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[Open] The Forsaken World

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With the scarf removed from Vaz’s side a thick plume of grey smoke mixed with wisps of gold billowed out from the wound. More ink dribbled out onto the blankets and straw below, though the sheer volume of it had reduced significantly from Vaz’s initial inspection of the wound. Wispy tendrils began to emerge from deep within the swirling mass of inky substances and golden flecks within, some waving about in an idle manner while others appeared to reach out and brush lightly against Argia’s hands. On closer inspection Argia may have noticed or even felt the frayed edges of some of the tendrils, as though something had been crudely torn from them long ago.

 

The quills however seemed unconcerned with the presence of the tendrils, and each one retreated back into its human shell once it was clear that Argia was trying to clean up the wound. Lojaal skittered back towards the parchment to begin to doodle something upon its surface while Fi continued to watch the harbinger at work. An illustration of a grizzly bear had soon appeared, with what appeared to be a layer of bandages wrapped tightly around its forearm. Fi moved to clarify a moment later, knowing that interpreting Lojaal’s messages properly could often be a frustrating endeavour. 

 

Restructure the truths in your head. Perhaps your presence prevented worse outcomes from bearing fruit? 

 

With Lojaal’s assistance Fi was about to start listing a few examples to backup her statement, but a surprisingly venomous mumble from Vaz distracted the both of them from their internal discussion. Vaz was still asleep and slumped against the floor, but both quills could feel a flutter of bitter consciousness briefly emanating from their scribe in response to Argia’s words.

 

“Just leave me alone Raph. Do not taunt me with false sympathies.”

 

Both quills went still, Fi’Faltuun in particular drooping in response. Hearing a creak from the entrance door a few beats later was a welcomed change of topic, and both of the quills snapped up to zoom over and investigate. They quickly settled back down though upon the realisation it was only Xaal returning from her patrol. The fallen being squeezed through the door with four disposable bags in her hands, each one stuffed to the brim with assorted goodies. She placed all but one beside Argia then proceeded to dump out a sizeable collection of donuts, tarts, and pastries from her own bag.

 

Xaal went for the six pack of cinnamon donuts first, ripping apart the container and shoving one into her mouth before waving the rest of them under Vaz’s nose. It didn’t wake the scribe, but they did stir at the scent and subsequently wince under-breath from the movement. Worth a shot. At least they look like they’re starting to come back around. Xaal shifted her attention back to Argia and indicated the package to her as she placed it beside them.

 

‘You are a new name.’

 

Began Xaal, after tossing the now-empty coin purse back to Vaz’s side.

 

‘But you seem close? Or is there just something you want of Vaz?’

 

It wasn’t an accusation as such, but Xaal did hold an expression of mild contempt that seemed reserved more for beings beyond this conversation. She shifted her stare back and forth between Argia and their wounded allies, weighing up the extent of their injuries.

 

‘You can leave the wings alone. Vaz will understand. Vaz might even prefer it.’

 

She grimaced, her doubt clear, but continued.

 

‘Knowledge is power. If you want faster healing, tell them new things. Tell them secrets.’
 

[[ Oof, yeah I’ve had a similar kind of response once or twice in my life as well. Makes perfect sense if she’s so overwhelmed.

The quills also have their name etched out onto their hilts so she may have been able to read it from that :3 ]]

Edited by Lycanious

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She flinched back when something spilled from Vaz's side, brushing against her fingers in the split second it took. In another moment, the tendrils were gone and Argia hesitated. She wasn't certain of what she felt from the tendrils and Lojaal's movements pulled her attention away from the puzzling thoughts. Imagery upon parchment. It was a curious picture and Argia was silently grateful for Fi's translation. "Your words make sense," she said, turning back to Vaz's injury. "It is a good counter. Yet it relies on 'what if's which generate unknown possibilities, many that bring concern and doubt. I am a being of 'what is'; I cannot work with 'what if' or 'what could have been'. I--" She stopped again, realizing she was dipping into something sour. Was that hers? 

 

A mumble drifted from Vaz's lips in the next second, sharp and unkind. Had the souring mood been from Vaz? Argia stared. She had felt Ditraxol and Jorath's anger at separate times. And now? She shook her head, letting herself be distracted by Xaal's abrupt return to the theater. She gawked at the bulging bags, the sound of crinkling wrappers and smacking items cutting through the air. "Xaal'Razuul? What--" An open package of donuts was prodded in her direction. Argia could smell the cinnamon wafting from the bundle. Her mouth wetted, not unlike when they had been just outside the cafe where Ditraxol ambushed them. 

 

"Is this what you took they're coin for?" It was an idle question. Blood covered her hands and she reached for the towels, finding a wipe that could clean them. She caught Xaal's questions and frowned. "Vaz mentioned something similar. About wanting something from them." Argia shook her head. "We're not close and we've only just met tonight. I do not wish for anything from Vaz as I have no want or need. They warned me, however, that everyone in this world will only do something in exchange for something else." 

 

She straightened at the possibility of healing Vaz faster. "New knowledge?" She didn't believe she had any secrets. Would it count as a secret to those not from the same world? "Since you told me some things about Vaz, it is perhaps fair that I return similar insights." She focused on the ground, brow furrowing only slightly as she sorted out what best to share. ""Stealer of Light" is a title some of the Paragons gave me, after I came for their child's soul. He was a good and happy boy, but he was fatally ill and his time ended before he was 12. The father is still enraged about this many centuries later, though the mother understands and is sorrowful about the loss. Their child, had he been given a better Fate, would have been a future Paragon and the Usherer of Light."

 

Argia bit down into a fluffy donut, taking the next bite soon after. Food was not a requirement for her, but something about eating it helped to ease a tension in her body. Her eyes landed on a packaged jam tart and she laughed briefly, suddenly. "We were supposed to enjoy these hours ago." Another laugh carried from her lungs, though Argia couldn't fathom why.

 

Tell them secrets.

 

"A name forgotten. A name replaced."

 

Argia brought a hand up to her head, stilling. After a moment, the dizzying sensation seemed to pass and leave her behind. "I... I, um..." The crinkling of plastic grounded her focus onto the tart in her grasp. "I think I have a secret?" It pricked at the back of her mind, a sing-song pair of voices that ebbed and flowed. Always together. A name forgotten. She frowned, glancing between Xaal, Vaz, and the quills. "I don't sleep--never had any need nor time for rest--but there were moments of solitude. Once, I think I entered a trance of some kind, and I could hear something. A word. I think a name." Setting the still-wrapped tart down, Argia reached for a bit of the scattered parchment.

 

Her hands trembled as she smoothed it out and began looking for something to write with. Lojaal darted into her hold, as if she were a key sliding comfortably into its lock. "Oh, thank you," Argia murmured, not knowing why she hadn't considered the idea. She carefully rested the quill against the parchment, hesitating. All those years ago she hadn't spoken to Kirit and Meztli about it, hadn't revealed it to them. Argia hadn't allowed herself to question why. Finally, she managed to make her hand obey and start writing.

 

Naya'il

 

"A name forgotten, a name replaced," Argia itterated, mimicking the whisper in her thoughts from so long ago. "A name remembered: Naya'il."

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Xaal only regarded her with a coy smile behind her donut when asked about the coin she had taken, neatly folding her wings and sliding down into a seated position beside her. Facts and food. Works every time. She thought. Make yourself feel familiar to someone with a few tidbits of information about yourself and they inevitably started digging into some juicier ones of their own. Even though it was not her preferred method she sometimes marvelled at how well Vaz’s philosophy applied. The woman’s concern for the fussy old scribe was only a further testament to that, with the revelation that the two had only met that night.

 

The fallen being’s expression shifted to one of melancholy when Argia spoke of the selfishness of this realm, her mind wandering back to the news that it had been abandoned by the angels meant to be protecting it. Vaz was...not wrong, necessarily. But there was an optimism that such attitudes could still be changed that Xaal chose to cling to, when her counterpart refused to do-so.

 

She wasn’t sure what a Paragon of Light was, but she found that she didn’t need to ask. Such a loss was one that resonated deeply between their realms. The concept left a bitter taste in her mouth, and briefly a flicker of anger at the decision stirred in her core before she hushed it back into silence. No. Argia was not to blame. For this or any other such terrible losses at the merciless nature of sovereigns and deities. A sniffling sound emitted from her, but she dissuaded her eyes from watering by crunching her knuckles into her nose and mouth until the stinging in them subsided.

 

‘It is a cruel title. I hope you have better titles.’

 

Motioned Xaal, titling her head upwards and frowning when she realised that Argia was looking very distracted. Secretly she hoped that it meant that the woman hadn’t seen her reaction to the story, nor witnessed her comment about titles.

 

Oh, but there was now something immense that had taken the place of Xaal’s attention. Something intriguing and awful and almost buried entirely but now finding a way of clawing back to the surface. Xaal could feel the power radiating from the word ‘Naya’il’ even without any context as to why it was there. A shiver ran through her. She tried to quell it by taking another bite of her donut and chewing in deep thought as she starred down at the name etched out onto the paper. 

 

‘Maybe it is someone important you have forgotten? I can help with-‘

 

True to Xaal’s promise, Vaz started to stir again moments after Argia had spoken the name and made her pause the conversation. They emitted what sounded like a slurred attempt to repeat the word, but the way Vaz enunciated the name made it feel more like a demand to follow a set of instructions that no one was privy to. A few eyes blinked open along the arms of their wings, regarding both ladies with a dazed sort of confusion as to why they were here. Vaz twitched their chin a few times. On the third tremor they managed to lift their head enough to be able to turn and look over at them before they slumped against the ground once more.

 

“Argia. Xaal. Seen.”

 

Announced Vaz, once their mind had first cycled through a few scattered phrases in other languages. The extra eyes faded back into oblivion.

 

“Welcome to office. Off hours. Appointment with Fi can be made though yes? Good night.”

 

The scribe then proceeded to close their eyes again and brought a hand to their temple to groggily try to dispel the migraine throbbing through it. Fi’Faltuun perched upon the raised arm and leaned over to inspect the crumpled heap before them. She fluttered on the spot, tapping sharply against the limb until Vaz grunted in acknowledgement that they were still conscious enough to perceive the world around them.

 

We are not at the office Vazithrazuul.

 

“Where?”

 

Lojaal projected the image of a dinosaur into Vaz’s skull, jumping and scurrying back when it caused the old scribe to jerk upward in alarm. They release a string of profanities as a jolt of pain shot up their side, quickly forcing them back into a curled position on their side once more. Xaal blinked with mild exasperation down at the demon before her, before pelting a donut at their face for attention and motioning for them to stay still. Vaz seemed to obey, slouching into a more relaxed position and focusing their efforts on picking apart a piece of the donut with their nails.

 

“Askee-ah is gone.”

 

They announced, inspecting a piece of dough pinched between their fingers. A grimace pulled tight across their face.

 

“Time Displacement spell. Sets things in order again. Brilliant author. Decent execution.”

 

Vaz shifted to glance over their shoulder, spying the bandaged form of Kansif propped up a little further away and not much else in the way of their new allies. Their eyes closed in a mournful manner. Even the beastly mutt would’ve been a welcomed sight at this stage.

 

“Dare I ask where everyone else is?”

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"Perhaps, though I don't understand how," Argia replied, unsettled by the idea of having forgotten someone. Xaal was making an offer to help with something when Vaz's stirring interrupted her. They seemed to repeat the name she'd given before extra eyes blinked open. That was different. "Ah," she started, amusement breaking through the unease at Vaz's apparent confusion of what was happening. "We're actually--" The quills were already ahead of her and, in the next moment, Vaz sat abruptly. "... in the theater," Argia finished on a mumble, her words nearly colliding with their announcement about Askee-ah. "She's gone? Just like that?" She ignored the rather comical display between Xaal and Vaz and the injustice served to an innocent donut. Missing allies were more important.

 

"Will she return? Or is that it; she's gone for good?" Had Askee-ah been sent back home? It seemed so, if Vaz's choice of words were to be interpreted. "I don't know where Hrafn went to. She had been with Askee-ah last. She's a giant wolf, however; perhaps she left the city in favor of the trees we saw?" It made sense, feeble as it felt. "And Jorath--"

 

Argia frowned. "We're all that's here for the time being. I don't know where Jorath ran off to." She grabbed the tart package that had been set aside earlier. Finally breaking the plastic open, she took a bite (it was such a small treat already, how was she supposed to consume it short of putting the whole, bite-sized thing into her mouth?) and remained silent for a moment. At last, "Vaz, how do you feel? I have some questions to ask of you but only when you are rested enough." She stared at the pastry, not certain about taking the next bite. "I'm sorry. Xaal informed me that sharing new knowledge, or secrets, would work best for faster healing. I failed to think it would jolt you awake. I didn't know much else to do and was only able to help Kansif because Fi and Lojaal were good guidance. I hope I didn't rush anything too soon." 

 

Another moment passed and she lifted the wrapper up a bit. "You were right. I like the jam tarts...."

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“Askee-ah should be unharmed, but I am doubtful that she will return to our present situation. As I said, the author behind the incantation is very meticulous. The chances of them leaving behind an exploitable loophole are astronomically small-“

 

Another donut thumped against their nose. Xaal rolled her eyes and shook her head down at Vaz as they switched attention towards her. Strange. She had been expecting a smug look plastered across their features for what seemed like such transparent praise of their own handiwork. Xaal hadn’t expected them to look...frightened? Guilty? Some sort of unpleasant combination of both? 

 

Golden eyes watched as a pale Vaz ran an idle hand through their own hair and broke away from the stare, now searching for something among the straw. As Vaz sagged in relief and held it aloft she realised that the object in question was the halo shard they had been holding in their hand when they collapsed. Xaal wrinkled her nose and averted her gaze as Vaz fastened the missing horn back into their skull. She hated that look for them. It served far too well a reminder of the infernal sort of creature Vaz had transformed themself into.

 

“I...suppose there is always room for error. Perhaps the caster butchered her lines, or made an error when translating from the language of the aeiuwn. I would not place any hope in expecting our reptilian friend to make an appearance all the same.”

 

Continued Vaz, after a contemplative pause that left their fingers drumming against the metal of their horn. Xaal assumed they were distracted by some sort of internal discussion with the quills. Vaz then closed their eyes and drove a knuckle into their temple, grumbling something unintelligible in Oldspeak. 

 

“Or Jorath. For that matter.”

 

As Argia mentioned having questions Vaz’s shoulders sagged once more and they regarded her wearily, though their miserable expression softened a fraction when she morphed into a rambling apology. They even managed to produce a few rumbles at the back of their throat that might’ve been some semblance of a chuckle when she directed their attention to the jam tarts. A trembling hand snaked out and lifted the container up to inspect the words printed on its side. Oh. Strawberries. Not jams. Mused Vaz, eyes growing wide with a mild fascination as they scanned the rest of the ingredients list and motioned for her to read along. They soon realised however that Argia was probably looking for more important answers than the constitution of a jam tart, and forced their mind to start flipping through the pages of the Archives once more.

 

“I feel...Rather terrible, if I am to be honest. Everything aches. Everything seems as if it requires far too much effort. I’m...I’m not sure if I am in the best state of mind to be dispensing wisdoms my dear. I seem to be saying foolish things and having the opposite effect of my intentions as of late.”

 

Vaz’s face contorted into a lost, regretful expression as they slowly eased themselves into a more upright position against the wall of the theatre. Xaal twinged the corners of her mouth, recalling the tail-end of the conversation she had picked up between Jorath and Vaz. Her eyes flickered over to Argia as Vaz tried to adjust themself to a more comfortable position, questioning her as to whether they should mention the possibility of Jorath having more sinister intentions towards the group. The fact that Vaz hadn’t inquired about their encounter yet suggested that Lojaal’O’Ith had seen reason not to report it yet.

 

“You may ask your questions all the same, if you wish. I will do my best to be of use to you.”

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[[Lmao I wrote up last night's post on my phone before falling asleep and now I'm finally seeing it on my desktop xD It's so small!]]

 

Argia studied the ingredient list rather idly when Vaz indicated it to her, making note of how the treat was not as it had seemed. It was becoming clearer that something had transpired between Vaz and Jorath, but she could not determine what. She only assumed it was something melancholy from how glum Vaz appeared to be. "I do not seek wisdom, Vaz, only some clarity. And I do not want to ambush you if you are in such poor state. My question can wait a little longer for the sake of rest." 

 

It was disheartening to learn that Askee-ah seemed to really be gone, based from Vaz's assessment of whomever cast the spell that sent her away. Perhaps it should have been more concerning to Argia, a potential worry of this spellcaster returning. "That woman who fled, was she the one responsible?" Argia found herself asking as she reached over to pick up the second donut Xaal had pitched at Vaz's face. Bundling it up within a towel then discarding it into an emptied bag, Argia frowned. "Do you believe we have to be concerned about her coming back?" Should she admit that the idea of a spell that returned displaced beings to where they belonged was an alluring thought? 

 

Without prompt, her shawl tore apart as her wings shifted and repositioned themselves. She scowled at them, resting a hand on one of the limbs as if she might try holding it down. After a moment, she dropped her hand and stood, striding towards Kansif to see if her bleeding had ceased. Mostly, it had. Some patches of red had bloomed on the bandages, but they didn't seem to be of a concerning degree. "Askee-ah said this place was kept hidden, correct? Will her absence leave this place exposed?" Argia didn't want to leave Kansif vulnerable, the half-orc appearing the be the only one without advanced healing. Or, at least, no advanced healing while she was unconscious. 

 

A pair of glowing spheres--one dark and the other light--darted above Vaz when she glanced at the Scribe again. Her eyes widened before she brought a hand up to rub at them. When she looked again, Kirit and Meztli were gone. She frowned, searching the lobby of the theater in case the duo had manifested elsewhere. No good. "Where--" The unfinished question carried under her breath. She was exhausted. That had to account for her seeing things. Humans hallucinated regularly for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps Argia would benefit from rest as well. 

 

The alternative thought was Kirit and Meztli were attempting to reach her in this realm. She dared not to fully entertain such an idea, as relieving as it might have felt. The chances were... Well, it was a more optimistic belief than the possibility that they no longer needed her if her absence did not have a poor impact upon Balance. No, too much. Argia shoved down all thoughts related to the duo, an attempt to ward off the dizziness that was returning. "I think Kansif will remain unconscious for some time yet, but she seems she will recover." Argia opted to focus on something more concrete, more certain. Or, as certain as Argia could be about a world of lifelines that held no end. Her thoughts brushed against said lifelines, touching the featheriness that belonged to Vaz, the fur and iron of Kansif's, and the silky petal-like texture belonging to Xaal. Finally, Argia noticed faint trails belonging to the quills, both of them tethered to Vaz. They weren't lifelines, exactly, but they still denoted a sense of life. The realization coaxed a weary smile from Argia. "Vaz. Did you know that your quills have lifelines? Sort of. I can feel the tethers that tie them to you."

 

[[Lovely little thing I discovered: roses are a symbol for both memory and secrecy. So, Xaal gets a nice little rose for her lifeline :3

ETA: I just realized... Argia doesn't actually know... how to rest lmao. She doesn't know what to do. So it's why she's not just going "okay, I need a nap. Wake me up if the building starts collapsing."]]

Edited by ValidEmotions

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“If...if you insist my dear?”

 

The demon blinked at her, puzzled. They hadn’t been expecting Argia to put aside her inquiries just for the sake of giving them some time to breathe. Even Xaal looked a tad surprised, though when Vaz moved to rub more of the sleep from their eyes she shot Argia a thankful smile for recognising that they needed to soak in the rare moment of idle time while it lasted.

 

“Yes. She was a young seeker, I know not her domain nor employment but I recognised her companion. I’ve seen him skulking around with Takut’s band of fiends before...though I know not why they chose to target Askee-ah of all beings.”

 

‘Takut has been very active lately. She has been trying to take some of my territory and others. Maybe she wanted this theatre?’

 

Offered Xaal as a suggestion. Vaz shifted their gaze upwards, studying the dull glow from the emergency lights and the abstract patterns painted upon the theatre roof. Even with their dulled senses, Vaz could feel a kind of magic that still lingered in the air of the place. Askee-ah must have built up a dedicated following in her short stint as a modern dinosaur. Perhaps they were still connected to this place, somehow, and powering it?

 

“Hm...perhaps. Perhaps there is something desirable about this place for Takut. I suspect Askee-ah’s influence will fade within a few days and make us an easy target once more though. I am reluctant to linger here for very long.”

 

Vaz sighed, trying to quell the anxiety that was beginning to swirl in their core once more. They could grasp some semblance of comfort from the knowledge that Xaal and Argia were beside them, but there was still a restlessness that they couldn’t entirely shake off. A part of them, despite the clear discomfort she had caused their fellow demon, wished they hadn’t recalled Fi’Faltuun. At least they would have a rough estimate of where he was and know whether there were more demons out there baying for his blood. Vaz forced themself to look back up and face Argia once more as she spoke, studying how she swayed in an unsteady manner and seemed to blink, dumbfounded, at something past their head. The scribe turned to follow her line of sight, raising an eyebrow when they saw nothing but otherwise choosing not to comment on it. They were no stranger to manifestations before their eyes that no one else was privy to, after all.

 

“That is fortunate, for Kansif. She seemed an inquisitive mortal...far from home, by the sounds of it. It would be a shame not to have a chance to converse with her before her time comes.”

 

They tilted their head in thought, finally finding the motivation to pop one of the pastries into their fanged maw and chewing idly as they contemplated her state of being. Though they kept their eyes trained on her, a faint smile started to drift across their features at the comment on lifelines.

 

”I did not know. But I find I am not surprised. They are marvellous entities of many wonderful personalities. I could never dare to quell their spirits.”

 

’They are like our weapons, connected, but seperate in mind.’

 

Xaal tried to explain, hoping that the scythe she had seen Argia with before was of a similar nature to her own Ix’Draal and capable of holding its own thoughts and opinions on matters to some degree. She looked to Vaz to vouch for whether they agreed on her assessment, but the old scribe was still focusing on Kansif with a troubled expression. Though her wounds had been admirably tended to by Argia, there was still a few less-concerning scratches across her form that had yet to have been covered by bandages. Vaz furled their brow. Now that some of the fog clouding their mind was starting to clear they realised that there was something familiar about a particular set of claw-marks that lashed across her cheek and down her neck. Up to now they had been assuming that she had had a run-in with the same entities Askee-ah had mentioned to them earlier. But there was something about the injury that reminded them of...of...

 

Vaz’s jaw clenched. In the depths of their consciousness, they willed the The Compendium to flip to the significantly insightful, yet still frustratingly incomplete entry on Jorath. Concentration on the tome was difficult, prompting Vaz’s breath to hitch and their eyes to glaze as they struggled to visualise the section on the beastly demon’s abilities that they had documented so-far.

 

“If you will not inquire, I would like to begin to pose my own questions. What exactly happened to Kansif?”

 

[[ Oooh I love the rose idea. Totally going to steal that symbolism and incorporate it somehow now >:) ]]

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[[Absolutely :3]]

 

"Then, suppose we will make use of this refuge for the moment and then find something new before the protection fades if we must." Argia thought the idea to be an agreeable one, even if she would have preferred to just remain in the theater; there was plenty of space for them all. In the meantime, she committed Takut's name to memory, identifying her as someone to either avoid or be cautious and untrusting about. For a moment, she puzzled over why doing so was her initial reaction and not something more neutral. Perhaps it was Vaz's tone when they spoke of her? Reasonably it was because, for now until such a time she was instructed not to be, she was allied with Vaz. 

 

A flicker of unease passed through her, gone in the next second. Not knowing what it was, she opted to ignore it, focusing on what Xaal was saying. Our weapons? Argia didn't understand what the other woman was trying to express. "I don't--" Argia started, wondering if Xaal was possibly confused; Atropos didn't have a spirit of its own like Vaz's quills. It only changed its... Her brow knitted together as she grew uncertain, unexpectedly. The blade formed as she wanted based on what she needed. At home, it never failed to. But here, in this realm, there had already been a few instances where Atropos had not come in the shape Argia thought it would. 

 

She had thought it was a sign from her sovereign. What if it wasn't? She shook her head; it was a ridiculous thought to entertain and Argia shoved it away. It was a tool bestowed her by Kirit and Meztli. Nothing more. Nothing curious or wonderful like the quills.

 

Vaz's question broke apart her thoughts, giving her something else to focus on. Even if it was something rather tense and upsetting. "We were ambushed sometime after you left. A group of demons attacked us." She glanced at Xaal briefly before moving closer to Lojaal. "Can you show them what we saw?" Argia rubbed at her arm as she watched the quill. Lojaal seemed to hesitate before fluttering closer to Vaz. "Jorath led us into the ambush; he seemed interested in Kansif most, though I don't know why. Xaal is really the only reason we got away as well as we did." She pushed on quickly, hoping to cut off any impulsive actions. "Vaz, I need to know: can Jorath fly? Xaal stated her territory was not far from the ambush only by flight. And she mentioned that you were arguing with each other when she left you both after dealing with your own assaults." 

 

Argia twisted her fingers together, frowning. "I do not wish to think poorly of your friend, though I am unsteady from what I saw and I don't think my eyes deceived me. However, logically, I wonder if there is more than what I first understood. Vaz, you know Jorath. Would he have the ability to recover from the assault you endured then fly to ensure an ambush was set within--" She stopped to estimate her path with Xaal and Kansif. Should she include the amount of time it took for Jorath to guide them to the ambush? 

 

Wait... There was something she missed. "Xaal?" She looked to the woman. Why hadn't she thought of it sooner? "I went about my question the wrong way earlier. How long did it take for you to leave Jorath's trail and come to our aid?" Forget whether or not Jorath could fly. Argia wanted to know if she had seen and followed Jorath before Xaal ever left Jorath's side. 

 

[[I'm dumb!!! I only just now realized this hole to the Mimic encounter! Lmao but to be fair, we originally did not plan on Xaal coming to assist xD ]]

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As to be expected, Vaz was quick to make a rebuttal over the fact that Jorath had been with them. They only halted the starting sounds of indignation because Lojaal had obediently started to project her memory of the event into their mind. The finger of accusation pointed at Argia faltered, Vaz’s nostrils flaring in what was either a subdued expression of anger or an attempt to prevent themself from tearing up. Xaal had a sinking realisation that, with all the stress of their injuries and the sour mood behind them, that it was both. They were uncharacteristically silent for a while, giving time for Xaal to turn to Argia and provide her with an unhelpful, exaggerated shrug in regards to how long it had taken her to leave Jorath behind.

 

‘Not long? I followed a few streets to the edge of my territory. Then Lojaal called. Could have been a demon trick?’

 

She turned to Vaz, who was now shifting in discomfort and clenching their jaw some more. Xaal recognised that gesture. It was one where the scribe was trying to suppress their own tongue in the hopes that they could twist what they were obliged to say into something more favourable.

 

“Jorath has been rendered terras’mar, grounded. And I rather suspect spells and incantations are not his forte, which would severely limit alternative methods of travel.”

 

Announced the scribe, neutrality forced into their words as they tried to keep a detached, analytical mind about this new revelation. They seemed to deliberately skip over her comment on both demons having of devolved into an argument, though a disgruntled look had been sent in Xaal’s direction when Argia brought it up.

 

“Neither of you really know Jorath. At all. I do not believe he has motivation nor the means necessary to have reached you in time.”

 

‘He is a demon. Born of the flames. That is his motivation. And he was with others, three. They could have the ability.’

 

“He’s not...he-just...Just because we are demons is not a valid explanation my dear. Jorath can be an absolute bacon-brained git but he’s not cruel. Describe the other demons to me. Perhaps identifying them will get to the bottom of all of this.”

 

‘No. You are too tired. Irrational. We can identify them later.’

 

Vaz, ever the stubborn one when it came to trying to prove a point, scrunched their eyes shut in response and held out their arms to make a series of gestures. Within seconds they seemed to have entered a trance, their eyes snapping back open to be replaced with the golden, pupil-less glow of the ones that occasionally adorned their wings. Smoke and dust began to form in their hands, and not even a third donut pelted perfectly at the centre of their forehead gave any indication that they were capable of being distracted now. The whole process took about a minute, with Xaal making several attempts to communicate her disapproval, but when Vaz’s eyes returned to normal they had summoned their beloved Compendium to their hands.

 

Vaz posed, regally, letting their audience bask in its glory as they glared at Xaal in a defiant manner.

 

And then, Vaz promptly fainted once more from the exertion and the book cluttered unceremoniously onto the floor.

 

Xaal rolled her eyes to the heavens and held that pose for a moment, before switching her attention to Argia and signing the word for ‘idiot’ as she indicated Vaz. Gathering herself onto her feet she paced back to Vaz’s side and adjusted them into a more comfortable position for sleep, this time complete with a blanket fished out from the makeshift nest they and Kansif were resting upon. 

 

Once the battered old demon looked more settled she scooped up the tome they had summoned and held it up for Argia to properly soak in what she was looking at. The book appeared to be made out of sturdy, ebony-hued leather, decorated in intricate patterns of gold and a series of sigils woven within. Upon its cover, in elaborate, golden script, was embossed a title written in a language other than Commonspeak. What it translated to would be difficult to ask of anyone, given that it looked like large parts of the phrase had been the gouged out with a claw or blade. That, or the fact that taking your eyes off the words for longer than a few seconds caused them to start morphing into something else. Despite its ancient aura the scent of fresh parchment graced the room, though Xaal could swear that for the occasional breath it would sometimes be replaced with the crisp, salty air of the sea.

 

‘Very old. Very important. Guard with life.’

 

Instructed Xaal upon returning to her seat. Carefully she smoothed out the folds of her garment and rested The Compendium on her lap. Briefly she wondered whether it was wise to let a stranger peer into its contents without Vaz to mediate the session, idly brushing her hand against its cover in thought. The quills however didn’t dissuade her when she thumbed open to a random page in the middle of the book, seeming more occupied with anxiously hovering above their scribe’s unconscious form.

 

‘Maybe you should rest for a few hours, too.’

 

Suggested Xaal, shifting her gaze down towards the seemingly blank page that she had landed on.

 

‘I will watch for danger and see if The Compendium has more answers for us.’

 

[[ Uh...sorry about that, I think our timeline’s a little muddy there to be honest as a result xD Might be best not to dwell on it too much. ]]

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"I had hoped you could provide an actual time frame..." Argia murmured. Despite the mostly-unhelpful answer, there was a growing suspicion that the exchange and ensuing altercation with Jorath may have carried on much longer than Xaal required for her travel. That Jorath was land-bound only worked to the benefit of suggesting something else was at play. Could there be? She looked to Vaz as they reiterated hers and Xaal's lack of knowledge for who Jorath was as an individual. Xaal's response, however, caused Argia to frown. The woman alluded to Vaz possessing a rather negative outlook towards humans. And now, it seemed, that Xaal had a similar outlook towards demons. It was an interesting contrast, and one that Argia intended to keep in mind for the future. 

 

She had to admit, however, that "bacon-brained git" was an amusing insult, even as the argument between Vaz and Xaal devolved. Argia stumbled back as something materialized within Vaz's arms. For a moment, she wasn't certain what would happen, if Vaz had any intention of casting a spell or simply making a point in Jorath's defense. Except, instead of furthering the argument, they collapsed and the book clattered to the ground. She winced, missing Xaal's gestures. "I truly hope, somehow, that it was not Jorath that assaulted us. For Vaz's sake." Xaal was already repositioning the Scribe, grabbing the large tome when she was done and indicating to Argia. 

 

On the suggestion that she get some rest, Argia stared at Xaal momentarily before glancing around the theater and fidgeting. Getting rest made sense. However, never having done so before, Argia quickly realized she wasn't familiar with what it entailed or what she must do. Simply collapsing didn't seem right, especially as Vaz and Kansif doing so wasn't exactly voluntary. Humans did something of the same, often within a bed. She barely thought to ever analyze what happened once humans covered themselves in blankets. They just laid there. Some didn't. Eying one of the other nests, Argia tentatively walked over to it and felt the bedding. Well, it wouldn't hurt to give it a try?

 

The wings made it difficult and awkward. Crawling into the nest one way was painful and crawling in another way almost spilled her onto the ground. It didn't help that she couldn't get her wings to melt back into her shawl. Eventually, she gave up on trying to lie down and opted to sit within the bedding. There was something else she could try, reminiscent of some groups she'd watched one afternoon. Argia laid her hands against her knees, inhaling and letting her eyes drift shut. It didn't seem like the rest that humans required, being that she wasn't laying down, but something about closing out visual stimulus proved kind to her weary eyes. 

 

The sound of pages turning drifted to her ears and Argia found herself focusing on that in the silence. It was... soothing. Almost fa--

 

Naya'il... What story do you have now?

 

Argia jerked, eyes fluttering open as she glanced about. Xaal still appeared to be occupied with Vaz's Compendium. She rubbed at her arm, choosing to shift slightly. Somehow, that made it comfortable for her to lay down within the bedding, her wing curling to shield her from the rest of the theater. She brushed her hand along the feathers, a loose one coming free within her fingers. Again, that foreign pressure behind her eyes built up and she felt her cheeks grow wet. Closing her eyes against it, she focused again on the rustling of pages until they faded into nothing.

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With the rest of the group sound asleep, Xaal had spent some time pacing around the theatre to process the events of the night. She had hoped that she would be able to spin up one of the movie projectors in the adjacent room and pass the time with an old classic or two, but the discovery that there was no electricity running through the building had put a disappointing wrench in that plan. For a while she just pondered the faded posters that had remained in their frames on the walls, all of which advertised a movie from the so-called ‘Golden Age’ that Xaal had grown fond of since the invention of cinema. Humans could be so utterly fascinating at times, their lives so fleeting and finite and yet, there was aspects of them that remained in their songs and stories that breathed life into the future generations.

 

In the peace and quiet, Xaal could feel despair start to settle into her thoughts once more as she wondered whether all this before her would be lost. More and more demons were pouring into this realm every night, and though Xaal fancied herself as among the ranks of the finest Guardians in history there was only so much she could do if the angels refused to give humanity a second chance.

 

Needing to clear her head, Xaal now found herself perched on the rooftop of the cinema. She sat upon the ledge overlooking the entrance, her feet dangling over the edge as she fastened a scrap of parchment around the shaft of one of her arrows with some tape she had borrowed from the medical kit. When it looked suitably secure she summoned Ix’Draal to her hand and loaded the arrow into it, before leaning back and firing the weapon into the sky. A soft, golden glow and a crackle of energy followed the arrow as it sailed off into the distance, showing no sign that it was affected at all by the forces of gravity.

 

Vaz had warned her that it was a foolish endeavour, even though they agreed that it looked as though every message she sent to the heavens was still reaching its destination. Xaal, sometimes just to spite them, still sent one every night since her arrival in this forsaken realm. Optimism in someone eventually answering her pleas was really one of the only things left driving her to keep up her work back down on Terras. Xaal drew a heavy sigh and shifted her gaze downward, peering at The Compendium seated on the ledge beside her and the quill dancing upon its open page. Lojaal was putting the finishing touches on her new illustration, a portrait of Argia for her new entry in the book that she had been slaving over for the past hour. The fallen tapped her finger to the paper for the quill’s attention, giving her a chance to pause her work before she lifted up the book for inspection.

 

‘Your picture is very good. Vaz will love that one.’

 

Lojaal wriggled shyly in reply, prompting a tremble of amusement from Xaal as she placed The Compendium back upon the ledge. She dismissed Ix’Draal once more and slumped forward, peering over the edge at the ground below to study another unfamiliar, but ultimately benign silhouette as it wandered past the theatre and further down the street below her.

 

‘How is Fi?’

 

Lojaal hovered off of the paper but made a scribbling motion. Drafting a report.

 

‘And Vaz?’

 

The quill drooped, floating out of the way of the book so that it could turn to a blank page on its own volition for her to doodle upon. She drew a set of closed eyelids, followed by the image of what appeared to be a lantern before it was circled and scribbled over in a criss-cross motion a few dozen times. Xaal shot the quill an apologetic look for the second one image, picking up on the frustration but unable to pinpoint which of Vaz’s gripes she was trying to emphasise. The fallen being shifted her gaze back up to the sky, now debating internally with herself over the fate of her arrow. She was starting to run out of ways of distracting herself.

 

‘Could you send a message to Fi and see if Argia is awake yet? I want to know about how she got to this realm. Maybe she has more help she could bring?’

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[[Oh! Oh! I think I know what Lojaal is alluding to! :D "lantern" for "l'antiira" for Jorath. I'm assuming :U And I've had time to mull over the other image of the injured bear. A reference to Kansif being Bear-Mother? Perhaps some "wounds heal", too. Honestly, I'm fully going to enjoy trying to interpret Lojaal's imagery throughout the RP lol]]

 

She realized it wasn't the same sleep humans relied upon for recuperation when she discovered a faint, but continued, awareness. The only way she could phrase it was that she was within her head. Or something. It reminded her of that trance-like state she'd been in centuries ago. Time was difficult to keep track of and, at some points, Argia thought she caught a glimpse of something else. It was always gone before she could make sense of it. So, she put concern of it out of her thoughts, orienting on the trails that led back to the night's encounters. Truthfully, it was unnerving in how foreign it was to her. 

 

Touching one of the threads, Argia pulled its anchor into sharper focus. With it nestled in her hands, she frowned. “The company I now keep is not noted for actions without favour or hidden agendas. I am hardly an exception to the rule." Vaz's voice seemed to echo. "I should warn you about making such blindingly trusting agreements." She knew they were correct, that their sentiment made sense for a world as alien to her as this one. There were new rules, new expectations. Yet, she somehow failed Vaz's expectations without knowing what they had been. A betrayal she committed without intention.

 

"He is a demon. Born of the flames. That is his motivation." Xaal's voice wasn't much of an echo. It was more of a resonance, an impression. Argia studied her face. It was the same 'motivation' that Jorath had given her, but she looked at Vaz again, absorbing each detail of their expressions. 

 

"But he’s not cruel. I do not believe he has motivation--” Something wasn't lining up and Argia couldn't place her finger upon what. A thread connected the voices together, the expressions. An emotion. Complex and knotted, it led back... to herself. Try as she might, she couldn't touch it, not exactly. Frustration grew at her inability.

 

Setting the anchor aside, she followed a different trail. This one carried on and Argia wondered if it had an anchor at all. Gradually, it became foggy, a challenge to see or to sense. "Maybe it is someone important you have forgotten?" She startled at the faint branch in the trail, having gone unnoticed until she stumbled into it. But it didn't make sense. Her memory was as long-lived as she, to the moment of her creation and assignment of purpose. Even now, despite how many there were and how little she was permitted to do, Argia remembered every soul. She felt each trembling life and could--

 

"What stories do you have?" 

 

Argia's focus spun towards the echo, glimpsing the flutter of brown feathers that had fallen loose from an unseen owner. One scraped across her cheek. Quickly bringing her hand up to the stinging sensation, Argia noticed the thread that drifted nearby. It was detached from anything else Argia had found. It was twisted, knotted, and even sliced then retied then sliced again in multiple sections. Tentatively, she reached out for it but found she couldn't touch this one, either. "Stories are history. They've been lived, even if there aren't any words to them...." 

 

The sound of water droplets followed the echo and Argia realized she was on her knees, a book in her hands. It possessed no title, no author, nor images. Just pages filled with words she couldn't make out. The book had splashes upon it that further blurred and smudged the ink, another droplet adding to the ruin as she watched. When had she developed the ability to weep? It ached in her chest, though she didn't understand the source. A moment later, the pages began to fray, tears and crumpling edges growing more prevalent. She sucked in a sharp breath, hands hurrying to try and smooth out the damage. Argia pleaded with the book for the damage to cease. 

 

Something brushed her cheek again and the book vanished. On the second stroke, the trails and anchors faded from her notice. A third brought her back into solid awareness, the faint details of feathers in the darkness forming a wall before her face. As Argia blinked again, she shifted her wing slightly, allowing better, though still dim, light past the barricade of her wings. At last, she noticed the quill, the glint of gold allowing her to identify it. "Fi'Faltuun," she greeted. The quill seemed to bow in response before darting out of sight. She sat up and opened her wings further as she heard parchment rustling. 

 

Are you alright? You seemed distressed. 

 

"I'm..." Argia allowed herself a moment to pluck straw off of her clothing, frowning. The trance she had been in gave her the time to recover, both physically and possibly mentally. But it also left her feeling... frayed like the pages of a book. She had the understanding that she had been overwhelmed by everything happening within this new realm. Argia rubbed at her face, feeling the tenderness of her eyes. "I believe I shall be okay. The night was overwhelming but, I believe rest has allowed me to obtain some clarity upon a few things." 

 

Clarity is beneficial, Fi responded. The quill hovered for a moment above the parchment before adding further script. If you are rested enough, Xaal'Razuul requests your presence on the rooftop. She has questions for you.

 

It seemed like a fair request to Argia. After all her questions for both Vaz and Xaal, she figured it was only a matter of time before one or both asked questions of her. Rising from the nest, she dusted off her dress and gave her wings a small shake. "Of course. Are you coming with?"

 

I will remain here, lest Vazithrazuul wake.

 

She nodded, picking her way to the theater entrance. Argia paused, however, when she glimpsed the brightly colored brochure upon the ground. Auris Domniir scrawled across the front and she frowned, recognizing the emblem from posters outside. She picked it up from the ground, glancing briefly at Vaz and then Kansif before leaving the building. Out in the cold, the breeze toyed with her feathers as she unfurled her wings. Climbing to the rooftop was simple. Landing was less so. Argia stumbled, managing to keep her feet from tangling together but still requiring a second to compose her balance. Xaal was sitting upon the ledge, Lojaal and the Compendium beside her. "Fi'Faltuun mentioned you wished to speak?" She approached, moving to sit on the other side of the Compendium and smiling at Lojaal in greeting. 

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[[ Heh spot on so-far. I’ll have to consider making them more abstract lest I spoil too much too soon 😛 ]]
 

‘I think you watch your feet too much when you land.’

 

It was mostly an idle observation, Xaal’s hands making halfhearted, lazy motions as she waited for Argia to find a seat beside her. It was a common problem amongst her kind when testing out a new pair of wings and getting used to changes in your flight pattern. Xaal regarded her with a fond smile, enjoying the memory of younger days she had unintentionally brought with her before it faded into obscurity once more.

 

‘You lose focus on what your wings are doing.’

 

Concluded the fallen being. She tapped at The Compendium between them to draw the harbinger’s attention to it, flipping back to the portrait that Lojaal had just completed of her. The quill had chosen a pose of quiet dignity for Argia, her broadsword in hand and pointed down towards the ground with a hint of alertness and caution across her stance. Every so often a part of the illustration would begin to shift in shape and colour, the wings on her back melting into her shawl or her grip on Atropos adjusting as the weapon morphed between its two forms.

 

‘Anything you would like Lojaal or Fi to change?’

 

Questioned Xaal, peering across to investigate and realising that there was now some text starting to spawn further down the page. Most of it was just basic observations at this stage, listing things like her species, estimated height and other physical attributes, but Fi had also published a small section reiterating what Lojaal had told her so far of Kirit and Meztli. There was a sizeable gap between the picture and the words, which Xaal suspected was where Vaz’s usual set of a few summary paragraphs for each being within The Compendium would eventually be written. Normally she just skimmed through those when browsing through the book, not having the patience to wade through more than three or four constantly shifting and morphing pages for any one individual. The current record she had seen in there was twenty. And it wasn’t even for someone Vaz found particularly interesting they had just been in a very verbose and vindictive mood when writing their summary.

 

‘I was thinking about why you were here. Were you sent? Brought? If so, why? Are there others that might come?’

 

Began Xaal, tearing her focus away from the tome once Argia had been given time to properly contemplate it. She rubbed at the back of her neck and frowned, gesturing out towards the rooftops of the other buildings surrounding them. Judging from Argia’s uncertainty with a few concepts she wasn’t sure if the harbinger had any more clarity on the matter than she did at this stage.

 

‘Vaz is only here to find truth, not fix. I need more help to fix. Is there something I can do that will make you want to help?’

 

Golden, hopeful eyes searched Argia’s own, but despite the chance for rest that both of them had been given there was more of a strain to the expression than in their earlier conversations. She sighed, dismissing the thoughts with a wave of her hand before giving the harbinger time to reply and instead pointing towards the brochure in her hands.

 

‘I have seen that symbol on posters. They have been looking for angels. Why do you have it?’

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Her feet. Of course. Argia nodded, acknowledging Xaal's commentary. She'll have to figure out a different focus when landing. Following the woman's gesture, she glanced down at the Compendium and her breath caught. "That is fascinating." Her voice couldn't break past a whisper, the shifting image and forming script enchanting her. Watching it, seeing the wings alternate with the shawl and back again, she again couldn't help but feel a twinge of loathing undermining the timid excitement of having her likeness in such a book. The wings are wrong.... Argia shook off the bitter thought, rubbing at her arm before finding a section of hair to twist and play with as a distraction. "It is wonderful artwork, Lojaal, and Fi's writing is brilliant. I don't see any flaw," she said, voice trailing off as her smile faded. "They both capture truth." No matter how she looked at it or how much she wished otherwise, the truth was that she now possessed wings. Even if she wished for the quills to change the information and art to remove the wings, Argia found she couldn't. In a way, as Argia saw it, she would be requesting that they lie. 

 

She shook her head, changing her focus. Xaal had questions and Argia started to answer them--Xaal didn't give her the opportunity, indicating the brochure and changing the subject. Making a soft hum, Argia decided to work backwards. "It's not mine. This was with Vaz's belongings that had been removed from their pockets while you were rummaging for their coin. I don't know when they obtained it or why." She unfolded the brochure, only giving it a cursory glance. "About the help that you seek, Xaal, I don't know if I can? I do not know why I am here beyond what one human told me in our brief encounter. And I fled before I could learn anything more. I don't even know how I am here. I only know that I was in my world and then suddenly not." She continued to frown, but looked over at Xaal. "This world is out of balance. It is part of my duty to help maintain Balance. I wish for this world to thrive and, for that to occur, it must be balanced. At least, that is the way my world functions. I can only assume this world functions much the same. I already wish to help, but I don't know the answers to how to fix things. That is something we will need to find."

 

Argia returned to the brochure, studying the sun-like symbolism. "Is this group something to be concerned with?" Then another thought occurred to her. "If the angels left this place, why is Auris Domniir looking for them? Wouldn't they know that the angels are gone from this place?" 

 

[[sodifjosidj another small thing :'C Oh well.]]

Edited by ValidEmotions

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Lojaal made some complex manoeuvres above the page that Xaal had some difficulty interpreting, but she understood that at least part of her message was delight at Argia’s praise for the illustration. The quill did seem unsure about something, but that may have just been her timidness about showing her work to strangers coming into play. Xaal assumed as such and leaned over to take the brochure from Argia for proper inspection. The fallen angel skimmed through the text as Argia explained what little she could of her presence in this world, not really absorbing any of its content in favour of listening to her.

 

‘That human might have answers for you. Do you remember where you were summoned?’

 

Though there was no guarantee of finding anything, a tiny flutter of hope occurred in Xaal’s chest at the thought that there could be more individuals like Argia being brought to this world. The demons clearly had an overbearing foothold in this realm, so surely anyone focused on maintaining the balance would side with the more angelic forces that needed it. Right?

 

‘You should go back there and find them. I can come too? But I do not want to leave Vaz and Kansif alone. We should wait for them to heal or...’

 

Xaal trailed off, unsure how to finish that line of thinking. Though there had been mention of other allies in the vicinity it had been a few hours since they arrived at the theatre and not one had shown up. The chances of Argia having another friend to either accompany her or watch over the injured duo for them were slim. The only possibility Xaal could think of was...well, Jorath, if he truely was the ‘bacon-brained’ but benevolent figure that Vaz believed him to be. But if he hadn’t shown up by now to either finish what he started or check in with the clearly-wounded Vaz she doubted that he ever would.

 

‘Maybe they need an angel, and are hoping a few stayed behind?’

 

Suggested Xaal after some still, quiet contemplation of the matter proved no further ideas and her attention focused back onto the brochure.

 

‘There are things that only angels or archangels can do that demons can not. They might mean Fallen, too. Same thing to some demons. Maybe they wanted to make a deal with Vaz?’

 

It wouldn’t have been the first time the forces of Hell were on the prowl for someone who could wield a holy weapon for them or decipher some aeiuwn documents, after all. Particularly desperate ones had even approached Xaal a few times in the past, despite her insistence that she was still an honorary angel through-and-through and would play no part in their schemes. Xaal often suspected it was one of the reasons why demons could just barely tolerate the presence of any zuul among their ranks in the first place. They were useful. And as long as they kept finding ways to stay useful they would be begrudgingly allowed to linger.

 

Something glinting in her peripherals distracted her, and Xaal lifted her chin towards the sky to greet it. With her superior vision, curtesy of her avian counterpart, she could make out the faint outline of a being in flight amongst the dim-lit sky. Their wings beat at an extraordinary speed as they hovered on the spot, reminiscent of a hummingbird, and Xaal felt her spirits start to rise as her mind registered that it was a Messenger. Had they finally received her pleas?

 

The glint happened again and Xaal realised that the hummingbird angel was now aiming something at the two of them upon the ledge. An alarm shuddered through her senses and she called Ix’Draal to her side as she scrambled to her feet, pausing only when she noticed the angel shift their aim away from the duo and further down before firing their projectile. In the blink of an eye they disappeared once more into the murky skies above, leaving Xaal to nervously peep over the building ledge to see what had been launched into its side.

 

It was the arrow she had just released into the sky, fired back at her with enough force to have caused the arrowhead to pierce right through the brick below them. Her message was gone, but fixed in its place was a silken piece of white cloth wrapped around her arrow and tied in place with string. After a brief scan of her surroundings, Xaal leaned over the edge and yanked out the arrow before hopping back behind the barrier to investigate. When she freed the cloth and unravelled it in her hands she found several feathers wrapped within it. Her skin started to crawl. She immediately recognised the white and black-speckled one as her own. Her memory of the feather beside it was a more distant one, but she would never truely forget who once owned those warm, vibrant shades of orange and gold and the brown stripes adorning it.

 

The final two feathers were familiar but...something clouded her recollection of them. She held up the glossy ones of deep emerald and rich crimson respectively, pensive, only to drop it as though bitten when she finally realised whose wings they had been plucked from. She swallowed as she starred down at the final one, that of a bald eagle.

 

Oh.

 

Oh no.

 

‘We should go back inside.’

 

Urged Xaal, quickly scooping up the feathers, Lojaal, and The Compendium and hoisting herself back over the ledge to glide back down to the ground.

Edited by Lycanious

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Go back? Argia had to acknowledge that the idea left her feeling uneasy, but likewise it made sense. Who better to know why she was here and what she was intended to do than those responsible? She gave a single nod to consider the idea as she didn't have a firm decision at the moment. "I don't exactly recall what the street was, but I remember the direction I had flown from. I should be able to recognize it once I see it. I do agree, however, we should give Vaz and Kansif time to rest and heal first." 

 

She especially hoped for Vaz's recovery if this Auris Domniir group was intending to seek out their alliance. But there was a reword for turning in angels. Why formulate it like a Wanted poster for a criminal if you were searching for allies? Argia realized she was worried, her gaze lingering on the symbol printed upon the brochure. Her brow started to knit together. "Xaal? Do you think Auris Domniir has any--" Movement interrupted her and Argia watched as Xaal reacted to something among the clouds, bow coming to her hand. Getting up and backing away from the ledge, her gaze jerked to the arrow that lodged itself into the building. The other woman pulled it free, untying the fabric from the shaft and revealing a handful of feathers. One looked to match Xaal's wings.

 

Argia studied Xaal's expressions, attempting to gauge her response and decipher what any of it might mean. The last feather seemed to spur her into motion, a flurry to gather everything from the ledge and make a rush off the rooftop. "What is wrong?" Argia questioned, unfurling her wings to follow suit. "Xaal?" She hurried after her into the theater, securing the decaying door to shut out the city and the cold. 

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Once the duo was back inside the confines of the cinema Xaal began to pace, hands clenched tightly around the cloth-wrapped feathers and The Compendium. She was unable to properly answer Argia straight away, her eyes merely darting between the other members of their group as she weighed up the situation that had just presented itself.

 

It was only a message. A mild warning, maybe. They wouldn’t demean themselves by actually coming all the way down here.

 

Thought Xaal to herself, finally pausing in her frantic movements as she reached Vaz’s side. She nudged them a few times with the toe of her boot, earning a twitch and a cough that spat out more speckles of ink onto the straw beneath them but otherwise no sign that they would awaken any time soon. The fallen angel deflated, crouching down to tuck The Compendium back under their arm and peel back the blanket to inspect the wound at their side. It looked to be healing at a reasonable pace, but it troubled her that Vaz had been unconscious for a few hours now. Vaz never slept. Even convincing them to take a break from their work for anything other than brunch could be a chore and a half at times.

 

‘Any more secrets?’

 

Motioned Xaal, finally switching her attention back to Argia. She quickly dismissed the question with another wave of her hand though, taping on an apology at the end. No, that wasn’t fair to either of them, no matter how anxious Xaal was to wake the scribe and seek their advice on the matter. She covered Vaz with the blanket once more, slumped into a seated position, then beckoned Argia forward to join her. After taking a moment to close her eyes and compose herself, she began to explain the feathers now resting in her lap.

 

‘These are angel feathers. They are sent as both blessings and warnings, depending on the combination of angels and the things they represent. I have been sending requests for help for a while. This is the first reply I have received.’

 

She lifted up the crimson one, a tinge of sorrow lingering in her features before she handed it over for Argia to study. The raw power emanating from its aura as she held it was as awe-inspiring as she remembered, a glorious swirl of blue and red flames.

 

‘I know that one very well. That one is from my mentor. She is an archangel. ‘Angel of Divine Beauty’. She represents Wisdom. Creativity. And Judgement.’

 

Xaal let the final word linger for a moment, before moving to lay out the green, the brown, and the tiger-patterned feathers onto the floor below her. The final feather, her own, got idly tucked behind her own ear out of habit. She brought her hands back to cross her fingers together and tuck them under her chin, nose scrunching in concentration.

 

‘I need to show the rest to Vaz for answers. But I...do not think it is wise? It may upset them more.’

 

The quills hovering beside her seemed at odds with each other over that statement, which didn’t help with Xaal’s concerns. Fi’Faltuun dipped in agreement, but Lojaal’O’Ith trembled on the spot and started making more criss-cross motions in the air. Xaal brought her hands to her head and massaged at her temples, taking deep breathes to clear the fog and the dull ebb of pain within it.

 

‘...Maybe my mentor is trying to tell me something? Maybe Auris Domniir is important? The message was sent when you said their name.’

 

The theory jolted her memory of Argia’s words just before her hasty retreat back into the building, and she lifted her head to regard her once more with an apologetic expression.

 

‘Sorry. You were asking if Auris Domniir had something? What was it?’

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Argia ignored Xaal's request for another secret and then quick apology. She understood Xaal's desperation; humans frequently asked her for answers in similar, rushed pleas, often hoping Argia could do something to make sense of what was happening. She sat down with the woman, absorbing the explanation for her distress and the meaning of the first feather. Witnessing the quills' behaviors upon Vaz potentially getting upset by the remaining feathers, Argia frowned. "I was going to say... Perhaps it is merely coincidence and means nothing but, I wonder over the fact that Auris Domniir has a sun as part of their symbol. For a world without its Dawn, filling with demons who are thriving in the night, for what reason would a group of them decide on the sun to represent them?" 

 

She drummed her fingers against the ground, mulling over everything she knew. "It is said that Judgement happens under the Light, where no secrets can hide and only Truth can take place. Vaz thinks that Judgement is coming to this world, from what you've told me. The humans that brought me here incorrectly think, as far as I understand, that I am to deliver their Judgement. But I am only a Collector, as you called me. And now, you receive a message from your archangel who truly is an entity of Judgement." Was it just coincidence? There seemed to be too much in such short time. "I told Ditraxol that I had the Dawn within Atropos, a lie I made with an illusion to prevent any harm to either Vaz or Jorath. Doable because Vaz had made an unintended use of the Stealer of Light. Now, Ditraxol is possibly speaking with some demon by the name of Malvorin about it, I'm assuming as he instructed Jorath to "play nice" with us.

 

 "Vaz explained that the Dawn stopped coming, though couldn't yield an idea as to when that occurred. You mentioned the angels left this place. So, would the angels take the Dawn with them?" She reached for the brochure, finger tracing the lines that designed its symbol. "Or could it be that someone else did?" Setting it back down, she glanced at the quills. "You both have insights and your own perspectives. I am an outsider to the situation that causes distress. I can leave if you wish to have a discussion in private about the feathers that were sent." Argia stared at Lojaal, recalling the emphasis with which the quill gestured an 'x'. Her name means 'Whispers of Truth', a creation that speaks only in imagery.... "For what my opinion is worth, I think Vaz would prefer being informed about these feathers being sent. I think... with you and the quills here beside them, I believe Vaz might be able to handle the situation better than you give them credit for." 

 

Vaz had a strong reaction to being told that Jorath may have attacked Kansif and herself. And they were told only once they had asked, only once their demeanor had already begun to shift when she saw the tension in their face. Perhaps, if Argia had been more forward on her own, Vaz wouldn't have driven themself to unconsciousness in trying to prove something? The alternative was that Argia might be interpreting Lojaal's behavior incorrectly. 

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Though she didn’t want to take it to heart, Argia had made several sound points about whether Judgement was truely upon this realm. There were a lot of coincidences beginning to flow together, a number of spheres of influences at play that seemed to be setting something in motion. Xaal hunched in on herself, drawing her wings forward and hugging them to her sides in a motion that didn’t feel as comforting as she had hoped.

 

‘Long time since I was up there. Different angels in charge. But to take the sun away?’

 

Xaal’s hands hovered indecisively in thought. Gradually she shook her head in disagreement. Collectively she was certain that they had the capability to blot out the sun, but she had heard that the angels assigned to this realm were considerably more benevolent in their actions than the ones that Xaal had once worked alongside of. Their response was one of retreat, but the thought of them salting the earth in the process by draining it of its light had never quite sat right with Xaal. Even with Vaz, The Archiver themself, theorising that it was all part of some brand new demonstration of Judgement. There was just...something else there. A riddle that screamed at her to be solved. She just didn’t have the means to decipher any of it yet.

 

The intriguing concept must have resonated with Vaz as well, for they began to stir once more at the one-sided conversation they could hear from Argia. Xaal reached over and gripped briefly at their shoulder, letting them know she was there, as the scribe abruptly jerked themself back awake.

 

‘Do you think they could have stolen the sun?’

 

It was an abrupt question, skipping over any pleasantries or concerns for their health and diving straight into business with the panicking demon. Xaal held up the pamphlet and waved it about until it caught Vaz’s attention. The alert demon blinked blankly at the piece of paper before them, confused, but their panting breaths and darting eyes began to subside as they comprehended her inquiry. Xaal’s lips twitched into a smile, taking note to in the future to give Vaz something curious to ponder over upon waking up. 

 

“Wh-what...where’s...the sun?”

 

‘The sun. Big orange ball in the sky. Stolen.’

 

“...Their...their name is Dawn Keepers so...yes?”

 

Announced Vaz, blearily rubbing away the sleep from their eyes. Xaal took the moment of distraction as opportunity to whisk the feathers away and into a pocket that had been sewn into the inside of her robes. Later. She decided, glancing at Argia to emphasise this train of thought. Best to make sure Vaz was in a stable state of mind before they had to go leafing through the pages of their past, especially if they ran the risk of just knocking themself out again over it.

 

‘How do you feel? You were asleep for a few hours.’

 

Xaal finally ventured, once it looked like she had successfully steered Vaz away from any drastic reactions.

 

“Hm...Still terrible. But things are quieter, now. Breathing is no longer painful.”

 

Vaz looked out at the lobby before them, an expression of disappointment lingering in their eyes as they registered the same number of faces as before. Slowly, as their memory of the night’s events recovered, they shifted their gaze downwards and scooped up the tome that they had summoned to sit it comfortably in their lap. Relief finally made an appearance in Vaz’s demeanour, their hands brushing against the edges of the cover as it twitched in response to its author’s touch. Lojaal’O’Ith fluttered to their shoulder, projecting a thought that made Vaz turn their head to raise an eyebrow in her direction.

 

“I still think you are both wrong about Jorath.”

 

Murmured Vaz, though Xaal noticed that they didn’t seem to be intent on spitting out facts and figures to back up that claim this time. Instead they just twiddled their hand, willed The Compendium to flip open to the page on Argia, and beckoned Fi’Faltuun to their grasp to start jotting down a series of Oldspeak notes and symbols in the margins of the page. Somewhere at the back of their mind they recognised it was an impolite activity in the company of others, but Vaz’s infinite eyes stung and their hands ached from unrecorded facts. Vaz needed to write.

 

“...I was given that pamphlet by a former associate of an old business partner. She dabbles in both the Fear and Despair domain mostly, specialises in Doubt. But if you can keep a good bout of confidence about you and gossip enough to win her favour perhaps she could indulge the both of you in more information about Auris Domniir. I believe her usual haunt is...”

 

Vaz momentarily lifted their hand from the page they were writing on and the book flicked through hundreds of pages, more than seemed possible for a book of its size, until the portrait of Zeph’Jaalvir graced their line of vision. The scribe traced a finger down both sides, flipped through three more pages, then tapped an ink-stained fingernail against the few spots listed under ‘Known Locations’.

 

“...here. Hidden Gems. It’s an antique store I believe. She’s mostly harmless. Friendly, even, if she’s off duty. She can just trick your mind into thinking she’s not at any point in time.”

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She caught Xaal's gaze as the woman snuck the feathers into hiding. Argia understood that Xaal was choosing not to say anything and it settled uneasily within her. If that was the case, then Argia decided to not warn her about the feather still tucked behind her ear. Knowing that Auris Domniir translated to Dawn Keepers was an interesting insight to learn. At some point, Argia started wondering if she could have assistance in learning the language that was clearly used in good frequency within this world. 

 

As Vaz seemed to busy themself with writing, entering something in that strange language next to her image, Argia felt tension at their quiet remark. "I wish that I am wrong," Argia said softly in response. However, she still glanced in Kansif's direction, watching her still form. She should check on the bandages in a few hours more, perhaps change them if there was too much blood staining any of them. Returning her attention to Vaz and the Compendium in their hands, she listened to their explanation of the individual responsible for giving Vaz the brochure. She perked at the name of the antique store. "I flew past it, near where I first found myself in this city." She mulled the realization over. "Is it wise?" she started, trailing off.

 

The posters had gone up everywhere in practically a single moment; she'd seen people in the midst of pasting them upon surfaces earlier. And, when the group had split apart, she'd had the opportunity to read one of them. "They gave everyone 48 hours...." It was now going on... She frowned, not certain of how exact her calculation was. But she estimated maybe five or six hours since? Eight or nine hours at most. "Auris Domniir wants the entire city to become part of their group. They're on the hunt for angels. And one of them directly came to you, Vazithrazuul, despite putting up posters for the entire population to witness. Why do all of this? And do we comply or ignore them?" 

 

There was also the fact that she was a new face within the city. Would these individuals recognize her as a non-angelic being? Difficult to trust when both Vaz and Xaal mistook her for an angel, or at least a former one. So many questions about a world she didn't know. It was difficult to sort out which question to ask first. "Will this woman tell us more about Auris Domniir if we asked? Surely, this group would oblige inquiring minds and set uncertainties at ease if they expect everyone to willingly join?" But... it wasn't willing consent if it was brought at the end of a threat. Forced upon them. On her.

 

Something simmered in her thoughts and nerves, an unease that festered alongside budding indignation. Why? It isn't your choice. You don't get to choose. Tension built at her back and she realized that her wings were pressing, folding tighter behind her. As if trapped. A lie... It was a softer whisper of thought, but it brought something that coaxed her wings into a faintly more relaxed state. "Auris Domniir seems to want everyone to bow without a word. But we have choices, don't we? Even outside of their 'join us or perish' offer."

 

A human voice graced her ears and, for a second, she thought she saw them behind Vaz, patting the ground next to them as if beckoning for someone to sit down. "There're always more than two choices, always more than what's labeled 'good' or 'bad', 'choose life or death'...

 

She blinked, clearing away the glazed look in her eyes. "We can choose neither if we wanted to, right? Make a third, forth, even a fifth, option for ourselves." A moment later, she rubbed at the bridge of her nose, squinting her eyes shut. There was a throb in her temple and she realized that simmering hadn't ceased yet. She couldn't determine what it was at this point, but it seemed insignificant enough that she could pretend it wasn't there. "I think I want to speak with this woman. Perhaps not right now if it's decided not to be a wise idea, but preferably soon before their time limit is ended."

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Though Vaz said nothing in response to Argia’s claim that she wanted to be wrong, the scowl that had crept its way into onto their face softened slightly at her words. Xaal seemed less decisive on whether to agree with Argia, rubbing at the back of her neck once more and glancing away from the duo. It wasn’t as though she wanted Jorath to be the culprit here. But she recognised a pattern in Vaz of being deceived into helping someone only to be tossed aside when it was no longer of benefit to them. She had little reason to believe that Jorath was any different.

 

“Demons as a whole have a tendency to respond to demonstrations of power and promises of glory my dear. If you want them to find something for you, then you best convince them it is worth the effort. A sizeable bounty is bound to turn heads in certain circles, whether out of desire for the reward or respect for the amount they can offer.”

 

Hand fidgeting, Vaz found themselves pausing in their notes again to better absorb the points that Argia had brought up. A faint fog lingered in their mind as parts of it were still in the process of stirring awake, delaying Vaz’s ability to properly analyse the situation.

 

“One should note from the posters that they want any angel in question captured alive. If they were looking to merely eradicate any remnants that have remained on Terras, I doubt they would care one way or the other the state in which you brought one in.”

 

Vaz remembered that Zoe had seemed confused when she first addressed them, first rambling about the raptors not being Smaalvir and then implying that she was having trouble recognising Vaz’s human guise. The scowl returned to Vaz’s face as their head snapped up in realisation. Zoe had been toying with them the second she teleported into their line of sight, insulting their reputation and seeding a doubt into their mind that made them fumble with their words. Since when had a little thing like a difficulty in expressing sarcasm made Vaz hold their tongue? She must have wanted Vaz to feel under threat. She just hadn’t been banking on the fact that they had the company to mitigate some of the doubt she had been projecting onto them.

 

“I...think...that she was expecting me to be alone. She can be exceptionally convincing, but she struggles with more than one target at a time. I suspect she was trying to convince me to join on what would have seemed like my own volition.”

 

 That still brought up the question of why she needed such an approach, but it was one that made sense to Vaz the more they mulled over it. Xaal was slowly nodding in agreement in their peripherals, though an unimpressed expression was crossing her features. Vaz could practically hear her colourful thoughts on Zeph’Jaavir’s underhand tactics for recruitment emanating from her.

 

“She will pitch it like a sale, as always, but I believe she will genuinely provide some insight into the nature of Auris Domniir if she is convinced it will win us over and put her in good standing with her superiors. Zoe’s loyalty is one that is easily bought, for better or worse.”

 

When Argia started to speak of choice, the two fallen angels exchanged glances. Xaal seemed to be sporting a wide, self-congratulatory grin, while Vaz had a more world-weary look in their eyes to accompany the twitch upwards from the corner of their mouth. 

 

‘Choice is beautiful. We can have endless options. Freedom.’

 

“Yes but the trick is ensuring we are learned enough to make a rational, suitable one my dear.”

 

‘I think we should find her now. We can check Argia’s summoning point too, if it is close.’

 

Xaal declared, already scrambling to her feet with a newfound determination. Vaz just blinked in mild disbelief, indicating the gaping hole in their abdomen and the only semi-healed lacerations running down the parts of their flesh that had been dragged across the pavement in the struggle. 

 

“My dear, I fear if I attempt to get up right now I shall only succeed in expelling another galleon of ikaar onto the floor beneath us. The two of you are welcome to visit her on your own, but I am not in the physical state nor mood to join you.”

 

The livelier of the two fallen turned to Argia and quirked her eyebrow as she jabbed a thumb in the direction of the door.

 

’Stay with Vaz? Or fly with me?’

Edited by Lycanious
Grammar failed, fixed it.

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Wanting angels brought alive was something of a positive. But she still narrowed her gaze at the notion. "Alive does not guarantee unharmed." She thought of Ditraxol, a demon who seemed to take pleasure in causing harm, even when he wasn't fueled by rage. If what Vaz stated was true about demons, the chances of at least one hoping to have a near-fatal fight with an angel to show off their power were... potentially high. 

 

She almost missed the glances shared between the other two. Argia wondered what it was she might have said, or perhaps failed to understand something, that would prompt the silent exchange. Whatever it was, it didn't last long and they began speaking again. Zoe was important, possibly, but Vaz was still recovering. A soft hum rose from her as she mulled over the two options presented to her. Argia wasn't certain of which she preferred. Speaking with Zoe was an ideal choice, but she would rather not leave Vaz on their own. Especially if--"Since she came to you, Vaz, wouldn't it be more to our advantage to bring you to her? She did not get what she wanted last time. The opportunity to try for it again could be something we can use against her," Argia thought aloud. 

 

Her gaze landed upon the Compendium, its pages still open to Zoe's portion. Perhaps it wasn't very polite to read its contents from Vaz's lap, even as she was seated across from them. Likely, it didn't matter as she could not understand the language they wrote in. But the blotch of red ink, furiously scribbled into the margin of a page, drew her curiosity and attention. She could see the string of numbers within the circling, other lines scratched out impatiently above and beneath. Argia tilted her head slightly, nearly forgetting that she had yet to answer Xaal's question. "Vaz? Is that Zoe's phone number?" She recognized the three-three-four pattern. And Xaal's cellphone was indicative of communications technology within a modern city such as this one. She smiled and looked to the other woman. "Can your phone make calls? May I use it please?" Argia inquired. "I think I have a different idea than making Vaz move while injured or forcing us to leave them behind."

 

There was a pause, but eventually Xaal's phone was passed over and Argia flipped it open, beginning to dial. She lingered a moment before hitting the green button, mulling over how best to approach her course of action. The line rang a few times before someone answered. "You have Zoe, my dear! And who is it that decided to call on such a lovely evening?"

 

"I am Argia. I've seen the Auris Domniir posters about the city and--" she glanced over at Vaz, wondering how best to classify them. "My companion, informed me that you could help answer my questions about the group. You see, I'm uncertain of how much benefit there is in joining." 

 

"Oh! Of course! I would love nothing more than to answer your questions and fill you in about us! Are you available now or do you need to meet up anywhere?" 

 

"I'd prefer to set up a time and place since I'd like to bring my companion along; Vazithrazuul isn't--"

 

Zoe's voice cut through the ear piece and Argia could hear the smile stretching on the demon's face. "Vazithrazuul? Well, why didn't you mention them sooner, child? Hold on for just a moment--" 

 

Argia jerked the phone away from her ear as a sound screeched through its speaker. A moment after, a sound and flash of green light burst on the other side of the collapsing doors. Rising to her feet as the door was shoved open, wings shifting and flexing with the abruptness, Argia stared at the maroon-haired woman striding into the theater. Her skirt billowed from her pace. "Draal! And quite the... interesting establishment you have. Spacious, at least." Zoe's gaze raked Argia up and down before lingering at her wings, a coy smile at her lips. "You must be Argia. New face, curious aura. Shame about the state of your wings. I bet you'll be interesting, though. All of Vazithrazuul's associates tend to be." She shifted her gaze to Xaal and then to Vaz, missing Argia's attempt to speak. "My, I see you with new companions every five minutes, it seems. Where's Jorath? Was he ruining your elegant image? I don't blame you, darling. I mean, that shirt with those shoes? Plebeian. Now!" Zoe clapped her hands, refocusing on Argia. "I'm here for questions about Auris Domniir? What can I do to help?"

 

She suppressed the desire to rub at her arms. Argia flicked an apologetic glance towards the other two. She hadn't meant for Zoe to come here, much less unannounced. "I was hoping you could tell me about this group. I'd like to know as much about them as possible; what they stand for, what their goal or mission is, and so on. I understand we have a time limit to make our decisions? Why is that?"

 

"Yes, quite," Zoe replied, searching about the theater until she settled upon something. She glanced back at them briefly. "Mind if I sit?" She didn't wait for an answer, helping herself to a nest that looked relatively tidier than the rest. "You're asking the best demon, fortunate for you. Auris Domniir is practically like a large family and we just want to see everyone happy and healthy in this gloomy city. Don't you? Why, we plan to make this place like paradise. But we can really only do it if everyone chips in and does their part. It's why we sent out all those fliers and why, Vazithrazuul, I gave you that brochure." She lowered her voice, holding her chin with a hand as she leaned against her elbow. "I gave one to Jorath, too, but it didn't seem like he even glanced at it... Oh well, he probably read it over sometime after I left. Hm?" 

 

"And the time limit?"

 

"Oh, oh! Yes! You needn't worry too much about that. It's just an incentive to get people thinking about what they want to do with themselves! We don't like dillydally," Zoe sang, waving her hand as if dismissing something. 

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“A phone number?”

 

Vaz blinked down at the note in red that had been haunting them for the last few months. They had seen the code attached to Zoe’s business card, but so-far had yet to decipher its meaning or determine whether it was a password for something. As they gawked at the series of numbers they watched Xaal in their peripherals smack her hand into her face and drag it down in a slow, deliberate show of irritation aimed in the demon’s direction.

 

‘You would have known that if you used your phone.’

 

Lectured Xaal, once she had decided to give Argia’s unknown plan a chance and handed over her phone.

 

“I can’t use that infernal device my dear, it upsets the quills! Every time they see me using one they think they’re about to get replaced!”

 

Vaz pointed towards Fi’Faltuun to emphasise how distraught the quill was over the mere concept of introducing such insulting mortal technology into their daily routine. Fi’Faltuun just rolled slightly in the air, her equivalent of a shrug, and returned to the report she was now drafting up of Er’anir on a new roll of parchment. Life with Jorath had introduced her to many human habits and modern inventions. The presence of one dying cellphone was the least of her worries.

 

“Besides, I must inform you that the screen plunged itself into complete silence and darkness a mere two days after you gifted it to me. It is broken.”

 

‘No power. You need to charge it.’

 

“I refuse to waste souls on that blasted contraption.”

 

Xaal locked eyes with the scribe and the two glowered at each other. She signed the word for ‘electricity’, followed by ‘idiot’, followed by a desperate clutching at her chest in shock when a sound similar to that of a whip cracking ricocheted throughout the building. She spun on the spot and her hand shot out in a threatening display as she eyed the burst of flames behind her, fingers twitching as Ix’Draal teetered on the edge of being summoned back into the mortal plane. Golden eyes flickered between the new arrival and her fellow fallen, the alarm in them faltering when Vaz just looked mildly exasperated by her appearance.

 

Draal, Zeph’Jaalvir. Rest assured that this is not my usual choice of residence by any means.”

 

Began the scribe, flipping their book shut and tucking it into a less noticeable position beneath their blanket while Zoe was distracted by her assessment of Argia. When she commented on the distinct lack of Jorath at their side Vaz twitched the corners of their mouth, too drained to bother trying to refute any of her claims. Zoe was at least partially right. Jorath’s taste in fashion was hilarious and it did sometimes play havoc with Vaz’s attempts to establish themself as a distinguished and organised individual. But to state that Vaz didn’t hold some semblance of an odd fondness for it at the end of day would be...difficult...for the Scribe of Truth to do.

 

When Zoe was suddenly inspecting the nests beside them Vaz realised that their mind had been drifting, and shook it from side to side to try and clear the fog from their thoughts. When she sat beside them their wings tucked in a little tighter against the wall they were propped up against, both of their quills fluttering over to perch on their shoulders. Zoe eyed them with a mild pout before continuing her explanation for Argia, tilting her head in a silent plea for Vaz to dismiss them that went unanswered. Both demons knew that the quills would try to counteract her abilities if she tried anything else on the old scribe this time.

 

“48 hours is an awfully short amount of time for demons my dear, I know of a few individuals that take that long just to decide on what to eat for their breakfast. Surely, there is some sort of factor there that is vital to that timeframe?”

 

Zoe’s lips pulled into a thin smile and she glanced between the three conscious individuals. For a split second her green eyes strayed down towards Kansif, before abruptly flickering back up to focus her attention back on Vaz and their rapidly increasing migraine.

 

“Okay, well, confidentially. You know. Just between the four of us. There might be a special little surprise in store for everyone that joins us before the time limit is up.”

 

“And that would be...?”

 

“Oh-ho darling I’m sorry, I know how much you loathe being out of the loop on anything but I assure you that my lips are sealed on the matter. I’ll just say that it’s going to be spectacular.”

 

Xaal shuffled on the spot and motioned for Vaz to wrap up the discussion from behind Zoe’s head, her eyes darting uncomfortably between the two demonic entities sitting across from her. She trusted exactly nothing in regards to what Zoe had told them about Auris Domniir. To what benefit was it of the organisation to even put up this facade of benevolence?

 

“So...this quaint little new family of yours...how exactly does it plan to breathe life and love back into this dismal hovel of a realm?”

 

Zoe grinned widely. It was clear that this was the question she had been waiting for. The demon had brought with her a large satchel that hung over her shoulder, and at Vaz’s question she began to rummage through its contents. She withdrew what appeared to be a glowing, yellow orb with the insignia of the organisation carved into it and rested it comfortably in the palm of her hand. With her free hand, Zoe clicked her fingers. The supposedly dead lights of the theatre abruptly spluttered into life as the orb began to hum and jitter with energy.

 

“Energy. Heat. Light. These precious little things can provide it all darling. I’m sure I don’t need to explain any further how wonderful these things will be for the community here.”

 

Zoe winked and chuckled the orb in Argia’s direction.

 

“You can keep that one if you like sweetie, I think it’s got about enough juice to last just under 24 hours. Think of it as a sort of um...sample platter of what’s to come if you join us.”

 

“I see...”

 

Vaz breathed, their eyes trained on the orb. Xaal watched as their face cycled through several different expressions, mostly revolving around intrigue and awe before it settled into one of growing concern.

 

“My apologies for the inconvenience, but could we perchance have the means for a private conversation my dears? Demon to demon, so to speak. I would excuse ourselves but erm...obviously such a feat is rather out of my grasp at the moment.”

 

 

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She wasn't expecting to have the orb tossed at her. Argia fumbled slightly, still managing to catch it. As Zoe had said, there was warmth flooding from the sphere, seeping comfortably into her skin and making her realize how cold she had been feeling. She frowned at it. "This..." she started, too faint to be noticed by Zoe. Or possibly the woman didn't care to listen. As the demon requested privacy with Vaz, Argia glanced between the Scribe and Xaal, silently wondering how wise that might be. Part of her was glad that Zoe gave the orb to her as a souvenir of sorts; it gave her the ability to examine it further. Something was... off, but also familiar. Finally, "Did Auris Domniir take the Dawn?"

 

She watched a private smile creep over Zoe's features. "Wouldn't that be juicy for you to know?" She gave an almost exaggerated pout in the next instance. "Sorry, darling. But that's privileged information. Even I don't know the answer to that one." She gave a slight, but clearly impatient, wave. "Now, please? Might we have a moment? It won't take long, I assure you."

 

Argia, again, looked to Vaz, gauging their response before turning to Xaal. "Rooftop?" she inquired, already starting for the doors. Preferably, she wanted to keep close, but she also reminded herself to trust that Vaz could handle themself. Especially as they had both quills at their aid. Outside, she continued to clutch the orb to her as her wings unfolded again to carry her upward. Recalling Xaal's advice, she tried not to watch her feet so much and managed to limit her stumble to just a brief hop on the roof. "There's something about this that makes me uneasy," she stated, directing her comment towards Xaal. "Firstly, I'm not sure what it means that Zoe was able to get here despite Askee-ah's lingering protections. Second, what is powering this orb? Is there a special kind of demon that can use light-based abilities?" Or maybe it was just fire? Then again, energy could take on many shapes and be converted into other forms. She continued frowning, brow knitting with thought but also budding frustration. 

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Xaal, despite her obvious concern, put up little resistance when Argia suggested they return to the rooftop. With a twiddle of her fingers in a half-hearted wave she turned and trailed after the harbinger. Wide-eyes scanned the skies once more for any signs of more angelic activity as Xaal began to flutter up towards the rooftop. She could sense nothing, but that did very little to ease the prickle at the back of her neck and the bristling of her feathers as she landed expertly besides Argia.

 

‘This place is shrouded, I can feel secrets. Calling may have broken the shroud for Zoe. Not sure if we should move now.’

 

She offered as an explanation for the first question. Though Zoe’s ease of appearance was a concerning one Xaal could still feel the magic surrounding the the theatre, so she at least hadn’t disrupted the barrier entirely. The fallen angel shivered on the spot and held out her hand to take a closer look at the orb they’d been given. Despite its infernal nature a pleasant warmth radiated from the odd little device, Xaal almost found it soothing.

 

‘It does not feel demonic. Feels...holy. Almost. Very powerful for size. Auris Domniir has more? Not good. I think yes. I think they are using the sun. But how?’

 

Inquired Xaal once she had handed the orb back to Argia. It was as if it was a blessed object encased in only a thin layer of infernal influence, an overall confusing blend of both comfort and disgust for the fallen angel. She wiped her hands on the folds of her cloak, eyeing the orb in a distrustful manner.

 

‘Have you ever seen something like this since visiting? Or felt?’

 

 

Zoe watched the two of them leave, curling her fingers in a graceful wave goodbye as the two ladies left the room. When she was certain she was out of earshot of the pair she turned back to Vaz and wrinkled her nose, a look of derision returning to her face.

 

“Horrendous. Where on Terras do you find them Vazithrazuul?”

 

Vaz just rolled one of their shoulders in response and pointed a fingernail skyward, not really in the mood to engage Zoe in her usual gossipy banter. Zoe tutted in response, leaning forward so that she could place her elbows upon crossed legs and rest her chin in her hands.

 

“Very well, straight to business today I see. Tell me darling, what sordid little dealings are we planning to get up to while the feather-brains are up there?”

 

“Nothing intriguing I’m afraid my dear, I would just prefer them not to be witness to the more wretched side of my nature.”

 

A giggle emitted from Zoe as she straightened her posture back up and flicked a maroon curl of hair out of her face. Her hands rubbed together in anticipation, sensing Vaz’s proposal before they had even had a chance to properly vocalise it.

 

“Ah yes, of course! You’ll be looking for souls to remove those unsightly blemishes of ink upon that lovely suit of yours. Oh, and replace the kidney that got ripped out of you. That’s probably important too.”

 

Zoe twirled her wrist in the air in a dismissive manner.

 

“Never mind, never mind. What we all do with our souls is always our own business of course. Well name your offer sweetie, and I’ll see what I can scrounge up for you.”

 

“My offer is knowledge, as always.”

 

Zoe leaned forward, a conniving grin flickering into her eyes as she rubbed at the base of her chin and mused over what the Scribe of Truth had said.

 

“Oh I do love how predictable you can be Vaz. I was hoping you’d say that. Alright sweetie hear me out on this one...I want three scrying incantations and one Vow of Truth in exchange for two souls. And if you permit me a glance through your lovely little book I’ll throw in a third.”

 

Vaz glanced between both of the quills adorning their shoulders, conferring with them on the offer she had just made. When the scribe began to fish out four more rolls of parchment from their pockets and Fi’Faltuun drifted down to write upon them Zoe beamed in response and leaned over to pinch at their cheek.

 

“Excellent, excellent. Ah you don’t know how happy this’ll make my superiors Vaz. They’re an inquisitive bunch. Always looking for something. I think you’d get on handsomely with them if you gave them the chance. Rumour has it that one of the leaders is a zuul even, I’m sure you two could hit it off quite well. How about I throw in his phone number on this little piece of paper here, and then you can give me Jorath’s number and then all four of us can go and-“

 

“Wh-what? No. What?”

 

A cackle pierced through Vaz’s ears in the next breath, passionate enough that Zoe was wiping away a tear from the corner of her eye by the end of it. The spare scrap of parchment she had been holding in her hands burst into green flames, prompting a nervous tremble from Lojaal’O’Ith and a look that was bordering on venomous from Vaz.

 

“Ah, darling! I’m kidding, really. You know I’d never dream of leaving my current beau. Besides, we all know how much of a disastrous impact he’s had on your reputation as of late Vaz. Surely, you can do much better than that.”

 

A rumble sounded from Vaz’s throat, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with her statement. They could feel the back of their neck prickle, a warning over something that they couldn’t quite pinpoint the origin of.

 

“But it’s good to know where you stand on such concepts darling. Very useful indeed.”

 

“...Are we done here?”

 

Breathed Vaz, pulling themself away from her gaze and switching their attention to Fi’Faltuun across from them. The quill swayed in thought, indicating the bundle of scrolls that she had finished etching a series of incantations onto.

 

“Yes, thank you darling, always a pleasure. I’ll save book club for another day, hm? It’ll be a blast. We’ll get sushi. I’ll even let you bring Jorath if you can convince him to dress like he hasn’t been living out in the woods for the past 500 years.”

 

Zoe wandered over to the scrolls, rolling up each one and stuffing them into her satchel after confirming its contents. When she was done she reached for a different section of the bag and withdrew a trio of small glass jars, each lid complete with the name of her shop and decorated with a series of smiley stickers and stars. Inside of each was a soul, a swirling mass that told Vaz a different story for each. The first was from a violent individual, its wreaths of roaring, crimson flames burning as strong as it had in life and lashing against the jar in defiance of its prison. Greed meanwhile had been the downfall of the second, if the glinting orbs of gold and silver buzzing hungrily around in the jar were any indication. The third was a sadder tale, one that incited a small pang of sympathy from Vaz as they bid Zoe farewell and lifted it up for closer inspection. This one had been betrayed by someone, and had never found out why. It was confused. Hurt. It huddled into a small, transparent ball in the centre of the jar and whimpered for answers that no one had provided.

 

Vaz sighed and pocketed the third soul, along with the violent one, for later use. Once Zoe had disappeared in another burst of flames they unscrewed the lid of the final jar and allowed its contents to float up into the air as a dizzying array of tiny golden and silver orbs, swarming like flies around a ball of light before the Scribe. They started at it, pensive. Angry. Disappointed.

 

Their jaw unhinged. Several inky tendrils whipped out into view and within the blink of an eye the soul was snatched from the air and dragged into Vaz’s fanged, gaping maw. Vaz clamped their mouth shut and shuddered as they felt their core absorbing its essence, repressing the nausea that feeding sometimes still caused them until the unpleasant feeling had subsided.

 

Vaz stood up, drawing a deep breath and folding their wings against their back. The feathered limbs obeyed without resistance this time, sheathing themselves once more and disappearing into the folds of Vaz’s tailcoat. The demon sagged in relief, switching their attention to the wound at their side and whispering an ancient, aeiuwn incantation as they rested their hand upon it.

 

“Fi, my dear, could you let our friends know that they are welcome to return to the lobby now?”

 

Called out Vaz, watching as the flesh of their human form knitted itself back together from beneath their fingers.

Edited by Lycanious

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