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Candice couldn't tell how many of her fingers had been broken: more than two, at the very least. The pain in her hands fought with the ache in her side and the raw fear in her heart as she saw her giggling assailant move closer. She had fought, but the man had just laughed and threw her into the alley's walls as easily as she could throw a tennis ball. Her throat was too bruised to scream or even shout. She could see her death in his eyes. Prayer was the last refuge left to her, and she doubted that it would block out her coming ordeal. She began to whisper words to her God anyway as her attacker closed in.

Over his shoulder she saw several more people approach. It would seem that her night had just gotten infinitely worse.

The giggling in front of her was abruptly cut off as the lead figure casually picked up Candice's assailant and literally pushed him into the wall. Gritty dust from the pulverized bricks coated the girl as her snarling assailant broke the hold and settled into a fighting stance. Candice closed her eyes and curled into a ball as horrible sounds of flesh striking flesh erupted around her.

Then … the sounds stopped. And a gentle hand was carefully checking her body for injuries.

She opened her eyes to see a concerned man looking at her shattered hand. Off to one side, several figures were gathered around the wall. There was no sign of her assailant.

"Careful, dear. You've got some nasty sprains there."

Sprains? I saw those fingers bent back… but they seemed merely swollen now, and the ache in her ribs was fading even as she struggled to stand up. A dimly seen woman started to walk over even as Candice attempted to speak (and found, to her surprise, that her voice seemed only mildly strained).

"Thank … thank God you came. He wouldn't stop, he just kept following me, and I took a wrong turn and the next thing he had just taken my hand and twisted … and I kept asking him why, and he just kept laughing…"

"Hush, dear. You'll be…" At this point, the woman interrupted the healer.

"Excuse me, Ranj. I have to check." The man shuddered and closed his eyes as the woman leaned over to catch Candice's eyes. The woman wasn't pretty, but the icy perfection of her vaguely Oriental features would have caused most men to call her beautiful … if it wasn't for the ugly scar that graced one cheek. Candace tried to close her eyes and couldn't.

"So. Said a nasty thing to your mother last Tuesday, but on the other hand you donate ten hours a week to a homeless shelter. All in all, I'd say we can let you go." The woman leaned back, her eyes sparkling at the rosary spilling out of Candice's pocket. "Most definitely, we let you go." Candace found the courage to speak at that point.

"Who are you? Are you policemen?" At that, laughter arose from the woman and several of the figures turned away from whatever they were doing to grin at Candice.

Each face she had seen sported the same scar as on the woman, except for - she quickly looked over - the man called "Ranj" who had checked her hand. He stood aside, gnawing his lip and looking at the clustered figures with a mixed look of revulsion, sick fascination and guilty satisfaction. The scarred woman laughed anew at his expression and shook her head.

"Not precisely, girl, and certainly not anymore. You could have called us…" the woman paused to think, "border guards. Yes, that's the closest phrase in this language. Border guards. But not anymore

"And, for what we do now… Look." The woman extended a hand to point. Candice's eyes followed and she suppressed an urge to vomit. The figures had stepped aside to reveal her assailant, affixed to the wall with oddly colored spikes. Blood flowed from his arms, legs and mouth, but the man, incredibly, still struggled, his eyes blazing with hate as his tormentors stropped their knives.

The woman turned Candice's head gently but irresistibly. "First cut, girl? You've earned it."

Ranj stepped up quickly. "Her name is Candice, Mirel, and no, she doesn't want 'first cut'. Do what you must, but do not drag her into it." The woman called Mirel looked mutinous for a moment, but her face smoothed and nodded.

"I keep forgetting that you cleave to purity in your own way, Ranj. Careless of me." Mirel's eyes turned back to Candice. "If you're not going to claim your right, girl, then you have no more business here. I suggest that you leave. This…" Mirel looked over at the struggling figure, and her voice became throaty.

"This is going to take some time. Ranj, why don't you escort Ms. Candice to somewhere more safe? We'll just start without you." The relief in Ranj's face was evident as he took the stricken girl's arm, leading her away from that terrible scene.

It wasn't until her rescuer found a cab for her that Candice finally locked eyes with Ranj and asked,

"Why?" Why was I saved? Why were they doing what I think that they're doing? Why are you with them?

Ranj looked at her solemnly. "Why? Because we were there to answer your prayers." His mouth quirked in a bitter, sour smile.

"Wasn't that nice of us?"

 

The Tsayadim are back. And they are not happy angels, even if they are no longer Outcast.

Of course, they never went away, really: for more than a thousand years, they lurked on the outskirts of celestial society, keeping true to their absent Superior's Word. But the world changed around them. The entire idea of Purity became passe, a joke, a synonym for hatred and intolerance. Once the proudest defenders of Heaven, the Tsayadim became distrusted, then Outcast, and finally marked for destruction when their existence stood in the way of a truce between the Host and the ethereal pantheons. A regretted destruction, of course, but the Servitors of Purity had no one to stand for them.

Then … they did, from the most unlikely of sources.

By the time of the Crusades, Novalis and Uriel were actively in opposition (no matter what rumors had said of them in happier times). Opposite methodology, opposite temperament, sheer elemental revulsion: any of all of these would have been enough for a lasting enmity. After Uriel's ascension to the Higher Heavens, the Archangel of Flowers truthfully never thought much of the Servitors of Purity, except to wish that they would come back to Heaven's embrace. But she would not countenance their destruction without one last attempt at reconciliation. So she went looking for them.

The story of the rescue is in itself epic. Novalis came among them as they prepared themselves to die for their Word. Not as a giddy schoolgirl or mystic wise-woman, but in her full glory as an Archangel, brimming with vitality that was almost painful in its intensity. The Tsayadim had not seen such intensity for a millenium. It kept them spellbound.

Then, Novalis began to speak. It is said that she spoke to every one of Uriel's remaining Servitors in that place, personally, debating with them in the privacy of their souls, attempting to convince them that their Word required them to live, not die. Or that they still had work to do, necessary work, that could only be done with the aid of their fellow angels. Or even that they were missed, and it was time to come home. This was a draining accomplishment, even for a Superior, and it strained her resources to the limit.

When she brought them back, Novalis frankly didn't know what to do with her new charges. She did her best to send them to Superiors who might find them useful, but finding proper places for them took time, and many didn't want to leave the Archangel of Flowers' service. It was a problem that Novalis worked on without a solution for quite some time, without a satisfactory solution.

Then came the Bad Time. Novalis was trapped, captured and spirited away by Leviathan. It took several days for this to be realized, and the Tsayadim cursed themselves for not protecting her better. Every single one of them left his or her assigned Superior's service, with or without permission, to gather and prepare for a hopeless assault on Hell to rescue her. They were actually starting out when David brought the battered, unconscious, scarred … and Malakite … Novalis out of the Caverns.

The Tsayadim, silent as the grave, looked upon the wounded Archangel who had saved them, and who they had failed to save. Each one took up his or her weapon and pledged to never fail her again in the only way they knew. They pledged with their blood. Every Tsayadim there carved a copy of the scar that disfigured Novalis on their own cheeks.

They knew their task now. Instead of their absent father, they now had a Mother that would watch their honor and let them serve both her Word and Uriel's. They would sweep the earth, hunting down those mired in evil, until their swords held Leviathan at bay long enough for Mother Novalis to come and finish things herself. The ethereals were beneath their notice, lesser impurities that would break apart of their own accord quite soon enough. The Tsayadim had better things to do with their time.

Tsayadim still remain Servitors of Purity, but now they prowl earth instead of the Marches. Strictly forbidden by their Mother to hunt those ethereals under truce with Heaven, they instead stalk and destroy those who actively prey on humanity. Usually, this means demons, but a rapist or serial killer that steps within range of a Tsayadim will be relentlessly hunted down and killed. The Tsayadim are cruel, but only to demons. Humans, if they must be killed, are killed cleanly. If they are damned, then Hell can be counted on to do a thorough job of punishment.

An interesting side effect occurred when the first squad of Tsayadim encountered and dispatched their first demon. They found, when they had finished carving up their quarry (a particularly nasty Calabim of Hardcore), that the ritualistic death of a demon could somehow serve as an invocation. The act of removing such a stain on the Symphony caused an angel of Novalis' new faction to spontaneously acquire a Choir Attunement … of Purity. It didn't work all the time: only when the sacrifice was a demon, and one that was truly vile, with the blood of countless victims staining its hands. With a little experience, any Tsayadim could detect a suitable candidate.

This led to the most controversial movement in Heaven since the Purity Crusade: the Hunt. Once a month, the Tsayadim gather, in groups of six or seven, with a suitable candidate for admission. They scour the earth for demons with the right prerequisites, find them, and soul-kill them. During the ritual, the candidate (if he or she has absolutely total commitment to what is being done) will be imbued with the appropriate Choir Attunement, rites and dissonance conditions of the Word of Purity. Sometimes, if the candidate does not work out, a Servitor Attunement will be gifted to one of the Tsayadim present. No Distinctions are ever provided, however. Some candidates who fail avoid the Tsayadim forever: others try again and again until they succeed.

The idea of angels performing ritual killings does not sit well with the Seraphim Council: the practice has been nearly banned at least three times. Those who support it point out that: only the vilest demons can make the ritual work; the Tsayadim apparently retain their immunity to Falling; and that Novalis herself has regulated the procedure.

The old Novalis would have fought this practice tooth and nail. The new Novalis is less squeamish … or perhaps it soothes some Malakite urge deep in her soul. Still, it is important that the Tsayadim do not go too far. She assigns a Watcher from her Traditionalist faction to watch over each Hunt party, having the final say whether the Hunters' violence is truly necessary or not. Most Traditionalists loathe this duty, but reluctantly accept it to keep the Tsayadim firmly onto their distasteful task and not rip through any random evildoer that they see along the way.

Still, few can handle more than one Hunt: being able to abstractly agree that violence against loathsome aggressors may be absolutely necessary is not quite the same thing as watching six angels smilingly rip the heart out of a demon. Even if the demon was a multiple murderer with a literal taste for children. However, Gardeners who can face what they do, despite being so obviously unsuited for the task, oddly impress the Tsayadim. Those that can stomach the Hunt on a regular basis, while still remaining true to the Word of Flowers, are prized. Fellow Traditionalists, who cannot see what the Watcher sees, and do not want to try, shun them. A good Watcher can be quite profoundly lonely, but none have yet Fallen. It is suspected that their repeated presence at the rituals gifts them with a limited link to Purity, but no one really knows.

Needless to say, the Hunt is the new bogeyman of Hell: current opinion differs on whether it's a worse Fate than getting targeted by the Order of the Eternal Sword. For the record, if the two ever fixate on the same target, the Order would probably let the Hunt have its prey. The Order would follow and make sure that the target was dead, of course, before informing Laurence that he could cross another demon off the List. Eluding the Hunt is grounds for respect among the Fallen: actually eliminating a Hunt Party (it hasn't happened yet) will probably be worth a Distinction. Most demons would rather not have the opportunity to try.