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[Open] The Forsaken World

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"No, I haven't noticed anything like this. I feel it's quite the opposite; there's a lack of something like this." Argia looked skyward, eying the dark clouds that blotted out most of the stars. She couldn't be certain, at the moment, if there was even any moonlight. Shifting her gaze back to the orb and then to Xaal, she said, "It feels like there's a piece of me that wants to weep." Taking the orb back from Xaal, she was conflicted about whether to let the warmth continue soaking into her flesh or to shut the energy off and tuck away the wrongness that she felt. Zoe had snapped to make it spark, bringing light to the theater's interior. But the exterior lights were also on and, looking now upon the street, Argia could see it beginning to gather a small crowd. Best to stop it, then.

 

Snapping, she watched the lights die completely, returning the street to the domination of darkness. "I think Auris Domniir may become an issue. Truthfully, I feel it already is a problem, but if they have the sun and are using it, that problem might become much worse." And now one of them knew where they were currently taking refuge in. She trusted Vaz's word that Zoe was harmless, but she didn't know if she could trust that Zoe wouldn't go to someone else who wasn't. "I think moving from here might be in our best interests, but I do not know if Vaz is ready to--" 

 

Motion in the night caught her attention, a quill and segment of parchment approaching. Fi'Faltuun made a motion, perhaps a greeting, before presenting the scrap to Argia and Xaal that indicated they could come back inside. Glancing at Xaal briefly, Argia took off from the roof and went straight for the doors. When she stepped inside, she wasn't exactly prepared to find Vaz standing and looking... refreshed. After the initial surprise, she felt a smile cross her features. "Vaz, you appear better! This is good. Xaal and I were just starting to wonder if it would be best to leave this place now that Zoe broke through Askee-ah's shroud and the exterior lights of the theater were beginning to draw notice." She carefully set the orb down in Kansif's nest, momentarily studying the half-orc. Still unconscious, but she stirred faintly. Argia looked back at Vaz again. "Do you feel better, though?"

 

[[I'm going to be drafting up Jorath clearing out that underground subway station to start the movement of Argia's little group of followers. I'm just trying to decide if I want to keep it off-screen or post it here in the thread? :V ]]

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Xaal’s pace faltered when she caught sight of Vaz standing in the lobby, surprised by the sudden recovery. Their change in demeanour was initially a welcoming sight, but then the realisation over what would have made it possible began to sink in and a disapproving grimace replaced the expression. Vaz met her gaze then rapidly glanced away, a suggestion of shame flickering into their eyes before it was smothered under an attempt to look more lively when they addressed Argia.

 

“Physically? Oh yes definitely an improvement my dear. I’m rather hoping I’ll be much more useful to the pair of you now.”

 

Mused the scholarly demon, now untying the scarf they had lifted up to access the wound and turning to show that the injury had now completely healed. The rest of the lacerations across their skin had faded away as well, the only evidence of Vaz being caught up in multiple incidences for the night now being the copious amounts of ink and charcoal still staining their clothes.

 

“Such a mess...My apologies for staining everything my dears, I’m afraid I don’t have much control over either substance. I shall probably have to fetch myself a new coat now once the night allows us some idle time...I hope that I didn’t ruin anything vital.”

 

Xaal just shrugged, intending to bleach out the smudges left on her cloak from dragging Vaz into the theatre at a later date. She only really wore her old getup while on patrol anyway, having some faded smears of demon blood adorning it could even work in her favour when trying to convince such beings to back down from their petty squabbles. She bounced on the heels at her feet and rubbed her hands together when Vaz seemed to agree that it was best to get moving, scooped up The Compendium, and dismissed it with another cloud of smoke and dust.

 

With their book now successfully returned to safety, Vaz crouched beside Kansif so they could inspect the orb for themself. They toyed with it in their fingers, recognising the curious blend of demonic and angelic influences but including none of Xaal or Argia’s distaste for holding the object. Vaz, for better or worse, had gotten rather used to dealing with such confusing blends of the two after all. They shifted to pass it back over to Argia, but after a glance over her form they withdrew the hand and pocketed the orb for themself instead.

 

“I think we shall have to find you a change of attire as well, or at least a bag of some kind. If there’s one thing I can’t stand about wearing dresses my dear it’s the blatant disregard for the practicality of pockets.”

 

Vaz contemplated the half-orc warrior before them for a moment and, in a demonstration of their supposed new-found vigour, stooped further forward to scoop her up in their arms. Though they knew Xaal was stronger than them and suspected the same of Argia, Vaz at least had the advantage of both the height to carry her with some semblance of dignity and the means to communicate without needing to move their hands. They could handle lugging around a mere mortal through the streets for awhile.

 

Something about Vaz’s expression as they held Kansif’s unconscious form didn’t sit right with Xaal. Despite claims that they were now fine the fellow Fallen still looked troubled as they shifted her weight in their arms and scanned the nest for anything left behind that was important. She chose however to grant Vaz a bit of mercy and refrained from asking them what was wrong. Even a Scribe of Truth was entitled to their own secrets from time to time. Instead she just started gathering up Kansif’s weapons and what remained of their food supplies, motioning for Argia to follow suit.

 

‘I think we should check Argia’s summoning point. If Auris Domniir and Judgement are one, it might give us some answers.’

 

Began Xaal as she exited the building. White and black-speckled wings stretched and flapped at her back, pulling Xaal into an anticipatory hover a few inches off of the ground. For a brief moment Vaz looked about to point out that she should opt for a less conspicuous method of travel among the humans, but the suggestion died in their throat when their eyes trailed back to the large, green-skinned woman with tusks that was accompanying them.

 

“I suppose it is a good a suggestion as any. Perhaps we shall find a new place of residence along the way?”

Edited by Lycanious

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Jorath

Mag'than was glaring at him, their good clothes stained by ink and smudged with charcoal. None of it would ever come out, based on what Jorath knew of the source responsible for it. "You don't need me for this," they said. Their back was pressing against the wall, arms crossed and foot kicked back, their shallow breathing betraying their distress even as they tried to play cool in their posture. 

 

"You're right. I don't. But you're staying where I can see you until I say otherwise," Jorath growled, gripping their arm and jerking them away from the wall. There wasn't anyone nearby of particular concern to Jorath; the way might as well be clear. He kept them ahead of him, shoving the other demon's back every moment Jorath felt Mag'than wasn't moving fast enough. He steered them towards a rusted, broken gate that was meant to block off an entrance heading beneath the street. The steps were cracked in several places, some missing chunks entirely. The paint had faded from the walls but Jorath could still make out the street names and arrows working as signposts. The lights struggled, most of them cracked while only a few flickered in and out. When he had last been down here, the lights were barely in a better condition. 

 

A voice drifted down the tunnel, too soft to decipher any words. Jorath snatched the back of Mag'than's shirt, yanking the demon to a stop and back to his side. No one was supposed to be here. He glanced at the Seeker, scowling. Mag'than threw up his hands and shook his head quickly. "Wasn't me," he mouthed. "Didn't know this spot was associated with you." 

 

Almost rolling his eyes, Jorath let out a huff before moving forward again. One voice became several as the murmur became words. Random junk about food and people-watching. Jorath couldn't sense any auras, which meant the chances of it being a group of humans was significant. "Think she'll come back?" someone said as he and Mag'than rounded the curve of the tunnel, the path opening up into a disused subway station.

 

"Think who'll come back?" Jorath replied. The humans startled, looking up from their flickering campfire and staring wide-eyed at Jorath. One started opening their mouth to speak but he cut the man off with a shallow grin. "Hello, there. You're in my spot. I believe you should get out of it."

 

"Says who?" the man questioned, sitting straighter. "We found this place first, several weeks ago. No one was here. It's our spot." 

 

Indicating for Mag'than to sit at the edge of the platform, Jorath carefully strolled towards the human. The humans shifted, two of them scrambling to their feet while the one that had spoken remained seated, glaring up at Jorath. Crouching down beside the man, Jorath gave him a humorless smile. He glanced at the campfire. "I've had a really f***ed night. And now, you and your little friends are in my spot. I don't take kindly to uninvited guests. Mag'than, over there--" he jabbed a thumb in the Seeker's direction. "--already found that out tonight. Will you?"

 

"What? You think you're some Hot Shot? Listen here, boy. This is our place, fair and square. Go find your own bit of city to hang out at and screw around in," the man grumbled.

 

Jorath made a tsk, glancing away from the campfire and the humans. He searched the old station, his eyes idly drifting over the collection of books, candles, and even a box of chalk next to the matches. A pile of blankets, or some other thick bundle of cloth, also rested nearby. "I warned you." In an instant, he grabbed the man's jacket, pulling him off balance where he sat. With his other hand, he reached into the campfire and pulled out one of the sticks that hadn't burned away yet. As he stood, the man thrashed, shouting to be released. Almost begging. Jorath tossed the fiery stick at the other two humans, prompting them to skitter out of the way before he threw the squirming man into one of them. Both humans tumbled to the concrete, tangled only as long as it took for them to find their feet and flee, the third one close to their heels. 

 

Dusting his hands off against his pant leg, Jorath looked to Mag'than. "You're going to answer my questions, all of them, at the moment I ask them." He kicked the fire, scattering kindling and tamping out the flames. He arched an eyebrow when Mag'than scoffed.

 

"And if I choose not to? What are you going to do about it?" The young demon was smug, Jorath could see it in their face. It reminded him of how he used to be.

 

"Then I'll kill you where you stand." Mag'than frowned but Jorath could see him swallow. "And I won't hesitate, either. Now, who's your boss?"

 

"You're bluff--"

 

Jorath had Mag'than pinned face-down into the concrete before they'd finished, wrenching their arm back in the same breath and breaking their shoulder. Mag'than cried out. "Your boss. What's their name?"

 

"W-We just call her Takut, for short!"

 

S***. It was both perfect and not. He stayed on Mag'than's back, fingers curling into the demon's shirt. "You're going to get something for me, and you're going to do it without getting noticed. A journal that was taken from my coat in one of the alleyways bordering your boss's territory. It's likely that Er'anir grabbed it."

 

Mag'than shook their head, hissing as Jorath cracked a rib or two. "No, you can kill me. Otherwise, they will if I'm caught."

 

"Then don't get caught. Simple."

 

"Not simple! You don't understand how Takut runs her Domain! I'll be as good as dead anyways before you even get that book back! It's not worth it!" 

 

"What if I could make it worth it?" Jorath murmured, easing only slightly from Mag'than's back.

 

He could feel their hesitation. "How?" they finally asked.

 

"You can Tag me in exchange." 

 

Mag'than tried looking back at him, an expression flickering across his features as bewilderment, distrust, and eagerness each warred for realization. "It's a start. What's this book mean to you?"

 

Jorath laughed, an unkind sound that echoed in the station. "You don't get to know that. All you need to concern yourself with is getting it. It has a dark grey cover with a sticker shaped like a feather on the front." 

 

"Whoa, whoa, wait. Tagging you is a sweet offer and everything but it's still not worth my head!" Mag'than wriggled beneath Jorath, ceasing a moment later when he still couldn't get up. "Make it more favorable and then we'll see."

 

"Fine. A Tag on me and protection for you. If you get caught, I'll do the fighting until you can get away clean." 

 

"You really are a Hunter," Mag'than snorted. "Alright. Deal. Now let me up."

 

Jorath eased off the young demon, pulling him to his feet. As soon as Mag'than was composed, the Seeker quickly grabbed for Jorath's wrist and shoved back his sleeve. They clasped their other hand over his forearm, a few hasty words gracing the air. Jorath grunted as his skin began to itch, crawling as if bugs were infesting his flesh. When Mag'than drew his hand away, Jorath saw the silhouette of a sprinting jackrabbit marked into his skin. He jerked his sleeve back into place, effectively concealing the Tag. His skin was still crawling, a nauseous twist entering his stomach. Mag'than was grinning, doing nothing to hide his pleasure. He opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Jorath pulled Mag'than in close. "Wha--Ah!" Mag'than shouted, reeling back as soon as he was free and clutching at his injured arm. "The f*** did you do to me?" He pulled at his sleeve, revealing the silver chain nearly strangling his bicep. "It burns!"

 

"Insurance. To make sure you actually hold up your side of our agreement since this is a less-than-formal bargain," Jorath said, folding his arms and drumming his fingers. "Besides, this way, I'm able to find you should you need my protection." His lip twitched at the corner, a derisive sneer. "Now, get going." Mag'than scowled, lingering as if he might say something but then thought better of it and hurried out of the old station. 

 

Once Mag'than was out of sight and hearing, Jorath ran a quaking hand through his hair before peeling his sleeve back once more. Staring at his arm, he rubbed furiously at the Tag. Something old crept through the back of his mind, threatening to blur his vision as his breathing grew shallow. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Can't do anything right....

 

"Now everyone will know you're mine."

 

Argia

She felt more at ease, knowing that Vaz was fairing much better than before. Argia smiled, even as the Scribe made apologies for the stains on several surfaces. When they moved on to inspecting the orb and then commenting about her attire, Argia shifted a self-conscious glance upon herself. "I've never had worldly possessions; pockets hardly seemed necessary before..." It wasn't as soft as a murmur but she didn't quite speak up, either. "But, I won't deny that my dress could stand to be replaced." Once Vaz had picked Kansif up off the nest and Xaal made a gesture, Argia assisted in collecting the half-orc's weaponry and a bag of the food Xaal had bought. Which reminded her... "Oh, Vaz? Xaal used your coin for the multiple bags of sweets." 

 

Outside, she stretched her wings, testing them with the added weight of the weapons and food. It was a different distribution of weight, but she figured she could make it work. "Two birds, one stone. Seems a wise idea," she said in response. She waited a moment, ensuring that Xaal and Vaz were set before she lifted from the ground and rose above the buildings. With the vantage point, she searched each direction before determining the way she needed to travel. "It should be this way. I remember seeing that Umpqua Bank billboard ahead." 

 

The further she flew, the more she began to recognize. Even in her haste to get away from the humans that brought her here, she somehow managed to track landmarks. Argia wasn't sure how to process that fact and so, for the time being, she opted to set it aside to mull over later when a better opportunity was presented. Occasionally, she glanced back at the other two, hoping she hadn't lost either one despite flying in a relatively linear path. When she spotted the intersection she first arrived at, Argia selected a rooftop to land upon. "There." She pointed at the street. "I was there when the human approached me with fanatic words." She frowned, though, as she searched the street. "I don't think he's here now, though. I--"

 

Argia staggered as something overwhelmed her senses for the breadth of a moment. It was close to a pull, a sort of pressure tugging at her. Her fingertips tingled, as if wanting to respond. The simmer that refused to fade within her seemed to spark once, then twice, before easing back to its dull state. But she jerked her attention to the left, trying to stare past the buildings and examine the people below. "I think..." Her wings unfurled again without finishing the thought, carrying her a few blocks before she stumbled to a landing. "You're here." She didn't know who the words were for. For the third time, that simmer twitched into a brief spark. "Come out."

 

A man peered around the corner of an alley, two more joining him. They each looked pale. Neither of them was the man that she first met. But there was still something about them that caused her pause. "Can you help us?" she asked them.

 

The first man looked to the other two before returning his gaze to Argia, shifting it to Vaz and Xaal afterward. "Depends. You gonna be like that other demon?"

 

"What other demon?"

 

"Dark skin, blue eyes. Black and red hair. Angry," he said.

 

Argia frowned, shooting a glance at Vaz for a moment. Focusing on the man again, she shook her head. "No. We're not here for that. And I'm not a demon." I don't think... "We're trying to find a human male who might recognize me. He spoke about Judgement and Vengeance."

 

There seemed to be a brief pause for recognition to settle in before the man's face started to light up. "You're her. You're here! Of course! You can set things right!" He approached quickly, hands coming up to grab at her but Argia backed away, wings pressing tightly against her back, until she had to stop or bump into the others with her. "Come on, he took our place. You can tell him off!" The man snickered, a small but gleeful sort of whoop following his words. 

 

When he grabbed her wrist, that brief spark became a steady pulse through her nerves. Argia looked to Vaz and Xaal with a pleading gaze as she stumbled to keep up with the human. They all came to get answers about why she was here after all. So, why did unease make a home within her skin?

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Xaal feigned shock when Argia revealed that Vaz was now penniless, resting a hand upon her chest and gaping widely at the accusation. Vaz however only seemed mildly annoyed by the reveal, regarding the posturing fallen angel with an unamused glance as they trudged past her.  It was an impractical use of their money, but not necessarily an unappreciated one all the same. They would just have to remember to make their next attempt at a contract a monetary trade-off instead.

 

‘We could have blamed the Seeker for stealing. I thought we were friends. I gave you tarts!’

 

Rambled Xaal as she and Argia took to the skies, Fi’Faltuun fluttering behind them until she had caught up and dethroned the black-speckled feather behind Xaal’s ear so she could tuck herself into it’s place instead. Though leaving Vaz to wander the streets below may have seemed inconsiderate, Xaal was quick to tack on an explanation that it was perhaps best to leave the scribe to their own thoughts for a while. She could tell by their quieter mood that they were processing the new information about Auris Domniir that had been provided, or at least had a similar topic weighing in on that labyrinthian mind of theirs.

 

She drifted behind Argia with little other input after her declaration of tart-related betrayal, merely studying her flight-path as she fluttered and weaved over the building tops. Vaz seemed to be making their own observations for a later conversation from down below, at one point glancing up at Xaal and mouthing the words ‘needs to glide more’ up at Xaal to which she signed an agreement. When Argia dipped into a landing she followed suit, landing delicately at her side and nodding in a polite greeting towards the humans that had stumbled out into view. Vaz joined them a few moments later from around a seperate corner, pausing in their approach when they mentioned the ‘other demon’.

 

Dark skin. Blue eyes. Black and red hair. Very angry.

 

‘Jorath?’

 

Inquired Xaal, to which Vaz’s shoulders sagged and they rolled their eyes towards the heavens. Of course it was Jorath. The man couldn’t be left alone for longer than five minutes without causing some sort of disturbance in the peace. Despite the recently consumed soul currently fuelling their system Vaz could feel a weary expression starting to drift back onto their features as they listened in on the conversation. When one of the men suddenly took hold of Argia’s arm and she glanced back at them they regarded her with sympathy, but shrugged and began to follow. Vaz suspected that they wouldn’t get any answers by refusing to help after all.

 

“We have business to attend to, human. I do hope you intend for this to be a short endeavour.”

 

“Y-yeah dude don’t worry it’s not very far.”

 

Xaal glanced at Vaz in the corner of her eye. The other fallen had a scowl of concentration, scheming to themself as they trailed behind the rest of the group. Or perhaps it was just distaste over being addressed by something as informal as ‘dude’ by a human. Both, maybe, if it was Vaz. Xaal meanwhile was all too happy to join them in their travels if it meant lending them a hand, her Guardian nature practically putting a spring in her step as she followed after them and Argia.

 

‘You seem to know her, yes? Why? Can you explain more?’

 

She inquired, though when her questions went unanswered it was apparent that none of the humans could interpret the complex movements of her hands. Her shoulders sagged in disappointment, but she was quick to recover and tapped Argia on the shoulder in the hopes that she would help her translate.

 

“Do you too serve Our Lady of Judgement? Our Lord of Vengeance?”

 

Vaz side-eyed the human that had lingered back to line-up with their stride, lips pulled tight as their plotting was further disrupted by the drive to answer his questions. After a brief grumble in Oldspeak that contained the words for ‘inconsiderate’ and ‘nuisance’ and earned a disciplinary glance from Xaal over her shoulder, they relented.

 

“I’ve been known to consort with the concept from time to time.”

 

Xaal turned briefly, walking backwards, and made another series of hand gestures. The fallen angel then pointed over at Vaz and motioned for them to translate, a brief glint of mischief flickering into her eyes as Vaz quirked an eyebrow in response.

 

“She says that I bring the wicked to justice. That I am a Punishing One.”

 

“W-what? Really? I was expecting someone a bit more...uh...”

 

“Imposing? Domineering? Beastial?”

 

“Yeah, uh, something like that.”

 

“Are you accusing my associate of falsehoods?”

 

The human went wide-eyed and quickly shook his head, averting the gaze of both fallen in favour of starring up ahead at the rusted gate he could now spy in the distance. Vaz allowed a smirk to briefly creep into their features, nodding towards Xaal in thanks for setting up a concept for the scribe to expand on. It didn’t quite make up for wasting all of their coinage in one place of course, but it was an acceptable starting point.

 

“So...s-so um. That would make her a figure of mercy then, yes? A defender to accompany you and Our Lady of Justice?”

 

Ventured another man, now edging away from Xaal and closer to the rather exasperated-looking Vaz.

 

“...That would indeed be a well-balanced interpretation. Why don’t you go pester our other associate for more insights, hm? She is perfectly amiable my dear. And you seem so enamoured with her status.”

 

As the group approached the gates Xaal grew more tense, her hands twitching at the ready to summon her usual weapon. Below she could sense the faint remnant of an aura, still clad in hues of crimson red but now with glints of silver visible beneath the splash of harsher colours. A spot of light brown now also skipped through the apparition, though Xaal didn’t recall seeing it in their previous encounter. 

 

‘Jorath is below. Less angry. More...grumpy? Miserable? Maybe?’

 

Vaz nodded in acknowledgement, a grimace pinching at the corners of their mouth. They looked between her and Argia once more in a defiant manner, still determined to prove that Jorath could be trusted. The fact that their horns were starting to sprout into view again however was an indication that they didn’t really know what to expect of the man lingering below.

 

“Here. Be a dear and take this.”

 

They suddenly grunted, turning to two of the humans that currently stood behind them and passing over Kansif’s unconscious form. The duo scrambled and buckled under the sudden weight forced into their hands, but they at least managed to avoid dropping the poor half-orc to the ground. Confused eyes darted between Vaz and Argia. Silently they questioned whether she approved of the behaviour of this particular entity, a gaunt fellow with the same odd concoction of ink and charcoal staining their clothes as one of the intruders. 

 

“Fear not, mortals. I shall deal with the demon on behalf of ‘Our Lady of Judgement’.”

 

Vaz bowed towards Argia then slid through the opening of the rusted gate. They buried their hands in their pockets, inspecting the passage heading below with a wrinkled nose. They then paced back and forth a few times at the top of the steps and hummed in thought, taking note of the broken lights leading down into the shadow-clad depths of the passageway. Vaz straightened their posture. Their hand graced the edges of the orb in their pocket. With a click of their fingers they used it to send a surge of energy rippling through the seemingly dysfunctional lights and bathed the area below in a warm, fiery glow.

 

“LISTEN, O DEMON IN CHAINS. TURN YOUR EYES SKYWARD AND FEAST ON THE LIGHT CAST BY THE SCRIBE OF TRUTH.”

 

A deep, booming roar of a voice exploded from Vaz’s maw as they raised their arms to the heavens and posed in an melodramatic manner at the top of the stairs. The unburdened man with his grasp around Argia’s wrist flinched back and glanced towards her in hopes that she could explain what exactly Vaz was up to. Xaal meanwhile was biting at her lip, trying not to snicker at Vaz’s attempts to sound like a force to be reckoned with and not someone who had been hacking up their own blood less than a few hours ago.

 

“COME FORWARD, AND STARE INTO THE EYES OF INFINITE INSIGHTS SO THAT THEY MAY KNOW YOUR EVERY SIN. BOW BEFORE THE PURGER OF FALSEHOODS. LET THEM LAY THEIR HANDS UPON YOUR SHOULDERS AND DRIVE THE MARK OF PRIDE FROM YOUR BEING.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Argia

Argia turned at Xaal's tap, reading her gestures and nodding once. "Pardon," she started, catching the human's attention who's grip around her wrist was firmer than she felt it needed to be. "My companion has questions for you, if you'll humor them."

 

The man blinked and then grinned. "Oh, of course! Ask away!"

 

"She points out that you appear to know me and would like to know why. Can you enlighten us?" 

 

He slowed his pace, almost seeming to straighten up taller. "Everyone in the Order knows who you are. Although, this is the first time you've actually shown yourself to us... But Richard told the rest of us about you! Told us what you looked like, and Jen supported his account." 

 

"The 'Order'?" Argia inquired, frowning. "I'm not sure I understand."

 

"Oh! Right! Sorry; human thing. The Order of the Just is what we call ourselves. We're the ones who truly understand the state of this city and follow your guidance on how to navigate it." He lightly patted her hand. "And now you're here, which means this city will receive its Judgement at last, like it's supposed to. See, we've all been wronged by the things taking place in this city, but all of us have been denied our justice. You're the one who is meant to correct that!" 

 

She glanced at Xaal, realizing that, at some point, the woman had drifted towards Vaz and the other pair of humans. "How did this Order even come to be? How did you learn about me?"

 

His smile seemed to get bigger, more excited. "Richard and a couple others had a vision! Although, not all of the details match each other. Some say they saw a single figure, others say they saw two." He looked back as well, eyeing her companions. "I don't think anyone mentioned three...." He shook his head, dismissing the trail of thought with his free hand. "Anyways! Each one mentioned a winged figure with a sword and something about betrayed souls gathering around it. So, they started our little group of followers. Sadly, we haven't been able to gain a large gathering, as you deserve to have, but we're a good bunch at least."

 

Words failed her. Argia struggled to comfortably absorb the notion that she had a following founded on... visions. Visions were imperfect, vague. What if the humans' interpretations were wrong? "I'm sorry, I never got your names," she said, not sure of what else to say for the moment.

 

"Goodness! I swear, my mother raised me with better manners than this. I'm David. The short one is Zack. And the one that looks like he's always binging on coffee is Gregory. Do you have a name? None of us could ever agree on what to call you so we just settled on titles."

 

"You can call me Argia," she said, a sigh almost slipping through. "My companions are Xaal and Vaz." She caught the tail ends of some discussion about punishment and mercy, coaxing her to shift her gaze towards the duo. "A Punisher and a Defender..." she murmured. Something was oddly fitting about that claim. Whatever it was, she couldn't mull over it immediately as a gated, underground entrance stared at them all. Vaz stepped forward, passing Kansif off to Zack and Gregory in a manner that caused Argia to fret briefly. 

 

And then, suddenly, the lights within the tunnel came to life (to which all three humans gasped) and Vaz began speaking. Their voice wasn't so much a shout as it was more a crash of sound. As if a small burst of thunder had come to echo down the tunnel. It was... dramatic, and Argia did what she could to conceal her surprise as she waited for one result or another.

 

Jorath

He'd made his skin raw, scratches disturbing the flesh around the Tag. Blood trickled in a tiny trail from one mark where a nail had dug too deep. That was the mild blessing of human nails; they were never sharp enough. But it was still a challenge to keep his claws suppressed to avoid actual damage. Jorath snarled, his old language gracing his tongue. He took in a shaky breath, bringing his hand to his face in an attempt to leave the Tag alone. He continued muttering, cursing anything and everything (but mostly himself) that led up to this moment, as he finally tugged his sleeve back into place.

 

In another bout of effort, he clutched his arms to his body, tucking his hands. Distraction. He needed a distraction. His gaze drifted to the assortment of belongings within the station. The books he mostly ignored as he nudged the chalk and partially used candles with the toe of his shoe. One candle rolled from the contact. "Cultists..." he grumbled, scanning the walls and spying the chalk drawings of what he assumed where ritual sigils and possibly protection spells. The possibility made him scoff. The chances of humans actually invoking the favor of some god or other were--

 

Light filled the station and Jorath spun towards the voice that carried down. No... It's not--He took a step back, the impulse to run flooding his body until better recognition settled into place. "Vaz?" He breathed, voice drowned out by the Scribe's declaration. Dramatic much? How Vaz knew he was here was something Jorath would need to puzzle together a little later. Why they were being so loud and over-the-top was the more pressing concern. They really didn't exaggerate their behavior unless there was--"F***...." An act. A scam. Or, as Vaz preferred because 'scam' suggested lying, a ploy. Risky and always a gamble when they chose to involve Jorath. Briefly, he wondered if he'd be able to pull anything off this time around.

 

His hands still shook as he ran fingers through his hair once more, glimpsing his reflection in the broken window of the ticket booth. He looked like crap. Felt like it. Even after the multiple feedings he had. Scowling at himself, it wasn't difficult to muster up an air of aggression. Might as well play along and see what the Hell Vaz wanted. A small part of him was actually relieved by their sudden appearance, even as it was tempered by the frustration of having another space invaded by uninvited guests. Straightening out his clothes and mildly fixing his hair, he managed to make himself look less miserable and more enraged. Staring in the direction of the entrance, Jorath hesitated, almost pretending that he could see Vaz at the stairs, their aura steady and inky and flecked with gold as usual. There were others with them, one that Jorath recognized as Argia's. 

 

At last, he started towards the entrance, coming around the bend of the tunnel and watching the stairs gradually come into view. Thought he knew Vaz was mostly just spinning a convincing angle, Jorath couldn't avoid the increasing dread in his chest at the real possibility of Vaz discovering his real sins. You're a fool. Best to just reveal that to everyone so they no longer have doubts about what you are. He stopped at the base of the stairs, glaring up at Vaz. Again, he hesitated, unable to make his feet move up the steps. Conflict between not wanting to be touched and not wanting to ruin Vaz's display made his thoughts tangle. However, he managed to find something he could say. "'Scribe of Truth'? In a world such as this one?" Finally, his feet began to obey him again, taking each step slowly enough to put out a display of curious restraint. "A world of darkness that snuffs out all light, letting everything but Truth to fester and thrive. What power do you have here?"

 

By the time he finished speaking, he stood before Vaz, staring at them and silently searching their gaze. Their horns were exposed, but their wings were concealed. They'd recovered from the fight with Takut. A small pleasure of relief that Jorath allowed himself. Flicking his gaze behind Vaz, he noted Argia and another winged woman, her snowy feathers too coincidentally familiar. Perhaps it was fortunate that Jorath had stashed the feather he'd taken instead of leaving it behind his ear. Might have ruined the act that was being set for the three humans he'd chased out. A sneer crossed his features at the men, provoking them to stagger back. That Kansif was unconscious in the hold of two of them was startling, but Jorath couldn't betray that. "So. They brought you here. How... cute. What good will it serve them?"

 

Argia's wings flared briefly before she spoke. "Because I am the enforcer of Justice that will be delivered for those who were wronged. Justice served once the Scribe of Truth reveals all." Her eyes were narrowed, a slight glare directed at him. A frown ghosted at the corner of his lips. Something wasn't right; her aggression was real. Had Vaz told her about their argument and she decided to side with the Scribe? 

 

"Well, then. Purge the falsehoods, the pride, and reveal that this was my territory long before these humans ever showed up," Jorath grumbled, returning his attention to Vaz. 

Edited by ValidEmotions

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Waiting for Jorath to respond was a harrowing moment for Vaz, even if their proud stance suggested otherwise for their audience. The longer he lingered on appearing the more their confidence in his compliance started to falter, and the closer Xaal’s hand got to the quiver at her side. Finally though, a familiar silhouette began to emerge from the steps, and Vaz took a step backwards to give Jorath the room to stop before them on equal footing.

 

“You say foolish things, demon, do you not feel the light ebb at your flesh nor see the powerful entities that stand before you?”

 

Announced Vaz, gesturing for Jorath to look around the area as the gap between them drew smaller. They had switched back to their usual tone of voice, lest they blast Jorath’s eardrums apart, and for a brief moment there was a catch in their throat as they properly took in the appearance of their fellow demon. His aura was disorganised, the letterforms shifting and fighting against the lines drawn across them despite his facade of quiet composure. The lines, however, were back to a dark and dominating design. Jorath had feasted, and the beast that lingered within him was restrained once more.

 

Sympathy flickered into Vaz’s consciousness, before they remembered the show they were meant to be putting on and they abruptly covered it up with an upwards flick of their chin and a sniff of derision.

 

Scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power. And my dear I have been said to be its greatest conduit for countless millenniums.”

 

Behind them, Xaal fidgeted in a manner that suggested she was debating whether to agree with that statement or not. Her attention was otherwise fixated on Jorath, golden eyes tracking his every movement with forced neutrality. Her instinctual distrust of him was conflicting with the battered but still vigilant faith she held in Vaz, and she glanced towards Argia to gauge her opinion while the humans were enraptured with what was happening before them.

 

‘You are Judgement? You need a symbol of mercy and a symbol of punishment, yes? Use one, when Vaz is done.’

 

She then switched her attention back towards the demonic duo, catching a sign of unease in one of Vaz’s fists as they clenched it tight. Xaal felt Fi’Faltuun twitch in thought from behind her ear, and the tension in Vaz’s stance started to ebb away once more. Was it from something Jorath had said? Or something he hadn’t?

 

Xaal was surprised when the mangled feathers adorned with a multitude of eyes suddenly flared out from Vaz’s back once more. The eyes began to dance among their feathers and flesh, creeping along their arms and neck until they also adorned the scribe’s face and the backs of their hands. The one who called himself Zack starred at the eyeball-clad figure with a morbid fascination. Gregory just looked he was trying to keep down his breakfast. The final human however had a slack-jawed expression of genuine awe, and Xaal twitched into a smile when she noticed that he was attempting to count how many eyes Vaz had in total. She didn’t have the means nor the heart to tell him that it was an impossible task for a mortal to occupy himself with. It was curious that Vaz had summoned both them and their wings though, if they truely trusted Jorath than they wouldn’t have needed to...

 

‘They are trying to do a Vow of Truth. Stops the lies.’

 

Added Xaal upon realisation, as memories of seeing very similar routines played out for numerous mortals started to flow through her mind. Taking on this form tightened Vaz’s focus, meaning that they were willing to have the feathered limbs back out on display if it meant getting an actual, honest answer out of their companion.

 

“Very well, demon. You now have the undivided attention of The Eyes of Infinite Insights. See to it that you pay them the same respects, or your judgement could be ended prematurely.”

 

Vaz sauntered forward, the extra golden eyes still rolling around on their flesh in a hypnotic fashion but their usual set of amber remained firmly in place. An ancient incantation graced their lips, seeming to shift through multiple aeiuwn languages and at one point, Oldspeak.

 

“Veritas vos liberabit.”

 

Concluded Vaz, an ink-stained hand snaking out to take a gentle but firm grip around Jorath’s chin and hold him in place so that he would be forced to stare into their primary set of eyes. Guilt prickling at the back of their mind, Vaz wanted to blurt out an apology for the sudden challenge to his boundaries and what they were about to say but maintained their stern glare. They needed to spare him from Xaal and Argia’s wrath first. They could apologise to him later, once the group had their answers.

 

“I see...A tortured beast, for whom the hands of time have not been kind to. A caged bird, who continues to call out to the darkness despite never hearing a reply. And I see a blue flame, encased in an iron shell. Though the presence of these humans in recent weeks is apparent there are much older fragments of these elements that permeate the walls below. This demon has been absent. But his earlier mark on this territory is indeed apparent.”

 

The Scribe of Truth had bored into Jorath’s eyes and gleaned the surface of his mind. Or at least, that’s what Xaal understood of this step in the process. It certainly sounded like Vaz was speaking from the very depths of their core at least. Now it was time for Jorath to answer them back.

 

“Breathe deep, and recount the events of your night since you last strayed from The Truth. Our Lady of Judgement will then determine the true ownership of this territory, and ultimately your Fate.”

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Argia caught a glimpse of Xaal's gestures, reading what she said from the edge of her vision. A symbol for both? She understood she might have to make a final decision, but Argia wasn't so certain she understood what Xaal might have meant by 'a symbol'. This wasn't supposed to be her role, to choose the fate of someone else. And yet, it was the role that was expected of her. One she played in to, hoping that Vaz had an idea not unlike how they avoided Ditraxol's aggression (most of it) through misdirection. Drawing her wings close to her sides, she again looked to Xaal and carefully indicated, 'Symbols? Explain, please.' It helped that all attention was on Vaz's curious form, their wings and eyes attracting various shades of awe and interest. At the mention of a Vow of Truth, Argia nearly wanted to protest. She stopped herself, however, remembering that she was playing a part in an act. Perhaps some aspects had to be real in order to be convincing. But, it started to make her wonder why Vaz had begun this act in the first place.

 

Jorath tried not to get dizzy from the plethora of moving eyes, focusing more on being unprepared for Vaz to reveal their wings to three humans all at once. He listened to them speak; it wasn't often when he heard them use aeiuwn and, despite what they might think, sometimes he felt it better suited them than the coarseness of Oldspeak dialects. Sometimes. Somehow, though, it distracted him this time and Vaz's grasp on his chin startled him. He almost pulled free, managing to stifle the instinct to jerk away. But he still twitched, flesh prickling from the contact. The chill never came though, only a faint blanket of warmth that edged down to his throat. 

 

He understood, a little too late, what Vaz was beginning to do. No. Stop.... Jorath wanted to reel as his eyes widened. Words tumbled from Vaz's lips, their elegant voice becoming barbed to Jorath's ears as they filled the air for the witnesses gathered. Please, don't do this! He gasped, reaching up and grabbing at Vaz's wrist with one hand while the other started for one of their horns. Caged. Trapped! Can't breathe--His hand stilled before it touched the horn when he realized they had stopped speaking. Jorath trembled, grip tight on their wrist. Emotions warred for expression and he shut his eyes in an attempt to close it all out. Mostly, however, he couldn't stand to look at their amber gaze any longer. The hand that would have grabbed Vaz's horn lowered, wrapping around his stomach instead. Breathe... Just breathe and think...

 

'Strayed from The Truth.' Vaz specifically said 'The Truth' for this night. Panic began to ease as he worked through the Scribe's words. Why would Vaz need him to speak about his night when they had already done what Jorath said to? They acknowledged his claim to the station, albeit also acknowledging the humans' recent residency. There was something more that Vaz needed to know after the two of them had split ways. Something was wrong about Argia's aggression.... 

 

Sucking in a wavering breath, Jorath kept his eyes closed, not wanting to see whatever response Vaz might have, but he lessened his resistance to what they were doing to him. As a check, he thought about a small--but definite--lie. His throat itched as his tongue grew heavy, as if it were swollen, and refused to move. Yes. The Vow was there and, again, a slight prick of anxiety entered his thoughts. Keep breathing. They have a reason for this... He had to believe that. Had to trust them.

 

Argia shifted, her wings lifting faintly as she watched. Jorath had gone very still, but only after it seemed like he was lashing out at Vaz. Atropos waited in her grasp, the appearance of the broadsword prompting David to step back with a blend of startled fear and eagerness. He'd whispered something about 'it's real' but Argia couldn't be certain. Silence drew on and Argia became more uneasy until, at last, Jorath started speaking. 

 

"I searched for a journal, written with a quill instead of a pen. Tucked in the pocket of my jacket. Only found my jacket. I--" He hesitated a moment. "I was weak after fighting with Er'anir. Enraged. Both at her and myself. Frustrated with...." There was too much that he wanted Vaz to understand but also too much he couldn't get himself to say. And he couldn't lie. "Frustrated with buried truths. I had to feed." Jorath opted not to elaborate on that, keenly aware that humans were still listening. "Feeding helped recovery and some of my anger--"

 

There was a nervous snicker and one of the men nearby murmured, "That explains a lot; 'hangry's the term, Demon." 

 

"Shh!" another hissed, punctuated by a soft thump that elicited a quiet grunt.

 

"I stole clothes and changed after my first meal, then went in search of another,"  Jorath continued, a glimmer of amusement actually puncturing his stress. "Took a little time because I needed more but... didn't truly want more. Decided to return straight home from my third meal. I remained alone after straying from The Truth." Arguable, but Jorath realized he could say such a thing. He had felt alone, wanted to be alone, and thus avoided what he would classify as company. Even if someone else might claim he wasn't alone on the sole basis that he was feeding from humans. Ambiguous interpretation. "Found someone in my home, covered in ink and charcoal, snooping about. A banished demon with Seeking talents. Smells of rabbit. Have yet to determine if they're Lucky or not." The memory caused him to frown, lingering on the anxiety it had stirred. But he'd remembered to choose his words, to announce "banished" in an attempt to disassociate the Seeker with the Scribe. "Since he found my home, I had to leave it. Kept it hidden for so long. Brought the Seeker with me to reduce the damage as I came to the station, here. Thought it was still unused since I last left it. Suppose my tricks to keep it hidden couldn't be split between here and my condo. Found humans, scared them out. I... I had no intention of harming them. No desire to hurt someone again." 

 

At last, he opened his eyes again and studied Vaz's face before drifting his gaze to the others behind them. He should warn them that he was Tagged. But that seemed like another matter for a different moment, one preferably with three less humans. 

 

Argia caught his gaze, Atropos hovering in her grip between caution and rest. She was trying to absorb his tale. Trying to determine how it fit with his ambush upon Kansif and herself. She had no reason to doubt his stance that he was alone all night since leaving Vaz's side. Yet it still conflicted with Jorath being accompanied by several demons. That must be later. It has nothing to do with the humans and the station. She glanced at Vaz, taking a step forward. "If he is done recounting his night..." She waited for a moment, catching Jorath's slight nod. He looked... drained. No longer like rage awaiting release. "Then a ruling must be made." Looking from Jorath and Vaz to the humans and then Xaal, Argia trailed her gaze down to Atropos and considered the fact that it was a broadsword in her hand. Not a scythe as it had been last time. "Both sides staked a fair claim. Demon, you had left for too long, which is technically a forfeiture in its own right. However, you had meant to hold onto this place for such a time as you might find a need to return. Like the invasion of your more recent home and the decision of its relative safety."

 

To the humans, she said, "You sought and claimed this place for yourself, somewhere to remain likewise in safety and to fulfill a purpose. Through the technical forfeiture caused by abandonment, that was your right. However, because the original owner had meant to keep this place as a reserve, it is technically his right." She watched the men squirm, one of them starting to scowl and protest until a second silenced him. "The demon had no intention of harm, only acted on a perceived invasion. This Truth...." As she trailed off, settling on a decision, she felt her skin prickle and that steady spark stir. The crack down Atropos's blade seemed to ripple, a dark glow traveling downward to spiderweb against the ground where the blade's tip touched. "Merits Mercy." A shock struck the nerves in her hand and raced into her blade. The glow pulsed once upon the ground, leaving behind a faint trace on the concrete that disappeared from sight a few moments after. 

 

She gapped at the effect, blinking slowly until she recomposed herself and looked to Xaal. "You are the Voice with which the Judgement will be given for this Decree. Both sides deserve safety in a location they determine their home. That is the right of all living beings. The demon, however, should also be held to some account for his unnecessary violence."

Edited by ValidEmotions

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It hurt. Feeling Jorath writhe and twitch in their grasp, trying to pull himself away from them, was a horrible sensation. Despite digging into old scars with his iron grip Vaz let him clutch at their wrist, giving him somewhere to channel his fears and frustrations into. They craned their neck however when he tried to reach for their sprouting horns, angling them further away from his grasp. No, my dear, please don’t. Vaz silently begged of him. They could feel the energy of their core flowing through both horns, threatening to scald the flesh of any demon bold enough to touch them. Vaz didn’t know whether it would have the same affect on someone of a more human origin.

 

Vaz had tried to keep the Insights rolling off of their tongue vague for the sake of Jorath and his unwanted audience. It was difficult for the Scribe to silence themself entirely on the matter during a Vow, but they could at least describe the images and words flickering through their consciousness in loose, abstract terms rather than offer any semblance of interpretation of them. They could feel Jorath’s grip tightening even more on their wrist as they spoke, and the eyes surrounding it began to sting as one of his nails pierced through their delicate flesh and started to draw ink from the wound. There were fresh marks on his own wrist that Vaz could spy poking out from behind his sleeve, and they would have to ask him about them later. Assuming he was in any mood to talk to them at all after being subjected to this.

 

Jorath’s trembling began to calm, and Vaz watched as he scrunched his eyes shut to try and focus on something. By a small fraction Vaz relaxed their own grip on his chin in response, still resting their hand there to keep him in this stance but granting him a bit more room to breathe. The scribe also inhaled deeply and exhaled, attempting to match Jorath’s own pattern as a further reminder. Finally, the distraught looking demon began to speak.

 

Their breath hitched at the mention of the stolen journal, feathers bristling before Fi’Faltuun’s script had even started to flow into their thoughts and confirm that it was indeed filled to the brim with her own handwork. As to be expected her choice of wording was one of a neutral reporter, but there was an underlying tone of concern from the shakier handwriting accompanying them.

 

I have been using it to compile new observations on Jorath. It is in code. But there is much information regarding his habits and peculiar speech patterns when he slumbers. There is also a list of words from his native tongue I have overheard, paired with possible translations.

 

Guilt started to gnaw at them, even though Fi’Faltuun had reassured them that the chances of anyone being able to glean useful information from it without the aid of Vaz or their quills were minimal. It was still a vulnerability. It was still more information about Jorath that now ran the risk of exposure to the world, and it was Vaz’s fault that it was there. They paled when Jorath continued on, only to reveal where ‘Maggie’ had actually been banished to when Vaz had struck them with a piece of their halo and further drive in the fact that Vaz had inadvertently dragged them even further into a dangerous situation.

 

That is the talent of worms, Veritas. You fall, and then you drag others down to your level as you crawl upon the ground.

 

Vaz clenched their jaw and swallowed, burying the distant echo of The Voice back into the depths of their mind to be dealt with at a later date. They chose to focus their attention back on Jorath’s recount of the night, a glimmer of relief piercing through all the regret stewing inside of them as he wound down to a conclusion. He had been alone, or at least he had been in the the time it would have taken for Xaal to leave and stumble across the rest of their party. That was what they needed to focus on for now, the fact that the Vow of Truth had cleared him of the attack.

 

Vaz’s focus drifted to the eyes adorning the back of their wings, now engaged with watching the stunned faces of the mortals and a silent conversation between Xaal and Argia. 

 

‘Symbol of mercy, and a symbol of punishment. Something to show one or other.’

 

Xaal was now replying, having of paused for a while to instead listen to what Jorath had to say about his actions for the night. She was conflicted by his words, her distrust of him still evident, but there was now something else that had sapped her of the concern that he was of any danger to them. Perhaps it was the weary, confused look in his eyes, or the fact that the Scribe of Truth was just so, so adamant in proving the innocence of this scruffy looking demon that she hadn’t even been properly introduced to yet.

 

As Argia gave her verdict, she chose to shove aside her internal debate all the same and embrace the decision. Xaal bowed and motioned her thanks towards the harbinger for the decision. She glanced back up at the two demons, taking note of the hold Vaz still had on the other’s face. It had now morphed into something that was, for lack of a better way for Xaal to describe it, more of an embrace in the way the fingers were now resting on the edge of his cheek instead of digging into the bone of his chin. It was not a very convincing look for someone who was meant to be embodying the concept of Vengeance and Punishment, given that Jorath could freely pull away from them now.

 

‘Release him. The verdict has been made.’

 

Commanded Xaal, straightening her stance and forcing her expression into one of a demand as she glared down at the eyeballs along Vaz’s wings. Vaz caught on quick, snatching back their hand and burying it back into their pocket. A quick click from their fingers with the other then dismissed the fiery glow from the lights below them, and Vaz turned to address the rest of the group.

 

“Mercy has been given its Voice and it shall be obeyed, O Lady of Judgement, but there is still the matter of holding the demon accountable for his actions tonight. I suggest that the demon be made to serve The Order of the Just as repentance. He shall be its Guardian, until you deem otherwise.”

 

Sniffed Vaz, taking on a clipped tone to their voice to suggest a more restrained response from a Punisher that had just lost their chance to perform their role. They dismissed the swarm of eyes along their flesh and folded down their wings out of sight once more. They then gestured with a flourish towards Jorath at their side and bowed to Argia, motioning for him to do the same as a show of agreement with their proposal. Xaal hesitated but then nodded in approval of the decision, unsure whether she was meant to be trying to offer her own input on the matter or just let Vaz take the reigns.

 

“In exchange, the mortals shall extend the same level of generous hospitality to him as they would unto us. Which I shall assume they now intend to grant us, given that we have dealt with their little squabble.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Vaz's hold on his chin shifted slightly, their fingers against Jorath's cheek now. It was a gentler hold that required every bit of restraint he had not to pull away before it was determined for him to be released. When it came, he staggered back, his own grip releasing to free Vaz's wrist as they disengaged. He stopped short of stumbling down the stairs, directing his focus to straightening his clothes. Droplets of ink smeared across the fabric from his fingers and he stared at one, realizing a moment later what had happened. He wanted to mutter out an apology but, instead, he let it turn into a (hopefully) convincing expression of annoyance at ruining yet another shirt. 

 

"Yes, that seems like a reasonable action," Argia stated once Xaal had given her nod of agreement. She didn't think the bow was necessary, especially as she watched Jorath's stiff and shallow movement to abide by Vaz's insistence. "David?" She turned to the humans, catching each of them in a different state of realization at the notion that a demon would be protecting them. David startled, pulled away from his distanced examination of Jorath. "Will our presence be a strain on your resources? Sustenance is nothing of a concern, but what of space?"

 

"Um... There's definitely plenty of space within the old station. I'll have to check with Richard or Jen to find out if there's any room within the temple. Should be, but I don't typically go there. Richard says it's reserved for elites, which us three are not."

 

"Temple?"

 

"Well, it's not exactly a 'temple', per se. It's just a house. But the Order refers to it as the temple since that's where it all started. All of our books are there, too! If you have any need for them, I'm sure Richard wouldn't mind you taking a look to see what we've gathered, knowledge-wise." David rubbed at his chin, looking over at Zack and Gregory. "Hey. Do we have any spare furnishings?" 

 

"I think there's an unused couch and table at Sonny's. Said he was downsizing or something and was trying to pawn them off," Gregory supplied once he no longer looked like he was struggling to keep something down. "We can bring those. Might as well spruce up if more are staying."

 

David nodded and look to Argia again. "We'll be back. You're welcome to settle in or come with us? This, uh... Wasn't what we thought might occur, but I think this'll turn out better than what we originally had in mind." He was grinning, whereas Gregory seemed merely content and Zack looked pensive.

 

She studied Jorath and Vaz, then Xaal, before responding. "I believe we will remain here. I shall discuss with the demon and learn how best to utilize him as a Guardian so that his integration is as seamless as possible." Atropos faded from existence as she carefully took Kansif from the mens' care and they hurried off. She waited until they were out of sight before motioning for the other three to head into the station. Argia wanted to be out of the open for the rest of what was to come as she was certain there would be more. She, herself, had more to press upon.

 

Jorath slunk into the station, his eyes readjusting to the dark after the flood of light that Vaz had somehow conjured. He didn't look at anyone and kept his hands stuffed into his pockets. When they reached the station itself, Jorath stopped beside the scattered remnants of the campfire and studied the charred bits of kindling. Weapons clinked and something with a lot of yield thumped against the ground. He looked up, watching Argia settle Kansif into a position against the wall. Then she turned and faced him, her features stern. "I believe you've told the truth to Vaz outside, that you were alone for much of the night. But I still do not understand how it was you that ambushed Kansif and I!"

 

Air caught in his throat and Jorath's eyes widened. That's what happened? "That wasn't me. Firstly, Ditraxol made his remark that we "play nicely" and I don't intend to ignore that because there's a very real chance your fake claim of the Dawn actually interests Malvorin. Secondly--" He stopped, his gaze on Vaz. There was too much clashing in his thoughts, in his chest. He cleared his throat, lowering his gaze. "Secondly, I'm not about to break the agreements I have with Vaz and attack any of their associates."

 

Her wings flared again, shifting up and down before gradually, eventually, settling at her back again. After a moment, her softened voice crawled through the air. "Are there shape shifters in this world?"

 

Of course. He almost forgot she was new to this city. The question made him pause. "I've only heard rumors of one... A demon that can take on the likeness of another. Including some of their abilities. But, those were rumors among demons. Not always something to take as hard truth..." A second passed and then he scowled faintly. "It's possible, though. Rumors always start somewhere. However, if you still don't trust that I had nothing to do with that ambush, what do you want me to do? How can I convince you?"

 

Argia fidgeted, rubbing her arm then twining her fingers together. "I want to be wrong, Jorath. For Vaz's sake, I sincerely hope that these rumors of a shape shifter are true. In my world, there are many shape shifters, and they aren't demons. They are ordinary supernatural creatures that are born and die like any other mortal human. But they don't possess the memories of whom they copy. This demon seemed to. He seemed familiar with Vaz..." 

 

"How can I convince you?" Jorath repeated, firmness entering his voice. 

 

She hesitated, searching for some answer from either Xaal, Vaz, or Kansif if she could only wake. Eventually, "Make true the role of a guardian, Protector, of the humans that claim to follow me. An agreement to harm none and allow no harm, to the best of your abilities, to befall any. In exchange, until such a time further evidence either implicates you or clears you, I'll stand on the trust of the Vow of Truth committed by Vaz. And, in kind, you'll find safety here."

 

Despite himself, he risked a small smirk towards Vaz. "I see you taught her something about this place. Give and take." He returned to her, nodding once. "A reasonable exchange. Okay then." He held out his hand which she stared at for a few heartbeats. At last, she took it and--He frowned. Nothing was happening. "Argia?" She was already letting go but looked him. Then it dawned on him. She didn't know. "Oh..." Jorath wanted to do this right. It wasn't a bargain cutting off part of his Realm and giving to to another, nor vice versa. "How do I explain this? Uh.... You need to open your Realm."

 

"Excuse me?" She arched an eyebrow, her voice lilting with something akin to disbelief. 

 

Or incredulousness. Jorath shook his head and waved his arms quickly. "No! I don't mean--I'm talking about your Realm. The domain fueled by your followers that gives you power here. If you want me to be able to recognize the humans who are under your rule and protection, I need to be able to connect with your Realm and you to connect with mine. To do that, you need to open your Realm."

 

Now she shifted where she stood, bringing her hands up to her chest and looking anxiously at both Fallen. "I'm not sure... I mean, I don't know how."

 

His mouth opened to allow words out but then he pressed his lips together, musing over the situation. Raking fingers through his hair, he sighed. "I'm not good at this. Any ideas?" he asked.

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As Jorath continued to play along and bowed alongside of them Vaz felt a  little more at ease with the situation they were weaving their way through. There was still an anxiety that churned within them at the thought of how Jorath would act once the group was left to their own devices, but it was currently outweighed by both relief that the ploy seemed to have worked and a budding intrigue in the trio of humans that had gathered before them. 

 

Vaz quirked an eyebrow at the mention of a temple, fingers twitching at the mere thought of what sort of books were lurking within it. Mortal libraries were sometimes a source of disappointment these days to the ancient scribe, full of mysteries they had already unravelled, but there was occasionally a nugget of gold to be found amongst more familiar pages. Vaz hoped that whatever sources they had gathered would provide them with some better context into exactly which Judgement entity it was they had mistake Argia for. Vaz knew of several, but exactly none of them spelt out anything good for the humans if they actually did manage to summon one of them. Letting them believe Argia was the answer they had been searching for was perhaps the kindest act Vaz had performed for humanity in centuries.

 

“Exactly how many of these order members do you suppose they have? Do you think they are all human?”

 

Mused Vaz as they trekked downstairs, though it was an idle question that they didn’t really expect anyone to properly respond to. There was too much tension in the air still for polite conversation, too many things that Vaz wanted to ask of Jorath that were vying for their attention. Vaz was almost glad when Argia broached the subject of Kansif’s assailant, steering the conversation to be between the two of them instead. Something akin to a smile even twitched itself onto their face when Jorath’s second point of defence was the fact that Argia was a marked associate of Vaz, and that he had no intention of disrupting any of their arrangements. 

 

“He has always upheld his word with my associates. He refuses to target anyone in honest possession of one of my quills...and I chose to trust that he would keep his word on the matter.”

 

Vaz made an odd hand motion, one that looked like it was about to rest itself around the man’s arm as per their earlier stroll before it decided otherwise and scratched at the back of Vaz’s neck in instead.

 

“Changing one’s shape is a rather basic skill amongst angel and demon kind alike, I would say I know of more individuals capable of it in some format than not. But...there are always signs. Take Xaal, for example. In her avian form she retains her eyes, the same markings on her wings...Mine was much the same. And even if she were to complete change all of this there is still always the matter of one’s aura betraying their true identity. I don’t know of any entity that could completely mask their own aura, absorb memories without mark, and still have the energy and talent to pull off a flawless shift.”

 

Both Xaal and Vaz looked uncomfortable at the thought, shuffling on the spot and exchanging questioning looks as Argia and Jorath continued to debate over whether the latter could be trusted. Xaal pointed skyward and then reached into her chest pocket to withdraw something, but Vaz shook their head and dismissed her theory before she was able to remove  its contents.

 

“No...No I don’t think anyone up there is capable of something of that scale. Well...not anyone that would demean themselves enough to visit Terras, at any rate. I suppose in theory it is possible but...but there must have been some sort of blemish at least? Lojaal?”

 

Lojaal, who had been perched behind Vaz’s ear, slid out into view and rolled through the air in an unsure motion. She projected an image of the encounter into Vaz’s mind once more and the scribe scowled, indeed finding no flaw in the man’s appearance. They would have to study it later, there must have been something that marked the true identity of the figure after all.

 

Vaz tuned their mind back into the conversation, perking up at the discussion of realms. It was the perfect distraction from their thoughts, prompting them to abruptly clap their hands together and rub them together in anticipation of the flawless explanation they were about to enthral Argia with. Xaal meanwhile shot Jorath an unimpressed glare, before turning to go and further explore the depths of the subway station rather than having to listen to Vaz drone on about things like ‘alignment focus points’ and ‘domain harmonies’.

 

“Right! So! Realms! Very interesting topic my dear, I have several books available on the subject if you want to browse through them at a later date. I’m compiling one of my own as we speak actually, an updated compendium for them if you will.”

 

Vaz had begun to pace in a circle around the remaining duo, scrutinising the both of them as they continued to talk.

 

“Now as I imagine you are aware Argia there are countless Realms out there, spanning across the various planes of our existence. They can be rather troublesome things to document accurately, given that they are constantly shifting in both size and nature, but I suppose from a certain perspective you could define your realm as your ‘home’ territory. The place, I presume, that your sovereign resides.”

 

The scribe’s eyes had glazed now, their focus somewhere in the distance as if reading from a script that no one else was privy to. 

 

“Now of course, this Realm  of yours can differ wildly between both its planes and other Realms, but most of the ones I have encountered rely on extracting what we call ‘Influence’ to be able to maintain its hold over certain territories and entities. Influence is essentially a power source my dear, given by Followers. In your case, your Followers would be this quaint little gaggle of humans that have been seeking you out.”

 

The scribe spun on their heel and gestured widely around at the dark and dismal walls of the subway station. Somehow the bleak surroundings didn’t quite matchup to the grandiose manner in which Vaz was presenting all of this information.

 

“So! in conclusion! What you want to do is open a point in this world where you can connect with your Realm, and Jorath will do the same. You then link the two together, sharing a portion of your Influence and Followers. The results can be unpredictable but...mostly...harmless. About 78% harmless I would wager. I don’t think Jorath’s realm has quite as much of the sensory overload as mine tends to bestow upon unprepared minds so you should be fine, my dear.”

 

While the rest of the party attended Vaz’s impromptu seminar Xaal ventured over to the modest collection of belongings that were piled up near the remains of the fire, her eyes drawn to a box of chalk in particular. She beamed over her discovery, withdrawing a blue piece of chalk and slipping the box into another pocket of her robes. While Vaz’s explanation of realms and domains continued to drift in and out of her ears she wandered towards a larger clearing along the passageway and set to work, etching out a series of large, concentric circles and angular patterns onto the concrete below. She didn’t know the traits of Jorath’s realm well enough to make the illustration more tailored towards it, so she based her design instead off of the odd, web-like structure that had emitted from Argia’s broadsword a few moments ago. As she etched a variety of sigils along its outer edge Vaz nudged the rest of the party over to join her, realising what she had been constructing for them in her absence.

 

“Ah, lovely as always my dear. Now this would be a Binding Circle. If we had more insight into your worlds and time to prepare we would usually personalise them more to one or the other’s Realm for a better focus, but I believe this one will do the trick.”

 

Xaal stood and produced more chalk for the rest of them, indicating a pair of interlocking circles that had been etched directly into the centre of the diagram. 
 

“Drawing a symbol of your realm in one of these circles helps to anchor yourself and your partner to it. In my experience there is no one right or wrong symbol you can draw here, but I’d recommend you pick something related to whichever aspect of it you are attempting to exchange or merge to make the process easier. I, for instance, would usually draw an eye here to indicate that my shared Follower’s minds will be opened to new Insights and Truths about themselves. But I could alternative draw a quill, signalling that I intend to teach my Followers how to wield their writing into incantations and spells.”

 

Vaz curled a hand around Argia’s arm and pulled her into place on a specific spot of the circle. Their lips pursed in thought as a few of the runic symbols Xaal had drawn began to glow at Argia’s feet, a gentle hum emitting from what seemed to be the air itself surrounding them. So far, so good. Vaz hunched over and tapped a fingernail at the edge of Argia’s circle to guide her hand towards it, then glanced back up at Jorath with a warning look that danced between irate and restrained amusement.

 

“And please make sure you draw something polite here this time, L’antiira. I shan’t have you confusing my friends any more than is necessary.”

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It was... a lot. Argia stared, perhaps a little owl-eyed, at Vaz as they explained everything. "No, I--I wasn't aware..." she murmured when it was mentioned there were countless Realms that differ from each other and always shifted. At the mention of her sovereign likely being at the core of her Realm, she perked up slightly. If 'opening' her Realm meant establishing a connection with her sovereign, she could begin to understand what they were attempting to explain. However, she wasn't so certain about influence was meant to work since every mortal being was destined to die and that was what her sovereign presided over. Would that count as influence? Were there even specific followers for such an inevitable fact of life? 

 

No, wait. She was looking at the wrong thing. It wasn't her role as an entity to reap souls that was being focused on. It was the aspect that the humans were mistaking her for; the role she was beginning to play here in this new place. Her sovereign had no affiliation to such concepts as judgement or vengeance. So, then, what would be awaiting her at the core of this Realm? "'Mostly harmless'?" Argia startled, wings bristling as she glanced between the others. "What sort of exchanges do you conduct in this place?" 

 

Jorath gave a quick smile. "They're exaggerating. You'll be fine. Just stay focused on the purpose of the agreement," he said, briefly shooting Vaz a look and then an eye roll. Sometimes the Scribe was perhaps too honest or upfront. But he really couldn't deny that they had a point. Still, it wasn't going to do anyone any good to cause Argia panic or distrust when she needed directed intention. As Vaz guided her into one spot, Jorath stepped into a second, causing the remaining symbols to glow softly. He made a mocking sound of disappointment when Vaz told him to be polite, their term of endearment settling in his ears. Briefly, he realized he had been worried about never hearing it again. He smiled, a genuine expression. "No fun. But, alright." A moment after, his smile faded, pushed down by the remembrance of the tension that had risen between them only a few hours prior. He turned his attention back to the circles, etching out a familiar set of gambling dice. The exchange was primarily set to be protection for the humans following Argia and for himself. But, in a way, that same protection could trickle down throughout his Realm. 

 

A shared joint of power rather than the takeovers he was used to.

 

Argia hesitated, rolling the chalk between her fingers as she studied the blank space Vaz indicated to her. She could draw any symbol, but no ideas came to her at first. Despite Vaz's assurance that there were no right or wrong depictions, she fretted about sending the incorrect message. And, what of the possibility for backfire? Could that be the harm Vaz suggested? Unsure, she decided to watch Jorath work, tilting her head slightly at the curiosity of dice being in his circle. It wasn't what she expected. Finally, she realized what she might utilize and began sketching out Atropos's form, choosing the broadsword to symbolize its preservation of Life. She rose from her crouch, following Jorath's lead in doing so. "Now what?" she questioned, looking to Vaz.

 

"I'll be the Driver," Jorath stated, pulling her attention away as he answered the question instead. "That is, I'll be the only conducting much of this exchange. All you need to do is remain in place, no matter what happens. Good or bad." He watched concern flicker across her face and tried giving her a reassuring smile. "It's okay. Nothing drastic is happening in this exchange so I don't expect it to go sour unless you step out of your circle or scuff the chalk marks." That prompted her to quickly look down, twisting as she angled herself to inspect each mark. He chuckled; now he was causing her distress. "Argia, it'll be alright. Right now, you need to focus. Since you're gonna have to open your Realm for this to work, you need to locate your Anchor. Like Vaz said, you're going to use it to connect this spot with your Realm. Think of it as like a ship in the ocean and the crew need to release the anchor in order to keep the ship in a single place, preferably so they can leave and return as needed."

 

"That... Okay, yes. I can imagine that." Argia found herself appreciative of something she understood to picture in her mind. Closing her eyes, she tried searching for... whatever it was supposed to be. 

 

Her face scrunched and Jorath hedged, "My Realm feels like a weight at my core. A knot, sort of. Feel through your body and find the thing that doesn't quite match, but no less feels like a part of you."

 

There wasn't a weight or a thread. All she found was that persistent spark, pulsing and turning--Oh. Hers was the spark. Realizing this, she smiled a bit triumphantly. Yet, she still hesitated, bringing her hands up to cup at something in the air, as if she could form the spark into a physical state. Inhaling deeply, she thought of closing her hands around it. Instantly, the spark seemed to burst and she startled, eyes flying open with a yelp. "You're okay! That's it," Jorath was saying, reminding her to keep her feet in place. When the shock passed, Argia focused on drawing a tether from it and imagined anchoring the end to the station around her. At the same moment, Jorath took her hand and held both of their arms over the center of the Binding Circle. 

 

He was chanting. Actually, it was more like... a song. Slow, somewhat timid as if he was attempting to speak out a set of lyrics rather than sing them to a rhythm, the incantation began to fill the station. Argia didn't recognize the language he used, but she doubted it was the same language Vaz had been writing in the Compendium. Occasionally, words were punctuated with a click. Somehow, the language suited Jorath better than the common one they all spoke. And it felt as old as his knotted lifeline. She watched his face, trying to read his expressions. But his features were too neutral, a somewhat distant look in his eyes. He's hiding something away... Argia recognized it from many humans she had encountered. 

 

Jorath brought the chalk he still clutched to Argia's wrist, looping a trail around her forearm and onto his until the ends connected. He had to shift his sleeve and the bandages covering her arm to do so. Though he wanted to, he couldn't hesitate or else botch the Binding. When he nudged the wrappings, his eyes widened. Scars covered Argia's arm, lashing in various directions. Most of them were long, disappearing under the rest of the bandages he hadn't moved. Briefly, his gaze trailed to the rest that peeked out beneath the tatters of her dress on her torso and carried on to her other arm. Her lack of response to them told him she'd had them for a very long time. 

 

The tattered state of her wings made a bit more sense now. He empathized, but held down the emotion to keep steady. 

 

When the chalk link closed, Argia stiffened. Suddenly, she could feel another tether, this one pulsing from Jorath. Before she could fully register that fact, the tethers began to twist and twine together. The spark burst again, but this time within a constrained space, splashing against... well, she could only classify it as a doorway that yielded open under the onslaught. Almost immediately, she sensed more than just lifelines and she trembled with the overwhelming pressure of it. But then, a blanket fell over her senses, not completely snuffing things out, but making it more bearable to endure. Argia caught Jorath's soft smile as his chanting ceased. Was the blanket his doing? 

 

She stared, a compulsion to say something beginning to rise. Her grip tightened slightly on his hand and a glazed look entered her eyes. "Haz strund convectra o est prasnel. Haz faltuun ascitra trozdne." The bandages at her arms and beneath her dress began to burn away as the Binding sealed. Argia startled at the heat but was held in place by Jorath. It didn't hurt, but it was uncomfortable. On her skin, something akin to black ink etched across her flesh, mingling with the scars. As she watched in disbelief, she realized they were names. Some human and others not. They lingered for several moments before finally fading from sight. The glowing from the symbols on the ground dulled out of existence and Jorath released her hand, scuffing the markings of his space as he stepped back. "What--?"

 

"You're Realm's open now. Doing so affected some change to you," Jorath explained quickly, gaze traveling around the station. "Affected something else, too. I just haven't figured out what it is, yet." He was frowning, gaze finally returning to her. "Feel it?" Argia didn't understand what Jorath was focusing on specifically. There was a fair bit that she was feeling and it was all new, all strange and alien to her. She shook her head, holding her arms close to her chest and staring at her skin, wondering if the names would return at any moment.

 

"No worries. I'll figure out what it is later. For now..." Jorath turned his attention to Vaz and Xaal, a more somber expression returning. "What happened to regrouping with Askee-ah?"

 

[[Basically, Argia said, in Oldspeak: "Let the string bind for both ends agree. Let fortune come to this exchange."]]

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Both Xaal and Vaz watched politely from the sidelines as Jorath took over the explanation, the former with an uneasy squint and the latter with much more enthusiasm. When an unfamiliar language with a suggestion of a melody started to grace her ears the narrowed eyes widened, her wings flexing with mild surprise. It was an unusually beautiful sound to be issuing from a demon, making her doubt whether it was a language that had originated from the planes of Hell in the first place. Glancing at Vaz only seemed to emphasis this train of thought, who held a fond smile of someone who was enjoying the sound but not comprehending much of what was being said. There was a secret in that dialect, somewhere. A splash of blue that darted between the shifting red and silver hues and the inky, gold-flecked auras of both demons.

 

Xaal flinched when Jorath shifted back the bandages around Argia’s wrist, revealing old lashings of scars and drawing a sympathetic look from both of the fallen beings watching on. Vaz’s scowl deepened when Jorath began to draw a linking chain around their arms, their eyes briefly flickering to a spot on his hip but choosing not to interrupt the ritual over the matter. By the time it was complete the scribe seemed to have forgotten about whatever it had been that was troubling them, or at least filed it away somewhere to ask about later. Perhaps they just didn’t want to ask, still remorseful about having to draw out information from their associate with others to witness it. 

 

She glanced between the two demons, remembering the remnants of their earlier argument she had observed and wondering what would transpired if she left the two to their own devices. Jorath did seem far less aggressive now. More just tired, if she had to make a guess. As though the demon had been on the run for the majority of his life and was merely being granted a few minutes reprieve before something started snapping at his heels again. Xaal supposed she could grant him some privacy to speak with a familiar face while those minutes lasted.

 

The fallen angel wrapped her hands around Argia’s arm and gently guided her back out of the Binding Circle, letting her know it was safe to remove herself from it. She then reached down and smudged out the symbols that had been drawn in its centre with the edge of her sleeve, preventing their use by another party.

 

‘We should walk. Explore this place. Let your head calm down.’

 

Suggested Xaal after she rose back up and dusted off the chalk from her hands. She beckoned for Argia to follow her and took a few steps backwards, pointing towards the other end of the tunnel. Her attention then shifted to her surroundings, trying to latch onto something as a topic of conversation that would hopefully convince Argia to walk alongside of her.

 

‘I didn’t know you could speak Oldspeak so well. I thought your name was given to you by demons. You know a lot of languages, yes?’

 

 

Vaz watched as Xaal excused Argia and herself, unsure whether to be grateful for the chance at a private conversation with the man or continue to dread the prospect of it. Vaz decided to start by lingering somewhere in the middle while the others were still in earshot, focusing on just the facts of the night and worrying about more complex matters once Jorath had been brought up to speed.

 

“We were attacked upon reaching the nest by a pair of Seekers. Normally they would have been beneath my concern but I was not in a particularly good state of being and...erm. I fainted, actually, trying to banish one of them. I suspect that was the ink-stained halfwit you found in your own place of residence. Maggie, if I remember right. I assume you made short work of him upon discovery?”

 

For a moment Vaz was torn, their apologetic expression marred by the curiosity that was welling up inside of them over why the Seeker had been banished to Jorath’s home of all places. It seemed far too unlikely to have been a mere coincidence. Though, then again, Luck was a domain that they knew Jorath had some considerable influence over. Perhaps contrived coincidences were just an occasional side-effect of that relationship?

 

“The other Seeker had a scroll with her, a Time Displacement spell. She didn’t strike me as a particular powerful spell-caster but the incantation she read from it was an ancient one. Flawless in its construction. Perfect in its prose. Aeiuwn. I don’t think that Askee-ah stood much of a chance when she was struck with it. She should be unharmed but...hm. I doubt we will see any of her raptors any time soon.”

 

More regret swirled about in Vaz’s core, this time bringing around a faint sense of dizziness as they tried to recall the last few hours in better detail.

 

“My apologies L’antiira, my memory is rather scattered after that. I recall waking up briefly...someone told me to remember something? Erm. Anyway. I woke up and I was in an abandoned theatre, Argia and Xaal at my side and Kansif in the horrid state you see her in now. They said that they were attacked by a gang of demons, and that you were the ringleader, so I began to refute them. I tried to identify the rest of the group through The Compendium and...I knocked myself out again. Hard, this time. I was unconscious for hours my dear I haven’t slept like that since...”

 

Vaz wrapped their hand around their own wrist and clenched at it tightly, their attention focused on a distant memory that etched a grimace onto their face. 

 

“...Truely, I think the whole situation terrified me. In the back of my mind, rather. I was with allies but I was in pain, tired, and absolutely miserable. So when Argia inadvertently summoned Zoe for a little chat I saw an opportunity to secure a few souls for myself and took it, price be damned.”

 

They unclenches their wrist and gestured to themself, a derisive sneer now on their face as they starred down at the inky mess left behind from their now-healed injuries. Hands lifted up towards their face and they groaned, massaging their palms into their visible set of eyes until the stinging sensation in them ceased. They hated it when their human form reacted in this manner. They usually had far better control over it than this.

 

“...You seem in a better state of mind since we departed, at least.”

 

Vaz eventually sighed, partially parting their fingers so they could stare back up at him through the gaps.

 

Not good mind you but...hm. Better. But if we are to remain in this...unusual choice of residence for a while I think you would do well to also slumber for a few hours. You look exhausted my dear.”

 

Vaz turned from him and began to pace towards the smouldering embers and ash of what had presumably once been a fire. The scribe contemplated it for a moment, nudging a few sticks back into place with the toe of their boot before sinking down into a seated position beside it. They didn’t pat the ground and invite Jorath over to join them this time, instead just hugging their knees to their chest and surveying their lacklustre surroundings with a distant gaze.

 

“This place really is dismal though. Far too cold. Far too dusty. I suppose I can’t blame you for not wanting to rest here.”

 

Confusion mixed with doubt was evident as their gaze drifted downwards to Lojaal now hovering beside them. The scribe held out their palm for her and watched idly as she danced upon it, doodling an image of a bird that seemed unrelated to the conversation the two were having in Vaz’s mind.

 

“No, my dear, I don’t think he-“

 

The quill paused her illustration and twitched in an uncharacteristically upset manner, prompting Vaz’s shoulders to sag in response. They curled their fingers over their palm and interrupted her illustrations, contemplating its contents for a moment before they lifted their chin to regard Jorath once more.

 

“Lojaal thinks that you should be re-assigned a quill. She doesn’t want you to have to go through another Vow of Truth if we should find ourselves separated. She’s volunteering herself, actually, incase you think Fi’Faltuun was ‘too bossy’. You do not need to accept though. If it brings you discomfort.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Argia

She had intended to answer Jorath's question but Xaal's touch on her arm drew Argia's attention away. Briefly, she shifted her gaze back and forth between the other three before finally resting upon Xaal. She nodded once. "Alright," she sighed. Argia found herself having to agree; there was so much to process and it tangled upon itself. She caught herself staring at her arm again, feeling the cold slightly more against her body now that the bandages were gone. It had been... a long time, since the wrappings weren't there. It left her strangely feeling exposed. And, while seeing the scars across her body no longer disturbed her in the way it used to, she hadn't missed the expressions from the others. 

 

"Oldspeak?" Argia questioned, confused by what Xaal meant. "I'm not sure I understand." Then she remembered. She'd said something at the end of the Binding. "Oh. I don't know what happened. It was like a compulsion and then...I don't know what really came over me. Was that Oldspeak I used?" It was a disarming realization. "Yes, I know a lot of languages that the humans use; they speak to me in their last moments and I felt it important to be able to understand them. This Oldspeak, however, was not one." 

 

"No. My name was given by Kirit and Meztli, the entities for Balance. They are neither a demon nor an angel." How should she explain what they were? Was there even a way to describe them? "They are... both one and a pair. At times, they embody one being. At other times, they are a pair of floating spheres, like sentient energy, or a pair of humans at opposite ends of the mortal lifespan. Always speaks in the first-person plural or third person. A confusing thing and nearly always speaking cryptically." Argia realized now that it made her irritated just how ambiguous, vague, and often unhelpful the duo were when they spoke. There was always something more they never said. A thought then occurred. "Why did you believe demons gave me my name? Does it mean something?"

 

Jorath

He only gave the two women a passing glance as they traveled elsewhere in the old tunnel until Vaz's recounting brought his attention back. Jorath grunted, a sound of confirmation to the Scribe's assumption of who arrived in his home. "Maggie some days, Mag'than on others. Flee-bitten rodent tried to convince me that you'd sold me out to him." His gaze drifted to the ground. "Almost worked, but I know you're not that petty, no matter how furious you are." Jorath shook his head. "I couldn't tell if you'd sent them to me on purpose or not. They're a rabbit, for f***'s sake." He paused slightly, recalling the bit that he should likely inform them about. "And, no. I didn't exactly do away with them. I'm using them to get Fi's journal back." Jorath took a moment to roll back his sleeve, exposing Mag'than's Tag and the lingering traces of excessive scratching. "Tagged in exchange due to the risks involved." He pushed his sleeve back down quickly, reducing the amount of time he lingered on it.

 

As Vaz continued on, he noticed them start to sway. Instinctively, he reached out to gently grab their shoulder for stability. When they seemed steady again, he let go. "Shame about Askee-ah..." he murmured, not sure of how else to respond to the unexpected loss. The raptor seemed kind of interesting but, if she was unharmed by the spell, then it didn't seem so horrible. The random gang of demons attacking was more concerning, however. Hearing it again from Vaz was still unsettling. Though, something about their adamancy in defending him... Whatever it was, it conflicted with the desire to scowl at them and make them promise not to push beyond their abilities for his sake. He didn't say anything, however, and kept his expression as neutral as possible. That someone might be traveling, parading about, with his face was unsettling.

 

Again, he grunted softly. He understood being afraid and overwhelmed and in pain. Even simultaneously. Empathizing, Jorath realized there was a faint ache as Vaz's composure seemed to waver in a very rare instance. Even as an ordinary human, he always felt inadequate at providing comfort. They were already moving away from it, however, commenting about his state before sitting beside the pile of burnt tinder. "Tired, yes. Better state of mind? Debatable..." he admitted. He started walking about the station, inspecting the couple of books despite not being able to understand much of what was written. He did study some of the symbols sketched onto the pages, however. 

 

Snorting at the 'dismal' remark, Jorath set the books back as they had been and looked over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of Lojaal etching something upon Vaz's palm. He couldn't see what, though, due to the angle and the distance. "It was a desperate decision at the time," he replied, falling silent as the Scribe seemed to disagree about something with their quill. "I--" Jorath hesitated, even fidgeted slightly. Eventually, he ran fingers through his hair and sat down near the wall. "Truthfully... I don't know what it brought me. Mostly, I just grew familiar with Fi being around. The--The unease--" He clasped his hands together, resting his arms in his lap. "That's an echo from Er'anir. She wo--" There it was, that constriction. He bowed his head, letting it clear away. "I'm sorry." It rushed out before he could solidify if the apology was for being unable to say what he needed to or for the unease he felt. "I kind of enjoyed Fi's bossiness. It's different than being around other demons...." But then he went and swiped at her only some hours prior. "You and the quills are always a different sort of company to be around. It's nice."

 

That a quill, especially one as shy and quiet as Lojaal, was volunteering... Jorath gave Lojaal a slight smile, strained as it was. "I don't want to take from Argia; that wouldn't be fair to her. You entrusted her to the woman and you somehow always have a knack for interesting decisions." It was a subtle observation he'd come to over the years. Some of which, he'd noticed, would turn out to work in a strange way. He didn't know if it was Luck at work or something else entirely. "I would accept Fi again, if she's not upset with me and still okay with the assignment. I know I'm not exactly a prime choice." 

 

Rubbing the back of his neck, he started to grimace. An expression that was more shy or embarrassed than pained. "Maybe... if it's not too much trouble... could you... Uh..." His neck started flooding with warmth that reached his ears. Though, it wasn't the same sensation that cut off his ability to speak when he was about to say too much. "I mean, you don't have to but I'm wondering--What I mean to ask--" Now he scowled, clutching his hands into fists and boring his gaze into the ground. A second after, he rubbed at his face, a scoff escaping as he struggled with something that should have just been... normal. Why is this so hard? He got up and paced a little, a slow stride that gave him something to focus on. Finally, he swallowed it all down and drew in a fresh breath, coming to a stop opposite Vaz at the unlit campfire. "Would you be willing to teach me how to read? Maybe even write? I can provide whatever payment you want in return, anything you find worth the lessons." 

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Xaal

 

Now Xaal was really confused. Argia’s inflection had been perfect to her ears, despite claiming not to speak a word of it. Her brow furled, now also remembering that she had to translate ‘Razuul’ for the young woman shortly after their initial meeting. Perhaps the sentence was just a side-affect of opening up your realm to a demon’s influence? Xaal after all would sometimes temporarily mute her associates if she botched up the Banishing Circle. And the less said about the results of opening up weaker minds to the brilliance and terror of The Archives, the better. There was a reason why Vaz had avoided using their own Realm in the demonstration after all.

 

‘Sorry. Must be something different in your Realmspeak?’

 

Offered Xaal as an explanation as her mind drifted back into focus, followed by a shrug of her shoulders. There were infinite Realms out there with all sorts of weird and wonderful languages, it stood to reason that at least one other had an entirely different definition behind the word ‘Argia’.

 

‘Your name means ‘forgotten’ in Oldspeak. I thought it was rude to ask why. But demons usually make names match actions. Xaal means ‘silenced’ or ‘secret’. Vaz means ‘writer’. Jorath probably means something in a different language. I thought maybe a demon asked you and you said you forgot your name? So they made it your name.’

 

Xaal then tilted her head, pondering her description of these ‘Kirit and Meztli’ figures. They sounded like typical deities to Xaal, ambiguous in both form and purpose but heaven forbid you misinterpret anything they wanted you to do because of it.

 

‘Are you sure they are not a demon or angel? Or both? They sound like my old deity. Vox perfectum. Maybe they speak Oldspeak and chose the name for a reason? Are you forgetful?’

 

 

Vaz

 

Vaz eased themself back onto their feet, closing the gap between the both of them once Jorath had finally managed to stammer out his request for literacy lessons. Tired, bloodshot eyes regarded his own, but there was a small grin that lingered beneath them. 

 

“Of course I would be willing to teach you such a wonderful skill-set my dear. What’s the point of going to all the trouble to introduce it to Terras if I am to then turn down those who wish to fully appreciate it?”

 

The scribe winked, letting the implication of exactly what sort of role they had once played up there sink in for a moment before they brushed the comment aside and continued with the matter at hand.

 

“I wouldn’t object to being treated to a few fancy dinners or gifts as thanks of course, but your continuing company can be payment enough. Your presence in my daily routine is...also rather pleasant. You are a wonderful source of comfort my dear, like having a lantern to warm yourself with or steer yourself towards when lost in the wilderness. The fact that you can give some of my runaway debtors and would-be assailants a heart-attack just by glaring at them is a lovely bonus, too.”

 

Vaz inspected their palm once more, wiping it against a dry spot on their jacket to try and rid it of the excess ink it was covered in. Their efforts were mostly in vain. The demon sighed, apologised, but reached out to clasp their hand around his own all the same.

 

Nil lokis, nil xaal’strund. We can start lessons at your convenience my dear.”

 

Murmured Vaz, shaking their hands thrice as they made their promise to Jorath. A sombre sort of expression followed the motion, Vaz then turning his arm and pushing up the sleeve with their other hand to reveal the mark left by Mag’than once more. For a second they were tempted to run a thumb along some of the gouges surrounding it and see if they were capable of healing them, but they refrained for fear of Jorath jerking the limb away in response before they had a chance to properly analyse the tag.

 

“Curious choice of emblem...a rabbit, you say? He did seem rather hare-brained. Some can be rather crafty, slippery creatures though. I dare-say that we’ll be seeing a return of that journal shortly...perhaps we can persuade him to remove this afterwards?”

 

Vaz released their grip on his arm, knotting their fingers together in front of their chest and grimacing over what it would mean for Jorath if Mag’than was unyielding. The demon was an underling of Takut’s after all, which gave him an indirect line towards Er’anir as well. And all because Vaz had given him a quill that he hadn’t even been able to make proper use of.

 

“I am sorry, too. For my failures tonight. Perhaps if I had kept my mouth shut and my actions rational in front of Er’anir then much of this mess could have been avoided. But I know how distressing it is to have a book that concerns you out there somewhere, its pages gripped and torn by unwelcome hands. If Mag’than fails in his task then I shall get my own book collector to pay Er’anir a little visit.”

 

Vaz chuckled darkly at the thought to cover up the desire to draw a heavy sigh, feeling the aggravating ebb of knowledge that was just out of their reach yet again. Their thoughts drifted back to Jorath’s attempt to apologise for something moments earlier, recalling that it had something to do with the haunting siren from his past.

 

“I...think I understand what you were trying to say, by the way. It is okay. It is clear your history with her, whatever it may be, lingers still. Like a wound you can never full heal from or...or a Voice in your head. Perhaps. Whispering things to you when it knows no one else will hear it. I imagine on nights like this it can be difficult to tune out.”

 

The ancient scribe pondered their own words for a moment, their gaze distant as they replayed their previous encounter with Jorath in their head. It had been the accusation of poking around too much into his affairs that seemed to be the specific thing that had wedged them apart in the first place. Perhaps Vaz was better-off extracting themself from the topic of Er’anir before Jorath grew too restless again.

 

“For what it is worth, I have it on reasonable authority that I am impossible to shut up. Even if I am never to be privy to the inner machinations of your mind, I am always here to drown them out with something else for a while my dear. And the quills do a marvellous job of it too, in my absence.”

 

They nodded briskly in Lojaal’s direction.

 

“We shall confer with Argia and Fi’Faltuun upon their return, but I suspect Fi will opt to join you once more. Providing you promise to venture out with her more often rather than have her sit around your residence of choice feeling useless.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Argia

It means 'forgotten'? Something about that reveal caused Argia's shoulders to tense up, wings bristling slowly. That trance whispered in her ears, its repetitive turns of phrase nearly echoing. "That... That can't be...." she breathed, shaking her head a moment after. Her expression twisted. "No, no. I don't forget anything. Not my actions, not human souls, not Naya'il--" Argia blinked rapidly, realizing her words had started becoming too harsh. Her head was heavy and her temples throbbed. Her flesh still prickled from the wash of sensation she now could feel, no matter how much of it Jorath had eased for her. She forced herself to steady, wings wrapping about her as if they might hide her from everything. Like she wanted to hide. "Argia... is Basque, a human language, meaning 'light'." Perhaps ironic, given her title as 'Stealer of Light' and her role as the reaper of human souls. She'd never known Kirit and Meztli for a sense of humor, even in spite of any playful nature. A small sliver of thought, however, lingered on the odd pairing of the two translations. 'Forgotten light' or 'Light forgotten', depending on how one wanted to arrange them. But the child wasn't forgotten. She'd never forgotten them, or any soul she'd touched. She'd seen their name across her elbow before it faded from sight. 

 

But there had been names she didn't recognize upon her flesh. Naya'il among them, in a different, elegant script.

 

Her eyes were hurting again and her vision was blurring. There wasn't any possibility that she forgot someone. There couldn't be... Her memory was as immortal as she was. She hadn't forgotten. She--Kirit and Meztli's spheres darted about at the end of the tunnel, their glows doing nothing to brighten the shadows, even as they came closer. The light of one always balanced, or canceled out, the gloom of the other. They zipped around her and she gapped at them, quickly wiping her eyes dry. "You're here. But how?" she said to them.

 

Except, they didn't linger long. Their laughter rose and faded as they rushed back down the tunnel. They said something, but the distance made it faint and hard to make out as they disappeared. Argia's wings unfurled and she gave chase, trying to catch up. Flying underground, within the tunnel, was a challenge, however, and Argia soon was forced to cease. Stumbling to the point of tripping, she hit the ground. Her wings seemed to tangle, requiring a frustrating amount of effort to rise to her knees until she forced the feathered limbs into obedience as her shawl. Argia almost snarled or shouted at the horrendous things, wrestling to maintain whatever composure she had left. A reward they were not! She rubbed at her arms. The prickling in her nerves became no better than an irritating itch as heat replaced her blood. Were the duo actually here? Or had she imagined it? Her senses were overwhelmed. Maybe it was something akin to how she spoke Oldspeak? Just a side effect, a bleeding through of multiple Realms? 

 

A memory.

 

She began weeping again, a sound escaping her that she recognized from the humans. It wasn't what they called a 'wail', but a sob. "I do not belong here. These are not my wings. They're not my wings!" She gripped at the shawl, the impulse to rip at the fabric growing too much. But, despite its seemingly delicate make, the cloth refused to tear apart, withstanding against her wishes. "I didn't forget. I didn't forget..." she murmured. "I remember each soul I touch. Their stories," Argia assured herself. Yet, part of it still felt hollow. "My name means light. It's Basque, not Oldspeak. It's--It's--" 

 

What was wrong with her? Where was her apathy? Her neutrality? There were so many emotions crowding in upon her, even extending beyond her. Much of it channeled through that burst spark within. Fear, panic, and pain suddenly turned into rage and she reached for the tether she had made, trying to pull it apart. It refused. But a shock went through it, bouncing between hers and the second tether entwined with it. "I. Am. Remembrance," she grunted, Oldspeak gracing the walls of the tunnel but avoiding her notice. "There are none in my memory who are forgotten." Something in the two tethers bit back at her, as if chiding her for trying to break it but similarly trying to sooth her. Defeated, she let go of the power and returned to weeping. 

 

She wanted to return home. She wanted to return to apathy and to not having Choice, where lifelines had an end and made sense. Where she was hissed and spat at by mortals within their last moments instead of--of--of being believed as something else that was wrong. "I'm not Judgement. I'm not Vengeance," she mumbled. "I am Death. I am Life. I am my sovereign's deliverer. Nothing more. I have no Choice and that is how it should be."

 

Jorath

Vaz's implication did absorb into his thoughts and Jorath paused. How did the being who gifted humans the ability to write and read go from bearing such a gift to loathing everything about mortals? He stuffed down the flickering resurgence of doubt that Vaz might have a better opinion of him with his origins being as they were. Jorath focused on the next bit. "Fancy dinners I think I can do. And a good scarf to replace your old one." The scarf wasn't even going to be for the lessons. It was the least he could offer after Vaz had been injured because he'd insisted on splitting up, thus ruining their scarf. 

 

He didn't quite know how to process Vaz's compliments about his company. He knew less of how to process their vow of no strings. It left him dumbfounded, giving the Scribe opportunity to roll his arm over and expose the Tag from Mag'than for scrutiny. Nodding at Vaz's remarks, he finally found a couple words to fill his mouth. "It's kind of why I thought you might have sent him to me on purpose. Rabbits and luck tend to go together. However, you mentioned that you passed out while banishing them so, it might have equally been accidental." He shrugged slightly, placing his sleeve back down and grimacing at the thought of Mag'than not removing the Tag when the job was done. "If he doesn't take his Tag back, I suppose I can always kill him. Though, that might get Takut's notice. How long has he worked for her? He seems... young." Which was a rather unfortunate thing. Especially if Jorath might be forced to kill Mag'than. 

 

There was empathy from Vaz and he paused again, torn between accepting their apology (they didn't give them out lightly) and reassuring them that they had no need to apologize. Something compelled him, in his dilemma, to reach out to the Scribe again, hand touching their shoulder a moment before his arm snaked around them... and drew them into a careful hold against him. His throat tightened slightly, but the expectation of ice in his skin was never fulfilled. He eventually figured out a decent compromise, or so he hoped it was. "Vaz, I wanted to thank you earlier but I couldn't get the words right in my rage." Jorath rubbed at the back of his neck again, shifting his weight anxiously from one foot to the other. Needing help was always a challenge for him to admit. A bigger challenge than admitting his fears. "I'm--I'm relieved that you spoke up, even against my wish for you to remain silent. Er'anir's po--" The words cut off and he grunted, motioning with his hand in a show of frustration. A moment later, he released Vaz, taking a small step back to see their face again. 

 

The Scribe had touched upon it in their show of empathy. How could he make use of that without crashing against his restraints? "You have a Voice in your head?" he asked. He didn't want to rip into old wounds again tonight, so he lifted his hands to keep Vaz from answering that question. The empathy already told him enough to suggest it. "I didn't want you to speak because I was afraid of Er'anir. Afraid for you." He could keep it short, ambiguous. "But then I couldn't speak, not very well. It's a... bad habit around her." He grimaced; a little too close with that one but he managed with a strained voice. "I guess I'd call it like getting cold feet, or something. Froze up." 

 

Gradually, the ghost of a smile flickered at his features. "I'll keep that authority in mind, then. But, I don't think I'll try to keep you silent again. You helped me earlier, even as I was hoping to keep you safe." Again, a wash of warmth touched his neck and ears as he shifted his gaze to the ground. "And I like hearing you talk so, I guess it's a win-win." He cleared his throat, this time not because of the restraints. Something else to move on to. Fortunately, focus shifted to the quills again. "Oh! Yes. I'll have to figure out a good way to carry her. It never felt right to just stuff her into a pocket because Fi was likely to get damaged. So, I just left her at home since I figured it safest." He grinned sheepishly, a slight chuckle escaping. 

 

Speaking of the quill and the others must have been some sort of cue. A spike lashed through his senses, his core, and Jorath grunted as he jerked from the suddenness of it. "F***," he breathed, staggering until he sat upon the ground. Something continued to tug, forcefully, at the tether to his Realm and--Argia. He'd been too absorbed in what was being said between him and Vaz that his focus to restrict the flow of sensation reaching Argia had slipped. She was overwhelmed and that was his fault. Sucking in a shallow breath, he attempted to restore the barrier that limited how much of his Realm leaked into hers at a given time. It's okay... I know it's terrifying in the beginning. Just breathe through it. Glancing up at Vaz, he gave the Scribe a thin, but reassuring, smile. "That was my bad. My hold slipped up. I'm not used to sharing a bridge." The shocks subsided and he could begin to breathe better, though his hands trembled for a little while after until his heartbeat stopped racing. 

 

Though, something about her tugging concerned him. It was desperate and angry. As if she were trying to break the tethers. He didn't have long to ponder it as he heard footsteps and talking. Male voices. "We're back!"
 

"And we brought good stuff!" Jorath looked over, spotting all three humans from before. This time with a couch in tow. "Although, we could use some extra hands grabbing the table and food," one of them continued. "David thought it a good idea to make everyone a cooked meal. We also got some blankets here since you guys are planning on staying. Where did our Lady and Xaal go off to?"

 

Jorath rose to his feet, quickly shifting his expression into something more annoyed to play as if he didn't really want to be here but was forced to be. "They went down the tunnel. Something about checking out a good radius for me to guard. Left me to protect the Scribe," he grumped. 

 

"Ah, right," Gregory said. Then a mischievous grin twisted across his face as he stared at Jorath. "Hey, since you're serving us now and all... Come get the rest of this stuff so we humans don't need to."

 

He almost snorted, containing the laugh just in time and turning it into a faux snarl. "Listen here, human," he spat, striding towards the man. "I'm here as a Protector, not a pack mule!"

 

Zack was tugging at Gregory's arm, muttering for him to cut it out. But Gregory continued, a smugness mingling despite the tinge of fear. "But protecting us means keeping us from harm! Any one of us could break our backs by lifting things too heavy for us. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?" The man had the audacity to bat his eyelashes at Jorath.

 

Glancing at Vaz, he gave the Scribe an incredulous, gapping, expression. Do you see this? Now he frowned at the human and grumbled beneath his breath. But he started walking for the stairs anyways. 

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Xaal

 

Xaal shrugged in an unsure manner when Argia implied that she would never forget a name. With her long lifespan she had collected dozens upon dozens of names and titles over the years, some laughably inaccurate while others cut a little too deep on just how on the mark they were. She wouldn’t have been shocked if there was one or two that had been lost by this point, wrapped up in some irrelevant memory that has been stashed somewhere it shouldn’t have been.

 

She began to broach an earlier offer she had tried to make to Argia, an offer to help her sift through her memories in a manner that was far less abstract and fleeting. Yet again Xaal found herself cut off from being able to finish her suggestion though, watching instead as Argia’s line of vision suddenly darted away from her and she cried out to someone the fallen angel couldn’t see.

 

And then suddenly Argia was flying away further down the tunnel. Well, flying was perhaps not the most accurate term. It was more of a desperate series of lunges with an excessive amount of flapping, hardly a match for Xaal to trail after with a lazy, effortless glide. She landed a few feet away from Argia when the woman collapsed onto the ground once more, eyeing her warily from behind. Briefly she glanced up and around the area, scanning for any signs of a foreign aura or influence that would suggest that Kirit and Meztli truely were present. Still, Xaal could sense nothing.

 

As she turned her attention back to Argia her vision of her wavered, the harbinger’s form now replaced by the ghost of an old memory. Much like her the memory choked out a sob and clawed at itself, screaming out into the night that the wings on its back were no longer its own. Less defined, abstract shapes of more mangled figures surrounding it began to fade into view, each one crying out in a similar manner and tearing into their own wings, or those of their neighbours. Xaal clenched her eyes shut and tightened her fists into a ball so that she chased away the mirage before her. After a moment of stillness she peeped a single eye open, glancing back down at Argia still in the throes of despair. The harsh tones of Oldspeak rang faintly in her ears. Again, said with perfect inflection. But the vision was gone.

 

There were times where Xaal still yearned for the ability to be able to speak once more, and this was one of them. Even with Argia’s superb grasp over her alternative forms of communication, it was difficult to have her watch for their words with tears streaming down her face and blurring her vision. 

 

Xaal approached, all the same, because the alternative of just leaving her there to cry it out was unthinkable to a Guardian of her caliber. She drifted up alongside of the sobbing Harbinger and then in front of her, her hands hovering indecisively over her form before they opted to rest on top of her own. Xaal’s grip was light, but it held onto hints of a tremendous strength as she pressed down on Argia’s arms to prevent her from trying to tear up the shawl around her shoulders. For a moment, Xaal was now stuck here, wanting to restrain her until she had calmed down but also needing to reassure her. She hunched her back, bringing her enormous wings forward and letting the feathers of each brush against Argia’s arms and shoulders as a distraction. There was a time when mere contact with her feathers could soothe such agonising storms within a being, but Xaal couldn’t be certain how much, if any, of that particular ability was still relevant since The Fall.

 

‘You should have Choice. Everyone should have Choice.’

 

She began to insist, risking letting go of Argia’s hands and stepping back once more in the hopes that her companion would have the motivation to look back up at her. Stubborn defiance had made its return, though it still didn’t undermine the genuine distress Xaal was feeling for having of set off such a horrible chain reaction like this in Argia.

 

‘You feel this way because your sovereign tells you it is wrong but it is not wrong! It is Freedom! It was what we worked so hard for!’

 

Great. Now Xaal was starting to cry.

 

Xaal huffed in anger and quickly swiped the back of her hand across her eyes. It wasn’t Argia’s fault. She didn’t deserve that tone. But her desire to sacrifice the freedom she had been inadvertently gifted and return to her days of perfect obedience was a reaction that gutted Xaal deep down. How could she convince Argia how wrong it all was?

 

‘There were others like you. When we Fell. The silence was too much for them. Some did desperate things to bring back The Voice.’

 

She sighed, glancing back in the direction of the rest of their companions. She could hear faint traces of new voices, suggesting that the humans had returned up ahead. Hopefully Vaz and Jorath would be distraction enough for them while she sorted out this mess she had just made.

 

‘Please don’t do anything like that. Just breathe. Think. I promise there are good things about this. But you need to focus on them.’

 

 

Vaz

 

Watching Jorath roll his sleeve back down to cover up the tag, the scribe hummed in idle thought. An unsure shake of their head answered Jorath’s questions as to whether sending Mag’than in his direction had been intentional. Vaz, whom had always focused on banishing demons to the endlessly winding shelves of The Archives, hadn’t even been aware that they could redirect their opponents to somewhere else entirely. It was an intriguing concept though. Perhaps if Mag’than proved to be useful enough Vaz could have some fun testing out the limitations there?

 

“He seems inexperienced enough for his disappearance to be relatively low on Takut’s list of concerns...But yes I suppose outright slaughtering him would be a tad excessive. Not to mention how it would potentially complicate the ability to remove this tag of yours. I wouldn’t recommend it. We shall just have to convince him to think otherwise of us. Track down his spell-caster friend for leverage perhaps, if need-be.”

 

Vaz inhaled sharply when Jorath suddenly pulled them close. It wasn’t that the embrace was unpleasant. It was quite the opposite actually, wrapping the fallen being in a blanket of warmth and soothing them of some of their worries over the events of the night and what they all meant for the future. The muffled gasp had sounded only because of the sheer shock it caused in them to be held this close to someone in this manner. In Vaz’s experience demons never really showed affection in this way. Or much affection at all, for that matter. Angels did, sometimes. Long ago. Maybe that was why Vaz could feel their eyes start to sting more and more the longer Jorath held them. When he shifted to break apart once more Vaz drifted a hand across his side and clenched at the folds in the fabric, wanting to keep him there for longer, but ultimately deciding it was best to let him go so that the both of them could recollect their thoughts.

 

A heavy, distant expression was all Vaz had to say on the matter in regards to hearing The Voice. It wasn’t there all the time by any means. Just when Vaz was at their most vulnerable and didn’t have the mental capacity to tune it out. Vaz opened their mouth to delve into further explanation on The Voice, but stopped when Jorath motioned for them not bother. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps Vaz still needed to recover from the night before they would have the strength to talk about Vox perfectum.

 

It didn’t feel like an appropriate response, but Vaz could feel a smile start to tug at their features once more when Jorath explained why he had been so insistent on their silence at the time. The thought of him being concerned for their own well-being was another pleasant concept, though it was soon marred by both a feeling of guilt over being the cause of such worry and the steadily increasing desire to invite Er’anir to the peak of the tallest mountain in this world and push her off.

 

“She prefers to be out in the open, actually.”

 

Mused Vaz, finally tearing their thoughts away from their mutually troublesome pasts to instead focus on one of the few elements that Vaz still cherished from it.

 

“Just tuck her behind the ear. The quills are a lot sturdier than they look- Jorath?!”

 

Jorath had lurched to the side and suddenly staggered to the ground, sending a wave of panic coursing through Vaz until their mind properly registered what had just happened. They balked at him in response, unsure whether to be relieved or not by the explanation so settling instead on just shaking their head in minor exasperation.

 

“Do be careful L’antiira. We can’t have either of you doing yourself a mischief now.”

 

Jorath’s attention then focused towards the stairs, which told Vaz that the humans were returning long before they could hear the footsteps for themself or catch a glimpse of their faces. They switched to a more proud stance, tucking their hands behind their back and letting a derisive sneer fall across their face and voice as they watched the humans approach in the corner of their eyes. They suppressed the urge to pout in half-hearted sympathy when Jorath pointed out the insolence of the mortals, but they allowed themself a knowing smirk in his direction and nodded in acknowledgement as he began to trudge up the stairs.

 

“...Gregory, was it?”

 

Inquired Vaz, slowly turning their head to gaze directly into the eyes of the one that seemed the most outspoken in regards to ordering Jorath around. They didn’t try to scramble and prod about in his brain but they did, faintly, jab a little at his subconscious as a warning sensation.

 

“Word of advice, Gregory, be very careful about poking a sleeping bear. You are fortunate that he was not in the mood to slaughter you all upon arrival. It would be best to make sure he remains that way, lest Our Lady and her associates be otherwise distracted from his actions.”

 

Vaz turned and paced away from the duo, their eyes now tracing along the edges of another peculiar, circular pattern that had been drawn onto the subway floor. The scribe tilted their head, frowning, then promptly started to scuff their boot against the chalky outline to erase it.

 

“H-Hey! I worked hard on that-“

 

“It is drawn wrong. And therefore dangerous. Mortals should not be tampering with such arcane knowledge if they do not have the minds nor the physical means to handle it.”

 

Lectured Vaz, continuing to smudge out the collection of symbols that had been etched below. Fools.

 

“This is meant to be a Seal of Protection, yes? Who exactly have you been trying to keep out of here and why?”

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Argia

Hands rested upon her own, a steady pressure that gripped and stilled Argia from attempting to tear at her shawl any longer. Wings brushed against her arms and sides, nearly as if they were trying to engulf her. It all caused her to blink and look up. Crow feathers almost filled her vision, thickening the darkness of the tunnel, and she stared into storm-grey eyes. When she blinked again, Xaal crouched before her, snowy wings shielding her. The other woman began to gesture with her hands, distress and possibly frustration emphasizing each word. 

 

She didn't have a response. Who was the 'we' that Xaal spoke of? And what was The Voice? She doubted that their experiences were similar. That Xaal and this 'we' worked for Choice meant they were built to have it all along. Argia, on the other hand--She shook her head, clasping her hands together within her lap. The ache in her head wouldn't go away but she noticed that some of the sensations and emotions overwhelming her had eased to a small degree. Even so, Argia realized that tears still ran down her cheeks and she wiped at her face, trying to get them to cease. "The names that were upon my arms..." She started. "I couldn't have forgotten. Yet, there are some I do not know. I never touched their souls."

 

Part of her wanted to press Xaal about what 'good things' there were. Choice was messy. It led to hurt. She saw it constantly among humans. Always pain and suffering, even when Choice started with something pleasant. No. That was... wrong. She knew some who had no regrets; it was rare. Choice was not hers, though. It just wasn't. Not because someone said it was wrong. It was just impossible. But yet, she was here. Choosing. Script etched itself across her flesh again, the names rearranged or outright different for their second appearance. Argia hissed faintly, a sound of frustration. She rubbed at her arm, wondering if she could rub out the names. They took longer to fade this time, but she felt better with only the scars marring her skin. 

 

Distantly, she could hear the voices. More prominently, she could feel the humans' lifelines. They lit up with something else, however, and so did Jorath's. As if there was some kind of flag or unique texture that only they shared. Was that... how she could identify the people claiming to be her Followers? Wiping again at her face, she started to rise and hung her head, feeling small about her loss of composure. "I am sorry..." she said. "I think I am still overwhelmed by everything that is happening. I haven't yet sorted out how best to process everything." Argia clutched her arms against her. "I am used to apathy not emotion."

 

Jorath

David wasn't talking as they headed to retrieve the table. Something that Jorath was a bit relieved about. But the human was still glancing occasionally at him, a cross between curiosity and irritation upon the man's face. Surprisingly, David did eventually speak. "I know our Lady provided a judgement, but I don't think you should get an automatic pass. Just because she gave you mercy, doesn't mean you're trustworthy."

 

He smirked, showing a bit of teeth. "What? Don't trust your entity's ruling?" David quickly shook his head, the man's lips parting to say more but Jorath cut it off. "Don't worry. I don't care for your trust or lack of it." Grabbing the table from the back of the truck, he studied the condition of the vehicle. It was beaten, but in that gently worn sense. Taken care of and relied upon. He seemed to snort or huff, propping the table against his shoulder and balancing it so that all legs remained off the ground as he walked. Behind him, David scrambled to keep up, a bundle of food contained within plastic Tupperware and a bag. "If you humans live down here, why's this the first time you're bringing something like furniture?" Jorath asked.

 

David laughed, a chortling sort of sound. "We don't live here. We just work here. Better to use chalk on old stone walls than ruin the plaster in our apartment. No need to worry about our deductible."

 

Jorath gave a grunt in response. The arrangement was an interesting one to him, but he opted not to question further lest it give the impression that he cared when he was pretending not to. With the station nearing, he could hear one of the other humans shouting something. Vaz's reply was steady and the tone was all too familiar. Lecture mode; sometimes insufferable (though less and less so, Jorath came to realize). It made him grin, knowing he wasn't on the receiving end of it this time around. 

 

"It's, uh, meant to keep us safe from--"

 

"From those haughty demons with the sun symbol," David replied, interrupting Zack's. David sniffed, a rather dismissive sound. "We turned them down and one of their demon flunkies didn't seem to approve. Spat something at us in the savage language demons love using." He set the packaged food on the couch while Jorath settled the table to the ground. 

 

Idly dusting off his hands, Jorath frowned. "Auris Domniir? Why'd you turn them down?"

 

Gregory snickered and elbowed Zack. "Go figure. The demon doesn't understand human motivations." Jorath arched an eyebrow at him, giving the man a brief glance. Gregory sobered slightly, faking a cough before continuing. "Bullies like that are why we called for our Lady to come. 'Join in 48 hours or face our wrath'," Gregory sneered, changing his voice to generate a mocking tone. "Not much of a choice, if you ask me. "Live or die'." He blew a raspberry between his lips. "Ballocks, that's what that is." 

 

Jorath moved the food to the table as he listened, shifting the blankets to one side of the couch before moving towards Kansif. Carefully, he gathered her from her position against the wall and brought her to the couch. "So, you're loyal only to your Lady?"

 

"Of course!" All three men spoke nearly simultaneously, prompting Jorath to look up with widened eyes. "Who's the green demon?" Zack asked, one of the books in his hand and a stick of chalk in the other. It looked like he was trying to edge his way towards Vaz and the ruined Seal. 

 

"Her? Oh, uh..." Jorath realized his first response wouldn't have fit his role as Disgruntled Protector. "Your Lady explained this was a ward of hers. Another that was wronged." He pursed his lips, brow knitting. "I don't think she's a demon... Doesn't look like any of the ones I've met." Folding his arms, he muttered to appear more put-upon. "Anyways, what's it matter? I'm apparently just supposed to keep her safe, too, until she wakes up and can tell your Lady her story or some s***." 

Edited by ValidEmotions

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Xaal

 

‘You are in a strange world. With strange rules. Maybe your memory is just...tired? You are clouded. Maybe you will remember all the names tomorrow?’

 

It was difficult to describe precisely what she meant by ‘clouded’ but Xaal hoped the concept would be comforting to Argia all the same. The more she conversed with Argia the more complex her aura became, its initial swirls of dark embers now speckled and splotched with hues that seemed almost...intrusive. The patches would shift in colour and shape from time to time but they never seemed to settle on a design that accented the embers well.

 

It was the mark of memories that weren’t entirely lost to the Void but buried, hidden somewhere beneath those unsightly blemishes on her aura. But after seeing Argia’s reaction to her name Xaal didn’t have the heart to suggest anything beyond a case of temporary amnesia at this point. 

 

‘It’s okay. I’m sorry for asking about your name. I didn’t know it would be that...bad?’

 

Xaal starred down at the ground in thought, then lifted her chin with a brighter expression. She moved to take Argia’s arms again, now that it looked like the harbinger was calming down from the outburst, and began to walk the two of them back towards the crowd further up in the tunnel with the spring in her step returning.

 

‘We should find something fun. To distract. Is there anything you want to try that you were not allowed to do before? Reading? Drawing? Demon Banishing? The humans might have games?’

 

 

Vaz

 

“Indeed, she is under our care. Her name is Kansif, a being attacked by someone she had mistaken for an ally. “

 

“Lemme guess. Another demon.”

 

Grunted Gregory, jeering loudly when Vaz nodded in reply. The scribe took the moment to turn their attention back towards Jorath with a look in their eyes that was normally reserved for when someone decided to dog-ear an entry in The Compendium directly in front of them. Briefly, the scribe began to feel very tired again, and wondered how impolite it would seem if they coiled up next to the pile of books right now with a few blankets and ignored everyone else. They even opened their mouth to ask more about the contents of said books, only for Gregory to jump in ahead with his own questions.

 

“So uh. Are you a demon too? I saw that you had horns while you were doing the...freaky...eye thing. I got a game where I bet on how many I see per day is all.”

 

“I...yes. In a sense. Depends who you ask really-“

 

“Ha! Told you! Makes sense if he’s a Punisher.”

 

Vaz let an ambiguous rumble roll around in their throat, wavering somewhere between annoyance and confusion before another glance was sent in Jorath’s direction. They decided to focus their thoughts back on the reveal that this Order had apparently decided to butt heads with Auris Domniir. Idly they slipped their hand back into their pocket, ensuring that the orb was still safely tucked away within it. Despite their mortal status, Vaz couldn’t deny a small twinge of sympathy over their story of being forced into a choice they didn’t want to make.

 

“No, It is not much of a choice. I suppose if I was in a similar position to your own I could see myself seeking out a similar entity for help. It is curious however that they are looking for humans to fulfil their ranks. One wonders what sort of offers they made you- I am NOT going to tell you again darling.”

 

Without turning to look back at the one sneaking up to fix the circle, Vaz stretched out their arm and made a beckoning motion with their fingers. Zack yelped as the book resting in his palm flung itself into the air and sailed towards Vaz’s outstretched limb, who caught it with the same instinctive ease as they would any one of their quills. Slowly Vaz shifted their attention to the tome in their hand, drawing it closer to their chest and peering at its contents.

 

“...Hm...yes. This diagram is outdated. Thrones and domains have shifted my dear, you need an entirely different set of symbols along the Repulsion Focus. Otherwise the best you shall manage is giving a disgruntled wrath demon a minor headache before he repurposes your skeleton into a series of toothpicks.”

 

Vaz began to pace, completely disengaging from the conversation now in favour of grumbling over the contents of the pages before them. Most of the information was absolute rubbish, full of either outdated concepts or misguided theories from its noticeably human author. There was however a short chapter that caught the attention of the scribe towards the back of the book, detailing a small selection of ‘common’ Guardians that could be invoked through its use. One particular entry had been circled in red pen, a short paragraph that was accompanied by the illustration of what appeared to be an angel with crimson wings and a sword of flames.

 

“Our Lady of Judgement, Angel of Justice.”

 

Began the scribe, dictating for the sake of their audience.

 

“It is said that this entity has roamed across the earth since the dawn of humanity, holding it accountable for all its sins. Her believed purpose differs between sources, but common belief is that she intends to visit each person at least once in their lifetime, and determine whether they have lived a blameless life or not. Those who fail her expectations meet the blade of her sword.”

 

Vaz pursed their lips in thought, tilting the page slightly so that they could show Jorath the image beside the paragraph over their shoulder. The woman featured did, Vaz had to admit, look eerily similar to the harbinger. It was a small wonder that a few humans had wholeheartedly latched onto the idea of her being the answer to their summons. The scribe quickly skimmed through the rest of the contents of her entry, mostly detailing different methods of invoking her blessing or wrath upon another being, and a suggestion of other related entries to visit at the very bottom of the page. Vaz’s brow creased as they spied ‘Lord of Vengeance, (page 202)’ included among these entries, but they forced themself to remain on the page in question as they turned their attention back towards the humans.

 

“I am curious as to what you think of Our Lady of Judgement, and the accuracy of your theories. Do you have any further insights or reading material you could provide?”

 

Their line of sight then twitched towards the other books and blankets across from them, the desire to curl up next to them steadily returning.

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Perhaps that made sense. It seemed logical enough, even despite the lack of logic that her outburst seemed to possess in Argia's opinion. "No, that is not your fault," she replied, catching Xaal's apology. I--Truthfully, I don't know what came over me. It was as if all of these emotions just--" She didn't have the word, bringing her hand up to press against her head. Then she gave a dismissive wave, about to say something else. However, Xaal gently grabbed her arms and started making a return for the station. When she released her to inquire about something fun to do, Argia didn't know how to answer that. There was a lot that she never dabbled in, only witnessing humans that did. But she had no gauge to determine what was fun or not. It drew a shy, nervous, sound from her, hedging as a laugh. "I'm not sure about anything like that. I'm afraid I'm a rather... boring, individual. Maybe asking the humans might be better time spent to sorting out what to do."

 

The most she had done, she realized, was briefly skim the pages of various books when she found the spare moment to do so. Typically, they were the books belonging to the soul she came for, giving them the scant time they often requested to accept what was coming. Or not accept it, depending. Argia had met many of the authors themselves, and it was something of a fondness that came to her when she continued to see some of their works gracing shelves decades or centuries later. She wondered if she might find their books in this world? Or would it better be called a Realm? The terminology was strange and she couldn't be certain of how interchangeable it was. 

 

Voices grew as they drew near and Argia picked out the tail of Vaz's question to the humans. "Well, I was expecting less black on her wings but that's a minor detail," David answered, the other men giving some form of a nod or other gesture. "There should be a bit more in this one," David continued, grabbing the other book from the ground and shuffling through its pages until he grinning at something. "Yeah. Notes about her found in a couple other belief systems, various interpretations that have common details." He looked up and caught sight of Xaal and Argia. "Welcome back. The demon said you were gathering information about the tunnels. Find things to your liking?"

 

Briefly, Argia nodded, glancing at Jorath who stood beside Vaz with a book in their hands, but behind the humans now that their attentions were diverted. He was making a face, something sad and apologetic to it. "Yes. I believe it should do nicely. The place appears sound and otherwise untouched. How--"

 

"How far down do you want me to keep an eye on?" Jorath cut in, switching into a more impatient air as the men turned at his words.

 

Argia wasn't prepared for the question, but Gregory and Zack both made it simple to cover up her delay. Gregory seemed to bristle at Jorath's interruption, scowling and shouting, despite Zack's hurried attempt to stop him. "You dare! When our Lady speaks, you remain silent! You are insignificant and lowly! Worse than the filth we walk upon! You--"

 

Jorath strode to the pair of humans, appearing to loom above them even though the tallest of them was only a few inches shorter. Both stumbled back as he got close. A snarl twisted his features. "Bite. Me. I don't bow to your perceptions. I am--"

 

"Enough," Argia snapped, her voice carrying despite not lifting beyond a normal volume. All three men and Jorath stilled, looking at her as she approached. Gently, she rested a hand upon Gregory's arm, easing him away from Jorath. Zack moved to stay beside his friend and David drew near to join the pair. "Gregory. I appreciate your intentions. However, for your safety, I wish for you to leave this demon for me to deal with. I am capable of speaking for myself." The man's face turned pale, then flushed with a pink tint as he realized what he'd done. He bowed low, mumbling out a quick, but lengthy, apology that she ceased with another touch to his arm. "Please. Take a seat. I see there is food, as well. Perhaps you and your companions could start opening it while I have a word with the demon?"

 

She caught Jorath's movement, folding his arms across his chest, from the corner of her eye. But she continued focusing on the humans. Eventually, Gregory acknowledged her wishes with a nod and all three men moved off to the table. Now she could turn to Jorath, letting the corner of her lips twitch with displeasure. He looked annoyed at this point, but when his gaze flickered from elsewhere in the station to her, she swore she saw a glint of tempered amusement. "Demon--"

 

"The name's Jorath," he grumbled.

 

"Very well, Jorath. You would be wise to temper your anger towards those of the Order. It might be best if you did not begin fights, lest you find your merciful judgement rescinded in exchange for punishment." Argia glanced over, glimpsing Gregory and Zack watching briefly before something David said obtained their attention. She sighed. "Jorath, I understand this is an abrupt situation to be found in. Trust me, I know that adjustment... does not come so easily." She watched his expression soften, something else trying to make itself known. She mulled over that for a moment before turning to Vaz. "However, if you find that you cannot make that adjustment, then the Scribe might have to determine something else for you. Do not--" She brought her gaze back to him. "Force my hand, or theirs--" She motioned towards Vaz and Xaal together. "Again."

 

Jorath grunted before giving her a stiff, shallow, bow and muttered, "Yes... Lady."

 

She knew it was an act, but seeing him acquiesce as such felt wrong. Unsettling. She motioned with a slightly flippant wave to dismiss him. "I will discuss with you further about the area you are to watch in a little bit. For now, let us focus on... lighter, things. I'm admittedly not very familiar with this world," Argia went on, gradually looking towards the humans.

 

All three lit up, exchanging a glance as one of them mumbled out, "Richard's gonna twist himself in knots!"

 

David picked up the thread. "We'd be honored to answer any of your questions or take you anywhere you'd wish to go! Just name it."

 

While the men were distracted, Jorath edged to Vaz and whispered, "You were right, earlier. She does seem somewhat of a natural. Though, does she have to be so on the nose about some things?" He feigned hurt, rubbing at his chest and pouting. "I mean... they started it. Or really, Gregory did," he huffed, smirking a moment after. It faded though. "He might be a problem if this keeps up..."

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Vaz eagerly accepted the new book into their hands, taking the time to absorb some of its contents while the men were distracted by Argia and Xaal’s return. For a moment their mind was elsewhere as they read, though they did glance up with a tight-lipped regard for Gregory when he started to rant and rave about Jorath’s worthiness to be standing alongside of them. It wasn’t anything that was likely to cut very deep, Vaz had heard it all before and they assumed Jorath was much the same, but it still incited a flicker of ire in their eyes and an urge to put the insignificant little twit back in his place before Jorath decided to bite back.

 

Jorath, however, seemed to have at least found a way to get some sort of enjoyment out of the exchange. Vaz didn’t miss the twinkle in his eye when Argia addressed him, though they couldn’t quite put their finger on what exactly the demon was finding so humorous about the situation. Knowing Jorath? He was probably plotting some sort of misfortune-related retaliation. Vaz had a nagging suspicion that Gregory was about to experience a very unlucky week ahead of him.  

 

Vaz tilted their head towards the fellow demon as he drifted back towards them, rolling their eyes at his insistence that Gregory was the true menace in this entire exchange. The twitch at the corner of their mouth suggested that they at least partially agreed with Jorath on the matter though.

 

“He does seem the most keen to prove his allegiance. One wonders why he is so adamant about it. Yes. I think it would be wise for us to keep an eye on him in particular.”

 

Vaz shifted to a more relaxed stance despite their words, unable to pat the fellow demon on his arm but opting to nudge their shoulder against his own in a vague display of sympathy. Briefly a grin spread across their features, a few pointed fangs gleaming into view.

 

“Of course, if he gets too insufferable for you I shall just have to fulfil my apparent role as Punisher, no? I’m sure I can find something useful for him to do. Fetch us a few Contracts perhaps. Failing that, I might just make him wear one of your shirts instead.”

 

Vaz then shifted the book between the pair of them, providing them with a convenient excuse to linger at his side instead of insisting that he start scouting the tunnels for hidden assailants or similar. They tapped a nail against the illustration they had found, wondering whether it rang any bells with Jorath. The features of Our Lady of Judgement were much the same as the previous one, a woman with red wings and a flame-wreathed broadsword. This time however The Lady was accompanied by a regally-dressed fellow trailing behind her. In his hands he held an open book and appeared to be dictating something to her. According to the accompanying text, as Vaz was sure to read out-loud for Jorath’s benefit, this was one of the members of her court. The leathery wings at his back and ram-like horns jutting from out beneath his feathered cap suggested that he was of the Punisher variety. A note scribbled erratically in the margins next to him however seemed to think that he was actually a being in the process of being judged, and was desperately trying to plead his case.

 

“She seems a tad more blood-thirsty in this entry, doesn’t she?”

 

Called Vaz, interrupting the Order’s attempts to shower Argia with answers and offerings. 

 

“Quite literally, actually. This one demands that blood be spilt to appease her upon summoning.”

 

It was more of an idle musing as Vaz scoured the page for more useful information, but the uncomfortable fidgeting the humans in response was enough to draw their attention back towards that topic. Zack was the first to broach the subject, as he was developing an unfortunate habit of letting the scribe’s eyes bore into his own until he felt compelled to fill the silence between them with answers.

 

“Uh. Yeah. About that. Richard said she refused to take any sort of sacrifices. Wh-which we’re really thankful about, by the way! Very with the times y’know, um, we weren’t really expecting any of you to be like phone addicts or anything but it’s. Really great dude.”

 

Eyes from both parties shifted to Xaal at the mention of a phone, who was currently tapping out something onto her own device in her hands. She glanced up when she could feel the attention suddenly resting on her, her thumbs hovering with uncertainty over the faded buttons and cracked screen.

 

“How is that thing even still alive though? That’s gotta be like, at least 20 years old right? Why are you still using it?”

 

Xaal blinked owlishly, not sure whether to agree with Gregory’s estimate or take offence at the dumbfounded expression on his face. He then turned to whisper something in the ear of the man next to him, though Xaal couldn’t catch much of what he was saying other than something that implied her phone wasn’t smart. She wrinkled her nose at that. Her phone was the peak of human engineering. How could they possibly make it any more intelligent? As if to prove her point she finished typing out her sentence and handed it over to Gregory to read, who made a show of squinting at the laughably small screen a few times before he finally actually read the message. His face scrunched up with confusion instead shortly afterwards.

 

“She um...wants to know if we have...games?”

 

Xaal nodded politely.

 

“We...we might have some cards around here...? Um. I dunno what do a bunch of immortals do for fun? Dude with the eyes seems like he’s got too much of a stick up his-“

 

Gregory was, this time, physically silenced by Zack’s hand clamping over his mouth before he could finish that sentence. Vaz, apparently unfamiliar with the phrase, merely blinked and looked over at Jorath for an indication on whether they should be offended or not.

 

“We have cards. Dice. Anything else you suggest we’ll go find it, honestly. You’re a handsome dude. You both are. Please don’t murder us just because Gregory’s an a**hole with no sense of self-preservation.”

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[[🤣 

That's it, I'm done. I've lost it. LMAO]]

 

"My, let's hope it doesn't come to that, then," Jorath mused, crinkling his nose in half-hearted distaste before returning a smirk. When they indicated the drawings upon the page, he started glancing between Vaz and Argia, absorbing the Scribe's reading of the text in their hands. Argia seemed more concerned with the humans' backgrounds, learning how all three were born and raised in the city but Richard and Jen moved in from another as children. Then there was something about favorite landmarks, including a History Museum. None of them seemed to be tuning into what Vaz was reading off. At least until they mentioned "blood-thirsty". 

 

Argia appeared to stiffen, unease crossing her features. Clearly, the idea of human sacrifice didn't settle well with her. Jorath couldn't blame her. He'd seen nasty things take place in the past, and just for the sake of ritual. Made him glad most of it had been left behind some time ago. As the discussion shifted away from the gruesome and into the more light-hearted, Jorath listened to the banter about phones and frowned at the interrupted insult towards Vaz. Their glance at him, however, revealed they didn't understand what had transpired. Part of him wanted to laugh, more at Zack's response than anything, while another part wanted to make a biting quip at Gregory. Instead, he opted to grin toothily and said, "I can see that. So I won't murder you because of the s***-for-brains, knit-wit you call a friend..." He trailed off, staring at Zack and Gregory, and let the silence drip with unspoken intention. Watching them squirm was definitely something he could get used to.

 

A moment longer and then Jorath let the tension in his body break away, expression lifting with a genuine smile. Mischief glinted in his gaze. "Now, did I hear cards and dice? Fantastic! Let's see them." He rubbed his hands together quickly, stepping towards the table as David pulled dice from his pocket and Zack brought out the cards. "Any of you know how to play Hazard?" He got several blank stares from the humans and Argia, to which he pursed his lips and tapped a foot, thinking. "Poker or Hold 'Em?"

 

Again, several lost looks. Zack raised his hand, however. "I've heard of Poker, never really could figure it out. We mostly just play Go Fish or War. Sometimes Slapjack and Black Jack."

 

Of course. Small-time gamblers. Jorath bit back a snort, lightly drumming his fingers upon the table. He glanced at Argia. The chances of her knowing anything were... abysmal, at best. "I got it. Something quick and simple." Holding out his hand and beckoning with his fingers, he looked to Zack. "Give me the cards." The man obeyed and he began riffling through the stack until he could pull out the Jacks of Spades and Clubs, as well as the Queen of Hearts. "Three Card Monte. Beginner's stuff. All you gotta do is find the Queen." As if dealing with eyes that never saw her image, he held up the card.

 

Argia studied the card's design, wondering what might be the point of a card game like this. As she watched, Jorath set all three cards face down, so that their matching backs were the only things visible. "The Queen is there," Argia pointed and Jorath snickered.

 

"Well, yes. But you're a little early, my Lady." He started shuffling, rearranging them slowly. Gregory made a small sound but kept whatever thoughts he had to himself. A rather wise decision, and perhaps his first of the night. Jorath swept a hand over the cards and looked up at Argia again. "Now you can pick."

 

"Oh, I see." She tapped at the leftmost one, smiling slightly when the Queen became visible. "That is simple to understand! And we just go on like this?"

 

Jorath nodded, flipping the card down once more and shuffling. "Normally, there're bets made. But, for a first time, we'll skip the bets for now. Money can be put on the line later. Or whatever other goodies you might have. Who wants to go first?"

 

"A child's game; this should get boring quickly," Gregory muttered, almost pouting. Zack nudged him, making a sound before reminding him that Our Lady was curious enough to play. "Fine. Whatever, I want to go first."

 

Jorath smirked, gesturing at the three cards. "Have at it."

 

Gregory picked one and he slid his hand against the surface, turning it to reveal the spaded Jack. "Shame. Zack, you next, then Our Lady and David?" Jorath inquired, taking in Gregory's puzzled expression. His fingers tingled as he shuffled, splaying the trio out. When all three found the Queen, Jorath glanced at Xaal and Vaz. "Are you two in or spectating?"

 

"Now, wait just a moment! You're doing something to the cards!" Gregory spoke up, pointing a finger at Jorath and almost leaning across the table as he did so. "I don't trust a demon to handle the cards! Let someone else deal."

 

Grinning, Jorath passed the cards over to Argia. "Very well. Perhaps you'll trust Our Lady to shuffle?" When Gregory nodded, he looked to her. "Would you mind?" She tilted her head but took the cards and agreed all the same. To Jorath, it didn't change anything or matter much who handled the cards.

 

Argia was busy studying the details on the cards, laying them down once she was done marveling at their artwork and then, a bit awkwardly, rearranged them. "After we play a few rounds, might we go see that History Museum?" she inquired.

 

David perked up and nodded emphatically. "Of course! Any exhibit you wish to see in particular?"

She frowned slightly, something entering her gaze that Jorath couldn't quite piece together. "I wish to see it all and to learn what has transpired before my arrival."

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Vaz soon turned their attention back to the book they had been given, disengaging from the conversation as it turned towards the topic of cards and dices. They almost didn’t hear Jorath’s inquiry over whether they were going to join in with the rest of the group, too focused instead on scouring over a different page they had flipped to. One of David’s die, expertly flicked at Vaz’s temple by Xaal, was what eventually convinced them to look back up at their audience.
 

“Hm?”

 

Their eyes lifted and surveyed the cards laid out on the table, and then the faces of the people surrounding it. Their lips pulled thin.

 

”Oh, no, my dear, I shall have to decline. I’m afraid I’m rather short of coinage right now.”

 

‘No coins. Free. But we could bet the food! Find the Queen, get something from the pile.’

 

Xaal quickly offered, avoiding Vaz’s unimpressed gaze and ducking away from the group to go and bring over the bags of leftover pastries and cakes that had been brought with them. Eagerly she arranged them out onto the table besides the food containers that David had brought, finally taking the time to peer at their contents and nod towards him in thanks before indicating that it smelt good. The man got the gist of her message and smiled faintly in response, glad that at least one of the entities they had stumbled across was willing to try the meal he’d made for them.

 

“Sorry it’s a bit bland, didn’t get a lot of time to prepare obviously. Um the red one is a chicken stir-fry. But then I thought with the wings...birds...uh anyway the other one’s a pasta salad and I made sure that one didn’t have any meat or eggs or anything.”

 

Xaal shook with silent laughter, the wings at her back briefly flexing out so that they rested against his shoulder in what was probably an attempt to comfort him. She then hunched over the table as Argia gradually dealt out the cards, golden eyes keenly focused on the card on the right which, again, revealed itself to be the Queen of Hearts.

 

“Oh come on. This is clearly rigged.”

 

Grumbled Gregory, though they did still nudge over a plastic bowl and some tongs towards Xaal so that she could help herself to a serving of the pasta salad. Once she had filled her bowl she pointed the tongs at Vaz and clicked them a few times in the air for their attention.

 

‘Your turn.’

 

She signed, before reaching for the packet of plastic forks that had been brought alongside of the containers.

 

“I’m reading.”

 

Vaz mumbled. Their hand traced across the surface of the page, deep in thought, but the scribe abruptly snatched it away and snapped shut the book when Zack tried to peer over their arm to find out which page they were on.

 

“See. Told you. Big stick.”

 

Vaz sighed, now suspecting that the comment was indeed meant to be an insult and tossing the book over their shoulder. It hovered obediently in the air a short distance behind them, its pages erratically flipping back and forth as the scribe wandered over to join the crowd. They made sure to position themself just beside Gregory, looming over their shoulder like a vulture waiting for a feast.

 

“Great! Good of you to join us. We’re playing Three Card Monte. Apparently what you do is watch the Queen of Hearts, and then-“

 

“I’m familiar with the game, human. I just find this particular one to be rather lacklustre.”

 

One didn’t linger in the presence of a demon like Jorath without witnessing a few card games after all. They had even played the part of the shill on a handful of occasions, but Vaz as a whole tended to prefer more strategic uses of their time. Well, theoretically, they did. Most of their idle time was admittedly spent scanning through ancient tomes and scrolls or updating entries in The Compendium in some format.

 

Vaz glanced down at the cards before them, this time dealt out by Xaal. For a rare moment they were silent in their contemplation, save the small ‘tsk’ sound they emitted when Gregory snarked a quiet ‘any time today would be nice’. The demon lifted their chin and squinted in disapproval for the interruption, before tapping the card to the left. Xaal reached over to flip it and gawked at the result, surprised to find the Queen of Hearts starring up at her. She had been certain it was the one in the centre. Zack seemed to agree with her, resting his elbows on the edge of the table and frowning into his palms over the result. Vaz just shrugged, glanced over at Jorath with an expression Xaal had difficulty reading, then reached for one of the slightly-squished muffins that had been dumped out onto the table. The scribe began to wander away from the table once more, now peeling off the paper wrapping around the muffin they had won as their book floated back over to greet them.

 

“Gotta agree with Eyeballs though. This is enthralling. Can’t we play charades or truth or dare or something?”

 

“Really, Gregory? Why not find a bottle to spin while you’re at it?”

 

“I don’t see you coming up with anything better. Look I’ll start. Jorath, dare, find a game to play that doesn’t make me want to wish you ripped my throat out earlier.”

 

“That’s not how it works-“

 

“Fine, f***, I pick truth then. Someone just say or do something interesting already.”

 

David chose at that moment to look up from the cards and clear his throat, shooting Argia an apologetic expression for having to put up with the bickering between Zack and Gregory. They brought a hand to their chin and rubbed it in thought, glancing around the table before their eyes settled back on the Harbinger.

 

“I mean...it’d be a good icebreaker, right? We could learn a lot about each other. Do you want to try that, Our Lady, while we eat? Gregory said truth so...you just ask him any question you want and he has to answer it with the truth.”

 

Somewhere, behind David, Vaz scoffed into the muffin they were gnawing into the side of.

 

“Um...anyway...the catch is that then you have to pick truth or dare, and then we get to ask you to tell us something or do something. It can be fun? I think? Maybe?”

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Jorath was eventually eating a portion from the chicken dish. As Argia studied him, she would start to think he might not be paying much attention, but then he would flick his gaze between any of them and the cards. So, it seemed like he was following along. When the humans began showing a level of displeasure, especially Gregory, for the simple card game, Argia paused. She considered David's advice for a moment before finally nodding. "Very well. Knowing and understanding more is always of benefit." She mulled over what question to possibly ask. "David," she started, wanting clarity. "How will I know if Gregory speaks truth? Are vows required for this game?"

 

"Oh, no, definitely not," David said quickly, shaking his head. "Mostly, you'll have to take him at his word. But Zack and I know him pretty well, so we can call out any lies."

 

"What happens when one lies or does not complete a dare?"

 

The man shrugged. "Normally, the individual gets stuck with a week of the chores or grunt work Richard and Jen want us to do. And the weeks can stack, too." 

 

Argia was satisfied with that. It didn't seem like anything unfair. "Gregory..." She still didn't have a question to ask. Learn about each other... "What is the biggest lie you were caught telling?" Immediately, Zack started snickering and Gregory seemed to stiffen a moment before he ran a hand down his face. "Did I ask the wrong question?" She inquired, looking to David.

 

He was grinning, but shook his head. "No, that's a good question! Zack and I just know this story and it's good for all the dumbest reasons. Dumb on his part." David nudged Gregory with an elbow. "Come on. Stand straight and tell Our Lady about it."

 

"F***. I thought she was gonna pull out some 'what's your favorite color' or whatnot." Gregory made a slight face, perhaps not keen about embarrassing himself before Argia. At last, however, he started to answer the question. "I was a kid, let me set that straight, so about 12-ish years ago. Thought it would be the coolest thing. Anyways, was trying to convince someone that I was the child of this powerful being, right? Thought it'd be the best way to impress them. My mom wasn't too keen about pretending to be some god or such, though I think she was flattered. But I kept up the lie, kept talking up all the big things she could do. Eventually, the person I was trying to impress wanted to actually meet my mom. So, instead of being a smart kid and taking this person to my actual mom, I went and tried finding a demon who would want to play along."

 

Already, Argia was starting to suspect where the tale was going and could see exactly what was the 'dumb' on Gregory's part. When she glanced at the others, however, she didn't expect Jorath to be so still, standing off to the side, and staring intently at Gregory's back. 

 

"--don't remember why I was so adamant about proving how cool I was to this kid. I mean, they ended up being a really a** some years later but, oh well. I think it had something to do with their toy dinosaur collection or something..." Gregory waved the thought on and continued with the story. "So, anyways, I'd heard rumors about demons gathering regularly at some shop or something and brought the other kid along with me. Turning a long story short, I went around asking random demons if they were my mother. Some were creepy about the situation, but what do you expect? Some weren't happy about being 'insulted' but, lucky enough, we left unscathed and I got caught in this elaborately, not-thought-out, lie. All because I wanted access to this kid's set of dinosaurs."

 

"Zack thinks it was also because Gregory was crushing on the kid," David interjected, leaning forward and lowering his voice as if he might be conspiring with Argia. 

 

"Shut it! I didn't have a crush." Gregory's face was tinted with a warm blush, nevertheless. "The kid was a jerk and not worth the time."

 

Argia only paid some attention, her focus on Jorath as the demon returned to eating while he stepped further away from the group. She watched him move the blankets before taking a seat on what remained available of the couch, laying one blanket over Kansif. "Jorath?" He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Are you playing this Truths game with us?" 

 

"Yeah, don't worry. I'm just checking in on our green friend here. I'll pop in when it's my turn." She couldn't figure out what his expression was, too neutral and unhelpful.

 

She frowned, knowing there was something more. For now, she opted to let it go, turning back to the others. "It is my time to decide, correct?" David nodded and she paused, trying to sort out which she would like to do. Truth was an opportunity for the next person to ask her anything. Her concern rested in the possibility they would ask her something she didn't have the answer to. "Dare," she picked.

 

"Can we touch your wings?" Zack inquired. A grunt punctuated the air immediately after as Gregory smacked his back. "What? I'm allowed to ask."

 

"First, it's a dare; you don't ask someone to do s***. You tell 'em. Second, you don't just ask Our Lady to touch her, you oaf." 

 

She smiled faintly, shawl breaking apart as feathers rustled. "I am undisturbed by the request. And I do appreciate being asked, even if it wasn't required." She took a step to the side, making sure she didn't accidentally hit anyone or thing as she extended a wing, motioning for the humans to approach as she did so. Zack was first, slowly reaching out with a trembling hand to brush against the feathers. As each human came up, she watched the fascination in their faces, though some glimmer of concern or pity entered David's expression. Likely from the state of her wings. 

 

"Okay, dare for me," Zack said once each had their satisfactory fill. 

 

David grinned, reaching for one of the donut packets. "Stuff a donut in your mouth and start singing 'I'm a Little Teapot'."

 

"Seriously?" Zack groaned, ripping the package open to do exactly as told. 

 

Argia blinked, not certain of what she expected. "Are humiliating acts a common staple of this game?"

Jorath scoffed. "You have no idea, my Lady. These guys have stayed mild so far. I've seen worse. But then, it could get more interesting; we've only just started, after all."

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Vaz continued to be disengaged from the conversation as the gameplay shifted towards something different, now beginning to pace in a vague circle around the area. Xaal however was keen to participate, eagerly listening in to Gregory’s story. Concern however soon flickered through her features at the thought of a young human approaching such malevolent beings. She had chased off many similar creatures in her impressive lifespan, and she knew how downright nasty and unforgiving some of them could be. Thankfully, she told herself, it looked like Gregory had been granted far better luck that day than what he was currently cursed with in the subway. She repressed the urge to squint disapprovingly over at Jorath as he moved about from what she could only assume was from something weighing in unpleasantly in his conscience.

 

She was surprised when Argia unsheathed her wings, before having to quickly remind herself that as a harbinger she likely didn’t subscribe to the same notions of etiquette when it came to them. Even though the man had at least thought to ask beforehand, Xaal found that it was rare for anyone beyond a Guardian role to be comfortable with strangers handling their feathers in such a manner. Even with Guardians, it was considered poor taste to just ask considering that some angels channeled their abilities and blessings through them. The thought of the reaction he would have gotten if he had just reached out and tried the same thing on a Fallen like Vaz was borderline horrifying.

 

Still, Xaal was pretty confident that the humans wouldn’t ask anything of her that she couldn’t take in stride. As Zack performed his dare she began to type out a suggestion for each, showing her screen to David once she had made up her mind.

 

 “Huh? Oh, um, alright um I’ll pick the truth one then, ‘What’s my favourite memory?’ Um...actually heck that’s a hard one.”

 

The man screwed up his face in thought, finding it difficult to concentrate with the garbled, off-key rendition of ‘I’m A Little Teapot’ still caterwauling into his ear. Zack had decided to scoot closer to him as a form of petty revenge, wiping the excess cinnamon coating off of their fingers onto his shirt and doing their damndest to spray crumbs all over him with each syllable. 

 

“Um...my mother? I guess?”

 

That got Zack to quickly shut up.

 

”Nothing specific, just in general. She was a really sweet woman, never had a bad thing to say about anyone. Um...if I had to pick I’d say it was that she ran the local bird rescue, so our house was always filled with like pigeons people had found lying around on the streets, baby sparrows, a few parrots whose owners had given them away for whatever reason, things like that. It was just really cool and rewarding to see them all grow up and get better and stuff, you know? Sometimes I’d help her clean out the cages and she’d sit there with a pigeon on her arm, telling me all about how they were omens of good luck and love and all that gooey stuff. She’d do it for all the birds once they trusted her enough to sit there, and she always had something nice to say about them too.”

 

Xaal felt a twinge of regret for her question, sensing a bittersweet tone from the memory he had conjured up and noticing the fact he was speaking of her in the past tense. David however was smiling by the end of their story, even if it left a bit of an ache in his chest over the matter. She had always admired that about humans, in a way. Their lives could be so fleeting but they could find a sort of serenity within them all the same, contented with their memories.

 

“Um. Sorry. Getting a bit emotional there- been a long day. Night. Um. Uh. Yeah. Xaal, was it? Your turn to pick.”

 

The fallen angel beamed, thanking him for the story before her face scrunched up in thought over which to choose. She eventually went with ‘dare’, followed by a second question of whose turn it was to suggest something for her to do.

 

“Well we usually try to do a whole round with everyone first...hey um, Vaz. Are you going to play?”

 

Vaz glanced between the humans, edging another step away from them.

 

“I do not want my wings to be touched.”

 

“Oh. Uh...No, that’s fine we already picked that one anyway. We don’t do repeats.”

 

“Yeah, no offence dude but from what I saw I don’t think any of us would want to anyway. Reminded me of one of his mother’s rescue birds actually. What was its name again? That cranky old raven that was like molting and kept trying to bite people’s fingers off.”

 

Vaz drummed their fingers against the pages of their book, their face contorting into an expression that suggested that they weren’t sure whether to be relieved or heartbroken by Gregory’s comment. The Order however didn’t seem to notice, too busy reminiscing about when they used to visit his house and interact with the birds.

 

“Edgar. And. No, he wasn’t molting or anything he was...stressed out, I think? Apparently a lot of birds do that, pull out a bunch of feathers when they’re anxious or upset or something. Um. Actually yours looked quite...painful? Are you alri-“

 

“Is it my turn to ask now?”

 

Questioned Vaz, cutting off David before he could finish his sentence. The tone to their voice was sharp and they had their back now turned away from rest of the party. Their gaze however had drifted from the book, now focused on glaring down at the human before them.

 

“Uh...sure. So you are playing then-“

 

“She selected a dare, yes? You seem rather fond of birds. I therefore request that Xaal honour us with a glimpse of one of her alternative forms.”

 

Xaal didn’t think it was much of a dare, shooting Vaz a mildly judgemental look over the matter, but she was more than happy to have an excuse to show off a fraction of her abilities. Especially if it avoided delving into something more demeaning for her first attempt at the game. The fallen angel’s shoulders relaxed as her wings drew themselves inward, enfolding her like a blanket. Golden smoke and glittering, glimmering particles of dust began to emit from her form, this time starting from the centre and working its way towards her outer extremities. Within a few seconds Xaal had morphed into an amorphous swirl of mist with tiny, blinking lights woven throughout. Zack, awed by the sight, whispered to no one in particular that it reminded him of a tiny nebula of stars. The mist then began to condense, replacing Xaal’s humanoid guise with that of her snowy owl form. With several flaps of her wings she rose above their heads and glided in a lazy loop around them, sprinkling luminous flecks of dust onto the otherwise dusty and grimy floor of the subway station. After her third loop she swooped low and landed gracefully upon the back of the couch, turning her head backwards to gauge their reactions.

 

“Can...can all angels do that?”

 

David inquired, now edging closer to the fallen angel so that he could take a better look at the bird. Though genuinely awed by the transformation there was an element of uncertainty in his eyes that Xaal could detect. For a fleeting second she could swear he almost looked troubled by her new appearance, but it was quickly buried under an apologetic grin before he averted his eyes in favour of starring over at Vaz instead as they spouted off some information on her behalf.

 

“Many angels can, once they’ve earned their first set of wings. It depends on the whims of one’s deities mostly. I would refrain from requesting such a transformation from other angels as I just did, however. Normally they reserve such sightings for blessings and messages.”

 

The man nodded, though he did regard Argia in a curious manner before clearing his throat and indicating that it was Vaz’s turn to pick a truth or dare. Vaz, unsurprisingly, decided to pick ‘Truth’ for their own turn. He glanced back over at the table and appeared to be doing a quick tally in his head, before pointing over at Jorath.

 

“Looks like it’s your turn Jorath, if you still want to play.”

Edited by Lycanious

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Jorath turned slightly as David recounted his memory. When it was said and done, it became Xaal's turn to pick and, while they sorted out who was meant to present her challenge, discussion dipped into feather plucking. He stiffened as the humans zeroed in upon Vaz and their wings. Before he might say or do anything, however, the Scribe had already cut through the conversation and gave Xaal her dare. It was effective at calling everyone's attention away from Vaz as she transformed. After a short flight, she lighted on the couch, just on the outside of arm's reach from Jorath. He stared at her only for a brief moment before redirecting to David. 

 

Drumming his hands against his knees, he mused over what question to ask. He was still supposed to be playing the part of a demon shoved into being a protector, one who knew nothing of the group around him, and one who certainly wasn't on... agreeable, terms with a "Punisher". Which meant Jorath, couldn't choose pleasant or 'easy' questions. But he didn't want to drag anything uncomfortable for Vaz out into the open. No matter how blind-sided he'd been by their Vow performed in front of witnesses. Eventually, he leaned back against the couch cushions, craning his head back so it rested upon the stuffed fabric. "Alright. 'Scribe of Truth', right? That was the title you gave outside. Does this mean you can never lie? Not even a little one, like if someone asked you what color my shirt is? Or is it more just that you can never write a lie?" He already knew the answer but it was pointless to keep people waiting. And it had the fortunate benefit of looking as if he was trying to understand the abilities of those 'forcing' him into servitude. 

 

"Isn't that kind of obvious?" Gregory sneered at Jorath. "Or are you just that dense?"

 

He pretended to think that one over, searching the ceiling as if it might hold the answer. "Well, suppose it depends on how you look at it. Demons, such as my handsome self--" Someone snickered but he couldn't tell who it was. "--tend to have names and titles that can be rather on the nose, as well as more ambiguous or obscure. I mean, I know a demon who earned the title 'Shatterer of Glass'; has more to do with them defeating another demon than breaking glass bottles or s***." 

 

"And just what sort of titles have you earned?"

 

"If demons take out other demons, how do demons come into existence to avoid extinction?"

 

Both questions were asked simultaneously. Jorath tried to pick out who asked what between Gregory and David. Did Gregory roll his eyes? Hard to tell while looking at him upside down. "Well, David. When a demon man and a demon woman like each other enough they--" 

 

"Gregory!" Zack hissed, prompting Jorath to laugh.

 

It was genuine, he realized, the reaction causing tension to ease from his shoulders. For a moment, he just absorbed it and allowed himself to enjoy the unexpected result. Grinning,  Jorath made a flippant motion with his hand. "I don't have any titles. As for demons coming to exist? The vast majority originate from--are born of--the Fire; a small minority have other origins and, no, that doesn't involve physical reproduction. Now, are you going to let the Scribe answer the question or not?" He watched Gregory's face become tinted with indignation, but both humans fell silent. 

 

Granted, the silence only last as long as Vaz needed to provide their answer to his question. As soon as it left them and touched the air, Gregory cut in once more. "Make your choice, Jorath. Truth or dare?"

 

Jorath turned a glare in Gregory's direction. Maybe he'd given this human too much of his patience. With a quick glance at Vaz, he inhaled and got up from the couch to approach the table. "Truth."

 

"Funny. Took you for the 'dare' type," Gregory sniffed. Apparently, he didn't have a question ready as he took some time to think of one. "What does your name mean? Like, what does it translate to?"

 

He paused, inhaling slowly to avoid sucking in the air. It was a harmless enough question, so it seemed. But names possessed a power that some had forgotten about. He doubted that Gregory knew, or even cared, about that fact. Time ticked by as he stared at the ground, arms crossed. He could feel eyes upon him, though he contained himself from finding out who the gazes belonged to.

 

"Jorath?" Argia said, her voice delicate with inquiry. 

 

Vaz was the only one there that knew his original name. But none of them knew the full name that had been given him. He only went by a fraction of it. Finally looking away from the ground, he shifted his gaze to the Scribe. Well, after the Vow, it probably didn't matter anyway if he answered. At least for the part they all called him by. He turned his attention to Gregory and the others, molding his expression into something neutral. "Chained. Jorath means 'chained one', in my language. 'Caged', depending on the context." 

 

Zack and David exchanged a glance with each other. Gregory seemed pleased, tempered by a mild annoyance that edged his voice. "I really thought you weren't going to answer that. I was hoping to shove a week's worth of menial work on your shoulders."

 

"You only say that because Jen's given you the crap work this time," Zack muttered. Looking to Jorath again, the man puzzled over something. "You said that was in your language. Is it that... that..." He started snapping his fingers, trying to find the word. "That Old Speech language demons use?"

 

"Oldspeak," Jorath corrected. "Also, no. My language is... something else." Jorath caught a glimpse of Argia staring, a dawning realization entering her face. "Yes, you heard it earlier," he said, anticipating her question. The Tag on his arm began to irritate beneath his sleeve, provoking him to lightly rub and itch at the fabric covering his skin.

 

Zack leaned forward with a bit of eagerness, eyes shining with interest. David pulled him off the table, mouth pressed into a thin line. David had given Jorath a pensive, and cursory, glance at the translation. "Can you say something in your language?" Zack asked.

 

"No." It was firm, harsher than what maybe seemed reasonable. The word snapped like a whip from Jorath before he even considered his tone. Zack jerked back as if he'd been slapped by it. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jorath waved dismissively a moment after. In a softer tone, he said, "I'd rather not. I don't speak it much these days and keep it reserved for specific things." 

 

David cleared his throat and smiled faintly. "So, we all made it through a full round without... too much, issue. Round two or the History Museum for Our Lady?"

 

"I think we can continue this Truths game at a later time. I would like to see the Museum before either of you needs rest for the night," Argia stated, earning a nod in response. "Who is going?"

 

"I will," Jorath pipped up. "Could use a visit to the place; haven't been in a really f***ing long time."

 

Gregory scrunched his face, glaring at the chalk drawings and writings along the station. "Zack and I still gotta work on the studies Richard and Jen have us doing. David?"

 

The man scuffed his shoe against the ground. "I need to get another book from the temple, anyways. So... my work's on pause?"

 

"Bah, whatever! Just go. And we'll watch the green lady, too."

 

"Wonderful, thank you," Argia beamed, motioning for David to lead the way, even as she turned to Xaal and Vaz. "Will you come with us or stay?"

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