Darkest Heart Redux

Joeyray's Bar
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Rich got of the car as the Inquisitor did. The man's "I understand," though a form response, was somehow reassuring. Whatever the stranger wanted, he seemed to get that it was not to be any of Rich's business. Actually, that was a bit disappointing. Already curiosity was beginning to gnaw at him. Who was this Inquisitor? Was he really blind? Of course he was, that was a stupid mental question. Unless he had recently undergone eye surgery, there was no other reason for the bandages, and the ease with which the man moved without the aid of his eyes indicated he was used to that. Seriously though, bandages? Ordinary people wore sunglasses or got glass eyes.

He opened the back door and grabbed the two bottles of milk. While owning a milk cow had certainly had a number of advantages, he lacked the time and the will to maintain one these days. He turned to head inside, then stopped. Would he need to show the Inquisitor where the door was? That was a strange thought.

"Sorry if this comes across poorly, but do you live alone, and do you usually leave the door open?" The stranger's voice cut into Rich's thoughts. He looked at the man, startled. The Inquisitor wasn't even looking in that direction. He was fingering the hilt of the long, slim sword sheathed at his side. Even a monster hunter probably wouldn't be that paranoid about an open door, so he probably was on the run from something. Great. Though the door's open state was a little odd, it was nothing to worry about, especially for someone who hadn't been around when it was closed.

Rich was more alarmed by the blind Inquisitor than the apparent malfunction of the door. How did he know that door was open? Even a man with perfect sight shouldn't have been able to tell something like that through the strips of cloth that covered his eyes. "Latch is fifty years old. Probably oughta replace it, fix it, something like that," Rich said, walking over to the cellar entrance and closing the door. He set the milk down and fiddled around with the handle for a minute, making sure it was properly latched. He heard a faint squeak from inside, probably the departure of a startled rat. The rats could have the bloody cellar. Everything of any value in there was made of metal. He had heard rats liked to steal shiny things, but the only shiny things in there were inside a sealed box made from the wood of an oak cut down on the seventh day of spring and shaped on the twelfth. If demons couldn't get in, rats likely couldn't either.

The door secured, Rich bent down and picked up the two bottles again. He walked back over to the house, unlocked the door, and held it open, uncertain as to whether or not this was necessary. The Inquisitor was able to tell the cellar door was ajar, but he was blind. Better unnecessarily polite than downright rude.

"Come on in if you want, I guess." Maybe he'll be willing to say what he wants inside. The house's wards provided a safe zone. Inquisitors could probably detect that sort of thing somehow. Maybe once inside the stranger would tell Rich exactly what sort of help he thought he could provide, and explain what he was doing on the road when he... ran into him, as the Inquisitor had put it earlier.

Or, he thought, I could just use the broken stove as an excuse to ignore him. Sometimes if you ignored strange things for long enough they went away. Of course, this was Darkova. What you didn't know could, in fact, kill you.
Satisfied the priest had gotten the point, or at least that he understood the extent of his intentions, Tobi returns to his seat and looks over each of the people who had arrived thus far. Arden, unaware of the gift of the blade he carried. Malek, a thief who's tried to turn his life around by becoming a hunter. The Mad Priest, a pyro who more than likely just wants to see more of Darkova's supernatural residents burn. And then there was Nefas, the corrupted who'd never wanted his curse but made the most of it anyways. Elisabeth, the sister of one of the greatest hunters I'd helped to train, most likely with something to prove.

"Trust him, Nefas, the man knows his healing solutions better than most healers. Malek, if you'll provide Father Sarcerdos with the cursed relics you've found in your travels, I'm sure he'd be happy to uncurse them." The inflection in his tone spoke that I wanted no destruction caused to them. Relics got cursed for a reason, now it was only a matter of knowing why. Turning to Arden, Tobi smiles. "There should be a few more arriving, yes. While we wait, I'm open to any questions you might have as to why I summoned you all here. Seraphim has a rough idea as he's faced the same issue at home. Arden, Malek, you both saw an example of what's happening at the Asylum tonight. So, to clarify, ask away." Leaning back, Tobi takes another sip of his wine.

There was still the matter of the orphanage. Word had reached him that there had been no survivors but an Inquisitor by the name of Matt and the driver. And a Lynch had been used to kill them. The only reason such a powerful dark force would have been used was if- Possessed Children, a Lynch...could it have been an attempt at him? The blind Inquisitor had a reputation, even among the members of the Hunter's League. A man twisted by a witch into the perfect weapon to defeat her foes, that power had in the end destroyed her and now served with the Church. In all honesty, his talents had been better used as a Witch Hunter, there were too few of the Brotherhood left to risk training more of them, but...Tobi shakes his head and waits. He would investigate it all later. For now, there were questions that required answering for his team.

OOC: If it's alright with you two, Knarled, Zanon, I think your attempt to vanish may work in favor of a meeting if you're willing to work it out.
The inquisitor couldn't tell, but the pause was just long enough that the man might have shot him a look. "Latch is fifty years old. Probably oughta replace it, fix it, something like that."

He might have been wondering how a blind man saw an open door. The inquisitor made a mental note that if he wasn't careful the man might revise his assessment of his guest from strange to supernatural. It was the truth, but people on Darkova immediately associated supernatural with evil. It didn't help that it was true most of the time.

The man walked over to the open cellar door and deposited something inside. Probably groceries that the inquisitor hadn't noticed inside the car. He closed the cellar door and began to fiddle with the lock, probably to make sure it stayed closed this time.

Another thought occurred to him. The man had just dismissed an open door as nothing out of the ordinary. Was that what leading a normal life meant? Not seeing danger around every corner? Not expecting something in the shadows to leap out and eat you? Not worrying about things that weren't the same as when you left them?

The man had finished with the cellar door and had proceeded to the front door of the house. There was a jingle of keys, and the click of a bolt lock disengaging. At least the man had the sense to lock his house. The man seemed to be holding the door open for him. That was considerate.

"Come on in if you want, I guess." The inquisitor almost tripped. Had that fool just invited him in? You didn't invite people into your house on Darkova. You just didn't. That had been hammered into him over and over when he had been trained... as a hunter. This man hadn't had the same training. Perhaps he presumed that the wards around the house would keep him safe?

The inquisitor took a moment to right himself and moved forward again. The house wards powered up as they sensed the darkness approaching. Not too shoddy. Whoever had made the wards had a reasonable amount of knowledge about how to do it. There were no gaps so far as he could tell.

That said, they had not been made to last. A cleric of with less than a years training could probably put more energy into them fairly easily, thereby extending the time the wards would hold, but that obviously hadn't happened in a very long time. They would fall in less than two years, as it was now... a demon dead set on getting inside could probably break thought.

The wards would start to glow visibly in a moment, alerting the man of the darkness within his guest. Fortunately, the man had given him just the thing to prevent that. "Thank you for inviting me in."

Once the inquisitor had spoken, the wards powered down. The invitation had been accepted. The house's resident had granted the darkness before it permission to pass.

The inquisitor crossed the threshold without incident. He should really tell the man that he basically rendered the wards around the house useless when he-

Pain. Suddenly there was pain. Lots of it. It was Holy energy! Likely accompanied by a bright flash, but visible light was the furthest thing from his mind. Something had attacked him! What could have attacked him? A trap. The house was a trap. There had been a secondary ward set to go off like a mine if darkness ever entered the house.

The inquisitor let out a roar of pain. The Holy energy had been expended, but his eyes! His eyes felt as though something was trying to claw it's way out. He needed to open them. But where? Where would it be safe?

The pain made it hard to think. What had he used in the past? A basin. Didn't have one. A sink then. A sink would have to do.

The kitchen. He needed to get to the kitchen sink. He had only felt the inside of the house for a moment, but he was fairly sure that the kitchen was strait across the room.

And he was truly blind right now. He couldn't focus on his surroundings, so he stumbled blindly forward. Hit a chair. Kept moving. Hit a coffee table. That told him he was in the middle of the room. There wasn't much time.

He hit another chair. Just a few more steps and he would be in the kitchen. His shoulder bounced off the wall as he entered the kitchen. Almost there. His hands found the counter. All he needed to do was follow the counter top. His fingers met something metal. The oven. No! That wasn't good enough. He had to find the sink. He turned and almost flung himself across the kitchen. His hands found the far counter. He moved sideways. Encountered stainless steel. Yes! The sink. He was sure of it.

His hands flew to his head, he tossed aside his hat then pulled the cloth away from his eyes. He took a second, a whole precious second, to make sure that he was indeed over the sink then leaned forward... And opened his eyes.

A thick, almost viscous smoke spewed forth from his opened eyes. The smoke fell slowly, as though unwilling to be entirely subject to gravity. It seemed to stretch, trying to reach the edge of the sink so that it would not be trapped. But the inquisitor had done this before, and knew better than to give the smoke enough room to escape.

It began to pool at the bottom of the sink, and red tears followed. Tears of relief. The pain was gone.
IC: "Well, anything to pass the time while we wait for the others to arrive?"
Nefas shakes his head, "No, I must decline, and if you are as good a healer as Mister Tobi claims, then it might be too powerful a concoction. Besides, for the demonic essence to heal so suddenly it may send me as mad as the Priest. I believe it will be better for me to heal over time."

Meanwhile Kevin looked at Tobi, about to object, but the steely look across the grand hunter's face stopped him. "Very well, Mister Van Helsing," his voice wrought with contempt. Not destroy cursed objects? Is he mad? They should be incinerated, forever removed from this world! Not to mention it is so much easier to destroy than to salvage. The Mad Priest accepts the relics given to him and stuffs them into a little satchel he had retrieved from his wagon while retrieving the tainted. "Grand Hunter, do you have stables or the like for my Oxen to rest and live during my stay here? Also, do you have a private sealed room for me to uncurse this relics, to avoid their contaminants to affect any of the other guests?
Tobi considers the Priest's words before responding, taking a sip before speaking. "You can uncurse them here, in the foyer. You are inside wards set not only by myself, but by the Archangel Altun as well. The relics curses will already be weakened from crossing them, if not many destroyed completely with just a few minor traces left." He takes another sip from his glass before speaking again, this time concerning the oxen.

"I'm afraid we can't have livestock of any kind here, especially the Church's. Should something happen to you, they wouldn't hesitate to accuse me of stealing them. No, send them back to the Church's stables. You'll have no need of them here as it is." The contempt in the Priest's voice was intentionally left unconcealed, so Tobi decided to put an end to this stand off now. The Mad Priest thought himself invincible and more knowledgeable than the man who had put down a 7th circle demon alone? Not to mention the other instances he's handled. Taking a last sip, he sets his glass down and draws Argost once more.

"However, before you do either of those things, I think you and I should have a little sparring match. Your contempt and disregard for what I've said thus far wears thin on my patience, not to mention your complete disregard for the League's laws. Even the Church has laws and regulations against the outright execution of the corrupted." Bringing Argost up with the edge facing the Priest, Tobi turns with his sword arm facing him as well, his body relaxed. "So we will settle this my way. Put aside the relics."
The Mad Priest sneers, "Very well, Grand Hunter. I suppose you would find enjoyment in beating down a Holy man," he tosses his satchel off to the side with a complete disregard for the contents. "Faxis, please assist me, help me make us a little bit of an annoyance to him." A wave of warm air bursts outwards, emitting a sound almost like a sigh as it does so before the flaming apparition that is the Fire Elemental Faxis bursts into form beside Father Sacerdos.

"Very well, Father." It turns to inspect the audience, "I suggest you step backwards for when I have been utterly destroyed," it quiets down to a near inaudible mumble, "for the fifth time this week..."

Nefas rolled his eyes at the Priest. This "Holy Man" was a greater committer of sin than he himself was.
"Thank you for inviting me in," the Inquisitor said. Rich almost panicked. He could feel the house turning dark, as though suddenly all its old defenses had died. What had happened? Had the man somehow disabled the wards? Rich had been counting on those to keep things regulated, but now they were almost lifeless. They were still there; he had spent too much of his life living within those walls not to feel it, yet they were silent, as though waiting. Turned off.

The stranger stepped cautiously through the door. Rich again noted how he seemed to be aware of his surroundings without effort. He didn't really have a lot of experience with blind people, but he just sort of assumed based on common sense and stereotypes that they had to kind of feel their way around like they... well, like they couldn't see.

Rich dropped the bottles as the Inquisitor reeled, roaring, through the house. A clamor sounded throughout the building, the sound of dozens of angry voices accompanied by a roll of thunder and a flash of light. The blind man staggered forward, grasping desperately at the counter, evidently forsaken by whatever force enabled him to find his way around so easily. He felt his away along frantically, apparently seeking something.

Wasting no time, Rich grabbed the shotgun from its hiding place behind the door. He glanced at it briefly. Loaded? Check. Appropriate? Check. With a pull of the gun's trigger, he could discharge a burst of 95% silver pellets into whatever he deemed a threat, and whether the target was human or not they probably wouldn't appreciate it. He walked cautiously after the "Inquisitor," keeping the gun at the ready. The stranger had come to a halt by the sink. Black smoke poured from his eyes, falling like liquid into the basin and pooling there. The angry voices had faded to mere whispers, and the fiery light reduced to mere a mere flickering that ran across the walls, illuminating ancient, strange letters in dull blue. It was truly fascinating. He vaguely knew about the second layer of defense, but he had never seen it in action, which was probably a good thing.

Rich pumped the shotgun, arming it with a distinctive click, CLICK sound that cut across the fading murmurs and the blind man's heavy breathing. "Needless to say," he said, heart pounding, "I'm a little confused as to why an 'Inquisitor' set that off. Mind explaining?" He gripped the gun tightly. Monsters and such were supposed to have superhuman reflexes. At even the slightest sign of attack he would have to fire as quickly as possible. He squinted at the man's face. He couldn't get a good look at the sockets that remained where eyes had once been, but there was liquid dripping from them... blood? Rich felt the beginnings of nausea rising in his stomach.
Tobi doesn't move, unphased by the appearance of an elemental. He slowly moves to the right, inviting the priest to make the first move. "Lesson one in respect, don't assume you know your opponent." Without warning, and rather oddly, a mirror image of Tobi appears on the other side of the Priest, nearest the elemental. "Lesson two, admit when you may be out matched. Numbers don't necessarily equal an advantage." Tobi stops, his stance unchanged.

Every moment he waited, he appraised the strengths and weaknesses of the man before him, judging his reaction speeds, physical strength and endurance, and his overall agility. The Mad Priest was never lacking in confidence, but he was in compassion, evidenced by his Elemental's mumble. Tobi had heard stories about the Priest's 'shield,' but this was a first sight for him. Of course he'd seen and worked with elementals in the past, they were one of the few good supernatural beings that called Darkova home, but to use it as a shield...Ignis would want to hear of this, that was for sure.
04/02/2014 07:36 PMPosted by ShadowFury
Nefas shakes his head, "No, I must decline, and if you are as good a healer as Mister Tobi claims, then it might be too powerful a concoction. Besides, for the demonic essence to heal so suddenly it may send me as mad as the Priest. I believe it will be better for me to heal over time."

Shaking his head, Seraphim presses the cup into Nefas' hands;
"You're not the first Demonic-tainted person I've helped recover from trying to cross a holy ward. Trust me, this will help."
As the Mad Priest confronts Tobi, Seraphim rises to his feet and interposes himself between Nefas and the priest before looking to Tobi;
"Are you really sure inviting him was necessary?"

- - -

Looking between Tobi and the Mad Priest, Malek takes a couple of steps backwards more as precaution against collateral damage than anything else.

- - -

Eyebrows arching in surprise, Elisabeth squats down and rocks forward on her toes, watching the two of them;
"This is going to be interesting..."
She murmurs to herself.
This had never happened before. No... that wasn't quite right. He had needed to relieve the pressure on his eyes before, but it had never ever been as a result of a spike in holy energy. If anything, the holy energy he had encountered in the past had stilled it.

Perhaps two excessively large bursts in one day was too much for the darkness. Perhaps if-

Click, CLICK.

A shotgun. Someone had just primed a shotgun less than ten feet from him. He had forgotten about the human who owned the house. "Needless to say," The man's voice shook slightly, probably because he was terrified. This could get ugly very fast. "I'm a little confused as to why an 'Inquisitor' set that off. Mind explaining?"

The inquisitor held very still as he ran a few scenarios through his head. If he was shot in the head at this range the chances of survival were low. Chest... Maybe he could survive that, but not unscathed. The man would have time to fire a second shot before he could pick himself off the ground.

Ordinarily he would have taken the gun away from the man, but his perception was murky at best right now. He would probably fail to get the gun. Killing the man outright was just plain out of the question. In some situations he might have considered it, but not when only his own life was at risk. To decide that your life is more valuable than another persons... That was a dangerous road to tread.

Distract him. Buy some time. "I understand your concerns, but right now I have to deal with this. I am going to, very slowly, take a canteen of holy water from my belt and wash the sink. The smoke will turn deadly if I do not deal with it now."

He moved his arm ever so slowly to his belt. Any one of a half-dozen weapons there could be used to kill the man in a second... but that was not what he was going to do.

The inquisitor closed his eyes and the trickle of smoke stopped. He carefully unhooked the canteen and brought it up slowly to his other hand. He unscrewed the plug and dumped a significant portion of holy water around the edges of the sink. There was a hiss, like water suddenly exposed to a red hot metal.

The inquisitor's heart missed a beat. He had forgotten the sound. If the man had had a very itchy trigger finger, he would have died just now.

Ok. Delay time was over. It was not ideal, but the situation seemed to require that he answer the questions asked of him. Preferably honestly. Now was not the time to be caught in a lie.

The inquisitor spoke again. Made his voice calm, even. "I do not intend to harm or hinder you. That remains true. You can even keep your weapon trained on me if it makes you feel better, though I will be very cross if you shoot me."

Or very dead. Though when you were loosing sometimes you had to bluff. Question was if it would be a bluff the man believed or not.

"Now, regarding your original question. Do you want the complete story that makes sense, or the abridged version that will leave you with a dozen more questions? Oh, and before you ask, yes I am actually an inquisitor."

He considered adding 'Which is why I didn't kill you when you pulled a weapon on me' but decided that might be a little more antagonistic than was wise.
IC: I move slowly and very unnoticably to the corner, hoping to avoid any possible crossfire.
"So that is the Manor. Well its about bloody time I got here." I grumble to myself as I exit the forest near the Manor. I was still a minute or so away but it was nice to see something man-made again that wasn't a bloody damn road. "So over fighting feral wolves." I mutter while approaching the gates.
"Had I ever mentioned either of these things, Grand hunter?" The Mad Priest answered, holy flames beginning to crawl across his arm, "I would rather not have fought you, really. I shouldn't be fighting someone who is, innocent, for lack of a better word, unless threatened anyways." With a vigorous growl the priest plunged his flaming left hand forward as he drew his knife with the right. A good conduit Ignis Dei was, even if the priest didn't have the physical body strength or agility to fight with an actual weapon. The flames were evenly distributed in a cone towards the Grand Hunter, only a small sphere of what was not so appropriately named his holy blaze was launched towards the hunter. There was no point in putting too much effort in it. Tobi would surely deflect, block, or otherwise evade the sphere no matter the size.

On the mirror side the elemental growled and released a burst of flame from his extended arm-like limb, attempting to hit the mirror image. The many years under the service of this Priest had worn him down, sent him into a bit of madness himself, as when exposed to such a destructive man, even the most rational may fall. It didn't help that the elemental was an aspect of one of the more destructive and aggressive forces of the world.

Nefas grunts, "I suppose we shall see..." The demon-tainted boy presses the cup against his lips and pours the fluid down his throat, a slight wince running across his face as he drinks it. Like all medicine, it tasted horrid. Nefas looked on at the battle, shaking his head at the priest's words, Yet he still would have killed me without a trial...
With a flick of his wrist, Argost slices through the sphere of fire with ease, dispersing it in the same motion. Another flick deflected the dagger's blade back towards the right, his free hand impacting the priest's gut and knocking the wind out of him. A follow up blow placed a kick into the side of the priest's head, sending him staggering to the left. The mirror side stepped the blast of flame and countered with a single, slim beam of light that pierced the skull of the Elemental, dispersing it's fiery energy a little at a time.

As the priest recovered, Tobi had resumed his stance, having barely moved from where he'd began. "You do not have to say them for me to know them. Your tone, stance, and demeanor bespeak all of that and more for my actions here as a Hunter." The man lacked no confidence or restraint, which only enforced his name as the Mad Priest. Perhaps asking for his assistance had been a mistake. Then again, mistakes like this were usually more costly, both in life and property, so maybe it wasn't a mistake. "It also speaks of how little respect you have for the Church's own laws and regulations."

This time Tobi struck the first blow, a flame more golden than the priest's own moving in an arc towards him.
Regret to inform I will be unable to post tonight. Need for sleep unmitigated, writing time terminated by entity "Winter Soldier."

I will reply tomorrow unless something unforeseen occurs.
Much to Nefas' surprise, the drink is actually quite palatable, a heavily spiced hot chocolate to be exact. Within a few moments a warm tingling sensation runs through his entire body rebalancing his Chi. The feeling can be described much like having a high-pitched whine in one's ears, but not knowing that it was there until it is gone.
Pack leader Ra'kor sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose in hopes of delaying the oncoming headache. He had just received word of the incident at the "Lost Sheep Orphanage" and the mess the Inquisition had made trying to clear it up.

Leading a werewolf pack was stressful, especially these days. The were-war had ended two years ago... not long enough for the wounds inflicted by both sides to heal... No where near long enough. He had chosen to keep his pack inside city limits, in part because Vampires never attacked anyone within city limits if they could help it, and in part because people needed to see that werewolves were not all crazed killers out to burn their homes to the ground.

It hadn't been easy, keeping the peace. Between keeping rambunctious pups in line and not lashing out at angry humans his days had been fairly busy. Twice things had turned violent but since there had been no deaths and it was agreed that both parties had been at fault, neither had turned into a game-ending media circus.

He supposed he should be grateful. No mob of humans had ever gathered in front of the apartment complex the pack owned with lethal intent. There had been some 'Out With The Wolves' protesters for the first year, but nothing serious since.

And just when things were stating to even out, this happens. Demons in an orphanage less than three miles away. Best do something about it. He sighed and stood up. Hummingbird would do fine for this job. He needed someone who could look at the place and tell him what had happened, and that spellwolf was more than capable. She had also been complaining about having nothing to do.

He thumbed the intercom for room 127. "Hummingbird. Alpha here. Answer the com." He waited.

"Don't call me Hummingbird... Bob." A young female voice replied.

It was an tradition for the two of them. When he had first met Wendy she had spoken to fast to understand. He had told her that he 'didn't speak hummingbird' and told her to try again. For his part, Ra'kal was not his given name, Bob was. Unfortunately, pack leaders named Bob didn't get much respect, so he had changed it.

The pack leader smiled ever so faintly. "Ha ha. Very funny. I'm calling on business. Someone just blew up half of the Lost Sheep Orphanage with several inquisitors inside. I want you to go over there and tell me what happened."

Wendy's voice was more formal now. "Yes pack leader. I'll report to you when I know something."


Wendy stopped at the bright yellow 'Police Line Do Not Cross' tape that surrounded the property. The mortal police had moved in to secure the location and so far as Wendy could tell, had not encountered anything. So what ever had put such a large hole in the building had either died in the explosion, or got out after killing the inquisitors.

The odd thing was that it couldn't have been the demons. The area was simply saturated by Holy energy. A powerful exorcist had preformed the cleansing prior to the imminence burst of dark energy. The dark energy was strange. It too had been powerful, but in an explosive way. There one second and gone the next. Perhaps the summoner had cast it in last defense of his life? Or maybe it was-

A sent caught Wendy's attention. A tainted sent. A scent that she recognized. A sent she had hoped never to find again. The sent of the man that had killed Oli. The sent of the Eyeless Witch's Spawn.

The sent led away from the building. So the spawn had survived. Wendy smiled wolfishly. She would not run away this time.
OOC: Don't recognize the characters?

Visit the compendium (linked below) and check out Part 3: Mind the Wolves if you want to read the battle she remembers, or check out Part 4: Thoughts of the Enemy for the characters themselves.


Ok, shameless self-promotion aside, I decided to write something that would not need a reply (since KnarledOne is otherwise occupied) and would also potentially give me more to work with later.
The Inquisitor froze. The smoke pouring from his eyes had slowed to a gradual trickle, but Rich kept the shotgun trained on him. The wards were useless now, at least for the moment. He believed they eventually recharged themselves somehow, but was fairly certain that wouldn't happen soon enough to be of any use. That meant he was on his own. He could just shoot the man now; that was probably the safest possible course of action. Yet... kill him? Gun him down from behind while he was hunched over, gasping? Rich had never killed someone before, and there was always the chance (however faint) that there was a good explanation for this.

"I understand your concerns," the Inquisitor said, his perfectly level voice a little less so than normal, "but right now I have to deal with this. I am going to, very slowly, take a canteen of holy water from my belt and wash the sink." That seemed reasonable enough. The sink had filled almost to the brim with a thick, black smoke that seemed to boil like a liquid and writhe like a snake at the same time. It looked almost familiar. Rich realized it looked a lot like the Creep he had seen on TV, though black and vaporous. What was frightening was that it seemed to be growing, the roiling mass crawling its way slowly up the side of the basin.

"The smoke will turn deadly if I do not deal with it now," the stranger added. That was believable. Rich held the shotgun level as the man carefully removed an unassuming round fask from his belt. It looked little different from the canteen you might take on a camping trip, which was a little odd and somehow disillusioning. The water, when poured into the sink, reacted violently with the smoke. The black cloud shrank away like a living creature from flame, dissolving and vanishing as it came into contact with the liquid. There was a loud hissing, crackling noise, somewhere between hot water being poured on ice and the spitting of a panful of boiling grease. The Inquisitor flinched at the noise, which would have been amusing in any other situation. Well, there was no sound someone didn't hate.

His hands held non-threateningly away from his sides, the Inquisitor straightened slightly and spoke, his voice having already regained its deadly calm. "I do not intend to harm or hinder you. That remains true. You can even keep your weapon trained on me if it makes you feel better, though I will be very cross if you shoot me."

Is he bluffing? Rich wondered. That sounded like a bluff. A load of buckshot at this range would be no laughing matter for anyone. Then again, he knew that creatures of the night and such could shrug off a shotgun blast without more than minor annoyance and a bit of knockback. So if the man was not really a human, it probably wasn't a bluff. The fact that the ammunition was silver, though, would likely come as a large, unpleasant surprise for the man in that case.

"Now, regarding your original question," he continued, "do you want the complete story that makes sense, or the abridged version that will leave you with a dozen more questions? Oh, and before you ask, yes I am actually an inquisitor."

So much for that question. Rich considered a moment. "Let's start with the abridged version," he said, trying to sound calm, "and if I like what I hear you can keep talking."

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