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Bio

So... Bio's are a thing now. Fancy.

Anywho!
25 y/o guy, currently student and living by myself, yada yada.

Veteran Roleplayer, with over 7-8 years of experience in both Pen & Paper and text based, with minimal LARP Experience. I have a great interest in fantasy settings and tends to dislike Post Apocalypse, or generally anything involving guns and modern weaponry. Gimme a sword and the ability to throw fire, and I'm happy.

I have relatively high standards and find myself somewhat disappointed if my posts are below 500 words, preferring ~1000+ whenever possible (sadly, not always easy). At the same time I expect similar standards from my fellow players. I also have a tendency to play female characters in spite of my being a guy, mainly because I find it more entertaining than playing the big burly guy.

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1000 points

Most Recent Posts

Sorry about not having replied yet. Had a bad couple weeks, and haven't had much motivation to do much of anything. I'll try to get something put together soon-ish.
Marotte made his silent way forward, accompanied by his ghostly, and at the moment body-less, companion Egon. He himself had opted for using his own camouflage to approach their designated area stealthily, mostly because his body had the unfortunate trait of being actual flesh and not ash.

Speaking of ash, the look on the fox-lady's face when Egon had simply let his body dissolve, still made him chuckle. She was a cranky one, rivalling even Egon in that respect, but even her bitch-face had cracked when he had dusted himself, showing some genuine surprise underneath. It was a memory he would take with him for as long as he could, and though it made him want to laugh he couldn't afford to.

They had been instructed to search the building where they had spotted the light being turned on, and this time Lily took extra precautions and sent Egon along. She had reasoned, that since her next opponent was almost certainly within that building – she had walked around the hotel a bit, and the drone she had with her turned enough that she claimed she she couldn't be wrong – there was no reason to take any chances. She had already seen magic, and now that she had someone who could sense it, she wanted to make use of his abilities.

So Egon had been kindly told to hover his way forward, as only a good ghost could, and sniff out any magical trickery that he could.

Marotte looked forward, toward where a potted plant marked the entrance to the building in question. Somehow he doubted there would be anything, but orders were orders, and they had been told to listen to what the lady-fox said. Funny thing that, foxes. So similar to dogs, even being sort of a canine themselves, and Lily was, unsurprisingly, female. The slice in his face that served as a mouth quirked to one side, humoured by his own little joke.

"Yo̸u ́t͡h͟i̛n͏k ̨we'̶l͞l͘ ̀fin͝d͘ ͏a͠nythin͘g͜?̧" Marotte whispered into empty air, in the general direction of where he expected Egon to be.

He received dry silence in return, an answer expected of someone like Egon. Had he possessed a body he might have even rolled his eyes.

Satisfied with his response, Marotte focused forward again, trusting Egon to warn him should anything happen or appear. They were both as good as invisible, so chances of anyone getting the jump on them were tiny to begin with, but one couldn't be too sure.

"Well, then tell m̶e̵ ͡if yoų sén͜se ̨a҉n͡y̴t͡hi͟ng," he whispered again, this time referring to the bit of Egon's ash he had hidden within his skin. One trick he had come up with, was to hide the ash like he hid his knives – within his own body – and for Egon to then tug on it if he noticed anything. So far, nothing.

He looked towards the opposite side of the street, scanning the fronts of small stores crammed between concrete behemoths that passed for buildings. Everything was turned off, everything was abandoned, left alone after the mass evacuation, or whatever had happened to this place. He looked up and stopped, eyes narrowing in the direction of a particular window of a tall building. He thought he had seen movement, something moving rapidly past the window in an upwards angle.

He waited a time, feeling his own heart beat, counting. At the tenth beat when nothing more had happened he started moving forward again. A small question mark formed from ash hovered in his peripheral, between him and the buildings on his side.

"T͝h̢o͢ught I s͡aw̛ ̨some͝t̨h̕i̴n̶g̸," he said quietly, "b̀u͡ţ i̕t͏ ẃas n̴o͠thin̡g̷.͢ ̸F̵orwar͡d̨,̶ my grumpy̛ fr̶ie͞n̶d͞, t͡o search̢ ͠f̢o͝r̴ t̷h̷i͘n̶gs͡ ̀th̛e fox͡-la͘dy t̀h̴i͠n͞k̢s is͜ ͡th͠e̴r͘e͜."

The question mark crumbled, falling to the ground like dust in a way that seemed almost disappointed.

Not thinking anymore of it, Marotte continued forward.

They reached the entrance within the next minute, Marotte being forced to move slowly so as to remain as unseen as possible. He was already walking towards the door when he felt the tell-tale tug from inside his body – Egon's ash. He stopped immediately and looked about slowly. Nothing moved, not even from the window he had previously been suspicious of. Still nothing.

A small circle with intricate lines formed in the air, looking much akin to a spell circle. So there was magic afoot. The small circle morphed into an arrow pointing towards the doors. It then circled around and pointed at Marotte, and then descended to make contact with the ground, tip-first.

"Fine, ̷I'l͘l s͝taỳ he͢re̛. Y̶o͜u ͏go a̶h͏e̷a̢d ̶ànd s̶c̵out. ͜I͝f̶ any̢th͡i͠ńg̛ h̴a̴pp͜e͝ns,͞ m̸a̡ke͞ a r̡uckus҉ ́and ͜I͞'̸l͟l ̸d̢a̴rt b͞ack an̵d ̧i̶nf͠o̧rm͝ ̶La̸dy-Fox.͢" He stepped over to lean up against the wall, sighing.

All he could do now was wait.




The mental ping of nearby magic had alerted Egon to its presence, and a little closer searching revealed it to be a ward covering the entrance of the building.

When it became clear that it worked based on physical presence, he passed over it and gave his message to Marotte, satisfied that he understood it, and hovered in.

Inside he found only several mailboxes hanging on the far wall, and a door leading to what he assumed to be the stairwell. Invisible, he hovered forward, passing through the door and came into view of the stairs leading upwards. Another ping alerted him, this one coming from straight ahead. Sharpening his magical perceptions brought the faint glow of another ward to his attention, covering the bottom of the stairs, and was identical to the one at the main entrance.

By the looks of it, whoever was housed here was as paranoid as Lily, perhaps more-so, if one were to judge from their use of detection spells. It did mean that he was on the right track, however, and that thought propelled him forward past the ward, and up the stairs.

There were two options worth considering, with current information in mind. One was that Lily's next opponent either intended for the wards to be a trail of breadcrumbs leading them into a trap, and the other that they were simply a warning system meant to alert the occupant, or perhaps remnants of the old inhabitants?

The first possibility hinged on the assumption, that whoever was meant to follow them could even detect them in the first place. In such a case, an individual such as Egon was the target, but based on the information he had, there was no way they would know who they were to fight next. Were that the case, Lily would not be as cautious as she was, and would have far more information and thus not need them to go scout like this. Chances were she was as ignorant as them, which left the second option, that they were simply a defence mechanism, or proverbial alarm bells. Which one was the most likely, he was not quite sure of, as even the second, and most likely, one seemed perhaps too simple.

That opened up the possibility of a third option: That the wards were a diversion, and a warning system at the same time. This way it would serve both functions: That of a warning system to the caster, and a wild goosechase for the victim. In the worst case scenario, the wards would lead someone like Lily astray, and in the best case it would alert the caster to the presence of their target, and lead them on a chase.

The appearance of a third ward brought him out of his ruminations. It covered the door leading out from the stairs, and into one of the hallways. Quirking a non-existent eyebrow, Egon found himself surprised that he had gone this far before any other wards appeared. He noted the large '1' emblazoned upon the door. The first floor, then. Adding a non-existent shrug, he dutifully followed the breadcrumbs, floating through the door. On the other side he was greeted by doors lining the walls, spaced evenly across the entire length, and until the dead-end a fair distance away. The window at the end was the only thing breaking up the monotony.

He moved forward slowly, keeping his detection spell going, looking for anything that he could while making certain that the room with the light on in it, did not escape his notice. He was somewhat surprised to find several wards in this area, the first of which that caught his attention being the one placed over the window straight ahead. It was not one you could open, but nonetheless anything that entered through it would alert via both magic and the noise of broken glass.

Paranoia on par with Lily's it seemed.

Other faint tingles of magic came from several of the apartments, some where just the door into them were covered, and others with just the window, or both. Each and every one of them containing the same type of spell: Detection, and a simple one at that. A novice magician perhaps? Or again, a trick to lure them in.

A few minutes passed with him lazily gliding down the hall, checking the rooms for any magic and finding only the wards. That is, until a certain room caught his attention. Or rather, the door to it. Like so many others, this one was covered in a ward as well, but he sensed faint traces of far more behind it. Cautiously, and looking inside confirmed what he believed, he pushed his ethereal head through and looked inside. When no traps activated her let the rest of himself follow, and immediately found himself astounded. The room held more wards than any of the other rooms he had looked at so far: Window to the back courtyard, entrance, and even between the doors leading from the kitchen to the living room, and everything in-between.

Knowing his temporary superior would not be satisfied lest he be thorough, and because it was the natural thing to do, Egon set about scouring the room. It would have been difficult to tell if there had been any recent uses of the room, given the nature of the rest of the city and how everything seemed to have been abandoned from one second to the other, as if by mass teleportation. However in this case there were still a few things that stuck out as suspicious, and made him certain someone had been here very recently.

First on his were the pieces of paper strewn about, and knocked from the desk, second was the blood on the floor; dry, but not so much as to have been very old. He hovered closer, ethereal eyes narrowed. A smattering of ash materialised at his command, grinding against the blood on the floor. When he pulled it away it stick to the ash. No, not old at all. He was no physician, but he knew that it took a fair amount of time before blood dried to the point where it didn't rub off anymore. He looked up, at this point spotting the mirror. A curious thing, as none had been in the living room before, but nothing to rouse his suspicion. What was in the mirror, however, did catch his attention; boxes made of something like extra thick parchment. Flat, and wide, with remnants of some sort of foodstuff within, he found out upon closer inspection, flipping one open with a small ball of ash.

This place had definitely been recently occupied, he decided. The blood alone was evidence enough, but the foodstuff in the flat boxes, still gooey and slimy, further proved it. Whoever had used this room as their temporary base of operation, was very likely their quarry. There were still the other rooms to check, as well as the papers on the floor. He had seen writing on one of them, and had a feeling it was no accident it was left there.

He looked out the window and surveyed the area and other windows facing him for a time. To his satisfaction, none seemed to be there, let alone pay attention to him. He turned and, allowing himself a moment of rare comfort, conjured a new body and started looking through the papers.

There was one with writing on it, and reading it snuffed out any comfort he might have had. His thing lips pressed together to become even thinner, the cigar in his mouth flattening with them.

“Congratulations. This is where I spent the night," he muttered to himself, reading aloud from the note. If there hadn't been proof before, there certainly was now. This was their hiding place. "Was it the wards at the door that led you here? If so, let me commend your ability to detect such a feeble presence. Follow them, then. They shall lead you to the one you seek."

Egon grunted and pocketed the note. So their target wanted to play hide and seek? Well, he wasn't going to play along. It all just brought him back to one of his possibilities, that this was a trap; following the wards certainly seemed to be, if they had anticipated them being magic users as well. He glanced up towards the ceiling, to where the fourth floor was far above. No more chasing bread crumbs, it was too risky, now he did what he was told.

He let his body fall to dust again, leaving only a pinch of ash to hold the notes, letting them trail close to the ground behind his ethereal form, heading to the stairs again.




Lily forced her tails to cease their violent, rapid movement, and refrained from tapping her nails on the table beside her. Marotte and Egon had been gone for a while now, and though it was expected that they wouldn't be quick due to the need for stealth, she still found it difficult to remain patient. She was close, so close to getting another one of the 'souls' to fuel her wish. She just needed to know who and what her opponent was, and where they were, so she could plan accordingly and get the jump on them.

"It's taking too long," she grumbled. "I thought your people were better than this, Carreau."

The owl-man's head turned towards her, the movement not unlike the one of a lighthouse. His eyes narrowed slightly behind the visor of his helm, meeting Lily's stare unflinchingly. "They are experts at what they do, Lily. Have faith in them, they will be back shortly, and successful I'm sure."

She looked away, his assurances only mildly comforting, and did nothing to quell her anxiousness. Her tails had started moving again.

She was about to voice her displeasure again a few minutes later, when a loud gunshot rang out, followed almost immediately by the muffled roar of fire, similar to the exhale of many dragons she had fought with, and against.

"Something happened," I.O said unhelpfully and hurried toward the door. The sound of his steps did not drown out the sound of a series of other shots following.

Lily was by the door to the outside by the third one, Carreau at her heels with his sabers drawn. She slammed open the door and flung out her power to create a smokescreen. Egon had beaten her to the punch, ash covered the entire street and halfway between her and the apartment complex, Egon was helping a bleeding Marotte toward them.

"Where did it come from?" Lily demanded, throwing her voice toward them with a push of her magic. An ash-made arrow formed over Egon's shoulder, pointing in the direction of the building immediately opposite the apartment complex. "Curse them!" she snarled. They had had a lookout, or was watching them as well. Regardless, Marotte and Egon had screwed up. She barked an order to get inside, telling Carreau to keep watch, and for I.O to help Marotte.

She didn't let go of the smokescreen she had created until they were all inside, and even then she only let it fade slowly, trying to mimic the natural way it dissipated without looking at it. She hoped it could fool their assailant.

"What happened?" It was Brucie who asked, still holding Mouse who seemed frightened. Understandable.

"Wards all over the building," Egon grunted. "Entrance, stairwell, doors, windows. Everything. I followed the trail while Marotte waited outside."

Carreau lifted a finger, looking as if he suddenly remembered something. Knowing him, he had known all along but played it off casually. "Speaking of Marotte," he began, looking at Lily, "you have a healing elixir of some kind, no?" His head turned meaningfully towards her tails, where she kept one of them curled around the bottle. "Would you be so kind as to heal my friend with it?"

Had it been a more precious resource, Lily would have refused, but given its nature... She grunted and took it from the midst of her furry appendages. She eyed Marotte, seeing his injuries for the first time. A gunshot wound to the stomach had pushed clean through, though it only hit the far side and would only be life threatening if left unattended. Another wound was on his arm, the bullet having graced him there.

"Drink this," she said and held it to what passed for his mouth.

"L̸ik̶e a̴ mo͟t̢h́e͟r ͏an͘d b͏ab͢y," he said, and the cheerful tone of his made her almost want to not heal him.

She resorted to instead silencing him with the bottle, and drink he did. Before her eyes, and like had happened with herself multiple times by now, his wounds healed. The blood remained, but slowly his flesh knit itself back together under the influence of whatever magic this flask possessed.

When the wound had fully closed the flask was nearly empty. She said nothing about it and instead passed it to Brucie, who dutifully filled it up again, using his magi-tech water cannon. When full, he returned it to the embrace of Lily's tails.

"Any more details to share, now that you are healed?" Carreau asked, poking his head over Lily's shoulder to look down at Marotte.

"Su̸re. ͜I҉ wąi̡t̕ed͏ ̢o͡utside̛ w͝h̡i͏le E͞ģo҉n̸ ̨went inside, ҉s̡t̕e͘a҉l͝thil̴y͜ as ́Ì cou̶l̵d̴.͞ ̡I ̢di̸dn͝'̢t m̶o͢ve ̵d̸ur͏i͟n̕g̡ ̨it,҉ ͞ju̢s̛t ͞l͢oo͝ke̷d aro͜un͠d.̴"

"Meanwhile," Egon said, continuing where Marotte left off, "I was inside, as I mentioned, following a trail of detection wards. All simple stuff, really. The trail lead me to the room you pointed out, Lily. There were signs of recent activity, and some blood on the floor. As well as this." He handed her three pieces of paper. "The first one I found in a room facing the middle courtyard. It was in the middle of a trail of detection wards."

Lily glanced over the first note, her jaw clenching at the words written upon it. "You didn't fall for the bait," she pointed out, looking him over. He shook his head "Good. This stinks of a trap." She flipped to the second paper, asking while reading, "and this one?"

Egon blew a small cloud of smoke from his cigar. "Room 4.D, the one with the light on."

Lily nodded, muttering the words to herself as she read it over. “To you who seeks a wish. Your prey is not here, nor will you find it unless you follow these instructions. Disregard them at your own peril.

The entrance, under a potted plant. Go there.” She tore the paper apart and burnt it, summoning a small flame to aid her. "Bitch." She looked to Marotte who was, at this point, wiping off the remaining blood with a little help from Brucie and his water cannon. "So that is how he got hurt?" She asked, earning a nod from Marotte and Egon at the same time.

"He̢ c̀àm͏e̕ d̵own ͟w̴i̸t͢h͜ ͠th͡e n̸ót̀es̴, still ̡i͢n̢v͠i̵sible ̸óf cou͡rs̀e, 'cept͘ a̶ ̴li̛t͟t͠l̀e ̕a̵sh̷ ̛to͠ ͝ho̢ld͞ ͡th͠e ̢n͜ote̸s̡.̛ ͞N͠o ͟h͘a̴n̷dś, ̕y'kn̕o̶w."

Egon sighed. "The point he is trying to make, is that I came down with the notes and showed them to him. He then had the brilliant decision to start moving the potted plant and retrieve the last note that you're holding." He blew out another cloud of smoke, this one aimed at Marotte. "That is when the first shot was fired."

"So they know we're here," Lily grunted and read the third, and final, note. "The bookstore?" She looked up, eyeing the others with a quizzical look. "She wants to meet me at the bookstore and fight me there. What kind of blithering idiot announces where they will be, and pretends like they will somehow elude me if I don't come alone?" She tapped the still hovering drone with a knuckle. "Especially with these?"

Carreau laughed. "Either your opponent is supremely confident in their ability to deceive and elude, or they will be easily proven wrong. Eitherway, should prove interesting, no?"

She blew a few errant strands of hair out of her face, ears and tail flicking in annoyance. She gave Marotte a sidelong glance. "Seems like we have a fellow trickster to track. I hope your willingness to help has not been shot?"

The fleshy jester let out a warbling laugh. "N͞e̢ver̴!̕"
Malvvosia admired the massive web she had spun, its shimmering glory giving her a feeling of pride. While it was not the prettiest she had ever spun, it was by all accounts, the largest she had ever made. Using the burnt remains of the forest she spun a web that stretched from one end of the forest to the other, going several meters deep to ensure maximum trapability. It had taken several hours, but the result was a new wall, made up of countless threads, yet as strong as steel and coated in a sticky substance that burned like acid—almost—anything that touched it.

With the work complete, Malvvosia returned to her more prefered form, slender limbs, massive raggedy wings, and an actual mouth. The transformation took several minutes, much longer than it took to revert to her true form, as it was not easy to fit so much demon into so slender a body. The transformation was completed, however, and with a careless push of her clawed feet, Mal found herself soaring through the air and back into the city proper, the rubble beneath her crushed by her take-off. Using her wings like a parachute, she landed gently on a rooftop near the building where the missions were distributed.

She spent a short while contemplating whether to return for more work, or if she should just piss off for a short time, and listen to some music while people watching. She had only just begun to contemplate getting her claws on some udon, during her people watching session, when she noticed a familiar figure sitting outside the building she was currently perched upon. It was difficult to tell exactly what she was doing from so far away—Mal guessed drawing—but it was clear who the fair half-demon was, and, more importantly, she was alone. Seeing a chance at having another stimulating conversation—and hopefully less annoying with the she-bitch M.I.A—Mal decided to pay the little demon-fay a fisit.

With a considerably more controlled display of her strength this time, Malvvosia pushed off from the building she stood upon and glided down towards her target. Once again using her wings to slow her descent, Mal gently floated to the ground, touching down softly on the tips of her extended claw-toes. A cascade of raggedy black feathers rained down all around, twirling wistfully as they slowly fell to the ground.

“Good evening, Demon-Fay. Your mission was successful was it?”




Cassandra had chosen to sketch the skyline during the downtime between the missions, having chosen a well lit spot with an excellent view, were she to be the judge. She had, however, taken a bit of time to change clothes, having borrowed her mother’s wardrobe. The result was just a new shirt, one open in the back to make way for her newly acquired wings, should she desire to utilize them again.

However, her peaceful time of just sketching with coal, was interrupted by the descent of a somewhat familiar figure. Malvvosia, the raven-clad demoness with an ego to match her mother’s.

She looked up at the greeting, closing her sketchbook and stuffing it into her bag with deft movements.

Bonsoir, Malvvosia,” she said, placing her now empty hands in her lap. “Can I help you?”

The demoness gave her wings a mighty flap, dislodging more ratty feathers and kicking up those on the ground. “Help?” She questioned, though did not wait for a response. “I can’t say I require assistance in any way, no.” It was difficult to tell where any of the demoness’ four eyes were looking as they were nothing but solid red, however the way her head was subtly turned towards her backpack, gave Cassandra a good idea of what exactly was occupying her attention.

“Then it is not to request directions towards my mother, so that the two of you might settle whose ego is bigger, that you are here for?” She asked, one corner of her mouth quirking upwards, for the moment ignoring the inquisitive stare towards her backpack.

“Your mother? Hells no. I am here for the demon-fay.” As if not already obvious to whom she was referring, Malvossia lifted a hand to point at Cassandra. “The far more interesting of the pair,” she tacked on.

”Moi?” She inquired, hand to her chest. They had conversed briefly during the previous day—Or was it still the same day? It had felt long enough for two—but beyond that the demoness in front of her had taken up no space in her thoughts, and she had assumed it was mutual.

To be named the ’interesting one’, however, was a curious thing, and certainly dispelled any notion that she had simply been forgotten by Malvvosia. She clicked her tongue, tilting her head thoughtfully as she looked up to meet the four-eyed gaze. “Why?” She asked.

“You’re cute, but I’m afraid you can’t quite pull off coy.” Malvvosia looked around, clearly trying to find something. After a moment she huffed and plopped herself down on the ground, crossing her legs and letting her wings rest limply behind her. “Why? What an interesting question. Like asking a scientist why they find interest in a supernova. You are quite unlike anything I have ever met. Demons are, well, like your mother and I, and half demons tend to be…” She paused, each of the four eyes blinking in succession, before she finally answered. “Well, like that white haired one who struts around with a god complex. Don’t get me started on angels, or do, actually. Might prove an interesting conversation.” The demoness smilled a—compared to the usual chesthire like grin—surprisingly normal smile.

Cassandra shook her head, too vigorously she decided when she had to tuck hair behind her ears again. “I would rather not. If you are anything like Susannah, discussing angels will not end well.” She sighed, leaning forward, arms resting on her knees. “But yes, I suppose that I am somewhat different from the usual half-demons you find. I attribute it to being raised focusing on me as a person, not what I am or what powers I possess. Say what you will about her, but my mother is good at raising children well.”

“Perhaps for the best. I have very little control over how I feel about angels, so even a well meaning and constructive conversation will end with me in a rage. We don’t all have the luxury of being the kind of person we wish to be.” Malvvosia remained silent for a moment after that. “So, what were you drawing?” She said abruptly, not giving Cassandra time to process her earlier words.

Something in her tone, however, reminded Cassandra of envy, and in the silence that followed contemplated pointing it out, but ultimately decided against it. If the—by her own admission— mere mention of angels would send her into a rage, then she did not want to have to fend off the demon for wounding her pride. She instead looked to her bag, looking back and forth between it and the demoness.

“The sky, the horizon, and whatever else I see behind you,” she offered, motioning in the general direction of forward. Again she met the four-eyed gaze, calmly straightening and leaning back against the bench. “Is drawing that peculiar to you?”

“If a pure human is doing it? No, not at all.” Malvvosia turned her head completely around to regard the view Cassandra had indicate. “It is rather lovely. You picked a good spot.” The demoness awkwardly bent one of her arms backwards, her shoulder twisting and deforming to allow the maneuver, and plucked a specific feather from one of her wings which she then threw aside. “Why were you so keen to keep your work hidden? The usual apprehension of an artist when it comes to showing their work? Or something more?” The demoness returned her arm to a more normal state of being and turned her head just enough to look at Cassandra with the two eyes on the left side of her face. “Pourquoi? S'il vous plaît.” The white slit of a smile split Malvvosia’s face in two, once more making it unclear if the top of her head was even attached to the rest of her body at that point.

‘A pure Human’? The phrasing did not sit particularly well with Cassandra for several reasons, not the least of which because of several insinuations it made. Her lips pressed into a thin line, several sentences rushing through her mind, trying to pick the most diplomatic and pedagogical. In some ways Malvvosia was a child, at least of the mind, and it was prudent to keep that in mind when talking to her.

Deciding that even an imperfect approach was sufficient when talking to the demon, Cassandra said, “You assume there are differences between me and humans, in terms of how we think,” she said slowly. “I have significantly more power than any one human, but beyond that I see no difference.” She elected to ignore the inquiries about her drawings for a time yet, focusing instead on this one topic. “I was raised by a human, among humans, and have spent my entire life knowing only my mother—and scant few others—who is of demonic heritage. It is inevitable that I would be like the humans I live alongside.”

Malvvosia’s smile faded away. “You say inevitable, I say miracle. To see your human side untainted by the demon half is nothing short of… awesome. And I use that word in the traditional sense. We’re talking on a cosmic scale here.” The demon’s head contorted back to looking at the view. “Demons, Angels, whichever, we’re nothing more than a taint on this world. Just look what our meddling has caused, what it has done to the humans. They would be better off if we did not exist at all. But you, you’re proof that there is hope for our kind existing in more...well, in a more; Sprinkle in some human, bake among humans a few years. Poof. Something worth existing.”

“It is a choice to assimilate,” Cassandra said simply. “Even the oldest dog in the world can learn new tricks, and if you so desire you can fit in. It doesn’t matter how monstrous you may appear, or how fey.” She paused, then withdrew her sketchbook from her bag, and held it out to Malvvosia, opened at the most recent page with the half-finished drawing. “Why do you think I drew that?” She asked.

“Choice...how novel…” Malvvosia’s head snapped back to forward, she then reached out with an arm that seemed to stretch, and grabbed hold of the book to inspect what she was being shown. “I assume you drew it because you liked the view and don’t own a camera.”

“You are not wrong.” She held up her hand, index finger extended, to stop any gloating. She would not put it past the she-demon. “But not right either. I did it because I wanted to. Me, Cassandra, Little Fairy, or whatever else I might be called.” She reached out and took back the book, and returned it to her bag. “You said you found it peculiar that I, as not a pure human, was drawing. But I don’t do it because of my human side, but because of what I, as a person, want.” She offered her a slightly uneven smile. “What I am is unimportant. I draw because I like to do so.”

“You do it because you have the choice to.” Malvvosia stood and rather aggressively flapped her wings, kicking up dirt and feathers, Cassandra’s gaze following as she rose. “What creatures like I have can barely be considered choice. You mocked me before for my slaying of false kings, questioned my right to judge. Choosing whom I kill and why is as much choice as I have in the matter. I was born to exact the revenge of thousands of scorned demons, their rage targeted at angles, god, everything. It is only by following the rules I created for myself that I am able to resist the call of that rage at all. Even my own choices are a cage. Other demons and angels are no better, their choices made by a basic instinct buried deep within. You think your mother is as she is because she chose to be? She was born as she is, and she is merely lucky that she has more say in how she lives her life than some of us. Do not mock others for not possessing the gifts you have.”

Cassandra could not keep her brows from rising, in a mix of both surprise and irritation. It made sense to her, that all thinking beings were as sapient as herself, and so possessed the ability to choose, but here was Malvvosia claiming otherwise, and yet she was constantly contradicting herself.

She rose as well, though she still stood nearly a metre shorter than the demoness, and looked up to meet her eyes, resolute in the face of what would have others cowering. “Vraiment?” She asked. “You have no choice, but only a cage?” She frankly did not believe that to be the case, as she had mentioned ample examples of making a clear decision. Nevertheless, there was at least one thing she could smooth out. “If what I said when we first met offended you, then you have my apologies, I speak only of what I see, however.” She paused, clicking her tongue, another thought coming to mind. ”And forgive me if I speak boldly, but you know nothing of my mother. You say she is lucky, I say she worked to get where she is. She seized opportunities and wrestled with her nature.” She walked past Malvvosia, towards the railing that lead to a sheer drop down to the water below.

“But I think there has been a misunderstanding,” she said, throwing a look over her shoulder. A silent invitation to join her for the view. She looked back towards the setting sun. “My mother will forever be a demon, I will forever be a half-demon. All those I love, I will outlive. I left my family so I would not have to bury my children, as I did my husband. These are facts that we can’t change. But,” she again looked at Malvvosia, this time turning to face her fully, “I was not talking about the ‘What’, but the ‘Who’. You are not a slave to your instincts, and neither am I nor is mother. You’ve yourself given examples of choices you have made, so treat them like a cage of your own making if you wish, but you have made decisions that go contrary to your instincts—which is simple, mindless rage, if I interpret your words correctly.” She offered her a sincere, if small, smile. “So you see? You do have choice.”

The other demoness seemed to calm, folding her wings behind her back as she walked over to the railing to have a look at the view. “A nice thought,” she began, “A small consolation perhaps, but I can assure you it is a far cry from true freedom. What I do is akin to taking medication; if I so desire I can stop taking it, but I must then face the unwanted consequences. What kind of a choice is that.” It was not a question.

“And I could choose not to eat.” Cassandra shrugged, giving Malvvosia a sidelong glance. “Just because one option is not a favourable one, does not mean it’s not a choice.” She stretched one arm out in front of her, watching her skin turn violet, green, blue, black, and back to its sun-kissed hue. “Should I desire, I could go around doing that everywhere I went, but other humans would think me frightening, and police and military would likely try to take me in.” She paused, waiting a few seconds for the words to settle in. “The point of choice, I believe, is not to get all the good things, but to be able to make mistakes and—pardon the phrase—’fuck up’, as it were. I think I understand where you are coming from, however, and while it does seem that you might be more limited than I, in what options we have, but you’re not without.” She fell silent, then, and after a bit of deliberation, opened her bag again and pulled out her sketchbook and one of her coal pencils.

“Take this,” she said, holding out a page ripped from the book, and the pencil. “If you feel up for it, draw something you like.” She aimed a mischievous smile, so often seen on her mother’s lips, at Malvvosia. “Go on. You can even keep the pencil.”

Malvvosia accepted both silently, both objects turning to black smoke and absorbing into her body the moment they touched her finger tips. “A kind gift, I shall endeavour to give it a try at some point. Should I feel satisfied with the result I may even share it with you.” The taller demon ruffled her wings, dislodging more feathers. “This conversation became somewhat more serious than I had expected it to.”

Without warning, the demoness stepped back from the railing and began to shrink not just in height, but overall size as well. Cassandra eyed her curiously as it happened, from the way her torso shortened to how it narrowed as well. Only when a inches separated their heights, in favour of Malvvosia, did she stop shrinking.

However she was not done, as her wings began to shrivel; the feathers retracting into the flesh and the bones within contorting and twisting until they were little more than stubs that disappeared into Malvvosia’s back, leaving a smooth surface behind. Her limbs followed, with oversized arms and legs coming more in line with humanoid proportions, shortening, leaving behind dainty hands with painted nails. The rest of her continued the same trend, one set of eyes closing, leaving behind a smooth forehead, and blackened skin lightening, freckles dotting her cheeks and nose, blonde hair cascading down her back.

Cassandra’s eyes widened further as the already human-looking demon in front of her plumbed up, losing her anaemic and anorexic look in favour of a healthy figure not much different from her own. Around her the smoke parted, giving full view of Malvvosia’s body—eliciting a blush from Cassandra—before rushing towards her, adhering to her skin, and forming a set of clothes, that, while appearing well made, were at least twenty years out of date by Cassandra’s estimate. Not unlike the punk-style that were popular some decades ago, a style which did not suit her, as she looked not a day over twenty, and far too conventionally attractive for it to work.

She brought neither of those things to attention, simply fighting back the image of a naked Malvvosia, when the demoness spoke, bringing her gaze up to the—now—young woman’s, Cassandra’s eyebrows rising at what she saw.

“Perhaps I shall venture into the city proper, mingle with the humans.” While Malvvosia’s eyes, unnaturally bright and orange, and a pupil shaped like a goat’s, were unnatural and distracting enough on their own, it was perhaps her voice, that drew the most attention.

“You did rather well,” Cassandra said slowly, nodding slowly, “but two things I would like to point out, is your eyes, which you admitted when we met you had trouble with. But your voice is… I had expected something light and with a lovely cadence, but you sound like someone thirty years your senior… By looks, that is.”

“Why thank you. Unlike most demon’s I have a great difficulty changing myself. The process by which I do this is...elaborate.” The humanoid demon stretched dramatically, orientating her body in different positions to work different joints. “As for your issues, I am afraid there is little I can do. If you knew what I had to do to make my eyes look even this normal, you would cringe. And my voice… I am forced to make my vocal cords by hand, so to speak. To get a voice like you describe would require a level of delicate precision that I am, shamefully, incapable of.” Malvvosia followed her comments up by unceremoniously grabbing the bra she had apparently manifested for herself, through her clothing, and adjusted it in an attempt to hike her ample bosom a little higher.

Cassandra coughed into her fist, pointedly not looking at Malvvosia’s hands and what they were preoccupied with. “Be that as it may, you need simply change the shape of your vocal cords. Their size in your case, I would think.” She put a hand to her own throat, humming with closed eyes for a few seconds, going through a range of pitches; from as deep to as high as she could make it without changing her own cords, then slowly deeped the pitch, this time making slight alterations to herself. When she opened her eyes again, she said with her voice the same as before, “I think I got it. Try to make them just a little longer. You can clearly make changes by the centimetre,” at this she motioned towards Malvvosia’s hands and fingers, “so making your vocal cords maybe half a centimetre smaller should give you a voice more in line with your… appearance, let’s say.”

She turned to face the horizon again, tracking the movement of gentle waves with her eyes, meanwhile contemplating the fact that Malvvosia and Susannah were similar in certain aspects of their preferences.

Once again there was but a brief moment of silence before it was destroyed by a high pitched screech that fluctuated and surfed through a variety of tones. It was quite clear Malvvosia was attempting to follow Cassandra’s example and fix her voice. Where Cassandra’s vocal display was elegant and impressive, Malvossia’s was reminiscent of the sounds a cat and a viper would make if they were placed in a sack together and kicked down a flight of stairs. A particular vocal concoction seemed to amuse the demoness as she stopped to laugh at —and with— it for a moment, invoking the kinds of feelings only a satanic clown could. When the auditory horror stopped, and her voice returned to something that did not induce migraines, she went to test it. “Hello… hellllloooooooo… words, words, words. Malvvosia, Slayer of false kings! Yes I suppose this is much better.” The new voice, though still a bit deeper than one might expect, was leagues better than what she started with.

Malvvosia moved to stand beside Cassandra, getting close enough they almost touched. “Well! Thank you for your advice young demon-fay. It seems to have made quite the difference.”

Cassandra removed her hands from her ears, and dared to look back up at Malvvosia. “You did well,” she said, hoping the false cheer in her voice masked the lingering headache from whatever sound it was Malvvosia had made. It took a few moments for the ringing and pain in her head to disappear, but once it did she continued with much more genuine cheer. “Bon travail. The only challenge now is your eyes. I would advise you practice. Learn how the human body is built, and shape yourself in accordance with it.” She looked up at her out the corner of her eye. “That is how mother may look as she does, even when she is akin to a perfect marble statue like you compared her to. However perfect or impossible she appears, it’s still just human features she puts together. Like a puzzle.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. For now, I am pleased enough with the voice change.” Malvvosia tapped a gentle tune out using her nails on the railing. “So… you mentioned you have children.”

While perhaps the uncouth and improper reaction, Cassandra was instantly on guard. Very few demons thought of children as anything more than playthings or tools, she had been told, and that was in the case of their own. When it came to the children of others? She chose her words carefully, keeping an eye on Malvvosia as she spoke. “I do. Why so curious all of a sudden?”

“Most demon’s treat children like pawns,” the demoness paused a moment, which gave Cassandra enough time to register her words and mentally prepare for whatever else was to come. She added, “Maybe even a rook sometimes.” Malvvosia continued to tap out the gentle tune, her other hand joining in, changing the song slightly. What started as something akin to a gentle lullaby turned into a somber sad song. “But you have already proven to be different. So I am curious to see what you think of your children. Perhaps even learn a bit about them.”

“I would prefer not to talk about them to someone who does not know them,” she said. She would be lying if she said she wasn’t cautious. Her words had very much confirmed that her own mother had told her, and it gave her no confidence that the demoness would not do something to her family should she discover too much about them. She was unfazed by the shapeshifting and supernatural displays of power, but she could say no such thing about her children and their families. She had been lived knowing she was something special, something powerful, but her children had not and she wanted to keep it that way. “I hope you understand,” she added after a while. “They believe themselves to be nothing but humans, and I don’t want anyone or anything to change that.”

The somber tapping slowed to a stop. “Oh.” The demoness fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment before resuming her tune. “I understand.”

Cassandra offered her a smile. She still hadn’t let her guard down, but at this point Malvvosia looked like the image of a young, dejected woman. It was hard not to feel some sympathy, even though she was secure in her decision. “Thank you. Now, about that drawing you wanted to make?”

Malvvosia’s smile returned, stretching unnaturally large for her human appearance. “Yes, I could use some pointers.”
The sound of the knocks reverberated throughout the hallway, and into the room beyond the door, announcing the arrival of Liliana Catherine McClellen, and her intent to meet the owner and occupant of the room, the enigmatic and peculiar woman known as Lucie Ruzicka.

For several long moments, silence reigned, the owner of the room beyond the door either absent, or refusing to answer the knocking.

Just then, the shuffling of feet sounded from beyond the door, along with hushed, indecipherable voices. Two occupants in the room, then. Whatever discussion occurred within, it soon ended with one huffing, and then more shuffling of feet.

The heavy lock clicked, and the door was pulled open, though only enough for a pale face, adorned with bright green eyes and red painted lips to peek out. The hints of an apron and the simple, blue dress visible through the cracked open door, gave away her station as that of a maid.

“Miss McClellen!” The maid exclaimed, eyes widening in recognition. “I, uuh, Miss Lucie is present, but… I am not certain that now is the best time.” She smiled apologetically, only for something of a wince to cross her features as Lucie’s voice came from farther within, sounding somewhat strained.

“I told you, Anna,” Lucie said to the maid, just loud enough that Lily herself could hear as well, “to let her in. You’re the only one here bothered by it.”

Chagrin edged in every line of her face, few though they were, the maid — Anna — opened the door further. “Come in then, Miss McClellen.”

Lillian raised an eyebrow and hesitated, unsure what she was about to find beyond the door. As usual however her curiosity, regarding both the questions she already wanted answered, and the sudden appearance of even more, drove her to enter the room.

She was met with a sight that was both expected and unexpected. The luxurious furniture was much within her expectations, given Lucie’s previous indications of having quite expensive tastes. The outrageously large bed and sinfully sized wardrobes were both within expectations as well; Lucie was nothing if not ostentatious, and it showed.

Bookshelves lined the half of the far left wall that her bed did not take up, books filling it from end to end, with topics that, from a cursory glance, seemed as varied as the stars in the sky.

Lucie’s maid, who apparently was named Anna, stood by the far wall by the window, cheeks red and looked pointedly away from the floor area beside the bed. Naturally, Lilian herself looked, and was faced with Lucie on all fours, pushing herself from the floor with but her arms, and then rising to her full height.

Anna’s reactions, however, began to make sense as Lily noticed what she wore: A simple piece of cloth wrapped around her chest and securing her modesty, and a pair of otherwise long trousers that had been rolled up to the knees. What’s more, she was covered in a light sheen of sweat, something she did not attempt to hide as she met Lily’s eyes and smiled.

“Good evening, Lilian.”

Lily blinked, and remained still, unsure how to proceed. She turned her head slightly to look to Anna and found that she seemed to be in a similar state of mind. Lillilian returned her gaze to Lucie and looked over her body, taking note of the defined musculature that Lily had only ever seen on men. As with most aspects of life she found herself unable to resist the temptation to study something knew and began to mentally take notes on the other woman’s body. She had been planning to trick the other woman into a more revealing situation for observation regardless, so it seemed like a waste to not take advantage when the opportunity presented itself on its own. Her eyes moved over every inch of exposed flesh, face flushing as she did so, her analytical side unable to overpower her own shyness. A full minute passed before Lily realized she had not responded to the other woman’s initial greeting. “G-good evening. Miss Ruzicka. You appear… healthy and attractive. Congratulations.”

Lucie, who hadn’t said anything since her initial greeting, reacted with a raised eyebrow, and one corner of her lips turning further up than the other. “I think ‘attractive’ is an understatement,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes. “But I appreciate the compliment.” She looked away from Lilian and towards Anna, who was already bringing a tray with cups and a pitcher of water. “Something to drink?” She offered.

Lillian took an empty cup. “Yes. Thank you. Would you?” She took a sip from it, only to immediately realize that it was empty, and grabbed the pitcher so she could fill it. She took a large gulp of water, taking a moment to clear her head, and turned to the maid. “Anna was it? Would you be so kind as to run to my quarters and locate some bandages, and a salve in a small tin box? I will be needing them quite soon.”

Anna’s brows furrowed, her mouth working soundlessly for a moment. “I had a feeling you would ask that,” she said as if it were but a simple matter of fact, “but I am Miss Lucie’s personal attendant.”

“Anna, please do as she requests,” Lucie cut in, waving off her maidservant with a smirk. Anna gave her a look, then a single nod and was off, lifting the front of her dress as she hurried along. When she was gone Lucie went to the washbasin, on the dresser by the window behind Lillian, and dipped a cloth in it before starting to slowly wash her face and neck. “So, what brings you?” She asked, running the cloth over her arms once each before depositing it beside the basin, turning to face Lilian.

“You look quite healthy for a dead woman.”

This time, both eyebrows rose, her mouth forming a small ‘o’. “Ah,” she said at length, “right. You don’t know who I am.” Her brows furrowed. “Matter of fact, only Mister Ware does. That is besides the point, however.” She fixed Lilian with a stare. “You, however, have been sticking your nose where it does not belong. I should be proud,” she added, crossing her arms and leaning against the dresser, “but yes, I am supposed to be dead. How did you find out?”

“I stick my nose where I please. In this case however, it was rather accidental,” under her breath, she added, “In a fashion.” Noticing Lucie’s change in demeanor Lillian took a few steps backwards towards the door, doing her best to make it look like she was simply moving for the sake of it. “I was at Town Hall to forge the relevant documents for the young girl we plan to rescue. Imagine my surprise when I retrieve the future mother’s documents for relevant information, only to find she’s been dead for around sixteen years.” Lillian looked Lucie up and down, remembering that according to the documentation she was supposed to be nineteen. Lily scoffed.

“Town hall?” She asked, head cocking to one side, and ignoring both the scoff and the analysis of her physique. “You mean to tell me that you found documents, matching my name, to the very letter?” She hummed, then paused, brow creasing in thought. “Then you do not know who I am, and yet, you do?” She looked once more upon Lilian, eyes narrowed, but unthreatening. “Tell me what you know.” Almost as an afterthought she added, “please.”

“I found documentation for Lucie Ruzicka.” Lillian spelled both names out, and Lucie nodded to each name. “The only person in the entire city with that name. I had guessed at least one of your parents might be an immigrant based on your physical features, which matched up with what I found. However the age seemed several years off, and of course there is the whole dead factor to take into account. So no. I do not know who you are as you have clearly stollen the name of someone else. You say Adam knows about you, I wonder which you it would be.” Lillian took another step back and instinctively moved a hand towards the pouch that held her firearms. Of course she found no such pouch as both it and the pistols within had been left with her mother.

Lucie shook her head. “No names were stolen. Not by me. But,” she said and let her arms fall to her sides, looking out the window with a myriad of expression crossing her features, “it seems that we misunderstood one another. You still don’t know the truth, a small relief perhaps.” She looked back, her eyes flitting towards Lilian’s side and her hand grasping for a weapon that wasn’t there. “If you need a weapon to feel safe, there’s a knife and a revolver under the pillow,” she said, pointing to the bed. “But I’m not going to hurt you. You can relax.”

Lillian frowned and made a point to move away from the bed, not trusting the offer.

“Right,” Lucie continued, dryly, and sighed. “Let me clear something up. Lucie Ruzicka is my one and only name. It has been mine for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I got lost, hurt, and a man found me who took me in. To my knowledge, he gave me this name when he found me. This happened sixteen years ago, when I was just three.” She drew in deep breath, and slid down the dresser until she sat on the floor, hands on her knees and looking up at Lillian, for a change. When she continued speaking, it was with a much more somber tone.

“I thought you had discovered that I faked my own death, just a year ago, something I did to to escape this man. But if you found documents of a girl who supposedly died that same number of years ago, then that name, was mine before that. Before him.” She paused, biting her lip. “It seems I have died twice in one lifetime, and yet my heart still beats,” she muttered with dry humour.

While a great deal of information had just been given, Lillian found herself drawn to one specific piece. “You’re nineteen?”

Quirking an eyebrow, Lucie looked back up. “You thought I was older?” She asked, sounding amused.

“I would find it difficult to accept you were younger than twenty-four without sufficient evidence.”

A smile showed up alongside the quirked eyebrow, a bit of humour returning to her previously sombre expression. “You are the one in possession of my birth records, are you not?” She chuckled. “It is the one thing I have always certain of. I am no more than nineteen years of age. Does my height and looks truly make me appear that mature?” She fluttered her eyelashes with the last few words.

Lillian frowned deeply. “Truly?” She did not wait for an answer, instead she crossed the gap between them with a few long strides to stand before the other woman. “Open your mouth, please.”

She blinked. “Pardon?”

“Your mouth. Open wide. Come now we don’t have a great deal of time before Anna returns.”

“You sent her away so we would be alone.” It wasn’t a question. “I don’t know what you intend, but very well.” Keeping her eyes on Lilliana, Lucie opened her mouth.

Lily bent down and got close enough to Lucie that she could look in her mouth unimpeded. After a few moments she spoke “Hmmm… do not bite.” Then, unceremoniously, she stuck her thumbs into Lucie’s mouth and spread her mouth a little wider, she also leaned closer still, ignoring the restrained gag, and subsequent glare she received from Lucie. After studying the woman’s mouth for a moment longer she removed her hands and stepped back, a surprised look now on her face “Well… I’ll be. You are nineteen after all. That is… surprising to say the least. It also means that what you are saying is most likely true. Those documents I found, regardless of their incorrect time of death, do seem to be yours.”

Lucie did not reply immediately, instead working her jaw and rubbing the side of her face. “What in the blazes was that about?” She demanded, grimacing. “For the record, your nail polish is not palatable.” She stood up and went to pour a cup of water from the tray, emptying it in a single gulp before pouring a second one, only sipping from this. “Are you satisfied now?” She asked, nose wrinkling in distaste. “Were there not simpler methods?”

“I will inform my mother as to the palatability of her nail decoration. And no, not really. Without access to equipment and a few days to analyze some of your material, the quickest way was to check your teeth. The average child loses the last of their baby teeth at around twelve years of age. It takes many years for the gum line to acclimate to its new teeth, and for the usual build up of grime to accumulate to noticable levels. Your age affects the look of your gums, and the healthiness of your teeth. Tooth care affects this somewhat, but not much. Your gums and teeth appear relatively fresh and healthy, which means you are likely not older than twenty.” Lillian wiped her hands on her dress. “The smell of one's breath is also helpful as even a non-visible build up of bacteria still has a poor effect on the smell of one's breath. Yours smell about average for someone who is young and well-off.”

“I shall take that as a compliment, then,” Lucie consented, still looking none too pleased about the whole ordeal. “I take it you are convinced now? That I am Lucie Ruzicka, dead twice over yet breathing still.” She hummed. “Still it is difficult to believe, that this name has been my own since my birth… It gives me a link to my parents. My real ones. Not him,” she said, the last words coming quieter than the rest. “So what now?” She inquired, turning on a heel to face Lily again. “I seem to have convinced you of my age and the legitimacy of my name. Though I should let you know, that I am not supposed to exist. My second death was quite a deliberate affair, done so that I might come here undisturbed, and with no one looking for me.”

“I am somewhat convinced, not entirely mind you, but I do not feel the need to push the matter. If Adam trusts you, than so do I. Though I will admit resolving your apparent first death has quelled my concerns considerably.” Lillian had calmed down a great deal and once again felt she could trust Lucie. Though she made a mental note to dig into the other woman’s past to find out more about her; one does not fake their own death without good reason. “That said,” she continued, “I will not spoil your plan, in fact what I did today will probably have helped you in that regard. You have a new identity you can use at any time should you desire to enter the world. Lucie Anastasia Romanchuk, from the Ukraine. You’re twenty-nine, an age I think you’ll find will raise less questions when you reveal you have a daughter. You were born in Zaporozhye, and have no living relatives. Your daughters father is Doctor Wallice T. Brodsky, a man I invented some time ago for… reasons. I did not fabricate a marriage for you as that would have been a lot of extra paperwork. So your daughter is technically now a bastard, I hope that is acceptable.”

“I suppose I should thank you for that, then. Although you and I both know I am recognisable, so a false identity would not be foolproof. I could be rather easily recognised, were I not careful.” She blew air through her nose, shaking her head. “Truth be told, I had not thought much of the future beyond giving that girl a safe place to be, with people who understood… Why Ukraine, however? I know neither the language nor do I possess and accent.”

“Making you an immigrant saved some paperwork. You possess a few subtle features that are distinctly Ukrainian that you could point to should you have to. And frankly, your place of birth will never come up outside a governmental capacity, and I assure you even a weak explanation as to the loss of accent is enough to satisfy them. They’re typically so over worked they won’t make extra work for themselves if they don’t have to.” A sudden twitch of pain in her legs reminded Lillian she should have sat down some time again. After locating a chair she gingerly lowered herself into it. “Besides, I did not really expect you to make use of it personally. But should the child want to make her way in the world, being able to point to a mother who exists is quite the boon.”

“Indeed it would be,” she replied thoughtfully, rubbing her jaw with her thumb. “Though I should be able to take care of basic educations. I may not be an expert like yourself, but I do possess general knowledge on many subjects, from politics to mathematics.” She pursed her lips, eyes trailing towards the windows and the moon outside. For a while she said nothing, seeming content to just stare out into space.

Only when a full two minutes had passed did she speak up, her tone more jovial than before, mischievous even. “You seem to no longer be so flustered about my appearance,” she noted, and turned to face Lily, hands on her—now that Lilian was paying attention—very wide hips. “Did you grow used to it so suddenly?”

“I uh...ahem.” Lillian fidgeted in her seat a bit and brushed her dress to remove a few wrinkles, wincing as she pressed a touch too hard against her legs. “Y-yes well. As I said before… you have a fine body. It is an acceptable specimen. I do so rarely see women of your… build.” Lillian pulled her glasses from her face and busied herself pretending to clean them to avoid eye contact.

“Aaaaw, she’s blushing.” She chuckled, stepping closer on light feet and crouching in front of her chair, looking up at her with the look of a cat who caught the mouse. “I hope I am not making you uncomfortable,” she said innocently. “That wouldn’t do at all, would it?”

“N-not at all.” Lillian returned her spectacles to her face and adjusted them “I am merely, flushed with blood. It’s probably happening all over my body and you can simply only see my face.” Lillian grabbed her cup of water and took a big drink from it.

“We should find something for that blush, then, shouldn’t we?” Lucie asked, the cheshire grin still on her lips. She stood up and went to her wardrobe.“I assume your entire transformation is your mother’s work—you mentioned her earlier; she is good, you know—and it reminded me of something,” she said over her shoulder and threw open the doors, revealing the sheer size of her collection of everything from dresses to shoes, and even extended to a few articles of men’s wear.

The clothes were not her goal, however, as she withdrew a large, polished, wooden box from the bottom of the wardrobe, and, muscles in Lucie’s arms straining slightly against the weight, carried it over to the dresser where she set it down. “Behold,” she said with a smirk and a glance thrown Lily’s way, and opened the top of the box, revealing a mirror, then started folding open to box.

It wasn’t an ordinary box, for with every moment that passed more compartments and drawers came into view, the contraption unfolding and revealing a veritable bounty of cosmetics, of every kind and shade imaginable.

Once she had fully opened it, Lucie stepped back, giving Lilliana a knowing look. The thing, now that it had been opened properly, bore some resemblance to an amphitheater in a way: With the floor as the centrepiece, and ‘seats’—in this case lipsticks, powders, and more—rising in tiers the further away they got from the centerground.

Lillian’s eyes widened at the sight. “Oh my goodness. That is...that is a collection. And I thought my mother’s to be extensive, yours is in a league of its own! I can’t even begin to imagine how long it took to acquire all of that. Or the cost!”

“I don’t mean to brag, but, well,” she adopted the look of one who very much was about to brag, “so far as I know, I own a sample of every product in Prague, including the various shades thereof.” She leaned over it, visibly searching for something. She plucked a few boxes and tubes from it, placing them on the dresser beside. “As to the cost, more than I am willing to admit,” she said, looking at Lily through the mirror. “So if you ever wish to experiment, I would be glad to help you. Same goes with clothes, although I think you would be too small for most of mine.”

“And just what do you have planned? I am currently wearing more than enough makeup at the moment. I had to fend off my mother and three maids to escape my home with this much on.” She huffed, trying to stay offended but deflated in the end. “And while I might not be… entirely dissatisfied with the effect, I think I am quite makeup’ed out.”

If earlier she had been a cat who got the mouse, the grin that Lily was met with when Lucie turned around to face her, was like that of a tiger who got the gazelle. “Not entirely dissatisfied you say?” She chuckled. “Then you will have to allow me to dress you up one day. Your mother may be good, but I can make you look like an entirely different person.” Her cheshire grin somehow widened even further. “We’ll need to schedule an afternoon, it should be fun!”

“Fun? I think you and I have a different view of what constitutes fun. And I happen to be rather fond of how I normally look… that is to say I think...I normally look… acceptable…” Lillian frowned, using her cup to hide it. “But,” she pressed on, “I suppose it could not hurt to see what you can do. Considering how I barged in here, one could argue I owe you a crack at this canvas.”

“We probably do,” she replied with a shrug, plucking a few more pieces from the box before setting about closing it. “Teasing others, I find, is a great pastime. And don’t think I didn’t notice your offer,” Lucie added, looking briefly at Lily over her shoulder. “I do intend to take you up on it. You won’t regret it, I promise.”

“Just don’t allow your feelings to be hurt if I’m not taken with the look. I’ve never been one for dressing up in any fashion. My current appearance is so I don’t embarrass Adam tomorrow. “

Lucie let out a decidedly un-ladylike snort, which then turned into a chuckle. She closed the lid-mirror over the box and turned around, offering a wry smile. “When you grow up being told you are to be a tool for someone, because you owe it to them for rescuing you, hurt feelings become a secondary concern. I’ll manage, in the impossible scenario that you dislike my work.”

Lily’s eyes narrowed and she once again looked over the other woman. Everything about her was odd and was contrary to what she herself had learned about people. “You’re like someone out of a story book,” the words left her mouth unintentionally.

“Every life is a story. What we do with this story, and how we try to direct its narrative, is what matters,” Lucie answered cryptically.

“Well spoken for someone so young. It’s good to see your colourful past has not cast shade on your future, or on your present. Not everyone is so strong.”

“I am not sure I would say it was colourful, but definitely eventful.” She didn’t elaborate, but looked towards the door. “And it seems that Anna is about to return. Right about… now.” The final word had not left her lips before there came a knock on the door, and the sound of it opening.

“I returned with the salve and bandages,” Anna announced as she entered, closing the door behind her, and approached. “I hope these are the correct ones for your burns?” She held out the tin box and a roll of gauze.

Before Lily could answer, Lucie had already taken, and opened, the tin box, inspecting the contents. “I may be no expert, but this is not your standard mixture. Smells and looks different.” She looked hard at Lily, the intensity of which was lost on her, as the unbidden announcement and thievery of the tin took precedent. “Sit,” Lucie told her, pointing to the bed. “I will help you, make sure we get it done properly.”

“I will not! Th-that is MY business. This is a private matter!” Lily’s face, even through her makeup, was bright red. Caused by both anger, and more so, embarrassment. “I will be leaving and I w-”

“A private matter announced by you being carried into the manor, your dress half burnt off? I was there, I saw it, and I know how to dress wounds.”

Lillian glared at Lucie, “You..I will NOT….this is!” She gripped her dress tightly with shaking fists.

“This is… what?” She asked, putting one hand on her hip while the other still held the tin. Sighing, she continued. “You lose nothing by accepting an offer of help, Lillian. If it is out of embarrassment, then consider that I am standing before you lighter clad than some courtesans. But if you still adamantly refuse, I will let you be. However, maybe next time don’t request medicinal items be brought to someone else’s room while they’re there, if you don’t want their aid.” She closed the lid on the tin and looked meaningfully toward the bed.

There was a very long period of hesitation before Lillian moved to the bed and sat on the edge of it, making a very clear effort to look neither Lucie nor Anna in the eye.

She could practically feel the smile that crept over Lucie’s lips, though she looked away. Lucie stepped over and knelt in front of her, unscrewing the tin while Anna deftly rolled up the edges of Lillian’s dress, revealing the old bandages from shin to upper thigh. Anna strangled a gasp before it could mature fully, while Lucie muttered something inaudible under her breath.

At an unspoken command, Anna also procured a thick piece of leather and offered it to Lily. “For the pain,” she said. Lillian accepted it and bit into it just as Lucie started peeling off the first bandage causing her to groan in pain, the sound muffled by the leather.

“You know,” Lucie said after re-applying the salve and bandage to the first leg, “you are far stronger than I thought. Surprisingly lean muscles in your legs,” she elaborated, looking up with a smirk. Anna peeled off the last of the old bandage from the second leg and Lucie started applying the salve. “You don’t have to be ashamed of your scars. Everyone has them. Wear them like a badge of pride, I was once told. I don’t have many, but the ones I do…” she shrugged, and continued her work.

Lillian mumbled something about “Lots of walking,” through the leather strap, but otherwise remained quiet beyond the odd groan or whimper. Beyond the simple, though extreme, embarrassment to having two women focus so intently under her dress; she was also embarrassed that the results of her biggest blunder were on such a display. The pain she could bare, the shame was another story, regardless of Lucie’s words.

Several minutes of careful work later, Anna rolled down the dress to cover the bandages again, and she and Lucie stood up. “There we go. How are you feeling?” Lucie asked, leaving Anna to discard of the used bandages.

Lillian took the leather strap from her mouth and placed it to one side. She straightened her dress, but remained laying down. “I am… feeling better. The salve is rather good at soothing pain, at least on burns. Hopefully its ability to speed healing is as effective; hard to tell with experimental medicine how it will work out.”

“One can hope,” Lucie mused, accepting a cup of water from Anna, who also held one out for Lillian. “Did you,” she continued a few sips of water later, “perchance take inspiration from my dress earlier in the day?”

“The dress was not my idea. I was rather content with the purple one I had on earlier.” Lillian accepted the cup and leaned up enough to take a few sips. “My mother insisted I needed something more befitting Adam if I were to accompany him. Turns out she had this one saved for my birthday but felt it was worth giving it to me now. I can’t imagine why she’d buy me something so nice.”

“Motherly love, one presumes.” Lucie smirked then, carefully looking Lillian up and down. “Do you dislike nice things?”

Lillian carefully sat up in bed, and took a large drink from her cup. “I find most nice things frivolous, however, I... simply think they are a waste on me. I don’t appreciate them, and often find them a hindrance to my work. I also—” lillian cut herself off abruptly. She remained quite a moment, taking a small sip from her cup before she continued.

“I used to exclusively wear white. I liked how it looked on me quite a bit and it allowed me to easily collect stain samples. Anytime I got a stain I took out my pen and wrote on my dress where it came from. There was a strange beauty to it, having something I found lovely also serve an important purpose. My mother stomped that practice out not long after I started doing it.” Lillian finished her cup and placed it on an end-table. “Funnily enough, her objection wasn’t that I was ruining nice clothing, or even that I was walking around in stained clothes… it was that white is for poor people—her words, not mine. White clothing is cheap because no dyes are involved. I liked how I looked in white, and she knew that, but she took it away from me regardless so some stuffy buffoons, whose only contribution to society is the fact they don’t contribute to it, wouldn’t think our family low class because I wore cheap clothing.”

Lillian stood and once again straightened her dress, which at that point was in no need to any more straightening. “It’s not motherly love, its protection from rumors of poverty. I know why she would buy me a nice dress, I don’t know why she’d do it for a birthday gift. She knows I won’t like it and will probably ruin it, but she did it anyway.” Lillian shook her head. “Thank you for your time, and your help. Both of you.” She bowed her head to both Lucie, and then to Anna. “I will see you in the morning.” With that she made for the door.

Lucie let out a derisive snort, her expression set in disbelief. “White is a sign of poverty? Please.” she waved her hand in front of her face, as if to dispel some foul odor. “Forgive me, but I question your mother’s intelligence. White has been in fashion for the last century. Go ask the aristocracy of France, and you will see the staggering volume of white they employ in their clothing and fashion.” She smiled and sat down on the bed, Anna suddenly hurrying to procure night clothes from the wardrobe. “If you ever wish to delve into fashion properly, with someone who can be trusted on the matter, do not hesitate to ask.” She nodded. “Good night, Miss McClellen.”

“What matters is that it is expensive, and everyone knows it,” Lilian replied, not turning around. “If she buys what's popular, it’s more to do with the price than fashion sense.” She shrugged “Wealth changes people.” With that she exited the room and ventured to her personal quarters in the manor.



Lillian locked the door behind her, pulled the drapes across her window, got a fire going in the fireplace, and sat in a large cushioned chair in front of the fire. Concerned she would be unable to replicate her mothers work should it be undone while sleeping in bed, Lillian opted to sleep in a chair. She rested her head back into the softness of the chair and closed her eyes, letting the warmth of the fire lul her to sleep. Her mind wandered between the events planned for the next day, but more so on Adam and Lucie.
One thing that Lily had enjoyed since she was very young was speed, and the feeling of the wind in her hair. When she had been just a girl, the feeling had just been her then shorter hair pulled back as she ran, be it from angry shopkeepers or random passer-by's whose wallets she had liberated. Nowadays not only was her hair significantly longer, but the fur of her tails only heightened the feeling.

As such it was not an entirely unpleasant trip as she and her companions, reluctant though some of them were she imagined, flew aboard I.O towards the hole in the ground, and back up through and into the sun. Having been in near total darkness for well over a day, the sudden influx of morning light stung her eyes, causing her to wince, and she imagined the others did much the same. Carreau especially, given his avian nature.

She hissed against the sharp light, shielding her eyes with her hand and averting her eyes as much as possible.

"H̵aviǹg͜ tro҉ub͢le ̛ẃi̵ţh thé ͜li̷gh̢t͝,͡ ͝O̡'͡ l҉ea̴d͘er̶?" Came Marrote's mocking question, earning him–it?–a flat stare.

Rather than replying, she pulled out the orb she had taken from her latest opponent, twisting it the way Egon had shown her, and conjured the map once again. She watched the one dot that represented their location, occasionally looking out at their surroundings, scanning for a good place to land. She idly ran her tongue along her teeth, taking one last look at the holographic map before twisting it and making the map disappear, then turned once more to Marotte, the flesh-thing that made up their rogue returning her look with an inscrutable one of her own.

"Before we land, I want to know how you intend to go unseen," she said.

Marotte nodded, lip-less mouth twisting in a smile. "Are͝ ͘y͜ou fa͡mili͡ar̕ w̛it͞h ͡cutţlęf͢i͟sh͠? Small,̨ ̀s͞quid-́l̸ik̀e͡ a̢ni̷m̛a̡ls."̷ ̶L̨iĺy̵ ͘nơd̡d͝ed̕.͏ ̧"҉M͞y҉ sk͟i͠n̢ ͘ís͟ ͟lìḱe̡ ͟theirs̵.̸ ͘It ͠c͞a̴n ́ch̶a̴n̢g͞e͏ ̕c̸o͘lour ̵ins͟tantly,͏ ͠ma҉ki͟ng̶ m̶e͠ al̨m҉o҉śt ̴i͟n͏vi̡şiblè.͠" His entire body suddenly turned metallic green, the exact shade of I.O's own carapace, and had Lily not been this close and known he was there, she was certain even she would have had difficulty spotting him.

"Impressive," she said and meant it. "Anything else?"

The Flesh-Jester seemed to shrug, or at least made a movement reminiscent of it. "K̴ńi͟v̸e͏s̴: Thr̕owing, stabb҉i̛n̕g̛, şl͠ic̵ing, th̕e ̵wo͠r̸k̡s.̸ I am to̧l͢d Ì a͘m ҉lįk̡e ́y͝ou͡,͢ ̷o̸n͝l͜ỳ st̶r͟o͞ng͡ inśt͞e͡ad ̕of fas̴t. ̛An̵d͡ ̛l̕ike̷ ͏y͘ou͝ ͘sa͡w̸ ͝e͢arĺíe͘r, I ͘can ch̀ang҉ȩ t̕o҉ ̴l͞ook͠ l̡i͟k͝e͞ ͡wha̸t ͟I̶ wan̷t."

She made a mental note of it all, even the insinuation that was his relative fragility. She hadn't pretended to be superhumanly durable herself, and has hinted that she was indeed no more hardy than a human–if in the upper ends of human durability–and now Marotte was saying he was about as tough as she. It made things easier, then, knowing she could likely kill him instantly should the need ever arise. She pushed the thought away for another time, instead throwing her thoughts toward figuring out how best to use Marotte's abilities. She had already been given the overview of the others' abilities and skillsets, and so had a general idea of what they were capable of.

"We're getting close," Brucie said, pointing towards a cross section of streets they had decided upon earlier. He glanced up at the drone that had been following since they left, and it still pointed forward in the direction they were going. Their landing point was roughly halfway between where Lily expected her next opponent to reside, and so far her theory seemed to hold tight.

Lily returned to orb to her tails, hiding it among their number. "Land over there," she called out to I.O, reaching over his shoulder and pointing to where Brucie had indicated. She received an affirmative rumble as reply, feeling the giant stag beetle changing starting his descent. To Marotte she said, "when we land, I want you to do two things. First, is shift into something like a bird, at least for your heart. A crow, preferably, and secondly I want you to scout ahe–"

"G̡o̶ţt͘a͘ ́stop̨ yǫu r͟ight̛ t͏h̶ȩre, ͜f͠o̡xy̴," he said, holding up a hand, ignoring Lily's frosty look at the nickname. "Į ̴ca̡n͜ ́c̶ha̡n҉ge̷ m̛y appearan̴ce͝, bu̷t I̕ ̵c͘aǹ't d̴o҉ a҉ t̨h̀i͘n͠g͜ ̢ab҉out͟ m̵y ̶i̴nsi͠d̕es͟.͟ ̡Şo͢ ̕i̡f y̨o͏u̧ ̕had̀ ͟anyt҉ḩíng i͢n m͠in̡d̷ wh͝en͟ ͞a̢skįn͢ģ ̨me ͝t͟o̸ ̛b̧ec͡o̸m̛e̴ ̶a͟ b͡irdbrai̛n,̛ g̢ot̕t͢a ̀dís͟ąpp̨o̴i͘n̡t̷ y͞ou.̧"

I.O landed and Lily crawled off, followed by Brucie holding Mouse in his arms, then the rest of their entourage. As soon as her feet touched the ground, Lily threw up an illusory dome around them, making them appear invisible for anyone farther than a few steps away.

"You mean that you're a skinchanger, not a shapeshifter?" Lily pressed, suddenly much less impressed with this portion of Marotte's capabilities.

"I͘n̸deed," he said, nodding once.

She sighed, putting a hand to her head. So much for the idea of using birdcalls to give signals to one another. Primitive though it might be, it would have been effective and difficult to see through. "Do you have anything you could give signals with from a distance?" She asked.

Fleshy and hairless brows furrowed on Marotte's face, the mimicry of facial features turning thoughtful. Enough seconds passed that Lily was close to demand an answer, but before she could he pulled a long knife from somewhere Lily regretted witnessing. "Wíll ̧t͢h͠is ͘d̶ò?͡" He asked, holding the knife up so that it caught the early morning sunlight.

"Using it as a mirror," Lily said, thinking aloud. "I suppose it'll work. There's no guarantee that the morse code between our worlds is identical, so we'd better figure out some simple signals. First, however," she brought the orb back out and conjured the map once more, again marking the area where she suspected her opponent would be with a red circle, and the distance between it and them in a yellow oblong. "The yellow is the area we'll go through, but not in one go. I want to do it piece by piece, going from building to building." Several black dots appeared in the yellow area, each roughly a block apart, and leading from their position to the red circle. "From where we are now, and to the first black dot, I want you to scout ahead, invisible as you can be, and check out the next spot."

"A̢n̕d͏ ̀th̷en?͏"

Lily nodded towards the knife he held in his hands. "Then you give us a signal. Two blinks if it's empty, and we are clear to move forward, three if you hear or see anything living. Four if you see someone with a drone. The last one is unlikely to come as a surprise given my drone will be pointing to my opponent, but better safe than sorry. Any questions?"

"Primitive."

Lily snorted, looking over at Egon. "You have a problem?"

The spectre rolled his cigar from one side of the mouth to the other, unperturbed by Lily's glare. "No. Just pointing out the obvious," he said, blowing out a cloud of smoke. "But since you did ask, I do have an inquiry: How do you expect a group this large to go unnoticed, even if our dear Shoggoth scouts ahead?" He glanced at the map and the accompanying illusions courtesy of Lily. "And some of these 'dots' aren't even in view of each other. How is Marotte supposed to give us signals with reflecting light on a dagger, with half a building between us?" A handful of ashen-coloured fingers appeared over the holographic map, pointing to three dots, each located where a building was between it and the next one.

Those were an issue, Lily had to admit, but there were no other routes she could plan out, that wouldn't lead them into more blind angles like those. She could create the illusion of a whistle, but it wouldn't make any tangible sound, only to the person using it as they expected it–or if she could see them blow it and amplify the illusion further–but she had no means of creating anything to give signals while out of line of sight.

The ashen fingers still pointing at the map caught her attention then. She flicked one ear, lips pursing. "You can make things out of ash," she said, looking back up at the spectre. "Could you make a whistle? One designed to mimic the sound of a bird's call? Like a crow?"

Egon chewed on his cigar, eyeing her for several long moments, each tick of the proverbial clock until he answered only making Lily's jaw clench the more. "They won't be very durable," he said at length, "but aye, I can. Will probably have to renew them, as Marotte's spit will wear it down, but I can do it."

Lily nodded. "Good." She looked to the others, from I.O to Carreau, then to Brucie and to Marotte. All shook their heads. "Egon, make two whistles, give one to Marotte, then let's go."




It had been half an hour since they had entered the 'red zone' on the map, as Lily had begun to call it, and at least two hours since they had landed, making it now the early afternoon. The drone had been pointing them towards the western edge of the zone, towards an area that was comprised primarily of apartment complexes; buildings with more than enough places to hide. There were also a number of smaller buildings, likely stores of various kind in the vicinity.

Beyond this area the number of buildings thinned out considerably, giving way to more open spaces and less hiding spots. That fact alone made Lily certain that her next opponent was close. She need only find them, and then end it quickly. She had to be prepared for anything, be it a monster like earlier, an individual of superhuman martial prowess, a mage or sorcerer, or even a mecha. She didn't want to rule anything out. Whoever they were, they would be of considerable power, possibly with allies like herself. Their array of skills and abilities were also likely to encompass more than one person could feasibly be capable of.

"Carreau," she whispered, keeping her eyes trained on where she knew Marotte's next destination was–a building with very few windows facing their way, so they had decided to use the bird's call whistle, "you strike me as the more powerful of your group. Do you have measures to counteract magic?"

"No," he said, just as Egon let out an annoyed grunt, "that would be our Pyromancer's area of expertise. As you told me, you desired someone with utility and power, and Mr. Baratta is he."

"Very well." She looked over her shoulder, parting her tails to look at Egon. "What can you do against magic?"

Pulling out his cigar, Egon blew out a cloud of smoke and ash, and much as Lily wanted to believe it was a coincidence, she suspected he made sure it flew in her face quite deliberately. "I can sense it if I want to, s'long as it's not deliberately hidden by more powerful spells. But I'm no good at dispelling. My forté is fire and ash, not utility. If you're worried about simple magics, I can find them for you. Anything of higher levels..." he shrugged and left it at that, the meaning clear.

"So we don't have a lot of countermeasures against a sorcerer. Great. We should just hope we don't meet one then." Just then, the cry of a crow sounded faintly from the next block over, picked up only by Lily and Carreau, judging by him turning his head toward it as well. Two cries, then three.

"There's someone there, let–" Two more cries from Marotte's whistle, making Lily blink. "Two more. So there's someone there, and there is not?" She cursed her own lack of foresight, giving only three different signals came back to bite her in the tails, and meant they now had to figure out what it was Marotte meant, and quickly. There was the option that someone or something living _had_ been spotted, but had left almost immediately, but for what reason she couldn't know. Perhaps Marotte had been attacked and were blowing in a panic, but she doubted that–the skin-changer was better at stealth than even Lily was, at least when on the move. She bit a nail, teeth clenching around it as thoughts raced through her head. She was so busy running through scenario after scenario that she almost missed what I.O said.

"Perhaps it is literal?" He suggested, looking down at her and blinking slowly. "You said two blinks if it is empty, and we can move forward, but three if he saw or heard anything living."

Beside him, Brucie nodded while petting Mouse. "He's right, Boss. What if the room is empty and we can move forward, but he saw something? Might be he wanna warn us that he's seen somethin', but nothing that falls into the parmi... parema... falls into the options you gave him?"

Lily looked from one to the other, quirking her head to the side. "It makes sense," she said and looked back in the direction of the call. She withdrew the ash-whistle Egon had made for her, and blew it once, signalling they were on their way. "You know the drill, don't come all at once, and use different routes. I'll go first."




A quarter of an hour later and they were all gathered in the foyer of the next building, a hotel it turned out. When the last of them had entered Lily threw up a still image of the foyer in front of the doors, making them essentially invisible to any who looked through the sliding doors.

She turned to Marotte who was leaning up against a door leading further into the building. "So? Why did you blow five times, of all things."

"Whaţ ͢el͏se ̧was ̧I ͏s̡u͞p͠pos̵ȩ to do?͞" He asked, throwing up his hands in a defeated gesture. "Y͞ou ͢di͜d́n'̕t̕ g͝i̧v͏e̢ ̢m̸e ͠a̶n̕y ̛sig͏na̶l ̢f͢or͘ ͏[̢i]'I c͘a̶n͜ see͘ a͝ ͡l͠i͜g͞ht ơn!̨'҉[͢/̸ì]҉ ̴So I͡ i͝mpro̵vi͘séd.͠"

So he had seen a light on somewhere. It seemed I.O and Brucie had been remarkably close to the truth then. Signs of someone or something living, but not seeing anyone definitively. "Where?" She demanded, to which he opened the door he was leaning up against and headed down the hallway that followed. "Egon, follow me. The rest of you, stay here." She then turned to follow Marotte, her ears swivelling about for any signs of life. She was close to her next opponent, she could feel it. What's more... She had gotten so used to it that she had started ignoring it, but the drone still followed her and was now pointing forward and to her right. She was definitely getting closer.

A few minutes passed with Marotte leading them through small hallways and rooms, most dedicated to storage or washing, even a kitchen at one point. Their miniature tour of the innards of a hotel came to an abrupt stop when Marotte lead them to an iron door labelled "Fire Exit", and stopped with one hand on the door.

"The͘r̶e͘ ̛a͞r̛e ͘no ͡win̸d́ows ͠h͜ere,̀ bu͞t I̕ ́f͠ig͟u̸red͢ įt͟ ̀best͡ to st̵áy ͝n͟ear ̨to͡ the͏ ̀gro̕u̶nd ͡a̛nd̀ ̀l̵o͢ok͡ ͘u͘p͟.͡ W͞ould ̛b͏e͏ t͞oo ̷e͏as͟y̸ to̕ b̀e ̨spot͟t̸e̴d ̡i̡n t̸he͟ ͏wi̧n̛dow̸s I͏ th͡ìnk.͝"

Lily was forced to agree. This place was rife with hiding places, the rooms in all of the buildings being perfect places to hide. She would be surprised to see anyone on the street, and would herself keep more of an eye out on the windows of buildings near her. She nodded, and he opened the door just enough to look out.

"Wait," she said, then gestured with a hand and had the outside of the door shimmer briefly, creating a bubble around the door. She didn't know what the facade looked like, so dared only create one of the door, using the inside of it to reflect the outside, making it look like just a closed door. She nodded to Marotte and they pushed the door open.

Marotte silently waved Lily closed and stock his head out, and she did much the same. "T̷h̡er̴e," he said pointing down the street to their right and towards a large apartment block several stories tall. "F͞oúrth ̷f͘lo̵or̸," he elaborated.

Lily followed his finger, narrowing her eyes as she roved the entire facade of the building around the fourth floor. It took her a few moments, but she finally saw it. A light bulb in one of the windows. So far she had seen no signs of life in this place. No lights were turned on anywhere that she had seen so far, but here there was one. She couldn't see anything beyond the lightbulb in the ceiling from where they were, but it was enough. She glanced over her shoulder at the drone still hovering there, whirring away. It confirmed the suspicion that was beginning to form: Her next opponent was in that building, the drone pointing straight towards it proved as much.

"Egon," she said and stepped away from the door, turning to him. "To the right, about a hundred or so metres, there's an apartment block with a light on, fourth window from the left on the fourth floor. You said you can detect magic, tell me if there's anything you can sense there."

Egon took the cigar out of his mouth, blowing out smoke and tapping remnants of tobacco and ash from it. "No can do," he told her. "Hundred metres is too far. You'll have to get me closer if you want to use me as a hunting dog. Ain't gonna go fetch for you, like that other mutt."

Lily gave him a flat look, making her lack amusement quite well known without words. A few sparks jumped between her fingers. "Fine," she said, "let's head back to the others."

Egon smirked around his cigar but remained silent and followed, as did Marotte after closing the door. Lily then dispelled the illusion outside it.

A few moments later when they were all back, Lily called out for them to gather, and she directed them into what had been a kitchen in the hotel, wanting to be out of sight entirely, so she didn't need to keep the illusion in front of the sliding doors up.

"So," said Carreau once they were all gathered in the kitchen, Brucie–with Mouse still in this arms–and Marotte having taken seats on the tables while the rest stood, "what is your decision? Have we found our next quarry?"

"I think so," she said crossing her arms. "Behind the hotel, a little less than a hundred metres to the right, there is an apartment building with a light on in a room on the fourth floor. I haven't seen any lights turned on since I arrived in this place, nor any signs of life except a bakery full of bread and pastries. This is a first, and I suspect either a trap, or someone got sloppy. Judging by the fact that the drone–" she pointed to it, hovering nearby "–was, and is, pointing directly at the same building, it's definitely there."

"And your plan?" Egon pressed, sniffing and puffing his cigar so that his moustache twitched.

"I want to find out who, or what, I'm dealing with first," she told him, then pointed a tail at both Egon and Marotte. "I want you two to go ahead. Marotte can turn as good as invisible already, and you told me you create your own bodies out of ash, and is otherwise actually invisible. Go into the building, remain unseen, and sniff out the location of my next opponent, and any magical defences should there be any. The last part is your job in particular, Egon."

"Hope you don't mind a pile of ash right here on the floor then," he replied, but otherwise made no comment.

"W̢h͢at̨ ̴d͜ơ w̢e ̶do̸ i̛f͡, ̡or͘ w̡he̢ǹ,͞ ̡we ̸f̢in̵d ͡a͝nyt̷hi͟ng̛?"

Lily looked at Marotte, the skinchanger currently scratching Mouse behind one ear while looking back at her. "It depends on what you find. If Egon senses any magical traps, I want you to dismantle them if you can, the stealthier the better, and if you can't then avoid them. If the entire building is encased in magical defences, and there's no way to get in, then just come back here, and we'll figure something else out."

"And if they find your next opponent?" Brucie asked.

"Then figure out whatever you can about them, but don't engage. If you have the chance, but only if you can do so and get away with absolute certainty, steal their phylactery and bring it to me. You know what it looks like. If you do end up in a confrontation, or something goes wrong, create an explosion, Egon, so we know. Other than that, use your best judgement. I trust you... To an extent, at least."

"How flattering," Egon drawled, eliciting a chuckle from Marotte.

"Don't get used to it," Lily said, her tone clipped. "Everyone to the backdoor. I'll create an illusion like before, should allow you to get out without anyone seeing the door open."

"Let's go then," Egon said and promptly dissolved, his body turning into a pile of ash on the floor. Whether it was because of Lily's expression, or the simple act of Egon becoming a pile of ash, it nonetheless left Carreau chuckling.

Lily clenched her jaw, and said nothing, leading them to the door. She gestured, and ensured the others that the illusion was in place, then carefully pushed the door open and let Marotte and Spirit-Egon out, and then closed it again.

Now, all that was left to do was wait. Wait until they either came back, with or without the phylactery, or all hell broke loose and they had to fight.
It had felt as if the Golem had died far too easily, and it was for that reason that Lily remained on guard even as the dust settled, and the fragments of construct's core fell around it. It had sizzled when she touched it, picking up one small piece before it, too, dissolved.

Now they were at the oasis above, Lily and Cassandra ascending so as to get a farther view. Neither saw anything except continuous land. The lake, trees, and rock formations ahead were the most interesting parts of the floating landscape, but there was precious little beyond that. It almost disappointed Lily. The golem had whetted her appetite, and made her believe that more challenges were ahead, but no such thing occurred. All that was left was scouting.

Cassandra was more enthusiastic, it seemed, hurriedly digging into her backpack for her coal pencils and paper. She found a rock protruding from the ground and flitted towards it, alighting on it with as much grace as she could muster, then started sketching the area ahead of them.

Lily knelt down behind her, looking over her shoulder at the image starting to take shape. She glanced back and forth between the rocks on the paper and the ones that were very much real. "You drew a lot as a child," she said quietly, only for them to hear. "I'm happy to see that you've stuck with it."

Cassandra's hand stilled, her cheeks growing faintly brighter. "Mère," she chided, glancing over her shoulder, meeting the now-green eyes of her mother, and let out a small gasp–she had returned to the brown haired, dark-eyed appearance that Cassandra remembered from her childhood. She looked as the woman she had known as Susannah, as mother.

Lily returned her surprise with a grin of her own, utterly unapologetic. "I figured you might appreciate it," she said and put her hand on Cassandra's cheek, guiding her to look at the unfinished sketch once more, and started undoing the tangles in her hair that flying had caused with a small brush-Cassandra also took the hint and resumed drawing, leaving the elder demon to do as she wished.

"I have acquired many skills in my time," Lily continued after a short while, "but drawing was never really one of them."

"Ironic," Cassandra chimed in, pausing just for a moment to offer Lily a teasing look and smile, "seeing as you seem so fond of creating masterpieces, if of the flesh and not the page."

Lily snorted, and had Cassandra been anybody else would have avenged the comment by foregoing care and simply tugged a knot out instead of coaxing it undone carefully. "Are you accusing me of being a harlot?" She asked, wrinkling her nose. "Young women shouldn't use such language," she shot back.

"I have seen the... shapes you prefer these last few days. How you don't suffer backaches is a mystery."

Lily hummed. "Being able to walk away from a building falling down on your has its advantages," she replied and pulled gently on Cassandra's hair in its entirety, pulling it into a ponytail before separating it into three, each portion held between different fingers. "Besides, this is nothing. There was one man many years ago, and he had a certain fascination, shall we say."

"You're kidding?" Came Cassandra's reply, though she didn't turn her head her incredulity was clear from tone of voice alone. "Quelques hommes... By the way, why are you braiding my hair?"

"'Some men' indeed," she laughed. "And because I think it would suit you, and it's generally better for flying. It doesn't tangle as much, and I think it suits you." A moment passed, and Lily reached a hand over Cassandra's shoulder. "Give me a ribbon, or something."

Though unseen, Lily was certain that Cassandra rolled her eyes, as she let go of the pencil and, with a flourish, produced a small length of purple ribbon. "You're lucky my Projections are better than yours, or you'd have to let all this work go to waste," she teased.

Taking the ribbon, Lily tied it in a bow around the end of Cassandra's braid before letting it fall down her back, eyeing her handiwork. "You're lucky, because if you hadn't I would've just used grass."

The indignant glare Cassandra sent her over her shoulder was met only with an innocent smile and fluttering eyelashes. "You wouldn't dare," she said, taking hold of her braid and cradling it over her chest.

Lily shrugged, and rose. "Maybe not, I suppose we'll never know, since you did have a ribbon."

Their attention was grabbed by the nearby angels who had returned, one of them seeming to be giving a report to the one who had actually been useful in the altercation with the stone golem. Lily turned her attention fully towards it, picking up the conversation that was happening.

"Scouting parties, not a bad idea," Cassandra said under her breath, her eyes once again trained on her drawing.

Lily, however, had other things in mind. "Are you certain you shouldn't tag along?" She called out, meeting the angel's gaze from afar. "They seemed not very useful against that pile of rocks below."

Cassandra glanced up, frowning. "Mother," she admonished, "what's the point?"

"Not much of one," Lily admitted flippantly. "They're very easy to rile up, those angels."

Sighing, the younger demoness packed her pencils and sketchbook, closing her backpack. She stood up and hoisted it over her shoulder. Now standing even with Lily, she gave her a disapproving stare, and while it didn't make her back down it did give Lily pause. "Let's go," Cassandra said and motioned towards the entrance back into the pillar-tower.

"You seem angry?"

Cassandra shook her head. "I'm not. But our time is better spent getting word back to the Demon Hunters, and whoever else need to set up a forward post here. Leave the angels to scout ahead if they want, because if both of you stay here, and both of you are so bored you just end up antagonising each other, he will get hurt."

Lips pressed in a thin line, Lily nodded and followed her daughter, sparing the angels a passing glance. A part of her was happy that Cassandra had specified that the angel would wound up hurt, not her, and yet it seemed there was some judgement in it. Disappointment, perhaps? She hoped not.

She fell silent and dutifully followed, manifesting wings once they were inside the spiralling stairs to gently hover down rather than walk.

There was time until their next mission. So far, they had secured one area.

Perhaps Fenn had time to play fetch?
Lucie spent most of the time that Adeleia, or Adam, was talking, simply listening and forming her own plans. She was used to working independently and being told what to do like this was not a common occurrence. Then again, at least she was granted the freedom of choosing, her own point of entry, and her own methods.

She glanced up at Adeleia. To a certain extent at least.

That said she had no plans of killing anyone. To do so would attract unwanted attention, and she–perhaps better than even Adeleia–knew the importance of being subtle, and limiting the attention that one attracted. She would, however, make no promises about inflicting pain or taking a small bits of revenge, of the people who treated a little girl, like a mangy beast. If she saw the chance to return what was owed, so to speak, out attracting undue attention, then she would.

There were many things she wanted to say as Adeleia spoke but she kept her comments to herself for the time being, waiting instead until after all pieces of information have to been given to them.

But will they had finally finished the briefing and were given the option to come with inputs, Lucie put down her napkin and spoke up. " I have a few points that I would like to make. One might be more of a question, or requests if you will, however." She glanced at Liliana briefly before refocusing on Adeleia. "This girl that we're supposed to save, I take it, you want her to disappear in some way. While I could definitely orchestrates a disappearance, in whatever fashion that you desire it, I would instead like to take guardianship of her." she anticipated interruptions and raised a gloved hand to forestall them. "Hear me out," she said. "Out of everyone in this entire Society, I dare say that I know more about what that girl has gone through than anyone else. With that in mind I also know how to fight through it, should get above the surface and see the proverbial sun once again."

"I may not yet have reached my twentieth year, but I am still old enough to be a mother. And with a gift like hers? What place but here could she grow up, without feeling judged, or hated, or feared. That girl and I the share a kinship, in what we have both gone through. I didn't have anyone to help me. I only had my stubbornness, the man who would be my father playing to my pride, to keep me going." She bit her lip, fingers clenching in her lap as her chin dipped. Quietly, she added, "I don't want someone else to feel abandoned."

Adeleia flicked her–or his as would definitely be insisted if Lucie's opinion was mentioned out loud–mismatched gaze toward her. "It is not my concern what you do with your free time, Miss Lucie, so if you truly wish to claim guardianship of the girl then I shall not stop you. However, there is still the matter of the girl's disappearance. Even should we assume that her family has already wiped their hands off of her, to take her with you would not work." He tilted his head, the proverbial gears within no doubt turning, analyzing the most probable scenario, its solutions and ways it could go wrong. "Of course you already considered that did you not?"

Lucie allowed herself as smile. "Why of course. You have mentioned that the girl occasionally disappears, only to reappear sometime later. But what if she did not? Suppose that she simply disappeared, and was never seen again? The commoners have not the slightest clue of the nature of our powers and skills. If one of the nurses reported that the girl has disappeared once more, and we then moved her to this place, they would be none the wiser. They would believe that her... Peculiar affliction had caused her to vanish once more, and then never returned. There might be a Manhunt, there might be search parties. But with no evidence to suggest that she had been smuggled out, there would be no other course of action for them, than to simply say that she was... Gone." She shrugged, the crinkling at her eyes belying the smile she was trying to hide. It wasn't really her concern if the institution was humiliated, or if those butchers and torturers were thrown to the street. She supposed that it would make a certain karmic sense, if the people who took away even the identity of innocents, also had everything taken away from them.

She rose from the table, brushing a few non-existent crumbs from her dress. "But I do not want to keep you. No doubt you have other matters to attend to, Master Ware. Lilian." She curtsied to both and left the room, a small grimace on her face now that she knew she had to undress again.

Her annoyance was alleviated somewhat when in the hallway she found Anna Havel, her green eyes alight, and red lips curving into a knowing smile. "You called, my lady?" She asked, knowing full well that Lucie had done no such thing – It was her talent, again. She had known to show up here, at this moment.

Lucie decided to play along. "Indeed I did," she said. "It seems my current attire is a touch ostentatious for my the rest of my plans today. I find myself in need of your aid to get my out of my dress." She sighed. "Much as it pains me. I had been looking forward to a day of being the centre of attention."

Anna fell in step behind Lucie, following her back to her mistresses' chambers. "Are you not always? Even on your more modest days, you attract glances from most any man you walk past." Lucie shot a look over her shoulder, eyes narrowed. But before she managed even a word, Anna said, "I swear it is not a comment about the size of your posterior, my lady."

Lucie maintained eye contact for another second, then smile and grabbed her maid's hand. "Come now, we should not waste time," she said and hurried them both along.

That impudent little–she was making comments!




Lucie shifted her bag from one shoulder to the other, fighting back the boredom by toying mindlessly with the frilly attachment to her handbag. She had been watching the asylum for the better part of, well, the entire day at this point. The sun was nearing the horizon, casting orange and purple rays across the clouds that still lingered.

She leaned back against the corner, melding with the shadow as best she could as yet another nurse, doctor, or whatever they called themselves walked out of one of the nearby buildings, heading for the one across the courtyard. Lucie followed this one with her eyes, noting the slender build and curled hair, brown hair.

Hour after hour she had made note of the various people who worked here, taking a Frame of each and storing it away in whatever places she hid those memories. She hardly even knew herself. Finding someone who looked similar enough to herself was a challenge, as even some men had to look up to her. She had noted one earlier, however, who seemed to be very near Lucie's own height, and had hair of a similar shade, even if it was somewhat shorter. That nurse wasn't here now, but she–Lucie placed a naked hand against the wall of the building supporting her–was still inside this one, gathering the dirty linen from an injured patient.

Judging by the sun's position at this point, it was only a matter of minutes until she would head home and let the nightshift take over. That would be Lucie's time to strike.




Diana opened the door to her small apartment, breathing out in relief. Today had been a difficult one, with more than the usual amounts of patients soiling or injuring themselves. She was happy to have the work, and to be able to support herself, but even then she did not want to pretend that it was all sunshine and butterflies. It was dirty work often, and she was delegated the grunt work. In a way it made sense, given she was the same height as most men, but it was never fun.

She sighed and started changing out of her uniform. She would need to have it washed before tomorrow. She instead donned a piece of linen cloth that had once been a pretty enough everyday dress, but had become a victim of time and wear.

"I should do as mother tells me," she muttered to herself as she straightened the dress in front of her small mirror. "Find a nice husband who can support me, and I then can take care of his house." She smiled to herself in the mirror, imagining the life she could have. "Father always told me he knows plenty of strapping, young men. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to marry?" She chuckled to herself, the idea half ridiculous. She had managed to acquire a job of her own, and now lived in her own small apartment, all because she hadn't wanted to tie herself down to a life of servitude to a single man. For that is what it was, was it not? She lived as a glorified maid in the house of a person that might as well be a stranger to her, cleaning and cooking for him, and what did she get as a reward? She didn't have money aside from what her would-be husband would earn, and even that was not truly her own. Another thing would be children.

She met her own, brown eyes in the reflection, saw her own uncertain grimace. She did want children. It was every woman's dream, was it not? Small, beautiful versions of her and husband, running around the house, or reaching for her hand from their crib. She lay the mirror on her cupboard face-down with a grunt, resolving to finish that one on one conversation at a later date. Now wasn't the time for self-reflection.

She went to prepare water to wash her uniform when a knock on her door interrupted her, making her pause mid-step. She glanced briefly towards the singular window, and the crescent moon rising from the horizon. Who would be visiting at this hour? Certainly not her parents. Her father would never be out this late, and no doubt her mother was putting her little brother to bed.

She grabbed the firepoker and inched towards the door. She reached out for the handle with her left hand, right and poker hidden behind her back. Slowly, she pulled the door open, peeking outside hesitantly only to see... Amber? No, not amber, but eyes, hidden in shadow under a heavy hood and cloak. She flinched back as the hooded stranger lifted a hand, the poker now in full view and ready to be unleashed with a fury, should the stranger prove hostile. Her worries were somewhat abated when the amber-eyed cloak-wearer pulled back her hood and offered her a kind smile.

By God she is beautiful, she thought, her breath caught in her throat. She might have said something aloud that was more articulate than her thoughts, but the chance slipped from her grasp when the stranger spoke.

"May I come in?" She shivered. "It is not warm out."

Diana nodded silently and opened the door fully to let this woman in. The poker remained in her grasp, a reminder that she was armed should things get out of hand.

The amber-eyed woman stepped in after a short deliberation, crossing the treshold silently, each movement fluid and graceful. In a way, she reminded Diana of a dancer with the way she moved. She looked up from her feet to find those eyes upon her again, and discovered, to her surprise that they were level with her own. Slightly above, in fact. "Who are you?" She, finally, asked.

A sly smile was the answer to the question, the woman remaining silent while roaming Diana's entire body with her eyes. "You can call me Alena," she replied, curtsying slightly. She unclasped her cloak without breaking eye contact, not even looking at the iron poker that Diana was slowly bringing into view again.

She would be lying if she claimed to not be unnerved by current circumstances. This was a stranger: A woman she had never seen before inviting herself into Diana's own home, and acting as if she were armed with a feather and not an implement that could bring about unconsciousness. And yet, she didn't feel much fear. She had heard the idea postulated, that one was more likely to trust strangers whom they found attractive, and while this Alena was indeed beautiful beyond anything she had seen before – from her bright eyes and fine features, to the fullness of her lips and shape of her body – there was more to it than that she expected. She knew patients who tried to act normal, to win her trust and her aid with honeyed words and disarming gestures; They could for all the wold appear harmless and kind, but hide monsters within. Those were the most difficult patients, and they – one and all – shared one trait with this Alena: They were dangerous.

Whoever she was, whether it was her real name or not, Alena was a dangerous woman. No normal person walked with a cat's grace, and possessed beauty such as hers, and still walked around with the sun below the horizon. With this realisation also came the chilling fact, that she was unlikely to win any physical confrontation, and so amiability was likely to be her best tool to dealing with her guest.

"Very well, Alena, what brings you to my home tonight?" She put the poker back by the fireplace, being sure to keep it in view the entire time until it was where it belonged. She nevertheless remained close by it. Just in case. "I am afraid I do not have much in the way of food or drink to offer. I am not paid much."

Alena waved it off with a gloved hand, the dark fabric matching that of her shirt and trousers, eliciting a frown from Diana, pants? A woman?

"Don't worry about refreshments, Diana–" She knows my name? Who is she?! "–I will only be here a short while. Also," at that point she reached behind her back, making Diana tense suddenly afraid of what she might do, but her fears were unfounded as it was only a small leather pouch. She threw the pouch towards Diana, making her nearly fall over herself trying to catch it. "This is for you. Go on, open it."

She gave the pouch in her hands a cautious look, shifting he gaze between it and the confident stranger. It didn't feel overly heavy, nor did it feel like anything that would be dangerous. It was oddly light, even, considering how full it felt. Hesitantly, without taking her eye off Alena and her patient smile, she opened the pouch and finally took a look inside.

She did not exactly know what she had expected, but this was about as far from it as possible. "What is this?" She asked shakily, tearing her eyes from the bag.

Alena shrugged. "Money, I should think." She leaned up against the wall, arms crossed underneath her chest.

That smile on her lips, that small up-turn of her mouth, made Diana's eyes narrow. She knew exactly what she was doing, this woman. Knew the impact the bag would have. "I barely earn this much in a month, miss Alena. This is not pocket change, even were you a princess."

The smile widened, showing teeth. "Isn't it?" One of her eyebrows rose. "And who says I'm not a princess?"

Bristles rising, Diana continued. "Why are you giving me this?" A thought occured to her, a dark one. "What are you trying to make me do?"

Another shrug, this one somehow more irritating than the last. "Nothing," she said. "I want you to do nothing."

"Nothing?" A preposterous idea. No one handed a month's worth of wages to a stranger without wanting them to do something. Did she want to buy her home? Her services? ...Her? She shuddered at the thought, begging to God above that was not the case. She took a few deep breaths, trying without success to keep her heart from hammering in her chest. She was not afraid, but she was definitely anxious, she supposed to word was. "What does 'nothing' entail then, Miss Alena?"

Alena clicked her tongue once, and righted herself from where she had been leaning against a wall. "Take the day off tomorrow. Stay at home." It wasn't a question. That, Diana knew, was the tone of someone used to getting their way; who gave orders and then had them followed. Had she been facing a man she might have thought her a soldier, but alas she was not.

"Why?" She dared.

Alena sighed. "Because I plan to become you," she said by way of explanation, which only just made Diana even more confused.

"What?"

A chuckle. A chuckle of all things was the reply she received. No doubt her expression was amusing to Alena, but how else was one supposed to react when a stranger with laden pockets, came to one's home and said they wanted to become her?

"What do you mean by 'become me'?" She insisted.

Alena gestured with her hand again, making some attempt at silently asking her to wait while she got over her fit of giggles. "I mean," she said, "that I want you to stay at home tomorrow, doing nothing. Instead, I will go to your work, looking like you. Consider the money payment to ensure your cooperation, and your silence."

The pouch weighed in her hands, a reminder of the small fortune held within. She didn't truly want to anything, and could support herself well enough, but she would be an idiot if she passed up the opportunity to earn this much this quickly, and all she had to do to get it was stay at home and do nothing? It was almost too good to be true. There had to be a catch.

"And what do you intend to do at the institution?" She asked. "If you intend to get me fired, this will not be enough to let me survive."

"Nothing that will harm you or your reputation, I assure you." At Diana's unimpressed stare she continued. "I intend to go about the day doing your work, and complete a job of my own."

"And what is your j–"

"Confidential," Alena interrupted. "I'm not going to tell you what I am there to do, except that you will suffer no consequences from it." She offered her hand, letting it hang in the air between them. "Do we have a deal?"

A part of her wanted to agree to the offer. As per the theory, she felt a certain amount of trust towards Alena, and that she suspected was not entirely because of the large sum she had been so casually given. On the other hand she knew nothing about Alena, and even doubted that was her real name. Beautiful beyond belief or not, she could not deny the feeling of trepidation she felt at this conversation. She stared at the proffered hand, wondering if perhaps it was more akin to a viper waiting to strike. "Why me?" She met the amber gaze bravely, she thought, but couldn't help but wilt under it a little.

"Because we are of similar stature, and we have a passing resemblance," came the reply. Simple, blunt, without fanfare.

They did both stand tall, Diana level with a lot of men, Alena taller than most. But passing resemblance? If only. To have a figure and features like that would be a dream to her. Nevertheless, "and what if you do cause trouble for me?"

Alena motioned towards the pouch still in Diana's hands "In that case there is a slip of paper in that bag, bearing a sealed message with my signature. Deliver it to the address written on it in person. They could use a maid, I believe, and owe me a favour. But," she added sternly, "do not open the letter. Ever. Even if you choose not to take the option of a more respectable profession, the contents within are for the intended recipient. Not you." She extended her hand again, a knowing look on her face.

Diana clenched the pouch in her hands, feeling the money within, coin and notes alike. It served as something tangible to hold on to, to remind her that this was real and not some fever dream, or illusion cooked up by being in the vicinity of the mentally ill. She stood to gain a month's wages from just one day of staying home, but on the other hand she didn't know who this person was, or what would happen if she agreed to it. She pursed her lips, looking up from her hands and into the inviting face of Alena, her patient smile making it almost too easy to just give in. She looked trustworthy. Had they met on the street she would have immediately thought her someone to be trusted, but given the circumstances it was difficult to take her at her word. She needed something. Something other than money.

"We don't have a deal," she said, seeing Alena's face fell, a frown marring her features. She added, "not unless you tell me what you plan to do. I can't let you waltz around looking like me, if that is even possible. If you want me to keep my silence, I want to know what you intend to do." This was it. This is where it counted. In the face of someone as unquestionably dangerous as Alena, impertinence like this was a risk. If she had a short temper, there was no guarantee she would not just use force to coerce her. But if she were more reasonable, she could maybe gain something. She hoped.

Alena, thank God, did not resort to violence or threats. She just drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly and let her outstretched hand fall to her side. "Before I say anything, I want you to know that I can find you again. Easily. This is not a threat, but a fact. So if what I am about to tell you escapes this room, I will visit again. Understand?" Diana nodded, frozen. She had no intentions of speaking of whatever it was. It would never end well for her if she did. "Very well. At your institution is a patient who suffers from nothing. I intend to get them out, and ferry them to a better place. I reiterate, that no one will suspect you, so you have nothing to fear," she looked meaningfully at the pouch, "and a lot to gain." For the third time that evening, she offered her hand, head cocked to the side.

"So you just want to save someone innocent?" Diana shook her head. "I doubt you will find anyone there who does not suffer from one ailment or another, but if you can confirm it, then I suppose we... have a deal," she said finally and took the offered hand, and the strength with which hers was squeezed informed her that the decision had been a right one.

"I will need to borrow your uniform as well," Alena added, grabbing it from where it had been laid previously. "I will return it to you by tomorrow evening, freshly washed. Until then, have a good evening." She curtsied again, grabbed her cloak, and was gone as quickly as she arrived.

Diana stared after her, and then at door. She soon found herself at her desk, pen in hand and diary open on her small desk.

Dear Diary

Today, I was visited by the most beautiful person I have ever seen, and I am still not quite certain what happened while she was here... I am going to try my best to portray my thoughts, feelings, and emotions as I felt them this evening, but do pardon me if I fail to do so accurately, for I have felt both fear, joy, awe, and what feels like everything in-between.

The day started as normal, I woke up and dressed...
A thought had Lily's fiery body turn ethereal, losing its physicality for long enough that the explosion and debris passed through her with no harm done, and in front of Cassandra materialised a rose coloured, transluscent barrier of her own making. The result of her and the angel's attacks had been unexpected. She had anticipated a guardian of this place to be durable enough to not simply shatter at alternating temperatures.

But contemplation could come later. Smaller bits of the scattered boulders were already starting to remake the golem. She turned to Cassandra, barking the order to finish it.

But she hadn't needed to. The half-demon already had an arm outstretched, a vast mass of mist at her finger tips. From it formed a spear, thick as her leg and over twice her height in its length. It hovered at her side, the broad head gleamed in the sun as Cassandra's gaze spotted the exposed core.

Eyes narrowing, she murmured a word. "Gáe." In one, fluid motion she whipped her arm forwards, the spear following as if thrown from her hand. "Bolg!" A huge spear, for a huge opponent. Crafted and torn from myths and legends itself, Cassandra sent forward the spear of mortal pain and death, straight for the heart of the golem.
Had Lily been more polite, she might not have stared at Carreau as he arrived. As it was, her eyes traced him as he approached, and studied him even through his attempts at humour.

"So you did show up," she said, the corner of her mouth twitching. With a glint in her eyes, she added, "Turns I can trust you after all, if only a little." She pointed to the orb still held in Egon's hand, the map hovering above it. "The small bead of light is our position, and this–" she dragged a nail through the projection, in the direction the drone was facing, stopping once she held her finger over an area of closely set building "–is most likely where my next opponent is. It's closely packed, with lots of places to hide. An ideal place for a trickster like me, but also for marksmen, assassins, sorcerers and the like." She took the orb from Egon's hands, giving him a nod of thanks and held it aloft herself, squinting at the map.

"What about the rest of the way?" Brucie asked, leaning over her shoulder and poked the image himself. "Shouldn't we also check that?"

Lily nodded, and added a small image of a green circle over the area she had previously pointed out. "This is where I expect my opponent to be, but we should still check other places." An elongated shape of green light, going from roughly where the hole in the ground was, to the circle. "Here too. I would like to know how exactly you plan on scouting ahead, Marotte, and how your abilities to remain unseen works. But for now, we should head out. You can tell me on the way." She looked up, meeting the dark eyes of the giant beetle. "I hope you can carry us," she said with a half-smile. "Let's go."
Lily turned to face her three new companions, offering a wry smile at the fleshy shapeshifter, then took a few seconds to meet the gaze of all three of them in turn. Much as she would have liked to say that she already knew all of their names and what they had said, she had been too far away to accurately read the lips of them, and had only truly understood that the fleshy monstrousity's name was Marotte. She could give educated guesses as to the identities of the other two: Big, covered in chitin, and a lumbering behemoth. He matched the descriptions of the one called I.O, that Carreau had given her the day before. The Cigar-smoking one she knew was Egon, the pyromancer that had been promised her. Long range fighting, and destructive power that she did not possess. She had briefly been introduced to him by Carreau, when first she entered the castle.

She studied each for another moment, letting the silence reign for long enough that Brucie started fidgeting. Not that it said much, as he seemed eager to constantly be doing something, even if it was just eating.

"I believe I owe an... Apology, of sorts," she started slowly, still glancing between them and occasionally shooting a bemused glanced at the raven-borne castle, and looked more and more impatient ever time she did. "I am not quite able to read lips well from this far away, and only on humanoid mouthes," she nodded towards the giant beetle, "so I did not quite catch all of your names, would you mind introducing yourselves again? I am Lily, as I expected you know, and this is Brucie, and finally Mouse." She pointed at first herself, then motioned towards them, and finally her two companions.

The lumbering giant seemed to right himself at her request. No expression showed on him except a slow blink, as he said "I am Immovable Object, but I.O works."

The fleshy being tilted his – its? – head, the garbled voice uttering a single word; "Ma̧͜ro͟͞t͘͞ţ͠e̡." it said.

Lily turned to the last of the three. "And you I already know. You're Egon, we met yesterday." Egon gave a shallow nod and puffed his cigar, and Lily wasn't quite sure how, but he somehow made the very action of doing so look thick with impatience, and probably a healthy dose of annoyance as well.

The warbled sound of Brucie clearing his throat interrupt further talk, everyone turning their attention to him. Even the dog. "What of the bird-man?"

The question prompted Lily to once more look towards the castle, her glance this time becoming more of a glare. This talk of trust and promises, was it really just for show? She made an effort to ease the creases on her brow. Getting angry with Carreau would solve nothing. "He promised he would be here, so I... trust he will be. Who knows, he probably already is."

"That looked hard for you."

"What do you mean, Brucie?" She asked.

Brucie gave what, to him, was a chuckle. "Not thinking the worst of someone." To his credit, Brucie did actually back away when Lily growled at him, but it didn't make him any less amused.

She tore her gaze from Brucie. "Anyway!" She exclaimed, once more giving her tentative allies her attention. "To address what you said earlier, Marotte. Yes, I am a jokester. Or more precisely, a Trickster. I already know the basics of what you three are capable of doing, but you don't know what I can do." She paused, scratching her cheek awkwardly. Though Brucie might have joked, he had been annoyingly right.

"Fire, lightning... Makes people see things," Brucie prompted, counting each item on one of his metallic fingers. She raised on tail and slapped it against his voice-box, earning a puzzled look.

"It's easier if I explain," she muttered and made as if to physically wipe away her exasperation and awkwardness from her face. "As Brucie said, I can conjure both fire and electricity, as well as short range, blasts of force. But they're not my specialty so my destructive power is nothing spectacular. My forté is trickery and illusions, both visual, audible, tactile, and so on." She took a step back to lean up against the boulders she and Brucie had been hiding in during the night. "That is why I specifically requested you three. I.O, your size and defensive power makes up for my own relative fragility. Coupled with your physical strength, you can tackle things head on that would crush me." She aimed a tail at Marotte. "You, as I understand it, is specialised in going unseen, and striking from the shadows. While I can do that myself, I have a somewhat–" she ran her fingers through the hairs of one tail "–striking figure. I can't yet hide them, which makes me easier to see when one the move, than someone whose focus is walking in shadows."

Finally she directed her attention towards Egon, their resident flamethrower, if Carreau was to be believed. "And finally, you have range and power, using both fire and ash if I'm not mistaken."

"She was right, much better explanation than me. Did you know, Mouse?"

Lily continued. "The tournament is in its final stages, and my next one is a semi final match, and I chose you specifically to make sure I have the greatest chances of winning. My ideal scenario, is that Marotte scouts ahead unseen and brings back any information he can get. This way we would avoid any surprises. The drone that's been buzzing since before I woke up, is pointing in the direction of my next opponent, so we'll always know the general direction. Not the distance, however. When it comes to fighting, I will do my part to distract and confuse, even make them piss their pants in fear if need be. I.O, your role will ideally be as a frontliner, either protecting the rest of us, while trying to catch my opponent, and break down any obstacles they put in our path. Egon, I would like your role to be similar to I.O's: Break down obstacles, but from afar, using your magic. Also capture if you can, and generally provide backup. Most importantly, however, and I can't stress this enough, do not kill my opponent. There is no guarantee that my phylactery will get the soul if you do, so restrain them, weaken them, but for the love of Ikari, don't kill my opponents. Not even their allies." She stopped, expelling air through her nose, and looking from one to the other.

"If you have any questions, do ask. But before that, I do have one question for you." She pulled the golden-brass orb from Brucie's bag and tossed it casually towards Egon. "Do any of you know what this is?"
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