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[Open] The Forsaken World

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Vaz & Xaal

 

As the group left their underground hideout Vaz continued to skim through the pages of The Compendium, dictating whatever facts they thought were relevant to the upcoming encounter to an audience that seemed to vary between polite intrigue to mild boredom. It wasn’t until Vaz had goaded Mag’than into naming a few other members of Takut’s present company to be analysed did the younger demon briefly perk up in interest, perhaps only now just realising the depth of information that the beloved tome held within its pages.

 

“Izzakor is a snide little pest of very little significance. Their talents seem to revolve primarily around finding the most expensive boot upon which to lick that vile, frog-like tongue of theirs upon and snivel their way into their superior’s more esteemed ranks...”

 

Xaal found the Scribe’s overall presence on such walks to be an enlightening but occasionally tiresome endeavour, as Vaz was prone to slowing down their pace at random intervals while nose-deep in the book. Tonight was no exception. At first she lingered at their side to nudge them forward as needed, but soon found the dawdling irksome and steered them in the general direction of Jorath and Argia in the hopes one of them would take care of dragging along the scribe instead.

 

“...Their most noteworthy form of defence is their ability to produce a potent blast of raw energy from their hands. Such a blast is particularly painful to those of a celestial alignment but needs considerable time to recharge...”

 

Xaal was only half-listening to Vaz’s words, preferring instead to focus on the streets ahead and prepare herself mentally for whatever wretched beings were skulking about in Takut’s territory. She was confident that she could handle any of the lower-ranked goons on her lonesome, at least. The ones that occasionally attempted raids on her territory were nearly always of a dismissible nature, mere fledglings that were trying to ingratiate themselves with Takut by getting rid of ‘The Gallery Ghost’ that had been a thorn in her side for the past few months.

 

“...Conveniently, this is slightly longer than the time it takes for them to be suspended several stories high over a bridge by an irate pride demon and convinced into ceasing such activities. Izzakor is likely of the greed domain, as evidenced by the excessive amount of tacky jewellery adorning them and copious amounts of coinage to be found in their pockets-“

 

“Look, this is all very nice, but you’re starting to give me a headache and I need to focus.”

 

Grumbled out Mag’than, her nose twitching as she redirected her attention to the skies once more. She was trying to find any hint as to where Kalath had run off to, but it was difficult to concentrate with a pompous Fallen yammering on non-stop in the background. Vaz paused their reading of the current entry before them, their unimpressed gaze now lingering on the unwanted tag-along.

 

“Knowledge is power, my dear. I am preparing everyone for any upcoming individuals they may stumble across-“

 

“Great. Thanks Dodo. When one of her guards is trying to rip me in half I’ll feel safe knowing that you’re going to lecture them to sleep.”

 

Drawled Mag’than, to which Vaz gave a huff of annoyance and promptly snapped the book shut before dismissing it into a cloud of smoke and flames. Xaal heard Mag’than mutter something else under-breath in Oldspeak that included the word ‘terras-mar’, to which Vaz scowled in response.

 

“Incantations are my speciality. I use words to shape the world around us. I’ll have you know I am one of the inventors of the concept, in fact. That is far from useless you daft, portable flea-motel.”

 

The scribe was agitated once more, punctuating the term ‘useless’ with gritted teeth. Mag’than didn’t press any further on the matter, but a smug expression made itself known on their face as they trailed behind the irate Fallen. Now that she had picked up on a sore point for the pretentious scribe she was keen to keep pressing at it. Vaz seemed to register this after the growl, rubbing a hand over their face and taking a long, deep breath to calm themself back down. They tried to focus on what else they had to offer the group in an attempt to reassure themself.

 

“I also still have my halo-”

 

‘No. You don’t.’

 

Xaal pointed a finger threateningly up at Vaz, who twitched the side of their face briefly into a grimace.

 

‘Do not reform your halo. It will bring back The Voice.’

 

For a rare moment of silence, Vaz just stopped and starred down at her.

 

“...I also still have my halo, which I am only to use in desperate situations due to its...unpleasant drawbacks when reformed. Its charge is quite potent. I would recommend anyone of an infernal inclination to stay well away from it.”

 

Xaal squinted in response, still not satisfied with their reply but now finding more pressing matters to attend to. With a resigned sigh she motioned for the rest of the group to stop and withdrew several business cards to pass around. Each card had the name ‘Xaal’Razuul’ etched in elegant, gold calligraphy, although the image featured above differed between recipients. Jorath got an outline of a rose, while both Vaz and Argia received a paintbrush. Mag’than meanwhile received an owl. She motioned for them to be pocketed, before unfurling her primary set of wings and combing her fingers through the feathers near her shoulder. As she plucked one of the feathers out Vaz twitched in response. They averted their gaze and eased away from the group to cross the road, coming to rest before a bare patch of wall that seemed to stretch all the way down either side of the street.

 

As Mag’than reluctantly took hold of the feather she was overcome with another feeling of static, the dizziness of coming into contact with Celestial magic returning for a brief moment. When her mind had cleared once more the wall across the road had parted, forming a marble staircase that lead up to a classical-style building that had most certainly not been there a few seconds ago. Vaz had already ascended the stairs, and was now leaning against one of the stone pillars decorating the entrance while they waited.

 

‘Don’t lose. Will need to hold feather to find Gallery.’

 

Explained Xaal once she had ensured every guest to her Realm had a feather on their person. With a grandiose gesture towards the entrance to The Gallery she lead the rest of the party across the road and towards the building. As Xaal stood at the top of the stairs the door creaked open on its own devices and she shepherded everyone into the lobby entrance. For such a large building the lobby itself was quite modest in both size and decoration, consisting mostly of a small clearing in the centre and a large desk that guarded the doorway leading further into the gallery. A comfortable array of lounges and chairs lined either side of the lobby, coupled with some books and magazines carefully stacked upon some of the end-tables that separated them. Other tables had sheets of paper and a set of coloured pencils set upon them, though there was no indication that any of the pencils had ever been used.

 

Xaal did not provide much time for her guests to linger in the lobby, instead ushering them all up the winding staircase that sat to the right of the entrance. She ascended several flights of stairs, more than seemed possible for the height of the building, and eventually took the group out onto the roof of The Gallery to survey the misty haze of the streets below.

 

‘See the building in the distance? With the glowing sign?’

 

Questioned Xaal, indicating the outline of Takut’s lair that she could just barely make out through the fog.

 

“F***...Do we not have anyone patrolling the roof right now?”

 

Xaal shook her head, judgementally, in Mag’than’s direction. It was a weak point in Takut’s defences that she had been privy to for a while now, apparently nobody liked to linger for too long on the rooftop when there was chance of a disgruntled archer watching them from the distance.

 

‘I think we should shroud now and attack from above. Less guarded. More of a surprise.’

 

She turned to beam around at the group for the suggestion, only to falter at the reminder that she was no longer addressing a squadron of eager, perfectly capable Guardians any more.

 

‘Can you glide, Vaz?’

 

Vaz, who had chosen to remain near the stairway exit, shuffled in an uncomfortable manner.

 

“It...is quite far, my dear. I’m not sure I can-“

 

Xaal quickly held up her hand to cut them off, dismissing the question with an apologetic glance in their direction. Her attention then shifted towards Mag’than, now more hopeful as they regarded her.

 

‘Can you fly Mag’than? I can carry someone. Argia can carry someone too, yes?’

 

She gestured towards Jorath with another look that appeared to be judging something about his general existence.

 

‘Vaz is very light. Jorath looks heavy. Best for stronger flier, yes?’

 

 

Lucy

 

It took Lucy a few moments to realise what Taathiir was doing, and she was forced to bite back the snarking comment that had been forming over whether it was the best time for Taathiir to be doing a spot of gardening. When they excavated not a flower but a deity’s soul instead though she gawked at the sight, whispering for the Collector to be careful in Oldspeak. 

 

She glanced around at her now dimmed surroundings, a sense of unease growing within her at the unfamiliar sensation. It was far from the first time Taathiir had shared such an ability with her, but she still found it be a rather startling one. Once she had orientated herself to what was happening Lucy’s eyes darted between the other two entities, unsure if Taathiir had anything specific in mind that she should ask. For a moment she crossed her arms and tapped her foot on the ground, a calculative expression settling into her features before she finally decided to speak up.

 

“Alright. So. Not angels then. Do you have anything a bit more specific for us as to who these ‘children’ are exactly?”

 

“Yes...There is Qhiaka...J’enai...Avlior...I can not hear Rarukh roar. Rarukh is strong and should be close by - why?”

 

The hackles rose on the lupine form of the avatar, xir fangs beared in a silent growl as Secos fretted over the location of one name in particular. The form began to morph yet again, a grizzly bear starting to take shape as Lucy puzzled over xir words.

 

“Is...Rarukh a bear?”

 

Ventured Lucy, her wings performing a self-congratulatory little flutter when Secos nodded xir head in confirmation. Secos however then seemed to be growing agitated by something, xir distant gaze momentarily skimming over the two faces in front of xem before their attention settled on the necklace around Lucy’s neck.

 

“The Serpent is not my child. The Serpent deceives!”

 

“Oookay calm down Sec, honey. We’re not looking for any trouble we’re just here to say hello. Right Taathy?”

 

She turned her head to grin toothily at Taathiir and motioned for them to agree with her, only to remember that the Fallen individual was somewhat preoccupied. The bear snorted in disbelief, pawing at the ground in a manner that was more reminiscent of the elk that xir had been mere moments ago. This form held its place, though, making Lucy wonder if there was any particular purpose as to which appearance the deity took.

 

“Tell you what, you seem like a lovely...uh...mammal of some description. If you give us a few clues I’m sure we can help you find this Rarukh of yours and make sure they’re alright?”

 

“No...the serpent (Are they safe? The blue moon cave is empty...) is wrong. (will bring control).”

 

Lucy tensed at the elements of telepathy starting to creep back into Secos attempts to communicate with the pair of them. She inched closer to Taathiir and took another deep breath, but was otherwise unsure if there was any way to help them focus on the anchor. Secos meanwhile seemed to be growing all the more restless, xir fiery soul starting to sear with a more intense heat as the bear tore xir glare away from Lucy’s necklace to challenge Taathiir’s own stare.

 

“This is a trick (we are not prey). The hunted will become hunters.”

 

Secos, who had returned to the form of a wolf, lurched forward and snapped xir jaws at the tether connecting Taathiir with the ground below. Lucy yelped in response and wrenched free of her companion’s grasp, driving the spires of her trident into the ground between them to protect the tether. She wasn’t certain what would happen if Taathiir was severed from the soul in such an abrupt manner.

 

“Alright, yep, let ‘em go Buttercup I think we’re done here.”

 

Urged Lucy, heaving her trident back off the ground and jerking it threateningly in the direction of the avatar. Secos narrowed xir eyes at the weapon, and for a moment Lucy was going to claim victory as the beast stepped a few paces away from them. Secos threw back xir head and a powerful howl, one that seemed to pierce through the mind more than the ears, started to emit from the wolf’s maw. It sounded less the call of a beast and more like an alarm to rally the troops, and Lucy winced as she heard something bellow in the distance in response.

Edited by Lycanious
Oops, fixing pronoun.

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Taathiir
Trying to keep a deity's soul soothed, no matter how small or awake one seemed to be, wasn't exactly a ride in the park. Mortal soulfires were relatively cool to the touch. The heat of Secos's, on the other hand, gradually shifted back and forth along with its color. As Lucy spoke, keeping much of the deity's attention upon her, Taathiir murmured to xir soul beneath their breath each time it flickered with unease or another disturbance.

Xir soul rippled with heat and bright color, causing Taathiir to flinch from the intensity. "Lucy, what--" they started, voice strained as they worked to keep the soul contained. Doing so, they couldn't fully parse the words coming from either Lucy or Secos, only that both were saying something about Secos's children. They turned their head slightly, gaze drifting to the bear that pawed at the faded ground.

They finally understood what happened when they realized Secos was honing in on her pendant. An entanglement of unfiltered thoughts began to trickle back into their head, crowding against Secos's intended speech. The deity met their gaze. Xir soul rippled again, this time flashing and blinding Taathiir. They hissed, feeling Lucy pull free of their grip. She was the only reason Secos's teeth didn't get to the tether.

Taathiir was already moving to release Secos's soul when Lucy made known her desire to leave. Crouching to the ground, they rushed out an incantation, using their free hand to pinch the tether between their fingers and run the tips down the length. "Deep breath in and out, Lucy," they instructed quickly. The tether dissolved under their touch, Secos's soul vanishing from sight when they blinked. The rest of the world faded back into proper existence as the deity made xir call and was answered. With an abnormal speed, fog rolled in to settle upon the area.

Wings bristling, Taathiir turned their gaze in the direction of growls and snarling that drifted into hearing. Secos's disoriented thoughts still flooded their head, causing their vision to spin from the dizziness. Impressions of stone fragments with engravings upon them, and beings that shifted between animal or human shapes, were tangled with the deity's rising distress about Rarukh. Reaching out for Lucy's arm, they powered their wings to lift off from the ground, responding to the rise of their hackles and the alarm of instinct urging them to move. A wolf landed and skidded across the ground in the same heartbeat, twisting to snap up at their leg.

They kept flying, trying to get above the fog. But it wouldn't end, and the ground appeared no further away than a moment before. Swallowing back the desire to swear, Taathiir grabbed the wolf that leapt at them, one hand burying itself in the fur at the animal's neck and the other hand grappling with a leg. The animal snapped at them, muzzle jerking towards Taathiir's face and throat as hind legs kicked at their torso.

Taathiir threw the wolf back to the ground. It recovered easily, stalking and circling instead of trying another attack. "Can your pendant disrupt this fog?" Taathiir said, glancing at Lucy as more wolves began to appear. Secos stood apart from the pack, larger than the rest, xir pale eyes watching and unblinking.

Three rushed at both Fallen. Taathiir stayed on the defensive, uttering a word and sweeping their arm. Black tendrils rose from the ground, melting together into a wall that raced to deflect each wolf. They added to their spell, coaxing the barrier to last a little longer under the impact of wolven bodies trying to break through. They needed to give Lucy time to figure out her pendant. When cracks formed, Taathiir hurried to repair the weakness before a breach could happen.

Hooves landed upon Taathiir's back, abruptly driving them to the ground even as their wings flailed to keep them aloft. Their barrier broke apart from the disruption, wolves darting forward to take advantage. Secos's voice and thoughts flooded their mind, drowning out their own as the large elk trampled one of Taathiir's wings before the deity rushed at Lucy. "F***ing overgrown, half-dead, simple-minded--" Grunting through the pain and overwhelming telepathy, they rolled and snatched at one of Secos's rear hooves. "We were being kind." They yanked on the limb and xe stumbled, hitting the ground.

A wolf's teeth sunk into Taathiir's arm while another latched onto their shoulder, just missing their neck when they flinched. Scowling, they let go of Secos to grab at the wolf on their shoulder, hand tightly clenching the top half of its muzzle. Bone cracked. The animal whined horribly and released its grip, allowing Taathiir the opportunity to pitch the beast into another wolf coming close. Their wings beat and floundered, their uninjured one managing to shove back a different wolf. It gave them space to climb to their feet, wrestling with the wolf clinging to their arm until Taathiir could pry it off.

The next canine that lunged for them, Taathiir caught it and slammed its side into the ground, pinning the animal down. They conjured the tendrils again, using them to shield theirs and Lucy's backs. Their good wing curled forward, deflecting yet another wolf that tried for their front. Taathiir finally became aware that the fog had cleared away at some point during the conflict. They just couldn't determine if it was something Lucy did or another factor was at play. Secos's eerie bugle carried through the air and they turned, catching sight of the bull elk as it reared.

As its front legs crashed back against the ground, xir form dissipated and so, too, did xir entangled telepathy.

The wolves that were still conscious snarled and retreated. Even the one that Taathiir pinned struggled against them until they released it to let it flee. They straightened slowly, eying the now unnervingly silent land. In the next moment, Taathiir crouched to the ground and felt out for Secos's soul. "I think Secos lost whatever consciousness xe had...." Their trampled wing smarted when Taathiir attempted to shift it about, a grimace breaking through upon their features. Gingerly, they coaxed the feathered limb closer and brushed a hand over the top, feeling out each sore point. With a few words and a couple exhales of green-flecked smoke, Taathiir's wing began healing under the spell. Not for the first time, however, they privately regretted the weakened ability as their wing slowly stretched out to test itself. Naya'il had always been the superior healer between the two of them.

In a low voice, Taathiir said, "Let's make sure Fred's appropriately equipped to locate and inspect that blue moon cave Secos was thinking about."
---
Argia / Jorath
Turning when Vaz was nudged in her direction, Argia blinked while Xaal gestured for her to take them as the Scribe read through the Compendium. She lightly grabbed their sleeve but otherwise worked to avoid disturbing their reading. Not that it would seem to matter much as Maggie continued to be an interruption on their own. At the mention of Vaz's halo, Argia initially didn't understand, then she recalled the dented metal ring they had some hours prior that doubled as their horns.

Something concerning a voice seemed to be of issue as she watched the exchange between the two Fallen. It felt like a discussion that didn't involve others and Argia wondered if it was just a part of what the bundle of feathers were potentially about. She glanced at Xaal but whatever she was going to nudge at was left behind as the woman passed around business cards. "I already have one," she said. However, it didn't seem like she'd spoken fast or loud enough for the statement to be noticed. Xaal was already providing feathers to her and Maggie while Vaz moved across the street and Jorath looked uncertain, pulling a feather identical to Xaal's out of his pocket.

Jorath briefly danced his fingers against the feather, recognizing the uncomfortable sensation from celestial energy stinging his skin. It let him see through a barrier, though, and grant him access to a flight of stairs that Vaz was already climbing. Taking the hint, he followed them up, only sparing a couple glances at the furnishings of the Gallery's lobby as Xaal guided everyone to the roof of the building. He paused when Argia translated Xaal's plan of approach, studying the distance and the other buildings packed in between the Gallery and Takut's offices.

"I can't fly," Maggie was saying. "I don't need to though. Don't worry about me; I can get across fine."

Argia nodded in idle agreement with Xaal's assessment. "I can carry Vaz." She glanced at Vaz. "If you permit me?"

"So, suppose I'm getting a lift with Xaal, then?" Jorath inquired. He twined his fingers together, turning palms outward and stretching his arms. "Well, I'm ready whenever you are."

Maggie tapped a foot, eying the arrangement of buildings before stepping away from the ledge. Jorath almost questioned if she was backing out when she darted forward. "See ya over there, birdbrains!" She leapt from the rooftop, earning an impressed whistle from Jorath when she landed on a building he wouldn't have reached. He watched them sprint off that one, too, and make for Takut's rooftop as Argia moved in the corner of his vision.

Shawl unfurling and morphing into wings, Argia took hold of Vaz in the same moment Xaal came to grab Jorath. It took only a few moments of flight, but Jorath still had to force down the hackles on his neck from Xaal being at his back. As soon as his feet touched Takut's rooftop and he was free of the Fallen's grip, he moved to stay out of the way of Argia and straightened his shirt, sensing the various auras within the building.

Argia hesitated for a heartbeat, lifting off with Vaz easily enough but already anxious about the landing to come. "I must apologize for any roughness; I fear I'm not as graceful a flyer as Xaal is," she said. Maggie seemed to be sniffing at the air again, a shoe scuffing at the asphalt. Closer, Argia could see the demon's expression beginning to wrinkle.

Maggie stiffened a breath before Argia set down with Vaz. The demon lurched and shouted. "Wait--"

Sigils lit up beneath her and Vaz, tracing along the edge of the rooftop. The section gave out, leaving them to tumble through and crash upon the floor below. Her wings floundered to catch them both, but debris battered her and something tingled along her skin.

Jorath's yell carried through the air, even as Maggie intercepted his path. "No, stop! You'll set off the rest of 'em and make the entire roof fall apart."

He growled at her, grabbing her by the arm. "Why didn't you warn us before we approached?"

"I told you there were traps! But having one on the roof is completely new! It wasn't here before!" Maggie tried to pry themself free.

Since he could get closer to see if Vaz and Argia were fine, he focused on their auras and noticed the lack of any verbal response. "They're not on the floor below; where did that trap send them?"

Maggie shifted her weight from foot to foot. "Likely underground, knowing Takut." Jorath scowled and hurried for the roof-access door.
---
Picking herself up and offering a hand to help Vaz, Argia brushed off debris. "Are you alright, Vaz?" She pulled a wing close as she began to call back to the trio on the roof. "We can meet you at the stairw--" Looking away from her wing, she realized they were in a tunnel instead of an office hallway. A glance up at the ceiling revealed no hole. If they hadn't fallen through the ground, then were they teleported?

Her wings drooped a moment before wrapping about her shoulders as a shawl once more. "Wonderful."

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Posted (edited)

Lucy

 

By the time Taathiir had reached out towards her Lucy had already tucked away her excessive amount of wings and taken to their air with just her primary set on display. She glanced back at the offered limb and quickly grabbed them by the hand as the two powered forward, not wanting to lose them in the fog.

 

Lucy felt a warmth around her neck as she flew, the eyes of the serpent on her pendant starting to glow an almost blinding shade of green. A heaviness that she hadn’t realised had descended on her felt like it had lifted, the fog that clogged her airways now clearing. She tried to rise higher to avoid the wolves below, but something seemed to be holding Taathiir back and kept them low to the ground instead of yielding to her pull.

 

“Taathy, honey, if they don’t have wings the first direct is always up!”

 

Urged Lucy, only to have her fellow Fallen’s hand snatched away in the next breath. Lucy shrieked and flared her wings to keep Taathiir in her sights, spinning on the spot to brandish her trident at the other hunched shapes she could see skulking around in the fog while the Collector dealt with their attacker. The glow from her pendant evidentially caught Taathiir’s attention as they tuned back towards her, earning them a wide-eyed response and a panicked ‘I don’t know!’ that was mouthed out.

 

As Taathiir strove to keep the wolves at bay Lucy tugged at her pendant and held it up to her face for closer inspection. The serpent upon it writhed in her grasp, it’s tiny golden head turning to blink at her in a manner that felt awfully judgemental for a piece of animated metal.

 

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”

 

She huffed in reply to it, hearing the echo of Gneni’s usual advice in such situations as she turned the pendant over and over in her hands. Think outside the box! Maybe there’s not even a box! Embrace the chaos! All of which was a fun little philosophy until you were seconds away from getting mauled to death by an ill-tempered deity.

 

“Come on, come on...”

 

Hissed Lucy through gritted teeth, now tapping frantically at the piece of jewellery clutched in her hands in the hopes of it doing something. Movement at her side caused her to flinch and broke her concentration, releasing her hold the pendant so that she could sweep her trident across and smash the flat end of it against the jaw of one of the wolves leaping over the barrier. The beast yelped and was sent into a roll from the impact, crashing into one of her pack-mates behind her. Lucy surged forward and drove the trident into the side of a third wolf that refused to back down, spitting out Oldspeak profanities and kicking them aside as she withdrew her weapon once more. The wolf, though it cried out in pain from the injury, did not seem to be otherwise very encumbered by it. He leapt back out of caution though and circled the pair, glowing eyes fixated on the tips of the trident that was aimed at him. 

 

A crackle of green energy, like electricity, sparked down from Lucy’s hand and along the tines of her weapon. The next wolf that leapt for the pair of them was caught off-guard by Lucy’s speed, only managing to briefly latch its jaws around her arm before she brought the trident down onto its head. An intense glow of both heat and light burst into its eyes, instantly blinding the beast and earning a wail of misery as it released her to stagger away.

 

Oh. Right.

 

Raising the trident high above her head, a guttural roar issued from Lucy and a burst of green and golden light rippled up through the air from the end of her trident. The light condensed into a glowing sphere that hovered above the pair of them, illuminating the area like a tiny, makeshift sun. The mini-sun started to darken, appearing to draw in the mist surrounding it and with it, the disorientating sense of Secos prying into their minds.

 

Another wolf took advantage of her attention being elsewhere and latched onto the edge of her wing. Mercifully they missed the flesh, but tore out several primaries in the process and earned a genuine cry of pain from Lucy before she was able to whip around and heave them up over her head and away from her. She turned back to Taathiir, charging forward to catch Secos before it brought down their hooves upon them only to flare to a halt as the deity abruptly disappeared. Quickly Lucy spun on the spot and checked her surroundings, panting as she confirmed that the rest of the wolves were now retreating. Wide-eyes gawked at Taathiir, but after another few moments of silence she gradually shifted to a more relaxed stance.

 

“Ooh, darling, that one looks like it smarts.”

 

She sympathised, grimacing down at the injury to their wing as she stretched out and tested her own. Nothing that wouldn’t heal in time, but one downside of her change of allegiance to Gneni was that it had put a damper on her ability to speed up the process. Apparently her alignment wasn’t exactly celestial any more and that caused a few...complications, to put it lightly, with some of her older abilities.

 

“Looks like I might have to walk for a few hours ‘til I grow these feathers back. Unless some gorgeous young Collector wants to carry me all the way back to HQ.”

 

Briefly she battered her eyelashes at them, trying to make light of the situation before the inevitable sigh of weariness kicked in.

 

“I’m kidding. But...yeah...bloody hell Fred’s going to want a whole squadron. We’ll probably have to outsource. Do you reckon there’s any lords we haven’t pissed off too much yet that’d lend a hand?”

 

In the distance, still amongst the trees, a series of auras started to flicker into her awareness. Lucy scowled in response, recognising the closest and angriest looking of the bunch that had teleported a few paces ahead of them.

 

“Looks like we caused a bit of a commotion. Reckon we can get away before Malvorin’s favourite pet shows up or should we just tell Ditzy to f*** off and see what happens?”

 

 

Xaal 

 

As the rest of the party confirmed the flight arrangements Xaal edged closer to Vaz, tapping at their shoulder to grab their attention. Vaz twitched and their distant gaze locked back onto her own. A wide, utterly unconvincing grin plastered itself onto their face.

 

‘Short flight. We can try another-‘

 

‘It is enough.’

 

Vaz opted to sign back in reply this time, perhaps to better avoid drawing the attention of the others. Xaal tried to inquire further but the fellow Fallen turned from her to approach Argia instead, supposedly locking in the decision to fly over. Deciding not to linger on the matter further, especially with Mag’than now rapidly leaping away from them all, Xaal drew a heavy sigh but began to hover her way over to Jorath all the same.

 

In a lot of ways, carrying Jorath across to the roof in question was very similar to the few times Xaal had flown Vaz somewhere. Both had the same sort of tension in their shoulders and the anxiety that prickled into their auras as she rose effortlessly into the air. Out of habit it caused her to adjust her hold on him slightly, hugging him tighter to reassure him only to quickly revert when it only seemed to cause further distress. Despite her dislike for this strange new companion of Vaz’s she put extra care into making sure her flight-path was as smooth as possible and her landing a soft one. When he moved away to make room for Argia she even found that she trailed after him, reaching out to grab his sleeve and check up on him. The man was once human. She told herself. And you did make a promise.

 

Before she had time to find a way to properly ask if he was alright though, a horribly familiar plea for help pierced through her senses. Xaal spun around on her heel and a feeling of dread bubbled into her core as she witnessed the sigils light up around Argia and Vaz’s feet. She barely had time to decipher the meaning behind them before the trapped duo abruptly dropped out of view. Vaz was wide-eyed and cried out again as they scrambled and clawed desperately for a foothold just before they went under, evidentially having of recognised the symbols and what was about to happen to them but ultimately failing to leap to safety in time.

 

Mag’than prevented Jorath from charging after the duo, but Xaal rushed forward several steps in his stead before her common sense kicked in and she screeched to a halt. The Guardian crouched and patted frantically at the concrete beneath her where her friends had been standing seconds ago, but the surface had already sealed itself back up once more with zero indication that it had ever been split in half. Golden eyes honed in on a symbol etched into the concrete that consisted of a series of concurrent circles and an Oldspeak glyph on its centre.

 

A teleporter rune? Looks like a short-range one.

 

The Guardian’s shoulders sagged, but she eased herself back up onto her feet a moment later with a new sense of determination. Short range, at least, implied that the duo were still within the building perimeter somewhere. Jorath seemed to have reached the same conclusion, already making his way down to the floor below alongside of the other demon. Xaal hurried after the two of them, descending down the narrow stairway and through the fire exit to an abandoned but suspiciously benign-looking office space. She made a grab for Jorath’s shoulders, dragging him to a stop and waving her finger threateningly in his face in a command for undivided attention.

 

‘Stop! If we can sense their auras then so can the rest!’

 

Xaal tried to explain, her movements frantic and consisting mostly of just trying to get him and Mag’than to halt and be patient with her for a second. Nimble fingers massaged into her temple as she tried to concentrate on the auras scattered throughout the building. To her they were for the most-part vague, less personalised and more just blots of dulled emotions scattered about. But she had no doubt that others had a more finely honed sense for them, and had noticed the two new arrivals underground.

 

More frantic, intricate motions were made with her hands, but this time she had detached from the pair and a ball of golden, glittering dust began to form between her palms. Fi’Faltuun and her scroll fluttered into view to attempt to explain on her behalf while she focused on condensing more and more energy into the sphere. The quill wavered back and forth between a trio of illustrations, one of an eye, one of a horned humanoid, and the other of a mask. With the sphere in her hands Xaal craned her neck upwards and to her delight honed in on a nearby ventilation shaft embedded in the ceiling. Perfect. Xaal fluttered up to greet it and released her hold on the sphere, watching as a few of the particles wafted back into the room while the rest disappeared into the vents. The particles that remained began to disperse into the air around them, fading into a faint mist that slowly began to expand throughout the room.

 

‘Area shroud for building. Safer for the others.’

 

Motioned Xaal, once her vision of both of their auras began to ebb away. Beneath her feet an unknown trio of auras on the floor below also began to fade from her awareness, hinting to her that the shroud was successfully making its rounds throughout the building. The act was a somewhat draining one, prompting Xaal to stumble and land a little heavier-footed than usual back onto the floor. She took a moment to catch her breath, then spent another fraction of her power to summon her bow to her hand. She would have to be more careful about conserving the rest of her energy. Grabbing Mag’than’s arm with her free hand, Xaal then shoved the younger of the demons forward and waved them off into leading the way. Mag’than obeyed despite the mutter of verbal protest, and the show of wiping her sleeve where contact had been made onto the wall beside her in disgust.

 

“Alright, you lot’ll want to stay nice and close. Lots of twists and turns up here, and it only goes worse the further down you go.”

 

The demon stopped in her tracks and hummed in thought, her nose twitching in the air once more. Xaal wondered if she was searching for someone in particular, only to be thwarted by the shroud that was descending gradually upon the rest of the building. Mag’than tapped her foot on the ground a few times and her head twinged to the right, as though following the movements of some unseen entity.

 

“We’re in a bad spot for you, feather-head. Looks like Takut’s set up a few things with angels in mind near the roof. You scared of falling?”

 

Xaal shook her head.

 

“Hounds?”

 

Another no.

 

“Archangels?”

 

She shook with silent laughter, patting Mag’than on the back briefly before they both continued down the hallway. It was only several steps forward until a faint squelch sounded beneath her feet. Xaal glanced down, realising with mild alarm that she had stepped into a small puddle of a dark, viscous liquid that had definitely not been there a few seconds beforehand. Golden eyes drifted upwards, tracing along the carpeted floor as the puddles grew wider and denser until the hall curved around a sharp corner and out of sight. Near her feet something drifted, and a cold draft settled on the back of her neck as she registered that the mass was a small collection of mattered, singed feathers clumped together.

 

“What about visions of the past?”

 

Edged Mag’than, with just the faintest twitch in the corner of her mouth that suggested something about the sudden appearance of these puddles was amusing. Xaal didn’t answer, merely starring down at the clump for a few seconds before she swallowed the lump in her throat and started to walk once more.

 

“Gross, is this more ink? Is this why you can’t read filth-licker? Traumatic experience with a printing press?”

 

 

Vaz

 

“Are you alright Vaz?”

 

Considering Vaz was currently curled up into a shivering ball, face buried in their palms, they decided that whoever had asked such a question could probably guess that one without their input. They spent a few moments in silence, shakily drawing in breaths of air until they were able to finally pull their hands down from their face once more.

 

Pathetic. Even the beast managed to avoid such an obvious trap.

 

“Not a beast.”

 

Whispered Vaz under breath. They took some vague, obscure comfort in the fact they could refute the statement verbally, even if it still left the acknowledgement of Vaz being a fool not to notice the trap to dangle over their head. At the back of their mind, for just a second, they entertained Jorath’s earlier notion that perhaps their deity was capable of being wrong from time to time. The internalised snarl that rang through their thoughts in response quickly buried that idea. Vaz jolted into movement at the sensation, scooting up against the wall of the tunnel and using it to scramble back onto their feet. 

 

Panic started to rise as they stretched out their senses and found no sign of Jorath or Xaal. Even Fi’Faltuun was but a faint ebb on the edge of their consciousness, just strong enough to know that she was still present somewhere in the building before she too, disappeared. It took them a moment to remember that they hadn’t been completely cut off from everyone, based on the fact that Lojaal’O’Ith projected an image of a scythe and sword into their vision. Their head turned and their eyes snapped towards Argia, the blurred vision now beginning to clear the longer they starred at her.

 

“I-I...I can’t sense them. Can you sense their lifelines? Jorath is with Xaal still? Yes?”

 

Their arms flinched forward, one of their hands making a tight grasp around their own wrist and digging nails into the flesh beneath their sleeve. Vaz tore their gaze away from her to start inspecting their surroundings, searching for indications of more sigils and symbols along the ceiling, walls and floors. Ikaar dripped from the tips of their nails once they had freed their hand once more, leaving a smear of black ink along the surface of the nearby wall as the scribe searched for any unusual indents along it. Though in the dark they could still see far in either direction of the tunnel, they found no indication of any splits in the path or doors to wander through.

 

Pity. If only you had flown. You could have taken the beast with you instead and avoided this mess.

 

“Shut up.”

 

Snapped Vaz, reaching up for one of their horns and yanking at it until it was freed from their skull. They held it out at their side like a dagger, before leaning against the wall and using its jagged, broken edge to start carving a symbol of an eye onto the wall before them. After a few breaths they, again, had to be reminded about Argia’s presence and they shot her and the quill drooping beside her an apologetic look mid-scratch.

 

“Ah...sorry my dear not...not you. Afraid I’m erm...just a tad overwhelmed now.”

 

Explained Vaz, now taking a step back to judge their own handiwork. The outlines of the symbol shone with a golden light, the pupil of the eye animating and looking up at the both of them, before the eye blinked shut and the light extinguished itself once more. Sloppier craftsmanship than usual from the scribe, but they were confident that both Xaal and Jorath would recognise it on activation as the same symbol centred on the cover of The Compendium.

 

“I believe we fell prey to a teleport trap. Triggered by fear, if the sigils were any indication. It must’ve sensed-“

 

Vaz rubbed at their face and grimaced as they inspected their surroundings. When they caught Argia’s eye a glimmer of shame flickered through their own and they hurriedly glanced away once more. 

 

“Either she’s been hoping to catch out any visiting Fallen with that one, or someone was expecting us I would wager.”

 

Vaz exhaled, starting to inch forward step by cautious step. They extended their unencumbered hand out to Argia and beckoned for her to take their arm, wanting to keep their only other available party member close to their side. Upon their flesh a few eyeballs started to spawn yet again and shift about, straining to track as much of their surroundings at once as possible. Vaz inhaled sharply through their teeth, wondering just how many traps and triggers had been set up in this winding tunnel alone. Knowing Takut, she had likely taken great delight in cramming it full of as many phobias as possible.

 

“Alright, first-things-first, I believe we should orientate ourselves to which floor we are on. We head for Er’anir’s office and hope for L’antiira to find us on the way. He’s rather good at that. And then-“

 

Vaz froze and turned their head to gawk behind them, hearing what sounded like the scraping of metal against brick right beside them. They saw only the walls of the tunnel. A wail, distant, echoed in the distance. It was eerily familiar, though Vaz couldn’t place why. 

 

“...And...then...we...see if we can find out a little bit more about this Er’anir figure before we leave. I would very much like to find out more about her.”

Edited by Lycanious
Fixing basic grammar fails.

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Argia
"Yes, I think Jorath and Xaal are still together. Their lifelines have vanished from my senses, as have the rest within this building. Yours, too." She paused. "I think that means Xaal's shroud has come into effect, no? It's... an odd sensation, feeling as if I might be partially blind." Argia frowned; perhaps it'll have to be something she becomes accustomed to if she might continue to be around Xaal in the future.

Seeing Vaz curled up and skittish, even overwhelmed and lashing out at something she wasn't able to see or hear, Argia made a small sympathetic sound. "It is alright; I have been... overwhelmed, myself, a time or two this past night since arriving." She rested a hand upon theirs as they linked their arms together. Despite the Scribe's intentions to start walking, Argia halted them. She hadn't missed their unfinished remark about the trap that had sent them both underground. Or the shame in their gaze. "Takut works in fears and her traps are based around that strength of hers. Do not apologize for a reaction that is justified and understandable," she said to them. A faint, reassuring, smile flickered across her features. "I have spent centuries watching and learning about mortals and non-mortals; the two are a lot more alike than either dares to consider. Especially where emotions, like fear, are concerned."

Briefly, she wondered how her apathy might come into conflict with Takut's traps. Argia hadn't known fear for herself, and she doubted there was anything she might be afflicted by while in the demon's territory. But there had been a number of surprises for her this evening, allowing a string of uncertainty to coil about her thoughts. She pushed it aside as foolishness and a want to understand better.

As Vaz proposed a course of action, Argia faintly heard the same strike of metal that caused them to glance back and slow their train of thought. Vaz had mentioned that Takut's speciality involved effects upon sight and sound. Adding slight pressure to her hold upon Vaz's hand, she made a 'humph' sound as if to acknowledge something and continued walking again. "'Visual and auditory'. Would some sort of signal, like a keyword or phrase, help to ground what is and isn't real? Do you suppose? Or would it be more sufficient to trade something only we would know in the event these traps also utilize what is in our memories?" She grinned. "We can make use of 'strawberry jam tarts', perhaps? Or something else that is unassociated with--"

A figure came into sight up ahead, armor glinting from the light in the tunnel. Black wings lifted in the cramped space, blonde hair falling free from their bun as they glanced back at Vaz and Argia with wet, blue, eyes. She only had a moment to recognize the style of armor matching the metal and leather piece from the museum before the angel called a scythe into their hands and flew further away, disappearing into the darkness. Argia tore her focus away from the tunnel, turning it to Vaz. "Your Collector angels... did they all wield scythes? There was a painting in the museum that depicted a group of beings with scythes on a battlefield between demons, angels, and mortals."

She shook her head, frowning. Perhaps it didn't matter. Argia didn't know who the illusion was of, so something that Takut had set in the tunnel was playing off of Vaz. She again applied a faint bit of pressure to her grip upon their arm, attempting reassurance. "Oh, there." Pointing, she indicated a side path that had been tucked away from sight. Glancing down it, she noticed the elevator shaft and a floor number beside it. "Looks like the fourth floor?" Scanning the hallway, she searched for any possible sigils that might indicate a trap. When she found none, Argia stepped towards the elevator.

"Maggie said that Er'anir's room would be on the seventh floor." Her hand hovered over the call buttons. "What are the chances that we'll be able to head straight down? It's only three floors." As she turned to glance at Vaz again, her brow furrowed and her gaze drifted past them. Droplets splattered against the ground, the sound of rain entering her awareness. It was punctuated by the sharp clamor of weapons against one another. Instinctively, Argia reached for the call button as she watched silhouettes begin to take shape some distance away.

Her hand passed through air instead.

Abruptly looking to where the elevator should be, she found only more tunnel, the pathway shortly opening up to a much larger cavern. Within, more bodies were locked in conflict, large black wings stretching from some of their backsides. On the rare instance, Argia caught a glimpse of different wing patterns. But, mostly, she saw orange soulfires lifting away from the mortal bodies that were reaped too soon.

As lightning flashed above, a roll of thunder echoing soon after, Argia breathed out, "Vaz... were you a witness of The Culling?"

----
Jorath
Feeling hands grab his shoulder from behind and an aura that felt like snow seep an icy heaviness into his skin, he reacted instantly. Jorath bucked an arm up, smacking away the individual's hand as he twisted, snatching at their wrist. A snarl etched itself upon his face while the sound to match it started rising from his throat. Recognition scrambled through his thoughts, causing his reaction to falter while he gazed down at the robed woman. It gave Xaal opportunity to force him back and begin furiously signing something at him. He ran a hand through his hair. "I, uh--"

Mag'than huffed, muttering about not getting to see the Fallen and human-born demon tear each other apart. Jorath shot a glare in her direction, shifting his focus when Fi pulled out her scroll and started indicating a set of images. "What?" He stared at the scroll, flickering his gaze a few times at Xaal as she gathered a sphere of energy within her palm. A mask... "'Masked'," Jorath mumbled, understanding at last. "It's a full shroud for everyone?" Fi dipped in confirmation, tucking the scroll back into the pocket of his shirt.

He was gonna have to do something about the fact that Xaal might have to grab him again for his attention to anything she signed. That her aura had a kind of coldness to it was--well, Jorath had to figure out how to adjust to it. At least it was a problem for later as everyone's auras faded from his senses. Admittedly, it coaxed a slow churn of unease to settle in his gut. He almost made a sound when she stumbled, a noticeable weariness entering the edges of her eyes and the slight droop to her shoulders. After a moment, she seemed to shake it off, pushing Maggie ahead to guide them.

"How are you able to determine all that," Jorath asked.

The demon tapped her nose. "I can smell and hear anything that could prove dangerous or a threat."

"So, what you're saying is, you're nothing more than prey?" He grinned, showing a bit of teeth that took the expression from friendly to something less than trustworthy. Maggie stammered for a response, Jorath ignoring them as something else took higher priority. His gaze turned from the dark liquid to Xaal, eyes rolling as Mag'than took the opportunity to try another shot at his illiteracy. He crouched down, fingers dipping into the liquid briefly for inspection. "No, this isn't me." At least that's what he could figure, not if this was something from Xaal's past, no matter how much he recognized Vaz's inky blood. "But I am surprised you know what a printing press is."

Jorath could, very faintly, feel the liquid coating his fingertips. Xaal started moving in his periphery, prompting him to stand and follow suit. Vaz had mentioned that a lot of Takut's work involved sight and sound, but he hadn't thought that it would allow beings to experience someone else's personal fears. This... really wasn't going to be fun then. For anyone, he suspected.

"Hey," he started, coming to a brief stop. Glancing at Xaal and Mag'than, his lip twitched into a somber smile. "Remember, it's not real. Right now." Jorath knew he was working to reassure himself of that as much as he was trying to reassure Xaal (and Mag'than, a little begrudgingly). It wasn't a pleasant thought entering his head when he'd realized the pool was only getting deeper. "And, maybe we can all agree to pretend that we know nothing of what'll get dragged out here once we leave?"

"Why? Afraid of me using something as leverage against you?" Maggie asked.

Jorath leaned towards them, snatching their chin in his hand. She struggled, hissing through her teeth from pain as his grip tightened to keep her in place. "Believe me, you won't get the chance if you even think about trying." Maggie stumbled back when he released her. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he started forward again, tuning out the squelching footsteps that belonged to him and the other two. Ignoring the sound, and turning his gaze away from each clump of feathers, helped him to stuff down the blooming question he wanted to ask Xaal. Even if it pertained to Vaz, it wasn't exactly the best place to pry.

Didn't matter how much his uncertainty of what the illusion hinted at allowed distress to nestle in the tension of his shoulders.

Maggie eventually edged back into taking point, occasionally halting and redirecting her step as she skirted around hidden sigils. The dark blood up to their ankles didn't hinder the demon in the least. "Watch it. Stairs are only a few hallways down but follow my steps exactly. Don't want you setting anything off that'll distort our path. You, Feather-Head," she went on. "Move left and hug the wall for a few steps."

As she spoke, Mag'than turned to face Xaal, taking a step backwards to continue her progress through the hallway. The pool around their feet began shifting. Jorath at first didn't notice the difference among the ripples as she stepped away and he stepped forward, pointing where she'd been without actually looking. "Avoid this step, tough guy." His gaze followed Maggie's finger while he stepped sideways. She tore her gaze away from Xaal as she swore and a solid object bumped against Jorath's shoe.

A pair of silver chains shot up from the pool, lashing around his arm with the clatter of links.

He snarled, wrenching his arm back. Around his wrist, a thick shackle formed and snapped shut. As the chains drew taught, preventing him from backing away any further, his heart rate shot up. Another set of chains slithered between his legs, latching onto his ankles, even as the first chain started retreating to the ground and pulled him with it. It's not real. It's not real--Jorath clawed at the shackle on his wrist, jerking to catch one of the new chains that lunged for his free arm and throat. The golden metal among all of the silver caught him off guard, wrapping about his hand before making its way up his arm and circling his neck. Illstrund grew warm against his thigh.

Forced to fall upon his knees, ink-like liquid splattering upon impact, he growled as he strained against the chains. Sweat broke across his forehead and Jorath muttered to himself that they weren't real. No matter how real they felt and sounded beneath his fingers. His pulse roared within his ears. "Maggie," he said, the demon's name ground between clenched teeth. "I avoided the step you told me to." His throat was tight, restricting his voice.

"Must have been a proximity condition instead of a direct trigger," she replied, not bothering to hide her enjoyment as she watched Jorath struggle. A smirk had curled about her lips, a sigh soon breaking past them. "I'm going to forever savor this moment."

"Mag'than!" Jorath snapped, trying another jerk against the chains that only provoked them into pulling him to the ground. Hands plunged into the liquid to prevent himself from completely spilling. Fi'Faltuun fluttered about, coming to a stop before his face and giving his eyes something to focus on.

"Geeze! Fine, fine. Stop fighting for one f***ing second. You can't just smash through everything and hope it'll fix the problem. I know your brain is smaller than your muscles but I didn't think it'd be that tiny!" He glared at her and she rolled her eyes. "Seriously, just sit through it. Stuff down the panic and show a little patience for once."

Jorath only realized his breathing had become labored when he began working to steady it and slow his heartbeat. As loud as the instinct was to fight against the chains, he sucked in a breath and let the links fall free of his trembling hands. Just breathe. It's not real. They're not Er'anir's. He focused again on Fi, eyes following her as she moved to hover over the golden chain. It definitely wasn't something associated with him and a lot of him wished he could figure out Fi's odd movement.

He felt cold. With sweat faintly dampening the collar of his shirt, Jorath picked himself up. He brought a finger up to the shackle around his throat. He grunted. "Now what?" It was as calm and patient as he was going to get. And it wasn't going to last very long.

Maggie grinned widely. "Can I get you to beg?" She snickered, earning another snarl from him. She pouted. "Well, boo. Fine then. Be boring."

"Any day now, Maggie," Jorath growled. She mocked him as she stepped forward, grabbing one of the silver chains between both hands. With a moment of straining, the link broke apart. A second after, the chain disintegrated and Maggie gestured for Xaal to help her break the rest. Once freed completely, Jorath rubbed at his throat before shifting to his wrists and moved a few steps away, wanting to put distance between himself and the expended trap. "You didn't need me to 'sit still', did you?"

She only smirked. "Now that that's settled, let's keep going."

----
Taathiir
"It'll be alright in a little bit; could have been worse," they replied. Wings shuffling into a dormant state at their back, Taathiir studied Lucy's own offended wing as she batted her eyelashes at them. A note of a sound escaped them, the closest to a chuckle they often got. "You know that flattery gets you far. Right? I can just as easily carry you as I can teleport us back to H.Q. It's your pick."

Their gaze shifted to the forest in the distance as lifelines appeared within the area. They hummed. "Seeing as neither of us can reliably fly for the time being... It'd be wiser to make our leave now. However, if Ditraxol is here, I would rather deter him and Malvorin away from Secos and our pursuit of this Rarukh. Keep their likes off our backs and give Fred the cleared space to work in. What are the chances we can blame this on one of your experimentations?"

As the lifelines drew closer, Taathiir folded their arms across their chest, wings disappearing from sight just as the first demon broke free of the treeline. Ditraxol was scowling as always, mouth moving and finger pointing while he directed the closest set of demons. The two beings broke off and headed left. "Should have known the half-blind carrion eater and one of their putrid hatchlings would be here. Curious how you beat us in being the first ones to arrive, though," the Wrath demon spat once he was close enough.

"Don't be. We're working. Why is Malvorin's prized dog skulking about outside the city? Wasn't he keeping you on a short leash this past month?"

Ditraxol didn't need to straighten his posture to be taller than Taathiir and Lucy, but he did so anyway, cracking several knuckles. "You scared about it?"

"You wouldn't be the first anklebiter I've put down," Taathiir replied. "We both know well you're not strong enough to take me out."

The demon's lip curled and lifted to reveal teeth, his eyes narrowing. For several moments, Taathiir wondered if Ditraxol might actually pick a fight he couldn't win tonight. Eventually, the demon seemed to back down, gaze turning away from Taathiir and towards Lucy instead. "Working, huh? I don't see any equipment out here. Malvorin has us inspecting an odd bit of magic that washed up against his section of the barrier. That your two's doing?"

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Vaz

 

The scribe fidgeted with some uncertainty, glancing back up at the ceiling while the rest of their eyes continued to scan the surface of the tunnel for rogue sigils and suspicious blemishes along the wall. A fraction of their anxiety seemed to ease when they finally nodded in agreement, knowing that Xaal’s shrouding ability was indeed a powerful one. 

 

“It would seem so, though I do hope she’s alright. I imagine her original plan was to try something more localised...maintaining an area shroud of this scale must be rather draining.”

 

For a moment a complex blend of emotions drifted over Vaz’s expression, something that seemed both appreciative and regretful. Considering they were practically aura-blind compared to the rest of the party, they suspected Xaal’s main motivation for the shroud was to even out the playing field a little for her fellow Fallen. As Argia took their hand but halted their journey Vaz’s eyes darted between her and the wall as if unsure what to make of her words. Momentarily, it was some much needed words of comfort. And then she had to go and sour the concept by suggesting that Vaz was no different from any mortal.

 

Vaz scowled from the thought. But her half-smile won them over and the indignation they felt about being compared to humanity in such a way slowly eased.

 

“A code or signal would be wise, especially if we should split. I can not guarantee I will have enough power to dispel falsehoods.”

 

Sighed Vaz in agreement. They usually opted for a series of three questions they would ask and be expected to be asked by their associates, or rely on their fall-back of a Vow of Truth in a pinch. At her suggestion of jam tarts a smile twitched its way onto their face, though Vaz was startled out of their reply by the appearance of another being in the tunnel. The scribe froze as they took in the sight of her, starring into her sorrowful blue eyes before their line of vision then darted towards her scythe and armour.

 

“They...erm...m-most, did, yes. A few had swords. I knew a nightingale with a dagger.”

 

Vaz starred after the figure as she wandered further into the darkness, a hollowing feeling in the core. They hadn’t recognised the face or wings, which sent a ripple of remorse coursing through them until Argia’s tightened grip on their hand brought them back to the current situation. Vaz trudged along in a quieter mode as she lead the two of them to an elevator. They rather doubted Takut would make it that easy for them, especially considering she had reason to place the trap right next to it. Sure enough, the elevator revealed itself to be an illusion, and Vaz sighed in mild exasperation.

 

“Perhaps there is a hidden panel somewhere-“

 

Despite being sheathed, Vaz shivered into more silence as they felt the feathers on their wings bristle. The sound of weapons clattering together in the rain sounded again, and for a brief moment the back of Vaz’s coat ruffled as they wrestled their flight response back into submission.

 

“I...I was much more than a witness, my dear.”

 

Movement occurred in the centre of the vision of the battlefield, the rest of the warring apparitions now beginning to fade aware from view. Vaz watched on with a solemn expression as a cloaked figure materialised in their place. The figure staggered a few steps towards the duo, resting their weight heavily on the scythe that they wielded. Vaz recognised their wings, those of a bearded vulture, in an instant. Instinctively Vaz took a step towards them, only to stop when they remembered that what they saw before them was nothing more than a distant memory now.

 

“That is Azrael, Archangel of Death. They used to oversee Soul Collection for my deity, working alongside of the Collectors that had been assigned to them by Fons Animarium.”

 

Murmured Vaz, watching as the figure collapsed to their knees. The hood still obscured their features but Vaz could tell that they trembled with silent anguish. The scythe cluttered to the ground beside them, its blade stained a bright red. Beside them was the lifeless body of an angel, one wing a glossy pattern of blues and whites and the other torn beyond recognition.

 

“We were close, before I Fell. Many of my peers found me to be a bit, hm, peculiar, to put it lightly. Off-putting. But Azrael was different, as was their assigned Collectors. They would come to visit me often in The Archives, sometimes invite Collectors from other Realms...I grew fond of all of them, in one way of another.”

 

The hooded figure slowly turned to look at the angel lying beside them, reached down, and grazed their fingers across his eyes to close them. A deep, low rumble of fury started to waver from the back of Vaz’s throat.

 

“Azrael was the only survivor I discovered from the first wave. I tracked them down and found them mourning in this exact same position. They hadn’t moved in days. The monsters had slaughtered them all, Argia. Azrael said that half of their crew didn’t even draw out their weapons. These humans looked them dead in the eye, saw that they wouldn’t fight back, and still made the choice to butcher each and every one of them.”

 

Amber eyes turned and settled on Argia’s wings, unable to meet her gaze. Vaz bit at their lip, their drive to impart any and all facts about the events of The Culling coming into direct conflict with the inner desire screaming and begging for their own tongue to stop. More movement started in their peripherals, prompting Vaz to glance back up at the ghostly image of Azrael. The surviving angel was now rifling through the pockets of their fallen comrade, withdrawing from their pockets a small, leather-bound book-

 

“NO! Prohibere! Dimittas ex libro!

 

Vaz yanked their hand away from her own and wrenched it in an upwards swiping motion. Their eyes bulged in a panic when the book didn’t obey their usual ability to move paper with their mind and fling itself away. It was the third time of repeating the frantic motion when they remembered where they were and snarled out in frustration for falling for yet another illusion. Abruptly Azrael faded from view and the skirmishing figures returned, only now it was apparent that one side had won the battle. The humans that remained standing turned towards the duo, their weapons poised. Vaz felt a sickening churn in their core as they watched the closest one struggle and kick down with their boot to remove their blade from its most recent victim. A cracking sound issued from Vaz’s spine, their mortal guise seeming to waver and some of their skin splitting apart as they grew an extra inch or two in height.

 

“Argia, my dear, I need to either have this trap dispelled or get out of here.”

 

Vaz murmured, forcing their voice into remaining low and calm.

 

“Please. Collector or not, I do not want you to have to see any more of my experiences during The Culling. It will not be pleasant for you.”

 

 

 

Xaal

 

So it was a vision aimed solely at Xaal, then.

 

In some way, she supposed she was relieved that nothing from Jorath’s mindset was prompting the flood of ink coating the floor. But the acknowledgment that it must therefore be an echo of her own memory alone made her feel downright sick. Nose wrinkled as Jorath bent down to better inspect the liquid, certainly not wanting to follow suit. A nod then followed when he reminded them both that it had to be an illusion, though it was not a very confident nod. Xaal suspected there was something a little more to it, if she could actually feel the sensation of the liquid.

 

She could at least appreciate the agreement not to talk about whatever they witnessed within the building though. Xaal could always appreciate a well-intentioned secret to be enforced, after all. The Guardian gave that one a more honest thumb’s up, before starting to walk forward again. Though she suspected it wasn’t a particularly wise reaction to the trap, Xaal found herself compelled to analyse the clumps of feathers as they drifted past. On closer inspection, Xaal could sense from the shape that they were actually a mixture of different types of birds. Dove. Raven. Owl. Parrot. And apart from the smear of dulled azure that might have belonged to a bluejay, she recognised the original owner of each feather.

 

Another use of the term ‘feather-head’ earned Mag’than a squint of disapproval, though secretly Xaal was a little relieved at having something else other than the feathers to focus on. She decided to trust the demon for now, pressing up against the wall and sliding along it for a few steps as per her instructions.  When nothing seemed to leap out at her she almost breathed a sigh of relief, turning to glance back at Jorath and provide another thumbs up.

 

And of course, that was when a series of chains suddenly sprang up to try to drown him.

 

Xaal obviously was unable to call out to him, but she grew wide-eyed and started to scoot back along the wall to get to Jorath all the same. As she neared the struggling man a crackle of celestial energy started to spark between her fingertips, the angel snatching at a chain that hadn’t yet managed to grab hold of Jorath and wrenching it back away from him. She struggled momentarily with it one-handed, refusing to let go of her bow, until finally she was able to muster up enough strength to smash it against the plaster of the wall and shatter the links apart. 

 

On Mag’than’s signal to help snap apart the rest of the chains she beat her wings and fluttered forward obediently. Now that Jorath’s breathing had eased the chains seemed to have grown more brittle, breaking easily in her palm as she sent little jolts of energy through her fingertips at them. Xaal made sure to stomp on them a few times once the chains had all either broken or retreated back into the ink, though for a second she froze upon sighting the remains of the golden one glinting just below the surface. Her eyes darted over to Fi’Faltuun, realising that the usually-composed quill was now trembling as she struggled to hover above the ink. Xaal reached down and scooped up the writing utensil, holding her gently in her palm until she calmed once more.

 

Jorath was on the move once more, so Xaal began to trail after him. She released her hold on the quill and Fi’Faltuun immediately flew back towards the demon. She brushed against Jorath’s cheek and made a series of motions before his eyes before settling back into her favourite perch behind his ear. Likely, she was trying to convey something along the lines of what Vaz would be saying or doing after witnessing the chains. Xaal had to wonder whether the demon had any inkling what so ever as to what that was though.

 

“...You didn’t hug the wall when you came back, didn’t you?”

 

Mag’than’s voice suddenly broke through her thoughts. Xaal went wide-eyed from the realisation that she hadn’t, so then scrunched up her face and shook her head back and forth to indicate that. Mag’than regarded her with a dead-eyed stare and seemed to be weighing up her odds of success if she attempted to strangle one of them in her frustration. It took a moment for Xaal to realise what had prompted the demon’s question. The liquid at the feet was rising, now creeping half-way up her shins.

 

“Ugh. You f***wits are going to get me killed. Serious can you just...not think about this ink stuff for like two seconds and let it drain- Ooh okay I’ve never seen them before whose that?!”

 

Several paces ahead of them, out of the ikaar a figure drenched from head to toe in the stuff was slowly starting to rise. Though their face was obscured a series of six total horns jutted out from their head, arranged in a manner that let Xaal instantly recognise who it was. The sickening feeling in her core worsened, and Xaal couldn’t help but visibly swallow down her apprehension over the new arrival. The inky demon turned, lightning in their storm-grey eyes as they honed in on Xaal in particular.

 

“I know what you did.”

 

As the figure opened their maw to speak more of the inky ikaar gushed out from it by the bucketloads. Xaal snapped her eyes shut, hands clenching tightly at her sides as she tried to calm her breathing and dispel the sight of the man. The massive figure snorted at the trio, its voice full of contempt and seemingly unaffected by the galleons of blood still pouring out from its jaws as it took a step forward. The dark liquid lapping at her knees continued to ripple and rise. 

 

“How many did it take?”

 

Her eyes snapped back open, now stinging and straining to keep her vision clear. In one fluid motion she drew an arrow from her quiver and fired it forward into the gut of the figure. The arrow sailed right through the demonic new arrival, further reminding Xaal of the fact that he was a mere distant memory and helping to ground her thoughts. She drew a second arrow, this time firing it into the demon’s chest. A hearty boom of a laugh issued from them as the arrow sailed through. The man’s form began to mutate, the laughter turning hysterical as the horns fell out from their skull one-by-one and the draconic wings at their shoulders started to morph into a feathered set. More wings fanned out to join them, until the vaguely-humanoid being had a total of eight wings flared out into sight. They leapt forward, their bulky form giving way to that of an enormous eagle that swooped above the heads of Jorath and Mag’than before diving towards Xaal.

 

Xaal, for all of her Guardian training, seemed catatonic as the eight-winged eagle screamed towards her. The bird raked its talons forward and slammed into her chest, sending Xaal barreling backwards with zero indication that she was even going to attempt to defend herself from it. Just before the pair disappeared below the surface the eagle latched its beak around her throat. A telepathic voice boomed through the minds of all those in the corridor.

 

IMPERFECTIONS WILL BE TORN FROM YOU LIKE WEEDS FROM THE GARDEN.

 

 

Lucy

 

“Daaarling you know Temptation is my domain of speciality. I basically invented flattery.”

 

Chuckled Lucy, trying to embrace the mild humour that had sprung up out of nowhere in an attempt to compose herself before the auras honing in on them caught up. Regardless of Taathiir’s eventual plan to get them home she tucked away the rest of her wings and pitched her trident back into the ground, freeing up her hand to better inspect the bite on her arm. Now that the rush of the battle was dying down she was starting to realise that it actually hurt quite a lot. She’d be needing a first-aid kit for that one for sure.

 

“I’ll have you know, I reduced my chances of fire hazards by 33% last month. Fred says if I can keep up the pace for another two months he might even let me work without the supervision of a pyromancer!”

 

Lucy informed, scoffing slightly and placing her hand on her chest in indignation at her experiments being blamed for the commotion. Taathiir did make an excellent point though, the last thing they wanted was for some stuffy old Knowledge demon to be snooping around in their business without a permit. Especially not when Lucy had her own pompous twit in mind for that job.

 

“I’ll think of something.”

 

As Ditraxol lumbered into view Lucy shifted to a more timid stance, drifting behind Taathiir. She began clutching at her trident in a manner that suggested she was debating whether to dart out and defend them or stand behind as a show of deference to them. Lucy had taken on various personas when facing the public eye for some time now, but her current choice in this realm was that of the loyal personal guard for the supposed leader of Auris Domniir.

 

“Magic? Do you mean the big flash of green just now?”

 

Ventured Lucy, stifling a giggle as she made a show of tapping at her pendant. Even though she had promised Taathiir she would conjure up something, it was only now did it occur to her that she hadn’t actually brought any half-finished devices or tools to aid her in convincing Ditraxol. The pendant was the only thing she could think of at the top of her head.

 

“That was me, you dumb b******. I’ve been mucking around with the settings in this thing.”

 

Ditraxol snorted in response, his eyes narrowing at the insult but still just barely holding his tongue on the matter. For now the appeal of finding out something new for his boss was outweighing the urge to at least try to cave both of their skulls in.

 

“Boss says the energy from the Influence was a deity level event.”

 

Refuted the demon, holding up a hand and snapping for Lucy to shut up before she had a proper chance to reply.

 

“Two deities to be precise. You may have some filthy Fallen tricks up your sleeve Taathiir-Razuul, but I know you can’t produce that kind of power. And neither can your little portable meat-shield here.”

 

Lucy drew a heavy, dramatic sigh and relaxed her grip on the trident to lean forward and rest some of her weight on it instead. With a tilt of her head she pouted up at Ditraxol in a mocking manner.

 

“If you must know, boss is doing a floriographical surveillance survey.”

 

“A what?”

 

“Seeing if any flowers survived out here. And like...maybe some bushes and trees and stuff. I dunno, they’re doing some weird Fallen stuff with it. Anyway, we got attacked by some wolves and I set off an emergency explosion. Reckon they’re starving and’ll go for anyone, now that the sun’s all weird.”

 

Lucy waved her hand skyward in a flippant manner, drawing attention to said celestial object.

 

“Speaking of which, we got a juicy lil’ rumour or two about what happened to the sun, you know. I’m a bit worried you’ll have to make room in your brain for ‘em though and you’ll forget something vital like breathing in the process.”

 

Flipping a curl of mahogany over her shoulder, green eyes turned to Taathiir with a curious expression.

 

“Seems like a thing Malvorin might want to hear directly, actually. Am I right in thinking we should invite him to your office back at HQ and have some tea and coffee over it, Boss?”

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Argia
Azrael and Fons Animarium? The names danced at the back of her thoughts, delicately prodding at something as if to coax it out of hiding.

She stared at Vaz, listening to their explanation of the violent scene before them. When they ripped their arm free of her hold, Argia took a step back, processing their abrupt reaction to something Azrael was about to do. She reached for them again, resting a hand near their shoulder and the other at their elbow, even as their height seemed to shift slightly. "Okay," was all she could figure to say as Vaz made clear their limitations for the illusion.

Gripping their hand, she made for the way they'd come, backtracking to the main hallway. Though she didn't want to follow the first spectre that had come and gone, Argia felt it a safer bet than trying to run through the illusion Vaz was struggling with. And she couldn't guarantee there would be something hidden within to bump into.

The main path was silent, excepting their footsteps, and the rainy illusion had fallen out of her awareness. She stole a glance back. Assured that it wasn't following them, Argia slowed her pace to something more maintainable and that allowed better watch of their surroundings. "I can't feel their lifelines any longer, but I know there had been several demons within this place. So," she said, wanting to fill the silence as it threatened to linger too long. "Where are they?"

"Go after the Preserver fir--" She halted as the faint echo reached her ears. A pair of glowing spheres darted across the hallway, phasing through the wall on the left to disappear into a passage on the right. It was impossible to tell if Kirit and Meztli were yet another vision or if they were conjured by one of Takut's illusions. She reasoned it had to be the former; Argia had no fears of The Pair.

"The Devourer isn't a combatant--" came the next echo. Stirring herself back into motion, Argia's hand slipped away from Vaz's as she briskly walked through the tunnel. She planned to bypass the branching path, but the cracked tombstone at its entrance encouraged pause. A rosemary bush clung to its side. When she brought her fingers to brush against the needles, they passed right through instead. A roar startled her, jerking her attention away from the decorated grave and into the tunnel it marked.

The four-winged figure shoving back a trio of assailants looked startlingly familiar, golden and murky wisps of smoke dripping from various wounds.

Taathiir had had a scar on the left side of their face when she'd seen them at the station. This illusory being didn't, four horns protruding from their temples. "Na--" The illusion broke apart as a blade began to form in their hand, tearing and reknitting itself as if it couldn't figure out the means to stay put. Ultimately, the illusion failed, snuffing out completely. Kirit and Meztli's glowing forms returned, circling in the air and hovering over a spot in the tunnel.

Argia's back felt tight as she turned away from the tunnel to look at Vaz. "Do you see any other way to go?" she asked.

"Found two of them!" someone shouted.

Looking, Argia scurried back to Vaz's side as a pair of demons rushed down the tunnel from the direction the two had been going. Her fingers curled around Atropos's hilt but she couldn't be certain if the two newcomers were actually real or just another trick. And, admittedly, the size of the tunnel would be a hindrance to her fighting. They couldn't go forward and they most definitely couldn't go back. Argia glanced into the tunnel on her right again before shifting her gaze once more to Vaz. Kirit and Meztli's presence meant that she had set off whatever sigils had been lying in wait.

It meant Takut's power had found something to grasp on to after all.

"Go," Argia urged, motioning for Vaz to run point while she kept the rear. As she ran through the illusion of Kirit and Meztli, the tunnel seemed to flicker, the image of an expansive cemetery ghosting over the underground passage. It didn't last more than a heartbeat. Forcing herself to ignore the uncertainty and confusion stirring among her thoughts, Argia coaxed her mind into a sense of numbness. She focused solely upon either getting away from the demons chasing them or, if they failed that, finding a more open space to fight off their pursuers.

"Naya'il--window, dar--"

Taathiir's voice filled the air as the tunnel ceased abruptly, bedroom walls replacing solid dirt. Ahead rested a window, moonlight spilling through to play upon the carpeted floor. Argia grabbed Vaz in the same moment crow feathers surrounded them both, the sound of shattering glass in her ears.

Hitting the ground, she felt grass against her cheek and palms. Fingers dug into soil as she hurried to her feet, the illusion tearing at itself again and yielding to the underground tunnels once more. Her head ached, prompting Argia to rub at her temple. When she looked, she registered that the tunnel had opened up, branching off into multiple pathways they could travel down.

The two demons were still chasing after them and Argia lifted Atropos into a ready stance. The sword had morphed into her scythe at some point, a realization that caused her to frown. It didn't matter. Adjusting her grip, she let the demons close the distance a little more before darting forward to meet them. When she was nearly upon them, she spun, twirling the scythe in the same motion to slice down across their bodies. One demon summoned a staff, the weapon clacking against her scythe as he blocked her. The other demon skirted around and continued for Vaz.

Behind her opponent, more silhouettes began to take shape, two of them appearing at the center of the flickering, illusory conflict.

---
Jorath
Stop. It's over. There's no m--

His step faltered when Fi brushed against his cheek, the quill flitting before him and motioning something she wanted to convey. Jorath's fingers stilled against the skin of his arm, effectively ceasing the scratching he'd reverted to. He tugged his sleeve back into place. He didn't really know what she was trying to tell him. Still, he attempted a goofy smile for her. "I-I'll be okay, once we're out of this place and back... back home," he murmured. She tucked herself behind his ear once more, settling into stillness. Jorath continued walking again after that, listening to the pool splash and churn with each footstep.

"You didn’t hug the wall when you came back."

Mag'than's voice provoked his attention, gaze turning to the other two as the younger demon lamented about her situation. He looked down, eying the liquid that had quickly gotten much deeper. There was movement ahead and Jorath took a step back, watching the six-horned figure rise from the inky pool. It spoke, addressing Xaal. Jorath uttered a curse in Oldspeak, staggering away from the being. The pool of ikaar was still deepening, the already concerning rate at which it did so now rather alarming as it splattered against his thighs.

Arrows sailed through the air, passing through the towering being. As they became a multi-winged eagle, it rushed forward, causing Jorath to duck beneath the creature. "Xaal!" he called out. The Fallen wasn't responding as he expected her to. She just seemed complacent to whatever happened, even when she was shoved under the surface. He grunted, flinching as the eagle's voice crashed within his head.

Wading through the pool, Jorath hurried for the thrashing creature. One of its wings smacked against him, sending him into the wall. "Hold on, Xaal. I'm coming," he kept on, grabbing the wing that battered him and twisting the limb to force it away. After a moment, his hand phased through it. He pushed away from the wall, ignoring Maggie's shouts to just leave Xaal behind.

Another wing was incorporeal to his touch, allowing Jorath to reach the eagle's body. He inhaled and held his breath, sinking into the pool. Feeling out for Xaal, he found her arm and yanked her upward until both their heads broke the surface again. As he took in air, he heard the eagle continue it's rumbling accusation. "I know what you did. How many?"

"Come on, Xaal. Focus. It's not real," he said, holding both of her shoulders. She felt lax to him, as if she had resigned herself to something he and Mag'than weren't aware of. Around him, the eagle continued its attempt at pinning her down, its beak still clenched to her throat.

"Jorath! You can't break this one! Just drop her and let's get out before we all drown!" Mag'than barked at him.

He tuned her out but, try as he might, he couldn't tune out the eagle and its judgement. "Xaal?" It was an impulse and Jorath couldn't really spare the moment to inspect where it came from. "What's wrong? Xaal, talk to me." After a pause, there was a feeble gesture, too ambiguous for him to decipher beneath the eagle's constant accusation. The pool of inky ikaar was still deepening.

Almost as if trying to drown them in the guilt of actions committed.

Dread made his stomach twist as it climbed up his spine. "Xaal. What happened?" Jorath jerked and snarled at the eagle, fruitlessly batting at it as his fist phased through its face. He turned back to Xaal again. "What did you do, Xaal? Tell me."

---
Taathiir
They gave that question true consideration, no matter how annoyed Ditraxol looked with being made to wait for an answer. "That could be of better use. Why don't you run over and inform your master that we'd love to set up a meeting with him?"

The Wrath demon humphed, his gaze trailing to the wounds that Lucy and Taathiir both sported. Eventually, "Wolves and flowers, huh?" He glanced at the other demons that were starting to approach, the handful gradually coming to a stop some yards away. "Fine. I'll tell Malvorin you want to speak directly; surely you have something actually interesting for him and not just a waste of his time. However..." He gestured for the other demons to come closer. "What are we going to do about you two coming through Malvorin's section of the barrier without prior authorization? I mean, we have **rules here. And those have consequences that need to be adhered to. Can't have any sort of disorder, now can we?"

Taathiir's arms lowered. "We're not doing this tonight, Ditraxol. It will not go well for you and yours."

"I think we should. I've been hoping for something to happen, especially after Jorath's bulls*** left Malvorin in a bit of a tizzy."

"Jorath?" They blinked. "What exactly occured?"

Ditraxol scoffed, cracking his neck and rolling out his shoulder in clear preparation for a brawl. "You'd like to know, wouldn't you? I warned Malvorin. A no-good demon the likes of that walking disaster? Breaks everything he touches; only a matter of time." He huffed again. "Wouldn't listen to me, of course. Knowledge demon gonna assume he knows best and knows precisely what he's doing."

"Sounds like resentment on your part," Taathiir mumbled, earning a glare from the demon. "I'll pay for the trespass so long as you leave my employee be. Let her return to our place of operations. She has some deadlines to meet and I'd rather she didn't miss them."

The demon grinned, a hungry and ugly sort of expression that reached his gaze. "Not like her presence was going to help you much, anyway. I have no intentions on letting you walk away unsca--"

Ditraxol's back slammed against the ground, Taathiir's hand pressed against the demon's sternum. Bone cracked with the impact, one of his clavicles yielding beneath their weight. The demons behind Ditraxol balked, a couple scurrying away as all four horns grew from their temples. "You will accept a financial payment if you have any desire to even walk away from this." Ditraxol squirmed under Taathiir's hold, his breath hitching and uneven. "Or shall I see fit to sever your detestable soul from your wretched body and consume it?" He stopped resisting and nodded, gaze breaking away to focus on the ground. "Good." Fingers curling into the fabric of his coat, Taathiir pulled the demon back onto his feet.

Edited by ValidEmotions
Missing a single word :v

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Vaz

 

The scribe’s movements were stiff and their eyes fixated on the figures before them, but eventually they were able to yield to Argia’s pull on their arm and turn away. Briefly all of their eyes closed, letting Argia guide them forward a few steps until their breathing had calmed enough to open them once more. With a few more breaths Vaz seemed to realise the change to their height and hunched over slightly, condensing their mortal form back into its usual proportions.

 

“Thank you. I-I know you said you were a Harbinger but...”

 

Vaz left the thought to trail off and linger in the silence now left behind from the faded patter of the rain. The fear of letting even someone who resembled a Collector delve too deeply into their involvement with the entire event had almost faded into obscurity these days. Or at least, so Vaz had thought. 

 

“But I still feel compelled to apologise, Argia, on behalf of everything that happened. Even if you were not a personal witness to it.”

 

Privately, the more they observed of Argia the more they couldn’t help but debate whether a Harbinger was the same thing as a Collector anyway. Surely the mortals wouldn’t have known or cared about the difference. And yet, from her tone Argia spoke as though she only knew of the event from paintings and stories. Perhaps her world had been protected by this Kirit and Meztli she spoke of at the time. Panicked voices caught their attention, and Vaz stiffened in their stance once more. A new threat darted into their consciousness, a puzzled expression forming on Vaz’s face as they traced the movements of two glowing spheres phasing through the wall. The floating orbs looked fairly harmless, but the fact they had appeared in response to the presumed fears of Argia prompted an instant wariness from Vaz.

 

When Argia released their hand they trailed close-by after her, reluctant to leave a gap between them lest Takut have another trick up her sleeve to divide them once more. They bristled at the sight of more demons locked in a battle, only for the nervousness to give way to intrigue as they recognised the four-horned demon as the being that had appeared to them earlier that night.

 

“Argia, darling, I don’t think that was one of my memories.”

 

A shout startled them into movement, and at Argia’s direction Vaz was all too happy to obey and start their retreat. More eyes spawned along their form, watching Argia from behind while their main set scanned ahead for more signs of sigils and targets. As the mirage of a bedroom flickered into view the scribe faltered in their run and staggered a little, the shifting perspectives and multitude of directions to comprehend starting to become somewhat disorientating. Evidentially Vaz was getting a little too comfortable with this particular form, they had gotten too used to only looking in one direction at once. Glass shattered, somewhere, and Vaz winced as they were grabbed and pulled to the ground by Argia. Dark feathers filled the room, and for a brief moment Vaz went pale at the sight and a horrible taste of bile bubbled in their throat.

 

“No...no these are crow feathers.”

 

They muttered to no one in particular. Vaz pulled themself back to their feet and urged Argia into doing the same. They skidded to a stop when they came to a split in the passage, hissing under the breath as they strained their eyes for any hint of which to take. They turned back towards Argia, only to realise that their pursuers were honing in on them and she had been forced to stop and fight. Vaz scowled and shifted to a defensive stance as one of the demons scooted around her and scrambled towards them.

 

Ogdrul. Two horns, ram-type. Shaky and faded letterforms of their aura suggest an uncertainty or submissiveness. 

 

Vaz scrambled back as the demon leapt for them, narrowly avoiding the blade of the scythe that had materialised in their hands as it struck the ground between their feet. They registered it as the exact same design as the one that Argia was currently wielding.

 

Mimic-type abilities, possibly a siren. Must be locked onto Argia.

 

For a second their eyes glazed, focusing too much on extracting their analysis of their opponent from the pages of The Compendium forming in their mind. A sharp pain along Vaz’s arm anchored them quickly back to the encounter at hand, earning a cry of shock that turned into a snarl as they eyed the tip of the blade now embedded in their forearm. Anxiety bubbled within them as they registered that their usual choice of guard wasn’t around, and that Argia would have a very different approach to dealing with anything that threatened Vaz.

 

Vaz worked best when their opponents were distant and distracted, that much was standard for any Knowledge demon worth their salt. With that in mind they opted instead for the element of surprise and surged forward, brandishing the removed horn in their hand as a blade. The opposing demon yelped in response and struggled to lift his blade in time to defend himself, not expecting the haggard demon to lunge for them with such speed. The scribe’s hand sliced through the air, missing the throat they had been aiming their make-shift dagger at but swiping across the cheek of the younger demon instead with it. ‘Ogdrul’ cried out as his flesh sizzled from the contact, wisps of golden smoke starting to pour from the wound as briefly he clutched at the side of his face. 

 

Taking the opportunity to distance themself from the novice fighter once more, Vaz staggered back a few steps and lashed at them with the tendril that held another piece of their halo. Ogdrul just barely deflected the second swipe with the tip of his blade in time, emitting a sound of distress and glancing back towards the more powerful demon that was attempting to take on Argia. Vaz took this as an opportunity to start stuttering out an incantation, amber eyes giving way to a golden glow as a light formed in their palm.

 

“Don’t let the zuul start saying s***!”

 

Grunted Argia’s attacker as a warning to the other demon, hearing the frantic declarations of aieuwn further ahead. Ogdrul jumped back into action and quickly scurried forward once more, swinging wildly in an attempt to throw Vaz off of their concentration. He was only mildly successful, prompting a cry of alarm from the scribe as they flattened against the wall of the tunnel to avoid another swing but otherwise maintaining the incantation. Vaz was thankful that this appeared to be the first time the demon had been given a scythe from his abilities, clearly unfamiliar with wielding it.

 

Ogdrul whirled to strike again, but this time Vaz’s tail latched itself around his arm and wrenched the limb back at an unnatural angle. The fledgling demon squealed for help from their companion, the irritating sound only getting worse when the scribe wrenched them forward and gave their skull a solid smack against the wall. With their opponent dazed Vaz took the opportunity to thump their hand into their chest and release the energy that had been building in their palm from the incantation. A sharp crackle, like thunder, sounded and the demon rocketed back several paces into the right-hand tunnel, sliding for a few more across the ground once they hit it. Immediately something triggered above them, Ogdrul barely having any time to stand before what appeared to be several cable wires swung down from the ceiling and wrapped around them.

 

“Left my dear, we’re going left!”

 

Urged Vaz, after they summoned another bought of energy and sent an orb of light to go streaking down the other tunnel. There appeared to be a staircase leading down at the far end, which seemed far more promising than whatever entity was currently trying to simultaneously electrocute and strangle the life out of the demon in the other tunnel. The scribe darted forward once more and sliced their dagger in a threatening manner towards the remaining opponent, hoping that the sudden threat of two-against-one would make him back down enough for Argia and Vaz to make a clean getaway.

 

 

Xaal

 

Maniacal laughter pierced through the murky, suffocating surroundings that Xaal now found herself in. Still, she found herself unable to move, no matter how much her internal thoughts screamed at her to do otherwise. Her limbs felt like they were attached to strings, and the puppeteer behind them was pulling as hard as he could to flatten her against the cold floor of hallway to drown. Black sludge clogged her airways and blinded her eyes, making it impossible for her to fight back against the enormous avian that was trying to tear her apart.

 

Suddenly, the strings weakened. Something wrenched at her arm, wrestling with her fate until her face was free of the pool of ink once more. 

 

Yes. Tell him about how proud you made us that night. How you recognised and exposed them for the vile, traitorous worm that they are.

 

Someone was asking her to talk to them, explain what was wrong. Immediately tears welled in her eyes, her hands fighting to frantically try to explain that it was impossible for her to do-so. The grip around her throat tightened, and she coughed and spluttered as she expelled the liquid from her airways in response.

 

“What did you do, Xaal? Tell me.”

 

Do you remember how good it felt, Libertas? To listen to your deity? Do you remember how wonderful it felt to hear VOX PERFECTUM whisper their love for you into your head and guide you towards perfection?

 

Xaal gasped for air, her arms suddenly freed as she flailed for a way to answer the questions thundering through her mind. 

 

What did I do?

 

Her hands twitched, her mind fragmented but finding a guiding question to latch onto. She choked out a sob. She motioned to the shoulder of a wing currently crushed up against the body of one of her interrogators, miming the act of plucking a feather from its flesh. She then flattened out one of her palms and pretended to write upon it with the feather. The eagle convulsed and her hands shot up to try to pry it away again. It’s grip remained firm around her throat, but her hands were finally able to grasp at the sides of its head. Summoning every ounce of her strength Xaal dug her nails into its scalp and applied a downward pressure to both sides of its head. 

 

Excellent. Now tell him about how you spat on our love. Tell him what happens when you have the audacity to question our authority. Tell him how worms like Libertas and Veritas are directly responsible for the suffering he endures every day-

 

A sickening snapping sound issued from the eagle and the words ceased, its body instantly growing limp as Xaal twisted her arms in a sharp, quick motion. As she pulled the massive avian’s beak away from her neck its form shifted in her hands, reducing in size and shape until she held what appeared to be an ordinary-sized, ink-drenched bird in her hands. The form wavered and blurred, making it difficult to discern anything other than its eyes let alone the exact species of bird. Soft, amber eyes starred up at her, before in the bird’s last breath they twitched towards Jorath’s own. It’s expression was one of pain, but mostly it just looked confused. As though the bird couldn’t fully comprehend what had just happened to it.

 

The bird began to melt back into sludge and started to seep through her hands, urging Xaal into a jolt that allowed her to finally drop the morphing, shifting remains into the pool of ink surrounding them. Golden eyes starred as the creature evaporated from sight. There was a warm touch over her shoulders. She eased a hand up towards them and weakly extracted herself from Jorath’s grip, rising to her feet once more. Her breath was rasped and she clutched a hand around her neck, as though the mere sensation of sound emitting from her mouth was agonising. Xaal unbuttoned the high-necked collar of her coat, but as she rubbed her hand over her now bare throat she found only the old, faded scars that had marked it for centuries. The collar hadn’t even been torn from the encounter.

 

Slowly her breathing grew calmer and she turned to face Jorath, lowering her hand from her throat. Long scars ran across it, resembling a pair of claw marks that crossed over in an ‘X’ formation right where her voice-box would have been located. She motioned a thank you in his direction, though the movements felt hollow. Xaal couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eyes. Especially when she had no doubt that any other demon would have left her there to drown. Mag’than, as if to prove her right, grunted for attention and motioned to the non-existent watch on her wrist. 

 

“If you two are done with being drama queens, I found the stairs.”

 

She announced in a dry tone of voice, jabbing a thumb in the direction of an open door that Xaal was fairly certain hadn’t been there prior to the encounter with the eagle. Though the ink was still present, there appeared to be an invisible barrier that prevented any of it from spilling out into the room adjacent to them. When Mag’than hopped on through the ink staining the lower-half of her clothes vanished, and she looked none the worse for wear as she impatiently beckoned the two towards her.

 

“C’mon, c’mon, hurry up before someone hears the racket you’re making. I’m dead-meat if they find me giving you guys a tour of the place.”

 

Xaal shifted her attention back to Jorath, not knowing how to elaborate on what he had just witnessed. She was still processing it herself. Shoulders sagged, self-loathing evident. Half-heartedly she capped off the explanation with a ‘chatter’ motion from her hand, and then flattened out her palm to mime writing upon it. Talk to the scribe.

 

The pool of ink swirled and started to rise at a faster pace, so Xaal quickly buttoned her collar back up and summoned her bow back to her hand from below the surface. She headed for the stairs before some other horrible thing decided to emerge from the depths of the room.

 

 

Lucy

 

A gleeful little giggle erupted from Lucy as Ditraxol was slammed onto the ground. It wasn’t often that she got to witness Taathiir resort to such methods, but it was always immensely satisfying to watch them send some big-shot demon running with their tail between their legs.

 

“Aw. Shame. Was hoping you’d refuse the money. You’ve actually grown smarter, Ditzy, I’m real proud of you hun.”

 

Ditraxol glared daggers down at the mouthy twerp of a guard Taathiir had decided to bring along today, but a wayward side-glance at the Fallen in front of them kept them from any attempts to physically lash out at her.

 

“Shut it, filth-licker.”

 

Lucy just grinned and battered her eyelashes back up at him.

 

“Call me what you like sweetie, at least my evenings are much more fun. Who’d you say you were spending your night cleaning up some mess for again? Jorath? Who the f*** is that?”

 

Her brow creased for a moment, and one of Ditraxol’s goons was actually the one to answer her. She didn’t say anything, but the derisive snort and the indication of a chain at her hip was enough to set off a wave of recognition through Lucy’s mind.

 

“Oh, you mean Jingles! OooOoOh you better watch yourself Ditzy, I hear he’s got a thing for snooty intellectuals. Don’t want to lose your favour with Malvorin now-“

 

“Hardly. He’ll be lucky to have any bones left to break once Malvorin catches him.”

 

Growled Ditraxol in response, before turning his attention back towards Taathiir. Though he didn’t dare try to strike either of them with a busted shoulder, a wrath still swirled within him. It seemed to take all of his conscious effort to step back from the two of them, resigning himself to the agreement made with Taathiir. He barked a command in Oldspeak towards the demon that had answered Lucy’s enquiry, who jumped in response and quickly fished out her phone to relay a message.

 

“...You’re in luck. Malvorin actually has a small window of time available within the next twenty minutes, if you can prepare your office for his arrival within that timeframe.”

 

Ditraxol eventually announced, though the raised eyebrow and lilt to his voice as he read off of the phone’s screen suggested that he was surprised by the response that his companion received.

 

“Apparently he’s looking for a bit of an exchange, actually. ‘Information for information’ and all.”

Edited by Lycanious
Oops forgot the Royal we for Vox.

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Argia
The ache at her temple wasn't going away, but it was at least a consistently dull source of irritation as she pushed back against her assailant. Argia made herself focus on the demon before her, even as the ground seemed to fall away and her footsteps changed in sound. Roof tiles rattled beneath her feet and her opponent's appearance seemed to flicker into someone else's. Her breath hitched.

The illusion faded again in the next moment, her opponent's staff striking downward. Scurrying to deflect it, Argia staggered a step back as she raised her scythe, the poles sliding against one another. It disrupted her balance. The demon pressed her, swinging at her hip with one end of his staff before abruptly switching direction to catch her opposite shoulder. She twisted her scythe about, trying to keep up with the onslaught and forced into yielding ground.

"You're weak--don't deserve your--"

Gritting her teeth and blocking out the echoes from the illusions, the growing pressure against her head, Argia unfurled her wings and lept back to disengage from the demon. With the newfound space, she surged forward again, feet hitting the ground as she swept her scythe over the demon's head. The blade pierced into his back, rewarding Argia with a sharp cry from the demon. She threw him against the wall, tearing the blade free as Vaz approached.

She didn't notice their command, her gaze trapped upon Taathiir as the Collector clutched the left side of their face, a broken wing dragging along the ground. Tendrils of blood seeped between their fingers. "Naya'il, wait!" they called, reaching out even as their demonic opponent bore down upon them, sword in hand and ready to strike the wounded Collector down.

Somewhere, a desperate panic crashed through her nerves, chilling her skin. Her scythe dissipated, the smoke caressing her hands as it faded. Her eyes were stinging and a ringing filled her ears. "They're mortal, Razathna--" The name broke upon her lips as Vaz struck at the demon with the staff who had gotten up. Their hand gripped her arm and pulled her away from both the real threat and the faltering illusion. As she stumbled, Taathiir's image shattered into nothingness and she found herself able to look elsewhere.

The ringing in her ears died down as she hurried towards the left side of the fork, clinging to Vaz and making the way down the stairs. The staff-wielding demon didn't pursue, but shouted in Oldspeak at their retreating backs until she could no longer hear him. They made it down two flights without issue. Halfway down the third flight, the doorway onto the seventh floor within sight, Argia felt Vaz jerk her to a stop.

Before her, the steps began to crumble, chunks tumbling down. When she looked away from the newly formed gap, the doorway vanished from sight, replaced by a solid wall. "Sixth floor, then?" she breathed out, returning upwards until her hands could grasp the handle that let them out into a new tunnel. Kirit and Meztli awaited them, the familiar glowing spheres weaving up and down the passage. The blonde-haired Collector from earlier was with them, her figure breaking aparting a few seconds later as she reached out to hold a sinister, orange, soulfire that disappeared with her.

Argia pressed her hand to her temple again, scowling at the ground while she squinted through the headache. "Remind me to leave a comment for Takut's suggestions box," she muttered. "'Stick to the illusions if you must, but leave the headaches out of it.' You think she'll take the advice?"

---
Jorath
Having that kind of voice rumbling through his head was a little disorienting in its unfamiliarity. Jorath endured it, however, watching Xaal's growing distress and gripping her shoulders with as steadying a pressure as he could manage. He faltered when the eagle spoke of Veritas, of Vaz, his gaze shooting up from her gesturing hands to stare at her golden eyes.

His tongue felt like lead, preventing him from pressing Xaal about what the eagle meant as she broke the illusion apart. Plucked feathers, writing, Vox Perfectum, Libertas (Xaal, when he put the dots together) and Vaz being the causes of suffering--There were so many fragments that Jorath didn't know how they were supposed to be pieced back together. Even as he caught the gaze of the tiny amber-eyed bird staring at him within Xaal's hand before it melted away.

Her throat was criss-crossed with scars and he willed an empathetic grimace to etch upon his features. Again, she signed something. Talking and writing. No, not writing. Scribe. Vaz. His stomach continued to knot as he realized she'd been indicating about Vaz the entire time, including when she'd been pluck--

Jorath's mouth pressed into a thin line as he wrestled with conflicting reactions. He stuffed his hands back into his pockets. "I stand by what I said earlier." The words dripped from his mouth, a heavy blend of thoughts that slipped by his grasp until he sighed. A moment later, granted to him by Mag'than's irritated commentary, he managed a somber smile. "It's not fair to judge based upon something taken from anyone against their will. I don't know anything of what's happened here." He just hoped it might be as easy to do as being said.

Running fingers through his hair, he transitioned to rubbing the back of his neck. "But... if you or Vaz want to--" He shrugged a shoulder. "I'm all eyes and ears," he added. Jorath still felt sick by the possibility, the implications. And the unfinished accusation of what Vaz and Xaal did left too much open for the imagination. However, Xaal didn't need to know that, not if he was reading her beaten expression accurately enough.

Swallowing down the bile in his throat, Jorath followed Xaal and Maggie onto the stairs. Relievingly, he discovered the state of his clothing was restored upon leaving the hallway, fingers dipping into his shirt pocket and briefly pull the scroll out and inspect that it, likewise, was unharmed. He put it back.

Maggie took them to the first floor of the building, peering through the doorway to inspect for any threats. "Okay. We have to find the stairs or the elevator heading underground. Takut kept those and this set of stairs separated for security reasons. Fortunately, there are less traps to avoid on this floor since we deal with clients from time to time." Guiding them down the hall, Maggie shoved everyone into a room, holding the door shut until a pair of demons ran past. Once it was clear again, she ushered them out and kept going. A few times, she nudged and directed Xaal or Jorath away from a trap.

It seemed an odd sense of progression to Jorath. An elevator was around the corner. However, some of Takut's demons were at the call button. Easing back, he glanced at the young demon. "I thought you said the stairs leading underground were here." She huffed in response, pointing at a door that was a little ways to the right of the elevator. "Right," he muttered. Hearing footsteps, he looked back the way they'd come. "More incoming." There was a chime from the elevator. He reached into his pocket and pulled a six-sided die free.

"What are you doing?" Maggie hissed beneath their breath. "This isn't the time for a game."

Jorath ignored her, rolling the die within his hand as he glanced towards the approaching footsteps. The die grew warm against his palm, a buzz entering his fingertips. He could hear the elevator doors sliding closed. "Stairs. Now," he said, pitching the die down the hallway. It struck the bit of carpet they had avoided stepping on, the sigil triggering with a brief flash.

"F***, Quill, you peabrained idiot! How many are you going to keep setting--"

Jorath hurried for the stairwell, not wanting to linger long enough to discover what the trap was. He eased the door shut behind them, minimizing the sound it made, and starting the trek down.

"How'd you do that?" Maggie asked as they made for the second level.

He smirked. "Gambler's trick. Bit of a bluff; just needed to convince Takut's trap that I stepped on it."

Pushing through the doorway onto the second level, Mag'than frowned at the lack of lighting. It didn't matter much for demon eyesight, but she still scrunched her nose. "Someone needs to fix the lights down h--Kalath?" She perked up, head swiveling towards a room that branched off from the left. Peering in, she made a disappointed sound when she realized it was empty. Just a couple storage boxes. "C'mon," she said, waving them onward.

---
Taathiir
"Of course," Taathiir replied. "Inform him that we'll have the space ready. In the meantime, we best wrap up this exchange. No?" Ditraxol looked like he wanted to say something more but, after a pause of consideration, seemed to think against it and nodded. "Very well, then." Taathiir reached out, motioning to see the phone that Ditraxol's anxious associate possessed. She turned to the Wrath demon, passing the phone over when she received permission to do so. "This is my accountant's number; call him regarding payment." They returned the device to its owner.

Ditraxol muttered something in Oldspeak, too quiet for Taathiir to hear adequately. Finally, "We're done here, then." Waving dismissively, he turned and started leaving with his group, shoving one that seemed to get in his way.

They waited until the demons were out of sight, though not necessarily out of reach of their senses. They gave Lucy a sideways glance. "'Jingles'? I hope you don't plan on calling Jorath that to his face. I hear he's possibly a demon with Pride domain roots." Inhaling and smothering the wince that wanted to make itself known as Taathiir finally stopped ignoring their wounds, they gestured for Lucy to take their (uninjured) arm. "Shall we?"

Wings shook themselves free, stretching briefly before curling about them both. They left the cold of the barren land and entered the comfortable warmth of their office. "Let me see to that arm of yours," they said, pulling away from Lucy and searching through their desk. They found what they wanted a moment later, grabbing a small bundle that kept safe their blend of calendula and jasmine. Ordinarily, herbs and plants were very finicky sources for healing. Taathiir, however, had discovered that they could make it far more reliable shortly before their Fall.

Typically, Taathiir would have called for one of the organization's dedicated healers, but this would be faster. Opening the bundle, they uncapped the delicate container of ointment and beckoned for Lucy's arm. With a gentle touch, they applied a thin layer of the ointment and uttered out an incantation in Oldspeak. Beneath their fingers, green and black smoky tendrils floated across the wound. "Give it a few minutes and then wash off the ointment." Lucy didn't really need their instructions--it wasn't the first time she'd witnessed Taathiir's manner of healing, even if it was an infrequent occurrence--but they'd spoken more from habit.

They stripped out of their fleece sweater, albeit a little stiffly, and discarded the ruined article across the arm of their chair. As they repeated the process to tend the bites on their arm and shoulder, Taathiir dialed a number on their cell phone and put it on speaker.

"Sir?"

"Izzy, does office room three still have the Teleport Circle?"

"Yes, I believe it does."

"Confirm it, please. And if it does, see to it that it's cleared and prepped for a private meeting within ten minutes. If not, craft one. Ensure that essential members are aware Malvorin will be visiting. Have Graxt assist you, if you need the extra hands."

"Right away, sir."

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Posted (edited)

Vaz

 

The corner of their mouth twitched into a smirk, though their eyes held a heavier sort of empathy for her comment on the headaches.

 

“Common side-affect of so much infernal influence in the air, I’m afraid. You might have a touch of celestial alignment about you. Took me a few decades to adjust to it myself.”

 

Mused the scribe, a pensive expression settling upon their face that soon shifted into one of mild anxiety. Not a good emotion to have on display in these tunnels. Vaz reminded themself to breathe and think, letting the lurching sensation in their core settle once more.

 

“I erm...might have something that can help. Fold your wings my dear, I’ll need a bit of room.”

 

In the next breath Vaz shuddered and out stretched their own set of wings, the battered and torn edges of them scraping against both sides of the tunnel before Vaz was able to reign them into a folded position. Their closest wing meekly half-fanned out and drifted towards her back in an uncertain manner, as if debating whether to press against her or not. For a second it did, before Vaz’s uncertainty over someone else touching their wings spiked and it quickly clamped against their back once more. Another long breath was drawn. Again the wing stretched out, though this time Vaz opted to shift it higher and let the feathers stretch over her head instead, as if shading her from some non-existent sun. Yes. That felt like a good compromise to embracing her with it. Maybe the general proximity would be enough?

 

“My apologies for the unpleasant nature of their appearance. And the charcoal. And the scent. But the feathers are said to bring clarity of mind and focus individuals...so...erm...I-I guess just let me know whether they’re working to dispel the headache, I suppose. I’ll sheathe them if they’re not.”

 

Vaz shifted their attention back to the passage ahead of them as more mirages flickered in and out of existence. Occasionally a feather would float by them, sometimes a crow feather and at other times a brown one that Vaz had some difficulty identifying. At one point they spotted a new striped variant in front of them, followed by a flicker of green and red in their peripherals that disappeared before they could properly focus on it. Vaz’s wings bristled in response. The scribe started to talk again to try to take their mind off of what they were seeing.

 

“I don’t usually draw my wings out in front of others. I’ve only just shown them to Jorath, in fact. But you have already seen them and...hm...I suppose it is strange but...in some ways it is easier to show them to you than him? I am uncertain as to why.”

 

It wasn’t quite an explanation for why Vaz still had their wings out on display, or at least it didn’t feel like one to the old scribe. And yet there was something pleasant that prickled at the back of their mind at the memory of the man stumbling over his words back in his apartment. It spread down their neck to the dull ache of their shoulders, almost as if it were a warm hand resting on them that eased some of the tension and reassured them about the extra limbs on display.

 

“My apologies, Argia. I imagine you would prefer to discuss other things. I am just worried for him. Immensely. To a level that is somewhat ridiculous even, considering the sort of scrapes I’ve seen him get into on my behalf.”

 

As Vaz spoke the wing fanned over her drooped, beginning to draw itself back into a folded position as the warm feeling ebbed away to make room for a cold and clammy sensation. A clink of metal against metal sounded, somewhere, though Vaz didn’t seem to hear it.

 

“I should have convinced him to stay in The Gallery. It was careless of me to let him come with us. He shouldn’t be anywhere near Er’anir. And now he’s probably floundering about somewhere thinking that he has to come and get me because of my failure and-“

 

Vaz was cut short by a gagging sound as a thick, silver chain suddenly wrapped around their neck. The scribe gasped for air and clawed at the metal as they staggered backwards a step, their eyes frantically facing upwards towards the ceiling where the chain was suspended from. Shorter, golden chains dangled beside it in mockery, also reaching for the duo but too short to latch onto anything just yet.

 

You are as selfish and cowardly as you are worthless, Veritas. Making him follow you so that you wouldn’t have to face her alone.

 

Rumbled the voice through both of their skulls, the apparition of a bald eagle flickering into view further into the tunnel.

 

How many mistakes do you think a beast will overlook before it realises you are the singular cause of its sustained misery?

 

 

Xaal

 

She could only nod, weakly, in reply when Jorath claimed it was unfair for him to make a judgement based on what he had heard from the echo of her past. Even if she had the means to properly communicate with him, it was a difficult topic to break to someone that had once been human. She doubted that even Vaz, with their silvery tongue and the burden of brutal honesty at their side, could find the means to speak freely about every event of the Fall.

 

It didn’t feel appropriate, but she forced a smile onto her face when Jorath expressed that he was all eyes and ears. Xaal could deal with keeping her secrets buried. It had served her well since the Fall, and after so many years of forced silence and detachment from others one just got used to not voicing your mind. But she knew how Vaz embraced the truth, even when it stung. She knew that all Jorath had to do was ask them directly, and be willing to talk about things, to get any answer he wanted from The Archiver themself.

 

She was much more careful to listen to Mag’than’s prompts and guidance around the traps after the incident with the eagle, obeying with little further protest as she led them towards the next flight of stairs. When the sound of more demons approaching from behind occurred she deflated a little, preparing to produce a stronger shroud for the trio but uncertain whether she could muster up anything powerful enough to hide in plain view from multiple demons. Jorath’s solution was therefore a welcome one, albeit unexpected.

 

‘Useful. Was that a special die?’

 

It was idle, and likely misunderstood conversation on her behalf. She wasn’t really expecting either of them to answer in as much as the gestures helped to relax her a bit from the horrible events of upstairs. She felt more confident with the steadiness or her bow once they had reached the second floor, though it was short-lived when Mag’than sprung into action over something they suddenly could catch wind of. Xaal instinctively raised her weapon, only to slump her arms back down in exasperation when it turned out that the young demon was incorrect.

 

‘Trap?’

 

She asked, by gesturing to one of the more visible sigils etched onto the ceiling. It held a faint glow, suggesting something was already activated, though Xaal couldn’t fathom what. Mag’than shook her head in a defiant manner.

 

“Nope, was definitely her. I think I know the difference between an illusion and real flesh and blood, thank you. She’s probably just using her Seeker flight to avoid getting spotted.”

 

Mag’than lead them further down the hall, successfully passing by three seperate traps if one was to assume they were being honest. Again, she perked up and twitched her neck towards a door on the left as they all passed it. Pushing it open, the scowl of irritation that had been etched into Mag’than’s face melted into something that looked far more timid as Kalath rushed out to wrap her arms around her shoulders.

 

“There you are you clumsy f***wit! I can’t believe you went and got yourself banished by a knowledge demon! I thought the pompous old twit turned you into a quill or something!”

 

Mag’than replied, but her voice was muffled too much by the embrace Kalath was smothering her in to be in any way comprehensible. Kalath’s eyes flickered towards Xaal and Jorath, confusion etching onto her features.

 

“Mags, why is there an angel and...I’m gonna guess some sort of pizza delivery guy watching us?”

 

“I’ll um...tell you later.”

 

“Why can’t you tell me now?”

 

“Because I’m about to do this.”

 

In one fluid motion, Mag’than had wriggled out of Kalath’s hold, grabbed her by the arm, and bolted down the hallway. Xaal grew wide-eyed and started after them, realising that now the demon had found Kalath alive and perfectly coherent they had little intention of helping out Jorath any more. She made several bounds and awkward flaps of her wings towards them before a blur of ebony in her sights halted her pace. Fi’Faltuun wriggled out a warning for her to stop, before frantically pointing at the walls and floor to remind her that there could be influence-sensitive traps between them. Xaal ceased her chase and was forced to glare after the duo, hand twitching as she debated whether to fire an arrow after them or not.

 

Before she was able to make that decision though, something appeared to have gone terribly wrong for Mag’than. As she neared the other end of the hallway a shriek emitted from her, followed by a cackle from Kalath that did not sound like it matched the voice Xaal had heard seconds ago. Kalath’s form flickered in and out of view a few times until it vanished completely, while Mag’than’s appeared to convulse on the spot as though she had just received a nasty electric shock. The unfortunate demon collapsed, the floor at her feet opening up and drawing her into the hole that had formed below her. Within seconds it appeared that Mag’than had been swallowed up by the floor, teleported to some unknown part of the building.

 

Xaal could only stare blankly after her. She lifted her arm and made a rude gesture in the direction Mag’than had vanished, unsure how else to convey the frustration that both her and Jorath were now at the mercy of their intuition for traps.

 

With a heavy sigh, Xaal turned back to Jorath and gestured in ‘can you believe this?!’ manner before massaging at her temples to try and think of a smarter way to go about this. Alright. First things first. Check what’s at our disposal.

 

Xaal motioned to her bow, then motioned to Jorath before tilting her head with an exaggerated, puzzled expression. She didn’t know the specifics of Jorath’s transformation, but in retrospect she wasn’t certain if he had the ability to conjure up weapons or tools of the trade like so many of his demonic brethren. Was he limited to claws and well-aimed flicks of a dice? Fishing around in her pockets, Xaal withdrew the celestial-aligned dagger she had confiscated from Gregory earlier that night and held it out for him to take.

 

‘Just incase.’

 

She indicated, hoping the stoic nature of her stare while handing it over conveyed some sense of importance in taking it. She then flicked her head in the direction of their path ahead once more, miming the shaking and rolling of a die along the floor before pointing back at him.

 

 

Lucy

 

“Darling, I think you forget who used to rule the Pride domain. I hardly think some 2-horned moron could be of any notable threat.”

 

Chuckled Lucy, pursing her lips in thought a beat later.

 

“Besides. I don’t think he’s a particularly good Pride demon. Have you seen the sort of shirts he wears? Terrible. We have standards Taathy.”

 

She added, shaking her head in dismay as she reached out for the Collector’s arm and was promptly whisked away to their office.

 

“Thanks hun. Reckon you’ll have to teach me how you do that some time, healing ability’s been getting worse and worse lately. Took me a whole minute to patch up a paper cut the other day.”

 

Trilled Lucy after they had applied the ointment, in an overly-cheerful tone that suggested she either wasn’t seeing the issue behind her words or was wilfully ignoring the implications of them. Her tone softened once she had let Taathiir finish their call and she reached out to place a hand on their arm, but it didn’t seem to be in reference to her own situation.

 

“Hey uh...we kinda got cut off by the cranky moose-dog but if you want to talk some more about Naya’il we can do that after the meeting yeah? I’m gonna go spruce myself up a little before the meeting, see you in a bit.”

 

And with that she took several steps back and summoned another circle of green flames. Lucy’s surroundings faded from Taathiir’s office to her own, and when the ancient demon found herself all on her lonesome she grumbled and mashed her palms into her eyes in frustration.

 

“Ugh. Anyone but Malvorin. What the heck does he even want with a stretch of dead land enough to guard the bloody thing?”

 

Rambled Lucy as she changed into a dark-green dress and heels. Talking to herself was a common habit of hers, something that had developed long before Gneni came into the picture enough to occasionally answer back. As was humming to herself or drumming her fingers to a beat. Anything that made a noise, really.

 

“Should’ve told the stupid moose-dog we were working for Malvorin. I’d love to see Ditzy get mauled by a bear-“

 

“Um...Lucy?”

 

Lucy glanced up from the hemline she had been straightening out, blinking in response at an employee that was hovering at the other side of her desk. The employee appeared to be a young woman, half of her face obscured by a thick pair of goggles that suggested she was one of the Fallen currently working in their underground labs. Her hands clutched nervously around a single-page report. She looked only mildly confused by the rant Lucy had been devolving into for the past few minutes. It was far from the first she had witnessed, after all. 

 

“Hm? Oh! Sorry Specs darling, didn’t see you there? Oooh did you bring me a present? Did you finally make a break through on-“

 

“Uh. Um. N-no. Sorry...this is kinda serious. Actually.”

 

‘Specs’ placed the report on the table and slid it over to Lucy for inspection. Her shoulders sank as she realised it was a portrait of another Fallen and recognised the symbols scribbled into the margin and circled. Deceased. Cause of death - currently unknown.

 

“Oh.”

 

“We’re still looking into things...but we think she fell victim to this latest string of rogue fire-born attacks.”

 

“...Thank you, Ez’gan. That will be all.”

 

The other demon didn’t hang around, merely dipping her head in a short bow of both acknowledgement and sorrow before she took her leave. Lucy waited until she had closed the door behind her before she started to move again, crossing the room to grab hold of a nearby cord and pull back a series of dark, satin curtains that ran along the wall of her office.

 

Appearing before her was an oil painting that she had commissioned several centuries ago, a priceless artefact that spanned almost a third of the wall it was placed upon. The painting depicted a battalion of angels, their heads held high and an impressive array of weapons at the ready. Pensive, green eyes scanned their faces until they settled on a woman wielding a spear in the second row. Her attention shifted to the single pair of wings adorning her back, a soft blending of a brown and white pattern that she knew to be a sparrow. For a few seconds, her eyes closed. When they opened again she glanced down at the marker in her hand and twisted off the lid.

 

Iustitia ventura.”

 

Whispered the woman, taking the marker and etching an ‘x’ over the throat of the spear-wielding angel onto the protective glass that covered the painting. She straightened up and clicked the lid back onto her marker, now mulling over a set of further crosses and other symbols that had been drawn onto the glass over the years. There were still plenty of circles. That was the hope that she had to cling to, even as her sights settled on the drying ink from the marker. 

 

“I know, Ramiel. ‘Keep moving forward’.”

 

Lucy sighed as she addressed the angel in question. A lump threatened to form in her throat. But she swallowed it down with a wide, forced grin.

 

“I’ll think of something darling. Don’t worry.”

 

It was times like this that Lucy’s heart ached for her old advisor. She appreciated the efficiency of her current council and shamelessly basked in the constant, grovelling praise from them, but she would be lying if she said she didn’t miss the undeniable diligence and general guidance of the grumpy old goat all the same. She had always valued having a cynic at her side when making decisions after all. It was one of many reasons she found Taathiir so indispensable.

 

Movement occurred in the corner of her eye, and the woman turned her head away from the piercing, golden gaze of her advisor towards a series of security monitors that were set up to observe areas of interest within the organisation. The one that had caught her attention was the live feed of the office with the teleport circle, and she huffed when she recognised  one of the faces of her new visitors.

 

“Wish me luck, my lovelies.”

 

Lucy requested of the angels in the painting, placing both hands onto her lips and blowing them all a kiss before she ventured back towards her office desk. Green eyes wandered down to the healing ointment that was now semi-dried on her arm, cracking and crumbling in places along her joints. She flexed it experimentally and began to brush it off into flakes, revealing the now perfectly-healed flesh beneath it. Briefly she wondered what kind of feats Naya’il must have been capable of, if someone like Taathiir claimed she was the superior healer. Lucy credited them with bringing her back from the brink of death after all, a feat that should have been impossible.

 

To this day, she still felt as though she owed Taathiir one for that. It was primarily why she insisted on attending all of their more dangerous meetings with business associates, even if it ran the risk of exposing herself as something much more threatening than a cocky two-winged peacock guard. With her usual fondness for flair Lucy warped herself to office room 3 and posed before the visitors with one hand on her hip, the other summoning her trident to her hand and tapping the tail-end of it on the ground.

 

“Sorry to keep everyone waiting, hope I haven’t missed anything.”

 

Lucy sighed, sinking into a rather comfortable armchair on the Auris Domniir’s side of the desk. The trident dangled in her fingertips at her side, her free hand resting on her chin as she propped up her elbow on the arm of the chair. Her eyes traced the faces of the two new visitors, taking note that Malvorin had decided to appoint Ditraxol as his own personal guard despite the injury he was still nursing from Taathiir. The other face she didn’t recognise, but with a faint scowl she wondered if they were meant to be a proxy of some sort.

 

“You better be another guard, sweetie. If Malvorin’s not going to speak with us directly I’m going to take this trident of mine here and shove-“

 

The teleport circle lit up again and cut off Lucy from the rest of that ‘delightful’ explanation for the two visitors. From its depths, it appeared that Malvorin had finally decided to join them.

Edited by Lycanious
Fixing some grammar and autocorrect shenanigans.

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Argia
"'Celestial alignment'?" Like angels? Perplexion pouted her lips, gaze turning to the ground as Argia turned that over in her thoughts. It... didn't make sense, she reasoned. She wasn't an angel and so she couldn't have any alignment to a celestial nature. Could she? At Vaz's instruction, she folded her wings against her back, idly considering if she should just return them into a shawl. Maybe she could come up with a term for it? She decided, however, to keep them visible, especially if she ended up needing them again.

Her gaze followed Vaz's own wings as they came out, feeling the brief touch upon her back before the wing was snatched away. When they lifted the wing again, hovering it above her head, she nearly balked at their apology. "Thank you for the gesture, even if it turns out the solution hasn't worked," she said. Argia wasn't precisely doubtful--there were a lot of odd and fantastical things that immortal beings could accomplish--but she didn't know if she could expect much of anything tonight.

She found herself studying the state of their wings, an ache awakening somewhere though she didn't know the root of it. Redirecting her gaze to one of the illusory feathers in the tunnel, she reached to catch a brown one. Murky, golden-flecked, ikaar had splattered upon it, the shaft broken partway down. Her hand started to tremble under it as it morphed into a female Indigo Bunting, it's body mutilated until the illusion broke apart entirely.

"Wings are... Freedom," she breathed out eventually. "Your wings have scars, Vaz," Argia continued, her voice growing steadier when she pulled her thoughts to the present discussion. "True, scars can be painful reminders of suffering, but they are also the storytellers of where you have been." Argia held an arm out, her fingers tracing over a few of the blemishes upon her own skin. "Scars, visible or not, tell of survival and the beauty of seeing another day. Do not apologize for surviving, Vaz; doing so only gives power and victory to that which scarred you."

Argia blinked, a strange thought entering her mind that hadn't existed before. She didn't know what story her scars told... because, she didn't know what had caused them. Shaking her head to clear it away, she focused upon Vaz's next string of words, a slight smile playing at her features. "Well, that's because you care significantly about Jorath and are afraid of possible judgement from him. It's rather obvious in how you two have been interacting tonight. At least, I thought it was." She hummed a brief note. There was no number she could place on how frequently she'd witnessed such behavior between mortals, many of which almost made her frustrated with how obvious it had seemed. "And, given how you are speaking on the matter, I am to assume he did not have a poor reaction to the reveal?" She watched them for a moment from the corner of her eye. "Though, I can only speculate on theories of why you seem comfortable around me. Perhaps I remind you of someone else you trust? Like how you remind me of--"

The words died in her throat as she balked, vision blurring momentarily as an individual started coming to mind.

Shaking free of the dizzying sensation, Argia vaguely waved in a dismissive manner. She smiled again, though it was dampened by sympathy as she noticed Vaz's wing droop. "I am not bothered by something that makes complete sense. I understand why you are worried for your friend and his well-being. Please, speak as freely as you wish or need to; you are passionate about others, whether they stir up happiness or anger. I can feel it in your soul." Her pace slowed as Vaz continued on into lamenting their perceived failure at keeping Jorath away from this place. "Vaz, that--"

A chain caught them about their neck, choking them and halting all forward progression in the tunnel. Argia startled, surging towards them as she reached upward to grab the chain. At the same time, a voice shook through her thoughts. It sparked a ball of anger within her and she stepped back, glaring at the eagle that had appeared in the passageway. Atropos came upon command, the scythe slicing through the air.

The curved blade struck the chain, shattering the links and freeing Vaz from the trap. Grabbing their hand, she coaxed them away from the other chains still lashing from the ceiling. "Worth is subjective," Argia started saying as she moved. She didn't know who the eagle and Veritas were, but she didn't want to leave the trap unresponded to.

Once more, the blonde-haired Collector appeared. This time, however, her wings were broken and her armor was damaged. Blood stained the blade of her scythe and orange, mortal souls surrounded her until she faded yet again. Argia's eyes grew wet and she smeared tears into her cheek with the palm of her free hand. When a series of silver and golden chains slithered out from the ground, she deflected with the staff of her weapon, letting the links wrap about it before jerking to shatter their hold.

She wasn't worthless to me. I'm here because--When the thought brushed through her mind, Argia came to a stop, staring at a dead end. "There's no such thing as 'worthless'," she assured, glancing at Vaz. "Even if we don't serve a purpose to someone or other. There's worth in simply existing. That's the wonder of souls; they exist for no benefit to anyone else." There was a slight sharpness to her tone as she recalled Xaal's confession that Vaz and Jorath fed upon mortal souls. Urging them back out of the dead end, Argia's headache began to return in full.

Cage bars raced into existence, slamming against the wall behind their backs. Likely meant to trap them within the dead end but, ultimately, too slow in doing so. When she looked, she spotted the eagle still following them. "She doesn't know who you are, Veritas. She doesn't even know the beast. How can she determine your worth or his rejection of you better than us?" The voice seemed to echo between her ears in response. It prompted a thought to wrinkle her brow, stealing a glance at the Scribe. Maybe she was misunderstanding?

She let go of Vaz's arm a moment later, lunging at the oversized bird. Even if she did end up misunderstanding the connection... Her scythe spun as she closed the distance to swipe the blade at the illusion. "Don't know who you're talking to because their name--" The bird flitted out of the way, scythe embedding deeply into the ground. "--is Vaz." Beyond it, where the trap had been set for the dead end, water began to leak through the wall and the scent of a salty breeze filled the air.

Another chain shot out, passing through the bars, and tangled around Argia's body. With a grunt, her wings and arms were pinned down, Atropos spilling from her grasp and clattering upon the ground to dissipate. The chain wrenched her off her feet until her back slammed against the cage bars, the air torn from her lungs in the impact, and her shoes splashed upon water as she struggled.

---
Jorath
"Do I look like pizza delivery?" he asked, the words carrying on a humph. He frowned as he stared at Mag'than's convulsing body until she vanished through the ground. "Is that what happens when someone tries to ditch a contract they signed with Vaz?" He turned his gaze to Xaal as he made the, admittedly, rhetorical inquiry. Jorath realized he was chuckling at the Guardian's indignant gesturing in the next moment.

As she pointed at her bow then gestured at him, he frowned. "No, I don't use the bo--Oh. Um..." He dug into his pocket, pulling out the bone fragment he'd taken with him after his most recent shift. Then Xaal was handing the dagger Gregory had out to him. He stared at the hilt before eventually taking it from her. Though he wasn't touching the blade, he could still feel the celestial influence prickling at his hand.

He gave the weapon a few test spins, feeling its weight. "Lighter than what I've used before," he commented briefly, nodding once nonetheless to show his general agreement with the dagger. Again, he watched Xaal sign at him, narrowing his eyes as he tried to figure out what she was attempting to get at. "My die? I've got a few... but not enough to depend upon for the rest of the time we're here. They're more for getting out of a pinch. However..."

Stuffing the bone fragment back into his pocket, he withdrew a battered, bronze coin. He turned it within his fingers, the sides morphing between various etchings of busts, temples, and other designs. He murmured a word in his old language, causing the images to still; both sides had matching heads. Jorath's blue eyes took on a soft glow as he smiled. His vision blurred until he couldn't reliably see anything, only vague impressions. Before him, he could feel a faint tug coaxing him to step forward.

The tricky part was knowing how certain his Luck would be.

But at least he could breathe with some better odds guiding him. "Stay behind me and keep moving, regardless of what happens," he said. Taking a step, he hesitated for the fraction of a moment before taking another one. Each step came sooner than the previous one, even as he weaved sideways and around certain spots in the tunnel. At one point, he bumped into the wall, prompting him to pause and reorient himself before he kept going.

His senses were called towards the left and he followed, halting only when he heard voices. None of them were Maggie, Vaz, or Argia. Tensing, he swore beneath his breath and flipped the coin from one hand to be caught by the other. His thumb traced over the etching of a mausoleum that had replaced one of the busts at some point. He stepped back as he waited for his vision to return, blinking away the glow to his eyes and turning to face Xaal. "Fight or retreat? I think there was a path that branched off this hallway a little ways back but I can't guarantee we won't trigger something along the way."

---
Taathiir
They couldn't quite figure out a fitting response to Lucy's words, simply staring down at her hand upon their arm before flickering back to her face. Taathiir eventually nodded as she made her departure, moving to likewise clean themself up. A shirt and jeans, much less ones splattered with ikaar, was hardly going to be acceptable. Stepping into their closet, they selected one of the spare suits (another set of red and black, but this one possessing the vest with skull-shaped buttons) and changed. Their wings melted out of sight, pressing against their back as they did so. Before putting on the dress shirt, Taathiir took the minute to check the ointment spread upon their shoulder and arm, washing both patches off so that only healed flesh remained.

Idly tugging each hem into place and making a decision to go without a tie since they were likewise opting against a coat, they stepped out of their private office and headed downstairs for the room Izzy should have set up. They were opening the door to office room three when Ditraxol materialized within the teleport circle, its runes glowing from the influx of magic. The wrath demon scowled at Taathiir, moving to stand out of the way so that another individual--who wasn't Malvorin--could arrive in a similar fashion.

"Welcome," Taathiir greeted, a half-idle pleasantry as they took out a memo pad and a pen from the desk. In the same motion, they discretely pressed a button hidden beneath and began the recorder embedded within. A heartbeat after that, Lucy made her entrance, trident tapping against the ground before she selected her seat. Her mouth was starting to run, earning a low warning snarl from Ditraxol.

All of that was cut off by Malvorin's arrival.

Malvorin was shorter than Ditraxol, though most were, given that the wrath demon was almost seven feet in height. His brown eyes scanned the room, not a single strand of dark brown hair upon his head seemingly out of place despite teleporting. His gaze lingered upon Lucy before tracking to Taathiir, arms shifting to clasp his hands behind his back as he stepped out of the circle. "I have only an hour, and then I must tend to other things worth my time. Who shall go first?"

Taathiir motioned for Malvorin to have a seat, a gesture that the Knowledge demon declined. They settled themself into the available chair beside Lucy. "I suppose you would like to hear the rumors we know concerning the sun." Malvorin hardly nodded in response. "The deities that inhabit this world help it maintain a certain rhythm that allows life to progress as the mortals know it. It's reasonable to suspect that these deities have somehow become weakened, perhaps inactive entirely. Which left a vulnerability to be taken advantage of."

"And you suspect someone took the sun during this vulnerability?" Taathiir nodded in response. Malvorin tilted his head very slightly. "And, you are sharing this information with me. Why?"

They had to be cautious. They couldn't afford to directly lie to the demon. But they wondered if there was a chance they could weave Malvorin into inadvertently helping Auris Domniir's goals. "Because I have been researching for a way to harness the sun. There's just an obstacle that could potentially get in the way of that."

Malvorin seemed to pause, gaze unblinking as he stared at Taathiir. "Do you have the sun?"

They arched an eyebrow. "Hardly. I don't possess the sun. I don't know where it currently is, though I have some suspicions," Taathiir replied. "But, I think I do have a lead about the obstacle that could prevent me from making use of the sun."

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Vaz

 

“Some beings refer to it as a holy alignment, if you’re familiar with that term. It just means you are attuned to the Heaven plane in some way really.”

 

Vaz watched on, almost idly, as Argia reached out to grasp at one of the brown feathers. They tilted their head in contemplation as the feather morphed into a bird in her hands, and it finally clicked with them that the feathers belonged to an indigo bunting. Strange. Vaz didn’t recall any significant angels of their past that it could belong to.

 

Although...come to think of it Vaz could have sworn they’d seen an angel of that wing type browsing the shelves of The Archives a few times. Talked to them even, maybe, though Vaz could no longer recall any of their conversations if they had. But that was hardly a reason for that particular feather to start popping up amongst the much more familiar ones that drifted by.

 

Vaz chose not to dwell on it, at least not while they were skulking around in dangerous territory. They decided they would just have to check the sign-in records later on. Instead conversation with Argia drifted to their own wings, and Vaz rumbled in agreement over how wings were synonymous for freedom and worth amongst so many of their peers. There was a reason that the word for ‘grounded’ in Oldspeak, terras-mar, was sometimes used as a metaphor for being useless after all.

 

As Argia spoke of scars and the stories they held Vaz grew quieter, their eyes tracing down to the faded lacerations on her arm at her prompt. There was a wisdom to her words, Vaz couldn’t deny that. But they struggled with the notion that the story behind the state of their wings could be anything but ugly and vile to its listeners. Their wings marked nothing but failure and treachery, hardly an inspiring tale of hidden beauty.

 

They didn’t know how to respond to Argia’s assessment of their wings, and now they struggled to address her opinion over why it had taken them so long to reveal them to Jorath. Vaz’s mouth opened and closed a few times, denial unable to properly voice itself as always but distorting their face with frustration until, gradually, it gave way to a resigned sort of remorse over her words. Vaz knew that they cared about Jorath, in the same way that they had constantly fretted over the well-being of a hulking, axe-wielding demon who was quite literally fuelled by the amount of blood he could spill in a fight. Vaz’s eyes glazed as they thought back to their times with Skrul, the softest hint of a smile gracing their features before the feeling plummeted into one of a numb sort of queasiness.

 

Vaz remembered how broken the man had been when they took his status as a Lord away from him. They remembered how he had planted a wide and utterly false smile onto his face, held them close and told them it didn’t matter, but couldn’t hide the quaver in his voice and the quivering in his shoulders.

 

And it was all because too many people knew that Vaz adored him. And perhaps, even, deep down, that the feeling was mutual in as much as a poor excuse for an angel and a perfect specimen of demon could find common ground on such things.

 

“I...I should stop then, perhaps, if it is so obvious to a stranger. Before someone gets hurt because of it.”

 

It was said with a quiet whisper, distracting the scribe from Argia’s theories as to whether she reminded them of someone and why that made it easier to confide in her despite their unfamiliarity.

 

“Please, speak as freely as you wish or need to;”

 

It had been a wonderful sentiment that Vaz rarely got to hear expressed, and now with the chain of metal coiled around their neck it felt like an extra layer of cruelty being inflicted by it. Argia, mercifully, was quick to react. Vaz barely had the chance to choke out a cry for help before a scythe sliced through the air above them and shattered the chain. Vaz hunched over and wheezed from the shock of the metal against their skin, stumbling for a few steps forward as Argia dragged them along and away from the chains in question.

 

“The chain...it’s not...it is...”

 

Vaz tried to stammer out a response and it cut into her insistent declaration that worth was subjective. They could sense the clipped tone to her voice, and it prompted a disgruntled desire to refute her in that statement before guilt washed over them and drained them of their ire before any of the words made it to their lips. Instead when they spoke their voice was hoarse but cautioning, their hand smeared with ink as it pressed against the flesh to try and soothe the pain that lingered in it still.

 

“The chain links are still there, it’s real. An illstrund. We must be close to the office.”

 

The scribe eventually managed to elaborate, sweeping a hand to indicate that the broken links of the chain on the floor hadn’t disappeared behind them as she pulled them along. Again, the blonde-haired collector appeared before them, and even if they did not remember her face a noise of distress emitted from Vaz at the sight of her battered and broken before them. It was still a powerful image, and briefly Vaz yearned for the illusion to be real if only so they could reach out towards the poor Collector and shield her from the mortals that had brought her harm. They turned to Argia, squeezing at her arm as they noticed the tears the mirage had also evoked from her. Were it not for the golden and silver chains worming their way towards them that she needed to fend off, they would have drawn her into a hug as they walked.

 

“Likewise, my dear. The Archiver is always ready to listen, should you feel the need to talk after we get ourselves out of here.”

 

Slamming cage bars and The Voice then rang through their thoughts, disorientating the scribe and slowing them down to a hobble as they struggled to back out of the dead-end and process everything. Too much fear. Need to reign it in. Pathetic. The Voice was right, as it always was. As it always would be. Argia barely knew either of them, she had no way of confirming whether the scribe’s usefulness still outweighed the hardships over being associated with a Fallen that were no doubt piling up more and more for Jorath over time.

 

How long would it be before Veritas dragged yet another soul down with them?

 

“Their name is Vaz.”

 

Argia had said that with such a sharp, simple statement of fact that her certainty had partially jolted Vaz out of the rush of doubt and anxiety that was swarming through them. They weren’t quick enough to warn her about the chain before it latched around her, but her words spurred them into charging after her. Vaz smacked into the cage bars alongside of her, sliding their arm through and scrambling wildly into the air before they were able to catch hold of the chain that was pulling her up against them. Vaz wrenched at it, but lacked the strength at this awkward angle to break it. Growling to themself they closed their eyes and started up another incantation, celestial energy beginning to pool into the hand clenched around the chain and causing it to shudder and writhe in response.

 

The scribe cried out in alarm when another chain shot out and latched itself around the arm they had poking through the bars. Memories of being dragged along by a series of golden ones flooded their senses as the chain strained their arm back, trying to break it. Vaz devolved into a blind panic and thrashed against the chain and bars, wings flaring and thumping against Argia as they tried to break free of it.

 

Images of a series of books flickered into their awareness, seemingly random in their selection, until they began to shift and sort themselves before Vaz’s eyes. An apparition of the endless maze of shifting shelves in The Archives started to ghost its way into their vision, and Vaz winced in confusion until a silhouette of another demon storming through them entered the picture.

 

Takut is trying to escape.

 

Between the cold metal of the bars being forced against the side of their head and the distant despair over Takut ripping out books from the shelves surrounding her, a colossal migraine was starting to thump through Vaz’s mind. Vaz needed to expel Takut from The Archives right now, if they wanted any sort of chance at being able to concentrate on an incantation. The Archiver commanded their realm to release her, lacking the level of control needed to specify where and just deciding that it spit her out of the first appropriate row of bookshelves it could connect to within in the city. The Archives obeyed and immediately the thumping in their head settled, letting Vaz gasp for air and breathe properly for the first time in what felt like minutes. Reciting their incantation once more, Vaz finally emitted a burst of energy from their hand that shattered the links of the infernal-aligned chain securing Argia to the wall. A second incantation snapped their own chain in half.

 

“I had...to...release Takut early.”

 

Rasped Vaz, grasping their free hand around the bars and resting their one-horned head against it as they tried to gather up their energy once more.

 

“Too much. Couldn’t...words...”

 

They straightened up for a few seconds, before their knee buckled and they made a grab for Argia’s arm to steady themself.

 

“Should keep moving. Harder to pinpoint. If we’re quick we can get to the office and leave before she arrives.”

 

 

Xaal

 

The ancient angel inspected him up and down for a moment, then twitched her hand in a ‘sort of’ gesture as she gave the question some thought. She made a motion as if adjusting her non-existent tie and then shrugged, suggesting he try a more formal style of clothing to avoid comparisons with rogue delivery men. Though Xaal preferred to dress for comfort, from what little she had picked up from Vaz it sounded like presentation was awfully important in Hell. She rolled her shoulders in another uncertain shrug when he asked about the consequences of voiding the contract, as the chances of Mag’than having of just been dragged into The Archives for punishment sounded like the sort of thing Vaz would do for kicks.

 

She didn’t fully comprehend what the coin had to do with anything, but she had seen enough bizarre abilities of immortals over the years not to question Jorath’s behaviour that much. The glow from his eyes was enough to indicate that he was channeling some sort of inner ability - a heightened sense perhaps? Idly a hand brushed against her throat again, as if confirming that there was nothing still latched around it as she thought back to the room upstairs. Now that she had time to think, she remembered what Mag’than had said quite clearly. Jorath could have very well let her drown - one less Guardian to worry about later after all.

 

Xaal wished she had a better way to ask him what his motivations had been, but for now she decided to place her trust in at least one of them being for a noble cause and followed his example as he weaved himself down the hallway.

 

Chewing at her lip, Xaal switched her attention back and forth between him and the coin when he paused for her opinion. She listen to the sounds of others approaching in the distance, distinguishing three distinct voices. She recognised a particularly raspy one as belonging to a low-ranking seeker that Takut liked to send into her territory a lot. A being of very little concern, most likely to bolt if confronted. That left two opponents, one for each of them to handle.

 

Xaal gripped her bow tighter and held it up to indicate ‘fight’. The demons had likely come from a stairway leading to a different floor, and their casual banter suggested they weren’t paying much attention to avoiding traps of their own. A safe passage, perhaps, or at least one with fewer concerns for the average being wandering beneath them. Xaal pressed her finger to her lips. She motioned for Jorath to take a few steps back, guiding him towards an open door to another storage closet so that he could linger behind the doorframe. Once she determined he was in position she stepped back and morphed into her snowy owl form, activating a stronger version of the shroud she had utilised in the subway underground as she took to the air. 

 

With her current state of mind near-invisibility would only last a few seconds before it faltered, but it was enough for her to silently turn the corner and drift above the heads of the approaching demons without them noticing her. A trio confirmed, she waited for them to turn the corner before she shifted back into her humanoid form and drew her bow. When she heard an alarmed holler signal that Jorath had either been spotted or or sprung into action she darted back around the corner and fired an arrow into the back of the nearest demon. They tried to cry out in reply, their face contorting into one of agony as they sank to their knees. Their flesh bubbled and seared from where the arrow had struck, but not a single sound could be heard from them. 

 

It took a moment for their companions to even notice they had been struck down, and by then Xaal had been given a chance to draw her second arrow on them. Frantically she pointed the tip at the larger demon of the two, then downwards to one of the more obvious sigils that she had bypassed on the floor below. She wriggled her weapon impatiently between the two points of interest, demanding more information about the sigils.

 

 

Lucy

 

“And that obstacle would be...?”

 

Edged Malvorin, a disdain entering their tone of voice for the Fallen that was eating up their valuable time by dragging out such questions. Lucy shifted in her seat and cleared her throat to grab the attention of the room, uncertain if Taathiir had an answer for him at the tip of their tongue or not.

 

“I can answer that, actually. We suspect one of the deities is hoarding the sun as punishment. Our current theory is Secos, the seasons deity. Seems like a prime candidate. We’re hoping you can provide us with some information on xem and xir offspring. Specifically, xir weaknesses and limitations.”

 

Malvorin blinked slowly at her once she had finished her suggestion, a neutral expression on his face before his eyes flickered back over to Taathiir.

 

“Do you often let your subordinates speak out of turn? Or is it just something you let this obnoxious two-horn keep getting away with?”

 

Drawled the demon lord. He gestured to the perfectly obedient Ditraxol and the unknown companion behind him, neither having of moved a muscle since Malvorin’s arrival. Lucy pouted mockingly and jabbed a thumb in Taathiir’s direction.

 

“I know, right? Shocking behaviour for the head of an organisation. Makes you wonder why we’re all so loyal to them anyway, doesn’t it?”

 

Something akin to humour seemed to flicker into Malvorin’s eyes, if Lucy could properly believe the man was capable of finding anything remotely amusing about life. Sadistic, was probably a better label for the expression. A sly little curling of the side of his mouth that Lucy knew all too well amongst demons as someone who felt they had just scored the winning hand.

 

“Loyalty is always a limited resource among demon kind, Taathiir. I find it’s a concept that the Fallen always seem to have some difficulty wrapping their little heads around, no matter how well they seem to play the game otherwise.”

 

Warned the man. It was followed by a world-weary sigh as Malvorin leaned back against his chair and pondered Lucy’s earlier words.

 

“So. What do I get in exchange for this information?”

 

“I propose a share of the power we’ll be harnessing, for you to use as you see fit.”

 

Malvorin pursed his lips in thought, appearing to calculate something in his mind briefly before he titled his head back towards them. 

 

“Intriguing. But rather risky, no? How can I trust that the power you can harness would be worth the time and resources it will take to find out more about Secos for you? I propose we also both exchange something a bit more...tangible, first. As a show of good faith between us, perhaps.”

 

With that, Malvorin turned and beckoned their unknown companion into stepping forward. She obliged, shuffling forward a few steps and brandishing what appeared to be a shawl in her hands. Lucy squinted at the article of clothing, knowing not what it was capable of but immediately sensing the magic emanating from it. Whatever Malvorin had brought with him was no doubt a powerful tool of some description.

 

“You need something to keep demons in line, Taathiir. Something valuable that they depend upon you for and know you can take away from them at any time you see fit.”

 

Malvorin clicked his fingers and pointed at the desk between them, to which their companion neatly placed the shawl. He offered little else in the way of further explanation at first, merely quirking an eyebrow down at the pair of them as he allowed them time to inspect and theorise about what the garment was capable of.

 

“I confess, this is my main reason for opting to speak with you directly this evening. You play your cards right Taathiir? I hand over dozens of these, as many as you want. But if I find any hint of deception on your behalf? I’ll be keeping them.”

 

Malvorin tapped a nail against the fabric, almost idle, before he switched his gaze back up to the pair of them.

 

“Call one of your Fallen in. Any of them, doesn’t matter which one as long they’re of the Vox variety. I want you to see their reaction when they put this wonderful garment on. Then, we can talk about what you’ll be giving me in exchange for it.”

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Argia
Turning away as best she could when Vaz's wings thrashed against her, Argia shut her eyes. She felt the chain binding her break loose and slumped forward. "It's alright, we'll make it work." The reassurance rushed from her tongue as she fumbled to catch Vaz, pressing a hand against their abdomen and the other at their back to support the Scribe until their knee could hold their weight. In agreement with Vaz's sentiments to keep moving, Argia took hold of their arm and started away from the bars and remnants of chains. Splashing footsteps disappeared as the water was likewise left behind. Didn't do much to help her waterlogged boots, however.

Thoughts returning to something Vaz had mentioned, an offering to listen, Argia gave them a weary smile. "Truth be told, Vaz, I think all of us should probably talk after we leave this place. Who knows what the other three are encountering here?" She didn't know what she was really witnessing herself. Questions and uncertainty were beginning to plague her thoughts.

Three tunnels later, she stopped, gaze focusing down one of the forks. At the end appeared to be the next set of stairs. However, the trap that had been placed there was already triggered. With all of the chains being a consistent theme among several of the traps, Argia had started to wonder if they'd been created specifically for Jorath. This one seemed not much different, a sort of barrier created as silver and gold links criss-crossed each other to block off access to the door behind.

Something was tangled up in the net of metal, twisted, torn, and bloodied.

Argia drew closer, scythe forming in hand, as she scrutinized what was there. Wings. Or, more accurately, a ripped up and incomplete set of leathery wings with dark scaling along the arms; the portions from elbow to shoulder weren't there. Her hackles rose as she realized what she saw, lashing at the trap with her scythe. Chains rattled and broke, collapsing to the ground. Mercifully, the broken wings vanished once they were dislodged, proving to be nothing more than an illusion.

"--your fault. The choice was yours and you chose poorly." A woman's voice echoed around the tunnel, a bare whisper that was both furious and disheartened. Argia looked about briefly, unable to pinpoint if it was part of the trap, a different illusion, or as real and presently occurring as the destroyed chains. She glanced at Vaz, confirming if they heard it as well before pushing through the stairwell door.

Reaching the seventh floor, Argia's pace quickened again with a renewed sense of urgency. Curiously, nothing awaited them. No sigils to trigger, no illusions to break through. Just silence. She wondered if it had to do with any laziness on Takut or Er'anir's part, or some desire not to bother with the hassle so close to personal spaces for either demon. Eventually, though, her fingers brushed along the claw-like markings that had been scored into the wall on her right. "Just ahead," Argia sighed, premature relief threatening to ease her tension.

The doorway was tucked from sight, so much so that she nearly ran past it. Argia paused at the threshold, staring at the space within. It was in a partial state of disarray. Books and journals were spread across a metal desk, loose pages laying about with a couple resting upon the floor near the piece of furniture. The chair had been shoved aside, a foot snagging the edge of a soft-looking rug after its occupant rushed away. A small, lit, fireplace nestled into one side of the room, a tiny couch sitting before it with a quilt and fluffed-up pillows. Despite the desk being in disorder, the bookshelf was tidy, decorated with a small cluster of water hyacinth in a stained-glass bowl designed to look like the ocean. She stared at the pale petals of the flower.

"Hyacinths, even the water-based variety, are often for peace and beauty. But they're also about commitment, power, and pride." The quiet memory intruded upon her thoughts, fading away as quickly as it'd come.

Argia's gaze drifted away from the plant as she stepped further into the room, finding the modest picture frame that stood upon a round end table. The painting within was aged, done upon parchment that had frayed at the edges. She frowned when she recognized Jorath's face, a crooked smile in his features. Sharing the portrait with him was a laughing woman that looked almost identical to Er'anir's image within the Compendium, his chin resting against her temple as he held her. Beside the one frame was a smaller, oval-shaped one containing the lone painted bust of a different man.

Tearing her focus away from the paintings, she turned to Vaz. "Do you know which journal belongs to Jorath?" Argia asked, motioning towards the desk.

---
Jorath
Xaal was choosing to fight, if the shake of her bow was anything to go off of. He smirked at her, not certain if he had expected such a decision from the woman, and obeyed as she coaxed him into taking cover. There was a dusting of gold upon the ground, the only indication to him that she had shifted and gone ahead. Jorath listened to the footsteps and voices, adjusting and re-adjusting his grip upon his borrowed dagger.

When a foot stepped into his view, Jorath moved. Plunging the dagger into the demon's foot, he jabbed upward with his elbow as they cried out in pain, cutting their cry short into a gag. The demon at the back of the trio collapsed while Jorath grabbed the arm of the coughing individual, tearing the dagger free and pitching the small being into the wall. The largest demon of the trio was caught between watching Jorath or watching Xaal, their gaze flickering between her arrow and the sigil she was indicating.

Jorath gave her a confused glance, not at all certain of what she wanted. Let alone who she was gesturing towards. After a moment of uncertain stillness, the large demon grumbled something and hurried forward towards Xaal. An oversized mace morphed in their hands. Bouncing the coin once in his hand, Jorath tossed it at the sigil on the floor.

The sigil triggered in response, conjuring a mass of clay to seep out of the wall and congeal around the mace-wielding demon's legs. They grunted and started smashing their weapon against the hardened material. Hopefully Jorath would be able to get his coin back later. It took too much work to make replacements.

The demon he'd stabbed was back up, hobbling and staggering awkwardly as they lurched for him. Jorath pitied the smaller demon for their misplaced sense of persistence. He dodged around the claw-swipe they attempted, grabbing the back of their shoulder with one hand. Stabbing them in the hip, Jorath ignored their hollering as he snatched their arm and yanked. Bones broke and he retrieved the dagger as the demon collapsed, leaving them to writhe on the ground.

He hopped over the clay trap, motioning at Xaal to get moving again. The stairs were just before them and he headed down. Demons on the stairs a floor below forced him to dart for the third level instead of continuing to the fourth or lower. Jorath muttered a curse, hearing too many footsteps and a shout give chase. He reached for a second die.

Throwing it over his shoulder, a trap unraveled, dragging a pursuing demon into the ground and out of sight. Jorath nudged Xaal ahead of him, shoving two more dice within her hand. "Keep going, no matter what happens," he reminded her. Slowing his pace just enough so that the leading demon could catch up, he grappled with her, shoving her into a side path and setting off an illusion that ensnared her in ropes.

Another demon grabbed him from behind as cage bars slid into place, shutting Jorath and the demon off from the main passageway. He snarled, skin prickling and hackles bristling from the contact. He swiped backwards with the dagger, wrist snatched mid-motion and his hand slammed into the wall. The weapon fell from his grasp and he was shoved forward. Stumbling away from the bigger demon, Jorath glimpsed at least one other demon running past the bars towards Xaal.

"F***er," Jorath growled.

The demon grinned at him, cracking their knuckles. "This will be fun." Horns began to grow from the demon's head, the pair long and curving down from the temples in a distinct 'S' shape.

"Compensating for something, big guy?" Jorath quipped, edging a step away as his own horns came out on display in response.

He snorted. "Hardly."

As a second, shorter, set materialized to point at the ceiling, Jorath's eyes widened. "Hey, um, how about we just... ya know? Talk this one out? Hm? What's your name? I'm Jorath."

"Don't care," the demon replied. He scrambled backwards as they charged at him.

---
Taathiir
"I don't believe you have any room to judge the loyalty of my organization when you have underlings that are resentful of you not listening to them. At least I consider the advisement and opinions of those I take in." Malvorin seemed to be unimpressed by Taathiir's remark, but the demon nevertheless shifted a glance to Ditraxol who fidgeted ever slightly beneath the gaze.

When their attention was directed to the shawl, Taathiir's gaze narrowed slightly. They sat in silence, even after Malvorin had ceased speaking. There was an unsettling sensation beginning to pluck at their nerves and Taathiir was inclined to listen to it, but uncertain of what would transpire. They nodded once, fishing their phone out of their pocket and speed-dialing a number. After a ring, Izzy answered.

"Send Sarcyilia to me."

"Yes, sir."

As Taathiir hung up the call, they stared at Malvorin, watching the Knowledge demon's face. The faintly eager smile on his face gradually became a source of irritation for Taathiir. Shortly, the office door clicked open and an older-looking individual peered inside. "You wished to see--" He cut off when he spotted Malvorin and company.

Taathiir motioned Sarcyilia to step inside. "Yes, please come closer." They idly examined the Fallen up and down, taking note of the greyed streaks she was sporting at the sides of otherwise brown hair. Her eyes were a bright hazel, however, belying that the aging traits were simply aesthetic. The individual moved to stand by the desk, eyes briefly dropping to the shawl on the surface as worry and inquiry conflicted in her features. "Can you put on the shawl, please?"

His brow wrinkled at the strange request, but Sarcyilia obliged, a delicate hand gracing the soft fabric. It billowed slightly as it was swept to rest upon their shoulders. Immediately, the grey fabric shifted colors and Taathiir rose from their seat as it did so. The shawl became a dusty, faded, sort of brown with white edging the cloth.

Sarcyilia flinched back from the desk, startled gaze trapped upon the shawl as it continued changing. Feathers separated themselves from the fabric, more appearing to reach towards the ground until a full set of wings unfolded. They stretched out in the next breath, bumping against the wall and knocking over a small display case with the shatter of glass. Sarcyilia cried out, stumbling before her knees buckled and she dropped to the floor.

Her fingers were caressing the feathers, tears in her eyes, as Taathiir hurried to her. They glanced back at Malvorin, witnessing the air of superiority creeping into his features. "Is this real?" Taathiir questioned.

The demon motioned with a hand. "You tell me."

Glancing briefly at Lucy, Taathiir returned their gaze to Sarcyilia, watching as she breathed unevenly. "Sarcyilia? Are they--"

"Sir," they breathed out, voice wavering from a hiccup. "I haven't seen my wings like this since the Fall. How--" She sobbed, a smile nevertheless cracking through despite the fear in her gaze.

"It's a prosthetic," Malvorin explained, stepping in and resting a hand upon one of Sarcyilia's wings. The Fallen flinched under his touch, trying to draw the wing away. Instead, the feathers melted back into the softly-colored shawl and the demon's hand gripped her shoulder. With a flick, Malvorin wrenched the shawl away from Sarcyilia who cried out at the violation, fingers curled into the edge of the fabric as a panicked 'no' graced the air. In the end, however, Malvorin separated their grip from the shawl and gave it back to his unnamed employee. "Now, shall we talk a good-faith exchange? I hate to see your lovely Fallen in such agony."

Taathiir's chest ached as they watched Sarcyilia wipe at her eyes, looking up at them with a tormented expression before their eyes went back to Malvorin and the shawl. The faint echo of despair found a way to ignite a simmering anger for the Knowledge demon. "Alright. Name your starting price."

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Vaz

 

A rumble of worry caught in Vaz’s throat as they pressed their fingers against their neck again, checking if any ikaar was still oozing from it. They had an idea of the sort of things that plagued the minds of both Xaal and Jorath, but they weren’t certain they had much in the way of good advice to offer about any of it.

 

“If you can entice them into sitting down and properly talk about what’s on their mind, I’m all for it my dear. It can just be a bit of a chore convincing Jorath or Xaal to do-so I’m afraid. Please do not be disheartened if they do not.”

 

Fatigue gripped at their words, and they drifted into a more quiet contemplation as Argia drove the both of them forward through the tunnels. Vaz rather fancied themself as a versatile spell-caster, but it was easy for a few rapid-fire incantations to tire them out and being rendered unconscious again was far, far down the bottom of the list of things that they wanted to happen in these tunnels. They needed to try better to conserve some of their energy.

 

When Vaz saw the wings, torn and wrapped up in chains, they had to excuse themself and unravel their arm from Argia’s so that they could shuffle to the side and stifle the urge to lose their lunch. Vaz refused to look at them, one hand clamped around an ache of empathy in their lower back while the other cupped tightly over their mouth. At the sound of Argia’s scythe clashing against the chains Vaz’s eyes scrunched shut. They counted to five, peeped open an eye to confirm the wings were gone in their peripherals, then slowly let their hands slink down to their sides once more.

 

“I never knew what his wings looked like. He lost them long before our paths ever crossed.”

 

They weren’t really talking to Argia, specifically, in as much as Vaz was just trying to come to terms with seeing the mangled limbs suspended there. It was a lot to take in for any Fallen, a horrible cocktail that reminded them of everything that they, and others, had lost. Their fists clenched, anger replacing the nausea as they heard a voice in the distance. Was that Er’anir? It certainly sounded like her. Vaz turned to face it. For a brief moment, they had to fend off the urge to storm towards it.

 

“I’m certain she’s responsible for the mutilation of them. That she’s responsible for a lot of horrible things, when it comes to Jorath.”

 

Vaz exhaled and forced themself to walk away, difficult as it was. They were here for the journal they had inadvertently given her, first and foremost. And it was foolish to challenge a lion in its own den. They paced after Argia, determination to at least become the biggest immovable thorn in Er’anir’s side now fuelling their actions. When she found the demon’s office Vaz burst in behind her with a newfound zeal, sensing the sheer amount of paperwork and sweet, beautiful books crammed with secrets they didn’t yet possess before they even entered the room. At the scribe’s appearance something rumbled in the drawer of her desk, and Vaz’s line of sight snapped towards it. Vaz crossed the room to open it, crying out in relief when a blur of black and silver darted out to greet them.

 

“Kaa’Taakiir! Oh my dear what did she do to you?!”

 

Hissed Vaz, only just able to reign in the shriek of rage that wanted to make itself known instead. A ball-chain had been embedded into the silver hilt of the quill that now fluttered before them, securing her to a disc of metal that had been drilled into the inside of the drawer. Vaz snarled at the sight and grabbed a hold of the chain, wrenching at it finally it snapped in half and freed the quill from where she had been tethered.

 

“What is this? A common ball-chain?! Like an office pen? And they’ve cracked your hilt! Where’s your ruby!?!”

 

As Vaz continued to fret the quill darted for a blank piece of paper to scribble on, currently unable to project her thoughts directly into Vaz’s consciousness. The scribe peered over the paper as bold, red words appeared before them and scowled at what they read.

 

THE FEAR DEMON STOLE MY RUBY. SHE KNEW OF ITS PURPOSE AND SHE DREADED THE JUSTICE I WOULD BRING!

 

“Oh my dear, I’m so sorry. You’re so brave-“

 

BUT I WAS UNDETERRED AND I DREW BLOOD FIVE TIMES. THE AGONY AND CONFUSION I CAUSED WAS GLORIOUS. THE HEALER SAID IT COULD TAKE THREE WHOLE DAYS FOR THE EYE OF THE ONE OF ICE TO HEAL BACK TO NORMAL.

 

“Did they make you tell them anything?”

 

HA! NOT A SINGLE INSIGHT WAS FORFEITED! I BOW TO NO ONE. NOT EVEN THE FEAR DEMON COULD QUELL ME. THEY HAD TO CHAIN ME AND LOCK ME IN THE DRAWER BECAUSE THEY COWERED AT THE PROSPECT OF MY WRATH UNLEASHED.

 

Vaz felt a lurch in their core and a bile rise in their throat as they stared at the remains of the chain that clinked against her hilt, unsure of how to remove it entirely. The comparison it drew with seeing similar links of metal wielded to Jorath’s own skin was unavoidable, and for a moment the sickening feeling wrestled with one of rage before Vaz able to stuff both emotions towards the back of their mind.

 

Right. Focus. Jorath’s journal.

 

Vaz then waved their hand over the desk, titles and dates trailing through their mind until they honed in on the familiar handwriting of Fi’Faltuun. With a flick of their wrist a small pocket-journal lifted from the crowd of books and paperwork and drifted obediently towards Vaz’s outstretched hand. Their breathing calmed, wings lowering to a more relaxed situation as they thumbed through the first few pages to confirm it was the journal in question they had been looking for. Between one of the pages several sheets of paper were stapled in the corner and folded, and Vaz willed it to slip out of the book and hover before them for inspection. Briefly they turned the paper so that it faced Argia.

 

“Argia, darling, I don’t suppose you recognise what language the left one is, do you?”

 

Er’anir apparently had been trying to translate the aeiuwn of Fi’s writing, having of jotted down a variety of words across what currently amounted to a few pages. Vaz didn’t recognise the script of the second language, but a tremble of excitement ran down their spine and caused their wings to flare as they skimmed the first few rows and settled on a theory. Was this the language Jorath sometimes spoke in? There was chance for it to be Er’anir’s native tongue as well, if the two shared a past. Vaz traced their fingers over the piece of paper, before remembering where they were and quickly shoving it and the journal into the void of their pockets.

 

Their eyes trailed down to the rest of the books and papers scattered about. They spotted an aldjaal to aeiuwn dictionary which, to their delight, had several more notes in the script of the unknown language jotted down in the margins of the pages. The dictionary was also quickly pocketed, as soon as Vaz realised that it offered a three-way translation of potentially hundreds upon hundreds of words. 

 

“I’m taking as much as I can, my dear. Letters. Notes. Anything you see with that script on it. Anything you see that looks remotely of use to her I want it either pocketed or destroyed.”

 

Instructed Vaz, making a beeline for the bookshelf and running their fingers along the spines of the books contained within it. Behind them papers swirled in the air. Several eyes materialised upon their wings to glance through them, soon joined by Lojaal to oversee the information as she floated out from Argia’s shawl. Each scrap of paper either folded itself neatly and slipped into one of Vaz’s pockets or tore itself up into little pieces before fluttering to the floor. Meanwhile the Scribe withdrew another book from the shelf written in the mystery language, some sort of collection of folklore and fairytales judging from the illustrations. They stuffed that into their endless pockets as well, followed by a number of journals that were either packed neatly into the shelves or summoned from her desk.

 

The kidnapped quill drifted before Argia, inspecting her up and down a few times before coaxing her towards the desk so she could write to her.

 

YOU STAND BEFORE KAA’TAAKIIR, THE SLAYER OF THE DECEITFUL. THERE IS A DEVICE IN THE DRAWER THAT THE ONE OF ICE HAS BEEN TOYING WITH THAT I HAVE DEEMED INTRIGUING. A POCKET WATCH. PLEASE TAKE IT, FOR I CAN CARRY NOTHING BUT KNOWLEDGE AND SWEET, SWEET VENGEANCE. 

 

“The paintings, is there anything written on the back?”

 

Called Vaz over their shoulder as another suggestion, their attention now split between several letters they had found stashed away in one of the journals.

 

 

Xaal

 

The Guardian huffed in annoyance as the largest of the three began to barrel towards her, either not understanding her enquiry or wilfully choosing not to answer her. This was going to be a long trek through the building. She tightened the tension in her bow and raised the weapon to meet the demon’s eyes, only to stumble back slightly and hold her fire when mountains of clay started to seep from the walls. It was difficult to see what was happening behind the larger one, but judging from the frantic yelps and hollers of the smaller looking one Jorath was handling things fine on his own.

 

Xaal decided to give the demon one last opportunity, motioning down towards the sigil with a raised eyebrow.

 

“What? Too proud to use Commonspeak?”

 

Spat the demon in response, wrenching one of his legs free of the trap and starting to shatter the rest of the clay that bound him to the ground. Xaal rolled her eyes and released her hand on the string, prompting a flinch from the demon in anticipation of being shot. The arrow however remained suspended in the bow, the string pulled tight as if Xaal had grasped it with an invisible third hand. Xaal made a swiping motion across her throat to indicate her inability to speak then pointed down to the sigil again. The demon just emitted a sadistic chuckle in reply.

 

“Oh. Good. Saves me the effort of having to tear your throat out then.”

 

Xaal glared at him. The force pulling back on the arrow released, and she felt the corners of her mouth twist into a smile as the demon wheezed in silence and clawed at his chest where he had been struck. Judging from what she could see as he tore shreds across his shirt, he’d been expecting the rock-like skin of his underside to protect him from the arrow she had threatened him with. He just hadn’t accounted for the powerful surge of holy-aligned energy that had also been coursing through it to give it the force it needed to pierce through.

 

As Jorath leapt over the clay trap and the man, now hunched over to better bear the pain, Xaal rose her arm in response and made a beckoning gesture. There was a faint cry, as if a distant sound on the breeze, and seconds later the first arrow she had shot was sailing back towards her outstretched hand. Xaal plucked it out of the air with the same instinct as Vaz with any quill or book, and as she turned to head down the stairs with Jorath she caught the second arrow from behind. Jorath got a little self-congratulatory eyebrow wriggle for that last move, though Xaal was quickly forced to switch back to a neutral expression when the sound of more voices wafted up the stairwell.

 

When instructed to keep going no matter what Xaal’s feathers bristled in disagreement, an annoyed glare briefly sent over her shoulders at him. Clearly Jorath hadn’t dealt with many Guardians in his lifetime, or he would know that such a line should be the other way around. Coming from a demon, even a human-born one, just sounded...odd...otherwise. It took her a moment to register that he had deliberately slowed his pace, whirling around to gesture a lecture dramatically in his direction when she heard the cage bars slam down between them. She began to dart back towards Jorath, only to be cut off when another demon seemed to phase right through the bars and leapt towards her. When she fired an arrow at them it passed right through as well, prompting a gleeful little giggle from the physics-defying demon as she continued to close the distance between them.

 

Xaal staggered backwards, startled, and swung her surprisingly-sturdy bow up to smack it against the temple of the demon. This time she was able to make contact, suspecting with some small relief that the demon needed to phase back into the mortal plane before she could properly attack. She swung her bow down against the demon’s clavicle, but she was quicker than anticipated and managed to become intangible again which threw Xaal off-balance. The ghostly demon took her chance and drove her long talons upwards, prompting a wince from Xaal as they embedded themselves into the spot just below her rib cage. From her quiver she scrambled for an arrow and stabbed it into the side of their attacker’s waist in reply, using the shriek it prompted as a sign she was tangible once more. Xaal kneed her solidly in the chest and she staggered back, winded, attempting to phase back out as she passed through the wall beside them.

 

Unfortunately, the demon only partially cleared the wall before she lost her grip on the ability, and promptly managed to get herself stuck half-way. Xaal blinked, a little stunned at the blunder, before snarky commentary from Jorath caught her attention and she quickly summoned her previous mis-aimed arrow to her hand to fire through the bars at the four-horned demon charging for him. He was struck in the hip, causing him to stagger and giving Jorath, in Xaal’s opinion, ample opportunity to finish him off in some fashion. She surged forward, hands clasping around the bars between them as she looked for a way to disable them from her side. Golden eyes started to glow, Xaal soon honing in on a spot along the wall that ebbed with a secret. She pressed her hand against it, disrupting the illusion that kept the sigil beneath it hidden and watching as the metal bars started to melt back into the ground once more.

 

 

Lucy

 

It was a tricky situation Lucy sometimes found herself in, when it came to having to play the part of an underling. She trusted Taathiir to keep her Fallen allies safe to the best of their ability of course, but there was an urge to call Malvorin something undiplomatic and refuse to use the shawl on anyone until he at least explained its purpose. She quirked an eyebrow at Taathiir, questioning the decision but deciding to trust them on their call. She supposed, in hindsight, that it was somewhat useless to try to con Malvorin out of information he didn’t want to give. Best just to bite into the apple sometimes and see what would happen.

 

The ancient demon smiled none-the-less and dipped her head in greeting when she caught the eye of Sarcyilia. Sarcyilia was a dear old thing, one of the finest healers she had ever been acquainted with, and the woman that Lucy often turned to as an expert of tricky medical situations. Even during the events of the Fall, she was an angel that had been cast out merely because she couldn’t bear to watch either side suffer for its beliefs, and indiscriminately nursed anyone she found back to health. Lucy had remembered her well, and when establishing Auris Domniir she had been one of the first Fallen she had sought out to ensure she had a new haven to rest in.

 

So when she placed the shawl upon her back and the colours shifted, Lucy couldn’t help but rise alongside of Taathiir to stare over at her. Immediately she recognised the choice in colours, her grip tightening on her trident and her stance twitching into one of aggression as she made the assumption that it was a mockery on Malvorin’s behalf. When the cloth moved and instead gave way to soft, brown and white feathers she visible baulked, the trident in her grasp cluttering to the ground as she starred in shock. A cruel grin creeped its way onto Malvorin’s face as he heard the weapon hit the ground. When the demon approached Sarcyilia to reclaim the garment Lucy stepped forward, the trident summoning itself back to her hand as she was overcome with the urge to drive it between the two individuals. A growl from Ditraxol was the only thing that stopped her in her tracks, though it was a hesitation born of concern for Sarcyilia’s wellbeing rather than any fear of what the wrath demon was capable of. Lucy gnawed into the side of her mouth when she caught the desperation in the Fallen’s eyes as her wings were taken from her again. 

 

“Where did you find that?”

Urged Lucy, crossing the room to rest her hand upon Sarcyilia’s head as the dove-winged angel tried to stifle her tears. Lucy hushed her gently, stooping to take her by the hand and ease her back onto her feet before guiding her back behind the safety of the desk. She knew it was unwise to show such sympathies in front of other demons, especially when trying to play the part of a fire-born guard, but she refused to leave Sarcyilia curled up on the floor while Malvorin and Taathiir bargained for the shawl.

 

“I didn’t find it. I commissioned it from a talented new inventor I’ve stumbled across. This is the second ever made of its kind...and I hear that our first test subject is already making great use of the product so-far.”

Malvorin’s grin grew wider, and brown eyes briefly drilled into Taathiir’s own. Lucy scowled and kept pressing for questions as she wrapped an arm around Sarcyilia to further comfort her.

“Why did you make this, then? What purpose do you have for it?”
 

The knowledge demon rolled his eyes to the ceiling and tutted in a condescending manner.

 

“Fallen aren’t the only one with wings to be replaced, you know. As a matter of fact I was in the process of developing a third leather-winged prototype to surprise an employee of my own with. Until the pea-brained imbecile cost me one of our most prestigious of clients, of course. And then someone failed to bring him in.”

Ditraxol twitched, ever so slightly, his eyes now focusing on a spot on the ground. Malvorin’s voice remained calm, but there was an underlying threatening tone to it.

 

“And now, it would seem that his so-called intel on the location of the sun is also being brought into question. I imagine I don’t have to explain how much of a headache that can cause someone of my domain. So I’m rather not in the mood for any more disappointments tonight.”

Malvorin hummed to himself and made a show of pondering his price. His eyes drifted around the room and over the faces of the representatives from Auris Domniir, calculating some unknown factor under his breath.

“I want names, for starters. I want a detailed list of every demon and pseudo-demon in your organisation. I want to know the identity of each and every Fallen before and after you all decided to make yourselves cosy in our territory.”

 

“No…No we can’t do that. It’d be a death-wish to some of them.”

Squeaked Sarcyilia, followed by a nervous glance between Lucy and Taathiir for speaking out of turn. Lucy merely patted her on the arm to reassure her, challenging Malvorin on the notion once more.

 

“You know we’d never release that information, Malvorin. I thought you said your time was limited? Why are you bothering the boss with impossible requests?”

Malvorin’s eyes rolled again.

 

“Siding with these Fallen seems to have made you soft. You're picking up on some very angelic sentiments. Tell you what, Taathiir, why don’t you tell me what you think this amazing garment is worth? I’ll even give you twenty four hours to think about it if you need to. I understand such complex calculations can be rather difficult for those of a lesser domain to work out on the fly.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Argia
She turned once Vaz began speaking to someone, noticing the quill as it strained against a thin chain until the Scribe set it free. Argia frowned at the flare of rage from Vaz, staring as they seemed to rein it back in, though it continued to smolder somewhere beneath. She blinked when she realized Vaz was passing a cluster of pages to her, the leaflets floating and awaiting her inspection. "No, I don't think I do. But a couple words seem familiar?" She thought back, remembering the way Jorath had spoken during the Binding. Gradually, she started to nod. "Familiar, yes. There are a couple words here that seem to be what Jorath used earlier."

The pages returned to Vaz and, shortly after, they were stuffed into a pocket alongside the journal their group had come to retreive. As the Scribe pilfered another book, they announced their intentions. Their wings sprouted a multitude of eyes for the third time this night, books and pages beginning to lift and spiral about them.

Without warning, the office vanished and Argia suddenly stood between a cluster of aisles, books and tomes neatly packed upon the endless stretch of shelves. The impossibly large library was brightly lit and unexpectedly comfortable. Someone stood before her, a smile upon their features before they turned away, Vaz's figure replacing the individual in the next breath. Books pulled themselves off the pristine shelves, coming to circle the Scribe.

"Let's see if we can't find something helpful for you, my dear."

Staggering back as a journal passed near her face, Argia bumped into a shelf. The rattling of the side table disrupted the unsettling vision, grounding her back in Er'anir's office as she fumbled to catch the paintings. Air finally found the freedom to escape her lungs again. With her eyes refocusing on the details of the office, she at last noticed the new quill hovering before her. Was it scrutinizing her? Beckoned towards the desk and the page she'd been writing on, the quill introduced herself--Argia faltered briefly at the mention of vengeance--and directed Argia's attention to the desk drawer. At the same time, Vaz inquired about the paintings.

"One second," Argia replied. Opening the drawer, she located the pocket watch that Kaa'Taakiir had mentioned. Attached at one end of a loose chain, the device was made of tarnished brass and was clearly in working condition when she opened the flap to reveal the ticking hand. The numerals were inked with a script that suggested elegance. Closing the flap and turning the watch over, Argia briefly studied the engraving of a key surrounded by a coiling string of sigils.

Curious about the sigils, Argia reached out towards Vaz, passing the watch over to their pocket and letting it slip into its depths before making for the portraits. Quickly, she undid the fastenings of the frames to pry the paintings away. There was nothing on the back of the tinier painting. However, the portrait of Jorath and Er'anir had a single word scribbled across the other side. It didn't match the signature on the front in the bottom corner. "Does 'Rungrolen' sound familiar to you? I can't tell if it's a name or just a word. Don't even know if I'm pronouncing it correctly."

Briefly, she showed it to Vaz before turning the painting back to study the artwork again. Argia was conflicted. Despite all evidence of something sinister lurking in the tangled history that Jorath and Er'anir seemed to share, and the disruptive instructions Vaz had given her, she hesitated with what to do about the painting. Should good memories be dashed away or ruined simply because fouler ones existed? It wasn't her place to determine the fate of a memory that wasn't hers.

Folding the portrait carefully, she quietly slipped it, too, into Vaz's pocket. At the very least, she would do her best to ensure Jorath had the opportunity to decide for himself whether such a memory got to survive with a physical reminder or not. She was a preserver of mortals' stories, not their destroyer, after all.

Their historian.

Something about the thought provoked a small shiver to run down her back. Drawing her wings closer against her, Argia moved on to inspecting other materials that hadn't been drawn in by Vaz's command yet, rummaging through the paperwork. As she did so, she came to discover that she could recognize Oldspeak a lot easier than expected, separating it from the unknown language that Er'anir equally wrote in. Her hands stilled when she came upon a series of diagrams, various symbols mingling with each other. "Are these spells?" she asked, glancing at Vaz.

---
Jorath
He barely spotted the arrow as the demon staggered. Jorath was more concerned with lunging past the hulking being than inspecting their injury. Reaching for the dagger upon the ground, Jorath redirected his momentum for the other demon's back, punching the blade between their shoulders. The demon shouted from the pain of having two celestial objects burning into his infernal flesh.

Leaving the dagger in place, Jorath quickly unhooked Illstrund from his hip, uttering a command. The chain lengthened as it had within the Archives but, this time, Jorath wrapped it about Four Horns's neck and pulled. Illstrund burned against his palms and, from the strangled growl of his opponent, it was likewise burning into the other demon's flesh.

Jorath stole a glance back as he heard the cage bars beginning to retract. The sound of the stairwell door slamming open demanded his attention in the next moment. The mace-wielding demon had made a comeback, charging down the hall with hatred scrunching his face. As the demon made a beeline for Xaal again, Jorath was shoved against the wall, Four Horns pinning him there with their own back.

He grit his teeth, straining to not let the battering dislodge his grip. Jorath held on well enough. Until electricity crackled along the demon's curving horns and jumped to the chain, traveling into Jorath's hands and arms. He yelled, convulsion releasing his grip enough that Four Horns could stumble forward and jerk Illstrund free of Jorath's hands. Jorath, meanwhile, slumped to the ground.

Fi'Faltuun fluttered into his lap, her feather faintly twitching from residue electricity. Jorath reached to tuck her into his shirt pocket as quickly as he could to keep her safe, shaking off the daze he'd been knocked into. "F***, that hurt," he slurred.

Four Horns grabbed him, hoisting Jorath off the ground. As a thick hand gripped his throat, Jorath flinched and reached up to claw at the offending appendage. "Well, that was easier than Er'anir made it out to be," Four Horns rumbled, dangling Illstrund from his other hand. "Disappointing, really. I heard rumors that you were stronger than you let on. Perhaps the demons you broke were just weaklings puffing their chests out?"

Jorath growled, choking out another command. Illstrund returned to life, loose end rearing up before striking out at Four Horns. The demon gave a startled cry, dropping Jorath as they struggled against the chain's restrictive hold. Grabbing Horns's shoulder, Jorath hooked a leg between theirs and shoved, knocking the demon to the ground. As they twisted from the fall, Jorath yanked the dagger out of Horns's back and snatched at one of the demon's long, curving horns. He pulled, snapping the bone in two near the demon's temple after a bit of strain.

Another jolt of electricity shot through his body, this one traveling further than just his arms. Stumbling back, a knee gave out and he snarled as he dropped, catching himself against the wall. "Is that... all you got? You're a one trick pony, aren't you? How'd you even get four horns?" Jorath ground out, claws digging into the wall as he pushed himself off it. Heat crept up his back while he tried to shake off the demon's attack. "I mean," he continued, watching Four-Now-Three Horns surge to his feet. "A two-horned just broke off one of yours. What kind of sorry excuse for a demon are you?"

Horns roared as he charged at Jorath.

Darting out of the way, Jorath's leg still hadn't fully recovered. It gave out again as he moved, tripping him and giving Horns the opportunity to turn and pin him to the ground. For the third time, electricity burned across his flesh and Jorath's vision ebbed out before struggling back. Before Jorath mustered the ability to utter another command for Illstrund, Horns grabbed his jaw and squeezed until the bone cracked, effectively rendering the desire to speak into nothing. "I'm going to make sure Er'anir gets you, just so I can watch you suffer for your smart mouth."

Panic set in, nestling with the rage that had been boiling. Despite the pain, Jorath flailed, tearing an arm free of Horns's hold and stabbing at the demon's chest with his own horn. It scored, puncturing between ribs and drawing agony from the demon. With a twist, he jerked the horn upward, causing the demon to spasm and stagger back. Horns was weezing now, likely from a punctured lung, as the two grappled. Jorath struggled to get Illstrund away from Horns, but the moment his hand touched the chain, a last blast of energy raced through him. He grit against it until the electricity overwhelmed his senses and he shouted. Still, the assault didn't cease, surpassing the length of the other three jolts. Only when he dropped to his knees, then collapsed to the ground, did it end. The tunnel spun as Horns grabbed the back of his shirt and dragged him along the ground. Feebly, Jorath reached back for the demon's arm, trying to struggle free.

---
Taathiir
"Enough," Taathiir growled, all four wings bristling into view and unfurling to act as a shield protecting Lucy and Sarcyilia from Malvorin's presence. "You are a visitor to my home. I will not tolerate your continued, blatant disrespect of those under my care and protection, nor the freedoms and behaviors I have encouraged. Elsewise, I will claim each of your souls here and now." As they spoke, they swept an arm out, hand motioning towards a shelf lined with skulls and other trinkets. Many rattled with the culled souls of demons Taathiir had been forced to deal with over the last several centuries, earning themselves the name they now possessed. Their eye narrowed into a glare. "Or is that still too 'soft' for your tastes?"

Malvorin, for all his benefit, hardly seemed to flinch at the threat. They held his gaze in silence for a minute before eventually replying. "I will accept the 24 hours to consider my part of the exchange. Until then, I believe your welcome has come to its end. See yourself out of my office."

The Knowledge demon only smirked, a collected smugness undermining the expression. He motioned for Ditraxol and the other associate to leave, the unnamed demon retrieving the brown and white shawl, letting it dangle from her hand. Malvorin vanished after the two, dipping into a contemptuous bow as he did so.

Once the threat was gone, Taathiir's wings retreated, snapping to their back before fading from sight. A pause. Inhaling deeply, they turned to face Sarcyilia and Lucy, letting anger melt away as they focused their concerns upon the former's evident distress. "Sarcyilia, I am sorry. Had I known, I wouldn't have--"

"Taathiir, sir, please. You cannot give that demon a list of names." He was trembling as he spoke, shaking his head and wiping away tears. "I-I can continue without--"

They made a soothing sound, lifting a hand in a calm-down motion. "I'm not. It's not even on the list of things I want to do. I promise." They shifted their gaze from Sarcyilia to Lucy. "But, I won't lie that I don't want to secure those prosthetics. Lucy, we've been fiddling with a means to try and bring some semblance of comfort back to our brethren. Perhaps--" It didn't settle right in their gut, tension prickling at their nerves. "I want to find out who Malvorin's first test subject is and what they know about all this. And, I think he might have been alluding to Jorath--which I wasn't even aware he used to have wings. Hopefully, we can still speak with him before Malvorin changes his mind about the demon's surprise 'gift'."

Staring at Sarcyilia again, Taathiir sighed. "The problem lies in what happens should our efforts fail. Or, more accurately, should Malvorin blindside us with a trick." Auris Domniir didn't have a Knowledge demon in their ranks powerful enough to contend with Malvorin. "Sarcyilia, you are strong in your convictions and I know you will endure it. But, not all of the Fallen are as willful. If Malvorin takes the prosthetics back, I fear the blowback that'll impact their well-being." They did a quick calculation in their head, shortly determining that there wouldn't be a small enough window after the 24 hours to reasonably rely upon the effects to the city as an option.

Basic resources wasn't going to be a good enough payment. Their gaze drifted back to the shelf, put together as part of an intimidation tactic. Their lip twitched with displeasure. Taathiir didn't deal in soul contracts with mortals because of the belief that such things disrupted an order that needed to be maintained, no matter how much they had grown to dislike humanity. But the wretched souls of demons who had crossed lines they shouldn't have?

The idea entering their mind gnawed at them. "Malvorin's just like the next demon hunting for power and leverage. I culled a few souls belonging to some powerful demons. It's an option I'm sure he would be enticed by. Maybe enough so to include that unfinished set of prosthetics for demonic wings? First, though, I want to utilize as much of our window and see if we can't do or secure something that'll be to our best benefit."

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Vaz

 

“Rungrolen?”

 

Vaz glanced up from the swarm of books and paperwork surrounding them, their eyebrow raised as they let the name roll off of their tongue once more and pursed their lips in contemplation. Pages turned in their head, recognition dawning a moment later but prompting a confused expression to follow it.

 

“Yes...yes I have heard the name before. She’s an older demon I believe, a metalworker. I don’t recall ever meeting her in person but I hear she is a master of her craft. Why do you ask?”

 

They switched their attention over to her, before the eyes drifted downwards and absorbed the portrait in her hands for a moment. A disapproving tone rumbled from the sight of it, Vaz flicking their head in a manner that suggested they wanted her to dispose of it in some manner before they turned back to their books. Despite their multitude of eyes though, the scribe was too distracted to notice when she discreetly slipped it into their pocket alongside of everything else they were attempting to pilfer.

 

Vaz was skimming over one of the journals, their attention caught by an illustration of what seemed to be an early prototype or cousin to Illstrund, when Argia asked about the spells. This time they stopped their frenzied search for information in favour of approaching the desk and hovering over her shoulder to inspect the diagrams.

 

“It would seem so...though I’m afraid I’m a little rusty when it comes to this particular format. I think...”

 

Vaz frowned and tilted their head, starring at one symbol in particular. They had seen a similar one on binding circles before. What did it stand for again? Merging? Transference? It was something involving a connection needing to be made, that much they were fairly certain of.

 

“...I think they’re spells for some sort of transferral? I’m afraid I’d have to sit down and research that one for a bit my dear. They seem complex, though. Important. We should take them with us as well.”

 

Just as Vaz pocketed the new discovery, a distant cry for help caught their attention. The dancing paperwork and books froze in the air, the feathers of their wings bristling as they stood rigid and tried to pinpoint the direction.

 

“Was that Jorath?”

 

They edged to the doorway, peeping their head out of the corridor and growing still to listen out for him. Kaa’Taakiir whisked over to join them, perching briefly on their shoulder before slipping into their inside-chest pocket.  A much closer, much more dread-inducing scream soon followed down the corridor. Vaz bolted towards the sound. They had heard Jorath snarl in pain or cry out in surprise before, but they had never heard a scream of pure terror from him.

 

A clatter of metal sounded behind them as they rounded the corner of the corridor, and briefly Vaz slowed their pace as they feared that something had happened to Argia. But no, she reappeared from around the corner a moment later, her newly-formed sword the only indication that she must have been delayed by another trap going off. Another holler from Jorath sounded and Vaz darted forward once more, their speed boosted by a series of minor flaps from their wings despite the cramped conditions of the tunnel they were in.

 

As Vaz turned another corner they stumbled into a clearing, Jorath and an unknown demon posed in its centre. A thick, golden chain was wrapped around Jorath’s throat and the other demon was wrenching hard on it from behind, their foot stamping down on the middle of his back to aid their torment. Vaz bellowed out a phrase in aeiuwn, adopting their thunderous voice from earlier, and caused both demons to jump in alarm as they fastened their removed horn back onto the top of their head and charged forward. The unknown demon dropped their hold on the chain and backed away into a dash as Jorath collapsed to his knees. Neither of them seemed to expect the tired old scribe to be capable of the leap they took to clear Jorath as an obstacle, nor for them to catch the demon by their antler-like horns and drag them several paces further down the corridor in a low glide. As the fallen angel landed they turned and wrenched their opponent forward by the horns, slamming their face into the walls of the tunnel. Vaz then pulled them back and repeated the motion several times, stopping only when it was clear that the wiry little demon had been knocked out cold.

 

Vaz stood before them, panting to catch their breath and their eyes wide as they tried to process what exactly had come over them. Normally if a demon ran on approach, they considered it to be a lucky break and wouldn’t bother pursuing. Much better to let intimidation work its magic. A cough sounded from Jorath and Vaz’s head snapped towards him, the fury in their eyes dying as they saw him hunched over onto the floor. 

 

“Are you okay, my dear?”

 

Vaz inquired as they approached him once more, their wings settling from their flared nature to a more relaxed fold across their back. For a split second Vaz could swear he looked uncertain of them, a single blue eye darting from their face to the feathered limbs over their shoulder. His other eye was covered with a hastily-crafted bandage, which appeared to be fashioned out of a strip of cloth torn from someone else’s shirt. One of his horns was broken, snapped clean in half. An unpleasant sensation prickled at the back of Vaz’s neck as they starred at the man, which they attributed to concern over what had happened. Vaz exhaled, letting their weariness be known as they knelt beside him.

 

“Oh my dear, what did they do to your eye let me see-“

 

“You left me behind!”

 

Spat Jorath, swiping his hand in a downwards motion so that it smacked away Vaz’s attempt to pull back the bandage. Vaz jumped and quickly snapped their hand back to their chest, stuttering out an apology.

 

“Sorry, I, erm…I should have warned you. Y-yes. I know, my dear. I’m so sorry-“

 

“Don’t know why I even bothered bringing you, didn’t even make it past the f***ing roof...”

 

Continued Jorath at a low mutter. He rubbed a hand over the visible section of his face and scowled over at them. Vaz deflated at the words, but pushed aside the budding sense of guilt so that they could focus on the problem at hand. They turned back around to confirm with Argia that they had found the office, only to realise that she was no longer anywhere to be found in the clearing. Vaz called her name, the unsettling sensation returning when only silence answered them. They turned back towards Jorath.

 

“On your feet dear, sh-she should’ve been right behind me we have to go.”

 

Their hand hovered with uncertainty at his shoulder until it rested upon it once more. Jorath twitched again under their grasp, but didn’t pull away this time. He let Vaz pull him back into a standing position, but ignored the arm they then offered for him to lean on in favour of motioning the both of them forward and starting to walk. Vaz trailed beside him, observing him briefly in their peripherals.

 

“Where is Xaal? Is she okay?”

 

“She’s fine. Mag’than got hurt. Showed us a safe spot. I told her to stand guard while I came down here to get you out of trouble.”

Vaz nodded in acknowledgement, not quite sure how to process the comment. They were waiting for followup response, the sigh and the lopsided grin that indicated he was really just relieved to find them relatively unscathed. When it didn’t come a lump formed in Vaz’s throat, and they wondered about the sort of things he must have witnessed on the way to the seventh floor to get to them. Semi-consciously a wing stretched out to rest against his back, aiming for both general comfort and a way of clearing whatever was troubling his thoughts.

 

“Don’t touch me. Put them away, I’m sick of seeing them.”

 

The wing snapped against Vaz’s back once more, quickly sheathing itself out of sight along with the rest of the limbs. Vaz found themself pulling ahead as they walked, Jorath slowing his pace so that he lumbered more behind them instead. 

 

“I…I don’t understand she was just behind me. Do you think she teleported, perhaps? What about her aura do you sense-“

The rest of Vaz’s inquiry died on their tongue, in favour of the gasp of pain that emitted from them instead. A sharp, burning sensation seared through the middle of their back and right shoulder, puncturing right to their core and sending a ripple of agony blazing through it. Vaz’s physical form wavered, the skin splitting and several eyes blinking in and out of existence as the shards of their halo kicked into overdrive to withstand the infernal influence suddenly coursing through their system.

 

“You know, for a knowledge demon you really f*** up a lot. Don’t you Vee-Vee?”

 

The scribe convulsed and choked out a series of nonsensical syllables in reply, feebly trying to reach behind them to shove the other demon away from them. The being behind them wrenched them back and a cruel mockery of Jorath’s lop-sided grin loomed over them, his soft blue eye now replaced with a piercing green.

 

“I can see why a deity like Vox perfectum got rid of you. Have you actually gotten anything right this entire night?”

 

The bone shard twisted in her hand, and Vaz failed to suppress the tortured scream it elicited from them. 

 

“Oh but Vee-Vee, sweetie, I’m going to make you wish you were back up there once I’m done with you. I’ve seen what you’ve done to my sweet Songbird. I know how selfish you’ve been and how miserable you make him.”

 

“He…he’s not…He said-“

 

Er’anir leaned in, her form now completely replacing Jorath’s own as she sneered down at her captive audience.

 

“Is he happy? Can you honestly say you’ve improved his life? At all? I made sure he smiled every single day of our life together, you know. Can you say the same?”

 

Vaz was silent. Between her words and the infernal energy now coursing through their system their mind had been all but subdued by a thick blanket of fog. Weakly they tried to pull away from her again, but it only resulted in her twisting the bone shard some more and drawing out a sob from them instead.

“Don’t worry sweetie.”

The scribe heard her purr, as they collapsed into a heap onto the ground. Icy hands clenched at the bare skin of their wrist and for a fistful of their hair as Er’anir started to drag the scribe along the ground, chuckling to herself.

“I’m just here to fix all the damage you’ve caused. He’s going to be happy and enjoy life again, Vee-Vee. And I’m going to let you see it happen right before your eyes.”


 

 

 

Xaal

 

The bars were retracting at a pace that was agonisingly slow, prompting an impatient gesture from the Guardian angel as her attention wavered between them and the brawling duo on the other side. Frustratingly, Jorath had managed to turn the two around so that he was exposing his back to her rather than his opponent’s, preventing her from firing a second arrow into the fray without the worry that she would accidentally hit him in the process. Xaal would have to seriously consider drilling her new-found companions on some basic combat tips when they eventually got out of here - even she was growing sloppy in certain aspects.

The door slamming open behind her tore her attention away from the bars, which now appeared to have jarred and were stuck at a semi-retracted height. Xaal grew wide-eyed as the mace-wielding demon tore down the hallway after her, scrambling for her bow once more to fire a second shot into his chest. This time however the arrow bounced harmless off of the rock-like skin, and Xaal hissed under-breath as she realised the charge of her arrows was draining away. Demonic influence in the air was making it difficult for her core to recharge itself, and the overall affect was a little dizzying as she gritted her teeth and forced herself to power through the nausea.


Room in the cramped hallway was scarce, but morphing back into her owl form gave her the space to properly spread her wings and flutter out of the way of the mace as it clanged against the metal bars behind her. Xaal climbed higher into the air, wings beating frantically as she dodged a second swipe from the mace and soared overhead. Her physical form began to flicker and distort as she tried to activate her shroud once more, lacking the energy for complete invisibility but blurring her form enough to make it difficult to track her movements properly. She arched her back and flipped in the air, angling herself so that she could rake her talons forward and latch around the skull of the demon before he had the chance to properly turn around to face her. 

 

The demon roared in response as both claws hit her target, dropping his mace in favour of ripping the winged menace away from his now ruined eyeballs. Rough, calloused hands grabbed her by the leg and wing, before pitching the angel into the bars behind her. Xaal hit them hard, stars appearing before her eyes and sickening cracking sound ringing in her ears as she thudded to the ground. Pain seared through her left wing, and if she was capable of it Xaal would have cried out in response. She saw the blur of a mace rising again, intent on crushing her. Fighting against the pain in her wing Xaal forced herself back onto her feet and scrambled up against the bars of the barrier, barely squeezing through the gap before the weapon came smashing down in her direction. The demon snarled again, thumping his head against the bars that now separated them as he blindly tried to force his way through them.

 

A shout from Jorath in the distance spurred her into continuing forward, but when she tried to stretch out her wing it sent an unbearable jolt of pain through her shoulder and nausea threatened to take over once more. Gingerly she staggered forward on ground instead, morphing back to her humanoid form as she gripped her bow once more and set off in the direction of the shout. Her upper left wing hung limp at her side, refusing to move to sheathe itself, and Xaal realised with an oncoming dread that it was probably broken. Guardian angels were renowned for their quick healing and high tolerance for pain of course, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t going to be in for a miserably recovery process over the next few hours.

 

She could see Jorath now being dragged along in the distance, and it gave her the motivation she needed to quicken her pace and draw a new arrow. He was still struggling, trying to grab for the demon’s arm and in a frustrated manner she tried to motion for him to go limp so she could get a proper shot at his assailant. Finally the three-horned demon looked up at her, and Xaal stepped forward to fire at the spot between his eyes-

 

Her surroundings shook, like an earthquake, and Xaal found herself being pulled into the ground like Vaz and Argia had been on the roof. In her shock she let go of the arrow and heard it thump against the hard surface of the ceiling as she fell backwards, desperately but unsuccessfully scrambling for a foothold on the crumbling floor tiles and piles of dirt. The angel landed with a dull thud onto her back, and this time her face distorted into a silent howl as her weight was thrown onto the broken wing. 

 

Xaal lay there for a minute, stunned and heartbroken as she starred up at the rocky ceiling of her new surroundings. She had failed. She had left him all on his own. A faint, unknown aura flickered into her conscious at the end of the hall and she glanced up, noticing that the ethereal mist she had flooded the building with was starting fade away as her energy continued to drain. Another failure for the night. Clenching her fists tight, Xaal willed herself into a standing position and steadied herself with a hand against the wall, gasping for air. Judging from her surroundings she had landed in another hallway, but she had no idea which floor it was.

Dragging herself along with the help from the wall, Xaal began to move forward once more and reached out through the fading fog for any hint of an aura she could trust.

 

 

Lucy

 

“Slimy b******. Should’ve snapped his neck, Buttercup. I’d have made it look like an accident.”

Grumbled Lucy, once the unwelcome trio had teleported away once more. The temptation to trail after them to do exactly that lingered in her tone, and it was only the trembling of Sarcyilia beside her that eventually shifted her focus back towards the rest of the people there. She squeezed at their shoulders and rubbed her hand up and down until their breathing seemed to settle. Green eyes shifted to Taathiir as they spoke to the pair of them, her pupils briefly wide and rounded with distress before their narrowed into their usual, slitted design.

 

“I didn’t know that about Jingles either, but in hindsight it makes sense yeah? He’s been known to have a soft spot for all of us after all. Didn’t you say you ran into him once, Sarcy? Or am I getting mixed up with someone else?”

Mused Lucy, recalling a few tales she had heard among the Fallen that claimed a demon of Jorath’s description had leapt to their defence within the last century or so. There were some that dated back to even before he had become associated with the old scribe, which suggested to her a pattern of at least sympathy towards beings like her.

“Hm. Well. Let’s just hope he’s in the mood to tag along to whatever meeting you manage to arrange with dear old Scribbles. Did you get an appointment time from them yet? Ain’t like them to dawdle on these sort of things. You invited the both of them, yeah? I’ve heard they’re basically a package deal as of late.”

She was rambling a little. But thoughts of how they would deal with their Malvorin problem still prompted her mind to drift to the knowledge demon in question. Lucy couldn’t claim to know much about how the domain worked specifically, but she was certain that a being as ancient and strange as the Scribe of Truth would hold a respectable rank within it. Or, at least, qualified for one if certain individuals could look past one’s origins enough to recognise it.


“Not a bad idea, I guess. Could always make use of a few powerful souls. But you know what he’s like, he’ll probably b**** about the fact that it’s a lazy offer and try to sell us only one wing or something as retaliation.”

Lucy rolled her eyes at the prediction. Admittedly though she wasn’t sure if she had any better ideas. She would be lying if she said she wasn’t curious enough to get her hands on at least one of the garments in question. She trusted the people down at the labs, maybe they could reverse-engineer the curious blend of magic and technology behind it and render the future leverage that Malvorin would have over them moot?

“I mean…even one wing would be…”

Lucy turned her attention back towards Sarcyilia, grimacing as she realised the fallen being was unsheathing the remains of their wings to stare down at them. Her left wing was mostly intact, possibly even to the level where she could still fly with it. But her right wing was a mere stump of a limb, the feathers brittle and torn, and caked in a thick layer of charcoal. Lucy went still as she starred at the mangled remains of the wing for a moment, before she heard a sniff from Sarycilia and tried to soothe her once more.

 

“Sh…it’s alright darling. We’ll think of something don’t worry. Take the rest of the day off, I’m sure Izzy can get someone else to cover your shift. Come on we’ll go get a coffee or something.”

Sarcyilia paused for consideration before she eventually gave a slow nod, and folded her wings back out of sight. Lucy glanced up towards Taathiir and flicked her head towards the door in an inviting manner. 

 

“Care to join us Buttercup? I’m going to see if I can get ahold of Gneni too and tell them what we saw out there.”

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Argia
Glancing over as Vaz moved to inspect the diagrams beside her, she listened to their brief theorizing. "Er'anir's not going to be happy when she discovers that we--" Everything froze when a distant call reached the office. Argia looked uncertain when Vaz asked if it had been Jorath. It sounded like him but she didn't know if it was real or just another trick. The Scribe appeared to be of the same confliction as they edged to the doorway and looked about.

She startled, however, when Vaz abruptly darted down the hallway in response to the scream carrying through the air. Scrambling after them, Argia skidded to a halt as cage bars intercepted her path, splitting her off from Vaz as Vaz continued out of sight. Another set rose up behind her. "Vaz--" she started, her shout turning into a gasp when she gripped the bars and silver chains shot out to wravel about her arms and throat.

Snatching at the chains, she pulled against them, even as they attempted to drag her onto her knees. Argia broke the one at her throat, first, straining until she heard the links snap and felt them fall away. "Hate this," she grumbled, the words hissing through her teeth while she broke apart the chains trapping one arm, then the other. It still left the cage bars, however, and she gave them a harsh shake. Only a brief rattle was her reward.

Too much. Tonight was still too much. With a sharp cry, she slammed the side of her fist against the bars, eyes stinging as she sank to the ground. Resting her forehead against the unforgiving metal, she rubbed at her eyes. Jorath was going to hate her for losing Vaz. Should have been able to keep up with them. Should have been able to do more.... And now she was stuck, with no means to sense who was where.

Alone.

"I want to see your gardens again."

Sniffling, Argia blinked and looked sideways. Her breath hitched as she spotted the flowers now decorating the space of tunnel she was trapped within. "They're gladiolus flowers; one of my favorites," the memory whispered. The flowers had grown in a variety of colors: reds, yellows, purples, whites, and in between. She reached a hand out to caress one of the purple blooms. "--strength of character, integrity, and sincerity--" The vision faded and Argia's fingers passed through air.

Curling her fingers into a fist, Argia narrowed her gaze and picked herself off the ground in the next moment, inhaling deeply. She felt for that unfamiliar spark within herself, letting its heat nestle within her nerves and flush through her skin. Her palms grew hottest. Before, she had conjured an illusion of fire upon Atropos. Now, she wondered if she could make that fire real.

Summoning the broadsword, she felt the hilt warm within her grasp. For a moment, she stared at the bars. Then, she brandished the weapon, grunting as she stabbed the blade through the bars and turned so that the sharp edges pressed against the metal trap. The bars groaned. A word settled upon Argia's tongue and, before she stopped to puzzle over it, she let it flit into the air.

Flames crawled into existence upon Atropos's blade, traveling down the black crack-like imperfection. When it reached the tip, the fire ignited in full, washing the entire blade with shades of orange and yellow. The bars grew red in turn from the heat, droplets dripping to splash and sizzle upon the soil that made up the tunnel. With a forceful shout, Argia wrenched the blade sideways, slicing through the bars and cutting into the dirt wall in the single motion. Drawing the sword back, she made another swipe, this time at the bottom of the bars.

The echo of several clattering pieces of metal filled the tunnel. Argia hurried through the opening, Atropos still alight as she sprinted through the tunnel. She only stumbled when lifelines flickered into her awareness for a second. Xaal's was close. Turning in the direction she'd felt its rose-petal texture, Argia's wings fluttered and bristled from both relief and aggravation; Jorath and Maggie's lifelines weren't with the Guardian.

It took a few twists and turns before Argia finally found Xaal clinging to the wall as she moved, one wing dragging along the ground. "Xaal!" She hurried for the woman, Atropos dissipating from her grip as she brought both hands up to support Xaal. "What happened?" she pressed, coaxing the Fallen to sit down and rest as she eyed her wing. For a few breaths, all four snowy wings became that of a crow's, the secondary set a hybrid between feathered and leathery.

Argia reached out for the broken wing, her fingers delicately hovering above the black feathers splotched by ikaar. She remembered.... words. No, an incantation. Stiffening, she exhaled, green and black smoke billowing with her breath as the first healing word graced her tongue. Similar smoke pooled beneath her outstretched hand and the ache in her head throbbed. As she continued reciting the incantation, Argia gradually swept her hand over the breaks, a bare fraction away from physically touching the damaged wing as the magic caressed now-white feathers.

Blinking, Argia leaned back when she finished, gaze drifting to her hand as she stared at the vanishing smoke. Lifelines started returning to her notice and she looked up, letting it distract her from what had transpired. Xaal's wing was back to normal, as if the break had never occurred in the first place. Stuffing down the knot of uncertainty, Argia reached to help Xaal to her feet. "We found Er'anir's office and got what we came for. But I've lost Vaz. We need to find everyone and get out. Maggie's just on the floor above us."

---
Er'anir [[Still maintaining NPC status, not becoming a full character]]
She was humming as she hoisted Vaz along, her happy little tune disrupted only a couple times as she stopped to shake the Scribe anytime they attempted to struggle. "Behave!" Er'anir snapped at one point, brandishing the old bone fragment she'd kept from Jorath when they were last together. Taking the elevator, she headed up to the third floor, turning into a modestly sized room bare of any furnishings except a few cells and a tiny fireplace across the space.

"Here we are," Er'anir sang, sighing contentedly, even as she shoved Vaz into one of the cells. With a word, gold and silver chains rose from concealed compartments to lash out at the Scribe, securing them in place. "I hope that's cozy enough for you, Vee-Vee. I wouldn't want my prized guest to be uncomfortable; it's not good for paying attention to anything." Leaving the cell door open so that the bars wouldn't obscure any part of Vaz's view, Er'anir stepped away to twirl in the center of the room. "Lovely, isn't it? I just had this space made up recently. I know, it's missing a few furnishings, but you came a little sooner than I expected, quite honestly! Still, not an issue."

Crossing the room, she tapped the mantle of the fireplace, humming again. "I've been debating between adding paintings or trinkets that I've collected over the years. What do you think would go best, Vee-Vee, sweetie?" Reaching for the chest beside the fireplace, she opened the lid to pull out the items in question. "I just love oceans. The deeper you go, the less sound, did you know? All noise, just--" She mimed putting something in her mouth and swallowing it down. "--swallowed. Gone. A marvel when you consider how much life there is below the depths."

"Oh, but, this was always Jorath's favorite, so it must definitely get a spot on the mantle." Er'anir came closer to Vaz's cell. A smile coiled upon her face, a wickedness to the edge. She revealed the trinket to the Scribe, letting them absorb its appearance. Crafted from metal and a bit of glass, it perched within her palm. A tarnished brass ring was attached to the top, a strip of emerald glass in the top-most center section. The rest of it was shaped like a bulb or egg, metal embellishments decorating the emerald glass. Within, a tiny soul hovered, burning feebly. Like a lantern with little fuel.

Withdrawing the trinket and curling her fingers around it to hide it from sight again, Er'anir continued smiling. "The trinket was my idea." She preened under a sense of self-congratulation for such brilliance. "His very first soul contract; still feeds him power, too. It was so wonderful to share the achievement with him. I was proud; still very much am," she went on. "After this one, he went on to collect more. Well, whenever he wasn't eating them, of course." She giggled. "Such a glutton, sometimes. Mortal souls were a delectable treat for him."

Her expression soured then. "But you've ruined that for him! All those failed contracts? They were easy pickings for him, but you fouled each one. All of Hell knows, thanks to how fast gossip spreads. So envious of others who are treated better because they deserve better than you. You've done nothing but tarnish the good reputation that I helped him to build."

---
Taathiir
As Sarcyilia nodded, they mumbled out, "Yes, but he wouldn't let me tend to his injuries afterward. He just saw me to a safe place and then left."

At the mention of a meeting time, Taathiir reached for their pocket, pulling out the card Vaz had passed over. They inspected both sides and shook their head a second after. "No, unfortunately. Perhaps they're just trying to figure out the best time when both can be present? Maybe even discussing a couple potential dates as backups?" They fell silent, a touch of unease beginning to taint their thoughts. Lucy knew Vaz far better than Taathiir did. If she noted something seemed out of character, they were inclined to believe her.

She was rambling, as well, musing over the prospect of competing with Malvorin in the crafting of such devices. A way to strip him of the leverage he currently possessed. Taathiir was keen to latch upon the idea, driving a stronger desire to find Malvorin's first test subject into existence. Or perhaps, if they could find a way to locate the inventor--

Coffee? Taathiir's train of thought shifted as Lucy invited them to join a brief outing. Something to distract from the stress and the grief. "Yes, I'll join you. Give me ten minutes to set Fred and his team up, though. Maybe he'll be able to find something about Secos and xir children that we can utilize as payment if it presents a better solution. I'll meet you when I'm done."

They gave Sarcyilia their own light squeeze of comfort about her shoulder before stepping over to the desk and deactivating the recorder below. Its feed would upload to their computer for archiving later. Heading out of the office, they called Fred from their phone, skipping all greetings and pleasantries to get straight to the point. "Do you have your team selected?"

"Yes, sir. Is everything alright?" Fred inquired, apparently catching something in Taathiir's voice.

They held back a grimace. "Not really, no," they admitted. "I'll discuss it with you later. For now, I want you and your team to meet me. Going to make sure you get the equipment you need. There's a development and I can't guarantee it'll go over nicely."

"Yes, sir." Fred hung up as he shouted for someone on the other side of the line.

Taathiir met Fred and his group, consisting of six others (four demons and two Fallen), near the elevator that would lead to Lucy's underground domain. They nodded at the team, approving of the skills and abilities shared among them. Each of them were already familiar with Lucy's hidden works. Guiding the group below, Taathiir motioned towards the armory. Within, an assortment of prototypes, successful products, and a variety of other gear awaited. "Take whatever armor, weapons, analytical tools, and the like that you think you'll need. You're heading to something known as the blue moon cave. There might be a supernatural being who can take the shape of a bear in the area," Taathiir explained, noting only slight unease in one of the demons. "It might also just be empty. But it's associated with a deity that's currently too weak to wake fully. Don't hesitate to return if you feel you can't handle whatever happens."

The demons nodded, Fred giving a slight salute to lighten the mood a fraction. "On it, Boss-Lite." A couple snickers ensued, breaking the tension further as the team began to loosen up and grow excited for the looming expedition. The firsts to potentially discover something new and bring it back for examination. Sometimes, the best find even scored a few extra points with Lucy and allowed the chance to work directly with her on whatever it was. (It was a hushed, but known, friendly little competition among peers within Lucy's circle.)

Once Fred's team was ready, Taathiir took them back up and the group dispersed. Taathiir made their own way back to Lucy and Sarcyilia.

Edited by ValidEmotions

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Xaal

 

Instinctively the Guardian’s wings flared as she heard the call of her name, which only prompted another spasm of pain from the broken limb. She bit into her lip and pounded a fist against the wall she was leaning on to endure it, before turning to eye Argia with caution. As she dismissed her weapon and ran towards Xaal though her fear over a new aggressor began to ebb away. After a brief check of her aura Xaal wilfully rested her weight against Argia and grit her teeth as she coaxed her into a seated position.

 

‘Mag’than tried to run, think she got hit by trap. Jorath and I continued. Jorath was caught. I tried to follow, but problem.’

 

She finished the series of gestures with a mournful motion towards the ceiling of the tunnel, indicating that she had tripped up the same sort of teleport trap as the one that Argia and Vaz had fallen victim to. A dread crossed her mind as her golden eyes focused on the tunnel behind them and realised that Vaz wasn’t following from behind. In fact, despite the waning shroud that the building was recovering from, she couldn’t sense Vaz’s aura at all.

 

‘Did you teleport with Vaz? I can not find them. Do you know where they are?!’

 

Briefly Xaal tried to rise back to her feet, fearing the worst, but the broken wing kept her from getting too far off of the ground. Instead she sat, her tear-stained gaze snapping towards Argia’s and watching in fascination as the green and black smoke issued from her. A sensation that was simultaneously warming and cooling spread throughout her wing, and Xaal flinched as she felt the feathered limb snap itself back into place. It wasn’t painful, but certainly an odd and unexpected sensation.

 

‘You said you could only heal yourself?’

 

Still, Xaal wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. After briefly flexing out the limb to test it she quickly motioned for Argia to dismiss those words, deciding it was a discussion for later. The wing was still tender and pinched a little when she moved it, but now it felt more like she was shaking off the remnants of some light bruising and muscle ache, coupled with a few broken feather shards.

 

’Nevermind. Thank you, thank you much. I know healing magic can be very draining. Should save the rest for someone who needs it more.'

 

Though, granted, Argia looked like she was handling herself reasonably well, even offering Xaal a hand to get back to her feet which she gladly accepted. Gingerly Xaal folded her wings against her back and grimaced at Argia’s own recount of what had happened during her wandering through the tunnels.

 

‘Vaz is not a fighter. Important not to leave them alone.’

 

Bemoaned the angel, her hands then clenching together in an anxious manner as she stepped forward. The tone to her voice was angrier than she intended, so she then shot Argia an apologetic expression and clenched her fists for a moment to channel it into something more useful and start to recharge her energy reserves.

 

‘Sorry. Not your fault. I am angry about losing Jorath. Saved me from a bad trap.’

 

Her fingers then graced the arm of her recently healed wing, tracing over her feathers until she plucked one more from it. As she paced forward the feather hovered in her hands, spinning and lengthening as its tip grew barbed. Within a minute a new arrow had formed, which was then swiftly added to the nearly-empty amount still clattering about in her quiver. She pulled out another feather and began to repeat the transformation, pausing only to continue the conversation with Argia.

 

‘Are you okay? Did you see anything bad?’

 

More feathers began to drift through the air as the duo climbed the stairs to the next floor, though instead of the colourful variety from before all were now drenched in the dark, inky ikaar from the top floor. Xaal lifted her chin and refused to look down at the floor, hoping that the squelching sound now beneath her boots would fade away this time if she refused to look at the ink puddle she was stepping through.

 

----

 

Vaz

 

Through the thick haze of their mind Vaz tried in vain to scour through The Compendium for any hint of something that would turn the tides on the situation they found themself in, but with the infernal influence coursing through them The Archives were but a distant echo. They felt a flicker in their chest pocket, and feebly reached up to place their hand over it and quell Kaa-Taakiir’s building rage. 

 

Nondum.

 

Murmured Vaz, which earned them a snarl from Er’anir to behave. An eye along the back of their hand caught sight of the bone fragment and they went silent, desperation settling in as they caught traces of the familiar, silver lettering of its aura and registered that it did indeed belong to Jorath. She had found him already.

 

Vaz didn’t struggle any more, even as she trilled that they had reached their destination and dragged them into a cell. It was only when the gold and silver chains suddenly latched around their limbs did Vaz stir once more, gasping for breath as they felt the cold metal latch around all four of their limbs and more chains wrap around their abdomen to ensure that their wings stayed sheathed. Er’anir’s form wavered and her voice grew distant, the silhouette of a towering angel with eight wings now sneering down at Vaz as they struggled against the chains. 

 

We can do this for a millennium, Veritas. If you can not even get this right, you will face demotion once more.

 

Vaz scrunched their eyes shut and whimpered in reply. Gouges in their back, both old and new, ached in response to the winged figure’s words. The towering individual sighed heavily, a bored and exasperated tone to the words they projected into Vaz’s mind as they turned towards a more vague outline of one of the six-winged varieties of angel standing behind them.

 

Once more from the top. If we run out of feathers, start with the eyes.

 

The angel twirled and more words flowed from them, but they were now off-script. Slowly the mismatched voice anchored Vaz back to the present, and the angel’s form faded back to Er’anir’s as she directed their attention to the furnishings for inspection. Vaz watched her in a resigned manner as she started to rifle through a chest near the fireplace, more eyes spawning along their limbs to absorb their surroundings. A tiny glimmer of hope sparked in them as they realised Jorath was nowhere to be found, but it was quickly extinguished as they remembered the bone fragment she held. Was he being held in another room somewhere, then? Or, perhaps, had she just picked up the makeshift weapon from the ground somewhere?

They needed to keep her here. Distract her from their fellow demon and just beg that Lady Luck was feeling merciful to Jorath today. Vaz swallowed down the bile in their throat and starred down at the tiny soul imprisoned in the trinket, taking note of her comment that it still somehow fed him power to this day. Was this only a fragment of the unfortunate soul, then? Where did Jorath keep the rest of it?

 

An icy sensation prickled at the back of their neck and shivered down their spine as Er’anir turned the conversation back towards Vaz’s failures. The scribe closed their eyes and looked away, feeling the ebb of an unwavering truth to her words as she spoke of the people in their life that deserved better than the tired old zuul who kept dragging them down. Under breath Vaz murmured out an apology in aeiuwn, their thoughts drifting to Jorath. They weren't deaf to what people called him these days, Mag'than alone had been a contemptible reminder of several terms for the past few hours they'd had the displeasure of knowing her from. They knew how it must put so much strain on Jorath's daily life just to be associated with them, and even though Vaz put so much effort into finding ways to make up for it, most attempts ended up feeling like they just made everything worse. Er'anir was right. Vaz didn't deserve him. And it was foolish to think otherwise-

 

“You're not allowed to tell me what I can or cannot tie my value to when you won't accept that you deserve more than you think.”

 

The echo of the earlier conversation was faint, but like a lantern at sea it abruptly flickered through the fog of their mind and gave Vaz a direction to focus on. The scribe settled on Jorath’s words and, after some thought, started to wind their mind back to what Er’anir said. Breathe. Think. The truth is malleable. If you can’t find a lie to tear apart yet start prodding until they expose one.

 

“…I’m quite fond of oceans too, actually. Now that you mention it.”

Er’anir squinted in response, obviously not expecting that to be the tangent Vaz followed through on of all things. She opened her mouth to inquire, but Vaz cut her off with more tired rambling that may have been the result of a slight delirium kicking in.

 

“Spent a good portion of my life at sea. I’m sure Takut told you all about it. The crew would dig up all sorts of weird and wonderful things from its depths, fascinating things to be dissected and studied or sold for a pretty price.”

 

The demon blinked, mildly disbelieving, then drawled out her bored response. She was finally getting the voice she wanted, but its content so far held little of use.

 

“Is there a point to this story, Vee-Vee?”

 

“Oh I always have a point, darling. Even if it’s not an obvious one. At the moment I’m trying to decide whether I’ve just won an old bet.”

“Old bet?”

“Oh, yes. See the crew used to have this little competition every year for who could scrounge up the ugliest creature of the deep. I’d love to know which abyss a repulsive, miserable wretch like you crawled out of so I can recommend their next fishing spot.”

 

Er’anir’s smile endured but her gaze grew cold. Vaz starred back in defiance, a smirk twitching onto their face. It was quickly removed when she entered the cell once more, grabbed them by the cheek, and drove in her nails as they morphed into long, sharpened claws. Vaz stifled another snarl of pain as the vision in their left eye dimmed and they felt fresh ikaar start to drip down the side of her face.

 

“That’s for the quill.”

 

She hissed, her visible eye narrowing in contempt before her looks softened into the sickly-sweet smile from before. Er’anir tutted as she looked down at her hand, inspecting the newer splashes of inky ikaar that mingled with the older stains from the wound she had inflicted with the bone shard. She reached over and wiped the excess onto Vaz’s coat collar.

 

“Goodness, this stuff really does stain everything doesn’t it? Suits you well though, Vee-Vee. It also ruins everything it touches.”

 

She then bent down to cup Vaz by the chin, forcing their gaze upwards. It bent their head back at an unnatural angle, straining the injury to their shoulder against the chains and forcing them to grit their fangs together to avoid giving her the satisfaction of another pained yelp. Er’anir didn’t even ask anything of them, content just to keep a firm grip on their face and draw out the misery of the situation for what felt like hours to the scribe.

 

“Error. Phone is been calling, yes? Ignorance.”

 

A new voice graced the room, and Er’anir removed their hold in favour of glancing over at the silhouette of Takut posing in a haggard manner within the doorway. She wavered slightly as she starred down at the duo, her once-white business suit absolutely drenched with ink and charcoal. What little was visible of her skin was covered in a lattice of gashes and quill-sized stab-marks, and when she moved further into the room it was clear she was suppressing a wince. Vaz took note of her still semi-garbled speech and choked out a guffaw, which was cut short when Er’anir reached down for another one of the chains and started to loop it around their neck. Instantly Vaz’s eyes widened and they strained against the shackles, unable to pull away as she increased the pressure around their throat and stepped back to hold onto the ends as if they were a dog on a leash.

“Takut, sweetie, I’m a bit busy here. Why don’t you go clean yourself up?”

Er’anir mused, pouting over in the direction of the disgruntled fear demon. Vaz started to choke out something in aeiuwn and she then baulked from the realisation, quickly tightening the chains until the incantation was silenced by Vaz choking for the air she was denying them. Takut eyed her in mild confusion, half understanding her, before her gaze flickered back over to Vaz and a frown etched itself onto her features.

 

“Musical avian not-flight anymore. Caged. Floor of thirds is the residence of new.”

 

Vaz suddenly closed their eyes and slumped forward, hitting the floor of the cage with a dull thud. Takut’s hand twitched in response, as if contemplating signalling something to Er’anir, before it lowered at her side once more. Her eyes traced, briefly, over the wound in their back and the amount of ikaar still oozing from it as Er’anir exhaled in an exasperated manner.

 

“Oh for f***s sake. Couldn’t even handle that! Get up Vee-Vee we’re not done here!”

She yanked forward on the chain, but Vaz’s form remained limp and unresponsive. A moment later Takut emitted a deep rumble from her throat and wheezed a few times, pounding her fist against her chest. Er’anir wrinkled her nose and dropped the hold on the chain so that she could distance herself. Takut proceed to cough up a mouthful of ink onto the floor, followed by two more as Er’anir emitted a noise of disgust and scooted away.

“Been trying to text you. Looks like the guards found your little Songbird. They’ve got him tied up somewhere on the third floor at the moment.”

Announced the demon, her voice rasped but her speech coherent once more. Her eyes shifted towards Vaz as she continued, focusing again on their back with a puzzled expression.

“…I’ll get the Bookworm talking again. You go and fetch my other new plaything.”

 

 

 

Lucy

 

“Sure it ain’t just in code or another language or something? They forget not everyone has a bunch of dictionaries floating around in their head sometimes.”

Lucy craned her neck and inspected the contents of Taathiir’s business card, hoping to point out a new symbol or a phase to translate and wrinkling her brow when she found it to be completely blank. After a moment she dismissed the question with a shrug, choosing to invest her assumptions into Taathiir’s suggestion that Vaz just needed some time to work around a busy schedule. She supposed that could be it. Though if recent reports were anything to go by it sounded like Vaz’s workload had significantly decreased in the last century or two, around about the same time it became public knowledge that they would likely be involving Jorath in whatever contract they were tasked with.

 

“…Hm. Well. Yeah maybe they’re just busy, I guess. We’ll meet you downstairs Taathy, thanks for organising that you’re a doll as always.”

She waved the fallen collector off, before nudging at Sarcyilia’s arm and guiding the both of them out of the office.

 

“They felt just like real wings, they were more than just a fake set. I could feel the muscles in them, when they knocked into the shelf I could sense how it bent back my feathers. I...I think I could have even flown if given the chance.”

 

Though her lip quivered while she walked and talked, Lucy had to give Sarcyilia credit for otherwise maintaining her composure as she described the sensation of the prosthetic she had briefly been graced with. A delicate arm slung over the healer’s shoulders, and Lucy drew her closer as they strolled towards the coffee shop that had situated itself on the ground floor of the office. Customers were usually scarce at this hour, with today being no exception as Lucy pried open the door and stepped inside to greet the barista.

 

“Ah, Penny, long time no see. Can I have a table for four please? Somewhere a bit more private, please?”

Penny, whom was a demon that was barely an inch shorter than Fred and had the muscles to match him, beamed in response and ducked around the counter to lead the both of them to a quiet booth situated at the back of the shop. One other demon sat at the table directly across from it, a bubbly individual that Lucy had come to know by the name of Zoe in recent years. She was a newer recruit of Auris Domniir, having of only been with them for a few months, but she showed some great potential in one day becoming part of Lucy’s inner circle. At the very least, Lucy was always keen to hear the sort of gossip she picked up on during her daily ventures through the city.

“Mornin’ Zoe darling, surprised to see you here on your own.”

Called Lucy as she motioned for Sarcyilia to take a seat at the booth before joining her from across the table. Zoe, predictably, rose from her own spot and wandered over to greet the duo. Judging from the cup of coffee she had brought over with her and the half-completed crossword she had decided that she would now be joining them. The corner of Lucy’s mouth twitched in response, recognising that they would potentially have to delay proper discussion of Secos until Zoe excused herself, but it was soon buried under another dazzling grin as she slid over to make room for the eccentric young demon. 

 

“Oh Lucy, darling, I’ve had a shocker of a day let me tell you. People in and out of the shop all day - whinging about the prices, absolute nightmare.”

Zoe trilled, making herself cosy in the centre of the bench. Sarcyilia smiled politely at her unexpected appearance but seemed a little more uncertain with the new arrival than Lucy was, merely mumbling out a greeting before burying her face into the menu resting on the table before her. Lucy excused herself for a moment, fishing out her phone and scrolling to the name ‘Izzy’ in her contacts list to type out a quick message.

 

‘Hey honey, do me a favour and track down Gneni pretty please ❤️ Tell them I’m in the coffee shop.’

She then pocketed the phone once more and clasped her hands together in an excited manner, regarding the both of them with a cheerful grin.

“Ah, you poor thing Zoe. Mortals can get so pedantic about things, can’t they? Did you at least hear anything interesting to mention while you were out? You know, just between us girls and all.”

Edited by Lycanious
Grammar fixes

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Jorath
Any time he recovered some modicum of energy, Jorath pushed against Four Horns, earning himself a new broken rib, an electrical shock, or solid hit that made him question the chances of a concussion from the amount of vision issues it caused. When had they stopped moving? He blinked, spotting the rope that was now tied about his hands and wrists with no recollection of Four Horns ever pulling it out. For a moment, as desperation began to coil in his thoughts, Jorath started to reach out to his Realm, a thread of consciousness brushing up against the power that he kept locked away.

He pulled back from it, however, still unable to get past the violent nausea it threatened to call up within him. Reflexively, he sent a silent apology that Jorath knew would never reach its target; he'd lost track of the individual a long time ago. "Up," Four Horns said, the command sharp and heavy. The demon jerked him back onto his feet. Jorath flinched, swinging his bound hands to try and club Four Horns. Instead, the demon caught his wrists and twisted his arms in a direction they couldn't go. Jorath snarled, dropping to his knees to avoid broken bones.

"Brizran! I told you to be delicate with him!" Jorath stiffened at Er'anir's voice and Brizran released his arms. Brizran started to grumble but Er'anir cut him off, slapping the demon across the face before focusing upon Jorath. She knelt down and started petting his hair and face, making soft cooing sounds of sympathy. Her icy touch caused raw flesh to sting. "Songbird, I'm sorry. I told the brute to be gentle, but look at you!" She glanced back at Brizran with a glare, green eye scanning up and down the demon's figure before making a contemptuous sound. "Serves him right that you would break one of his horns, Songbird." Brizran scowled in response.

Attempting to jerk away from her touch, Jorath growled at her. "Stop. Don't touch me. I--"

Er'anir tsk'd, resting a finger against his mouth. "I know you're hurting. I'll get you fixed up as soon as we head to your new room. I had some of Takut's followers make up something special for you. You can help me decorate it to your tastes," she said, grabbing his arm and hoisting him up before pushing him towards Brizran. In the same motion, she reached for Illstrund clutched in the demon's hand. "Thank you, Breezy. Ah, my dear little Euklai; I missed you, too," she purred, hands turning and weaving as the chain stirred to life and slithered between her fingers.

She motioned for them to get moving. Jorath struggled to get a full breath of air, his chest tightening and sweat beading upon his brow as he started thrashing against Brizran once more. Rope snapped apart beneath his claws. Chanting whispered within his ears, echoing through his thoughts. Brizran hurried to keep Jorath restrained but he lashed out, claws scoring across the demon's face. His fingers hooked within Brizran's mouth and Jorath snarled, slamming the larger demon's head upon the ground.

His balance was off, though, and Jorath staggered to keep from falling over, bumping into the wall as he rushed to put distance between himself and the other two. Er'anir was making a disapproving sound behind him. "Songbird, darling, sweetheart," she said, continuing through a list of pet names and terms of endearment until she caught up to his stumbling form. Her hands rested on his arm, gripping gently but firmly before pushing him to the wall to cease his retreat. He couldn't breathe, head light and vision dim.

Panic.

"No," Jorath murmured over and over, even as Er'anir made soothing sounds and brushed her hand against his neck. The shackle hidden beneath his human guise materialized into view at the touch, her finger toying with the broken links that dangled from it. A sigil revealed itself upon the metal, beginning to glow faintly. There was pain in every part of his body and then--

Brizran was dragging him again, and Jorath flailed. Er'anir was saying something about getting him fed once they reached their destination. "Just wait a minute longer, Jorath dear; I have a wonderful treat waiting for you that you're sure to love," she giggled out, sighing happily as she ran fingers through her hair to tidy it up.

Finally, they passed through a doorway and Jorath grunted and hissed as he was shoved into a cell, the barred door swinging into place. He fumbled forward, slamming his shoulder into the bars. Once, twice, and a weak thrice. He growled as he did so. A string of swears and pleas rushed from his lips in his old language, silenced abruptly when he glanced over and spotted Takut and Vaz across the room. His eyes widened and his knuckles whitened as he gripped the bars. He started shouting again, Vaz's name trailing after the words of his language.

"Songbird, sweetheart, please. I know how much you hate cages and I hate having to put you in them. But you'll get to come out soon enough; just stop fighting and be patient for a little bit." Er'anir's smile faded a fraction. Then she turned and smirked at Vaz, though she still glared. "Sahthlua sounds so lovely when he uses it, no? One of the prettiest voices I've heard. I bet you want to know what my little songbird said, don't you?"

---
Argia
Shaking her head, unsure of how to answer Xaal's remark about her healing abilities, Argia pressed her hands together. "I'm sorry. Vaz started running when we heard Jorath scream and I got stuck in a trap; we were separated." Though Xaal had waved off the matter with an apology of her own, Argia had stammered to address it. She entwined her fingers together, fidgeting. Moving on to answer the Guardian's additional questions, she drifted her gaze to the feathers in the tunnel.

"We saw remnants of the Culling and Vaz had a bad reaction to something about Azrael; they urged for us to get away from the illusion before I could witness anything. So we ran from it and they kept apologizing for it." Argia hesitated before continuing on. "I saw Kirit and Meztli, though I'm not sure why; I don't have any fear of them. But, there were... illusions, that Vaz claimed weren't from their memories and that kept breaking apart." She trailed off, puzzling over it. "I think Takut's illusions were having trouble activating and staying active. I mean, why would she place illusions that had nothing to do with Vaz or I? It seemed more like they were focused on Taathiir's past and--" The name refused to leave her tongue.

Perhaps it didn't matter. As Argia stared at the inky liquid squelching beneath their footsteps, she noticed the bubbling that had started to occur. "You said that Jorath saved you from a bad trap..." She took a step back. As she watched, a figure started rising. The liquid didn't cling to them, however, their four horns protruding from their bald head as they appeared to climb out of the liquid. "What... kind of trap, exactly?" Argia breathed out.

The demon's figure seemed to glitch, buzzing in and out before solidifying. As his hand came free of the inky pool, her eyes were immediately drawn to the ruined brown wings dangling from his grasp. Golden and smoky ikaar poured from the severed ends. "I appreciate your services," he said. "You were very helpful to our efforts." His swept his hand out, the sound of snarls answering him.

Scythe coming to hand, Argia glanced about, seeing more figures materialize at both ends of the tunnel. Several were humanoid while a few were more beast-like and on all fours, each one phasing in and out as if struggling to maintain physical form. "Careful now. We wouldn't want the Devourer to wrongfully reap any mortal souls. So, act wisely."

She grew cold, freezing beneath the illusions gaze, even as the other beings jumped forward to attack. When one hit her from the side, Argia impacted with the wall. It snapped her out of the daze, however, and she slashed ungracefully with her scythe. The blade passed through the figure and orange soulfire burst free of the body. A startled cry escaped her before she was aware it occurred. "No! That's not right!" she sputtered, jerking when she noticed movement in her periphery, scrambling to deflect the beast that lunged at her.

"Where's the Preserver? Where's your Shield?"

Argia was shoved to the ground, liquid and damaged feathers splattering around her as the animalistic demon wrenched her scythe from her grip and tossed it aside. It splashed somewhere out of her sight. Teeth bit into her arm that had been aimed for her face or throat, claws tearing for her chest. Lojaal zipped by while she flailed with her wings, trying to batter the demon off. The quill stabbed through its eye, passing harmlessly as the creature phased out. Atropos didn't come to her hand when she called for it again.

"Where is your Shield, Devourer? Left you abandoned after you failed to help them. Stuck on the sidelines, all because of the mortals in your midsts."

"Where is Atropos?" Argia questioned, blotting out the illusory demon as best she could. She stumbled aside to dodge another creature, this one breaking apart as its claws snagged the hem of her dress. Something else hit her from behind, knocking her to the ground once more. She tried to push herself up, but the demon weighed her down. Claws gripped the arms of her wings and, for a moment, air seized in her throat.

"Where is The Shield?"

Reaching for the Auris Domniir token, Argia tore it in two, Razathna's name flying from her tongue in the same breathless moment.

---

"The audacity of it all," Zoe sighed in agreement, making a frustrated gesture with her free hand. At Lucy's question for gossip, though, she beamed. "Have I? You know I always do, sweetums." She grinned, lips curling to her eyes in a manner that suggested mischief. "You know how I deal in the spell trade, right? Well, a comely little demon of a client tonight couldn't help but run his mouth the entire time during our exchange. Prattled on about some new demons arriving in the city the last couple days. So far, they haven't joined up with any factions it seems, meaning there's some fresh real estate to bid on, if you know what I mean." She winked at Lucy. "From what it sounds like, they're all residing in the same spot of neutral territory for the time being."

Briefly, Zoe's gaze jumped to Sarcyilia and she pouted. "You look outright cold, or like you've seen a ghost, darling." She chortled at her own words, a knowing grin upon her features. "Assuming there's ever a ghost scarier than a demon." When it only resulted in Sarcyilia shifting a little closer to Lucy instead of a response Zoe had hoped for, the woman's cheer dimmed slightly. She blinked. "Well, alright. I admit, I'm not always the best at jokes..." She powered on, flipping a lock of her hair back over her shoulder and sipping at her coffee. "Anyways--" Zoe trilled, stopping when an approaching body caught her notice.

Gneni sang out a 'hello', planting themself in the empty seat. Spotting Zoe's incomplete crossword puzzle, they hummed and snatched it to take a better look, ignoring the demon's shocked protest. "You're using the wrong word here, fledgling. I recommend "satchel", instead." Passing it back to Zoe, they watched as she glared at them then at the puzzle, expression brightening when she realized it fixed the block she'd been encountering. Gneni grinned and turned to Lucy. "So, what are you lovelies discussing and how can I make the conversation even more fun? I can start a scandalous rumor, a juicy legend that leads to a disappointing treasure, or anything else; just name it."

---
Taathiir
They spotted Gneni ahead on the way to the coffee shop within the building. Taathiir nearly called out to the deity until they realized the being was already on track to meet up with Lucy and Sarcyilia. Taathiir's hand graced the doorknob when they straightened, gaze turning towards the office building's entrance. Their brow wrinkled in the slightest as they paused. As the torn sigils Taathiir had inked within the summoning token sparked into their awareness, they glanced at the coffee shop door. They lowered their hand and took a step back.

Why would Vaz be summoning them without once providing a date to meet and speak? It could have been Jorath's idea, for all of Taathiir's unfamiliarity with either individual. Heading for the entrance, they fished their phone out of their pocket and pulled up the message thread with Lucy.

I've been summoned. Heading out to see what Vaz needs. Will return shortly. Feel free to start without me.

Taathiir still didn't see it as necessary but, since they had already ruffled Lucy's feathers tonight about leaving abruptly without word, they figured it best to just send the message. The entrance doors were in sight and Taathiir uttered a word. A thin, dark tendril materialized, spiraling around them as they walked. Just before they reached the door, the tendril touched the ground and they were transported to the torn token.

For a disorienting second, Taathiir swore they heard fighting. In the next second, that sensation was brushed aside and their vision cleared. There was, to their startled distress, in fact, fighting. Discovering themself underground, Taathiir staggered a step aside, trying to absorb what was occurring before them. When their eye drew to Argia, they bristled and rushed forward. The demon they grabbed for seemed to solidify under their grasp and Taathiir grunted, throwing the creature away from her. "Naya--Argia," Taathiir gasped, stopping part way to correct themself. They reached down to help her up. "What is--"

They discovered the black and red wings fluttering against her back.

Something like shock, disbelief, or possibly horror passed through them before Taathiir could shake it off, forcing themself to focus on the more pressing matter at hand: the conflict. "Ah, there is the Shield. The one who couldn't provide the protection that was assured in their very name. How's your eye?"

They knew that voice. Turning, they scowled at the four-horned demon. "I killed you once already; I'll gladly kill you again, Kiva." It drew a rumbling chuckle from the demon.

"You recognize the illusion?" Argia asked beside them, unexpectedly.

"You don't?" Taathiir asked back, brow wrinkled. They shook their head, motioning for Argia to not respond. "Later," they said, taking note of the other demons that were moving. There was an angel here, too, and they quickly cited an incantation to conjure tendrils behind her. The demon that had leapt at her instead crashed into the unyielding barrier.

Atropos billowed into their hand, the broadsword's hilt a long-missed feeling. "Impossible," Argia breathed at Taathiir's back. A moment after, more smoke materialized, trailing to her hands and taking on Naoxral's shape. She startled, causing Taathiir even further confusion about her state.

They decided to concern themself with that later. As they stepped towards Kiva, the glitching illusions grew more stable, allowing their sword to cause real damage to the attacking demons. Throwing the blade to pierce a demon and pin it to the wall, Taathiir grappled with another creature. An incantation danced upon their mouth. Their hand passed through the beast's chest, only to withdraw with a soul clutched between their claws. They crushed it and the demon dissipated.

Summoning Atropos back, Taathiir continued their path to Kiva, barely glimpsing Argia's uncertain, frozen state off to the side. They had nearly forgotten how horror and despair etched into her features, and it pained them to see it again. Kiva's laugh recaptured their attention and they swung Atropos in a downward arc, slicing from the demon's shoulder to his opposite hip.

Kiva leapt aside, striking out with his own sword that materialized as he moved. Metal clanged. Despite the physical state of the demons, Taathiir sensed no lifelines from them. It was reassuring, even if the rest of the underground tunnels and the building above contained many lifelines, most they didn't recognize. But the few that Taathiir did helped to orient their understanding of the situation at hand. "Find the sigil," Taathiir called out, to either the snowy-winged archer or to Argia. "Destroy it so we can be done with this." Kiva pushed them back and Taathiir reengaged, swords clashing with each strike.

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Vaz

 

Takut stepped aside as Er’anir promptly tore herself away from her captive to fetch Jorath. The demon watched the now-empty doorframe for a moment, then pulled the door shut and lock it from the inside. Takut cracked her knuckles together and strode across the room to pose in front of the cell that Vaz had been shoved into. A permanent scowl seemed to be etched onto her face as she took in the sight of the fallen scribe. Placing one hand upon her hip, she scuffed the toe of her shoe against the side of the cell and cleared her throat.

 

“I know you can hear me, Bookworm.”

 

Vaz’s body remained motionless, but a single eye along the back of their hand opened up to gaze in Takut’s direction. The fear demon’s face wrestled with conflicting emotions, unsure whether to be snide over the fact she was right or cautious as to why the scribe was suddenly so willing to give up the game.

 

“Oh? How did you know?”

 

Slurred Vaz. Their voice was hoarse, and speckles of ink sprinkled onto the floor as they spoke, but Takut none-the-less felt the hairs at the back of her neck prickle in a warning. Takut sucked in the air through her teeth, weighing her options, before answering their question.

 

“I remembered that you can’t sheathe your wings while unconscious. Even with the chains, should have seen some feathers at least.”

 

“Oh dear. How careless of me.”

 

“Don’t try that s*** on me. I know you wouldn’t let hiding your wings get in the way of a convincing performance.”

 

The wounded scribe finally started to move, rolling their head to the side and finding a way to plaster a smirk across their features as they glanced up at her.

 

“You think I kept them sheathed on purpose then?”

 

“Yes. Why?”

 

Vaz shrugged. Or at least, it was the closest they could get to attempting a shrug with a busted shoulder and several chains looped around them. Takut’s eyes narrowed. She knew better than to assume that Vaz did much of anything without an overly-pedantic amount of thought put into it first.

 

“Perhaps I just wanted to chat to you properly this time, darling? It’s been years, after all.”

 

“We tried that. You ran off like the snivelling little coward that you are.”

“Need I remind you that Yax’Othlzhu was about to attack the pair of us?”

 

“That was one of Er’anir’s hires.”

 

Vaz made a noise of exaggerated intrigue, as though that fact was a very fascinating fact indeed and warranted further discussion. Movement rustled in their pockets, the scribe’s eyes glazing as they sifted through the paperwork within until they withdrew a hastily-scribbled note that had been fetched from Er’anir’s desk. The note floated over into Takut’s hands, who after a suspicious squint down at the scribe, plucked it from the air to read.


“What’s this?”

 

Takut ventured, frowning as she recognised both the handwriting upon it and the aura surrounding it as Er’anir’s.

 

“Hm. Not much, dear. Just a little reminder note that she owes Yax a soul for some recent favour. I found it on her desk.”

“Must be old, then, I told her to fire him the second you two lily-livers scampered-“

“The ink is fresh. Written only a few hours ago. And trust me my dear, I would know. Sounds like someone had her own little plan going on behind your back there.”

 

Silence filled the room. Takut bit her lip, confused, and despite the prickle that occurred at the back of her neck once more she found herself prompting the ancient Archiver for answers.

 

“…Why are you showing me this, Bookworm?”

Muttered the demon, her eyes flickering down to the now-healed spot on their abdomen where she remembered inflicting a serious wound. Vaz’s pose seemed to sag in reply, genuine regret flickering into their eyes that took the younger demon by surprise.

 

“You were always a bright one, Arga’ettakut. I’ve seen the sort of sigils you’ve been crafting down here. I remember how close you once were to becoming a Lord in your own right. And I know how much hard work you lost overnight when Skrul lost his status as one.”

 

Vaz sighed, flicking their head slightly. Kaa’Taakiir wriggled free from their chest pocket and floated towards the other demon, hovering invitingly near her hand. Takut eyed the quill cautiously, one hand lowering from the note to instead brush against the ruby that had been handed over to her upon successfully returning from The Archives.

 

“…I still hate you.”

“Oh I’m sure of it, my dear. But that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to make up for one of my mistakes all the same. Call it an old, angel sentiment if you will. I have reason to believe Er’anir is trying to undermine you, my dear. Once she has enough power…enough control over your resources…”

Vaz shrugged again, letting the implication of their words hang in the air for a moment for her to consider. 

 

“Well. I’d just hate to see you start over from scratch yet again, my dear.”

 

Takut twitched her head, defiant, and yet the fact that such words came from the Scribe of Truth made her give it pause for consideration despite the circumstances the two found themselves in.

“Do you have more proof of this?”

 

“Hm, not while I’m bleeding out my dear. You shall have to do some of the thinking yourself. But surely, a simple test of her loyalty would give you the answers you need?”

 

Their eye flickered towards the quill, lips pulled tight as they continued to calculate their next move.

“And if she fails? Well, we both know who you can call on to teach her a lesson if she won’t back down. You have all that you need right here. All that I ask is that you let me take Jorath as far as f***ing possible away from here, and away from her.”

Takut paused, and then hesitantly nodded in agreement. Looking back over at the Fallen being, she scrunched up the note and pocketed it before hesitantly taking hold of the quill before her.

 

“…I can sense her coming back. She has your friend.”

Vaz scrunched up their face in remorse, but after a deep breath buried the feeling towards the back of their mind once more. They watched as Takut strolled back across the room and opened the door for Er’anir’s arrival, tension spiking as they saw Jorath be dragged into his own cell and Brizran excused. Vaz felt their eyes sting as they watched him thrash against the bars, letting the desire for vengeance on his behalf fuel them and give them the motivation to answer Er’anir as she mocked them.

 

“What makes you think I don’t know what he’s saying, darling?”

Purred Vaz in reply, craning their neck so that they could focus their uninjured, main eye onto one of Jorath’s own. A sliver of gold edged into their usual amber, the Scribe of Truth calling out to the information locked away in his brain before it dimmed again and Vaz slumped in their chains. Not enough energy. Even if Jorath was willing to maintain the eye-contact, Vaz couldn’t focus their abilities enough to make use of it. Their mind started to cloud again, but then Jorath’s distress brought them back into focus. Vaz shook their head, clearing the fog, and tried a different approach. 

 

They recognised one of the words for something Jorath had shouted at them before. It meant ‘flee’, or ‘be free’, or something along the lines of telling Vaz that they needed to run when faced with a particularly dangerous opponent. And there was another word they registered from skimming over the first page of Er’anir’s translation notes, ‘silence’. A command to Vaz, maybe? An indication that Jorath couldn’t tell them something? Or was it a request to stop Er’anir speaking? Vaz mulled over their choices with a wrinkle in their brow. Another glance was sent up towards Jorath. A tremor ran through one of their hands, Vaz miming the tossing of a coin as best as they could with the restraints around their wrist, before they buried the motion in an attempt to wrench their hand out of the shackle. They could feel Er’anir’s icy gaze boring into their own, a giggle drawing their attention back towards her.

“Nice try Vee-Vee, but Takut warned me about how you work. I know all your tricks-“

“I believe he requested for you to shut up, Er’anir.”

Interrupted Vaz, a smile curling at the corner of their mouth as Er’anir’s faded. The waver in her demeanour was the signal that motivated Vaz to power on, grasping for any other tangents they could trail into to keep her distracted from Jorath or give them ample chance to start digging their own claws in under her skin.

 

“And a word of advice, darling, perhaps if you weren’t such a repugnant, loathsome little toad he wouldn’t be currently pleading with me that we need to get out of here. It’s astounding, really. I’ve never seen a siren with such a talent for making herself so repulsive to another being.”

Continued the scribe. Er’anir seemed to have frozen, a cold fury gathering in her eyes as she latched onto Vaz’s voice. Vaz could feel her presence, like a hand resting on their throat and another pressing against their temple, and they let their face distort into another irritating smirk as they registered a frustration on her behalf.

 

It was hard to draw out lies to turn against your opponent, after all, when they were incapable of stating any of them.

 

“Is that why you need the chains, Er’anir? Because it’s the only way you can deceive yourself into thinking that anyone would actually want to spend any extra time in your general vicinity than they needed to?”

 

Shut up.”

 

She hissed under breath. 

 

“Make me. You grotesque, hedge-born, loathsome waste of the air that you putrify with every breath that emits from your gormless maw.”

 

Vaz ended the tirade with a laugh, bitter, which then devolved into a cough that splattered bits of ikaar onto the floor of their cell. More ikaar joined it as Er’anir glided across the room and slipped back into their cell, brandishing the bone-shard once more before she drove it into the back of the Fallen being’s hand. Vaz snarled through the pain in reply, their voice deepening to the low, thunderous rumble that sometimes accompanied them in moments of fury.

 

In Takut’s hand, the quill began to tremble with anticipation.
 

“Enough, Er’anir.”

 

Commanded Takut, edging away from the wall and beginning to pace across the room. In one hand she held onto the remnants of the ball-chain that was still attached to the quill’s hilt, dangling the feisty looking quill by its end. Both the quill and Vaz twitched with discomfort when a fingernail brushed against the shackle that had been melted onto it. The other hand was semi-coiled, the sparkle of a red gem just visible between the cracks of two of her fingers. A warmth began to gather in the ruby, and she clenched her hand tight to quell the vibrations she could feel within it. She stopped before Jorath’s cell, inspecting him up and down.

 

“You’ve certainly done a wonderful job reigning these two in. But I’d like to be alone with my new gifts now.”

 

Announced Takut, her voice taking on an authoritative tone to indicate that what she was saying was a command rather than a request.

 

“You may now return to your duties, Er’anir.”

 

 

----

 

Xaal

 

Snowy feathers bristled at the mention of The Culling, Xaal’s eyes twitching rapidly between Argia and an apparently fascinating patch of wall that was beside them. Her discomfort faltered to some degree when it became apparent that Argia had only seen glimpses of Vaz’s involvement with the war. The guardian still idly shifted a hand to her chest in sympathy at the mention of Azrael though. 

 

‘Breaking apart? Kirit and Meztli were trying to protect you from them, then?’

 

Offered Xaal as a suggestion, trying to focus on something else other than the horrific events that Argia had touched on. She didn’t know what to say about the unusual focus on Taathiir’s past, other than a vague theory that it must have been tied into one of their own. Fearing for Argia’s ability to stay composed she made a note to bring it up once they were in a safer spot, but Xaal found it to be pretty damning evidence that somehow the harbinger’s history was indeed tied up with Taathiir’s own.

 

‘Lots of ink. Flooded the room.’

 

Reluctant to be specific, Xaal finally looked down at the bubbling liquid beneath her feet to avoid Argia’s own gaze. As more clumps of feathers started to materialise within it she regretted her choice, but soldiered on all the same. At least the ink wasn’t rising in volume again. For now.

 

‘Saw deity, eagle. Nearly drowned. Don’t want to talk about it right now.’

 

More figures were starting to rise from the ink, and Xaal prepared another bow for her arrow as she scanned her surroundings. None of them were faces that she personally recognised, but a glance towards Argia and the cold expression in her eyes told her that something about them was familiar to the harbinger. Xaal wasted no time in firing as the beasts surged forward, watching as her first arrow pierced through the skull of one of the illusions and sent it melting back into the inky muck beneath them. She decided to take on the several that had gathered behind them, leaving Argia to deal with those barreling towards them in the opposite direction. Her second arrow phased right through its target, prompting a frustrated stamp of the foot from Xaal as she struggled to figure out whether there was a pattern to how tangible any of these illusions decided to be. A third and fourth arrow were fired, one sailing harmlessly through one enemy while the other embedded itself firmly into the gut of her nearest foe. 

 

Xaal darted forward, summoning one of her misaimed arrows back to her hand and driving its tip into the neck of one of the previously intangible enemies. Another more beast-like creature darted around her and leapt for her back, causing her to stagger backwards to slam the both of them up against the walls of the tunnel until it relinquished its hold on two of her wings. The Guardian staggered back into the fray, starting to head back towards Argia only for a hand to launch out of the ink and bring her crashing to the ground as it latched onto her ankle. Xaal found herself beginning to be dragged further away from Argia, wide-eyed and flailing as she struggled to find a way to alert her companion. The demon behind her managed to drag her several paces away and almost around the corner before Xaal was able angle herself properly to flare out her wings and launch into the air. A shriek sounded from the creature as it ran its talons down her leg and tore flesh from her calf in an attempt to keep a hold of her, before a swift kick freed her from its clutches and Xaal rounded the corner once more. 

 

A new figure had appeared, causing Xaal to stumble to a stand-still for a split second a she tried to recognise them. A loud crash behind her quickly brought her attention back to the fight at hand, and she scurried away from the sudden defensive barrier that had flared up between her and the demons behind. As the new arrival called out for her to find the sigil Xaal found herself with precious seconds to spare, given that the demons she had been facing were still trying to claw and smash their way through the barrier. Her eyes began to glow again and she raised her free hand to run along the texture of the wall, reaching out for another secret stashed away somewhere. At least without the shroud still active she was able to focus more of her energy on other abilities, including the one that directed her attention to a splash of colour up high on the ceiling, marking the otherwise invisible sigil lurking beneath its own shroud.

 

Xaal summoned another arrow to her hand and fired at it, jumping back as sparks of electricity shot out from the sigil upon the impact. The liquid at her feet promptly disappeared, as did the angry sounds of the demons on the other side of the barrier behind her. She looked around, checking for any other runes or hidden enemies, before hobbling back towards Argia and their supposed new ally.

 

‘You are a Fons Collector? Taathiir?’ 

 

She inquired, not certain if they would be able to interpret her movements but trusting Argia to help bridge the gap if not. Xaal took the sudden quiet as a sign to prepare herself for whatever new horror was lurking in the stairwell across from them, motioning for the other two winged beings to pause for a minute. She then lifted her hand into the air and summoned the fired arrows back to her empty quiver, before investing some time and energy into beginning to create more of them. Eventually she turned back around to inspect Taathiir up and down a few times, before nodding her head in a quick greeting.

 

‘Thank you. I am Xaal’Razuul. Vox Guardian. We have friends that need rescuing right now. Talk later.’

 

And with that the angel appointed herself leader and took point, motioning for the pair of them to follow her upstairs and towards the aura of Mag’than. It felt fainter and cloudier than it should have been, and briefly Xaal debated whether to be concerned by this development or bitter enough just to walk right past the door it was emanating behind from. She could sense that there was another being with them, after all, and she really wasn’t in the mood to fend off whatever mess Mag’than had gotten themself into after trying to run from her and Jorath.

 

Perhaps against her better judgment, Xaal sighed and kicked the door open before pointing her bow in the direction of the stronger aura. She was greeted by a shriek and the sight of another young demon scurrying back up against the wall of a small supply closet, two of her hands raised in a show of surrender. A third hand shakily clutched at a piece of cloth that was wadded up into a ball, fresh blood staining both it and the clothes that the young woman wore. Xaal’s eyes flickered towards the second figure that the woman had been tending to, bow lowering when she confirmed that it was an unconscious, and heavily battered, Mag’than that she was currently tending to.

 

‘Kalath?’

 

Xaal spelt out after dismissing her bow. Kalath either didn’t understand or was in too much shock to answer. The Guardian sighed and fished out her flip-phone instead while she waited for Argia and Taathiir to catch up to her.

 

‘Are you Kalath? Can you read this? Or too much ikaar still in system?’

 

----

 

Lucy

 

“Ooh that is interesting, seems to be a lot coming through here lately doesn’t it? I can’t wait until the big reveal soon, I reckon our numbers are going to triple over-night.”

Announced Lucy, rubbing her hands together from the sheer excitement of it. Though in her mind heavy concerns still swirled around, bringing up Auris Domniir’s plans to bring a new hope to the people of the city was a positive she was all too happy to focus on instead. Zoe rested her hand on her chin and leaned forward with an exaggerated pout, batting her eyelashes in Lucy’s direction.

 

“I wish you’d tell me what the higher-ups have got planned for it already. It’d be much easier to recruit people if I could give them a proper list of benefits y’know. I’d even put in a good word for you when they promote me for it.”

Lucy chuckled, reaching over pat Zoe on the shoulder while copying her expression in a light-hearted manner. As much as Zoe amused her, she wasn’t certain if she could keep a proper secret for a single hour let alone for an entire day or two. It was, unfortunately, the main reason for her hesitation to invite the younger demon into the inner circle. She had already proven herself to be of a rare sort that tolerated the Fallen after all, providing they could prove themselves to be either useful or interesting enough to engage with. Lucy was certain she just needed a little nudge in a better direction for it.

 

“Sorry Zoe, honey, but if they find out I’ve been leaking little bits of juicy gossip to you I’d be lucky if Taathiir doesn’t reap my soul as punishment. Gotta keep ‘em small-scale or far in-between, you know that.”

Attentions briefly switched to Sarcyilia and Lucy absent-mindedly patted her on the arm as she felt the angel shift a little closer. She didn’t get much time to voice her reassurance though before Gneni suddenly appeared on the scene, and Lucy turned from her to prop her elbows up onto the table and beam over at them.

 

“Ah you know me dearie, always keen for an interesting new rumour or two. Especially if it’s of a scandalous nature. I don’t suppose you have anything interesting to offer about a Ditraxol or Malvorin, do you? Only they’ve upset a friend of mine and I’d love to repay them for it.”

A tone sounded from her phone, a custom little jingle that she had set aside for Taathiir specifically, and Lucy excused herself for a moment to read through the message they had sent her. 

 

‘Good luck Buttercup. Don’t be afraid to butter up Jingles instead onto your side if they’re being difficult. I hear the two of them are pretty close ;)'

Edited by Lycanious

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Jorath
He started pacing the perimeter of the cell when another attempt at bashing through the bars was fruitless. Not unlike the caged beasts he'd seen at a traveling circus Er'anir had shown him. Jorath's stomach knotted and nausea coated his throat with bile when he'd gotten a look at Vaz's injuries. Never should have brought them here--The Scribe was responding to Er'anir, a small gesture from their hand as they tried to squirm free of the shackle on their wrist.

Now he really wished he hadn't lost his coin.

As much as it was going to suck, Jorath shoved aside the hesitation. Glancing at Er'anir and Takut to notice they weren't looking at him, Jorath eased himself to the ground and started digging a claw along the soil. The hastily drawn charm was far rougher than he was ever going to be satisfied with, but he couldn't afford any time. He bit into his hand, pressing the now-bloodied palm into the series of sigils.

There was no glowing, no incantation. Just pure will. Luck was often subtle like that, especially when one made it happen themself. Pouring as much of his Influence as he could into the spell to support Vaz and their intentions, Jorath felt it drain much of what energy he had mustered. For a moment, he worried about not being able to finish the spell as his vision ebbed and his arm quaked beneath his weight.

Finally, however, the spell stopped pulling from him. Jorath couldn't stop the soft, breathless gasp that escaped him as he slumped upon the ground. Grabbing one of the cell bars kept him from falling over completely. Vaz was still talking and, for a confused second, he couldn't figure out why that caused anxiety to tear through his senses. Then he remembered.

Jerking when Vaz snarled from pain, he clawed up the sigils he'd carved as he staggered back to his feet. A blend of heat and cold flushed his skin and he couldn't determine which was stronger: his desperation or his growing rage breaking through the anxiety. <<"No, stop! Please, don't hurt them.">> Jorath shook at the bars until Er'anir turned to him, her expression caught somewhere between anger and something else he'd never seen from her before. Pressing his forehead against the bars, he continued his plea. <<"Don't hurt them.">>

<<"Why do you care so much for this Fallen worm? Didn't you hear how they spoke to me? They insulted me, Songbird!">> Er'anir replied, waving the bone shard about and stomping a foot. <<"I was instigated into defending myself, Jorath. Simple as that. And look what they did to my eye! Not my fault they have no respect for a proper woman.">> She made an ugly sound, turning her attention when Takut interrupted.

He watched as she processed Takut's order. Er'anir laughed, tilting her head back, as she stepped around Takut to touch the bars. She reached in with the other hand towards Jorath. Stepping back, he growled and snapped sharpened teeth at the appendage, causing her hand to retreat. <<"Ungrateful beast, after all I've done to help you. I'll remind you where your place is, soon enough. And then we can go back to being happy, you and me. You'll be respected and powerful again.">> Jorath glared at her. She looked away and back at Takut, a frown etched upon her features. "Oh, you were serious?" Er'anir blinked then made a disapproving or disappointed sound. "Takut, sweetie, I think your brain is still muddled by whatever that inky blot of a mess over there did to you. Go sit by the fire and I'll have someone bring you a snack and drink so you can feel better.

"You see," she continued, missing Takut's scrunched expression in favor of walking a few steps to the side. Illstrund slithered between her hands. When she gestured, a trio of demons entered the room. One of them gave Takut a brief, uncertain glance, as the three moved to surround her. "No one is allowed to touch my songbird, but me. Only I can bring out the best in him, starting with the disposal of that clump of ruined feathers over there that has been a thorn in my side for the last century! Honestly, it'll be far too satisfying to finally remove the obstacle that's been preventing our happy reunion."

Tremors ran through Jorath's body, gaze frozen upon the chain. He lurched forward, shouting threats and obscenities at Er'anir as he tried to reach through and grab it from her. She shifted back and rolled her eye, grimacing when it seemed to cause pain from her injury. "Jorath, Songbird. Honestly, I know you've likely forgotten because of the time and distance, but if you truly had wanted to kill me, you would have done so last time. I know you don't mean any of those nasty words. Now, to show that I've honestly forgiven you, I'll let you eat that pest's soul once you're ready to come out of that hideous cage. Might not taste as yummy as the mortals you consume, though."

Jorath's shouting devolved into wordless, inhuman, sounds, even as Er'anir tsk'd. "I've told you before: it'll hurt less if you stop fighting it. You know how much I hate seeing you upset and in pain. Just let it happen and it'll all be over very soon." With that, she started an incantation. In her hands, Illstrund responded and lengthened.

The metal around his neck started burning as more sigils revealed themselves. He stumbled back, clutching at the shackle. The rest of the shackles hidden beneath his human guise, likewise, materialized into view. As Illstrund's newfound length spilled from Er'anir's hands and slithered through the cell bars, the broken chains on Jorath's shackles began to repair and connect. The moment all of them united with Illstrund, Jorath started to writhe, sucking in a shallow breath and doubling over on the ground.

Er'anir snatched at Kaa'Taakiir when the quill attempted to stab her face, smirking as her incantation continued uninterrupted. However, it drew her gaze to the doorway where a large demon was approaching, giant ax in hand as he made a clear display of his infernal features. She tried for an unimpressed lift to an eyebrow to stifle her surprise. There was an abrupt sting of pain in her hand. She shrieked, botching her spell, and the chain and Kaa'Taakiir falling from her grasp.

Fi'Faltuun darted back to Jorath, circling sporadically about him as he staggered to his feet. Though the sigils stopped glowing and the burning had ceased, they and the shackles remained visible. His vision blotted out as he attempted to grab Illstrund and pull it into the cell, away from Er'anir. Instead, his knees gave out and he collapsed into nothingness.

---

"O-o-o," Gneni sang, grin widening. "Sounds absolutely petty; I'm in," they added, rubbing their hands together in perhaps a too clear expression of their eagerness. "Let's see... Malvorin's one of those snooty Knowledge demons, our big time rival, right? And Ditraxol--Ditraxol--Oh, yes! The walking and breathing embodiment of anger management issues." The deity hummed for several moments. "I did hear something, about one or both of them. I'll have to confirm it with a source or two," Gneni said, wiggling their eyebrows at Lucy. "Supposedly, Malvorin's failed to tighten a couple loopholes in some of his more recent dealings. Probably because his control over his own domain seems to be slipping. Wouldn't want anyone hearing about that, though. Someone might think they can start to push around the aging demon with the frailing mind or cancel their contracts for want of a better partner."

"And then, the wrath demon," they continued, tapping at their chin. "Might not want people spreading around the fact that he's been lying about a lot of things, lately. The tough guy act, the temper, even the loyal dog show. Oh dear. Someone should probably warn Malvorin about that."

---
Argia / Taathiir
As soon as the trap was destroyed, Kiva's resistance vanished and Taathiir stumbled a step forward until they caught their balance again. When it was clear that no threat remained, Atropos dissolved, the stream of smoke rushing towards Argia to spiral around her scythe before that, too, dissipated. It shocked her out of the frozen state she'd been trapped in, her breathing a little more rapid than it ought to be. Her gaze shot between Taathiir and Xaal, hands quivering as soundless, nonsensical words started to light upon her tongue.

Taathiir walked towards both women, an idle hand readjusting the sleeves to their dress shirt. "Are you both alright?" they asked, gaze tracking to Xaal when they realized she was signing. In response, Taathir lifted their hands and signed back as they spoke, uncertain if she was mute, deaf, or both. "Yes, I'm Taathiir-razuul, a Fons Collector." They glanced at Argia at the mention of friends needing assistance. "Show me their lifelines."

"What?" Argia managed, the oddness of their request breaking through the haze of uncertainty. "What do you mean?"

They were silent a moment, staring. Then, "How much have you forgotten?"

She stiffened. "We don't have time for any of that. We have to go." Argia started walking, but Taathiir grabbed her arm gently and made her stop.

They sighed, stuffing down whatever they could to remain clear-headed. "Let me see your friends' lifelines; it'll help me better understand where we're going." Bringing their hands up, Taathiir lightly brushed their fingers against Argia's temples after she nodded at them to proceed. "Just focus on who it is we're searching for. Show me what the lifelines feel like."

It was strange thing to be doing, but Argia obliged, orienting her attention upon the lifelines she sensed and sifting through to identify Mag'than's. Vaz and Jorath's couldn't be found, however, and she worried over that realization. Still, she focused on her memory of what those felt like, too. At some point, Taathiir said, "Alright." Their hands fell away from her head and Xaal started taking lead point.

They hurried after her, Argia occasionally glancing at Taathiir as they sprinted just ahead of her, though never out of arm's reach. Perhaps the illusions throughout Takut's tunnels had been using a random face, selecting an imperfect match to Taathiir's appearance, just to mess with her perceptions. They had, after all, been glitching and unstable the entire time.

Until Taathiir arrived.

They reached the storage room that Maggie and another were hiding in. "Yeah, I'm--Get away from them!" The other demon had leaned forward to read the cellphone, jerking in the next second as Argia pushed into the tiny room and drew closer to Mag'than.

Argia halted, hands lifting defensively. "I can heal her... I think. We're allies, Kalath," she explained, waiting until the demon finally eased back. Ushering her out of the room to stand near Taathiir (whom she gave a slight uncertain wrinkled expression), Argia examined Mag'than's injuries before hovering her hands over the most severe one that was still bleeding. She started uttering the same incantation from before, feeling it pull on her as smoke caressed the wound and traveled to other parts of the demon's body. She started to sag.

"Argia, you're doing too much," Taathiir warned, recognizing when she surpassed a limit she should have stopped at. "Argia," they called again, distress beginning to tilt their voice. "Naya-il, we're not in The Cemetery."

She startled, the spell dying and the smoke wisping away. As she fumbled to stay upright, Argia glanced at the other three before turning back to Mag'than. The bleeding had stopped and much of her wounds had healed. What remained had seen a partial recovery. "I--"

There was a call outside of the storage room, drawing their attention down the hallway. Taathiir grumbled under their breath at the arrival of a pair of demons, turning away from Takut's goons as the duo started to jog. "Stay still," Taathiir instructed, rushing a short incantation in the next breath. Dark tendrils stretched along the ground from beneath their feet, twisting together to form a sort of swirling pool.

Someone swore as the storage room vanished and the familiar surroundings of a break room materialized. Taathiir had picked the destination at random; all they wanted was to get the others safely to Auris Domniir. But, as they heard someone muttering about 'fallen filth', they glanced back over their shoulder. They cleared their throat once they realized one of Takut's demons had tagged along in the teleport.

The demon halted, their words cutting off and the hand dusting off their clothes stopping. The demon's gaze drifted up to Taathiir's, then drifted sideways to register the various Auris Domniir guards that had paused in the middle of their meals. He straightened and turned his attention to the platter of muffins resting on a nearby table. Making a satisfied sound when he selected a pastry, the demon lifted it in a small toast-like gesture. "Cheers," he said.

Then he bolted.

Chairs scraped across the floor as a few guards got up to chase the stray down the hall, all of them turning a corner and out of sight. Taathiir returned their attention to the rest, snapping at another pair of guards to redirect the demons' focus upon the other matter at hand. "I need a rested healer, now," they said. Their eye once again stared at Argia's black and red wings. Why weren't they brown? And where was the shawl she'd been wearing earlier? "Not Sarcyilia." In the next motion, they pulled out their phone and dialed Lucy. They didn't give her opportunity for a greeting once it stopped ringing. "I need you here. Guards' breakroom."

Argia rose to her feet, stumbling in the process until Taathiir reached out and steadied her. "Where are we? We need to get--" she asked, carefully extracting herself from their grasp.

"Auris Domniir, you're safe. As soon as Lucy gets here, I'm going back for Vaz and Jorath."

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Vaz

 

More of the sahthlua language flowed through Vaz’s ears as they gasped through the new dosage of infernal energy plunging into their hand, too pained to concentrate on much else. They didn’t have a translation for Jorath’s next choice of words, but the desperation in his pleas was more than enough to make Vaz’s heart ache and tears to form once more from the sound of it. Voices eventually return to Commonspeak, finally letting the scribe continue to properly follow the conversation as they stayed slumped against their chains. They heard the insults, but by this point in time most of what she said was now was just noise and filler. When she referred to them as a thorn in her side for a century Vaz made sure to laugh, loudly, incase it was the last little jab at her they were ever going to be able to make.

 

Takut, to her credit, did not look particularly intimidated when three of her former employees entered the room and circled around her. If anything she seemed more disappointed by their appearance, making sure to stare each one in the eyes and challenge them on following Er’anir’s orders instead of her own as a dual set of horns started to curl from the front and sides of her forehead. When all three refused to back down she drew a heavy sigh, snapping the ruby into place on the quill and aiming it like a dart back through the bars of Vaz’s cell.

 

BE STRONG, MY SCRIBE. THE GLORY DAYS OF VENGEANCE ARE SOON TO BE UPON US.

 

Kaa’Taakiir’s gleeful bloodlust was apparent as she sailed back into Vaz’s cell, the ikaar that painted it starting to gather into a pool directly beneath her. When she darted back out of the cell the inky pool followed, leaking out through the bars and gaps in the door then reforming below her once more. She zipped between the legs of one of the demons, their face distorting into a mixture of confusion and mild concern as they watched the quill circle the room and bring the puddle to a clearing.

 

Like low thunder rumbling through the room, barely registrable to the human ear, Vaz hissed out the incantation to summon the rightful Lord of Vengeance.

 

The first sign that they had been answered was the lights above surging, as if the power being fed to them was steadily rising. Were they high enough above ground they may have heard the crack of thunder that followed, or be witness to the sudden downpour that seemed to have centred itself around the same block as the building they were trapped in.  The liquid beneath the quill began to swirl and churn like waves at sea, an ink-drenched shape forming in its centre. As the shape rose in height and started to solidify into a distinctly humanoid form two of the demons that Er’anir had summoned stepped back from Takut. The third, Brizran, just snorted derisively and made a show of displaying all three of their horns to the figure materialising before them. With a single eye visible, the other being hidden beneath an eyepatch, the hulking figure blinked blankly at the demon in response. As he glanced Brizran up and down he emitted a low rumble of a chuckle and reared his shoulders back to click at the various joints in his body. From his head an impressive display of six horns began to sprout in reply, which convinced Brizran to take a step back as well. The towering mass continued to stretch and adjust their attire, the blood that stained it dripping back into a puddle upon the ground to reveal that he was wearing an elaborate navy coat with gold trimming, grey pants, and thick, heavy boots. Between his horns perched a tricorn hat, making him look very much like a mildly-disgruntled storybook pirate that had just teleported into the room.

 

The figure took advantage of the wide circle that had formed around him to take a proper look at his surroundings. Takut got a polite nod, who responded in kind. Turning slightly he then quirked an eyebrow at Er’anir in response to her own attempt to look unimpressed, his silver eye trailing down the length of the chain and towards an unfamiliar figure he could see writhing about in the cell. He tilted his head, inquisitive mostly, though a frown started to ghost his features as he spied Kaa’Taakiir wriggling free of her grasp after trying to stab at her in the confusion. He stooped slightly to let said quill zip up towards his face and sit just behind his webbed ear, then took note of the golden-hilt quill that frantically hovered about the figure in the cell, marking him as an ally.

 

The demon then continued to shuffle on the spot, his single eye settling on the sight of the broken, battered scribe in another cell. His clawed hands clenched, the tension tightening in his shoulders as he turned back to face the trio of demons that the siren had summoned. One went wide-eyed and pointed at Er’anir. Takut nodded in a sage-like manner when he glanced aside to confirm. The man then abruptly wrenched his arm to the side and an enormous battle-axe materialised into view, short-circuiting the light directly above him and leaving a crack in the floor as the end of it slammed down onto the mortal plane.

 

“DRAAL, O WRETCHED WHELPS. YE STAND BEFORE IKAARSKRULNIIR, CAPTAIN OF THE STORM BRINGER AND RIGHTFUL CLAIM TO THE THRONE OF VENGEANCE.”

 

 His voice was booming and hoarse, an accent thick with Oldspeak that suggested his grasp on Commonspeak was, at best, flaky and outdated by a few centuries. 

 

“GROVEL AS THE ILL-BRED MUTTS YE ARE, AND THOU MIGHT RECEIVETH MERCY IN A SWIFT BEHEADING.”

 

Ikaarskrulniir then heaved the axe into the air and lashed behind them with a long, sweeping motion. A shriek from Er’anir sounded as she sprung back from the cell, narrowly missing the blade as it whirled through the air. Er’anir ducked and desperately scrambled forward once more for Illstrund, but she was forced to snatch back her hand and roll to avoid being cleaved in half when on Vaz’s instructions Skrul brought the blade down between them. A force thumped into him from behind, causing the demon to stagger forward a step as Brizran leapt onto his back and attempted to electrocute the hulking figure into submission. Instead, Skrul just emitted a deep guffaw, the energy travelling through his form and then upwards to gather at the tips of his horns. With a crack of thunder a bolt jolted from his horns to the second demon trying to sneak up on him on the side-lines, sending them skidding across the floor with a yelp of pain.

 

Grappling at his back, Ikaarskrulniir snagged the collar of Brizran’s shirt with his claws and promptly threw him off into the wall of Vaz’s cell. The beastly demon stormed forward after him and grabbed him by a fistful of hair, slamming his face multiple times against the metal wall in a manner that was very similar to Vaz’s earlier attempts to defend the fake Jorath.

 

“Skrul, darling, the-the man in the other cell- please-“

 

‘Skrul’ grunted in response, first reaching into the cell that contained the increasingly-hysterical Fallen angel. He grabbed a fistful of the chains and yanked down hard on them, shattering them into individual links as easily as if they had been made of twigs. Vaz’s form slumped against the metal floor of the cell as their binds were either torn apart or began to unravel and retreat by their own free will in order to preserve themselves. The various aches and pains inflicted on them by the events of the night seared, but Vaz was driven into dragging themself back onto their feet by a newfound willpower and staggered forward to escape the confines of the cell. They stumbled again as they released their grip on the sides of their prison, but this time something swept out and caught them mid-fall before they collided with the concrete once more. A wonderful, familiar aura wove itself through Vaz’s mind as they steadied themself against the larger demon’s extended wing and tail, the fins at its end fanning out and promptly smacking away one of the goons that had decided to try and round the Fallen being back into the cage.

 

Skrul reached across and rested a hand on Vaz’s shoulder, steadying the scribe in his hold as he took a second to study the extent of their injuries. A red glow started to pulse from the wrath demon’s hand, and Vaz’s breathing grew more steady as the golden glow to their multitude of eyes increased in intensity. It healed none of their injuries, but a surge of sudden fury in their aura served as a warning that said injuries were unlikely to hold them back any further. Er’anir froze as Vaz’s head snapped towards her, visibly debating whether it was worth making another lunge for the chain partially dangling out of Jorath’s own cell-door. She chose to try again, prompting Vaz to snarl out a warning to Jorath and scramble over Skrul’s wing to give chase.

 

Er’anir’s fingers brushed briefly against the metal of the chain, but before she could properly grasp at it she was forced to snatch back her hand to avoid another jab from Fi’Faltuun. She appeared to try and issue a command to it, dubbing it Euklai in the process, but otherwise finding her speech too garbled by Fi’Faltuun’s earlier stab to properly force her will over it. The Fallen angel broke her concentration over it as they slammed heavily into her from the side, long tendrils snaking out from the hem of their coat and driving themselves into her flesh. Er’anir screamed from the crawling sensation beneath her skin, now begging for Jorath to help her in a garbled mess of sahthlua and Oldspeak. Vaz however was undeterred, wings flared in a show of raw power and their flesh now more eyeballs than skin as they pinned her to the ground. Embedding a long set of claws deep into her gut Vaz lifted their tormentor from the ground and shoved her up against the outside walls of Jorath’s cell. With their other hand they grabbed for her chin and forced her to stare directly into their distorted, morphing face and the fanged maw widening beneath it.

 

Vaz began to whisper to her an ancient incantation. It wasn’t in Oldspeak or aeiuwn, this language was far more ancient and far less comprehensible to mortal minds. Er’anir writhed in their grasp, her green eye forced to lock onto the swirling storm of Vaz’s own as the angel commanded her mind to divulge to The Eyes of Truth every secret she held. Er’anir resisted, but as more tendrils sank into her flesh and coiled through her brain Vaz could feel her skull, both physically and mentally, start to crack from the pressure.

 

Speak unto the Angel of Mysteries your purpose for the chains. Speak of how they were made. Speak of how to remove them-

 

Vaz was ripped away from the other demon before they were able to extract their answers. They howled in protest as they were pulled back by one of her guards and pushed to the floor, tendrils torn between clawing at her retreating form while others reached backwards to deal with their new attacker. A direct blow from Skrul’s axe soon dealt with the latter, but by the time Vaz was struggling to their feet again Er’anir had vanished from sight. Teleported, no doubt, by the sigil she had carved into a corner of the room that promptly destroyed itself to prevent anyone from following.

 

Takut slammed her palm against a device mounted against the wall, an alarm sounding throughout the building followed by her voice crackling into the speakers after it. After she had screamed out her demands for still-loyal crew members to scour the area of Er’anir and any of her associates she turned to face Vaz, scowling.

 

“Get out. All of you. There’s an exit rune at the end of the corridor, should take you a few streets away from here. Just p*** off so I can deal with this s***show.”

 

Growled Takut, one hand sweeping through her hair in a distressed manner as she processed what was happening. Skrul lumbered towards his former crew mate, placing a monstrous hand over her head and patting her gently between the dual set of horns that had sprouted from it.

 

“Will come back later, yes? Help crush traitors into jelly.”

 

“...Thank you. That would be nice.”

 

Skrul gave her another polite nod of the head, then turned towards Vaz with a heavier expression. The scribe was in the process of smashing apart the last of the chains on Jorath’s shackles with the sharpened edge of their now-reformed halo, half snarling out profanities and half sobbing as they glared down at the last defiant piece of metal securing Jorath to Illstrund.

 

“Time to go, Plume’vicci.”

 

Rumbled Skrul, stooping into the cell to beckon the scribe back out just as they finally broke Jorath free. Vaz blinked down the tears and could only nod in reply, motioned for Skrul to pick up the shrinking Illstrund before they began to drag Jorath out of his cell. Skrul obeyed, nodded a farewell to Takut, and kicked aside the corpse of one of Er’anir’s unfortunate associates so they could properly exit the room. Brandishing their axe they watched for signs of any more interference, guarding Vaz until the scribe made it to the end of the corridor and activated the now-compliant teleport rune.

 

The trio soon found themselves transported to a small alleyway. Vaz wavered, dropping Jorath to the floor. Within seconds Vaz collapsed to their knees beside him, finally succumbing to the exhaustion and pain of their injuries as Skrul’s power boost petered out. Their surroundings were a blur, but they registered the gigantic form of Skrul towering briefly over the pair of them.

 

“Skrul...darling- I-I can’t even begin-“

 

“Sh. Is okay, Plume’vicci. Rest first. Is chance to breathe. We talk after.” 

 

Skrul stooped once more, momentarily sinking to his knees, and tilted Vaz’s chin up towards him. Briefly he pressed their foreheads together, waiting for Vaz’s frantic gasps for air to match his own, calmer ones before he eased away once more. Rising back to his feet, Skrul then ventured over to the entrance of the alleyway to stand guard against any stragglers that may have decided to give chase.

 

A dizziness pounded through their skull, and though Vaz tried to pull themself back onto their feet once more they soon thudded heavily onto the asphalt beside Jorath. 

 

L’antiira?”

 

Rasped Vaz in a weak voice. They were vaguely aware that they had fallen onto his arm and had it pinned at what was probably an uncomfortable angle beneath them, but lacked the energy to get back up and rearrange either of them to a more comfortable position. Their wings hung limp at their sides, two of them covering most of Jorath’s form like a blanket of feathers and eyes. The upper-wing covering him still oozed with ink, having of taken the brunt of the damage from Er’anir’s stabbing while in its sheathed form. 

 

Trembling, their injured and ink-soaked hand dragged itself across his chest until it could determine a strong pulse. They shifted their injured hand higher, wincing as it grazed the collar around his neck that it didn’t know how to remove and so moving on to instead rest against his forehead. Long fingernails tangled into his fringe, less concerned with tidying it this time and more with just signalling that someone other than Er’anir was there beside him. Vaz’s voice slurred as their mind drifted in and out of the fog from before, alternating between repeating the names ‘Jorath’ and ‘L’antiira’, and at one point a ‘Jay’ even slipped out in a feebled attempt to wake him. 

 

 

 Xaal & Lucy

 

 Both Lucy and Zoe listened on to Gneni’s rambling with stars in their eyes, chins resting on their hands and a giggle being shared between them. Sarcyilia meanwhile was at least trying to maintain an air of quiet maturity about them, adding another cube of sugar to their tea and stirring it quietly before taking a sip and leaning back to observe the demons and disguised deity before her.

 

“Y’know, I was getting a bit of a fed-up vibe from Ditzy earlier.”

 

Mused Lucy, taking a very thoughtful sip from her chocolate milkshake before adding a few more shakes of sprinkles on top.

 

“Maybe his loyalty is buyable? Or at least out for rent. Especially if he’s been getting into Malvorin’s bad books lately. That’s...wow. Thanks. That’s actually real’ helpful honey.”

 

Gneni feigned mild insult and placed a hand over their chest, nearly knocking over their own drink of ketchup in the process. They pouted as they adjusted the silly straw sticking out of the glass and took a few more sips, though grinned deviously when Lucy snorted in reply.

 

“Hey now, don’t shoot the messenger I’m just repeating what I hear. Not my fault some of it just happens to come from the voices in my head now.”

 

Zoe snorted with laughter. The two Vox angels responded with a less enthusiastic chuckle, though neither of their other companions seemed to have noticed the fracture Gneni’s comment had placed on their moods. Lucy was quick to brush it off, opening her mouth to change the topic of conversation when her ringtone for Taathiir started to grace the cafe walls once more.

 

Lucy’s brow crinkled as she heard the urgency to their voice, her usual chirpy greeting towards them dying in her throat. Taathiir hadn’t even give her a chance to ask for any further details, her only clue being the distant unknown voices of urgency and the shout of a guard in the distance.

 

“Sorry my loves, shall have to cut this one short. Something’s going down in the break-room. Sounds like an attempted burglary? Maybe?”

 

“Oh dear. Is anyone hurt?”

 

Urged Sarcyilia, her timidness giving way to a newfound sense of duty as she instinctively rose from her seat. Lucy could only shrug in reply, but after mulling over the anxious tone to their summons she hesitantly changed her answer to a yes.

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll grab someone down at the infirmary first to check it out-“

 

“Ah um no. I-it’s alright. Duty calls. I’d um maybe feel a bit better if I can be useful anyway.”

 

Reassured Sarcyilia, taking Lucy by the arm and refusing to let go until the ex-archangel sighed and relented. Emerald flames sprouted around the both of them and the quiet interior of the cafe melted into the more chaotic surroundings of the break-room. Several guards were arguing amongst themselves over whether security was getting far too lax these days, while another barked orders into their phone in Oldspeak. Every other demon seemed to be forming a ring of nosiness around some new faces, scurrying backwards with wide-eyes when Lucy barked for them to make way for the Healer.

 

“Buttercup, darling, what on Terras is going on around here-“

 

Lucy paused for a beat, her slitted pupils widening with intrigue as she took in the appearance of what appeared to be another Collector. Her head tilted and squinted, trying to place the face or wings but ultimately failing at either. Her gaze flickered between Taathiir and Argia several times, weighing up the possibilities and the clear distress on the latter’s face. She held out her hand.

 

“Hey sweetie. You wouldn’t happen to be Naya’il, would you? I’ve been absolutely dying to meet you. Like most souls, I guess?”

 

Lucy clicked her fingers and made a finger-gun motion in the woman’s direction. The crowd’s response was significantly lacklustre. Though she blamed that one more on the fact that there appeared to be a young seeker bleeding out onto the carpet beside her and someone was going to have to clean up the mess she was making.

 

“Sarcy, darling, what’s the damage?”

 

Sarcyilia didn’t answer straight away, her own gaze too busy being locked onto the four-winged angel that stood beside them. Lucy spun on her heel to follow her line of sight with a raised eyebrow, only to be replaced with the same expression of shock as she took in the sight of Xaal.

 

“Zads? Is that you?”

 

Xaal looked uncomfortable, glancing around at the demons surrounding her and quickly sheathing away her wings. She shook her head in response, though Lucy either didn’t seem to notice or didn’t entirely believe her as she continued to gawk.

 

“Well...who are you then?”

 

The woman eventually decided to ask. Xaal started to finger-spell her name, only to earn a baffled pattern of blinks from Lucy.

 

“What?”

 

The angel quickly scrambled for her phone to make use of her backup method of communication, jumping when Lucy emitted a shriek and pointed at the device as if she had just produced a squirt-gun of holy water. Considering that she was a Guardian angel, several low-ranked demons in the vicinity seemed to think that was exactly what had happened and ducked for cover behind the chairs and tables of the break-room.

 

“Oh sweetie that’s ancient technology! Someone fetch this poor woman something from this century please - Fred darling be a lamb and help Sarcyilia drag this one to the infirmary please - Will someone please tell me exactly what happened here?”

 

Lucy’s orders came in one long breath, but the demons involved all seemed to have caught on to what she was intending all the same and began to scatter to obey her requests. 

 

Edited by Lycanious
Brain empty, fix contradiction

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Jorath
"Jay?"

Someone called his name as they played with his hair. It felt like eternity before Jay's thoughts started to register the voice, absorbing the warmth of the blanket shielding him from the rest of the world. The cold, hard ground at his back and the strange weight upon his head couldn't be explained, though. Nor the scent of charcoal.

When the aches and pain began to seep into his awareness, realization dawned upon Jorath, old thoughts and memories fading back into his subconscious. The demon emitted a low groan while his horns receded from sight. Once gone, he could move his head, removing his cheek from the cold and grainy ground. Why couldn't he move his arm?

Dark feathers filled his vision when he was finally able to coax open his eyes, requiring a quick second to--"Vaz?" It came out as a raspy breath. His senses were still trying to kick in, the Scribe's aura only a hazy presence at the edges of his notice. There was movement beside him, the damaged wing shifting feebly. An identical feather zipped into his view, caressing his cheek before backing away enough for Jorath to notice it was Fi'Faltuun. At some point, his arm was freed and Jorath used it to prop himself up, a mild struggle that existed only because the world was spinning and nausea began to announce its presence. The broken chains on his shackles clinked from the movement.

"I think I'm going to be sick..." he grumbled in Sahthlua, shutting his eyes as he stopped moving. The nausea passed without incident and Jorath eased his eyes open again, gaze falling upon the cracking skin of his human guise. Dark scaling protruded through, or was visible beneath, some of the upper areas of his arms and shoulders. It elicited a sigh from him.

A hand tentatively touched his elbow. Glancing, Jorath realized Vaz was trying to help him do something; likely to stand up. The Scribe looked too haggard, however, and their injuries were still bleeding. But the chains Jorath had seen them tangled in were completely gone. "Next time--" Jorath started, Commonspeak freely passing through his lips. "Next time, don't let me make the plans; I clearly have terrible ideas." A chuckle wheezed out from his aching chest, the sound growing into a full laugh when he glimpsed Vaz's face.

After a moment, he fell silent, the muted touch of amusement snuffing out in a wash of other thoughts and emotions. Jorath gingerly reached for Vaz, drawing them into a hug and resting his forehead against their uninjured shoulder. "I'm sorry. So sorry. My fault you're hurt," he mumbled. "Wouldn't have happened if I'd only been--I failed twice in getting rid of her and you suffered because of it. You faced and defied her, though, while I just--" Jorath couldn't finish the sentiment in Commonspeak, reverting to Sahthlua to try and express the complex feelings he couldn't label accurately enough.

Finally, after he fell silent, Jorath noticed the other aura hovering nearby. He jerked his head up, gaze snapping to the source and staring at the... imposing and intimidating, six-horned demon. He was about to stagger to his feet (though the beginning protests of his body wasn't very reassuring in that respect) in a defensive attempt. The quill tucked behind the demon's finned ear, however, made Jorath hesitate upon spotting it. The quill--

F***.

"Vaz? Did you get your quill back? Where are the others?" he asked quickly, voice lilting slightly from the trepidation of having endured Takut's traps, goons, and Er'anir only to end up failing their goal.

---
Argia / Taathiir
Startling when something like green fire raced into existence within a clear space of the room, Argia watched two others appear among the flurry of demon guards. Was one of them Lucy? The Collector glanced over at the newcomers, nodding subtly as the pair approached. 'Buttercup' was not something Argia expected Taathiir to be addressed as. Perhaps it was a pet name shared between romantic partners. She'd heard all kinds among humans.

When the woman reached out in greeting, she nearly took it. But Argia faltered when she asked if she was Naya'il. "N-No, I'm not--" She was still processing the misidentification and the pun that was, quite frankly, so terrible as to edge into funny; Argia just wasn't in the mood to laugh though. Anxiously, she took a step back, wanting to place some distance between herself and the rest of the commotion within the breakroom. Her wings curled forward, pressing themselves against her sides as if they could shield her from everything. The movement brought her attention to the claw marks that had been torn into her back, causing her to wince.

A demon hurried back into the breakroom, a smartphone clutched within their hand which they held out for Xaal to take. "It was Argia that summoned me, not Vaz like I had thought," Taathiir began explaining in response to Lucy's confusion. "I don't know why, but I found them within Takut's offices, fending off a trap. One of her demons accidentally hitched a ride with us and ran when we all realized it. Vaz and Jorath are still there and potentially in danger; I'm going back for them," they finished. Once their gaze tracked to Sarcyilia, they frowned at Lucy and lowered their voice to avoid being overheard. "Something isn't settling right; Argia had a shawl earlier tonight that matched her wings..." Taathiir warned.

They stood straighter, lifting their voice again so Argia and her companions could hear. "I'll be right back. Lucy and the rest of my associates will help you in the meantime." Their wings withdrew and surrounded Taathiir before anyone, particularly Lucy, could offer a protest.

Argia shifted her weight from side to side, Lojaal moving to hover before her. As her wings folded and fused back into her shawl, she ushered the quill back under the fabric. Her gaze found the doorway that Fred and Sarcyilia had left through. Kalath had rushed out behind them. "Will Mag'than be alright? I tried to do what I could, but I fear I didn't have the energy to do more than that."

---

The front of Takut's building entered their sight. Taathiir started towards the set of doors before they registered that Vaz and Jorath's lifelines could be sensed once more. Only, the two weren't inside. Turning away from the office building, they moved at a brisk walk, wings tucking out of view as they worked to identify who the third lifeline was. They'd felt it once before, but a long time ago, feeling of the violent smattering of rain and charged air along its infinite thread.

Once they spotted the bony, leathery wings, finned tail, and pirate costume, of the demon standing guard, Taathiir remembered. Ikaarskrulniir spotted them at roughly the same moment, glancing back into an alley to give out a warning to someone. Had to be Vaz and Jorath. They felt their wings bristle and their temples itch, a desire to reappear in some display of power as mixed thoughts entered Taathiir's mind. After so much time, the conflicted emotions at the sight of mortals being slaughtered by Skrul's ax during The Culling had only dulled, not vanished. They stifled the instinct, keeping both hidden away. They weren't here for a brawl, much less for one they didn't believe they could win.

"Ikaarskrulniir," Taathiir uttered in greeting as they heard Jorath ask where 'the others' were. "Safe," they replied, storm-grey eye catching Jorath's blue and Vaz's amber gazes. Then Taathiir's gaze shifted to the metal collar about the former's neck, making out some of the sigils engraved upon it. "Argia summoned me with the token I'd given her and Vaz. She, Xaal, and a pair of young Seekers are currently in my territory getting aid." Jorath visibly sagged, the relief in his features reassuring Taathiir of the demon's allyship. "I came back to retrieve you two, fully expecting you to still be within Takut's lair."

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Vaz

 

It took a few moments of silence from Jorath for Vaz’s mind to begin to drift from trying to wake him, the repetition of his name getting slower in the process. They remembered with a jolt that Argia and Xaal had been with them, a movement that issued a sharp sting of pain from various parts of their body and a drew a string of hissed profanity from them. Skrul turned to glance back down at them, a mild scalding for Vaz to settle down that held no real bite leaving his tongue.

 

“Th-There are others!”

 

Stuttered Vaz in reply, their mind grasping for the location of nearby quills. Both Kaa and Fi announced their presence, followed by Fi reassuring the scribe once more.

 

I have already checked the quill records. Lojaal has just registered a new location, deeming it safe. She is with Argia, Xaal, and Mag’than.

 

The scribe’s panic drained once more, a feeble wave of their hand Skrul’s indication for him to dismiss the bout of anxiety that had suddenly spouted from Vaz. They slumped back against the ground once more, a tired sigh making itself known as they mumbled out an explanation for Skrul and the unconscious form beside them. Fingers returned to toying with Jorath’s hair, a call of the name ‘Jay?’ slipping from Vaz’s tongue in their daze.

 

Finally, movement. Vaz heard a low groan and felt Jorath’s head twitch beneath their touch, only to be blocked by the position of his horns still jutting out of his head. Vaz whispered a gentle reminder that they were there, fearing he would crack one of them against the ground when he inevitably jarred himself awake. They heard their name, and though the voice was hoarse it was unmistakably Jorath’s all the same and Vaz felt a wave of relief wash over them for it.

 

Vaz tried to rise to a seated position once more, failing spectacularly to find enough energy to do so but at least allowing for Jorath to free his arm out from under them before they thudded back onto the ground. They glanced over at him when they heard him speak an unfamiliar sentence, eyes drifting down towards the now-freed arm that seemed to have grabbed his attention. When he sighed at the split skin and newfound scaling along it Vaz pouted and shifted to rest a hand on his arm, brushing their thumb against one of the rougher patches. For a fleeting second, the texture reminded them of the scales that had been on the wings they had seen torn and chained in Takut’s offices, before Vaz was able to stuff down the hollow sensation it brought to their core and force themself to move on to what Jorath was saying.

 

Vaz regarded him with a deadpan expression as he started to chuckle, deciding that the both of them were in a bad enough condition to warrant being a little more serious about what the pair of them had just been through. They couldn’t entirely quell the underlying relief that Jorath’s laughter brought them though, after hearing his anguished pleas mere moments ago. And, as was often the case, when Jorath laughed Vaz found themselves wearily joining in all the same to share the sentiment.

 

Though not expecting the embrace they found themself in, Vaz clung desperately to the folds of his shirt in a silent plea for him not pull away as they absorbed his warmth and teared up at his words.

 

“It’s...”

 

Vaz couldn’t finish that line of thought with ‘fine’, as things were very much not fine with the scribe after all they had encountered and it was only the presence of Jorath and Skrul that was keeping them together with some semblance of calm, rational thinking. 

 

“...Speaking as a Fallen sometimes it’s much easier, or harder, to defy someone when their torment is focused on someone you care for. I had advantages to the situation that you did not, my dear. And I do not fault you for my own foolishness at falling for her lure.”

 

Hushed Vaz, dismissing the extra eyes and coiling their uninjured upper wing around him as if it were a protective shield from their surroundings.

 

“...and speaking as a Knowledge demon, never disregard the contribution of good intel. Your theory of mutiny was correct. The second I found a scrap of evidence, you armed me better than any blade could my dear.”

 

One hand trailed up from its hold on his shirt and, after a moment of hesitation, rested itself against Jorath’s temple. Vaz nudged the side of their heads together, mixing their attempt at mutual comfort with a somewhat bolder demonstration of the affection they held for him. The hold only lasted for a few seconds however, broken when Jorath’s head snapped up to gawk at Skrul. Vaz urged him to settle under-breath, realising they should probably facilitate some proper introductions now that Jorath was conscious.

 

“Ah...yes. Erm. Right. Jorath, this is Ikaarskrulniir, Captain of the Storm Bringer and rightful Lord of Vengeance.”

 

Roused by the mention of his name, Skrul didn’t turn completely but instead glanced over his shoulder at the two smaller individuals. In his hands he was studying the seemingly inert illstrund, either unaffected by its demonic influence or willing to put up a facade of not being bothered by the burn of hot metal in his hands.

 

“Ikaarskrulniir, this is Jorath. He’s a fellow Contractor and business partner.”

 

“...Draal.”

 

Rumbled the monster of a man in reply, eyeing Jorath up and down a few times before continuing the conversation in Commonspeak to the best of his ability.

 

“Can just say Skrul. Plume’vicci is wanting to be formal.”

 

The quill behind his ear then floated down to greet the two as Vaz stretched out their hand, a remorseful tone to their voice when they introduced her as ‘Kaa’Taakiir, Slayer of the Deceitful’ and brushed their thumb over the remains of the ball-chain that had been welded to her hilt.

 

“Argia and I found her in her office, as well as the journal. There were several other things that I...ahem...acquired too of interest. I shall show you once we’re in a safer area.”

 

Skrul then cleared their throat and jabbed a clawed thumb at something over their shoulder, taking a step back and squishing up against the walls of the alley to reveal Taathiir standing before them.

 

“Says friends are safe.”

 

Reiterated the demon, before Taathiir took over the rest of the conversation. Vaz listened to their explanation, functioning eye half-lidded as they swayed a little on the spot and shifted their weight onto Jorath to avoid needing to lie down again.

 

“...Oh, yes that is good news. Thank you?”

 

Said the scribe, their eyes glazing before they shook their head and snapped back into focus.

 

“I don’t suppose we’d be imposing if us three were to join them, would we? Do you have Healers? I can pay for all three of us. The others, too, if needed. Except maybe the rabbit.”

 

 

Xaal/Lucy

 

Lucy visibly bristled when Taathiir bent down to whisper their warning, her green eyes flickering over to the wings in question as she pondered over the implications.

 

“Buttercup, darling at least take a team with you incase- Aaaaand they’re gone.”

 

 Lucy sighed and rubbed at her eyes, feeling that for every question that had been answered two more had just sprung up in its place. Xaal meanwhile had decided to take a mildly defensive stance at Argia’s side to ward away the rest of the crowd, sensing the uncertainty and telltale signs of a being overwhelmed in her aura. Golden eyes shifted focus down to the strange device that a young demon was still handing out to her, Xaal’s brow wrinkling in reply. Slowly she took hold of the smartphone, holding it out at arms length with a distinctly suspicious tone to her expression.

 

“Well it’s not going to bite sweetie. Look we’ve all got one.”

 

Lucy sighed, briefly brandishing her own as she shook her head at the uncertain Guardian. Xaal slowly drew the phone closer to her chest, reluctantly letting the demon who had handed it to her demonstrate how to turn it on before taking her to the ‘notes’ app. Xaal to her credit was at least quick to adapt once she figured out how to bring up the keyboard. She started to type out her name again, followed by some questions for Lucy.

 

“...Xaal’Razuul, huh? Well alright honey, if that’s what you insist on-“

 

She paused as Argia folded her wings away, eyes glued to the extra limbs as the feathers knitted together and merged into a shawl that draped across her shoulders. Train of thought lost, she placed a hand over her mouth and rubbed at her chin as she starred over at Argia. There was too many things to ask her, at this point. Lucy didn’t even know where to start. She almost missed Argia’s inquiry about Mag’than’s health.

 

“Hm? Oh. Yeah, sure. Sarcyilia was mentored by Raphael themself you know. If she was any better at her craft she’d be an outright necromancer.”

 

Lucy announced, head snapping back up to meet her gaze as she waved her hand in a flippant, dismissive manner. 

 

“And don’t worry about Ol’ Scribbles and Jingles, I’m sure Buttercup will have them both here all safe and sound in a pinch.”

 

The demon began to pace, stealing a glance at Argia’s back and frowning when she caught a glimpse of long, misshapen gouges along her flesh between the rips of her dress. Xaal seemed to have noticed the same thing, looking somewhat drained at the sight before averting her gaze by inspecting the new phone in her hands.

 

“Hm...lets take a look at you dear...hm yes. Well I might need someone to take the hem up an inch or two for you but I think I have a few dresses that will fit you that you can borrow. Why not come with me and we’ll get you something a little more comfortable while we wait for Taathy to get back, hm? You too, Xaal. Izzy, darling, when Taathy comes back send them to my office please.”

 

Lucy then took both woman by their hands, urging them to follow her to her office and away from the stares of the demons still lingering around them.

 

“Now, can either of you explain why you thought it was a good idea to go skulking around in a fear demon’s lair?”

Edited by Lycanious
Oops, forgot a line.

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Jorath / Taathiir
Well, there it was. Another confirmation that should you speak of the devil, you were bound to have him.

As he was still processing Vaz's response to his apology (as well as puzzling over how they seemed to nuzzle--was that the word for it?--against the side of his head and what it was meant to mean), Jorath gave Skrul a tired, though hesitant, wave in greeting. His gaze shifted to the six horns curling from the demon's head, an uneasy recognition settling upon his shoulders. Though the figure had been drenched in inky ikaar, the horns made the connection easier than Jorath liked. For a moment, he still heard the illusion's accusations against Xaal until he shook himself. We're not there anymore. And you promised her. "Nice to finally meet you; Vaz mentioned good things about you." It was somewhat of an idle remark.

When Kaa'Taakiir was introduced to him, Jorath's eyes followed Vaz's hands to the fragment of ball-chain seemingly welded to the quill's broken hilt. They were in clear distress. He recognized the sigil imprinted upon the metal. Bringing his hand up to rest against Vaz's own, Jorath frowned. "May I? I know how to undo it..." Gently, he took the quill from her scribe and felt along the offending metal until he lightly tapped a claw at it. "It's, um... probably not going to feel very comfortable," he warned before pausing for a moment.

After a heartbeat, he murmured a phrase in Sahthlua. The metal warmed, a seam becoming visible and cracking apart. For a fretful second, Jorath worried that it might also take off Kaa'Taakiir's hilt; he'd only ever seen the spell used upon mortals or weak demons, beings that only squirmed under the burning metal but possessed no metal themselves that could melt. He sighed with some relief when that didn't happen, the ball-chain dropping to the ground without ruining Kaa's hilt. Upon striking the ground, the broken chain proceeded to melt itself down until it was an unrecognizable blot.

Vaz seemed to sag against him as Skrul and Taathiir made mention that everyone else in their group was safe. "We do have healers and you wouldn't be an imposition. Don't worry about payment, though; our healers are well compensated for their work. Focus more on recovering, please," Taathiir continued to assure. "If you're ready, I'll take you to our main building now. Are you coming with, Skrul?" they asked, glancing at the larger demon. When the being confirmed his accompaniment, and the injured pair were ready, Taathiir started their incantation.

Once the alleyway disappeared and the infirmary replaced it, Taathiir got the attention of one of Sarcyilia's assistants. The being approached, directed to help Taathiir with getting Vaz and Jorath to their feet. Jorath, disoriented from the unfamiliar teleport, bristled and reflexively snapped at the unknown individual he could only sense. "Easy," Taathiir said, motioning for the assistant to step back.

"Sir, are these three the rest of the group?" Sarcyilia asked, cleaning blood off her hands with an old rag. It wasn't uncommon for an injured demon to snap out at one of his healers, but Sarcyilia still frowned faintly at the undesired response. She was still by Mag'than's side, as well as Kalath who hovered with the seeker's hand gripped in hers. The healer examined the three newcomers as Taathiir nodded in confirmation.

Jorath inhaled deeply, rubbing at his eyes as his vision finally cleared. "Sorry. It's been--"

"I understand," Taathiir replied. "Let's do this then: you guide based on what you need in order to get up."

He stared at Taathiir, glancing at Vaz briefly as he continued to hold them, and then nodded. It was slow, awkward, and painful but, gradually Jorath staggered to his feet, supporting Vaz as they needed in the process and utilizing Taathiir as support for himself. Once up, both were guided to separate cots they could sit upon and Sarcyilia took over in directing assistants to provide necessary care. "That looks unhealthy and I can smell the infernal poisoning it; let me see to that wing of yours," she said to Vaz.

With things being tended to, Taathiir turned to Skrul, gaze falling upon the chain in his hands. Then to the shackles on Jorath. They frowned as Jorath appeared to flinch when a healer attempted to touch the metal. "What is that?" Taathiir asked Skrul, sending Lucy a quick text to alert her that they were back.

"It's mine," Jorath replied instead, the answer slow. "I'd... like it back, if you don't mind."

---
Argia
She didn't know how to interpret Lucy's staring, so she made the decision to set it aside for a moment as the other being answered her question. At first, she didn't know who 'Scribbles' or 'Jingles' were until Argia connected the dots. When Lucy paced around to get behind her, Argia shifted to follow her with her gaze. "Is there something--"

Lucy kept speaking, eventually grabbing her and Xaal's hands once she had directed a demon named Izzy about where to find them whenever Taathiir got back. Being taken through the building, leaving one hallway, entering others, and navigating rooms, Argia started to grow weary. If she could just sit for a few moments....

She made a sound in response to Lucy's question. "One of Takut's demons had stolen important items from both Vaz and Jorath. They had made an attempt already with the employment of Mag'than, but she failed somehow. So, we decided to try as a group. Only, we were separated far sooner than expected," Argia eventually explained.

Within Lucy's office, Argia paused to take in the new surroundings. A closet was indicated to her, a space where she could take any pick of clothing as she saw fit to replace her worn and tattered articles. Not for the first time this evening, she looked down and examined her attire. It made reasonable sense to change her clothing when the opportunity was presented. Her shoulders sagged.

Stepping into the closet, Argia idly reached for a hanging dress to feel the fabric. As she did so, her shawl shifted and she frowned, realizing she was oddly surprised that it was sliding off her left shoulder. Up until then, she admittedly didn't think to see if it was removable; wings shouldn't come off and on like a coat. A little unsettled, Argia gingerly removed the shawl, setting it aside and staring at the fabric as if it had changed colors again. She shook her head, pressing her palm against her cheek and rubbing slightly.

Lojaal was swaying behind her, Argia spotting their reflections in the mirror. The quill pointed to her back and she obliged, twisting to try and see what the matter was with the aid of the mirror. Grimacing at the bleeding claw marks, she sucked in a breath when she recognized the gold and murky substance. Not wanting to linger on it, she exhaled healing smoke and watched as the wounds repaired themselves. Beneath the mess, she found more old scarring.

It took her a few minutes to browse the clothing and finally settle upon something sensible for the cold weather. The coloring was going to have to match the black and dark red of her shawl, a fact that briefly made some part of her wish it was brown instead. (Which was an odd thought until she reasoned it as being because brown was easier to pair with other colors.) There were a variety of fleece leggings, some of solid colors and some with interesting patterns. Grabbing one with a dark grey and black scheme, she paired it with some kind of long and form-fitting sweater-shirt that was more burgundy in color. The top draped down to about mid-thigh, possessed a stylistic collar with buttons, and had the benefit of pockets that Vaz had recommended. After a moment of clinging to her beaten boots, she finally sighed and settled upon a casual pair of lace-up boots to replace them with.

Once finished, but unable to sooth the awkward feeling of wearing someone else's clothes, Argia returned the shawl to her shoulders and stepped out of the dressing space. "Is this... alright?" she asked Lucy, still uncertain if she should change back out and just continue wearing her old dress until some other solution was brought up.

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Vaz

 

Worried for Kaa but trusting that Jorath knew what he was doing, the scribe handed her over at his prompt. Under breath they fretted as they hovered over the quill, before twitching their head to the side and exhaling sharply as the shackle promptly snapped off of the hilt. A sigh of relief followed, Vaz gripping at his arm and murmuring gratitude from both themself and on behalf of the quill.

 

As Taathiir assured them that they wouldn’t need to bother with payment Vaz squinted in doubt. Outright charity was rare among demons, even those of more selfless origins, so something at the back of their mind warned them that they would probably be expected to do a small favour or two instead for the use of their resources. Glancing between their own injuries and Jorath’s though, Vaz soon concluded that neither of them were in much of a position to decline the offer. 

 

Apart from a lurch in their core at the sensation, Vaz otherwise was unbothered by how swiftly their surroundings melted away to reveal the infirmary. Even when Jorath suddenly snapped towards a new entity they were only momentarily startled, before their hands trailed from their resting spot at his arm to his shoulders. They whispered their usual pet name for him as a gentle reminder of where he was, waiting until he had been given a chance to reorientate himself and apologised before they relaxed their grip on him.

 

Vaz admittedly, despite the ache in all their joints, was reluctant to untangle themself from their fellow demon when prompted. Separating right now almost felt like it was abandoning him to a situation where Er’anir could suddenly reappear and drag him away with her. Or drag away Vaz, even. The scribe wasn’t entirely certain who their current embrace was meant to be protecting any more. Jorath initiated movement though and Vaz reluctantly relented, letting him ease them back onto their feet. With a wobble they started to stumble backwards as he released them, only to be caught by the arm by one of the assistants and gently guided over to the nearest surgical bed.

 

Now flat on their stomach, wings limp and hanging over both sides of the bed, Vaz groaned in protest when Sarcyilia drew attention to the injured one.

 

“I’d rather you focus on the eye my dear, it’s one of my favourites.”

 

Mumbled Vaz into their pillow.

 

“The eye isn’t saturated with demonic influence. It can wait.”

 

Refuted Sarcyilia, in a voice that somehow still held its gentleness while also indicating how seriously she took her role as a Healer.

 

“The hand, then. That one hurts the most anyway.”

 

Sarcyilia sighed, but the urgency at which Vaz was trying to redirect people away from their wings was one she recognised all too well. A soft ‘okay, we’ll start there then’ answered Vaz, who then obediently lifted their arm for her to work her magic on.

 

Meanwhile, as Jorath requested his chain back Skrul first mumbled out an analysis.
 

“Is strong magic. Well made. I see much pain and wrath and vengeance inside it. Jorath is certain he wants it back?”

 

There was a flicker in his eyes, something akin to either sympathy or empathy as he turned Illstrund in his hands. Eventually his focus returned to the shorter demon and he reached over to hand him back the chain, but not before leaning forward and letting his soft voice take on the hint of a growl as the chain passed between them.

 

“Jorath be keeping chain away from Vaz, yes? Or I crush skull like grape. Many bad memories. Much pain. Jorath will be apologising to them and then-“

 

Shattering glass, a yelp, and a snarl that bordered on downright animalistic made Skrul relinquish his hold on the chain and snap his head up towards the commotion behind him. A younger looking assistant was scrambling back from Vaz, her eyes wide with confusion. Clenched in her hands had been a jar containing one of Taathiir’s remedies, but the glass container was now shattered on the floor of the infirmary. With their uninjured wings now flared out in a threat display, the green splotch upon the shoulder of the still-limp one suggested that the assistant healer had tried to apply some of the ointment to it unannounced, and sent Vaz into a panic over the matter.

 

Sarcyilia was between the two in an instance, hands raised in a gesture of peace but her gaze firm.

 

“I’m sorry Raz-“

 

Vaz!”

 

“Y-yes alright, Vaz, but I really must insist you let one of us take a look at your wings! My assistants are all hand-picked by myself and well-trained to ensure they are unaffected by any lingering orders of Vox perfectum and-“

 

“Vaz have bad time. Brain is not working right.”

 

Interrupted Skrul, who had since woven his way over to the source of the commotion and now had one of his hands resting on Vaz’s arm. The tension in Vaz’s shoulders faltered in response to something Skrul whispered to them, their wings eventually folding back down to a less difficult position for the healers. They still flinched and jerked to the side when Skrul brushed a hand against the injured one, but otherwise they then allowed him to gingerly stretch out the mangled limb and tut at the sight of it.

 

“...Is bad, Plume’vicci. Will need much help to heal. But I will bandage for healers, yes?”

 

Vaz looked like they were holding back the urge to faint, pale and quivering. After taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly they deflated, slightly, and allowed Skrul to start dabbing at the wound with some gauze.

 

Someone will be needing to change over the wing bandages in an hour or so, just to make sure the remedy is working. Looks like your friend over there took a direct hit during The Fall, so their wings are going to recover much slower than the rest of them.”

 

Sarcyilia announced, after it became apparent that Skrul knew what he was doing and Vaz was at ease enough with it for her to take her eye off of the duo. Her attention drifted towards Jorath, her voice faltering for a second as she recognised him and remembered the night of her unexpected rescue at his hands. Then, a faint smile drifted onto her face.

 

“Hello again. Um...Are you going to let me check you for a broken rib this time?”

 

Ventured the healer, before her eyes drifted to the shackle about his neck and she frowned at the sight of it.

 

“By the sounds of your voice I need to take a look at your throat too but is ...is that...melted into your skin? Can you not take it off?”

 

 

 

 

Lucy & Xaal

 

“Well that just seems reckless. That’s what, five of you? Six if you include that other woman? I mean I know you’ve got some powerful angels at your side Naya’il but Takut’s got...what...50 employees? 60? Did you even check the amount?”

 

It was mostly a one-sided ramble as Lucy directed them towards her office, finding that it was close enough to the break room to not bother with attempting a three-person teleport. No sense in draining one’s energy if there were potentially more invaders lurking about. At the use of the name ‘Naya’il’ Lucy’s eyes bulged slightly with realisation a moment later, pausing the journey for a second to study her.

 

“Um. Sorry. What was your name again now? Argia? Did you want me to call you that instead of Naya’il?”

 

Once receiving her answer, Lucy took point once more and soon was happily ushering them into her office. Argia was instantly nudged towards the closet area, Lucy reassuring her that anything in there was up for grabs as long as she promised to eventually give it back. Once herded inside she closed the door behind her for some extra privacy, before bounding over to Xaal and starring her down from the opposite side of her desk.

 

“...Alright, I’ll start. Hi, my name’s Dirzarok. You can call me Dirz or Zarok for short, if you like.”

 

Lucy ventured first, starting with the name that she gave as part of her current two-winged guardian guise. Xaal frowned in reply, seeming to be averting her gaze over something. After sharing her contact number, and a quick tutorial on how to text her own phone with the new device in Xaal’s hands, Lucy successfully coaxed her into replying to them.

 

‘I thought ‘Buttercup’ said your name was Lucy?’

 

“Oh. Uh. Yeah well some of the people around here call me Lucy too, yeah.”

 

‘Why?’

 

Lucy shrugged, caught slightly off-guard by the fact that Xaal already knew the name that was reserved more for her inner circle. At least she was talking to a Fallen, still. 

 

“Why do people call you Xaal, if your name’s Zadkiel?”

 

Xaal’s golden eyes narrowed, her gaze darting away from Lucy and towards the large curtain in hopes that it would look as though she was distracted by her curiosity instead of blatantly ignoring the demon before her’s question. The corner of Lucy’s mouth twitched upwards, as she had been banking on drawing attention to exactly that.

 

“Ah, you want to see what’s behind the curtain? I think you’re gonna love it ‘Xaal’. Lemme show you.”

 

Lucy scrambled on over and drew back the curtains, beaming as Xaal’s eyes went wide and her mouth hung open in shock upon witnessing it.

 

“Beautiful, isn’t it? Do you like it?”

 

With a cluttering sound Xaal’s new phone fell out of her hand, rendering her unable to answer Lucy’s questions. Lucy shook her head as the angel slowly stepped forward, her hand gently ghosting the edge of the glass as she seemingly puzzled over the markings made on it.

 

“Ah, gorgeous darling. Of course you did get it from my wardrobe so that’s rather a given really isn’t it?”

 

Called Lucy over her shoulder, her green eyes now drifting over Argia’s form and briefly settling back onto the shawl that she kept about her shoulders.

 

“We can wash that dress and sew it back up if you want to keep it, just fold it up onto my desk here and I’ll have someone come around to take care of it. You can add the shawl, too, if you think it needs a clean.”

 

Lucy then indicated the painting along the wall with a grand gesture.

 

“Do you like it? Had it for centuries. Painted by Archangel Zadkiel you know, well if you believe the signature it is at any rate. Do you paint much- hm no. I suppose you don’t have a lot of spare time for that do you. What about gardening? Taathiir used to tell me all about-“

 

Speak of the devil, her phone decided to sound off at that moment and Lucy excused herself momentarily to read the text that Taathiir had sent her.

 

“Ah! Good news! Looks like Buttercup’s retrieved our little friends. Alright we got three options here - first is we stay here to admire my talent for interior decorating and I invite them up when they’re all patched up. Second is I take you to the infirmary. Third is I can take you to...”

 

Lucy paused and flicked through a few notes on her phone, at the same time stooping to pick up Xaal’s own off of the ground and gently nudging it back into her hands.

 

“...Ooh yep, we’re in luck there’s one available still. Alright third option is I take you to one of our private lounge areas and you can both have a little break - personally I recommend the third one we just refurnished and it’s looking really nice now. We got like a TV...books...some videos and those weird circle ones with the hole in them...beanbags...”

 

Lucy trailed off from her list for a moment, lost in thought before she snapped back to attention.

 

“Um. Right! Anyway, lots of stuff in there. We can send on over your friends too once they’re done if you like?”

Edited by Lycanious

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