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 The Strange Adventures of Alec Smith

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Join date : 2012-02-06

PostSubject: The Strange Adventures of Alec Smith   Wed Aug 05, 2015 7:38 am

It is a common sight in the port city of Jheran - a ship gliding up to a dock. Men jump onto the deck as a gangplank is extended and tied off at both ends. The crewmen rush up and down the dock, tying thick ropes to the wooden beams, securing the vessel in place. Yet more sailors appear from belowdecks, hoisting large crates filled with heavy cargo. This can be seen all over the bustling harbor. The air is heavy with the smell of smoke, sweat, and the salty sea. A hint of fresh bread suggests a bakery is near. And in the midst of all this activity is Alec Smith, arcane armsman, hunter of monsters and sometimes, when the occasion calls for it, men.

This would be the second time the legendary cloak had come to visit Kerodil, though its occupant was oblivious to that much. Alec adjusted the tilt of his wide-brimmed hat and leaned out over the side of the vessel, staying out of the way of the sailors, and making certain they stayed out of his, as well. His eyes scrutinized the docks, deciding to see what manner of demographic was there to greet him. On the deck of the vessel, he'd stand out easily, reflecting the sun off his obsidian vestments.

Close to the docks are mostly large burly men who work unloading crates and moving them into various warehouses. There are a number of merchants selling fresh fish, imported fruits, and various knick-knacks. There are also harlots plying their trade throughout the winding streets. The buildings here are mostly warehouses, but a few shops exist selling general goods, potions, magic trinkets, and other mostly useless paraphernalia. Last of all is the bakery in question, which seems quite popular among the seafarers and townsfolk.

Alec stood, watching, making sense of it all. Nothing seemed out of place, but these were just the docks. The human became impatient very quickly; the men at the dock were working too slow for his taste, and as often, he took matters into his own hands. Alec climbed up aboard the edge of the boat while the men were still tying it down and leapt for the ground below. It was probably a great drop for a common man, but Alec now had the cloak to come to his aid; it stretched down primitively prior to the moment of contact to cushion his fall enough for it to feel like a three foot drop instead of what it was. To the common pair of eyes, however, he looked like a lunatic that just performed a feat of superhuman strength. Or... a man that just broke his legs.

Magic was common throughout Kerodil, but rarely of such a kind as that which Alec wielded. His leap catches the eye of several commoners, who gasp and exchange hushed whispers. Any suspicion or prejudice they might have is drowned out by fear, fear of a man who apparently possesses inhuman strength. Still, word travels fast in Jheran, and there may be repercussions for revealing such capabilities, and for wearing such a distinct and unearthly cloak...

Alec looked around. He didn't care all that much; he was the type of man to throw his weight around when he needed to, metaphorically speaking, and in an unfamiliar place like this where he needed to earn some new respect, he was just getting a head start. But.. that bakery smelled pretty good. Alec followed his nose- not as good as Taric's, but decent enough to find baked goods. He'd stop in front of the vendor, wherever it was, and would observe the appearance of the place before heading to the counter, if one were available.

The bakery is lavishly decorated, clearly very well-established. On an ornate counter replete with glass windows, there sit several cakes, pastries, and fruit tarts. For a man with less of a sweet tooth, there are many varieties of fresh-baked bread. The latest edition, and a most popular item, is something called "Butter Cookies" which come in a decorated box sealed with ribbon.

Alec walks the line of the confections on display. He looks around a little more, then searches for a bell to ring, or an attendant. If he finds nothing, he'll call out for a clerk or baker.

A clerk looks up from the customer he is helping, and walks over to where Alec is standing. He is a young man in a cheap suit complete with a starched collar. He looks quite ridiculous, but at least is clean, which is more than can be said of anyone else in the vicinity. "You'll have to wait in line if you want to buy something. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"Questions," he'd reply. Alec looks the clerk over. "There's a tip in it for you if you don't mind sparing a minute."

The clerk fails to hide his eagerness. Dock workers and poor commoners don't make very good tippers, but this mysterious stranger was different. Or so the man thought. At any rate, the clerk replies, "I've got time. We're well-staffed here. What questions do you need answered?"

"I'm lookin' for the biggest, meanest scumbag in the city." He slowly smiles at the young man who just walked into a question he'll regret. "Who is he, and where can I find 'em?" Alec looks around. "C'mon. Women love bakeries, and women love to talk. You must'a heard some things, right?"

The clerk's eyes widen, his eagerness vanishing. "Well, I-... I shouldn't- that is, I don't know anything about that."

Alec very casually withdraws his corkgun. The weapon looks a little more convincing these days, seeing as Alec had taken care to making it look the part. With natural, fluid motions that wouldn't catch the eye, he shortened the distance between them, and the toy gun poked the man in the side of his suit. He'd feel a gun barrel, at the least. "Pal, I hear the law around here is real shit. It'd be a right shame if they didn't happen t' make it on time if somebody started some trouble... It ain't worth holdin' a few words, is it?"

The clerk's eyes bulge even wider, one has to wonder how a man's eyes could possibly get so huge. "Pl-please sir," he says softly, his voice wavering. "I can't talk. They'll kill my whole family."

Alec lifts a brow. Well, that was something. "A'right. I ain't heartless. Let's strike a compromise. Who's a guy gotta ask t' get some straight answers?"

"I don't-" the clerk is cut off by a hulk of a man, tattoos all over his arms, a filthy stubble on his face, and wiry black hair. His imposing appearance is somewhat offset by his bleached baker's outfit, complete with a tall hat that, added to his height, touches the ceiling. "What the hell is the matter with you, Slattery? Customers are complaining-" He pauses, eying the scene, realizing what's going down. To Alec, he says, "Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave. I'm only gonna ask once. You don't want to know what happens after that."

Alec lifts a brow, looking at the man. Very quickly, he points his corkgun at his head. "Bang," he pulls the trigger, sending a cork flying toward the eyes of the burly man with pin-point precision. Whatever his reaction, Alec would withdraw the weapon. "Jus' playin' a little prank, pal, no harm meant or done." The edges of his mouth were restraining a smug grin.

The man turns a deep shade of red, almost purple. Veins bulge in his neck, threatening to split his collar in twain. He gives Alec a look that could start a fire, and says, with barely-contained fury, "Take your dumb pranks somewhere else, asshole. And if I EVER see you here again, I'll break off all your fingers and cook them into a pastry. And you'll get first taste."

"Sounds like a treat," he replied. Alec gave the younger man a pat on the shoulder. "Sorry 'bout that, kid. Just needed answers." He would depart from the shop, never sparing the larger man a second glance.

"Get back to work!" the hot-headed baker bellows to the poor clerk, as Alec departs.

Alec set a new cork into the little toy, and tucked it away. He looked down into the heart of Jheran, likely so very different from the docks. It was clear to him that he wasn't going to get answers without paying the right man the right sum. Either that, or draw more attention from the wrong people. So, he got started on walking and searching, looking for anything that stuck out, whether it be in a good way, or a very bad way.

If nothing stuck out, it was because everything was equally disgraceful. Raw sewage pools beside the uneven cobble streets. Beggars line the walls of dilapidated buildings, run-down shops, and seedy taverns. What houses there are are largely home to squatters. Harlots, which are ever-pervasive, also dwell here, though these are of a poorer sort than the ones at the docks, older and more experienced, suffering from any number of diseases. Some are missing teeth, others have a limp. One has a wooden leg. The most "noteworthy" of buildings is noteworthy in that it doesn't look completely like shit. A shop named "Ferguson's," tucked inside the ruined slums.

Alec had little choice at this point. He wasn't far from asking a Harlot to accompany him, just to pay her to talk. The sight of the shop distracted him from that decision long enough to make him reconsider, and he approached it. He avoided eye-contact with people up until he made it to the shop. It wasn't worth it, and he wasn't in the mood.

Entering the shop, Alec took a look around. "Anybody in?... Anybody that smells decent, maybe?"

The shop is most unusual. Rows upon rows of shelves, which are built onto a sliding track for access. The shelves contain potions, strange organs and body parts preserved in jars, magical objects that vary wildly in potency, and arcane arms - the Ferguson kind, naturally. Behind the solitary counter is an equally solitary... automaton. "Hello, customer," it says in a flat tone. "Welcome to Ferguson's Curiosity Shoppe."

Alec's brows furrowed, and a fire within him was lit. Were he not cool under such a fire, he may have destroyed the lesser arcane arms and their perversion of his practice. "Hi. Where's the owner? I'm lookin' t' speak with 'em about some custom stuff." A white lie never hurt, except when the lie itself disgusted Alec by the notion of it. At least he was a good liar.

"I can not answer that. The owner does not wish to be disturbed. If you would like to browse the items available, I can assist you. Do not approach or attempt to touch any of the items. Living beings will be- ... deterred."

Alec eyed the automaton closely. "Fair 'nough. I'm jus' gonna start browsin', alright?" He had other things in mind, though.

The automaton walks over to the shelves with fluid mechanical motions. Its metal limbs tap the wooden floorboards. Despite its metallic body, it seems quite light on its feet. It places a hand on the nearest shelf. "Which shelf interests you?"

Alec looked everything over. He approached the strange organs and jars of preserved body parts. "This here looks interestin'. Tell me about it." He kept settled one hand into his cloak as he fiddled around within, perhaps preparing the necessary coin, or perhaps something else.

"A sample from- humanoid abomination. Infused with chaotic magical energy. Dangerous if reanimated. Useful for research purposes, particularly in medicine." As the machine talks, it pulls shelves down the track, revealing the one on which the jarred organ is sitting. It seems human, and yet... not. It's twisted beyond recognition, a bit of a hand here, some hair there, and... a pair of eyes?

It wasn't the worst Alec had seen, but certainly different from what he was used to. Alec tilted his head, looking around, scrutinizing. "How much fer somethin' like this?" He'd step beside the automaton, staying close to it while keeping his attention on the object, directing focus toward it instead of himself; with sleight of hand, he stealthily withdrew a device in the opposite hand; a flat wad of skin-colored wax paper, stitched together somehow with some substance or compound contained within. He'd hold this in his opposite hand, away from the automaton, eying the nearby arcane arms in the corner of his vision.

The automaton backs away from Alec as it nears him. "What is that in your hand? Unauthorized action detected. I must ask that you leave the store peacefully." Near the shelves a faint buzzing sound suddenly begins. Alec's mage senses would tell him some fairly powerful wards have just been tripped.

Alec pauses, frowning. He eyes the automaton, considering if he should abide by its request, rebel, or.. just try to fool it again. "What, this?" He'd slowly hold it up. "It's just tinder for my cigarettes. I was plannin' t' light one." He'd slowly take his free hand, and reveal cigarettes out of his coat. He would hold them out for inspection- and the words were true, at least, as far as the contents of his hands. "See?"

The automaton hesitates. In its artificial mind, it perceived something altogether different from a bit of tinder... but it lacks any sort of intuitive thinking, its mind boils down a set of relatively simple rules. "...The customer was perceived as acting inappropriately. This conduct will be reported. You may continue to browse the shop, however. Please do not attempt to interfere with the shelves." The wards drop, returning to their initial state. They were almost undetectable before, but clearly have been there this whole time.

Alec stared at the machine, a bit relieved inwardly, but outwardly stoic, grinning even. "Sure thing, pal. Hey, yer fine with me smokin' in here, right?"

"Smoking is prohibited within the shoppe. Please smoke outside."

"Well, we would'a never had this problem if ya just told me that t' begin with." He rolls his eyes and looks to the bits of organ. "Bah, now I lost interest. What about those guns?" He leaves the machine to approach the shelves of arcane abominations.

"The guns you speak of are Ferguson Arms, designed to take custom or mass-produced Spell Cartridges. All are patented by Ferguson's, Incorporated. Illicit reproductions will be fined no less than 1,000 Valish crowns, or 1,275 Inferian marks. Ferguson's personal addendum-" the bot's voice is replaced by an old man's, likely a recording, "Copies of my guns will be inserted into the would-be inventor. Rectally. Just try to stop me."

Sounds like a challenge, he mused to himself. "They a popular item around here, Twitchy?"

The bot's voice returns to normal. "You may address me as Ferguson. We are his eyes, we are his ears. We are Ferguson." The bot pauses, as if to let that sink in, and then, abruptly, "Ferguson Arms are bought and sold worldwide. Inferia is currently the top buyer, estimated at - redacted, information classified on request - total purchases. In Jheran, they are sold at an average rate of one per week."

Alec decides to play toward respecting the bot and its owner, 'Ferguson,' as it appeared to be the route of getting answers. "Yeah? That's quite a bit. One a week in Jheran, that's not bad. Sounds like you've got a frequent buyer or somethin'. That right, is there somebody or some people that come around to buy these a lot?"

"Customer information is regarded as private unless otherwise specified. I can not answer that question."

"Huh. Well, I'd like t' see the most commonly frequently purchased variety. Mind pointing it out?" He looks to the bot. "And, if ya could, I'm lookin' t' buy some spell cartridges."

The automaton pulls aside more shelves. An array of Arcane Arms ranging from arquebuses to the humble motile-lock pistol sits before Alec, along with numerous Spell Cartridges. "The motile-lock pistol is most commonly purchased, but the rifles receive the most positive customer feedback. Commonly purchased Spell Cartridges include fireball, invisibility, magic wall, and web."

He eyed their models. Alec would commit them to memory, even their silhouettes and impressions. It was going to come in handy in this city. "...How much fer three of each?" As if correcting himself, he looked to the automaton all of a sudden. "The cartridges, that is."

The automaton takes a few seconds to do the math. "450 crowns. Would you like the total in a different currency?"

"Mm.. I'm figurin' I'll just.. take one. Let's go with the fireball." He'd nod at the machine, digging for his coins.

The machine approaches the shelf, not tripping any of the wards. It takes the cartridge off the shelf without incident, and holds out its free hand towards Alec. "I can receive your payment now."

"Yeah, yeah, don't rush me. How much is it fer jus' one? Ya never mentioned it."

"The total for one - fireball cartridge - is 35 crowns. I apologize for this failure. Maintenance request sent." The cartridge rests in the machine's hand, still just behind the wards. Its other hand hovers near Alec, unnaturally still.

Alec counts up the necessary coin. "It's comin', Twi-. I mean, it's comin', Ferguson." He began to set coins into the robo-hand in stacks, eventually totaling 35. As much as he detested it, it would be good to have a way to shoot the cruddy guns of this continent. "There... that's everythin'. So? When do I get it?"

Metal fingers close around the coins, holding them all securely in place - somehow. "Payment authenticated. Here is your - fireball cartridge." Ferguson hands it to Alec. "Is there anything else I can assist you with?"

"I got what I needed," he replied, dropping the cartridge into a pocket on the inside of his cloak. Without further interaction, he turned and left, heading out of the store.

"Have a nice day..." the automaton's voice trails off. For all Alec knows, it might still be talking, obeying its rules without fail - except when it does fail. Outside the shop, the air is suddenly chillier. The late afternoon sun is obscured by clouds rolling in from the sea. The wind at least clears away some of the foul smell.

Alec stroked along his forehead. There weren't many leads available for the work he had been commissioned for. It seemed he would have to do some fishing around and wait for something to bite, or make a scene. It was too early to start lighting up the town just yet. He went for a walk, deeper into the city, looking for more options.

Alec walks down winding streets of varying quality. Some of the districts he passes through almost look nice, which makes for a pleasant change of pace - or perhaps unpleasant, given Alec's trouble-seeking nature. Deeper in the city, towards the monolithic city hall and seat of Jheran's government, guards can be seen on patrol in increasing numbers. They are vicious looking men and women with heavy shields. Magic can be detected in their shields and, in the case of some, their weapons and even armor. Some are mages themselves. Overall, it's probably not a good idea to trifle with them. The shops here are nicer, and buildings look properly maintained and lived-in. There is still the occasional beggar, a shady hood here and there, and some more harlots - better-dressed and made up nicely, these ones, probably a bit above what a common peasant can afford.

Alec's eyes wandered everywhere. The better-looking harlots reminded him of less-classy versions of Persephone. Somehow, hanging around them depressed him, and he seemed to avoid them. Instead, he came upon the city hall. The amount of guards and the quality of their equipment made an impression on him, but probably not the intended kind. "Well... why not?" He mused to himself, heading for the city hall's entrance. "If I'm lookin' for a lion, might as well check its den."

The city hall is guarded by the most well-equipped guardsman in Jheran, which isn't saying much, really. The door is flanked by gleaming rows of armored guards, shields tucked firmly, with long lances, likely just for show. The rotunda is accessible to the public - a huge room with a stone floor showcasing the elaborate domed ceiling of the city hall. Paintings decorate the walls and ceiling. At the very top is an elaborate mural that winds around in a circle, a depiction of the Seven Gods of Kerodil's pantheon. Lothe, Tyra, Myra, Mordyr, Vintar, Kita, and Scilla. There is a large spiral staircase in the very center of this room, which is roped off. Guards stand there, occasionally allowing someone passage through - government officials, by the looks of them.

Alec assumed what he was looking for was not down this path, but he decided to approach the guards anyway and ask for directions. " 'Scuse me," he said as approachably as he could, "I'm what ya might call a bounty hunter. Does Jheran keep a list'a bountyheads, n' if so, could ya point the way?"

"Get lost, scum."

He paused and eyed the guard. "...Did I do somethin' wrong?"

The guard opens his mouth, but is interrupted by his partner. "Don't mind him, he's just got a sword up his ass. If you are what you say you are, we could use your help."

Alec glances at the guard beside the first less-friendly guard. "...Wasn't gonna mind him. Where do I go fer bounties, then, buddy?"

"Forget those shitty listings. I sense you're an uncommon sort, you deserve an uncommon job." The grumpy guardsman interrupts. "You trust this stranger? He's gutter trash-" "Be quiet, or I'll mute you again." If it's not apparent by now, this guard is a mage, and likely very skilled. Smiling at his fuming partner, he then redirects his attention to Alec. "Want me to continue, or would you rather peruse the regular old bounty board?"

"I ain't picky, I'll take both," Alec replied, rubbing the back of his neck and leaning idly. It was bad news when they didn't want him around, but worse when they did. He played it cool for now. "We can start with whatever ya like, do the other thing after. I'm plannin' t' be in town for a while, I figure I'll have time for a piece of either pie."

"This town'll chew you up and spit you back out," says the grumpy guardsman. "You couldn't think of a better line to say?" says his partner. "How about, 'this town is not for the faint of heart,' or 'abandon all hope ye who enter'?" The grumpy guardsman gives him a confused look. He continues, turning to Alec. "...Anyway, it's a bit of a sensitive matter... it involves one of our own, you see. He's fled the city, taking his gear with him, and we'd like that gear back. Our shields are easy enough for a mage like yourself to track, so it should be a cakewalk for you. And the pay's substantial."

Alec lofts a brow. "Actually... this sounds like the kind'a job I've been lookin' for." He nodded. "I'm interested. Just get the gear back? Let me hear the details."

"There isn't much to tell. He is a mage, by my reckoning, but likely not as powerful as yourself. He'll be on the run, cold, hungry, and alone. The whole force is hunting him, so he probably skipped town. I'd look in the surrounding areas, near the roads, maybe even as far as Valenwood. Supposedly he was headed south. Heh, maybe he thinks he'd be better off in Inferia. Fat chance, but he's clearly a fool."

"Well, ain't that simple. Say, fella's," he frowns at them, "Any chance y'know where people sell the damn maps around here? The only shop I ran in to was run by a construct. Wasn't a damn thing in there worth lookin' at."

"Ferguson's?" the mage guard asks with a glimmer of recognition. "That's a fine place to shop. But they don't sell much in the way of maps. Mostly old curios. You might find a map of Old Arithas, maybe, or-..." he catches Alec's disinterest and gets back on track. "Right, anyways, here in the city center you don't need to look far to find a decent map. The general store just down the street sells some maps, I think they're mostly up-to-date."

"Finally, somethin' practical," he mumbled.

"Did you have any other questions?" The grumpy guardsman next to him sighs. He pays him no mind.

Alec strokes his chin. "I'm gonna need a name, and maybe somethin' a little more to go on than an occupation. Like some facial features."

"Therein lies the difficulty. He doesn't have many distinguishing marks, he was never injured in the line of duty, which is odd, but could be attributed to dumb luck or plain incompetence. He had a beard, but if he was smart at all he'd have shaved it. Dark hair and eyes, about your height. If he didn't change clothes, then he'd have a Shield insignia on his shirtsleeve. If he was stupid enough to hang onto his shield, you could follow the trail that leaves. Maybe he traded it to someone who might know more about where he's headed. I'm afraid I can't help you beyond that."

Alec nods, glancing at the ground as he ponders how to track this fellow down. "Well, I'll figure out something... thanks fer yer help. Now, the bounty board? Figure I'd ought t' take a look anyway."

"It's over there." The guardsman points to a far wall, where some guards, badly-equipped peasants, and wannabe bounty hunters are huddled around. Barely discernible through them is an ornate corkboard upon which all of the city's bounties are pinned.

"You weren't kiddin'," he mumbled, approaching the board skeptically. "...Does this even.. count?" Alec eyed the board, committing it to memory. Though, it seemed easier just to make notes, and so he did, withdrawing a notepad and pencil for the job.

The board isn't in much of a position to react to Alec's notetaking.

Alec shows that board who's boss. By the time he's done scrutinizing it, it would feel violated by his eyes.

The board will be plagued by trust and commitment issues for the rest of its life, and always have trouble making eye contact. "You gonna do all those ya'self?" says a voice. It's one of the peasants, armed with a fierce pitchfork.

Alec leaves the board to contemplate its changed life, making his way out of the city hall, and immediately toward the suggested general store. It was time to get a bloody map. On his way out, he shoots the peasant with his corkgun.

The peasant grunts at Alec, but continues going about his business. He'll show that obnoxious gunman. And his parents. And lifelong rival. He'll show them ALL. Meanwhile, in the land of the sane, a man with magical guns walks into a General Store. Somewhere, this is the opening line of a bad joke.

The clerk of the general store is a comely young woman, fair and raven-haired. With the worst teeth this side of the Sea of Storms. "I'll be with you in a minute," she calls to Alec, and appears to be helping a sailor purchase a fancy sextant. The store's shelves are loaded with all manner of items, from beaded necklaces to magic scrolls, simple potions to children's toys, and, on one shelf, large nautical charts and maps of Kerodil and other lands.

Alec took a stroll around the shop, looking over all the shelves. He went over the maps, and took one for the mainland, and any more concentrated maps detailing individual regions of Kerodil. He'd approach the clerk once he was ready, and await his turn, depositing the maps once she was ready to help him.

"Just don't want to get lost," he responded stoicly. "Someone's done all the explorin' already to get the maps. So, how much?"

Her smile is wilted by Alec's stoicism. "6 crowns, in all."

"Nothing cheap around here, is there," he responded, settling the crown down before her. "There. Hey, lady, quick question. Those potions, what're they good for?" He motions his hand toward the stock that appeared to be for alchemical needs. "Anythin' special?"

"Minor healing, cures for common illnesses, and... well, one of them wasn't labelled when we got it. Don't know what it does."

Alec heads over to the potions, plucking a couple for illnesses and returning to the woman, setting them before her. "Gonna need these, then."

"Okay. Those two together cost another 6 crowns."

He frowns at the woman. "If I'm payin you this much, you ought'a start flashin' me by now." He dumped another six crown before her.

She turns a shade of red. "P-potions aren't cheap, sir... these are actually the cheapest we have, at the lowest price in town." She takes the money, looking down at the floor.

He gives her an unamused stare. "Tryin' t' be cute with me ain't gettin' ya nowhere. Have a nice day," his response was as dry as could be. Alec packed his things right in front of the woman, departing after her response. There was work to do, he could harass the girls of Jheran another day.

"You too," she says weakly. As Alec leaves, another customer enters. "I'm looking for potions." Whatever is said after that fades into the background as Alec moves further away.

Alec would shift through maps, finding the one he'd need to navigate his way south. Either way, he would have to walk through the city to get there, and moving too quickly might not be in his interest. He leisurely headed south, toward the outskirts of Jheran. Whatever met him on the way there, well, he'd deal with it when he got to it.

Outside of the wealthy city center, the quality rapidly deteriorates. Within ten minutes or so of walking, Alec finds himself once again in the slums, with their rich smell, dilapidated structures, and beggars. Inevitably, he comes across something distasteful. The sound of a man and woman screaming in a nearby alleyway. It sounds as though someone's getting beaten.

Alec pauses in his steps. Well, naturally, he had to intervene. He'd fold up his map, store it in his coat, and hurriedly rush toward the source. Knowing that his usual destructive tendencies might harm innocents in this alleyway, he chose to wield his rifle, Sunflare, and peeked out over the corner to spy upon the scene.

The alley is dark and damp. Trash and waste are piled up in various spots. Against the wall of a broken-down building, a man is receiving the beating of his life by three laughing thugs. They are heavyset, armed with long daggers, and have a wild look in their eyes. A woman who may or may not have a conection to the man is pinned against the wall by a fourth thug, whose intentions are anything but chivalrous. He, too, is armed with a blade. No one in the group has any trace of magic, but one of the daggers looks a bit too shiny to be normal.

Alec ducked out of view. Three common men, monsters in their own right, but hardly the kind of beast he was used to. He leaned his rifle to the wall and withdrew a caliver pistol- Phantom. Point it at his foot, he would empower it with the necessary energy and fire a spell, shot right into himself. Invisibility followed like a blanket. He stowed the pistol, and picked up his rifle, which likewise turned invisible upon grip. Alec then navigated inside the alleyway, slowly approaching. At a few steps in, he would notice that one of the daggers is out of place. He can't risk checking for magic yet. Alec raises his rifle and begins to pour energy into it, standing at the mouth of the alleyway, where he could block them in and still maintain some range. He'd try to examine the thugs in greater detail before unleashing his weapon's wrath.

A closer inspection doesn't reveal much besides what Alec already knew. In a close quarters fight, any one of them would be a match for him. But this was going to be a gunfight, and all they brought were knives. The glimmering knife thug number four uses appears to be made of something other than steel - most likely a lucky find off some wealthy commoner. Its exact nature can't be determined without a more rigorous, up-close inspection.

Alec cooled his mind as he took aim. He figured he would have to start with the three beating the man on the ground, so he took aim to disarm them. Literally, he attempted to line his sights up with their arms. The first shot was going to cost him, so he had to make it count. He fired- and out came a scorching beam of fire. Alec had controlled the length so it didn't extend too far, but it would go far enough to burn through- or even burn off- their arms, if he could line up the shot. And, well, then he would lose his veil of invisibility. There stood Alec Smith, the muzzle of his weapon still steaming hot. He would clear his throat to get their attention, whoever was not in extreme pain, that is.

The three men are standing in a triangular pattern, which puts two of them in line with Alec's shot. As predicted, one's arm simply drops off while the other's gets a chunk neatly blasted out of it. The burns are so significant that they barely notice at first, but are quickly horrified and add their screams to those already present. The remaining thugs look around, confused, before seeing the gunman standing there with a glowing barrel. They do not look happy.

Alec motioned, with his eyes, to the wall opposite of the woman and man. "Back away, or there's more where that came from."

The new amputees collapse the ground, moaning in horror and pain. One of thugs flees, scared out of his wits. The man with the shining knife tosses the woman towards the fallen man, who's had his face and ribs broken in several places. He looks ready to expire, if he hasn't already. With violent rage, the knife-wielder charges Alec - despite starting from a standstill, his distance is short enough that Alec has just a second to respond.

Alec fired, keeping his rifle level. The first shot fired was not the only shot- the spell produced multiple rays, and Alec had been holding some back. Three, in fact. The hunter took care not to involve the others, but he showed no mercy upon the one who turned on him. The rays would fly over the others in the alley, being too high to strike them, but the charging man didn't have much room to work with. After firing the last three shots, his weapon would be expended of power. If the thug somehow survived, he'd certainly be close enough to land a strike.

The thug slams into Alec with his full weight. The knife pushes against Alec, and unless his cloak got in the way, would likely leave a deep cut. Otherwise, it'd give him a nasty bruise. It's soon clear, however, that the thug's attack was mostly driven by his remaining momentum - he has two gaping holes in his abdomen and one clean through his head. His face is a smoking ruin with half-melted brain tissue dribbling out. That's gonna stain.

The knife stuck into the cloak, puncturing it, but not piercing it entirely. Alec was easily pushed back by the dead weight of the thug, but it was nothing he wasn't used to. He'd roll the body off of himself to the ground, but having been pushed back, he'd end up just outside the alleyway, exposing both sight and stench to anyone nearby.

Alec sighed, plucking the knife out of his cloak. "...Mithril? Damn," he mumbled. "Damn good cloak..." He'd pocket the knife, rather than let it go to waste. Not much he could do about the blood on himself, though. He'd approach the others, the beaten man, the woman on top of him, and the amputees. He'd ignore the amputees for now and kneel beside the other two. "Hey, lady, talk t' me. What's goin' on here?" He'd start to dig through his cloak for his few and cherished healing items.

The lady sobs and is so shaken she can't even talk. Not surprising, given the man she's hunched over is so horribly beaten. His breathing is shallow and gurgled with blood in his lungs and throat. It's likely his ribs punctured his own lungs, which are about to collapse. Only the most powerful healing magic could save him.

Alec eyed the state of the man. "Fuck..." He knew very well that his cloak could save this man, but the reason Persephone was given the cloak and not himself was her experience with raw magic. Alec's only advantage over her in its use was the raw amount of power he could provide. He set his rifle down and plucked out a healing salve. Removing the lid of the salve, he essentially poured the contents over the man's outward wounds to lessen the effort he would need- and also help guide the cloak to what it actually needed to heal: punctured lungs. Tossing the used salve aside, Alec touched his cloak flap to the man's chest and pressed it against his body with his hands. He used his own basic healing ability as the trigger to start the process, clumsily pouring mana into the cloak...

The cloak does what it does best, which is restoring the man's body to an equilibrium. The damage is substantial, though, and the energy requirements are steep. The woman continues crying, maybe assuming Alec is covering his dead body. One of the thugs continues moaning in the background, the other has apparently passed out from pain and shock. He'll live, though, since his wound is cauterized.

Alec looked a bit drained after the fact. It looked like he'd just shot his rifle ten times over. He remained still as the cloak did its work, trying not to blow up on the woman for her bawling. He'd remain still for about five minutes just to be sure the cloak was doing its work before he'd consider uncovering the man to inspect him.

The woman begins to quiet down, seeing that Alec is no ordinary man, and what he's doing is more than just fiddling with her man's corpse. Her face emerges from behind her hands and with reddened eyes she watches Alec work, looking confused.

Alec seemed satisfied with the repairs. It certainly wasn't like Persephone's work, and hardly like the cloak fresh out of Kain's hands. Still, it was enough. He'd pick up his rifle and stand up, eyeing the woman. "...Gonna start talkin' or what?" He'd motion his weapon's barrel at the two of them, "Who're you two," and then the two thugs on the ground. "and what were they doin'? Why?"

"We..." she stammers. "We were lost... trying to find our way back into town... well, the guarded part of town... then they came out of nowhere and..." she looks down at the unconscious, but much recovered, man lying prone. "...you healed him. And-and saved us. I can't believe it..."

"Husband? Brother?" He motions to the healed man. "Yer names?" He took to leaning against a nearby wall to avoid succumbing to exhaustion while his body reacted from the quick depletion of energy.

"He's... we're... together. I'm Lena, his name is Tate." As if on cue, Tate opens his eyes. He gasps, springing to an upright sitting position. And then groans as he rubs his forehead. "Gods... what happened?"

Alec's eyes shifted to the man. "Yeah, what's what I'm tryin' t' figure out," he replied. He checked the amputees. "Were ya carryin' any valuabes?" He'd begin to search the thugs, and the surrounding area for any dropped goods.

"No," Lena says. "In fact, that knife was probably worth more than anything we had-"
"Wait a minute," says Tate. "What knife?"

Alec pauses, looking at the pair. He withdraws the mithril knife. "I think she's talkin' about this. Tried t' stab me with it." He'd hold it out in view.

Tate looks at the knife, narrowing his eyes. Then, they widen. "By the Gods, that's... that crazy bitch!" He rises to his feet, and Lena rises with him. She looks confused for a moment, but then pieces it together. "You mean... she found out?"

Alec raised a brow at the reaction. "Care t' explain some more?"

Tate looks at Alec. "I'm sorry you got dragged into this mess. It appears my shrew of a wife hired a crew to gut us, and gave one a knife that belonged to her, just so I'd know right before the end it was her... hardly worked, though. I was unconscious before figuring out anything. Plus you came along."

His eyes narrowed. "Your... wife." He said it like he had just devalued the entire conflict. "This's all because... you left.. yer wife." A tempered fury was in his words, held back by the same cool that held back the rest of his rage. "...Please tell me there's somethin' more t' this than just elopin' after a love affair."

"What did you expect? Not everyone gets to be a.. well, whatever you are. Vigilante with guns and a cloak. You look like something out of a children's tale. Ever heard of the Black Vole?"
"Be nice," Lena says to Tate. "He just saved our lives."

He sighs. "...Where's yer wife? I'm on my way out'a town. I'll tell her yer dead and go on my way."

"If you're on your way out, then she's out of the way. Don't trouble yourself, though, I doubt she had a plan B. Those goons would've been more than enough if you hadn't shown up."
"Thanks again," Lena says. "I wish we could repay you."
"If you ever find yourself in Aurelus, my brother has some land. That's where we're headed. We could give you some kind of reward then."

"Your brother got a name?" Alec tucked the mithril knife back into his coat. "I don't figure 'Tate's brother' is the way t' pick him out." He approached the goons on the ground. "While yer at it, tell the guards about these two. Nevermind the dead one, he got what he deserved. But these two ought t' be put under arrest."

"Lena and I are heading out of here, there's no time to go back and get the guards. Those two tried to kill me, and almost did, so as far as I'm concerned they can rot right here. And as for my brother," Tate says, giving one of the thugs a good kick (which ellicits a yelp of pain), "His name's Hans."

"Right... Run along, then." He motions to the way he came from. "That'll get you to the city hall. I'll handle this mess."

"Like I said, we're headed out of here. As in, out of town altogether. But thanks for showing us where NOT to go."
"Tate!" Lena whispers to him.
"...Right, sorry, sorry. I'm a bit grumpy, the whole near-death experience thing and all. I should be thanking you. You really helped us, and like I said, any time you're in Aurelus... you just find Hans, and we'll work out payment. You deserve something for all this."

Alec stares at the man with a neutral gaze. "...Got it." He decides not to interfere any further, heading toward the way -he- came from, having no real fear of the authorities just yet. He would linger around just to listen to any parting statements they had, though it was clear he decided to seperate himself from the scene.

As he walks away, he can hear snippets of conversation. "...can't believe you'd put us at risk like that..." "not my fault..." "didn't tell me she was..." and whatever argument they were having is now gone, replaced by the sounds of walking, talking, and shouting that fill the city slums at this time of day. The sun is getting lower, a reminder that evening is only a few hours away.

Alec slings his rifle and makes his way out, but he halts, recalling the amputees. Deciding he wasn't that merciless, he approached the men, kneeling to see if they were still conscious. "Your friend comin' back for you?"

The one that's still awake, with a chunk of his arm missing, manages a response. "If he does... I'm gonna kill him... ohhhgh."

"Sorry 'bout that," Alec adds, "He was a lil' off mark. Here's how this's gonna go down. I'm gonna fix yer arm. Then, yer gonna take yer buddy down here n' get lost. If ya decide t' change this plan, that guy over by the street ain't the only one meetin' his maker today. Do we have an understandin'?"

The man nods. "Don't got much... choice, anyway. Damn this town.... fucking... fires from hell..."

"I'm from out'a town, actually," Alec replies, folding the cloak over the man's chewn-up arm. He restored it using less energy than it took to save the cheating man's life, focusing. Granted, the arm was unlikely to have been as strong as it was before, lacking a complete healing, but it was functional, and strong enough to accomplish common tasks. The healing would take a minute or so to accomplish, the cloak seemingly fusing with the man's arm, detatching when finished. Without missing a beat, he moved over to the unsconscious one, whose arm was altogether missing, leaving a charred stump. Alec wasn't sure if he could replace it, but he decided to try. "...Can't believe Perse did this so easily," he murmured to himself as he covered the stump-arm with the cloak.

The man blinks several times at the reformed arm. "...Where can I get a cloak like that?"

Alec was intensely focused, thus it was a bit hard to respond. He was stuck remedying the unconscious man's arm for a few minutes, about the same time as the cheating husband, though with less energy necessary. He grunted, standing upright and leaning against the wall beside him, at last providing an answer. "...Butt Hole Road, south'a Surna."

"Huh. So-... oh, a joke. Yeah, real smart." He hoists up his friend, whose stump has gone from a stump to a hand, albeit an off-color and fragile-looking one. "Well, anyways, thanks for the helping hand- uh, no pun intended. You uh... really had no reason to. I'll be leaving now. Shoulda known this would go bad... ugh... stupid town..." he turns to leave, grumbling.

Alec let the thug leave, watching him haul away his companion. The bit of mercy he'd shown was reassurance that he wasn't like his prey, and that was enough. He'd withdraw the map he was using earlier and proceed southward toward the city limits.

The rest of the walk is uneventful. Jheran is a huge city, and there is much poverty and crime, but not all of it centered around this gunman. Alec could easily spend the rest of his life trying to sort out the corrupted city and hardly make a dent in it. Well, maybe a decent-sized dent. But more important matters were at hand. The gates to the city weren't much to look at, mostly just rotted wooden posts with a faded sign nailed between them. Even beyond the gates, there were still shacks and huts, dirt roads with trash and sewage, beggars, and, of course, harlots. Here there was even more anarchy than in the slums, if such a thing was even possible. These people were, technically speaking, not living under any recognized authority. It was the freest part of Valen, and perhaps the world at large... maybe freedom was slightly overrated.

Alec wandered through these parts. He was supposed to track a mage, and he imagined a mage fleeing the city would have been a little easy to spot, even for the common rabble. He'd check around the outskirts for something or someone, anyone at all, that looked as though they saw all or most of the people passing through. He'd even consider the harlots for this.

There aren't a great many people here. A beggar sits by a half-collapsed shack looking miserable. A woodcarver sits on a stump, doing the obvious, and has some sort of stand set up to sell his work. There are also some subsistence farmers growing vegetables, and a large structure looming in the distance with a giant black "Y" painted on it. Last of all is a harlot standing in a crossroads, near a road sign.

Naturally, Alec decided to go to the harlot to ask her about the building with the Y-shape. He approached her, not expecting anything in the way of quality. " 'Ey, what's that buildin' over there, the black one." He points to the structure in question.

The harlot looks at him. "Hm? Oh, tha's where the Scillions like t'hang out. Always tryin'a get us in there, fer Gods know what reason. I avoid it like th'plague, an' so should you. Strange noises come outta there, very eery, 'specially at night."

"Yeah? Thanks, girl." He'd fish out a few coins- three crown, tossing them into her cleavage, if she had one, otherwise just into her hands. He'd proceed straight toward the ominous structure. If those Scillions hadn't lured the fleeing mage in, they'd probably have seen him while trying to lure the general population in, or so Alec reasoned.

The coins get stuck in her cleavage. "Oh, thanks mister, come back again sometime?" She winks at him. As Alec approaches the structure, he hears a lot of shouting coming from inside. Is it a fight? A simple argument? Whatever's behind those doors is anyone's guess, but the nervous looks of commoners Alec passes, and what looks like nail marks in the dirt and on the heavy wooden doors and frame, suggests something is wrong here.

Alec supposes that he may have to fight again. He considers his repertoire of spells and decides he may not have the freedom to spare lives this time, should it come down to it. He chooses Spitfire, his trusty pistol, and arms it cheapy with the basic energy requirement, holding the arquebus pistol to his forehead in concentration. Weapon primed, the gunman approaches the doors. Before busting through, he'd try to find a crack in the doorway or the wood, anything at all, to get a hint at what was going on inside. Maybe he could listen to the shouting and gather the context.

The shouting seems like incoherent babble mixed in with cries for help. The doors are solid with no crackes or crevices. And as Alec is searching, they suddenly swing open inwardly. Inside is a man wearing a white robe that has some sort of paint on it. Purple paint. Behind him is a dark corridor with a high ceiling, and wooden walls with rows of doors on either side. The noises are coming from one of the doors, which has light coming from under it.

Alec recoils away from this man, but doesn't point his gun yet- in fact, he keeps the gun hidden behind himself, covered up by the cloak. Clearly, he was a new face to this robed man, and he figured he could use that to his advantage. "...Sounds like a party in there. You got room for more?"

The man is perhaps the strangest man Alec has ever come across. A face that is entirely uneven with eyebrows of different colors, different eyes, one of which has two pupils, a nose of a different skintone, hair that couldn't seem to decide on a color, a beard on one side, long hair on another. His robe has purple paint, but also stains of red, green... and the rust color of blood. One of his arms is visibly shorter than the other, and he has a wooden leg. And it can't be clearly discerned, but there is a visible bulge in the chest of his robe... a single breast? He half-smiles at Alec. With one voice, he says "Yes," but another says "No."

Alec narrows his vision. Playing coy with this absurdity was probably a waste of time. He stood upright and chose to be direct. "...Take me to the yellin'. And if ya feel like tryin' somethin' stupid... be my guest."

"But of course," he says with both voices in unison. He walks towards the far room, with the light, and pushes it open. "They are waiting for you."

Alec didn't like it when the opponet was as eager as he was. Hesitantly, he stepped forward, using the opportunity to stow his gun and gun arm beneath his cloak when the 'man' had turned away. He follows and heads to the lit room, as directed.

...The room is empty. The noise is all around, but aside from a dirt floor, no one is there.

Alec looks around the empty room, turning. He uses his free hand, weaving beneath his cloak and chanting into his collar, preparing a spell to detect magic. Given all goes as planned, he'd gain the cone of magic-detecting vision once more and start to check every side and corner of the room, the ceiling above and the floor below, for signs of magic. Illusionary magic to make false noise, or perhaps something more sinister.

Alec sees magic everywhere. Either every part of this building is illusory, or a spell is woven into every single plank to throw off any kind of scrying. Even the man standing next to him doesn't appear to have a soul. He smiles at Alec as he searches around. "Do you want to see?" he asks.

Alec ceases his search, looking at the man. He realized he didn't know quote who he was dealing with. "...Don't have much choice, do I?" He steeled himself-... and of course, made preparations. "Show me."

The man nods, and seems to be crying. Whether it's in joy, or sadness, it's not possible to tell with him. He holds out his hand, on which every finger seems to belong to someone else. "Take my hand." A distant voice can be heard screaming, which gets louder as Alec nears him.

Alec eyes the hand. As the man gets closer, Alec deliberates on his decision. "If I take yer hand... what happens?"

"The veil will be lifted from your eyes. Nothing more. Nothing less." The screaming subsides momentarily, replaced by a sudden silence that is just as unsettling.

Alec chuckled a bit under his breath. "...Fair enough. I'm ready, if you are." He reached out to take the mixed-up hand firmly.

Right before Alec takes it, or perhaps just as he touches it, the screaming explodes into his ear. "NOOOOOOO!" the entire building shakes, pulses, breathes, as if it's alive, and on every plank an eye opens. When Alec peers into the room again, he sees it being built, and the countless orgies and blood rituals that take place inside. The room's entire sordid history is laid out before Alec, all at once. He sees each and every plank's journey all the way to the dawn of creation, to the present time - each plank has an eye, a mouth, a ... soul. The future is visible as well, but can be seen changing constantly. The act of knowing changes the outcome. Alec sees Terri and her father succeeding but also killed and maimed a million different ways over, all in a split second. The flood of information threatens to completely destroy his sanity.

Alec flinched at the increasing volume. He cringed, but his willpower was greater than a lesser man. Even that may have not been enough, but Alec was somehow always in the right moment, always prepared, and always hardboiled Alec Smith. He would not allow himself to be broken, not even by this... furthermore, he had prepared beforehand. Releasing the hand he had taken earlier, Alec reached for his 'preparations' beneath his cloak. Two primed grenades were thrown, one to each corner of the building. Both would fire in seconds, forming two fields of antimagic in spherical shapes. They could not encompass the entire building, but perhaps they could disrupt it all if nestled at its base. At the very least, they ought to give Alec a safezone to work with.

The antimagic is enough to disrupt the flow of information and break free of the man's grasp. But flashes of information continue creeping into Alec's mind, and the building itself seems bent against him. The souls of the countless sacrifices reside in the wood, and powerful enchantments run throughout. The Scillion standing next to him is undoubtedly an extremely gifted magic-user, perhaps wielding a bit of divine magic from his chosen deity - the God(dess?) of Chaos, Scilla.

Alec laughed- he laughed aloud, like a mad sailor riding the perfect storm. "Well, shit, pal- yer goin' in my top ten!" He had choices- he could escape, or he could fight. He could fight the strange man, or he could fight the tower itself. But now that he had ascertained the very nature of the place, he had no choice but to defend his mind from madness. Thus, Alec had to switch weapons, withdrawing a caliver pistol. He pointed down at his feet, filling it with mana, and fired. A silvery circle would spread around him, offering him additional protection to the chaos, but he knew he needed something more, something to put the situation in his favor. Alec kept shifting his position and minded both the walls of the structure, and the Scillion, while he recovered his ability to empower his weapon.

"Fighting is unnecessary," the man says. "You wanted to see, and I showed you. You will leave now- or maybe you won't. You don't like being told what you will do, yes. The man, you will find him, because of what I am telling you now, which is that he is headed home. And the woman is headed away from it. When betrayed, don't fight, and you'll survive. The vault can be opened with the right key... I've said too much, I think. The future changes, from moment to moment, but this... can help us. Yes."

Alec eyed the chaos. His natural reaction to chaos was to beat it into order. Perhaps therein was the source of his ability to oppose this place. Thus, he knew the Scillion had no real reason to lie, but he distrusted the intention behind the things he was feeding Alec. He managed to remain calm under the pressure of the strange place. "I hate it," he simply announced. "Why should I help you?" Though he'd yet to attack, it was clear he hadn't tossed away the idea of blasting a way out.

"Not me. Us. That includes you. Just head south. Head south to our future."

Alec snarled a bit. Being manipulated was also among the things he hated. "So, even a place like this worries 'bout its own survival." Without a true reply of confirmation or rejection, he would begin to storm out the way he came. "I got what I came for," he concluded as he left.

"Yes," says one voice. "No," says another. The door shuts behind him, closing him off to the insanity inside and returning things to a calm, normalized state. Of course, the memories of experiencing every point in time remain partially in the back of his mind, a scar he will likely carry for the rest of his natural life.

Alec rubbed his forehead. Surprisingly, this didn't bother him that much as it should have, or as much as it might bother his contemporaries. Though unintentionally, he may have been prepared for this as well... But enough of that. He wiped the whole thing from the conscious part of his mind, threw it far from focus. South, time to go south. He settled his pistols into their respective holsters, and withdrew his map. Finding a path to take, he went South.

Alec's journey south takes him onto a road, which leads... well, south. A sign points to Litania, Durender, and some southern villages with unfamiliar names. Geographically speaking, the furthest point south is Inferia, Durender being its most recent addition.

He figured that this was going as far south as south would allow. Inferia was the way. But... he did a little too much for one day, exhausted a few spells too many. He chose Durender because it was probably a bit closer, and he might get there sooner to find a place to stay. Or, he'd have to pitch a tent. Guess he'd find out.

To get to Durender, Alec would have to walk southwest to Valenwood, past Litania, into the snowy regions of Inferia, and finally, following the Duilos to the fortress-city itself. It's more than a day's walk, for sure, even alone at a brisk pace.

Alec had not miscalculated his travel plan. Directing more of his magic into his cloak, he would accomplish something Persephone may not have- something she probably never needed to do with her superhuman abilities- but with his manipulation of the cloak, he clung it to his body and boosted some of his physical abilities at the expense of pouring magic into the cloak like it was the mana-equivalent of a gas-guzzling pickup. But at least it did the job. Keeping this pace, he ought to arrive somewhere civilized before the day's end.

Jheran and its many lights quickly vanishes into the night behind Alec. Tales of a yellow-eyed man with insane strength, a cloak that heals any it touches, and guns that blaze fire will probably be told in the days to come.

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PostSubject: The Litania Incident   Tue Sep 15, 2015 5:35 am

The night is quiet, save for the sound of footfalls at a pace far faster than anyone could manage. Alec Smith, whose legs must surely be getting a bit fatigued from six hours of powerwalking, carves a path through the brush. It is a night oddly devoid of bandits or wild animals. The trees stand silent and still, some burnt black, as if a great fire tore through not long ago. If Alec were very observant he might notice scraps of leather, broken bows, arrow-shafts, and bones. A great battle was fought in these woods. Perhaps more than one great battle.

Alec normally was exceptionally perceptive and aware of his surroundings, but running non-stop at inhuman speeds had taken a toll on his perception. It was difficult to focus long enough for in-depth analysis. He did realize something was wrong with the forest, and he had a notion that some fight had occurred, but he couldn't tell the scope of it with how ragged he was. He simply prepared one of his weapons in response to the environment, unaware of how large the threat could have been.

He comes to a sign marking the beginning of Litania. The town might once have been a real sight, but it now stands abused and broken. Huts made of wood and twigs are built around the trees, and planks are fixed between them, forming elaborate hidden walkways disguised by brush and leaves. The keep sits in a large clearing, its walls made of giant wooden logs that don't appear indigenous to the surrounding forest. The immensely strong walls are torn open, however, broken and splintered. The walkways and huts alike are burnt and broken into. There are few intact doors, and the roofs are in dire straits. Frightened civilians huddle close together, their expressions terrified and devoid of all hope.

Near Alec are a dozen wooden crosses facing towards the town along the road, upon which former soldiers and guardsmen of once-proud Litania are crucified. Some appear to have been flayed, most likely alive, given their gruesome facial expressions. Large torches burn in front of them, keeping the macabre sight always in focus. From the breached wooden keep, moans and sounds of torture are emanating. The foul scent of demonic corruption lays about the town like a smothering blanket. Dark shapes wander the trees just beyond the light of the torches. What few people here are little more than playthings for the pleasure of dark creatures. The only building that looks remotely safe has a symbol painted in blood that Alec may recognize as the symbol of Inferia's Parietis.

Alec really didn't recognize them, but he had caught on, even in his fatigued state, the exact nature of the conflict here. He could smell the corrupt air, though he was too tired to be certain and felt some doubt, thinking it just a form of delirium. He would approach the huddled civilians, looking for anyone who might be put-together enough to speak.

"Turn back," says a greying man with a long beard. He looks emaciated and starving, unkempt and filthy. "This place is not safe. Please, you must turn back." His eyes are desperate.

Alec's exhaustion really set in as the man replied, along with a bulging vein that contained some fraction of his net rage. "...Not safe? Oh... yer right about that, buddy." His voice seethed with his appreciation for the new development. Alec looked to the building painted in blood, motioning toward it. "What's that supposed t' be?"

"That's the Parietis outpost. There's food in there, and water. But no one can enter. They're hiding from the ... oh, Gods, I said too much, I... I can't talk to you any more. Turn back, please."

Alec lofts a brow. "...Fuck's so scary about an outpost?" He turns his gaze to the outpost, approaching it himself. "Pretty sure I've burned some down by accident," he mumbled.

As soon as Alec nears the front door to the outpost, a wall of fire violently erupts from the ground, engulfing all sides of the building. It is laced with positive energy intended to obliterate demons, but it would likely scorch a mortal man as well.

Alec could have dodged this, easily. He didn't, though. He was so damn tired. Flinching from the sudden burst and covering his face with his arms, Alec recoiled and backed away. "Gon'a kill the asshole that decided shinin' light in my eyes was a good idea," he said, or rather, groaned to himself as he recovered from the sudden wall.

As soon as Alec backs away, the wall recedes. But as his senses would tell him (if he was paying attention) that the wall was ready to spring into action again should he get near. There is no sound from inside the building, no light coming from the windows, and no sign of life. But of course, when mages are involved, one must ignore the usual signs.

Alec weighs his options, deciding between dispelling the shitty magic wall or ignoring the outpost altogether in place of some less hostile resting spot. It was well beyond midnight, now.

He focused closely to recover a bit from his fatigue, just enough to strategize and plan out a course. It seemed fairly obvious that with so much of his magic exhausted, he was going to be relying on bullets and cantrips; dispelling was only an option if he felt fine giving up all other magic... and he didn't. Alec decided he'd take his chances wrecking havoc in the morrow. He'd back away from the outpost and look around for any other decent shelter, maybe with decent company as well. If not, it was time to wander the ruins.

The place is a mess. What few huts aren't destroyed are all but completely lifeless. A few are lit from within, with small streams of smoke coming from holes in the roof. Inside are throngs of desperate people with no food nor shelter to spare. On the occasional tree is a body part staked deep inside the wood for no apparent reason other than to look and smell dreadful. Bloodstains trickle down the bark and onto the dirt. Meanwhile, the moans and screams continue from the old keep. What grows more and more apparent as the night drags on, is that the whole town is a place of suffering, a piece of Hell brought into this world by sickening beasts that once inhabited it. Humans and animals are tortured, anything of beauty is stomped on and destroyed, and any vestige of rebellion is rooted out and crushed. The garrison Inferia sent was obviously unable to exert any kind of control - this is Demon territory.

"Just' gets better n' better." Alec went from pile of rubble to pile of rubble, skipping some huts entirely. Choosing an empty one would be unwise, but choosing one packed full would be worse. He settled his criteria onto a hut with one or two occupants at most that didn't look ready to explode into fits of insanity- tears, he could handle. Insanity was a little too much for him right now.

After some searching - there are a lot of huts in Litania - Alec finds what he's looking for. A man rocking back and forth, weeping quietly, and a woman who just stares blankly. From what Alec can tell in his delirious state, their house used to fit four - there are children's toys which sit neglected and tiny beds which sit unused. The parents are so beside themselves they don't even react to Alec's presence.

Alec eyes the family. Wordlessly, he enters. His expression is fairly grim, but he needed rest all the same. Seating himself in their hut, he eyed the couple. Deciding not to stay silent the whole time, he finally asked them, "...What did 'em in?" He set his weapons down. He had a feeling he knew, but he had to make sure.

"L-..." the man struggles to speak amidst his sobs, "Lord Volucris... and his men... Gods preserve us..."

Alec furrowed his brow. "...Who's Lord Volucris?" He began to gather some food from his belongings.

The man struggles to compose himself. He is so dehydrated his sobbing is little more than dry heaving. His eyes are reddened and bloodshot. "He... he was our Lord... a good man- no, a great man... he kept us... alive, kept us... out of Inferia's hands... for months... until... Gods..." he puts his head in his hands, his voice cracking as he continues. "His leadership, his warmth, his... humanity, left him completely. He began murdering his own people. Torturing them in his keep. His men... what's left of them... are monsters. Just like him... to even speak of him... means death. But I died twice already. I died when they... my son, my... my beautiful girl... on the wheel... on the... on the..." the man begins convulsing, in the throes of a full-blown mental breakdown.

Alec exhaled, beginning to put the pieces together. This... could not be ignored, mission or not. He couldn't live with himself for ignoring it, either. "...I'll settle the score for ya. So, in exchange,"

Alec settled into his seat. "I need a place to stay the night.. and somebody to keep the nosey people off my back. Wake me if trouble comes... otherwise, let me rest. I really need it."

The man is back to his crying. Whether he agrees or not is not really discernible, but he doesn't say no or try to get Alec off the premises, so...

Alec relaxed. He fell back, covering as much of himself as he could with his cloak, and slept more easily than perhaps the whole of Litania.

The night passes, amazingly, without incident. Alec might be plagued by nightmares, given the substantial demonic presence. He might even come close to waking up due to noises outside and strange sensations- though given his total exhaustion, he'd likely sleep soundly and wake up to sunlight streaming into the ramshackle hut. It is empty now, its inhabitants gone to who-knows-where.

Alec stared at his hands. Half-eaten loaf of bread. He'd fallen asleep while eating. He shook his head and picked up his weapons, gobbling the last of his loaf. A little longer and he'd be gulping down impromptu-cooked food for the next half hour. Maybe someone would show up to bother him. If not, he'd be up and outside.

Outside the door, Alec is greeted by the man he met last night, staked up to a cross, with his stomach cut from neck to groin. Ribs stick out on either side, the flesh held by hooks and nails. His innards hang loosely from his chest cavity and appear to have been gnawed on. His wife, meanwhile, is knelt before him in an obscene position. She has been scalped, and both eyes have been put out, her throat slit, and her blood mingled with her husband's in a large stain on the ground. "Sleep well?" says a voice from behind Alec. And at that moment, the two demon-possessed soldiers, clad in armor, each with inhuman strength, move to grab the gunman from behind.

Alec didn't reach for their arms or tried to flee. "Yeah," he answered, he brandished Spitfire, aiming it under one of his armpits and firing without hesitation. He made it appear as though he was just threatening them at first- But, now that he was awake, the demonic corruption was plainly obvious. As the gun explodes into a giant cone, likely burning the hut and everything else behind him. "Like a baby, actually."

The cone of fire melts the skin off the soldiers, leaving only scorched sinew. Their faces are pulled into skull-like grins, no tissue covering their teeth, which are noticeably sharper. Their clothing and armor is considerably burnt, with tongues of flame here and there. Despite this, they continue towards Alec, reaching for him with fiery hands, laughing maniacally as they draw near.

As they were just bone and burnt flesh at this point, Alec didn't hesitate. He turned around and kicked their shins and heels in, clubbing them with the butt of his gun when they grabbed him. He had a constant look of disgust upon him.

The Demons are briefly hindered, but fueled by demonic strength, they don't give much ground when struck. They reach Alec's position, flanking him and grabbing at his arms. His clubbing works temporarily, but it's clear that if he doesn't do something more drastic, they will get hold of him.

It starts to sink in that the men weren't simply possessed, they lacked all inhibition. There were some perks to knowing basic magic. For example, to re-arm a gun, you didn't need to use your arms. A cantrip was activated, moving a handful of gundpowder, a bullet and a wad of chaff all bundled up down the mouth of his pistol's barrel. With the help of the invisible hand, Alec tried directing his pistol to point into the head of a possessed soldier, up from their throat. To facilitate firing the gun, he'd bring the rear-part, where a match would usually be, near to the flames he had set on the possessed soldier. "Gonna borrow this."

The gun explodes the head of the former soldier, sending him tumbling backwards. His limbs flail about; the demon still tries to exert control on the body, which is now a useless hulk of burnt flesh. Only sheer force of will could puppet this wreck of a human being, and that is more energy than the demon is willing to expend. In a flash of light, it bursts from him, diving into the ground. Perhaps it has gone back to Hell. With one soldier down, the other stops trying to grab Alec, instead backing away. Though its face is no longer capable of showing emotion, its body language is apprehensive. "My Lord wishes to talk. Kill me, and more will come. More people will die. Is that what you want?"

Alec glances back at the soldier, turning to face him with a slow and ominous gait as he brandishes the pistol- which loads itself in the process. "Well... Assumin' that yer the people that die, yeah, I might be into that." He leans his pistol to his shoulder. "But, I'll humor you for a second- let's say I believe that your, uh, 'Lord' wants to speak with me. Why? Why's he inviting me to his place? Certainly ain't anything good, is it?"

"My Lord ... will not say. He says only that if you resist his summons, he will send his entire force to capture you, if necessary, and kill you in the worst way he can conceive of. He says that if you go quietly, all that he will do is talk. And regardless of what you decide after that, you can go freely, provided you don't cause any more trouble."

Alec tilts his head slightly to one side. "...How much is his entire force?"

"Hehehe," the demon's chuckling echoes from its grinning, burning skull. "You don't get to ask such questions. Agree to the meeting, or die in agony. The choice is yours."

"I'll agree to the meeting, jus' tell me where I need to go." Alec nodded complacently. "As much as I'd like to blow every demon-possessed skull I see, I just don't have the time."

"I appreciate your civility," the creature says dryly. "You already know where it is you need to go." It turns its skull toward the keep. The screams are no longer present this morning, only an eery calm.

Alec would nod in return. "Simple enough, I'll get goin' right away. Oh, by the way," he motioned to the mutilated couple. "Did you and yer friend do this?"

"Yes. With the help of some others. Do you like it?"

Alec nodded, his weapon now pointed at the unprotected skull. "It's exactly what I wanted t' hear." Flaming stalks of the hut suddenly were yanked out from behind Alec by the invisible hand, touching to the gun's matchlock, setting off the gun with a bullet aimed square at the soldier's cranium.

The demon-soldier "dies," its demonic soul leaving its body and returning to the wretched existence from whence it came.

Alec huffs as the form crumbles. "...What'd you expect was gonna happen when ya kill and splay the people givin' me shelter, I wonder." The next bullet, he reloaded manually, keeping his cantrip active by maintaining focus on it. He'd look to the keep and head for it at a brisk pace without outright running.

The walls of the keep, despite being wooden, are strong and largely fireproof. They jut out of the ground, ending in sharp points, and are stained with some sort of fireproofing substance. They must be, anyway, since there are many scorch marks (plus the giant charred hole) but no signs of actual burning. Alec comes up to a large gatehouse, complete with interior murderholes and a steel porticullis on either end. Behind the walls are wooden platforms allowing archers to take position in relative safety with plenty of cover. The ground here is bare save for some small weeds and the occasional shrub, likely thick with trees before the keep was constructed. The keep itself is a tall wooden structure with slit windows. The banners of Litania have been stripped down, replaced with a strange patchwork type of banner... human flesh. Torches burn at the very top of the keep, and muffled sounds of torment become more audible with each step.

Alec would slow his pace here, actually coming to a complete halt just before the murderholes, looking up into them short of where they would be effectual. His eyes shift to the banners of human skin, maybe even human leather, he wasn't sure. He furrows his expression. "Gettin' real tired of dealin' with creeps and weirdos all the time." He paused to consider preparing some of his guns-... but then noticed the adequate defenses and assumed that the supposed 'Lord' inside would have something waiting for him if he retaliated. So the best plan would have to be a spontaneous one; now that was annoying.

Cementing the frown on his face, he proceeded through the gatehouse, to the entrance of the keep, wherever it was, doing his best not to violently attack things.

Alec can not see any demonic hosts, but he can definitely sense their presence. The air is thick with corruption. The doors to the defiled keep open by themselves. Moans and cries of anguish echo through the dank halls, and the stone floor is stained with blood, like a ragged carpet that adorns the corridors. There are three ways to choose from: the center, which most likely leads to the throne room; the left, where the noises can be heard; and the right, where there is a perceptible concentration of dark energy - demons.

Alec looked left. To investigate the moaning? Sure went well last time. He would consider meddling after he met the Lord in question. After all, torturers didn't kill their captives that quickly, that would be pointless.

As for the demonic presence... no, he didn't want to start fights unannounced. There had to be some announcing beforehand. Alec decided it would be best to proceed to the throne room for now, and prepared to double back, should the situation call for it. So, he proceeded down the center hall, steeling himself. Granted, the place was intimidating, and he was definitely outnumbered here, but he'd seen worse before. Much worse.

The tight corridor opens up into a throne room. Four great wooden pillars hold up the high ceiling, and huge braziers illuminate the room. More of the fleshy banners are hung here - some have faces which contort as if still alive. Maybe an illusion, but probably best not to think about. On a throne of bones sits Lord Volucris. He is pale, his eyes red as if filled with blood. He is undoubtedly possessed by a great demon, dark power rolling off of him in waves, almost nauseatingly potent. "Alec Smith," he says with two voices, one Volucris', and one far deeper and darker.

Alec was, luckily, not allergic to nauseating dark energies, although he avoided them in his diet. "Yeah," he affirmed, "Yer talkin' to 'em. Why invite me?" He got straight to the point. "Tryin' t' negotiate? Formal duel?... Baitin' me into a trap?" At the third possibility, he lazily glanced around. "Mus' be hidin' it well."

Lord Volucris makes a pyramid with his hands. "I wanted to know if the rumors were true. And see you with my own eyes." A moan can be heard coming in from the hall, and Volucris turns his head in its direction. There is a sharp cry, and silence. He returns his attention to the gunman. "I know you want to kill me for what I've done. I make no excuses, or apologies. I am what I am. And you are what you are. However, before you do what you planned to do, allow me to offer you something in exchange for peace. Temporary, of course, but I know your energy is better utilized elsewhere, and so, I think, do you."

Alec tilts his head. The words sound convincing, and he nods- but so what? That never made him cooperative to begin with. After all, he was friends with Taric of all people. "Fishy. I've been wonderin' about these walls. Burn marks on the wood, but it ain't on fire. I'm wonderin' if you planned ahead. But, y'know I can do more than burn things, right? I hope ya do. So, yer offer better be really special."

Lord Volucris smiles. "It is. I know many things, Alec. I know you seek a man carrying a shield. I know precisely where he is. I know you seek... someone else..." it is at this point Alec would become keenly aware of the demon's presence within his mind.

Alec began to feel the demon's presence in his mind. He wasn't the best, but he was no pushover. This largely depended on luck, though, but maybe a bit of forethought and suspicion against the demon had helped. Alec slowly but surely pushed the demon out of his mind, dispelling the suggestive power the demon had used.

Now, the tables had turned. Alec was aware of the threat he faced. Hastily, he withdrew a caliver pistol- but rather than aim at the demon, he aimed at his chest instead. Filling the weapon would power, he would attempt to shoot himself.

Volucris' hands move apart, and he rises to his feet in an instant. Holding out his hand, he lets fly a dispel that covers a large area of the room.

Alec was also prepared for such a thing- . He would attempt to hide beneath his cloak, hoping maybe it would wall off the dispelling forces, but he really didn't know exactly how this cloak worked. Otherwise, it was a contest of power again.

Alec is dispelled- most unfortunate. His cloak doesn't pull through either. He really should learn how to use it better. In fact, the cloak doesn't even register the dispel, but Alec does not look happy. He gets ready to react to the Lord with twitch-reflexes. But for now, he remains still.

"...This's goin' nowhere fast. You wan'a get serious about this offer, or are we dukin' it out?"

"You made the first aggressive move, not me." Volucris returns to his seat. "As for the offer, it's simple. I give you the information you need, and you leave this town for the time being. I will not ask you to swear any oaths or spill your blood, only that I peer into your mind to determine your honesty should you choose to agree to my terms."

"It was defensive," Alec corrected him, "And it ain't that simple anymore. You made the first aggressive move tryin' t' mess with my mind. I thought you said you weren't gonna lie." Alec avoids answering immediately. "That's not gonna be enough, either. Yer servants killed my hosts. They killed their kids, too. You want me t' leave? Tell me what I want t' know, n' summon the ones that killed those people. Let me deal with 'em as I see fit. You do that? I'm outta here."

Alec began to stand upright again, though this did not relieve his alertness or tension; he was not simply going to let Volucris do as he pleased. "Don't assume I'm lettin' you read my mind so you can trust me. That'd give you an unfair advantage, 'cause I sure can't read your mind t' trust you."

Lord Volucris smiles once again. "I'm beginning to like you, Alec Smith. I will let you destroy as many of my subordinates as you see fit. And I can open the door both ways - allow you to see into my mind as I see into yours. You are a powerful mage, with strength that rivals my own, you could surely detect if I was trying to deceive you with illusions. If you do, you are within your rights to try and kill me - if you can."

Alec shook his head. "I want to," he replied very plainly, "But somebody else is gonna kill ya. There's a number'a things that tell me what I'm meant t' kill, n' what I ain't meant t' kill." He eyes the demon. "I really wan'a kill you. But I ain't meant to. Somebody else is gonna do it," he concluded.

Volucris does not look amused any more. "Knowing the future allows one to change it," he says defiantly. "But I wish no conflict between us. Do you agree, or not?" Alec can sense the gateway between minds is ready to be opened, should he accept it.

Alec lofts a brow. "This keep is fortified by magic. I can break that magic, n' blow the fuckin' thing up, no sweat. Ya can't stop me, trust me." He motions around. "It ain't blown up yet, is it?"

Alec still refused the connection, though he did not display a demeanor that would suggest he was about to open fire.

Volucris' cold expression returns to a smile. He chuckles, the sound out of tune and altogether unpleasant. "One day, mortal, you will realize your pride does not match the reality. I hope you are prepared for that day, for it may be sooner than you realize. And it would be a shame if one such as you were to meet an untimely end. You are so entertaining."

Alec narrows his eyes upon Volucris. The demon hadn't encroached upon his pride up until he had brought it up just then. He said something he shouldn't have, Alec making no attempt to hide that he was going to follow up on his word. Wordlessly, he begins to approach the throne. Volucris was free to try and reason with him.

Volucris follows Alec Smith with his eyes, straightening in his throne. He is visibly apprehensive, but some of what he said was true - he does not wish to fight Alec at this point in time, or perhaps ever. It is a desire not born of fear, per se, for even if defeated he would someday be reborn in the blood of Sylornath (or so goes the demonic legends), but more a dislike of wasted energy and time. So, he attempts once more to make a mental connection, and speaks, "The information in exchange for your departure without incident. Immediately after your business with my subordinates is concluded, of course." The demon's words are true, as Alec can discern.

Alec seems to ignore Volucris entirely as he approaches the throne, his weapon disappears beneath his cloak. "No," he replied. "Ya added to yer debt t'me again. Insulted me. Now, I ain't exactly polite, but it ain't civil t' go talkin' up shit about somethin' somebody holds dear, see. Ain't a good way t' get on their good side." He was getting closer to the throne. He might be upon it soon. Volucris might feel him preparing magic beneath the cloak again- the same spell, Protection from Evil, if Volucris could discern it behind the veil of Alec's cloak. "I believe ya owe me an apology. Up t' you t' figure out what for."

Lord Volucris rises from his throne. He is a tall man, imposing, made all the more so by the powerful demonic presence residing within his body. He has short black hair, a goatee, and a large, pointed nose. As Alec nears his throne, the former Lord's heat rises. The demon feels threatened. However, it is apparently unwilling to fight, just yet. "Perhaps you are right. Many things here have undoubtedly offended you, including my own words. I have been a poor host, and a poorer diplomat. It has been a long time since I flexed those muscles. Please accept..." the demon's frustration and wounded pride can be felt, "...my apology."

Alec slows his approach. A shot is fired- but not at Volucris. Underneath his cloak, Alec did complete the spell this time, protecting himself. He does not raise arms at this time, staring down the demon. "...Alright," he replied. Alec's aggressive posture cools and he turns his back to the demon, exposing himself; a sign that he would not fight- or bait to lure out any hidden motives. "Bring out yer subordinates first. I'll accept the information afterward. Firs' thing's first, after all."

"The information first. You can dispatch my subordinates before you leave."

"Alright," he said. Alec allows the mental connection at last, peering into Volucris' mind if that is possible. This could perhaps be a trick, though. I guess we'll find out.

Volucris establishes the connection, and makes it appear as though, briefly, he pushed a little too far - hoping to glean information and pass it off as the slightest of mistakes. The only reason Alec even knows of this is because he failed. Perhaps it's Alec's stubbornness, connection to the cloak (which Volucris does not understand fully), or just sheer luck. The demon slips up, and Alec catches a glimpse of its true motives - the man Alec is searching for is inside the Parietis outpost, a place the demon wants in, badly. It also wants its subordinates dead - but Alec probably figured that out by now.

Alec's slow footsteps halt as the connection is made. Slowly, he looks over his shoulder at Volucris. He remained still like that, staring at the demon clad in a man's flesh. Volucris had time to react, to speak to him and calm him, or to outright attack. Either way, after giving the demon a full five seconds or so to act, Alec turned around and approached him again. He did not look reasonable this time.

The demon is thoroughly displeased with how this entire talk has went. It knows Alec knows what it knows. And despite its best efforts, it could not manipulate this man into doing anything or revealing anything. It was beaten at its own game, by someone less than half its age. It would be the laughing stock of Hell. Frantically, it searches its mind for something, some memory - it tries to connect the dots of what it learned already, to find something, anything, it can offer to the violently angry gunman soon to bear down upon it. "I know of everyone who's come through this land. Everyone. Perhaps the one you are looking for? TRULY looking for?"

Alec withdraws spitfire. The demon doesn't even get a warning- this gun was pre-loaded, not with magic, but a bullet. Alec's aim is deadly, and Volucris' head, like his body made for a fairly large target at this range. But the gun's match was unlit, it wasn't yet a threat- except it fired anyway. The powder within exploded. The bullet was propelled outward, flying toward the demon's face.

The demon moves its head, but the bullet still tears a hole in it, scrambling Volucris' brains. The right side of his body goes limp, but reanimates as the hole begins to close. Such a shot might have felled one of its minions, but this demon was made of stronger stuff. It attempts to grab Alec by the throat, the cloak, anything it can grasp firmly, to keep the gunman closeby. From the other rooms of the keep, the demonic presences can be felt rushing to their master's side.

Alec's gun would fire up with magic immediately after his shot- after all, all he needed to do was pull the trigger. The time to cast the spell was ample. The demon could reconsider its approach, but it didn't really matter. Spitfire's blast was conical, and Alec gave the demon a demonstration before it could get in arm's reach, blowing intense flames out the muzzle of the gun to finish the job.

Volucris' face melts like it's made of wax, leaving only his charred skull, black and flakey. Within empty eyes sockets is a red glow, the demonic force not yet freed from the body, which keeps it walking, in spite of everything. This macabre parody of Lord Volucris reaches with whatever speed and strength it can yet muster, for the gunman's throat. Meanwhile, the servants begin pouring in. All are former guardsmen and even a few knights, dressed in fine leather tunics with tabards bearing Litania's sigil. A large guard lieutenant in steel plate stained blood red and with the flesh of a man pulled over its helmet, struts forwards with a heavy flail.

Alec was yet prepared. Truly, he was more terrifying than the demon could have first surmised. Alec did not stop Volucris. He hugged him into the Cloak of the Way, letting the legendary cloak identify his tainted form as an anomaly, and purify the bones of the demon's meddling presence. He gripped the demon perhaps harder than the demon would grip the monster hunter, playing a game of chicken that he was dead set on winning.

The demon, with little knowledge of the cloak or its true workings, does not even realize what's happening until it's too late. Of course, while it's in Alec's warm embrace it figures it might as well do some damage. It bites, claws, scratches at the gunman, trying to rip open his flesh and tear his soft internal organs. Eventually the prospect of its death dawns on it, at which point it attempts escape - but is, by that time, too weak to do so. It dies, the fate of its soul left up to the cloak itself. Meanwhile, the flail is sent flying towards Alec from behind in a straight arc.

Alec suffers some damage beneath the cloak, though perhaps not as much as intended; he was one to make use of armor, after all, and there was a mithril chain shirt beneath, greatly reinforced by magic. Volucris probably couldn't tell the futility of it. Alec is, however, struck by the giant flail, and it appears to crack something as it sends the human back. Not that it managed to save Volucris. Getting sent toward the throne resulted in Alec releasing the corpse onto the ground- a husk, really, of the man that was once Lord Volucris.

Alec backed up to the throne and regarded the demons with anything but fear- no, condemning judgement. "...Stand down!" he commanded. "Yer lord's fallen, n' I felled 'em. Think that makes me the new lord. So," Alec aimed Spitfire toward the crowd. "Kneel, or -I'll make ya-."

The crowd of demons looks around at each other. The armor-clad lieutenant remains fixated on the gunman. Its voice rings out cold and metallic, as though only the helmet was talking, and not the creature beneath. "We swore no blood pact to you. Only to our lord, who you just killed. I am freed, and these minions serve me now, not you." The demon says this, but makes no move to attack - unless it perceives Alec doing just that.

Alec stared the demon down. "Sounds t'me like you wan'a go meet yer master down under the dirt." He kept his weapon aimed. "I'll make it simple, then. I ain't your Lord? Fine. I'm Lord'a Litania, and yer still soldiers'a this land. Fail t' obey, I'll execute this entire room fer treason. Don't think I can't," he added, with grit. "My orders are simple. Form an army. Leave Litania. Wage war with the mos' powerful demon among the mortals on Kerodil." He slightly lowers his weapon. "You can keep what ya take from him, no meddlin' from me."

"You ask us to betray our master," speaks the lieutenant, "whom I fear more than you. Destroy our hosts, if you are able. If not, your defiled carcass will be our newest artwork."

At that, the entire army attacks, surging towards Alec, a mob of demon-possessed guardsmen with spears, swords, and arrows. And a big flail.

Alec sighs to himself as he appeared to drop something with a sudden release of substantial energy in an instant. "I respect yer integrity," he replied as a strange grenade out from underneath his cloak and promptly explodes at the encroaching force, producing a strange effect- Telekinesis. The throne and all the stones around it are promptly ripped out, clumps organized into sixteen amalgations of mass, flung at each of the demons, with the exception of Lieutenant, he was given five to match his mass and armor. The masses were clustered together into stones weighing approximately 400 lbs each.

The demons are crushed beneath the stones. Only a couple stand - an archer and the lieutenant, of course. The archer attempts to let an arrow fly at the gunman, while the lieutenant takes longer to get up and ready to attack.

Alec moved to dodge the arrow, not that he could move that fast without engaging his cloak's enhancements. But he was confident in the cloak's ability to absorb arrows- so, he got skewered, and hoped the arrow didn't make it past the armor beneath the cloak. He'd stumble into the throne itself, falling into the seat. No time to waste, the lieutenant was the more immediate threat here. He'd break into a sprint, running, position himself so that the archer had to shoot past the lieutenant to hit him successfully. Alec holstered Spitfire and withdrew his most powerful weapon, a double-barreled shotgun meant to fire grapes of pellets, slung upon his back. This Arcane Armament was different from the rest- it was glowing brighter than Sunflare would, even without a spell. Alec faced the Lieutenant, panting, needing time as he fills the first barrel with magic...

The lieutenant, rather than politely waiting for Alec to finish preparing, uses one hand to send the flail in a downward arc at his head and/or shoulders, and the other to try and grasp his weapon by the barrel and point it elsewhere as he completes the strike. Given the fact Alec just ran towards him, there isn't much distance to close, and the flail has enough reach to connect.

Alec may have misjudged the demon's recovery. He was no fool, he'd never let the demon grab his gun, aiming it away. The hunter was more willing to take the gruesome hit than risk the theft of his gun. A second sickening crack followed, driving Alec to the ground.

Coughing out a small spray of blood, the hunter wheezed, aiming the gun at the Lieutenant. He filled the second barrel with magic now, preparing the second spell, and taking a defensive posture against the back wall, where he'd probably be cornered.

Unfortunately for the lieutenant, a flail like this one is a bit slow to wield. It raises the ball-and-chain, builds up speed, and fully intends to swipe at the barrel of Alec's gun, but this takes time, time enough to finish up before the disarming blow connects. Meanwhile, another arrow flies towards Alec's general area, since he's no longer in that key position.

The lieutenant's sluggish response would be his downfall. The weapon suddenly fires as Alec pulls both triggers. Lightning, everywhere- a room full of plasma. Chain lightning sends primary bolts of charge at the lieutenant, two in one blast, but from there, they expand everywhere. The arrow in flight would probably be smacked away, its arrowhead turned to sludge, by the bouncing bolts that had no other living targets to turn to aside from the archer.

Perhaps to Alec's surprise, a few demons are playing dead. They, like everything else, are vaporized. The lieutenant gets the worst of it - his fancy metal armor flashes bright enough to hurt the eyes as electricity surges through it and around it. What's left is scorched armor that's glowing red in places and steaming all over, the skin and blood burned to cinders, and the innards more liquid than solid. Red ichor oozes from between the plates.

Alec remains propped up against the wall, his weapon pointed at the guards of the late host of the keep, panting heavily from the intense physical and magical exertion. This was going to be a story to tell. There were some tortured people to help, weren't there? Yes, he collected his thoughts. He'd have to do that. But first, Alec needed a breather. He hobbled over to the nearby throne and went to dispense mana into healing himself just enough to prevent fatal injury and help him continue functioning.

The demons are dead and gone, in a twitching pile on the floor. The men they once were are dead, and at peace. The bloody hall, with its macabre displays and fleshy tapestries, is as silent as the grave. Litania's Lord and retainers are all dead, and the rest of its people will probably soon follow.

Alec had sat on the throne and spent a few minutes recovering himself to functionality. It didn't take too long to patch up his lungs and halt internal bleeding, shifting his ribs and mending them enough to hold together; he had to conserve mana. A few minutes afterward, he got to his feet, shotgun slung, and withdrew Spitfire, his pistol. Alec advanced out of the hall without any desire to loot the keep. He immediately took a right, to where he had heard moaning earlier to see if anyone was there and had survived.

The torture chamber is the kind of sight one never wishes to grow accustomed to. It is fully equipped with the wheel, the rack, the judas chair, and an iron maiden. Freshly killed men are present on the wheel, their limbs broken and twisted between the spokes. To finish them, their ribs have been shattered, puncturing their lungs. On the rack, a man's arms have been forced out of their sockets, and his throat is slit. The iron maiden is closed, blood pooling from the thin crack under the doors. On the chair sits a man whose heart has been gnawed out of his chest, with blood and feces dripping down the pyramid seat and heavy weights attached to his ankles. Everyone in this room is dead, likely at Volucris' command. The smell that lingers is of rot, excrement, and death.

Alec grimaced at the sight. It didn't seem like he could have done much here. Maybe if he had come sooner- no, best not to linger. He shook his head and gave the room a quick look around in case there was some holding room for others.

There are no live prisoners here, only dead ones. Should Alec explore the other part of the keep, the old barracks, he was likely to find torn bunks, more dead prisoners, and the mutilated remains of the guardsmen and knights who resisted possession.

Alec did not, though, mostly to conserve energy. Seeing the end result, he returned to the throne room while healing his body. He'd take some mark off Volucris and his lieutenant, to signify that they were dead- though he imagined that much would already be obvious to others. Carrying these things, he left the keep and immediately went straight for the lone outpost he encountered earlier, keeping an eye open for survivors.

A few haggard survivors scramble out of their ramshackle huts, sensing something has changed. They stare at the wearied gunman, chattering amongst themselves. For the first time since Alec arrived, there is hope in their eyes. As for the Parietis outpost, it is suddenly lit. Two grunts (Rooks, in their vernacular) file out of the door and take guard positions. An elaborately dressed man also walks out, looking important. He surveys the area, and his eyes come to rest upon Alec Smith. He looks at him inquisitively.

Alec halts in his steps. By now, he had recovered to the point where his appearance really was the worst thing about him, and might make him look more beaten down than he was. He inspected outpost, then the man in fancy dress. He'd heave a sigh at the man. "You a run-away mage, by chance? Or maybe a run-away father travelin' with his daughter?" The man didn't seem to be either of those people, at least to Alec, but he was apparently the one Alec was looking for.

The man's robes are a deep red hue, with what appears to be gold trim. Elaborate and gaudy patterns are sewn into the fabric, as well as the symbol of the Parietis. He wears the insignia of Master. He steps towards Alec, staff in hand, and says, "I am neither. My name is Alandris Vernon, stationed here with my Parietis to address the demonic corruption in this area. Obviously, we failed. But you have succeeded, and for that you have our thanks. Supplies had almost run out, and we couldn't even assist the population without losing lives." Another fancy-dressed man emerges from the outpost behind Alandris, quill and parchment in hand - a scribe. He scribbles notes furiously, and asks Alec, "What is your name?"

Alec listened to the first man speak with partial enthusiasm. When the second came out and began to scribble, one of his brows began to twitch. "Name?..." he repeated."Fuck you," he quipped, "How's that fer a name?" Hastily making his way closer, he'd attempt to tear the parchment in half "And don't write shit about me!"

The Parietis Master holds up one hand. "No need to get upset, he's just here for record-keeping purposes. If you'd rather remain anonymous, that's your right." Meanwhile, the scribe, undeterred, continues scribbling. His lips mouth the words, "anonymous... hero... working in... conjunction... with..."

Alec stares at the record keeper in disbelief, hanging his jaw. He quickly shook his head and looked back to the robed man. "I was just passin' through. It's just that the asshole in charge gave me a reason t' pop his head, so I did. If you wan'a repay me or somethin', I'm lookin' for a girl. Looks like..." He dug into his cloak to retrieve a slightly crumpled, but well-maintained booklet, and turned it to a page with an accurate sketch of Terri's face. "This girl. She look familiar to you?"

"Hmm," Alandris rubs his chin as he ponders the sketch. "No, I don't think so. We weren't stationed here until long after the initial siege was over. It's embarrassing to admit, but we lost control of the very demons we used to help weaken this place's defenses." The scribe elbows him in the ribs. "Er- off the record, of course. We do have a few refugees inside who might have been here earlier, maybe ask one of them? And I know what you're probably thinking, why didn't we take everyone in? When demons are involved, you can't risk safety for anyone except the most pure, the most uncorrupted. Can't have people morphing into demons inside our perimeter."

Alec simply nodded. "Le'me talk to em... and stop summonin' demons, you dumb shit. This's what happens. This's what always happens." He would grunt afterward, hoping he had made his point and began to proceed toward the outpost, heading inside under the assumption that no sudden bursts of flame would occur again..

"It's what I keep telling the Legionnaires, but nobody ever listens to me..." his voice trails off as Alec enters the outpost. It's small, hot, and uncomfortable. The floors are hardwood, with bedrolls haphazardly lain everywhere. There are several Parietis Rooks sitting around, eating, talking or playing card games. There is a man who looks very anxious as his eyes dart about the room. Last of all is a striking woman who sits cross-legged on a bedroll, appearing to be in some kind of deep thought or meditation.

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PostSubject: The Lady Erin, Pt 1   Sat Sep 19, 2015 6:28 am

Alec slowly hobbled through the outpost. The thought of a safe sanctuary weakened him; his body started to relieve itself of otherwise unrelenting will, and this manifested in Alec as a drowsy demeanor. Between the unbearable Parietis and the anxious man, he felt incredibly annoyed already. Alec examined the woman- she was probably going to be the easiest one to sit near. Unfortunately, business came first. Alec settled himself in front of the anxious man to begin examining him for the presence of magic, or magical objects.

The man is most certainly a mage, and grows more nervous under Alec's watchful gaze. He looks away, staring at a wall with more intent than any normal person would as he tries in vain to will this situation away. On closer inspection, his shirt has a torn sleeve where it looks like a patch or armband was sewn on. A similar tear is visible on the right side of his chest. He attempts to conceal this by folding his arms tightly against himself.

Alec would exhale aloud, and put the man on the spot. "...Yer a gay, aren't ya," he declared.

The man nearly jumps out of his skin. He is forced to look over at Alec, his arms still tight across his chest. "Wh-what? No, I'm not-... what?"

"Oh, so y'can talk. Don't see why else you'd be so nervous in a room full'a yer own men." Alec very unashamedly let his gaze fall lower toward the man's loins. "Sure yer not hidin' a reaction down there? Ain't no need to hide it, these things are natural."

The man unfolds his arms, his uneasiness replaced by irritation. "What do you mean, 'my own men?' I'm just a refugee."

He'd slowly loft a brow. "...Oh really? Didn't figure it. Seemed like you ought t'be one'a the people fightin' back. Yer a mage, after all." Alec reached for his own collar, tugging it a little looser. "Didn't figure there'd be mages among the locals here, either."

"My choices were run here, die, or be violated by a demon. I think I chose correctly, so if you don't mind, I'd like to be left alone."

Alec rubs his chin. "Mm... well, lucky y'knew where t'go. What brought ya to the city?"

"That's not your concern." He folds his arms again, looking away.

Alec quietly observed the man's condition- his wounds, if he had any. The damage to his apparel, if there were more beyond the very specific tears. "...Sure yer not gay?" he asked as he focused on other details.

The man is uninjured, but his demeanor, and the bags under his eyes, suggest exhaustion. He is visibly sweaty, his clothes are slightly torn and dirty, as though he walked a long way through foliage.

Alec began to pick at the man's clothes. "...Then y'mus' be a liar," he answered in a strict tone. "...No injuries. No debris. The demons would'a killed off the main threats first... those threats bein' magic users. I ain't buyin' you made it in here so easily if ya ain't Parietis. Looks like ya came a long way, too. Maybe from, oh.. Jheran?"

The man flinches at Alec's touch, pulling away from him. He stands up, looking angry. "I don't care if you don't believe me. You can't take me anywhere. I'm under the protection of the Parietis." He turns to the men playing cards. They look at him for a moment, and nonchalantly return to their game.

Alec would reach for the man's waist in an attempt to grasp him by some article of clothing and drag him back down. "Settle down, I ain't takin' you anywhere."

The man squirms. "Get off me!" He turns to the Parietis. "You swore you'd protect me from these scavengers!"

Alec exhales so gruffly, he appears to growl under his breath. He pulls his other arm back, "Shut-" and hook a punch to the man's groin "-UP!"

The man doubles over with a gasp, falling to his knees. "Ohhh... I've been sold out... gods damned... Inferians..." The Parietis look up at him.

Alec sighed to himself, reaching for a rag to wipe his hand, feeling dirty. "I told ya t' shut the fuck up. I don't care about yer stupid bounty. I'm here t' ask you questions."

"Fine... whatever you want..." he says. The Parietis continue staring at him, and one seems to be preparing a spell.

Alec glances at the Parietis, then back to the man. "I want ya t' tell me why you fled." He didn't make any moves against the Parietis, but he kept a hand on Spitfire at all times, keeping the gesture hidden under his cloak.

"That's simple enough..." he seems to be recovering from the groin-punch. "I was approached by an Inferian agent to give them information about Jheran's guard force in exchange for safe passablokifwabble. Blib jobo gorofwob. Blik jubba wukto." The Parietis start snickering.

Alec stares at the man, unamused. He sighs. So, they were picking on him, and not Alec. The gunman aimed Spitfire at the refugee and focused, channelling a dispelling force out the barrel to relieve the man of his sudden speech impediment.

The four Parietis playing cards suddenly get out of their chairs, all drawing arcane arms. Simmons models, all of them, and fully charged. "We'll be taking him," the nearest one says through a thick Inferian accent.

Alec glances at the others, sighing. "...That's fine. Take 'em. But he ain't finished talkin'. Now... I jus' finished wipin' a town full'a demons. I'm a lil' tired. I'd recommend ya sit yer asses down, or I might have t' mop up the idiots responsible fer the demons, too."

"Don't you threaten us. We aren't the problem here. That man clearly has classified information." After the gun-toting Parietis speaks, Master Alandris enters, his scribe not far behind. He looks between the two parties, and says, "Don't bother with this one. Even if he could contact Jheran instantly, it would be too late to do anything about the attack."

Alec eyes Alandris, and then the men. "...I ain't goin' back to Jheran, one way or another." He turned his attention to the captured man, the 'refugee,' "Yer turnin' out t' be a dead end, pal. Let me ask ya one more question. There any particular reason you decided t' flee besides this here under-handed attack? I'm lookin' for a lady with a name like Terri. Or maybe you'll recognize the name Solana?"

Behind Alec's back, the woman looks up from her meditation. Meanwhile, the four Parietis shake their heads. The 'refugee' answers, "Nope, haven't seen anyone with that name. How would I see a name, anyway? No women here besides that one over there." He points to the woman, who is now under everyone's scrutiny.
"Who is she, anyway?" asks one of the Parietis. "Did anyone see her come in?"

Alec hangs his head. "Fuck's sake. What'd I do all this shit for." He reaches into his cloak, procuring a sketch of his own resembling Terri. "Here. This's what she looks like. Remember seein' this face? It's a damn pretty face, can't forget it."

The 'refugee' scratches his head. "Hmm... you know what, I did see her. She passed through Jheran. I remember because I was stationed on the gates that day. Think she was headed south... but that was more than a week ago. Some old guy was with her, too. Looked like a creep."

He pauses and looks at the sketch, then at the man. "...South? Are ya sure?"

"I can't be 100 percent sure, it was over a week ago. Like I said. But I think so, yeah."

"First lead I got, I'll take it." He'd pat the man on the shoulder. "Better try doin' a better job of layin' low. Next one that comes after ya might actually want t' kill ya."

The man gulps in fright. The Parietis all shrug or shake their heads, and sit back down to another hand. "The barriers are down, you idiots," says their Master. "Get out there and do your duty." As they file out, grumbling, Alandris smiles in satisfaction and walks over to their table where he and his scribe begin going over recorded events.

Alec rises and from his seat and wanders over to the sole woman in the room. He looks for a spare bedroll. If there wasn't one, he would just settle nearby and wrap himself in his cloak and attempt to find a relaxing position.

The woman sits cross-legged on a bedroll. She is dressed in a plain linen dress and looks like an ordinary commoner. Her aura has almost no trace of magical talent. As normal as normal gets. Next to her is an open bedroll, where the gunman chooses to lie. She doesn't seem to take notice, and goes back to.. whatever it is she's doing.

Alec doesn't pay her any special attention. Well, that's not true. She is the only normal woman in his company. He'd eventually get to staring, having nothing better to do, and evaluating her as a woman.

Eventually, hed clear his throat and greet her. "Hi."

The dress hides fairly thin proportions. Short brown hair frames her round face. Her eyes open upon hearing Alec's greeting. She turns to look at him and says, "Hi."

He'd stare at her with no immediate response, lofting a brow. With a shift of his hat, he mused, "...Thinking hard about something? Or... thinking hard about nothin', maybe?"

"Oh, just..." she takes a moment to inspect him. "Pondering Myra's teachings. Are you familiar with her?"

Alec scratches the back of his neck. "Myra? She a writer?" Obviously, he wasn't familiar with her. "Never heard'a her."

"She was a woman, once, as the legend goes. A writer, yes, and a teacher. She remained a pacifist until her martyrdom at the hands of the mountain men. Presita is supposedly where all this happened."

"Woman once?" He furrows his brows. "What's that make her now?" Alec crossed his arms. "She some kin'a saint?"

"A goddess."

"Well, if that's how you go 'bout gettin' divinity, maybe I should'a been a writer. Heh." He extended a hand out to the woman. "Name's Alec."

She shakes his hand. "I'm Erin. Nice to meet you." She gives him a smile. For a commoner, her teeth are very well-kept.

Alec is astounded. His expression is blank for a moment as he marvels at the condition of her teeth. "That's a kissin' mouth if I've ever seen one," ever the one to speak shamelessly, he withdrew from the handshake. "Kind'a strange t' see the Inferians harborin' somebody like you. Y'must'a done somethin' t' get 'em t' let ya in."

"No, actually," she says. "They just let me right in. They knew I wasn't corrupted. I'm not even Litanian. I came from Jheran not long ago."

"Huh... " Not very convinced, he decides to let the matter slide. "Where're you headed now that this's all over?"

"Durender. I have family there. Technically I'm an Inferian citizen, but my ancestors were Valish. I was visiting an uncle in Jheran, but all the Legionnaire activity made me nervous. I decided to head back early."

"Durender... I've heard'a that place. Guess yer bound further, uh... north? Right?" Not wanting to get ahead of himself, he started to dig out the maps he had purchased.

"Durender's south of here, far south."

"Uh-" he examined the maps, "Uh... yeah... south. Right." Alec looked up for a moment, wondering to himself. "South.. guess we're goin' the same way for now." He rolled up the map, tucking it away again. "Well, I tend t' attract trouble. Might want t' let me go ahead, Erin. Fer yer own good."

"If we're going the same way... would you mind escorting me? Otherwise, I'll have to go alone, and I've seen some scary things in these woods."

Alec was afraid she'd make that request. He seemed troubled by it. Traveling in someone's company would slow him down. He gave a huff and shrugged. "We're goin' the same way, probably the same place. I intendin' t' go there next. As long as ya don't expect much out'a me, I'll come along and fight whatever turns up."

"Oh, thank you. I've spent the last few days worrying about how to get through with all these demons running around. Inferia's made a huge mess of this place."

"Sure have," he grumbled, looking at Alandris. "Well, ain't his fault, but the point stands," he mutters. "So, what can ya tell me about Durender?"

"The fortress is surrounded by a large township. Walls are made of some early form of concrete, very sturdy. Its knights were once the best in the land. Nowadays the walls are in disrepair, the town's falling apart, and everything is covered in snow and ice. Something to do with a Rift."

"Sounds a little like Imperia," he mused to himself. "...But people still live there, right? N' the fortress? Anybody usin' that thing, or is it one'a those old abandoned keeps now?"

"The fort is manned by Legionnaires. They're also supposed to protect the town, deter crime, and so on, but they haven't done much of that. There's bandits, outlaws, and demons. And now that Litania's fallen, there's nowhere for refugees to go."

"Thinkin' about your family when you say that? You mentioned cousins.. are there others?"

"I didn't mention any cousins, but I have some there, yes. And my mother. Pa ... he was taken from us." A sad look crosses her face as she hangs her head.

Alec rubbed at his forehead. "Right, sorry, must still be a little out'a it." He furrowed his brows. "Sorry about bringing that up."

"It's okay," she says. "It was a long time ago."

He nods, staring awkwardly. "...Eh. Listen, this's been a nice talk, but I'm beat. I need some sleep," he then eyed Alandris, "and I better get it while he's got his goons runnin' around outside. Ain't no way I'll relax with them around."

"Very well. I'll be ready to leave whenever you are." She shuts her eyes, returning to her meditations.

"Yeah, thanks." He didn't bother to get into his sleeping bag. Carefully setting his weapons aside, removing them from his person- except for those he could comfortably conceal- Alec lay flat to rest for however many hours he would be allowed, up to eight and a half.

Six hours pass before the men return, looking tired, but uninhibited in their boisterousness as they pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The demons of the area purged, the peasants saved, and the records written to show a glorious victory for Inferia. Alandris barks at them about "a job unfinished" and "work harder tomorrow." Unless Alec sleeps like the dead, this ruckus would most likely wake him.

Alas, Alec was a light sleeper; a trigger-happy light-sleeper. He awoke with a hand on his gun, and it peeked out of his coat- but when he saw that it was nothing but the usual idiots, he fell back into bed, letting his body recuperate and prepare itself for the day. After another half hour of dealing with their shit, he would slowly get up, blinking his eyes of grogginess and searching for Erin's presence.

Erin lies on her cot, arms perched on her knee. She looks bored, but upon seeing Alec awaken, perks up. "Good evening," she says with a smile.

Alec sighs to himself. "Gods be damned, I'm glad yer here." He sits up, fully removing his hat to run a hand through blonde hair. "Think I'd shoot myself if all I had t ' wake up to were these idiots." After settling his hair, he'd restore the hat, still disgruntled, but not as much.

"Uh-" he looked at her, "No offense. I mean. The damned part."

"None taken. How are you feeling? You looked exhausted when you first came in here."

"Still feel like crap, but at least I can fight again." He began to gather his weapons, slinging the rifles, stashing the pistols, and so on. Alec hobbled to his feet and stretched his body briefly as he stood upright. "Ought'a be enough for a stroll through the woods."

A nervous look crosses her face. "Are you certain we'll be safe? The woods are dangerous at night."

He runs a hand along his neck, turning it left, then right, which is followed by a soft crack. "Mm, thinkin' we'll be fine. It's trouble fightin' in cramped places, but I'll be fine in the woods."

"Okay," she says, standing up. She stretches, rolling her head around a time or two to loosen up. She puts on a pair of boots lying next to her cot, and says, "Ready to go?"

Alec inspects the outpost once more. "Yeah, pretty darn ready." He would lead the way out to step outside and inspect the new state of Litania.

Litania on this night still looks miserable and half-deserted, but at least the suffocating demonic taint is gone, and the shadowy figures are absent from beyond the outer edge of the town. The process of rebuilding will take a long time, but now there is hope, which is more than there was yesterday.

Erin comes up alongside Alec, looking around. "I haven't seen outside in days. How did it get this bad?"

He glances at her, lifting a brow. "Bad? Better n' it was when I got here yesterday." He looks around. "Demons were everywhere n' the assholes in the buildin' weren't doin' their job, thats how." He began to step away from the outpost, not giving further attention to the town. "You gonna be alright walkin' at night? Speakin'a which, where's the road south?"

"I'll be fine," she says, glancing around. Her gaze darts to an uneven road half-buried in foliage and leaves. "That's the way south."

He turned to the road and began his approach. "Well, let's get goin'." As he set off, Alec's stomach grumbled loud, enough to wake up anyone who might have finally gotten shuteye. Undeterred, he continued walking. "...Yer not opposed to huntin' wild animals, are ya?"

"I am. But I can't stop you if you do. I know of some edible plant varieties in the area, just in case."

"Yeah? Sounds easier than huntin'. Sounds like it ain't filling either, but if it gets us through the trip, I'm willing to try it." Alec began going through his weapons. Expecting the road to be eventful, he arms some of his weapons with magic so that they would be ready for a future threat. This process takes some time, and to Erin, he would probably appear to be meticulously going through each gun.

Erin peers at his arsenal. "You really like guns, don't you."

He pauses, glancing at her. "Whaddya mean?" Post-question, he slings an armed rifle, and moves on to a caliver pistol, pulled out from under his cloak.

"...Never mind."

He shrugs at her, continuing his work. "They ain't normal guns," he would reply. "Each one does a different job. I need 'em all."

"Are they like the ones the Parietis use?"

He'd glance over his shoulder. "Not typically. The ones in that building had... similar ones... but they ain't quite the same. Most'a Kerodil's guns ain't anything like mine, though."

"How are yours different?"

"Well," he would finish arming his weapons, and seat them all comfortably in harness or holster, letting his hands rest at his sides. "The main differences are that mine don't use those lil' cartridges, n' they rely on the skill n' power of the caster, but they amplify 'em, too. You actually gotta learn a lil' magic to use 'em, but they're better for it, n' you are, too."

Erin gives a single nod, not looking like she actually understood any of that. "I see... let's get going then."

He shrugged to himself. "What, did you wan'a run or something?" He continued walking as he was, a casual strolling pace. "I wasn't sure what kind'a pace you intended to go at. How far's this trip again?"

"At a brisk walk, we could make it in a day and a half. Though, there's going to be snow. And Gods know what else."

He glanced Erin over again, looking at her apparel in more detail. Possibly also checking her out at the same time. "Snow? That gonna be enough? I can lend ya somethin' fer the snow if ya need it."

"I'll be fine. A little cold never bothered me." Given her light clothing, it's hard to believe her. She is wearing the same outfit as when they first met, a plain white linen dress, the clothes of a commoner. She has on some hardened leather boots, which is probably where most of her savings went.

He lofts a brow. "Alright... that jus' one layer?" He asked. "Not t' imply anythin', but if the road's as dangerous as ya say, yer clothes might get ruined. If yer not carryin' any spares, we better work somethin out as a backup plan. I got a few spares, I think."

"That should suffice." She looks around again. "Say what you will about those Parietis, they did a good job clearing this place up. We might not even run into any demons."

He raised a brow, but decided against correcting her. "As long as we get there in peace, I ain't complainin'. So, sorry, but I don't think ya ever clarified if you were jus' a disciple'a Myra, or a priestess, or somethin' like that. However that works."

"I'm just a follower, nothing special."

"No special powers? No fancy magic?" He hm'd. "Can ya tell jokes?"

"Hmm... why did the goblin cross the road?"

Alec shrugs. "Beats me, why?"

"Beats him, too." She rubs the back of her neck awkwardly. "I guess I can't do jokes after all."

He gave her an odd look, but formed a smirk afterward. "They're overrated, anyway. Ah, I got one. This one's from my home town." He cleared his throat. "Alright. Why do mosquitos follow merchants around?"

She ponders it for a moment. "Because... they're fat?"

He snickered for a moment, but afterward provided the answer, "Because they get payed in arms n' legs."

"I like my answer better."

"Not one fer the darker jokes?" He strokes his chin. "I thought mine was pretty good."

She gives a slight shrug, and continues onward. Overall, she doesn't seem particularly nervous, perhaps because a badass gunman is escorting her.

"Hm... how 'bout dirty jokes, you okay with dirty jokes?"

"If you count all of the pickup lines and lewd comments I've heard men say, I'm an expert. Whatcha got?"

He stares at her with mild surprise. "Wasn't expectin' t' hear that. Alright, le'me think." He stares ahead for a moment, pondering his joke as she raises the bar.

He strokes his chin as he settles on one. "So... three lumberjacks head out in t' the woods t' find a few good trees. They're short a few logs fer a log cabin, but they need t'  travel far t' get to the right trees." He pauses, glancing around the forest for any creatures or threats, now that they were past Litania's outskirts.

"Along the way, they reach a clearin', n' decide t' make camp.  Two work in the clearin', n' one heads out into a thicket. He's gone fer a while, so the other two go out lookin' for him. They hear whackin' in the distance n' call out their friends name, askin' him what he's doin'."

Erin glances at Alec periodically as he talks.

Seeing that nothing dangerous arouses his attention,  Alec returns to looking at the road. "The whackin' stops n' their friend says 'I'm choppin' wood fer the fire.' Satisfied, they head back t' camp t' start preparin' food."

Alec's stomach grumbles quietly at the mention of food. "A lil while longer n' their friend still ain't back. They head back out t' the thicket t' check on their friend, n' they hear louder whackin' this time and a lil' pile'a logs near where they stood b'fore. They call out t' their friend n' ask him what the hell he's doin' this time. The whackin' stops, n' their friends says 'I'm choppin' wood fer the cabin!'  Well, they ain't gonna stop him from doin' all the work, so they head back with the logs fer the campfire, light the fire, n' start cookin' some food."

"It starts t' get pretty dark, n' their friend still ain't back. Then, they start hearin' all sort'a noises. Growlin' n' howlin', like n' angry bear. They start figurin' they attracted a bear cookin' up that food, n' get worried about their friend. The two get up n' rush into the ticket, but the growlin' jus' gets louder."

"They say t' themselves, 'the bear's gonna kill 'em!' Finally, they find the sound'a the bear comin' from a bush in the thicket, n' one'a the pair say their friends name in terror. Suddenly, the growlin' stops, n' their friend angrily says 'WHAT?' They look at eachother n' ask 'em 'What the hell're you doin'?' N' he goes, 'What's it look like? I'm choppin' wood!" He looks at Erin. "That's the joke."

She smirks a little. "All that for a 'chopping wood' pun."

He looks down the road with a stoic expression, trying not to smirk in return. "Don't make it sound like yer not satisfied. I chopped all that wood for ya, y'better be happy about it."

Erin chuckles. "Now we're getting somewhere. It's too bad you're more into handguns."

He looked at her and opened his mouth to reply, but all he could do was shake his head. "Firs' time anyone's used that one on me. Then again, most'a them probably didn't wan'a get shot."

"Oh, so does that mean you want to unload on me?"

He ended up chuckling. This was some reverse psychology shit; no one had ever used gun-themed pickup lines on him. "Well, the gun's loaded, fer sure."

"Primed and ready, huh? Careful not to misfire." She looks at him teasingly.

He shook his head. This was starting to get embarassing for him. Alec began to wonder if she was secretly a traveling prostitute, the expensive kind. "It ain't like my hand's on the stock. You can worry 'bout that when I aim the damn thing."

She laughs, this time. "Well, I think this has gone far enough. I'm running out of gun jokes. You held your own, though. And I'm sure you hold your gun very well, too."

He gives her an incredulous look. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you don' get a lot'a action where yer from, do ya?"

"Oh, I got plenty of slimy Legionnaires and toothless peasants. Not that any of them got anything from me. No, I've never met the right person. Don't think I ever will, either." Her smile fades, and she presses on stoically.

He lifts a brow. "Sounds like yer a bit of a nun. That somethin' Myra teaches?" Alec's stomach pipes in with something like 'Yeah, bitch spread those legs,' but to everyone else, it sounds like the gurgle of an empty stomach.

"Myra herself died a virgin, but nothing in her teachings denounces sex. In fact, if you ignore the... more intense activity, I think it would very much line up with the faith. Pleasure-giving, stress relief... one must be careful not to wander towards Tyra, though. There's a reason the names are similar."

He stared at her quizzically. "...You wanna elaborate on that? I'm curious now that ya brought it up."

"Tyra and Myra are similar, yet distinct. It's the difference between truly striving for peace, within and without, and becoming complacent. The Tyrite enjoys peaceful leisure, but to great excess, and only for its own sake. The constant, purposeless fulfillment of desires."

"Aha. I getcha." Again, he looked ahead, glancing around occasionally to provide some semblance of being an escort. This was in part why Alec disliked mercenary work. A lot of standing around. "Doesn't seem like there'd be any harm in it if yer not gettin' in somebody else's way, though."

"Isn't it always getting in someone's way, though? Think of the opulent merchant whose ill-gotten gains are hoarded all to himself to satisfy a bottomless hunger while thousands below his station go to bed hungry. Or the poor farmer who spends his days relaxing in the sun instead of preparing for the long winter, and relies on others' charity to put food on his family's table. Until we all strive towards peace, everything in this world will come at a price."

Alec peers at Erin. "I was mostly thinkin' about casual sex. But I guess I get what yer sayin'."

"...Oh." Erin blushes a little. "I'm not usually this preachy, sorry. Heh, and just minutes ago I was..." She lets out a sigh. "Some missionary I am."

He raises a brow. "Yer a missionary?" The man would smirk. "Could'a fooled me. For a  while, I was thinkin' you were one'a those pricey playgirls out'a Jheran. But, I guess doin' all that missionary work sure leaves ya with a lot'a time on yer hands." He made no attempt at hiding his smugness, though he did take his guard role more seriously as darkness really began to fall. Occasionally, he would pause in his step to listen to distinct sounds.

"Well, not officially, no," she replies. "But every Myrite is supposed to be a missionary, in a sense." After a brief pause, she says dryly, "Thanks for the encouragement, though. If I was a 'playgirl,' I can name one gunman who'd never be a client."

Alec rolls his eyes. "I don't buy women," he replies. "First one ripped me off. Never again," he said adamantly. "N, it was a compliment. Sort'a. I said you were expensive. That's a compliment, y'know?"

It's Erin's turn to roll her eyes. "Thanks, glad to know I'm worth the same as some gold-plated furniture."

He gives her an incredulous look. "Don't know what yer sour about, even I can't buy a gold-plated chair." He realized that might not mean much, most would probably assume his wealth to be on the lower end. "But if we wan'a be technical here, we could say yer dirty jokes are worth that much. I don't have a number fer you in particular, yet." He attempted to remove a pistol stealthily, from his right side, keeping it out of view, not wanting to alarm Erin.

Erin looks down for a moment, straightening a fold in her dress. "If I wasn't a Myrite, I might have to slap you." Strangely, just as Alec's gun is drawn, a chill wind suddenly blows along the road, cutting through clothing and equipment. Something is afoot, and it's not pleasant. The leaves and bushes rustle just off to the right, where something big and dark moves, low to the ground.

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PostSubject: The Lady Erin, Pt 2   Sat Sep 19, 2015 6:28 am

"That's too bad," he replied, "I might'a liked it." He'd come to an immediate halt, holding his arm in Erin's way. "Duck n' stay behind me, don't get up 'til I say so." He waited for her to heed his instructions before doing anything further. Alec tipped his gun forward into view, so she understood he was serious. It was an arquebus pistol, his trusty Spitfire.

Erin, about to make a retort, quiets up immediately. She obeys Alec, and appears to be praying. Meanwhile, the figure becomes two, then three, then four. Eyes red and aflame. A deep-throated growl, evoking utmost dread.

Alec eyes the creature. He'd call out to it, "Don't suppose you know how to talk, do ya?" He wasn't sure what manner of creature it was in the dark. So, while he waited, he drew a second pistol, a caliver, aiming it at Erin and firing. A spell of protection against evil would encircle her and form an auric field around her person, providing her some measure of safety.

The spell goes off without a hitch. Meanwhile, the creature(s) emerge from the plant coverage. Dogs the size of horses, the light of their flaming eyes illuminating countless scars, whip lashes, spiked collars that whisper of dark ambition. Their limbs ripple with muscle, ending in daggerlike claws, and their teeth jut from their gaping, noxious maws like jagged rows of pikes. Hellhounds. Four of them.

Alec cursed under his breath. "Giant dogs. I hate giant dogs." Hastily, he stowed both weapons while the dogs had not leapt for him, and unslung he shotgun on his back. "Hey Erin, y'know anything about these things? Don't think I've ever run into these on Talibar."

Erin peeks out from behind Alec. "Oh Gods, those are Hellhounds. They breathe fire, and move like the wind. Once they catch your scent, they never stop hunting you. Ever."

He huffed. "Should'a bathed before we left," he commented.

The four infernal canines lower their heads, and fade from sight. "...Oh," says Erin. "They can go invisible too. I forgot about that."

Alec lofts a brow. "No kiddin'." He begins to chant, motioning one of his hands, quickly raising a spell of magical detection. It would take a few seconds, though Erin might question what he was doing.

The hounds don't give Alec a few seconds. An invisible beast the size of a buick leaps right at him, tooth and claw ready to grind him into fresh hamburger.

Alec would be flung back. Cloak and armor weren't enough to halt all damage. Alec's blood would leave a trail as he hurtled back. Erin's protective barrier would discourage the hounds from nearing her, thankfully. They would receive all sorts of bad feelings just being close to her.

The bleeding Alec no longer needed to see his attacker at this range. There was no way he could miss. Pointing the shotgun ahead, he would fire the first trigger, setting a blast of chain-lightning to meet the first found and leap around, if others were near.

Erin gasps in shock, but is unable to render aid. Alec's lightning strikes the nearest hound, and arcs to another, NOT in the position it was before. The other two are nowhere in sight, but undoubtedly nearby. Meanwhile, the nearest hound spasms and falls stunned, much of its weight landing on top of Alec. Almost a half-ton of angry demon, violently convulsing, with far, far too many pointy edges. Are those its bones jutting out at the joints?

Alec didn't have a lot of time to deal with this thing. Heal himself or kick its ass? The answer was obvious. Shaping a part of his cloak into a rudimentary spear, he hardened its form with his energy and stabbed it into the weight of the hound, near what he assumed was its core, where it might house a heart, or some other source of power. Regardless, he charged the cloak with the power of a mid-power spell to speed up the process of cannibalizing the creature from the inside. "Erin! Stay in my sight! They'll avoid you 'till I'm dead, so don't run off on yer own!"

Erin stays as close as her bravery allows. The hound on top of Alec suddenly blinks into view, where it lets out a whimper as the cloak undoes it from within. Its body disintegrates up in a blazing flash, sending sparks flying, and giving Alec a healthy dose of burning embers as hot as a forge.

The other two hounds make their move. Dirt is kicked up as their massive claws propel them towards Alec's back, their jaws poised to snap shut with the force of a falling boulder.

Alec was, fortunately, prepared for this one. He didn't know the exact location, but he didn't need to be too exact. Aiming his shotgun behind him, off toward the direction of the sound of the charging dogs, he fired the second volley, releasing another chain-lightning, but emptying the weapon in the process.

The lightning catches the dogs in midair, which means, of course, that their huge momentum sends them rolling in a spiky, thrashing heap directly at the gunman - and each other. The impact is palpable.

Letting the shotgun go, Alec largely left it to dangle by its strap and whipped a pistol out of his cloak. No time to think deeply. He took a step back and fired it just before his feet, raising a wide, perfectly flat wall of pure force. In the night, it would be almost entirely imperceptible without the power to sense magic. By then, Alec was upright, checking on Erin.

The Hellhounds slam into the wall with earth-shaking force. At the edge of the road, the previously-stunned hound gets up, and unleashes a torrent of fire at him and Erin. This is no ordinary fire, however, but hellfire. Hot enough to vaporize flesh and reduce the strongest steel to slag. The air shimmers with the heat, the ground becomes blackened ash mixed with glass, and only the Hellhounds would emerge unscathed.

This is quite a pickle. Alec already spent his barrier, casting another would be too slow. He could probably avoid it, but that would leave Erin in harm's way, and any simple spell he'd cast by hand was no good. Alec cursed his luck, having to rely on a crazy stunt again. He'd retrieve Spitfire in hand and sprint toward Erin. The moment the cone approached, he would fire his weapon into the attack and try to push the flames back with air pressure from the explosive burst made by his weapon.

The cone of flames actually is marginally successful at pushing back the torrent of hellfire. Of course, marginally is not completely, and Alec might find his eyebrows a bit lacking, and his hair a shade darker. But both him and Erin are safe. As safe as two people can be in the presence of three wounded and extremely pissed-off murderbeasts from Hell.

Alec panted for lack of air, mainly in the environment around them. "You alright, Erin?" He began to funnel magic into both pistols in his hands, standing still. "This'd be a great time fer you to stick close t'me. Real close. Closer than sex. Y'know all about sex, right?"

She widens her eyes at him. "Is now really the time to be talking about this?!" Despite her complaint, she steps very close to the gunman. Meanwhile, loud growling is heard somewhere by the wall. The hounds step around it, obviously perceptive to magic. They remain invisible, for the time being. Alec would feel heat building up as the three creatures are moments away from unleashing a wall of superheated flames.

"What can I say," he replied, "Boobs help me think." His expression didn't match his nonchalant tone, no, for it looked quite grim; probably because Alec's hair was ruined and his under apparel now needed repair. Unsurprisingly, Kain's cloak was fine. Maybe the cloak was the real protagonist. Who knows.

Alec began to move toward first barrier, shooting the gun at his feet. Suddenly, he and Erin were running up at a 30 degree angle, climbing in height to the top of the first barrier, hopefully evading fires from all sides. "Don't question' it, just move with me- STOP," he halted as they'd reach the edge.

Erin follows his commands. "You know, for most men boobs have the exact opposite-" she stops at Alec's word. Beneath their feet, everything burns. Nothing could've survived down there.

Alec turned them about so he was in front of her. "Behind us is a drop. We're about twenty feet off the ground. Do -not- step back." He prepared his force-wall pistol again, holstering Spitfire so that he could unsling his shotgun. At this point, using conventional bullets was entirely out of question, so he wasn't skimping on magic. "Drag me down if you get knocked over, I don't care. Don't let yerself get pushed over."

Erin nods, clinging to Alec- she lets go almost immediately. "Your cloak..." Down below, the Hellhounds figure out that there's no one there, and not because they got disintegrated. It takes them but a moment to look up and see the prey standing on a barrier. They practically roar in rage, and begin to circle, their heavy footfalls visible in the burning dirt and shimmering glass. Occasionally one jumps dangerously close to the barrier, and claws can be heard raking across it.

Alec finishes charging up his shotgun. He waits again. There was only one direct ramp up here, and he'd hear one coming that way. So, enacting the first part of his plan, he waits for the sound of raking- then turns and blasts both barrels charged with the chain-lightning into the brave invisible dog-demon.

Said dog demon is pumped with huge amounts of electricity. It turns visible, falling to the ground, a smoking heap. The other two are also struck, and reappear. They spasm violently, momentarily stunned.

Well, this worked out a lot better than the plan. Too well, actually. Alec didn't plan for SUCCESS. Having two completely immobile opponents, he'd let his shotgun dangle and turn to them with the force pistol. Normally a defensive magic, he turns it into an offensive one on the stunned opponent, firing the gun at its feet. Instead of a wall perpendicular to him, Alec has it form parallel. Assuming the stunned creature does not react- which it had to power to do so- the wall might just form right through its insides and divide it in half.

A wall of force erupts from the ground at lightning speed. A wall thin enough to be a blade. The demon is bisected into a left and right half, and although it's extraordinarily tough, it can not survive such a wound to its physical form. Like the previous, it bursts into embers. The other stunned hound gets to its feet, and starts to go invisible. Weakened, it fades in and out, about half as visible as before. The beast leaps to the base of the ramp, and barks at the smoking ruin of a Hellhound at the base of Alec's feet. Unbelievably, it raises its head.

Alec now was without his primary weapons against the fire-immune hounds. This was bad. However, he could see one of the other two hounds; but it might not be long before both disappear. At least one of his weapons was armed with a conventional bullet. Alec decides it's worth a try. " 'Scuse me," he says to Erin, switching his force-wall weapon for Spitfire and leaning over the edge of the wall and aiming down for the head of the fallen hound. With a magic spark from within the chamber, he fires with his best aim, given the circumstances, hoping to put the final ding through the hound's head before it became a threat again.

The bullet hits the monster directly in the head. It probably stung a bit, but the creature's thick skull is more than a match for the lead musketball. The Hellhound yowls and shakes its head, buying Alec a few more seconds. The other one does something unexpected - with an ear-splitting roar, its entire body is coated in hellfire. The demon abandons stealth and begins scrambling onto the ramp, in a mad frenzy to get at its mark. Erin's eyes widen. "Boobs, Alec. Boobs."

Alec grabbed Erin by the waist, sparing no effort to get smothered by boobs, "Good thinkin'!" And with her in grasp, he leapt off the edge. Alec formed the lower flaps of the cloak into long spines to spear into the fallen and stunned hound with their downward momentum, and likewise cushion their fall, thus evading the charging hound.

Alec gets a helping of boobs, made all the more enjoyable by their pleasant bouncing as they land. Erin isn't Persephone, but she definitely isn't Terri either. Beneath them, embers go flying as the demon is brutally impaled through its head and neck. Erin pushes Alec out of her chest, glaring at him... at first. The moment is broken by a thunderous crash - the last hellhound, now a skeleton wreathed in hellish flames, stares at them through hollowed eye sockets bursting with red fire. The burning-skeleton-hellhound emits an unearthly growl that vibrates the air like a thousand nails on a thousand chalkboards. And then, it charges.

Alec has a moment to catch his breath and enjoy, for the first time in months, some feminine assets. He wasn't about to let this be the last time. Letting the spines retract, he was faced with another split-second decision, so he pushed Erin one way, and thrust himself another. "Split up!" He commands her, leaping to the side of the base of the barrier. The rest would depend on how the hellhound gave chase.

The hound ignores Erin, who still has a protection spell on her. It rushes after Alec with great speed.

Alec runs for the woods. There's no way he'll outrun it. But he could out-nimble it, running straight for a tree and ducking behind it, to give the hound a collision that ought to disorient it briefly.

The hound doesn't strike a tree, but is forced to slow down to fit between them. Its hellfire ignites everything near it. Somewhere, a forest ranger gets a chill down his spine. The beast is hindered, but gaining rapidly.

Alec asserts that his force-wall trick won't work twice, and charging up his shotgun again will take too much time. The cloak was a sure-fire way to kill any demon, but just to get close to this one was suicide... Ah, an idea came to mind. A weapon he had not used since his encounter with Persephone's shade. Alec had not charged this pistol, but he could do it on the run, feeding it mana as he moved through the forest. The human ducked behind a tree as the gun was ready, and waited for the glow of the hound to near...

The flames crackle and smoke. The skeletal hound lets out a demonic roar, which is even worse than its growl. Like being plunged into icy water as hot daggers drag perilously across the spine. A tree falls as its trunk is consumed by scorching flames. The Hellhound is almost upon Alec.

Alec takes aim at the second row of trees in front of him, one tree to his right. He fires his weapon... and the point at which he aimed conjures a second Alec! An illusion of the gunman seemingly pops out from cover, and appears to take several seconds to draw two pistols, aim them at the hound and fire them up with magic, giving the creature ample time to pounce the false-Alec.

The common Hellhound is highly intelligent - for a gargantuan dog. Its keen senses tell it that a magical figure has suddenly manifested. It looks over, and sees the man it had just been chasing. And this man was raising those accursed weapons of his. It is not sufficiently befuddled to pounce on this false Alec, but in its half-crazed, boney state, it can't seem to discern what's real and what's fake. It pauses for a few moments to solve this great puzzle.

Alec was hoping for it to be much dumber, but this could work, too. He holstered the weapon. Based on the heat, the demon must have been close. Since the image was to Alec's right, the demon must have closed in to view it from the right... So, Alec went left, holding out his arms. He funneled large amounts of energy into the cloak to turn the sleeves into stiff, lengthy spears capable of piercing the hound without getting incineratingly close. There wasn't much choice here to do otherwise. Rounding the corner and causing the sleeves to elongate into weapons, Alec rushed forward to try and get the hound from an unguarded rear, or just its side, if he were otherwise unlucky.

The hound's tail whips around, either striking Alec or getting dangerously close, enough to leave him singed. The spears scrape the bones, leaving clear marks and eliciting a cry of pain from the beast. It's now or never.

Alec's struck by the tail, but thankfully, it burns into the cloak, melting its form temporarily. The weaponized cloak would slowly remold into its original shape where it had been torn; as for Alec, he received horrific burn marks that pierced through his armor and onto his skin, but now was not the time to give in to the agonizing pain. Alec adjusts his strategy and takes a page out of the book of his old pal, Taric, turning the ends of his weapons from spears into heavy, weighted axes, with the use of another powerful burst of magic. Move it or lose it, Alec. He tries to cleave through the center of the spine of the creature and split it in two.

The blow connects, the cloak dissolving just enough bone to snap the behemoth's spine. Its flaming bones go out, and the heavy things clatter to the ground in a disordered pile. The collar, with vicious spikes in as well as out, lands softly on the ground, whispering away.

Alec stands there, panting, then groaning as pain hits. He really wished Taric was here to swing axes in his place. This was not his gig. Taking blows, also not his gig. The cloak quickly reforms, taking its original shape from the leftover energy of the axe-transformation. The same cannot be said of Alec. Thankfully, none of his bones had suffered damage. He probably had some cracked ribs, but the majority of the damage was to his exterior. Every step was stinging, but he returned to the road to check for Erin. "...Erin?" He coughed a bit as he waited for the immediate smoke to clear. There wasn't much he could do to stop the forest fire, despite his survival.

The collar laughs loudly as he leaves. The bones explode, sending fragments everywhere. Shortly after impact, they burst into embers. The forest fire is raging, now quite a blaze, and sparks and ashes rain down on the land. The air is choked with smoke and heat, making it all but impossible to breathe. In the distance, Erin's voice calls, "Alec?"

Alec carried on, hobbling out of the smoke. "Yeah!" He calls out to her. "Yeah, I'm here! Stay put, I'll come t' you." He runs past any remaining blazes, slowed down occasionally by waves of pain. When he finally gets to the road, he stops to get a breath of fresh air. Undoubtedly, he must look like hell to Erin.

A tree falls near Alec, kicking up showers of sparks and shaking the ground. Fire sweeps the forest floor in chaotic patterns, hungrily devouring dry underbrush. By the grace of the Gods, Alec makes it out of the blaze, to where Erin is fearfully standing. Upon seeing him, she looks a mix of shocked and awed. "You... you got all four of them. And that cloak... who the hell are you?"

He stares at her, bewildered. Not this shit again. He hobbles toward her, essentially limping at this point for lack of energy and constant pressure of pain. "I'm a monster hunter," he said, coughing to his side. "...I'm.. a monster hunter.. n' I like boobs." Assuming he managed to get anywhere near her, he would just sit down right there on the dirt, and proceed to pant. "...That's all the major stuff about me," he concluded.

Erin composes herself, and gives a curt nod. She sits down beside Alec, and if he doesn't protest, takes his hands into hers. "There is one thing I can do to help."

Alec doesn't fight her. He couldn't, even if he wanted to. This got his hopes up. Was it boobs? Was that his reward?

From her hands, Alec feels a rush of energy wash over him like a cool stream. His wounds close, his burns disappear, and his entire body is revitalized. Apparently, Erin knows some powerful healing magic. Either that, or her boobs are just that good.

He sits there, bewildered for a moment as the pain disappears. Slowly, he looks at Erin, surprised. Then, disappointed. "...That's it?"

She pulls his hands in closer, until they're at her waist. Leaning in, she says, "Expecting something else?"

He opens his mouth and exchanges the words he wanted to say with a heavy sigh. "Guess not."

"Thanks for the... fix-up... however ya did it."

She drops his hands, chuckling. "You're welcome."

Alec looks himself over. She may not have realized it, but the cloak amplified the mending. Alec was in better condition now than before the fight began, excluding the energy he had spent. Unfortunately, his armor beneath the cloak was still damaged. He paused to inspect Erin's form. "...Didn't get hurt, did ya?..."

Erin is unscathed. Strangely enough, her dress isn't even torn or marred by ash. "I'm fine," she confirms. "We should probably get out of the giant forest fire now."

He gets to his feet, sighing. "I'll do somethin' about this, don't worry." He paused to survey the damage and seemed to focus on something, making himself incommunicable.

Erin looks at him, studying him intently. If she was curious about his exact nature before, this only reinforces that curiosity.

As the fire slowly spreads, Alec remains unmoving. It would take a few seconds, around thirty, for something to change. Then, seemingly without cause, there is an impact in the forest, followed by several others. Something begins to quench the flames. Multiple somethings, perhaps? There were many sounds, much movement, but strangely, no signs of figures.

Alec regained his focus by then. He looked to Erin and motioned up the road. "Let's go. We ain't meant t' meddle with this any further."

"What's happening?" Erin asks as she's dragged along. "What are those things?"

"People you never wan'a meet," he answered. "They're always out there. Always watchin'. They intervene with things, accordin' to their judgement. Can't tell ya much else. Not even that I ain't allowed. I don't know much, myself."

Erin spends a significant amount of time looking back at the site of the dying fire. Finally, she turns back to Alec. "So are you going to tell me who you are?"

The question tires him. He decides to settle it in his own way, glancing back at her. "I'll tell ya if you flash yer boobs at me." Alec returns his attention to the road. "Only counts if I see it," he adds. That should settle it.

Erin folds her arms, looking cross, but determined. "Well, you said you hunt monsters. And like boobs. That much is easy to figure out. That cloak is something else, though. I've never seen nor heard of anything like that."

"Hey, I set my conditions. They're pretty fair, if ya ask me. Flash 'em n' ya get answers, or stop askin' and keep yer modesty." He rolled his neck, cracking it after the fresh healing, surprised by how superb he felt. "Besides. Ain't much guarantee you'll believe what you hear. It's up t' you to weigh out the worth'a that condition."

"Those conditions aren't fair at all. I'm not asking you to strip down, just answer a simple question. And for all I know, you'll just get an eyeful and continue to not tell me."

He hmph'd. "I keep my word," he answered stoically. "Fer the most part, there ain't much to me. But a few things, I can't just let go. A few things about me I never tell anyone. N' then you come around askin' me who the hell I am. It's pretty obvious, ain't it, that ya won't be satisfied by the little things, the lil' answers to that question. So ya got yer conditions."

"Bah," Erin says, looking grouchy. "I've never seen a man fight half so well as you, but when it comes to women, you almost make the toothless peasants look good."

"I know it," he commented. "Can't have it all in life. Some'a us, less than others where it counts."

And so the pair of them continue in silence, for the time being.

After some measure of walking, Alec finally commented. "Well, I still got -my- teeth, fer the record."

"Good for you," Erin replies. The woods grow colder as they head further down the old road. It's nighttime, and the winds blowing up from the south carry a chill. There is a strange feeling, as well, one of being watched.

Alec shook his head. "Sure got frigid quick." He took stock of his remaining mana as they walked, and began to go through his weapons again, focusing on each one as it was armed with a spell. This was, obviously, draining. Despite having been healed by Erin, he would start to look weary, but it was necessary to be prepared, given the surprise attack they just faced.

Erin takes note of this, saying, "Should we make camp for the night?"

He didn't answer immediately, looking around. "...If we do, we're gettin' off the road." He considered the thought. "You got a tent-" he looked her over, recalling she carried almost nothing. "Right, ya don't..." He began to veer off the road. "Guess I'll have t' figure somethin' out." He began to examine the trees, their kinds, how their branches and leaves were formed, along with other plantlife for usable items. "Keep close, alright?-" He glanced over his shoulder. "Close enough t' hide behind me if ya need to."

The deciduous trees are either losing their leaves or altogether barren. It is November, after all, and the cold front coming up from the south doesn't help. There are, however, a few shrubs and short trees that are still green, apparently resistant to the cold. As Alec searches, Erin wanders nearby, inspecting tree roots and plants. She unearths some small onion-like vegetables, and large mushrooms.

Alec began gathering up sticks, twigs, rocks and pilling them up beneath a larger tree trunk. Eyeing the sleeves of his cloak, he focused for a moment, and molded them into hardened and sharpened tools, fitting into his hands; a hatchet-like tool in one, and a small set of pruning scissors in another. He began going around, snapping off branches of larger shrubs, to collect a pile of them, hacking off ones with larger branches.

Erin walks up to Alec, a pile of leeks, green onions, and mushrooms held in her dress. "I found some-" she of course spots him using his cloak to shear plants. The sight renders her mute as she just stares in a mix of curiosity and confusion.

Alec looks just as confused, actually. It seems he's never done this with his cloak before, even if he knew the capacity for it was there. "Huh? What'd you- oh, good work." He'd look at her, eyeing the food. "You got a knack for findin' food after all." He'd return his attention back to the his work. "You can set 'em at the base'a this tree fer now. I'll put together a campfire for ya." He returned his attention to the harvesting of shrub-bits. Assuming he went undisturbed, he'd gather enough to form the roof of a shelter, but he would stop that and switch to putting together the campfire. Dirt was dug out to form a small pit, which was encircled by stones. Then, he'd get to making camp, stripping fibers off some of the more flexible plants, tying them up in alternating knots to form fiber rope. Back to the campfire, he'd rope together two pairs of two sticks as upside-down V's, held together by rope, held in place by dirt and stone. Alec took up a few shorter sticks, shaping them with the hatchet, shaving of
excess bits to form sharpened, narrow sticks. He'd lay them over the firepit to test them. "...Yeah, this'll hold." He'd then look to Erin. "Go 'head n' get 'em skewered, I'll put a tent up. We'll light the fire when yer done." As an afterthought, he pulled out his canteen. "Right, water fer cleanin' the food." He set it beside the campfire. Then, he went back to preparing the tent. More than just a gunman, Alec was in fact, a craftsman.

"We should be near the Duilos River," says Erin as she skewers the vegetables. "It's east of here." She turns to see Alec busy with the tent. "I suppose being a monster hunter teaches many skills. I can help you, though. It might make things go faster."

He looked at her, "...Yeah, feel free. Watch, uh," He'd grab some larger branches to dig into the ground in the pattern of the hut. "We gotta tie the ends t'gether. Gonna need rope fer that. You know how to make rope?" He nods at the fiberous plants he'd been using. "Pull off strands, put three together, n' make alternating turns..."

After rinsing the food and getting it positioned over the soon-to-be-campfire, Erin moves over and begins to weave some fibrous plants into rope as Alec instructed. She does so with great speed and precision. Nearby, one of the trees opens its eye, blinking a few times before gazing at the pair of them.

Alec would approach Erin, cutting off rope as it was made, or taking rope of the right size, and he began to tie together the frame of shut. It didn't take long. Afterward, the leafy branches from the cold-resistant shrugs were applied along the frame of the hut, fitting them into place, layering them with each other. This part was lengthy, and a little tedious, but with Erin's help, it proceeded two or three times faster. The hut's holes were patched up quickly, resulting in a leaf-twig shelter compressed together with a single entrance.

"It's going to be cramped in there," Erin says. She looks back towards the fire. "I imagine you can light this pretty quickly." The seeing tree watches them a few more moments, and shuts its eye. The lid is textured bark, and the organ is concealed as just a knot.

"I ain't exactly buildin'a log cabin here, Erin. Besides, I gotta leave stuff on the shrubs n' bushes. If we jus' uproot 'em, that's bad fer us, too." He gives one a push. "Havin' a rooted, wide plant'll prevent some'a the wind from comin' this way. Keeps the fire alive, keeps us warm..." Speaking of the fire, he looked through their pile of remaining sticks and branches, and picked the driest among them, piling the smallest ones onto the bottom and the largest on top. The campfire was not far from the entrance of the hut, according to how Alec had positioned it; with good reason, this was to provide warmth without sacrificing space in the hut. Alec set a hand to the campfire, and began to chant in strange tones, curling his fingers around the weave, until at last, he formed a small flare that fired out of his finger. The weak spell produced enough of a flame to ignite the sticks and twigs. Alec started to arrange a few more stones around the campfire to guide some of the wind into the flames... The fire grew tall for a moment, and this satisfied Alec; he closed off the opening for the wind.

Erin sits by the fire, taking a moment to survey their (mostly Alec's) work. "Not bad, as campsites go." She leans forwards to tend the skewer, making sure the veggies are somewhat evenly cooked. "Do you eat a lot of vegetables?"

Alec chuckled, shaking his head. "I eat enough. But it ain't much without meat, beans, grains.. somethin' heavier. But at least Taric ain't here. If he got desperate, he might eat one'a us. Probably you." He chuckled again, mostly to himself, as he nestled himself a spot by the fire.

"You're friends with a cannibal?" Erin looks at him with a cocked eyebrow.

"No... not exactly. He's a bear... man. Bearman. Sometimes he's a bear, sometimes he's a man."

"You must be the strangest man I've ever met," Erin says, looking back to the vegetables. They appear to be close to 'done.'

"Yeah? There's a guy in Jheran that'll redefine yer concept'a strange." He shook his head slightly. "Almost regret meetin' him. Well. Him.. her.. can't say fer sure..."

"You didn't go into the Chapel of Scilla, did you?"

He looks at Erin, nodding. "Yeah, that's the place. Nearly ended in me startin' a fight with that freaky tower, but the guy said he didn't wan'a fight." He rubbed at the back of his neck and shook his head. The memories were still vivid, and the scar in his mind still too fresh. But he was dealing with it a little too well for a human being.

"Scilla represents Madness, Chaos, Entropy, Destruction... needless to say, he-she-it-they is, or are, opposed to everything in this world. Despite being outnumbered and hated by all, Scilla worship still thrives in places where the people aren't strong enough to stop it. And honestly - I'm not sure if Scilla even cares one way or another what happens to its followers."

Alec rubs his face as the talk ventures toward that awful tower. "Yeah... Thought the place was a load'a shit when I saw it myself. Anyone that submits themself t' that ain't ever comin' back. Glad I left, but I regret not tearin' it down or puttin' a dent in it."

"You like to fix things, but not everything has an easy solution." Erin's hand reaches for one of his. "...What do you fight for? And why?"

This altogether caught him off guard and Alec had to stare at her with some surprise, then suspicion. "...Why're you askin?"

"I'm a Myrite, Alec. I must try to understand why people fight. And besides... you're interesting. Is that so hard to believe?" She looks him in the eye. "Do you really think I would hurt you? Or could, even?"

"Yeah," he answered flatly. "Anybody can hurt anythin'. That's why people like me exist. We know that. So we ain't afraid t' challenge impossible odds. But, the reverse applies, too." He looked down at her hands. "People that appear harmless, people that ya wan'a trust. They can hurt ya, too." The gunman looked up to her eyes. "I scare people. Yeah, sure, save a life, kill a monster, they like ya at first. But then they figure out that yer a walkin' disaster. That y'don't need t' take shit from anybody... n' they get scared of ya. Even if yer not a monster yerself... they'll turn you in t' one in their head. That's.. normal." Alec scrutinized Erin. "Yer not actin' normal... what're you hidin' from me?"

Erin withdraws her hand, looking at him in surprise. "...wow. Something truly terrible must have happened to you. I'm... sorry. I won't ask about it again." She looks at the fire, sighing. "...Burned."

The response was disarming. He looked at the food that was now ruined. "It ain't," he said. Reaching a hand into the fire, he removed the skewers, and began to pull off the top layer of the onions and leeks, removing the burnt membranes to reveal a juicy core. "It's just the shell. It always looks bad, but ya peel it off, and ya get a treat. Here," he offered one skewer to Erin. "Bein' so feminine, I thought you' d know how t' cook. Guess not." He looked smugly at her.

Erin half-smirks, taking hold of it. Gingerly, she uses her fingers to slide hot vegetables off and pop them into her mouth.

Alec was a bit slow in biting food off his own skewer. He stared at the fire, taking occasional bites. After gulping a couple down, he offered a hand to Erin again.

She accepts it, giving him a smile. She continues eating the rest of her skewer one-handed.

Awkwardly, Alec does the same. Abruptly, he says "There's more than one reason. I fight monsters t' prove they can be fought. I fight attackers t' stay alive. N', I'm fightin' my way through Kerodil 'cause I wan'a see a friend again." He looked at Erin's hand. "The only reason I ever started fightin' was because I chased after a crush, n' never found her. Instead, I ended up in a real rut... literally fought m' way out... met people like me. Became a monster hunter. That's the simple version..."

Erin rubs his hand, slowly. "You didn't have to tell me."

"...There was another person I didn' full trust at first," he replied, not objecting to the comfort. "She became a close friend I'd trust with m' life. So... I figure, maybe there're more people like her." He observed Erin, and laughed a little. "Well, yer definitey more sane than her."

"Good to know." She sets down what's left of her skewer. "Is she who you're headed for here?"

He slowly shook his head. "...No. She's somewhere safe," he said. "I'm lookin for someone I knew before her that jus' vanished one day."

"Another one that vanished? ...Does that happen to you a lot?"

He laughed. "It's some kind'a cruel joke, I guess. Sometimes it's simpler jus' t' avoid the risk. But I can't, in this case. My friend's a fellow hunter. I can't let 'em go, even if I wanted to."

"I hope I don't just disappear one day," she says, looking at the fire.

Alec blinks a few times, observing her. "Wha'd'ya mean?"

"Hm? Oh, nothing, just a bad attempt at humor."

"Oh..." He returned to biting into the skewer of vegetables. His had begun to get cold, so Alec worked quick to finish it.

He tossed aside his own skewer afterward and eyed their hands. "Hey," he'd raise their gripped hands into view, "What's the meanin'a this, besides bein' touchy feely?"

She raises an eyebrow. "Well, when -I- did it, it was just to be comforting. Then you did it. So, you tell me."

He peered at their hands once again as he commented. "Thought I repulsed ya, so I figured I'd show ya it's fine to hold hands." He shrugged rather simply, not complicating social interactions very much. Alec lowered his arm and their hands, leaving them as they were.

"So uh..." Erin says, looking at the fire. "...what are the sleeping arrangements?"

Alec lifts a brow. "...Well, there's one hut. It's big enough t' fit two people or squeeze in three. No sleepin' bags, and one'a us has t' keep watch 'till mornin'." He said 'one' as though he meant himself, obviously. "So, the one on watch stays near the exit'a the hut, other one gets t' rest. I'm thinkin' I'm probably the one t' stay on watch.. then I'll get a few hours in when it's sun-up, n' you can keep watch. Should be safer in the day." He had yet to comment on the exact sleeping arrangement, as 'front and back merely determined positions. He cleared his throat. "...Look, I got a pretty heavy cloak on, I don't need t' be in the hut all the time."

"...Okay, but I don't want you tired out. The road's still dangerous. I can heal you again tomorrow, if you need it." Erin ducks into the shelter, feeling for a comfortable spot.

He chuckled, "Y'can jus' fix that tired part with yer boobs, like last time." He removed his hat, balling up some clumps of plant fiber into its center to hold its form, before offering it to Erin in the hut. "Here. It's a pillow. Sorta."

"Thanks," she says dryly. She pulls her boots off, stretching her toes, and lies back on the 'pillow.' "Goodnight, Alec. Sorry if it ends up being a boring night. You can always polish your gun...s."

"Yeah, I plan t- wait a minute," he glared at her. "Very funny. I didn't feel up -that- much, a'right." He glared again. "I was lil' busy bein' in pain." He shook his head, plucking out spare parts for guncrafting from within his cloak, along with a few maintenance items, and set to repairing and tuning his damaged weapons, perhaps even his damaged armor further down the line.

A chuckle comes from the shelter. And then, silence. The night is dark and full of - well, not much really. The sensation of being watched never fully goes away, and the chill wind from the south continues ceaselessly. Alec might perhaps feel an underlying sense of dread, a feeling that the worst is still yet to come. Any familiarity with Kerodil's lore would tell him that the cold is sign of the Rift, a place where hell and materium meet, which blankets all of Inferia. Even here, miles away from its edge, the faint scent of corruption lingers in the air. And the trees that see watch from hidden corners, obscured by shadows and camouflage, unnoticeable but for a faint glittering in the darkness, a movement of an iris, easily dismissed as fatigue-dreams...

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PostSubject: Blood on the Ice   Wed Sep 23, 2015 3:30 pm

Alec's shift of the watch passes without incident. Though, in the west, echoing through the trees, are sounds unlike any nocturnal creature. One can only guess what lies in the direction of the Tasat. Otherwise, all is still. And cold. Very cold. When the sun rises, the tree trunks are shrouded in a thick fog that drifts across the ground. The sky is grey.

Erin, having laid motionless for much of the night, begins to stir. Rubbing her eyes, she says through a yawn, "G'morning..."

Alec was thankful the night was quiet. He was in a half-awake daze, conserving energy. The man looked to Erin, suddenly rousing. "Hm? Oh.. yeah, good mornin'." He looked about the woods. "It went quietly. Guess we picked a good spot."

"Guess so," she says, crawling out of the tent. She grabs her boots and puts them on, peering into the fog. "Now this is the type of weather I'm accustomed to. Nice, isn't it?"

Alec frowns at Erin. "Yeah, great, really upliftin'. Makes ya feel like runnin' around." His tone was so dry, it could suck the moisture out of the air. She might notice that the fire was dead by now. "The night bein' quiet helped me conserve my strength, though. I'm thinkin' we can get movin' without any problems."

"I get you're a tough guy, but you've been sitting awake all night in the cold. You really ought to get SOME rest. I'll keep watch, and wake you if anything pays us a visit."

He stares at her with some annoyance. "If we don't get movin' durin' the day, we'll be dealing with those things at night, again." He rubbed at his forehead. "...A couple hours, that's it. Can't let the daylight burn."

"Sun's barely even up. Besides, wouldn't want to travel in fog."

"It's better than the dark."

"Two hours, I'll wake you up. We'll make it."

Alec turned back and hobbled toward the hut, holding up an arm to halt Erin from getting out. "If yer gonna force me to rest, yer gonna help." He'd settle in at the entrance of the hut, unsling his larger weapons, setting them aside, then try his luck and see if she would allow him to settle his head against her chest.

Erin looks a bit surprised, for a moment, but obliges. "You want me to read you a bedtime story, too?"

He scoffs, nuzzling his head into place. "Would be nice. But mos'ly, just pretend I'm somebody you care about. That's a thing Myrites do, right?"

"A true Myrite doesn't pretend," Erin says, wrapping her arms around him. "Now go to sleep."

It was his turn to be surprised. He had a moment of pause, but of course, there was still time to return a witty quip before he had his rest. But whatever was on his mind then, the expression of impending retort died in moments as Alec discovered he didn't want to ruin this good fortune. "Thanks, Erin," he said with his most sincere tone. With his gratitude expressed, he tried to sleep as intended.

Alec awakens in a dark room.

Alec looks around-... but looking does nothing. He feels himself for the weight of his cloak, for his weapons, so on, if he can move.

Alec's cloak is there, his weapons, his equipment, everything. He is unrestrained, able to stand, and move about.

He's confused. "...The heck is goin' on here." Deciding to try to figure out the situation, he casts a spell- 'Light,' to make the tip of Spitfire glow like a powerful flashlight.

The spell goes off as normal, illuminating a portion of the room. The walls are wooden, each plank with a distinct knot. Alec is in the Chapel of Scilla. Perhaps he never left...

Alec appears surprised. He points his gun around, illuminating all the corners. Was this the true chapel, with the walls of flesh, or the wooden one. He listened for the sounds of the chapel, or was it quiet? Regardless, he knew something was off.

The inside of the chapel is utterly silent. Alec can hear blood rushing through his veins, his heart beating, his lungs filling with air. Something is most certainly off. His light explores the walls of the room, passing rows of near-identical planks. In one of the corners, there is a subtle movement.

He'd focus the light on the object that appeared to move, stepping closer to it. As if speaking to the chapel, he announced, "Alright. Ya got me... Now, somebody tell me why I'm here." Speaking helped shift the noise level, distracting him from the sound of his own body. "Or didja bring me here jus' t' fuck with me? I know we ain't in Jheran," he said. "There's supposed t' be an invasion. Doesn't sound like anybody's invaded anythin'. So, fess up."

The movement creeps up the wall, taking root in the wood, corrupting it. The Blight. And with each second, its growth increases exponentially as more material is consumed. It would only be a few minutes before the room was consumed. And on none of those walls did his light find a door...

He kept searching, but found that there was no exit. This was his first time being near the Blight. His logic told him this wasn't real, but curiosity told him he had to learn what that amorphous mass was. So, he crept closer, keeping his light trained on it. "You're startin' t' piss me off..."

"Are you here to kill me?" The voice is unmistakable. The source, directly behind him. The rays of sunlight, the broken tables, the scattered chairs. One table is set, however, its chairs occupied. The sounds of eating, drinking, and revelry.

Slowly, Alec turned around, pointing his gun up as the spell of Light was now blinding rather than illuminating.

The scene appears before him exactly as described. Those seated at the table remain impossible to discern, their faces either turned away or out of focus.

He responded to the voice, "...Perse?" He tried to approach it, and the table of people.

As he draws near, someone turns to him. Persephone, her throat torn out. Blood spills from her windpipe as she speaks. "I just wanted love..."

He took a step back. "...From somebody else," he corrected the figment, though he wasn't able to look away.

Erin looks over at him, disemboweled, but not bleeding. "I wanted to see the world united under a single banner."

Ganelon raises a glass to Taric, who holds his head in his charred hands.

"I wanted to see my home again," says Tyrion Duvedirfel.

The main course appears to be the cooked tentacles of a Cecaelia.

Alec stared at the group. He began loading a bullet into his gun. He knew he would have one on him. Then, he'd load another gun, and another as the figments came. "Lies," he fired at Persephone. "Lies," he fired at the rest of his comrades, exchanging guns to fire in succession, "Yer a liar if you think this's all my friends were... Now, stop fuckin' around. I'm in my head. Yer in here with me." Another shot fired into the table for good measure. "Get to the point... or, are you.. Scilla? And is yer whole existence a big, chaotic, pointless mess?" He put emphasis on the p of pointless.

"I just wanted to live." A hand rests on his shoulder, turning him around. Terri's face is covered in tumors and boils. Giant veins pulse in her neck. The hand touching Alec has no fingers, just long wormlike tendrils that snake into his flesh, seemingly bypassing his gear. A deep laugh resounds through the room, the eyes of the planks opening as Blight takes them all... and Alec wakes up with his head stuffed into a soft pair of boobs.

The last image, that one got him. His eyes went open wide, and he was panting, forced away by a nightmare. Oh gods, boobs. He was so happy to be back with them. The normally badass gunman buried himself in them for comfort.

Logic, reason, order, had kept him all strong, but he had no knowledge of Terri's fate. He couldn't deny that the blight had affected her; for all he knew, she was traveling with a blight wielder, manipulated by him. For all he knew... no, Alec wouldn't think about it. He tried to forget, relying on comfort from Erin.

"...Are you okay?" Erin's voice asks.

Alec didn't respond at first. When he did, it was unrelated. "Don't... don't move... please," his last word was hushed. "I need a minute..."

"Okay. You still have about... hm, I'd say an hour and a half?"

"It-... it's only.. been half an hour?" He asked, slowly looking up at her.

Erin looks off to the side. "...Probably less, now that I think about it."

He sighed, relaxing and slumping against her. "...Fuck... I had a nightmare... felt like someone was in control'a it... horrible shit. I held on, but... the last thing... woke me, a'guess. And... shit.. mus' look like a fuckin' baby, don't I," he grumbled.

Erin can't help but smirk. "A big baby gunman." As she says it, she attempts to squeeze him tightly.

He cringes, but is in no place to reject the hug. He could really use it, probably. As Alec sunk in to her hug, he lingered there a while and eventually spoke. "...Erin," he began, "...thank Myra ya got great boobs." He didn't appear to be joking, either. "...I don't think I'd settle down half as fast if ya weren't here t' help... well, it ain't all bust, but.. y'know.. it's nice that it's there with the rest'a ya," his train of thought did a loop, there, but he seemed to be expressing several forms of gratitude. Trying to, at least. Now, he was tired, delirious, and mentally strained, so it wasn't much of a surprise.

Erin chuckles softly. "I think you need to go back to sleep. If you start having bad dreams again, me and my boobs are right here."

Slowly, he glances up at her. With a sigh, he tries to return to sleep. "...I'll give it a shot." This time, he wrapped his arms around Erin's back and hugged himself into her as he slept. "..Better.. restart that timer, Erin. I'm feelin' worse than before."

"Okay..." everything fades. Inside of a cavern, a hooded figure stands over a woman, tendrils making sickening churning sounds as they pump foul liquids into her body. She turns to face Alec, her face all too fresh in his mind. "Help... me..."

The hood moves, slowly facing him in turn. The tendrils continue their nauseating work. Beneath the hood, there is only darkness, and a hundred glittering eyes...

Alec wakes up, blinking his eyes open. He looks around. No reaction this time.

Erin looks at him in confusion. "...Another dream?"

"...How long's it been?"

"Little over an hour."

He groans. "Somebody hates me. Erin.. reach in t' my coat... there's a gun with a thin barrel... on the left side, in a harness, toward the.... middle."

Erin resists the urge to make a joke, and does as he says. After a few moments of searching, she withdraws the gun.

Alec reaches for it. "...Good. Thanks." He focuses on it. The man still had old mana, even if he hadn't replenished any new mana. After a moment of seemingly holding the gun steady, he pointed it at himself. Erin, if she could recognize it, would see that this was the weapon he fired at her before the start of the hellhounds' attack. The aura of protection from evil would then surround Alec, protecting him, especially his mind. He let the gun drop, huffing. "...Maybe that'll help."

Erin shrugs slightly. "How long now?"

He grunts. "'Til I wake up."

He'd pause to look at her in concern. "..Are you gettin' hungry?.. Should we get food?.. Shit, I've made ya sit here for a while.."

"If there's one thing Myrites understand, it's patience." Erin lies back, stretching out, but raises herself atop her elbows. "As for food, I'm fine if you are."

"I'm fine, yeah. I'll worry about it once I got some rest..." He'd pause to examine her for a moment, and managed to chuckle. "...There's a plus side to all'a this, I guess."

"And what would that be?" she says with a sly smile. "Besides the obvious?"

"Yeah, besides the obvious," he began, avoiding her gaze as the obvious was pretty damn obvious. "...I'm startin' to see who ya are, Erin. I'm sorry fer doubtin' ya. I'll tell ya who I am, later. There ain't any need t' flash me-... though, it'd be appreciated."

Erin smiles. "You don't need to apologize. I should apologize... for pressing too hard. I do that, when I'm curious. But you're not just a curiosity." She motions for him to move closer. "And I would've thought this counted, honestly. You haven't actually seen them, true, but I think you've come to know them rather well."

He'd return a frown. "In my sleep," he corrected her dryly. "I've been passed out most'a the time, y'know. I'll hand it to ya, though, I think I've fallen fer the girls. You brought 'em up well," he joked, forming a small chuckle. "...I'll be honest. The reason I set that condition was t' keep you from askin'. I figured... most likely, ya wouldn't do it. N' if ya did... well, I'd have somethin' nice t' remember t' offset my screw up, I guess."

"I'll be sure to pass your compliments along. They seem to like you too, but it is pretty cold out."

It took him a moment to get it, being exhausted. But he got it. Then, he peered at Erin for some clue if she entirely joking, or only half-joking. Then, he looked at her chest for a physical clue.

Erin's eyes are closed, a bemused smile on her face. As for her chest... well, it IS cold out.

Alec pulled one arm back from his hug. His tired brain was short on a few inhibitions. He carefully placed a hand on one of her breasts, the one he was inspecting, and felt around, even the tip, attempting to make bloody well sure if that was a cold breast or perfectly hot one.

There is warmth beneath his fingers. Eyes still closed, Erin says, "You must be more tired than I thought."

Alec unashamedly and fondly feels at the surface. Then, his mind's lagged inhibitions give him a kick and he realizes he's crossed a boundary. "...Oh," he said. "...Shit. I wasn't thinkin' about that." With an obvious reluctance, he appeared to cup his hand a final time before he drew it away. "..Sorry. I better sleep... I'm losin' it.."

Erin chuckles. "Right, you were obviously thinking about... something else." She lays an arm across his chest, getting closer to him, and speaks softly into his ear. "Maybe when you're feeling better, I can show you some relaxation techniques."

Alec suddenly looked uncomfortable. "..Don't tell me that when I'm tryin' t' sleep... yer makin' me want t' stay a...wake.." Well, even if he did, his own body rejected the notion. Sleeping Alec, passed out, nestled himself so tightly against Erin, she might have mistaken him of being awake and about to make love. But nothing happened. The sleeping gunman was just getting comfortable, getting to know Erin and the girls a bit better.

Hours pass, and Alec comes to in Erin's warm embrace. It's late morning, and the sun has burned off the fog. The air is a bit warmer, but a chill wind still blows persistently from the south.

He blinks his eyes open. Where's his hat? Oh, right, he gave it to Erin. Oh, right. Erin's boobs. Well, this was nice. Alec decided to see how long he could get away with being awake in this situation. His sense of responsibility and punctuality told him he really shouldn't be wasting time like this, but the sheer rarity of the experience outweighed both those mental signals. So he waited, until she noticed, enjoying his senses.

"Enjoying the view?"

Shit. He was caught. Slowly, he lifted his gaze until his eyes would meet Erin's. Unless her eyes were still shut.

They are.

He stares at her for a while. "...H-how long..."

"Did you sleep? Four hours."

He cleared his throat, and asked again in a different tone, "How long...." his eyes traveled down to her chest.

"Long enough."

"...Well. Y'can't blame me..."

"Why's that?"

"It's pretty hard t' convince myself t' get up..."

"Seem to have gotten up just fine. Or is that one of your spares?"

He looks at her, confused for a moment. Then, he looks down, checking his pants. "Wait, ya don't mean-"

Erin opens her eyes, looking over at him with a smirk. "Ready to hit the road?"

He looks up at Erin, lofting a brow. "Jus' tell me two things. How'd ya know I was awake?"

"Everyone moves a little bit involuntarily when they wake up. I could feel you. What was the other thing?"

"...This ain't the last time I get t' sleep like this, is it? Uh... I remember... you sayin' somethin' about relaxin', but my memory's foggy... fatigue really messed it up, I think... or the nightmares messed it up..."

Erin takes a few moments to ponder this. Truly, this gunman had some shitty luck. It'd be all too easy to continue this little game of theirs. When the moments are up, she looks back over and says, "...I might be able to jog your memory."

Well, that didn't really answer his question, but it gave him a palpable answer. He took inhaled some air, settling on a decision. "...Ya smell nice," he said. Alec finally tried to get up, but then there was the fact that she was still hugging him. "...I, uh. I'm thinkin' I'll get up now, Erin. Could ya let me go?"

Erin raises an eyebrow. "...Wait. You don't-... you're clueless, aren't you."

He blinks at her a few times. Clearly, she underestimated just how fucked up nightmares and mental fatigue were in combination. "Yeah, I might be a lil' clueless... Memory's still kin'a foggy. I mean.. maybe I'm groggy." Well, given he was still in her embrace, he wasn't going to question the situation. He dropped his gaze and furrowed his brows, attempting to recall the moments before he fell asleep- several of those moments. "Uh..."

She moves her arm off of him, attempting to grab his hand - which she would then place, firmly, on her left breast. "This doesn't ring a bell?"

He stares at her with surprise. Alec looks at her with wide eyes, and then- "Oh!... Shit!" He stared at her, "I did!... Didn't I!" The worst kind of eureka moment, the realization that you violated someone in your sleep. Then, he kept staring at his hand. "...Wait. Oh. Yer okay with it." Slowly, it came back to him, his hand on her breast, and her not killing him, yes, it came back to him. "Uh..." He raised his gaze back to Erin. "...Yer.. laughin' yer ass off right now, aren't ya?"

"Yes," Erin says, grinning, "I am."

His mouth hung open at first, then he shook his head and gave her a squeeze in retaliation. "It ain't funny. I thought ya thought I was a scumbag." Well, after the squeeze, he withdrew his hand, deciding he'd better not push his luck and attempted to get off of her, pushing himself off the ground and into a sitting position outside the hut. "...Those're some perfect breasts," he muttered, peering at his hand, "what kind'a stock do you come from?" The latter half was more of a mumble.

Erin stares at him in bewilderment. With a slight shrug she gives up on him ever remembering just what was on the table. She gets up off the ground, and walks out to the opposite side of the firepit, across Alec. "Shall I get us some breakfast?"

Alec felt like he had just lost something really important just then. Well, he'd figure it out later. "On the way," he said. "It ain't like I can't start a fire anywhere else. If y'see any food, let me know n' I'll keep watch while ya get it." She might notice he was having a little trouble maneuvering, something had him uncomfortable down in his pants. It really wasn't hard to guess; but, Alec seemed to be trying very hard to get himself calm again.

Erin eyes him, smiling innocently. "Okay. Lead on."

He collected his weapons left in the hut, placing them in holsters, slinging them as needed. Each one was already prepared with a spell, which meant he was extra combat-ready today. This allowed him a little smirk, briefly distracting himself from getting toyed with by a defenseless woman. He tried to inconspicuously punch his own gut, attempting to 'calm' himself with some pain therapy. It seemed to work, though now his gut hurt. Then, Alec lead the way up the road, abandoning the camp and some crucial memories with it.

The two of them head south through the remainder of the woods unhindered. The playful mood fades as the wind gets colder, and the trees and plants more barren. Frost is present on most surfaces, and the ground is cold and hard. The feeling of ever-present dread grows with each step. And unnoticed in the distance, the trees resume their watch.

"We should be nearing the forest's edge," Erin says. "...As well as the Rift's edge."

Alec maintains his composure well. Despite the weakness of his nightmares, he was much more composed when awake and sober-minded. But, Erin's composure continued to surprise him. He kept looking at her as they traveled, perhaps every five or ten minutes. "Hey, Erin, how come yer not freakin' out so much? I had t' sleep with a spell on me. I thought it was somethin' t'do with my run-in at the tower, but I don't think that's the case, so... how come yer holdin' up so well? Ya slept fine, right?"

"I've lived inside of the Rift for much of my life," Erin says. "I slept better last night than I have in years. And, I was planning on telling you this, but the Rift's effects are much, much worse for mages. In fact, unless you have Protection from Evil on, you can count on there being more than just nightmares."

He gave her a rather annoyed look. "And ya planned on tellin' me this later t'day? After the nightmares?"

"They usually don't happen at such a distance," Erin says, looking pensive. "Then again, you're a very powerful mage. You should run for office."

"Gee, thanks," he muttered. "Well, guess that settles that."

"Inferia is the Land of Wards for a reason. The Rift is a nationwide thinning of the barriers between this realm and Hell itself. Demons appear regularly, but an easier way to get in is possession, preferably of a living mage. The more powerful, the better to cause chaos with. Supposedly the capital has these miniature stars called Solarii that melt the snow and keep the demons at bay. It's green in the city streets, and warmer than anywhere else in the nation."

He looked over his shoulder and peered at Erin at length. "...No kiddin'. Sounds like somebody ought'a take care'a that, patch up that hole."

"They've tried. Some of the most intelligent and powerful mages in the world. They've succeeded in delaying its expansion, but attempts to close it altogether have only ever resulted in making things worse."

Alec scratches at the back of his neck. "Sounds like what y'really need t'do is go in n' kill the thing responsible fer pushin' it open. The holes don't jus' make 'emselves."

"Ha, well that's just it. Nobody knows who, or what, caused it. Or how. It's been open for centuries, people from all over studying it, but no one's learned anything useful. At least, that's what they keep telling us. An ongoing demonic threat means lots of power concentrated in certain hands..."

"Yeah, sounds pretty fishy t'me. I know one guy that might have an answer. But he's somewhere far away, and there ain't no gettin' his help out here."

Erin narrows her eyes. "Who do you know that could answer that question?"

He rubs his neck. "...I remember, when ya jogged my memory, I said somethin' about trustin' ya- maybe more than trustin' ya." He clears his throat. "N' some other stuff. Among them, I said I'd tell ya who I am. Well," he exhaled. "Let's get started on that."

Erin slows her pace, looking at him intently. "I'm listening."

"My name is Alec Smith," he began. "I'm twenty five. My occupation is Monster Hunter, n' my skillset ain't 'mage,' it's Arcane-Armsman. Not the kind yer used to, though. My family originated from 'ere, Kerodil. Durender, actually. When the Simmons Company started up, they found work with 'em, learned t' make guns. Probably learned t' make magic guns, too- but I didn't learn that from my folks. Picked it up later from one'a those girls that slipped away. First one, the crush- not important." He clears his throat. "I've been huntin' fer years... and I've gotten my nose in t' a lot'a shit jus' because'a what I do, not fer any real reason. But, one thing I always wanted t' do was figure out what it's all for, what's the point in' fightin' if the fightin' never ends. I chased down an artifact I learned about t' help one'a my friends.. but I learned about it 'cause I was diggin' up information on a guy from the past... Ya ever heard'a the name Redwell?" He glanced at her from over his shoulder again.

"...Can't say that I have."

He shrugged, walking onward. "I was lookin' for somethin'a his, n' I found it. And then, on the way back, I found him. Didn' believe it at first, but a couple'a people with me recognized 'em-.. a vampire, n'.. a monk. An old monk. Well, Redwell wanted his sword back- the thing I found. In exchange, he offered up.. this cloak," he motions to the cloak he wore, "and a bond that came with it. T'... somethin' I don't know if I ought'a talk about. Basically.. whoever owns this cloak becomes an agent'a somethin' big. I'd wager they're scarier than yer demons, those things that put out the forest. Wish I could tell ya more, but I can't. Suffice t' say that this Redwell fell'a.. he said he made those things. Made the cloak, too. N' before all that, he used t'be a demon hunter. I talked up a bunch'a crap to 'em, didn't lift a brow t' any'a it. So I figure, if anybody alive t'day knows, he ought'a know."

"...I'm beginning to see why you were so reluctant to tell me."

"There's more, but I better let it be. Suffice t' say that the person I'm lookin' for.. is only half the reason I'm here. There's somethin' else I'm meant t'do, I jus'... don' know it yet." He frowned to himself. "Didn't exactly get a briefin' on this. I think my own ignorance is supposed t' keep me from becomin' a bigger target... guess we'll see."

"Well, whatever happens... Thank you for telling me. Most people would find that story ridiculous, but... They did put out that fire, whatever they were, so I believe you. And, I like to think I'm not like most people." The Rift's edge is not a hard dividing line, but more of a gradation. Clouds drift overhead, blocking the sunlight, and the chill is biting. The layer of frost is thicker, the ground like a frozen tundra, laden with ice. Tiny snowflakes drift down to the ground, and the branches of the trees glitter in the afternoon light. Were it not for the feelings of doom and overwhelming corruption, the scenery would be quite enjoyable. "You'd better put on Protection from Evil," says Erin. "If you haven't already."

Alec would inhale and exhale sharply. "I'm thinkin' I better get a better spell fer that, actually... meanin', I'm gonna need a place t' work." He withdrew the weapon he had used earlier. It was empty of a charge, so he filled it with his mana, pointed it at himself, and renewed the spell.

"Durender's got plenty of places to work," she says. "Most of the old tools were destroyed, but the mines still run. Inferia's got a lot of us assembling Ferguson weapons."

"Oh, yeah, those pieces'a crap," he commented, shaking his head. "Guess they figured Durender's great at makin' guns, might as well make their shit guns now."

"The ones Inferia mass-produces are terrible, from what I hear. Stolen schematics for some early prototype. The ones Ferguson sells in his shops are supposed to be of much higher quality."

"Yeah," he commented, "I've seen his shop. Still looks like crap t'me."

"Well, you're a Simmons man, so that fits together."

He peers at her, lofting a brow. "I ain't the only one thinkin' that way? People shoot his guns out here? I've only seen four since I came around. The guys in that outpost- wonderin' how they got their hands on 'em t'begin with."

Erin shrugs slightly. "With the Parietis, it's hard to say. The Rooks are given a lot of autonomy, maybe their Master pulled some strings to get them some recovered Simmons models. Or maybe they purchased or made them on their own. Inferians are an inventive people, if nothing else."

"Made their own, hah. Well, guess anythin's possible." He shrugged to himself. "How far are we, now?"

"Should be there by nightfall. We're making really good time. Honestly... I'm a bit worried at the lack of interruptions. This place used to be crawling with bandits, wild animals, all kinds of potential hazards. Now, it's... empty. And I feel like... someone's watching us. Do you feel it too?"

"Hard t'say, I always feel watched. I jus' feel like somethin' sinister's around, lately, though. Guess it's obvious why." He looks around the woods. "Guess a'could take a gander, if yer really curious." He filled his pistol with another charge of mana for when he would need to cast the spell again.

Erin follows his gaze. And then turns to look down the road ahead. It's difficult to make out, but in the distance, light can be seen streaming in from an open plain, the edge of the woods. And as they draw closer, six silhouettes are visible standing in the road, very still. "Speak of the devil."

Alec follows her gaze. "...Bandits?" He does something he hasn't done this entire time- load his weapons with live ammunition, systematically at that. "Better stick behind me- come t' think'a it, bandit'sll be lurkin' in the trees, too, t' surround us..." His eyes darted around the wildlife for other signs of hidden highwaymen.

The bare forest is quiet. No birds, rabbits, insects, nothing but the dead of winter. No bandits or signs of bandits can be seen, except the six silhouettes. A flash of motion appears at the edge of Alec's vision - did that tree have an eye? It shuts so quickly that it might be written off as a trick of the light, or some unknown effect of the Rift on Alec's mind.

Alec was still pretty foggy on the details of his perception after the night before. Was that an eye? Well, the expert was beside him, but he'd have to ask later. He'd focus on the figures ahead of them. After he'd finished arming all his weapons, the gunman picked two to wield; a pistol in either hand. He lowered his weapons, kept them hidden behind his cloak's flaps. "Erin, whatever happens, I'm yer shield, got it? Don't get away from me, n' put me in the way'a you and anythin' comin' at you."

"Got it. I can heal you too, but it's only a one-a-day thing, so use it wisely." Erin drops behind him.

"I'll keep that in mind..." He continues the steady approach toward the figures.

It takes a few minutes to walk over to where the figures are standing. They're bandits, no doubt about that. Leather armor and gear, swords and clubs, one has a crossbow slung over his back. They stand in a line across the road, just past the treeline. Odd that they would stand so brazenly - and wear such disturbing smiles. "Hi," the lead one says, with a grin that practically goes ear to ear. "How're you doing today?" The other bandits all wear similar expressions, save one - his face is covered by a burlap sack which is tied around his neck by a rope. Two beady eye holes are cut into it.

Alec halts as they begin to communicate. "Doin' pretty good. Slept like a babe. How 'bout you boys?"

"Oh, we're feeling splendid, thank you." The bandits behind him beam even wider, somehow. "I'm Smiley," says the leader. He then points to each one in turn. "This is Happy." The bandit with the crossbow nods his head. "This here's Chuckles," A beefy bandit carrying a crude spiked club. "Gleeful," An elf with a longsword. "Goof," A man holding two halves of a broken blade. Blood trickles from one of his hands. "And Gimpy." The man with the sack on his head.

He looks them over and begins to chuckle. "...You guys rehearse this? Practice in fron'a the mirror? Listen, I got places t'be, so if we could hurry this up..."

"Aw," says Smiley. "It's no fun if you don't play along. Let's see... oh, yes, hand over all of your valuables. And the woman," he points at Erin, who shrinks away, behind Alec.

Alec shrugged. "Gladly, soon as I'm done with 'em. Check back w' me in ten years."

Smiley laughs far too much at the joke. "Hahahaha... mhaha... haha... hm. You are such a funny man, Alec Smith. Banishing Lord Volucris, and all that. He was our friend, you know. Gave us such sweet, sweet pain." Smiley, well, smiles, and Chuckles lets out a bellowing laugh as he grasps his forehead, stretching the loose skin of his face into a revolting parody of a grin.

"Agonizers," Erin whispers to Alec. "Lucky for us, they hate fire."

Alec quietly sighs to himself. He lends an ear to Erin; her continued advice was taken well, and he nodded slightly in her direction, returning his focus to the 'agonizers.' "Boys, yer friend had it comin'. He made a deal with me, n' then he double-crossed me." Alec shrugged at the demons. "Don't tell me any'a you wouldn'a done the same if he did that t' you. Now, listen. We can do this the easy way, or I can send ya t' meet your ol' buddy Volucris. Yer choice, I'm happy t'do either one."

Again, Smiley laughs for an uncomfortable amount of time. "Such flair! Such gusto! I love these kinds of people. But no, Alec, you've got it all wrong. Of course WE don't really hold it against you. Volucris got in your way, and you did what you had to do. Sad, but unavoidable, I'm sure. But, you see, it wasn't really OUR idea to be here. We were doing just fine with the travelers and bandits around these parts. But our Master, well, he's not nearly as forgiving as we are. He told us to do what we do best, to you and your travelling companion. Isn't that swell? I think it is."

He shook his head with a huff. "Sorry, boys. Yer master fucked ya over." He lifted his guns out'a his cloak. "If it's any consolation, this ain't personal."

"I love your professionalism. Happy, would you care to do the honors?" The bandit nods. The top of his head is caked with dry blood from a mortal head injury.

Alec stares at them for a while. "Say, boys, you wouldn't mind tellin' me who er master is, would ya? Seems only fair t' get all the introductions out'a the way." He spun his weapons in hand, keeping an eye on Happy. Alec would whisper to Erin, "Soon as they attack, step back n' gi'me some space."

"You'll know who it is when your soul gets devoured by him." Happy lowers his hand, weaving something. A few moments later, all hell breaks loose. A shockwave threatens to blast Alec and Erin both off their feet. A powerful anti-magic field is erected, and four portals open equidistant from each other along the edge of the field. Which is blocked by a solid dome of force.

Alec lofts a brow as the attack follows. "..Antimagic," he mutters, looking at portals. Though most wouldn't notice it, Alec could spot the effect of the dome, even without using magic. "...Looks like they've boxed us in, n' those look like summonin' portals t'me..." He tried to eye up all the room he had to work with while he waited for something to leave the portals. "This's gettin' pretty damn ridiculous. I'm startin' t' think you'd be safer travelin' without me, Erin."

Erin doesn't respond. She's busy being on the ground, writhing in pain. She even flickers a few times. For some reason. Smiley just smiles. "Shall we begin?"

The shockwave meant to knock the gunman over didn't go as planned; the human was still upright and ready to shoot, but Erin being on the ground, that was bad, that was very bad. "Damn it- Erin, what's wrong? Wh-" He notices the flickering.

"Drop the... field..." she responds weakly. "Hurry..." she passes out, still flickering periodically. Happy unslings his crossbow with demonic speed and fires at the gunman. Gleeful and Goof charge with their blades, while Chuckles breaks his own jaw, laughing dumbly the entire time. He then doubles over, wretching, and a glob of barf spills onto the snow. He clenches his diaphragm, and heaves up a huge slurry of vomit that splashes over friend and foe alike. Smiley walks towards Alec with a huge grin, reaching for him. Gimp just stands there, motionless, his arms crossed.

Learning from Volucris' tower, Alec turned the thicker parts of his cloak toward the incoming crossbow bolts; he couldn't risk any of that getting to Erin, sadly, so he was prepared to take whatever bolts came into the cloak itself. Meanwhile, Gleeful and Goof were charging; he was certain simply shooting them wouldn't kill them; without magic, firing took a little longer, as well. Alec struck a small fire starter in his cloak to get his weapons' matches lit. They were short fuses, at that; rapidly, he aimed either pistol at Gleeful and Goof's opposite kneecaps, so that one would crumble left, the other right; fortunately, antimagic didn't affect his aim by much., especially at this range.

Gleeful and Goof go tumbling down, just as Alec predicted. Smiley's not far behind them, though. As he draws near, his hand shoots out towards Alec's neck. Oh, and Chuckles' vomit has likely just hit everyone in the vicinity. Gross.

Alec would probably take one or more crossbow bolts into his cloak. They might be poisoned, but it wouldn't matter. With the cloak thick and tough, and the armor beneath as an added buffer, he would be safe. The bolts did throw him off his balance, though. Now, Smiley's behavior seemed strange to Alec, but he was far from finished; throwing his guns into harnesses within his cloak, he withdrew two new guns already loaded and set their matches to the small flame in his cloak. Smiley would probably get close enough to make contact by then. Alec thrust his guns for the edges of Smiley's grin for two shots into his cranium while the Agonizer performed its strange attack.

Wherever the vomit contacts exposed skin, a feeling spreads unlike any other. It is as though every nerve is set buzzing, even the slightest sensation causing unbearable discomfort. Worse still, the poison acts on the mind, reducing the ability to ignore or fight pain and panic. It is excruciating mental and physical torture, and the source of the Agonizer's name.

Smiley's head snaps back from the point-blank shots, the back of his skull exploding outwards. He is stopped, his hand still outstretched towards Alec's throat. With only half a head, he tilts his gaze back to Alec. "Come now, is that all the pain you can inflict? Here, let me show you." Bolts of electricity arc off of his fingertips, surging towards Alec's body.

Alec can't exactly move faster than electricity and gets shocked right into the throat; the surge of power moves through his body, leaving burns down his neck and expanding across his chest. However, the human is not stunned; he's quite mobile, bolting to the far side of the dome, charging at Happy. He left Erin there, not wanting to combat Smiley at point blank. Guns holstered as he ran, he removed his shotgun off its sling and pulled the rear part of the barrel into his cloak, lighting up the matches for both barrels; a few feet from Happy by now, he aimed the shotgun straight ahead, and assuming the shot hit home, he'd continue to charge into him, striking across his middle to finish tearing him in half.

Happy fires off another bolt before a double-barreled shotgun severs his spine. Alec's subsequent tackle rips his top half off of his bottom half. His stomach ruptures, even more Agony poison spilling out everywhere, and his skin, it appears, is only loosely draped around his musculature, as it sloughs off beneath Alec's fingers. Smiley turns around, his empty but glowing eye sockets taking in the mayhem. He smiles with glee, light from behind him streaming through his open mouth, behind which there is simply nothing. Gleeful and Goof get up and begin retching, while Chuckles approaches Alec with his heavy club.

Although his cloak had defended him from all the vomit-launched poison until this point, the poison that spilled out of Happy's belly splattered over his chest, which was not yet an issue, except that the crossbow bolt fired at point blank made it through the crack in Alec's cloak. Fortunately, the bolt itself was caught by the mithril chainmail beneath, but it left a puncture wound at the front of his chest. Alec had a feeling all these guts were bad for him. He left the bolt in place to avoid additional bleeding, or additional exposure to the strange bowel substance.

But Alec gets to the edge, which was his goal, and he presses the sleeves of the cloak against the edge of the dome; he tries to feel for any gap in the antimagic, suspecting that maybe the dome and portals could function because it wasn't perfectly sealed of magic, glancing over his shoulder to keep their distances in mind.

"Leaving so soon?" Smiley says. His voice is a little... off. It's not hard to guess why. "But we've only just begun." He snaps his fingers, and a blast of hellfire comes out of the portal nearest Alec, intending to drive him away from the edge. "The Hellhounds were very receptive to our commands, especially when we told them about you. I suspect you probably know why." Goof and Gleeful hurl their stomach contents at wherever Alec ends up.

Hellfire incoming, vomit in the escape route, Alec had to move, but not before utilizing the edge. With his arms pressed against the field, one side of his sleeves hardened and expanded into a shield, and the other formed a sharp wristblade, extending out around a foot. He'd need both, and ran into the vomit with the shield-arm raised against the incoming projection of poison. He'd have some witty comeback if his throat wasn't burned.

The poison splatters against the shield, mixed with chunks of meat, the source of which is probably better left unanswered. Alec is safe, albeit singed - until Chuckles' club comes crashing down towards his shoulder. "Nice cloak!" Smiley says enthusiastically. "Where can I get one? Besides your corpse, that is."

Chuckles' club smashes the shoulder, probably breaking something. There's a snap and Alec is almost thrown into the ground, but manages to maintain balance again, slumped over standing up, like he wasn't really carried by his own strength; he barely was, at that. Alec got to his feet, mentally keeping a count of his weapons. He turned his wrist to reach inside his cloak without harming it or himself and clutched hold of something, eyeing Chuckles and Smiley. One of these two, he had to get rid of one of them first. He stood his ground for now.

Chuckles continues swinging his spiky club, cackling with delight. He tries to disable Alec's other arm with a well-placed blow. Smiley, meanwhile, fires off a bolt of lightning at the besieged gunman. Goof and Gleeful prepare another gift for him.

Lightning bolt?! Alec works fast, or tries to, tossing the item in hand up and stabbing his blade through it, toward Chuckles. It's not the most graceful stab. As the lightning strikes the gunman, and courses over him, the pouch on the end of his blade would explode with force, fire and fragmentation. If he had succeeded in stabbing it inside Chuckles, it would explode inside him instead of right in front of him.

Chuckles' entire chest cavity explodes outwards in a spray of fleshy chunks and viscera. Agony poison sloshes all over the damn place. The giant of a man is still standing, however, and still laughing. He brings his club to bear with renewed vigor. Smiley lets out a laugh. "Using my own lightning, that's INSPIRED. The pain you are capable of inflicting, and ENDURING... are you sure you aren't one of us in disguise?"

Alec raised his shield overhead to halt the club, but his shield arm was the weaker one, and it simply served as a way to distribute force, still pushing down on Alec. Guts splattered all over during that attack. It would be wonderful if he could respond, but he couldn't; to his luck, it seemed Chuckles forgot there was still a blade inside him. Alec used his good arm to thrust it through further and snap through Chuckles' spine, uncertain if he could endure one more hit in this state.

Chuckles laughs harder as his spine snaps and his body folds in half, his ragged torso held up by a pair of thick, stocky legs. Which now start kicking Alec repeatedly in an absurd display. "It's been fun," Smiley says, his voice darkening. "But it's time to end this. Gimpy?" The sack man nods his head, and walks silently to where Alec is. Goof and Gleeful trail him, their blades recovered.

The kicks push Alec back. He likewise backs up, near the edge. "Sh-i.." his voice croaked, forcing out something. He scoured his mind for a solution, and grew increasingly desperate. If only he could dispel his way out, but how would he? None of his guns could even fit into the small space in the cra- Lightbulb. Something else could. Alec doubled back as though he were fleeing them.

He ran for the edge of the field.

Like before, a blast of hellfire erupts from the nearest portal, to try and force him back.

Alec chanced it, throwing himself into a tumble that would skirt the edges of the incinerating fire with his shield-arm folded over himself, and hoped his cloak would shield enough.

As he leaves the range of one portal, another erupts with a blast of hellfire. Gimpy and friends continue their walk.

Reaching the edge of the field, he reaches into his belongings and yanks out an object; one of the grenades he'd often use when things got too hairy. This one was an antimagic field grenade; his own. He pulled the pin on it and clutched it in hand as he threw himself against the field. Already prepared with magic, it need only reach the edge to trigger.

Alec is left horribly burned from the intense heat, but his grenade hits its mark - the barrier drops, and the field is momentarily disrupted. The portals flicker and close, too unstable to last for any significant amount of time without a power source keeping them open. Smiley loses his smile, and for a few seconds, Alec can cast unhindered.

Alec immediately suppresses the effects of his antimagic field, turning back to the the three and a half remaining demons. Might as well call him burnface, he was going to need all of Erin's help to recover from his and not look disfigured. But, he had survived, and boy, was he pissed off. Spitfire was drawn, and Alec exploded a clone of flames over them. He angled the weapon slightly up so that Erin wouldn't be in the cone. Then he dropped that gun and unslung his shotgun, firing both barrels of chain-lightning into the fray, letting his bolts bolts bounce around the surviving demons. But that wasn't enough, he'd let the shotgun hang and slipped Sunflare over his shoulder. He leveled the beam-rifle at waist level and released four scorching rays of heat into the mess, trying to line up shots with multiple targets. Brandishing all his fury, Alec had so many spells he wanted to share with his new Agonizer friends.

The demons are blasted, electrocuted, cooked, exploded, and a plethora of other mutilating conditions. "Such exquisite pain," Smiley speaks. He's little more than a talking pile of slag and bones. "Alec Smith, I... I think I love you."

A cone of flame. Gimpy is still standing. A burst of chain lightning. Gimpy is still standing. Finally, the scorching rays manage to do something to him.

Alec still could not speak well enough to retort. Panting, wheezing, he lowered his weapon and stepped closer. Once over Smiley, he spit on him and croaked, "Now... i'ss.. personal."

Gimpy stumbles backwards slightly from two rays bursting against him. They leave considerable burns in his chest, almost like a charred crater. The antimagic field flickers sporadically, but is coming back up. Erin is still disabled, and pretty damned filthy with all of the bodily fluids that have been flying around. The entire ground in a perfect circle is nothing but vomit, organs, blood, melted, smoking flesh, and bones.

"Go get him, Alec. I know you can do it. No one's ever made Gimpy feel pain before you."

Alec would try to pick Erin up, shouldering her with the shield arm. He'd eye the grotesque slag that was Smiley and just kick it with his boot. He let his gun go and limped hobbled toward Gimpy. Before that field could get back up, he already began the healing and purification process in his wristblade, pumping it with unspent mana. Poor Gimpy, he was going to feel a lot more than pain. Alec rushed closer with his broken body and thrust the triggered wrist-blade into the gimp, and let Redwell's legacy do the rest of the work.

Unfortunately for Alec, Gimpy's empathic. Beneath the sack is a skinless horror who broadcasts his pain to anyone around him - and so, Alec feels his entire body being impaled and disintegrated. The Gimp speaks for the first time ever, roaring in ecstasy from the exultant experience. And then he is obliterated.

Alec does not feel a thing, actually. He still had Protection from Evil cast on him.

There is a moment of silence. The field is completely destroyed, the demons are dead, and the fight is over. "You are magnificent," says Smiley the goo puddle. "If I could clap, I would. Wait, wait, let's see here..." he moves his amorphous mass, managing to knock two of his ribs together a few times.

Alec looked back at the mass, disgusted, but also a little impressed. He would raise a brow to that.

"Can I go with you, Alec? Please? I won't hurt you... unless you want me to. I could take her skin, would you like that?"

He stares at the demon for a while. The cloak's healing ability remedied his throat enough for basic communication. "...Wait righ' there." He continued up the road to put Erin somewhere safe; he leaned her against a tree.

Erin is leaned up against the tree without any resistance. She breathes very shallowly, when she breathes at all.

Alec then paused to stick a gun against the tree; he remembered the eyes from before, and determined that they were very real. "If ya fuckin' wake up, I'll blow ya sky high and burn every other tree wi'cha." His gruff voice sounded far more violent with the damage to his neck still being remedied. This was the most threatening remark Alec had ever made to a tree.

The tree makes no reply.

He glared at it for a while and turned back, heading to the piles of goo and guts. Alec pulled out one of the potions he purchased, the kind which cured diseases, and removed the cork, immediately gulping it down. He pulled the bolt out of his chest at that point, so the cloak could heal the wound. Much of the guts on him were being rinsed off by the cloak, consumed or simply removed by it. Alec approached Smiley's puddle, turned one of his sleeves into a scooper, and filled the empty potion bottle with him. Most of him. The significant parts, probably.

"This is going to be so much FUN," Smiley says, his voice muffled by the glass of the bottle. "I'm so fortunate to have met you."

"Uh huh...I'll figure out what t'do with ya later," he commented, holding back his rage. As much as he hated the damn thing, an amorphous mass of demon gunk would be useful. How loyal would it truly be, he didn't know, but he would bind it properly in time. He had acknowledged that he would need his own demon if he were to deal with the ones Inferia and the Rift were to send at him. "Oh yeah. Don't even think about hurtin' Erin in any way."

"Anything for you," says the bottle. "I ask only one thing, which is that you keep me here at your side. I'll need pain, and lots of it. Barring that, a little magic energy will do. If you leave the Rift, I'll need more. Or a new body. But we can talk about that later. Do you have any questions? About anything?"

"Yeah," he grunted, "when're ya gonna shut up?" He tosses the bottle up and down in his hand like a kind of plaything, which is about the only stress relief he's going to get until Erin heals his face so he can bury it somewhere. He returns to Erin, to kneel and check her condition. "Maybe one more question." He motions at Erin. "What'd ya do to 'er?"

"I wish I could answer that, I really do. But the simple fact is, I don't know. As soon as the anti-magic field switched on, she collapsed. I figured her frail womanly constitution just couldn't handle our delightful presence. But now I see there's more to it than that. Well, and about a whole bottle's worth of the Gift. I hear you mortals sell it here at quite a price. You wonderful creatures, you. Maybe you can rinse it off and put it in here with me. I'd love to have some."

He peers at his bottle o' instant demon. "...Hang on a secon'. What's 'the Gift?' Yer gonna have t' explain it in full, I ain't from around 'ere."

"Why, it's the greatest thing there is! The greatest thing we can give to a mortal. And we love to give it to mortals. You received some of it, but you blocked a lot, too. That silly cloak of yours. Erin, though, didn't have a cloak, and she was passed out the whole time. A perfect recipient... and we had A LOT to give."

Alec eyes Erin and it begins to dawn on him; pain? A constant experience for him. It would be a while before this growing pain became agonizing enough to tickle him. But Erin was not Alec Smith. "..Fuck-" He knelt beside Erin and uncorked the bottle, then pointed at it- "You stay the fuck in there. I'm gettin' it off her n' puttin' it inside with ya." He was pretty sure Smiley would be overjoyed at the notion, so he didn't emphasize it further. Alec layed folds of his cloak over Erin and essentially let it cover the entirety of her surface area, and it would begin to sponge up any Agony poison it could reach, even if that meant getting it out of her pores.

Erin suddenly snaps awake, throwing the cloak off of herself. "What- ... oh, it's... it's you."

Alec almost spills the poison he'd soaked out. He dumps it into the bottle. "Erin? Are you a'right? How're ya feelin'?" About half of Alec's face was just burns, the other half singed, but he was still recognizable. The rest of him also looked pretty messed up-.. aside from the cloak. She'd probably notice that his voice wasn't exactly the same anymore, either.

"...Better than you, I'd imagine." Erin sits up, looking around. "Gods above, what hell happened?"

He sighs, and corks the bottle nearby. "Well. We almos' died. They raised a field'a antimagic, covered it with a sphere'a force, and left enough'a a gap t' hold open four portals-.. that.. hellhounds used t' fire out'a- the ones I killed, coinciden'ally. Oh yeah, n' those Agonizers were in there wi' us."

"And me! Tell her about me!"

"...That had better not be what I think it is," Erin says, rubbing her forehead.

He looks at the bottle. "...We'll talk about him later, a'right?" He looks at Erin. "I got my reasons."

Erin takes hold of the discarded cloak, and gestures at her filth-covered face. "Do you mind?"

He looks at Erin. "...Be my guest. Hold it in place n' I'll help clean that crap off."

Erin gets to her feet, wiping her face with the cloak. She folds it on one arm. The other is holding a gun the likes of which Alec has never seen before.

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PostSubject: A Fantasy RP   Tue Sep 29, 2015 10:17 am

Alec blinks as he spots her with a gun. That was unexpected. "Erin? Uh..." He peers at the weapon. "...Where'd that come from?"

"It's complicated." Erin flickers again. "The field nearly knocked out my glamour. Luckily the poison was teeming with magic that bypassed the field's selection. Very clever for a group of Agonizers to cook up. Too clever." She takes a few steps back, still holding the cloak. "Now if my superiors are correct, the entities should ignore this. You took the cloak off and gave it to me. So it must be the way things are supposed to work out. There's a chance."

Alec stared at Erin, peering at her closely. "...Uh... sure. Erin... what're you doin'?.. Why aren't you healin' me?" He already knew, sadly, where this was going. The Scillion's words echoed in his ears. But, he didn't want to believe it; honestly, it was on the verge of distracting him from his own poison. Smiley would probably be teeming with joy.

"I gotta hand it to you," 'Erin' says. "You resisted my charms very stubbornly. I was starting to think I just didn't have it in me. But no, you're just stupid. At least you took it off now." She pauses, seeing the confusion written on Alec's face. "The Shield you were chasing? I'm the agent that contacted him. I was sent to destabilize Jheran prior to attack. Through him, I received patrol routes, guard positions, defensive strategies, the works. The battle was swift, many lives were spared. My next mission - find the Duvedirfel heir. Apparently he came back recently, with someone claiming to be his daughter. I was unsure how to proceed, and Litania was overrun. And then you came along, looking for the exact same two people. I still can't believe my luck."

He exhaled. "Really? I can believe mine," he declared in as much disappointment as possible. "So. What're ya plannin' t'do now?"

"I'm not sure. If it were up to my superiors, I'd probably have to kill you. But you've been a great help. And you're quite a fighter. So, here's what we can do. I'm supposed to acquire the heir, but if the daughter gets away, that's no big deal. She's the one you're looking for, right?"

"...Yeah," he said, nodding slowly.

"Assuming she isn't already dead, you're welcome to her. I'll just be needing the father. The two of them were last spotted heading south, pursuing some unknown entity. I guess I'll find out when I reach them. As for you, I can't have you following me too closely. So no healing, sorry. I can give you a little mana boost, so you can rechage your weapons... away from me, of course. This land's rough for a lone traveler, especially one who's drawn as much unsavory attention as you. I'd guess a very powerful demon has it out for you. Maybe even an Archfiend. But who knows, you might make it. It's better than me just shooting you out here."

He sighs, shaking his head. "Erin. Gi'me the cloak back n' leave," he stated flatly. "I don' wan'a fight you."

"You're right, you don't want to fight me. This gun is fully loaded and one shot would be enough to end you."

"It won't," he said. The cloak bound her.

'Erin' squeezes a shot off. Dispel.

Alec is dispelled of his protection from evil, which is bad in the long run. While he's got control, he'd move out of her gun's way as the cloak locked up. "You really gonna do this, Erin?" He'd get behind her, taking Smiley with him. "Only thing I want is the cloak."

"Then... take the damn thing..." she struggles against it with a surprising amount of strength for her small frame. "The cloak was... a bonus... not... mission critical... I'll manage..."

He holds a hand out to the place where they fought, speaking a chant, casting Mage Hand. Spitfire floats back into his hand, having been dropped out in the field and not with the rest of his things. Alec puts it to her head. "I'm wonderin' about that. Yer sparin' me now but you weren't 'bout t' hesitate t' kill me if I refused. I know. The Scillite told me if I fought ya, I'd die." He held her at gunpoint.

"Scillion. And isn't this fighting? No, I suppose not. More like... execution. Are you an executioner, Alec?"

"Yeah," he answered. "I am. Probably the smart thing t' kill ya, too." He takes in a breath of air and slowly exhales. The cloak goes loose and fluidly moves to Alec, fitting itself onto him. The gunman lowers his weapon. "...Was it all fake, Erin? Is that even yer name?"

"Not all of it was fake, no. I am not a Myrite, but I identify with her teachings. It's what Inferia is trying to accomplish, after all. Peace. The world united under one banner." Erin turns her head sideways to look at him. "As for my name... I don't have one. My name is whatever is needs to be; beyond that, it's unimportant."

Alec looks ahead toward Durender. "...Well, let's go." He eyes Erin expectantly. "Ain't much left from here on."

She turns around, raising an eyebrow at him. "You're taking me with you?"

"You asked me t' escort you t' Durender. I'm keepin' my word. I'm pretty pissed at yer shit idea of a compromise, so I'm doin' things my way." He begins to load his weapon. "Besides... ya helped me a lot, even if it was jus' foolin' me. So I'll go this far with ya."

Erin looks a little bewildered. "Not what I was expecting, but so long as you don't interfere with my mission, we won't have any problems." The strange gun disappears as she lowers it. "Give me your hand."

He peers at her and tucks Smiley into his cloak (with some hidden disgust), then offers Erin the free hand.

Like before, Alec's wounds are completely healed, his energy reserves replenished. "If we're going to travel together, might as well keep you in top shape."

"..Scillion sounds weird, fer the record. Ought'a be Scillite." Alec clears his throat as his voice returns to normal.

"Take it up with the church. I think the headquarters is..." she points northwest. "Over there. Short walk through the jungle no one's ever survived, past the non-euclidean geometry and right into the meatgrinder."

"Did someone say meatgrinder?" a voice says from Alec's cloak. "I think I dozed off a little back there, but suddenly there was this huge rush of energy! Was that you, Alec?"

"No," Erin says with thinly-veiled disgust. "Honestly, why would you keep that thing? It doesn't know anything I don't, and can't do anything I can't."

"Alec loves me! And I love him! You're just jealous of the bond we have. But keep complaining, your irritation is music to my ears."

Erin scoffs, and focuses on the path ahead.

Alec looks down, then he looks at Erin. "Are you sayin' yer a demon in disguise, Erin?" He lofts a brow. "I hate 'em, but he's gonna be useful."

"You hate me?" The demon drink says, voice quavering with misery. "...Wait, you said that so I'd get heartbroken! You do love me! I hate-love you too, Alec!"

"I'm not a demon," Erin says, stoically pressing onward. "I'm much, much worse."

"Yep," Alec replies with total lack of enthusiasm, "Got it right again, Smiley." He follows after Erin, keeping pace. "...Yeah? Wan'a share? Hardly fair that I told ya what I am n' y'didn't tell me anythin in return."

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you. Cliched, I know. But Inferia's been keeping this secret for over a hundred years, and they're not going to stop now. All I can tell you is, I'm not this." She gestures to herself. "I am a woman, though. The girls are real."

Alec stares at her. Without hesitating, he reaches his free hand over to feel her nearest breast, just to make sure.

Erin looks at him with a deadpan expression. "Satisfied?"

He looks up at her, still feeling. "You kiddin'? This's the most contact with a woman I've had in a year." He allowed himself one more fondle before he withdrew his hand. "Sorry," he added. "Was wonderin' if you were gonna snap my arm or keep actin' like yerself is all. Well, might'a missed the girls, too."

"As if I could hurt you."

He lifts a brow at her. "Everythin' hurts me, Erin. I ain't invincible. I ain't even remotely sturdy." He feels at his palm, because oooh that softness. "I keep fightin' anyway. Even now, this gods damned poison is gettin' fuckin' worse n' worse. I'm probably gonna be cryin' tonight." He exhales and his body shivers noticably, most likely the strain of keeping his composure while under growing excruciating pain. "Still ain't as bad as bein' shot up, but I'm gonna reckon it'll get worse real soon..."

"You wear the cloak. So long as it's yours, trying to hurt you is literally the worst idea in the entire sphere. My superiors tried to study the entities as well as their creator, the man who made your cloak. Decades of work barely turned up anything. The scary part is, the research teams came up with a theory that the only reason we know anything is because we were permitted to. And so our choices from then on were based on that assumption - that we were not actually in control. The civilian government knows nothing, of course. Not even the Empress. Basically, my superiors are making the gamble that what we're doing is what we're supposed to be doing. And since I failed to gain possession of the cloak, that means it's supposed to stay yours. Understand?"

He peers at Erin with a degree of surprise. "...You guys ain't far off the mark," he concluded, picking up his pace to walk side by side with her. "If that's what yer after, I'm surprised ya haven't been wiped off the map. Mus' be keepin' from goin' too far." He peered at Erin more curiously than before. "Huh... so this mus' be somethin' I can-" he paused, and began smiling at Erin knowingly. "...Ahh... I see." He linked arms with her. "Well, y'better pretend I don't know anythin' about yer cover or yer mission."

"Like I said," Erin continues, not reacting to his arm-linkage. "The cloak was just a bonus. Not mission critical. My superiors would level the capital if they could spend five minutes alone with it, but they know just as well as I do that it just doesn't work that way. They're too smart, too careful, for a fuck-up of that magnitude-" Erin pauses for a moment, shutting her eyes. She stands stock still.

He pauses to examine her, and gets quite comfortable side by side. "...Surely, yer not enjoyin' this moment. What're you doin'? Listenin' fer somethin'? Maybe some kin'a telepathic communication?"

She opens her eyes. Her look of stoicism, and confidence, gone. "...It's a warning message. Something just... leveled the capital."

Alec stares at her with surprise. Well, fuck the Inferians, really. But, he didn't feel that way about Erin, and so it was his turn to comfort her with a hug, despite his own excruciating pain.

"Don't- touch me..." she says, pushing him off. "Please, just-..." she clutches her head. "So loud, so much... screaming..."

"Erin? Erin! Shit..." He withdrew the AMF grenade he had used earlier. Fortunately, he had only suppressed it. Their long duration was quite nice to have. "Sorry, Erin, but this's fer yer own good," and he un-suppressed the ongoing effect by command, letting the grenade come alive and surround them in the field. He held onto her, recalling her weakness in this field.

"NO!" she says, but it's too late. The field comes up, and Erin flickers out. What's left in her place is a woman very similar in appearance, dressed in armor of unknown make and material, equipped with two guns, one of which is the bizarre one from before. The glamour fades, protective and illusory barriers dropping one by one... what's probably most immediately apparent is that she isn't human. Her skin is pale, and a glow like dying embers emanates from beneath it. Her eyes shimmer with white light, albeit dimmed by the AMF. Within the field, her life functions ebb - she is sustained by magic, which courses through her at levels that are off the charts. Right down to her soul, she is completely alien.

Alec should be surprised by this, but he isn't. In some ways, he appeared to be expecting it; which may not have been true a few minutes ago had they not had that conversation. He attempted to shoulder her, even pick her her up with his modest strength, if he could, to carry her off the main road and through the forest on the way to Durender. "Jus' stay with me, Erin. It'll only be a few more minutes..." About five, actually. After five, he'd rest her against a tree, and then deactivate the field, figuring that the painful things in her mind would no longer be present by then.

Erin slowly comes to. "You realize what you've done... my superiors-... I guess it doesn't matter, now... I'm a Promethean. Created... in response to the Vitamantia projects of Talibar, some... centuries ago. Though they're no longer a threat, the program was... kept active. Anything else you'd like to know, before I die?"

"Die?" He looked at her in confusion. "Why're ya gonna die?" He settled beside her. At this point, some of the news Erin had received began to trickle into Alec as well, though obviously, it was filtered on a need-to-know basis, shifting as the situation developed and was analyzed. "Erin, what happened, who's tryin' t' kill ya?"

"No command structure, complete loss of the capital, collapse of Inferia as a nation, perhaps indefinitely. I can't believe it... we failed. I have a self-destruct micro-tattoo on my chest. Between the girls," she says with a small smile. "We weren't made for this kind of catastrophe."

Alec looks at her chest. "...Good thing ya told me," he said. "Get yer top off, quickly." He began to remove whatever articles he could; he wasn't sure if there was a trick to getting the armor of strange material off, but he did what he could. If it was straight forward, then he shouldn't have trouble.

Erin doesn't resist. She's in too much shock to do much of anything. Ironic, given her immense power. The armor, though unknown in configuration, isn't too complicated to get off. "Go ahead," Erin says despondently. "Do whatever you want. It doesn't matter now."

Then, her clothes, whatever it took to expose her chest and bring the self-destruct device into the open. Alec would have to set aside rejoicing at her bare chest for another time. "How long 'til it blows, Erin?" He rushed. There was a sharp whistling in the air.

Beneath the armor is... nothing. Apparently Prometheans don't go in for fashion. "I don't know. I could set it off now, if I wished. It could detonate at any time."

The whistling grew louder, sharper- then, something impacted the ground beside them like live artillery. Then, before them was a figure. Tall. Perfectly smooth. Pitch black, but reflective, like living obsidian. It resembled the cloak Alec wore, and on its head was a number. It read 17348 and stretched from end to end. Why was it here now? Why was it intervening? Alec didn't look surprised, but he did appear unnerved- apparently, even he didn't deal with these things well.

The strange creature stretched its arm forward and touched the region of Erin's chest where the bomb was supposed to be. Erin felt, all of a sudden, like a part of her had suddenly been consumed; eaten, even. Even if she wished to activate the bomb, it would no longer be there. Without any other explanation, 17348 looked at Alec and became completely invisible, and like a strong wind, the pair would feel a depression of air in some direction. Then, it was over.

Alec panted as he relaxed his body from the stress of the moment while staring at Erin. He couldn't say much of anything yet. He waited, and wondered if she would say something first.

Erin looks at where the number stood, just moments ago... and bursts out laughing.

Alec blinks vacantly. "...H-..huh?"

"The closest any of us have ever gotten to one," she manages to say, "And it happens NOW, after everyone involved in the research is dead. And why does it happen? To keep me from exploding?" She laughs more. "I suppose if I tried to slit my throat, another would appear to stop me? Am I destined to walk this doomed plane without purpose, forever? Is this punishment for our arrogance?"

He wasn't sure how to respond, or what to make of her reaction. He sat beside her against the trunk and spread his cloak over between the two of them. "...Erin, I'm sorry. But y'better.. rest now." He plucked Smiley out of the cloak, setting him aside. "I'll explain what'a know later. Jus'..." He pursed his lips and gave it his best at comforting someone, leaning her head toward his shoulder. "...Jus' rely on me this time."

Erin sits motionless against the tree, in the freezing cold. Though, with no glamour, she radiates enough heat for the both of them. "Sigma-14," she says, after a while.

He stares at her. "..That what they called ya?"

"I was four years old. Erased from the books, records, memories, of everyone that knew me. And then I was erased. Whoever I was before, that person is dead. She was never born. But they called me Sigma-14. I don't know if it was because I was the fourteenth in the Sigma series, or some arbitrary designation to throw off a count. Regardless, it's the closest thing to a name I have."

He stares at her for a while, letting that depressing piece of knowledge rest in his mind. "...Did ya like bein' Erin?"

"I'll admit, she was fun, but she wasn't me. There is no me. Just different glamours, different disguises. All fake."

He continues to stare at her. He looks ahead for a moment. "It's gonna be weird callin' you Sigma-14... but I guess Erin' doesn't fit. You got a name ya want me t' call you? An actual name? Or should I jus' pick one?"

"Fine. Call me... Sandra."

He nods. "Sandra... good name." He leaned his back to the tree. "Not that it's any consolation, but... Still think y'got nice boobs, Sandra. Pretty sure yers are the firs' one's I've seen that glow in the dark, though. That's kin'a nice."

"Heh..." she leans her head against the tree. Then turns to look at him. "There's no cure for Agony poison, but I know a remedy. It might be too late to work, but it's worth a try."

He looks at Sandra. "Yeah? Ya sure y'wanna do that? I hear I'm fuckin' hilarious when I'm delirious n' in too much pain t' know what's up n' down." He shrugs a little as his words are not far from truth at this point. "Well, sure, let's try it."

Sandra moves over, straddling him. "Might be good for the both of us, honestly. Just keep that creepy demon bottle out of sight."

He blinks, looking at her. With a hand, he tries to focus on the mage hand he'd used earlier- nope, too much pain, can't spellcast. Alec just gives Smiley a shove into some nearby bushes. "I'll give 'em a timeout."

Smiley says something, but he's not audible in the shrubbery. Sandra works to unfasten and remove the rest of her armor and equipment, and reaches down, careful not to make the pain worse. Between the girls, there's a small blemish on her skin - a dot containing a great many complex patterns, each some sort of spell or protection. "Do you want me to be Erin for this?" she asks.

Alec is still pretty delirious, but he's sober-minded enough to understand the nature of the question. He shook his head. "Don't see anythin' wrong with ya the way y'are."

"You are delirious," she says with a slight smile. She takes a few moments to ponder this strange man and what she's about to do, and the insanity of this whole situation. "...Fuck it." And so, in the midst of a world-rending catastrophe, an arcane armsman and a Promethean have poison-enhanced sex in the snow while a demon watches.

Alec had passed out for quite some time after going into the deed for an hour. Toward the end, while Sandra may have been on the verge of concluding her fun, the gunman began to awake to a number of new sensations, which caused his eyes to shoot open with alertness, though his body wouldn't respond as quickly. He took in his environment while, obviously, gasping for breath as his body was probably short on it and ripe with body heat, both natural and artificial. "S-Sandra?"

Her eyes are closed as she finishes up with an intense burst of speed. "Alec," she says, slowing down. She doesn't even appear to be fatigued, out of breath, or even mildly sweaty.

Alec grits his teeth as he begins to realize how sore he is. It was an amazing kind of sore, fantastic and crippling all at once. "..U-uh.. y.. yer not-.. how long.. how long have ya been'.. goin'-.. how long was I out?" His breathing slowed as she began slowing down. He looked her over, somewhat admiring her, but also noticing her lack of exhaustion.

"I'm not sure," she says, eyes coming open. Their white light is hard to look at directly. "You were still... able, so I just... kept going. I probably should have stopped... are you hurt?"

He pants, and his body shivers. "..Holy shit," was his answer. He tilted his head down to look between them and wonder if Sandra had sexually murdered his other half. "U-uh.. no, I'm... happy t' help, but... maybe nex' time, y'oughta... let me prepare better. I'm kinda... lil'... sore, now."

Sandra channels a little energy. "That should help with the pain. The poison's worn off, for the most part." She reaches down, dismounting. The whole area is... a mess, to say the least.

Alec peers down between, convulsing a bit as he was suddenly restored to full vigor. His wanting, but exhausted member reacted immediately- but amusingly, he was a little dehydrated down there. After that little moment of action, he settled down and addressed the mess. "Uh... So.. we... gotta clean that up," he stated in simplest of terms.

The snow around them has melted, the bare ground a bit damp, but warm. Sandra's a living space heater. She sits down beside Alec, her face neutral, and holds one of her hands over her blemish. "I'll extend the radius of my maintenance spells. Your Soul Aura should protect you."

He blinks at her. "..My wha?" He looked down at the mess they shared. Since she didn't intend to clean it up, he would; casting a cantrip, he began to remove his mess first as it was the greater of the two.

Alec feels an unpleasant burning sensation, but it's almost indiscernable compared to what he's been through. The mess bubbles and dissolves. "Oh, right. Easterners call it the Sacred Field. The spell absorbs foreign matter or dissipates it. It was actually the job of a few mages to come up with a list of everything the spell should target and incorporate it into the tattoo, so that it doesn't dissolve equipment. Or the ground." Sandra props herself up against the tree, one leg out, the other supporting her head and hands. "What a career, huh."

"...Ah... I see." He took it all in slowly, briefly flinching, peering at Sandra. His body had been trying to calm, but the naked woman beside him made it difficult, especially after being rejuvenated. But to put their minds on less lewd things, he scooted closer to her and leaned in to kiss her cheek, near the corner of her lips.

She doesn't react, merely staring off into the distance.

He stares at her. "...Nothin', huh? Why's yer emotion come n' go?"

A bottle rolls out of a shrubbery. A talking bottle. "Alec! Hey! Alec!"

Alec is interrupted by the bottle, glaring at it from behind the protective cover of the cloak. "...What'd'ya want, I'm busy."

"I've been trying to reach you for hours! Took me a while to figure out how to move. It hurts so good... But listen, I have news. It's about my master."

Alec began to dress at the sound of that, though secretly hoped Sandra would be in no hurry to do the same. He was suffering from the worst case of double-mindedness at the moment. "Ugh. Great, sure, le'me hear it..." He turned his attention to Sandra. When he's done making himself appear decent, he shifts the cloak so most of it is covering Sandra instead of him. Realizing that it might conflict with her functions, he tries to keep the cloak as dormant as possible. Alec doesn't hide the fact that he occasionally takes peeks at Sandra's form, though, for probably numerous reasons.

Sandra shrugs off the cloak, obviously made uncomfortable by it. She doesn't make a sound, though. The bottle o' demon, on the other hand, is bursting with noises. "My master broke through the barriers! Those silly mages didn't know what hit them! The wards were disabled, the spires breached, everyone inside them forced out like blood from a wound. My link to my master let me experience some of the pain first-hand... oh, it was glorious... if only I could have been there." Sandra shifts her legs up, hugging her knees. She doesn't look well.

Alec looks increasingly annoyed by Smiley's declaration. "...Hang on, back up, back up a second. What is yer master, Smiley? Who is yer master? Why'd he break through -now- n' not much sooner?" Noting that Sandra didn't want to be near the cloak, Alec let it rest on his lap, scooting closer to her. Without any cloak interference, he tried to offer her another hug, knowing she must be going through many unpleasant things.

"I don't know his name, but he is an Archfiend of Hell. He's been planning this for centuries since his release onto the mortal plane. That was about  years ago, during one of Inferia's many attacks on Durender. Now that I think about it, it's strange it's happening now and not a few months from now. It was supposed to be once Inferia had exhausted its forces crushing the rest of Valen, so there'd be less resistance. I guess he just got tired of waiting! Isn't it great?"

"Not the word I'd use..." Now beside Sandra, Alec settled an arm around her back, and another over her waist. He spoke quietly with her. "Sandra... talk t' me. Tell me what's goin' through yer head."

"I can feel her from here! I don't know how a human can withstand so much... but she's not human, is she?" The bottle rolls a little closer. "You have great taste, Alec."

Sandra slowly turns to the bottle with barely restrained fury.

Alec looks at the bottle with annoyance. "...Smiley, why don't ya go scout the road and scare some travelers fer a while. Come back in half n' hour, tell me what ya find."

"Oh joy! I LOVE scaring people! Wish Chuckles was still here, though." The bottle rolls away. Sandra watches it leave, and her head goes back to  rest on her arms. Tears roll down her face, only to be evaporated by the heat.

Alec held her as tightly as he could. It was probably necessary just to get her to feel that he was there. "I'm sorry 'bout what happened... I don't know.. if it means much. I've.. kind'a had somethin' similar happen t'me... but this can't be the end for ya, Sandra. There's gotta be more... I know it hurts, but the hurt'll stop sometime." He shifted his tone to one more supporting. "I'm not abandonin' ya, either way."

"My creators. My companions. Everything I've ever known. Dead. An entire nation, toppled in a few hours. Everything is so fragile, Alec. Even Durender's walls could not hold forever. There will never be peace... only more death. Is this what the entities, the numbers, want? That's why... earlier. I tried to get away from it. But it's still there. Without Inferia, without the mission to keep me going... I don't have anything left."

"No, there's always somethin' more... don't give up here, Sandra." He exhales, shaking his head. "I know the guys in black didn't want this. Before ya even told me what y'were, I knew. I asked 'em in m'head... then, they started floodin' me with things... n' they told me we can't let ya die. I'm charged with yer protectin' yer life. Suffice t'say, I don't think they were expectin' this. I'm sure more people like me're gonna be forced t' act against this..." He lingered on his response, realizing none of that provided enough reason for her to continue. "Sandra, look- even if it weren't part'a my duty, I still need ya. A lot. N', not just fer... strength, or sex, or...- I need yer support, here," he struck his chest where his heart was. "I figured that out since the nightmares... I can't keep goin' without ya... You'll stay with me, right?"

Sandra looks him in the eye. The glow from them fades, revealing her off-white irises. "Then I will go with you. We can save the heir and his daughter, your friend. Or try to, anyway." She gets to her feet, recalling her armor to her. In a few moments, she'd have everything fastened and ready to go. Her eyes resume glowing. "We should get a move on. I'll prepare another glamour on the way."

Slowly, Alec also rises, leaving his cloak alone for now. As Sandra is immediately clothed, he steps in once more and tries his hand at another kiss, gentler this time, but on her lips with the accompaniment of a hug. He didn't offer warning or explanation.

Sandra looks at him, and pulls him in close for a REAL kiss. "You should get ready," she says, with a trace of a smile.

He is pulled in for a REAL kiss. Sandra has to be extreme with everything, and managed to throw Alec a little off balance. He'd stare at her momentarily. "Uh.. yeah." Though, before he left, he cupped a hand to her face, and returned the smile. "There, that's better. Don't let me catch ya frownin' again, or I'll have t' kiss ya like that in public." He returned a smirk as he drew away from her to gather his belongings, cloak included.

Sandra watches him get ready, waiting with her arms folded. Occasionally, she lets her eyes wander. Hers is a gaze most might find a little unsettling, given the intense glow. She looks impatient, but also slightly amused at how much slower he is to get ready.

He finally finishes getting ready. Much of it involved preparing his weapons in their appropriate places, as well as recharging them for the coming day. Once he was ready, and the cloak had adorned him again, he looked over Sandra. "What's yer glamour gonna be this time?"

She snaps her fingers, and her armor becomes a standard Legion uniform, of the rank of Leftenant. Her guns and equipment are still visible, easily dismissed as the custom gear some well-to-do officers carry. Her skin loses its glow, taking on the pale Inferian hue, and her eyes are dulled to a dark brown color.

He furrows his expression. "...Hm. Yeah, guess that'd make sense. Well, we better head t' Durender, and pick Smiley up on the road. Bet he's caused all kinds'a trouble by now." He stepped up beside Sandra, unashamedly taking her hand. "You'd look good in anythin', though." Without explanation, he'd head for the road, leading her by hand.

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PostSubject: Inferian Nights, Part 1   Tue Sep 29, 2015 10:17 am

The two of them don't have to walk far to find the noisy bottle. It's talking to a few folks along the road - from the looks of it, they're fleeing the country, headed north. "I'm telling you, all you have to do is drink my contents and you and your family will be blessed with good fortune for the rest of your lives!"

Alec shook his head, somewhat amused at the turnout. Fortunately, nobody would believe that story. Or, that's what he hoped. Focusing for a moment, he waved his hand and spoke a brief incantation. As they got in range of Smiley, the bottle lifted into the air and hovered toward Alec's open hand; the other was still holding Sandra's, if she hadn't let go.

The man's eyes bug out, as he follows the bottle - to a heavily armed legionnaire and an even MORE heavily armed bum in a cloak. "Oh Gods!" He sinks to his knees, holding up his hands. "This was my doing," he says. "Please. They had nothing to do with it."

Alec pauses, looking at Sandra with a raised brow, then at the other man and his companions. His hand catches the bottle o' Smiley. "Settle down. We ain't what we look like. Y'wanna explain what's got yer panties in a knot?"

The man bows his head, holding his hands clasped behind it. His wife nudges her young son behind her. Sandra gives Alec a look, and lets go of his hand. She walks towards the man, and says, "Stand up. You aren't in trouble."

He looks up at her, blinking a few times in confusion, but does as she asks. "Please," he says, voice quavering. "Don't make us go back there. Please don't make us go."

Alec looks at Smiley. "Did they tell ya why they're quakin' in their boots?" At this point, he figured he would have more luck interrogating the slime.

"Not really, no. I did get some nice screams out of them, though. The father's was higher-pitched than his son."

Alec slowly formed a smirk. "Smiley, yer wretched." He looks at Sandra and gives her a nudge. "Le'me try."

Sandra looks a bit annoyed. "Sorry, my associate here would like to speak with you. Answer his questions."

Alec nods at Sandra and walks up to the man, patting his shoulder. "Hey, pal. I'm gonna give ya three options. One, we take ya back t' the city. Two, I pour this guy-" he holds up Smiley's bottle. "-down yer throat. Three? Tell me what yer fleein' from and I might jus' ferget seein' ya here."

"Well, I-I-I don't kn...know... we were doin' fine... just fine... 'til legionnaires started disappearin'... no legionnaires meant no law and order, and none came from the capital... all sent out to Litania some months ago. Almost a week, this has been goin' on... and then the crops just... well, they were ... they looked fine, but... the people who ate 'em... they weren't the same... I can't explain it. But you have to believe me, they weren't the same!"

"Alright, I got it, shut up. The crops, what kin'a crops? Gi'me some details."

"We gotta harvest crops year round. Inferia's in constant winter, so we grow hardy plants. Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, that sorta thing. Sometimes we get wheat from the capital. Anyways..." the man takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "We gotta ration them, y'see, 'cause you don't wanna run out in this constant cold. Gotta eat as much as you can, stay warm... but the people who ate from the granary, they just wouldn't stop... they kept eating. They looked fine, maybe a bit bloated round the middle from all that food... but they went through the whole crop in just a few days. And kept tryin' to get as many people to eat as they could. I swear, on my ma's grave, that's the truth. We left this morning, been half-running all the damn day. That place is a nightmare. You can't make us go back. Please."

He looks the people over, then to Sandra. "...Those monster veggies ring any bells? Doesn't sound like anythin' I've heard'a."

Sandra narrows her eyes, deep in thought. "...Have any of you seen anything unusual, besides the eating? Something strange in the soil, maybe? And the people, did any of them have... deformities?"

"I saw someth-" the boy's mother hushes him up.

"That was just a bad dream, child. Now keep quiet."

Alec turned to the child that spoke up. "Let 'em speak. Let's hear what he's got t' say."

The kid hides behind his mother. "You can tell them," she says. "For all the good it'll do..." The boy walks out, head hung. Sandra kneels down beside him. "What did you see?" she asks.

"...It was a man," he says. "At night, he walked by the house. I saw him through the window, but he didn't see me. He had three arms, and one of 'em was this big... I dunno what it was, but it looked mean. He had blood all over him, too. An' then I wet the bed an' my ma yelled at me." The mother facepalms.

Alec pats the father's shoulder. "Sounds like yer free t'go. There'll be a camp down the road off t' yer left, jus' gotta get past the river-" he pauses as he recalls the mess on the road. "Uh.. n' watch yer step on the way."

"Thank you," Sandra says to the boy, standing up. She turns to the rest of the family and says, "Ignore him. You're going to turn around and head back to Durender."

Alec pauses and looks at Sandra. "What?"

The man looks horrified. The son rushes back to his mother, hugging her as she starts to cry. Sandra looks at Alec. "That forest is a death sentence. If it wasn't for my bonewards, we'd have been hounded every step of the way. Literally. And beyond it, Jheran's just been conquered by Inferia. They'll be executed. Durender's the safest place for them right now, because that's where we're headed."

Alec looks as though his pride was just a bit wounded. "N' here I thought I did somethin'," he mumbles. "Well, if they're goin' back, we ought'a go with 'em, maybe stay at their place n' see what turns up. Wha'd'ya think?"

"Fine," Sandra nods. She looks back to see them all sprinting down the road. She draws her gun and takes aim.

Alec watches her take aim. "What- Sandra-" He holds his tongue and doesn't interfere, deciding to put some trust in her.

Sandra squeezes the trigger. The three of them collide with an invisible wall, falling backwards. She looks over at Alec. "Did you have a question?"

Alec stares at her and shakes his head. "...Guess not." He eyes the family of three. "...Well, we're not just leavin' 'em there, are we?"

"No," she replies, as she walks over. "Don't do that again," she calls out to them. "Or the next shot will be something more unpleasant. My associate and I will accompany you back to your home, and get to the bottom of this."

"That's what the Legionnaires said!" the man cries. "You'll die like the rest of 'em. Those creatures are out there. They wear our friends' faces but they ain't them. Oh, Gods, they ain't them at all..." he starts sobbing.

Alec rubs at his neck. He looks around the area. Babysitting was really not his thing, nor was convincing people to do as he needed. He decides to approach the family with Sandra. "We ain't legionnaires," he answered. "We're monster hunters. You take us there, we'll do the rest, n' you can hide in yer home 'till its over."

"So much for our cover," Sandra grumbles. To the family, she says, "The worst that can happen is we die and you lose a day of travel time. We'll help keep you hidden, so you should be able to escape again. But Alec and I are professionals. Two of the best. We know what this is, and we know how to deal with it. By this time tomorrow, Durender will be safer than anywhere else in the country."

The man looks between them, and then at his wife and son. The mother gives a shrug. Turning back to the pair of them, he says, "...All right. Guess I'll go with you. Not like I have a choice, anyway. Lead on."

"No," Sandra says to him. "You lead. Gotta keep an eye on you."

Alec slowly glances at Sandra and mumbles to her, "Ya didn't seriously mean we were under cover, did ya?"

"If I'm supposed to be a legionnaire, I can't have people claiming I'm some monster hunter off the road. Might as well just do away with the glamour. But I don't want to scare them any more than I already have."

"It's a family'a three, we'll jus' tell 'em t' keep quiet." He looks to Durender. "Besides, if y'thought I was gonna be anywhere near subtle, y'must not'a been payin' attention t' the amount'a things I've been blowin' up this pas' week."

Sandra holsters her gun as the family passes them by. "Fair point. It sounds like we're going to need more of that from you. Charge up all the lightning and fire spells that you can. Maybe some anti-magic, but be careful. I've had this suspicion since I saw a tree with an eyeball in the forest. Blight."

"That's Blight?" He furrowed his expression. "I thought demons were the cause'a that." Alec, looked himself over. "Well, everythin's already ready t'go."

"Demons ARE the cause of that. Just not Bane's Demons, or any of the free-roamers in Hell. Blight is Ossus' domain. Centuries ago, he went from Archfiend to deity. His power is in blood, and in the Blight. It eats magic, and flesh. Most spells can't kill it, only slow it down. Fire is effective, since the heat melts it away, but you have to overwhelm it or it'll just consume it like everything else." She unholsters her other gun, a simple Simmons pistol, and looks it over. "If I had to guess, a powerful Blight-caster has been through here. Maybe even one of Ossus' greater daemons. It's been watching us since the forest. Planting eyes everywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if it set little traps for us under the snow, so keep your eyes open."

Alec peers at Sandra with a bemused expression at how serious she's gotten. The role reversal was uncanny. "Alright, guess we'll see how it goes. Can't say I've ever fought the Blight before, but a'think I've fought somethin' similar enough."

"The Blight's fast, and it's almost 100% fatal if you're exposed. Well, not you, actually. You have the cloak. That doesn't mean you should go rushing up to it, of course. It can grow blades, claws, whips, anything you can imagine and more." She holsters her weapon, apparently satisfied with the inspection. "...But honestly, I'm in a lot more danger than you are."

He lofts a brow, but then recalls, oh right, she's made of magic. "Might explain why I'm supposed t' protect you." He walks up along behind her, giving her a nudge. "If y'need t' use me as a shield, you do what ya got'a. Can't say I got any winnin' ideas in mind yet. Got'a fight this sludge t' figure somethin' out... but I've got plenty'a fire n' lightnin' t' hold us out 'til that point. Jus' tell me somethin'. Is the Blight itself a demon? Couldja consider it one?"

"A proper analog would be a Weave. A basis for casting spells, a source, or a foundation. It was made by corrupting a piece of Surge, the Vindicators' personal Weave. My superiors always expressed annoyance at the 'cluttering' of reality with all these different Weaves. They funneled power into Vintar so he could fight off the Shadow Weave after Durender, his primary source of worship, was conquered."

He rubs at his chin. "A weave, huh. A weave... I gotcha. So it's a livin' weave," he muttered. "Well, I'll think'a somethin'..."

"The more it grows, and devours, the stronger it gets. Blight-casters end up going on huge killing sprees to keep it fed and grant them greater power. This makes it both alluring and dangerous. Fortunately, if Blight runs out of other things to eat, it's happy to eat itself. That's another reason fire is effective. You can... burn its food. To stop a major outbreak."

"What exactly can it eat, then? People? Anythin' livin'? What about somethin' that ain't alive?"

"The living, or the materials necessary for the living. It can drink water, grow in the ground like a plant, or stick itself onto an animal, or a person, like a parasite. Once it infects you, it's almost impossible to cure. The first thing it goes for is the blood."

"How long does it take fer it t' turn on itself?"

"Well, once the body is consumed, it goes after the soul. Eventually you're left a rotting husk, and get eaten by other Blight. Could take days, or even a week. This infestation is fresh, so the Blight will be in full bloom. Unfortunately."

Alec frowned at this knowledge. That was far too long for his tastes. "Really sucks when yer not equipped t' deal with someone and y'got no time t' make new equipment."

"Is there a particular spell you were thinking of? I'm trained in the schools. I use guns because they're convenient."

"Yeah," he nodded. "I was thinkin' maybe we could isolate blight with force-spheres like the one we got stuck in. Wouldn't be much trouble t' deal with 'em individually... You gettin' locked in those, that'd be bad. But me, might be able t' handle it that way."

"Good idea. I hadn't thought to use force, but it makes sense. Blight and Surge are very physical kinds of magic. And Surge, its opposite, revolves around force. So any kind of concussive blast or force wall should at least keep the Blight contained."

"Well... y'think we'll get enough time fer me t' whip somethin' up? If I could get eight hours t'myself, might be able t' have somethin' ready." Alec began searching for signs of the Blight in the immediate vicinity as they got nearer to Durender.

"I'm not sure... I'd rather not dally while the infestation spreads. If you think this is the only way we can stop it..."

"Well, it ain't the only way, but I'm a worst-scenario kind'a guy." He caught up with her again after slowing to observe. "I've been gettin' caught unprepared 'cause I haven't had any damn time t' prepare. Improvisin' every dumb fight ain't how I like t' do things."

"The Blight doesn't care how you like to do things. You may not like it, but I've observed you, and you do better when you're under pressure. That's what makes you good in a fight. And passable in the sack."

He sighed. "Yeah, alri- wait, what?" He adjusted his hat and advanced in his pace so he could inspect her expression from in front of her.

Sandra nonchalantly glances at the frozen lake in the distance. "Hm? I was just talking about how you fight."

He stared at her sharply. The Smith stare. It resembled the 'you're hiding something from me' stare from when he first suspected she wasn't who she was. But this was another Smith stare, the kind where he was unhappy with not telling him the nice words he wanted to hear. Regretfully, he looked away. There were times when he missed Persephone's more direct responses-... and times when he didn't, actually.

"Well... problem with relyin' on you fer spells is that I can't use any of 'em come time t' fight alone. Actually, I might be able t' make do with some alterations in how'a use Darksnare, but there's a point when y'know yer jus' not usin' the right tools fer the job... if things go down bad, it's gonna come downt ' me n' this cloak, n' I'm really tryin' not t' use this thing so much."

"I'm confident we'll get the job done. I made that family a promise, and I aim to keep it." Sandra looks over at Alec, noticing his subtle expressions. "...Oh, and don't take it too personally. You did better than anyone shy of another Promethean. Being with one of us... it's like trying to please a giant. You can be very enthusiastic about it, but it's still not going to get you very far."

Alec rubs the side of his cheek. "Didn't figure a'knew what I was gettin' in to there- then again, it was your idea..." He looks at her. " 'Course, I never feel bad failin' the first time. Now, if'a screw up twice, I'll feel bad."

She takes his hand, giving it a soft squeeze. "Fail is a strong word. At least you were there for me." She lets go of his hand, looking inquisitive. "...Even after I manipulated you and almost killed you. What would you have done if you hadn't been ordered to protect me?"

He peers at her. "Wouldn't even know if I had t' protect ya... but I'd still take ya with me. I figured I'd take ya as far as Durender, n' let ya decide if you wanted t' trail me. But after that happened, I was gonna bring ya along as long as it took. Didn't bother me that yer a.. whatever y'are," he lowered his tone to express this portion, not wanting to alarm the family ahead of them. "..I know monsters when'a see 'em. When they're beasts. When they're people. You ain't any monster by my book, so.. would'a treated ya like anyone else in need 'til somethin' stopped me." He tried to stare into her eyes. "Actually, I had it figured you'd stop me yerself."

Sandra looks back, for a moment, but then shakes her head with a grim smile. "You're wrong, Alec. Like the rest of my kind I was made to do things no one else would. I've lied to people's faces, including yours. I've killed in cold blood. My actions have cost hundreds of lives. I'm not even human. I wouldn't make it ten feet without a glamour before someone screamed. None of that sounds like a monster to you?"

Alec didn't answer immediately, slowly looking to her. Unashamedly, he leaned in toward her and settled a kiss on her cheek, as a real kiss might be inappropriate right now. He'd wrap an arm around her waist and proceed on their walk. "...'All I wanted was a united nation. All I wanted was peace.'... " he said. She had never spoken these words to him, but they were her words, and he somehow knew them, it seemed. "...Yer not a monster. You've just been a tool yer whole life. I don't hate ya. I feel bad for ya."

"That's almost worse. Decisions I thought I was making because they were right, means I employed because I thought the ends justified them... my own mind wasn't even mine. It was theirs. Neuromancers... Gods, it's so obvious now, what their real function is. Making us... us. Shaping all of our thoughts, our values..." the glamour starts to flicker, her energy levels becoming unstable. "How could they DO this to us?" Her voice is loud enough to make the father turn his head to stare at her. "I'm not even a real person..." she looks panicked.

Alec glared at the father with a visage so threatening, he might make the man's head explode. He glared so hard, the glow of his eyes provided by the Way Matrix was actually strong enough to be noticed. Look straight ahead, sir, you do not want to be bothering us right now, said his gaze. He tightened the hug he was giving her, and placed his open hand into one of her own. "Sandra, stop it," he said, chastising her. "Yer real. I don't care if they don't think yer real. I don't even care if you don't think yer real. I say yer real, and that makes it so. We're gonna get through this, n' yer gonna shape a life fer yerself. Y'hear me, Sandra?"

"I'm... afraid. I've never been this uncertain before." she holds his hand, looking very unsettled. She blinks a few times, trying to push it back. "I just... have to focus. I'm not obeying them any more, I'm doing what I choose... I hope..." she looks down in shame. "I can't stand this feeling. And I can't stand that, either. Such... irony."

He hugs her tightly to his side. The cloak is moved out of the way so she would be in contact with his torso. He began another difficult explanation, drawing upon what wisdom he could muster. "Sandra.. fear's natural. Fear won't kill ya. It's scary, but... fear's just yer body n' mind tellin' you that there's somethin' out there you aren't prepared t' handle. But that's all it is, it jus' means yer not ready right now. Remember, I'm here with ya. I'll protect ya, I'm ready fer the fear. One day, you'll be ready, too. There've been lesser people, Sandra, lesser people goin' through more things they can't understand that come out'a it alright. If they can do it, there's no way you can't."

Sandra nods, struggling to compose herself. The glamour stops flickering, and levels return to normal. But it's not hard to tell that beneath it all she's still deeply shaken. She quickens her pace, eyes dead set on their destination. By the edge of the frozen lake, past an old bridge, the furthest structures of Durender are visible on the horizon. The sun, little more than a pale orb in the clouds, sits low in the sky. Night will be falling soon, bringing deathly cold, and unfathomable terrors.

Alec stopped to look at the place of his family's origin. Strange, he felt completely disconnected, like the place he had imagined was far from the reality of Durender's condition. He quickens his pace as well, to keep up with Sandra. "Easy, Sandra. What're ya rushin' for?"

Sandra continues at her fast pace. "You don't want to be out on the plains when night falls." She nears the family, urging them on with a sharp glance at anyone who turns around. "For their sake, as well as ours."

"Alright, I hear yea." Alec nodded. He braces his cloak against the cold, though if Sandra were still providing him with warmth, this was largely out of reflex. "Guess we better start thinkin' about where we're gonna fight jus' as much as how."

Sandra's energy output is masked to be that of an above-average mage, fitting for an officer of the legion. There is no heat coming from her, though she seems quite comfortable in the growing cold. The family, meanwhile, don't look well. All of the walking they've been forced to do, plus not having adequate clothes for the journey, has left them shivering. The mother keeps her son close by her side, warming him with her body heat. The path turns towards the frozen-over river. The decrepit bridge is not far, the site of countless crossings over the ages. It's of stone, with a decaying wooden roof. The stone and mortar is water-damaged, cracked by ice, and several missing stones lay buried in snow around it. Speaking of snow, the light snowfall becomes heavier by the minute. The sun sinks ever lower, tinting the clouds with an ominous red-orange color, and the feeling of dread grows in intensity. "Without Aten's light, the Rift grows stronger," Sandra says. Sets of footprints appear in the snow beside them. Soft whispers. A muffled laugh.

Alec looks around as the things become different. "Why not jus' set somethin' on fire?" He suggests, somewhat jokingly.

Sandra holds out her palm in front of her. A point of light appears floating inches above it, and expands into a small orb. It floats above the group, illuminating the path before them. The footprints diverge, avoiding the light's glare. "Will this do?"

Alec lofted a brow. "Yeah, might do fine." He then called out to the family. "Hey folks, how much further t' yer home?"

"Not much... farther." The man is panting and sweating, but presses onward along with the rest of his family. Durenderans, they're made of harder stuff than most people. Though, they are more than a little frightened when the whispers grow in volume. "Psst. Come with us. Come on."

Alec looked about the place. "...Is it always like this? Even without the Blight makin' things worse?" He withdrew Darksnare from its confines, firing a shot at the father, to grant him Protection from Evil for a time. Afterward, the mother and child. It was wasteful, perhaps, to be spending mana freely, but it seemed necessary for their peace of mind.

"Most of the time, it's better to stay in town, behind the wards," Sandra responds. "A mage escort can keep you safe, but most people can't afford them." She looks around, spotting a considerable crowd of incorporeal footprints. "...Lost souls. They roam the plains, looking for people to join them."

The whispers continue, voices of every age and gender. "Where am I? What is this place?" "Is the fighting over? Where are my men?" "Help me, please..." "My baby, they took my baby..." "Come with us. Join us."

Sandra's voice cuts through them. She's speaking mostly to the family, but perhaps also to Alec, to inform him further. "Don't leave the light, stay on the road. Those who go with them never return."

Alec watches the footsteps and observes the things the voices say. He had no intention of following them, but he thought it curious how they resembled shades. "Damn," was all he could really say. It was terrible. Too much like Imperia.

They pass the bridge, and Durender continues growing in size. "I don't sense any of the blight yet. Keep looking," Sandra says.

The voices continue. Added to them is a voice from Alec's cloak. "Are we there yet?"

Alec sighed under his breath. "You'll know when we're there, Smiley," he said quietly to the bottled demon. "I'm sure there's gonna be a lot'a sufferin' where we're goin'."

"I thought we were there already. All these people around... oh, wait. These ones are all dead. Well, sorry for interrupting." The bottle quiets up. As the darkness sets in, the cold becomes almost intolerable. It must be several degrees below zero, and the wind blows in great gusts, bringing down snow in sheets.

"We're going to freeze to death out here!" The mother finally cries. With a sigh, Sandra turns up the heat. Now the group is walking in rain, but at least they're a little warmer. Durender's outer walls loom over them as they make their final approach. The fortress-city sits on the shores of the Red Lake, and has weathered countless sieges. Its history is written in the ancient walls of the keep, made of a lost form of concrete, and pockmarked by siege weapons, cracked by time, and breached, undoubtedly, by magic. The perimeter walls are unmanned, the gate is open, and the wards nonexistent. Despite this, the ghosts flee as they approach. Something dark and powerful keeps them at bay.

Alec seems disturbed by the fleeing ghosts, but not too disturbed. Clearly something had to be at fault for the Blight situation. Something, or someone. At this point, he starts to walk ahead, walking just in front of the family. Rain dripped down his hat and off the sides of his cloak. He wasn't sure if Prometheans had incredible vision, but he knew his own was good, so he relied on it to spot any strange figures lingering around the outer walls that he hadn't already seen; or just people that shouldn't have been there.

The walls are empty, devoid of movement. The fortifications are in a sorry state, poorly maintained and substantially water damaged. The whole gatehouse, once a masterpiece of engineering, looks about to crumble into a pile of misshapen rocks. A keen eye might spot... another keen eye, behind one of its slit windows.

Alec stared. He wasn't sure if he was seeing an eye, or his eyes were tricking him. But, having a bit of faith in his vision, and knowledge of the Blight, he slowly aimed his gun at the 'eye' to see if he earned a reaction.

The eye closes, receding into the shadows. "It knows we're here," Sandra says. The family huddles together, visibly terrified. "Stay close to us. We'll take you home, secure a perimeter, and go from there."

Alec slowly lowers his weapon after confirming the eye was indeed an eye. He continues on, in the lead. "Which way t' yer home, folks?"

The gatehouse is eerily silent as they pass through the threshold. There is only the howling of wind through the hollowed-out building. Beyond are cobble streets, wooden houses and shops, everything you would expect to find in a thriving medieval town. Except horribly decaying. Numerous buildings are abandoned, collapsed, or otherwise in disrepair. The ice and cold has been detrimental to the wooden supports, warping them with moisture and refreezing, or just rendering them brittle until they snap. The wind moans through the empty streets, the once-proud fief now a deserted husk, a literal ghost town. "Our house is to the right, down this street." The lamps are out, meaning the road ahead is obscured by snow and darkness. Sandra's eyes flash briefly. "Still nothing. Not even people. Stay alert."

Alec eyes the ground. "What about the snow? Can ya check if there's anythin' underneath it?" He brandished Spitfire ahead, angled slightly down as he expected something to be buried below. It seemed the best hiding place for an amorphous mass.

Sandra directs her gaze to the ground beneath them. "...Wait." She points down the road. "Something's there."

Alec approaches the snow, aiming his weapon. He checks for any unusual shapes first, such as something humanoid. "Better keep back, folks..." If he doesn't find anything particular to aim at, Alec finds a higher place to stand and uses the full expansion of his weapon's firecone to torch the whole land patch of land.

The land is scorched in a triangular cone, melting snow and destroying that which lies beneath. A sac of flesh, with roots that spread low across the ground. It steams from the fire, and bursts like a popped blister, spraying boiling pus everywhere. Thankfully, no one in the group is splashed by this, as they are far enough away. Had Alec and Sandra not caught it, they might have blundered right into it.

Alec exhales and empowers the weapon with a fresh spell, looking back to the others. He climbs down from his vantage point and approaches the group. "I'll keep leadin'. C'mon." He began down the street, looking toward the right for the home in question; though perhaps there were many homes.

As they progress further down the street, a few more unpleasant discoveries are made. The first people are seen, staring out windows, standing unsettlingly still. Hidden in snowdrifts are more of the vile growths. The corruption is more pervasive as they go deeper into the city, but kept hidden by snow and shadows. An eye stalk slowly erects itself above the snow's surface, like a living periscope.

Alec isn't feeling as queasy as he should, but he is worried they've drawn a lot of attention. "Sandra," he called out. "I'm gonna weed the garden when we get t' the home. Might get tired. Refresh me when a'finish, if y'don't mind." He chose, for the most part, to avoid letting the growths get in their paths, given that they could be bypassed and the home wasn't far now.

Sandra nods. At last, they come to a modest one-story home nestled against the city walls. "That's the one," the man says, and the family is about to hurry inside when Sandra says, "Stop!" Her eyes flash again. A few moments later, she speaks again. "More of the blisters. There, there, and there." She points at the locations in the small snow-covered yard in front of the house. Some wooden posts jutting up suggest a garden, which is now buried in ice and likely infected with Blight.

Alec angles himself so he'll melt the yard clear without burning the house down. Bam, flames expand and wash over everything. He holsters Spitfire and unslings his rifle, taking aim down the sights for any leftovers, or anything he may have pissed off or woken up.

As soon as the flames recede, the place is quiet and still once more. Sandra gives the all-clear and the group proceeds through the front door, into a kitchen/common area. Through the doorways in the back, the bedrooms are visible. It's a small house. The man draws the curtains, while the wife tends to her son, rubbing his legs. "He's got frostbite," she says. "My boy's gonna grow up without a leg." Sandra calmly walks over to them and heals the damage. Then, she moves to Alec and energizes him. "Anyone else need anything?" she asks with a bit of irritation.

Alec watches her for a moment. "...Do you need anythin'?" he asked.

"Just a short rest. After the wards are up." She moves about the small abode, weaving various spells of protection. "Blight eats them, usually, but these ones should encase the house in superheated force barriers. Only we can go in and out." The barriers take time, and large amounts of energy, to bring up. By the end of it all, Sandra looks weary for the first time. She douses her magelight as the husband and wife light some candles. The boy looks to be in a daze, and is half-asleep.

Alec watches Sandra with concern. "...I'll keep watch while ya rest. I think I've got enough energy t' hold off a siege."

Sandra nods, and sits on the floor, entering a meditative state, much like the one Alec first discovered her in. Apparently, this is how her kind 'sleeps.'

He peers at her. He looks around. Did everyone retreat to their rooms already?

The husband and wife leave, sparing a sideways glance at Sandra. Their son follows them, not wanting to sleep alone.

Alec lingers for a while until they depart. He kneels beside Sandra and offers a kiss with a hug. "Y'did good, Sandra." He withdrew- nope, not entirely. Honk. The girls got a hello. Then, he withdrew, taking up arms to go stand a post outside.

Sandra doesn't react, seemingly too deep in meditation to respond. But as soon as Alec leaves, she has a slight smile.

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PostSubject: Inferian Nights, Part 2 - Gratuitous Grotesquerie   Thu Oct 01, 2015 9:58 am

Disclaimer: The following logs contain graphic and disturbing material. You have been warned - read further at your own peril.

Alec stepped out of the small home, shutting the door behind him. He leveled his rifle across his waist and began to walk the perimeter of the fancy barrier Sandra had placed. His only company was Smiley, whom he would have left back in the house if not for the fact that he annoyed Sandra and terrified the family.

The snow comes down harder now, making the visibility almost nonexistent. The only source of light is from the house, unless Alec thought to use a little of his magic to dispel the shadows. A fizzling sound from his left tells him that something tried to get past the barrier, but upon searching, he would find nothing. In the distance, thunder booms. It's an Inferian night just as bad as any other, if not worse, given the circumstances. The Rift's presence is strong even here.

"I don't like this town," Smiley says. "No pain anywhere. Just... some odd feeling. Is this what you mortals call pleasure?"

"Pleasure?..." Alec paused to examine his cloak, where Smiley rested. "That doesn't soun' right.. Wha'd'ya mean 'pleasure?' Where's it comin' from?"

"Let me see, uh... everywhere. All over the place." A bolt of lightning arcs through the sky. For an instant, the row of figures surrounding the house are lit up. They look like ordinary people, dressed in ordinary clothes, but they stand still and stare with vacant expressions. With another crack of lightning, more figures can be seen filing out of their homes, walking down the street from both directions, forming a large mob. The missing legionnaires are here too, still wearing torn, bloody uniforms. It's entirely possible that Durender's entire population - what's left of it - is standing before the house.

Alec watches the figures gathering. "Smiley... is the feelin' gettin' stronger? Closer?..." He considered how he was going to deal with this horde. Well, there were a few spells he could use to make it simpler...

"Yep. Closer AND stronger. Really strong. Ugh. Can I go back inside?"

"Uh... no can do, Smiley. That happy feelin' seems t'be a horde'a... somethin'. Zombies. Happy zombies. Blight zombies?" He pondered the correct term. "I'm gonna need ya t' tell me if there're new sources comin'. On the bright side, some'a those strange pleasures are gonna disappear real soon." Alec approached the end of the barrier, holding a hand out beyond it as he weaved magic and chanted, casting a spell several times, conjuring up enough grease to coat fourty square feet, forming a barrier out of it.

The townspeople don't seem to notice the grease. As the lightning flashes, they begin to disrobe slowly and purposefully. In a few minutes, the street will be filled with a large horde of naked people. Not beautiful people, either. One can only imagine the horror Alec must be feeling. Meanwhile, he might notice patches where the grease appears to be... uneven. On closer inspection, small worm-like creatures are visible writhing around in it, drinking it up eagerly.

Unfortunately for the Blight, it was more like a machine oil than animal fat; poor nutritional value. Alec was still perturbed by the strange worms, however. He decided to let them drink it. That might actually work in his favor. "...Smiley. Fer once, I share yer feelings entirely. I don' wan'a be out here right now. It's.. gross."

As soon as all of their clothing is off, people begin gathering together. They start hugging, nuzzling up to each other. And some go to the ground, bodies shifting and sliding over each other in some kind of grotesque orgy. But the flesh of their limbs and bodies doesn't come free, instead becoming as one. Bones snap as they're forcefully rearranged, exploding out from behind skin and muscle in sprays of blood. The townsfolk moan in ecstasy as they are joined together, piece by piece, into a hideous mass. Wearing a dozen faces, the pile of limbs and fused bones rises on two columns of muscle. Veins pulse and throb. Large blisters expand on its bruised flesh, filling with fresh pus. From its crooked mouth, a slurry of drool dribbles onto the snow.

Beyond the grease, the remaining townsfolk begin changing. Their limbs elongate, tendons popping out of place as everything is shifted. Bones burst out in spasms, forming blades. A man rips open his own chest cavity, spilling his entrails, which form long, ropy tentacles. Another person's head splits in half, revealing an enormous mouth filled with dagger-like teeth and a tongue several feet long. A woman convulses as her skeleton is forced out through he mouth, wings sprouting from her sagging flesh. And this is but a small portion of the hellish scene spread out before Alec.

Alec stares at the abominable orgy taking place. He pokes a hand out of the barrier, motioning it, waving toward them, trying to tempt them closer, wanting to deal with the initial horde first. "C'mon, ya disgustin' fucks... take the bait. Lookit this fuckin' magic hand. Don'cha want it?"

The blight golem takes a quaking step forwards, towards the barrier. It outstretches its 'arms,' which have thick webbing between them and its body. It takes another step, and gives the barrier a big, fleshy hug. Almost immediately, it starts burning, but it presses down harder, forcing more of its mass into its arms and webbing, forming thick callouses that are charred black by the heat of the barrier. Alec can feel it - the energy of the barrier slowly, but surely, dropping as the Blight presses in on it. The defenses weren't designed with such a large creature in mind.

Alec whips out Spitfire and fires an explosive cone onto its legs, but more importantly, the remains of the grease, and whatever wormy creatures were fool enough to absorb it. Time for some combustion. But that wasn't the end of it. Alec had a plan for this scenario. Immediately after Spitfire, he withdrew Blitz, the lightning shotgun, and pointed it out the end of the barrier to fire both barrels. Out of them came something different; chain-lightning made of fire, the main element having been substituted for flames which traveled between the creatures in the same manner. But that was just the warm-up - no pun intended. Alec ducked back behind the barrier, beginning to fill his shotgun barrels with.. something.

Spitfire is comically ineffective against the golem. In fact, it almost seems to invigorate it. The fire washes over it, and burns out almost immediately as its energy is devoured. Blitz, meanwhile, burns its tough hide considerably. The creature's massive weight shifts as flesh is sent from its central mass to prop up its legs. Its arms remain firmly planted on the barrier, exerting ungodly amounts of strength to break through it. However much energy it takes to pass this barrier, it pales in comparison to the bountiful feast within it. The worms actually EXPLODE from all of the heat, showering everything, including the golem, in liquid fire. The nearest monstrosities begin to burn, and many are struck down by the torrents of chain-fire-lightning. However, their numbers are still substantial.

Alec grimaces as Spitfire's attacks are shrugged off by the monstrosity. There was no way he could keep relying on magic that can just be ignored. But that was fine, that was okay, this was part of the plan. There was a plan, really. Alec exited the barrier and introduced himself to the Blight as a predator, aiming his shotgun toward one of its legs and firing an area-wide dispel. Unlike most dispels, which were limited by their nature, Arcane Arms didn't have such limitations, meaning Alec had produced an impressive master-level dispelling force with minimal input power. "Let's see if it's really jus' like a Weave..." he ran out of cover, heading for any cluster of obstacles available to lure Blight away and give the barrier some rest.

The golem twitches somewhat, feeling the dispel. But alas, it's not that simple to remove the Blight, otherwise the Pychekans would barely see it as a problem. Its physical form is the reason for that. Though, with no magic to feed on, and any incoming magic dissipated, the golem is decaying more rapidly pressed up against the barrier. In short, Alec has not killed it outright, but he has weakened it somewhat.

Alec figured it wasn't going to be that simple, but he confirmed the effect, which was his goal. Rushing past the monstrosity, he fired the second barrel, producing another dispel, determined to earn the Blight's attention in as negative a way as possible. He ran along the perimeter of the barrier, incase there would be a need to briefly step inside it.

The golem doesn't pay any attention to him. It's focused entirely on the barrier, though its strength is fading fast, especially with the dispels in place. As for the other creatures, they have nothing going on, so they walk, shamble, crawl, and slither towards Alec. At least one of them fires off some sort of poisonous spines at him. The tentacle-guts man opens up with a flurry of lashes from his innards. A human scorpion levels its massive bone-stinger towards him with the speed of a cobra strike.

Fuck that shit, Alec took his emergency step behind the barrier at the sign of incoming attacks. He was mostly intent on understanding the behavior of the Blight, and now he had; no further need to run around out there. But he had understood that the creature was now weaker, and it refused to move from where it was standing.

The bone-stinger shatters against the barrier, missing Alec by inches. The intestentacles wrap around him, but are dissolved as he escapes through the barrier. Something else dissolves, too. A poison spine that nailed him in the arm.

Alec's arm jerked from the force of the spine hitting it. Thanks to cloak and armor, it didn't simply tear through, but it was painful and bloody. The poison was already lost in the blood that pooled in his sleeve, but the shot was successful in partially disabling his arm. Aiming with a two-handed gun was going to be hard, along with anything that required his left arm.

Alec spent some mana to plug up the hole, causing the cloak to bunch up around it and form a large scab, preventing further bleeding. He slung Blitz, withdrawing Unbreakable, the force-wall pistol, and approached the barrier at the base of the golem's feet. Alec pushed the tip of the gun out of the barrier and aimed beneath the golem, firing the spell stored. A wall of force would form, shaped to bisect the golem, rising tall enough to reach its height if the golem still did not care to move.

The golem is bisected. The two halves of its body send out tendrils to try and reattach themselves, but encounter only an invisible barrier. They lose balance and topple to the ground, melting as they scrape along the other, hotter, barrier around the house. Yet the hideous creature still lives, its two halves trying to find each other as they squirm on the ground like giant worms. The barrier is impacted multiple times, and now it seems that the lesser creatures are beginning to join together in the effort to overload it. For now, it holds - but it's doubtful it will last the night.

Alec now had a problem. His primary method of mass disposal was a shotgun, but one of his arms was not really fit to hold a gun. Unlike with a broken bone, the muscle itself had been severed, making it a difficult matter to hold things up. But maybe another item was appropriate for this situation. Alec just hoped it would work.

He reached into his cloak for a strap of grenades he had not touched since their creation, the Tempest grenades. Tossing one up and down in his hand, he filled it with mana and modified it with a little metamagic, substituting lightning for fire, and increasing the effective damage with an infusion of power. He gulped. He hated using these grenades; he'd never see them again. Here goes. Alec held the device up to his mouth, bit and pulled the pin while holding down a release trigger and rolled it outside of the barrier into the mass of writhing Blight.

What followed was a version of what Blitz had done, except on a much larger scale. An individual source-wave would leap to every target in the vicinity in a chain, and from each of those, additional chains would leap about...

Numerous creatures are detonated by sudden, explosive bursts of fire. Others are scorched, roasted, or melted. Still others walk away unharmed, being far enough away that the fire blasts don't burn them. The golem halves are left largely intact, but aren't moving as much as before. Blight creatures fill in the gaps left by Alec's grenade, shoveling body parts and organic goo into their mouths, their stomachs growing bloated and engorged with flesh. The largest ones start to tear chunks off of the felled golem, and as they grow in size and mass, it's apparent they are trying to form a new one - perhaps two.

Alec watches the field clear.. and then get filled up again.  "Yer fuckin' kiddin' me... " He eyed their closeness, and thought he might try something again. Alec began to weave, to chant, extending his hand out past the barrier to produce a spray of grease again, conjuring the substance to layer over the ground. It should at least prove to be an annoyance, being slippery. Alec then withdrew his hand, and snatched Spitfire, waiting several seconds to fill his weapon with magic. Once it was ready, he pointed it outside of the barrier to shoot, covering the creatures in flames, and lighting up the grease.

The masses of flesh begin to assemble into golems. Then they're sprayed with grease. This time, they know what's going to happen next. But it doesn't avail them, for their half-formed bodies simply aren't quick enough to get away. The half-golems are both caught in the back by a particularly devastating cone of flame. What's left of the snow and ice violently becomes live steam, cooking the flesh of surrounding monsters. As for the half-golems, they are actually toppled by the shot, landing so forcefully that their melting flesh simply bursts open like an overripe fruit, sending torrential sprays of blood and gore in all directions. The remaining creatures, significantly reduced in number, back away from the barrier, offering a brief respite.

Alec stumbles back from the force of his weapon, giving it a stare. "Damn..." He shakes it. His wrist was already hurting. He gets ready to reach for another gun, but notices that the Blight has pulled back. A welcome relief. Alec takes this time to fully mend his injury with the power of his cloak, using up a bit of mana for the job.

It's not known just what the surviving creatures are up to. There's more moaning, and the sound of something large and wet smacking against the ground. Then an intense scratching and scraping sound. A loud crunch. Several small pebbles impact the barrier harmlessly, at regular intervals.

Alec raises a brow to this. "..Smiley. I need yer help again. I've been blastin' away at these things fer a while now; tell me what yer feelin', I need a second opinion."

"It's wonderful watching you work. These things don't feel much pain to begin with, but it sure hasn't stopped YOU, oh no. You gave them a great big black eye, and they've gone to ground. Actually, I think they're about six feet into it right now. Nope, wait, eight feet. Ten. Boy, they sure dig fast."

"Dig?" Alec stared at his bottle companion. "Dig. Oh, fuck's sake," He facepalmed. "We're playin' hot n' cold, Smiley. Tell me when I'm gettin' warmer. We got a hole t' plug." He rolled his arm back in a circular motion. Functioning? Good. Alec cast a spell- Shield. A near-invisible oval of force appeared before him, independent of him and capable of circling him freely, adding some added protection against projectiles. He then left the confines of the barrier in search of where the Blight had gone.

"Hmmm," Smiley says as they walk in the direction the corpses had gone. There are no visible signs of the Blight, but the huge amounts of snow and its ability to shape-shift could easily mask its presence from the naked eye. Smiley, on the other hand, sees very differently. Just as Alec's foot is about to complete another step, he blurts out, "Right here! You might want to look up, though."

Alec stops in his tracks, taking a step back and looking up. Having no time to choose the right gun for this, he envelopes himself in the cloak, pouring energy into its folds so that they stiffen and harden like a hardy metal.

Boneless bodies. Sacs of flesh and organs with eye stalks and gaping mouths, suspended by powerful wings. A flock of them drift over the rooftops, descending upon the barrier from directly above it. Worse, it appears some of the flyers have clumped together, forming a larger and more hideous winged form. The air rushes with each monstrous wing-flap from the flying behemoth as it lights upon the barrier, its bottom-most portions igniting. Beneath Alec, and a fine layer of snow, a fleshy tarp is stretched over a giant hole. The tarp has numerous eyes, which alert the creature below it that it's been spotted. "That's funny, the digger just started going even faster," Smiley comments.

"Can't imagine why!" Alec decides he needs to do something crazy to prevent this disaster from happening. He leaps onto the fleshy-tarp, and the hardened cloak molds around his legs, forming long spines as it did with the hellhounds; Alec tries to tear right through and follow after the Blight in its tunnel.

The thin membrane gives way, and Alec is splattered with infected blood as he slides down the tunnel. Eventually, it bends towards the house, and so Alec lands on loose earth. The beast that created the tunnel, under any sort of light, is visible just feet from where Alec has landed. The tunnel is a good six feet in diameter, enough for Alec to move with some ease, but most of it is occupied by a giant Blight worm. Its rear opens, and a torrent of digested dirt and plant material is blasted at Alec.

Alec was not a man to get squeamish easily, or nauseated, or any of those lesser men's feelings, but the Blight was just totally disgusting. Smiley's slimy form was cute and adorable compared to this, and that was saying something. Alec spit. He did not want to know what he spit out.

It was a good thing this was a worm, and worms were made of straight lines. Alec had a weapon that shot straight lines. Of fire. He holstered Spitfire and swung Sunflare over, setting the butt against his shoulder; thankfully, he had not fired this gun yet, which meant it was still armed. He didn't even need to aim. Six beams of fire, each one doing significant harm individually, were shot in a sequential burst.

The beams are just enough, apparently. The first one carves a chunk out of the worm. Then the next one cuts even deeper. Just as the worm digs into the ground, these beams dig into the worm. Finally, the last beam stops near its head - it's a good twenty feet in length. The worm is horrifically injured, but somehow it keeps going. The wound reveals the worm's cargo - several of the blight creatures, which now come piling out of the wound. Then, the canal in its body clamps together, forming a new, smaller, worm.

"Sonofabitch," he cursed under his breath, they just kept increasing in numbers and he just knew he had no choice but to waste more precious aces. Alec lets go of his gun- it hangs across his shoulder by its strap. He pulls Unbreakable out from its harness holster and fires, pointing straight ahead. The gun would produce a wall of force in the tunnel, nearly closing it off save for a small section on the right side, big enough to stick an arm or weapon through. This was his precaution against the oncoming flood...

The blight creatures bump up against the force-wall, feeling it, until reaching the gap. Predictably, they try to squeeze through it, contorting themselves, snapping whatever intact bones they have left, even stretching their limbs out, popping tendons and squirting blood into the tunnel. Claws, talons, and pincers reach through the gap for the man behind it. Meanwhile, the worm empties its bowels again, only this time the waste material is impregnated with slimy, bright red worms that dart into the tunnel walls. Within the next few seconds, they burst out from all directions, biting frenziedly with rending mandibles.

Alec is surrounded, and appears to be trapped. But all these things were just distractions and he knew that. He tried to use the cloak offensively to shake off the smaller worms, having its rigid form develop lone porcupine-like spikes protruding outward. Well, that was step one. If he could get to step two, Alec yanked his hand into his cloak and made a desperate push for the opening in the wall. He withdrew another tempest grenade, preparing it in much the same way he did the first, and trying to ram his arm through the mass of Blight trying to squeeze through the hole, and hurl the grenade down the tunnel toward the smaller worm and the stream of minions that trailed out of it.

A handful of the worms are impaled by spikes. Others are pushed off. The few that remain start to burrow into his chain shirt, and eventually, his flesh. A wet plop sounds behind Alec. The bits and pieces of the other creatures are dropping into the hole, now. Organs that slither across the ground like slugs, leaving a slimy blood trail. Heads in various states of mutilation, that walk on spindly legs and see with eye stalks. Severed limbs that pull themselves across the dirt. Even liquid blood that behaves like a runny ooze attempts to engulf the beleaguered gunman. His arm forces its way into the mass of blight, and gets stabbed, pinched, chomped, and crushed, devastated beyond the ability of a simple healing spell. But the grenade - by the grace of the Gods, it leaves his ruined hand, and rolls up to the worm. A massive fireball fills the entire tunnel, blocked by the force-wall and the mass of blight creatures - and, partly, by what remains of Alec's hand. Everything is swallowed up by the flames, leaving only charred remains behind, and a smell that churns the stomach. Of course, the creatures behind Alec still need to be dealt with.

Alec can't hold in the pain this time. He roars out in agony; his arm was mutilated, there were things digging inside of him, and then everything else piling up behind him was forming an impossible situation. Spellcasting with this much pain was nearly impossible, he'd have to use something already prepared. But first, the worms. Alec dumped yet more magic into his cloak, and it became fluid and clothlike again, sticking to his body and exposed skin in an attempt to root out the foreign invaders. Unfortunately, he was like a sitting duck while the cloak worked. The man pulled his destroyed arm out of the hole, for whatever good it would do him, and attempted to analyze the coming horde for any special creatures, if there were any.

A red worm gnaws through the sole of Alec's right boot, making its way into the sensitive skin on the bottom of his foot. Meanwhile, a pair of legs with some strange oblong structure precariously perched on top lands in the tunnel with a thud. It sinks to its knees, lowering - a giant, living gun barrel. Meanwhile, the small creatures do what they can to hinder and torment him. The cloak saves him from the horrors of Blight infestation, but not from the pain and suffering. Smiley can't help but start laughing hysterically.

Alec essentially growls out his pain and frustration. He points Unbreakable at his foot, where he can feel the worm gnawing. This was going to hurt. He triggers a small spark in the chamber of the pistol, to shoot into his boot with certain accuracy, likely to kill the worm but shoot his foot - a necessary sacrifice, for his cloak didn't extend into his socks. Then, there was that absurd Blight-gun - an atrocity among atrocities, he'd take Ferguson's over this thing any day. He can no longer simply speak, it must be shouted, for his aggression was all that kept his will together. "SMILEY! CAN THEY FEEL PAIN?!"

"YEAH! MAKE THEM SUFFER!" Smiley is pumped up into a frenzy with all of this outstanding torment. He sounds... aroused, if that's even possible for a demon. The blight gun begins to glow, ready to fire its payload - a massive harpoon of reinforced bone.

Alec drops his pistol into a harness, struggling to maintain focus. He grabs Smiley's bottle, put it to his mouth and ripped the cork off. The gunman splashes the gift over himself and all the creatures trying to burrow and bite into him. The increase in pain was not substantial just yet, he was already pretty fucked up. Then he curls back his good arm. "MAKE 'EM FEEL IT, SMILEY," and he threw the bottle of liquid Agonizer onto the living gun, to let it crack and allow the demon and all its Gift to spill over it. Immediately afterward, Alec falls over, both to evade a potential gigantic spine, and also because it was hard to stand up.

The worms and small creatures are the most affected. They spasm and drop off of Alec's body, incapacitated by the pain. As for the Blight-gun, it backs up a few steps, probably saving Alec's life. But Smiley... he cackles as his form is devoured. The most painful experience of all... at least he would die happy.

Alec has mixed feelings about what just happened to his demonic companion. He was now in a little more pain, but the worms were off him. Spellcasting was out of question... Alec only had a handful of weapons to deal with this. A thought occurred to him, quite desperate, but he had a little time to pull it off. Hopefully he would be forgiven for this... Alec sits up, weakly, and funnels additional magic into his cloak, a large portion of it, nearly the last of what he had, leaving enough to mop up a few strays if he had to. All this energy was poured into a portion of the sleeve of his cloak, which separated, forming the shape of a musketball now very active with the healing and purification property. Alec worked as quickly as he could to load a handgun, Spitfire, using his one good hand, and his mouth. Gunpowder, chaff, cloak-musketball, push it down. Gods, this better work. He aimed it at the moving legs, waiting, lining his shot. The instant that the legs linger for a moment, he triggers a spark in Spitfire and launches his desperate move directly down the barrel of the Blight-gun.

The gunbeast levels it barrel at Alec Smith, ready to do him in - but the gunman's shot sails straight into the barrel. Now it's the Blight's turn to be devoured - the cloak piece undoes it, and it slumps over, completely dead. Meanwhile, several of the small creatures expire from the enormous pain. The rest would be easy to handle - relatively speaking. Aboveground, there is an exceptionally loud thud that shakes dust loose from the ceiling of the tunnel. And then loud crashing. The barrier!

Alec is too weak. But he has no choice, he must get up. His cloak acts as his limbs for now, along with his rifle, which acts as a cane. He holds himself up and limps to the edge of the tunnel, and tries to maneuver the cloak to spider-climb out. This is slow and clumsy. Alec glances down briefly. "Smiley... shit. I still needed ya," he mumbled. The cloak would eventually carry him out if nothing prevents him, but it's not going anywhere near fast enough. His thoughts soon turned to the barrier, wondering how much more he had to burn. When he got out of the hole, he'd almost spill out, having maybe two good limbs on him.

The whole front of the house is missing. The giant creature and its fellows have finally gotten to their pr- Sandra opens fire, her arcane revolver unleashing six twinned-empowered sunbeams in a row. In a few seconds the entire group of flyers is on the ground, a smoking ruin.

Alec is left staring at the light show. He slumps against a rock, or maybe charred Blight, he doesn't know, he doesn't care. They were safe. That was good enough. The end of the fight was the end of Alec's will. He stopped moving, now in increasing agony. He laughed sardonically at himself. Maybe if he put himself through more pain, he could resurrect Smiley. No. It didn't matter. Alec stared at the house, breathing, but unmoving.

"Is the fight over?" Maybe it's his delirium, but Alec's mangled hand is talking to him.

Alec slowly blinks. What? No, he was hearing things.

"You took me by surprise when you flung me at that Blight thing. It really hurt, you know. It was great! But, I didn't want to go just yet. So I jumped into the only thing I could - your hand! Poor old thing isn't even alive any more, which means your cloak won't get mad at me if I use it. You might want to detach me at some point, though."

Alec slowly looked at his hand. "...Smiley?... That's... i-ingenious.." he croaked.

"Aw, thank you," he replies. "I'm not even half as good as you, though. You were amazing! A true artist."

"Alec? Oh, Gods..." Sandra rushes over, kneeling next to him. "I'm so sorry... I didn't realize what was happening until the barrier went down. But you were out here, fighting them... why did you leave?"

Alec's deadened eyes shift to Sandra. He decides to just shut them for now. "...They.. started diggin'.. they went.. below... check the tunnel... wall'a force... should go down soon. Ask... Smiley... the rest. Kinda ti-..r..d..." Alec's head slumped back. He was neither dead, nor dying. It wasn't even the pain, not entirely. He'd overspent himself. He was mentally and physically exhausted. His soul may have been, as well. So, he let his hand do the talking. His dead, demon-infested hand.

"You should've seen him, he was magnificent! Cutting down those things left and right, burning them alive, blowing them up... they never felt pain like this before, I can guarantee you that. And to top it all off, Alec got himself seriously injured just for me. I'm the luckiest demon in the whole sphere, to have him."

"He's not yours," Sandra says, scooping up Alec. As their chosen house is demolished, her and the utterly shell-shocked family retreat into another home nearby - after Sandra kicks down the door. It's a larger and nicer place - albeit harder to defend. But the snows are waning, the thunder and lightning has ceased, and the darkness is beginning to lose its grip.

Alec Smith wakes up in a soft bed. Sunlight streams through a nearby window. Judging from the view outside, he's on the second story of a house. The room is well-furnished, complete with a vanity and ornate wardrobe. A chest sits at the foot of the bed, as well as a jar containing a fingerbone. To his right sits Sandra, holding his hand - tender and scarred, pinky missing, but restored - and watching him. "...Good morning, Alec."

Alec slowly looks at Sandra, blinking vacantly and looking around. "...Good... mornin'? Where the hell are we?... We on vacation? Am'a dead?"

"New house. The other one got destroyed, remember? Well, actually, you probably don't. What you did... was incredibly stupid. But you did it to save my life and the lives of the family downstairs. And somehow, you survived. You fought an entire infestation, and you beat it. Almost. That's still an amazing feat, though. So I managed to restore most of your arm, and mend your injuries. The cloak helped with that a lot. I had to take off a finger to save Smiley, though. I'm sure he'll be happy to see you. Or... whatever the hell it feels about you."

He blinks vacantly as he takes this information in. He stares at the jar containing Smiley. Then at Sandra. Then, his pinky. "I... don't really..." Slowly, the pinkyless hand rises, not really free of Sandra's grasp, though Alec wasn't concerned about that. He reached for-... what else, her chest. As soon as it settled on something soft, he went to work. "...Ah. A'remember now... shit. Kind'a needed tha' pinky fer this..." He furrowed his brow and shut his eyes in frustration at his impaired ability to fondle.

It becomes apparent that Sandra isn't glamoured - her skin is pale but the glow is almost undetectable. Her eyes don't glow, either. Sandra's been going for well over a day now, non-stop, and tending to Alec's wounds. Her vast magical reserves, it seems, are almost exhausted. In spite of her fatigue, she moves Alec's hand. "Let me help you." She guides it to each of the fasteners for her chest piece, until the thing falls off her.

He blinks at her willingness. "...Sandra... I was jus'... kiddin' around- no, nevermin'," he 'corrects' himself at the feeling beneath his palm, "Pretty sure I was serious... Hey. You look tired. Uh... this bed'll fit two, I bet. I don't mind sharin'."

Sandra removes the rest, and climbs onto the bed. "Just one last thing before I rest..." her hand moves out behind her, and the jar goes floating away. She cups Alec's head, leaning in close. "I want to show my appreciation."

He peers at her. "...Don't wear yourself out. Ya already saved m' skin...." He was still sleepy from waking up, but probably had more energy than Sandra did right now, which troubled him somewhat. "I'm feelin' pretty appreciative already jus' gettin' covered by ya."

"I've never been worn out before. I'm curious to know what it feels like." Sandra moves her hand downwards. "Unless you'd rather just go to sleep."

Alec slowly shook his head. "...Can't put me t' sleep now, I jus' got woken up on all fronts." He raised his hand, the one with all its fingers, to rest against the back of her head and entwine her hair. "...It'll be bad if somebody walks in on us though, won' it?"

"They're too afraid of us to do that," she says, kissing Alec on the cheek a few times. "And Smiley can't move any more. Thank the Gods for that."

"Huh... so we're alone. Alone..." He responds well to the kiss, nuzzling her.

Downstairs, the family sits around the breakfast table, eating some old bread and drinking boiled snow. The father looks up from his week-old newspaper. "Should we check upstairs? Sounds like one of those blighters might've got through."

"Are you kidding me?" says his wife. "You saw the thing that ripped our house in half. I'm not going up there and neither are you. Or you," she says, grabbing her son before he can get away.

"Hmph. Jus' thought I'd check an' see if things were okay, is all," he goes back to reading the paper.

Unlike the last time, the heavy thoughts weighing on Sandra's mind are pushed to the side, from a combination of fatigue and a more active partner. Her enjoyment is written on her face as the pair of them go at it. And before long, things hit a crescendo...

"Listen to that noise. What the hells is happening up there?" The man asks his wife, pacing around the kitchen now.

"You wouldn't understand it, dear," she replies as she peruses the discarded paper.

The pair of them continue for some time afterwards, until Sandra finally motions to stop. She breathes heavily, reclining on the bed. "I don't think I can... go on any longer."

When he at last got the signal to halt, Alec pants just as much as he slows down. "..Y-..yeah,"  he agrees with a nod, slumping against her. "Let's... call it a night- day-... sex. Let's call it a sex." He didn't bother getting off of her or out of her. Alec just fixed whatever covers were meant to hide them so that they actually did, and returned the hug Sandra was giving him, finding a new position to rest in.

Sandra entwines herself around him, her body quite warm, even in this state. She smiles at his remark, saying, "That was... a good sex. That was real." She gives him a kiss, and quickly falls into a trancelike state.

"Ngh... stop.." he groaned.. "Too sore... t'get horny again..." He nuzzled into her. Alec recalled the girls, and his hands found their way to them. "..I'm gonna.. spend some time over here... while we relax." His eyes shut as his hands moved unconsciously. "Wha'd'ya say? Couple hours rest?... Maybe four?"

Sandra makes no reply. She's fast asleep - or meditating, or whatever it is she does to recharge.

That was good enough for Alec. He continued his therapeutic fondling in peace.

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PostSubject: Inferian Days, Part 1 - A Rude Interruption   Wed Nov 04, 2015 9:42 am

Hours pass, and Sandra shows signs of recharging her energy reserves. The glow returns to her skin, and her body heat becomes radiant, and then stifling. After about four hours of rest, she shows signs of coming out of it. The sun isn't visible through the window any more, and the sky is a clear blue. Most likely, it's around lunchtime. Sandra awakens, blinking her eyes a few times. Their glow has returned - though, if Alec was asleep, she'd quickly mask it.

Alec was awake. In fact, he was busy amusing himself with her figure, though he appeared to be doing it gently so as not to wake her; whether he had started this recently, or had been doing it for hours, was not obvious in any way, but one thing had changed. There was half of a simple sandwich sitting across from them on the nightstand, though no evidence suggested Alec had left the bed, much less left Sandra; she might still feel his presence commingling with hers. He took note of her opened eyes, his gaze shifting to her own. Alec smiled, but said nothing.

Sandra smiles - and then notices what he's doing. "Even after all that, huh? Well," she says, sitting up in a seductive pose. "Don't let me stop you."

His smile falters as he appears slightly embarrassed. "..A'like what a'like," he muttered simply and meekly, shying his gaze. But, he in fact did not let her stop him, continuing. "...I figured it might give ya nice dreams, maybe..." His attempt at justification was joined by a slight change in his methods, wanting to make the experience a little more enjoyable for the both of them. Alec returned his vision to her. "...Seems pretty calm around the place lately... I was wonderin' if it was alright t'keep goin', but it doesn' seem like there's much danger-" He glanced down and became distracted by his own actions. "-...so it ain't a problem... that.. I did.. doin'- that I'm doin' this, right?" Then, as if his mind formed a complete tangent, he piped up with, "..Can y'make 'em glow brighter?"

"Gods you're weird," Sandra says. But she obliges. She adjusts her position and opts to start having a little fun of her own. "...As nice as this is, do you have any idea what we should do next?"

Alec snaps out of it- right, he was supposed to be doing something important. "...Well.. I-.. depends on how safe we are." He attempts to look at her with a serious expression, and maintain serious conversation. "What d'ya think, are we gonna be fine fer a few days? Is it safe t' walk around outside? 'Cause I'm thinkin' of searchin' the city fer a few things."

"The house is warded like before, and the Blight's numbers have been substantially reduced. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few stragglers, but the city should be empty, for the most part." Somehow, Sandra manages to carry on the conversation without taking a break from what she's doing.

"That's... good t'know. I was thinkin'a runnin' around.. lookin' fer more munitions. Bullets, gunpowder, chaff... n' maybe spare parts t' fix up the guns n' make a new one..." He had to stop talking to take in a deep breath. "...Gotta.. regrow the pinky, too..."

"...Did you say your family was from here?"

Alec, slightly distracted, showed a confused expression. "Huh? Uh-.. yeah? I might'a said th-.. yeah, a'said that."

She stops her movements. "Last night, you didn't... recognize anyone, did you?"

He blinks at her. "..No-.. oh." He shook his head slowly, letting his own hands rest. "...M'family left generations ago, back when Inferia took Durender. I never set foot in Durender 'til now."

She nods, looking concerned. "Okay. Not that what happened here isn't horrible, I just... had to make sure. It can't be easy, seeing Durender like this. It was beautiful, once."

"Hate t' say I'm gettin' used t' this, but I am. Seen a lot'a good things ruined..." He also went silent for a moment, thinking upon something. "But there's always somethin' left over. Might be somethin' special, too. Come t' think'a it... are there.. any vaults here? Special ones?"

Sandra looks at him funny. "...Are you talking about THE Vault?"

"Maybe? Soun's important enough." He returned the funny look, but without much confidence in his answer. "How much d'ya know about it?"

"I know it exists, and that's it. It's been a closely guarded secret for centuries, and not just by Inferia. No one knows what's in it, because no one's ever been able to open it. Well, no one recently, anyway. And records of its contents were destroyed during the invasion - probably by the lord's men, before he was captured. I'm curious how you found out about it."

Alec seemed perturbed by the answer. His hands starting moving again, some kind of stress-relief mechanism, probably. "Scillite," he answered, then corrected himself, "Scillion."

"...That explains a lot. Like how you knew to go south. I didn't know anything about this Blight infestation, but it's definitely a sign they were here." She sits up straighter. "You don't suppose they opened the vault, do you?"

Alec shook his head. "No... no, I reckon they didn' do it. The Scillion's words... he- it. It said the vault can be opened with the right key... implyin' that it still hasn't been opened yet, and suggestin' I ought'a try openin' it. So, a'figured while I'm runnin' around town, could at leas' go lookin' fer this vault."

"It's inside the keep," Sandra says. "And the Blight-caster probably left surprises. I can go with you."

As Sandra ended her reply, a voice from behind Sandra cleared its throat. A magical presence was suddenly revealed, directly behind them. The exact nature and power was somehow obscured. "Please, don't let me interrupt. I was hoping to wait until you were finished, but I see now that you dislike concluding your... activities." Looking toward the doorway of the room, they would find a woman with short red hair, adorned in a black messenger's outfit, with a similarly dark longcoat. Her eyes glew a distinct gold, many times  brighter than Alec's, and she held an enclosed letter in her hand.

Without looking particularly embarrassed or surprised, Sandra turns around. After a brief inspection, she asks, "Who are you?"

Alec, having a sense of shame, did become embarrassed. His hands retreated down and he leaned to the side to see past Sandra. "...N' where- Oh... it's.. one'a the-"

"One of the Numbers, correct." Appearing perfectly human, and taking fluid, graceful steps toward the bed, the red-haired woman halted beside them. "An unorthodox visit, but this was necessary. Mr. Smith took a course of action that triggered such a visit." She paused to examine them before turning her attention to Sandra. "But, this is also a good opportunity to discuss a few other matters-" Then, she looked at Alec. "...Is there a problem? You've stopped."

Sandra seems amused at Alec's reaction. "Yeah, Alec. Why'd you stop?" She looks back at the Number. "I didn't know your kind could assume human form. Or speak. Do you have a name?"

"Wh- well, shouldn't- it's.. it's rude, a-ain't it?" He was searching for some answer that made sense.

The Number shook her head. "Not at all. It appears quite lovely," her expression was cold and her tone stoic. "I should think this is a moment to cherish. Very mortal, leading to growing bonds. It is a shame it will not produce life, but mortals are creative, I am sure you can uncover a way to- Ah, no." she stops herself. "I have gotten carried away." She looks to Sandra. "We assume mortal form to interact more subtly. There are many of us existing under different identities- some of us take on multiple. I have a designation, but I enjoy the name of Elsia." She bows her head. "I am part of the nineteen-thousand series. As such, I am assigned to lesser tasks, such as this. When you met our brother earlier, we were quite rushed to respond to your potential destruction, thus we did not act subtly. It was quite embarrassing, I apologize on his behalf." She again bowed her head very curtly.

Then, she turned to Alec, her expression straight-faced, and chastised him. "Mr. Smith, you are making this unpleasant for your partner. I do not detect that you are nurturing this bond anymore."

"Yes, Alec," Sandra says, relishing his humiliation. "You're not nurturing our special bond." Again, she resumes speaking to the Number. "So what did he do, Elsia? Must've been pretty bad, to warrant this."

Alec's mouth hangs agape. Red-faced, his arms outstretch toward Sandra's chest and he resumes 'nourishing their bond.'

Elsia is about to reply, but she stops to comment on Alec. "...That is a pathetic performance, Mr. Smith. Something's happened to you, you were doing so well for the past five hours." She shook her head in disappointment and looked to Sandra. "He separated a portion of the N2 cloak to form an N2 musket ball; we observed it as it consumed a medium-sized Blight at range. I suppose it was due to fatigue, but he forgot to recover the remains; this would have been acceptable if he set the N musket ball to rapidly decompose, but he did not do that as well. Thus, I am here to express concern and reprimand him for his irresponsibility, -Alec-." She said, turning to him again. Poor Alec.

Sandra looks at Alec in surprise - she was asleep for four of those hours, after all. Then she turns to Elsia. "You watched us for five hours? I'm starting to think you've got some kind of voyeur complex going on, or something. Do your kind actually... um. Never mind."
Elsia looks at Sandra strangely. This is the first expression she's shown. "It is our eternal duty to watch over Aeria. I am a watcher by nature," she concluded.

Alec tried a little harder to massage away. "...Look, I was jus' tryin' t' stay alive n' keep Sandra n' the others safe, n' a'was focused on killin' the damn thing. I slipped up on cleanin' up, can ya blame me?"

"Yes, I can. We can. You are fortunate that we were there to clean it up. From this point on, if you do such a thing, do recall to recover or destroy your special 'munitions' projects, Mr. Smith," She said, coolly glaring at him again. "Have I made myself clear?"

"Y-..yeah.."

She gave him another silent stare, than commanded. "Faster, Mr. Smith." Her attention returned to Sandra. "I believe you have many unanswered questions as well, Sigma?"

"You can call me Sandra. And I have tons of questions, but I doubt you could answer them all. I guess I can start with... well, my kind. I'm not the only Promethean that exists. Did any of the others survive?"

Elsia stared at Sandra for a moment. "There are more of you than you realize. But due to their positions, I must withhold from saying more. However... among your comrades, our agents were near enough to prevent two more from destruction. Like you, they exist freely. But unlike you, they do not exist under our guidance, only our watch. I am sorry that we were not able to prevent more losses." She bowed her head solemnly.

"It's not your fault," Sandra says. "It's... some Archfiend's. After our business is concluded here, we'll be paying him a visit." Her eyes glow with fierce intensity. Though, the intimidation factor is reduced somewhat by the embarrassed gunman rubbing her breasts. "Next question - can you tell us anything about what's in the vault? How to open it?"

Alec slowly reaches an arm up to snatch Sandra's shoulder and tug her down. "Uh... don't.. sit up so much right now, Sandra." The hand would return to its work after he'd pulled her down.

Elsia gave a nod of approval to Alec, though his motivation was not the same as her's. Elsia responded, "I can, but I must not reveal too much. There are dangers there, but the warning I speak of is of something much greater- perhaps you already know of it. Among all the things the Vault was built to contain, a great machine at its core is its true prisoner. Should you open the vault, do not activate this machine. If at all possible, destroy it. This is the will of our Lord, and of the Way."

"Shit," Sandra says, her mouth coming open. She shoves Alec off of her. "I should have known... my superiors spent years trying to locate it. Every single one of us had that goal implanted in their mind, regardless of the current assignment. The Infinity Conduit. All this time, it's been within our borders. But the vault could never be opened, no matter how hard we tried. Tolerum doors, unknown thickness, probably with some kind of stronger core material. Even explosives couldn't punch through, and the whole vault's lined with the stuff, so digging around is out of the question."

Alec is pushed down, completely forgotten between the conversation of the powerful women. He felt horribly emasculated, but if he had to feel emasculated, this was probably one of the better ways. Given that he had no idea what the conversation was about, it was perfectly acceptable, in his mind, to sit there. Tension seemed to make Sandra fiercer on all grounds. He contributed with a simple, "Y-..yeah.. we'll handle it..."

Elsia at last set the envelope in her hand on the nightstand. "The key may be closer than you think. As for this letter. You will know when to open it, Mr. Smith." She looked to Sandra. "Any other questions... Sandra?"

"Well," she says, slumping back down, "I guess my last question is why. Why are you doing this? What purpose does all of this serve? Well, and the usual stuff, like how you work, how the cloak works, but you probably aren't allowed to answer that."

Elsia blinked vacantly at Sandra. "That question is too vague, even for myself. Doing what, specifically?"

"You saved me and some of my kind. You... watch. And intervene every so often. What's the end goal of the Numbers? Is there one?"

"That question has many answers, each a level of its own, accruing truth atop truth. I can only answer with what I know, and what I am allowed to say." She began taking steps to the doorway, stopping before it to turn back. "What I know is quite simple. All that we watch and protect is the future of Aeria. Like a child under the care of mother and father, it must be guided, and protected, but it must also be allowed to roam free. To run, leap.. to fall, to earn scrapes. The product of a man is the sum of his boyhood, and Aeria is yet an infant; the thing which it becomes must be perfect, not simply for us, but for all. Until it is able to be a strength to all, we must be the child's strength. I hope that answers your question."

Sandra ponders Elsia's answer. "...Kind of." She looks over at Alec, and then back to her. "...You want Prometheans to breed. To overcome our infertility and start multiplying."

Elsia finally manages to smile. "...A mere speck of the full truth. But perhaps you have begun to understand. But, I will not boast. Not even our Lord could boast to know it all." Starting from her legs, her form and magical presence began fading. "Only our fathers know the answer. One of them, you can speak to, if he is willing-" her voice halted there, along with her presence. She may have disappeared, or could have still been there, watching. There was no indication to confirm either answer.

Alec was staring at Sandra after her conclusion. It intrigued him as much as it probably intrigued her.

As she fades away, Sandra calls out, "Oh, and if there's a next time, just tell us you're here." She turns to look at Alec. "That was one of the stranger conversations I've had."

Alec stares at Sandra, slowly nodding. "...Yer... really open.. about sex," he commented. "...Kinda rivals Perse... but a'guess she'd be more.. aggressive."

"Getting embarrassed about it wouldn't have improved the situation," she says. "And I think you'd agree that this," she gestures downwards with a smirk, "is nothing to be ashamed of."

His mouth hung agape. "...Sounds like Perse would like ya. Too much." He blinks vacantly. "Guess a'll have t'get used t' gettin' interrupted... we... we better goin', though. Not that I'm in a rush," he glances down, "I really ain't. Really aint. But, I'm kind'a spent down there."

"Yeah... for five hours?" She quirks an eyebrow.

"The hour that ya were awake fer, and uh..." He shyed his gaze away. "I might'a thought'a somethin' that helped."

"Too bad I was asleep for it," Sandra says with a naughty grin. She reaches out, turning his head towards her, and plants a kiss on his lips. "Maybe next time."

He bites his lip post-kiss, smiling back. "Hey," he said, reaching his arms behind her back. "C'mere. Gi'me some'a this b'fore we gotta go." Alec hugged himself into her chest, burying his face against her.

She embraces his head, making sure he gets the full experience, and kisses his hair. "You ARE just a baby gunman, aren't you."

Alec had some muffled response of annoyance that was heavily tempered by getting immersed in breasts. Her chest quickly silenced his complaining, literally and figuratively.

A little while later, she releases him, likely leaving him gasping for air. "Okay, ready to pound the pavement?"

He pants, looking surprisingly refreshed, considering he may have been short on air for some time. "..Wh-. pound?" This caused a reaction down below, maybe intentionally or not. Alec quickly shook his head. "Wh-, right. Y'mean gettin' up. Yeah, let's do that..."

Sandra gets up, visibly amused, and puts on her armor - the old-fashioned way. Perhaps she does this a little more slowly and deliberately than she would normally, especially as she's putting on her boots and greaves, using a chair by the window.

As Alec lay in bed, a tent is pitched as he observes Sandra dress. "...Wait a second... y'don't need t'do it by hand, do ya? Can't ya jus' magic 'em on..."

She glances over, in the middle of fastening up her boot. "I could, and spend the next  minutes doing nothing while YOU get dressed. Why are you still in bed?"

He stared at her. "...I was just.. enjoyin' the show," he answered as innocently as he could. Slowly, he sat up and removed the covers, not calm in any sense of the word, and attempted to dress. His actions were not erotic; at least, not intentionally. Most of it was an attempt to hide the obvious, and he failed the entire time.

Sandra, who has a large head start, makes more than a few not-so-subtle glances in his direction. The entire time, she has a bemused expression. "Well, I'm ready."

"I know, I know yer ready, hang -on-, it's takin' longer than usual," and the reason was obvious. Alec was mostly having trouble tightening his belt. Finally, after a struggle, Alec concluded his dressing and stole the letter off the nightstand, tucking it away, then began eating his sandwich. His excitement was, sadly, still visible, but not as obvious. Feeling or bumping into it would make it extremely obvious. Given some time, it should calm but Sandra's glances were just making it worse, though she may not have realized it herself. Munch, munch, Alec distracts himself with the sandwich.

"That must be one really good sandwich," Sandra says, making for the door.

Alec gulped down a bite, following her. "Part'a my strategy-" He decides to leave it behind and places it on the plate again, then follows her.

The jar of demon rests just outside the door, on the floor. "There you guys are, you've been in there all morning. You were making some weird noises, too. But it didn't seem to hurt you, so... I guess you're not very good at torturing each other."

Alec peers at the jarred finger. "...We were restin'. On break. Got'a take breaks once in a while. Makes it better when y'get back t' work." He shares a glance with Sandra, sporting a subtle smirk.

Sandra returns the secret look, as Smiley continues talking. "You're right, but you sure got an odd way of relaxing. Me, I used to like peeling my face off and going to public gatherings."

"No, no, Smiley, ya got it all wrong. In order t' enjoy one feelin' more, you gotta experience the opposite feelin' first. That way, ya establish a bigger gap, so the difference makes it all the more fun."

"Whaddyou mean? I love feeling pain. And giving pain. There's no other feeling like it."

"What it means is," Sandra interrupts," that this particular kind of demon has its feelings crossed. It feels pleasure when it's in pain, or when someone else is. They don't experience opposite ends, just one entangled mess."

"Huh. Well, a'guess I can't communicate it to ya t'begin with, Smiley. Guess you'll just have t' believe me that humans work different." Alec peers at his dismembered pinky. "Speakin' a which, I need t'..." He holds up his hand and covers the missing appendage with the cloak, focusing energy. Alec grits his teeth as the experience his very hot, painful, and disturbing. Slowly, fresh bone and tissue sprout, expanding, forming a new pinky finger with a skin tone lighter than the rest of his hand. "...There." He flexes it, looking at Sandra. "Got it all back now."

"I... probably could've figured that out," she says a little awkwardly, "but healing your hand to the point it was took a lot out of me."

"So where are we going next?!" Smiley asks excitedly. "I can't wait to see you go to work again!"

Alec smiles at Sandra. "It's alright. Ya did all the work, really. Fixin' one pinky ain't much. Revivin' a dead arm is somethin' else. I'm indebted t'ya." He'd nod toward Sandra. Then, he looks at Smiley. "Well... t'be honest, I'm short on tools. I'm thinkin' I better run around the city n' see what I can find. Can't shoot without ammunition n' all."

"Right, of course, gotta have tools to torture. Say, I hope it's not too much to ask, but can you find me a nice body with all the nerves intact? Anyone will do. Male, female... just not someone too young. Easier to work with a mortal in their prime."

Sandra doesn't make an effort to hide her disgust.

Alec frowns at the concept. "Y'don't like bein' in my finger? I killed it off just for ya," he feigns annoyance, though he was actually amused. Sadly, Smiley could probably tell, but Alec wanted to share a laugh with Sandra anyway.

Smiley is oblivious to his joke, such is his infatuation with the gunman. "No, no, I don't mean to say that I don't love being your finger. I'd love to use your whole body, but that cloak would be a problem. It's too bad you can't take it off. Well, and I'd rather watch you at a distance. It's much more fun that way, because then I don't know everything you're gonna do." Smiley pauses for a moment after his rambling is concluded. "...I just want a body so I can join in on the fun, too! You could teach me a lot, Alec."

Alec sighs and shrugs. He reaches for the jar, pocketing it. "If I find one, I'll let'cha know." Alec looks at Sandra, speaking softly with half a frown. "I'd hate t'say it, but he's been useful n' saved m'life. Kind'a... owe'em this much."

"You're talking about sentencing someone to a lifetime of excruciating pain. Agonizers never push their victims completely out. It's so they can watch."

"Well, yeah, obviously," Smiley interjects. "If they're not experiencing what you're doing to them, what's the point?"

Alec scratches his head. "If they're dead, how're they feelin' anythin'? Wouldn't the soul be long gone by then?"

"No, that's not how possession works. It's not the demon just jumping in and throwing out the old person. It's... a siphoning. Souls are very difficult to just rip out of bodies, demons have to do it bit by bit, over time. In Inferia, those people were referred to as 'Marked.' Not possessed, but soon to be. The process of drawing their soul out had already begun, and only leaving the Rift would stave it off. And even then, not forever."

"Yep," Smiley says. "And we Agonizers stop right before they're totally out. They can't do anything besides just watch, and feel. It's our greatest offering. Besides the Gift, of course."

Alec quirks a brow. "Well, yeah, sure, there's that, but... say a'find a dead body n' it's been dead fer a while, ain't that fine? Come t' think'a it... I'm thinkin' a'know what t' do."

"That should be fine," Sandra says. "No soul means no consciousness left in the body. Smiley should be able to pilot it."

"Aww," Smiley says, sounding disappointed. "You mean I don't get anyone that's alive? That's terrible. Thank you."

"Glad yer so disappointed." Alec looks at Sandra, leaning in to give her a quick kiss. He withdraws, "..I'm thinkin' you should stay home again. Anythin' comes around, you can deal with it easy now that yer rested. I got the Blight figured out, I'll be fine if I'm jus' scavengin'."

"I don't want to find you like I did last night," Sandra says, looking at him with worry. "...You really gave me a scare. So did that giant flying thing that tore off the roof. But when it woke me up, you were gone, and then I saw you just... lying there."

Alec scratches his forehead, but he gives her a confident smile. "Sandra... I made a lot'a risky decisions, but I didn't have much choice. You were asleep, n' tired. We're better off now, and I know how t' fight 'em better." He stretched an arm out and settled it on her shoulder. "Trust me. I keep m' word. Erin knows that. Sandra knows it, too. I'll be back in one piece."

Sandra moves in for another kiss. "You'd better." Her hand travels downwards for a good squeeze. "I'll be waiting for you."

Alec jumps, his mouth wide open with surprise. Well, the Missus was definitely going to notice this on the way down, now. Really, Sandra just made it more obvious. Alec clears his throat after the kiss, attempting to seem reserved, but he maintained a small smile. "A'will. I'll see ya soon." He exchanged another hug with her before proceeding on, heading downstairs. "Uh- wait a minute.. or five.. b'fore ya come down," he instructed her, not giving explanation, but it was probably obvious.

"If they don't know what we've been up to by now, they will. But I'll probably stay up here, anyways. I don't want to cast a glamour, but I also don't want to make them run out of the house."

He nods, and, before leaving, he motions at her. "Jus' do it neck-up if they come around, that ought'a be enough." Down he went.

"See you later," she says, and returns to their room. Downstairs, the parents are sitting around the table while the son plays with a pair of blocks. The two blocks are having an epic wooden battle.

"THERE you are," the father says. "We all thought the pair'a you were gettin' killed up there. An' my wife keeps laughing, for some reason. I think she's finally gone off." She snickers. "See? There it is again. Gods above... Look, I need to talk to you about... well, for starters, everyone's dead. We've said our farewells, and are managing the grief, so don' worry about that. No, it's the fact that... well, everyone's dead. There's no town here, anymore, just buildings. Nothing to eat, no crops, Blight wiped 'em all out. How're we s'posed to survive out here if we can't go north?"

Alec blinks. The son, he could not expose him to adulthood yet. The father was clearly not very perceptive. Alec awkwardly relocated himself to the wife so he could give her a 'you better keep your mouth shut' glare in passing, and parks himself in front of the table to provide some kind of buffer. "Look, pal. I come from a town where ain't nothin' grows. But we work n' we trade n' we get our food one way're another. If y'don't start usin' yer thick skull, it'll be you that killed yer family, not us, we did our damn job. Are you tellin' me that with all this rubble around, y'can't figure out a way t'get food? Everyone's dead, meanin', they don't need their stuff anymore. Think about that."

"He's right, you know," the wife says. "This wasn't our house before, but it could be, now. Or, if you'd rather move somewhere that doesn't have all the viscera in the front lawn, we could find a different place. This is a chance to start over."

"Are you kiddin' me, woman? This place's a graveyard, an' no place for our son. You wan' him to grow up with only corpses for friends? Livin' in dead people's homes?"

"We don't have any other choice," she says. "It's too dangerous to head north. We'll freeze if we go west. East is just ocean, so is south. All directions are closed off."

"There's gotta be another way. Some village, or-"

"You're a Durenderan, start acting like it. We don't just give up - we find a way to make it work. This town won't be empty forever. Even if we have to do it ourselves, it'll be filled again. I'm NOT just going to let it become a memorial."

The husband looks stunned. Even the son's looked up from his blocks. As for the wife, she blushes, going back to her cleaning. "...Anyways, we had a garden at our old place, let's start another one. There have to be seeds around here."

Alec scratches his neck. "Gather up any seeds y'find n' bring 'em here. Between me n' Sandra, a'think we can help ya get a head start, at the least. Anythin' else y'wanna add?"

"Tools," the father says. "For making barricades, or repairs, or what have you. Farming tools, too."

"I know it's a lot to ask, but maybe some potions? Just in case."

"More blocks!"

Alec exhales and removes the two remaining potions he had stored on himself, and set them on the table. "These're meant t' cure disease n' illnesses. It's all a'got on me. Use 'em if y'need to. An' if'a find any tools, I'll bring 'em in."

"That's perfect, thank you," the wife says.

"Good hunting," says her husband.

Alec was given time to calm, so he left the table much more comfortably than he had approached it. He left for the door. "Sandra's upstairs. If y'need her, holler, but don't go up. She needs 'er rest n' privacy."

"I bet-" the wife's voice is cut off as Alec shuts the door. Behind it, the husband makes muffled complaints.

Out he went, not waiting for a response this time. Once outside, he'd observe the state of Durender, then look for potential places for tools, munitions, possibly in-tact bodies, or even valuable metals that he might melt down for his craft.

Durender in the daylight is a snow-covered, frost-bitten town, arranged in a large circle about the keep. Indeed, the walls are curved, though it's hard to tell from a street level perspective. Among the many abandoned shops are very few objects of any value - the town was rife with crime and banditry long before the Blight ravaged it further. Still, not everything is gone - some jewelry shops still have a few items that fell out of sight to the rushed looter. A Ferguson's shop is still stocked, though the automaton is looping the same greeting over and over and the wards are still active, severely electrocuting anything who crosses them. The industrial section of town is likely to have weapons and ammunition, but there are signs that large amounts of gunpowder were detonated in the area, perhaps to stave off blight.

Alec took a trip to the jewelry shop first, figuring there would be valuable metal there and it would be the lightest of the loot he had to carry back. "Smiley," he said as he began his trek out into the wasteland, "If y'feel any bodies y'think might work, feel free t' let me know. No livin' folk- not that there're gonna be any livin' folk. Blighted'll work too, but I got'a remove the blight first. Got it?"

"Got it!" he says cheerfully.

He arrived at the jewelry shop. No taking chances here. Weapons out and charged, Alec chose Sunflare for this to avoid damaging the merchandise. He checked the outside of the shop, then aimed inside through any exposed windows, making sure it was safe before entering.

The shop is empty. No bodies, either. Alec slowly enters and begins searching for any valuables - not just simple jewelry, but valuable metals and rare gems essential in the construction of magical items.

Alec finds a gold emerald earring, a silver chain, and a big ball of lint. Oh, and a few dead cockroaches.

"I could inhabit one of those, but I'd work better in something bigger. Preferably a humanoid."

Alec takes the first two finds. It isn't much, but it could contribute to a new weapon if melted down. He'd have to keep it simple with such scarce supplies, however. "Really don't want ya inhabitin' a roach t'begin with, Smiley. We got enough things crawlin' around." He frowns at how little was uncovered, but decides not to linger, leaving the shop. Ferguson's probably had much more, but he'd have to get through those wards and that stupid automaton. Oh well. Alec took a trip to the shop of his mortal enemy.

"Hello, welcome to Ferguson's. Hello, welcome to Fergu-gu-gu-gu- ello, welcome to F-son's- elcome to Ferguson's. Hello, welcome to Ferguson's. Ferguson's. Ferguson's. Hello..." The shop is identical to the one Alec visited before, right down to the arrangement of objects on the shelves. Potions, strange talismans, jars of twisted flesh, and Alec's favorite, Ferguson rifles and handguns, complete with spell cartridges.

Alec felt unhappy with himself just being in here. Smiley must have been overjoyed. He approached the malfunctioning robot and hefted his rifle of scorching ray. Without any discussion, the gunman fired with surgical precision to disable the automaton while conserving any useful parts he could, not to mention not damaging the shelves behind it.

The fire is repulsed, dispersing in all directions. Rebonite. "Welcom- intruder- bad behavior detect- ect- to Ferguson's. Hello."

Alec pauses, lowering his weapon to stare at the automaton. "You gotta be jokin'- fuck it." Alec searches for a bag or basket to conduct his shopping with, and immediately throws in all the firearms and munitions he can find or carry into the basket. At the very least, if he couldn't scrap them for parts, he'd have some holdout weapons, and leave some for the family's self-defense.

He pauses, noting that all the shelves are defended. He examines the wards, determine if they were entirely magical in nature, or if there was machinery supporting their function. The answer was yes.

Alec strokes his chin. He decides to try reasoning with the malfunctioning automaton. "Hey! I wanna buy the shop's entire stock, can ya lower the wards?"

"Pro-cessing request. Pi-pi-pick up your order of- order of - entire stock - now." The robot jerkily moves over to the shelves, and rips them out of the wall, throwing them at the gunman. "Two-hundred-hundred-thousand cr-cr-cr-cr-cr-cr-cr..."

Alec's eyes go wide and he ducks and dives out of the way as the automaton aggressively helps him shop. He would try to catch any fragile items... except for the jars of flesh.

Many valuable items break as the shelves crash into the walls and floor of the shop. A cursed dagger comes perilously close to slashing Alec's cheek. Meanwhile, a magical talisman explodes in a cloud of crystal butterflies. Several jars of potion explode, and might just get the gunman soaked in some unpleasant fluids - hardly a new experience for him, of course. Lastly, untold thousands of crowns in Ferguson weaponry and spell cartridges break and shatter from the force of the throw.

Alec... collects whatever he can scavenge. The explosions, he didn't mind those. He was okay with explosions. He is a bit soaked in.. whatever soaked him, but this does not deter him. Alec even collects the broken Ferguson weapons along with any that survive, figuring their parts were still salvageable.

The weapons are not totally obliterated, so there's plenty of salvage to be had. Better yet, the stockpile of gunpowder and ammunition has been safe and untouched behind the wards. The potions leave Alec burnt by acid, feeling sick enough to vomit, and give him his own pair of boobs. For only about thirty seconds, though. Should he open his mouth to speak, only chicken noises would come out. Whether that will wear off anytime soon is unknown.

Alec tries to feel his chest- too late. It's gone. He's relieved. He thinks. He's not sure. Let's think about this later, he decides. Alec approaches the stock of gunpowder and ammunition, pondering the nature of the wards. Would they only shock intruders? Alec decides to try something. Focusing on a Mage Hand- and backing away while he's at it- he tries to pull a single munition out.

The spell fizzles. But it ends up not mattering, since the robot brings the shelf to him instead. At about one-hundred feet per second.

Alec curses his luck and dives out of the way, shouting, "BA-KAAWWK!"

The robot's voice is suddenly at maximum volume, shaking the entire building - and probably the neighboring ones, too. "DOES THAT COMPLETE YOUR TRANSACTION? THANK - YOU. WELCOME TO FERGUSON'S."

Alec hastily gets to his feet, gathering up the ammunition and, if at all possible, the gunpowder- hopefully, it was stored securely and not all over the place.

"Wel-come," the bot says, its voice back to normal. "Wel-come. To intruder detected. Hello Ferguson's. Bad behavior welcome."

Alec recovers a good portion of powder - but yes, a lot of it spilled. Once all is collected, he books it. He does not stick around to find out what else the bot had in store for its malfunction marathon. Already, the cloak has begun trying to purge his body of toxins, but he dare not speak. He wasn't sure how he became part chicken- but he didn't want to continue being one, thus he remained silent.

At last, he looked to the industrial portion of Durender. Alec slowly made his way there, still in one piece, though discombobulated, burned and experiencing extreme nausea. In other words, it was shaping up to be another average day.

Here it looks as though an unsuccessful battle was fought with the Blight. Many growths are present on the buildings, with leafy appendages to live off of the sunlight. They're dormant, nowhere near as voracious as the townsfolk, but lash out if approached. Many have boils or thorny pods visible on them, prepared to give viewers an unpleasant greeting. Numerous craters and signs of massive structural damage suggest large guns and/or powder bombs were employed here. That doesn't bode well for finding munitions, but within the abandoned factories are a bounty of weapon parts - unfortunately, any valuable materials, like silver, gold, or cordonium, are long gone.

Alec sighs, shaking his head. This may not have been worth the trouble. Though, perhaps if he could get his hands on those parts, he could build a physical weapon, an actual gun, with superior capabilities to what he was used to- maybe even compared to anything that had ever come out of his family before. But to do that, he had to get in first. Alec looked down at his cloak and attempted speech, trying to utter Smiley's name.

"You sound a little funny, Alec. What did you need?"

"...Need ya t' tell me... if I get too close t' Blight. I'm tryin' t' avoid it fer now."

"Okay. I should tell you, there's moving ones in this area. Not sure what they look like, but knowing Blight, could be anything. I count six."

"Got it. Thanks." Alec takes a look around, looking for a safe place to set down the things he had looted so as to avoid carrying an extra load. Once he'd done so, he'd proceed to try weaving a path through the dormant Blight, avoiding the use of magic.
The growths pulsate, breathing in and out in wet, ragged breaths. Veins are visible, pumping blood throughout the abhorrent structures. Alec spies one of the movers - an abnormally tall and thin humanoid, whose head is fused to his body by throbbing flesh. His mouth stretches all the way down his elongated torso, and thin, irregularly-spaced strands of flesh connect top and bottom. The amorphous head is covered in eyes on all sides - and so the creature has no trouble spotting Alec.

Alec spots the creature as well. He wonders if it is aggressive. For the time being, he tries to move away from it and find a path inside the factories without running into this mover. Ah- an idea occurs to him. Alec uses a cantrip, and forms two balls of dancing light, not too bright, but very active, and sends them to twirl around the creature, to keep it distracted with a potential meal.

The creature sprouts tendrils that paw at the lights like a cat. Well, not really. The rest of the movers can be seen milling about the area, wandering among the dormant growths. Occasionally, one steps on a growth, uprooting it as it melds with its foot. With a root-covered, blood-spewing foot, the hideous beast continues walking on unbalanced legs.

Alec spares a moment to marvel briefly at the grotesque sight. He shakes his head and ventures inside in search of the parts.

Several connected spinal cords with a human skull attached to them rear up like a startled rattlesnake, its jaw full of sharpened fangs.

Alec halts. "Shit.. Smiley, yer supposed t' warn me about these things." Alec ponders on how to handle this one. He decides to try to go around, as using a distraction here might attract more Blight.

"It wasn't moving. Until now." The snake doesn't let him go around, and strikes at him.

Alec shields himself with his cloak. Rather, he turns the cloak into his weapon, causing it to fold around the skeletal snake, and pours in some energy to begin the process of devouring it. This was probably the quietest non-magical means of defeating a stray Blight of this size.

The snake thrashes, squirms, and whips its tail around - but eventually succumbs. Alec is now free to roam about the factory, though Smiley points out several pustules in the area, ready to burst.

Alec does not concern himself searching for munitions this time. He is primarily focused on weapons parts, and begins his search with those things in mind.

He finds a great many stocks, barrels, and firing mechanisms - all motile-lock. Being future Ferguson weapons, these parts have no inlays for inscribed spells - it's all in the cartridge. The cartridges that remain are shattered, their Cordonium crystals next to useless - but there are traces of gold on each and every one. In addition, Alec would find a bit of motile, and a small gold bar somebody must've missed.

These were exactly what he needed. Alec is surprised by his good fortune- which caused him to immediately suspect something horrible to follow. But he didn't let that delay him, Alec immediately collected as much as he could carry, letting the cloak do most of the heavy lifting by adding pouches and additional harnesses. One-size-fits-all did not begin to describe the carrying capacity of the cloak.

"Hey Alec, uh, something just crawled in here. Kinda big." A human centipede crawls on the ceiling. Upon spotting Alec, it lets out an inhuman cry and vomits up its organs at him.

Alec looks up- Oh shit. He looks down, relying on his cloak again. The ends harden and extend into a solid surface before him, literally pushing him back the distance of a heroic leap some ten or fifteen feet away. The cloak would retract. Should Alec have room to begin fleeing, he would. With haste.

Whatever Alec did, it seemed to alert the Blight in the area. The slender creatures give chase with surprising speed, air sacs on their backs inflating - they scream. LOUD. The shockwave blows out all of the glass and shakes the ground, and probably knocks Alec down.

Alec's leap had him off balance to begin with, causing the gunman to fumble his landing and trip with the shockwave. He did not want to go through another fight right now, especially while carrying all these parts. "Smiley, guide me! Gi'me an exit, we're kind'a gettin' chased." Up on his feet again and starts moving, running as fast as his legs can carry him. Glass splashes onto him and his cloak. That should hurt, but the cloak prevents the glass from piercing very far. Alec's hat also offers some minimal protection. It seemed trying to be subtle was moot now, however, so the gunman withdrew Spitfire, preparing it with mana should he need to blast his way out.

Smiley guides him as best he can through the minefield of Blight. "Okay- weave left! Right! Stop- around!" A gunbeast drops off a nearby rooftop. "Down! Get down!" A bone-spear goes flying past. "Okay, get out your fire explosion gun. Well, one of them. Aim up... back some more... fire!" A cone of flame knocks a flock of flesh flyers out of the air. After a few minutes, the Blight creatures are no longer visible chasing Alec. Their screams seem to echo through the entire city - if Alec even had any eardrums left by this point.

Alec praised his superior reflexes, for little else could keep up with Smiley's guidance. He was certain he wasn't deaf yet, because he could still hear Smiley's annoying voice. Once out of their range, he would wait a while, five or ten minutes, he wasn't sure, and afterward, go to collect the loot he had dropped off.

"Great work," Smiley says. "Too bad you couldn't find a body, though."

He pants, catching his breath. "Yeah-.. 'bout that... been thinkin' about it. Think a'know where t' look." He lugs up the remainder of his loot, now a sizable load, and begins his trek back down the street.

"You do? Where? Where?!" Smiley can barely contain his excitement.

"The local prison or jail or whatever," he says. "Figured that's the only place here where the folk would'a starved or scuffled t' death. Ought'a have some bodies left in-tact." He began to wander the streets in search of such a place of law enforcement, though Alec supposed it might be nearer to the keep, perhaps even inside its walls. "Though, if y'got a better idea."

Alec stumbles across a small legion outpost, with several jail cells. Some have more blight growths inside them - perhaps they were people, once. One cell is full of old bones. Many are simply empty. But one has a corpse inside it that looks about a week old. Bloated and decayed, it's barely recognizable. Maggots writhe around the cell, and the stench is almost as bad as the Blight. Almost.

Alec halts before this cell. "Think a'found one. Smiley, y'can't mend the body ya occupy, can ya?" He sets down his collected loot, and places Smiley's jar on a nearby elevated surface, probably a table.

"No, I can only destroy. We Agonizers can go through bodies pretty quickly."

"Yeah... well, we ain't got that luxury. Whatever damage happens t' yer body, we'll have t' fix it. There ain't gonna be a second body, so be careful what risks y'take. Ya might get too giddy feelin' pain that ya end up losin' yer ability t' feel pain, ya get me?" With his loot stored, he withdraws a mithril dagger from his belongings, obtained back in Jheran, and uses the strength of the cloak to turn the dagger into a lever and bust open the cell door.

The door opens easily.

Alec stares at the mess of a corpse. Disgusted, he extends the sleeves of his cloak to plunge into the bloated mass and begin repairing the human portion while destroying the foreign biomass and other infestations. This would take a significant amount of magic, and Alec would be occupied for a long time.

The flesh of the corpse turns from sickly green back to healthy looking skin. The maggots are killed or expelled. All forms of insects, diseases, and so forth are dealt with in a similar fashion. Vile liquid gushes out of every orifice as all the rot and filth is driven out. The bloated proportions shrink down, to... distinctly curvaceous. Yep. This was going to be awkward.

Alec isn't even aware of the human he's restored at this point. "Yeah, cloak's done... go 'head," he instructs the demon, turning away and leaning against a wall to catch a breather. "Fuck, I'm tired. Le'me know when yer done, I'm jus' gonna... catch m' breath."

A few moments pass silently. Then, a woman's voice rings out. "Wow, nice job!"

Alec blinks vacantly as he opens his eyes. "Huh." He turns back, looking over his shoulder. "...Who's there?"

Alec is greeted by a naked woman sitting in a pile of her own bodily fluids. If not for the pus and bile streaming down her face, which Smiley eagerly wipes up with his - her, hand, to lick it off, she'd be fairly attractive. Long, auburn hair, and a cute face - though, fittingly, a distinctly crooked smile.

Alec pauses to stare. Slowly, he reaches for his head and begins to rub his temple, beginning to feel a migraine expanding through both hemispheres of his brain.

As if to copy him, Smiley places her hands on her head, rubbing her scalp. The rubbing grows in intensity, and the motions get longer. Her face starts to scrunch up a little as the skin comes loose.

Alec pauses, looking at Smiley. He halts his rubbing. "Stop-... yer already damagin' yer body. I thought I told ya t' be careful." For the time being, Alec relied on his disgust to drown out every other feeling while he dealt with the new Smiley. While the body was still mostly human, Alec reached a hand out to Smiley's forehead, touching the surface with a sleeve to begin mending it; given it wasn't much damage, it would be fixed in a few seconds. "Get up n' get out'a there. We need t' clean ya, n' give ya somethin' t' wear."

"I can't skin her? But... but... we always do that." Smiley looks at him with puppy eyes.

Alec glared at Smiley. "I can't bring a -skinned- human with me. Anywhere. Anywhere," he emphasized at a louder volume.

"I'd wear the skin over it..." Smiley says weakly. Then, "...Fine. But at least let me put things in her cleft. That could keep me tied over for a while."

Alec slowly repeated, "Her cleft?..." He looks the body over. "What... cleft are we talkin' about, exactly?"

"The really sensitive one. See, like, right here..." she points out locations of the anatomy that Alec might not even be fully aware of.

Alec was frozen in- he wasn't even sure what he was experiencing right now. Disgust. He converted it all into disgust, it was the only sane option. "...Smiley," he began, scrunching his face in disapproval, "Don't ya know how t' cause pain without causin' irreversible damage? I can't waste time n' energy fixin' yer body everyday jus' cause all y'know how t' do is mutilate yerself."

"There's magic, but I can't use it on myself. It doesn't work. I have to give it to others. And others have to give it to me. Maybe... you can cast spells, maybe you can cast something on me. Something that hurts, a LOT." Smiley says this with great fervor, and is still in a seriously inappropriate pose. The poor woman's body has been desecrated.

Alec is glad that the woman before him was not filled with the original occupant. He offered a hand to Smiley, happy his own was gloved. "I'll help ya up. N' yeah, I know somethin' that'll do that."

Smiley flashes her new, toothy grin as she's helped up. "I knew you'd come through for me, Alec. You always do. In a few hours, I'll have some of the Gift ready. You're welcome to it."

He looks at her with uncertainty. "...We'll save it fer when it's really needed," he comments.

"There's no need to be modest," she says, nudging him on the shoulder. "Really, any time you want it. And maybe," she grins wider. "a few times when you don't. Eh?"

Alec could only assume Smiley said this with the best of intentions, which meant it was impossible to reason with him. Her. It. "Clothes," he stated. "Time fer clothes." He searched the outpost, completely leaving Smiley in the dust; sadly, she would love that.

Smiley walks around in her new body, testing it out. She looks down at her fingernails. "I don't really need these, do I?" She starts to tear one off, blood dripping onto the floor.

Alec looks back- "Hey, stop!" Maybe he could prevent her from fully removing it. Either way, that was another for the repair job. "Jus' be PATIENT!"

"What? They're just nails! Who cares about nails?" She starts ripping another one off. "Hmm, I could probably get by without hair, too." With bloody fingers, she rips out a chunk of hair - taking a piece of her scalp with it. "Oops. Hmm, maybe something else. Oh, I don't really need these..." she digs her fingers into an eye socket.

Alec yells at the top of his lungs, "Smiley! Stop- Damn it, I'll cast the spell, jus' fuckin' stop ruinin' the body!" He angrily reaches for a pistol, aiming it at woman. With a spell not-yet used, he fires; an illusion, a figment, manifests along her body, taking on the expression of the force of hundreds of thousands of needles pressing across her body at every inch, angle and orifice. It could be resisted, though Smiley probably would not want to resist it. The duration of this illusion was.. indefinite; it would last for as long as Alec concentrated on it.

Smiley stops what she's doing, holding her head up, eyes closed. "Ahh... that's more like it. Mmm. This feels even better than being skinned... you're a master of the art, Alec Smith. I name you an honorary Agonizer."

Alec huffs and stretches his cloak out to repair her ruined body yet again, expending further energy. The paradox of this would be that as he repaired her body, she would likely feel more pain from the restored living tissue, though this was somewhat intentional; he was attempting to teach her the value of a well-maintained living body over a damaged one. Twisted as the approach was, it would offer some manner of a value system. Maybe.

Searching the outpost, Alec stumbles upon an evidence chest, of sorts, carrying some personal effects. Among them, some clothes that look fitted to a woman. Could these be what this prisoner was wearing when she was brought in? Along with the clothes, there's a scratchy wool robe, and several long knives.

Alec did not feel safe lending those to Smiley. He withdrew the clothes and set them aside, pointing to them. "Get dressed. No more self-harm, got it? It hurts better alive than dead, n' it makes things easier fer me when yer not a bloody mangled mess." Then, he withdrew the knives, wrapping them in the wool robes, and set them aside. "Weapons. Don't use them on yerself, or anyone else unless I say it's alright. They're fer fightin' n' fightin' only."

Smiley nods, and begins putting on the clothes. Brown leather pants, a white linen shirt, and a belt with empty slots for daggers. Smiley scoops up some pebbles and deposits them in her boots before putting them on. "Do I displease you, Alec?"

Alec slowly raises a brow. "What brought that question on?" He gathered together the other loot he had assembled.

"You've given me so much, but you don't want anything in return. Why do you shy away from the Gift? Why don't you let me give to others? I must displease you greatly, enough that you don't want for pain."

Alec knew exactly where this was going. He exhaled. "It doesn' hurt me," he replied. "So a'don't need it. A'ready got enough. There ain't any pain greater n' sacrifice. The physical pain is jus' temporary. It comes, it goes. It ain't worth much, when y'stop t' think about it." He turned to grab his belongings and heft them, begin the trip home. "But it ain't the same fer me as it is fer you, Smiley. I don't reckon you'll make sense'a that one easily, but good luck tryin'."

"Sacrifice..." She thinks on his words for almost a minute. "So... you want to sacrifice people for your god? I can do that!"

He holds a hand back to stop her, shaking his head. "Sacrifice the things ya love. Give 'em up. Let 'em go, let 'em leave ya. Forever. That's pain," he says.

Smiley's eyes widen as it dawns on her. "So... the most painful thing I can do is... forego pain? But... without pain, how can there be pain? And if there is pain, isn't that pain?"

"That's one fer you t' figure out yerself, Smiley. N' that's somethin' ya can't answer, because yer a demon. See, mortals're weak n' fragile, they die as easily as they're born. But somethin' they can do that demons can't do is adapt n' grow, n' become more than what they were. Not jus' in power, knowledge n' wisdom, but in being. But demons?... Demons don' change. If you want an answer, yer gonna have t' be more than jus' a demon, Smiley. That's all I can tell ya." He pushed open the door of the outpost and started on the way back. "When we get home, I'll work on somethin' t' keep sustainin' yer pain so y'won't need t' rely on me all the time. 'Til then, let that spell hold ya over."

"Thanks, Alec. You truly are the best of us. So brave, and wise, and... excruciating. I wish my friends were here to learn from you like I have."

Alec wasn't sure how to respond, so he replied with a grunt, and left his words up to Smiley's twisted imagination.

After getting ready, Smiley would follow Alec back into the snowy, Blighted ghost town. Their errands finished, and the sun now hanging low in the sky, there is nothing left to do but return to the house.

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PostSubject: Inferian Days, Part 2   Wed Dec 23, 2015 5:47 am

Alec opened the front door, stepping inside with all the items he had looted. "A'm back. No farmin' tools. Brought guns n' metal, though. Y'might need 'em," he called out to the family downstairs. Alec paused to look over his shoulder at Smiley. "Pretend yer a survivor. N' remember, no hurtin' nobody. Not even yerself. That's fer me t' decide."

Smiley... well, smiles, at Alec, broadly. "Whatever you want."

The family emerges from a back room, standing around the kitchen table. A pile of stuff is on it. "I went around some of the neighbors' houses, an' what's left'a ours. Found some tools, leftover seeds. The wife's gotten some things, too, mostly old jewelry. Figures we could trade it or somethin'... if there's anyone left t'trade with." He turns towards the new face. "...See you've found a survivor. Welcome t'Durender. What's left of it. Just me an' mine." He motions to his wife and son.

"Yes, I am very happy to have survived, and been a human. I am one now, too, of course."

Alec gives Smiley a sideways glance, then looks to the father. "Cut 'er a lil' slack, she ain't so right in the head. Been through a lot'a.. pain." He slowly shakes his head, unable to really express the truth as the truth. "Show me those seeds, le'me see if I can do somethin' with 'em."

The man gives Smiley a bewildered look, but dismisses it, turning to the table. "'Course, 'course..." he slides over the seeds. Spinach, peas, carrots, and rutabegas.

Alec waves his hands over the seeds several times, repeating the same cantrip; Mending, a spell to repair simple items and objects, undoing warping and cracking, any other faults of the kind. For something like a group of seeds, it would be more than enough to restore their shape from whatever damages had been suffered.

The seeds don't need much mending; in the cold, and sheltered in people's homes, they have been well preserved. "Say," the father says, "I hope it's not too much trouble, but... well, we've kinda grown attached to this place, and... there's a charnel house in the street. Ya mind, uh... workin' some magic, there?"

Alec lifts a brow at the man. "Maybe b'fore we leave town fer good. Ain't got time t' spare fer that right now. There's more t'be done." He motions at his loot. "I gathered this junk fer a reason, I got work t'do. Which reminds me. Yer gonna need some'a the guns in this mess. I'll give ya whatever I ain't usin'. Might need t' fix it up first..."

"Don't worry about the dead," the wife says. "I think we should take care of it ourselves."

"Why do ya keep bringing this up? Some'a those people were our friends, I don' wanna be picking up pieces of the neighbors."

"That's exactly why we should do it. They deserve that much. A proper burial. Not just some mage flicking them away with his magic wand. Er, firearm."

"I... s'pose you're right. Gods," he puts his head in his hands. "I just... can't understand it... such senseless slaughter, and violation. Makes me sick. And the smell... Gods, the smell..."

Alec stares at the man. He offers him a shoulder. "Take some solace that all yer doin' is burryin' 'em. It's a lot worse bein' the executioner t' yer friends than the undertaker. Take it from me." He paused afterward, reflecting in his own words as he withdrew his arm. "Goin' upstairs. Holler if anythin' comes around."

"Will do. And, uh... thanks. For all ya've done for us. If not for you, we'd be out there right now. Or torn t'pieces in the woods. Ya saved the three most important people in my life."

He pauses, raising a brow. Alec looks around the house. "...Three?"

"Well, yeah. My wife, my son, and myself, o' course."

Alec halts to look at the man, somewhat unamused. "Yer welcome," he said, proceeding up the stairs. "A tip for ya, by the way, yer not supposed t' count yerself when y'say that."

"Tell your friend thank you, too," the wife calls after him. "I saw what she did... before I went blind the rest of the evening."

Smiley creeps the family out with a very drawn-out smile and a stare, before joining Alec.

Alec nods toward the wife on his way up. As he reaches the stop of the stairs, he wanders the hall for the room he'd been staying in, and for Sandra. "...Sandra? We're back. Uh. N' I got a ... sur... surprise for ya."

Alec looks back at Smiley quite nervously. Oh boy, this was going to be difficult.

Sandra opens the door with a smile, obviously misinterpreting the situation. It really doesn't help matters that she seems halfway out of her armor. Upon spotting Smiley, her smile disappears faster than anything Alec can imagine. The rest of her gear flies onto her, and she says, "You gave it a body? You gave it THAT body?"

"Uh..." Alec has no words.

"Isn't it great?" Smiley says, doing a spin. "He put a spell on me so I wouldn't have to skin myself. Always looking out for me."

Alec rubs his forehead. "The body was pretty damn messed up when'a found it. By the time I finished healin' it, I wasn't payin' attention t' what it turned out t'be. Was the only one I found, though, so, weren't much I could do about it."

"You could've waited. Or not even given it a body at all. What was so bad about it being a fingerbone, again?"

"Ooh, I smell a fight brewing. You guys gonna start throwing spells?" Smiley sits cross-legged on the floor. "I got front row seats!"

"Well, aside from the fact that I got bored'a the novelty'a talkin' t' my own pinky... Smiley's got his-.. her.. its uses, n' I figured we're gonna need 'em. There ain't much Smiley can do stuck as a finger."

Smiley urps up onto her hand. "Aha! It's ready! Who wants a taste?"

"If there's one thing I can't stand, it's demons. Especially crazy ones. What use could she possibly serve? She's a disgusting creature."

"Awww, thank you!"

Alec winces and looks back at Smiley. "Smiley..  go wash that off, now ain't the time." He'd look at Sandra once more. "Smiley was the one that told me where the Blight was headed. I wouldn't'a known they'd be diggin' underneath the house if Smiley didn't tell me. It also guided me through some'a the Blight today when I was savengin'. That was just while stuck in a jar. I know Smiley can do more, I had t' fight 'em. Yer jus' gonna have t' trust me."

"The Parietis have a spell they teach to their most promising members. If you want, I can show it to you. It does everything you just described, and more. I don't see how having your own personal attack demon contributes anything to our cause. If anything, it detracts from it. You know what I think? I think you've gotten attached to it. In some weird, twisted way."

Alec furrows his expression. "That's some nonsense if I ever heard'a any." He begins to set down the equipment he found. "Don't even know if I could use the spell y'teach me, I can only cast basic ones, the rest need guns." He exhaled as the burden of carrying everything was gone at last. "As fer attatchment? Maybe as a teammate. Can't say I've ever been unattached t' people that try' t' help me. But, I ain't lettin' that cloud my judgment, alright?"

"Fine," she says, with an angry look. The air definitely seems a little hotter. "But at least bind it. You of all people should know what happens when you let demons roam around unfettered."

Alec frowns. "About that. Can I get some help with it? I ain't ever bound a demon.. or anythin'.. outside'a trappin' it shortly before I killed it."

"Am I talking to the same Alec? How do you know so little about magic when you use it every day?" Sandra begins to weave a binding enchantment.

He rolls his eyes, "Guns," he reminded her. "Can't do any advanced magic without guns. There're some spells I never bothered t' learn because there wasn't any way I'd ever use 'em." He approaches Sandra with some heaviness as she touches upon something. "Redwell said it 'imself. This cloak's wasted on me. I ain't fit t' use magic raw. If it weren't fer arcane arms, I'd never get anywhere with it." He pauses to observe how Sandra casts. Although his magical abilities had their limits, his skill showed; he appeared to pick up details of the spell from watching it being cast. It was a shame he could only apply it under strictly limited conditions.

"Wait... Redwell. He made the cloak, right? Which means... he's one of the fathers. Do you know where he is?"

Alec nods. "If he hasn't moved... don't figure he would. He's.. kind'a out'a the way, though. Lives in Sanctimonia."

"Guess we'll have to look him up when this is all over," she says, completing the spell pattern. "Or, who knows, maybe he'll just burst in without warning. Like Elsia. Well, hopefully not exactly like Elsia... right. The binding." She casts the spell, and Alec would feel a kind of connection form between him and his demon companion.

"Ooh, I'm bound to you now," Smiley says. The worst thing that could happen to a demon, she takes in stride. "We're gonna have LOTS of fun now." She urps a little bit more. "Can I give the family some? They might like it."

Alec frowns. "..Real happy for ya, Smiley. Don' share it with the family." Alec looks back at Sandra. "Thanks. Feels odd, but seems like the right way t' manage this. As fer Redwell... he ain't gonna show. We'll have t' go t' him. Didn't get t' talk to 'em much when a'was there, but it seems there's somethin' keepin' him from jus' leavin'. Otherwise, he would'a recovered the weapon I found all on 'is own.. n' probably flattened everythin'... n' then maybe rebuilt the goddamn city..." He scratches his head in frustration.

Smiley nods. Unlike before, she is compelled to obey. "Okay, but I don't like letting it steep for too long. Loses some of the potency."

"This Redwell sounds like a powerful man," Sandra says. "But I guess he'd have to be, to do what he did."

Alec was surprised by Smiley's compliance. Extremely surprised. "Uh.. yeah-" his attention returned to Sandra. "He... he turned me in t'... a pastry. Without any warnin'... or chantin'... or... it jus' happened." He stared at her with a flat expression. "...I think it might'a been one'a the kinds with the fluffy exterior.. n' cream on the inside..." He shakes his head. "I don't know. Don't really wan'a know."

Sandra starts laughing. "Some of us carry grenades that turn people into slugs, but even the most imaginative of us never came up with anything like that. I should try and devise something."

Alec frowns deeply. This may have hurt him, emotionally. Maybe. Or maybe he had devolved into a baby gunman again.

"Aw, don't be sad," Sandra says, laying it on real thick. "I'm sure you were very tasty."

Alec turns a bit vengeful, replying, "Yeah, you'd know, you've been tastin' me all week."

Sandra looks taken aback, that the gunman could finally resist humiliation. She'd just have to try harder. "Come to think of it, a pastry's a good representation of you. A lot of fluff, a bit flaky... cream filling."

He sighs at her. "We're wastin' time, I got'a get started on smithin'. You can make cracks 'bout me n' my junk all y'want, jus' let me work." He gathered up the bags o' loot again. "Speakin'a which, gonna need a place t' do that."

"Smith the smith," she says. "...Probably heard that one before. There's a study down the hall, that way," she points to a room next to the bedroom.

"Thanks." Alec nods, turning and heading that way. "Smiley, come with me. Gonna need yer lightnin'... n' excessive enthusiasm."

"My two best qualities!" As she says this, drool and stomach contents dribble down her chin.

Sandra rolls her eyes in disgust, and walks back into the bedroom, shutting the door.

Alec rubs at his forehead. "...We're gonna have t' teach you some manners. Spillin' things out'a yer mouth all the time.. not a human trait." He entered the study, fishing out the gold and emerald earring he had gathered from before and setting it down before all else, followed by the silver chain. Alec removed the emerald from the earring itself and pondered the items.

Alec begins to produce items from within his cloak that had not seen the light of day for many months. Crafting kits which seemed to unfold and unpack to take up the space of the table he'd taken up for himself. One of them, a clay mold-making set, was set before him, and he began to introduce some wet clay into the mold set to shape into something. Alec removed one of his own rings to use as a base, molding the clay around it, then 'firing' said clay with his own magic; basic, weaker magic at that, he didn't want to burn the study down. He'd then use the mithril dagger from before to cut the mold in half. "Okay, Smiley. Gonna need ya t' melt some metal for me."

"Okay, just point me to it."

The top of the mold had a cavity on the outside, with a hole that sunk to the ring's circumference. Alec set the silver chain and and gold earring inside the cavity. He then lifted said cavity, removing his own ring, and placing the emerald somewhere on the ring's outer edge within the mold. The cover was set down, and Alec withdrew the pistol of illusions again, charging it up with a smell; this appeared a little taxing, he had already used so much magic already. "...A'right.. ready."

He points at the earing and chain. "Melt 'em."

Smiley lowers her hand, and a torrent of lightning issues from her fingertips. The metal melts. The clay is also cracked, and a scorch is burned into the table, nearly lightning it on fire. Smoke and the smell of burnt wood fills the room.

Alec is displeased, but first, the ring. He fires his weapon, and a stream of silver appears to enter the molten metal as it spills into the clay chamber. Immediately afterward, Alec must perform Mending to fix the chamber. Never mind the table. Alec glared at Smiley. "I didn't tell ya t' hit everythin' else! Can't ya aim at at one spot?"

"You didn't tell me I had to do THAT," Smiley says, "But sure."

"Smiley!" He huffed and puffed and slapped his palm against his face. Alec shifted his concentration back to the ring, which was likely to be rapidly cooling into shape. He held a hand over it and began manipulating the weave, more silver energies trickling out of him. The process was draining in many ways, to say the least of it. "Jus'.. sit quiet fer now. This is gonna be yer ring, don't mess this up."

Smiley is about to speak, but finds herself unable to, by Alec's command. She just smiles instead.

There would be a long silence, and much concentration. The process was greatly sped up by Smiley's assistance, but it was still a lengthy task. After an hour, Alec had seemingly managed to complete the careful distribution of magic and an artificial sacred field in the ring, siphoned off his own. He lifted the clay cover and splashed some water from his canteen into a small tin bucket. With a clamp, he removed the solidified, but heated ring and dipped it in the water, removed it, dipped it, and so on, producing steam each time, until it ceased to do so.

Alec dropped the ring into his palm. It was warm, but not blistering hot. He turned back to Smiley. "...Alright, alright, yer free t' speak now." He lifted the ring up to her eye level. "This contains the same spell I cast on ya, with two differences. It'll only affect the wearer, n' it'll last forever, without the need t' concentrate, under any circumstances, save fer antimagic. Gettin' dispelled'll disable it fer up t' half a minute.. but that's it. It'll make ya experience whatever pain yer imagination can come up with." He pauses to look at the ring. "I've set the current thing t' what I gave ya earlier if yer not feelin' creative right now. Call it a... a ring'a delusion. Pain ain't the only thing it'll produce, but I figure that's the only thing yer interested in."

Smiley smiles very widely indeed. "A ring? For me? Oh Alec, you shouldn't have!"

Alec just shook his head. "Don't make this weird." He continues to offer it. "I ain't puttin' it on for ya. Take it."

Smiley does as he asks, when he asks it. She puts the ring on - and twitches suddenly, as it takes effect. "Mmmm..." she says. "I missed that. You gonna make a matching one for you, now?"

"No," he replies bluntly. "Don't have the materials, fer one, n' if I did, I'd make somethin' more useful." Back to the table. Alec takes a seat this time, withdrawing a journal. Not one used for his thoughts, nor one to record spells; this was a growing manual of technical drawings, some very old, and some very new. Alec began to look through them, glancing occasionally at his pile of gun parts, considering the possibilities.

Alec frowns as the compatibility of arcane arms between Ferguson's abominations and Simmons' genius were quite low, despite the fact that one was born of the other.

"...Guess we'll have t' try makin' somethin' conventional, save the magic guns fer last." Alec began to flip through designs, leaving the sphere of Arcane Arms and returning to conventional weaponry. Then, taking a step back to old-style Simmons conventional weaponry. He began to stroke his chin as he saw potential there in salvaging Ferguson's designs.

Alec began with the simplest part, the stock; he produced a piece of wood. Generally, machinery would be used to shave it down, but Alec had the help of his cloak to improvise machinery. Forming many small, compact, but sharp edges, the cloak seemed to swallow the wooden block whole, shaving it down to the basic form. Alec would polish this form with sand-paper afterward, wood chips and wood dust gathering on the table. Then he'd rinse it, procure some wood varnish from his kit, and coat the stock in it by brush, leaving it on a cloth to dry; later, it would need a second coat.

"Smiley, gonna need yer help again," the remainder was surprisingly simple. He produced several molds for the magazine, chamber, and firing mechanism- but he decided to set aside the firing mechanism, for a new one had to be in order; the high-pressure weapons wouldn't function with air, they would have to conform to gunpowder.

"Ready," Smiley says, the air charged with electricity.

Alec began picking out the appropriate metals and placing them in the top cavities of each mold. A final mold was set aside for thin, needle-shaped bullets; Alec had picked out their thickest variant, for the slim, aerodynamic methodology of the air-powered weapons was not applicable here, their structure would be too fragile for gunpowder. "Get started on these," he pointed to the other molds, taking his mithril knife to alter the ammunition mold. "Melt 'em down, don't strike anythin' else, n' fer cryin' out loud, don't start any fires."

"Okay, okay," Smiley melts the metal with great precision. Hundreds of years of knowing the same spell teaches a certain finesse.

Thank goodness for that, too. Alec manages to complete the modifications quickly. It didn't appear much change was needed; Alec began dumping musketballs onto the bullet mold. Lighter metals would not work as in the original design; these needle-like bullets would also need weight as the musketballs did. He slid his mold over to Smiley, and this time, added these instructions, "Melt these slowly, n' make sure all the lead goes down the hole. Gun ain't worth much without bullets." He reached for several broken Fergusons and their original parts, reclaiming any motile locks he could find; he'd look for the ones in best condition.

Smiley follows his instructions to the letter, taking care to melt each musketball just as Alec wished. Occasionally she shoots a smile in his direction.

Alec notices the smiles, sadly; it is hard not to, Smiley's enthusiasm is ever-present and overbearing, but at least one of them wasn't going to get tired. "Good," he says. After picking out the right lock, he notes some incompatibility in the mechanism. Alec began to disassemble it- he pauses to seal the stock a second time, and then resumes the disassembly. Time to cool the rest; the magazine, chamber and barrel are removed from their prisons and systematically cooled. Alec plucks forth several light springs from his own collection, grabbing a couple to place in the magazine itself along side a metal seating. He fit the original gas-powered continuous fire mechanism, the chamber, and the barrel together, but arranged the firing lock differently, so that the pressure-release would lower the lock instead of raising it, and fitted the motile into the chamber where the original lock was meant to strike. This also meant he had to plug up the hole for the pressure-release, but that was much simpler.

He continued to shape the weapon, but it was just about ready. Now, the difficult part was mimicking the cartridge design. Alec pulled out thick wads of chaff used for muskets, and unfolding them, looking them over. He passes some to Smiley. "Separate these, would ya? Individual layers, strips."

Smiley happily takes them and begins to separate them into strips. "Like this?" she asks.

Alec peers at her work; sadly, this was probably a lot like separating layers of skin for her, so yes, she must be doing a fantastic job; he nods.

He gets out the gunpowder, and looks at Smiley. "No sparks. No heat. Nothin'."

"Okay," she says, making quick work of the chaff.

He returns to his work, now a bit relieved because of the binding. Alec began separating and cooling pieces of the new lead ammunition. Each shot had two wings on the edges; these were for the rifling within the weapon; Simmons' designs were not primitive as muskets were, each round was made to easily conform to the shape of his weapon. It was due to a lack of innate power that he had to build upon such finesse. Too bad Alec was the only one in the room who could appreciate the technical genius.

Slowly, he formed chaff-paper cartridges by conforming them to the shape of the center cavity of each bullet. Then, he would pull them out, fill them with gunpowder, dab some saliva onto the edges to make them a bit sticky, and re-insert them into the lead tip, forming paper-cartridge bullets. Alec continued this process until all the rounds were done; there were quite a few, so this was another lengthy job. Once it was finished, he began pushing each bullet into the spring-loaded magazine, round by round, until it was full. The leftovers were sucked away safely.

Alec loaded the magazine into the modified Needler. It seemed he used a larger variant for this design, which caused it to look less like a micro-SMG, and more like a carbine. He fit the stock onto the weapon, tightening screws where necessary, and stood up to shoulder it.

"...I'm almost afraid t' pull the trigger," he comments as he observes the weapon.

"Wow," Smiley says, having watched him work in awed silence. "I don't know what that is, but it looks painful."

"It's a gun," he answers. "An old gun. A new old gun. Gotta give it a firin' test, though." He lowered the weapon, leaning it against the table and wall. "But there's more t'do."

Smiley starts to move over to it, until he says there's more to do. "Anything I can help with?"

"Yep. We're gonna be workin' metal." He pulls out another mold, but this was a simple one to make metal plates. Alec began to dump metal into it. "We're gonna make a lot'a these. Get t' meltin', this'll be done real quick if we get it all done in one go."

Smiley nods, happy to melt things. She works fast.

Alec removes and begins to bend the plates immediately. Lacking the tools for such metalwork, he relies on the strength of the cloak, and uses it to form the correct shapes. The plates are fused together as they are molded, before they can be cooled. He seems to be forming a specific shape. Multiple, actually. A canister. Pipes. Tubes. A tube-like 'gun' with a large container.

"What's this one for? It looks like a... well, you could put something in that. It's a gun, but it ... shoots the gift?"

Alec looks at Smiley. His mouth ever so slightly curves into a smirk, but he continues working. "Fuse the plates t'gether, Smiley, along the edges."

Alec shaves off the edges of one plate to form a separate, cylindrical shape that might fit into the main container. After this, he goes searching or a part in his cloak.

Smiley's crooked grin makes another appearance as she is driven to work even faster. In her excitement, she finally slips up and makes the weld uneven.

Alec sets down a strange spring-bearing part. Then, he spots the fault immediately. "Wha- Smiley! What the hell's this?" He points at the uneven weld.

"I welded it... it looks a little crooked, but it will still work."

He stares at Smiley. "Smiley. Heat it. Low heat. We're gonna smooth it out." He hardens the cloak-formed tools he was using to shape the metal and prepares to smooth over the fault.

"It's really hard to do with lightnnaall right fine." Smiley has no choice but to hover her hand over the metal, sending very small, controlled bolts to heat the metal slowly.

Alec begins to shape. The fault is corrected. It doesn't take long at all. "That's enough," he shoo's the hand away. "Now, watch."

He pulls out a part. "This? This's what Simmons called a gear-lock spring. Uses two springs, a traditional one, n' a round spring between two gears that control a bolt. He made these t' lock this plate," he points at the round plate he made, "in place against the thing inside t' keep it under constant pressure. You'll see why in a bit." Alec begins to take the spring and several bolts and tools and assemble it together with the lid of the main container, and the insert-plate which would serve to maintain pressure.

Once the assembly was ready, he procured a bit of machining oil to lubricate the parts meant to slide, then fastened the lit over the top of the canister; at the top of this lead was a valve he had installed, and a pressure gauge which read '', and could go up to a marker that read .

Alec began to borrow some gun parts for the stock, improvising the rest, as he could not custom-make so many wooden bases, he didn't bring along many of those.

Soon enough, he had produced a gun with a removable canister, a trigger, valves and gauges, and a long, narrowing nozzle at the end. He removes the canister, unscrews bolts on the sides of the lid, then unscrews the lid itself, and shows it to Smiley. "A'right. Fill it up."

"With great pain," she says enthusiastically, taking the container. Horrible sounds follow as she convulses, forcing as much of the fluid out as she possibly can. "Whew... I think that's all of it. I'll have more soon, though."

He looks at the contents of the canister. Probably isn't near full. Alec lofts a brow. "...Well, take yer time, there's no rush."

"I'll be full again in a few more hours. Which means... it'll take most of the day to fill up. Make sure you keep that canister sealed up tight. Loses potency, otherwise."

He nods, closing the canister. "Then, watch. I'm teachin' ya how t' maintain this. One day, it's gonna be yers."

"I love it, Alec, I really do, but can this vomit better than I can? I've gotten great distance out of my bodies over the years..."

He screws on the lid. "Short answer, yeah. Look, once y'tight this lid on, don't tight it further than it'll go. Ya tight these bolts next, these'll make it impossible t' take this thing apart." Step by step, he tightened them in a particular order. "Remember this. Don't ever disrespect the tools ya rely on."

Smiley nods. Bound to Alec, she has no choice but to remember with photographic detail how to maintain this weapon.

He finally points to the top valve. "This's the most important thing. This valve controls the pressure y'want t' set the can at. If ya tighten this as far as it can go? It'll tighten the valve up t' 800. That's 800 pounds'a pressure per square inch; So if it's that tight in here, it'll be that hard comin' out'a there," he points at the spray nozzle. "Higher, actually, part'a the tubin' forces the pressure a little higher b'fore it comes out. So, the whole point'a this valve is t' control the flow strength, n' it relies on how much material is inside, n' how strong the canister is, t' be able t' do that."

Smiley listens intently, studying the weapon, trying to understand what Alec's telling him. "So... this'll build up pressure, and release it very fast. Faster than I can on my own?"

"How far can ya shoot, Smiley? How far d'ya figure is the furthest you've ever shot yer guts out?"

"One-hundred paces is my personal best," she says, smiling proudly.

Alec smiles. "Jus' one shot? We can do better n' that."

Her smile grows wider. "It just keeps getting better and better! I made the right call, sticking with you. We're gonna make everyone suffer, you and me."

Alec rolls his eyes. "Do ya think that's my goal, Smiley?" He sets the weapon aside.

"Well, okay, maybe not EVERYONE. But you've got a real knack for it, you and these guns. Anyone that crosses us, no matter who or what they are, is gonna feel it."

Alec scoffs somewhat quietly. "One'a these days, Smiley, yer gonna understand that a feeling is just a feeling. The only reason y'like pain so much is because it's yer drug." He quietly picked out more gun parts.

"Pain's what I was born to give... and receive. It's not just a drug, it's my food and water. My air. My everything. You keep talking about these... other feelings, but I don't know about those. How can I?"

"Exactly," he says. "Y'think it's yer life, but it's not, Smiley. People on a drug don't know anythin' but the drug, everythin' else is secondary. You were jus' born into bein' drugged, without any choice; that's how I see yer kind. N' because'a that, you'll never know true pain, Smiley. Pain with a purpose. I told ya once before that if y'wanted t' understand me, y'had to be more than what y'are now. This's what I meant. But..." He looks at the demon clad in a woman. "This's an order; ...don't believe what I say just 'cause I said it. Look fer the truth in it, n' if ya don't find it at first, keep lookin'."

Smiley looks at him in confusion and frustration. The order is a tall one, for sure. "But I can't be more than what I am. If I did, I wouldn't be me any more, but something else. Unless... but then, it's not me... you want me to die? No, that's not more, that's less... hmm... I don't think it's possible to obey this order, but I must try anyway. You're asking me to learn things I wasn't made to learn... to break the rules of my kind. You're asking me to become something other than a demon."

"Now yer just repeatin' everything I jus' said," he comments. "Yeah, I'm askin' ya t'be somethin'. But not less. More. I'm askin' ya t'be more."

"But what would I become?" Smiley asks, looking lost.

Alec turns to the desk. "It's gonna hurt, Smiley, but you can do it. Yer not afraid of hurt, right?" He begins assembling a third weapon, retrieving the gold bar from before, but not asking for Smiley's assistance. "What'll you become? Heh. That's the kind'a question a human would ask, Smiley. The answer's simple, though. Yer gonna find out when ya get there." He sets the gold bar into a cauldron, and decides to heat the thing up the traditional way, albeit he uses magical fire and heat to get the process going. "Go take the day off, Smiley. Don't hurt yerself or any of our friends n' allies; yer entitled t' self defense, under the strictest definition. Other than that... feel free t' wander n' ponder, but don't stray too far."

"Okay," Smiley says, brow furrowed in thought. The command really got the demon's gears turning. She turns and heads out of the room.

Alec continued in his work, meticulously shaping a new weapon, an arcane armament. It's machine half was a simple motile-lock arquebus weapon with an added trigger to simply the task of firing, and remove the need for matches and careful timing of the flames; he would even be able to fire it with ease while under antimagic. As for the spell component, the barrel was carefully crafted and designed with a spell he already knew, but had created for his grenades; now, he had weaponized it into a more convenient form. By the end of a late night, he would complete a motile-lock arquebus pistol of Telekinesis, and christen it 'Unstoppable', companion to its defensive sister weapon 'Unbreakable.'

Then, Alec paused and felt one of his creations was missing something. He took the mithril dagger he had used before, and peered at his redesigned Simmons Needler... he peered at the long barrel. Hm. Designing a fitting for the knife and barrel, he gave the weapon a mithril bayonet. With a slight nod, Alec was satisfied.

He gathered all three weapons and proceeded downstairs for a firing test.

The family is asleep at this point. There is a faint glow at the edge of the sky, and light snowfall.

Alec quietly prays for their forgiveness, as he is about to disturb their rest; he is also about to disturb Ferguson's rest, maybe even Simmons' rest. (and Pat's rest, for sure.)

Alec takes a trip to the ruined Ferguson shop.

As he walks through the door, a familiar face (or lack thereof, given the featurelessness of Ferguson automatons) is standing there to greet him. Over and over again. The shelves are still in a mess on the floor, as the robot sputters something about missed payments.

Alec stops at the doorway. He clears his throat. "I'd like t' make a return," he says.

"No- refunds."

Alec raises the machine-pistol. "Same here." Steadying the stock against his shoulder, he aims dead-center at the bot and, almost nervously, pulls the trigger, holding it down. The weapon roars with the first shot- the Simmons bullet travels faster than a musket ball, spins more rapidly, experiences less drag and concentrates its force on a single, sharpened point at the tip, a heavy lead needle. And that was just one. In a quarter-second, maybe less, there was another shot, and another, and Alec's aim started to climb from the recoil; the Needler had precise construction, thus there was no horizontal wobble, but gunpowder had kickback and naturally threw his aim higher when shots were fired in repetition. He should've gotten a bigger stock! Or a heavier gun! Within a few seconds, a full magazine of thirty lead-needles, each the size of a finger and a third the width, would have left the gun, with....

...eighteen of the shots actually hitting their mark, the others straying either harmlessly to the sided or hitting less critical parts. Alec learned, quite rapidly, that this weapon required controlled bursts. Also, it was hot. Blistering, even. He would have to find a way to cool that barrel.

The Rebonite plating of the bot means that any shot not precisely lined up ricochets off harmlessly. A few of the shots leave noticeable marks, while some actually drill through the material, not giving it enough contact area to work with. The bot's torso is perforated multiple times, and it sputters and falls to the ground. Though, the Rebonite makes it bounce a few times before it settles.

Alec lowers the weapon, panting; it was actually strenuous to fire such a gun. "..Son of a bitch... air-power never kicked like that..." He frowns at his aim. "Air-power never missed like that, either. Gonna have t' stop holdin' the trigger..." He approaches the bot, to give it a light kick to the side and see if it could still move.

The bot flails its arms wildly for a few moments, and goes back to being still.

Alec scoffs. "That's what y'get for defilin' Simmons' work, Ferguson." Alec eyed the rebonite. Valuable metal. Useful material. But, nah. He'd had enough of this shop. He turned around and headed back toward the house, rubbing his right bicep.

"Alec?" a voice in the darkness calls out, from somewhere nearby. A familiar voice, but hard to pin down how. "Alec, are you there?"

"..I'm here," he calls back. "Who's there?" He squints toward where he believes the source of the voice is coming from. Even with his vision, he'd only be able to determine the position of the figure and not many details.

A woman walks out from between two buildings. "Alec- Alec!" It's Terri.

Alec slows down. He blinks, staring at her. "..Terri-" He aims his weapon- his weapon was empty. Alec slings the gun and aims Unstoppable, charging it immediately. "Stop righ' there."

"What are you doing?" she asks, confused. She puts her hands up. "It's me."

"Keep 'em up," he instructs her, and approaches her slowly. "I can't know it's you fer sure. Don't give me cause fer suspicioun. Jus' let me do this."

"Do... what."

Alec begins casting a spell of magical detection, and he starts to examine her for the presence of magic; knowing Terri well, he already knew what he was supposed to find if she were Terri as he knew her.

Alec was wise to do so. The 'woman' before her walks like Terri, talks like Terri, but is NOT Terri. Upon realizing it's discovered, the creature lunges for him with hands that rapidly grow long blades. Meanwhile, Alec hears a few thuds behind him. An ambush, perfect. Three gunbeasts join the Terri doppelganger.

Alec avoided the blades with a careful roll to the side. He aimed Unstoppable behind the Terri look-alike and fired; large, heavy mounds of debris and rubble would stream past the recreation of his fellow huntress, given life by the telekinetic weapon. That should settle that, but the gunbeasts, he really hated those. Alec prepared for their concentrated fire and thrusted his body away again with the aid of the cloak lunging at the ground below.

The gunbeasts fire off their molded bone harpoons, only this time, they have a new addition - a length of strong fibers that attaches them to the inside of the weapon. The first volley misses, but with a powerful tug, the harpoons are jerked back almost as quickly as they came, reloading the gunbeasts' main armament.

Alec cursed as he witnessed the rapid reload. This would've been a great time to have had a full magazine, why did he indulge in ripping up the dumb machine? Alec focused on a Mage Hand as he removed the magazine from the re-engineered Needler, and used said magical hand to retrieve and reload more of his needle-bullets down the magazine. While he ran, of course. There was much running, much ducking, much hiding behind cover where and whenever possible.

The creatures miss him, having difficulty adjusting their aim fast enough, being top-heavy with only two legs for balance. But one creature has the foresight, if you can call it that, to lead its target. The harpoon's trajectory sends it sailing towards Alec's midsection at just the right time.

The hardy cloak had not been toughened, for the sake of mobility, and was the first to catch the incoming harpoon. That altered the angle of entry, possibly making it much worse, as it was originally going to graze against Alec's torso, but instead, the shot angled down with flailing of the cloak and pierced into his right leg. The fleeing Alec stumbled all of a sudden, nearly falling face-first, but managed to stop himself with his arms. His reloading was momentarily disrupted, but quickly resumed, but nevermind that. Alec swung his Needler X and used the bayonet to cut the fibrous attachment of the harpoon before it could reel him in.

Just in time, too, as the fiber jerks back almost immediately after it is severed. That would've been nasty. The other two gunbeasts turn themselves around and fire off their harpoons.

Alec chooses not to move, they've forced him to make a stand. That spear in his leg wasn't going to let him move, and cloak-assisted movement would not have lasted very long. He does not have much magic left. In fact, he has almost none, so he uses his very last as effectively as he can, reforming and hardening the cloak into a semi-circular barricade in front of him, leaving holes to fire out of. The majority of the cloak becomes hardy and almost immobile as it digs itself into the ground, anchored in place, while lines connecting to the original lead to Alec. Due to this, some of his equipment was stuck to the inside of this barricade, in the original harnesses. Alec kept reloading, both with his Mage Hand, and manually.

The first harpoon sticks into the barricade before it's fully formed, dangerously close to Alec. The second one briefly deforms the barrier, and bounces off. Both creatures attempt to recall theirs. The first one is stuck firmly in the cloak material, which has hardened itself around it. The second is prepared to fire as soon as Alec peeks out.

Alec had to wonder how it was that these creatures could see him, if it was solely vision or not. He decided to try something, which could only make this better or not different at all. Alec fishes one of his guns out of his harness, Phantom. He points it at himself and fires-.. Alec disappears, and the gun drops. In fact, everything even connected to Alec disappears, even his defensive barricade, and the harpoons in both is leg and the cloak. He hoped this would buy him time as he resumed the reload.

Given he had time, he'd complete the reload, and insert the magazine into the long weapon.

The Gunbeasts don't buy it, unfortunately. They smell magic, and a big amount of it is just sitting there where before there was a gunman. Additionally, the strand of fiber is still reaching towards him, though half of it is now invisible. And so, another harpoon is set sailing towards him, wherever he is. Also, the disarmed gunbeast just bull-rushes him awkwardly. It's very poor in melee, and probably wouldn't do much besides give him a hard nudge.

The harpoon would strike the invisible barrier, seemingly stopping against air. The bull-rushing gunbeast finds itself charging a visible barricade again, the fiber-attached harpoon still protruding from its side. However, Alec was missing, along with some equipment. He had removed the remainder of the cloak and limped away to other cover. With him, he had his two new non-magical weapons, and Spitfire. Given that he was almost devoid of magic at this point, he hoped the Blightguns would remain focused on the cloak, where he was assumed to be, and not himself.

Luckily, a building nearby has collapsed recently from neglect. Large wooden beams and flagstones litter the ground, making for decent cover. The gunbeasts soon realize he is not where they thought he was, and make an effort to find him. Two of the creatures are now essentially out of the fight, only one fully-armed one remains. All three are very much alive, though, and pursue him.

The invisible gunman takes the time to remove the harpoon in his leg. He rips off some of his apparel to bandage the leg up tight as he can. At least he wouldn't be as slow, and he'd have an easier time aiming... the first one he'd have to deal with was the one that could still shoot. Alec tried to spot this gunbeast and determine where it was, relative to him; distance, position, and travel path.

The gunbeast lumbers slowly towards him, following a straight path. This makes it easier to hit it, but also easier for it to aim. The harpoon flies out again.

Alec noped the fuck back behind his cover, well behind it at that. He knew as soon as he fired the first shot that they would all know his location without doubt. So, he had to make this count; not the Needler. Alec chose his Gift gun for this task, waiting for the moment of the harpoon's impact.

The harpoon whizzes past, right where Alec's head was a few seconds ago. It jolts back.

Alec pokes out of cover, taking aim at the gunbeast- a little above it, in fact. As soon as he pulls the trigger, a jet of gift fires in a stream of pulses, following a gentle arc toward the gunbeast. Likewise, as soon as he sprays the Gift, his invisibility departs from him; at least the weapon was much quieter than his gun, though.

The gunbeast is splashed with potent Agony poison. It staggers backwards, pointing its barrel wildly. It would eventually recover, but this bought Alec a few seconds of reprieve. Terri's mangled body drags itself along the ground, trailing blood. "Why did you- gurgle- do that, Alec? Aren't I- cough- your friend?"

Alec sets the Gift-gun aside and steadies his Needler carbine against his shoulder, going prone for the best possible aim. He takes aim for the gunbeast, but his aim was distracted by the mangled Terri; it was distracted because he immediately aimed for 'her', and fired a single shot, hoping to put the nuisance to rest. Alec was no stranger to killing friends, though it left a bitter taste in his mouth... back to he gunbeast, he immediately shifted his aim to the creature and fired in semi-auto, sending three shots down range for one of its legs. Though the needle point of the bullets was meant to pierce, the tapered tubing which once housed the gunpowder was likely to shred itself from contact against flesh and spread the damage.

Terri 'dies,' that is to say, her body stops moving. Much of the blight within remains alive, but the structures are too damaged; they'll need to reform. Meanwhile, the gunbeast's legs are shredded by gunfire, the muscle torn apart, the bones shattered, and so it loses any ability to move or aim. Nothing was actually killed here, but everything is very much disabled.

Alec rose to his feet, slinging both weapons, but keeping his Gift-gun handy, and began to run for his cloak, though it was more like a jog, he wasn't truly capable of running. He was in the worst fighting condition he'd ever  been, combat was suicidal. But he couldn't leave that cloak behind, it was his original charge.

The gunbeast whose harpoon was stuck in the cloak severed it in order to move about. Both it and the other empty gunbeast unleash their full might on the poor gunman. That is, they awkwardly bump into him, trying to trip him, and kick at his shins.

Alec expected them, and he's got a Gift for them both! Relentlessly, he sprays the both of them like he's putting out a fire, trying to side-step their under-handed below-the-belt combat.

The gunbeasts manage a few good kicks, but this probably wouldn't hamper the gunman much. Sure, they're inhumanly strong and might give him some serious bruises, but Alec had shown himself to take as much pain as he could dish out. The creatures are momentarily incapacitated, and Alec is free to grab his cloak and get the hell out of there unhindered.

Alec grabs the cloak- problem, it is stuck. It is still rigid. It is so stubbornly locked in place, it will not even budge for the owner. Alec does not have mana to make this thing move! But, he does have an idea. Rifling through the inside of the cloak, he produces the round of Fireball he purchased at the shop in Jheran. Alec tries to suck the magic out of the round, to repurpose it for commanding the weave, and restoring the cloak to its original form.

The cartridge is drained dry, yielding enough energy to restore the cloak - well, mostly.

Alec frees the cloak, donning it- noticing it's not exactly graceful. But that was fine. Time to book it, he ran quickly and clumsily, pausing to spray any of the gunbeasts he passed with his Gift gun, just to make sure they weren't quick to get back up and chase him.

The gunbeasts are too slow to give chase, though they stumble after him. One tilts over and lands barrel-down in the dirt. The ambush has failed, and what little remains of the Blight infestation in this town would surely burn itself out within a fortnight.

Alec was more concerned about getting home and tending to his leg. He started to slow down as he got near the house, fatigue reaching him, and the adrenaline wearing off. Wow, that hurt. There was a deep puncture into his leg, and he was fortunate it didn't go all the way through, but that didn't make it any less painful. For the last stretch of his retreat, he walked the final fifty or so feet, forced to do so by a limping leg.

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PostSubject: Inferian Days, Part 3 - A Big Baby   Wed Dec 23, 2015 5:48 am

The gunman makes it home without incident. The night has grown bitterly cold, and snow comes down hard, leaving the wounded gunman freezing. As he might have noticed on his way out, the chunks of dead blight have largely been cleared away, and the blood has been buried under fresh snow. The yard has some newly-placed posts, though the garden itself is under, you guessed it, snow. It seems that while Alec was busying himself with work, the family was doing a little work of their own. One thing that has changed since Alec left to test his new weaponry, is Smiley standing on the roof.

Alec squints to observe Smiley up above. The hell's gotten into that thing now? Well, maybe he could borrow some of Smiley's energy. For once, Alec didn't want to earn Sandra's wrath by coming home wounded. He made his way inside, made a stop by the study to drop his new equipment off, before making his way up to the roof. Yes, it was painful, but at least he was able to experience that pain safely. More than he could say for himself an hour ago.

The roof is not easily accessible. Alec would have to climb out a window and grab hold of the edge of the roof - which is covered in snow and slick ice, as well as icicles. The cloak is the only reason he'd make it at all.

Wagering that it would be too much trouble to climb, Alec does not. He opts to stick his head out far enough to call out. "Smiley," he said, holding an arm out. "Y'hear me? Help me up!"

A few moments pass with the wind being the only sound. Then, Smiley's hand grasps Alec's firmly. It is ice cold, and showing early signs of frostbite. Standing outside on a night like this in scant clothing is never a good idea.

Alec is hoisted up with a grunt; Smiley could surely feel that his pain increased. "Yer not the least bit gentle, are ya?" He's helped up- then, begins to notice the condition of Smiley's body. "The hell? Smiley, the hell're ya doin' up here?" He stares at her as he steadies himself. The cold actually numbed some of the pain.

"Sandra told me I talked too much and should go up here. She hates me, which is why I love being around her."

"Why ain't I surprised?... Look," he sighs at the demon, "Yer gettin' yer body damaged. Frostbite ain't easy t' fix. What made ya think this wasn't against my orders?"

"Sandra bound me to you, but she also bound me to herself. That way, if you die, she still commands me. And if she dies, I explode. Isn't that fun?"

"Leave it t' Sandra t' think'a everythin'.. c'mon, let's head inside. I need yer help again, anyway. Uh, you head down first, n' help me down after. Leg's kinda.. busted." He motions down to the bandaged leg.

"Ooh! I was hoping you'd ask me for help with that! You want me to prod it with a hot poker for a while, or skip straight to the gift-giving party?"

He grunts. "Not THAT kin'a help. I'm low on magic. Think y'can lend me some'a yers?"

"Of course! Let's go!" She climbs down from the roof, and assists Alec in doing the same. A normal person would be completely incapacitated, but not this demonically-enhanced corpse.

Alec would lead her to the study after she helped him down, limping again. The departure of the cold returned the biting pain. He'd shut the window they exited from. "How'd ya end up talkin' t' Sandra t' get her so mad at ya, anyway?"

"Well, it started when I asked her about how to become something else, and she gave me a funny answer, she said 'Possibly, but not for one of you.' I asked her why, but she wouldn't give me a clear answer, just kept repeating the same thing, basically. So then I talked about you, and how you told me to do this, and our special bond. She got really mad then, and told me to go stand on the roof and be quiet. So I did."

Alec gave Smiley a long, annoyed stare.

"What?"

Alec slowly shook his head. "Let's.. deal with the magic thing first." He held a hand out. "Gi'me some energy. Slowly." He eyes Smiley carefully. "Ain't ever borrowed energy from yer kind before, but I figure it's probably not a common thing people do. Unless Inferia does it all the time."

"Only the Demonologists," Smiley says. "Scary bunch..." She grabs his hand, and funnels him some energy. It's magic, but... tinged differently. Darker. As it flows into Alec, the pain of his wounds increases, fresh blood soaks into his bandage. His hand feels as though it touched a hot coal.

Alec grits his teeth, soldiering through it. "Ugh... y-yeah... figured... this'd happen. This really ain't... healthy. That's enough, Smiley." He'd immediately put the energy to use, forcing the cloak to bind to his skin and begin the healing process. His body was not fit to handle demonic energies... but luckily, the cloak could handle any form.

The energy is put to good use by the cloak. His wounds close up, and Smiley looks a bit disappointed. "No more pain!" she says, suddenly brightening up. "That's good, because it's bad... for me. Right? Sacrifice?"

"Yeah.. kind of." He scratches his head. "It's not bodily pain. It's pain fer the soul." He stares at Smiley inquisitively. "But I still don't think y'get the importance. Well, guess it'll jus' take time t' explain it all." He exhales, then turns his attention to Smiley's body. Frostbite. Oh boy. "Hold still, Smiley" Alec formed small needles out of the sleeves of the cloak, sticking them into Smiley's frostbitten body at points, to discover if the Cloak would treat her as a human or demon. Smiley was very much in between at this point, Alec had to be sure.

Smiley, surprisingly enough, registers as not wholly demon. But, she is still very much leaning towards that side. The cloak might heal the wounds, but damage her spirit in the process.

"Looks like we can fix ya, but it'll destroy bits'a you if I go in deep. Gonna have 't work from the outside in." He plucked the needles out and began to surround her body with the cloak, beginning the healing process from the outside-in, which was a little counter-intuitive to correctly regenerating the body, but he had little choice.

Fortunately, frostbite is an outside-in kind of injury. The worst of it is dealt with immediately, while the warmer interior is healed more slowly and carefully. The ruptured capillaries and dead cells are repaired, the ice crystals thawed back into the blood. Smiley flexes her unfrozen limbs. "That felt... weird. I don't know how to describe it. Not pain? Something less pleasant. Or maybe not. It was just different."

"That's how it feels when things that're broke start t' work again," he describes to her. "Feelin' healthy again, I'd call it. Whaddya think'a it?" He lofts a brow at Smiley. "Hard t' feel pain when y'ain't got things t' feel it with, right?"

"I don't feel like I used to feel. Just now, I feel... lessened. And that other feeling I described. This is very strange, very new..." Smiley examines herself, moving her arms about. "...It's fading, now. The pain's back!" She cracks a grin.

Alec scratches his neck. "Right. Well, you'll be back t' yer old self quick, anyway. Uh..." He looks around the study, motioning to the Gift gun. "I had t' put that t' use t'day, needs a refillin'. Well, it needs a fillin' in general. Get around to it when y'can, alright?"

"Sure thing!" she walks eagerly over to the gun and unloads into it. Wiping her mouth, with a look of satisfaction, she says, "That was a good batch. Make sure you hit something!"

"Believe me, I've been hittin' plenty'a things with it a'ready. It works great. Things fall over after a few seconds." Alec borrows a seat from the study, so he can secure some rest. "Smiley, I'm thinkin' you ought'a stay in the study fer now. Maybe try readin' some books, see if they give ya any ideas on the tall order I gave ya."

"Read? I dunno how to read... I can teach myself. I'll read these books." She goes to the shelf and pulls things off, making a big pile.

Alec lifts a brow. "..Y'don't know how t' read?" This boggles him. Surely, a hundred year old demon- wait. "Smiley, how old're you?"

"One-hundred and seventy-three, why do you ask?" She grins. "Seeing if I'm old enough for you?"

"Wonderin' if yer old enough t' read, and yer old as dirt! Why can'cha read?"

"I never needed to know how to read."

Alec gawked. "...What are ya, an ignoramus? Everybody needs t' know how t' read or they'll be dumb as shit." He sighed and shook his head. "Well, how d'ya plan t' teach yerself?"

"Well, I... don't know. I figured if I just stared at this long enough, I'd figure it out. I'm a smart demon."

Alec rubs his forehead. He looks through the library quickly for a children's book on learning how to read. "Wait. Le'me help."

Being a man's study, this has no simple books in it. Though, an illustrated dictionary is on one of the shelves, which might be helpful. Not all of the words have pictures to them, but enough for a good start.

Smiley takes the book from him, displaying her usual facial expression. "Thanks! This'll be easy."

"Hah. Guess we'll see." Alec left the Gift Gun with Smiley- but he paused and looked to her. "Smiley, one more thing. Y'might be a demon on the inside, but yer a human on the outside, n' humans need sleep. So, remember t' get some rest when ya start t' feel tired."

Smiley drops the book onto the desktop, and pulls up a chair. "I don't really need to sleep, but sometimes my energy gets low and I have to hide for a while. Should I do that?"

He peers at her with confusion. "Hide?" He scratches his forehead. "Wha'd'ya mean, ya have t' hide fer a while?"

"Yeah. You know, stay out of sight, don't kill people. Until I'm recharged. Doesn't take too long, usually, unless I'm really spent."

Alec rubs his forehead in continued frustration. "Gods, y'really don't know how t' be a functionin' livin' being, do ya?" He shakes his head. "Jus' wait there fer a minute, I'll be back."

He quietly left the study, descending downstairs to search about the kitchen for food. Anything would do, so long as it was edible and wouldn't require much intellect on Smiley's part to consume it.

The only food reserves left in this house are weevil-infested bread and some questionable cured meats.

Alec snatches up the bread, giving it a once over. "Yer jokin', right? Well... better this n' the meat." He shifted a portion of the cloak's power into sending tendrils through the loaf to attempt to quell the infestation. This wouldn't have worked with the meat... he would have just destroyed the meat if he'd used it for this.

The loaf crumbles apart somewhat, and flakes and crumbs fall to the floor. But, the weevils are gone.

He eyes the food as the tendrils sink back into the cloak; he dusts crumbs off them. "...Guess this's as good as it gets. Sandra'll have t' speed up that garden or these folk're gonna starve," he mutters to himself. He snatches a glass from a nearby cupboard, and simply conjures water into it. Bread and water. That would have to do for Smiley's first meal. He set the recovered loaf on a plate, and headed upstairs.

When Alec returns to the study, Smiley is hunched over the open dictionary, looking a little lost. "I don't know what a lot of these pictures are," she says.

Alec exhales. Could it be that his powerful demonic companion was actually a total dimwit? He sat beside her, setting the plate beside her and offering her the glass. "Eat the bread, drink the water. These're things necessary t' stay alive in a body. You'll need these every day."

Smiley looks at the food in confusion. "But..." she can not protest any further. She stuffs the bread in her mouth, and attempts to drink the water. It's a messy affair. "Mmmffgh."

Alec stares at her without any amusement. "Chew yer food," he states plainly, "and take yer time eating. Don't try t' do it all at once.... and gulp the water down carefully, yer spillin' it all over." He shakes his head with a sigh.

Smiley manages to get a handle on the bread, now that it's wet with water and spit. She finishes chewing, and swallows it. Then she carefully drinks the water. "Huh. That was strange."

"That's what eatin' is. Certain things are okay t' eat. Other things ain't okay t' eat. N' after a while, it comes out the other end," he points at her rear, "But that won't happen 'til... eighteen, twenty hours or so. Uh... guess we'll deal with that problem when we get there."

"Wait, is that why I'm leaking?"

He pauses to give her a long stare. Then, slowly, he repeats "...Leakin'?"

"Yeah. Not like in my old hosts. This one leaks once in a while. It hurts a lot, so I can't complain, but I was just curious if this was the same thing."

Alec stares at her a while, looking over the body. "Where's it leak?..."

"Down here," she says, putting a hand... down there.

He sighs. "Yeah..." He offers Smiley a hand. "Come on, get up. Time t' potty-train ya..."

"What's that?" she takes his hand, letting him guide her.

"That's when human parents teach their children how t'... get rid'a used-up food and waste matter, without makin' a gods-damned mess and ruinin' their clothes, kind'a like what you ended up doin'." He lead her out of the study and downstairs, in search of a lavatory of any kind; the plumbing may not have worked, especially with Simmons Co. no longer around to look after things, but gods be damned, Alec would make it work.

The downstairs has a lavish water closet, complete with a painting of the Empress over the toilet. The plumbing most certainly does not work; it hasn't been properly maintained in years, and not at all since the past week or so. Plus, the cold has frozen everything up, likely bursting pipes as well. Fortunately, there is an old-fashioned chamber pot placed next to the toilet.

Alec sighs to himself, oh, this was going swimmingly.

The scene that follows makes Alec regret every decision leading up to this point, including his own birth. Fortunately, he later learns to repress the memory of it.

Alec tiredly calls out to her, "Are we done? There ain't any other strange things y'need me t' address?"

"I'll tell you if there are, but no, not now. Now, I... sleep. How do I sleep?"

Alec's tired eyes slowly open wider, oh gods.

Slowly, he gets to his feet, rubbing his back as he starts to feel ten years older than he was. "...C'mon. Let's go t' the study. I'll... try n' explain."

Smiley follows him back upstairs. "When people are asleep, they usually have their eyes closed. And they breathe really slowly, some of them make these snorting sounds."

"Yeah, but those're things that happen after yer asleep. The part where ya actually sleep jus' comes naturally. The best you can do is coax yer body in t' wantin' t' sleep more, until it happens. Kind'a like... when ya feel like pukin' yer... puke. Jus' happens."

"How long should I sleep?"

In they go into the study, "Yer body'll decide. Ya won't know when yer asleep, not really. But you'll know when ya wake up again, 'cause you'll be able t' open yer eyes n' see things've changed." He attempts to set aside some space for her to rest, maybe a soft carpet or rug, if the floor itself wasn't already made of such material.

The floor of the study is hardwood, but there is a rug beneath the desk and chair. It's just large enough for someone of Smiley's dimensions to rest on.

He would drag it out and spread it, give it a brief cleaning with magic, and perhaps borrow a seat cushion to be used as a pillow. Alec motions to it. "...Consider that yer bed, fer now."

"Okay. I will go to sleep now." Smiley lays herself down on the rug, resting her feet up on the pillow. "Uh... good... night. Right?"

Alec nods slowly. "Usually what y'say. Guess we'll see if yer capable'a havin' dreams, too," he says. Alec stands by the doorway, watching Smiley, and sighs to himself as he comes to another internal conclusion; the gunman relocates to Smiley's side, sitting down. "I'll jus' wait here n' make sure ya figure out how t' sleep, then."

"Oh, okay. Wait- maybe you can read me a story."

He gives her an incredulous look. "Try yer luck another night." He reaches for the ring he'd given her. "As fer this. This's gonna keep ya from sleepin', yer gonna be too distracted by it." He slowly slips it off her finger, and sets it in her hand. "Yer free t' put it back on in the mornin', but don't sleep with it on."

"Okay," she says, once again looking that strange mix of disappointed and happy at the same time. "Goodnight, Alec." She closes her eyes, and attempts to will herself to sleep.

After one hour, assuming no interruptions... Smiley succeeds in getting her body to fall asleep. It's a miracle. Then again, she has been a quick study, despite being totally clueless about almost everything.

Alec is hesitant to get up, not wanting to wake her. Slowly, he rises and creeps out the study, shutting the door behind him. With a sigh of relief, he heads for the bedroom to, at last, lay in bed beside Sandra. Unless, of course, something horrible was waiting for him. Alec opens the door with hesitation, slowly poking his head through, scanning the room with his faintly glowing eyes.

Sandra is sitting cross-legged in the candle-lit room, facing away from the door. Her armor glistens in the shifting light. "Good evening, Alec."

Gods, it just kept getting worse. "...E-evenin', Sandra..." He slowly enters the room, shutting the door behind him. "...Been up long?"

"Not really, no. Haven't had much to do besides meditation. You seem to have had an eventful day, though."

"Uh... yeah... some good, some bad..." He approached the bed, removing his cloak and the many things on it; his new weapons had been left in the study, along with his crafting kits, and all the excess he'd brought with him from earlier in the day. Alec's shirt was missing its right sleeve, and he suddenly recalled he had used it to bandage himself, and forgotten to replace the shirt. Uh oh. He pretended to act like it was normal, sitting at the edge of the bed. Hopefully, Sandra wasn't going to check. Alec slowly removed his shirt, unbuttoning it, to toss it aside.

"Honestly, Alec, you should have told me you wanted to marry the demon. I could've conjured up a ceremony."

"Wh- What?!" Alec rips his shirt. Entirely. In the process of removing it, he just tears it open, ruining half the buttons. "Marry?! The hell're ya talkin' about!"

"Relax, I know what the ring is for. But if all I had to go on was what she- IT, told me, I'd have my doubts. What is it you're trying to accomplish with this charade? It's a demon, Alec. Use it for your purposes, and discard it. Don't make it into some glorified pet- or worse, treat it like a person."

Alec huffs and sighs with relief, staring at his now ruined shirt. "...Could'a told me that before I ripped this thing up." Unhappily, he discards it. "I disagree with ya, Sandra. It ain't a demon, n' it ain't a human either. It's a teammate. If the thing is adamant on stickin' to me, then I'm gonna make it somethin' that I can keep around. I can't keep around a demon. Demons're monsters. There ain't any question t' that." He carefully set the remains of the shirt aside and tried to lay down in the bed. "But nobody ever said a monster has t'be a monster forever. This's the third time a monster's put their life in m' hands, expectin' me t' do somethin' better with it. Anybody can kill a monster, really. But... there ain't a lot'a people that can change one. I figure that it's worth tryin'. Worst that'll happen is I wasted a lot'a effort... n' that ain't really any different from doin' anythin' else in the world."

Sandra stands up, turning to face him. She looks ready to get angry, but exhales, calming down somewhat. "...That thing in there was wearing someone's skin when we first fought it. It killed people in the most unpleasant ways imaginable. That kind of damage is irreversible. No matter what it becomes, it won't undo those past deeds."

Alec didn't look like he was going to budge. He pushed himself up. "...It was only doin' the only thing it ever knew. You tellin' me you were much different?" He gave her a stare. "Didn't ya confess t' murderin' people?"

"...I did," she says, looking like she was struck. "It's... it's not the same, though. I would've been someone else. I could've been. That was taken from me. A demon has always been that way. Trying to change one is... it's unnatural."

Alec sits up forther, hunching forward as he rests on the edge of the bed, and cups his hands together. "Think y'got it backwards, Sandra. Demons're unnatural. Somethin' in me tells me so. Like y'said, they're all twisted up. Well, I don' reckon' I'm the next savior'a Aeria, but if I can help two friends fix 'emselves, there ain't no reason I can't try n' untwist a demon's soul. Nothin' t' be lost there... but there might be somethin' t' be gained." He exhales to himself. "N' if it all fails, at the end'a the day, least I can look back n' say I wasn't the monster in that story."

"This goes against everything," she says, the temperature of the room rising. "And if you were an Inferian, you would understand. We learn to hate them, whether we end up in the Parietis or not. Families are torn apart, people are rolled into the hospitals in droves, or sent to the Asylum where they're observed as their very essence is stripped away, piece by piece. They're more than just unnatural. They're a scourge, and should be eradicated, not reeducated. Do you think Inferia would have lasted this long if we tried to reason with our tormentors? And what you did goes beyond simple reasoning. Beyond reason, even. You're spending time with it, making your arts and crafts projects with it, and Gods know what else. Do you like its host body, is that it? You think it's attractive?"

"Not really," he scrunches his expression, "She's pretty disgustin' on all grounds." Sandra's torrent is exhausting him further. "It ain't beyond reason. It's jus' beyond common reason. But I ain't one t' rely on that. You wouldn't understand, Sandra. I've seen a werebear return t' bein' a man. I've seen a vampire become a human again; alive. Free from Shar. N' it's made me wonder if killin's the only way t' defeat every monster." He chuckles, "Either way, yer way's not workin'. Controllin' 'em, killin' 'em? Yeah, I've seen how swell that goes. Kill the body n' they head back home fer a lil' vacation, then find a way here again t' get back t' work. Other n' this thing," he motions casually to his cloak, "None'a my tricks've ever really killed a demon fer good. Even then, I don' figure the cloak kills 'em the way ya think'a killin' things... Point is, if y'think that y'can fix yer demon problem by becomin' like a demon yerself, yer operatin' on a whole 'nother level'a hypocrisy."

Sandra's anger flares up even further. The room is really quite hot. The air above the floorboards becomes distorted with the heat. "I don't even know what I'm doing here. Besides healing you, casting spells for you, fucking you. You really don't know how good you have it. Out there," she points to the window. "That's what most people have to deal with. They're all dead, or going to be in the next few weeks. And none of it was their fault. Don't you dare try to pin this on us."

Alec basks in the heat. Hm. Provoking her further might set the house on fire. Alec plays it as diplomatically as his personality will allow. "...Yer right. I've got it good, compared t' the rest'a 'em. I've almos' died a handful'a times, n' I got you t' thank fer why I survived half'a them. I don't know why yer stayin' here with me. All I know is that I asked ya t' stay. Yer not bound t' me like Smiley is, Sandra, and I ain't gonna force ya t' stay if y'don't think I'm doin' right."

"I stayed with you because I was confused. Gods damn it, I was supposed to be dead. The capital, the country, everything I was literally made to protect, got destroyed in all of a few minutes. My link exploded in my mind, and I heard the people screaming for hours. Hours. My whole life up to that point had been for nothing. My cause no longer existed. So I just... took the first one I could find. Threw myself into it, like a naive little girl. I even let myself think we-... But no." The heat dies down, and Sandra looks oddly calm.

"...What makes ya think we didn't have somethin' ?" At this, he appeared wounded. "Yer actin' like I hate ya or somethin'."

"I was going to kill you, Alec. To maintain my cover, I let you risk your life against very dangerous creatures. I probably would've killed Terri, too, had I found her. And I lied to you. I knew what my superiors did to make me, but until I saw their plans fail, I never doubted them. They were doing what was best for Inferia. For the world. Knowing this, can you look me in the eye, and honestly say you don't have even a speck of hatred for me?"

Alec looks her in the eye as she asks him, and nods. "Yeah. It doesn' matter t' me what you were before. When I put my gun t' yer head and I saw what y'were, I thought about what you'd be if I pulled the trigger, n' what you'd be if I didn't. I figured, maybe if I didn't pull the trigger, we'd be friends. N' if that didn't work out, well, we'd have t' fight one day. But why would'a hate ya? You weren't tryin' t' ruin me... Life ain't such a simple black n' white canvas."

Alec got up from his seat, wobbling a bit, as exhaustion had all but set-in and had him close to being knocked out. He stumbled his way to Sandra, and clumsily sat in front of her. "I mean... see... People don' always do horrible things 'cause they're horrible people. Sometimes they ain't got a choice. Doesn't mean I can't forgive 'em, 'specially if they never end up doin' anythin' horrible." He reached for her hand, holding it the way they often would since having first met. "So, I thought 'bout how ya treated me as Erin n' I figured that, as much as ya tried t' push me in t' a corner, ya still treated me pretty well on all other grounds... N' when ya finally revealed yerself t'me, ya didn't try t' kill me. Ya tried t' let me live; even offered t' let Terri live. That told me ya weren't doin' bad things 'cause ya wanted t' do bad things. So, you couldnt'a been all bad at heart."

Sandra listens to him speak, looking him in the eyes. After he is finished, she looks away, thinking things over for a few moments. Finally, she speaks her reply. "...I don't believe you." She points her revolver at Alec.

He's taken aback, looking all the more confused. "Wha-... why- I ain't lyin'!" There wasn't much else he could say.

"I gotta hand it to you," she says, "you're quite the actor. But you left out one thing. You're supposed to protect me. That's what your friends, the Numbers, told you. You can't disobey them, nobody can. But there's a loophole- you can't protect me if you're dead, but the only way to survive this would be to kill me. Honestly, after watching you... you might even be able to pull it off. Or else, the Numbers will. You understand what this means? I'm releasing you from your obligation. Now, you know what to do. I'll give you five seconds, and I'm pulling this trigger. I never miss. So take your shot. It's okay, now."

He stares at her as she speaks. He exhales, shaking his head. "You asked me once what I would'a done if the Numbers never told me t' protect you. Well, guess what. When I spared yer life, that was long before I got any message from 'em. Long before we found out all yer friends were gone, n' you were one'a the last ones left. I was told t' protect ya when ya became a rarity. I spared ya when you were still just an assassin. Riddle me that." Alec stood still, his expression rather hollow. "I ain't gonna run. Ain't like I don't deserve t' be shot." He closes his eyes. Rather than fear, his body felt heaviness; a hollow kind of loneliness, though it was something he could not convey to Sandra, and didn't bother to try. Unfortunately, the only one that could feel this was probably Smiley.

Inevitably, five seconds pass. Each one seemingly longer than the last. Suddenly, the silence is broken. Sandra squeezes the trigger.

*Click.*

The silence continues with a lack of reaction from Alec. Maybe he didn't want to open his eyes.

Sandra lowers her hand, letting the gun drop to the floor with a loud clatter. She stands there, staring at him, bewildered.

Alec would not move. Eventually, he slowly opened his eyes. "...Sandra, I-..." He starts to move, tipping backwards, "can't-..." his back lands on the floor. A situation that should have called for his adrenaline... did not, at all. Shutting his eyes instead had lulled his body closer to sleep. Being as exhausted as he was, he had at last given in, right on the floor, and passed out.

This was about the last reaction Sandra was expecting. It takes her a few moments to process what just transpired, after which she dries her tears, collects her gun, and makes her way over to Alec. Gently, she scoops up the baby gunman and puts him to bed.

Alec's body is carried away, shirtless, but still in his pants. It was fortunate that she left them on, otherwise she may have spotted the bloodied bandage hidden beneath them. Though, she may have spied it anyway through the gaping hole in said pants, if she looked closely. The gunman offered little response, and slept silently; this time, nothing would wake him until he had at least had his four hours.

As she pulls the covers up, she takes a moment to glance at him lying there. Then she begins to undress, and climbs in next to him. She was, of course, aware of his injury, but that no longer concerns her. Closing her eyes, she retreats into her meditation, not wanting to be fully awake with only her thoughts for another long stretch. Even so, part of her awareness remains there with Alec, watching over him.

_________________
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PostSubject: Inferian Days, Part 4 - All About Arcane Arms(?)   Wed Jan 06, 2016 11:59 am

Disclaimer: The following logs contain mature content. Not that this will stop anyone, but I claim no responsibility for underage viewing.

Hours pass. Two. Four. Eight. Around nine hours later, Alec begins to stir, slowly opening his eyes. Feeling the heat of a body beside him, brushes up against it, and reasons this must be Sandra. Smiling a bit in his half-asleep state, he'd shift an arm over her and turn his body to cuddle against her. "...You up, Sandra?" He spoke softly, and drowsily, not entirely there yet.

Daylight streams in through the window. Another cold, overcast day in Durender. "...Yes," is Sandra's delayed response, as she emerges from her trance.

He inhales slowly. The memories slowly return to him. As he recalls the events prior to the morning, he finds himself hugging her more tightly and whispering, "...Are you alright now?"

"I... I think so," she says without moving. "You were going to let me kill you."

His eyes slowly open. "...Yeah," he replies briefly, not much strength to it. "...Yer wonderin' why?"

"No, actually. I think I already know."

"...Dang," he replies. "I was gonna make ya flash me fer the answer." He buries his face into her neck. "...Don't go thinkin' like that again, Sandra. The only thing I can't live with is lettin' myself betray m' friends. N yer one'a my friends... if not more."

"I was a reject," she says unexpectedly. "Not every Promethean makes it through the training. I'd failed. My superiors, though, they don't waste things. Rejects like me get sent on impossible assignments. If they survive, great, if not, it's no great loss. Tracking down the heir, with an ancient Blight-Caster on his trail... it was a suicide mission."

He silences himself as she begins to speak, waking up little by little with each word. "...Why'd ya still do it?"

"Because," she says, chuckling softly. "I still thought I could prove myself to them. Earn my way back in, somehow. There were missions before that one, almost as dangerous. Infiltrating Jheran, that was nothing in comparison. Each one I completed as best I could, I pushed myself harder and harder. But there was always another, just one more and I'd be given a chance, just one more... then they died. And I realized, I wasn't going to get a chance. I never had one to begin with."

Alec deepens his hug in response, letting her speak.

"That's why I couldn't trust you. I've never been given a chance, not even by the closest thing I had to a family. I never had one until... I met you."

He curled his fingers into her hair and began to brush along her locks. "...I'm sorry. That ain't right. That ain't right at all..." He let silence reign for a while, but that was too hard to bear, so he tried to lighten the mood a little. "They got'a be damned out'a their minds t' reject a pair like this, too. Don' even get me started 'bout everythin' else they rejected."

Sandra laughs, a little, looking at him with a smile. "I think I'd like to hear it. Tell me about what else they rejected."

"Well," he began a little awkwardly as he was put on the spot, "there's yer gorgeous hair, soft, smooth skin... that ass," he said, rather unashamedly, "N' everythin' attached... not sure I can do it justice t' describe everythin' attached, so yer gon'a have t' trust me on that bit. But believe me, I ain't seen much better." He pauses. "Well.. maybe one, but if ya met her, I think you'd leave me. I wouldn't blame ya, either, I'd leave me, too."

Sandra seems pleased by his list, until he comes to that certain someone. Then she looks curious and amused. "She must be some woman, if she could turn me."

"...Eh, I got a sketch'a her if y'wanna see. Several, actually- she caught me sketchin' her face.. n' then she forced me t' sketch some more." Alec had an uncertain look about his face, as if questioning his own past actions.

"...Sure, why not. Show me this woman who blows me out of the water."

"Well... le'see, where'd I put m' cloak." Alec shifts his concentration to his cloak, lifting a hand out of the covers to weave, speaking a brief chant. As he concentrates on the spell, a journal floats out and approaches the bed. Alec catches it, and begins to flip through some pages toward the rear, skipping several people - mostly women - whose faces he had sketched, until he arrived at Persephone's, a profile of her from the shoulders up, with a neutral expression. "This's the first one..."

Sandra sits up a little, leaning over to look at the journal. The girls rub up against Alec's shoulder. "...Well, she's pretty. I'll give her that. What about the others?"

Alec leans into Sandra to better enjoy her form. Slowly, he turns the page. "They get a lil' more..." The next one is a larger sketch, more detailed, of a clothed Persephone facing the viewer with a seductive smile and provocative position, the one after that had less apparel, but still covered the delicate parts, "...n' then, uh... even more..." In the next, she was topless, and baring it with pride; there was no other word to describe her expression.  The one after, a full nude, Persephone laid out comfortably, smiling at the viewer. The next was another nude, but Persephone was teasing the viewer by the angle of her body and the placement of her hands. The last was the most shocking, a full spread-eagle, she was clearly just showing off. Alec steps in at this point, saying, "... She asked fer one more; asked me t' sketch her while she was havin' sex with someone. I, uh.... she asked me more n' once, but, I said no," he stated simply.

With each page, Sandra's eyes grow a little bit wider. "...Those proportions have to be exaggerated. There's no way- damn, I'm surprised she actually asked you to do this. And while she was... well, I think I get what you were saying, but it doesn't change anything. I don't do women. Even ones like that." Sandra says this, but there is but the smallest trace of doubt in her expression. She's quick to dismiss it. "I didn't know you were such an artist. You being an engineer, I guess I should've known. So, uh... when do I get added to your little collection?"

He chuckled at the question. "..Maybe when a'don't come back half dead everyday. I didn' plan on addin' any like these, though. These were... Perse's thing, really." He views at the images again. "I, uh... better put these away."

Her knee bumps up against him, rubbing slowly. "Yeah, you should. You don't want to make me jealous."

Alec closes the journal up. "Alright, alright, eesh. They're jus' sketches." He gives it a gentle toss onto the nightstand. "...Ain't got anythin' t' worry about, anyway. She was... mos'ly a lesbian." He said it with some uncertainty. "Far as I recall, that is."

She chuckles again, pressing closer to him and giving him a kiss. "Good. Now, I think I have an idea for my sketch..."

And so, together, the gunman and the Promethean made great advances in the field of pornography.

Outside, the husband looks up from his yardwork. Seeing nothing, he shrugs his shoulders and goes back to digging.

Sometime later, Sandra smiles up at Alec from where she lies. "Did you get that?"

"Did I ever," he said, sounding many times more satisfied than Sandra. "...Whew..." Sweat dripped down his body, and he panted heavily. "...That didn' feel like sex... felt like we were... fightin' fer our lives... with sex." Alec tried to reason that one out in his head, which resulted in many a strange and confused expression.

"Should we wrap this up?" Sandra says, looking at the daylight through the window. "We still don't know where this key is, or even what it is."

Alec slowly shook his head. "...Nah... I, uh... need a minute.. n' some water... maybe breakfast..." He hugged Sandra tightly. "...We can... give the day another.. half hour. It ain't goin' nowhere."

She kisses him on the cheek, softly. "Okay, go eat your breakfast." She gooses him. "But it might end up taking longer than a half hour."

He gives her a funny look, a little confused, knowing she meant something else, but unclear as to what. Maybe it was boobs! Alec's mind could be simple at times. "Al...alright." He lay there for a few more minutes before getting out of bed. He cleaned himself up, got a drink of water, and ate some more of his emergency rations; this time he had to settle for some salted pork between two slices of bread. How his food remained fresh after so long was one of the perks of being a mage.

Sandra watches and waits, smiling in anticipation. She sits up on the bed, an arm on one knee with her other leg splayed out, presenting a nice view.

He finished up quickly; it wasn't much food. Alec washed it down with a little more water, to keep his throat parched, then turned back to Sandra. Ah, it seemed he understood what she was getting at. He looked at her, and his eyes dropped down. "Wait... y'want me t'..." He looked up at her with a slightly nervous smile.

"Hm?" she says innocently, looking down. "Oh. Why, thanks for offering."

Alec Smith walked right into that one. He gave her a joking look of annoyance and closed in.

"...Tastes like magic," Alec later concludes. "Is this how yer gonna recharge me now? I might be up t' it now n' then."

"That's both vulgar and unnecessarily complicated" she says, running her foot along the arch of his back. "I love it. Should we give it a test run?"

"Maybe later, ya nymph; we're gonna burn too much daylight. Jus' let me sit'ere fer a bit n' enjoy yer company." He let himself relax against her.

"Point taken," she says, beginning to stroke his hair. The two of them sit like this for a while longer, perhaps a little longer than they should have, putting off the day's tasks until they no longer can.

Alec enjoyed the quiet. While they had a moment to themselves, he pondered a question, and decided now was as good a time as any to ask Sandra. "Hey, Sandra..." He opened his eyes and tilted his head back, staring up at her, speaking quietly to not ruin the moment. "Yer gun... I'm curious 'bout it, doesn't look like anythin' I've seen b'fore."

Sandra casually extends her hand, the gun floating up to it. She grasps the handle, lowering it to Alec, where she releases her grip and lets it dangle from her finger. "Be careful with it. She's primed."

He'd take it with care and gingerly turn it over, observing it in detail, looking over the barrel, the chamber, the trigger mechanism, but most importantly, the method behind the arcane-arms. "Huh..."

As he examines it, a horrible realization came over him. "It's a Simmons-Ferguson hybrid design," Sandra explains. "A week ago I would have had to kill you for viewing it that closely." The weapon is a six-shot revolver with a motile-lock mechanism in favor of a hammer and primer. Instead of bullets, it's loaded with spell cartridges. "Double action, two modes of fire. The first locks the cylinder in place, and disengages the barrel. The spell that's loaded in the slot will fire instead. The second mode, and the most fun, unlocks the cylinder and can fire the barrel spell six times, using the cartridges for power. I could use it just like one of yours, except I get more shots, and I can change spells around without needing another gun."

Alec slowly observes the weapon with joking disgust. "Eugh... I can't believe you'd be walkin' around with this kin'a abomination, Sandra." He looks up at her, his expression of eugh breaking out into a grin, offering the weapon back to her. "I'd probably let ya shoot me so I wouldn't have t' know the darn thing was ever made."

She takes the gun, looking it over without acknowledging his comments. "Its name is Solarius. Fires Sunbeam, with a couple of my own modifications. One shot's usually enough. I've yet to see something that can survive all six."

Alec nods slightly. "Yeah, sounds like a tough weapon t' beat. Where'd ya get it from, yer superiors?"

"How did you guess?" she asks sarcastically. "...Ferguson did some contracts for us. Of course, he had no idea who he was working for or why, just a really big stack of bills. I dare say this is one of his greatest inventions."

Alec chuckles as he watches the gun again. "...It's rubbish. Yer wasted on it. Sure, it shoots fast, but it's got a fault. Wasn't sure until ya told me the name'a the spell... but now that'a know, I know fer a fact he messed somethin' up when he made this fer ya." Alec reaches out to feel the barrel with a degree of familiarity.

Sandra pulls the gun away, instinctively. "I know you're a good gunsmith, Smith, but this is a prototype. I don't think it's a good idea to go tweaking it. Now what do you think is wrong?"

He huffs, looking disappointed. Alec folds his arms. "Ya said ya hired 'im t' make a hybrid? One'a the main design elements'a Simmons' design was that it'd do away with the limitations in spell design. Fact, m' family said the whole reason he didn't combine his arcane-arms with his rapid fire weapons was 'cause he needed a hardier, focused design t' achieve his goal. You shoot that pea-shooter six times if y'want, but le'me tell ya, if I made a single-shot out'a this with Simmons' model and put it in yer hands, you'd only need t' shoot once." He poked her belly as he said 'once.' "It's limitin' is what's the problem. Yer wasted on it."

"Ah, I think I see what you're getting at." Sandra pokes him back, right on the nose. "The storage capacity of the cartridges versus that of a standard Simmons model. You're right, if I rapid-fire, each shot is less than the upper limit on a Simmons gun. But remember, this has a Simmons barrel. The first shot can, at least, be just as potent. And once it's exhausted, I can fire a few more times for good measure. Mop up anything that's left. You see?"

Alec huffs. "I don' believe he did it right. Bet he screwed that up, too. Tell ya what, you le'me know when ya plan t' shoot that half n' I'll decide if he made it right're not."

"Oh, you'll decide," she says, feigning humility. "Well, thank you, Alec Smith, for offering your expert opinion." She tussles his hair, smirking. "Here, let me show you something else." She pops out the cylinder, and removes one of the cartridges. "A lot lighter than a whole gun, don't you agree? Making a Simmons for the simpler stuff is just a waste of resources, and weight. I'd rather carry a pocketful of these than a backpack full of guns. Well, I'd probably like the gun pack too, but I mean in terms of weight and versatility."

Alec frowns. "Yeah, yeah, pay me that much money, I'd make a gun that fancy, too. All my shit's heavy n' tough 'cause that's the most bang fer buck." He grumpily settled into her legs. "We ain't all powerful n' got rich sponsors."

Sandra floats the gun back to its spot among her armor and other equipment. "...Sorry, Alec. I shouldn't have talked up Ferguson to a Simmons man. But you asked." She dangles her legs over his shoulders, rocking them slightly. "Honestly, I don't see why the two are so polarizing. They both fill different roles, and are designed for different kinds of users. You shouldn't even compare them."

"Ain't it obvious? He stole ideas! Didn't revive 'em or build on 'em, he flat out stole 'em n' butchered 'em, called 'em his own. My Pa never saw any'a the originals 'imself, but gramps? Gramps saw it all, n' he tells me that Ferguson messed it all up." He starts to settle down. "I heard.. so many stories. Gramps said there were amazin' things.. his own Pa showed 'em amazin' things, n' they're all gone now. Inferia ruined it.. n' Ferguson ruined it s'more."

"Ferguson and Simmons models are still recognized as being distinct in Inferia. Ferguson never slapped his name on anything he didn't design. Unless you mean the idea of the arcane firearm. In that case, yes, Simmons was first, Ferguson took the idea. But nobody would accuse Simmons of stealing the idea of metallurgy, or ranged weapons. Inventors build off of each other; if they didn't, nothing new would get built. Ferguson's weapons, they happened to fill a niche Inferia had just at the right time."

He sighs and waves his hand. "Ferget it. I'll show ya one day. I can't explain it by jus' talkin' about it." Slowly, he tries to sit up. "If any'a it ever survived, I could show ya. If some'a gramps' stories weren't buried under the rubble. Only stuff I got from the old days're common designs, n' those ain't enough." He sighs.

Sandra lies back, her legs still hanging on Alec. "...We got a job to do."

Alec peers at her legs hanging onto him. "Yeah, guess yer right. Le'me get up, it takes time fer me t' get dressed, remember?" He rubbed at her legs, patting them afterward.

"I remember. Guess I'll just lie back and... wait." She shuts her eyes.

He'd get up, peering at Sandra. "Wait, huh? A'right." He'd get started on dressing, putting on his armor, his cloak and equipment, over time.

Eventually, Sandra moves, rolling off the bed. Her boots slide up to catch her feet. With a graceful movement, she rises to a stand, and her equipment magically fastens itself. She's fully geared in under a minute.

Alec peers at her, annoyed once again. "...I'm gonna dig up a spell fer that." He fixes his cloak and dons his hat, heading for the door to pull it open once Sandra is ready.

"That'll be fun. Watching you shoot your clothes in the morning." She ignores him, opening the door herself. Looking over her shoulder, she says, "You coming?"

He stares at her, further annoyed as he is made the slowpoke twice, but follows after her. "Need t' stop by the study n' grab a few things."

"Okay. What's the plan with you-know-who?"

"Guess that depends on the state I find 'er in. If she's up n'... not a mess, she's comin' with us-" he pauses and looks at Sandra. "...Unless yer against bringin' her in t' the keep."

"I'm against bringing her anywhere," she replies, "but she's your responsibility. Take her along, if you really think she'll help."

"Alright. Guess I'll go check on 'er." He nods and approaches the study. "Gi'me a minute." He opens the door, steeping in, checking to see how - or more importantly, what - Smiley was doing.

Smiley looks okay, if a bit sleep-deprived. She sits cross-legged on the makeshift 'bed.' "Oh, good morning!"

Alec steps in, lifting a brow. "Smiley?... Ya look tired. I thought ya went t' sleep. What happened to ya?"

"I had to... leak. So I did. And then I couldn't get back to sleep. But I had to try, so I did that too. Didn't really work... I filled up your gun, though! You're gonna love this batch."

"Oh, uh... a'right. Thanks. Did ya put yer ring back on when you were tryin' t' sleep?" He gives her a curious stare as he steps inside, picking up his two new guns.

"I thought it would help..." She says, rubbing the ring. "I know you told me not to wear it. But I didn't know what else to do. I'm sorry." And then Smiley does something very unusual indeed. She... frowns.

"Back up for one second," Sandra says, stepping into the room. "Did I hear that correctly? It goes to the bathroom?"

Alec stares at her. He looks at Sandra. "Well, she ain't dead, so.. yeah, she does what every other livin' thing does." Then, he returns to looking at Smiley and awkwardly pats her shoulder twice. "Uh.. it's fine. Jus'.. don't wear the ring when yer tryin' t' sleep. Those things distract ya from sleep... yeah." Alec withdrew his hand and slung his Gift gun, and then, his new weapon, which he still needed to properly name.

Sandra thinks about it for a few seconds, and then realization crosses her face. "Oh, see, typically a possession kills the body when it finally pushes out the rest of the soul. That makes Smiley highly unusual for a demonhost. Unique, even." Suddenly, she furrows her brow. "...But how did it learn to- no. Actually, don't answer that question."

Alec stoically shook his head. "Don't worry, I ain't gonna." He offers a hand to Smiley. "C'mon. We're goin' on a trip."

"We are?" she asks, turning her frown upside-down. "Happy day! You know where we're going?"

He spares Smiley a glance. "Yeah, the keep- Smiley, c'mon, get up," he shakes his hand at her. "What're ya waitin' for, y'think I'm tryin' t' shake yer hand with this thing?"

Smiley shakes his hand. "Wait- ohhhh...." she takes it and lets him help her up. "Such a gentleman."

Sandra makes a kind of dry-heaving sound. "Excuse me," she says, clearing her throat.

Alec sighs heavily. "Right." He pulls the girl up and settles his hands back on his new weapon. The rifle felt right in his hands. "C'mon, we're burnin' daylight." He'd make his way out of the study, having a little trouble getting out. If it weren't for that cloak, Alec might not be able to carry all that equipment, he was literally a walking armory.

Sandra half-smiles at the massive amount of weight this Simmons fanboy was carrying, but says nothing. The three of them file downstairs, past- "Gods damn, what happened to HER?!"

Sandra looks at the husband. "Bah, forgot my glamour. I'm getting lax. Well, sir, this is how I look, so start getting used to it. Make sure the rest of your family knows, too."

Alec peers at the man. "What's'a matter? Never seen a woman b'fore? I'm startin' t' feel bad fer yer wife."

"My wife's eyes don't glow like suns! Gods, why's everything in this place gotta be so damned WEIRD?"

"Urp- sorry, just some gift- I mean a, a burp. I'm human, did I mention that?"

The husband just stares at Smiley in bafflement.

Alec sighs and heads for the door. "Hey, try n' dig up some food from the surroundin's if y'can. There ain't anythin' edible in the kitchen. We're headin' out t' do some work, we'll be back later t'day, maybe t'night."

"Okay. We'll be here," he says with resignation. "Have fun storming the castle. Or whatever it is you people do."

"They make funny noises," Smiley says, with her trademarked expression. "Like this morning-"

"-Don't talk about that," Sandra interrupts almost immediately.

Alec peers at Sandra. "...Yeah. What she said. Don' talk about it. They don't care 'bout it either, I'm sure. Oh, one more thing," Alec motions at the man. "Guns upstairs in the study. The ones leaned 'gainst the wall're yours t' use, left ya some cartridges, too. Leave the rest alone."

"But I don't know how to use a gun!" the man protests.

"Give 'em to your wife," he calls out as he leaves, "she seems competent!"

The man's grumbling is silenced by the door shutting. Sandra, Smiley, and Alec are in the front yard now. The wife busies herself with yardwork, having cleared out last night's snow from the garden, tending to the soil. "Morning!" she calls, waving to them. When her eyes come to rest on Sandra, she says, "You might wanna get that looked at, dear."

Alec waves a hand dismissively. "...That's what she really looks like. We've been hidin' it, but, no point now. Hey, listen, I left some guns fer her husband upstairs, but he said somethin' about bein' a wimp, so uh, how 'bout you take 'em?"

With a laugh, she says, "Just give him some time. He'll come around. Besides, he's got to learn how to do SOMETHING around here. Can't manage everything on my own."

"Fair enough. We're headin' to the keep. Don' be alarmed if ya hear a lot'a noise in that direction, it's probably gonna be us. Take care, ma'am." He offers a tip of his hat and proceeds toward the keep.

"Bye bye!" she says, waving with her spade.

As they draw further away, Sandra turns to Alec, "She's a bit odd."

He peers at Sandra. "How do ya figure? Seems a bit like Ma'. Younger, 'course."

"Well, look around. The whole town's in ruins, but it's like it doesn't even register to her. She didn't even act surprised about my appearance."

"Well, she reacted. What, you tellin' me she's a demon're somethin?" He pauses to look back. "Smiley, did ya feel anythin' off about 'er?"

"She's in a lot of pain," Smiley says. "She doesn't show it. She doesn't want to give her family pain. Mortals are... stranger, the more I learn about them."

Alec peers at Smiley with some surprise, but then, looks to Sandra. "See? Jus' like Ma." He looks ahead, continuing on toward the keep.

Sandra shrugs slightly, and continues following along.

_________________
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PostSubject: In Remembrance - Part 1   Thu Feb 25, 2016 2:10 pm

The path to the keep is quick, direct, and oddly clear. Smiley points out the odd piece of dying Blight here and there, but there are no moving forms. Gods only knew what became of the tall screamers; hopefully they would never be seen again. Near the keep, houses and shops give way to industry - blacksmith shops, fletchers, cobblers, brickmakers, and so forth. The monolithic keep stands above all, its walls smooth concrete webbed with cracks and pockmarked with craters. A large bricked-up hole is visible in one side of it, with a small memorial beside it - though, it looks vandalized. Within the walls of the keep would be the courtyard, inside of which is the lord's hall and the seat of government for the fief. To get there requires going through a triple-layer porticullis with numerous slit windows, murderholes, and similarly unpleasant things. Luckily, the gates stand open already.

Alec takes in the sights, pondering if he could have made better use of these structures had they been more accessible before. He decides to leave the thought alone as he pauses before the memorial. This piece of history could have been a part of him; he wanted to know about it.

An engraved stone marks the memorial, where people have placed pressed flowers, trinkets, and other objects of significance not valuable enough to be looted. The stone has been gouged and split, rendering its writing barely legible:

"The Battle of the Breach

This site com emora es the se   ss acti ns of     nder's K    ts, and cit s the ex    ional bravery of whore Eleanor Duvedirfel, whose three-day d    se of the breach kept in    rs from           keep's grounds until reinforcements murderers     ed."

Alec ignores the petty scribblings, instead recalling fond memories. "...I remember 'er. Gramps told stories about 'er," he said, mostly to himself. He looks up at the keep. "...Can't believe I'm finally here."

Sandra's eyes follow Alec's. "This keep is literally one of a kind. No one's ever been able to duplicate the material in the walls. The biggest source of frustration in Inferia for half a millenium of its history."

"Heh, with all the other crazy stuff yer people could do, why didn' they jus' pick 'em up n' move 'em?"

"Magic's never been very effective on them. And physically, they're tougher than any naturally-occurring stone. It's like trying to shoot a big block of solid granite. Thanks to poor record-keeping and layers of propaganda, no one actually remembers how the breach was made. Some unknown type of spell, or demon... maybe gunpowder, years before it was officially invented. There're all kinds of conspiracy theories."

"Gunpowder?" He gives her a funny look as he glances over the walls. "What's gunpowder got t' do with- nevermind, let's head inside. There'll be time t' wonder 'bout the walls later."

Smiley glances around curiously, but keeps her mouth shut for once. Sandra, meanwhile, follows Alec through the excessive gatehouse.

"So, yer a lot more familiar with this, uh... vault. I'm guessin' you got an idea'a where we're meant t' start lookin'?"

"I know exactly where it is. The real question is how to open it." The pair of them approach the inner structures of the keep. The dilapidation and Blight seen in other parts of town is absent here; if one had just arrived, one might think no calamity had occurred. Lavish Inferian banners are unfurled upon the building's impressive walls. The stonework is immaculate, featuring intricate carvings of the Gods, and Kerodil's rich and eventful mythology. Great statues of Gryphons keep watch over the parapets, and heavy oaken double doors with bronze handles rest in a pointed arch, the stones so well-fitted that the shape is smooth and flush.

Alec looks around. Something felt strange about this. "...It's like the Blight wasn' even in 'ere. There's plenty'a stuff it could'a chewed on. Did somethin' drive it out, or did it never stumble in?" Alec motions to Sandra. "Lead the way, a'guess. Yer gonna know yer way around better. If I think'a somethin', I'll let ya know."

"No Blight anywhere in the courtyard," Smiley comments. "...A hint of something in the building. Not sure what, just yet."

Sandra leads Alec up to the front door, which she opens with a loud creak. The interior of the keep is quiet, dark, and colder than the outside. No torches or braziers are lit, though many are present along the walls and floor. The floor is smooth stone, like the walls and ceiling, rather spartan if not for the numerous tapestries and paintings of past lords, noteable figures, and historic events. Many of these would be unrecognizable to Alec, since most of the originals were replaced with artwork more relevant to Inferia and its history.

"The vault should be this way," she continues, making a right. The group continues down many more paintings, tapestries, and the occasional metalwork. Off to the side are servants' quarters, a library, and a dining hall, among other rooms. The keep is beautifully-constructed, well laid-out, and equipped with the finest services. Or, it was, anyway. Now it sits dark and unused.

Alec follows after her, peering at the paintings and minding the long hallways. "Feels like we're enterin' a dungeon n' not a vault. I was expectin' somethin' more, uh.. glorious. Even in ruins." He goes through his equipment, to be safe. Smiley's warning was taken seriously, at least on his end; Sandra may not have been so willing to listen to her. "Smiley, fer the record, I know y'like pain, but try n' avoid takin' damage if we get in t' a fight. Remember, yer alive now, n' y'need t' stay that way."

"Inferia's been managing this place for decades, now," Sandra says. "Many of these paintings are manufactured. The originals are stashed somewhere - maybe the vault. Being a keep, and not a palace, it's a little more utilitarian. As for the lighting-" Sandra looses a spark from her hand, lighting up a nearby brazier. "It still burns. I wonder why the flames were doused."

"I think I know what it is, now," Smiley says. "Pain. People. Alive."

Alec pauses and stares at Smiley. "Wha'cha say? People alive? Where? How many?"

"I said people, alive, yes. They are in the... well, I'm not sure, that way?" She points at a wall.

"The throne room is behind that wall," Sandra says.

"There, then. And there are, oh... I'd say a few dozen?"

Alec furrows his brow further. "...Sandra, let's take a detour. I'm thinkin' this's worth investigatin'. Might end up bein' a problem later if we don't."

"Very well. The vault's waited this long." She and Smiley follow Alec to the throne room. The entrance to this chamber is another set of heavy doors, though these ones do not open readily. In fact, they appear barred from the other side. "Barricaded themselves in," Sandra remarks. "...Try knocking?"

Alec knocks a few times. "Hey," he calls out. "Anybody in there? Alive? Better speak up or we're gonna blast in."

No answer.

"Well, shit. Guess we're breakin' through." Alec backs up and eyes the barricade. "What's the best way in, ya figure?"

He looks his own belonging over. "Cloak'll breach it easy, but I'm wonderin' if the magic's worth it. Might be another way. And, uh.. yer pretty strong, yerself, Sandra," he peers at her.

"Yes, I am," she says, walking up to the door. She feels it experimentally. "...Okay." a burst of energy surges into her arm, which moves at blinding speed. The palm strike cracks the door apart, forcing it inward. The door is horribly damaged, but not yet open. Sandra smacks it again. The wooden brace, and the objects stacked up behind it, snap apart or get shoved backwards. The door splinters apart and swings open on its hinges, dropping pieces of wood. Beyond the door are dozens of stunned onlookers, and a row of six Inferian legionnaires knelt with rifles.

Alec points his own rifle in. "Might wan'a lower those, boys, we're friendly. But we're still willin' t' shoot back."

"Lower your weapons, men," A stylishly-dressed Inferian man walks up to the line of legionnaires, who stand at attention in perfect unison, rifles held at their sides. "I am Lord Governor Ivennis, and we are what remains of Durender." He holds his arms out, motioning to the crowd behind him. "You say you are friendly, though I must confess a bit of confusion. Surely Inferia had more to spare than three- no, two, people, plus a bound demon? Who are you?"

"Alec Smith, monster hunter, n'.." he looks to Sandra, "The poor lady stuck lookin' after me." He looks back at the governor. "She's more important n' I am. Either way, we found ya by coincidence, a'guess. We came here lookin' fer any remainin' threats, among other reasons."

Upon seeing Sandra for the first time, actually noticing her features, the Lord Governor narrows his eyes. "Is that- no, it can't be. But Gods, her magic is strong. Enough to shame the Empress herself. Where are you from, Lady...?"

"...Sandra. Just Sandra. And it's a long story, that I don't have time to tell. I would be interested to know how you survived. Outside, the town's a hellhole- moreso than usual."

"That, is also a long story," says the Lord Governor. Turning to Alec, he adds. "If you're looking for threats, there are none here. Just frightened townspeople and the last remnants of order."

"Yeah," Alec contributed, stepping further inside to get a look around. "Our pet demon counted twelve. Does that match yer count, Governer?" He looks to the man after he inspects the room.

"I said a few dozen," Smiley interjects. "The reading was a little fuzzy, I'm not sure why... but these people are all one-hundred percent human."

"Of course we are," the Governor says, glancing at the demon in annoyance. "Your pet could use a tighter leash."

The throne room is the least altered by Inferian rule, for the sake of its preservation. Beautifully detailed, hand-woven tapestries recount the history of Durender's founding centuries ago, and the many battles fought to unite the barbaric peoples of the land. Braziers (lit, this time) give the room a warm glow, while finely detailed stone columns support the high ceiling, into which are cut small skylights opened or closed by a simple lever and pulley system, allowing natural light to stream down in shafts. Bits of elaborate metalwork on the columns and the throne itself gleam with the light of all these different sources with breathtaking effect.

"Right, few dozen, sorry." Alec approached the throne, lifting a brow. "...Wow, this's the real thing. Wonder when the last time was someone with royal blood sat on it... or even someone from Durender," he mumbled the last, then looked back to the Governor. "Well, here's the situation. Most'a the Blight's gone. The city's... a right mess. It's probably gonna be a couple more weeks before y'can check out the more infested parts'a Durender, but.. there's a family out there tryin' t' rebuild. They could probably use all the help they can get. As fer us," he motions to himself and Sandra, "Y'might'a seen this one comin', but we're actually interested in the vault. I don't reckon you can help us with that, but there's bound t' be danger if we go pokin' around.. ya might want t' pack up yer things... well, Sandra might know better n' me about that, though."

The Lord Governor had a confident air about him up to this point. Now, he turns pale as death. "I can't help you with the vault. I am sorry. As for the family, we.." he clears his throat, trying to compose himself. "We can help them, of course. I think we've spent long enough hiding behind these walls." This elicits mixed responses from the crowd. The riflemen remain at attention, already exceeding what most run-of-the-mill legionnaires would be expected to do.

"Figured as much... Anythin' you -can- help us with before ya evacuate? We're willin' t' take whatever we can. Not exactly a lot out there."

"We don't have much, I'm afraid," the Governor replies. "Plenty of ammo, and powder, but..." he eyes the small armory on Alec's back. "Something tells me you don't want for those. Our food is dwindling, but should last another week, if rationed properly." Groans resound in the throng of refugees. "If it's magic items you want, there is this," he grabs a necklace that hangs beneath his shirt. "A simple blessed talisman."

Alec peers at the Talisman. "...Unless that does somethin' amazin', I'm thinkin' yer gonna need it more n' we will."

Sandra looks at the Lord Governor intently. He notices this, squirming uncomfortably. "Then we can offer nothing. I am sorry, Mr. Smith." He looks at Sandra. "...Was that all?"

"No," she says flatly. "You're hiding something. This keep, which by rights should've been a HIVE of Blight-corruption, is completely unscathed. You can't tell me you just barred the doors and stocked up on food and lasted this long."

"Durender's keep is notoriously difficult to siege," the Lord Governor says. "Even to Blight-creatures, apparently."

"No, she's right, I've been thinkin' the same. It's too damn pristine. There's a lot'a stuff in here that the Blight would love t' nibble on, n' there ain't a trace of 'em in here. Our pet demon's been checkin', jus' t' make sure we didn't miss anythin'." Alec finds a wall to lean against and does so, folding his arms. "Listen, it's up t' you, but here's the reality'a the situation. Whatever brought the Blight here probably didn't do it jus' fer fun. The way I see it, they wanted somethin', n' I don' figure they're jus' gonna up n' vanish before they got it. If you keep holdin' out on us, yer gonna pay for it in the future. There's barely anyone alive now, but there might not be any at all if y'keep up the charade."

The Lord Governor becomes pale again. Well, paler. "Not here," he says to the two of them, his voice muffled. "Please. Outside, in the hall."

Alec shares a glance with Sandra. He shrugs, unfolding his arms and advancing out into the hall. "C'mon, Smiley. You, too." Out he went.

Sandra follows along, rolling her eyes. Smiley's not far behind. The crowd looks a bit restless, especially given Alec's words to the governor and his reaction. They talk rapidly amongst themselves, brows lowered in thought... and anger.

The governor takes them a good distance down the hall, away from the smashed door. The bustle of the throne room is considerably quieter, here. "Speak softly," he whispers, glancing around in paranoia. "He could be watching us right now. Listening to us."

"But I don't-"

He cuts Smiley off. "Silence, demon! You know not what we face. No simple blight creature, a full-fledged Blight-caster, ancient, by my reckoning. More powerful than I have ever known."

Alec quietly shares another glance with Sandra. "...Y'think it's the one chasin' after Terri?" He lowered his tone, if only to appease the paranoid governor. "Kin'a sounds fittin', doesn' it?"

"It very well could be. But that still doesn't explain the state of this place."

The governor's face contorts, and he starts to break down. "You must... you must understand, I... begged and pleaded with it. I got on my knees, crying for it not to... It-it came to me, you see... asked some strange questions, threatening to kill me and every single person in this town unless I cooperated. So I answered... and it killed everyone anyway. Everyone except us few here, which it granted with food and shelter. A reward... for services rendered." The Lord Governor sobs into his hands.

Alec stares at the Governor, his expression contorting into a measure of disgust. "...Take a good look, Smiley. This's human scum." He reaches for the Governor's collar, yanking him closer. "I ain't gonna kill ya; I get it, yer a coward. Ya did the only thing a coward could do. Now tell somethin' a lil' more useful b'fore I feel like indulgin' my demon friend. She's got this stomach problem, see. Keeps vomitin' agony poision and wants t' share it with everybody. Maybe even you."

"What was I supposed to do?!" the governor proclaims. "We were doomed from the moment it passed through the gates! I had to choose between saving those people in there, and losing everyone. I... I'll tell you what it asked me. It asked me about Durender's Knights. I told it they had been killed during the final conquest. They fought to the last man. Then it asked me where the Knights trained. I told it I didn't know. Their training was a secret. Last of all... it asked me if I knew of anyone who would know. I had heard tell of an old storyteller in town who knew a lot of the old legends. I.... Gods have mercy on me, I told it where to find this man."

"That's interesting," Sandra says. "Legend has it that the Knights know the way into the Vault. Maybe they had a key- THE key."

Alec lets go of the man's collar, letting him drop. "...So, one'a three things is gonna happen. Either Mr. Blight shows up with a key... he bets that we open the doors for 'em... or he's still lookin' around clueless t' the fact we're tryin' t' get in the same vault." Alec turns his attention to Sandra. "I'm thinkin' I can make a convincin' arguement t' our friends upstairs t' keep the people here safe. A whole population disappearin' overnight can't rightly sit well with 'em. That might give us some freedom t' try n' beat Blight-guy t' the key."

The Governor hangs his head, shaking it. "It already has the key. It opened the vault."

Alec pauses, then looks at the Governor. "...What."

"It entered the vault. Days ago. Shutting the door behind itself. If it had the only key... all is lost."

"...Son of a- No... they couldnt'a sent us on a dead end mission." He looks at Sandra. "...Wait." Alec pauses to rifle through his cloak. Slowly, he withdraws the letter Elsia gave. He exchanges another glance with Sandra as he begins to unseal it. "...That old man's probably dead. This's the closest thing we got to a lead right now." A letter unfolds, and Alec begins reading it. Within half a minute, he appears to look away from the letter and observe the direction of the throne room.

Alec begins to walk back, passing the letter to Sandra. "Read it. Don't show it t' the scum."

Sandra cautiously accepts the letter, and reads it over:

"Mr. Smith,

We predicted that your arrival at the keep would be far too late to prevent a breach of the vault. Likewise, we cannot directly share with you the details of its entry. But we will provide a hint. There was a time in recent history when the vault had to be opened, a time triggered by the one whose legacy you carry. In that moment, the Way-Matrix observed every detail of the opening of the vault. We will not provide you the tools to observe this moment, yourself. You will have to find them on your own. But we believe you know the period we speak of.

Best of luck,
-Elsia, 19,004."

Alec entered the throne room again, wading through the occupants to approach the throne itself. "Sandra? I'm thinkin' we're gonna need ya fer this one."

Sandra lowers the letter, walking to the broken door, past the Governor. Smiley eyes him up happily, savoring his despair. When Sandra reaches the throne room, she calls to Alec, "Why? What did you find?"

"Nothin', but we're gonna need this throne room, probably. Do ya know any divination?" He looks at her. "Please tell me y'do."

"Yes. What, specifically, do you need?"

He looks upon the throne again, hesitating in his decision, but he knew no other answer. "...I need ya t' look into the past, t' the day that Durender fell. The hour it fell. My grampa said that on that day, while his family was fleein', he saw... Mr. Simmons n' a lot'a the important folk rushin' t' the keep, carryin' black boxes. A lot'a black boxes. He always wondered what was in those boxes... n' so have I."

"Look into the past? That's a tall order..."

He exhales. "I figured it might be rough. What'll it take t' help? I'm guessin' y'need somethin' from that period?"

"I need something MAGIC from that period, the closest to the time you want me to observe as possible. And an echo of a powerful event- which we already have. The Fall of Durender. I can use this to create an anchor point in the time stream to channel a directed scrying spell through the Weave. That's the simple explanation."

Alec pauses. He approaches Sandra, borrowing the letter from her hands. "...Magic, huh." Slowly, he removed his cloak, placing it on the thone. "Come t' think'a it, this cloak's old, and it's tied t' you-know-what... N' the letter said you-know-what saw everythin'. Think you can use it?"

"...Possibly. Don't like touching the thing, to be honest, but... its connection is strong." Sandra approaches the throne, grasping the cloak, feeling its material with her hands. She closes her eyes, searching the room for the echo, and the strands of magic that can reawaken it. The cloak's presence in the weave, and its unique nature, connects it to many places, many times. She focuses on its magic, and the echo, feeling for the right connection. Strain is visible on her face as she concentrates on the difficult mental exercise. Yes, she can perceive the desired moment, the strands of the weave that connect it to the present. She begins the incantation. The scrying spell takes huge amounts of energy to cross decades, revealing past events with crystal clarity and exceptional detail. That Sandra is still standing after such a ritual is a testament to her extraordinary power.

The Way-Matrix is different from the Weave. Sandra can feel this peculiar relationship and its presence in space and time. Using it as an anchor, though she expends much energy, she opens up a doorway through time, reaching as far back as the weave was born, reaching as many places, as many souls, and as many moments as that period occupied, observable in perfect clarity. She could have gotten lost in it almost immediately. But a force guides her, perhaps gently keeping her from straying too far. Her consciousness arrives at a scene of unfolding drama... Durender's throne room, alive again with new occupants, an unfamiliar face seated on the throne.

The doors burst open as a large group of men in official uniforms entered, flanked by guards armed with high-grade Simmons weaponry - wonders that the present age had forgotten. They also wore armor of a strange make, reminiscent of what the Knights of Durender may have worn, as it appeared to possess Tolerum, but different, more flexible and mobile, not to mention lighter. In their midst was an aged man, bruised, carrying weapons of his own, with fire in his eyes- a literal fire, as though some dark force threatened to burst out of him. "I demand an audience," he boomed, storming the throne. "There is no time to lose, we must act!"

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PostSubject: In Remembrance - Part 2   Tue Mar 08, 2016 10:28 am

The men are standing in the shining halls of Lord Ambrose of Durender, pushing past frightened guardsmen. Ambrose himself is seated on the throne, clad in the finest Tolerum scale mail, flanked by four plate-clad Knights. They look anything but afraid, even when confronted with Simmons' deadliest weaponry. "Mr. Simmons," Ambrose says, "I thought we talked about how your usual manner of entry was rude and disruptive."

"Put away that rubbish about conduct, Ambrose! This is beyond serious, we are experiencing a disaster here." Cole looks back to his men. From the rear, some roll in six large, black boxes; the material appears to be a darkened form of steel, perhaps mixed with trace amounts of orium, black silver. "We were raided by those Inferian bastards. All our facilities. All of them!" The man, in his eighties, was literally red with fury, and radiated a strange power that seemed almost unnatural. He quickly clutched his chest and head at the same time; one of his men came to his aid, but was pushed off. "Off me, there's no time!" He looks to Ambrose once again. "...Their spies.. are here. In this city, in my company, they may even be in these very halls! They're after my inventions!"

Ambrose looks bored. "Yes, yes, the spies. What did they do this time? Steal one of your socks? Spoil your milk, perhaps?" A few of the guardsmen snicker, though the Knights remain still and silent.

Cole glares at him. "Gods... truly, you are an imbecile. I'll spell it out for you. They've stolen the guns and destroyed the factories, and now they are on their way, trying to track down the rest of the weapons I've been building for you." He points at the boxes. "These weapons. Prototypes. I'll not have my work for this country be stolen or destroyed, and you'd be a fool to let them do it." He turned back to Ambrose. "Now open your damned vault."

"That is no way to speak to your Lord, Mr. Simmons. If it weren't for me and my protection, you'd be facing a firing squad as Legionnaires rifle through your schematics. I'll open the Vault when I have good reason to, not because you-" A door behind him opens and shuts, and the room suddenly falls silent. The four Knights turn their heads, and offer curt nods as a pair of plate boots tap the stone floor.

"My Lord, we have a problem- oh. You're all here. Well, that makes this easier. I trust my grand nephew has helped in resolving this matter, Mr. Simmons?"

Cole turns back to face the new arrival. "Not at all, I was about to resolve a lot of matters by gassing him and his stupid armor, but maybe you'll save me the trou-" Cole begins coughing again, quite harshly, flecks of blood splattering onto his coat sleeve. One of his men moves to shoulder him.

"Now now, be nice," Eleanor says. As he coughs, she looks at him with concern. "How are you feeling, Cole?"

"Would someone explain what the HELL is going on?!" Ambrose shouts. "I am seconds away from ordering Mr. Simmons' tongue for his-... death threats!"

Eleanor glances over at Ambrose. "...You could stand to be a little nicer, yourself. Can you not see the pain Cole is in? It tends to make one say things they don't mean."

After the coughing ceases, Cole is stood upright again. "Not just pain... dying. I'm dying, my company has been infiltrated and the facilities destroyed... the guns... the guns have been stolen. We managed to destroy most of the schematics... and flee with the originals, our prototypes..." He gasped for breath, leaning against the man shouldering him. Cole would motion to the black boxes. "Eleanor... your nephew is an ignorant fool... if I trust him with this legacy, he'll surely squander it. Durender... needs my guns, my technology... I don't know how, or when, but these... these will aid Durender. They must be kept safe, until another can take my place. The Vault, Eleanor. They belong in the Vault... please, send them there."

Eleanor nods. Her hair is grey, her face lined with age. By rights, she should be nearing 100, yet she doesn't look much older than 60. The way she carries herself, and her armor and weapon, should be impossible for someone her age - and, though unbeknownst to Cole, for someone with a broken neck. "The Vault shall be opened, then, and your items kept safe."

"Do I get any say in this?" Ambrose asks.

"Hmm... no."

"No? That man is becoming a demon!" Ambrose says, pointing at Cole. "Why are you going to allow this abomination anywhere near our vault?"

Cole chuckled to himself. "...Funny, you... didn't have any problems... letting this demon... rebuild your city, you fool- ha.. haha-hurk-" He began coughing again. "-Eleanor... I don't... care to see it. Let my men go with you. My escorts shall see me put away. I must go... and meet my end." At his words, the group of guards split in two, with a pair setting Cole aside from the main group, who focused on the six boxes.

Eleanor looks at Cole sympathetically. "Is there any last request you would make of Durender, Cole, besides this one?"

Ambrose scowls, but doesn't open his mouth this time. The Knights all turn their heads to face Cole.

Cole looks at Ambrose. "Dethrone that ignorant d-... no, that's asking too much. Teach... teach the children. Teach the people. Don't let the knowledge die again... I don't want my work to die with me. That... is all, Eleanor." The old man managed to form a weak grin. "Thank you... I shall hope I never see you... where I'm going."

Eleanor smiles warmly. "Have a little faith, Cole Simmons. You're too important to be forgotten."

Cole manages a chuckle. "It was a shame.. you did not marry, Lady Duvederfel. I'll trust in your words." He looks to his escorts. "Take me away. They've no further need for us."

One of the guards, this one more decorated than the rest, stood beside Eleanor. "You may call me Rygart, ma'am. I'm Captain of Mr. Simmons' personal guard. We're prepared to move when you are."

Eleanor chuckles a little at Cole's last comment, and watches the men leave. Presently, she turns to Rygart. "A pleasure to meet you, Captain Rygart. I am Eleanor, one the Lord's Advisers. Anyways, we have wasted enough time here. I will take you the Vaults and open them for you. Follow me." She leads the men past the four Knights, and the throne, upon which sits a fuming Ambrose.

"What a jest," he grumbles. "Decrepit old fools giving me commands like I'm a child."

"If it's any consolation, my Lord," Eleanor says as she passes him by, "At least one of these fools won't be bothering you for much longer. And if you don't want us treating you like a child, stop being one."

Eleanor leaves the room with the escort, as Ambrose rises to his feet. "What did you say?! Get back here! Gods, why won't you DIE?!" The slam of the door cuts him off.

Rygart motions for his men to follow. They pack up and move, very prepared to open fire if any of the others in the throne room suddenly had a change of heart. Fortunately, it seems they would make it through. Behind his armored helm and mask, Rygart smirked at Ambrose's closing comments. "Family problems, ma'am?" He asked Eleanor as they proceeded further.

"To sum it up, I've lived too long, and I'm too difficult to assassinate." She leads them down the halls, never hesitating, knowing the way quite well. "But I've said too much already."

"Hey, I could've guessed that much. The boss was pretty familiar with that concept, too, actually." This aroused a bit of laughter from the other men. It was what comprised the bulk of their job, afte rall. "The boss got pretty nutty, but he always played it safe. Can't say any of us saw this attack coming. Inferia must've been planning it for years."

"The mistake Durender continues to make is underestimating Inferia. There's a gaping hole in the wall of the courtyard that illustrates that quite well. I knew Inferia had been up to something significant lately, but regrettably, my agents weren't able to uncover it in time. It's a good thing your boss is as paranoid as he is, else you mightn't be here at all."

"Hey, give us a lil' credit, miss. It ain't all the boss- well, guess we do owe 'em our lives, though. So, we've got instructions to leave half of our equipment down here with the boxes. You don't figure there'll be any surprises along the way, right miss?" He motioned back to his men, and half began disarming and unloading their weapons.

"No, no surprises," she says, unsheathing her greatsword. "Because if they've gotten this far, I've no doubt they're already waiting at the bottom of these stairs." The group arrives at a spiral stair leading down. "Expect magic, maybe demons, if they're desperate enough."

Rygart blinks and looks back to the others, motioning for them to re-arm. They do so, rapidly at that. "We're ready for anything, ma'am. Guess the boss knew what he was doin' going with orium-steel alloy." They raised their host of weapons in preparation. Unable to cart along the boxes from here on, men lift the boxes to carry down, one per man, with a couple to carry the carts, leaving the party short a few hands and guns.

Eleanor leads the way down the spiral staircase. "When we reach the catacombs, don't hesitate. They'll want to trap us on the stairs, single file, and pick us off. I'll go in first, take the brunt of it, your men follow and lay down fire. Mages are powerful, but only a select few can counter bullets."

"Well, if they counter the first few, maybe the next twenty'll get 'em," Rygart chimes in. "Don't worry, miss. Just do yer thing, and try not t' run into our line'a fire."

"How about you try not to shoot me instead?" she counters. "And stop calling me miss. My name is Eleanor, you may address me as that."

"Heh. As you wish, Eleanor." He looks back at his men. "Boys, hold the gas, we'll go with the HP Needles. Short bursts, and get ready to file out; the order is left, right, crawlin', then walkin'.  I'm gonna use slugs and take point with Eleanor." The men returned nods, though it was unnecessary. Rygart appeared to be exchanging the barrel of his weapon with another, and removing the magazine on the bottom, replacing it with another bulkier magazine.

Eleanor glances at Rygart's weaponry. "I miss the days when people fought with swords, man to man. More honor in it, more skill. But what do I know, I'm just an old woman." The time comes when the group finally reaches the bottom of the stair, passing numerous passages and tunnels along the way. Eleanor bursts out of the stairwell, sword held at the ready, into... nothing. No one is there.

Rygart shows up right behind her, weapon aimed; the men file out behind him, covering the walls and taking up many firing angles. They hold still for a minute. "...That it?" He glances at her. "...Nothing? You were getting us excited."

She looks over her shoulder. "This would be the place... guess my instincts are failing me." Shrugging, she cautiously moves forwards, looking at her surroundings. The catacombs are dark, save for some odd lamps placed at regular intervals. Here are interred the many knights and heroes of Durender that have fallen over the centuries. Along each wall are rows of tombs, marked with names and brief lists of services rendered. Dust and cobwebs cover everything.

Rygart and his men relax, partially, and begin the march; Some linger as they re-assemble the cart for drawing the boxes, and place them back atop it. Now at full manpower again, they follow along.

Rygart whistles at the many buried here. "Must have some real legends down here..."

"Each Knight is a legend in his - or her - own right. It's no exaggeration when they say we are the greatest warriors in the land." Eleanor looks over her shoulder. "Maybe you should have someone guard the stairwell. Just in case."

Rygart looks back at the stairwell. He eyes his men. "Collins, Zachariah, take up posts by the stairwell. If things get too dangerous, fall back and warn us."

"Yes, sir." The pair break off, turning around to find positions by the staircase.

Rygart resumes his march, just behind Eleanor. "Why all the paranoia, yourself? Is it common for demons to show up every time someone tries to open this thing?"

"Take a moment to think about why we're here. Inferians have simultaneously raided every one of your facilities, and they want your technology. They know about the Vault, and where it's located, and that you'll most likely want to move items into it - which presents a chance both to steal your technology AND enter the Vault. So, I would be very surprised if no one was here. Very surprised."

"Point taken. Figured Mr. Simmons would've planned for this, but he didn't really mention much about that scenario. Might not've thought that far ahead. Guess we'll stay armed until we're inside the thing."

"Oh, you won't be going inside," Eleanor says. "When we arrive at the Vault Chamber, you and your men will leave the carts inside with me, and I will store them appropriately."

"Well, I hope you're not opposed to watching a few of us strip down while you wait. We're carrying some of the equipment to be stored."

"If you so wish, I can look the other way. Otherwise, I'm not opposed to it." She smirks.

"Don't worry, we left our modesty upstairs with Mr. Simmons," Rygart replied. "We gettin' close?"

"Yes, not much farther." Down a darkened corridor, where many lamps have gone out and the cobwebs are the thickest, there is an aging door of rotted wood resting on rusted hinges. "Don't worry, that's just the door to the chamber, not the vault itself. I think you'll like that door, Tairne himself designed it. He was a bit like your boss- from what I've heard, anyway, I'm not THAT old."

Rygart lofts a brow. "Huh, interesting. Must have some fancy gadgetry behind it, then. What do you need to do to get it open, push it? Clap your hands? Dance a duet for it?"

"It's a secret. It has to be." Eleanor walks up to the decrepit door, turning around to face them. "I think the Chamber is empty, but one can never be too careful. Everyone get ready."

Rygart glanced over his men. "Take positions, men." He himself approached Eleanor and turned his back to her. There wasn't much cover available for him. "We're ready, don't worry. Do what you gotta do."

Eleanor opens the door. The Vault Chamber isn't much to look at, just a smallish room with some more of the strange lamps inside it, and stone pillars to hold up the ceiling. On the far wall is the Vault door, a smooth, solid Tolerum surface with unidentifiable markings on it, a blend of magical and scientific principles.

There is some tension in the air. Moments after the doors open, Rygart glances over his shoulder. "Are we ready? Time to move in the packages?"

Eleanor takes a few moments to glance around the Vault Chamber, and back down the catacombs, the way they came. Something seems to have gotten her guard up, as well. "...Yes, I suppose so. Go ahead and place them by the vault."

"You heard her, boys. Move up, drop the boxes off, and get your gear off. Sanders, Williams, with me, we'll guard the entrance until they're done."

The men got to work, moving the boxes over, setting them in place, and of course, leaving Eleanor the keys; the key to each box was in the hands of a different man. Afterward, some of them began setting down weapons, and removing their armor to place it with the carts carrying the boxes.

Eleanor eyes the men, though not in the manner one might assume. She is watching them with suspicion.

Meanwhile, at the stairwell, a burst of magic comes roaring down the stairs. With lightning speed it falls upon the two guards with a hail of inhuman blows.

The guards are well-trained and well-equipped, but they are not superhuman; following the speed of the attacker was difficult, if not almost impossible. Fortunately, their armor was capable of absorbing much of the impact, returning powerful electric shocks for each blow given, especially if the attacker carried anything conductive. One of them managed to yell down the hall after being battered into the ground. "Intruder!"

The attacker is seemingly undeterred by the electrical shocks. Upon discovering the ineffectiveness of striking the armor, it aims for uncovered areas, and also is quick to attempt disarming them.

These guards were ready to lay down their lives, unloading magazines on full auto into the form of the attacker. Due to the nature of the HP Needle ammunition, the firing rate was slower, near to 200 RPM, and each shot sounded almost as though it were produced by gunpowder. The sound echoes loudly through the silent tombs.

Down the hall, Rygart's head snapped towards the sound of gunfire. "What- Shit, we're under atta-" A gun was put to his head by one of his own men. Another aimed at those in the chamber.

"Not so fast."

Meanwhile, the unknown assailant vanishes when the men start firing.

The two sentries unload their weapons. They rise to their feet, letting the larger guns hang by straps while they draw smaller, pistol-variants of the needler. These were a low power, rapid-fire variant, with an expanded magazine. The men would try to retreat with their secondary weapons ready as a deterrent.

The mysterious assailant stops in place, for a brief moment. He is a man - at least in appearance, but blurred, his every movement accelerated. Thus, is takes him very little time to begin erecting walls of force around the two guards.

The guards run- until they collide with an invisible wall and stumble over, armor sparking. With groans, they get to their feet and look around, back to back. It appears they won't be able to reinforce the main group.

Eleanor, prepared for something like this, brings her sword down upon the man aiming at Rygart. Underestimating her attack, Rygart's attacker is thrown off-balance, his weapon forced downwards. The other one quickly turns to shoot Eleanor- and his head explodes quite literally as a thick metal tube smashes through his quartz-glass eyeshield and straight into his head. "Had a feelin' somethin' was fishy 'bout you two," Rygart says, lowering the barrel of his gun.

Eleanor is quick to close the distance and grab hold of the other's weapon, as she presses the blade of her sword to his throat. "This can't be all you brought. Where are the rest? And don't lie to me, this will cut through that costume of yours like a cake."

Further back, the mysterious man begins moving the force walls, pushing inwards to crush the poor sentries.

It doesn't take long for them to notice that the walls are getting too close. They both draw Arcane-Arms. Unlike present-day weapons, these were made purely to produce magic. Aiming at the rear wall, the pair of them used their guns to produce a dispell, in an attempt to escape toward Rygart and Eleanor's direction.

The spy, whose glamour departs from him, chuckles at Eleanor's threat. "...You're too late. Long live Inferia!" The words trigger a contingent spell, and the spy begins to burn up in bright flames, his body becoming a firebomb.

"Son of a bitch!" Rygart pulls away as bits of Inferian splatter the walls. "Eleanor! Get those boxes in! We'll check the hallway. Forget about us and make sure they make it in!"

Eleanor kicks the burning man away, and shields herself from the ensuing blast. Her armor, combined with a hidden technique, leaves her walking away completely unscathed. "Why can't Inferians just use cyanide like everyone else?" She composes herself, and says to Rygart, "...I will do as you ask. Best of luck to you and your men, Captain."

Rygart nods. The men pick up their remaining weapons and armor as their Captain signals for them to go ahead with caution. "Our hopes are with you, Eleanor." He turned back, and followed them up the hall.

Eleanor begins moving the carts into the Vault Chamber. The first one she wheels in without incident, setting it beside the runed Vault door. Quickly, she walks out of the chamber again, grasping the handles of the second cart. She begins to move it- and drops it, collapsing. "Not this again..." strain is visible on her face as she wills her body to move. "Just a little further... come on..." She stands, shakily, and grabs the cart again, dragging it up to the Vault.

Down the hall, sounds of gunfire are heard. The rapid firing of the secondary arms, the slow firing of the larger weapons with their heavy ammunition, and the occasional quaking shot produced by Rygart's slugs. A full-blown firefight was taking place now against the unknown assailant.

Hearing the gunfire, Eleanor acts with greater urgency. Depositing the second cart by the door, she draws her sword again. Point-down, she lowers it into a small slot before the Vault, and kneels, her hands on the hilt, her head bowed. The runes on the door flash green, and mechanical clicking and clunking sounds as the ponderous door unseals itself. With a blast of stale, dusty air, the vault is open. Eleanor rises, placing her sword back in its sheath. For reasons unknown, she utters the words, "I hope you were watching," and disappears with the carts in tow.

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PostSubject: The Bane of Existence   Fri Mar 25, 2016 1:46 pm

As the Vault door opens, the vision grows murky. The power of the Way-Matrix pulls Sandra's consciousness out as her purpose has been fulfilled. The spell ends at the command of another, higher being. She is back in the throne room. Alec stands beside her, watching intently without a word.

Sandra breathes deeply, coming out of the spell. Her glow is dimmed, somewhat, but still present. After blinking her eyes a few times, she turns to look at Alec. "...How long was I gone for?"

Alec looks around. "...A few minutes. Around five, a'think." He kneels before her. "Didn't figure it'd be so quick. You a'right?"

Sandra holds the cloak out to Alec. She shudders slightly. "I wasn't fully prepared for that. Something had to help me through it. Is that what it's like to wear the cloak? All of that information, flowing through you? It'd drive some men insane."

Alec slowly nods. "...On n' off, but ya always feel it. Feels like a mix'a knowledge n' intuition... sometimes overbearin', other times reassurin'. N'... fer some, it even makes 'em question who they are, n' if they done right in life..." Alec fell silent at his own words, recalling his memories of Persephone. "...Mm. Powerful in a lot'a ways... really makes a person question' 'emselves... even change..."

"Learn anything?" Ivennis asks, still standing in the throne room with various people and legionnaires.

Alec slowly looks up at Ivennis. He narrows his gaze on the man. "Smiley, c'mere."

Smiley elatedly walks up alongside Alec.

Alec motions for her to come closer. "Le'me whisper ya somethin'. You whisper back."

"Okay," she whispers, leaning in close.

"...You wanted t' tell me somethin' before he interrupted ya," he spoke quietly into her ear, "Somethin' about the Blight-caster. What were ya gonna tell me?" He peers at Smiley inquisitively.

"Well, the Lord Governor man was saying that he could be watching, and I was going to say that he couldn't be, because I didn't sense any Blight here. I guess if the blight-caster already broke into the Vault, he didn't leave Blight HERE. The Vault's impenetrable, he could stay in there if he needed to hide, or- well, who knows, maybe there's some super secret way out. Now, Lord Governor man said he told it where to find a guy who could tell it how to get in, so maybe that's why him and his friends were left alive. If I'm reading him right, I think he feels pain over it. Guilt. But also ... he feels justified."

Alec nods, patting Smiley's head in the manner one would commend a pet dog. "One las' thing, Smiley. I've had my suspicions, but do ya detect any Blight here? Trace amounts? Or... maybe some odd kin'a magic?"

Smiley flashes him a toothy grin, and continues. "There's plenty of odd magic. Now that you mention it, there could be small traces of Blight, for all I know, with this magic interference sitting around."

"Yeah, that's what I was figurin'... Good girl, keep yer senses sharp." He rises up again, looking to Sandra. "Sandra, I don't want ya t' tell me what y'saw. It's fer yer eyes only, up until y'need me t' do somethin'. Do ya need some time t' rest?"

"I don't know. Perhaps if there was going to be a battle, but... Alec, I'm not sure I learned how to open the Vault from that vision."

"We're jus' gonna have t' trust that ya did. It's our only lead fer now. If it doesn' tell us how, it might at leas' give us a clue toward figurin' it out." He offers her a hand. "Think you've got enough energy t' cast one more spell in the near future?"

"Depends on the spell. Another one like that? I wouldn't risk it. But something simpler, sure."

"Simpler," he clarifies, still offering his hand. "We got'a act quick, though. Got t' smoke this fox out'a his hole."

"What fox are you referring to?" She ignores his hand, getting up herself.

"The blight-caster," he says, withdrawing the hand awkwardly.

"What did you have in mind?"

"Well, fer starters," he looks at Ivennis, "He ought t' go ahead'a us down the corridor t' the vault. We'll be right behind 'em. I'll explain the plan as we go, but, consider yerself bait, governor. It's the least you can do."

Alec shifted his glance to Sandra and, under the cover of his hat, winked at her. That wasn't the real plan.

Ivennis doesn't look happy about that one bit. "You can't order me to do that, you have no authority here."

Sandra clearly catches Alec's gesture, but doesn't visibly react.

Alec gets to his feet, dusting himself off. "Ya think I got any qualms about shootin' cowardly traitors, pal? Y'think a room full'a armed men's gonna make me flinch? I'll hold this gods-damned room hostage if yer own life ain't enough t' motivate ya. Yer goin'."

"...Maybe I am a coward," he says with a scowl, walking in front of Alec to proceed to the vault chamber. His men look stunned by his sudden decision. "But I did what I had to do."

"That's a great resolve yer showin'," Alec comments with sarcastic commendation, "n' now yer gonna do what y'gotta do t' undo yer first fuck-up, right? Right." He nods at Sandra and Smiley. "C'mon. Smiley, keep an eye on our backs."

"Saving those people was not a fuck-up. I gave Durender a chance to rebuild." he leads them down the halls, with all of their fancy side rooms and shoddy Inferian artworks. "I just pray to the Gods you can stop that ... that thing, down there."

Alec casually passes Sandra one of his arcane-arms, Sunflare. Leaning toward her, he whispers. "Dispel 'em. This's m' best gun fer an amplified dispellin'. Or, if ya figure yers works better, use that..." Alec, meanwhile, grips onto something beneath his cloak with his other hand.

Sandra takes the weapon, points it at the man, and fires off a dispell. Nothing happens.

Alec narrows his eyes. He holds his hand out for the rifle. "...Somethin's off about his story. He said the caster entered the vault a few days ago... but yesterday, I was ambushed, n' one'a the things attackin' me was a Blight.. in the shape'a Terri, tryin' t' impersonate 'er. I don' figure Blight impersonates people all on its own..."

She hands him back the rifle. "That is odd... maybe the clone was created before we arrived? But how would it know we were-... wait, the trees, remember? Damn it."

"Blight's dumb, Sandra. It ain't know how t' do much without a caster, y'said so yerself." Alec slung the rifle, eyeing Ivennis. "He had t' be close by, close enough t' manipulate it. If he entered that vault days ago... I got a feelin' there's no way he could'a controlled the clone the way he did. Only one other way t' see fer sure if this guy's a trap.. n' that's with antimagic... so, stay behind fer a minute."

Sandra nods, stopping walking. Alec and Ivennis continue onwards.

Alec increases his pace, hand in his cloak. Once he's close enough to Ivennis, Alec pulls his hand out of the cloak, filling an AMF grenade with the spell, pressing down the trigger and plucking the safety pin. He releases the trigger, setting off the mechanism from just behind Ivennis.

Ivennis flinches. Then, he turns around to face Alec with an irritated expression. "What on earth are you doing?"

Alec halts behind Ivennis, the grenade in hand, staring at the man. "Wonderin' the same thing about you. What's got ya bothered, Governor?"

"Well, nothing outside of the obvious. As a mage, I sensed you deployed an anti-magic field. That's a very bad idea within the Rift, as it tends to erode protections. Honestly, what is with you people?"

Alec was not entirely convinced just yet. "Stand still," he said, reaching a hand out. He would pinch the man's cheek and pull at his skin to see how it behaved.

The man looks at Alec like he is completely insane. And he might not be too far off at this point. "What is this? Do you get off on kidnapping public officials and subjecting them to this idiocy?"

"A lil'," Alec withdraws his hand with a sigh. "Alright. I'll explain. Yer story doesn't match ours- keep walkin', I ain't done with ya yet. Point bein', I suspected there might'a been a plant in the group." Alec appeared to neglect removing the antimagic.

Sandra starts moving again with Smiley, both of them staying just outside the AMF.

"A plant? I certainly hope not. One Blight creature could infect everyone..." Ivennis gets a nervous look on his face. "I wish the damned Legion would show up and clear all of this up."

"...You n' me both, I hope yer not wrong about what y'said, 'cause I definitely ain't rememberin' wrong about what happened..." And they would continue like this toward the vault. "So, I hope you'll excuse me fer the suspicion, but we're the only ones we know that ain't rightly infected in this buildin' right now."

The group eventually comes to the spiral staircase, looking much like it did in the vision, albeit older. The stairs are very dark and poorly-maintained, requiring light to navigate without stumbling. Fortunately, Sandra's bright enough for the job.

Ivennis solemnly leads the group down. He takes each step slowly and deliberately, to avoid falling down the stairs and making his situation even worse. "Inferia's never had to deal with the Blight before, but we'd heard of it. Gods, how lucky we've been..."

Alec would go ahead of Sandra, given he was maintaining the AMF, though the walls of the spiral staircase did block some of the expanding field, allowing both Sandra and Smiley to travel a little more closely. "I've seen things like it, but there ain't nothin' quite the same. Reckon if we would'a known more about it, could'a done a better job preparin'."

"I can't offer you any advice, I'm afraid," Ivennis continues, nearly stumbling on a loose step. "Bah- watch that one. By the time I even knew the Blight-caster was here, it had kidnapped most of my legionnaires and infected nearly the entire population. The people you saw in that throne room are servants, courtiers, nobles, advisors, anyone who lived and worked in the keep. For whatever reason, he left us alive, and tried to reason with us. The old man I told him about must've known whatever it was he wanted. He left, we never saw him again, and we were still alive. In town full of Blight monsters, but alive."

"Doesn't make any gods-damned sense. Only reason I figured he'd spare all'a ya is t' use ya later, as bait fer us, or a trap or a trick. He's been watchin' us travel this way fer a couple days now, knew we were comin'. I can't jus' believe he didn't leave some final trap fer us-... Sandra, d'ya think by what ya saw that the guy even made it in the vault?"

"Well," she says, "If the vault is... everything I've heard it to be, then I don't know why this Blight-caster would still be down there. Wouldn't he have found what he was looking for by now? And who's been controlling these Blight creatures if not him? And where's Terri and her father?"

"...He mus' be missin' somethin'," Alec decided. "Whatever that old man told 'em, I reckon it jus' told 'em what he needed t' do, t' have, t' open the vault. Doesn't mean he'd have it. So..." He looks at Ivennis, "He pretended t' strike a deal with ya, but intended t' leave ya alive from the start incase he needed any'a ya fer the key. I reckon none'a ya have anythin' t' do with it, so now yer jus' bait fer somebody else that might fit the bill."

Alec peered down the staircase. "...Damn, this's pretty deep."

Ivennis steps off the last step, onto the bottom floor of the catacombs. "Yes, it is. Lots of corpses down here." They now begin walking down a dark hall of fallen heroes, dimly lit by mysterious lamps. They blink out wherever Alec's AMF touches them.

"There's something else that maybe you should know," Ivennis says, all of a sudden.

Alec slows down, coming to a complete halt. "...I reckon so. N' what is it?" Alec slowly moves a hand to one of his gun straps.

"There was a Terri, here. Not long before the Blight-caster. And an old man, with her. They barged in here, asking about the vault. I had them dismissed."

"...And you didn't think this was important enough to mention?" Sandra asks him, looking vexed.

"They made me swear not to tell anyone! And I didn't! The Blight-caster knows nothing about them. And neither would you... but you seemed trustworthy, and you were looking for them, so I thought... maybe it could help?"

Alec pauses, examining the man. He exhales with some disappointment, shaking his head. "Ain't much help right now. But... thank ya, guess that eases one'a my concerns. Don't suppose y'got anymore you could tell us about 'em?"

"Only that I didn't see them again after that," he replies.

"That means the intel was wrong," Sandra says, with a look of realization. "They weren't chasing the Blight-caster, it was chasing them. If they didn't get into the vault, then they're still in danger. If they did, and it followed them..."

"...I don't take Terri as someone that'd go down without a fight. If they got in first, they must'a had access t' some'a the stuff down there n' fought back. But... well, guess craftin' theories won't do us much. C'mon, let's keep movin'. Smiley! Say somethin' if ya start sensin' more things nearby. Blight, human, demon, whatever, let us know about 'em." Alec continued moving, letting go of his weapon strap and giving Ivennis a weak nudge. "C'mon, Governor."

"I still don't sense anything," Smiley says. "Hmm... maybe- no..."

Soon, they turn a corner and can see the chamber door visible in the faint light. It looks at least a hundred years older, practically falling off its hinges at this point.

Alec approaches the door. He drops his grenade into one of his coat pockets. He didn't actually need to hold it for the effect to persist. Now right up infront of it, Alec observes its mechanisms. "...Anythin' you can tell me 'bout this door, Sandra? Should I let ya open it, or do we jus' blast through?"

Sandra reaches out with her senses. "It's just an ordinary door, it looks unlocked."

Smiley wrinkles her nose, sniffing the air a few times. "I knew it!" she says, muffling her voice.

Alec slowly reaches for the door, but stops and looks back at Smiley, keen hearing picking up some of her words. "Did'ja say somethin', Smiley?"

Smiley leans close to his ear, and whispers, "There's pain in there. VERY well hidden, impossible to see unless you happen to be an Agonizer. Which I am." She grins. "Something's in that room, standing in front of the vault. And if everything's as well-hidden as it is, it could be with an army."

Alec huffs. "...Sandra, use somethin' that'll pass through antimagic. Here's the plan. I push open the door, roll in the grenade, n' we take aim; if it looks like Blight, shoot it." Alec pauses to peer at Ivennis. "...You better jus' take cover, pal. I don't see ya doin' much besides gettin' in the way. Oh, n' if ya try n' flee, yer gonna find a few new holes in ya'." He pats Ivennis on the side a few times.

Sandra pulls out her motile-lock pistol - the one she carries besides the revolver. She loads the powder and round, and pulls the hammer back. Ivennis, meanwhile, looks horrified.

Alec stares at Ivennis with all lack of amusement. "You waitin' fer me t' snap my fingers n' point the way? Get movin', asshole."

Ivennis moves behind a wall support, standing next to the tomb of a Jonathan Velivorel. Sandra leans on the opposite support, weapon in hand. "Ready."

Smiley's stomach makes funny noises. "Ready- oop" she swallows something back down.

Alec nods back examines the door for the best way to bust it open. Noticing that the hinges are broken, Alec unslings his improved Needler, letting it hang at his waist, and pulls out the active AMF grenade. He rushes in, lifting a boot to hit the door near its hinges and kick it off the wall, hurling in the AMF grenade after it. Alec drops on a knee and aims his weapon inside, giving the others a clear shot over his head. "Stay put or we'll shoot!"

A mailed fist snatches the grenade out of the air. Armor a dull reddish-black, like a scab, ornamented with spikes, and skulls of defeated foes, mortal and demon alike. A thick helmet covers its entire head, prominent horns protruding from it. There can be no mistaking it - a Banespawn. Flanking it are two floating aberrations composed of eyeballs and tentacles.

Alec keeps his weapon trained on the Banespawn. He was.. not familiar with them, but he had heard of them. "...Who're you n' what the fuck're you doin' here?" He trains his aim at the demon's helmet. That must've been Stygian... Alec had never faced it before.

"I should ask the same question." The Banespawn's voice is deep, hollow, and filled with barely-repressed rage. "You dropped this." It chucks the grenade at Alec, though it's not a throw that can easily be caught.

Alec quickly shifts his hand to catch the grenade. Hand-eye coordination aside, his arm and torso bent back from the catch. Alec let it drop out of his fingers and roll onto the ground, steadying his aim again with a bruised hand. "...Lookin' fer a Blightcaster. "

The Banespawn just stands there, silent and motionless. The eye-creatures float next to it.

Alec looks at said eye-creatures, then the banespawn. "...Yer not him, are ya? I was expectin' a human... or somethin' like one." He peers at the eye-creatures. Could've been Blight. He really wasn't sure. Alec knew little about the rivalry between the forces of Bane and the Blight.

"Ah," the Banespawn rasps. "So you expect me to answer your questions."

"Well," Alec elaborates, "It's either that or we label ya as a potential threat. As it stands, there might be no reason t' fight ya. But if yer in front'a this vault, it'd mean y'want t' get in, n' we can't rightly let ya do so. But, if yer willin' t' talk, maybe we can come t' an accord, n' me n' my friends won't have t' fight ya. From what I hear, yer already wounded. Doesn't seem like things're in yer favor."

The Banespawn lets out a roaring laugh, that's as unpleasant as poking needles into one's ears. After it finishes, it says, "I am not here to enter the vault. And as for my 'wound,' all Banespawn wear theirs, as I wear mine."

Alec frowns, but keeps his weapon trained. "Then what the hell're ya here for? Pickin' mushrooms? You got a fascination with dark, cramped spaces?"

The Banespawn shakes its head, but gives no other answer.

Alec sighs. He picks up the AMF grenade. "Field's goin' down, Sandra. C'mon over." After a moment of focus, the field is suppressed, still actively running within the grenade. Alec pockets it for later.

Sandra stands by Alec's side - though, she has holstered her weapon. "Alec, there's no way a musket is going to pierce that thing's hide. Stygian armor is one of the strongest substances in the sphere."

"You know your lore," says the Banespawn.

"It'll get through," Alec says confidently. "This ain't a musket, and it was built t' shoot through cracks. 'Course, if y'don't believe me, Mr. Banespawn 'ere seems open t' acceptin' more wounds." He looks upon the demon unhappily. "This's just another damn obstacle. We got'a get in there... I don't know what t' do with this guy."

"You can not get in here, any more than I can." the Banespawn says. "Leave this place."

"Yeah, I've heard that one b'fore. Listen, maybe you can answer a mutually beneficial question. That Blight-caster we're huntin', you wouldn't happen t' know where he is, would ya?"

"There is no we. There is you, and there is me."

Alec exhales and decides to ignore the Banespawn, turning to Sandra. "So, guess now's the time t' share what y'saw." He motions to his ear.

Sandra glances at the Banespawn periodically. He's still standing in place. She whispers, "I saw a woman from the past. Her name was Eleanor, she wore the armor of a Knight. She opened the vault so that Cole Simmons' men could deposit some items there. She did so by... placing her sword into a slot of some kind, and kneeling down in front of the vault. There was magic, a rune lit up, and the door opened. I'm not sure what it means."

"Hm... well, we better find that slot first, n' study that rune," he whispered back. "Anythin' special about the armor she wore, or the sword?"

"It seemed like the same armor any Knight would wear. The sword was unusual, but I'm not sure that's relevant. Durender's Knights use all kinds of strange weapons."

"Guess there must'a been more to it... well, let's get t' searchin'." He turned toward the direction of the vault and would try to proceed, halting before the Banespawn. "...You gonna let us through?"

"No," is the reply.

Alec slowly raises a brow. He backs up. "Why not?"

The Banespawn doesn't answer.

Alec stares at the demon, then at Sandra. "Thoughts?"

"I've been trained in dealing with many forms of demons," Sandra says softly, "including Banespawn. The armor, you can forget about penetrating it. Blunt force trauma might work - the problem is, these tactics are speculation. No Demonologist has encountered one and lived. We were fortunate none ever got loose in the capital. It might be possible to simply banish it, but that would take time, and require distraction. I'm not certain of the chances."

"I was thinkin'a banishin' it, too, but that ain't somethin' I can do. I'm guessin' they're pretty pain tolerant, too?" Alec looks fairly annoyed as the obstacle has become very real.

"Yes," Smiley says mournfully. "They're forged through pain and constant battle. Their armor's like a big callous that grows over their body."

"Wait.." Alec slowly looks at Smiley. "Their armor's part'a them. It's.. alive? Demon remains?"

"Well, kinda," Smiley says. "It's part of them, and so it's alive if they are, but the outermost parts are basically dead. Like, um, one of these nails." She points to a fingernail.

"I can't believe I'm asking this. Smiley, do they have ANY weaknesses that you know of?"

"Well, um... Stygian armor's just like any other armor, except it being alive, of course, and indestructible, and-"

"Get to the point."

"...It's got joints, and little slits for the eyes. Almost impossible to see, very thin, but they're there. You could get something through, maybe, and hurt the demon beneath."

Alec strokes a finger along his chin as he begins brainstorming ideas, inspecting the Banespawn. Forged through pain and battle, callous exterior that becomes stygian. Could Alec hit such slits? Yes, he could. Musketballs would never make it in. Fortunately, his gun was a Needler, and shot weighted shells. "...What about those.. eyeball things?"

"I have no idea what those are," Sandra says. "If I had to guess, some sort of Blight creatures."

Smiley shrugs. "Something in here is masking the Blight, if that's true."

"Alright. Well, let's try gettin' rid'a those first." Alec places a hand within his cloak, withdrawing Unbreakable. "Smiley, Sandra, go after the eyeballs, but keep yer distance. Smiley, ya better use yer lightnin', I want 'em destroyed, not in pain." Alec remained beside the two, backing up with them if they needed to do so. "We'll deal with the big guy last."

Sandra nods, but actually looks nervous for once. She readies her weapon, awaiting Alec's order to commence the assault. Smiley, on the other hand, is more literal-minded. She blasts the eye-creature with a huge lightning strike, making its largest eye burst like a rotten pumpkin.

"Wha- damn it, Smiley. Back up!" He yanks the demon back. "Attack those things before he get's movin'."

"Ahhh!" The Banespawn cries with excitement. "At last, a fight!" It draws a flanged mace, huge for a normal person, but a mere billy club in the hands of a Banespawn. It charges into the fray while the undamaged eye monster fires off a ray of paralysis in Alec's direction, while the other shoots scorching rays at every opponent in the vicinity.

Alec counters immediately, cutting off all the attacks by aiming at the ground and firing, producing a wall of force for the Banespawn to run into; likewise, the rays would also be halted at the wall.

The Banespawn collides with the wall of force, and immediately slams it with its mace. The blows have devastating force behind them, but do nothing to the wall. "Lower this wall, coward, and face me."

Alec grins at the demon. "Got a better idea," His other hand reaches into his coat, revealing a second weapon, Unstoppable. Alec fills it with energy, aiming at the Banespawn- past it, actually. He fires; the telekinetic effect would move the fallen door, and as much nearby stone and rubble as it could pick up, hurling it evenly between the two giant eyeball creatures.

The eye beasts are struck with bits of the door, loose stones, random pieces of broken rubble. None of the pieces are huge, but they're thrown violently enough to seriously injure. The damaged creature is pelted, large wounds opened in its leathery skin, and more eyes put out. It flails about in mid-air, trying to stay afloat, and launching more rays periodically. The other creature squeezes its largest eye shut and dives away, but is still pelted by a hail of stones. Its back is damaged, a few tentacles are severed, writhing on the ground like worms. The Banespawn walks over to the nearest stone face, and begins to hit it with all its unearthly might. If it can't go through the force wall, it'll go around it. With only a few strokes, stones shatter, raining bits of the ceiling, and the demon continues hacking through the packed dirt and bedrock, showing no signs of fatigue.

Alec is worried about the Banespawn, but those other two demons had to be dealt with before all else. While he still had time, Alec filled Unstoppable with energy again, and fired the spell through the wall, picking up the same debris, but focusing it all on the more-wounded Beholder to try and finish it off. "Sandra! He's diggin' through, get ready! If ya can't hurt him, just try t' knock him over!"

"I'll do my best!" she says, holding her revolver out.

The Banespawn feels the force wall as it burrows deeper into the dirt and rock. Its fingers find an edge, and slip past. "Aha!" it swings with increased vigor.

The besieged Beholder opens its eye, and produces a focused antimagic field. The rocks fly at it, but are no longer accelerated by magic force. It's struck several times, but drops sharply to avoid having its eye burst like its companion - who is still flailing and shooting rays. The other Beholder manages to hit a rock, bursting it apart, but it is stuck with full force and perforated by fast-moving rocks and sharp debris. It collapses in a heap of blood and flesh.

Alec eyes some of the rocks as they simply drop and fail to hit. "Sonuva..." He gives the Banespawn a sideways glance and begins backing up, weapon trained on the demon. He begins empowering Unstoppable once more, very interested in that crumbling portion of the wall. "You'd make a great coal miner, demon..."

The Banespawn breaks more rocks and dirt, sending it flying out behind it. The hall is filled with stones of various sizes, and large piles of loosened earth and pebbles. Rubble drops from the ceiling, loose rocks falling from the gaps in the stone. Each earth-shattering blow threatens to collapse the tunnel. And just as Sandra is about to make her move, the Beholder swoops in. She loses her balance, and Solarius falls from her hand. Smiley, meanwhile, is unsure of what to do, since her only weapons are useless here.

Alec notices Sandra suddenly down for the count. "Shit- Smiley, pull Sandra away. Leave these things t' me. Ivennis, if yer still back there, help Smiley!" Alec, now also under antimagic, cannot fire his magic weaponry, and his bullets do not go around corners, not to mention his cloak was not going to transform under these conditions. He stands right in front of the corner the banespawn is trying to mine into, aiming his Needler, waiting for the thing's helm to come into view; he expected it to show no regard and keep hacking away.

Ivennis is too terrified to move. Smiley drags Sandra away from the field, who manages to keep hold of her gun but not much else. The Beholder hovers near the barrier, keeping its gaze on the gunman while the Banespawn finishes opening its hole. Like Alec predicted, it shows no caution when hacking through.

Recalling what Smiley said about its joints, and the slits in its eyes, Alec looks between the two. Attacking the joints would be easier, and slow it down, but if he wanted to kill it, he had to go for the eyes. Alec decided he could risk one shot to the head. He aligned himself with the Banespawn's head, taking careful aim for the slits, if he could spot them. Hoping for the best, Alec shoots once. The gun fires a heavy needle-like shell of lead, squeezed into a tight form that might further deform if it managed to reach the slit, allowing for it to pierce deep.

The Banespawn bursts through the wall, mace in hand. Alec squeezes off his shot - which strikes the helmet of the Banespawn, frustratingly close to the eye-slit. The needle is flattened against the unyielding material, and drops off. But in the chaos of stone, rubble, and a giant armor-clad demon swinging a mace like a... demon, details like that are easy to miss.

Alec has to duck back to avoid being struck immediately, as debris batters him; he was lucky to have the advantage of mobility up until this point. Cursing his luck, he'd continue backing up to the other stone wall, side pressed to his wall of force. Alec aims for the side of one of the Banespawn's knee joints and fire off a three-round burst to try and disable one leg and slow it down. Immediately afterwards, he would duck and roll to his side, expecting to get cornered.

The Banespawn emerges from the wall, walking with fervor towards the gunman. The shots impact its leg, two bouncing off harmlessly, but one hitting home - the leg gives out, causing the demon to stumble, giving Alec time to get further away. The Beholder, meanwhile, drifts as close as it can, keeping its antimagic on the gunman. Smiley tends to Sandra, and Ivennis tries to flee. Though barely conscious, Sandra's hand darts out and grabs him by his ankle, and he falls face-first.

Alec has bought time and slowed the Banespawn. He switches gears and charges for it- no, not quite, he zigs past it and tries to squeeze through the crack in the wall, past his own wall of force.

The Banespawn, perhaps surprised this pitiful creature wounded it, lets Alec run past it unhampered. The nimble gunman is easily able to fit through a tunnel created for a much larger Banespawn, and so a panicked Beholder gets shot five times through the center eye at point blank. The antimagic field is no more.

"Sandra!" Alec shouts back, "Eyeballs're gone! Put up another wall, trap it in here with me! Hurry, it's on yer side!"

Sandra adjusts her revolver, and fires. The wall comes up, leaving Alec with the Banespawn. Who is laughing. "I will answer your question now. You've earned that right. The Blight-caster is inside the Vault. I am his guardian." The Banespawn stands up, just as the bodies of the Beholders twitch and reform themselves from leftover mass. No longer needing to hide, the Blightspawn drops its conciliatory magic and walks towards the trapped gunman.

"Alec!" Sandra calls. Smiley and Ivennis stare helplessly.

Alec swaps to the Gift Gun, continuing toward the vault, spraying the remains of the beholders almost immediately. "Took yer damn time, scumbag. Let's keep yer pets in a writhin' mess. Ya look like the duelin' type t' me." He continues toward the vault door, setting the arena for himself and the banespawn. "You got a name? I'm gettin' tired'a comin' up with nicknames like rustbucket n' shit."

The Beholders are unable to reform, too busy squirming in apparent agony.

"I am a part of Ossus now, but among my kin, I was called Vohdal." The demon walks through the tunnel, brandishing its weapon as it circles the gunman. "And you're right, I am the dueling type. Because I never lose."

"I guess we got somethin' in common, buddy..." Alec circles in response, putting away his rifle and sheathing his magical weapons. No more magic. Alec unslings his shotgun, beginning to load it hastily. "Name's Alec Smith. Pleasure's all mine."

The Banespawn holds its arms out, mace extended. "Give me your best shot, Alec Smith. I want to know your strength."

"I reckon that's a question I can answer," Alec finishes loading his shotgun, reading the gun. He immediately halts his spin and rushes in, aiming his gun for the demon's head- Alec pulls the gun back, along with his torso as a feint.

The demon's cruel mace swings in a sideways arc, missing Alec only because of his feint. Not long after, the demon swings again, moving with alarming speed and precision.

Alec backs up immediately, leading the demon closer. "Faster n' I thought, Vohdal." He needed to take a swing at some point if he wanted this shot, Alec knew that. But not yet. Slowly, Alec backs himself toward the wall, and eventually into it.

Vohdal presses his attack, taking a long stride forwards and sending his mace flying at the cornered gunman. "I'm just getting started!"

Alec rushes forward into the demon again, trying to move pre-swing get hit by the demon's arm instead of his mace. His shotgun is held close to his body. If he could shoulder the blow, Alec would shove the barrel of his shotgun into the demon's face and fire the left barrel for one eye-slit.

The demon hits like a horse fired out of a cannon. Although the mace doesn't hit home, the blow from its arm is enough to throw off the gunman's aim while producing a loud whoosh. A barrel discharges, but it's unclear if anything made it in.

Alec is hurtled sideways, though impressively, he remains upright. Wasn't much different from being hit by a large shockwave. Alec coughs harshly, catching his breath. He scrambles back to gain some distance, attempting to reload if he has the chance. "..One.. helluvan arm... y'got there..."

"Barely an effort!" The Blightspawn does not intend to give him any more breathing room, and swings again while he's reloading.

Alec tries to evade, but he's not as prepared this time. The mace itself strikes his left arm as the gunman tries to pull away, shattering bone and piercing past the cloak with grievous injury, rendering entire limb a useless wreck. Alec grits his teeth, refusing to scream. Firing a shotgun at those narrow slits with just one arm was ridiculous; with little choice, he tips the shotgun down at the Blightspawn's other joint and fires, blasting it with the second barrel.

The Blightspawn's other knee is struck by the blast, giving out similar to before. But this time, the demon rises again much faster, Blight healing its wounds. This is gonna be a long fight.

Sandra grabs a nearby rock and starts pounding away at the floor by the nearest barrier.

Alec uses this opportunity to run opposite of the Blightspawn, feeding mana into his cloak to try and restore his arm. It would be out of fight for a while. Alec commissions a Mage Hand to help reload his shotgun, concentrating on it. "...So what are ya. Blight? Banespawn? You half n' half? Or all'a both?"

"The answer to your question, is yes." The demon whirls around, its mace whooshing through the air with deadly speed.

Alec tumbles, avoiding the mace. It was a hard maneuver with just one arm, but he rolls to a kneeling position and gets up, running over to the other barrier, where he begins a full reload and allows his arm some time to recover, though it still wasn't going to be enough.

Sandra's hole deepens. She puts her gun up to it, sighs in frustration when it can't fit, and resumes digging.

Vohdal seems to have trouble keeping up with the gunman's speed. He spends a couple confused seconds looking around before finding him against the barrier. "You're fast too," he says, attempting to anticipate the gunman's next move with a well-timed strike.

Alec lets go of his shotgun, letting it hang by its strap, removing his cloak. Vohdal's got him pressured with that swing, and the gunman ducks, throwing his cloak onto the Blightspawn and his weapon.

The cloak is caught around the Blightspawn's arm and weapon, tightening up immediately. Vohdal appears hindered. "What is this trickery?" Using its free hand, it attempts to tear the cloak off of its arm, possibly ripping it in the process.

Alec didn't skimp on the energy needed to bind Vohdal, having already felt the force and seen him tear through a stone wall. The cloak is stretched, starting to tear, but it holds for a few seconds. A few seconds was just enough. Alec lays the barrel across his shoulder and lines up the shot with just a few seconds to spare, firing both barrels at the eye-slits in Vohdal's helmet.

The demon tears the cloak away, but not before it's blasted in the head with both barrels. The demon is sent staggering backwards... until it catches its footing. "You're beginning to make me angry, Alec Smith."

Sandra, meanwhile, jams her gun into the small depression, beneath the force wall. Seeing that it fits, she rotates the cylinder, locks it, and inserts the weapon into the hole.

Alec eyes the Blightspawn with a mix of anger and frustration. "Same 'ere, Vohdal." Alec's torn cloak begins to reform with the remaining energy it was provided, fallen off somewhere to he side. His shotgun begins reloading itself by Mage Hand while Alec stares his foe down. "If you thought I was gonna be easy prey, yer dead wrong. Or jus' dead."

Again, the demon laughs. "'Til death, then, mortal. And beyond, when we meet each other on the Eternal Battlefield." At that, the demon charges with a flurry of blows, perhaps not wholly accurate, but so fast and numerous that all of them would be hard to avoid entirely.

Sandra squeezes the trigger, and she is no longer behind the force wall. In a blue flash, she is translocated to the other side. Quickly, she gets to her feet and makes for the duelists.

Alec relied on the demon's blind fury, and something else. He let go of his shotgun and held his hand out. Out of his cloak, the AMF grenade appeared to fling itself out, assisted by Mage Hand. Alec had been filling this guy with holes and he was still going. Those holes had been healed by the Blight, so they had to be replaced by it, he figured. Grenade in hand, he activates the antimagic and tries to evade again, hoping he would weaken the Blighted portions of the demon and grant himself the edge in mobility again.

Sandra stops abruptly when the AMF goes back up. She is quick to leave the vicinity, standing in the tunnel made by the Blightspawn.

Meanwhile, Vohdal is staggered by the AMF. He reaches down towards the fallen Beholder, picking it up, and holding it above his head. He squeezes its blood into his eye slits. "Your life belongs to me now."

Alec uses this chance to run for the cloak, hastily donning it. The moment he has at least one sleeve back on, he suppresses the field of antimagic, allowing the cloak to fit itself onto him.

Vohdal's mace arcs down towards Alec from behind. It seems the demon didn't waste any time - and a drained, lifeless Beholder is still clutched in its other hand.

Alec dodges swiftly, using cloak-assisted movement. He'd spent all this time fighting normally to get the demon used to it. Now, he was much faster. "Missed."

The mace shatters the stone floor and shakes loose more rubble from the ceiling. "Blasted creature!" The Blightspawn begins to swing wildly again, unlikely to hit much of anything, but making itself unapproachable.

Alec lets go of his shotgun while maintaining distance, switching to the Needler. He picks it up with his right, and a partially healed left arm steadies it, probably to the Blightspawn's surprise and discontent. "Don't blink!" He stopped moving, letting the Blightspawn close in, and aimed for the creature's eye-slits again, firing controlled shots, one, two, three.

One shot is lodged in the corner of an eye slit, while two seem to hit home. The demon flinches with each, but shows no signs of stopping. It lets out a yell and sends its mace into the wall again, shaking the entire corridor. "I have no time for your tricks! You will not enter the Vault!" It slams the wall again, and large chunks of rubble fall from the ceiling.

Sandra, meanwhile, walks up to Alec and gives him a nod.

Alec nods back at her, "He's got one more weakspot, Sandra. Keep 'em busy!" Alec begins to catch on to the blind swinging. It really must have been blinded by now. Leaving the remainder to Sandra, Smith rushes toward the side of the demon he knows should be blinded by now, careful to time his motion, then goes in for a roll past the mad swings and crumbling tunnel.

The Blightspawn is many things, but easily blinded is not one of them. A vice-grip closes around the gunman's weak arm as he passes. "Where are you going, fool?"

"Ugh-" Alec is caught by his cloak. "Fuck- well... t' you, a'g-guess!" He struggles, but not to run away. Alec struggles to remove the long-barrel of his Needler while he is inevitably pulled in closer. "Ya askin' fer a hug, pal?!"

"No," says the Banespawn. "I'm asking for your death!" It headbutts him viciously, not letting him go, and would proceed to slam him into the wall with enough force to put cracks in it.

Alec is headbutted into the wall. The stygian horns make it all the worse, impacting not just his face, but up his forehead. Bruised, battered, disoriented, Alec's body can hardly stand to move after impacting the wall. His cloak reduces some of the impact, but not nearly enough. Alec adjusts his strategy and uses the cloak to bind Vohdal and himself together, but leave his own arms mobile. Any assistance from Sandra would be appreciated, but Alec can't really offer commands in this position. Clearly, he has a plan, though. Right?

Vohdal drops his mace to the ground, wanting this to be slow and painful. He punches Alec in the side, the splintering sound of bones cracking echoing through the chamber.

Sandra's plan of "blast the demon to hell with magic" is ruined by the fact that Alec is literally bound to it. However, she's not one to give up so easily. She grabs the mace while the demon is distracted.

Alec keeps trying to move and aim, but is being beaten repeatedly. Blood shoots out of his mouth, and he loses sensation in his legs. His cloak would have to carry him for now. With its strength, Alec lifts one arm to grab the demon by one horn, and yank its head down as far as it can turn. With the other, he lifts his needler up and aims for the crack between the neck and collar of the armor. The rifle with its long barrel would never fit, but with the barrel removed, Alec was sporting a machine pistol, and so it slips neatly in place. He solidified the sleeve to maintain the position of his arm and held down the trigger, hoping this would work. The gun fired eighteen bullets in three and a half seconds.

Some of the needle-projectiles are lodged between the armor plates, but many make it through - the Blightspawn's neck is left horribly mangled by the hail of gunfire, and its head slumps over, encircled by writhing, grasping tendrils. Vohdal still holds Alec firmly in its grasp. "You can not win," it says. "The Blight has made me-"

CLANG. A small shockwave erupts from its helmet as Sandra brings its own mace to bear against it. And again. And again. The Blightspawn hunches over, its arm lowering Alec to the ground. With a sharp upwards swing, she sends the demon's head flying towards the ceiling.

Alec's cloak unbinds the pair of them as the demon is beheaded. But, he's not satisfied, and forms an obsidian spear around his right hand, thrusting it down through the open neckhole to devour the remains of the demon's body with the power of the cloak. "You were sayin'?!"

Sandra catches the demon's head, and unloads Solarius into the helmet. Beams of light shoot out of every gap, particularly the eye slits, to great effect. "No need to answer that, Vohdal. Go to Hell."

Alec forces the cloak deep into the body to be certain all but the callous stygian exterior would be devoured. He coughed, more blood leaving him, but persisted. "Ugh... fuckin'.. Banespawns are bad enough without the damned Blight healin' their every fuckin' wound... thanks, Sandra. He almost fucked up the plan back there."

"No problem," she says with a slight smile, holstering her gun. She tosses the now-empty helmet over towards Alec, and kicks the mace over as well, to the pile of hollowed-out Blightspawn. "We need to figure out what to do with the armor- but in the meantime, let me heal you."

Smiley taps on the force wall, holding Ivennis firmly by his hair. "Can you do something about these?"

Alec nods in thanks, catching he head and stabbing its insides with his spear-hand to do the same, turning it into a hollowed-out heat, and essentially forming a complete suit of stygian for.. somebody to use. Maybe Smiley. Probably Smiley. Oh boy.

"The walls will disappear in time," Sandra says to Smiley. "Just be patient. And as for this," she says, looking at the pile of Stygian. "The demon will live on inside the armor. Whoever wears it will carry a part of Vohdal with them always. It can be controlled, but whoever dons it will never be the same again. I'd recommend destroying it - but the method for doing so was never taught to me, and I doubt we would have the means, here. We should stash it - inside the vault, maybe, and return to it when it can be properly dealt with."

Alec picks up the armor, and walks over to the vault to leave them beside its entrance. He returns, picking up the barrel of his needler, and twisting it back in place, fixing the modular weapon up again. He'd remove the empty magazine, replacing it with a full one, and begin to manually store shells into the empty magazine, one at a time. "...That still leaves us the problem'a openin' the Vault, though. A slot, a rune... kneelin'. Y'wanna go take a look at that, Sandra?"

She nods, approaching the vault. Casually, she moves her hand in the direction of the twitching Blight-Beholder and blasts it with a cone of flames. The smoking corpse settles down.

Sandra kneels next to the small slot on the floor, looking at it closely. She leans in, trying to see down inside of it. Then she turns her head towards the rune on the door. "...Hm. Definitely magic involved, but with a mechanical component to it. You put a sword in the slot - maybe a specific sword, or maybe just any sword - and then you kneel. But that seems... too easy."

"Gramps said the people'a Durender hardly used magic. Wasn't honorable. Don't reckon it was regular magic if the lady was usin' it," Alec comments as he reloads. He begins to approach Sandra. "Maybe the Vault's got the magic, n' the guy kneelin' just... has t' do somethin' t' get it t' trigger."

"And the legend I'm familiar with said that the Knights know the way... the Blight-caster was looking for Knights, and where they were trained. It has to do with the Knights themselves... what if... what if we're going about this the wrong way? What if the key isn't an object, or a ritual, but... a status?"

He peers at Sandra, lofting a brow. "Yer tellin' me that the key is bein' a Knight'a Durender? Well, we're fucked if that's the case." He eyes the vault door. "I hope that ain't it. I don't know'a any Knights... all the ones around 'ere are probably dead."

"So the Blight-caster must have found a Knight, or found a way to make them. But what could be a condition for being recognized by this vault as a Knight? It'd have to be something detectable, not just a title bestowed by a Lord... let me think..."

Alec exhales. He approaches the slot on the ground, peering at it with curiosity. As Sandra ponders, he shrugs to himself. Alec stows the second magazine, now reloaded, and takes up his carbine. "Let's see... kneel, stick it in, bow yer head... Guess it's worth a try." Alec kneels as best as he can, unsure of the knightly way, orients the gun, and inserts the end of the bayonet into the slot with his head bowed.

Nothing happens.

Alec remains still, slowly looking up. "...Uh..." Left. Right. "...Well, guess I ain't got the status..." He gets up, pulling the gun out and rising to his feet.

"We must be missing something," Sandra says. "We're supposed to be able to get IN. And since the Numbers aren't here, that must mean it's possible for us. Do you still have that map?"

"What- yeah, I got the map, n' others." He looks confused, approaching her and withdrawing the map from its confines. "What're ya thinkin'?" Alec offers it to her.

Sandra unfurls the map, glancing at the different locations. "...There. See where I'm pointing?" she puts her glowing index finger on a part of the river, where cliffs and a waterfall are drawn in. "Welfyr Falls, the site of Vintholde. Durenderans almost all worship Vintar. They're obsessed with- sorry, that's my Inferian talking, but, they all greatly admire him. I wouldn't be surprised if a visit to his Aspect Temple was part of Knight training."

Alec looks at the temple, scratching his head. "...You tellin' me that's all it takes?" He peers at Sandra. "...Does Vintar bestow 'is blessin' on 'em?" As Alec asks the question, he finds himself walking back, though not of his own will. It looks like the cloak itself is walking him toward the slot. "Wha- whoa- whoa there, whoa!"

"From what little I know about his Temple, there are trials within. And not everyone survives them. Sounds right up our alley."

"Damn this... thing- damn it, what the hell's wrong with it?" Alec appears to be struggling against absolutely nothing, trying to force himself toward Sandra.

Sandra looks at him funny. "...Wait, is your cloak doing that? Why?"

"I don't know!" Alec's face is red with strain. "Ain't ever done this before! I ca-" He slips up and starts walking backwards before getting turned around and sent running to the vault door with comically large strides. He comes to a halt and appears to stop. Alec stands there, panting. "Wha-.. this shit again... it didn't work, damn it, what're ya tryin' t' get me t' do?!"

Sandra stares at the cloak, and then lowers her gaze to the map, pondering. "...Wait. I recall something my superiors went over with us, briefly. It was a list they had us compiling on times the vault had been opened, and by whom. One such recorded instance was a man in a black cloak - not unlike yours. In fact... he might have been Redwell himself. And if that's the case... Redwell was known to have saved Vintar's realm from Shar during the Forgotten's Death March. He could've been made into a Knight. And since his creations are part of him..." Sandra looks up at the cloak. "...Your cloak is a Knight."

Alec looks over his shoulder at Sandra. "That sounds like a load'a bullshit, there's no way that's truhmhrmrhrm," Alec's face is suddenly covered by a mask, along with his whole head. The cloak slowly undergoes a transformation, spreading across his whole body, beginning to match the descriptions of the man Sandra had likely read of in her report. The finishing touch was a hood coming to rest over the man's head, flicking off his weather-beaten hat. For now, Alec Smith shares the appearance of Kain Redwell and his cloak in its original, somewhat ominous form.

Sandra flinches, face-to-face with a man she'd only ever heard of in her reports, which read more like myths and legends than factual events.

Eerily, the golden glow in Alec's eyes, which were gentle up until now, began to sharpen, glowing even more brightly than Sandra herself. With his blond hair hidden, he seemed to be an exact match- save for his height. Alec seemed to get the picture, much to his chagrin, that he was now no more than an instrument of Redwell. Turning his rifle over, he knelt and set the bayonet through the slit again, bowing his head.

For a few moments, nothing happens. And then, the runes on the door flash green. With a mechanical whirring and pounding, the door to the Vault swings open.

_________________
Die standing.


Last edited by Munroe on Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:11 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Hidden Truths   Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:11 am

The impression of Redwell slowly rises to his feet, yanking the weapon's bayonet out of the slot a little more triumphantly than Alec would, slinging it over his shoulder. He looks over the opened vault, then turns back to Sandra and the others.

Sandra just shrugs. "That was unorthodox, but at least it worked."

Smiley walks up, holding Ivennis by the shoulder. "Hey! You opened- wait, who are you?"

Smith-Redwell stares at Smiley for a moment. Wordlessly, he folds his arms in what would appear to be amusement. He holds up a hand, with one finger up, suggesting to 'wait a moment.' He turns around, venturing beyond the vault door. He turns around, motioning for someone else to try and enter.

Sandra interprets the gesture and walks up to the threshold of the vault. She attempts entry.

Just as Sandra crosses the threshold, the door to the vault begins to close. Taken by surprise, Sandra is forced out by the closing door, which rapidly moves to seal Alec(?) in. "Damn it. Well, that's not good."

Cloak-Redwell sticks his hand out as the vault door closes. Such a door ought to crush a man's hand, but the apparition of Redwell simply pushes it back open, stepping out once the rebellious door has been tamed, and acknowledges the presence of a Knight once more. After a few seconds, it gestures to the map Sandra was holding, and nods in concordance. Immediately afterward, the glow in Alec's eyes dies, and the cloak seems to unfold, returning to its former shape. Alec falls on his ass in the process.

Sandra looks down at him in bewilderment, offering a hand up. "...Not sure what the point of that was. Just to show us we couldn't both enter? I guess at least one of us will have to endure the trials, then."

"Ugh... you tell me, I can't make heads're taills'a Redwell... Guy wrestles with goats, talks to 'em like they're people. Crazy bastard." Alec accepts her hand, getting to his feet and dusting himself off.

"He pointed at the map. That means the secret to becoming a knight is somewhere inside Vintar's Aspect Temple. Once we do that, we should be able to pass through the Vault freely. I just... hope it's not too late."

"Alright... here's the question. Which one'a us can take the trials?" Alec turns around, peering at the Vault door. "If'a cloak can do it-... but.. Redwell's the gods-damned exception t' everything, we can't go by 'im." He folds his arms and huffs. "Guess y'gotta be.. human. N' from Durender... wha'd'ya think, that right?"

"I don't know. You with your cloak can already get through all right... I think. Which might mean I need to take the trials. But maybe the door closed because it sensed the person beneath the cloak also wasn't a Knight. So maybe YOU need to take the trials. Or we could both do it. You have a point about being from Durender, though. I can't imagine an Inferian spy would ever be considered a true Knight by the door... but we'll just have to see."

"Yeah, we'll have t' see." He turns back to the others. "I see y'kept Ivennis from runnin' out on us, Smiley. Good work." He approaches the girl, patting her shoulder, though his attention on Ivennis. "Y'know what I'm 'bout t' tell ya, don'cha, Governer? Bring some men down 'ere n' keep an eye on the door. I don't wan'a fight through this damn tunnel a second time."

"Anything, just tell this FIEND to unhand me!" Ivennis looks considerably distressed, being next to an Agonizer.

Smiley tugs his shoulder, pulling him in close for a kiss on the cheek. And, of course, a smile. He screams.

Alec slowly raises his brow and peers at Smiley curiously. "Smiley? Find yerself a new hobby?"

"Nope, just doing what I always do. He hates it when I get close to him. Can I put my pain ring on him? Please?"

Sandra walks over. "Looks like Smiley found herself a husband."

Alec chuckles. "That's a great idea. But... we need 'em t' stay sane, Smiley. Let the man redeem 'imself." He pats Smiley's shoulder. "C'mon, let 'em go. You'll get another chance at showin' him affection later on."

Smiley does as Alec wishes, but not before wiping her finger on his cheek. "GAAH!" He covers his cheek, which has just received a tiny gift from her. He then scrambles down the catacombs, moaning in fright.

"I guess not all Inferians are used to demons," Sandra says. "...Shall we get out of here?"

"That guy makes that husband from before look like a damn lion." Alec takes the lead, walking toward the beginnings of the spiral staircase. "Yeah, let's go run through those trials. I'd like t' think I'm tough enough t' fight that Blight-caster alone, but it ain't likely."

"The more we learn about this Blight-caster, the less confident I get. A Blighted Banespawn was just a rear-guard for him? Plus he decimated this entire town by himself. Legionnaires may be incompetent fools, but that's still no small feat. He found a way into an impenetrable vault, created an army of spies and monsters, and probably knows who we are and what we're looking for. Just how ARE we going to fight him?"

"It gets worse, now that he's in the vault, come t' think'a it. Whatever's in there... if he can figure out how t' use it, he's gonna, unless there's more protection in there he's gotta go through..." Alec strokes his chin. "I've been figurin' a way t' deal with large groups'a Blight quickly. The Gift-Gun works wonders when they ain't pain-tolerant. But if there're more Banespawn down there..."

Sandra sighs. "...We'll have to worry about that later, I guess. Let's just get out of this tomb. Leave Smiley here to guard that armor, though. No one should put it on."

Alec pauses, looking at Smiley. "She's right, Smiley. Don't let 'em folks touch the armor. Hey, if ya figure out how t' talk to it, see if you can learn anythin' useful from Vohdal. Otherwise, don' let no one put it on, and don't put it on yerself, either."

"Okay boss!" Smiley grins and walks over to the fallen suit of armor. "Hi there! I'm Smiley. You're Vohdal, right?"

It might just be wind rushing through the old tunnels, or the rock settling, but it sounds as if the armor just groaned.

Alec shares a glance with Sandra. "I don't know if that'll work, but Smiley could annoy trees in t' talkin', I figure a soul in armor might get a lil' rattled."

"It's worth a shot," Sandra says. She begins walking back the way they came.

Alec resumes following her. With all this walking, he spends some time reloading the rest of his guns. Shotgun first, then the remainder. But after the performance with his needler, he was pondering converting all his musketballs into shells.

Sandra continues on in silence. There is a certain tension in the air, brought with the slow realization of the enormous difficulty of the task ahead. One of them, at least, may have to face great trials to enter the vault, only to be challenged even further by whatever horrors lie within, and the forbidden artifacts they may have gotten their aberrant appendages on.

After Alec had finished reloading, which was a length task, and they had climbed up the staircase, he would settle an arm across Sandra's shoulder in reassurance and keep close to her.

Sandra continues forwards, but touches Alec's hand. The pair of them climb the stairs, reaching the top just in time to see a group of Legionnaires walking at a quick pace toward them. "We're to proceed to the Vault," the lead one says. He looks to be a Sergeant, or whatever the Inferian equivalent. "On our lives, nothing will enter that shouldn't be there."

Alec offers a quick nod. "We left one'a our friends down there. She'll be.. talkin' to 'erself. Don't disturb 'er."

The Sergeant nods, and motions for his men to follow as he descends the spiral stair, rifle held in his hands. The men disappear into the catacombs.

Sandra walks through the empty halls of the keep, towards the main entrance, past the dusty paintings, unlit braziers, and cobwebbed metalwork. "I might be able to save us a little time."

Alec nods idly, then blinks. "Wait, d'ya mean... teleportation?"

"Yeah. It takes a while to prepare, and a lot of energy, but if it works, I could shave a half-day off our journey to Vintadell."

Alec frowns. "I reckon teleportin' magic needs some improvement... well, if yer sure, but, wouldn't that mean yer not gonna have energy fer the trial?"

"Well... something tells me the trials are personal. Which means one of us at a time. So, you could go first, and I could rest up."

"Guess that makes sense. We'll do it that way. But, uh... listen, this ain't the best time, but I'm kind'a.. starvin'."

"I'm sorry there aren't any steaks around here, but you can survive on healing until we find something more substantial. I'll do some scavenging once we get to Vintadell, sound good?"

He nods with a sigh. "Yeah. Yeah, a'right... ma'd be pullin' her hairs out knowin' I'm goin' without food.. much less 'em stickin' brussel-sprouts..."

Sometime later, the two of them enter the courtyard of the keep. "So," Sandra says, stopping, "we can do this here, or wait until we leave town. Anywhere that's fairly open will do."

Alec looks around the courtyard. "Doesn't look like anyone's watchin'. Any special reason t' head out'a town?"

Sandra shrugs, slightly. "No, just makes it slightly less of a power-drain. Anyways, do you have a piece of scrap metal on you?"

Alec nods. "Yeah. Let's head out'a town, we can spare an hour fer an easier trip."

Sandra nods, and so they begin to venture towards the edge of town. Out of the blue, she says, "What kind of person was your mom? ...Uh, that is, if you don't mind me asking..."

Alec chuckles, shaking his head. "Demons ain't got nothin' on her... Strong woman. Lovin'. Terrifyin'. My gun arm? Didn't come from pa' or gramps, came from ma'. When a'did wrong, she'd slap me with a paddle. Mos' kids got a slap on the ass. Ma' went fer the l legs, the back. Then, she'd bandage me up n' tell me I shouldnt'a cracked a bottle over some shit's head... or scratched up a sign.. you name it. She cooked, too. Deadly stuff..." His face scrunched up as he shuddered, remembering that some things were worse than starvation.

Sandra chuckles a little. "What about your dad? Didn't he do anything?"

Alec nods. "..Pa was the brains. Taught me gunsmithin'. Gramps told me the stories, but Pa' made it come t' life. Well, that ain't all he made. Was a real tinkerer. Ma' said she loved him fer his ideas, 'cause she sure didn't think much'a his aim, heheheh..."

Sandra glances at rows of broken buildings half-frozen in ice and snow. "It sounds like your family's always had a connection to Cole Simmons. Are you ... descendants, or...?"

"Hm? Nah, Simmons ain't had any children. Never married, we weren't too sure why. Gramps said he had a curse he didn' wanna pass down. Real sad story, man said he was the last'a his family..." Alec leaned against Sandra, his shoulder dropping into a hug around her waist. "Nah, we've always had ties, but ma's family came from some'a his guards, n' pa's came from the smiths, the engineers- well, that's obvious, I'm sure. Ain't too surprisin'. Gramps said when they left fer Talibar, they founded Cault t'gether n' stuck close, 'cause they were pretty damn foreign t' all the people around."

"So is that where you were born and raised? Cault, Talibar?"

"Well.. it's Cault, Sanctimonia now, but that's right. Used t' be a port fer Simmons Co., nothin' more. Not fer regular ships, but uh.. airships. I don't know if y'know'a those stories. Used t' have a lot'a those up 'til the company crumbled. We still got some relics over there. Won't fly, but they look pretty. Pa's been spendin' his life tryin' t' figure out how Simmons made 'em work without magic, all the technology fer makin' n' maintainin' 'em was in Kerodil... Well, maybe we'll see 'em t'gether some day n' you n' I can have a hand at it."

Sandra looks a little surprised. "...You think so?"

Alec shrugs, stepping over an icy patch. "Well... can't say I've ever had longterm plans in m'life. They seem t' get muddled up, or jus' get longer n' longer, or put off. Once all this's over, I'd like t' take a trip home n' get yelled at by Ma'. Wouldn't complain if'a had company."

"I don't know..." she says, looking down. "What would they think of me? What would you tell them about... us?"

"Oh, uh... er... huh. Yeah, reckon that'd... yeah." Alec scratches the back of his neck. "...Come t' think'a it, Sandra, just.. how old're ya? Wouldn't even know what t' tell the folks if they asked me yer age."

"I-... don't know." She doesn't make eye contact, staring at the ground as she continues walking.

Alec stares at her for a while. That. That's bad. What if she's fifty? Or worse, what if she was hardly ten? What if they aged her rapidly? Alec slowly looks away, troubled that he may have become a pedophile. "...Uh... well.. h-..how much do ya remember?"

"I remember missions. And some of my training. I remember being four - I actually told you that. But I didn't know what date it was, had no way of... keeping track..." She shakes her head.

Alec is silent a while. He settles the arm around her waist and pulls her into a tighter hug. "It's alright... we'll figure that out, too. You got time, a friend t' help, n' freedom. You'll learn everythin' about yerself, sooner or later."

"But that's the thing, I'm... not myself. I was changed, made into someone- something, else. I have no idea who my biological parents were - if I had any. For all I know I was just grown, like some kind of..." she takes a deep breath. "Sandra's just another character, Alec. Just like Erin. The real 'me' is Sigma-14, the Promethean. The tool."

"Now, you listen t'me," Alec stopped, took her by the cheek, and glared at her intensely. "I don't wan'a hear talk like that again. Those days're over. Yer not a tool. Yer not gonna let somebody else change who y'are. You- ya figured out how t' open the damned Vault, Sandra! Findin' out who y'were, who y'are, it's a piece'a cake by comparison!" Alec held her cheek tenderly and set his forehead against her own. "I ain't gonna let 'em hide the truth from ya. Yer gonna find the answers, no matter what. N' then, once y'know it all. Then, yer free t' decide who y'are... and who y'wanna be. Okay?"

Sandra is taken aback at his sudden outburst, but nods her head, squeezing her eyes shut. "I don't want to be a burden on you, Alec. It's just... every time I so much as look in the mirror, I'm reminded of why I'll never be human. I have no family, and only one friend. Well... maybe more than that. Are we...?" she trails off.

Alec halts upon her response. "..Wait, uh. Am I... the first person you've ever. Y'know. Liked?"

"What do you mean?"

"Uh... romantically, y'know. Had feelin's for-... you got feelin's for me, right?" He smiles at her, but the smile starts to droop. "Uh... right?"

"Oh- um... yes? I think so..." She smiles awkwardly.

"That's... that's good, yeah." Alec nods in similar awkward fashion, deciding to resume walking. "Yeah, me too," he adds quite casually. "So. So that means we like each other. Fer more than sex." He nods again. "Listen, I ain't exactly good at this stuff, I lost two women without tryin', n' never even really had the third one. Yer gonna have t' cut me some slack, I really ain't the guy with the answers on this one."

"Then we're both equally inexperienced," Sandra remarks with a smirk, following after him.

He gives her a joking glare. "Don't say that like it's a good thing, jus' means we're gonna go embarrassin' ourselves a bunch."

"After what we've been getting up to, I don't see how that's possible."

Alec raises his brows and slowly shakes his head. "You'll see. It ain't all about sex. There's plenty'a other ways t' look stupid t' the one ya love, believe me." This draws a frown across Alec's expression as he recalls some unfortunate memory.

"Right... I guess I'll just take your word for it."

"Yeah.. nevermind that. So.. yer turn, tell me 'bout the Prometheans. The others, a'mean. What're they like? Are they all guys, or were there other girls like yerself?"

"You want to know if there are more sets of glowing boobs in the world?"

Alec blinks. "Y'know, hadn't thought'a it that way, but ya bring up a great point."

Sandra shakes her head, smiling. "...There are other women. They're rare... though not for lack of trying. Not a lot survive. What it is they're surviving, I don't know. They never told us. It might have to do with the changes."

"Ah... You ever make any friends? Do they... did they let'cha be friends? Or have 'em, even?"

"There would be talking, sometimes. And sex. I don't think they let us form actual relationships, though. As far as I know, none of us ever tried."

Alec blinks. "Uh. Sex? Like... what kind'a... n' who... regular people, or... between each other?" He peers at Sandra. "Did you?..."

"I did, yes. Part of it was training. You have to know how. And the other part was... fun. Not much else to do during the brief down times."

Alec slowly looks away, staring aimlessly as they walk. He had never considered this outcome. "So, all that sex we had... it's.. routine for ya? Jus' the normal way t' spend yer evenin's at home?"

"...That's one way to put it. That's why I wasn't sure what it meant for us. I'm glad I know now, though."

Alec looked a bit unsure this time. "Y-...yeah, uh. Those... Promethean guys must'a been-... uh... nevermind." He shakes his head. "Don' wan'a know. Really don' wan'a know."

"Oh, they were," she says, smiling fondly. "Those walls would shake when-" she pauses when she sees Alec's horrified expression. "...right, uh, forget it."

Alec rubs his forehead wordlessly, suddenly experiencing a migraine so strong, Smiley would feel it through Durender's walls. Grumpily, he uses the arm about Sandra's waist to begin groping at her chest, providing no explanation.

Sandra looks down at his arm, and then over at him. "Something bothering you?"

He exhales. "...Yeah, I guess this's my comfort routine, ain't it... Guess I'm jealous... n' somethin' else. Whatever." Ashamed of himself, he halts and returns his arm to a less enthusiastic hug.

"What's the 'something else'?"

Alec frowns and avoids eye contact. "...Don' wan'a talk about it."

Sandra tries to find his gaze. "C'mon, Alec, I'll trade you. You tell me, and I'll let you ask me anything."

He maintains his frown stoically, eyes searching. "Jus'... I can't compete with some damned perfect fuckin' men... is all. Don't even wan'a close my eyes, I'll end up imaginin' them n' you n'- fuck, now I'm thinkin' about it." He dropped his arm and picked up his pace, wanting this walk to be over.

Sandra blocks his path, rooted firmly in the snow. "Alec, if there's one thing I've learned from you, it's that it's not about what you have, but how you use it. And I'm not just talking about sex. You've done things that'd give one of us a run for our money. So when the two of us are together... you don't need to worry about living up to some impossible standard. You already do."

Alec stares back with uncertainty. His grumpiness comes apart to reveal more of the uncertainty. "...I don' know 'bout that, Sandra. I'm jus' a man... if it weren't fer you, n' this cloak - heck, even Smiley's help - never would'a made it this far. It's one thing t' never give in, it's another t' pretend that a'stand a chance against some'a this stuff. I ain't like you, I ain't... got much'a my own strength. Can't learn things in an hour." He begins leaning into her, nestling his head against her shoulder. "...Only reason I ain't broke down is 'cause it ain't worth it. If'a even had the luxury'a breakin' down, I-... I probably would. But even so, I can't lie t' myself n' say a'got all the answers fer what's t' come... n' don't pretend I'm anythin' near... whatever the fuck's been put in ya, t' make me feel better. Tha's jus' condescendin'..."

Sandra listens to him as he speaks, laughing at the last remark. As she holds him, her expression softens. "I... didn't realize how much I needed you, but I do. If you hadn't stopped me, told me I could be someone besides what I was made to be... I wouldn't be here. I don't care if you're 'just a man.' You're a good man."

Alec seemed to calm as he listened to her. "Well, I... ain't that good, but... thanks. I.. think a'needed that. It used t' be money that distracted me. Lack'a appreciation... bullshit people give ya fer doin' things yer way. The ridicule, fear, list goes on. The money was somethin' in exchange fer all the bullshit they gave me. Somethin' that proved I was worth somethin'. 'Cause there were only a few people that believed in the fight itself. I had friends, fer everythin' else, n' my team, but lately they've been disappearin' n' I haven't been workin' fer anythin' since." The hollowness that had shed itself the night Sandra had broken down was beginning to show. A carefully protected shell, held up by will and will alone. But as quickly as it appeared, Alec stowed it, shifting the subject. "...I'm bettin' I got this baby gunman bullshit from Pa's side'a the family."

She chuckles. "Maybe. Anyways, I'll hold up my end of the bargain. Anything you'd like to know?"

Alec moves away, peering at her as he thinks to himself. "...One thing. Ya told me that.. y'really did believe Myra's teachin's. It seems odd. Fer someone comin' from a... a superior race, if'a ever seen one... t' follow somethin' so humble. How'd it happen?"

Sandra takes a few moments to ponder the question as she again starts walking down the main road. "...Well, it's hard to say. For some reason, when I learned about the Gods of Kerodil, something about Myra stuck with me. Of course, I perverted her teachings by doing Inferia's dirty work to achieve some nationalistic ideal of world peace. Peace through espionage and deceit against every other nation in Aeria, I doubt that's what Myra wanted. But... I still like the idea of mutual acceptance, cooperation... I guess I do wish every nation could be united under one banner. Probably impossible, but who knows."

Alec smiles at her. "So.. that one really jus' came from you, huh?"

"...I don't really know," she says tentatively.

"I'm thinkin' it did. I've been thinkin' it did ever since I met ya." He leaned against her comfortably as they moved in step.

"Okay then," she says with a smile, keeping him close. "I'm a Myrite."

Alec seemed satisfied with this outcome. He didn't add more to it, and remained in the embrace for a time. Though, eventually, he would have to interrupt the intimacy for work. "...Is it 'bout time t' go teleportin'? Are we far 'nough from the city yet?"

"We can teleport anywhere that's open," she says. "The distance determines the energy requirements - well, that, and it's a little easier to teleport when you have a clear line of sight on the target. Anyways, we should be nearing the edge of town. See? There's the front gate."

"Yeah... hey, maybe we can climb up on top'a it, that'd give ya a pretty clear view, wouldn' it?"

She shrugs, slightly. "Sure. I plan on just taking us to the horizon. That should be pretty close to our destination." Sandra nears the wall, casting her eyes about - and spots a set of stairs leading onto the battlements. She begins to ascend. "You don't have any issues with teleporting, right?"

"Done it b'fore," Alec comments. "Doesn' bother me. Not sure what scares people 'bout it."

"Some say it's because of a slim margin for error, but that's only if you don't know what you're doing." Sandra reaches the top, and walks along the wall toward the door to the gatehouse.

As they climb to the top, Alec begins chuckling to himself. "Y'know.. Perse had a real irrational fear'a teleportation. Heh... if she were 'ere, we'd'a been arguin' 'bout teleportin' fer days b'fore we got anythin' done."

"Teleportation is all about good safeguards," Sandra continues. "Solarius' teleport cartridge will move me wherever I shoot. But there's a built-in range limit to keep from overextending the cartridge and only moving a piece of me. It also won't teleport me into bodies of water. And no matter where the shot ends up, it never puts me in a wall or the ground. All of that's stuff you can weave into the spell itself, rather than hoping you've guessed a location correctly."

"Huh, no kiddin'. Teleportation magic's a bit uncommon in Sanctimonia, never got m' hands on it. Found a few scrolls'a a short-range spell, but never managed t' find time or resources t' make a gun fer it..."

"Teleportation cartridges don't even exist, officially," Sandra says. "They represent an advancement in miniaturization and cartridge efficiency. As for making a Simmons version... it's possible, sure. Not sure how long range it'd be, but it could be done."

Alec grins. "Heh. I'm thinkin' I could make it work." He approaches her, staying close. "Well, guess it's all you from 'ere." He sets a hand on Sandra.

"Possibly not," she says, after ascending to the gatehouse roof. "I might need you to transfer some energy to me. I'll let you know." Sandra positions herself in the center, and begins the motions and chanting of weaving the spell. She is fluid, unremitting, and precise. The spell takes about 15 minutes for her to prepare, but seems like the kind of spell that should take much longer.

As she's weaving, she asks, "Do you happen to have any charcoal? Something to write with?"

The request catches him by surprise, but he fulfills it, plucking out some spare parchment, and a pencil, old and worn, likely used for all his sketches and designs. "Here."

Sandra snatches the pencil, but leaves the paper. "Thanks - I'm not making a scroll here, though. Now melt some of this snow, hurry. It doesn't matter how, your magic can't hurt me."

Alec blinks. "Right, uh." He whips out Spitfire. Alec backs up a little and preps the weapon with the spell at a reduced level.

"Uh.. might wan'a.. hold that paper a lil' higher, just sayin'." He shoots. Flames spread, enough to wash over and turn the snow into steam without damaging the structure.

The flames melt the snow, as predicted, but leave Sandra and her armor unscathed, also as predicted. If Alec were paying close attention, he might notice the energy from his spell flowing into her body as it's absorbed like a sponge. Meanwhile, Sandra herself kneels down and begins tracing a pattern onto the stone using the pencil. When the tip becomes blunt, she rips off bits of wood to reveal more graphite. This is probably not a good way to use a pencil.

Alec winces, feeling pain for his old, beloved pencil. "Uh-.. Sandra.... n-.. nevermind."

Busy concentrating on the spell, Sandra doesn't hear him. Eventually, she finishes the pattern, and, the spell completed, she releases it onto the circular sigil she's just drawn. The pencil markings flare up, and burn themselves into the stone. "There. This allows for a two-way, one-use teleport. There and back. It should hold up for a day or two, at least, in case the trials take longer than we planned."

Alec peers at the spell in wonder. Of course, he'd never seen magic of that sort before. "Wow.. yeah, that'll come in handy. Wait. Shit. I hope they feed Smiley... hope she remembers t' eat, at that. It's just occurin' t'me that a lot'll happen in the time we're gonna be over there."

"At least this way we don't need to add travel time to that list. I'd hate to get caught out on the plains again at night."

"Eugh, yeah, enough'a that. Well, I'm ready when you are. Anythin' else y'need me t'do?" Alec peers at the paper in his hand. Was this even needed?

"Nope, all done. Thanks for your help- why are you holding that piece of paper?"

"I, uh... Nevermind." Alec quietly stows the paper. "Nothin'. Jus' a lil' mixup." He clears his throat and comes to stand beside her.

She unsuccessfully attempts to hide her amusement, and pulls Alec close to her on the sigil. "This reminds me of that night you fought the-" she completes her sentence by the river's shore, amid patches of melted snow and the sound of rushing water in the distance. "-Hellhounds."

Alec looks around at the new scenery. "Yeah? How's that? Doesn' much seem the same t'me."

Sandra steps away from him, the familiar presence of the girls leaving Alec. "You and me, about to take a plunge... remember? Maybe that's a bad comparison." She turns toward the sound of rushing water, and begins walking along the riverbank. The water flows freely, carrying small chunks of ice. The air is cold, but the sun is visible through small holes in the cloud cover. Wherever its light falls, the feeling of warmth spreads.

"Yeah, guess that's kind'a similar, but there's a lil' difference. You were pretendin' t'be helpless back then, n' I was the badass. Things've kind'a turned 'round." He follows after her, stowing Spitfire, which had served its purpose. "Don't think there'd be much holdin' you back if it weren't fer the Blight, n' those eye-things with antimagic. I'm kind'a like the backup plan fer those things."

"More like the main plan," she says. "I wish my training included techniques for combating Blight. We just... never needed to deal with it. Not even in other countries. Pycheko was considered too geographically distant to be viewed as a potential threat."

"What, y'think all we gotta' deal with is Blight? Don't figure that's right." Alec pats himself down, focusing on the cloak to make sure no faults were leftover from his fight with Vohdal, though it seems the cloak is fully restored.

"I hadn't really thought about what we'd do after this," Sandra admits. "I guess you're right." As the pair continue walking, a bird flies overhead. The terrible presence of the Rift is hardly felt here, and their surroundings show it clearly. A few flowers grow here and there, and reeds line the riverbank, white with frost. Instead of the crunch of ice and snow, there is soft grass beneath them.

"Way I see it, when the Numbers asked me t' protect ya, they didn't figure you were weak, jus' that you were gonna get weeded out as the threat t' somethin' worse n' this Blight. Frankly speakin', this stuff ain't so terrible t' deal with right now. Whatever took out the capital.. s'gotta be worse n' this. I don' figure seein' myself bein' able t' do much about it, if I'm bein' honest with ya. Ain't that strong.. ain't that smart. But yer strong. Yer smart. All y'needed was somebody t' set ya free, n' keep ya from gettin' scared, or stomped down before ya got on yer two feet. Guess that's what I'm here fer."

"Smiley said that an Archfiend took out the capital. There are thirteen Archfiends, each of them almost a God in its own right. Ossus and Bane began that way, until they accrued enough power to dominate Hell. But as the Demonologists say, the only true ruler of Hell is its creator - Sylornath, the Slain God. Hell was built with his remains, and Demons are born from his blood." Sandra steps over a patch of ice, but puts her foot down in mud. Scowling, she continues. "Anyways, whoever this Archfiend is clearly commands a lot of power. He might even be manifest here in Aeria, which would explain how he opened the Rift so widely and violently. I imagine there's an entire Demon army camped out in the capital right now, killing or torturing whatever's left of the populace..." Sandra shudders, moving on with increased speed. The waterfall can be glimpsed, now, on cliffs that stretch jaggedly in either direction as far as the eye can see.

"...Who do ya reckon's gonna take care'a that one, Sandra?" Alec glances back behind them, then back to Sandra. "Nobody told me t' deal with it, even if we'll probably be runnin' in t' those demons sooner're later."

"I don't know," Sandra says. "Maybe if there were more of us left, we could slow it down, but... nothing short of closing the Rift altogether would stop it from bringing in endless reinforcements. Trying to attack it directly would be... unwise. Like trying to fight a God. The Rift essentially makes Inferia another part of Hell, and in Hell, Archfiends hold all the cards."

Alec chuckles. "...Don't give up hope yet. I reckon there's more t' this crazy plan the Numbers got in mind than jus' you n' me. Yer lucky, y'know. That ya ran in t' me n' not whatever crazy bastard's comin' after me. He better appreciate it, too, I've been doin' his damn job so far." Alec picks up his pace, motioning to the falls. "That the place? Thought y'said we were goin' t' a place'a worship, still don't see nothin' much like one. Jus' a nice scenic view."

"The Temple's on top of the cliff," she says. "We'll have to climb."

"Yeah?" He looks up. "...Yeah... with rope, right?" He peers at Sandra. "Or some stairs, or a path, or somethin'?"

"With our hands."

Alec sighs. "Sounds like fun... lots'a fun... Jus' don't race me t' the top, a'right. I ain't won no climbin' races fer as long as I've been alive."

"That's my baby gunman," she says, patting his cheek. "No race, I'll climb below you in case you fall."

"What the hell? No, yer goin' first!" He complained. "If I don't get t' stare at yer ass, I'm gonna fall off n' die from boredom."

"Better have a firm grip, then," she says jokingly. Looking back ahead of them, she stops in her tracks. A figure is suddenly there that wasn't there before, standing at the base of the falls. It's humanoid, clad entirely in armor of unknown make and material, with a winged helmet and a griffon embossed on the breastplate.

"Hello again," it utters.

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PostSubject: The Climb   Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:45 am

Alec halts abruptly, all tush-related concerns temporarily shelved to address the figure with questionable fashion sense. "What d'ya mean 'again?' Who're ya talkin' to, never met ya in m' life." Alec glances at Sandra. "Do ya know this guy?"

"I wasn't talking to you, gunman," the figure says. Its voice is androgynous, with a metallic tinge, but more organic than one of Ferguson's automatons. "I was talking to him." It points to the cloak draped over Alec.

Alec stares at the figure, then at the cloak, then at the figure. "...You crazy'r somethin'? Damn thing doesn't talk, what're ya expectin' from this anyway. Wait, wait, 'him?' How do ya know 'bout this thing?" Alec tugs at the cloak and gestures at the strange being.

"I am the Herald of Vintar, and the first person to wear that cloak once stood before me in the realm of my Lord. You must be Alec Smith, the arcane armsman. And Sandra. Just Sandra."

Sandra looks at him funny. "Um, do you greet all visitors this way?"

"No," it replies quickly. "I am here to substitute for the deceased. There is no one living who can oversee the Trials, and my Lord has willed that you be allowed a chance. You must be prepared for what is to come."

"Huh... guess that explains a lot. Well, I've been prepared all day, so let's get it over with." Alec proceeds toward the figure. As he does so, his cloak appears to fall off on its own, somehow separating its harness and carrying goods, leaving them all on the gunman. Alec is reminded of his old friend gravity as his body starts to weigh him down. "Hrk- wha.. hey!" He eyes the cloak, staring at it. "..Oh, I get it. I can't get any help fer this thing," he turned back to the herald, "Can I?"

"Quite right," it says. "Your cloak has politely relinquished its aid. Now you must lay down your weapons, your armor, and as much as your modesty allows." The Herald turns its head toward Sandra. "I never thought I would see the day one of your kind deigned to face the Seven Trials. Your armor, of course, will need to be relinquished. Clothing will be provided, if you so desire it. But you will not be allowed rest. You will be permitted enough magic to complete the trials, and no more." Sandra looks stunned.

Alec returns to his cloak, picking it up and storing as much of his weapons and equipment into it as he could. "I'm guessin' we jus' hand these over t' you?" The gunman was willing to put away much, even his armor and the magical trinkets he wore for protection, but he kept his clothes and his hat, unwilling to part with those. With the cloak full of his items, and having essentially absorbed his chain-shirt into its form, Alec lugs it back, offering it to the Herald. "Here..."

The Herald takes his cloak - and plucks his hat off of his head. "Thank you, Alec."

Sandra, meanwhile, begins extricating herself from her armor. "So where-" a set of folded clothes materializes before her. "Right. Okay."

Alec reaches for his head- "Wha... m'hat? Yer not lettin' me keep the hat? Come on, man, Ma' gave me that!"

"Do not worry, the hat will be kept safe. Safer than on your head, I would wager."

Sandra tugs on the pair of wool pants and a cotton shirt. "Itchy." She hands over her weapons, gadgets, and armor.

"Trust me when I say those clothes are better than none. Now, are the two of you prepared? Anything else you would like to relinquish?"

Alec looks himself over, patting down his body. "That's it, ain't got anythin' else on me. It's all on the cloak."

Sandra shakes her head. "You already know I have nothing under here."

"Okay, then." The Herald waves its hand over the pile of belongings, and it vanishes like mist. "This Temple is here for one simple reason - to test your will. Whether you pass or fail is not yet written. You hold the pen. You control the outcome. As it is said by Vintar, the God of Will." The Herald takes a few moments to let this sink in, and begins pacing as it speaks more. "...Hundreds of years ago, when this Temple was built, my Lord sent me to each of the six other Gods of Kerodil, asking for a contribution - a test. They would be glorified in Vintar's temple, and Vintar would be glorified by administering these Trials to brave souls. The first of the Seven Trials begins now, and it is that which was derived by Mordyr, the Deified Paingiver." The Herald reaches somewhere behind him, though there is no shelf visible, and pulls out a menacing suit of armor. "This is the Armor of Discipline."

Alec stares at the said 'armor.' "...Yer gonna make us wear that, ain't ya." He holds up a hand. "Listen, whatever y'got planned, I'm goin' first. Sandra needs 'er rest all the same. So.. I'm guessin' that means I put it on. There anythin' special to it?"

"You will find out when you don it," the Herald passes the armor to him. It is without a doubt the worst suit of armor ever designed. Heavy, cumbersome, with no internal padding, numerous sharp edges, and what feels like needle-like points in odd places throughout. In addition, it is hideous, the steel impure and poorly shaped. It does not fit, too tight in places and far too wide in others. The boots are tight, bear no padding, and chafe almost immediately.

"This armor is to be worn for the duration of the Trials. That is the first Trial."

Alec slowly and very unhappily dons the armor, wondering if it will weigh any more than all the equipment he just gave up. "Fits like a charm... you sure yer God didn' make this test jus' t' laugh at the people that had t' take it? 'Cause this's feelin' one elaborate practical joke t'me."

"The Armor has claimed many lives over the centuries. Do not make light of it."

"Sure doesn't feel light enough fer me t' accomplish that." Alec squirms in the armor. "Alright... now what?"

"Now you will complete the journey to the Temple. As it has been done countless times." The Herald turns to his side, presenting Alec with the waterfall. "Climb. Sandra and I will await you at the top."

Alec pauses and looks at the Herald. Then, the cliff. The Herald. "...Yer serious." The cliff. Alec sighs, as he is accustomed, and approaches the waterfall, looking for handgrips. At least his perception was good enough to pick out all the paths he could take. Judging the better ones would be another matter. "T' think, there's five more'a these..."

"Six more," the Herald corrects him. "Vintar himself devised the final Trial. To many, it is the hardest of them all."

"Good luck, Alec," Sandra calls to him.

Alec turns back, waving at Sandra. "Thanks. I'm wishin' ya luck, too." He smiled for a moment, but it only lasted until he turned back to the waterfall. "...Here goes."

The falls are roughly fifty feet high. Fifty feet of slippery rocks, treacherous hand holds, icy mist, and rushing torrents of water. Climbing this with the proper equipment would be nigh impossible, but this must be climbed in a heavy and inflexible set of armor.

Alec shakes his head. "This's nuts." He looks around for any other ways to get up, then looks over the armor he's been given. Alec decides to test the grip of the boots and the rest of the armor.

Their grip is poor - what else could be expected? But at least there is some.

Alec backs off the cliff. Plain stupid, that's a fool's way to climb, willpower or not. He gives pause to think about what he could do to improve his chances of success, barring comfort. "...Paingiver... right... the right way t'do this involves a lot'a pain," he mumbles, looking himself over. With a shake of his head, Alec approaches the cliff, and kicks his feet against the rock face, first the one, then the other, inflicting bruises upon himself, forcing his feet to conform to the shape of the armor. He did the same with his arms and hands, until they were fairly bloody and bruised. Then, he waited, taking a seat, waiting for a while, somewhere between half an hour and an hour.

Sandra watches Alec's actions in confusion. The Herald, after waiting a good thirty minutes, says, "Interesting approach. But as I... hope, you know, you can not ascend a cliff by sitting at the base of it."

"Ya never set a time limit, pal. You jus' wait n' see..." He leaned back for the full wait. About an hour later, Alec would get up again with some swollen parts shaped to his horrible armor and an improved grip, hopefully. Time for a test run. Alec places his hands on the rock face to give another shot at ascending a few steps and feeling out his grip.

As Alec reaches for the rocks, the armor seizes up. With rusty squealing, the plates deform and reshape themselves. The greaves begin to cut off circulation in the legs. The gauntlets poke into the fingers and wrists uncomfortably. The boots are now too big, seeming to nearly fall off with each step, yet somehow staying on. The armor is just as unsuitable as before, if not worse.

"You do not break in the Armor of Discipline," explains the Herald. "It breaks YOU in."

Alec almost slips as the grip he had tried to achieve suddenly fails him. Luckily, he wasn't far off the ground, landing painfully on his feet. "Ugh... fantastic... Spilled m' own blood fer nothin'." Annoyed, and left with little other choices for preparation, Alec tries to get used to the new instability and begins the treacherous climb, all the while thinking this was dumb, and stupid, and really dumb, and really stupid.

"Eleanor Duvedirfel was sixteen years old when she made the climb," the Herald calls after him. "And she had a broken arm at the time."

"You shut yer fuckin' mouth!" Alec called back. "I ain't a gods-damned hero. Or a climber!" Angrily, he ascended. "I don't know where y'all get off thinkin' willpower has somethin' t'do with physical ability! Or fuckin' shitty armor! You tellin' me tryin' t' solve n' unsolvable problem ain't willpower? A gods-damned joke, that's what this is!" If there were a god of anger, Alec could've been him. As the burdens and pressure piled up on him, Alec refused to quit, if only to spite the source of it all. Driven by his anger, he began searching the paths available to him.

The spray of water makes it difficult to see through the misaligned eye holes of the helmet. But the gunman's sharp vision pays off - he spots a series of stable-looking hand holds that could very well take him to the top - provided he has the strength.

"Will can make the body do things previously thought impossible. The body is stronger than it appears, and the mind is even stronger."

Alec's body was defined, and he had gained some additional muscle over the years, but he was, by no means, built for this task; all the worse that he was approaching this while completely hungry. He begins the climb, but pauses to glare at the Herald. "Yer a fuckin' idiot. You think people climb mountains, build cities n' run their lives on -willpower-? The hell's wrong with ya? People train fer this crap. They prepare! Doesn't matter if y'got willpower if ya use it like a fuckin' idiot, asshole!" Then, well.. he tried to climb up again, continuing the argument by yelling louder and louder as the distance between them was bound to increase. He moved very slowly, for he had little strength, and despite whatever willpower he may have had, it only had the power to command his body to move; adrenaline made the pain almost disappear. Anger made him forget he was hungry. But all the same, both of those things were only present because both he and his body knew they weren't ready for this type of journey.

"Insult me," The Herald says, its voice loud but calm, "if that will make you feel better. But there is more to this world than the physical. You of all people ought to know this."

"Fine! Yer still an idiot!" Alec was glad that he agreed that he was an idiot. The climb continued. Alec was starting to slow down. Even if he didn't feel it, his body couldn't produce the energy to keep up with his ascent. Realizing this, Alec tried to find a handhold where he could wait and regain some strength.

There is one such handhold that, mercifully, presents itself to the tired gunman. It is, however, slightly loose, and likely to break off should he linger too long.

Alec eyes the hold. It's troubling. If he rested there for too long, he might end up falling off. Whatever the Herald thought people were capable of, Alec remains convinced he isn't one of those people. Hesitantly, he approaches the handhold to lodge his hands in place and hang for a little while, until his breathing would steady.

The rocky outcropping holds long enough for Alec to rest, but breaks off soon after he passes it.

Alec avoids looking back; doing so was death. Now that he had strength, he paced himself, continuing the climb slowly. He began to notice things, like the blood leaving his arms. Bruising them earlier may have proven helpful as it encouraged blood flow to them. But the greaves were suffocating his legs, which was disastrous. His legs were slowing him down more than anything, and his arms didn't have the power to climb on upper-body strength, alone. He played a careful game of balance to keep moving at a snail's pace up the cliff. The rushing water wasn't helping him, either. His clothes were soaked, and he was frigid; he couldn't remove them with the armor in the way. Then, his grip slipped, followed by his footing, and Alec was left dangling by one hand, his gun hand.

Sandra looks on uneasily. The Herald, meanwhile, seems unfazed, though its helmet doesn't exactly convey emotions well. "So is this as far as you go, Alec Smith? Unable to even make it inside the Temple? I am disappointed."

Alec feels for a lower handhold with his free arm, dropping to it and climbing down a step. He grasps at the cliff for some bit of rock, or gravel, anything he could fit in hand.

Alec's hand finds purchase on a firm bit of stone, hidden by mist. A snug groove that might serve as another reprieve, its only downside being the frigid condensation of the mist that drips down the inside of the armor. There are, as well, plenty of loose rocks on the cliffs, and it doesn't take long for Alec to find one.

Alec takes a firm grip of a loose rock, looking back down to the ground. This wasn't the best thing to do at a time like this, but that Herald was really getting on his nerves. Luckily, even a hundred feet wasn't far enough to throw off Alec's aim. He flung it in a perfect arc for the Herald's helmet to express his gratitude for his encouraging words. Afterword, Alec continued up the cliff with all his stubbornness, slower than before.

The rock plinks off of the Herald's helmet. It does not move or reply.

Alec smiles, hearing the plink and feeling satisfied. That didn't really give him strength, but it did give him confidence to keep throwing more rocks. He would pause to hurl one at the Herald's helmet every few steps, each time he found more along his journey. The trial of the Paingiver had apparently inspired Alec to give away some pain of his own, though he figured the Herald probably didn't feel any of it.

Plink. Plink. Clang. Bong. The Herald bears it all, without a word or any attempt to dodge out of the way. Its armor is unmarred by the barrage.

After many a step of rock-climbing and rock-throwing, Alec pauses to judge his distance and determine if he should take a new path.

He does not see any possible route besides the one he has already chosen. Perhaps he is too far up to turn towards a new path, or perhaps the awkward helmet and mists are too much for his vision. But, he has come a long way. The top seems within reach... which, of course, makes it seem impossibly far.

Alec wasn't the strongest, but he also wasn't dumb enough to be limited by something like poor vision. He picks up another rock, eyeing the top. He hurls it up to bounce off, and uses the time it takes to travel up, and come back down to him, to judge the distance. For once, the Herald wasn't his target.

By this method, he reckons he has another dozen feet to climb, placing him roughly three-quarters up the falls.

That was a long way. He'd already spent too much energy just going up this distance, but with no alternate paths, it was fairly obvious he wasn't going to find much rest climbing this one. Alec switches arms, before the one he was on got too tired. Now, with his free arm, he feels the top of his helmet for protrusions, anything long and sharp, capable of grip.

The helmet, being the monstrosity it is, has more than a few sharp edges and points where the metal doesn't line up properly.

Good enough. Alec lets the arm rest for a few seconds before beginning his climb again. Wherever he finds it hard to hold on, he rams his helmet into the stone face for a little help from a fifty grip.

The Herald tilts its head to one side, in apparent bewilderment. Sandra stifles a laugh.

With the power of his face, Alec's climb continued at an increased pace. His neck muscles, thus far unused, weren't weary of fatigue. This might seem silly, no one trains their neck muscles- but a gunman did, requiring them under various conditions to maintain steady aim through recoil when using sights. There wasn't much more to be said; the Herald never said he couldn't outsmart the armor.

The Helmet changes into some stupid, perfectly smooth oblong shape.

Alec's head slips after the short period in which he had gained a lead. "Grr..."

"You can do it, Alec! Just think of boobs!" Sandra yells up to him.

"Be quiet. If you help him, he fails the trial automatically," the Herald says.

Alec was momentarily distracted by thoughts of boobs, thanks to Sandra, but that wasn't going to get him through this. Whatever ingenious, breast-inspired thoughts he could come up with, the trial changed the environment every step of the way. He trudged on...

The adrenaline in Alec's body had begun to dwindle. The drug couldn't sustain him forever. Now, true fatigue set in, along with more pain, not to mention how his stomach now felt like it was collapsing in on itself. He has to start trying to curl his entire arms over some of the larger outcropping rocks to maintain grip and ration out some of his energy.

After remaining in place for a while, he starts to climb once more. When the alternative is death, Alec is left with little choice. The last quarter would have taken as long as the previous three, with many stops along the way to help Alec gather his strength.

Near the top of the waterfall, the stream of water is more coherent and less of a spray. Rocks jut out here and there, but the spaces between them are treacherous torrents of rushing water. The last few feet are the most difficult for Alec, but somehow, he pulls through. The next set of rocks takes him up over the edge, onto the river, where the waters are wide and the current is strong. But the river narrows just before the falls, and the shoreline is visible from Alec's position. If he can give one final push, he can reach it and finish the climb.

Unfortunately, Alec had been managing to get by through conserving energy and taking it step by step. Unable to tell that this was where the waterfall began, he climbed up unassumingly and found himself being pushed against by the force of the water. Immediately, he loses his grip and starts to drop several steps. His reflexes and memory kick in, the gunman stretches his arms against rocks, slowing his drop in seconds, and managing to grab hold of a stone, though the way it stretched his arms out must have looked painful from afar- felt in person, Alec was now aware of some tears in his muscles.

Alec stayed where he was for a while. He conformed his body into whatever shape was necessary just to stay put, letting his breathing slow and his heart calm. That was too close, far too close, and his arms couldn't take much more of this.

"Am I to interpret this as you giving up?" The Herald exclaims.

Alec didn't respond immediately. A minute passed. He looked up, and began again. "I'll give up-" he yelled back "- when'm dead!"

But. He still wasn't planning to be stupid about this. Climbing into the river was an oversight, and a big one; fatigue was partly responsible, but another poor judgement like that could certainly kill him. Alec looked for a way to climb to one of the edges of the waterfall. He'd strike better luck near the shores, he reckoned.

Sure enough, the cliffs near the shoreline have some good places to climb, and even the occasional root system protruding from the dirt and rock.

Climbing sideways was a little less taxing than going directly upward. It was a little more distance to cover, but it was an easier distance. Alec inched along the less suicidal route at the same speed as before. Five minutes later, he is back where he was before, but not so directly in the middle of the falls. Relying on additional footholds and handholds, and whatever plant life stuck out the falls, he went for the final push to scramble up.

Just before reaching the top, a plant Alec grabbed snaps free of the cliff face without warning.

The arm hanging by the plant falls back, but he's quick to let go and retract it. Alec was now one handhold short of the top, and maintaining grip only by three places. He looked around for something else to climb up by before he'd lose the strength to keep hanging on.

The plant left a small groove in the cliff face where it pulled out, wide enough to fit one's fingers in.

Alec eyes the groove. That wasn't much to go on. His only other option was to test the waters, or get creative. Or... fall to his death. Alec decided not to put all his hopes in the groove and tried sticking his free arm into the bottom of the current, feeling the rocks of the shoreline for holds where his eyes could not see.

Miraculously, Alec finds a hold obscured by the water. Though his hand is now almost numb from the cold, the rock is able to support him.

Alec had felt worse, though the numbness was not the only thing the water was doing. Cold and moisture were killing his arm's ability to fire its muscles. Still, all he had to do was go up the shore. He tried his luck, putting his weight into this new hold, and climbing up the previous three. His final step ashore would have him hoist is body around the obscured rock, and move through the edge of the water, where he would have to try and plant hismelf into the banks of the shore and dig into any mud for stability. Alec held his breath and took his chances.

Finally, after an agonizing climb, Alec somehow manages to get himself over the edge. He receives a face full of mud for his efforts.

Alec digs his entire body into this mud. This mud was his haven, it would keep him from being dragged away by the current. He crawls ashore, with his limbs anchored in the mud, until he can breath freely, and sprawl out on the bank.

The Herald and Sandra float hand in hand over the edge, landing on the grass beside the muddy bank. "Good job," the Herald says. "I was wrong about you. I did not expect you to make the climb. Indeed, in your case, success was not the aim as you so thought. What is important is that you did not turn back, in spite of your physical limitations and your doubts. This bodes well."

Alec doesn't respond. His stomach responds in his place, growling at the Herald in much the same fashion Alec himself would, but with less colorful insults.

"Arise, and behold my Lord's Temple." Vintholde is surrounded by tall pines that sprout from a bed of grass, dirt, and needles. The temple is constructed over the river, held up by firm stone supports, miraculously untouched by time. The stairs inside are essentially on a bridge over the river, which is adorned by large bronze statues of Gryphons, with lion heads, eagle wings, and sharp front talons. A massive shield is hung over the main entrance, a set of solid stone doors, ornately carved.

Plink. A rock bounces off the side of the Herald's head. "Yer annoyin'."

"I am here to guide you through these trials, for at least one of you must pass. So consider yourself fortunate. You have it much easier than any other candidates."

"A'wonder 'bout that..." Slowly, Alec flops onto his belly and manages to push himself up onto his feet. He was in a very shaky stance, but managed to stay upright. Alec takes in the appearance of the temple. "...Fancy.. piece'a real estate.. y'got there."

Sandra looks at Alec with concern, but dares not offer assistance, lest she cause him to fail.

The Herald says, "Your compliments are appreciated, Alec Smith. I fear you will like the interior far less."

"Yeah," Alec chirps in return, hobbling toward the temple, "Wouldn't buy that place if ya threw in a galley with it. Well.. maybe a'would. Fer the galley." He did not walk any manner of straight line, but he walked.

The armor changes its shape once more. The greaves relax, letting his legs start receiving blood - but the constriction moves to his feet. Though they might be too numb to notice, every step brings with it the sensation of a large, sharp stone stuck in each boot. Meanwhile, the helmet droops, obscuring vision, and the pauldrons are suddenly very heavy and unbalanced. The chest piece squeezes his diaphragm, making it hard to take a full breath.

Alec begins to walk straight, but hunched over. The ridiculous armor annoys him to no end.

"So... what comes next?"

"The second trial belongs to Lothe, Revealer of Hidden Truths. It awaits you just beyond the door."

"...Don't any'a these gods have... normal titles? Like... Jerry, Answerer'a Questions?"

"I suppose you could just call Lothe a God of Factoids. That is most of what he deals in- oh, it seems I encroach upon a violation of ancient contracts. Revealer of Hidden Truths, it is. Immortals are capable of truly shocking insecurity."

Alec grumbles. "Ain't it the truth... anythin' I need t' know fer this, or do'a jus' walk in n' deal with it?"

"I shall offer but one piece of advice - to stay focused, and keep the armor on. To remove it is a failure of the first Trial, and thus the entirety of them."

"Could ya at least dry m'damn clothes?! I'm soppin' wet in'ere and I'm gonna catch a damn cold with all'a these bruises n' cuts, not t' mention I'm fuckin' hungry! Don' even get me started on m' arms- Y'know what, fuck it, I'm jus' goin' in." Without room for argument, he forces himself forward.

"Very good. I will see you upon your completion - or failure - of the second trial."

"Yer a real pal, Herald," Alec replied with sarcasm.

Sandra waves at him, still looking worried. The heavy doors open on their own for the gunman, and as soon as he crosses the threshold, the sound of rushing water is gone, as is the temple. Alec Smith is in a familiar place - one of his safehouses in Imperia. The windows are boarded up, wards are in place everywhere. Outside, unearthly cries echo through the condemned city. Seated on an armchair is a Number. Number four.

_________________
Die standing.


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PostSubject: The Descent   Tue Sep 13, 2016 4:01 pm

For a long time, Alec does nothing but consider the space before him. The cloak acts as the remedy to all his ills, except his empty stomach. Alec draws his canteen, taking a sip.

The Herald takes a moment to glance at him, and then looks at Sandra, who looks at Alec with concern. "It is your turn now," the Herald tells her. "Behind the door your trials await. May your spirit not fail you."

Alec turns and looks at Sandra. He smiles at her, waving. "Hey, Sandra... Believe me, if I managed t' make it through, yer gonna be fine. Believe in yerself."

Sandra smiles back. The Herald hands her the Armor of Discipline and she begins to put it on. "I would have you climb as Alec did, but I fear that challenge is wasted on one such as you. Enter when ready. As I told Alec, stay focused, and keep the armor on." Sandra nods, and disappears inside the Aspect Temple. The Herald watches her depart, and then turns to the gunman. "And now we wait."

Alec turns his attention to the Herald. His smile quickly fades as he is left with the harbinger of annoyance and frustration. "...Y'said somethin' that bothered me. Y'said this was all rushed. I reckon I know why ya rushed it, but don' know the what n' the how."

"...You were right, before," The Herald says, beginning to pace. "People trained for this, once. For years. And this temple had caretakers, each wise and strong. But time has taken its toll on us all... the Gods have changed, their truths buried in layers of distortion. Durender is no more, its Knights slain, this Temple emptied. But we had to try."

Alec did not seem surprised; worse, it hurt to know what he was feeling was not far from reality. "Somethin's missin'. N' yer all missin' it. 'Least, I reckon so." With some of his strength restored, he clambered to his feet and began to pace about the temple. "..It's a shame. Ma' told me stories, passed down by 'er Pa, passed down by 'is. But, those're old stories... I ain't one t' revel in m' own cynicism, pal. But there ain't been a time when it felt more appropriate n' this."

"I suspect I already know the answer, but tell me, what is it that has gone missing?"

Alec looks back, parting his arms. "Yer gonna make me say somethin' this sappy?" He shrugs. "A'right." He approaches the Herald, and taps his chest plate. "The trials're cold n' cruel. Might be on account'a yer desperation, but there's no love in 'em." He withdrew his arm and eyed the Herald squarely, his joking countenance gone hard with seriousness. "I wouldn' feel so pissed off fer gettin' put through that shit if there was."

The Herald nods. "...I am sorry, Alec Smith."

Alec shrugs. "...I ain't one t' hold a grudge unconditionally. Yer apology's settled it fer me."

"There was a time when the passage of the final Trial was cause for celebration. Great feasts, drinking, being among friends. Vintar smiled upon all his followers - his was a firm hand, but capable of such gentleness... he has not put down his sword and shield for hundreds of years. He is assailed constantly by that which seeks to consume him. And he is... losing. With no living followers, he is alone and surrounded by his enemies. It is as though the world moved on without him. Abandoned him. And so... the Trials are tinged with his suffering."

"...Wait. What about this?" He tugs at his cloak. "...Sandra said somethin' about Redwell enterin' the realm n' helpin' out. What's stoppin' others from doin' the same?"

"Ignorance. Nobody knows Vintar's plight, nor cares to lend a hand. It does not matter, either way. The tides come in, and roll out. You can not change the tide, without changing the whole of the ocean. Possible, sure, but beyond most."

"I've been meanin' t' ask... but what's 'e fightin' against? That Rift thing?"

"Among other things. His greatest foe has been, and always will be, the Goddess Shar, who has long sought to sow these lands with her perverted magic. Vintar has kept her from this place, his actions forced her dark army east, to Talibar. A terrible price the nation paid, but it had strength enough to defeat her. Afterwards, she spent nearly a century in exile. She has not been wholly the same since. She was betrayed by her most powerful creation, and her Avatar on this world was destroyed, along with her Tower. It is not widely known, but a schism formed in the years since."

Alec slowly folds his arms. "He's still fightin' Shar? Why? What's Shar want with Kerodil?" He looks around. "Demons a'ready got their hands on it, she's gonna 'ave t' tussle with them if she wants a piece. I ain't see anythin' resemblin' a shade're vampire around 'ere, anyway. Don' reckon Shar's around the place anymore, is she?"

"Only because of my Lord," the Herald says. "Shar is the Goddess of Secrets, but there are secrets here that even she does not know, and it drives her mad. Draws her here with her schemes like a roach to a dark crevice. But my Lord holds fast, and so her shadows remain across the sea."

"Far beneath the land, however, things are different. A vast network of underground caverns that spans oceans, continents... I believe you call it the Underdark. That is irretrievably hers, and hers alone. If ever you find yourself in the deeper places of this world, be cautious of the shadows."

Alec slowly nods. "...Heard'a it. Never been down there... Sounds 'bout right, though... Hey, do ya know why me n' Sandra're tryin' t' enter the Vault?"

"There are many reasons one could have to enter the Vault. It is a place of inconvenient objects, set aside for a time when they are again needed. It is a place of deep knowledge, and deeper lies. It is where you expect to find your friend, and halt this land's corruption. I know what lies at the bottom, as does my Lord. You shall, as well, in time."

Alec blinks. "...Friend? Yer, uh-... wait. Terri's in there? She's in there, y'know this fer sure?" He hastens his speech and nears the Herald again.

"I said it was where you expect to find your friend. Is this not true?"

Alec stares at it. "...Wasn't sure. She could'a gone down there, or could'a fled. Should'a known I ought'a expect the worst. Do ya know what's goin' on down there, then? Can ya tell me anythin' t' help?"

"The Vault is deeper than you might suspect. The object whose destruction you seek lies at the lowest level, within a great pit. I know this because my Lord knows this. Tairne Welfyr began the vault's construction over seven centuries ago, and it never ceased, until now. He was a close friend to Vintar, and a brilliant inventor. If only he had not lost his mind, and fled to the bowels of the earth with his creation... things would have been much different, I think, for all of us."

"Hah. Sounds like somebody else a'know," Alec resumes his pacing, moving in a circular pattern. "So, what yer tellin' me is that this Vault's deep below the surface, but it ain't accessible t' anyone but the Knights, not even Shar. N' Shar's the goddess'a the shadows- the depths, even. Well, a'can see why she'd be pissed 'bout that... but that's makin' me wonder the hell I'm s'pose t'do 'bout it. If there's that much Blight down there..."

"You are capable of success here, Alec Smith. There are a great many artifacts within the Vault. You must use that stubbornness of yours, that unwillingness to give in. You can come out of this alive. You will."

Alec stares at the Herald. "No need t' tell me that." He exhales. "So, yer givin' me permission t' use the things in the vault? I was wonderin' about that."

"Use whatever you find there. But what is interred may not be removed, but for one object of your choosing. Your reward, should you succeed."

Alec had no response to offer. He wasn't sure what to expect. Some of the fabled Simmons technology was sure to be in there, things which were burned off the face of Kerodil. Perhaps other treasures entrusted to Durender over the years. Whatever he chose to take back with him might change everything. But nevermind that, he didn't even know what to expect. "...Tell me somethin'. Did anythin'a Redwell's ever get put in the Vault?"

"I have heard of no such thing, though I confess I do not know all of the Vault's contents."

Alec exhales. "Well, that's one less problem, a'guess..." He searched the temple for a place to sit. "Guess I'll jus' sit n' think 'bout how I'm gonna tackle this problem 'til Sandra's back."

"As you will. Upon her return... well, there will unfortunately be no celebration, unless you a fancy the company of the dead. My Lord shall provide food and drink, and a place to rest in his Chapel, if it please you. I will remain to say my farewells to her, and then leave this plane. You will not see me again."

"Yeah," Alec nods thankfully, "thanks. Sandra doesn't seem t' need nourishin', but me, I could really go fer somethin' t' eat. Good luck fightin'.. the fight. Whatever fight yer fightin'." Alec removed his hat, setting it aside, and combed his fingers through his hair, leaning back in his seat.

"We all must fight," the Herald says, wandering away. Alec is left alone near the Temple. No sound comes from within, and all is quiet save for the rushing waters, the singing birds, and the creaks of the pines in the breeze.

Alec enjoys a rare moment of peace. He should have been thinking about how to survive the coming ordeal, but finds himself too exhausted. He shuts his eyes and lays his head back against the temple wall.

The sound of the temple opening awakens Alec from his nap.

He shifts his gaze to look upon the entrance. "...Sandra?"

Sandra emerges from the Chapel. She does not glow, and her shoulders slump weakly. The Herald approaches her. "Congratulations. You made it throu-"

"DON'T talk to me."

"But I wante-"

"Get away from me." Sandra walks past the Herald, her hand on her forehead, not even noticing Alec. The Herald looks at him and hangs its head sadly.

Alec quickly rises and follows after her. "Sandra! Sandra, what happened?"

Sandra doesn't say a word. She walks over to where Alec is resting and sits next to him. She holds her head in her hands.

Alec sits beside her and wraps his arms around her. "Shh... it's a'right, Sandra. It's a'right." He guides her head against his shoulder. Alec looks to the Herald. "...Leave us yer provisions... n' let us be. We'll manage."

The Herald nods. Whatever food and drink Alec required, and some he merely wished for, appears in his pack. "I hope you can convey to her the depths of my sorrow. Her Trials were harder than they should have been. I go now, before my shame deepens further. Farewell to the both of you."

Alec bows his head. "...I'll tell 'er." He settles a hand on her head. "Get goin'." He returned his attention to Sandra. There was no need to say more.

Sandra sits wordless and still. Her expression is frightening in its emptiness.

Alec lets her go undisturbed for a time. Long after the Herald has left, he pats her shoulder. "...Sandra. Yer alright. I'm here," he spoke in whispers. "Sandra?"

Sandra stirs, her mouth shifting as if preparing to speak. "I..." she sputters, "can't-..." She suddenly slumps forwards, passing out.

Alec stares at her in surprise, dumbstruck for a second. "..Sandra!" He pulls her back, wiping her mouth with a sleeve. "Sandra, wha-.. she's out? The hell, she passed out?!" Alec quickly lifts the woman and carries her away from the temple. Reaching the cliff's edge, he notes that it is a fifty foot drop back down, what is fifty feet to a legendary cloak? Alec dumps a little extra into the material this time to cushion the long drop, and takes a leap of faith with the cloak coiling around his legs and feet. He pounds the dirt below, leaving two large bootprints. The cloak releases his legs, and he somewhat shakily proceeds back to destination-part of the teleporting circle Sandra had made.

Alec steps right up to the edge of Durender's gatehouse, nearly slipping on the ice. The teleport worked, and the two of them are back in the deserted town.

Alec skids and stumbles to a halt, rushing back down the gatehouse and back to the keep. Without stopping or slowing, he would rush to the throne room, stopping only when he had first stepped foot inside again.

All the while Alec runs, the whispers of the damned follow him. The Blight gone, Lost Souls have drifted back into the city, no wards to stave them off. "Alec," they call to him. "Stop. Give her to us. Please."

"She'll be happier with us."

"Why is everyone around me dead?"

"Cold, so cold... help me get warm again..."

Alec glares at them. No, that's not right. He gets angry at them. Furious, this was hardly the time for distraction. "Y'wanna die again?" He yells back, running without halting. He slows to lower Sandra, reaching within his cloak, to loose a grenade from a group of five. Quickly, he fills it with magic and brings it to life- Light. Bright, powerful, unhindered light streamed out of it. Alec used the trigger pin to affix the weapon to his cloak, lifted Sandra again, and continued through the city as a big, bright beacon.

The spirits moan and wail, they scream and lament, but they recoil from the light. Alec arrives at the keep without further incident, just as the sun finishes sinking below the horizon. Snow begins falling again, mixed with ... ashes?

Alec halts outside the keep as the ash falls. He stops at the gates, turning around, inspecting the strange weather, attempting to discern the source. He looks out into the distance for any sources of light or smoke stacks.

In the west, a reddish-orange glow lingers, but it is no sunset. Fires burn in Incendis, the ashes of which are sprinkled upon the land, painting a surreal picture.

Alec stares at the glow. Donning a frown, he turns his back to the ash and proceeds into the keep, to find Ivennis and make him useful again.

Ivennis can be found in the throne room, along with his band of ragtag survivors. He sits upon the throne, resting his eyes for a moment, when a blinding light suddenly floods everything. Wearied, he forces himself to stand. "By the Gods, it's over! We're all dead!"

Alec sets Sandra down somewhere that might be comfortable, and reaches back to the grenade to suppress its effects. "Sorry t'disappoint," he answers, "but we're back from the trials." He lifts Sandra up again and approaches Ivennis. "She needs a place t' rest. She ain't hurt, but her heart n' mind probably ain't in the bes' shape."

"She may rest here," Ivennis says, still coming to his senses, "But Alec. We must talk. Your friend downstairs... was sick, on two of my men. As we speak, they're chained up in the dungeons, just... screaming... My men are demanding the demon be slain, and in all honesty, I'm inclined to agree."

He furrows his brows. "What- she did what? Damn it- Sandra first, Ivennis. I'll deal with Smiley after."

Ivennis points to an unoccupied bedroll. "You may put her there. We will try to tend to her needs... such as they are. I have never observed one like her before. I should ask her if she would consider making a donation to anatomical research..."

Alec heads over to set her on the bedroll, but as Ivennis speaks, he turns back to glare at him. "..We shed blood fer ya. We fought yer damn battle. Pal, I ain't got anythin' against turnin' Durender in t' a ghost town if y'think'a anythin' near betrayin' Sandra, got it?"

"I said I would ask! Worth a try, at least... but fine, have it your way. On my honor - on my mother's grave - no harm will come to her. Legionnaires?!"

"Lord Governor," they spoke in unison.

"See to it this woman is kept safe from harm at all times. No one is to approach her without this man's express permission. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

Alec returns a nod. "Yer on yer honor." He gives Sandra one last look before he parts from her, and then proceeds downstairs.

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PostSubject: A Small Detour   Fri Oct 21, 2016 9:30 am

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Through the maze of corridors, down the spiral stairs, and past winding catacombs, Alec again enters the Vault Chamber, where a standoff is occurring. The remaining four Legionnaires, rifles ready to fire, and Smiley, who grins atop a set of Stygian armor. Upon seeing who arrives, she says, "Hey Alec!"

Alec approaches the firing line. "Lower yer weapons... Where're the men that got spit on?" He tries to move ahead of them and tip their rifles down.

The men allow him to do so, but look furious. "In the dungeon," one says. "Screaming their heads off. They've gone completely mad from this one." He points accusingly at Smiley. "Fucking demon. She says she's bound to you, so I hope you do the right thing and banish this filth."

Alec stares at Smiley, frowning. "Where's this dungeon'a yers? I'll do somethin' about yer men first. Then, I'll get t' the bottom'a this." He returns his attention to Smiley. "Smiley, stay where y'are. No more spittin' on people. I'll hear yer explanation when a'get back. Better be a good one."

Smiley nods. "Okay, Alec. I can't wait to tell you." she continues grinning. One of the men spits, but it doesn't faze her.

"I'll take you to the dungeons," the Legionnaire says. "The rest'a you make her a sponge if she so much as breathes too hard." He walks out of the chamber. "Follow me."

Alec observes the scene unhappily. After a shake of his head, he turns and follows the Legionnaire out of the chamber. "How long's it been since she spat on 'em? How'd it all happen? Ivennis didn' provide much in the way'a details."

"I'm tellin' ya, the whore is a demon. She just spit on 'em, for no reason. All they were doing was guarding the Vault with the rest of us, and she got it in her head that they deserved a fate worse'n death."

"I don' reckon so," Alec replies, "She's bound. Whatever she did must'a been in response t' somethin' else. Did any'a yer men try touchin' that armor layin' beside 'er?"

The Legionnaire stops and turns toward Alec. "An' just what are you accusing my men of? You think that they'd try touching demonic armor? That they're that stupid? That I'm stupid enough to let them?" His hand is on his sidearm.

"Yeah," Alec responds in kind, "I've always figured mankind t'be pretty stupid. There any reason I should think better'a you?"

The Legionnaire pauses for a moment... and then throws a punch at Alec's face.

Alec is clocked square in the jaw and stumbles back a couple steps. He glares back at the Legionnaire.

The Legionnaire's hand remains firmly on his weapon, which stays holstered. For now. "I don't care what you think, far as I'm concerned, it's your fault for leaving us there with that cunt. Any demon, even a bound one, is nothing but trouble."

Alec stares back at the Legionnaire. "...Well, I'm glad y'don't disagree. Punchin' the man that's gonna help yer subordinates ain't so wise itself, now is it?"

"You'll help them, one way or another. You're the reason they're in there." The Legionnaire turns and starts walking up the spiral stair. One of the side passages that branches off of the staircase is the dungeon. A dark place lit only by a few torches, smelling of waste, sweat, and decay. Water drips here and there, from cracks in the foundation, and the cells are rusted iron bars with beds of moldy straw and a bucket to do one's business. Small black pellets and the sound of muffled squeaking are evidence of a substantial rat infestation.

Alec follows him, rubbing his bruised cheek, which is beginning to lose its signs of bruising. "...Well, I suppose yer not wrong about that, pal. Don'cha worry, though. We won't be yer problem t' deal with fer much longer."

"I hope so, for both our sakes." There is a sound of raspy groaning that grows nearer as the Legionnaire leads Alec to a cell. Two men are chained to the bars tightly, squirming in pain. Their clothes are torn, and cuts are all across their flesh, including their faces and eyes. "They did this to themselves, trying to stop the pain. They almost clawed open their own throats by the time we got them restrained. Then they just screamed. For hours."

"Yeah," Alec replied, "That's what it'll do t' ya..." Alec approached the cell, entering it and eyeing either man. "Been ponderin' how one would go about remedyin' a case like this without takin' long... Been through it m'self. Luckily, I've learned a thing're two from the Blight." He would approach one of the two men, his cloak's sleeves in his hands, and wrapped some of his cloak around one man's wrists. Channeling energy into the cloak, Alec forced it to dig into their arteries and purify their blood as it pumped, figuring it to be fastest way, substituting magical technique with medical technique. He observed the condition of the Legionnaire as he did his work.

The wounds on the man close, and he begins to relax, falling silent. He exhales deeply and nods off, slumping in the chains, spent.

Alec remains a while in purifying the man through his wrists. He'a almost surprised by how effective the technique is. Seems like something similar was devised some time ago in the past, if his father had taught him right. Something to look into. But enough of that, Alec withdrew the cloak sleeves from the man's wrist. The portions that had inserted themselves into his arteries would retract and quickly seal the wounds they formed. Alec moved on to the next Legionnaire, repeating the process.

The results are similar. Soon both men are sleeping soundly in their chains. "Well, well," the Legionnaire says. "You really could help them after all. If they're okay, really okay, then maybe we'll be even. I'll send some men to get them down - you need to go and talk to your demon."

Alec stood upright, looking back at the man who led him here. Alec's bruise is gone, but he still does not look very happy. "It ain't settled. If she disobeyed me, things're gonna get ugly. But if she was doin' as I asked, things're are gonna get even uglier." Alec starts back toward the path to the vault door.

"I hope you give that bitch what she deserves," the man says as he leaves. Eventually, he would climb the stairs to retrieve more men to help. When Alec arrives back in the Vault Chamber, things are just as he left them - three men point guns at Smiley, sitting on the demon's armor.

Alec walks past them, getting in their way as he comes to stand right in front of Smiley, looking down at her with all lack of amusement. "...So. Start explainin'."

"It's simple," she says with her signature smile, "Two of these men tried to take the armor, so I spit on them. I did everything you asked."

"That's a damn lie!" one of the legionnaires yells. "I'll tell you what happened. They saw her talking to it, thought she might've been coming up with some plot with whatever's locked in there, so they tried to get her off it. And THAT'S when she spit on them. The armor's a demon, just like she is. Neither one can be trusted."

Alec looks back at the Legionnaires. "I had a feelin' that's what happened."

"So what are you going to do about it?" the legionnaire asks. "Those men could've been permanently harmed by her poison. I hope you know that."

"But I didn't do anything wrong," Smiley protests.

"She didn't," Alec replies. "Those were my orders. I've been tellin' all'a ya from the start, ya fuck with me, ya get what's comin'. The reason' she's guardin' this armor, n' not you, is because there ain't any way t' destroy it, n' anyone that touches the thing has t' deal with the demon trapped inside. If yer fool enough t' put it on, you start t' -become- the demon. So my demon, who's bound, guards the one that ain't. I thought I told ya t' stay away from the damn armor, but apparently, demons follow instructions better n' humans." He folds his arms and examines the legionnaries critically. "I think yer assistance won't be needed any longer, boys. How 'bout you head back upstairs n' help yer friends look after the two brave bastards that got near Smiley."

"So you're not going to do anything?!" the legionnaire yells. "I should've known, you demon-loving piece of shit. You probably lied with it." He starts to point his gun at Alec, only to be stopped by his fellows. "Get off me, you fucking traitors! Kill this man!"

"It's not worth it," one of them says. "You saw who he travels with. Him and her could kill everyone in here in a few seconds. Just let it be."

"Cowards! All of you!" he gets dragged off.

"Sorry to inconvenience you," the other man mutters before leaving.

Alec watches the men bicker, then argue. He decides to remain silent, and let them carry on rather than spark an even more heated reaction.

"How was your vacation?" Smiley asks eagerly.

"Terrible," Alec replies, turning back to the half-demon. "How was yer's?- Wait, I a'ready know." He squats beside her. "Sandra's not doin' so well. Knocked out cold... did'ja learn anythin' from the pile'a scrap?"

"Well, it said it served a Blight-caster, some guy in a hooded robe. Very powerful. He was sent here by Ossus himself to help this guy. So, must be real important, whatever he's after."

"Mhm... I reckon so. I learned a lil' about what's beyond the door, too, so that fits. Now, tell me somethin' else. How's ol' Vohdal feel about Ossus n' his lil' champion, now. Still loyal?"

"Hard to say. The armor's not Blighted, can't be, but his soul's still pretty messed up. That's what Blight does, you know. Infects your soul, makes you into more of itself."

Alec peers at the armor, then his cloak. "...No matter how'a look at it, there ain't no way I can do anythin' about that without destroyin' 'em. Or... might be somethin' even stranger. Hm. Smiley, ask 'em this. Does he wan'a be free'a Ossus?"

"I don't know. If I asked him, he'd probably say no, but maybe he does. I mean, Banespawn are made to serve Bane. That's why they're... y'know... Banespawn. Why would one of them wanna serve Bane's mortal enemy instead? Ossus steals demons, rather than make his own... he corrupts ones that already exist."

"Figured that much, but a'wanted t' see jus' how much he's corrupted. See, if he says no, then it might be impossible t' free 'em. But if he says somethin' else... might be a way t' break 'is chains n' get 'em t' help us."

"How would you do that?" Smiley asks.

Alec chuckles. "Uh.. still tryin'a figure it out," he pats Smiley's head, "But don' trouble yerself with it. Go ahead n' ask 'em. If he asks if we can do it, tell 'em there might be a way n' I'm workin' out the details."

"Well? Whaddya say?" Smiley says, leaning towards the armor. "You want Alec here to try and fix you?"

"Kill me," it says aloud.

Alec steps back in surprise. "...What. Yer suicidal now? Why kill ya?"

The armor doesn't respond.

Alec sighs. "Smiley, talk to 'em. Hug 'em if ya have to. Don't stop until he says somethin' back."

"It's been doing that," Smiley says nonchalantly. "Something about belonging to Ossus for hundreds of years, or something."

Alec does not appear amused. "Fine, cancel that order." He kneels beside the armor. "'Ey, scrapmetal. How're we supposed t' kill ya?"

"Only by Bane can we be unmade," Vohdal says.

"Well, there might be another way, but I really ain't sure what the result's gonna be. I might destroy ya, or... turn ya in t' somethin' different. Purgin' flesh n' purgin' a soul... those things work a lil' differently, I imagine."

"End this existence."

"Ya know Alec, between you and me, I think he might be a little crazy."

Alec gives Smiley a funny look. "Comin' from you, that's sayin' a lot."

"Whaddya mean, Alec? I'm the most sanest person here."

Alec smirks at Smiley. "Really? Sorry fer ever doubtin' ya, then." He looks back at the armor. "A'right, Vohdal. That's two favors I'm doin' ya. Whatever happens after this, ya better compensate me."

The armor is silent again.

Alec stares at the armor. "Well. Guess we'll see what happens. Get off'a 'im, Smiley. Might wan'a stay back, too. Can't be too sure'a what comes next." Alec examines the cloak he wears, pondering to himself on the matter of stygian shell which the soul occupied. "I'm guessin' a'better focus on the helmet."

Smiley gets off and takes a step away from the armor. "Oh, and uh... I may've leaked on it. Sorry."

Alec frowns. "Ugh. Here, go clean yerself up," he throws a some old cloth at her from within his cloak. "Destroy that when yer done usin' it."

Smiley begins to do so off to the side, leaving Alec relatively undisturbed by the armor.

"A'right, Alec," he mumbles to himself, "Think. Think like Redwell. What the hell'd he do-" Alec stops himself right there. "Don't have a fuckin' clue what he'd do. Ugh, okay... what about Simmons? Build a machine fer it... well, guess I'll jus' make like Pa' n' experiment..." Alec picks up the helmet wrapping it in the folds of his cloak. Ignorant to the ramifications of his actions, he funnels magic into the cloak and commands it to purge the helmet of demonic taint, physical or incorporeal. A pressure builds up around the layer of the cloak in contact with the helmet as it begins to work.

The cloak does its work, drawing upon every ounce of energy Alec pours into it to try and remove the demonic taint. But armor and soul are one - the armor acts as the demon's body, housing its soul, and the armor is nigh indestructible. Even the cloak has difficulty in unraveling its structure. After expending substantial energy, the armor is barely scratched.

Alec grits his teeth, and stops when he sees that he's not finding any success. "...Yer kiddin' me. The hell'm I s'pose t'do with this thing, then?" He turns the helm over, inspecting it. "I reckon Sandra'd know a spell fer this-.. or maybe not. Hm..." Alec sets the helmet down and stops to think. "...There must be somethin' we can do."

"We could give it back to Bane," Smiley suggests. "Or just toss it in the impenetrable Vault, here. You can open it, right?"

"...Don't wan'a open it yet, Smiley. Can't head in there without Sandra. Besides, if one'a his friends finds 'em inside, they might try t' make use'a him." Alec strokes his chin as he inspects the armor. "I wonder... 'Ey, Vohdal. Speak t' me. What binds ya t' yer armor?"

"What is it that binds you to your body?"

"Sacred field, I s'pose," Alec replies.

"That is what must be undone, before I can be unmade."

"Not a lot'a things out there that can do that, pal." Alec furrows his brow and eyes his cloak. There probably was a way to use this thing, but Alec didn't know it, and he didn't trust himself to have the abilities to make such a thing work. "I've heard'a one thing, except... well, there might be another way..." Alec begins to rise.

"Ooh! What is it?" Smiley asks.

"We make our own," Alec replies, rising to his feet. "N' I think I know how. Smiley, keep our friend company, won'cha? I got a trip ahead'a me. No vacation this time. Business trip."

He pauses, then eyes her. "Oh, one more thing. Next time somebody tries t' get near ya, warn them that I told ya not t' let anyone touch the armor, n' -tell- them yer gonna spit on 'em if they come too close."

"Sure thing, boss. Be here when you get back!"

"Hope so, I'd hate t' be the people in this keep if'a come back n' find that ya ain't here." Alec fixes his cloak and belongings, and proceeds back up the spiraling staircase. "Good luck to ya."

Alec travels back up the stairs to the throne room where he searches for Ivennis. "Governor," he calls out as soon as the man is spotted, "I'm gonna need yer assistance with somethin'."

The Governor wakes up from a small nap on the throne. It is past nightfall, after all. "Hm? Yes, yes, what is it?"

Alec lowers his voice as he approaches, not just because others were sleeping, but because it was a sensitive matter. "I'm sure you n' yer fellow Inferians ain't any short on Magite n' Magite robes. I'm gonna need some magite t' deal with that demonic armor downstairs. Think y'can help me with that?"

"What on earth would you need magite for?" he asks.

"It can affect the sacred field. That armor's sacred field is what's holdin' it t'gether. If I wan'a destroy it, I got'a work the field. The magite's gonna be an ingredient'a that process, now can ya help me out or do I got'a go searchin' this keep fer it by m'self?"

"There's some spare robes in the barracks. I'll have some men retrieve it." He motions for a few Legionnaires to come over. "Fetch this man some magite, from the barracks. Go." He watches them leave, and says to Alec, "Anything else you require?"

Alec shakes his head. "Jus' have it ready fer me. I've got'a go pay a trip t' Ferguson's shop. I'll be back soon."

"Ferguson's?" the Lord Governor gives him a funny look, but doesn't inquire further. "Good luck to you, then. We'll continue to keep an eye on your lady friend."

"Yeah, thanks. N' by the way," Alec peers at the Governor. "Seems my demon was jus' followin' my orders, n' yer men got too close t' her n' the armor. One'a them seems mighty pissed. Make sure they don't go wanderin' down there. Demons can be bound 'n do as they're told, but humans can't."

"Yes. Fine. It will be done." The Lord Governor looks exasperated, and his eyelids droop.

"...Thanks fer yer help. Sorry t' interrupt yer rest," Alec replied, taking his leave. He set out immediately for Ferguson's shop, using the cloak's limb-enhancing power to speed up his journey.

The shop is as Alec left it; a complete shambles. Shelves and their contents strewn everywhere, broken bottles of pungent expired potions, shattered spell cartridges and gun pieces, and a dead automaton still twitching periodically.

Alec reaches into his cloak, plucking a simple metal pin, the one he had taken off his light-grenade earlier. It was made of iron, and not all too special, except that its long thin form and low weight would make it ideal for finding magnetic materials.

Alec began searching the shop for titanium-reinforced metals, metals of almost pure titanium, or even the rarer magnetite, which Alec supposed Ferguson could make use of in his shop for utility and security purposes. If none of these things were there, he'd have to head back to the factories.

Near the shelves, Alec's makeshift compass needle would start going wild. The electrical wards, of course. The automaton also possesses trace amounts of magnetic substances.

Alec ignores the wards. He imagined the automaton would be host to a number of rare metals. Approaching the fallen construct, he kneels and checks for a way to crack it open. If not, it was time to rely on the cloak's strength to force it apart by its seams.

The automaton is plated in reinforced Rebonite, and a tough nut to crack. Alec would definitely need the cloak for this.

Alec frowns as his worries are confirmed. He looks the creation over, but supposes the only seams he can use are the ones his gun made. The sleeves of his cloak shape into the curved ends of a crowbar, digging in to weakened parts of the automaton's outer hull. With a surge of magic fed into the cloak, Alec would pull his arms apart with momentary, but tremendous strength.

Small cracks form on the edges of the holes, offering momentary resistance, but then the Rebonite splits violently, and the automaton's chassis comes apart beneath the strength of the cloak. Beneath it is clockwork machinery, magical patterns, and some glowing objects. It's highly advanced stuff.

Alec's crowbar-cloak reverts to its original shape. He examines the machinery with intrigue, but that's not what he's here for. Taking the iron pin again, he looks for substances that appear to resemble brass, but hold strong magnetism. "Please be in 'ere..."

Throughout the bot's innards are tiny bits and pieces, thin wires and filaments, that are made of these materials. Somehow they contribute to the bot's motion and operation. Before he can extract any, however, a voice blares out from behind him. "Now what the hell's all this then."

Alec halts all of a sudden and slowly rises. He looks over his shoulder. "...Somethin' I can help ya with, pal?"

"Yeah," the man says. An older fellow with a goatee, about average height and build. He's wearing a bathrobe and slippers. "You can get the hell off my bot."

Alec slowly turns to face him, surprised. "...-You're- Ferguson?"

"You want an autograph or something? I had to leave two lovely elven ladies because some asshole cracked open one of my automatons. That asshole is you. So, mind explaining yourself? This place looks like shit."

"That's cause it is shit; the place ya built is shit, why're ya so surprised?" He motions at the shop. "Do ya have any idea what the hell is goin' on in Durender? There's a damn Blight invasion, hardly a hundred folk're still alive. I cracked yer bot open 'cause I need some'a its parts."

"Cry me a damn river. You were looking at the inside so you could try to steal it. I can smell you frauds a mile away. If by some miracle you happen to be actually telling the truth, then tell me exactly what parts you were looking for."

"I wouldn't steal yer shitty technology if ya begged me to, ya Simmons-wannabe." Alec spits at the floor where Ferguson's feet appear to be. He points at the man. "Don't take me fer somebody that actually likes the crap ya try n' pass off as weaponry. All I'm here fer is Titanium, n' the only Titanium I can find is the Magnetite in yer worker behind me."

"Simmons-wannabe? Oh, I get it now, you're one of those idiot fanboys. Listen, you dumbass, I've never tried to pass off anything as a Simmons. I respect the man, what he accomplished. I've made plenty of my own contributions to the field he pioneered. That doesn't make me an evil copycat, now does it? Not a good reason to go trashing my shop and looking at my designs, you crazy bastard."

"Ugh- I ain't lookin' at yer gods-damned designs! Here-" He unslings his rifle, the reengineered Needler, and brandishes it at Ferguson without aiming at him outright. "Y'see this? I made this. I don't need yer crap, I can make m' own jus' fine. Now cut the crap, n' look outside if yer able. You'll see what'a mean. This shop wasn't doin' no one any good by the time a'got here. Yer damn bot was on the fritz n' tried t' sell me yer stock by flingin' it at me at high velocity. I don' reckon that's yer engineerin' genius at work, is it?"

Ferguson ignores him, staring at the Needler. "Say... is that what I think it is? Where'd you dig up one of those?"

"Can ya please focus on the damn topic, ya senile fart? We're in the middle'a an apocalypse n' I need that damn titanium!"

"Yeah well, I'm in the middle of a ménage à trois. But fine, you want titanium? Let me see here..." he reaches into his robe.

Alec stands a little more calmly. "..T' answer yer other question. Yeah. It is. M' family taught me how. We still have some'a the old designs n' techniques from before Durender was conquered." He glances at the Needler. "Ain't much point t' havin' 'em when it's a pain' t' get 'em runnin' without an industry t' provide a constant flow'a compressed air, n' tryin' alternatives was too expensive. So a'got creative."

"What, you're telling me it doesn't need compressed air? You're not using magic, either... gunpowder? But how did you miniaturize it enough..." as he says this, he continues to unashamedly grope beneath his robes. "Aha! Found it!" he scratches something down there. "Found that pesky itch. Now, the titanium..."

Alec stares at Ferguson. "...Look, ya old fart, I'll show ya how it's done if'a survive, but I ain't gonna survive if'a don't get that metal."

"Well boo hoo for you. Here, found it." He pulls his hand out, and in it is a modest lump of titanium. "Now will you get outta my shop? I gotta clean all this up, thanks to you." He waves his hand, and the mess disappears altogether. "Such a hassle."

Alec lofts a brow. He slowly reaches for the lump of metal, suspicious of the man. "...Where the hell've you been, anyway, n' how'd ya get here?"

"If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand the answer. My shops are connected. The bots, the layouts, it's all nice and organized. I set these up all over the sphere, and make money hand over fist without having to do any managing. And the automatons mean I don't even have to do all the usual busywork, either. I live on the beach, build things, and bed beautiful women all day long. I'm living the dream."

Alec stares at Ferguson unhappily. "Y'really know how t' make someone that hates ya want t' hate ya more."

"I attribute my success to that, in part. Say, if you modified up that Needler, that makes you a pretty skilled gunsmith. Who'd you say your family was?"

"...Smith," Alec replies. "From Cault, Sanctimonia. Pa's more experienced n' me, but he ain't as well traveled. Necessity's the mother'a invention."

"Well, if you survive this apocalypse, or whatever, hit me up. NOT by cracking open one of my bots. Just say to one, 'Hey, shitbird' and it'll open a line to my house. Don't go spreading that around, though, I get enough calls just by accident."

"That's a darn shame, I enjoyed it," Alec responds. Turning away from his most hated nemesis, he proceeds to leave the shop. "Sorry 'bout the shop, though, that part was an accident."

"Yeah, don't worry about it. These automatons tend to go haywire during city-wide catastrophes. Not sure why, but I'm working on it. Oh, one last question. Light or Dark?"

Alec pauses and looks back at Ferguson. "The hell y'mean, Light or Dark? Yer not talkin' about beer, are ya?"

"Don't think about it, just say the first thing pops into your head. Light or Dark?"

Alec shrugs. "Light, a'guess."

"Haha! I knew it. Give it here." he holds his hand for a high-five.

Alec just stands and stares at Ferguson with annoyance. "...You gonna explain what the hell yer celebratin' about?" He approaches and high-fives the man, if only to calm his eccentric personality.

"You need to lighten up. It's not beer, but elves, of course. Now the dark ones are mighty fine, but nothing beats a nice, sparkly wood elf. Mmmhmmm."

Alec stares at the old man with disgust, but also some kinship. "...I reckon so. I spent a good deal'a m' time tryin' t' stop a dark one from trickin' a town in t' givin' him a superweapon. Ain't about t' go spankin' any'a his lady friends."

"Naw, ya should! Teach 'em a lesson. Trust me, they love it. Anyways, nice meeting you uh... Smith."

Alec frowns. "Pleasure's all yers, ya old coot." He slings his rifle and takes his disgruntled exit. "Thanks fer the titanium. I'll show ya how t' make the gun work, as promised, when a' return. If a'don't, n' ya still remember, chances are I'll be in that keep in the center'a town."

"You got it. 'Til next time, you rabid fanboy." As soon as Alec leaves, he looks around the empty store. "...Shame." With another hand motion, Ferguson vanishes.

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