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[Open] The Forsaken World

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“That is an odd question to ask, when The Scribe of Truth offers you Insight without strings. In my experience most beings opt for something with a little more substance to it.”

 

Despite the aggravation that was slowly taking root over the topics the humans were deciding to pick at, the tension in Vaz’s shoulders began to ease a fraction as they contemplated this. They recognised that Jorath was perhaps, in a strange way, doing them a kindness by asking about something their new acquaintances would have soon realised on their own. With their conversation cut short by the return of the humans, Vaz hadn’t even had a chance to properly apologise for the stress of springing a Vow of Truth upon him. The fact that he had chosen not to drag out something unpleasant in retaliation was...

 

Well, maybe it wasn’t all that surprising when Jorath was involved. Jorath had a way of asking questions of Vaz that the Scribe found rather odd at times. Inane things, like what they did to recuperate, as opposed to the usual demands for the keys to power, wealth or wisdom that were expected from so many others that Vaz encountered. It was pleasant, sending a ripple of warmth through their core the as they took a moment to ponder it.

 

“Any time tonight, Eyeballs.”

 

Vaz blinked, realising that their silence had left Jorath to have to expand on the nature of demon creation on his own and shook their head to clear their thoughts.

 

“I have been said to be the embodiment of Truth, despite the implication I am merely it’s Scribe. I am therefore incapable of both speaking in lies or writing them.”

 

Announced the Scribe, in a manner that rolled off the tongue with such tired eloquence that it was clear they had said something of a similar nature many, many times. When their well-rehearsed reply had concluded  they were bombarded with replies from all three of the humans standing before them.

 

“Tell us the meaning of life!”

 

“Can you read our minds? Can you tell if I’m lying?”

 

“Wait how do we know you’re not just lying about the fact that you can’t lie?”

 

Vaz just smiled, a twinkle of mischief in their eye briefly breaking through the weariness and tension in their face. They took note of Zack’s reply in particular, who had pitched an interesting question of whether anything that Vaz had just claimed could actually be trusted, but the other two seemed to have glazed right over it. Perhaps if he kept showing little pearls of wisdom like that, Vaz could convince themself to grant him a small nugget of knowledge or two that he had always desired.

 

“Unfortunately my dears, Jorath has asked his question and it is no longer my turn. Perhaps in another round. Failing that I’m sure we can come to some other arrangement for my services.”

 

“You’re really not going to tell us anything juicy...?”

 

The fallen being pursed their lips in thought, reviewing the information that Jorath had provided them in regards to the names and origins of demonkind. They then shook their head, smirking a little into the remnants of their muffin when they heard Gregory grumble something to himself in disappointment before jumping in to harass Jorath with a question instead.

 

Drifting their gaze towards Jorath until their eyes met, the scribe had to admit that Gregory’s suggestion intrigued them as well. Come to think of it, until tonight Vaz had been under the impression that ‘Jorath’ was merely his human name, and therefore it didn’t have the same amount of weight and power to it that demon-granted names could hold. Strange, though, Vaz had been under the impression that Jorath had forgotten whether it had any meaning long ago. When they heard that his name meant ‘Chained’ they visibly faltered, a silent frown etching its way onto their features for a few seconds before they wrestled it back under control. 

 

Xaal had a very similar reaction to Vaz upon hearing the translation, twitching her neck around to stare at him with wide, sympathetic eyes. She briefly and unsuccessfully searched his form for the chain she had seen hooked around him earlier, now wondering what exactly was so special about it to have formed the basis for his name. When Jorath suddenly snapped back at the request to say something in his native tongue she startled into flight, quickly distancing herself from him by swooping onto Vaz’s shoulder instead. Vaz did flinch slightly at the abruptness of the sound, though they otherwise tried to remain stoic while their mind reeled with possibilities as to why he didn’t want to speak any of it. The scribe was of the opinion that is was quite a beautiful sounding language, or at least, it had the potential to be. A sad realisation struck them. The scribe only remembered hearing it when Jorath was under duress, whether it was after being struck in the midst of a brawl or when trying to suppress his more demonic instincts. Perhaps, Vaz reasoned, it was similar to their own relationship with aeiuwn. A language that they treated more as a tool to perform their incantations or a means of obscuring information from their infernal brethren. Casual use of it in conversation was otherwise...disheartening, sometimes.

 

Xaal fanned out her wings and brushed one lightly against Vaz’s neck and chin. It earned her an appreciative glance from the scribe, who recognised her concern for her new acquaintance despite his demonic nature. Vaz briefly signed that they would talk later and she dipped in agreement, before fluttering to the floor and returning to her humanoid form.

 

“Is this the same Museum with the Library on the bottom floor...?”

 

Inquired Vaz, perking up at the prospect of a history tour for Argia. Xaal, who was dusting the remains of celestial energy off her attire, also looked on in interest. Her wings were sheathed this time, and flicking up the indigo cowl that had been draped over her shoulders helped to obscure the gold in her eyes enough to pass for human. Vaz did a quick passing check on themself, tutting at the ink still drenching their clothing but otherwise confirming that they too, could currently pass for human.

 

“Very well, I have some business I would also like to attend to first in the Library, then. But I shall join you afterwards.”

 

With his numbers confirmed, David turned and ushered them all back up the stairs and into the cold of the night. Xaal was soon to drift to the front of the group, lining up alongside of their human guide and tapping wildly at the buttons on her phone to try and keep up the pace for a reasonable conversation with him. Vaz lingered further back, waiting until the two of them were engaged in a conversation about their favourite birds before they beckoned Jorath to their side for a chat. Xaal meanwhile glanced over her shoulder and motioned Argia towards her, trying to drag her into the same conversation.

 

“Jorath is a rather cruel name, is it not my dear?”

 

Vaz inquired, reasonably sure that their human companion wasn’t paying attention to them now but trying to keep some vague air of unfamiliarity to their tone.

 

“Would you not want your associates to call you something a bit more...dignified? I’m sure it could be arranged.”

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Argia

"Yeah, it is," David confirmed, only partially distracted by Xaal's return to a human shape. "So stinking cool," he mumbled beneath his breath, glimpsing the golden dust swirling across the ground as others moved about and stirred the particles. Refocusing, he said to Zack and Gregory, "I'll leave the truck here for you two in case it's needed or something. Museum's not that far to walk." Zack gave him a parting wave while Gregory honed in on a pastry.

 

Letting her wings conceal themselves into fabric, Argia strode closer to Xaal and David as the former gestured for her to join them. As she did, she took a glimpse at Jorath and Vaz, wondering about the thoughts in Jorath's head. The controlled stream of sensations and emotions she'd been filling since the union of their Realms became scant more than a muffled trickle. As if Jorath were clamping down on it to cut off as much as he could, but failed to severe it all entirely. She wondered if he could.

 

Turning her attention to the conversation between Xaal and David, she was presented with the question of what her favorite bird was. "That is a fair question." Did she have a favorite to begin with? "Perhaps, unsurprising, I am fond of crows." Grey eyes surfaced again in her thoughts, disappearing when she blinked. 

 

"Wait, crows?" David seemed to balk, doubt etched into his features. "But, why? Aren't they signs of--"

 

"Of death?" Argia finished, to which he nodded. She smiled faintly. "Yes, they are associated with death, being often the messengers or carriers of mortal souls. But they're also an entity of life and change. Balanced, as all things should be." She watched as he absorbed that insight, the doubt fading into something more pleasant. 

 

"So, if Xaal can transform into a Snowy Owl, does this mean you transform into something like a Red-Winged Blackbird or Starling?" David asked.

 

Argia paused. "No, I don't believe I have any such ability. I've never transformed into a bird," she replied.

 

David appeared mildly disappointed for a brief moment, replacing that with yet another smile. "Well, perhaps you have other abilities. Or, who knows? Maybe you can and you just haven't figured out how yet. You seem to only have two wings, after all, compared to the four wings Xaal and Vaz appear to have. Oh! What happens to the two smaller wings when you transform, Xaal?"

 

-

Jorath

He stuffed his hands into his pockets as they started walking, hedging towards Vaz at their beckoning. Ah, of course. His name. "Cruel? I suppose so. But then again... demons have a harsh way of making certain one never forgets something important." His gaze had drifted from Vaz to some destination ahead of their group. Eventually, Jorath shook his head at their question, keenly aware that it was also a subtle offer. For a moment, his chest felt tight. "'Jorath', is probably the kindest part of my name. Or, at least, I find it to be the most bearable." 

 

Shrugging slightly, he finally looked at Vaz again, a smile ghosting his features. "He died a very long time ago, Vaz," he said, alluding to his human name that he'd at last revealed several hours ago. Jorath trusted Vaz to catch on without issue. "I hold onto that name, not because of a foolish hope to use it again some day, but because there is no grave to rest it upon." 

 

Still, he frowned again, fingers brushing the piece of bone in his pocket. He'd almost forgotten it was there. "If I could, I would. But I have no other name. Title-less as I am, I doubt I've earned anything new. And, besides, one cannot remove an engraving in the metal." Strain tugged at his expression, easing a few breaths later. "However, if you manage to think up something else, I possibly might enjoy seeing what happens." 

 

Again, the Tag began to itch, this time more incessantly. He muttered out a curse at the thing, scratching into the fabric of his sleeve. "I get it, Mag'than," Jorath growled. "F***, doesn't he know what patience is?" He stretched his senses outward, feeling for his chain. Once he found its presence, a cold weight at the edges of his notice, he gripped it within his awareness. It would burn on Mag'than's arm, a biting sensation of intense heat. Immediately, the itching in Jorath's arm ceased and he smirked, satisfied with the Seeker's retreat. 

 

A moment after, with the museum coming into sight, Jorath felt exhaustion creep back into his body. "I don't want to intrude on you and your work, Vaz. However, would you be opposed to me following you to the library? Mag'than has something, I guess." Hopefully, it was Fi's journal.

 

[[Decided to split the POVs because I'm too lazy right now to blend them nicely.]]

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Xaal

 

At Argia’s response of ‘crows’ Xaal smiled, satisfied that she had guessed correctly based on the trends of her own Realm. She had known a few Collectors in her younger days, and fledging into a crow was the most common type of wings among them. Xaal could only recall two exceptions by face, a high-spirited nightingale and a fellow, but far more sombre owl that she would occasionally bump into during her assignments. 

 

‘Owls are similar. They can also mean death, or bad luck. But they are also wisdom and secrets.’

 

She glanced Argia up and down in thought, recalling the design of her wings and pondering if whether he was right about her being a red-winged starling. Xaal supposed that one could not always be sure about the avian counterpart of their wings until they first managed to transform, and even then she knew of a few individuals with unfamiliar designs. 

 

‘It does take a while for some angels to learn to shift. Maybe you too, one day?’

 

Offered Xaal, though she then punctuated her statement with a shrug afterwards. She genuinely didn’t know if Argia had such an ability, given that she had met representatives from other deities that were never granted such a form. Some, though she found it odd, weren’t even associated with birds at all. When questioned about her own wings she rubbed at the back of her neck, unsure how to properly demonstrate her answer without drawing them back out.

 

‘One pair is seen, the others are unseen.’

 

She eventually replied, which seemed the best way to answer his question with the limited tools at her disposal.

 

‘Some angels sheathe extra wings when human or wanting to look like a different rank. Same with the owl.”

 

 

Vaz

 

“I see.”

 

It was a detached response. Useless, really, to the conversation at hand. Vaz shifted to watch Jorath in the corner of their peripherals, taking in the sight of the demon before them in a manner that seemed to leave a gloomier sense of empathy than they had initially been expecting. They wondered, briefly, how much of Jay truely was as dead as Jorath had claimed. Whether he had those same blue eyes, or that same habit of pinching the bridge of his nose, or even an ideal or two that had persisted throughout countless centuries.

 

They were in a quieter mood as the group continued towards the Museum, now occupied with the thoughts of names and titles and whether there was any that Jorath could possibly earn the right to claim. It was only when Jorath spoke up again about Mag’than did they break away from such contemplations, guilt tugging at their core once more over the journal that had been stolen from him.

 

“It is no intrusion. You may accompany me if you wish.”

 

A few minutes later their human accompaniment turned to face the two demons, clasping his hands together and clearing his throat as a call for the rest of his group to pay attention. They were based just inside the entrance to the bottom floor of the building now, home to the library.

 

“Alright, so, um. This is the library obviously, and the History Museum is straight up these stairs on the right. Do uh...do you guys have phones or anything...?”

 

Simultaneously Vaz motioned to Fi’Faltuun tucked behind their ear, and Xaal withdrew Lojaal’O’Ith from where she had been nestled inside her pocket. David blinked, not entirely certain how that answered his question, but decided not to press on the matter. Whatever worked for four immortal beings, he supposed.

 

“Alright then. Um. Great? Let’s get going then.”

 

Once they had parted ways and the others had wandered upstairs to the Museum, Vaz allowed themself to shift into a more concerned state of being. They scanned Jorath’s form, taking note of the fatigue that seemed to be settling into his stance, and after some contemplation they held out their arm for him to take. Their hold on it however was different from their usual grace, encouraging him to coil around it and rest a bit of his weight onto it instead.

 

“Might be in for a bit of a stroll still my dear. Best to stay close while we navigate.”

 

They informed in a quieter mumble, before moving forward once more through the doors of the library. When Vaz stepped out into the entrance their demeanour changed, embracing an unseen energy that rippled through them and settled deep in their core. Their breath hitched as they felt the call of their Realm, ancient words that drifted before their countless eyes and informed them of their path.

 

Vaz took heed of the words and turned to walk the both of them down the centre aisle of the rows upon rows of shelves. A few scattered beings sat at the desks that they passed near the entry and browsed through the shelves up ahead, but though they all held the appearances of humans most of them had an aura that suggested otherwise. The majority of them ignored the two new arrivals, though one or two greeted Vaz with a vaguely familiar nod as they passed by them. After pacing out of sight of any other being Vaz swerved sharply to the right and passed through a gap between the bookcases that seemed out of place with the arrangement of the rest of the shelves. A feeling of static energy washed over them as they passed through, and they glanced to Jorath to make sure that the effect hadn’t caused any sort of dazed or sickening feeling in him. Vaz had learned the hard way that some demons weren’t agreeable with the hint of celestial energy about the place, and that not providing them with a minute or two to adjust to it usually just ended up with them ruining the floorboards in some manner.

 

Once they believed Jorath was fine, they motioned down one of the other rows of shelving and continued their trek towards their office.

 

“...They call me ‘Veritas’ up there now.”

 

Vaz then announced, after soaking in the quiet of the winding, twisting shelves for a few moments. They glanced towards Jorath, biting their lip in thought for a moment before continuing. It would be a few minutes before they finally reached the door to their office, might as well attempt some conversation.

 

“The word merely translates to ‘Truth’, hardly an insulting name by any means. It is meant to be a mockery, however. A reminder that I am no longer worthy of the name I was once granted. I would prefer it is was not used.”

 

Why were they telling him this? Vaz wasn’t entirely sure. It didn’t seem like they had any actual advice to offer by providing it, merely that they felt like it was something that he should know. Or perhaps that Vaz wanted him to know, despite the discomfort that the name could bring upon them.

 

“Just...hm. Thought you should know that, I suppose.”

 

They paused for a second in their stride, turned to frown down at a book in one of the shelves, and shifted it three spaces to the right before continuing their walk.

 

“If you had your choice of any title, regardless of claims or your worthiness for them, what would you have yourself be known as?”

 

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Jorath

A twinge of amused sympathy came to Jorath's awareness as he recognized the awkwardness within David. "Poor guy; searched for the attention of one immortal and then, suddenly, there's a whole group at his doorstep." He took Vaz's offered arm, not quite used to the feeling of leaning against another. Didn't matter if they occasionally switched roles. It took a moment, convincing himself to ease up, but he gradually relaxed, short of resting his head on their arm. As the library spanned before him, a shift occurred, brushing against him. It pushed and tugged at him for only a moment, a force intent on keeping him out as someone who didn't belong to this Realm--up until it recognized him as a permitted guest. 

 

The endless aisles and ocean of books was... a little claustrophobic, to Jorath. But the light was gentle and the silence wasn't a heavy fog covering everything. He could probably fall asleep in one of the corners without being disturbed. And feel safe. He scanned the shelves, wondering at the vast collection, even as he couldn't tell what any of the books might possess. The entities he saw, sprinkled throughout the library, were absorbed in one thing or another. One stared at him as they passed, a book poised in their hands with a page mid-turn. There was an image on the paper, but the glimpse he got was too brief to see what it had been. In the next second, the being was out of sight and Vaz guided him through an oddly placed gap among the shelves. 

 

Again, a force met him, this one touching and feeling; clinging instead of trying to repel him. Nausea stirred as it prompted his skin to crawl from the foreign sensation. He swallowed, inhaling deeply to stamp the nausea down. Once it passed, Vaz continued them forward. They began speaking, a tentative rush of words that stirred the air without disturbing the library's silence. Jorath accepted the insight, briefly squeezing their arm in a gesture of empathy. "As far as I'm concerned, you're Vaz. Doesn't matter what 'up there' calls you," he murmured, aware that his voice didn't blend into the silent atmosphere with the same ease as Vaz's. It proved to be an awkward sort of whisper. "...I don't think they know you very well..."

 

Rubbing at the back of his neck, Jorath... didn't even know how to begin mulling over their question. "I've honestly never entertained such a thought. I don't even know what I might like, given the opportunity." He frowned, gaze turning to the ground. "I guess... something that might be reminiscent of my original name, if it were possible?" He started to reach out to a book but his hand halted, fingers unable to cross the remaining breadth of space. He drew his hand away, stuffing it back into his pocket. "Something not so destructive. Freeing."

 

He was silent for a few moment. Then, "I loved music. Jay used to. But--" Jorath shook his head, pressing his lips into a thin line. Cold oceans swallow sound... Bringing his hand back up, he pinched and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Never mind. It's--It's pointless; a waste of time." Inhaling deeply again, he forced himself to stand straighter, doing what he could to shove the weariness of his body into some locked away place. "I'll call for Mag'than once your work is done. That way, you don't need to bring him into your Realm unless you want to."

 

-

Argia

Heading up the stairs into the History Museum itself, she realized there was an anxious eagerness to her pace. Argia tried to reign it in, taking a moment to comprehend what she heard and saw. The first display she spotted was a painting she didn't recognize. Striding towards it, Argia studied the brushstrokes of a mountain range, an unfamiliar artist's signature scrawling across the bottom corner. Her features twitched with uncertainty as her gaze drifted to the rest of the display. Put together for a time in the last couple centuries, the only thing she could recognize was the technological progress of the era. Everything else, from the wars (or lack thereof) to the prominent figures spearheading change. "This... This isn't right..." She moved to another display, a statue of a war general. The uniform was all wrong and, again, she didn't recognize the name. "Everything is different," she mumbled, carefully touching the metal hem of the statue's jacket. 

 

"Uh... You may want to refrain from touching anything here, my Lady," David whispered, leaning towards her while he quickly looked about the museum. "Some of the employees here are rather persnickety about the museum's property." 

 

"Oh," Argia replied, pulling her hand back as if the statue bit at her. 

 

"Anything in particular you wish to see?" 

 

She glanced between Xaal and David before having an answer. "I'd like to see it all. Is there a map to show where everything is?" David grinned and nodded, motioning for the ladies to wait one moment as he hurried off to a large round desk in the center of the floor. He spent a few moments there, speaking with the human stationed at the space, and then returned with something clutched within his hands. 

 

"No tours today but! I got us some infographics; they have blurbs about each display and how best to travel through the museum for a good experience."

 

"Wonderful," Argia said, smiling a little despite her unease. Unfolding the sheet of paper, she turned it around and upside down before she managed to find the starting point. "Paleozoic and Mesozoic," she chuckled. At least there was one thing familiar with this world. Though, the fact came with a spot of distress; a reminder that Askee-ah wasn't here anymore. She glanced at Xaal, gesturing with the infographic. "Shall we go in order from start to finish? Or perhaps from the present to the past?"

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“I fear quite the opposite my dear. That they know me far too well.”

 

Their jaw quivered. Despondent eyes grew distant, but after a few more steps Vaz found themselves being drawn back to the present by the gentle hold around their arm. They swallowed. A faint but honest smile found its way onto their face, and they rested their hand over his own for a moment in gratitude.

 

“But thank you, you are sweet to say such things L’antiira.”

 

As their conversation drifted towards titles and Jorath pondered their question Vaz eyed him up and down in their own silent contemplation. Knowledge demons were said to be the most pedantic when it came to titles, trading them like precious cargo or plotting increasingly elaborate ways of challenging the current bearer for one that had taken their fancy. Having a ridiculously high number of them was a mark of respect and a matter of pecking order among them after all. Vaz however supposed it was a bit of an odd question to spring on someone who had spent this long not bothering to claim any, even if they had trouble fully comprehending why.

 

They were by no means surprised though when Jorath suggested that he would pick something that embodied freedom. The ache of not knowing how to grant him that was hard to shrug off in moments like this. Vaz however couldn’t claim to have any of their own suggestions for him. Everything they could think of still felt too limiting, tying him to yet another path he wanted little to do with.

 

“...They are lovely sentiments. Perhaps you could procure enough Influence to craft your own, some day? Then it could be anything you want. That was how I earned my favourite title after all, Keeper of Quills. I’m not certain anyone else even wants to challenge me for that one, but it is near and dear to me all the same.”

 

Remembering the fragments of a melody when Jorath and Argia bound their realms, Vaz wanted to suggest that music should be something he pursue as a hobby if that was the case. The quick dismissal however made them hold their tongue on the matter, not wanting to pry too much into old wounds again. Vaz merely rested their hand back over the one wrapped around their arm and exhaled, hoping that the comfort radiating from the gesture was at least mutual enough to soothe his thoughts on the matter.

 

After another minute or two of wandering down winding rows of a length that definitely exceeded the space available in the library, the duo were finally confronted by the door to Vaz’s office. Upon the ebony-hued door was the golden outline of a quill sitting in an inkwell and the name ‘Vazithrazuul’ scrawled below it, matching the current design that Vaz had chosen for their business cards. Vaz nudged the door open and ushered the both of them inside, apologising for the length of the trip as they entered.

 

“Dreadfully sorry about that, places anchored to my Realm tend to get a little ah...labyrinthian at times.”

 

 Vaz kept a meticulously tidy office when it came to all the paperwork their way of life involved. Dozens of bookshelves adorned all four walls of the room, each row labelled with a small plaque in the centre of the shelf and containing an assortment of old weathered tomes, perfectly preserved compendiums, and numerous bundles of parchment. More scrolls, blank ones, sat upon the edge of a huge desk that served as the focal point of the room. An assortment of books and inkwells were arranged neatly beside them, a lone quill resting in one of them.

 

Draal, my dear. Keeping a vigilant watch as ever I see.”

 

Called Vaz as they directed Jorath around the two armchairs opposite the desk and towards the chaise-lounge that sat further off to the side of the room. The quill twitched slightly in reply, though she made little other attempt to introduce herself to the new arrival. From behind Vaz’s ear Fi’Faltuun floated towards the desk and perched within one of the other inkwells, The scribe meanwhile was occupied with coaxing Jorath into taking a seat on the lounge, grumbling under-breath in Oldspeak over his dishevelled appearance before they returned to Commonspeak.

 

“Afraid I don’t usually entertain outside of business hours...hm...would you like a toffee perchance?”

 

With a soft clink a small glass jar of sweets was taken from a drawer in Vaz’s desk and nudged onto the end table beside the lounge. The scribe then straightened up and starred around the room as they knotted their fingers together, scanning the shelves that aligned the walls of the office for something that might be of entertainment to their guest.

 

“There’s a small selection of encyclopaedias and art history books by the globe over there, some gorgeous illustrations in the latter that might be of interest...Erm...You are of course also welcome just to lie back and rest for a bit my dear if you prefer that.”

 

They then paced over to a door nestled between two shelves on the opposite wall, prying it open for Jorath to peer inside. With the exception of the various paintings of a bygone era decorating the walls it was a rather bare room all things considered, with only an elaborately-carved wooden book-pedestal in its centre. Before it was a series of elaborate lines and symbols etched into the ground, forming an overlay of Summoning and Binding Circles among a few other common configurations that any demon worth their salt would recognise.

 

“Otherwise, my desire for you to reclaim your journal significantly outweighs my concerns for a novice Seeker to be snooping around without an appointment. This office is tailored for visitors, it is but a small fragment of my Realm. You are welcome to summon him in the safety of my own domain if you can ensure he behaves himself.”

 

Vaz then slinked towards a separate door located behind their desk, calling over their shoulder as they crossed the room.

 

“Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment my dear, I shall be changing my attire to something that doesn’t suggest that I’ve recently been mauled by a pack of wolves. Do try to be some semblance of a gentleman and knock first please if you need anything.”

 

 

Xaal’s eyes scanned the contents of the paintings as Argia mulled over the differences in them all. Briefly, the fallen angel regarded her with a wary look in her eyes, unsure if she was about to start fretting about how everything was just wrong again. Thankfully their human guide piped up with a distraction before Xaal had worked up enough concern to approach her, and she seemed to calm herself once more.

 

Focus returned to the painting directly in front of her. It was a portrait of a nobleman that, according to the plaque next to it, provided the funding for the very building that the museum was located in and nurtured it through its humble beginnings. The museum was, naturally, full of praise for the man as a result. Xaal smirked a little as she continued to stare up at it, sensing something that the museum had long-since tried to bury. Portraits were always fun for Xaal to contemplate, who could glean hints of juicy little secrets from even the most innocent looking of men. Combined with Vaz and their talent for finding the truth of a matter, Xaal could often glean a history of the world around her that even its local inhabitants were not entirely privy to. This one’s secret for instance was something to do with where he got that money from in the first place, if her instinct was correct.

 

‘I always start from the past then move to the present in a new world. Easier to track.’

 

Xaal informed Argia, though the shrug that followed it indicated that she had little other preference for one way or the other. She tended to skip over anything of a prehistoric nature though, preferring to start with the dawn of humanity and quickly work her way up to individual portraits and sculptures. That was where the memories of mortals long-gone lingered, after all. Still, Xaal didn’t want to get in the way of Argia’s desire to observe it all, so she decided to take point and make her way towards the Paleozoic and Mesozoic section.

 

‘This world is an interesting one. I did not know her well, but I saw her near my territory. Very smart. Moved as one. Different from other worlds.’

 

Began Xaal as she approached a statue replica of a velociraptor mid-pounce, now also reminded of Askee-ah. Her eyes trailed over the various displays of dinosaurs either side of the creature, wondering if Askee-ah had been a truely unique phenomena or if there were other creatures out there with the same sort of bond between each other.

 

‘I think this world is, or was, very valuable. Many forces seem to have visited in its history, many more than other worlds. But I don’t know why.’

 

Xaal had been communicating in sign, but she then fished out her phone so she could ask David her next question directly.

 

‘Have humans always known about us? This world seems very popular. Do you know why that might be?’

Edited by Lycanious

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Jorath

Grow his influence. Of all things. Jorath gave a short chuckle. "Perhaps," was all he said on that. He knew that Vaz was trying to offer up a genuine idea, not realizing he frequently did what he could to keep his influence limited. "Well, 'Keeper of Quills' fits you, and likely says a lot more than some others. After all, your quills each have their own quirks. But they're also extensions of you. So--" He shrugged. The remaining few moments were passed in silence until they reached a door with Vaz's name engraved upon the surface. "Makes for a good defense," Jorath replied, rather unbothered by the winding path. "I'll just remember not to get lost; maybe set down trail markers I can follow." He grinned, lopsided and teasing. 

 

Within the office, he let Vaz steer him to a lounge, soft and elegant to match the decor of the room. The Scribe muttered something about his appearance, to which Jorath laughed and smirked. "You say such things now, but I guarantee you'll miss the shirt and jeans the moment I put on a suit or something." Still, he ran fingers through his hair, hoping to relax the strands into something less disarrayed as Vaz offered some toffee from a glass jar. He started to wonder, as he watched Vaz flutter about the room in an attempt to point out sources of entertainment, if they were perhaps unaccustomed to non-business guests within their office. It seemed much more like a space for business than anything else, and Jorath truthfully didn't expect it to be anything less. 

 

As they passed him, he reached for their hand, managing to secure the back of it before Vaz disappeared into the back room. "Thank you," he started. "But I think I'll just take the moment to doze--possibly nap--before having to see what Mag'than wanted." He could use the sleep, admittedly. And, it wasn't that Jorath didn't doubt his ability to keep Mag'than in line while within Vaz's Realm, but that he was more concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing--of slipping up--that would allow Mag'than leverage. He'd already nearly screwed up once when the Seeker attempted to make him doubt the Scribe's trustworthiness. 

 

Vaz dipped out of sight, leaving Jorath alone with the quills, the books, parchment, and all else in the room. It seemed like such an intimate space, no matter how much it was designed for work. As he sat there, the desire to put off sleep steadily grew. His eyes were weary, and he knew he needed rest while he had the opportunity--he'd meant to get some back home until he realized Mag'than was there--but he worried about what could crop up in his dreams. With anxiety starting to dance through his nerves, he got up and strode towards the shelves closest to the globe. Gently, he traced fingers along the spines of various books, not at all able to comprehend what was printed upon the covers. Finally, he picked one and flipped through. Text graced every page, printed in various fonts and styles with only the occasional image gracing a corner here or there. Had to be an encyclopedia. Putting it back where he'd pulled it from, Jorath tried the one next to it; also an encyclopedia. 

 

There was motion at the edge of his vision, Fi coming to sway before a few books on another shelf. He slid one free, opening to a landscape painting that spanned both pages. Turning a few more revealed additional artworks, each with only a small bit of text below or beside it. "Thank you," he murmured to the quill, a mixture of relief and mild embarrassment. She dipped into a gesture he didn't quite understand, but figured it for an acknowledgement, then returned to her inkwell. He returned to the lounge, momentarily reclining as best as he could figure out how to, and started shifting through the pages. Most were paintings, with some being made from charcoal or watercolor; even a couple sketches. Landscapes, farms, forests, cities, and people. It didn't seem like there was much of a theme but, gradually, he started to realize there was a consistent style among each piece. A specific artist, then? As he studied each new piece, he seemed to relax, silently enjoying the harmony or serenity or whatever the terminology was that artists favored using. He was almost starting to doze off.

 

On the next page, a dark beast skulked just on the edge of sight, ruin laying in its wake even as sunlight and fresh grass struggled to remain before it.

 

Jorath clamped the book shut, trying to keep his hands from shaking, and carefully returned it to the shelf. He could rationalize that it wasn't him that had been depicted. The shape wasn't right, the horns and wings were wrong, and there weren't any chains. Countless humans imagined up horrifying monsters throughout the eras and preserved them into artwork. It was practically a staple of human creativity. Fashioned, as it was, after a modicum of reality.

 

It was the eyes, though.

 

He rubbed at his face. He was overreacting to a painting; that's how much he needed sleep right now. Jorath mulled over how much work Vaz might need to get done and how much time it might all take. His gaze drifted to the still-open doorway that revealed the Summoning Circle to the rest of the room. No. He should wait for Vaz to be finished so he could avoid accidentally disturbing the Scribe. With how his luck was, it would likely be the case. That really only left the most sensible decision he could make for the time being: get some actual rest. Rubbing at the back of his neck, Jorath went back to the lounge and, again, attempted to recline as best he could in a piece of furniture he was hardly familiar with. Eventually, however, he just rolled onto his side, turning his back to the entire room and shut everything out.

 

Argia

She tried to comprehend what Xaal was saying. "'More than other worlds'?" Argia frowned. Was this another thing related to the plethora of Realms Vaz had mentioned earlier? "I don't understand, Xaal." But the woman was already pulling out her phone, typing hurriedly to involve David in the discussion. 

 

The man itched at his chin for a moment, making a soft hum as he worked out an answer. "Not always? I mean, I don't know when humans just kind of... clued in? History wasn't my favorite class while growing up. Guess it was during one of the bigger wars when word got around that angels and demons existed. If I recall, it was that humans figured out demons first. Naturally, we concluded angels must as well, shortly after." He shrugged. "Don't really know why. Rumors and religious beliefs want to claim there's something special about this world that can be harvested. Others theorize that there's a hole or thinner spot in some barrier that separates this world from others, so forces leak through. Depends on if you want to believe in a religious, a scientific, or other sort of belief."

 

Abruptly, David snapped his fingers. "Wait. There was one thing." He motioned for them to follow him and Argia briefly glanced at Xaal before doing so. They passed several displays that Argia could only glimpse at, spying rudimentary technology and the like. Eventually, David dipped into one of the exhibits and came to stop before a spacious display. "The War of Realms. Said to be the largest war ever recorded in history. Historians theorize that this war was responsible for shattering the world's ties. Or something. But, basically, there's debate as to whether or not this was the first time when angels and demons and all sorts of other supernatural beings broke through into the human world. Some argue that such forces came sooner and this war was just the exploding point for the tension that had been building up because no one knew how to share the world. Still don't, when you think about it."

 

Argia moved to stand beside the man, studying the expansive artwork that creatively depicted a three-way conflict. Angels lit up the rightmost corner, spreading towards the ground and across the sky. The darkness of gruesome beasts, or demons, crashed against that light from the leftmost corner. Spanning across the land, humans lifted their weapons to the sky, a majority facing against the demons. A few, however, turned their blades upon the angels. She shifted her gaze to the engraved nameplate. One Ottis Hoddle had painted the piece, estimated some time in the 1800s, to imagine a war taking place around 500 BC. "Was this the only one?" she asked, her gaze studying the small figures dotting the land and hiding amongst the humans. Their blades were different; curved and attached to the end of staffs. 

 

"No. Though, nothing as big as this one ever cropped up again," David replied, scratching at his chin again while he stared at the painting in thought. "A lot of historians and written records from the times almost always contribute victories to having angels on their side or losses because there were demons helping their opponents'." He shrugged. "I mean, sounds like typical religious warfare to me. Everyone wants to believe they're on the side of angels."

 

"And what of now? With the angels gone from this world?" Argia inquired.

 

David shifted his weight from one foot to the other, making a small, uncertain, sound. "That's the harsh reality many have had to grapple with. Realizing that you're not the good guy you thought you were can be... startling, I suppose. But, most people have just taken it in stride, it seems. The thought is, after all, that we have free will and we can decide what is good or bad. It's all a social construct, just like economic class structure--for example." He gave a nervous chuckle. "I mean, society used to say 'an eye for an eye' was justice and then, one day, society said it wasn't. We've always gone back and forth on what we determine as right or wrong. Ya know?" David's face started to light up. "And now, you're here, my Lady. You being here means that the angels are still listening to the calls of humans. You answered and brought another alongside you!"

 

Argia shifted half a step backwards, cautious not to bump into any displays. "Let us not be too hasty. I... may have answered the Order's summons, but that is no guarantee, I'm afraid." David's expression dimmed slightly, but he maintained his relative eagerness as he nodded a rushed agreement. Frowning, she glanced at Xaal again and sighed. "What are your thoughts about this? You, after all, asked the question."

 

"Well, since the question is on the table, maybe looking closer at the exhibits might yield more answers? Maybe you'll find something belonging to the angels or demons that human curators have missed," David recommended, smiling sheepishly. "I know going through the exhibits was the original intention, so I do apologize for derailing that plan. But, looking at each display with an intention could prove more useful than just idly walking through."

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Vaz

 

Vaz tittered when he mentioned trail markers, both from the absurdity that it would actually work and the notion that he apparently planned on revisiting the office at some point. Most demons, Vaz found, were not particularly fond of the place. Appointments within their office were typically both scarce and succinct, and punctuated frequently by complaints about it inducing headaches and an itching sensation across the skin the longer their guests stayed. The idea of someone other than Vaz themself wanting to linger was therefore a foreign one, but not necessarily an unwelcome turn of events. The scribe stilled when Jorath caught them by the hand, reaching over and briefly squeezing his own hand between their palms in acknowledgement before they released their hold and retreated from the room. Perhaps it was best to wait until the both of them were in a better state to deal with Mag’than. Vaz, after all, couldn’t deny that a part of them wanted to see the initial reaction of a novice demon realising he had just been summoned into the lair of two more powerful entities.

 

The room Vaz had stepped into was best described as a walk-in closet, its walls consisting mostly of open shelves and dressers decorated with various garments that were arranged by similar styles and colour to the best of Vaz’s ability. A body-length mirror sat betwixt two of the shelves, a few scraps of parchment serving as reminders stuck to its surface. Vaz made their way across the room towards the newest addition to their wardrobe, an evening cocktail dress, and hummed to themself in thought as they ran a thumb over its silken, indigo texture.

 

No, not practical. With the way the night has gone so far best to opt for something one doesn’t require heels for.

 

Vaz pouted at the thought, but acknowledged it with only a slight sag to their shoulders and shifted the dress aside to flick through their collection of suits and coats instead. Briefly, they thought back to Jorath’s claim that they would miss his tacky shirts and ripped jeans if they ever managed to convince him to wear anything more dignified and Vaz rolled their eyes. A rumble of amusement escaped from them all the same though, just for how ridiculous they found such a claim to be. Eventually Vaz settled on a sleeker coat than their current choice, an ebony-hued one with matching fur trimming around the neck and wrists, and pulled it from the shelf to lay across the nearby dresser. Soon to accompany it was a white dress-shirt and a slim pair of plain trousers pulled from the drawers below it. After setting another pair of knee-high boots beside them the scribe stood back to inspect the ensemble, nodded in vague satisfaction, and then moved to the attached washroom in the next room over to get changed.

 

Spindly fingers twisted the handle of the tap until some water began to trickle out of it then grabbed a nearby hand towel to wet. As Vaz removed their shirt they turned their back towards the mirror, assessing the state of their earlier wound from Takut. Dried ikaar and charcoal coated their pale skin, but as they scrubbed it away with the towel they were greeted with only some minor scarring along their side that was set to fade away into nothing within a day or two. The relief Vaz felt from it was decidedly minimal though, as their eyes drifted down to the centre of their back. The deep, ragged edges of two long gashes running down either side of their lower back were significantly more distracting after all. And those ones were, as far as Vaz was aware, permanent.

 

The demon shifted their gaze further up their back, now assessing the ink tattoos of their wings that decorated it when sheathed. Every few seconds the illustration would shift slightly, one of the wings appearing to stretch or fidget as its stylised outline moved along their flesh. At one point a feather dislodged, and Vaz watched as the ink of it peeled off from their skin and ejected a charcoal-dusted feather onto the wooden floor below. 

 

Vaz drew a heavy sigh and finally tore their gaze away from the mirror, pulling their dress-shirt over their head and craning their arms back to adjust the buttons surrounding the slits they had sewn into the garment for their wings. Once they had finished getting changed they hunched back over the sink and undid the navy ribbon that had been tying their hair off their face, pocketing the object and then running their fingernails through their hair a few dozen times to adjust it to something more presentable. The overall result was far more androgynous and...reasonably refreshing, given the state of their previous choice of clothing. Vaz was satisfied, more or less.

 

Leaving their ruined clothing folded atop the dresser for now, Vaz slunk their way back into the main room for the office. They almost trilled that they were done and ready to head off once more, only to catch sight of Jorath stretched out onto the chaise lounge with his head buried in one of the cushions and let the sound die in their throat. Fi’Faltuun began to address them, sensing a glimmer of confusion from her scribe.

 

He hasn’t moved in approximately ten minutes. I believe he is asleep.

 

The scribe quietly closed the door to their room behind them and blinked down at Jorath. They had suggested he relax, but they had expected something more along the lines of him curling up with a book on one of the chairs rather than achieving complete unconsciousness.

 

“…He’s lying down on the wrong end.”

 

Vaz replied in a flat tone of voice, trying to suppress the urge to start chortling at the realisation and wake up the demonic individual now slumped over the lounge. They shifted their gaze from the unusual sight and quirked an eyebrow in the direction of the two quills. Both of them wriggled within their inkwells, insisting that they would have corrected him if they had the means to do-so. Vaz then glanced up at the antique clock ticking away above the doorframe to the exit, weighing their options. They shuffled a few steps closer and started to reach for his shoulder to rouse him, only for Fi’Faltuun’s elegant script to appear once more before their eyes and interrupt the motion.

 

Wait. Jorath is usually more restless than this. Perhaps we should avoid disturbing him while he is peaceful?

 

Vaz paused. Then, gradually, nodded at her suggestion and stepped away from the lounge to take a seat at their desk instead. Knowing Xaal, the chances were that their other companions were engrossed in trying to decipher some tale of intrigue and woe that she had gleaned from a portrait somewhere in the museum. The scribe reasoned that the trio could probably entertain themselves for an hour or two before they decided to find out where Jorath and Vaz had gotten to, and Lojaal could always guide them to the office if necessary. They could stay, if it meant Jorath had a chance to rest his eyes for a while. 

 

Partially raising their arms in the air, Vaz summoned The Compendium to their fingertips with far greater ease than their attempt in the Theatre, given that they were now dwelling in their own realm. The ancient scribe then rested it in the centre of their desk and flicked to the page on Argia with one hand, while the other beckoned Fi into its grasp. In the silence of the office, the scribe decided to hunch over their beloved tome and begin to draft up their introductory paragraph for the harbinger while they waited for Jorath to awaken.

 

 

Xaal

 

Xaal swallowed when asked for her opinion, trying to maintain the usual grin that plastered itself over her face but finding more and more difficulty the more their guide spoke of this world’s history and the results of the angels having of abandoned it. She didn’t know how to tell him that, in some cases, merely leaving a world behind for the demons to carve up and squabble over its pieces was not enough.

 

‘We gave humans Choice.’

 

She repeated as a starting point, for what felt like the 100th time that night. Her shoulders sagged, frustrated that she couldn’t find the words to properly convey her thoughts on the matter. It was a problem that had less to do with her silence and more with reluctance to dwell how exactly they had granted the humans such a trait.

 

‘But Choice was...not supposed to happen. Vox perfectum did not want it. I think it is good that humans have free will and take comfort in it. But I am worried that others do not see it this way. It is not perfect or balance. It is chaos.’

 

She rubbed at the back of her neck and frowned, her mind quickly shifting gears to try and focus on something more positive for the human before her.

 

‘But yes, that is why I came here. To try to help. To keep the freedom. Argia is worried because we do not have many to help us. Not because she will not help. We need to find more numbers.’

 

Hands on her hips, Xaal shifted her golden eyes back towards the painting they had been discussing. She had been debating whether to tell them about what she could glean from it as they spoke amongst themselves. It was likely to dredge up questions that she didn’t feel equipped to answer, especially with the far more verbose and knowledgeable Vaz currently elsewhere. Hesitantly, she pointed her finger upwards and indicated one of the more prominent figures on the side of the angels, a woman dressed in bronzed armour and wielding a sword of flames. Though the face had changed and the number of wings on her back was wrong, the artist had still captured the splendour of her feathers. Her wings started at a rich crimson from the shoulder and ended in a rich blue, the two colours separated by a striking splash of yellow in between. She had the unmistakable wings of a scarlet macaw, the only angel that Xaal had ever seen to be granted such a beautiful pattern. 

 

‘This is Jophiel. Angel of Divine Beauty. My mentor.’

 

The crease in Xaal’s brow deepened, and she reached into the inner pocket of her cloak to withdraw the feathers that had been sent back to her while she had lingered on the roof. From her pile she picked up the red one, holding it up against the depiction of Jophiel for comparison. She then shifted her gaze to the side and fetched another feather, this time the glossy green one. Though more hesitant she eventually pointed its tip towards a green-winged angel that stood further back from the clash of the battle, one hand gripped around a staff and their face contorted mid-snarl as they performed an incantation with the other. 

 

‘I think the other is Raphael. Angel of Healing. Do either of you know these names? There are many across worlds. Knowing stories from here, if there are any stories, might help.’

 

She continued, after handing the two feathers off to David for him to compare and placing the rest back into her pocket. Golden eyes flickered across the faces and wings of the other angels caught in the fray, but their identities seemed far more ambiguous than the two figures she had pointed out. Nervously, she rubbed at the back of her neck again, feeling the hair upon it prickle uncomfortably.

 

‘I remember listening to stories, before the Fall. I think I know this battle. Demons had found or made something very dangerous in one of the worlds. Something that could bring down an Archangel with one shot. This battle was to try find out what it was and to stop them.’

 

Her hand traced a line around the head of one of the more beast-like demons in the centre of the horde, indicating the elliptical shape of the horns that jutted out from their head. She then motioned to their back, where there was evidence that the flesh had been crudely torn apart at the shoulders.

 

‘The leader is meant to be a Fallen? Broken horn-halo. Wings cut off. But unusual for Fallen to be a leader. Demons would not follow. Artist could be wrong but...’

 

Xaal tilted her head and frowned, the ancient history of the painting starting to fade into an obscure fog once more. 

 

‘I don’t think they stopped the danger, but Jophiel said they were able to break it and lock away the pieces. Maybe that is why the demons are here? To find all the pieces?’

 

She glanced back at her companions with an apologetic expression, unsure of what else to contribute to their theories. She heeded David’s suggestion to investigate more of the exhibits surrounding the painting though, and began to steer away from the others to do just that. Her attention was drawn next to a glass exhibit containing one of the bladed weapons that the humans were depicted wielding, pointing out the engravings of symbols alongside it in the hopes that one of them had seen anything of the sort before.

Edited by Lycanious

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Argia

"Chaos is only a part of Balance," Argia said, the words almost too automatic. "Balance requires energy from all sides; good and not good, bad and not bad. One cannot exist without the other. What the perfect ratio between them is, I am uncertain; it changes with the times and with what the world needs for its survival." 

 

David looked... uneasy, for a moment. But then he perked up with something akin to determination or something. "We can grow the Order! That'll get the numbers you need! Of course, it makes the most sense. The angels leave, the sun stops rising, and everything goes to chaos! So, the only reasonable thing is to set it all right. Yeah? And, the more followers you have, the stronger you become, don't you?" He looked back and forth between both winged women. 

 

Argia nodded slowly, acknowledging David for much of what she had already started to rationalize earlier in the night. But more followers? To grow her power? She didn't know if she was agreeable to the idea of having more humans believe her to be something she wasn't. And, even so, would it actually grow some power she now possessed? There were still new things she was discovering, strange abilities that weren't hers before. It would be difficult to determine how much good gaining followers would do. 

 

But more help should always be appreciated. 

 

While David examined the feathers, his gaze shifting between it and the angels in the painting, Argia mulled over the insights from Xaal. Did she have... stories? The names were unfamiliar, so she doubted she knew anything. "A weapon is concerning. It's possible that demons would want to find such a thing, if it can destroy angels. Did your mentor, Jophiel, mention anything about where the pieces are?" she asked. 

 

After a moment, she realized that David was staring at her, holding the crimson feather near the red of her shawl. "Perhaps the visions of two angels was more accurate?" he murmured, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. Then he withdrew the feather, pursing his lips and continued the thought. "Although, 'Angel of Divine Beauty'. Probably not related to judgement and vengeance." Argia flicked a private glance in Xaal's direction, wondering if she should attempt to correct the human. 

 

He moved on, however, giving the feathers back to Xaal. "Zack is more knowledgeable about stories from myth and legend than I or Gregory. He'd be the one to check with; he'd likely be excited and not know how to begin because no one ever bothers asking about his stories." At Xaal's pointing, he moved closer to the weaponry on display and glanced at the symbols etched into the surface. "And... Gregory knows more about symbols, runes, sigils, and the like."

 

"What unique knowledge do you possess among your friends?" Argia asked, realizing it was the wrong thing to say only after David gave her an embarrassed, perhaps shamed, expression.

 

She started to reach out, intending to apologize, but he answered her question. "I, uh... I'm here more for... well, I guess you can call it support. I'm not exactly good at this sort of stuff," he mumbled, rubbing at his cheek and staring at the ground. "Ya see, I'm part of the Order because of Gregory, mostly. And Zack. We, uh... Well we--" He made a strained expression, a struggling dance between a timid smile and a pained scrunch to his features. "Someone we cared about was taken from us and, well, Gregory still isn't over it. I don't think he's figured out how to move on. Zack and I... We just want to be good friends for him." David blinked rapidly, then brought his arm up to rub at his eyes briefly. "Anyways, we think a demon might be responsible but, we aren't certain. So, when Jen came to us promising answers and justice for the wrong done to us, Gregory latched on and ate it up like a starved man."

 

"Oh..." Gregory hid his rage so well that Argia hadn't noticed it. Perhaps he wasn't angry, just driven for justice to be fulfilled? Was that possible for humans? Emotions were complex things, multifaceted. "Do you hold the same belief as your friend?"

 

"Truthfully, I don't know what to believe. And I didn't believe much in the Order's promises... At least, not until you came." He gave Argia a shy smile. "I-I mean, I don't know what the answers will be when we find them. But, at least now I know there are answers out there, somewhere. Right?"

 

Argia didn't know what David or his friends could be looking for, what they could possibly need. She didn't even know if she could provide those answers or lead them to it. However, as she glanced at Xaal and recalled the woman's plea upon the Theater's roof on how to make Argia want to help, she intertwined her fingers together. "I don't know the answers you need, David," she started. "But I'll try to help you find them." 

 

David brightened. "Well, then! What're we standing about for? We have a museum to explore for clues and followers to gather!"

 

-

[[I'm just... an ambiguous time later :V I haven't decided. But while our history buffs are walking about~~]]

 

Jorath

The maw of a beast opened to devour him, chains wrapping several areas of its bloodied body. But it dissolved into nothing without touching him, its flesh dusted by gold. There was no smoke, no fire. No blood, no pain. There was a chant, whispered near his ear, but it wasn't the one he feared. There really wasn't anything until Jorath was pulled into a half-conscious state. He felt what seemed like hands against his skin, touching and caressing. Parchment rustled somewhere. Silence clung to everything around him and, for a moment that stretched into what might have been hours or seconds, Jorath ebbed back into unconsciousness before returning to that partial awareness. 

 

Across his senses, a chill seeped in, faint and distant. Vaguely, he thought Mag'than had arrived. Maybe Vaz summoned the Seeker while he dozed? How long had he nodded off for? Where had he nodded off? The sound of a quill etching upon parchment was strange to him. There shouldn't be anyone in his room. Why--

 

The chill reached down his arm and started to encroach within his chest. Jorath grimaced, curling slightly into a ball upon the lounge until his knees bumped into something resistant. The chains on his body flared with heat at the same moment Mag'than's Tag came alive. "Ueikapa, xikikaua!" Jorath lurched where he lay, gasping and wild-eyed. His vision cleared as he blinked rapidly, ice and fire warring beneath his human skin as it emanated from his chains. Er'anir whispered in his head. She was trying to find him. "Om iitlauan amok--" Jorath started hissing at her, but stopped when he turned his gaze to what was beside him. Vaz was at their desk, fresh clothes on their form, and Compendium open for their writing. The chains stopped searing his body and Mag'than's Tag no longer irritated. But his heart still raced and his breathing was tight.

 

Rolling off the lounge, he stumbled towards the room with the Summoning Circle. Wait, wait, wait! He fumbled about, trying to find a stick of chalk. Stop, just stop! Need to think! Jorath bumped against the wall, sliding down to the floor as he panted. That's it. Breathe.... Pinching at his nose, Jorath inhaled deeply, closing his eyes to shut out Vaz's office as he forced himself to slow everything down. "I--" What was he supposed to say? What was he going to say? "Nightmare?" No, that wasn't exactly right. His skin still ached from the burning that had flooded his flesh. 

 

Leaning forward to inspect the Summoning Circle once his breathing was somewhat back to normal, Jorath frowned. "We need to get to Mag'than or bring them to us. Er'anir knows he has my chain. She'll--" He paused, features crinkling with confusion. His restraints... weren't stopping him? "She'll try using it..." He spoke slowly, dumbfounded that the words fell from his tongue. There was strain, a tightness as if the words were reluctant and attempting to stick in his throat, but it wasn't the same air-cutting obstacle that was far more familiar. Jorath shook his head. He'd figure that out later.

 

For now, he remembered the chalk in his pocket from the station and used that to fine-tune what he needed. As he did so, sigils began to glow. In his native tongue, he uttered a few words. The connected circle on the other side of the podium lit up. He stood, dusting chalk off his hands while the final words tumbled from his lips. The fresh chalk swirled around him and rose, blowing on a breeze he couldn't feel towards the second circle. It spiraled, the glow intensifying briefly, and then took on shape. Mag'than dropped against the ground within the circle, flailing as they gasped and panted, glow fading into nothing. "Where--"

 

"Just us," Jorath grumbled, reaching down to grab their shirt and pull Mag'than onto their feet. They'd also changed their clothes, though they still wore something of a business casual, and touched up on light makeup. "Mag'than?" A single streak of ink still stained their shirt. Maybe it wasn't as permanent as Jorath originally understood it to be.

 

The demon worked to regain their wits, gaze sweeping around the small room and hesitating upon Vaz before returning to Jorath. "It's... It's Maggie," she breathed out, now trying to extricate herself from Jorath's grasp.

 

He didn't release her. Not yet. "What happened? Did you grab the journal?"

 

She shook her head quickly, a scowl gracing her face. "Almost, but no. Stupid b**** Er'anir was in--"

 

"Watch your mouth," Jorath growled, the reprimand surging forward on an impulse he didn't realize was still there.

 

Maggie halted, then slowly smirked as her gaze narrowed slightly. "Touchy, huh? Good to know." Again, Maggie's gaze turned to Vaz. "You might want to check the leash on your pet, here. And, when you make another quill, maybe put their attitude in line some. Hm? Nasty little thing wouldn't let me grab that journal; tried getting me in the hand! Would have thought a busted hilt--" Jorath shook her and she laughed. "What big man? Gonna do something to me?" Jorath scowled but released her, dropping her back into the circle she was summoned in so she could pick herself up and dust off her clothes. "Now, where the f*** did you bring me to?"

 

"You're in Vaz's Realm."

 

Her face paled slightly as she stilled. "Oh... Yeah?" She looked up from her clothing, shifting her gaze between them both. "Well... Uh, seems rather tight in here then. Hm?"

Edited by ValidEmotions

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Xaal

 

At Argia’s explanation of the nuisances of Balance and what it required, Xaal shuffled in an uncomfortable manner. She didn’t disagree with Argia’s perspective as such, it stood to reason that Balance would require contributions from either side for it to properly work. Her problem with the harbinger’s words was the fact that she didn’t find the concept a very fair one. What good was Balance, if it meant that someone had to play a role they might have wanted no part in just to maintain it? And all because some deity somewhere was crunching the numbers and decided that Hell was a few pincushions short. 

 

Vox perfectum thinks different. They too, want Balance. But Balance to them is Order. Balance is control. They make perfect plans and punish the ones that do not follow rules.’

 

Xaal’s shoulders sagged, a rather lost expression finally breaking through her attempts to remain chipper. She tried to wrestle the smile back onto her face when there was talk of expanding the Order, acknowledging that even if the Influence wasn’t her own, it would be granted to someone she had decided was an ally until she had reason to doubt it. She still wasn’t sure what to think in regards to Jorath potentially being able to leech off of that power now though. It only just occurred to her that, technically, the two still hadn’t even been introduced to each other and that made trusting him all the more difficult.

 

‘If you get stronger, Jorath gets stronger too. But be careful if he is weakened, might backfire.’

 

She refrained from making it a warning, opting for a neutral expression that she hoped would suggest she was merely informing Argia of some of the common results of Binding one’s realm to another.

 

Thoughts shifted towards talk of weapons, and Xaal’s shoulders sunk again to indicate that Jophiel had told her very little about these pieces. At this stage she wasn’t even sure whether her mentor had meant they had split something in half or completely shattered it, scattering hundreds of components out amongst the realms. She turned and thanked their guide as he handed back the feathers, quickly stashing them out of sight once more before her attention fixated back on the weapon. Xaal felt movement shift in her pocket, and adjusted her collar so that Lojaal could make an appearance. The quill twirled a few times in the air to gather her bearings, then began to inspect the surface of the ancient weapon alongside of her. Xaal’s mind drifted slowly back to overhearing the conversation between Argia and David, and she grimaced when he spoke of losing someone close to himself. The back of her cloak ruffled slightly as Xaal repressed the urge to flare one of her wings out into view and wrap it around the human, wanting to comfort him as he rubbed at his eyes.

 

‘I am sorry to hear that. I have lost many loved ones to demons, too. Many injuries. Many scars.’

 

“Is that why you can’t talk?”

 

Xaal glanced at him in her peripherals. Instantly the man seemed to have regretted the question that had been blurted out, stammering a few syllables of an apology before Xaal held up her hand to silence him. She tugged at the collar of her high-necked cloak with her other hand, pulling it down to give her companions a swift glimpse of some of the burn-marks that ran across her throat before she hid them from view once more.

 

‘Yes. And no. Memories and stories for later, maybe?’

 

Xaal then turned her back to the others, distracted by a frantic tapping on the glass from the normally silent quill she had released onto the world. Had Lojaal identified one of the symbols? The fallen angel hunched over and squinted back down at the object, still unable to decipher anything useful from the ancient runes.

 

‘I can’t read them, maybe if-‘

 

Multiple criss-cross motions from the quill cut her off, the sharpness of the movement signalling that she was wandering down the wrong line of thinking entirely. Xaal raised her eyebrow at the quill, but heeded her pleas and fixated back on the weapon before her. Human design. Silver metal for the blade, probably iron. Unusually elaborate carvings on it for the time period, but-

 

On closer inspection, Xaal realised that some of the engravings ran unusually deep into the metal near the base of the spearhead. A small hole had been deliberately carved into the weapon, just the right size for something small and spherical to be inserted into it. She felt Lojaal nudge at her hand and held out her palm for her, finally realising what the quill was alluding to when she had doodled an image of a sun onto it. The Auris Domniir sphere seemed like just the right the size. She spun on her heel and beckoned her companions back over, excitedly tapping a fingernail on the glass to show them the discovery.

 

‘Do you remember the brochure? One of the symbols is very close to the logo, yes? And there is a hole for one of the light-orbs. I think this was powered by one. Or something like this one?’

 

Xaal reached into her pocket to demonstrate, then huffed in frustration as it dawned on her that the object in question was currently on Vaz’s person.

 

‘Maybe that is what Auris Domniir has found? One of the pieces? That is why they are so confident?’

 

 

 

Vaz

 

“...L’antiira? What is wrong?”

 

Vaz lingered in the doorway to their Summoning Chamber, one hand gripping the edge of the wooden frame and the other clasped around the spine of The Compendium. Their horns had returned in the amount of time it had taken them to ease out of their seat and trail after him, responding to the sudden spike of concern and unease thumping through their core. Amber eyes grew wide as they took in the appearance of Jorath crumpled against the wall, but Vaz didn’t move towards him straight away. Something about the way he gasped and pinched at his skin was far too reminiscent of when Vaz tried to pull his hand away from the shackle on his neck shortly after the encounter with Er’anir. They were worried that reaching for him right now would only upset him further.

 

“A nightmare? You do all this when you have a nightmare?”

 

Jorath hadn’t sounded so sure of his self-diagnosis, but Vaz was in little position to contribute given their limited experience with dreams in general. The inquiry went unanswered, Jorath seemingly ignoring it in favour of scrambling for a piece of chalk and rambling about needing to summon Mag’than. Again, Er’anir was mentioned, and Vaz felt an indescribable lurch of...something in their mind that seemed to waver unpredictably between anger, sympathy, and guilt as Jorath made use of their summoning circle. As he etched out some symbols and spoke in his indecipherable tongue Vaz edged further into the room. A hand hovered at his back as they closed the distance between them, wanting to encourage him to settle down more first, but it withdrew when Vaz spied some of the runes glowing and realised that he was already in the midst of a summoning. Best not to break his concentration.

 

They took on a particularly unimpressed stance for when Mag’than materialised in their office, one hand on their hip while the other occupied itself with dismissing their Compendium in a puff of smoke. Though they were desperate to get that journal back for Jorath’s sake they didn’t want to give Mag’than the satisfaction of knowing that the situation concerned them too deeply.

 

That, unfortunately, went right out the window the second the broken quill was mentioned.

 

Vaz at first went still, apparently stuck in their attempts to process the rest of the conversation between their fellow demons. Then they straightened up and stepped backwards out of the room, excusing themself for a moment before slamming the door shut on the duo. The scribe approached their desk and removed the fur-lined coat they were now wrapped in so that they could rifle through its pockets. A series of scrolls, inkwells, and more quills started to be summoned from the depths of the garment and placed on their desk, Vaz getting more and more frantic as they pulled an endless supply of items from their pockets. The quills that had suddenly been dragged from their work in The Archives twitched and hovered above the desk, a dazed sort of confusion following in their wake as they observed their surroundings.

 

“Where is Kaa’Taakiir?!”

 

Hissed Vaz under their breath in aeiuwn. A few of the quills bristled, while others congregated in a circle to presumably discuss the matter amongst themselves. Eventually, it was Fi’Faltuun that was elected to speak on behalf of the quills.

 

Our current theory is that she was stolen during the encounter with Takut and Er’anir. I have no reports of a distress call from her.

 

Vaz swore, in an impressive array of dialects, then pinched at the bridge of their nose to try and calm themself back down. Breathe. Think. Don’t fail Jorath yet another time tonight. The scribe exhaled and glanced around the room, reminding themself that this was their office in their Realm. Vaz had the higher ground here, surely. They crossed the room and opened the door again, beckoning the two into stepping through it to join them back in the office.

 

“He is a business associate, by the way. You would do well to remember that in this realm.”

 

Vaz decided to start with a reprimand, now recalling the ‘pet’ insult that Mag’than had thrown out just before their concerns for their quill had overridden everything else. Mag’than snickered before replying, repeating the term ‘business associate’ in a nasally, high-pitched tone of voice that was presumably an impression of Vaz’s current choice of vocals.

 

“Oh. Alright. Is that what they call it now? I think you need better taste, Jorath. You seem to have a thing for getting manipulated by ugly old b****es and - UGH!”

 

Hailing from somewhere in one of the many, many shelves decorating the walls of Vaz’s office a heavy encyclopaedia flung itself into Mag’than’s path and promptly clocked the unwelcome entity in the jaw. The new arrival cried out and clutched at her cheek, a startled wince in her eyes as she hastily turned on the spot to scan for more books coming her way.

 

“...A rabbit, was it my dear? A sign that she may be a luck demon?”

 

Growled the scribe, moving in as wide an arc around Mag’than as the cosy little office would allow for. They twirled their wrist and the encyclopaedia hoisted itself back into the air to neatly file itself away once more. As it slid back into its home along the shelf a second one, thicker than the first, twitched with anticipation beside it.

 

“See now, my dear, I’m afraid I’m not quite as learned as my business associate here on the nuisances of Luck. You shall have to explain to me, nice and slowly, why you speak to us as though you have the winning hand here. You have no journal to show us. You have no quill. You have no indication of how you intend to procure either successfully. And you seem to be under the distinct impression that Jorath here is the biggest threat to your existence in this room when he is, debatably, the only reason why your head is still attached to your shoulders.”

 

Vaz returned to their desk, perching in their chair and crossing their legs in a pose that, if not for the horns, would suggest that they were now  completely unfazed by Mag’than’s presence in their office. With a flourish of their hand they motioned towards the two chairs in front of the desk, in an effort to get their guests to join them.

 

“Do take a seat, Maggie. Show us this enticing hand of yours.”

Edited by Lycanious
Fixed an inconsistency, oops

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Posted (edited)

Jorath
When Vaz slammed the door shut, Jorath frowned. Could the quill Maggie mentioned be the streak he'd seen during their face-off with Takut and Er'anir? It was possible. Vaz never mentioned bringing out a third quill in their recount of events to catch him up on what he'd missed. He turned his attention back to Maggie. She was grinning, a smug sort of expression. He growled at her and she visibly jumped, promptly losing the smug air. But it wasn't completely washed away by fear. There was something, some ting of pleasure, undermining that.

At last, Jorath found out why. "I know you were human before," Maggie sang. "Er'anir likes to gossip about you." He stiffened. Of course she would talk about him, especially if it gave her some advantages. And, how else would she work with Takut without divulging some secrets? Maggie hummed. "And here I thought you were born of the Fire. You hide it well. What's your secret?" As Jorath kept his silence, watching as she began to pace the tiny room, she continued. "Such a shame, really, that you hang around with a Fallen as much as you do. Does the Scribe know you were human? I mean, it's no secret that they absolutely despise humans. That fact and their usefulness to true demons is really the only reason why they're still alive."

"They know," Jorath said, trying to stick with a level tone despite the panic slowly building in his thoughts. With Er'anir talking, how much of what he worked to keep buried was coming to surface?

Maggie balked, turning to stare at him stupidly for a moment. She straightened her posture and worked at her shirt. "Oh, well. That's, um... I see." A small part of Jorath began to wonder how much of her flustered behavior was an act. Especially as she began smirking again. "Then you're useful to them. Question is, for how much longer? I mean... You drag them down quite a lot with all those sour bargains. At some point, you're going to do so much irreparable damage that they'll have to throw you away if they don't want demons tearing them apart. Doesn't matter how much you've maybe fooled yourself into believe they care--"

Jorath surged forward, snatching at the collar of her shirt. "I will silence you if you don't silence yourself, first," he snarled.

Maggie paled, struggling to keep up an air of superiority. "Another touchy thing? My, you have quite a few buttons for pushing, don't you?" She started snickering. "I just haven't figured out yet if it's self-preservation on your part or because you maybe have feelings for that Fallen fil--" She hissed as the chain around her arm seared into her flesh.

"I'll move it up to your neck. Would that be preferable?"

Maggie swallowed, shaking her head quickly. Perhaps it was a saving grace that the door started to open, prompting Jorath to hurriedly release the Seeker. Vaz motioned for both of them to step out into the main part of their office at which point, Vaz corrected Maggie of a notion she had regarding what Jorath was; 'pet' or 'business associate'. He chose not to pretend that watching Maggie get bashed by a book wasn't amusing. As the Scribe continued speaking, Jorath hovered behind the Seeker, shoving her towards the chairs when Vaz instructed for her to sit and she took too long to move. 

Maggie muttered something under her breath in Oldspeak, likely swears that she wanted to spit at their faces. "'s not like I expected to be suddenly pulled into a closet..." She humphed. Taking a seat, Maggie seemed to shrink within the chair, her defiance vanishing as Vaz stared her down. "Look, it's--it's not my fault! I was going to grab the journal; no one knew I was there, not even Takut!" She pouted, and Jorath started imagining her as a small child who was in trouble with the teacher. "Then that blasted quill came out of nowhere, trying to stab at me or some s***. Kept me away from the journal long enough for Er'anir to show up. Surprising, too! She was supposed to be out for--" Maggie stopped, realizing she almost said something she shouldn't. "A-Anyways, she grabbed me and that's when... when..."

"Something started to happen?" Jorath filled in.

The Seeker turned in her seat, frowning at him. "Yeah..." Her brows knit together, a puzzle slowly piecing itself together behind her gaze. 

Jorath stepped forward, tapping at the chain with a fingertip. Maggie jerked as a flicker of heat pulsed through in response. "The chain." He was... somber. Where was the anger? The violence that lurked below the surface? She watched as he slid it off her arm, leaving behind raw and burnt flesh. She grimaced at the sight, uttering an oath and hissing at him about scars. "You'll get over it," he snarked, but it was only a temporary flare. 

He should have figured it wouldn't be so easy. Not when Er'anir was so close. Jorath waited to see if the restraints would shift and make themselves known. However, all he felt was that tension as words struggled--and failed--to stay in his throat. "It's her design. Connected together." Anxiety clawed at his nerves, spiking into his system, at the prospect of explaining this in front of Maggie. So, he focused on the fact that he was explaining it to Vaz while he could. Whatever it was keeping the restraints from coiling around him, he realized the words were now completely his. It was... confusing, and overwhelming. He realized he wanted to say too much. How was he supposed to prioritize? "I almost forgot she could sense it like I can."

Maggie scoffed, tossing her head back. "Looks like it's your fault your little plan for me to get the journal didn't work out then. How's it feel?" She grinned at him and Vaz.

He stared at her, eyes narrowing a fraction. "Akoilkoa," he murmured. The chain in his hand slithered about his palm, one end rising like the head of a snake. The links almost seemed to rattle. "You're not wrong, calling it Illstrund," he said to Vaz. It was one of the interesting quirks he had noticed about Vaz, even if the Scribe hadn't told him directly. The chain had absorbed the name. It wrapped around his wrist and between his fingers before slipping under his sleeve, traveling up his arm to settle halfway between his elbow and shoulder. "Er'anir caught you with this chain. She'll expect you a second time because she wants it back. If she touches--"

 

"Yeah, yeah. I saw." Maggie scrunched her face a moment later. "Wait. That's why you summoned me when you did. B*****d." She drummed her fingers hurriedly against the armrest of her chair, leaning her chin in her other hand. Jorath realized she was avoiding Vaz's gaze. "My hand... I can get you in; past Takut in her own territory. I'm the one who knows where the journal is at. And the quill. You want those back? You need me."

 

Argia
She... absorbed Xaal's counter about Balance, how it was viewed by a Vox Perfectum entity. Argia considered the implications of such a view. The woman moved on though, informing her of something she hadn't known. "Then... likewise will occur if he grows stronger or I become weaker," she mused, beginning to understand more about how the connected tethers worked. In a strange way, it was a form of balance, one that required unity between those involved to maintain the most beneficial outcome. One could not take from the other without taking or giving from themself. 

At Xaal's reveal of her scars, Argia quickly came to realize why the Guardian had such hatred of demons. But Xaal quickly brushed over the topic, directing her attention to something Lojaal indicated. She moved as well, studying the engraving and listening to the possible conclusion that Xaal had come to. "It's very possible," she said. "The question remains... if it is such a weapon, and they have found it, what is it capable of doing?" 

David made a sound, calling Argia's attention. He seemed nervous, shoulders hunching. "That's a terrifying question, especially where demons are concerned." She nodded once to acknowledge his worry. David continued, motioning for them to follow. "Who knows what goes on in a demon's head, though? I've seen some more confident with less, but sometimes it's also just arrogance." He shrugged. "Anyways, I don't think there's anything else like that spear, at least not in this exhibit. There are a couple of smaller wars on displays where the angels or demons were involved. Want to see them?"

 

Argia took after David's lead, letting him guide the way to one such display. This time, she was greeted by a suit of armor, not completely unlike what was depicted in the painting. This one, however, was a blend of leather and bronze. A series of dents and rips rested across the entire suit and a large gash had been rent through the breastplate, nearly fully cleaving its wearer in two. 

 

"... says it's rumored to have belonged to an angel, or group of angels, that had been turned on by a battalion of humans," David was saying, reading from a placard nearby. "Story goes, demons had convinced a human civilization that they could overcome death by killing an angel--or multiple angels--known for wielding scythes." Argia jerked her gaze to the man. As he continued, she drifted back to the ruined armor. "A war broke out; a short one, of course. I mean, humans trying to fight against angels? The outcome's kind of obvious, I think." David shook his head.

 

She almost reached out again to touch the piece, but wrapped her arms about her instead to keep from doing so. Having a direct war with humans? It didn't seem right. "...we would have lost," Argia said in reply, drawing a confused glanced from David. 

 

"How? Angels are much stronger than humans." He shrugged. "Human losses would have been the fault of... well, I guess demonic manipulation."

 

She shook her head. "No, you do not understand. I... Collectors carry the souls of the deceased. They cannot wield any other blade but their own, and the touch of such a blade separates a mortal's soul from its body. There would be no ability to subdue human forces without killing them..." 

 

David stared at her, then flicked his gaze to Xaal, before making a sound. "So, that would mean--"

 

"Humans could strike us down with little to no opposition. We see lifelines, David. We lived by the tenet of never taking a soul before its time," Argia murmured. She wasn't certain why, but saying 'we' sounded more right than 'I'. She blinked and inhaled, straightening a bit, and a weight crept away from her nerves that she hadn't noticed was there. Argia lifted hand up to her head, covering the uncertain motion by reaching for a strand of her hair and sweeping it back over her shoulder. There were... thoughts in her mind, complex emotions twisted into knots. She wanted to blame it upon the tether connected with Jorath and the flow of sensation it had brought. 

 

Turning away from the armor, she focused more on David. "How about a break for a moment? Perhaps there is something a little more lighthearted?"

 

David scrunched his nose in thought, studying the ground momentarily. A second after, he grinned. "There's the garden outside. Big, fancy thing that was planted at the time the museum was built."

 

"That would be lovely." Argia turned to Xaal. "Is this agreeable with you?"

Edited by ValidEmotions

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Vaz

As Jorath unlatched the chain and revealed the singed flesh beneath it the scribe allowed themself to grimace. Vaz starred at the red and raw marks left upon her wrist, a snarl gripping at the corners of their mouth as they struggled to keep their loathing for the object in check. Beneath the desk their hand slid up to their own wrist that Illstrund had been wrapped around earlier in the night and clenched tightly around it. The burns from it had finished healing by now but somehow, like an echo, they could almost feel its blinding heat still cutting into their flesh. Their eyes flickered between the chain and the expression on Jorath’s face, despising how it writhed about on his flesh like a parasitic worm. They had often hoped that the agony of the chain was merely to do with their origins, and that to a more infernal creature it would be a much more manageable thing to bear. The fact that Mag'than had clearly been suffering from it all but confirmed to them that it was yet another thing causing Jorath unending misery.

 

Vaz closed their eyes for a moment and chose to focus on the fact that Jorath was actually indulging them in new information about the chain for once. Were it not for the unwelcome third party in their midst they would have tried to hone in on it further, the desperation to finally decipher what to do about the infernal piece of metal starting to rattle about in their head once more.
 

Looks like it's your fault your little plan for me to get the journal didn't work out then. How's it feel?

The drive for discovery vanished abruptly. Vaz wasn’t certain which of the two she was addressing, but the acknowledgement that their quill was responsible for sabotaging her theft attempt was now starting to sink in for the scribe. They went quiet, their face forced into neutrality as Jorath toyed with the chain in front of them but their mind stewing over the realisation that they had yet again caused him unnecessary strife. They flinched when he addressed the object as ‘Illstrund’, turning the reaction into an enthusiastic motion of getting back out of their chair and strolling around the desk to stand beside him.

“I wasn’t aware you had heard me use the name. But I stand by my choice in its designation.”

Mumbled Vaz, glaring at the spot beneath his sleeve that they knew the chain was now latched around. They almost missed Mag’than’s claim that she was vital in getting the journal back, turning back around to face her when she loudly cleared her throat for attention.


“So is that a ‘yes we do need you’ or-“

 

A forced but none-the-less devious chuckle emitted from the scribe. The contents of the shelves surrounding the trio rattled and rustled alongside of it, causing Mag’than’s question to fade off to a quiet mumble as she double-checked her surroundings for any more unexpected projectiles. 

 

“One could say that it would be more accurate to claim that you need us. You were foolish enough to get caught. Surely that is an instant cessation of your employment with her associate, is it not? And take it from a tired old zuul my dear, I’ve witnessed some rather ugly terminations from disgruntled superiors.”

 

Mag’than sucked in the air through her teeth and hummed to delay her response. Her brow wrinkled, her eyes briefly drifting upwards to greet Vaz’s own before they quickly snapped back to an unassuming corner of the desk. Takut had warned her about starring into the eyes of knowledge demons for too long, but there was something about lingering in this place that compelled her to do-so all the same.

 

“Do…do you mean like employment termination or…um…the other kind?”

Vaz just grinned. It took Mag’than several seconds to risk glancing up and witness it. Though the scowl on her face remained unchanged Vaz noted that she did seem to deflate slightly in her chair as the reality of her situation began to sink in. If there was one thing Vaz could always rely on, it was a talent for finding ways to drag others right down with them. For a second, something akin to regret flickered into their expression as they starred down at the younger demon. They reached for Jorath’s forearm, starting to pull him back around the desk and in the direction of their dressing room as they responded to Mag’than’s concerns.

 

“We shall give you a moment to mull things over my dear, perhaps then we can come to something of a more mutually beneficial agreement. We are in need of a private discussion anyway. Here, how about some light reading while you wait?”

 

Books began to zoom towards Mag’than again, who instinctively flinched and shielded their face from more projectiles. This time however the books merely drifted in front of her and neatly stacked themselves onto her lap. Mag’than blinked down at the first book before her eyes, somewhat dumbfounded as to why Vaz thought she would have any interest in something featuring a collage of snails as its book-cover image and titled ‘Marvellous Mollusks of the Mortal Realm’. She picked up the book and held it up to Jorath, silently pleading for an indication as to whether she was meant to glean something deeper from the selection or not. Irritation at the both of them quickly replaced her moment of dismay.

 

“What? You’re just going to leave me here while you two get all cosy in another room for an hour? I got s*** to do you roasted dodo.”

 

Mag’than hissed out another string of profanity as the book in her hands wrenched forward and crunched into her nose, cutting short her further complaints. Vaz’s grip tightened around their associate’s arm, their face contorting momentarily into one of aggravation as they paused mid-step before they were able to stifle the reaction once more. Their head turned, their chin hooking over their shoulder in an owl-like manner as they starred her down once more.

 

“You are quite welcome to attempt an escape if you wish my dear, but I recommend you take the jar of toffees with you if you do. They could very well be the only source of nourishment available to you for a few weeks.”

 

Mag’than’s eyes flickered towards the opened door leading back out of the office, starring down the passageway created by the shelves that went straight for several metres before winding off to the right. Her nose twitched and she shifted about in discomfort, certain that the passage had been curving to the left when she had first taken note of it. 

 

“We shan’t be long. Behave yourself and perhaps I shall even reverse what was done to that little Spellcaster friend of yours.”

 

Leaving that thought to hang in the air, Vaz ushered themself and Jorath into the dressing room and closed the door behind them. With Mag’than out of sight they allowed themself to ease backwards and slump against the wooden door with a groan. Another feather dislodged itself from the impact, fluttering out from beneath their dress-shirt and swirling through the air to join a small collection of them that had congregated at the base of their mirror.

 

“I’m so sorry my dear. Please don’t blame Kaa’Taakiir, she would have had no way of knowing that Mag’than was any more trustworthy than Takut or Er’anir. She’s a valiant thing. Even with a broken hilt I have no doubt that she is adamantly refusing to co-operate with any of them.”

Vaz closed their eyes and rubbed at their temples, trying to formulate a plan before Jorath would have time to fully process that the scribe’s failure to keep track of the notoriously rogue quill had resulted in the current situation.  

 

“…You say she harmonises with voices, yes? Enjoys poking around and manipulates the facts in your head? What if I were to go with Maggie this time, do you think I have the ability to distract her for a suitable length of time?”

 

The scribe eventually ventured, followed by a sharp expression as their eyes snapped open with a new thought and they prodded a fingernail into Jorath’s sternum.

 

“I don’t want you going with Maggie, at any rate. Especially if she can sense that confounded contraption. I don’t want you anywhere near that half-drenched, conniving little shrew.”

 

 

Xaal

 

In terms of what the weapon was capable of, Xaal didn’t have an answer for Argia. She shrugged, apologetically, and was almost thankful when the man’s anxious call for them to follow him to another exhibit prevented her from having to dwell on the matter for too long.

 

That gratitude quickly faded when she realised exactly what part of history it was that he had now unearthed. Xaal swallowed. The world she had been residing in at the time hadn’t been one of the targets, so Xaal hadn’t been privy to the carnage wrought upon the Collectors until it was far too late to enter the fray. She remembered the terrified recounts, though, from those who had witnessed an event that had devastated multiple Realms. And she remembered the sorrow that had followed it. The agonising, overbearing guilt from her Fallen brethren when they realised that this was the price to pay for giving humanity the ability to have a choice in what it did. Sometimes, it would make horrifying ones. 

 

Xaal still loved humanity. She knew that the beings who had slaughtered her fellow angels were not the same humans she still vowed to watch over. But it was events like The Culling that made her better understand why Vaz had lost their faith in humanity a long time ago.

 

It was probably for the best not to tell either of them what Vaz’s response to the event had been.

 

‘You are correct. A lot of Collectors were killed. They were honourable angels. Even with a blade on their throat, many didn’t harm the human holding it.’

 

Xaal concluded, feeling as though it would be a disservice not to at least acknowledge the ones that had stood by their principles in even their final moments. Even if she hadn’t fallen she didn’t think she would have had the same restraint, especially if the life of another angel was on the line. Xaal shivered from the thought, wrapping her arms around herself in lieu of being able to do the same with her wings. At the corner of her cheek, she felt Lojaal’O’Ith graze against it in an attempt to comfort her and offered a half-hearted smile in response. Lojaal then twirled through the air and did the same to Argia, even though she hadn’t necessarily given an indication that she had been involved in any sort of war. Perhaps the sympathy from Lojaal was just by virtue of her role as a Harbinger, and therefore she was similar enough to consider the Collectors as her own kind. The quill then decided to snuggle herself back under Argia’s shawl.

 

The Guardian broke away from her idle contemplation of the quill’s actions and shifted her gaze back to Argia’s face. She was right, it was time to focus on something more light-hearted. Xaal perked up at the mention of the garden and nodded in agreement, so David turned and began to lead them back outside. Briefly she eyed a portion of the library that was visible through the glass separators as the trio descended the stairs, noting that her more demonic counterpart seemed to be taking a while to return to them. For a split second the back of her neck hairs bristled. Should she be worried about the fact that Jorath had followed them? Her eyes then caught sight of a few books rearranging themselves near the bottom corner of a nearby shelf, and hesitantly she dismissed that thought. Short of being taken by surprise, it was easy to forget how dangerous her own kind could be in the depths of their own Realm. There was a reason why most demons decided it was in their best interests to steer clear of her own territory near the Art Gallery, after all. They were probably fine. Lojaal would alert them if they weren’t.

‘Do you know about flower language?’

 

Xaal inquired as the trio stepped outside of the building and into the garden, always keen to explore alternative forms of communication. Floriography had always been one of her favourites, a language built around combining splashes of colour and shapes and didn’t require a single syllable to be uttered. To Xaal’s delight the garden was not a disappointment. It was a small but vibrant little patch of plant-life, different from the gloom of the world surrounding it. In the absence of proper sunlight it looked like the owners of the museum had woven dozens of tiny fairy lights throughout the trees and bushes to try and brighten up the place, to which Xaal at least marvelled at the overall affect. Almost in a daze she wandered from the group to inspect a nearby arrangement of bushes, instinctively drawn to the selection of roses as one of her favourites. After losing herself in the sight for a moment she frowned, a sudden realisation gracing her thoughts. She turned back towards her company and gestured towards the flowering plants at her side, then up towards the sky until David managed to catch on to the gesture.

“How are they still alive without the sun?”

 

Xaal nodded, beaming over the fact that he was at least making an effort to try and engage with her instead of complaining that she should keep using the phone.

“Um…well actually I was sorta hoping one of you could tell me that. I’m not sure what sort of places you’ve visited yet but you might’ve noticed that there’s a lot of spots around here where the plants are all thriving still, even without artificial lighting. I mean don’t get me wrong, its great. We can still grow food at least. But it doesn’t really make sense unless there’s some sort of magic going on here.”

That caught Xaal’s attention, prompting her to clasp her hands together and raise her eyebrows over in Argia’s direction.

“Maybe there’s someone or something else around here that wants us all to survive? Maybe if we find them you can ask them to join forces with the Order?”

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Jorath

"Didn't hear you say it; it did and absorbed the name," Jorath corrected. "And, at any rate, I prefer your label over Er'anir's for the damn thing." 'Bad connections' was better than 'leash', in his opinion. Again, Jorath watched as Vaz made Maggie squirm in her seat, putting the demon in her place as she continued trying to sling insults. To be fair to her on something though, he didn't understand what the book with snails on its cover was to be for, either. Vaz's unexpected grip on his arm, however, prickled his skin and it took a bit of effort to focus more on keeping pace with the Scribe than on the reflex to jerk free. Wonderfully, that reaction died down relatively quickly despite the situation. 

 

Almost shoved into Vaz's room, Jorath turned to face the Scribe as they leaned back against the door and began apologizing. "Stop that." His voice was too firm, but he didn't bother correcting it. "Why are you apologizing for something I already know your quills do? Whatever Fi has in that journal, it's not a far stretch to assume another quill will work to protect it." His gaze tracked the trail of the dislodged feather, following it to the mirror and the pile before it. He frowned, not yet sure how to process the quantity or what it even meant. Feathered wings weren't something he knew much about.

 

Returning his attention to Vaz, he began absorbing the implications of their questions. He strode closer, receiving a jab at his chest when their eyes opened again. "Don't you dare. You'll likely manage to distract her but not in--" he started, grabbing their hand with one of his while the second lightly clasped their other arm. "She's been in my head much too long; I don't want her getting the chance to slither into yours." Why was this easier to say? Jorath's features crinkled in a blend of confusion and pensive calculation. "Yes, she harmonizes. It's more than just a manipulation to make you think differently. It's a power of hers." Whatever it was that dragged the words free of his throat, Jorath found that he wanted to take advantage of that. He just didn't know how long it would last or how long he might be able to endure the growing discomfort against his neck. "She's already sampled your voice and enjoys it. She'll try using it; firstly because it's what she does and, secondly, because she knows that I--" He didn't really know how to express the last bit, uncertain of it himself. 

 

Letting go of Vaz, Jorath took a step back and rubbed at his neck as he continued, the words becoming more rushed as the seconds ticked on. "The more Er'anir knows your voice, the more it works in her favor. She wants you to talk. Look--" He inhaled, feeling out the soreness in his throat and the ache against his skin. "--I have no intentions of letting Er'anir get her hands on Illstrund, as best as I can deny her. She gets it, I--is your Vow of Truth still at play?" He'd never known it to last this long. In fact, if he recalled, it should have ceased working the moment Vaz had ended the ordeal. Swallowing, he swept his gaze about the room, trying to understand what he was sensing. He kept talking, regardless, diverting a glance back at Vaz. "She named it 'leash', in our language. And for a reason. The metallurgist that crafted it for her also imbued it with the intentions she wanted. It's strongest in her hands and I--" His voice was growing hoarse, he could hear it. The chain on his arm, as if responding to being discussed about, finally began to burn as he was familiar with it doing. 

 

No. Not yet. The words were his and Jorath muttered a curse to emphasize his claim. He uttered a chant in his native tongue, foregoing any rhythm that had been part of its initial usage, and immediately felt Illstrund respond. With a flick of his hand, the chain ejected itself to the ground, coiling and uncoiling like the snake he imagined it to be. It grew to become the same length as his leg. The links rattled. Jorath kept his gaze locked upon the chain, unwilling to chance a glimpse at Vaz for their reaction. He wanted--needed--the Scribe to see and understand something while he could still get the words spoken. He just didn't know how best to tell them. And if they were repulsed by the truth once he showed them?

 

Well... he'd deal with the fallout as he usually did.

 

Jorath just didn't expect the ripple of fear through his thoughts at the possibility. Illstrund picked up on it, raising its 'head'. Er'anir's laughter whispered through the air, a distant echo within the room for him and Vaz to hear. Oh crap. Quickly, he spoke another chant, causing the chain to jerk and lower itself back to the ground as her laughter vanished. Crouching down on one knee, he rested his hand upon the chain. Silver tendrils surfaced against his skin, covering every inch of his flesh. "Cold oceans swallow sound," he said, the words tearing away at his throat and diminishing his voice. "Beasts have no voice. No humanity. No sense of being. Only violence." 

 

He switched to his own language, fingers curling around the bit of chain to hide the tremble in his hand. It wasn't a chant and, at some point, it stopped sounding as if he were speaking to Vaz. In the next second, Illstrund struck, wrapping around his arm and traveling to his neck. Jorath growled at it, the sound cutting off what he had been saying. Reasserting the restraints Er'anir had crafted. For a long moment, Illstrund clung to his arm and neck, restricting his movement as the metal reddened and brightened with heat. Gradually, the chain shrunk in size, returning to what it had been originally, and slunk back into its place on his upper arm. Jorath was coughing, eyes watering from the pain in his throat. As if the soft tissue inside had been ripped apart. Blood in his hand suggested that to be more likely than not. 

 

With his voice being no better than a breathless rasp, Jorath finally glanced up at Vaz. "Make use of this. It's one of the greatest things about you." He attempted a smile, the crooked expression frail. Staying on the ground, he needed a breath and ran fingers through his hair only to realize his horns were present. He felt their weight only after his hand bumped bone. "Maybe you'll discover something I never could that'll be of help with Er'anir to get Kaa'Taakiir back." Jorath needed to stop talking. He didn't even know if Vaz could really hear him at this point. He just knew, for the moment, he cared more about the quill than the journal.

 

Argia

Deriving unexpected comfort from Lojaal's touch, Argia watched the quill tuck herself beneath the shawl before following David outside. Immediately, she could see Xaal's pleasure with the garden. When asked about flower language, Argia had to admit that she knew not what it was. She shook her head while David gave a timid nod. "Only a little bit," he replied. "And it's been awhile since I studied any of it. So... I'm probably really rusty." 

 

As discussion turned to the strangeness of plants thriving in a sunless world, Argia drifted towards a groomed section growing white lilies. Nearby, rosemary shrubs sported their blue flowers. "Whoever is taking care of the city, I have to wonder if it's just one individual or multiple? The implications of either scenario are... curious," she mused. "It should be worth finding out, at least. The city is thriving, mostly, because of the intervention. But to what end?" 

 

"Likely power," David theorized. "I mean, that's what a lot of the demons here are squabbling for. I don't think a demon is keeping the gardens alive, but I don't know if this being isn't trying to accomplish the same thing." He shrugged. "I doubt anyone's going to complain much, if at all, though. Can't really bite the hand that feeds you, right?"

 

While David spoke, Argia moved closer to the rosemary, eying the placard that informed her of who donated the shrubs. Eventually, "They spelled Nazareth wrong..." It had a third 'a' in place of where the 'e' should be.

 

"Pardon?" David asked, drawing her attention away from the placard.

 

"Oh, Nazareth is a place in Israel. It's spelled with two 'a's and an 'e' but they used three 'a's instead on the nameplate." 

 

David looked confused, lifting his hand up as if he were about to make some gesture or other. Instead, he thought against it and brought his hand back down. "There isn't a place called Israel. At least, not that I've heard?" He glanced back at Xaal, a questioning expression to see if she might know better than him. "However, Nazarath is on a few of the placards. Seems they donated a small portion for the garden way back in the day, based on the year. You can find the name alongside most of the lilies, the chrysanthemums, those rosemary, the hyacinths, um..." He trailed off, scratching at his chin as he seemed to mull over what else was on the list. "Oh! The forget-me-nots, too!"

 

Argia frowned. Those were all... "Loss, sorrow, and regret; flowers associated with death," she murmured. And remembrance. It was a theme she'd seen among mortals who visited the graves of loved ones. Idly, her fingers traced the engraving that spelled the individual's name. 

 

"Oh, really? That's rather sad. Wonder if this person lost someone at the time?"

 

"Perhaps," she replied. Whatever the person's reason, the flowers were well-maintained and she hoped that the individual found some comfort in the gesture of their donation. It was even likely the person came to visit the museum at times if they were willing to contribute to its garden. Looking to Xaal again, she nodded towards the roses that the woman appeared to have a liking for. "You mentioned flower language. Is there something you see here?"

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Vaz

 

Stop that.

 

Vaz twitched from the sharpness of the command, their apology and subsequent plotting reducing to a quieter mumble as they heard Jorath stroll closer. Confusion sprinkled itself into their stance when he likewise insisted that Vaz shouldn’t go after her either, despite the scribe acknowledging that it was their fault Mag’than’s plan to retrieve the journal had been thwarted. And their fault that Kaa’Taakiir was in distress. And fault that the journal even existed in the first place.

 

She's been in my head much too long; I don't want her getting the chance to slither into yours.

 

The scribe emitted a sound that seemed like a cross between a wince and a humourless huff of laughter. Their eyes flickered towards the base of their mirror, a swallow subduing the rest of their reaction. She would have to get in line, my dear. Thought the scribe, though they chose not to give voice to the snide remark. Instead they focused on Jorath’s voice, surprised by the uncharacteristic ease in which his words were starting to flow. Vaz could feel their mind honing in on the secrets buried behind those words and invisible eyes turned towards him, beckoning for the information to continue to flow. It was as if their Realm itself was shifting its gaze upon him over the unexpected insight. Vaz shook their head, faintly, and whispered the word ‘no’ when Jorath asked about their Vow of Truth. Such an ability would only linger for a minute or two at best once eye-contact had been broken, and Vaz had terminated any attempts to otherwise extend it once they had withdrawn proof that he was innocent.

 

Vaz flattened themself against the door and starred down at the chain with an alarmed expression when it unlatched itself from Jorath’s arm and began to crawl along the floor. They had understood from the way it would sometimes hook itself around Jorath that it was indeed alive to some degree, but they had never seen it slither about with such independence. Overcome with the sudden urge to strike the wretched thing, Vaz could feel a tendril now curling into view from beneath the hem of their shirt. It coiled into view, brandishing the halo shard in a defensive manner between Vaz and the chain. Would striking it with a holy-imbued object have any affect? Vaz did wonder, but they soon doubted that they had the power in them any more to do any real damage to it.

 

A laugh ran through the room, distant yet piercing, and Vaz’s focus was finally torn from the chain in favour of scanning the walls of their dressing room in shock at the sudden noise. Several dull thuds, followed by a yelp from Mag’than, emitted at the same time from the opposite side of the wall they were pressed up against. Vaz gritted their teeth and curled one of their hands into a ball, channeling their building apprehension into their clenched fist rather than letting the raw energy run amok in their office and scatter more ancient tomes and scrolls from its shelves. The scribe inhaled deeply and slowly relaxed their hand, letting the Celestial energy trickle slowly from it and permeate through the wall behind them as they brushed their fingers along its surface. They envisioned a shield and mumbled out an incantation in aeiuwn to ward off those with malicious intent. The laughter soon faded and the sensation of an intrusion in their territory subsided, but they weren’t certain whether it was Jorath’s efforts or their own that had put a stop to it.

 

Illstrund lunged for Jorath, breaking Vaz’s concentration on reaffirming their dominance over this Realm in favour of growling out a warning string of Oldspeak profanity. They lurched forward as the desire returned to wrench the infernal object, burns be damned, away from his throat. However, an ancient memory stirred, stopping Vaz abruptly in their tracks. For a split second, the chain digging into his neck wasn’t silver but gold in their eyes. More golden chains, eight in total, wrapped around each of Vaz’s limbs and jerked them back away from their fellow Fall-

 

No. Vaz was in their Office. And the angel they had seen before them was long-dead.

 

A stinging sensation had struck their eyes during the vision, now blurring Jorath’s form as he crouched upon the ground. They could make out the glint of Illstrund as it slunk back to a spot around the demon’s arm, having of decided to release Jorath from its grasp without needing intervention. Vaz sniffed at the sight, feeling rather helpless towards their friend, and rubbed away the excess moisture from their eyes as they regarded him. When Illstrund looked to be dormant once more and it finally felt safer to approach, Vaz gingerly lowered themself towards the ground and rested their weight on both knees. Their hands hovered with uncertainty over his form, wanting nothing more than to pull him close and shield him from the dreadful echo they had heard and the monster behind it, but not wanting to restrict him in any manner after that display. Eventually they settled for something that felt like a light compromise, reaching out to rest one hand upon his shoulder and using the other to comb through his fringe a few times in an attempt to soothe him.

 

“You have told me much, my dear. I can sense new pages spawning in The Compendium as we speak. Please do not exert yourself any further.”

 

Once Jorath appeared to be breathing at a better pace, Vaz eased themself back onto their feet and edged their way into the washroom. The sound of running water began to trickle into their ears. The scribe lingered, splashing some water onto their face a few times and shaking their head to clear their thoughts before focusing them back on the fact that Jorath was still hunched over on the floor. Vaz re-emerged from the washroom a moment later, a damp hand-towel in one hand and a matching dry one draped over their opposite arm. They settled back down onto the floor in front of their companion, rolling up the wet towel into a ball and motioning for him to lift his chin so that they could tend to the flesh that had been sliced into by the chain.

 

“I do not think you are a beast, L’antiira. I believe that true beasts and monsters are self-preserving and rotten to their very core, my dear. They do not apologise. They do not feel remorse for their actions. They do not care who they bring down with them as long as they get another stepping-stone to stand upon in the process.”

 

They weren’t certain why their response decided to start from there, or why it rolled from their tongue with such an irate tone. There was just something about whenever someone claimed Jorath was in any way, shape or form a creature incapable of complex thought that irked them more-so than the healthy dosage of other insults they had heard about either of them.

 

“And my dear, I think if anything you care too much. There is quite the tenacity to you that I admire at times. Well, I admire it when it’s not making a right git out of you, at least.”

 

Vaz attempted to mimic their crooked grin from earlier, pressing their free hand against his cheek to prompt him into momentarily facing them again so that he could witness it.

 

“But your more bothersome moments aside, I marvel at how much you fight against a Fate I suspect you want little part in. I have known far mightier beings that have plunged into depravity for far less suffering. I wish I could grant you your freedom my dear. I wish I could give you all the Choice in the world. I don’t think you would be one to squander such a gift.”

 

It was a somewhat idle ramble for now, half-distracted as the scribe continued to dab lightly at his skin and lament over their lack of a proper First Aid kit in their Office. 

 

“Ah...my apologies my dear. Being so close to The Archives can make me both rather wistful and maddeningly verbose towards other entities. Rest assured that unravelling the answer to any mystery, eventually, was once said to be inevitable of me. If there is a vulnerability to Er’anir and her horrid contraptions hidden in your words it has a good chance of finding its way to me. Eventually.”

 

Vaz exhaled, wishing they could say something more helpful, and starred across at the other demon. Their eyes traced upwards, taking in the sight of the shackles looped around their horns. In that moment they could have traded any secret in any world for one that would snap all those shackles and chains off of his form, visible or otherwise. When the unfamiliar emotion waned they cleared their throat and glanced away, pretending to spot something mildly interesting about their appearance in the mirror.

 

“...I think most of the bleeding has died down now. I underestimate how quickly you heal sometimes...Erm...There’s some dresses and shirts that’ve stretched a bit and might fit you over by mirror there, if you want to wear something with less blood speckles on it. At the rate you’ve been going through garments tonight I’d perhaps take a dozen or so with you. You shall probably need them.”

 

 

Xaal

 

Xaal shrugged in response to hearing the name on the placard. She knew of such a place with that name, several actually, but they had been in different worlds to this one.

 

‘Do not tell Vaz it is misspelt. They might write a letter of complaint.’

 

She had announced it in jest, but truthfully it wouldn’t have been the first time Vaz had gone to report such a trivial mistake to the local curator. Touring a history museum could be both a delight and a nightmare when it came to having the scribe amongst your party, and most of it boiled down to whether it was a learning experience for them or a never-ending series of corrections and condescending remarks about mortals for all the inaccuracies they could find. Xaal rolled her eyes from the thought and switched her attention back to the subject of flowers and their myriad of different meanings, keen to enlighten them both on the subject.

 

‘That’s okay. Old language, for human? Different colours mean different things. Roses have many meanings. These ones are red, so could mean love, passion or courage. Also can mean secrets. I like them for that reason.’

 

Golden eyes traced over the flower arrangements of the garden, taking in the overall sight with a bittersweet sort of smile. Argia was right, whoever this ‘Nazarath’ being was they had chosen an array of flowers that all seemed to represent death and remembrance in some way. It was a sombre thought, but at the same time it left a weak flutter of something warm and comforting in her core as she turned her attention back towards the roses. These ones, according to the placard, had also been donated by the same mysterious benefactor.

 

‘I think they lost someone close to them. A partner?’

 

Her fingers graced over the placard, a crease forming in her brow as a spark of a secret grasped for her attention. It was too faint though, too old or too insignificant to better define itself. She read the name over and over again, eventually deciding that it must have been a pseudonym that was giving off the aura. It did beg the question of why someone would want to remain anonymous when they had taken such care in their generous additions to the garden, but she supposed humans all responded and grieved in different ways.

 

‘The lost one must have loved visiting the museum?’

 

Offered Xaal, starting to wander further down the garden path in the hopes of any other little messages or stories to glean from the selection of others. So far none of the other donors struck her as having a significant theme to their selections, other than the occasional consistencies in appearances that suggested they had a favourite colour. She came to rest in front of a series of daffodils, remembering a conversation with Vaz that had resulted in them hesitantly nominating said flowers as their own favourite.

 

‘Vaz likes these ones. Truth and honesty. And gold. But also can mean forgiveness and new starts...Maybe we should go check on Vaz and Jorath? They have been gone for a while, yes?’

 

Xaal then rubbed at the bottom of her chin and pursed her lips in thought. She swirled on her heel and regarded the human lingering a little further behind her, doubt creeping into her expression.

 

‘But The Archives might not like a human there. May get lost. May get sick. May...’

 

Xaal wasn’t quite sure how to express the worst-case scenario for her new companion. So she just flexed a forefinger towards his temple, then motioned to her own and made several ‘explosion’ gestures. The chances of something that extreme were almost at a zero though, as he seemed far too benign for Vaz to treat him as anything more than a minor annoyance for the intrusion on their territory. Unaccompanied the Realm would probably just loop him though the same three rows of shelves a few times as a warning then release him back towards the exit. Hopefully. Xaal clasped her fingers together for a moment and rested her chin over them, wrinkling her nose over the internal debate as to whether they should just keep waiting for the other two to show up.

 

‘Are there other things you want to show us or ask? Is there a section for beliefs and followers? I want to know more about all the deities that have been in charge of this realm.’

Edited by Lycanious

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[[So, I proposed Boss Man's Right Hand falling out of a chair as a joke. Then someone convinced me to make it a real thing. Now you get to deal with it as a part of this new intro :U Due to length, I'm gonna put Jorath and Argia in a separate post later.]]

 

Taathiir-razuul
A demon was droning on about estimates and predictions for what Auris Domniir, and the rest of the city, should expect at the end of the 48-hour window given as a warning. She had even sketched out a quick diagram on the whiteboard, the marker tip squeaking across the laminated surface. "--ications this might have. It's possible we might even see some physical changes made to the city in response to the Realm growing so quickly. Maybe too quickly." The demon replaced the cap on the marker with a click, brunette hair held up in a bun with a streak of blond spiraling through from her temple. 

Taathiir acknowledged her with a vague nod, leaning forward in their seat at the far end of the long table until they could rest their elbows upon its surface, chin held to their hands. Possible physical changes to the city... "What are the chances we'll see these changes? Are there any predictions about what kind of changes will occur?" they asked, storm-grey eye scanning the diagram for any insights.

She shifted slightly, her gaze pointedly focusing on their suit or the table. Whatever helped to avoid looking at their face and the scar cutting down the left side. "Uh... well, sir, we haven't been able to get an exact percentage. But we've agreed that the estimate is somewhere between 60- and 87-percent. We--We also don't quite know what will transpire. There's a dedicated team currently expediting a means to control any changes so that, if they do occur, it only takes place within the territory we command. Would you care for a report on what that entails, sir?"

"I do. See that it reaches me in the next couple hours. I also want you to coordinate a team to make sure all moveable goods and assets are secure within our warehouses outside of the city before the window is closed. Ensure nothing is lost or destroyed. I want to keep people satisfied, no matter what happens physically to the city." They dismissed her and she dipped her head in a bow, vacating the meeting room. Once she left, they rose from their seat, the wooden beads in their braided black hair clicking ever so slightly from the movement. A brown feather, woven into their hair with the beads, stroked the dark skin of their cheek.

As they reached over for the blue binder on the table with one hand, they signaled at the door with the other. "Go ahead with your report, Fred," Taathiir said, turning so that they leaned back against the edge of the table, sort of sitting on the lip, as another demon entered the room.

The man that approached was significantly taller than Taathiir, roughly seven feet in height, and brawny. But, instead of filling some security role as most would expect, he much preferred the finesse of numbers and finances. Fred also liked baking, as Taathiir had stumbled upon one evening. A week later, Taathiir brought freshly-grown blueberries for his next creation. Currently, as the man flicked open the binder and shuffled through the pages, scanning its contents, Fred's features were all stern business.

After a silent moment, the demon found the page he wanted and started in on the typical run-down. It wasn't something Taathiir necessarily needed each month; they trusted Fred with the organization's funds. But, the consistency and familiarity of it was something to appreciate in a world where Realms and demonic intentions or alignments were always shifting. "There is... one thing," Fred stated, disrupting that consistency. Taathiir snapped their gaze up from the ground to the demon. "One of the accounts isn't balancing out and we're short some change."

"Is it negligible?"

"It's pushing it," he replied. "Looked into it a bit, found some rumors and a testimony." Fred glanced at the doorway, motioning for another demon to step into the room. Young looking, she shuffled forward nervously, blonde hair framing her face as she kept her gaze upon everyone's feet. "Wanted your input before proceeding further or letting it drop."

"Tell me about the rumors."

"Excepting a couple of ludicrous claims, most of the rumors circle around a group of demons trying to form their own operation from within Auris Domniir and making use of its resources. Others suggest someone's just getti--"

Taathiir lurched, hand gripping at the back of the chair for support, as a shock rippled through their core. The piece of furniture toppled from the force, however, and sent Taathiir to the ground. Energy thrummed under their skin, emanating from The Cemetery. Their vision fogged over. They could hear Fred inquiring if they were alright but ignored him in favor of feeling outward along the thread of their tether into the primary Realm that most Collectors were connected to. Within the city, a new Anchor took root, holding a familiar sub-Realm secure. It... It can't be... "Naya'il?" they breathed, vision clearing. But her Realm--No. It wouldn't just spring back to life after all this time... Would it?

Regardless, something had brought new energy into The Cemetery and it was responding in kind.

They picked themself up, shrugging off Fred's attempt to assist, and straightened their suit jacket with a quick tug. Taathiir cleared their throat then proceeded to smooth any braid back over their shoulder that had strayed from the rest. Their gaze flickered towards Fred and the young woman. The former appeared genuinely confused and concerned. They couldn't discern the expression of the latter, however, but Taathiir suspected there might be a hint of restrained amusement at their spill.

"Sir?" Fred hedged.

Lifting their chin faintly, Taathiir fixed the young woman with a narrowed gaze until she promptly lowered her head and lost the snicker she'd been hiding. Once that was corrected, they fixed the chair and closed the financial binder, passing it over to Fred's hands. "The call is yours to make. Take action if you feel it required."

"But, sir--" he started when Taathiir began walking away.

"I have something to tend to, Fred." There was no further protest as Taathiir made their way through the building, offices lining both sides of the hallway on this floor and the next three below. In the elevator, Taathiir allowed themself a shaky breath, busying their fingers with undoing the trio of buttons at each wrist on their jacket sleeves. The Cemetery was starting to calm back down by the time they loosened their tie and undid the top button of their dress shirt. They disliked ties, but they couldn't deny that the piece sometimes completed the look.

When the elevator came to a stop on the fifth floor, they strode out, removing their jacket in the process. Beneath the black fabric was a red-wine-colored satin vest to go over the black shirt. They had other color schemes for their suits, but something about the gothic flair was appealing to them in this century. Lucy had even found them a grey vest with little metal skulls for buttons in a spot of humor connecting to their former role. Last century, they wore a lot of pinstripes.

It took effort to keep their pace steady, struggling against the urge to rush for their private office. In time, though, their hand finally graced the doorknob, and they locked the door behind them. With a swift motion, they tossed both suit jacket and tie onto the coat rack that stood nearby with a few other coats draped upon the hooks, rolling shirt sleeves up to their elbows as they made for their desk. They opened and shut a couple drawers before finding the parchment they wanted and spread a large map across the surface of the desk. Taathiir swept aside pens and memo pads and other items to make space, some of which clattered to the floor in their haste.

The city was laid out before them. Sigils inked along the edges of the parchment glittered in response to their touch. As Taathiir watched, the lines drawn upon the parchment lifted, generating a sort of 3D image in the air around them. Their vision fogged over again as they motioned with their hand, turning the image in a few different angles. Once more, they reached out with their senses to feel for the new Anchor. The map changed as they did so, isolating a region of the city to enlarge it for Taathiir to examine. But they couldn't narrow the location down further. Not since their Fall. Trying to do so only brought a foggy uncertainty and a headache.

Dispelling the image with a wave, they rolled the map back up and returned it to their desk. As they did so, Taathiir stared at the sash that rested in the drawer. A soft blue in color, not unlike the soulfires found within The Cemetery, metal beads were tied to one end of the cottony fabric; one of Taathiir's black feathers with them.

Long-dried ikaar stained a portion of the material.

They spared a brief moment to brush their fingers over the sash, tempted to pull it from the drawer and bring it with them. But, no. Shutting the drawer with map and sash tucked inside, Taathiir crossed the room to a cabinet, riffling through a stash of folders until they found the set of files they needed. Upon the pages was a running list of names and notes, collected for the purpose of tracking demonic influences, organizations, and the like, that occupied the city.

No one had a solid hold on the area of the city where the Anchor had been made. It'd been partly the reason why Auris Domniir sought a direct claim, though other groups were attempting the same. Not truly a neutral territory, it was filled with a smattering of small Influence pockets. Someone setting down an Anchor was sure to ruffle some feathers. And, if it truly was Naya'il that was responsible...

Taathiir closed the folder and slipped it back into the cabinet, having refreshed their memory of the scattered occupations through that region of the city. Reaching for the smartphone in their pant pocket, they hit the speed dial and brought the device to their ear as they crossed the room again.

"Sir?" came the prompt greeting.

"I need you to push back my next two meetings by an hour or so. I'm stepping out. Don't allow anyone to disturb me." They opened up a small chest, carefully shifting contents aside until they found a strip of rolled up leather. "Only contact me if it's an absolute emergency." Within the bundle was an assortment of items, most no bigger than their hand. Some were engraved with sigils, like a bird skull that had been slightly worn down through time.

"Yes, sir."

The other line ended and Taathiir, uttering a word of power to shrink the leather bundle into something more easy to pocket, retrieved a portable phone charger from their desk. A small pink slip of paper upon the desk caught their attention and they paused, brow knitting as they pondered the sticky note. That wasn't there when they first cleared the desk.

Remember to smile today! }:)
- Lucy


Taathiir rolled their eye in a hint of exasperation. Though the smiley face, complete with horns, was recently new (Lucy had finally discovered emojis and found them to be the most thrilling thing, apparently), her notes about social behaviors out in public weren't unfamiliar. It wasn't that Taathiir didn't know how to recognize social cues or how to show expressions. They just preferred to not broadcast all of their thoughts or emotions to everyone. 'Introverted' was the word slung their way. 'Quiet' and 'private' were the words Taathiir clung to.

Fred claimed it was "all the same s***", while stuffing a bite of pie into his mouth.

Gathering a double-breasted overcoat in a similar red as their vest from the rack and slipping into the woolen material, Taathiir side-stepped from the hanger. Crow-feathered wings rustled and flexed as they revealed themselves. The limbs lifted and wrapped about them, shrouding them within the feathers. There was a shift and then Taathiir could feel the breeze ruffling their wings. They didn't know if the ability was something they could do before Falling, or if it was one of the talents they had developed when more of their Infernal nature took lead as their Celestial nature weakened. Whichever it was, Taathiir found shadow-stepping to be very useful when they wanted to avoid notice while traveling.

Their wings folded back and tucked themselves out of sight once more, leaving Taathiir to ensure their coat was properly in place upon their shoulders as they stepped out onto the sidestreet. They'd come to the edge of the region the new Anchor rested in. Mortals were more active in this area, awake based upon whatever clock they were choosing to follow. Which mostly, from what they had observed, was still relatively the same as before when mortals could still rely upon the sun. Employers, employees, and parents saw it more convenient to maintain already-settled schedules and, well, it only proved a small disruption at the beginning.

Taathiir wove themself into the foot-traffic. They walked slowly, focusing on what their senses told them and attempting to take a route based upon that. It wasn't a perfect solution, however, and Taathiir found themself circling a stretch of the city until they spent a moment simply breathing. Eventually, after several more instances of becoming turned about and growing frustrated, they stood across the street from the entrance to a subway station. Torn yellow tape dangled from some of the metal railings along the sides that warned mortals to watch their steps.

There were a few lifelines below ground, distinctly isolated from the plethora on the surface. The arrival of a non-mortal lifeline drew Taathiir's attention and they swept their gaze to the demon. He was edging towards the station entrance and, given that Taathiir didn't immediately recognize the fledgling, he was possibly an underling for someone stronger. Still, they approached the demon, stepping into his path. The demon balked and frowned at him. "What do you want?"

He didn't recognize them, either, then. Taathiir studied the demon, features unexpressive. "I'd leave here, if I were you."

The demon snorted and shook his head. "Why? 's not like you can do anything. Now, move out of the way. There's something I wanna see." He started forward, attempting to brush past Taathiir.

They grabbed the young demon's shoulder as they passed, arresting their movement. "Second warning."

He glanced at them, a scowl twisting his face until Taathiir's four horns began to appear; the top left, sprouting from their temple and curling towards the sky, was missing its pointed tip halfway up. The fledgling staggered, stuttering nonsensically, and then hurried away. They watched him flee before turning their gaze to the stairs leading underground.

They didn't sense Naya'il below.

A frown broke through the neutral stoicism, shoulders falling with a somber weight. Running a hand across their temple to ensure their horns had retreated, Taathiir stepped away from the station. They would find somewhere to lay low for the time being. Perhaps whoever created the Anchor would return before they needed to attend their remaining meetings of the night.

Edited by ValidEmotions
Fixed pronoun typo

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[[No Argia right now. Sorry. Also, I wasn't certain of the range of Vaz's wardrobe so, hopefully I'm not so far off the mark.]]

 

Jorath

He didn't know what was causing Vaz to tear up. Maybe it was disappointment in what he revealed to them or something just as ugly. Whatever it was, Jorath started preparing himself for when they'd tell him to leave, eyes turning to the floor. What he didn't expect was for them to kneel before him, hands coming forward to touch his shoulder and hair. It caused him to startle, a slight twitch at the contact, but their hold was careful enough that he wasn't driven into pulling away.

Having their fingers in his hair left a sensation running through his skin, travelling from temple to the nape of his neck. One he remembered but hadn't felt in a long time. Pleasant in its prickling.

As Vaz stood to retreat to the washroom, Jorath sat straighter and brought a hand to his face, rubbing at his cheek. That wasn't--They weren't--I'm--He tried to shake off the feeling, sucking in a slight breath while he glared down at his hands. Don't you dare. It'll only lead to--But they haven't--You're the idiot that hugged them earlier--The water stopped running and he looked over, stuffing away his internal debate in favor of not letting an expression betray him.

Perhaps it was lucky that his voice was gone for the moment. As he tilted his head at Vaz's instruction, feeling the damp towel against his neck, his necessary silence gave the Scribe opportunity to speak. And ramble? Jorath listened, trying to absorb the edge to Vaz's tone when they corrected that he wasn't a beast. At least, not in the way Vaz defined such a thing. His gaze focused on the wall across from him, skimming the wallpaper, until their hand was touching his cheek and directing his attention to them.

"You care too much."

 

Vaz had one of his grins upon their face and he almost lost his breath at the realization of it.

Blinking rapidly as something surged forward in his chest, Jorath quickly looked away, thankful that Vaz had moved on and released his face. Stop that. That's not--While he internally berated himself as foolish, the flustered thoughts fraying at his nerves ceased abruptly when Vaz made a sound and pulled back, offering Jorath a new change of shirts. Briefly, he brought a hand up to his neck, feeling the tender skin after the repairs it had made beneath the damp cloth. Idly, he dried the droplets from his fingers against his pant leg.

Jorath didn't know if he should address Vaz's sentiments about freeing him.

S***, he didn't even know how to begin addressing the flicker of hope that was trying to plant itself in his thoughts at such an idea that Vaz could, eventually, make it a possibility. It was--His chest started feeling tight as an unexpected pulse of panicked desperation scattered his thoughts, its origins unknown. Jorath pushed himself to his feet, stumbling a step as he broke away from Vaz's suddenly too-close proximity. He didn't feel trapped, he knew that much. It was something else he couldn't put a name to.

"I--" Jorath coughed once, finding his voice again as he used the moment to stare down at his shirt. "No, I--It'll be fine. I've got--" Jorath pinched the bridge of his nose, suddenly aware of the race that his heart was running. Drawing in a slow breath, he hurried to shove everything down. When he managed to wrangle it all back, Jorath plucked at the collar of his shirt. "That was... abrupt," he mumbled, uncertain if he should apologize simply for the fact that he couldn't guarantee it wouldn't happen again. "I'm... I didn't mean--" He shook his head, glancing at Vaz and giving them an apologetic expression. "Thank you, for the offer. I'll take a look." There, that was something he could do.

He took a step towards Vaz, wanting to recover some of the... what was he supposed to call it? Awkwardness? Confusion? Well, he just wanted to recover whatever it was, reaching out to lightly touch the Scribe's arm. After a moment, he strode towards the mirror.

It took a second for him to spot the clothing that Vaz had mentioned, brushing his fingers along the fabric of one shirt as he picked it up. As he skimmed his gaze across the small assortment, a collection of shirts and dresses that included at least one he recognized from sometime before, Jorath quirked an eyebrow at the single flannel shirt and then stole a glance back at Vaz. He smirked at the thought of them in it; probably an experiment in style options. A one-and-done sort of trial. Not wanting to take up too much time, Jorath grabbed a shirt that was a sort of muted or faded dark green (mostly because it wasn't a basic white).

He glanced quickly into the mirror, focusing on his horns until they finally receded before he moved to pull his shirt off over his head. Only slightly did he consider Vaz's presence; Jorath wasn't body shy and he truly didn't care if they lingered about. But he knew they sometimes had different preferences. Loosely folding the one shirt before setting it aside, he started slipping into the new one, only just now realizing it to be a button-down. He chuckled at the fact as he buttoned it together, leaving the two topmost undone and then pulling up the sleeves to his elbows. In so doing, the fabric worked to conceal Illstrund.

Jorath glimpsed himself in the mirror again, an unexpected flicker of uncertainty--and timidness?--making itself known. "Um... Well, it's not a dress shirt, still a little too casual for that but... uh..." A flush of warmth entered his skin, climbing upward from his neck. "Looks okay?" Was he blushing? Jorath had practically made an infrequent habit of taking clothes from other people's closets, especially the mortals he hunted. But they'd all been strangers, individuals he'd never cross paths with again. This was... different. "I'll, uh, just hold on to my shirt," he said, a little quickly, as he grabbed it. "I'll make a point to gather clothes from the condo so I'm not taking any more of yours."

Rubbing at the back of his neck, Jorath shifted his gaze to the door separating the room from Vaz's office. "Should we go out and see if Maggie's found herself a ladder to get out of the hole she's in?" After a moment, mostly waiting for Vaz's go-ahead, Jorath opened the door and exited into the office. All around, several books were rearranging themselves, floating up from the ground to slide back onto the shelves. Must have been the cluster of noise he heard earlier. A quick glance to the quills in sight revealed their bristled state.

"You tw**s did get cozy back there," Maggie hissed. "You really are a Filth Lic--"

"Enough," Jorath cut in, gripping Maggie's seat to tip it backwards and dump her to the ground, conscious of avoiding any damage to the furniture. "From where you're at, everything else is cozy. Are you ready to work something out that we'll all benefit from?"

Picking herself up, Maggie grumbled and started to fix her hair before folding her arms across her chest. "You want that journal and quill. I want to make sure the plucked po--" Jorath grabbed her arm, jerking her a step sideways before she could finish the insult. Clearing her throat, she restarted. "I--I mean Scribe. I want to make sure the Scribe reverses whatever they did to Kalath and that I'm not having Takut cleaving into my hide."

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[[ All good. Yeah don’t worry Vaz is meant to have a pretty extensive range - steadily built up over the last few centuries. Also uh. Sorry this post ended up becoming way longer than I originally expected. ]]
 

Vaz

 

In the moment of silence that had transpired between them Vaz was able to register that Jorath was grow apprehensive again. No doubt Vaz had managed to say the wrong thing again. Distress twisted in their core and they were about to try and remedy it when suddenly Jorath jerked backwards, startling them in the process. As he staggered backwards Vaz quickly withdrew their hands to rest in an uncertain manner against their own chest.

 

“That was...abrupt.”

 

Vaz just raised an eyebrow and nodded. Hesitantly they got back on their feet once more and moved to place both the wet and the dry towel off to the side upon a dresser pressed up against the wall. They could hear Jorath now fumbling his way through some syllables that didn’t really clarify anything at all for Vaz. Eyebrows pinched inward in a befuddled manner, but their own uncertainty dimmed a little when the man stepped forward and rested his hand on their arm for a moment. Vaz slowly shifted their gaze from the towels back towards him, finding no offence in the reaction, but unable to smother completely a feeling of fatigue that was starting to creep its way back into their mind. They watched idly as he broke away from the contact and headed over to the mirror, the fallen being now burying the tired expression under something a little more critical as they waited to see what he would choose. When he somehow managed to fish out a flannel shirt Vaz huffed, their scowl deepening when Jorath turned towards them with a smug little grin plastered over his face.

 

“Please. No. I merely needed it for a spot of espionage a few years ago.”

 

For a moment they were convinced that he was going to choose it just to spite them, and they sagged in relief when he discarded it in favour of a different shirt. It was a shame he hadn’t opted for something in a nice shade of blue, which Vaz thought would look rather fetching on him, but they supposed the green was a satisfactory alternative. As he switched between shirts Vaz’s eyes briefly scanned over his back, a grimace tugging at the corner of their mouth at the sight of it. Even without being able to see the loops of metal embedded in it, Vaz found that their mind was often drawn back to the fact that they were always there. A crease formed in their brow as the new shirt slid into place. They wondered if Jorath had noticed that Vaz had sewn in slits for their wings into the back of that one.

 

Did it look okay? Vaz twitched their attention away from his back and mumbled a half-hearted apology for the delayed response. From the angle he stood at the mirror they could catch sight of the unbuttoned collar and the slightly uneven manner in which he had rolled up his sleeves to his elbows. How Jorath had already found a way to put several creases in the bottom hem of the shirt was truely a wonder in itself. The overall effect managed to summon a light chuckle from the scribe, one that appeared to ease some of the apprehension that had building up in the room.

 

“You have a talent for taking something crafted with a simple elegance in mind and transforming it into a dishevelled display, my dear. I wish you would at least consider a tie for once.”

 

Mused the scribe. 

 

“...But I suppose it does suit you, in that peculiar way of yours.”

 

Their semi-critical gaze shifted over towards the exit as Jorath mumbled something about fetching the rest of his shirts from the condo. Vaz emitted a noise that was half-pensive, half-concerned, considering that Mag’than was now aware of the location and may have already revealed it to the likes of Er’anir. Regret for banishing the meddlesome seeker to said home and rendering it unsafe began to creep back into Vaz’s consciousness, so they quickly scrambled for another way to be of use to Jorath to make up for it.

 

“If you insist my dear, but as long as it is a garment that is inexpensive enough to be replaced I do not mind what you take from here. And if you have items that are in need of safer storage for a while you are welcome to use my Office.”

 

Vaz turned to face one of the open shelves and shifted aside a few jackets upon coat-hangers, demonstrating that there was enough space in their dressing room for additional clothes to be added. With some shuffling around, Vaz was convinced they could clear an entire section somewhere for a guest or two. They just hadn’t really ever needed to before.

 

At any rate, Vaz let the offer hang in the air and nodded in agreement over whether they should checkup on Maggie. They stepped aside to let Jorath exit the room, distracted momentarily by trying to decide whether they should bother taking one of their scarves with them. Eventually they opted not to bother and trailed after Jorath as he left the room, deciding with a huff that none of them were long enough to comfortably tie around their neck and chin.

 

Vaz was met with a rush of prose appearing before them as they entered the office, pausing with a hitch in their breath. Their eyes glazed as dozens of individual reports on what Mag’than had gotten up to in their absence flooded their senses, causing them to miss the bulk of the snide comments from the other demon. Raising their hands, Vaz motioned for the quills to settle down and stuttered out a confusing blend of Oldspeak and Aeiuwn to form a list of orders for them while they were gone. Mag’than stole a glance back at Jorath over the sight for an explanation, starting to wonder if perhaps the scribe had misplaced a few of their marbles.

 

“Right!”

 

Cried Vaz abruptly, switching back to Commonspeak and clapping their hands together for emphasis. The quills before them began to disperse, some of them drifting out through the door and into the endless maze of shelves while others started to tend to the inventory within the Office itself. Three quills remained on the desk, one of which was Fi’Faltuun. As Vaz adjusted the fur coat back over their shoulders and pocketed the remaining two quills she drifted along the desk, resting upon a blank piece of parchment. At an unnatural speed, Fi’Faltuun began to scribble a series of words across the paper as her scribe turned to face Mag’than directly.

 

“Agreed, Seeker. If you assist us in safely procuring my business partner’s journal and reuniting me with my missing quill then I shall cure Kalath of her affliction. I can not guarantee you will be free from the wrath of Takut, but I shall promise to do what I can to spare you from it until this whole little event has blown over.”

 

Vaz lazily flickered their wrist, and the parchment Fi’Faltuun had just finished writing upon sprung up into the air towards Mag’than. The quill followed after it, poising expectantly in the air beside it.

 

“Sign here.”

 

“That wasn’t a very convincing pitch.”

 

“It wasn’t meant to be convincing my dear, it was meant to be honest. Rest assured, anyone who signs one of my contracts knows exactly what the consequences of it will be. It’s all written down there in front of you.”

 

Mag’than bit their lip and read over the short series of paragraphs floating before them. At one point they glanced up at Jorath to gauge his opinion over what was written, finding no loophole to be abused but still fretting over the unnerving feeling that something was awry. Hesitantly, she leaned forward and took hold of Fi’Faltuun to write out her name and jot down her signature on the line indicated. It was only a piece of paper, after all. It wasn’t like the fallen filth could take her to court if she didn’t comply-

 

Mag’than hissed as a crawling, prickling sensation washed over the back of her hand and down her arm. She jerked back the limb in surprise and threw the quill away from her. Fi’Faltuun tumbled through the air but caught herself before hitting the ground, looking like she was only mildly inconvenienced by the motion. Mag’than’s face twisted into one of horror as the words ‘nil lokis, nil xaal’strund’ scrawled themselves across her arm in an elegant script, followed by the symbol of an eye.

 

“What did you do?!”

 

“It just makes sure you remain honest in your agreement, my dear. That is all. Play by the rules and we shall both have a delightful outcome from this arrangement.”

 

Vaz clasped their hands together again and beamed down at her, taking great delight in the way she scowled and scratched at the unexpected tattoo across her arm. The words and the illustration of the eye began to fade from view, which settled her slightly, but Vaz could tell from her grimace that they didn’t need to warn her that they were still present, lingering just below the surface of the skin.

 

“Come now, no sense in hanging about any longer. We have other business to attend to no doubt.”

 

Vaz motioned for Mag’than to head through the door, beckoning Jorath to their side as she begrudgingly obliged. As they exited the office they turned back to face Jorath, regarding him with a thoughtful expression for a moment before reaching up to brush a few strands of their hair out of the way.

 

“Incase you get lost, my dear. Or perhaps wish to visit some other time.”

 

Announced the scribe, taking Fi’Faltuun from her spot behind their ear and delicately sliding her into place against Jorath’s temple once more. The scribe then offered their arm to the other demon and turned to guide their guests back towards the Mortal Realm.

 

“Don’t I get one?”

 

Huffed Mag’than as they were waved down the aisle in front of the older two demons. Vaz responded at first with a low chortle.

 

“No. Of course not. I’m still debating whether I should just turn a sharp corner and leave you to rot here for a few months.”

 

“Well maybe if your quill hadn’t tried to stab me you wouldn’t need to-“

 

“Hush, Seeker. Your incessant whining is disturbing the peace.”

 

Mag’than, to Vaz’s mild surprise, actually shut up for the rest of the journey. Perhaps it was the new words upon her arm. Or the fact that the shelves surrounding them on both sides rattled in response to the command and reminded the young seeker of how much control the scribe actually had over their own domain. Leaving the maze of bookshelves took a significantly quicker time than it did to arrive at the Office, with Vaz only needing to make three turns and a brisk stroll forward before the staticky feeling from before washed over the trio. Vaz was unaffected by the transition back to the Mortal Realm. Mag’than, meanwhile, doubled over and lost part of her lunch.

 

“I suppose we should take her with us for now.”

 

Vaz grumbled, nudging her aside so that they could waltz past without stepping in any of the mess she had made. Mag’than, still recovering, looked far less in the mood to voice a protest or try to make a run for it. 

 

“I have let Lojaal know that we have returned, we shall hopefully meet up with the rest of our party shortly.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Jorath

He winked at Vaz. "All part of my charm," Jorath said, partially sweeping his arms out as if to display as much of himself as possible. "Helps convince certain demons to underestimate me, I think." At their offer to store his belongings in their office, Jorath hesitated. "I'll uh... keep it in mind. I might have one small thing..." he mumbled, shaking his head a moment after to move on. If Vaz might be able to unlock any secret about Illstrund over time, Jorath wasn't certain whether or not he wanted them to have access to that. Illstrund was one thing. But that was something else entirely....

When Maggie looked over to him, hoping to glean something from him concerning the contract, Jorath just shrugged. He wasn't about to tell her he couldn't read it and opted, instead, to pass it off as he didn't care. Which, mostly, he didn't. Maggie would have known that contracts were Vaz's specialty. And, if she didn't? Well, she was learning first-hand.

They started leaving the office, Vaz pausing briefly to glance at him. When the Scribe nestled Fi behind his ear, Jorath balked. Dumbstruck. He had been so certain that he'd insulted Vaz's gift to the point of being unable to make amends. It was relieving to discover otherwise, once the shock had subsided. He smiled, this time unrestrained. "Hey, Fi," he murmured to the quill, earning a twitch of acknowledgement in response.

Vaz took lead. Accepting their offered arm, Jorath ignored the disgusted sound Maggie made, and the "I'm going to barf" commentary that went with it in light of the moment shared. Ironically enough, Maggie did end up sick, but for an entirely different reason. On the second pass through the barrier between Realms, the sensation against Jorath's skin was a bit more bearable. He wasn't left dizzy, but he did have to suck in a slight breath to shake it off. Idly, he carefully clapped Maggie on the back, briefly guiding her to avoid the mess.

"Likely," Jorath replied, lip twitching with uncertainty about how to feel on that. "Might have to figure out how to explain this to the Order, though." He paused. "Perhaps explain it to Argia and Xaal, too."

Argia
"It would make sense; a way to remember who they were and what they enjoyed in life," Argia replied, soaking in the insights about red roses (which explained the texture of Xaal's lifeline) and Vaz's favorite flower a moment after. She smiled slightly at the thought. "Daffodils, of course. It suits them." The sentiment was tempered only by Argia recalling what she knew of them, of their stance about calling oneself whatever one wanted to. Falling, as she was so far understanding, was a new beginning of sorts. While she didn't know if 'forgiveness' held any significance, the rest of the symbolic meanings were an obvious fit.

When discussion drifted to a proposal of checking on Vaz and Jorath, Argia made a sound and, likewise, glanced at David. The man looked pale after Xaal's cautionary explanation. "Perhaps... perhaps we should wait for Vaz and Jorath to find us? Lojaal is with us; I'm certain she can inform us when they are ready to regroup?" There was a shift from beneath her shawl and Argia glimpsed the quill's gesture before dipping out of sight once more. She took it as an agreement since it wasn't that 'X' motion in the air she had done a couple times already.

David cleared his throat and fidgeted with his hands, glazing over the talk of The Archives and what happens to humans within it. "Y-yeah, there's a few exhibits focusing on various deities and the belief systems they're part of." Rather quickly, he started back inside and guided the women through the museum. His pace started relaxing about halfway there.

Coming to a stop once they reached a display, David's face was brighter. "This one's my favorite exhibit, honestly. There are a lot of nature-based deities and such, as compared to more human-like depictions."

Stepping closer, Argia studied the handful of entities that had been artfully depicted. There was a being of the seasons, named Secos, that took various animal forms throughout the year. "Oh look, Xaal! There was a deity for memories and stories, though it wasn't given much of a form." She waved the other woman over to view the engraved plate alongside her. "The mythos goes that Uasine either didn't have a shape or was ingrained into every aspect of the world because memories and stories are impressed into every object and living creature."

"Yeah," David added. "That one's had a lot of different artists making use of creative liberties based on what they believe Uasine to look like. But, over time, Uasine basically became a figure associated with museums and libraries in several cultures, primarily."

She nodded. That would be a reasonable connection, Argia believed. Moving to another display, she examined the artwork of a lizard-like creature. Beside it was a smaller painting of something akin to a serpentine dragon. Both, however, showed the sun within the creature's maw and the moon within its clawed grasp. "Naturally," Argia began. "There always seems to be a tale about a beast that intends for the world's destruction. Regardless of any differences among beliefs." Her gaze drifted from the artworks to the informational poster. Thought to be made of the very stone that covered the Earth's surface, Gneni was a sun-eater said to want a permanent night so that its moon could reign above mortals and gods alike.

Argia frowned, brow knitting together.

"Xaal? What if we're wrong about Auris Domniir having the sun?" She tapped the poster display with a nail, glancing at both Xaal and David. "Do you think the deities might be real in this Realm? That this... Gneni, is responsible for what took place after the angels left?"

David scratched at his chin, making a drawn out sound. "I've never given mythology much thought to be rather honest. But... I mean, demons and angels exist so... why not other deities?" She admitted it was a reasonable suspicion to have. Argia skimmed the various displays, wondering at just how many deities there might actually be within this world. And, if there were any, what was their response to the sun being taken?

Lojaal lifted free of Argia's shall, twirling for a moment before her face to obtain her attention. With Argia's gaze following the quill, Lojaal gestured towards the stairs. "Vaz is ready?" The quill dipped once. "We should head to them now, then." With Lojaal tucking herself away once more, Argia waited for agreement from David and Xaal before heading to the main lobby upon the first floor.

When she located Vaz and Jorath, she hesitated upon noticing the third individual with them. "A friend or a stray?" she asked, curious but also concerned by the semi-sick pallor to the young individual's face.

Jorath made a sound, at which Argia realized there was a quill tucked behind his ear. "I'd call her a stray. Not much of an intended... tagalong. Just sort of happened." He shrugged. "All set with your history lessons?"

 

The young woman was sweeping her gaze from Jorath and Vaz to herself, Xaal, and David. The way she focused upon David, however, caused a prickle to enter the back of Argia's neck. "For now," Argia replied, drawing the woman's attention. When Argia glanced at David, the human seemed uncertain about the new addition to the group. She was about to say something more but David spoke up first.

"You changed your shirt. Where'd you go and get a shirt in the library?" the man said, a purplexed gaze focused upon Jorath and his new green shirt.

The demon nodded slightly. "Demon magic," he replied, a grin tugging at the corner of his lips as his gaze narrowed. "Made it from human flesh."

David flinched as Argia gave Jorath a disapproving glance. "Do not toy with him, Jorath."

He shrugged, his face lightening. "Sheesh. Just messing around. You all looked so serious. What'd you talk about while browsing the place?"

Argia was struggling to figure out Jorath's behavior. It seemed in conflict with how he had been handling himself before. Maybe it was the weariness tugging at the corners of his eyes--a weariness she also glimpsed in Vaz's features--or perhaps it was the conflict of putting up an act for David. Both, were likely. "Nothing of your concern," she eventually replied. "Maybe it is best to return to Zack and Gregory?"

"Oh, for sure. I'm hungry, too," David said quickly. "Hopefully neither of them ate all the food while we were gone."

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Vaz

 

“Hmn, I would suggest that the two of you inform them that she is an apprentice of some kind. I trust that Argia and Xaal will have the common sense to inquire about her at a more appropriate interval. What was your primary domain again, luck? That seems a logical enough match-up for the two of you.”

 

Mag’than scowled and growled out something that was no doubt unpleasant under her breath. Vaz decided to try a different tactic of just tuning her more colourful terminology out for a while, starting to suspect that what she truely thrived on was an ability to get any sort of reaction out of the two of them at all.

 

“Now, now, if you wanted to be addressed as something respectable you should have thought about being less of a contemptible headache. Who knows, perhaps if you stop rabbiting on so much that thickened skull of yours may even learn a thing or two from your elders.”

 

Announced the scribe, indicating for the two of them to follow them back outside the doors to the library so that they could wait for the rest of their companions to regroup. Mag’than trudged on through to the outside lobby, slumping against the glass of the window separating the the two rooms with an irritable expression when Vaz told her to stand there and wait for their other guests.

 

“Just behave yourself my dear, that’s all I’m requesting at this stage.”

 

Sighed Vaz, who for lack of anything else to do was now attempting to even out Jorath’s rolled-up sleeves so that he’d look a bit more presentable. They had their back turned to Mag’than still slouched up against the glass wall, who peered over their shoulder to shoot another disapproving glare over at the pair of them for the close proximity.

 

“...And remember, if you don’t feel like playing nice I will just have to subject you to the same fate as your friend Kalath. Won’t I?”

 

 

Xaal

 

At Lojaal’s insistence not to head for The Archives just yet Xaal squinted in a suspicious manner, but she acquiesced to the quill’s advice all the same. Perhaps it was for the best, the less she knew about Vaz’s more demonic activities the better. Xaal allowed herself to be shepherded away from the gardens and towards a new section of the museum, her interest in the area perking up once she had sight of all the various artworks and sculptures decorating the room. 

 

At Argia’s beckoning she wandered over and glanced over the collection of paintings she had indicated, some of which had decided to depict the formless entity with splashes of abstract colours and shapes among more realistically-painted surroundings. The overall effect was...curious. Xaal had seen very similar interpretations of immortal beings before, often from humans that had glimpsed aspects of a form they had difficulty comprehending. She remembered eons ago, during her training, hearing Jophiel’s warning to never reveal her true form to a human. The poor things didn’t always handle prolonged sight of it very well. A concerned expression replaced her initial look of wonder as she scanned the paintings before her. She hoped that the artists featured hadn’t been harmed in any way.

 

Xaal broke away from the section on Uasine and trailed after Argia, not wanting to linger on such thoughts for now. She found herself nodding in agreement over Argia’s comment regarding the serpentine sun-eater, tilting her head in contemplation. 

 

‘Yes. Deities may need to fight to own a world. Or make world new again. My deity...’

 

The fallen angel went still, her recount of how Vox Perfectum decided to keep their worlds in check remaining unfinished. She glanced between the two other members of her party and swallowed. No. Best not to dwell on that. Instead she focused on David’s inquiry about whether other deities could exist, and nodded enthusiastically in response.

 

‘Yes, many worlds have small deities. Control one or two things. One realm. Very good chance that the sun-serpent is real.’

 

Xaal then walked briskly away from the thought of Gneni and tried to find an entity that didn’t make her core churn with some sort of apprehension. The next entity in line was, mercifully, an intriguing blend that she hadn’t seen before and it vied for her attention. Uelia-Arkos, according to the placard below, seemed to be an entity of both love and war. In some artworks they were depicted as a humanoid warrior leading the charge into a battle, while others suggested they had a more manipulative or encouraging role that involved a lot of whispering in ears and pushing people towards something dangerous or an object of their affections. Xaal quirked an eyebrow, now mulling over Argia’s earlier question. It was a promising thought that there were signs of lesser deities present in the world. Even if one of them was the culprit for taking the sun, then surely that meant that they were around here somewhere to either be reasoned with or defeated?

 

By the time Lojaal had fluttered back into view Xaal had developed a glimmer of hope, and was currently texting down the names of the various deities on display into the notes of her phone. She glanced over at Argia and then up at the exhibit she was currently poised in front of, jotting down the final of name ‘Taviraa, Keeper of Dreams’ before she swivelled on her heel and returned to the harbinger’s side to follow her back downstairs.

 

An unfamiliar aura pulsed into Xaal’s awareness as they neared the library, warning her about the third demon before she caught sight of them. She studied Mag’than closely as she descended the stairs, resisting the urge to fan out her wings and take on a more intimidating pose so as to put her in her place. Vaz didn’t look particularly ecstatic to have her standing there, but they also didn’t seem to find her a threat in any form. Within the demon’s aura, a jittery kaleidoscope of browns and dark greens, a single golden orb danced throughout. Whatever had transpired in The Archives, Xaal recognised that a speck of Vaz’s Influence had now mixed with Mag’than’s own.

 

‘The history lessons were good. They had a lot of information. Yes. Did you enjoy The Archives?’

 

Ventured Xaal upon approach, realising with mild surprise that this was actually her first attempt to communicate directly with Jorath. Did he know Commonspeak sign at all? He didn’t strike her as the sort to have bothered to pick it up. She noticed Vaz turning away from the conversation to briefly glance between her and Jorath, and then for some reason down at the phone she was now withdrawing with a face they usually reserved for an intense brainstorming session. The scribe then nudged Jorath in the side and whispered something to them, presumably a translation on Xaal’s behalf. 

 

Vaz then leaned back away from Jorath and scratched at the back of their neck, forcing another sneer of boredom to plaster onto their features when David turned around to regard the trio of demons one last time before the group began to head out of the building once more.

 

“So...um...are you a friend of Jorath’s then?”

 

He ventured as he held open the door for everyone and watched as Mag’than trudged past them. The young seeker snorted derisively, but refrained from her more scathing terminology for the duo now lingering behind them.

 

“No. I’m just being outsourced by these lovely folks. Apparently Jorath’s got a secret diary he doesn’t want anyone to see that’s been stolen.”

 

Mag’than turned back around and flashed an outright malicious grin towards the demon in question. Vaz regarded her with about the same amount of enthusiasm as one would have when discovering they had stepped in something unpleasant.

 

“Who knows what he’s got written in there? But I bet it’s real horrible whatever it is. You should hear some of the rumours we got floating around Hell about this guy and what he does behind closed doors, let me tell you.”

 

 Mag’than sneered in the direction of the other demons, then swivelled back around to train her sights on the city streets before them. 

 

“...You know, you’re always bemoaning the fact that you have terrible luck.”

 

Sighed Vaz, now addressing Jorath in quiet Oldspeak in the hopes of maintaining a semi-private conversation with him. Despite the tired tone of voice they shifted to a more detached pose as they strutted down the street, their nose held high in the air and their arms crossed behind their back.

 

“I have a suggestion for where you can get an extra lucky rabbit’s foot. I must warn that if I hear one more distasteful comment from the dim-witted little hairball I’m in danger of harvesting it for you right here and now.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Her hands were moving and it took him a moment took long to figure out why. When he did, Jorath's eyes widened a fraction. Before he managed to say anything, however, Vaz was nudging him in the side and whispering at his ear. A pang of sympathy, maybe even empathy, worked its way under his skin. "Oh, um... The Archives were..." He glanced towards Maggie briefly before returning to Xaal. "Enlightening. Aptly named, too."

As they began vacating the building, Jorath kept an eye upon Maggie's back, scowling as she turned to grin at him in light of her running mouth. David appeared unsettled by her words, glancing between her then Jorath--and then 'not-scurrying' to remain at Argia and Xaal's sides. Hearing Vaz's 'suggestion', Jorath tapped at his chin. "There's a thought. I have the perfect chain to hang it from, too," he replied, equally quiet. "But," Jorath continued, giving Vaz a sideways glance in lieu of being able to do anything else remotely reassuring. "A rabbit with all its feet can often make it back to its burrow and lead a hunter to a bigger catch." After a moment, his features scrunched from thought. "Wait. I don't complain that much. Do I?"

Argia caught his eye and motioned for him to come closer. With David watching, Jorath rolled his eyes and put on a stiff smile. "The principal has called for me. What trouble am I in, this time?" he questioned once he was close enough to be heard.

"This new demon," she started, shifting her gaze to Maggie. The young demon noticed and waggled her fingers. "You are meant to help ensure that the Order remains safe. Yet, you add to their risk with an unknown. Can you vouch for the demon?"

He hesitated, fake smile yielding to a more conflicted expression. "Truthfully? Not sure. But--"

"Then why, exactly, is she here?" Argia's tone had a clipped edge and Jorath started to realize how thin the ground he stood upon actually was.

Rubbing at the back of his neck, he sighed, dropping most of whatever act he'd been holding. "It has nothing to do with the Order, I swear. It's just that--"

"This book of yours," David spoke up, rather unexpectedly to Jorath. "She said it's got secrets in it. Right?"

He stared, perhaps a little stupidly, at David. Jorath was beginning to get the impression that David was a more tolerant sort, a counter to Gregory's apparent dislike of demons. "Yes..." he eventually replied. "It's currently with someone I don't want it to be."

"And, so, if you're going to try and fulfill your purpose as Protector of the Order while also getting this book back, you need help," David stated, a matter-of-fact tone to his voice. As if he knew all about situations like Jorath's.

"I--" Jorath glanced at Argia before looking to David again. "Well, yeah. Basically." The man was... alright, in Jorath's opinion. The thought coaxed a smile to crack across his features. It quickly faded again with the mixed expression from Argia.

Eventually, she made a soft sigh. "This demon will be your responsibility. You will be held accountable for any and all of her actions. Understood?" He nodded once. "Good. So long as she causes no trouble, then, there will be no consequences for you to deal with."

As Argia drifted towards Vaz, Jorath swallowed and huffed quietly. Briefly, he shot a glare in the direction of Maggie's back. When David nudged his arm, he looked at the human and arched an eyebrow.

"Don't worry," he said, voice low. "I'll convince the guys to keep quiet about recognizing her." Jorath paled, suddenly remembering. David snickered and smirked. "The only reason I'm not ratting you or her out is because the two of you looked to be on unfriendly terms when you stormed into the station earlier. Neither of you looked like you wanted to be there, too." The man shrugged. "You've not earned any Brownie points in the trustworthiness department yet. But you haven't earned anything for the opposite, either."

Smiling slightly, Jorath chuckled. "Alright. I'll take that. You're not so bad for a human, you know? Your friend, Gregory, on the other hand? Butting heads might be an issue."

David made a sound, sort of a drawn out 'pah'. "Just ignore him. He barks far more than he actually bites, no matter how much he hates demons."

"I'll keep that in mind," Jorath murmured, gaze gradually turning towards Argia and Vaz to notice that she was speaking to the Scribe.

"Is everything alright?" Argia inquired, a hesitation entering the pace of her words as she studied Vaz. After a longer pause, she hedged, "This... diary, or book, that was mentioned that requires assistance to obtain..." Her lips pressed together briefly, forming a thin line until she figured out how best to approach the matter. "I do not want to know what is in it. But I would like to know how much help Jorath will need. Perhaps a discussion, separate from the humans, is needed?" Truthfully, she wanted to minimize the distraction the book might cause; it was less risk to the Order the sooner it could be recovered.

The old station's entrance was coming into sight down the street, so Argia began slowing her pace. Jorath's tagalong, however, uttered something of a challenge (a race?) before starting to sprint for the station. Jorath, to his credit in Argia's opinion, was fast to respond, catching up to the demon and grabbing her by the back of her clothes. Argia didn't expect, however, for David to follow suit at a jog, hurrying past the duo and sticking his tongue out as he kept going. The human, apparently, wanted in on being the first one there. That, or he didn't want to be... whatever the insult had been.

Regardless of how unprepared Argia was to witness the display, all three were out of reach before she had any time to adequately respond. "I'm not sure what that was," she mumbled to Vaz, frowning. "Is Jorath typically like that?"

"You always were drawn to eccentric beings...."

Argia spun, the speaker's lifeline flickering into existence where it hadn't been before. "What--" She stared up at the individual clad in a wine-red coat, a few dark braids falling across their shoulders. A storm-grey eye stared back; the left one closed from a scar running through and down their cheek. Was that joy in their features? She sucked in a breath, registering the non-mortal nature of their lifeline and feeling the bark-like texture. Something--

"It was you that set the Anchor. After all this time," they said, disrupting the thought she had been forming. They stepped closer, a hand reaching up towards Argia's face. "I have--"

She moved back slightly, frowning, and pushed their hand away. "Yes, I set the Anchor here. But how is it that you know and what is it you want?"

They balked, expression twitching as it seemed to fall slightly. "You don't...?" Their gaze examined Argia down and up while their hand lowered back to their side. "I see. So, this is what They have done to you. Of course. My apologies for intruding." The individual inhaled and straightened, attention finally shifting towards Vaz. "Interesting, that I should find you two as acquaintances, though; Scribe and--" They returned their gaze to Argia, a pained smile flashing across their features. Turning back to Vaz quickly, they left the sentence unfinished in favor of other things. "Vazithrazuul. I've been hoping to cross paths with you. I am Taathiir-razuul and I am part of Auris Domniir. You see, we're quite interested in having you, as well as Jorath. Would this be an adequate time to speak with you both? Or should I return later when it's more appropriate for you?"

Edited by ValidEmotions
Fixed a minor slippage of detail

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Pensive, Xaal nodded slowly over Jorath’s reply. Though it was a pleasant surprise, she had been assuming that someone of an infernal origin would be more disgruntled about stepping foot into a place that still ebbed and flowed with holy energy. Spotting the frown of sympathy on his face was also unexpected. Jorath was shaping up to being a very peculiar variety of demon, all things considered. Though she still didn’t really trust him, she was starting to catch hints of a personality that perhaps explained why someone like Vaz was willing to do-so.

 

Evidentially though, Jorath was not able to decipher her hand gestures. Xaal’s demeanour barely faltered over it, instead she just smiled in response and opted for a more universal thumbs-up in agreement. As the group filtered out the door she soon found herself lingering at the human’s side, placing herself between them and Mag’than while regarding the latter with a firm glare. The demon’s confidence, perhaps catching on to the fact that they were being starred down at by a Guardian, faltered enough to silence them for a few merciful moments.

 

With the newfound peace and quiet from the newest arrival Xaal’s interest began to drift to the Oldspeak conversation between the two demons behind her, but she was struggling to properly hear most of it. It seemed to be lingering more on the bizarre idle-chatter side of things anyway, considering that what she could hear of the conversation was mostly revolving around ways to be unnecessarily cruel to innocent rabbits. A rumble of amusement caught her attention as it shook through Vaz’s form in response to something Jorath had asked of them.

 

“Perhaps not always in words...but I recognise that ‘Lady Luck has forsaken me and I just spent 3 days hiding from hellhounds in a ditch’ sort of grumble from anywhere, my dear. I do not mind though. You often put a spin on your anecdotes that I find rather amusing.”

 

Jorath was then beckoned over by Argia, so Vaz slowed their pace to drift to the back of their slowly expanding party. They watched the exchange between the two in a mildly alert manner at first, but such concerns died down when the human, of all things, seemed to have found a way to smooth things over between the two. Vaz starred down at him for a moment, then hummed to themself in a vague sort of acknowledgement that whatever he was saying to the two of them must have had at least a dollop of sound advice towards the pair of them. For a while Vaz dawdled behind the rest of them, finding themself occupied with trying to formulate a plan to get the journal back now that there was no one talking to them to distract them from their thoughts. It took them a few seconds to notice that Argia had hung back to walk alongside of them, and it caused them to flinch in surprise when addressed by her.

 

“Hm? What? Oh.”

Vaz’s gaze flickered away from Jorath and the human they were conversing with, amber eyes now starring down at Argia as they tried to discern her reason for asking. A moment later, the scribe reasoned that she was just trying to make sense of the situation at hand and allowed themself a fraction of ease.

“Ah...everything is…is…I can’t answer that in a manner that you would find satisfactory. It is my fault that there is both a book to concern him in the first place, and that one of my own quills has sabotaged initial attempts to salvage it and is now trapped alongside of the book. I must find a way to counter my poor decisions.”

 

The fallen being deflated. Their hands then trailed up the sides of their collar to flick the fur-lined hood of their coat up over their head, providing a small sliver of comfort in the way it partially obscured their features.

 

“I find myself in a frustrating predicament. I do not want to put him in a position where he is forced to cross paths with the one who possesses the journal but...I do not know how to approach her without him. I do not have the means to challenge her on my own.”

 

A cry from Mag’than distracted Vaz at that point from their attempt at an explanation. The scribe watched as the younger demon darted forward only to be quickly corralled by Jorath, and despite the inherently immature behaviour from the pair of them Vaz couldn’t help but snort a little at the fact she had tried to challenge him on his reflexes and lost. A look that wavered between exasperation and something akin to fondness flickered into Vaz’s eyes as they watched the trio scramble and tumble over each other to get themselves underground first. They caught Xaal’s gaze as she turned back around to face them, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the subway entrance and awaiting an explanation that Vaz couldn’t give her. Vaz just shrugged in reply, and she briefly rollled her eyes to the heavens before trudging after the rest of them down the stairs.

 

Vaz eventually turned back to Argia and breathed out a ‘yes’ in response to her question, the soft little smirk growing into a wider but more solemn sort of grin as they contemplated their answer in more detail.

 

“I would appreciate a later discussion on the matter. I can not force you to change your opinion of him Argia but...if possible, please give him some patience and time to recover from tonight before solidifying it. I assure you there is a warmth and kindness to him, the more you look past the cover of his book.”

 

Vaz found themself lost in that thought for a moment, having of stopped walking entirely and now just starring across the street at nothing in particular. Argia may have said something to them during the odd sensation of disembodiment, but Vaz found that if she did they had no recollection of it. It was a new voice that yanked their thoughts back to the mortal plane, causing Vaz to jump when it sounded behind them. They spun on their heel and gawked in the direction of the new arrival, quickly glancing back towards the subway entrance as they debated whether they should call for backup.

 

“You were always drawn to eccentric beings.”

 

The ancient scribe quirked an eyebrow and shifted their attention back to the being in the red coat, unsure whether to take offence at their assessment or not. Vaz had noticed over the years that ‘eccentric’ was sometimes interchangeable with ‘confusing’ or ‘insufferable’ when they were being described by others. When they reached for Argia and she seemed to recoil Vaz stiffened a little in their stance, taking her lack of reciprocating friendliness to be a warning.

 

“Taathiir-razuul...?”

 

Began the scribe, their defensive pose giving way to one that lingered more on the side of intrigue. There were few fallen that willingly embraced the ‘razuul’ part of their names, so Taathiir was presumably either an individual that had been exposed as one to the general public or was powerful enough not to care about the association. Vaz frowned, squinting at the vague sense of an aura they could glean from the individual. Too abstract, at this stage. There was nothing in there that screamed at Vaz to recognise them.

 

“I’m sorry my dear, but I’m afraid the Fall played havoc with my ability to perceive and catalogue auras...if you are an old acquaintance you shall have to assist me with an older name or face.”

 

Genuinely apologetic, Vaz quickly buried the admission under a concerned frown as they pondered the rest of Taathiir’s words. Auris Domniir? Was this the Fallen that Zoe was referring to? If correct then that would make them some sort of authority figure within the organisation, rather than a simple lackey sent to charm or threaten them. Vaz wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or worried over this development.

 

“I am not blind to both reputations and rumours that circulate around the Hell plane, I am quite aware of some of the more...unpleasant labels and stories that have reared their ugly heads as of late in regards to one or the pair of us. What use are we to Auris Domniir, with that in mind? Or perhaps more importantly...what use are you to us?”

 

Perhaps it was the exhaustion with the night getting the better of them, or even the lingering dread of having to face Er’anir, but Vaz couldn’t help but be a little intrigued by why the organisation seemed insistent on getting in touch with them. The fact that they potentially hired a known zuul into their higher ranks was also...interesting. Promising, even. The scribe twiddled their thumbs in thought, shifting their gaze down to Argia to try and discern whether she wanted anything to do with the strange individual before them.

 

“I...suppose I am willing to at least book in a meeting on the matter, if discussion is indeed your only desire at this stage.”

 

Vaz reached into their pockets and withdrew their set of business cards, flicking through a few of them before they settled on one with the title ‘Purger of Falsehoods’ and held it out between two fingers for Taathiir to take.

 

“I shall have to confer with Jorath first of course, but if he is willing to entertain an audience with your organisation then you should see a suggested appointment time and location spawn on the back of the card here. Make sure you don’t lose it my dear, I’ve had rather enough of obnoxious Seekers tonight I’m not going to hire another one to chase after you if you do.”

 

 

As Xaal descended the stairs, her wings burst back into view and began to stretch and flex in an uncomfortable manner. She understood the necessity of sheathing them at times, but she was glad to have an audience that she was allowed to maintain her more comfortable form in front of. Both Zack and Gregory seemed to have been startled by the ruckus at the staircase and were caught mid-task, the former apparently in the middle of changing around some of Kansif’s bandages with a First Aid kit by his side that he had now acquired. Gregory meanwhile, had each and every card from the pack laid out on the floor and seemed to be in the middle of checking them for any marks or signs of tampering.

 

“Oh, good, you’re back?”

 

Zack ventured, their eyes drifting to Mag’than in a questioning manner but then catching a look from David that convinced them to play dumb in regards to recognising her.

 

“Gregory’s been slowly descending into madness while you’ve been gone. He’s convinced he’s cursed, keeps drawing out cards that he swears weren’t in the order he put them in when shuffling the deck.”

 

“I know I put all four Queens at the bottom of the pile. And yet when I go to deal them out the Queens of Hearts is like the fourth card from the top!”

 

Zack made a sound that suggested he wasn’t really engaged with the conversation any more but had to keep up some vague pretence that he was still listening. He locked eyes with Mag’than, trailed briefly over her appearance and then twitched his head to the side to indicate the First Aid kit.

 

“Uh...Dunno what happened to your wrist there but I can patch that up too for you if you want? Because you know. We’re all such good friends here. Actually you all looked pretty rough when we first saw you if anyone’s got anything they want me to take a look at you can let me know now-“

 

“Yeah actually speaking of first-aid nightmares where’s Eyeballs gone to?”

 

Interrupted Gregory, motioning to the non-existent wings on his back to provide better context as to why they thought Vaz might’ve needed some assistance.

 

“Is he with Our Lady of Justice? What’s keeping ‘em?”

Edited by Lycanious

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David made it in first, only due to Jorath catching Mag'than more than once. The Seeker wasn't thrilled with it but he didn't care. She was hissing something at him though he had already tuned out her protests and insults upon entering the station below. "Gotta work on your speed there, Mags. Can't let your status as a rabbit be spoiled by losing the race to a turtle," Jorath said, feigning concern.

"F*** off," she snapped back.

"Actually, the hare's race was against a tortoise," Zack piped in a moment after shaking off surprise.

As Xaal made her appearance, wings unfurling and relaxing, Jorath moved to occupy an arm of the couch. He stuffed down the hint of snark he wanted to throw in Gregory's direction in response to the man's nickname for Vaz. 'Eyeballs' was the main reason why the humans hadn't been permanently removed from the station; the least he could do was be mindful of that.

But... the question Gregory asked was a good one.

From the corner of his eye, Jorath noticed Zack flinch back from some scathing reply that Maggie gave the man. Reflexively, but only half-attentive, Jorath motioned at the Seeker and growled at her. "I'll make your days an actual living Hell if you don't sit and behave." His focus was trained more upon the auras he could sense than on noticing whether or not Mag'than really sat down.

"I'm... not sure," Jorath eventually hazard in response to Gregory's question. "There's a demon with them, that much I can figure." Even then, he wasn't completely certain. The aura beside Vaz and Argia's was muted, as if dampened or muffled by something. Getting up from his perch, Jorath started a step towards the entrance but movement from Gregory caught his attention. "Gregory what--"

The man had pulled a dagger out from somewhere and David was sputtering with confusion as Gregory pointed the small weapon in Jorath's direction. "I knew it. Once one demon shows up, a bunch more follow," he scowled. Gregory turned on his heel then and darted for the stairs, ignoring David and Zack's protests.

Rushing after him, Jorath grabbed for Gregory's arm. The man twisted, cutting downward with the dagger with the likely intent of catching his face or chest. Jorath snatched the blade instead, more than prepared to rip it from the human's hand.

Except his palm was instantly flushed with searing heat and Jorath released him with a shout, curling the offended hand into a fist against his chest. A string of curses, in Common and Oldspeak, flew from his lips to mingle with Mag'than's shriek of laughter. The burning traveled up the length of his arm and the edges of his vision darkened. Either the dagger had incredibly accurate wards for a human-crafted object, or there was something specifically celestial in its nature. "Gregory!" he grit out eventually, pulling away from Zack's attempt to see his hand. David ran past, following Gregory above ground.

Jorath didn't see Xaal as he stumbled to the table, shaking his head to clear away the haze left by the dagger. "--orry. I'm sorry. Had I known--" Zack was flustered, words leaving his tongue in a tangled haste until Jorath motioned for him to stop.

"'m fine. Forget it. Caught by surprise," Jorath mumbled out, bringing his other hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. The burning was dying down, but now he was left with a headache as his demonic nature fought off the effects. Perhaps the benefit of originally being human, he figured as he began inspecting the cut on his palm, was being able to shake off such a brief assault a bit better than a pure demon of the Fire. Not much better, but still enough to take relief in. "So much for barking."

---

To say that they were left breathless and unbalanced by Naya'il's lacking recognition of who Taathiir was and her quick rebuff of their advance, was a painful understatement. Erasing them from her memory and leaving her scarred... Was this what The Pair did to her on behalf of Bene Animarum? They didn't know what took place right after they Fell but, ripped and tattered as it now was, the dress she currently wore was the same one from when Taathiir last saw her. The shawl upon her pale figure was new, though.

A budding anger took root among the sorrow.

They forced aside the ache of feeling her lifeline again at last, a sensation that seemed as if sound had been given texture and color. It was all they could do to maintain a level of appearance before Vaz as the demon responded to their question and proposed some for Taathiir to answer. "So I've heard the gossip," Taathiir started, forcing themself to focus on Vaz, no matter how much they found themself wanting to take in the sight of Naya'il. "Perhaps 'The Gardener' or 'Razathna' may be more familiar to you? There was a time or two you needed access to The Cemetery for your work." Whether they recognized Taathiir or not wasn't truly important so they dismissed it with a wave.

Vaz was taller than them by only an inch or so, though Taathiir could have sworn they used to be even taller in the past. Then again, much of that had been word of mouth. Idle thought. Distraction. They made a low sound, absorbing the demon's inquiry of usefulness. That always was the focus of most Fallen, wasn't it? Fallen that couldn't be useful weren't worth sharing the air with to most demons. Taathiir edged into an empathetic expression. "We offer safety, genuine respect for talents as well as individuals," he stated, voice soft. "And we offer a sense of belonging. For both of you. I understand ostracization, of being different and not fitting within the lines drawn for me."

Taathiir could feel Naya'il staring and they allowed themself a brief glance in her direction again. Uncertainty had etched its way into her features and, as they watched, her gaze drifted to something behind them. Slowly, Taathiir glanced over their shoulder but, save for the typical traffic of mortals, nothing was happening or stood out for attention. They returned their attention to Vaz as the demon finally stopped fidgeting with their thumbs and drew out a business card for Taathiir to take. They flicked their gaze across the card, taking in the choice of title, before slipping it into an interior pocket. In the same motion, Taathiir withdrew a calling card of their own. This one, however, was shaped and sized more like the quarters that mortals used as a currency. Upon it, Auris Domniir's sun symbol could be seen on one side. "Likewise," they started. "If you find yourself in need of me sooner or unexpectedly, just tear this in two."

They almost passed it over but movement from the station entrance caught their attention, a mortal making a beeline for the three of them. "Friend of yours?" Taathiir mused, frowning when they noticed the dagger in his hand. A second human chased after the first but was of lesser consequence for the moment.

"Gregory? David?" Naya'il questioned as she turned and recognized them. "What are--Is that blood?" Taathiir recognized how alarm chipped at the edges of her voice. As questioned, the blade sported a small volume of crimson, faint wisps of smoke trailing from it as the substance burned. "Gregory?"

Naya'il reached out for the man as he came near, pushing between her and Vaz with the dagger brandished at Taathiir. "That symbol! Thought we told you Domniir trash to shove your heads up your a**es and beat it cause the Order's not interested!"

They bristled, memories rushing forward of a flat battlefield, blades glinting under sunlight. "Insolent--" they hissed, leaving the sentiment unfinished in favor of curling their hands into fists. As Taathiir took a step towards the mortal, Naya'il jerked Gregory back and moved into Taathiir's path. Smoke billowed between them, forming into a broadsword as Naya'il slid into a familiar, offensive, stance. Taathiir balked, eyes widening a fraction at the sight. Somewhere behind her, David had grabbed Gregory and was working to keep him in place. "Atropos..." they breathed at last, despite the narrowed gaze Naya'il bore. It caused her features to shift, slightly. "Do you also still have Naoxral?" No. That was a pointless question. Of course she would still have her scythe. Or well, they supposed, Kirit and Meztli could have done something to change that. But it was unlikely if The Pair had allowed her to keep Taathiir's blade.

"I think it's time for you to leave," Naya'il said, her voice breaking through their thoughts like a whip.

Taathiir almost staggered, not quite wanting to process the dismissal. "But... Naya'il, we still--"

"My name," she said, adding an odd emphasis to her words. "Is Argia, and I am the Order's Lady of Justice. Now leave, before you further upset the mortals under my care."

Their breath seized in their chest and throat. Argia? They really named her--Stiffening, Taathiir held on to the composure they had left, conflicted and confused as they were. "Fine," they said before glancing once more at Vaz. "Apologies for the trespass." Desiring a swifter exit than a more covert one, all four wings flared into view, lifting and wrapping about them. In no more than a step, they were gone.

---

She couldn't show the others that she was rattled, that she could see Kirit and Meztli standing across the street. Trying to hide the trembling in her body, a chill filling her skin, Argia glanced down and crouched to pick up the dropped Auris Domniir token. It was made of thick paper, from what she could feel, and would beg for further examination at a better time. For now, she turned on Gregory and David, an unexpected flicker of frustration climbing up her back and causing her eyes to sting. "What were you thinking, Gregory? What are you doing, rushing to attack a demon with a dagger?"

Gregory looked stunned, no longer struggling against David as he stared down at the dagger in his hands. "Sorry, my Lady. Jorath mentioned there was a demon and, well, I had to come see that you were safe."

She sighed, as if deflating. "Go back to the station. We will follow."

Edited by ValidEmotions
Typo correction

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