The stairs came to a landing for a floor the hotel didn't have. Sam knew from experimentation that the floor above didn't even allow its landing door to open so much as a millimeter, and the floor below just had a weird sagging of the ceiling in several of the rooms. Two floors up, the door was welded shut and had a biohazard sign on it, so Sam hadn't messed with that. A floor higher than that, and the hotel was normal again. All of this conspired to make this particular landing the only useful way in. So in he went.

The hallway beyond the landing looked like every other floor of the hotel above the lobby, with a notable exception that everything had almost an inch of dust coating the floor and everything that jutted out any distance from the walls. Grey plumes wafted up and curled with his every footstep, disturbing sediment that had been there for who only knows how long. The only footsteps here were his own, one set heading to the 'end' of the hall and then back again for when he came here the first time, and the second set that he was putting down now. He shuddered to think of what Niffty would do to this space when she learned of it. She would probably take it as a personal insult that somebody allowed this much dust accrue in her hotel.

The far wall, the 'end' of the hallway was absolutely incongruous to the walls abutting it, to the ceiling and the floor, and in fact to any other wall in the entire hotel. It was a mottled grey stone-like material, something chillingly cold to the touch, plunging through the plaster-and-lathe of the hotel utterly heedless of the more appealing substance. Jarringly off center from the middle of the hall was a bulkhead door, as if from a submarine or battleship, but with its handwheel had been removed at some point, effectively locking it. More effectively locking it were the spot-welds along the mechanism, paralyzing it so that even if the missing part were returned, it still wouldn't budge. Whoever closed this door wanted it to stay that way.

Sam shifted the plasma cutter into a more comfortable position between his shoulders, then glanced to the wall beside the strange grey stone. He got a notion. And that notion was followed by him kicking hard at the point where one wall met the other, and again, watching how plaster and lathe fell away, eventually making a hole. Sam glanced through, the light emitted by his head enough to show that there was a room over there, if one where the bed was cut in half by the grey stone passing through it and the wall beyond even that. And if he wasn't mistaken, there was a slight curve to that grey wall.

Simply put, somebody, somehow, seemed to have teleported a chunk of a different building into the Happy Hotel, at some point in its distant past. It made him regret not going back to continue his talk about magic with Alastor. He had a lifetime of believing in naturalism, and how nothing magical was possible. Having Hell prove that belief if not wrong then at least naive, he endeavored to do as he always did when life put a problem in front of him that was within his power to solve; he would buckle down and learn some goddamned magic.

For now, though, he simply started up the plasma cutter, which ignited with a loud hiss, invisible and waiting for him to plunge it against the metal. He knew that this was going to take a while, so he put the nearly-black glasses on to prevent arc-blinding himself, and got to cutting. There was some zen, working with metal in such a destructive capacity, the slow, methodical cutting that dove through inches of steel. The last cutter he'd used was old and weary, and he wagered it wouldn't have gotten all the way through however thick this thing was, no matter how long you gave it. Sam didn't try sweeping the whole door, though. He picked a portion, and cut a triangle. Then he undercut it, destroying its root until it finally came out. The section had to be almost five centimeters thick, and wasn't even all the way through the door. Almost two inches of steel was what you used to hold out the water at the pressure of the continental shelf. More than that, and you were entering Marianas Trench territory.

"Bunker?" he asked. The metal was starting to cool from orange, so he started cutting again. This time, after another inch of depth, he found the far side of the room, to a blast of sparks toward his face, which had him recoil a bit. He knew that he had spatters of molten metal on his face, but they didn't burn or hurt. With the back of his hand, he wiped them off, and looked at the hole he'd punched. Barely a few millimeters across, probably seven centimeters total depth. He couldn't see what was on the far side through that pinprick, but the fact that he could catch a glimpse of the grey stone told him he was through. That there was something beyond. "Who put a bunker into the dead-center of a hotel?"

Nobody was going to answer him, though. With a shake of his head, he started cutting again. The heating pipes to his and Wendy's rooms were interrupted by this hulking annoyance, so he was going to have to fix that so that he didn't freeze his nuts off when the season changed. There were seasons in hell, as it turned out, although it never exactly froze over. He cut, slowly and arduously, starting from the wound in the bulkhead he'd created, and starting down its edge. It might take an hour or more, but he'd have this bastard off of its hinges. He had days to get all this fixed before Apoc needed him again. Who knows? He might even get a sit-on-your-ass afternoon, the likes of which he hadn't enjoyed since he was a kid.

Disturbed by the vent of his plasma-cutter, the breeze slowly lifted the dust away behind Sam, wafting it out the door and into the emergency stairway. Millimeter by millimeter, as he cut, the gentle, insistent tug pulled the dust out and away from him. In his footfalls, it revealed old, unfaded red carpet. In another, a near-black bloodstain, the blood of imps or fiends. And buried under the first footfall he'd made at his return, a few letters, carved into the floor by a claw. 'tan, Do' was slowly revealed, an island of a message in a sea of dust.

He didn't read it, because he wasn't aware of it. If he had, he would have known that somebody dying of bloodloss decades ago had carved 'For the love of Satan, Don't Let It Out' into the floor.

Chapter 7

Run From The Exorcist, Or Die By Them

The room beyond was lit by the dim red that Sam emitted, so he didn't bother with a flashlight. With the door out of the way, the area within showcased all it had. Which wasn't much, admittedly. Instead of the weary splendor of the Happy Hotel, the bunker wedged inside of it seemed desperate and spartan, bereft of any touches of personality not because it's owner was austere, but because they dared not put anything here that wasn't to their goal.

It was strange, Sam thought, as he ran his finger through the much thinner layer of dust here on the inside, that collected wherever it could. As he did, his finger fell into an odd rut in the wall. He ran his finger up and down it. Four ruts, running in near parallel, hidden by dust. He spread his hand, almost able to match the breadth of it. Something had been dragged, and dug his claws into the wall to slow himself down. Sam's brow drew down, and he unlatched the plasma cutter from his back, setting it into the dust. Narrowing his eyes let him throw a cone of rosy light ahead of him, showcasing a mummified hand flopped out of another bulkhead gated door. The skin was faintly green, and there was no scent whatsoever, so it had to have been here for years.

A fool would have done the horror-movie thing of saying 'Hello?' loudly. Sam was in a lot of ways foolish, but he wasn't that foolish. Instead, he moved to the door which stood open to an armory, and saw the body which the hand belonged to. It was cut in half at the waist, the legs at the far end of the room, likewise mummified. The head was staved in. Fingernails were broken on his other hand. So this was the man who got dragged. There was something odd about his body, though. Sam stooped down, gently running a finger along the canoe where his face should have been. His finger came up covered in thick grey dust, quite unlike that which thinly lay elsewhere. Weird.

The armory held old guns, mostly muskets with a few very old revolvers in a special containment for them. He did the math in his head. These weapons had probably sat there for a hundred and fifty years, not rusting in the desperately dry air. The sabers on the rack – or rather, what remained of them – weren't so lucky. They were mostly just piles of rust with brass or bronze hand-baskets still dangling from hooks.

So this thing had been here since the mid nineteenth century. A glass display case showed one sword that hadn't been subject to the decay of rust. It was almost black, not particularly long, and curved at its tip. A cutlass, essentially. He racked his brain for a moment, trying to remember what metal it was, until he decided likely it was black bronze. Picking it up out of its shattered case made him rethink that. It was very heavy for its size.

A thunk immediately pulled Sam's attention away from the armory. Something had fallen down further in. He stared, still, a stolen saber in his hand. There was nothing moving out there that he could see except for motes of dust wafting toward the now open door. Silence followed. Sam let out a quiet 'hrm', and started to move again. The path continued, curving to the right. This path must follow its entire outer edge, with all of its rooms on the inside wall. The next room he found was a larder, its floor littered with tiny bones of dead vermin. All of the bags of food had been emptied, all of the grains and corns devoured by protected generations of Hell's equivalent to mice. Then, just like Universe 25, the population crashed and died out, leaving whole boxes of food untouched until they dry-rotted into dust. The cans were likewise untouched.

Sam was less than interested in old canned-goods though. It seemed a great way to get whatever Hell had in terms of botulism.

Next was a room which had its door hyperextended out of its frame and into the hall. Within was something of a war-room. Just past the door was a dead Sinner, mummified like the previous ones, but this one looked like it had been almost torn in half from shoulder to pelvis. Again, the head was a pounded ruin. And again, a curious finger found a thick deposit of grey ashy dust in the wounds. Curiouser and curiouser. He looked up at the walls, at the maps that displayed Pentagram City. A number of names were listed, areas drawn in faded reds, blues, and greens.

"Jingo," he whispered, tapping an expanse of red at the north end of the city which extended up and into the Pride Wilds. "Nineteenth century, alright." The whole thing looked like a campaign map of somebody trying to fight a guerrilla war against a numerically superior opponent. "And there's Erasmus Von Brutte, and the Clan Cruac. Damn, Alastor, you played Kingmaker and killed all of them."

How long had this war been a stalemate, before the Radio Demon appeared and tore them all down? At least seventy years if his math was right. He knew now that there were no great blocs of this scale owning the City of Pride's Glory. Overlords now owned city blocks or industries, instead of great swathes of territory. Just another way that war had changed from the nineteenth century and into the twenty first. He wondered if there existed a map that showed Alastor's cataclysmic rise through the hierarchy of hell. It would be a neat thing to compare against, if nothing else.

The last of the four rooms of the bunker was a barracks, if a quite small one. There were only beds enough for twelve people, a small latrine with a moth-eaten curtain for privacy in one corner. The barracks also played home to a mummified corpse. This one was missing its arms, and its head too had been smashed in. There was one other thing in the room, looking like a mannequin slumped against a wall. Sam saw what had thudded earlier; a book had fallen from a dry rotting shelf, landing in the dust and throwing it up.

Obviously something bad had happened here, but Sam didn't know the shape of it. Had they gone insane and turned on each other? After all, they'd been sealed in here for a century and a half. The book was scribed in an arcane text that somehow Sam understood. Then again, Sam could read everything down here in Hell, even though there had to be millions of Damned who should not have had English as a first language. Maybe that was just a part of being in hell. Maybe the Curse of Babel was real. Considering Hell was, it logically followed that leaving the world would leave the curse, so that in the afterlife all could understand each other once more.

But then he had a thought; if they'd gone crazy, why were there no bullet holes? Why were all of the weapons safely stowed in the armory? Something was amiss. He moved to the mannequin, looming over it and examining it as much as he could without touching it. It wore a dress of dirty white cloth with black wings out its back, the likes of which graced the hotel's surly greeter Husk. Its face had no features, smooth and seemingly made of thin glass, with a strange pattern of tiny triangles under its surface. It even had horns that that were swept back and seemed to be adjustable for length. Probably the leader's doll for their non-military attire. After all, he knew that clothes here in Hell were for-the-most-part sexless. Angel Dust was a proof of that if nothing else. Dude had some severe slutware that he wasn't afraid of rocking to the dismay of other guests.

Sam turned from the man-sized doll and toward the innermost corner. There, exactly where he would have thought, were the ducts. And exactly as he expected, they were crimped shut by something having slammed into them and flatting them against the wall. He held a hand over it, feeling hopelessly dry, hot air wafting along his fingertips. He'd have to saw out that entire section and replace it, which would take a couple of hours, but at least there'd be heat to the upper floors.

There was a clicking sound behind him. Sam immediately spun, the room brightening has his flames mounted up to a more yellow hue. Stillness. He would have considered that to be him just being jumpy, but after being still and silent himself for a half of a minute, there was another click. This time, the head of the mannequin shifted minutely as it happened. Sam's brow drew down, and he moved to the clothes-horse again. Another click, to the movement of the horns shifting slightly. Sam reached up, giving the horns a prod. There immediately came another click, then a crunch, then a snap, as the horns pivoted down and flat above the mannequin's crown. They then extended until the two tips first touched, then mated with each other. What the fuck was this?

He was answered when there was an electric snap, and the horns burst into searing white light. Not horns. A halo.

With a buzzing sound, its blank face ignited a blast of random triangles white, then black, until they resolved into displaying a wickedly grinning, pixilated visage.

"Oh fuck me," Sam said.

There was a crunch as the Exorcist smashed its fist into Sam's chest and launched him away shattering ribs in the process. Another crunch followed a moment later when he caught the door with his back, pulverizing yet more ribs. He landed with his feet under him, back against a wall, and barely able to breathe. The Exorcist rose, wings spreading from its back to the clicking of metal and bakelite, before they shook off a layer of that thick grey dust, and began to glow with the same light as the halo, although far less bright. Sam immediately hurled himself to a side, which was smart because that was exactly as much time as he had before the thing launched itself at him, smashing its fist into that grey stone wall so hard that the stone cracked and split, a spiderweb reaching along the wall, ceiling, and floor. The cracks began to immediately retract, but Sam was already pushing himself to a staggering run.

He had scarcely made it around the first measure of the bend when a sound of blasting static sounded behind him, and he was cast forward by a shockwave that left him rolling. When he stopped, he had barely an instant before the Exorcist was rounding, its electric grin wide. He looked inside, to see what if there was any weakness to exploit, but found it hollow. Not even a blank slate like Apoc. This thing was empty inside. So he did an incredibly painful thing and back-rolled to his feet, holding his arms ahead of him. He was still holding that black sword. Why hadn't he dropped it? Well he'd take the boons he got, thank you. When the Exorcist catapulted itself forward with a flick of its shining wings, Sam ducked its sweeping grasp and slammed the sword into it as hard as he could in its passage. It was like swinging a baseball bat at a culvert. The impact rattled Sam's arm, sent him off of his balance. He kept ahold of the sword, but only barely. The fists of the Exorcist were a blur, one that Sam could only barely get out of the way of.

Gracelessly, he pushed himself first into the war room, then over the table which he kicked toward the Exorcist. It caught the flying table by ramming its fingers through it, then it ripped both hands in opposite directions, rendering the table to flinders. Sam hadn't intended to actually hurt the thing, though. Just use its distraction to get past it. And as the splinters and paper flew, so did Sam. He hurled himself through the door and stormed hard for the exit. What was he even going to do when he got out? He didn't know, but he didn't have time to think. He just had to GO.

The noise of static resounded behind him again, something that had cadence and rhythm that he hadn't the time nor mental-bandwidth to dig into, but for him, there were only a few things left in all of existence worth worrying about. The fact that he couldn't pull a full breath. How many times he'd managed to get one foot in front of another. Where the door was. Where the stairs were. Another blast of static, and a shockwave of heat that hit Sam in the back, igniting his shirt in an instant. Beyond feeling like somebody had thrown a boot at his back, though, he was none the worse, so kept running.

There, the plasma cutter. He was almost out. He grabbed it as he ran, spinning to hurl it at the Exorcist. But the Exorcist was right there. A throw was aborted into a pirouette slam, using the intense density of the tool as a bludgeon against the Exorcist. It caromed off of the thing's head, striking a few sparks as part of its frame was eaten by the blaze of the halo, but for a wonder that did give a fraction of pause to the thing. Time enough for Sam to use his momentum to try to slam that sword into the Exorcist's neck.

The angelic weapon caught his hand as easily as a chilled frog, and immediately began to rotate its arm, dragging Sam's arm with it, until it was at a position that he couldn't hold the sword anymore. It clattered out of Sam's grasp. The Exorcist then bent further. Sam tried to move with it but the Exorcist's other hand clamped him in place so that he could do nothing as his forearm was first hyperextended, and then disarticulated. With a howl of pain drowning out the wet crunch and floppy tearing sounds of bone and sinew and muscle being ripped apart, Sam was hurled back by a shove of the Exorcist's other hand, rolling to stop in the dust of the hall just before the stairway landing. He turned his head, to a message left by the last man to do as he'd done.

For the love of Satan, Don't Let It Out.

"Now you tell me," Sam muttered, as he tried to pull himself to his feet. His right arm was a tattered ruin, bright red blood drizzling down from the savaged remains which was once his elbow. When he looked up, the Exorcist was stooping through the hatch, its wings tucked behind it. Red gore dripped from the hand in its grasp. Sam's hand, fingers still splayed. More red spattered the dress the angelic machine wore, but the blood didn't stay there long. Even as Sam backpeddled for all he was worth, he could see his blood evaporating off of the Angel Satin, leaving nothing left but pristine white. Even the dust was being burned away.

Again, a tone of static. But this time, with Sam's back to the rail, he had no plans, no thoughts on what to do next, but he did have an odd notion. That static sounded like an internet modem from way back when. He didn't have time to think about what that meant, because with a cast of the thing's hand, there was another shockwave that shook the Hotel, one that impacted Sam in the chest to another strangulation of breath. Air he didn't have was forced out of his lungs, and the small of his back smashed through the rail of the stairway. Because of that, he had no opportunity to shout with alarm, as he began to drop down the open middle of the stairway. He did manage to grunt with pain a few times as his shoulders, hips, or back clipped one of the landings on his way down, before he landed with a cruel crunch on his right side. Blinding pain worked its way up and into his eyes, and he flopped off of that now utterly mangled side and promptly vomited from pain. He only allowed one upchuck before he clamped his throat and dragged himself to a limp, though. Because that horrible white light was beginning to descend.

Husk was annoyed. Angel Dust could tell he was annoyed, and yet he couldn't bring himself to leave the cat-bird-demon alone. It'd been days since Cherri had talked to him. Days since that nearly-hopeless plan got put into his head. And now he just had to sit and stew with it. So he did what he usually did when he was wound up and in need of relief. He slutted around.

"I will pay you a hundred souls just to go fuck off somewhere else," Husk said gruffly.

"Oh, don't be a tease," Angel Dust said. "You know you want a piece of this! Everybody does!"

"Dear God, strike me down now. Just make it quick so I'm somewhere that ain't here," Husk dryly implored with his eyes tilted upward.

"Come on! Once you try it you won't be able to stop," Angel promised, waggling his hips. Husk looked utterly unmoved.

He opened his mouth to say something dry, but there was a crash that sounded in the hotel, followed a second later by the trademark thud of a body hitting the ground very, very hard. "What the shit was that?" Husk asked, immediately disregarding Angel as unimportant. Which stung a bit, sure, but even Angel was pulled to that sound.

"...uuuUCK!" Sam's voice came from the passage that lead to the stairway. The two fuzzy demons in the lobby shared a look, all of the pretense of their earlier flirting – and stolidly not flirting, as the case may be – forgotten. There was a moment of quiet, then another door being kicked open, followed by a howl of pain. "FUUUUUUCK!"

"That ain't good," both Angel Dust and Husk managed to say at the same time. Husk reached behind the bar and pulled out a double-barreled shotgun. Which was bullshit, 'cause Angel knew for a fact that there was no gun back there. He'd looked. Husk moved to the door to the passage, pushing the free-swinging door open with his gun. It took less than a second for Sam to lurch into sight, covered in blood on his right side. His shirt was reduced to burnt tatters, but this was the one and only time that Angel Dust did not allow himself to drink in that lean physique, because of the sheer state of him. His right arm stopped at the elbow, with ragged streams of meat and skin dangling from a grisly injury. His left eye blazed with yellow light. The other one looked like it had been crushed by a blow to the head.

"Run!" Sam croaked, as he started to limp toward them.

"Whoa buddy, what happened to you?" Angel said, rounding Husk.

"RUN!" Sam howled, as his right eye finally reconstituted itself, and started to blaze yellow.

Behind him, a cold white light began to paint the walls. Just at the sight of that, both of the old Damned by the door took a step back. No. Impossible. The next purge was most of a year away! This couldn't be happening!

"Son of a bitch that's an Exorcist," Husk said, putting that shotgun to his shoulder. No sooner had he made the declaration than there was a blast of static, and the white-clothed form of the exterminator-angel rounded the corner. In its hand was a skeletonized arm. Sam's. It pointed at them all with that burning limb, the digital face fritzing and sparking. Sam ducked low and Husk fired a spread of buckshot over him.

A snap of its wings forward cast dust and wind into the lobby, but the buckshot struck the outer surface of those wings. They didn't even penetrate a single feather.

Sam was already scrabbling forward, trying to get away from the ruin of many a poor Damned bastard, as it advanced at a hover through the halls. Angel wasn't going to be upstaged by Husk. He pulled out a pair of Barettas from Seven and Eight that he'd gotten made during his first year in Hell, replicas of his favorite gats back when he was alive. With cold-blooded precision, he emptied both magazines into the electric eyes of that thing. But each bullet was followed by a blur of movement by the Exorcist. When fourteen were down-range, the blurring stopped. The Exorcist then reached out and placed fourteen bullets onto the moulding that ran along the wall, before the limbs jerked back into neutral position. Damn it all, he should have put his Tommy in the Seven and Eight, however uncomfortable that would be.

"It's after me! Ru-uuugh!" Sam shouted, but was interrupted by the entire Exorcist blurring forward and driving its fist into his spine. Both of the old Sinners at the door parted, left and right, to let Sam fly past them. The angel's fist sparked and tried to glow, but couldn't. The Purgator Array didn't ignite. Husk and Angel shared a look.

"Its outta charge? They can run outta charge?" Husk said, slamming new shells into the shotgun. They only had a moment before it would do something grisly to them. Husk flapped his wings hard, hurling him backward in a dive and firing both barrels at the Exorcist as he did, coming to a halt flapping over where Sam was prone on the floor. As he did, Angel's many arms flew through the motions of reloading two guns at once, while also slamming the door in the angel's face.

That wouldn't hold it for more than a moment, but he'd take a moment. Where the hell were the dames? Or hell, he'd take the strawberry pimp right now!

He hadn't even taken his first step away when the door exploded off of its hinges, the shockwave of it lifting Angel Dust from his feet and hurling him onto Sam. While that was nice, Angel had a lot more momentum than to land gracefully on his lap, so instead impacted chest-to-chest and then bounced off. Angel found himself supine on the floor past Sam, having to look up to see the angel in the room. Another blast from two barrels, which the angel thoughtlessly winged away, followed by Husk hurling the shotgun at it. It bounced off of the thing's chest without causing so much as a twitch.

What did cause a twitch, though, was what Husk grabbed next. An anti-tank grenade he'd stashed in the chandelier. What in the everlivin' fuck was Husk doing with that thing? The answer became clear as he activated it with the ease of a combat-veteran and hurled the thing at the angel that advanced on them. Its wings snapped into place ahead of it, and the powerful charge hit, tripped, and detonated, blasting the room and knocking every portrait off of every wall, shattering the empty bottles Husk left on the bar, and causing part of the rug to catch fire, while hurling Sam into Angel's grasp.

"Where did...?" Angel began, but got no more out when the Exorcist's face fritzed again, and its head snapped to where Sam was in Angel's arms. And in that moment, Angel felt a new kind of dread. Oh hell, he was laying next to an Elemental with an Exorcist in the room. He didn't have long to fear that grisly end, though, because he felt a strong hand clamp on two of his wrists, and with Sam twisting his body for all he was worth, Angel was hurled toward the chaise-lounge in the moment it took for the Exorcist to launch itself – and since Angel was airborne, it had only one target. Sam.

The meaty impact of its fist into the flesh and bone of Sam's face echoed the room. Another grenade hit the Angel in the back, but this time, it was covered in a black, apparently sticky substance. When the Angel tried to flap the grenade away, it stayed stuck. And when it went off, several of the feathers were blown away, embedding themselves like knife-blades into the walls and the bar. The Exorcist turned from Sam toward the flying Sinner who had actually caused some trifling harm to it. Husk immediately dove to the floor as the Exorcist rammed itself up into the space which the cat-bird had once held. It ripped the chandelier from the ceiling and hurled it at Husk, scattering a bouquet of hand grenades as the thing shattered on the floor. Husk kept retreating, moving toward the bar.

The old man was quick on his feet when the Exorcist rounded and launched fists at him. Angel took the thing's distraction to grab the only of his handguns that was within reach, rolling to his side and firing seven-rounds-rapid at the back of its head. With mechanical precision and inhuman disregard, the wing intercepted each bullet, leaving them to land in a tiny crucifix pattern as a subtle fuck-you.

"Who set the lobby on fire? That is so very against the rules!" Niffty's voice hit the air. Angel leaned hard, and saw her glaring hard at the Exorcist as though she were going to order it to put the fire out. Did that chick seriously not know what an Exorcist was? Wasn't she almost as old as he was? "Don't you give me that face. You put it out this instant!"

The Exorcist continued forward, trying to brush past her and reach Husk, who was now digging into the back of the bar. Oh wait a minute, was he going into that locked drawer that Angel could never quite get into?

"It's very rude to ignore people when they're talking to you!" Niffty said, and kicked the thing in its floating shin. Which proved that even if she wasn't ignorant, she was absolutely batshit insane. It answered by lashing down with one hand, clamping it hard around her neck and dragging her up to eye-level, continuing to stare at Husk. And it started to squeeze.

"Harder!" Niffty exclaimed, her grin growing wider, and her pupil narrowing to a pinprick.

Whatever was coming next was interrupted by a blast of golden light, as new fire entered the room, Sam rising out of his crater to slam into the Exorcist with such force as to actually turn it from its course slightly. With one mangled arm and one complete one, he grabbed hard at the wrist of the Exorcist, and bent until finally it had to either release Niffty or pop one of its fingers out of its joint. It chose to drop Niffty. And then, its head snapping toward Sam, it slammed its halo down into Sam's face at eye-level, burning him and drawing a howl of pain, before grabbing Sam's left arm at the shoulder, twisting, and ripping.

Like pulled-pork coming apart, his shoulder separated and his arm was hurled into the window of the boss's girl's office, shattering it. With Sam's only remaining arm gone, the Exorcist drove its fist into his face, then his torso, then his guts. The third donutted him, the fist emerging out the other side covered in burning gore. With a flick of its mechanical arms, Sam was hurled to the floor near the entrance, unable to hold his innards in, and blinded by the burns across his face.

But he bought Husk enough time to finish his preparations. With a heavy metallic thunk, he dropped an M60 Machine Gun's bipod onto the bar, rammed the charging handle back, and then let fly with a wall of lead. The Exorcist turned to Husk again, for a moment trying to swipe the bullets out of the air. But there was an incredible difference between firing fourteen rounds in three seconds, and the blizzard that came from the mouth of the war-machine before him, a rate of no less than ten bullets every second, second after second. The Exorcist stopped swiping the bullets and simply held its wings forward, cocooning itself from the withering fire. Not a single bullet fired missed the angel that hovered in the room. "ANGEL!" Husk roared. "GET YOUR SAGGY ASS OVER HERE!"

"Oh yes sir," Angel said, grinning despite himself, running toward the source of that fire. When he reached Husk's side, he could see that the long chain of ammunition feeding into the gun was about to run out. He didn't need instruction. He just grabbed the next chain and got it ready to feed. The instant the first chain was depleted, Husk had the thing open, the next being laid. Like he'd done this hundreds of times before. It slammed shut on Angel's fingertips, but they'd managed to reload the machine gun in just over one second, just as the Angel was opening its wings. Then, another roar of fire, and it was driven back again under the weight of lead and velocity.

"What are you doing in the hotel with..." Vaggie demanded with furious indignation, charging out of her office, now that the soundproofing window was broken and she could hear what was going on outside. Her words – and the indignation with them – obviously died in her throat when she saw an Exorcist in the center of the maelstrom, only barely being suppressed by a machinegun, and Niffty ignoring the threat against her life to pick up shrapnel from the grenades going off. She would see Sam, laying with his guts on the floor. And she saw Angel Dust pulling a big-ass rifle from the side of the drawer that Husk never let him into. A gun-drawer. That Husk never let him play with until now. What a killjoy.

Angel didn't even bother doing any of the fancy sniper-shit that such a gun as this required to be truly effective. He didn't need to. He could practically put its barrel against the target. He just rammed the bolt forward, and fired an anti-materiel round into the wings of the angel. A feather was knocked loose, and the Exorcist recoiled from the impact. An actual hit. Another round into the chamber. Another ruinous blast, which Vaggie backed away from, horror clear on her face. It took the Exorcist square in the chest, jerking it back slightly, enough to make its feet swing slightly under it. He prepared another shell, but by the time he looked up, he saw the electric face flick a particularly gruesome grin. Then, a strike of its wings, outward, blew all three on this side of the room into the back wall, causing the machine-gun to finally miss a few bullets as Husk was blown back with it. Angel's rifle likewise only stayed in his hands because he had so many of them. He tried to get it on target again, but with a pop of a large thing very briefly traveling at the speed of sound, the Exorcist was through the bar – shattering it in the process – and tearing the gun from Angel's hands. With a twist of its elbows, it folded the rifle into a right angle, before hurling the gun at Husk and hitting him in the mouth with it, preventing another enfillade of fire.

As Angel tried to get away, he felt it grab two of his hands, and crush. He didn't scream, because he was too busy and too terrified to, he just leaned hard, planting a boot against the thing's chest and heaving. It heaved opposite, and with a blinding pain, Angel Dust felt two of his arms get torn out at the root. With the Exorcist no longer holding Angel in place, his boot then served to launch him onto his back in the middle of the burning lobby floor. Niffty was beating out flames with a small broom. He looked at his right side. He only had one right arm. Only one.

Vaggie burst back into the room, her harpoon in hand. Any languishing in pain that Angel Dust was planning on doing immediately fucking evaporated because that was literally the worst thing she could have done. "No you dumb bitch! Don't give it a w–" Angel screamed at her.

The glass head flicked toward her, allowing Husk to get his footing back, but when he tried to fire, the gun was jammed. It blurred toward's the boss's squeeze, and lashed out with a punch that landed with a sickening crunch inside the broad's face, staving in her one remaining eye. When Vaggie went down, it snatched the harpoon from her failing grasp. It immediately turned to Husk once more, thrusting with the jerkiest of motions to impale the old Sinner. Husk only just barely managed to get the bulk of the M60 into the harpoon's path; the Exorcist still cut the gun in half, but because of the minute deflection it missed its target on the other side of it.

Well that was it. It had a proper weapon now. They were all done. Or so Angel thought in that moment of despair, before there was a loud electric pop that resounded in the lobby. Standing at the tip of the only consistent shadow in the room, at the door into Vaggie's office, there stood the Radio Demon, already most of the way into his War Form. "Well isn't this a nice surprise?" Smiles said, his grin utterly immobile as the sound came out. As soon as he spoke, the Exorcist's head snapped toward Alastor, and it left Husk behind it. It hefted the harpoon, then launched itself at the Radio Demon. But the closer it came, the longer it had to travel. Angel's brain hurt a little trying to parse how the distance between the angel and the demon kept expanding, growing to miles and leagues before the Exorcist finally lost momentum, coming to a halt. Then, with a snap, the distance collapsed again, leaving only a few feet between them.

Alastor held up a hand, scarlet symbols appearing in the air, and the Exorcist began to slow, as though it were being unfastened from time. Angel started to crawl toward his cast-off arms, slowly and arduously, because it was really fucking painful to move. The angel's face flicked to an image of an arrow broken, then an arrow whole, and it lashed out with a sweep of the harpoon at full speed. Alastor warded it aside with his cane, with emitted a blast of static when it was struck, static not just to the ears but to the eyes as well, blurring Alastor's position to the point where he looked like a smear, so that when the Exorcist's almost instantaneous follow up came, it wafted straight through the blob of Alastor and emerged on the other side of it. With a crackle of radio static, Alastor emerged from the smear and made a flourish, as more symbols appeared around him, densely packing the space around him, as the space around the angel began to rot and crumble. Not the walls, or the floor. The space itself.

"Can you beat this thing?" Husk shouted at it.

"Of course not! Don't be foolish!" Alastor offered with a laugh. An instant later, the angel tore its way out of the rotting space and slammed the harpoon into Alastor, only to have him explode into grey dust. Angel caught a glimpse of a pair of shoes beside his wounded side. Alastor was standing there, now, somehow. "There are only nine beings in all of Hell who could destroy an Exorcist, one against one, and for the moment I am not one of them!"

"Then what do we do?" Husk asked, rounding the ruin of the bar, as the angel drifted forward, eyes on Alastor. And that meant it was moving toward Angel Dust again. Well shit.

"I can't defeat this beast, but I don't have to, now do I?" Alastor asked. He clenched his fist, and black tendrils reached down from the ceiling to intercept the angel as it made another launch at him. With a flick of his wrist, the tendril slammed the Exorcist against the ceiling, breaking the other chandelier and causing its payload of explosives to rain down, thankfully unprimed. There was a deep, meaty cutting sound, and the tendril dropped, exploding into a viscous black tar on the floor, leaving the Exorcist no longer contained. It hurled the harpoon at Alastor, and the Radio Demon actually had to lean out of the way to not get lanced by it. Followed an instant later, the Exorcist exploded forward, intent on smashing the two of them to a pulp. The blow struck Alastor, but not to the ruinous tone of metal crushing meat and bone, but instead to the sound of a loud heartbeat. The Exorcist struck again. Another loud heartbeat. Alastor took a step back, a flourish in his hands as he ducked the third punch, though a heartbeat still sounded when he did.

Angel Dust tried to get away from the Exorcist which was right fucking there, but he didn't get a change to before the Exorcist idly side-stepped so that it could stomp hard on Angel's head, driving it face-first into the floorboards. A second one broke his nose and cracked the wood. A third one had him spitting out a couple of teeth. It then spun fast, before driving a kick into Angel's ribs that launched him across the room, depositing him only two yards away from where Sam was pulling his guts back into place using an arm that ended at the elbow. His hair wasn't yellow anymore. It was turning blue.

Angel lay at the foot of that crater for a moment, soaking in the pain of the worst beating he'd ever taken since he landed in Hell most of a century ago. Part of him just wanted to lay down. Be done. But goddamn it, he had his pride. And he wasn't gonna be upstaged by some red-suited glitterati. He tried to push himself up. And he failed to. The air was heavy. The room shook with blows thrown and not landed. Reality was rotting. Worms with the faces of men began to eat through the fabric of the Hotel and of Hell Itself, leaving in their wake an eye-watering beyond-black void. Angel Dust wasn't the religious type, but he could easily have sworn he was watching the end of the world.

The chunk of airship was rotted at its edges, despite being made of brass. Striker pulled it to his nose, taking a sniff. It held the scent of Powers From Outside, manipulated into a physical form, pressed against metal. Corruption was part and parcel for all things in Hell, but this was something that Striker had very little experience with. He began and ended with the Dichotomy. But that didn't say he knew nothing about Powers From Outside.

The landfill on the east edge of Pentagram City was piled high with the ruins of many gang wars, forming layers like stone strata in the gorges of Wrath. To dig down in the trash-heap was to go back in time. And he needed a particular strata to know what he was dealing with. A ruined airship was a good start. He dumped the piece into a sack, and dragged them to where he had the landfill's supervisor hanging from a ruined plane's wing. "Alright, I got what I needed. So how about you and I have a little confab. These bits? Where'd you get 'em?"

"Fuck you, you pig-fuckin' Wrath spawn!" the man said. Striker chuckled, and then quickdrew and fired his pistol into the man's foot. He howled as the extremity exploded off, greying and dissolving into dust.

"Now let's not be uncivil. All I want is a bit of information, and you give me that... I'll even let you keep your other foot. Where did you get this scrap from, again? And be real, real specific," Striker said, with a cobra's grin.

He felt his eye coming back into being before he could see out of it. That gave him time to haul his innards back in. It wasn't easy, and it was easily the most painful thing he'd ever had to do in his entire existence – and he had experience with being actively butchered! – but he finally managed to get them to the point where he could feel his body pulling itself back together under its own damnation. To be a Sinner was to endure, no matter how ridiculous the injury.

"Fuck me... we're done for," Angel's voice was slurred and wet. But considering how hard the Exorcist hit, it wouldn't surprise Sam if the spider-demon was missing quite a few of his teeth right now.

"Get Vaggie and Niffty," Sam rasped, coughing out blood that felt like it was about to catch fire inside of him. The puncture in his lung was closed, but the blood remained. "Get them out of the Hotel."

"What are you plannin' to do?" Angel demanded of him, slurred and inexact.

"Just get them out," Sam said. He didn't have a plan. Just get the people who couldn't fight away from those who could. Then, with a weird, searing sensation, he could see out of one of his eyes. Under most circumstances, he would have immediately regretted that, having to weather the overwhelming information of Alastor's runes of power slamming directly into his brain. But at the moment, he was beyond pain. He just needed to get them out.

With a lurch, Sam got a foot under him, then a stagger, holding his stomach in with his one remaining forearm. He had very little to work with, but it'd have to be enough. Angel was going for Niffty, who was still cleaning as though this were normal and not catastrophic. That left Vaggie, who was writing on the floor clutching her partially staved-in face in her hands. Sam started to hobble, then run, around the melee between the Exorcist and the Radio Demon that took up a lot of space in the middle of the lobby, intending to scoop the woman up with his half-of-an-arm and drag her to the doors. He was stopped when his foot went through the floor in a weakened spot. The Exorcist turned its head toward him, almost staring straight backwards to do it, and the rest of its body rotated to turn attention to Sam. Fuck, why now?

"Ah ah ah! Don't neglect your dance partner!" Alastor chided with his heavily static-infested voice, his radio-dial eyes glowing gold. He gave a full-armed swing of his cane into the side of the thing's head. Despite a lack of bulk on Alastor's part, the impact sent the Exorcist several yards to the side, and when its face flicked on again, it was locked on Alastor. Just get Vaggie out. He heaved himself out of the hole and managed one step before he flopped onto his face – hard. He glanced back to find a chunk of wood two fingers thick impaling his calf. He hadn't even felt it go in. It didn't matter. He started crawling as fast as one leg and half an arm could manage.

Instinct told him to roll to his side, and because of that instinct the boot of the Exorcist crushed a floorboard instead of Sam's face. Another sizzling sensation and the other half of Sam's vision cleared, his eye finally restored. And he could see that he was within arm's reach of Vaggie's harpoon, still embedded in the floor. He hurled himself away from it, which was wise because the Exorcist's next move was to rip it out of its place and slash with it. And if that thing hit him, he would not be bouncing back from it.

"I hope you're not just being defiantly peppy, Samuel! Because our dance-partner can take two at once!" Alastor's heavily distorted words sounded almost like a warning. Sam hooked his arm under Vaggie's armpit and started to drag, getting her to the edge of the room at the very least, out of the ruinous web of Seraphic Steel that the Exorcist was now trying to lash out at Alastor with. The Radio Demon managed to stay out of their path, but there was something tight and brittle about the grin on its jagged-toothed face. As though he were tiring. Or that he knew something worse was coming.

Another heave, and this time Vaggie let out a shout of pain and punched him in his only-mostly-healed ribs. "Its Sam!" he shouted wetly, having to cough up more blood as he did. How much of it was in his lungs?

"I can't see!" Vaggie exclaimed the obvious.

"Just get out. Get out of the Hotel! The others are out there..." Sam said.

"And what will you do?" she demanded, glaring somewhere to his right.

"...Die, I guess?" Sam said. He honestly didn't have a plan for what to do after everybody was out. But getting everybody to safety felt like a goal in and of itself. It might be shitty, but what wasn't here in Hell?

"Sam..." she sounded more annoyed than in pain or afraid.

"It's after me and Alastor, not you!" Sam said with another cough. This time, the blood was on fire as it came out. Weird.

"Partner swap!" Alastor called. He glanced, and saw that the Exorcist had turned toward him, leering with its electrical face. In its hand, the harpoon flicked into a more aggressive posture, pointed at him. Red, mind-pounding runes flit around Alastor, as he tried to pull its attention back to him, but for the moment, it only had eyes for Sam. No. He was not going to get somebody else killed. He pushed himself as far up as he could, surprised that his other leg obeyed him. He didn't see how the wood impaling him had erupted into fire and burned away over the course of seconds. And he didn't see how his hair, and his eyes now had an electric blue hue. Just get it away from Vaggie. Its wings twitched, and then it flapped, hurling itself at Sam.

Nobody who mattered was going to die today. Not as long as he was still standing. The Exorcist's advance, despite its incredible speed, seemed to slow. He couldn't make a jump away. It was going to hit him. And he couldn't brace against it, because half an arm wasn't nearly enough. It loomed, growing larger, blazing with cold white light, until it was all he could see, his all of creation now the eight feet between him and the Exorcist. Seven feet. Six. Five.

His eyes drifted shut for a moment, as he felt calm amidst the rage. This time, at least, he'd die with some sort of meaning.

You know what?


Fuck that.

There was a slam that sounded in the hotel, as the Exorcist and Sam impacted each other. The point of the harpoon loomed in front of his chest, straining and wavering. Held back by an arm that was made of solid white flame, that had erupted from Sam's ruined left shoulder. The floorboards were ripped up all the way from the impact-point to the wall that the Sam was pressed against. He was holding it. But for all his defiance, for all his rejection of another pointless death, the Exorcist kept pushing that point closer. Closer.

And then it was piercing his skin. Sam heaved hard, briefly dragging it out, only for a redoubling of effort by the Exorcist to get the tip into his chest a second time, lower, near the diaphragm. And this time, Sam's defiance paled before desperation, and both of those paled before the Exorcist's inexorable purpose. Another blast of noise from the Exorcist, that modem-startup from the turn of the twenty first century. Only this time, it ran longer. As though a connection had been made, only to fail at the last moment.

The pain was so much like being butchered alive, but this time there was weight to his injuries. The stab-tract felt more real than the rest of him, and the blood that pressed out around the shaking harpoon made him feel cold. It was tearing him. Cutting away at a piece of his identity, severing the soul that was his body from the part of him that controlled it. It felt like losing hope. It felt like dying.

And then he heard song.

No, not heard. He felt it. It ran through him like the feeling of rain coming over the horizon. It shook him like wondrous dread. He turned, and he saw that Charlie had finally returned from her meeting with her banker. She saw the Exorcist in her hotel. Harming her people. Her transformation was almost instant, the blond hair parting to emit two massive red horns, her eyes instantly becoming blood-hued and savage. Razzle and Dazzle outright evaporated, leaving her suitcase and a bag of groceries to flop onto the floor, their forms streaming into her arms and becoming something like vambraces or gauntlets.

Not even movement, and she was directly at the Exorcist's back. Her long, clawed hands grabbed it across the face and by its arm; with a massive heave the harpoon was ripped from Sam's injury and the Exorcist was bodyslammed so hard into one of the black marble pillars that the two of them carried on straight through it and impacted into the one beyond it. Sam fell to his knees as Charlie ripped the harpoon out of the Exorcist's grasp and hurled it so hard into the pillar across the lobby that it embedded half of its length into it. Then she grabbed its head and started to twist. The modem sound hit again, starting, its middle, and connection again. A connection made, competely.

And Charlie changed. Her horns burned away, her hair no longer gold but white. Her pale skin began to blast out white light just like the Exorcist did, and her clawed hands grew longer, stronger. Her body swelled and extended. She gained almost half a meter of height, her shoulders almost doubling in width to the sound of tearing clothing. Then, there was light. It was light of all colors and none, as the Exorcist tried desperately to throw her off, until she was clinging to its back. Her suit was torn to tatters, but her grip was absolute and as inexorable as the Exorcist itself. There was a flicker on its face, its visage disappearing, as Charlie embedded her now bare feet into the floor and tightened her grip around the thing's halo and head, fingers now digging into the surface of its crown.

The face of the Exorcist flickered to a message just for a moment. Charlie? Is that you?

Then, with a deeply unfeminine grunt, she finished ripping. The halo, and the head under it, was torn apart from crown to neck. A blast of white, cold flame shot out of the Exorcist. Then, the whole thing tipped forward and landed on the floor, utterly inert. It was empty inside. Like a living suit of armor. Charlie slumped a bit, breathing deep, as the light she blasted out receded, and her a hair returned to its original color. "Whew. That was a doozy," she said with a depleted smile on her face. She then swept the room. "Is everybody okay?"

"I'm afraid not," Alastor said. His form too was returning to its more normal shape, but unlike Charlie, his suit wasn't left a tattered shambles, even after the fight. The two of them looked to Sam, Alastor's smile looking... awfully sad.

Sam, who could do nothing, and say nothing, took that opportunity to collapse, and his life-blood begin to emit a great pool around him.

Run from the Exorcist, or Die by them

-Basic Common Sense