you know. Forever stuck to that thing around your head. It’s quite pretty, at least. Having something else be your purpose would be nicer than you think. And you could finally get out of this awful circle. I’d take you somewhere warm, with blankets and tea. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

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She scoots away from him but her wing-eyes follow him anyways. It's kind of pointless for her to try and avoid him - her body knows that he's the biggest threat in the room and it's not going to let her stop being aware of him.

"I have no need for your pity, mortal. This circle will do until I am reclaimed by Him."

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He laughs in her face.

”You think He’s gonna reclaim you? That He’s gonna come save you? He let me take your fucking eye out, I would place good money on Him leaving you here to rot. Not like he doesn’t have an infinite supply of angels anyway.”

He smiles, and taps the knife, still covered in gore, against his lips. It leaves smears of gold.

”Not me though. I wouldn’t let you die.”

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The little droplets of spittle hit her face. They're horribly warm.

A thought flits through her mind - how is kissing her blood not hurting him? Her essence should burn to interact with at all, let alone what he's doing with it. Maybe the connection with the halo is what imposes its divinity? It doesn't really matter though, desecration is desecration however he's accomplishing it and she hates it. Maybe she wants revenge. It's hard to tell what she wants right now.

"Yes, He will!" (she hopes, she prays, she begs) "This has to be part of His plan, that's how this works, it's just ineffably necessary!" She's not even really convincing herself. She's never been really clear on how much personal attention each angel gets. Each halo is imbued with a divine spark that whispers their Purpose to them and guides their hand in the name of what is righteous.

Hers has been pretty quiet since she entered the circle.

She hopes it's not broken.

She hopes she's not broken.

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"Do you really think so? Deep down? I don't think you do. You're too smart for that. You know He's not coming for you, and He never will. He doesn't care about you, or love you, or have some sort of plan for you. He doesn't care if you live or die."

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Her wings snap out to her sides, flaring against the physical force of the burning chains which buckle and bow but do not break (yet). She rises to her feet, halo whining like a runaway saw blade and eyes blazing with a horrible white light. She screams at him, raw pain and fury cracking her voice.

"How dare you! He loves me and I will not betray His love for some half-baked dark hinting at a plan for me from someone who ripped me from my actual Plan!"

She snarls at him, the flicker of flame and golden rings growing more solid and the sound of choirs and bells spreading to lick at the cage. Maybe she doesn't need to wait for Him to come for her. After all, He is with her, always. Her Purpose hums approvingly, her blood quickening her movements, and she reaches behind her for a flaming sword which sits there when she most needs it. If not now, when?

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He smirks as her hand falls against her bare back.

"No sword for you today, I guess. God's not got you in his good graces. The bells are a nice touch though, really pretty."

He switches to his most pitying expression.

"Just give it up, Inara, He's never going to love you. I would, though. Stop trying to hurt me and things would go much better for you."

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Her aura flickers out and the backlash drives her back down on her knees. She's speechless. How could her prayer go unanswered? What did she do wrong?

She was pure of purpose and in alignment with her Plan. She's served faithfully since time immemorial. She's never once asked for help or comfort, executing flawlessly without reward of any kind. She must have been in His good graces. She has to have. What would those graces even mean if her virtue was measured and found lacking in her time of need?

This Kestrel ripped her from the Heavens themselves, casting her down into some dingy basement surrounded by candles and the incomprehensible scribblings of a madman. He cut her and blinded her, trapped her and defiled her essence. All she asked, all she prayed for was deliverance at the point of a sword. What grace could deny her this? She's not asking for a rain of fire to scour the earth, for him to be struck into a pillar of salt that all might see his mistake and the woe begotten for his malice, his crimes against divinity and the natural order.

Her feathers fall to the ground in blackened piles. Defiance is not without cost, and her cage still holds.

She's still here. She has to answer him.

"I still have faith in Him. Just because you've separated me from Him, put me into some profane vessel that hides me from His sight-" She can feel the blasphemy about to escape her lips even as she says it, but it's too late. She clasps her hands over her mouth, tears welling from her eyes and mingling with the soot and blood on the ground.

What did she just say what did she just do what is wrong with her

What did Kestrel break when he cut her off from G-d Himself?

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"I'm glad you've finally admitted it, that you're separated from Him."

A drop of blood runs down from the corner of his eye. He wipes it away like a tear.

"it's alright. He didn't have the right to speak your name, much less have any power over you. You're here now. It's all okay. You're doing so well."

His fingers are tangling in her wingfeathers again, soothing.

"Just let go of that last little bit of faith and it'll all be done."

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Her physiology is not one that lets her faint, or she would have done so by now. Dazed and disoriented, her gaze follows the droplet of blood as it trickles down his cheek and onto his finger. She wants to be wiped away like that. She's too horrified at herself, too dissociated from her own physicality to object as Kestrel caresses her coverts, his fingers cool against her body.

"I'm not separated. I misspoke. I have faith in Him, it will never waver, I am His." The flat affect in her voice reeks of despair.

"I don't even know what it would mean for Him to not have the right to do something. It's not okay for me to be here. I want to go home. Please let me go."

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"I didn't think angels could misspeak."

His own physical stamina is giving a bit, but not in a way that'll actually affect him for a while now. His body may bleed but he remains in it, burning bright as ever. His pupils are blown and the candleflame is visible in them as he talks to her.

"I have no plans to let you go 'home', my dear. This is where you stay now."

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She looks like a war orphan - shell-shocked, eyes wide and fixed at some point in the middle distance.

"I didn't think so either, but then I did it. Please let me go home. My sisters will miss me."

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"I don't think I can do that, no. And -- sisters? Angels have families?"

He will not let Inara's distress get in the way of obtaining more knowledge about angels.

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"Why not? I'll be good. I won't say anything at all about this. My halo will restore me if you let me go and then there will be no evidence at all about what you've done." She pauses to wipe ichor from her neck, it feels tacky and gross and altogether undivine. She rolls it between her fingers, momentarily engrossed, before continuing.

"We're made in batches. I have half a dozen nestmates, we look after each other when we're out of Heaven proper. I miss them. It's hard to remember their faces in here."

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"I don't think you understand. I'm not scared of you snitching, I just want you for my own purposes. Sorry about your nestmates. I don't think you'll be seeing them again."

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"I have to see them. Don't you have any siblings? How could you be this cruel? My wings hurt, please let me heal them."

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"No siblings anymore, no. Good riddance to them. If you won't hurt me I'll let you out of the circle and tend to them myself."

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"I won't hurt you when you let me out of the circle." It's not a lie if she hurts him a little bit afterwards.

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"You sure? I've still got a knife in my hand, you know."

He mumbles something in Aramaic and brushes a foot over the circle of runes. Her cage disappears. After a moment's contemplation, he also brushes a foot through the circle of salt around it. The salt lining the doors and windows remain.

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She makes a break for the windows, willing her wings to heal.

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He makes a grab for her wings and only fumbles a little. The knife he holds pushes uncomfortably into her wing.

"Not so fast, I don't think."

His grip is surprisingly strong for someone currently bleeding out of multiple orifices.

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"Please. I want to go now."

She's not healing. Why isn't she healing? She's out of the circle, she should feel His will again and she's not.

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"We've barely even begun to know each other though! And I think you've made great progress so far, on letting go of the idea of Him. I'd love to see what you could do given a little more time."

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Her wing flutter helplessly in his hands. The crunch when his grip connected with her hollow bones terrifies her and she wants to get free but she's afraid she'll tear. The knife pinning them together doesn't help.

Her halo feels the same as it did inside the circle - purposeless, disconnected - and she's not healing and she's never going to escape. At least not right now.

She slumps, defeated for the moment. "At least let my halo heal me. I kept my promise."

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Oh, halo healing. He'd like to see this. He drops her wings.

"Go on."

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She glares at him. "It's not working in here because of whatever you've done."

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“Don’t blame me for that! I was just helping along what was bound to happen anyway.”

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"Fix it. Or you won't get to see me heal."

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“I’m sorry, fix it? Fix what? From my standpoint, you’re doing better than you ever have before. I don’t know how to fix your halo, though if you have any solutions I might consider them.”

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"Do you have desecrated hosts in here or something? I'm not getting any... Reception? My healing comes from Him."

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His face turns to one of disgust.

“No, I try not to keep any such artifacts longer than strictly needed. I do not appreciate reminders of Him, ever.”

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"Well, something is making it hard for me to access my form. Are you sure you turned off whatever ward you were using to keep me in that cage?"

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“I still have my salt wards, but nothing that powerful though. Nothing something like you couldn’t at least feel flex when you pressed up against it.”

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She can feel her breath quickening again, panic seizing her. So, she really is broken then. Whatever process Kestrel used to sever her from Heaven did so thoroughly enough that she's no longer one with Him. The thought terrifies her and she curls up on the ground in the corner of the room, as far away from Kestrel as she can be. Can she fix this? At least before this deranged psychopath cuts her up so badly she's barely alive anymore.

"Maybe it's not the wards," she mumbles.

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He walks towards her, hands held out as if approaching a skittish deer. The knife he’s holding ruins the effect a little.

”You’re okay, I’ll take care of you. I know this process can be hard.”

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"Please go away. I don't want you to break me more."

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“You’re not understanding. You’re mine now. I don’t leave what’s mine, and I sure as hell don’t let anyone take it from me.”

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"I'm not yours. You just have me trapped here. It's not the same. I don't think you even could make me yours, not really.

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“You don’t think? If you’re not mine yet, you will be. Get up so I can help you with the wounds.”

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She's not ever going to be his. She knows who her master is, even if He isn't here right now. No use in struggling with her injuries alone though, clearly something's broken in a way that's preventing her from renewing herself. She nods and tentatively reaches out a wing towards him.

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He runs a finger around the empty eye socket and grabs a bottle from the side table. Whatever it is that he pours on her, it stings and smells eye-wateringly of herbs and alcohol. He pours water over it next, it beading over her feathers where they’re waterproofed. He bandages it with a length of pink cloth, the angle awkward because of the feathers. 

“I guess your throat might need something too.”

He repeats the same process on her throat, the smell of the liquid even more overwhelming this time, and then she’s wrapped in pink cloth at the throat and the wing.

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The tincture burns, but not worse than the wounds themselves, and it does seem to have stopped the bleeding. Which is good. It makes her uneasy that her eye of discerning truth from falsehood has been covered over, though the eye itself isn't present anymore so she dismisses the concern for now.

"Do you think that it'll grow back? Without my halo working, I mean."

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“Perhaps. I wouldn’t know, you’re the first angel I’ve ever treated.”

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"It's kind of irresponsible to do someone harm without checking to see if they'll recover from it, isn't it?" She's babbling, she knows it, but what can she do?

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“Darling, do I look like the type of person who considers whether things are responsible before doing them? The wound was needed for effect, and because I wanted to see what happened. Responsibility isn’t part of it.”

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She makes a small frustrated noise. Does he not understand that, leaving morality and ethics aside, if he's not careful about that kind of thing he might end up wasting her? And that would be bad. She thinks so, at least.

"Responsibility is absolutely part of it, are you kidding me? You summon a fragment of the divine and you'd risk breaking that beyond repair? It's a wonder that you haven't been smote where you stand long before now! Do you think that He approves of you wasting the body of His consecrated servant for the drama of it all?"

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“Well, I wouldn’t want to break you beyond repair, you’re mine so I’ve taken some steps to avoid that, but past that I don’t care whether He approves or not. His wrath or lack thereof has no power over me.”

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"That seems obviously incorrect! Your immortal soul is at stake! His judgement is the only important thing in your miserable little life and you don't care about His approval?" She stamps a foot and immediately regrets it as pain shoots up through her burnt sole. She sniffles a little bit - she's getting used to the pain though.

"What steps did you take, anyway?" She's not sure she wants to hear the answer to this one, but…

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“Oh, I’ve been researching angels for a while now. Under what circumstances they can be hurt, what it takes to kill an angel, whether you can kill an angel, what angels most value — I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what it would take to truly deeply injure one, and I haven’t done much of that yet. Whatever’s happened with your Purpose was only a side effect, I had prepared for it taking a lot longer than that. Other than the research, I’ve just been watching closely. You’re quite resilient. Not unbreakable, but quite resilient.”

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"And what answers did you find to those research questions?"
 She has to admit that she's curious as to what he thinks she really values.

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"You can only kind of kill an angel -- their essence is recycled in a way, though their personality isn't. They often don't fear death. They fear being separated from their God most, and they value their eyes. Blinding an angel permanently is one of the worst things you can do. Past that, they generally value following the rules of their God, though I guess that's not you anymore. You didn't even try that hard to get back to Him. All the better for me, though!"

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This is the worst. He's probably right, but it's still the worst.

"I'm not afraid of being separated from Him, I'm angry about it." Her wings flutter in agitation and now she's pacing about, feathers shedding and falling to the ground.

"Also, I don't think you can blind us permanently. Unless whatever you've done here to my halo is permanent, which I very much doubt."

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“We’ll see about that. And your ‘anger’ could have fooled me. Could you possibly be that mad about being separated from such a horrible being?”

He picks up all the feathers she sheds, tying them together with another length of pink ribbon, and puts them in his pocket.

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That's extremely weird! "I would like those feathers back actually! They do not belong to you!"

"Also He's not horrible!"

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"Finders keepers!" he grins.

"I haven't found Him to be especially benevolent in my experience."

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She stamps her foot. "No! They're part of me, they didn't stop being part of me when you burned them off. Give them back."

"And not benevolent to some kind of blasphemous sorcerer? Color me unsurprised, because you're directly attempting to interfere with His plan."

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"Because His plan is fucking stupid!"

He breathes deeply for a moment.

"And no, the feathers are mine. I'll get a lot of money for them, I bet."

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She dives towards his pocket and grabs the bundle.

"Mine, actually! And it's not you fucking heretic!"

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He dodges to the side -- is he fast enough to avoid her?

"You got the heretic part right!"

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He is not, her wings give her an added burst of speed! She smacks into him and knocks him to the ground. She holds up the bundle triumphantly (though she's not quite sure what she'll do with them yet, they'd normally just... dematerialize and end up back on her wings.

"You have some kind of gall, mortal! What, exactly, is your plan that's sooo much better?"

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He laughs from his place on the ground.

"Good to see you getting your strength back! As to my plan: it's doing whatever I happen to want, obviously!"

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"That's a dumb plan!" She swings a fist down at his face. She's not exactly experienced in hand-to-hand combat, but she's sure as heck raring to figure it out.

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He catches her fist before it collides with his face.

"I seem to recall you making a promise."

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"'when you let me out of the circle' - it's been some time and you deserve to be hurt!"

She slams her forehead into his nose, her halo whining dangerously as it cuts into his face.

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He grins sharply as his nose breaks and he gains a gash across his brow, and grabs a handful of feathers from her wings and yanks hard as he twists over onto his stomach.

"Not very godly of you," he spits blood onto the floor.

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"Noone ever - agh! - called me godly. I am angelic. I am not God-like, I am His Sword. I am of Him, I am His, I. Am. Not. Him!"

Her feathers come out in clumps, but it doesn't appear to hinder her from smacking one newly freed limb into the side of his head, pushing the halo further inwards.

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He pushes her back, holding her down by her neck so that her halo can't harm him further. Blood is pouring down his face now.

"Is it true what they say about angel blood healing? I could use some of that around now."

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"No, I rather think it doesn't." Sure isn't healing her, at least.

Her knee pulls up sharply and hits him in the stomach.

"And you only have so many limbs, deviant. You're going to lose and whatever profane power holding me here is going to break and I'll heal and you'll go to Hell."

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He groans at the impact but tears down the bandage on her wing and digs a finger into her empty eye socket.

"There's nothing," he breaks to breathe heavily, "nothing holding you here. You're just not divine enough anymore."

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Owwwww that hurts a lot. "You broke my truth-discerning eye so I can't very well tell if that's true or not, and I choose faith." She whips her wing to the side, hoping to break his finger against the bony rim.

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The bone on the edge of her eye socket snaps. Bird-like bones are not strong enough to break a human finger. He laughs.

”Faith won’t get you anywhere here.”

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The crunch is felt more than heard. She really, really wishes that she hadn't done that. She pauses for a second, but unfortunately, no fainting physiology. Her wing falls limply to the ground though, shards sticking through thin skin.

"It... sure looks like it, doesn't it."

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He’s still breathing hard from the exertion, though the blood has slowed a little.

”You poor thing. Are you ready to try this again, this time without the fighting?”

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Dazed. Her halo flickers, but does not go out. "...No guarantees."

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She’s weak enough that if she tries to hurt him again she’ll fail.

”Good enough for me,” he says, and works on rewrapping her bandage.

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It's not something she's used to, losing. Doesn't happen often when the Holy Spirit guides your hand. She doesn't like it much.

The bandaging jostles her eye socket and she winces, drawing back before forcing herself to relax and gesturing at Kestrel to keep going.

"So, what now? You want to 'have' me. I'm not fighting you right now. What do you want me to do for you?"

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“Let’s first get you cleaned up and taken care of. Later there’s a place I want to take you.”

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"What sort of place?"

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“A market! It’ll be fun.”

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Skeptical face.

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“Anyway, that’s for later! For now, let’s get out of the basement and get you looking presentable.”

He kicks a foot through the line of salt over the threshold and leads her up a steep flight of stairs and out the door at the top.

They come through into what appears to be his living room — it’s a messy affair, with posters (both of recognizable bands and of other, more esoteric looking things) hung up in every available space and half-burnt candles and bottles of herbs on every side table. The only light in the room is the sunlight filtering through the cracks in the curtains and one antique-looking lamp sitting next to a threadbare couch.

”Home sweet home,” he smiles.

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She sniffs at the herbs. "Do you have clothes that won't just burn away at my touch?"

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"What kinds of clothes might those be?"

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"Well, normally they're manifested by light, but that seems out of order at the moment. I'm not sure what sort of market requires presentable, and what that entails."

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"Eh, just wear whatever from my closet, your clothes aren't what people are going to look at anyway."

He waves a hand towards a room off the living room. Through the half-open door, she can see a bedroom in a similar state of disarray to the living room, and a closet full of a bizarre combination of black, neon, and pastel.

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"Are... any of these sanctified? Or at least made of asbestos. I'd really prefer that I'm not seen with you, honestly."

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“I don’t really care what you prefer, and maybe some of it’s sanctified but I’ve forgotten which. Try not to burn too many of my clothes.”

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She rifles through the wardrobe, trying not to touch anything fragile for long enough that it catches ablaze. She emerges in black cargo pants with silver cross embellishments, and a tank top with some kind of sigil on it that tingles at her chest. Her wings are folded uncomfortably under an oversized canvas hoodie that looks like it came from an army surplus store, with feathered wings stenciled on the back in lurid pink spray paint. The inside is some kind of metallic crinkly material that seems to reflect her halo's diminished light without heating up too much, if she's careful to maintain her composure.

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“Oh, you look dope, great. You’re gonna wanna take the jacket off once we get there but it’s fine for now. Anything else you wanna do before we go? We could like, eat or whatever, but I don’t really care unless you do.”

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"Do I look like I need to eat."

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“Dunno, thought you might. Didn’t think angels needed to eat but I could’ve been wrong. Anyway, if you don’t want anything else, we can go.”

He walks down the hallway off the living room (uncomfortably sticky tile) to a door at the end of the hall. The lock looks close to broken but he throws it open and jumps down the steps, skipping all four of them. Outside is parked a beat-up grey car covered in bumper stickers. It looks to be at least a decade old.

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She sure wishes she could still fly.

"Isn't there going to be some kind of infernal circle or something?"

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“Sorry, what? Infernal circle? I mean, maybe, but not like, in my car? If there was one it would be in my house, but I probably wouldn’t have one in my house while you were in it, I’m really not sure how those two would interact, and I really don’t want to invite demons to this car, it’s kind of broken enough as it is-“ he stops himself and refocuses his expression.

”No infernal circle yet, no. Big bummer for you. Get in the car.”

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"Fine."

She gets into the back of the car that's definitely going to kill her. And leave sticky stuff on her. Gross.

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He will blast annoying pop music with all the windows down!

After about 30 minutes of driving, he pulls into an alleyway and puts the car in park. 

“Don’t take the jacket off til I tell you, okay? It’s gonna be a cool reveal and I’ll be mad if anything messes it up.”

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She shrugs. "I guess." She's not enjoying slumming it and her wing hurts.

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He opens the door of the car and waits for her to follow. As soon as they step out, music is audible from below them, something with bass. He knocks on a door in the side of the alleyway, which is promptly opened by a man dressed in all black who steps aside at the sight of Kestrel’s face, gesturing them down the flight of stairs in front of them.

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She glares at the bouncer but follows Kestrel down, walking close enough that she might accidentally push him down the stairs. You know, by accident. These things happen.

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He does not get pushed down the stairs, though he does turn and glare a little. 

The door at the bottom of the stairs opens and they walk out into a sort of warehouse-looking space, dark and with three different types of music playing. The air smells of a horrible mix of too many things — drugs, smoke, herbs, meat, other things that Inara doesn’t want to think about — and there are stalls set up across the room, blankets and tables full of strange, unidentifiable objects. 

 

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It's all very overwhelming. She fiddles with the strings on her hoodie, shifting from foot to foot. "When are we leaving again?"

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“Whenever I’m done, duh. Anyway, you should probably take off the jacket now.”

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"I think I'm good with it on, actually."

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He spins to face her.

”No, actually, you’re going to take it off because I say so. That’s my jacket and you’re mine and you will listen to me.”

He looks around, and a slight smile creeps onto his face.

”Besides, I have friends around here, and none of them would have any problem with helping me out with you.”

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She turns and walks quickly up the stairs, taking them two at a time. She may not be able to get back to heaven immediately, but this place is giving her the creeps and Kestrel is the worst and she'd be better off on her own. Maybe if she can get to a church the priest will know what to do.

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“Oh no you fucking don’t!”

He lunges up the stairs and grabs the hood of the jacket,  yanking her backwards.

”You’re staying here with me.”

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She wriggles out of the hoodie, wings and halo flashing, and kicks him in the face! She's at the door down now and struggling with the doorknob. Maybe she can kick it down too?

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She seems to have forgotten about the bouncer.

He catches her as she reaches the top of the stairs, grabbing her wrists and wrenching her arms behind her back. The jacket, slipped down from the yanking, shows just the tops of her wings. The bouncer looks at them with interest and then turns to Kestrel, who’s lying at the bottom of the stairs clutching the side of his face.

”This yours?” the bouncer says, shoving her towards him a little.

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"There's a bag of feathers in my pocket that are yours if you'll let me go!"

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“You think I take bribes?” he says, “as if I’d accept a deal with any of the creatures that come through here. Kestrel’s a good customer. If you’re his, I’m not going to just let you go.”

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"I'm not! He kidnapped me!"

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His grip on her wrists tightens.

This is a place for creatures and other oddities to be bought and sold. You look like you fall into that category to me.” 

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She's learned from the last time she tried this. This time when she swings her head forward, halo blazing, she goes for the throat.

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Kestrel yells into the warehouse behind them, as her halo slits the man’s throat, blood rushing out to coat the front of her shirt. 

“We’ve got a fucking code red people, stop standing around! There’s an angel loose!”

At the word “angel”, much of the crowd (at least, those within earshot) goes silent, and then there’s a rush to the stairway. An inhumanly tall man stretches an inhumanly long arm up to her wings — almost fully exposed now — and jerks.

”Hello little angel,” he says, in a voice that sounds like 3 voices layered atop each other.

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"I am so very, very tired of people calling me that." She moves with the pull of the tall man's hand and uses the momentum to drive an arm into his stomach.

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He does not seem to be made of flesh. He feels cool and almost spongey, and her arm sinks into his stomach like dough. He folds where she’s hit him, stretching his torso forward and grinning in her face. A woman dressed in all black already stands in front of her, silent and with a face like stone. She stands in front of the exit in a way that suggests she will not move.

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She keeps moving. If he's spongey, then she will cut through him. Maybe there's another way out if she can get through the stalls - a back door of some kind? She prays, hoping He hears her at all.

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The man folds and falls but there’s a throng behind him now, all interested in the commotion. Kestrel is sat on the banister of the stairs, knees tucked up out of the way, and he grins at her.

 

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“No one here is going to help you, my dear. Give it up.”

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She keeps backing up, quickly now. Her eyes swivel as she searches for any route out at all.

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She backs into the crowd of people, all of whom want to touch her wings personally. Many of them try and grab out handfuls of feathers. Kestrel attempts to enlist them to help in returning her to him, but most of them are just interested in examining her. Insults, compliments, and bargains are shouted at her from myriad indistinguishable voices. One inhumanly pretty girl with bright white hair and her hands in shackles pats her sympathetically as she tries to shove through, and makes eye contact with her.

"We've all tried, at one point or another. It doesn't work."

Her voice is heavily accented, though not with any accent Inara has heard before. She shrinks back, nearer to the person her shackles are attached to, once she finishes her sentence.

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She steps closer to the girl, trying to get a better look at her. Is she like her? An angel of some flavor?

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She's trying as hard as she can to distance herself from Inara by now (and not succeeding very well -- the crowd is thick and they are all pushing towards her), not wanting to get caught socializing with her, but it doesn't look like there are any wings on her back.

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She launches herself at the mystery girl, trying to see if there's some way she can free her. She's got an angle grinder on her head after all.

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The crowd leaps back from her and the girl is yanked away from Inara hard by her chains.

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She growls in frustration and heads for the back of the room, using her halo to clear the way.

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Kestrel leaps up to follow her, apologizing to the crowd as he goes. She can catch snippets of it.

”A little rowdy … so sorry … keep a better handle on her next time…”

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"You will not have a next time, sinner." She continues storming away.

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"I'm hurt, truly. Look, will you stop walking away for a second? These are my friends and I really don't appreciate being made to look stupid in front of my friends. Also this could've been fun for you too if you hadn't ruined it."

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"I'm glad you're hurt, truly. I will not, and if you're stupid that's your own fault. I just want to go home."

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"Do you really think you have a home to go to?"

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"Yes!" She screams so loudly her voice cracks.

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"I don't think anyone else would agree."

He steps closer and says it quietly, almost gently. He knows he's hit a sore spot.

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"I don't care what anyone but He thinks! They don't need to agree, I belong in heaven, they'll all see..."

She stands still, knees shaking and lets out a hiccuping sob.

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He steps forward and hugs her.

"You'll be okay. You can have a home with me, and forget all about Him."

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She stares past him, unmoving. Everything hurts.

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"Come on now. Let's get out of here."

He puts a hand at the small of her back and begins to guide her towards the exit.

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"I think I killed a guy earlier. He was just doing his job." She's walking with him now.

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He winces at the memory.

"Yeah, that was ... something. But you're an angel, it's to be expected."

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"I think he was an innocent though."

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They’re going up the stairs now, the crowd dispersed somewhat, though many turn and stare at the sight of Inara’s wings. Kestrel preens a little under the attention. He waves a hand at her words.

“No one who works in a place like this is innocent. But even so, like I said, you’re an angel. I expected some bloodshed.”

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She shuffles self consciously. "You're not mad at me?"

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He stops and turns to her.

”Of course not, love. I couldn’t get mad at something so beautiful.”

He will pretend that he didn’t cut her eye out earlier.

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She really can't tell if he's lying, without her eye. She wants to believe he's telling the truth. It wouldn't hurt anything. "Can we leave, please?"

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He turns, and the brief openness is gone.

”Yeah, sure.”

He opens the door on the cool night air and unlocks the car, getting into the driver’s seat and immediately turning on the radio.

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She gets into the backseat of the car. What else is there to do?

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He revs the engine and drives them home, just a little above the speed limit. He opens her door for her.

"Come on in. I don't even have one bed in this place so I super don't have two but you can sleep on the couch I guess. If you sleep at all."

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Is it going to be an issue that she killed that guy? It's probably immoral (hard to tell, she isn't meant to judge and the one who is isn't answering).

"I can at least lay down and look at the ceiling."

She settles herself on the couch, fluffing up her feathers and wearing them around herself. Rude that her captor won't give up the... Whatever he sleeps in.

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She's awoken by the scent of food. Kestrel sits at the coffee table in front of her, an array of fast food laid out in front of him.

"My kitchen is kind of broken so I ordered us stuff for breakfast. I don't really know if you eat but I thought I should probably try and get you food just in case. It's probably better than whatever you had before anyway."

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"I don't think I need to eat." Sleeping is weird. Has she ever done that before? She can't remember.

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“Okay, eat if you want I guess. I have a couple things to attend to while you do that.”

The things turn out to be walking around to the various altars in the room, lighting candles and pouring out water or wine into the dishes that sit on them. He disappears briefly to the basement and comes back up, a small cut still beaded with blood on his wrist.

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"I thought you didn't worship Him?" Maybe he's not so bad...

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"Ha. No. I have spirits I need to repay for things. Come down to the basement for a sec, I have something to show you."

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She sighs, whispers a prayer (that goes again unanswered) and levers herself off the couch, wincing as her wing protests. She trudges down the stairs for lack of a better option.

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The basement is much the same as when she last saw it. A ladder leans against the far wall, and a scalpel sits on the altar. A drop of blood falls from the ceiling and sizzles on her halo.

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She screams and jumps back, patting frantically at her halo. To her relief, it seems intact, the drop boiled away. She opens her mouth to ask Kestrel what the heavens is going on, then decides to look up the see where the droplet came from.

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A ring of blood is drawn on the ceiling, in enough blood that it's still dripping. A glance at Kestrel shows him pale but smiling, watching her. As she stands shocked, more droplets fall, not just one at a time this time -- they hit different points on her halo at the same time, burning. A drop runs down her face.

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Her vision blurs, and she falls to her knees, dizzy. Her body feels wrong, the wrong shape, the wrong meaning, the wrong Purpose. She can feel her bones shifting under suddenly plastic flesh. "W-what's happening to me?" She says, suddenly fearful.

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He steps over to her, blood spreading on his pants now from the wound on his thigh.

"I did tell you you were going to be mine, yes?"

He reaches down to pet her blood-sticky hair.

"This is an important step in that."

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She can feel a tingling at her joints, bones extending and contracting. She clutches at her head, at her halo, but this time it burns her hands. To her horror, they begin knitting themselves together, not with the speed of her divine healing factor, but something inexorable - rewriting her pattern, unraveling her Self to make room for its Self within her. It's not stopping at her burned hands, skin peeling away, muscle shriveling and bone crumbling at its edge, covering more and more of her body, a razor slicing in concentric circles surrounding the core of her. She begins to cry, then stops. What was she crying about again? Then she starts to laugh, a dazed look in her eyes, one of them twitching as blood runs into it and pools on the bottom lid. She's feeling really good.

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He smiles as she falls apart and knits back together again. He places a hand on her halo. It feels pleasantly warm, and doesn't cut.

"There you go."

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His hand touches her halo. It feels like His hand, warm and powerful and rewriting her at a fundamental level. And kinda tingly. She giggles again, then looks up at him, suddenly serious. "What is my Purpose?"

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"I'm so glad you finally asked! You're going to do whatever you can to further my goals."

This angel is his now. He's never been more excited.

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She smiles suddenly and violently, luxuriating in the warm glow of Purpose raising from her halo. She finds that her wounds and aches have been scoured away, she doesn't have any trouble at all floating up without a beat of her wings, simply shifting her body again and again with her regained power. She is so very, very excited to optimize herself to fulfill his goals. "What goal would you bid me accomplish?"

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He thinks for a moment, then brightens.

"You know what I'd really like more than anything? Another angel, devoted to me, just like you."

He pets her hair.

"Let's get to work on that."