Unfortunate as the falling lights were, Lucian had neither the processing power or time to try to help strangers. In all fairness to him, he didn't even see the lights fall down either. He was too busy watching as Vera was being roasted (he was praying for her right now) and he was being charged (he was praying for himself right now).
Lucian, however, had a trick up his sleeve to deal with his draconic foe. Well, it was the same trick all reapers had. Lucian was not exactly a man built for fights. His magic was much too fickle and indirect for that. Instead, Lucian possessed an item that was the only thing someone needed to win a fight.
He had a big stick.
The smokey gem on his finger erupted into his infamous pool cue. Had Lucian been more intelligent with more time, he would have set out a trap. Some pool balls on the floor for the horse-sized skeleton dragon to run over and trip on. Unfortunately, Lucian was not that intelligent. He ended up just holding out his pool cue to jab at the charging monster. Rather than an honorable battle cry, he more was letting out battle yelps.
The success of the lightning over the plant matter had Edward cackling, as if he were mad with power. Such a small victory fed his ego, and so drunk off the feeling he hadn’t initially noticed the disaster that would follow.
His laughter had slowed as the realization dawned on him that something was wrong. The destruction that was once a point of satisfaction turned to panic and regret as he remembered the simple fact that he was surrounded by mortals.
“Oh right…shit.” Damnit. His abilities weren’t suited for rescue, and definitely not in this scale. Focused to the immediate danger, Edward rushed to the people beneath the first set of lights that fell. He’d become tangible in his sprint, visible too, as he’d run into and push those people out of the way. “Move fools!”
In truth he’d prefer to stay invisible, but his lack of training in that field left him without options. There wasn’t any time to complain or feel embarrassed about it though. He’d drop another bag of bones and braced for impact if it failed.
“Rise and serve the master of death!” This chant sounded more desperate then cocky, as he stirred the bones in this bag to move and grow like a tree, forming into something like a large skeletal hand in hopes to catch the debris that was to fall on him and the others he failed to get out of the way.
Emerging from the arcane globe of shimmering magic that had saved her, Vera darted forward. She had been trapped. She had been slowed. She had to help Lucian. She had to protect Celeste. Cheese boy was no fighter. He was not even a shield. He was a pretty face. Some chiseled abs. And clearly, the brains of a mouse.
She didn't worry about the wizard. She didn't worry about the crashing lights. Edward seemed fine. He was still shouting. Vera decide to take that as a positive sign. The dragon had to be dealt with. The danger had to be ended. Aid couldn't be dispensed to any hapless mortals with a mouthful of jagged teeth looming over Lucian...an maybe Celeste afterwards.
Springing forward, Vera launched herself at the dragon and swung her ebony blade at whatever part of the dragon she could reach first. She needed to strike. She needed to distract. She needed to buy Lucian time. She needed to do something.
Panic erupted in an instant, and Edward was immediately in the thick of it.
Compared to the destruction of the lights, the sudden appearance of a guy in a weird costume was basically a non-issue. No one spared a glance at his desperate chant, but the efficacy of it, at least, was proven. Though broken glass slipped through the gaps of the skeletal hand, the interconnected nature of the lights allowed more of them to be hoisted up by the necromancer’s spell than simply the size of the hand itself. The patrons of the place had been saved!
But they were now all streaming towards the exit too, security motioning towards the exits as the well-dressed, well-perfumed attendees of the fashion show made their exits as quickly as possible. And with in the tide of humanity, Edward found himself being swept away, his tangible form pushed and prodded out of the venue alongside everyone else, glass embedding itself in his shoes on the way out.
And as he neared the exit, he saw two things.
The wisp wriggling back up, fresh tendrils bursting out from charged lumps. It had been damaged, greviously so, but it had recovered in the chaos as well, fluctuations of emotion giving it the fuel it needed to continue.
The man on the stage, pulling out a card from the breastpocket of his suit. With a parting of his lips, the card ignited and disappeared, the surest sign of written magic, before the security team escorted him out through the back of the stage.
Pool balls littered the floor, and the dragon, its fleshless feet already lacking traction, slipped upon them as a result. It was effective! Stabbing a creature made of absolutely zero flesh? Much less effective.
Lucian’s pool cue may have made for a good weapon if he had swung it, but a thrust simply ended up with the stick going through the eye socket and out the back of the dragon’s skull as the spectral monstrosity tripped forwards and slammed its jagged forehead right into the reaper’s chest. Momentum continued, Lucian smashed straight through the drywall. His back and his butt were stuck inside the wall now, but before a finishing blow could be delivered, Vera’s claymore swung true, struck true.
Soundlessly, that ebony blade slid through the dragon’s tail, severing it with a singular stroke.
It roared in response, twisting around like a snake to face its foe, inadvertently wrenching Lucian’s weapon from his grasp. Four limbs coiled up like springs, four sets of claws digging deep into the walls, a pair of wings spread out and aligned like blades.
And with a kick, it launched itself towards Vera, intending on smashing her to bits the same way that it had for Lucian.
In the frenzy and the scramble, however, Celeste’s presence was difficult to track.
Unlike Lucian, she hadn’t been half-buried in a wall.
Unlike Lucian, she was being lead away by a host of skeletal monkeys, glowing with the same unearthly shine as the ghostly dragon.
The successful lift of the skeleton hand allowed Edward a brief respite from the rush of panic. Burdened by the emotional exhaustion, it only served to distract him further as now crowds of people pushed and shoved. Between the unnecessary, suffocating crowd of fleeing patrons and his corporeal feet being cut against the class, Edward had become far from comfortable. He silently hissed before he regained enough sense to render himself incorporeal once more, about the time he noticed the plant-controlling wisp, his prey, recovering fast. Bastard must be even more hungry now.
“Second round then?” Like a switch he had returned to his more confident persona, his lips stretched into an awfully sly and devious smirk.
“Fool, you don’t stand a chance against this sorcerer.”
Edward pointed his left palm outward.
“Mark of death, strike true!” Another incantation. Four bolts of deathly magic were conjured above and around his outstretched arm, they hovered in place for only a few moments before they arced towards the wisp’s central body. Despite knowing he wasn’t the most efficient at melee, the pride and thrill he felt lured him to charge directly after the path his arcane bolts soared. Lightning crackled from his staff as he planned to point-blank blast a potentially dazed wisp, assuming his spell lands and produces its intended affect.
With his rear firmly implanted into drywall, Lucian was now folded into the wall. Thankfully, Vera's actions had spared him from being splayed into a violently mutilated wall ornament. He was still a wall ornament, but he didn't have his skull torn open. He definitely broke the bottom two of his ribs and probably cracked a few more. His body usually didn't bend that way. It was like one of those schoolyard rumours where people had them removed, except this time it was violently percussive to fold him into a wall.
His moneymaker was thankfully safe. His face had escaped the carnage. Lucian didn't really know what would happen if his skull was torn open. Would he wake up in Decibitus as though he had died again? Would he just be standing their with his face looking like a half-eaten pastry? Would his soul be banished to a true death?
It was a good thing he wasn't thinking of any of that.
Beyond the pain, something had attracted his attention:
Even though they lacked the cymbals and funny little hats, the mere presence of them stole his attention.
However, Lucian had to make his choice. Help Vera or go after the monkeys. It wasn't like they were carrying Celeste in some kidnapping. No, they were just leading her.
Which, to Lucian, did not mean it was a kidnapping.
Popping out of the wall and ignoring the pain, Lucian half-stumbled and half-charged at the dragon. On his way, he picked up his pool cue. This time, however, he was swinging. He'd repay Vera for cutting off the dragon's tail and saving his precious face.
There was, undoubtedly, an appropriate way to approach this. Keeping one's head under the radar was an intelligent approach to most things, particularly as they concerned prisons one had little business going into, at least if television had taught Amelia anything worthwhile.
She was very aware of the sense of unease that hung over the Depths, of the spectre of final death that haunted the building. Execution. A gun to the head, or some such, and gone. Her hand hovered over her revolver for a moment, and she smiled to herself. She was no killer, but something about this place and the dangers within was... enticing. If anything, that unease made her more eager to approach.
More interesting than such thoughts, though, was the figure out front. Amelia was always happy to see the boss, and whistled to get her attention and distract her before she could go in. As ever, it didn't seem to occur to her that her approach to Miss Death might actually be the odd one.
"We've been looking for you everywhere!" Amelia grinned, displaying nowhere near the levels of formality, respect, or fear that were warranted, "what's been going on, MD? Important business? Unimportant business? Business your most charming and talented reaper can help with?"
Aron, strategically positioned behind Amelia, stuck his head out with a furtive motion. He coughed. "Hi."
If Miss Death was surprised, it failed to show on her face as she turned to face her reapers. Granted, that was the norm for the pink-haired woman, but that certainly didn't make things better.
"Ah. Hello. To both of you." Miss Death gave a small nod of her head to acknowledge the reapers' presence. "I lack the knowledge to say if my business is important. But circumstances make it irrelevant for now. It may behoove me to request your insights on the matter."
A pause as she seemed to process the rest of Amelia's words, and the woman tilted her head slightly to one side.
"Is my presence required somewhere? Observing the cells can be delayed."
"Eliot was looking for the usual run-down of new arrivals..." Amelia mulled it over for a moment before continuing, "so yes, but I don't think it's that urgent. He'll not be happy if we come back without you, though, so mind if we stick around? I'm sure we'll have some insights. Maybe even good ones!"
"I mean..." Aron's brain was revving as desperately as it could. "I dunno how valuable our opinions would be. Neither of us have been to jail before apparently."
"Apparent-- can you at least try to sound like you believe that?"
"Honesty has its value," Miss Death said. "Experience in imprisonment is irrelevent, though. My concerns are with thoughts of ones who lived."
She paused, a hand brought to her chin in thought for a moment, her stare lingering on something unseen again. Then, she shut her eyes and turned back to the prison's entrance.
"If you wish accompany me, I will not stop you. There will be no issues."
Without giving much time for response, the pink-haired woman stepped through the entrance of the prison.
"At least you know I've got good thoughts, MD." Amelia sighed wistfully, watching her turn away from them before grabbing Aron's sleeve and beginning to follow her in, hoping to drag him along. "Come on, new buddy. I'll pay you back... somehow."
"I'm gonna say it now, I also don't take IOUs," he grumbled. Considering that his only other option was arguing with his co-worker right in front of the boss, Aron glumly allowed himself to be led in. Maybe with Miss Death around, Amelia would be a little more manageable. And who knows, maybe ghost prisons were not significantly worse than normal prisons!
Woe be it to Aron that ghost prisons--abandoned ghost prisons--were significantly worse than normal prisons in many ways. After all, it was a prison where the only end result was, ostensibly, death.
And "death" hung heavy in the air, oppressive in its weight despite the distinct lack of any signs of it.
Miss Death's pace was steady as they passed empty cells. Of course they were outdated, far from the marvel of prisons in the modern day. Most cells showed no signs of having been inhabited in recent times, but the ones that did were starkly out of place. Only after passing a first few sets did the pink-haired woman glance back to her reapers, her steps coming to a slow halt.
"I have been told by others that this place is unnerving. Sorry. To make you come in like this."
Amelia had been looking towards one of the more recently-occupied cells, expression hard to read past some basic level of curiosity. At Miss Death's words, she glanced over to her, tilting her head. It was hard to know what exactly to say, sometimes, but she could try.
"You didn't make me, and I made him. If there were executions happening right now, the story might be different, but," she shrugged, trying her best to keep a brave face, "eh. I won't say I've seen worse, but I'd follow you through another level or two of creepy."
Although she couldn't speak for Aron, she did glance towards the man. "How about you? Holding up okay?"
Aron snapped out of a disassociative stare to regard Amelia with a flat look. She was trying to rub it in now, huh.
"Whatever. Could be worse."
The distant stare from Miss Death lingered again for a moment longer before turning to the nearest cell.
"...then we will go no further than the end of the hall." Quiet words, but firm in their assertion. "Any deeper is... worse. Even before it became empty."
The pink-haired woman looked forward again and continued her walk.
"But. There are no others to hear invasive thoughts in this place, if you have questions." She looked into another cell with the faintest traces of being lived in left behind, but didn't stop walking. "Questions like what you think of the necromancer far beneath our feet."
"Why is it he can't be killed? Unmade, whatever." Amelia wasn't the sort to beat around the bush. She raised a hand to forestall the obvious answer. "Yeah, I know, 'powerful necromancer', but that seems too simple. Plenty of damned powerful things and people have still ended, haven't they? What makes him different? It seems like there'd have to be a trick to it."
"Hm." Such was the first answer. A small, vocal utterance carrying the weight of more thoughts than should be contained in a single syllable. It led well into the next. "We do not know. The first attempt should not have failed."
Miss Death didn't stop walking, though she did adjust her position, slightly, to look at Amelia and Aron as opposed to the cells for a moment.
"Now they are too frightened to try again. I do not think they are wrong to be."
The thought of someone so dangerous and unkillable made Aron wince. "Did you come here for him? Or some other thing that'd make the guard super iffy?"
An uncertain pause came first.
"I did come for him. He has long asked for a direct meeting with me. Circumstances make that seem a good option." Miss Death's expression shifted to one of confusion, as best it could. "But I would not know if that would make the guard... 'iffy?'"
"It means uneasy. Worried. Like-- like Eliot after most of our conversations. So probably. He scares everyone," and so do you, though Amelia didn't say it, "and if he wants to meet with you... he gets something from it, no? Wouldn't make sense otherwise. There's a certain thrill to the idea of such a conversation, no doubt, but somehow I don't think that's why you'd be doing it, so... what are these circumstances, to make this meeting desirable now?"
"The rail's failure." Miss Death came to a stop as the end of the hallway came into view. "We are at a loss. He possesses ingenuity that could prove insightful. Others wish not to acknowledge that he far outstrips even my talents for this issue. I do not blame them."
"So... are you doing that now?" Aron asked. Hopefully not with the two of them in tow. "I didn't think you'd need, uh, permission."
"Would you not be bothered if one like me forced such actions?"
"Wait, that stuff bothers people?" Amelia frowned, as if on the verge of a realisation, then shrugged it off. "Eh. I wouldn't mind if you did."
Aron had to stop himself from drilling another flat stare at Amelia, answering the boss' question instead. "...It'll pass, I guess. This seems important."
"You are both too accepting." Miss Death shook her head lightly. "I have no desire to offer you to risk for a self-made whim. But. I believe you may be able to aid me in another way."
"I'll do it." Amelia spoke quickly, before pausing. "What is it, though?"
"If it's within our ability, yeah."
"See if other reapers might agree with the idea. Gaining permission may be easier if others were to suggest it." A pause. "If you cannot. I will find a way to handle it without involving anyone else."
"You need us to get people on board with it? Sure. How hard can it be? I'm a fantastic negotiator. One of my many talents." Amelia winked at her. "Better than making you handle it all on your own, right?"
"I..." The thought of Amelia inflicting one of her 'negotiations' on other innocent reapers made Aron shiver. "We'll get the word out. Definitely."
"You have my gratitude." Miss Death bowed her head, before her attention returned back down the hall she'd set as their limit. "Someone is here. It would be best for you to return outside. If you have more to ask, I will be out soon."
Amelia watched her turn away, and got halfway towards making another comment before a look of dawning realisation crossed her face. Shutting her mouth (for once) she nodded, turned on her heel, and moved to leave at a fairly rapid pace.
She figured Aron would follow her. For safety, if nothing else. NOTES
With this, the initial phase of this investigation has technically concluded.
Players involved in this phase may choose how they wish to tackle the information they currently have--whether that is immediately starting with the task Miss Death has given them, waiting to chat it up with her again, or otherwise.
If any part of the player plans require major NPC interaction, please ping @PapiTan for the time being!
Vera had no time to gloat seeing her cut strike true and cleaving part of the calcified tail from the dragon. She wouldn't have. Today the dragon. Tomorrow her. Today her or tomorrow the dragon. It didn't matter. It was only a matter of time. True death loomed. It always waited. She suspected, even if she did not know it true. She was a tool. She was a weapon. She would spend her efforts wisely. She would be a cog in the machine. Once and forever more. She did not challenge her fate. It was all she deserved. It was all any of them deserved.
She hoped Lucian was moving. She hoped Lucian was alright. Celeste she would worry about later. Civilians were not a concern when there were dragons. Thoughts did not slow her. She wasn't thinking. Not really.
Moving to avoid the angry dragon with an open mouth of razor sharp teeth flying towards her, Vera tried to dodge, channeling another swing, with the hope at least of proper timing into a parry. Followed by a riposte. A word she vaguely remembered. Channeling a defensive strike into a deadly blow.
Bolts of arcane power sang through the flickering light and shadow of the venue, striking with aplomb before Edward delivering a killing blow with his Scythe. Twas with the fury of the storm itself that his staff smashed through the last of the wisp's defenses, vines and petals charring to ash before the tip of the staff cracked open the skull of the child inside. No blood, no cry. Only a muted stare from a pair of pitch-black eyes.
And then, unraveling. Fibers unmade, threads unspooled. The entire body of the predator-plant peeling away into a myriad of ethereal lines. The lines twisted together once more, wrapping into itself over and over again, spinning with the speed of a mechanical loom. Histories and egos stripped away, form and substance flattened to a single color, the life that made the wisp, the life that made the child before the wisp, it all became of nothing once more.
A ball of yarn, rolling to a stop by Edward's foot. To be processed at the Kiln once all this was over.
And though all this was not yet over, one could certainly forgive the necromantic aspirant for wanting to bask a little in his own victory. After all, he, not Lucian, not Vera, had single-handedly taken down a triple-phantom-infused wisp! And without doing the disgusting amount of collateral damage that Amelia did either!
It was good to be a God of Undeath!
It was bad to be Lucian.
Ribs cracked, abs crushed, the former model picked up his pool cue once more, ready to take a hefty swing at the dragon. But the nature of luck was that what went up must go down, and while in most cases, misfortune would rebound upon someone else, in this case?
Half-stumbling, half-charging, half-swinging, his foot slipped upon the pool balls he had scattered just four minutes prior and Lucian found himself face-down, ass-up. Thankfully free from concussions owing to the hardiness of his face, he nevertheless cut a sad image, one that was of no use to Vera and no harm to the dragon.
But Vera herself had found her tempo now. The world was pulling away from her as she continued to prioritize, continued to categorize. The fire alarm turned mute. The civilians were mere shadows. Celeste was a concern for another time. Edward's gloating earned no thoughts. All there was was her sword and the dragon, the prototypical tale of heroes and the monsters they had to slay. Everything else, after all, was just a backdrop.
Spectral sparks scattered from the deflectional parry of her longsword, bone chipping as the blade guided it away. With the momentum of that movement, the swordswoman transitioned into a cut that aimed to behead the beast while its head was extended. It sliced into the dragon's upper jaw instead, shorning off what ought to have been its nose before digging into its lower teeth. If the beast had been alive, there would be hot blood, roars of pain.
But it was just bones, animated and possessed with fury.
It drew its jaw back, more teeth shattering as it pinned Vera's blade inside what remained of its mouth. It would not be something she could free easily. Not be something she could free on time.
For within its ribcage, spectral flames coiled once more, rushing up the channel of its neckbones and bursting out the gaps of its ruined face! It was a shotgun blast, rendered in a blaze, and if Vera did not defend, she would be sent flying back, perhaps suffering the same fate that Lucian had just extricated himself from.
He did it. That bastard did it. Upon breaking the skull, Edward realized he won. Overcome with pride over his victory, he couldn’t help himself but indulged in the self-perceived spotlight. Though he was still invisible to the mortal eye, he acted as though there was a crowd watching; He turned, spinning to face away from the destroyed wisp just as it started to wither away. One hand placed in front of his face, like a dramatic cut hiding his left side with the fingers spread to reveal his eye. The other hand was placed on his hip as he spoke.
“Another soul destroyed before the lord of the dead.” Then, turning back to the wisp while he made a slashing motion with the turn of his hand, away from his face now. “Return to ash.”
Ash.. Though his cheeses expression remained, there was a sort of somberness that grew over seeing the wisp’s form wither away to nothing. A reminder of the ultimate fate to those lost souls. A cruel world it was, to be sure; but perhaps one day things could be different. Maybe..
Sad thoughts aside, without any direct obstacle he was free to witness his companions and their struggle with the dragon. It seemed they provoked that fascinating construct, the fools! He supposed the dragon must have been a wisp too.
Very well then, it seemed he could try to help out, perhaps then they’d appreciate how great he was.
He threw two spell tags out from his robe’s pockets, and with practiced finesse made a swift single motion of his arm to throw the tags at both skeletal sources he had used prior; the ruined net and the remains of the large hand.
He didn’t need to recite the full spell for its written form; but he was brimming now with such hammy acting that he couldn’t help himself.
“Servants of the damned, heed my call. Your lord beckons.” He had his hand stretch out at the general direction of the two sources of the spell while he continued, already the spell tags seemed to burn away as the skeletal masses began to shape themselves once more. “Rise and serve the master of death!”
With that, the two mess of bones had collected, morphed, and assembled into two generic human skeletons. Their eyes alight with dark magic which also seemed to tether faintly around their joints and outline.
He turned around to face his new opponent, then once again brought his hand out forward.
“Go fourth and conquer!” The skeletons moved like soldiers towards the dragon, though given their speed and distance they wouldn’t be able to assist right away. Perhaps they ultimately wouldn’t be needed by the time they did. In any case, Edward wasn’t ready to slow down; even if he preferred to not destroy the dragon.
He did a brief flourish with his staff as he called out to Lucian and Vera.
“Your struggle is over, for your great and powerful Edward is here now!”
Lightning coiled from the staff’s tip as he spun the weapon in his hand, then he stopped the staff; tilting it towards the beast that had just shotgun-fired his comrade.
Amelia was faced, now, with a problem. As she made her way back towards the office, she was contemplating it quite fiercely. She had to solve the dilemma ahead of her, of course, but how to do so? Rallying support had never been her forte, as she had never seen much reason to give a shit about those who her charms failed to win over. Such matters were boring, and frequently futile.
And yet, she wanted to make Miss Death happy, if she could. Or whatever approximated happy for her, at least; the woman's relationship with most feelings was a riddle Amelia had yet to find all of the answers for.
So she made her way back to the office, and for once, she had been thinking before she acted, because if she didn't think, she might not achieve the most entertaining of results. She wanted to see what would happen if MD and the necromancer were to speak, and she hoped a little bit that she might get to see. Things grew stale, and the current situation wasn't sustainable anyway. As reckless as she may have seemed (and been), Amelia had little interest in fading away because the afterlife grew overcrowded and went to shit. She wanted a good death, she wanted action, wanted that thrill that had shot through her being when...
Yes, it would be bad to let things grow stale. Terrible indeed. She considered, of course, the obvious option. There had been stern words about improper use of her weapon. Words that Uchi and Eliot had felt a great need to stress to her, even. But even if she knew she wouldn't pull the trigger, pointing it tended to rush along the decisions that people made, and in a favourable direction to boot. Ultimately, though, she discarded the idea. It would be foolish to lose her station, and there were lines that one could not cross. Besides, she wasn't maliciously unhinged, and she didn't enjoy the prospect of unmaking people if they took her actions as aggressive.
No, the gun stayed in the holster. More's the pity.
She would have to be cleverer about it all. And so, here she was. She'd stolen... she'd borrowed a box, and spent some time crafting an admittedly crude set of ballots. One answer for supporting the conversation, and one for not doing so.
And now, here she was. Returning to the office, no doubt to the delight of her coworkers. Mostly. Probably. She couldn't imagine why it would be anything else, as she began to drag a desk into the middle of the floor, and set the box and ballots down. Forgot to bring a pen - she paused, ran over to the nearest desk, and grabbed one from someone's hand to a noise of protest that went ignored. He'd probably get it back at some point.
With that done, she clambered up to stand atop the table, clapped her hands, and cleared her throat. "My fellow reapers! I have a request for you - not on my own behalf, don't worry. But our wonderful boss, ahem, Miss Death, she needs our input. Specifically, she needs our opinions. She would like to speak with the Necromancer, that we might resolve the rail failure, but is unwilling to force it."
Despite it all, Amelia was aware of how she was seen by her peers. A reckless fool, a destructive force, a detriment to order and to good sense. This, on occasion, made it difficult for one to get what they wanted. But people assuming you would always make the worst possible decision... that could be useful too. She grinned widely, spreading her arms.
"For the record, I think this is a terrible idea. Better that we let things build a little more, no? It should be much more fun that way. Right now, we're only getting started, am I right or am I right?"
Someone was saying her name, she realised, finally done tuning out every sign of protest. She looked down, raising an eyebrow at Eliot, who looked to be deeply exasperated.
Ah, persuasion. Public speaking. All things Aron had never excelled in during his alive-life. Quite the opposite, really. His interview skills were never going to get him anywhere he wanted - that’s why he had to hone his skills so much. None of them were applicable here though. Exactly how was he going to get people on Miss Death’s side.
Hands fiddling in his crumb-powdered pockets, Aron re-entered the lobby of Lucema Regini, blatantly avoiding eye-contact with the receptionist.
‘Flyers, maybe. A company-wide email?’ He’d need to get to his computer for that.
As the elevator doors opened to his floor though, he found that his desk was not in its usual place. Had the receptionist fulfilled his request in some kind of roundabout, monkey’s-paw manner? Tragically not. His desk had been shifted and was occupied by someone upsettingly vertical in relation to his workstation.
He registered the sneakers on the week-overdue paperwork first. Then the grand speech coming from above them.
“Are… ARE YOU INSANE?!”
His voice cracked from taking on such an extreme volume. Aron practically steamrolled his way to the front of the gathering crowd, his height and bulk making short work of any unintentional obstacles. His disbelief seemed sharp and genuine. Perhaps it had not occurred to him what her scheme was?
An accusing finger was pointed up at Amelia.
“We already have people trying to walk the Rail. Walk! And you want more of that?! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Vera heard Edward shouting from afar, again, but the words didn't mean anything to her, she was in the moment, swinging her sword, cutting through bone, just a dead woman fighting a dead dragon in a duel to whatever came after the end of the dream or nightmare that Vera called undeath. Maybe it was better this way. Fight to fight. Battle to Battle. War to war. Change was only surface deep, nothing ever truely changed. She was the same. The world was the same. Her enemies were the same. No one knew what they were fighting for. Not really.
She could see flames emerging from the maimed dragon. She could sense a challenge. They had wasted too much time. Lucian was down for the count. His wounds would be severe. There was no time for caution.
Smiling for a fleeting movement, Vera ignored the compulsion to defend, it was a habit instilled by the constraints of mortality, death was no mystery to the dead, and she did not worry. A good soldier knew when to gamble.
Twisting her sword free accompanied by the unwilling crack of splintering bone teeth, Vera swung her freshly freed sword upwards aiming to cleave the dragon's shattered skull into two from within.
Slipping on his own balls was mildly embarrassing. Well, it would have been if Lucian had been aware of what happened. From his point of view, his face was suddenly touching the floor. He wasn't the type to stare at his own feet, so how could he tell that he owned himself like that?
"C-curse you!" He yelled out as though the skeletal dragon had attacked him. He rose from his position, ready for his next move.
After all that, it was apparent that object permanence wasn't exactly one of Lucian's fortes. Apparently, neither was attacking the enemy. Lucian did what Lucian did best: stand there and look pretty.
Moral support was his big idea for helping in the fight.
He cheered and clapped on as his teammates fought the beast. He probably should have attacked or tracked down the monkeys. He did neither, of course.
Despite his shattered ribs, despite his messed-up organs, despite everything that really should have reduced a normal human being into a sobbing and/or unconscious mess, Lucian was perhaps simply too empty-headed to register the pain he was in. After all, he was too pretty for pain, and regardless, his teeth were too perfect to be relegated to combative grunts or grits.
So instead, he clapped and cheered and, as if by cosmic coincidence, triggered the speaker system within the abandoned venue. The music, reserved perhaps to serve as ambience for socialization or for accompanying models on runways, kicked in immediately, a groovy, pulsating beat that Edward’s skeletons immediately synchronized with, their hips swinging side to side in tempo with the song as his lightning bloomed from his staff.
It was dangerous, perhaps, but it worked as well. Lightning cracked against the spectral dragon’s skull, causing its head to snap back in the instant it opened its jaw. Phantom flame bloomed, a blast that deafened the ears. And yet, Vera herself was not caught in it. Her ally’s interference gave her the space as she dropped low, hair singed and skin peeling from residual heat. Sword singing through the heated air.
A clean strike at last, slicing apart the dragon’s skull from snout to spinal cord. Two halves, made imperfect only from previous trauma inflicted, fell to the ground before scattering into dust. The body that remained soon followed, crumbling as well into aether, leaving only being the echoes of Vertan.
Edward Watched as the dragon’s maw was forced away from its target. Then saw as Vera struck true with a finishing slash. The necromancer cackled with a casual stride towards its crumbling remains. Its destruction affirmed to Edward that it must have been a spell, it had no residue of soul-stuff that a wisp or spirit would have left behind.
So, if it was a spell, who was its caster? The girl perhaps? Wait, where is she? Edward hadn’t paid enough attention to their side of the fight until now.
Lucian seemed unconcerned despite apparently being acquainted with her. So, maybe she was alright? No it’s not wise to trust that Lucian himself is aware of what’s going on.
“No need to thank me, dragon-slayer.” Edward stated with a hint of a smug tone as he walked by Vera, performing a brief dramatic spin of his staff with one hand. Both of his skeletons ended their March a bit past Lucian, awaiting further orders. (Though they continued an idle rhythm.)
“While I humbly accept any well-deserved praise sent my way…I think we’re missing a particularly important pink-haired mortal. Did she escape safely while I was occupied?” He directed the question to both of his co-workers.
Tossing aside a singed hair that drifted down to her cheek, Vera frowned at the braggart wizard blowing hot air in her direction. She already missed the dragon fire that had threatened to immolate her. He talked too much she decided with a knowing pause. A difficult disease to cure when death was not an option.
She did not begrudge Edward his question, he was finally concerned with something that mattered, and on annoyed reflection she was forced to agree that the pink haired woman they were supposed to be protecting was nowhere to be seen.
"I don't know," Vera simply said.
"The spell was distraction enough," she added with another deep frown, gesturing where the dragon had been before it faded into the aether. "Za dvumya zaytsami pogonish’sya — ni odnogo ne poymayesh."
"If you chase after two hares, you’ll end up not catching even one," Vera generously translated.
Her features softened as she turned towards the seriously wounded Lucian, "Are you alright, Lucian? Did you see what happened to your friend?"
He was brave, if nothing else. And loyal, he fought even when he should have given up. She could forgive much for such traits. A loyal soldier was often enough.
"I'm okay, thank you for asking. Lucian pleasantly replied as he took a few steps away from the grooving skeletons. He wasn't about to trust some skeleton near him after being crushed into a wall by one. "Oh, and she was carried off by some monkeys." He flatly stated. His general airheadedness made it difficult to determine how accurate his observation was.
Then, after finally giving his brain time to finish processing the battle and everything that happened, a grimace came over Lucian's face.
Lucian wasn't a super human. Well, he was as much as reaper could be. Now that there wasn't multiple things going on, Lucian's brain cells could finally interpret what happened to his body.
Rather than crumple to the floor in pain, Lucian's body acted autonomously with its experience. No, he fell attractively. It was like he was at a model shoot where pictures would share with the world how meek, vulnerable, and pounceable he was.
"Lucian!" Vera said, swooping down to pick up the fallen reaper, cradling his head gently in her arms.
Reapers, all of them, herself included, were already dead. First aid wasn't strictly required. But such merciful ministrations would have to wait. It was foolish to try to treat the wounded when the battle was still unfolding. That was an old trick. That was how one casualty became several and then many. That was how an entire squad was lost.
"Lucian! We need you to stay awake. I'm sorry. You must rest later. What monkeys? Where did they take, Celeste? What direction were they heading" Vera asked, shaking Lucian precisely. She had no wish to worsen his injuries. However, duty demanded otherwise. Kindness was weakness in the field. They needed a direction. Somewhere to begin the hunt for their lost target and their new unknown enemey.
There were certain things that Elliot was getting used to while on the premises of Lucema Regini, most of which were things that he was entirely certain he shouldn’t be getting used to. Still, Miss Death had never been picky in her hires. Over the course of time, of course there would be a few odd reapers here or there, and of course the vocal few tended to stand out more than the silent majority.
And then there were the ones with such telltale signs of the problematic ones. Telltale signs like the sound of yelling in French and a number of desk jockeys or off-duty reapers starting to gather in a very specific location. That was most certainly a specific sign of a specific individual.
Elliot sighed before he could stop himself, pressing the fingers of one hand to his temple, applying enough pressure to pretend the mounting migraine wouldn’t come to pass. Mochi, however, gave an excited snuffle, paws tapping against the floor in response to the tension in the air.
It was certainly not okay. It was so far from okay that Elliot almost wished Miss Death’s magic wasn’t at work, translating every word coming out of Amelia’s mouth as she stood on some commandeered desk.
She kept going.
What did she mean Miss Death wanted to speak with the Necromancer? And why was the alternative being offered somehow even less appealing?
At last, the woman looked in his direction, but before Elliot could open his mouth to speak, the situation got worse. Between the clamoring of the workers over the spectacle and the concerned whispers, there was the other one that had gone to find Miss Death. And he was right, things were already hectic without following Amelia’s advice. Hectic enough that--
But Elliot’s exclamation was lost to the crowd as a surge of noise rose in a cresting wave as tensions rose in conjunction with excitement. The situation was going to get out of hand—no, understatement, it was already out of hand. Sighing deeply to himself, Elliot buried his face in his hands for a moment, grudgingly acknowledging what he had to do next if he wanted to get any semblance of answers from a single damn person in the room.
“ ≪ QUIET DOWN. ≫” The Vertan words carried despite Elliot hardly speaking any louder than the commotion, largely because where they traveled, a forced silence followed. It was a short-lived spell, one that was well practiced but rarely used. The moment of quiet did its job in stunning the majority of the crowd into a speechless stupor. Which was fine. Enough. He just had to ask his question.
There were so many questions.
“Where exactly is Miss Death?” No, that wasn’t the one he really needed to know. He could figure from what was being said. “Wait, no, what in the world are you talking about raising the tension? And what do you mean people are walking the rail?”
Finding his anxieties growing with each word, Elliot pressed his hand to his temple again.