[P] [M] the salvationdamnation of man
The Waste | Grotto dei Avernus
#1

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: animal cruelty, death, drug use, language.
His leg was bothering him again.

This happened every so often – on days when it rained, after he had worked it too hard, and sometimes for no goddamned reason at all.

Marlowe had been tremendously lucky, all things considered. Campion had broken his leg, sure, but he could have ended up with that black-bladed knife in his belly or back. Maybe that was what he had meant to do, when he was done with the Salsolan girl. If he had been faster, if whatever devil compelled him had struck sooner, then Marlowe would have been forced to watch that torturous, horrible event play out. They had both made mistakes, him and the wolf, but only one was fatal.

Though Pazuzu had set his leg and overseen the initial portion of its healing, he had abandoned Marlowe the same way everyone else did. When Gustavo found him, he had exploited this injury for his own gain.

Stubbornly, Marlowe had clung to life as he always had. Even as he suffered and bowed to lesser men, he wanted only to live.

The pain in his leg was a reminder of this choice. He would endure it for as long as he lived (and oh, what a long time that had been already). At least now, familiar with the aches intimately, like a lover, he knew how to treat them.

Marlowe prepared a tea using the supply he had traded for all those weeks ago. Willow-bark was something of a cure-all when it came to pain, and he paired this with the feverfew. The strong, bitter brew could be offset by mint and honey, but Marlowe substituted these for a shot of strong liquor to chase off the medicinal taste left in his mouth. It was not the worst thing he had drunk. Gustavo's people had concocted all sorts of foul brews that they had forced him to consume. Some had nearly killed him. What did they care, though? He was expendable.

While the tea alone would alleviate some of the issues, the true blessing of their location was a short walk from the building. Marlowe packed a few joints and lit a cigarette before he left, intending to use its red-hot cherry to feed the rest of his smokes. The ground around the hot springs was too moist to build a fire without bringing kindling, and he didn't want to go through all that effort. They had a few hours left before opening, and though it was overcast and cloudy, Marlowe did not need the additional light.

Steam was especially prevalent in winter, and it helped to hide the tracks of those who had come to the area before him. Between the sulfur stink of the water and the tobacco clogging his nose, Marlowe had to rely on his eyes to warn him of danger. Fortunately, he was alone.

He sat at the edge of the one of the pools and produced a joint from his collection. With rehearsed precision, he removed the cigarette from his lips and replaced it with the blunt. He held the lit end of the cigarette against the virgin tip of the one now in his mouth and carefully inhaled in short, quick breaths to draw the embers in. This trick was effective and soon enough twin smoke pillars had joined the humid air around the pool.

Marlowe finished off the tobacco cigarette quickly and switched immediately to the joint. The taste and burn was different, but by now, he was well-versed in his own product. His product now, yeah, now that Cook was dead, rest-in-peace. The old dog had been a master at his crafts. Losing him had been a terrible blow, certainly, but it shouldn't have undone them like it did.

Well, Marlowe supposed this was the way of things. Some people were destined to flounder and fail. He had been worried about how he would carry on alone, but God or Lady Luck or whoever it was that looked out for him had sent those kids his way. Even now, they were gaining more attention. Polliwog had been a good find. Seneca had been a good find. They were almost to where they needed to be, he thought, and certainly winter would be much easier for him now.

Once his legs had gotten used to the heat, Marlowe slipped the rest of his body into the hot water. It soaked through his fur immediately. While the heat was initially almost unbearable, he soon grew comfortable – though by then he was halfway through the thick joint and feeling particularly good anyway. Paired with the medicine he had taken earlier, he could almost forget about that nagging, deep pain in his leg. He stretched this out—

–and touched something with his foot that was not supposed to be there.

With comical speed, Marlowe recoiled.

In the few seconds between hauling himself out of the pool and examining his paw for any unsightly muck, he determined that whatever he had felt was not alive. No fish or amphibian could survive the acidic water, let alone the tremendous heat. With his heart still hammering in his chest, Marlowe took a breath, remembered his joint, and saw with great annoyance he had dropped it during his great escape.

Now more irritated than anything else, he ran his fingers along his toes.

A few minutes passed.

Then, with a growl, he climbed back into the water. Using his feet, he sought the alien presence. It hadn't moved since he touched it, which further reassured Marlowe that whatever this was couldn't be an animal...even if it felt bulky. He tried to drag it with his foot but found the weight too great. Rocks? There was something hard down there.

Overwhelmed by curiosity, Marlowe tried to reach with his hands. The object was too far for him to do this without going underwater, and after coming to this conclusion, he reluctantly did just that.

Blindly, he fumbled through the hot water until his fingers found purchase. He grappled – a bag? – and pulled it up. This was more difficult than he had expected. By the time he had dragged it to the edge of the pool he had determined that the weight was indeed caused by rocks. Whoever had dropped the sack in the hot springs had weighed it down to hide it.

Thinking this was some half-assed attempt to conceal a stash of some sort, Marlowe tried to imagine what could possibly survive being submerged in the sulfuric water for so long. Alcohol would spoil. Any dry goods would be ruined. Metal, maybe, or some trinkets. Why go through all the efforts to hide something if they weren't valuable?

Except once he had it on dry land, he could feel what was inside.

Even before he opened the bag, the sinking feeling in his gut warned him what he would find.

Inside of the sack was the body of a big spotted cat. Its face was a grotesque death mask of agony, and its claws latched into the bag which had been its coffin. While this sight alone was horrendous, more awful was the fact that Marlowe recognized the animal.

“So this is where you went,” he murmured.

His experience told him a few other things – that this body was freshly dead, and that whoever had done this must have been able to get close enough to grab the cat.

Malowe sat back, rubbing his face.

Backdated to January 6th
[+ 1261]
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
#2
For as long as he knew it, the scales of their world did not tip to good and evil, but to luck and loss.

Landon had considered it a possibility that Mosie would come looking for Enlil the same night of his disappearance, but he didn't find it plausible that she would find them right away; nevertheless he had worked quickly, allowing himself no pleasure in the act.

He knew he wasn't like those thieves, those cold-blooded murderers of Portland. They worked for their own gain, but everything Landon did was for love. No one else saw Enlil for what he was: a corrupter, a betrayer, pushing Mosie to isolate herself from everyone who loved her. His hands, squeezing the bag far harder than necessary, held it under the water until he felt a satisfying shudder of release.

The water took him, he told himself. The water took Enlil like it took Sacha, like it would take all that was offered to it.

He wedged the bag under the rocks when he heard her calling, a lonesome keening in the snow-dusted air. How she found them so quickly was hard to explain, and the strangeness of it unsettled him. When they embraced, Landon wondered if she could hear his heart pounding in fear.

***

Seeing his siblings reunited, the two of them over the moon with joy, these were the things he carried now on his way back to the springs. They had always depended on Landon to pay for this feeling. They would never understand the cost, and that was okay too. All that mattered was that now they were safe together.

Part of him was grateful that Ness was gone. She would've seen it in him, that hollow look, the way he'd smoked restlessly by the fire that night. Mosie was back, at least for a little while, but his work was not done. He still had to get rid of the bag before someone else found it.

The fields were blistering, alive with roving whirls of snow and mist. The wind fought him part of the way, and without his coat, the cold sank its teeth deep into his skin. At this odd hour he wasn't sure to expect anyone there, but he'd have to play the part of someone merely looking to take off the edge of a long day. If luck were on his side, it would be a relatively quick matter. Grab the bag, head to the bay. Enlil would be gone for good by morning.

His nose full of sulfur, he did not detect anything besides what he could see: walls of steam and the round heads of rock, the sprigs of yellow grass that stuck up through the snow like arms of the dead. The water welcomed him readily, gave nothing away of its secrets, his own and those of others.

Landon waded to the spot and then he froze, one arm reaching into the murky depths. A scent, a sound—his gaze drew up, to the wind whipping around the bank. It revealed the figure sitting back on it, and the bag's strewn contents at his feet.

Landon didn't look at Enlil's mangled corpse. His eyes were fixed on Marlowe's face and his expressions. That was all that mattered now.
(—) | NPCs:
#3
There was a quiet splash from the water. Marlowe lowered his hand, his bangs dripping with sulfuric water, and looked.

Landon was there.

For a moment, they just stared at each other.

How they reacted now would determine everything else moving forward. By his presence alone, by the knowing way in which Landon had come to this specific spot, Marlowe knew. The guilt was clear by the dog's actions, even if his face was carefully closed off – and not for the first time, mean-looking, hostile. He looked like this around strangers, sometimes. When they had first met he had looked like that: like if things had gone the wrong way between them, things would have turned south very quickly.

Now that he knew Landon better, Marlowe imagined most of that was just bluster. The dead cat in the bag was making him rethink this early assessment.

The coyote stayed very still. It felt like if either of them moved too fast, there would be bloodshed. In a fight, he knew he could take the boy. The problem lay in the possibility of a hidden weapon. Marlowe's knife was close, with the supplies he had brought, but would he be fast enough? Landon was spry and young. The old man's leg was swollen and stiff.

This was not a game, but for the moment, Marlowe had to play as if it was.

“I found your cat,” was all he said.

[+ 245]
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
#4
For a moment, all he could hear was a loud ringing.

The sounds of the spring went on around them. Snow hissed when it hit the water. Heat expanded and snapped. He felt every sharp, discordant note like a bullet.

Other futures slithered into view, and by the look in Marlowe's eyes, Landon knew that he was seeing the same things as him. If it had been anyone else, perhaps he could have talked his way down from what was plainly visible. People didn't want to see ugliness, but Marlowe wasn't like that. In looking into the future, one could also see the past. Here they stood, seeing each other's clearly for the first time.

His voice broke through the ringing.

Landon drew himself straight with a careful, mechanical slowness. He told himself he wasn't like those guys in Portland. He didn't want to fight just for the sake of it, because it was convenient or to prove something. Enlil had been necessary in the way that all the others had been necessary. He hadn't liked it, but it had to be done.

He didn't know what had to be done with Marlowe, not yet. Paranoia began sifting at the edges; Landon had to decide before he did. That was all that it came down to, sometimes—choosing quickly, and luck.

His gaze, tempted to glance at the body, held the dealer steady.

"You did," He said, jaw tight, hands loose at his waist. He'd left the trousers and sweater, not wanting to be weighed down by water-soaked clothes in the dead of winter, but the belt—and his knife—would be plain to see now. "So what?"
(—) | NPCs:
#5
“He's dead,” Marlowe said.

Speaking a thing aloud gave it power. They both knew what was in the wet, stinking sack – but by announcing it as plainly as he did, Marlowe made it clear what he had discovered could not be undone.

“That's a real mean thing to do,” he went on. His voice was measured and steady. Years of smoking and abuse had roughened the sound of it. Even now, he could taste the tobacco and cannabis on his breath. Mostly, though, it was sulfur. “It takes a real fucked up person to boil a cat alive. Didn't even give him a proper chance to fight back.”

How many people had Marlowe killed in his life? He had been a soldier first. In God's army, there were only the chosen and the enemy – and as long as he bowed his head, didn't ask questions, and obeyed, he would be among the righteous. Scintilla hadn't been meant for people like him. Inferni was supposed to be different, but it had been weak by the time he and his sisters joined. Vesper had not recognized what needed to be done, and that was why she had failed as a leader. She had undone the entirety of his family's legacy, leaving them with nothing.

Campion hadn't been the answer. Yuraw hadn't been the answer. The Troupe had been a child's dream, and he had never belonged. Even now, among people of his own choosing, Marlowe could see the invisible line between himself and the others.

He was willing to do whatever needed to be done, regardless of the cost.

“Be real bad for us if people heard about this,” the coyote went on. He knew this was a gamble, but he held all the cards. He knew exactly what Landon had in his hand. “If someone kills a cat, what else do you think they might do? Stab someone while they're sleeping? Cut an old man's throat?”

Something about Landon's eyes looked familiar. Where had he seen that look before?

“Makes for bad business if there's some maniac on the loose. I don't want that – you don't want that,” Marlowe insisted calmly. “Can't imagine how the Krewe would take the news neither. Your brother's big and strong, but he's soft. Somethin' like this would just break his heart, wouldn't it? And Miriel's got that little cat with the crooked tail – she'd sure be worried,” he went on. The more he talked, the easier it was to bear down on the young man. How much pressure could Landon endure? Something had made him like this – capable of something like this – but Marlowe had lived through so many living hells that no young devil had any right to hold power over him.

“I don't know what sort of twisted fuck does this sort of shit,” the coyote said, even though he was staring down the culprit. “But if he was smart, he'd think real hard about what might happens if other people find out. Comprende?”

[+ 525]
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
#6
Landon existed in two worlds. In one of them, the timing went just right. His foothold was sure and the water didn't drag and Marlowe's leg gave out, and the dealer was a dead man.

But Landon had never missed Owen's matches or trainings, and he knew a real fighter when he saw one. The day they met, the coyote had been shooting targets with the practiced ease of a person who had seen and done worse. In this second world, all it took was one mistake, and the more experienced fighter got a hold of his knife.

The sure bet was to keep the knife out of play. He needed to find another way out.

Marlowe loosed his judgment like arrows, gauging the distance, feeling the wind. Landon's stare held on through the barrage on his conscience as if weathering a storm, deflecting anything that came for his buried compassion, clinging to the thoughts that would move him past the range. Marlowe might've been genuinely struck by the nature of what happened, but Landon distrusted everything good about him now; did Marlowe really care about giving Enlil a choice to fight, about these bullshit ideals of fairness and harm in a world as cruel and indifferent as their own? The answers were in his attacks.

Real bad for us.

An old man's throat.

Landon's eyes darkened, glimpsing the edges of Marlowe's truth like the roving beam of a lighthouse. Those slivers helped when the storm of accusation got worse, when Owen and Miriel were brought into the unwelcome space of Landon's infernal engine. It didn't matter if his reputation was tarnished, if he was exiled from yet another eden, but Owen—Mosie—they wouldn't understand this. To them, Enlil was family. That was why Landon wanted to ensure that it would never come to light.

For a moment, Landon wavered, fingers flexing over the hilt with temptation. The faintest twitch, his lip fighting to peel back. Someone else already did find out. That was the problem. 

There was a third world. They both died for nothing in the mud, and Mosie and Owen mourned him. Would anyone mourn Marlowe? In that moment, the beam came around again, dousing him in the truth's light. Landon saw the sliver of the backdoor to this problem.

“I don’t need to think about what happens when other people find out,” He moved his hand away from the knife, carefully flashing his palms. “Just what happens when you do.”

The pieces had been there, the feelings ill-fitted, the attacks uncanny. Now Landon understood the picture he'd been seeing: Marlowe was a devil, too.

"What do you want?"
(—) | NPCs:
#7
That tense string between them held. Stained red by bloodshed, it became a cord of fate which now entangled them both.
It seemed that Landon, like Marlowe, very much wanted to live. He had proven by his actions here that when something threatened his stability, it would not be beneath him to silence that voice by any means necessary.

Marlowe did not know what Enlil the cat was to the boy. There had always been a peculiar distance between them – but then again, perhaps that had been the distance Landon stood apart from all others. Seeing him now, in the open, it was obvious that the fault had been within his soul since the beginning. God determined what each animal was before they were given life. In those who believed they had free will, the factors of good and evil were permitted to shift accordingly. That was the great lie, though. If all things existed under the will and control of God, then surely He had set down precedence for all men.

Landon had killed the cat because he wanted to, but God had allowed it to happen.

There was meaning in that, somewhere.

“I want you to understand what I told you,” the old man answered. He mirrored Landon and showed his palms in a sign of peace, though when they fell the left managed to inch ever-closer to where his weapon lay hidden. There was no longer any honest trust between them. They would need to rebuild it from the beginning, with eyes unclouded.

A strange, unfriendly smile appeared on the coyote's face.

“I don't give a shit about why this happened,” he said, careful even now in his phrasing, but less careful about the cruel words he let fly. “Like I said, I don't want to raise no alarms about some fucking lunatic out here drownin' cats. It's bad for business. Right now, you're a part of my business, so you get my meaning. We got ourselves a nice thing going. I don't need any stupid ass kids to fuck that up.”

If it came down to it, Marlowe secretly thought, he could kill Landon. The boy would be cautious now, though. He'd be expecting it. Until he wasn't, that option had to be shelved.

“The ground's gonna be solid, but if I was you, I'd bury the cat. Far the fuck away from here,” he added, letting the false-smile leave his face. “Then you think long and hard about how you're supposed t'feel when your cat goes missing. Whatever the fuck this is about don't need to concern nobody unless you bring it back with you – so don't.”

The edges of Marlowe's bangs were beginning to curl as they struggled to dry. The gray in his hair was becoming more obvious with each turn of the moon. Other signs, like the old scars on his arm, were losing their color too.

“Nothin' like this better happen to anything else, you understand? You stay the fuck away from my animals,” Marlowe added, showing his yellow teeth and dropping any pretense of his ignorance. “That cat especially. He ain't like the rest.” No witches familiar ever was.

The horses were mean and could fight back. Even old Mach, who Marlowe allowed to roam as he wanted, had been crafted for and by war. It was as much a part of him as it was the coyote.

Slowly, stiffly, Marlowe rose to his feet.

“You and I are gonna talk again,” he told the boy. “But right now, you need to handle your shit.”

The sack and its contents sat between them, like the ugly secret they now shared.

Marlowe gathered his things. He turned and walked away, into the mist, and left Landon alone with his crime.

[+ 647]
The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?
Character WikiLa Estrella Roja | Player Wiki
avatar by san
#8
At some point, the insistent wind had fallen off and left Landon overly warm, his pulse lingering on the surface of his skin.

The old man was coming down from the high of revelation. With greater clarity, he went on to confirm what Landon had discerned about him, that he was a selfish creature. Someone like him didn't claw their way out of hell because they cared about good reasons, and it was a fool's errand to offer one. The only answer that mattered to Marlowe was if Landon was a threat to him, and that kind of reassurance couldn't be given in a simple reply.

A new understanding had been exchanged, and they both needed time to figure out where that put them.

He didn't argue the instructions, listening instead to what it said about the dealer's experiences. His face slowly slipped back into that neutral look, the one he wore around Roja to show his compliance. His subtle nod agreed to the rest—that much was easy, since it had always been his plan to dispose of the body and keep it a secret.

Landon watched him rise from the ground, tried to get a real sense of his leg's injury.

It wasn't enough to agree that neither of them wanted a problem, Marlowe wanted to convince him their interests were the same. This, Landon believed, was the reassurance the old man sought: a willingness to at least pretend they were on the same side and care about the same consequences. Marlowe wouldn’t feel safe unless he felt like he could control what Landon thought was important, and the threat lay in the fact that he wouldn’t tolerate feeling in danger for long, if at all. 

They differed greatly, in this way.

When the dealer was out of range in both sight and smell, he left the basin of water and gathered the remains. Landon was grateful for the long, bitterly cold walk to the bay now. It would give him time to prepare for what was coming.
(—) | NPCs:


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