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Roen

Maze Undue [Anima Imperium]

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“The muscles of the hand are subdivided into three groups: those of the thumb, which occupy the radial side and produce the thenar eminence; those of the little finger, which occupy the ulnar side and give rise to the hypothenar eminence; and those in the middle of the palm and within the interosseous spaces. The superficial transverse ligament, the digital arteries, nerves, the palmar fascia, palmaris long, the..,” 

Dragging the fingers of one hand across the palm of the other, the Outsider stopped walking and indicated to itself the various clusters of simulacrum fiber and tissue that constituted the appendage. It accompanied these pointed gestures with a running anatomical dialogue chiefly for its own benefit, after it felt the limb stiffen and grow both leaden and foreign. It did this until memory failed and it was left stumbling for additional exposition, groping for knowledge it had not known was precious until it was gone. This frightened the beast. Trembling as if stricken with an old man’s palsy, the Outsider raised shaking, unknown hands to a likewise unknown and deeply anguished countenance, and took several long moments to compose itself before it started moving again. It breathed in the crisp, cool air of the glade, listened to the insects chitter and the birds sing, and tried to remember more than the parts that moved it before and moved it once again. In this regard, it dipped into shallow reservoirs of memory and emotion, into a handful of years that threatened to slip through grasp like many grains of sand, and focused on immediate memory. It thought of Valucre, the Terran lands, the lives it had touched and which it had touched in turn, and sought to anchor itself in what was relevant and what mattered. It was one of the most difficult things it had ever done.

“Roen.” It said, an exhalation that brought life back into the lie. The name centered him, helping to soothe the existential crisis that was liable to cripple, and helped ease the racking shakes that threatened to maim him out of sheer anxiety. That he was susceptible to anxiety at all and still came as a sort of ironic relief, but it was not enough to shake the sensation of a deep and visceral loss of self. This was the third time in just as many weeks where it had struck him, this sudden panic, this inexplicable loss of function. No, he thought, not inexplicable. He hadn’t been the same since Kadia. He had dropped the mask and all the pretense then, and now, now he was different. Now the mask didn’t quite fit, and he was no longer sure it ever had. Now his hand shook, and it kept shaking as he resumed his travels through the Wilds of Terrenus. Tonight, the Anima Imperium had two visitors. They had no transport, but that did not stop the pair from traversing the terrain.

A storm was coming, and it was entirely natural. They walked through streamers of white fog, crossing outcrops of brown boulders, lakes of moss and dank natural watercourses choked with lichens. The sky shone like filthy, tinted glass. In the distance, a pustular range of hills began to vanish in the rain-blur of the encroaching elements. Lightning flashed above, like sparks off flint, ready to set the world alight. They had been in the woodlands for an hour now, and had just sighed the foreign structure of the Anima Imperium after entering a clearing, that the second of the two made itself known. Once upon a time, it had dogged the fiend’s shadow, bound to the corpse of Valian ac Thun, Patia’s last defender before the city fell to Perdition. Now it inhabited the man’s armor, the man’s body long since reduced to dust and ash. It floated down from the sky with a clink of chains rattling against scorch-blackened armor that was twisted and distended by arcane power, and glowed with an inner eldritch light. Its baleful gaze burned behind the narrow slit of its helm a deep and ghastly violet, and it looked at its master, patient as time immaterial. Its name was Helianstranos, and it was a daemonhost, the foulest of the devil’s aberrations. Or so he thought.

Overhead, the sky flashed and vibrated. Roen could hear the doom-roll of thunder now, and felt the drizzle in the wind. Fog-vapor smirched out the distance, but he saw their destination. “Is this it?” He asked the daemonhost. Head lolling to the side, the monstrosity rolled its shoulders, affected a vast wealth of indolence in the simple gesture. Iᴛ ɪs it said, its voice hollow inside its helmet. It had followed the Outsider into the dreamscape, and from it divined what the devil sought. It knew its master was capable of such a feat, but in the esoteric and the profound, Roen was a moderate; he did not expend the effort on what most would refer to as ‘ability’ when there were others more interested and available to do the deeds for him. This could be called lazy on his part by some, but the fiend has his reasons. He nodded. “Take to the sky and lash the air. I want them to hear you, Helianstranos. I want them to come.” The daemonhost tipped its helmet in brief acquiescence, then rose into the air like a specter, chains rattling from its arms and legs. It disappeared into the clouds. High in the ruined sky above, it screamed. Loud, hideous, inhuman, drawn out. It screamed again, resounding both acoustically and psychically. The air temperature dropped sharply. Sheets of ice crackled into voice from above, shattering among the trees, through the glade, everywhere. 

Roen walked through the clearing in full view of cameras and auspex. Unarmed, he was dressed in what could have been said to be his casual wear: riding boots capped at the knee, britches, a gray vest of damask silk and a long sleeved shirt beneath, opened at the breast. A rugged dandy if there ever was one, he was several weeks beyond his last shave, and his hair, atypical of his sense of fashion, was long and loose, framing his face and rippling down his back, reaching the small just above the base of his long, spaded-tipped tail. It swayed behind him low and heavy, displaying none of the agitation that the sky above did. He moved several meters out in the open. The keening wails above grew louder, whooping and circling, as if screaming avian things were flying around. As lightning accompanied thunder, so each scream was accompanied by a sympathetic flash of light. The shrieks seemed to draw the storm down, until a halo of flashing, jagged light coruscated in the sky above the Anima Imperium. Corposant danced along the edges of the clearing like white, fluorescent balls. The devil took a moment to wipe fresh blood off his upper lip, capillaries having burst from duress. He didn't seem to mind the storm, rain, or the daemonhost he had sent to the skies. He didn't even mind the sympathetic fatigue on his anima the esoteric and local storm was causing. He only stood there, several dozen yards from the marvel of technological wonder, and waited. 

He had not come to batter down the doors. He was expecting to be invited in. At his side, his hand began to tremble again. 

Edited by Roen

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Solitude was not hard to come by, the world had grown so fearsome and dangerous, hardly anyone just went walking anymore. This suited the Cloaked Figures just fine, for it was this peaceful loneliness that helped them to cope with their crippling existence. Dark corners, unexplored niches and forbidden lands were their favorite, as the less contact they had with the outside world, the better their chance at avoiding their greatest bane. Truth was death, and the inquisitive nature of other beings was the poison that made their lives unbearable. Such was the case for two such figures, one wrapped in a golden cloak, the other one of blood red material.

Ever since the events of Hyperion, the Bloody Red Specter has felt its existence become more bearable, more at peace with itself. Now it had the Golden Wraith, just as it had the Bloody Red Specter. This was not a relationship easily understood in human terms, just as much of the nature of these creatures was beyond such mundane words. At times they would touch, one gloved hand against another, other times they would simply sit, staring into the abyss that constituted the darkness within their empty hoods. Out of all of this they felt content, and though their natures would never allow them to feel happiness or joy, what they had now was just close enough to make life somewhat meaningful at least. To be able to share the cold tragedy of one's existence with a similar soul was a blessing they could not be more grateful for.

During one such walk through the forests, lighting shot through the sky, and thunder boomed close by. Rain began to fall, yet this did not sway them from their path. The physical world held little power over them, as beings of eldritch existence they were beyond such trifles, even if the convenience caused them greater turmoil within their spirits. Neither of them belonged in this world; their existence was an abhorrence to all that was considered natural and wholesome. Wretched circumstances had a habit of compounding upon one another though, and this unnatural existence was an involuntary one for them, brought about by the cruel machinations of something they could not understand. It was not until they heard that terrible scream, that they started to meander back to the harsh realities of this world, going forward to investigate the occurrence.

Their mistresses always had them on the hunt for more secrets, secrets they could use both to tear someone down and to bring to life another blight upon the world such as them. For the Cloaked Figures, they could not object to these terms of their service, not only for the fact they were bound to the wills of their creators, but in the very fact that having another of their kind in this world brought them some measure of peace. Such was their reasoning for spying upon the enigmatic figure known as Roen from a distance, shielded from view by a mixture of shadows and foliage. They knew of this one, for he was one of the great political leaders of this continent. Men like him had just as many secrets bound to them as the Cloaked Figures did, spawning many more wherever they walked. If they wished to further ease their suffering in this dreaded mire of existential suffering, they would continue to follow him, the darkness within their hoods filled only with doom and quiet suffering.

Slipping past the security measures was a simple matter for the Figures. Their lives were spent in the shadows, avoiding detection was as easy as moving one's hand, their silent footsteps leaving no trace of their existence upon the wet ground. In keeping up with the half devil, they soon found themselves in the vicinity of what they could only guess was the reason behind such measures of detection. It was a large place, almost like a tower, yet made with steel instead of stone, the structure loomed ominously in the storm. Simply gazing upon it held promises of knowledge not wishing to be known just yet, and this caused their anticipation to grow. A man such as Roen, going into a hidden place not wanting to be found; two secret seekers hungry for a respite from their squalid existence.

For now they would wait, watching closely and forming their own means of entering into the complex themselves. As uninvited guests, infiltration would be difficult, but the Bloody Red Specter knew much of penetrating the outer defenses of a place. Not even the mighty walls of Hyperion could keep out the mysterious being, escaping their grasp for days until it had what it desired. Just as was done then, now they shall repeat, for instead of one, there was two, and that was by far more dangerous than a singular spy in enemy territory.

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It was cold. The air. These walls. This facility. The amoral people within it. The forest around them....the world.
It was all so cold 
He hadn't slept a wink after the events that had transpired, isolating himself within his sub laboratory...ever working, ever thinking. His head was in his hands, elbows supporting his slouched behavior on his desk, irreverent thoughts over this conversation with the queen having shaken him...with her came the memories of Lilly. Memories that destroyed his integrity, and either caused him to snap or to fold. It was maddening that this was all being centered around a kidnapping plot. There were too many variables and he was now compromised emotionally. It was all a mess.

"And I am building an entire facility while in the thick of all this" He said to himself grating his teeth as he looked at the endless pages scatters along his desk, stacks of schematics, and blueprints. He hadn't had time to archive anything with the holo storage he had been attempting to perfect. Physical documentation and paper were just about all he could manage right now. The Registry possessed a wealth of genetic code that spanned back to his early years of science, but other than that he was restricted in his 'note taking' as it were. There was simply too much to think about, too much to do. A looming request practically haunting his thoughts no matter how many problems attempted to crowd around. It had such disastrous consequences that he felt perspiration bead his forehead. 

If you were truly Lilly’s love, and if you truly know what I meant to her and what she means to me, then surely you will help me escape these villains. I must return home. I must go back to Orisia before my child is born.

Those words bounced around in his head with near crippling force. He was not a fear driven man, but the thought of going against creatures like Rodan, Nines, and...Agony put the fear of the gods in him. They were why he did what he did...in a world of monsters and magic; Humans had to go above and beyond to survive in a realm of gods. He had saw potential in alliances; A lone wolf only goes so far without a pack...but it was the first time in his life that he actually felt a bit over his head with all this. They would kill him if he were caught aiding her escape, they might do it for just talking to her about it. Who knew what else could be attracted to this sort of drama? Due to her connection to lilly, he had kept tabs of The Queen as best as he could; Informants coming out of the woodwork when you have enough to throw at them, and he knew that she was in a web that possessed some very powerful predators. The logical thing to do would be to turn her in to Orisian authorities, and hope she would show mercy for his involvement...but he felt it as he always did. That feeling at the back of his head like a steel wall. The madness..its...theres a part...of him...that just...craves...this. He din't know if he was actually losing his mind, but it felt like a tangible entity worming it's way through his mind, and with all this drama, and chaos...how long could he control it? It felt so overpowering at times, feeling so cold.

It was only hours before morning that Marigold had assembled all of Abaddon in the room where they had all gathered the day prior. Thick glass surrounding them instead of walls as the medical wing acted as their headquarters for now. The doctor seated in the middle of the room with a gaunt expression burned onto his features, bags visible underneath his eyes as he looked at all of them with tired expectancy "I do hope you all rested well. We have a lot to discuss" He said, rubbing his temples as he tried to organize his thoughts better, but a coming storm had plans of it's own. The chirps of a siren beginning to erupt around them as the proximity alarm was tripped "What in the bloody hell could that be?" He asked in resigned frustration. The screams seeming to pierce through the walls themselves like esoteric blades carving this place into a metronome of unease. Marigold standing immediately, putting the previously dormant Xerxes into immediate attention "I am going to go see what has tripped the alarm...you lot have certainly brought alot of excitement into my life all of a sudden. Remain here if you would" He said with a sigh, he moving out of the room and into the vast atrium of his command center. The semi finished holographic world map still suspending in the middle of the room, spinning ever slowly on it's predestined track...A mirror to fate it feels like Marigold thought in passing.

What Roen saw was a facility, built in the middle of a mile wide grove. It's grid walls acting as Marigold's main layer of defense with their blue field shimmering with a pulse that passed every few seconds. These walls wrapping around the facility and standing a dozen feet tall. Several buildings seen both through the walls and towering above them. The devil seeing a lone man pass through one of the grid walls. His form stalling for a moment as he was seen craning his head to the sky before looking in Roen's direction and walking briskly. This man was adorned in a double breasted lab coat of dull brick red material, covering him from collar to ankles as it began to whip in the abhorrent winds beginning to surround him. His steely mauve hair suffering the same fate as his once pony-tailed coiffure now whipped about like streaks of silver. Eyes of dull violet a stark contrast to his paled features as he stood several feet away from Roen "Is this storm your doing? The wailing aswell?" Marigold asked "I should be flattered by such a display to get my attention. I should be, but when I see a storm of unnatural ability surrounding someone who seems...quite stressed. That brings nothing but concern" He said, his eyes drinking in Roen's features as he knew this was a powerful entity. 

"I am Dr. Marigold Orion Ravenspire. What has brought you to my little patch of heaven?" He asked with a grin despite the nerves that gripped him. 

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A man stepped out of the building, not as well known as Roen but looked to be filled with secrets all his own. Secrets were poisonous things, they destroyed someone from the inside out, seeping into their spirit as it rotted them. This one looked to be in the more detrimental stages of secret keeping, his body looking haggard and worn down from strain. No sympathy could he found in the black depths within those enigmatic hoods. Secrets cared nothing for those who would hold their kind hostage between tightened lips.

Analyzing the defenses of this place gave them a wealth of information to look over. There was no defense that could not be overcome, all it took was time to learn and understand. Walls made of light, pulsing with power and energy, much too high to jump and the ability to scale it seems unlikely. Watching that light pulse every once in a while made them wonder if that could be the key, yet they were not familiar enough with technology to know for sure. Judging by the way the rain and the wind interacted with it, the force field was more physically solid than reactive, meaning that indeed it could be scaled, but not for now.

Slowly they crept, keeping within the grove and the cover of the trees. The moon for now was not present, meaning their true forms would not yet be revealed. Skulking about in the shadows was their purpose, their talent by intelligent design. Stay undetected, gather information, then report back, all things they were made to do, without much other purpose included. What else could they be if not spies? Who would wish to see such creatures on a daily basis, baking bread, cutting hair, cleaning houses, it just wasn't possible. Their lot in life was the lonely existence of a reviled rogue, never to know comfort or peace.

Just as they became thirty feet northwest from the meeting between the two figures, they spotted their way inside the complex. Growing beside the wall just twenty feet away was a tree, stripped bare of its leaves from the cold of winter, not yet having replenished its leaves in the spring, perhaps due to natural death. It looked just tall enough for them to jump over the wall, though in that moment they would likely be exposed to the scrutiny of whoever operated those cameras. No matter, they would simply have to trust in the unique psychosomatic effect their appearance had on others, and hope it would be enough. With the Bloody Red Specter, any who looked upon it felt a deep sense of wanting to forget who they just saw, mixed with the bitter taste of loneliness. Combined with the Golden Wraith's unique ability to instill shame and disgust into whoever laid eyes upon it, they felt certain they could slip in without anyone reporting it.

For now though they would wait, watching this interaction between the two in order to glean some information that could be available. Common knowledge between the familiar could very well be novel to the strange. Knowledge was their essence, their life blood and their purpose. By following the will of their mistresses, they serve out their purpose, and become closer towards one day being released from this agonizing existence. They did not feel death as others did, for life was an experience of pain they could not possibly explain to another being outside their own kind.

A golden gloved hand reached out for the blood colored opposite, their thin and delicate fingers interlocking with each other. Sometimes, when their existence became too unbearable, they would touch, and we grounded in each other's company. This was a bond they developed between each other, through countless hours of understanding and supporting their respective partner. Bonds formed this way between Cloaked Figures were a queer kind, yet they served a valuable purpose in themselves. Together as one, they found purpose, not just in their intended design, but purpose in living as well.

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It was uncommon that faeries had nightmares in their sleep, and this night was no exception to Lunara, though it had undoubtedly been a night of distress. Part of it stemmed from being encased in steel, isolated from nature; that which provided the roots of existence for the Faekind.

The other, larger part came from the uncertainty that roiled through her mind. Though the faerie wasn’t one to shy away from risks, this current endeavour left her jittery and restless. Lunara wasn’t dumb. There were too many loose ends left undone, too many unknown factors in the equation. It had been all too easy to stow these away while there was action and while they were on the move. Lunara expected that they would receive answers when they arrived at the destination of Nines’ choosing. Instead, Agony, the mastermind behind this, had locked himself in with their quarry and gave no explanation whatsoever. What was next? What were they going to do with the Queen, and what would the Triumvirate want out of it? She didn’t know - she didn’t think any of the rest knew, and she didn’t like it. Again, the thought of leaving all these behind crossed her mind, but where would she go? Was she to aimlessly wander again? Strange as it may seem, Abbadon gave her a place to belong. And Agony owed her a blood debt, and she intended to make use of it, though some part of her wondered if it hadn’t become a chain that she had locked herself in.

A prisoner within these metal walls, that’s what she felt like she was. She could stand it no longer. She needed fresh air. Marigold had already entered her data into his systems, so she had no problem passing through the doors and barriers of his facility. No doubt her movements would have been tracked, but she played no big role now, and it was likely no one would care.

The first breath of air that rushed from the final set of sliding doors was immensely refreshing. The sky was dark, but filled with the dewy promise of morning. The Anima Imperium was set in a clearing within a patch of forest. Lunara stretched her wings and flew, weaving through the trees, feeling the cool wind through her hair. She zipped up above the treelines, and spied a town a small distance away. In the opposite direction, a strange storm was brewing. Dark clouds clashed and meshed, rolling with alarming purpose towards the Imperium. For a second, Lunara was torn between speeding back to warn the rest, or running away. The result would always be the same, however. She would never run, and have to live with terming herself a coward. 

Darting back under the cover of the trees, Lunara saw only a glimpse of the spectre that rose to the skies. And then her senses were assaulted by the screams, her innate sensitivity to magic amplifying the intensity of the shrill cries. The faerie fell to the ground and curled up among the leaves, pressing her hands against her ears, but it did little to stifle the power resonating within her tiny body. Black encroached over her vision. She screamed along with the cries, her own magic surging and pushing back against the psychic pressure, lest it tore her apart.

Just as she was teetering on the edge of unconsciousness, the screams stopped. The faerie lay there for moments, shivering in the cold rain and heaving for breath. It had been more a cry of intimidation than an actual attack however, and there had been no actual harm to her body. It made it all the more certain that the faerie couldn’t turn away now. A small part of it was concern for her companions, but it was mostly intrigue that pumped through her veins. She was drawn to the power that had been shown. Lunara flew up into the branches of the trees and proceeded cautiously back towards the Imperium, hiding her physical and spiritual presence as well as she could. No larger than a moth, the thunder of the storm and the whipping branches made it impossible for anyone to spot the faerie unless they knew what they were looking for.

Roen. It was Roen. Standing unmoving in the storm. Lunara had seen it before, during Gabriela’s coronation. The Devil’s face had been a perfect mask of calm, before he lashed out like a snake towards one of the guests. His tranquil stance had not indicated non-aggression then, nor did it likely now. 

Marigold came out to greet him, his red coat and long hair almost a mirror of Roen’s. The doctor held his own mask, though Lunara could see the bags under his eyes that had not been there prior. Despite the confidence Marigold exuded, the Triumvirate’s presence had obviously been a source of stress. Risking some small danger of detection, Lunara moved closer to the two, still within the cover of trees. Marigold had not kept his voice down, nor did he have a reason to, so the faerie watched and waited, much like the unknown and undetected Cloaked Figures did, except she was at a much closer distance, and within earshot.

Edited by jaistlyn

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What was supposed to have been a haven for the Triumvirate away from their Patian home swiftly shifted into a beacon for covetous beasts and suffocating portent. The decision to transport one of the jewels of Orisia here had undoubtedly been a mistake but not one that Agony would ever regret. Regret implied failure and there was no semblance of that wretched sensation within him as he reflected upon what he had extracted from the pregnant Gabriela or what he had gained from the Great Devourer days before.

 

This amorphous being’s calculating mind revisited the trek that led him here throughout the hours of the night, the need for sleep absent given Agony’s unique qualities. The organization he affiliated with was in need of allies and most of all resources. Those were all they sought to obtain the night the coronation occurred. Liberties were taken to pose as visitors devoted to the Patian devil seeking to honor someone he had cherished. The audacity he held to pose as a knight in service of a lord he did not truly devote his service to. Agony served no one. It was this isolation that had compartmentalized this mission so much that even Lunara and Rodan were traversing through an unforgiving fog that he did nothing to lift. He held fast to the belief that the blame for this still fell solely on him.

 

The meeting planned by Marigold was almost ignored as it became increasingly difficult to justify. It was Marigold’s decision to move the Queen throughout the night as well as what he didn’t know concerning the man that brought him in to their meeting room. The sight of the depleted doctor was far too coincidental to not be suspicious to Agony though paranoia should be tacit when it came to this triumvir. The man was an outlier much like the woman Rodan decided to take with them or the draconic girl that burned the Mutator’s face. An outlier that now seemed as volatile as the rest with fatigue eroding sound judgment along with something else that Agony slowly began to pick up on. The ambiguity of the man’s temperament placed Agony on high alert. Obtenebra’s mass gave no indication that he was monitoring the man, a singular eye resting at the center of his massively oblong shape. The primordial liquid rippled violently at the sound of the siren, Obtenebra’s naturally defensive nature urging Agony to act. Marigold’s request to have them remain here was deemed ludicrous. Agony let Marigold advance further, then spoke to those still in the room.

 

“I am going to follow him”

 

Roiling black moved with purpose, forcing himself through any obstacles either by oozing his way through or pushing through with unearthly strength. The maelstrom Agony knew would surge into existence ever since he had convinced Lunara to relinquish her blood and drug the Black Queen roared upon the horizon. Thunderous din echoed through the facility while winds warned of the forces that approached from the distance. Any conservative would rather remain inside to weather what would come but the majority of the Triumvirate members that had aligned themselves with him did not hold such restraints. To achieve power involved risk and ambition. Dangerous things that were mostly foreign to the reserved. Ambition wrought the precarious threats that Agony knew would come and he would not allow a wavering doctor to mishandle it all.

 

Agony emerged in the distance, his blackened mass teetering in all sorts of directions as it allowed itself to be swayed by winds. There were no biological factors present, no manner with which to extract emotion or intent but it was clear that Agony purposefully wished to make his presence known. The orchestrator of the events that led the majority of those present here stood erect behind Marigold’s grid. Cascading liquid pooled underneath the eight foot mass only to curl back in, a sloppy sound denoting its movement. Marigold’s distracted thoughts likely would have prevented him from realizing that he had been present the whole time he spoke to Roen. The Dreaded Margrave’s arrival here was of no surprise but his timing exceeded expectations. The stress that was visible from the benevolent host of their organization could not be ignored. An abomination, by Terran standards, had managed to circumvent Orisian security, kidnap a very pregnant woman that the devil cared for deeply and did so under his and Rafael’s noses. Rage, embarrassment, and hatred were all plausible responses to that seemingly impossible feat that Agony would likely be unable to avoid.

 

Agony was unsure how much Roen knew about the individuals that comprised the organization he likely knew originated within his own lands. Whether it was by design or indifference, he had never directly interacted with Roen but it would be negligent of him to not do so now. Agony understood what currency he could gain or squander if he failed to do so. Four inch slits began to form around the entirety of his body, creating a channel from which the depth of a baritone voice could be amplified to reach Roen and Marigold soon after the Doctor’s introduction.

 

“He is undoubtedly here because he is in search of something or someone. For him to grace us with his presence suggests it is of great importance.”

 

These words were simply meant to stage dialogue Agony hoped to moderate for the benefit of all.

 

“It would be rude to leave someone so benevolent to us outside to endure the storm to come. Let him in…”

 

The last order oozed vehemence though it was his specific choice of words and the inflections he carefully chose that attempted to assert Agony’s desire to dominate the inevitable engagement that would come. The wails above continued as the daemonhost continued its forceful display. For Roen to have brought along such a creature implied he was prepared to utilize its abilities at the very least. Agony’s penchant desire to see what pain that creature could inflict might have led him to provoke the devil were it not that there were more important gains the ancient being wished to uncover. Now his speech honed in on Roen specifically.

 

“Was your journey troublesome?”

 

Most would find a talking mound of ooze in the distance an unnerving event that would instill discomfort or fear but Gabriela did not attract the mundane or the common. The arrival of Roen was only the first challenge he would have to endure from the fallout of his own actions but he would not cower in the presence of such a myriad of opportunities. Beneath the looming threat of retribution, Agony intended to mine a power the Triumvirate likely could not have gained without extending its reach as far as it had. This precarious path he had chosen would either force the Triumvirate into a new era or snuff the embers they had barely maintained until now.

 

~~~Meanwhile at the Perimeter of Anima Imperium lands~~~

 

Xavier thought Agony’s request to wait for a messenger had to be one of the easiest jobs he had ever taken. Nines had been too much of a slave driver having them work on helping that weird doctor build that facility. Sure, work like that came easy but the monotony of it all made him wish that he could do something else. He had remembered Agony telling him to remain hidden but what harm could a lowly messenger do to his massive orc frame? Leaning against a tree within a large clearing that had a carved hole meant for messages, Xavier would whistle comfortably even as the storm raged on and the wailing was heard in the distance. Waiting here was much better than being stuck working on construction or dealing with the neighboring village. He would have to thank that odd blob guy for giving him some reprieve. This job was going to be the easiest one of his life

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Then

Rafael sat half-slumped, half-sunken in the Jurtuna’s less than comfortable co-pilot chair. That he’d been able even to doze off, let alone fall into so deep a slumber, in the stiff-backed seat was a testament to the exhaustion of shouldering such a worrisome burden. The servants of the palace could see it in his listlessness and disheveled attire; those of the Faith could feel it heavy on their minds, on their souls; and those few sired by the Elder’s fangs felt it quaking and rattling in their bones. There was no escaping it, and neither the promise of vengeance nor the sure slaughter of those that had conspired against them offered him a reprieve.

Even in the cold darkness of his closed eyes, the severity of Gabriela’s predicament haunted him, giving the Elder no peace.

Against the stone walls of his dream beat the winds and rains of memory, the nights he and Gabriela had spent in Veelos. He could still see the panic in her golden eyes, feel how she trembled in his arms, against his chest. It hadn’t been the attempt on her life that made her shake so terribly or Rafael’s fury that she might ignore the damning evidence against the culprit, for she feared neither. Instead, it was a secret-- always another secret, another hidden agenda --that had instilled the truest sense fear in the Black Queen. A fear, Rafael realized as he dreamed, that had taken root in his heart as well.

The rains intensified, the thunder finding a rhythm-- thump, thump, thump. Rafael felt Gabriela’s swollen belly against the crescent of his aching palm, and in the waking world, his fingers twitched with longing. How could he have allowed himself to love something so dearly, the life she had sworn he had not even helped create? From what dark depths of his souls had this instinct arisen, fearless and uncompromisingly determined? Thump, thump, thump-- the thundered continued its drumming, and the Elder longed for nothing more than to feel the kick of that darling babe against his touch, the only other presence it had come to know. Thump, thump, thump!

Stirred from his sleep by the cadence, Rafael’s gaze lazily found its way to Dante, the Jurtuna’s pilot. “What is it?” he asked, lethargy thick in his accented voice. “Why does your heart beat so?”

Dante breathed slow, steadying his heart. “We’ve entered Terran airspace, my Lord.”

Rafael couldn’t bring himself to glance beyond the window and take in this beautiful, foreign land. This was not the time for sightseeing. “There’s nothing to fear. I’ve made arrangements.”

“But they—”

“Despise us,” the Elder finished with an irritated groan, feeling pressure on both temples. “However, even the Terrans are not immune to diplomacy or respect. We aren’t here to invade their lands or vandalize their way of life, least of all to overstay our welcome. I’m here for my wife--" he bit back the word, soured and regretful. No, none of this would have happened if she had just given in; if she would have just let him protect her. “--Gabriela and her child. Nothing more.”

 

Now

Several miles from the where the Patian King had stood, from the grand Anima Imperium, itself, Rafael stood alone in the rising tempests of the coming storm. He wore a simple black ensemble, befitting both his mood and the times, which only darkened further and clung to his imposing figure as the rains strengthened around him. The emptiness of each droplet-- for he could no more sense Gaia, or her pantheon, in this land’s elements than any other non-believer --wetting his hair, coursing down his face, and pelting his broad shoulders made him long for the shores Orisia and the wholesome, soothing presence of La’Ruta.

Soon, he told himself. Soon.

The Elder scanned his surroundings, then the shrouded horizon, finding both sorely lacking. But when he closed his eyes and reached out with his other senses, he came across the phantoms of Gabriela’s presence-- the faintest trace of sweet orange blossoms, of sea salt, of La’Ruta, on the damp winds being swept down from the north. But it wasn’t enough. Needing more, Rafael reached out desperately toward these ghosts and echoes of his beloved, searching for something of permanence. Sapphire eyes opened as he felt the thrumming of that invisible cord, tied tight around his heart, long-since still.

It was in the pursuit of this familiar warmth, and the unnatural shrieking cracking off in the distance, that Rafael happened by a tall, intimidating figure leaned, just so, against a tree. Waiting, expecting. More displeasure, and the Elder’s frown sank further along his face. There was no need to greet or acknowledge the orc-- he clearly wasn’t the brains of the operation, for theirs was a simple, brutish people better suited for labor, war, raping, and pillaging. The intricacies of diplomacy, bargaining, and extortion were lost on them. And so the Elder passed him by, clearly in view, without speaking.

If all their territory was as well-monitored as the areas closest to the establishment, then those viewing would see him-- for again, Rafael made no attempt to hide himself or the briskness of his pace. They wished for him to deliver a message, and he would do so in the plainest of ways.

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Monsters and men seldom mingle well, for just as the thirst of one could thrive in another, so too did the Abyss assail any whom gazed too deep.

In darkness it dwelt, in silence it writhed, a scratch at the back of Agony's consciousness, which neither impeded nor aided the abomination in their ministrations. Long had it lingered there, as seconds slipped into hours, and the creature forsook the Summer Isle in favour of colder pastures, mind aflame with schemes as Gabriela was spirited away, naught but a whisper on the fleeting wind.

Everything had a price, every action an equal and opposite adversary, and though there were those who praised La'Ruta as a noble force, the truth of its existence was far more sinister than scholars knew, for it had marked Agony that day within the courtyard, had offered him power, if he but sacrificed a piece of his personal sanctity. That was the secret Malice had failed to share, the cost which came with snaring an apple from Eden, as the Great serpent seduced their opponent, plying them with promises, whilst the wheels turned within machinations older than the shores of Terrenus itself.

How long had he watched, one might wonder, as killer and Queen traded barbs within the confines of her cage, how had he stood idle, one might scream, as Gabriela and Rafael were tortured by emotion, and the Warlord had known where the Triumvirate had taken Orisia's monarch all along. Unlike the Crimson King, however, Malice was not defeated by desire, nor was he beset by the rage which spurred Rafael toward the sight of vengeance, for he had forsaken such frailties millennia ago, had flung flesh aside and blasphemed bone, until he transcended the mortal coil, and Ayenee became a memory, a dream where only the dead and the departed dwelt now.

Perhaps that was why he had almost allowed Gabriela to be taken to begin with, turning a blind eye to the group's flight, when he could have brought legions of daemons crashing down upon them with naught but a wave, perhaps, old as he was, he realized that the Black Queen would not fulfil her potential, if she were ever sheltered by his shadow. The intervention of Agony and his Abaddon companions had proven timely in that regard, and so now, as the heavens trembled at Roen's approach, and Rafael's rage became palpable, as though tasted by his bestial tongue upon the breeze, Malice made no move to intercede, no instead a spectre crept from the cocoon within Agony's consciousness.

Ethereal as an adage, none save Agony himself would be aware of the Devourer's presence, as it clung to his frame like smoke, a miasma which moulded about his vicinity and fed information directly back to the Warlord's waiting form back in Orisia; for even as events began to unfold within the eastern reaches of Terrenus, Malice was sowing the seeds of worship within the hearts of the Summer Isle's citizens.

Let us see what her suitors will sacrifice to claim her anew.

Edited by -Malice-

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From all that they saw, there was plenty of information to be had in this place. Monsters seemed to lurk around every corner, and if the growing maelstrom of emotion was any indicator, this was only the beginning of the strange events to come. If ever an opportunity to slip into this monument of secrets had presented itself, it was now.

Swiftly making their way towards the dead tree, the Cloaked Figures made certain to further mask their movements through the flashes of both lightning and the daemonhost. Though the cries of the monster seemed to agitate the others, it held no effect upon the strangers. Psychic attacks were commonly washed away in the complex physiology that made up their minds. That isn't to say they would work, one would simply have to configure the attack to the specifics of a Cloaked Figure's psyche in order to effect them properly. Such was but one of the peculiarities of these creatures.

Scaling the naked tree by the wall proved easy for them, as they worked together to climb the side facing away from the confrontation. It was strange, being so high up, as if they could receive an even greater view of the interactions to come. At certain points during the storm they may even be able to hear dialogue between the different parties. No matter what they could gather at this place, it was not worth the risk of detection should someone spot them up in the tree. For now they would wait until just the right time, knowing that the correct opportunity would present itself, but to be safe, they enabled a little camouflage.

Based on their positioning on the tree, one momentary glance would simply see two cloaks hanging in a tree, having been caught by a branch in the turbulent weather. Any number of rational reasons could explain why there were two empty cloaks in that tree, none of which included invisible creatures waiting to sneak onto the premises. With their hoods down, the rain would beat upon their faces openly, yet it gave them no reason to be concerned or frustrated. Secrets weren't human like other humans, just a byproduct of their lies and deceit.

Every so often there would be a flash of lightning, just as well there would be a flash from the Daemonhost high up in the air. With the right timing, they could make a lucky guess, and be provided with enough flashing light to cover their advance. All they needed was to wait, and their moment would come.

BOOM!......

SCREE!.....

BOOM!.......

SCREEBOOM!.....

And just like that, they had made their way onto the interior of the wall without making a sound. Quick footsteps carried them further and further into the compound, their use of the dark corners valuable as they scouted. Finding one building at random, they noticed it required a keypad to open it, which proved as no issue for them. While the Golden Wraith kept watch, the Bloody Red Specter laid a hand upon the pad, careful not to press any of the keys upon it. Information began to flow into the Specter: faces, smells, fingers, the correct code into the building.

In only a few moments they were inside, splitting off to cover more ground inside the sterile environment. The hunt was on, to discover that which they sought, and to escape either without being detected or without being captured. A secret is a difficult thing to hold within one's grasp, especially one as wild and dangerous as the Cloaked Figures.

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Immie walked forward as if in a daze.  After being poked and prodded by Dr. Marigold, she'd blacked out for some reason, and she couldn't recall what had transpired.  She felt different, yet the same.  It was as if the real Immie, the one that she was used to being, was a thin layer that covered her muscle, blood, and bones.  She felt like she was the outer skin.  There was something else on the inside.  Something she'd ignored, forgotten, or desperately escaped from.  This new part of her was closer to the surface than it'd ever been before.  She could feel it, like a slimy hand slithering under her skin, pushing, poking, scratching to get out.  It was all she could do to hold herself together.  She wasn't paying much attention to where she was going.  She was letting her feet guide her, and unbeknownst to her they guided her straight to where the other warm bodies resided.  These creatures she had seen before as terrifying, she now only watched warily.  They seemed more attractive than before, though she wasn't quite sure why.  She was drawn to them.  

She shook herself as if to awaken from a bad dream.  This was so unlike her.  She couldn't concentrate, and could barely think.  Having so little control of her mental facilities was her worst nightmare.  She took a deep breath, and could see that there were a few from the original group that was still inside the facility.  Some had gone outside, into the storm.  She had never liked storms before, afraid of getting swept away by a force of nature.  Now she was drawn to the sight, feeling her heart speed up with every strike of lightning.  The screams had sounded like music.  She knew that couldn't be right, because she'd usually be horrified by such screams.  Her feet stuttered to a stop as she tried to get a hold of herself.  She had to wonder what was happening to her.  Something was off.  

Rodan was there, and she felt a comfort in seeing someone she knew.  Was there a time she hadn't liked Rodan?  It seemed like it.  It seemed like she'd been disgusted by his ability to turn bodies into wooden carts.  That seemed distant now, and not as important as it once was.  She didn't question her new feelings.  Not yet.  To question them would mean she would have to look deeper, to find what was causing these changes inside of her.  And she wasn't ready to do that.  The black out she'd experienced before protected her from seeing what she didn't want to face yet.

She stood there in the middle of the room, dressed in her old, raggedy clothes, and wondered if there was a way to acquire something a little more attractive to wear.  In the middle of the chaotic weather, screaming, kidnapping of queens, killing of guards, strange doctors and wicked creatures, she was more concerned with her apparel than the situation she was facing.  True fear crept inside of her the moment she realized this.  She felt the sting of her fingernails dig into her palms as she made fists at her sides.  The sting of pain seemed to clear her head a bit, and she could focus a little better.  She bit the inside of her bottom lip for good measure, tasting the blood in her mouth.  Her mind began to clear even more, as she watched the events unfurl before her.  

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“A token of duress it sends. Forbearing prey to cry for aid, for what the storm may portend is madness, death and horror made.” 

Hiding a trembling hand behind his back and raising the other, the Outsider laid the broad of an index finger across the philtrum of his upper lip, conveying to Marigold a vast wealth of body language concerning the need for quiet. Then, in silence after rhyme, he gestured to an ear with the expectation that the doctor might listen, and waited. At first, there was only screamlight; the wailing of the daemonhost above followed by a sympathetic flash of light. Running the cumulative risk of offending both the good doctor and the amorphous entity that followed with what amounted to cheap theatricality, Roen counted on their collective patience, head canted to catch more than just errant raindrops and ravenous wind.

Finally, there was an answer to the screamlight; a reply. There came a howl from the forest, and it was not entirely natural, nor tangible. It was the disembodied anguish of a specter, called to manifest. Thence followed another howl, deeper than the last, and then another two just as different. They were the Dead and Damned, called to service through the thinning of the veil that separated the profane from the immaterial, and it was growing thinner the longer the daemonhost set its unfathomable will to the task set upon it. It was not exponential, but it was inexorable, and as time dragged on, more lost souls added their anguish to the cacophony of the forest, drawn to the beacon in the sky that wailed its fury. 

Combing his hair back with an expression that showed neither satisfaction nor pride, the Outsider favored Dr. Marigold and the amorphous entity that followed him the complement of his full attention. Leveling the weight of his scrutiny on one and setting the latter aside for future discourse, the Outsider spoke. “No flattery intended, good doctor. The storm is not for you.” A deep tenor with a rich timbre, he raised his voice to be heard over the wailings of wind and monster. Dipping his chin and inclining his head in brief greeting, Roen paid all due respect. “The storm is my doing, but I’m afraid Helianstranos must take the credit for the, as you said, wailing. One must wonder how he accomplishes it without vocal chords.” The fiend smiled at this briefly, as if sharing some private joke, but like all good things, it did not last. The smile, that was. It slipped from his overly sensual mouth as easily as it had come, and again he looked graven and stern, his deep-set eyes narrowed and vaguely hostile. Like two chips of bloody ice, they moved up and down Marigold’s shape like the hands of an unwanted lover, impersonal and intimate, before settling on his face at last.

“Your shadow has the right of it, Dr. Merigold. But if he talks to me again without introducing himself, rest assured, I will be very unhappy. Unhappier, mind.” A pause; a beat of consideration concerning introductions, then a rueful purse of lips. “That was rude of me, I haven’t even bothered to introduce myself. My name is Roen, Dr. Marigold.” Raising a hand, the Outsider waved it with flippant disregard for propriety and pleasantries. “I’m sorry, I’ve been preoccupied. They say a devil knows his business, but they never say just how much of it there is, especially in these trying times.” Spitting out rainwater that tasted vaguely of copper and was tinted a mild pink, the Outsider approached Marigold and extended a hand, briefly patting the man on the shoulder before giving it a squeeze and jostle. That violence was not visited between them boded well for the future, so the Outsider donned his favorite mask, that of the gentleman sage.

Urbane and witty, he seemed for all intents and purposes a mildly eccentric man, which was exactly what he meant to portray. The con of civility typically served him well, and he hoped it would again. “As I was saying,” the fiend demurred as he walked passed Dr. Marigold, giving the man plenty of time and room to brush passed and lead the way, “I’ve misplaced something very dear to me, an item of incalculable worth.” A thing of immeasurable grandioseness with an equal degree of animation, the Outsider gestured with his free hand a vague measurement that came up to his chest. “It is yae high, you see. Has a swollen stomach, possibly pregnant, possibly too well-fed. You'd know better, being a doctor and all. Constantly looks, well, like this.” He prompted Dr. Marigold to look at him, contorting his face in an approximation of a distraught expression complete with furrowed brows, a scrunched nose and pouty lips, all deeply exaggerated, of course. He relaxed after a time, his natural expression none too different, grim in its own repose. “But prettier, of course. A great deal prettier. Now, I’m fairly certain this item in question is here, somewhere within these walls.”

He gestured towards the Anima Imperium, walking towards it still. “I don’t need to tell you that this puts us in a bit of a jam, doctor. I am very peculiar about my property, you see. Why, poor Helianstranos is scratching at the veil, you can just about smell the entropy in the air, because of how put out I am. Soon little nasties will start showing up, and between you and me, I’d rather be anywhere but here when that happens.” He sucked his teeth and spat again, grunting. “If you ask me,” Roen dropped his voice into a conspiratory whisper, “he’s going a little overboard. Does this rain taste like blood to you? It tastes like blood to me. I think it would be best if you took me inside, now. I think it would be better if you took me straight to my property, yes? Yes.” Nodding slowly which somehow conveyed greater emphacy, the Outsider turned his head and glanced over his shoulder, momentarily distracted. Peering through rain that grew steadily bolder in gradations of red and the scent of metal, he frowned. A dozen voices had since added their chorus to the howls of the Dead and Damned within the forest, returning each wail of screamlight from above, loud and throaty and anguished, roused from their rest. Roen sighed. “A rising tide, far from here, coming quick, coming near. A sight to make all mortals shake; a storm, a living world-quake.” 

Edited by Roen

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Perhaps it was out of arrogance born of always being in control that Rodan Allagi had not thought to court dread and uncertainty about the consequences of the queen's kidnapping. Perhaps it was out of ignorance of Genesaris politics that he had not considered the terror that the likes of Rafael could bring down upon those currently under Dr. Marigold's roof. Or perhaps it was out of negligence that he failed to consider that he bore a significant portion of the responsibility for Gabriela's acquisition, even though Agony was the mastermind of the plan.

Whatever the case, the Mutator had slept well that night. Fear was something he had felt from time-to-time, but seldom did he afford to beings he thought to be made from flesh and blood. Rafael was a Vampyre like Gabriela, hence he could be altered just as she. Roen looked to be merely a man with the tail of a devil, and though Rodan was aware that looks were often deceiving, he still suspected that even the Crimson King would not be immune to his powers. As for Malice, the Mutator foolishly no longer even considered him a factor in this matter, seeing as Agony had battled him and survived. For all Rodan Allagi knew, Malice had become a meal for the blob after their tussle back in Orisia.

Indeed, it was Agony that Rodan feared the most, for he was of a stock that the Mutator's powers could do nothing to affect. For that reason, he was always sure to appease the primordial creature, not desiring his ire in the least. It was his own disproportionate fear of Agony that perhaps put Rodan at ease over the others, for a self-centered man like him often failed to understand the world outside of how it related to him. And to him, Agony was the most fearsome monster present this day, if only because he was the one monster the Mutator knew for certain that he was defenseless against.

In any case, Rodan Allagi seemed well-rested and in fine spirits when he joined the meeting called by Marigold. The interruption by the daemonhost was rather unexpected, as Rodan had been confident their escape from Orisia had been thorough and undetected. His first thought had been that perhaps it was a bizarre, native creature, but Marigold's surprise over its arrival forced that thought away. First the doctor left, then Agony and Lunara departed separately, leaving Rodan behind with only Immie to keep him company. Curious about the goings-on, but only now getting a strange sense of concern over the situation, the Mutator rose to his feet and traversed the room. The remnants of the bone cage remained in the place they had been left the day before, no longer being of necessity now that the Black Queen was under Marigold's guard. It was over these violated remains of two Orisian guards that Rodan stopped. Placing a hand upon the cage, he began to take pieces from it and mold them as he had molded so many things before. The shrieking outside was growing tiresome, but also somewhat concerning. It wasn't quite creature, but yet it wasn't quite man. Whatever it was that had followed them here, it had begun to subtly affect the Mutator, just enough that he felt the need to fashion himself a sword from the material of the cage. As he was unable to make a blade of metal, he instead made it from bone, the hardest and densest bone he could conjure from his vast mental library of biological knowledge. The hilt and crossguard likewise were made from bony interiors, though he forged wooden exteriors for the sake of style and comfort. His weapon crafted, the Mutator tested the balance and handling, adjusting it rapidly to suit his own preferences. That task complete, he paused to listen to the sounds echoing withing the cold metal walls of the structure. The shrieks of the demon-thing were now being answered by other cries, ones sounding as if of pained and tormented souls. Rodan was not bothered by these in and of themselves, for he relished the anguish and terror he often caused his victims, and as such the pain of others meant little to him. No, it was the sense that the oppressed things were answering the cry of the wailer... and whatever that meant could not be good.

The Mutator turned and looked to Immie, the lone individual still in the room with him. There was something subtly different about her demeanor today, even if physically she looked the same. But at the moment it was not a great concern of his, for his thoughts now were very slowly worming their way toward taking precautions to ensure his own self-preservation.

"Forgive me if I forget, Miss Immie." he spoke up, his eyes returning to the organically-crafted sword in his hand, "But were you trained to make use of weapons?"

He slide the blade into its sheath, then rested a hand on the now partially deconstructed cage of bone. His eyes remained locked on the lovely young woman who was here primarily because of his actions, while he waited patiently for her to respond. But patience would wear thin the longer they waited, for though he could not be sure, the things howling outside did not sound of this earth, and Rodan's gravest concern was that they had not bodies to kill...

Edited by Tyler

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The sense of dread was palpable -- the air was so thick with it. Like a dense fog, she breathed in deeply and tasted it in the back of her throat. Dread, like heavy syrup, it felt like it was coating her throat, down to her lungs, where it was breathed in and where it pushed through paper-thin membranes and infected her blood. The sort of dread that sits heavy in the belly, so heavy it will sink you right to the bottom of a bottomless pit. She was halfway down and still she felt that urge to kick and stroke and try to swim up and break the surface.

 

Air -- she needed air.

 

Another strong contraction caught her off guard. She had been counting the seconds between them, but had lost her place when she felt him or rather, the abomination he was bringing upon these poor wretched people and this poor wretched land. Labor had started since last night, or at least that’s what she imagined it was. The pain had been bad, but had grown steadily worse throughout the day and as night fell and she sat up from her bed, a bed upon which she could find no comfortable position, she felt the unmistakable pressure in her hips. But there was only that -- pressure, pain, pressure, pain, on a continuous loop that she prayed would carry on for a little while longer.


So long as there was no water. So long as there was no blood.

 

Slowly she came to from the pain of her stretched out womb compressing in on itself, practicing for those terrible and wonderful moments that would see her child brought into the world. They had gotten to the point where she couldn’t think through them. Everything had to stop. She had to concentrate on the pain and the pressure. But as the contraction receded, like a high tide being drawn back into the depths of the sea, she was once again herself.

 

Her fingers were somewhat aching from having clutched at the edge of her metal bed frame. She didn’t notice the little indentations she left behind, or the way her glass-like nails had chipped from how viciously she had dug them into the metal. No, there was no time to wonder at these things when she was only herself for a few minutes before another sweeping wave of pain came along and struck her deaf and dumb once more.

 

She was up on her feet and near the door in a matter of seconds. Even heavily pregnant, and in active labor, she wasn’t anything that could be considered slow. She stood before the door, her bare feet curling and uncurling nervously against the cold floor as her trembling fingers began to trace the outline to her only way out. While Marigold had made no promises, in his heartbreak and mourning, she could have sworn that she saw glimpses of something akin to sympathy and compassion. He felt for her. He felt deeply about this entire situation. Broken man that he was, his heart remained intact just enough to advice his brilliant mind that this was all wrong.

 

But would he act on it?

 

Or rather, more importantly, could he?

 

Her head tilted back, and her wide eyes looked to the ceiling, and then to the walls -- left and right -- she was a caged animal. She felt like a bleeding beast, bound to a stake in the middle of the forest and left to be devoured by the wolves. And they were coming, the wolves. She felt their presence, near and far, and it caused every one of her muscles and joints to stiffen so much that it caused her physical pain. She walked rigidly from the tension, she felt her hands turn to fists which she could not uncurl even though her palms were already weeping blood from the bite of her jagged nails.

 

She had prepared for Roen, and she had prepared for Raphael -- hell, she had even prepared for the absolute worst case scenario, in which she was auctioned off not to those who at least pretended to love her, but to those who very openly despised her. She thought of falling into Ryzerus’ hands, who would surely wait for her baby to be born only to strangle it with it’s own umbilical cord and for no other reason than to watch the horror it would cause her. She even thought of the possibility of Rou getting wind of this. The woman despised her so…

 

Another contraction pulled her away from her imagination. Pale lips parted, and formed a perfect O as she clutched her left side and fought the twisting agony of muscles, already stretched thin, being strummed by the urge to push. But it wasn’t time to push. Her water hadn’t even broken, and the contractions were still too far apart, and she couldn’t possibly give birth here -- alone. Fear mixed with her pain, and it caused such a frenzy to throb through her heart that her poor child felt the effects of it. He kicked and pushed, he struggled to regulate his own heartbeat when his mother’s blood pressure was beginning to rise.

 

“Calm down, calm down…” she said to herself, and to the babe. “Calm down…” she breathed through a hair’s width opening along her trembling lips. “Calm down…” she prayed to a God that had never and would never exist in this world. Still, it did help -- she did calm down somewhat.

 

Exhausted from the ordeal, she glanced at the door once more as the pain and pressure receded. Because the possibility of escape was greatly diminishing, she had to think about something else. Roen was here, and she wasn’t certain what to feel about that initially. Perhaps, she had felt a touch of relief -- maybe some semblance of solace. This was his child. Surely he was here to help, or at the very least, get her away from these people. Getting away from him was something she could worry about later. But then Raphael appeared -- oh yes -- his unabashed rage struck her as heavily as any strike from his own hand ever had. Something about him, something she felt through that unbreakable tethering, made her realize that the man was broken somehow. It was as if reason and logic were gone from him and all that was left was a storm of all that was violence and anger. It frightened her.

 

What would an unmovable object do when met with an unstoppable force?

 

Catastrophe.

 

“I don’t want to be here,” she said aloud, a pathetic confession to the solid metal walls that enclosed her. There was no one to hear -- no one to feel a smidget of regret for what was about to happen. She was the one who would lose her life, she and her baby. Either man would rather see her dead than with someone else, of this she was certain. And suddenly, when death had once upon a time seemed like an acceptable option, she felt utter terror at the thought now. She wanted to live. She wanted to live and have her baby and see it grow.

 

She had to make a deal. She had to make the deal, before anyone else did. She had to ask them to defend her, to protect her, to turn from kidnappers to knights.

 

“Agony!” she yelled, “Agony -- I want to make a deal!”

 

Is it too late?

 

Heavily she leaned against the a wall, her eyes still fixed on the door. Her small hands gripped her stomach. It hurt so much. She couldn’t think through the pain, but she had to try -- “Agony!” her teeth were chattering as if she were cold, as if she were freezing.

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It had been a night unlike most. He still lived in Antigone and while his reputation left many wary of his presence, yet he continued to do what he thought was necessary...naive youth now so easily seen after everything that had transpired in his life. She had been flagged as a magicker, and was sent to the good doctor for inspection, making sure that she was properly tagged if she did possess any magic at all. The sight of her in the stark hallway of the rundown building that he called home something that stuck in his mind even to this day. Her skin glowing with a warmth that Antigone lacked at it's core...an aura of life rarely seen. He had given her a physical, and did the usual tests to make sure that she didn't possess any otherworldly capabilites, although with the current state of the world...it seemed being just a human or mortal was becoming more of a rarity. Her personality and spirit soon becoming the only magic he ever wanted in his life. It was strange how one instance can alter an otherwise cold view of emotions, and attachment. He he once thought relationships, connections, and solidarity only weakened one' resolve...but in truth he had never felt as weak and isolated as he did alone once again. The night they had met changing the course of his life forever.

These memories would only haunt him in the isolated hours of the night, but with the Queen showing up...it was all he could do to keep her and Lilly out of his head. The experiments and revelations over Imalia proving a worthy distraction for a time, but his thoughts were no longer at ease with the storm in both his head and overhead continued to loom with an imposing force. His conversation with Gabriella causing a great deal of the stress he was suffering from. The crowd of impossible creatures only expediting such mental fissures, agony at his side only spiking his anxiety further.  What was he doing? Why had he...they would...How crazy was he? He didn't know anymore. The maelstrom of thoughts swirling through his skull being kept mostly hidden by the mask of contempt he always wore these days. His eyes as fractures in their interests as they could be, yet to an onlooker it simply looked like disgust, and indifference hardening in his pupils. 

"Eloquently put, storms have been the centers of such poetry for as long as I can imagine; culminating such a ergonomic duality most sentient creatures can relate to in one way or another" He said, his voice the best calm he could put on. His responses stemming from a very real attempt to be accommodating in such a tense situation. The gallivanting words Roen began to weave together only further putting him off. Was this one of them? Had he made a mistake?...was it happening?
"Well the last thing I want to happen is to make a potential guest unhappy." He said "His name is agony" Marigold said. He knew exactly what Roen was doing with such comments...he had done this countless times back in Antigone. The Magicker population practically terrified of him due to the cruel experimentation he conducted. He was no stranger to veiled threats. 

Marigold beginning to follow Agony, leading their guest toward the imperium. The three ten or so feet away from the grid walls. A flat grassy field the only thing between them and the imperium. Marigold' entire for stiffening for a moment as he heard their guest's name. His mask nearly shattering from the thoughts of The Queen's conversation, remembering the visceral experience of such a woman that close....He had never felt closer to lilly since...It made it all clear more than ever.
“I don’t know,” she said at long last, sitting back on her leg, trying to balance her weight as she settled on the floor. “Orisia is a small country. We are wealthy enough, but I couldn’t imagine they would hope to get very much for me. I am well loved by some,” she said tentatively, her eyes cast down as if she were ashamed. “Powerful individuals who I think might try to help me -- they might be convinced to pay a steep price. And yes, while it would be a good thing if my own country could buy me back, I don’t believe that’s who Agony will be offering me to. Raphael is my cousin, the Emperor of the Carmine empire and…” she seemed so very reluctant to continue, but she did, “...and then there’s Roen, the Crimson King of Patia -- we were once close. He might...I don’t know...maybe…”
Roen
"The Crimson King of Patia" Marigold said in curious affirmation, managing to spur himself out of the stasis the identity of this creature had put him in. This was even worse than he could have imagined.Was this her husband? How else was he king of the country she rules? His pace returning to normal as he was only motionless for a few moments before continuing on; The doctor in a state of duress that felt limitless. Roen describing the queen down to her expressions. He would have to be very perceptive, or very close to recognize and catalog such an esoteric feature...either option proved just as foreboding. The storm becoming worse as rained crashed down around them with an uneasy red color. The grid walls hissing loudly as steam rolled off their surface. The liquid sublimating instantly upon contact with the charged walls. Raphael arriving in such a weather only proving the true storm this twisted into. 

Marigold was terrified, angry, and worried...it was all swirling in him like a miasma. Roen's cyrptic words once again a concern. That has to mean he has an army of some sort...He wanted Gabriella like she were a prized possession, and had every intention of 'reclaiming his property'. Such notions of possession and obsession surprising him to the point that he felt very real anger from it. He had spent so many years using subjects as if they were his possessions, and it to this day he still fights with such an atrocious way of looking at relationships and connections, as though they were assets to be used and expanded at will. It was now or never.

Xerxes sat in attention at the center of the room, watching his new master with as much interest as his processing chip would allow. Marigold giving his prized creation to the queen so that he may keep her safe. It was a choice Marigold had to make, there wasn't any other option. He had made it official when he told her exactly what to do when the proverbial shit hit the fan, giving her the fast route out of the facility and a single cardinal direction 
"I want you to head east...alright? I know your pregnancy is reaching it's end but theres no other option. you need to head for tazarek..."
He didn't know if this would work...the success rate had already rached single digits, and that was before Raphael showed up. Marigold didn't recognize him, but could guess his reasons for coming out of the woodwork. The lights over Gabriella's head sudden shutting off, being replaced with a wash of artifical red light. The facility suddenly losing power and being forced to go into auxiliary mode. The door suddenly sliding open, and surprising her with the sound of siren's,and Xerxes immediately bolted out into the red washed halls. Gabriella having no other choice,but to follow. 

There was a slight twitch of Marigold's wrist as he moved it behind his back momentarily. The facility they were moving towards immediately erupting with active, or more precisely lack thereof. The grid walls flickering for several moments before fizzling out completely, bleeding away and revealing the interior of the facility no longer secured. The doctor's eyes going wide as he looked upon the sight "Agony? What did your allies do?" He barked at the aberration, fabricating a lie suitable enough to justify the disturbance before immediately running toward his facility as fast as his gangly lets would allow. The facility itself to wide to see around either side . Gabriella being led out of the facility by Xerxes who picked up speed at the sight of the treeline, both of them sprinting through the open field to get to the cover of the trees. Marigold feeling adrenaline stab into his chest and crackle throughout his bloodstream as he realized that there was a very good possible he was going to die. They likely already seeing through his ruse and seeing his death as an inevitability, shaking his head as he picked up the pace as best as he can. He didn't need to think like that...he had to do this. He had failed her once, he won't fail her again. 



 

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The rain that battered Obtenebra outlined Agony’s form, creating a temporary outline of his shape given the bright lights that adorned the Imperium’s outer shell. He stood there, motionless and acting as if he were nothing more than a sentinel for the weak doctor whose brittle shell was crumbling before him. Obtenebra rippled with unease, the constant paranoia once again contributing to Agony’s shifting shapes. It was growing restless, sensing what Helianstranos was provoking while also being ravaged by sensations that made it believe it needed to prepare itself. The sentient liquid that clung to Agony’s very existence would protect what it had saved so very long ago to the bitter end.

 

Roen’s words concerning introductions and his adherence to such formalities did not surprise Agony, though the offense the blob might have inadvertently committed was meaningless to him. Nevertheless, Agony listened to each word uttered by the devil with mild interest. Interest that soon diverted as the presence of the Great Devourer jutted through the depths of Agony’s mind, clinging viciously to him. The oppressive sensation only caused Obtenebra to undulate even more as it revisited memories of the garden where Malice saw fit to inject an infinitesimal portion of himself within it. The ooze naturally rejected the warlord’s emergence initially but Agony would not stain the agreement they made then. Whatever Malice intended to garner from this event was none of Agony’s concern. It was Malice’s presence, however, that began to sow a seed within him that began to encourage an idea that long festered within Agony and may bear fruit this very night.

 

The cacophony of sounds from Helianstranos and the souls it began to amass encroached on this territory that Marigold was supposed to have dominion in. He witnessed Roen already asserting himself with a confidence that suggested the threats he delivered would cause knee to buckle. Agony’s belief was that the doctor would crumble under the weight of adversity, becoming nothing more than a fruitless branch that needed to be snipped away and burned. No matter how much Marigold wished to hide the burden of his emotions, Agony could sense something amiss much like what had catalyzed his interest in Gabriela before. As Marigold took it upon himself to utter his name to Roen in introduction, Agony shifted to move toward the Imperium only to suddenly stop once the din of alarms added to the chaotic volume around them. The building that Marigold had the aptitude to manage now stood before them all in disarray.

 

“Agony? What did your allies do?”

 

The ploy Marigold attempted to present produced no visible response from Agony but the unnatural became quickly annoyed at how quickly the doctor sought to blame him or his allies. This tested Agony’s restraint as what the doctor implied was far more offensive than missed introductions or veiled threats. He would not be blamed for someone else’s ineptitude. Agony, despite all of the conflict he had created with Lunara and Rodan, truly believed they were not the cause of whatever tripped Marigold’s defenses. He swiftly analyzed this predicament, Obtenebra’s paranoia creating a bias in all of the possible reasons for this situation that had one defining baseline. This was no coincidence. Agony sought to mitigate the effect of this turn of events now, unwilling to simply allow control to anyone but himself. Marigold was now deemed ill-equipped to continue this dialogue.

 

Two large appendages would slowly begin to form along Agony’s sides, lustrous black starting to morph into a semblance of a wing on each side. The slits he used to speak increased in size, particularly along the center of the large mass as if his form was being cleaved in two. There was no longer any time to dance around truths or avoid taking ownership now.

 

“This is your failure. My allies know better than to endanger what we worked so hard to obtain. They have gone through great lengths to help the Orisian queen at my request when she could not help herself and were hopeful that the Crimson King, whose city we call home, would appreciate their efforts. It was a mistake bringing her anywhere other than the haven that is Patia."

 

Agony’s intonation would not give way to any attempt to fool Roen for there was no reason to lie. This reasoning that he posed to Roen had been formulated ever since Lunara decided to shed blood on his behalf. Roen’s affections for Gabriela were no secret to those who have lived in Patia even briefly. As selfish as Agony’s motivation to accomplish this feat was, he could not deny the political capital he could obtain should he be able to gift his acquisition to Roen or anyone else who coveted Gabriela’s presence. This could have been avoided had he not had such a stubborn charge. He had offered Gabriela an opportunity to be the originator of her own freedom yet she seemed ready to squander it. Now it was time to explore other options. Agony precariously attempted to maneuver himself into a more favorable position than Marigold tried to place him in now by carefully choosing his next words directly toward Roen all while moving toward the Imperium entrance.

 

“I deemed it necessary to provide you with plausible deniability should our endeavor had failed. We risked certain death to bring her here to help her escape what oppressed her. Blame should be solely placed on me for keeping you in the dark for so long.”

 

Assuming he was not interrupted or challenged by Roen, he would dare continue, harmony present within his tones as if that would help placate.

 

“I made the mistake of believing that a human would be able to accommodate someone of such worth without incident. The recompense for this failure is mine to bear. Allow me to correct this wrong….”

 

Agony knew nothing about Marigold’s plan with Gabriela nor what was occurring with Xerxes yet though suspicions were flaring. Obtenebra readied itself to act, open to whatever the continuing storm yearned to bring.

 

-In the forest clearing miles away from the Anima Imperium just before the sirens-

 

Xavier noticed Rafael rather quickly in the clearing, ending his whistling before finding himself yelling at the vampyre. “Hey….you! Are you here to deliver a message? If so, you are going the wrong way. It is over here.” A bulky hand motioned to the tree behind him as he began to walk toward Rafael. Having never studied or even heard of Genesarian politics, he was clearly incognizant of who he was speaking with. Once the orc managed to reach the middle portion of the clearing the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance which caused him to snap his head in the exact direction he knew the Imperium was located. “Well I am glad I am not over there right now.” Sighing a bit he was hopeful that Rafael was the messenger he was told to wait for. Perhaps then he can just wander about to avoid more work for the remainder of the day.

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