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LastLight

A levee to stop the flow

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"The rate in which this infection is spreading suggests that it was specifically arcane engineered for a high death and spread rate. Low level purification measures are only effective as deterrents. Therefore, standing orders are to purge areas of extreme necromantic influence by whatever means necessary. All consumed organic material is to be viewed as dry grass in the path of wildfire. Evacuate living citizens and prioritize them above all else." 

A Terran elementalist by the name of Roque snapped his head to the side in search of his CO, lips flaring to reveal teeth mashed together and an expression of half buried shock on his dark skinned face. In hearing those orders, he could feel a mountain of responsibility establishing itself square over his shoulders by virtue of his role in the military. His swift intellect often endowed him with a damnable understanding of cause and effect and right now, he could see the next sequence of events clear as day. 

The squad leader returned his glance at about the same moment that Roque turned, all but confirming that what he was anticipating was on the money. He didn't even need to hear it. The sound of the world could have been dialed to zero at that very moment and he would have appeared like a master lip reader in how he so accurately interpreted the orders he was given. Zera's dark purple lips, a common trait of the Drow people, uttered the words without enthusiasm or hesitation. 

"Burn it, Roq." 

They stood before a scene of suffering so stark that it was unimaginable only because in climbing into the minds of the victims and attempting to understand the degree of pain and dread they experienced, good men and women only succeeded in tempting madness. The neighborhood had been devoured by a mass of necrotized organic material. It was like a carpet of flesh and bone draped across the landscape, occasionally dotted with a half devoured corpse that still groaned in pain and cried for loved ones. 

"Roq. Burn it. It's going to rain soon and your flames wont be as effective." 

A flash of lightning cut across the sky followed shortly by the first thunderous reverberation echoing through the city. One of the corpses that had previously been dormant was awakened by the snap, unceremoniously yanked back into this living nightmare. It was a woman. Her features were so thoroughly devoured that it was difficult to guess an age range. Two things identified her as a member of the fairer sex; one being her feminine voice and the other a single breast fat with milk for her unborn child, which lay in rest about ten feet away from her now, having spilled from her belly before being carried away by the creeping mass like it was in a river of mud. In her delirium, all she remembered was her responsibilities as a mother and reached for her child, trying desperately to crawl to it and failing to move an inch. She went where the creep went and there was nothing she could do. 

"Corpo--" 

Roaring flames emanated from his person and shot forth, washing over the area the same way a tidal wave might overtake a coast. In an instant, the stench of burned bodies and the shrieks of living beings consumed by the purging wave of searing light assaulted the spirit. Roq's eyes flared open, screaming out in a mix of condemnation and resignation. Whenever the screams weakened his resolve, he strengthened the flames, gave them more life and made them blow like flaming hurricanes. 

The others watched as he screamed and waved his hands, guiding the flames in such a way as to minimize suffering as best he could. When it was over, his arms hung at his sides as if they had been conducting a morbid orchestra for days without rest. His chest grew and shrunk slowly, the glow of his flames reflecting from his body. Then he looked up at the dark clouds hanging over the city. He knew it'd get worse. When the showers came, the torrents would carry the disease over greater distances. Dedicated as Roq was to his role, a small realistic piece inside of him knew they would fail. 


Panic had overtaken the city. Masses of people scrambled for safety, fueled by memories of the horrors that had devoured towns and even cities in recent days. News of Ashville being reduced to ruins was fresh in their minds and remained palpable enough that the victory in Last Chance conferred little hope. It was hard not to see their success as good fortune in the face of this string of deadly events all across the country, especially when so many of the defense efforts had ended in failure.

Among them walked a man clad in obsidian robes that covered him from the neck down. Though the motions of his legs were hardly noticeable beneath the earthen fabrics he wore, the way he moved was strong and purposeful. It was like he was surrounded by an aura that guided everyone and everything out of his path. Even as the citizens of Casper crawled like ants all around him, he somehow managed a straight path towards his destination. He only stopped when an individual of particularly strong will stepped before him and held up his hands. He was a Gaian Priest, expression full of concern and someone who recognized the Cardinal's semblance within the sea of terrified faces. 

"Cardinal, cardinal! What is the status of our city? Will all be well?" 

Zeph stopped and responded effortlessly, needing not a single moment to think through his response, "No. All will not be well. However I assure you, son of Gaia, that life will continue." Placing a hand on the priest's shoulder, he peered deep into his eyes and guided him out of his path before continuing onward. 

He arrived at Valvale Garden, one of the few locations of interest in the whole town of Casper that had gone unperturbed for so many years. Perhaps there had simply been nobody wretched enough to target a zone that the people of this city had turned into a symbol of companionship. Whatever the reason, it stood there, this whole time awaiting the return of the man who had breathed life into it. 

At the end of his journey, he placed himself at the very center of the garden, which had been intentionally left uninhabited by the artificial flora that thrived in this place. Giant blue plants resembling orchids and purple bell flowers with hazy mists of golden light encircling them surrounded him. 

Zeph took a deep breath, thoughts of the state of the world swirling in his mind. Unlike those that ran in fear, he was one of the few that did indeed find hope in the accomplishments of the soldiers that defended the coast of Last Chance even if, like the rest of the world, he identified that death was more rampant than it had been in a long time. The military had failed the people in many places in many instances. 

But soldiers weren't the ones who always won, only the ones who always fought. 
 

@Ataraxy @Piperpie @danzilla3

Edited by LastLight

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Hawk

The F.I.S.T. mainstay in Casper smelled of something old, something stale, and many things dead. Everything had been fine prior to lunchtime. The calm before the storm? Perhaps even the calm before the calamity. Upon the exact moment that the city clock struck the new hour Casper had erupted into a cluster of chaos. It was as if Gaia herself had set it panic to ensue at exactly that moment, on the dot. 

Detective Alexander Hawk swallowed the urge to vomit as he ran his eyes along the many diseased and deceased. He'd received an emergency summons from F.I.S.T. superior but was given limited information, due to reasons along the lines of It's better if you see it for yourself. Many disasters and horrors had been tossed his way but a plague was a first. At least a plague this bad and wide spread. Thousands of people was the official body count by the time he arrived. The healers were understaffed, overworked, and terrified of being infected themselves by the mysterious black gunk invading people's bodies. The sight of the virus coming to fruition was abhorrent, even to those of the most trained will power. Upon the final phase the virus burst out of every pore in its victim, spraying everything around it like a sickening geyser. 

Hundreds of the diseased were being treated in the make-shift tent hospital Hawk had been temporarily put in-charge of as the ranking officer. Though he had no skill in healing, surgery, or really any sort of hands on medical experience, the detective did what he could by shouting commands and organizing movement in a desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of order. He collected what information he could, recording the anything that may prove even the smallest bit valuable about the virus. But there wasn't much available to him and it wasn't as if he had time to run tests. As an intelligence agent, commanding a healing post was especially out of his field. But he could only keep his chin up, eyes sharp, mind active, and make decisions as he saw fit. Whether those choices were right or wrong... well, he'd find out after assuming the virus didn't spread to him. Hopefully his tech suit would hold and his CBC would expunge any trace of the virus from his system. 

Just as the tent hospital found its feet and starting gearing up a consistent rhythm there was an inhuman shriek from the back. Dropping everything he was doing previously, Hawk bolted toward the cry only to find a nurse sobbing over the body of a male healer. Black veins bulged from the healer's body like an angry and overflowing river. The tell tale sign that the virus had finished its gestation period and was about to burst. Steeling himself to what he must do for the countless time that night, Hawk ordered a few of the other healers to pull the nurse away as he slipped his arms under the dying man's legs and neck. 

Once a few dozen feet away from the tent Hawk gently put the man down onto the broken gravel that had been a road only hours earlier. The detective stood and removed his gun from its holster, aimed it at the man, and shot him three times with bullets of fire. The body erupted in flames. Without waiting to see the body's final moments he ran back to the hospital tent and once again began commanding those within, trying his best to shut his heart off from the dying screams of the man outside. Only when the screams finally stopped did a crack finally form in the depth of his soul, joining the cracks from all the others dispatched in similar mannerisms by the detective. He bored that burden so the others wouldn't have to, but one man could only kill so many innocents before he broke down himself.

Another piercing scream broke through his fog of pain and sadness. This one, however, slightly different. One of fear but not of pain. "What's going on?"


Lilith

The port was unusually quiet. Dead, really. There wasn't a single sound to be heard. Whether it be animals, creature, or human, not a single one spoke out in the port that night. Hours before, perhaps, it had been. But there was only one figure standing above the shadows that night. A silent, menacing being who took neither pleasure nor pain from the surrounding death. She may have been the cause but just as quickly as the virus had spread, it had become someone else's issue. What she wanted was on its way. There was no way for her to be certain the artifact was heading toward Casper because of the virus but that didn't matter. Lilith was only interested in the fact she could feel something powerful approaching. 

At first she'd suspected it to the be the second gauntlet but further investigation had squashed that assumption. Her initial guess, that it was in the hands of some child lich, had been proven correct. However, the artifact approaching was of similar strength. Yet different. Closing her eyes and allowing her life energy to reach out its tendrils, Lilith could easily sense the artifact's power but not what that power was. The Terran military truly did not grasp the difference between the earth and the heavens if they believed she could be stopped by a single artifact. By bringing it within her reach they only worked to make her more powerful. If she were to attain a second high ranking artifact then not even multiple Peacekeepers would prove a challenge. 

Stepping onto a nearby ship had allowed Lilith a better view of the ocean. The nearing ship was still not yet visible to her eye even if the tendrils of energy beckoned its approach. A small whimper from behind Lilith alerted her to another's presence. The Commander of Death turned around, the downward motion of her heel crushing the flesh-covered skulls below her. A sickening slurping noise sounded as the giant sword sheathed across Lilith's shoulders glowed momentarily red, absorbing the remaining blood and life energy from the squashed human under her step. 

A young boy squatted in the ship's corner. His small body quivered in unequivocal fear, eyes glued to the body Lilith had just sucked dry. Remorse and guilt would find no home within Lilith but curiosity was something of a relative to the few emotions which inhabited Lilith. "This was your father?" she asked, her words treating the dead body in a similar manner one would a rotting fruit. 

A small nod.

"You understand why he died?" 

The boy's head shook.

"Because he was weak. It's really as simple as that. Evil, good, death, life, it's all a mechanism of reality. If you or he had been stronger then it would have been me laying there." The edges of Lilith's lips turned up, if only slightly. "Unfortunately not all men are wise and most enjoy puffing up their pride." Originally Lilith hadn't planned on killing the entire crew. Their lives hadn't been worth the effort. It was only the ship itself she'd desired for momentary use. The port hadn't given her the preferred vantage point the man's ship easily supplied. His heated rejection and attempted physical removal of her from the ship had been his undoing. And that of many others. 

The reason for the silence of the night wasn't that it was polluted with fear, but that it was littered with the bodies of the dead. Sailor, merchant, passerby, it hadn't mattered. There were two things Lilith didn't stand for: disobedience and questions. When her rules were broken everyone around paid the price. 

When the body didn't answer Lilith turned her blood red eyes in his direction. Instead of responding to her question, he'd soiled himself. 

"W-w-why could y-y-ou h-have picked a d-d-different boat?" 

Another question. The small smile she wore instantly vanished and the necromancer dispatched of the boy with a wave of her hand. The body returned to its base elements while its life essence was absorbed by her sword, Deathbringer

A woman's body twitched at the action, reaching out to grab Lilith's ankle. The action surprised Lilith- she hadn't thought there were others still alive on the ship. Granted she hadn't exactly gone out of her way to kill them all, however the difference in power made survival extremely unlikely for the common sailor. 

"Guess you were a passenger family," she surmised, reaching down to bury her hand in the woman's hair. With a weak yang she ripped the head from the body and casually tossed it over the ship's side. "The bond of parents and child truly is something astounding." Her eyes flickered up to the moon, their blood red shine greatly contrasting with the celestial sphere's pure brilliance.

Summoning a handful of magic tendrils, Lilith weaved them through the many heaps of bodies at her disposal. The weaving brought a form of semi-life back into the bodies while mashing their organic material together. Without a word the creeping masses began to saunter off without a care in the world. Pure chaos their only intuition thanks to Zengi's gauntlet. As if appearing from the shadows, her loyal puppet appeared. Lilith had made Venus moments after obtaining the gauntlet. Thousands of ancient souls had been poured into the puppet woman leading to a great increase in overall power and physical characteristics. A killing machine if Lilith had ever seen one.

"Mistress, Peacekeepers have arrived." At that Lilith couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. 

"More than one?"

"Yes m'am."

"Well isn't that a nice surprise."

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When she was a little girl, two scientists came to Sharon’s home in the rural town of Lancashire. The young girl had not known then that there was anyone as interested in the insects of the wood and earth as only young children were, and that in the cities they even had a name for these eccentric, childish few: entomologists. They lingered for a week only, then left to go back to the storied Casper on the horizon. To a child, a week was a long time, and as Sharon followed them, they practiced every cruelty devised by the boys of the village and more still. But unlike little boys, they were adults, and everything they touched became bigger for it; their cruelties were then immense, almost beyond comprehension, and they filled her with both horror and awe. They pulled the wings off butterflies and jammed pins through them, twitching, into drawers of paper. They froze wasps in ice, and cooked caterpillars in fire. It was the business with the anthill, however, that remained with her for a long time coming.

Little boys knew buckets of water and pebbles in their grubby hands — these were the restrictions of children. The scientists had buckets that were behemoth, that could well forge worlds; flames danced along their sides and into these buckets they threw rods of pure metal which were obliterated into liquid. Prepared with these, they searched for the largest anthill they could find. Into the wide, round mouth of the anthill they poured the metal, a slow drooping stream that was nonetheless swallowed whole by the earth, until all the liquid was gone and there was only a fine mist of steam rising from the earth. Then they waited. Hours later, they set upon the earth with shovels.

They called it a great work, a perfect cast of the interior of an anthill, but Sharon saw instead the metal which was once open space, air in which ants breathed and walked. She saw the twisted, half-molten carapaces emerging from the surface of the aluminum like bristly growths, deformed and stretched out when they were obliterated to ant-liquid and rehardened with metal in their innards. Some where swallowed so that only their legs stuck out, while others were coalesced in sleeping-balls and formed bulbous, sharp congealed masses. All were silvery with the touch of metal. An entire city was fossilized like this, frozen, consumed.

It was this memory which was called up as surely as smoke as she looked out the window of the Stately Hero Tavern. She wished she could say that because she learned sympathy and empathy in the years toward adulthood, she could now imagine the experience of those ants: the inevitable, choking metal-fume terror of watching a wall of melt bear down upon you, the hot smell of burning corpses and rushing wind, watching bodies get carried away in a hardening tide, intestines boiling.

She wished, but it was neither of those things that formed the image so clearly. The cruelty of that day, too, was recalled through the sheer windowpane.

“W-waitress!” She turned away from the window, towards a feeble hand held up among a pale bunch of quiet men and women. “How about a l-last drink?”

The tavern should have been vacant, but to the last there were a few huddles who had taken shelter in the embrace of alcohol. Beneath a sagging roof, windows and doors cast open to the fetid air blowing off the diseased sea in a dying city — there were worse ways to die, most of those taking place little more than a rapidly closing mile away, in distance. The plague had already burrowed into everybody’s minds, immediate and close. The radio in the corner had been tuned to music, after the screams of the radio reporters became too much to bear.

Sharon worked her way through the taps and grabbed a few bottles off the shelf. “Drinking, at an hour like this?”

“It’s for hours like these that drink was made.”

“You’d be better served getting the hell outta dodge.” She started handing out the glasses. “The military’s just getting set up now, and just you wait till you’re trapped in here with a melting face.”

“Better served? I’m better served beers by a lovely girlie.” He tried to smile, looked ill, and went back to swallowing liquor. He touched the red-cross patch on his shoulder, almost invisible in the dim light. Each of the circle had one attached somewhere on their clothing. “No, doctors can’t leave. Once the military gets here, we’re gonna be called to action, I know it. Militia and police, too. And that’s just right and proper. Just, even.”

“If you ask me, the military ought to be doing the grunt work.”

“No. That’s their jobs, but this is our home. If Casper is to be saved, then it’s Casper that’ll save itself.”

“Who’s doing the saving right now then?”

“You are.” He smiled for real this time, a sickly thin crescent beneath wide, fearful eyes. “You’re doing God’s work here, girlie.”

She set the last bottle down before him gingerly, shaking her head. “We’ll see.”

“You haven’t left, have you?”

“Don’t try me.” But she said nothing further, and looked out the window again. These people had a disease in them, too, but it was a holier one than the other. She supposed she must have had the same disease.

The long-awaited blip of the communicator in her pocket halted her breath. She went out to the kitchen, folded her apron neatly, and placed it in the cupboard it called home. She exchanged it for a thin black jacket that was nonetheless completely opaque and glossy, leather-like, and pulling this tight around her she rushed breathlessly out the back door of the tavern, into the alleyway then out onto the street, running towards the centre of the city. Through deserted streets she ran, through discarded trash and tissues and past fearful looming windows she ran. Her lips pressed together as she went, grim satisfaction coming across her face as the sun sank lower in the west and the fires rose higher in the east as if exchanging vocations.

“If Casper is to be saved, then it’s Casper that’ll save itself,” the dogma had been the only firm thing in the man’s posture. Such dogmas had been echoed before and all that had been lost were good ships and better captains.

But that was what it meant to save in the Port City of Casper, and by this Casper would be saved. Not by hope, but by bitter refusal of the alternative.


A woman arrived shortly at Valvale, just one face among many seeking shelter. The crowd neither parted nor pressed around her; like the ebb and flow of a blood vessel, it eventually forced her into the garden, and once inside she did not need to rush. Tranquility was in every mote of soil, harmony in each stem. Inside the garden time came to a halt, and evil could not progress. The people felt this in the deeps of their hearts, and laid down to cry at last as those who find sanctuary in hell. But good feelings alone did not heal, and believing things did not make them so no matter how hard one believed.

“That’s what God’s for. Right?” By the center of the garden, there was only two. Saron Swain ambled into the clearing with a greeting on her lips. “It’s good to see you here, Cardinal. I was fixing to have some miracles worked. World needs more of those nowadays, don’tcha think?”

There had been prayers enough. Prayers dying in the mouths of the killed. Prayers on each bullet fired, each globule of fat that exploded under the withering, purging heat that was the mark of the good guys. The whole of Casper was encased in mist, and in the thickness of the haze one could almost feel the imprint of the pleading. The orisons were all there, suspended; the prayers had been made. Now it came time to see them carried out.

“But you tell me. Are my prayers to be answered, or are we going to have to work our hard-laid plans into fruition ourselves?”

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"Do you fear death?"

Ankou had knelt down to look in the eyes of the black-veined man who lay slumped against the wall of a small boathouse in the harbor. Among all the death that had been wrought, he had been able to sense the poor wretch's life force, even as dwindling as it was. The mans breathing was heavy, and he looked up at the necromancer with fear and defiance in his eyes. His mouth worked as he tried to answer the question, but all that came out was choked gasps, accompanied by the occasional spray of black fluid. Ankou had to admire the mans spirit, futile though it was. It was the reason why he had decided to speak to him in the first place.

"Just nod, or shake your head. Are you afraid of death?"

The mans eyes narrowed, but he gave a slight nod of his head.

"Why? Do you fear that you will be alone, doomed to wander afraid in the dark for all eternity?"

As the mans eyes widened and brimmed with tears, Ankou knew that his guess had been right on the money. He reached out a hand and placed it on the mans shoulder, a strange, yet comforting gesture.

"You will not be alone. There are more souls in the afterlife than in the entirety of this world. When you leave this world, you will be united with all those who came before you, and you will never feel fear or pain again. Do not fear death. Embrace it."

Tears streamed down the mans face, but his face quirked up slightly in a sort of smile. He was ready. Ankou let his aura flow through his hand and into the mans body, the affect instantaneous as the man suddenly became still, and the light faded from his eyes. Standing up, he adjusted his tie and began to walk back toward the boat where he had left Lilith. He arrived in time to hear her servant relay its message.

"Peacekeepers. This could prove... problematic."

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EEEEeuch. Gross. Nasty. Squelching and squishing. Gore was everywhere. The streets were covered with it. Exploded bodies sprinkled gravel and dirt. Intestines splattered walls and rotted flesh blanketed the city like fresh morning dew. The black death engorged itself with bloated bodies of men and creature alike. The sounds of bodies imploding on themselves occurred every few moments, and a fresh wave of black rained down from shooting out of the body like the breaking of a storm after a pop of lightning. Ziva was sick of it. She was covered in it. The gore was unavoidable. It coated her thick fur and wriggled up between her toes. She had no idea the disease was going to look like this. Or be this- torturous. She couldn't help but take pity on the dying. She would not wish this sort of death on her worst enemy. It was horrid, painful, the definition of agony. It was all Lilith's making. Ziva had blindly followed, not thinking of any consequences. 

The decision haunted her like the smell of death clung to her pelt even after she had left the city. Ziva watched from the forest, keeping her distance. She watched death erupt and chaos ensue from this poor, poor village. Lilith, not satisfied with her initial results, had continued on her killing spree, heading towards the harbor. That was when Ziva decided to split. Lilith was hopefully too engaged in her blood lust to notice a member of her coven quietly slip away. The marks on Ziva's forearms burned like the curse that it was. She was bound. Forever. With no chance of escape. Or so she had previously thought. 

There was still a sliver of hope that she may one day be free from Lilith's control. The other artifact. Ziva prayed to the gods that this artifact would free her from her current damnation. She had heard from Lilith and Ankou that someone already had possession of it. So Ziva left to go find that someone. 

Her search took her to a Valvale garden, a place seemingly untouched by the curse swarming the population. Ziva, still in wolf form, crept through the foliage, keeping her distance from the center of the garden. She did not want to poison this haven with her cursed presence. She settled into the shadows, watching. Soon after a woman entered, greeting the man who was already there in a casual manner. Plans? What exactly are they planning? Do they already have the artifact that Lilith is looking for? The thought made her fur stand on end. She shivered in excitement. Unfortunately, the shiver caused a few plants concealing her to move ever so slightly. Ziva froze, her golden eyes staring at them through the brush. Would they notice? 

 

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Once Zeph was in the gardens, he felt what the citizens felt. It was an easing sensation of comfort and relief that effortlessly delivered even the most fargone individuals from silent dread or outright panic. But instead of breathing it all in, allowing it to soak through his whole spirit, he was duty bound to resist. In times like these, those sensations didn't belong in a state of bloom within those who were tasked or had willingly taken it upon themselves to defend the innocent. 

Those watching from the outside might identify it as irony that he had spent so many years cultivating this garden, feeding it his life's essence every single day to reach a moment in time when he couldn't partake of its fruits. For men like him, however, with complicated convictions and twisting perspectives abound, the truth was rarely a simple thing to recognize. Zeph conferred those sentiments of comfort and peace from doing his work, from protecting the weak and from serving as one of the many pillars that supported the Gaian faith and the society that prospered under the protection of its influence. 

As he stood there, he remembered old conflicts. Remembered how gardens like these happened within days or hours so that terrified citizens might return from madness and reshape themselves into beings of greater courage. That was when he still walked among the Saint King. What he could do with a garden in less than a day Animus now knew he could do in decades. 

But he could do it. And he knew of none others who could. 

Sharon's voice pierced through the veil formed by the muted murmurs of the rest of the community who had taken shelter here. Unlike the others, she retained a firm grip of her own will and clearly still possessed the faculties to act. It nudged Animus from his statuesque posture, causing him to turn his head so that a pair of studious and sharp eyes could glance her over. Both lips pressed together in response to her questions but whether or not he disapproved or approved of them, his eyes closed gently and offered a soft nod of acknowledgment, the kind he would only ever bestow upon another who was willing to bleed and die for the people. 

"Gods are for giving strength, whether martial, emotional, spiritual or other. We've been given the first of these strengths at the very least, of that much I have no doubt." 

Explaining the folly of Sharon's prayers was an endeavor far too intricate to delve into, involving several philosophies coming together to form one cohesive understanding. To give it words would have been to guide Sharon along a vast labyrinth of pious sentiments that, when spoken plainly and directly, come far too close to sounding like blind belief. Animus didn't believe in gods before. He believed in his hands that could crush a bull's skull but when that stopped being enough, when the bodies he left in his wake blackened with rot, came to life and fused together to form undying monstrosities, he found he needed another strength. Gaia gave it to him. It'd be gluttonous and cowardly to pray for her to bring an end to it all herself when she had given him the strength to end it himself. Explaining that would fall flat, especially on youthful ears. 

That and Sharon was just being lighthearted. Going off on a pious rant would have made a fool of him. 

"Together, we can succeed. No need to involve the Mother, is there?" 

There was another nearby. Like Sharon, its presence among the subverted citizens around them differentiated itself. Turning his attention towards it, the leaves and grass that provided it with cover from view swayed open, receding so that Ziva would suddenly find herself in an entirely open space, with likely two pairs of eyes scrutinizing her. 
 

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The relative understanding of the situation fell apart in a matter of seconds. What Hawk and the others had worked hours on end to stabilize was instantly shattered with the appearance of undead creatures taking to the streets of Casper. As if it were the plague's intent, the beasts were also beyond the scope of Hawk's knowledge. The creatures had no exact shape and barely had a physical body, simply creeping forward with their semi-liquid mass. Everything they touched rotted and died before being added to their monstrosity of a body. Hawk could only assume that the blobs of organic flesh were the manifestation of necromancy at its peak. No other magic could be as outright horrendous as that before his very eyes. 

"What are you waiting for?" he shouted to the man trembling to his right. "Gather up the wounded and the sick. We need to move! Now!" Reaching out with one hand he shoved the stagnating healer before using his other to shoot of a couple rounds toward the oncoming necromantic beasts. There was a momentary explosion of fire but it was only a matter of time before the creatures slunk out of the smoke, seemingly undamaged. 

"W-w-w-what are those?"

"The enemy," Hawk hissed at a nurse frozen in place while picking up a wounded child who'd collapsed into tears. Once others had begun to find themselves, Hawk continued, this time in a much louder voice. "Head for Valvale garden! The protective barrier won't allow the beasts in." At the idea of a safe zone, one given life by a Peacekeeper, an increasing amount of stragglers found their feet and their voices. Originally Hawk had meant to avoid bringing people to the Garden. It couldn't do much for those already infected and he didn't want to risk having it spread to those already in the Garden, but he couldn't handle the necromantic creatures with only the few combatants in the camp. They'd prepared for a disease, not an undead invasion. 

Turning his attention to the supercomputer powered artificial intelligence located within a cerebral integrated nanochip Hawk sent out an SOS to any military officials in the immediate area.

Send out an SOS. Attach moving coordinates and a quick overview.

Yes Detective. Message... delivered. Anything else I can do for you today? 

Can the tech suit do anything to those things?

It's possible that a pulse of raw magic might interfere with the Necromancer's control over them, but it will not have an effect on the physical bodies.

ShitStart the process for a barrier. All power should be redirected to allow for maximum radius and longevity.

Understood Detective. 

If any of the blobs got too close, he'd activate his suit's barrier. Hopefully it would be enough to allow the straggler some distance.


RyksGah.jpgThe necromancer barely bothered to wave away Ankou's concerns. She only did so as she assumed saying nothing would encourage him to continue on the subject. "It is a minor inconvenience, nothing more. Don't let it cloud your mind."

There was a moment of curiosity as to where Ziva was but the loyalty brand on the wolf wouldn't let her wonder to far away without alerting Lilith, so she ignored it. The wolf was conflicted, her pride and ego at war with what Lilith knew to be her real desires. Ziva would only be truly useful to Lilith once she came to terms with her primal side. Every being came to terms with themselves in different manners, so it seemed only right to allow the wolf to do so in her own way.

For the moment.

And then the warning traces of energy signaling the approach of an artifact vanished, almost as if into thin air. The bridge between Lilith's eyes scrunched up in distaste at the Terran government's trickery. It figures the cowards would attempt at disguising their incoming artifact. None of them had the ability to stand before her on their own. Or even together.

"Venus," she growled, casting a dark look toward her slave. "Go. Find. That. Artifact." The newly risen soldier bowed and immediately took off without another word. The anger of her mistress was palpable, making the atmosphere dense and heavy. As she walked off the ship, the aura around her was thick with perverse necromantic energy. Any and all deceased were forced back from their rest, Lilith's anger dragging them from the depths of hell, the pleasure of heaven, the unending pain of limbo, the feast of Valhalla, the embrace of Gaia, or anywhere in-between. Corpse after corpse rose in her shadow, many of them recently killed by her or the plague. Black lines etched their visage from their time as the living. Ecstatic groans echoing around her as she flooded their newly risen bodies with large quantities of power. 

"FIND ME THAT ARTIFACT!" The command ripped from her lips like a bolt of lightning, striking the corrupted hearts of the undead. Her red eyes flowing a bright red as Zengi's Gauntlet absorbed and dished out necromantic energies. The newly risen could only obey as fear poisoned their minds and controlled their actions. The living part of them was trapped in the deepest corners, overcome by Lilith's incorrigible persona. They were puppets, fodder to be used by the Unsung Horror. There was nothing they could do but obey and die at her pleasure. 

Edited by Ataraxy

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Saron’s mother and father had been, and perhaps were still, devout Gaianists. Devout, derived from devoted, and it was true: the rites had always been carefully acknowledged, the worship properly conducted — if not in body, then at least in mind. Saron’s parents had always been fearful, and thankful for this fear. It drove them more closely into the bosom of Gaia, which they thought was right and proper. Her embrace was a better place than any in the world. It made them feel, perhaps, supremely taken care of. The whisperer in the leaves, the assurance of life, a ward against misfortune, and the means by which their souls necessarily would be saved — Gaia was all of these things. It was this Gaia that appeared in the spirit to answer prayers made in the spirit, and this Gaia that cradled Saron’s misfortunes through her innocent years.

But she had known too since becoming Peacekeeper that the converse was true: there needs be those who are supremely taking care of. Those that Gaia does not intervene with because they were her interference in some grander, spiritual sense. It was this Gaia that the Cardinal reminded her of in his statement of fact. Zeph was, in many more ways than merely the practical, correct. There was no need of preaching, nor of prayer — not from them. Action was the catalyst of change in the real world.

And it was in action that Saron and Zeph were most capable.

They both knew that they were enjoying platitudes while they could. The protocols were clear, and the passing of crisis inevitable. It came now to the matter of mere execution.

"Gods are for giving strength, whether martial, emotional, spiritual or other. We've been given the first of these strengths at the very least, of that much I have no doubt."

“And one hopes,” she said, “that we are possessed of the others, one way or another.”

Even in the heart of the garden, one could feel the reverberations in planes other than material: the wearing away of the city as it skidded further and further into grasping black tomorrows. The foundations were falling away piece by piece swallowed up by the creeping swamp that seeped underfoot. Casper was being eaten by rot long before its time. A child dying of gangrene, and knowing nothing of why. The echoes in the ground were from fear. Here they were, calmly watching all of this necrosis from the last untouched corner of the heart — and all the courage in the city mustering itself around them.

“Else neither of us should be standing here now, in the roles that this city needs most.”

However little or however much courage they had at their disposal, did not matter. It would be made to be enough.

Such miracles are commonplace where Peacekeepers made their visitations.

They were not expected to fail.

Saron turned her head at once with Zeph, or a split second afterwards; Valvale being wholly an extension of his presence, he must have known far before she had picked up on the traces. Still, they shut up quickly, having detected the presence of the outsider. The path of the eye leaves marks, and the burning stare given them now — burning with fear, nervousness, excitement, anticipation — was all too flashy against the demure backdrop of the flowers.

Ziva was bared to the world, and in Valvale the world was a circle of sky illuminated through a small gap in the trees, two Peacekeepers, and nowhere else to run. Saron was the first to scrutinize more closely the sole occupant of the gallery. Her eyes were arched, her hands swinging loosely by her sides. Ziva might feel that she had nothing to fear from this peculiar woman in waitress garb. It would be true, in one sense.

Saron’s face was inquisitive in its cant.

“And so too does one wonder,” she drawled to Zeph without turning, “by whom is the third role occupied here, and to what end?”

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Lilith may have tried to play off the arrival of the Peacekeepers as only a minor inconvenience; he could easily tell that the news agitated her. It was certainly possible that the young woman actually thought that they would pose no serious threat, but this was foolish. The woman was very powerful, but in many respects she was her own worst enemy. Her arrogance was often staggering, and she often seemed to make a habit out of underestimating threats. On the night they had met, before she had acquired the gauntlet, she had demanded his loyalty and threatened him should he fail to comply. If he had chosen to, he could have killed her there and then, but she had interested him enough to want to see what she would do with the Gauntlets power. 

While the news of the Peacekeepers may have only inspired annoyance in Lilith, the disappearance of the artifact from their senses almost drove her into a rage. As she called out to the cities dead to command them to search, it seemed that the incoming threat was all but forgotten. That quick temper was another flaw of her's. Ankou wished he could teach her the same lessons about patience that he had struggled to learn so long ago, but knew it would be no use. Instead, he would do as was his wont, and aid her aims in a way that she would find acceptable. He let out a high pitched whistle, and seconds later hoof beats could be heard coming toward them. Suddenly a skeletal horse rounded the corner, it's eyes glowing a deep red.

Ankou mounted the horse and looked to Lilith, "I will try to distract them. Perhaps I can at least draw the attention of one of them."

The Lich spurred his mount forward, and the beast accelerated to a speed far beyond what any mortal animal would be capable of. The immediate area was mostly deserted, with all those not dead having fled for their lives. He had to ride for a few miles before he came upon what looked like a check point, A group of soldiers had cordoned off a street, and were fighting off any undead who approached. In the distance he could hear other soldiers shouting orders at civilians to keep moving. This seemed like the perfect spot.

About twenty feet away, he brought his mount to a halt, and began to walk toward the check point. As he got close, the soldiers pointed their weapons at him, not quite sure what to make of him just yet. One of the men who looked to be in charge called out to him.

"Halt! Who are you?"

"Ankou Lethe, though I doubt that name means anything to you."

A shot rang out as one of the soldiers went pale and dropped his gun, as he tried to back away. In his haste, he tripped and fell to the ground, but he kept trying to scurry away from the necromancer."

"T-t-the Reaper in the Dark!"

A small smile graced the Lich's face, "Well now. It seems the old legends haven't been completely forgotten."

The soldiers turned their gaze away from their terrified comrade with the intent to fire their weapons, but at that moment, the Lich let loose a pulse of necromantic energy that killed all but the young man who had recognized him. He moved to stand over him, and the redheaded boy closed his eyes tight; not wanting to see what was coming. 

"Do you know where the Peacekeepers are?"

The young man looked up at him confused, "Y...yes?"

"Good. Go to them, and tell them where I am."

For a moment the boy seemed frozen in place; but then Ankou snapped his fingers and the bodies of his former friends rose from the ground, the light gone from their eyes. As one, they all turned their heads toward the living solder."

"Now."

The young man nodded and then took off in a sprint. Ankou decided he would give the other soldiers ahead a one minute head start before he came for them. If this didn't get the Peacekeepers attention, he didn't know what would.

 

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Well shit. So much for being the master of stealth. In one instant Ziva was completely out in the open, the leaves and underbrush shivering and reaching to get as far away from her as possible. Stunned, she blinked, her body in an internal war for fight or flight. Unable to speak to strangers in her wolf form, she was stuck. She would have to go through the change right in front of them. She knew these two people were not ones to simply let her slink away, back to the shadows. This wasn't going according to her plan at all. She wanted to take a day or two to observe them, learn who they were before exposing herself. There was no way to know now if they would turn on her and kill her the moment they knew who she was. Who she followed. 

Ziva heaved a sigh, blinking slowly before stretching from her crouch. She went to a standing position, balancing on her hind legs while her front limbs dangled forward uselessly. The change began with the points of her features. Her toes stretched, shrunk, and lengthened into normal human fingers. Her back ankles traveled down closer to her paws that were now turning into feet. Dark and light brown fur fell like snowfall, sprinkling the area around her. Her bones crackled and reformed, a sound similar to a popping campfire. Her spinal cord shortened and fused, her tail shrunk into her body. Her long snout crumpled in on itself while wolf teeth littered the ground and human ones grew forward in their place. The change was fast, thanks to Lilith's given power, and she was able to manifest clothes onto her body before the change was completely finished. In the end, a tan woman with long black hair stood before them, clothed with a simple cream tunic and tan trousers, all covered with a dark brown cloak similar to the color of her fur. Ziva picked up her bare feet to step over the pile of fur and teeth, and bowed before the two.

"I apologize for the shifty behavior, my only intention was self preservation." She spoke, coming up from her deep bow. She looked at both with the same intense golden eyes that had looked to them in wolf form as well. "In truth, I need your help." She paused, gauging their reactions. The woman looked like some sort of waitress, however she spoke of a much higher caliber than a simple tavern woman. The man before her looked like some sort of religious leader based on his stature and clothing. "You see, I am plagued by a woman. Soul bound, or damned as some might say. I need help ridding my self from her." She spoke as she lifted her arms to show the crescent shaped brand marks on each inside of her forearms. "However," She continued, "the woman I am bound to is the one responsible for all of this." She waved toward the sickness beyond the garden, the death and despair that surrounded this small bubble of peace. "She has power beyond any I have ever witnessed before. She is death itself. I only know of one thing that might be able to sever this bond, and I need your help to get it." Ziva held her breath in anticipation, hoping that these two would be able to finally help free her from this pure embodiment of evil. 

Edited by Piperpie

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Terrenus had a long and bloody history with many things necromantic. Some of the most terrifying and violent entities to have left their jagged marks on this world were born of it. In fact, history might inform those curious enough to study it that there were more influential figures immortalized in time who relied on the might of death than those who relied on the might of life. And just as followers so eagerly congregated around the prior, others eagerly congregated around the latter. One because life was the natural state of existence and the other because too few individuals could resist the temptation of escaping the natural order to become undying. 

The early years of the faith had been tough on those who were too fearful. Those who couldn't reach that level of faith and endeavored for deliverance were called Unnaturals. Not because necromancy was most often the tool they relied on but because of how they chose to use it. This subtle understanding across the Gaian faith made ripples. Small ones that disappeared quickly but were nevertheless there. 

It was ironic that when Ankou set himself upon those unsuspecting Terran soldiers, he had been deep in contemplation about Lilith's arrogance. It should have been his own hubris that he had been minding. 

The soldiers fell before him, each of them drained of their life force in an instant. The remaining soldier played the coward, promising to deliver a message to members of the highest order of the Terran military. Only after running a few paces, he stopped and turned around, all indications of fear stricken from his expression in exchange for conviction. He made deep and meaningful eye contact with the lich, telling him with his glance that he was no coward and he was certainly no traitor. But the stare had a secondary function as well. To get him looking the wrong way. 

One of the dead soldiers snapped out of his resting place like a concealed predator, a longsword sliding deep into the powerful grips of both of his hands before being propelled in the direction of the lich's neck. His scream could be heard miles away, filled with desperation. Though he still lived, his flesh pale of color and cold to the touch, none of the others had the fortune of necromantic proficiency like himself. The Reaper in the Dark needed to die. He just didn't know yet if he had the strength. 


"Mid to high tier undead drones are being reported in the city. If possible, do not engage within sight of necrotized organic masses." 

Roque stared at his CO for further orders. The determined look in his eyes seemed as though it had resigned itself to this. He was tired of burning but would embark on it anew if asked. Despite his fading spirit, his role had so far resulted in the hottest flames he had ever produced. Some of his squad mates were forced to remain further from his operational zone than they usually did. 

"FORAGER is now active." 

The CO turned around to face the rest of her squad. A rather common looking bow rested in her hands made of wood and a stark white fiber connecting tip to tip. It wasn't immediately recognizable but her bow had massive draw weight potential. It could shoot a hole through an apple without displacing it from the surface it sat on. Despite her formidable armament, she hardly looked at peace. 

"Just received new orders. We're headed for the docks." 

Lilith had taken the bait. 

Moments after giving the order to recover the artifact, the might of the Terran military was leveraged on her position. Without warning, fiery explosions and resplendent energy lances tore through her forces, ripping pieces of them off and turning them into immobile globs of necrotized flesh. 


Saron's response inspired a good measure of agreeable contemplation. Enough of it that Zeph seemed to bask in it, enjoying the process of making sense from it. His appearance now lent itself to Saron's interpretation of their peaceful presence here in the garden. While the city festered with rot, here they stood, standing idly by as if time was on their side. Unfortunately for them, clouds could be fickle. Even the darkest of them might offer forth empty threats so what she interpreted as patience, Zeph interpreted as chance. One that teetered with profound uncertainty. Things might go one way or they might go the other. Soon, they would know. 

"While answers for questions as to whether we'll succeed are further from grasp, this latest one regarding the presence of a third is not. I see no reason why it couldn't be acquired." 

Upon turning around fully, he finally noticed Saron's clothing. The thought that robes suited her better crossed his mind briefly. Then again, there was a certain level of charm to what was insinuated by it. It told him and anybody watching who knew that she was a Peacekeeper that she was also a citizen. A person with a day job just like so many others. 

After watching stoically as Ziva transformed, he maintained eye contact. His blue eyes searched out her golden irises with unwavering focus. Though her explanation was unexpected, he showed no signs of uncertainty. 

"I'm certain you've studied the state of our city at this hour. We don't have the time to help every citizen with personal requests. If these weren't calamitous times, things might be different. However, if you have something to provide us, getting what you need may become negotiable but I assure you, trust will not come easy, if at all. What do you need?" 
 

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Lilith

With Ankou gone to redirect some attention off Lilith and to himself, Lilith was left walking through the dying port of Casper in complete silence. It was an odd feeling but the silence was undeniably loud. The quiet was ominous, drowning out what would be the groans of the dying and the ecstatic moans of the undead slaves who stalked the city. Wandering aimlessly through Casper had not been her aim; not even in the slightest. The plan had been a quick one. Spread the virus as a distraction. Grab the artifact. Leave Casper. There were more interesting things to do then stroll among the dead. Or the undead for that matter. 

The disturbance of her plans didn't frustrate Lilith so much as it angered her. And it was not because of the disturbance, per se, but because those behind said actions were wasting her time. If she'd wanted the entire city dead then the entire city would be dead. She only wanted the artifact. The lives of the mortal and the mundane were entirely beneath her to the point where their deaths weren't so much as an afterthought. Only a means to a more important end. And that end was power. 

It was as she turned to call for Venus that a sudden surge of various energies struck the undead around her, ripping them to shreds with about as much mercy as she'd shown them when alive. No launched attacks from lowly soldiers would have the destructive or penetrative ability to pierce veil of necromantic energy which simmered the air around her. The raw energy devoured the attack within her vicinity and transferring its energy into the veil. 

About time. She was beginning to think the Terran military truly was impotent when it came to protecting its citizens. When nearly all of the undead were torn to shreds, Lilith paused her strides and took a moment to look into the eyes of those closest to her and stare in the direction of those further presences. There were at least fifty. At most a hundred. She truly couldn't be bothered to count them all.

Flicking a bored gaze toward the group closest to her she raised a hand and snapped her fingers. All of the recently torn bodies and blobs started to move independent of their other parts. A rotting hand leaped from the ground toward the face of a nearby soldier as a glob of ripped tendons wrapped around another while shattered bones flew around like homing knives. With all the experience Terran had against necromancers, Lilith had thought they'd come at least slightly more prepared. Or, perhaps, they'd simply grown lax since Zengi and Peter. 

"They're already dead," she said, the amusement in her voice quite obvious. "What's the point in trying to kill it?" Idiots. As long as it was organic material it would move as she willed. It didn't matter how small. Such were the benefits of Puppeteering, the quasi-necromancy art. 

She stalked over to a soldier pinned to the ground by a large grey blob of moving organic material. The stench coming from the soldier's pants was almost as pungent as the rotting flesh from the necromantic blob. "Where is the artifact?" 

"Who are you?"

Lilith smiled, her red eyes piercing the young man's mind forcing it to feel complete despair. The crescent mark on her forest speaking louder than her words ever could. There was no need for her to respond. Anyone who knew of ancient civilizations would notice the mark. Notice she was this eras Lunar Daughter. The simple notion had driven men much more experience than the boy before her into fits of terror. "Where. Is. The. Artifact?"

A-a-artifact? I don't even know what that i-" Lilith didn't let the young man finish his sentence. Before his eyes could open in shock, she'd buried her fist so deep into his face the gooey material of his brain clung to her first. Her anger at having her time wasted wouldn't be buried, even under such poring pretenses by the Terran government. If they really cared to stop her they wouldn't be slinging random fodder her way. That, or they simply didn't grasp how powerful she was. They soon would, however.

Lilith glanced at a middle aged woman trapped fighting three nearly full bodied corpses. Maybe she knew where the artifact was. Even if she didn't someone on the field could probably tell her. But only time would tell.


Hawk

The citizens had quickly made it to the Valvale garden with little restrictions or obstacles. There had been a few necromantic beasts but Hawk and the other soldiers had been able to ward them off with relative ease. At first he'd assumed they weren't very strong but a slight conflict had proved otherwise. However the beast had simply wandered off after a while. As if they hadn't been worth its time. 

Despite his lack of evidence or proof, his decades of experience as a federal detective had refined his intuition beyond that of a normal individual or even a trained soldier. He suspected the person behind everything had no true desire to kill people, otherwise that would be the creatures' main directive. The person was probably after something they deemed of a much higher importance. Death was simply a result of their desire. Honestly Hawk felt it was pretty unnerving for there to be such a powerful sociopath. The fact that killing wasn't their intention, in his eyes, actually made the situation worse. That meant no conscious. No guilt. No value for life. Only a desire. But to Hawk, that made the being weak. At least mentally. He just had to find out what it is they wanted so badly.

He made his way into the Valvale garden, citizens in tow. The guards let them in with his command. Hawk may not have been the highest of rankings in F.I.S.T. but he was undisputedly one of the highest. That being said it, seeing a F.I.S.T. agent in such a conflict made quite the sight. Normally one would never even know they were there. Information collectors over anything else, F.I.S.T. made giant shifts and affected great change from behind the curtains. Seeing one, such a high ranked one at that, was unprecedented. But so was the situation at hand. 

When all of the people within his rag tag group had "settled" and the make-shift hospital functions had resumed, Hawk ordered his CBC to perform a facial recognition scan of everyone in the gardens. That was how he finally laid eyes on the two Peacekeepers. Just standing there talking to wolf who morphed into a human before his very eyes. 

What struck him as amazing was how both of them were simply standing there. Even after he'd made an SOS. Luckily they'd made it to the gardens without anything eating them all, but it had been a very real possibility. In the end he decided to momentarily ignore them. They held great power but apparently made light of the responsibility. He didn't have the time nor the desire to mix with such a crowd. In a bit he'd head back out to find stragglers. His power might lack compared to Peacekeepers but it would be enough to help those remaining he could save on the outside. Hopefully.

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The nature of intelligence was threefold. It had to be first obtained; then verified; afterward analyzed. After these historically laborious steps, a conclusion could be drawn, and the responsibility of action was handed off to the military arm of whoever was the principal of the operation was in question. These first two steps, acquisition and verification, often went hand-in-hand, and were the first great hurdle to the primitive efforts of early intelligence agencies, which relied on manpower, torture, and hearsay. In the modern day, the capacity of both civilian and military surveillance was immense, and cross-referencing of data ensured that the truth, and only the truth, came to light.

The Terran Spies were then made up primarily of those who could think fast and act faster, for those were the last hurdles in joining the troubled past with the actionable present, and the present to the future of national security. Eyes and ears were now mass-manufactured to pinpoint accuracy; all that was necessary were the non-trivial neural connections of the pattern-seeking mind to see the trivial patterns on the surface.

Somewhere into Ziva’s second sentence, Saron’s unasked query was answered by the communicator in her earpiece. When the woman finished speaking, Saron addressed Zeph, who had undoubtedly received the same information within milliseconds. “It would be rude not to introduce her. Ankou Lethe has been positively identified as present, currently moving out of the Shipyard, and Lilith, that unsung horror, the origin of the plague. So this must be Ziva.”

The names caressed her lips knowingly, familiarly, and with a certain muted intimacy. It was as if the woman had made it her life’s mission to study, understand, and destroy the trio currently laying waste to Casper, as if Zeph and Saron had been gossiping about them at length and only now had met them in person — Oh, but I’ve heard so much about you! The same way one might discuss the secret unseen friend-of-a-friend, or an enemy subject to a long campaign of scrutiny.

Contrary to expectation, however, they were nothing more than names on a list fed her from the earpiece. Saron had never crossed paths with them before; if things went one way or another, she might never see them again. But the instinct of smiling is coded into the fabric of waiters and waitresses, and people were flattered if they felt they were important to someone, somehow. Ziva might start wondering how much thought had been accorded her existence, and that worry — that they understood fully the intricate details of her demise, and fully the precise mechanism by which she would be stretched and cut to fit into that position — would always keep her hesitating.

Saron couldn’t help it. The instinct was coded into her, after all. Spies always made delightful waitresses, or perhaps it was the other way around.

“You need our help?” Saron laughed gently. “Honey, that’s not quite the way things are flowing. Casper is what we’ve come here to help. But it is as the Cardinal says. If you’ve come, you must have something to bargain. If it will help us help Casper, we might consider exchanging our time.”

Her hand fumbled with the zipper to her jacket. “Speaking of time; what’s our plan of action, Zeph? I don’t imagine Command has given us any more letters than needed to spell the words ‘OUR DISCRETION’. How would you like to do this?”

Edited by Mag

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As the not quite dead soldier rose to strike down Ankou; his fallen comrades were also rising; much faster than a living person could. Through their eyes the Lich saw the man preparing to strike, and was already moving to counter. With a thought, the fallen lunged forward to intercept the soldier before he could get much momentum behind the swing he aimed at the necromancers neck. In a matter of seconds the man had risen to attack, and been restrained. One of the dead restraining him had its hand clamped around the wrist of his sword arm. A silent command from its master caused it to tighten its grip until the sound of breaking bones was heard; and the sword fell from the man's hand. To his credit, the soldier never screamed, impressing the Lich.

Ankou knelt down in front of the restrained man to retrieve the sword, never breaking eye contact as he did. When he rose, he twirled the blade around in his hand a few times before turning to face the soldier.

"This is a fine blade," he said, "And yours was a fine attempt at striking me down. If nothing else, know that I will remember you."

The soldier was still glaring defiantly at Ankou as the corpses forced him to kneel with his head bowed to the ground. Raising the sword above his head, the Lich silently brought it down, decapitating the soldier with a single stroke. Once the body stopped twitching, the corpses allowed it to slump to the ground. Flicking the blood off the blade, he turned his attention to the soldier who had pretended to run away. The man was staring at the display in stunned silence; but upon meeting Ankou's gaze, he seemed to gain a burst of determination. He drew his weapon and charged at the Lich. Reversing his grip on the sword, Ankou threw it like a spear, impaling the man through the chest and throwing him to the ground.

The Lich walked over to the mortally wounded man trailed by his newly created servants, standing over him and looking down. It seemed like the soldier was trying to say something, but all that came out were bloody coughs. Ankou grabbed the hilt of the sword and let his aura flow through it and into the man; who thrashed violently for a few seconds before going still. As he plucked the sword from the dead body, Ankou noticed that backup had arrived for the now deceased men. They barely had time to take in the sight in front of them before they were hit with another wave of necromantic energy, killing them instantly. But instead of instantly reanimating them, the Lich gave a simple command to the servants he already had.

"Make sure they're dead."

Swords were drawn, and the servants moved forward to follow their masters command. When he was sure the men were dead, Ankou would reanimate them and move on. He felt certain that he would run into the Peacekeepers sooner rather than later. He needed only continue what he was doing.

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The apathy in their voices annoyed Ziva. They acted like she was just some peasant scum that was not worthy to be in their presence. Anger swelled within her. If she were her normal impulsive self she would kill them right there. But she needed these two, whether she liked it or not. Ziva could not imagine what it would be like to be stuck to Lilith forever. She needed to escape. Now. The marks on her forearms itched, almost like they knew of her betrayal. Ziva really hoped Lilith could not sense where she was in relation to herself. Before the panic could overwhelm her, she paused, and took a deep breath. Her hands folded into fists as she walked closer to the other two. 

"This issue threatens more than just your dying city," Ziva growled, her golden eyes flashing with anger, "I'm not one of your measly citizens. I'm trying to keep the world from ending here!" She snapped, speaking through clenched teeth. She didn't want to attract the attention of others so she tried her best not to yell.

"Listen, I work with Lilith. I'm stuck to her. Branded, owned, by that necromancer." Ziva waved her forearms in front of them for further emphasis as she continued on, "Her main goal in this life is to gain power. As I said before, she is already extremely powerful. But that's not enough for Lilith. The reason for all this death and despair is because she is looking for another artifact to add to her collection." Ziva paused, letting that sink in, " She felt the power of this artifact in Casper. That's why she's tearing it to shreds. She is looking for the artifact."

Ziva crouched down lower between the two, lowering her voice tremendously. One would never know if there was a follower in their midst, watching Ziva's betrayal. "What she doesn't know," She said softly, her eyes glancing around nervously, " Is that I'm here telling you all this information. The only reason I am able to tell you this much is that her hold over me has somehow weakened. Even more so in this grove than outside of it. I think this artifact could help me rid her of this curse once and for all. I need your help to find the artifact, and in turn it would keep Lilith from getting more powerful, stop the death and chaos, and free me."

Ziva took a step back, standing straight once more. She folded her arms across her chest. Her dark cloak enveloped her frame, making her look like some ghoul with glowing golden eyes. Ziva prayed to the gods that they would help her. This was her last chance. If she were caught talking to them right now, she would die. Lilith would take her life immediately. Then she would probably serve as an undead slave for the rest of eternity, never able to rest. Ziva never asked for help, but there is a first for everything.

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