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The Demons Beneath Dougton

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Westward, had been the direction Argi decided upon after all his other escapades had tried to draw him back north east. Westward, he had travelled, with only a vague notion as to his actual path. Westward, he had walked, for he had not the coin with which to afford the self-driven carriages that so many Terrans possessed. Well, not enough of the right kind, at any rate. What he had was good for gathering supplies, including a sturdy satchel that was presently slung over his shoulder, carrying much of the rations that had gotten him through the weeks. Though more a goatherd than hunter, he had supplemented his supplies with various small mammals, birds, and fish,

Westward, had been the direction Argi decided upon after all his other escapades had tried to draw him back north east. Westward, he had travelled, with only a vague notion as to his actual path. Westward, he had walked, for he had not the coin with which to afford the self-driven carriages that so many Terrans possessed. Well, not enough of the right kind, at any rate. What he had was good for gathering supplies, including a sturdy satchel that was presently slung over his shoulder, carrying much of the rations that had gotten him through the weeks. Though more a goatherd than hunter, Argi had supplemented his supplies with various small mammals, birds, and fish, though not always with success. Still, it was enough to survive the travels be endured, through valley and hill and plain, all of which were at least blanketed in grass, others sheltered by great swathes of forest. The geographical features of the lowlands were not so unfamiliar, he had found, but they were taken to such a scale that he could hardly conceive of prior, atop the mountains.
The road came to an end, at last, in a valley where what blanketed the area was not woodland - though there was much of that surrounding it - but buildings. Simple, similar, yet each ever so slightly unique structures; where one could tell the likes of Ignatz was crafted by tradesmen and these 'machines' the Terrans apparently liked to apply, each of these seemed as though a hut built for one's self, or perhaps by a community together. The sheer difference in atmosphere between the two cities was astonishing; truly, to a mind like Argi's, that had grown so accustomed to simply accepting the likes of Ignatz to be what a 'city' was, then it was arguable Dougton was no city at all. But, that was the wording on the sign as he entered the area; while Argi's understanding of Terran was still limited, it was growing. He at least knew the individual letters and how to sound them out now on reading them, which made familiar turns of phrase easier to pick up on.
Now, Argi had come to Dougton as the sun was bidding farewell from the world, perhaps an hour or two before it would disappear below the horizon. With that in mind, and having endured enough of the outdoors these last few weeks, the stranger to these lands - both immediate and general - was quick to inquire as to the location of what the Terrans referred to as an 'inn'. Though his precise pronunciation stumbled a few people, he was eventually pointed in the direction of an establishment by the name of the 'Lovely Giant', whatever that second thing was. As Argi wandered towards the southern side of the city, he could not help but watch the people there, and how they watched him. It was... unusual. True, he had little reference otherwise, and all had indicated that he was some way obviously not like the locals wherever he went, but there was... something else in it. Something that had him looking over both shoulders every few steps, until he had arrived at his destination.
The doors swung open before him easily enough, and he was greeted by a warm atmosphere in all regards; a jovial mood, the soft glow of many candles, and a noticeable heat, along with the gorgeous scent of something being cooked. Fiddling with pieces of metal in a satchel pocket, Argi wandered across to where a short wall rose up from the floor, having identified this to be a common way the owner of an establishment separated themselves from their customers, in Terran culture.
"What you have?" He asked, plainly and simply.
Some half hour later, and Argi was digging his teeth into something he certainly hadn't found out in the wilds - beef. Indeed, meat of the cattle had been something reserved for special occasion atop the mountains, difficult as they were to rear on the short grass, yet it seemed to be... still relatively expensive, but much less so, down here.
Yet even as he ate his food, he couldn't tune out the rest of the inn. All truths told, he had never been good with not listening, and it was in moments like these he somewhat regretted it. There was so many people making so much noise... it hastened his breathing a bit, and he focused even more upon his food. Yet, even then...
"It happened again." Someone said at another table.
"Whose this time?" Someone else answered. Argi was trying to avoid looking, so he knew no faces, but he could still hear them so.
"Loran's kids. Both of them."
"Wyrm be damned, there'll be no kids left in this city at this rate."
"It's not that many yet..."
"Certainly that makes two dozen this month alone!"
"Just remember to lock all your doors and windows tonight..."
"So thankful mine are too old for this, whatever it is..."
Argi couldn't quite resist any longer, and turned his head towards the table. Mostly old men, but a few women as well. They didn't seem to notice that the young man's attention was upon them... and he let it slip before they might do so. He had, he realised, finished his plate, and he figured it proper custom - regardless of where in the world he was - to return it, hastily gathering up all remains and instruments before he rushed up from his seat... face first into someone.
Another thing he had realised since coming to the lowlands - he was shorter than a lot of people down here.

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"My apologies, I didn't see you there."

Her voice was sad, yet polite and caring. With her face obscured by a thick black veil, one would not see those milky white eyes staring down at the young one. Dressed in black, Jennifer Mollins looked more like she was on her way to a funeral than searching for the reason as to why children were going missing. Little ones were a soft spot for Jennifer, having yearned for them all her life, but was robbed of the chance by the cruel hand of fate.

"You must be new here, which makes the two of us. My name is Jennifer Mollins. May I have yours, little one?" 

It wasn't obvious, in a way, but one could certainly feel how something just wasn't right with the Shadow Witch. She had this air of comfort and nurturing, but it felt wrong, as if one only felt such things when thinking of a loved one who passed away very recently. Certainly Jennifer was no monster, but she knew her place was not amongst the living, which was she tried to limit her time with them as much as possible. 

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...It took Argi a moment to process what had been said to him, for more than one reason. Some of them he would not speak of, but at least one of them was his ongoing difficulties with the spoken language of the Terrans as it was. If anything was certain to him, it was the introduction. After stepping back and collecting himself, difficult as it was before a stranger of this calibre, he answered, plain and simple as ever, "Argi."

After a few seconds of awkward silence, something quite uncertain in the air between them, Argi raised his plate, as if the gesture in itself would somehow explain his need to return it to the innkeep. Squeezing himself past this... 'Jennifer' to do just that, Argi's actions would likely explain themselves soon enough, with the plate and cutlery returned, and himself soon returning to his seat so as to gather his possessions. It wasn't much to put altogether really, but before he might simply pass on to the room that had been allotted to him for the night, he could not help but stop and look at the stranger again, thinking it would be the last.


Sleeping that night proved difficult for Argi, for a variety of reasons. The bed was almost too soft, sinking beneath him and causing him to reflexively find some other position that might make the sensations of the night turn still, but doing so only exacerbated the problem. There was also the matter of his mind, aflutter with all manner of thoughts, and few that served to quieten him with the sun's departure. Something about the woman he had ever so briefly, fleetingly met lingered in his mind. At some level, he might have thought it to be her beauty, as any other would ascribe. But he had only been able to vaguely guess at such through the veil the stranger wore, so it wasn't what quite simply stuck with the young man; that gnawed continually at his mind even as it sought to slumber. There was something about her - her very presence - that did not sit well. Not necessarily threatening to him, but... alien. At odds with his understanding, on some level so fundamental that even he could not rightly or fully comprehend it. 


Still, there was something else as well...


Whatever it was, frustrations boiled over enough as to make Argi throw himself from his bed, and instead try to tire himself out by pacing around the admittedly small lodgings he had been provided. Even he could tell he had paid a small price for a small room, and while it serviced his needs, there was not much space in which to wander before he was already at the window, and forced to turn back on himself, doing so again and again in quick succession.

"...Hm?" He let out a small noise, and stopped at the fifth time upon passing the window, as he noticed something that seemed... curious. Candlelight that drew itself close to the window of one of the many houses below; close enough for him to make out the flicker of the flame through the glass. Then, the window, which lay at what would be the 'side' of the house, though it came out on the road, eked open. A child - at least based on height, though they draped themselves in a sheet several times their size - slipped out from it, and landed on the ground softly, before doing their best as to ease the window closed again, presumably to leave no-one the wiser.


Argi was quick to alight from his room and down the stairs of the inn, somewhat forgetting his boots in the process. Thankfully, he had not forgotten his scabbard, picking it up in one quick motion, and tucking it into his sash. A frustration with the concept of sleep and sheer curiosity were a good chunk of what drove him through the doors and out onto the street, where a light shower was beginning to fall from the heavens, softening the soil. The sheer dark of the night at one level made it difficult to see much of anything, but equally it made what few forms of light there were stick out all the more. One, held at a low height, stuck out even at a distance, and he began to follow. The path the seeming little one took began to twist and turn, with the possible concern that he might forget the way back to the inn tossed out of Argi's mind for the simple fact that he was too focused on the more immediate matter. In the end, he found himself led to the very edges of the city, where a lone building, once tall and pride, but evidently laid low by fire long ago, stood. The crumbled remains of a spire had fallen across and brought down the entrance, leaving it open for any to enter; the child did so, with Argi not far behind them.


However, he held back at the entrance, so as to make sense of what was going on in front of him. At the farthest ends of the hollowed out hall, there was not one, but many children, all of whom could, at most, be only just over half his own age, their faces lit by the candles they carried with them. Together, they seemed to be breaking flowers, tearing the heads from the stalks, and then lining the stalks against the windows of the building; at least, the frames where they had once been, some time previously. Something very, very strange was afoot here...

And Argi was just left kinda scratching his head. What was with the flowers...?


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In the dark shadows of the broken church, Jennifer lurked in waiting, having followed them herself much earlier ago. As an undead, she did not require sleep, and so was able to watch from afar until the first was making their way to the queer destination. Using the shadows themselves, Jennifer was able to cloak herself in a pitch black material that obscured her from sight. Sticking to the walls, one would not even notice her unless pressing the light right next to her, and by then, she could quite easily make her move. 

She was curious as to why the children gathered here of all places, and what the significance might be. As far as she knew there was nothing special about such a building, and was likely damaged by more mundane means. If Wendolyn were here, she could put her religious expertise to work in identifying it's purpose, and what the act of placing the flower stems might be. As she was not here, however, the lich would have to make due with finding out firsthand.

The boy, the one who named himself Argi, stood at the entrance, enthralled by what was going on, but not like the other children were. Why was he here, she wondered to herself. She figured she would find out in just a few moments, be it good or bad, she was going to get to the bottom of this mystery. 

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Something shifted in the air. Nothing had happened as yet, but even then, one could feel the world draw its breath. Anticipating whatever was to come. Even Argi could feel it, a shiver creeping along his spine, and a chill drawing short his breath.

"Is that everything?"

One of the children asked, loud enough to be heard through the broken hall. It should not have been so; their voice was so quiet and gentle; scared as well. Yet something at play was amplifying the distance across which their words were carried. Part of the sensation struck Argi as familiar; that what he 'heard' was not sound alone, but the outright sensation of the speech, passing through his form. Magic was in play here. A magic he did not understand; unfortunately that described almost all magic, for his perspective.

"All the windows, I think. It... It worked last time, so it should work this time."

One of the other children, eldest among them - and tallest, by a few inches - said, her voice wavering. Her familiarity had her scared, and yet, it seemed not to deter her, or any of the others.


"Oh fairy, come. Please, deliver us..."


The words were not meant for mortal ears; even the ears of the undead that waited nearby. They sang to another power, whose very act of listening enabled others to hear. To share in the 'revelation' that was to come. For from the heavens, amidst the ruins of this house to a deity Argi knew not, there descended a winged being, bathed in a light without glow; who seemed so much not to fly through the air as... shift through existence, lowering themselves as they willed it.

"You have called upon us?"

The creature spoke, and yet, its words did not match the movements of its tongue. Whatever it truly said, the meaning was what carried across into the mind, to him sounding as it spoke the tongue of the Menjen, as Argi did. To others, perhaps, it would sound as it would in their native tongue.

"Yes! Please fairy, please!" The children fell to their knees, one by one, pleading with their hands. "Take us away from here! We don't care where, just take us, like you took the others!"


"Ah, yes... truly, your Gaia has failed you. But fear not; within these walls that once were hers, the solace of Meryam shall be given unto-


You are not alone, children mine."



A collective gasp escaped the children, while the winged being set its eyes about the scene. Argi drew his breath to a halt, holding himself against the wall behind him. And yet...

"One by the door; the other in the darkness."

Argi looked about him, confusedly. He could not see another by his side, and within, there was only what was lit by the candlelight, and the winged being himself. If there was something or someone else there, then either they could see in the dark, or they could feel through it. Either way, the things it seemed capable of were only growing in number...

Argi considered stepping away, admittedly, leaning forward to almost do just that. But as a wayward hand brushed upon the handle of the empty hilt he held with him, his fingers curled around it into a grip. With it, he found a will; even if not necessarily to fight, then at least to know. To not step away until he had an answer.


Argi had spoken, stepping forth, barefoot, into the barren temple. His hand now firmly upon his bladeless hilt, he had drawn it, showing it to hold no blade, yet he held it fast as though it did. The children looked at him, horrified more of him than they were of this strange creature. The creature itself, revealed in its radiance to bear a shape similar to a human being, but of a beauty so precise as to be eminently artificial, looked down upon him.


"Who are you, to disturb me? The children have offered themselves to me. They are mine!"

Argi, shaking where he stood, nevertheless placed the hilt before him, and tightened his stance.

"I am Argi, of the Cloven Hoof." He spoke in his own tongue, figuring the creature to likely understand him as well as he could understand it. "These are children; they belong to their families. What are you, that you should take them?"

"It's a fairy! A Moonwood fairy!" One child insisted in the creature's defence; whether or not they had truly understood Argi's question, the term itself was almost meaningless to the young man, waiting for the winged one's own answer.

"I am a servant. I have been summoned, and given task. I will fulfil their desire."

Argi gulped at the immediacy and certain with which the winged one answer. His other hand went up to join the first around his empty sword hilt, steeling himself...

"I won't let you."

The creature answered not with words, but a deafening screech, jaw wide in ways that should have meant it unhinged upon a human being. As the children protested to both sides, the winged being swept its right wing, and unleashed a flurry of feathers sharp as swords towards the goatherd!

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The feathers were intercepted, torn to pieces by shards of pure darkness. Each shard circled the air, then returned to the one who gave them substance. 

"So, it is you who has been preying upon these children." Jennifer stepped out from the shadows, the veil still covering her face. "You who would abuse their desperation and their sorrow, to further your own gains." More of the shadows gathered around her, swirling in a vortex of magical power. 

"That is unforgivable."

Chains burst forth from the vortex, stronger than steel, wrapping themselves around the arms, legs and wings of the angelic being, while the shards formed a ring around its neck, pointing downwards. 

"You will tell me how to get the others back, or die for your crimes."

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"And so the second emerges..."

The winged being turned their gaze towards Jennifer, as did Argi's. The former contemplated what their next step in light of presence would be, the latter was rather confused by her presence at all. What she had just done especially - it was difficult to even see what she had thrown to stop the feathers like that. It was almost as if she had thrown... nothing? Whatever it had been, had been a void in the candlelit air; as though she had cast the shadows themselves as a weapon. Magic, no doubt, but another unfamiliar kind to him.

The creature did not yet offer much resistance as Jennifer worked her magic, almost certainly cast from shadow somehow, spun into chains to shackle the being. Argi lowered his empty sword hilt somewhat, uncertain as to whether or not he should even need to anything, in such circumstances. This woman he had met only earlier today seemed to have the matter well in hand...


"Please! We're fine with whatever happens!" The children pleaded to Jennifer, but did not dare approach her, or the creature she held fixed in her chains. "It's better than staying here! Better than staying with those fakes!"

"Hush, children..."

The winged being cooed to the little ones, before speaking more directly to Jennifer, its voice unwavering; uncaring.

"What is given to me cannot be returned, witch, for they are already promised to another. I serve the lady Meryam, Mother of Angels; my will is not subject to those living, dead, or those that ordain to residing in neither realm. But, I shall tell you one thing..."

The winds began to stir again, rushing out from this 'angel'. Little in the burned out ruins themselves could be beaten about by such gales aside of the ash that lay across the scene, and the candles that continued to flicker, though Argi himself was made to stumble back a bit, trying to keep stable footing among uneven surfaces.


"I know your craft."

Was all that said, before one last gust sniffed out the remaining candlelight, and the scene was plunged into the utter darkness of night. Argi could not see what really happened next, and even if he could, he would likely not have comprehended it. He would not have understood how the total absence of light removed any true shadow from the scene. How the chains that had held the creature, and the shards that threatened it, would have melted away in such a moment. How the being had allowed itself to be captured, believing it could orchestrate its own escape with ease.

What he did understand, was that it was probably going to do something, and that he could not allow.



The young man shouted at the top of his lungs, holding the empty hilt high in his hands. All at once, light returned to the scene, a great flash of emerald splendour that illuminated the monstrosity as it surged towards the woman that had thought to bind it. In that utter darkness, such light was harsh, even to such an otherworldly creature. But it would regret holding up its wing to block the light, for in the very moment it faded, the fist of something four metres tall was thrown its way, sending it careening across the burned out church, where its wayward body smashed into an already questionably standing wall, which collapsed from the impact.

"...I got it?" Argi's voice came from the quite unusual automaton, which were it daytime, would have revealed its blue and yellow hues, the emerald spheres that adorned it - same colour as the light that heralded its summoning - and the oddly beetle-like aesthetic it held. But beyond that brief flash of light, darkness was quick to set in once more, and for all this strange thing's wonders, it was evidently not designed to operate with no light whatsoever, at least in terms of sight. Argi could see no more than he could normally in the dark, meaning nothing at all.


That said, the creature's increasingly twisted screeches would rather suggest that no, he hadn't gotten it; the automaton - this 'Peldun' - stepped vaguely in the direction of the noise, and was all at once pelted with those accursed feathers. Much more resilient to them than the Menjen himself would have been, but instinct and common sense still had him forced to hold up his hands to block the incoming projectiles, which began to shift in origin as well. Where they would start right in front of the duo, they soon started to descend from on high, trying to circumvent any attempts at a defense.

Edited by Meraxa

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(OOC: As Infernal is apparently leaving, I have been given permission to make use of Jennifer as an NPC so as to resolve this story)


"I need light." Jennifer attempted to instruct Argi simply, perhaps grasping that his command of the Terran tongue was limited. "Above you!"

At the insistence of the woman that still only scarcely qualified as an acquaintance, Argi swiped Peldun's sword arm through the air atop his head, and upon feeling something strike, swung back and forth to an attempt to continue deflecting the sharp feathers. One would presume or hope that there was some kind of limit to the supply, but then, he wasn't entirely sure what he was even fighting to begin with.

Jennifer, by contrast, had her suspicions to be sure, as she slunk back behind the relative security of Peldun's sheer size, saying to the young man that had been replaced by it, "We have to kill that... 'angel', before it kills us."

"What is angel?!" Argi yelled out, somewhat agitated, as the onslaught of feathers stopped, only to start up again to his side, forcing a sudden shift around to match.


"...Hrm." The lich murmured at the realisation that her apparent ally was not only limited in speech, but of understanding. Much of the actual problem solving would have to be handled by her; even while her ability to execute upon it remained limited. Unless...

Her turned several times, as she tried to recreate the layout of the scene within her mind. Imagining the location of the walls, the wreckage of the pews, and of course...

"Children! Where are you?!" She called out to them, and though they clearly did not intend to answer, one gasped loud enough - likely in the act of silencing themselves - to affirm where she thought they would be. Assuming that they had remained where they were, and it seemed likely so, that gave her a general notion of how the rest was situated. In particular, where those candles should have still stood. Her eyes then darted back to where the feathers were still colliding with this 'Peldun'; the creature, whatever one considered it to be, could clearly in some fashion 'see' them, however much the opposite was not true. Indeed, she recalled, it had been aware of even her presence from the very start; the young man had not been so subtle in his observations, but she was sure she had been well hidden.


So many questions...


Jennifer sighed, as she came up with but one answer; less to the matter of the angel's sight, and more her own course of action. After a short, unnecessary breath, she dashed out from behind the cover of the unusual automaton, putting the power of her restless body to work. Her head was held half-turned over her shoulder for what seemed inevitable... and proved to be rightly suspected such, as the arrows began to rain down on her directly, and the sound of their collision against Peldun's hide seemed to cease.

"Throw - ack - something!" She yelled at her apparent ally, fighting through the sharp pain of those accursed feathers cutting across her form. There was a grunt, the sound of something hefty being tossed through the air at the angel that had simply changed its angle - but not its position - and the subsequent screech of that stuck up form of arguable life as whatever got thrown at it hit its mark, and apparently left a mark. As much as one might have appreciated basking in the catharsis of the moment, that short ordeal, Jennifer considered as she began to feel around for one of the candlesticks, certain she was near its location, suggested something quite important: whether for ignorance of the automaton, or for the fact that it, in its own words, 'knew her craft', it considered her the more important target. Or perhaps, the more pressing threat.


She cracked a smile as she extracted a box of matches from her belongings.

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Whether it had exhausted its supply of feathers, or perhaps it wanted some kind of personal satisfaction to its triumph, Jennifer could hear the hiss of the 'angel' grow loud in her ear as she struck up the match. It approached her swiftly from behind, that much she could know even without sight, but she ignored it as she sheltered the naked flame with her hand, and gently held it to the wick of the candle. Loose strands were the first things to alight, though it did not take long for the fire to engulf a fibre that had been burning but minutes prior. Jennifer did not turn to face the hideous creature that came up from behind her; both for lack of interest in beholding its visage, which had lost any facade of humanoid beauty for something that reshaped itself with every twitch of their equivalent to muscle, but also for lack of need. The result was the same to her whether she faced her foe or not; for the result that mattered was that from the light before her, a shadow was cast by her form. Not the absence of light, but its denial.


She had power once more, and she affirmed it with but a flick of her wrist.

"Lich! This will not hold me!"

Jennifer turned to the creature as it struggled within the chains that had sprung around it, and now held it suspended in the air like some children's puppet, cursing her in tongues she could understand, and others not.

"I would wager that for a kind as yours, manipulating the elements around you takes a time that it does not for me." Jennifer mused to the 'angel's' face, placing one finger beneath its at times double, others triple, occasionally pointed, chin. "So yes, once you are able to will the wind as you wish, you will be free of me again. But..."

A hand the size of a person's torso clenched tight around the 'angel's' mass, and at its quite evident discomfort of such, Jennifer released her chains.

"I don't think you'll fare quite so well against this... 'Peldun', was it?" She asked as she looked up at the automaton.


"Yeah," Argi answered through the construct, even nodding its head as - within the space he occupied, not that he knew how to define it - he nodded his own.

"Fascinating..." Jennifer whispered under her breath, before returning to the matter at hand with a wave of her hand. The shadows became a hand of their hand, carrying the candle from its stand to wherever the others lay about the scene, returning light to the moment, and with it, a certainty of her standing. She summoned a blade of her shadow to her hand, and held it to an exposed portion of the creature's chest, just below where Peldun held it. "Shall we try this again? How do I get the others back?"

"That is... that is not something... I can offer!"

"Yes, yes, your lady Meryam, I believe you called her." Jennifer rolled her eyes and sighed, before lightly shaking her head. "But she's not here, is she? I am, and what I offer you is your life, if you simply cooperate."

"I literally cannot offer them! I... I cannot defy my master! Even if I were to desire it, I cannot!"

"A shame then." Jennifer drew back her blade, readying to thrust, spitting to one side. "Then I'll just...!"


"...Wait." Peldun - and by extension, Argi - suddenly lifted the creature within its grip, staring at them face to face, such as it was. "This offer... is agreement?"

Both the angel and Jennifer seemed equally confused by the sudden inquiry, but the latter turned curious as well, lowering her literal edge.

"...Y-Yes. It is an agreement, that I will take the children from this place, from their suffering, to be at Meryam's side."

"Then we make agreement. Meryam and me." Argi answered in turn, as simple as could be. Then, Peldun turned to face the children, who huddled at the centre of the former church, and another thought seemed to cross the mind of its rider; its face furrowed as if it had a brow with which to do so. "Or... this agreement no longer needed. Children, why you run?"

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"...wuh...?" The children did not so much answer as they simply made a noise when prompted. They had huddled together in the midst of the fighting; clearly while they were expectant of the angel's appearance, they had known nothing of its actual nature, or how it would use its abilities other than to 'save' them.

"Why you run?" Argi repeated his question, though the tone of his voice wavered with uncertainty.

Jennifer realised that was leas an uncertainty in asking the question, but one of how to ask it. So, stepping away from the trapped angel, she interceded on the younger man's behalf, saying to the children, "I believe he means... why are you trying to leave this city? Why are you trying to run away from home?"



They small group, perhaps half a dozen in total, held their silence, awkwardly exchanging glances. One, towards the back, finally broke with the others to answer, "T-The demons..."

"Demons?" Jennifer blinked in disbelief, given the sort of creature that was in their midst.

"Idiot!" One of the older children snapped. "They're not demons! They're... something else. Something worse."

"Regardless of the term's accuracy," Jennifer stepped in, allowing her own presence to quieten the children from not knowing how to react to her, "What are they referring to, when they say 'demons'?"


It was the eldest, though that was hardly by much, that elected to clarify the term. He explained, "For us it started a few years ago, but... we... we think it's been happening longer. Five years or more. Back then it was probably not a lot, but now... it feels like everyone. All the adults."

"Adults what?" Argi spoke up, drawing visible confusion at the 'statue' that appeared to he moving and talking, now that the children could probably see it for themselves. "What happen?"

"They... uh..." The child took a few seconds more to process the circumstances that surrounded them. When at last that seemed to have sorted itself, they were able to say, "They... changed. If you ask them their birthdays, their favourite food, or their favourite memories, they can seem fine... and if you never knew them, you would never know. But... the way they speak. The way they walk. One day, it's like they had to learn it all over again, and they become more like each other. Kids like us are the ones who notice - because we had an older sibling who changed just like that. We... we don't wanna be changed by whatever hit everyone else."


It was impossible to tell externally how Argi may have reacted inside his automaton, but a slight wheeze from their angel prisoner suggested that it was something in which he was tightening his fist. As for Jennifer, she actually turned to the angel once again, and wondered aloud, "Would you know of the force of which they speak?"

"I-it... is known, hehe. But the mortals... foolishly ignore it. G-Gaia... sits idle. O-only we, of the lady Meryam, answer their prayers!"

"So yes." Argi bluntly assessed, before telling the creature. "I come from mountain. Do not know this place. Its problems. Explain."

Jennifer, who had cupped a hand around her chin, suddenly lit up with a realisation. A realisation that seemed almost to... hurt, causing her to wince as she considered it. She gave it name as, "The Enrele."


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Even without human form, Argi's confusion at the term was apparent from the way that the automaton somehow linked to him held itself. It looked between both the angel and the weaver of shadows for some sort of answer, and it was the latter that ultimately chose to oblige him.

"You really must be from a mountain to have not heard..." She mused briefly, though upon noticing the curious, anxious stares of the children at this turn in the conversation, took it seriously as she spun visuals for the story from the shadows, having them dance between her fingertips. First, came the image of two people, nigh-identical in their silhouette. "Terrenus is plagued by an uncertainty that the person before you is who they say they are. They might look it; they might feel it; they may know everything that person has ever experienced. All the people they have loved, their hopes, and their fears. But the person is but a shell, host to a parasite that has been dubbed 'Enrele'."


The image shifted now, to that of a jewel falling across a landscape of obsidian.

"They come from beyond the stars. How far, and for what reason, I don't know if anyone could rightly say. Perhaps this is their means of conquest. Or maybe it's a simple game of survival. Whatever the reason, they are here, and they have spread across the land like a plague."

So then did the jewel strike the land, and ripples spread from it, as though cast into a pool of water. Where the ripples swept across, sometimes the shadows did not fall with the rest of the surface, leaving difficult to discern but visible points upon it. A thousand little pins standing in defiance.

"There was a... symposium about this some years ago. They said almost twenty three million people had been taken then. Over a hundred million animals of all kinds. Given the lack of celebrations, I would imagine those numbers have only grown."


"Oh, lich, it is more than merely that the fight is not being won - it is hardly fought at all."

The angel sneered as it regained some composure, derived from a sense of superiority over those it spoke to.

"Though I would not imagine such creatures were so purposeful in such, they could hardly have chosen a better time for their invasion. The continent is broken. Would-be masters waging war to see who will be last among them. Millions scattered to the wind, seeking safety; when they find it, they either come changed, with none knowing the difference, or they are already surrounded, without the protection of friends and family. Worse still, these parasites may be so deeply embedded that family becomes its own peril..."

Focus returned to the children now, particularly as Argi found himself blurting out, "I'm sorry!" It broke the will of one young boy, who threw his face into his hands, as though thrust down by the sheer weight of the revelation before them.

"Why... Why none fight?!" Argi's confusion turned aggressive, causing the angel to grunt as it was again squeezed as a result.


"It would do you well to listen, mortal, when I know you understand me at least. It is because they think there are more important things in their lives. Whether it is fighting someone else, struggling to survive, or simply perpetuating the miserable lives they already lead. Because surely, someone else will deal with a threat of such significance? But if they all think that..."

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"...Then nothing done." Argi realised, bitterly. Suddenly, and to the great surprise of those around him - including the one it immediately concerned - Peldun's gripped relaxed around the angel, who immediately bounded to the other side of the church upon realising their freedom.

"Idiot!" Jennifer was quick to admonish, readying her shadows once more. "What are you doing?!"

"Wait," Peldun held up a hand as Argi spoke, before pointing to the angel, who seemed to be taking a moment to recover. "New deal."


The angel turned towards the automaton, spreading noticeably thinned wings, but nevertheless with a presence that seemed vast beyond their physical form.

"You would... offer something to me, after contesting me for the children?"


Peldun nodded, and seeing that the angel was now waiting, Argi answered them in his own tongue. "Yes. I would ask that you... protect the children, but not take them. Not yet."

The angel raised what might have been its equivalent to a brow, expressing its curiosity soon after.

"'Yet' implies a time where it would become acceptable. Further, how would you propose that I prevent them from coming to harm?"

Argi narrowed his gaze from within the strange space that he currently inhabited; suspecting that he was being tested in some fashion. Raising Peldun's hand, and then curling the fingers save the index as though to be raising a point, he remarked, "You could see us, or feel us, somehow, in spite of all the darkness. Such a power could be applied to these 'Enrele' as well, no?"

"Technically correct."

The upper half of the angel's face opened in a toothy grin, appearing to appreciate the observation.

"I believe such creatures have thwarted all manner of detection, for they rely upon information that can be distorted and manipulated. But a simple affirmation of the existence of life, that cannot so easily be denied."


"You... see life?" Jennifer chimed in, expressing a professional curiosity. "In the same way any other creature sees light?"

"It has a colour all its own, shining through all substance, and it is beautiful, even from these otherworldly parasites. Indeed, despite proximity, each manifestation of this colour does not blend with another."

The angel's answer drew even greater curiosity, causing Jennifer to step forward a bit without thinking, focused upon asking, "So if I had one of these things stuck inside my neck or whatever else, you would see it? Clearly?" She gestured with fingers against skin as pale as the absent moon.

"I would say as clearly as you see the sun, but then I remember that lesser creatures cannot gaze upon it directly. Yes, I would see it, though the Enrele here instead cling to the bosom of their unwilling hosts, like children upon the teat."

"Anyway," Argi interceded after the angel's answer, "You can see the Enrele. Thus you can keep them from harming the children. So our deal is possible."



The angel hummed, beginning to float its way around the burned out, broken husk of a building in which they all, still stood. When it hovered close to the children, their crawled away from it, desperate hopes supplanted by other thoughts. The angel saw this, and then in one swift motion, approached Peldun, staring the automaton straight in its equivalent of an eye.

"It is. But a deal requires an exchange. What is it you or this lich would offer to me - to my Lady - in exchange for this service?"

Jennifer bit her lower lip, moving her hands across her person. There was little of physical value that she could offer upon her person, and while there were more abstract possibilities, she was adverse to conside-

"Me." Argi answered in the midst of Jennifer's thoughts. She wasn't even sure if it was his tongue or her own, but she got the gist all the same. "You would have me, if things happen."

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"...Define 'things'."

The young man's suggestion, and the angel's answer in turn, both made Jennifer's skin crawl in ways it did not often do very much anymore. With a flick of her fingers, a wall was drawn up between the two figures, even if one was represented by some presumably ancient craftmanship, cast from an extension of the lich's shadow. Quiet, but quite frank, she looked towards Peldun; her gaze piercing beyond whatever veil separated her and the person 'inside' it as she asked, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Offer deal." Argi answered, evidently able to understand that question well enough.

"...Yes, I can see that." Jennifer almost spat, but she restrained herself. The way in which Argi answered that question made it unexpectedly lacking in snark or sarcasm; it was a plain, literal, and above all sincere answer. That made it most concerning. "I mean to say, why are you trying to strike up a deal with that thing? You should know it can't be trusted."


"...I don't." Argi answered, his voice not shifting from its odd tone. It was in its own regard unsettling when he then asked. "Has it broken word?"

Jennifer was taken aback, and after thinking upon the encounter they had, however brief, she conceded, "No, but its word is loosely defined for its own benefit. Yes, they have taken children away from the Enrele's grasp, but it's instead laid them into that of its master - this 'Lady Meryam'. We don't have those children back either, and all you are doing is offering them more, along with yourself."

"...Angel?" Argi asked suddenly; to the surprise of both living and dead, the creature had already slinked to the other side of Peldun, laying a hand upon the automaton's shoulder.



Jennifer's hand was raised, but she stayed it, just for the moment.

"The 'other children' - those you've already taken... you said they were 'promised' to Lady Meryam, Which means they are not given yet, right?" Argi inquired in his own tongue once more, some words of which Jennifer was practising upon her lips, for future study.

"A pedantic one you are, but correct for being such. The Lady is not one to be content with small tithes, so I have been... gathering."

The Angel's answer quickly drew Argi to say, "Then I want you not to give them, unless you are able to give me as well. Or we have no deal at all."

"Ah, that is... permissible. My Lady may take notice is if she is denied, even if it is such a small thing, but... the promise of what you wield may sate her wrath. For now. Then-"

"Lastly," Argi cut the angel off, turning Peldun's head as to stare directly at it. The sudden movement seemed to spook the winged creature, who took a short... 'step', as such, away. Argi pointed towards it, "If the children lose their reason to be taken away, then they must be returned, yes?"


The angel was quiet for several seconds, before it answered in what seemed to be an annoyed tone.

"...You are very pedantic. But yes."

Edited by Meraxa

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Jennifer was caught between being mildly astonished and gravely irritated, letting her wall of shadow fall back to the floor from when it had came. Hands upon her hips, she quite simply, quite frankly asked, "Do you know what you've just committed yourself to?"

"Fighting Enrele." Argi answered in his best attempt at Terran.
Jennifer shook her head with a sigh. "The largest of the Enrele - Hivemind Aleth. So vast, they said it was set to rival the loci for influence on Terrenus."
"...that bad." Argi realised, again somewhat to Jennifer's astonishment.
"I'm surprised you know the term 'loci'." She admitted, allowing herself one small smile, despite how grave the circumstances.
"I learn as I go." Was Argi's explanation, before he, via Peldun, looked upon the 'angel' one last time. In his tongue, he wondered, "Can you see Aleth?"
"Like you see the sun: blindingly obvious. It is the will of millions woven together, but I dare not gaze directly upon it. It might learn to look back. I would rather it dwell in its subterranean lair in ignorance of my existence."
The angel's answer was not inspiring, but nevertheless, one that Argi would accept, Peldun's head tilting down. The young man asked to clarify, "So, under?"
The angel seemed to grow annoyed at this questioning, avoiding answering, and instead turning to the children that had 'summoned' it - more likely, garnered its attention by chance - to begin with.
"Our agreement is set, young ones. I will not take you away as yet, but instead, protect you from your beguiled brethren."
These words were hardly comforting, but the children seemed resigned to them; their fate out of their hands no matter what, and resting within someone else's.
"...ugh." Jennifer was visibly disgusted, looking up at the automaton beside her. Her sneer was derisive as she said, "You will fail. And when you do, the blood of these children will be on your hands."
"If do nothing... also true." Was Argi's answer to the accusation, at last returning to the same plane of existence as the undead woman. His boots touched upon the floor from a light drop, Peldun's form dissipating into nothingness.
"Unfortunately for you," Jennifer turned her back to all the others, taking a few steps forward and away from the scene, "That is exactly what I intend. I will not sanction this... thing getting what it wants, but it is the only option for keeping these children safe, without me simply taking them into my own care. And that... that I definitely can't do."
"No worry." Argi managed to... well, it was difficult to describe. With one last glance, Jennifer could see face wasn't really smiling, but the way he stood seemed... optimistic? Hopeful? Whatever it was, it was enough to let him say, "I'll do it."
"Or die trying..." Jennifer sighed under her breath, before committing to her choice, and simply walking away. Perhaps some small part placing her hopes in the young man, however doubtful that they should bloom into anything meaningful.

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From afar, Argi watched the angel escort the children back to their homes, one by one; it was careful in its actions, both in ensuring the children were not brought to harm, but also that it was not seen by the populace at large. It was a wariness that Argi now shared, looking carefully at the way in which what few strangers walked the streets at night carried themselves, even with only candlelight to reveal their forms. As a brief aside, it astonished Argi somewhat just how varied the cities of the lowlands could be in their style and architecture, before he remembered that the distance between Ignatz and here was as vast - if not more so - than the entire mountain range upon which he lived almost all his life.

But yes, on the matter of the people... it was difficult to discern how any of them could somehow be afflicted by a parasite from another world, and others not. At times he thought that those who wore their clothes well fitted might least obscure it, before realising that not only was even Terran fabric incapable of sticking entirely to the physical form - presenting pockets in which something may hide - but their forms and figures were so varied that, particularly without reference as to the size of these 'Enrele', he could not judge what was a natural but egregious growth, and something far more worrying.


Having failed to figure out as to exactly how he himself would be able to identify the Enrele - and prompting the consideration within his mind that he may require the additional aid of the angel, or perhaps even the services of the 'Lady' they served - Argi began his way back to the inn, assured that the angel would, for now and to some extent, abide by their word. The innkeep had little to say when Argi traipsed in through the door, seemingly having little objection to people coming and going in the middle of the night. Up the stairs the young man from the mountains went, unaware of how heads slowly turned his way after he had passed. Across the hall he traversed, arriving at the door to the room he had rented. He wasn't sure how soon it would be before the sun rose, but he intended to depart quickly after greeting it. The door he closed behind him, and into the comforting embrace of the bed he fell, now much more fond of its softness. With that, he might just go right to...


...The door behind him clicked open.


Wheeling around, Argi saw the innkeep rush at him with a speed that should have been - and he suspected was - inhuman. He just about raised his foot in time to press it between the two of them, and preventing a grotesquely pulsing hand - veins about to burst from sheer pressure - from grasping around his neck. The sheer strength of the man was still intense, and with them pressing forward, threatened to simply break every joint of Argi's right leg. Hell, the metal cap in the boot was threatening to cut into the very foot it was meant to protect, the way it was being bent back.

Gritting his teeth, Argi tucked his hand behind his back, grabbing the empty hilt to then yell aloud once again, "PELDUN!"

The floorboards, and much of the surrounding building, collapsed at the sudden appearance of the great mass that was the blue, buglike automaton, in place of its master. As dust and splinters settled down, having so suddenly been flung up into the air, the unflinching gaze of the 'living' statue, and the much more nervous look of the man controlling it, beheld a number of people standing at the edge of the wreckage - where the bar on the ground floor was - with much a similar presence as the man that had just tried to assault Argi.


"...Aleth." He realised and uttered the name of that which bound these people together, including the innkeep, who rose from beneath a pile of wood and stone as if it was hardly there at all. But while the possession of the parasite clearly did well to make him strong and resilient, it had done little for their clothing, which was torn and loosened as to reveal a hint of the creature that lay hidden upon the host's back. A shiver ran down Argi's spine, for what he saw was like no creature atop the mountains that he called home; it was as if it was all flesh with no skin, and even that flesh was more liquid than muscular mass.

"What... are you?" The innkeep spoke, but the speech was purely functional.

Argi didn't answer it, instead trying to swipe at the innkeep quickly. They jumped, grabbing a half-broken beam to stay aloft, while several more of the people rushed forward in much the same fashion the first one had. Quite quickly, they were crawling all across the automaton!

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