And I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced that the art of deception
I could tell by her blood-stained hands
- The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
Christie left the house before any of the others had woken up the next morning. She left a note saying that she had gone out looking for work. She knew they would believe it. They wanted to believe it.
She didn't bother to take the car. It wasn't a large town, and the cold didn't bother her any more, despite her hunched form and misted breath. Her fingers numbed, turned red and raw, but she didn't flinch. She just shoved them into the pockets of her jacket and walked on, trying to ignore the feeling of something watching over her shoulder.
The only motel in the area was a Super 8. There were no customers. She wandered for a while, watching for the license plate on the cars parked along the streets, eyes flashing from one car to the next, her attention never dulling.
Finally, she stopped at an intersection, scowling. Her eyes flickered around each street, and she spat a curse under her breath. Then, slowly, as if being pulled up by invisible strings, she straightened up to her full height and shut her eyes.
For a moment, she stood motionless. Then she felt the Worms begin to writhe. She flinched for a moment, and they shrank back, into the deep places where they hid when she didn't want them and couldn't keep them down - but then her expression set again, and they returned.
"All right," she breathed, voice catching in her throat for a moment. "Show me."
It took all of her effort not to scream when they slid into her eyes.
The house was exactly like every other one on the street, so far as most people were concerned: a simple white two-story with a small garden in front, full of bright flowers. To her, there was more.
There was a small decorative stone set into the path leading up towards the front door. It said, in large, ornate lettering, ROMANS 6:13. And, set under that, an inscription of a small cross, surrounded by two triangles.
Ahead of her, the house throbbed with power. The sharp trill of it sent an involuntary shiver down her spine. Her ears ached as she was deafened with unheard music with every step she took towards the building. But she didn't stop.
Some part of her - of her own personal Hyde - made her fingers twitch towards the knife in her jeans pocket. There would be others in the house, she knew. They weren't threats, not directly. But she had been in too many fights to underestimate the usefulness of even an amateur to run interference - or a warm body to put in the way of danger. And she couldn't have them watching. It would be so much simpler to just remove them before it started. Then she would have hours with the Trumpeter.
She moved her hand away again, and started to circle around the house. Second floor window, right next to the drainpipe, with the shed as an alternate means of access. Flimsy wooden frame, would splinter under-
The door opened, and a brown-haired, mousy-looking woman peered out. "Hello, dear," she said sweetly. "Are you lost?"
Christie blinked. After a moment, though, she rasped, "No. I'm... looking for a friend." Her eyes flickered towards the windows.
The woman blinked in return. Then comprehension dawned, and the smile reappeared. "Oh, of course," she said, still in the same bright tones. "You must be Christie. Naomi told us you'd be coming by."
Warning bells went off in her head. Paranoia sprang into life and sniffed the air. She turned herself away slightly, looking sidelong at the woman. "She did?"
"Oh yes," confirmed the woman, nodding. "I'll tell her you're here. She said she'd come out to meet you."
The door shut.
For a few seconds, she pondered running, trying another time. Some snarling little voice in the back of her mind made her stand her ground, fingers wrapped tightly around the knife, until she heard the door open again.
She looked up, into the tight, businesslike face of Naomi Deeds. The Trumpeter was wearing her usual gray business suit, with a simple heavy coat thrown over it to keep off the chill. She was nearly a foot taller than Christie, but still peered down at her over the top of her glasses.
She stayed well out of arms reach. Instinctively, Christie began to shuffle in circles around the Trumpeter, keeping the distance while orbiting her position slowly. Deeds watched her as if she was appraising her. Christie could feel the woman's eyes running over her skeletal body, taking stock. Every time that Christie was about to step into a blind spot, she turned once, smoothly, keeping her in sight.
After nearly a full minute of silence, Deeds cleared her throat sharply and said, "So you've come to kill me."
Christie shook her head, and a small, sharply-curved grin appeared on her features. "No," she whispered. "I came for information. The rest is just a bonus."
Deeds pursed her lips slightly, looking disapproving. "Oh, do stop that," she snapped, as she turned again. "It's ridiculous. You can't touch me now, despite your delusions to the contrary. I wouldn't have come out to talk to you otherwise."
Christie barely heard. Her eyes were fixed on the graceful curve of the woman's neck - specifically, on the beating vein there, as if she couldn't stop herself from watching with a predator's obsessive expression on her face. It was almost hypnotic, the way it pulsed so rhythmically. The unheard music in her ears seemed to drum in time to it. But it was slow, steady, calm. There was no sign of nervousness.
She lifted her eyes and muttered, "So what do you want to talk about?" She didn't stop circling. Her grip tightened on the knife again.
"I'm here to help you," answered the Trumpeter flatly. "If you will let-"
She answered with a sharp, brittle laugh, sounding almost as though she had been kicked. "Then come away with me where we don't have so many people watching," she grated. "And you can help me there."
There was a brief sound of disapproval from the Trumpeter. "I'm not that stupid," she answered. "Besides. I know what you're after already. And I want to give it to you."
Another barking, wheezy laugh. "You're an attack dog," she rasped. "You don't give anything."
Deeds' eyes narrowed. "I am a herald," she said, enunciating each word so sharply that each syllable cut the air like a knife. "I am the voice of the Angel's will." She paused for a moment, her gaze shifting to something behind Christie, on the street. She nodded towards it. "That is an attack dog. Or, more accurately, a guardian angel."
Christie turned, just for a moment. There was someone standing in the middle of the street, watching them. They were tall, and broad, with large, powerful, calloused hands - but their face was obscured by a hood, and she might have seen a glimpse of a mask underneath.
There was so much power concentrated there that her eyes ached with even that momentary glimpse. She could almost feel her ribcage rattling with the lyrical thumping of it.
She gritted her teeth and turned back. Deeds was smiling, a prim, bright little smile. She hated the sight of it. Her fingers tightened on the knife again, beginning to draw it out. Deeds' gaze flicked downwards, towards her hand, and then back up, and she shook her head once.
"Don't try it," was all she said for a moment. She watched Christie, still smiling, obviously enjoying the way that she was in control of the conversation. Then she said, "You want to destroy the Angel."
Christie nodded grimly.
"But you also want to 'rescue' your friends from it," Deeds went on, sounding almost bored. "But, to do that, you need a way to get to them. And that means that you need a conduit to the Angel's power. Which, for all of your impotent rage, you don't know how to find. And so you want to torture it out of me."
She reached into her coat and withdrew, held between perfect, manicured fingernails, an envelope. "I think I'll deny you that particular pleasure," she said smoothly. "But I will make you a deal. I am very good at those." She held the envelope out towards Christie. "Run a few errands for me," she said, her voice a satisfied purr now, "and I'll give you the information you want."
Christie eyed the envelope suspiciously for a moment, then snatched it out of the taller woman's hand with a snort. "I don't-"
"I'll send you the next one when this is finished," interrupted the Trumpeter. She turned on her heel and set off back towards the house, smiling to herself. Christie watched her turn away -
- and felt the hate bubbling up from inside, all the hate she had for them and their servants and the way they treated her as though she was worthless and unimportant, just something to be toyed with and discarded. The Worms shot to the surface. Her hand drew the knife from her pocket, flicked it open, shot forward. Her legs coiled for the sprint forward and
music as loud as reality
hands around her arms
a memory of pain
When she awoke, it was night, and she was lying on her bed in the Recovery House, with the envelope carefully set on the bedside table.